The Resort at Pelican Hill, a beautiful destination in Newport Beach, is a five-star luxury property with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. It has Italian inspired architecture and decor that brilliantly blends with the Newport Beach’s Southern Cali weather and vibe.
Driving into the resort , I can’t help but notice that the grounds and gardens (they have a lot beautiful olive trees here) are the most well-tended and
immaculate I’ve ever seen. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought the resort had only recently opened – later on I found out that it has been in business for 8 years. How is it that no one’s told me about it before?!?
As an art and design buff, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a lot of the artwork and furniture are antiques and originals imported from Italy. In fact the guide (you can go on a self-guided tour, small group tour or arrange for complimentary one from the concierge) mentioned that the two tapestries hanging in the great room across from the main lobby are 17th century Flemish originals.
This resort isn’t just for couples. It’s also very family friendly. There’s a kids pool and “Camp Pelican” which is an activity center for younger kids. For kids aged 13-17 they even have organized activities called “Latitude” so that they can be far away from their embarrassing parents. (I’m just guessing that’s the point.)
You can bring grandma along.
And the resort isn’t just for overnights and long weekends. The resort knows it’s local clientele well and offers extended-stay rates – Newport Beach and nearby Laguna Beach are wealthy communities and homes are always being renovated or built so families are displaced for a while.
The resort is also popular for family getaways and bridal parties what with their 128 villas ranging in size from 2, 3 and 4 bedrooms. The villas have their own equally well-appointed 10,000 square-foot clubhouse and pool, with private washer, dryer and personal villa staff which includes a concierge, butler and personal chef upon request.
All in all – a must visit for anyone looking for a relaxing luxury resort experience in Southern California.
But what about The Spa?
Oh yes – The Spa at Pelican Hill which was undoubtedly the highlight of my 3 day 2 night stay. Their spa has been voted “the no.1 spa in California by Conde Nast Traveler magazine “ and was awarded a Five Star rating by Forbes Travel Guide. I am happy to report that both accolades are well deserved.
Located off of the main building, and housing a state of the art gym and fitness studio, I whizzed right past those elements which would have required that I exert myself, and headed straight for the relaxing portion of the spa. Because of their extensive spa menu there is something for everyone. (PS: ask for Lydia for the most amazing facial ever) .
I can’t recommend this spa enough.
The spa waiting area features cozy blankets and a delicious spa menu so you can enjoy pre and post treatment meals. It has very spacious and well appointed with large individual shower rooms with en-suite benches for maximum privacy. And although the decor is grand and slightly imposing (it was inspired by Roman (classic) architecture, albeit a very cozy one) the staff is anything but.
From the time I checked-in, shown around the spa, right until I left, the various staff members were all very friendly and welcoming. I also love that even though a detailed protocol is given after treatment, describing what products were used and which you should have at home, there is absolutely no hard-sell.
I also found out later that the spa offers a Spa Suite VIP room (for up to 5 guests) for you and a group of friends to use for relaxing between treatments. There are also customized spa packages ranging from half-day, full day, couples, babymoons and even red carpet packages.
This spa has everything – hair services, mani-pedis, steam and sauna, a gorgeous Roman soaking tub, facials and massages, private spa suites for couples and groups – all in a high-ceilinged 23,000 square foot area. And for those more fitness-inclined, there are workouts designed head to toe: from meditation, to barre classes, organized beach walks, yoga, and more. In other terms they offer everything from A to Z: Abs to Zumba.
So they make their own pasta.
The resort is also home to Andrea Ristorante , an upscale restaurant that serves not only the most delicious Northern Italian cuisine, but also the most stunning sunsets.
The pasta here is made in-house and the olive oil is especially selected by the chef. (Plus you can take a bottle home as they sell their signature Pelican Hill olive oil at the resort.) As I watched By, my better half eating the delicious food in front of us, I had a flash of concern he would now refuse to eat my always over-cooked store-bought spaghetti , but then I realized I could us “ this is what they do professionally in their professional kitchen.” as an excuse why I am such a terrible cook. Oh well moving on.
We had a short stay and ate only at Andrea and the poolside Coliseum Pool & Grill, so we missed out on trying their Pelican Grill, Piccolo, Caffe & Market (one with freshly made gelato and free wifi), and a Great Room Social Lounge area- all the more reason to return! We especially loved Andrea because of the delicious food, romantic ambience and spectacular sunset over the Pacific.
Coliseum Pool & Grill
While Andrea may have romance and fine cuisine, the Coliseum Pool & Grill has it’s own pluses. This is the resort’s casual poolside dining. And before I even discuss the food, I have to discuss the view of the Coliseum Pool.
What a pool. Seriously – you’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a circle that’s apparently 136 feet in diameter. I don’t remember my geometry but I will say that it looks like a perfectly formed lake plunked down, overlooking the ocean.
Spectacular is a word made to describe this pool. You’ll never want to leave, which is precisely why you’ll be trying the Coliseum’s poolside menu which is delivered right to your chaise lounge or cabana. The setting is so heavenly that they could be forgiven if they served average food but they, again, do not disappoint. The food is fresh and refreshing.
Luxury does not mean wastefulness.
The Resort could, frankly, dine off their reputation for amazing service, delicious food, sumptuous spa and beautiful bungalows but they don’t stop there. Unseen is their commitment to being “green.” All the water used to water the grounds and golf course is recycled water. The resort has numerous awards and accolades attesting to their environmental-friendly activities.
Two years (and I don’t even want to think about how much money) were spent creating elaborate underground rainwater runoff collection tanks. On top of that, they built two bio-filtration/bio-retention devices that clean the runoff water. And this resort actually does what all hotels should do – if there’s an area of the property that’s unoccupied, they have the ability to shut down the electricity and gas there so that no energy is wasted.
I love that they are so environmentally conscious however I will admit that I didn’t come away thinking green, I came away thinking blue-
Blue skies, blue water and all my blues washed away…
When I thought of “slipping into Armani,” I used to picture my favorite sunglasses and red lipstick. Now that I’ve stayed at The Armani hotel in Milan, I have an entirely new picture and favorite memory. (Not to mention impossible standards when it comes to future hotel stays.)
Milan is both host to Milan Fashion Week and Giorgio Armani’s home town which explains both the fact that he’d put his name on a first-class hotel and the fact that it’s on the floors above his flagship superstore. As anyone familiar with his esthetic can imagine, the hotel mimics the clean, refined lines of Armani’s clothing design. There is the same serenity paired with attention to detail here at the Armani Hotel that one finds in his classic tailoring. Picture cool onyx and crisp edges to the furniture. Toss in hotel employees with impeccable manners and attention to detail and you can understand my enthusiasm. In my dream world I live in his clothes and his hotel year-round.
If there’s one thing Armani teaches you – both in fashion and in hospitality – it’s that feeling comfortable makes you feel more self-assured. I felt relaxed everywhere in the hotel – from the entrance to my room to the spa to the store. But not in a Miami beach way – in a “I don’t have to try too hard or make a grand entrance, because I am confident that I look and feel good.
At the hotel, no attention to detail is spared. I love how our room had an iPad I could control every.single.thing with, even order room service or ask the concierge a question. Evety single item in the hotel had been thoughtfully designed by Armani specifically so that being at the hotel made you feel like you were a personal guest of Giorgio himself. And I love that they have a pillow menu – because lets face it, most of us have a very specific way of how we like our pillows. With all this attention to detail, It was very very hard indeed checking out of the hotel when we did.
Below are some of photos I took in and around the Armani hotel
One of the other perks of staying here is access to an Armani makeup artist, a personal shopper to help you out shopping if the two stories of Armani clothing on the first two floors ovewhelm you, and of course, priority reservations at both the Bamboo Lounge and Bar as well as the Michelin starred Ristorante Armani. During the time i was at the hotel, there were lines outside the hotel entrance to go into bar and I have to admit I felt a little bit smug as I skipped passed the long lines of beautiful people as the doorman waved us inside with a “Ahh, welcome back madam.”
And then there is the spa …
Housed on the top floor of the building, it’s the only soaking pool I’ve seen with floor-to-ceiling louvered windows and roof which make you feel as though you’re outside gazing at the spectacular view and the sky at the same time. While some might gravitate to the 24-hour gym to burn off that second helping of bucatini, I opt for the less strenuous approach – a sauna and a body wrap. Well, my personal spa coach told me it was just as good for me as working out. Or at least that’s what I think she said – my Italian may not be great. But the experience certainly was.
Photos are important. When you’re sharing moments with somebody or looking back on your life when you’re old and grey (but still fabulous), you’re going to want photos to help you relive those once in a lifetime opportunities. In this day and age, selfies are all the rage.
In fact teens seem to think they are the only way to take a photo. But let’s get real, the most beautiful photos show off your gorgeous outfits and stunning surroundings and you can’t take that photo yourself. Sometimes, selfies just don’t cut it.
When you travel, you want to freeze the moment and carry it with you when you go home. If you are travelling alone it is especially difficult to capture those special moments you may never experience again. And even if you are travelling with your partner or your BFF, you still want somebody else snapping the photos so that you can both be in the frame.
Introducing Flytographer: it’s a company that specializes in capturing those special memories. It comes in handy on vacations with many photo ops, special events, or capturing a once in a lifetime moment (like a proposal!) The company boasts 280 handpicked photographers across the world. They make it easy to find someone talented who you can trust.
I recently had the opportunity to check out Flytographer and the experience blew me away. It was easy and left me very satisfied. I was visiting NYC and wanted some beautiful shots of me in Battery Park.
I filled in a simple form and the concierge quickly recommended a photographer. I had the chance to peruse her portfolio in advance to make sure her style and my own matched. I was lucky enough to be paired with the lovely Sam. She knew the city well and was extremely talented and professional. She shot me in Battery Park and also took some in my hotel room.
I was so pleased with the service (and it’s reasonable price) that I used it again in Singapore on my next solo trip! Again, I was left satisfied and with beautiful photos.
Let’s get real: just because selfies are on trend doesn’t mean you want them to be your only documentation of an amazing trip. For a reasonable price, you can preserve priceless memories and that’s something you’ll never regret.
All Photos c/o Flytographer
I’ve always heard of Murano glass and knew about Murano Island, but didn’t realize that its namesake island off of Venice is also home to a beautiful hotel build within the ancient walls of a former Murano glass kiln.
The Venice La Gare M Gallery Hotel, or the La Gare hotel for short, is only 10-15 minutes from Venice proper via boat shuttles or veperettos that dock right outside the entrance. Not only that, but the hotel will transport you to/from the airport or the train station as well for free, at any time between 9 am and 9 pm. I felt like a rock-star, or Monica Bellucci (in my dreams ) being zipped back and forth between the two Italian isles, while enjoying the view of the Venice canals. Honestly – we first had reservations about not being on Venice but realized after the first night, that we loved the fact that after a whole day of being in bustling, cramped and hectic Venice, returning to quiet Murano every night was actually a relief.
Let me just say, if I could make my home one of their rooms, I’d gladly take up glass-blowing. The rooms are roomy, and the suites are beyond spacious. Their architecture and decor are subtle so that the pieces of Murano glass placed about, really capture your eye.
These are some of photos I took In Venice and in and around
the hotel – what do you think?
Furthermore in keeping with its legacy as a Murano glass kiln, the hotel uses many original Murano art pieces in both its common areas ( just look at all the lights, chandeliers and glassware) as well in its rooms and suites.
One leisurely day we toured the Murano glass artists’ showrooms and then returned to the hotel Cafe and sat on the terrace which looks out over the Grand Canal. A wonderful way to refresh before heading back over to Venice for the afternoon.
The hotel also has a newly renovated wonderful wellness area that includes a turkish bath, suana and a well-equipped fitness area. Access is at a reasonable EUR10 per person for 2 hours.“La Gare” translated from Italian to English means “the races.” And I would urge you to race to this hotel next time you find yourself in Venice. Better yet, make it an excuse to go visit Venice.
Murano glass is famous for glass, which at it’s basic level is transparent and unassuming, and turning it into spectacular works of art. The La Gare Hotel on Murano Island does a similar job of taking something as basic as a place to stay while traveling, and turning the experience into something just short of art. The subtle architecture and designs throughout the interior are punctuated by the brilliance of Murano glass touches. The service is equally unassuming yet pervasive. Being whisked by boat to and from Venice was practically worth the price of admission alone.
Italy calls to me again and again. And I barely speak the language! I can say “Dove il negozio di scarpe più vicino?” (Where is the nearest shoe store?) but that’s pretty much it. So, let’s be honest, it’s the clothes, the food and wine, and the beautiful hotels and scenery that draw me back.
But I’m not the only one seduced. The Italian women here seem born to seduce. How they ignore the cobblestones and strut around in heels all year round I’ll never understand. I love how a lot of them understands that feminine allure does not mean showing a lot of skin, but wearing clothes that are well-tailored to accentuate one’s best assets.
And that is why Italian designers are often the best women’s clothing designers. So you are technically telling the truth if you declare you’re spending the day looking at Italian art and architecture, but really plan on shopping. From A to Z: Armani to (Giuseppe) Zanotti.
If you love fashion and adore Italian labels as much as I do, I really recommend either a) packing very little so you have enough room for all the beautiful clothes you’ll inadvertently end up buying or b) making sure your other half packs very little so that he has enough room for all the beautiful clothes you’ll inadvertently end up buying . I am not divulging which option I took. (Look, I was also willing to buy a new set of luggage with which to ship the purchases home, so really, he brought it on himself.)
Don’t be intimidated by designer prices here. Remember the saying: When in Rome do as the Romans. In other words, if you go to outlets and consignment stores in Italy, you’ll find Italian brands everywhere. At a second-hand store in the States, those Gucci or Prada bags might be harder to find and cost a fortune, but in Italy they are ubiquitous. And even at a typical store, prices for Italian designer items are significantly cheaper in Italy than they are in the US or Asia.
Here are some basic tips for shopping throughout Italy:
In general, the best clothes shopping happens in northern Italy, while the best leather goods can be found in the center of Italy. The best designer outlet mall in the whole of Italy is The Mall, in Florence. I’ll write more about this outlet in my upcoming post about Florence
Bargaining is allowed within reason. Not in name-brand r or large department stores, but in smaller shops and markets. Especially if you are buying more than one thing or if paying in cash.
If you spend more than 155 Euros in a store, you can often obtain a tax (aka IVA) refund. If not, you must save your receipt (not just the credit card receipt – the full receipt indicating your purchases) and then you’ll need to apply for your refund at the airport, or other such refund points around Italy. Keep in mind you need to have all tags and soft packaging intact ( i.e garment bags , but shoe boxes can be discarded). Always bring a copy of your passport, actual passport or valid ID. I forgot my ID – twice! – and had to rely on my social media presence to vouch for me. Who knew Instagram is a valid form of ID? It’s actually not (yet!) so I don’t recommend this awkward process, but I did get lucky both times. More info coming soon.
Always get a receipt for purchases (even that to-go latte!) because it’s the law. You must carry your receipts if you’re taking the purchase more than 200 meters away from the storefront. And because it’s the law for the merchants as well, you’ll find them pushing the receipt on you even if you’re used to just shrugging it off in the U.S.
If you’re buying some beautiful Murano glass (or anything breakable) have the store ship it to your home. Yes, it costs slightly more, but you don’t want to chance it breaking during the rest of your trip, or on the flight home. And be sure to take a photo of it before they pack it up for shipping. That way you have proof for any insurance claim you might need to make if it doesn’t make it home in one piece. (Years ago my parents purchased a custom, very expensive ceramic piece that they had shipped home. It arrived shattered. Completely shattered. They shipped the pieces back and not long after it was returned in one piece. The store claimed they had it repaired but we’ve never been able to see one repair indication so we suspect they just had a new one crafted.)
This is Europe– often stores close for one or two hours at lunchtime and their hours of operation vary from summer to winter time. And many shops don’t open until 3pm on Mondays or just aren’t open at all that day. Museums are usually closed on Mondays (and that includes the gift shops!)
Refunds are not common. They will generally replace a damaged item or offer store credit, but don’t expect Nordstrom’s “we give you your money back, no questions asked” type of service.
We have all heard of Giorgio Armani, Max Mara or Fendibut there are numerous, lesser known Italian designers who you should look out for. Check out Gabriele Colangelo who used to work for Cavalli but recently began his own eponymous brand. Also, Arthur Arbesser, another up and comer. Be sure to Italy’s version of Nordstrom which is La Rinascente. You’ll find amazing brands at equally amazing prices. La Perla bras for $20-30? You’re speaking my language. The Elizabeth Spignoli brand (they are in all major cities) is like walking into an Italian Chanel but without the sticker-shock.
Other tips for enjoying your trip to Italy:
Be aware that there can actually be different prices for sitting outside a restaurant as opposed to inside. Consider the increase in cost, the cost of people-watching. However, it is often better than most TV. There is also often a ‘coppa’ or cover charge of between 2 to 4 Euros per person. Restaurants and cafes that don’t have this usually loudly proclaim it as NO COVER CHARGE.
Be sure to visit the pharmacy while in Italy. Look for the green cross sign. Step across the threshold and you’ll never want to visit Walgreens again. Make a beeline for Acca Kappa brushes, combs and accessories which are exquisitely made in the country.(and are much cheaper than in US)
Make sure you get your smartphone unlocked before you leave. This way you can get an Italian SIM card so you can use your phone will in Italy. Check with your carrier – your phone may already be unlocked and all they need to do is put you on an international plan for the duration of your visit, or else they can unlock it and give you a code to use a SIM card. They will try to convince you that the international plan is better, and it’s certainly simpler, but it is generally more expensive. If you’re going with the unlocked and SIM card replacement, shop around for a SIM card immediately once you’re in Italy, at a mobile-phone shop (they’re called “mobiles” there and not “cells”.) They will require seeing your passport and making a photocopy. Don’t forget that if you have a smartphone, you’ll want one with a data plan as well. If all this SIM talk has confused you, why not rent a temporary phone from Cellular Abroad http://www.cellularabroad.com/) where they send you an unlocked cellphone and applicabe SIM card and when you’re finished with your vacation, you just send it back. It’s what my friend who is an executive with Delta Airlines does every time he travels and he travels internationally constantly.
However you end up getting a cell-phone to work inexpensively while traveling, trust me, the hassle is worth it. You may think that you’d like to disconnect while on vacation but there are reasons to stay connected in Italy. I, for one, can’t live without Google maps. Especially not here where the streets are tiny and often not even labelled. In cities like Venice, without Google maps you might as well be wearing one of their Carnival masks all the time. It’s a maze. And half of that maze is water. You’ll also want phone access to arrange things like porter service at the train station or to get your water taxi to your hotel in Venice. Plus you don’t want to be off-line when someone gets a great shot of you climbing the Spanish Steps and want to post it on Instagram or Facebook. (Oh, is that just me? Well, I’m a blogger so that’s my excuse.)
Bring a couple of Italian electricity adaptors and a Conair portable steamer. Let’s face it – even if you can afford it, spending hundreds of Euros to press or dry clean items pulled out of suitcases is silly. This $25 gadget will do the job in just a few minutes. I also really really recommend this travel adapter from Belkin. Because it swivels, you’ll be able to use it anywhere and in odd spaces. Most people I know need at least 2-3 outlets per person. So no more fighting whose phone gets to be charged first or having to choose between charging your ipad or your hair curler.
My secret weapon when traveling is the Luxe City Guides. I honestly find it’s catered more towards people like me who like pretty cafes, gorgeous collectible objects and more sophisticated attractions. Get the good-old-fashioned printed city guide to pop in your purse, or stay mobile and get the app. This comes in handy every single day you’re traveling (not to mention you’ll appear quite sophisticated to your friends) – pointing you in the direction of the best hotels, entertainment, restaurants, shopping and places of interest from hip locals and insiders. Granted, there are no bad restaurants in Italy.
Mode of Payment and Tipping 99% of stores accept Mastercard and Visa and 80% (of the especially large/established ones) accept American Express. I prefer Amex because of the points and their built-in insurance on purchases so I tend to use it whenever I can , and use my Visa debit card for those stores that don’t. Cash is important for taxis and public transport.
Italians don’t expect tips. A lot of restaurants and cafes have service charge built in… but it’s hard NOT to tip when your porter just helped you carry your 60 pound luggage (on this trip we named my one suitcase “the black beast’ -) or when your waiter went the extra mile and snuck you two desserts because you couldn’t decide between the tiramisu or pannacota.
And speaking of getting around, a lot of Italy is cobblestoned so make sure you have comfortable walking shoes (most of the time I was walking in my Uggs or these beauties ). If you want to wear heels opt of those with chunkier heels/wedges so you won’t ruin your stilettos when they get stuck between the cobblestones. You’ve been warned.
PS: Stay tuned as I write more about Venice, Florence and my Milan adventures.