Screen fantasy In the 1940s, Hollywood film studios released quite a number of movies – mainly of the romantic film-noir variety – with an exotic place name as their title. Cinemagoers who would otherwise have had little or no knowledge of such places were drawn by the seductive allure of Zanzibar (1940), Cairo (1942), Tangier (1946), Calcutta (1947), Singapore (1947) and Saigon (1948) among others. All were filmed on sound stages and backlots in Los Angeles but usually featured a few stock shots of their supposed locations, especially in the opening scene. Such movies varied in quality and budget but were a hit with war-weary audiences in search of escapist entertainment. None was as popular, or as enduringly suggestive of its title city as a place synonymous with exotic romance, as Casablanca (1942). The irony is that the city itself is neither very romantic nor particularly exotic. Tourists visiting Morocco today tend to steer clear of its largest city, preferring to go to Marrakesh, Fez and Tangier. Casablanca’s old French colonial hotels appear run-down, with the once-grand Majestic and Transatlantique languishing at the bottom of the TripAdvisor hotel reviews, and the Excelsior – said to have been Casablanca’s finest hotel when it opened in 1916 – relegated to the B&Bs/inns category. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel Casablanca has gone straight to the top end of the website’s rankings. Located on the seafront Boulevard de la Corniche and designed by Foster and Partners, this 186-room property does look like the best hotel in town by some measure, and perhaps, along with cheap airfares from Hong Kong usually available online from Air France, might be reason enough to include Casablanca on your Moroccan itinerary for a day or two. For real-world inspiration, visit www.fourseasons.com/casablanca.
Family fun The InterContinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort, on the southeast coast of Koh Samui, has just opened a selection of family rooms (above) designed to give parents travelling to Thailand with one or two children a fun and homely space in which to relax and play. Bunk beds, bean bags, a chest filled with toys and other pint-sized perks are set up alongside the more grown-up comforts and conveniences. Kids also get free access to the Planet Trekkers Kids Club, which provides activities in and around the resort. Go to samui.intercontinental.com to see the new family rooms, and a special package promoting them. Prices start from 21,000 baht (HK$4,600) per night for a three-night minimum stay, and a fairly generous list of extras.
Horse play The Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco, in Italy’s Tuscany region, is offering a special package for travellers interested in witnessing the Palio di Siena, the frantic horse race that takes place in the city of Siena twice each year, on July 2 and August 16. The Private Palio Experience gives guests “unprecedented” access to exclusive local festivities, and a seat at the pre-Palio dinner, which is usually open only to members of the competing contrada (districts). On race day, guests will be hosted by an Italian countess in a private palace apartment overlooking Piazza del Campo (top), with plenty of local food and wine. A tour guide will also be on hand to explain the Palio and introduce the historic city. Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco is an 800-year-old country estate comprising the ruins of a castle, a medieval church and a historic village, which is the centre of the resort. Package prices for a three-night stay start from €2,750 (HK$24,250). More details can be found at www.rosewoodhotels.com.
Deal of the week A two-night stay in Ho Chi Minh City is on offer from HK$2,690 at Tiglion Travel. The only hotel available at this price is the Ibis Saigon South, which as the name suggests, is some way from the centre of town. A better deal is the more conveniently located Sofitel Saigon Plaza (above), where a third free night is offered for a package price of HK$3,690. Flights with Cathay Pacific and daily breakfast are included with this deal, which will be available until the end of April (but with a HK$1,600 airfare surcharge from March 23 to 27). For more hotel options and reservations, go to www.tiglion.com.