Mystical Morocco

morocco

Morocco holds a kind of mystical allure.  You feel the 1000+ year history as you wander through the Medina – the old, walled city.  The smell of spices like Ras el hangout – a blend of cardamon, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, peppers and turmeric – and incense waft through the air.  The magical sounds of the oboe accompany the wily performances of the snake charmers in the square. When I had the chance to visit Marrakesh for a yoga/art retreat I didn’t hesitate.  Marrakesh seemed to me like an edgier version of Istanbul.  But there is something to being on the edge that I find intriguing.  It still feels authentic.

I went with a group of women for a week-long retreat which was more a “week-long eat, drink and socialize, with intermittent spurts of exercise” to burn off all the delicious food and drink that we enjoyed.  We were fortunate to have retreat leaders who organized everything, from drivers, to tours of the souk, to restaurant bookings.  I highly recommend having this planned in advance.  It is still foreign enough and the driving crazy enough, that it is more relaxing to have it all organized in advance.

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We stayed at the lovely Peacock Pavilions just outside of Marrakesh.  It’s a boutique hotel/guest house run by the beautiful Maryam Montague.  It is worth staying here just getting to know Maryam and her family. She is a dynamo with a list of accomplishments that belie her age.  The main house is like a museum, furnished with treasures she has gathered throughout her travels and her work as a human rights advocate. The guest houses each have individual rooms, decorated in a unique, Moroccan style.  In the mornings we had tea on the terrace before our meditation and yoga in the tent.  It was truly a calming experience to sit in the tent and listen to the sound of the birds and the bubbling of the fountains.  After our morning yoga we would have fabulous breakfasts al fresco and then either head into town for sightseeing/shopping or have an art workshop under the tent as we chatted and listened to music.  A truly magical getaway!

The next retreat is in Bali and promises to be even more fabulous!

peacockpavilions.com/about

http://soulfuljourneys.org/your-retreat-leaders/

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Commune By The Great Wall

This is one of the most unique hotels we have ever stayed in, in one of the most amazing places on earth.  We visited Beijing in 2008 for the summer Olympics.  That in itself was an amazing experience (how did they get the sky so blue?).  But when my husband told me we were going to spend a few days out of the city to visit the Great Wall of China I had no idea what awaited us.  The Commune by the Great Wall is literally BY the Great Wall, so close you can almost reach your hand out of your window to touch this wonder of the world.

Set amid the mountains near the Shuiguan section of the Great Wall,  the project was the brainchild of Zhang Xin, a prominent Chinese real estate developer, who gathered 12 architects from across Asia and asked them to design homes that would serve as lodging for people seeking a retreat from the urban sprawl of Beijing. Ms. Zhang was awarded a special prize at the 2002 Venice Biennale. Each villa has a unique and modern style and has between 4-6 bedrooms, which means if you are not with a large group you may end up sharing the communal living areas with strangers.

Commune by the Great Wall is approximately a 1 1/4 hour drive from Beijing Capital International Airport, 20 km away from the main train station (Qing Long Qiao station) and a 1 1/4 hour drive from Beijing’s city center. Once here, there is not much else around but if you are looking for a unique place to stay while you traverse the Great Wall, the location is perfect.  Sitting on the deck, glass of wine in hand, staring out a the rolling hills and lush forests, it was not like the China I had imagined.  In fact, it reminded me of the wide-open spaces of my home country Canada.  It was such a contrast from the crowded city life of Beijing.  As we sat there  we were overwhelmed by the immensity of the country and how little we really knew about it.

The resort is closed for the winter from December 1st-March 31st, 2012.
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Trump Hotel Waikiki


We arrived at Trump Hotel in Waikiki a little shell-shocked.  We had evacuated from Japan after the 3/11 disasters and were looking for a place to relax and recover from the stress of the past week.  We initially were booked at another hotel on the beach.  I arrived late one afternoon, with three tired children, at the hotel.  We had to line up for half an hour, then our room wasn’t ready and when I made a weary comment about having just been through the earthquake the lady at the checkin counter looked at me blankly.  We stayed a few days at this place, just happy to have a place to sleep.  Then I made a reservation at the Trump Hotel just down the street.  When we arrived we were whisked up the elevator and greeted by the clerk.  Hello, Mrs Bromley, we are so happy to have you.  I see you are from Japan, how are you doing after everything that has happened?  Then cool towels and welcome drinks were handed out to all of us.  There was no line up.  We were shown to our room which had been upgraded to a larger suite than we had originally requested.

The Trump Kids program is very impressive. The kids were offered free DVD’s and an in-room Nintendo Wii.  The first night they were sent milk and cookies from room service.  But it was no ordinary milk and cookies, it was Trump style.  Little shot glasses of various types of milk and juice.  I also was sent a surprise from room service.  It was my birthday while we were there and they sent us a complimentary bottle of champagne with a special card.  Each night we were left chocolates in the shape of gold bars, naturally.  The hotel is not on the beach but it is right across the street.  The concierge provides a chic beach bag filled with sunscreen, towels, water and a light snack.  The sixth floor infinity pool provides a beautiful view of the beach and also lots of little corners for the kids to play in.  With a depth of 4 feet I can recline on the lounge chairs with a margarita or sit in the adjacent hot tub and not worry that the kids will get in over their heads. The kids enjoyed the gym and I enjoyed the spa.  Overall, we felt pampered and taken care of, just what we needed at a the time.

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Chateau Marmont

Although we are baby boomers with kids we still like to stay in cool places that offer more than a waterslide and free buffet for children.  It was with this in mind that we booked at the “infamous” Chateau Marmont, home, at the time, to Lindsay Lohan and her assorted crew of partiers.  We pulled up in our rented SUV and as we opened the doors a few candy wrappers and bags of leftover Mexican lunches fell out.  The doorman did not bat an eye and we were ushered into the dark, hallowed halls like celebrities.  With three kids we always have to book a suite or two rooms.  Accordingly we had booked a suite at the Chateau Marmont.  The hotel gods must have been smiling on us that day or they took pity on us for arriving in an overflowing SUV with kids in tow, in any case, they upgraded us to the penthouse suite, with a balcony the size of a tennis court.  I immediately started channeling Jean Harlow and Jimmy Page, ordered a bottle of champagne from room service and sat on the patio overlooking Sunset Strip.

The hotel lives up to its mythical status.  It was built as an 18th century replica of the Loire Chateau Amboise, complete with ivy-covered fluted pillars and gothic vaulted ceilings in the lobby.  But its biggest strength is the level of service and privacy that it provides.  The mini-bar was stocked with all kinds of interesting goodies which the kids throroughly enjoyed.  The pool is straight out of a movie set and makes you feel like you should be wearing a fluffy white robe and large black sunglasses.

The highlight of the visit for my teenage daughter was a ”sighting” at the restaurant of “Mary Kate” of Mary Kate and Ashley fame.  Yes, they really do hang out here!

If you want to feel a little bit of Hollywood on your visit to L.A., I defintely recommend a few nights at Chateau Marmont.