Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

In the summer of 2015, I was basking in the Tuscan sun with one of my favorite clients – the Pelos Family. This trip took several years to design and execute, and it culminated into a precious 40+ person family reunion in Italy. Interested in finding out more? Take a look at the Virtuoso Traveler Magazine article (on page 52).



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This new hotel being launched by Francis Ford Coppola in the lesser-traveled region of southern Italy comes across romantic, eclectic (mix of modern design, craftsmanship and non-Italian elements), and intimate – all attributes I love in a hotel:

Palazzo Margherita (not yet opened, but worth bookmarking)

These articles provide you with a nice sense of what to expect:

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P1020083As a Swiss Specialist, Switzerland is one of my all-time favorite destinations. There are so many things to love–the gorgeous views, fabulous hiking (or skiing), variety of great food, excellent infrastructure, and the wonderful fresh air. Oh, and don’t forget the chocolate and fondue. But on my most recent trip with my husband, we had two other legendary reasons to visit Switzerland—luxury watches and spas.

My husband has long been interested in luxury watches and I love a great spa. We decided to combine the two interests into one fabulous trip, featuring some of the finest hotels in Switzerland. We spent 16 days in this wonderfully diverse country – there are not many places where you can taste the foods, see the architecture, and hear the language of four cultures (French, German, Italian and Romanasch), all wrapped in the world renowned Swiss hospitality. This is one of the reasons why I love what I do and enjoy using my experiences to help people plan the perfect vacation.


Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois: View over the RhineFirst stop—Basel. We wanted to begin and end with watches and Basel was the perfect place to start. With over two centuries of watch-making history. Girard-Perregaux was a fascinating place to visit. We took a private tour in which we were able to see every aspect of luxury watch making—from concept to design to manufacture to marketing, and also learning about the old-world apprenticeships. I loved seeing the workrooms with the original work desks from the 1800’s and the floor-to-ceiling windows to let in the light required for such intricate workmanship. This unique tour was followed by a private luncheon with key executives in a nearby mansion – talk about stepping back in time! This was truly an eye-opening educational experience and a MUST SEE for luxury watch aficionados.

Girard Perregeux: StudioBasel is located in the northwest of Switzerland, bordering France and Germany. Among so many great European cities, Basel is overlooked, but is worth visiting for a couple of days for the history, art (Art Basel is a destination in itself), the charming village and, of course, the watches. A perfect way to do this is either start or stop (my preferred direction) your Rhine River cruise in Basel – and maybe you too can say you swam the Rhine in Basel.

Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois: View from BalconyWe stayed at the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois, a spectacular historical building on the Rhine River with discrete and excellent service. The hotel is family-owned with many collector pieces throughout the property. Every room is different and selecting the right one is unique to each person. Although you expect all 5-star hotels to have the same level of service, I know from experience that they can disappoint. This hotel is truly a 5-star resort, with one of the highest levels of services I have ever experienced.


Gstaad: Hiking above GstaadWe drove in our rental car from Basel to Gstaad to leisurely enjoy the sights along the route. (It should be noted that one could easily take trains to all of these destinations, but we drove part of the way and took trains for the rest of the trip for a little variety.) Gstaad is a village up in the mountains with a very exclusive, luxury feel. To give you some idea of the clientele, Gstaad is where the UK Royalty goes skiing. Part of the town is pedestrian only, which lends to its old world charm.

The scenery is incredible and so is the skiing and hiking. There are cable cars and gondolas stringing little villages together, so you can choose to hike part of the way and ride part of the way along most of the trails. The trail system is very extensive and there are little restaurants dotted along the trails, which make for lovely resting spots.

Gstaad: Classic ViewWe stayed at the Grand Hotel Bellevue, a lovely late 19th century house that is different from the other chalet style hotels in the area. Each room is unique with modern Italian furniture, modern art pieces and Bose TV and stereo systems. When we drove up and were welcomed by name, I knew we where in for a treat.

They have put a lot of money into their gorgeous spa, which features multiple treatment rooms for facials, massages and hydrotherapy treatments, as well as an aromatic sauna, Himalayan salt room, ice grotto and Turkish bath. I LOVED the Sauna and Steam room solarium, which were not only relaxing, but also stunningly beautiful. Be aware that there are co-ed nude areas throughout, but those who prefer privacy can drape themselves in a towel.

Glacier 3000 is the tallest viewpoint in the area at 3,000 meters above sea level. We took a hair-raising gondola trip to the top to have lunch, where we felt like we were truly on top of the world. This is a perfect stop on your drive to Lausanne.


We drove a leisurely hour and a half to Lausanne, where we dropped off our car and traveled by train for the remainder of our journey. Lausanne, although a city, is very charming and sits right on the shore of Lake Geneva. The International Olympic Committee is located in Lausanne and the Olympic Museum there is one of many museums and other sites to visit. The city is close enough for day trips to many other little villages and attractions, like the Swiss Chocolate Train, the town of Gruyere, renowned for its eponymous cheese, and Montreux, famous for its annual Jazz Festival.

Beau Rivage Lausanne: View from Room

We stayed the Beau Rivage Palace , an incredible Belle Époque style hotel which sits on the shores of Lake Geneva and boasts drop-dead gorgeous views of the lake and the Alps. The rooms are a good size, with flat-screen TVs and sound in the bathrooms. Some rooms have balconies and whirlpool baths, so if those are your preferences, be sure to ask. There are a number of good restaurant choices at the hotel, including one featuring a famous female three-star Michelin chef.

The spa is fairly new with an Asian flair and a nice mix of spa treatments. There are both indoor and outdoor pools and an inside whirlpool spa. The steam and saunas are separated by gender, which is a nice feature for those craving a little more American style privacy than is found in most European spas.


Next we traveled to Zermatt by train, which is how most visitors arrive since it is a car-free zone. Zermatt is known for its skiing, hiking and its fantastic view of the Matterhorn. It is one of the best ski resorts in Switzerland, with runs for everyone from very beginners to experts. Located at the very southern part of Switzerland, visitors can easily go to Italy for the day for skiing or lunch. Gondolas connect the two countries, as do trails where you can go hut-to-hut hiking. The Glacier Express, which is on many people’s bucket list, originates in Zermatt and travels through gorgeous scenery to Davos or St. Moritz. We took this train on our way to Flims – what a beautiful way to arrive!

Cervin Palace Zermatt: View from RoomIn Zermatt we chose to stay at the Mont Cervin Palace, which consists of several connecting properties: a main hotel, a villa and a chalet. The accommodations range from 3.5 to 5 stars, and all have different clientele. They are family run and very family friendly with an onsite petting zoo. There are several restaurants and you can pay one fee and dine at any of the establishments, although that’s probably only a good deal if you go to the high-end eateries every night.

All of the properties have access to the spa. There are two heated outdoor pools and a children’s pool with a water slide. The two large outdoor whirlpools have magnificent views of the mountains and lots of cool water features that massage you with bursts of water. There is a Finnish sauna with different aromatic essences daily; a bio sauna with colored light therapy and steam and footbaths. The Beauty Spa offers a range of facial, body and hand and foot treatments featuring their own excellent line of spa products.


Our stay at the Waldhaus Flims Mountain Resort and Spa was similar to our experience in Zermatt in that the resort consisted of multiple properties and it was also very family-oriented, including a very popular petting zoo and family Bernese Dog (how Swiss is that?)! They have a similar pre-paid meal plan option and several restaurant choices. The rooms are really varied. The Grand Hotel rooms were updated in 2008 and feel fairly fresh, but the rest of the resort needs some renovations to meet a 5-star standard. The owners acknowledge this and plan on making some major investments in the property in the next few years, so we will have to check back and see how it all turns out.

Flims Waldhaus: Indoor PoolThat said, the location is stunningly beautiful—located near the largest park in Switzerland. Close by is an area dubbed Switzerland’s “Grand Canyon,” surrounded by dramatic mountains and alpine lakes. It’s a great year-round vacation spot, notable for skiing and hiking. It’s an easy trip to Zurich, with a bus to the Chur train station and then a train that can take you straight to the Zurich airport.

Flims Waldhaus: Zen Spa ZoneI really liked the mix of spaces of the spa. They have an indoor pool, and outdoor thermal hydrotherapy pool, a Zen pool with Koi pond, and a variety of saunas and steam rooms. They also have a variety of treatments and private spa/treatment rooms that can accommodate up to six people. They have separate women’s as well as co-ed areas.


Dolder Grand Zurich: ExteriorWe saved the best for last. On a divine vacation full of wonderful resorts, The Dolder Grand was my absolute favorite hotel. The whole resort had a WOW factor that took my breath away. It’s a great combination of new (with a $500 million renovation in 2008) and historic 1800’s Belle Époque architecture. The interiors felt like they were museum quality, with lots of fun, whimsical artwork. Like modern rooms? Have that option. Like traditional rooms? Have that option too!

Dolder Grand Zurich: Entry StaircaseThe hotel sits on a hill in an upscale neighborhood (think of Atherton in Switzerland) with a commanding view of Zurich. There were a variety of excellent dining options, including eating a light dinner on the verandah—a great spot for people and car watching. Public transportation is easy and there is a complimentary shuttle service into town. Even though it is not in central Zurich, I really appreciated the birds-eye-view over Zurich/Alps, the quiet setting, and how quick it was to get to the airport. We even had a fun dinner with the locals at a farm-like restaurant right up the road.

Dolder Grand: View from TerraceLike the resort, the spa was perfection. It is very large (over 40,000 square feet!) and offered an extensive treatment menu of services that I had never seen before. They had tubs full of warm stones that massaged your body, where you could then go into the sauna/steam room/polar room and then back again. The only downside was that the outdoor whirlpool felt small, considering the size of the hotel, but the large indoor pool and view of Zurich made up for it.

We began and ended our trip with watch making and in Zurich we toured the IWC International Schaffhauson. Like our previous tour, this was fascinating to see the end-to-end process of the art of watch making. This tour had a more modern feeling and was a nice contrast to the tour in Basel.

Our sixteen days flew by and, as usual, I could write pages and pages about every little thing that we enjoyed from hiking to eating at great restaurants to the amazing spa treatments. This was my eighth trip to Switzerland and I feel like I know the country intimately. If you are interested in planning a trip to Switzerland I would love to help you plan all the details for the perfect vacation for you.

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Burgenland: Typical Scenery

Burgenland: Typical Scenery

The final leg of my 6-day Austrian Destination Summit was dedicated to a seldom visited region in Austria – Burgenland. This area, located in the eastern-most part of Austria, is coveted for its culinary, wine, musical and outdoor activities.  Bordered by Hungary and populated since WWII by people from formerly eastern block countries, Burgenland is relatively new to tourism from english-speaking regions, and is a wonderful mix of cultures.  This is definitely part of the charm.

As we traveled through Burgenland, I could not stop thinking about how it reminded me pre-1990’s Sonoma Valley, CA. The scenery, food, wine and family-run businesses were all familiar sites:

Burgenland - Deutschkreutz: Winery Igler/Schaflerhof

Deutschkreutz: Winery Igler/Schaflerhof

Deutschkreutz: Well respected for its red and full-bodied white wines, we stopped at a winery for a lovely three-course wine pairing lunch. Like many wineries in the region, Winery Igler/Schaflerhof is family-owned, friendly, uber-modern and sits within the Pannonian basin.

Need proof of the region’s wine quailty? Check out Robert Parker Wine Advocate which awarded a 2009 Blaufrankisch 95 points.

Also keep an eye open for a new-comer in the wine scene: Gruner Veltliner (originated in Austria, but is now grown by U.S. wineries as well). If you live in the San Francisco area, check out The Slanted Door (Ferry Building). They have an impressive wine list which pairs perfectly with their flavorful dishes (and notice the nice selection of Austrian wines).

Rust: Steppe Lake

Rust: Steppe Lake

Raiding: This town is the birthplace of Franz Liszt and houses a museum and new concert hall in his name. The curator of the museum provided us with a brief history lesson of this child prodigy (and apparent sex symbol of his time). This was followed by a mini-concert in their new concert hall. For Liszt fans, 2011 represents the 200th anniversary of his birth, so there will be many exciting events taking place in Raiding.

Stekovic Family Farm: Coming from Northern California, I really enjoy artisanal foods. So this family farm really hit the spot for me – homegrown tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers turned into yummy snacks. Not only did we get to knosh on the product, we received a bit of a lesson in how to best grow tomatoes (hint: do not water them). By the way, I shared these goods with friends over Christmas, and they absolutely loved their beauty and unique flavors.

Rust: This 16th century village is well known for its stork nests on the chimneys. Not only that, it is full of incredibly colorful townhouses with Baroque and Renaissance facades. After a brief walking tour, we had a fabulous wine pairing lunch at family-run Restaurant Hofgassl (be sure to check out the video). Housed in a 17th-century building, this culinary experience was capped off by a visit from the award-winning Feiler-Artinger Winery owner (who happens to live next door).

Eisenstadt Highlights

Eisenstadt Highlights

Eisenstadt: This charming little town (and capital of Burgenland) would be a good place to stay for a couple of nights while you go visit the surrounding countryside or partake in one of the many music festivals. During our brief stay, we enjoyed a fun tour of Schloss Esterhazy. Joseph Haydn was prince Esterhazy’s music director for over 40 years, so his presence is strongly felt in this palace. The entrance of Schloss Esterhazy epitomizes Austria: Traditional setting, injected with interesting modern elements. We ended our Eisenstadt tour at the beautiful and incredibly unique baroque Bergkirche, where Haydn’s mausoleum can be found.

Neusiedl: Our final dinner was at the authentic family-run restaurant, Restaurant Nyikospark, known for its excellent seasonal and local food. They also own a small hotel which offers lovely simple (and cheerfully bright) rooms and for those so inclined, cooking classes. Best yet: You first go visit local farms to source your menu!

Frauenkirchen: St. Martin's Therme & Lodge

Frauenkirchen: St. Martin's Therme & Lodge

The Burgenland region is made for the outdoor enthusiast as much as the food / wine / music enthusiast. In addition to swimming, biking, hiking and sailing, you can take the thermal waters (again, just like Sonoma Valley). An outstanding place for this is St. Martin’s Therme & Lodge. Here you can enjoy numerous spa treatments, go on a Night Discovery Tour in the National Park (animal tracking or star gazing) or just enjoy the array of birds which stop here on their way to or from the Serengeti in Africa. I really enjoyed the modern touches of this place and loved the various thermal water areas (particularly sitting outside at night with the color of the water changing around me and the full-moon shining above).

A friend of mine recently told me she and her husband are going to participate in the Ironman Race in Klagenfurt Austria (July 3, 2011). As an Austria specialist, I can make putting together a trip around an event like this seamless, enjoyable and unique. Let me know if I can be of assistance!

Rust: Storks

Rust: Storks


Eisenstadt: Schloss Esterhazy

Eisenstadt: Schloss Esterhazy

Deutschkreutz: Winehostel Moritz /Wine Inn Moritz 



Deutschkreutz: Winehostel Moritz /Wine Inn Moritz

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So why am I focused on Graz, a city which was Europe’s Cultural Capital in 2003? Because it is relatively unknown and is a great “off-the-beaten-track” destination for people who love food, wine, music and other cultural experiences. I recently came back from an Austrian Destination Summit (developed by the Austrian Tourism Board) and had the opportunity to visit this very unique city in southern Austria. Graz is only about 2.5 hours from Vienna (car or train). Whichever way you enter the city, do not let your initial impressions lead to disappointment. Your patience will be paid off once you reach the historic center and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Graz Old Town

The historic center is not only comprised of many different architectural styles, it is packed with wonderful sensory experiences such as farmers markets, bakeries, boutiques and museums. Our group got to know Graz via a 3-hour walking food and wine tour:

  • Der Steirer: Appetizers at this charming wine bar and market highlighted Goose Pate and Smoked Salmon.
  • Aiola Restaurant: The Entree included lightly fried Perch and a creative Cucumber & Beet Salad, all within a stylized modern setting.
  • Schlossberg: Dessert was made of light Almond Pastry, Chestnuts, Caramel and Raspberry. The view over Graz was the icing on the cake.

The day ended with window shopping through the old town and a Styrian Wine Pairing Dinner at Restaurant Landhauskeller. This was a particularly interesting experience considering the historic setting, old Styrian recipes and a wine sommelier who explained each of the wines we were pairing with our dishes.

Our final stop the next morning was to visit the unique and world-renowned Landeszeughaus Graz (Armoury Museum).

Here are some visual highlights from our day+ in Graz:

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Final Note: If you are a foodie who is looking for a new cultural experience, let me know so I can introduce you to Graz’s exclusive hit event – The Long Table – which takes place in the summer and highlights their culinary offerings in an al fresco, white table cloth setting right in the center of old town.

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I recently returned from the 2010 Austrian Summit – the first annual (hopefully) event hosted by the Austrian Tourist Board. I’ve always been a fan of Austria, so whether or not I would attend this 6-day industry event was a no-brainer. There were about 45 Virtuoso/Signature/Platinum AMEX travel advisors from the U.S., Australia and Canada. Our objective was to get to know Austria’s various provinces and, more specifically, revel in her cultural, musical, and culinary delights. This translated into an opportunity to hear from each of the local Austrian Tourist Board members, meeting key Austrian suppliers, and enjoying activities we could recommend to our clients. All of this information provided me with invaluable contacts and loads of ideas for future itinerary planning. The first three days were devoted to Imperial Vienna; here were some highlights:

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  • Architecture: Walking around Vienna we were introduced to an array of styles including Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Modernism. While Vienna in many ways has always reminded me of Paris, you can’t help but sense the overwhelming Imperial tones in this city. I also love how they beautifully junxtaposed the historic buildings with modern elements.
  • Coffee Houses: There are many to choose from, but I spent time in Demel this trip. Established in 1933, I love the elegant small rooms, great coffee, and light desserts (really … not too sugary either).
  • Christmas Market: The markets were just being set up, but fortunately we were able to enjoy the large market in front of the Rathaus.
  • Giant Ferris Wheel: No visit to Vienna would be complete without visiting the Giant Ferris Wheel. One of the options available is to have a romantic or group gathering (8 – 10 people) with champagne and appetizers in one of the historic old cars while it goes through its 30 minute turn.
  • Vienna Philharmonic: It was magical to be able to observe the Vienna Philharmonic practicing at the Musikverein Concert Hall.
  • Elmayer Dance School: Ball season is huge in Vienna. We learned how to do the waltz at Elmayer Dance School, and even learned a few things about etiquette, such as how to kiss a ladies hand. This may sound old-school, but it is still a serious business in Vienna!  The majority of the balls are in the December – March timeframe and certain tickets must be purchased far ahead of time.
  • Spanish Riding School: The gorgeous and elegant white Lipizzaner horses at the Spanish Riding School were incredibly friendly. I loved being able to walk around the stables and snuggle up to them (or them to me) and then go into the stadium and watch them go through their morning exercise. You can also buy tickets to  attend 80+ minute performances. I’ve been wanting to see them for years, but they were always out-of-town performing or romping around the Austrian hills on vacation (so plan ahead!).
  • Museums: There is an endless array of museums to visit in Vienna, but two I throughly enjoyed were the Leopold Museum (Gustav Klimt paintings and Art Nouveau decorative arts were my favorites) and the Liechtenstien Museum (lovely intimate setting with Baroque focus).
  • Dinner at Schonbrunn Palace: Our elegant dinner at the baroque World Cultural Heritage Site – Schonbrunn Palace – was preceded by a private “Imperial” tour. We were then wisked off to The Gloriette Cafe which is housed in a structure set behind the palace and overlooking the expansive gardens. In the background live classical music was being played, which included a quartet of women playing electrical violins/cellos/violas while singing opera or contemporary music. This whole setting transported us all back to the age of the Habsburgs.
  • MoZuluArt: This was the most memorable part of our visit to Vienna. Mozart infused with Zulu music. Who would have thought? Check them out:

The group then separated into West (Salzburg, Innsbruck and Tirol) and East (Graz in Styria and Burgenland) caravans and went off for a three-day adventure. Since I have already extensively visited the West, I chose to go East. Boy was I glad I made that choice! The food, wine, musical and cultural experiences were very unique. Stay tuned for more information on “GRAZ AUSTRIA: EUROPE’S 2003 CULTURAL CAPITAL” and “BURGENLAND: UNDISCOVERED CULINARY AND CULTURAL EXPERIENCES”.

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