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With a reputation as a happy mix of surfers, resident hippies, incognito celebrities and carefree intelligentsia, all living in a relatively small community on a stretch of pristine Pacific with perfect surf breaks, Malibu has long held a cachet as a particularly alluring beachside enclave.

But until recently, there weren’t many tasteful lodging options for visitors who weren’t in possession of a mansion (Hard Rock co-founder Peter Morton reportedly just sold his Richard Meier modernist compound for a mere $110 million U.S.) or who wanted more than just a bare-bones motel room. Most visitors like me would just head there for the day and then have to go back to Los Angeles after sunset.

But until recently, there weren’t many tasteful lodging options for visitors who weren’t in possession of a mansion.
But until recently, there weren’t many tasteful lodging options for visitors who weren’t in possession of a mansion.  (Tanveer Badal / NYT)

As an American living in Tuscany, I love to surf when I can — from Siargao, Philippines, and Sayulita, Mexico, to the North Shore of Oahu. A return to Malibu was like a tonic for the soul to me.

And that’s why the opening of three new properties in this old-school surf boho destination was so striking to see. Malibu has welcomed the Surfrider Malibu, the Native Hotel and the Nobu Ryokan Malibu, not to mention a complete interior renovation of the 1989 Malibu Beach Inn, one of the first luxury lodgings in the community. And with the debut of a members-only Soho House outpost, Little Beach House Malibu, the area also has new pull for creatives and Hollywood types who want to brainstorm away from Los Angeles. Now, after a day of surfing, I too planned to sleep over for a long weekend.

Local observers say the new additions to the lodging scene embrace the fact that a diverse group of travellers finds the “Bu,” as Malibu is affectionately called by surfers, compelling.

The Surfrider Malibu has actually been around since the 1950s, a thin-walled motel to bed down after a post-surf session or a show at next door’s Crazy Horse Saloon, a rock hangout, but nonetheless on a prime spot on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Now, after a three-year-plus renovation by its owners, Matthew Goodwin and Emma Crowther, and their partner Alessandro Zampedri, the Surfrider Malibu has been transformed into a boutique hotel with the kind of barefoot-cool vibe that the destination seemed to crave. The property opens into a large communal lobby full of coffee table books and framed art, a long wood table and wicker lamps hanging from the ceiling.

When I stayed there in April, I found custom surfboards to borrow, scented candles, an airy bedroom with a custom-made teak bed, reclaimed wood floorboards and hand-painted ceramic tiles in the bathroom. With its neutral tones and natural materials, the effect was soothing.

“In The Surfrider we set out to create the ultimate California beach house,” Crowther said, “a place for travellers rather than tourists, for the person seeking the local experience, a taste of the elusive California dream.”

As I was in a ground floor unit, I didn’t have a full Pacific view as did the people in the rooms above me. But I did spend most of my time at the rooftop restaurant and bar drinking a fresh smoothie and marvelling at how the natural light changed over the iconic 1938 pier, across from the hotel. The pier juts over the water with its little cafes and shops, and surfers gather at the world-famous break alongside.

The Surfrider, with rates starting at $350, offers a complimentary 1968 sage green Land Rover for excursions to other surf breaks, as well as picnic baskets for beachside lunches at a cost.

At $2,000 a night with a two-night minimum, the Nobu Ryokan Malibu on local Carbon Beach, also known as “Billionaire’s Beach” because of its high-end real estate, is close to the Little Beach House Malibu, the Soho House outpost with no lodging, but it was sadly out of my price range.

The Nobu Ryokan Malibu, formerly the Casa Malibu Inn, was bought by tech guru and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison in 2007 and opened a decade later as the new bench mark of luxury on the beach. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, actor Robert De Niro and producer Meir Teiper are co-owners of the property, which is managed by Nobu Hospitality. The property has 16 suites, some with teak soaking tubs, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, and room service from the famed sushi chef himself. (When I win big, I will be booking a suite.)

I opted instead for an overnight at the Native Hotel, with a starting rate of $400. Formerly known as the Malibu Riviera Motel (Bob Dylan and Marilyn Monroe were among its guests), the property has been given a fresh look by the owners of Folklor, a design company that does chic branding for hospitality and restaurant companies like Venice Beach’s Gjelina and the Line Hotel.

The Native Hotel is not on the beach itself, and the cinder block bungalows seemed a bit brutally modernist, but inside I liked the feeling of having my own cabin with its crisp white linens, minibar in the vintage ice chests and kimono-style robes. There are also New-Age California embellishments like a yurt for yoga and sage smudge incense sticks for getting rid of any negative energy. It felt like a sleepaway camp for stylish grown-ups with a penchant for the outdoors.

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Travel & Escape

Dealing with baggage on your trip

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(NC)Nothing is more embarrassing than having to unpack your baggage at the airport. It’s common to overpack because you want to make sure you have everything you need for your trip – the right shoes, a jacket in case it’s cold, a bathing suit in case there’s a pool. But you must be mindful of the baggage restrictions. So, how can you be smart with your baggage when travelling?

The first thing to do is talk to your TICO-certified travel agent about the weight restrictions and number of bags you are allowed to take. Some airlines charge per bag, while others may offer one bag for free depending on weight.

You’ll also need to know if there are security requirements for carry-on and checked baggage. For example, there may be prohibited items such as gels and liquids. These limitations vary from airline to airline and depends on if your flight is international or domestic, so you’ll need to check the policy of the airline you’re travelling with.

Naturally, you want to avoid incurring baggage fees, so talk to your travel agent, or contact the airline directly. You can also visit their website to review the luggage policy.

Here are a few more tips to help you manage your baggage when travelling:

  • Clearly label all baggage with your name, home address, and contact information
  • Place an identification tag inside the baggage in case the outside tag is torn off
  • Lock bags with CATSA/ACTSA travel locks
  • Put a colourful ribbon or other identifying marks on your bags so they are easily recognizable
  • Carry valuables in your hand luggage; jewelry, money, medications, important documents, etc.

You can’t carry everything with you, so be smart when you pack. Take only necessary items and focus on your trip.

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Travel & Escape

What travellers need to know if a destination wedding is cancelled

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(NC) It’s two weeks before you’re scheduled to attend a destination wedding and then you get the call. The wedding has been called off.

Sure, you’re upset for the couple, but now you’re faced with plane tickets and hotel reservations. So, what can you do?

There’s no reason why you can’t go and enjoy the trip, but bear in mind you may face a price increase, especially if this was part of a group booking. Group bookings often include a minimum number of travellers to get the discounted price, as well as terms and conditions regarding changes or cancellations.

You could ask other travellers to come along to keep the group discount. But name changes often count as cancellations based on the terms of the vacation package and premium charges may apply. If you booked with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour company, it’s better to contact them and ask about options before making any decisions.

While it’s devastating for the couple who planned the destination wedding, the fact is that the cancellation affects all the confirmed guests. So, it’s important to know your options so you can salvage an unfortunate situation. Always book with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour operator so you can circle back and find out what they can do for you.

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Travel & Escape

Be safe not sorry when booking travel online

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(NC) With so many travel websites available these days, many people are choosing to book their vacations from the comfort of their own home. Many travel websites are easy to navigate, and offer great vacation packages, so it seems to make sense.

But before you hit “submit”, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Here are a few tips that can make you more aware when booking travel online:

  • Look for the TICO registration number or logo. All Ontario travel agencies and websites must be registered with TICO, the provincial travel regulator that provides consumers with protections if they don’t receive travel services. The registration number or logo is usually found in the About Us or Contact sections of the website.
  • Know where your credit card payment is going. Some websites are only search engines or booking agents for other providers.
  • Review the terms and conditions, particularly those that relate to cancellation, changes to bookings and refunds. Know what the travel agent or tour operator’s responsibilities are.
  • Keep a paper copy of your transactions, correspondence and confirmations.
  • Double check which currency the prices are quoted in. You could be paying in Euros instead of Canadian dollars.
  • Keep in mind that tax amounts can vary in travel advertisements. Ontario travel agencies and websites can display their taxes in four different ways:
    • A total price
    • A base price plus total taxes, fees and additional charges
    • A base price with a detailed breakdown
    • All taxes, fees and additional charges.
  • Research your destination to find out if there are any travel advisories, which can be found on the Government of Canada website.
  • Check the online travel agency’s website for a live-chat feature, email address or toll-free number to talk to a travel agent. Travel agents are a great resource to answer any questions you may have to ensure you are making an informed travel purchase.

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