Finally Out of The Snow!

cropped-swimmer.jpgThe ocean hammering on the beach with the tide ripping along the sand is tonic for my snow weary soul. The salt air is homogenous with my skin, my senses are soothed… finally. I love the snow, especially at the beginning of the season, but I think I am not naturally as kindred to it as I am the warm salty air. There are not too many people in Puerta Vallarta at this time of year. I am told it’s the shoulder season which to me means “peaceful”. For this cold to the bone girl, 80° with not a cloud in the sky means that all is right with the world.

DSCN1295Velas Vallarta is really a large resort, nine stories tall, every room with a balcony facing the sea. The U-shaped surrounds a long lush garden with a meandering swimming pool that drifts towards the surf through elegant palms, brilliant bougainvillaea, cactus’ and succulents, even the occasional small dinosaur iguana lingering by the stream filled with golden koi. The balconies drip with flowers from one balcony down to the one below, and the primal screech of peacocks fills the air now and then. Yup, at this moment and in this place all is right with the world.

I wander down to the beach because I can’t help it and take in how beautiful Bay Bandaras is was with the Sierra Madre mountains plunging right down to the sea on the other side of the harbor. The mountains have a cloud all along the top of them which almost look like snowcaps, a reminder of where I came from, and how lucky I am for this reprieve. But the breeze is warm and I realize I am hungry.

There is a beautiful restaurant on beach, how lucky am I. It has a raffia interior roof and no real walls on the outside. The scent from the grills along the buffet promise an interesting lunch. Better with the first of vacation margaritas. It’s hard to fathom that just a few hours ago it was cold in Vermont, and now it’s tropical, lush and green, the air filled with bird song and surf.

I do wish my daughter Lauren was with me. I miss her a lot now that she’s moved out west. I am going to find a way to bring her this sense of lightness that fills me now. I think of all the friends I would love to be sharing this wonderful moment with too. I wish this feeling for all of you.

Nuevo Villarta – Safe, Luxurious and Fabulous!

We have heard such scary news in the press about traveling to Mexico these days that make us think twice about going. Mexico is one of my favorite destinations though, and I am a frequent visitor. I am convinced that this distorting overview is designed to sell newspapers and create a buzz rather than to offer a clear picture of what is happening there. Many countries have small pockets of territory that are not visitor friendly and while we don’t go to those, we don’t write off the whole country!

With that in mind I headed south to explore a region of the coast that I had never seen. The “left” coast of Mexico is a land of legendary sunsets that linger for hours, long wide golden beaches, plenty of fresh local food and cultural shopping. Sometimes the hotels leaned on the side of “roughing it” which was pleasantly authentic when I was in my 20s, made travel with kids feasible in my thirty’s and forty’s but over the next decades my taste for a lovely room with a great mattress and luscious surroundings has gained momentum.

Riviera Nayarit is the region around the beautiful bay Banderas and several miles north offering an evolutionary trend that my old bones appreciate.  The charming old world aspects of regional traditions seem to merge nicely with the new elegantly refined hotels, a marina that can support super yachts, and restaurants that appreciate the fresh grown fruits, vegetables and fish delivered daily and put these treasures in the hands of sophisticated chefs who cater to elegant open air dining environments. Often the golden beach is one step off the dining room with the turquoise ocean just past that and all of it infused with warm breezes and honeyed scents.

I flew into Puerto Vallarta and met the hotel driver for a 10 mile ride north up the coast to Nuevo Vallarta and La Estancia.

There was nothing dramatic or notable about the ride up the coast, but there certainly was about the La Estancia. The architecture is a modern rendition of colonial Mexican style which focuses on privacy, comfort and a seamless transition from inside to outside. Water is everywhere, pools down to the ocean, soaking tubs on decks, wading pools with pebble bottoms, and all of it surrounded by the deep fluctuating turquoises of the sea.  The spa at Estancia is one of the new style entirely focused on grace and comfort and relaxation of the senses. The restaurant has high ceilings and a fresh inventive menu.

From there I toured up the coast looking for a mix of traditional life and the new infusion of luxe comfort that is evolving here.

Bucerias is a step back in time to relaxing days of open air markets with everything from silver, to clothing to fresh ceviche and fruit drinks sold on the streets. Bicycles provide much of the transportation, and of course all streets come to the golden beach. And of course, you simply can’t ignore the entrance to this gym right on the main street.

Next stop, Sayulita. This is a lovely traditional Mexican village with carved signs, cobbled streets and painted walls. Huge trees overhanging the beach where food and drinks are served in the shade by the sea. Perhaps 10 blocks wide along the beach, and several blocks back you will see galleries, shops, bakeries, baskets, and all manner of interesting things to explore. About a decade ago, Sayulita began attracting artists from all over the world, and the cumulative effect is totally charming.

Further up the road is San Pancho, adorable in its authenticity. Its history painted permanently in the town square on the long wall to the beach. Vendors sell their wares under huge spreading trees in the square, and the ever present surf rolls along the front of the town. The curious feature I found there was a polo club. It seems being born there entitles one to be a member, take polo lessons and participate in tournaments. That with the myriad of small shops, restaurants and galleries make it an enchanting place to wander about.

The next town that really won my heart was Rincon de Guayabitos. I first saw it from the top of a knoll at a pub called Vista Quayabitos which gives a commanding and endearing insight into the joyous lifestyle to be found here. Festive is the word that really suits this place, and while I was only there during the day, I could see how much fun it would be when the lights come on at night and there is music and food flowing through the streets and down to the beach.

This new blend of comfortable old world style, with updated and handsome facilities has the Riviera Nayarit evolving into a region that deserves to be separated from the bad news that we keep hearing about Mexico! I had a wonderful time, amid beaches, great food, fun atmosphere, fabulous authentic shopping and not a bandito in sight!

Information about Riviera Nayarit can be found here:

Spa Hopping Down the Riviera Maya

Spa destinations are evolving all over the world. Essentially a spa destination is a resort that is dedicated to lifting you completely from the familiar patterns of daily life with the expectation that when you do return you will be refreshed and invigorated through the use of their spa. In each resort the mind is offered a different surrounding atmosphere ranging in style from soothing massage and relaxation to an active schedule for fitness. One spa destination I visited believes that the key to renewal is to be dramatically romantic and offers an all adult environment. Another focuses on family interaction combined with active sports followed by relaxation, aromatherapy and fine dining.

In each the body is nurtured by its fabulous food which runs all the way from light, lean and fresh meals presented with creative elegance to rich dining that is practically an immersion experience. In each resort the soul is nourished with its spa. Each spa specializes in treatments of massages, wraps, soaks and scrubs to offer the best of beautification, purification and rejuvenation. The whole experience at each place I visited is about renewal, being refreshed, pampered and reborn, made ready to face the rigors and disciplines of daily life with a fresh eye. It is left to you to choose the location, style and atmosphere in which this will be accomplished.

I was searching for a mind, body and spirit rebirth surrounded by wide white beach and perfect blue water. The reason I chose Cancun, Mexico is because it is easy to get to with generally inexpensive fares. I left Burlington Vermont at 7:25 AM and was in Cancun in time for lunch. No hassles, perfect. Each of these spa destinations I found is within a half hour of the Cancun airport.

Thalasso Spa at Paraiso de la Bonita

40 miles south of Cancun lies the spectacular Riviera Maya, miles of wide white beach, and a Caribbean blue ocean that has you taking off your sunglasses to check the reality of the color.  Past a small sign and down a long sandy road lies the inclusive spa resort of Paraiso de la Bonita. Freshwater pools of harmonized blues and the rolling luminescent ocean is instantly soothing. Walking between ponds swirling with multi colored coy under a high peaked grass roof to pass through the 15 foot tall adobe walls I saw an enchanting world, very far from my normal life.  Glistening white beach and graceful palms and beyond that the tropical turquoise ocean merging with the clear dense indigo sky. Very far from my normal life actually.

Leaving the mid day sun the cool adobe spa area is the first step into a timeless physical refreshment. I had my first Thalasso therapy at the spa at Paraiso de la Bonita, and it was a stunning demonstration of the befits of the nutrients, minerals and phytoplanktons from seawater.

The 80 minute treatment begins in a dark quiet room with an aggressive sea salt scrub that I found invigorating, leaving my skin tingling and receptive. This was followed by the gentle sensation of salt water rain delivered by the Vichy shower set at the perfect temperature as the granular salt rinsed away with long smooth strokes.  lotion with emollients and phytoplankton from the depth of the sea was then massaged into my thirsty skin. I felt fresh, silky, almost langorous for days afterwards.

Our favorite dining area is open to the breezes where the menus offer a wide spectrum of taste and texture including the most delicious avocado salad I have ever tasted. There are three choices of places to dine, including in your suite. The suites at Paraiso de la Bonita are airy, spacious and instantly welcoming. They all have places designed to sit out in the evening by candle light and let the ocean work its magic. The total experience is designed to create memories completely disconnected from stress of outside life. Services are delivered with such invisibility as to appear telepathically .

Safely tucked between the mangroves and the pristine beach, surrounded by the perfect colors of the Caribbean sea, exquisitely fed and pampered by very talented hands it is hard to even remember that there is an outside world.

Spa del Mar at La Meridian Cancun

At the heart of La Meridian Cancun is its Spa del Mar, which is deservedly famous as a transforming experience. I had the most rejuvenating facial of my life at the Spa Del Mar, given by a tiny sweet mayan lady named Aydeth in 50 minutes that seemed to last forever and was too short all at once. The treatment rooms at Spa Del Mar are dark and quiet and made me feel as if I was alone in the universe being pampered by thoughtful kind people to the sound of gently falling water and soft ethereal music. Afterwards we visited quiet rooms where we sipped chlorophyll water in complete relaxation, and lingered in the peace that we found from our treatments.

The hotel rooms are large, each one with a view of the ocean as well as the swirling blue pools with islands and waterfalls that drift in sequence down to the perfect turquoise ocean isolated from the outside world by the resort itself. There are several restaurants available to guests at La Meridian Cancun, each with its own style and presentation. We had breakfast one morning in a glass sunroom which had the benefits of feeling outside without the heat or direct impact of the tropical sun. The Spa Food part of the menu included fruits cut into beautiful shapes and blended with mint and yogurt, followed by poached eggs on delicious thin toasts covered with rich cheese sauce that left us feeling deliciously satisfied and eager to relax at La Maridien Cancun.

Spa Aqua

Located in the heart of the busy downtown area of Cancun, Spa Aqua is an immersion into renewal of the spirit from the instant we stepped out of the bustling of the city.  Just up the hill from the sounds of traffic, the smell of hot asphalt and the intense tropical sun we entered a 30 foot tall glass atrium. The interior was filled with the calm green light of a jungle grotto, the gentle sounds of water falling into a shallow pool surrounding the black water mirror in the center bringing refreshing cool of a woodland stream to our senses. At the same time the faint sounds of ethereal music quietly infuse peace of mind. Just walking into the atrium removed us gently from the ways of the hot busy world.

Spa Aqua is a spa with the added facilities of handsome rooms, graceful fresh water pools and four different styles of restaurant, not to be confused with a hotel that has a spa. The spirit of the people who work there is reflected in the way they greet each other in passing. A hand to the heart, very slight bow and the mayan greeting “in la ceche” meaning “I am you, you are me, we are friends”. It is a small gesture, but once we got used to seeing it we really began to appreciate a world where people stated such communion as casually as we say “hi”.

The spa is dark, tall and mysterious, filled with spare woven furniture and tall black pottery candle holders as it wanders around with the passages cool and tranquil, offering seemingly entrance randomly to softly lighted treatment rooms. I had an aroma sensory massage that did in fact take me away from the life I knew outside. Worlds away, 80 minutes seemed truly timeless in its peacefulness, followed by lingering in quiet candle lighted meditation.

Kayanta Spa at Ritz Carlton

“Ka a yaan tah” is a mayan expression meaning “to be reborn” and is the core philosophy of the Ritz Carlton Cancun. The 5500 square foot spa sheltered from the intense tropical sun, offers welcoming quiet and diffused light of the Kayanta Spa folded itself around us as we entered from the beautiful pools and gardens in the center grounds of the hotel.

I had the aromatherapy massage. It began with a detoxifying massage which not only left me feeling completely cleansed and removed from the elements of every day life, but also calm and relaxed within the scent of herbal oils. The flow element seemed to produce a balance of relaxation and excitement about the future which either came from or was reflected by the different blend of herbs used in the treatment. And finally, the tonic of fresh invigorating and stimulating therapy that filled me with excitement. I wanted to write, paint and stimulate my senses with water, wind and laughter. I enjoyed this spectrum of sensations enormously.

Surrounding this Kayanta Spa is a lovely hotel, in grand Ritz Carlton style, with a series of blue tiled pools with different temperatures so that we could find our preferred relationship with the day’s weather. Large raised and shaded palapas are for guests use between the pools and the ever present glowing Caribbean. These are a purely delightful way to spend a day, lunch was delivered and of course cocktails. We were asked to reserve them in advance as they were very popular and you would be wise to book one ahead.

The Spa at Secrets Excellence

We arrived at this spa at night and it could not have been a more dramatic impression if we had landed on another planet. Secrets Excellence appeared as a regal ethereal city, with tall clean lines, sweeping curves and blistering white walls reflecting the glittering turquoise from the lighted pools as we approached what seemed to be a temple in its center. With arches 30 feet tall the billowing white curtains gracefully drifting in the evening breezes promising secrets and mysteries within.

This combination of pristine white walls and reflecting water carried through to the inside of the spa, with its many types of hydro therapy, massages and wraps. We saw some of the most beautifully designed and crafted pools that I have seen anywhere in this spa, blended with slender pillars, tall arches filled with graceful white drapes gently shifting in the breeze that inspires the soul as well as nourishes the body.

Romance is everywhere. This is an adult only resort where the assumption is that you came to have your senses seduced in every way. There are seven restaurants within this mystical city, each with its own style and variety of menu united in the passion elevating concept. Doors passed in the hallways had banners that said “honeymoon” or “anniversary” in gold letters proclaiming the joy of those within. Many small places within this city were created for two, to sit and talk, caress or share a glass of wine.

These were all places for a spiritual make over, each in their own way. Each very beautiful, full of the undeniable glory of the Mexican coastline manipulated by talented designers into a distinct retreat from the world. Each has a magnificent team in the kitchen, exquisitely trained spa staff and delivers pretty much perfect services to their guests. None is inexpensive. A stay at any of these is truly a pampered experience, good for all parts of you and one that you will certainly want to repeat. As the famous commercial says “Go ahead, you are worth it!”

Paraiso de la Bonita Resort & Thalasso Spa
reservations: (52)998.872.8320

Spa del Mar at Le Maridien Cancun reservations: 1.800.225.5843

Spa Aqua
reservations: 52.998.881.7620

Kayanta Spa at Ritz Carlton Cancun
reservations: 52.998.881.0808

The Spa at Secrets Excellence
reservations: 52.998.872.8500

Wrong about Cruises

The doors of the cruise ship open and out pours a stream of polyester in loud tacky prints. That had long been my concept of what cruise travel was about.

Ocean going bed platforms on steroids. I had seen them ruin a beautiful day on a Caribbean island, and I was certain that no one could say anything that would make me get on one. But this Radisson 7 Seas Navigator was very small and the sun would be out where it cruised and the snow was three feet deep at the time the subject came up.

My first hint at how wrong I could be came by FedEx. A package arrived containing a fully customized 25 page itinerary handsomely bound with the ship’s name, my name, the dates of the cruise. There was also a leather ticket & passport wallet containing a very specific packet of tickets for excursions, massages and all the pre-planned adventures that we had signed up for. That wallet also contained a leather luggage tag, and several laminated luggage tags with our cabin number on them. “OK, that is impressive organization and a handsome presentation from Radisson” I thought but skeptic that I am, I was sure that the “cattle barge” element would appear eventually.

The following morning it was a short hop by land to the berth of the Seven Seas Navigator. Boarding was my second hint that perhaps our preconceived notions might be in error. Stevedores took our luggage out of the taxi, and the next time we saw our bags they were in our room. While security is evident everywhere, we followed their protocols and boarding was just a walk through. A steward showed us to our suite and that is where we met our butler William!

Our particular seven day itinerary began in Fort Lauderdale, stopped at Progresso, Mexico then on to Cozumel, followed by Georgetown, Grand Cayman and then offered a day in Key West before heading back to where we started. Each shore day had several different excursions to see the area offered, as well as tips about the area, all explained in the newspaper the evening before. There are actually four 7 Seas cruise boats, in different parts of the world and with different itineraries so be sure to check the web site.

In between shore days there were whole days and nights at sea. These were easily filled with time spent in cooking classes, bridge tournaments and lessons, spa treatments, working out in the gym, tea parties, evening cabarets, a casino,  and a whole host of other activities. You could fill every minute of the trip with the offerings and events aboard. I chose to give considerable time to working on my tan with a good book and a seemingly bottomless iced tea.

I have lost my preconceived notion that meals on a cruise ship were reminiscent of a high school cafeteria. There are five choices of where you might decide to have breakfast, three options for lunch including an elaborate poolside buffet with a different theme each day, formal and informal tea, and three possibilities for dinner. I don’t think there is an hour of a day when you can’t order a cocktail. The food was artistically presented in each situation, and in every single case, scrumptious.

After my week aboard the Radisson Seven Seas Navigator I surrendered to being wrong about cruises. We did see much larger boats that had that “teeming masses” style about them, but just as William promised “hour by hour, day by day” we were having a luxurious and pampered experience on our cruise. Coming ashore is a very harsh reality when you have spent a week being so beautifully attended to. There are many things I will miss about life aboard a cruise ship, especially William.


Radisson Seven Seas Cruises
600 Corporate Drive, Suite 410
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33334
(800) 477-7500 toll free