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Loma de Vida Spa & Wellness at La Cantera

One of the pools at Loma de Vida spa.

It was the most beautiful bathtub I’d ever seen. Carved out of wood and perched on a deck overlooking the golf course at La Cantera Resort & Spa, the giant curved beauty beckoned me to disrobe, climb in and sink down, wineglass in hand, to enjoy the view of the 550-acre hilltop resort near San Antonio.

But the rainy cold weather, the lack of an invitation and desire to strip down in front of a group kept me clothed and continuing on our tour of Loma de Vida Spa & Wellness. This enchanting 25,000-square-foot indoor and outdoor space just opened last fall and we were touring one of the two Sky Loft suites with magnificent views of the hill country of Texas.

The Gathering Place, with views of the hill country of Texas

The Spa also includes two couples’ suites, salt water pools and three garden cabanas. Add this to your fantasy reel: you can even rent your own private grotto with its own private pool. There’s a full gym to get your workout in, but it was hard to picture myself anywhere other than that tub or sinking down into one of the lounges around a fireplace in the Gathering Place. The views alone would lower my stress.

The exterior of Loma de Vida at La Cantera

“We want people to disconnect to reconnect,” said Maggie Dunphy, Executive Director of Spa and Wellness for Destination Hotels and La Cantera Resort. Count me in – I’ll disconnect from whatever I need to for a day in that place. Even if you aren’t staying at La Cantera, which I suggest you do as it is lovely, you can visit the spa on a day pass. In addition to booking a treatment, check out the spa menu and organic juices at Quenche Juicery.

Yes! Voice-Activated Hotel Rooms

I loved my room at this property in Playa del Carman. But the off switch on the nightstand didn't work, and I had to cover it up with bath towels.
I loved my room at this property in Playa del Carman. But the off switch on the nightstand didn’t work, and I had to cover it up with bath towels.

I stayed in a charming hotel housed in a former monastery in Avignon, but encountered an issue the monks never had to deal with. I couldn’t turn out the lamp by my bed.

At another property in Mexico, the beautiful nightstand lit up, a fun feature during the day. But when the off switch doesn’t work at night, not so much. I had to pull out all my bath towels and drape them over the nightstand so I could sleep.

At a hotel in Seville, I had to call the front desk to send someone to show me how to turn on the TV. I’ve also frozen/been overheated in hotel rooms because I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the thermostat. Or in some cases, couldn’t locate it in the first place.

Those problems will be a thing of the past if other properties follow the example of Aloft Hotels and its new program that’s been referred to as “Project: Jetson.”

Guests at Starwood properties Aloft Boston Seaport and Aloft Santa Clara can enlist an iPad app using Siri that allows them to turn on/off the TV, change the temperature and turn the lights on and off using voice commands.

Here’s how it works. You walk in your hotel room, where you’ll have instructions on the TV on how to set up the voice activation. Then you introduce yourself to Siri and talk to her long enough for her to recognize your voice when you ask her to do stuff for you later.

In addition to adjusting settings in the hotel room, you can also ask Siri questions like “Where can I get Thai food close by?” or “What time does the aquarium open?’ She’s like your in-room assistant you don’t have to share the bathroom with!

 

Now, if it will just make coffee for me in the mornings.

 

5 Reasons to Love Kimpton Hotels

Posh Parker is Director of Pet Relations at Hotel Palomar San Diego. She spends her time greeting guests, lounging by the pool and hanging at the dog spa. A dog’s life, indeed.
Posh Parker is Director of Pet Relations at Hotel Palomar San Diego. She spends her time greeting guests, lounging by the pool and hanging at the dog spa. A dog’s life, indeed.

I never know what to expect when I open the hotel room door in a Kimpton hotel. This restaurant and hotel group is known for its fun and quirky decorating style, with no hotels the same. Yesterday we opened to door to our room in the Hotel Allegro in Chicago and were greeted with carpet and wallpaper in shades of brown and beige, with a pink-and-green painting provided a large splash of color. Kimpton rooms always make me smile.

This group of boutique hotels has 64 properties in 33 cities in the US and Grand Cayman, with international destinations coming soon. Here are five more reasons it’s one of my favorite hotel groups.

Hotel Allegro is in the theater district, close to shopping and Millennium Park, shopping and the theater district.
Hotel Allegro is in the theater district, close to Millennium Park, shopping and the theater district.

1. Good locations

The Kimptons I’ve stayed in were all within walking distance of major attractions, a huge plus for me. My favorite way to see a city is by foot and I love just walking out the front door to explore.

Yesterday I walked six blocks and was at Millennium Park, passing by several stores I hope to have time to return to. When we stayed at Kimpton Topaz in DC we were two blocks from the Dupont Circle Metro station so we could easily reach anywhere in the city we wanted to go.

We enjoyed a glass of prosecco at Hotel Allegro’s nightly wine hour.
We enjoyed a glass of prosecco at Hotel Allegro’s nightly wine hour.

2. Nightly Wine Hours

Every Kimpton has a nightly Wine Hour in the lobby hosted by a member of the staff. Yesterday I returned weary and overheated after an afternoon of sightseeing, and putting about nine miles on my Fitbit. That refreshing glass of prosecco was a welcome sight, and revived me for our evening out.

A few of the properties have also started a Nightcap Program that includes a small pour of a libation paired with a snack.

3.Kimpton Karma Rewards

Sign up for this free rewards program and you’re eligible for several perks, including free wifi, a $10 bar credit to use in the room or at the hotel bar, and credit towards free nights. You’ll also receive an email for 20 percent off daily rates for stays Thursday to Sunday during your birthday month.

My son and I loved the Hotel Topaz in DC, with its funky eyelash art. It had a separate desk area where I could work while he slept in.
My son and I loved the Hotel Topaz in DC, with its funky eyelash art. It had a separate desk area where I could work while he slept in.

4. Complimentary bikes and yoga mats

Every room has a yoga mat, and select hotels offer yoga classes by the pool or on the rooftop. And all hotels offer complimentary bikes. During a stay at Hotel Monaco in Chicago a few years ago, I hopped on a bike and set off of a ride on the Chicago Lakefront Trail. I had a delightful morning while enjoying the stunning views and getting in tons of exercise.

5. Pet-friendly service

We no longer have a dog (rest in peace, Riley), but if he had traveled with us, he’d be welcomed at any of the Kimpton properties at no charge. Even though he weighed close to 90 pounds. “If your pet fits through the door, we welcome them,” according to the website. Many Kimptons even have a Director of Pet Relations to greet you.

Pick Your Palace: All-Inclusives in Cancun, Mexico

The beach at Playacar Palace Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
The beach at Playacar Palace Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

I can predict with 100 percent accuracy that the first day back at work after vacation I will be a big bowl of grumpy. Returning from a fun trip is always hard, and made so much more difficult if you encountered sticker shock from all the Amex charges you racked up, plus several layers of taxes on your hotel bill.

Danger, danger! That was my thought when the bellman showed me the in-room drink dispenser at Playacar. These are in every room, but I steered clear.
Danger, danger! That was my thought when the bellman showed me the in-room drink dispenser at Playacar. These are in every room, but I steered clear.

That’s just one reason I love all-inclusives. Go ahead — try that exotic appetizer, island cocktail or froufrou dessert — it won’t show up on a bill later making you regret your indulgence. (At least not for the money spent. The calories are between you and your waistline.)

Best Tuesday afternoon ever: fresh ceviche, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a comfortable lounge chair and this view.
Best Tuesday afternoon ever: fresh ceviche, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a comfortable lounge chair and this view.

On a recent trip to Cancun, I visited three gorgeous all-inclusive properties, all part of the Palace Resorts. This hotel group has eight properties, with four in Cancun and one each in Jamaica, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen.

 

A first for me at Playacar: drinking  out of a skull, a smoking drink no less made with mescal and named De La Muerte.
A first for me at Playacar: drinking out of a skull, a smoking drink no less, made with mescal and named De La Muerte.

They all offer a friendly flower/drink welcome at check-in, free wifi, 24-hour room service, gorgeous beachfront locations, nightly entertainment and luxurious accommodations. They have two features I’d never seen before —  a huge whirlpool tub for two (right in your room!), a CHI hair iron and an in-room liquor dispenser. I used two out of three, and kept my distance from the other. And let’s not forget the amenity that really fills me with joy — the swim-up bar. So how do you choose?

My room at Playacar, with another light-up nightstands.
My room at Playacar, with another light-up nightstands.

The best way is to pick on the basis of who you are traveling with. But here’s an important note: whichever resort you are staying at, you have access to the others, with the exception of Le Bianc. A 24-hour shuttle service runs between the properties while a ferry can take you from Playacar Palace to Cozumel Palace. And if you book a five-to-eight night stay, you’ll receive $1,500 resort credit to use for visits to the spa, golf, romantic dinners and tours.

With limiting the choice to the three properties I visited, I’d return to these:

One of the paths to the beach at Moon Palace, soon to the largest resort in Latin America. Like Vegas, but nicer. And on the beach
One of the paths to the beach at Moon Palace, soon to be the largest resort in Latin America. Like Vegas, but nicer. And on the beach

Quirky Stays Around the World

I’m in town for a bit, so naturally I’m doing a little Friday afternoon day dreamin’ about places I’d like to stay. Homestay.com shared some of its quirkier accommodations around the world. I’ve added a few of them to my “maybe some day” list.  And one to the “hell no, never” list.

For just 115 Euros a night, you can rent this charming 16th-century two-bedroom stone house in Avignon, France. Wouldn't this be the perfect setting to work on that book?
For just 115 Euros a night, you can rent this charming 16th-century two-bedroom stone house in Avignon, France. Wouldn’t this be the perfect setting to work on that book?
This treehouse in San Antonio de Escazu, San Jose, Costa Rica, has a private terrace and bed on an upper floor accessible by a ladder. And yes, it has wifi!
This treehouse in San Antonio de Escazu, San Jose, Costa Rica, has a private terrace and bed on an upper floor accessible by a ladder. And yes, it has wifi and the rate starts at $64!
On the "yes, please" list is this traditional Balinese house called "sikut satak" in Tampaksiring, Gianyar. A one-minute walk from the village, it has its own family temple and rates start at just $13.
On the “maybe some day” list is this traditional Balinese house called “sikut satak” in Tampaksiring, Gianyar. A one-minute walk from the village, it has its own family temple and rates start at just $13.

Now for that “hell no, never” home. It’s located on Mykonos Island Greece, a place I long to visit. And it starts at just $136 a night? The problem? See if you can guess from the photo.

You can't argue with the views. And yes, there are two other bedrooms so you aren't limited to sleeping on the precipice of the world. But I can just envision myself lying under the stars after a few glasses of ouzo, getting up to use the restroom, and then taking my final steps right off that roof.
You can’t argue with the views. And yes, there are two other bedrooms so you aren’t limited to sleeping on the precipice of the world. But I can just envision myself lying under the stars after a few glasses of ouzo, getting up to use the restroom, and then taking my final steps right off that roof.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Pilgrimage to Natchez

 

Take a 30-minute tour of Stanton Hall, then enjoy lunch at the adjacent Carriage House Restaurant.
Take a 30-minute tour of Stanton Hall, built in 1837 at a cost of $83,000, then enjoy lunch at the adjacent Carriage House Restaurant where I’d be every week if I lived in Natchez.

When my husband and I got married at Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, I told my sister-in-law our wedding would be in an antebellum home. “What’s that?” she said. As a native of California, she wasn’t familiar with the term that refers to neoclassical-style homes from before the Civil War, primarily found in the South.

Fans of the gracious architectural style and the history that goes along with the homes have to visit Natchez, Mississippi, which boasts more antebellum structures than any other place. As you may recall from your American history, many of them across the region went up in fiery blazes set by the Yankees. Our wedding venue is one of the few remaining in Atlanta. You’ve seen “Gone with the Wind” so you know what happened there.

This 30,000-square-foot octagonal home was never finished. The war began, the owner died, and his wife lived on the first floor of the uncompleted home.
This 30,000-square-foot octagonal home, known as Longwood, was never finished. The war began, the owner died, and his wife lived on the first floor of the uncompleted home. You can still see the workers’ tools left behind.

While many homes are open year-round, Natchez hosts two pilgrimages a year, in the fall and the spring, when many of the owners open their homes to visitors while costumed descendants of the original owners and family friends greet guests and regale them with intriguing stories of the homes’ history.

The Spring Pilgrimage runs from March 5 to April 5, with 24 homes available for viewing. A ticket for a single home is $18 or you can purchase a package to tour three homes for $45. Other events during the Pilgrimage include an evening of jazz, other musical performances and the Historic Natchez Tableaux, which features the history of Natchez told through music and storytelling.

Dunleith was built in 1856 and now its 40-acre grounds house a restaurant and guest accommodations. Dunleith was built in 1856 and now its 40-acre grounds house a restaurant and guest accommodations. Our guide showed us a glass pane on the side of the home where brides carve their initials.

The truly adventurous can attend “The Haunting of the Towers: A Paranormal Candlelight Tour” with the owners of this home, James and Ginger Hyland, followed by complimentary champagne and refreshments. Lucky for us, when we toured The Towers, the lights were on, all the better to see the massive and magnificent collections Ginger has amassed, including a room devoted to items from “Phantom of the Opera.”

 

 

Z is for Ziva: Hyatt’s Entry into All-Inclusive

Hyatt entered the all-inclusive market and the consumer is the winner. I loved the pool at Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos
Hyatt entered the all-inclusive market and the consumer is the winner. I loved the pool at Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos.

A cucumber margarita, fish taco, wood-fire grilled pizza, Spanish tapas, 24-hour deli and Japanese Teppanyaki grill experience complete with onion volcano. These are just a few of the food and drink options all included at the new Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos.

This luxurious 591 all-suite property on the Sea of Cortez near José del Cabo, Mexico, closed last year after suffering extensive damage from category 3 Hurricane Odile. Guests had to leave their rooms, and huddle together in the large theater. I do hope the bar was open.

One year and many expansions and massive renovations later, it reopened with 12 restaurants and bars and the ability to withstand a category 4 hurricane. You’d never know it had been damaged. One of the few palm trees that survived is still on the property, valiantly making its way back to health.

The popular fire pits at Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos
The popular fire pits at Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos

My favorite features of the Baja-inspired property include my ocean-view suite, the 34 ground-floor, swim-up suites, the friendly staff and adult pool where a comfy lounge chair was always available, as was a refreshing glass of pinot grigio or mojito with freshly muddled mint. We spent our last evening in one of the floating seating pods with a fire pit, enjoying the cool fall air under the star-studded sky.

The Spaniards dominate the all-inclusive concept, beloved with the European and Canadian markets, but not so much by the Americans. Hyatt saw an opening for an U.S. company to enter the market and increase Americans awareness that all-inclusive doesn’t have to mean mediocre food and drunken all-age springbreakers. And as the hashtag says, the company is #hyattallin, having created the separate Ziva and Zilara brands, with Ziva being for all ages and Zilara exclusively for adults. In addition to Cabo, there is one Hyatt all-inclusive in Puerto Vallarta, two in Jamaica, two opening soon in Cancun, with plans to open as many as four next year in Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America.

Fabulous Four Seasons: San Diego

Our cozy living room at Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara. The fireplace was perfect to ward off the late-spring chill of Carlsbad, California.
Our cozy living room at Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara. The fireplace was perfect to ward off the late-spring chill of Carlsbad, California.

So maybe your lifestyle doesn’t support being a member of the Four Seasons Residence Club. But you can still experience the level of service and luxury enjoyed by members by staying at one of the properties, as I did recently at the Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara, in the Pacific Coast community of Carlsbad, California, just north of San Diego.

Our one-bedroom villa, decorated in the signature elegance of the Four Seasons brand, was spacious with a full kitchen, living room and balcony. We enjoyed dining on fresh California coast cuisine at the newly reopened Seasons restaurant.

Chilly weather kept us from either of the heated pools or the nearby beach, but we did enjoy a stroll down to hill to the Batiquitos Lagoon, saltwater wetlands that are home to a protected wildlife sanctuary. We took a leisurely stroll on a wooded path around the water, delighting in spotting wildlife and feeling worlds away from the business of San Diego. Make this your base for sight-seeing in San Diego or La Jolla, or perfecting your putt on any of the 90 golf courses.

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