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la-magia-de-careyes,-stepha

Careyes is the ultimate in a hot, sexy, Mexican hideaway.  If you’ve never heard of it, it’s by design.  A luxury development tucked away on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Careyes is the home to numerous Sports Illustrated cover shoots, and is the destination of choice for Hollywood types and jet-set internationals for whom privacy is paramount.

It’s not difficult to relax in a place like this, and my first experience with Careyes – on a recent weekend getaway with friends – did not disappoint.  Arrival to our private villa had us feasting on freshly made cheese quesadillas, truly out of sight guacamole, and margaritas, as well as the view from our infinity edge pool overlooking the jagged cliffs and ocean below.  Hello holiday.

While Careyes boasts no shortage of extravagant comforts, the 3,000+ acre property has a decidedly quirky feel reflecting the eclectic taste of its founder, Italian-born financier and artist, Gian Franco Brignone.  His private home fashions an external stairway to the stars with a giant question mark aside a giant explanation point on the roof that must be visible from space.  Signage here and there on the vast property has this same ‘?!’ which a friend says is because when asked ‘why Careyes?’ Giancarlo would say ‘Careyes? Careyes!’   Inside a giant ‘stairway to heaven’ leads to a king size mattress under a huge skylight.  Careyes?!

Stephanie-Johnson,-Careyes,Lazy days consisted of reading by the pool, hiking down the cliffs to an ocean dip in the sea below, following along the rocky coast in a boat for more saltwater swimming, and eating from the gorgeous seaside buffet at the ‘club.’  And massages.  Plenty of them.  At least one a day for at least an hour a piece, on the beach under swaying palms. Crazy nights involved inspired dancing on tabletops under the starry sky and midnight skinny dipping.  Ah, Careyes?!  Yes, Careyes definitely cast its spell.

I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this trip – the brightly-painted bungalows, the seaside revelry, the stunning stretches of beach, and Careyes’s distinctly bohemian sensibility – stayed with me long after my return to Manhattan.  So much so, it’s the inspiration behind our Stephanie Johnson Careyes Collection, new for Spring 2014.  Get to know the Careyes Collection – and take a peek at what I packed for this magical getaway – on next week’s post, Style Guide:  Careyes.

Stephanie-johnson,-careyes,

stephanie-johnson,-hong-kon

If one were to die and go to heaven it may look something like a Cathay Pacific First Class flight.  I was disappointed when I called looking for a mileage ticket in Business Class and none were available.  Alas First was available so First it was.  The only problem being that now that I’ve experienced silver caviar service with handwritten notes, my own 100% organic Cotton PJ’s to sleep in, my very own closet with which to stow my own raggedy sweatpants and hoodie, and enough personal space to accommodate a family of three, as well as a sleeper bed that would easily accommodate me and Erela nestled cozily together, champagne on demand, and service with a smile, how can I ever go back to economy on my beloved Delta?

And so that is how I kicked off another trip to one of my favorite cities, Hong Kong.  The flight was just the beginning though as everything about this city is first class.  Arrival at The Upper House is like arriving home to familiar faces. The staff is young and eager but not fussy and all over you the way some high end hotel staff can often be.  They greeted me with a smile, asked about my daughter, Erela, and presented me with  a proposed  itinerary of new restaurants that I might like based on my previous choices.

The rooms are sublime with sky high views over Victoria Harbor and Kowloon, and as agreed by my driver, simply the best bathrooms anywhere in Hong Kong.  Alana my friend, this is the hotel for you!  In addition to four perfect croissants (I promptly ate them all and there began my gluttonous journey) and coffee, was a gift of some mandarin room spray in a sexy glass and wood bottle upon arrival in my room.  Even the smallest room is a minimum of 750 square feet and has a view.  The real treat here, though, is the staff.  Kristina, who had been helping me arrange several morning and half day hikes,  presented me with my very own book of Hong Kong hikes (another gift!) and the night before departure had another Hong Kong book of collected photos as well as an Upper House duffel bag delivered to my room!  How did they know I’d be coming home with more loot than I had room for in my Rimowa?

Hong Kong is a city that is ripe with all of my favorite things in life:   afternoon tea, reflexology, wonton in noodle soup, and access to nature not too far from the urban excitement.  In addition to working the fabric markets (purpose of my trip after all!), I packed lots of these into my days.

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EAT

Start the day with breakfast (and a view!) at Cafe Gray, including a ten grain cereal with stewed raspberries and a pomelo and grapefruit salad.  Afternoon tea at Le Salon de The at Joel Robuchon (twice) with my favorite jasmine tea and sweet delights that are as pretty as they are good.  Plus I love the oddity of eating in a luxe tea salon located in the middle aisle of a mall with views of the Tom Ford shop from your leather banquet.

Lunch everyday at one noodle shop or another.  I hit my old favorite in the Meekok district, sampled new fare at Tim Ho Wan, and on my last day I stumbled upon Mak’s Noodle on Wellington Street.  Tim Ho Wan has numerous locations (and a Michelin star to boot!) and in addition to wontons in noodle soup, they have a full menu including some seriously sweet BBQ pork buns (as well as accolades from folks like Anthony Bourdain).   Mak’s is straight up noodles  and wontons and might be my favorite.  They make the dishes in the window and their dumplings are extra tiny which I like.  None of these places have napkins though and if they do, expect to pay for them.

I skipped dinner most nights due to jet lag but did make it across the street to the Asia Society of the Arts which houses the intimate AMMO restaurant.  They offer mostly pasta dishes featuring seafood and urchin, and I was ready for pasta after a marathon week of dim sum and dumplings.  Although I didn’t eat there, I did pop into Duddell’s one day when I was in the neighborhood.  A mostly expat escape with a clubby feel and a charming garden amidst the skyscrapers.

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DO

This trip I took advantage of the beautiful hiking Hong Kong has available.  A half day trip to Lamma Island included a ferry ride to and fro (one has to see Hong Kong island from the water!), a nice hike and a seaside lunch at the port.  Another morning had me hiking a portion of the famed Dragon’s Back trail in Shek O Country Park.  My favorite was the hike I took the morning I left.  Peak Tram to the peak!  Nice little hike along the circle path (which would have had insane vistas if it hadn’t been so hazy), and a hike straight down again to Central.

Due to strict orders from the chiropractor (that I mostly follow), I rarely indulge in full body massages and have taken to reflexology instead.  There is no shortage of foot massage spots in Hong Kong but this time I discovered my happy place (thanks to the ladies at the Upper House).  Ten Feet Tall is a laid back oasis with a beach vibe.  White washed wood walls and floors remind you of a private beach club cabana, with privacy curtains and a personal drawer in which to charge your iPhone or Blackberry.  I dimmed my lights, hydrated with coconut water served in the coconut, and settled in for necessary relaxation.  Twice.   At $35 bucks for 50 minutes I would have treated myself daily, but alas the time!

Next time I’m bringing Erela and I really am going to go to Disneyland!

stephanie-johnson,-hong-kon

Stephanie-Johnson,-Tennis,-

The tranquil paradise of the Big Island of Hawaii offers so much to experience, I couldn’t confine my ten day visit to just one post.  For tips on my favorite Big Island resorts and must-pack items, check out Destination Hawaii, Part One.  Then read on below for Part Two of my Hawaiian adventure!

DO

The Fairwind II is a large catamaran that takes you out for a BBQ lunch and snorkel cruise.  I’m not a big ‘group’ person and I absolutely loved this trip.  The staff was A+.  My finicky four-year-old lasted all of 30 seconds with her snorkel and mask and was able to trade them in for a more manageable wave board with a clear window to view the fish below.  The diving board and slide on board feel Disney-fied, but are an absolute blast.  If you are traveling without children in tow you may want to try the more civilized Hula Kai luxury tour.  www.fair-wind.com

After such success aboard the Fairwind, I really got into being on the water and booked us a sunset cruise aboard the Winona at Mauna Lani Sea Adventures.  My daughter protested.  Sounds like a snore.  She ate her words after we were treated to a mama and baby whale that took a liking to us and shared over an hour of our journey with us.  The captain said they maybe get a show like that once a season.  I may have cried and can assure you I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than a mother and her nursing baby whale hugging our vessel.   I will definitely book that trip again.

Check out Rudy and Leanne at the tennis pavilion at The Fairmont Orchid.  This ten court Tennis Center is consistently ranked as one of the tops in the U.S. and these guys are the reason why.  Their drills and kick ass clinics made my trip.

I was the girl in junior high that climbed the high dive while everyone waited to see me make a glorious splash, only to be disappointed when I turned around humiliated and climbed back down the stairs.  So although my spunky and fearless four-year-old was game for a zip line experience, my fear of heights kept us beach bound.  However if it is adventure you want, try the Umauma falls and zipline experience.   I can’t speak from experience but the word is they are the absolute best.

If you stay at the Orchid make sure you connect with Rachel, one of their concierges, before you go.  She is incredibly knowledgeable and has the gift of ‘getting you,’ so have her plan both your dining reservations/recommendations and your island adventures.

EAT

I tend not to be a resort restaurant kinda girl but sometimes you just can’t get away from it.  Hawaii can be one of those destinations where ‘local’ dining can sometimes be a predicament.  The fact that my daughter ate free was another motivator for staying on property.  We had beautiful meals surf side at both Brown’s Beach House at the Fairmont and Canoe House at the neighboring Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows.  Napua is a beachfront restaurant at the Mauna Lani Beach Club that felt more like a secret, and we ate poke there for lunch almost every day.

Monstera is a great sushi option off resort.  Trust Chef Norio to prepare the most delicious and fresh combinations of fish and you won’t be disappointed.  Another off property must is the Seafood Bar & Grill.  Finally a place that had a real old Hawaiian feel with a menu to match.  The breakfast buffet is sort of a tradition on any Hawaiian vacay but one morning I felt obliged to try pancakes ‘as big as your head’ at Hawaiian Style Cafe.  If brown breakfast food is your thing (think coffee, toast, pancakes, French toast, SPAM, yes SPAM) then this is your dream destination.  Although I dug the local vibe (only sit at the counter), I admit I was missing those fresh squeezed guava and lilikoi juices back at the hotel buffet.

Stephanie-Johnson,-Hawaii,-

 

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