Annie Scott's Incredible Journeys in 2010
This year, I am thankful and fortunate to have traveled to 16 countries for my work with Luxist, AOL Travel and Gadling, including Austria, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Barbados, England, Scotland, Switzerland, France, Aruba, Curacao, Spain, Zambia, Mexico, Italy, South Africa and within the United States. Some trips were press trips, and others were my own adventures, like my honeymoon in Florence. Each trip had its own merits, but, as this is Luxist, a year-end roundup of the most luxurious places I was lucky enough to visit is called for.
Here are the top five most lavish and thrilling experiences I had in 2010, where I stayed, and a little more information about each of the trips. Perhaps you'll be inspired to take one of these journeys yourself in 2011!
1. Cannes to attend the Cannes Film Festival:
When someone invites you to the Cannes Film Festival, you don't say no -- that's what my husband told me when I was invited last-minute by Stella Artois to spend about 48 crazy hours in France, seeing films and attending parties. I stayed at Le Manoir de L'Etang, a classical French mansion-turned-hotel where Picasso used to stay, just outside of the city. The absolute highlight of this experience was attending the films, because we got (and anyone who attends gets) to walk the red carpet. Fueled by jet lag and plenty of Stella, I was dazzled by the endless photographers shouting and the flashing bulbs. Didn't they know I wasn't famous? Maybe not. Who knows? It was a fine taste of what celebrities go through all the time. If you want to have this experience, it's a little tricky. It's illegal to buy or sell tickets to the Cannes Film Festival, but if you're willing to take some chances, have a look at my article on How to Crash Cannes. And, if you're interested, I also covered the Ridiculously Luxurious Porta-Johns in the VIP lounge.
Gallery: Incredible Journeys of 2010
2. Vienna to attend the Coffeehouse Owners' Ball:
One of my first trips of the year was to Vienna, sponsored by the Vienna Tourist Board, where I stayed at the historic Hotel Imperial and visited J & L Lobmeyr, went to the ballet at the Vienna State Opera House, and, among other things, attended a real-live ball at Hofburg Imperial Palace. As far as I'm concerned, ball season is one of Austria's best-kept secrets. I can't believe more Americans don't go every year to dance in the royal halls in evening gowns, sipping champagne and snacking on fresh oysters into the wee hours -- they must simply not know they can. Well, good news: all you need is to buy a ticket. We dined elegantly and decadently at Hotel Imperial, then rode to the ball in horse-drawn carriages, which any hotel can arrange for you easily (you could take one to the grocery store if you wanted to). Part of the reason the ball in Vienna was so unforgettable was that I had no idea that that kind of Cinderella experience existed anywhere in our modern world. Much to my surprise and delight, the age-old tradition of fairytale balls is alive and well in Austria. Children in Vienna all learn the Viennese Waltz in school as part of their curriculum -- and folks like you and me can take drop-in classes at studios in town to brush up our skills pre-event.
3. Zambia on a safari through Sanctuary Retreats properties with Abercrombie & Kent:
In October, I traveled to Zambia with Abercrombie & Kent to go on safari. Having traveled with A&K before, I knew it would be decidedly comfortable, but I had never imagined the kind of luxury in the bush that Sanctuary Retreats somehow provides, while at the same time making a concerted effort to protect the environment (Luxury in the Bush - 10 Ways to Safari in Style). We didn't just stay close to the African wildlife, we stayed right in the middle of it. Hippos tromped through Sanctuary Zambezi Kulefu Camp all night long, and baboons frequented the balconies at Sanctuary Puku Ridge and Sussi & Chuma. The latter was actually constructed as a treehouse hotel to allow animals like elephants to pass through the camp safely. The tours given by the Sanctuary guides were fascinating; they knew so much about each of the national parks we visited, and the habits of the wildlife within them. For example, en route to Kulefu, we told our guide we hadn't seen any lions close up. He responded "I know where there are some lions," and drove us to a spot where two males had sprawled out in the shade. Other close encounters included three elephants walking an arms length from our safari vehicle, approaching a baby giraffe on foot, and a hippo popping out of the water next to my canoe, scaring the bejesus out of me. The thrill of a safari is hard to match, and when you get to retire to a luxury tent or treehouse each night, knowing that your visit is as eco-friendly as possible and that some of your dollars are helping preserve the wildlife you've seen ... the result is bliss.
4. The Swiss Riviera to meet Claude Nobs, founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival:
The French side of Switzerland captured my heart this May when I visited as a guest of the Swiss National Tourist Office. I had heard Lake Geneva was pretty, but never could have anticipated how full my heart would feel when I stayed at the Angleterre and experienced the scenery from the tremendous Cinq Mondes spa at the Beau Rivage Palace next door. My trip carried on from there through the lakeside vineyards of Chexbres, where Charlie Chaplin once lived, and finished in gorgeous Montreux, where the lakefront is landscaped with endless poppies and other flowers, frivolities like gelato stands and a righteous statue of Freddie Mercury to boot. From the Hotel Tra La La La in Montreux, I took a day trip up the mountainside to Caux, where I visited the home of Claude Nobs, founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival. He graciously played videos of some of his favorite performances from over the years -- in an incredible screening room where the chairs were former first class Swiss International Air seats and the sound was specially wired to sound like a cathedral -- including a rendition of Purple Rain by Prince that brought me to tears. If anything could have made me love the Swiss Riviera more, it would be to have visited during the Montreux Jazz Festival to see Claude's magic come together for myself. It is my hope to attend the festival in this most heavenly setting in the future -- maybe I'll see you there next July.
5. Punta Cana for the launch of Corales Golf Course with Oscar de la Renta:
Last but not least, I visited the PUNTACANA Tortuga Bay Villas, designed by Oscar de la Renta, to attend the opening of The Corales Golf Course and a cocktail party hosted by Oscar himself at his home. The launch of a golf course is one thing -- and in a glamorous, tight-knit haven like Punta Cana, it's a pretty darn good thing -- but the real treat of the trip for me was to visit the home of the De la Rentas, talk to them, pet their dogs and ooh and ahh at their marvelous decor. The exclusive neighborhood in which they live includes magnificent homes belonging to Julio Iglesias and Mikhail Baryshnikov, among others. If you are considering buying a property in the Caribbean, I would highly recommend the real estate (and the weather, and the food) at PUNTACANA. Once you're there, do as the Romans do: start wearing all white every day, opt for red wine even though it's hot out, attend some launches and other community events and you'll be welcomed into their elite society in no time. If you're just visiting, you'll have to settle for Oscar's hotel rooms -- no shoddy consolation prize at the Tortuga Bay Villas where you'll be issued your own golf cart and sunny yellow bicycle.
In conclusion, I am deeply grateful to have had such a beautiful 2010, and it is my hope that 2011, both yours and mine, will continue to bring us to places which exceed our wildest dreams.