A Virtuoso Thanksgiving


For most Americans, Thanksgiving is synonymous with home. It represents a break from our everyday lives in which, paradoxically, we take a brief moment to realize just how wonderful it is to have these “everyday lives.” It’s a time when families gather together, feast on turkey and (marshmallow) sweet potatoes, and usually turn on a football game or two. Above all, it’s a reminder to live each day with gratitude.

This holiday season we asked Virtuoso travel advisors, who live and breathe travel on a daily basis, about their own plans for Thanksgiving – whether it’s staying home or on the road.

Jay Johnson

Jay Johnson with his daughter.

Every year Jay Johnson, a Southern California-based advisor, and his family hop in the car and make the scenic Route 1 drive from southern California to Morro Bay, just north of San Luis Obispo, to spend Thanksgiving at his parents’ home. As true travelers would, the Johnsons use their annual trip to explore the surrounding area such as kayaking in Los Osos, visiting Hearst Castle, or wine tasting in nearby Paso Robles.

“The holidays are one of the only times when our family can travel together given busy work, school, and sports schedules,” Johnson says. While traveling during the holiday season can often mean crowds and more expensive accommodations, Johnson feels that it’s a rare time of the year when you can take a breath of fresh air, disconnect from the stresses of life, enjoy family time, and maybe even go a day without checking emails.

Barbara Sackheim King and Michael King

Barbara and Michael King with their family.

Barbara, Michael, and their family will stay home in Kansas City celebrating what they call their “second annual family Thanksgiving dinner.” Since the marriage of their son, they have gained new family members, and now host a dinner with their kids, grandkids, and their daughter-in-law’s family. The Kings’ home sits on a tall hill ringed by forest – which Barbara says makes it feel more like they’re in the Colorado mountains than the Kansas City suburbs.

“Being home invites us to wander, to explore, and to share experiences with friends we have yet to meet,” she says – a beautiful philosophy for all who love travel. Michael, an adventurer, will return from Tanzania just in time to co-host this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Taegan Taaler Walker

Taegen Taaler Walker with her family.

Taegan Taaler Walker looks forward to cozying up in her Montana home over the holiday – an ironclad tradition for her family. “It doesn’t get more Norman Rockwell than the adults playing cards and all of the young children laughing and playing games to the backdrop of a roaring fire,” she says.

Walker has traveled throughout her life from a young age, living in places like Alaska and Nebraska. It took traveling the country to become passionate about the experiences available to travelers in her native Montana, where she has fifth-generation, pioneer roots. Sometimes connecting with your home is the best inspiration for travel.

Malaka Hilton

Malaka Hilton and her family at Singita Ebony lodge in South Africa.

This year, Florida-based advisor Malaka Hilton is taking advantage of the holiday by traveling to South Africa with her husband, Ryan, and two children – Alex, a high school junior, and Carter, a freshman.

“As the kids get older and become more involved with the sports commitments – Alex for beach volleyball during the summer and Carter for baseball during spring breaks – we have a limited window of time when we can travel,” Hilton explains. They chose Thanksgiving for this reason, pulling them out of school for three days, though the kids are good students and keeping with their educational responsibilities while traveling.

“We’re fortunate that their teachers recognize how travel has shaped and will continue to shape their global perspective,” she says.

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A Virtuoso Thanksgiving


Paris Picks from The Peninsula


“Paris has been seducing us for generations,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Sharon Elsen of Menlo Park, California. “It draws us back again and again, enveloping us in its magic.” Elsen, who met her husband in the romantic French capital, is certainly bewitched. She finds enchantment “in every aspect of the city: its architecture, parks, bridges, boulevards, art and culture – and of course, its cuisine.”

Virtuoso recently stopped by The Peninsula Paris to get head concierge Nicolas Avril’s take on what’s trending in the City of Light. Avril visits a new venue each week so he can guide guests to the most of-the-moment must-dos. Here, his current recommendations.

“IT” Neighborhood

One of Paris’ most multiethnic areas, the tenth arrondissement is “vibrant, very bohemian. It’s where all the new restaurants and hip boutiques are.” For a perfect Parisian afternoon, take a leisurely stroll along the Canal Saint-Martin with its iron footbridges and tree-lined quays.

Where to Eat

The city’s hottest restaurants practice bistronomy, which Avril describes as a combination of the classic bistro experi-ence and fine gastronomy. These gastro-bistros serve “really, really amazing food at affordable prices.” The fusion of traditional French fare with Asian and other influences is also big.

“This mix, particularly Japanese and French cuisine like that served at Abri, is just, ‘wow’!”

Avril predicts that, by summer 2018, South American cuisine will be all the rage in Paris. Get ahead of the trend at Manko Paris, a chic restaurant/bar serving Peruvian fusion fare with a side of live cabaret: “To go there is like going on a journey,” he says.

For some of the best Italian in the city, try Loulou, the new bilevel eatery inside the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Its stylish terrace faces the Louvre gardens.

Dining at Loulou.

Travelers looking for tradi-tional French haute cuisine should make their way to Michelin-starred Lasserre. Expect an elegant, three-hour-long affair; in pleasant weather, a retractable roof adds to the allure.

Virtuoso advisor Sharon Elsen adds The Peninsula’s L’Oiseau Blanc to the list of must-try restaurants: “This stunning rooftop venue presides over the Paris skyline with a view of the Eiffel Tower.”

Top photo: The view from L’Oiseau Blanc at The Peninsula. 

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Paris Picks from The Peninsula


This Museum Will Make You See the Light


Sea Change

That cultural oasis shimmering in the Persian Gulf is no mirage: After five years of delays, the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum opens tomorrow, November 11. With a permanent collection that ranges from a Bronze Age Bactrian princess sculpture to twenty-first-century pieces from artists such as Cy Twombly and loans from 13 French museums, it’s the first of its kind in the Arab world.


The museum’s view overlooking the sea.

The museum’s view overlooking the sea.

Sunbeams filter through the roof to create a rain of light.

Sunbeams filter through the roof to create a rain of light.

The museum's interior plaza.

The museum’s interior plaza.

Aglow at night.

Aglow at night.


The museum’s biggest showpiece might be itself: a collection of 55 whitewashed buildings built in dry dock on site, then flooded to appear like a floating medina on the sea. Even its roof is a work of art, with eight layers of metalwork meticulously arranged to create 7,850 sunbeams that track across the courtyard in a “rain� of light – an effect amplified by mirrors on the branches of Italian artist Giuseppe Penone’s 52-foot-tall bronze tree, Leaves of Light.

All photos by Mohamed Somji.



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This Museum Will Make You See the Light


You’ll Scream for This Man

Carnagie Lee, ice cream man.

The Keys officially reopened to visitors on October 1 and are ready for a festive fall season. Next up: Fantasy Fest, Key West’s annual party of masquerade balls, parades, and costume contests (October 20 through 29).


Jamaican native Carnagie Lee is the man of the hour at Sunset Key Cottages, a seven-minute boat ride from Key West, which suffered minimal damage from Irma and reopened a week after the hurricane. Look for Lee and the Conch Cruiser among the 27-acre resort’s homes and residences starting at 3 PM daily.

Favorite feature of the Conch Cruiser? The bell: Everyone knows it means ice cream time.

Estimated cruising speed: A very easygoing three miles per hour.

What are we in for, flavor-wise? Vanilla bean, salted caramel, and chocolate gelato, plus mango and raspberry sorbets. Salted caramel is the most popular.

The scoop on sorbet versus gelato customers: Kids get gelato – they don’t count calories. Adults go for the sorbet; I’m a mango sorbet man.

Occupational hazards: If a pack of kids starts chasing after you, watch out: You could hit a hermit crab.

Worst accident so far: The chain guard came off once, and the chain ate my perfectly white pants.

Number of kids who have requested a ride on the box: Most of them.

Anything you’d like to tell your ice-cream-delivering peers? Speak with a Jamaican accent – people seem to like your ice cream more!



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You’ll Scream for This Man


Virtuoso Life Editor’s Letter: November 2017


The following Editor’s Note by Elaine Srnka, Virtuoso Editorial Director & Vice President, Content, appears in the November/December issue of Virtuoso Life:

As I write this, our world is reeling from a barrage of bad news – hurricanes ripping through the Caribbean and the United States, earthquakes rocking Mexico, and the senseless shootings in Las Vegas. Like so many of you, I have emotional and personal connections to these places, with friends and family who live there and fond memories made while visiting them.

Virtuoso’s mantra is “travel unites,” and our network’s mission is to enrich lives through human connection. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that this issue celebrates one of the most fundamental ways to connect with a place and its people: through food. Indeed, some of my favorite travel memories center on sustenance: a romantic candlelit table on the beach in Puerto Rico, a pre-concert dinner with friends in Las Vegas, communal crawfish boils in Houston. Of course, a meal is about so much more than the food; it’s also about the people you share it with. The bonds forged through meaningful travel experiences – including those that happen at the table – foster understanding and make our world a better place.

With that in mind, this month’s issue of Virtuoso Life sets the table for your next adventure. It’s said that food is the universal way to the heart – and we could all use a little love right now.

Helping Hands
When tragedy strikes, the tourism industry springs into action, from travel advisors who work tirelessly to reroute clients to our travel partners who shelter guests and even help with recovery efforts. Cruise lines such as Norwegian and Royal Caribbean (right) redeployed ships to islands affected by the recent hurricanes, delivering supplies and evacuating stranded tourists. Virtuoso is a member of Tourism Cares, an organization to which you can donate to support recovery efforts. Go to tourismcares.org to learn more.

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Virtuoso Life Editor’s Letter: November 2017


8 Dream Hotel Stays for Your Dog (and You)


Pet business is big business: The ever-growing $70 billion industry includes pet food, toys, e-commerce, subscription boxes – and travel.

The most common and most widely accepted animal travel companion is a dog. Always double-check with your travel advisor on pet policies and fees – and whether your pet piglet is allowed to check in. We rounded up some of our favorite luxury options for canines at Virtuoso hotels around the world.

The Joule Dallas welcomes dogs with a personalized dog tag, bag, and a cup full of housemade treats. A welcome letter details pet-friendly restaurants and parks in the area, and no trip to Texas would be complete without a black or white bandanna– true Texas style gifted to dog guests.

Treats at The Joule Dallas. (Photo by Korena Bolding Sinnett.)
Charlie sporting his new bandanna from The Joule Dallas. (Photo by Korena Bolding Sinnett.)

Owner Laurence Tafanel of Hotel Esprit Saint Germain in Paris is a huge dog lover; she rewards Virtuoso “best friends” with a bottle of Evian mineral water and hypoallergenic pet treats. The concierge will detail pet-friendly restaurants and bars nearby, and if you need a dog walker, they’ll book one of the best in Paris.

Find more of Tafanel’s Paris tips here: Paris, In Five Neighborhoods 

Owner Laurence Tafanel’s dog, O’Hara, relaxing at Esprit Saint Germain.

With its location at the edge of Central Park, owners and dogs staying at The Plaza can enjoy off-leash time across the street before 9 am. The hotel has introduced The Canine Companions Package with a welcome basket including treats, a chew toy, a leash, room spray, doggie bags for walks, and bowls for food and water (they also allow cats) – a portion of all pet stays go to support the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

A dog leash for your stay at The Plaza.

Dog guests at Rosewood London enjoy stylish English accommodations thanks to a recently launched a canine package in collaboration with Barbour amenities that include a dog bed, a collar, and a leash for use during the stay. Guests (owner or canine) can meet the hotel’s resident golden retriever, Pearl, who has her own Instagram and “wrote” Pearl’s Guide to London featuring her favorite pet-friendly establishments across the city.

Small dogs at the Rome Cavalieri enjoy VIP service – Very Important Pet service, that is. Owners can easily book dog sitters or walkers, reserve an appointment at the Pet Spa, and shop for pet necessities at the boutique. Special dog menu options on the room service menu include tuna and healthy rice and meat and vegetable soup. Pets are also welcome in the Tiepolo Lounge & Terrace and the Imperial Club bar.

Meet the VP of Pet Relations, Archie, at the Mandarin Oriental Paris. He’s owned by General Manager Philippe Leboeuf (though Archie goes by “Lewoof”). As a puppy, Archie spent time at London’s Claridge’s Hotel, where he grew to love room service and hobnobbed with celebrities. After moving to Paris, Archie helped develop the pet room-service menu and is on duty every Friday greeting guests. He recently started his own Instagram too.

Montage Deer Valley counts two canine ambassadors among its staff, Bernese mountain dogs Monty and Parker, who both welcome guests in the lobby. The hotel offers a Canine Cuisine in-room dining menu – after romping along dog-friendly trails, they’re sure to be hungry! – as well as dog beds and special treats.

All dogs are “Posh Pets” at The Surrey on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where they sleep on plush dog beds (monogrammed with an “S”) and slurp out of matching food and water bowls. The concierge is well-versed in dog-friendly restaurants and activities in the neighborhood – as well as dog walking services.

A posh pup enjoys The Surrey’s offerings.

Top photo: A stylish dog bed at The Plaza Hotel. 

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8 Dream Hotel Stays for Your Dog (and You)