Luxury Travel Review

Comfy appeal of two-bedroom apartment with water views in Providenciales

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

View of the water

My view from the balcony to the right

From my fourth floor Two Bedroom Ocean View Suite at the Blue Haven Resort and Marina (Leeward, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies, +649 946 9900, toll free +1 855 832-7667, www.bluehaventci.com, contact@bluehaventci.com) I had sweeping views of the property grounds, including the man made beach, and the turquoise waters of Providenciales, the most popular of the Turks and Caicos Islands. As a bonus there was an osprey nest across the canal from my balcony. The well appointed and comfortable 1,650 square foot apartment with hotel services was so nice and the hotel amenities so convenient that if it hadn't been for my desire to discover the natural beaches and explore the island I might have stayed indoors.

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The view straight across from Suite 402 at the Blue Haven Resort and Marina

Suite 402, a corner unit on the fourth floor of a five story building, had pretty water views from the balcony, living room and master bedroom. It had two en suite bedrooms, a single space with living, dining and kitchen areas, and a covered balcony facing the front and side of the building. The high end kitchen had wood cabinets, an island and marble top counters. It was equipped with full size modern appliances, including a refrigerator with freezer, oven and stove, microwave, dishwasher, and stacked washer and dryer.

Blue Haven

The master bedroom

In the master bedroom a king bed was framed by identical glass topped wood night tables with wall mounted lamps. One had a clock radio with iPod docking capability. Across from the bed there was a glass topped wood dresser and above it, atop a wood wall mounted shelf, was a flatscreen television. Temperature control was via an efficient central air conditioner and ceiling fans (one in each bedroom and one in the living room).

Dining Room

In Suite 402, a single area had the kitchen, dining room and living room

In the dining area, there was a glass topped wood dining table with four armless cushioned wood chairs and a built-in wood cabinet with a marble top beneath a rectangular framed mirror. On the opposite wall there were three palm tree themed glass framed posters. The khaki tile floor complemented the off white wall color. I liked the high ceiling, contemporary comfortable furnishings and small touches like black out curtains in the rooms, and a walk-in closet with an electronic safe in the master bedroom.

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The second bedroom in Suite 402

Among the suite amenities there were: complimentary internet connectivity (the speed was slow), fruit bowl, paper towels, two individual load size containers of powder All laundry detergent, shower cap, printouts of daily papers such as USA Today at reception, house brand bottled water, two line phones in the bedrooms, living room, and master bathroom. There were also Sharp flatscreen televisions in the bedrooms and living room, and two cotton bathrobes and slippers per bedroom.

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The infinity swimming pool

Facilities included a restaurant, bar, beach, pool, fitness room, and spa and mini-mart (across the parking lot). The Fitness Center had two Precor treadmills, one bicycle, one leg curl and three elliptical Precor machines as well as free weights, multiple use machine, bench, and towels. The Precor machines had built-in Cardio Theater monitors.

Sharick, Keisha, Ramona and Darrel at the front desk, and Beryl Charles, manager, Rooms Division, were friendly and helpful. My suite was serviced twice daily.

Reception desk staff at Blue Haven

The reception desk staff at hotel were friendly and helpful

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Fire and Ice restaurant

During my stay, I had dinner once at Fire and Ice, the domain of French executive chef Laurent Ajas, a proud member of L'Ordre International des Disciples d'Auguste Escoffier. I ordered two of the house specialty dishes, including the Cataplana (seafood prepared in a copper pot), recommended by my server. The staff at dinner were friendly and helpful. The meal was well presented and delicious.

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My tasty appetizer

executive chef Laurent Ajas, a proud member of L'Ordre International des Disciples d'Auguste Escoffier

The executive chef, Laurent Ajas, was a member of L'Ordre International des Disciples d'Auguste Escoffier

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My server recommended the Cataplana, a seafood dish prepared in a copper pot

The 15 acre four star (self categorized) property had 40 rooms and 50 employees. Children of all ages were welcome. I saw a number of children, some loud, at breakfast and dinner. While cooling breezes crossed the partially open Mediterranean Influence lobby immediately next to the porte cochere arrival area there were strong food smells in some of the front areas of the building, especially near the workout room. The hotel was voted one of the Top 20 Hotels in the Caribbean in 2016 in the TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Awards.

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The hotel's beach area at the end of the day

Beryl Charles, manager, Rooms Division

Beryl Charles, manager, Rooms Division

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The hotel seen from the edge of the beach

I liked the hotel's water views, friendly staff, the breeze that flowed through the lobby during the day, the well kept grounds, the spacious and well appointed two-bedroom suite with ocean views, Fire and Ice restaurant for dinner as well as the luxury amenities and facilities, and would return should my travels take me to that part of Providenciales.

Independent Paris artists share their work, city favorites in book

The Tall Trees of Paris

The Tall Trees of Paris*

In The Tall Trees Of Paris (Overcup Press, $49) art enthusiast Matt Wagner showcases 42 contemporary Parisian artists and their work. The 285-page hardcover color book in English and French, released May 2016, took him a year from idea to publication. There was no cost to the artists to be included.

Each artist profile includes a photo of the artist's work space, a portrait of the artist or the self image of her or his choice, and photos of his or her work. Wagner selected the artists through his contacts in the art world. The handwritten answers to nine identical questions appear on one page and a typewritten translation in English appears on the opposite page. Among the questions are the artist's favorite restaurant, bars, shops and museums.

“Paris is the foundation of contemporary art, the requirement for graduation,” said Wagner in a press release promoting his new title. “Accordingly, it’s also easily overlooked. Like arches that support an ancient aqueduct, nobody even notices them as long as the water is flowing. But without Paris, the flow of art would have stopped. Paris is good at art. Good enough that people have stopped noticing and just take it for granted. Ultimately, the Tall Trees books are about people. The questionnaires introduce the featured artists to readers, detailing their favorite things about the place they live and work. We become invested in the artist’s wellbeing like that of a friend.”

The artists featured are: 2Shy, Alëxone, Alexandra Arango, Céline Artigau, Nicolas Barrome Forgues, Martes Bathori, Blek Le Rat, Agnes Boulloche, Broll & Prascida, Thierry Bruet, Ludovic Debeurme, Veronique Dorey, Dugudus, Elobo, Christelle Enault, Agnès Ernoult, Sébastien Féraut (Niark1), Christian Guemy (c215), HONET, Kerascoët, Koleo, Koralie, Eric Lacan (Monsieur Qui), Hubert de Lartigue, Jean Leblanc, Jean Lecointre, Lek & Sowat, Levalet, Nicolas Martin, Jean-Michel Ouvry, Tristan Pernet, Aurore Petit, Bruno Pontiroli, Francesca Protopapa (il Pistrice), Sebastien Preschoux, RERO, Jérémy Schneider, Supakitch, Sébastien Touache, TYRSA, Amandine Urruty, and Frédérique Vernillet.

Matt Wagner, author, The Tall Trees of Paris

Matt Wagner, editor, The Tall Trees of Paris

" The Tall Trees of Paris book is for the curious, the traveler and the art lover," Wagner said, by email through his publisher, when asked who might like his book. "It’s a great travel guide for finding undiscovered spots in Paris and it’s great for learning more about discovered and undiscovered artists." As to the criteria he used in selecting the artists for inclusion, he said," I am completely selfish in this aspect. I choose artists that I like their work. Lucky for me that my taste is pretty diverse. That diversity comes through in the curation of the book with the selection of painters, installation artists, sculptors, street artists, illustrators, etc. With the Paris book I mostly found artists through networking. I would meet one artist or another curator and they would recommend an artist. That artist would then recommend another. I was able to build up quite a roster of artists in this manner."  When asked what was the greatest surprise he had from the book project he said, "My biggest surprise is how hard I fell in love with Paris. I had only been a tourist previous to the book and didn’t really think I would become so enamored with people of Paris."

Wagner is the founder, owner, and curator of Hellion Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Born, raised and educated in Indiana, after moving west, Wagner fell in love with Portland and learned the ropes at several galleries before opening Hellion in 2010. Prior to the Paris book, he published The Tall Trees of Tokyo (2012) and The Tall Trees of Portland (2014).

*Photos courtesy of Matt Wagner


The Tall Trees of Paris

Click to buy The Tall Trees of Paris


Great visibility, fun snorkeling in Providenciales

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

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The beach at Little Water Cay also known as Iguana Island

Mike and Cheno were our crew

Mike and Cheno were our crew

The day after I arrived in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands of the British West Indies I received a call from Tanya at Big Blue Unlimited (Leeward Marina, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, +1 649 946 5034, fax +1 649 946 5033, info@bigblueunlimited.com), a company owned by Mark Parrish and Philip Shearer that specialized in small groups and eco-tours. I was scheduled for a morning snorkel activity the following day, but the weather was about to change and not in a good way. Tanya had kindly found a spot for me that afternoon if I could make it.

Our boat, Starfish

Our boat, Starfish

With a little help from Jessica at reception at my hotel, the Beach House Turks and Caicos in the Bight, I was able to reschedule my spa treatment. At 12:30 p.m. I climbed aboard the tour company's navy blue van with a towel and biodegradable sunblock (as suggested in my booking confirmation) for the drive to the Big Blue Unlimited office at the Leeward Marina to join eight other travelers on a four hour Caicos Cays Cruise. On our way, we picked up six travelers from Club Med. A couple from another property in the Northwest Point met us at the tour company office.

All the passengers and crew on the boat (except for me)

All the passengers and crew on the boat (except for me)

Within minutes of arriving we were ready. After signing a page long release form on an electronic tablet I joined my fellow travelers on the covered deck of the small office. Cheno and Mike, our crew members, introduced themselves and led us to the Starfish, our nine meter long boat for the afternoon. Mike, from North Caicos, had five years of water sports experience, three and a half with Big Blue Unlimited, and Cheno, a dive master from Atlanta and Grand Turks, had seven years of water sports experience, five of them with Big Blue Unlimited. They were friendly and managed the boat well.

 A sign for the Little Water Cay Nature Reserve

A sign for the Little Water Cay Nature Reserve

One of the male Turks and Caicos rock iguanas we saw

One of the male Turks and Caicos rock iguanas we saw

The Starfish had cushioned seating for three in the shady stern (back of the boat). It could accommodate the remainder of our group in the sunny bow (front of the boat). On our return to the marina everyone moved forward to avoid the water splashing the stern seat. Our first stop was at Little Water Cay, a small island managed by the Turks and Caicos National Trust, where we saw a number of Turks and Caicos rock iguanas close up. A local guide led the nine of use via a wood walkway, sharing insights about the iguanas and the island. From the small dock we looped around a short distance past palm trees, trust markers and signs, and the mostly unafraid reptiles back to our starting point, and to the boat in about 15 minutes.

The sand was powdery white

The sand was powdery white

I liked that the tour company sought to hire local islanders (a number of employees I met elsewhere on the island were foreign nationals), that its staff had received training about marine and coastal ecology, marine life identification, island geography and geology; and that Big Blue followed and promoted eco-tourism principals, as one of the owners explained by email.

The shallow beach was like a swimming pool with white sand and clear water

The shallow beach was like a swimming pool with white sand and clear water

From there we motored across turquoise waters to join other tour boats at Leeward Reef, where we remained about one hour. After we tied up to the reef buoy, Mike and Cheno helped us with snorkels and masks, put anti fogging liquid in the masks, and made sure we were comfortable once in the water. Cheno led three of us snorkeling, watching us every so often to make sure we were all right. He pointed out big fish such as an oversize parrot fish, a large grouper, a barracuda and three reef sharks at varying times. The swells were high and the water cool, but the snorkeling at Leeward Reef, about 12 feet deep, made up for the minor discomfort I felt. One of the other guests had to take over counter medication for seasickness when she returned to the boat.

For snacks there were fruit slices, potato chips, muffins and brownies

For snacks there were fruit slices, potato chips, muffins and brownies

After snorkeling, we went to Fort George Cay, where Mike and Cheno offered us rum punch or water and snacks of Lays potato chips, chocolate brownies, poppy seed muffins, and fresh fruit (cantaloupe and pineapple slices). Mike and Cheno stayed on the boat while the rest of us enjoyed some beach time. A short stroll from where we got off the boat the beach was shallow and the water crystal clear. It was also the warmest water I swam in during my stay in the Turks and Caicos Islands. We spent about an hour there before riding back to the marina. Moments later, we headed back to our respective hotels in the van. I made it back in time for a shower and an early dinner. For the rest of the evening I thought of the excellent visibility and fun snorkeling and beach. By the following morning the wind had picked up and the waves were choppy at the beach. I was thankful for Tanya's call and to have enjoyed the snorkeling activity the previous afternoon.

Versatile tasting menu at Turks and Caicos boutique hotel restaurant

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

Cristian Rebolledo, chef, Kitchen218, and Francisco Hodge, manager, Food and Beverage Beach House Turks and Caicos

Cristian Rebolledo, executive chef, Kitchen218, and Francisco Hodge, manager, Food and Beverage at the Beach House in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

kitchen218 across the pool

View of Kitchen218 from across the pool 

During my three night stay at the Beach House Turks and Caicos in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands of the British West Indies, owned and managed by Waterloo Hotel Management, I had an opportunity to sample the food at Kitchen218, the property restaurant with seating for 80 guests and 20 staff. In 2014, the company renovated and rebranded the restaurant with Contemporary Caribbean decor in a poolside setting.

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The first course was Veggie pickle cebiche and mushrooms

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Beef carpaccio

I had breakfast thrice, lunch and dinner once each. For breakfast there was a small buffet option as well as a la carte choices. The delicately fried fresh snapper served whole with tasty and savory vegetables was a favorite. For my friends who enjoy conch I would recommend the slightly sweet conch salad, a house specialty.

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Tuna tartare with sesame seed lemsay dressing

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The Conch chowder was a favorite

It was at dinner that the chef's contemporary fusion culinary talents shone brightest. The night I dined there I asked Cristian Rebolledo, executive chef of the restaurant, for a suggestion that emphasized local fresh products. After debating several options he recommended his seven course tasting menu and I agreed provided it was free of hot spices. He obliged. The tasting menu cost $110 and with a wine pairing it was $155.

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Sea bass Coin textures and veggies

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The Zen-Noh Waygu in dark sauce with veggies and figs was outstanding

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Chocolate Fantasy

His well prepared and well presented meal with wine pairing was one of the highlights of my visit to Providenciales. It consisted of: Veggie pickle cebiche and mushrooms served with 2014 Danzante pinot grigio from Italy, Tuna tartare (a favorite) with sesame seed lemsay dressing served with Matua non vintage pinot noir from New Zealand, Beef carpaccio served with 2013 Byron pinot noir from California, Conch chowder (a favorite) served with 2013 Muga Rioja from Spain, Sea bass Coin textures and veggies (not a favorite) served with 2013 JJ Vincent Bourgne Blanc from France, Zen-Noh Waygu in dark sauce with veggies and figs served with a 2014 Josh cellar cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley (USA), and Chocolate Fantasy served with a non vintage Deviation late harvest from California (not a favorite). It was the perfect menu for a special occasion. Kitchen218 (Beach House Turk and Caicos, Lower Bight, Grace Bay, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, +1.649.9465377218, www.beachhousetci.com, contact@beachhousetci.com) and the chef's tasting menu will be at the top of my list of dining venues on any return trip to Providenciales.

Turks and Caicos overcrowded, hot, and slow airport departure process sucked joy from trip memories

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

The crowd waiting for security at the Turks and Caicos airport

The crowd waiting for security at the Turks and Caicos airport from where I stood in line

It is a shame that the most salient memory I have of my recent trip to Providenciales in the tiny island nation of the Turks and Caicos some 573 miles from Miami, Florida is the unpleasant and frustrating departure. Given the upscale island's high standards compared to other similar sized nations in the region and the number of wealthy foreign property owners I was taken aback by the conditions and process. Although I checked in online, had no wait at the airline counter, and arrived at the airport more than two hours in advance (the airline recommended passengers arrive two hours early as did the staff at my hotel) they called my flight for boarding while I was still in the security line.

Turks and Caicos airport

The airport in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

I and dozens upon dozens of other travelers stood in a snaking queue that spanned five short lines in front of the entrance to the international departures immigration entrance and an additional line that ran back past the domestic airline counters beyond sight. The line was so thick a security guard insisted waiting passengers step away from the domestic airline counters so departing passengers for those flights could reach their counters. Although most passengers in the line, including families with small children, were patient and quiet, judging by appearances and overheard conversations, many were hot and sweaty (only the final portion of the line was within the air conditioned international departures area), surprised by the length of the line and long wait, and annoyed.

One uniformed staff woman in the main hall urged passengers to move forward in the line. Her military demeanor and biting tone did little to alleviate people's stress and anxiety over possibly missing flights. Another uniformed staff woman guarded the entrance to the international departures area. While her tone was less strident than her colleague's she was no more helpful. Two passengers near me in the queue were called by security over the loudspeakers while we were standing in line within the international departures area. When they tried to respond she insisted they remain in their place in line, dismissing their concerns. As they moved forward another staff person checked their documents and chided them for not responding to the security announcement. He rushed them to the head of the line.

View of the beach just after takeoff

View of the coast just after takeoff

Representatives from two airlines came out to search for passengers for their departing flights. Once they found them, they too were rushed to the head of the line ahead of everyone else, delaying our processing. We watched as a family of passengers paid hundreds of dollars for expedited service. They too were bumped ahead of everyone else in the queue. I heard fellow passengers around me complain repeatedly, saying that such a situation was the equivalent of extortion.

At the end of the line only one of two passenger metal detectors was working, causing further delays as two lines merged into a single one. It did not help that everyone (as a foreign nation Turks and Caicos did not recognize the United States Transportation Security and Administration Precheck Program) was required to remove shoes and extract electronics from their carry on bag. To add to joy of the experience the staff looked tired and unhappy. They had little patience and were just shy of rude to passengers at the slightest question.

By the time I finished the process and I arrived at the single overcrowded shared departure hall the airline had called my flight for boarding three times. I rushed to my gate, wondering if all the passengers had made it on board as I had not seen any airport personnel searching for passengers for our flight in the line behind me. My departure from the Turks and Caicos was the slowest and least pleasant departure I recall having from an island in a long time, perhaps ever. While I had a good stay in Providenciales once aboard the plane I asked myself if I enjoyed my visit enough to counter the unpleasant departure process. I am still wondering.

Why we liked Botswana, Namibia safari circuit

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Leopard in a tree near Camp Moremi

A leopard in a tree near Camp Moremi

On our most recent safari trip to Southern Africa we stayed at six Desert & Delta Safari properties, five in Botswana and one in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia. Traveling to properties within the same company offered advantages. The management similarities provided us an idea of what to expect before arriving at each subsequent property. For example, they all had eco-friendly policies; offered us moist refresher towels on arrival and when we returned from game drives as well as welcome back staff greetings when we returned from our activities; with only one exception, they all served buffet meals of similar styles at shared communal tables; the camps that depended on generators for electricity had battery operated lights for times when the generators were off at night; and most were run by a four-person management team, many of whom were friendly and helpful when asked.

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Our pilot bids us farewell after our arrival at Leroo La Tau from Maun to start the adventure

Safari Air had several comfortable Caravan aircraft

Safari Air had several comfortable Caravan aircraft

Another advantage of traveling to Desert & Delta Safaris properties was their shared charter air service. Since Chobe Holdings Limited owned Desert & Delta Safaris and Safari Air (Desert & Delta Safaris, Private bag 310, Maun, Botswana, +267 6861243, http://www.desertdelta.com, info@desertdelta.com), a non scheduled charter safari airline founded in 1992 and based out of Maun, they coordinated our transfers between the Desert & Delta Safaris properties and between our international arrival and departure airports. The company owned five GA8 Airvan, three Cessna Caravan and one Quest Kodiak. We appreciated the convenience of the well organized and on time service.

The heat drove many to poolside in the afternoons

The heat drove many poolside in the afternoons

Our stay was hampered in part by a regional heat wave that stretched all the way to South Africa. Four of the six properties ran on generators. Because the rooms remained sealed most of the day they became over hot around the clock. More than once we or our fellow travelers became ill from the heat and dehydration. Thankfully, the game viewing vehicles had partial shade. In addition, wet face cloths and pool dips were helpful in reducing our body temperature.

The wildlife was centered around the river

The wildlife was centered around the Boteti River banks near Leroo LaTau

Leroo LaTau, on the edge of the Makgadikgadi National Park, was our favorite for game viewing and views of the Boteti River from our rooms and the common areas. This was in part because Slade, our guide, was one of the most passionate and engaged of the guides we spent time with on that three country multi week itinerary. We enjoyed seeing a bit of the regional zebra migration and predators such as lions and wild dogs as well as brilliant sunsets over the shallow waters of the river.

Sunset over the delta near Camp Moremi

Sunset over the Okavango Delta

Time for a drink before dinner at Xugana

Time for a drink before dinner at Xugana Island Lodge

In Camp Moremi (see Tented camp offered good game viewing, creature comforts on edge of Okavango Delta) we liked the expansive views from the elevated deck. At Xugana Island Lodge, we delighted in the birding within the island, the sense of remoteness within the famous Okavango Delta, and pretty water setting as well as many boat outings and occasional hippo sightings. Savute Safari Lodge had the prettiest rooms and some of the tastiest and most abundant meals. We especially liked the views of the man made waterholes from the dining area and our tented rooms.

Breakfast at the Chobe Game Lodge with a view of the river

Breakfast at the Chobe Game Lodge with a view of the Chobe River

At the Chobe Savanna Lodge and Chobe Game Lodge, situated on opposite sides of the Chobe River and in separate countries, we were thankful for the air conditioned rooms. Although the border crossing from Botswana to Chobe Savanna Lodge on the Namibia side of the Chobe River was time consuming, hot and tedious we enjoyed the shady leisurely river rides on the pontoon boat. We particularly liked it when our boat was one of few on the river and we were alone with our local guide. The flat river water and quiet when the motor was off were particularly appealing. At the Chobe Game Lodge, we appreciated the three daily game viewing activities, and luxury amenities such as plated meals at private tables, in-room phones, WiFi internet access, work out room, spa room and its innovative electric safari vehicle.

A hyena in the Moremi park

A hyena in the Chobe Game Reserve

Elephants sharing a waterhole at Savute

Elephants sharing a waterhole near Savute Safari Lodge in Chobe

Overall we had a fun trip and numerous bird and wildlife sightings of common species such as zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, impala, red lechwe (at Xugana), including elephant, buffalo, leopard and lion from the coveted Big Five. We saw beautiful birds, including the elusive paradise flycatchers, fish eagles multiple times, and particularly remember pairs of fish eagles relatively close to our boat at the Chobe Savanna Lodge. During the trip, we had extraordinary sightings such as wild dogs at Leroo La tau, crocodiles hunting, interactions between lions and elephants and numerous striking landscape and waterscape moments that will linger in our memories for years to come, and draw us back to Botswana and Africa in the future.

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