It's nearly spring, and Europe beckons luxury travelers.
Two new talked-about movies set in beloved Continental capitals can tide North Americans over till they wing across the pond.
Opening tonight, March 7, 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel is sure to be called "a delightful all-star romp."
Wes Anderson directs Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Jude Law, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and more.
The Grand Budapest Hotel itself is fictional. But as you can see here, it bears a strong resemblance to Corinthia Hotel Budapest, built in 1896 and ever-stylish, as a grand hotel should be. (This vintage postcard and photo below depict the hotel then and now.)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel movie site and trailer
- Corinthia Hotel Budapest's ongoing, three-night Behind the Scenes room deal
- Europe's timelessly elegant Corinthia Hotels brand
- You won't believe who stays in the ultra-glam Corinthia Hotel London
To supply a dose of April in Paris, a highly anticipated romantic comedy, LE WEEK-END, opens next Friday, March 14, 2014.
It's a British all-star affair, and Pittsburgh's own Jeff Goldblum makes another appearance as the American.
Surprise: LE WEEK-END is about rekindling romance (and brasserie appetites) in the City of Light.
Images from top: The Grand Budapest Hotel poster and still of Ralph Fiennes, courtesy Music Box Films; postcard of The Grand Hotel Royal in 1896, and (below that) its current incarnation as ©Corinthia Hotel Budapest; LE WEEK-END poster and still ©Fox Searchlight Films; (below) Budapest ©Hungarian National Tourist Office
Prague, capital of today's Czech Republic, was a center of Jewish culture, learning, and accomplishment from the 1400s until the Holocaust. Prague is now a stirring destination for Jewish heritage travel.
In Prague's Old Jewish Cemetery you will see centuries of tombstones.
A grand one marks Mordecai Meisel, a brilliant businessman of the 1500s who became a philanthropist. He built Meisel Synagogue and Jewish Town Hall, which is still standing.
His contemporary and now neighbor in the Old Cemetery, David Gans, published definitive histories of the Jewish people and of the ancient world.
Gans was also a mathematician and astronomer whose stargazing buddies included Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe. Quite a guy.
Prague's most famous Jewish son, Franz Kafka, is commemorated in the Kafka Museum, in Zizkov Cemetery, and in statues and plaques all over the city.
Luxury Travel Guest Author Norma Davidoff fine-combed Prague for sites that are precious to visitors in search of Jewish roots.
- See Norma's story about Prague's Jewish Heritage
- And Norma's choice of local digs: Corinthia Hotel Prague
Photos from top, all ©Wikimedia Commons: the 1868 "Moorish Revival" Spanish Synagogue; Old Jewish Cemetery; a very young Franz Kafka; statue of 16th-century Rabbi Loew, known as the Maharal of Prague (a name formed by Kabbalah wordplay).
Croatia is a recent must-do addition to the Grand Tour of Europe. Especially medieval Dubrovnik and Italian-influenced Istria, a/k/a "the new Tuscany."
To visit any Croatian destination, you're likely to fly into its capital, Zagreb.
Don't make the mistake of simply changing planes here. Zagreb is a Central European gem.
In fact, Zagreb looks like Vienna. Its grand, gracious theaters and ministries were built by Viennese architects in the late 1800s, when Zagreb was within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, trendy restaurants dot the cobblestoned lanes behind the boulevards.
In the 800-year-old Upper Town, you can check out the hilarious Museum of Broken Relationships, light a prayer candle at an outdoor altar beside ancient Stone Gate, then sip Croatia's excellent Malvasia wine in the boite next door, Trilojia.
- See why luxury travelers are getting out of the airport in Zagreb >>
- And why so many of them are on their way to Istria >>
Photos of Zagreb: Upper Town ©Croatian National Tourist Board; Croatian National Theater ©Kaiser87/Wikimedia Commons; St. Mark's Church, central train station and Zagreb boy ©Karen Tina Harrison
Faithful readers of Luxury Travel know that I have a soft spot for Cancun.
It is Americans' #1 foreign travel destination for a reason.
I mean, reasons: a short nonstop flight; a magnificent beach; superlative Mexican hospitality and food.
And great hotels, too. My latest to rave about to you: Live Aqua Cancun.
The name is a little odd till you put it together: the hotel's overall mood (live it up!) with its accent color, also the unbelievable hue of Cancun's Caribbean waters. Aaaah...aqua.
- Find out more about Live Aqua Cancun >
- See why luxury travelers have come to love all-inclusive hotels >
- Find out why upscale vacationers are beating a path to cosmopolitan Cancun
- Get a taste of Cancun's exciting dining scene
- What are you doing March 13 to 16? Check out 2014's Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival >
Live Aqua Cancun images: top (sunset) and below (welcoming committee) ©Karen Tina Harrison; others ©Live Aqua Cancun
Croatia has been a luxury travel go-to for a decade. Visitors head to myriad islands along a thousand-mile coastline mirroring Italy's Adriatic coast, crowned by medieval Dubrovnik.
Croatia's next great place: Istria.
I was in Istria not long ago and loved it. This arrowhead-shaped peninsula not far from Venice and Trieste flaunts bilingual signage and Italian culinary heritage.
Wine, olive oil, truffles, pasta: best all together.
Istria's nickname, "the new Tuscany," arose from its foodie lifestyle, its ancient villages, and its plethora of rental villas.
Every visitor to Istria finds their bliss: perhaps cycling or snorkeling, festivals or photography.
I was captivated by Istria's stirring, ubiquitous Roman legacy.
It's especially evident in the city of Pula, a strategic Roman Empire seaport.
Emperors Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian, and Titus built Pula Arena (below). One of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters, it retains its oval walls, lions' den, and spectators' lavatories. Filmed here: Gladiator's fights to the death.
- Intrigued? Find out more about Istria in Croatia >>
Istria scenes from top, all ©Karen Tina Harrison: Motovun; Groznjan; Stari Podrum restaurant; Roman triumphal arch in Pula; Groznjan; (below) Pula Arena.
Because this site is editorial, not promotional, I seldom report on hotel deals. So when I do, I think they're irresistible.
What makes this package stand out isn't just the price, but the allure of the hotel itself.
I speak of El Encanto, Santa Barbara's newly crowned Forbes Five Star resort.
El Encanto is a Southern California legend: the place you go to get away... not just from the grind but from all those prying paparazzi.
The Five-Star Experience at El Encanto deal, through April 2014, involves an automatic room upgrade, dinner for two, an extra half hour with your spa treatment, and more.
- All the deal details
- More about El Encanto
- What you should expect from a five-star hotel
- Who else clinched 2014 Forbes Five-Star status
Photos above and below: ©El Encanto
Cancun offers North American visitors so much. Luscious hotels, deluxe dining, vibrant nightlife, and one of the world's most beautiful beaches.
How could Cancun get any more more fun?
Expect today's hottest chefs, exciting parties and events, and an exhilarating Cancun experience.
- Check out the Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival 2014
- See why luxury travelers are beating a path to cosmopolitan Cancun
- Discover Cancun's sophisto dining scene
Where to bunk in Cancun:
- All-inclusive, sleek, stylish: Le Blanc Spa Resort
- Warm, welcoming, seductive, serene: all-inclusive Live Aqua
- Spectacular design hotel on a semi-private island: NIZUC
Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival 2014 chefs from top: Ricardo Zarate ©Elizabeth Daniels; Mikel Alonso, Daniel Vézina, Daniel Ovadia ©CRM Festival; Dale Talde ©Anne Massoni
Artist Georgia O'Keeffe, an American original, saw the world anew.
The native Midwesterner started her painting career capturing the canyons of New York City and the drama of Lake George upstate in the Adirondacks.
But O'Keeffe is best known for her mesmerizing landscapes of New Mexico, her adopted home (see Black Mesa painting below).
Along the way, O'Keeffe visited and painted the Aloha State in 1939.
Opening today and running through September 14 at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: the Hawai'i Pictures.
This multimedia show showcases works by O'Keeffe and her friend Ansel Adams, the pioneering photographer best known for his monumental black-and-white studies of Yosemite National Park.
There are many good reasons to visit Santa Fe. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is one of them. Get the details on Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: the Hawai'i Pictures
See why luxury travelers flock to the places Georgia loved:
Georgia O'Keeffe paintings from top: White Bird of Paradise, 1939 ©Georgia O'Keeffe Museum; Untitled (City Night), 1970s ©Georgia O'Keeffe Museum; Waterfall, No. III, 'Iao Valley, 1939 ©Honolulu Museum of Art; Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast, No. 1, 1939 ©Honolulu Museum of Art; Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico/ Out Back of Marie's II, 1930 ©Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.
Quiet, unspoiled Port Antonio, Jamaica has been known as a Hollywood escape since the 1950s.
Back then, it was the adopted home of swashbuckling star Errol Flynn. In the late 70s, it was the film location of Brooke Shields' blockbuster, Blue Lagoon.
Lately, Port Antonio has become the working vacation spot of American musicians like Alicia Keys and Gwen Stefani.
The town's best digs -- Geejam's Trident boutique hotel -- features an in-house recording studio.
Port Antonio photos from top: Frenchmans Cove beach and Rio Grande River ©Jamaica Tourist Board; Trident Hotel ©Geejam; Sommerset Falls and Blue Mountains near Port Antonio ©Jamaica Tourist Board
Who decides if a hotel is super-luxury?
Every luxury traveler does, with every stay.
But Forbes Travel Guide (formerly Mobil Travel Guide) is the go-to pro, having issued definitive hotel star rankings annually since 1958. Just announced: the 2014 Forbes Travel Guide Star Awards for hotels, restaurants, and spas.
Forbes ranks mainly in the U.S. market, where 63 of its 296 five-star hotels are located.
- State with the most five-star hotels: California (17)
- Hotel brand with the most five-star properties: Four Seasons
- Here's the Forbes list
- Forbes' criteria for a five-star hotel
- Luxury Travel's criteria for a five-star hotel
Forbes Five-Star Hotels featured in Luxury Travel:
Photos of Forbes Five Stars from top: ©The Pierre New York; ©The Grand Del Mar; pet-friendly The Point ©Karen Tina Harrison; ©El Encanto; Damien Hirst work at ©Rancho Valencia; ©Four Seasons Toronto; ©Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand Las Vegas; (below) ©Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea