PURA VIDA! Costa Rica’s Dreamy Peninsula Papagayo

Dinner on the beach at Four Seasons Costa Rica on the Peninsula Papagayo

Dinner on the beach at Four Seasons Costa Rica on the Peninsula Papagayo

“Costa Rica!” That’s what Christopher Columbus called it in 1502 when he showed up, still looking for gold in the New World, on Costa Rica’s east coast. Greeted by maidens bedecked in gold, cleverly sent out by the local chiefs to greet him, “Rich Coast” somehow came to Columbus’ mind and the name stuck.

Oscar Aguilar is a great example of the pride "Ticos" have in their country.

Oscar Aguilar is a great example of the pride “Ticos” have in their country.

“Ticos” (Costa Ricans) love their country, and so they should. This flower of democracy amid the banana republics of Central America has no army and no navy. Their “Guardia Civil” receives less funding than their schools and their roads. The right to vote is treasured and public education throughcollege is free, as is universal health care to citizens and permanent residents. Their National Parks are legendary and eco-tourism basically started here. Everyone speaks English from passable to articulate and Costa Rica’s literacy rate is over 90 percent. Of particular interest: Costa Rican presidents can serve unlimited, non-consecutive 4-year terms.

Costa Rica is divided into provinces and this trip takes us to a beauty:  Guanacaste, on the northwest coast, just south of Nicaragua. It is here, on the breathtaking Peninsula Papagayo that Four Seasons Costa Rica coexists in the natural habitat and, equally important, with the local residents.

The Arnold Palmer Signature golf course at Four Seasons is in a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

The Arnold Palmer Signature golf course at Four Seasons is in a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

Most guests fly into nearby Liberia’s Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, on one of the many daily flights from the U.S. Schedules can be seasonal but service is regular. The terminal is new and clean, Immigration officers polite and welcoming and Four Seasons folks outside the arrivals door are all set up for you.

I was met in the terminal by Four Seasons representative, Eddy, who escorted us to their van, piloted by Esteban. All the guests in the van checked in on a provided iPad via SKYPE on the way to the hotel, so no front desk rigamarole was necessary. Nice.

Getting away from it all is one reason to visit Costa Rica.

Getting away from it all is one reason to visit Costa Rica.

After a 30-minute drive along sugar cane fields, pasture and out along the ridge of the Peninsula Papagayo, I was greeted at the hotel entrance by the charming Pascal Forotti, General Manager and his colleague, Yerilyn, who presented us with a small glass of “Juego de Bienvenido” (“Welcome Juice”), a tasty mixture of orange juice, cilantro and ginger.

The casual elegance of Four Seasons Costa Rica lobby.

The casual elegance of Four Seasons Costa Rica lobby.

Poolside at one of the haciendas available.

Poolside at one of the haciendas available.

Every hotel room has a gorgeous, screened lanai.

Every hotel room has a gorgeous, screened lanai.

To behold the entire Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo, I would suggest giving yourself over to the experience of The Spa, the Trail of Giants Tour along the Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course (set in a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary) and the water sports available. The latter includes kayaking, paddle-boarding and boat rides on the beautiful Bahía de Culebra.

Seclusion and privacy make for a restful stay.

Seclusion and privacy make for a restful stay.

Serious surfers can head over to numerous, seasonally good, surfing spots, including nearby Playa Tamarindo.  Four Seasons partners with Tropicsurf, staffed on-site with experienced guides and instructors. Tropicsurf can easily arrange customized surfing experiences, with local, licensed boat skippers.

The Surf Shack run by the Tropicsurf pros.

The Surf Shack run by the Tropicsurf pros.

Costa Rican wildlife is abundant and, seasonally, you’ll see tribes of monkeys, iguanas and amazing avifauna (birds). In fact, nearly 900 bird species have been identified in Costa Rica – more than in the United States and Canada combined!

Lots of iguanas.

Lots of iguanas.

Magnificent birdlife in great quantities.

Magnificent birdlife in great quantities.

The resort wants you to relax. They want you to come back. Hence the activities that there’s no shortage of. For example, here is the schedule for Mondays through October 31: Guided Kayaking Tour, Spa Exercise Class, Bay Cruise Tour, Spa Boot Camp, Guided Morning Hike, Coco Water Taxi, Cardio Tennis, Spinning, Beach Volleyball, Cooking Class, Dance Class “Latin Rhythms,” Explore Scuba Diving, Guided Snorkel Tour, Artisan Market and a Guided Nature Hike.

One of my favorite activities is Quiet Poolside Sitting. And then along comes staff member Oscar Aguilar as “El Pipero,” the guy who lops off the top of a coconut with a machete, pops in a straw and hands you a delicious fresh container of coconut water with a smile.  !Pura Vida!

Hot and cold Hydrotherapy pools at The Spa, with screened jungle views, offered free of charge to registered guests.

Hot and cold Hydrotherapy pools at The Spa, with jungle views, offered free of charge to registered guests.

A word about the Spa and its facilities at the resort. I chose the Rainforest Aromatherapy Massage with one of the 15 professionally-licensed staff. It was a very relaxing experience, with a choice of ambient music and scented massage oils. The hydrotherapy pools, hot and cold, and gender segregated, are part of the Spa facilities. They are open, free of charge, to all registered guests, as are the dry and wet saunas. The menu of Spa services is extensive and catalogued nicely in the brochures provided in each room.

Children. They are more than welcome, as demonstrated by both the Kid’s Club or the Camp Papagayo Program (these for the age 4-12 group) and the Tuanis Teen Center (12 years and up). These supervised activities and locations give kids a great place to bond and be engaged and are a credit to the thinking of the resort. It is one of the reasons families return to Four Seasons.

Tico's Lounge is a great gathering place for guests.

Tico’s Lounge is a great gathering place for guests.

Cocktail making classes are fun and sociable at Tico's Lounge

Cocktail making classes are fun and sociable at Tico’s Lounge

Food. Yum. Drink. Yum Yum. Because of its central location right below the stairs from the main lobby, Tico’s Lounge is a natural place for guests to congregate for lunch, cocktail hour and beyond. They’ve got a zesty drink here called the Guajito, made with Cacique (“chief of the tribe”) rum, mint, Midori and lemon juice. Wow, where did that first one go? Like that.

The local brews are wonderful, too, with rich ales and pilsners. Tico’s features a mixology class and I found that to be fun and a good way to meet your fellow guests. A couple I met at the class was on a journey to play the most beautiful golf courses around the world. They picked a good stop. Adjacent to Tico’s is Papagayo Restaurant with a great breakfast service.

If you want to dine a little more formally, Di Mare Restaurant, located near Tico’s, is an elegant, Italian-influenced establishment with some creative platings of local, fresh seafood. Loved the sea bass. Another equally elegant restaurant is Caracol, located at the dramatic Ronald Zürcher-designed Golf Clubhouse. At Caracol I had a remarkable comparison offering of local and imported grilled beef, prefaced by a poke-like Ahi dish, and a delicious salad with greens locally-sourced, many right from the restaurant’s nearby herb garden which is worth a look.

Dinner in Caracol's herb garden.

Dinner in Caracol’s herb garden.

Early one night during my stay, some Four Seasons staff gathered children on the beach and launched paper lanterns, taken aloft by small flames into the dark sky. The staff explained that the local tribes used this custom to send off the souls of tribal members who had passed away. We all made wishes as the lantern kites were launched and the sky filled with ethereal bright objects as they drifted off in the night breeze.

An old Guanacaste custom is re-enacted at the beach.

An old Guanacaste custom is re-enacted at the beach.

Another highlight of this trip was Chocolate Making Class, conducted by Henrik Bodholdt who owns the nearby Beach Chocolate Factory.

Henry Bodholdt, Chocolate Maker, offers great hands-on chocolate-making classes.

Henry Bodholdt, Chocolate Maker, offers great hands-on chocolate-making classes.

A native of Denmark, Bodholdt came to Costa Rica over a decade ago and fell in love with the cocoa industry and its end product. Starting with roasting the sustainably-farmed organic cocoa beans, he took the class through the history, shelling, sifting, grinding and mixing process to produce our own chocolate. Mr. Bodholdt gives classes regularly at Four Seasons. It is very educational (and you get to eat your own handmade chocolate).

Two of several pools and beaches you can walk to easily at Four Seasons.

Two of several pools and beaches you can walk to easily at Four Seasons.

Be prepared to experience what returning guests have found:  Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo doesn’t fit into any traditional resort niche.  Sure, there is the usual attention to detail that comes with a world-class destination (such as a staff member asking a perspiring guest, “Would you like a cold towel”); but beyond this is the destination itself. The feeling of inclusion in the culture and the environment of this treasure of a country, even during a short stay, is palpable. The “Ticos” really love that you are visiting their country and want to let you know it. ¡Pura Vida!


Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo http://www.fourseasons.com/costarica/

Playa Tamarindo: http://www.tamarindo.com/

Tropicsurf: http://www.tropicsurf.net/

Costa Rica Surfing Spots: http://www.coastalspanish.com/surfing.htm

The Beach Chocolate Factory: http://www.beachchocolatefactory.com

Desert, Ocean and Luxury at the Tip of Baja, California

Sunrise at Cabo San Lucas

Sunrise at Cabo San Lucas

When you go to “Cabo”, the first phrase in Spanish you should know, after “Gracias” and “Por Favor” are, “¿Es Usted Choyero?” This is a great conversation starter as it means “Are you Baja born?” “Choyero” derives its name from the beautiful and ubiquitous Cholla cactus of the Baja Peninsula. Choyeros are very proud of their State of Baja, the youngest state in the Mexican federation. Before becoming the Free and Sovereign State of Baja California in 1953, it was a wild, sparsely populated territory ruled by the powers in Mexico City.

Our AirTran flight from the very traveler-friendly Orange County Airport took us over enough of Baja to convince anyone it is still very sparsely populated. Most of Baja is still a wild expanse of desert, mountains, washes and tiny clumps of ranch houses and small towns beautifully sandwiched between a blue Pacific Ocean and an equally “azul” Mar de Cortez. It is easy to shake one’s head and wonder why this gorgeous 27,000 square miles has not been developed more. But, then, it wouldn’t be such a treasure of a place. A good exercise is to open a Baja roadmap and see what that 1000 miles between the U.S. border and Cabo San Lucas looks like. You can draw your own conclusions.

Los Arcos, Lands End, Cabo San Lucas

Los Arcos, Lands End, Cabo San Lucas

But let’s get to the luxury part before our thoughts get too parched. Most readers have a good sense of Cabo San Lucas’ location at the tip of Baja; but CSL is only half the story. San Jose Del Cabo, where most people arrive by air, is a wonderful old Mexican town that anchors the other end of the ocean road along Baja’s southern tip. The visitor accomodations that sit, beachfront, along this corridor are our next topic.

The Sheraton Hacienda Del Mar.

The Sheraton Hacienda Del Mar.

Our two most recent experiences included a pair of Starwood resorts, the Sheraton Hacienda Del Mar Golf and Spa Resort Los Cabos and the Westin Resort and Spa Los Cabos. Both sit on dramatic beaches (mind the color of the cautionary flags) and offer distinctly different styles of accomodations.

Colonial styles at the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar.

Colonial styles at the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar.

Apply named because of its “old Mexico” ambience, the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar, on Tortuga Beach, gave us a cozy feel. We appreciated the use of tile, wrought iron, cobblestones and fountains incorporated into the overall concept. Some beautiful artwork and artifacts also enhance the feeling of a traditional Mexican establishment. One could imagine a honeymoon here and, yet, we saw families enjoying the amenities such as the “Kids Pool” and the “Kids Club,” candidly a relief for those of us who seek the quieter aspects of a resort. Clearly, the Sheraton folks have this figured out. We were impressed with the tranquility of this property from the moment we checked in.

Infinity pool at the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar.

Infinity pool at the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar.

Our first night’s meal was a splendid one at the resort’s 5-Diamond De Cortez Mesquite grill, with its lovely terrace by the ocean. With lower Baja’s dependably good weather, meals like this are dreamy. We experienced Executive Chef Manuel de Luca’s menu executed by Chef Salvador Campozano. We began with a creamy lobster bisque followed by a salad of pear, blue cheese, nuts and truffled honey. Before the main course, we tasted a delightful lamb ravioli served with morel mushroom foam and dill.

That’s right, mushroom foam. We chose, for our main course, the Seafood Skillet, in which a delightful menage of lobster tail, shrimp, scallops, mussels and sea bass soak flavorfully in a rum-hinted sauce, served in a fresh coconut. The wines we enjoyed most were reds and whites from Valle de Guadalupe, east of Ensenada in Northern Baja. A passion fruit mousse with fresh berries in a peppercorn crust provided the perfect palate relief after the richness of the main meal. These folks know what they are doing and you are on vacation. Go for it! They will even arrange for your large group to dine on the beach. In a world-class resort, usually all you have to do is ask, and many things can magically be arranged.

Artifacts at the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar emphasize the colonial feel of the resort.

Artifacts at the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar emphasize the colonial feel of the resort.

General Manager Renato Mendonca, with 30 years in the hotel business, and 5 years at the Sheraton Hacienda, recently oversaw an extensive renovation and the rooms show it. Our ocean-view room had its own terrace and we went to sleep that first night with the doors open to the sound of the dramatic surf. Delicious.

Of particular note at the Hacienda are the wonderful infinity pools and spas that are beachside, with the palapa bar happily nearby. Elbows up on the edge of the infinity pool, gazing out at the ocean, watching the waves break is a tonic. Time for reflection and a soul recharge. This is a good place to do it.

And, on a different scale and style, so is the Westin Los Cabos, our next destination.

Part of the dramatic setting at the Westin Los Cabos.

Part of the dramatic setting at the Westin Los Cabos.

The entrance road to the Westin Los Cabos, winding down from the main (now 4-lane) Los Cabos-San Jose Del Cabo highway, doesn’t quite prepare you for the dramatic plaza that adjoins the grand open-air lobby of this Javier Sordo Madaleno-designed resort.

The colors. As Westin Tour Sales Manager Edward Burgos says, ” The colors of the hotel are blue for the ocean, yellow for the sun and pink for the warmth of the Mexican culture. We couldn’t agree more. It is a stunning architectural achievement.

Soothing colors at the Westin Los Cabos.

Soothing colors at the Westin Los Cabos.

Every room has an ocean view and, like the Sheraton, the Westin is set on a remarkably dramatic beach and sleeping with the sound of waves each night adds value to your stay.

If you are not, by chance, a Starwood member, be sure to join as it is a huge benefit when you stay at a Starwood property such as the Sheraton Hacienda or the Westin Los Cabos. A good example of this is a the great buffet breakfasts at the Westin’s Royal Beach Club. Located in an oversized private suite with a long terrace overlooking the beach, it is an extra treat just for being a Starwood member.

Every room has an ocean view at the Westin Los Cabos.

Every room has an ocean view at the Westin Los Cabos.

During our Westin stay we observed a couple of lovely beach weddings and I asked Westin Event Specialist Juan Pablo Colmenero about their wedding business. He told me that they do about 52 weddings per year but never more than one wedding per day. Recently, he said, they had been hosting as many as 300 people in week-long international wedding celebrations.

We wished we had timed our visit to see one of these wonderful, colorful mixture of cultures on the tip of Baja, California. Mr. Colmenero said the Westin’s kitchen staff had been having a great time working with the East Indian chefs who had been added to the mix. Sounds like a great movie!

In addition to the large weddings, the Westin frequently has a full buy-out from corporate event planners, making the resort a great, private club for a large business gathering. Both the Sheraton Hacienda and the Westin offer complete golf packages with excellent courses and amenities.

The remarkable executive chef Manuel Peruyero oversees all of the food at the Westin. We dined at the La Playa Restaurant and tasted our first “Westin Margarita.” As Margarita aficionados, we agreed that there was a little something extra to them. Fish tacos. Gotta love them, and La Playa serves some great ones, typically made with fresh local sea bass. We also had a chance to enjoy one of the “dinners on the beach” that these hotels are renowned for. The buffet was comprised of nearly more choices than we could handle. Everything from grilled (a la parilla) meats and fish to delicious salsas, fresh guacamole and taco makings, all under the stars, with a lovely firepit nearby. The stunning views from the Westin’s Arrecifes Restaurant is also a must during your stay with its cocktail patio especially appealling. Service throughout the hotel and restaurants is a serious staff committment and a joy for guests.

Like the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar, the Westin Los Cabos can arrange a meal on the beach.

Like the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar, the Westin Los Cabos can arrange a meal on the beach.

The spa at The Westin Resort & Spa provides the pleasurable services you hope for in this soothing destination. Relaxing manicures, pedicures, massages, facials are available in calm, quiet, elegant surroundings. La Señora enjoyed an hour of classic Swedish full body massage in a clean, simple room with delicious aromas. The therapist was an experienced and excellent professional. Other restorative massage types are offered, including deep tissue, hot stone, reflexology and sports massage. After the massage she reluctantly floated off the massage table and downstairs to wake up with sauna, steam, and shower. Fresh, iced water is always handy, and white towels, robes and slippers are provided for comfort and harmony. The Westin is justifiably proud of this spa by the sea.

Importantly, both the Sheraton Hacienda and Westin Los Cabos are fully committed to sustainability and the community. The former sponsors and mentors a charity for parentless children and both hotels make sure extra food gets to both employees and members of the community in need.

So, you want to leave the property? What? Well, if you do, you are in for various wonderful treats. A walk around San Jose del Cabo’s historic district is a rich experience. Clean streets, colorful buildings and a great deal of art. This is an historic Mexican town, a port, and sister city to Cabo San Lucas at the other end of the corridor at the tip of Baja. San Jose del Cabo has some excellent restaurants and even some new places like Rock and Brews for the rock and roll crowd (they serve some good pizza, too).

Rock and Brews, San Jose Del Cabo.

Rock and Brews, San Jose Del Cabo.

Cabo San Lucas fishing fleet will take you deep sea fishing.

Cabo San Lucas fishing fleet will take you deep sea fishing.

At the other end of the sea road corridor there is Cabo San Lucas, with its huge charter fishing fleet, Lover’s Beach at Los Arcos (the arches at the very tip of Baja) and numerous bars and restaurants, including the legendary Squid Row and Giggling Marlin. Our favorite Cabo San Lucas restaurant has long been Mi Casa, serving some delicious authentic Mexican cuisine in a less raucous atmosphere than some of the party bars.

Fresh breads at the Penny Lane Cafe in Cabo San Lucas.

Fresh breads at the Penny Lane Cafe in Cabo San Lucas.



Rancher Lisa Whitt with fresh goat cheeses at the Penny Lane Cafe's weekly farmer's market.

Rancher Lisa Whitt with fresh goat cheeses at the Penny Lane Cafe’s twice-weekly farmer’s markets.

And here’s a special insider’s tip: Penny Lane Cafe on Camino del Colegio in Cabo San Lucas. Breakfast, lunch and dinner with the best locally sourced, organic ingredients. Twice a week owner Monica Diaz Rivera manages an adjacent organic food market with fresh breads, cheeses, vegetables and other wonderful local foods all sourced from local farms. It was here I met Lisa Whitt who, with her husband, produces a remarkable range of exquisite goat cheeses on their farm about 2 hours from Cabo San Lucas. Another tip: Try the take out pork from Los Michoacanos Carnitas.

For activities such as tours, boating trips, outback adventures etc., the folks at Terramar can arrange everything. Terramar’s website is worth a visit and the experience we had with them was professional and fun. Their staff all speak excellent English (and will help you with your Spanish).

Water tours are easily available from the Cabo San Lucas waterfront.

Water tours are easily available from the Cabo San Lucas waterfront.

And booking a whale-watching trip, in-season can be rewarding.

And booking a whale-watching trip, in-season can be rewarding.

Of, course, don't forget to learn about the grades of tequilas!

Of, course, don’t forget to learn about the grades of tequilas!

Finally, for those of you who are curious about renting a private home in the area (and there are some spectacular ones), Cabo Dreams Rentals impressed us with their offerings and Property Manager Cesar Claro seems to have some of the best places to show. Our favorite was Casa Miramar, which sits high in the exclusive Pedregal community, directly above the beautiful Playa Solmar stretching out to internationally famous Land’s End.

Beautiful Casa Miramar in Cabo San Lucas.   Many homes like this are available for vacation rental.

Beautiful Casa Miramar in Cabo San Lucas. Many homes like this are available for vacation rental.

Baja, California. Always a great idea for a getaway. ¡Buen Viaje!


Sheraton Hacienda del Mar: http:/www.sheraton.com/haciendadelmar

Westin Resort & Spa Los Cabos: http://www.westin.com/loscabos

Terramar: http://www.terramardestinations.com

Baja Outback: http://www.bajaoutback.com

Penny Lane Cafe: http://pennylanecafe.com

Cabo Dream Rentals: http://www.cabodreamsrentals.com

Mi Casa: http://www.micasarestaurant.com.mx

AirTran: http://www.airtran.com

Chef Tylun Pang, Kō Restaurant and Farm to Table in Maui

Executive Chef Tylun Pang has successfully brought the traditional Plantation Cooking of Hawaii to his customers.

Executive Chef Tylun Pang has successfully brought the traditional Plantation Cooking of Hawaii to his customers.

Those of you who have traveled to Hawaii for a while might remember when your dining out was frequently limited to a steak and lobster house, but you knew there was really good local chow being served in home kitchens and hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

Times have changed as a wave of foodies and innovative chefs have discovered ways to make a good living serving trendy, fancy cuisine to island visitors. That said, it has still been hard to find da kine food that represented the cultures making up Hawaii.

On the island of Maui, Chef Tylun Pang and his talented coterie of multi-cultural chefs have created Kō, a place we came to call a “teaching restaurant,” where you can dine the way Mauians have for generations. It is a place where treasured family recipes have been adapted to principles of elegant cuisine and presented with service respectful of the histories and cultural influences of the food.

Ko Restaurant entrance at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui.

Kō Restaurant entrance at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui.

It has been a long time since the first sugar mill started operation on Maui in 1828. Lewis and Clark’s historic cross-country trip across North America was still being evaluated and America was still forming, with a Civil War yet to come. Yet there on Maui, immigrant workers were arriving from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal and other nations to provide labor for the expanding sugar operation.

Workers lived in camps on the sugar cane plantations and most raised a few vegetables and prepared family meals in the style of their homelands. From these very ethnic beginnings, combined at times with Native Hawaiian cooking, a unique “plantation-style” food style was derived. Hardy, nourishing food was required to restore the body from the arduous work in the cane fields and the sugar mills. The homemakers saw to it to provide sustenance in their home kitchens.

Chef Tylun Pang grew up on Oahu in a family that loved food and, in Chinese tradition, every meal was a family event, with cooking done by his father and grandmothers. He says he can “close my eyes and still see Dad in the kitchen.” His father took him shopping for food in Chinatown and inspired young Tylun with his amazing wok skills. “The wok is still the first pan I reach for,” says Pang.

Beginning his formal cooking career, Chef Pang started at the Ilikai Hotel in Honolulu, then, with generous mentoring from some European chefs, he went on to the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles before returning to Hawaii, the place he really feels at home. With this experience and resume, Chef Pang eventually became Executive Chef at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea, Maui and here is where the evolution of Kō started.

Heading a kitchen staff in the hotel’s then-upscale Italian restaurant, “I looked around and realized we didn’t have one Italian in the kitchen,” he says. This was also the moment when the Kea Lani wanted to make a change and the collaborations that ensued percolated the idea of a restaurant representing Maui by its traditional multicultural home cooking.

Chef Pang, with his culinarian colleagues, including Chefs Richard Ramirez and Richard Hoang, started collecting recipes from Maui families and other contributing chefs.

Pang’s team made multiple visits to the exhibits at the Maui Sugar Museum in Puunene which depict the cultures that helped build the sugar industry. Distilling and adapting the recipes into the new Kō menu turned into a labor of love as Chef Pang and his colleagues realized they had found, to a great extent, the down-to earth, honest cuisine of Maui.

Some items that made the Kō menu include starters such as Spicy Tuna Poke Bowl, Oishi Sushi, Lumpia Filipino Spring Rolls and Maui Cattle Company Kobe Beef Poke and Banana Ketchup BBQ Pork Skewers (an island street food favorite).

Soups and salads range from Portuguese Bean Soup to Chop Chop Sesame Chicken Salad (with Won Bok Cabbage and Won Ton Chips). Among the adapted Plantation traditional items are Sugar Cane Skewered Prawns and Scallops, Zarzuela (a kettle of lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and chorizo in a saffron broth – wow!) and Maui Cattle Company Korean BBQ Strip Loin (with tempura shrimp and house made Kim Chee).

There is also the delicious Lavender Honey Macadamia Nut Shrimp and Painiolo Bone-In Rib-Eye Steak. Fresh fish, from local Hawaiian-waters, weather permitting, are offered with a range of preparations that include: Ginger Steamed, Macadamia Nut Crust, Kea Lani Garden Herb and Wok Seared. We tried Monchong (a deep sea Pomfret) and local Lehi, served with a delicious side of purple, Molokai mashed sweet potatoes.

Rounding out this multi-cultural mix are interesting items like edamame humus, Portuguese taro rolls and desserts like Maui Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, Chantilly Cake and Coconut Gelato. Check out the entire menu at http://www.korestaurant.com

So where do all these ingredients come from? Chef Pang has long been committed to local sourcing (remember, his Dad took him shopping in Honolulu’s Chinatown as a small boy). He knows most of the small farmers on Maui and many of the fishermen people like Chauncy and Teena Monden who run Kula Country Farms on the slopes of Haleakala and produce amazingly sweet Kula Onions and delicious Kula Strawberries.

Chauncy Monden, 4th Generation Maui Farmer, Kula Country Farms.

Chauncy Monden, 4th Generation Maui Farmer, Kula Country Farms.

Chef Pang knows when Hana fishermen are catching Ahi Tuna, for example, and regularly talks by phone with chefs across the islands to find out how their fish and produce sources are managing.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention an over-arching awareness of local food  sourcing by the Maui restaurant community as a whole. From top-flight, award-winning establishments like Kō to smaller quality establishments such as Colleen’s at the Cannery in up-country Haiku, chefs are regularly receiving supplies from local growers such as Kula Country Farms, Otani Farms and even smaller boutique farmers like Patnode Farms, Haiku Organic Farms and Rainbow Specialty Organics. As veteran restaurateur Colleen Nicholas says, with a smile, “people walk in all day and sell us lemons, limes, avocados, star fruit, etc. They are the real unsung heroes because local citrus and produce is so much better.”

Colleen's Beet Salad with fresh organic Kula greens, organic grape tomatoes, candied walnuts and goat cheese.

Colleen’s Beet Salad with fresh organic Kula greens, organic grape tomatoes, candied walnuts and goat cheese.

A trip to Maui these days is not only a trip to an astonishingly beautiful place, but it can be a great opportunity to learn more about Hawaiian history and the modern Mauians’ embrace of sustainable agriculture coupled with fine dining, plantation-style. Trip planners and resort concierges are available to help you plan farm tours and other excursions that will put you right on the farm-to-table route.


Luxury, Sustainability and Aloha+ in Wailea, Maui


All suites at the Fairmont Kea Lani have ocean views.

All suites at the Fairmont Kea Lani have ocean views.

When we think of big resort hotels, we sometimes default to thinking there will frequently be waste issues in food, trash, laundering and energy. It is with delight when we discover a major destination property that has figured it out and made a commitment to sustainability principles.

As guests at the Fairmont Kea Lani, set on lovely Polo Beach on the Valley Isle of Maui, you might get a hint of this commitment with your first Mai-Tai by one of the pools, served in a “glass” made of corn (and 100% compostable).  It doesn’t stop there.


Poolside Mai Tai in a “glass” made of corn tells part of the story of the Fairmont Kea Lani’s commitment to sustainability.

During a recent stay, we learned a great deal more about the Kea Lani’s sustainability efforts on Maui and the significant corporate commitment by the Fairmont’s global properties.  For example, by the end of 2013, Fairmont’s goal is to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below their 2006 levels, the equivalent of taking 19,777 cars off the road annually.  Look for Electric Car charging stations coming later this year, a developing addition to Maui travel.  Leftover food donations to local food banks, farm-to-table sourcing and on-site “Green Teams” prove that this is not just a “trendy” corporate nod, but a way of life for the Fairmont culture since 1990.

We found the poolside service to be excellent.  The nicely tranquil adult pool is great for guests who wish to, well, be without kids for a little while.

The "adult" quiet pool at the Fairmont Kea Lani is tranquil with excellent Mai Tais poolside.

The “adult” quiet pool at the Fairmont Kea Lani is tranquil with excellent food service poolside.

Snacks and beverages are brought to your small chaise-lounge tables. Hint: Go for the Kalua-Pork Quesadilla with Mango Salsa.  Zesty!


The spacious and comfortable lobby of the Fairmont Kea Lani is a great place to relax and meet with friends.

The Fairmont Kea Lani actively engages its guests to be partners in the sustainability effort and we found ourselves easily tuned-in and mindful, thanks to the hotel’s examples, led by General Manager Charles Head, a cheerful host, custom-made for the modern hospitality industry.  He is the real deal.



Live bamboo incorporated into the lobby ambience at the Fairmont Kea Lani.


Amenities.  Big ones, small ones, lots of them.  The little touches that you remember.  Have you ever been to a WSUE Resort (World’s Slowest and Ugliest Elevators)?  The Kea Lani’s elevators arrive quickly and are beautifully designed.  Expect top of the line Rose 31 eco-products by Le Labo in the spacious bathroom(s), great in-room coffee and tea service, and high-quality linens and down pillows. Staff attitude?  Aloha says a lot but let’s just say “Aloha-Plus” for this staff. How do they remember who we are by name?  Do they have chips installed?


Whoever came up with the all-Suite resort concept was brilliant.  With 413 of these 800 square-foot-plus ocean-view suites and 37 very private ocean-view villas (each with their own small pool), the Kea Lani is a sweet-spot in resort size.  Add to that a very unique location tucked in the Polo Beach cove and you have a feeling of privacy in the heart of Wailea.


Polo Beach Cove gives the visitor a feeling of coziness. Beaches in Hawaii are public but this setting has a sense of privacy while not being “uppity.”


The whale-watching, in season, from your private lanai, libation-in-hand, is, well, the stuff of dreams.  Speaking of Lanai, that’s the island right out your window.

Service gets to you fast because the resort is adequately staffed with well-trained and motivated employees (each of whom is imbued with the culture of the property and Hawaii by going through a comprehensive cultural training program run by the resort’s own cultural advisor).


The welcoming lobby and adjacent lounge at the Fairmont Kea Lani is a great place to meet friends for an afternoon libation.

There is, of course, lots to do on Maui: from the top of Haleakala to the snorkeling and myriad water sports; to the great helicopter tours, upcountry touring and the gorgeous marathon drive to Hana…but, if you just want to stay put, the Kea Lani makes it easy. This property clearly wants you to relax and enjoy everything.  For off-property adventures the Concierge desk is at your service, and will arrange for just about any activity.

The best deal is to get the Sunnyside Breakfast Package when you reserve.  This is a real value.  We’re not normally big buffet fans, but the Kea Lani Restaurant somehow re-wrote the book on resort breakfast buffets.  From Chef Irwin or Chef “Smiley” at their made-to-order omelet stations, to the huge fresh fruit bar and fresh pastries (the apple strudel and the mango cobbler), with staff bringing fresh pots of coffee, refreshing your water and juice (or mai tai)…well, maybe you’ll be lounging at the hotel today.  And if you are off for an adventure, this breakfast will fortify you.  (You can also order from the menu, but value-wise, go for the Breakfast Package).


Chef Irwin works his magic at the Fairmont Kea Lani Restaurant omelet station.

Later in the day, other dining options will tempt you to stay on the property:

Nick’s Fishmarket Maui is a seafood and steak establishment, with a great terrace and a lively bar; the Polo Beach Grille and Bar is a poolside, casual daytime place where friends gather and includes a handy swim-up bar; and Caffe Ciao Bakery and Deli is open from early morning to late night and has a wide range of food options including custom picnic baskets.


Caffe Ciao makes a great picnic lunch, wonderful coffee drinks and is a great place to pick up those sundries you might have forgotten to pack.

Overseeing all food at the Kea Lani is Executive Chef Tylun Pang.


Chef Tylun Pang oversees all of the food at the Fairmont Kea Lani and is the driving force behind the “Plantation Cuisine” at Kō Restaurant at the resort.

He is also the driving force behind one of Hawaii’s great authentic restaurants, Kō, which was the dining highlight of our Fairmont Kea Lani stay.  There is so much to say about Kō and the integration of Hawaiian home cooking that we are dedicating a separate article in this issue to the restaurant and Chef Pang’s commitment to local food sourcing and environmental stewardship.  That said, one meal at Kō will open your eyes and palate to the cultural influences on contemporary, Hawaiian cuisine.  Move over fusion; let’s get down with some plantation-inspired home cooking.

An over-arching quality for any deluxe property is the amount of return business.  At the Kea Lani we asked staff members about this and the story was consistent:  Families have been coming here year after year.  In fact, many employees have worked at the property for many years and have seen children grow, and return with their own families.  These are qualities of a destination property that can’t fit into any metric but are as important as any.


Along the never-boring Wailea hiking path, easily accessible from the Kea Lani.

Wrapping up this intro to the Fairmont Kea Lani, let us add that evening walks along the Wailea hiking path (which passes through the beachfront of the resort) is another delight.  Because of the Kea Lani’s location, the foot traffic seems modest and there is never a feeling of being crowded, even during high season.  That feeling of seclusion and tranquility carries through this unique property.  Couple this with the Fairmont’s leadership in Maui’s environmental stewardship and we give this great family destination a big thumb’s up!


Carmel-by-the Sea: Art, History and the Sea



The beautiful cove at Carmel-by-the-Sea

 Carmel-By-The-Sea! Oh, how that rolls off the tongue so easily. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. Nestled in the shore of Carmel Bay, on the south end of the larger Monterey Bay; one of Northern California’s natural wonders and marine life habitats. With a heritage of the Old World, this natural artist’s colony, hub of wealth, comfortable homes, and culturally engaged society, still manages to throw open its arms to visitors from all over the world.


One of the many galleries in Carmel

With big brother Monterey just over the hill to the north, and the enchanting Highway One route to Big Sur to the south, Carmel simply says, “Stay and rest awhile.” It is very easy to comply. All are welcome here.


The venerable drug store in downtown Carmel

Having weathered some criticism for “commercialization” over the years, (if the easy-on-the-eyes architecture, and brilliant merchandising skills in the shop and gallery windows is to be criticized), drive down to your local strip mall before you make a judgment. Sure, we all miss the truly funky artist’s colonies that flourished along the California coast, but let’s face it, things change, and sometimes they get better. Carmel is a case in point.


Get ready for some treats here.

Let’s talk a little about Carmel’s history. As with many California coastal areas, tribes of Native Americans, the Esselen and Ohlone along the Central Coast, flourished before the Europeans showed up in the early 1600’s, claiming the area for Spain. Carmel Valley was named for Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The big names showed up in the mid-1700’s: Gaspar de Portolá and Father Junipero Serra, and soon the historic Carmel Mission was established. As usual, in spite of some frequent good intentions, European diseases decimated the Native Americans and they either died out from illness or fled to the mountains to the south due to the treatment by the Spaniards. Father Serra died in 1784, but not before helping to establish the famous chain of missions throughout California. Highway One is called El Camino Real, “The King’s Highway.” as many have known it, and many old missions can be visited along its beautiful route. In 1848, after the Mexican-American war, Carmel became part of the United States, ceded by Mexico, with California becoming a state two years later.


Some of the treats!


Clint in the window.

An art colony was born, seismically, if you will, after San Francisco’s disastrous 1906 earthquake. Artists of all disciplines fled San Francisco for the south, coincidentally supplementing another growing art community in Los Angeles, which continues to enjoy worldwide renown. But many artists simply stopped, agog, in Carmel, and there they stayed and worked. New venues such as The Arts and Crafts Theater and The Forest Theater evolved and a visual arts community that included early photographers such as Arnold Genthe, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, arrived and thrived. Musically, among other events, the Carmel Bach Festival has been celebrating J.S. Bach since 1935. The feeling of an artist’s workplace still permeates the quiet streets.


One of the many working artists’ studios in Carmel-by-the-sea.

It would be hard to imagine a more connected place to stay in Carmel than The Cypress Inn; wonderfully linked to the town’s history, warmly preserved by the ownership of Doris Day and Dennis Le Vett, and managed with a big smile by the very capable Fiona VanderWall and her accommodating staff.


The wonderful Cypress Inn.

Checking in to the 44-room establishment, at the corner of 7th and Lincoln, is to step into a 1920s building suggesting a Mediterranean-Moroccan style, rich in wood, window treatments hung from forge-twisted iron rods and venerable tile floors. Doris Day memorabilia are tastefully displayed in the lobby and other parts of the Cypress Inn and are enjoyable to review. Our suite overlooked Lincoln Street and had a delightful balcony facing west, and a spacious circular Jacuzzi tub in the large bathroom. Top shelf linens and a lovely inset fireplace also set an elegant tone.


The Cypress Inn is very pet-welcoming.

If you travel with your dog, The Cypress Inn especially welcomes you, as they are one of California’s most pet-friendly establishments. While we were sans pet, we thoroughly enjoyed the well-behaved dogs that came to the abundant continental breakfast with their owners. Dogs and their humans also showed up for the afternoon Yappy Hour at Terry’s Lounge, the Cypress Inn’s great bar/restaurant. You could feel the popularity with the locals who gather daily for some libation, and fun pet sharing. Yappy Hour is fun, remarkably quiet, and entertaining.


The Cypress Inn lobby with some Doris Day memorabilia.

Terry’s Lounge, named for Doris Day’s late son, music producer Terry Melcher, is a cozy, elegant place to eat and drink. Mixologist Will Larkin, whose family roots are deep in Northern California history, has an amazing grasp of wines and liquors with a solid knowledge of beers. Not to be missed is the cocktail menu, which features wonderful quotes from famous movie stars. My favorite is Mae West’s, “Why don’t you slip out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini.” Cocktails at Terry’s Lounge are fun and edifying!


One of the public rooms off the Cypress Inn lobby.


The walk along Scenic drive.

We ate at the bar two nights in a row and Will was generous in sharing his knowledge of food and drink. Food and Beverage Manager Jonathan Bagley has made the most of a small-plate concept in keeping ingredients as local as possible and Terry’s Lounge is signed on with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, which monitors species threatened with overfishing. Among the items we enjoyed were delicate, briny Miyagi oysters from the Hog Island Oyster Farm at Tomales Bay, seared Ahi Tuna with a light butternut squash cream sauce, house-roasted beet salad with goat cheese, and a stand-out watercress and apple salad. The burger and fries on the menu is enough for two! Finally, Will recommended a delicious Hahn Winery 2010 Santa Lucia Ridge Pinot Noir, a smooth, fruit-forward vintage that rivals any California or Oregon Pinot Noir we’ve tasted. Terry’s Lounge has a comfortable, local feel to it and it became our favorite place to eat in Carmel.

Now for a nice walk. You won’t find too many more picturesque strolls than along Scenic Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea. With the Cypress Inn being located right in the middle of Carmel, it is a short drive or walk down the hill to Carmel City Beach.

Scenic Drive takes off to the south, and the walk, either on the easily accessible beach or on the lovely street-level path, is dreamy. Kelp, Cypress trees, a distant fog bank, and the odd sea lions and sea otters make Carmel Bay a signature of this part of the California coast.


The ubiquitous Cypress trees of the Monterey Peninsula.

Along Scenic Drive, oceanfront homes, some modest, some daringly cantilevered over the water, dazzle, but the sea is the real star. The fresh ocean air is a tonic for the soul and this walk is one of the things that draws visitors back time after time. Forget your other concerns for a while, breathe in this air and enjoy the moment. Hug your partner a little closer and feel the gratitude for being able to be right there. You’ll find shared smiles among strangers along Scenic Drive.


Just a touch of Carmel’s arty nature.

Returning to the town center, possibly via a big loop including Mission Ranch and the Carmel Mission, nosing around the art galleries can be a lovely way to spend an afternoon. The bar for art in Carmel, as historically noted above, is set high. Gallery representation is precious to working artists, and the vetting process for exhibition in this artist’s colony is comprehensive. Explore! The surprise of looking down a small alley and seeing a metal sculpture studio, or finding the precise seascape for your living room in a gallery window, awaits.


Along the famous 17-Mile Drive.

Unless you’ve decided to stay forever in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the time comes to leave.  When you do, please do yourselves a favor and pay the fee to drive the world-famous 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach to Pacific Grove. The sea vistas, the famous Del Monte Lodge, the Inn at Spanish Bay, Del Monte Forest, the generous turnouts along the rugged shoreline, and the spectacular estates that speak of wealth, old and new, make this trip worthwhile. We gazed at the breaking waves for what seemed a very long time on The Drive. Two sea otters were busy in a cove, acting like the clowns they are, and a couple of deer ambled along, completely comfortable with passing cars.

Carmel remains a very special place in the hearts and minds of world travelers and locals alike. And when you go, here are some references for you: