Archive | March 2014

5 Stunning French Riviera Beaches

Relaxing in the unparalleled luxury of the French Riviera has always been popular but sometimes you want to find somewhere that’s a little less popular than your usual favorite beach. Relaxing by the side of the pool of your villa is one thing but nothing beats a day at the beach. Here we’ve handpicked five stunning beaches across the South of France.

L’Ille de Riou

Just to the south of Marseilles you’ll find the unique coastline created by the Calanques. A set of stunning rock formations, they create deep valleys and a coastline that no other area benefits from. Visiting the Calanques by boat is your best option and the beach L’Ille de Riou is also only accessible by boat, making it an intimate beauty spot as well as a great choice of learner scuba divers and snorkelers.

L'Ille de Riou

Borely Beach

It comes as a surprise to many that the city of Marseilles itself benefits from some stand out sandy beaches. Borely Beach is just next to the Parc Borely and is probably the area’s best beach for simply lying back and bathing in the sun. It also benefits from a volleyball area, a skateboarding park and a lifeguard station.

Borely Beach

Plage de L’Almanarre in Hyeres

Sitting just between Marseille and Nice you can enjoy this long strip of beach running to the rural peninsula town – Giens. This is a popular beach for both windsurfers and surfers and a marshy area nearby gives you the chance to spot flamingos in the wild. The town of Giens is perfect for wandering and the beach itself is just perfect if you want to see some of the Mediterranean’s bluest waters.

Plage de L’Almanarre in Hyeres

Frioul Islands

Sitting to the west of Marseilles the Frioul Islands are a group of small islands packed full of natural, secluded surprises. You have to travel by ferry from Marseilles but it’s certainly worth it for the views. As you explore you’ll find plenty of small secluded rock beaches where the waters glisten and you can experience a level of relaxation and seclusion that’s difficult to find elsewhere.

Frioul Islands

Paloma Beach

One of the most popular beaches on our list Paloma Beach has been used by A-List celebrities as well as luxury vacationers. Paloma Beach sits on the peninsula Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and whilst only half of the beach is open to the public, the private part is still visible if you fancy star spotting.

Paloma Beach

Source: James Mannings is Co-Founder of Luxury Villa Rentals.

 

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Top 10 Islands in the World

Popular travel review site TripAdvisor has come out with the results of its annual Travelers’ Choice® awards. Among them are the awards for the best islands in the world. Wonder which ones made the top 10, according to the opinions of TripAdvisor readers? Then read on…

1. Ambergris Caye, Belize Cayes

For the second year in a row, Ambergris Caye takes top honours. The beautiful Belize island offers the perfect blend of modern development and laid-back tranquillity. A mangrove swamp is the eye of this white beach island, the largest in Belize, and golf carts are the main form of transportation along the sandy roads. Reef divers drool over the Belize Barrier Reef and the Blue Hole, a 400-feet deep circle of limestone that teems with angelfish, Elkhorn coral, cleaner shrimp and stalactites.

Ambergris Caye

2. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

Scuba diving, horseback riding, sunbathing… take your pick. “Provo” offers plenty for the happy couple to do, including picture-perfect coastlines to walk along, hand in hand. The island itself is relatively tranquil; try Malcolm Beach to get even further away from crowds.

3. Bora Bora, Society Islands

The relatively small island of Bora Bora is an activity giant, offering visitors the chance to experience a 4×4 safari, sunbathe and swim at white sandy beaches, dive in a natural underwater park among fish and corals, experience thrilling shark feedings, or circle the turquoise lagoon by boat. And Bora Bora is a superlative romantic spot. Fall captive to this lush gem of a Polynesian island by sharing an intimate midnight dinner on the beach; visiting the Lagoonarium, the Diving Centre, the Coral Gardens or the Leopard Rays Trench; or taking it all in from the lofty heights of 2,300-foot Mount Otemanu.

Bora Bora

4. Marco Island, Florida

Marco Island is the perfect destination for those who crave a peaceful retreat but don’t have time to travel too far off the grid. The jewel of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, Marco Island’s soft white beaches overlook the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Scavenge for seashells or hit the links for a sunny session of golf. Explore the Everglades in a swamp buggy or enjoy a rejuvenating nature hike at the Rookery Bay Reserve.

5. Lewis and Harris, Outer Hebrides

A visit to Lewis and Harris is like stepping into the pages of a Scottish fairy tale. In Lewis—the northern part of the island – the legendary Callanish Standing Stones poke up from the ground like a strange and massive rock city. The Blackhouse, the Shawbost Norse Mill and Kiln, and the Carloway Broch all offer a peek at what island life used to look like. In southern Harris, the east side beaches boast some of the oldest known rocks in the world, dating back millions of years. Cruise over to the volcanic islands of St. Kilda to explore the ruins of a medieval village.

6. Naxos, Cyclades

A spot of white in the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea, the island of Naxos is a unique blend of ancient ruins and beach culture. The largest of the Cycladic Islands, Naxos is the childhood home of none other than Zeus, king of the gods. Upon arrival in Naxos, hike over a causeway to Palatia, where the Portara, a stone gateway to an ancient temple that no longer exists, stands alone, the symbol of the island. At sunset, the views of the island, and the sea beyond, are breathtaking.

Naxos

7. Aitutaki, Southern Cook Islands

This small island encased in a triangular barrier reef boasts incredible lagoons. Relax with a intimate picnic on the alabaster beach of one of Aitutaki’s minor islands, uninhabited and lined with swaying palm trees. Despite its heartbreaking beauty, Aitutaki isn’t (yet) flooded with tourists, due to its relatively difficult-to-reach location. For off-the-beaten-sandbar holiday-making, Aitutaki is a prime destination, especially for those seeking unbridled romantic ambiance.

8. Nosy Be, Antsiranana Province

“Nosy Be?” Is that a typo for “Noisy Bee?” Nope. It means “big island” and it is just that; a large island off the northwest coast of Madagascar. Here you’ll find volcanic lakes, lazy lemurs, rum distilleries, Ylang Ylang plantations and intricate coral reefs that are practically begging to be explored. Flora and fauna lovers will be in seventh heaven at the beautiful Lokobe Nature Special Reserve. Audiophiles should visit in May, to experience the four-day Donia Music Festival.

9. Easter Island, Chile

Located in the South Pacific more than 2,000 miles off the Chilean coast, Easter Island’s not the easiest place to reach. (If you’re interested, the easiest access is by air from Santiago or Tahiti.) But isolation has helped preserve the 1,500-year-old mysterious congregation of volcanic rock sculptures (maoi) that’s the island’s biggest claim to fame. After exploring the unique landscape, relax on an uncrowded beach and ponder one of the most mysterious places on Earth.

Easter Island

10. Ko Tao, Surat Thani Province

Drifting serenely in the Gulf of Thailand, the palm-fringed island of Ko Tao takes its name from the abundant sea turtles that reside on its shores. White sand beaches sheltered by steep hills – some only accessible with four-wheel drive vehicles – and 300 days of sun per year invite long afternoons of lounging.

Do you agree with this selection or are there other islands that you think are more deserving of making the top 10?

 

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Aria Resort and Casino – Las Vegas

Aria_Resort_and_Casino
Aria
, the luxury hotel and casino in Las Vegas infuses guest room corridors with natural light and provides each of the over 4,000 guest rooms – including the 568 suites, of course – with floor-to-ceiling windows offering stellar views of the local skyline or surrounding mountains. The most advanced guest room technology allows you to personalize the lighting, temperature, and music to your taste. At the end of your evening, bedside technology will allow you to close the blinds, draw the drapes, dim the lights and power down your flat-screen television without having to leave the comfort of the luxurious custom bed linens.

Should you wish a bit of privacy, accommodation in one of the Aria Sky Suites includes a private alternative-fuel limousine from the airport to a private lobby for your check in and registration. After an arrival drink and hors d’oeuvres, take a private elevator to your one of a kind accommodation.

To beat the Las Vegas sun, umbrellas are set up throughout the pool deck for shade, but for the ultimate, request one of Aria’s lavish cabana, complete with attentive service and exclusivity. Guests lounging poolside can opt for all fresco dining from the and Breeze Café and Pool Bar’s extensive and innovative menu.

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48 Epic Dream Hotels to Visit

A GOOD HOTEL CAN MAKE or break a trip. The worst hotel in the best place is still going to make retiring after a long day an unfortunate experience. The best hotel in the worst place, on the other hand, can be something of an oasis. Take the best hotels and put them in the best places, and you’ve got a private slice of the vacation you’ve always dreamed of.

Here are 48 absolutely epic dream hotels.

1. Ladera Resort, St. Lucia

Possibly the singular spot for your perfect Caribbean excursion, the Ladera Resort represents the intersection between design, luxury, and the ideal location. Amenities include a full spa, a host of excursion experiences, and the ability to swing straight from a bench into the pool. Equally sick: Jade Mountain Resort.

2. Manta Resort, Tanzania

Ever wanted to be able to go down the stairs of your resort room, hoist the blinds, and be stared down by schools of fish? Can you get over the fact that in doing so, you’ll be painfully aware that your accommodations are anchored offshore? If you answered yes to both of those questions (as I have), then the photos of the Manta Resort have probably inspired you to add Tanzania’s Pemba Island to the bucket list.

3. Äscher Cliff, Switzerland

More of an inn and restaurant than a luxury resort, this getaway built right into an Ebenalp cliff is the best spot to take a breather on your trek up the northern Alps. The views here will keep you charged as you continue your trip through the Swiss mountains.

4. Giraffe Manor, Kenya

These images are not photoshopped. At Giraffe Manor, located in a suburb of Nairobi, giraffes belonging to the resident breeding and conservation program will join you for breakfast.

5. Hotel Kakslauttanen, Finland

If you’ve never heard of this place, you’ve probably spent an enviably small amount of time on the internet. With its infamous glass igloos and log cabins, the Hotel Kakslauttanen offers an exclusive inside-while-outside winter experience. You know, so you can be immersed in the beauty of frozen forests and incredible winter auroras while simultaneously safe and comfortable inside your own private bubble of warmth.

6. Ubud Hanging Gardens, Bali

One part boutique hotel, one part epic infinity pool over the Ayung gorge, one part Payangan jungle, and one part architectural masterpiece combine to make one smooth cocktail of a resort. While the Ubud is known for its terraced tree villas, it’s really all about the award-winning pool. (Literally, this pool has won awards.)

7. Icehotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

At the absolute top of my bucket list, the Icehotel is like living in an art installation. A very cold art installation. Though the ice accommodations are available for only one season a year (for what I hope are obvious reasons), the hotel also offers “warm accommodations” and a host of summer activities, including “art experiences with ice, and adventures in the surrounding wilderness under the midnight sun.”

8. Cocoa Island Resort, Maldives

Just a 40-minute speedboat ride from the archipelago’s main airport, Cocoa Island floats as a cluster of 33 over-water suites (straight out from those sweeping white sand beaches you’ve seen in every tropical island fantasy you’ve ever had). With two private diving reefs to explore, who’s got time for spa treatments?

9. Loisaba Star Beds, Kenya

Two sets of outdoor “star beds” can be found in the Kenyan wilderness — the “Kikobo” beds overlook the waterhole from which they take their name, and the “Koija” beds sit on stilts over the Ewaso N’giro river. Each “star bed” is partially sheltered and contains a “Mukokoteni” (a specialty handcrafted bed on wheels, for moving into and out of the shelter). Kenya is known for its wildlife, so you’re bound to see some amazing creatures in this outdoor getaway.

10. Burj Al Arab, Dubai

One of the tallest hotels in the world, the Burj Al Arab sits on a private, manmade island 1,000 feet offshore and is connected to the mainland by a private bridge. Inside the tower (designed to look like the sail of a ship) are 202 double-story rooms, the largest of which covers 8,400 square feet and is the 12th most expensive hotel suite in the world.

11. Treehotel, Sweden

The multi-styled Swedish Treehotel comprises such rooms as: the Cabin, the Mirrorcube, the Bird’s Nest, the Blue Cone, the UFO, the Tree Sauna, and the Dragonfly. Though perhaps a little literal in the naming of the rooms, the architecture and execution at the Treehotel are pretty next-level and make for a unique experience in the Swedish forest.

12. Hotel Marques de Riscal, Spain

Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, this luxury hotel is situated in the heart of Spanish wine country in the medieval town of Elciego. The property is famed for its Basque-Riojan cuisine and also has a rooftop library lounge with views of the Spanish countryside.

13. Dedon Island Resort, Philippines

According to the resort’s website, the property’s creators conceptualized Dedon Island as a “kind of laboratory” for realizing experiments in outdoor design, organic farming, and sustainability.

14. Phinda Homestead, South Africa

Small-scale and utterly luxurious, the Phinda Homestead is a family-size lodge situated on a private game reserve
within the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa. No one around but you, the lodge staff, and the wildlife.

15. Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

Managed by the Kempinski Group of hotels and resorts, this seven-star property is the second most expensive hotel ever built. Might as well play the part and arrive via the private marina or helipad.

16. Conrad Maldives Hotel

With its glass-bottomed bungalows and underwater rooms, the Conrad Maldives Hotel has serious appel. To reach it, you have to take a 30-minute private seaplane, but on arrival you can enjoy any of their 101 carefully curated cheeses and 20,000 wines, while being surrounded by whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins, turtles, and “an excellent coral reef.”

17. Alpina Gstaad, Switzerland

The Swiss ski village of Gstaad is one of the top resort areas in the Alps, and the Alpina is pretty much the top-of-the-line accommodations for those who have the scratch. The views from your room’s balcony couldn’t get much better.

18. Hotel de Glace, Quebec, Canada

The first (and only) true ice hotel in North America, Hotel de Glace opened in 2001 and has been rebuilt every December since. With a three-month lifespan, the features of this hotel are different each year, but it’s famous for its recurring chapel, bar, and grand ice slide.

19. Gamirasu Cave Hotel, Turkey

This recently renovated hotel, used since the Byzantine era as a monastic retreat, had been a getaway just outside of Ürgüp, in the Cappadocia region, for centuries before it was converted into a hotel for the public, which pretty much guarantees its awesomeness.

20. Katikies Hotel, Greece

On Santorini (with its signature white-and-blue color scheme), the Katikies Hotel lends further credence to the idea that not only is putting a pool on an island surrounded by water not redundant, but you can do so just about anywhere in Greece and still achieve a killer view.

21. Rayavadee Resort, Thailand

The mac-daddy of Thailand resorts, this place looks like the deserted jungle island you’ve always dreamed of waking up on after a bumpy flight to somewhere boring. To top it all off, after your day of lounging in the luxury hydro-pool your pavilion is outfitted with, you can catch the sunset from this sandy beachside cave restaurant.

22. Hotel Au Vieux Panier, France

Situated in the heart of Marseille, each room at the Au Vieux Panier has been individually decorated by an artist or graphic designer of worldwide acclaim (and the rooms change every year). Not only is there a rooftop terrace where you can look out over the city center, but also a hotel library, perfect for a relaxing night in.

23. Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Tanzania

The absolutely quintessential African safari resort, the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge acts as steward of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a wildlife reserve home to scores of rare and endangered species. It ranks #1 on TripAdvisor as “best stay in Tanzania.”

24. Panchoran Retreat, Bali

Carved out of the Balinese jungle by Irish designer Linda Garland in an ongoing project since the ‘70s, the Panchoran Retreat is a blend of art project, resort, and eco-garden. The retreat has been home to festivals, workshops, and generations of environmentalists conducting research year round.

25. Boscolo Milano, Italy

Built in the shell of a 1920s structure overlooking Milan’s golden square and the Milan Cathedral, the Boscolo Milano combines colorful avant-garde decoration with the luxury of five-star restaurants and spas.

26. Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort, Thailand

Half resort, half elephant camp, Anantara Golden Triangle sits at the convergence of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar in the heart of northern Thailand’s mountainous jungle. Not only do they offer a full range of spa treatments, but they also organize elephant treks through the surrounding jungle and playtime with the herd’s baby elephants. Baby. Elephants. Need I say more?

27. Hotel Sidi Driss, Tunisia

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, but suspend your disbelief for a moment so that I can tell you that not only are those the remains of Luke Skywalker’s home from Star Wars, but also, you can stay at them for $10 a night. Epic dream achieved!

28. Cambrian Hotel, Switzerland

The Cambrian provides yet another option for luxury accommodations coupled with some extraordinary views of the Swiss Alps.

29. Sala Silver Mine, Sweden

Sometimes “getting away from it all” involves going 155 meters underground (to the world’s deepest hotel room), and while no one thinks of staying in a historic silver-mine-turned-resort for their holiday, perhaps the accommodations at the Sala Silver Mine are enough to keep it in mind, rather than going to some boring island.

30. Marataba Safari Lodge, South Africa

Marataba Safari Lodge is not a for-profit hotel, which alone should be a major selling point. The lodge is located within a massive game preserve, and its main purpose is to generate the revenue necessary to support the preserve’s continued projects. Their main goal is to restore the natural balance of flora and fauna in the region, with the help and involvement of people from all over the world.

31. Viceroy Hotel, Bali

With a prime location like Bali, it would be pretty easy for a resort to skimp on just about everything and rely on the beauty of its surroundings. Thankfully, the Viceroy simply saw that as a challenge and took luxury to the nth degree with amenities including private airport retrieval via helicopter, direct to the only hotel-owned helipad in the district.

32. Crazy Bear Beaconsfield, UK

Part of a chain of hotels famed for their over-the-top opulence, the Crazy Bear Beaconsfield was opened in 2008. Its luxurious rooms were built inside a painstakingly restored 15th-century coaching inn, coincidentally the oldest documented building in Beaconsfield.

33. Barin Ski Resort, Iran

Just an hour outside of Tehran looms the Barin Ski Resort, a white fortress designed to mimic the snow-covered mountains that surround it, and with an interior that feels an awful lot like an igloo (though the architects opted for “topographic layers” instead of ice blocks). The Barin Ski Resort was designed, inside and out, to reflect and complement its natural surroundings, and the effect is truly stunning.

34. Astarte Suites Hotel, Greece

The infinity pool to end all infinity pools — this hotel in Santorini is so proud of its pool that you can even view it in blistering high-def 360-degree panorama on the website. The luxury doesn’t stop at the pool, however, as every suite is decked out with all of the amenities one would expect from a luxury resort, plus some form of Jacuzzi.

35. Attrap’Reves Hotel, France

Another actively form-over-function locale, the space-pods at the Attrap’Reves would make me feel like I were the chief cosmonaut in charge of terraforming some faraway planet. What’s not to love about that?

36. Taj Lake Palace, India

Built on a natural four-acre foundation in the center of Lake Pichola, Taj Lake Palace has been voted the most romantic hotel in the world. However, it was originally the royal summer palace of Maharana Jagat Singh II (and all of his reigning successors). The palace is so plush it has been used as the set for a number of British and Indian films and television shows and has hosted kings and queens from all over the world.

37. Montaña Mágica Lodge, Chile

This Huilo-Huilo hotel is not only a manmade geyser, but also a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The 232 square miles of reserve surrounding the hotel have hot springs carved in the center of tree trunks and a variety of wildlife ranging from the puma to the pudú (the world’s tiniest deer).

38. Caves Resort, Jamaica

Located in Negril, and so much more than just another cave resort, this smaller lodging provides renowned all-inclusive packages for their 12 “exclusive cliff-side accommodations.” On the 10-acre property, the resort has its own cave restaurant to dine in while catching the sunset and bathtubs built right into the cliff.

39. Whitepod Hotel, Switzerland

Self-dubbed an “eco-luxury hotel and alpine experience,” the Whitepod Hotel maintains its environmentally friendly green during the white Swiss winters. From their website: “Whitepod aims to be a model for sustainable tourism by using a number of measures to limit its impact on nature, for example: minimize daily water and electricity consumption, reduce waste production, favour the use of renewable resources, and increase the clients’ awareness of environmental protection.”

40. Juvet Landscape Hotel, Norway

Europe’s first “landscape hotel,” this conceptual blend of architectural design and emphasis on nature led Norwegian architects Jensen and Skodven to build the seven stilted glass-walled cubes in an effort to maintain the illusion of complete integration with the surroundings. Each cube, and subsequent ‘experience,’ is unique.

41. The Oberoi Udaivilas, India

Perched at #4 on the 2012 list of World’s Best Hotels, the Oberoi Udaivilas sits on the shore of Lake Pichola in the palace city of Udaipur. The hotel’s architecture was modeled on real palaces of the Mewar region of Rajasthan (the largest state of the Republic of India, known as “the land of kings”) and includes sweeping arches and hand-painted domes.

42. Sofitel So Bangkok, Thailand

Designed to bring a touch of French elegance and luxury to a modern Thai setting, Sofitel So is decorated to reflect each of the five Chinese elements (water, earth, wood, metal, and fire). Looking out over Thailand’s capital city, the hotel also features a spa that apparently resembles a mythical forest.

43. Quinta Real Zacatecas, Mexico

Honestly, there are few things cooler than staying in what looks like the Mexican equivalent of the Coliseum. Part of the Quinta Real hotel chain, this former-bullfighting-ring-turned-luxury-resort is one of the premier places to stay in Zacatecas.

44. Hotel La Claustra, Switzerland

Built entirely underground in a former army fortress, La Claustra is still 2,050 feet above sea level, despite being located far beneath the surface of the Gotthard mountain pass. However, this demilitarized artillery bunker gets cold in the winter, so the 17 rooms are only available for booking between May and October.

45. Free Spirit Spheres, Canada

Set high in the trees of Vancouver Island’s temperate rainforest, each of these three spherical dens was handcrafted and precisely anchored in the canopy, 10 and 15 feet from the ground. While they may not represent everyone’s idea of luxury, the idea of gently rocking in the breeze while you fall asleep is incredibly appealing and would be a bliss usually reserved for native tree-dwelling critters and boat-owners alike.

46. Hotel Everland, Switzerland

More of an art piece than a true hotel, Hotel Everland was a project by the artists Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann (known professionally as L/B). The one-room hotel was built to be entirely portable and was moved around Europe five times before retiring to Switzerland. It can only be booked one night at a time, but comes equipped with its own record collection!

47. Hotel Ristorante Grotta Palazzese, Italy

Another epic cave-integrated hotel, the Hotel Ristorante Grotta Palazzese is located on the cliffs of Polignano, facing the Adriatic Sea. The cave restaurant, the hotel’s centerpiece, is where meals are served only a couple dozen feet above the crashing waves.

48. Inn at Price Tower, Oklahoma

You might not think “Oklahoma” when you hear the words “epic dream hotel” — but it’s somewhat comforting to think there could be a 221ft, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed tower with luxury accommodations just one town over.

Source:  Alex Scola

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Coastal Vacations Travel Package Recorded Call

In.Debth.Travel

Take some time and listen our Recorded Product Call that was aired LIVE this past Wednesday

Click Here!!

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Four Seasons Hotel, Limassol, Cyprus

The Four Seasons Hotel is a 5 star luxury hotel in Limassol Cyprus which is independently owned and operated by Muskita Hotels Ltd

four-seasons-limassol
The prestigious independently owned and operated Four Seasons Hotel lies on a sandy beach east of Limassol approximately midway between the airports of Larnaca and Pafos and only a few minutes drive from the city centre. This five-star resort is the pinnacle of luxury & style, combining impeccable facilities with world-class hospitality and service.

lobby
The divine beds at the Four Seasons deliver a great night’s sleep. The resort has great diving and water sports, and there’s a variety of restaurants serving salads and fresh fish. Highlights Thalassotherapy, treatments using Phytomer products, and slimming and cellulite packages that can be tailored personally.

Huge.Suite

Cyprus has a good chance of blue skies in winter.
Lowlights Book your treatments when you book your room and ask about spa packages for a better-value deal. Insights The hotel has cleverly assigned some rooms and a pool as ‘adults only’ for those who don’t want to be bothered by other people’s children, and there are babysitting services. Bring your other half for fun in the rasul mud steam room.

 

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The Most Astoundingly Beautiful Luxury Hotel in Florence Italy

Visitors to Florence don’t usually see its true architectural legacy as they wander the cobbled streets. That’s because so much of the city’s artistry and opulence remain discrete; tucked-away like long-held secrets behind unadorned walls of stucco and stone. Even a treasure like the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze blends so faultlessly with adjacent structures that you might walk right past without even noticing it. Only upon entering the soaring frescoed courtyard do you realize you’ve arrived somewhere absolutely extraordinary.

Four Seasons Florence courtyard

Dating to the fifteenth century as the Palazzo della Gherardesca, the historic portion of this visually stunning property includes a 116-room palazzo, its surrounding 11-acre landscaped garden, and a sixteenth century convent now transformed into a 36-room guesthouse and meeting space. Opened in 2008 after seven years and untold millions in restoration, the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze could rival any small museum in its abundance of original frescoes, bas-reliefs, oil paintings, antiquities, and exquisite architectural details.

Four Seasons Florence suite

A short stroll through the hotel and grounds reveals a seamless intermingling of art history and modern luxury that is so characteristic of this hotel group’s collaboration with designer extraordinaire, Pierre-Yves Rochon. Throughout, one sees bountiful use of luxuriant materials and fresh flowers. Fabrics are lush, seating plush, colors lustrous, and spaces vaulted and vast. Yet, amidst all the grandeur, a sense of comfort and warmth prevails. Multi-lingual staff is relaxed and friendly. In the dining room, servers seem to read minds with uncanny accuracy.  Savvy concierges faithfully curate guests’ most idiosyncratic wishes. And, as at all Four Seasons properties I’ve stayed, thoughtful amenities and state of the art technologies are impeccably woven into the mix.

Four Seasons Florence room

The eleven sumptuous suite styles would impress even a Medici. Many are resplendent with gem-toned upholstery, precious antiques, glistening Murano glass chandeliers, tall arched windows, and original frescoes harkening to a period when the Medicis actually did own Palazzo della Gherardesca. Bathrooms are scaled for giants, often with decadently deep, freestanding tubs beneath crystal chandeliers. Simply touring these suites left me with a raging case of bath envy from which I may never recover.

Of course, the “regular” bathrooms are nothing short of fabulous either, thanks to their roomy dimensions and divine cabinetry. And even the smallest guestrooms are oversized (approximately 39 m2), decorated in gracefully traditional motifs. Neutral colors accented by soft shades of yellow or green are a perfect compliment to most rooms’ views of the verdant botanical gardens. And, oh, such gardens they are! This peaceful sweet-scented oasis, which doubles as an open-air gallery, would be reason enough to stay here if there weren’t already dozens more. Sculptures by renowned contemporary artists are placed along the park’s winding paths amidst fountains, ponds, follies, and an assortment of rare vegetation. I found myself returning often to the gardens even in the dead of winter, mesmerized by the array of painstakingly chosen, emotionally rich works of art.

Four Seasons Florence suite

Almost hidden among towering trees are the property’s thoroughly modern additions: an outdoor pool and terrace restaurant (closed during winter), the award-winning two-story spa, and the exceptionally well-outfitted, multi-level fitness center which, I regret to say, I didn’t utilize often enough. (I was in Florence, after all.)

The Four Seasons hotel group is dedicated to designing unique custom guest experiences, and Florence is an ideal place to sample some of their best ideas. For couples with romance in mind, intimate dinners can be arranged at two of the palazzo’s most breathtaking spots: the gilded and frescoed former chapel, and the itty bitty roof terrace with staggering 360-degree views of the city, where you’re sure to have a singular “oh my!” moment. For families with young children, there are “kids visits” to museums and Pinocchio Park. And, especially for Dan Brown fans, the hotel has created an “Inferno Tour.” As if following in Professor Robert Langdon’s footsteps, guests view the Renaissance art and architecture central to “Inferno’s” mystery.

Chapel at the Four Seasons Florence

Even “everyday” experiences at this hotel are distinctive. If private dining isn’t to your taste, the gorgeous Il Palagio restaurant will easily feed cravings for romantic elegance. Chef Vito Mollica’s fresh artisanal cuisine has earned Il Palagio a place among the surprisingly small group of Florentine restaurants to attain a Michelin star. Just as importantly, his menu promises to dazzle even the most discerning of locavores.

Romantic dinner at the Four Seasons Florence

On the casual side, the Atrium Bar is your airy, all-day meeting place for light bites, cocktails, or afternoon tea. At night, I highly recommend a plate of pasta, a glass of Tuscan wine, and a double serving of glamorous people watching, as the Atrium is a hot spot among fashionable Florentines, too.

Four Seasons Hotel Firenze is located slightly outside the museum cluster in a charming residential section that offers welcome relief from tourist-clogged streets. Yet, you’re just a brisk 10-minute walk to Il Duomo. And when your soles demand a break from the cobblestones, a dedicated hotel shuttle will transport you in comfort, morning to evening.

Source: Joy Davidson

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The Courage to Take Action

Courage

“The future belongs to the risk takers, not the security seekers. The more you seek security, the less of it you will have — and the more you pursue opportunity, the more security you will achieve.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that you will ever face in life is the conquest of fear and the development of the habit of courage. Winston Churchill once wrote, Courage.Diver“Courage is rightly considered the foremost of virtues, for upon it, all others depend.” Fear is, and always has been the greatest enemy of mankind. When Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he was saying that the emotion of fear, rather than the reality of what we fear, is the cause of the associated anxiety, stress, and unhappiness. When we develop the habit of courage and unshakable self-confidence, a whole new world of possibilities opens up to us. Just think: what would you dare to dream, be, or do if you were not afraid of anything in the whole world?Fortunately, the habit of courage can be learned, just as any other skill is learned. To do so, we need to go to work systematically to diminish and eradicate our fears, while simultaneously building the kind of courage that will enable us to deal fearlessly with the inevitable ups and downs of life.Syndicated columnist Ann Landers wrote, “If I were asked to give what I considered the single most useful bit of advice for all humanity, it would be this: expect trouble as an inevitable part of life, and when it comes, hold your head high. Look it squarely in the eye and say, ‘I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.'” This is the kind of attitude that leads to victory.

The starting point in overcoming fear and developing courage is to look at the factors that predispose us toward fear.

The root source of fear is childhood conditioning that caused us to experience two types of fear: the fear of failure, which causes us to think, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t; and the fear of rejection, which causes us to think, I have to, I have to, I have to.

Based on those fears, we become preoccupied with the idea of losing our money, our time, our emotional investment in a relationship. We become hypersensitive to the opinions and possible criticisms of others, sometimes to the point where we are afraid to do anything that anyone else might disapprove of. Our fears tend to paralyze us, holding us back from taking constructive action in the direction of our dreams and goals. We hesitate, we become indecisive, and we procrastinate; we make excuses and find reasons not to move ahead. And finally, we feel frustrated, caught in the double bind of “I have to, but I can’t” and “I can’t, but I have to.”

Fear is also caused by ignorance. When we have limited information, we tend to be tense and insecure about the outcome of our actions. Ignorance causes us to fear change, to fear the unknown, and to avoid trying anything new or different. But the reverse is also true. The very act of gathering more and more information about a particular subject causes us to be more courageous and confident in that area. There are parts of our life where we have no fear at all because we feel knowledgeable and capable of handling whatever happens.

Once you’ve recognized the factors that can cause fear, the second step in overcoming it is to sit down and take the time to objectively define and analyze your own fears. At the top of a sheet of paper, write down the question,

“What am I afraid of?courage-beyond-fearNow, before you begin, here’s an important point to remember: all intelligent people are afraid of something. It is normal and natural to be concerned about your physical, emotional, and financial survival. The courageous person is not a person who is unafraid. As Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear.”It is not whether or not you are afraid. We are all afraid. The question is, how do you deal with the fear? The courageous person is simply one who goes forward in spite of the fear. And here’s something else I’ve learned: when you confront your fears and move toward what you are afraid of, your fears diminish and your self-esteem and self-confidence increase.

However, when you avoid the things you fear, your fears grow until they being to control every aspect of your life. And as your fears increase, your self-esteem, your self-confidence, and your self-respect diminish accordingly.

Begin your list of fears by writing down everything, major and minor, over which you experience anxiety. The most common fears, of course, are those related to failure and rejection, but be more specific than that.

Some people, compelled by the fear of failure, invest an enormous amount of energy justifying or covering up their mistakes. And some people, compelled by the fear of rejection, are so obsessed with how they appear to others that they seem to have no ability at all to take independent action. Until they are absolutely certain that someone else will approve, they refrain from doing anything.

Once you have made a list of every fear that you think may be affecting your thinking and behavior, organize the items in order of importance. Which fear do you feel has the greatest impact on your thinking or holds you back more than any other? Which fear would be number two? And so on.

With regard to your predominant fear, write the answers to these three questions:

1. How does this fear hold me back in life?

2. How does this fear help me? How has it helped me in the past?

3. What would be my payoff for eliminating this fear?

Some years ago, I went through this exercise and concluded that my biggest fear was the fear of poverty. I was afraid of not having enough money, of being broke, perhaps even of being destitute. I knew that this fear had originated during my childhood because my parents, who grew up during tough times, had continually worried about money. My fear was reinforced when I was broke at various times during my 20s. I could objectively assess the origins of that fear, but it still had a strong hold on me. Even when I had sufficient money for all my needs, that fear was always there.

My answer to the question, “How does this fear hold me back in life?” was that it caused me to be anxious about taking risks with money. It caused me to play it safe with regard to employment. And it caused me to choose security over opportunity.

My answer to the second question, “How does this fear help me?” was that, in order to escape the fear of poverty, I tended to work much longer and harder. I was ambitious and determined. I took much more time to educate myself on the various ways that money could be invested. The fear of poverty was, in effect, driving me toward financial independence.

When I answered the third question, “What would be my payoff for eliminating this fear?” I immediately saw that I would be willing to take more risks, I would be more aggressive in pursuing my financial goals, I could and would start my own business, and I would not be so tense and concerned about spending too much or having too little. I would no longer be concerned about the price of everything.

By objectively analyzing my biggest fear in this way, I was able to begin the process of eliminating it. You can begin the process of developing courage and eliminating fear by engaging in actions consistent with the behaviors of courage and self-confidence.

The future belongs to the risk takers, not the security seekers. Life is perverse in the sense that the more you seek security, the less of it you have. But the more you seek opportunity, the more likely it is that you will achieve the security that you desire.

The first and perhaps most important kind of courage is the courage to begin, to launch, to step out in faith. This is the courage to try something new or different, to move out of your comfort zone, with no guarantee of success.

One way to get the courage to begin, from which everything else flows, is to plan and prepare thoroughly in advance. Set clear goals or objectives; then gather information. Read and research in your chosen field. Write out detailed plans of action, and take the first step.

The second kind of courage is the courage to endure, to persist, to stay at it once you have begun. Persistence is a form of courageous patience, and it is one of the rarest types of courage. Courageous patience is the ability to stand firm after you have taken action and before you get any feedback or results from your action. When you plan your work and work your plan through with persistence, even in the face of disappointment and unexpected setbacks, you will build and develop the quality of courage within you.

The third type of courage is the courage to conquer worry — a form of negative goal setting. When you worry, you are dwelling upon, talking about, and vividly imagining exactly what you don’t want to happen. The great tragedy is that even if the situation you are worrying about does not materialize, your health and your emotions will suffer just the same. And the fact is that most of the things that people worry about never happen.

The only real antidote to worry is purposeful action toward a predetermined goal or solution. When you get by doing something to resolve your problem, you will not have the time or the mental capacity to worry. And before you know it, your worrisome situation will have been resolved.

The master of fear and the development of courage are essential prerequisites for a happy, successful life. With a commitment to acquire the habit of courage, you will eventually reach the point where your fears no longer play a major role in your decision making.

You will set big, challenging, exciting goals, and you will have the confidence of knowing that you can attain them. You will be able to face every situation with calmness and self-assurance, and the key is courage.

Source: “A Treasure of Personal Achievement” by Brian Tracy

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19 Most Charming Places On Earth.

Hidden all over the world are towns that you may think only exist in your dreams. They are villages full of quintessential charm, almost too perfect to be real. However, these dream towns, they do exist. Here are 19 towns that are so beautiful, you will scarcely believe that they aren’t movie sets.

I wish I could see each and every one before I exit this mortal coil. Each of these places are going on my bucket list.

1 John – So We’ll Know

1 John

First John contains a tiny verse that assures us of our salvation in Jesus Christ.  Don’t miss it in 1 John 5:13:
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

That settles is for all of us. The verse doesn’t say in order that we may “feel” or “think” or “hope;” it says clearly that we can know we have eternal life.
What a great gift of God that He would want us to know, without a doubt, we will go to heaven when we die!

We are His, and when we die, we’ll be with Him forever. We know this, in part, because of John’s writing in this book.

From Women of Faith Devotional Bible.  Copyright © 2003 (Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

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