The tarpaulin above the entrance while the Hotel de Crillion was renovated
The last time one of our teams visited the Hotel de Crillon the icon property in the Golden Triangle of Paris, France was shielded by a large tarpaulin while renovations to the historic building took place. Following a year of meticulous renovations under the supervision of Etienne Poncelet, lead architect and head inspector of Historic Monuments, the luxury property designed originally by Ange-Jacques Gabriel emerged at the end of 2011.
Once the work was completed what was the hotel to do with the 1,300 square meters of tarpaulin that covered the scaffolding during the many months of renovations? Instead of tossing the material the Hotel de Crillon teamed up with Bilum to create Recycled Bags from the Hotel de Crillon, an exclusive line of 450 made in France bags and accessories that recently became available for purchase. The line includes three designs: Pouch for 25 euros, Clouch for 35 euros and Shopping Bag for 65 euros each (plus shipping for mail orders).
Our Shopping Bag, made in France with the discarded tarpaulin
Our Shopping Bag, 12 inches wide by 14 inches tall, has plastic reinforced corners at the bottom, two Crillon/Bilum tags, and a sales tag that identifies the bag as an original. The tag also says the bag was made in 2011 in a studio, “specialized in bagagerie and saddlery,” close to Paris.
The preparation work, carried out in Choisy-le-Roi, focused on the artistic and graphic aspects of sizing the tarpaulin into pieces fit for the line. The actual crafting of the bags and accessories took place at three specialized workshops in the Greater Paris region and the south of France. The project’s recycling, fashioning and finishing phases included the participation of a social integration and outreach program in the Greater Paris region.
The one-of-a-kind items, sold exclusively at the hotel gift shop (http://www.crillon.com/#atyourservice/theboutique, +33 44 71 1592, firstname.lastname@example.org), allow hotel guests and fans of the historic building to take home a piece of the Hotel de Crillon’s former tarpaulin facade while contributing 3 euros per item to the National Museum of Natural History association, which strives to preserve plant and animal biodiversity. Kudos to the hotel for its recycling efforts supported by local manufacturing and design.
A tag explains the origin of the bag
Article and photos by Josette King
The M/Y Grace at anchor in a secluded cove of the Galapagos archipelago
After a 1,000-kilometer flight over empty Pacific Ocean waters, the AeroGal Airlines jet was preparing to land on San Cristobal, the easternmost island of the Galapagos Archipelago. The few returning locals were already gathering their belongings. Meanwhile, we the tourists were craning our necks to catch a first glimpse of the islands. The plane banked, revealing under its wing a zigzag of rocky coastline, punctuated by an occasional crescent of white sand; and no discernible sign of human life. Another turn unveiled a dazzling panorama of ancient volcanic peaks and dark rock formations emerging from an impossibly blue sea. All this natural splendor, and we hadn’t yet landed.
Galapagos sea lion
Once we did, I discovered another unique characteristic of the islands: the sense of undeniable entitlement of its wildlife. Even in the center of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the tiny provincial capital of the Galapagos adjacent to the airport, birds and reptiles and especially sea lions treated our presence with superb indifference. The later, enjoying their siesta sprawled on the boat dock, didn’t even twitch as I squeezed by to board the panga (local inflatable zodiac-type skiff) that was to take me to the Motor Yacht Grace.
San Cristobal landing
My first glance at the elegant lines of this classic yacht was a special thrill. It brought back fantasies I had shared with an entire generation of French schoolgirls half a century before. Its owner was Prince Rainer III then, and it was named the Deo Juvante (Latin for with God’s help) after the motto of the house of Grimaldi, the rulers of the tiny French Riviera principality of Monaco for almost a millennium. For a few weeks in 1956, it had been front page news on French magazines and movies screens: the prince, sailing to meet the ocean liner USS Constitution to welcome his fiancee, the American movie star Grace Kelly; then the following week, Prince Rainer and the now Princess Grace boarding the yacht again for a seven-week honeymoon. Throughout the spring, there had been images of the yacht anchored in the most romantic destinations around the Mediterranean. Now this glamorous vessel was to be my home for a seven-night cruise around the Galapagos Archipelago, royal matrimony not required.
The shaded fresco dining area at the rear of the main deck
The yacht, renamed the M/Y Grace in homage to its most illustrious owner, is now the property of Quasar Galapagos Expeditions. Its owner Eduardo Diez, a man with a passion for classic yachts, oversaw a two-year, $2.5 million overhaul of the ship, while preserving its distinctive lines. The Grace, newly outfitted with a state-of-the-art stabilizer system to ensure smooth sailing on the open waters around the Galapagos islands, a large hot tub on the sundeck, modern bathrooms in each of its nine staterooms and air conditioning throughout, began operations in the spring of 2009. While I admit that it was the prospect of sailing on the Grace that propelled my desire to visit the Galapagos “some day” to the top of my travel wish list, the understated luxury of the vessel turned out to be merely the setting for a unique wilderness adventure. With only seven passengers and a crew of 10 on board, our naturalist guide, Rafael Pesantes Aguirre (Rafa for short) quipped that our odds for mutiny were unpromising.
Red footed booby
But between the attentive pampering of the friendly staff and the exhilarating daily discoveries of the cruise, mutiny was the last thing on my mind. The exceptional itinerary took us to remote places rarely visited by larger ships. And Rafa, a third generation native of the islands and an ornithology graduate from San Francisco University in Quito, coupled an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural wonders of the area with the familiarity of one who has swum since childhood in the crystal clear waters of its most secluded coves. Our land excursions were filled with close encounters with some of rarest wildlife on the planet. We wandered on powdery white beaches shared only with colonies of sea lions and hiked along black lava rock paths to observe at close range the courtship ritual of Nazca boobies and waved albatross.
Fernandina marine iguana
We rode our panga along the edge of vertical cliffs dotted with blue-footed boobies and tiny Galapagos penguins, and watched frigate birds and brown pelicans nosedive for their breakfast. For me the highpoint of the day was invariably our snorkeling expedition. In island after island, Rafa led us to the most exotic marine life I have ever observed. I swan surrounded by so many giant sea turtles that it was a challenge to get out of their way. I observed a hammerhead shark, mercifully unconcerned by my presence; and I can now boast that I was personally pecked by a flightless cormorant! Visit the Simon & Baker Travel Review to read more about my Galapagos Archipelago cruise aboard the M/Y Grace.
Sally Lightfoot crab
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The entrance to Fairlawns
Tucked within a high end neighborhood in South Africa’s busy metropolis the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa offered a myriad amenities desirable to tired travelers like us. While we were familiar with several airport hotels which were more convenient the pretty grounds and luxury features of the Fairlawns appealed to us. As I sat on the grueling 15-hour flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Johannesburg, South Africa I dreamed of the comfortable bed, spacious bathroom with a shower and bathtub, quiet ambiance, and room service I would enjoy on arrival. We had stayed at the property previously and were confident it would serve our needs on this brief one night visit (see Pretty Johannesburg boutique hotel, spa in quiet residential neighborhood).
The Villa Suites building
We requested an airport pick up in advance to avoid the hassle of a car rental since we planned to be in the city less than one day. As we exited the busy arrivals hall at the airport I spotted our driver easily. We rode in air conditioned comfort into the city and less than an hour later we had settled into our accommodations for the night at the 40-room four acre hotel with 60 staff. Although the hotel restaurant and its new chef were a draw after so many hours of travel what I yearned for was a simple salad or sandwich while sitting comfortably in my bathrobe following a decadently hot shower or luxuriant bath.
A view of the restaurant at night
The Toulouse Suite, Suite 39 in the Villa Suites building, delivered all that I had longed for on the flight and more. It was the first time we stayed at the Villas Suites, the newest of the buildings at the property, built behind and to the right of reception before the much anticipated 2010 World Cup.
The Toulouse Suite
Our Deluxe Suite had the varied decorative touches and many luxury amenities we had liked in the past such as embroidered linen, stocked mini bar, and fruit plates. The 82 square meter room, one floor up from the ground floor via an elevator or a spiral staircase, was kept at a comfortable temperature with individually controlled air conditioning (and underfloor heating in the winter months).
The bathroom was large with tub and shower
It was furnished with two double beds resting against off white fabric headboards and topped with a crisp white duvet with the Fairlawns logo. Although the room had an unremarkable view to a service walkway on the side of the building it was blissfully quiet, the most attractive feature for us the night we arrived. Double curtains covered the windows, providing privacy at night and shade from the fierce daytime sun. Antique style wood and marble top tables with matching glass bottomed lamps served as night tables. To one side there was an antique style wood desk with a beige stool where we set our computer and electronics during our stay.
A comfortable seat and snacks
On the floor a putty colored carpet felt soft against our tired stockinged feet. Should we wish to make a call there were handheld wireless and regular phones. While we waited for room service to deliver our dinner order we sampled the fruit plate and a plate with mixed nuts and tasty biltong (South Africa dried beef) courtesy of the hotel. In the mini refrigerator there was complimentary cold still mineral water, juice and two dried mango snacks.
A view of the room from the corner next to the bathroom
In front of the bed, on the right side of the single ambiance room, there was a putty colored sofa atop a white rug facing a glass topped wood coffee table. Across from the table was an entertainment section with a Hi Sense flat screen television in the center and the mini bar to the lower right. Antique framed silk birds and landscapes adorned the walls and in the center, an elaborate chandelier with a porcelain flower motif hung from the ceiling. There was a stand alone wood armoire where we hung some of our clothes after the bell hop set our suitcases on the large luggage rack near the entrance.
The Villa featured pretty common areas
The next morning we awoke refreshed and ready to face the day. There was complimentary coffee and tea service on the first floor across from our suite. After checking emails with the complimentary WiFi services I headed to the spa for a work out (there was a spacious fitness section with treadmills, exercise machines and free weights within the spa building, I remembered from past visits). Next we enjoyed the lovely breakfast buffet and hot made to order options. On the long table, covered with a cloth to keep the flies off, there were fresh fruit plates, breads and pastries, jams, yogurt, cheese, salmon, and deli meats. The staff were friendly and attentive.
The pool area at Fairlawns
From our window side table we had an expansive view of the central lawn and pool area. I felt like I could have stayed there the whole morning. Instead I donned by bathing suit and lounged poolside for the better part of an hour. I even managed a swim in the chilly water. While chatting with a fellow guest one of the staff from breakfast walked down to check on us, politely offering beverages and snacks. We had both had our fill at breakfast and declined.
The dining room at breakfast looking out over the property
While I was at the pool a kind staff person ironed my linen clothes and by the time we left I looked rested and presentable, a concept that was hard to imagine while I was breathing stale air on the airplane less than 24 hours earlier. That rested state is one of the reasons the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel and Spa (91 Alma Road, off Bowling Avenue, Morningside, Gallo Manor, Sandton 2052, Johannesburg, South Africa, +27 11 804 2540/1/2/3, +27 11 808 7300 or +27 73 481 7734, http://www.fairlawns.co.za/, email@example.com) remains on our list of favorite boutique hotels in Johannesburg.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The Saba Tourist Bureau
I loved Saba, a small Dutch Caribbean island, for its unspoiled and picturesque character. What this volcanic Leeward Island lacked in size it made up for in beauty, natural features and sheer determination. For example, the islanders were told by experts in Holland early last century that it was not possible to build a road due to the steep incline of the mountains. Refusing to accept that ruling one man took a correspondence course and with the help of his fellow islanders built the beginning of what today is called simply The Road.
A plaque to Josephus Lambert Hassell, engineer of the road
With a population of less than 1,500 and diminutive (it occupies five square miles), the tourist attractions were mainly scenic, we expected before visiting the island. Cars were scarce in Saba. We had a few hours to see what we could while our ship, the SeaDream I, stopped there and we intended to make the most of it. With a little help from the crew we were able to find a taxi, the only one available that day apparently. The driver, a friendly Irishman who had relocated to Saba only a few months earlier with his van (the windows in the rear of the van did not open we later discovered with disappointment), explained that he would be pleased to show us around the island if we were willing to share space and wait for him.
Saba in the foreground and remote islands on the horizon
Six of us shared the van up the narrow and steep roads. He dropped two of our group at the entrance to a hiking trail (they reported having a wonderful time later when we met up aboard the ship) before leaving us in The Bottom, the island’s main urban area. He would take care of local customers (many of the medical school students were going on vacation and there was a wedding the next day) who had booked his services already and return for us about 90 minutes later.
We stopped at this church with a view
When he returned he had a glass of fresh made fruit juice with us before the four of us climbed into his van to see the sights. Minutes later we felt transported back in time when we stopped at a small church with a million dollar view. Although the church was closed there was a kind lady running a simple small cash only shop behind the church. She sold handmade lace in the tradition and style of Saba, a dying art, our driver shared as we departed having bought one of the treasured lace pieces.
The tiny Saba airport
From there we drove downhill toward the waterfront island airport. On our way back our driver showed us the house he rented as we drove by it on way back toward The Bottom and the dock where we had arrived.
Cute little houses and flowers dotted the hills
Earlier while we waited for our guide and driver to return we had made our way around the hilly village, picking up tips and information at the tourist office where a friendly staff person welcomed us, passing a cafe and small indoor market and walking up a steep hill toward JoBean Glass unsure if it was open for business. Our efforts were rewarded when we arrived at the un-airconditioned shop and found it open. A shy young lady inside said we were welcome to browse around at our leisure. Every surface, every corner of the shop was filled with glass items, many made from Venetian glass, we later found out from the friendly owner who popped by for a few minutes.
JoBean Chambers demonstrating a technique to fashion colorful glass jewelry
JoBean Chambers, a lively and vivacious American woman who had lived and worked on the island for many years, showed us the glass pieces she was making for the wedding we had heard about, and gave us a brief glass making demonstration. Watching her flame work the thin and colorful glass tubes it seemed easy to create pretty seahorses, turtles, frogs, fish, mermaids, dive flags, starfish and other attractive shapes. She would heat and swirl the glass quickly and easily (for her), then attach another piece of glass in a different color to the incipient shape, adjusting the width and style along the way. In moments we could distinguish a multicolored frog and after that a mermaid. It was hard to imagine the glass melts at temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Many of her glass creations were sea creatures
A fan of hot glass since 1989 she had learned her skills, in part at El Vetro in Venice, Italy where she studied, according to her website, with Lucio Bubacco and Vittorio Constantini. Her work was exhibited in art galleries in the United States and the Caribbean, including the Corning Museum Shop. She offered glass workshops in her hillside studio for up to five students at a time. Next time we visit Saba maybe we will take one of her workshops.
Our visit to Saba was a special treat and one of my fondest memories from our week long Caribbean cruise. This was in part because of the pretty hillside houses in the small towns, the old style lace sold behind the church, our shared taxi tour and fun stop at JoBean Glass Art Studio (Booby Hill, Windwardside Saba, Dutch West Indies,+ 599 416 2490,www.jobeanglassart.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).