Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dream A Little Dream - The Art of Finding That One In A Million Place

So which is it? Art imitates life or life is just one big marketing trick. The art of travel is one of life's activities that can educate us, enlighten us, and change our perspective. It can even cause a paradigm shift in our view of the world around us and become as meaningful as a Picasso, Beethoven's Fifth or Notre Dame Cathedral. A paradigm shift is a very scientific event that proves beyond any shadow of any doubt that your previous notions were simply wrong!! It's kind of like - after viewing even a few minutes of Jersey Shore - you have a "paradigm shift" about the future of western civilization. Well, travel can have the same effect - only in the opposite direction. This blog is dedicated to the proposition that travel should not, indeed, cannot be just getting from Point A to Point B. No. Where you stay and what you experience at Point A and Point B and all points in between must be exceptional in every way. In simple terms - Design Matters!

It's Not Just About Looking at Great Buildings!!

Don't get me wrong. As an architect, I am and will always be interested in great buildings, old and new. I studied every square inch of I.M Pei's Glass Pyramid at The Louvre, as I slowly worked my way to viewing the Mona Lisa. I later discovered that the ficticious "Holy Grail" of The Davinci Code was buried beneath the inverted pyramid in an underground shopping mall. That rather bizarre twist of artistic license is worth at least a couple of theological seminars. And in the most beautiful city in the world, who has not been enthralled with the iconic Eiffel Tower - an architectural monument that was supposed to be temporary and was utterly despised by the citizens of Paris at the time. When you think about it, most travel is centered around great works of ancient and modern architecture.

But  great architecture is only part of our experience when we travel. No. The small places we sleep, eat, rest and relax in are the ones we burn into our consciousness. Those permanent visions of intimate spaces and places with people we care about become mental and emotional links to love, joy and simple pleasures that travel brings. I once had a discussion with a close friend who told me about a special place she and her husband found hidden in the rocks of Big Sur when they were very young. She described, in great detail, the wine, the picnic basket, the surf pounding on the rocks and the closeness she felt with her husband as they experienced this particular place and how she still remembers every detail about it, even thirty years later. It's those kinds of experiences that we hope to help you find as you plan your travels, be it around the world or down the street.

Vow Today - I Will Not Settle!!

If you want to find the best - not necessarily the most expensive - places to eat and sleep, you have to develop a curious mind set and the tools to accomplish the task of good travel planning, while allowing for the unexpected pleasures that come to people who just don't like tours, crowds or group think. If I have to choose between a 2,000 room "resort" and the rental car - roll down the windows.

In my constant search for unique places of architectural character with design as a central component, I have developed a partial list of Places that I Want to Sleep Before I Die. Disclaimer - I have NOT stayed at any of these places - but I will - unless time runs out! They are completely unique and, in some cases, require you to change your attitude about travel. They have been researched to the extreme - i.e. - I have read every possible review and studied every piece of information I could glean from the web, books and any other source I could find on each place listed.

The Nomad Architect's Incomplete List of The Top Ten Places To Sleep Before You Die

I started with the most expensive place on the list. Prices range from $600 to $1,400, depending on season and view (Mountain or Ocean). Big Sur is one of nature's true wonders for romantics and nature lovers.  After studying numerous reviews, drawings and photographs of Post Ranch Inn, it is clear that Architect Michael Mueinning did all the right things when he inserted forty unique rooms, suites and houses into the rugged Big Sur Coast, some 1,200 feet above the Pacific, to create what has been referred to, by many travel publications, as the most romantic small hotel in the world. So, if money is indeed no object - and you really want to impress the one you love - this is the place!!

A sweet little, funky re-birthed 50's motel in an inspiring desert landscape can be had for a paltry $145 to $175 per night. I felt like I owed it to any Broke Nomads after the Post Ranch Inn to provide a very cool, very funky alternative place on the cheap!! It has that Route 66 Vibe and all the quirkiness and soul you would expect from an artist turned hotelier!!

These are the actual instructions, from the hotel website,  on how to get to this luxury hotel and spa on the Pacific Coast of Mexico - A 3 hour flight takes you from L.A. to Puerto Vallarta. A quick drive gets you to Boca de Tomatlan - the last beach you can reach by car. From there it's a 30 minute boat ride along the beautiful coast to Yelapa. We will be waiting for you at the beach with our mules to take you and your luggage to our hillside location. If you need a mule ride, please advise us prior to your arrival. A place that requires that kind of logistics just to get there has to be good. Designed by Heinz Legler and Veronique Lievre, a former movie set builder and set decorator respectively, this heavenly little eco-hotel, carved out of the Mexican jungle with uninterrupted views of the Pacific should make you forget about the traffic and the tasks of your workaday life back home. They say the food is to die for as well.

Like great Texas singers/songwriters Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Norah Jones and Delbert McClinton, Texas has produced some talented, regional architects who have created a varied body of design work that combines the uniqueness of the Texas landscape and culture with an often austere, stripped down form of regionalism that is visually stunning and spatially diverse. One such place that must be considered is The Hotel San Jose' in the heart of The Live Music Capital Of The World. According to former guests, The San Jose' is everything you don't want in a chain and less. With minimalist interiors and enticing exterior courtyard spaces and easy access to South Congress Avenue and all the live music you will ever need, The Lake Flato Architects' designed San Jose' is a must for people who want to feel comfortable and cool at the same time.
Because Florida is such a huge tourist destination, it actually has fewer small, boutique hotels than you would expect. However, The Postcard Inn, a very cool, funky little renovated 1950's motel is a step in the right direction. As Travel+Leisure Magazine says - True to its surfer-cool, 1950’s-motel roots, the new Postcard Inn, in St. Pete Beach, Florida, is hip, affordable, and resolutely casual. Saint Pete Beach, like other West Coast and East Coast Beach destinations such as Daytona and Fort Lauderdale,  is slowly making its way back to the Pre-Disney/MTV Days when they were centers of the Party Hardy Universe. A great time on a great beach can be had for about $175 per night. And the choices for food are infinite, including a great little on site restaurant.

Francis Ford Coppola, the iconic movie director, is working the same magic in the hotel business as he did with the revival of the Inglenook Wine Brand  into a world class Winery. Blancaneuax Lodge, located in the Mayan mountains, is a destination with incomparable natural beauty and cabanas and villas that leave no detail to chance for the Demanding Nomad. It's eco-travel for people who want the very best. The on site food is reported to be local and excellent and you will have a world of interesting eco-oriented things to do when you're not enjoying the exquisitely designed sleeping quarters. Some even have their own private plunge pools! Great destination for the Romantic Nomad.

Designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Frank Gehry, the Hotel Marques De Riscal is an utterly unique hotel on one of Spain's most esteemed winery estates. Located in the Rioja region of Spain, this colored, titanium clad boutique hotel, designed to mimic the colors of wine, is literally built on top of a winery that has changed little since the 1800's. Also featured in the must see PBS Travel Series On The Road Again With Gwineth Paltro and Mario Batali, this small forty three room hotel should be on every Nomad's list of Places to
                                                         Sleep Before You Die.

After you pay a virtual visit to Toscana Rustica, a boutique hotel web site dedicated to a group of small, intimate hotels, converted barns and other unique places to sleep, you will want to take the first plane to Florence, grab a Smart Car and head to one of  several properties located in the enchanted land of romance, great food and great wine - Tuscany. One such property is Il  Cortile, a romantic little place nestled into the hillside of the picturesque village of Taponecco. With a very cool design featuring sensitive restoration of an ancient group of buildings and spaces you will not want to leave. And its in the heart of a part of Europe that practically invented great food and wine! 

Nobody inserts modern into ancient like the Europeans. And nobody does it better than the French. Bastion Ste. Anne is just such a place. The architect has overlaid this 13th century fortress, in the heart of Burgundy, with minimalist interiors and crisp detailing that will ensure that you will long remember this unique "house". When is the last time you slept in a place that sported a loft for viewing, a glass greenhouse with a monster fireplace for relaxation and a Bulthaup Kitchen to create your own culinary delights? And you have your very own orchard for al fresco dining. If you listen closely, you might hear a couple of Dukes discussing exactly where they planned to place the wine cellars.

With one of the most robust economies in the European Union, tiny little Estonia brings us an amazing boutique hotel and spa. Padaste Manor is the essence of living large on a small scale. Combining a world class hotel with an equally impressive spa, this sounds like a place you could get lost in. With a history dating back to 1566, this rural manor has been developed into a destination for Nomads that covet world class pampering. So grab your mate and take off to this little place in a little country in the hinterlands of the EU for some serious R&R.

Arrival by sea plane, fly fishing, kayaking, hiking, horseback riding. It sounds like a veritable Ernest Hemingway cure for writer's block. Except you sleep in a tent. And not just any tent. No. If Versace had been a tent designer, these are the tents he would have designed. Classic white canvas enclosures resting regally on raised wooden platforms in the heart of the Canadian Wilderness. I was a Boy Scout until I discovered girls, and I don't ever remember any tents like these. With thermostatically controlled wood stoves, some even have en suite bathrooms. With only twenty tents, it's a Nomad's answer to the great outdoors with a little Waldorf thrown in so you can get your needed rest for a plethora of unending eco-activities. So, if you think you might like to be a jetsetting Eco-Nomad, then, by all means, grab your gear, hitch a ride and head for the woods.

So, there you have some ideas that, hopefully, will help you in your quest for that one in a million place you and yours are searching for. That's really what travel is. Thoreau said most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Not so of stalwart seekers of real experiences and mind shifting travel to enlightening environs that you never knew existed until you actually experienced it.

To paraphrase the hit song by Oleta Adams: You can get there by railway, by trailway, by airplane, by caravan - it doesn't matter how you get there - just get there if you can - and - I would add - Set a spell once you do!

This Week's Video Artist - Lyle Lovett is a true American Original and, in this week's video set, he is joined by the likes of John Hiatt, Joe Ely, and Guy Clarke on one tune and Randy Newman on another. Just great stuff for surfing the net while you find cool places to go.

Travel Quote of The Week - "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." - Andre Gide

Just Go Baby Go!!



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