As an avid traveler, crossing this experience off my bucket-list was surreal: Fly on a Private Jet. When I arrived to Teterboro Airport on November 14th 2018, I still had to shake myself to remember this wasn’t a fantasy. I continued my pre-flight whiskey tradition with a tiny bottle of Johnny Walker Blue; an appropriate, fast toast given the high end circumstances. After a smooth but quick slug I hopped out of my taxi and it hit me: This was really about to happen…
When I got the email to take a private jet to the Grand Cayman, kick it with the legendary Chef Eric Ripert, and stay at the Ritz Carlton, I was damn proud of myself. Even through the hysteria and theatrics of me reading the email three times over to mentally confirm, I felt like my level of professionalism and creative-abilities had hit sky high. We’re talkingonce in a lifetime experiencehere, Grubfam!
Let me explain how I got here: I’m a food, hospitality, and travel content creator. You probably know me from my Instagram @TheGrubfather. This whole adventure was part of an experience put together by The Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman. The luxury resort teamed up with Grand Cayman’s tourism board and NetJets to give several creators an insider preview of the iconic Grand Cayman Cookout. Being chosen out of thousands of creators for something of this caliber was an honor.
The entire security experience is tailored to the passenger and while efficient, it is also super fast. I wouldn’t expect anything less out of a private jet experience. By the time I knew it I was strolling up the staircase of NetJet’s Bombardier Challenger 350, feeling like a super star and taking in every damn moment.
The inside of the aircraft was smaller than I was used to, considering I’ve only found myself on commercial flights up until this point. However, while it was small, it was nothing less than luxurious. Private jets like NetJets turn small spaces into mile high lounges, and this was a perfect case in point.
The plane was operated by two pilots and one flight attendant, all of which brought professionalism and comfort to new pinnacles. I remember staring googley-eyed as a bottle of champagne made its appearance before the flight, being dished out to each of us almost immediately.
Mind you I had only taken my first business class flight a month prior. The idea of champagne before taking off was a riveting one, I was learning. I felt blessed as I saw the bubbles make their way up to the top of my glass.
The stewardess, who probably caught the fizzle-struck look in my eye, bent down to me and said quietly “We’ve got bottles for this entire ride! Just let me know when you’re ready for your next one.” And it was at that moment, I fell in love with NetJets.
Take-off on a small plane was much more… “immersive” of a flying experience, but when you’re sitting in an oversized, plush seat drinking champagne, there shouldn’t be much that can break your vibe. Our group was made up of journalists, and content creators. A few of us spent a solid half hour discussing how monumental this experience was for us.
“Chef Ripert is an amazing guy.” We were advised after we had settled into our excitement “But we’re asking that you refrain from any questions about Anthony during your conversations with him.”
They were referring to Anthony Bourdain, my longtime idol. In fact, his hit show Parts Unknown, was a huge motivation behind the start of my own traveling. As an aspiring food and travel show host, Bourdain is the fucking example. Sadly, Anthony Bourdain died just months before while traveling France with Chef Eric Ripert, his best friend.
I greatly admire Chef Eric Ripert, his culinary prowess with seafood is wild. The fact we would even be spending time with him was an honor. However, I was truly heartbroken over Anthony Bourdain’s death and perhaps subconsciously I was hoping that meeting Ripert and talking with him, would help me move forward from that. That was a question to be answered in Grand Cayman though. Stay tuned for that article!
Now let’s talk on-board amenities, and more particularly, the food. Throughout the ride, NetJets showered us with everything from champagne to courses of high end grub.
Here’s some of the food that made an appearance on the four hour flight: Sushi, Stone Crab Claws, Pizza, Salmon Lox & Cream Cheese, Antipasto Platter, Fruit Platter, Salad and a slew of luxury snacks.
I was on CLOUD 9 – figuratively and literally.
As a photographer, one of the most valuable elements of this flight was arriving into the Grand Cayman and having full access to both sides of the plane’s windows. The ensuing show of turquoise ocean, cruise liners, and palm tree lined shores were framed perfectly out the window of a private jet.
Inhaling the last of my Champagne glass while touching down to parts unknown, I savored the last of those surreal moments. It may have been the last time I ever get on a private jet, or perhaps the first of many. Either way, it didn’t matter, for me this was a huge accomplishment!
Exiting and looking back on those four insane hours of travel style, I am grateful and honored to have experienced it. Crossing things off your bucket-list that seem rare is a feeling that doesn’t go away. Even now, I can (and do) look back at my experience with NetJets and use it as a source of inspiration: Put in your hard work, create your art, and let your passions motivate you, you never know what can come as a result!
Stay tuned for the article about my stay in Grand Cayman!
Few places on Earth possess Kauai’s sublime beauty which can be found in both the familiar and the foreign. I’ve made it a point to get back to this island four times over the last four years. If you have eyes on golden sand and remote Pacific water, you’ll find refuge along Kauai’s tropical shores. However, the ancient Hawaiian island is well equip with restaurants, resorts and beaches that impress, especially given the island’s secluded nature.
Even better, for travelers who seek to go beyond the surface, you will find a treasure trove of experiences that inspire, thrill and incite wonder. Kauai’s geological and cultural history has created a terrain that is celebrated for its thunderous landscape, lush waterfalls and spiritual core. Experiences around the island mirror these key components, transforming a traveler into a world adventurer with ease.
ARRIVE ON A HAWAIIAN INSPIRED FLIGHT
Of all my flights to Kauai, the most convenient and relaxing has been aboard Hawaiian Airlines. Their New York to Hawaii route is direct, which makes an arrival to the islands’ seamless. To get to Kauai a quick layover and 40 minute flight from Honolulu will be required.
In their business class, the eleven hour ride doesn’t just become survivable, but enjoyable as well. Comfortable lie-flat seats, Hawaiian designed bedding and gracious staff set the tone for a flight inspired by Hawaiian culture and hospitality. It’s an ideal journey to transition into island mode.
Start with a Mai Tai before elevating into a commendable four course airline meal that is highlighted with Hawaiian elements and designed by Hawaiian chefs. Soothing Aloha music, hot towels and a sizable entertainment menu combat the woe of a wifi-free flight. Though I will say, flying wifi-less kind of made the long flight a mental retreat filled with drinks, movies, hot towels and food.
VACATION IN THE SOUTH SHORE WHILE EXPLORING THE WILD WEST
Kauai, although relatively small, is separated into distinct regions with tailored charm. The South Shore, which you enter through a tunnel of trees, is a staple of the island’s vacation scene. It’s also a comfortable place to launch your adventures into the rugged West which is home to Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast.
STAY & DINE AT A BEACHSIDE RESORT WITH VIEWS OF AN ICONIC SUNSET
Beach, luxury and amenity cravings will all be satisfied at Koa Kea Resort. Those who seek to capitalize on the Hawaiian aesthetic should book an ocean front suite which comes with a lanai inspired bedroom, living room and balcony that gives guests a front row seat to Poipu’s iconic sunsets and surfer riddled waves.
Koa Kea also hosts one of the area’s most well-regarded restaurants, Red Salt, which is helmed by Kauai native Chef Noelani Planas. The restaurant’s windows peer out into palm trees and the Pacific, while simplistic yet stylish design sets an ambiance ideal for any dining situation. Chef Planas’ fierce cuisine, with its infusion of Hawaiian ingredients, parlays well against modern-American flare. The menu excels with dishes like beef bone marrow, Kona lobster gnocchi and a strong steak menu whose filet mignon and tomahawk cut were noteworthy.
Pro Tip: Grab a sushi roll and cocktail at the restaurant’s bar prior to starting your meal.
Guests will find it easy to relax at Koa Kea as well. Skip the beach and take a dip in the resorts lava-rock encrusted pool or kick back at their nightly fire pits that sit below star fired skies. The spa also offers interesting treatments, like its Ho’ala Kauai Coffee Scrub Wrap which gives a nod to Kauai’s thriving coffee bean industry. As a coffee addict, I was fully in my element!
WHERE TO EAT ON THE SOUTH SHORE
Poipu’s buzzing tourism scene has given rise to a variety of culinary stories.
One of my favorites in this region is Makai Sushi Bar, which finds its home in Kukuiula Market, one of Kauai’s only mom and pop shop’s left. Operated by Chef Matthew Oliver, the small stand is dolling out rolls and poke bowls stocked with high quality fish in an unexpected venue. Don’t miss their signature dish, the Gorilla Bowl or my custom roll order: Ahi tuna, king salmon and avocado with the works.
A quick walk outside and you’ll come face to face with Waikomo Shave Ice, owned by Chef Matt’s brother, Thomas Oliver. The stand’s mango and strawberry shave ice with coconut cream is a standout of my shave ice experiences on the island.
Travelers who seek scenic dining experiences on the South Shore should book reservations at both Plantation Gardens and The Beach House. Each restaurant offers different aesthetics that appeal to Kauai’s ocean and garden character
Plantation Gardens, located in the historic Moir Gardens, is a refreshing experience rooted in botanical aesthetic and cuisine (try the lavender piña colada!) While getting lost in the vibrant colors of your flowery surrounding, you’ll indulge in a menu that focuses heavily on local resources. Try the signature seafood lau-lau which substitutes prime fish, shrimp and scallops in lieu of the traditional pork.
The Beach House is best visited during sunset hours given its waterfront location. Start with their famous Monkeypod Mai Tai, which comes crowned with a honey-lilikoi foam. Take in the crashing waves and color changing sky while you sink into favorites like lobster deviled eggs, crispy fish tacos and a delicious seafood linguine.
EXPLORE THE GRAND CANYON OF THE PACIFIC
Though the vacation aspect of the South is enticing to get lost in, make sure to embark on a Kauai adventure in the West. Aside from the Napali, which can only be fully seen by boat or aircraft, the West side is famous for the monstrous Waimea Canyon. The 3,600 foot deep natural wonder is an awe-striking scene.
Marvel at dramatic landscape that is splashed with waterfalls, red volcanic dirt, and vibrant green hues that roll along the surface. Whether you simply stop at the lookout to peer, find a hike that’s suitable for your skill-set or roll out a picnic blanket to relax, Waimea Canyon is an essential piece of visiting Kauai… It’s free too!
TAKE AN ATV THROUGH HOLLYWOOD’S FAVORITE FILM SET
On Kipu Ranch Adventure’s ATV tour, you’ll be treated to a scenic, knowledge driven ride. The excursion puts the steering wheels of an ATV directly in guests’ hands while whisking them to a variety of scenic lookouts around the ranch.
It’s easy to see why this land has consistently been chosen by Hollywood’s elite as the backdrop for various blockbuster films. Throughout the tour, guides delve into the history of the centuries old property and how it intertwines Kauai’s legacy both past and present. This is a great option for those looking to get adventurous and see the sights at a comfortable, approachable pace.
MARVEL AT KAUAI’S ICONIC NAPALI COAST BY SEA AND AIR
The traveler who has never laid eyes on Napali has never truly seen Kauai at all. As the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai’s iconic West Coast transcends natural beauty, becoming a visual testament to the island’s story of creation and its evolution into today.
CRUISE ALONGSIDE WILD DOLPHINS AND WHALES AS YOU RIDE THE COAST
A boat ride through Napali showcases its sheer grandeur and power by putting you at the foot of its colossal presence. I hopped on a boat with Makana Charters for an in-depth tour of the coast. The company, which is owned and operated by Kauai local Cain Robinson, takes a particular interest in creating a fun, authentic experience laced with Hawaiian storytelling.
Along our boat ride we rode the waves into the very heart of Napali, capturing a whole new appreciation for the island. Marine life is abundant in the waters off the coast. Along our tour we spotted a hammerhead shark treading the surface, rode alongside pods of wild dolphins and even reveled in the wake of breaching Humpback whales.
The company offers a variety of tour sizes, from 32 passenger to luxury private charters. All come equip with deli lunches, beverages and a vast understanding of the land and waters trekked along the tour. Ask for Captain David, a true gem to have guiding the ride.
Pro Tip: Stop at Ishihara Market and grab a poke bowl before the boat tour. It makes for a great photo opportunity too!
HOP ON A DOORS OFF HELICOPTER RIDE FOR AN EAGLE EYE’S VIEW OF NAPALI
Jack Harter Helicopter’s doors off excursion is an essential for anyone willing to brave an open air flight. Despite my anxiety and fear of heights, I’ve done this tour twice and each time I’ve felt nothing short of exhilaration while in the air. It’s oddly peaceful. Flying along Kauai’s mountainous ridges and soaring deep into Waimea Canyon can barely prepare you for your emergence out onto the Napali Coast. No doors means unrivaled views (and photos!) of its powerful presence.
The doors off helicopter ride is an ideal experience for landscape enthusiasts and thrill seekers. Though the concept of flying with the doors off seems terrifying, the entire hour long ride is quite digestible and by the end you’ll be grateful you did it.
LIHUE & THE ROYAL COCONUT COAST
The East Side is arguably the most strategically located and energetic of all Kauai’s coasts. Offering direct access to all of the island’s inhabitable shores, the region is brimming with artisan businesses, spiritual retreats and natural beauty.
THIS RESORAT HAS SUBLIME VIEWS, BREACHING WHALES, AN INFINITY POOL WITH FARM TO TABLE DINING
Timber’s, though the newest of Kauai’s resorts, is poised to be one of Hawaii’s most desired. Opened in 2018, the oceanfront property features stunning apartment-style suites which range from two to four bedrooms.
Make your stay even more memorable in the Kaiholo units with striking views of ocean blues and lush green mountains. These sights make for an elevated hospitality experience, especially when they are framed by balconies, wall sized doors and bathroom windows. Interior designs are chic and clean, paying homage to Hawaiian aesthetic through cool colors, oceanic textures and modern simplicity.
The property is by all means an immersive experience with panoramic views of its surreal surroundings. The resort’s two tier infinity pool and indoor-outdoor restaurant sit perched above the Pacific with sweeping views of both the ocean and Kauai’s famous Ninini Lighthouse. In the Winter months, guests enjoy a front row seat to breaching whales in the distant sea. Timber’s closest beach, Kalapaki, sits a mile away and is also within view.
Food enthusiasts will greatly appreciate a stay here given Timber’s incredible farm to table operation. The resort’s property hosts a fully functioning vegetable farm that provides the greens to its culinary team. The farm is open to guests who may visit with operator Cody Lee Meyer whose infectious enthusiasm shines in his efforts here. “Our goal is to create such a surplus that we’re able to provide vegetables for all schools in Kauai.” He told me as we drove through fields of eggplant, lettuce and basil.
The kitchen who receives the bounty is run by Chef Jafet Tellez. His cuisine at Timber’s Hualani Restaurant draws on inspiration from his Mexican heritage and local Hawaiian ingredients. The poke crowned guacamole serves as a fine example of this fusion. If you’re staying in a unit, you can even have Chef Jafet cook dinner for you in your suite. I took advantage of this and indulged in a surf n turf feast of Kauai sourced chimichurri skirt steak, grilled Kauai shrimp and a medley of vegetables we handpicked from the farm.
WHERE TO EAT ON THE EAST SIDE
Dining on the East Coast is rich in diversity with everything from upscale dining to food trucks. Begin your days with a bottle of Kauai Juice Company, whose varying products don’t just taste great but also aid in health. Sourcing all ingredients for their cold pressed juices from Kauai, this is a fantastic way to taste the island while racking up nutrients.
Those seeking quality breakfast and brunch options should take haven at Art Cafe Hemingway, Kountry Kitchen or Passion Bakery. Art Cafe Hemingway serves up a finely curated menu of food and coffee in a space inspired by author Ernest Hemingway’s adventures (with art to match!)
Passion Bakery, which is a fully functioning pastry and breads shop, is also home to incredible breakfast sandwiches. The jalapeño-mozzarella currently stands as one of my favorites in the world. I go to Kauai once a year and Passion Bakery is perhaps the spot I look forward to grabbing a bite at most.
You’ll also find great lunch choices on the East Side. Food trucks, a popular culinary culture on the island, have varying outposts on the Coconut Coast. Kapaa is particularly rich, with an entire court and scattered staples throughout. Don’t miss 3 Girls Local Grill for plate lunches, Scorpacciata for Neapolitan pizza, Porky’s for Kalua pork hot dogs or Al Pastor for tacos.
Pono Market, an unassuming grocery store, is home to arguably the island’s best poke. Vegans will rejoice at Eat Healthywhere plant based recipes come alive underneath Kauai’s Sleeping Giant mountain. And one of the new kids on the block, The Local, also makes a strong lunch case with creative spins on humble classics and an interesting curation of craft cocktails.
Dinners are the pinnacle of the Coconut Coast’s dining scene. My favorite restaurant on the island is undoubtedly Hukilau Lanai, who rides the line of comfort and upscale. Reserve a table outside just before sunset begins. You’ll be treated to smooth live music while dining on classics like Okinawa sweet potato raviolis, poke nachos, lobster & goat cheese wontons and farmer’s market vegetable lasagna.
JO2, though lacking scenic power, serves up dynamite, creative cuisine by Chef Jean-Marie Gosselin. It’s a spot for the foodies. Bull Shedis a noble oceanfront restaurant choice whose surf n turf options will be appreciated by steakhouse enthusiasts.
Though nightlife on Kauai is scarce, you’ll pacify your needs at Rob’s Good Time Bar & Grill or Kauai Beer Company. Rob’s Good Time Bar & Grillis a local favorite for bar style food and a plethora of entrainment like karaoke, DJ and trivia nights. Kauai Beer Companyis a fully functioning brewery and restaurant whose laid back drinking room is ideal for leisurely conversation with your traveling companion(s).
WATCH A LUAU AND FEAST ON HAWAIIAN TRADITION
A trip to Hawaii isn’t complete without attending a festive luau. The celebration is a marker of Hawaiian culture through cultural showcasings and historic cuisine. Visit the Smith Family Garden Luau, a 50 year old family affair that takes place on 30 acres of botanical beauty in the coveted Wailua River Valley. The dinner takes place after an imu ceremony and serves guests a buffet of Hawaiian classics like Kalua pork, poi, chicken teriyaki, salmon lomi and mac salad. The show is a splendid blend of theatrics, authenticity and entertainment. Did I mention the open bar?
TAKE A SHELTER DOG ON A FIELD TRIP TO THE BEACH OR THE SLEEPING GIANT
Tie a good deed into your trip when you visit the Kauai Humane Society whose giving new meaning to embarking on a journey. In an effort to get dogs out of cages and into the fresh air, the shelter allows for both visitors and locals to take potential rescues on a “field trip.” The Sleeping Giant’s hike is one of Eastern Kauai’s easiest and has several scenic outlooks along the way to the top. Or you can keep it leisurely at one of the Coconut Coast’s many beaches, which are usually dog friendly.
THE NORTH SHORE
As you make your way into the North Shore, you will understand why Kauai has earned its name as the Garden Isle. As the wettest of Kauai’s regions, the North blooms in vibrant colors, creating an Eden that has become a staple of exclusivity and luxury on the island.
STAY AT A LUSH BEACHFRONT VILLA
A bespoke stay on Kauai’s North can be entirely curated by Pure Kauai, a company which constructs getaways on the North Shore for its clients. Rental homes vary in price and size but all share in the supreme sense of place and fine precision to details. After staying in resorts along the South and East, a home stay was a welcomed perspective to island life. Each home comes equip with an ‘island host’ who will help with everything from insider knowledge to setting up amenities and excursions.
I stayed at the Anini Beachfront Home, which sat directly on a secluded part of Anini beach. Dreams of falling asleep to waves crashing in Hawaii came to life and mornings offered panoramic views of the property’s stunning backyard. Sticking true to the exclusive spirit of the North, the company has access to the island’s most respected artisans, chefs and professionals.
The vast amount of services available include taking a private yoga class in your living room, hosting a private luau in your backyard or enjoying finely crafted meals cooked by a private chef. I opted for the latter and enjoyed vegan cooking classes and meals prepared by Kauai local Chef Hollan Hamid who goes by Hollan Hawaii.
She has made quite a name for herself in Kauai’s culinary world. After founding Eat Healthy in Kapaa, where her recipes are still in use, she is now preparing the launch of her vegan cookbook that is also laden with lifestyle advice. Luckily for me, she is available for private cooking sessions exclusively with Pure Kauai and I got to try out some of her new recipe from the book. Though I’m not vegan, I was very impressed with how each dish made the diet switch seamless. Ask for the Anini beach vegan picnic for a Bohemian inspired experience.
WHERE TO EAT ON THE NORTH SHORE
When you finally decide to leave your house, the North Shore has a great selection of food options. Those craving a carb fix should make a pilgrimage to Piazza, whose chic-tropical ambiance create a great space to indulge in pizza, pasta and wine. The showstopper here, interestingly enough, was their gelato selections, among the best I’ve ever had.
The Dolphin, whose success in Hanalei has resulted in a new Poipu location, fuels guests with freshly caught sashimi, fusion rolls and poke alike. Speaking local, the Hanalei Farmers Market is a treat for those in the area on Saturday mornings. Artisan craft makers, farmers and bakers set up shop in an area that comes with a thunderous mountain view.
Food trucks are also abundant in the North’s Hanalei area. You can sink into the rich flavors of India at Tumeric Cafe, grab a Kalua pig eggs benedict at Saenz Ohana Breakfast, or feast on solid plate lunches at Trucking Delicious. Holey Grail Donuts which only operates on Sundays, crafts beautiful vegan donuts fried in coconut oil that shouldn’t be missed.
HORSEBACK RIDE TO AN EXCLUSIVE WATERFALL
Take to the land atop a horse at Princeville Ranch Adventures’ Waterfall Picnic Ride. The tour whisks riders through Northern Kauai’s countryside before hiking down to the ranch’s onsite waterfall. The primal experience was quite approachable, even as someone who has never been on a horse.
Once you arrive to the waterfall, which is fairly exclusive to the ranch, you’ll have ample time to soak in the scene. The tour includes a deli lunch picnic which will fuel you up for the small rock climb and waterfall crossing ahead.
MARVEL AT THE NORTH’S NATURAL BEAUTY
Kauai’s North Shore is riddled with beaches, from discreet hideaways to high profile staples. Beach goers should pay particular attention to surf reports to ensure safety, especially in the Winter months.
Moloaa beach is one of the island’s more obscure and undeveloped sandy outposts which usually results in scarcer crowds. The picturesque beach was the location for the first episodes of Gilligan’s Island. Hanalei Bay and the Hanalei Bay lookout provide beach goers with scenic views and commercial conveniency. Anini Beach is characterized by a 2 mile coral reef (Hawaii’s longest) which soothes and calms Anini’s shores. In the aftermath of rain shower, it’s a great place to catch a mesmerizing rainbow too!
One of the most memorable of Kauai’s natural experiences also happens to be among its most dangerous: Queen’s Bath. The hike down to the lava rock pool should only be braved by the experienced and in the right weather conditions. The expedition and site have claimed the lives of numerous locals and tourists. The roughly mile journey is inclusive of a streaming waterfall and dramatic, charred coastline being ravaged by icy blue waters. Do not underestimate what it will take to get to Queen’s Bath as many have died along its route.Further research is not just heavily advised but necessary.
SPIRTUALITY ON KAUAI
Legend has it that Kauai is a spiritual vortex and the energy of its landscape certainly creates a mystic vibe. In fact, Anahola a place where all souls enter the world. There are many places on this side of the island that cater to deep serenity that is worthy of carving time out for. Please note that though these sites are open to the public, adherence to each sites ethos should be heavily respected.
In the mountains you’ll find the Kauai Hindu Monastery. The growing site is fit with breathtaking jungle grounds that even feature a banyan tree. The morning puja ceremony is an immersive cultural experience that is meditative, relaxing and insightful. After a stroll, head down the road to the Sacred Forest which is covered in elaeocarpus ganitrus trees that fill the ground with sacred Rudraksha seeds. It is the only of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.
Also on Kauai’s East Side is a variety of heiaus, most notably Kukui Heiau and Hikinaakala Heiau. These ancient Hawaiian temples are significant markers of Hawaiian culture prior to Western contact. Though mostly archeological in sight, the land is still deeply sacred to Hawaiians. A visit to any of the temple remains should be marked with silence, observance and adherence to the rules posted.
Whether you consider Kauai a spiritual vortex, luxury vacation or tropical getaway, there is no denying the island’s intensely unique spirit. While the landscape and natural beauty tell the story of the island’s 5 million years of history, its dynamic businesses and artisans bring the place to life. Regardless if you travel for adventure or vacation, you’ll leave its shores calling it one of your new favorite places on Earth.
There’s magic in Switzerland. I realized that fairly quickly after boarding the train from Zurich to St. Moritz. As I watched snow peaked mountains and translucent lakes roll alongside the window, I got this feeling that there was more to this land than the alps, cheeses and chocolates… & damn was I right.
I’ve always had a railway journey through Switzerland on my own list and recently I was able to cross it off with a Vacations By Rail tour. The timing was ideal as well, as the Glacier Express’ new Excellence Class has created waves of praise across the travel world (and for a really good reason)
Switzerland is a diamond country with heritage meccas like Italy, France, Germany and Austria surrounding it. Each has infused the landlocked nation with a bespoke mix of high culture, rich history and unique architecture. All the while, Mother Nature has afforded it some of the world’s most lauded landscapes with the likes of the Swiss Alps, Lake Geneva and the Matterhorn.
Admittedly jaded by New York’s shabby transit systems, I’ve always been put off by rail travel. Switzerland quickly converted me with its bullseye sense of timing, first class options and mesmerizingly scenic routes.
Combine these elements with a good book and anticipated soundtrack and you’ll understand why slow travel is considered a sacred practice among those who have unlocked its element.
Though it’s entirely possible to create your own agenda, I found venturing through Switzerland on a train with Vacations By Rail helped to keep things organized, efficient and well planned out.
Pro Tip: To ensure an even more stress-free adventure, travel at the end of peak season (or perhaps at its very start) to avoid massive crowds in both resort towns and trains. I often had empty seats around me which made for quite a leisurely ride.
After spending a week exploring Switzerland by rail, here’s my list of the villages, experiences and moments you shouldn’t miss:
LUXURY IN ST MORITZ& PONTRESINA
Luxe businesses, polished charm and alpine elements set the tone for St. Moritz, making it a great first stop in Switzerland. The small town has hosted the Winter olympics twice, which should give you an insight into the prestige here. If not, the endless amount of fashion houses who have set up outposts along its streets should do the trick. A stay at the Kulm Hotel will satisfy those who wish to mirror the town’s historic elegance in their accommodations.
The neighboring village of Pontresina offers easy access to St. Moritz’s glamour while maintaining small town charm. The Grand Hotel Kronenhof, operated by the Kulm Hotel, sits as an anchor for visitors to explore Pontresina’s artisan fueled main street. Be sure to find the chocolates and Swiss baked goods at Gianotti’s.
Dining Tip: Time a funicular up to nearby Muottos Muragl for sunset and take in a stunning display of warm orange and icy blue skies descending behind St. Moritz, Pontresina and the Alps. After marveling atop have dinner at the rustic clad Romantik Hotel Muottos Muragl, whose schnitzel and fries were pretty on point.
GET LOST IN THE ITALIAN INSPIRED POSCHIAVO
South of St. Mortiz and settled on the border of Switzerland and Italy, you’ll find Poschiavo. Travelers who can appreciate Old World Italian village vibes will revel in the aesthetic here. Along the cobbled streets you’ll find pastel hued buildings, towering views of the Swiss Alps and a medieval style square that feels like something right out of movie. Architecture enthusiasts should check out the inside of Poschiavo’s quaint church while landscape lovers will find great hiking trails departing from the town.
Dining Tip:Stop for pizza, gnocchi and local wine at Hotel Albrici, located in the square. Follow up with dessert at the gelato stand just across the way.
RIDE THE GLACIER EXPRESS’ NEW EXCELLENCE CLASS
Famed for its stunning views of Switzerland’s alpine heritage, the Glacier Express whisks travelers from St. Moritz to Zermatt on an eight hour excursion. Standing at the pinnacle of what it means to rail travel in Switzerland, the line just launched a new Excellence Class cabin which exceeds the standards of first class.
Guests will find a spacious seats, a lavish gold tinged bar and curated tasting menu, tea time and pristine service aboard. Paired with unlimited champagne, wine, beer and top shelf liquor and you’re set for a pleasant journey through Switzerland’s most picturesque lands. You’ll even stop at a glacier for a scenic outing where you can enjoy a drink whilst peering out onto an icy tundra of beauty.
REVEL IN ZERMATT & THE MATTERHORN’S BEAUTY
I fell into a deep slumber the moment I arrived to Zermatt due to jet lag (and maybe a little too much champagne) but this afforded me an excellent opportunity: Waking up in Zermatt by sunrise and grabbing a crazy viewing of the village’s icon: The Matterhorn. Those who awake during the sunrise will be treated to a special half hour viewing of the mountain as the sun turns its snowy white hue from pink into blood-orange.
Zermatt is easily digestible to any skill-level of traveler and like many other areas of small town Switzerland, it is a beautiful showcasing of alpine heritage. You can easily wander through Zermatt but never get lost.
Whether for skiing or sight seeing, the train up to Gornergrat and the pinnacle itself is an essential Matterhorn experience. Sit on the right side of the train for the best views and photo ops of the mountain. After arriving to the top, take in the sweeping panoramic scene of the Matterhorn and the surrounding alps.
Dining Tip: The Gornergrat Kulm Hotel, which sits atop of the ridge, is home to an incredible cream of garlic soup stewed into a wholewheat Swiss bread bowl.
SINK INTO SUNSETS AND CULTURE IN MONTREUX
Emerge from your train in Montreux and revel in the essence of France, which sits in view just across Lake Geneva. French influenced architecture reigns supreme here while cultural nods to the nearby country can be felt in everything from language to cuisine.
The late, great Freddie Mercury found haven in Montreux’s distinct essence and the city would go on to host Queen through the recording of their last two albums. Including one of my favorite songs of all time, Don’t Stop Me Now. Mercury’s love for Montreux is commemorated by a statue of Mercury along the banks of Lake Geneva.
Also, a brand new interactive Queen experience has opened in the former Mountain Studios (their famous recording studio), you can visit it at the Casino Barriere de Montreux. The museum allows visitors to see a variety of artifacts from the band’s peak period, including some of Freddie’s wild costumes.
The main walking strip of Montreux lines Lake Geneva and is an ideal place for a rendezvous, especially in the warmer weather. Come sunset and the lake is a translucent display of blooming colors that is an artistic display all of its own. Set side aside to enjoy this sunset and thank me later.
Photography Tip: Use the lakeside sunset as a way to capture vivid silhouettes pressed against Lake Geneva.
History buffs will be delighted by the city’s Chillon Castle, an incredibly well preserved medieval castle and one of Switzerland’s most visited sites. Exploring the castle is like stepping back in time.
Make a point to make it to the top of the castle’s keep. From this peak you’ll have panormic views of the mountains, lake and Montreux in all its glory.
Dining Tip: Visit the Fairmont’s Montreux Palace and dine at the Jazz Club, an intimate and whimsical experience that parlays well into the musical heritage of the city.
LAUNCH INTO EXPLORATION FROM GRINDLEWALD
Shrouded by two gigantic mountains, decked out in warm charm and in close proximity to several other worthwhile sites, Grindelwald is a great destination to end your Swiss adventure. A stay at the Romantik’s Hotel Schweizerhof comes equip with a quality spa, Michelin recommended restaurant and a sense of true Alpine essence.
Dining Tip(s): Vising Barry’s for a charming ambiance, quality fondue and Mongolian BBQ. The ability to craft your own sautéed plate of meats, vegetables and carbs was a meal ideal for all kinds of diners. End your night at Avocado Bar, a local watering hole where you’re guaranteed to be immersed in local ski culture.
Aside from a relaxing stint in small town Switzerland, use Grindelwald as a launching point into a few worthy excursions:
This scenic Swiss town isn’t just visually blissful, it’s also an excellent place to fly. Paragliding tours here offer up divine views of the back country that will be nothing short of exhilarating.
MURREN / SCHILTHORN
Venture into the sky when you ride gondolas through a dramatic mountain landscape into Murren, up Schilthorn and eventually to Piz Gloria, whose claim to fame comes from the 1968 James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The small town grips tightly to this legacy from its lowest elevation to its highest.
The bond theme runs strong at the mountain top’s Piz Gloria, where a 360 panoramic view is complimented by a revolving restaurant (whose regrettable $25.00 Burger is one of the worst I’ve had in my life). Opt for the buffet or eat before your journey and simply enjoy a drink while taking in the views.
Thrill seekers will be delighted by Schilthorn’s thrill walk and bridge. The pathway hugs the side of the mountain and is highlighted by two suspended, steel mesh bridges that will make your knees quake. Those with a bit more dare left in them can waltz across a glass floor on the edge of the walkway. I myself am afraid of heights and conquered the feat… It’s worth the fear.
Swing through Stechelberg on your way down from Schilthorn where a country landscape evokes vibes that live in the crosshairs of the Wild West and Lord of the Rings. The village is also home to Switzerland’s highest waterfall and scenic hikes. Ideal for a quaint stroll, a stop here is worthwhile, even if just for a visual feast.
Heading to Switzerland, I had anticipated a few things. I knew the country’s thunderous mountains would take my breath away and that its sultry chocolate and cheeses would satisfy my sinful cravings. However, what I found along the rail tracks was much more than that, it was a voyage into a land whose boundaries were seasoned with global richness and adventure. I’m real grateful I was able to check this off my longtime bucket list.
Singapore was more than I could have ever imagined. The island-city-country conglomerate represents the future of the modern world through an intricately structured city-scape, yet it is also home to well-preserved past… The vibrant cultural enclaves of Singapore bring diverse regions of Asia to life through history, cuisine and culture. I loved it all.
In essence, Singapore emulates the spirit of Old New York to the modern Asian world: It’s filled with opportunity, opulence and just the right amount of familiar. And like New York, it’s poised to be considered among the greatest cities on Earth.
I was jet-set to Singapore under the guidance of Protravel International‘s new ‘Crazy Rich Americans’ tour. The luxury travel agency’s partnership with Singapore tourism created an itinerary that strategically navigated me through the city’s rich bounty of experiences.
ARRIVE IN THE SPIRIT OF LUXURY & STYLE
Changi Airport has consistently won awards for its design, affluence and convenience. This sense of excellence was mirrored in the JetQuay experience. Fresh off United’s Polaris experience, I found myself whisked from the arrival gate to a private, less-than-one-minute immigrations experience. Just beyond that in JetQuay’s CIP terminal awaited my luggage, a bottle of ice cold champagne, snacks and butler service. If this luxe arrival is within your realm of splurge… Do it.
Regardless of your airport experience, you can’t help but feel entranced by the metropolis’ display of grandeur that unfolds the minute you make your way into the city.
The Intercontinental is an ideal choice for those who appreciate a hotel with roots in heritage and stylish Asian design. The Intercontinental is also in a great location that’s ideal to launch into the city from, like my favorite enclave, Kampong Glam. Notable too is the hotel’s Man Fu Yuan restaurant, which features Cantonese technique with a forward thinking execution.
WSentosa, which is located on Sentosa (Singapore’s resort island), delivers swanky vibes through design, lifestyle and overall energy. Those who appreciate island-resort feng shui will find this as a haven from Singapore’s urban center (though a bit far from everything).
The Ritz Carlton dons a dope design that is reminiscent of a beehive. It’s nothing short of a luxury property, even turning an all you can eat buffet restaurant into something of high class. The Ritz’s spa, whether you stay here or not, is a great option for hot stone massages as well as pristine amenities.
Marina Bay Sands, the self-serving epitome of Singapore’s evolving skyline, is also a hub for entertainment, restaurants and hotel rooms. Exclusive access to the Marina Bay Sands’ infinity pool and rooftop hang out is reason enough to grab a room for at least a night or two.
PRO TIP:If you’re the kind of traveler who is fluid when it comes to hotel stays, try a combo of regions. A 7 night trip would best be served with 3 nights in the city, 2 nights at Marina Bay Sands and 2 nights on Sentosa island.
THE TREASURES OF SINGAPORE LYE IN THE ENCLAVES
Heritage and culture is alive and well within the streets of Singapore. Vibrancy in Little India, artisan spirit along Arab Street, the Peranakan legacy in Katong/Joo Chiat and deep spirituality in Chinatown await visitors who opt to explore each.
I crave culture whenever I travel. Each of the enclaves gave me the ability to experience all faucets of Asia solely within Singapore. This provided the destination with a whole new level of value. Every enclave’s varying aesthetics is a time and place, whether it’s vivid flower garlands that are strung through Hindu temples or slow roasting meats seasoned in the Middle Eastern flavor on Arab Street.
Seeing the historic enclaves pressed against skyscrapers provides a rare glimpse at both the future and the past, all while immersed in a serendipitous present. This architectural phenomenon created a moment that made me fall in love with Singapore.
Here’s a visual guide for you through each of the enclaves…
Don’t Miss: The Buddhist Tooth Relic Museum + Temple
ARAB STREET / KAMPONG GLAM
Don’t Miss: The artisan perfume and cologne shop Sifr Aromatics, where you can shop aromas from Johari Kazura or take a workshop and create your very own scent.
Don’t miss: The gorgeous temples, colorful shops, Indian style Hawker Center and the Colourful House of Tan Teng Niah
KATONG / JOO CHIAT
Don’t Miss: The whimsical homes on Joo Chiat or the chance to enter a traditional Paranakan home at The Intan experience and dive into Singapore’s root culture.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO EAT IN SINGAPORE
THE FLOATING DONUT COMPANY: Crush a seafood feast, pizza and champagne while floating on Singapore’s most scenic waterway in a nifty little vessel. The Floating Donut Company was one of my fondest memories from Singapore given its ability to blend a unique experience with cuisine, scenes and champagne.
DEVOUR AS MUCH CHILI CRAB AS YOU CAN: This signature Singaporean dish is a dreamy combination of succulent mud crab steeped in savory tomato chili sauce. My favorite spots to enjoy the iconic dish was KENG ENG KEE and JUMBO SEAFOOD, you can’t go wrong at either. A few major things to remember: Wash it down with an ice cold tiger beer for optimal flavor, wear your bib and mop up the sauce with the bread on the table. Thank me later!
328 KATONG LAKSA: This place doles out some of the best laksa (another signature Singaporean dish) in the city. Helmed by a Madam Lucy Koh, who has taken down the likes of Gordon Ramsey, this unassuming spot creates big flavor within the famous noodle soup. 328 Katong Laksa is certainly one of those spots I’d consider an essential of Singapore.
VISIT AS MANY HAWKER CENTERS AS POSSIBLE: Hawker culture is incredible. These buzzing food halls are thriving with artisan food-stands that pump out all kinds of dishes. The atmospheres are perfect for groups of friends to gather and slam beers and crush food.
What I love about the enclaves is that their Hawker Centers have a focus on the culture’s food. For example, I loved Little India’s Hawker Center as it gave me access to dishes I never knew existed in Indian cuisine. Visit as many as you can during your trip to Singapore.
Want an insider’s guide? Check out Chiak Local, operated by celebrated Singaporean food blogger Maureen Ow, who will literally take you around and show you the best of the best.
INDOCHINE: Grab a seat on top of a Singapore’s highest SuperTree when you dine at Indochine. Located in the Gardens by the Bay, I found Indochine’s rooftop bar to be an incredible ending to exploring the futuristic gardens (we’ll get into that later on).
What’s better than slammin’ a Singapore sling whilst having front row seats to some of the city’s most beautiful skyline? Nothing.
Afterwards, head down to the restaurant where you can enjoy everything from cheese broiled lobster, jumbo prawn and tender lamb racks.
Native: If you’re down with cocktail culture like me, consider this a golden ticket into South-East Asia’s obscure bounty. Native’s bar is mysterious, in all the right ways and has a carefully curated menu that invests in ingredients and producers that are all within the region. Experimental recipes create an exciting drinking experience – set some time aside and dive in.
Coconut Club: Coconut reigns supreme at this famous nook of a restaurant in Chinatown. Their passion for coconut pulses through most of Coconut Club’s dishes, most notably the Nasi Lemak; a Malay style rice that is cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf. The result? Sultry, fragant rice that pairs exceptionally well with their Singaporean fried chicken (and of course, a cold Tiger).
Ce La Vi: Located next to the Marina Bay Sands rooftop infinity pool, the view here is something you just don’t want to miss. Though you’ll find a menu of expensive drinks and good-not-great food, the visuals are priceless. Make a reservation at Ce La Vi for sunset time and request a table along the edge and you’ll be treated to an experiential Singaporean moment that will leave your soul and camera feeling real satisfied. At night the space turns into a club-lounge which I will serve your partying needs.
The W Sentosa’s Brunch Buffet: I spent a few nights here and was massively impressed with The W’s brunch buffet at their Kitchen Table restaurant. Combining all sorts of Asian and Western cuisine, the hip space kept my mornings on point. If you’re heading to Sentosa to enjoy one of the island’s various activities, I’d make a stop here and fuel up at the buffet.
The Long Bar at Raffles: The famous Singapore Sling cocktail was created at this bar and in turn has turned the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel into one of the city’s most coveted tourist experiences. Sip on the original tropically infused, hard-hitting drink while being surrounded by an elegant ambiance. Did I mention the giant beers glasses? Because they’re incredible.
Gardens by the Bay & The SuperTrees
The Gardens by the Bay and SuperTrees are symbolic of Singapore’s futuristic place in the world. In fact, if you don’t visit the park, you may not have experienced Singapore in its pure ethos.
I could go on about the Flower Dome, which is home to botanicals from around the globe and features a series of installations that celebrate various flowers from different cultures. I felt blessed to be able to see the Japanese Sakura cherry blossom installation during my visit.
I could blow your mind with the intricate details of the Cloud Forest which simulates a waterfall and the creation of clouds. The whole scene is mesmerizing and illuminates the power of technology.
Or I could inspire you with how the Supertree Grove is a first hand look at the future. Whatever you do, don’t miss the light and music show which takes place at certain times through the night.
But truthfully, the Gardens by the Bay and Supertrees are an adventure within Singapore that you should lose yourself in. Within every attraction you’ll find yourself discovering new truths about our planet and what direction it’s heading in.
Singapore is one of the world’s greatest cities and also one of the most inspiring. This idyllic state of existence has resulted in insanely low crime rates, incomparable cleanliness and a culinary culture that blends various regions of Asia. Be warned, this is not a cheap country to travel to, but it sure is damn worth it (even if just for a few days on a larger South-East Asian adventure).
Let’s kick it off simple, Banff is a damn vibe and just may be the ultimate mountain getaway. The small town has a big presence with a commanding food scene, tailored hospitality and immersive nature experiences that will leave you feeling worlds away.
I ventured out to Banff to create content for the Banff & Lake Louise Tourism Board. The Banff team was very enthusiastic of their town’s evolving food scene, which is filled with nifty cafes, picturesque venues and dynamite chefs. After indulging in the crafts of a few artisans spearheading this forward food march, I’m comfortable vouching for Banff as a valid foodie destination. What makes the town’s food scene unique is that its solitary location has paved the way for a well defined local food culture.
Now let’s not forget what Banff is truly famous for: Its abundance of adventure, which is arguably the core of its entire reputation. For good reason too, as the idyllic town sits in the heart of Banff National Park. You can expect to find a landscape packed with insane lakes, thunderous mountains, wildlife and hikes to see it all. Plus the air is really fresh. I’m talking REALLY fresh.
However what I found most valuable was that Banff is a digestible trip for just about every kind of traveler. I’m someone who appreciates nature, needs good food, loves convenience and enjoys pockets of luxury. I found myself all smiles throughout my trip.
Making the journey to Banff? Here’s some of the essentials:
STAY IN BANFF’S MOUNTAIN CASTLE
The Banff Springs, a Fairmont property, is the crown jewel of the town’s hospitality industry. Straight up. The resort is historic yet modern, channeling rustic vibes without sacrificing luxury and comfort. Banff is an exciting place to be, but you’ll want to make time for the hotel too. Boasting multiple high quality restaurants and bars, as well as a pristine spa, Fairmont’s Banff Springs has become an institution of its own right. (Over 1,000 people work here!)
I highly suggest grabbing a room on the 7th, 8th or 9th floor, which have truly captivating Banff views that made the stay here fully immersive. Which brings me to my next point: Don’t miss the sunrise!
Jet lag was in full swing from my last two travels, but the up side was catching the sunrise every day. Looking outside each morning to see the mountains, rivers and sky lit up in an impressive array of pinks, purples and blues was something I’ll never forget about my time in Banff.
You didn’t properly go to Banff if you don’t make the pilgrimage to Lake Louise. Hop on an adventure with Discover Banff Tours to make the journey enjoyable, easy and informative. Our scenic photo excursion to Lake Louise was perfect for a photographer, which is exactly what I wanted on my visit to the iconic lake.
We saw a so much of Banff’s scenery which evolved throughout the tour wildly, from rivers shrouded in greens to the great lake which was frozen solid. Discover Banff Tours also offers a variety of experiences like wildlife watching, horseback riding, dog sledding, IceWalks, sleigh-rides and more.
Once you make it to the lake a lunch at the Fairmont’s Chateau Lake Louise is a proper move. Their menu is approachable, high quality and pretty damn scenic. The cheesesteak, lobster roll, caesar and French onion worked warmly against a well done Manhattan, making for an epic lunch.
Pro Tip: Skip the crowds and have a table of your choice (go window-side) when you arrive a bit early (11am) to grab your seat.
I only got to view a frozen Lake Louise, and though beautiful, I knew it wasn’t capturing the mesmerizing landscape in all its glory. Just means I’ll have to make my way here when it’s melted and alive. We did have some fun on the frozen lake though!
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO EAT IN BANFF
The food scene in Banff is an excellent companion to the destination’s adventure tourism. I was thoroughly impressed with each of the restaurants, chefs and artisans I found weaved through the mountain town.
Block is a small venue, but its worldly in flavor and hospitality. Especially when its Asian inspiration shines through. The small plates, craft cocktails and artistic design all lend to an intimate experience that is well suited for a party of two. The salmon was zesty, the steak super tender and the maple infused old fashion was choice.
Didn’t make a mistake crushing brunch at Melissa’s Missteak, a Banff staple (according to locals). Inside an impressive log cabin style restaurant awaits warm vibes and hearty cuisine. Goblet mimosas combined with eggs benedict and steak + eggs proved to be a noble brunch choice. I got the New York strip & cheesy scramble, add bacon.
From the moment you board the Banff Gondola and ascend into unparalleled views of the national park, it becomes clear that this experience sits at the top of must do’s while in Banff. Combine that with a top notch restaurant that awaits you on the mountain’s peak and you’ve brought yourself to the summit of Banff’s dining scene.
Sky Bistro was my best meal in Banff. What impressed me most was how the quality of cuisine matched the stunning views of mountain peaks and clouds that surrounded the dining room. The duck wings, zucchini fritters, short ribs, sweet potato gnocchi, brownies and butter tarts are an essential try.
The Bison has all the makings for a memorable Banff meal: It’s regional, well thought out and classy – without the slightest hint of pretentiousness. I was particularly impressed with the joint’s love of cast iron and wood fired flame, which makes for a mean elk ragu that worked excellent in their signature gnocchi poutine. Menu concept is humble but really smart and takes into account a variety of health and lifestyle choices.
I wasn’t able to have a traditional meal at Three Ravens, but I was lucky enough to get a seat to a collaboration dinner between its executive chef, Sébastien Tessier and celebrity chef Anita Lo. The restaurant itself is covered in glass windows which peer out to a scenic display of mountains. A fine dining essence radiates through plating and polished style.
Three Ravens’ ethos matches that of its venue: The Banff Centre, where you can get a healthy dose of creative arts. I would consider both worthy of consideration during your time in Banff.
If you’re a bread lover, keep an eye on The Uprising Bakery‘s effort to get a storefront or finding a place serving their bread. Baker-owner Patrick has dedicated his craft to creating perfect bread and he’s done a damn good job at it. His sourdough and focaccia was particularly impressive.
Banff is a really solid option for a getaway. It’s rich in nature and experiences while its hospitality scene is quite advanced for its small town build. You could probably leave feeling quite accomplished in 3-5 nights. Flights from JFK run about 4 hours to Calgary, which is about an hour and a half from Banff itself.
The more popular Banff gets, the more exclusive the destination will become. Built in a National Park, you won’t find many other hotels being built here due to regulations. The more it achieves in popularity, the scarcer the rooms, so make the journey sooner rather than later! Safe travels.