Destination spotlight: Belize

Belize might not be a large country, even by Central American standards, but there are so many layers it’s worth a deep dive — and not just into the Great Blue Hole, which none other than Jacques Cousteau declared one of the best SCUBA sites in the world.

The Maya thrived here, and there are temples and other archaeological sites throughout the country proclaiming their majesty through the ages. When Europeans arrived, the Spanish first then the English lay claim to the territory. As a result Belize’s culture lines up with the rest of Central America, but with English as an official language.

Rivers crisscrossing through the country serve as highways and conduits for kayaking and canoeing. Underground and even underwater, extensive cave systems facilitate endless exploration. There’s even a small mountain range good for hiking and watching a few of Belize’s 500-plus bird species. Offshore, there’s 185 miles of barrier reef supplying outstanding diving and snorkeling.

Of the five Virtuoso properties in the country, none has more than 34 rooms. They’re intimate windows into the ecological wonders that make Belize a slice of paradise linking the Caribbean and Latin America.

COVID entry protocols

Belize is now accepting proof of full immunization at least two weeks before arrival. Otherwise, visitors must show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours of departure to Belize, or a negative rapid test taken within 48 hours of departure. Without proof, visitors will take a test at the airport on arrival, waiting there for results and paying $50 for the test. Visitors must also download and complete the Belize Health App within 72 hours of arrival.

Where to stay

Royal Belize

On a private 7.5-acre island nine miles off the coast in the South Water Caye Marine Reserve World Heritage site, Royal Belize is the only luxury island in Belize rented exclusively to one guest party at a time. Holding as many as 16 guests in five luxury villas and a bunkhouse, the hotel is all-inclusive and fully staffed with a private chef and concierge. Every day is a celebration at Royal Belize, complete with a sunset Champagne toast. Any adventure is possible, from helicopter rides to snorkeling the largest living barrier reef, to zipping around on Jet Skis. Discover pure luxury in a barefoot-casual atmosphere.

Blancaneaux Lodge

Francis Ford Coppola’s secluded mountain retreat, Blancaneaux Lodge is every bit as dramatic and inspiring as one might hope. Guests choose from an array of luxuriant accommodations, including the owner’s villa, with its open-air living area, and the peaceful riverfront cabanas, with their decks overlooking the waterfalls of Privassion Creek. Active types enjoy riding horseback to hidden falls, hiking, exploring caves, and “discovering” hidden Mayan cities. Of course, there are myriad spa treatments, a swimming pool, a hot tub, and two gourmet restaurants (Montagna and Guatemaltecqua) to boot.

Cayo Espanto

Just a two-hour flight from Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte, or Houston, a private island paradise awaits. Cayo Espanto is home to seven intimate villas, all overlooking the Caribbean – pampering guests with a private plunge pool, an exceptional private chef, and a personal houseman. If you can tear yourself away from these sybaritic accommodations, take advantage of the sea kayaks and sailboats, full-service spa, world-class fly-fishing for tarpon and bonefish, tours of Mayan ruins, jungle trips, and stellar snorkeling along the world’s second-longest barrier reef. Full island rental is available for the most decadent vacations.

Las Terrazas Resort & Residences

The only Virtuoso property on Belize’s largest island, Las Terrazas is one of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets. Some of the region’s finest snorkeling and diving lie off the resort’s white sands, including Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley – and an on-site, five-star PADI dive center lets you take full advantage. The look is comfortably chic; the ambience, discreet and low key. Choose from a variety of layouts with the 37 roomy, residence-style accommodations, each featuring a full-size kitchen and free Wi-Fi. The colorful, inviting O restaurant serves up the freshest of food in Ambergris Caye’s premier dining experience.

Turtle Inn

Francis Ford Coppola has lovingly overseen every detail of Turtle Inn’s creation, using materials available in Belize’s tropical region. Today, it’s a hideaway praised for its rustic elegance and every imaginable indulgence. The seafront villas are prized features, with their screened porches, spacious living rooms, and private walled gardens. When you’re not “on siesta,” consider becoming a certified diver, swimming in either of the two infinity-edge pools, snorkeling, kayaking, or indulging in your choice of three restaurants. Excursions are available to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the world’s only jaguar preserve.

Destination spotlight: Iceland

If you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you’re once again welcome in Iceland. With official paper or electronic proof of vaccination, Americans can skip testing and quarantine requirements in the land of fire and ice. The decision to allow vaccinated visitors from outside the Schengen zone is another sign that the world is reopening. If you’re not yet vaccinated but have proof of prior infection, you can skip testing and quarantine too.

It’s just in time for the weather to warm up and the days to get longer. Iceland is an outdoor destination year-round, but the thaw and extended sunshine make it the perfect time for a road trip along the Golden Circle or out to the less-visited Westfjords, which can be especially difficult to reach in winter. 

What you lose in snowmobiling opportunities, you gain in off-roading on ATVs, and while the country’s dwindling glaciers are melting in summer, sighting one is an excellent reward after a long hike. 

With the end of winter comes the return of wildlife, including mating and nesting puffins. Lest you forget, Iceland is an island, and the waters surrounding it teem with whales in the summertime, making cruises a great day trip when your legs need a rest. While the Northern Lights are tough to spot, the Midnight Sun is an equally impressive phenomenon. 

If you can’t make it to Iceland until the weather turns cold again, that’s more than all right. With all the outdoor adventures to be had in the snow, a winter trip to Iceland is like visiting the North Pole at Christmastime. You can even spend a night under the stars watching the Northern Lights dance. 

There’s not a bad time to visit Iceland. Now many of us can go without testing and quarantine.

COVID entry protocols: The Icelandic government has announced that all those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to travel to Iceland without being subject to border measures, such as testing and quarantine. The exemption also applies to those who can provide valid proof of prior infection. Other visitors must provide proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure for Iceland, followed by a five-day quarantine and a second test in Iceland.

Where to stay:

ION Luxury Adventure Hotel

Less than an hour’s drive from the hustle and bustle of Reykjavík and set against a backdrop of majestic mountainous lava fields, ION Adventure Hotel is an unforgettable experience. 

Whether you are seeking a quiet, soulful soak beneath the Northern Lights, a challenging trek across an ancient glacier or a day of fly-fishing in plentiful icy rivers – at ION Adventure Hotel, these are only a wish away. ION’s location by the “Golden Circle” route makes it the perfect base from which to explore Iceland’s rich heritage, hardy flora and fauna, and myriad opportunities for extreme adventure. Close to Thingvellir National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), ION provides easy access to all the essential attractions of “the land of fire and ice”. 

ION takes good care of you upon your return after a day of adventures. Our rooms, Silfra Restaurant, award-winning Northern Lights bar, the awesome Lava Spa and the magnificent landscape that stretches out to the horizon wherever you look provides calm and good service so you can recharge, reflect and rejoice. ION recently was granted the acclaimed Boutique Hotel Awards in the sustainability category.

Buubble

Some childhood dreams stay with us for our whole lives. Sleeping under the stars or watching the aurora borealis dance is one of those lifelong dreams. To fulfil these dreams the Bubble concept was born.

Forget the city, forget work and enjoy watching the aurora borealis dance for you. There is, of course, no guarantee you will see the lights, but if they show up you will have a magical night.

The bubble structure is kept inflated by a slight over-pressure from a noiseless ventilation system. It permanently renews the air inside 2-7 times the volume per hour, and this way it prevents humidity. The system has heating elements with thermostat so the bubble stays warm all winter.

Experience includes: One day in a bubble; double bed; shared service house with two water toilets and showers, and a self-service kitchen. This is not like a normal hotel. No food included. The bubble is located in a forest and kept warm with air blowers. You need to bring your own basic amenities such as towels, tissue, shower soap, etc.

Canopy by Hilton, Reykjavik City Centre

Set across six connected houses, the hotel joins a neighborhood rich with history, color and life. Staff will introduce you to the area with a local treat at check-in and provide bikes. Make restaurant, bar and retail discoveries on Laugavegur Street, or visit Hallgrímskirkja Church and snap a perfect pic of the city from 73 meters up.

Silica

Set in the heart of a stunning lava landscape, Silica Hotel is a just 10-minute walk from the Blue Lagoon. The hotel offers its own private bathing lagoon, which is available for hotel guests every day from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The hotel has won several design awards. Built in harmony with the surrounding landscape, it offers an oasis of calm, relaxation, and healing. The hotel has 35 bright and spacious double/twin rooms. All rooms offer private facilities and a veranda, with breathtaking views of the surrounding lava fields.

Destination spotlight: Greece

Myth and daily life are so intertwined in Greek life you can’t help but lose yourself in time and space. Each place you visit has thousands of years of documented civilization to go with a collection of legends about ancient gods, goddesses and heroes who were timeless even to the people who lived all those years ago. In several areas, the people were said to be born from the very earth itself, having come from there and nowhere else. Wherever you go in Greece, the people are very into being Greek and into their traditions.

Athens, the capital and main transportation hub, along with the Cycladic islands of Mykonos and Santorini have been extremely popular with travelers, and with good reason. The birthplace of democracy and ancient temples make Athens one of the most storied cities in the Western canon. The beaches and party atmosphere of Mykonos have earned an international reputation for good times. An ancient volcanic explosion left Santorini sitting on the rim above a caldera that the Aegean Sea has rushed into, creating some of the most spectacular views you’ll ever see.

But there’s much more to Greece. For starters, there are more than 100 inhabited islands to choose from. And the mainland gets short shrift as well. 

There’s Crete, 100 miles south of the mainland and one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean. It gave birth to the Bronze Age Minoan Civilization, which spawned its own myths thanks to the elaborate palace at Knossos, purported home of the labyrinth and the Minotaur. Today, Crete is an outdoor playground, with beach enclaves in the east and a giant gorge in the middle, as well as the cave Zeus was born in.

Closer to the coast of what is now Turkey lie Rhodes, full of medieval castles and former home to the Colossus, one of the wonders of the ancient world; Kos, which was name-dropped in the Iliad and has been accumulating layers of history and archaeology since; Patmos, brought from the sea bottom to the surface by the Greek gods and where the Christian St. John envisioned the Book of Revelation.

In the north of the mainland you’ll find Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city and an economic hub since the Roman period. The surrounding region contains the ruins of the ancient Macedonian capital and, believe it or not, ski resorts. In the south, the Peloponnese holds the ruins of Greece’s ancient second city, Sparta, and Olympia, complete with the ruins of the original Olympic stadium and the Temple of Zeus, another wonder of the ancient world. Kalamata is a prominent port city surrounded by olive groves and sea breezes.

While it doesn’t have as many islands as the famed Aegean, the Ionian Sea to the west of the mainland is where you’ll find Corfu, Zakynthos and Ithaca. It took Odysseus 20 years to get back to Ithaca, but you can get there in just a few hours from Athens on your own legendary journey.

COVID entry protocols: All people traveling to Greece from foreign countries will be required to have a negative molecular test result (PCR) for COVID-19, performed up to 72 hours before their entry to Greece. This includes air and land arrivals to Greece. The Greek government is formulating plans to allow vaccinated travelers and those with COVID antibodies to enter the country without testing by summer.

Where to stay:

Hotel Grande Bretagne

Located within walking distance of the Acropolis, Hotel Grande Bretagne indulges guests with deluxe guest rooms and suites, two distinctive restaurants, two swimming pools, and the multiple-award-winning GB Spa. Guest rooms feature sumptuous fabrics, original artworks, and restored antiques from Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Suite guests enjoy complimentary butler service to help fulfill every request with impeccable discretion. The GB Spa offers exclusive ESPA & Valmont products, and signature body and facial treatments. Alexander’s Cigar Lounge provides a relaxed setting to enjoy fine cognacs and premium cigars.

The Romanos, a Luxury Collection resort

Set amid lush olive groves and overlooking the storied waters of the Ionian Sea, The Romanos resort offers a distinctive and inspiring environment of genuine luxury and heartfelt hospitality. Choose from 321 beautifully appointed guest rooms, suites, and villas – be sure to book one of the 128 that have their own infinity-edge pool. Dine on local and international culinary flavors in numerous unique venues. Activities such as philosophy walks and olive harvesting are sure to pique your interest, and set aside time to indulge at Anazoe Spa, with special therapies based on ancient Greek practices and unique oleotherapy® treatments.

Porto Zante Villas & Spa

Set along a private beach on a secluded bay just minutes from Zakynthos city, the ridiculously beautiful Porto Zante oozes exclusivity. Expect every extravagance in the nine sublime villas; ranging from one to four bedrooms, they boast private pools, furnishings from Armani Casa and Gervasoni, Bang & Olufsen entertainment centers, and iMac desktops. Get active with tennis, beachfront yoga, horseback riding, and plentiful water sports; the waterfront spa offers lavish treatments using Bulgari products. Dine on fine Greek and Mediterranean or Asian fusion that takes advantage of the Ionians’ bounty.

Parilio

Named for the near-constant sunshine the resort experiences, Parilio is a testament to the Cyclades Islands’ unspoiled natural beauty. The 33 suites are defined by a soothing color palette and distinctive Greek architecture, and each features spectacular island views. Take a dip in the cross-shaped pool, then taste the island’s famed gastronomic legacy at chef Alexander Tsiotinis’ Mr. E, serving fresh, seasonal Greek and Mediterranean cuisine inspired by the surrounding natural bounty.

Private island escape: Guana Island

Powder white sands, turquoise waters, mountains and no crowds around- Guana Island in the British Virgin Islands is perfect for a hideaway retreat set on 850 acres, 7 beaches with a maximum limit of 35 guests. This luxury boutique Virtuoso hotel (18 rooms and villas) was built of native stone and coral on an 18th century estate with stunning views of the Caribbean and the Atlantic.
Immersing yourself in nature here is key as there is no commercial facility on the island. Surrounding you are hiking trails, gardens and a flock of flamingos! Conservation and sustainability are their calling with a mission to protect nature and a science program that has reintroduced local species. Dining is farm-to-table food options utilizing the organic farm on the property. There are plenty of water activities whether you would like to snorkel, paddleboard, kayak, sail, kite surf and or scuba dive to name a few. You can take the Hobie-Cat out, go deep sea fishing and or relax in their Hibiscus Spa.
Your Virtuoso amenities when booking with me here are a $200 donation to their sustainability programs and a bottle of champagne. For any questions on Guana Island, reach out to Stefany at stefany@largaytravel.com and or info@dmctraveltailor.com.
Photo credits go to Jonathan Becker.

Find your zen again

There will be a lot of freeing feelings in the upcoming months. There will be the feeling that comes with being vaccinated. There will be the feeling that comes as restaurants open for indoor dining at full capacity, the feeling of gathering in a crowd to watch a game, a show or just to be among people again. There will be the feeling of international borders across the world reopening.

There will also be lingering psychological effects from the pandemic. Our minds will still have to process what we’ve been through. Some will have survivor’s guilt, some will feel uncomfortable being in crowds after getting used to isolation and associating it with safety. We’ll need to take a deep breath and come to peace with what we’ve experienced. A wellness getaway can help you find your zen again.

It’s up to you how immersive your wellness journey is. It could be as simple as a spa treatment as part of your vacation, either at your hotel or on a cruise. Relieving built-up tension in your muscles and getting a dose of aromatherapy can be totally refreshing. You can spend the rest of your time exploring your destination, seeing the sights and reveling in the return to livelihood.

On the other end of the spectrum, you might make wellness the focal point of your vacation.There is an array of wellness resorts to visit that get you to unplug completely. You turn in your phone at check-in, there’s no wifi in your room and your time is filled with living in the present moment. At Miraval resorts, “Miraval Mode” comes with a bed for your smartphone to take a break and devices are allowed only in a few designated areas. Doomscrolling is absolutely not allowed. You’d be amazed at how much your perspective can change when you let really focus on what you can control and allow yourself to unwind.

Perhaps you’ve picked up some dietary habits over the last year that you’ll like to reverse. All-inclusive fitness and dietary retreats like St. Lucia’s BodyHoliday or the Chenot program at L’Albereta in Italy’s lake country can help you detox and get back on the right track, establishing health habits and letting you enjoy beautiful surroundings while you do it.

A lot of us didn’t get enough sleep to begin with, and thepandemic has only exacerbated that problem. Nidra yoga programs like the one at Sanctuary on CamelbackMountain and detox treatments can help ease mind and body.

A focus on rest and refreshment and a journey into the self can prepare you to move forward as a parent, partner and person. Be kind to yourself so you can be kind to others, and spread that kindness through a world that is hopeful but still hurting.