More and more hotels and resorts are realizing the importance of improving their dining experiences as a way to improve the overall vacation experiences of their guests. At least, that's what Hideaways Founder Mike Thiel discovered at these Hideaways-recommended accommodations. Whether it's opening their kitchen doors to a celebrity chef, spending time and money on designing an unforgettable dining venue, or sprucing up the menu with some interesting options (try Irish Beef Carpaccio served with parmesan-forest-mushroom-and-truffle vinaigrette,) these hotels and resorts are "kicking it up a notch." Travel to Europe and spend your vacation in the Bavarian mountains, where you can end each day with a six-course gourmet feast paired with complementary wines. Learn how to prepare your own delicious feasts at this Italian hotel offering cooking classes for their guests. If you're planning an island vacation but can't get enough of those European flavors, travel to the Caribbean and sample some innovative Swiss/Northern Italian cuisine at this picturesque beachfront resort.
There was a time, and not that long ago, when we would do anything, go anywhere, to avoid eating at our hotel's dining room. But those days are gone, and hopefully forever. More and more hotels and resorts, both large and small, are pairing with big-name chefs--or with rising and very creative young chefs--to make fine dining a big part of the experience they offer.
We first noted the appeal of the celeb-chef/hotel combination some 15 years ago when we stayed at the boutique Prescott Hotel in San Fran, which touts its next-door Postrio, run by Wolfgang Puck, as one of its attractions. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner that night in the buzzing environment of this lively trattoria. About five years ago, a visit to Dublin's Merrion Hotel gave us the opportunity to revel in the cuisine of its next-door Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. It was a dining experience that has been seared into my memory--service with showmanship in a setting that could double as an art gallery, and a meal that hit multiple highs.
This trend has gained steam as television makes more chefs famous and in demand, and as more hotels seek to round out their services as irresistible, one-stop vacation venues. Even cruise ships are pairing with celebrity chefs--and you know the trend has gone mainstream when Las Vegas' hotels join the bandwagon. It seems every known chef, from Robuchon to Lagasse to Nobu Matsuhisa, has teamed with one of the big gambling emporiums in "Sin City" to offer an alternative way to spend your money.
Even if they don't have a star chef's name on the door, boutique hotels increasingly are focusing on dining venues and menus to make your stay memorable. Here are just a few of our selective and subjective suggestions--in some far-flung destinations--for appetizing getaways that are worthy of a relaxing time spent dining in.
Gustatory Pleasures in Town . . .
Paris is for lovers--lovers of fine food, that is. At Hotel de Crillon, the former ballroom of the Dukes of Crillon has been thoughtfully and artistically reworked into a splendid restaurant, Les Ambassadeurs. We repeatedly hear rave reviews from members who've stayed in for a memorable dining experience. Here, you'll find a classic French menu that takes a few steps into contemporary cuisine. Head chef Jean-Francois Piege--whose earliest ambition was to be a gardener--uses only the highest-quality ingredients to create "honest" dishes that reflect the changing seasons, like eggs blancmange with a morel-mushroom-and-chive-flower garnish. His mission, he says, is to preserve the full flavor of the raw material and give it "the taste of memory."
At nearby Marignan Champs-Elysees, you'll find Spoon Food & Wine, inspired by Chef Alain Ducasse and one of the most sought-after reservations in the City of Lights. This is cutting-edge, destination dining with its minimalist decor and a truly avant-garde blend of international flavors and cooking methods--from induction to wok. In addition to the dining delights, Spoon is a place for all your senses, from the notepads and pencils on every table (for, as they say, "a lover's message or a brilliant idea") to the hot towels, 37 international editions of ELLE magazine, and Christofle "chopstick" cutlery.
Brownes, a stylish boutique hotel with only 11 rooms and suites in an 18th-century Georgian townhouse overlooking Dublin's St. Stephen's Green, is actually most famous for its celebrated restaurant. Brownes Brasserie is one of the city's hottest tickets and frequently hosts celebrities and diplomats. Here, you'll experience traditional fare with a twist--like Irish Beef Carpaccio served with parmesan-forest-mushroom-and-truffle vinaigrette--in a cosmopolitan bistro atmosphere. And Brownes' extensive wine list has a superb champagne selection from Reims.
Jumping to the other side of the world, we've previously told you of our wonderful dining experience at Ducasse's elegant and delectable Spoons, overlooking Victoria Harbour at the InterContinental Hong Kong. Now we've learned that the InterConti will also be hosting a Nobu's. Matsuhisa is famous for his Peruvian-Japanese fusion with a focus on seafood and his signature restaurants in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Aspen, London, and beyond. Nobu's will be replacing the InterConti's Yu seafood restaurant.
. . . in the Country . . .
I have to admit that some of our best dining has been in what might be the most unexpected places, and not necessarily involving celeb chefs.
A year ago in Bavaria, we enjoyed a mountain-high dining experience at the Alpenhof Murnau. This Relais & Chateau hideaway has two restaurants, the quite-casual Hofmanns and the delightfully gourmet Reiterzimmer. Let's focus on the gourmet option! The Reiterzimmer, which earned one Michelin star, has an intimate atmosphere you'll share with no more than 24 other guests. Its wine list offers at least 600 different choices, and, by prior appointment, you can participate in a private wine tasting in the cellar, where 3,000 or so bottles are stored. This was, without a doubt, the best meal on our trip to Bavaria--a six-course gourmet feast, with each course accompanied by an appropriate wine.
Italy holds a special place in our hearts for its charming countryside, cultural masterpieces, and--mangia, mangia--its delectable dining. At L'AndanaTHC, in Italy's Maremma region, it's all about traditional Tuscan cuisine. Here, your feast includes the freshest seafood, pastas, meats, fruits, and vegetables, as well as just-picked herbs from the hotel's own garden and olive oil and wine from the nearby Badiola Estate. Take your meals in the casual dining room or outside in the Winter Garden with its impressive fireplace. And once you're inspired by the fresh fare, sign up for their cooking school. During classes with L'Andana's chef, you'll learn authentic Tuscan recipes and how to select the correct wines for each.
When it comes to Irish lodgings with fine dining, you can hardly go wrong by picking country house hotels from Ireland's Blue Book. This informal group of owner-managed inns is self-nominating and controlling, and places a major focus on the dining experience offered by its members. We've had memorable dining and fine service in elegant surroundings at the Park Hotel Kenmare, Longueville House Hotel, and other members of the group. In fact, some years ago we showed up at Longueville for our Thanksgiving dinner with a loin of fresh venison from a deer I'd shot on a hunt the day before, and they built a marvelous meal around it.
. . . and at the Beach
In case you were wondering, gourmet dining and elegant boutique hotels are also pairing up at beachy venues.
Hotel Villa Rolandi Gourmet & Beach Club, on picturesque Isla Mujeres, is one of our favorite hangouts on Mexico's Caribbean shores and, as the name suggests, is serious about its gourmet dining. But don't expect much in the way of traditional Mexican dishes. At Restaurant Casa Rolandi, you'll enjoy the best of Swiss-Northern Italian cuisine and exclusive recipes cooked in a wood-burning oven. Classic favorites are easy to find on the restaurant's menu, as are imaginative dishes like black shrimp raviolis served with cognac sauce. You can dine on their deck with a view of the Caribbean and the lights of Cancun sparkling in the distance; it's so popular that people take Villa Rolandi's private shuttle yacht over from Cancun just to dine.
Italian cuisine served beachfront is also on the gourmet menu at LalunaTHC in Grenada. You can splurge on tempting dishes, like delectable seafood gnocchi, prepared by Chef Benedetto La Fiura and served in the very un-Italian, thatched-roof dining room with delicious bay views.
If you want gourmet with an island-English twist, Calabash Hotel & Villas, a couple of bays over from Laluna on Grenada, opened a Gary Rhodes signature restaurant to much fanfare while we were last visiting the island in January 2004. Rhodes is more famous in England as a TV celebrity chef than he is in the U.S. His menu includes starters like Spicy Grenadian honey duck with an orange and plantain salad and main courses like fillet of red snapper on smoked-salmon potatoes with a gravadlax sauce.
One thing to remember, especially when dining at celeb-chef establishments in city settings, is to make reservations well in advance even if you're staying at the hotel. Hotel guests usually get seating preference, but many of these popular venues are booked well in advance by outside diners. The same is not necessarily true for country house hotels, where house guests are in the majority and are expected to be dining in the hotel.
Hungry to visit one or more of these tempting hideaways? To book your stay--and make your dining reservations--call your personal Hideaways travel consultant at 877-843-4433 (+1-603-430-4433 internationally).
Your Turn to Dish
When you return from a vacation, don't just rate your accommodations! Share your thoughts on the destination's best dining, too. You can add your delicious tips to your "Welcome Back" letter or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org, so fellow travelers can vacation better and eat better with your advice!