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Mandarin Oriental Lake Como

Mandarin Oriental Lake Como

Area: Lake Como, Italy 

Vibe: Sophisticated and stylish

Style: Lakefront 

Fun Fact: Most of the rooms have balconies or terraces

Don’t Miss: The outdoor pool sits right on Lake Como. 

Ready for some lakefront relaxation? Then the Mandarin Oriental Lake Como it is. Located right on Lake Como, in the town of Blevio, about an hour outside Milan, this property is primarily housed in a 19th century villa and features stunning lake views throughout. With two distinct restaurants, a huge spa, gorgeous gardens, and a pool that will leave you feeling like you’re floating on the lake itself, you’ll be able to sit back, relax, and take in all the beauty that abounds. 

Location: With its enviable location on the banks of Lake Como, this property is mostly located within Villa Roccabruna, a building (the stonework alone is amazing) that hails from the 1800s. The hotel is close to the town of Blevio, which makes it easy to enjoy all that Lake Como itself has to offer. It’s about 50 minutes from Milano Malpensa international airport—plus about an hour from Milano Linate airport and 90 minutes from Bergamo airport.

Vibe: Sophisticated and stylish, the hotel feels historical and old-world while still being modern and contemporary—a juxtaposition that works well. The property is also enveloped by verdant botanical gardens. There are 75 accommodations, divided between rooms, suites, and private villas. They all make great use of the lake, and most of the rooms and suites—which are well-appointed and outfitted in a neutral color palette—have their own balcony or terrace. For something a little different, there are two villas: the one bedroom Villa Della Rocca, which has stunning views from its floor-to-ceiling windows (even the soaking tub has its own view!) and the three-bedroom Villa del Lago, whose entrance is just steps from the Lake and includes an outdoor Jacuzzi and its own private dock.

Why We Love It: The property truly makes use of its lakeside location—from the rooms and suites to the dining options. In fact, both of the restaurants on the property offer amazing views of Lake Como. There’s the hotel’s signature restaurant, L~Aria, which is “tucked away within a lakefront building in the heart of the gardens” and has a huge terrace that overlooks the water and offers stunning views from its outdoor tables. The restaurant, featuring gourmet Mediterranean cuisine, serves breakfast and dinner every day, plus lunch on Sundays. Then, you can snag lunch and dinner, plus afternoon tea and aperitivos at CO.MO Bar & Bistrot. With its cool blue sofas and opulent feel, the restaurant’s outdoor terrace is also lined with tables overlooking the water. But it’s not just water views and great dining, the hotel’s spa—a whopping 13,000 square-feet—is also impressive: there’s a fitness center, beauty studio, and you can enjoy water-themed treatments like “On the Lakeshore” or “The Power of Water,” a 3.5-hour treatment that includes a massage, full-body exfoliation and more. There’s a Thermal Area offering plenty of heat and water experiences, an indoor pool as well as an outdoor pool that juts out right into the lake and includes lots of lounge chairs for relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere. The hotel also has space for meetings and events—and a quick scroll through the gallery of photos on their website will give you an idea of the gorgeous events they can host. 

Why Go F1rst: If you book with First in Service, you’ll receive a complimentary buffet breakfast for two every day of your stay, a $100 resort credit, and early check-in/late check-out as well as an upgrade, if available.

F1S Tips: There are plenty of wellness options, including a Finnish sauna and Himalayan salt room, to help you truly relax and unwind.

The Times Square EDITION

The Times Square EDITION

Area: New York, New York 

Vibe: Cool and sexy

Style: City

Fun Fact: All of the suites have their own balconies 

Don’t Miss: Paradise Club, a dinner theater/nightclub in the hotel

Ready to take on New York City? Start in Times Square—and, while you’re there, stay at The Times Square EDITION. At the hotel, you’ll find everything from great rooms to amazing dining, and of course, perfect views of the city from almost every angle. 

Location: Want to be in the center of the action? This property totally delivers with its Times Square location on West 47th Street and 7th Avenue. It’s easily accessible from all three New York airports—about 35 minutes from LaGuardia Airport, 40 minutes from Newark Liberty International Airport and an hour from John F. Kennedy International Airport. Once you’re there, it’s close to multiple subway stops, as well as walking distance to many iconic attractions like Rockefeller Center to Radio City Music Hall to the shopping on 5th Avenue.

Vibe: Stylish and sleek, there’s a lush wall of greenery behind the reception desk—a theme that’s carried throughout the hotel, from the lobby to the guest rooms to The Terrace and Outdoor Gardens. There are 452 rooms and suites, which are outfitted in a neutral palette, with lots of white and natural wood tones. In the guest rooms, you’ll find floor-to-ceiling windows, while the suites all feature their own balconies. At 1,300-square feet, the Penthouse Suite is the largest of all, and along with the balcony, includes a full kitchen, soaking tub and dining area—not to mention the jaw-dropping vistas.

Why we love it: If you’ve previously shied away from staying in Times Square, this hotel will definitely have you changing your mind. The central location aside, there is lots to rave about—starting with the dining. The signature restaurant, 701West, is helmed by Michelin-starred chef John Fraser and offers a variety of cuisines, with inspiration from “classical French, Asian, and Latin fare.” The restaurant itself is gorgeous, with vibrant velvet blues and greens. Another option: The Terrace and Outdoor Gardens, which are surrounded by greenery, has outdoor seating, and where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch. And for something totally different, be sure to check out Paradise Club, “a modern-day Cabaret” that starts off with dinner theater before transforming to a dance club, open till 4AM. Plus, there are lots of other amenities you’d come to expect from a great hotel, including a 24-hour fitness center (with floor-to-ceiling windows and a wraparound outdoor terrace overlooking Times Square) as well as space for events.

Why Go F1rst: Book through F1S to receive a daily complimentary full breakfast for two at The Terrace and Outdoor Gardens, a $100 F&B credit to be applied in all outlets (excluding Paradise Club), a special chef amenity, as well as a room upgrade and early-check in/late check-out (if available).

F1S Tips: For a great way to unwind, have a drink on the terrace of the Lobby Bar—the nighttime view alone is worth it (but the cocktail choices don’t hurt, either.)

Madrid, a New Old City

Madrid, a New Old City

City on the verge

An empty street glazed with drizzle at 2am. You stare at the shuttered storefront thinking this can’t be right. They said Bar Cock is “a must”, and you skipped the childish joke about the name. Now, facing heavy metal blinds, you wonder what got lost in translation. But the door is ajar, warm light within and, you figure, what’s the worst that could happen?

Invisible city

Push past that off-putting intro into an Almodóvar film: a baronial hall glowing like amber, nocturnal creatures whisper in pairs in deep club chairs and dark wood that has surrounded Salvador Dalí, Ava Gardner, Hemingway (of course), and George Clooney, to name a few. Founded in 1921, and it feels it when the bow-tied waiter serves your martini.

That dissonance between what you’ve heard and what you see happens again and again in Madrid. Questioning the brutalist block that hides plush Hotel Villa Magna. Hunting conceptual art down an alley behind Atocha station, or a minimalist boutique in opulent Salamanca. Finding five-star Gran Hotel Inglés on a street clamoring with youth hostels. You’ll start to doubt Google Maps.

Outwardly austere, Madrid is easy to miss. On the avenues, temples cap monumental banks, imposing apartments and grand hotels. Behind them, shops huddle in ashy side streets beneath prim Juliette balconies and conservatory windows. If Barcelona feels flirty, feisty, Madrid is her stoic sister. Which doesn’t mean she’s dull—she just makes you earn it.

“It’s very Castillian,” says Javier Bone-Carbone, art curator and Taschen editor, referring to the culture of the Spanish heartland surrounding Madrid. Moorish modesty overlaid with Hapsburg grandeur lend the city a severe formality. But break that surface tension and you’ll discover its interior riches. “Madrid isn’t like Paris, with a checklist of landmarks to see,” explains Bone-Carbone, “it is about interaction.”

Haute hostelries

Two of Madrid’s best-kept-secret hotels exemplify its inward-facing character.

Since the 1970’s, Villa Magna is the choice for heads of state, movie stars and others wishing to fly below the radar. Built by a family on the site of their 19th-Century mansion, its modernist architecture is a departure, but one that casts the traditional style and warm hospitality within in an even brighter light. Later Turkish, Portuguese, and now Mexican owners added their own touches—a marble-lined hammam in the spa, new gardens—and expanded the art collection. Just 150 Empire-style rooms, villa-worthy bathrooms, and two penthouse apartments with vast terraces and views to the mountains feel like a well-staffed home. Shopaholics will appreciate the private passageway to a designer-curated outpost of El Corte Inglés. And don’t miss We Collect, a gallery and art club nestled in a Zen garden around the outside.

Surrounding Salamanca is Madrid’s “uptown”. Luxury-brand flagships line Calle Serrano and independent designers sprinkle the leafy backstreets. Taste traditional flavors at intimate, age-old La Parra—divans and Moroccan tile under candle-light and the hushed voices of old-Hollywood types. Or discover new ones at Amazonico—starlets and soccer stars picking at piquant hamachi and rare beef rodizios under cascades of jazz and tropical foliage.

A few blocks south, Gran Hotel Inglés opened in the 19th Century as Madrid’s first luxury hotel. Its return to five-star status signals the revival of artsy Las Letras, Madrid’s medieval heart. An extensive lobby library, including rare volumes of Don Quixote, pays homage to the area’s roots. Cast-iron columns mix with Chesterfields and Oriental rugs for a SoHo vibe. The rooms span old and new. Smartphones guide you around town, while deep, clawfoot tubs soak sightseeing-weary bones before heading out for an infamously late Spanish night.

High society

A wave of restaurants, luxury stores and hotels welcome you to a “new” Madrid rising in the old city-center: glitzy and extroverted, not ashamed to shine. “The middle and upper classes used to be very pijo, a bit stuffy” says Kiko Buxo, fashion designer and founder of minimalist brand Shon Mott. “But the younger generation are more experimental.” Europe’s third-largest city is quickly catching up to its peers. Think laid-back London, or brash Berlin.

Trend spotters long know that Madrid’s creative edge cuts through Chueca. Once a down-and-out barrio, it is back with a by-now-familiar urban mix of goths, gays and gallerists sipping craft beers and coffees on the sunny plazas. Here you’ll find Isolee, Madrid’s first concept store, and Lab Lamarca, its most recent. Specialist shops offer handmade papers, Japanese ceramics and retro-pop foods. Or feast your eyes at established white-cube galleries like London’s Marlborough, and local groundbreakers like Travesía Cuatro.

Now that vibe is moving further south. Construction cranes over Gran Via announce the arrival of brand name luxury condos above a multi-story shopping arcade sure to bring some of Salamanca’s style downtown. Students and backpackers still flock to Puerta del Sol for selfies on the well-trod tourist trail between the royal palace and Prado—Goya, check. El Greco, check. Velazquez, check. But above their heads a real estate boom is transforming the old tenements around Madrid’s old theater district.

So while Spain’s capital is hardly off the beaten path, it rewards the curious who push past first impressions. Plenty of folk will stroll Paseo del Prado, spin through the museums, taste tapas and sangria on Plaza Mayor—and not have seen a thing. No wonder Almodóvar chose Madrid for his seething tales of love and madness. But it’s all about to erupt. Expect a star performance.

 

Cultural Heights in Botero’s Colombia

Cultural Heights in Botero’s Colombia

A Feast for the Eyes and Lips

If you’re traveling to Colombia on business or looking for a unique side trip adventure from Miami, you might opt for Bogota,  a place of dichotomy, where  passionate culture  meets passionate food.  In the central city streets, you’ll find women dressed like supermodels on a runway and men in tailored jackets but also easy trekkers in the greener areas and locals attending church services on Sunday.  Because Bogota is filled with colonial style buildings and  hidden spots, and the geography  is vast (with areas varying in safety)  start your planning through your hotel.

Our top choice for accommodation is the Four Seasons.  Choose the Four Seasons Bogota for impeccable service or the Four Seasons Casa Medina with its romantic gardens, patios, and hanging flora. Perhaps take a night in each location, to experience difference sides of the city.

CHARTING THE COURSE

Once you’ve landed, you can chart your course. You can have the concierge book a taxi straight away to the old center to the Botero Museum — located on a full art block that includes the  Centro Cultural Gabriel Garcia Marquez — and will feed you  a feast for the eyes that will pepper your senses.

An absolute ‘Must See,’ the Museo Botero  features over a hundred works of the artist — considered perhaps the most important Latin American artist of all time and “the most Colombian” — as well as some paintings from Dali, Chagall and French impressionists (208 pieces in all.)  Botero — known for  figurative “oversized” personas in paintings and sculpture, he has often been considered a political artist, showing the state of the common man in his surroundings. However, in press interviews he has countered this,  stating he works intuitively, without preconceived symbolism.  To see such quantity of Botero’s paintings in one space connects the viewer to him on a personal level, for a larger than life experience, seeing Colombia through the eyes of Botero’s personages. Presented with narrators of the place you’re standing in, the art comes to life from the walls.

The magic will stay with you  as you descend back onto the streets at dusk, where you can opt for some local ceviche at Central Cevicheria (camarones y calamares) if you’ve got energy to burn or head back for  more classic fare  — a steak or pasta — at  the Four Seasons Restaurant.

Immersing in the richness of the city

Wake up early the next morning, to take the funicular tram  (10,341 feet)  up Mount Monserrate, the hill — or rather mini mountain — by 9 am or so. It’s a ten minute mount.  You might catch the mass at a church there or walk with the locals through the gardens.  The view of the city below is breathtaking.   (Pro Tip: Stay hydrated, since water evaporates at such high altitudes.)

You’ll be hungry when you get back down the hill to La Candelaria again,  to join  the line at a deceptive but delicious famed hole in the wall called La Puerta Falsa, where you  can indulge in hot rolls, chicken tamales, and hot chocolate before shopping treasures in the numerous side shops.

Local vendors here sell beautiful jewelry and other crafts.  There are “ruanas” — thick often striped ponchos — often created by communities of families over generations and “sombreros veultaios” official Colombian style hats with geometric patterns. They are created by the Zenu tribes in the North but are worn throughout the country.  You might also snag yourself a colorful  “mochila wayuu” or sack like handbag made of wild cotton, maguey, alpis and other natural fibers twisted into “S” and “Z” patterns, in bright tangerine, lemon, cherry and turquoise. Each one takes roughly three weeks to create. There are leak proof “werregue” bowls made from palm trees (and exclusively by women) as well as “guacumayas” baskets, assembled from colorful woven rolls.  Purchases aid residents who rely on such traditional crafts to survive. So you can dress yourself into a rainbow and help people at the same time.

Eating like a Bogotano

Now that you look like a native,  it’s time  to eat like one, starting  with  appetizers —a wonderful creamy burrata at Delucca Restaurante — and crisp white wine.  Or perhaps drinks inside what looks like the inside of a slot machine at Andres Carne de Rez (Chia)  with some tacos at  Cantina y  Punto,  a  laid back Mexican joint.  Or  follow  up with a meal at Club Columbia, where you can taste an array of delectable ceviches, rice  dishes,  chorizo, steaks, and salads. You might want to try  the organic fare of childhood friends Tomas Rueda and Juan Pablo Tomás Rueda (from lamb chops, sausages, asparagus, to artichokes and cheese sauces)  at  Donostia, with its chic black and white decor.  Bistro El Bandido features French fare (grilled prawns, croque monsieur, and coq au vin) as well as live music.  At Salvaje, you’ll feel  as though you’ve gotten lost in a jungle — with wall hanging flora — as you feast on plates of salmon and mushroom fried rice, avocado and cheese  enhanced dishes, and roasted meats.  At the end of your trip, you’ll end up boarding the plane stuffed but happy, just like one of Botero’s muses.

 

NoMad Las Vegas

NoMad Las Vegas

Area: Las Vegas, Nevada

Vibe: Chic and sexy

Style: City

Fun Fact: There are 25,000 books in the NoMad Restaurant

Don’t Miss: The JEMAA pool party

If you’re ready for something new on your next trip to Vegas, here’s a great option: NoMad Las Vegas. Located inside Park MGM—it calls the top floors home—the hotel has all the makings to truly elevate your Sin City experience: gorgeous rooms, great dining led by a world-renowned chef, a weekend pool party and, of course, a casino.

Location: A quick 10-minute drive from McCarran International Airport, the hotel is located right on the famed Strip, close to all the action. But in terms of location, this one is unique: The NoMad sits on the upper four floors of the Park MGM hotel, though it has its own private entrance, as well as its own pool, restaurant, bars and casino. Its central location means it’s easy to check out what the rest of the city has to offer, while never having to stray too far from your home base.

Vibe: Chic and sexy, the hotel has that cool, old-world Las Vegas feel—think lots of wood, antique finishes and velvet textures in jewel-toned colors—while still feeling totally modern. There are close to 300 rooms and suites, from rooms with queen- or king-sized beds to larger suites, like the 1,200-square foot NoMad Suite and the 1,600-square-foot Suite Royale, which sleeps up to four and has its own pool table and dining room. When you’re ready to bring your stay to the next level, check out the Suite Royale Premiere, a two-bedroom, 2,000-square foot suite with a pool table, its own bar, six-person dining room and views of The Strip.

Why We Love It: Along with the great vintage Vegas vibe and the energy of the city itself, there’s so much to love about this hotel—not least of which is the dining experience, which has Chef Daniel Humm and Restaurateur Will Guidara at the helm. The duo are also behind NoMad’s culinary offerings in New York and L.A., plus the World’s Best restaurant winner, Eleven Madison Park in NYC. In Las Vegas, the hotel is home to both NoMad Bar and NoMad Restaurant. The \restaurant is dark and sexy, with lots of club seating and velvet accents, all surrounded by some 25,000 (!) books. “The robust menu celebrates grand, clubby mid-century dining with a dash of theater—Grande Plateaus of Fruits de Mer, seasonal pastas, our signature black truffle-laced Roast Chicken, and Baked Alaska flambéed tableside,” they say. Also not to miss: The NoMad Casino, which offers “high limit” gaming like blackjack and roulette, as well as its own bar. The NoMad Pool is primed for relaxation on the weekdays—and for partying from Friday to Sunday. That’s when you’ll find the JEMAA pool party, complete with DJs, music, bottle service, and more. Along with these features, there are amenities like a spa and 24-hour fitness center, both of which are accessed through Park MGM, as well as lots of space for meetings and events.

Why Go F1rst: If you book your stay through First in Service, you’ll receive a slew of extra amenities, including a $100 food and beverage credit, early-check and late check-out and a room upgrade, if available.

F1S Tips: Want to relax with a spa service? You can head to the spa at the Park MGM—or have the service done right in your room. Also fun: Jazz fans should reserve Sundays for the Jazz Brunch at the NoMad Bar.

Nobu Hotel Los Cabos

Nobu Hotel Los Cabos

Area: Los Cabos, Mexico

Vibe: Beach

Style: Sleek and laid-back

Fun Fact: With chef Nobu as a founder, expect amazing food

Don’t Miss: Lounging by one of the resort’s four pools

When you’re ready for a beachfront escape, here’s a new choice to top your list: Nobu Hotel Los Cabos. The first hotel in Mexico for the Nobu Hospitality team— whose founders are chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Robert Deniro and actor/producer Meir Teper—the resort offers everything from amazing dining (of course) to multiple pools to lots of wellness options, all against a stunning ocean backdrop.

Location: Situated on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, this resort in Cabo San Lucas is on El Suspiro beach—and has the amazing views that you’d expect from its waterfront location. It’s located inside the Diamante complex, which includes a world-renowned golf course and lots more—and it will take you about 45 minutes to drive to the hotel from Los Cabos International Airport. Once there, you’re about half an hour from most of the off-site activities and attractions, including the famous El Arco and the marina.

Vibe: Sleek and sophisticated, this design-forward hotel offers lots in the way of, as they describe it, laid-back luxury. Expect lots of wood, stone and wood tones, all against a neutral color palette. There are 200 guest rooms and suites, with some overlooking the water and others with views of the nearby golf course. The “deluxe room swim-up,” which opens right up to the pool as well as the Zen Suite and Sake Suite, both of which have ocean views. The two-bedroom Nobu Suite, which is over 2,600 square feet, boasts a chef’s kitchen, pool table and wrap-around terrace that looks onto the water. Pro-tip: When deciding where to stay, head to the hotel’s website where you can take a 360-degree tour of the room or suite and really get a feel for each.

Why We Love It: You’ll find everything you need to relax at this hotel—from great pools to amazing dining options. Let’s start with the dining. With renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa as one of the founders of Nobu Hospitality, you can expect that the food will be top notch. At Nobu Restaurant you’ll find the Japanese fusion cuisine that Nobu is famous for, as well as two bars, all with the ocean in the background. Malibu Farm is a farm-to-table restaurant offering organic choices for all three meals, and at Pacific Restaurant you’ll find “fine dining Mexican concept with a-la-carte service and traditional taco & mezcal pairings.” Rounding things out are Cortez Swim-Up Bar and Playabar, offering drinks and food poolside. Speaking of pools, there are four at the resort, including an infinity pool. Other amenities to check out: On the wellness end, the spa includes a salon and a fitness center with yoga and spinning classes. Plus, there are lots of other activities, like beach volleyball, a Kids Club that offers yoga, origami and face painting for the younger members of your group, as well as golf, including access to the nearby Diamante: The Dunes course.

Why Go F1rst: If you book with First in Service, you’ll receive a complimentary breakfast for two throughout your stay as well as one complimentary lunch for two. Plus: early check-in and late check-out and an upgrade, if available.

F1S Tips: You won’t have to leave your four-legged family members at home: the hotel is pet-friendly and offers amenities like pads and bowls.

Culture and Connection in Cuba

Culture and Connection in Havana, Cuba

First in Service co-founder and CEO, Fernando Gonzalez, spends a long weekend soaking up the history, architecture and food scene in the Caribbean Havana.

From the moment I landed in Havana, I knew there was something special about the city. Open to U.S. travelers just a few short years ago, Cuba is one of those places I’ve always wanted to visit—and Havana was the ideal starting point. As a Cuban-American myself, the country is a gateway to my own family’s story—and an experience I couldn’t wait to share with my wife, Awilda, and our daughter, Sofia.

OLD HAVANA

Appreciating the architecture

I’m an architecture and design aficionado, and the sheer beauty of the buildings throughout the city was unparalleled—I was blown away. From the colors to the architectural elements, the detail and creativity that went into crafting each one was evident. Walking through the streets of Havana is a great way to take it all in—and booking a tour guide to provide historical context and background information makes it even better.

Taking in the culture

At 13, my daughter Sofia is an avid traveler—she’s been to some 30 countries—but this trip allowed us to take in a culture that was at once familiar and totally new, and see the country from a totally different perspective. From our home base at the Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana, we were able to see and experience much of what makes the city tick. That included going on a tour with a music historian to learn more about the history of Cuban music, visiting amazing art galleries, and shopping at places like Clandestina, a shop where almost all the wares are exclusively designed in the country.

Savoring the cuisine

If you’re a food lover, this is the place to be: the burgeoning culinary scene in Havana is tremendous. In the course of our five-day visit, we ate at about ten different restaurants and they were all excellent. Some to consider on your trip: Al Carbon in Old Havana, El Cocinero, and Otramanera in Havana’s Playa neighborhood. Since we were there over New Year’s, we also enjoyed an amazing gala and dinner at the Plaza de la Catedral.

Overall, if the goal of traveling is not only to enjoy the food and music of a new place, but also to experience the culture and open your eyes to what it has to offer, than going to Cuba—and Havana, in particular—allowed us to do just that. I know my family and I are already planning to visit again soon.