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Marbella’s chicest family-friendly resort, favorite hotels on the Pacific Coast Highway, a spontaneous trip to Israel & Jordan, and the Navigator who’ll plan your trip to Morocco’s hidden corners
YOU ASKED FOR IT
“Any recs for beautiful towns/hotels on the Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Barbara and San Francisco?”
One of my favorite restaurants in the world is Bell’s in Los Alamos (we wrote about it in our Summer 2021 U.S. issue). I like it the most for lunch—and while everything on the menu is incredible, the egg-salad sandwich is something I dream about. In fact, I’ve almost driven there from LA just for lunch. I know that the Los Alamos/Los Olivos/Santa Ynez area isn’t on the coast, but since you have to drive inland after Santa Barbara, it’s a worthy stop to consider. Some great places to stay in the area too: Hotel Ynez, Skyview Los Alamos, Hotel Alamos Motel, and the new Auberge resort, the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern. Just writing about this makes me realize we need to do a whole big story there, so stay tuned for that!
Moving north and over to the coast, if you love old school, you must stop at the Madonna Inn, if only for a coffee and a bathroom break. (I’m totally bypassing San Luis Obispo because I never stop there, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t! Also, you’ll need to fact check what is open and closed on the PCH between Morro Bay and Big Sur, because if roads are closed due to all the rains/slides, you’re better off sticking to the 101 and cutting over to Carmel and backtracking to Big Sur if that’s on your agenda.) In Morro Bay, stop at the little Morro Bay Oyster Company stand and get a dozen oysters looking out at the water that they came from that morning. There’s a good taco spot in town on your way north called Taco Temple—it’s not for the purist as it’s a very California approach to Mexican food, but it is great. Cayucos is the next town up—for years I would say my dream was to have an avocado farm inland and live in Cayucos (hmm need to revisit that!). Years ago there used to be a very charming inn there, but it closed and I haven’t personally been back in a while, so I don’t have a rec there…but if you’re there for the nature, it may not matter so much, especially if it’s just one night. There are plenty of ‘70s-era sort of generic but family owned motel/hotel setups further up in Cambria. A while ago we stayed at the Lucia Lodge, which is probably the best-sited hotel I’ve ever stayed at. It’s very sweet but not renovated or Luxury, so if you want sexy views, continue up to the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur. Also in the Big Sur area we love the historic Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn—bear in mind the walls are paper thin and it’s funky. And on the hippie side of things, there is Esalen, which I’ve never stayed at, but plenty of my SF friends love and drive to as a weekend getaway. My favorite beach of all time is in Point Lobos State Park (China Cove Beach), which you’ll pass as you head north to Carmel. I never spend time in Carmel (a big shame, I know), but we have a Postcard about it here. Santa Cruz is also a worthy stop, but you’ll have to do your own research on it as I always drive right through. I do make a stop at the Pezzini Farms just off the highway in Castroville to get a steamed artichoke. My next favorite stops before you get up to SF are Pescadero, where I make a bee-line for Duarte’s Tavern for lunch—usually something made with artichokes, maybe a crab cioppino, and followed by a piece of their homemade pie. For an overnight, I love the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay, right on the ocean. And then we drive into the town of Half Moon Bay and have dinner at one of our favorite Japanese restaurants, Sushi on Main Street.
GUEST BOOK: The Marbella Club, Andalusia, Spain
Best for…A private, laid-back, family-friendly vacation
The look and feel… You turn off a busy highway into a driveway and are immediately hit with the tranquility of this legendary hotel on the southern Costa del Sol, built in 1954 on a 10-acre former finca. Lush subtropical gardens and green grounds are dotted with white Spanish villas and stretch down to a staircase leading to the beach club and glittering ocean. Marbella’s reputation for yachts, magnums and luxury boutiques doesn’t do justice to the authenticity of the region and splendid nature found in it.
We first came to The Marbella Club with our toddler daughter two years ago just looking for someplace that welcomes kids and is reliably sunny in the early spring, and loved its ease and beauty so much that we returned a year later. The hotel was, in fact, conceived as a family-style retreat by Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe, who was inspired by motels he’d visited on his travels in the U.S., where he studied agriculture in his 20s (and may have spent more time partying with Hollywood celebrities). But it is a much more sophisticated take on the usual kids-club style resort (though it does have a great one), where guests stay in private enclaves of two-story whitewashed Andalusian houses with terracotta rooftops. Whether the look is inspired by traditional fishing villages or the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture of California, it’s unclear—either way, the feeling is secluded and intimate. No wonder it’s attracted everyone over the years from dethroned European royalty to Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Sean Connery and The Rolling Stones.
The rooms… Each of the 130 rooms (78 family suites and 14 villas) is a bit different, but all are bright and airy—a blend of rustic Spanish finca style and a recent modern refresh by Marie-Caroline Willms. We stayed in a deluxe garden suite, which had a gorgeous sitting room in colorful natural fabrics, a large bedroom with a canopy bed, and a private garden with lemon trees, a small fountain and sun beds. The bathroom tub was great for a toddler, who even got her own towel poncho and little slippers.
The wellness… There’s a natural seawater pool at the beach club and a freshwater pool in the garden. We loved the beach club pool from morning until lunch, and in the afternoons we retreated to the garden pool, where the sun was more warming and the patio scented by citrus blooms. The excellent gym has Pilates reformers and pretty much any equipment you can think of, a yoga space and a garden for meditation. The Thalasso Spa is a great place to unwind on a lounger after a lymphatic drainage treatment with a cup of the hotel’s own herbal tea, looking out at the sparkling sea. The beach promenade is great for long walks or runs, which we did each evening at sunset with the stroller. There’s also horseback riding, tennis and golf.
The food…There are several restaurant and bar options. The MC beach restaurant is literally on the sand and takes a cue from Malaga’s traditional chiringuitos: the grilled sardines are delicious. Also by the sea is The Beach Club restaurant, which has that perfect relaxed throw-on-a-kaftan vibe for lunch reminiscent of 1950s Acapulco, where they serve up incredible greens, seafood, and homemade tortillas and guac. The Pool Garden does fresh salads as well as drinks and smoothies. For dinner, The Grill is all old-school classic with silver service, white tablecloths, and an open-fire grill (get the whole grilled fish). The newcomer and our go-to was El Patio, overseen by a Calabrian and Turkish chef who turned out some of the best Mediterranean food we’ve ever had, with an Italian pizzaiolo—we still dream of the appetizer crisp bread with za’atar and labneh. The hotel bar Rudi’s is hidden next to The Grill and has a gorgeous 1,001 Nights-style interior.
Extra tip goes to… Maria in reception greeted us with warm familiarity and continued to be of great and kind assistance during our stay. The service is uniformly excellent, perhaps a legacy of the fact that the Prince brought the original staff from his castle—and many are second generation. They are particularly solicitous of children and greeted our daughter with a welcome basket of beautifully curated toys and snacks.
Kids club… Natural, beautiful and Montessori-inspired, with activities like an aroma workshop where children can mix herbs to create their own perfumes, cooking, music and dance, a vegetable and herb garden with tiny wheelbarrows, all things arts & crafts, and a wooden playground. Our daughter loved the pretend play of farming and “cooking,” and the natural playground was a hit—we used it as we usually do visits to playgrounds at home, to break up the day with some fun together.
Be sure to… Visit Marbella’s Old Town. Roughly 30 minutes on foot from the hotel along the promenade, it is a must. With its white houses and historical buildings decorated with colorful flowers, the town dates to the 15th century. Walk its narrow streets shopping for Andalusian-style kaftans or sandals in one of the small boutiques. The center of Old Town is Plaza De Los Naranjos (orange square), which is surrounded by cafes and shaded by fragrant orange blossoms. We would sit here in the afternoons, sipping fresh orange juice and cortados and people-watching, or in Alameda Park in the shade of ferns and palm trees, watching the fountain from one of the hand-painted benches called azulejos. There’s also a lovely carousel and playground. Don’t miss Avenida Del Mar, the pedestrian passage connecting the town with the promenade, to see the statues by Salvador Dali, who used to vacation here.
Parting words… Visit in the off-season—it was magical having so much space, but there were also plenty of guests during both of our stays, so it never felt empty, just balanced, with perfectly mild temperatures. We felt so welcomed with our daughter, and therefore we were all relaxed. We’ll be returning for sure!
Dates of stay… March 2022 and January 2023
JUST BACK FROM: Israel and Jordan
By Frank Herrmann
Petra has been on my mind since I was a little boy—the desert, the history and the culture have always interested me, not to mention the image of Indiana Jones in front of the Treasury in the closing scene of The Last Crusade. My partner and I had been wanting to do the trip for quite a while but were delayed due to the pandemic, so when we saw a gap in our travel schedule, we jumped. However, we didn’t want to spend too much time on the trip as we have many others planned this year, so flying from Zurich for six days seemed doable, allowing time for Tel Aviv, where we’ve been before and very much love the vibe and energy.
We landed in Tel Aviv on a Thursday evening and headed directly for dinner at Romano, which has an edgy-industrial feel and a party-like atmosphere. The food is an Ottolenghi-esque mix of Israeli/Lebanese; order the meal family style so you can try several dishes. (Other favorites for Middle Eastern cuisine with a modern twist that we didn’t have time for on this trip are North Abraxas and Popina; for both, get a seat at the bar and be prepared for the alcohol shots sent directly from the kitchen, where the crew sometimes joins in with loud music and signing.)
We checked into the Hotel Montefiore, which is centrally located yet on a quiet street and has an eclectic style that we like. Plus, they have a stellar brunch that draws an international crowd—the terrace is the perfect place to kick off the day with a fierce Bloody Mary. (For a budget option, try any of the Brown hotels—we’ve liked staying at the Brown BoBo, which is run by a nice young staff who are always up for a beer on the house to chat you up about the latest-and-greatest in Tel Aviv.)
After brunch the next morning, we took the Tel Aviv Bauhaus Walking Tour guided by renowned architect-turned-photographer, Yigal Gawze (firstname.lastname@example.org). Tel Aviv has one of the biggest intact examples of Bauhaus architecture: among other things, you learn how the architects planned the quarter with a clear design in mind, with the width of the streets corresponding to the height of the buildings—so fascinating.
In the afternoon, we continued to Jerusalem via taxi, where we wanted to stay in the middle of the Old City, so we chose the hostel-like Österreichische Hospiz Jerusalem. It’s very basic but has loads of charming elements and even its own chapel. They also serve tasty wiener schnitzel, kässpätzle and apfelstrudel, and the Austrian wines are not bad, either. For the following day, we hired a guide and started the tour at the Hospiz’s rooftop to get a lovely overview of Jerusalem’s Old Town. The Temple Mount—Judaism’s holiest site—is just a stone’s throw away. As it was Saturday (the sabbath) the city was quiet, with all stores shuttered, a contrast to the bustling Muslim and the Armenian Quarters. For dinner we loved The Culinary Workshop a bit outside the walls of the Old Town (go for the incredibly good brisket). We left Jerusalem in awe—such a rich history, such a melting pot of religions and cultures.
We decided to book a guided tour to see Wadi Rum and Petra, returning to Tel Aviv. We googled a tour operator—there are many and you can choose between private, mid-size or bigger groups—and we wound up joining a small group bus tour, which took us to the beach city of Eilat before crossing the Israeli-Jordan border in Aqaba. Going with a tour operator can help with border crossings, which can be quite time-consuming.
In Jordan, our first stop was Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon—a vast desert perhaps best known for being the setting for many scenes in Lawrence of Arabia. We did the touristy walk in the desert and a Jeep tour, which was actually a great experience. Once there, you sleep in one of the many Wadi Rum Bedouin camps; there are many to choose from depending on your budget and we were told the difference between them is not that big. (This one comes highly recommended.)
The next day we continued to Petra, the ancient archeological site carved out of pink sandstone cliffs that was once the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. Here we jumped in for our first tour of the archeological site, walking all the way from the Visitor’s Center to the famously ornate Treasury building. It was so impressive to imagine how the Nabataeans had designed the site in the third century BC for everything from defense to water control, and the proportions of the ancient Treasury seem so modern—we loved it! Afterwards, we walked back to Petra town, which is very touristy and not very pretty. We had a solid lunch at Sandstone, where they served alcohol (keep in mind that you are in a Muslim country and they only serve alcohol in a few places). We picked the day tour on purpose first so that we could also enjoy a “Petra by Night” tour, which happens only on certain days—they light thousands of candles in the canyon and many more in front of the Treasury. (Go early, as it can get crowded and the impressive effect of the candles will dim with too many people; also leave early if it gets too crowded as you don’t want to get caught in the masses.) They also have a little light and music show. We walked through by the light of the full moon, with no clouds obscuring our view of the stars in a pitch-black sky. The following day we started early around 7am (ahead of the tourist wave) and started exploring Petra all the way to The Monastery, then worked our way back. The whole experience at Petra was so worth it—the little boy in me was not disappointed.
We then had a long schlep back to Tel Aviv—with border crossings and bad weather it took us a total of eight hours. After a rejuvenating long sleep-in, we were able to tour the Jaffa Hotel—formerly the old French hospital—to see the stunning design by John Pawson, masterminded by Aby Rosen. If you peek in (or better yet, stay here), make sure that the hotel staff shows you the chapel—a great spot for a party. We ended our quick adventure here at Golda’s Deli, enjoying their amazing bagels with good Israeli wine (I recommend Dalton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon), before flying back to Zurich. But we know we will be back soon.
A few things to think about…
- The border crossing between Israel and Jordan takes time, so plan accordingly and have cash, credit cards and passports on hand for a “visa by entry.” Also check beforehand which border-crossing you plan to take to avoid surprises; some are not official crossings and won’t provide a visa, in which case you would need to get your visa from the Jordanian embassy before traveling. We used the crossing at Aqaba and had the assistance of our bus operator.
- Transportation: When you travel like we did, bear in mind that you will need two buses—one bus for Israel and one for the Jordan side—as no private car is allowed to cross the border. The tour operators are quite used to it and get you through this process smoothly; definitely an advantage compared to you organizing it yourself. If you want to drive yourself, fly into Amman and rent a car there, then drive south to see Petra and Wadi Rum.
- Petra Town itself is nothing to write home about; don’t expect too much when it comes to hotels/restaurants, etc.
- If you want to maximize your time and cut the trip short, arrange your trip so that you get to Petra in the afternoon, check into your hotel, explore “Petra by Night,” and then start early as described above and return to Israel just afterwards.
Frank Hermann is a Zurich-based strategy management consultant and the other half of #f2ontour, who always has a little calendar with him outlining a three-month rolling itinerary of places to see with a focus on architecture, art and history. Next up: Menorca, Le Perche, Patmos, Ibiza, Hydra, and Ali.
Alex Wix, cofounder, Wix Squared
Tell us about you/your company.
I have worked in the travel industry since 2007. Initially I specialized in Asia and headed up a team at one of the top tour operators in London, focusing on bespoke experiential travel and traveling frequently to that part of the world. In 2012 I continued working as a travel expert and based myself out of Morocco. I traveled extensively in Morocco and launched Wix Squared in 2017—a tour operator with a similar ethos whereby each itinerary is planned with precision and care, focusing on high end tailor-made experiences predominantly to Asia and Morocco.
What’s the entry level to talk to you?
I am delighted to talk to anyone about any part of the world and after an initial conversation I will work on a unique itinerary that reflects our discussions. Given the nature of the destinations and complexity of the itineraries, Wix Squared tends to have a 5-night minimum requirement, normally with 4-5*+ level accommodation, and we arrange meetings with interesting and knowledgeable characters as well as organizing unusual experiences.
What is the sweet spot of your expertise?
All of our itineraries are based on first-hand knowledge. Having been based in Morocco for over 10 years, I meet the clients personally when they arrive in Marrakech and am regularly testing and trialing restaurants, shops, hotels, guides and experiences all around the country and beyond.
A favorite experience/trip you’ve planned that best represents your philosophy…
Our mystery travel trips are the most fun to plan. We arranged one for a single female traveler and after an initial conversation with her around her likes, dislikes, budget and dates to travel, we planned a surprise trip to Morocco. She was informed to be ready to leave her house at X time on X date to be taken to the airport. We had sent her a packing list and asked her to download our app. She was met outside her house by our driver and upon arriving at the airport the driver handed over her e-tickets. Despite the destination being Marrakech upon arrival, she was met and whisked off to a secret location outside of Marrakech from where her adventure began. Each day involved interesting characters/guides/her driver meeting with her and giving her clues to the next activity/meal/place to stay. For example, a picture of a door would appear on her app… “find this door and you will find lunch!” A bottle of her favorite gin was delivered to a remote mountain retreat, hammams and massages booked, secret trails to follow by dune buggy and many other surprises incorporated into her trip and tailored to her initial brief.
A favorite hotel/lodge/house you love and go back to again and again…
Alila Jabal Akhdar in Oman has some of the most stunning views I have witnessed overlooking a canyon where you can hike a via ferrata, rock climb, or just explore beautiful untouched local villages. The food is delicious and the hotel is an excellent value.
The most memorable meal you’ve had while traveling…
We discovered a hidden, nondescript local Japanese bar recommended by a resident in Kyoto. The place could not have seated more than 6 people (the other 3 customers were Japanese). The whole menu was in Japanese and the chef spoke no English. Our friend ordered for us and I still recall every dish to this day, accompanied by a few glasses of sake.
A not-to-be-missed favorite experience in your region of expertise…
Our tasting trail in Fez with a gastronomic guide: start by exploring the fresh food souks, then on to the honey souk, to taste an array of delicious honeys and learn why honey is so important in Moroccan cooking and Islamic culture. Then visit traditional farnatchis (fires that heat the hammams), the spice souk and the henna souk. Try traditional Moroccan foods including dried meats, milawi, harsha, briwats, spicy sardines, and fresh goat cheese, finishing off with a visit to a traditional Moroccan tea house.
What is a place we should consider traveling to that could really use our dollars, and what is a place we should put on hold because, even though we love it, it sees too many tourists?
Put on hold those holidays in Europe where the beaten path is well trodden and venture further afield to more remote and rural locations to have more authentic experiences. Sri Lanka really needs our help—it is recovering from an economic crisis and tourism will be the best way to get this country back up on its feet. The people are incredible, the food is superb and the boutique hotels are delightful. There is culture, tea plantations, national parks, UNESCO sites and beaches all on one beautiful island and very few tourists in situ.
Underrated/overrated/personal favorite and recent discovery?
Underrated location: Oualidia – very few people know about this part of the coast, which is calmer and home to many oyster farms. La Sultana Oualidia is a stunning hotel and a great place to end a holiday in Morocco before flying out of Marrakech or Casablanca.
Overrated location: Chefchaouen – too many busloads of tourists queuing to get that one photo of a painted blue street to share on their Instagram.
Personal favorite: Exploring the southern villages of Morocco—like Azrarag, Timlinine, Aoujou, Tiskmoudine, Tighmert—with valleys of argan trees, sand dunes, palm groves and gorges whilst staying in local spruced up village houses taken exclusively for our guests. These villages break the long journey to the Sahara where we can arrange a private camp and then end the trip at the gorgeous Kasbah Dar Ahlam in Skoura.
Recent discovery: Ice mama – the best homemade ice cream in Marrakech. The flavors change weekly and the black sesame seed and date ice creams are to die for!
The hardest-working item you always pack…
My large green and blue Moroccan headscarf that is so versatile and can be used as a scarf to keep warm in cooler climes, as a shawl to drape over my shoulders when being culturally sensitive, or as a cover over the pram to act as a shade for my baby to sleep.
What is something you wished we all knew or were better at as travelers?
The importance of giving back to the local community, not just by visiting a country but by contributing to local charities, engaging with local characters and slowing down the pace of a holiday to appreciate each place in more depth and really get under the skin of the destination.
How do you want people to reach out to you?
+44 (0) 2038086383
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