Travel Passages – Blog


Finding Warmth This Winter – Paris and London

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Finding the Warmth This Winter

By Joe Decker

This year, I made my first visit to Paris with my wife. Working in the travel industry for the better part of ten years, representing a fantastic collection of Hotels in the city, I thought it was about time I experience one of the most beloved and iconic places in the world.

Arriving in France, as part of our welcome, Deluxe Drivers arranged a meet and greet for us. Jet lagged, and it being my first time, it was wonderful to just have to worry about getting through customs, and having my suitcase waiting for me. The rest would be handled by Allen. On our way to our hotel, our driver guide rode the line perfectly between sharing facts about what we passed, yet respecting how tired we were. As we approached our final destination, he made sure to circle around so that we would see the Eiffel Tower for the first time directly in front of us, shining in the first hours of daylight.

I must admit I was a bit weary of traveling to Paris at this time, as I was afraid I was going to miss out on so much of the natural beauty. However, what I was greeted with was a sense of calm. Don’t get me wrong, the city was still full of life and tourists, but I instantly felt a kind of peacefulness and a cozy, kind of warmth that only winter can bring.

Ideally, I enjoy exploring on foot as much as I can. It allows me to truly experience everything from landmarks to the out of the way gems – like a whiskey bar in the 2nd Arrondissement that felt like it was hollowed directly into the rock, or a quaint French restaurant just blocks away from the Plaza Tour Eiffel, that instantly gives you the feeling like you are in on a local “secret”.

For my entire time with Passages of Distinction, I have worked closely with Séverine at the Les Grands Hotels Parisiens, three hotels, each in a different style fitting their location in Paris. With Hotel Powers currently under renovation, and being re-imagined as a 5-Star hotel, I was only able to experience Plaza Tour Eiffel and Grand Hotel du Palais Royal. Plaza Tour Eiffel, is a charming 4-star right off the Trocadero in a quiet residential area. In the mornings, we would stand on our balcony and look out onto the Eiffel Tower. The 5-star Grand Hotel is located in the vicinity of the Palais Royal, surrounded by classical architecture, delectable cuisine, and luxury boutiques. After a long day fighting crowds to glimpse the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, my wife and I retreated the short walk to the Hotel.

The moment we entered the ultra-refined lobby with its soothing light-colored wood, our weariness from the world’s most famous museum washed away.

It felt like we stepped into our own private mansion. The luxury rooms and suites, all designed by Pierre Yves-Rochon are carefully crafted to provide guests with an elegant, warm atmosphere. The Lounge Bar is an ideal place to unwind after a day of exploring the city, we sipped on delicious cocktails that we felt were created just for us. The service is warm and personable. Le Lulli serves guests delectable seasonal cuisine in a winter garden. Grand Hotel du Palais Royal has its own exclusive spa, with a large Turkish bath and top of the line fitness area for guests desiring a wellness retreat during their stay.

After a few museum filled days, we decided to venture out of the city. Of course, I looked to Deluxe Drivers, leaving the planning in their capable hands. Promptly at 7am, we were greeted at our hotel by a sleek Mercedes and to our pleasant surprise, a warm welcome from Allen, our driver from our first day. Throughout the short drive to Versailles, Allen filled the time with historical facts, and interesting tidbits about the area.

After spending the morning admiring this beacon of opulence, and taking a lovely stroll through a short section of the winter touched gardens, we were met by our driver to be guided through to the other sections of the Palace grounds, before heading back to Paris. When we returned, my wife said that she always loved Versailles but hated how troubling it is getting there through public means. Having a personal driver guide made all the difference, there was no travel stress. All we had to do is sit back and enjoy.
Our journey to the City of Lights was over. It was truly magnificent getaway, and I feel now more than ever what draws people to this destination over and over again.

Before we could return home from our week abroad, we had a 22 hour layover in one of our favorite cities, London. Having less than a day we had to really maximize our time, but with us staying at the St. James’s Hotel & Club, the whole city was conveniently just around the corner.

Tucked away on a quiet cul-de-sac near prestigious Mayfair, and on the doorstep of Green Park and Buckingham Palace, the Hotel has been catering to London’s elite since the 1850’s.

We arrived late that evening, and were looking forward to unwinding after our day of traveling. Pulling up to the Hotel, it was hard to believe we were in the heart of London. The St. James’s just exudes a sense of peace. After being escorted to our spacious, and exquisitely decorated suite, I was instantly drawn into the beautiful soft tones of the decor. It felt like the perfect place to getaway.

Having not eaten and anticipating the food of William Drabble, we partook in some room service. The entire dining concept is overseen by the Michelin-star chef, and it shows! We ordered what turned out to be one of the best sandwiches I have ever tasted! A nightcap at the bar was the final stop for the evening. We chose a quiet, cozy corner in the bar, complete with a stylish bench seating and beautiful windows overlooking the quiet street. On our way back to our room, my wife was enchanted by the beautiful staircase that winds through the core of the Hotel, and is adorned with a magnificent chandelier. In typical London fashion, we awoke to the sounds of rain on the window. Before venturing out, I was able to plan our route on the inroom complimentary smartphone. Being able to book tickets to the nearby Churchill War Rooms, and search for nearby restaurants all without having to worry about if you are using your precious international data. Best part is you can take the phone with you! Before we even reached the door, we were helped by the friendly staff, having our airport transfers arranged, luggage stored, and an umbrella handed to us. Within minutes we left our private home and were in the bustling city.

Sadly, our time passed all too quickly and before we knew it we were off to the airport planning our next trip to the St. James’s and to make sure we leave enough time to experience Seven Park Place.

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Fete Imperiale and the City of Music

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Adam’s Austrian Fairytale

By Adam Szymanski

I have had the pleasure of working with Sacher Hotels for three years now. To be honest, I thought I knew these hotels in and out…but man was I wrong! I just returned from hosting the most incredible FAM trip to stay at each of the two hotels (Vienna and Salzburg), and amazement aside, it was one of the most informative trips of my life. As I said, I know Sacher Hotels in and out, but because of this trip…I now understand just how iconic they truly are.

Our trip began in the exquisite, historic city of Vienna. Our trip was co-sponsored with Austrian Airlines and they were kind enough to provide us with international business class tickets. They recently recreated their entire business class experience, and it was very impressive – definitely something to check out. I especially liked the fully-flat beds and amenity kit. Upon arrival, we were met and taken to the iconic Sacher Hotel. Greeted and effortlessly checked-in, we had the afternoon to spend touring the old city. Our tour didn’t last long, as we had Waltz Lessons planned for us! None of us had ever really waltzed (for the most part), so the lessons were mainly spent laughing and trying to do the basic four steps. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. The day ended perfectly with outdoor dining at the local restaurant “Heuriger”, specializing in Austrian Cuisine. After filling up on as much wiener schnitzel we could handle, we headed back to our palace for the night.

The next day, we had a fabulous breakfast, followed by an early morning factory tour to see how the world-famous Sacher Torte is made. It was great to see, and of course we stuffed our faces once again (this time before noon)! We headed back to the hotel to begin getting ready for the Fete Imperiale, or the Summer Ball. Each of the ladies on the trip were given a personal, private hair and makeup stylist to help them prepare for the night. All necessary of course when you’re going to a European Grand Ball!

The evening began with the most incredible surprise – the Sacher team arranged for horse-driven carriages to take us to the royal palace. Nope, not dreaming. Everything you read about in fairytales growing up was happening for us at that very moment. We arrived at the ball, where each of us were personally greeted by Mrs. Guertler (Hostess of the ball and Owner of Sacher) herself. We watched the ceremonies, then danced the night away until 5 a.m.! It was unforgettable to say the least.

How to follow-up on that?! The next day was pretty incredible as well. Mrs. Guertler invited our FAM group to have lunch with her at her private home. We were all still in the afterglow from the night before, but somehow, she still managed to impress us even more. Lunch was fabulous of course, like something out of Real Simple magazine. Afterward, we headed to the train station to board our train to Salzburg!

Upon arrival in Salzburg, we were transferred to the Hotel Sacher Salzburg, checked-in, and immediately headed out on an impromptu city tour. We stumbled upon a few of the filming locations from The Sound of Music which was very cool. The night only got better as we then attended a private performance of Mozart’s famous concertos at Mirabell Palace – A unique and unforgettable moment.

We ended the trip with another day touring the beautiful city of Salzburg, including visits to the von Trapp Mansion, the Palace (and lunch there, too!), Mozart’s Birthplace, and more! We ended the tour in the lakes region, at this breathtaking place called Salzkammergut…say that 5 times! It was the perfect ending to our Austrian fairy tale. All in all, it was one of the best moments of my life.

So many wonderful memories from our trip…it really was one of the best FAM’s I have ever been on!!!
From learning the secrets to baking the perfect Sacher Torte at the factory to our fantasy like horse & carriage ride to the ball, our stay in Vienna was truly memorable! Of course I won’t forget our waltz lessons which were so much fun and sure gave us a lot of laughs! The impeccable service, beautiful accommodations and sheer authenticity of this historic property truly define the Hotel Sacher…..and we can’t leave out the best wienerschnitzel ever!!

Judy SteinOvation Travel
St. james's rooftop

Our Girls Trip to London

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Sari’s Family Getaway – Part 1: London

By Sari Freeman

This was our first ever girl’s only trip! When Alissa (my youngest,), graduated from high school, I was determined to have quality time with my now, grown up daughters (Jenny is the eldest).  As luck would have it, their “mum” has connections in London!! With two fabulous hotels St. James Hotel & Club and Flemings Mayfair, accompanied by our new “Destination Experience”:  Chauffeur Drive Britain, I put a wonderful visit to together!

Upon arrival, we were met in style by Chauffeur Drive Britain with a Mercedes S Class! We were whisked to The Flemings Mayfair where Branca, (Guest Relations Manager and secret weapon) welcomed us with open arms!  We immediately felt the love!  I hadn’t stayed since their gorgeous redo. The new Lobby is far more chic and welcoming! Arriving early, we took a stroll around Mayfair, while they finished preparing our amazing two bedroom apartment! This was an ideal set up for us, staying three nights, we were able to spread out, unpack and repack after a few purchases!!  What you really must know about Flemings’ is that it is one of the only hotels that boasts apartments and there are ten, 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with kitchens and luxurious spaces.

There were several things we needed to do (aside from shopping): Visit the Tate Modern, see a show, experience the Eye and a traditional afternoon tea. We were in town 4 nights so had the time to do them all!  Alissa, the most passionate about musicals, wanted to see Kinky Boots and it was great fun and as they say in England “well done!!”

We set out to conquer the town! The first day we were on our own and did a lot of walking! We found a lovely restaurant in the Shepherds Market area a few short blocks away, called Al Sultan. This little Lebanese restaurant was ideal for a light dinner where we shared all the wonderful appetizers. The next morning, we had a gorgeous breakfast at Flemings in their new Ormer restaurant where both Henrik Muehle, our remarkable General Manager and Colin Exton, our fabulous Director of Sales & Marketing welcomed us! They made us feel right at home! We loved the breakfast, it was scrumptious and the next day, our server, remembered our names, likes and dislikes. Now that is service!

Chauffeur Drive Britain sent Gary to pick us up along with Pepe the guide who was amazing!! I had requested a trip out to Windsor Castle and due to restrictions that only their guides can take you through. Pepe prepped us while in the car on the way.  We loved it and after the tour, we dined at The Crown, a wonderful restaurant in an historic building in nearby Bray. Then we had originally planned to go to Oxford but the girls talked Pepe and they decided on the spot to return to London to do a bit of touring there instead. So Pepe gave us a brief “Jack the Ripper” and a bit of a “street art” tour too! He was excellent and wonderful with young travelers. Afterward, we went to a very cool restaurant: It was very good but it gets very busy so you really must go early to avoid a long line!

For our last night, we moved over to the St. James’s Hotel & Club, our quintessentially British Five-Star boutique hotel., They had just completed a beautiful soft goods refurbishment. The new fabrics were a combination of wool, silk and velvet, in lovely muted tones with a pop of blue and green giving the hotel a fresher more inviting look! Jeroen Suijker, our wonderful DOS, along with Madeleine Calon, our fabulous head concierge (first female concierge in the UK) and VP of the Concierge Society in England greeted us at reception! Anjana Pandya, our General Manager was traveling, but left some lovely gifts for the girls and welcome goodies!! They escorted us up to the penthouse (with exclusive elevator access) to the Westminster Suite that features a stunning terrace (the largest of 10) with gorgeous landscaping, where we proceeded to open our bottle of champagne and made a toast to the skyline of London!

Our trip was outstanding and London is a truly fabulous destination for culture, history, theater, dining and of course, shopping!

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Israel My Way Delivers

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A Trip of a Lifetime

By Sari Freeman

Israel, to my surprise, was far more fascinating than I ever expected. While I had heard this many times, it wasn’t until I visited myself, that I really got it. Something I learned quite some time ago, was that the difference between a good trip and a “trip of a lifetime” is the expertise of the operator/guide. I had experienced the best possible exposure to Israel that I could have ever imagined. The sites, the history, cultures were amazing and inspiring, yet it was the people to whom they introduced us that made the greatest impact on me.

Join us on Israel My Way’s trip of a lifetime as it was orchestrated for my first trip to Israel.

We had a group of seasoned owners, independents, and managers, all of whom had traveled extensively around the world. The trip started out with what looked like a wonderful itinerary, but what unfolded, was nothing less than magic. It was the people we met and homes to which Yoav took us that made the entire journey a spiritual and an intimate one, rather than just a view from the outside.

Eric, our fearless leader, who led our entire 6-day trip, has a knack for reaching out to anyone on the street to find a spontaneous interaction that could touch us all. One of the most moving experiences I had was when we were by the Jordan River baptismal site and a lady who was soaking wet (obviously she was just baptized) walked by. Eric stopped her to ask her about her experience. She completely burst into tears while telling us about her family and personal struggles. She had come to this spiritual place fora  purpose. She felt blessed and was completely elated.

Israel - The sights, flavors, sounds, experiences were extraordinary. The people's relationships were the keys.

Joyce StriarProtravel International

From outstanding hotels in the cities and countryside to awesome activities like a cross country helicopter ride and a walk through a Roman storm drain this has been an amazing adventure. And yet, there is so much more I'd like to experience here! I'll be back!

Damian McCabeMcCabe World Travel

Really enjoyed taking a graffiti tour of the Florentine neighborhood with Shir'el, a wonderfully passionate ambassador for Tel Aviv.

Angela BurnsStrong Travel

On our first day, as we were walking around the beautiful, diverse, Old Jerusalem, we worked our way through the market and narrow streets. Eric found us a spot from which we had an outstanding vantage point. From a roof top, we experienced the full view of the Dome of the Rock to which so many people were walking during the call to prayer, and the Western Wall, where you could see the Jewish people praying. It was unbelievable. It was remarkable. It was mesmerizing.

There was a peace that I felt during and after I left Israel. We met so many wonderful, truly spiritual people who seemed so very much at peace with themselves. They seemed so happy with what they were doing. Yoav and Eric introduced us to some incredible women, who were strong yet vulnerable and incredible at what they did.

Sari and group at Palms

Passages Education Vacation to The Shore Club and The Palms

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The Shore Club is a “Wow”!

By Sari Freeman

I couldn’t wait to get back to fully experience the Shore Club!  I had been down, in October, to do a hard hat tour. The rooms were already complete, at that time, and truly stunning, but the public spaces were still under construction and hard to imagine how they might turn out!  I knew they had to be spectacular, since the rooms were.  At that time, I fell in love, but, seeing it fully operational was oh so impressive!

I knew it would be a “wow” but it was even more awe inspiring, in ways, than I expected! We were able to put together a great group of travel professionals to bring down to experience the resort along with its sister The Palms!

The lobby is grand yet still very elegant and doesn’t feel overwhelming or cold.  The Sui-Ren restaurant is gorgeous, with its huge lily-shaped metal design work on the ceiling and rich woodwork that adds the perfect dose of warmth. But the Colonnade pool with the cabanas and swings were the biggest surprise! Under construction, I could not imagine how inviting and somehow intimate it would turn out. It is picture perfect!

The suites at this resort are outstanding! The junior Suites are wonderful, beautifully appointed and spacious but the penthouses are magnificent! They are so open and airy, with huge balconies that act as full outdoor living rooms!  They come in 3 bedroom, 6 bedroom options and some that can even connect up to 9 bedrooms. Talk about heaven for an upmarket inter generational or celebration with friends!

The walkways, outdoor artwork, planters and landscaping have been beautifully designed.  This is especially impressive considering the property is brand new!

But the biggest surprise is the Dunes Spa.  Originally intended as a temporary spa, (just until the full spa was completed). It has become so popular and successful, that it will likely remain and they may even build additional cottages. In order to get there, you take a little pathway through a natural jungle-like area, where you immediately feel you are getting back to nature.  In a moment, you approach the welcome tent, where a “glamping” effect has been created, there are comfortable chairs to sit in while you await your service.  You almost feel as though you are going back in time, moving towards a more authentic and simpler life. You begin to relax even before you get your treatment. You climb the outdoor staircase to reach the cottage door and inside they have a lovely treatment room, with shower and I understand they may add outdoor hot tubs. All I can tell you is that my massage was heavenly!

The cuisine was fresh and tasty! I selected fresh, raw fish dishes, such as Ceviche and Tuna Tartare…. They were amazing! The pastry chef was outstanding and made very special treats for us.

Long Bay Beach is wonderful.  The Shore Club beach gives you a feeling of exclusivity and privacy, especially since there are no hotels or development nearby. The water is a gorgeous Caribbean blue and you can actually walk out (over two miles), all the way to an old ship wreck that stands out of the water! It is ideal for children or those who love to walk in shallow waters.  There is a light breeze,  which I love, which gives you a respite from the heat and a feeling of liberation! I didn’t do yoga on the beach but I imagine it would be amazing! One of the best things about Long Bay Beach is the kite surfing.  It is so entertaining to watch. I know many guests will want to do it too!  Maybe next time!!