travelgirl magazine May 2007

Editorial Written by Stephanie Abrams

Springtime brings to life all the beauty on earth!
By Stephanie Abrams

I like to think of every bloom opening to share a pleasurable travel experience! So tiptoe through the tulips with me as we peel back the petals of places guaranteed to excite your imagination, uplift your spirit, and enhance your life so that your journeys will truly take you to another place! Here's a fairytale itinerary designed to create a garden-spot in your memory bank:

Firstly, start by staying overnight at an airport hotel in the US. Sleep late, take a leisurely bath, and arrive at your airport gateway with hours and hours to spare! It will make such a difference in the way you feel about your departure day! For some serious pampering, check to see if there's a Sofitel Hotel ( in your gateway city. Expect luxurious service travelgirl-style all topped with orchids! And if you're flying from JFK, you'll appreciate the bedding at the Crowne Plaza JFK and the pair of 18th century Baccarat Crystal urns in the lobby valued at $250,000 each!

Airports are great, fun-filled places but most travelers red-line the departure process so it's one big rush and hassle. The airport is a playground for the travelgirl, filled with restaurants, shops, observations areas to watch planes take-off and land and, if you're traveling internationally, there are duty-free shops to explore! But note that, if you buy liquids such as perfume, liquor, shampoo or other items in containers larger than 3 ounces, in the shops you find after the security check-point, you'll be able to take them on board and carry them to your next destination. However, you won't be able to carry them onto a connecting flight. So if you're making a connection you'll need to get your checked luggage and stow your liquid purchases inside. If your luggage is check through to your destination, that won't happen. If you can't claim your luggage before you reach your final destination, or if you've packed your luggage solidly with no room to stow your new purchases, those liquid items over 3 ounces will be confiscated by the security folks! Remember this so you can factor your shopping into the TSA formula so you get to keep everything you buy!

Let the fairytale commence! The pity is that there is nothing I can write nor any photo you can see that will truly give you the sense of the experience I am about to roll out to you. Suffice it to say that, while few travelgirls are familiar with the unique lodgings to follow, there are some Americans who have already been repeat guests such as Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Ron Howard, Tony Curtis and many Europeans well-known to travelgirls such as Julio Iglesias, designer John Gallinano and Gerard Lanvin.
All of the places we are going to are part of Grandes Etapes Francaises. Don't be scared off by the buying power of celebs! There are deals to be had even at these amazing places! Check out their website at for details.

The only way to understand the richness of staying at the following places is to go there. And don't be put off by the celebrities who have been guests! If your budget doesn't allow you to stay in everyone of these luxurious and unique historic places, then choose to stay one night for the big splurge, stop in for tea or a glass of wine or a dinner along the route. Or, better still, plan to return again and again until you have stayed in all of them!

So here we go!
Arrive in Paris and head directly to Chateau d'Esclimont, a 150 acre estate. At the beginning of the 6th century a chateau fortress was built but was destroyed in various wars leaving only the dungeon. Then, this jewel of the Renaissance period built in 1543 by the archbishop of Tours. Much has been added over the years but always in keeping with the elegance, grace and style of the architecture. While it's less than an hour's drive from Paris, located 35 minutes from Versailles and 15 miles from Chartres and its magnificent cathedral, you can opt to arrive by helicopter in only minutes! You can easily shed your daily concerns and leave them behind as you enter and become the queen of your new home! When you make your reservation, ask about having a massage in your room on the evening of the day you arrive! Decadent. . . and so necessary! This chateau was the home of the la Rochefoucauld family. Henri de Rochefoucauld was the godfather of Francois 1st, King of France who used the “fleur de lise” as his symbol. While at this chateau, do everything from simple walks around the gorgeous grounds and pond, play tennis, swim in the heated outdoor pool, bicycle, go boating, enjoy evening musical performances, fly over the region in a plane, helicopter or, in true travelgirl style, view the area from a hot air balloon! If you're a golfer, an 18-hole golf course in 9 miles away!

Next, as you move deeper into the Loire Valley region of France, stay at Chateau d'Artigny. This is a fascinating place! I'll be your mom or your grandmother had Coty Perfume products on her vanity table! I know mine did! There's a wonderful story behind the successful Francois Coty and you've got an opportunity to live in his grand lifestyle at Chateau d'Artigny. This is a real-life fairy tale in which, once upon a time, there was a perfume maker who dreamed of living in a castle. Francois Coty, credited with being the inventor of modern perfume-making, hit it big with Coty Perfumes and decided that he should live in the grand style of the kings of France. Legend has it that Coty approached the French government and offered to buy Chambord, a magnificent chateau and home to Louis XIV and other kings, to purchase as a summer home for himself. When the government turned him down, he suggested that they sell him Chenonceaux. This is much like your approaching the US government with an offer to buy the White House or Camp David! When Coty was again refused, he decided he must build his own chateau in the style of 18th century style of the chateaux in the Loire Valley. I am so pleased that he invested so much time, money and energy in creating a magnificent chateau filled with marble, wood paneling, fresco in tromp l'oeil and everything necessary to provide a gorgeous setting that is now, due to the efforts of the Rene Traversac and his descendants, part of the family owned and managed group. Only 9 miles from Tours and surrounded by the most important chateaux in the Loire Valley, if I took you to this chateau hotel, which is about 80 years old, and told you that it was one of the homes of the French kings in the 18th century, you'd really have to do some research to find that this was not true! With every luxury, fabulous parkland grounds, with the kind of service that understands your need to step out of your world and into another time and lifestyle, you'll find Chateau d'Artigny provides an enriching experience for body, soul and taste buds. There are over 20,000 bottles of fine wine in the wine cellar, fabulously delectable cuisine, a private dining room for a romantic dinner for 2, and a duplex cottage that you can take over for total privacy. Ron Howard, after the Cannes Film Festival, visited Chateau D'Artigny, arriving up the drive wearing his signature red baseball cap. In order to maintain his privacy, Ron chose to arrive pedaling a bicycle and checking straight-away into the duplex! While he came into the chateau for dinner during his stay, I'm told that he was recognized by the other guests but that, with style and aplomb, he was afforded a peaceful evening of good food and privacy by the other guests! Bravo to them!

A wonderfully sweet offering of the Grandes Etapes Francaises chateau hotel group is the Demeure Le Choiseul. More like a grand manor house than a chateau, this charming and intimate lodging is couched next to the exterior wall of Chateau Amboise, a glorious museum chateau where you find the burial site of Leonardo Da Vinci. Just outside of Le Choiseul, within a 2 block charming walk through narrow streets, you find the little village of Amboise with darling shops, a great chocolatier, bistros, boutiques, pastry shops and bakeries lining the streets that look like they have been peeled from the pages of a storybook! In keeping with the GEF Hotels appeal, you'll find intimacy, warmth, charm, and a memorable experience waiting for you where you'll leave feeling that you've been torn away from old friends.

Follow the route to Gilly-les-Citeaux in the heart of the vineyards of Burgundy. There you'll find Chateau de Gilly, an abbey whose history dates back to the 6th century when the archbishop of Paris left all his properties in Gilly in Burgundy to the Benedictine monks. In his honor, the monks built a priory which evolved over the years into a country home for the 51st Abbot of Citeaux in the 16th century. Two hundred years later, the Chateau de Gilly was sold, became a public theatre, and ultimately caught the attention of Rene Traversac, credited as the founder of chateau-hotel concept, after considerable renovation which protects the style, history and heritage of Chateau de Gilly combined with the expectations of luxury and comfort of the most sophisticated traveler, the chateau opened in 1988 for guests seeking an inspiring visit. The cuisine will make you understand what is possible in food preparation and service, the accommodations provide pampered comfort, the historic setting is amazing, the staff on every level is incredible, and I promise you that you will be planning your return before you check out!

Each chateau-hotel in the group provides a setting of peace, tranquility, activity on the grounds, world-class sightseeing nearby, phenomenal food and wine, the best trained staff I have ever encountered on a consistent basis, and each makes a unique impression on your mind and spirit that tugs at you heart as you leave. There is an incredible warmth and personality at each of the properties that is very hard to describe. The others in the GEF Hotels Group that I visited were Chateau De Divonne, nestled on a hillside in France in Divonnes-les-Bains, overlooking Geneva, Switzerland and only 15 minutes from Geneva International Airport, Chateau d'Isenbourg and Chateau de L'Ile, both in the Alsacian region of France near the Rhine River which separates this French area from Germany. The similarities of these chateaux are their elegance, grace and quality of service one comes quickly to expect from GEF Hotels at these uniquely different historic properties.

There is one property that is quite young and modern and that is Le Mas D'Artigny in Saint-Paul-de-Vence . This hotel is stretches like a hacienda, terracing across the mountain side facing St. Paul and the Mediterranean Sea. The hotel provides special private villas each with its own pool as well as accommodations in the sprawling complex. The spa is well known for its signature treatments and the hotel's general manager has a passion for making guests feel that they are at home in a way that home could never live up to! Only 30 minutes from Nice and Cannes, and 5 minutes from St. Paul, this is the perfect location to be near everything without being in the thick of the crowds, especially during the summer months. Open year ‘round, this always sunny location is the ideal getaway for the winter traveler looking for an inspirational destination in a modern setting.

If your budget allows you to follow this path and spend a night or two or more in each of the hotels listed above, I promise you the experience of a lifetime. For everybody else, drop in, ask for the General Manager and say, “Stephanie Abrams told me I had to rest my body and spirit here for a bit!” and head for the lounge area. Order a glass of fine wine and plate of fruit and cheese to recharge before you continue your journey. And dream a little dream for me!

• Be sure to visit my award-winning website, and for travel tips, travel news and information and scheduled guests on my radio shows! • May 2007

Gotta Fly Now! sm
Stephanie Abrams

Other TravelGirl Editorials by Stephanie Abrams:

March 2006, Spring Time Travel

May 2006, (coming soon)

September 2006, Castle Hopping


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Stephanie Abrams, recognized as a leading radio travel expert and as one of the "100 Most Powerful Women in /travel," is host of the weekly Travel WITH Stephanie Abrams, heard coast-to-coast on the Business Talk Radio Network and appears weekly on radio's nationally syndicated, "Traveling Feet!" Visit Abrams' award-winning website and Stephanie welcomes travelgirls' travel questions at