8.13.2019

Paris — anytime, anywhere

on the side of the Seine (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

I woke up early my first morning in Paris and went out for a walk just as dawn was breaking. It was a Sunday morning in August, and there was no traffic. Practically nobody else was awake. I felt that I had Paris to myself as I walked through the Jardin des Tuileries. Crossing the Seine on a small pedestrian bridge, the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, I ambled through some residential streets behind the Musée d'Orsay, eventually making my way back to the Seine.

Snapping pictures as I walked along, I saw the newly dawned sun illuminating the mansard roofs of classic Haussmannian buildings. I crossed the Pont Royal and marveled at the sunlight reflecting brightly off the glass roof of the Grand Palais to the west. Looking to the far bank of the Seine, I saw these four young people — two couples — sitting together by the river.  Turning left on the Voie Georges Pompidou, I walked above the spot where they were sitting and was lucky to capture this image through the trees.

The picture tells a story, though the viewer has to imagine what that story might be. Two young couples spending an evening together in Paris, sharing kisses as the sun comes up on a brand new day, this is Paris — anytime, anywhere — the most beautiful city in the world, a place for old and new lovers alike.

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

8.11.2019

thank you, Ritz Paris

hardworking concierge at the Ritz Paris

Travel plans don't always go smoothly... and when the travel gods throw wrinkles into our journeys, this is when truly great hotels shine. Ritz Paris offered us gracious hospitality and incredible service during such a time (just yesterday).

I had flown to Paris after my Baltic cruise to meet my daughter. She was arriving the next morning to begin a Masters program at Parsons Paris and to move into an apartment for the duration. After a month of jumping through French bureaucratic hoops, she, her boyfriend, and their two dogs enjoyed the flight over on La Compagnie. They made their way, luggage in tow, to her new apartment. On arrival, the door to the building was locked, and the building manager was nowhere to be seen.

What to do in the early morning, on a Sunday, in August, in Paris? You will not be surprised that the only response to our repeated phone calls was voice mail. We left messages. We left more messages. None were not returned. What to do? Where to turn?

Ritz Paris was a true angel in a time of near panic. I approached guest reception. Would my daughter and her two dogs be welcome to hang out in our room? Mais oui, but of course was the immediate response, without a moment of hesitation.

They left a massive amount of luggage with the bell captain, made their way up to our Junior Suite, and camped out for the day. They enjoyed showers and got some much needed sleep.

But how to get her into her own apartment? My phone calls were getting no response, so I turned to Didier, the hardworking concierge pictured above. Explaining the problem, Didier got to work. I don't know how he did it ... but after hours of perseverance, he eventually got the manager of the leasing company on the phone. Ultimately he got through to the building manager. Bottom line: my daughter received her key late last night ... and she'll be able to move in today.

This story of great service doesn't end there. Remember the ton of luggage that was checked at the front door of the Ritz? I got them a room at the Castille, directly behind the Ritz on Rue Cambon. The Ritz bell captain rolled the trolly of luggage through a subbasement of the Ritz to the back of the hotel and across the street to the front door of the Castille.

No one could expect better service, and I am deeply grateful. I showed it to my wonderful hosts at Ritz Paris as best I could (will need to get some more euro notes this morning). So a story with a happy ending!

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

7.29.2019

Eichardt's | lakeside luxury in Queenstown

couple by the lake (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Queenstown, a beautiful small town with less than 16,000 full-time residents, belongs on every itinerary to New Zealand. Its downtown wraps around the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu, and former visitors will recognize this weeping willow tree — a favorite spot for couples to frame photos of their visit.

Queenstown abounds in possibilities for retail therapy (whether you want hand carved Maori jewelry or possum fur sweaters) and thrilling opportunities to engage in bungee-jumping, jet boat rides, or downhill skiing in the winter. It's also an ideal base for helicopter tours of majestic fjords (Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound) and glaciers.

If you want to stay downtown, Eichardt's Private Hotel is my first choice for five-star luxury accommodations. Located right on the lake, I was fortunate enough to have been blocked in one of Eichardt's apartments. Designed by Virginia Fischer, my second-floor living room area had a comfortable seating area with gas-burning fireplace and an unobstructed lake view.

my living room at Eichardt's Private Hotel (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

A welcome and totally unexpected bonus was the apartment's washer dryer. I was able to leave Queenstown with enough clean laundry to finish out the trip. (Pro tip: if you wash out clothes in hotel sinks, keep a small plastic 8 oz. container of powdered laundry soap and a rubber sink stopper in your suitcase).

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

7.25.2019

so why am I going on a cruise?




Some travelers are born cruisers who revel in the shipboard experience. Viewing sunrises and sunsets as they sail the seven seas, taking perhaps too much advantage of 24/7 dining opportunities, enjoying myriad opportunities for on-board entertainment, all this comes with one, affordable cruise fare. I'm not one of those travelers! Given my druthers, I'd much rather stay in the center of things with all the attractions of a city, village, beach, or mountain resort just outside the front door of my hotel.

So why am I, a hotel specialist, going on Windstar's Baltic Delight next week? Here are the top three reasons why I'm really excited about this trip...
  1. I love this itinerary. I'm especially looking forward to Tallinn and St. Petersburg, but I've never been to any of these countries. Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Finland, and Sweden are brand new destinations for me to check off my bucket list.
  2. Pack and unpack just once... that's really appealing when you're on a 10 day cruise and get to visit all the ports on the map above. Touring by day and traveling while we sleep, I can't think of any other way to see all these places in 10 days.
  3. Our ship is small, intimate, and luxurious. Star Pride (formerly Seabourn Pride) has just 106 suites, and even the smallest one is 280 square feet — small for a hotel room but large for a cruise ship. You'll never catch me on a mega-ship with thousands upon thousands of guests crammed into half as many tiny, postage stamp rooms. Large ships are like Las Vegas casino hotels floating in the middle of the ocean. If Vegas doesn't float your boat for travel luxury, don't settle for a huge Vegas-sized ship at sea. 
A true luxury cruise ship line, Windstar is not as all-inclusive as Seabourn or Regent Seven Seas, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Drinkers can take advantage of a very reasonable beverage package, but unbundling alcohol from the cruise price works to the advantage of non-drinkers.

Choosing shore excursions has been a LOT of fun! Claire and I immersed ourselves in the lists of excursions offered by Windstar, Shore Trips, and Viator. Looking at all the possibilities got us excited about each destination. We eventually chose excursions from each of these three companies. (I now realize how time consuming planning shore excursions can be, so do rely on your travel advisor's destination knowledge to enhance your cruise).

As I'll be posting periodically during the tour on Travel Horizons and Facebook, subscribe to Travel Horizons (use the link in the right column) and follow me on Facebook.

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

7.23.2019

Minaret Station | remote luxury

cabin at Minaret Station (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved


















There are different kinds of luxury.  One type of luxury is about exquisite hotel rooms with the most comfortable mattresses and linens; gorgeous drapes and furnishings; bathrooms with marble counters, deep soaking tubs, and pulsating rainshowers; and panoramic views of alpine mountains or uninterrupted coastlines.

Another vision of luxury eschews being up-to-date in order to offer its guests a full immersion in the history and culture of the place to which they've traveled.

mountain stream (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

And then there's Minaret Station — I've shown the wooden cabin where I spent one quite glorious day. This is the luxury of living in perfect comfort in a totally remote location entirely off the grid. A simple but comfortable cabin. Plain wooden floors. Spacious bedroom with views onto this mountain valley. A deck whose hot tub shared the same views. A living room with sofabed (if you bring your kids). A bathroom without a square inch of marble ... but dual vanities, a shower with plenty of hot water, and the best water pressure we experienced anywhere in New Zealand. Did I say we were off the grid? The resort generates its own hydroelectric power from a waterfall just behind where I was standing. Oh, and the food was wonderful!

I absolutely loved my much too-short one day at Minaret Station. Very remote, it's just a 45 minute helicopter ride from Queenstown, and getting there is half the fun. If you're an avid travel photographer, put this resort on your bucket list. Arriving at Minaret Station is like landing in a photographic paradise. See more photos in my two previous blog articles here and here.

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

7.19.2019

Matakauri Lodge | moody waters

moody waters at Matakauri (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Did I ever say that Queenstown was beautiful? Obviously a rhetorical question, Queenstown is indeed beautiful, both when it's bright and sunny ... and when it's dark and cloudy. As many a landscape photographer will attest, clouds like those in the picture above make for dramatic photographs. I captured this image at dawn. The thick clouds meant no rosy sunrise colors, but the texture of these cumulous clouds hanging low over the water was a special early-morning treat.


bathtub view at Matakauri (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Our first night in Queenstown found us at Matakauri Lodge. About 7 minutes outside of town, the lodge is located in a beautifully secluded location right on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. If you love a bathtub-with-a-view, this is a hallmark of Virginia Fischer interiors.

There are two secluded Virtuoso lakeside resorts in the Queenstown area — Matakauri and the equally beautiful Blanket Bay. Matakauri is close to town while Blanket Bay is about 45 minutes away at the northern end of the same lake. The lodges are quite distinct; Matakauri's elegant feminine decor contrasts with Blanket Bay's elegant hunting lodge ambience. I've spent one evening at both lodges and loved each one ... for different reasons.

You can't make a wrong choice in Queenstown. No matter where you stay, you'll enjoy the gorgeous views, luxurious accommodations, and incredible food.

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

7.16.2019

Queenstown | for scenery and adrenaline rushes

Taking the Plunge (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all right reserved

Queenstown is my favorite place in New Zealand... and I say that having never made it to Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound. Inclement weather during two separate visits caused the cancelations of our helicopter flights through these breath-taking fjords. But even so, I love Queenstown.

Queenstown Harbor (c) 2019 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

If you want gorgeous scenery, nothing beats this town set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. A small resort town, it has everything a nature lover could want. I've always enjoyed the beautiful setting — the lake and the snow-capped restaurants — and Queenstown has great restaurants and many opportunities for productive retail therapy. Shop for possum wool sweaters (warm and so soft), and do drop into Waka Jewelers to browse the hand made carvings and jewelry. Walk upstairs to visit the small gallery and see the owner/artist at work.

Or if you're after an adrenaline rush, nothing is quite so exciting/terrifying than taking the plunge off the Kawarau Bridge. 43 meters above the water (141 feet), I've visited the bridge twice to take in the experience. No, I've never jumped — nor has has any of my fellow travelers, though one of our group was tempted to give it a try — but I was quite satisfied to experience vicariously the sheer terror of the experience. Or for more conventional thrills, there's downhill skiing during the winter months (summer in the Northern hemisphere).

Coming up in my next blogs, three fabulous (and so different) luxury lodges in and near Queenstown.

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.