8.26.2016

The Claremont Resort & Spa | a Fairmont Hotel

renovated lobby with a whimsical, contemporary flair

Having first opened in 1915, just over one century ago, the Claremont Resort was recently acquired by Fairmont and has undergone a massive $45 million renovation. Set in the Berkeley Hills, with a commanding view of San Francisco Bay, the Claremont is an iconic landmark in the East Bay, the largest all-wood structure west of the Mississippi. The preeminent hotel in Berkeley, it is a full-service resort with a renowned Spa. Its fully equipped Health Club, Pool, and Tennis Club are quite popular with us locals (memberships are available to the public). Perhaps the hotel's biggest claim to fame was the use of its pool area for scenes in the Robin Williams comedy, Mrs. Doubtfire.

The results of the renovation are remarkable. Pictured above is a view of the front desk area. The lobby has the same grand dimensions, but it has been updated and made much lighter and more contemporary in the process. A large adjoining room formerly used for meetings now opens into the lobby, creating a bar area with views of the bay.

The resort has 276 rooms and suites over 9 floors, all of which were renovated in 2015. An historic hotel, every room is a bit different, but you should expect rooms that are smaller than those in newly constructed hotels. We were shown a Deluxe Bay View room — it had the feel of a "Superior" room to me; the bathroom had a step-in shower (no tub), a single vanity, and toilet. The Signature Bay View was larger, and its bathroom also provided a large soaking tub. The rooms to aspire to are Tower Suites and the Presidential Suite. The $26 resort fee entitles guests to free WiFi, daily newspaper, and (in effect) complimentary membership in the Claremont Club during their stay.

The Claremont has applied for Virtuoso membership. Until that time, I can get clients "informal" amenities including upgrades if available and a welcome amenity.

copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

8.25.2016

Shangri-La Luxury Circle amenities | save hundreds



Shangri-La is the latest luxury hotel chain to establish a preferred partner amenity program. With 98 hotels and resorts around the world, the chain is especially strong in Asia. Although 15 hotels are members of Virtuoso, all 98 provide Luxury Circle amenities when booked through a partner luxury travel advisor.

Even better than Virtuoso amenities, Luxury Circle guests receive:
  • Complimentary daily full breakfast for two, including in-room dining
  • Upgrade at the time of booking to the next category, subject to availability*
  • Hotel credit of $100 (or 10% of average daily room rate, if that's higher)
  • Early check-in, late check-out, subject to availability
Upgrade at time of booking is an especially great value at their hotels in Paris and London. I'll use a one night booking, 15SEP, 2016 as an example.

Shangri-La Paris is known for its Eiffel Tower view rooms. The closest Parisian hotel to the Eiffel Tower, half of the rooms have direct facing views. Were I to make a booking for you right now, I could book at Premier Room at 1095€ ... and you'd be upgraded to the Eiffel Tower View Room, normally 1320€. You save 225€ per night!

Shangri-La at the Shard, London is also known for its incredible view from high above the city. The room of choice is the Iconic City View Room, 800£ per night ... but I can right now get you that room for the rate of a Premier City View Room, 700£ per night. You save 100£ per night

These are likely the rooms you'd want to book anyway, so look at Luxury Circle as your way of booking an effectively discounted rate. You're saving hundreds of dollars over your multi-night stay ... and getting free breakfast and a bonus $100 hotel credit that you can use towards drinks at the bar, a treatment in the spa, or lunch or dinner in a celebrated restaurant.

*Note: you can't use the upgrade at booking to go into Club or into a Suite or Villa.

copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

8.21.2016

how to plan a trip to France

driving route from Cap Ferrat to Castellan, Menton and Monte Carlo

Planning a major trip is a pleasurable endeavor as anticipation is such a huge part of the joy of travel. At the same time, detailed planning can be complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating. Travelers are so very different in how they plan. Some prefer total spontaneity — they rent a car and drive off into the sunset with no reservations but only a sense of adventure — not recommended! Other travelers are totally structured, every day organized down to the hour with spreadsheets detailing each element of the trip.

How do I plan my own travel? The intent of this article is to describe what works for me. Here's the story of how I'm planning our upcoming trip to France.

Step one: grab that great fare (or those award tickets). Back in May, British Airways had a three day business class sale, and the deal was matched by other carriers. I grabbed a great fare I found on United, nonstops from SFO to CDG. The same tickets are 400% higher today, so I saved 75%!

On other occasions, I've found availability for Saver Awards and grabbed those seats with miles. Moral: if you hesitate, you lose.

Step two: grasp the big picture of your trip. I knew I wanted to visit Paris + Something Else, and I had 20 nights to play with. As I haven't been to the Riviera since 1969 and am frequently asked about hotels in that part of France, I knew I wanted to end the trip on the Riviera. My big question: where to spend the 7 nights between Paris and the Riviera?

Step three: research a broad, day-by-day itinerary. While many travelers prefer to do all the research themselves, I know from my work as a luxury travel advisor that you're typically better served by enlisting the support of local experts. I hired W Travel France, one of our preferred travel partners in France, to assist with itinerary suggestions. They recommended we focus on the Luberon area of Provence (where I'd never been) and helped me fill in the broad outline of my trip with a "first draft" itinerary. After a couple of back-and-forth emails, we had a full 20-page itinerary in hand.

Step four: book hotels and arrange your logistics. We reserved train tickets from Paris to Avignon, rented a car from Avignon to the Nice airport, booked our hotels, got our flight back to Paris, and booked our final night using Starwood points at the Sheraton CDG.

Step five: tweak the details and perfect the itinerary. Finally, I turned to Google Maps to familiarize myself with the trip and flesh it out. As I'm a very visual person, I find it very helpful to see everything graphically displayed. Google Maps, a powerful (though frustrating) tool, is one way to visualize each day of your trip.

There's a big difference between having a 20-page printed itinerary ... and seeing each of your 13 driving days on a map. Working off Google maps, we were able to fill in the details and add ideas and notes about what to see in the various villages. If we hear about a must-see attraction in the Luberon, our map will show the ideal day to include that village (if we have the time and energy).

And when we get there, Google maps will even provide spoken driving directions on my iPhone!

Step six: share your trip. I've provided the link to the two google maps of our driving tour of Southern France. Your feedback is welcome ... crowd-sourcing in action!

From Avignon to Aix-en-Provence

from Aix-en-Provence to Nice Airport

bonus: map of some recommended restaurants in Paris


copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or

8.17.2016

Virtuoso Week top ten | Belmond Cadogan

Belmond Cadogan Hotel, London

This is #2 of Ourisman Travel's top ten takeaways from Virtuoso Travel Week.

Belmond is opening a boutique hotel in London. Scheduled to open its doors in 2017, this storied hotel company is undertaking a $48 million renovation of an 1887 Queen Anne style building. With just 54 rooms and suites, I'm anticipating something very special — a must-see for my next visit to London.

Already a member of Virtuoso through its participation in the Virtuoso Preview program, amenities have not yet been announced... but these are the standard Bellini Club amenities:
  • Buffet or full breakfast for 2 daily
  • Complimentary upgrade based on availability at check-in
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi access
  • $90 hotel credit per stay for a room booking
  • $200 hotel credit per stay for a suite booking
Convenient location for shopping at Harrods or visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum.


copyright (c) 2016 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

8.16.2016

VirtuosoWeek top ten | Canada on sale

Shangri-La Vancouver

Ourisman Travel is back from Virtuoso Travel Week. Here's is the first of our "top ten" takeaways from this years #VirtuosoWeek: Canada is on sale! One USD (greenback) is currently worth 1.28 CAD (loonie). This is a 40% discount from where things stood one year ago.

Great news for U.S. citizens wanting to travel north of the 49th parallel ... and it also makes Canada the perfect destination for U.K. or European citizens in shock over the current value of the pound sterling and the Euro. Here are our top ideas for visiting Canada this summer, fall, or winter:

Fogo Island Inn. This resort was one of my top ten takeaways from the 2014 Travel Week, and it's a stunning, all-inclusive resort on a small island in Newfoundland. Virtuoso guests receive a $100 USD hotel credit in addition to everything that's already included.

Vancouver is one of my favorite cities in the world, with great Virtuoso hotels (including the Shangri-La pictured above), fine dining, and a climate suited for year-round active travel. You can bike or hike to your heart's content. Walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge, visit the Archeological Museum at UBC, shop at Granville Market, or take a seaplane to Vancouver Island and visit the Buchart Gardens.

Quebec City's Christmas Markets. You don't have to travel to Germany to experience Old World Christmas Markets. Less than a two hours from New York, less than three hours from Chicago... it's a wonderful weekend getaway with two Virtuoso hotels ready to offer their five-star hospitality.

Montreal's shopping and dining. On parle fran├žais ici. The largest city in the provence of Quebec, Canada's francophone province, Montreal offers visitor great shopping and dining opportunities, including three Michelin-starred restaurants.

Wine Tasting at Niagra Falls. There are 50 wineries dotting the shores of Lake Ontario, and we can arrange wine tours of this not-yet-discovered wine region.

copyright (c) 2016 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

8.07.2016

Las Vegas textures

Aria Resort & Casino, Las Vegas (c) 2016 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Las Vegas is larger than life — witness the Aria Resort & Casino pictured above. With over four thousand rooms and suites, many highly regarded restaurants, and quite affordable room rates, Aria is one of the newest properties in Las Vegas and well suited for those who want to live big.

But if you prefer boutique, there are also FANtastic choices available in Las Vegas. My favorite is the Mandarin Oriental, part of City Center in the center of the strip. A casino-free and smoking-free hotel, it's less than 400 rooms — 392 to be exact. While big by Mandarin Oriental standards, this is truly petite by Vegas standards.

We're staying at the MO Las Vegas for my weekend at #VirtuosoWeek. I love my Cityscape room. On the 18th floor, it has an interesting view of Aria and Monte Carlo and even a peak at New York, New York and its roller coaster to the left. Elegant and tastefully decorated, my clients enjoy FAN Club amenities (even better than Virtuoso amenities) throughout their stay: American breakfast for two daily, a $100 F&B or Spa credit, and a room upgrade if available upon check-in.

The other boutique choice in Las Vegas is the Four Seasons Las Vegas. Located at the south end of the strip, the Four Seasons sits atop one tower of the Mandalay Bay. It is an oasis of serenity in the midst of the madness of Vegas, but just steps from the casino and the wave pool at Mandalay Bay (and FS guests have access). Contact me for complete information on available Preferred Partner amenities at the Four Seasons and Virtuoso amenities at Aria.

copyright  (c)  2016 by David Ourisman LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

8.06.2016

Aman connections

(l to r): John Reed, Karime Buraye, David Ourisman, Sally Baughen, Mark Swinton

I write every year about Virtuoso Travel Week, but I wanted to give you the inside scoop of the value of this investment of money and time. I'm just spending three nights this trip, but the purpose of the visit is to spend time with managers of Virtuoso hotels and resorts.

The picture above illustrates just this. I set up a meeting with a few GM's of the most popular Aman resorts I sell. Pictured above are John Reed (GM of Amankora), Karime Buraye (Aman Sales Manager for the Americas), myself, Sally Baughen (GM of Amansara), and Mark Swinton (GM of the Amanresorts in Indonesia — Amankila, Amanda, Amanusa, Amanwana, and Amanjiwo).

Amanjunkies may recognize these names and faces as Aman GM's make themselves available to guests and are on a first-name basis. These relationships translate into clout when we make bookings on your behalf, as we are very successful in getting upgrades for our clients across the Aman family of resorts in addition to the Virtuoso amenities or package inclusions.

In a word, it all about our Aman-connections!

copyright  (c)  2016 by David Ourisman LLC.  All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.