While guests at Thailandâ€™s Banyan Tree Phuket lounge by their villasâ€™ private plunge pools, watch the sunset at Bang Tao Beach, and bliss out at the spa, some serious schooling goes down a few hundred feet away at the Banyan Tree Spa Academy. Spa therapists at Banyan Treeâ€™s 42 resorts worldwide must complete 350 hours of Spa Academy training: anatomy, theory, and customer service classes; how-to lessons on making body scrubs and herbal sachets; and hands-on workshops to learn how to masterfully perform every single treatment on the Banyan Tree Spa menu.
On a recent trip to Thailand, I traded vacation for vocation for a few hours and spent a morning as a Banyan Tree therapist in training. I shadowed therapists as they prepped the spaâ€™s treatment rooms â€“ 20 pavilions cocooned in lush tropical gardens â€“ for the dayâ€™s services. (The spa opens at 10am, but therapists are already at work by eight.) In a small lab room, a few women mashed a green apple body scrub in a mortar, while others worked to set up each room, using a 44-point checklist as their guide.
Afterward, I headed over to the Spa Academy (housed in a nondescript building adjacent to the resort), where I donned the spaâ€™s signature purple linens for a lesson in Thai massage. The art is one of the first practices therapists learn at the Spa Academy, and anyone whoâ€™s received this ancient, centuries-old treatment can attest to the skill and pressure required by those who administer it. Strength training for the hands and fingers is no joke, I learned, as I winced while counting to ten and squeezing my hand-gripper tool together as tightly as possible. Students perform these exercises daily, and work with their classmates for months in a workshop-style setting, perfecting their massage techniques.
The experience left me way more appreciative of the 90-minute treatment I received the day before. I laid on the massage table, my face tucked into the cradle, looking down at a bowl of lotus flowers on the ground. I know now that those were strategically placed there just to make me feel more relaxed. And while my therapist soothed my long-haul weary muscles with warm herbal sachets, I hadnâ€™t thought about the hours of classroom time that went into learning exactly where to place those compresses on my bodyâ€™s meridians and energy lines for optimal relief. Banyan Tree spas have earned their share of accolades over the years. Therapists create five-star experiences for guests who likely donâ€™t realize the hours that go into their relaxation â€“ but thatâ€™s exactly the point.
Images courtesy of Banyan Tree Phuket.Â
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After living in Paris for more than four years, I had stopped seeing it as the City of Love and had begun seeing it as â€˜Paris, the city where I liveâ€™ (not to mention the monotony of daily life).
That is, until my boyfriend, in from Mexico City, visited me for three weeks. As I tried to show him the best Paris has to offer, I was reminded why Paris truly is the city to be in love, and why I fell in love with Paris in the first place.
Whether youâ€™re coupled up or wandering solo, I can personally recommend these activities to feel the love in Paris.
Itâ€™s no secret that Paris has countless options for delicious, unforgettable dining experiences. Here are two restaurants where you canâ€™t go wrong.
For Â a laid-back and intimate vibe, make a reservation at Les Papilles (â€œtaste budsâ€� in French). Located in the Latin Quarter only minutes away from Luxembourg Gardens, this restaurant prides itself on serving sophisticated cuisine with no pretensions. The chef prepares one market-fresh menu for dinner, with hearty dishes such as squash soup and slow-cooked lamb, and changes daily. (The restaurant is also open for lunch.)Donâ€™t miss out on their selection of French wines, such as Petrus, Beaujolais, and Languedoc. Â I like it on the weekend when the restaurant is completely full, adding to the convivial, cozy ambiance.
Insider tip: For both museums, book a private guide through your advisor to get a more in-depth experience. If you prefer to go it alone, buy the audio guide at the museum; you donâ€™t have to use it for each painting, but for the paintings that captivate you the most, itâ€™s a helpful tool to understand the context.
Paris, like any big city, can start to feel crowded and stressful, but a stroll or a picnic in a park allows you to reconnect with nature without leaving the city limits. Parisian parks and gardens vary in style and size, but most are well-maintained.
Parc Monceau, in the eighth arrondissement, is surrounded by lavish private residences and exudes elegance and quaint charm, from its landscape design to the fashionable locals walking its paths. Youâ€™ll find a pond surrounded by fake Roman ruins, statutes of great French figures such as Guy de Maupassant and Frederic Chopin, shaded walkways, and sloping lawns ideal for picnics and lounging.
Insider tip: If you plan on picnicing, take advantage of Parisâ€™ wonderful specialty shops for cheese, wine, baguette, charcuterie, and pastries. Check out my article about Paris neighborhoods for suggestions or ask your concierge for more.
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Virgin Galactic lit up the skies above Californiaâ€™s Mojave Desert after 8 AM this morning, April 5, with spacecraft VSS Unityâ€™s first rocket-powered flight. After climbing to roughly 46,500 feet, Unity detached from mother ship Eve, at which point pilots Mark Sucky and Dave MacKay fired its rocket motor for 30 seconds, accelerating to Mach 1.87 and reaching an altitude of 84,271 feet. On descent, the pilots successfully tested the six-passenger spaceshipâ€™s â€œfeatheredâ€� reentry configuration, in which the tail assembly rotates upward to create drag and stability (modeled after badminton shuttlecocks’ slow descent), before gliding back to Mojave Air and Space Port.
The milestone event was Virgin Galacticâ€™s first powered flight of its spacecraft since the loss of its VSS Enterprise in October of 2014 and marks the start of the final phase of test flights. The company is currently preparing to move to its home base at Spaceport America outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, with the aim of becoming the first commercial spaceline to fly passengers into suborbital space.
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Howâ€™s this for a long-lasting hotel souvenir? Guests (or fans) of Ashford Castle, located an hour from Galway on the west coast of Ireland, can take home the new Ashford Castle Monopoly board.
Just like the original game, which was first created in the early 1900s, players can land in jail or bankruptcy. But instead of Boardwalk and Park Place, you can spend your game cash on the Kennedy Suite or the Reagan Presidential Suite at Ashford Castle. Various landing posts on the board include the Cinema, the Prince of Wales Bar, the wine cellar, or Irelandâ€™s First School of Falconry. At Ashford Castle, guests have the chance to meet, hug, and play with the hotelâ€™s ambassador Irish Wolfhounds every day. And in the game, the pieces include these beloved dogs.
Purchase Ashford Castle Monopoly at Mrs. Teaâ€™s Boutique & Bakery at the hotel, or online, complete with a festive green and gold box, complementing the colors of Ashford Castle.
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Three weeks, four head-to-head rounds of competition, and thousands of votes later, this yearâ€™s Virtuoso Travel Dreams Tournament champion is â€¦
Machu Picchu topped the Swiss Alps, Greece, and Tuscany on its path to Travel Dreams glory, and it edged out New ZealandÂ in the final round for the title. Peru‘sÂ most-visited siteÂ â€“ the fifteenth-century Incan citadelÂ â€“ is a worthy champion, with its towering green peaks and stunning mazes of plazas, palaces, terraces, and temples. Whether you choose to train it or trek it to this mystic city, Machu Picchu definitely deserves its dream trip status.
Take a look at the complete Virtuoso Travel Dreams Tournament bracket below to see how all 16 destinations in this yearâ€™s competition fared. We hope you enjoyed casting your votes in our first ever bracket-style, dream destination face-off. We loved seeing you share your favorites on social media, be it Hawaii, Mexico, Bora-Bora, and beyond. Let us know in the comments below â€“ did your favorite win?
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Thereâ€™s no shortage ofÂ RomeÂ food experts â€“ Katie Parla, Elizabeth Minchilli, and Rachel Roddy come to mind â€“ not to mention my friends, travel advisors, and journalists. Â This kind of “where to eat and drink” research is one of the anticipatory pleasures of planning a trip.
I wanted a mix of classicÂ Rome, within walking distance from our home base near the Piazza del Popolo, plus a few farther-flung dining spots. And I wanted to allow for serendipity to take over: If we spied an osteria down an inviting alley with ivy climbing its bricks, we could cancel our plans and drop in.
There were a few disappointments, but more often memorable dining and drinking moments in the Eternal City. Luckily, we averaged 24,000 steps per day to balance everything out.
My other coffee obsession turned out to be at our hotel. I returned several times to the Hotel de Russieâ€™s take on iced coffee, served up in a wine glass at the see-and-be-seen Stravinskij Bar. (Sightseeing + Wine with Lunch = Need Caffeine Jolt!) Unsweetened on my request, it tasted faintly of sweet cocoa, a testament to the quality of the beans. Though it was ice cold, there wasnâ€™t any ice in the glass. The secret? The bartender uses a cocktail shaker to create a frothy, smooth texture. It’s a version of what is known as a shakerato in Italy.
I love a basic cup of Italian stracciatella gelato as much as the next person, but Iâ€™ll remember the less typical, preservative-free flavors here the most. Try their popular, creamy eponymous ice cream with a strawberry-tree and honey sauce from Sardinia, or the fresh-walnut and dried-fig ice cream. Also of note: lemon sorbet made with Amalfi Coast lemons, and clementine sorbet with fruit grown in Sicily.
Cacio e Pepe at Flavio al Velavevodetto
You canâ€™t leave Rome without ordering cacio e pepe (pasta with pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper) at least once. Flavio al Velavevodettoâ€™s version was my favorite, even though Iâ€™ll never know how to say the restaurantâ€™s name properly. Located in the working-class Testaccio neighborhood and built on the site of an ancient Roman dump (you can still see terracotta pots through one of the glass walls), the restaurant first appears small, until you notice how many rooms snake down to the bottom levels. It was filled almost entirely with locals the night we went. Here, you can also try another Roman classic: carciofi alla Romana, or braised Roman artichoke hearts.
Armando al Pantheonâ€™s Lemon Pasta
Despite its location a stoneâ€™s throw from the Pantheon, this family-run trattoria has been a beloved local favorite since 1961. Itâ€™s cozy and wonderful and serves up the best of Roman staples such as cacio e pepe and spaghetti carbonara. But it was the spaghetti alla verde (pasta with lemon, arugula, and parmesan) that Iâ€™ll try to recreate at home. Also a stand-out: chargrilled lamb chops that fell off the bone.
Seafood at Osteria Gensola
Chances are you might see the dayâ€™s seafood shipment arrive as youâ€™re browsing Osteria Gensolaâ€™s menu. Located in a less-trafficked area of Trastavere, this convivial, small neighborhood spot specializes in the freshest of fish, though they do have classic pasta dishes, too.
A cornetto (Italian for â€œlittle hornâ€�) and a croissant (French for â€œcrescentâ€�) are in the same family of breakfast pastries, but the former is less buttery and flaky than its French cousin, with more of a bread-like texture â€“ youâ€™ll feel slightly more virtuous eating one in the morning. La Buvette also has wonderful mini orange-scented olive oil cakes.
Panini at Duecento Gradi
What this spot lacks in ambiance â€“ it has more of a grab-and-go, brightly lit feel â€“ it more than makes up for in/with perfect panini, starting with the freshly made, crisp and chewy bread. I went with the sardines, mozzarella, and zucchini flower version as fuel before our incredible, in-depth Vatican tour with Context Travel. Donâ€™t count on a table, but they turn over fast.
Wine (Any Wine) at Lâ€™Angolo Divino
This small and dim wine bar is what you hope to stumble upon in Rome, with bottle-lined walls, aperitivo snacks such as cheese and olives, and a friendly host, who will help you decide what to order as it fills up with Roman friends meeting for drinks. Itâ€™s just far enough away from the madness of Campo dei Fiori.
All photos by Annie Fitzsimmons.
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