The St. Regis Princeville: Kaua’i’s Crown Jewel, and Ethical Too

The walk from the St. Regis Princeville to the beach.

My favorite kind of wedding to attend is, by far, the destination wedding. While an open bar is never not fun, it’s even better if the drinks are located in a country that takes a passport to get into. And a wedding is a genuine excuse to blow your budget to travel (I barely need an excuse to get out of town, but it’s always nice to have one).

So when my boyfriend received an invitation to nuptials in Kaua’i, I started planning the trip immediately, even though I had never met the bride or groom. Having sojourned on the Big Island and visited Oahu numerous times growing up, I was excited to check out “The Garden Isle” of Kaua’i, which I’d heard so much about.

The Makana Terrace at the St. Regis is just one of the hotel’s restaurants that serves local, organic food. Image courtesy St. Regis Princeville.

After scouring the web for ethical accommodations, I ended up at the St. Regis in Princeville, a stunning hotel in the old-school style, with impeccable customer service and a lobby that I’ll never forget (picture several story-high glass windows fronting a view of one of the most famed spots in Kaua’i and miles of ocean and sky).

While not a small lodging, the St. Regis is well integrated into its environment, and unlike many of the newer hotels I’ve lately seen, it doesn’t try to be more than its location. I have a major antipathy for cheesy, overdone, glitzy hotels that seem designed in Des Moines and plopped down wherever tourists are flying this year. The St. Regis is not one of these, but in its elegance, seems almost to serve to remind us why a boutique hotel isn’t always the way to go.

I had a bit of a stretch out on the rocks in the bay off the beach at the St. Regis.

I had the chance to have a lovely breakfast with Stephanie Reid, the Director of Public Relations for the hotel; she is both a native Hawaiian from Kaua’i (going back 10 generations) and a wealth of knowledge of the natural and human history about the area where the St. Regis is located.

Having grown up watching old movies with my grandma, I immediately recognized the dramatically gorgeous mountain peaks sweeping down into the bay behind the St. Regis as those from the movie version of the 1958 Rogers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific,” (watch here and here) a fact which Stephanie corroborated. “This place speaks to what people dream about when they think of Hawaii,” Stephanie said, and this is no tourist-friendly hyperbole. “We have respect for this place, and practice the best stewardship that we can,” continued Stephanie, which for the St. Regis includes a plethora of environmental and social programs.

Relaxing in the pool.

Starting with the food in the hotel’s restaurants, most of what is served is organic and local, including fish, greens and fruit. “We support farmers in the North shore, and the menu is created around what we grow here,” Stephanie told me. “It’s more than sugarcane and pineapple; we serve Kunana Farms goat cheese, and we use Malie spa products, which are based on locally-grown taro root combined with flower essences.” The executive chef works directly with the community so that everyone gets what they need.

The St. Regis Princeville’s environmental commitments extend to green roofs, non-toxic cleaning products, and a serious seabird conservation program (wherein the hotel adjusts its lighting during the Shearwater’s migration period and has instituted a bird recovery policy for those birds who go astray).

My boyfriend is a yoga teacher, and he enjoyed practicing outside on the many lawns at the St. Regis.

For those of us keeping track of our points, the St. Regis group of hotels (there are 22, the flagship property is the historic hotel in NYC) is part of Starwood, and the mission for all the properties is to cut water use by 20% and energy use by 30% by 2020.

The St. Regis hotel looking back from its private beach.

Princeville, where the St. Regis is located, is part of a resort-only area, and it is basically set up for tourists, with shops (and a grocery store) for incidentals and picnic fare, as well as souvenirs, etc. Keeping all the visitors together, and designating one area for development (this one dates back to the 60′s) means that not only can resources be combined, but that other areas are left undeveloped, an important way for areas supported by tourism to both control and monitor those businesses, and also protect natural resources.

Enjoying the water in Hanelei Bay, which is just feet from the pool.

After slacking in our room (with an endless view) and enjoying the pool and beach, both of which front onto a bay that’s ringed with steep-sided green mountains which are remnants of the island’s volcanic history, my boyfriend and I drove around the island. Well, almost. You can’t drive all the way around Kaua’i (like you can on Oahu or the Big Island), since the road deadends at two spots due to Waimea Canyon, which is well-described as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

You can try to capture the view from the trail, but this is the best you can do.

But you can hike where there’s no road, and while trekking the whole distance would take some time (and gear), there are plenty of day walking paths that go from isolated beach to beach (there are usually only a few other people around since the only way in is on foot). And while Kauai’s natural beauty is the celebrated landscape shot, an up-close interaction with the red earth, the sometimes craggy volcanic rock and the riot of tropical plants and flowers is only available to those who take a hike.

A freshwater stream runs into the ocean along the two-mile hike from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapiai Beach.

The glorious trek my boyfriend and I embarked upon, the first few miles of the Kalalau Trail, is popular walk, and though guides list it as strenuous, I think that’s a bit conservative. An energetic 8-year-old could definitely handle it, as well as anyone else in reasonable shape. The path starts at the end of the paved road, which in Kaua’i, includes a beach, of course. Ke’e beach fronts a perfect-for-snorkelling lagoon (which I enjoyed post-hike), and the path ends, after about two miles, at a secluded waterfalled beach in the Na Pali State Park. In between, the route climbs up and down in such a way that you get the perfect workout without feeling exhausted.

The views are nothing short of totally breathtaking, to the extent that you keep wanting to stop and take pictures – until you realize that you’re never going to be able to capture it all.

Along the route through the Na Pali State Park on the Kalalau Trail.

While you can keep hiking – and overnighters or ambitious dayhikers do, we ended up spending an hour or so enjoying the views from Hanakapiai beach, doing some yoga, and playing in the waterfall and stream before heading back the way we came. Usually I don’t like to hike a loop, but in this case the views on the way back were just as fabulous, and I got a slightly different perspective on the coastline. That’s because we got rained on – twice – on the way to the hidden beach, so it was fun to see the mountains towering above me sans clouds on the return voyage just a hour or so later, now all sparkling-dripping in the sunshine.


And don’t worry, while regular mini-rainshowers (that’s how I see them coming from the stormy Northeast US) are certainly common, they are more than balanced out by sunshine, and indeed the sprinklings not only cool a warm hiker off, but insidiously inculcate the walker into the environment, as your own perspiration mixes with the mist and drops coming from the sky until you don’t know where you end and the clouds begin. In situations like this, with warm temps and sunshine mixed in, rain gear is just a bother. Just get wet and dry off.

Crossing the stream to get to the beach. Freshwater meets ocean.

I did much of this hike barefoot; after the initial rocky uphill from the parking area, most of the path was trodden-smooth earth, and was easy and fun to walk on. As a barefoot (when I can) runner, my feet are tough enough to deal with the minimal things I could have stepped upon. Stream crossings are common here, too, so if you don’t feel comfortable hiking barefoot, water sandals like Chacos are the next best thing.

“Typical” Hawaiian rainbow.

After we made our way back, then checked out the world-famous (for surfers) Tunnels Beach for a bit, then came back the next day to explore a large dry cave there and have more beach time (which involved admiring not only the ocean out front, but the dynamic vertical wall covered in plant life that juts up at the rear of the beach, creating the feeling of being in a giant, but still circumscribed room made from lava rock and plants with the beach as lanai).

A rainbow came out to greet us as the newly-married bride and groom (and the wedding party) moved through yoga poses on the beach, and so I’ll end on that perfectly Hawaiian image.

My boyfriend taught a yoga class on the beach. Most of the wedding group joined in to stretch out the partying from the night before.

All images by Starre Vartan except where indicated.

Three Vintage Carry On Bags for Travelling in Sustainable Style


One of my favorite parts of travelling is packing; bear with me here. While I don’t relish putting together my bigger suitcase or bag (which I always check), setting up my carry on, whether it’s for a long train voyage or a shorter (but more stressful) plane flight, is good fun. I save up copies of Elle, Monocle, and the New Yorker, carefully choose at least two books – yes I still read on paper – and ensure I have enough moisturizer, facial spritz, hand wipes, lip balm, healthy snacks and podcasts loaded on my phone. It’s fun to pack it all in there, the minimum number and quantity of items that one needs immediately while voyaging.

One thing that has eluded me thus far is the perfect bag in which to keep everything. Etsy seems to be the ideal place to start any bag-finding expedition, and I found some lovely ones made from vintage leather, fabric, and veggie-tanned leather.

The Glorianne, above, by Leonie Saliba, is like an extra-giant handbag, which makes it kind of a fun piece, as well as being practical. Made from vegetable-tanned leather, it’s plenty big enough for a laptop and much more.


The African mudcloth travel bag from Etsy seller missprettyperfect is made of a soft material, in the traditional African colors and style (you can read all about the design and how it was put together on the seller’s blog). Handmade and fully lined, it looks like this bag could well double as a pillow, which of course is perfect for travelling.


This vintage leather bag from Salvage Life is just the most beautiful color and style. Absolutely classic and would go with anything/everything.

Costa Rica’s Tourism Board Gave Me a Green Gift of Happiness!


After a long day last week, and a green event to cap off the night, I checked my mail right before I entered the subway and one particular email caught me off guard. It seemed way too good to be true. So I re-read it, and even walked back up to Columbus Circle to get better reception (to read it again).  Here’s an excerpt:


Because of the large readership of the Brown Loves Green blog, your influence through, and your involvement in other eco-friendly blogs across the web, Costa Rica’s Tourism Board would like to give you a free trip to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is sending out a select number of these Gifts of Happiness in the form of customized trips, and because your values align with Costa Rica’s belief in Pura Vida, you’ve been hand-selected to receive a trip for two.

Say what? I had that whole “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is” internal dialogue going on.

But as it turns out, I was not delirious from exhaustion.  Nor had I sniffed too many naturally scented eco-friendly products at the event that eve. And it wasn’t too good to be true.

Costa Rica’s tourism board really has so graciously given me a gift of complete and utter happiness: an all-expense-paid trip for two for eight days to their beautifully green country! But that’s not all …

My boyfriend Dan (whose arm needed no twisting on this one) and I were able to choose from five uniquely themed trips, all of which are absolutely incredible in every way imaginable! They each include top CST-rated (Certification for Sustainable Tourism) hotels (an honor reserved for the most ecologically friendly hotels), exotic excursions, and organic opportunities to truly experience Costa Rica — the happiest place on earth.

Costa Rica’s generous gift, which made me the happiest girl on earth, is all a part of their “Million Dollar Gift of Happiness”campaign which aims to spread good energy and happiness with a million dollars’ worth of free trips to the country. “Like” the Visit Costa Rica Facebook page, and you could win yourself a trip! And on Anderson Cooper’s daytime show today, he’ll present a Gift of Happiness to the couple in this viral video, making them the happiest couple on earth!


I met up with Costa Rica’s PR team while they were in NYC this past weekend, and they assured me that their email wasn’t a big hoax on me, and even made it official by hand-delivering a beautiful certificate, made using responsibly sourced wood.


When I shared the news with Starre she excitedly declared, “It’s PHENOMENAL! It’s really one of my fave places in the entire world! Literally every single person I know who has traveled there, has shared the very same sentiments with me.

But I decided to do my own pre-trip research and look into what exactly makes Costa Rica so green and so good. Here are a just few fun facts I found and adore (for obvious reasons!). I think you will too:

  • It’s considered one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world (they have 5% of the earth’s biodiversity)
  • Costa Rica is an ecological pioneer. The country aims to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021
  • Costa Rica ranked third in the world, and first among the Americas, in terms of the 2010 Environmental Performance Index
  • Costa Rica ranks first in the Happy Planet Index. Here’s a great  NY Times piece on the country,”The Happiest People” by one of my favorite columnists, Nicholas D. Kristof
  • The National Park of Corcovado has been called “the most biologically intense place on earth” by the National Geographic Society
  • Costa Rica has a female President! Laura Chinchilla is the first woman to lead the nation. Would love to interview Laura for Heroines for the Planet one day!
But seeing is believing after all. What could be better than actually exploring all of the green goodness for myself? My trip promises to be well-documented, here of course, and I can’t wait to share my authentic adventures in the greenest and happiest place on earth!


Have you been to Costa Rica? If so, post a comment and share your favorite thing about the country! I’d love to hear about your experiences and any recommendations you could offer up too!


“Destination Rejuvenation” in November’s Whole Living Magazine


If you are looking for some vacation inspiration, look for my latest published-on-paper work in this November’s Whole Living magazine, on newsstands now.

Sarah Engler writes a fantastic piece about why one has to get away (and highlights a family who has turned vacation into their careers), and I found 15 amazing destinations for reinvigoration, from salsa dancing in Mexico to family adventures in the Galapagos (see pages below).

What a fun article to work on; there are more creative, green and exciting places to visit than ever before. Feel free to ask me for recommendations!



My Perfect Rug: A Travel-Shopping Story from The Souks of Marrakesh

Starre Vartan wandering Marrakesh.

The most fun I’ve ever had shopping is in the souks in the old city of Marrakech. The souks have been a bargainers mecca for hundreds of years, and I imagine a Victorian version of myself being just as enchanted with the wares as I was as an iPhone-toting modern woman. There’s something about the souks that just doesn’t lose its charm over the years; I remember stories that my grandma told of haggling at such marketplaces when she was travelling via Pan Am’s ‘around the world’ ticket. Now it was my turn, and I hope that my friend’s kids will one day tell me of their own trips to the souks of Marrakesh. I have more hope for the future of the world if magical places like these continue to exist.

Marrakesh street
A typical street; loved the light here, and the crouching man on the right.

I entered the souks through the wide open-plan Djemaa el Fna square, a giant open trapezoidal space edged with terraced cafes (and even a KFC/Pizza Hut), carts laden with dates, figs and nuts galore, huddles of smoking, tea-drinking men in long white and beige-colored djebellahs, and plenty of Aussie, British, French and Kiwi tourists; Americans were not well-represented (as they tend not to be, well, anywhere except at cheesy Caribbean resorts).

The drama of the souks is immediate and overwhelming in the best possible way. I left the big sky of the open square behind me, and entered the mostly covered, narrow streets of the souks, where donkey-led carts, Japanese scooters and people carrying gigantic loads on their shoulders mixed with men and women shopping from the narrow storefronts on either side. Not that there was room for this kind of traffic, but we all made concessions, including pedestrians who would hop out of the way of a zooming, noisy scooter or ornery donkey. Some shopkeepers advertised their wares, while some sat quietly, waiting in their tiny, ancient booths for passersby to take in interest.

Shops tended to sell a single item; handmade slipper/shoes, or jewelry, pottery or lamps and lanterns. The souks of Marrakesh (and in any city where you’ll find them) sell to tourists as well as locals, so this is no Disneyland of shopping – you can get that at upscale ‘malls’ in other parts of Marrakesh, but here the deal you make – or not – is the real thing.

My father, Gerry Vartan, waits patiently while I search for just the right rug….

I had to stop at one of the slipper-makers, and picked up a pair for a couple of dollars that were silver and gold patterned, threaded together in an intricate pattern, and which I now wear as my winter around-the-house shoes. I also bought an extremely lovely giant flower of an amythyst cocktail ring and some pillow covers.

But I was on a mission with a larger prey – the perfect rug. But of course, I couldn’t buy just any hand-made floor covering. After walking into, and out of five rug stores, which were the dominant store in the souk, my father was looking a bit tired. I had met him and my stepmom here in Marrakesh, and knowing my father and my penchant for shopping, she had wisely begged out of the mission. After a young boy had pulled what seemed like the millionth rug from the pile and unrolled it for me, and I had shook my head in disappointment, my father pointed high on a dusty shelf. Good thing perseverance runs in my family.

starre marrakesh
Starre Vartan’s perfect vintage Moroccan rug.

I had been describing to the shopkeepers I saw that I really wanted a Moroccan rug in shades not of orange, yellow, cream and red, but of purple, green, black and pink – but those are not common colors for rugs these days, which is why the search had been so fruitless. But once my dad’s spotted rug had been pulled down, and unrolled, I was rewarded for my vision. A vintage rug, somewhat worn, in shades exactly as I had described, was before me. The rug-seller thought I was a bit mad, as the floor covering was over 30 years old, but to me, it was perfect.

After some brave haggling on my part (I’m not much of a deal-maker, but I did my best), the rug was mine, and currently graces the floor of my bedroom. It’s perfect. And sometimes when I’m sitting around on it of a cool evening, I think about where it lived before my space in Connecticut, and what it had seen before making the trans-Atlantic trip with me.

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