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Conrad Seoul: South Korea’s Best Hotel

If you’re in the hospitality business, then you are definitely familiar with the phrase, “the customer is always right”. Those of us in the travel industry know what it means to go above and beyond to please our customers, ensuring that they have an amazing adventure, no matter where their destination takes them.Conrad1Conrad Seoul has obviously done something right in the minds of discerning customers from all over the world. The team at Conrad Seoul was just awarded “Best Hotel in South Korea” by Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards, an enviable list that highlights the best from around the globe as decided by travelers and industry experts.Conrad5So what are they doing differently from other luxury properties across South Korea, and in the rest of Asia? Well, I was lucky enough to find out on a recent visit to this world-class property ideally set at the edge of Seoul’s Han river.Conrad Seoul_Grand King (Executive) Corner Suite_Living RoomThe most picture perfect welcome that included an assortment of treats arranged in a garden-like design, complete with a replica of my company logo, was a thoughtful surprise. What a welcome! After settling into my luxurious corner suite, of which the Conrad Seoul has 47, with wraparound views of Yeouido Park, Han River, and Seoul glittering in the distance, I decided to uncork the champagne and enjoy this enviable view.Conrad Seoul_Grand King (Executive) Corner SuiteCharting my itinerary for the next few days, I was happy to learn that Conrad Seoul is ideally situated for many of the sights I wanted to see in Seoul. Just a short drive or subway ride from Seoul Arts Center, home to an opera house, performing arts center, calligraphy museum, a design museum, and much more, Conrad Seoul is the perfect location for anyone looking to indulge in the city’s lively arts scene.Conrad9Although I couldn’t imagine leaving this luxurious oasis after looking at the spa menu, I guess my first adventure was going to be to their award-winning spa! Debating between the jet lag treatment and the Conrad signature massage, I decided to go with the latter after hearing the spa attendant’s description of the balm they used for the treatment. Enveloped in a private suite, I waited in peaceful bliss as I enjoyed a healing rooibos tea while the masseuse prepared my foot bath. Soothing all of my soreness away, I melted on to the table for my massage.

How to follow such bliss? A soothing soak back in my suite with a stunning view of Seoul in the distance. Having only been at Conrad Seoul for a short time, it was easy to see why they have earned so many accolades. The prestigious World Travel Awards just presented Conrad Seoul with four awards: Asia’s Leading Lifestyle Hotel 2018, Asia’s Leading Luxury City Hotel 2018, South Korea’s Leading Hotel 2018, and South Korea’s Leading Business Hotel 2018. Wow!Conrad8What could pull me away from this comfortable suite? A dinner reservation at 37 Grill & Bar, Conrad Seoul’s signature restaurant on their top floor. With so many delicious options to choose from, I decided on the tasting menu accompanied by a selection of wines paired by master sommelier, Nathan Kim. Conrad Seoul_37GrillTucked into my corner table, perfect for a special occasion dinner, proposal, or anniversary celebration, I marveled at the city lights in the distance. As each course appeared, I couldn’t believe that it was so delicious! My favorite? A sumptuous seafood stew that was somehow light, yet decadent and rich at the same time. And the wine pairing was just as spectacular – a Fantini Gran Cuvée Rosé. Kudos to Nathan and the Master Chef!Conrad Seoul_37Grill_Table by Window

When Nathan returned to describe the next dish and wine pairing, I asked him how to say “perfect” in Korean. There was no other way to describe this experience! Immersion is always the best language teacher, right? Continuing with an indulgent foie gras, Nathan reappeared to walk me through the rest of the menu. Impressed by his knowledge of wine and spirits, he described the wine that he chose to accompany my next course, a cabernet sauvignon from Joseph Phelps Winery in Napa. The ideal match for this perfect 100-point glass? A local Hanwoo steak, which is known to be some of the best meat on earth. Conrad6 At the end of this magnificent meal, I was satisfied beyond words. From the fresh beet sauce served with the bread to the seasonal mango ice cream, and everything in between, 37 Grill & Bar is the crown jewel at Conrad Seoul. Sipping on my special cocktail prepared by Nathan, which he called the “French Connection” as a nod to the theme of his selections, and his recent business trip, I now knew why Conrad Seoul earned so many awards for Best Hotel in this great city. Conrad Seoul_Spiral StaircaseThe next day, my breakfast was just as impressive. With an array of both Eastern and Western breakfast items prepared in their open kitchens, I didn’t know where to start. I headed down their signature staircase, the highest and longest independent spiral staircase in Korea, and decided that I would try out some of the hotel’s other amenities. First up was their indoor golf course. After some generous coaching from Jake, their friendly staff member, I decided to try one of their seven golf courses. Conrad2Reminded of my lackluster golf swing, I decided to head over to the pool. Set at the perfect temperature, this 25 meter long pool offers a panoramic view of Seoul’s bustling business district, with the glass ceiling offering a view of the stars at night. On my tour with the hotel director, she encouraged me to indulge in a night swim to take advantage of the glittering view of both the pool, set with mosaic tiles, and the Seoul skyline above. Conrad Seoul_Pulse8_Swimming PoolClosing out my stay at Conrad Seoul, I met up with a friend at their executive lounge to recap my visit to South Korea’s most dynamic city. Having experienced all that this city has to offer, including Fashion Week, the National Hangeul Museum(my personal favorite!), and an impressive night tour of Deoksugung Palace,  I was already eager to return!Conrad Seoul_Executive LoungeAs we closed up our night, I shared with her the mantra of Conrad Seoul, “Health, luck, and success”. An obvious theme throughout my visit, I was definitely looking forward to sharing this adventure with my clients and colleagues back home. Conrad Seoul has rightfully earned every award, and beyond that has provided me with a unique experience for my first trip to South Korea. There is no other way to experience Seoul!Conrad4

Let me help you plan your trip to Conrad Seoul!

 

 

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Seaside Splendor: Rio’s Copacabana Palace

belmond-copacabana-palaceOh Rio! The pulsating city that wraps you with sultry beaches and jutting mountains from behind. Where to rest when you want the finest in this glistening city? The crown jewel of this iconic skyline – Copacabana Palace. belmond-copacabana-palacebelmond-copacabana-palacePalatial surroundings usher you into this timeless hideaway that has been Rio’s superstar hotel since 1923. I stepped out of my taxi and was greeted by the friendliest staff, who were surprised at my Portuguese! One of the many things that I love about the Belmond hotel staff is that they instantly make you feel like you’ve known them forever, almost like old friends. It’s a comfortable luxury, not a stuffy or pretentious air, that they’ve somehow all mastered!

Settling into my suite was a dream! Sounds of bossa nova lured me towards a balcony that looked out over Brazil’s most famous beach. Peeking at my welcome gift, I was distracted by the spa menu when I saw “Jet Lag Treatment”. This sounded like exactly what I needed! I pulled myself away from my beautiful beachside room, only to be greeted at the spa – another place I might find hard to leave! My therapist magically massaged every flight delay, emotional support peacock, and security line right out of my tired body. Every hotel needs this spa service!

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Fully soothed and relaxed, I made my way to the aquamarine pool below. I loved every detail at Copacabana Palace – the wooden sculptures, a private dining nook under a tree, and of course, the warm service from the Belmond staff. Enjoying the most delicious ceviche ever, I talked with a nearby guest about my dining options for later, thrilled to learn about the Michelin-starred Mee right across the pool. Or maybe Cipriani, which fuses Northern Italian cuisine with local ingredients. Decisions, decisions! Mulling over my next meal, I gazed at birds drifting overhead and fell into a deep sleep.

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Why would I want to leave? Well with an invite to Veste Rio, a semiannual fashion conference that highlights the biggest names in Rio de Janeiro, the decision was almost made for me. Brands like Lenny Niemeyer and Osklen lure conference goers with the latest from their collections. Fashion is not normally the first thing you think of when you hear Rio de Janeiro, but trust me. This is the place to get your swimwear and everything for your summer fête. These people know how to create designs that will have you looking stunning in even the most sweltering heat – it’s what they do.where-to-shop-in-rio-de-janeirowhere-to-shop-in-rio-de-janeiro

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One step closer to Cristo in Gaoli’s silks

My invite to Veste Rio, a gift from my friends at Gaoli Rio, was just a tease of the latest in Brazilian fashion. Gaoli is my favorite boutique that houses many of my beloved brands from all over Brazil. I always make a stop here when shopping for my personal stylist clients. One visit and you’re set with everything you need for your seaside adventures! Flowing gowns and featherweight caftans are their specialty, with accompanying bikinis to match, of course.where-to-shop-in-rio-de-janeiro

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Glittering like the stars in Gaoli Beach Couture

A lucky discovery at Veste Rio was Mundo Isla, a local jewelry company that had the most eye-catching display. Each piece looked like a fisherman’s treasure as they dangled from driftwood tangled in nets. Besides this seaside-inspired show of their jewels, I was entranced by the calming blues and pearly whites that reminded me of the waves of Rio’s nearby beaches.

The next day, I paid a visit to their showroom and met the two founders of Mundo Isla, Ana Jacob and Luiza Bellizzi. I felt an instant connection with these two creative ladies who shared their story over an afternoon of coffee and confections. “When I met Ana, I instantly fell in love with her style; her home was a mixture of ethnic elements that made the place so unique, and we connected because of this shared vibe. After talking to Ana about Mundo Isla, I quit my job and took a course in jewelry making so that I could learn her craft and join her unique brand,” Luiza divulged with a smile.

IslacolarIt’s definitely unique. Walking through their gallery, I felt as though the little girl inside me who used to gather seashells on the shore was eager and excited by each piece. “Our ideal muse is someone who isn’t worried about being trendy, but quite the opposite. A woman who is unique, and looking for a non-traditional style that encourages a casual elegance,” Ana shared as she showed me some of their recent collection.

As Ana continued to tell their story, it sounded like Mundo Isla had been birthed long before these two women met. “I had been designing jewelry since I was in college, drawing on my architecture degree as many designers do, like Antonio Bernardo and Lenny Niemeyer, and sold my jewelry at fairs here and abroad. Luiza had more experience in marketing and so we complemented each other. But coincidentally, I had planned a vacation to Greece for May 2015, the same year we launched Mundo Isla, so I did some research once I was there and later used the Greek jewelry as a source of inspiration, since they heavily use silver for their jewelry. Their style is exactly the same that both Luiza and I like – a stripped down style. I even got to know an atelier of an artist who also uses Brazilian stones. That trip was fundamental to our success!”

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Seaside splendor at Copacabana Palace

Ah, yes! The magic inspiration of travel! I left their boutique rejuvenated and inspired. On the drive back to Copacabana Palace, I was reminded of their seaside muse as I looked out to Rio’s picturesque shoreline. That’s one of the best things about this hotel – you’re steps from the beautiful beach, but are instantly transported to another world once you step foot inside Belmond’s seaside splendor.

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“Meet me at Copacabana Palace…”

Nightfall crept over the shore, and I stepped onto my balcony and watched a glorious sunset as I waited for my friends to arrive for a drink at the most famed meeting place in Rio – Copacabana Palace.

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Gaoli’s summer gowns – always perfect for a dinner at Copacabana Palace!

Are you ready to go to Rio? Let me plan your trip!

Article credits

Wardrobe: Gaoli Beach Couture

Makeup: Chanel

Photographer: J.J. Soto

Interview translation: Thamara Valença and Jazon Santos

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Birds of Paradise: Brazil’s Iguaçu Falls

The old real estate adage, “location, location, location” couldn’t have been truer for my picture perfect vacation to Brazil’s Belmond Hotel das Cataratas. The only resort with an enviable address inside Iguaçu Falls National Park, the Belmond is the ideal place to absorb the essence of this natural wonder.

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The Belmond from a helicopter – don’t look down!

In this breathtaking oasis, no filters are needed. The bluest sky greets you from above, while your body takes in the freshest air that carries healing ions pouring over from the falls. Standing on the steps of the Belmond lobby, I couldn’t believe how close I was to this marvelous display of nature! Did I even need to check-in to my room, or could I just stay here and stare at this wondrous sight?

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Private dining nook at Belmond Iguaçu – wow!

Eager to relax from my urban adventures in São Paulo, I made my way up to my suite, which I was thrilled to discover had a view of Iguaçu Falls! Enveloped in the most soothing shade of salmon, I sank back into my bed and enjoyed a rejuvenating nap.

Waking from a restful slumber, I was delighted to find my welcome gift from the Belmond staff – a pair of Havaianas in their signature vintage blue. It was like a cue to relax – and I loved the idea of ditching my heels, makeup, and hair curlers for a few days! I slipped on my new sandals and walked over to the pool, loving that everyone at the resort had on the same Havaianas! Wrapping my body in the soothing water set at the perfect temperature, I floated around to the soundtrack of beautiful birds serenading me from afar.

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Belmond, take me away!

I’m not normally a morning person, but there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to enjoy a private visit up close with the falls. This is one of the best things about the Belmond; you have access to the falls before and after the park has opened to the public, allowing you to avoid the throngs of crowds that flood the scene.

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Serenity at dawn in front of Iguaçu Falls

I woke up well before sunrise because I wanted to get a few shots of the landscape uncluttered and bathed in that perfect light. But what I experienced was much more transformative than a solo photo excursion. Alone and undisturbed for a couple of hours, I cried, laughed, and allowed my soul to heal in the powerful embrace of the falls. This natural hug squeezed every ounce of gratitude that I had inside me as I shouted “thank you” to the sky. Thank you for this opportunity, thank you for everyone who made the trip possible, and thank you for a moment of peace.

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My healing didn’t end at the falls. In fact, this was just the beginning. My hosts from the Iguaçu Convention and Visitors Bureau arranged for me to participate in a tribal ceremony with the Tupi-Guarani Indians, a local indigenous tribe that welcomes visitors to take part in their intimate rituals. Walking through the dark rainforest with my guide, I was met by the warmth of a fire and the soft pulse of a drum, flashing back to when I had last seen a bonfire at my father’s funeral weekend just a few months before.

A powerful healing energy came over me as we all circled around the fire for what seemed like hours. Eventually sitting down to enjoy a traditional meal, the leader and shaman spoke about some of their guiding principles, with words that felt like they were crafted just for me. Grateful that I was able to understand his Portuguese without the assistance of my guide, I focused on every word, not wanting to forget a moment of this incredible experience. Back at my hotel, I journaled about all that had happened in an effort to process this unique encounter. Since no photography was allowed, I depended on the vibrant images in my mind to help me make sense of this once in a lifetime experience.

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One of the guards at Iguaçu’s Bird Park

If you must leave this tropical oasis that is the Belmond, then plan a trip to the Parque das Aves, a bird park that sits right outside the Iguaçu National Park. Parque das Aves is a pioneer of animal conservation, partnering with other organizations that support biodiversity conservation both in Brazil and throughout the world. This family-friendly attraction, which is also the largest bird park in Latin America, offers a behind the scenes tour where you can feed the birds and get up close with nature. I was getting excited as I heard the birds calling from inside!

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Luckily my guide Alex, who was the key to understanding every aspect of Iguaçu, joined me at Parque das Aves. You absolutely cannot go to Iguaçu without him! He is a walking encyclopedia of every biological, botanical, and spiritual aspect of the falls. At every turn, Alex provided insight to each species, the flora and fauna around me, and a sincere awareness of these endangered and vulnerable animals and birds.

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Are you my mommy?

The highlight of that morning was feeding the baby rescues. I giggled as they splashed milk all over me and nipped at my hands, eager to connect with their new visitor. After my private backstage tour was over, I begged to go through the park again – I didn’t want to leave!

On this next round, I spent quite a bit of time at the butterfly aviary witnessing one just coming out of its cocoon. Such a magical moment! With over 800 species of butterflies in this Atlantic Forest, I was mesmerized at the rainbow of colors and patterns. As I watched the Caligo brasiliensis butterflies munch on bananas, Alex shared with me how these butterflies use their owl-like appearance to avoid predators.

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I think he thought I was his twin with my bright yellow shirt!

Walking through the rest of the park, Alex highlighted the conservation efforts at Parque das Aves, specifically the toucans. “They’re not technically endangered, but do get injured a lot because of hunting accidents. The natural breeding that happens here ensures a safety population of this magnificent bird.” He also told me that their eyes can change direction, noting them as a “portal of positive energy”.

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PicadinhoBack at the Belmond, I enjoyed a late lunch of the most artfully prepared picadinho de filé, a dish that my tummy had fond memories of from São Paulo. I pored over videos of my new bird buddies from the morning – truly an unforgettable experience! Walking through the grounds at the resort, I noticed a tree that had a pink lichen – a botanical sign of high air quality based on Alex’s lesson of lichen, fungus, algae, and some of the 2,000 plant species that are here in Iguaçu. I excitedly took in another breath of this healing space. As I collapsed into a hammock, I drifted off to sleep with the lull of sweet birds chirping what sounded like, “Sarah, don’t leave…”

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Do you want to visit this natural oasis? Then fill out the form below!

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How Brazil Does Winter: A Visit to Campos do Jordão

I’m sure the title fooled you. Trust me – when my colleagues in São Paulo showed me the itinerary for my recent VIP trip, I was a bit confused when I saw the words “fondue, wine, fur, chocolate, and winter festival” sprinkled throughout my schedule. It’s not the usual word association one has when you hear “Brazil”.

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Set 111 miles outside of the sprawling metropolis that is São Paulo, Campos do Jordão is a lovely weekend getaway perfect for couples, honeymooners, or really anyone looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

By the time I visited Campos do Jordão, I had already seen quite a few highlights of Latin America’s economic epicenter: Fashion Week, private art tours, and a preview of their newest luxury hotel, all organized by the team at São Paulo Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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But the train ride up the hill to Campos do Jordão is half the fun. Starting in the quaint town of Pindamonhangaba, our group enjoyed a relaxing tour through the countryside. I marveled at the stretches of rice fields and farmland, spotted with cows, horses, and other livestock, thinking back to my train ride on the British Pullman outside of London earlier this year.

Climbing the mountains, I learned that this railway was the only one in the world that goes to such a high altitude without any cables or extra machinery. Normally trains like this chug along at a 3% incline. Not this one! We were going at 11% according to the conductor. Besides Iguaçu Falls and the Amazon, I think that Brazil needs to add another natural wonder to its list!

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High up where the air cooled and the humidity subsided, we stopped at the depot for a welcome snack of homemade grape juice and the most divine cod-fish fritters, knIMG_2892own as bolinho de bacalhau. On our way through sprawling hills, I learned more about Brazil’s ecosystem and some of its unique fauna and flora, all visible from my train window. I felt like I was in the Sound of Music and could almost hear the refrain “The hills are alive…”

Speaking of music, Campos do Jordão is the host of an orchestral showcase known as “Festival de Inverno” which takes place every July. This winter music festival, the biggest classical music festival in Latin America, has found the perfect home in this beautiful town.

Before you even enter the Cláudio Santoro Auditorium, the dedicated place for this magnificent display of opus upon classical opus is the Felícia Leirner Museum. With striking art sprawled across green hills, I stopped to take it all in. The clean, crisp air, the stark white statues standing tall with the trees, and small strips of poetry by Vinicius de Moraes clinging to a nearby bush. A perfect respite!

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My knowledgeable guide told me a bit about this talented artist, and I became even more impressed with the history of this place. Felícia emigrated to Brazil from Poland in the late 1920s and began to study sculpture in her mid-forties under the tutelage of renowned sculptor, Victor Brecheret. Her late start in her art career reminded me of a quote that my life coach once told me when I changed careers: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Always timely advice!

Here my hosts from Campos do Jordão Visitors Bureau welcomed me and guided me to the next portion of my tour. Wishing that I could return in July to hear music played in this serene setting, our group headed to dinner at Ludwig, the most picturesque restaurant to enjoy a post-symphony meal.

An enchanting place, Ludwig is the award-winning culinary enterprise of Fausto and Zezé, a warm and lively couple who welcomed me like family. Sipping on the most delicious wine and enjoying a cheese plate that included housemade jam and local cheeses, Fausto and Zezé shared their love story, which led to a round table of everyone divulging dating stories, divorce woes, and everything in between! All of this before our first course!

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Looking out over their green garden, also used as the occasional event space, I told Fausto that I had seen the opera Faust with my dad many years ago – my first opera – which led to some tearful reminiscing. But there’s nothing like gourmet food to put a smile on my face, and my Instagram-worthy plate was just the thing!

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When Zezé originally asked me to choose my dish, I told her “I eat everything!”. She smiled and said, “Okay, we’ll give you the local specialty” and came back with a handful of nuts called pinhão, which would be ground to make a puree accompaniment for my truta, a fish local to the Campos do Jordão region. My mouth was already watering, but seeing it presented – wow!

The perfect place to retire at the end of a long journey – Campos do Jordão’s Grande Hotel. Nestled in greenery along the hills, you’ll want to take advantage of the trails around this luxury property that lives up to its name. There are beginner level trails to enjoy throughout the day, as well as tennis courts, a pool, a spa and pretty much every amenity you could imagine – even an in room foot spa with a robust menu of soaps and creams that were a soothing way to end a long day.

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As I sat on my terrace looking out at the full moon, tired toes soaking, I read more about Felícia Leirner and her sculptures. Awarded the Best Sculptor Award at the 1963 São Paulo Bienal, Felícia’s work was featured in Paris, the Tate in London, and of course, in nearby São Paulo. But it was her personal life which intrigued me even more. She situated herself here in Campos do Jordão after the early death of her husband, creating an impressive portfolio of works. Her story reminded me of Georgia O’Keeffe, one of my favorite artists, and how she retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico after the death of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. I wondered, would I suffer the same fate and retire to some beautiful countryside and create meaningful art? But I’d have to get married first! First things first…

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If you follow my Instagram, you know I’m a bit of a chef groupie, so a breakfast meeting and tour with Chef Mauro was all the motivation I needed to get out of bed early the next morning. Chef Mauro is what you’d call a prodigy. He leads a team of kitchen staff, most of whom are twice his age, to produce an award-winning menu at Grande Hotel’s premier restaurant, Araucária. Leading me through the kitchen, Chef Mauro explained the techniques used at Grande Hotel since this was a training facility for hospitality professionals. It definitely showed! Every detail of my bountiful breakfast was perfect, but it was the service with a friendly demeanor from every staff member that really made this place a luxury property.

The best place to walk off this yummy brunch was through Campos do Jordão’s downtown shopping district. My favorite place, which I didn’t even expect to find in Brazil, was Puro Cacau, a boutique that specializes in furs, with a license from the Brazilian government to ensure no harm was done to the animals. The perfect place to wear these beauties? Right across the street at the new Ice Bar, which provides gloves and other special features so you can enjoy your drinks literally “on ice”. Continuing along, we saw chocolate shops, souvenir boutiqes, and plenty of German bars. I learned that Campos do Jordão is also a vacation destination for one of Brazil’s most celebrated holidays, Oktoberfest. With a strong German influence in Brazil, this holiday rivals Carnaval as Brazil’s biggest party.

A fan of classical music, I was already trying to figure out when I could come back for this annual Festival de Inverno. With my 2017 already full of travel, I guess I’d have to put it on the list for 2018!

To book your visit to Campos do Jordão, contact me today!

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Digital Diversity: New Orleans Gets Technical

New Orleans isn’t the first place you think of when you hear the word: technology. Competing with other well-known tech hubs like Silicon Valley and Research Triangle, this southern city has rightfully earned its place among these technology centers. Forbes calls it the “#1 Brainpower City in the U.S.A.” and SmartAsset ranks it #1 for growth in tech jobs in the U.S. It’s no wonder that the Collision team chose NOLA as its home again this year.

I first heard of Collision through their expansive outreach effort to recruit more women to their annual technology conference. I’m not a techie myself. The most tech savvy things I do are this website and my Instagram account. But I took at look at their agenda, the speakers, and the sponsors and was intrigued.  Where else could I meet the first astronaut to tweet from space, a world-renowned DJ, and an Olympic medalist swimmer, all while learning about the latest developments with virtual reality, green-tech, and the latest shopping app?

All of this and more was under the same roof at the New Orleans Convention Center in May. A three-day conference sandwiched in between Jazz Fest, Collision Conference is the place to be to learn about cutting-edge technology that is changing the way we think about our relationships with those devices we all cling to – and upgrade every 18 months!

When deciding where to stay, my choice was easy – Windsor Court. Rated “Top Business Hotel” by Forbes, Windsor Court has every amenity a business traveler could want. And the accolades don’t stop there. In 2017, U.S. News declared Windsor Court one of the Best Hotels in the U.S.A., Best Hotel in New Orleans, and Best Louisiana Hotel, while Travel + Leisure readers named the property one of the Top 50 Large City Hotels in the U.S. and Canada.

Well, if its ideal location in the Central Business District isn’t enough, you’re also nearby the French Quarter and iconic Bourbon Street with its lively jazz clubs, Royal Street’s antique shops and art galleries, and steps away from NOLA’s emerging Arts District. But once inside their lush, green courtyard that leads you up to their lobby, you’ll feel a world away from the colorful scene of the city. Fresh roses, stunning artwork, and live piano music coming from the lobby bar all provide a warm southern welcome to Windsor Court.

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Arriving in my room, a premium suite with a desk ready for all of my chargers, cameras, and electronic devices, I couldn’t help but be swept away by the panoramic views of the Mississippi River below. Recharging in my plush surroundings, I made some adjustments to my schedule, courtesy of the user-friendly Collision app, and headed out the door to the first event.

So you may not think tech when you hear New Orleans, but you definitely think music. It’s everywhere. And it’s good. The Collison party at the Blue Nile with the Brassaholics had the crowd jumping, myself included. My colleague and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “We’re staying for Jazz Fest next year.”

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You should, too. During our mid-day break at the pool, fellow guests shared stories of the different acts they saw, while I shared some of the latest and greatest apps that people from all over the world were showcasing at Collision. One of my favorites: what I’ll call Shazam for bird sounds. I told the founders how I desperately needed this during my trip to Iguaçu Falls in March where I was amongst wildlife and nature in a way that was truly magical. I would have loved to learn more about these little creatures that sang to me at every turn!

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One of the highlights at Collision was meeting Olympic medalist, Allison Wagner. Cheated out of her opportunity to win a gold medal, Allison shared her experience in a raw and revealing on-stage interview about her life after the Olympics, the resulting depression she suffered, and her current efforts to prevent doping in sports.

“I’m choosing to speak up about it and because of my accomplishments, I’m in a position of leadership.” Her accomplishments are many: besides her silver at the Olympics in 1996, Allison was named American Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine, SEC Female Swimmer of the Year, gold medalist at the FINA Short Course World Championships, and held the world record for over 14 years for the 200 IM short course meters during those same years surrounding her disappointing experience at the Olympics.

During my interview with Allison, we talked more about her ordeal after the Olympics, and we agreed that in sports, as in technology, there needs to be more diversity and attention to gender issues to combat doping. “With swimming, the definition of what makes you successful is your race time. I’ve competed with men and I felt like I was proving myself in a different way; it was a satisfying accomplishment. Doping could be viewed as a gender issue because women tend to be doped more often in systematic doping regimes as compared to men.”

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Of course, being at a tech conference, we chatted about the next phase for the intersection of sports and tech. “When it comes to tech, we need more advanced testing internationally, and doping regulations and violations enforced. There are great options, but we need better ones. Another interesting aspect of sport is that of intuition which is often not talked about, and in sports, especially in swimming, an athlete is continually adapting to their environment. If you’re stuck on old data, you’re potentially limiting yourself.”

Flashing back to her competing days, which were before the advent of social media and live feeds, Allison feels that she might have been able to gain back those gold medals that she lost. “Connectivity would have been helpful on a variety of levels. I might have talked and shared on social media when my scholarships were taken away. There’s more accountability today for people who dope and for abuses of power.”

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Shifting gears, Allison talked about her other passion – art. She’s a founding member of the International Olympic organization called Art of the Olympians, and as a painter, she hopes that the organization can help return the Olympics to its original intentions. “An Olympian is someone who is pursuing excellence with integrity. Not just in sports, but in a variety of arenas. Valuing art as much as we value sports in our community is vital.”

So what’s next for this Renaissance woman? Her focus right now is on being an advocate for anti-doping around the world. “I’m speaking up as a catalyst for change. I’m not elected or affiliated with any organization, but I want to play some role that is helpful for current athletes who are willing to be active on this topic. Many of them are nervous about the ramifications of being vocal. But the ramifications of cheating are far worse. We need leaders who talk about their commitment to integrity and ethics, and governing bodies of sport need to stop limiting athletes’ voices.”Collision17

Her voice is poised to be a powerful one in the years to come. Agreeing that women’s voices need to be heard in all sectors, not just tech, Allison imparted, “As women, we have so much ability, and a natural inclination to be resilient. Advocating for each other is important.”

And one of the most powerful advocates was the team at Collision who made an effort to improve diversity numbers at this groundbreaking conference. Vibing off of the amazing accomplishments of so many female entrepreneurs, I worked with the team at Windsor Court to host a women’s networking event at their Polo Club Lounge.

Windsor Court Polo Club Lounge

Spacious, yet private, the Polo Club lounge was the perfect setting for our Women in Tech mixer. The newly remodeled space features European antiques and period reproductions from the 17th and 18th century, all accented with saddle-tan wood, marble details, and of course an impressive bar menu with more than 600 labels, and one of the largest Cognac collections in New Orleans! Networking with enthusiastic entrepreneurs from all over the world in this decadent, yet inviting setting, was a great way to end another night at Collision.

After a quick breakfast of the quintessential beignets, it was back to the conference for another day of tech awesomeness. The highlight for today – hearing Natalie Monbiot of SVP Futures talking about experiential advertising and the role of Virtual Reality in Marketing. Her most valuable piece of advice: brands need to think about who they are when there’s no screen to hide behind. In an era of fake news, bots, and impersonal transactions, her advice couldn’t be more timely.

Between mixers, interviews, and seminars, I managed to squeeze in a dinner at Compère Lapin. The stellar concierge team at Windsor Court was able to get us a coveted reservation at this top-ranked restaurant. Although I have no pictures to prove it, my meal started with the most divine buttermilk biscuits. It’s no wonder they disappeared so quickly!

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Compère Lapin’s philosophy of “the complexity of simplicity, and the power of pure flavors” was evident in every bite of our meal. A starter of Hamachi tuna dressed in “leche de tigre” was followed by delectable Wagyu short ribs, so soft and tender. Chef Nina Compton’s playful menu draws inspiration from a childhood Carribean folktale about a rabbit named Compère Lapin. But her menu is no child’s play – come hungry to experience indigenous Caribbean ingredients blended with the rich culinary heritage of New Orleans. And of course save room for dessert – the most unique presentation of strawberry shortcake I’ve ever seen! A perfect ending to a perfect meal.

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Back at the hotel, I was able to indulge in some more of the hotel amenities that Windsor Court offers its lucky guests. An art lover, I knew the walking tour of the hotel’s gallery would be a favorite. Listening to the audio tour on my phone, I viewed their museum-worthy collection, with pieces displayed throughout the property. Many of the artworks are of British origin with an emphasis on works that depict the Windsor Castle and life of British royalty. Valued at more than $8 million, the Windsor Court collection includes original works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Huysman. Among my favorite pieces were the hand-finished chromolithographs of Windsor Castle’s private and State apartments by Sir Joseph Nash which were commissioned by Queen Victoria in the mid-nineteenth century. So much history along these walls!

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Although my visit to Windsor Court was short, I did manage to squeeze in a spa treatment. Voted #1 by USA Today 10 Best Spas in New Orleans, this top ranked spa earned its place in my book. My back facial (yes, they have these here!) included a soothing foot massage, and was followed by a difficult choice of cucumber water, green wheatgrass juice, or champagne. Lounging in the relaxation area, I somehow managed to indulge in all three! The only thing to tear me away from this oasis of relaxation was a hungry belly. Luckily the afternoon tea service at Windsor Court was still being offered in the Club Lounge, an added amenity which offers true VIP service to its guests.

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My last event of this busy day was a Stanford alumni mixer, hosted in the Polo Club Lounge. Right in line with Collision’s mission of diversity and inclusion, our group had quite the international mix, every racial background was represented, and a wide range of industries including venture capitalists, pro football players, and of course, someone launching the latest, greatest app were all there to mix and mingle, sharing highlights from the conference. Trying to choose just one highlight was difficult, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s Collision Conference and seeing where technology takes us next!

To book your stay at Windsor Court for next year’s conference, contact me today!

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palacio-tangara

Palácio Tangará: São Paulo’s Urban Gem

A lush, palatial retreat isn’t exactly what comes to mind when you think of the vast metropolis that is São Paulo. But with the new addition of luxury hotel Palácio Tangará, that’s about to change.

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Set inside Burle Marx Park, which boasts over 26 acres of artfully landscaped gardens, lagoons, and pathways, Palácio Tangará is Oetker Collection’s newest masterpiece hotel offering. “Masterpiece hotel” isn’t just a description of the luxury that you’ll experience; it’s the pledge of this worldwide brand that uses a pearl to signify their “commitment to provide service of the highest quality, every hour of every day”.

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Oh, what a pearl it is! This gleaming white palace is nestled in the green gem designed by famed Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Burle Marx’s urban oasis features his trademark curvilinear shapes and use of exotic plants, resulting in asymmetrical, natural art that is a welcome respite here in São Paulo.

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As Latin America’s economic capital, São Paulo is home to over 250 art galleries and museums, 171 concert halls and theaters, and 112 unique shopping experiences. It also boasts the largest fleet of helicopters in the world! During my recent stay, I had the opportunity to visit Sala São Paulo and hear a glorious Haydn performance, dine at three different Michelin-starred restaurants, and attend SP-Arte, Latin America’s largest and most internationally-renowned art and design fair.

But a highlight was attending São Paulo Fashion Week, one of the top fashion weeks around the globe, which showcases almost forty Brazilian brands twice a year. Here at SPFW, I had the great fortune of meeting Alexandra Fructuoso, head designer at Maison Alexandrine. I’ll never forget my introduction to this exquisite businesswoman who was wearing a striking ensemble of pearly silk, and a smile just as stunning. Alexandra is equal parts regal, beautiful, and inviting. And that’s exactly how you’ll feel in her couture designs. Whether it’s a long flowing gown for a gala, or a short, chic number straight off the runway, the designs from Maison Alexandrine fit perfectly amid the decor of Palácio Tangará.

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Satin and grosgrain ensemble by Maison Alexandrine

While visiting the showroom at Maison Alexandrine, I got a peek inside their bridal suite, complete with all of the picture perfect backdrops to make a bride swoon. At every turn, there’s gilded decor and sparkling sconces to please the eye. But what’s most pleasing is Alexandra’s artistic

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influence, which is evident throughout Maison Alexandrine.

While choosing my gowns to wear at Palácio Tangará, Alexandra imparted some of her design philosophy and the story of Maison Alexandrine’s origins. “The brand name was born out of a tribute to Madame Pompadour’s only daughter, Alexandrine. And like Madame Pompadour, my brand brings together the work of both new and established artists and designers, showcasing their work, and this luxury craftsmanship, to the world.”

And you’ll feel the craftsmanship at first touch. Slipping into every gown was a sensual experience, one that every woman should have. My personal favorite was a white tulle skirt and bodysuit – a possible contender for my future wedding dress!

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Black silk chemise gown by Maison Alexandrine paired with a bone and ivory cuff bracelet from Patricia MB Gotthilf

Speaking of weddings, Palácio Tangará already has 12 brides-to-be who were lucky enough to secure a date on its enviable social calendar. Tangará’s ballroom is the perfect setting for saying “I do.” The stunning space, which holds over 500 people, sits atop the famed park and has terraces that allow guests to take in the verdant views. And if you ever tire of these sweeping vistas, you can retreat to your suite and sink into the sumptuous bed, while still bathing in the natural light from your terrace.

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Silk tulle gown by Maison Alexandrine

While sitting in this impressive suite designed by interior design firm Bick Simonato, I read more about the hotel and how it got its name. Keeping with the theme of its natural surroundings, Palácio Tangará is named after an Amazonian bird, the rainbow-hued songbird, Tangara Chilensis. You’ll see this marine-colored mascot on Palácio Tangará’s hotel stationery and decor, a charming reminder of Brazil’s connection to many natural wonders.

Preparing for a visit to Tangará’s signature restaurant, I chose some jewels to coordinate with my gowns. The designs from jeweler Patricia MB Gotthilf are a flawless choice, and her design philosophy fits perfectly with Tangará’s aesthetic. With many international awards to her name, Patricia draws upon the rich flora and fauna of Brazil for inspiration, “I love nature. My collections are inspired by man’s connection to the land.” Her design process includes photographing natural elements as a guide to transform precious stones, gold, silver, precious wood, seeds, and roots, but without changing the details and staying true to the material.

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Jewels of rose and aquamarine tourmaline from Patricia MB Gotthilf’s “Candy Collection”

Hearing Patricia share her philosophy reminded me of Burle Marx’s same enthusiasm and advocacy for the biological phenomena he saw here in Brazil. But it was actually during a visit to Berlin, Germany where Burle Marx first developed his passion for his native country’s wealth of natural wonders. Upon returning home, he became an activist and ecologist, one of the first to call for the preservation of the Brazilian rainforests and rare plant species.

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Quartz and gold cuff by Patricia MB Gotthilf in Burle Bar

Glancing down at Patricia’s rare gems, I eyed my favorite: a bracelet from her “Cactus Collection” with delicate gold studs set inside a smoky green quartz. So many captivating options! And with a boutique inside of Palácio Tangará, Patricia’s designs will lure you in even further. Whether it’s the aquamarine stones in her Rock collection or the tourmalines and opals from her Laços da Natureza line, they’ll all look beautiful against the backdrop of Tangará’s alluring interiors.

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Even while you’re inside, there’s always a reference to the sylvan setting outside. Dining at Palácio Tangará is a feast for all of your senses. Mirrored panels reflecting the green gardens and stone-colored china are the perfect setting for Michelin-star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s creations. Chef Vongerichten, who oversees 30 restaurants worldwide including New York, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong, is bringing his exceptional culinary talent to his first Latin American venture. São Paulo is fortunate to host this talented restaurateur here at Palácio Tangará, whose signature dishes include a delectable crispy salmon sushi.

Restaurant_2107Chef Vongerichten’s plated specialties are works of art, but so is the dining room whose walls are lined with art by esteemed Brazilian artists. Neutral ceramic pieces by Heloísa Galvão line one wall, while a Hugo França wall sculpture adorns the private room that hosts the Chef’s Table.

Walking back over to the Burle Bar that features beautiful pieces of trees and natural images, I thought of Chef Vongerichten’s excitement about the opening of this new luxury property in São Paulo. “The Brazilian heritage, culture and cheerful lifestyle, the huge variety of local produce combined with the spectacular hotel architecture and design in Burle Marx Park make this project very special.”

It definitely feels special. With each room carefully curated, you feel like you are experiencing this “masterpiece hotel” philosophy that is a trademark of Oetker properties. In Burle Bar, the decor integrates the park’s ambiance using colors, shapes, and works of art to bring in the verdant vibe in the absence of natural light. And just down the way, Laura Vinci’s sculptural homage to Brazil’s mining culture in Papéis Avulsos, with light gold leaves mimicking the park’s soft swaying of the trees just outside. Art is evident at every turn.

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A shower of gold leaves by Laura Vinci

 

Stepping out onto my terrace, I marveled at nature’s art and this biological wonder that surrounded me. I thought of a quote by Burle Marx, predestined for this setting at Palácio Tangará:  “The plant is, to a landscape artist, not only a plant – rare, unusual, ordinary or doomed to its disappearance – but it is also a color, a shape, a volume, or an arabesque in itself.” And this beautiful hotel is all of that! Come and see for yourself.

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Contact me to book your stay at this gorgeous São Paulo hotel!

Photography: Katiuska Sales

Styling: Marco Barboza

Wardrobe: Maison Alexandrine

Jewelry: Patricia MB Gotthilf

Makeup: Chanel

Manicure: Granado Pharmácias