Come Fly With Us
Why wait? Book your dream vacation now to any of these five-star destinations, already tested and given the thumbs up by our readers
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.
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.
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 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
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.
Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort
A voracious explorer who curates international tours that connect travelers with cultural dance experiences, Mickela is typically not a fan of cookie-cutter tropical resorts. But the founder of Bare Feet Tours and the related blog travelbarefeet.com, felt completely in step at the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort because of its unspoiled Old World charm.
Set on an old plantation on this inviting island forty miles off the coast of Venezuela, Mickela describes the Santa Barbara as “the kind of place you go when you want to get away from everything in the most beautiful setting possible.”
For American travelers, Curaçao is a less sought after destination than its touristier sister island, Aruba (just thirty-five miles away), but that’s exactly what made it so intriguing to Mickela. The former Dutch colony is a mecca for European travelers, and their influence, coupled with the island culture, gives the place a far-away feel. “You have this wonderful melding of food and languages and culture that makes it feel distinct from your typical Caribbean island,” says Mickela. The resort has an airy feel with lots of open walkways, stunning pools and beaches. There’s also a full-service spa, a fully equipped tennis center and excellent restaurants that feature constantly changing menus that Mickela says were noteworthy for the chef’s “creative take on traditional local cooking.”
(Note to golfers: Though Mickela does not own a set of clubs, the resort also boasts the Old Quarry Golf Course, designed by Pete Dye and consistenly rated among top courses in the Caribbean and Mexico.)
Curaçao is also known for its incredible diving opportunities. Mickela even took a detour from her primary travel interest—dancing at festivals with locals—to see what lies beneath the exquisite coastal waters.
If you go: Make time for diving in the island’s signature dive sites—Klein Curaçao, the Superior Producer and Blue Grotto—and try the native dances, the tombo and tumba.
The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina
When Jennifer and some close friends were marking milestone birthdays recently, they left it up to their husbands to plan the itinerary for a celebratory group trip. The guys settled on The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, an old-style but thoroughly modern resort near historic Charleston. “And the boys most definitely got it right,” says Jennifer.
For Jennifer, The Sanctuary offered a “best of both worlds” vibe—a wonderful blend of retreat amenities paired with proximate urban experiences. First was the five-star resort itself; a four-story building reminiscent of an old Southern mansion replete with creaky walnut lobby floors, lofty ceilings, tasteful antiques and a casual elegance throughout. “The rooms are big and luxurious and everything about the place is peaceful. The food was delicious, the golf was terrific and the staff was the epitome of Southern hospitality, as accommodating as could be.” Another bonus? The on-premises spa.
Then there was the lure of Charleston. Jennifer’s party booked a historic walking tour as well as a visit to a restored plantation nearby. “Charleston’s beauty is so attractive for walking. It’s a city, but not a booming metropolis, and with all the refurbished buildings it’s completely charming. And there is something so fascinating about immersing yourself in all that Civil War era history.” Of course, it was nice to return to The Sanctuary for some pool and beach time after all that walking.
If you go: Visit in the fall, when it’s less hot and humid, and keep your eye out for alligators on the golf course, or “try to keep your ball on the fairway,” suggests Jennifer.
Big Sur, California
The wild California coastline that stretches before the Treebones Resort is not the kind of place you go to plunk down on a beach chaise with a chilled blender cocktail in hand. Which was precisely the allure for professional photographer Andrew Sullivan. His stay—tucked in along a rugged Pacific coast hillside bunking in an eco-minded yurt—fulfilled his quest for the “ultimate getaway from it all.”
The sustainably minded, family-run Treebones also naturally spoke to Andrew’s love of the outdoors. Besides offering up bountiful opportunities for challenging coastal hikes, the innovative resort was a completely restorative oasis: “It’s so secluded, you can’t even see it from the road. Yet you are right there, looking over the water in what I would describe as the most beautiful stretch of coast I’ve ever seen.”
And while his yurt—a freestanding tent-like structure with a wood frame—may have seemed rustic, Andrew says it was quite the opposite. With its gleaming hardwood floors, gas-fueled fireplace, premium linens and a nearby hot tub overlooking the ocean, “you just felt pampered.” Andrew adds: “What appealed to me was its authenticity. Everything felt like it belonged there naturally.” Add the sushi bar with panoramic views of the ocean, the stunning on-the-premises organic garden, and the farm-to-table themed restaurant, and “there was no need to leave.”
If you go: Check out the nearby Hearst Castle. And pack layers; Big Sur is temperate and Andrew suggests several for hiking.
Mövenpick Resort & Spa
As the owner of Massage Envy franchises in Stamford and Fairfield, Eugenia truly appreciates a top-shelf spa. So her raves about the Mövenpick Resort & Spa, a five-star paradise nestled along the northern Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea, and its Zara Spa certainly got our attention.
Eugenia discovered the Mövenpick on a trip—it included stopovers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi—dedicated to researching spa products, so she quickly settled in for a series of treatments: mud baths, seaweed wraps, decadent facials and, of course, the essential experience of floating in the mineral-drenched blue waters of the Dead Sea, a salt lake also called the Salt Sea. “After a few days I was mush,” says Eugenia, “but I mean that in a good way. [My friend and I] were giggling and laughing, we were so relaxed and happy.”
Of course, Eugenia also indulged in the one-of-a-kind experience of sitting along the Dead Sea’s shore and slathering her body with the salted mud. “Having the mud on your body alone is a treatment; it’s so mineralized and concentrated. And then, when you slip into the water to float, it has its own healing powers.” (Insider tip: Make sure you only float on your back. The water is so mineralized it has been known to burn lips and eyes.)
But all that detoxifying didn’t keep Eugenia from partaking in the Mövenpick’s laidback Middle Eastern charms: “It’s a huge hotel with amazing pools and outdoor cafés and wonderful casual dining with Arabic dancing, people smoking from hookahs. I loved the vibe. It was the kind of trip that had me saying, ‘I really need to do more of this.’”
If you go: Book an excursion to nearby Petra, the rose-hued archaeological city known, in part, for its backdrop role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. “I don’t think I’ve ever thought of Jordan as a place of great beauty, but I was so impressed,” says Eugenia.
Curtain Bluff, Antigua
For more than twenty-five years, Jay Feinsod, with his wife, Esta, have escaped the Stamford winter chill to stunning Curtain Bluff, a luxury all-inclusive resort on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Sure, the inveterate travelers have ventured other places, but none has elicited the same devotion as Curtain Bluff, which boasts every amenity under the Antiguan sun.
The short list of offerings includes gourmet meals, deep sea diving, Hobie Cats, paddleboats and kayaks, snorkeling, tennis, a spa, fitness classes, cooking school and kids activities and camps (in certain seasons).
The Feinsods are so fond of the resort, set on a rocky promontory flanked by two beaches, they haven’t missed a winter stay since they first booked a suite in 1986. “Every year I go and say, ‘Now, I feel like I’m home,’” says Jay. “I put my credit card and wallet in the safe, hit the beach and relax.”
Beyond the ease of staying at an elegantly laid-back everything’s-included resort, the appeal of Curtain Bluff, Jay explains, is its sheer beauty combined with the warmth of the staff. Guests are still greeted with cocktails by Chelle Hulford, the wife of its late founder, Howard, a pilot who discovered the place on a flight and made it his home. “They always treated their staff well and you can see it in the way they treat the guests. We are greeted like old friends, people know our name, and it feels special.”
And then there’s the exceptional food. “It’s a shame [that] you really need to go on a diet before you go,” Jay laughs. Indeed, once when Jay and Esta were touring the Caribbean on a cruise, they docked and took some guests to—where else? —Curtain Bluff for lunch.
If you go: Take advantage of the resort’s terrific cooking school, led by the executive chef and his staff. Classes include lunch and a bottle of wine from the resort’s’ cellar.