Showing posts with label International Hotel Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label International Hotel Reviews. Show all posts

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac: Welcome to Love, Bienvenue a L'Amour

My brother Brad White painted this portent of our grandmother
It's a hot day in 1931. My dandy grandfather drives his Ford down a dirt road near Linden, Texas. A young girl in a cotton dress walks barefoot. He yanks the brake. The girl turns. Her blue eyes clear the swirling dust. She's stunning.

Over eight decades, my grandmother's beauty continues to develop. It's legendary. I call her Nanny. Still do, as she's always with me.

The Fairmont Hotel in Quebec City is my gorgeous grandmother.
I take the train to Quebec City from Montreal. As I pull into town, I see the towers of the Chateau Frontenac as exclamation points punctuating the sky. The entire hotel seems to greet me like I'm coming home for Christmas.

Welcome to the most photographed hotel in the world. The Frontenac's been strolling down the red carpet, smiling at paparazzi since 1893. About the time my grandmother's parents were married.

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

Before I swing into the lobby, I admire the ample boardwalk that runs along the hotel like a thick strand of pearls down a fine neck. The front desk clerk smiles at my request for a room in one of their turrets, as if she's Nanny making my favorite dish. (Fried okra, fyi.)

The hotel is impressive. And massive. Yet the halls hug me as I walk to my room. I get excited.

I swing open the door to ma chambre, daring to make an entrance befitting the grandeur. I have a turret! I wonder aloud if room service can send up some serfs.

As I stride across the room I note the furnishings: meticulously maintained and updated. I have friends that travel with scarves and knick knacks to makeover their hotel rooms. At Le Chateau Frontenac, I simply open the curtains. I redecorate my mind with the incredible view of Old Quebec. I swoon, caught by the récamier which awaits like a sentry. Or a serf.

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

I move to the turret and scratch "Sit in a turret" off my bucket list. Time to reflect on a fantastic Fairmont memory I had in Dallas in 1977.

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

The Venetian Room. Fairmont Hotel. A special occasion place. I pulled on my light blue, corduroy, three-piece suit. Never in style and fairly worn out. My one suit. My mother took me to see Tina Turner. I didn't know much except she used to be Ike & Tina. I didn't know she borrowed shoes for that show until the movie about her life came out in 1993.

The room was magnificent. So was Tina Turner. I sat like a wide-mouthed baby bird, hungrily watching her shake her sequined tail feather across the small stage, almost flying into the wings. She was blazing hot. She made herself sweat. She made the whole audience sweat. I bet after that show she breezed into her hotel room, kicked off those loaner kicks and fell onto the bed, happy to have a such a wonderful nest.

I leave my turret to descend onto the fairytale streets of Quebec City. The only remaining fortified town in North America. I run along the ancient wall that rings the city. I take the whole experience in, from the stiff guards at the Fort to the double-jointed street performers. I devour poutine. I consume enough gelato to fill the St. Lawrence River. Soon I can float back to Montreal like a beaver pelt.

After a day parading around the charming, cobble stoned stage -- I return to my hotel. Amenities abound in the room. I'm James Bond stepping into the complimentary black slippers. I shake the tiny box I find on my pillow after turn-down service. I'm relieved the ticking is only caused by cellophane protecting a delicious maple cookie, flavored from local trees. A weather report is left for me, too. Knowing it's going to be a nice day will help me sleep.

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac Amenities

In 1900, an "in-room safe" meant a mean man stood by his wife's jewelry all night. Today, open the drawer on the night stand -- voila.

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac


I love the elegance of Le Chateau Frontenac; however, lavish only works if one includes practicality. My grandmother adored Neiman Marcus, but kept a ball of used tin foil under the sink. She survived the depression and WWII rationing. Waste not want not. The Fairmont respects our planet by practicing high eco-standards.

I turn the shower to a water-saving setting. That feature makes the white-tiled shower super chic. I appreciate the toilet's low-flush option. Of course I re-use my towels and don't have my sheets changed daily. I'm not Jackie O in the White House taking a nap. I want generations of tourists to enjoy this planet and this property.

I spread myself onto the luscious bed as if I were the maple butter I'd licked off warm raisin bread on my city tour. J'aime the French and j'adore you Quebec for keeping your heritage intact.

The next day I explore the hotel. I need to get to know it well as this is my home now. I clasp my hands behind my back and stroll through the lobby. It feels natural. I nod approvingly at the towering flowers stocked in the lobby. More visitors mill about the common areas than are staying at the hotel. All are welcome -- everyone's a guest -- the hotel is in the hospitality business.

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

They have three restaurants. I read the intriguing menus, peek in the windows. I long to return and dine at each. Foie gras is illegal in my California. Shall I wrestle with my conscience when presented the quack quandary by Le Chateau's well-seasoned Chef Stephane Modat? I'm a sucker for an accent.

I discover the warm, steamy, splashy indoor pool. Need gym clothes and exercise shoes? The hotel provides them to their President's Club members. It's free to join.

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac


I step out onto the rooftop terrace. I'm met with a a view to a thrill. Spiky, fanciful rooftops abound as the sugary, baked meringues crowning Quebec's cake-like architecture. I love cake.

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

From up here, I survey the kingdom. The crepuscule hour exhales golden and purple lights across the terrace. It's easy to think of my grandmother's sunset and her tinted hair. I grabbed armfuls of her anytime I could. However, when she was padded by luxurious mink it made the embrace cushier. I want to visit Le Frontenac in Winter. She's aging gracefully, frozen by ice, not Botox. I've ridden a dog sled in Alaska, twice. That's not a bucket list item. It's on my "do often" list and I want to do it in Quebec. Do the mushers speak en Francais to les chiens? I want to tier sur la neige which might sound kinky, but it's rolling maple syrup in snow for taffy. I want to wear my fur hat.

On my final day, I wake up early to enjoy the hotel's ample boardwalk while it's quiet. I need to peer out to sea. And get a crepe. Checkout's at high noon. I'm tempted to chain myself to the mini-bar and inform room service they'll have to send up one of the fortress's cannons to blast me out.

I'm on this trip with the love of my life. Nous allons? he gently asks. After three days in Quebec my Franglish corrects back to French. Oui, mon cher.  

We board the train for Montreal. En route, the engine rattles my gaze outside. Flashes of green, red, brown. I'm reminded of a dirt road in Texas, and the possibilities. My stay at the Frontenac shifts from the present to a lovely memory.

In her final years, as my grandmother fluttered the prettiest eyes I will ever see, she passed on a calming message. I'll always be around.

Beauty is forever.

Live awhile at the Fairmont Frontenac. 1 Rue des Carrières, Québec, QC G1R 4P5 (866) 540-4460

Gaia Hotel and Reserve: The Costa Rica Crown Jewel

Costa Rica is a diamond in the rough. Her crown of a coastline is set with semiprecious stones with one serenely polished gem mounted at the center of Manual Antonio.

Behold Gaia Hotel & Reserve.

view of a hotel on a hill in the jungle

On paper, it's the Sally Field of resorts -- she's won every award and everybody likes her. But you'll discover that this one's more curvy and luscious like Salma Hayek, barely able to keep her "assets" contained in the jungle of a sweater wrapped tightly around her.



The three owners built Gaia in 2007 after having traveled the world, picking up the most useful souvenirs along the way: what they love about hotels, what makes one better than best, what unparalleled service truly means, and what they vowed to avoid. 

Gaia is the result -- a resort, reserve, and spa that dares to provide a superlative vacation.

welcome gates wih Gaia written on them

The trio of musketeers as top-notch hoteliers never rest on their laurels, which, incidentally, are freshly laid upon them year after year. Instead they treat each guest as a new, already beautiful day. One that they strive to make even better.

Unless you're a native cat free to roam the jungle, you'll need to take the one street, dotted with resorts and restaurants, that curves through Manuel Antonio. As I drove to Gaia, I passed a lot of properties that I recognized from my online research, and I was reminded of the warning my brain flashed as I googled: Objects on the internet may appear better and larger than in real life.

I was thinking the road looked like someone held a spoon over the coastline and drizzled rich, dark honey in a winding strip -- when the driver suddenly pulled over and stopped short in front of huge metal gates built to keep the unwanted out and protect those lucky enough to be inside. The gates slowly swung open like a heavy lid to a mysterious chest, and my treasure was revealed.

I was met by smiling gatekeepers and shuttled in a golf cart up a long, winding driveway steeper than a Miami housewife's social climb. I decided then that I was never leaving.

 driving up a path on a golf cart

Along my cart path, the entrance to their private nature reserve was pointed out with an invitation to join the daily 7 a.m. trek. The cart then whipped around a corner and into a covered breezeway.

entrance to a spa gaurded by stone statues

The stunning entrance with peaceful protective stone statues instantly made me feel at peace. Protected. Welcomed. Spa to your right, sir, reception to your left.

Gaia is a life-sustaining and re-affirming bubble floating high above the coastline, providing everything you need inside the compound. Set amid some of the world's lushest green hills, you'll feel like you're in Emerald City Oz. The watchful, circling hawks are flying monkeys gone good.

Check-in takes place seated comfortably at a desk -- telling me that I'm here to enjoy, not stand in line. They know welcome starts with "we" and ends with "me", and they slipped me a refreshing melon juice mocktail organized by my personal concierge; each guest has one of these fairy godpeople for their entire stay.

Where did the attentive service begin? At the gate, on the cart, at check-in? Perhaps as they toured me though the spa. The level of hospitality at Gaia is a gorgeously elusive jaguar that can't be tracked -- their service is a luscious circle. I'd been forewarned by the snappy online reservation process and wanted to meet the mythical faces behind the emails.

Billed as a five-star resort, it's not even close to that. Every staff member I met was stellar -- so in my mind it's a 74-star resort. A sincere testament to the owner's dedication.

The architecture is exciting. A cluster of buildings containing only 20 rooms, connected by winding landscaped paths, feels private and secluded. Awnings soar out like motherly eagle's wings protecting this nest while omnipresent water features surround the property like loving guardians.  The calming feng shui water's energy reminds me that we should always have that along our path.
Gaia's pools cascading into one another

I'm led past tempting emerald swimming pools that are as warm as they look. The romantic baker-of-a-builder stacked one pool on top of another, resulting in a whimsical, fantastically tiered wedding cake. I'm as excited as a new groom to be the bobbing topper.

swimming pools flowing into one another

If I put my ear against any wall at Gaia, I'd hear the thumping heartbeat of the three passionate owners -- Boris Marchegiani, David Fleming and Thomas Farrell. They knew me so well; my suite was like a Prada suit -- smart, perfectly designed and timelessly classic. Perfect fit; no alterations needed.

living room of a hotel suite

I had a morning terrace from which to sip fine Costa Rican coffee, served by an invisible butler who meticulously laid out the coffee makings along with china cups and saucers on a tray in my room -- the sugar safe in a silver bowl.

covered terrace looking out into the jungle

Each morning I inhaled the pop symphony of birds' voices, vowing to take up ornithology just to recognize whose voice was coming out of Mother Nature's radio.

My concierge explained that the beds were custom-built so that one person's movement wouldn't disturb anyone sleeping on the other side. This room is so hopefully romantic that, even if there were seven people in this bed, the entire night would be spent on just one side, in a clump of exhausting lovemaking.

swanky hotel bedroom

A framed window from the bedroom to the living room provides an enticing peek into the next day's sunrise.

I want to hand out the award for Swankiest Bathroom in Costa Rica. Swirl around in Gaia's huge jacuzzi tub and gaze out the giant picture window to the untamed and unspoiled world below.

Gaia's overall eco-conscious practices make the U.S. seem totally asleep at the non-recycled wheel. Their toilets use less water; they provide separate cans for glass, plastic, metal, and paper throughout the property. In the U.S., recycling is some guy rifling through my garbage for cans. I'm grateful that Gaia recognizes the future is in their present.

very nice hotel bathroom wih twin sinks

Before the cocktail hour, an attentive room service hummingbird darts in and fills my ice bucket. Glass in hand, I climbed the stairway to heaven to stand on my private rooftop terrace and enjoyed the view to a thrill. The long, shallow pool eased my eyes out over the jungle, into the glittery sea and on to my endless search for the elusive horizon.

rooftop terrace wht feng shui water feature

Please read the next sentence out loud, as you exhale the words: I could do this every day.

hotel private rooftop terrace lounge chairs

Soon, sunset will pop the night open like a champagne cork, spraying stars into the sky.

When hungry, I turned to La Luna tree house restaurant, where gifted Chef Mayky creates flavorful, colorful Costa Rican delicacies that start in his young mind and materialize in front of mouthwatery guests.

One of the three hoteliers is always on site. They test new recipes from ideas brought back from their own world travels. They personally train and constantly evaluate every staff member, supervise every countless detail -- they built a fine hotel and smartly vow to support it with the best team.

This stellar level of service helps make La Luna the finest restaurant in Manuel Antonio. The good taste matches the entire property. From Gaia's ultimate perch, breakfast, lunch, tapas, and dinner with live music stuffs you, while the view feeds your soul. The whole place is entirely over the treetops.

View to the ocean from La Luna restaurant

Slip into the enoteca wine room and gaze longingly at the good art on the walls. Careful as you turn around, your boyfriend might be on one knee to propose more than a Merlot. My friend Charles did that recently and he got an enthusiastic answer. Yes is easy to say when your mouth is already smiling.

an enoteca wine room

I don't need a marriage proposal to take my breath away. I dove into a pool, swam right up to its infinity edge and boggled my monkey-addled mind with one question: How can I stay here? I don't mean stay in this warm-as-sun-tea water -- but how can I live at this hotel, forever?

I calculated the price per night versus how much money I had, regretting all that Prada and attempting to remember what my credit card limits were. What must I cancel to stay? Plane trips, the next hotel, car services, my hectic life back home -- basically everything and anyone irritatingly in my way of the Gaia life.

I got stressed out and suddenly, out of nowhere, the thoughtful pool attendant hits me with a fresh fruit smoothie. I realized that they don't want me to worry like this, it's everything they're against. So I sucked it up, honored their mission and floated off into the direction of the sunset, happily reducing my desires to just kidnapping the pool boy.

swimming pools viewed from above

Every hotel stay comes with surprises. Gaia's is that they meticulously provide everything you need, and more. Owner Boris has staff meetings daily to brief his top-notch crew. Knowledge is power and in the hospitality business that keeps the guests' needs in the forefront of concern. Attention to detail rears its pretty head in every department at Gaia.

The generous owners pamper you in their state-of-the-art spa, gifting guests with a complimentary 20-minute treatment with every stay. That tempting amuse bouche is meant to be followed up with main courses like long, luxuriating massages and rejuvenating facials.

couples massage room in a spa with two beds

Whether a massage, facial or reflexology, everything about this swanky spa rubbed me the right way.

Gaia also has her own private nature reserve, which is a lovely morning hike on a natural StairMaster. Hopped up on caffeine, I followed their knowledgeable guide, Jordan Tolentino, over the hills and through the jungle, pausing to catch my coffee breath, hear the names of plants, and admire technicolor flowers. And, yes, under Jordan's direction, I ate a few taste like peanuts termites

The private reserve is the ultimate hotel amenity. The entire country recognizes their prized natural resources, so much so that in my welcome letter from the resort, Gaia's owners generously encouraged me to also tour the Manuel Antonio National Park -- and even provide a courtesy van to drive their guests.

I felt weird about leaving Gaia, and as the gates closed behind me I suddenly felt like an outsider. I patted my pocket to feel for my reassuring room key.

guide in Park Manuel Antonio setting up telescope

I once had a pet monkey, which is a lot of fun -- if a lot of work is a lot of fun -- and I longed to see his natural habitat. Arranged through the hotel, Jordan also guided me through this true national treasure.

monkey posing in a tree

He was a magician, spotting camouflaged birds stuck onto trees, both green and white sloths hunkered between branches in a lazy contest -- and all three types of playful, rowdy monkeys. I have no idea how he saw everything that he did, but he patiently set up a telescope so I could see what he was so proud of. It was thrilling.

I loved the park's secluded beaches, and all the plants and never-seen-by-me animals. I was happy that Jordan learned his English from Beatles songs, and was now able to point out beetles in a way I understood. But I missed Gaia, which translates to mother of us all.

I once again breathed freely as her bosom of a gate opened up and embraced me. I settled in the golf cart and allowed the ride up the walled path to nuzzle me back home.

view of hotel rooftops out to the sea

Jordan had explained that since Costa Rica has no gold, she has no wars and needs no army. But there is gold in the hills -- this property is popping out and gleaming in the bright sun. Hospitality is constantly being mined by the friendly, sincerely smiling staff.  I saw the generous layouts of other rooms; each angled to a splashy view of the sea, like a high-powered laser set to stun. 

Tales of the non-wild lifestyle and the nonstop wildlife drew me to Costa Rica. The land is so fertile here, it can grow anything, except a pair of balls for me to bravely drop out, move to Costa Rica, and make jewelry to sell on the beach. I'd sell my soul but I think you only get to do that once.

I didn't want to leave. I'm now home in the stressful big city, with memories of this crown jewel as my life-saving screen saver.

Greg White under a pool's watefall

Gaia: Come for the jungle, stay for the civilization.

Gaia Hotel & Reserve. Manuel Antonio Km. 2.7, Manual Antonio, Costa Rica (506) 2777-9797