6 Day Switzerland Ski Trip — March, 2012

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The Swiss Alps are legendary for beautiful scenery, chic resorts and the most varied skiing in the world. Here are some tips for making your trip one to remember.

Depart: Washington, DC on the evening of March 3 and arrived in Geneva, Switzerland the next morning
Return: Left Geneva on the morning of March 11 and arrived at JFK later that afternoon

Our itinerary: Three days skiing in Crans-Montana (a magnificent ski resort in southwestern Switzerland) and two days in Verbier. We loved it so much we went back for one more day in Crans-Montana.

It’s probably not worth it, price-wise, to carry skis all the way to Europe. Just bring your boots and rent skis there. The skis for rent were great and made life a lot easier for traveling.

If you can, definitely rent a car. It made it much easier in getting from town to town. Give Auto Europe a try for a great selection of cars, including luxury vehicles. The train is fairly limited in terms of where you can go and when it travels. A car was extremely useful in getting between Crans and Verbier.

Make sure you plan to get a mountain guide in Verbier. It was well worth the money and very much needed in order to truly see the mountain and everything it had to offer.

Where to Stay
Breathtaking views and impeccable service make Le Crans one of the best hotels in the region. It’s a bit like having your own personal chalet in the Alps. The hotel restaurant, LeMontblanc, serves exceptional food and has an extensive wine list.

In Verbier, Le Chalet d’Adrien offers ski in/ski out service and charming, comfortable rooms with fireplaces.

Where to Eat in Verbier
For lunch, Fer a Chaval is a relaxed place with good pizza. It’s also a traditional stop for après-ski, with most of the clientele still dressed in their ski pants. Daily specials are also good and cheap for the area.

A bit off the beaten path, La Marlenaz is a hidden gem. Delicious food with a great view from the terrace.

If you’re tired of raclette and fondue, give Nomad Sushi a try. The sushi is fresh and delicious, but it’s often packed.

The best restaurant in Verbier — and probably the best restaurant in the whole country — is Le Restaurant Pierroz in Hotel Rosalp. The food is light and modern with many locally-sourced specialties. Extremely pricey and reservations are required.

Where to Eat in Crans Montana

Cafe Cher-Mignon has a fun pub-like atmosphere and delicious food. Can be a bit noisy and rowdy as it’s one of the area’s most popular eateries. Not actually in town, you’ll need to drive here.

You might not think of the Swiss Alps as a great place for Thai food, but Le Thai is a must-visit. Fun and modern atmosphere. The place is small so make your reservation in advance.

Partly named for its location at an altitude of 2006 meters, Amadeus 2006 is the perfect stop for lunch after a morning on the slopes. Enjoy a cheeseburger or panini while you take in the amazing views.

5 Days at Sundance 2013

Sundance is the world’s best independent film festival — but it’s so much more. Here are our secrets to making the most of your trip.

Getting There

January 17-21, 2013

This year’s festival started Thursday, January 17 and ended on Sunday, January 27. We flew Delta from LAX to Salt Lake City. Something to keep in mind: Delta charges more for each bag you book if you don’t have status — $25 for the first bag and $35 for each after. There is Wi-Fi on the Delta flights from LAX to SLC.

We strongly advise private transportation for getting from Salt Lake City airport to Sundance. When we arrived on Thursday, the lines for the shared shuttle services were all the way across the airport. Even the private cars are a mess to find. If you booked in advance, be sure you have their phone number to locate, as there are massive amounts of them. Private cars are usually waiting outside door 13 by luggage claim.

Book your car far ahead of time — if you don’t, you may end up in a regular car or SUV, not a black car or town car. The private cars get sold out for Sundance so they must call in backup drivers. We used Peak Transportation, about $140 up to Deer Valley. Arrive early in the day to avoid some of this congestion at the airport and also choose a better room when you get to the hotel.

Where to Stay

Almost all hotel rooms must be booked through the Sundance website. Sundance books out all the rooms except for some at the major high end resorts. Since the festival takes most of the rooms, the hotels don’t give much priority except on a first come first serve basis — get there early in the day to snag your room. You’ll pay for the lodging upfront, usually just the first night and then the balance before you arrive. Expect rates around $800-$900 per night.

We stayed at what we think is the best lodge in town, Stein Ericksen Lodge in Deer Valley. Call Stein’s directly and they usually keep aside a few rooms. It’s even better to do this a little later, as they get some cancellations from the festival they try and backfill. Stein’s boasts the best ambiance and service in the state (it’s Utah’s only five star hotel) and has an old school charm that is unparalleled. The well-appointed rooms are equipped with mini kitchens so you can keep groceries in the room for breakfast and snacks. Shuttles to and from town every half hour make getting around a breeze. Stein’s is the best if you want the best ski in/ski out spot in Deer Valley. The hotel has ski in/ski out access in the center of the mountain and sells lift passes — you can literally ski right on the lift from the hotel! The après-ski scene at Stein’s is also fun, with great food and drinks.

Two other popular hotels for Sundance are St. Regis and Montage. St. Regis has a younger vibe, and the hippest après-ski bar in the area. It draws a lot of non-skiers as well. Montage has a much sleepier feel and, in our opinion, not as much character.

Restaurants

Best restaurants in town in this order: Talisker on MainRiverhorse, Yuki Arashi and Shabu. Dinner reservations during the festival are a must so start booking them as early as possible — most reservations start on January 1. If you don’t want to handle it yourself, your concierge can book them for you. If you couldn’t get a reservation, try the sushi places. They’re the best spots without a reservation because they have bar and table space. Our favorites are Shabu and Yuki Arashi.

Nightlife

Each year brings pop-up bars, out-of-town bars that rent the actual bar and restaurant spaces on Main Street just for Sundance. This year’s pop-up bars were Nikki Beach, Tao, Gansevort and House of Blues among others. Tao operates every year and is the only place in town that can serve alcohol after 2 a.m. It’s by far the biggest and craziest party in town. It’s also very difficult to get in — this is the favorite party spot for all the celebrities in that scene — and you must know someone involved. Worth the effort though! Parties in Sundance wind down about Tuesday in the first week and town becomes much more mellow. Need a ride back to your hotel after a late night? Uber car service now works in Park City!  Make sure you download it on your phone before you go.

Skiing

The real secret of Sundance? The skiing is amazing. There are no lift lines at all since most people are at the festival. You can even get a free lift ticket at any of the ski resorts if you fly in and ski the same day.  Just make sure you keep your boarding pass! Deer Valley has the best skiing (and great food) but doesn’t allow snowboarders. If you’re with snowboarders you have to go to Park City or Canyons.

 

4 Days in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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With its scenery and beautiful people, Rio is the perfect getaway for the guys (or girls). 

Getting There and Back

Departed: JFK to GIG
Returned: GIG to JFK
Took a much-needed winter vacation with friends, leaving chilly North America for the sunny beaches of Rio de Janeiro. We flew out from JFK and arrived at International Airport Galeão in Rio at 10:40 the next day. It’s a long trip, so book your seats in business class for seats that recline like beds. I advise catching red-eye flights each way to avoid missing any days.

Food at the Rio airport stinks! Eat before you leave for your flight or on the flight home.

We paid $300BRA for a van for our group of 10 from the airport to the hotel. It’s $90BRA per person for a single reserved ride from the airport to Marina All Suites.

Hotels

We stayed at the Marina All Suites in Leblon — the most exclusive neighborhood in Rio. It’s hard to beat this hotel for price and location. It’s right on the beach, with beach service available (chairs, towels and umbrella). The rooftop pool and fitness center  has a great view and there’s a fun bar scene — Bar d’Hotel and Bar do Lado are very popular, chic nightspots.

Beware of a possible bait-and-switch on the Marina All Suites and the Marina Palace. We read this in the reviews and it was certainly true. In our booking, we only discussed the Marina All Suites but when we received the confirmation they put us in the Marina Palace. We were able to move some of our rooms back over to the Marina All Suites.

The Marina Palace is not a bad hotel, but it’s inferior to Marina All Suites. Located just two buildings over from Marina All Suites, Marina Palace is also located on the beach but it doesn’t have a fun bar or nightlife scene. There are renovated and non-renovated rooms available. The renovated rooms are nice and clean.

Another hotel to consider is Fasano Hotel, with its modern design and efficient service. The hotel offers a fitness center, a great spa and a very fun bar scene. However, the location is inferior to the Marina Hotel and you need to taxi everywhere.

What to Do

Located between Pedra da Gávea and Tijuca Forest, Gavea Golf and Country Club is a beautiful private golf course in a jungle setting, just a $20BRA cab ride from our hotel. On our cab ride to the club we passed through some of the poorer Rio neighborhoods — it was pretty hard to imagine such a prestigious club in the area. However, be wary of the cost. They charge for every single thing you could possibly imagine — they even tried to charge for umbrellas when it was raining! But if you’re into golf, a trip here is highly recommended. We paid $350BRA per player for one round, $50 for golf club, $100 for a caddy for each player (required) and $200BRA per golf cart.

Marina da Gloria is just 25 minutes from hotel so we thought a day on the water would be fun. You can rent a boat for a 6-hour tour and lunch stop in Itaipu (home of the world’s largest dam). Half the deposit is required upfront to reserve the boat. The approximate cost for 10 people is $1,300. Although we booked a boat trip — we rented a 36’ speed boat named Cheers — we opted not to take it due to rainy weather. It seemed like they were available every day, so you don’t necessarily need to book them ahead of time since you must put up half of the deposit upfront.

We had a great time taking in a soccer game at Rio’s Maracana stadium. We signed up for the group experience which was very costly, but still great fun. If you go through the hotel, which seemed like the only option, they definitely rip you off. We paid $350BRA per person for the tickets plus transportation and a guide. Then we found out it wasn’t private transportation and the actual tickets we got were $30BRA per person. We ended up just paying for our own transportation and ditching the guide. It was great actually seeing the championship team. Things to know: there is no assigned seating in the stadium and no alcohol for sale. Eat before or after the game because the food sold in the stadium was awful. While it’s safe in the stadium, it’s not safe to walk around outside the stadium, which is located in a favela. Leave early to avoid the crowds emptying the stadium.

On the Beach

Leblon and Ipanema are the best and safest beaches to sun, swim and watch the girls walk by in Rio. Leblon beach was right across from our hotel, and our hotel had stations where they set up beach chairs and umbrellas. The water isn’t extremely warm but on a nice hot day, it feels great. Beware of the sun, it’s really strong by the equator. Everyone in our group got burned, even applying sunscreen. We highly recommend using California Tan SPF 30 Broad Spectrum. Stay hydrated! The fresh coconut water on the beach in Leblon was safe and delicious.

Restaurants

Bibi Café is the perfect place to grab a quick breakfast in the morning in Leblon. Get the Acai yogurt with granola and a coconut water each morning for a healthy start to your day. For lunch, try the Café at the Leblon Design Mall. The café boasts quick service and good Italian food.

For dinner, a must-visit is Sushi Leblon.  This is the best sushi restaurant in town, as well as the place to see and be seen. The sushi was fresh and fantastic. If you can’t get into Sushi Leblon, because it does get crowded each night, there are several other restaurants across the street. Most are a mix of Italian and tapas food. All are pretty trendy and fun with a good scene.

Brazil is meat-eating country. Rio’s Brazilian steakhouses — called churrascarias — are all pretty similar, so pick the one in Leblon or Ipanema. We made the trip to Porcao’s but didn’t find it worth the 30-minute drive.

Nightclubs

Clubs get going around midnight in Rio. Be aware of the special process they use in nightclubs in Brazil: You get an entrance card to use to rack up your tab all night at the bar, then you pay the cover plus your tab as you leave. This process is to avoid the people inside handling cash and stealing money. There is a long line when leaving the club because you have to pay to leave the club so try to make your exit before the club closes. Champagne and bottles of vodka were about $100 per bottle.

We had heard a lot about Melt, a live music club with a great location, but we didn’t think it had a great scene. Rio Scenario was another we didn’t think worth the drive or long line to get in. Miroir is a very cool club with great clientele, but it’s really crowded. The location is awesome with a cool view — directly in front of the statue of Christ. They play fantastic house music and feature a rotating lineup of the hottest up-and-coming DJs. Another bonus is it’s just a 20-minute drive from Leblon on the lagoon.

Our favorite spot was probably Barzin, which is fun and trendy. Located on the third level of a restaurant, Barzin has good music and a vibrant atmosphere. There’s an upstairs VIP area where you can hang with your friends. The nightclub also has a great location in Ipanema not too far from our hotel.

For drinks, the bars around Leblon are definitely worth a visit. It’s fun and safe all over Leblon, and there are great spots to hang out from 10 p.m. to midnight. Plus, you can actually have a conversation prior to hitting the loud, later hours clubs.

Quick Tips While in Rio:

  • Most places, including your hotel, let you put things on your room and pay by credit card (extra charge of 10%). If you pay in cash you can avoid this 10% surcharge.
  • Look for Citibank ATMs or ATMs that say “24 hour” on them — the 30 hour ATMS and others will not work with US debit cards.
  • American Express doesn’t charge you foreign charges when traveling abroad.
  • Admirals Club in Rio was decently comfortable and had showers, but I wouldn’t say it was very nice (Note: A new Admirals Club is being built in 2013 in preparation for the Olympics)
  • Make sure you leave plenty of time to get your visa for Brazil (this can be quite a hassle).
  • Use Wi-Fi at hotels and restaurants to avoid roaming charges on your phone.
  • Don’t wear nice watches or flashy jewelry and don’t carry too much cash on you at one time.
  • Get corporate rates on the hotels and you can get 50% off the room rates (JP Morgan rate works great).
  • It’s a three-hour time change from New York.