Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Travelin' days ...

Flying over St. Maarten en route to St. Barths. Photo: JH.
Happy New Year from Klosters!
January 2. Since the late 1960s, my family has chosen Europe as our ski destination. In first years we skied across Austria, France and Switzerland, until we found Klosters nearly 30 years ago. We’ve been coming ever since. We missed a few years here and there, but nothing much ever changed.

Until recently. A strong Swiss franc, close proximity to neighboring European countries; only a 60-minute flight from the UK, and arguably the best skiing in the world, have all made Switzerland a popular destination for skiers. For some of us New Yorkers, the seven-hour plane ride to Zurich is sometimes quicker than getting to Aspen, especially during holiday time. When you have children, this matters.
Klosters is a sleepy Swiss town, less than two hours from Zurich Flughafen. It boasts the world's longest ski run -- the Parsenn -- which begins at 2,844 meters (nearly 10,000 feet). This year, parts of the Parsenn were closed, as for the first time in about 20 years because the village has had a bit of a snow shortage.

That ended yesterday, when 10 inches fell, and it's still falling as I write. To a New Yorker who comes to Klosters every year for her 10 days of ski, sun, and R&R, the fact that there was not much snow, or an abundance of powder, like some of the US competition, is doesn’t matter me, or the many other 'locals-for-a-week" who come from Singapore, Scotland, England, Belgium, Germany, France, Australia, South Africa and of course, the US.

We have had good ski conditions, with midday temperature's soaring into the 50"s, like spring skiing in the Rockies. But it is rare that one comes to Klosters to just ski. Those who have been coming here for many years all know each other. Many of us grew up skiing together and now our children are skiing together.
What brought everyone here to begin with was the fact that Klosters is the antithesis of St. Moritz, Aspen, and it's counterparts both in Europe and the US. There is no "scene.” There is no fashion show on the slopes, and one need not make reservations for lunch. A ski lift pass is 1/3 of what it is in Deer Valley, and while it does not enable you to break the queue, hiring a private instructor for a full day costs about what you’d pay for two hours in Vail.

For most visitors, social life in Klosters revolves largely around the hotel where you are staying. Each hotel has its own group of devotees. My home-away-from-home, The Hotel Pardenn, is supposed to be razed this spring, to make way for a "flats" and a newer, more luxe 5 star Hotel.The thinking is that the monies raised by selling the flats will pay for the razing and rebuilding of the new hotel.

This has been big talk in town for a few years now, since the owner died two years ago, and left no heirs. The Hotel Pardenn was originally built in 1924, with additions in 1928, and a gut renovation in the 1960's. It was the only 5 star star hotel in town, and it was home to Greta Garbo on her summer and winter vacations. She was the guest in room 410, a simple but chic  suite. The hotel was always run to perfection, and especially so during the last 10 years that Jean Claude Huber has been the general manager. He has managed to attract and maintain a loyal and hardworking staff -- quite a feat in a resort town.

What has attracted visitors to the Pardenn, and Klosters in general, keeps them coming back for years and sometimes generations, is the warm hospitality of the hotel staff, many of whom have been working here since the "Garbo" days. We all know that the day will come when we will need to find a new place to call home.

While nothing can ever replace the experiences we have all had at the Pardenn, we have explored the village for some options, and a short list. The Chesa Grischuna, a small 4-star hotel just  steps from the train station, is where Irwin Shaw wrote Paris, Paris. It had been owned by Hans Guler, a member of the "first family" of Klosters until his death a few years ago. It is still run by many of his staff.

There is also the boarding house style, but terribly chic Hotel Wynegg (pronounced vneck) run by Ruth Guler the sister of Hans. The Wynegg has hosted many members of the Royal family, including the Prince of Wales. Hotel Rustico is a good choice for singles on a budget, 3 stars and a decent cafe.

If one wants to go all out, the Vereina is 6 stars, and is a few feet from the Chesa, and has a full service spa. it was renovated several years ago, while once considered a white elephant, it sits majestically at the end of the Bahnhafstrasse. As a larger hotel, it lacks the warmth and charm of it's smaller counterparts.
Klostehotel Rustico
Chalet Acletta
Sylvester (New year's Eve) is celebrated with hearty spirit. Festivities begin after the ski day ends, and culminate with "Full Night Parties", and of course, dancing at the Casa Antica until sunrise. Little of this has changed in the past 50 or so years. It still plays host to the crowd with an average age of 16, charging magnums of Piper Heidsieck to their parents’ American Express cards.
Some good news has been circulating for the Pardenn; a pending law, limiting foreign investment in Klosters may be passed this month. If passed, the law would make the razing and rebuilding unlikely, as the building of flats would be less attractive. This is good news not only for the current loyalists, Mr. Huber and his staff, and, future guests!

— Liz Finkle
JH writes: After a cathartic year of social activity in New York (not to mention our travels to England, France, Holland, Russia) and most, if not all, its contents reproduced on these pages, I decided to take a little vacation over the holidays. So my brother Jason, sister Stefanie, and friends Jason Schwalbe and Jeremy Smith (which made for five native New Yorkers) headed down to Caribeean island of St. Maarten to recharge for the new year.

No reason to go into much detail as I'll let the pictures do the talking, but here's a little background info: St. Maarten is the smallest Island in the world to be shared by two sovereign governments-namely the Dutch and French.

The Dutch side, with Philipsburg as its capital occupies the southern 17 square miles of this 37-square-mile island; St. Martin, a French dependency, occupies the northern half. Both Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin have maintained a peaceful coexistence for over 350 years, the longest of any two bordering nations.

They have have enjoyed harmonious relations through their history and have shared the prosperity of many years without dispute (a model for the rest of the world).

The Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, fun beaches, and many casinos, while the French side is known more for its world-famous nude beaches, jewelry and clothes, shopping, and rich French Caribbean cuisine. We took on both sides of the island and here's a rundown ...
Arrived St. Maarten at 3 PM and hoofed it over to Cliff Bar in Cupecoy where we got our first look at the Caribbean blue.
JH's bro taking in the sunset.
Descending the steps to take a closer look.
JH's sister Stefanie already in vaca mode.
A game of backgammon ready and willing.
Looking along Cupecoy beach.
Day 2: Fresh croissants and crepes for breakfast at Le Croissanterie, situated on Marina Port La Royale in Marigot.
After breakfast we headed over to Baie Rouge for our first day at the beach.
Setting up beach chairs for the influx of New Yorkers.
Swallowed water being sent back to whence it came.
Patrolling the waters.
Lumpy footsteps line the beach.
Above, right, and below: Baie Rouge beach scenes.
Trees with a view.
Sailng away ...
Brother Hirsch in stealth mode.
A rainbow peeks out from behind the clouds.
Three's a crowd.
The Lord Sheffield drops anchor and we head back home to the Towers at Mullet Bay.
On Thursday we decided to take a day trip to St. Barths. Our day trip began when we awakened at 5:30 AM to depart for Princess Juliana Airport for our 7 o'clock flight to St Barths. Flights were very busy which is in fact why we left so early in the morning. The flight itself lasted roughly 10 minutes flying time, and at only 1,500 feet above the Carribean Sea. It was a 6-seater and we were five passengers total.

We arrived in St. Barths on a small landing strip/runway whose concrete extended to the tip of St Jean beach. We could see various beachgoers watching our tiny plane as we descended upon the minuscule runway. After deplaning we headed to Gustavia, the main town, and a less than five-minute taxi ride, for $20 (part of the charm of St. Barths). We began our journey through the main town and settled for breakfast al fresco at Le Bar de L'oubli , a quaint little cafe near the water. We later ventured into the streets of Gustavia and passed a slew of french shops, cafes, and also captured sight of the the various yachts docked on the water in town.

Later that morning we headed to St. Jean beach, the island's most popular, known for its white sand beaches and calm waters perfect for swimming and sailing. We spent most of our day at La Plage, a trendy beach restaurant and hotel, where we ran into a rail-thin Tara Reid. Within view of our location and right down the beach was the Eden Rock Hotel, a beautiful Relais and Chateaux property nestled upon a rock that juts out into the waters of St Jean beach.

In case you're wondering who was visting St Barth's last week and this week: Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones, Penelope Cruz, Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Harvey Weinstein, Jon Bon Jovi, Russell Simmons, Peter Brant and Stephanie Seymour, Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Anne Hathaway, Brett Ratner, Penny Marshall, Tamara Mellon, Ronald Perelman, Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes, David Letterman, Patrick Demarchelier, Clive Davis, Jimmy and Jane Buffett, Ivana Trump, Richard Meier, Paul Allen, Larry Ellison, Gilles Bensimon, Rachel Zoe, Kelly Bensimon, Graydon and Anna Carter, Ivanka Trump, Georgina Chapman, Renee and Mark Rockefeller, Frederic Fekkai and Shirin von Wulffen, Marjorie Gubelmann Raein, Terry Allen Kramer and Nick Simunek, Nicky Hilton, Rachel and Ara Hovnanian, Larry Gagosian, Helen and Tim Schifter, Samantha Boardman and Aby Rosen, Nicholas Berggruen, Tamara Beckwith, Miguel Forbes, Daniel Benedict and Andrew Saffir, and Bettina Zilkha.

Later in the afternoon we walked over to Nikki Beach, a well known trendy restaurant/lounge farther down St. Jean beach, and indulged in a bottle of rosé and a little dessert before returning to the airport for our 5:25 PM flight to St Maarten.
Approaching (what we thought was) our plane.
Turns out we had the smaller version, the Britten Norman Islander - BN2A.
The seemingly un-unnerved gang on board the five-seater.
up, up, and away ...
Rising high above the friendly island.
Stormy clouds move in over a group of yachts resting in the harbor of Gustavia.
Searching for croissants at La Rotisserie.
Still hungry, we walked over to Le Bar de l'Oubli ...
... for some cappuccino and eggs.
A young patron drinking her O.J.
An even younger one waiting for his pancakes.
The runway at St. Barths.
Looking out at the deep blue from Eden Rock's Tapas on the Rocks.
Looking towards Baie de St. Jean from Tapas on the Rocks.
Looking out from the bathroom window of Tapas on the Rocks.
Multi-colored banquettes at Tapas on the Rocks.
Jason Schwalbe, Stefanie Hirsch, JH, and Jason Hirsch on Baie de St. Jean.
Looking towards the Eden Rock Hotel from Baie de St. Jean.
Morning catch.
Scenes from Nikki Beach.
A father plays with his son while his nannies care for his other two children.
Youngens of a different generation.
JH and his bro grabbing one last drink and cigar at Nikki Beach St. Barths before heading back to the airport.
Approaching Winair's DHC-6-300 for our return flight to St. Maarten.
On board the much roomier DHC-6-300 for our return flight.
Within nine minutes we were back on the friendly island of St. Maarten.
Back in St. Maartin for our remaining days ...
Right and below: Overlooking a bluff on the southeast tip of the island.
Below: driving through Philipsburg, the capital of Dutch St. Maarten.
An overcast afternoon at Dawn Beach on the East side of St. Maarten.
Lunch at Mr. Busby's beach bar.
The view from Mr Busby's.
Looking through a palm leaf at the new Westin hotel on Dawn Beach.
Looking out towards St. Barths from Dawn Beach.
A sweeping Caribbean view
Driving along the east coast of the island.
Storm clouds passing through on our drive back across the island.
Driving by the Brook's and Vanterpool's ...
... and their residents.
We stopped by a french bakery in Marigot for some freshly baked bread.
And waited out a passing rain storm.
The rain passes and out comes a local resident.
We say goodbye to the friendly island and prepare for a warm (yet cold temp-wise) New York welcome.
Watching the sunset from seat 28B. We were back in New York within a few hours, only to sit in traffic for two hours. Was it worth it?? You bet.