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Why wait? Book your dream vacation now to any of these five-star destinations, already tested and given the thumbs up by our readers

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Now that winter’s upon us, it’s time to plan a change of scenery. But with so many choices, and a bucket list that grows ever more lengthy, we know it’s easy to fall back on the familiar. Where’s the fun in that? For this reason we turned to Stamford friends and neighbors who have ventured far and wide, and asked them to share their memories of recent travels to help us consider an alternative to the tried-and-true. All of them are seasoned globe-trotters who also know a postcard-worthy destination when they see one, so read on and learn about their journeys. Whether you’re looking for something romantic, relaxing or luxurious, chances are you will soon be looking for your passport and packing your bags.

Arthur Selkowitz

Kasbah Tamadot, Morocco

It seems apropos that a challenging journey through the desert should end at an enchanting oasis. And that’s what Arthur Selkowitz, his wife, Betsey, and fellow travelers on a Butterfield & Robinson bike tour came upon when their multiday trek through historic Morocco ended at the Kasbah Tamadot, nestled at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, about an hour’s drive from Marrakech.

One of British mogul Richard Branson’s opulent signature resorts, the Kasbah Tamadot, with its rambling, circular hallways, suite upon suite of one-of-a-kind lavishly appointed rooms, rose petal-filled floating pools and, of course, a top-shelf spa, is really more of a palace than a hotel. “This is not really a place where you go to play tennis or golf or do anything but relax,” explains Arthur. “And while the biking is how we love to see the world, this was quite an exquisite place to rest.”

Still, Arthur and his traveling companions did take advantage of Kasbah Tamadot’s spectacular mountain perch to continue exploring Morocco’s amazing history and culture. This included ascending more than 1,000 feet up a steep hillside on a Berber guided burro trip to visit a tiny village where a delicious, authentic luncheon was served in a local home.  

While some travelers might be intimidated about exploring the North African region, Arthur says Morocco—and this exquisite resort—is an ideal entrée to the area. “Morocco is fascinating in that it’s a predominantly Muslim country with a rich Jewish and Christian history. The people are often poor, but enlightened, hospitable and open. We felt so comfortable and appreciated there.”

If you go: Indulge in the Moroccan spa tradition of a hammam, a soothing scrub, steam, and mud bath, said to be intensely relaxing and exfoliating.

Donna Wiberg

Val Gardena
The Dolomites, Italy

After a day spent exploring the powdery slopes of the Sella Ronda in Val Gardena (in the Dolomites), what better way to unwind than in a chalet-style resort nestled in the mountains overlooking the village of Ortisei. It’s no wonder the European charms that first drew snow and ski enthusiasts Donna and Bo Wiberg to the Hotel Grien and
Val Gardena have kept them coming back again and again (Not suprisingly, we hear they are already booked to return this spring.)

The cozy but luxurious hotel and spa, run by a warm and talented multigenerational family, offers the kind of personal touch that makes the Wibergs feel like cherished friends. “There are lots of hugs and kisses when we arrive, and maybe they do it for all their regulars, but it makes you feel at home,” Donna says. “And it is Italy, so of all the places you can ski in Europe, the food is the best and the people the friendliest.”

And the inn’s four-star dining—as well as the top-shelf spa—is among the reasons they have been repeatedly sated by their stays. “After you are skiing for the whole day and you come home and shower, it’s nice just to be able to settle in for a great meal,” says Bo, although on occasion they will stroll the charming town. “We like the idea that we are so well taken care of, we really don’t have to go anywhere else.”

As for the skiing, the Wibergs say the Dolomites offer an excellent mix of über-challenging and moderate terrain—Cortina d’Ampezzo, Alta Badia and Val di Fassa among them—all set in equally picturesque settings. Whether you fly into Milan, Venice or Munich—each city certainly worth a few days of sightseeing, foodie exploration and shopping—first time visitors will be intrigued by the European style of skiing, where athletes can easily ski from mountain to mountain, and even stop for a beer and a little aprés-ski action at a charming table nestled in the snow. Saluté!

If you go: You don’t have to be a ski enthusiast. Val Gardena is spectacular in the summer, and the hotel is known for its outstanding staff-led hiking program.

Michael Kirshbaum

The Oberoi
Bali, Indonesia

Michael first fell for Bali while traveling in his twenties, but his contemporary forays to the island creatively mix business with pleasure, for Michael and his wife, Regina, frequently book the Oberoi to de-stress during Balinese buying excursions for their Magee Avenue boutique, Agabhumi, The Best of Bali.

The beachside Oberoi is their preferred tropical base because of its relaxed authenticity. “A lot of places on the island are kind of Bali Disney, a sort of fabricated version of the island,” Michael says. At the Oberoi, everything from the thatched roofs to the carved wood furnishings and warmth of its impeccably trained staff “makes you feel like a special guest, but also part of the wonderful experience that is Bali.”

Michael suggests beginning a day at the resort with a stroll along Seminyak Beach after fueling up with the bountiful house breakfasts featuring everything from the exotic local fruits to Western favorites served on a balcony overlooking the Indian Ocean. Then head to Ubud, the cultural center of Bali, located amongst rice paddies and steep ravines, and known for fascinating galleries and talented crafters, many of whom have close working relationships with the Kirshbaums.

Back at the resort, dinner at the convivial Ultimo (a few blocks’ stroll from the hotel) earn Michael’s high praise for the excellent food and “fun mix of expats and locals.”  

And by all means get a massage—make that several—during your stay. “Balinese massage is part of the culture; not to be missed,” says Michael. Besides, “you deserve one after the twenty-hour plane ride.”

If you go: Book a private excursion driver. “They are surprisingly affordable and well worth the price for their skills navigating Bali’s notorious traffic,” says Michael

Fran Pastore

Prague, Czech Republic

To celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, Fran Pastore and her husband, Steven Mueller, planned a whirlwind Eastern European tour with stops in Berlin, Salzburg, Vienna, Munich and Prague. Their itinerary, plotted around their passion for exploring European cities and Steve’s part-German heritage, had many highlights, including a fortuitously timed Munich stay that coincided with Oktoberfest.

Yet it was utterly romantic Prague that left the couple talking about a return voyage. “Everything about the city—from the way the light hits the cobblestone streets at night, to the way the sun rises and sets over the Charles Bridge—is magical,” says Fran. “It may be the most exquisitely romantic city I’ve ever seen.”

For Steve, an architect, exploring the medieval city during its annual architecture festival was especially compelling. “Prague is almost a sensory overload of incredible architecture,” says Fran. “And the best way to see it all is simply by walking, which we think is the best way to discover places.”

The couple had the chance to make the most of their pedestrian instincts by booking into The Cloister Inn, a cozy boutique hotel that offered a perfectly situated central location. Of course, the best part was discovering Prague’s hidden gems, like a tiny slip of a cafe tucked into the walls of an ancient palace with a view overlooking the river. “There we were sipping cappuccino and eating apple strudel in an outdoor café nestled in blankets,” says Fran. See what she means about it being romantic?

If you go: Consider Steve and Fran’s intellectually stimulating habit of reading topical memoirs and historical fiction while traveling. For this trip it was Madeline Albright’s Prague Winter.

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