Heaven Found at La Donaira

Travellers recently home from a trip to Spain. We sent them to La Donaira, one of our new favourite places in the Andalucian countryside and it exceeded all expectations. 

"Wow.  This place was the highlight of the trip by a mile!.......  

....... It is the vision of the billionaire founder of PartyPoker, and the house and rooms are off-the-charts awesome.  The kitchen was magnificent, and we were served 3 wonderful fresh, organic, vegetarian meals per day directly from the farm products from a world-class chef.  We did yoga overlooking the massive fields and hills with an instructor.  The natural spring-fed pool with zero chemicals was incredible.  And the spa – not on the website yet as it is new – was crazy – huge infinity lap pool with windows overlooking the hills, sauna, ice bath, etc.  Horses everywhere.  We did a big hike on the property.  We would have stayed for 4-5 nights.  Ridiculous deal seeing as its all inclusive.

Absolute Heaven."

Napa Valley

One of our favourite Napa Valley Getaways, Calistoga Ranch by Auberge Resorts

One of our favourite Napa Valley Getaways, Calistoga Ranch by Auberge Resorts

September is prime time in Napa Valley. From our perspective anytime is a good time to be in the Valley, but right now the grapes are being harvested and the weather is perfect. This September we have a couple of Impresario travellers smart enough to take advantage of this great time of year. One of the trips is staying at the wonderful Calistoga Ranch, recently ranked in the top five in the world by Travel + Leisure's 2017 World's Best awards. The ranch is tucked into a private canyon in the Upper Valley on a 157-acre property marked by ancient oaks, majestic hills, a rock-hewn stream and private lake.   This is the way we would suggest doing it!

Tables We Love, part VI

Soneva Fushi in the Maldives is a trek for a North American - worth at least a week's stay, if you can do it! Once there you do not have to go anywhere, it is all here. At the very least there is a Table We Love to choose from almost every night.

Tables We Love, part V

Recently we booked some of our favourite travellers a week-long stay at the beautiful Birkenhead House in Hermanus. While the annual accolades from Condé Nast and other tastemakers are well-deserved, it's the clifftop location of this beach house that we adore. Whether for breakfast, dinner or even a massage, this perch provides all the reasons we need to add it to "Tables We Love".

El Nido & Origen at Mar Adentro

The newly opened, futuristic-looking Mar Adentro (Spanish for 'The Sea Inside') 5-star hotel, located in Baja California Sur, has not one but two incredible tables we love.

The first, their romantic sushi restaurant El Nido ('The Nest'), makes the biggest design statement. Sheltered under an eye-catching upside-down nest (made of actual twigs!) it appears to drift on a pool of water.

As for the hotel's main restaurant, Origen, its setting is no less impressive to El Nido's. Guests can enjoy alfresco dining within the hyper-modern all-white aesthetic of the hotel, while looking out at the contrasting blue of the Pacific Ocean.

Table for two please!

Venice, Italy

After studying Venetian Art for a semester at University, Pat wanted to go to Venice. We created a trip that put her in front of all the great things she had studied, which included five nights in Venice, then popping around the Veneto to see more important works in Ravenna, Mantua, Vicenza, and Padua. The last night was in Asolo at the special Villa Cipriani.

Just Got Back … Ireland

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Who: Family of Five
Where: Ireland
When: March
Why: To visit their daughter, studying in Dublin, and explore the countryside as a family

Ireland is the quintessential spot for a family trip. It’s a small country but certainly packs a punch. We recently planned a 10-day trip there for a family of five. They just got back and loved every minute of it (ok maybe not the rain on one of their walking tours - but what’s a visit to Ireland without a wee bit of drizzle).

Some of their highlights included staying in the 18th Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara, being entertained by the wonderful storytelling of their guide Barry on their Kinsale walking tour and catching a demo of sheep dogs herding in their flock at a working sheep farm. To top it off, their main guide Eric introduced them to hidden gems (restaurants, pubs and other spots and sites) not found in many a guidebook, giving them a real flavour for the local culture.

In their words…

“Thank you Chris for organizing such a wonderful tour and making sense of our original wish list which was literally all over the map. Couldn't have picked better places to visit and stay. All accommodations inside and out of Dublin were lovely!

Looking at the map that Eric kindly mapped out tracing our route I'm amazed at the ground we covered and all we saw from major attractions to little out of the way places. And learned so much as well as being entertained and catered to! Thanks again to all who put this 'family tour' together. It was a great success.”

- GL & LL, reflecting from home in Toronto

Tables We Love, part IV

In a country full of fantastic lodges, Otahuna is one of New Zealand's best. The grand house built in 1895 is lovely, but we all know it is the people that make the difference, in this case it is chef Jimmy McIntyre. In our series of Tables We Love, we present two very different experiences Otahuna can provide. A fabulous lunch with a view and a divine dinner fit for royalty both wonderfully prepared by Jimmy. Two Impresarios have been to Otahuna and we agree it offers some of the best eating in New Zealand.

A Birthday Week in Barcelona

She is celebrating a special birthday. They wanted to spend a week in one of Europe's great capitals, and they wisely chose Barcelona. The week will be filled visiting Gaudi works, which of course includes the epic La Sagrada, listening to the all-boys choir in Montserrat, biking along the beaches and eating, really good, innovative, fun eating!

We were thrilled to learn that the Adria brothers have started offering tours of their restaurants; the Adria Naked tour, the Tickets tour and, our favourite, the Made to Measure tour. Made to Measure gives you a preferential table at three of the most difficult reservations to obtain in town; Tickets (ranked #42 in the world), Bodega 1900 and Niño Viejo

And where are they staying? A Junior Suite at the hip Hotel Omm will do the trick.

Lisbon, Portugal

The 10th hole at Oitavos Dunes

The 10th hole at Oitavos Dunes

After years of travel to the British Isles for their golf trips, last year the men decided to make a change.

The goal?

More sun
Less travel time
No unpacking - one great hotel
A few memorable golf courses

Eight experienced golfers got to experience the crystal skies, warm sun, and perfect conditions for their golf trip to Lisbon. They golfed for a week straight at some of the best courses Portugal has to offer, while at night they returned to their luxury, five-star resort to relax, unwind, and sample delicious food and Portuguese wines. 

Cascais, Portugal

Cascais, Portugal

Although this trip was all about the golf, the group had plenty of chances to check out great towns (such as Estoril and Cascais) and eat in fantastic restaurants. The group sailed on the Tagus on a private boat, and around the Troia peninsula on a private catamaran. They ate on the beach, and in Michelin Starred restaurants. 

Portugal is Hot!

At the end of September, we helped a couple with a trip to Portugal. For twelve days, the pair explored some of the best and most beautiful sights in Lisbon, Évora, the Algarve and the Atlantic Coast.

Top-down view of the Bela Vista. Check out that beach!

Top-down view of the Bela Vista. Check out that beach!

Highlights included their guide, Jorge, who took them on a private tour of Lisbon and their day trip to Sintra, and the hotels, the Villa Joya and the Areias do Seixo (the location, the room, the food), and a sushi joint in Lisbon called Bonsai. 

Stages we love...

You don't need to love golf to enjoy The Masters, horses aren't your thing, you'll still get a kick out of the Kentucky Derby. Similarly, you don't need to be an opera buff or an Impresario to appreciate the spectacle of these beautiful stages in Italy.

Ravello Festival has a stage with a view - overlooking the Amalfi Coast.

This amphitheatre in fair Verona has been in use since the 1st century. This summer, you can see famous operas; such as Aida, Carmen and Turandot.

In Love with Costa Rica

File this one under Hotel Villas We Love!

If you ever wanted to stay in the heart of a jungle, yet near the ocean in a luxurious villa, this villa in Costa Rica has got you covered.

5 bedrooms, 5.5 bathrooms, in the jungle, close to the ocean and only 15mn from the closest airport. Seems pretty perfect to us!


Notes from the Road ... The Palio in Siena

Watching the Palio in Style...

Twice a year Tuscany's biggest event, the Palio, comes to Siena.

The Palio is a year-long strategic battle culminating in a crazy horse race, where jockeys ride bareback and sprint around the Piazza del Campo on dirt laid to create a track. If the Derby is the most exciting two minutes in sports, this is the most exciting 90 seconds in travel.

Where were our travellers? Ensconced in front row seats on the balcony of a private palazzo overlooking the famous piazza, the ultimate flies on the wall!

Dinner was 50m away with a table al fresco, where the adults could recount the race over Chianti, while the kids ran across the cobblestones.

Reviews from the Road

Private Cruise on Seine

One of our favourite travellers went to Ireland with a side of France. It was a quick trip to Paris, their first time to France. Many take the Bateaux Mouche up the Seine with 200 others, but we prefer a private cruise. 

We agreed to help with the little detour, but only after they promised to plan a trip back back to France. After all, France is too beautiful, its culture too rich, to take in during just a few days!

Oz at Xmas

Spend a Luxury Christmas in Australia

Fresh Oysters from Freycinet Estuary in Tasmania

We've got a family of three heading Down Under for Christmas this year!

They'll be hitting up the big city (Sydney) for three days, exploring the wildlife of Tasmania for seven days, and experiencing the beauties of the Great Barrier Reef on Hamilton island for four days. 

We love this pic, showing people eating fresh oysters straight from the sea with a lovely glass of local Tasmanian wine. 

Just Got Back ... Fogo Island

Trip type: Outdoor adventure, cultural exploration & gastronomic delight

Destination: Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada

Number of Days: 5

Meet the locals: Everyone is friendly on Fogo Island.  You'll notice lots of the same family names--Foley, Decker, Forster, Poole.  They've been there for centuries, and you'll meet them all.

Most other-worldly experience: Being surrounded by thousands of puffins and razorbills, furiously flapping their wings to stay airborne in the north Atlantic.  Take the boat out to Little Fogo Island to meet them.

Favourite hotel: Fogo Island Inn, an architectural wonder on the shore near Joe Batt's Arm.

Best meal: Cod au Gratin, which is Chef Murray MacDonald's modern take on a traditional Newfoundland dish.

Architectural fantasy: The Shorefast Foundation's artist studios--Squish, Long, Tower and Bridge--all designed by the Inn's architect Todd Saunders.  The studios host artists in residence year round on the island.

Recommended hike: The Lion's Den is a 6km ramble along the coast.  It takes you through abandoned communities and is a lovely way to spend the morning.  Have the Inn pack you picnic.

What to pack: More warm clothes than you'd think--mittens and hats came in handy for an afternoon at sea.  Don't worry if you forget something--the Inn has plenty of gear you can borrow, from rain gear to locally made wool wear.


Just Got Back ... Chile


Note's from the Road ... Chile style

Trip type: Outdoor adventure and research (the best part of the job)

Destination: Chile

Number of Days: 15

Best place to act like a local
Wander the Sunday morning at Bío Bío flea market in Santiago. Navigate the maze of antiques, look for rare books and eat empanadas. Need a wrench? You can get one of those, too. If it exists, you can buy it at Bío Bío.

Most other-worldly experience: Stargazing at 4am from the terrace of Tierra Atacama.  It's absolutely stunning.

Favourite hotel: Tierra Chiloé, a seaside hideaway among the picturesque fishing villages.

Best meal: Curanto, a traditional Chilean clambake where seafood, chicken, sausages, pork, vegetables and potato bread are layered over hot stones and covered with nalca leaves to trap steam.

Architectural fantasy: Tierra Patagonia, designed by Chilean architect Cazú Zegers to incorporate rather than fight against the strongest natural element of Torres del Paine National Park--wind.

Recommended hike: Cornesus Condoreras, a 6km hike up, across and down a prominent rock buttress. The reward?  Stunning views and, because of the high winds, the chance to see condors float up beside you.

Most other-worldly experience: Stargazing at 4am from the terrace of Tierra Atacama.  It's absolutely stunning.

What to pack:
For the desert: your hiking boots and sunglasses
For Chiloé: an appetite for unique indigenous culture, and seafood.  
For Patagonia: serious wind gear and a sense of adventure.

Want to go to Chile, email Jackie, she would love to elaborate on her trip.