On the Caribbean coast of Colombia, 10 km north of the world famous Parque Tayrona, is Playa Koralia ~ a very pretty and secluded hotel.
Playa Koralia offers the wide empty beaches that one dreams about over the long days looking out the window at an asphalted cityscape. One can literaly walk to the water and look left and right up and down the beach and not see another sign of habitation. Combine this with elegant bungalows, outdoor dining and beach-side bar and one has found the ultimate getaway.
I would recommend a longer stay – it is after 2-3 days when the peace of Koralia really begins to take hold. You suddenly find what life is/was without deadlines, appointments, schedules and people telling you what to do. You want to wake at 5, grab a lunch and go bird-watching? Koralia is there for you. You want to dance till the wee-hours, sleep late and wake up to a lush breakfast? Koralia provides. Lay on the beach reading, scour the mountains trekking, climb to high lagoons or surf – You can truly, finally do what you want to do without asking permission – be free and visit Playa Koralia – Colombia’s sundrenched gem!
Hitting the three high points of design hotels – Style, Service and Comfort – the Morgan Hotel Group’s Mondrian South Beach is the perfect stay in this glam destination.
The style is obvious. It is just over the top enough – simultaneously besting the local glitz, but still retaining a touch of class. The photos speak for themselves.
The service was sincere, kind and attentive. From our first impression with the parking attendant to our check-out; each person we interacted with placed our needs at the forefront. Moving about the property was easy as the staff was there to guide and advise; as oppose to monitor which gives many other hotels a slightly oppressive feeling.
Comfort is our third pillar – and when one realizes it is really a combination of the first two; we are not surprised to find it at the Mondrian. Our room 405 was especially ample – a standard that had the dimensions of a suite. Opening the door, one just felt lucky – and that is never a bad way to start a holiday! The bed was a good sleep, the bathroom luxurious and the room one you could live in (well – us New Yorker’s with small apartments, anyways!)
There are a few other nice details: One being that the Mondrian is located off the beachfront so you are not suffocated by the hub-ub, but it is close at hand. We also were happy to discover that the Whole Food was located just around the corner; making beach picnics an easy go!
We are looking forward to our next stay and highly recommend the Mondrian if your travels take you to Miami’s South Beach.
In the middle of the Besiktas neighborhood, sit the historic Akaretler Row Houses. Peering at their curved facades, one can deconstruct their current perfection and see how it was a developers dream. The neighborhood has now been transformed into one of the city’s trendiest areas, where you will find every elite boutique from Etro to Missoni. Direct in the middle of this shoppers mecca lays the absolutely wonderful, very stylish and surprisingly accessible W Hotel Istanbul.
Besiktas, and the W, is situated well away from the chaos of the main tourist areas, but close enough for easy access. Be prepared to taxi in and out of ‘town’ for the sites and nightlife. Luckily, the cabs are not so pricey as to make the fare uncomfortable – our average ride to/from the W was about 15 -25 minutes and cost between 8 -& 20 YTL (About $6-15). The Ferry is right down the hill, 3 blocks away, and offers an exciting water journey downtown to Sultanhamet and the Hagia Sophia. Boats leave every twenty minutes before 10 am and every hour from then on. One thing you learn early is that all travel in Istanbul is highly traffic dependent, you learn to avoid rush hours quickly- the boats are your best bet for those times. It is also within walking distance to the Dolmabahçe Palace, the seat of the Ottomans from 1856 through 1924.
The W itself is a real jewel designed by Mahmut Anlar of the design firm Geomim. It manages to stay just on the side of fun & chic, without crossing over into ostentatious and eurotrashy. I believe this is the result of the excellent staff- which manages to keep everything grounded and never slipped into any type of haughtiness while we were there (5 days). On the weekends a trendy crowd comes to party in the upstairs bar- that looks to have lovely outdoor seating, which was unfortunately closed during our stay. Guests are invited to join the party, and we were never made to feel uninvited.
An interesting fact is that the W Hotels are a franchise, not a chain. Thus each W is independantly owned and managed- leading to varying experiences between locations. The slogan is “Whatever/Whenever,” and the staff at the W Istanbul certainly took that to heart! The service was impeccable; from the front desk to the attentive doormen (who make sure you don’t get taken advantage off by taxi drivers), the concierge staff is a fountain of useful information and charm and everyone has a genuine smile on their face.
The rooms are beautifully decorated and fully decked. The beds were very comfortable (you can order one off the room service menu!). Excellent water pressure gave a loving hot shower. The programed lighting is a delightful touch- ranging from reading, sleeping and the all important ambient mellow lounge look 😉
The W’s in-house restaurant was one of the Spice Market chain that has a menu created by Jean-Georges. It is a bit overpriced, as you would expect, but offers quality food. A find for us was the late-night room service menu that had an excellent pasta!
In the lobby, there is a quite comfortable lounge area known by the moniker “Sip”, located opposite reception, behind beaded curtains. Decorated with comfortable couches and settes; a place where you can relax with a tea and surf with the free Wifi. Jump next to the hotel for an acceptable coffee from the ever present “Cafe Nero” for an option to the overpriced hotel breakfast.
Having stayed in many hotels, including a few W’s, I must say that the W Istanbul deserves all the accolades it gets. It successfully manages to merge old world service with ultra modern decor, which combine to create an experience that is at the same time relaxing, exciting, welcoming and exotic! Kudos.
Strolling on our way from Roma to Polanco, we passed the Hotel Camino Real. It has an awesome facade by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta and I’m sure an equally mod interior to match.
Most exciting was the fountain in the entry. It was unlike any we had previously seen. Instead of the normal geysers and sprays, this was an homage to the oceans power; a constant swirl of motion and just mesmerizing to watch.
Kathmandu, Nepal, Chaos. There is an oasis, a few hundred square meters has been set apart from smoke and noise and pollution and poverty. Where man-made beauty still reigns and the gardens sprawl. Where birds can rest free and you can get an idea of what could be.
In 1934 the great Bihar earthquake -magnitude 8.1- destroyed a large portion of the buildings and houses in Kathmandu, and it has never quite recovered. In the decades following, most locals oped for reconstruction in a more ‘modern’ concrete style. The traditional architecture was thought a reflection of poverty, and the intricately hand-carved door frames and windows were seen insomuch as their ability to burn. This great purge would have seen the entire architectural heritage of this Himalayan city go up in smoke, had it not been for Dwarika Das Shrestha and his family.
During the late 1950’s Dwarika Das Shrestha acquired the land where the majestic Dwarika’s Hotel lays today, and commenced the construction of his family home. Integrating the ancient hand-carved windows, columns, frames that he had been acquiring and collecting. Thus starting the preservation of Nawari craft-work – the Newa are the indigenous people of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – and more importantly Nepal’s cultural heritage as a whole.
In 1964 Dwarika Das Shrestha (DDS), in order to fund his growing collection of traditional Newari wood carvings, added a rental apartment to his growing estate. In the following years DDS, realizing that the technique as well as the objects themselves were becoming extinct, he hired three of the few remaining Master Newari wood carvers. To ensure that this intricate craft would not be lost to time, he also created an apprenticeship, to confirm this important knowledge was passed on to new generations. This heritage workshop extended beyond the woodworking, into the other ancient crafts of Nepal such as terracotta sculpture and brick-works.
To sponsor his growing crafts passion and workshop, DDS started renting rooms at his ever expanding compound. Adding new buildings with the new and restored pieces now coming out of the workshop. As an hotel, it grew slowly, organically and it had not yet reached its peak when DDS passed away in 1992. His wife and daughter continued the development based on his original concept sketches. Today the Dwarika’s Hotel is still managed by the family.
There are three different restaurants situated in the hotel: Mako: featuring Japanese cuisine. Toran: with a little of everything from Nepali bbq to sandwiches and pastas, set as a perfect outdoor lunch in the hotel’s courtyard. And Krishnarpan, probably the best restaurant in the country and an experience untoward itself. We recommend leaving a stay at Dwarika’s and this finest of meals for the end of your trip, ensuring you leave full of contentedness and hope.
The multi-course dinner at the Krishnarpan Restaurant begins when the traditionally adorned server brings that evenings menu, individually addressed with your name, printed on hand made paper.
First to arrive was a Samaya Bajee, an assortment of hors d’oeuvres which are usually served during religious ceremonies; representing good luck and prosperity. Included are tender lentil patties, puffed rice, toasted soy beans, stewed tomato and salad. After so many weeks of Dal Bat, the change is welcome and heart-warming. Just being in the ambiance, one can feel great things ahead.
Then was Chatamari, a Nepali rice crepe filled with vegetables along with vegetable Momos (traditional Himalayan dumplings) accompanied by a sweet-spicy mango chutney. At this time was also the serving of the traditional alcoholic Rakshi poured from a copper decanter. While this millet based alcohol is integral to Nepalese religion and tradition, it is not enjoyable, except as a test of your inner strength; which might be what it is used for in ceremony!
The courses kept manifesting and would need an entirely separate article to do them justice
– Gundruk Ko Jhol – a curry made from fermented mustard leaf broth with soybeans; accompanied with Sada Bhuja, steamed Himalayan rice; and Dal Jhaneko, spiced red lentils. – Aloo Tareko, a signature Newari Dish of fried potatoes and peppercorn – Tarul Ra Lasun Ko Tarkari, stir fried yam with spring garlic chives – Saag Jhaneko, sauteed spiced spinach – Pharsee Ko Tarkari, pumpkin curry – Golbheda Ko Achar, stued tomatoes – Lapsee Ko Achaar, plum pickles
After all of these dishes, you are in a state of near bliss, contemplating gastronomic enlightenment when arrives the mind-bending Panchamrit: a mixture of five nectars used in Hindu worship, milk, sugar, yogurt, ghee, and honey.
Dwarika Das Shresth legacy to Nepal is unequaled; and he is one of the world’s great men. Thanks to his passion for preserving Nepal’s cultural heritage, the government and other entities started restoring semi-forgotten sites along the Kathmandu valley. Had it not been for his steadfast belief and desire to see his country regain its former glory, we would not even have know what the world had lost.