Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How Do You Pick the Perfect Hotel Online?

Room 64 - the only one with a balcony - in Paris' Hotel Recamier

Apart from word of mouth - and stalking your (not so close) friend's Facebook post-vacation photo albums - how do you get the best tips on where to stay when you're away?

My system includes a litany of browser tabs and at minimum three glasses of wine while I assault Google with search phrases that do not even come close to using the tool as intended (i.e. Paris Hotel Recamier AND Room 64 Balcony Photo -TripAdvisor).

A few tricks that I've come to rely on regularly:

  • Finding a Legitimately Great Hotel
    One of my very good friends turned me on to the Tablet Hotels website a while back, and nowadays, it's where I start my search when I'm visiting an unfamiliar area. A catalogue of properties on the boutique / luxe end of the scale, the site's users rate lodging on a scale of 1 - 20. (Hotels that fall beneath a rating of 16 are immediately dropped from the site.) While I typically use Tablet for research purposes, you can also book rooms on the site, and paid "Tablet Plus" subscribers are privy to perks like late check-outs and dining credits.

  • Double Check the Guest Reviews + Scope Out Traveler Photos
    I couldn't possibly go any further without hopping onto Trip Advisor to read a few of the guest reviews. This site is undeniably the king of user-generated content, and if there are more bad experiences than good experiences, I'll cross the property off my list and start again. I also love clicking through the Traveler Photos uploaded for each property, a much more realistic view of rooms and amenities than is often portrayed on the fancy corporate website.

  • Pick the Perfect Room
    Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a clever travel site that's been around long before Brangelina. Each property is anonymously reviewed by a traveling duo and then succinctly detailed in a charming profile. The most helpful advice doled, in my opinion, is the "Our Favourite Rooms" section. It was THIS that led me to book Room #64 at the Hotel Recamier in Paris, where we had in-room access to the hotel's only balcony (snapshot above).

  • Where to Seal the Deal and Book the Room
    After I've done all my internet stalking and searching (more wine, please?), I settle in for the kill. I mean, I book the room. But, before I type my memorized American Express digits into Expedia or (be sure to click through the Ebates site for money back if you use these sites!), I check the hotel's official website and take a look at offers or packages. Often, I've found deals that weren't publicized elsewhere, usually running for a limited time or season, that offer the same rates found on other online booking sites, but with added perks like a breakfast voucher or resort credit. And THIS is how I landed a Gold Level room at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for no extra dough.

    Another not-so-obvious place to check for deals is through your credit card provider. Both my American Express and Barclay US Mastercard offer occasional member deals - like stay two nights, get one free - at popular hotel chains like Fairmont or  Hyatt when you book using your card. (Hey, it's worth double checking!)

Tell me. What's your late-night process when booking a hotel you've never stayed at before? And most importantly, does it involve wine? {Wink.}

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How to Enjoy Paris at Home

Trader Joe's unbelievable chocolate croissant - a victory in frozen French pastry

In terms of perfect mornings, Paris - with its espressos and delicate pastries served in sidewalk cafes - tops my list of leisure and luxury. And on a perfect day, the sky is just gray enough to leave you feeling completely comfortable, rather than guilty, about fully enjoying a morning until its end, come noon.

I live to recreate those rare feelings and emotions that accompany a foreign locale and a blank itinerary. It's tough to do, but when you stumble upon the right pieces, it's entirely worth a try. And with the below finds, I've found that I can teleport myself back to France using a matter of minutes versus frequent flier miles.

Aside from squelching my wanderlust tendencies (if only momentarily), my wallet finds my faux French excursion quite satisfactory.

Okay, here's your list... now, go... it's a rush to ultimate relaxation, prescribed by me. I've given you a few days start so that you can be perfectly prepared by Saturday.

Bonjour Maximus 8-Cup French Press
Surely, you can't start your morning without adequate caffeination. And if it's a Parisian-style sunrise, then French press is the only way to go. The knob atop this pot lets you control the strength of your Joe, however you see fit ($50).

Trader Joe's Frozen Chocolate Croissants
I could sing the praises of these irresistible pastries all day. Take them out of the freezer and allow them to proof overnight; after 20 minutes in the oven, your entire home will smell of Paris, and the result is nothing short of flaky, rich deliciousness ($4).

French Vogue
Naturally, it wouldn't be a French morning if you weren't perusing a fashion glossy while you nibbled on a chocolate croissant and sipped strong coffee. And if Vogue isn't enough, why not peek into the pages of these French fashion lovelies - La Revue de Kenza, Pandora or Balibulle. Also worth a read: the book Paris Street Style, a gift I received for my birthday(!), full of all the simply chic tips you'd expect from a Parisian.  

Proper Lounge Wear
It would be sacrilege not to include silk loungwear in a post on Parisian-inspired mornings, so I must admit defeat and link to Agent Provacateur's Classic Dressing Gown in black ($550), although I will reveal that I recently picked up this similar Lauren by Ralph Lauren sateen robe in black for a sweet $58. If you have nor desire neither, a lacy black bra under a white v-neck will certainly suffice.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Fresh Squeeze at Rancho Valencia

The one thing that most invades my memory when I think back on San Diego's Rancho Valencia is the fresh-squeezed orange juice left outside of the front door each morning. 

Served in a peel-top glass bottle alongside two whole oranges, even my not-so-pulp-friendly tastes couldn't get enough. To think of the horror had I been forced to share with someone...

Of course, the O.J. is only one tiny piece of the resort's appeal. Awash in southwestern hues and an air of tranquility, the property - with walkways interwoven between each two-suite abode - feels part anonymous, part close-knit neighborhood. From a tree-ensconced patio to a nicely buzzing restaurant only a few steps away, there is a bit of each breath in the SoCal hideaway.

Luxe casitas offer the best of all worlds: deep bathtubs, plush Frette bedding and plenty of space to roam (whether you're curling up by the in-room fireplace or settling into a patio hot tub).

It's a destination ideal for lovers not looking to leave the room (wink, wink) as much as it is for an indulgent girl's getaway, complete with an array of spa remedies.

Whatever your reason, there's an answer at the ranch, I'd wager. Even if you have no good reason at all.

Rooms for the resort, which is Southern Cali's only Relais & Chateaux property, start at approximately $500 per night.

See the resort's sustainability practices - which include custom, organic amenities and a tennis education program with local schools - on the site.

The entry to Rancho Valencia, and gateway to the resort's fine dining
The suite guestroom - complete with Frette linens - features vaulted ceilings and a king bed
A sweet sitting area with wingback chair and fireplace just out of view
A luxurious bathroom with a tub meant for steeping

A close-up peek of the touches + painted tiling in the please-don't-make-me-leave bathroom
A private terrace for whatever comes to mind....

The resort's main pool, in the midst of a casita maze

Friday, February 20, 2015

Dirty Chick: A Glimpse into Rural Life in New Zealand

Antonia Murphy's Dirty Chick: Adventures of an Unlikely Farmer

I've been a bookophile of sorts my entire life. Toting tattered hard covers and cracked-binding paperbacks from one destination to another, I've always been able to immerse myself into someone else's story during long flights and on quiet hotel patios.

As of late, I've fallen victim to all things digital and on that list are several audio books and podcasts that offer the same immersion without the added weight. Lugging an overstuffed satchel through international airports, even the tiniest of weight savings eases my sore neck. And these things totally matter when you're continents away from your own comfy bed.

This week, I've been living the rural New Zealand life alongside Antonia Murphy in her hilarious and often cringe-inducing account of newbie artisan farming in "Dirty Chick."

With her husband and two children, she approaches back country farming with visions of soft, cuddly animals and fresh milk, only to find that there's far more smelly than sweet scenarios raising mammals. (Trust me; you'll thank me for sparing the details.) Her wild farm adventures, mixed with touching family moments and a hefty dose of it's-better-to-laugh-than-cry realism, is a unique tale that may make you question the grass and its green-ness on the other side of the fence.

If, like me, you've dreamt of leaving civilization as we know it to craft artisan cheeses or handmade soy candles far from commercialism, you may want to read (or listen!) to this book first.

You can pick up a hard copy or download the book for Audible on Amazon.

All opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. However, my review was based on a complimentary Audible download of this book. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Boho Resort Picks

This week, I painted my nails a bright tangerine sorbet, if for nothing more than a hopeful glimpse of springtime color multiple times per day. Naturally, I'm craving a tropical resort getaway every time I look out the window, let alone step into the blizzarding winds.

Here's my list of perfectly packable resort wear finds to make your spring fling all the more bohemian.

Clockwise, from top left: 
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