Defining My Ultimate Luxury Hotel

I will fully admit it’s hard not to become a little spoiled when you have the opportunity to stay at some of the most luxurious hotels in the United States and beyond. With each trip I take, I find a new, indulgent feature that finds its way onto my fantasy list for, what I would consider, the makings of the Ultimate Luxury Hotel.

Sure there are the no-compromise standards for me such as:

Service*Service*Service: My saying is that just as location, location, location is to real estate, so is service, service, service to the luxury hotel industry: in my book ~ No. Compromises. Ever. Good service is the first and foremost attribute that defines any luxury hotel ~ bar none.

Decadent Beds: This is a must for me because a big part of a vacation is being able to relax and sleep well in order to rejuvenate yourself ~ which is what a vacation is all about, right? Many hotels are very aware that this is a growing request among their guests and are now going to extreme lengths to provide this luxury. The Four Seasons Hotel brand has gone as far as to implement custom-designed beds for their guests’ comfort, Travel and Leisure printed an interesting Battle-of-the Beds article on this trend, and hotel beds are now even making “Top 25” lists. Great news for all of us!

Aside from the expected standard-of-excellence at a luxury hotel, I relish in the fine details and the little extras that many places offer. These touches are what can make or break a hotel. Throughout my travels, I have accumulated a fantasy list of what I wish every resort would offer, so here are some of the top items on my list:

A Great Welcome: I love arriving at a resort and having the staff greet me by name. Sometimes I’m not even sure how they know it but it certainly makes me feel special. I also love a nice Welcome Amenity. There is something about walking into an unfamiliar room and finding a little treat awaiting you with a welcome note that immediately makes you feel special and at home. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way. The Rosewood Mayakoba is memorable to me in that the staff have a stealth way of communicating with one another throughout the property, ensuring that you are always greeted by name. The Rosewood Mayakoba also offered me one of the best welcome amenities, when upon my arrival, I was presented with a custom-monogrammed napkin with a welcome drink, as well as monogrammed pillow cases, a tote bag, a tequila set and a baseball hat placed in my room…talk about feeling special!

Breakfast Included: I know this might seem basic but I find this a nice perk as breakfast is my favorite meal of the day….and not any ol’ breakfast, let’s make this a gourmet breakfast! The Post Ranch Inn offers one of the most delicious breakfast meals I’ve ever had, not to mentioned it’s served in their Sierra Mar restaurant with stunning views of the Pacific. At Chateau du Sureau, a Relais & Chateaux property, I was awakened as the aroma of breakfast cooking seeped in through the floor boards and engulfed my room. It doesn’t get any better than that and obviously made for a memorable experience.

Outdoor Shower: I’m no exhibitionist but I adore an outdoor shower. There is something so invigorating about taking a shower outdoors in the fresh air. This has become one of my favorite amenities. Calistoga Ranch offers wonderful outdoor showers located under the beautiful mighty oaks on their property. It’s exotically rustic and decadent at the same time.

Luxury Car Program: Many luxury resorts offer a house driver that will usually take you anywhere within a few miles radius which is an extremely convenient service ~ and let me tell you, nothing feels more celebrity-like then when a place like the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills picks you and your besties up at the hottest restaurant in town in their stunning Rolls Royce.

But what is even more fun, is when a hotel offers a luxury car loaner program that allows you to complementarily use the car for the day. I’ve done this at many resorts but one of my favorite memories is when I rented a convertible Mercedes at Solage Calistoga and spent a gorgeous California day driving through the beautiful vineyards in Napa’s Wine Country. I can still feel the wind blowing through my hair!

Pool Amenties: Pool time is always a priority for me on my trips. So for that reason, I absolutely love pool amenities. Not just the water buckets, Evian spritzers, or occasional popsicles ~ although nothing wrong with any of those…but I’m talking about complimentary cabanas, having my sunglasses cleaned, my neck massaged, and yes, even a Margarita bar rolled over my way. To me, there is nothing more luxuriously self-indulgent than pampering pool amenities.

Valet Closet: Many of you may not even know what this is, and it’s probably not what you’re thinking, but it is one of my very favorite features and I wish that every hotel I stayed at had one these. This is a small pass-thru cabinet with a door opening from the hotel hallway and then another door opening from inside the hotel room that allows room service or other personnel to slip items into the cabinet and then you can retrieve the item from your room without having to open the main door to hotel personnel. Brilliant!! How many times have you been in your room relaxing, not appropriately dressed and someone knocks on the door with something for you? Too many times for me to count, so I really appreciate this privacy feature that allows me to remain in complete comfort when my room service order is delivered. The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas is one of the few hotels that I have been to that has this feature ~ other resorts please take note!

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This is just the tip of the iceberg of what I would like to see at my Ultimate Luxury Hotel…complimentary minibars, Club Level perks, downloadable hotel apps, resort bikes are just a few others that come to mind as well. How about you? What defines your Ultimate Luxury Hotel? I would love to know.


Chateau du Sureau | Oakhurst, CA


I originally visited Chateau du Sureau, a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux family, in the Fall of 2014 and was very impressed with this luxurious property (see review here). When I had the opportunity to visit the property again, a few months later in December, I didn’t hesitate to make my reservation.

DSC_5563Located in the Northern Califorinia Sierra Foothills, it was a little chillier on this visit but the property took on a magical feel as it was fully adorned for the holidays.

As I entered the chateau living room, I was greeted by a roaring fire with stockings hanging from the mantel like something out of a storybook. I almost expected to see my name embroidered on one of them.

A 15′ Christmas tree was placed in the elevated alcove, jeweled with a bevy of shiny ornaments. The tree standing tall next to the piano felt like an invitation to come up and sing Christmas carols. A beautiful photograph of Ms. Erna Kubin-Clanin, the chateau owner, and her mother add a personal touch.


I had the good fortune of staying in one the most requested rooms, the Elderberry room. This second-story, corner room has a small balcony overlooking the beautiful foothills, pool and Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant.

The room is romantic with a stunning European antique canopy bed draped with rich fabric panels. As with my last visit, I was so impressed with the cleanliness of the room and the crisp white, fresh linens that just beg for you to jump into bed.


With a chill in the air, I immediately lit a fire, turned on the built-in sound system and played the chateau’s custom classical CD as I cozied up in one of the chairs in front of the fireplace with the afternoon tea and snacks that were delivered to the room.

The room offers a spacious en-suite bathroom with luxurious robes, a soaking tub and L’Occitane amenities.

The lovely chateau is a complete luxurious experience on its own but a very integrated part of this experience here is the option of an exquisite dinner at Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant.


Erna’s career began as a chef so the restaurant is a very important aspect to her when it comes to the experience at the Estates at the Elderberries. Erna no longer is the main chef but Chef Jonathan Perkins is doing an amazing job in coming up with creative menus and executing the dishes to perfection.


The atmosphere in the restaurant is elegant and sophisticated. The pre-fixe menu changes daily and is a “foodies” delight. The option of a wine pairing is offered with each meal.

One of my favorite memories from my first visit was being woken up by the delicious aroma of breakfast cooking, and this visit was no different. A generous breakfast of a cooked egg dish along with a cereal bar and fruits and cheese platter is included daily.


I can can honestly say that I was as impressed, if not more, on my second stay at Chateau du Sureau. This is an exquisite property perfect for a romantic getaway, a birthday celebration, a small family reunion and/or a fairytale wedding.

If you would like more information on this property or would like me to help you arrange a stay here, please feel free to contact me so we can create your fairytale story

Chateau du Sureau, Oakhurst

Nestled in the Sierra foothills of Oakhurst, CA, less than thirty minutes from Yosemite Park, resides an unsuspecting property that could be something right out of a fairytale.

The Estates by the Elderberries is a compilation of a first class restaurant, Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant; a luxury 10-room hotel, Chateau du Sureau; a private villa, Villa Sureau along with the most recent addition of Spa du Sureau.

@2014 Susan Edel
Erna and Sophie in front of the Elderberry House Restaurant

This enchanting nine-acre property, is the creative vision of Erna Kubin-Clanin. Originally from Austria, Erna has a bit of a fairytale story of her own when she set sail across the Atlantic Ocean on the SS Bremen to start a new life in America, bringing with her a determination to share her love of the majestic beauty and romance of her beloved homeland…and this is exactly what she has accomplished.

For years, I was curious about and wanted to visit this highly acclaimed chateau located in a remote area somewhere in the vicinity of Yosemite, and yet somehow just hadn’t made my way there. After once again seeing this Relais & Chateaux property awarded a Forbes Five Star Rating, AAA 5 Diamond award, and being listed as one of the top hotels in the United States on several industry lists, I decided I had to make it a priority to visit it in person.

An unassuming turn off of Highway 41 brought me to the gated entrance of what would be the beginning of my fairytale story ~ for a weekend at least.

@2014 Susan Edel

Something magical happened from the moment I drove through the gilded gates and began to approach the chateau. I felt as though I was immediately transported back in time as I was greeted by a Houseman and Lady’s Maid in formal attire awaiting my arrival. It felt quite pampering and decadent.

@2014 Susan EdelProperty

This property has a very personal feeling of visiting a family estate rather than staying at a hotel. You are welcomed and treated as though you are the most important guest in the house.

The grounds are gorgeously manicured with colorful plantings and a natural landscape, scattered statuaries, and a pool. As you meander around the walkways and head towards the private villa, you will come across a whimsical area showcasing a pond and a gazebo along with some playful activities such as swings, a bocce ball court and a life-size chessboard.

Mind you, none of this is by happenstance. Every little detail of the entire estate has been carefully and meticulously designed and executed by Erna herself.

In 1984, after running a restaurant in Yosemite Park for many years, Erna procured her current property and opened her fine-dining restaurant, Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant. I had the distinct pleasure of hearing the story directly from Erna about how the restaurant was slowly making a name for itself; however because of its remote location, it wasn’t until a few years later after a visit from the acclaimed food critic, Craig Claiborne, and his amazing review of the restaurant that was published in the New York Times (see review here), that the restaurant was exposed nationally and became a sought-after destination.

After years of successfully drawing a high-end clientele to the restaurant, Erna acknowledged the need to build accommodations to house the guests who were visiting this remote area.

With sheer determination, Erna took it upon herself to design every aspect of her vision for a European chateau and hired builder, Gary Browns, to execute it ~ and in May 1991, Chateau du Sureau was born.

Erna celebrated the opening in style with the guest list including the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Robert Mondavi, Anthony Hopkins and Barbra Streisand, just to name a few. Rumor has it that later Villa Sureau was built to accommodate some of the discerning guests who frequent the hotel.

Chateau and Guest Rooms

The main 9,000 sq. ft. chateau offers 10 guest rooms, a common living room, a kitchen with a dining room and the surprise element of a small chapel in keeping with European traditions.

To say that Erna’s personal touch is everywhere would be an understatement – no detail has been left undone. Erna personally scoured local and European antique auction houses and has chosen each piece of furniture and accessory that adorns the estate. Many of the antiques have been shipped over from Europe creating the authenticity that would only be acceptable by Erna’s standards. And although the chateau is filled with beautiful antiques where you might think you would feel apprehensive about touching or sitting on anything, I found all the furnishings to be very sturdy and comfortable, creating a very inviting environment.

Each of the ten guest rooms are uniquely designed and offer furnishings and distinctive touches that you might expect when staying at someone’s personal home. In keeping with Erna’s culinary connection, the rooms are all named after herbs such as Rosemary, Mint, and Chamomile. Many of the rooms are furnished with beautiful canopy beds, colorful tapestries, and dainty writing desks.

I stayed in #7, the Saffron room, which had an authentic circa 1830’s Ebony wood with ivory inlay furniture set and a beautiful floor to ceiling tapestry. When I initially walked in the room, I was struck by the fresh scent of crisp, clean linens. Some freshly baked cookies were placed on the side table of the bed, that somehow just felt like a loving gesture.

All the rooms have an excellent sound system that is hidden in and can be controlled from the armoire which filters lovely music throughout your room. WiFi is available in the rooms and throughout the property. The rooms do not have televisions but if you can’t live without one, the staff will gladly supply a small flat screen TV in the room for you…but really, take a break and just enjoy the beauty and serenity around you!

Each room has an en-suite bathroom supplied with L’Occitane amenities and plush robes to wear. Although I did not see all the rooms, I was certainly enamored with the ones I did see.

A few of my favorites were The Mint (#9) that has an exterior entrance off the back patio of the chateau and a beautiful canopy bed; and the room I stayed in, the Saffron (#7) because the room was spacious and had a nice view of the gardens on one side along with a small balcony that faces the sunset on the other side. However the next time I visit, I want to stay in the beautiful Elderberry room (see here for updated post on the Elderberry room) that faces out the front of the chateau as the room has a small balcony facing the beautiful redwoods and I want to sleep in the gorgeous canopy bed.

There were so many charming touches that I found so enchanting such as shortly after my arrival, I was greeted by one of the lovely chambermaids who brought a wonderful tray of tea and finger foods; the keys to the room are actually a key, not a plastic card and each has a personal tassel attached that identifies your key when you place it in the box for the night service staff to freshen up your room while you are at dinner; the sweets placed upon the bed at night with a personal note ~ all such charming touches.

I was told by a staff member that “Ms. Erna”, as she is affectionately called by the staff, oversees everything in the house first hand. I experienced this as there was a wedding being held at the property during my stay and Erna was directly in the midst of all the action, making sure every detail was being executed on point.

It is quite obvious, that this is a labor of love for this woman ~ she puts her heart and soul completely into this endeavor. And it’s all very apparent in the meticulous cleanliness of the rooms, the fresh flowers placed throughout the chateau, the way the staff is presented and the excellent service they provide, the quality of the food and all of the small details that make a stay here so special. In speaking with Erna, she stated it’s not always easy but I get the feeling that if she couldn’t keep this up to her standard of excellence, then she would probably rather not do it at all because this is the only way she knows how to represent herself.


@2014 Susan EdelAs you have probably gathered by now, Erna’s love of culinary delights is a huge part of the experience here. In European style, the hotel offers a regular or full-board package that includes a full dining experience at Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant.

The dinner is an event in itself. In keeping with the personal touches, the menu is customized with your name. My dinner was almost a three hour affair, enjoying one delicious course after another. And although dinner would normally be held in the restaurant, I ate in the quaint chateau dining room due to the onsite wedding and had a lovely time conversing with another couple having dinner there as well.

The menu is a pre-fixe menu each night but I found the chef to be quite flexible in making exceptions to the menu. The kitchen is more than willing to accommodate your needs and taste.

I didn’t take advantage of it, but I was told that the chateau’s kitchen (separate from the restaurant) is open 24 hours and the staff will do their best to accommodate your request.

A delightful breakfast is included each morning, and I am not joking when I say that I was awakened in the morning by the alluring aroma of homemade baked goods as they danced their way through the floorboards and enveloped my room arousing my senses. It was heavenly! I made my way downstairs and enjoyed my breakfast on the outdoor patio with tables set with colorful French linens. In general, a delightful egg dish is served each morning along with fresh fruits and a cereal bar.

As a side note, if you find yourself in downtown Oakhurst, I ate lunch at the Southgate Brewery Company and it was delicious. They microbrew their own beer along with root beer as a non-alcoholic option and make some yummy homemade potato chips along with many other creative dishes.

The Villa

For the more discerning traveler that might appreciate a little more privacy and decadence, the Villa is a perfect choice. The Villa is 2,000 sq. ft. and consists of two bedrooms, and a common sitting area. It is beautifully decorated with a very decadent feel and the closest experience that I could ever imagine to feeling like royalty. It is my understanding that the Villa can be rented in its entirety or by the room, if available.

A small gate and sign acknowledge that it’s the private Villa and it’s location in a wooded part of the property offers some privacy from other guests. Once you walk beyond the gate, the property opens up to the large, impressive structure along with a lawn area with a small pond and private hot tub. It’s all quite impressive and would be a lovely way to spend a honeymoon or special occasion!

The Spa

@2014 Susan EdelThe most recent addition to the property is Spa du Sureau. I’ll be quite honest in saying that I would never have expected a spa at this small property and I was very impressed with the quality of it.

As you enter this building, you step into a very serene and calming environment where you immediately start to feel your stress melt away. The staff is very professional, there is a sitting room, treatment rooms and a steam room. Just another way Erna has managed to provide a superior experience to her guests.

In Summary

It’s clear to me that Ms. Erna was meant to share the beauty of her world with all of us. This is a woman who clearly had a vision and knew exactly how she wanted to execute it. I find it impressive that Erna has managed to “brand” herself on this nine acre property in tying her restaurant, chateau, villa and spa together to provide a complete experience for the guest.

I love the fact that she even created her own “crest” that is seen throughout the property located on the exterior of the chateau, on plates, on towels ~ it makes a strong statement. A little tidbit I learned, if you are not royalty, the armor in the crest must be tilted to the side.

Another fact I learned during my visit is that the hotel closes down for a few weeks in January for maintenance ~ carpet cleaning, painting, repairs, etc. I found that to be quite impressive and I think it speaks volumes to the standard of quality of this owner and property.

When I started this online magazine this is exactly the type of property I was hoping to share with my readers ~ a luxurious, unique and distinctive property, that exceeds the guests’ expectations and offers a complete sensory experience.

One little thing….shhh…nobody tell Erna that this perfect, little fantasy world she has created in the forest of Yosemite can possibly be real. Let’s just ride it out with her as long as we can ~ nothing wrong with escaping reality from time to time! Well done, Ms. Erna, well done!


Four Seasons | Seattle, WA

I’m not quite sure what took me so long to visit the Seattle area considering California is so close but I’m so glad I finally made it there. Seattle is a vibrant city with a feel very similar to San Francisco. What finally lured me to the area was my curiosity to experience the Four Seasons hotel which has been getting a slew of accolades including being named by the Forbes Five Star Travel Guide as the only five-star hotel, not only in the Seattle area but in the state of Washington. Impressive.

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The Property

Built from the ground up in 2008, this contemporary high-rise building is located in downtown Seattle at the waterfront and only a block away from the famous Pike Place Market. This is quite a departure and change in style from their previous location at the historic Olympic Hotel a few blocks away.

I’m always impressed to see when a property incorporates the local flavor of an area into the design of the hotel. The Four Seasons has done this by utilizing local sustainable materials such as reclaimed wood and volcanic stone throughout the hotel. The hotel also showcases local artists work and serves fresh food purchased from the Pike Place Market.

The location of this property is ideally situated walking distance to restaurants, shopping and most of the major attractions in the area including the ferry terminals. The hotel reflects a sophisticated, urban chic feel, and yet as with all Four Seasons properties, has a relaxed and never stuffy atmosphere.


I have to say that I found the staff at this hotel extremely accommodating on every level. Even prior to my arrival, I had a pleasant experience in dealing with the sales staff and the concierge who arranged transportation from the airport.

Upon my arrival, the front desk staff made every effort possible to put me in the best room available, even offering to move me into another room category during my stay when an upgrade became available…and they lived up to their word.


As a fun, interactive gesture, the staff keeps a stuffed fish behind the counter and will playfully reenact the fish toss made famous by the Pike Place Fish Market for its young (and young at heart) guests.

From the cheerful greeting at the entrance, through the check-in process and to the bellman who thoroughly described all the amenities in the room and places to go, I found the check-in process extremely easy and enjoyable.

Guest Rooms

Floors 1 through 10 house 147 hotel guest rooms and from the 10th floor up they are privately owned residential units…lucky them! The guest rooms are designed with a clean, simplistic elegance. Floor to ceiling glass windows offer extraordinary Elliott Bay or City views and give the room a really open feel. The room was extremely clean and the hotel in general still has that “new hotel” feel.

I stayed in the Deluxe Bay-View room with direct views of Elliott Bay with the snow-capped Olympic mountains as the backdrop. It was fun watching the ferries come in out of the bay. The waterfront is a little more industrial than I expected but it was still pretty view. I think the city view would probably be a nice option as well.

The room was spacious with a large bathroom including a deep soaking tub and a separate shower with a heavenly rain-shower head, not to mention some state-of-the-art design features such as a built-in TV installed behind the counter mirror. The bed was probably one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in with its feather mattress top and fluffy comforter.


The rooms offer a simple minibar but you gotta love a hotel that extends a “happy hour” minibar discount. And since it might, you know, rain in Seattle, there is a complimentary umbrella located in the room for your use during your stay and they are also offered at the front entrance.

My one disappointment was that there was not a coffee maker in the room. They do offer complimentary coffee at the spa level in the mornings, but when I’m on vacation I love to wake up and leisurely have a cup of coffee while lounging in the room without having to worry about immediately getting dressed to go get a cup of coffee. But my bad…because I should have realized staying at a Four Seasons, all I had to do was mention it in casual conversation and a coffee maker magically appeared in my room…this is the Four Seasons difference.

As promised, when an upgrade became available, I was lucky enough to experience the Corner Elliott Bay Suite which had a separate living room and the bedroom had floor to ceiling corner glass walls offering an incredible panoramic view of the Bay. The bathroom also offered a sweeping corner view which can be enjoyed while soaking in the tub. I saw several different room categories and I have to say that I think this was my favorite room because of the size and the corner windows which optimize the views.


The hotel offers a 6,000 square foot full-service spa and is the only 4 Diamond rated spa in the state of Washington. The spa has a very serene and soothing decor with muted colors and glass tiles. The spa’s steam room and sauna are available complimentary to the hotel guests along with a 24 hour fitness room. There are 8 treatment rooms including a private room with a view, large tub and two massage tables for a couples retreat…rose pedals added on request. Day passes are sold to local residents and non-hotel guests.

The Four Seasons is the only hotel in Seattle with an outdoor infinity pool. In appropriate weather, Bar “84” ~ named for the year round temperature of the pool ~ offers libations and nibbles poolside.


ART is the property’s only on-site restaurant serving Urban Northwest cuisine influenced by the fresh market items procured at the Pike Place Market. The name ART was inspired by both the hotel’s collection and the Seattle Art Museum located across the street from the hotel. 24 hour room service is also available with a limited express 15 minute delivery menu for quick service…nice option. There is no lack of food here though, as just steps outside the hotel are numerous restaurants and all the offerings from the Market.

Unique To The Property

  • The hotel displays a vast collection of artwork throughout the property and offers a self-guided art tour ~ pick up the self-guided art brochure at the Front Desk.
  • Order a Lusty Lady cocktail at the Lounge.
  • Forgot your workout clothes? No problem, the hotel has workout clothes for your use.
  • Enjoy a Wine and Cheese Happy Hour; Market TV Trays…still hungry try the Midnight Happy Hour (some offerings are seasonal).
  • Steal a kiss ~ it is said that just outside the Four Seasons entrance, overlooking the water and ferris wheel is one of the most romantic places to kiss in the city.