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Archive for day June 21st, 2010

Hotel France

Land of Plenty

Hotel Guq en Terrasses

Cuq-Toulza, France

To grow well, sunflowers need full sun. Basking in the midsummer warmth, rows and rows of vibrant sunflowers are standing in their fields, bright battalions massed at the sides of the road as we drive past. Some of them are standing straight, heads held up high, others seem to be leaning over slightly as if they are still asleep, but all are facing the same direction: east. like pilgrims at prayer.

Sun worship is their religion. In a field of blooming sunflowers most flowerheads are turned toward the east. where the sun rises each morning Yet when the plant is still in bud, it actually follows the movement of the sun across the horizon as it moves from east to west.

This tracking motion is driven by motor cells in a flexible segment of the stem just below the bud. When the blooming stage is reached that stem locks, so that once the flower opens into vivid yellow petals it faces east for the rest of its short but colorful life.

In French, their name is tournesol; and the translation is a literal one – it means “turn with the sun.” Spread out like a quilt of ocher and green, sunflowers are a symbol of the radiant light here in the Lauragais, in the southwest of France. Sun seekers in the know track here, from all points of the compass, turning to the warmth and comfort of the Hotel Cuq en Terrasses.

The hotel loved by hookups France

Once a presbytery, the 18th-century building is now rejuvenated as a truly charming hilltop hotel in the hamlet of Cuq le Chateau in the region of Cuq­Toulza. It is well positioned in the heart of the ancient Pays de Cocagne, now the region of Tarn; in the center of a triangle formed by the cities and towns ofT oulouse, Carcassonne and Albi, and close to several of the loveliest villages in France. Simple and well-restored, the old house is much larger than it looks from its front entrance on the main street of what is almost like a film set of a tiny time-has-stood-still-here French village. The backdrop from one window in the library-living room is the village church; at the other end of the room the scene is of golden fields, green valleys and distant blue hills. Once you have arrived, y u will either go upstairs to your room, or downstairs, then walk down further, to the dining room and out on to the wide terracotta­tiled terrace: the heart of the hotel. From here, there are still more layers in this multileveled location: of gardens shaded by spreading mulberry trees, down to the swimming pool, and nearby a separate and secluded Tower suite. The bedrooms are all handsomely designed and outfitted in traditional midi style. one are alike, so you can return here at least seven times before you will have stayed in them all.

Dinner is on request here, but it seems to be more in demand; such is the reputation and standard of the cooking that when they have had a taste of it guests make sure they are in for the evening. Chef Andonis Vassalos creates the food, bringing extra flavors to the French cuisine from his native Greece, while partner Philippe Gallice complements the menu from the wine cellar. As many dream of doing, they left the city and moved to the country, when they discovered this special part of it to live in. Sitting out on the terrace, savoring a glass of velvety red or crisp cool white in the late afternoon sun, delicious aromas in the air as dinner is being prepared, you will start to fantasize making your own escape to somewhere as idyllic. That’s when most people decide to book here again.

La Lauragais bedroom

Yellow is a predominant color in this golden landscape, and blue is part of it too, woven into its history. Pays de Cocagne was the early name give to this area, when it was discovered that a rich blue pigment - cocagne, or “woad” – could be extracted from a local plant. It became a very valuable commodity much in demand for fabrics and art, and the region prospered.

Many intriguing destinations are within easy driving distance of the hotel. One is the City of Albi; at its center, the 15th-century St-Cecile Cathedral. This fortress cathedral is a masterpiece of Southern Gothic architecture and the largest brick building in the world.

But its most amazing feature is only on view from the inside. Painted with blue pastel by Italian painters from Bologna in 1509-1512, the frescoes on the cathedral’s arched ceiling form the largest work ofItalian Renaissance painting to be found anywhere in France. It is a visual biblical encyclopedia, an evocation of heaven played out on a blue and gold background, and just as they were when painted over five centuries ago They have never been restored, their colors still vivid and lustrous in the low light The spectacular scale, nearly 330 feet (lOO m) long by 92 feet (28 m) “vide, and the magnificence of the work makes it one of the most memorable Sights of my life. A gigantiC and graphic mural of the Last Judgement surrounds the church altar, no doubt as a reminder to the congregation of what could lie ahead.

Rich in history and scenery, as well as its many other food and wine assets, the region has also been described as a “Land of Plenty, a smiling country,” where everything is found in abundance; bright yellow fields of sunflowers, groves of oak trees, checkered hues of cultivated fields, warm clear light and friendly people. You can see and experience all of this, and turn your head to follow the sun, relaxing at the Hotel Cuq en Terrasses. Three stars is its appellation, but its surroundings make it more.

Hotel Cuq en Terrasses Cuq-Toulza – take your hookup france here and you will be well-rewarded.



June 21st

hookup France

Dublin, Ireland

These words, forming a pink lettered neon sign, were written across the top of the Clarence Hotel when I first visited Dublin in October of 1997. It was a temporary installation, part of the Dublin Literary Festival. Neon quotes appeared all over the city center, recalling the words of writers who have lived in and written about Dublin – Joyce, Shaw, Beckett, Swift, Wilde … I wish these modern, poetic sign writings had been retained, as a unique tribute to the writers who shaped the literary heritage of this vital city. Jonathan Swift, the 18th­century author of Gu/liver‘s Ttevels, would not recognize the new dynamic Dublin, which he once described as “the most disagreeable place in Europe.” W.B. Yeats referred to his hometown as “blind and ignorant.” Criticized roundly by most of the writers now lionized by the city they spurned, contemporary Dublin is a favored European weekend destination, the most visited city after Paris by Dublin hookups.

Like the French capital, it is a city for walking – to savor the architecture and rub shoulders with Dubliners. With a fine collection of low-rise l Sth-cenrury buildings, wide streets and intimate pubs, this is a city of human proportions. Molly Malone may be a fond memory, but traders and buskers still work the busy streets. The heart of a revitalized Eire, modern Dublin has more buzz than blarney. The Ireland of leprechauns and begorrahs, for so long part of the Irish myth, is not to be found here, although the brogue is still evident. The Clarence Hotel edges a maze of cobbled streets known as the Temple Bar district, the city’s social hub. The building’s solid stone frontage overlooks the River Liffey, situated on Dublin’s “left bank,” between the Grattan and Ha’penny Bridges.

From its beginnings as a railway hotel in 1852, the Clarence has projected architectural dignity, a quality it retained even at its most shabby in the 1970s. Generations of Guinness and whiskey drinkers have frequented its bars. Bought by Bono and The Edge, members of the Dublin-based rock group U2, the Clarence has been restored as a spacious and aristocratic-feeling small hotel. A pale background of oak, leather and stone sets off its Arts and Crafts style. Traditional and contemporary are cleverly combined, with a simplicity reminiscent of Shaker design. Hotel staff are dressed in sharp gray suits with just a hint of the cassock in the cut of their jackets.

The warm relaxing environment is underpinned by the use of rich color – crimson, royal blue, purple, gold and chocolate – never all combined in the one scheme. Colorful and covetable original artwork by Irish artist Guggi is on show throughout the hotel.

The Study projects the feel of a country house or a gentlemen’s club. This is a comfortable place to settle into the leather chairs, read the newspapers and sip coffee (or something stronger) as the soft Irish light filters through the high windows.

The Reading Room Study

The stylish Octagon bar and especially the snug wood-paneled back bar tempt you to an Irish beer or whiskey, in that quintessential Irish establishment, the pub.

In the former ballroom, the Tea Room Restaurant offers a mouth-watering menu. Posted on the wall of the “back door” to the Ciarence, in Temple Bar, this also attracts passersby in search of good food.

The Penthouse Suite with grand piano, bar, great sound system, private garden terrace and open-air hot tub is a place to feel like a visiting member of the rock aristocracy. It offers one of the best views of Dublin, across to the Wicklow mountains and Dublin Bay.

If you want to get out and about, it is a short stroll to Grafton Street shopping, galleries, theaters, cafes, restaurants, clubs and bars, both traditional and contemporary. An impressive collection of contemporary design is on display and [or sale in the Irish Craft Centre, five minutes’ walk from the hotel. The parks of Merrion Square and St. Step hen’s Green are the city’s “emerald islands.” They are lovely even on “soft days” – an Irish euphemism for rainy weather.

A bedroom view

The “Celtic Tiger” can be heard as well as seen, with renovation and rebuilding underway throughout the city and new hotels, restaurants and bars opening at a rapid rate in response to the growing number of visitors and locals. Ireland’s economic success is founded on benevolent tax laws for overseas investors and European Union money. The mood of confidence and the country’s positive international profile have seen many ex-pats return to their homeland to share in its newfound pride.

‘When the sun goes down, this is a party town. Not much of the old Irish puritanism is here – Dublin has the youngest population in Ireland, and even the no-longer-young act it. The city stays up late. The huge number of pubs caters to virtually every musical taste from folk through to contemporary. Many weekend “riverdancers” who come to trip the light fantastic go home with a hangover they may not think so grand on Monday.

Visitors can retrace the steps of past Dublin writers on the Literary Pub Crawl, the best excuse for drinking and talking I’ve ever heard. Actors, not short of a well-crafted witty line themselves, guide the tours of pubs where many of the city’s famous (and infamous) drank and claimed their inspiration. Soaking up “culture” while testing the local beverages is an appealing combination even now.

For somewhere much quieter, no talking or drinking allowed, the Library at Trinity College is a bibliophile’s dream, with its timber-vaulted ceiling and rows of books. The university is also the guardian of the Book of Kells, the treasured ninth-century illuminated manuscript of the Gospels.

Dublin was the focal point of the struggle for and against home rule. The General Post Office still bears the scars of the violent 1916 Easter Uprising, and it remains the favorite starting point for demonstrations. Also the site of the 1921 Declaration of Independence, the post office is on O’Connell Street, a broad avenue on the north side of the River Liffey, now seen as the less gentrified “new” city.



June 21st

Dublin hookups

Dubai Hotels

Burj al Aratk

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

At night. the multitude of buildings under construction in Dubai are just silhouettes in the darkness. Lit up, though, are the congregations of cranes. They look like weird skeletal Meccano birds, feeding on the frames they perch on top of. It is said that one-fifth of the world’s largest cranes are in Dubai, hoisting floors higher and higher as the city literally reaches for most elevated status. Structural expressionism is definitely the ascendant architectural style here.

Worldwide, its most famous example is Burj al Arab, in English and in truth an Arabian Tower, standing many heads and shoulders above its neighbors. When architect Tom Wills-Wright was asked to submit designs for what was to be a landmark building on the Dubai skyline, he and the creative team reviewed other iconic buildings ­the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids­around the world. All have an unusual shape, so it was clear that for this new one to really catch the eye and imagination, it must have a remarkable form. Burj al Arab launched in 1999, and people have been looking up to it ever since.

The high-impact, high-altitude atrium is central to the prestigious hotel s unique design. It takes up a third of the interior space; with a height of 597 feet (182 m) it could shelter the Statue of Liberty. Its architect cites this as one of his favorite places; he likes to see people standing and staring up, or looking down to the lobby far below, amazed

Burj al Arab viewed from the Jumeirah Madinat hotel

Naturally, interior designer Ms. Kuan Chew wanted to continue the “wow effect” of the building inside, and deliver the timeless and unusual concept requested. The interior was viewed as radical when the hotel opened, its dazzling decoration making it an exuberant partner to the attention­attracting facade.

Then, in that era of minimalism, eschewing decorativeness, it would have been a surprise, a shock even, to see the great soundshell-like curves framing the reception desks, and the gold columns, curling gold garlands and silver-mirrored rails that frame the first five floors of the atrium.

Glamour in the atrium

Entrance to AI Mahara Seafood Restaurant

Colors of carpets and furnishings are vibrant and rich, not muted and pale. Pattern is conspicuous. The fact that thousands of square feet of 22-karat gold leaf have been used in the interior was met with astonishment.

To this recent viewer, the overall effect is stunning; a glamorous, even futuristic interior that appeals for its lively opulence and brave use of color within such an ethereal yet masterfully engineered white spire.

Water is a central feature; dancing arcs of it weave together in a graceful display, ajet of water shoots skyward, 138 feet (42 m) high. A waterfall cascades between the escalators to the atrium lounge in an artfully computer-choreographed sequence of mesmerizing movements. Even more captivating is the underwater-therned restaurant. Access is via a three-minute virtual submarine voyage. Once you disembark, you will dine on award-winning fare, seated beside the diverse sea life of the Arabian Gulf: leopard and reef sharks, manta rays, moray eels, butterfly, unicorn and parrot fish swimming in a massive floor -to-ceiling aquarium that wraps around the hotel’s signature restaurant.

The billowing sail of a traditional Arabian dhow was chosen as the essence of the design, transforming five years later into a spectacular hotel. Currently the world’s tallest hotel, it soars 1,053 feet (321 m) into the air. A helipad cantilevered out from its top Iloor has also served as a grass tennis court for Andre Agassi and Roger Federer, and a green for Tiger Woods. The sail’s translucent white fabric is actually Teflon-coated fiberglass, stretched across the steel structural frame. By day the glow of the white wall lights up the atrium; at night, the facade becomes a beacon, with a kinetic display of light in changing colors. Fire and water shows make an even greater spectacle.

ot long after Burj al Arab opened, an understandably enthusiastic journalist reported that her stay here was a “seven-star” experience. Although in fact the hotel is rated the highest of the star system at five-plus, it is indeed in a different galaxy in terms of its innovative design, its luxury suites, butler service and spa, and its ability to impress even the most jaded. It has become the pin-up poster of destination architecture.

A new Colossus of Dubai is taking shape. Currently under construction, Burj Dubai is a 2,650 foot (808 m) – and could be even higher – skyscraper designed by architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. When completed, it will be the tallest humanmade structure of any kind in history. Standing apart on its own island, curving white against the sky, Burj al Arab will keep its title as the instantly recognizable and iconic building on the Dubai skyline.



June 21st

Dubai hookups

Caribbean Travel hookups

There’s something celebratory about cruise ships. Perhaps it’s the gor­geous tropical destinations, round-the-clock eating, or their seeming defiance of the principles of buoyancy. The beauty of taking a cruise for a celebration is that you can focus on the celebrating: Once you book your reservations and find your way to the ship, there’s no need to think past that. No puddle jumpers from island to island. No logistics, maps, tickets, or hunting out places to eat. It’s just peaceful intervals on the open sea and then mornings when you wake up to a new seaside town. And you had to exert exactly zero effort to get there.

With ships leaving from more North American departure cities each year, it’s an easier ride then ever to paradise. There are one-night dinner cruises to 14-day journeys to fit your budget. And cruise lines have evolved ships into incredible next-generation floating resorts (so get that image of shuffleboard out of your head). There are now climb­ing walls, surf-simulator pools, yoga studios, and movies under the stars. You can expect to get one of the best massages you’ve ever got­ten from their enhanced spas.

Simply the scale of their “boats” will blow you away: A number of these ships are nearly a mile long and 25 stories tall. It’s not unusual to find them loaded with marble atriums and shiny brass spiral stair­cases, a dozen elevators, multiple pools and whirlpools, a casino, Internet cafes, art galleries, ice cream shops, steakhouses, nightclubs, more bars than a college town, duty-free shopping and boutiques, all of which you’d think would sink the ship. And only occasionally can you feel the sway of the boat: These vessels are built like cities.

Where cruises differ from your typical resort is they actually move. In addition to a healthy dose of relaxation, you’ll explore the scenery and culture of the islands. Months in advance of when you set sail, you can pre-reserve onshore excursions, which include horseback riding, kayak­ing, scuba diving, and bus tours to famous attractions. There’s always striking out by cab or public transportation, too.


Up on the top decks you’ll experience an extraordinary version of a day at the beach, minus the sand and lugging beach chairs and coolers. Girlfriends find this scene to be the highest form of decadence: You’ll stake out lounge chairs for the day and let the cute waiters fetch you frozen drinks. By midday, the poolside area fills with the sounds of a steel drum or reggae from a live band. This is time for catching up and telling each other stories.


For those of you whose idea of a vacation is getting your heart rate up (or for those concerned about keeping their waistlines down from the constant cruise feedings), there are workout rooms, fitness classes, and jogging tracks on almost all ships.


There’s not a chance of getting bored on a cruise: Every hour of the day there’s something going on. Many women find a cruise a non-threaten­ing place to learn something new, especially in the company of girl­friends. Try your hand at ping-pang; give pottery making a go; have your golf swing analyzed; attend a wine tasting seminar; and practice your downward dogs all together in a yoga class.


Cruise lines love to make a big deal out of your occasion. When you book your reservations, let them know how you’d like to celebrate the big day: A cake with singing waiters at dinner, champagne in your room, or a private cocktail reception for your group.


At night you may find it difficult to act your age: What better pick-me-up for a birthday is there? There are magic shows, comedians, karaoke, gam­bling, Broadway-quality performances, discos, and movies. After a cardia workout on the dance floor or a few hours at the slot machines, there’s late­night snacking to be done. Depending on the ship, this can vary from 24- hour restaurants, to midnight buffets, to cookies coming out of the oven.


Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess, and Norwegian Cruise Line are the cream of the crop when considering itineraries and ships to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Hawaii. All have their strengths and weaknesses

and versions of itineraries. But you can rarely go wrong with any of them as they have the youngest and biggest fleets to choose from.


The new Crown Princess should be a top choice for those seeking high­class dining and spa amenities. Unique to the ship are an indoor Piazza with cafes and street performers. Plus it departs from a new terminal in Brooklyn, with possibly the best view of the Manhattan skyline, giving those in the Northeast the option of not having to fly to Florida. It’s also the only ship to visit Bermuda, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk on the same voyage.


Experience the world’s largest ship on Royal Caribbean’s new Freedom of the Seas. With the first-ever onboard surf park at sea; whirlpools cantlevering 12 feet beyond the sides of the ship; and their largest rock­climbing wall yet, it’s a big draw for adventurers. Departing from Miami, it sails to Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Haiti.


Most ships offer suites with connecting rooms and mini-suites. But some of the latest options for a group are truly spectacular. NCrs Norwegian Jewel and Pride of Hawaii ships have Courtyard Villas-ten rooms surrounding a private courtyard with a private [acuzzi and pool, plus a sun deck upstairs. Their Garden Villas include three bedrooms with a living room, dining room, private sundeck, and Jacuzzi. The Presidential Suite on Royal Caribbean’s's Freedom of the Seas sleeps up to 14-perfect for an all-girl slumber party.


As an alternative to the traditional dinner seating times you’re assigned on cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line lets you choose your dining compan­ions and times. Princess offers this option too, along with the option of eating in a smaller specialty restaurant, such as a trattoria or steakhouse, just as you would if you were vacationing in a town. And not all cruises require black-tie dining anymore. They’re leaning more toward a policy of “resort casual” attire at dinner with the option of formal evenings.


If you’ve dreamt of the rugged mountains and dense rain forest of Dominica, the world-famous multicolor coral reefs of Turks & Caicos,


In my experience, the seven-night Mexican Riviera Cruises out of Los Angeles are the most popular on the West Coast. My clients usually prefer Princess Cruises because they have newer, elegant ships and offer open seating at dinner, not the traditional 6 p.m. or 9 p.m. seating every night.

  • The most popular East Coast cruise is from Miami to the Caribbean on the Royal Caribbean Line. Their ships have lots of lounges where you can enjoy a vari­ety of entertainment day and night, and women love their spas.
  • My advice for first-time cruisers is to use the services of a cruise specialist to select the correct cruise for their taste and budget as well as getting the most desirable cabin at the best rate available. A cruise specialist can also make all the proper airline connections, which can be complex when dealing with a cruise. Also, a cruise specialist can be called on to resolve any issues or offer advice on subjects such as wardrobe, shore excursions, or passport requirements.
  • Inexperienced cruisers who book on line may have no clue. as to where their cabin is located or what their view may be. For example, a cabin in the forward part of the ship may cause sea sickness from the roll of the ship. Or a cabin that’s listed as having an ocean view may be partially obstructed by a lifeboat.

visiting a deserted island, spying flamingoes, playing a round of golf in Bermuda, or snorkeling with stingrays, a cruise off the East Coast is your cup of tea. Now departing from more cities along the Eastern Seaboard, cruise lines offer the most choices with itineraries to the Caribbean all year round.

Routes for this region are typically divided into the Bahamas, Bermuda, and the Southern, Eastern, and Western Caribbean. This is where you’ll find postcard-perfect clear turquoise water and white-sand beaches. Highlights of these tours include private islands in the Bahamas: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Great Stirrup Cay, and Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay. In the Western Caribbean, ports of call typically include the Grand Cayman; Belize; Cozumel, Mexico; and Jamaica. Southern Caribbean places of interest consist of Puerto Rico, Aruba, Curacao, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Dominica, and Tortola. St. Lucia, Antigua, and Martinique are part of Eastern Caribbean itineraries.


A bit like the “Love Boat” of yore, a West Coast itinerary is comprised of the cliff-hanging seaside towns of Mexico, migrating humpback, gray, and blue whales, horseback riding in the Sierra Madre, and peo­ple-watching in a Zocalo (town square). Los Angeles is the main departure city for year-round West Coast routes, followed by San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver. Stops include Catalina Island, Baja, Acapulco, Ensenada, Ixtapa, Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. A few ships venture farther down the coast to Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica. Via the world-famous Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal, you can also pass through to the islands of the Caribbean Sea. Cruises range from 7 to 11 days.

Hawaii, Anyone? NCL is the only company to offer an inter-island cruise of Hawaii from Honolulu, as opposed to a west coast city, which tacks on extra days at sea. Three ships sail here year round, and their greatest luxury would have to be viewing the world’s most active vol­cano, Mt. Kilauea, at night.



June 21st

Caribbean hookups

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentina is a word that rolls off the tongue, a name with a satisfying rhythm to it; a “four-beat bar” that echoes the staccato tempo of perhaps its most famous export ¬the tango.
First introduced here by immigrants in the early 1800s, the popular theory is that visiting French sailors took back the exotic dance they learned from performers in the brothels, teaching it to men and women in Europe and other parts of the world.

Whatever its origins, it has become a universally known and loved dance, with fiercely devoted fans. Amateurs, professionals and the mere admirers of the spectacle make (or want to make) a visit, almost like a pilgrimage to Buenos Aires; considered the birthplace of the tango.

You have no need to wonder what to do, or where to do it when staying here, because this is a universe with Experience Managers. Each guest is assigned an Experience Manager of their own, who may well contact you before you arrive to introduce him or herself, and ask what experiences they might help arrange fOT you once you are in their orbit.
Across the hall is the library bar, more like a meeting room, a private large salon, with an almost random layout that means you can sit in anyone of several places. A drink at the bar, or at a small table with a light dinner, or relax down on a deep sofa .. Here you are an actor and also part of the audience, a player in the show looking on from both sides of the stage. You can be wearing a tie or a t-shirt, be young, old or in between; despite the lush surroundings there is a relaxed atmosphere. An eclectic mix of people seems to be at ease rubbing shoulders here. Diners in the very white Unicorn Bistro are likely to be more special-occasion dressers.

On this boulevard is the Faena boutique, an attraction in itself. It is one of the most interesting hotel shops there is, with an eclectic and whimsical mix of covetable objects, from miniature replicas of the room furniture [0 take home [0 your own doll’s-house universe, beautiful red mate glasses and silver spoons, [0 great clothes that are all or mostly white, as preferred by the fashion designer – Mr. Faena himself.

Young and attractive “greeters” politely direct those who walk through the Faena doors. The Grand Entrance – La Catedral in Faena-speak – looks not unlike a cathedral’s nave, and as though it should always be a clear space for better effect, but in fact it is constantly busy, much like a boulevard, with people crisscrossing it to go to the restaurants, the bars, the pool or the elevators. The air is perfumed in the hall, a woody and appealing aroma lingering lightly as though some elegantly perfumed creature has just passed through. This is the Faena fragrance; the hotel has its own room scent, so that the physical atmosphere of its world is controlled and agreeable.

Faena has its own Tango Cabaret, of course; a stylish and an intimate setting for a three-course gourmet dinner and a spectacular show. While tango is more often a street experience – open-air dancing at markets or in and out of cafes especially in city quarters Recoleta and La Boca, where the dance, often described as constantly evolving, may have begun – the show tango of theaters, cabarets and clubs is more dramatically costumed and choreographed. The Faena’s Tango Director, Tony Ruiz, with his musicians and team of dancers has concocted a head-spinning experience.

Tango – the dance and the music – is pervasive here, a major part of the visitor experience. It acts as a magnet for many who want to learn the dance or work on their technique Most of the hotels have tango teachers in¬house; one free lesson is often included with your stay. The annual Tango Festival is in March: the biggest milonga – tango dance party – of all.
Described as a synthesis of “machismo and sexual desire, with a blend of sensitivity and aggression,” the tango was historically associated with thugs, gangsters and the underclass. Now it has become gentrified, moving beyond the shady to Dancing with the Stars respectability.

Just as Argentine tango is about improvisation, modifying learned steps and sequences, so too perhaps is the country. A country recovering, as it has before, from difficult times: the last in 2002, being the near collapse of its economy. Now it is rebuilding both figuratively and literally, especially in the port area Puerto Madero, alongside the Rio de la Plata – River Plate. New restaurants, cafes and apartments are coming out from the shells of rehabilitated warehouses and new constructions. This spruced-up docklands is where “starchitects” like Santiago Calatrava and Norman Foster are adding their master touches, designing bridges and buildings to provide architectural eye candy.
It is in this neighborhood that Faena Hotel + Universe has recently landed, part of an urban renewal project spearheaded by its owner, Alan Faena, first a fashion designer, now a hotel- and personal universe – developer. The hotel will be at the hub of the El Porteno Art District, a cultural quarter with art galleries and workshops, design outlets and apartments. The Faena universe is also an expanding one.

Faena Hotel + Universe has breathed new life into what was once an old grain warehouse. There is a definite sense of arrival and anticipation as you walk along a red-carpeted runway to the stunning entrance doors. It is a good theatrical effect, one that has a showman’s touch. This is the very recent stamping ground of the ubiquitous Philippe Starck, uber-designer with an extensive list of hotels to his name. The Faena is one of his more playful and most comfortable styling projects. The austere exterior belies the opulence within. More is better here, with lavish touches that look back fondly to the French baroque and rococo eras. Gold swan chairs, white unicorn trophies, swags of ruby-red velvet curtains and a sequence of crystal chandeliers ornament and add flourish to what is an intriguing interior



June 21st

Buenos Aires hookups

Brazil Travel

Like Goa and Ibiza before it, Trancoso would seem to be at the tipping

point between high freak and hi h fashion, hippies and hipsters.

As you read this. Trancoso is jumping. For three weeks in late December and early January, Sao Paulo society descends on the Quadrado, transforming the village into one big holiday bacchanal. (It helps that Christmas and New Year’s usher in Brazilian summer.) Lines for restaurants snake around the corner, and parking requires some patience-this in a town where few locals own cars.

Then,just as suddenly, influx turns exodus. For the rest of the year, Trancoso can seem all but deserted. Weekenders and honeymooners pass through during the long off-season, but not many. When we visited in March the hotels were only a quarter full, and when I returned last fall I was one of maybe 10 foreigners in town. In the curious ebb and flow of Trancoso, one month it’s um-cha-um-cha beats at a jam-packed beach bar, and the next it’s the gentle chirrup-chirrup of lizards on an empty Quadrado. At quieter times like those, one wonders what it must have been like a generation ago.

Rhapsodies about hippie-dropout meccas make me skeptical; one dude’s far-out fantasy is another’s dysfunctional cesspooL Still, imagine Trancoso in the early 1970′s, when the first non­natives-hippies and other urban refugees from Brazil and elsewhere-stumbled upon this remote Patax6 Indian village, where money was fish and fish were plentiful. The newcomers

were called biribandos, a Patax6 term for “outsiders.” By most accounts, they fit in well with the villagers-even helping to restore the town church, which had languished in disrepair.

Many original biribandos remain here, and are known main- 1y by their first names: Lia, Cale, Leila, Cala. (That several of the ragtag escapees came from Sao Paulo families with promi­nent surnames is perhaps not unrelated.) A new generation of hippies rnanque has followed in their footsteps: guys in un­trimmed beards pushing strollers around the square, sun­drenched women with middle parts and beaded bikinis, teenage longhairs noodling on the berimhau or grooving on the cuica, the Bahian percussion instrument that emits a squeak like a puppy whose tail was just stepped on. One can always make out the tang of ganja smoke in the breezes wafting across the Quadrado. This may explain why one biribando is presently collecting insect wings in the hope of building a spaceship.

After the hippies came other free spirits: painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians. The actress Sonia Braga visited frequently in the 1980′s, as did the tropicalia singer Gal Costa. Her former summer house on Praia dos Nativos is now a Relais & Chateaux resort, Pousada Estrela d’Agua (with the best bar on the beach). Elba Ramalho, the high priestess of forrd music, owned a local club called Bar.



June 21st

Brazil hookups

Belgium Hotels

Chateau de Limelette

hookup belgium

Address: Rue Charles Dubois 87, B-1342 Limelette, Belgium Telephone: (+32) 10 42 19 99

Booking details: chateau-de-limelette@


Hidden away in the Lauzelle woods, 30 minutes’ drive from Brussels, Chateau de Limelette is a surnptuous.nineteenth-centurv hotel built in Anglo-Norman style. A flower garden dotted with waterfalls and fountains surrounds the chateau, which also has an outdoor pool, gym and the largest marine balneotherapy centre in Belgium. The rooms are spacious and tastefully furnished, and the beds are big enough to spend an entire weekend in. Outdoor activities include golf, tennis, squash, mountain biking and clay pigeon shooting.

The ambience: A tranquil hideaway, this hotel blends rural charm with luxurious indulgence to create an escape-from-the-world feel.

Reqular quests: Creme de la creme of Belgian society and corporate types milling about the business centre and conference rooms.

Treatment menu: At the light, bright Thalgo Limelette, a team of osteopaths, physiotherapists, hydrotherapists and beauty counsellors efficiently whisk about. Algae, seawater and hot and cold baths are briskly dispensed, in addition to Thai and Tao massages. Smokers tend to head for the respiratory cocoon, while hookups belgium who are interested in cosmetic treatments love the Beauty Centre.

House speciality: The Postnatal Package, which is guaranteed to kickstart your post-baby body beauty plan.

Cuisine: Gastronomes will savour the gourmet menu at the Saint­.Jean-des-Bois, which is located in a pretty pavilion overlooking the woods. Low-fat food is served at the Thalgo Light restaurant.

Ideal for: Couples. The magical environs of the chateau are wonderfully romantic.

What to pack: Beach shoes for the spa.

Oomalne des Hautes FaQnes


Address: Rue des Charmilies 67, B-4950 Ovifat-Waimes, Belgium Telephone: (+32) 80446987 Booking details: (+32) 80 44 69 87 Website:

Located in a protected parkland between the Ardennes and the Rhine valley, the hotel allows the jaded and burnt-out to unwind in the spa or let off steam through diverse activities. The conference halls and meeting rooms mean that the complex can get booked up for corporate events and team-building exercises, but the sports facilities are worth the trip, with nature walks, tennis, volleyball, basketball, badminton, boules, and many more from which to pick. To get a little downtime, visit the sauna, hammam, aqua gym and pool, or take a gymnastics course to help increase your suppleness.

The ambience: A health and sports retreat set in rustic wilderness, where overall wellbeing is achieved through exertion and pampering.

Regular guests: Executives on team-building schemes and fitness fanatics who want mentally and physically challenging pursuits.

Treatment menu: The list includes bust masks, facials, grooming treatments and massages, with marine therapies a speciality.

House speciality: The Anti-Stress Package includes a sauna, steam, water jets, body scrub and the Seaweed Pack – an energizing thalgo treatment – followed by massage and lymphatic drainage.

Cuisine: The Hot Stone Fagna is a customer-participation event; you choose the ingredients and have them cooked right before your eyes. The a la carte restaurant serves seasonal food with a focus on fish.

Ideal for: Families and outdoorsy nature-lovers.

What to pack: Cross-country skis in winter and climbing gear in summer so you can scale Signal de Botrange, Belgium’s highest point.

Thalassa & Beauty Centre at La Reserve


Address: Elizabetlaan 158-169, B-8300 Knokke-Heist, Belgium Telephone: (+32) 50 61 0606

Booking details: Website:

Located in Belgium’s fashionable seaside resort of Knokke-Heist, the modern low-rise La Reserve hotel is perched on the edge of a shimmering blue lake, making it the ideal hostelrie for watersports enthusiasts. In addition to a 25 x 12 metre (80 x 40 foot) indoor swimming pool. which is filled with heated, purified seawater, and covered tennis and squash courts, guests can also partake in the numerous other sporting activities that are available in the local area, such as bowling, bicycling, golf, go-karting, horse-riding and fencing. The beach is just 300 metres (328 yards) away, and offers perfect conditions for sailing, windsurfing and volleyball. The hotel has a large terrace that stretches right to the water’s edge and 110 spacious and elegant rooms (five of which are exclusive suites) – each with its own sunbathing deck.

Knokke-Heist, Belgium

For those seeking less strenuous activities, there is the spectacular Het Zwin nature reserve, where quiet waterways, salt marshes and silent forests play host to a variety of flora, fauna and bird life. The old town of Knokke-Heist has museums, cultural centres, Norman churches and shops galore. Guests can also visit the neighbouring medieval town of Bruges, with its stunning architecture, quaint streets and chocolate shops selling calorie-laden trays of rich, creamy confectionery.

The ambience: Cool white corridors with black-and-white chequerboard tiled flooring and vaulted ceilings combine with sumptuous European-style furnishings and the occasional dash of Flemish rustica to give a nicely eclectic feel.

Regular guests: Those wanting to combine business with pleasure. The town of Knokke-Heist is a well-known conference centre and international meetings are frequently held in the hotel’s numerous boardrooms.

Treatment menu: The treatments at the Thalassa Centre focus on thalassotherapy (the use of seawater, which is rich in mineral salts and oligo-elements that are easily absorbed by the skin, for therapeutic purposes) and fango (mud) remedies. There’s also a sauna, Turkish bath (hammam) and hydrojet tub with extra stomach stimulator. Complementary massages include reflexology, shiatsu and Ayurvedic varieties, and the beauty parlour places special emphasis on expert hair removal. stripping guests of every last unwanted strand.

House speciality: The Beauty Centre at La Reserve does not offer any exclusive treatments as such, preferring to concentrate all its energies on the myriad benefits of thalassotherapy.

Cuisine: Healthy European fare is available from La Sirene restaurant, while breakfast is eaten at the Victoria restaurant, which serves hot fresh coffee and warm croissants.

Ideal for: Families; couples; singletons. The beach, golf course, historic town and shopping opportunities provide enough variation to keep everyone happy.

What to pack: Your binoculars so that you can join the ‘twitchers’ and go bird-watching in the nature reserve.



June 21st

Belgium hookups

Ambassade Hotel, Amsterdam Netherlands

In what is one of the world’s great cities on water, the Ambassade Hotel is canal-side, a priority in choosing a place to stay in Amsterdam. Situated in the historical center of Amsterdam on the Herengracht (Gentleman’s Canal) the hotel has a peaceful setting slightly off the major tourist track. Yet it is close to good cafes, restaurants and bookshops, to the many museums, the floating flower market and shopping streets. Nearby is the tree-lined Jordaan area, an old neighborhood undergoing a renovation renaissance, and on almost every street there seems to be an Indonesian restaurant, reflecting the legacy of Dutch explorers and spice traders who journeyed back and forth to what was once called New Holland.

The Ambassade is a row of gabled centuries-old canal houses. On a charmingly small scale, the 10 buildings are cobbled together as a hotel. Each is four or five storeys high, with steep staircases, twisting corridors, and low­beamed ceilings. No designer drew this hotel up: it has evolved in its own eccentric way. The Ambassade has a literary tradition, reflected in names signed in the visitor’s book. The hotel is apparently favored by writers such as Oliver Sacks, Salman Rushdie and John Le Carre. No doubt many were on book-promoting gigs in the city. There is soon to be a hotel library, to house the many books signed by the author guests and Amsterdam hookups.

T he hotel is discreetly signed, and blends well into the essentially residential area. Despite being made up of 10 houses, it is comparatively small, with none of its 52 rooms alike. This is an elegant individual and friendly hotel. The ornate breakfast room overlooking the canal serves a generous traditional Dutch repast. Because it is such a pleasant and spacious room, with white lacquered walls and two-storey-high windows, it is better to forgo room service and eat here. The antique-filled sitting room next door is a good location to enjoy a leisurely mid­morning coffee or an afternoon drink, admiring the old and ornate walnut clock with its moving fleet of ships.

Our room looked out over the canal. The large windows opened wide on the early autumn afternoon, letting in the still warm sun. Just above the street and heads of passersby, the room had a gracious and welcoming feel, the atmosphere of a comfortable home. The bed was placed in an alcove, with table and chairs placed beside the window, adding to the impression of being in a living room. With a glass of wine and food bought from a nearby cafe, we sat and watched Amsterdam go by. The boat traffic along the canal is a reminder that this is a maritime city and major port. There was also a constant stream of cars and bicycles, and the sound of murmuring Amsterdammers headed for cafes, to visit friends, or going home.

At night, the city’s bridges, illuminated by tiny lights placed around their arches, seem suspended over a void until a boat comes by with its lights on. The huge variety of boats range from the trim to the wallowing-noisy tourist craft, a wooden dinghy being rowed to a nearby restaurant, barges motoring by on business, homes afloat and vessels tied up by their owners who are refueling at a convenient cafe … The Ambassade’s added water attraction is a massage center with flotation tanks. It provides a pleasant remedy for stress and jetlag, and perhaps writer’s block.

Think of an archery target and you have a bead on Amsterdam, laid out within concentric circles formed by its five main canals. The web of smaller waterways within brings the total number to 160 canals, the city claiming to have more canals than Venice. Traversing these watery barriers are 1,281 bridges, negotiated by 550,000 bicycles and even more cars.

Renting a bike is an option if you prefer your own wheels, but Amsterdam is a city to enjoy on foot. At night, uncunained interiors offer glimpses of how the citizens live, contemporary versions of Verrneer’s light-infused canvasses, which captured everyday Dutch scenes in the 17th century

Cruising the grand canals in a rented motorboat is a rather more elegant altemative to a two-seater water bike. Tourist boats provide a seafarer’s perspective on houses built along the canal banks by wealthy mariners during the prosperous age of merchant sail. Famed for museums focused on an – Van Gogh, the Rijksmuseum with its Rembrandts and Vermeers and the modem art of the Stedelijk – Amsterdam also caters to more down-to-earth tastes with museums specializing in subjects as diverse as trams, beer, sex and football. Something for everyone.

The modem and the medieval coexist comfortably in this very cosmopolitan city. Fans of architecture should see the quirky apartment complex of Eigen Haard (Our Hearth), on Michel de Klerk’s drawing board from 1913 to 1920. The striking Science Centre New Metropolis by Renzo Piano rises like an ocean liner from the harbor and there is cutting-edge design from the appropriately named radical Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Check out Architectura & Natura, a specialized bookstore at Leliegracht 44, for guidebooks on modem Dutch buildings.

Amsterdam has a 400-year association with diamonds. It is also linked with tulips, which have their own fascinating history. As the Ambassade Hotel has a connection with writers, it seems fitting to mention two excellent books featuring tulips, one a novel, the other a history.

The Amsterdam of the early 17th century was immortalized in seemingly serene domestic interiors painted by Vermeer and Rembrandt. Deborah Moggach’s book Tulip Fever adds another dimension to the artists’ canvases. Set in 1630s Amsterdam, a typical renaissance love triangle draws a wealthy elderly merchant, his beautiful but frustrated young wife, and the painter commissioned to paint the couple’s portrait. The artist becomes entangled in a series of emotional and financial speculations, including tulip-bulb trading, and the lives of the three central characters are utterly changed. The text is interspersed with 16 beautiful! y reproduced Dutch paintings, a novel addition to this work of fiction.

A gardening writer, Anna Pavord has recorded the bizarre history of the tulip in The Tulip, a massive book that is both scholarly and entertaining. Originating in Central Asia, tulips were transported to Europe by the Turks. In the 1730s the Dutch were overtaken by “tulipomania,” with single bulbs changing hands for the price of a house. Other countries including France caught the tulip fever. While the Europeans eventually regained their composure, the tulip’s popularity now reaches out to embrace the New World. Pavord’s book is illustrated with hundreds of full page prints of the stylish flower.



June 21st

Amsterdam hookups
June 2010
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