Monthly Archives: May 2017

Resort in Islands

Enjoyed the hour drive to the Park Hyatt Mallorca from the international airport in Palma because it gave me time to enjoy the island’s landscape. On the two-lane blacktop we sailed past smalls towns and isolated houses surrounded by neat fencing. Goats and sheep grazed in open fields and there were orange groves, almond orchards and miles of olive trees planted in precise rows tracing the contour of the rolling hills
In 2016 the Park Hyatt opened the 5-Star resort on the northeastern coast of the island. Set against the dark red Cap Vermell mountains, the hotel looks like a miniature village organized around a courtyard called Plaza de Torre.

Three story villa-style buildings line the terraced hill above the courtyard. One hundred and forty-two rooms and suites are grouped into neighborhoods, each named for the trees planted around the buildings—Lemon, Olive, Pomegranate, Pear, Orange, Almond, Cherry and Fig. When the trees bloom, the fragrance of their blossoms perfumes the hillside.
To reflect Mallorcan traditions, local materials were used in the construction of the hotel. The hotel’s pastel sandstone facade was quarried from nearby Santanyi. The landscaping utilized 70,000 native plants, some edible like the lavender and rosemary that line the walkways between the residential buildings.
Even though they are newly planted, the trees, flowers and perennial aromatics are thriving. I visited several months after the opening. The Spanish jasmine was already entwined on the metal fencing bordering the pathways. Colorful, vibrant flowers were in full bloom. Fruit was ripening on the olive, lemon and orange trees.

In a few years the grounds of the hotel will become a lush garden, delighting guests and supplying fruit and herbs to the restaurant kitchens.
My sunny room in the Limonero or Lemon complex was on the second floor. Like the other rooms on upper floors, mine had a large private terrace overlooking the grounds. Rooms on the ground level have an outdoor patio with a garden.
I had work to do, so I appreciated the Wi-Fi, an efficient desk and wall outlets that accepted many types of electrical plugs.
For the complimentary coffee and tea service, there was a set of Narumi Bone China. The Nespresso machine produced coffee with perfectly formed crema. My bathroom had a shower and a bathtub, a Duravit high-tech toilet, Grohe fixtures, marble tile and an imbedded television in the mirror.

The Serenitas Spa

Taking relaxation to the next level, the hotel offers amenities and treatments in the Serenitas Spa. The large complex has a sauna, relaxation room, outdoor cold water vitality pool, hairdresser, manicure and pedicure salons and seven treatment rooms, two of which are set up for couples with private steam rooms.
Creating a total experience, each treatment room has a bathroom, shower, free-standing Barcelona bathtub and a private patio.
Promoting wellness, the therapies include exfoliating scrubs using local herbs and oils, heated basalt stones, a crystal quartz sand bed, seaweed and clay wraps, facials and deep muscle massages. What I really needed was to relax and get a good night’s sleep, so I chose the aroma therapy massage.
Lying on my stomach, my face was positioned over an aromatic cupping of hot water, lavender and clove buds oil, rosemary sprigs and pine bark. The aromas enveloped me as the massage therapist, Valentina, worked on my arms, legs, shoulders and back. Very quickly I found myself in that wonderful massage-dream state. Half awake. Half asleep.
When the massage was over, Valentina led me to the beautifully appointed relaxation room with airy shears hung from the ceiling. For refreshment, she placed a porcelain tea pot and cup next to the daybed and offered me a snack of walnuts, black raisins and a deliciously tart green apple.

The Clement Hotel Delivers

A few days later at check-in, you’ve likely forgotten your answers to this initial email query, but The Clement has not. Waiting for you in your gorgeously tailored suite is a bottle of red, a bottle of white, and a small bottle of bourbon. A large bowl of fresh guacamole welcomes you, as does a platter of gourmet cheeses and pâtés that you listed as your preferred snacks. You ponder the additional delectables you should have included on your ‘favorites’ list…Swiss chocolates. Russian caviar. Only the red M&M’s.

No detail has been overlooked at The Clement Hotel, Palo Alto’s newest urban retreat – a luxurious and private residential-style haven where nearly every wish is their command. The Clement promises a ‘6-star,’ all-inclusive experience, and it delivers. Food, drink, and snacks are at your beck-and-call, around the clock. Guests can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner prepared as specifically as you wish, in the open kitchen with the hotel’s presiding chef. The seasonal menu changes frequently based on market availability, and possibly based on guest preferences. (You indicated a preference for tuna poke on your guest inquiry. It’s on the menu. Coincidence?) A guest pantry – open 24 hours – features an ever ready selection of Kara’s mini cupcakes and a freezer stocked with Palo Alto’s artisanal Tin Cup Creamery ice cream. Need a caffeine fix? Help yourself to a steaming mocha, latte, or cappuccino. Celebrating a special occasion or a successful business transaction? Champagne will be waiting on ice. Enjoy your repast in the dining room, the outdoor dining terrace, in a cabana at the private roof-top pool deck overlooking the Stanford campus, or in your suite.

The Clement’s 23 spacious suites (one bedroom, two-bedroom, and tandem suites) offer modern and sophisticated comfort with an array of carefully curated amenities of the highest quality: Matouk linens and Frette towels and robes, two 65” Samsung IPTVs, Nespresso Vertuoline coffee machines, electric kettles, and stocked refrigerators. Spacious, stone-lined bathrooms feature heated floors, heated toilet seats, large soaking tubs, rain head showers, in-mirror televisions, and luxe olive oil bath amenities by 80 Acre Products. Sleek window shades open and close with the push of a button.

The Clement is owned and operated by Pacific Hotel Management (PHM) and is named after its president, Clement Chen, a seasoned hotelier who has utilized his exacting standards to fashion a superior retreat that pleases the most discriminating traveler. (PHM also owns the neighboring Westin and Sheraton.) The Clement is art-filled, polished, urbane, and exceedingly comfortable. Open just more than six-months, it’s already a favorite of visiting venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and professors who fill the the suites mid-week and appreciate the privacy and security, the office-supply stocked desks, The Jury Room (the hotel’s state-of-the-art boardroom that is available for small meetings and private dining), and the second floor fitness center. But weekends are reserved for the R&R crowd, and Palo Alto serves up no better place to be pampered and indulged. The Clement is within walking distance of the chic shops and restaurants at Town & Country Village and Stanford Shopping Center. The Stanford campus provides miles of walking and jogging trails, and the roof-top pool and Jacuzzi are heated to just the right temps. Feel like stepping out for a meal? Hotel staff will recommend any number of lauded eateries within close proximity. But the true beauty of The Clement is one need not leave the property at all to experience the allure and energy of Silicon Valley. That too is all-inclusive.

Belmond Maroma Resort

As happens at Belmond Maroma Spa and Resort.
It can be forgiven this time, though, as this ‘hostess’ is a red parrot. “This is Avelida, a parrot from this region, our hostess,” I’m told by the actual human hostess as she leads me through the warm leafy courtyard of the hotel. There’s other wildlife in the surrounding area too, including coatis (like raccoons), harmless small snakes, monkeys and iguanas, though, apart from the parrot, the only animal life I see during my stay here are a few cats doing exactly the right thing to do here: taking it easy.
Around an hour from Cancun, or 10 minutes outside of Playa del Carmen, Belmond Maroma Spa and Resort sits on the shores of the Yucatan peninsular in the region of Quintana Roo, looking out onto the Caribbean ocean. Turning off the main road, through a security gate, it’s reached via a long driveway that cuts through the forest. The main building has the feel of an old hacienda, built by an architect as his holiday home, with fountains, an elegant courtyard where Avelida sits on a perch, a large swimming pool and a restaurant leading down to the beach. Suites are just a short walk away, and they’re certainly worth the walk.
‘Suites’ feels like an understatement; the place where I spend two days feels more like an apartment or house. Just inside the front door, there’s a vast living room, with a writing desk, coffee machine, fridge and a little bar area, all set up around a colorfully striped sofa and chairs. Following the general worldwide trend at top hotels for helping guests ‘disconnect’, there’s no TV.

The living room connects, via large glass doors, to an outside balcony, with a couple of big comfy chairs, looking out onto palm trees, a beach and the inviting ocean. All this space for two people already feels like a luxury, but we’re just getting started.
In the other direction, the lounge links into a huge bedroom, with a central four poster bed, the white sheets decorated for our arrival with an ornate design of orange flowers. There’s a recliner/lounging bed in the room too, where you can lie back and look up at the domed red brick ceiling and big black cast iron chandelier. The effect is surprisingly homely, but on a grand luxurious scale. Colorful paintings by Mexican artists provide a bit of a modern edge. The flooring throughout is a kind of copper/terracotta marble, which feels like it comes from a Roman or Tuscan villa. There are big sea shells in little coves inside the walls. The rooms look especially pleasant and atmospheric at night, when staff come in to do an extensive turn down service, lighting candles on tall candlebras and your selection of four fragrances in the aromatherapy burner.

The bathroom’s also huge, with two sizable separate his-and-hers sink areas on either side, framed by cool lanterns, with space between the sinks for a romantic bathtub, big enough, at least, for two people. There are more candles arranged around the main tub or ‘pool’. The products provided are organic and homemade, including aromatic honey shampoo and conditioner, and oatmeal soap. Here at Belmond Maroma, one shower wouldn’t be enough, though; there are two showers inside the shower room, for showering together, should it take your fancy, and on the other side of the glass, a door leads to an outdoor shower that’s surrounded by forest (and a privacy wall).
We’re not nearly done yet. Next to the bathroom, there’s a personal gym area, with a running machine, yoga mat, and exercise ball, all of which goes guiltily underused during my stay. Outside, there’s a second lounging area, with a private plunge pool looking out onto the ocean, along with chairs, a table and, this part of the Mexican coast’s essential item, a hammock, hanging wall to wall. I explore up a small staircase to find a roof space. It’s empty, but some guests apparently use it for doing yoga, looking out onto the ocean. This is a place where I could, and do, happily spend a lot of time, not least on the balcony, drinking a good bottle of Pinot Noir and looking out over crashing waves.

“Relax your mind, your body and your spirit,” the masseuse whispers in my ear, which is pretty easy to do when there’s a hot towel around my neck and shoulders, her hands gently massaging my skull. She wafts a fragrance of eucalyptus and ginger under my nose before a quick footbath and footrub, then begins a 50-minute full body massage to a soundtrack of Indian sitars and Brian Eno’s ambient works. It’s a great, firm massage with rosemary oil, working aches from shoulders and back, head to toe, so relaxing that I think, perhaps, I briefly nod off once or twice.
We’re greeted by name again by the waiters in the evening, taking our table by the window and ordering, first, cocktails, then a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for a good wine list. My girlfriend thinks the tlayuda de pulpo Maya (Mayan octopus) might be the best she’s ever eaten, perfectly cooked, soft and delicious, and my starter of Mexican crispy brie cheese is hard to fault too, indulgent and served with guava sauce and hibiscus jelly. Good seafood is abundant on the Riviera Maya, one of the reasons I like eating here so much, so while my girlfriend goes for the chef’s recommendation of roaster snapper with sautéed potatoes, saffron aioli and fennel, I tuck into seared blackened yellowtail amberjack, with roasted veg and celeriac puree. We leave, full and happy, warmed by mescal and wine.

Hotel Esencia

My impressions of Hotel Esencia, a chic boutique hotel on a relatively quiet undeveloped strip of the Riviera Maya in Mexico’s Yucatan region, halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum were way off. The site features quirky illustrations, pleasant and playful, like colored-in takes on the New Yorker, but they don’t scream style, sophistication or luxury.
The hotel itself doesn’t scream those things either. It just does them all – style, sophistication and luxury – incredibly well, but quietly, discreetly and seemingly casually.
We’re met by our bubbly personal concierge and given a quick guide to where the spa, restaurants, pool and beach are, walking past a lawn where a deep blue and a pure white peacock are roaming free, before being shown to our villa, where our bags are already neatly stashed.
Esencia, a white hacienda-style mansion, was originally built as the private home of Italian duchess Rosa d’Ferrari. Now, alongside the mansion, there’s also several villas, a total of 30 rooms or suites, which keeps things on the small and intimate side, especially compared to some of the giant luxury hotels found along the Riviera Maya.

We settle into our villa, which is on the edge of the beachfront gardens. The bedroom is simple but stylish, decorated floor to walls to ceiling in white, which feels both cool (as in fashionable) and cooling (as in temperature), with both AC and fans to aid that effect. Windows, fitted with electric blinds, let in light, but we’re surrounded by jungle, so it feels pretty private inside. There’s a large, incredibly comfy bed (also in white) at the heart of the room, with a potted plant and copies of the New Yorker and Vanity Fair on the bedside shelf, and a comfy sofa area in front of a big TV that barely gets used during our whole stay. The music system does get some action though, with the hotel’s pre-programmed mix of Pink Floyd and other chilled tunes working well. A writing desk by the window looks out onto the jungle, and there’s good Wi-Fi inside the suite, which is handy as I need to, sadly, keep on top of a few work matters while I’m here.

The smooth white continues into the bathroom, with white flooring and walls, twin white sinks, a big white oval bathtub and a spacious rain shower room. Toiletries provided are both organic and locally made, containing ingredients like Yucatecan lime, avocado and coconut, while the soap is made of agave, the plant responsible for tequila and mescal.

A door from the bathroom leads out onto a private little area with two loungers and our own small plunge pool. Although my girlfriend takes a restful dip in it to cool down, the pool doesn’t see much use, as it’s hard to beat the beach and ocean location just a minute’s walk away. The duchess clearly had an eye for a fine location, building her house on the difficult to pronounce but very easy to enjoy Xpu-Ha beach, a curving bay of cool fine powdery white sand with translucent water. Apart from Esencia guests, it’s empty – very pleasantly so.

We watch the sunset down at the end of the beach, then spend an incredibly calm evening by the main swimming pool (which also goes underused, because of the excellent ocean swimming on offer), sitting on comfy loungers beneath trees lit romantically with orange bulbs, working our way through mescal cocktails.
Afterwards, we make our way to the poolside and oceanside Garden Restaurant for dinner, where the menu is modern Mexican, with plenty of fresh seafood, which makes sense given how close everything is here to the sea. I tuck into a crispy crabmeat coquette with avocado puree as a starter, which is tasty enough, but a main of two big chunky yellowfin tuna steaks, perfectly pink and served on Mexican caponata, is delicious. My girlfriend is also highly impressed with her grilled octopus, a hard ingredient to cook perfectly, but nailed here, served with roasted cherry tomatoes, roasted baby potatoes and parsley oil. We’re both equally impressed by a place of juicy jumbo shrimp sautéed in tamarind honey sauce, with saffron rice. My dinner’s great, but I’ll admit to having a little ‘order envy’.

We wake in the morning, well-rested, to the gentle sound of birdsong in the jungle, and find the pre-ordered tray of tea and coffee on the verandah, along with a basket of croissants, muffins and pastries – a pleasantly laid back start to the morning.
The whole of the day is spent relaxing. There are two swimming pools here, one for families with a shallow shelf dominating the site, for toddlers to be able to stand, with another larger, quieter child-free pool across from it. But we spend most of our time on the beach, on loungers where waiters occasionally come by with fresh coconut, skewers of fresh fruit or to take a drink order.

We break only for lunch, which includes tasty deep fried avocado chips and a healthy quinoa salad with shrimp, beetroot and grains, then make our way in the evening to the spa, where the dusk air has a pleasant aroma coming from the fire near the entrance.
There’s a rustic earthy feel to the spa, far away from the modern clinical feel of some modern spas. It’s warmer and homelier, designed with flowing walls, according (apparently) to Mayan principles of energy flow. We sit for a while in robes in a chill out area, a candle gently flickering, before our joint treatment starts.

Esencia, it has to be said, is a romantic place to stay, despite being, unlike some other hotels in the area, also open to families with children. And the Essence of Love spa treatment, as the name suggestions, ups the ante even further. It starts with a ritual, a Mayan blessing as my girlfriend and I close our eyes, fragrant smoke surrounding us. We take our place on a bed which has been decked out with a heart shape of rose petals, soft music playing in the background, for a full body massage with vanilla cream. The masseuse suggests this is not a “hard massage, just gentle, easy, like a little dance,” but actually there’s some decent pressure applied too to work out knots in shoulders from too much time spent as a computer.
At the end of the massage, my girlfriend and I are positioned face-to-face, and left alone in the room, an open door leading to a steamy room with a round pool that looks out onto the cool green forest. The rim of the pool has also been carefully decorated with rose petals. We soak for a while, occasionally lifting a relaxed limb to pick up a glass of champagne or a chocolate-covered strawberry from the tray at the poolside. I’d guess that there have been a few engagement rings brought out here at moments like this.