10.22.2014

sunrise breakfast over Rio

Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Mountain

The iconic attraction of Rio di Janeiro, the 125 foot statue of Christ the Redeemer sits atop Corcovado Mountain. And here's an unique opportunity to beat the crowds and enjoy a sunrise breakfast over Rio.

An exclusive experience provided by Belmond Copacabana Palace, you'll be picked up at the hotel at 5 a.m., travel through the Tijuca Forest, and reach the top of the 2,296 foot high mountain before tourists are admitted. Once there, enjoy the sunrise experience while enjoying a mountaintop continental breakfast served by a waiter — home-baked breads, sandwiches, cakes, pastries, and juices. Contact me for pricing and to make arrangements for this unique travel idea.

All Virtuoso guests of Copacabana Palace receive the following complimentary amenities for their stay:
  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily Buffet breakfast, for up to two in room guests
  • $100 USD Spa Services credit, to be utilized during stay  (not combinable, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Early check-in/late check-out subject to availability

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.

10.21.2014

private air tour of Europe


If you've got $69,900 to spend on the most amazing European trip (price is per person - $7,750 single supplement), I've got the perfect two week vacation for you, a luxury tour by private jet. Dates are August 30 - September 13, 2015. Just 14 fortunate travelers will get to experience this itinerary.

30AUG-3NT — BERLIN

You'll stay at the Adlon Kempinski, right next to the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin. You'll enjoy a city tour of Berlin on Monday and a day trip to Potsdam on Tuesday.

2SEP-2NT — DRESDEN and SALZBURG

Your private jet will fly to Dresden for a morning walking tour. After lunch, you'll fly on to Salzburg, Austria and the Goldener Hirsch, right in the heart of the Old City. On Thursday, tour Schloss Mirabell, see Mozart's birthplace, and other sites.

4SEP-3NT — DUBROVNIK and SICILY

Stopping off in Dubrovnik for a morning tour, your private jet will continue to Taormina Sicily where you'll spend three nights at the Belmond Grand Timeo. You'll have two full days to tour Sicily, including a 2nd century Greek Theater and Europe's largest volcano, Mount Etna.

7SEP-3NT — AZORE ISLANDS

Stopping in San Miguel for a sight-seeing expedition, your plane will continue to Terceira with two days to explore this Azore Island. You'll stay at Pousada Angra do Herosimo de Sao Sebastiao.

10SEP-3NT — PARIS

Nonstop from the Azores to Paris, you'll enjoy your final three nights at the Four Seasons George V, proclaimed by many as the best hotel in the world. Your tour includes an escorted transfer back to the airport for your flight home.

Though expensive, the flexibility afforded by a private jet allows this kind of flexible itinerary. Any question, please give me a call, and I'll get the answers!

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.

10.16.2014

guided tours vs. "do it yourself"

crowded Floating Market an hour outside of Bangkok

Guided tour or do-it-yourself? There's a lot to recommend each way of exploring a new destination. Frankly, I've been spoiled by my experience as a Virtuoso travel consultant. Having experienced guided tours on Educational Trips, it's hard for me to go back, especially in a place where traveling is difficult.

There is a huge advantage to hiring a private guide. You don't waste time figuring out logistics, buying tickets, and determining the best use of your precious vacation time. An expert local guide is working for you, to help you make the most of every day. We had an Abercrombie and Kent guide (Sue) and driver in Bangkok.

An experienced guide makes sure everything goes smoothly. One day we visited the Mae Klong Market whose claim to fame is that a railroad track runs right through it. Whenever the local train comes through, all of the merchants using the (free) stall space next to the tracks have to move their merchandise. Our next stop, the Amphawa Floating Market (pictured above) is crowded with both merchants and shoppers. We saw both, without a moment's worry about how to get there or what to do once we did.

And if things do go wrong, a great guide can fix them in a hurry. On our way back to Bangkok, the transmission on our car broke down… but not to worry. Sue got out of the car, flagged down a taxi, and got us to our next destination (lunch at The Siam) without our having to break a sweat. By the time we had finished lunch, a new car and driver were waiting to take us back to the Four Seasons.

There's much to be said about wandering, getting lost, and making new discoveries on your own. This is my preferred way to travel in lots of places, from Paris to New York to Venice. But if you want to just sit back, experience the destination, and travel in style, there's nothing better than a private guide.

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.

10.14.2014

Peninsula Hong Kong | truly elegant Kowloon hotel



First, a word about Hong Kong and the protests. I didn't see or hear the slightest indication of any disruption during my twenty-four hours in Hong Kong. I spent a day in Kowloon at the iconic Peninsula Hong Kong. Booked through a Virtuoso/PEN Club agency, you'll receive a complimentary daily buffet breakfast for two; a $100 hotel credit good towards food, beverage, and spa; upgrade if available; and flexible check-in/check-out times ("Pen Time").

A truly elegant hotel, a uniformed doorman will usher you into the Peninsula's grand lobby where you can enjoy Afternoon Tea or just enjoy a drink. I last visited the hotel in 2007. It has since undergone a total renovation of the guest rooms, and I loved the outcome! We stayed in a Deluxe Courtyard Room, and I would not hesitate to recommend this room to clients. Of course, you can book a Grand Deluxe Harbour View room and enjoy the view of Victoria Harbour and the Hong Kong skyline beyond.

What to do in Kowloon? Plenty of high end shopping, local food (we had dinner at Jade Garden, right by the Ferry terminal), and the nightly light show over Victoria Harbour.

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.

10.05.2014

FS Tented Camp | it's a (ma)hout!

an elephant playing water games — (c) 2014 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

We're nearing the end of our trip to Thailand and Bhutan, and we have been able to squeeze in about 30 hours at Four Seasons Golden Triangle, otherwise known as FS Tented Camp. I think this picture says it all ... Yuki, one of Four Seasons' four Asian Elephants, is dousing my wife Claire with a surprise rain shower!

Four Seasons has created a unique elephant camp in the jungles of Northern Thailand, right on the border with Burma (Myanmar). In fact, the view from our tent is entirely of Burma. The highlight of your stay (for most guests), and the primary reason for a vacation here, will be the mahout training. If you love horseback riding, if you love getting up close and personal with animals, if you get an adrenaline rush from active adventure, FS Tented Camp should definitely go on your bucket list. (There are plenty of additional fascinating cultural tours for anyone not into elephants).

Four Seasons Golden Triangle is an all-inclusive resort, but book through a Four Seasons Preferred Partner (such as myself) in order to take advantage of an additional perk, a $100 spa credit. I'm looking forward to experiencing Four Seasons' spa in about 90 minutes, right after lunch!


P.S. — Our Thai Couples Massage was fabulous! Our therapists were Mimi and Yomi, and just as wonderful as the massage therapy was the setting ... an open-air massage studio in the jungle with the gentle sounds of birds and crickets.


copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. As affiliates of Brownell Travel, we can provide our clients with Virtuoso amenities and amenities from other Brownell preferred hotel partners including Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, and more. All rights reserved. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

10.03.2014

what makes a luxury hotel?

we stepped in mud on a hike two hours before departure... and Amankora is cleaning them for us

What makes a luxury hotel? This is the subject of an active forum on FlyerTalk with over 23,800 views. The one word answer to that question: service. And we have experienced nothing but incredible service from Amankora.

So far today... 

(1) We went for our complimentary breakfast at 7 a.m. The dining room was fully staffed, with both a cold buffet set up and a hot menu with varied choices.

(2) When we got back to our room after breakfast, the bed had been made and the bathroom cleaned with fresh towels, etc.

(3) We went to the front desk at 8:15 a.m. for a final hike. Two Aman guides accompanied Claire and me, all included in the Amankora Journey.

(4) In the course of that hike, we had to traverse a muddy path alongside a scenic rice paddy. The result of that hike on our shoes is pictured above. When we got back to Amankora Paro, we left our shoes at the front desk, and they will be cleaned to returned to us before our departure. All part of the included services at Amankora, as is complimentary laundry service!

(5) After getting back to our room (which had again been cleaned), I took a shower, then wrote this blog, while Claire tried her hand at archery (also included).

(6) In half an hour, we leave for the airport. The transfer is also included, and our guide will accompany us to help with anything unexpected at the airport. The staff will be there to say farewell, a touch that makes you feel like the welcome guest that you truly are.

(7) Addendum: after checking out and before we had left for the airport, housekeeping brought two small items we had inadvertently left in the room.


Service is at the heart of Amanresorts, as any Amanjunkie can attest. The resort almost seems to anticipate your needs.

So thank you to Amankora for your wonderful hospitality and service during our Amankora Journey. After nine days, it's back to Bangkok and civilization.

copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. As affiliates of Brownell Travel, we can provide our clients with Virtuoso amenities and amenities from other Brownell preferred hotel partners including Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, and more. All rights reserved. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

sunrise in Paro, Bhutan

sunrise in Paro, Bhutan, photo by David Ourisman (c) 2014, all rights reserved

It's our last morning in Bhutan. Woke up early, looked out the window, and knew that I wanted to capture this scene for my memories. The sun, peaking over the tops of other mountains, caught the snowcapped peak of this mountain just right. Amankora Paro has a beautiful setting, and this is the view from the resort's main lounge.

Later today we fly back to Bangkok ... and tomorrow, we fly to Chiang Rai for a quick one-night site inspection of Four Seasons Tented Camp. Be watching this space, because obviously there's still more to come over the last days of our trip. (Not to mention one final night at the Peninsula Hong Kong - hopefully things will be peaceful during our stay).

copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. As affiliates of Brownell Travel, we can provide our clients with Virtuoso amenities and amenities from other Brownell preferred hotel partners including Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, and more. All rights reserved. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

Tiger's Nest | to climb or not to climb?

Tiger's Nest, Paro, Bhutan — photo by David Ourisman (c) 2014, all rights reserved

The Tiger's Nest is to Bhutan as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, the number one attraction that comes to most people's minds when that destination is mentioned. And as you can tell from the caption on the picture above, I climbed it. This morning, in fact. Then this afternoon, I enjoyed one of the best (and most badly needed) massages ever — a 90 minute Bhutanese Holistic Massage at the hands of Wang in the spa at Amankora Paro. But I'm getting off the subject.

Should you make the climb to visit Tiger's Nest or not?

Why you may choose to. This is a site of deep religious significance in Bhutanese culture. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava, the eighth century monk who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan, meditated in a cave at this site for three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours. A monastery — known as Paro Taktsang — was built over this cave in 1692. It is the cultural icon of Bhutan, and if you're the type of traveler who likes to check items off your bucket list, you'll definitely want to make the visit.

Why you may choose not to. Although we were told that it was a gradual climb to reach the cliffside monastery, don't believe it. It is a strenuous two hour hike, ascending 900 meters (nearly 3000 feet) from a starting elevation of 2500 meters (over 8000 feet) above sea level. Fortunately, we took the climb on the last full day of our stay in Bhutan, so we were fairly acclimated to the attitude. Add to this the fact that you're sharing the narrow and rocky path with quite a few tourists (and horses) going both up and downhill. You can hire a horse to make most of the climb for you, but the downside of horses on the path is that hikers must be vigilant in spotting horse manure. (And, actually, my heart went out to the horses who make the round trip three times a day).

My advice: know yourself! Are you in good enough shape to undertake this hike? Do you enjoy this kind of physical challenge? I met a fellow Amankora guest in the spa after the hike; he and his friend had made it to the top in just an hour, so there are definitely people for whom Tiger's Nest is a must do!

Iconic but not essential, if you're not sure you want to tackle Tiger's Nest, this will not detract from your visit to Bhutan. You'll enjoy hiking through the Kingdom's scenic mountain valleys, visiting its impressive dzongs and temples, experiencing its unique culture, and sampling its wonderful cuisine. Even if the climb is not your thing, Bhutan still has much to offer the active traveler.


copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. As affiliates of Brownell Travel, we can provide our clients with Virtuoso amenities and amenities from other Brownell preferred hotel partners including Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, and more. All rights reserved. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

10.01.2014

Amankora Gangtey | Bhutan

Breakfast at Gangtey, overlooking the valley, (c) David Ourisman 2014, all rights reserved

We've now stayed at four of the five Amankora resorts in the course of the Amankora Journey. We're checking out of Bumthang this morning and flying to Paro, a short 35 minute flight. But my mind keeps going back to our stay in Gangtey.

Gangtey is the most remote but also the most beautiful of any of the five valleys. The picture above captures something of the exceptional experience awaiting you there. Taken around 8:30 a.m., this couple is enjoying their breakfast al fresco, sitting outside looking south down the valley floor as their waiter takes their requests from the abundant choices on the breakfast menu.

Can you picture yourself sitting here? Contact me about planning your own Amankora Journey!

copyright (c) 2014 by David Ourisman LLC. As affiliates of Brownell Travel, we can provide our clients with Virtuoso amenities and amenities from other Brownell preferred hotel partners including Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, and more. All rights reserved. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.