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Next Stop… A Golden Era

By Roger Grody

Train travel has not been the dominant mode of transportation for three-quarters of a century, but the grandeur of a golden era of rail can still be discovered without ever purchasing a ticket. Just like the movie palaces of the period, many early 20th century train stations have been meticulously restored, some transformed into compelling attractions for tourists and locals alike.

The granddaddy of them all may be New York’s Grand Central Terminal, whose current Beaux-Arts building was inaugurated in 1913. Although Amtrak departs out of Penn Station, Grand Central still services commuter lines to suburban New York and Connecticut, while subway passengers connect here. The landmark is home to a wide array of food services, from sit-down restaurants (e.g., Grand Central Oyster Bar, Cipriani Dolci) to gourmet specialty purveyors such as Jacques Torres Chocolate or Murray’s Cheese.

Historic Main Concourse - Credit Grand Central Terminal
Main Concourse - Grand Central Terminal

Like rail landmarks across the country, Grand Central Terminal’s history ranges from soaring heights to tragic declines, and it ultimately took a 1978 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to save it from demolition. During the controversy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was a high-profile member of the Committee to Save Grand Central Terminal (as was architect Philip Johnson), argued for the station’s preservation. She queried, “Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children…?”

Union Station Kansas City has been reimagined as a multipurpose cultural center but remains an iconic symbol of the community.

Although its first passengers boarded trains in 1894, the Romanesque-style Union Station of St. Louis became a global hub during the city’s 1904 World’s Fair. Today, only local commuter trains run through Union Station, but the city has used the restoration of the historic landmark to fuel nearby redevelopment, attracting new hotels and shopping. The grand concourse of the terminal, with its Tiffany stained glass windows, has been polished up and a world-class aquarium now calls the station home.

Across the state, Union Station Kansas City (exceeded in size only by Grand Central and Penn Station in New York) opened in 1914 but shuttered in 1985 after decades of declining passenger volume. An ambitious plan to reimagine the Beaux-Arts station — it was transformed into a cultural center with an interactive science museum, exhibition space, planetarium and live theater — concluded in 1999. A catalyst for downtown development, the station’s evolution has been critical to the renaissance of the entire metropolis, insists George Guastello, president and CEO of Union Station Kansas City. Noting its image is as iconic to Kansas City as the Gateway Arch is to St. Louis or Empire State Building to New York, Guastello states, “It’s become the visual voice of our community, the monument that brings the city together.”

Cincinnati Union Terminal, opened in 1933, is a superb example of Art Deco architecture in America.

The Kansas City landmark still performs the role for which it was originally designed, albeit on a much smaller scale, as passengers board Amtrak’s Southwest Chief to Chicago or Los Angeles, and the Missouri River Runner to St. Louis. With approximately 2 million annual visitors, Guastello suggests the revitalized facility has again become the lively ecosystem it was early in the last century. “It’s a model for what an historic train station can become in the 21st century,” he says, adding, “It’s not just a station but a source of civic pride…It’s the piazza of Kansas City.”

Opening in 1933, in the height of the Art Deco era, Cincinnati Union Terminal remains one of America’s great examples of that glamorous architectural style. The station’s soaring rotunda spans 180 feet and features impressive mosaic murals by German-American artist F. Winold Reiss. Cincinnati Union Terminal no longer accommodates the 200-plus trains per day it was designed for, but travelers can still board the Amtrak Cardinal to New York or Chicago, and the facility has become home to several museums.

Denver’s Union Station, a Neoclassical landmark rebuilt in 1914 after a devastating fire, is another worthy destination for history buffs. The trendy Crawford Hotel now overlooks the station’s sumptuous Great Hall, where restorations of the original 1,200-pound chandeliers create a dramatic scene shared by hotel guests and rail passengers. The westernmost monument to the golden age of rail in America is Los Angeles’ Union Station, which presents an artful melding of Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco architecture.

Bruce Scottow, former program coordinator at the Los Angeles Conservancy — he continues to conduct walking tours of Union Station for the organization — reports the building has always exemplified the California lifestyle. “Completed in 1939, it was late in coming and is often regarded as the last of the great railway stations,” explains Scottow. L.A.’s Union Station has appeared in movies such as Blade Runner, Bugsy, Catch Me If You Can, and The Dark Knight Rises, prompting preservationist Scottow to comment, “Any movie star would be jealous of its film credits.”

Today, in addition to accommodating Amtrak service, the station is the hub of L.A.’s underappreciated subway and commuter train networks, and its restoration has attracted trendy restaurants and brewpubs. “Union Station is no longer the end of the line…it has never been busier than it is now,” states Scottow.

Among the world’s most beautiful trainstations, and representing an innovativeadaptive reuse, is the formerGare d’Orsay onthe banks of the Seine in Paris, inaugurated in 1900. The magnificent Beaux-Arts building is better known today as Musée d’Orsay, which houses one of the greatest collections of Impressionist art on the planet, including iconic pieces from Monet, Van Gogh and Renoir.

The Napoli Afragola railway station, a vision of pioneering architect Zaha Hadid, has become a metaphor for modern Italy.

At Musée d’Orsay, two giant clocks face the river — highly Instagrammable is the glass dial of one that doubles as a window — and the museum’s restaurant itself is a work of art. Across town, however, is arguably the world’s most glamorous rail station restaurant, the gilded Belle Époque-style Le Train Bleu at Paris’ Gare de Lyon, an historic station where passengers climb aboard aerodynamic, 200 mile-per-hour TGV trains to Barcelona, Milan or Geneva.

Occupying the site of a former 16th-century monastery in Porto, Portugal is the São Bento Railway Station, another Beaux-Arts masterpiece clad in remarkable wall murals. The historic scenes were created from 20,000 ceramic tiles, mostly the blue-and-white azulejo tiles that are a signature of Portuguese craftsmanship. Designed by architect José Marques da Silva, the station was completed in 1916 after a decade of painstaking labor. São Bento makes a memorable first impression for tourists arriving in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

Not all notable stations are historic, and a renaissance in train travel — particularly fueled by investments in high-speed rail in Europe and Asia — has resulted in extraordinary new stations being designed by world-class contemporary architects. The soaring World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York and the dramatic Liège-Guillemins train station in Belgium (both designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava) demonstrate that infrastructure can be aesthetically elevated, even sexy.

Naples, Italy has a 3,000-year history but the ancient city’s Napoli Afragola railway station could not be more futuristic. A vision of the late pioneering architect Zaha Hadid, the ultra-modern facility accommodates high-speed trains to Rome and connections throughout Europe, while its curvilinear design is evocative of a moving train. As much an engineering marvel as an artistic expression, the station’s interior is flooded with light yet its innovative skeleton moderates the region’s often-oppressive heat.

“This extraordinary station is the work of a great architect and of enormous strategic value, proclaimed Gioia Ghezzi, former president of Ferrovie dello Stato, the Italian state-run railway, of the opening of Napoli Afragola in 2017. Lauding the new station’s progressive state-of-the-art design, then-prime minister Paolo Gentiloni used the project as a metaphor for his nation’s acceleration into the 21st century. “With this inauguration we send a message that Italy is moving, the country is growing,” he proclaimed.

In contemporary America, where the expedience of travel tends to be valued more than its experience, the joys of touring by train have almost been forgotten. The rails were abandoned when speedier modes of transportation emerged, but the glorious architecture of rail culture has outlived the trains. Not only can the cavernous structures be appreciated for their physical grandeur, but these noble landmarks may even inspire a nostalgic journey. The ticket window is still open.

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Positive Energy

By Marlene Ridgway

In just two years, the first fully carbon-neutral and emission-free resort, Six Senses Svart will welcome guests to stay and explore, all while combating the pollution that the travel industry typically generates.

The 94-room resort will offer adventure and conscientious travelers an incredible way to experience and preserve the unique environment of the Svartisen glacier in Norway. The revolutionized resort plans to take sustainability and energy efficiency to a new level by not only eliminating negative impacts on the surrounding environment from start to finish, but also generating its own energy through solar panels and geothermal wells.

Guests will get an immersive experience where they can enjoy the surrounding landscape guilt-free. “Six Senses Svart aims to become a prototype for the future of sustainable hospitality,” says Jeff Smith, vice president of sustainability for Six Senses.

The eye-catching, ring-shaped resort will combine a futuristic design and technological innovation with earthy, organic materials that use the least embedded energy. The circular green form is tactile, creating a feeling of openness and perpetual consciousness of nature as it gives the building a transparent appearance. The happy side effect is its ability to collect energy from the roof and offer panoramic views and privacy with the expanded distance between rooms.

Svartisen glacier

Preserving and Generating Energy

The resort will be poised above the water and landscape to minimize the impact on the environment, a notion that has influenced every decision about the project along the way. Six Senses Svart aims to demonstrate that carbon neutrality can be not only feasible in a sophisticated development at an eco-sensitive site, but can also be profitable.

The resort will also funnel solar energy back into the running of the hotel, boat shuttle, and energy needed for building, making it possible for the resort to function entirely off the power grid. Such energy-positive buildings could deliver 89 percent of the 45 percent decrease in emissions required to reach the scenario where global warming is limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

To create a self-sustaining travel destination, the resort will employ its own waste and water management, recycling, and renewable infrastructure. The team will work with existing sustainable fishing and farming operations and engage like-minded local suppliers for the restaurants and bars. All of this will make the zero waste dining venue possible where everything from food storage, prep, and dining will be a proactive, sustainable decision. For example, “whatever isn’t eaten fresh from the farm may get pickled or utilized in some other way,” according to Smith.

Kayaking at Six Senses Svart

Health and Wellness

The resort will not simply have a positive impact on the area, but will also prove restorative for guests looking for an authentic and unplugged experience. Outdoor adventures, such as biking, hiking, and horseback riding will entertain guests while the spa and fitness center will encourage even more rest and rejuvenation.

Six Senses Svart will cover the full gambit of integrated wellness, with state-of-the-art equipment and wearable technology assimilation, integrating a specially developed Svart Touch concept that will further elevate the brand’s pioneering wellness approach.

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Traveling by Design

By Roger Grody

In a world filled with compelling architecture, there is little reason to stay in a nondescript glass-and-stucco hotel replicated in cities around the world without regard to local culture or sensibilities. For travelers seeking enrichment from their destinations, the first priority is booking a room at an architecturally distinctive hotel, one with historic significance or contemporary aesthetics imagined by a world-class architect.

Emphasizing the diversity of hotel design, Shelley Hornstein, senior scholar and professor emerita of architectural history and visual culture at Toronto’s York University, notes, “Architecturally important properties aren’t necessarily luxury properties.” She reports that architectural tourism has become extremely influential in the hospitality industry, based on the draw of UNESCO World Heritage sites alone, and that social media fuels the trend. “Instagram, for example, is one principal ‘venue’ that has taken site awareness to meteoric levels!” says Hornstein, whose most recent book is Architectural Tourism: Sight-Seeing, Itineraries and Cultural Heritage.

Regarding hotel aesthetics, Hornstein suggests, “For those who can afford it, design tops all. We see this from hotel industry advertising, and the latest and greatest are always sought after.” Explaining that hotel architecture is demographically driven, Hornstein notes that comfort and convenience are frequently sacrificed for trendy design. “Function was always trumped, it seemed, by what sold well in a picture,” observes the professor.

The UniqHotels website is one source of the kind of images Hornstein contends are so powerful for hospitality consumers. It is valued by travelers looking for memorable accommodations, from treehouses to ice hotels, Hong Kong skyscrapers to Moroccan desert camps. Recounting the genesis of his venture, founder Daniel Hoffmann reveals, “My travels to over 70 countries made me realize the finite chances of staying in genuinely unique accommodations in our lifetime.” He began building a database that ultimately evolved into the UniqHotels platform, now boasting approximately 1,500 listings.

Fogo Island Summer

Hoffmann describes UniqHotel’s readers as travelers and adventure-seekers searching for inspirational accommodations, but they are not necessarily architecture buffs. “Due to the heavy focus on visual presentations, UniqHotels can be a source of entertainment for anyone, even if a visitor is not specifically interested in architecture,” says the European-based travel advisor.

One UniqHotels listing is Fogo Island Inn, perched on a windswept cliff along the coast of Newfoundland. Despite its incorporation of elements from traditional local architecture, one would hardly expect to find this modern minimalist hotel in such a remote location.

Designed by architect Todd Saunders (based in Norway but a native Newfoundlander), the property’s 29 one-of a-kind rooms or suites feature wood-stove fireplaces and commanding views of the rugged North Atlantic coastline through floor-to-ceiling windows. Representing the ultimate Fogo Island accommodations is the Inn’s 1,100-square-foot Flat Earth Suite, showcasing panoramic views in three directions.

Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada

“Fogo Island Inn is deeply tied to Fogo Island and the architectural traditions of outport Newfoundland in the way it meets with the natural landscape,” reports Amanda Decker-Penton, director of the Inn. “Fogo Island Inn’s contemporary design is the perfect marriage of old and new, and speaks to both our past and our present —and, of course, our future,” she adds. An initiative of Shorefast, a nonprofit founded by eighth-generation Fogo Islanders, the hotel is exceptionally eco-friendly, and everything from building materials to the seafood served in the dining room are sustainable. “From its inception, Fogo Island Inn has adopted a responsible approach to design in order to uphold a high-fidelity relationship with the natural world,” explains Decker-Penton. The project and its impact on the community were captured in the award-winning 2015 documentary film Strange & Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island.

Rioja is Spain’s most legendary winegrowing region, where grapes have been cultivated since the Phoenicians occupied the Iberian Peninsula. Rioja has a traditional, old-school reputation, but the Hotel Marqués de Riscal challenges that image. The dazzling hotel, connected to a venerable winery of the same name, is instantly recognizable as a Frank Gehry original, as its wavy metallic skin is reminiscent of the architect’s iconic Disney Concert Hall in L.A. or Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. What gives this structure new dimension is an injection of wine country color into its ribbons of titanium, a delightful contrast to the vineyards surrounding it.

The terms of Gehry’s engagement for the design were reportedly agreed to over a bottle of Marqués de Riscal 1929 (the architect’s personal vintage). The winery subsequently named a new wine, the Frank Gehry Selection, after the architect, and the hotel’s Gehry Suite offers spectacular views of vineyards and the medieval village of Elciego. The renowned architect said of this project, “I wanted to design something exciting and festive, because wine is pleasure,” and playfully characterized his effort as “a marvelous creature, with its hair flying in all directions, launching itself over the vineyards.”

So many great architects have left their imprint on Chicago’s skyline that the Windy City is essentially an ever evolving museum of architectural history. Among its collection of distinctive hotels is The Langham Chicago, a luxury property occupying 13 floors of a high-rise designed by groundbreaking modernist Mies van der Rohe.

First impressions are important when traveling, and the hotel lobby — what guests experience upon walking through the door — can become a meaningful memory even before receiving their room key. Floating above The Langham Chicago’s main lobby, a sleekly furnished mid-century-inspired space, is a striking 60-foot installation of handblown glass, designed by Jana Růžičková and Tomáš Hovorka of Lasvit, a renowned Czech glassworks firm. “Chicago architect of record Goettsch Partners and London-based interior designer Richmond International created a space that marries the traditional aesthetics of The Langham brand within a Mies van der Rohe- designed building,” explains Langham Chicago managing director Edward Shapard. “The marriage between fine art, architecture and interiors is prevalent throughout the hotel,” he adds. Prior to the pandemic, and planned to
resume, are hotel art tours that connect guests with the building’s architectural heritage.

Located in China’s picturesque Zhejiang province, close to Shanghai, is the Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort, a 27-story horseshoe-shaped structure, equal parts sculpture and hotel. Evocative of a ring, the moon or a traditional Chinese bridge, the structure is dramatically reflected on the surface of Lake Tai, especially when illuminated at night. The hotel was designed by MAD Architects — the global firm is known for its playful, audacious approach to design — and its signature tower rises 400 feet above the water.

According to Judy Shen, deputy general manager of Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort, guests are captivated by the design, and tourists share photos of it on social media. “Even if they’re not guests, young visitors still like to pay a visit and mark the unique experience with a photo,” says Shen, comparing the property to iconic hotels like Burj Al Arab in Dubai. “The architectural design of the hotel plays a very important role in helping consumers make a decision,” adds the manager. “Hotels with special architectural features represent an important collection within Marriott International’s overall portfolio, and significantly affect guests’ expectations of their experience,” Shen states.

Like its sister city of Las Vegas, the gambling capital of Macau features an eclectic array of architectural styles, but the late Zaha Hadid wanted to create something unique to this former Portuguese colony off the coast of China. Her futuristic design for the 40-story Morpheus hotel is wrapped in a free-flowing lattice inspired by Chinese jade carving traditions. Project director Viviana Muscettola explains, “Macau’s buildings previously referenced architectural styles from around the world, but Morpheus has evolved from its unique environment and site conditions as a new architecture expressly for this city.”

Among the diverse properties listed on UniqHotels are the Taj Lake Palace on an island in India’s Lake Pichola, Budapest’s Four Seasons Gresham Palace whose Art Nouveau lobby is stunning and Los Angeles’ Ace Hotel, which oozes Hollywood heritage.

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Fast Yet Fashionable

By Roger Grody

Fast-food operations are not what they used to be, and even the term “fast food” is passé, with trade associations turning to more attractive euphemisms like “quick- service restaurant” (QSR) or “fast-casual” establishment. The latest generation of eateries represents much more than a corporate image makeover, however, with a commitment to artisanal ingredients and even fine dining principles adapted to lower price points and rapid turnaround.

The concept of fast food integrating more upscale standards is well represented by the now-ubiquitous, publicly traded Shake Shack, the progressive burger joint founded by fine dining entrepreneur Danny Meyer. The creator of legendary (and pricey) Manhattan restaurants Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and Eleven Madison Park proved that quality ingredients, chef-driven techniques and top-drawer customer service were adaptable to the quick-service sector.

QSR magazine editorial director Danny Klein, who is exposed to hundreds of quick-service concepts every year, reports, “In the beginning of the pandemic, there was a rush to comfort food, as people gravitated to dishes they understood and related to.” He adds, “But now we’re again seeing more global cuisines and an emphasis on healthy food.” Klein explains the provision of higher-quality food at accessible prices was the impetus of the more sophisticated fast-casual movement that emerged about a decade ago. Now, concepts his magazine refers to as “fast-casual 2.0” focus more on chef-driven menus in affordable, convenient settings.

Dumplings, whether authentic fare at a Chinatown dim sum restaurant or upmarket versions filled with foie gras or black truffles in trendy establishments, represent a current obsession among food enthusiasts. Brooklyn Dumpling Shop offers an expansive menu of iconic American flavors folded into little pockets of dough, including Philly cheesesteak, Reuben and PB&J sandwiches, as well as sausage-and-egg, lamb gyro with tzatziki and dumplings that satisfy a craving for chicken parmigiana.

Founder Stratis Morfogen began serving the sandwich-themed dumplings at his upscale Brooklyn Chop House, and when the kitchen could hardly keep up with demand, launched a QSR concept. At Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, customers order in advance on their smartphones or at automated kiosks, then grab their orders from a designated temperature-controlled locker, eliminating human interaction.

The no-contact system surely appeals to pandemic-weary consumers, but was designed strictly for efficiency. “We’ve got driverless cars, so why not bring back the automat?” queries Morfogen, referring to New York’s nostalgic automated diners from the first half of the 20th century. Both the system and dumplings have been well received by customers, and the business community is responding, too, with hundreds of Brooklyn Dumpling Shop franchises being contracted around the country. “Dumplings are social and make great bar food,” says the restaurateur, who notes, “Everybody loves the concept of a two-ounce sandwich.”

QSR magazine’s Klein believes the versatility of the dumpling and the company’s commitment to automation will benefit Brooklyn Dumpling Shop’s ambitious expansion plans. While he notes there will always be demand for the in-store dining experience, the trade journalist reports, “There’s growing interest among consumers to have as little face-to-face interaction as possible, preferring to place an order by phone and grab their food out of a locker.” Noting the restaurant industry has sometimes been slow to evolve, Klein states, “One of the positive outcomes of COVID was that it ushered in years of technological innovation.” He suggests this will result in more kiosks, voice-activated ordering tablets and even artificial intelligence in the drive-through lane.

Another major trend in the restaurant industry, from Michelin three-star restaurants to the corner quick-service eatery, is the introduction of plant-based menu items. While Klein is skeptical of its widespread adoption outside urban areas, even the most ubiquitous brands now offer some plant-based options.

Metro Atlanta’s Slutty Vegan is one of many quick-service concepts appealing to the now-mainstream interest in
veganism, and offers some sloppy, indulgent “burgers.” Beefsteak, with locations in a handful of major American cities, was founded by celebrity chef/humanitarian José Andrés, and while not purely vegan, markets itself as a celebration of vegetables. Many of the menu items are entirely plant-based, but some dairy, egg, chicken, and seafood can be incorporated into bowls or salads that are easily customized. The only beefsteaks to be found are tomatoes, and the burgers are entirely plant-based at this concept, whose rarefied pedigree draws attention.

This is not the first foray of the Michelin-starred chef into fast food, and one suspects more of his high-flying peers from the world of fine dining will follow.

Chef Roy Choi, a native of Seoul and Culinary Institute of America alum, is credited with discovering the unique synergies of Korean and Mexican cooking, both cuisines he grew up with on the streets of Los Angeles. His fleet of Kogi trucks continues to rumble through L.A., and the renegade chef’s unique fusion fare (e.g., kimchi quesadillas, Korean short rib tacos) has practically gone mainstream. Chains like St. Louis-based Seoul Taco (it, too, began as a food truck), are continuing Choi’s tradition, offering Korean-sauced tacos, burritos, nachos, and quesadillas with a choice of bulgogi, spicy pork, chicken, or tofu, along with kimchi fried rice and even churros with strawberry-Sriracha sauce.

Bonchon — the rapidly growing company began in South Korea and now has more than 370 restaurants worldwide — is another chain taking advantage of the widespread acceptance of Korean cuisine. Bonchon’s specialty is its highly relatable fried chicken, an American staple introduced by U.S. troops during the Korean War, transformed by the locals and exported back to the States as something a bit more exciting. The eatery also offers takoyaki (Japanese fried octopus balls), soft buns stuffed with pork belly that are reminiscent of an upscale dish authored by celebrity chef David Chang, and bibimbap, Korea’s classic egg-topped rice bowl with meat or tofu.

Bonchon now has more than 100 U.S. stores, including a new prototype with a smaller footprint and more streamlined menu. CEO Flynn Dekker comments, “Now, with the increased interest of Korean art and culture in recent years — the Oscar-winning film Parasite, the Netflix sensation Squid Game and K-pop artists like BTS — you’ve got all the right ingredients for mass appeal of Korean cuisine and Bonchon Korean fried chicken, in particular.”

From the talent behind Sushi Roku, a super-premium Japanese restaurant, and the founder of assembly line pizza chain PizzaRev comes Yakumi, a fast-casual establishment with the style and quality of high-end sushi bars, but more approachable prices. Sushi preparations feature sophisticated touches one expects at much pricier establishments, such as salmon drizzled with true soy and dusted with sesame seeds, or crispy shallot- crowned albacore splashed with ponzu sauce. The inaugural Yakumi location is in Burbank, California, but given its ambitious leadership, you can be sure this concept will proliferate.

Indian is another ethnic cuisine currently enjoying its moment, and Curry Up Now is rapidly expanding from its San Francisco Bay Area roots. The concept’s emphasis is on Indian street food — specialties range from traditional samosas and miniature naan bread bits with tikka masala dip to vegan, Indian-themed “burritos” — and much of the menu is plant-based. Further globalization of the quick-service sector is represented by promising concepts such as Nando’s, featuring peri-peri chicken (a specialty of Portugal via Mozambique), Mediterranean-themed Cava and La Granja, a Peruvian-inspired chain with locations throughout Florida.

Café d’Avignon is a concept from the owners of Pain d’Avignon, a bakery/restaurant that supplies some of New York City’s top restaurants and hotels with artisanally crafted bread. Customers at Café d’Avignon enjoy a croissant or quiche Lorraine for breakfast and a niçoise salad or croque monsieur tartine later in the day, complemented by an impressive repertoire of baked goods. The fast-casual eatery, beloved by Francophiles, has multiple locations in New York and is seeking opportunities in other major markets.

Burgers and fries may still rule the world of fast food, but endless alternatives and sophisticated products are making the grab-and-go routine infinitely more exciting.

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A Summer Weekend to Remember

By Brigitte Sinoradzki

The beginning of summer is around the corner. Time to start planning a weekend getaway to one of these classic and iconic destinations!

Breakers Hotel

The Breakers Hotel, Palm Beach Island

The Breakers, grand in scale and appearance, is the ultimate luxury Palm Beach resort. They have something for everyone: from a family trip spent at their luxurious pool and gorgeous beach, to a girl’s weekend filled with fine dining and top of the line spa treatments, or a guy’s golfing get together. There is plenty to do in and around the hotel. If fitness is your thing, you can take a run on the beach, visit the gym at the Breakers, or take a barre or private pilates class with world-renowned instructors down the street at Labarre.

Hotel Del Coronado

Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego

The legendary Coronado Hotel sits on one of the most beautiful beaches in San Diego, on the exclusive Coronado Island, with views so expansive you can actually see all the way to Mexico. Enjoy sunsets at their patio bar, beach bonfires in the cool SoCal breeze, or learn to surf in nearby La Jolla. Walking through the grounds at Coronado is an experience within itself, with plenty of fine dining options and high end boutiques. And, if you are into the more spooky side of things, this hotel is consistently ranked as one of the most haunted spots in Southern California.

Central Park

The Mark, NYC

There is no shortage of luxurious hotels in NYC. The Mark hotel stands out as being a favorite of the fashion elite for the Met Gala, as well as John F. Kennedy Jr.’s getaway spot when he needed time to himself. Located on the upper east side, The Mark overlooks Central Park, where you can swing by the Loeb BoatHouse for some food, drinks, and views. Fine dining and shopping is just steps away on Manhattan’s infamous Madison Avenue. A quick stroll will take you to The Metropolitan Museum. Avoid the crowds of time square at this quietly set, extravagant hotel.

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Florence | Italy

Overlooking picturesque Tuscan landscapes, the historic medieval Torre Del Castellano is recognized as a classic example of authentic Tuscan architecture as well as one of the most outstanding and well-known castles in the region.

Torre Del Castellano

Presenting a unique potential for transformation to an opulent estate, upscale boutique hotel or exclusive business enterprise, it features 23 rooms, 9 bedrooms and 7 baths, a separate chapel, viewing tower, enclosed courtyard for entertaining and events, and an expansive olive oil cellar on approximately 22 acres, just 15 miles from Florence.

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Torre Del Castellano

9 bedrooms, 7 baths | E10,000,000
Jean Mastagni | DRE #00479256
T. 415.310.7386 | | Coldwell Banker Realty

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Prague – A Journey To the Past

By Brigitte Sinoradzki

On every person’s bucket list should be a visit to Prague. Located in the heart of Europe, the capital of the Czech Republic produces architectural awe to all visitors. With functioning structures dating back centuries, a stroll through Prague will make you feel like you fell back to a time where knights on horseback tore through the winding streets.

visiting prague

A Walk Fit for a King

One of the most classic things to do when you visit Prague is to take a stroll from Old Town Square, across the majestic Charles Bridge, and up to the Prague Castle. Taking in the views as you go, A must-see is the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square. The clock is the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world, having been erected in 1410. It is also the oldest known clock still in operation today. Studying the details on the clock is fascinating for old and young alike.

Prague Astronomical Clock

Walking along through the el-fresco dining lined streets, you’ll find your way to the Vltava River, which flows through the center of Prague, neatly dividing it into East and West. The Charles Bridge is the main bridge that connects the two sides, although there are many others — though less ornate and with less historical significance. Construction on this bridge started in 1357 and it was completed in the 15th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is decorated by 30 baroque-style statues of various saints, seemingly keeping an eye on the people crossing over the bridge. 

Charles bridge Prague

On the west side of the bridge, you’ll find many magical and historical stops on the walk to the Prague Castle. As you climb higher up the hill, you’ll find more and more panoramic views of Prague’s ancient skyline. Photo opportunities abound! 

The gothic structure that is the Prague Castle sits intimidatingly on the highest point overlooking the rest of Prague. With steep arches and gargoyles keeping watch, the structure is mesmerizing both inside and out. Inside the castle, you will find beautiful stained glass windows, statues, and a ceiling so high it’s impossible to fathom how it was built in 870 without the use of modern construction techniques. 

Prague Castle

Drinking and Dining for Everyone

The Czech Republic gives Ireland a run for its money when it comes to beer drinking. It is actually the number one beer drinking country per capita. Known for deliciously crafted beer, you’ll find a brewery on nearly every street you turn on. A beer enthusiasts dream come true, Prague is known for its delicious pilsners. 

Insider tip: “Pivo” is how you say beer in Czech, and Staropramen is one of the best local brews. 

After all that walking and, perhaps, beer, it’s important to take note of the food in Prague. The Czech Republic is infamous for heavy stews like goulash and a dish offered in nearly every restaurant, “svickova”, which is delectable cuts of meat served with dumplings and gravy. Smoked meats of every type are abundant, and you’ll be able to find the butcher by simply following your nose. 

Prague outdoor dining

On the lighter side, there are so many different types of cuisines offered in Prague. In the warmer months, the streets are lined with outdoor dining. Another tip is to seek out Italian restaurants. Most of these restaurants are opened by Italians who have moved to Prague, and the food is fresh, authentic, and fit for even the most particular palate. From salads to thin-crust pizza and pasta dishes, you can’t go wrong.

The capital city of the Czech Republic truly has something for everyone. It is a lively city — you’ll find as much to do at 3am as you will at noon. Not to be missed, make sure that Prague makes it onto your list of places to visit. 

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By Marlene Ridgeway

Though the privately funded commercial space age has created significant waves, the night sky has captured human interest long before the advent of space tourism. New technologies are making the idea of space — once inaccessible and foreign — more attainable, and now the hospitality industry is striving to offer elements of “astrotourism” for guests. One example is the Montage Healdsburg in California.


“It is not surprising to see the interest in exploring the universe is taking hold,” says Jennifer Chiesa, the director of public relations at Montage Healdsburg. “While we can’t offer to take our guests to space directly, we can help encourage the interest in astronomy and hopefully bring faraway galaxies just a little bit closer to all of us here in Healdsburg.”

What is Astrotourism?

Astronomy has met the tourism industry to create the idea of astrotourism. According to Wendy Altschuler, a contributor at Forbes, astrotourism is “purposely traveling to nature-rich destinations that experience less light pollution,” which allows travelers to view the stars more easily. Visiting observatories and chasing dark-sky certified parks are all part of this growing industry.

For those interested in the mysteries of the night sky, there are elaborate and simple ways to experience these wonders.

From stargazing on paddleboards and global partnerships with private aviation, to at-home observation stations, there’s more than one way to glimpse the marvels of the night sky.

Astrotourism Adventures

There’s something about the night sky that evokes a sense of wonder. Psyched Paddleboarding, which is based on the Isle of Anglesey in Northern Wales, has been offering guided night tours for over seven years now. “Our customers love being guided by a magical moonlight and starry sky for an adventure after dark,” says the founder, Sian Sykes.

Named by The Guardian as one of the Top 12 best nighttime activities in the United Kingdom, paddleboarders have been fortunate enough to see up to 25 shooting stars while floating on the water. Paddleboarding and other types of boating at night are an excellent ways to disconnect from the modern world and reconnect with history and nature.

For other nighttime adventures, the Vista Series houseboats are the perfect way to explore the Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. The park recently earned the coveted International Dark Sky Association’s dark-sky park certification, which makes stargazing and views of the Milky Way simple. Bordering Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s Desert is “a perfect spot for astronomy enthusiasts to observe the dark and starry skies,” says Berthold Trenkel, the chief operating officer of Qatar National Tourism Council about the exclusive astrotourism experiences that have been organized in partnership with Gulf Adventures. The options range from stargazing with an experienced astronomer, camel safaris by moonlight, and other excursions that involve deep exploration of the skies.

Starry Destinations

The Montage Healdsburg’s exclusive package, The Sky’s the Limit, was articulately designed as an opportunity for guests to engage with nature and experience the splendors of the starry sky. “We thought getting outside in the fresh air, exploring, and looking upwards at the vast universe seemed like a fun and educational activity that the whole family could enjoy together,” explains Chiesa. “The package brings together the best of the valley and beyond to include: private roundtrip flights, and airport transfers from anywhere in the United States with leading global private aviation company, Jet Edge.”

With ease, guests can book two nights in the resort’s luxury guesthouse, taking advantage of the mountain and vineyard views with minimal ambient light — all of which makes for prime stargazing and exploring the night sky with your own telescope, according to Chiesa. “There’s also a professional photography session with award-winning astrophotographer Rachid Dahnoun, whose specialty includes nighttime photography, and access to the Robert Ferguson Museum and observatory.”

space tourism

More and more resorts and hotels around the world are offering elements of astrotourism as interest rises. The Leobo Private Reserve in South Africa offers the Waterberg Observatory, which is part of the main house, and astronomy tours with telescopes and space suits. Or enthusiasts can book a room at The Torridon, in the Northwestern Highlands of Scotland, for an incredible stargazing experience. The luxury boutique resort is considered one of the darkest places on earth and is unparalleled when it comes to stargazing.

Guests can enjoy excursions, presentations, and the chance to meet astronomer Stephen Mackintosh.

Astronomy At Home

Although the subject of interest is lightyears away, new technology has simplified astronomical adventures, even from the comfort and safety of your home. “With the current health crisis that has shaken the world, sales of astronomical instruments have never been stronger,” says Cyril Dupuy, founder of Vaonis. The company was created in France in 2016, and the hope was to revolutionize the world of amateur astronomy, by making it accessible to all.

“There’s a desire for a return to nature. Individuals have a longing to escape, in complete safety.” Stellina and Vespera are two observation stations that are small but powerful at-home devices for amateur astronomers.

Paired with an easy-to-use app, users do not need a deep knowledge of astronomy or experience with stargazing to partake. Stellina and Vespera will allow users to observe and explore on their devices, and within minutes they can unveil the hidden wonders of the night sky.

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The Legends of Ultimate Homes

The Manor from Unique Homes 2017 Ultimate issue.

Photo courtesy Hilton & Hyland.

As we mark the 17th “Ultimate” edition of Unique Homes, we look back at the exceptional properties and agents who have been a part of the annual celebration of the most expensive real estate in the U.S.

Over the 50 years since the first issue of Unique Homes rolled off the presses, countless estates have graced our cover. Hundreds have captured a top position on Ultimate Homes’ list of the most expensive, but only a very few are real estate legends. Trackback through record-setting sales and property listings, and a handful of properties filter to the top, including an equally select cadre of real estate agents.

What destines a property for legendary status? Rarity, provenance, architecture, land and location all play a role. “We have represented and sold many properties that are above and beyond, but what makes them legendary is the architecture and the history of the property, including notable prior owners, location, and the property amenities that set the bar for other luxury properties,” explains Judy Zeder, a member of the Jills Zeder Group (along with Jill Eber and Jill Hertzberg) with Coldwell Banker Realty in Miami.

“What truly makes an incredible luxury property is that it’s something that someone else would never have. It’s not just another house with a different material feature,” shares Shari Chase, founder of Chase International Real Estate in the Lake Tahoe/Reno region. “Rarity is huge,” she says, as is “not being bumper to bumper with a lot of mega mansions that are exactly the same.”

The 2016 sale of the Playboy Mansion cracked the $100 million benchmark in L.A. 

Photo by Jim Bartsch.

Owlwood, Pickfair, Le Belvedere, Greenacres and Chartwell: the list of legendary properties that Joyce Rey, who heads Coldwell Banker Global Luxury’s division for Southern California, has sold is only surpassed by the number of accolades she has received over her more than 40-year career. Her sales have achieved price records multiple times, sometimes for the same property. In 1976, she sold the Sonny and Cher mansion for $1.2 million, a record at the time. Two years later, she sold it again for $4.2 million, which surpassed all other prices, setting a new high in the U.S. and worldwide. “It was a really big deal,” she says. “It changed the marketplace.”

The storied history of this property, which was renamed Owlwood to honor owls living in the estate’s towering trees, continues to the present day. The acquisition of neighboring properties and additional acreage over the years enhanced the value. Last offered for sale well above $100 million, it appeared on Unique Homes’ Ultimate list last year at $115 million. It sold in December in an off-market transaction for a reported $88 million.

Once dubbed “the Crown Jewel of Beverly Hills,” Owlwood’s resume includes a number of other high-profile names and celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe.

Ultimate Manhattan? The Tommy Hilfiger penthouse at The Plaza in New York City graced the cover of Ultimate Homes in 2014.
Casa Casuarina, seen here on the Unique Homes Fall 2012 cover, was the home of Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace.

Having a much-loved celebrity often adds to the cachet of a property. “Americans love celebrities,” says Jill Eber. “When a celebrity is comfortable using their name in connection with a property, it really makes a difference. Every home comes with a story and a celebrity’s story just makes it more interesting. A lot of properties are sold by very successful business people and the properties are just gorgeous, but when a home is sold by a celebrity or athlete, buyers are curious and sometimes they are attracted to that cache.”

Few celebrity homes received as much buzz as the Miami Beach mansion owned by the late Gianni Versace. “Everything about the Versace property, known as Casa Casuarina, was fun and exciting,” says Jill Hertzberg, who, along with Eber, sold the property. “It was a totally iconic property known worldwide. Every room was different with the most extraordinary mosaic tile designs throughout. The property was built for fun and entertainment and the buyers who purchased it just loved it! They all jumped into the pool on the day they got it. Standing in front of the mansion with reporters from all over the world is something I will always remember.”

Among our Ultimates, few have generated as much interest as The Manor, dubbed The Spelling Manor when it came to market in 2009 at an unprecedented price of $150 million, eventually selling for a reported $85 million in 2011. The buyer, Petra Ecclestone, daughter of Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, embarked on an extensive remodel, eventually bringing the estate back on the market in 2016 at $200 million. The 2019 sale price, $119.7 million, set a new, but short-lived, record for Los Angeles. Only a few months later, another legendary property, Chartwell, sold for a reported $150 million, achieving a new benchmark. 

Designed by Sumner Spaulding in 1933, Chartwell, like several other legends, including the Manor, was inspired by French chateaus. Located on 10 acres in Bel Air and surrounded by pristine gardens, it ticks off all the attributes of a legendary estate. Although it is notable for the highest list price, $350 million, in 2017, few other mansions are as familiar to so many. Featured on the 1960s sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies, it was home to the Clampetts.

It’s worth noting the estate is actually in Bel Air. The Bel Air Hillbillies might not have been as catchy a title as the Beverly Hillbillies, says Gary Gold, with Hilton & Hyland, one of the agents listing the property. Using a home at one address, but identifying it as being in another location in films and television is not unusual, according to Gold. 

Chartwell was listed by a team of agents including Rey and Jade Mills with Coldwell Banker Realty, and Gold and Jeff Hyland with Hilton & Hyland. When prices breach $100 million, it’s not uncommon to have multiple brokerages marketing the property.

“These big sales have many layers of complexity. It can be a trust, a bankruptcy or a probate, and everyone at this level is well represented. And at $100 million, no one is flexible,” explains Gold. Often the team of agents and brokers will divide the tasks depending on their expertise. Gold says he is always 100-percent committed to getting the deal done.

Having brokered the sale of the Playboy Mansion, Gold jokingly refers to himself as the “Roger Bannister of luxury real estate.” Like Bannister’s one-minute mile, the Playboy Mansion smashed the $100 million ceiling in L.A. and opened the door to a number of legendary estates trading at or over $100 million, including Chartwell and The Manor.

“These types of mansions usually come on the market once in a blue moon, once a decade, but recently a number have traded in the last couple of years,” Gold shares.

When it came on the market, the Playboy Mansion received lots of media coverage. Still, when Jade Mills, who represented the buyer, initially saw the property, she wasn’t expecting to find a zoo. The property had “been talked about, but not really the zoo and the peacocks and everything that was there,” she says.

“When I first went there, there were all of the animals, monkeys, peacocks were all over the property — I just thought that it was so amazing that right in the middle of Holmby Hills, you had all those fabulous animals. So, it was just fun to see, and to see the grotto.”

Gold says the number of birds increased over time as local avians decided it was a great place to call home and joined the menagerie.

Another interesting tidbit was an abundance of pushbuttons in this home, sort of a smart home before the era of home tech. For example, push a button and the bed would turn around. The grotto had an array of buttons, all glowing red, and a phone from which you could dial up whatever music you wanted

Foundation of Value

But for legends, it is the amount of land or an impossible-to-replicate location that usually sets them apart. A majority occupy sizable parcels, whether it’s hundreds of acres like Tranquility in Tahoe, or a dozen or less in Bel Air or Holmby Hills. The exception are places such as Malibu, where a setting on the beach is more prized and rarer than acreage.

“Regardless of the condition — like new, falling down or anything in between — each owner puts their heart and soul into these homes,” shares Robert Kinlin, co-owner of Robert Paul Properties, who works with some of the most expensive in Boston and on the Cape. “But a lot of times, people are buying the land and the feeling it evokes when they’re outside walking the property, because you can’t change the land, but you can change the house.”

“The biggest thing you can have with a beautiful estate is Mother Nature,” adds Shari Chase.

When Chase founded her brokerage in 1986, the word “luxury” really wasn’t part of the vocabulary. Instead, she says, “we talked about estates and extraordinary estates, and her tagline was Exceptional Properties for Exceptional People. “I wasn’t going to bother with just any kind of real estate. I only wanted the best, and whether I had one or two or three sales a year, it didn’t matter. I mean, as long as they were fantastic. I think the very first sale was lakefront.” Early on, Chase was involved in what she describes as “the most extraordinary sale we ever had at Tahoe,” the Thunderbird Lodge at a record $50 million. “It held the price record in the entire nation for over 8 years.”

Not often are newly constructed homes destined to become legendary, but Le Belvedere, sited on over 2 acres in Bel Air overlooking the city with a romantic landscape that includes a swan pond, rose gardens and a 280-degree panorama of city lights, is the exception. Over-the-top features such as opulent materials, a ballroom seating 200, a media room seating 50, and a 500-bottle wine cellar, were exceptional when it came on the market in 2009, but the way every detail is executed, the stateliness of the architecture and the sense of harmony from all facets working in perfect sync pushes it from a “stellar property” to a legendary estate.

Le Belvedere, like Tranquility, is also exceptional for its amenities. At that time, shares Rey, “people weren’t building so many of those major theaters. Before that, only those in the industry had large screening rooms.

Rey was involved in the sale of Le Belvedere for $50 million — the highest in the U.S. in 2010 –— and again in 2018 for $56 million.

Amenity Wars

In recent years, there have been a number of newly built for-sale trophy homes, some with list prices stretching current benchmarks. What sets these properties apart is the number of over-the-top features, including curated art installations, stocked wine bars, car collections, an onsite staff and even a helipad. The objective — to include everything someone might want in a home — is aligned with the motives behind the inclusion of extensive amenities in classic estates.

Legendary Redos

No matter how exquisite a property, new owners have a penchant to put their own stamp on it. “I just think that it’s amusing that people must make even, you know, the most expensive, beautiful home — they must make it their own. So sometimes it’s just been remodeled, and then torn completely apart. And they start over,” shares Mills, who brokered the 2019 sale of The Manor. And this practice is not limited to prime estates. Instead, it reaches across the entire price spectrum, whether a house is $1 million or a $100 million.

Few other homes on our annual list have received as much attention as this estate. “The Manor was sort of like no other,” recalls Mills. With 123 rooms and more square footage than the White House, it is one of the largest in Los Angeles. Size and prices generated publicity, but it was the extensive amenities, including gift-wrapping rooms, vast closets, a barber shop, hair salon, bowling alley and nightclub that captured the public’s fancy. There aren’t as many closets as large as the one in the master,” Mills ventures, estimating it to be in the 2,500-square-foot range.”

This story originally appeared in Unique Homes Ultimate ’21. Click here to see the digital version.

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Tidal Waves of Elegance

Featured image: © / Chinnapong

It’s time to discover these 10 extraordinarily refined places, each with distinctly different waterfront experiences.

Birmingham, Michigan

What’s tucked inside a Great Lakes luxury property? The better question is, what’s not? Aside from fantastic lakefront views, plenty of room for entertaining, and a spot for any water toys you may fancy, the area itself is famously well-known. Janine Grillo, a Keller Williams Domain Associate Broker, tells Unique Homes that the Great Lakes region is the
No. 1 freshwater boating destination in the U.S.

“The sheer size of this territory affords boaters a whole world of fun and a number of diverse places to explore on the water,” she says, noting that every day here feels like a vacation. “This summer, we are finding buyers are looking to enjoy life more, relax (and work) from home. The updated, roomy waterfront properties sell fast,” Grillo says.

Lake Tahoe, Nevada & California

“The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine. Bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be? It is the same the angels breathe,” said Mark Twain in describing Lake Tahoe. Chase International President and CEO Shari Chase characterizes it in the same way, recounting this quote from where she calls home, on the Nevada side of the iconic area.

“Lake Tahoe is a real treasure,” Chase says in painting a picture of the 22-mile-long, 12-mile-wide body of water, which is majestically surrounded by mountains. “Everything has a very spiritual essence to it here. The water is beautifully pure, with blues and crystalized greens,” she continues. The land boasts an outdoor lifestyle, where residents can easily take in treasured hiking trails, ski lodges, boating, beaches, art and more. Within one hour of the space are gems such as Virginia City, Genoa, and Jackson, California, which all are filled with wonderful recreation.

Prices here range from $3.75 million to $48 million, with most buyers prioritizing a spacious pier when considering their search.

Chase International Broker Trinkie Watson says that diversity of year-round outdoor activities, alongside good restaurants, art galleries and unique shopping are a huge draw to the area, as well as convenience to Sacramento and the Bay Area. Residents can easily take in treasured hiking trails, ski lodges, boating and beaches. “Whether it’s at the lake or on a beautiful trail in the mountains, it’s all gorgeous,” Watson says.

Londonderry, New Hampshire

The New England waterfront is known for its variety of seasonal landscapes throughout the year. Residents are able to experience the full extent of floral springs, fluttering snowflakes, peaceful waters, and crisp autumn leaves. And right now, in the summertime, the sights could not be better, says Morgan Smith, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Verani Realty.

“We have hundreds of clean lakes with 360 degrees of spectacular scenery. Owners love to watch the loons, fish off the dock, kayak and waterski, and lazily soak in the clear, fresh water warmed by the sun,” she says. Coastal properties in New England feature properties with rocky ledges, crashing waves, and beaches that can be strolled for miles and miles.

With regard to how the market is faring, lower-than-average inventories are leaving very few properties for sale at a time. Prices of waterfront properties range from $1 million to $25 million, with buyers privy to direct access to the water, spacious frontage, and plenty of room for a watercraft, Smith says. She enjoys her daily life in the area, and wishes to share the elegance with new buyers. “I love spending time in Cape Elizabeth,” she says. “If I can be on a boat (or a hammock), and smell fresh air next to a body of water, I’m happy.”

Coronado, San Diego, California

The California oceanfront is star-studded with luxury at every turn. Coronado, San Diego is absolutely no exception. Broker Associate Scott Aurich of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty has lived in 17 different houses throughout the town and loved every second of it. To get away from it all, Aurich enjoys his early mornings more than anything else; he spends it surfing in tranquil waters, golfing through immaculate links, or entranced by friendly creatures at the stables. He stressed that Coronado camaraderie cannot be replicated anywhere else he’s seen.

Whether it’s the unique amenities the town has to offer, the community center with a gym, or the iconic $34 million Crown Manor estate he is representing, Coronado is truly special. But his favorite piece of home, he says, is the people. “The best thing is the people; it’s hard to describe,” Aurich mentioned. He finds that the kindness of his neighbors is where he feels the most pride. It’s not just Aurich that has noticed the grandeur; the temperature of real estate in Coronado is booming, to say the least. The demand is so high that at press time, only 54 houses were for sale. “The market is white hot,” Aurich said, explaining that the value of homes has gone up exponentially in the last 20 years.

Egg Harbor, Wisconsin

Door County, Wisconsin, is a gorgeous peninsula with 250 miles of coastline — it’s surrounded by the waters of Lake Michigan on the eastern side, and Green Bay on the western side. For weekenders or vacationers, the area boasts incredible opportunities for sailing, water sports, fishing, boutiques, restaurants and quaint villages that dot the shoreline, explains Jamie Sanger, a managing broker with Coldwell Banker Realty.

The county of Door has fantastic experiences in the arts, theater, and golf courses, but most of all, it is best known for its natural scenic beauty, she tells Unique Homes. With even multimillion-dollar homes and estates selling like hotcakes, any inventory that is available is selling for well over asking price. Sanger feels that her area and the lifestyles awaiting there are in particularly high demand: “I feel the pandemic has fueled our market, in that folks want to be able to ‘get away’ from the urban areas to enjoy a more peaceful, private, and healthy lifestyle,” she continues. This is what she sees in her own hometown as well, Ellison Bay, which she says has stayed tranquil and untouched by development in recent years.

Sarasota, Florida

Over in Sarasota, Candy Swick, president and broker at Candy Swick & Company, is dazzled by the diversity of people she meets every single day. “One minute you are having a conversation with an astronaut, a rocket scientist, an author, or an international ballet virtuoso from Russia,” she says.

Swick describes the water in Sarasota as “Carribean blue,” alongside a breeze that drifts in soft and cooling. Residents can enjoy multitudes of water sports, a world-class ice skating rink where Olympic figure skaters have trained, and ballet and opera performances.

As for the price tag, luxury homes are running from $2 million to
$20 million. Houses are frequently selling the day they enter the market, at list price or often in a situation with multiple offers. A typical bayfront home in Sarasota starts at $2.5 million, where buyers can view the magic, nightlife, and restaurants outlining the entire city. “We know that if an individual desired to enjoy a new restaurant for lunch and another for dinner, it would take more than a year to explore them all,” Swick said.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

“Think of a place that has beautiful beaches, with crystal-clear water and clean, silky-smooth sand; a place that is known as the yacht capital of the world, with spectacular vessels cruising in daily through the port,” says Shai Mashiach, a Coldwell Banker Realty agent, in painting a picture of his beloved home.

He notes that in the bustling housing market, several waterfront neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale are in high demand; particularly Las Olas and Harbor Beach, where prices start in the millions. Mashiach noted the convenience of the area as well; it’s only a one-hour boat ride to the Bahamas, a 30-minute drive south to Miami or north to Palm Beach, and one hour to the Florida Keys. “It’s a place that has the best restaurants, great nightlife, and magnificent people from around the globe,” he continued.

As far as his personal favorite to-dos, Mashiach and his family enjoy quality time on the water, fishing, or docking at a favorite restaurant on the Intracoastal for a spectacular meal. “From yoga on the beach to amazing deep-water fishing, Fort Lauderdale has a wonderful ambiance and everything you need to enjoy life,” he says.

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico is known as one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world. A hundred-plus feet of visibility in the pristine, cobalt water is perfect for a deep dive, whether you’re a novice or expert. “The clarity of the water is just extraordinary,” says Cindy Case, a Realtor with Douglas Elliman. The island takes pride in differentiating itself from the mainland; as opposed to cities like Cancun, Cozumel boasts a private, more intimate community.

“It’s a unique, small island with a very relaxed vibe,” Case says. Yet, this does not eliminate the availability of ample restaurants, shopping, and hospital care. There are many properties available for sale along the water, and well-priced at that. Case notes the affordability of property on such a prime Caribbean island. When recalling her favorites, Case enjoys beach hopping along the backside of the island; she treasures the chain of beautiful, wide, white-sand beaches with restaurants and bars.

Honolulu, Hawaii

Picture year-round warm weather and sunshine, vast cultural diversity and delicacies, and a fabulous cosmopolitan lifestyle when thinking of residential life in Honolulu, Hawaii, says Tracy Allen of Coldwell Banker Realty.

“Breathtaking hikes along the Ko’olau mountain ranges and scenic coastal trails offer incredible vistas second to none. Visitors and residents love the vast cultural foods found in Hawaii, and come to the island to enjoy many different dining experiences,” Allen describes.

For purchases on the water, prices start at around $6 million, and can range from $8 million to $20 million as well. Allen says that waterfront homes in the area have generally been built within the last 10 years, and include modern touches such as lighter wood tones, smart technology, gyms, home offices, and large, professional kitchens.

Surfing, paddle boarding, kite surfing, jet skiing, and canoe paddling are just a few activities keeping residents entertained. Allen wants buyers to know: if you’re looking for a diverse experience, Hawaii is for you. And when asked her perfect way to spend a day, her answer is simple; “The beach! You can never go wrong with our turquoise crystal-clear waters!”

Kaua’i, Hawaii

In another part of the islands, luxury on Kaua’i translates to “soulful” according to Hawaii Life broker Neal Norman. It is that very soul and heart that keeps residents smiling in the sunshine, just as Norman found himself when he moved in 25 years ago.

“We’re seeing purposeful buyers who want to live the lifestyle: that luxury, soulful living that Kaua’i provides,” Norman says. In the North Shore region where he is located, buyers and sellers are connected on the ocean view at a variety of prices, ranging from $3 million to $50 million. Dream homes are purchased on the daily in this blue-sky paradise, where residents can spend quality time with loved ones and friends.

Offering numerous outdoor endeavors, hiking, surfing, sailing, snorkeling, swimming, beach combing and biking are just a few of the fantastic opportunities in Kaua’i. “Buyers are finding solitude and serenity on this little island in the Pacific Sea,” Norman says. “Kaua’i is a rare and special place.”


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