Thursday, August 25, 2016

Casa Wirth: Uruguay’s tiny gem is an “inn” place to be

Good things come in small packages such as Casa Wirth in Salto, Uruguay  (casa wirth)

SALTO, URUGUAY Savvy travelers know only too well that their most treasured experiences are those unexpected gems that have been overlooked by guidebooks and camera-laden tourists.

And sometimes the best places to visit are the ones that require a little effort to get there. Whether it is the satisfaction of accomplishing something that tests your wanderlust spirit or nothing more than the personal pride of discovery, there is something magical about finding a traveler’s treasure hidden among a world of tourism.
Peter Wirth was raised in the
hospitality industry  (casa wirth)

Peter Wirth is an enterprising hotel entrepreneur with a rich pedigree in the business. After growing up in the surroundings of the luxurious Hotel Hassler in Rome, he became Executive Director of Waldorf Towers in New York.

The Bucher-Wirth family is a familiar name to veteran travelers that is filled with tradition and heritage. For five generations they have been catering to the world’s most prestigious clientele and their name is revered throughout Switzerland and Italy where the family perfected the art of hospitality.

Following the family legacy, Peter ventured into Mexico where he established the first Relais & Chateaux property there in San Miguel Allende.
Simple elegance is the theme at Casa Wirth  (casa wirth)
Now Peter has returned to Latin America with his most recent Inn-carnation known as Casa Wirth in Salto, Uruguay. In the true spirit of the family tradition, Casa Wirth labels itself “Your Uruguayan home with a heart” where the only requirement is to “enjoy simple life with a touch of class.” 
Garden bedroom  (casa wirth)

To be sure, Casa Wirth is off-the-beaten-path. Having lived in New York, Peter Wirth knows all to well that there is Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway. In the world of travel, Casa Wirth is termed a pathfinder” destination, which is code for “off-off-the-beaten-path.” But that’s part of the magic, and it does not mean that you must sacrifice comfort or luxury.

To begin with, the 12,000 square foot estate was once the love nest of an Argentinian ballerina that has been renovated into a secluded five guest room hideaway nestled along the shores of the Rio Uruguay.
Traditional barbecue at Casa Wirth where you can experience Gaucho life  (casa wirth)
Each room is uniquely furnished with colonial flair that retains the original style. It is tasteful and “unfussy” rather than plush. Bathrooms have been designed to offer individuality and peerless character. And, just so the “civilized” world doesn’t get too far away, free Wi-Fi is also included.

Half of the property is a garden where guests can enjoy a traditional asado or Uruguayan barbecue.

Casa Wirth is a place that time forgot where you can pick a fresh passion fruit from a tree and savor its succulent juiciness as you settle back among the aroma of fragrant orchids and roses.

Breakfast is included and lovingly prepared by the staff who will also wash and iron your clothes, if you like.

A short 30-minute drive from Salto, Uruguay’s second largest city, guests at Casa Wirth are welcomed at Estancia Don Pipo, a 2,470 acre ranch with over 100 Criollo and Arab horses as well as a herd of 400 cattle. This is the world of the gauchos, and it’s the real thing.
Criollo horse  (wikipedia)


Visitors can spend the day or experience the estancia overnight in one of its cottages. Estancia Don Pipo’s owner is also Swiss, which ensures the ultimate in hospitality and charm.

Other activities at Estancia Don Pipo include horseback riding, bird watching and an opportunity to experience the world of the gauchos.

As cruise ships like to say, “At Casa Wirth, you can do everything or you can do nothing at all.” For the “do everything” crowd, there are wine tours, access to the Club Romero gym, paragliding, tours of colonial landmarks, visits to the pilgrimage site of Padre Pio and the San Antonio battlefield and the relaxing thermal pools of Termas de San Nicanor.
Angus herd at Estancia Don Pipo (casa wirth)
It is also possible to take a ferry to Argentina for lunch.

Best of all are the prices. At $85 per night for a double room including breakfast and fresh local orange juice, you might just stay forever.
Chinese chair
(casa wirth)

The entire casa can also be reserved, complete with a private kitchen and full staff including gardener, handyman and housekeeper/cook. Casa Wirth can accommodate up to 10 guests, but there is no minimum required to reserve the entire property for $390 per night.

As mentioned above, getting there requires a flight to either Montevideo or Buenos Aires and then a choice between a private plane or a chauffeured car or rental car. Drive time to Salto is approximately five hours.

Anyone familiar with the Bucher-Wirth reputation for excellence knows all too well that they are “out-of-the-box” experts in the art of comfort and privacy.
Casa Wirth is furnished with traditional Colonial antiques from Uruguay  (casa wirth)
Peter Wirth continues that tradition with his newest enterprise, Casa Wirth in Salto, Uruguay. This is truly a “touch of class in South America,” or perhaps better said, “a touch of Wirth in Uruguay.”


As Peter Wirth puts it, “Mi Casa es Tu Casa at Casa Wirth!” W

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bath: Where the Romans took the waters in England


The famed Pulteney Bridge is as captivating today as it was during the Roman Empire  (wikipedia)

Bath, England – More than two thousand years ago, the Romans ruled the world, including England. And after a long day of conquering and marauding, the Roman baths were a favorite place to tell stories about individual heroics, much the way golfers today gather in the bar to recount your latest 18 hole adventure.

Perhaps the best place to experience Roman culture, elegant architecture, theater and museums in one place in England today is situated about 100 miles west of London in the city of Bath. The Romans called it Aquae Sulis or  “the waters of Sulis,” but locals now simply refer to it as “Baaath.”

For travelers, Bath is a marvelous day trip by train from the English capital. Situated in hills of the valley of the famed River Avon, it was the hot springs that attracted the Romans in 60 AD because of their healing properties. By the 3rd century, the town was fortified with defensive walls but with the decline of the Roman Empire in the early part of the 5th century, the luxurious baths fell into disrepair.

The Abbey dates to the 7th century  (wikipedia)

The once glorious spa and pilgrimage destination was layered with silt, leaving only the ruins of the temple of Sulis-Minerva to mark the ancient site.

By the 7th century Bath Abbey had been built, making the city a religious center. It was rebuilt twice, once in the 12th century and again in the 16th. Thus contemporary travelers can revel in its architectural splendor even today.

For 12 centuries, various churches came and went, and though the hot springs were in continuous use throughout the Middle Ages, they never enjoyed the splendor of their glory days under the Romans until the 1600s when they underwent a “Renaissance.”
The ancient baths are a time capsule of history  (wikipedia)

Wealthy aristocratic families were again enticed to “take the cure” of the natural spring waters and by the early 18th century it had become a fashionable spa. Today Bath proudly proclaims that it “is the only place in the UK where you can bathe in the thermal water that comes directly from the natural hot springs deep beneath the city.”

Many Roman archaeological sites remain throughout the city, including the baths themselves which are especially fascinating because they nestle about 20 feet below the present street level.
The Royal Crescent was the forerunner to today's condominiums  (wikipedia)
Thanks to the excavations of the baths, along with numerous other outstanding attractions, the city became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

Historically, some scholars believe that Bath was the site of the Battle of Bardon in 500 AD where King Arthur is said to have defeated the Anglo Saxons.

Relaxing in the Pump Room  (wikipedia)
Several areas of the city were developed during the era of the Stuarts with even more building taking place during the Georgian era. The Royal Crescent, designed by John Wood the younger, between 1767 and 1774 is the most spectacular of three terraces that have become synonymous with Bath’s history.

The terraces, known as the “Circus”, consist of three long, curved spaces that form a circular area which were intended for civic functions and games. Inspiration came from the Colosseum in Rome.

Italian influence can also be seen at the popular picturesque Pulteney Bridge which spans the River Avon. The three-arched design came from the Rialto Bridge in Venice, but it was also created as a shopping venue much like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

Today, Pulteney Bridge, though substantially altered since its original construction, remains one of the few surviving bridges in Europe that serves the dual purpose of crossing a river and “shopping mall.”

Though a popular tourist mecca today, an early visitor in the 19th century once remarked that “lodgings are not very numerous, but are distinguished for the elegance, convenience and comfort which they afford visitors.”

The Jane Austen Centre highlights the early 1800s when Austen lived in Bath  (wikipedia)
Bath no longer has an inadequate amount of accommodations. In fact, fans of Jane Austen can stay in the same residence where the famous novelist once lived in the early 1800s. Located just off the well known Great Pulteney Street, which has been the site of numerous period movies for obvious reasons, the 18th century Georgian house features four elegantly appointed rooms overlooking The Holburne Museum, Camden Crescent and central Bath.

Besides the Holburne Museum, Bath also features the Jane Austen Centre, American Museum in Britain, the Haynes Motor Museum and the Fleet Air Arm Museum among others.
Pulteney Bridge shimmers in the amber glow of nightfall   (wikipedia)
At night, the theatrical scene comes to life as the city morphs into another century where time stands still in the amber lighting and soft silhouettes of history.

Baaath is a place not to be missed, at the very least for a day trip. It is also an ideal base for other exploration through England, so stay longer if you can.

After all, those early warriors didn’t call it the “roamin’ Empire” without reason.



Thursday, August 11, 2016

Rome’s Hassler Hotel: The ultimate in hospitality


The luxurious Hassler Hotel sits atop the Spanish Steps next door to the famed Trinita dei Monti  (Hassler Hotel)

ROME When it comes to quality, the Hassler Hotel in Rome is a 5-star property with 6-star service. And it is that extra star that makes the Hassler unique.

Though this story is about one of the most prestigious hotels in the world that is situated at atop the Spanish Steps and beside the Trinita dei Monti in Rome, it has its roots in Switzerland.
View of Rome (Hassler Hotel)


The Hassler Hotel is a recognized gem in the hospitality industry because it epitomizes the very word “hospitality.”

The Hassler is the story of two families, Bucher and Wirth, who merged first through marriage in 1887 and later with pioneering entrepreneurial spirit to establish one of the great luxury hotels of the world.

It wasn’t until the latter half of the 18th century that international leisure tourism became a reality. Before that travel was primarily limited to merchants, monks, pilgrims and soldiers. Inns were dirty and run down, roads were rutted and dusty, robbers and highwaymen were behind every bush and tree and innkeepers were notoriously untrustworthy.

Travel for the sake of pleasure wasn't even a consideration.
Victor Emmanuelle Monument as seen from the 7th floor of the Hassler  (Taylor)
In 1841, a man named Thomas Cook operated what became the first tour group in history when he arranged to take 540 people by train from Leicestershire, England to Loughborough for a temperance meeting eleven miles away.

As the popularity of leisure travel grew, both Cesar Ritz and Franz-Josef Bucher recognized the need to improve accommodations for travelers and the hospitality industry was born.

Bucher and Ritz were natives of Switzerland who realized that conquering the Alps with reliable transportation combined with clean, comfortable, welcoming hospitality would bring large numbers of visitors to their country.

Among Bucher’s earliest projects was connecting the Lake of Lucerne in Switzerland to an inaccessible ridge overlooking the lake with a magnificent hotel. Bucher also created roads to the property, but his genius was the constructing of a funicular that still operates today to bring travelers from the lake to the hotel.

The lush Palm Court  (Hassler Hotel)


Later Bucher added a 540-foot open-air elevator from the lake to the crest of the mountain. Completed in 1872, the Hammetschwand Elevator remains the highest exterior elevator in Europe.
In 1887, Bucher’s daughter, Christine, married Heinrich Wirth. Wirth had worked at the Burgenstock Hotel during the summer months.

Soon the Bucher/Wirth marriage evolved into a hotel dynasty and eventually the new headquarters for the business opened its doors in Rome.

By 1936, Oscar Wirth, the youngest son of Christine and Heinrich, became co-owner of the Hassler. Badly in need of restoration, Wirth personally supervised the demolition in 1939 and out of the ashes arose the Phoenix we know today as the Hassler.

Though Oscar Wirth was notoriously shy, over the years he developed a close personal friendship with many of his guests. Soon the Hassler had gained the worldwide reputation it retains today as the favorite destination for heads of state, royal families, celebrities and musicians when staying in Rome.

Quiet elegance and personal privacy are hallmarks of the Hassler  (Taylor)
With such prestigious clientele, Wirth knew the importance of providing the utmost privacy for his distinguished guests while ensuring that they received the best care and attention. It was a combination that has become a tradition at the Hassler and today, every guest receives the same “royal” treatment and attention.

It is that element that makes the Hassler stand out among other luxurious properties.

A Grand Deluxe room offers every comfort  (Hassler Hotel)
In 2001, Roberto Enrico Wirth took over as the sole owner of the hotel, purchasing the remaining shares from his brother Peter.

Continuing the family tradition, Roberto is on site at the Hassler every day when he is Rome to guarantee that the hotel operates with the highest level of efficiency and quality while maintaining the standards of excellence that have been its hallmark for 80 years.

Outside the Hassler  (Hassler Hotel)


Born deaf, Roberto has had a life-long advocacy for the hearing impaired and deaf-blind children. In 1992 he founded a non-profit organization named after him.

The organization provides the children’s parents with psychological support and guidelines to educate their offspring.

Situated just a few steps from the hotel property itself, is Il Palazetto and the International Wine Academy in Rome which Wirth opened in 2002. He calls Il Palazetto a “temple of wine and food in Italy.”

Overlooking the Spanish Steps, the lovely small palazzo is a gathering spot for people seeking the best of all worlds in Italy.
Il Palazetto is an ideal place to end the day  (Hotel Hassler)


In the end however, it is not the elegant accommodations, the culinary sumptuousness of the food, the prestige of the wine list or even its stunning setting that makes the Hotel Hassler unique.

Rather it is the dedication and friendliness of the staff, the personal attention shown to each guest as an individual and the sensation of being a part of the family tradition that began in Switzerland 14 decades ago.
A whimsical sculpture graces the Hassler lobby  (Taylor)
To ensure that the tradition continues, Roberto’s children, Robertino and Verusckha, are learning their trade at one of the finest hotel schools in Switzerland.

You see, a stay at the Hassler is “Wirth” every minute.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Can’t go to Rio – Try the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland

The Olympic Flame is a perpetual reminder of the spirit of the Olympic Games  (wikipedia)

LAUSANNESWITZERLAND  When Pierre de Fredy, Baron de Coubertin revived the Olympic Games in 1896 his dream was an idealistic concept to unite the countries of the world through athletic competition. The father of the modern Olympic movement and founder of the International Olympic Committee conceived the idea of reviving the Olympic ideal in 1889 and seven years later the first modern games were held in Athens, Greece.

For the next couple of weeks the world will gather in Rio de Janeiro for the five-ring circus known as the Olympic Games. For those who are not able to travel to the games, the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland provides a year-round venue to celebrate the history, art and athleticism that Coubertin so admired
Baron de Coubertin (wikipedia)

For Pierre de Coubertin, the Olympic movement was significantly larger than pure competition. As he frequently said during his efforts to revive the ancient games, “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.”

In the 100-plus years that have transpired since Coubertin’s first games in Greece, controversy has probably been more in evidence than the athletic ideals espoused by their founder, but the spirit of the baron’s concept never wanes at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

The Castle of Chillon is another popular attraction on Lake Geneva (wikipedia)
Situated on a terraced esplanade overlooking Lake Geneva, the white Greek marble building glistens in the sun as its gardens and sculptures seep toward the shores of the lake. The Olympic Museum is a museum for people who don’t like museums. It is a rare combination of history, art, athletics and global cultural exchange that can be found nowhere else in the world.

The sculpture park leading down to the lake contains numerous pieces centering around a theme of athletics and competition. When combined with the art however, the museum features thousands of historical objects including Olympic torches from all of the games, equipment, medals and interactive displays where visitors can access virtually any event that has ever been recorded.

The baron’s advocacy for the Olympics evolved from several ideals he believed about athletic competition. To de Courbetin, the ancient games, which were held every four years in Olympia, Greece, encouraged the spirit of competition among amateur athletes while setting aside the rivalries of war by promoting peace through cultural interchange. The precise longevity of the original games is not known. They began in 776 B.C.E. and continued until either 261 or 393 AD.

Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece  (wikipedia)

Other attempts to revive the Olympic movement were made prior to Baron de Courbetin’s success, the most notable of which happened in London in 1866 when Dr. William Penny Brookes held a series of contests at the Crystal Palace. Though Brookes’ concept of an international track meet did not materialize, his games were the first time that “Olympic-style” competitions on an national scale had ever been held outside of Greece.

The original Olympic stadium is little more than a flat stretch of ground in Olympia, Greece  (wikipedia)
In a city layered with museums, the Olympic Museum in Lausanne is by far the brightest star attracting more than a quarter of a million visitors each year. Its purpose is to perpetuate the philosophies about which Baron de Coubertin was so deeply passionate. Perhaps the official message of the museum states it best, “The Olympics is much more than a mere sporting competition. It is a philosophy of life that is rooted in the depths of time. sport, art and culture are the traditional pillars of the Olympics.”
Interior of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne  (myswitzerland.com)
While sports may be the initial attraction of the Olympic Museum, the venue never lets travelers forget that art and culture must be included in the blend in order to fulfill the purpose of the movement. As Courbetin put it, “Olympism is a state of mind.”

Tickets for Olympic Museum in Lausanne are about $20 for adults. Senior tickets are approximately $18, while children 6 to 16 are $12. Children under six are free. Hours from mid-October to the end of April 30 are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. From the beginning of May to October 14 the hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. It is important to note that travelers with a Swiss Rail Pass are entitled to free admission.

The Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland is a museum of the ages for all ages. Let the games begin.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Italy’s High Speed Trains: Where tomorrow speed into the past

Trenitalia's high speed Frecciarossa set to depart  (wikipedia)
ROME Back in the day, when Rome ruled the world, the expression was that “All roads lead to Rome.” Fast forward to the 21st century and the expression still applies with a little alteration because “All railways lead to Rome as well.”

One of the greatest innovations the cruise industry has given to contemporary travel is the concept of using the ship as your hotel so guests have only to unpack and pack just once. Using that basic idea, savvy, independent travelers are discovering that basing themselves in one or two primary locations and doing day trips rather than opting for the old “if-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium” itineraries is a better way to explore Europe.

Modern high speed rail travel in many countries now allows the flexibility of using a rail pass to visit nearby destinations without the inconvenience of changing hotels every night.
Ferrari inspiration from Italo
(wikipedia)


Throughout Europe, high speed trains have changed the dynamics of travel unlike any other form of transportation in recent memory. On trips of approximately 3 ½ hours or less, it is faster to go by train than plane and with infinitely less hassle while usually departing and arriving in a city center.

Rome is a perfect example of how Trenitalia and Italo have incorporated high speed rail services into their rail networks that link many of Italy’s most popular destinations.
Sunset in Positano on the Amalfi Coast  (wikipedia)
Trenitalia calls its high speed service Alta Velocita, or AV, with three categories. Frecciarossa (“Red Arrow”), Frecciargente (“Silver Arrow”) and Freciabianco (“White Arrow”). Operating at speeds up to 190 mph, Frecciarossa trains offer Trenitalia’s fastest service.
By contrast, Italo’s high speed trains are slightly faster traveling up to 220 mph.

Regardless of the speed however, it is the time savings that count, with connections between Rome and Florence at approximately 1:15 to 1:25 and similar times between Rome and Naples.

Catch a morning train from Rome to Florence, spend a full day in the city of Michelangelo and return to the Eternal City by early evening for a restful night without changing hotels.

Equally accessible from Rome are Orvieto, the Cinque Terra, Pisa, Milan, Turin, Bologna, Padua and Venice.
Roman ruins at the Baths of Caracalla  (Taylor)
Despite the convenience of high speed trains in Italy and other countries in Europe, it does not mean that travelers should not take time to plan wisely when they are designing their itineraries.

Florence and Naples are equally accessible from Rome, but Florence provides considerably better logistical opportunities for sightseeing than using Naples as a gateway to the Amalfi Coast for example. With its serpentine coastline and the need for a rental car or, better yet, a driver, the Amalfi Coast might well be a better choice as a base than a day trip.
Time has a different schedule in the Amalfi Coast  (Taylor)
Rail Europe has several passes which can be incorporated to customize whatever your travel plans may be. The Eurail Italy Pass can be purchased to allow train travel for 3, 4, 5 or 8 days during a one month period depending upon your individual needs.

Italo interior  (wikipedia)

It is important to remember that there are also discounts for travelers under 26 and for small groups of 2 to 5 people if they are traveling together. Up to 2 children from the ages 4-11 can ride free with each adult traveler.

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of using a rail pass however is the bonuses. Depending on the country, bonuses sometimes include free transportation on ships or ferries, discounts for other transportation services and, as in Switzerland with a Swiss Travel Pass, for example, free admission to nearly 500 museums throughout the country.

Rail passes and high speed trains allow greater independence for adventurous travelers. If it’s raining in Rome, that might be the day to head out to Florence or some other sunny location.
Orvieto's cathedral dominates the surroundings  (wikipedia)
Orvieto is one of the best kept secrets in Italy. Train services to the ancient hilltop city with its fortress-like domain situated atop a massive butte of volcanic rock is one of the most dramatic villages in Europe. Today, the former Etruscan city features quiet tree-lined streets, quaint shops, an impressive cathedral and medieval underground excavations.


The city became a major cultural center in the 13th century when Thomas Aquinas taught there before going to Rome in 1265 to serve as the papal theologian for Pope Clement IV.
Orvieto's streets  (Taylor)


Orvieto is just one example of the freedom and independence that regular and high speed rail services provide to save time, energy and money to turn an ordinary holiday into the memory of a lifetime.

Be it Italy’s Italos or Trenitalia’s trio, the famed French TGVs, Germany’s magnificent ICEs, the Channel Tunnel’s Eurostar, the Big Red Thalys or other fast trains in Sweden and Spain.

Italo departs Rome to new adventures  (wikipedia)
Japan invented “bullet trains” way back in the 1960s. Europe perfected them. Today traveling through Italy and her European sisters is better, and faster, than ever before.