Friday, January 31, 2014

Los Cabos From Hilton to El Ganzo

I was up early and walked along the beach in behind of the Hilton Los Cabos while the sun came up over another beautiful day in Los Cabos.

My friend Lynn soon joined me at El Mason restaurant, where they have one of the best breakfast buffets I’ve seen at a resort. I ordered an omelet and filled my plate with fruit and chiquillas, a Mexican favorite of mine that’s basically a breakfast casserole of softened tortilla chips with eggs and salsa and cheese.

I finished up with some coffee and a cheese and almond filled pastry before we headed down to our last time at the Hilton’s massive infinity pool. 

The water was surprisingly cold, but I couldn’t resist taking a little dip while Lynn stuck with the whirlpool. I do have to admit that one of my laps was to the swim-up bar to “warm up” with a mango daiquiri.

Rossy Rossier, the Marketing Manager at the Hilton Los Cabos, then met me for a tour of the resort. I was surprised that there was so much more (including another pool, a deli and a kids’ club) I hadn’t seen.

The main object of the tour, though, was to check out the spa. It is quite big and had lots of treatment rooms, a Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room. Spa Oasis at the Hilton is also the only place on the island that has a Nausicaa machine.

Rossy explained to me how this machine uses water to produce steam, mist, chromatherapy, polishing showers, warm air and rhythmical massage. It sounds heavenly and I hope I get to try one someday soon.

We headed up to the scenic rooftop of the spa, where they were setting up for a wedding party of 16. The hotel was hosting 250 the next day and the bride, bridesmaids and her family were all sitting back in the warm air enjoying pedicures, manicures and facials.

I went back to the room to pack up and Lynn and I bid Rossy and the Hilton Los Cabos farewell and took a cab to Hotel El Ganzo.

Hotel El Ganzo was an entirely different experience. It is located in a new area, Puerto Los Cabos, which will soon also have another Secrets Hotel, as well as a JW Marriott.  It was a little difficult to imagine as the area looks pretty deserted, but El Ganzo certainly doesn’t.

This hotel is built around the arts, with modern touches that radiate music, paintings and a laid back atmosphere. The marina is man-made and there are only 72 guest rooms. The fitness center and spa were just opened when we arrived. 

Our room was rather small, but well-equipped with a Jacuzzi on the balcony facing the marina and unique touches such as free Wi-Fi, coronas, water and soda in the rooms, as well as use of an IPad which comes packed with the room service menu and hotel details.

We had lunch at the hotel’s only restaurant, Downstairs at El Ganzo. It was a perfect day to sit on the patio and we both loved the Veggie Sandwich, made with pumpkin, asparagus, onion, pepper and cheese.  A glass of Waterford Columbia Valley Pinot Gris brought us into the relaxing atmosphere a we talked to other guests and waited for our tour guide.

Mark Rudin, the El Ganzo music director, told us about owner Pablo Sanchez Navarro, who had come up with the concept of a hotel in this area for “music in residence.” Mark came to build the recording studio and worked his way up to management.

We walked throughout the hotel, looking at the artwork and some of the suites. When we finally made it up to the rooftop, I could certainly see how this was Charlie Sheen’s favorite place in Los Cabos.

The views were incredible from this height and angle and the rooftop included a bar, infinity pool, lounging beds, a Jacuzzi in clear glass and a sushi bar.

The next stop is one I wished I had skipped as a microphone fell on my foot while I was enjoying the Mark’s piano playing in the recording studio. I will skip the details, but suffice it to say, the rest of my Mexican adventure was spent out of the water with my final diagnosis of a sliced and dislocated toe and torn ligament in my ankle.

Our dinner at Flora Farm had to be cancelled. We did make it back from the hospital in time to catch one of the musical performances that Hotel El Ganzo is famous for while having dinner (and some churros for dessert) at Downstairs at El Ganzo. 

The sounds of Chaplin were still in my ear as I drifted off to sleep thinking of an alternate plan to the dolphin swim I was looking forward to in Los Cabos. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Exploring Los Cabos

It was our first full day in Los Cabos and my friend Lynn and I woke up early enough to see a beautiful sunrise from our balcony at the Hilton Los Cabos. We then went down for breakfast at El Meson, for yet another seaside view before our 9:00 am pickup for A Taste of Los Cabos Tour.

When the Los Cabos Tourism Board asked if I was interested in activities, I immediately gravitated to that tour. I wanted to see as much of the area as possible and this seemed to offer the best selection. It was a good choice.

Mauro, a biologist who used to work exclusively with dolphins, was our guide for the day. He also told us about the humpback whales that would soon be coming from the sea along Baja, California, Mexico, the second largest peninsula in the world at 1,000 miles.

Our first stop was at the brand new shopping mall and port, Puerto Paraiso. It was here that we were to pick up our glass bottom boat tour. 

We were warned that the water was a bit choppy and that was no exaggeration. As the boat rocked up and down, back and forth, I was glad I had brought my ginger chews.

The views were worth the ride, especially as we reached El Arco de Cabo San Lucas and Pelican Island, where the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean meet. Mauro also pointed out Lovers Beach, which goes right through a tunnel to the Pacific Ocean on the other side.

We saw some sea lions on the rocks. If the water been steadier, I would have loved to explore the area more, but the waves were getting higher and I was ready to head back. I wasn’t the only one as a sea lion followed us back to shore!

Before we left the port we walked through a few shops and tasted a variety of tequila, including a creamy coffee one that I vowed to pick up a bottle of before I left.

Our next stop was at the Vitrofusion Glass Blowing Factory, where we watched some demonstrations of the workers making glass animals before going into the store.

Mauro then drove us down to San Jose de Los Cabos, a quaint village about 30 minutes away. There we had an authentic Mexican lunch of tortilla soup (perfect, with fresh avocado on top), chicken fajitas and a smooth and cinnamon filled vanilla flan. 
We walked around the shops and looked at the jewelry and artwork before Mauro took us back to the Hilton Los Cabos.

There was nothing on the agenda for the afternoon and it didn’t take us long to put on our bathing suits and land at the pool with pomegranate margaritas. Lynn spent some time in the Jacuzzi, but I was content just laying on my lounge chair and walking through the infinity pool.

We were too tired and comfortable to even think about getting showered and dressed for dinner.

Fortunately, the hotel has extensive poolside service so we were able to order some more drinks (mango daiquiris this time), along with sliders and a veggie pizza.

We ate by the pool, watching the remnants of the sunset. It was the perfect end to a perfect day in Los Cabos paradise. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Welcome to Los Cabos, Mexico

It’s no secret that I am a fan of Mexico. In recent years I have traveled to Riviera Maya and Mazatlan, but I have never been to Los Cabos.

I was approached by a luxury resort to come visit Los Cabos. Since I had never been there, I was hesitant to just make the trip for a few days. Instead, I worked with the Los Cabos Tourism Board to arrange an entire week full of activities (and three different hotels in unique areas).

I had an early morning flight to Dallas, with a long layover there before my trip to Mexico. I decided to use the delay to treat myself to a pedicure at XpresSpa. I’ve seen them in the airports many times and was ready to get back in the flip flop mood.

I arrived in Los Cabos just after 4:00 pm and Leonardo from the Tourism Board picked us up and drove us the half hour to the Hilton Los Cabos, our first hotel. 

My first thoughts were about how different this part of Mexico looked than any part I had previously been. There were quite a few high end resorts, all spread out along the beaches. The scenery at this tip of the Baja Peninsula was really quite different.

We were met in the open air lobby at the Hilton by Marketing Manager Rossy Rossier and it didn’t take her long to make sure we had the hotel’s signature drink, Pomegranate Margarita’s, in our hands.

The room we were given had an over-sized tub and separate shower, and a breathtaking view of the beach and pool.

We had a few other surprises waiting in our room at the Hilton Los Cabos. My bed had a very personalized welcome and there was also a fruit basket and a bottle of prosecco waiting for us. It didn’t take us long to open it and toast to the beautiful beach in front of us.

After unpacking and freshening up, we went downstairs to dinner at the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Fenicia. It was beautiful with comfortable booths and overlooked the gently lit pool.

The menu looked amazing and we had a really hard time deciding what to eat. We made it a little easier by sharing the two first courses.

The Parmigianino di Melanzane (Eggplant Parmigiana) had think layers of crispy eggplant with just enough sauce and cheese. It was perfect with my Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, though Lynn preferred the house Mexican merlot-tempranillo blend.

We then chose a salad off the Mozzarella and Pomodoro Bar menu, picking the Burrata cheese with roasted artichokes with pesto, cherry tomatoes and nuts. It was just perfect in a light balsamic.

For a main course, I definitely made the right decision with the Fettuccine Verdi con Ragu d’Agnello. It was green pasta with mushrooms and a superb Lamb Mint Ragu. Lynn enjoyed flank steak, with porcini, cauliflower and sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi.

Lynn wasn’t thrilled with her panna cotta, but did enjoy the pistachio ice cream.  I went for the chocolate, as usual, digging in to the Zuccotto al Cioccolato.

We finished off the meal with a little after dinner tequila. It was, after all, Mexico, even though I had just finished one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had.

After the long day of travel, it didn’t take me long to drift off to sleep when we got back to the room. It was a good thing, because there was a long day of touring ahead of us, and I was also looking forward to spending some time in that infinity pool at the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort I so clearly saw in outside our balcony. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Genuine Scottish Send-Off with Royal Salute

Waking up in a castle was certainly not something I’d experienced before and Ballindalloch was all about the royal treatment.

I was dressed and ready for breakfast in the formal dining room bright and early. I enjoyed some yogurt with fresh blueberries and pancakes, with a few cups of brewed Earl Grey tea to get me going for a full day in Scotland.

Clare Russell took us on a brief tour of the castle, exploring the hidden staircases and beautifully decorated rooms, which included an old nursery with toys that dated back to the 19th century. We also saw invitations and photos from the royal family at many occasions (like the wedding of Kate and William) she had attended.

After the tour we headed into vans and went to the Glenlivet Distillery. It was much more modern than Strathislava had been, even offering spectacular views from the top floor. The new visitor’s center had just opened in 2009 and Prince Charles actually came for the official opening.

When we finished the tour with Master Distiller Desmond Payne did an informal tasting and learned about how Josie’s well provides the mineral rich water that gives Glenlivet its unique taste. My favorite was the 2010 Founders Reserve, with floral notes and a bit of caramel, but not as nutty as many whiskies, perhaps due to the fact that it’s aged in Spanish oak.

We were back to the castle for lunch and a glass of Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling. I enjoyed the chicken with vegetables, but not as much as the dessert, which I was not embarrassed to be the first to grab seconds of. It was the most delicious apple raspberry cobbler, covered in meringue instead of a crust to keep it light and fresh.

As we ate our dessert and sipped coffee, we discussed the plans for the afternoon. We were offered the opportunity to go fishing or shooting. Everyone agreed with my sentiment that we wanted to see more of the estate and more of Scotland, so we headed out on a tour that included checking out the prize winning cattle and rose garden of Ballindalloch, as well as the llamas and alpacas.

We also were able to preview the beginnings of the new distillery that will be owned and operated by the estate.

After the tour we warmed up in the Russell’s private library with for afternoon tea and warm cookies before I headed to my room to change for dinner.

The itinerary I had been given requested that I bring a black dress that would be covered with a sash. The men were all given traditional Scottish kilts.

Dinner was once again in the formal dining room, but this time we were treated to a story on the Scottish delicacy haggis and had a local band playing during the meal. I even got up at one point for a bit of Scottish dancing.

There was plenty more scotch whiskey with dinner, from Royal Salute to Glenlivet, each one was smoother than the last.

We finished with a homemade cinnamon ice cream with banana and a drink in the library. I didn’t stay long as I had an early flight back to the States. I bid farewell to my new Scottish friends, vowing to come back as soon as I could.

It was a long trip home, from Aberdeen to London, London to Chicago and then Chicago to Champaign, but the inclusion of a lie back seat in American Airlines Business Class at least gave me eight hours of relaxation (and good food).

The trip was much too quick and I hope to discover much more of Scotland – and scotch – in the near future.