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How to Spend A Weekend in Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo. Credit: Monaco Government Communication Department

Monte Carlo.  Who would have thought a girl from Philadelphia would end up on a long weekend roaming it's winding, F1 roads?  My latest weekend getaway for Forbes Travel is the hairpin turns in art and culture in the tiny Principality of Monaco.

There’s something about Monte Carlo that calls for a long weekend at least once in your lifetime. The lure of high speed and high stakes as seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief and the James Bond film Goldeneyedraws visitors to its craggy coast for a glimpse at lifestyles of the rich and discreetly famous.

But as you’ll see, the tiny principality is the perfect setting for another kind of getaway: the weekend retreat.

Getting There
Traveling to Monte Carlo is as easy as it is beautiful. Driving along the coastline from Italy or France (or arriving by boat) makes for a scenic trip, but the most spectacular introduction to the city is by helicopter. 

Arrive like a VIP by booking a heli-flight from Nice with Monacair, a private transportation company founded by Stefano Casiraghi, the late husband of Monaco’s Princess Caroline. Enjoy the seven-minute ride along the sparkling coastline before arriving at this world-class destination in style. 

Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo. Credit: Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo

Rest and Relaxation
Monaco is home to some of the world’s finest hotels for a pampering, and there is perhaps no better address than Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo in the heart of the city. Surrounded by lush greenery, the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star palace is elegant and subtle.

Entered from a long cobblestone driveway, the ground floor hints at the hotel’s 131-year history with period furniture and paintings of Grimaldi princes. Its 126 rooms reflect understated luxury, except for the Carré d’Or Suite, a lavish 1,600-square-foot penthouse with a panoramic terrace.

Odyssey, the Karl Lagerfeld-designed poolside restaurant, is a coveted spot for some sun time, while the true indulging takes place at Spa Metropole by Givenchy, a gorgeous contemporary retreat.

Palais Princier de Monaco. Credit: Monaco Government Communication Department

Catch up on Culture
Hotel Metropole is just steps away from the legendary Monte Carlo Casino, the 155-year-old bastion of gaming that transformed the tiny sovereign state into one of the richest countries in the world. If a night at the tables is not on your bucket list (if it is, go late), at least take an hour out in the morning for a walk through the historic building.

Monte Carlo is not all hairpin turns and croupiers — one of Monaco’s most popular structures is also an enclave of art. The Nouveau Musèe National Monaco is a bundle of two Belle-Époque buildings, Villa Sauber and Villa Paloma, that each feature semiannual exhibitions by contemporary artists, such as Tom Wesselmann, Oliver Laric and Latifa Echakhch.   

For a deeper dive into the work of one of Monaco’s most intriguing artistic residents, head to the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation. The site showcases more than 2,500 paintings, photographs and artifacts detailing the British painter’s life in Monte Carlo in the late 1940s and ’50s. Just keep in mind that the foundation offers tours by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead.

History buffs will also want to visit Palais Princier de Monaco, the prince’s palace where the House of Grimaldi has lived and reigned for nearly eight centuries. While you’re here, don’t miss the chance to see Prince Rainier’s famous car collection, which includes vintage models and retired Formula 1 racers.

 Joël Robuchon. Credit: Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo

Joël Robuchon. Credit: Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo

Where to Wine and Dine
The nearly 500-acre country is a culinary melting pot. Start your journey at Joël Robuchon, the eponymous restaurant of the late, great masterchef. Housed within Hotel Metropole, the venue’s open kitchen brings the talented toque’s stellar cuisine to Earth’s stratosphere in a casual-chic environment.

Chef Christophe Cussac dreams up Mediterranean versions of Robuchon’s classic dishes, such as the inimitable cherry gazpacho and delicately simple sea bass in a red wine sauce with wasabi and spinach.

A few other items that cannot be missed: Robuchon’s bread presentation (a celebration of housemade baguettes, biscuits and buns); the decadent dessert cart; and the terrace, which juts out over a stretch of Monte Carlo’s famed Formula 1 course, redefining dine and dash. 

For something more down-to-earth, opt for a sampling of customary Monégasque cuisine — a uniquely local flavor that combines the creative spices of southern French fare and the ease of Italian recipes into dishes that are effortless and comforting.

Monte Carlo Casino. Credit: Monaco Government Communication Department

To get an authentic taste, book a table at Le Castelroc, a charming eatery in front of the prince’s palace run by the Bonafède family since 1953. Sample traditional treats like barbajuans (fried puff pastry stuffed with Swiss chard) and stockfish de rosette, the family’s four-generation-old secret take on the national dried cod stew dish.

After dinner, skip the casino and grab a table at Four-Star Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo’s Crystal Bar. This is the go-to spot for the pre-nightclub crowd thanks its fabulous view and luxurious menu — choose from a selection of Premier Cru champagne to pair with oysters and caviar, or savor one of the venue’s distinguished craft cocktails. (In the summer, snag a table on the Crystal Terrasse and relish in the Mediterranean salt air with Incredible Mia, a beautiful, drinkable bouquet of pisco, lime juice and passion fruit purée.)

The city’s nightlife scene, where bumping into celebrities on the dance floor is practically passé, is a different animal. For four decades, Jimmy’z Monte Carlo — an enormous indoor/outdoor discotheque — has been the wildly popular center of the after-hours universe, but newcomer Twiga — this spot comes from Italian billionaire Flavio Briatore, who’s known for curating clubs to celebrities around the globe — is also making waves.

Perfect Fit: Cool Blue Jeans Found in Amsterdam {Shopping}

Amsterdam's denim appreciation fair, Denim Days. Photo courtesy of Denim Days.

Who knew that Amsterdam was a hub for denim aficionados? Erica Firpo, Fathom's Rome-based contributing editor, shopped hard (and happily) for the blues.  Fathom May 2018.

AMSTERDAM — I am going to be honest. In all these years in Europe, including the requisite study abroad months of debauchery, I never experienced Amsterdam. Nope, I never met up with all my college friends for a long and deliberately forgotten weekend, and sorry, Professor Minott, I never bought a ticket just to see my coveted Dutch Masters. For some reason, I am missing the genes that drive one to The Netherland’s naughtiest city which almost everyone whose adolescence pre-dates Weeds and legal dispensaries has.

Maybe I don’t have the genes. But I did get the jeans.

Design vibes at Hotel Pulitzer. Photo courtesy of Pulitzer Hotel.

Backstory: It’s late November and my friend Sarah decides it’s about time I see the Night’s Watch in person. She also needs to top up her CBD oil supply. We decide to go Dutch, splitting the trip down the middle, including our king-sized bed at Hotel Pulitzer, the most stylish labyrinth I’ve ever seen.

The canal-side Pulitzer is like a very cool Escher painting, a composite of 25 townhouses restored to show off their glorious 17th and 18th century architecture. (And yes, the original family was related to the prize-giving family). You get the vibe as soon as you walk in: the Pulitzer is saucy. Dark indigos and an open lobby area stretch to a garden and more canal houses, with gorgeous design furniture and clever contemporary art inspired by Dutch masterpieces. Ground level, there’s the gorgeous, Scandi-chic restaurant Janz and very sexy Pulitzer bar. The Extraordinary suites are hot, in particular, the music collector’s suite which has a wall of wacky 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s record covers, but we climb our way through a wooden stairwell to a canal-facing suite on the top level of one of the original townhouses. Cyclists pass below, it’s raining, and I could leave it at that — but we have plans.

Da Straatjes shopfronts. Photo by Erica Firpo

It’s good to have plans in Amsterdam, and even better to forget about them, which we learn as soon as we start walking around the city. Amsterdam is like an organized Venice, neighborhoods around canals and canals around neighborhoods. The Da Straatjes (the 9 streets) easily becomes our neighborhood, and we only leave it for the Rijksmuseum and Boerejongens. The 9s is a busy area, packed with strident bicyclists, unaware tourists, school children, and residents. Design shops, vintage shops, and food shops are tucked away on cobblestoned streets. Sarah and I decide we’re coming back to upgrade our lives (and I do just a month later). We want cool, Dutch designs in our homes from the amazing furniture to the Cool Club playing cards. We want to be styled by any of Amsterdam’s designers, from Dutch streetwear to Netherlands minimalism. We want cat socks and personalized perfume. But more than anything, I want to be decked out in denim.

Amsterdam is one-third of the denim city triumvirate, along with Tokyo and Los Angeles. Beautifully curated denim boutiques are everywhere. So many labels are born and headquartered here; the city hosts Amsterdam Denim Days, a jeans-centric fair, and Amsterdam is home to the world’s first Jean School. Jean-lovers, bookmark this Denim map by Amsterdam Denim for where to find the best of the best in Amsterdam.

Scandi-style means denim-on-denim. Photo courtesy of Denim Days.

Aside from the jeans, my other favorite finds in Amsterdam:

Athenaeum Boekhanel, not in the 9s, but that doesn’t matter. This is could be the best magazine shop in Europe. Hundreds of publications from standard newsstand fare to those gorgeously-produced and hard-to-find ‘zines.

Mendo, the ultimate art/coffee table book shop with every single beautiful art book you have ever coveted: Taschen SUMOs, Phaidon food books, limited editions, everything. Apparently, you can order the entire library of books in one click on their website, no questions asked. I can’t even fathom that possibility.

Coffee-table books to bring Amsterdam vibes home. Photo courtesy of Mendo.

Cowboys2catwalk for Acne Studios, Comme des Garçons, Lemaire. Yes, it’s high-end fashion but it’s all about the selection.

Frozen Fountain, an Amsterdam-townhouse stripped down and filled with design furniture, knickknacks, games. All are incredibly stylish.

Lekker, eye candy for cyclists. Retro-inspired luxury two wheelers and plenty of accessories.

Rain Couture, because it rains a lot in Amsterdam. No surprise that the inventive Dutch have made good-looking, well-priced rain coats for all seasons, of course.

Bar Centraal (not even remotely near the 9s). My friend Sarah is a natural wine fanatic, and she should be because she’s a sommelier who organizes wine adventures (among other things) in Georgia and Rome. Bar Centraal was the only place we could not miss — a tiny local bistro bar, the menu is modern Dutch tapas with lots of great natural wines.

For a better versed Amsterdam, the peripatetic Frankie Thompson narrows down her home base in a series of city-centric articles on her site As the Bird Flies.

Shore Thing: Hamburg's latest luxury The Fontenany

The Fontenay, Hamburg, Germany

This article first appeared in Hemispheres Magazine, April 2018.

Hamburg’s first new luxury hotel in nearly two decades takes full advantage of its lakeside setting

The View: The Fontenay takes its name from 19th-century shipbroker John Fontenay, who once owned this plot of land on the shores of manmade Lake Alster. Depending on the season and the corresponding level of greenery on the surrounding trees, the lake can be seen from more than half of the 131 rooms and suites, which are done in aqua, beige, and cream and bathed in natural light.

The Building: Architect Jan Stormer’s undulating, white-tiled facade is made up of three intertwining circles, inspired by the curves of the lake. The building is set in a lush, pastoral stand of beech, oak, and sycamore trees. Inside the rooms and suites, parquet floors are made from oaks harvested, appropriately, in the forest of the Fontenay Abbey in Burgundy, France.

The Spa: Sitting pretty on the hotel’s roof terrace is the signature Fontenay spa, where many of the full-service treatments incorporate sea-inspired Creme de la Mer lotion made with nutrient-rich fermented sea kelp. The best seat in the house is on the edge of the 66-foot indoor-outdoor infinity pool, which offers panoramic views of the city skyline.

The Restaurants: Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Speinle—who has cooked at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and his own Dreizehn Sinne in Switzerland— helms the rooftop restaurant, Lakeside. On the ground floor, the casual eatery John’s edges right up on the lakefront.

The Surroundings: Originally a medieval reservoir, Lake Alster is now a picture- perfect picnic destination and Hamburg’s premier outdoor recreation spot. Keep it simple with a pick-up Frisbee game or break a sweat canoeing, kayaking, kiteboarding, or even ice-kiting on one of the rare occasions when the lake freezes over. In August, it’s all about Alstervergnügen, a four-day festival that floods the park with some 500 artists, acrobats, and athletes.

The Best Way To Spend Two Days In Naples, Florida

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, February 2018.

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples. Credit: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC

There’s no better place for a weekend recharge than the shores of Southwest Florida, an everglade oasis where traffic is defined as three golf carts waiting to tee off. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that one of the best addresses for a weekender in this corner of the Sunshine State is The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples, a Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star stay-and-play stunner. Once you check into your Club Level room, you’ll see exactly what we mean.

Day One
Start your adventure by heading down to Third Street South in historic Old Naples, the original enclave of the 1930s town. The palm-tree-lined road is an elegant shopping area with great boutiques, one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants and art galleries.

If you start to get hungry during your perusing, you’re in luck. For at least three blocks, this quaint avenue has a lineup of street-side restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating. We highly recommend stopping by Sea Salt, a seafood-centric trattoria from chef Fabrizio Aielli. The Italian toque stocks his restaurant with more than 100 different types of salt and offers a fusion menu (with a bent toward his native Venice) featuring innovative delicacies such as crispy octopus in a black bean pear sauce, ravioli stuffed with braised veal and salt-encrusted branzino.

The Greens From Your Gorgeous Room. Credit: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC

After lunch, stroll this historic street to find a few souvenirs. Fashionistas know that Marissa is always the first stop. The gorgeous corner boutique is Southwest Florida’s hub for designer favorites as well as edgier labels, including MSGM, Derek Lam and jewelry designer BiBi van der Velden. For the home, browse Gattle’s, a 110-year-old emporium of luxury linens, fabulous flatware and lavish lingerie. 

Beachcombers will love Old Naples Surf Shop, where boards are king and all things beach can be found. On Saturday mornings, the back parking lot turns into the Third Street South Farmer’s Market, an open-air forum of vendors selling tropical fruit and citrus, freshly caught seafood, coffee, dog treats and more.

When you’re ready for your first Southwest Florida sunset, head back to the Golf Resort and hop on the hotel’s complimentary shuttle for a 10-minutes-in-traffic drive to . The Five-Star seaside sister hotel sits on 20 beachfront acres and is surrounded by palm trees. 

Take a walk through the garden to the beach for the sunset and then grab a table at Dusk, the luxury property’s chic sushi restaurant, where craft cocktails are served with creative hand rolls. Shuttle back in time for a nightcap on the 18th hole at the Golf Resort’s Bella Vista Lounge.

High Tee. Credit: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC

Day Two
After a great night’s sleep in your Club Level room overlooking the links, swing by the exclusive Club Lounge for complimentary coffee and a quick bite before making your way down to the greens — it’s finally tee time at the resort’s acclaimed Tiburón Golf Club.

Play 18 in a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Yes, the two tropical courses here are also a nature reserve, so expect to find protected flora and fauna along the holes.

If you’re not up for a full round, simply spend the morning polishing your swing at Tiburon’s Impact Zone Golf Academy.

And If the fairway isn’t your idea of fun, opt to rally with a USPTA-certified tennis instructor on the property’s four Har-Tru courts.

The beauty of Naples is that you are so close to mangroves, lakes and a slew of natural parks. Spend your afternoon with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and sign up for a free nature walk to find turtles, snakes and manatees or take an eco-cruise down the Gordon River.

Kayaking in Naples. Credit: Erica Firpo

Get a closer look at the region’s abundant wildlife with a guided tour by water through Wiggin’s Pass with Naples Kayak Company.

Following your afternoon of activity, indulge in some serious seafood. Snag a river-facing table at The Bay House, a gorgeous veranda restaurant on the nearby Cocohatchee River at Walkerbilt Road. The nautically themed eatery offers true hometown hospitality — a wooden rowboat hangs over the Claw Bar, where local bands play live sets Wednesday through Saturday and walls of windows give you a glimpse of neighborhood trawlers floating by.

Chef Jamie Knapp celebrates Southern cuisine and seafood with his seasonally curated menu of favorites like Charleston carpet bagger steak with bayou remoulade and St. Augustine stew practically overflowing with the day’s fresh catch. The Claw Bar features some of the best crustaceans Southern Florida has to offer.

If you have any energy for a nightcap, make the breezy 20-minute drive from The Bay House down to Truluck’s at Four-Star Inn on Fifth and Club Level Suites. The stylishly casual eatery has an intimate piano bar that’s just the place for an evening toast and a reflective chat on all that you’ve discovered over your Naples weekend.

Why We Are Going to Amsterdam This Spring

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, February 2018.

Rijksmuseum. Credit: Koen Smilde Photography

Amsterdam has always been pretty high on the travel bucket list for backpackers and studying-abroad weekenders, thanks to an epic party scene just as colorful as its tulip varietals. But it’s time to forget that old reputation. The capital city of the Netherlands is in the midst of 21st-century Golden Age, which is why we’re headed there this spring.

A culture time warp

Though often eclipsed by its other European counterparts, Amsterdam is a must-visit destination for art aficionados. The Netherlands was the center of the 17th-century art scene, immortalizing painters like Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals, and laying down the foundation for modern masters like Van Gogh and Mondrian.

The city is lined with museums and galleries that are filled with beautiful Baroque still lifes and landscapes, but the best place to start is the Rijksmuseum, the queen mother of Amsterdam’s museums for its impressive collection of works by the Dutch Masters.

Once you’ve completed your introduction to the capital’s cultural past, simply walk out the front door to explore the famed Museum Quarter, a microcosm of art with a choose-your-own-genre vibe. On either side of the boulevard, you can step back in time.

The futuristic Van Gogh Museum brings you into the world of The Starry Night painter and his contemporaries, while Moco keeps you firmly in this century with its rotating collection of Banksy works and complimentary exhibitions. For more modern pieces, stop by the Stedelijk Museum, which focuses on contemporary art and design.

Shopping in Amsterdam. Credit: Merijn Roubroeks

Shop till you drop

You know that perfect pair of seamless leisure trousers or the timeless end table you’ve been looking for? They are both in Amsterdam, a city of industrial and inventive creatives who are helping to transform it into the next global shopping destination.

If you only have a weekend, start out in the De Negen Straatjes (the Nine Streets), a hamlet in the historical center lined with beautifully curated boutiques and galleries filled with vintage to cutting-edge items. Must-visits for fashionistas include the sustainable denim shop DenhamRain Couture for fabulous wet-weather gear and the nearby Museum of Bags and Purses.

Other stylish shops along this popular retail avenue include Mendo, a bookstore for all your coveted artsy editions; The Frozen Fountain for one-of-a-kind Dutch design; Lekker for luxury retro bicycles; and the self-explanatory Likestationery.

Flower Power. Credit: Keukenh of Holland

Color Me Spring

Amsterdam in the spring is all about color. From March 22 to May 13, nearby Keukenhof is a flower frenzy with more than 800 varieties of tulips — totaling more than 7 million bulbs — exploding in full bloom across one of the largest gardens in the world.

On April 21, the flower parade of Bollenstreek heads out for a 25-mile road trip from Noordwijk to Haarlem, stopping in Keukenhof. Think of it as the floral answer to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, where colorful floats decorated with hyacinths, daffodils and tulips (of course) promenade through the gardens. Go Dutch and take the train — Keukenhof is an easy 50-minute ride from Amsterdam’s central train station.

Spring progresses from a technicolor explosion to a single-hued celebration with oranjegekte (orange madness) on April 27 for Koningsdag, the city-wide party also known as Kings Day. Europe’s largest open-air festival, King’s Day celebrates the birthday of Dutch King Willem-Alexander with concerts, parties, events and street markets, all day and night.

The 24-hour extravaganza keeps the city at a standstill, both on land and in the canals, so the best way to avoid the pedestrian crunch is to hop on a party boat. If you’re staying at the nearby Pulitzer hotel, take advantage of the revelry by reserving a few hours on the property’s wood-paneled vintage saloon vessel.

Conservatorium. Credit: Conservatorium

Where to Stay

There are so many incredible hotels in Amsterdam that it’s hard to choose. But if the focus is a weekend of full art immersion, book a room at the Conservatorium, a neo-Gothic red brick monument and former music conservatory. Along with the ideal address near the Museum Quarter, this luxe lodging is an Instagram-perfect mash-up of Italian design and Dutch minimalism.

After a day of exploring the city’s cultural highlights, be sure to treat yourself to some time in the Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre, the hotel’s subterranean spa.

Culture may be king, but if your ideal weekend is all about Amsterdam, drop your bags at Pulitzer, a canal-side hotel in the Nine Streets neighborhood. Made up of 25 restored townhouses from the 17th and 18th centuries, the property is the most stylish labyrinth you’ll set foot in. Escher-like staircases transport you through the hotel to jewel-toned rooms of indigos, emeralds, garnets and amethysts.

When you’re ready to explore beyond your personal space, check out the see-and-be-seen scene at the gorgeous, street-side Pulitzer’s Bar, a sultry art-deco-inspired speakeasy. 

5 Lisbon Hotels We Can’t Wait To Visit

This article original appeared in Forbes Travel, January 2018.

Pousada de Lisboa. Credit: Pestana Group

Mark your calendar for a European getaway this year because it’s all about Lisbon. Portugal’s capital city capitalizes on its coastal locale, a vibrant arts scene and a gorgeous culinary landscape. Here are five properties that will pique your curiosity and leave you with such a sense of saudade that you’ll be longing to come back to the City of the Light before you even leave.

Pousada de Lisboa
If you’re looking for luxury with a side of history, then this Forbes Travel Guide Recommended 18th-century address is for you.

Brazilian interior designer Jaime Morais upgraded the hotel’s 90 rooms to evoke a classic modern-chic style with artistic furniture, restored antique features like chandeliers and stained glass windows, and original works by Portuguese artists selected from local museums. 

The most enticing accommodation at this luxury Lisbon address is the Dom Pérignon Suite, which consists of 1,184 square feet of elegance in the form of a living room, two balconies with panoramic views of the Tagus River and an Irish green marble bathroom bathed in natural light.

Altis Avenida Hotel. Credit: Altis Hotel Group

Altis Avenida Hotel 
This retro-chic hotel is perfectly perched in the middle of everything you want to do in Lisbon. Located at the Praça dos Restauradores and opposite the Rossio train station, Altis Avenida has the city center at its doorsteps and all of the capital’s must-see sites within walking distance, as long as you don’t mind traversing a few hills. 

The throwback art deco décor plays to the hotel’s history as a 1940s office building with a palette of ebonies and ecrus, slick marble, Lucite and a modernist design.

2018 will bring big changes to the property (including 46 more guest rooms in an adjacent building), with all eyes on the soon-to-open rooftop bar and sun deck that surely will be Lisbon’s next hot spot.

Tivoli Avenida Liberdade’s Sky Bar. Credit: Tivoli Avenida Liberdade

Tivoli Avenida Liberdade
Another art deco reboot with a bit more of a modern flair can be found in this newly renovated hotel on Avenida da Liberdade, just below Principe Real park. Its location along this glamorous boulevard offers a straight shot to both the historic center and to the trendy Bairro Alto neighborhood.

After exploring the city, you’ll return to a tranquil retreat. Each of the historic hotel’s 286 rooms is outfitted in a calming blanket of light, muted tones with large, all-white bathrooms.

Explore the property’s verdant gardens to find a hidden oasis, the Tivoli Spa, for elegant pampering and a circular swimming pool set below the shade of palm fronds.

The perfect spot for a sip can be found on the rooftop Sky Bar, offering some of Lisbon’s best sunset views.

Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites. Credit: Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites

Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites
If you’re traveling with tots in tow, you may want to try this residential-style Lisbon retreat. The surprisingly upscale property offers 37 chicly designed suites in a 19th-century palazzo.  Martinhal’s cheerful aesthetic is a celebration of bright colors, vintage cartoon posters and classic toys, with a sophisticated style that will please parents.

Location is key — these sumptuous suites are in the very family-friendly Chiado neighborhood lined with cafés, shops, boutiques and restaurants. Popular sites such as the National Azulejo Museum and the lively Mercado da Ribeira food hall are just a short walk away as well.

Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon’s Central Lap Pool. Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon

Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon 
The luxury Four Seasons brand consistently follows through on its philosophy of white glove service, ever-present staff and immaculate facilities. Its Lisbon incarnation does not sway from this line of thinking. 

The 10-level, retro-modernist building is situated on the northern edge of Lisbon’s Marques de Pombal square — a nice walk to the historic center and art museums — overlooking the open greens of Eduardo VII Park. Its 282 rooms and four suites are done in opulent Louis XVI-style with 18th-century replica furniture, jewel-toned carpets and spacious marble bathrooms. 

Though noted for its spa and 59-foot wooden-decked central lap pool, the hotel also boasts a scenic rooftop running track that traces the perimeter of the building for a one-of-a-kind workout.

Weekender: The Best Way To See Sintra In Two Days

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel, November 2017.

Sintra’s Palace Of Pena, Photo Credit: Erica Firpo

It’s time to say olá, Portugal — and with good reason. Portugal may have been on the map since 1138 (it even rewrote the map during the Age of Discovery 500 years ago), but its heyday is now thanks to a phalanx of non-stop flights to Lisbon, its wallet-friendly affordability and limitless adventures.

If you’re planning to get to know Lisbon, you’ll want to work your trip around a weekend in Sintra. For centuries, the hillside town has been a revered outdoor retreat. Long before Portuguese nobility set up summer homes here for the fresh air and spectacular views, the Celts and Romans celebrated Sintra’s verdant vegetation and worshipped the moon gods. Moorish princes also would set up impassible outposts in its hills.

Just a 30-minute drive from the Portuguese capital, the fairytale town where castles bloom on the hillside is listed as a UNESCO cultural landscape.  

When you get there, drop your bags at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais Sintra Hotel, an 18th-century neoclassical palace that captures the region’s romantic vibe. The 30-room property is both a period piece and hilltop kingdom — rooms follow the building’s original décor while the sprawling grounds consist of gardens with fruit trees, herbs and a topiary maze, tennis courts and a panoramic pool area overlooking the countryside.

From the Palácio, it’s a relaxing 10-minute walk to Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra’s most eclectic estate. The Regaleira palace is an architectural mélange of Gothic, Roman, Moorish and Renaissance features and its four-hectare grounds are ripe for exploration — discover the decorative gazebos, waterfalls, tunnels and even the Initiation Wells, a pair of subterranean spiral towers.

Head back to your hotel for a sunset view just behind Palácio de Seteais’ own historic landmark — a neoclassical arch built in 1802 in honor of Portugal’s Prince regent John VI and Princess Carlota Joaquina.

As dusk descends, make your way to dinner in the palace’s grand salon, an elegant restaurant led by chef Miguel Silva, whose concept of revisited Portuguese cuisine is a celebration of the country’s best fish dishes as well as farm-to-table recipes

Day One

Wake up early and put on comfortable shoes. The hilltops of Sintra are known for beautiful trekking, but if you need the extra minutes of beauty sleep, you can also take a taxi to the day’s destination.

By 9 a.m., you’ll want be at the Parque de Sintra’s Palacio de Pena entrance to queue for tickets. The Parcque de Sintra is a wooded labyrinth on the town’s Monte da Lua, where cultural sites flourish, including the colorful Palace of Pena, the beautiful Palace of Monserrate, the medieval Moorish Castle and the wild Convent of the Capuchos.

It’s easy to lose yourself in the castles, and even more so in the surrounding forest grounds where you’ll find monuments, gardens, lakes and other royal amusements.

Make sure to plan the day in advance; think about whether you’d rather economize your time with a combination Pena/Moorish Castle ticket with bus service or, for the more ambitious, the all-in-one five-park pass.

For equestrians, the most beautiful way to see the sights is on horseback.

Make the windy two-mile trek back to Sintra’s city center, or hop in a tuk-tuk for a bumpy ride down the one-lane road. The tiny town is an intriguing maze of historic buildings, shops and eateries and, lately, it’s become a popular destination, so make sure to book dinner reservations in advance. Some of our favorite spots are Tascantiga, a contemporary tapas restaurant, and Tacho Real for traditional Portuguese dishes.

Day Two

After storming all the castles of Sintra, you deserve to center your second day on some R&R. If you’re visiting on a weekend, start things off with Sunday brunch in the hotel’s frescoed dining room. From local favorites like queijadas (tiny egg pastries made with local cheese) to salads featuring fresh herbs and vegetables and tasty omelets, the spread is a cornucopia of not-to-be-missed delights. 

Take your day of indulgence to the next level with a decadent massage. The palace’s dovecote has been converted into Anantara Seteais Spa, a sanctuary combining world-renowned Thai techniques with local ingredients (lavender, rosemary, regional Colares wine) to create treatments that reflect both a sense of history and place. 

Once you’ve been pampered, stake your claim at one of the poolside cabanas at the Seteais’ glamorous swimming hole, a wood-paneled pool overlooking the countryside.

Enjoy a traditional Portuguese cataplana (seafood stew) at the outdoor restaurant before heading back to Lisbon.

Weekender: Lisbon

Requisite, shameless Lisbon self-portrait.

Lisbon, it’s about time.  Over the past few years, I’ve heard so much about Portugal’s capital - from its food scene and azulegos to its 2017 title as Ibero-American Capital of Culture, that I finally booked a flight for a long weekend.  I had a pretty good idea I would like the city, but I didn't expect I would fall head-over-heels in love.

The City of the Seven Hills, Lisbon is an easy like.  Cascading hills with beautiful architecture, an incredible history thanks to the Age of Discovery history, and its sunshine- Portugal’s capital has the most optimal number of daylight hours in Europe.  Lisbon is so easy to like.   And then add its uncanny similarities with twin city, San Francisco- west coast, hills, waterfront, suspension bridge, cable cars and an epic earthquake that transformed the city.  But to love Lisbon?  For me, it was all down to the small details - the expected like the azulejos (color, patterned ceramics) decorating buildings in every neighborhood, the obvious like the vintage trams, and the subtle like the art nouveau leftovers, forgotten 1960s and 70s neon signs and the sweet yellow mustard on the bifana sandwich. 

With only 72 hours to get to know Lisbon, we had to have a plan, and over the years, we perfected our version of a great weekender: Choose Your Own Adventure, i.e. pick a monument, neighborhood, food, and see what happens.  Lisbon is perfect for that mentality.  It's a puzzle of neighborhoods built into the hills- filled with colors, history and great smells.   For the map-curious: we chose the historic Avenida da Liberdade, a long and luscious boulevard spanning 1100 meters across the old city to water, as home base and reference since the Avenida is visible from any high point.

   Roterdao  (Cais do Sodré)


Roterdao (Cais do Sodré)

Monument

Castelo de São Jorge, an 11th century castle and fort in Alfama, one of the oldest areas of the city.  The Castelo is prime lookout over the entire city-  the entire city is laid out at Alfama's feet the east, a cascade of red terracotta roofs leading down to the glassy Tager river.  From here, you can snake your way down through Alfama - camera ready, of course, for its gorgeous Gothic churches, azulejo-tiled buildings and vintage trams (yes, they are part of public transportation) - to Baixa. Redesigned after the 1755 earthquake, Baixa is an easy grid, a tic-tac-toe of long boulevards leading to Praca de Comercio, the enormous waterfront plaza with even more monumental arc.   Pay attention as you may your way to the Praca and you'll find art deco and art nouveau signage and storefronts decorating new shops as well as some vintage finds.  There are sardine shops designed as 1920s boutiques and yesteryear caffes selling pastel de nata,a yes-you-must-eat pastry, as well the gambit of shopping- contemporary stores with early 1920s die cute lettering from boutiques past.  In Baixa center is a 45-meter-high and very elaborate wrought iron elevator, Elevador de Santa Justa, a panoramic from the 19th century.  Perfect for people with patience and looking for a Pay-Per-View.  If not, skip past and walk up Rua do Carmo, a shopping street, to the Bellalisa elevator for a great short cut to Carmo Convent, the ghostly remains of a 14th century gothic church destroyed in the earthquake. 

Monuments come in so many forms. Be on the look out for the Ponte de 25 Abril, a Golden Gate lookalike (and ironically built by the same team behind the Bay Bridge), and Ponte Vasco de Gama, a futuristic cable-stay bridge that sneaks up on you.

Ascensor da Glòria (Baixa/Bairro Alto)

Neighborhood

So many neighborhood to explore, so once you've walked Alfama, your next stop should be Bairro Alto and Principe Reale, two pocket neighborhoods on the western overlooking hills that will eventually lead you down to Chaido, Baixa and the rest of Lisbon.   Calm and collected, Principe Real is an easy hike from Avenida, serpentining past small parks and crumbling azulejos-decorated buildings to the park itself, a green square with playground, caffes and weekend street market.  The area is a Pandora's box of local flavor.  Hidden in the park is an underground museum-  Museo del Agua- an octagonal reservoir that was the city’s water source, while facing it is Embaixada, a concept store featuring local designers in a neo-classical Arabian palace.  The Rua Dom Pedro V is lined with boutiques, eateries and bars.  You'll have your choice for whatever your flavor but be on the look out for Solar, a family-run antiques store with catacombs of authentic azulejos, and Pastelaria Padaria Sao Roque, an art nouveau coffee shop.  Bairro Alto is where you'll want to make sure you have your back up battery- this is where you'll find in situ azulejos on decadent, abandoned and recycled buildings and inside churches.  Make three wishes when you stop in Sao Pedro de Alcantara, Sao Roque and Santa Catarina- beautifully decorated churches worth stepping into.   Short cut to Baixa with Ascensor da Gloria, a vintage tram whose single route it's a straight shot up and down a steep incline.  Or keep walking, you'll find yourself in Chaido, where the relaxed pace of Bairro Alto moves into more frenetic rhythm with its shops, cafes and businesses.  Meander and you'll find MAAT, the contemporary art museum and eventually Cais do Sodré, the former red light district close to the water. In the daytime, it's simply another charming distressed neighborhood with street art, great late 60s/70s signage, and everyone's favorite canned fish and aperitivo at Sol e Pesca, and at night, it's a scene- more hot pink, than red light.

If you want to flip the script on traditional, take the metro to Parque das Naçoes, a modern microcosm that requires only a 30 minute metro ride to Lisbon's northeast.   Designed and constructed for 1998 World Fair, Parque das Nacoes is a Portuguese Gattaca of wide streets, slick architecture and rectilinear design. From the moment you step out of Oriente Station, you get the vibe. An eco-concerned (and friendly) Lisbon Future where organization, intellectual stimulation and perhaps even art are paramount.  Large maps line the boulevards detailing public art and architecture. And accenting the grid of museums (science, Oceanarium, et cetera), parks and playgrounds, are environmentally-forward projects including public bike stands and recycled waterfalls. This is where you bring kids like me.

Oceanario (Parque de Naçoes

Food

It's always good to have goals and mine are double the fun- pastel de natas, that delicious egg tart, that if slightly singed makes my heart sing, and bifana, a braised pork sandwich garnished with a sweet mustard.  Make it easy by starting in Baixa and follow your nose around Praca Rossio, a large square in Baixa where there are several pastry shops and caffes.  Chances are you'll find pastel de natas and more, and it can't hurt to try them all. In fact, my rule of thumb is no matter where you are in Lisbon, if there is a pastel de nata, eat it.  (For the serious foodie, you can take a 3O metro ride from Rossio to Pasteis de Belem, considered the very best pastry in Lisbon and located near national monument Belem tower).  Bifanas require more foot work and on hand cash.  Baixa is also ideal for bifanas since it always has the most concentration of people and these no frills sandwiches are best enjoyed at no frills caffes, aka cheap.  East of Pracas Rossio is Casas das Bifanas, aka the home of the pork sandwich, and around the NW corner of Pracas Rossio is Cafe Beira Gare, a stand up bar with table service and barely any elbow room.  Though I enjoyed several a bifana, I was completely captivated by its beef counterpart-  the prego, marinated beef strips on bread bun.  Bar tab: 4 euro, sandwich and beer.   No, we did not just snack. Cataplana, a traditional seafood dish from the Algarve region, should be Unesco recognized.  If it's not, we recognized it, as with the rest of Lisbon's seafood.

Prego at Cafe Beira Gare (Baixa)

Tips and Tricks

GUIDE: Lisboa Autentica is a grassroots organization of Lisbon academics who organize tours- walking, biking, around the city- themed and bespoke.  They love Lisbon and it shows. We spent a few hours walking from Principe Real to Chaido with Davide.  Tell him we said hello.

GETTING THERE: Easy.  National carrier TAP Air Portugal dominates the skies.  From Rome FCO, it’s an easy 3-hour direct flight. The planes were modern, the staff young and very friendly. TAP flies non-stop from New York JFK ,and London (along with British Airways.  We hired a car but getting from the airport to the city center is as simple as a metro ride, taxi or bus.

SLEEP: We rested our heads at Tivoli Avenida Liberdade- a reboot of what may be an Art Deco palace on the very posh Avenida da Liberdade, a long, tree-lined boulevard with public squares decorated with monuments and caffe chiosks, while shops with the occasional art deco facade flank.  Avenida's lobby set the stage for what we considered the best weekend ever: luminous, lush couches, vintage decor, contemporary art and an incredible floral arrangement.  Our rooms were modern minimalist, in other words, sleek and spacious, perfect meditation after a long day walking around. Avenida's best kept secret is not only the rooftop Skybar and Terrace restaurant (which is pretty amazing with that all encompassing view) but the backyard pool and spa, a seemingly private piscine (totally round!) surrounded by monumental magnolia trees and azulejos tiles.

EAT: You eat well in Lisbon and quality is priced well.  Along with Tivoli's terrace, think about 100 maneiras, Peixaria da Esquina, Tasca da Esquina  .  And peruse Nelson Carvalheiro's Lisbon-centric website.

SLO down in California's Central Coast

Left Coast, Best Coast, Central Coast.  In the very middle of California is a gorgeous 350 mile stretch of coastline, countryside and mountains known as the Central Coast, an area of four regions and six, count'em, six counties linked together by a ragtag band of beach communities, old mission and university towns, and farmland, all tricked out with Mother Nature's very best from blazing sunsets and wintergreen peaks to mammoth-sized seals, cuddly otters, blue whales and herds of Hearst zebras.  Forget the panning, the Central Coast is true California Gold.

And in the center of it all, and almost equidistant from the California you and I know, is the old Spanish mission town San Luis Obispo.  Just as chill as its acronym, SLO is laid back, a home grown college town with a population of 47, 000, where A-Frames, Victorians, and Craftsman bungalows surround the agro-tech Cal Poly State University.   In the center of it all is San Luis Obispo de Tolosa,  the 18th century mission, the core to a network of coffee bars, vintage boutiques, pyschadelic donut shops, a Farmer's Market, and local businesses, in postcard perfect classic California style.  It's a slice of Americana pie, so picturesque that it's been a movie set back drop. In fact, when I was returned this past August for our annual family meet up, we bumped into Keanu and Winona in downtown SLO.

SLO, like most towns in California, is one of those place where it's easy to chill, to hang out, to get out.   Walk, run, hike, surf, zipline, sky dive, air balloon, ski, kayak. . . every outdoorsy adventure you want to have is right in front of you and under that gorgeous California sun. Each time I visit, it's like I am living the Nike slogan all the time- I just do it.  I've learned how to surf at Morro Bay and then spent a few hours watching the otters sunbather near by; rode some trails through the Oceano Dunes, the largest coastal dunes left in California- and backdrop to a Star Wars film, and zip-lined through the wineries

Everyone will tell you that the Central Coast is California's best kept secret.  It's beautiful, "real" California. The colors are intense, and so is the diversity of the terrain.  You can hike the foggy foothills in the morning, and lose yourself among the dunes in the same afternoon.  And there is no doubt that the sunsets are the best in the world, especially when watching the Pacific Ocean go technicolor.  Even more amazing are when California's incredible wildlife make guest appearances.  In my last visit, I tried whale watching, spied otters and elephant seals sun bathing, and caught up with the zebras running through Hearst ranch.  Next up: bird watching.  California keeps me outdoors more hours than in, and that's all I need.

No matter what, my favorite Central Coast moments, and there are so many, have been just taking in the panoramas and turning off, or better yet, putting down my phone.  Ironically I noticed something just a little different about SLO on this last trip- it was cash free and easy to be contactless.  I know, I know, contactless is the norm nowadays, except in Rome where cash is king and hovering a credit card or smart phone over a reader is ridiculous.  But in the Central Coast, contactless is just how things are done.  Take my morning zip line adventure at Margarita Adventures for example:  I signed the liability release, and then zip-lined over vineyards.  I spent what felt like hours picking out the prettiest tie-die donuts from SLO Donut Co.  My surf lesson with Trevor? That incredible clam chowder in a sour dough bowl at Tognazzini's Dockside?  Those tickets at Hearst Castle? Yep, I did it all.  

 

More favorites on the Central Coast:

Just an hour drive north up the coast to San Simeon and Hearst Castle, William Randolf Hearst's mountain top getaway -national landmark and true California history.  After the tour, look out for Hearst's zebras on the ranch, and then head to Piedras Blancas to see the elephant seals up close and personal.

Closer to SLO is Morro Rock, a humongous volcanic plug in Morro Bay, where you enjoy the otters sunbathing, or get your sea legs in a whale watching adventure with SubSea toursWavelengths is where I signed up for surf lessons, while my sister kayaks the bay.  We make pit stops for clams and chips and fried oreos at Giovanni's Fish Market, and barbecued oysters and clam chowder sour dough bowl at Tognazzini's Dockside.  

For laid back days, Pismo Beach and Avila Beach are two of many great seaside communities where you can pretty much just hang out, catch sunsets and live the beach life.  I'm pretty partial to the cuban sandwich at Paradise Beer Garden.  For more hands on adventure, Pacific Dunes Ranch has trail riding through the Oceano Dunes Reserve where you can race dune buggies around the largest beaches I've ever seen . .  .

CLICK HERE FOR A MAP OF MY FAVORITES ON THE CENTRAL COAST

How to get to San Luis Obispo

Whether from San Francisco or Los Angeles, coastal or inland, the lead up to SLO is beautiful. Drive north on the 101and you're drifting through seaside communities,  take the Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner** from Los Angeles and you're crossing through the very best of California terrain- red rocks, mountains and coast line.  Head south on the 101 (or north on the 5) and you're driving through FarmVille.  Every frame is an old Sunset magazine editorial spread, and every town is a movie backdrop with houses like Mitch Ever's ranch in the Parent Trap, the House of Seven Gables and Grandpa's house in The Lost Boys.  No matter what, when planning out a drive on the 101, keep an eye on current and up-to-date weather-related traffic conditions.  You don't want a landslide stopping your flow.

** Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight both take about in about five to six hours between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo.  Though the trip is about twice as long as the drive, it's very scenic and the National Park Service is on board sharing regional heritage for Trails & Rails.

Spending Three Perfect Days in Bangkok

This article originally appeared on May 10, 2017 in Forbes Travel.

Bangkok often overwhelms travelers with its traffic, concrete and heat. Not to mention that Thailand’s capital city has 14 million people flocking to its urban center, nearly double the population of New York City.

The secret to navigating Bangkok is to do a little preparation. Follow our three-day itinerary to discover the city in a whole new and calming way.

Day One
After more than 20 straight hours of flying, there are three things you must do once you’ve checked into the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel: First, reserve a massage for that very afternoon in the hotel’s Four-Star spa. Our suggestion is the 90-minute Siam 2482, an indulgent muscle and circulation stimulation completely necessary before running around the city.

Second, be sure to book your space at Morning Wellness for Day 3 (more to come on that). Lastly, head to the pool, a palm-tree-lined sundeck with hints of Bangkok’s unforgettable skyline, where you’re going to soak in some relaxation before your full cultural immersion begins.

You have a date with Smiling Albino. Founded by Canadian-born Thai television celebrity Daniel Fraser in 1999 to showcase and share Thai cultural heritage, Smiling Albino is one of Southeast Asia’s leading luxury and adventure tour companies.

According to Fraser, the best way to understand Bangkok is through its street food scene, and Smiling Albino has planned a six-hour walking tour from Soi Pipat, a road lined with vendors, to Yaowarat, the city’s Chinatown. (Take advantage of this now, as the government announced it will wipe out all street food vendors by the end of 2017.)

You’ll sample yam (a bag filled with spicy Thai salad that’s charmingly nicknamed Plastic Wife), knomjeen (a rice noodle dish with brown curry), the trendy rot-duan (your choice of dried bamboo worms, crickets or grasshoppers), Thai iced tea and more.

The tasting tour will have you scurrying around on foot and by tuk tuk (those Instagram-worthy three-wheel taxi carts) before your journey ends for the evening on a city rooftop watching the glow of Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.

Day Two
You’ve seen the city by night, so now it’s time for Bangkok in Technicolor with a full day of back-to-back excursions. Walk around Ko Rattanakosin, the historic Phra Nakhon district and Bangkok’s ancient city where cylindrical temple stupas dot the landscape. Both Anantara and Smiling Albino can organize dynamic day tours.

Ko Rattanakosin is the city’s culture center of Thai Buddhism, an area concentrated with historic wats (“temples”). Wear lightweight long pants and sandals for visiting sacred sites such as Wat Pho, one of Bangkok’s oldest temples and home to the 150-foot-long Reclining Buddha; Wat Phra Kaew, the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand and site of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha; and Wat Mahatat, headquarters of Thailand’s largest monastic order, university and meditation center.

In the afternoon, you’ll be floating down the River of Kings with the Klong Guru to explore the western neighborhoods via a network of klongs (“canals”). Traveling by long-tail boat (a long and multicolored canopied canoe-like hull), you’ll peek into life in “Venice of the East,” with floating markets, houses, temples, restaurants and even a traditional puppet show.

Make your way back to the Pathum Wan district for a unique take on traditional Thai cuisine. Take a tip from Fraser and try Issaya Siamese Club, a century-old Thai villa; Namsaah Bottling Trust, a former soda-bottling factory and bank; or Nahm, the poolside restaurant of COMO Metropolitan Bangkok. These three restaurants are pushing the boundaries of local dining with a progressive take on traditional and village recipes.

Enjoy a nightcap 83 stories above the city on the rooftop observation deck of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, Thailand’s tallest building.

Day Three
Rise and shine for a 6 a.m. sunrise wellness session starting with a Buddhist blessing. The Tak Bart Buddhist ritual takes place in Anantara Siam Bangkok’s lobby, a gorgeous gilded space. Every day, at 6:20 a.m., hotel staff and guests present Buddhist monks alms, returned with the monk’s blessing, completing a traditional and peaceful way to start the day.

From the hotel, it’s a short walk to Lumphini Park for a 45-minute Light Energy Session combining yoga and meditation, followed by a picnic brunch — a smorgasbord of quinoa and mixed fruit salad, poached salmon, sandwiches and juices.

Head back to the Bangkok hotel for a 60-minute Chakra Crystal Balancing Therapy to wrap up the wellness session.

After you’ve found your center, you’re ready to explore the city’s industrial history with a visit to the Jim Thompson House. Thompson, a retired army officer and alleged CIA operative, settled in Bangkok in the late 1940s and built up a silk empire, until his mysterious 1967 disappearance.

His home, a beautiful assemblage of sections from century-old Thai villas, is now a museum showcasing Thompson’s art collection of historical Buddhist statues and traditional Thai paintings.

Onsite is a Jim Thompson store selling beautiful silk clothing, accessories and housewares. The surrounding neighborhood is also home to local Bangkok silk weavers and dyers, whose studios and laboratories can be visited.

Chakras balanced and perfectly coordinated with a Jim Thompson silk scarf, head back to the Anantara Siam Bangkok for your last pad Thai at Spice Market, the hotel’s signature restaurant.