Grand Velas Riviera Maya

A Luxurious Getaway Awaits You at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

The tough decisions start just moments after you arrive at Grand Velas Riviera Maya. Do you want a traditional margarita, a tamarind margarita, spicy margarita, lychee margarita or mango margarita?

The decision is made easier by knowing you’ll be able to sample all of them and more during your stay at the luxury all-inclusive resort on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast. Emphasis on the luxury – from checking in to dining out, enjoying the white sand beach, three pools or world renowned spa, not a single detail has been overlooked.

You’ll feel pampered, spoiled and blissfully relaxed. I know, as I had the opportunity to spend four days there and I’m ready to go back.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya is located near Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It’s about a 45 minute drive south from Cancun International Airport, an easy flight from just about anywhere in the United States.

The giant white-walled gated entrance offers a hint at what’s beyond. Pass through and you’re enveloped in the jungle, a drive that helps with the transition from work to pleasure.

The entrance to Grand Velas Riviera Maya, photo courtesy of Velas Resorts
The entrance to Grand Velas Riviera Maya, photo courtesy of Velas Resorts

The first section, or ‘ambiance’ of the all-suites resort you’ll come to is Zen. Designed to blend in with the surroundings, this ambiance is all about peace and relaxation. Palapas-covered raised walkways take you from the lobby to your suite, your escort a member of the staff assigned to assist you with anything you need during your stay. Each suite has a large spa tub and private terrace looking out at a lagoon and mangrove jungle.

Lobby at Zen ambiance, photo courtesy of Velas Resorts
Lobby at Zen, photo courtesy of Velas Resorts

The attention to detail is readily apparent. Sparkling wine can be arranged to be on ice in anticipation of your arrival. A bottle of Grand Velas Tequila sits above the fully stocked mini bar (raid it as many times as you like, it’s part of the luxury all-inclusive experience). There’s a Nespresso machine and high-end teas. L’Occitane bath and body products. An umbrella if there’s rain. And bug spray just in case (though as of this posting there has been only 1 case of Zika reported in the Cancun area).

A room at the Zen ambiance at Grand Velas Riviera Maya
A room at the Zen ambiance at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

I stayed in the Zen ambiance the first night of my stay. Waking up the next morning and enjoying coffee and breakfast on the patio was pure heaven. (In-suite dining is available 24 hours a day and included in the all-inclusive experience.)

Breakfast on the patio at Zen
Breakfast on the patio at Zen

Each of the three ambiances has a pool, gym, bars and restaurants. There are readily available shuttles to take you around so you can experience it all.

The pool and bougainvillea-draped balconies at Ambassador
The pool and bougainvillea-draped balconies at Ambassador

The family-friendly Ambassador ambiance is ideally located steps from the white sand beach and the resort’s largest pool. Nearby the Kid’s Club and Teen Club have been decked out with the latest in gaming and entertainment, guaranteeing they’ll have fun while you get to relax.

The beach at Grand Velas Riviera Maya
The beach at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

If you’re looking to reconnect with that special someone in the ultimate setting, you’ll want to stay in the Grand Class section. Exclusively for adults and teens 16 years of age and older, the Grand Class offers views, luxury and beyond, and you can enjoy it while sitting in the soaking tub on your balcony. Also worth noting, the giant spa bathtub that can probably fit six adults, no exaggeration.

I thought nothing could top breakfast on the terrace at my Zen suite until I was sipping bubbly in the soaking tub on my balcony looking out at the Caribbean Sea.

Sunset on the balcony at Grand Class
View from the balcony at Grand Class

The all-inclusive portion of your stay at Grand Velas Riviera Maya feels like the most decadent indulgence. It’s the adult version of being a kid in a candy shop; eat and drink whatever you want, and you’ll want to taste it all.

First, the drinks. You’ll find premium liquors and high quality wines from around the world available throughout the resort, all included. Want an introduction to tequila or mezcal? Host an impromptu tasting yourself! Your bartender will give you a pour from all the bottles you’d like. Decide you want to switch from a mango margarita to a lychee one while lounging at the infinity pool? There are plenty of poolside servers, or my recommendation, float over to the swim-up bar.

Next, the food. You won’t find fine dining like this at any other all-inclusive resort. Choose among the restaurants offering Mexican, French, Italian or Asian cuisine. You’ll find dishes prepared to the highest standards, and flavors to match any top restaurant. In fact, Cocina De Autor, Grand Velas Riviera Maya’s signature restaurant, has been awarded the American Automobile Association’s Five Diamond award – it’s the only restaurant in an all-inclusive to receive this honor.

A selection of dishes at Grand Velas Riviera Maya
A selection of dishes at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

The fun continues late into the night at any of Grand Velas’ bars. Listen to live music at the Piano Bar, or belt out your favorite tune at the Karaoke Bar. Of course if you just want to sit on your balcony and listen to waves lap at the beach, that’s fine too.

A stay at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya is not complete without a visit to the spa. Appropriately located in the Zen ambiance, the region’s largest luxury spa incorporates elements of the natural environment in its two-level, 89,000 plus square-foot space.

Warm water pool at the spa, photo courtesy of Velas Resorts
Warm water pool at the spa, photo courtesy of Velas Resorts

Your treatment begins with a Water Journey. Alternating hot and cold treatments culminate in a warm water pool with bubbles, jets and waterfalls designed to help you sink deep into relaxation.

I enjoyed a Therapeutic Velas Maya massage during my stay. The deep tissue massage is uniquely tailored to each guest, with various techniques to help relieve stress and tension. The massage, coupled with the Water Journey, was easily one of the top spa experiences I have ever had. I was the most relaxed I had been in ages.

Treatment room at the spa, photo courtesy of Velas Resorts
Treatment room at the spa, photo courtesy of Velas Resorts

Spa treatments vary in price and are not included in the all-inclusive rate.

You could easily spend your entire vacation on the Riviera Maya at the Grand Velas resort. But there is plenty to see and do nearby. You can explore the shops and restaurants of downtown Playa del Carmen. Tulum and its famous ruins are located about 45 miles away, and a bit farther is Chichen Itza. Xcaret, an eco-archaeological park is about 20 minutes away. Check out a video of the Butterfly Pavilion below.

A video posted by Robin Austin (@amgastronomer) on

Ready to book? Visit the website for Grand Velas Riviera Maya at rivieramaya.grandvelas.com.

If you’re looking for an excuse to visit in October, the Best of Mexico Riviera Maya will be held from October 5th to 9th. Five internationally-known Mexican chefs will team up for a 10-course tasting menu that will be offered over the four nights. It is included in the all-inclusive pricing.

The $250 million Grand Velas Riviera Maya offers 539 suites ranging in size from 1,184 to 3,767 square feet. Nightly rates start at $393 per person per night based on double occupancy.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya is part of the Velas Resorts family that includes Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, Velas Vallarta, Casa Velas and Grand Velas Los Cabos, which will open later this year.

The inviting pool at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya, #nofilter needed
The inviting pool at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya, #nofilter needed

Special thanks to Grand Velas Riviera Maya for hosting my visit. All opinions are my own.

Napa Valley sign

Five Favorite Local Wineries to Visit in Napa Valley

When you visit the capital of winemaking, deciding on which wineries to visit or even where to start can be difficult. With so many incredible, one-of-a-kind wines to try, you definitely don’t want to waste time looking around. To make it easier, try one (or all) of these favorite local wineries during your next visit to Napa Valley.

Schramsberg Vineyard

Schramsberg Vineyards is known as “America’s House of Sparkling Wines,” and provides not only an impeccable wine selection but also an important piece of history in winemaking. The caves at Schramsberg were dug in Diamond Mountain in the late 1800’s by Chinese laborers after the completion of the Transcontinental railroad and included two sets of cellar tunnels completed before the turn of the century. Later, another set of tunnels were added in the 1980’s, increasing the square footage of the already-impressive tunnel system to 34,000 square feet. Now, visitors get the opportunity to enjoy these picturesque caves and the wine that is perfectly developed in them.
schramsberg.com

Castello di Amorosa

When you pull up to Castello di Amorosa, you may start to question if you actually did book your vacation to Napa Valley, or mistakenly were brought to Tuscany. Well, appreciate the authenticity of Castello di Amorosa, constructed with true Medieval techniques and meticulously designed by owner and builder Dario Sattui with all of the characteristics of a real castle. That’s right, enjoy world-class wine in a castle with a moat and drawbridge, dungeon, and secret passageways. The Castello di Amorosa is so impressive and fun, even your children are welcome to join in for a grape-juice tasting and tour.
castellodiamorosa.com

Cliff Lede

If history isn’t really your thing or it’s time to switch it up a bit, visit Cliff Lede for a modern yet unique experience. Canadian-born Cliff Lede purchased the land in 2002 and was quick to make it his own. He named each of the 39 wine blocks after his favorite classic rock songs, giving them the nickname “rock blocks.” You can even book a “Backstage Pass” visit that gives you access to a variety of limited production wines to enjoy in a comfortable lounge that features rotating art exhibits, all while being serenaded with classic rock hits in the background. For a destination with fabulous wine, thought-provoking art exhibits, and the feel-good vibes of classic rock, Cliff Lede is a must.
cliffledevineyards.com

Failla

A visit to Failla may very well be a bucket list item for true wine enthusiasts. Failla (pronounced Fay-la) Wines is home to winemaker Ehren Jordan, one of Napa’s most esteemed winemakers. This intimate winery allows its visitors to taste some of the most popular, sought-after wines on the market, and you may even find yourself picking Jordan’s brain himself as he hangs out with his guests in the courtyard. The 15,000 square foot caves also impress, and booking a cave tour is a favorite among many guests.
faillawines.com

Robert Mondavi Winery

The renowned and respected Robert Mondavi opened his winery in Oakville in 1966, and the rest is history. He succeeded in producing some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines in the entire world. His vision included a combination of classic winemaking techniques combined with new technology as it emerged, all while honoring the origin of the wines. Mondavi considered winemaking an art, which also inspired the decision to host several famous artists for a summer concert series held on the lawn of the winery.
robertmondaviwinery.com

Visit these five wineries on your next visit to Napa Valley, and don’t forget to stay in comfort at a luxury resort, and taste in style to make your trip unforgettable.

Content provided by Solage Calistoga, a luxury resort and spa in the Napa Valley. For more information visit solagecalistoga.com.

Vinogram: Bottle Jack Winery

For more information on Bottle Jack Wines from Santa Cruz, California visit bottlejackwines.com.

Cru Bourgeois

Cru Bourgeois: High Quality Wine from Bordeaux’s Left Bank

With the incredible number of châteaux producing wines in Bordeaux, how do you know how to select a good bottle?

Sure, you can pick one from one of the five growths of the 1855 Classification – a ranking of Bordeaux’s best wines as requested by Emperor Napoleon III for the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris.

However, a lot has changed since 1855. So you may want to opt for something that has kept up with the times (not to mention that is also a lot easier than pulling up the list of classified estates).

When selecting a Bordeaux wine, look for Cru Bourgeois.

Cru Bourgeois logoCru Bourgeois du Médoc wines have met the strict quality selection procedure of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois. This union was created in 1962 to study, defend and promote the interests of the owners and producers in the Médoc area. The term dates back to the 15th century, when the bourgeois (merchants) of Bordeaux were able to acquire the finest properties in the region.

“We use an external and independent verification body – Bureau Veritas – to supervise every stage of the process to ensure quality standards and impartiality at every stage,” explained Crus Bourgeois du Médoc Director Frederique de Lamothe via email.

“Since 2008, each vintage is tasted blind by external professionals and evaluated before being sold, making the ‘Cru Bourgeois’ quality approach unique and a benchmark for Bordeaux and the rest of France.”

Cru Bourgeois wines are easy to spot, thanks to an authentication sticker affixed to each bottle since the 2010 vintage.

Cru Bourgeois sticker

“This sticker not only guarantees quality, but also that the wine is representative of its specific terroir and appellation,” said Mr. de Lamothe. “The sticker also has a QR code that allows easy and immediate access to that particular château’s technical information on the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc website.”

The wines come from the famous sub-appellations on Bordeaux’s Left Bank: Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Medoc, Moulis en Medoc, Margaux, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. They’re made mainly from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

The wines in the Crus Bourgeois de Medoc offer variety, both in taste and price. Bottles range from $20 to $50, with the average price of a bottle currently at $25.50.

For more information on Crus Bourgeois du Medoc including member châteaux visit www.crus-bourgeois.com.

organicgirl juices

organicgirl Introduces Green Juices & Delivery

You’ve enjoyed their salad mixes and dressings. Now organicgirl is giving you a new way to get plenty of daily greens — with a new line of cold-pressed green juices.

The “More Greens, Less Fruit” juices have 3.3 servings of veggies per bottle and contain fewer calories and sugar than other juices. All are 100% organic and certified by the USDA.

Check out the full range of flavors here. Join organicgirl’s Greens Juice Club and get a $2 off coupon.

Organicgirl has also introduced a new delivery service, bringing healthy eating to your home or office. You can select from a variety of different assortments and sizes, or create you own.  Just go to the online shop at www.iloveorganicgirl.com/shop.

>> Connect:
Facebook: iloveorganicgirl
Twitter: @iloveorganic
Instagram: @iloveorganicgirl
Pinterest: organicgirl

 

Vinogram: Waterkloof Cape Coral 2015

For more information on Waterkloof from South Africa’s Western Cape visit waterkloofwines.co.za.

Vinogram: Loma Prieta Winery

Loma Prieta Winery not only has gorgeous views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay, it is also the largest producer of Pinotage in North America.

For more information visit lomaprietawinery.com.

Vinkara wine

Vinkara Wines: Indigenous Grapes from Turkey

Love Old World wines and looking for something new? Try the wines from Vinkara Winery in Turkey, a place where winemaking started some 15,000 years ago.

Vinkara is a leader in the production of indigenous Anatolian grape varietals. They are now introducing their wines to the United States.

Vinkara Winery is located in Kalecik, in the Ankara Province in north-central Turkey. The village gives its name to Kalecik Karasi, a red wine grape that originated there.

Vinkara Narince Reserve 2012Vinkara’s 135 acres of vineyards are planted at an altitude of 2,000 feet, and are influenced by a continental climate with cold, snowy winters and hot, dry summers. The grapes for all their wines are harvested by hand, and grow in a mix of sand, clay and limestone soils with high mineral content.

I had a chance to taste two of Vinkara’s wines – the Narince Reserve 2012 and the Kalecik Karasi Reserve 2012.

Narince, pronounced nah-rin-djeh and meaning ‘delicately’ in Turkish, is a white wine grape. The 2012 Narince Reserve is a dry white wine that is reminiscent of Chardonnay or a fuller boded Sauvignon Blanc. It opens with citrus, tropical and floral aromas. On the palate are flavors of pear, grapefruit, pineapple and white flowers, with a touch of vanilla and well-balanced acidity. $25, 13.5% abv

Vinkara Kalecik Karasi Reserve 2012The Kalecik Karasi Reserve 2012, pronounced kah-le-djic car-ah-ser (with ‘er’ as in ‘father’), immediately brought to mind a spicy Pinot Noir or Gamay. This dry red wine is medium-bodied with aromas of red fruits, spice and smoke. Plum, red cherry and blackberry flavors are layered with black pepper, nutmeg and subtle notes of smoked meat. Smooth tannins and a lingering finish make it a really pleasing sip. The wine was aged for 14 months in French oak barrels.
$27, 13.5% abv

Though the wine producing region may be unfamiliar and the names may be a bit awkward to pronounce, all you need to know is that the wines of Vinkara are easy to drink and approachable, and well worth seeking out.

For more information on Vinkara Winery visit www.vinkarawines.com.

Vinkara wines are imported by The Winebow Group.

>> Connect:
Facebook: vinkara.wines
Twitter: @vinkarawines
Instagram: @vinkarawines

Toast to #LanguedocDay on May 27

Back in 2013 I said the Languedoc region in France was one to watch. I still feel that way, if not more so.

It’s really the best of all worlds. The weather is ideal, the villages are beautiful, and seemingly every grape does well there. Plus you’ll find an abundance of great values.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

Looking for a sparkling wine? There’s Blanquette and Crémant de Limoux, made using the same traditional method as Champagne (and the second most imported French sparkler after Champagne).

How about the perfect summer white? Picpoul de Pinet is the wine that goes from poolside sip to nighttime aperitif, and is made for shellfish and seafood.

And the de rigeur rosé? Mais oui! Though Provence, its neighbor to the east is best known for its rosés, Languedoc comes in a close second. The climate and grapes make for wines that are very similar in style to Provence rosés.

For the red wines there is just about anything you could want — Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache and beyond.

This #LanguedocDay I invite you to join me on Twitter and Instagram and share what Languedoc wines you are sipping.

For more information visit languedocadventure.com.

#LanguedocDay is sponsored by the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc.

Cheers and santé!

Nando's PERi-PERi Sauce

Nando’s PERi-PERi Sauce Makes Atlanta Debut

It’s the most famous sauce you’ve never heard of.

So the saying goes for Nando’s PERi-PERi, the South African sauce that made its debut in Atlanta this month. But you’re in luck, we’ll let you in on the tasty secret.

We got to try the hot sauce at Braai on the BeltLine, a South African barbecue-themed pop-up party on the Atlanta BeltLine. Nando’s teamed up with Justin Anthony, the South African restaurateur behind Cape Dutch, 10 Degrees South, Yebo Beach Haus and Biltong Bar to serve the PERi-PERi sauce along with Nando’s famous PERi-PERi chicken, which was marinated for 24 hours and flame grilled.

Braai on the BeltLine

One taste of Nando’s PERi-PERi and you’ll realize it’s more than a hot sauce. It is hot – the medium, my favorite, has much more heat than most medium hot sauces.

Nando's PERi-PERi chiliThe flavor is what makes Nando’s PERi-PERi unique. It gets this flavor from African Bird’s Eye Chili, grown in southern Africa. The chili is handpicked, then dried and crushed. Swahili for “pepper pepper,” the PERi-PERi is enhanced with sun-ripened lemons and a dash of garlic. It does not contain artificial preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors or added MSG. It is also gluten-free, kosher and suitable for vegetarians.

See why people from England to Australia are going gaga for PERi-PERi by picking up one or several of the Nando’s sauces. They’re now available in Georgia at Kroger, Publix and Walmart.

For more information, visit www.nandosperiperi.com/sauces.

Braai on the BeltLine

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