4.19.2014

Loire Valley | chateaux, wine, and food

Domaine des Hauts de Loire from the reflecting pond — (c) 2014 by David Ourisman

Continuing my travelogue of my recent trip to France, the next stop was at the beautiful hotel pictured here, Domaine des Hauts de Loire. An absolutely beautiful setting, I enjoyed my stay here very much.

What to do in the Loire valley?

1. Visit the famous chateaux; click the link to explore some of the possibilities. It's an incredible historical experience, and you'll get a sense of the lavish lifestyles of the French aristocracy… and perhaps also a sense of the social forces that led to the French Revolution.

2. Taste the wine. The Loire is one of the great wine regions of France with five different appellations.

3. Enjoy the cuisine. Domain des Hauts de Loire has a two-star Michelin restaurant under the direction of chef Rémy Giraud. Room rates are reasonable — as low as 190€ for a Standard room in low season — and guests have the privilege of pre-reserving a table at the restaurant.

The hotel itself is a former 19th century hunting lodge, set in 210 acres of oak forest. Rooms in the original building are very authentic, down to the creaking floorboards and antique furnishings. The perfect spot for a romantic getaway.


Domaine des Hauts de Loire, back entrance — (c) 2014 by David Ourisman

copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

4.17.2014

Perros-Guirec | beach resort in Brittany

the beach at Perros-Guirec, France — (c) 2014 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Want to go to the beach this summer? Northern France may not have been on your radar … most Americans think of the Riviera, but here are three reasons to consider the Brittany coast.
  1. The Riviera is hot and humid.
  2. The Riviera is crowded.
  3. The sand on the beach at Cannes is coarse.
And where to stay? L'AGAPA Hotel Spa is a boutique beach resort overlooking the English Channel. Pictured above is the view from my room. A small resort with just 45 rooms, re-opened in 2005 after a complete renovation of an older resort. The hotel has an imposing contemporary design of glass and granite. We enjoyed dinner in their excellent restaurant, and I was also treated to a massage in Spa Nuxe. 

How to get there? I'd recommend beginning your stay in Paris — toujours Paris! You can fly from Orly to Lannion (LAI) in just over an hour … or make it a several-day road trip, visiting Giverny, Honfleur, the Normandy battlefields, and Mont Saint Michel on the way.

Virtuoso amenities! L'AGAPA offers complimentary daily buffet breakfasts for two, a welcome cocktail, and a $100 resort credit just by booking through your Virtuoso travel consultant. While upgrades may be difficult between 14JUL and 31AUG, June, the first half of July, and September are especially good times to plan your visit.

copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

4.14.2014

Normandy | what to see, where to stay

American Cemetery at Omaha Beach - photo (c) 2014 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

A quick trip from Paris by car or train, Normandy is a destination to consider when visiting France — especially in the summer, as it will not be as hot and crowded as Provence and the Cote d'Azur. Normandy has a lot to offer — history, food, and gorgeous scenery.

Honfleur is one of the most picturesque towns that I've ever seen. Wander down to the harbor before dawn to get some absolutely amazing pictures of the reflections in the soft morning light, and take a look at the church and bell tower in the center of town. Lots of restaurants in town, or just enjoy some moule frites while seated at a table overlooking the harbor. We stayed at Ferme Saint Simeon, easily the best hotel in town… and a member of Virtuoso. Just a 10 minute walk outside the village, it has a fabulous Relais & Chateaux restaurant.

The Bayeux Tapestry, located in the village of Bayeux, is a remarkable embroidered cloth about 230 feet long with 50 scenes depicting the story of how William the Conquerer became the King of England. Visitors are given a hand-held device that describes what you are seeing as you look at the embroidery… but very worthwhile if you become familiar with the history in advance of your visit.

The American Cemetery is an awe-inspiring sight with more than 9,000 crosses and stars of David marking the graves of the brave soldiers who gave their lives in the D-Day invasion. While the sight itself is moving, a great tour guide can add an extra dimension to your experience. Stay at Chateau de la Cheneviere, an elegant country experience just 15 minutes from the cemetery.

Bell Tower in Honfleur, France - (c) 2014 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

4.11.2014

Paris at dawn | Shangri La Paris

Eiffel Tower at Dawn, (c) 2014 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

I spent two evenings at the Shangri La Paris at the beginning of my recent trip to France. There's been a lot of interest in this new Virtuoso property, so I wanted to get a chance to experience the hotel first-hand. My impression is quite positive. The Shangri La is a boutique hotel with just 101 rooms and suites. Decorated in a classical Parisian style that light, airy, tasteful, and updated, I enjoyed my stay very much.

If you want to see the Eiffel Tower from your room, Shangri La Paris is an ideal choice (it's the closest hotel to the Eiffel Tower). Half of the rooms have a direct view, and my ground floor Garden Suite had a good view from my patio as well as from the bathtub. Click here to see a video I took in the evening.

But better than sitting in your room, take advantage of the location to take a short walk. I left the hotel before dawn and captured the photograph above with the lights from the Pont d'Iéna reflected in the water. Then I continued walking over the bridge and spent some time at the base of the Eiffel Tower with not another tourist in sight (usually, there are hundreds of people waiting in line). On the way back to the hotel, I captured the shot below of a solitary car traveling on the cobblestoned rue Fresnel.

Rue Fresnel at Dawn, (c) 2014 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved
copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.


3.30.2014

Le Week-end and the Plaza Athenee Paris



Went yesterday afternoon to see Le Week-end, because I leave tomorrow for Paris and wanted to further whet my anticipation for my 48 hours in my favorite city in the world.

Though the LA Times critique calls this "a sour and misanthropic film masquerading as an honest and sensitive romance," I actually found the movie fun — but perhaps that's because it's set in Paris, and I love everything Parisian! Without giving away the [thin] plot, the film opens with Nick and Meg on the Eurostar. This unhappily married English couple is headed to Paris to celebrate their anniversary. They arrive at their cheaper-than-cheap hotel in Montmartre and lug their suitcases up the stairs (no elevator here). Their drab, postage stamp room is barely larger than the bed within, and the small balcony looks down onto the nondescript street below. Meg refuses to stay. She drags Nick and their luggage into a cab which careens through Paris with the sunroof open, to better show us the sights.

Passing a stunning art-deco hotel near the Seine, Meg asks the cab to stop. I immediately whispered to Claire, "It's the Plaza Athenee!" They go into the hotel to get a room for the weekend and learn the hotel is totally booked. No rooms to be had. They sit on a sofa in the lobby to rest and are approached, shortly later, with news that a Suite has opened up … so they book the Suite for the weekend.

Its balcony on avenue Montaigne offers a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower. In the course of the film, we also see the ivy-covered courtyard of the hotel, the ivy being home to song birds who fill the courtyard with music. We see the illuminated bartop at Bar 228. We see the Dorchester Collection lapel pin on the front desk agent. Though we are never explicitly told the name of the hotel until the last moments of the final credits, this is indeed the Plaza Athenee Paris.

Currently closed for a complete renovation, the Plaza Athenee Paris will reopen in the summer of 2014. I'll be meeting with its sales manager this Wednesday to learn all about what you can expect when this Parisian palace hotel reopens its doors to welcome guests. In the meantime, know that any Dorchester Diamond Club travel consultant can get you the following amenities at the Plaza Athenee Paris:

  • guaranteed upgrade at booking (up to the Jr. Suite category)
  • 100€ hotel credit for a guest room (a daily credit if you book a Suite)
  • Full Breakfast daily (including room service and anything on the menu except caviar and champagne)
  • premium internet for unlimited devices


copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

3.23.2014

leaving for France in eight days!

Chateau La Cheneviere

It's one of the best parts of my job as a travel consultant — traveling, exploring destinations, and inspecting hotels. While it  actually is work — and tiring work — it is immensely valuable to my clients for me to visit hotels and see them with my own eyes. Talented photographers can make virtually anything look nice on a website. A wide-angle lens can make a tiny, cramped room look spacious. Good lighting can lighten a dark, dowdy interior.

What are the rooms really like? What does it feel like to be in a property? Nothing can substitute for the experience of being in a place, especially spending the night — sleeping on the beds, taking a shower in (hopefully) a step-in shower. That's what I'll be doing next week, and it helps me make recommendations (and provide you with amenities) as your Virtuoso travel consultant.

Added benefit — meeting the management of the hotels. Those relationships can translate into recognition, room upgrades, and VIP treatment.

Here's my itinerary and a google map of my trip. I've listed the Virtuoso amenities where relevant.

1APR-2NT — PARIS. I'll be staying at the Shangri-La Paris, a recently opened Virtuoso hotel with a direct view of the Eiffel Tower from some of its rooms. I've heard great things about the hotel and will be experiencing two nights here on my own, before the FAM trip begins.

Other site inspections planned in Paris:  La Reserve Paris, Fouquet's Barriere, Prince de Galles, and Four Seasons George V. I'm also meeting with the sales manager of a few hotels under new construction or renovation: Ritz Paris, Plaza Athenée, and the Peninsula Paris. All of these are (or will be) members of Virtuoso.

3APR-1NT — La Ferme Saint Simeon. This Virtuoso property is near the picturesque village of Honfleur, one of my favorite places in France. The reflections on the harbor in the soft pre-dawn light is amazing.

4APR-1NT — Chateau La Cheneviere, the premiere property near Bayeux (home of the famous Bayeux tapestries), the Normandy battlefields, and Mont-St-Michel.

5APR-1NT — l'Agapa Hotel. A member of Virtuoso, this contemporary hotel is situated on the Brittany coast with amazing views of the sea.

6APR-1NT — Le Domaine des Hauts de Loire, a Relais & Châteaux property located in the Loire Valley. Want to explore the chateaux of the Loire? This hotel is centrally located.

7APR-1NT — Chateau de Bagnols. Located in the Beaujolais wine region of France, come here for wine tastings and the cuisine.

8APR-1NT — Alpaga Megeve is in the French Alps. Consider staying in the mountains to enjoy skiing in the winter, temperate sunny days in the summer, and the spa all year round.

I'll return from Geneva back to the US on April 9th, connecting through Frankfurt for my flight back to San Francisco (avoiding a CDG connection at all costs!)

copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

3.21.2014

Four Seasons Hawaii | best time to visit Hawaii



Looking for the lowest rates for a trip to Hawaii? My rep from Four Seasons Hawaii has provided me with an exclusive list of "value dates." Occupancy is still relatively low during the following periods, meaning these are the best times to visit Hawaii. Rates may go up the longer you wait, so book now to grab the values while they last. The reservations are flexible, and you can cancel without penalty up to 21 days before your date of arrival for guest rooms.

Four Seasons Maui
April 7-20
May 28-June 17
September 21-28
October 1-31
November 1-20
December 1-18

Four Seasons Hualalai (Big Island)
May 17-26
June 1-8
July 5-12
August 23-30
September 1-3
September 26-October 1
October 20-31
November 1-20

Four Seasons Manele Bay (Lana'i)
May 10-31
October 20-31
November 1-30
December 1-18

Four Seasons Lodge at Koele (Lana'i)
May 9-31
June 1-30

You will receive valuable Four Seasons Preferred Partner amenities, worth hundreds of dollars over the course of your stay, when booking any Four Seasons resort in Hawaii through a Preferred Partner travel consultant:
  • Daily full American breakfast for two people per bedroom, served through In-Room Dining or in the hotel restaurant (including buffets)
  • Food and beverage credit of USD100
  • Upgrade of one category, based on availability at time of check-in (excluding signature suites and villas)
  • Complimentary basic Internet access for up to two devices
copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.