Peace & Quiet

Desperately Seeking Solitude

“I love tranquil solitude…” Shelley, the ill-starred poet, he of the golden pen, knew the true value of solitude. And so do we. All around, we see the vaunted worth of the priceless melt away. The most highly prized dwindles, fades into the commonplace. But solitude eludes the calipers of ordinary measure. Not easily found today. How much more difficult tomorrow? Solitude. Such a luxury. No, the new luxury. It’s the exclusive reserve of the wealthy…or the ingenious. Presented in these pages, still spared the encroachment of progress, crowds and all manner of acclaim, is a choice selection of refuges where Solitude is valued above all else.

Musha Cay

David Copperfield, who just happens to be the owner of Musha Cay in the Bahamas, modestly calls his island, “the most beautiful place on the globe.” Not for anyone who wants to rough it. Rather a refuge for anyone who unashamedly wants to be spoiled. The island is staffed by gentle folk whose pleasure it is to see that you are content, content, content…morning to night. To be left in peace. Swim in the free-form beach-side pool or fl oat the day away in the calm of the Caribbean. Take a turn at wind-surfing, a spell of snorkeling, tennis on a flood-lit court. Picnic on a different beach every day. While you’re in residence, you’re the supreme command. You can rule your kingdom in solitary splendor or share it with up to a dozen forever-grateful friends. Your modest housing is Highview, a manor house of 10,000 square feet, rimmed by mahogany decks with views of the far rim of the world. Travel to and from Musha Cay is via the island’s Twin Otter aircraft, transport deemed more than satisfactory by the likes of Robin Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Tim McGraw and….oh why go on and on. Isn’t it enough to promise that on Musha Cay you will be….well, let’s just say: Content.


Photo by Erico Hiller


One of seven islands lying just off the east African coast. Today its political allegiance is to Kenya. Its cultural allegiance, however, is to the 15th century, when Arab traders sailed the seas unmolested and wealthy beyond all imagining. Their ways are here preserved. Revered. Life in these narrow, crooked streets moves no faster than a donkey’s pace…the same donkeys that still carry water jugs from well to dwelling. The beaches, called shela, are broad. White. Empty. The sea is limpid. Stay in a guest house, reserved for you alone. Barefoot girls, veiled in white linen, place baskets of mango and papaya on the doorstep at dawn. Feast by moonlight on the catch brought fresh from the sea by fishermen sailing the dhows built by their fathers and grandfathers. Each day is chanted into wakefulness by the imam high atop the ancient mosque. Here Swahili is the spoken word. Karibu. Welcome…welcome to Lamu.


Photo courtesy of Canoe Bay

Canoe Bay

Solitude, serenity, sylvan quiet. Enshrined deep in the Wisconsin woodlands, Canoe Bay is situated on the edge of deep, glacier-formed Lake Wahdoon. Nature provides the setting. Frank Lloyd Wright provided the inspiration by which this one-of-a-kind resort takes architectural shape. Rattenbury Cottage is hidden away on a 280-acre property. Designed by one of Wright’s most astute devotees, it features the open-air layout that characterizes so much of the Great Master’s creations. A large living room with soaring ceilings, polished wood paneling and massive stone fi replace…king-bedded sleeping space, huge bathroom with two-person whirlpool spa, gleaming white oak floors, broad cantilevered deck with unimpeded lake vista…it all adds up to privacy, promised and delivered. No motor boats or jet skis disturb the lake’s tranquility. The fully equipped boathouse is at your disposal complete with kayak, canoe, paddles. The gourmet picnic basket is only a phone call away. Dine in the cottage, on its deck, or if you prefer, in Canoe Bay’s glass-enclosed lakeside dining room. Under the star-studded night skies, the call of the loons is unchanged since primeval times.


Photo courtesy of Iles de la Madeleine

Iles de la Madeleine

Adrift in Quebec’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Iles de la Madeleine (aka Magdalen Islands) form an archipelago some 65 miles long, bent like a fishhook…a dozen islands, home to the Acadians. Longfellow immortalized the Acadians with his well-beloved poem, “Evangeline.” But Longfellow’s Acadians fled the tyranny of Britain to settle in Louisiana. He said not a word about those who eschewed Louisiana in favor of staying in what Canadians affectionately term “the Maggies.” Theirs is a unique community….sea-faring, song-loving, proud of their heritage. Hospitable to visitors, perhaps because so few fi nd their way to these charming wave-washed specks of land. Red cliffs, green hills and golden beaches. A meterological quirk assures mild winters, warm autumns, gentle summers. The people have lovingly preserved the French of yesteryear…musical in its cadences, well suited to a pace of life unmatched in the world beyond the horizon. Here life is governed by tide and wind, by surf and wave. Once a true convent, today the Domaine du Vieux Couvent receives no more than a handful of visitors at a time. Each is settled into comfortable suites, tucked between a lighthouse and a working fishing pier. Walk the beaches in peace. Consort with seals and dolphins. Ship out to sea for the day with a pecheur who will gladly take you aboard. Feast by candlelight on freshly hauled lobster and crab…on greens grown right here in island gardens. A glass of vin ordinaire in the local café. A lesson in surf casting taught by the great-great grandson of an islander who cast into these very waters a century and a half ago. Pack a sweater, sunglasses, bathing suit. Leave behind your watch and calendar, your laptop, your cell phone. Time in the Maggies is unrelated to the time you leave behind at home.

Photo courtesy of Cabo Velas


Cabo Velas

On the dry breezy coast of the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, just north of the town of Tamarindo, that’s where you’ll find Cabo Velas. A traditional working ranch, complete with livestock and tropical orchards sprawled over 1700 acres on a secluded seaside peninsula. Yours and only yours. A week? A month? Whatever. No other guest sets foot on those 1700 acres while you’re in residence. Your life unwinds in a thatched rancho. Your large bedroom and separate dressing room open onto a beachfront verandah. Shower indoors or out. Upstairs…a second slightly smaller suite. A guest or guests? It’s your say. Swim on any of five…yes, five…beaches, each secluded by seagrape, hibiscus and palms. Snorkeling, diving, kayaking? Of course. Or perhaps a ride before breakfast along a Pacific beachfront. Dine in the Rancho Principal, a screen-surrounded dining room, edged by a two-level terrace and beyond….the salty deep. White water rafting, golf, tennis, cycling…only 30 minutes away. But really, just staying put at Cabo Velas in the heartland of Costa Rica will doubtless suit you very, very well. Cabo Velas. Olé!

Editor’s Note: For more information on these properties, log onto the following web sites: MUSHA CAY (; CANOE BAY (; DOMAINE DU VIEUX COUVENT (; LAMU (

Photos courtesy of Cabo Velas

All In

Atlantic City’s hottest hotels are sparing no expense when it comes to pampering their guests. The newest battleground for business is skincare—and the big winner may be you.

 There is certainly something to be said about the soothing effects of being near the ocean. The air is cleaner. Breathing comes easier. Blood pressure, elevated by a hectic workweek, eases downward. For some, rejuvenation comes with a winning hand of Texas Hold ’Em. For others, the jackpot is waiting at one of AC’s world-class spas, where skincare regimens play a major role in relieving the outward signs of stress—and the hotels leave little to chance. “We’re the newest spa in Atlantic City,” says Jane Mackie of the Chelsea Hotel’s Sea Spa. “The décor is retro—close to nature. There’s an opportunity to do natural and healthy treatments here.”

Sea Spa offers a variety of facial and body treatments— everything from nurturing and strengthening delicate skin to nourishing and calming rough skin by deep-cleansing to a silky-soft texture. Sea Spa’s signature treatment is a full-body Mediterranean Veggie Wrap, which makes you feel good on the outside and actually nourishes you on the inside. Extracts found in a typical Mediterranean garden are blended to smooth, tone, and elasticize the skin. At the other end of the island, off White Horse Pike, is the 36,000-square foot Immersion (left), perched atop the awe-inspiring Water Club.

Brennan Evans is the Spa Director of this harmonious space where soothing water features and Asian-inspired elements and textures blend to provide an atmosphere of total tranquility. “Being close to the shore, it’s all about beautiful skin,” claims Evans. “We have skincare services that include the use of hyperbaric oxygen as an infusion method for transporting serums into the skin to help reduce fine lines and smooth pigmentation. This allows for immediate results with no down-time for recovery. Ayurvedic skincare treatments can be customized to your personal dosha through a simple questionnaire and mini-consult with our estheticians.”

Immersion also features stimulating body exfoliating and moisturizing sessions that take advantage of modern technologies such as heated hamman/vichy tables and cocooning dry-fl oat, soft-pack tables. bluemercury (below), founded ten years ago by Marla Malcolm Beck, is located in the Quarter at the Tropicana. The spa draws many clients who make special trips from New York, Philadelphia, and D.C. looking for resultsoriented treatments and products. Products such as Kiehl’s Shaving Cream, Bumble & Bumble Seaweed Shampoo, and Dermalogica Active Moist Moisturizer are best-sellers. “And given that we have the beach in Atlantic City,” says Beck, “sunscreens are always popular.” bluemercury recently added a new brightening facial to its menu. “An intense, vitamin C firming treatment,” Beck explains, “this facial is amazing because you come out feeling like someone just tightened your skin. I also adore our luxury body treatments, which are almost two hours of pure pampering and massage. Our ‘Coconut Escape’ is our most popular.” bluemercury also unveiled its first Ultimate Skincare Guide. “What we try to do,” says Beck, “is make sense of the world of skincare products, which can be quite confusing. There are informative sections about what certain ingredients, like vitamin C and vitamin A, really do.”

The guide is available to all visitors and also online at The 16,000-square-foot Qua Baths & Spa, located on the fourth floor of the Ocean Tower at Caesar’s, impresses the moment you enter its doors. As Robert Seibel explains, “We attack your senses immediately. Our concept is to have you leave all your problems outside.” Qua Baths & Spa features Organic Spa Therapies with a focus on eliminating toxins. The body itself does not produce most toxins, notes Seibel. Rather, they tend to come from poor habits such as an unhealthy diet, smoking, and excessive drinking—all of which destroy new cell growth. Ocean Spray Organic Treatments, including the Body Renewal & Detoxification Therapy, Organic Firming Massage, and Organic Facial, utilize key ingredients in sea salts and seaweed, which rank among the purest form of therapeutic organic substances. Seibel also shares with clients his concerns regarding certain skincare products. “Many facial products may smell nice, but many people, whether they know it or not, may be allergic to them.” He recommends the Spa’s Organic Facial, noting that it works for those with sensitive skin and folks wanting “something different.” Every day you leave the house, you’re rolling the dice when it comes to the health of your skin. So how ironic is it that the one place you can’t lose is the gambling capital of the East? Just another reason to adore New Jersey.

Editor’s Note: For more information call Sea Spa (800) 548-3030; Immersion (800) 800-8817; bluemercury (609) 347-7778 and Qua Baths & Spa (609) 343-2400.


On Location

When Hollywood needs a go-to country, it goes to Morocco

Here come the choppers. Swirling into Mogadishu. Smoke, dust and sand fill the screen. Swarms of half-naked kids race past adobe buildings that explode into flames and deadly debris. Somalia never looked more hellish. The American Rangers never looked more battle-ready. It’s Blackhawk Down—based, of course, on actual events and directed by Ridley Scott, who is mighty pleased with his blockbuster film. Dramatically a winner, financially a dreamboat that, reportedly, earned its investors “ten bucks on the dime.” And filmed On Location. Switch to Lebanon’s land-mined desert. Leonardo DiCaprio, hands aloft in surrender, must outfox both the ill-advised CIA as well as the local terrorists.

It’s Body of Lies and we don’t have to worry about Leo’s ultimate success. It’s never in doubt. Also filmed On Location. On a less hair-raising note, let’s zoom in on Sarah Jessica Parker who, as Carrie Bradshaw, sits quaffing champagne, flanked by her faithful trio of gal-pals. She’s draped in radiant silks, legs akimbo, on a priceless oriental rug in the deepest recesses of the Shah’s palace in Saudi Arabia. Precise location? Undisclosed for security concerns. Again, filmed On Location. And let’s not overlook those intrepid swashbucklers: Sean Connery, Christopher Plummer and Michael Caine. Resplendent in Her Majesty’s gold braided, brassbuttoned Imperial uniforms, braving the blizzards of India’s Himalayan heights. It’s India-profound.

The British Empire is in full flower. The Man Who Would Be King, first conceived by that old imperialist himself, Rudyard Kipling, whose saber-rattling novel was lovingly transposed into film by John Huston. And, yes, filmed On Location. On Location. Magic words. They convey authenticity and sky-high budgets. They conjure up drama, adventure, exotica and romance with a capital R. Somalia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, India. No expense spared. And who stops to ask, “Yes, but what location?” The answer lurks in the rapidly rolling credits, just before the screen goes blank. Just before the lights come up and you’re reaching for your hat, the car keys and those missed messages on your cell phone. Or pushing the little square button on the remote. So no wonder you missed that split-second phrase that so graciously thanks King Hassan II or, more recently, King Mohammed VI and the People of Morocco. This is one of the film industry’s best-kept secrets, a secret that delights directors and accountants and—Surprise! Surprise!—delights even the pampered stars of stage and screen, who do not take kindly to life in the rough. Everyone who is anyone in the film industry, it seems, knows full well the advantages of shooting a film in Morocco.

Fooling the Camera For starters, there’s the easy accessibility to every kind of scenery. Snow-crested mountain peaks in the Atlas Mountains. Endless vistas of sandy shorelines, both Atlantic and Mediterranean. Boulder-studded canyons like Glaoui Kasbah, Ait Benhaddou Kasbah, and Valley of the Nomads. Cascading waterfalls, rushing rivers, tranquil lakes and infinities of golden Saharan sands. Remember that scene in The English Patient? There is Ralph Fiennes, the love-stricken English-speaking Hungarian spy. He has settled his wounded amour, Kristin Scott Thomas, the seductive Katharine, in the depths of an Egyptian cave far out in the Sahara. She’s gravely wounded. One last, long embrace. As defense against the inevitable dark, she has only a faltering flashlight and a tattered copy of Herodotus.

Off he sets across the endless desert sands seeking help. We see him silhouetted on the far horizon, staggering, parched, heat stricken, doomed. All around the desert folds and unfolds into time without end. A nine-Oscar triumph! But forget all that about Egypt. From start to finish it was made not in Egypt, but a thousand miles to the west, in Morocco. Another smash hit filmed On Location It’s not just that Morocco can provide lookalike landscapes that easily pass for the Australian outback, a Hopi reservation, the jungles of the Amazon or the icy passes of the winter-bound Ural Mountains. Have you even an inkling how many scores of films are made every year based on the Bible, the Torah or the Quran? Morocco has every holy answer from the Temple of the Pharisees to the stable of the nativity. And if you’re a filmmaker with a tight shooting schedule and a dicey budget, it does not hurt one whit that Morocco can truthfully claim 360 days a year of unpolluted sunshine.

A Nation of Extras The silver screen’s love affair with the country dates back to 1897, when that French film pioneer, Louis Lumière took his camera crew there to film Le Chevalier Marocain (The Moroccan Knight). Orson Welles chose Morocco as the setting for his filmed version of Shakespeare’s Othello. Alfred Hitchcock made The Man Who Knew Too Much in the lush city of Marrakech, Morocco’s mecca for luxury lovers, be they movie moguls or run-of-the-mill zillionaires. Not surprisingly, so many decades of movie making has worked a kind of mutation on the DNA of the people of Morocco. It seems as if every man, woman and child has worked as an extra (a delightful gimmick for supplementing a daily wage). When Martin Scorsese on a morning needed a huge crowd of palm-waving devotees to welcome the Saviour into Jerusalem in The Last Temptation of Christ, the crowd was easily whistled up on minimum notice.

He could have had his crowd barefoot or sandal-clad. Or a bit of both. Everyone arrived authentically garbed in robes lifted right out of the Gospels. When, that very afternoon, the schedule called for a mob of enraged citizenry shrieking for a crucifixion, the morning crowd had no trouble “switching allegiance.” Strikingly handsome Tahar Najoui, 40-ish, who works for Travel Exploration Morocco as an expert van driver, delights in transporting tourists, film crews and movie stars to every corner of his native land. He modestly admits to acting as an extra in “more films than I can count.” The maid who tidies your room in the Berber Palace Hotel has probably played in half a dozen filmed street scenes. Her kids have happily passed for street urchins in ancient Rome or child soldiers in some Central African civil war. Your bus driver probably marched with Alexander the Great or stormed the ramparts of a 12th century fortress. Casting epic films on location in Morocco is the least of a director’s worries.

French Connection The French, who for many years affectionately called Morocco their Protectorate, have long since pulled up colonial stakes and retreated back to chez-eux. But as is so often the case, their legacy is very much in evidence. The engineering marvel of incredible road networks that join sea to mountain to desert was actually built by the French Foreign Legion—once everywhere in evidence, but today a discreetly diminished presence. Arabic and Berber are Morocco’s first languages, but French is widely spoken; English, in no small measure thanks to the film industry, is coming on with lightning speed. The legacy of the French is seen in other subtle ways: The windows of the pastry shops in Fez, Rabat or Casablanca could pass for patisseries in the Rue de Rivolli or the Plâce Vendôme.

The women of Morocco, bareheaded or partially veiled, move with a feather-footed grace that typifies the Paris pedestrians. Where else in North Africa can one walk the streets unhassled, confident that the crowd in the bazaar or the souk will not suddenly turn into a mob of hostage-takers intent on flag-burning or a game of effigy hangman? In addition to great roads and a predisposition for street chic, the French also left their Catholicism, which mixes painlessly with Islam and Judaism. It’s an easy blending that conveys a very European feel to the whole country. Morocco manages to balance delicately as part-Islamic, part-Christian, part-Catholic, part-Protestant. Many (but not all) women wear head scarves but the top-to-toe burqa is an oddity. Women are welcome to drive cars, attend university and marry as they please. Secularity has the upper hand in Morocco which, alone among North African nations, is quietly funding a well-organized push to join the European Union.

Government Blessings Sunshine and incredible scenery are only part of the answer as to why movies and Morocco are such a good fit. Take a look at the coastline of North Africa. Traveling east to west, from Egypt to Libya to Tunisia, Algeria and finally Morocco. In every country political unrest, riots, arson, roadblocks and civil upheavals are daily fare. Morocco alone remains serene. By the same token, why subject Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor to the indignities of the streets of Yemen when Morocco affords Yeman-y landscapes as good as (or even better than) the real thing? If you caught Salmon Fishing in the Yemen when it hit theaters, once again, you were on location in Morocco. “We are,” as a well-known guide pridefully told a bus full of Japanese tourists, “the Safest Door to the Desert.” With a keen nose for profit, the Moroccan government has gone overboard to eliminate red tape for movie-makers. No nasty tie-ups there about film permits. Applications are approved within 24 hours at pleasingly competitive prices, especially as compared to Europe or North America.

Furthermore, from the Mediterranean in the north of Morocco to the Sahara in the south, filmmakers can count on ready access to state-of-the-art camera equipment, experienced sound and lighting crews and catering services that will provide soufflé au chocolat, perfectly ripe Camembert or chilled to perfection Moet et Chandon—even in the far reaches of the Moroccan Sahara. No need to transport all that equipment or all those technicians from California. It’s already right there in Morocco, and available at prices that undercut all competitors. Cate Blanchett first visited Morocco when she traveled there to star in Babel. The film was a huge box office success. Whether it was the success of the film or the appeal of the country, who’s to say? But rumor has it that Australian-born Blanchett and her husband, Andrew Upton—who together act as co-directors of the Sydney Theatre Company—are now interested in setting up a similar theatrical company, probably in southern Morocco. True? Absurd? Who’s to say? But certainly for now, it’s safe to say that there will be plenty more films…as distinct from one another as Sex and the City and Saint Joan, lining up to be produced in Morocco…aka “The Other Hollywood” or, as we say in the trade, On Location.

Destination Anywhere

The economy’s down. Flyaway weddings are up. What’s the deal? 

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Of all the decisions a soon-to-be-married couple must make, none are more exciting, stressful or complex than picking a place to make it all happen on that special day. It’s a Rubik’s Cube of timing, geography, family politics and culture, and expense. With increasing frequency, the solution many couples choose is to eschew local and start thinking global for a glamorous destination wedding. Where and why the betrothed decide to go depends on a long list of variables. It also says a lot about how modern society has evolved. Not all that long ago, when people tended to start families and careers closer to home, relatively few weddings fit into the “destination” category. Today, that category comprises slightly more than half of all weddings. Let me explain. Technically speaking, a destination wedding is one that takes place outside the city where a couple currently resides, or where either soon-to-be spouse grew up. So two people who grew up in Bergen County, live in Union County and work in Manhattan could have a wedding in Princeton and it would be considered a destination wedding. When the travel industry talks about destination weddings, it is referring to something a bit more exotic. These are the events held thousands of miles away, typically in spots where the happy couple intends to honeymoon. Guests who can afford the time and expense don’t depart the next day; they tend to make a vacation of it. These nuptial jaunts have become big business for hotel and resort chains stinging from the current economic swoon, and an important profit center for enterprising small hotel owners around the globe. Indeed, both groups have developed appealing packages that they market very aggressively through travel agents and wedding planners. At first blush, the steady growth of the destination wedding business may seem surprising in these trying times. That’s because, when the trend first gained mainstream momentum a decade or so ago, it had glamour and snob appeal. There is still that element, to be sure, but it is the tightening economy that has actually propelled the destination wedding business forward. The fact of the matter is that a destination wedding, if planned properly, is actually far more economical than a traditional marital event.

Appealing Numbers The numbers are easy to follow. A traditional wedding may generate 150 to 200 invitations with a regrets rate of 10 or 15%. Even watching every penny, by the time all the checks are written the price tag is likely to range between $25,000 and $50,000. Move that same wedding to a Caribbean resort or the Amalfi Coast and the guest list shrivels to around 30. Keeping them well fed and lubricated for a few days will cost less than half of the at-home wedding; most reports actually put that number as low as one-third. Plus, the happy couple is already in situ for their honeymoon. Among the other advantages of a destination wedding is that the bride and groom get to spend quality time in an exciting place with an intimate circle of guests. It’s like spring break for grown-ups. Indeed, in most surveys the percentage of couples that choose a destination wedding for an “intimate group” is actually slightly higher than the percentage that say they did so for an “exotic locale.” For the destination wedding guests there are advantages, too. Since about half of all guests have to travel a significant distance no matter where a wedding is held, it’s not asking a lot for them to journey a few extra miles or spend a few extra dollars. The real deal-breaker is timing. If guests can’t swing the vacation days or find adequate childcare, they have to say thanks but no thanks. But for those who have the time and money, a destination wedding doubles as an unforgettable getaway. It’s a win-win.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Where on Earth? A destination wedding can take place anywhere in the world, and can certainly happen in the United States. Miami Beach and Las Vegas, for example, rate high on the list of wedding destinations. Hawaii is also popular, especially with left-coasters. For New Jerseyans, the Hawaiian Islands have the additional advantage of further thinning out the guest list (it’s a really long flight). As a rule, the more popular destinations tend to involve water, beaches or a major city. Jamaica, with its many resorts, offers a lot of choices at different price points. Ditto for Mexico, where building along the Riviera Maya south of Cancun has been proceeding at a breakneck pace. Travel agents are also pushing Fiji (talk about a long flight!) and smaller spots in the Caribbean like Anguilla, which offer opportunities to explore neighboring islands. Another emerging hot spot for destination weddings is India. In many cases, Indian-born American-raised couples (or halves of couples) choose their wedding day not only to rediscover their heritage, but to immerse their non-Indian friends in a new culture. Many of the aforementioned places have become popular wedding destinations for another reason: They allow foreigners to tie the knot without suffocating them with paperwork or make them jump through ridiculous hoops. Every year, countless couples plan weddings in countries with quirky marital laws and don’t realize their blunder until they have started buying tickets and plunking down deposits. You may think a wedding in London sounds brilliant. Think again. The amount of red tape involved can be absolutely staggering.  

Editor’s Note: An internet search for Destination Weddings will yield an endless stream of commercial web sites. They are fine to start with, but you may find unfiltered firsthand opinions to be more helpful. Many newlyweds blog about their destination weddings, and even more broadcast real-time details through social media web sites like Facebook.  


Return to Beijing

Hot Time in the Old Town 

Horns honked and car traffic surged on all four sides of Tiananmen Square. Thirty years had passed since I last set foot on these ancient stones. Back in 1981, there were 35,000 cars in Beijing. Now there are five million. Where were the waves of bicycles, the main form of transportation of Mao and Deng Hsiao-ping’s eras?

It was mid-week, mid-morning in the third-largest city square in the world—in the capital city of the most populous country on the planet. My return trip was just a few hours old and already a lifetime of change was noticeable.

Scores of Asian tourists mingled, snapped photos and followed their leader’s flag or umbrella. Each group was differentiated by color-coded beanies of red, pink, orange, blue and even Burberry-like plaid. There were no green beanies in sight—to wear a green hat symbolizes a cuckolded husband. I imagined the bird’s-eye view of the square might look like a giant’s game of Chinese checkers.

The general appearance of the tourists spoke volumes about the changes Beijing has undergone. Head-wear uniformity notwithstanding, their attire seemed very much global, ranging from chic and muted to loud t-shirts and jeans. Where were those once-ubiquitous blue Mao jackets? These days it would probably be easier to find one on eBay. And while some of the tours were Korean or Japanese, most hailed from the Chinese provinces. The people had come to Beijing to learn and appreciate their country’s venerable history—a rare and nearly impossible pursuit for the average Chinese citizen three decades ago.

How, I wondered, are all these hard-working citizens finding leisure time to sight-see when there’s a GNP to grow? My knowledgeable guide, Steven Zeng, pointed out that these folks were likely headed to the Bird’s Nest or the Ice Cube (below), the enormous structures built for the 2008 Olympics. In Beijing,

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

he said, Westerners come to see the old, while the Chinese actually visit the city to see the new. If you believe the tourism numbers, more Chinese now visit the Olympic compound than visit the Great Wall and Forbidden City. Combined. The Olympic compound is a popular tourist destination, particularly if you have your children in tow.

For instance, the Ice Cube, where Michael Phelps scored eight gold medals, is now a water park with a wave machine. The eye-catching Bird’s Nest has been used for everything from soccer tournaments to opera productions, and doubles as a snow theme park in the winter. I was told you even can do your laps around the track on a Segway. Directly to the south of Tiananmen Square sits Mao’s Mausoleum, a vast granite-columned building with a yellow-tiled roof. There you can pay your respects to the embalmed leader, who lies in state in a crystal coffin. To the north beckons the Gate of Heavenly Peace, which leads to the Forbidden City, for centuries the Emperor’s domain.

Last year marked a full 100 years since the fall of the Ching Dynasty. It was a tumultuous century that saw the end of the millennia-old Imperial Dynasty system, the quasi-democracy of Sun Yat-sen, the Japanese invasion, the rise of Communism and Mao and, now, a Capitalist–Socialist hybrid featuring upward mobility and upscale stores, neither of which would have even been thinkable a couple of generations ago. The mere juxtaposition of these buildings reveals a country in transition. China is trying to embrace the old, the new and, as I found, in some cases even the retro. I was focused on revisiting former haunts—to see what had changed and what hadn’t. My itinerary, it turns out, will work just as well for a Beijing first-timer as it does for an old hand like yours truly. Whether you are mapping out your own sightseeing or evaluating tours, make absolutely sure your final picks include these excursions:

  • Take a morning to stroll around the Forbidden City—the Throne Hall, the Hall of Jewelry, the courtyard decorated with nine tiled dragons (right), the Imperial emblem. Don’t be afraid to go off-piste and head west through a gate to enjoy a quiet, tree-lined walk to the Painting Museum, a 17th Century pavilion built by a self-anointed Emperor who ruled only 45 days. Most of the tourists milling around the Forbidden City are Chinese. Very few Westerners are visible.


  • Grab a taxi and stop by the Temple of Heaven to the south, where the Emperor journeyed each year to pray for good crops, good weather and a good year to maintain his divine right to rule: the Mandate of Heaven. By the way, taxis are amazingly inexpensive. Just make sure you have your destination written in Chinese characters.


  • Set aside a day and travel an hour or so outside of Beijing to the Great Wall, and then to the feng shui-approved Ming Tombs, where 13 Ming Dynasty Emperors are buried. Walk along the four-mile spirit-way (right).


  • For an in-city getaway, visit the Summer Palace. Take a boat ride across the lake. Check out the Marble Boat built by the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi with money earmarked to develop the Chinese navy. Stroll along covered, painted walkways.


  • Climb the Bell Tower for a nice view of Beijing. Enter the touristy-but-charming shop on the ground level to sample and buy teas that they claim cure or prevent myriad illnesses, ranging from diabetes (Pu’Er), poor blood circulation (Litchi Black Tea) and even cancer (Dragon Well Green Tea).


  • Visit the Yonghegong, a 17th century Tibetan Buddhist Lamasary. It originally housed court eunuchs, but after a few decades was converted into a Lama Temple. Buddhist monks still worship and tend the temple grounds.


  • Explore the Hutongs. These old neighborhoods are made up of the traditional Beijing house structure: four buildings constructed around a central courtyard. Sadly, I found that many had been demolished to make way for the Olympics. Pedi-cab drivers can cycle you around these scenic and now-endangered neighborhoods.


  • Shop Liu Li Chang, the “antiques” district of Beijing. The shopkeepers here are very nice and encouraging, almost to the point of being obsequious. I was told several times what a great eye I had, how I had unearthed their best treasures. The quality of the items isn’t what I remembered 30 years ago, however.


Now a few words about food. If your idea of Chinese cuisine is what the waitress brings to the table at P.F. Chang’s, you may need to adjust your expectations. When I first visited China in the early 1980s, most of the day-to-day (nonbanquet) meals were pretty greasy and sometimes mysterious in content and origin. I remember one fellow traveler, a cautious Italian, lived off a large wedge of Parmesan that he brought into the country. He would shave it onto the Chinese risotto served at each meal.

By comparison, today Beijing’s restaurant scene is cosmopolitan. Indeed, when I asked my second-day guide, Clark Du, where I could sample a “typical” Beijing meal, he shrugged. He and his friends typically ate Italian or Japanese. I had good luck food-wise on my return to Beijing. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I stayed at the new Ritz-Carlton in the Financial District. The room was clean and sleekly comfortable and the food was very good. However, Chinese food still can range from good to bad to ugly. That being said, each meal—from the budget Jya-jiang noodles in a Hutong restaurant, to the steaming bamboo baskets of pork and crab dumplings in a fluorescent-lit shopping mall, to the bean curd and seafood served in a former Imperial garden by waitresses in Manchu robes—has its rewards. You do need to be choosy when dining out, as some aspects of Chinese food—and restaurant hygiene—are not for the meek. As a rule, I suggest staying away from spare parts.

Steer clear of chicken or duck feet, tripe, and intestines, not to mention sea cucumbers and sea slugs. When I was there, there was hoopla about a funny story on Chinese food, sanitation and hygiene written by David Sedaris. To be sure, the non-hotel toilets can be daunting and require strong glutes and thighs. Use your imagination. Also, it’s a smart idea to carry you own tissue in case there’s a run on toilet paper. On the bright side, I think that, thanks to the Olympics, the Chinese have cleaned up their act with respect to uncovered hacking, phlegm-spitting and allowing babies to defecate in the streets. At least I didn’t notice it this trip. To many the hygiene is a deal-stopper, but to me, I say Vive la Difference. It’s all part of the great adventure that is China.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock


Secret Santa

Anguilla… Served Up Family Style

My snow shovel is hung in the work shed with care. When St. Nicholas comes, well, I just won’t be there. Nor will Ellie, my wife, who by mid- December is already winter-weary. Have I mentioned our three almost-grown offspring? They won’t be there, either. The White Christmas of which we all dream is the white that we so fondly remember from the sugar sand beaches of Anguilla, down in the Caribbean. For that is exactly where we’ll be over the Christmas/New Year holiday. Furthermore, we’re all looking forward to a present free Christmas. You heard me. No Christmas presents! For the second year in a row, we are happily swapping center-city shopping—with its canned Christmas carols, its street corner ding-a-ling Santas, its life-threatening escalators and all those green/red/green-again traffic lights (and still we don’t budge)— for a tropical sunrise by our utterly beautiful pool. Or perhaps a pre-breakfast snorkeling expedition to watch the lobster lolling in the deep just off our private beach. Our 20-year-old pre-law genius puts it this way: “Dad definitely does not need another Hermes necktie, Mom does not need another silk scarf and no one in this house needs another cashmere anything.” Miss 18 and Worldly Wise says, “Christmas on a beach and under a palm tree? Heaven!” Last and anything but least, our 16-year-old Wimbledon hopeful says Christmas afternoon men’s doubles tennis is, like, “Crazy.” How my family came to opt out of that most traditional of American holidays—Christmas complete with jingle bells and holly wreaths, with fruit cake and office parties and retail hysteria—is a tale worth telling. And even more worth hearing. Actually, the lion’s share of credit goes to my brother-in-law, Harvey, my wife’s brother, father of a lissome 15-year-old daughter and a bruiser of an 18-year-old all-A’s fullback who is currently weighing bids from half a dozen ivy-covered colleges. Harvey and my sister-in-law, Liz, live in Chicago, where winter is nothing to joke about. Two years ago Harvey packed his nearest and dearest off to the pint-size Caribbean island of Anguilla for the Christmas/New Year holidays. His enthusiasm for that experiment knew no bounds. “And we all loved it,” he crowed on the phone. “Next year you and Ellie and the kids are coming too.” I was not an immediate pushover. “I don’t know…two weeks of hotel living…I’m not so sure.” “But it’s not hotel living. We leased a villa! I’m e-mailing you pictures. Just take a look.”

And within minutes pictures, as if lifted from Architectural Digest, filled my laptop screen. What was not to love? Sea Villa overlooking Long Bay. A white stucco house sequestered by palm trees. A sparkling infinity pool bordered by white chaises heaped with brilliant blue pillows. Our very own private beach. The interior views were no less seductive. An acre of bed in the master bedroom with a white marble, sky-lit bathroom that was bigger than most peoples’ living rooms. Arching over all was the bluest of skies, dipping down to join an even bluer sea. “And the beauty of it is, a staff of three comes with the house. No cooking, no cleaning, breakfast in bed or by the pool or wherever you choose. Doug, this is one deal you can’t pass up. Next year,” he vowed. “We’ll all go.” It’s true I had to do a little strong-arming when I first broached the idea. From the kids came the usual protests: ski trips, Broadway tickets, parties of all kinds. But I held my ground. “Your cousins loved it,” I said. “We’re going to try it. How many more all-together family Christmases do we have?”

To my astonishment, Ellie put up no resistance at all. “We should give it a try,” she said—a tribute, I suspected, more to her brother’s judgment than to mine. “But what about the cost?” “Actually, we’ll save money,” I told her. “No Christmas presents.” And so it was. To call last year’s Christmas/New Year holiday a success is the understatement of the century. This year will be even better because we know just what to expect. Sea Villa sits on its own three acres of landscaped turf. When I close my eyes I see bougainvillea, palm trees, blue-blue sky and a luminous slice of Caribbean sea in the midst of which sits 7,000 square feet of unabashed luxury. Ellie and I have one master suite, Harvey and my sister-in-law have the other master suite. The cousins will be sharing the other four bedrooms, each with a palatial bath. It is not, to put it mildly, boot-camp living. Our days will be spent in sinful bliss.

We’ll certainly be snorkeling every day, and if we’re lucky, we’ll dine at night on the lobsters we spear that very afternoon. We’ll have plenty of killer-family tennis. Sea Villa comes with all privileges on the adjacent 18-holf golf course, designed by Australia’s great White Shark, Greg Norman. Which translates into a round or two of killer-family golf. Last year we celebrated Christmas at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, where we were welcomed like long-lost friends. It was in a mood of celebratory joy that we joined the church choir, sending our Hark the Herald Angels Sing floating through the open windows to drift out across the incredibly blue waters. As of now, it’s yet to be decided whether we will all go out for Christmas dinner—a tempting option since Anguilla is blessed with some truly wonderful owner/chef restaurants. Last year we celebrated Christmas at Veya Restaurant, a very special gem, hidden in a tropical forest.

The food and the service matched the best of anyplace we’d ever dined and the outdoor, candlelit ambiance struck exactly the right note of family holiday celebration. This year, who knows? There’s an undercurrent building for Christmas dinner at home, meaning on the terrace at Sea Villa, where the staff will spoil us outrageously and we can top off the evening with a midnight swim. We’ll see. If you’re wondering, for the most part we stuck to our iron rule of no Christmas presents. But if truth be told, some (whose names I won’t mention) escaped and found their way, like bloodhounds on the scent, to one of the island’s several ZaZaa boutiques. It specializes in island jewelry, beachwear, evening what-have-you’s and the female consensus in our household was that it was well worth the price of the excursion. Last year we met several American families who have made Anguilla their new home base. That’s not for us, at least not yet. For the moment, with school tuitions stretching off beyond the far horizon, we’re content with our holiday pilgrimage. It’s the best White Christmas that Irving Berlin never dreamt of—the white, white sands of Sea Villa and a family holiday that tops even the finest of partridges in the finest of pear trees, on-island or off.

House Money

The Sands opens its first U.S. hotel outside Las Vegas… right in New Jersey’s backyard

If you build it, they will come. From the moment Las Vegas Sands Corp. began mapping out plans for a casino resort on the 1800-acre site of the old Bethlehem Steel plant in Pennsylvania, this was the strategy for attracting residents of Northern and Central New Jersey. Initially, the Sands had to market to New Jerseyans with the gaming-industry version of one hand tied behind its back. When the property first opened its doors in the spring of 2009, it offered no table games and the 302-room hotel was still on the drawing board. The license for table games came through that winter, at which point the company began constructing the hotel. It was completed this past spring— on budget and on time, a rarity in this business. With the 1996 demolition of the venerable Sands in Las Vegas, the Bethlehem operation is currently the only one in the U.S. that bears the Sands name. Walking into the Sands Bethlehem Casino Resort, you know you’re not in Vegas anymore. Amidst all the noise, light and energy, the casino manages to project a more relaxed, down-to-earth feel. According to Las Vegas Sands President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Leven, that was the plan from Day One. “We didn’t want to bring Las Vegas to the Lehigh Valley,” he explains. “No one’s betting $25,000 a hand here. We wanted something smaller and friendlier. The casino isn’t glitzy. It’s welcoming and comfortable. And the restaurants cover a wide range of price points.” Those restaurants are an important part of the draw. They include a traditional Irish pub, an outpost of New York’s Carnegie Deli, the requisite buffet, and three Emeril Lagasse creations—Emeril’s Chop House, Emeril’s Italian Table and BAM, aka Burgers and More by Emeril. For nourishment on a budget, a food court offers everything from South Philly cheese steaks to pizza to pan-Asian fare, as well as some healthier choices. The next big thing for the Sands is a shopping mall that is slated to contain more than 30 retailers. It will be accessible directly from the casino floor. “Like other Sands properties, this is an integrated destination resort,” says Leven. “We’ll offer a lot of variety at this facility. There will be more than enough for non-players to do, but it will never be overwhelming. This is a nice town and we’ve built a nice place.” The rooms in the new hotel are terrific. Comfortable and understated, yet well-appointed, they are testament to the high precision with which casino people are able to match amenities with their target audience. Plenty of luxurious touches, but nothing over-the-top. The smallest room measures 400 square feet. All have 42-inch HD flat-screens, glass-enclosed showers and free in-room wireless access, and include a continental breakfast on the house. So who’s filling those rooms? When the property first opened, a little more than a third of the folks making the trek to Bethlehem were from North and Central New Jersey. Once table games were added, that number started climbing steadily—as did the number of players coming from New York City on a seemingly unbroken stream of back-and-forth buses. Not to say the slots aren’t active. On the contrary, the Sands took in $1 million more in July of 2011 than in July of 2010 from slot-machine play. Pulling New Jerseyans west from their bedroom communities is no mean feat. So far, so good on that account. Keeping them coming will be a constant challenge. There is competition from the south in Atlantic City— although it’s an additional hour’s drive—and, of course, the Big Apple beckons to the east. Long-term, it means offering more improvements and attractions to keep consumers and conventioneers coming. Of course, that’s always been part of the game plan. As Leven likes to say, “The status quo is a prescription for failure.”

Let’s Go 60

Dress like a tourist. Eat like a local. The Ultimate Insider’s Jersey Shore Dining Guide.

Have you ever driven past one of those mysterious local eateries along the New Jersey coast and wondered aloud, “You think that place is any good?” Well, wonder no more. We have removed the guesswork and narrowed the search. Presented here, for the very first time anywhere (that we known of anyway), is the bona fide dining guide to those neighborhood joints between Sandy Hook and Pt. Pleasant that locals swear by. Sure, you could peck away on the Internet and read all those planted reviews. Save yourself the trouble. The 60 “Shore Things” on this list are the real deal, with raves from real customers—trust us. Expect plenty of atmosphere, not too much ambiance. A few accept reservations, but most do not. Bon Appétit. EDGE

Tee Party

A glamorous golf getaway is closer than you think.

As a rule, it’s wise to steer clear of playing 18 holes with any golf course owner who tells you one of two things: 1) His handicap is higher than the national debt; 2) He rarely gets in a round at the course he owns. Why is it prudent to avoid such a fate? Chances are, when you walk off the 18th green and settle up, your wallet will be noticeably lighter and you’ll feel like you just spent four hours in an overgrown cow pasture. That being said, Ken Wang isn’t your normal golf course owner. And Pound Ridge Golf Club in Westchester County is hardly your normal course. “It has a sublime rhythm,” says Wang, a married father of three sons, MIT grad and brother of famed fashion designer Vera Wang. “You remember every hole individually. The course has a certain harmony and serenity.” “May and June are beautiful here,” adds Todd Leavenworth, the general manager at Pound Ridge GC, “but you can’t beat the fall. That’s the best time of year for the course.” When Pound Ridge is green and lush, it’s a sight to behold. Designed by the legendary Pete Dye, the course is about 90 minutes away from Central New Jersey. It’s distinguished by unique rock formations and breathtaking views, including several of the Long Island Sound. In typical Dye fashion, there is an exquisite logic to the course, a quality that appeals to the mathematician in Wang. “It’s hard to pinpoint my favorite holes,” he says. “I love number 7, number 10 and number 11. They are gorgeous.” Leavenworth gushes about the par-3 15th hole known as Headstone. “It’s spectacular,” he says. “There is white marble behind the green that slopes at about a 20-degree pitch. You can actually hit to the marble and have the ball roll back toward the hole.” One feature of Pound Ridge GC that golfers of all levels love is the number of tees per hole—a staple of any course designed by Dye. There are at least five tees on every hole, and some have six. “Pete is sensitive to the fact that all golfers don’t play at the same level,” says Wang. “When you play Pound Ridge from the correct tees, it’s a very enjoyable experience. The course is unusually fair to women.” There’s a good reason for that—Dye’s wife, Alice. The winner of nine Indiana Women’s Golf Association Amateur Championships, she has her husband’s ear every time he starts work on a new course. “Pound Ridge was a family affair,” says Wang. “Alice gets extremely involved whenever Pete is designing a course. She makes him more in touch with how women play the game.” “This is a really fun course for women,” he adds. “Probably more so than any other course I know.” Dye also puts a premium on exactitude. To score well at Pound Ridge GC, you have to hit the ball straight and the correct yardage. “The first time I played Pound Ridge, I felt like I had stepped into a math problem,” Wang recalls. “There’s an elegance to the course and artistry to the environment.” That’s a good way to describe the area surrounding Pound Ridge, as well. The closest neighboring towns are Bedford in New York and Greenwich and New Canaan in Connecticut. Close enough for a day trip, the surrounding area also offers enough to build a romantic weekend or ladies overnight around a round or two of golf. There are great restaurants, charming inns, lots of antique stores and all manner of shopping. Soon, says Wang, golfers at Pound Ridge GC won’t have to leave the course for a good meal. He has been working with architects on building a clubhouse. “It’s a funny project,” he says. “We’re talking about a ‘destination course’ in a residential area. We get local members and people flying in from London and Japan. We have several audiences to please.” With the current trend in clubhouse construction trending toward downsizing, Wang has shed his notions of what a traditional design looks like. Fortunately, he has a sister who knows a little bit about style. “Vera is pretty hip,” Wang says. “I defer to the higher power. She reminds me that the world isn’t filled with wood-panelled walls.” There’s always a chance that visitors to Pound Ridge GC will bump into Vera. According to Ken, she plays there severaltimes a year. “Vera is a pretty good player,” he says. “I’m probably better on the first ball, but she likes to throw down a second sometimes. She’s usually better on that one.” Ken’s sister isn’t the only celebrity who frequents the Pound Ridge area. Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Mike Myers are among those who claim residency in and around the town. Gere also owns a cozy place there, the Bedford Post Inn (above). While Wang prefers to stay out of the spotlight, he can’t deny the legacy he has created at Pound Ridge GC. “I didn’t use to think of it in those terms,” he says. “I started playing golf as a kid. The idea to buy the Pound Ridge property came after my father built a house in town in 1980. When we decided to turn the course into 18 holes, it took nine years to get all the approvals. Now we have a glamorous golf course that is very sensitive to the environment. It’s unlike any other course in the area. It’s nice to know that you’ve built something that will be around for a long while.” EDGE

Editor’s Note: Mike Kennedy is EDGE’s Business Editor. Born and raised in Ridgewood, he is the best golfer on the magazine staff, which is how he pulled this assignment. Mike writes often about the business of sports, and has also authored several children’s books.

Silk City

built on sand doth crumble, but the palace built on silk endures.’

—14th Century Chinese Proverb

 Silk, the fabric of kings and emperors—of nobility, popes and czars—has always signified wealth, prestige and luxury. Always? Probably, that is if you agree that a commodity cherished since 5000 B.C. merits such a term of longevity. Pharaohs dating back at least that far have been disentombed, their royal cadavers worshipfully swathed in silk. In ancient Rome, the wearing of silk was forbidden the ordinary citizen. Only members of the imperial family could appear in public wearing it. In Europe, by the 15th century, the French city of Lyon was calling itself the Silk Capital of the World. How justified was that claim? Well, when that bit of braggadocio first surfaced, it’s more than possible that China, Korea, India and who knows what other kingdoms might well have challenged Lyon for the title. But today, in the rarefied world of haute couture, Lyon with its silken boast, is right on the money. A city of half a million, Lyon is situated between two rivers: the fast-flowing Rhone and the gently flowing Soane, both passing the city, southbound to the Mediterranean. Of its long and proud history, suffice it to say that it once was the capital of Gaul and often visited by more than one Emperor. In the last two or three years, the traboules of Lyon, those 18th-century covered passageways that crisscross the silk workers’ district, have seen a virtual stampede of designers and couturiers. They fly in from Milan, New York, Tokyo and all points in between. Their names read like a celestial roll call in the paradise of high fashion. Dior, Lanvin, Chanel, Versace, Vera Wang. They come intent on securing exclusivity, or the nearest thing thereto, on the exquisite fabrics that spill forth from the looms of Lyon. Silk, which never ever was out, is now more than ever in. From the silk-wrapped heels of shoes by Dries van Noten to the extravagant ruffles of Lanvin’s evening wear, the word is SILK. Contradicting everything that fashion pundits know about trend, style and fad, silk retains its hold on elegance even while it also successfully teams up with jeans, beach wear and the most casual of the casual. Not possible! Yet true. Lyon owes much of its silky prestige to François I, the first Renaissance king to grace the French throne. A major patron of the arts and a great admirer of Italian style and elegance, he was determined to see France surpass Italy in all artistic endeavors. To that end he persuaded the great Leonardo da Vinci to quit his native Tuscany and come to live in France. Leonardo packed up bag and baggage, tucking into his luggage his favorite opus, “La Gioconda” (aka Mona Lisa). After he died in 1519, cradled in the arms of a weeping King François, that masterpiece became French property. Today it hangs in the Louvre in Paris where, as a touristic attraction, it ranks second only to the Eiffel Tower. Apart from luring Leonardo and his Mona Lisa to France, Francois I also determined that the weavers of Lyon, specialists in the secrets of silk-making, should be elevated to the front ranks of French commerce. To accomplish his objective he opened the royal purse strings to attract Europe’s finest weavers. Before his reign ended in 1547, Lyon was acknowledged as the primary source for the finest silks the world had ever seen. For the next 300 years, the weavers of Lyon thrived, lodged in high-ceilinged buildings, designed to accommodate their huge hand-operated looms. Today the looms of Lyon are high-tech marvels, controlled by computers. But in the section known as Croix Rouge, a handful of the ancient looms remain. To the delight of tourists, the weavers perform their ancient rites, still turning out priceless yardage. Few who watch the process escape a visit to the adjoining gift shops, all amply stocked with scarves, shawls, ties, skirts, shirts, purses, bedding, all of course of priceless silk. “I use silk in every one of my collections,” says Andrew Gn, the Singapore-born, Paris-based designer whose highfashion creations are carried by Bergdorf Goodman. “Silk drapes much better than anything else…and the contact of silk with skin is irreplaceable.” In his forthcoming Spring/Summer 2011 collection, Gn uses a magnificent triple-silk crepe, specially woven for his atelier. As he puts it, “Silk translates colors much better; it makes them extremely rich.” His clientele consists in large part of individuals seeking one of- a-kind creations which can be worn in the sure knowledge that her choice will not be replicated. (It’s an assurance that doesn’t come at bargain prices!) Monsieur Gn’s clientele, which includes a healthy smattering of royalty and easily-recognized names from the world of diplomats and heads of state, professes fierce loyalty to their designer of choice. Simply put, “He’s a genius,” was the gratuitous observation by an obviously satisfied client. For Andre Claude Canova, a passion for the silks of Lyon began more than a quarter of a century ago. Today he designs his own collection, which includes the most exquisite silk scarves—some of which encompass as many as 15 or 20 different colors, an achievement unequalled by any other designer. His studio at 26 Quai St.Vincent in the heart of Lyon is an old Carthusian residence, its entrance a handsome horseshoe-shaped Renaissance staircase. Favored buyers are received in its superbly furnished salons, the walls lined with…what else? Pure silk. The ambience is unmistakably Old World but the scarves, vests, pillows and jackets are on the very cutting edge. His own special design of scarf suspenders created a minor tsunami in the world of fashion when they first appeared. Supermodel Jerry Hall was so enchanted with them that she ordered 20 pairs. Princess Caroline of Monaco is frequently photographed in them and when the G-7 convened in Lyon, Bill and Hillary were delighted to be presented with a selection of Canova scarf-suspenders. An undoubted original, Andre Claude-Canova, when asked the source of his creative inspirations, replied, “Travel, history, nature.” He went on, “It can be a sunset in Tuscany, the masks of the Maasai, the silky pearl shades of a Maharajah’s robes, or the jewels of the Taj Mahal…” But the one constant in all of his creations is silk, woven in an unmatched panoply of colors. The distinction of being the oldest silk factory in Lyon belongs to Prelle et Cie, which has been in continuous operation since 1752 and is owned today by direct descendents of its founders. Apart from its stylish contemporary output of scarves, ties, shawls and other pieces, Prelle has proven invaluable in the rarefied world of authentic restoration of palaces and castles, historical houses and public places. It counts among its restorative masterpieces the authentic recreation of the silk brocades used in the Royal Bedchamber of the Sun King, Louis XIV, at Versailles, the draperies and upholstered pieces at Biltmore in North Carolina and at Ash Lawn, the ancestral home in Virginia of James Monroe. Such historical replication of two- and three-hundred-yearold fabrics is possible thanks in part to the exquisite workmanship of the Prelle artisans, and in part to the company’s scrupulously maintained archives, which date back four centuries.Patterns, hand-drawn in quill and ink, with color samples provided in watercolor paints—their intricate designs sketched in painstaking detail and selected for use in palaces, stately homes, public halls—were recorded and filed. Thus modern-day restorers are able to see exactly what designs and what colors were used in specific venues centuries past. No other silk weaving establishment anywhere in the world can claim as much. In addition to its French premises, Prelle also maintains a showroom in New York at 43 E. 10th Street. Apart from its gilded salons and showrooms frequented by the world’s top designers, Lyon has more than its fair share of stylish boutiques. All along the Rue de la Republique (incidentally, the longest pedestrian street in France), the very latest trends are fetchingly displayed in shop windows. Come early December, Lyon celebrates the Festival of Lights. For one glorious week the town is lighted throughout the night. Music seems to pour from every doorway; mimes, jugglers and troupes of musicians are everywhere. It’s as if the whole city was tripping out on some incredible potion. The restaurants—1,000 of them at last count—do a landslide business, for gastronomy in Lyon is a source of huge civic pride. It’s not for nothing that Lyon is often called the “best-fed” city in France. When I repeated the epitaph to a Lyonnais, he quickly put me straight: “The best-fed city not in France, but in Europe!” So much for local modesty. Then again, it’s no mere coincidence that Paul Bocuse, the high priest of French gastronomy, chooses to live in Lyon, where he presides over two restaurants. A world famous chef who actually cooks? It sounds ordinary enough, but in the tippy-top layers of prize-winning, globally-acclaimed chefs, it’s rare enough to elicit expressions of wonder from fellow chefs. A final word of advice. Don’t journey to the city in search of bargains. It’s doubtful that Lyon even knows the meaning of the word. But if it’s quality you seek, if it’s the full value of every Euro spent, then quite definitely, Lyon may be just the city for you.

EDGE Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Erick Horlin

Me and My Elephant

Me and My Elephant

As a child I had no interest in Nancy Drew, or Jo of Little Women. Pippi Longstocking had yet to appear, but even had she arrived a few decades sooner, I’m sure I would have ignored her as well. For me, the very center of my imaginary world was Toomai the Elephant Boy. Toomai of the Elephants was just one of Rudyard Kipling’s marvelous contributions to childhood. Along with millions of other children in any of 70 languages, I was hooked by the Just So Stories in general, by Toomai in particular. Toomai who bullied his elephant. Who shouted commands and stamped his bare foot when his elephant dared not to obey him on the instant. Atop his elephant, Toomai rode fearlessly through the jungles of India. Together, child and beast were impervious to all authority of his elders. Toomai and his elephant. The stuff of dreams! So it was that when I first read about Patara Farm in Thailand—and its program entitled “Own an Elephant for a Day”—I knew I had no choice. Patara Farm is located about an hour’s jeep ride outside of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. The owner of the farm and the inspiration for the program is a soft-spoken, 37-year-old conservationist, named Theerapat Trungprakan. (“Please, just call me Pat.”) My day of elephant ownership begins in the cool of the morning. Along with seven other would-be elephant owners (groups are limited to eight), I arrive at the 100-acre property carved out of lush woodlands and tropical verdure. Patara is home for Pat, his wife, Dow, three very young sons and 28 elephants. It’s a huge undertaking. To help him, Pat has a staff of 18 local boys, one of whom leads us from the road where our jeeps were parked, along an improvised narrow boardwalk, across a stretch of marsh to a thatched shelter, where Pat greets us. Every inch the attentive host, Pat ushers us to seats on hand-hewn benches. As we help ourselves to fruits and juices, he introduces himself and his life’s work, beginning by sketching for us the story of how elephants were domesticated 2,500 years ago in India, where they were first captured in the wild, tamed and trained. Generation after generation of these massive mammals were bred for docility, agility and robust health. The art—and what an art it is!—of training an elephant for a lifetime of productive work was handed down, father-to-son, and about 500 years ago was passed from India to Thailand. Pat tosses in a few elephant facts: An elephant has a life span of 60 to 70 years. Female elephants often give birth right up through the age of 50. A newborn weighs in at about 260 pounds, delivered after 22 months of gestation. A full-grown elephant can weigh as much as 11,000 pounds and will stand as high as 10 feet at the shoulder. Elephants are herbivores, who every day pack away 350 to 400 pounds of plant material. Sugar cane and bananas rank high on their list of Favorite Foods. As we listen, we gaze out into the surrounding woodlands, where elephants stroll by at their leisure, thoughtfully munching untidy mouthfuls of shrubbery. The warm, moist air carries a strong animal musk. It smells marvelous. It bespeaks nature unbounded. Nature in the raw; somehow it conveys an elemental certainty. It’s as if, however briefly, we are transported beyond the trivia, the excess and, yes, the absurdity of human events into a realm of uncorrupted truth. To call Pat impassioned on the subject of elephants is a massive understatement. His understanding of these extraordinary animals is exceeded only by the love and respect he bears them. He tells us that there was a time when elephants roamed vast areas of Asia and Africa— before man made fire, before man stood upright, before farmers farmed. Their numbers were legion. Today, it is estimated that in the whole world there are probably no more than 52,000 left in the wild. Every passing year sees their numbers decline. Where once they were used as beasts of burden, as transport, as invaluable aids in forestry, in heavy labor of every kind, today they are used only in ceremonial pageants and in a few instances as tourist attractions. “In 20 years, maybe less, elephants could become extinct. Except in a zoo, they will cease to exist.” Pat pauses, then resumes. “Extinction,” he tells us, “is forever.” He turns and we read those very words on the back of his bright red Tshirt. Each of us is paired up with an elephant. Ours for the day. I’m introduced to Nui, a 14-year old female. Tethered by one massive leg she stands in the shade of a giant mango tree. I approach with delight generously mixed with total ignorance. Meet a dog, hold out your open palm. Meet a horse, speak softly, move slowly, stroke the neck and muzzle. But meet an elephant? Toomai, help me! I reach up and run my hand over the crinkly skin. Surprise! It’s covered with short, black, bristly hairs that are all but invisible unless you’re standing very close. She’s so big that even on tiptoe I can hardly reach higher than her eyes. By way of introduction I feed her about 20 pounds of corn cobs and sugarcane stalks provided by Tang, one of Pat’s helpers. It’s a tricky business, because each offering has to be poked directly into her mouth, which is obstructed by her trunk which curls and uncurls in unpredictable ways. “Good Nui,” I tell her, “good girl,” forgetting that though English is my language, her language is Thai. As the sun climbs toward the zenith of noon, Pat shows us how to command our elephants to lie down in order to sweep their backs free of dirt, leaves and twigs with a fistful of palm fronds. Once tidied up, I offer Nui the palm fronds, which she consumes in a single messy mouthful. Bath time! The approved technique by which one moves one’s elephant out from under a mango tree down to the river some 200 yards away consists of taking a firm grip on the edge of one ear and telling her “My-my-my-my,” the Thai word for “Come.” Slowly but surely, we progress to the river’s edge. There I release my hold, step aside and Nui wades in to join the other seven elephants. It’s playtime. With much swooshing and spraying, much splashing and squirting, all the elephants—along with their owners-for-the day—have a watery free-for-all. Pat and his helpers provide us with buckets and scrub brushes; when our charges lie down, we are shown how to baste them and scrub them, an exercise which Nui and I enjoy in equal measure. At last, my Toomai moment arrives! It’s time to climb on board. Pat demonstrates four different ways of handling it. As I recall, Toomai would say the word and his elephant would wrap his trunk around him and lift him onto his head. But that method is not included in the four styles we are shown. I choose what appears to be the easiest and in so doing, I find there is no “easy” (much less “easiest”). Still, I make it onto Nui’s head by standing on her curled front leg and hauling myself up by shamelessly using her ear as a handhold. Once seated, Toomai-like, I tuck my bare feet one foot behind each ear, and speak the magic words that Nui clearly understands. It’s “Sai” for left and “Kwa” for right. We fall into parade formation and, with Pat in the lead, we make our way, slowly and stately, through a mile or so of woodlands from which we emerge in a glen into which tumbles a sparkling waterfall—the perfect antidote for Thailand’s torrid temperatures. A delectable picnic lunch of unidentifiable Thai dishes has been laid out for us atop layers of banana leaves. While we set to, our elephants gambol in the water, shooting trunksful of water at each other, not caring one whit if they soak their owners in the process. It’s late afternoon by the time we make our way back to Patara Farm. I’m soaked, exhausted, exhilarated. Nui and I have bonded. She kneels down so I can slither off her and in farewell I stroke her trunk, whispering endearments. “Lah gorn, Nui” I tell her. Remembering my Kipling, I know full well that Nui will never forget me. It goes without saying that I will never forget Nui. We bid Pat farewell. Our group heads for the jeeps and I think to myself, Well, Toomai, at long last, I made it! EDGE  

Editor’s Note: Linda Stewart is a syndicated travel writer whose stories appear in national magazines and newspapers. For more information on Patara Elephant Farm, log onto pataraelephantfarm.rom or telephone 081.992.2551.



Lucky in Love

Okay, let’s be blunt for a moment. When you think “New Jersey Dream Wedding,” that dream doesn’t really end with a two-hour jaunt down the Garden State Parkway. A week on the West Coast? That’s more like it. Ten days in Tokyo? Absolutely. A fortnight in France? Now you’re talking! Alas, the sad fact is that New Jersey couples don’t always have the days to spare for such glittering post-nup adventures. Which is why staying in-state might just be the brightest option of all. It all comes down to picking your spot. Consider if you will that, for thousands of couples from all over the world, Atlantic City is the honeymoon destination.

You know that surge of excitement you feel when you hit the AC Expressway? Imagine adding that to the glow of an impending wedding night. “What could be more romantic than a hotel suite with an ocean view, four miles of beautiful beaches and Boardwalk to stroll on, superior dining choices, luxurious spas and great entertainment?” asks Jeff Vasser. Okay, Mr. Vasser gets paid to plug AC. He’s President of the Convention and Visitors Authority. But the man’s got a point. Combine the indulgent pampering available to honeymooners in this town that’s “Always Turned On” with the opulent casino gambling a mere elevator-ride away, and you’ve got the makings of a winning hand. And wouldn’t you know it? Atlantic City’s top hotels are all over this honeymoon thing.

At the Trump Taj Mahal, for instance, newlyweds can choose between Romantic and Risqué. Each includes an ocean view suite in the gorgeous new Chairman Tower, a bottle of bubbly and, depending on which option they have selected, either a Romance or Risqué Intimacy Kit (contents unknown). “We created these packages to offer our guests an experience they won’t soon forget,” says Trump’s Paula Mauk, who confirms that New Je  rsey honeymooners can indeed “get away without going far away.”

Honeymooners at the Borgata tend to gravitate toward the Spa Toccare package. It includes his & her Deep Tissue or Healing Stone Massage and Wild Lime Scalp Treatment, then a Classic Manicure and Plush Pedicure for the bride, and a Signature Shave and Express Pedicure for the groom. All those upper case letters come at a price, of course, but why pinch pennies when you can experience the ultimate in marital decompression? Next door at The Water Club—home of the exquisite topfloor, two-story Immersion pool and spa—there is a couples package on the menu that may just outdo them all. Billed as a traditional retreat to luxury, it includes a Javanese Lulur bath and body ritual that transports lovebirds back to a simpler time (like the 17th century). A side-by-side Balinese massage with jasmine frangipani oils is followed up by exfoliation with tumeric, flowers and fresh yogurt before soaking in a fragrant, floral bath, and then finishing up with an application of jasmine frangipani lotion. The bath ritual is performed in a Couples Suite with unbelievable views. Also included are a poolside manicure and pedicure, and the sublime Immersion lunch, courtesy of Chef Geoffrey Zakarian. The Water Club does not offer gaming, however the concourse connecting it to The Borgata’s casino features a gauntlet of high-end retail establishments where couples can blow their wedding checks long before they reach the tables. For newlyweds looking to hang onto their dough a bit longer, there is The Chelsea, a gambling-free boutique hotel unaffiliated with its neighbors, the Hilton and Tropicana.

There are several packages popular with honeymooners checking into The Chelsea. The details and differences are all explained on the hotel’s web site, but the real story here is the wedding bed and the amazing rooms in the Luxe Tower. Think Egyptian cotton sheets, fluffy white duvet, and an endless supply of pillows. Think awe-inspiring views from a deck and sunroom featuring floor-to-ceiling windows. And while you’re at it, think about shelling out a couple of extra bills for one of the penthouse suites (it’s worth every penny). Finally, all of the Luxe Tower rooms at The Chelsea come with lots of whimsical touches to remind guests how very far away they are from the rest of us poor devils…even though they haven’t left the state.

Where In the World..

Ecotourism is all the rage. Even in a gray economy, most Americans say they would pay a premium to travel green. Saying and doing, however, can be two very different things.

With America’s green revolution in full swing, being a savvy traveler now means more than merely ferreting out five-star resorts and
three-star prices. For the globally conscious adventurer, the ideal vacation includes an environmentally sustainable destination and, even better, a rental car that runs on renewable fuels. A truly green traveler will encounter the pollution created by the round-trip flight by donating to solar power.

Limiting your planetary impact is a noble goal and worthy challenge. But just how realistic are these goals?

Good intentions aside, defining what constitutes a sustainable destination—and finding the right lodging or tour operator—can be daunting, especially for newcomers to ecotourism. The first hurdle is sorting out the legitimately environmentally conscious travel purveyors from the so-called “greenwashers,” or those companies promoting green credentials to attract customers, but which engage in little or no environmental protection. Fortunately, there are several information sources devoted to socially and environmentally sustainable travel, available online or in bookstores. Trip planners can use these and other resources to come up with a shortlist of potential resorts, hotels, or tour operators.

“These kinds of resources have made environmentally and socially responsible travel easier than people think,” says Martha Honey, President of the Center For Responsible Travel, a Washington, DC nonprofit. “While we’re not quite to the point of one-stop shopping, there is a wealth of information and it’s pretty accessible.”

When vetting hotels, guesthouses, or resorts, suggests Ronald Sanabria, Director of Sustainable Tourism for the Rainforest Alliance, check to see whether they have received environmental certification certificates from third-party organizations.

While there is no overarching international certifying agency, a growing number of countries, U.S. states, and international organizations review the environmental practices of resorts or operators and award certificates. Australia-based Green Globe 21—one of the best known—has certified over 700 properties and organizations worldwide. In searching for lodging in the U.S., look for a stamp from Energy Star, an EPA program that helps hotels and other companies reduce energy use. Many environmentally progressive countries—including Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Kenya— have strong certification programs. Here in America, about 25 state programs also offer certification.

Because resorts or tour operators with a strong environmental commitment are not always certified, it certainly doesn’t hurt to contact intriguing properties directly and inquire about their environmental policies. Try to determine in what ways they contribute to the sustainability of the surrounding community. Start with a few basic questions: How do you reduce waste? How do you conserve water usage? What chemicals do hotel staff use for cleaning or gardening? Do they hire local workers and use local products in the kitchen?

“The answers to these questions should give travelers a sense of the property’s commitment to sustainability,” Honey says. Offering guests the option of passing on towel or sheet changes is now considered the basic minimum environmental policy for hotels. More serious properties have gone further by switching to alternative energy sources or using organic produce in the kitchen.

After finding a suitable green resort or tour operator, some take steps to counter the air pollution created by their transportation. This is the eco-travelers carbon footprint— the amount of carbon dioxide pollution each person is responsible for producing by flying jet-fueled airplanes, driving car rentals, or taking any means of transport using fossil fuels. To help counterbalance the potential environmental impact, a growing number of carbon trading companies calculate how many carbons travelers burn, then collect funds from them and invest them in renewable energy resources to offset the damage.

What’s that compute to on, say, a flight from Newark Airport to Aruba? Climatecare, a UK outfit that specializes in helping travelers and companies offset the carbon pollution they cause, calculates that a couple will burn 1.38 tons of carbon emissions on this trip. The company will then collect the $20.40 needed to create an equivalent amount of clean energy. They invest the funds in wind power, biomass, or other renewable energy projects, usually in the developing world.

Now, if you can find a rental car that runs on electricity, you’ve accomplished something…namely a guilt-free eco escape!

Editor’s Note: Gary Lee won the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism for his coverage of 9/11 in The Washington Post. Fluent in five languages, including Russian, Gary served as the Post’s Moscow Bureau Chief. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his articles about Gorbachev’s Russia.

Starting Points

    ( promotes sustainable tourism, offers a succinct definition of what ecotourism is about: responsible travel to nature areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of people. It also links to The Travel Green Guide, which includes tips, approved lodging, and tour operators.
  • THE RAINFOREST ALLIANCE has compiled a list of hundreds of environmentally responsible properties and operators worldwide. Log onto
  • National Geographic Traveler’s ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL. Many country guides published by Lonely Planet include a GreenDex, a quick reference index of sustainable accommodations, and other eco-tips.

Three For Money

These luxury resorts come with impeccable eco-credentials…

Kanantik Reef & Jungle Resort

Set amidst 300 acres of jungle along the southern coast of Belize, this property is a luxurious haven in a sweep of exotic flora and fauna. Guests are housed in 25 Mayan huts with thatched roofs and hardwood floors. A member of the International Ecotourism Society, Kanantik is unflinchingly respectful of the surrounding ecology. No chemical sprays are used on the grounds. A special ecologically sensitive septic system handles waste, and refuse from the kitchen is composted. Meals are made with local organic products. Be advised—there is no shopping or nightlife nearby. But with jaguar-watching in the adjacent Cockscomb Basin, canoeing in the nearby uncharted rivers, 1,300 feet of beach just out the door, and excursions to the ancient Mayan ruins at Xunantunich, who needs modern distractions? The room rate includes meals and some excursions.
877-759-8834 •


Open less than a year, this 62-room Napa Valley property has already become the gold standard for luxury eco-hotels. The spare, low-rise buildings are constructed from walnut laurel bay and other wood salvaged from surrounding Northern California. Solar panels provide much of the electricity used on site. An elaborate system of underwater wells and pumps are used to heat and cool the guestrooms. No
plastic is used on property in order to minimize waste. The environmentally au courant management has even forgone rugs, to cut back on allergens. Bardessono’s Zen-inspired design does allow for creature comforts, including flat-screen televisions, 300-count organic linens, deluxe bath products, a gourmet restaurant, in-room spa treatments, and just about every other perk you’d expect from a five-star destination.
707-204-6000 •


Closer to Home

Just this January, Starwood launched its Element brand right here in the Garden State. The Element
Ewing Hotel is “flawlessly and certifiably state-of-the-art green” according to the property’s opening-day publicity. What exactly does that mean? From the naturally lit lobby to the guest rooms (which feature low-flow fixtures and stylish recycling bins), there is
an impressive balance of energy efficiency and topflight hotel amenities. Eco-friendly materials are used throughout the hotel, right down to the paint and carpeting and the housekeeping staff is armed with an arsenal of green cleaning products. 609-671-0050 •


La Casitas Del Colca

At the end of a dusty road in the rustic Colca valley of southern Peru, this collection of 20 cabins enables guests to experience rich, raw
nature and first-class service all at once. The structures, constructed of local Laja stone and other natural materials, blend seamlessly
into the pristine natural surroundings. Strongly committed to the protection of southern Peru’s delicate ecosystem, the hotel grounds
include an organic garden that supplies the kitchen with most of its fruits and vegetables. Las Casitas del Colca also composts organic waste for the garden and sends wastewater to a treatment plant for purity. The vegetable garden on the grounds is also used to provide produce for the nearby Mission of Sister Antonia soup kitchen. Guests are encouraged to volunteer at the mission. The major draw of the area is the Colca Canyon, located a short drive from the hotel. The 10,725-foot deep gorge offers a front-row seat for some serious condor-watching. That number is correct—it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! The room rate includes all meals. 011-51-1-610-8300 •

Of Sacred Places

Far from the familiar—and a million miles away from life in the Garden State—intrepid travelers are discovering there’s a whole new meaning to ‘Living on a Prayer’

By Douglas MacPherson

We instinctively seek a paradisiacal and special place on earth…because we know in our inmost hearts that the earth was given to us in order that we might find meaning, order, truth and salvation in it.” So wrote Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who was a lifelong seeker of just such paradisiacal and special places. There are times when we deliberately journey to a “special place” in search of spiritual fulfillment. Humankind has been making such journeys since the dawn of time. We call them pilgrimages.

But then there are times when we come across places that have been invested with spiritual significance by people whose beliefs seem worlds apart from our own. Such times are rare and much to be valued, for none of us can know in what place and at what time in our lives we may be touched by a presence well beyond our understanding.


In the ancient Andean language of Quechua (spoken by the Incan people long before their subversion by Spanish conquistadores), Machu Pichu means Place of Peace and Power. Today, the rocky remains of what once was a thriving holy city draw scholars from all over the world. They come intent on broadening their archaeological knowledge of pre-Columbian life in the New World. The hillside ruins, located at an altitude of 9,000 feet in the Vilabamba range of the Andes, overlook the Urubamba River. This dramatic site comprises Peru’s most visited tourist attraction. But to the descendants of the Incan peoples, whose forefathers constructed Machu Pichu, the gray granite rows speak with a powerful eloquence of a long-ago grandeur and puissance, when the Incan Kingdom embraced an area larger than the Roman Empire. So ingeniously was Machu Pichu constructed that even though some of the stones weigh more than 50 tons, it is not possible to insert the very thinnest of knife blades between one stone and another.

The ancients among the local Indian people repeat the legend as it was told to them: The sacred Intihuatana Stone, focal point of Machu Pichu, is recognized as the hitching post of the Sun. Twice a year, at the summer and winter equinoxes, it is poised on the tip of that sacred stone. It’s a moment that bespeaks the dependency of the people on the life-sustaining power of the sun. In the thin clear air of Machu Pichu, even the most indifferent of visitors is aware of a force that is as vital a presence as the ancient granite stones themselves.


In southern Honshu, in Japan’s Mie prefecture near the city of Ose can be found what many Japanese consider the most sacred place on earth. It is called the Ise Shrine. Its spiritual powers date back as far as 680 A.D., to the time of Emperor Temmu. This Shinto place of worship, meditation and healing stands amidst an ancient forest of Japanese cedar. Even the surrounding trees themselves are thought to be invested with a life-affirming force. The mystic powers, so reverently sought by visitors—be they Shinto or Christian, Buddhist or Confucian—are evenly divided between the Inner Shrine and the Outer Shrine. The Ise Shrine, beloved by millions of the faithful, embraces a belief rooted in wabi-sabi which holds that all things tangible must inevitably be impermanent. This conviction is dramatically reaffirmed every 20 years by the total dismantling of one of the sacred structures. Once dismantled it is ceremoniously rebuilt on an adjacent sacred piece of land in strict adherence to techniques and designs laid down many centuries ago. It is a powerful reminder of human mortality and the necessarily transient nature of life.


High in the snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Christo mountains, above Taos, is the Blue Lake, a natural wonder of inestimable beauty. It’s a sanctuary sacred to the Pueblo Indians. In 1906, Teddy Roosevelt decreed that the Blue Lake and its surrounding woodlands should be incorporated into the nation’s national park system. But the local Pueblo Indians took exception to TR’s ruling. The lake, they declared, was sacred—and had been recognized as such since long before white men ever set foot in the region. Furthermore, it was the dwelling place of Great Spirits. To open the area to park visitors would be a sacrilege. Theirs was a long and often seemingly hopeless battle.

On December 15, 1970, Richard Nixon, with the approval of Congress, restored Blue Lake and 48,000 surrounding acres to be henceforth and forever private Pueblo Indian property. Today, it can be visited only with permission of Pueblo authorities. On rare occasions outsiders may be invited to attend sacred rituals performed at Blue Lake. Those fortunate enough to have attended these rituals attest to the mystical powers of the lake.


Because the diminutive town of Ekuphakameni in the Natal province of South Africa is the burial place of Isaiah Shembe, it is venerated as a shrine by members of the Shembe faith. Shembe was a Zulu. In the Zulu language, Ekuphakameni means Place of Spiritual Uplift. It was in 1916 that Isaiah experienced divine revelation, which inspired him to found the Shembe Church. Today, Shembe is regarded as the largest independent, indigenous church in all of Africa and counts more than three million members, most of them Zulu. Shembe teaches peace, healing and a deep reverence for all living things, both plant and animal. At the beginning of every new year, 20,000 barefoot pilgrims, dressed in white robes, make a three-day pilgrimage along an 80-miles route to Ekuphakameni. Religious observances last a minimum of three days and consist largely of hymn singing and the performing of age-old dances. Unlike many African religious rites, the Shembe worshippers invite visitors to participate or, if they prefer, simply to observe. Everyone without exception is welcome and is accorded the high level of hospitality which is such a scrupulous principle of the Zulu people.


The Baha’i Hanging Gardens in Haifa constitute one of Israel’s most visited tourist attractions. They have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Gardens are dedicated to the 19th century founders of the Baha’I Faith and, as such, are revered as the spiritual center of that Faith. Yet people of any faith (or of no faith whatsoever) are welcome to visit all year round. Built in a series of terraces on the slopes of Mt. Carmel, they are generally conceded to be among the most spectacular gardens in the world. They attract garden-lovers, botanists, landscape designers and students of many disciplines.

The Baha’i, who are independent of both Christian and Judaic teachings, believe in a God who seeks to enlighten all people through his prophets or messengers, among them Moses, Abraham, Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Christ and Mohammed. They view all prophets to be of equal significance, though divinity is ascribed to none. The Baha’i hold that life is synonymous with the obligation to seek truth through the study of religion, science, the arts and public service. Baha’i Faith teaches the oneness of all people, undivided by race, language, or gender. The religion was born in 19th century Persia as monotheistic, eternal, without beginning or end. Its leaders have long suffered persecution at the hands of Islamic leaders, who hold the Baha’i to be apostates. Although the Baha’i Faith is well established in 247countries around the world, and its teachings have been translated into hundreds of languages, its primary center is in Haifa.


In Australia, the area best known to tourists as Ayers Rock has been considered sacred by the Aboriginal peoples of that country since the dawn of time. The rock is honeycombed with caves that are covered with Aboriginal paintings. Located in the center of Australia, southwest of Alice Springs, it was given the name of Ayers Rock by the first European explorers who knew nothing of its sacred connotations. Ayers Rock stands in the center of the Uluru-Kata Tjuata National Park, which covers 512 square miles. The rock itself is 1,141 feet high. A steep one-mile trail enables visitors to climb to the rock’s summit.

To those who hold Ayers Rock sacred it is known as Uluru. The beliefs that are ascribed to Uluru are integral to what is called The Dreaming—which holds that the spirits of human ancestors came to earth to create the land and all its features. Once their work was completed, those same spirits remained and changed from human form into stars, sunsets, rocks, rivers, shrubs, trees, stones and animals. As such they are ever-present. For Aboriginal believers, The Dreaming is never-ending, linking the past and the present, the people and the land; all that is sacred is in the land.

Knowledge of sacred sites is learned through initiation and the teaching of Aboriginal law. It is, by definition, not public knowledge. This is why the existence of many sites might not be shared with the wider world, lest they be violated. The Aboriginal owners of Uluru call themselves Anangu and ask visitors to do so, too.


One kilometer north of the River Boyne, in County Meath, one of Ireland’s most sacred sites can be found. Newgrange, historians theorize, was built about 3200 BC, during the Neolithic period. It predates Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Visitors today view a large circular mound faced by a stone retaining wall. A stone passageway penetrates into the interior of the mound, with numerous chambers opening off the main passageway. Its exact origins are shrouded in mystery. There is no consensus about the type of rites enacted within and around the mound, although all agree that they were of religious significance. The mound is aligned with the rising sun and its light floods the interior chamber on the winter solstice.

For reasons unknown, the entry into the mound was closed and sealed for many centuries and was only re-discovered in the 17th century. Allusions to the mound are found in Irish mythology and ancient folk tales. Despite the obscurity that surrounds the origins of Newgrange, it bears a striking resemblance to Neolithic sites found in Scotland, Wales and other part of western Europe. In the 1970’s, controversial reconstruction was undertaken that redefined the entryway into the interior. The authenticity of that reconstruction remains, to this day, a source of endless debate among historians. Yet archaeologist Colin Renfrew writes that Newgrange “is long unhesitatingly regarded by the prehistorian as the great national monument of Ireland.”


Once every 12 years, Hindus from all over India congregate in Allahabad, at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. They come to celebrate the Kumbh Mela Festival, which coincides with the alignment of Jupiter and the Moon. Hindu scripture teaches that, at this time, anyone bathing in the river waters will receive a blessing that can be passed down from one generation to another. Kumbh Mela translates roughly as fair pitcher; it is said that Allahabad (which is also known as Prayag) is one of four places in the country where drops of nectar once fell from the pitcher carried by Hindu gods.

During the 55 days that the festival lasts, countless millions journey to and from Allahabad to partake in the festivities. And countless is exactly the right word here; no one has a clue even how to tally the mass of humanity involved. One thing can be said with absolute certainty, however: Kumbh Mela is the largest gathering of religious pilgrims on the face of the earth.

Only Natural

In search of the ultimate Generation Z vacation

Can spring vacation be just around the corner? For families who embrace the idea of advanced planning, it most certainly is. In decades past, New Jerseyites typically targeted Florida, the Bahamas or the Caribbean. But with the startling growth of eco-tourism industry—and the development of top-of-the-line sustainable and responsible luxury resorts—there is now no reason not to consider a different kind of spring break.

Children today are growing up in a different world than their parents did. From an environmental perspective, it’s a world that past generations have done a remarkable job screwing up. Plant and animal species are being extinguished from the planet at an unprecedented rate and the job of reversing this biodiversity crash will soon fall upon our kids. What better way to foster an appreciation of the natural world than to combine it with an unforgettable family vacation?

Both sustainable tourism and responsible tourism are centered on “sustainable development,” which is shorthand for meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria establishes the minimum global standards for what qualifies as sustainable or “green” tourism practices, and there are a total of 23 criteria that lodging and tour operators must meet. They fall into four major categories:

  • Demonstrate effective sustainable management.
  • Maximize social and economic benefits to the local community and minimize negative impacts.
  • Maximize benefits to cultural heritage and minimize negative impact.
  • Maximize benefits to the environment and minimize negative impact.

The broader concept of ecotourism ties together the values of sustainable tourism, conservation, and nature-based tourism—and is roughly defined as “travel to natural places.” The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourim as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”

In order to experience and support true ecotourism practices, vacationing families must focus on the following objectives:

  • Minimize impact.
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
  • Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
  • Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.

Every year, the range and depth of ecotourism possibilities increases. There are destinations for older vacationers, singles and adrenaline junkies. Great options for families are out there, too. Safety and security are, obviously, of paramount concern and in this regard many families will opt for highly rated properties that offer a blend of traditional amenities along with natural-world experiences. Needless to say, these internationally recognized eco-resorts and lodges tend to be pricey. They are, however, excellent starting points for planning a truly unforgettable spring vacation. Among the best are…

Lapa Rios • Osa Peninsula • Costa Rica • 506–2735–5130

Tiny Costa Rica claims a full five percent of the planet’s biodiversity, and has developed a thriving ecotourism industry. In 2012, the country earned the #1 ranking in the Americas (and #5 in the world) on the Environmental Performance Index and has been cited by the United Nations Development Program for “attaining high human development and equality as well as environmental sustainability.” Located near Corcovado National Park, Lapa Rios is ranked among National Geographic’s Top 50 Ecolodges, Forbes Traveler’s Hotels with the Most Beautiful Views, and is one of the best hotels in the world according to both Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler. Lapa Rios has also been awarded the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Standard-Setters Award, as well as the 5 Leaf Award Certificate of Sustainable Tourism.

The property’s luxurious eco-resort rainforest bungalows feature views of the Pacific Ocean and wake-up calls from howler monkeys and the inescapable aroma of Costa Rican coffee. Coatamundis, sloths, bats, scarlet macaws, toucans, lizards, geckos, and crabs are regular sights around the resort, as well as the occasional puma, jaguar, ocelot, river otter, crocodile, sea turtle, dolphin, or whale. Family activities include bird watching, cooling off in waterfalls, a local medicine tour, hikes and nature walks along beaches and in the jungle, surfing, kayaking, horseback riding, zip lines, dolphin-spotting tours, and excursions through Corcovado National Park by plane or land vehicle.


Some of the best eco-resorts are situated outside the tropics and thus are a better choice for a summer adventure. Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge in Alaska’s Kachemak Bay State Park, has been recognized both locally and internationally for its ecological efforts, ranking among North America’s Top 10 Eco Resorts and earning the title of “United States’ Leading Green Resort.” The lodge runs on non-polluting wind and hydropower and is completely self-sustaining, receiving the Alaska Green Star Award for recycling and sustainable tourism efforts.

Situated on a private beach across the bay from the town of Homer, Sadie Cove provides families with the opportunity to experience some of Alaska’s most stunning natural scenery and wildlife firsthand. The area is considered the bear-viewing capital of the world and is also home to humpback and beluga whales, seals, sea lions, sea otters, marmots, coyotes, wolves, and foxes.

This is a particularly appealing destination for kids interested in outdoor adventures, including wildlife photography, bird watching, mountain biking, hiking, berry picking, sea kayaking, fishing, clamming or simply beach combing. The lodge arranges a wide range of guided tours, chartered sailboat excursions, seaplane trips to a nearby volcanic island, kayak expeditions between glaciers and river rafting.

A special feature of this lodge is the Sailboat Cabin, a separate private guest lodge built into a refurbished classic old sailboat. Your children may take it personally if you don’t book these particular accommodations.( • (888) 283–7234)

Campi ya Kanzi • Mtito Andei • Kenya • 254–45–622516

Ecotourism Kenya recently conferred its “gold” rating on Campi ya Kanzi, which is probably the most honored vacation lodge in East Africa. The property has received the Skaal Ecotourism Award, the Tourism for Tomorrow Award, the Eco-Warrior Award, and the Condé Nast World Savers Award. Campi ya Kanzi is also a Long Run Alliance Member, recognized for “significantly influencing the management of a natural area of conservation value.”

Campi ya Kanzi sits on 280,000 acres of wilderness, which actually boasts a greater diversity of species than the typical national Park, with elephants, buffalos, rhinos, lions, leopards, gazelles, impalas, hippos, baboons, hyenas, foxes, wart hogs, cheetahs, porcupines, and aardvarks playing starring roles. Guests can explore the area in a number of ways, including game drives and walks, forest walks, bird watching, scenic flights, and Maasai village visits. A view of Mt. Kilimanjaro—as well as a gathering of dozens of species of animals and birds at the nearby watering hole—is literally as close as one’s veranda.

Campi ya Kanzi utilizes ecotourism to support environmental conservation and sustainable community development, partnering with and advocating for the local Maasai community. The lodge uses rain cropping for water, gathers electricity and hot water from solar panels, and cooks all food with eco-friendly charcoal. Guests can choose between a luxury canvas-tented cottage or a private villa in the bush (which is larger and more family-friendly). In addition to the cost of housing each day, visitors pay a $100 conservation fee to the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, which is used to compensate Massai landlords for livestock losses to predators. In essence, every family visiting the property is paying the locals not to shoot lions and other big cats, which is the definition of money well spent.


  • Think like an Ecotourist- Find reputable, nature-friendly lodging and tour activities that promote conservation. Choose protected or World Heritage sites. Visit government-run game preserves over private ones, which may be for-profit—meaning that the money does not actually go toward conservation.
  • Research your destination- Before you push the PAY button, learn as much as you can about the region, country, flora and fauna. This will enable you to make a smart, informed decisions, minimizing stress once you arrive.
  • Pack light- Limit the amount of packaging you bring with you. This will only become waste and you can save more room for souvenirs.
  • Travel green- Travelling by bus, train, coach, bicycles, or even on foot greatly reduces your carbon emissions and allows you to take in more of the scenery along the way. It’s also fun for the kids.
  • Respect the wildlife- Coach your kids in advance not to disturb the plants or animals they may encounter, and to maintain a careful distance.
  • Eat smart- Opt for local, in-season produce and avoid foods you suspect have been flown in from great distances. Obviously, avoid any endangered species that may be on the menu.
  • Choose souvenirs carefully- Never purchase products made from endangered species and avoid plant species that may become invasive to your homeland and native wildlife.
  • Get involved- Often, you can become a member of local sustainable organizations or conservations programs at your destination. This will create a lasting memory for your children, and demonstrate how they can continue to have a positive impact on the region they visited.

Al-Maha Desert Resort & Spa • Dubai • 971–4–832–9900

The Al-Maha Desert Resort & Spa achieves a tricky balance of ecofriendly, sustainable practices and luxurious accommodations, helping it to earn the Middle East’s Responsible Tourism Award and a Top 50 Ecolodge ranking from National Geographic. The family won’t be roughing it here. Al-Maha is a 5-star resort that has been singled out in a couple of Internet surveys as the top resort in the Middle East.

Situated in a palm oasis within the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, Al-Maha celebrates the cultural heritage and architecture of the Bedouins. The spa uses holistic treatments from Middle Eastern and South Asian traditions, such as rhassoul mud bath chambers. Each meal includes organic international and indigenous delicacies served amongst the dunes (or poolside, if preferred). Al-Maha also offers vacationers two desert activities each day, such as archery, camel and horse rides, falconry and safaris.

The resort recycles 100% of its water, has a seed bank of over 6,000 species of trees, shrubs, and grasses, and is a major contributor to the conservation effort at the reserve—most notably the Arabian Oryx, which was nearly hunted into extinction. The largest free-roaming herd of Arabian Oryx now inhabits Al-Maha. Other native species include gazelles, foxes, hedgehogs, “sand fish,” side-winding vipers, colorful parakeets, eagles, ospreys, owls, and falcons.

Satwa Elephant Eco Lodge

Lampung Province/Sumatra • Indonesia • 62–361–7474-205

Located just outside the Way Kambas National Park, a sprawling protected lowland rain forest, Satwa Elephant Eco Lodge helps fund a program to protect the endangered Sumatran elephant and rare Sumatran tiger and rhino. The lodge itself is set inside a walled garden of fruit trees, and includes four cottages, which are ideally suited for a family of four. The cottages are powered by solar energy, as is the lodge. The lodge is dedicated to empowering local communities in long-term conservation and sustainable development.

Satwa is not a conventional resort in terms of opulence and luxury; the show is 500 meters down the road in Way Kambas, where the wildlife includes sun bears, tapirs, gibbons, macaques and more than 300 bird species. Tiger sightings are a rarity, but all of the other park residents—including elephants and rhinos—are commonly encountered on the lodge’s land and river tours. Satwa Elephant Eco Lodge has been recognized by Sustainable Travel International, is Green Globe certified, and is part of network of eco-lodges on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Bali.

Me Time

For more and more vacationers, wellness is the issue.

By Lavinia Lee Mears

You’re going where? To do what? It was November of 2000. I had just told my (then) better half that I was departing the next day for Costa Rica to meditate on a mountaintop for a week. His reaction was, well, let’s just say he wasn’t thrilled at my spontaneous decision.

I was tired. Extremely tired. I had just come off a year of back-to-back trials as a new assistant prosecutor. Taking a few days off to rest at home had not worked for this work-a-holic who couldn’t resist picking up her phone or checking her emails. It was too early in my legal career to be a burned-out lawyer; I needed to be in a place where there were no distractions from my sole focus: rest. And so off I went to a yoga and meditation retreat, not quite knowing what to expect.

I arrived in Costa Rica and spent the next week with strangers. I meditated and practiced yoga every day. Despite being a meat-and-mashed potatoes girl, I found myself enjoying the healthy vegetarian meals. I slept like a normal human being and devoted one entire day to silence. Ten days later I returned, rested and relaxed, and had even shed those stubborn five pounds I had been trying to lose for years. I didn’t have that “need a vacation from my vacation” feeling. I looked good and I felt good. I was hooked.

That is how my love affair with the wellness vacation (aka well-cation) was born. In the ensuing decade-and-a-half, my precious time off has been devoted to vacations that nurture my mind and body. I’ve said good-bye to the gluttonous, all-inclusive resort and hello to the all-you-can eat vegetarian meal plan.

The biggest benefit of a well-cation is the jump-start it offers toward reaching your wellness goal. Staying on-program is much easier when the stresses of everyday life are removed and only healthy activities and meals are offered. And since guests share the same outlook, they support one another to stay committed toward reaching their wellness goals. The investment in a wellness vacation continues to pay off when new habits take hold after the vacation has ended. This may explain why the number of people who are investing their time and money in wellness-related travel has been on the rise. The worldwide wellness tourism market—estimated by some at over $400 billion—has been growing steadily since 2007, increasing nearly 13 percent last year.

Choosing the right well-cation, whether here in the U.S. or abroad, depends upon your personal wellness goals and budget. The process begins with an understanding of the different options out there…

Destination Spas

If rest and relaxation is your goal, destination spas offer guests the ultimate pampering experience, usually in a resort-like setting. Overnight accommodations, meals and access to the resort’s facilities are included in the fee. Guests are offered specific spa services geared toward rest and relaxation at an additional cost. Facials, massages, manicure/pedicure treatments and body wraps are offered in a tranquil environment. Prices range from $300 to more than a $1,000 per night.

The world-renowned Canyon Ranch in Arizona offers its 3-night “Spa Sampler” package at a cost of $3,840 per person. Guests can allocate $145 of that amount toward spa services. A less expensive local option is Deerfield Resort and Spa. Located in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, Deerfield is less than a two-hour drive from most parts of New Jersey. A three-night stay costs under$900. Accommodations, meals and a 50-minute Swedish massage are included in that rate. Crystal Springs Resort in Sussex County and the Ocean Place Resort and Spa in Monmouth County, are hotels that have full-service day spas available to resort guests and day visitors. Crystal Springs offers guests 2 spas, 6 golf courses, 12 dining options, a water park and a ski resort. Neither Ocean Place nor Crystal Springs offers an all-inclusive option; rates depend on the level of accommodations chosen, as well as the time of year.

Weight Loss

If your goal in 2015 is to lose 5 to 20 pounds (or more), a weight loss retreat can jump-start you toward that goal. Guests adhere to a strict menu, which is rich in vegetables and vegetable juices. Exercise programs are geared to accommodate various fitness levels. Stays range from three days to three weeks and weight loss varies from a pound a week to a pound a day. Since food that isn’t part of the program is outlawed at the retreat as “contraband,” the temptation to cheat is removed. A weight loss retreat is a bullet-proof way to ensure immediate results. Most programs incorporate cooking, exercise and health education classes to teach guests how to stay on-program when they return home.

There are a number of weight loss retreats in the region, including the Copperhood Retreat & Spa in the Catskills. It has been touted as one of the best in the world. The three-night detox plan costs about $1,500, while the 21-day “Break Your Bad Habits” plan rate is about $8,000, depending on what level of accommodations is chosen.


“Detox” vacations aim to rid the body and mind of toxins and tensions. While programs vary in cost and available services, you can expect most detox programs to include:

  • All-you-can-eat raw, organic vegetables and juices
  • Steam rooms, hot tubs and dry sauna therapy
  • At least one day devoted to a water or juice fast
  • Spa services such as colon hydrotherapy, lymphatic drainage massage and detoxifying body-wraps
  • Exercise and meditation classes

The Hippocrates Health Institute’s 21-day “Life Transformation Program” teaches guests how to detoxify their bodies and enlightens them to the benefits of a raw, “live-food“ vegan diet. Located in West Palm Beach, Florida, tuition for the program ranges from $7,000 to $30,000 depending on the accommodations and services provided.


If you already are in great shape and want to bring your fitness to a higher level, fitness vacations (aka Boot Camps) may be the answer.  As the name implies, these places are not for the faint of heart. Keeping up with the rigorous program requires stamina and excellent physical health. Your doctor’s approval is recommended, and in some cases, required. Guests commit to a demanding fitness regimen with activities and/or classes offered from dawn to dusk. Mountain climbing, hiking and surfing are among the leisure activities offered, depending on the climate and geography. Classes on nutrition and healthy eating are included in the fee, as are meals. Accommodations vary from luxurious to rustic.

One of the best known Weekend Warrior boot camps is Utah’s all-inclusive Red Mountain Resort, with rates starting at $295 a night. The resort’s “Adventure Concierge” assists guests with planning activities such as hikes to explore the red rock canyons and cliffs, scenic mountain biking and outdoor excursions such as horseback riding, kayaking and wild-mustang tours.


Yoga ashrams offer a quiet respite from the crush of professional life, focusing on stretching, breathing and meditation. Rates can be as low as $50 a night and accommodations are often dormitory-like settings, with shared restrooms and showers. Meals are basic vegetarian and guests are required to follow the daily schedule of yoga and meditation classes, which likely start at dawn.  You may also be expected to help with up-keep of the facility by gardening, cooking and assisting with cleaning up after meals—a practice called “karma yoga.” You may also have the option of learning the art of “mindfulness” by devoting one or more days to complete silence.

Needless to say, there are many resorts and holistic centers that offer the amenities and luxuries of a destination spa along with their yoga classes and meditation instruction. For instance, the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California has a six-day “Perfect Health” retreat beginning at $2,875, not including accommodations. Closer to home, the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts offers retreat weekends with various self-improvement courses throughout the year starting at $375.

There are countless wellness vacations options in the United States and throughout the world. The best one will be customized to help you meet your personal wellness goals. If you know what you want and what to look for, you can also do it yourself. For help planning a wellness vacation, contact a certified wellness travel agent or an agent experienced in planning wellness vacations.

Editor’s Note: Lavinia Lee Mears is a Westifeld attorney with a passion for writing and a love of wellness vacations. A mother of two school-age boys, she has lived in Union County most of her life. In addition to her legal work, Lavinia is an advocate for gifted children with learning differences.

Ooh La La

You don’t need a Swiss bank account to afford a week on the French Riviera.

By Sarah Rossbach

The last time you walked the red carpet was at a wholesale flooring outlet. The closest you’ve gotten to royalty is eating chicken a la king. Okay, I get it. The jet set is not for you. The good news is that you can still vacation on the Cote d’Azur and live like a prince (or princess) on a pauper’s budget.

Yes, that Cote d’Azur: glamorous Eden, inspiration for impressionist painters and Jazz Age ex-pats, playground of European aristocrats and Hollywood celebrities, location of the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Formula One Grand Prix race, harbors full of yachts, grand hotels and casinos—a dreamy Neverland of privilege, beauty and opulence. The fact is, you too can enjoy the good life…without laying out$750 per night for a room or $40 for breakfast. Indeed, for years I’ve been visiting this exclusive resort area on less than the cost of a Disney vacation (airfare not included).

My secret? For three decades, I—and now my family of four—have been enjoying a two-bedroom efficiency villa at the family-run Domaine de la Source, just 10 minutes north of the Menton beaches and a half-hour from Monaco for around $1,000 for a week in high season. Once an olive grove, Domaine de la Source offers twelve rental apartments and two pools. It’s hardly the region’s only bargain-priced accommodation, just the one we swear by. We make our own breakfast in the closet-sized but clean kitchen and venture out each day to explore this remarkable part of the Mediterranean coast.

On our most recent visit, we piled into our economy rental car and headed for Monaco, the small but densely populated city-state that for nearly a millennium has been ruled—on and off—by the Grimaldi family. The present ruler is Prince Albert II, son of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III. He runs the principality as a shrewd businessman, with shares in many local moneymaking concerns. At the Royal Palace, for about $12 you can saunter through ornate staterooms and galleries. Built in the 12th century as a Genoese fortress, at a strategic point high above the sea, the palace has been restored and added to over the centuries. In the square outside the structure, it’s fun to view the hourly changing of the guards, and within the palace courtyard, periodic summer concerts are held. I attended one a few years ago and Prince Albert II was seated just two rows in front of me. From there, we walked through the old town to the cathedral where Princess Grace was married and then visited the Oceanographic Museum and the botanical gardens, planted with over 1,000 species of succulent plants. At sea level, the marinas are filled with enormous yachts manned by uniformed deck hands. Up the hill are the casinos, five-star hotels and high-end shops.

Just west of Monaco, the gardens and museum at Villa Ephrussi Rothschild in Cap Ferrat are like a journey back to the Belle Epoque era. The villa was built in 1905 by the eccentric Mme. Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild of the famed banking family, who divorced M. Ephrussi—scion of Russian wheat merchants of The Hare with the Amber Eyes—before his gambling debts and ill-advised speculations could ruin her. The villa showcases her eclectic tastes, ranging from Meissen china and Aubusson carpets to genre art of Boucher and Fragonard to a collection of embroidered silk shoes for Chinese bound feet. Though childless, she treated her dogs, monkeys and mongoose as family, once throwing a lavish mock wedding for Diane and Major, her two poodles. The event featured printed invitations and hundreds of human and canine guests (all in formal attire), including a bulldog sporting a top hat. During the ceremony, the “bride” had a gold ring set in diamonds slipped onto her paw. Mme. Ephrussi de Rothschild was just as passionate about gardening. The grounds offer nine different restored gardens that overlook the Mediterranean and choreographed fountain displays. An audio guide is well worth the $20 fee.

There are a number of less quirky, smaller museums in the area that are both impressive and affordable: Musée Picasso ($10) is housed in an ancient chateau overlooking the sea in Antibes; Musee Bonnard ($8) in Le Cannet (a suburb of Cannes); Matisse Chapel ($8) in Vence; Fondation Maeght ($22) in St. Paul de Vence; and Musée Jean Cocteau ($9) in Menton. The Musée Matisse is situated in the hills above Nice, next to a Roman aqueduct, and just down the road is a peaceful cloister garden overlooking the port—all of which you can visit for free.

We especially enjoy touring the medieval hill towns, sited centuries ago high above the sea to protect the populace from pillaging Saracens. Eze, built above Cap Ferrat, is the most heavily trafficked by tourists. Its narrow lanes, which lead to a chateau, evoke life in the Middle Ages and the town has a stunning panoramic view of the Cote d’Azur. There is a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Chevre d’Or, which is well worth the splurge for a meal (or maybe just a kir royale) near the top of Eze. The less-touristy hill towns of Roquebrune and Gorbio require stellar driving skills and steel nerves to negotiate the narrow roads and hairpin turns. The charming hill towns of Italy, near the French frontier, are also lovely and relatively tourist-free.

With its pleasant climate, the Cote d’Azur is a gardener’s Eden. You could spend days just visiting the renovated botanical gardens planted with exotic flowers, trees, shrubs and succulents. Gardens are in the height of full bloom in June. My favorite is Val Rahmeh ($10) in Menont (below). Lord Percy Radcliffe, a former Governor of Malta, created the terraced Botanical Gardens of the Val Rahmeh in 1905. In 1957, Miss May Sherwood Campbell acquired the property and merged it with a bridge to a second garden. The most striking element is a pond she installed with water hyacinths, water lilies, and papyrus. On the road from Menton to Gorbio and Domaine de la Source, Serre de la Madone ($12) is interesting and being refurbished. It’s a small garden designed by Lawrence Johnstone, an American who designed Hidcote Manor’s gardens in England.

Across the border from Menton, in Italy, is Hanbury Gardens (left), near Ventimiglia. Built in the 19th century by Lord Hanbury, a British diplomat—who like many travelers of that age gathered exotic flora from far flung lands of the former British Empire—created a landscape with Moorish and Oriental follies. The garden is quite vertical and dramatic, stretching down to the Mediterranean.

The food in the port towns along the Cote d’Azur does not require a second mortgage. There are any number of small restaurants offering thin-crust pizza, fresh salads, mussels, and pain bagnat (a Niçoise version of a tuna sandwich) for a reasonable price. Menton (right) is a lovely old port town with affordable shops and pizzerias and a large Beaux Art farmers’ market selling artisanal baguettes, cured meats and cheeses that are perfect for a beach picnic.

With the Euros we save on pauper-priced lodging, attractions and meals, we like to treat ourselves to at least one gourmet French meal fit for a prince or princess. There is a Michelin two-star restaurant right on the water and right on the Italy/France border called Mirazur. It’s worth every penny of the $100 per person (not including wine) price tag, and you will definitely need reservations. And of course, there are the grand hotel restaurants of Monaco—many on rooftops overlooking the water—which prepare true gastronomic adventures. They are delicious…mais tres cher!

Bordentown…Who Knew?

No town in America packs more history into one square mile

Thursday, January 8, 1778. Midnight and iron cold. A new moon hides behind scudding clouds. Ice in chunks swirls south in the fast-flowing Delaware River. Out of the northeast, a frigid wind drives all life to cover.  It’s a night that begs for shutters firmly latched, for boots resting atop the fender of an open fire, a tot of rum in hand and the family watchdog  asleep on the hearth rug. Who would choose to be abroad on such a frigid night?Neither man nor beast.

But in Bordentown, on the river’s edge, a bold scheme unfolds—a scheme hatched to unleash terror in the heart of every Britisher aboard His Majesty’s ships, moored 25 miles downstream in Philadelphia. The contraption, an 18th century version of a 20th century Kon Tiki,  consists of  dozens of kegs—each packed tight with gunpowder—all lashed together into a crude raft to be set adrift in the icy river. Protruding iron rods hammered into the kegs will, on impact, activate a flintlock, which ignites a spark to detonate the gunpowder. The result: a resounding explosion calculated to send any British ship to the icy bottom of the Delaware River. History books called it the Battle of the Kegs. The redcoats only lost one vessel and four men, but the chaos it created was celebrated throughout the colonies with a popular song.

Bordentown, hard on the banks of the Delaware River, dates back to 1682, when an enterprising English Quaker, Thomas Farnsworth, moved into what was little more than a wilderness. He built a log cabin and a river landing dubbed Farnsworth’s Landing. So began the quiet stirrings of events that, a century later, would prove vital to the triumphant establishment of the United States of America.

“No single community in the state of New Jersey…and maybe in all of colonial America has a richer historical legacy than Bordentown,” so says Patti Desantis, a native of Bordentown and past president of the Bordentown Historical Society, housed in a colonial Quaker meeting-house. “Only one square mile in size, only 4,000 in population, but look at the history that unfolded here!”

Bordentown wears its historical laurels with a becoming modesty that amply reflects its Quaker antecedents. No souvenir stands hawking Colonial bric-a-brac. No tour buses with blaring loudspeakers. No billboards on surrounding turnpikes trumpeting the historical treasures that are Bordentown’s rightful legacy.

Architectural historians find Bordentown a veritable treasure trove of 17th to 19th century houses, still in prime condition, sturdy survivors in an age that prizes, above all else,  the wrecking ball and the look-alike strip mall.

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Discovery of Bordentown’s treasures is best accomplished by a leisurely one-mile stroll along the old brick sidewalks, shaded by ancient sycamores and maples. Where better to begin than on Crosswicks Street in front of Old City Hall with its Queen Anne clock tower?The Seth Thomas clock atop the tower is dedicated to Bordentown resident William F. Allen, credited with creating order out of chaos in the late 1800’s by coordinating dozens of local times into the single coordinate we call Standard Time.

At the juncture of Crosswicks and Burlington stands the simple, gabled schoolhouse, New Jersey’s first public school.  It’s the Clara Barton Schoolhouse (above), named for the town resident who founded the American Red Cross. Artifacts of her remarkable life are displayed within.

Photo by Susan Kaufmann, Hidden New Jersey/

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places is the Francis Hopkinson House (right), a three-story architectural gem. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, barrister, poet, musician and scientist—and close friend of George Washington—Hopkinson, after studying at Oxford, returned to the colonies to be the first student enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania. He was a fierce patriot who lent more than a casual hand that frosty January night on which those legendary kegs were launched; he also penned the popular tune that commemorated the event.


Bordentown hosts a full calendar of events from May through October, including the Cranberry Festival, which takes place on October 5th and 6th. The festival draws thousands of people and features handmade crafts, original art, a classic car show and a wide range of gourmet and artisan foods. The restaurant scene in Bordentown is always vibrant, as is the shopping in downtown. History buffs are likely to find the city very walkable and decidedly un-touristy. Many visitors opt for a self-guided walking tour; an excellent one can be downloaded at

An accomplished student of heraldry, Hopkinson, at Washington’s request, designed our nation’s first flag. The stars he took from Washington’s coat of arms, the stripes from his own family’s coat of arms. Philadelphia’s Betsy Ross is credited with having sewn our first flag.  But it was designed by Frances Hopkinson and formally adopted by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, a date commemorated nationwide today by our June 14 celebration of Flag Day.

Photo courtesy of Re/Max Real Estate

Just across the street is the Joseph Borden House (see page 15). It was rebuilt in 1778 after the British stormed and sacked the town, burning the original Borden House to the ground. Borden gave his name to the town where he owned the cooperage from whence came the kegs sent down the Delaware to terrorize the British navy. He also established a vital rail link (right) that provided safe travel from Philadelphia, via Bordentown, to Perth Amboy and then by ferry to New York. It was, in the late 18th, early 19th centuries, in terms of travel convenience, the equivalent of I-95. It also, not so incidentally, made Joseph Borden a very wealthy man.

National Museum of American History

Borden and Hopkinson were friends and fellow activists throughout the American Revolution and its tumultuous aftermath. Both men befriended a young transplant from England, Thomas Paine. At the age of 29, Paine journeyed to the Colonies at the behest of his mentor, Benjamin Franklin. He landed in Philadelphia but soon moved to Bordentown, where he built a house on the corner of Church and Farnsworth. Though radically altered, it is still there. In short order, Paine was publishing and distributing pamphlets entitled Common Sense, which advocated independence from England. His pamphlets were avidly read throughout the 13 colonies. Since such writing was highly treasonous (and carried a mandatory sentence of death by public hanging), Paine published anonymously. In 1777 and ’78, he donated all of his earnings to the revolutionary cause. It can fairly be said that George Washington’s army could not have survived its first six months had it not been for Paine’s financial aid. A charming statue (above) commemorating Paine’s days as a staunch patriot graces a carriage turn-around in a leafy park overlooking the Delaware.

It would be a mistake to think that Bordentown’s historical bona fides rest exclusively with the revolutionary era. In 1813, Napoleon Bonaparte’s older brother, Joseph Bonaparte, named King of Spain by his emperor brother, was stripped of the monarchy by a disaffected populace and forced into exile. Banished from France, unwelcome in England, he found his way to America. Political connections took him from New York to Philadelphia. Amorous connections took him from Philadelphia to Bordentown. There, on an estate called Point Breeze overlooking the Delaware, he had ten miles of carriage paths built and imported countless rare botanical specimens. He built an artificial lake, just right for winter skating and summer dips, and stocked it with French swans.  The residence was a wonder of marble fireplaces, sweeping staircases, a vast wine cellar and a library of more than 8,000 books. At Point Breeze, the ex-King of Spain entertained many notables of the day, heads of state, prominent financiers, and internationally acclaimed musicians, authors and artists. With his American love, Annette Savage—fondly known as Madame de la Folie—Joseph Bonaparte fathered two American daughters.

In 1815, when the place was devastated by fire, the townspeople arrived en masse to help salvage as much as possible from the blaze. Reflecting back on that disaster Joseph wrote:

Photo credit: The History Girl/

“Everything that was not consumed, has been most scrupulously delivered into the hands of the people of my house. In the night of the fire, and during the next day, there were brought to me, by laboring men, drawers, in which I have found the proper quantity of pieces of money, and medals of gold, and valuable jewels, which might have been taken with impunity. This event has proved to me how much the inhabitants of Bordentown appreciate the interest I have always felt for them; and shows that men in general are good…”

Of its glory days as home to European royalty, Bordentown today retains only the handsome wrought-iron gates that were the entrance to Breeze Point. Splendid horse-drawn carriages no longer use the lovely turn-around where Tom Paine in bronze stands, pamphlets in hand. Commercial river traffic, once the town’s prime source of revenue, has given way to weekend kayakers, fishermen and mid-summer tubing expeditions. Once a vital hub of colonial transportation, Bordentown is now home base to Ocean Spray Cranberry and corporate headquarters for Prince Tennis Racquets. Yet, as Patti Desantis likes to remind the history-hungry visitors who find their way to Bordentown, it is the town’s lineage, so lovingly preserved despite the relentless pressures of modernism, that makes Bordentown unique among New Jersey’s rich store of tourist attractions.

Natural Wonder

Discovering the Galapagos

Penguins darting like torpedoes between boats moored in clear blue water. Barking sea lions jostling for the best seat on the pier’s benches. Those were the sights and sounds that greeted the water taxi as it pulled into Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, the largest in the Galapagos archipelago. It was a dramatically different world from mainland Ecuador. Or any other place I had seen as a globetrotting journalist. In a word, it was magical.

The plan was to island-hop with the goal of seeing as many of the famously unique species as humanly possible. According to the Galapagos Conservancy, about 80 percent of the land birds, 97 percent of the reptiles and land mammals, and more than 30 percent of the plants are endemic. The best months to visit are August through November because the migratory patterns of just about all the animals, birds, reptiles and fish bring them into view on the islands during this window.

Most Americans tour the Galapagos on some kind of group excursion. Getting to know strangers from other places—and experiencing the islands through their eyes—can be part of the fun.

The members of my international crew were actually part of a sort of extended family. My Ukrainian-American mother, Christina, had retired to a seaside village in Ecuador a few years ago. Her Ecuadorian friend, Maria, came up with the idea to make the trip to the islands (which sit roughly 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coast). It turns out Maria’s parents had actually lived on one of the islands, Floriana, some 70 years ago, when her father worked for the government. Yet neither Maria nor my mother had ever been.

Maria’s husband, Washington, knew the Galapagos. He’d been stationed there while serving in the Ecuadorian military in the 1970s. Our trip would be his first time back. Maria and Washington’s adult children, Cristina and Santiago, were the fourth and fifth members of the entourage. Cristina attends university in Germany; Santiago works in Quito and had visited the Galapagos as a boy. I flew in from Washington D.C. and Cristina’s friend, Louis, traveled from the United Kingdom to make it a lucky seven.

We began our journey in Puerto Ayora, most populous town on Santa Cruz and the tourist hub of the islands. There we began our love affair with Galapagos snorkeling. The biodiversity was astounding, though not always what I’d expected. I’ve done a lot of snorkeling in warm water, including the Red Sea, where colorful fish and plants live among stunning coral formations. In the frigid waters off Santa Cruz, the colors were muted and the sea floor crowded with starfish, sea cucumbers and various non-tropical fish species. In the deep water areas sharks swam stealthily below us.

Las Grietas, off Santa Cruz, translates to The Crevices. It was unforgettable. After a water taxi ride to Finch Bay and a 20-or-so-minute hike past a swanky hotel and idyllic lagoons, we swam between tall cliffs with rock walls that plunged deep into water so crystal-clear water you could see right down to the bottom.


While tourism may be the one and only industry on the islands, the attitude toward actual tourists can be uneven. For example, the owner of our hotel on Santa Cruz barely apologized for canceling one of our three reserved rooms, forcing me, my mother, Washington and Maria to be roommates for a night.

“The main income for Galapagos is tourism,” Santiago explained, “but they are not focused on the service aspect of tourism. [Many of the guides] try to trick you in order for you to hire them for everything, and they charge you whatever they want.”

Santiago, I had come to realize, possessed a highly developed sense of honor. During dinner one night a waitress mistakenly charged us for 6 entrees instead of 7. After reviewing the bill, he corrected the error as opposed to staying silent. Santiago felt everyone should at least attempt to live up to his basic standards of fairness, so when it came to the lackadaisical attitude towards tourists, as an Ecuadorian, he said he felt “annoyed and embarrassed.”

Washington added that “the taxi drivers were fine—they were quite helpful,” but, like father like son, he echoed Santiago’s sentiment about the folks in the tourist trade. “They’re kind of careless. They seem to think that, because people are going to come to the islands anyway, it doesn’t matter what they do or how you treat them. They should change that mentality.”

A few days later, on Isabela, we visited the shallower waters of the Tintoreras inlets situated just off the island. On the short Panga ride there, we saw penguins posted up on volcanic-rock islands and bright red crabs basking in the sun. Once in the water, we spotted decades-old sea turtles floating gracefully near the sea floor, and sea lions swimming close enough to grab.

“I wasn’t expecting to see the animals so close,” Louis marveled. Louis (who was half-French) turned out to be our Jacques Cousteau junior. His Go-Pro camera was always pointed at something. With Cristina’s help, he documented everything we saw above the water and below. As a bonus, Louis used his Spanish skills to extract inside information from our guides and taxi drivers.

While on Isabela we stayed in Puerto Villamil. It is a sleepy town compared to Puerta Ayora, on Santa Cruz. On the Sunday we arrived, all the shops were closed and it felt nearly uninhabited. We were lucky to find cold beer and a local woman under a walkway bridge to the beach frying up and selling the most delicious homemade meat or cheese empanadas. She made them using cassava dough, which is gluten free, instead of the flour dough I am used to in the United States.


The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean. They were declared a province of Ecuador in 1973.  About 25,000 people live on 18 primary islands and 3 smaller ones. The Galapagos Islands are in the cold-water Humboldt Current, which affects the water temperature and weather.

We gorged on empanadas as we took in the spectacular Malecon Cuna del Sol, a long white-sand beach surrounded by palm trees and brackish water lagoons. As I strolled along the shore later I thought my eyes deceived me. The black lava rock barrier between the sand and surf appeared to mo

ve. As I got closer I saw hundreds (and probably thousands) of land iguanas blending right in and sunning themselves.

Day after day, we ticked off items on our Galapagos bucket list. We visited Rancho Primicias, a private farm and tortoise sanctuary where the giant reptiles have free range. We strolled barefoot along the beach at Garrapaterro, where flamingos nest in the surrounding lagoons. We hiked nearly

45 minute to Tortuga Bay’s beaches to kayak and watch birds and iguanas. An 8 mile round-trip walk brought us to the Wall of Tears, a 20-foot stone wall stretching more than 300 feet that was built by prisoners at a penal colony that once existed on Isabela Island.

We walked nearly everywhere. It reminded Washington of his days as a solider on the Galapagos. Weighted down by a backpack full of gear and a gun, he recalled using his machete to hack his way through raw vegetation to get from shore to shore on just about all of the islands. Today long trails leading to many of the beaches are laid with paver stones. Other paths are made of packed earth with wooden bridges across lagoon marshes. Though traversing the land is much easier than when Maria’s parents lived there, or when Washington was in uniform, one of the takeaways was that a Galapagos vacation is an active one.

My mother, who is nearly 70, is in pretty good health and full of energy. She observed that many of the activities may be too challenging for families with small children or people with a physical infirmity, even a slight one, due to some of the terrain like steep steps, long walks and the need to constantly climb in and out of small boats.

Unanticipated costs were an occasional source of angst. We’re talking about nominal fees, such as paying for a separate water taxi after buying a full fare ferry ticket, or a small entrance fee to another island on top of the $100 tax for foreigners already paid at the main airport. But they were annoying nonetheless.

One thing that really surprised me was the amount of trash we saw. As advertised, the Galapagos Islands are an ecological wonder to be treated with great care. On the plane in, flight attendants walked through the cabin, opened the over-head bins and sprayed our luggage with some sort of anti-microbial to protect the fragile eco system from critters we may have brought with us. The effort to conserve and maintain protected breeding spaces for species like tortoises, Darwin’s finches, Blue-Footed Boobies and a range of flora and fauna is obvious and organized. That made the lax attitude toward litter even more puzzling. It was not uncommon to see trash blowing around the streets of the more populated areas, or plastic bags and cans wedged under bushes at tourist arrival points.

Where food and souvenir prices are concerned, the regulatory hand of the Ecuadorian government is always evident. That tiny carved tortoise will run $3 dollars whether you find it at the main airport on Baltra Island or at a shop on Santa Cruz. Prices in the restaurants may vary, but not by much, and are exceedingly inexpensive. And, no matter where we went, the food— including fresh ceviche, lobster, giant prawns and cassava dumplings—was delicious.

Though we could get very close to the wildlife, we respected the admonition not to touch any animals. Human scent can cause an animal to be alienated from its group. That being said, while snorkeling Cristina was practically assaulted by a sea lion determined to play.

“I wasn’t touching him…he was touching me!” she laughed, as we peeled off our wetsuits.

In the end, whatever hiccups we experienced on this adventure were completely overshadowed by the unique beauty of the Galapagos Islands and its myriad creatures. It was far from a flawlessly choreographed Disney Land experience, but that was part of the charm.

“You come here for nature and not luxury,” Louis observed. “I think in that way I wasn’t just ‘not disappointed.’ It far exceeded my expectations.”

It was a sentiment we all shared. This may have been my first adventure to the land made famous by Charles Darwin, but it certainly won’t be my last. EDGE

Editor’s Note: Tetiana Anderson writes for a wide range of newspapers, magazines and web sites and has produced news stories for CBS, CNN and The Weather Channel. She won a New York Press Club Award for her reporting in 2012, and interviewed rap star 50 Cent the last time she contributed to EDGE.


Wish Granted

From its chaotic recent past, Colombia has emerged as a popular travel destination.

A line of Colombians clasping bouquets of carnations, roses and lilies forms in the quiet of the nearly deserted Central Cemetery in Bogota. Not far from the alley of the lonely tombs of Colombia’s presidents sits a polished bronze statue, a somewhat less-artistic version of Rodin’s Thinker, flanked by a serious middle aged man in a crisp tailored suit whispering intently into the statue’s ear. Seated near the statue sits a robed “priest” (I am told he is not ordained) who has set up a card table and reads a Mass, for which he is paid by supplicants. He rings a bell to indicate the man’s time is up.

Sarah Fleming

Scores of bouquets have been left around the statue, covering the grave of the long-dead man, which is said to have been endowed with the power to grant wishes. There are many stories of his posthumous prowess in fulfilling desires, bestowing love, healing the sick and easing financial or emotional distress. One young man tells me of his frustrating job search. He made a pilgrimage to the statue and petitioned for help. Right after making this request, a sudden breeze arose around the gravesite, lifting leaves and flowers into a mini swirl. He took this as a sign that his wish had been heard. Only two days later, he received an overseas call with a job offer from an international firm in Miami.

Such is the magical realism you might find in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. In fact, this is the grave of Leo Kopp, my great-grandmother Ida’s brother. Leo Kopp was a German Jewish agnostic, who immigrated to Colombia and founded the Bavarian Brewery—now South America’s second largest brewery—in the late 19th century.

This is my first trip to Colombia. For five generations, my family in North and South America has more than kept in touch. We have become good friends.  Our friendship was forged in the 1990s when Colombia was plagued with violence. Murders and kidnapping—from both guerrilla and drug wars—convinced my cousins to move their children, who were my kids’ ages, up to New York. We spent many fun, multi-generational holiday dinners together and, since they returned to a safer, saner Colombia, we continue the family tradition of keeping in touch.


If you are drawn to Caribbean beaches and snorkeling, you can take a boat to the islands (Islas del Rosario), where one can either spend the day or the night. The Santa Clara Hotel has a sister hotel in the islands, the Hotel Majagua. For travelers who prefer smaller boutique hotels, villas or B&B’s, Cartagena offers quite a few, including Tcherassi Hotel, Hotel Casa del Arzobispado, Hotel LM, Ananda Hotel Boutique and Hotel Casa San Agustin. It’s also a good idea to make dinner reservations at some of the better restaurants, including La Vitrola, Don Juan, Harry Sasson Bar at the Hotel Santa Teresa, La Vera, Juan del Mar, Cafe del Santisimo, 8-18, Alma, Café San Pedro, Restaurante Club de Pesca and Fuerte de San Sebastián del Pastelillo.

For years, Colombia was off the tourism radar. Recently, however, travel stories have been cropping up in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The London Times. Even Bergdorf Goodman’s 2015 spring fashion magazine ran a two-page story on the picturesque coastal city of Cartagena. Though still a relatively well-kept secret, Colombia is fast becoming a go-to destination.

As well it should be. Colombia is a country rich in history, geography and diversity. From the haciendas of the coffee region, to the coast that stretches from the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic coast, from the Amazon River jungle, to the Andean Mountains, Colombia offers many climates and experiences within an hour’s plane flight of the capital city of Bogota.


Cartagena, a fortressed town on the Caribbean, is the country’s most tourist-friendly.  It offers an array of large resorts, boutique hotels and hostels within the old town, which has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO. With its bright pink, ochre, salmon and sky-blue painted villas, old town Cartagena is “Cuba Lite,” without visa complications.

Sarah Fleming

On our most recent visit, we stayed at the Sofitel Santa Clara, one of the two best luxury hotels, the other being Hotel Santa Teresa. Built within the thick historic walls of the 1621 Franciscan convent of the nuns of Santa Clara, the Hotel Santa Clara successfully blends traces of its past with modern amenities. Alongside the original convent chapel, wells, crypt and confessional booths is a lush courtyard punctuated with a reclining nude holding an apple by sculptor Fernando Bortero—a plus-size Eve in paradise. In contrast to the building’s former monastic life, the Santa Clara offers a spa, as well as an Olympic-sized pool with attendants happy to serve you snacks and fruit drinks. You’ll need to plan your trip early. When we called for a reservation a month in advance, the town was booked—with multiple destination weddings, conferences and a golf tournament. In addition to being a tropical getaway, Cartagena plays host to music, film and literary festivals in the winter months. By some stroke of luck (thank you, Leo Kopp?) we snagged the last accommodation at the 123-room hotel.

Formerly a strategic harbor—where the galleons of the Spanish conquistadors were loaded with pillaged treasures of gold, silver and gems to be shipped in heavily armed convoys back to Spain—Cartagena has seen quite a bit of action over the centuries. Under Spanish colonial rule, it functioned as a slave-trade center and endured catastrophic fires, pirate attacks and battles for independence. It witnessed a civil war, decades of political strife and an economic downturn at the end of the 20th century. And speaking of action, you may recall that Cartagena was in the headlines for some Secret Service indiscretions prior to a conference visit from President Obama, and also for an infamous selfie that featured a snoozing Justin Bieber.

As Monty Python once said, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. And it’s true. We were surprised to learn that for much of the 17th century, friendly Cartagena was one of three South American seats of the Spanish Inquisition. Here, tribunals condemned heretics and practitioners of witchcraft. A visit to the building known as Palacio de la Inquisicion confirms this fact. It houses a museum of the Inquisition’s relics, ranging from a device that determines if the accused was a witch (innocent or not, you die either way) along with assorted instruments of torture.

Sarah Fleming

Whatever the challenge, like a phoenix, Cartagena has risen from rubble over and over. Ten years ago, for example, the old section was a poverty-stricken barrio. Today, you can safely walk the circumference of the old city and gaze out on the bay from the thick fortification wall, a defense built after Sir Francis Drake plundered Cartagena and held it for ransom in 1568. Within the ramparts, you will find brightly painted villas covered in bougainvillea which line narrow streets of fruit-vending carts, stores selling Colombian crafts, and restaurants offering fresh-caught fish carpaccio and ceviche, with the sound of Cuban salsa drifting through the air. Cartagena is punctuated with lovely tree-shaded plazas, including the Plaza Santo Domingo, with a reclining plump nude Botero bronze.


In stark contrast to the sleepy Caribbean resort town of Cartagena is Bogota, an easy 70-minute flight away. A teeming metropolis of 7 million people situated 8,660 feet above sea level, Bogota’s climate is a temperate 40 to 70 degrees. This Andean city has emerged from decades of guerrilla war, drug trafficking and kidnappings to become a vibrant cosmopolitan center. A sign of the times is that many international hotel chains are investing in Bogota. The Four Seasons Hotel is renovating two additional properties there.


Yes, peace has come to Colombia. No more need for bulletproof cars or bodyguards. That’s not to say that you can totally let down your guard. While Cartagena is safe even at night in many sections, guidebooks still caution visitors to Bogota to leave their passports in the hotel safe, not to wear valuable jewelry or flaunt expensive cameras, and to beware of pickpockets. Of course, the same warning could also apply to the New York City subways. While visiting high Masses in churches in La Candelaria, a woman approached my cousin suggesting she turn the stone of her small diamond ring around. Random taxis are also to be avoided—your hotel can give you an app to contact a reliable car service.


The changes in Colombia over the last dozen years have been nothing short of astonishing. The peace process initiated by President Alvaro Uribe (2002–2012) led to the demobilization of guerilla and paramilitary groups, which in turn gave the government control of the nation’s drug-producing regions. This further reduced the level of danger and violence. About a year ago, the Colombian government met in Cuba with representatives of the rebel group FARC to hammer out an agreement to keep the peace permanently. The country has a robust economy, with an oil industry that cranks out a million barrels a day. In the last few years, nearly a million Colombians have been lifted out of poverty, and economic reforms have been put in place that aim to lift millions more.

Home to many libraries, museums and universities, Bogota is known as the “Athens of South America.” Many of the finer institutions are housed in the Centro, as well as Bogota’s old section, La Candelaria, which dates back to the 16th century and features the ornate, colonial-era cathedral and churches that border Plaza de Bolivar. Not to be missed in La Candelaria are two world-class museums. The Museo del Oro artistically displays over 55,000 pieces of gold from the pre-Colombian era, while Museo Botero exhibits Botero’s signature rotund people, fruit, animals and birds, as well as the sculptor’s first-class collection of impressionist and modern art, including works by Monet, Matisse, Degas, Picasso, Balthus, Klimt, Moore and Calder. Besides being a quirky, prolific artist, Fernando Botero had a terrific eye for other artists’ work. A perfect conclusion to a day in La Candelaria is dinner on the rooftop patio of the Hotel de la Opera, which overlooks the tops of churches and the Palace of Justice.

On the recommendation of my cousins, we stayed at the Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia on a street with very good restaurants. We particularly enjoyed Primi, an Italian restaurant located across the street from the hotel.

The food scene in Bogota is growing rapidly. We liked the light crust pizzas at Julia’s, a popular hole-in-the-wall pizzeria, the grilled meat and Latin beat of Andres, and the Peruvian-Chinese fare at Maman Tusan’s in Usaquen, a picturesque old village within the northern border of the city.

Bogota has several high-end shopping malls. The top (3rd) floor of El Retiro shopping center has a Colombian food court called La Plaza de Andres with reasonably priced meals. If you’re looking for pre-Colombian-inspired jewelry, L.A. Cano in the Centro Andino shopping mall offers some affordable and attractive earrings and necklaces. Or if you are looking for indigenous crafts, Artesanías de Colombia is a reliable resource.

Back at the Central Cemetery on my last day in Colombia, it’s finally my turn to leave a bouquet of roses at Leo Kopp’s statue. Together with my cousin, we step up on either side and each whisper in his ear. That the strong family Colombian connection lives on through future generations, I’m sure Leo and Ida would be very, very happy.