Find Peace (From Your Phone) At These Luxury Hotels

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With the release of the iPhone X, we’re reminded that it’s been ten years since the device revolutionized the way we communicate, travel, and live everyday life. In honor of the occasion, Virtuoso asked its professional, savvy, and, yes, well-connected-in-every-sense-of-the-word travel advisors about where to go when we want to relive those peaceful moments before touchscreens permeated our lives. What are the best luxury vacation escapes for cutting the smart-phone tether?

Rancho La Puerta Fitness Resort and Spa, Tecate, Mexico

At the peaceful Rancho La Puerta, just three miles south of the U.S. border, cell phones are verboten in public areas and service is very limited, even in guest casitas. No in-room TVs and limited Wi-Fi ensure that guests at this 3,000-acre resort focus instead on wellbeing of the body, mind and spirit. More than 25 miles of hiking trails, 32 acres of gardens and 70+ indoor and outdoor activities (think yoga, art, cooking and strength training) keep guests busy and present.

Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa, Oetker Collection, Baden-Baden, Germany

The hotel’s Villa Stephanie suites are dedicated to digital detoxing. With a press of the button from the bedside table, the entire room disconnects from Wi-Fi, thanks to specially coated copper plates embedded in each room’s walls that block electronic signals. Guests can indulge in a variety of spa, wellness and even medical treatments or peruse an extensive library of books (the kind printed on paper). The hotel’s lovely setting along the banks of the Oos River in the foothills of the Black Forest also provides a get-away-from-it-all atmosphere.

Relaxing at Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa.

El Silencio Lodge & Spa, Bajos del Toro, Costa Rica

The name really says it all: Please silence your phones. El Silencio is a natural-immersion retreat nestled in 500 acres of cloud-forest highlands. You won’t find Wi-Fi in most suites (although you will in the villas). But for those jonesing for a connection, it’s available in a conference room. With no TVs either, guests have the time to enjoy a variety of eco-adventures and cultural experiences, such as planting a tree to help offset carbon emissions, hiking through hummingbird gardens and cloud-forest trails, and learning to cook or paint in traditional Costa Rican styles. And no need to request a non-smoking room since that’s not allowed at El Silencio, either.

The Ranch Malibu, Malibu, California

The Ranch Malibu, which spans 200 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains, entices visitors to explore and take in the stunning natural surroundings, rather than email, texts, or gifs. For those who can’t be trusted to (or with) their own devices, there’s no cell reception while hiking in the hills or inside the accommodations, and only limited Wi-Fi in the main building.

UnCruise Adventures

UnCruise’s small ships are designed for getting outdoors and enjoying the adventure, whether cruising to Alaska, Costa Rica, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, or Mexico. Part of the adventure is that its ships don’t offer email or Internet access. While a cell phone signal may flicker when the ships near populated areas, the rest of the time passengers will enjoy a digital detox.

Top photo: Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa, Germany.

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Getaway: We Love Bermuda

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Sunshine, shopping, and swizzles in the North Atlantic.

A two-hour flight from many East Coast U.S. cities, Bermuda makes weekend getaway dreams come true, but the island has enough shops, restaurants, pink-sand beaches, and championship golf to please travelers for longer.

Virtuoso’s Terrie Hansen, senior vice president of marketing, recently returned from the island with a list of favorite places.

Terrie Hansen and family in Bermuda.

Shop

Shop on Front Street, the main thoroughfare in Hamilton, where you’ll find local boutiques like Alexandra Mosher Studio Jewellery and department stores like A.S. Cooper’s & Sons mixed in with popular retailers like Britain’s Marks & Spencer and the American brand Vineyard Vines, filled with official America’s Cup apparel.

In the capital of Hamilton, pastel-colored, British colonial-style buildings house custom-designed shoes at Della Valle Sandals. The Italian owner and cobbler is originally from Capri and you can choose the heel height, colors, straps, and bling.

Bermuda finds from Della Valle (sandals) and The Island Shop (dish and towel).

Local artist Barbara Finsness arrived in Bermuda 1981 – find her designs (such as hand-embroidered towels and pillows, plus tableware and ceramics)  at The Island Shop. There are three locations in Bermuda, but I shopped at the main location at 3 Queen Street in Hamilton.

The best store on the island for affordable T-shirts and souvenirs is Flying Colours. Family-owned since 1937, this charming two-story shop flies 12 flags from around the world in their front window – you can’t miss it.

Eat & Drink

For sustenance beyond the hotel, Portofino’s ambience (and pizza) channels northern Italy, with shuttered windows, brick walls, and hanging lamps. We loved it so much that we ate there twice! Laid-back Swizzle Inn is the place to go for a rum swizzle, one of Bermuda’s unofficial national drinks. Try Hog Penny in Hamilton, one of the oldest pubs on the island, for casual British and Bermudian favorites.

See & Do

Ranked among the world’s best public golf courses by Golf Digest and named Bermuda’s finest course by the New York Times, Port Royal Golf Course features 18 championship holes over 6,842 yards. It is the longest and most picturesque course in all of Bermuda.

Take a scenic ferry ride from Hamilton to the Royal Navy Dockyard for fun shopping, dining, and historical sites. Finish the day, like we did, with a round of mini-golf at Bermuda Fun Golf, which has a great open-air bar for the adults.

Stay

Located in the heart of Hamilton, the 400-room Hamilton Princess Hotel & Beach Club has beautiful views of the harbor and a private beach club –  with kayaks, lounge chairs and an open-air restaurant – just a short drive away. It is a five-minute walk to Hamilton’s vibrant shops and restaurants. The hotel’s modern art collection features pieces from Jeff Koons, Banksy, Andy Warhol, and more. See it all on the hotel’s guided art tour, held every Saturday at 10 am.

The view from the Hamilton Princess beach club. (Photo: Terrie Hansen.)

Don’t miss chef Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant, Marcus, at the hotel. It’s one of Bermuda’s best restaurants, with gourmet food and spectacular views. There is live music several nights a week, making it a lively after-dinner spot.

Top photo: Getty Images/Sarah8000.

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Just Back: New Zealand

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Virtuoso’s Amy Bailey recently returned from a trip to New Zealand, where she explored the best of the country with several Virtuoso travel advisors.

Here, she remembers some of the highlights.

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Akaroa Harbour.

Why Go

“New Zealand has an incredibly diverse landscape, cascading vineyards, and myriad cultural attractions. It’s like a one-stop-shop for everyone, from adventurers wanting hiking, biking and off-roading experiences to foodies looking to expand their culinary palate.

Amy Bailey (right) in Auckland.

Soaring High

The helicopter tour we did through Milford Sound was breathtaking. We soared over mountain tops and gazed at the landscape below. Our expert pilot wowed us as he zoomed through valleys and took us directly in front of a waterfall. We touched down a few times during the tour. First, we watched seal pups in the bay frolicking in the rock ponds. Then we stopped in a spectacular valley with a river running through it to see the views. Lastly, we stopped at a luxury alpine lodge only accessible by helicopter.

Milford Sound.

Island Vibes

Just off the North Island is Waiheke, a beautiful island easily accessible by ferry. You could easily spend a day or two checking out all this laid-back island offers, like the many vineyards.

The group at a wine tasting on Waiheke Island.
Waiheke Island.

Great Hotels

We previewed many extraordinary hotels, including Wharekauhau Country Estate, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Huka Lodge, Otahuna Lodge, Annandale, Matakauri Lodge, and Eichardt’s Private Hotel. They ranged from modern and contemporary to turn-of-the-century charm. All of them have incredible views that showcase the beauty of New Zealand, whether it was the ocean, lake, river, or the countryside.

Otahuna Lodge.

Culinary Highlights

Picking a favorite is too hard – dining in New Zealand is magnificent. All of the hotels have excellent chefs. We met with Jimmy McIntyre, the executive chef at Otahuna, who taught us how to make lemon cake for the evening’s meal. He was delightful and sent us all home with recipes to recreate at home.

Cool Souvenirs

For children, the quintessential sweet treats are Pineapple Lumps and Jaffas. For a totally unique souvenir, pick up a piece of native greenstone, also known as jade.

Friendly Faces

New Zealand is a clean, safe country populated with approachable, affable people. If you need help or tips, there is always a friendly face ready to assist you.”

This trip to was put together with the expertise of several Virtuoso partners: Tourism New Zealand, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), Air New Zealand, Abercrombie & Kent New Zealand, Seasonz Travel, and Southern Crossings New Zealand.

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The Most-Followed Hotel on Instagram Is…

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Burj Al Arab Jumeirah!

In Dubai, they build it bigger and flashier – and, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Empire State Building in New York, Burj Al Arab Jumeirah has come to symbolize the city. Can any other hotel make this boisterous claim?

Burj al Arab also claims to be the most-followed hotel on Instagram. More than 620,000 (current as of October 25, 2017) fans have liked the property’s Instagram account, where they post exterior shots and photos highlighting hotel offerings: restaurants, pools, spa, suites, and views over the Persian Gulf and to Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

On Facebook, more than 605,000 fans (current as of October 25, 2017) have liked the page.

Top photo: Getty images/Astalor.

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Where to Eat in Venice (And the “Secret” Wine You Have to Try)

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BY AMIEE WHITE BEAZLEY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NANNA DÍS

There is a reason the world’s most visited places are so popular, and Venice is no exception. Many locals, fed up with the crowds, high prices, and the dearth of industry outside of tourism, have left the island – taking Venice’s cherished customs and cultures with them.

Yet the authentic Venice is still there, if you know where to look. Hop a vaporetto from the main island, ride 35 minutes northeast, and you’ll find a place where traditions live on, fish and produce markets open their doors to generations of neighbors each morning, and friends gather over lasagne al forno and bottles of vino della casa at night. Before there was Venice as we know it, there was this “native Venice,” including three distinct islands – Burano, Mazzorbo, and Torcello – in the heart of the Venetian Lagoon.  Today, those who venture here find exceptional food, wine, and history away from the main island’s chaos. “It’s a must for getting away from the crowds of Venice,” says Chicago-based Virtuoso travel advisor Adamarie King. “Treat yourself to an island day: Take the ferry or charter a boat and visit the islands, stopping for lunch and shopping in between.”

Cruising the lagoon.

Burano

My exploration begins in Burano. There are no cars on these islands, just your own two feet – and, of course, boats.  Locals will tell you the area’s best seafood is at Burano’s fresh-fish market, because the fishermen stop there to sell their catches before going to Rialto Market. Burano’s menus are full of the lagoon’s bounty, including gray mullet, sole, sea bass, and eel, as well as moeche (soft-shell crabs), canestrelli (scallops), and schie (shrimp).

Where to Eat: The seafood tradition is best executed on Burano at the family-run Trattoria al Gatto Nero, aka the Black Cat. In this canalside space, tables brim with dishes such as pasta with spider crab and risotto “Burano style” – made with carnaroli or vialone nano rice. Nearby, at Riva Rosa, diners make reservations weeks in advance for the sole table at Altana, the restaurant’s private rooftop terrace, where they’re treated to fresh fish, homemade pasta, and one of the area’s most expansive wine lists.

Trattoria al Gatto Nero owner Ruggero Bovo cooks pasta with spider crab.

On Via Galuppi, Burano’s main street, visitors have their pick of pastry shops and restaurants, such as the Trattoria da Romano, operated by the same family for four generations, and Carmelina Palmisano, where I buy a bussolai, the island’s signature butter cookie. I nibble on the dessert as I stroll past wooden homes with colorful drapery hanging in the doorways, which protects residents from the sun – and the eyes of curious travelers.

Venice views from the wooden bridge that connects Burano and Mazzorbo.

Mazzorbo

Neighboring Mazzorbo is reached via a wooden bridge on Burano’s northwest corner. I meet up with Matteo Bisol, the 29-year-old son of Gianluca Bisol, patriarch of the Bisol prosecco family. He tells me this is where his family – already celebrated for their prosecco house in Italy’s Valdobbiadene region – is working to revive a nearly extinct wine-making tradition with Venice’s native grape, the dorona. Visitors can try the wine – known as Venissa – at the Michelin-starred Ristorante Venissa, a romantic space that holds just a dozen tables and is open in spring, summer, and fall. Venice used to be an active viticultural region, but that faded after the great flood of 1966, when it was believed that the city had lost all its remaining native grapes. That is, until 2002, when Bisol’s father discovered some on Torcello, a five-minute boat ride away.

Pasta as fine art at Ristorante Venissa.

Torcello (And That “Secret” Wine)

Torcello was once the area’s bustling trade capital, but only 12 residents remain today. They’re joined by a handful of shops and trattorias, including Italy’s famed Locanda Cipriani restaurant, which has welcomed everyone from Princess Diana to Elton John.

I meet Bisol in an old antiques shop hidden beneath the cathedral’s shadow. Bisol leads me behind the store, through a secret garden and past a set of iron gates, into a small patch of vineyard. “My father heard of dorona surviving here,” Bisol says as we pick grapes from the vine and pop them into our mouths. “One day, as he was approaching the island, he could see the distinct shape of the dorona leaf, and he asked to see the land.” The elder Bisol uncovered three vines of dorona di Venezia – the golden grape of Venice – and, with the landowner’s permission – grafted them, expanded this small vineyard, and transferred some of the vines to Mazzorbo.

After finishing its first vintage in 2010, the Bisol family now produces 4,000 bottles of this golden-hued wine each year. Each sells for close to $200, and the bottle, made in Murano with a 24-karat gold-leaf foil label pounded by the last goldsmith in Venice, has itself become a collector’s item. After a day of exploring Torcello, including a stop at the gardens of Ristorante Villa 600, I boat back to Mazzorbo for dinner at Ristorante Venissa. I dine among the vines, sipping a glass of Venissa wine and indulging in a meal of mantis shrimp, tortelloni in a delicate clam broth, and a fillet of sea bass paired with vegetables from the garden. Later, as I make my return to Burano, I watch fishing boats motor to front doors, nonne strolling arm in arm, and kids playing soccer in the piazza. The lights of Venice shine in the distance, but they feel a world away.

Stay

For the city’s most opulent afternoon tea, head to The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, and its Bar Longhi, decorated with Murano glass lamps, eighteenth-century Venetian art, and marble countertops. The 82-room hotel, which overlooks the Grand Canal, also teaches guests the art of Venetian cuisine at its Epicurean School.

The 24-room Aman Venice mixes sixteenth-century frescoes and painted ceilings with soothing decor and sleek wood details. Downstairs, chef Davide Oldani puts a fresh spin on classic Venetian cuisine.

Hotel Londra Palace’s San Marco views have inspired guests since the hotel opened in 1853 – it’s said that Tchaikovsky wrote parts of Symphony no. 4 here. Today, the 53-room hotel showcases its nineteenth-century charm in rooms with brocade curtains and antique Biedermeier furniture.

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Croatia’s First Michelin Star (You’ll Never Guess Where It Is)

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BY JOANNA HAUGEN   

Croatia’s first restaurant to receive a Michelin star is far from Dubrovnik’s historic Old Town, Zagreb’s cultural attractions, and Split’s coastal ruins. Monte, awarded a Michelin star this year, is located in Rovinj, a fishing port in the region of Istria, known for seafood, truffles, and wine. With this distinction, the country’s culinary scene continues to heat up – and in Istria alone, twelve other restaurants also received notable recommendations in the Michelin food guide.

(Photo by Dean Dubokovic.)

Since its opening in 2014, Monte, which is run by chef Daniel Dado Dekic and his wife, has won praise for outstanding food and service, landing a spot on several “best restaurant” lists. Adriatic scallops, sea bass, tuna, shrimp, and other seafood shine on the a la carte menu and tasting menus. Look for creative ingredients and dishes such as a sashimi-like marinated beet or tortelloni with nettle and lamb, opt for the local wine pairings, and save room for the aged Croatian cheese course for dessert.

Chef Daniel Dado Dekic and his wife (Photo by Petr Blaha.)

Aside from the fantastic food, Monte’s vibe is romantic, sophisticated, and relaxed. The staff is attentive but discreet, and totally in tune with guest needs. It’s a warm, welcoming dining experience that lives up to expectations – and worthy of Croatia’s first Michelin star.

Open daily for dinner and lunch on Saturday and Sunday.
Ul. Montalbano 75, Rovinj, Croatia.

Top photo by Dean Dubokovic.

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