I don’t aspire to be a luxury traveler. I’m happy to travel with my family within a conservative budget, flying in economy class and staying at clean, comfortable, mid-range hotels. Actually, since we started traveling with our children, more often than not we have chosen to stay in self-catered rentals which have spanned the luxury spectrum. The few times we were able or were treated to truly luxurious accommodations, I found myself in a conundrum: I did not want to leave the property to go and, you know, travel. When I travel, whether it’s close to home or in faraway countries, my objective is to have authentic, meaningful experiences; my travel style is defined by immersing myself in the local culture as much as possible. But it’s a challenge when staying someplace that tempts me with glorious amenities, unrivaled comfort, the hottest gadgets and technology, soothing surroundings, or sweeping panoramic vistas.
At no point in my years of travel was I tempted to not leave my hotel at all than when we were guests at The Istanbul EDITION (now known as Hotel Levent Istanbul), where my husband and I celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary. After a long day (or was it two?) of travel from Chicago to Istanbul, and then a harrowing, almost three-hour taxi ride to the hotel from the airport, arriving at our room at the EDITION was like walking through the gates of heaven. Our deluxe room featured rosewood and soaped oak wood decor, which was offset by the bright, oversize, glass-enclosed bathroom. A sectional couch positioned in front of the wall-to-wall windows provided a quiet view of the busy Buyukdere Caddesi below. Immediately, I felt relaxed and just wanted to fall into the huge, custom design platform bed with its luxury linens and down comforter and pillows. Before my husband and I passed out that first night, we drew the room-darkening curtains and turned off all the lights, using the panels of electronic controls on either side of the bed. Twelve hours later, we woke up, refreshed and ready to take on Istanbul…. except we didn’t want to leave our room. Here we were, in one of the most beautiful and historically significant cities in the world, and it was a struggle to actually walk out of the hotel. And this was before we discovered the 20,000 square foot, three-floor spa. Never had I witnessed such opulence and luxury, which came in the form of a vitality pool; sauna; polar room; steam room; and the biggest, most comfortable lounge chairs I have ever planted my behind on. Yet, Hagia Sophia and the Bosphorus River were waiting for us. It was difficult to eventually leave all that luxury behind and experience Istanbul. Very, very difficult.
Thanks to a couple of online contests, I had collected certificates for three free nights at any Omni Hotels property. As a family, we looked at all of our options, factored in logistics like taking days off work and travel time, and decided on the Omni Bedford Springs Resort and Spa in Bedford, Pennsylvania. Dating back to the 1700s, the original hotel is designated a National Historic Landmark, and it is stunning. The property underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 2007, which preserved the charm and integrity of the hotel while implementing facets of technology and modern design to provide an appealing mix of history and luxury. Furthermore, the property itself spans 2,200 acres in the Cumberland Valley of south-central Pennsylvania, so the grounds are gorgeous. Our room itself was comfortable and well-appointed, but it was the other features of the property that made me think I wanted to live there: the Roman-inspired indoor pool, still fed by natural hot springs, and attached to a two-story solarium; the grandiose lobby where complimentary tea, snacks, and sweets are served every afternoon; and the expansive veranda, lined with oversize rocking chairs, with pleasant views of the green, rolling hills. I wanted to never leave. The good news is that, for the duration of our stay, we did not need to leave the grounds. There are five restaurants on site, a top-ranked spa, and enough activities to keep the whole family going for days. Again, I had to deal with some internal conflict. I adore small-town America and wanted to leave the resort to spend some time in nearby Bedford, but I could not tear myself away from the beauty, peace, and luxury of Omni Bedford Springs Resort.
In 2006, I made my first-ever trip to the motherland – Italy. I traveled there with my sister, also on her first trip to Italy, and we met up with my father in Umbria. He and his wife rented a casale (rural home) near the town of Guardea. I was expecting a quaint, cute little farmhouse in the country. The casale was just that and a whole lot more! The frame of the house and a pair of giant, wooden doors inside are originals; just about everything else is new and modern. The styles do not clash, though; the result is a best-of-both-worlds environment. I fell in love with the kitchen sink, an enormous, marble farmhouse basin. I wanted to spend all my time reading in the upstairs loft, reclined on one of the chairs; or soaking in the jacuzzi tub in the adjacent bathroom while admiring the view of the Umbrian hillside. Each evening, the only place I wanted to be was out on the terrace, watching the early autumn, pink-hued sunsets. A few of the days of our visit were warm enough to enjoy the private, outdoor pool and gorgeous patio, where I wanted to sit all day, snacking on antipasti and sipping Vipra Rossa. It broke my heart to leave the casale to go on day trips to places like Todi, Assisi, and Amelia. But it was my first time in Italy; I had to try to see as much as possible, right? My sister and I took off on our own for a number of days to travel to Florence and Venice. We had a blast and both fell in love with Venice (Florence is another story for another time), but I could not wait to get back to the casale. Travel throughout Italy or remain inside the casale for the duration of the trip? You feel my pain here?
And then there is the GowithOh apartment in Prague that was our base this past April. Probably not luxurious by anyone else’s standards, I found it to be comfortable and welcoming – a luxury in itself – appointed with all the modern conveniences we are accustomed to at home. The bathroom and the master bedroom are huge. I loved the bedroom the most, not because the bed was comfortable or it offered plenty of storage space. I loved it because of the simple desk and chair set up in there, a spot where I could see myself sitting for hours and writing. I’d open the windows on either side of the room, bask in the cross-breeze, and breathe in the cool air while working to the beat of the city life going on outside below. But I was in Prague, one city that I’d dreamed of visiting for years. I’d miss out on the incredible people-watching in Old Town Square, and the beer and trdelník. Instead, in the evenings when we returned to the apartment from full days of exploring, I found luxury in watching Lucia sit at that very desk, drawing pictures inspired by what she experienced that day. Witnessing my five-year-old daughter translate her travel experiences into art was well worth sacrificing my own opportunities for my idea of luxury.
I am grateful for all of my travel opportunities, especially the bits of luxury I’ve experienced since they are so few and far between. Perhaps if I traveled luxuriously more often, I wouldn’t feel so obligated to not leave my accommodations. You luxury travelers out there, what say you? How do you balance it all out?