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Escape To The Silo Hotel In Cape Town By Ella Braimer Jones

I’m lying in a bath tub in my suite on the eighth floor, watching the world below me — a docked ship here, twinkling lights over there, two policemen wandering past on the ground below — knowing that even those on the rooftops of another hotel nearby can spy nothing more revealing than the reflective material of the glass windows of my bathroom. Now that’s the kind of privacy that celebrities going to South Africa look for when in Cape Town. Which is just one of a thousand reasons why the 5-star hotel I’m staying in on the V&A Waterfront ticks all the boxes.

I’m in The Silo hotel, inside a grain silo built on the waterfront in the 1920s. It was once Africa’s tallest building (bar the Pyramids) and has now been turned into a vibrant new hotel and adjoining contemporary art museum, Zeitz MOCAA — or Museum of Contemporary African Art. Both the museum and hotel are designed by whizzy British architect Thomas Heatherwick of London’s Heatherwick Studio. The hotel is built in the former grain silo elevator section — the train tracks for delivering grain still end outside the building.

I’m probably exaggerating to say that the silo building stands out from miles away — but it did to me, especially those windows that resemble hexagonal bug-eyes. ‘Pillowed window bays’ they’re called, apparently. It turns out that they’re designed in such a way as to allow everyone outside to admire the beauty of the architectural wonder, whilst guests inside its incredible window design (each window with 54 panels) get to see the busy world around them without being seen. Hence my bath-tub moment.

But let’s rewind to the beginning. The Silo hotel sets a new standard for luxury Cape Town accommodation, surrounded by the natural wonder of South Africa’s Mother City. The hotel is a celebration of art, style, architecture and design, a tribute to timeless glamour and contemporary luxury, offering the highest levels of personalised service.

On arrival at the hotel, I am immediately touched by the staff’s professionalism and generous attention to detail. I’ve hardly crossed the threshold when I order a drink of hot chocolate with, well, ‘funny milk’ and the waiter inquires solicitously whether this is a ‘preference’ or an ‘intolerance to dairy.’ On arriving in the suite mere minutes later, someone has already placed almond milk instead of the cow’s alternative in the mini bar. All this happens as a matter of course, with no fanfare. Now that’s what I call personalised service.

It is, to be honest, pretty rough coming off an 11-hour flight, especially for my cold-stricken, temperature-running mother. But, unrequested, the waiter takes it upon himself to rush off and make ‘medicine,’ as he calls it (a fresh ginger and lemon rescue remedy, as it turns out). When we arrive in our private sitting room in our double-storey family suite, fresh lemon and ginger sit in the fridge, unbidden and very welcome. In similar fashion, a handful of valets take charge of our hire car throughout our stay, making sure the vehicle is ready before we’ve scarcely even finished deciding that we’re leaving the building (they seem to have a sixth sense on this score). It’s the little things in life.

I’m no expert in interior design, but I’ve grown up around those who are (antique dealers, decorators, interiors journalists and the like), and Liz Biden — The Silo’s co-owner with her husband Phil — has a deft and stylish touch as an interior decorator. It’s a jazzy ensemble that she’s composed with high notes of upmarket art alongside vintage finds and a base beat of traditional African artefacts: think Liz’s ooh-ah take on Africa-meets-contemporary-art-meets-industrial-with-lots-of-colours eclectic kind of interiors. She manages to create the wow factor — the hotel interior’s as good as the museum below — along with a feeling of homeliness and a sense that we’re in one of the world’s top hotels.

There is nothing pared back about her style. Big eat-you-up sofas are upholstered in midnight jungle scenes of velvet in one suite. Or there are comfy, sink-into armchairs in mustard, teal and ruby red. The chandeliers hang from the ceiling like monkeys, twinkling next to each other. New ‘antique’ rugs sit alongside lime sofas and bold contemporary paintings.

Her design philosophy appears to lie along the lines of more is more. I love one of the suites (the flagship penthouse) that offers more and more…and yet more: a sitting-room, kitchenette, his and her bathrooms, private massage room, and desks that overlook the cityscape. There are just 28 rooms and suites, and each is individually and stylishly decorated; there are over 300 pieces of original art in the hotel, many of them replicated in the museum below.

It’s obvious that guests love the vibe that Liz has created. Capetonians travel from across the ‘Mother City’ just to Instagram an evening cocktail at the hotel’s rooftop bar, next to its glass-sided and multi-coloured swimming pool with its ‘disco’ lighting: the water bubbling away in illuminated underwater puffing ‘clouds’ of pink and blue. Or they just go there to sit and look at the cityscape and Table Mountain in the distance.

Ah, the city. Cape Town is somewhere that combines natural beauty with modern conveniences, making it an alluring destination; yes, this is still true, regardless of its dangers and gang violence. I prefer to focus on its booming nightlife, food and wine culture, historical heritage, and loads of natural wonders. Although, by my reckoning, there can be little to beat the wonders of The Silo hotel, but we step outside, anyway.

So what are the Mother City’s best sights? Pop into the adjoining building, the Zeitz MOCAA museum, for zeitgeisty African art in the biggest and best space for contemporary art in the continent. Thomas Heatherwick’s team have carved huge sections out of the building’s tubular interior to create a complex network of 80 gallery spaces. Ogle at its grain-shaped atrium, and original steel columns. Then walk just a few steps to the shops and cafés of the V&A Waterfront. It may be touristy, but it’s a must for up-cycled fabric works, painted ostrich eggs and other African artefacts.

If you decide to go further afield, take an open-topped bus (or jump into a taxi) to get a sense of the city. (The bus will take you in a loop from the Waterfront to Camps Bay and on to Kirstenbosch and then along Long Street with its galleries). You can sometimes see whales breaching off the coast. A stop at Kirstenbosch botanical gardens — ask The Silo chef to make up your picnic basket — has to be on the tick list. Here you’ll see nine different members of the Protea family, 100-year-old wild olive Bonsai and 65-year-old Ficus, a tree canopy, and breathe air cleaner than a peppermint. But then you must also visit Bo-Kaap, the old Malay quarter with its colourful houses of fluorescent green, candy-floss pink and mustard yellow.

Then drive to Klein Constantia estate in the suburbs, for the best wine estate in the Cape with its beautiful 358-acre grounds, tasting room, world-class wines (especially the dessert ones) and a quality shop selling everything from barrel-head bread boards to decanter cleaners. Don’t miss the National Gallery either for its (very moving) Steven Cohen Chandelier 2002 video, plus its collection of Kente cloths (worn ceremoniously over the shoulder) and mid 20th century African masks. And then return to The Silo hotel, for the best sights of all.

Further Information

Rooms at The Silo hotel start from R13 500 (circa £654) per room per night — book your stay here. For further information about excursions and sightseeing around Cape Town, go to www.capetown.travel. For car rental, go to Avis at www.avis.co.za.

Escape To South Africa’s Vineyard Hotel By Caroline Phillips

In the foyer, there’s an antique copper consommé pot large enough to please the most exacting cannibal. The patio flooring is the ballast from a shipwreck and the bar is made of wood salvaged from another wreck. Everywhere there are antique nick-nacks and curiosities. ‘Brass navigational divide 1740’ and ‘Brass taps 1830’ are just two of the curios in the display cabinets.

But it’s the nature that has everyone bagging Insta opportunities. The shafts of sunlight cut through the mountain peaks and there’s the sound of the river rushing by. We admire the sheer rock-face — its brown-grey mightiness covered by the greenery of trees on its lower slopes — in the rising morning light. We gaze later in wonder at the same mountain as dusk falls, the sunset lighting its faces and the mist settling on its upper reaches.

Then suddenly there’s a cloud bursting behind the mountain peaks. It’s possible to appreciate Table Mountain in all its splendour at all times of day and night. Short of camping on it, we could hardly be any closer.

My family and I are staying in a deluxe apartment in The Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa, with the eastern slopes of Table Mountain virtually on our balcony. The hotel — in Newlands, an affluent and leafy suburb — is set amid seven acres of landscaped gardens, bordered by the Liesbeek River and with a vineyard with 128 vines.

Yet the hotel is just moments away from the upmarket shopping of Cavendish Square; a five-minute Avis rental car drive (or pop on a Hop On, Hop Off open-topped bus and do a full circuit) to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens — with its mint-clear air, extraordinary plants, ravines and trails for walkers; close too to the world-famous Constantia wine route; and just 20 minutes by car to the shopping and galleries of the V&A Waterfront: for everything from sushi to decorated ostrich eggs and tribal artefacts, plus the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world.

Are you ready for a little bit of history now? The Vineyard Hotel has been evolving since 1652 when it was first created as a refreshment station for passing ships, contracted to the Dutch East India company. It was rebuilt in 1798 by Lord Andrew and Lady Ann Barnard (he was secretary to the Governor of the Cape), in the centre of a mid-17th century vineyard. In 1980, it became the family-owned hotel that it is today — purchased by the late Francois Petousis.

There are sepia photographs, watercolours and extracts from 19th century newspapers lining the walls of the original 18th century Cape mansion that forms its centre. ‘The Vineyard is one of the finest estates in the Colony,’ according to an excerpt from an 1854 book displayed on one wall.

It’s a walk-in history book (albeit one with 194 beds, including 25 suites and nine apartments), from 1798 right up to ooh, well, yesterday; and it boasts a patchwork of decorative and architectural styles from the 18th to 21st centuries. Our apartment is an example of the latter, with its new and sleek open-plan galley kitchen and dining area, contemporary furniture and L-shaped sofa, large rugs on wooden floors, exposed brickwork and white on white. Sort of Scandi design hits Cape Town vibe.

The hotel lures an eclectic clientele: from a man in a kilt and sports teams to international and local families, corporate guests, neighbourhood residents and independent travellers, its character often changing according to the day or hour.

It turns out that the Vineyard Hotel is a local landmark and something of an institution: a go-to place for locals. There are monied Capetonians to be found taking tea or drinks on the terrace, by the tinkling cherub fountain. Festive Capetonians celebrating over a birthday breakfast (the buffet is excellent) in the dining room with palm trees and 35ft ficus tree inside the 20th century metal and glass covered court-yard.

There are locals to be found gathering in its bar over a pint or four to watch top sporting events. And upmarket neighbourhood residents training in its gym. Plus locals and overseas visitors in its Angsana Spa: well, all I can say is go for a signature massage and let therapist Taslynn work on your key pressure points to strengthen your ‘qi’ or energy. You’ll walk out unknotted, taller and happier.

And now to its fine dining restaurant. This is one of the holy grails for locals and visitors alike. We wander through the garden to Myoga (‘ginger blossom’ in Japanese), its multi-award winning 90-seater restaurant. It’s decorated with a Buddha, chandelier, hanging copper pans and ceiling fan. Plus Louis XIV-style chairs, an Oriental ceiling, and an open kitchen through green arches with Doric columns.

It’s in this restaurant that executive chef Mike Basset oversees a modern menu, including local and global dishes, with lots of sustainable organic produce from the Cape and surrounds. Serious foodies go for the 6-course tasting option (‘restricted to one desert,’ as the menu proclaims) paired with Cape wines; but we wimp out and try just three courses, with a mere two glasses of vino. But what a three they are! Delicious! And five-star service too — and not just from Adrienne, the waitress who’s studying to be a lawyer.

We’re offered Baleni salt from Limpopo (who wouldn’t want to taste this for its name alone?) with artisanal cheese butter and more-ish fieekeh (green wheat) and lentil bread. Then there’s a tasty tuna tartare — complete with hazelnuts and miso ‘jam.’ A braai (barbecued) salad that includes alliums (a bulbous plant): a dish that I’m going to copy. Plus hot smoked Snoek (a game fish) and then Abalobi (caught using an App used to track sustainable fishing). We finish with a memorable guava and rose sorbet.

This is a hotel to which I’ll return. The luxury it offers is its tranquil setting and peaceful atmosphere away from the buzz of central Cape Town; its friendly, attentive, warm and efficient staff — many of whom have been working here not just for years but for decades; its genuinely home-from-home accommodation and lack of pretension; and also the fact that staying here feels pleasurably like being part of the community. It’s only a four-star, but there’s so much about it that recommends it more highly than that.

There’s something else that marks it out. There are notices around the grounds that read, ‘Slow traffic. Tortoises crossing.’ There are 11 tortoises, even though one bears the number ‘13’ on its back. (Each has a digit painted on it.) They’re the largest species of such reptiles in the continent: tortoises the size of old turtles (the biggest weighing 40kg) and others that are still relatively small, at 30cm.

The eldest tortoises are Gloria (number 13) and Thomas (number 11): apparently they’re ‘around 50 years old.’ Number 10 takes an entire day to walk halfway up the path to the front door of our apartment. I do it in 32 seconds. But let’s face it: ambling slowly is really just an excuse for them to chill longer in this lovely hotel. Some of the tortoises have hung out here for 40 years, since the early 1980s. It’s easy to see why they’d want to. Anyone would.

Further Information

The lead-in price for an apartment is R5000 (around £275 per night). Please call 021 657 4500 or visit www.vineyard.co.za for bookings and room rates. For further information about Cape Town, visit www.capetown.travel. For a car rental, go to Avis at www.avis.co.za.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Escape To Singapore – A Non-Stop Evolution Since 1819 By Rosalind Milani Gallieni

Marina Bay Sands (image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni)

The year 2019 marks 200 years of history for Singapore, with a slew of exhibitions and events lined up to commemorate the nation’s bicentennial milestone. The celebrations will give Singaporeans the chance to reflect on the 200th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in Singapore in 1819, an avid collector and explorer in the region whose arrival was one of the “key turning points” that changed the country’s trajectory.

View From The Fullerton Hotel Lighthouse (image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni)

Singapore is a constant buzz of activity with business, technology, traffic, exhibitions, shows, architecture, and under it all – its heritage. By taking in these humble origins, you realise just how massive and driven this creation of a cosmopolitan city has been. Don’t miss putting an hour aside for the Fullerton Heritage trail, which starts out from The Fullerton Hotel and from “mile zero,” the spot that marks all street measurements for the original calculation of fares and charges from this landmark. Everything started from this building, which, once completed in 1928, was the largest building in the city and today, it is the epitome of a by-gone grandeur. The sweeping front entrance, with it very own roundabout, also leads to the pedestrian Cavanagh Bridge, which stretches over the Singapore River to the Asian Civilisations Museum. Once inside, the majestic lobby has an atrium that spans the length of the building and its internal corridors, which lead to the 400 elegantly appointed rooms.

The Fullerton hotel (image courtesy of Fullerton Hotels)

The lookout from the Fullerton Lighthouse on top on the building is a real highlight of any stay here, as it is the original lookout point from the days when the hotel stood directly on the main waterfront. The entire horizon is everything that makes up Singapore today, and to end the day up here in the breeze, with the bar serving worldly cocktails, is one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

The Lighthouse Rooftop Bar at The Fullerton Hotel (image courtesy of Fullerton Hotels)

Raffles is conveniently a stone’s throw away for a quick nip, famous for the peanut shells that litter the floor, as they did in the colonial days. The story goes that the monkey nuts were given free of charge to accompany the drinks as they were cheap as chips and so were supplied by the sack-full, but I rather prefer the story that this tradition goes way back to when tigers roamed free, and the residents and staff would hear the crackling of the nuts to alert them as the big cats walked about the hotel! Singapore is, after all, also called Lion City – from the Sanskrit Singa Pura – but there is also talk of a Malayan tiger visiting the town, so the story has its various interpretations.

Raffles Singapore (image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni)

The following day, I head to see the street food markets, stopping off for a walk down Haji Lane where the latest trends and cocktails are served up from small shop-fronts and cool bars with tables spilling out onto the pavements. The city is alive all day and all night, and there is little fear of crime, nor is there a policeman in sight. I am told you can leave your handbag on a table to reserve it while you get your drink inside, and come back to find it exactly where you left it.

Singapore Sidecars (image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni)

I coast the Marina waterfront with its scented hedgerows, and sweep up to the front of The Fullerton Bay Hotel, sister hotel to The Fullerton, in the sidecar of a fine vintage Vespa driven by Simon Wong, whose company Singapore Sidecars is renowned for its bespoke sidecar experiences. The doormen, in bespoke long silk coats, come over with beaming smiles, before ushering me inside. The first impression feels rather like stepping onboard a sumptuous yacht, as the water glistens at the end of the original Clifford Pier, which has now become a signature restaurant and a go-to for Singaporean treats and sumptuous heritage afternoon teas.

Arrival Area at The Fullerton Bay Hotel (image courtesy of Fullerton Hotels)

The hotel is cool, sophisticated and highly polished. The styled public areas have the hand of rising star designer Andre Fu, and sitting alongside this style is the contemporary design of the rooms, each with its own balcony overlooking the water – at any moment, you feel as though you might be setting sail to some remote island, like the Bawah Resort.

Singapore At Night (image courtesy of Nitin Mathew)

The Singapore skyline is in full view from this prime location, set in the heart of the city’s art and cultural scene. The lights at night sparkle from one end of the marina to the other, way up into the sky, up the skyscrapers and all the way to the Levo rooftops of the Marina Bay Sands edifice, which I can only describe as a triple-tower triumph with, why not, a floating boat on top.

Duxton Hill (image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni)

To get away from the high-rises, head to the hills, specifically to the historical Duxton Hill, an area which was once a nutmeg plantation owned by William Montgomerie. In time, it developed into a fishing village, then a rather sought after place of vice (read: opium) while today, it is an uber cool commercial hub within the city, with food markets, boutiques, design-led concept stores, trend-setting bars (some as small as just eight seats), and the best street-food offering inside the Maxwell Food Centre. Think the tastiest noodles and a true local environment.

The Duxton Six Senses (image courtesy of Seth Powers and Six Senses)

The Oriental spirit and acclaimed imagination of designer Anouska Hempel has also been drawn here, her vision presented in a perfectly harmonised fashion in a period building, now branded the Six Senses Duxton – part of Six Senses Singapore, which opened in November 2017. The first boutique hotel in Singapore, it houses some of the designer’s personal collection of signature café screens and calligraphy wallpapers. Her meticulous perfection is most evident in the traditional Chinese medicine room, where a huge hand-painted tiger greets you, and also in the famous Yellow Pot bar on the ground floor. Its design is an inspiration to the Art Deco movement, where Anouska had an original flower patterned centre-piece replicated with painstaking attention to recreate three more to panel the walls and the ceiling, in celebration of the local chrysanthemum flower of Kaifeng city.

The Yellow Pot Restaurant at Duxton Six Senses (image courtesy of Seth Powers and Six Senses)

Originally a group of shop-houses, the hotel’s 49 guestrooms and suites have been uniquely designed, and Anouska’s touches can be sensed throughout, punctuated by her sensitivity to preserve local traditions. Her colour palette (of glamorous piano-black, rust, cinnamon, yellow and white) and golden coloured fans as big as the setting sun, are all in tune with the signature flavours of Mongolian sunflower-oil, turmeric vodka shots, and amber yellow-peril cocktails, crowned with a chrysanthemum.

The Reception Area at Duxton Six Senses (image courtesy of Seth Powers and Six Senses)

Singapore is the crossroads and interchange to the Asian world, and the cuisine at the Duxton Chinese restaurant captures the billowing smells of Pak Choi broth, which roll like the breakers onto the palm-lined streets, inviting you in. The visitor to Anouska Hempel’s Orient is in for an eccentric, elegant surprise. Each dish is served in large yellow bowls, black tiffins and black Bento boxes, which you open using metre-long wok sticks, whilst very cool and disciplined staff dance in attendance.

The Yellow Pot Restaurant at Duxton Six Senses (image courtesy of Jambu Studio and Six Senses)

However, my foodie travels in Singapore wouldn’t have been the same were it not for the little black dining book of Andrew Henning, visionary General Manager of The Westbury Mayfair Hotel in London. This was a short and concise inside track of the best foodie destinations in town, and an insight into the directional new dishes soon to be presented in the heart of Mayfair at the hotel’s POLO Bar, with chef Tim Ross-Watson in the kitchen. Interestingly, Tim is now back in London after spending 12 years in Singapore, so you don’t really need to travel that far now to experience these amazing flavours!

Andrew’s Little Black Book For Singapore

Salted&Hung

Chef Drew Nocente’s kitchen-lab style restaurant specialises in cured and grilled meats, charcuterie and fresh produce, all drawn together by his passions in life: cooking and surrounding himself with the wonders of fresh food infused with Italian heritage. On trend and nearly re-decorated (sadly, we didn’t see the finished result), it is a must-visit restaurant, and it is right alongside the newly re-opened Raffles on Purvis Street.

Salted&Hung (image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni)

The Tippling Club

Chef-Owner Ryan Clift settles down in three shop-houses, just alongside another great spot, The Duxton Club hotel. His avant-garde culinary experience comes close to theatre, and is served from the bar (the best place to be to get involved in the action of the preparation) or at the tables, which are illuminated by large nets of chicken wire filled with light bulbs – everything is a feast for the eyes and the senses. Not to mention the sensory collection on the drinks menu with cocktails created to encompass fragrances and aromas – think cut grass, olives, and leather.

Chef Ryan Clift at Tippling Club (image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni)

Native

A creative cocktail bar with a focus on commercially foraging for its ingredients! Once you find this funky hole-in-the-wall on Amoy Street (there’s no sign out front), your taste buds will be tickled by flavours only found in Asia. Everything is sourced locally and everything has a story, which makes for a fascinating chat with the engaging bartenders!

Native (image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni)

Manhattan

Frequently voted one of the best bars in the world, Manhattan is reminiscent of a grand hotel bar with a touch of old New York glamour and sophistication. If you want one of the best solera-aged Negronis with the signature M-branded ice-cube, this is where you can find an array of particularly special cocktails which have been created weeks in advance, and left to evolve independently and unexpectedly in oak barrels. On tap – not shaken, not stirred….

Manhattan (image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni)

Ding Dong

A trend-setting southeast Asian diner and cocktail bar that is well worth visiting, for food design, flavour experiences and the best convivial diner-style atmosphere.

Ding Dong (image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni)

Waiting For Bond’s Golden Gondola In Soelden By Ramy Salameh

A three-hour early morning train trip from Zurich to Oetztal main station in the Tirol defined my inter-rail journey in first class. Within a glass-domed carriage, offering epic vistas of the ever-changing natural landscape of Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Austria, I arrived in the Oetztal Valley in time to take lunch at ICE Q Panorama Restaurant, a lofty 3000m above sea level, which was one of the settings for the fictional super spy James Bond in Spectre.

‘‘Let two more gondola pass and then it’s ours,’’ stated Daniel Goldstein of Soelden Tourism. For those in the know, one specific “golden” gondola is dedicated to Bond, James Bond – wrapped with ‘‘007 Elements’’ imagery on the exterior and playing Bond tunes inside – initiated our exploration into the sphere of the world’s most coveted secret agent.

In 2015, the most famous film franchise used the Gaislachkogl Mountain to shoot key action scenes of Spectre. Any destination that achieves several priceless minutes appearing in a Bond movie is granted a unique and lasting legacy, one which the Oetztal Valley has honoured through the creation of a stunning cinematic installation at over 3000m; inside a series of solid, dark, cold and brooding concrete spaces, is a presentation of the most dramatic scenes of the film, encapsulating the world of 007, past and present.

Our ascent to the summit of Gaislachkogl passed over the heads of mountain bikers racing down the winding single and flow trails, part of a dedicated area called ‘‘Bike Republic Soelden.’’ The higher we went, the easier it was to understand why the Bond production team had decided on this location, especially as our Gondola entered the curved mouth of Gaislachkoglbahn top-station, which ignited a show reel of Spectre flashbacks. Atop the summit, a dramatic 360 degree sweep of the jagged snow-topped Oetztal Alps, whose crevices and fissures fell from each summit like strands of melted wax, juxtaposed the stark contemporary architecture of ICE Q Panoramic Restaurant and the bespoke building of ‘‘007 Elements’’ constructed inside the summit of the Gaislachkogl. ‘‘Elements’’ is spread over two levels and 1300sqm of space, showcasing the spell-binding opening scene always expected of a 007 film.

ICE Q, a venue used in the film, is a demonstration of architectural beauty, where ‘‘less is more;’’ clean straight lines of glass and steel has created a futuristic cube-like structure that seemingly floats upon the apex of a mountain. The restaurant’s glass facade invites the breath-taking landscape to envelop the modern and minimalist dining area, whilst serving fine cuisine alongside their exclusive in-house wine, Pinot 3000.

On a craggy outcrop, sitting 50m away from the floor-to-ceiling restaurant windows is a Land Rover, balanced perilously and almost absurdly on a series of spiky rocks, prompting questions of how, why, really? This was one of three vehicles used in the opening chase scene of Spectre, which the production team intentionally left up in the mountain and now links into the new ‘‘Elements’’ experience.

Adjacent to ICE Q is the entrance to this new cinematic installation, which captures the imagination and allows the visitor an intimate view of the making of a James Bond film. The name ‘‘Elements’’ crystallises the experience of moving through a series of galleries that immerse, interact and provide a sensory story tracing the history of the Bond franchise and their pursuit of cinematic immortality. Visitors enter ‘‘007 Elements’’ via The Barrel of The Gun anteroom, before moving onto nine further spaces that are a shock to all the senses; the Valley Passage looks out onto the Rettenbach Glacier Road, a winding Alpine strip snaking into the distance. Here lie two further vehicles frozen in time and place on the icy landscape. The Tech Lab interactively explores everything from cutting-edge technology used in several Bond films, to legacy props including the ubiquitous Omega wrist watch. Arguably the most dramatic space is Action Hall featuring the front portion of the aircraft Bond pilots in Spectre, cleverly curated to appear as if it has just smashed through the hall’s large windows, giving a detailed insight as to how this segment was filmed. The Screening Room allows you to watch the entire sequence, providing a thrilling end to the tour.

With barely time to catch one’s breath from this homage to James Bond, then the Oetztal Valley in which Soelden resides is home to Austria’s largest, trendiest and craziest adventure park, AREA 47; a name that conjures up images of the evil lair of a Bond nemesis or some form of military installation for secret agents. However, AREA 47 is a thrill-seeker’s haven – maybe even heaven, most definitely a training ground for would-be adventurists and the odd professional cliff diver, courtesy of a 27m high dive board, the centre-piece of a 20,000sqm swimming lake within a natural complex of 95,000sqm.

Located between two major bridges (road and rail), two fast flowing rivers (Inn and Ache) surrounded by forests and high-peaked alpine mountains, AREA 47 cleverly uses the natural and man-made topography to maximum advantage. The park offers some 35 different types of activities that will get the heart bursting rather than simply pumping, ranging from white-water rafting to canyoning and mountain-biking to wake-boarding, a hybrid of water skiing and surfing on a cable towing system spanning 420m in a secondary and dedicated lake.

As I arrived at the site, a brave soul jumped bungee-style from a platform constructed at the top of a huge road bridge pillar, swinging like a pendulum, whilst across the River Inn on the other pillar, a figure clasped the grand climbing wall motionless and lizard-like, as they planned their next move. In between, silhouetted figures navigated a 27m high rope course, moving from one obstacle to another. As I descended at speed from the ‘‘Flying Fox’’ zip-wire, crossing the River Inn and the 20,000sqm swimming lake, it was a good perch to view someone being propelled from a water cannon, whilst another was catapulted from the Steigl blobbing air-cushion, as more queued at the top of the 18m high surf-slide to be jettisoned across the surface of the lake like a skimming-stone.

“AREA 47 is for professional athletes too,” mentioned Jessica Isak, a representative of the park, as we toured the facility. “The guy cycling who just passed us is Dan MacAskill, a legendary trial mountain biker,” she said, before pointing towards another person walking towards the 27m dive platform. “He is a professional cliff diver, David Coulturi, who we sponsor,” she added. The complex is where thrill-seekers overlap with elite athletes, yet both feed off each other’s laid-back hipster culture innate with extreme sports, especially in the beach bar where dare-devil feats are retold.

One thing is for sure, in this part of Austria, nature will leave you “shaken, not stirred!”

Further Information

For further information about 007 Elements, go to www.007elements.soelden.com. For further information about AREA 47, go to www.area47.at. Inter-rail tickets can be purchased through www.internationalrail.com. Ramy Salameh stayed at Aqua Dome; for further information. go to www.aqua-dome.at.

Experience A Treatment Journey At The Coach House Spa By Caroline Phillips

The English countryside, a glass architect and a massage. What do they have in common? This is what I discover when I have a treatment in the Coach House Spa, at Beaverbrook, the luxury country estate hotel near Leatherhead, England. The Coach House was previously used for the Bentleys of the then-owner of the property, the late press baron and politician, Lord Beaverbrook. There’s little to remind of that time, given the spa’s water-blue, fern-green and poppy-red tiles and golden-leaves-on-sky stained glass skylights by Brian Clarke, creator of the world’s most monumental stained glass works. A scheme by the glass architect that evokes English country fields and water or looks like a psychedelic trip on the Underground, depending on your point of view.

Spa membership is by invitation only. It’s rumoured (in whispers) to cost around a quarter of a million pounds, for this life and the next. Or there are a limited number of weekday memberships. It’s also open to day guests (from £240 per day) and hotel residents.

There are six treatment suites, a sauna, nail lounge and indoor and al fresco swimming pools. And a gym stocked with Technogym Artis cardio machines and free weights. Plus The English Bathhouse — a version of a hammam — that’s clean and white, like a futuristic space ship or pod. The original coach house has morphed into a studio, with fitness, yoga, meditation and Pilates offered in rotation.

Then there’s the Boutique and Apothecary, a place I’d be happy to spend hours in sniffing and purchasing healing lotions and potions. It reflects the spa’s ethos of keeping it simple and holistic. It sells Coach House oils — made in consultation with Beaverbrook’s head gardener and created from medicinal plants, flowers and fruits from the estate — that are used in the spa treatments. Additionally there are unusual artisanal products, such as Lola’s Apothecary bath salts from Devon and Amanda Serin’s (of A.S Apothecary) herbal alchemy, plus seaweed-fibre exercise gear and natural sponges.

As for the spa menu, there are exfoliating body treatments to honey-filled facials on offer. Plus therapists trained in everything from Swedish, Thai, Remedial, Shiatsu, Lymphatic Drainage and Biodynamic Bodywork, ready to offer bespoke massages. My therapist, Carrie (as in Caroline) offers me an Epsom Salts footbath, washing my feet with green tea soap. Then, with expert hands, she gives me a massage that combines myofascial release, energy work, acupressure and Swedish strokes.

She’s instinctive, and doesn’t work generically: the massage truly is tailored. It’s also relaxing, healing and, best of all —erstwhile ballerina that Carrie is — she enlightens me with (what proves to be) a spot-on tip about my feet (missed both by my doctor and a reflexologist) and the adverse impact my specific problem is having on my posture and musculature.

After my pampering, my BF appears, bleary and happy, declaring her massage excellent. Then we nip to the spa’s eaterie, The Deli — a place of Kilner jars, cold pressed juices, Ottolenghi-style salads and banana bread. We eat our wood-fired, stone oven baked flatbread ‘sandwiches’ in the sunny courtyard, my shoulders unhunched and my knotted back released. What’s not to like?

Further Information

Spa Day packages at Beaverbrook start from £240 per person – click here for further details. To read Caroline’s full review of Beaverbrook, click here.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Escape To Beaverbrook By Caroline Phillips

It’s a Grand Cru classé of a hotel. Its quality akin to vintage Dom Pérignon meets grade 5 Wagyu beef melded with Iranian Beluga. First division, first class and first-rate, in other words. Such words of undiluted praise are rare for me, and I’ve been reviewing five-star properties for 30 years.

This is Beaverbrook, the luxury, country-estate hotel, spa and golf destination in the Surrey Hills, near Leatherhead, England. Until my BF and I arrived there, ‘Leatherhead’ just conjured up visions of rural suburbia. But despite being just 20 miles from London, the hotel enjoys an almost uninterrupted 18th century-style view: of the South Downs and the 470-acre Beaverbrook Estate.

Beaverbrook is the erstwhile home of Lord Beaverbrook, aka Max Aitken — politician (he served in both World War cabinets), press baron (he made The Daily Express the largest circulation newspaper in the world) and the man parodied as Lord Copper in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop.

It’s a late-Victorian mansion — Classical meets Italianate with a bit of French château. Here in Cherkley Court — as ‘Beaverbrook’ was previously known — Lord Beaverbrook hosted high society, literary giants and world leaders. So it’s bursting with history although, according to staff, the resident ghost has left. Lady Beaverbrook outlived her husband by three decades (he was, after all, 31 years her senior); and after his passing, she reportedly lived mostly in her ‘bedsit,’ the now Dowager Suite. The mansion was unloved, the garden in ruins.

Beaverbrook opened late 2017, after a spend of £90 million and seven years. There’s a Jean Cocteau painted glass window that Lord Beaverbrook installed. There’s also the original cinema (at the time the UK’s first private one) with its Art Deco wooden panelling and period wall lamps — but now also with a vintage-look popcorn maker and super comfy, beetroot corduroy armchairs and pouffes.

It’s the room in which Lord Beaverbrook and his friend, Churchill, watched war newsreels when the former served as Churchill’s Minister of Aircraft Production in the Second World War. The Spitfire was conceived in this house — Lord Beaverbrook was famous for his appeal to the public for pots and pans to make Spitfires — and its motif is replicated on silver pins on the lapels of the cricket-jumper-clad staff and on the walls of the hotel.

So what about the rest of the house? The décor is by Susie Atkinson of Soho and Babington House fame. There’s an elegant morning room with plump sofas overlooking the Italianate garden; library with board games, roaring fire and tomes for or by previous guests, such as British Intelligence in the Second World War; plus a big hall with glass atrium, massive Gerhard Richter ‘Patterns’ tapestry and a grand piano scattered with framed photographs of Lord Beaverbrook, Cherkley Court and Winston Churchill.

It’s time to mount the sweeping staircase, the wall of which is adorned with Brian Clarke’s stained-glass spitfire paintings. The bedrooms and suites bear the names of illustrious people who’ve stayed here. They may not have slept up the drive in the reimagined Garden House (now a cosy place that also takes dogs) or in the former Coach House, but here in The House, well, that’s another thing….

There’s Noël Coward, Ian Fleming, Lady Diana Cooper, Bonar Law, Rudyard Kipling, Elizabeth Taylor, Neville Chamberlain, Jean Cocteau, Charlie Chaplin. Pause for awe. Then continue. David Lloyd George, Wallis Simpson, H. G. Wells, Somerset Maugham, Rebecca West, W. B. Yeats. Just 18 rooms. My favourite is Lady Diana Cooper’s with its claw-foot bath and four-poster.

Our bedroom bears the names of Joe and Rose Kennedy. It’s traditional with a twist — with lime fabric walls, a high chintz bedhead and glass chandelier. Plus a help-yourself bottle of Sipsmith sloe gin. There are books on the Kennedys and photos of ‘Joe’ (after using ‘his’ bedroom, I think I can call him that) with Chamberlain, plus Kennedy family pics. Our marble and mosaic bathroom has an open fire, early-edition Kipling books and Bamford toiletries of geranium and lavender.

We tear ourselves away only because we have a pasta lesson in the hotel’s Cookery School, up the suitably long drive, in the Garden House: a place tucked away beside a private walled garden and with the vibe of (yet another, this one designed by Nicola Harding) charming private English country house. The class takes place in a demo kitchen — which is reached through the hotel’s Italian restaurant kitchen — overlooking ancient trees and with a picture window for peeping into the professionals’ kitchen.

The Cookery School at Beaverbrook (image courtesy of Dan Jones)

It’s not obvious that chef Kaz Suzuki — Japanese, raised in New Zealand and now residing in England — should be a go-to person for teaching Italian cookery. But — as we make nuggets of homemade gnocchi and strips of pappardelle under his enthusiastic tutelage — it turns out that he is. If inspectors awarded Michelin stars for cookery lessons, he’d get one.

In the evening, the sound of jazz skips up the stairs to our bedroom. So we leave it again. This time for Sir Frank’s Bar — a nod to the grand old man of advertising, Sir Frank Lowe, who has put his stamp on Beaverbrook by dreaming up its Spitfire theme — with its 1920s vibe, gilded birdcage, parquet floor and putty-pink walls. Its tasselled lamps and teal velvet bar stools. And 250 paintings by inveterate Victorian traveller, biologist and botanical artist, Marianne North.

The crowd is gay (in the original sense of the word) and chic. It’s like being at a Flapper party, whilst being served spicy Japanese green peas for snacks. We also sip delicious mocktails of Virgin Kir Royale (blackberry purée, sparkling apple) and another made of hedgerow pickings, elderflower and the like.

Afterwards, we go to the Dining Room where Head Chef Taiji Maruyama serves modern, pioneering Japanese cuisine. Instead of stark lighting and cool lines, the room is warm and traditional: think soft seating, sofas and a chandelier. As for the chef, he’s ex Nobu, trained at Tokyo’s Michelin-starred Kojyu, is big on Kappo (a multi-course meal selected entirely by the chef) and is also a fan of molecular gastronomy. The meal alone is worth the drive from London (or Manchester or Edinburgh).

I can’t tell you about the dishes: the popcorn shrimp, the broccoli with kimchi, the rhubarb sorbet with lemon foam….because I’m busy today and I wouldn’t be able to restrain myself from immediately jumping into my car to beetle back to Beaverbrook for a repeat meal. The same goes for the cactus-fed turbot, black cod, fatty tuna and Mochi ice-cream. Sorry.

After a sound night’s sleep — even though our bedroom curtains let in a teensy bit too much light and it would be nice if the door from the adjoining suite were to close with the sound of one hand clapping — I have a pampering treatment. It takes place in the Coach House, previously used for Beaverbrook’s Bentleys and now a spa. That’s excellent too – see here. And there’s little Zen about the place, with its water-blue, fern-green and poppy-red tiles and golden-leaves-on-stained-glass skylights by Brian Clarke. Plus there’s an indoor and outdoor pool and a hammam that’s looks like a Zaha Hadid-designed space ship (but isn’t).

I could go on and on about the wonders of Beaverbrook. About its staff who are professional and friendly (but not too familiar): the type who once glided solicitously around Annabel’s and Harry’s Bar tending guests’ every whim, before such establishments were bling-ified. I could harp on about their uniforms: the 1920s waistcoats, braces, flat caps. And all about the house being dotted, welcomingly, at tea time with cake stands and (serve yourself) plates of flapjacks. But I’m not going to.

Further Information

Address: Beaverbrook, Reigate Road, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 8QX
Tel: +44 (0)1372 571300
Price: Rooms at Beaverbrook start from £385 per night on a room only basis, inclusive of VAT.
Website: www.beaverbrook.co.uk

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Turkish Delight By Scott Manson

A D-Resort experience on Turkey’s coast proves to be the last word in peace and relaxation….

Turkey’s Dogus Group, owner of a string of high-end hotels throughout the world – from Villa Dubrovnik to Capri Palace – arguably has its most impressive properties closer to home. And while the Turkish economy on the whole is in a challenging position, it’s clear from a recent visit to D-Resort Göcek and another – the D Maris Bay on the Datça peninsula – that the group’s home-grown portfolio is doing very nicely.

With impressive occupancy rates, well-drilled staff and hotel environments that are nothing less than outstanding, it’s little wonder that both hotels have picked up a host of awards and glowing reviews since they launched.

We started at D-Resort Göcek, located in a pretty and peaceful coastal village situated around 20 minutes from Dalaman airport. It offers a gorgeous private beach and sits between the town’s two marinas in a tropical-type setting – helped by the importation of tons of powder-white Egyptian sand – among palm trees and azure seas, at the foot of pine-clad hills.

It’s an impressive sight, with huge superyachts bobbing around in those turquoise waters, and a bleached-blond wood beach restaurant serving up the freshest of local fish to diners. Admittedly, the sea was a little cold for swimming when we were there but, come the summer months, the temperature climbs to allow for hours of water-based fun.

The hotel’s 103 rooms are lovely, all decked out in a white and blue nautical theme, with distressed wood and well-appointed bathrooms being the order of the day. Some rooms even offer direct access to one of the hotel’s three long, rectangular pools.

Dining is also a delight, in any of its three restaurants. The international menu at Olive Tree is best for families, as there’s literally something for everyone. Elsewhere, the Q Lounge – a stunning spot sitting high on the hillside overlooking the sea – offers the best in contemporary Japanese cuisine. Breeze is a more relaxed affair, its whitewashed terrace perched over the sea, serving freshly grilled fish and meat dishes.

The next day saw us take a short transfer car ride to the secluded luxury of the hotel group’s flagship Turkey property – D Maris Bay. It’s hard to do justice to this fabulous place in words and pictures, as it has to be seen to be believed.

It sits on a cliffside above a glorious sandy beach and looks across to the magnificent volcanic coastline of the Bozburun Peninsula. Renovated in 2011 to an impeccable standard, it combines Turkish exoticism with cool minimalism in a perfect marrying of form and function. The secluded nature of the location – surrounded by jagged cliffs and hillsides lush with almond trees on the undeveloped and protected Datça Peninsula – means that the stresses and strains of the outside world simply melt away. Indeed, the only reminder that you’re not in an undisturbed slice of personal heaven is the occasional arrival of a helicopter, dropping guests at the hotel’s landing pad.

Although there are 200 rooms here, the sheer size of the property’s footprint means that it never feels too busy. The extensive facilities include five white-sand beaches (including one which allows neither music, phones nor children under 12), a water ski school, indoor and outdoor pools, four designer boutiques (the Orlebar Brown emporium was a particular favourite) and a hand-made jewellery shop. The Bodyism gym is also a welcome addition, with its helpful and skilled trainers on hand to help us shift some of the ‘holiday weight’ gained by indulging at many of the hotel’s fine restaurants.

There are five of these in total, with the fabulous Japanese Zuma being the pick of the bunch. We dined there several times during our trip, enjoying everything from beautiful black cod with miso to marinated chicken skewers grilled over burning coals.

Also worth a look is Rüya, serving Anatolian dishes and Turkish mezes; Nusr-Et (with a shisha lounge next door), part of the Turkish steak house chain owned by flamboyant chef and internet star Nüsret “Salt Bae” Gökce and Manos, a Greek taverna.

For daytime dining, though, make a beeline to La Guerite (which has sister restaurants in Cannes and St Barts) for seafood specialities served on a beautiful sundeck, with the sound of the waves lapping beneath you. This restaurant also has a daytime DJ playing Balearic classics, giving it a Ibiza-style feel – but thankfully without the raucous party crowds.

A lovely additional touch is that each beach, while accessible by walking along some quiet roads, is better reached by the hotel’s complimentary boat. There’s something rather lovely about arriving by sea for lunch and – even on those days when all we were looking for were some French fries, cheese and good bread for a light snack – the boat trip to our table made the moment feel extra special.

The rooms, too, go the extra mile. All are furnished with beautiful woods, cool marble surfaces, and sophisticated room controls. Each has a private balcony and a bathtub with a view – we loved watching the superyachts sail while we lay in bubbles sipping Champagne – and is stocked with toiletries created exclusively for D Maris Bay by the Italian perfumer and designer of Queen Elizabeth’s signature scent, Laura Tonatto.

A spa session raised my sybarite levels even higher, with a detoxifying massage in the Mytha spa helping to shift some of the bleary-headedness of the previous evening’s wine consumption. A dip in the hotel’s indoor pool followed this, as well as some additional water pummelling in the separate smaller pool with its variety of aqua jets.

And while it’s easy to spend all of your time checking out the many delights of this fabulous hotel, I’d recommend enquiring about a trip on the hotel’s impressive custom-made 100-foot yacht Pasa, available for charter and day tours. This can take you to isolated coves and pristine islands, or even the nearest fishing village, where you can enjoy a taste of traditional Turkish life.

But if you do manage to get out and about, then I take my hat off to you. Because the siren call of the hotel’s many pleasures kept us firmly rooted on-site throughout our stay. When you’re having this much fun then, frankly, why go anywhere else?

For more information about D-Resort Göcek, go to www.dresortgocek.com and for more information about D Maris Bay, go to www.dmarisbay.com.

Escape To The Park Hotel Chennai By Caroline Phillips

Think of a place of dreams that transports the viewer. Imagine its being in the erstwhile location of Gemini Studios, a leading Indian movie studio. Then picture somewhere that has cinematic themes incorporated in its décor. This is the five-star art-concept THE PARK hotel, Chennai (Madras). Its grand atrium is like walking on set, with its ‘stage’ the seating area — as if guests are part of the performance — plus there’s a huge screen onto which movie images are projected silently as dusk falls.

Around the hotel there are film stills on walls, movie posters, and rugs that recall movie spools and the world of celluloid. Even the roof-top is an elaborately designed set with its tented and canopied sun-beds lit by giant arc lights around the pool, and where guests have sunset cocktails and sushi overlooking the cinemascape of the city. Everything in this 214-room hotel situated in the heart of Chennai has been inspired by films, performances and screen sets.

Let’s rewind to the opening sequence. On arrival — after a pre-performance welcome drink of pomegranate juice and a bite-size cheesecake — someone from the reception desk (or is it really a ticket office? And is he actually an usher?) leads me upstairs. The lift has theatre-style curtains against its walls. As for my suite, it has a cantilevered ceiling, polished plasterwork walls, marble floors and….and lights, take one, and action….there are original images of Grahasti (a Hindi family drama) being shot at Gemini Studios and a dramatic four-poster bed fit for a movie star.

Beside the bed, there’s a surprise — the unexpected being a feature of the best screenplays — a test tube containing a gift of seeds: to encourage guests to plant trees. Behind another screen (this one’s made of clear glass) is the bathroom. In it there’s yet another unexpected twist in the plot — a little box of foot-care cream, luscious-lip-red nail enamel, and pure rosewater toner that smells like Ilsa’s (Ingrid Bergman) love for Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca. (Producer’s note: it’s Kama Ayurveda toner.)

Downstairs, at the breakfast buffet, there’s an international film festival of foods: in one area, there are the eats that could be the Tamil blockbusters (local specialities such as green pea paratha [bread], Chennai lentil stew and rice and lentil kedgeree); over there are art house offerings (think fresh watermelon juice alongside Karupati [jaggery coffee] served in South Indian tin cups); then there’s the La La Land breakfast screening (flax seeds, buckwheat and soya milk); and, finally, intermission snacks (of an ice cream bar and ‘wall’ of doughnuts). This is 601 — the hotel’s 24-hour restaurant. (For those who want yet more world cinema, there is also the Lotus for Thai and A2, by the pool, for truffle parmesan fries to tempura).

Back in the lobby, you’ll visit The Box, the hotel’s shop. Does it sell theatre programmes, Maltesers and popcorn? Or screenplays and posters of movie stars? No, it boasts an eclectic and stylish collection of bags to necklaces to pop-up Ganesha cards, mango chutney and Rajisthani cushion covers — like a romance, adventure, drama and fantasy film rolled into one. The hand-painted papier-mâché figurines of a wedding party are a must-buy. My Big Fat Indian Wedding, surely?

Further Information

For further inforamtion, visit www.theparkhotels.com. The Park Chennai is 17 kilometres from the airport (approximately 40 minutes’ drive). Hotel nightly double room Luxury Room rates per night are inclusive of breakfast, usage of swimming pool / fitness centre and complimentary Wifi from £160. Prices mentioned are exclusive of applicable taxes.

Special Offer:
The Romantic Getaway package offers couples a luxurious stay at The Park Chennai inclusive of flowers and a celebratory cake on arrival, a specially curated candle-lit dinner by the poolside, complete with a premium selection of wines. This exclusive room package is priced at £285.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Sustainable Serenity – Escape To The Tongsai Bay On Koh Samui By The Luxury Channel

Surrounded by 28 acres of lush tropical gardens on a hillside on the north east coast of Koh Samui, the five-star Tongsai Bay resort overlooks a private beach lapped by azure waters. A total re-design of the Tongsai Grand Villas, however, means that guests choosing to stay in the newly re-named Tongsai Pool Villas can keep cool in their own private pool, with views across the beautifully kept grounds to the glittering sea below. Each villa has a terrace as spacious as the villa itself with outdoor bathtubs boasting breath-taking views across the Gulf of Thailand.

The Tongsai Bay is proud to be the first five-star green hotel on Koh Samui, as owner Khun Gob–Thanakorn Hoontrakul explains: “At The Tongsai Bay, trees are not felled, no insecticides or chemical fertilisers are used and humans are kind to animals. In keeping with this respect for nature, when we decided to add new swimming pools to our existing villas, we adapted existing structures so as to cause the least disturbance to the natural environment.”

The family-owned hotel works hard to protect and preserve the environment and while the newly upgraded Pool and Seafront Pool Villas retain the authentic and elegant features the resort is known for, with rich, dark wood complementing crisp, white linen, they also blend in harmoniously with the spectacular surroundings.

The Tongsai Bay used only eco-certified tiles surrounding each pool and bathtub on the villa terraces, with recycled wood used for flooring, doors and walls, and artificial wood to replace the wooden railings on the terrace. In addition, they also feature decorative artwork made from recycled ‘‘Nang Gong’’ wood.

Other eco-conscious elements include using drinking straws made from lemongrass and offering coral-friendly sunscreen – perfect for refreshing drinks around the pool while you sunbathe!

For more information, please visit www.tongsaibay.co.th.

All Aboard Fingal, Scotland’s First Ship Turned Hotel…. By Caroline Phillips

It’s not often that I get to sleep in a floating hotel. Especially not one that HRH the Princess Royal has been out to sea on. Nor one that’s a former Northern Lighthouse ship, once used for maintaining lighthouses and transporting their keepers and equipment through treacherous seas. And particularly not one that’s based adjacent to the former Royal Yacht Britannia. Welcome to Fingal, Scotland’s first ship turned hotel. Where once she was stationed at Oban, she’s now in the Port of Leith, Edinburgh.

My husband, Adrian, and I cross the gangway to board Fingal. She’s 237 ft long — from the golden trident on her prow to her stern and boasting smart livery of navy and red — and 40 ft in breadth. She used to travel at 15.25 knots, but in her new resting place of a working dock amid residential housing, there’s just a slight movement of the water beneath. The ‘ghosts’ of her erstwhile crew of chief engineer, coxswain, seamen, greasers and the like may still be here, but we’re greeted by a smiley receptionist with the Fingal trident on her pin badge sitting at a rippled sycamore desk.

A quick look around reveals that, whilst (to use nautical turns of phrase) Fingal may not be seaworthy, her fabric and equipment are in very good order — courtesy of Steven Flannigan, high-spec interior designer. Her lavish refit cost £5 million and took four years. (170 tons of steel was removed, including cranes; and two new decks were added). There’s a lift by reception that recalls the lantern of a lighthouse: multi-faceted, circular and glass. And everywhere we walk there are beautiful, high-quality surfaces, textures and designs: from caulked reclaimed teak floors to golden-brown iroko doors and cork on the staircase. Every contour, curve, slant, angle and tilt appears carefully considered. The design is all delightfully nautical in a superyacht, top craftsmanship and artistry kind of way.

There’s a grand, sweeping staircase and sycamore panelling in the former hold, now a triple-height ballroom — it even has a removable skylight — which seats 60. The erstwhile bridge room (which contains the Engineer’s Log ’67- ’73, ‘Overhauling fuel injectors….’ reads one entry) is now a private dining-cum-board-room and contains the original ship’s wheel. On the top deck, beyond the thick granite bar, the Art Deco-style restaurant has a glittering, beaten-copper ceiling that looks like water. And then there’s the glass walkway leading to the engine room and the state-of-the-art galley where once there were fuel tanks.

Once the accommodations on Fingal consisted of 40 cramped cabins: single ones for officers and double cabins for crew. The only en-suite was the master’s, who also had a separate dayroom and bedroom. Instead there are now 23 double, en-suite cabins, all named after Stevenson lighthouses (which were designed and built in the 19th century by the eponymous Scottish engineer).

Each cabin has an individual and original, bespoke leather headboard of a seascape — designed by Araminta Campbell, a Leith weaver, about whom more later — with the contours of the marinescape stitched into the leather around the relevant lighthouse: ours the sea contour around Hyskeir. One of Campbell’s plaid throws — also telling the story of land and sea — lies on the bed. A compass is embroidered into the suede above the bed.

The furniture is fixed, with no sharp corners. There’s a replica of a radio operator’s swivel chair (the original was bagged by HRH the Princess Royal). The cabinetry (think leather-faced wardrobe and minibar) is exquisite. Even the bathroom boasts brass light-fittings and wheel-handled taps, the sort of ship’s paraphernalia found in a chandlery.

Enough of the design, brilliant though it is. The real reason we’re here is for a short break in Edinburgh, one of our favourite cities. This starts (for us) with the joy of eating. This is lucky because instead of Fingal being used for relieving light-keepers, servicing of lighthouses and buoys, and landing of cargo, she too has retired to a life of pleasure. Or, at least, to offering a life of pleasure. And so to afternoon tea in the officers’ dining saloon — or is it the messroom? — aka the onboard restaurant. If we’re expecting scones and cream, we’re in for a surprise.

Yes, there are mixed fruit buttermilk scones with fresh clotted cream. But there’s also curried haddock arancini (think Sicily meets Delhi meets North Atlantic Ocean), Stornaway black pudding cartwheels and cream of white bean soup, alongside Earl Grey with Scottish Heather tea. Plus gluten-free millionaire’s shortbread, poppy seed and vanilla macaroons, and sandwiches, including smoked salmon ones. (Tea is £40 per head).

They smoke their own salmon aboard and use local suppliers, including a forager. Later at dinner, the ‘small’ plates are pleasingly big and simple ones, of hot oak salmon (och, aye, more) and a chocolate mousse with gold leaf. Instead of an engineer taking time off from effecting repairs to the deck crane’s hydraulics to have a cuppa, we’re served by a waitress. How times have changed.

Leisure time on board can be spent reading, lolling in whisky and soda scented bath gel-suffused waters (bag a cabin with a tub, some have only a shower) or wandering around the outdoor deck space. When we decide to jump ship, we find ourselves on the unattractive Ocean Drive near the Ocean Terminal Shopping Mall or it’s 10 minutes by taxi to the centre of town.

We visit some of the city’s obvious must-sees: Holyroodhouse, Arthur’s Seat (with its panoramic view), Old Town, the Castle, the National Gallery and (the small but perfectly formed) National Portrait Gallery. Then we hop aboard Britannia (home to Her Maj’s single bed) which is managed as a tourist attraction by Royal Yacht Enterprises, the company that owns Fingal. But there are also lesser-known delights. The Writers’ Museum — which presents the lives of the three foremost Scottish writers, Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson — to Water of Leith, a 12-mile riverside walk through the heart of the city.

Soon it’s time for shopping. Araminta Campbell’s waterfront studio (by appointment only) is nanoseconds away from Fingal. Campbell draws her inspiration from the Scottish landscape, and her signature collection comprises one-off artworks, any weaving done on hand looms. She uses undyed British alpaca fleeces from animals whose names she knows. Her pieces are covetable but they’re not bargains — a blanket is £6000 and shawl, £1500. And who can resist a visit to W. E. Scott & Son for sporrans and Highland belts?

So back to the ship. Fingal used to negotiate the tricky tidal narrows beneath the Skye Bridge. At other times, the Chief Officer would con her through the Summer Isles on the approaches to Loch Broom and Ullapool. Or guide her through the waters to examine a beacon off Elie harbour. She also accompanied the Royal Yacht Britannia in Scottish waters during official royal visits. This is all no more. But with entry level cabins at £300 and the Skerryvore Suite at £1500 a night, Fingal provides a boutique (or should that be boatique?) hotel with a difference: one that offers ocean luxury in a dock.

Further Inforamtion

For further information and to make a booking, visit www.fingal.co.uk.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

A Breath of Fresh Ischia At Mezzatorre Hotel & Thermal Spa By Emma Oxley

Scents of jasmine and thyme, sundry blues of sea and sky, the coral tones of the torre basking in the sunlight and a sip of Campari spritz. A snap of the sensual moments at Mezzatorre, on the enchanted isle of Ischia.

Here is health and healing, with a hint of hedonism. Mezzatorre has its own fountainhead of therapeutic thermal water, springing up through volcanic rocks straight into its balneotherapy centre, overlooking the Gulf of Napoli. As of hedonism, it has it in spades.

Respiratory benefits are not the only fresh breath of air. The Pellicano Group has revived and revitalised The Mezzatorre Hotel & Thermal Spa, sharing all the Pellicano personality and understated glamour (sister hotels are Il Pellicano in Porto Ercole, and the Rome retreat, Posta Vecchia). Ischia’s 50s heyday chic is a perfect fit with Il Pellicano style, the one eagerly captured by photographer Slim Aarons, the other firmly in the lens of film director, Luchino Visconti, who found his nirvana in the Mezzatorre park. His home, La Colombaia, sits just above the hotel’s cottages.

Truman Capote came to write here and found it a ‘‘strangely enchanted place,’’ which it is. As dappled sunlight falls between the pine trees onto the cool paths, and the Ischian sun splashes off the azure seas, you can imagine losing yourself in Mezzatorre.

The hotel is stylish with aristocratic restraint. Just as it is for sister Il Pellicano hotel, the real beauty is outside. Confident of this, the bedrooms are designed with neutral calm, and finished with eye-catching detail. This is typical of the work of the Italian tastemaker, Marie-Louise Sciò, daughter of the Pellicano hotelier family, and their appointed creative director.

Rooms in the tower have giddy views over Mezzatorre’s sparkling private cove. Guest rooms dotted throughout shaded paths in the park are full of the mysterious allure of this seductive isle. As you pass through the park, you can almost hear the laughter and footsteps of the creative spirits on their way between the bay and Visconti’s house.

Before the 50s, and Elizabeth Taylor’s love affair with Richard Burton while filming here, and long before Jude Law scootered through the back streets on his macabre destiny with Mr. Ripley, Ischia had a long and ancient history. The island was the first port of call in Italy for the Greeks, who brought vines, wines, and mythology. Zeus imprisoned the fire-breathing giant Tifeo beneath Ischia where he vents his anger, hence the hot thermal waters. The Romans followed, and built public baths to harness the steaming tears of Tifeo (Tyton, as they called him). Pliny and Virgil both acclaimed the healing waters, and so it has continued for 2000 years as natural spa aficionados seek out Ischia.

At Mezzatorre’s thermal spa, you journey through six heat and hydro experiences. Begin with a soak in thermal waters, that spring from the earth at a warm 38 degrees to ease aches and arthritic ailments. You lie on stone beds submerged in the water, meditating on the blue sea, as torrid bubbles pummel your body. There is a seawater pool which is specifically beneficial for respiratory ailments and tackling cellulite; I imagined this would be the one everyone would jump into, if all it takes is a warm soak to relieve you of a few spare inches! There is of course a sauna and steam room, and you finish with the Kneipp pool, walking over stones through hot and cold water alternately, invigorating your circulation.

Treatments include mud baths and seaweed wraps, and some magical pressure therapy, whereby you put on a pair of techno-trousers that compress and massage, but look alarmingly like Wallace and Gromit’s wrong trousers! The idea is to squeeze out the cellulite without you having to stop eating Mezzatorre’s food, or drinking all that delicious Ischian wine. There is an onsite doctor offering a comprehensive health consultation, prescribing treatments, diets and detoxes – this is a luxurious place to undergo the rigours of serious body therapy.

The food is naturally delicious, the catch of the day is bounteous, pasta is perfected. Chef Guiseppe comes from Ischia, and knowing every farmer on the island, snaps up all the freshest produce. Lucca at front of house is charm personified and a poet of culinary techniques; everything sounds interesting and irresistible. Wine pairings come from all over Italy – begin with Ischia’s Biancolella, redolent with citrus and sage.

Work it all off with a splash across the bay, which is almost a mirror image of Il Pellicano’s chic bay in Porto Ercole. A painted esplanade sits above the rocks where staff tend to your every whim. If you are more tender of nature, the saltwater pool is heated to a comforting 30 degrees. Then it’s back to the spa, this time through a door labelled ‘‘Beauty.’’ I gave myself up to an 80 minute Santa Maria Novella face treatment, praying the Florence pharmacy would take a decade off my features. I emerged, they assured me, more beautiful, but everything is relative. It was a pleasurable experience for sure and you felt you were in the hands of people committed to their profession. The loveliest place for a spa treatment, however, was their ‘‘pensatorre’’ – this is pure scenic rejuvenation, in the sunlight, and below you is the glistening blue San Montano Bay.

Apart from thermal spas, Ischia’s star attraction is the Aragonese Castle, and for some La Mortella garden which is a five minute drive from Mezzatorre. This was the home of English composer Sir William Walton and his Argentinian wife, Susana, who was evidently passionate about tropical flowers. They had a glitzy set of friends and you walk along a narrow zig zag of ascending paths in the footsteps of Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Maria Callas. Throughout the summer, La Mortella stages al fresco concerts against the fabulous backdrop of the Forio’s bay.

Staying at Mezzatorre is a sociable affair. Attentive staff set a relaxed atmosphere with their good humour and a familiarity with the property. Many were brought up on Ischia and the Mezzatorre is very much part of the island’s legend. Meanwhile, guests are united by admiration of the view and a knowledge that you have discovered somewhere special, near Naples and Capri, but an entirely other world. It is easy to take a seat on one of their piazzettas, order a refreshment and strike up a conversation with the next table, but of course it can also be private.

Strolling along the paths for an evening rendezvous, I catch the heady scent of jasmine in the shrubs that fringe the steps, then a hint of thyme on my arms from the bathroom lotions. This is the delicious fragrance of Mezzatorre – inhale Ischia!

Escape To The Park In New Delhi By Caroline Phillips

‘Do not spit here’ and ‘Carrying tobacco products is prohibited,’ read the signs. This is the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib temple, New Delhi, India; a peaceful Sikh temple with acres of white marble and a gigantic holy bathing pool. Originally it was a bungalow for an important military leader of Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. It’s as close to my hotel as, say, just 100 turbans rolled out end to end: call it half a mile. But let’s rewind. I’m staying in a hotel known for being Anything But Ordinary. There’s coconut juice, candies, comics and Wi-Fi in the hotel transfer car from Delhi airport. A welcome in the lobby by a sari-clad lady — with a dish of red powder on a rose-petal strewn copper tray — who places a marigold garland on me and a decorative Hindu bindi mark on my forehead. A lift with clouds on its walls and mirror on its ceiling: sort of Alice in New Delhi Wonderland.

Then a cool suite with a vibrant burnt-orange rug, pink glass-topped coffee table and original contemporary artwork of a scrap-iron Tree of Life — good taste that’s muted-funky, courtesy of Conran and Partners. Plus there’s a view so lofty that it’s worthy of an Indian deity: it’s of Jantar Mantar, the 18th century astronomical observatory with gigantic equinoctial sundial and other ginormous scientific instruments, in the park below. I’m staying at THE PARK hotel, New Delhi.

After breakfast of Masala Dosa (a South Indian rice and lentil pancake), I feel the urgent call for some jetlag busting: think massage and facial in the hotel’s Aura spa with its trough of floating marigolds, watery green walls, slate and teak….plus views over Lutyens’ Raj-era Delhi. A bare-foot therapist called Baby loosens my stiff joints with warm essential oils of sandalwood, rose and saffron, leaving me as supple as Shiva — the Hindu god who’s, inter alia, the master of dance.

It’s time then for a cram-in-everything-I-can-in–what’s-left-of-my-three-days jaunt: sightseeing, shopping, and eating. There’s no need really to go anywhere, or certainly not far: after all, THE PARK is located at the heart of New Delhi’s business and entertainment district. There is, in fact, no need to roam further than the 5-star hotel’s back garden — where there’s a small, weekly organic market: Delhi’s only farmers’ market. It’s a go-to place for ardent foodies, tourists wanting to pick up unusual gifts and natural-health seekers. Stall-holders chat about the health-giving properties of fermented black carrot and mustard seed, Moringa powder supplements — an antioxidant from the drumstick tree — and the anti-inflammatory, turmeric. It’s also somewhere to hit for food festivals and celebrations of local ingredients. Add to this my discovering a spicy Indian vegetable-pickling recipe there and having the chance to snack on an idlee (rice and lentil cake) whilst shopping, and it’s an experience that no foodie who knows her garam masala from her tikka masala would want to miss.

Next, I decide to venture further afield. Well, just a few steps behind the hotel. Here I visit the Hanuman temple, an ancient Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman. (He is also known as the Lord of Celibacy and is one of the central characters in the Indian epic, Ramayana). Here, like all visitors, I’m required to take off my socks. Afterwards, an auspicious vermillion dot, Tika, is dabbed on my forehead by a priest. Then I join the barefooted folk in a temple full of incense, pungent jasmine garlands, tinkling temple bells and monkeys frolicking nearby.

Assorted cloths (image courtesy of Annie Spratt)

On a less spiritual note, the hotel is also seconds away from the stalls of Janpath Market with its wooden tribal artefacts, fuchsia saris, embroidered Rajisthani bags and silver trinkets. And moments from Connaught Circus with its colonnaded Georgian-style buildings, vintage cinemas and Oxford Bookstore — the last with its buzzy cha bar and good selection of books, including Indian art and architecture. These sights are all so close to the hotel that it’s tempting not to leave the immediate vicinity. But leave I do. After all, I never miss a trip to Shaw Brothers by Mifi & Mubi (in Defence Colony, about five miles from the hotel) for cashmere and silk shawls and pashminas sold in the colours of several rainbows and more — and costing thousands of pounds down to ones for tens of pounds. I go every time I’m in Delhi to this shop that was established in 1840.

Indian Accent at The Lodhi (image courtesy of Rohit Chawla)

I can’t miss a meal at Indian Accent at The Lodhi either — even though it has branches in London and New York too. This one is ten minutes by car from my hotel. Indian Accent boasts an inventive menu created by chef Manish Mehrotra, using local (often organic) and global ingredients. The six-course tasting menu (circa £40 for a vegetarian or non-veg option; mine’s the former) is the stuff of Indian gastro dreams.

Dal Moradabadi, and Butter Baked Scallops, Saffron Cream Cauliflower and Sago Crisp (images courtesy of Rohit Chawla)

I’m served a sublime dosa amuse bouche, potato chilla — like gratin dauphinoise but subtly infused with fenugreek and ‘painted’ with smoked eggplant curry — and Kashmiri morel with lotus roots scattered on the side like teeny cartwheels (but nothing’s twee or pretentious). Oh, and the anar (pomegranate) and churan (herbal powder) kulfi (sorbet) is a mouth-fizzling, salty/sweet digestive that sends me to paradise. Plus every plate is a pretty as an Indian miniature and as delicious as any Mughal emperor’s feast.

What are the other highlights? My driver negotiating the thicker-than-dense traffic and missing the Kamikaze rickshaw drivers by centimetres (note to self: start believing in reincarnation). There’s my visit to Lutyen’s New Delhi (named after the early 20th century British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens who was responsible for much of the architectural design and building during the period of the British Raj, when India was part of the British Empire); driving past the colonnaded buildings of Connaught Place, the circular Parliament House and India Gate (the war memorial arch); and seeing holy cows sitting in the middle of the road.

India Gate (image courtesy of Annie Spratt)

There’s my trip through Old Delhi with the rickshaw driver cycling past the mid 17th century sandstone Red Fort — built by Emperor Shah Jahan — standing majestic and castellated against the blue sky; and the driver then pedalling through the spice market with its mounds of curry, chillies and ginger. “My rickshaw is like BMW with natural air conditioning, no?” he asks, squeezing his vehicle between buses, tooting motors and the human throng. He continues, oblivious of his perilous driving, past dentists and local doctors plying their trade on the pavement. On we venture to the bird market with its twittering merchandise in bamboo cages, and through the Meena Bazaar with its tools and hardware. Next we wend our way to narrow lanes of silversmiths and other alleys where merchants sell ribbons embroidered with gold thread and mirror work. Then on he pedals to yet another alleyway in which vendors are wholesaling fluorescent artificial flower garlands for temples and weddings.

It’s a relief after meeting most of the population of India in the alleyways of Old Delhi to chill again at THE PARK. This time I’m in Fire, its contemporary Indian restaurant with a curved bronze wall, strings of glass bead window dressings and its wall of roaring fire (of LEDs and Perspex) separating the restaurant from the bar. It’s an award-winning modern Indian restaurant that offers food that’s seasonal, diverse and 80 per cent organic. Plus it focuses on environmentally-conscious produce, and on farmers and artisans who practise sustainable methods and traditional food-manufacturing techniques: all the pioneering vision of the hotel group’s chairperson, Priya Paul.

My meal at Fire is like an Indian grandma’s home-cooked food but with a twist. As I eat a traditional thali — little bowls of Indian specialities — my dining partner, Sarah, tells me a little bit about the restaurant. This dish, she says, is methi — a seasonal green — with fenugreek for cleansing the blood; that one is paneer with pickled onions; and the other, a Keralan fish curry made with Bekkti fish. “During the Rice Festival at our farmers’ market,” she says, “the chef worked with 40 different kinds of rice.”

Then Sarah tells me about the cheese. I know about that Italian (Puglian, to be specific) speciality of double-cream mozzarella di bufala and stracciatella, known as burrata. But it has been reimagined here at THE PARK. Who would have thought that one Father Michael, a Catholic priest from Bengaluru (Bangalore), would make their delicious Indian buffalo burrata?

Anything But Ordinary, again, I guess.

Further Information

THE PARK NEW DELHI
For reservations, e-mail: resv.del@theparkhotels.com, or visit www.theparkhotels.com. Suites start at £149 plus 28% taxes per night.

CAROLINE PHILLIPS
Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Escape To Saline Reef In St Lucia – A Villa With Wow! By Emma Oxley

Because my husband insisted on navigating with his smartphone, we ricocheted around St Lucia’s high class Cap Estate, rolling into villas that looked less than the luxury we anticipated, until he eventually referred to the easy to follow instructions provided, and we found Saline Reef. Walking through the door all irritation evaporated in a puff of wow! This villa is knockout. Double height white walls open onto vast views of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, at the northern most tip of St Lucia.

All is surrounded by a gorgeously designed garden, brimming with bougainvillea, mimosa and bird of paradise flowers. Tall palms rocket into the sky; ferns and foliage make a lush fringe. A two-tiered pool shimmers in the brilliant sunlight and hummingbirds dance freely.

Two spacious, airy bedrooms have terraces hanging over the cliff top, with one more nicely designed double room. The terraces were my favourite spot – you can lie on deeply cushioned rattan and listen to the waves rush up the rocks 20 metres below, gently fanned by palm fronds around the balustrades. In the morning, sun sploshes on your feet; in the afternoon, it tans your shoulders. In the evening, it makes a spectacular show on the horizon.

The villa is fully staffed; Oliver is the gardener, Alfie the ebullient handyman with a smile as bright as the sun, and Angel is keeper of the house. Luxury accessories include pristine white waffle dressing gowns, guest slippers, rich body lotions, fresh flowers in the bedrooms, plush bathroom towels, pool towels and beach towels. All is deeply, deeply comfortable, like a first class hotel, beds stretched and crisply cornered at some discreet moment, the house immaculate. James Bond posters line the corridors. It really has claim to that style, but with no excessive flash.

Hard decisions were made every day. Where to have sundowners? Maybe in the gardens on the loungers, seated on soft manicured grass. On the verandah in a cushty rocking chair. On a recliner by the stylishly lit pools. Unless you turned your head to a wall, everywhere in the villa had magnificent tropical sea views. Drinks were usually a delicious punch, with Caribbean rum, mixed with a little more fruit juice than rum, a dash of angostura bitters, splash of grenadine, slice of citrus, lashings of crushed ice dispensed from the fridge and stirred.

Most mornings, we made small safaris to nearby beaches along the north west tip. A ten minute walk beneath Saline Reef is the BodyHoliday’s beach; it is a public beach, though prinked and perfected for the upmarket clientele. There is excellent waterskiing and good snorkelling on shallow reefs with plenty of fish to follow. A ten minute drive away is Pigeon Island, where you can pay to go into this park to hear about St Lucia’s history, but we were here for the Vitamin D and sea, so we flaked out on the adjacent stretch of soft white sand.

Our favourite beach was Smugglers Cove, a five minute drive from Saline Reef and 92 steps down to the sand. There was good snorkelling on both sides of this intimate bay, not colourful coral, but plenty of interesting fish. We whizzed down for a morning refresher, then back up for breakfast of fresh fruit, and Lavazza that we’d brought from London. Hummingbirds, Antillean Bullfinch and singing Carib Grackles flitted about, picking up crumbs from the table, or the more bold from our hands.

Angel will shop for you and prepare lunch, laying out salads, hams and cheese. Her rum punches are often noted in the guest book – after one, we had a lie down and all of us lost two hours of our day. Angel will also prepare dinner, leaving it for you to warm up later, perhaps a curry, or she will marinate some fish for the Werber barbecue, caught fresh and delivered by Captain Duke.

The BBQ terrace lit by storm lanterns is deliciously escapist, the vast seas are silvery in the moonlight, and the sound of crashing waves adds vitality. After dinner, sit back for some star gazing.

There are a variety of spots nearby to dine out. The Naked Fisherman on Smugglers Cove is fabulously placed, and we had a sea food dinner with the sand beneath our toes, listening to chilled Caribbean tunes. Above is the more sophisticated restaurant at Cap Maison; take a seat on the terrace and you can see your glamorous home at Saline Reef. Rodney Bay is lively, with streets of eateries. On Friday night, we went to the Gros Islet ‘‘Jump Up,’’ when the streets come alive with pop-up bars, music and barbecues. Their most famous place to eat is at Duke’s by the sea shore – queue up for a box of delicious grilled fish, rice and tossed salad. Or pick up a dish just as good in the next street from somewhere a little less well-known.

Afternoons were spent on one or other of the beaches, or playing backgammon by the pool, legs swishing through the water. My husband raved about the golf lesson at the St Lucia Golf Club next door. We nearly ordered in the villa’s beautician for a pedicure and massage, but really it seemed a shame to squander any spare time sunning and swimming.

Our experience at Saline Reef was all blue sea, sandy beaches, and indolent afternoons but on the trip to and from the airport, we took time to explore St Lucia’s lush green rain forest areas. Driving to Soufriere, we admired the magnificent beauty of the Pitons. These two defunct volcanoes stand in proud outline above the west coast, now a UNESCO site. You can climb Piton Gros, which takes about two hours up and an hour down, while Piton Petit is a much more challenging hike. The road snakes through the rain forest, fringed by impressively large palm fronds. We stopped off at the Fond Doux Estate for a guided walk through the plantation and gardens. The guide showed us their cocoa beans drying on vast tray drawers, cinnamon trees, glorious colourful crab claw plants, nutmeg with red mace laced around the nut and the Sour Sop tree, the leaves of which make tea that apparently sends you off to sleep instantly.

There are bungalows in the gardens and swimming pools, and it looked like a delightful place to stay if you want to immerse yourself in St Lucia’s tropical greenery. On the east coast, we visited the Tree Tops adventure park, where they were charging 85 USD for a zip wire, but a walk through the rain forest bursting with tropical growth was fascinating and free. The renowned Latille Waterfall was a little short of excitement, perhaps just 10 metres high, with a murky pool you’re invited to dip in. We did so briefly, but imagined boa constrictors lurking below! There is also a pool to drop your feet in for a ‘‘piranha pedicure.’’

Time came too soon for our final evening cocktails at Saline Reef. We chose to sit on our turret terrace. I loved this rare situation; it felt like the foredeck of a yacht, sailing off-shore in the wide ocean, the sea so large, the waves hushing below. The horizon seemed to fall away ten miles distant – without knowing better, you could imagine it being the end of the world. The breadth of our view, where the Caribbean merged with the Atlantic Ocean, must have been 30 miles. Fregate birds glided above, white tufts shifted on the inky sea surface. I searched for the flip of a whale’s tail, which have been spotted, and watched yachts race home on a broad reach. As the sun balled up red, it dripped out of the clouds like a pear drop, swelling slightly on the sea and slipped behind the horizon. The sky turned all sorts of colours, and we toasted it with rum cocktails.

My lasting memories are of blue seas, white surf on the rocks below, starry skies, tropical flowers, exquisite hummingbirds, rhythmic songs of crickets and cicadas, fragrant jasmine and a breeze in the palms. Staying at Saline Reef, you feel touched by every element. It is a first class view of St Lucia’s natural beauty in a first class villa.

Book a stay at Saline Reef through www.tropicalvillas.net, or e-mail reservations@tropicalvillas.net.

Diving Into Bahrain’s Past By Ramy Salameh

Bahrain National Museum – Model of Old Dhow Boat

Vintage sepia photographs, part of a permanent display dedicated to the history of pearl diving at the Bahrain National Museum, was an ideal starting point to understand this cultural heritage. Displays give an insight into the design of the timber Dhows, the basic dive equipment used and of course, the men who crewed the boats for months at a time. The few grainy images available, show every muscular sinew visible across the diver’s torso, created from a life below the waves, and based on a diet of fish, dates and rice.

Standing aboard a small motorised yacht, squeezed into dive suits, surrounded by all the modern paraphernalia of seafaring, ready to head out in search of pearls, was some way off the experiences of the original Bahraini Pearl Divers; even if one only stepped back to the early 20th Century, comparatively recent history, for an industry that can be traced back 4,000 years.

However, where our two worlds collided, was the frisson of excitement created, when diving for and ultimately opening an oyster shell in pursuit of this most coveted and lustrous gem, a feeling which cannot have changed across millennia. Similarly, the symbolism of owning a ‘‘natural pearl’’ formed part of the magnetic pull to the oceans, for all those involved.

Ready To Dive

In earlier times, Bahrain served as the centre of the world’s pearling trade, and Bahrainis have been diving for pearls for thousands of years. It was a main industry here, right up until the 1930s when the discovery of oil and the arrival of the ‘‘cultured pearl’’ from Japan, combined to consign this unique tradition to a bygone time.

Today, pearl diving forms a key part of the Island Kingdom’s cultural identity, and a means for visitors to delve into Bahrain’s heritage, both off-shore and along the ‘‘pearling trail;’’ the collection of sites, in the former capital of Muharraq, was inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list in 2012. The narrow alleyways of white-washed facades, and heavy-set carved wooden doors, serve as a portal linking this rich heritage with a new cultural future.

Pearling Trail Along The Narrow Alleyways of Muharraq Old Capital of Bahrain

The majestic Dhow boats would have left the coastline to some fanfare, with the crews singing Bahraini folkloric songs led by the chants of the ‘‘Nahkam,’’ following the regular beat of the drum, an instrument still prevalent in the music of Bahrain to this day.

We set out from Bahrain Yacht Club’s marina, following a specific curved channel to avoid the reefs and shallow water, to an area south of the Amwaj Islands. A strong breeze created a lively surf, which crashed into the hull of the boat throwing up salty spray. The name ‘‘Bahrain’’ derives from two Arabic words – thnain Bahr, meaning ‘‘two seas’’ – which refers to the existence of fresh water springs located under the sea bed. This phenomenon is believed to be responsible for the unusual lustre of Bahraini pearls. After a 15-minute journey, covering 8km, our pearl diving guide, Ahmed El Helaly, motioned for the boat engines to be put in neutral, as he peered into the water, before indicating we were at the location. The anchor was dropped, engines switched off and the lapping of the water against the hull was the only audible sound. In former times, Ahmed would have been known as the ‘‘Nokhatha’’ or captain, who earned his position by his expertise at finding the best pearling banks, called ‘‘hayrat.’’

Ahmed El Helaly Explaining How Oyster Pearls Form

With the winds picking up, our Captain quickly put his flippers, tank, mask and weight band on. He slipped a yellow net-bag under his belt before arching back and falling into the water. As we waited for the diver to resurface, thoughts returned to the national museum, showcasing the original equipment used by his predecessors. Dive suits would have been replaced with a cotton sarong-style cloth, the mask with a ‘‘fetatn’’ nose clip, gloves with ‘‘khabat’’ finger mounts, to protect against sharp coral and then stones were tied to the waist. Finally the ‘‘dayyeen,’’ a net basket, strung from the neck, would have signified the diver was prepared and ready to go.

Some minutes later, our Nokhatha appeared from the depths, his net peppered with a handful of oysters. Back on board, he explained how the pearls are created: “natural pearls form when an anti-body, some form of parasite, manages to work its way into the oyster’s hard shell,” he said, holding the freshly collected oyster up to the sunlight. “Like our own bodies, a defence mechanism kicks in and the oyster secretes a fluid that is used to coat the irritant, called ‘nacre;’ the continual layering of this coating gradually forms the orb-like pearl in the shell” he continued.

Entering The Water

With our turn imminent, we all prepared masks, snorkels and weight belts. Gingerly, we entered the water, and our Nokhatha now became our dive guide, leading us to the seabed; in former times, the diver was known as the ‘‘gais,’’ but his life depended on the ‘‘saib,’’ his rope-tender, who was responsible for pulling the diver to the surface at the right moment and quickly enough to prevent drowning. The gais would dive around 8 times in 15 minutes, in depths of 9-12m, from dawn until dusk.

With visibility near to zero and after just two attempts, it was decided to leave our Nokhatha and his breathing apparatus to collect the majority of the molluscs.

Ahmed Returns To Boat With Oysters

The strong current played a game of tug-of-war with our limbs, but once back on board, we traced the location of Ahmed from the bubbles piercing the surface at regular intervals; after 20 minutes below the surface he returned to the boat, with a net full of oysters. “This is where the hard work really starts,” he stated, pouring several kilos of shells onto the deck, before handing each of us our own oyster-opening knife.

“Find the softer, muscular edge of the oyster, wiggle the knife until it enters the shell and then start to prise it open,” Ahmed explained, easily flicking shell after shell open, as we sat around his haul. The process took some time, but gradually the group was in the swing of it. “Make sure you search the shell with knife and fingers; the muscular tissue inside can hide the smaller pearls,” he continued.

Learning To Prise And Search For Pearls

After 40-minutes of prising and searching, no-one had found that illusive pearl, but we had at least followed in the footsteps of the ‘‘ghawwas’’ (divers). Before returning to our hotel, we continued to retrace Bahrain’s famous pearling trail on Muharraq Island. It encompasses 17 listed buildings, including a fortress, residences of wealthy merchants, shops, storehouses and a mosque.

The aptly named Merchant House, the new Campbell-Gray boutique hotel, was our home in the city. The concierge had arranged our dive trip, but as they had intimated our best chance of finding pearls, was moments away from the hotel within the Manama Souk’s warren of alleyways. But for us it was about the journey and our opportunity to dive into a unique Bahraini legacy!

Manama Souk

Further Information

Ramy Salameh stayed at The Merchant House Hotel. Rates start from 119 BHD (approx. £240) per room per night including breakfast. For more information, go to www.campbellgrayhotels.com.

Flights were provided by Gulf Air – for further information, visit www.gulfair.com.

To go on a pearl diving adventure of your own, visit www.scubalife.bh.

For city tours, visit www.tejwalbahrain.com.

Escape To Somatheeram Ayurveda Village In Kerala By Caroline Phillips

There’s a Chinese lady sitting at lunch slavered in a red face pack. Fabric is wound around her crown, like bandages, and she’s wearing a green overall and sipping fresh pineapple juice. Nearby a Russian man wanders around the garden sporting banana, egg white and mango painted on his face. He has also just enjoyed a Thalapothichil treatment, in which the head is covered with herbal paste and topped off with a lotus leaf — a procedure that’s said to be good for depression and stress.

I’m at the Somatheeram Ayurveda Village — India’s first Ayurvedic hospital in a resort setting. Opened 35 years ago, it boasts more awards than I’ve had hot curries (a lot, in other words). It’s situated in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, above a golden beach that extends to eternity and beyond — and where groups of fishermen gather to untangle their Himalayan-size fishing nets.

The luxury at Somatheeram comes not from swanky accommodation: the cottages and rooms are simple although there are must-have antiques around the resort, such as stone Indian goddesses and ancient cauldrons once used for mixing Ayurvedic concoctions. The real luxury it offers, though, is its first-rate Ayurvedic hospital, 15 Ayurvedic doctors (mine, Dr. K. Chandrasekharan Nair, is excellent) and 71 experienced therapists in a resort setting.

In other words, it’s for those who like their Ayurveda with a bit of buzz. For people who want more than just yoga, meditation and treatments: who want OM plus something a little more happening. And who don’t want the traditional approach to Ayurveda which discourages strenuous exercise and spending time in the sun during the course of treatments. This means that Somatheeram works as well for families and for those just wanting to chill, as for those wishing simply to focus on treatments.

The retreat is perched on a verdant hill dotted with coconut palms — the sweet, tender fruit from the trees providing post-treatment drinks for guests. It’s a wheelchair ramp or 60 steps from the bottom of the hill (and my cottage) to the hospital’s therapy rooms: a walk that meanders through 15 acres of garden with medicinal herbs and mango, jackfruit and tamarind trees, with the sea breeze on my face, and the sound of hymns coming from the beachside church below and mingling in the balmy air with the caw caw of crows.

Time now to go up to the Ayurvedic hospital. It’s here that therapists wear hairnets and face masks (disposable ones for hygiene purposes, rather than for beautifying their complexions). A lady in a white overall and with a plait to her waist, Dr. Reshma Venu, the ‘medical officer,’ leads me to a consultation room.

She gives me a 17-page booklet to fill in – encompassing questions on my sex life, eating habits to whether I’m happily married and how long I’ve practised yoga. ‘Is your stress related to personal life, marriage or other?’ it asks. ‘Are you an optimist or pessimist?’ ‘Do you speak softly/ normal/ loudly?’ All this helps the doctors identify my dosha, or body type. “A doctor will diagnose a patient’s constitution by everything from the way she walks, talks, her behaviour and by taking her pulse,” Dr. Venu reveals.

The big chief medical doctor, Dr. K. Chandrasekharan Nair, comes in. Age 71, he has been an Ayurvedic doctor for 50 years. A man with a kind face, he wears sapphire and peridot rings. He explains Ayurveda to me. It means, he says, science of life. The theory is that the living and non-living are made of air, space, water, fire and earth — present in the body and mind in Vatha, Pitha and Kapha: the three bio energies.

“Vatha is air and space, and it helps with internal and external movement — from running to the beating of the heart or going to the lavatory,” says Dr. Nair. “Pitha is fire….digestion is its main function, plus hormones and body temperature. Kapha is water and earth….and helps with growth, development and immunity and frame of body and structure. Someone’s constitution or basic nature never changes.” He offers a very detailed and attentive consultation and then decides on my individualised treatment plan to get my doshas into balance.

There are all sorts of treatments available. From Abhyangam — a synchronised medicated oil massage with two therapists, and good for skin and circulation — to Kizhi pouch message with medicinal herbs or rice, and milk or medicated powder, and good for pain and joint stiffness of joints. From Kativasthi — in which the therapists pour warm oil onto the crown in a ring made of black gram powder paste, good for spinal and neck pain, to a Pizhichil medicated oil bath and Sirovasthy in which oil is poured onto the crown through a leather funnel to relax the mind. Not to forget Karnapooram – ear fumigation using anti-bacterial smoke from medicated herbs, and also Akshitarpanam – an eye treatment good for helping vision.

My favourite therapy is the foot massage, a deep tissue massage in which I lie on the floor while Prasanna hangs expertly over me, holding onto a rope and massaging me with a foot so adept it should be playing the piano. The dry powder massage — in which I’m scrubbed and massaged with handfuls of hot herbs like fine sand — is a dead cert for getting rid of cellulite and for sending me to the land of bliss. My all-out fave, though, is Shirodhara – in which warm oil in a pot dangled above my head is gently moved back and forth by the therapist, the oil dribbling hypnotically onto my forehead.

It would be possible to spend a month or two or three doing little other than having great treatments here. (Top tip: bag therapists Prasanna and Swathy D.). But most guests go for a week to 21 days, and reap benefits. Is there anything I don’t like? Hmmm. Nasyam, perhaps, in which oil in dripped into the nostrils with a gokarna pot….but it’s good for the sinuses. And the consultation timings are sometimes a bit off: but this is India, not Switzerland.

And what of the accommodation and facilities? There are 80 thatched Keralan cottages and bedrooms at Somatheeram — built of mud and bricks, with reed ceilings, fans or air-conditioning (the chilliness of air conditioning is not recommended during a course of Ayurveda) and beds swathed with mozzie-net canopies. (Insider tip: book a sea-view cottage).

There’s a swimming pool that overlooks the Arabian Sea. Plus an al fresco performance space for everything from Kathakali classical dance performances — the dance troupe boasting ankle bracelets and adept hand movements — to sitar recitals during dinner.

There’s also a yoga shala with its sides open to the ocean — for asanas (postures) practised to the sound of crashing waves — and another yoga hall atop the hill, this one with pictures of chakras and charts explaining astral bodies and a meditative flame flickering in a brass temple candle holder. It’s here that I join daily group meditation and excellent yoga, and also have private lessons with the super flexible, beautiful and very inspiring Jinu JR, a lady with a smile the size of the sun, clad all in white and able to bend seemingly beyond the body’s limits.

That’s enough of the OM factor then. Let’s talk retail therapy. Well, there are three little shops: jewellery stores flogging yellow topaz, Burmese rubies, diamonds (with certification) and ones selling (real) pashminas of teal, lavender and mustard colours. And a naturopathic pharmacy with everything from ‘hair drop-out cream’ to Masala tea and herbal powder.

When I’m not lying on my back having treatments, mostly I’m eating. There’s a big buffet for every meal — one of those ones that takes around five minutes to walk end-to-end while gawping — with dishes marked according to the dosha for which it’s good; or it’s possible to order individualised dishes a la carte, although that can involve a 30-minute wait. There’s also an Ayurveda dietician sitting in the dining hall to guide guests on what to eat.

Breakfast is everything from bread rolls and omelette to tropical fruits and iddli (fluffy steamed rice cakes), appam (rice hoppers leavened with fermented palm sap and served with vegetable stew). All washed down with Ayurvedic teas or fresh ginger, lime and honey. Lunch or dinner might be a thali (a range of south Indian vegetarian dishes), vegetable soup made of herbal leaves, beetroot soup, onion throran (onion fried with grated coconut), black dal, lemon rice and curries such as pavacka thoran or bitter gourd with coconut sauce.

The food is 90% organic, and there’s no alcohol permitted and no tobacco. There are sometimes naughty Italians to be found standing outside smoking by gate. But who am I to judge while I’m wandering around wearing egg white and sandalwood powder on my face?

Further Information

For further information about treatments, and to make a booking, visit www.somatheeram.in.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

The Fife Arms – A Victorian Gem In The Heart of The Highlands By The Luxury Channel

The Fife Arms has reopened its doors, following a complete restoration project which has brought back the splendour of the former Victorian coaching inn and will once again establish it as a hotel for the Scottish highlands. Within the magnificent Cairngorms National Park, the hotel lies at the heart of the historic village of Braemar. It was officially opened by HRH Prince Charles, accompanied by Camilla, in their roles as Duke and Duchess of Rothesay.

Built in the 19th century, The Fife Arms is a large and highly distinctive part of the streetscape in Braemar. It dominates with its imposing scale and displays many of the traditional architectural characteristics of the area with its timber bargeboards, pink and grey granite, and its multi-gabled principal elevation. The building has retained all of its timber sash and case windows with their distinctive Arts and Crafts multi-paned upper sashes, and a large number of original chimney stacks. The building is evidence of the expansion of the tourist grade in Braemar in the wake of Queen Victoria’s visits and purchase of Balmoral, and the coming of the railway to the area.

Today, The Fife Arms is owned by Iwan and Manuela Wirth of internationally acclaimed art gallery Hauser & Wirth, and brings together Scottish heritage, craftsmanship and culture with world-class contemporary art and a strong sense of community. The interiors are by Russell Sage (whose famous past projects include The Zetter Townhouse and The Goring) and feature over 12,000 historic objects and artworks that have been collected over three years in order to tell some of the many stories associated with Braemar. The hotel’s 46 suites and bedrooms have all been individually designed with unique furnishings – each one a homage to place, person or event with links to the area, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, who began writing his classic novel Treasure Island in Braemar.

The Fife Arms offers several bars and restaurants including: The Clunie Dining Room with a focus on wood-fire cooking; The Flying Stag, the hotel’s re-named but much-loved traditional public bar; the elegant Drawing Room that will serve afternoon tea; and Elsa’s, a chic art-deco cocktail bar that is inspired by legendary fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who visited Braemar.

In keeping with the Wirth’s dedication to contemporary art, The Fife Arms features prominent works specially commissioned for the hotel from internationally renowned artists such as Zhang Enli, Guillermo Kuitca, Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher and Richard Jackson. James Prosek has designed the hotel’s striking coat of arms, which includes the Flying Stag after which the public bar is named. The reception, meanwhile, features a special Steinway piano that is a unique collaboration with American artist, Mark Bradford. These contributions are complemented by an outstanding array of (mainly) Scottish artworks collected for the hotel, from important paintings to prints, pamphlets and even a delicate watercolour of a stag’s head painted by HM Queen Victoria. During the hotel’s renovation, a number of other artists were invited to take up residence in Braemar and to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of its surroundings. Among them was Scottish luminary Alec Finlay, who was commissioned to create Gathering, a poetic guide to the Cairngorms. Words taken from this poem have been carved into the custom-made wooden bedheads in many of the guestrooms of The Fife Arms.

Moxon architects, based in Crathie and London, have overseen the refurbishment. Headed up by Ben Addy, who grew up in Aberdeenshire and is a Director of the Cairngorms Trust, Moxon has executed a careful restoration of the listed building. Araminta Campbell, who grew up in Royal Deeside, has designed the house tartan and tweed, used throughout the hotel. Chelsea Flower Show and RHS medallist, Jinny Blom, has remodelled the riverside garden, which overlooks the River Clunie and links the main hotel to the Spa, which will offer treatments inspired by the Scottish landscape.

The Fife Arms will delight and surprise visitors from around the world, while serving as the lively and welcoming home for Braemar locals that it has been for decades. In celebrating the picturesque charms of Scotland, the hotel encourages the writing of new stories – tales of adventure lived by both The Fife Arms’ neighbours and guests, from outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, to those simply seeking a charming and wonderful original place to stay….

For more information, visit www.thefifearms.com.

Luxury Cruising Worldwide By The Luxury Channel

The Luxury Channel reviews a selection of exciting cruises around the world. From an authentic Egyptian dahabieh to a brand new luxurious ship set to sail to Antarctica, these cruising holidays are the perfect way to explore different parts of the world, many of which are difficult to reach and best explored by boat.

Antarctica

Name of Cruise: The Crystal Endeavor
Duration: TBC
Price: Available on request
Book Through: Red Savannah

Pushing the boundaries of luxury global exploration, Crystal Endeavor is the world’s most spacious luxury expedition yacht with luxuries great and small, offering among the largest all-suite accommodations, private butler service, expansive spaces for sharing stories, and helicopters to explore the polar region like no other. This exciting new ship is an incredible addition to the Antarctic portfolio and is set to be the most luxurious expedition vessel with impeccable service in every way. The brand new Crystal Endeavor is set to begin sailing to Antarctica and the Ross Sea from January 2021.

Australia

Name of Cruise: True North Coral Atoll Cruise
Duration: 6 Days
Price: From £3,695 per person
Book Through: Red Savannah

Exploring the magnificent coral and fish life of the Rowley Shoals and Clerke Reef on Western Australia’s beautiful coast, this cruise is accompanied by a marine biologist and naturalists. The coral habitats to be explored include steep walls, lagoons and tidal canyons. Guests can swim in the clear turquoise lagoon of the Clerke Reef, snorkel drifts through the outer reef and fish for yellow-fin tuna, marlin, sailfish and wahoo. There is even the chance of spotting manta rays, humpback whales and sailfish!

Burma

Name of Cruise: Expedition Up The Chindwin
Duration: 12 Days
Price: From £3,230 per person
Book Through: Red Savannah

The towns and villages on the banks of the River Chindwin are still very difficult to reach, and so are best explored by boat. An expedition up this beguiling tributary of the Irrawaddy is an adventure into an Asia of yesteryear, as you pass former colonial outposts where teak and oil were extracted, and sail by hills through which thousands fled the Japanese advance to India in 1942. As well as exploring the ancient capitals of Burma, highlights include visiting the photogenic U-Bein Bridge (the world’s longest wooden bridge), sailing past small fishing villages little changed over the centuries, and going to Mingkin, where traditional wooden houses surround amazing teak monasteries. Guests will have a truly magical time on board this colonial-style river cruiser.

Egypt

Name of Cruise: The Albatros Cruise
Duration: 5 Days
Price: From £880 per person
Book Through: Lazuli Voyages

The Albatros is a brand new dahabieh by Lazuli Voyages, an Egyptian company specialising in small sailing cruises on the Nile. The Dahabiyas boats are sailboats that are specific to Egypt. Historically, travel could only be done by boat as the flooding of the Nile didn’t allow people to establish a true system of roads along the River. With a length of 35 metres, The Albatros can board 12 passengers within its four cabins and two suites with private terraces. The boat has just launched, ready for the 2019 season, and will allow travellers to explore the beauty that is Egypt. Sailing from Luxor to Aswan, guests will be able to see fascinating sights, such as the temple of Karnak, the temple of Philae, the 5000-year old city of El Kaab, and the beautiful Fawaza Island.

Indonesia

Name of Cruise: Cruising Raja Ampat
Duration: 8 Days
Price: From £9,450 per person
Book Through: Red Savannah

Silolona, arguably the best phinisi in the water, is a modern creation based on the traditional Indonesian sailing ship historically used for trade along the spice routes. Today, she has all the trappings of a world class hotel with 5 en-suite cabins, a crew of 17, plus an Expedition Leader, Asian fusion cuisine and water toys including snorkelling equipment, kayaks and paddle boards. The luxury found aboard this ship and the ever-changing scenery makes this trip the best way to explore Indonesia, and the PADI dive centre with top of the range equipment will give guests the ultimate chance to experience the best diving in the world.

Vietnam

Name of Cruise: Halong Bay & The Red River
Duration: 11 Days
Price: From £2,535 per person
Book Through: Red Savannah

This exciting and pioneering itinerary takes guests through the unchartered waters of the Red River in northern Vietnam. Guests of this trip will spend 10 nights enjoying the stunning scenery and peaceful rivers bordering China and Vietnam. You will explore the awe-inspiring Halong Bay and the peaceful Lan Ha Bay, visiting the floating fishing villages and waking to morning mist rise over the limestone karst seascape. From kayaking to the caves of Halong Bay, passing through the beautiful Ba Vi National Park and the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, this is a journey of culture, history and scenery.

Contact

To find out more and to make a booking, contact:

Red Savannah: +44(0) 1242 787 800, or visit www.redsavannah.com

Lazuli Voyages: 0020 1008 777 115, or visit www.lazuli-voyages.com

Why Heritage Means Home At Palácio Belmonte By Ramy Salameh

An unassuming, anonymous and heavy-set red door separates a quaint cobbled courtyard from an intimately historic foyer, embracing an almost monastic-like silence. As the door closes behind you, Lisbon’s bright morning sunshine is replaced by softer tones; the sensory contrast is immediate and welcome. This is one of many such contrasts that guests of the exquisite Palácio Belmonte will experience during their stay.

Opposite the entrance, two wooden sculpted figures hang from the wall, ushering guests towards an ancient flight of limestone steps, whose patina is characterised by pockmarks and dints. It represents the thousands of footsteps that have passed before, throughout a long and distinguished history, which served as residence for Figuereido, explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral, Marques D’Atalia, Duke of Loulé and Count of Belmonte.

The Palácio is a national monument and one of the world’s most captivating boutique hotels. It has the most exclusive address and location in the city, sitting next door to the entrance of the Sao Jorge castle in the Alfama neighbourhood, sharing the very same elevation, vistas and ancient walls. It integrates a Roman Tower (138 BC) and two Moorish Towers of the 8th Century, which eventually morphed into a residence in 1449, enlarged and completed in 1650 with final decorative touches concluding in 1725.

Today, it is home to intimate suites and spaces filled with contemporary art, ancient artefacts, sculptures, period features, cherished books and furnishings. All owned and selected by Frederic Coustols, a Frenchman, who bought Palácio Belmonte in the early 1990s. He says, “the Palácio is a Portuguese composite, a vernacular construction, which I tried to bring back to its origins, a house. It took me one year to listen, to knock on the walls, to understand. It has always been a home with the same family, just with different titles, for nearly 600 years.”

With a deep love and knowledge of art, vernacular architecture and sustainability, he has restored this iconic and precious historical edifice into a sanctuary of heritage and luxury. From the entrance, the stone staircase leads up towards the “Piano Nobile,” containing the palatial Maria Ursula ballroom, sitting next to the Governors Room, and surrounded by the more intimate White and Red Libraries, where Coustols is often found. The spaces have formed the nucleus of this home for many hundreds of years, where family generations would have dined and entertained.

The sense of home and family, sustainability and of course art, are key components of the hotel’s uniqueness. Maybe most telling is Coustols continuing desire to maintain that residential DNA, as part of the overall conservation and preservation, whilst regularly injecting new pieces of art to the status quo. “Art work contributes to freedom, and freedom is very important in this world. The art collection [at Palácio Belmonte] is very eclectic; it’s my own taste,” Coustols adds. The works range from letters written and signed by the King and Queen, tapestry, sculpture made by a Czech artist and currently, a holographic-like light installation that bounces rainbow colours across the courtyard’s white walls, called “Spectral.”

Beyond the “Piano Nobile” guest spaces, eleven exceptional suites make the most of the historic architectural lineage both inside and out, leaving their mark upon the quirkiest of labyrinthine layouts. This is where heritage, exclusivity and design have all fused together to provide individuality that display the past so eloquently. The suites are named after major figures from Portuguese history: Fernão Magalhães, Egas Moniz, Fernão Mendes Pinto, Gil Vicente, and Bartolomeu de Gusmão, amongst others.

Each suite is so refreshingly different, that the only aspects which have some form of uniformity is the guarantee of elegance and a magnificent view across Lisbon. The Ricardo Reis Suite assimilates a spiralling medieval staircase for patrons to reach their bedroom, which immerses them in 15th century frescoes upon the walls, above 18th century azulejo tile panels by the Master Valentim de Almeida. They burst with colour once the old shuttered windows open and Lisbon’s renowned daylight illuminates both.

In fact, the distinctive blue and white azulejo tiles – depicting music, art and life of the nobility in the 1700s – run like a ribbon across the white-washed walls throughout the Palácio, a constant thread in the hotel and a symbol of the city and Portugal itself. There are around 3,700 tiles across the Belmonte.

The Palácio’s promontory sweeps across a panorama that spans east to west, from the Vasco De Gama Bridge (Vasco da Gama was received at the Palácio upon his triumphant return from India), all the way around to the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge, with every window, veranda and balcony catching an aspect of Lisbon. One’s eye tries to connect both bridges, with the seemingly endless and irregular terracotta-tiled roofs across Alfama and São Vicente de Fora, with the distant river the constant contrast and backdrop.

In 1723, Manuel dos Santos and Valetim de Almeida were commissioned to decorate the Palacio with fifty-nine original azulejo panels, which took two years to complete, “and in celebration of this great work, there was a big party with the King and ministers invited,” Coustols says.

Coustols, and his wife Maria, have weaved contemporary design throughout the Palácio, and maybe the Amadeo de Souza Cardoso Terrace Suite reflects that most. A modern spiral stairway supports a mezzanine platform with king-size Japanese bed, to help fill the voluminous space. From this lofty perch, it is an ideal spot to look down upon angular contemporary furniture, with a certain “Bauhaus” look to it; the library and marble bathroom join the collection of XVIII century azulejo tile panels to provide the opulence.

The Garden Terrace is a haven of south European charm, another corner to look down towards the ebb and flow of Lisbon life. Under the dappled shade created by over-arching branches of pine trees, guests can sit and take in the changing colours and sounds emanating from Alfama’s cobbled streets, catching a glimpse of the yellow vintage trams scuttling up and down the hills in between tightly packed residences. There is the constant trickle of water, from the black marble infinity pool, another accompaniment to enjoy within the walled oasis, as is the chime of the church bells from Sé Cathedral.

The ever-changing art work, alongside a regular flow of writers, artists and composers who stay at the Belmonte, keeps the spaces fresh and creatively inspiring. It maintains a constant link between old and new, framing the past with the future. Above all, the Palácio is an authentic amalgam of architecture through the ages of Lisbon, just as it remains a home, a hotel, a gallery and a Palácio.

Coustols imparts one more thought: “I have always liked sand and stones; I am a landscape collector, and I love to collect them as they are free” – philosophical but interpretable after a stay at his “home.” Guests should admire, imbibe the atmosphere and add one more footprint upon the ancient steps, before leaving through that anonymous red door.

For more information, go to www.palaciobelmonte.com. Ramy Salameh flew to Lisbon courtesy of Lisboa Convention Bureau – go to www.visitlisboa.com/convention-bureau.

Escape To Farr Estate In Scotland By Caroline Phillips

Go in spring and you’ll see deer gambolling on the lawns. In summer, the days are long and the light bright for striding across heather-carpeted hills and for lazy days fishing on its loch. In autumn, there’s bracing wild swimming.

Close your eyes and imagine spruce and pine trees dappled in snow. Or walk through the wardrobe and you’ll find a picture-perfect scene of virgin snow-capped hills, ancient monkey-puzzle trees sprinkled with white powder beside icy lakes. Yes, in winter it’s like Narnia or a winter wonderland. Idyllic, no?

This is the Farr Estate, a luxury Highland retreat near Inverness, Scotland (just half an hour’s drive from the airport). The property is hidden away on a beautiful 12,000-acre estate and opened its doors only a year ago to (paying) guests — having previously been used solely by its owners, the Mackenzie family, since 1880.

It is now available for everything from exclusive use (take a party of up to 24) to romantic à-deux getaways or solo forays, using all or some of the three parts of the property: Farr House (8 bed), Loch Nest (one double) and Garden Cottage (sleeps six).

It’s early days but it’s already luring the Mackenzie clansmen from the States searching for their roots, Spaniards who are keen on hind stalking and Greeks who like to shoot. Not to mention Japanese wishing to sip Speyside and Drumguish single malts and shop for cashmere and tartan. (For armchair-in-front-of-a-roaring-peat-fire purchases, there’s the estate’s own Mackenzie tartan and Farr tweed).

A little bit of history now. HRH the Duke of Gloucester (third son of King George V) lived in the original Farr House. Photographs and drawings of it on the walls show a Georgian stately home that was castellated in Victorian times. It was then (purposefully) razed to the ground in the sixties: the upkeep with all that dry rot, damp and massive roof proved too expensive.

Farr House — in its new incarnation — is composed of a former tenants’ hall and chapel from 1891; then there’s the Garden Cottage (erstwhile Victorian home of the estate gardener) and Loch Nest (a self-contained annex converted in 2016).

I’m sitting in the erstwhile chapel turned drawing room of Farr House chatting to Lucy Ogilvie, née Mackenzie. The eldest of five sisters, she runs the property with her husband, Andrew. “Dad said he used to have to kneel there and pray,” says Lucy, pointing to an upholstered armchair. Far from being a chilly chapel, the room is now book-lined, wood-panelled and with a roaring log fire.

There are family books from the 1700s and ones with beautiful plates of game birds, ancient Bibles and swords from the Crimea. “My great great, great grandfather was General Higginson, who fought in the Crimean War,” explains Lucy. The family crest, ‘Always Faithful,’ is etched on the stained glass window.

Lucy’s grandfather was Page of Honour to King George V and the portrait above the fireplace in the drawing room is of him (her granddad) at the Coronation. “All those robes and garments were in our dressing-up box when we were little,” says Lucy, laughing.

We wander round Farr House together, a place so large that our dog needs no further exercise. There are 18th century Mackenzie portraits in the dining room, Lucy’s old Edwardian school desk upstairs, a Victorian washstand with a marble top and bowl sink, and an antique portrait of a railway engineer, William Mackenzie, who lived in the mid-1800s. In an upstairs corridor, every clan of Scotland is represented in Victorian prints. (Tip: bag the ground floor powder-blue room with its chandelier and en-suite with a claw-foot bath).

There’s also some contemporary dash in the décor with glass-bowl bathroom basins, funky tiles and squishy sofas and armchairs, plus seating for 18 on tartan dining chairs so welcoming you won’t want to get up.

So what of the activities? You can go fishing on Farr Loch at the end of the driveway. Or go on off-road Land Rover tours and have a lunch of game terrines and homemade fruitcakes in their off-the-beaten-track moorland bothy, in which Lucy lights a fire.

It’s a nature lover’s paradise. Red squirrels scamper across the lawn and you’ll open your curtains to roe deer running across the snow. At other times, stags will be roaring and rutting on the hills. You may even spy golden eagles and ospreys over the loch. There are Peregrine falcons, red kites and sparrow hawks too. Not to mention loads of mountain hares that change colour to white in the winter.

The estate is part of the ancient Caledonian forest with its white fossilised trees — that are thousands of years old — poking out of the peat. And with its pink granite, Ice Age rock formations and sphagnum moss too. There are ancient redwoods and Victorian copper beech.

For those who wish to venture further afield, it’s close to Loch Ness with its boat tours for seeking out Nessie. There’s the organic Black Isle beer distillery nearby. And Culloden battlefield where there was a Jacobite rising and Bonnie Prince Charlie met his end. Or you may prefer to go to Cawdor Castle, where Macbeth was set.

You can dolphin watch on the Moray Firth or go to Findhorn for spiritual sustenance (think angel cards and tarot readings). The Cairngorms National Park, a place of rugged beauty, is just 45 minutes away — for hiking, rock climbing and skiing. It’s hard not to love the area.

When I was at Farr House, however, it was for our daughter’s 21st — it’s the perfect party venue for Edinburgh University students. We managed a short hike and played in the snow. The Ogilvies organised a treasure hunt in the grounds, which caused much mirth.

Our focus, though, was a lazy, foodie weekend. For those who are gastronomically inclined, the Farr Estate is heaven-meets-paradise-with-a-smattering-of-one-of-the-best-days-of-your-gourmet-life gently sautéed with a sprinkling of ‘this can’t get any better.’

There’s flipping fresh brown trout from the loch — after you’ve nipped out in one of the wooden rowing boats to catch it yourself — ready to be tossed in butter and almonds. There’s the best rare-breed piggy you ever did taste — succulent, flavoursome and reared on the estate by housekeeper Wendy, and cooked in a way that puts the ‘oh’ into slow: 24 hours in the bottom of the Aga.

There are partridge waiting for those of careful aim, and salmon from the River Findhorn — for those fishermen among you, this river boasts deep pools and fast runs. They rear quail on the estate — so bag the birds’ teeny eggs for breakfast along with toast slavered with local heather honey. And you’ll find forest floors painted gold with chanterelles that Lucy picks in a flat wicker basket and cooks with venison.

Did I say venison? Homemade venison burgers and sausages are made from meat from the estate. Or imagine the most delicious estate-reared haunch that’s marinated in red wine and cooked with dollops of home-made redcurrant jelly — created by Lucy’s mum — from home-grown, hand-picked fruit. She also makes jams and marmalades. You can buy it in jars complete with the Mackenzie deer’s antler crest.

If field-to-vegan-fork is your thing, they grow lots of vegetables and fruit on the estate – not just blackcurrants, raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries but also blaeberries — which are like Scottish blueberries. And then there are mountains of fashionable kale — used formerly for pheasant fodder — plus tasty broad beans to fresher-than-fresh mange tous not just with zero miles but with zero yards.

The estate provide chefs who will cook this home produce for you and serve and clear away or, if you wish, Lucy will oversee the saucepans herself: she knows more delicious ways to cook venison than most have had hot dinners. Or you can enjoy self-catering, as we did — but with Wendy at the ready to magic away all the mess.

There’s just one other thing you need to know. Unlike many old Scottish houses, Farr House is decidedly 21st century. It boasts not just a wind farm, solar panels, and hydro electricity. There’s also a well-equipped kitchen (with mammoth fish kettles to Aga and electric ovens) and there’s also snug under-floor heating plus piping hot water and strong Wi-Fi.

Hardly surprising that we scarcely went outside on this visit, is it?

Further Information

For more information, visit www.farrestate.co.uk, or call +44 (0) 79040 75361 or +44 (0)75355 63565. Prices start from £49.99 for Loch Nest and from £549.99 for Farr House per person per night, based on 16 people staying (Farr House is only let as a whole property).

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Eco Paradise Alphonse Island Now Offers Year-Round Luxury…. By The Luxury Channel

Alphonse Island, part of Blue Safari Seychelles, is a pristine, natural paradise in the Seychelles Archipelago, in the heart of the Indian Ocean. This private island, part of the Alphonse group of atolls, which includes St Francois and Bijoutier, is considered one of the purest natural idylls in the world. Beautiful white beaches line the edges of a lush tropical forest surrounded by miles of unblemished shorelines, lagoons, sea flats and protected coral reefs, which are home to the vast array of wildlife that exist in this ecosystem.

To celebrate opening all year round so that guests can relax and indulge in this luxurious nature lover’s paradise anytime they wish, a special ‘‘stay seven, pay five’’ package will be available from the 1st May until the 30th September 2019. The seven-night package costs USD $5025pp full board, based on two people sharing a Beach Bungalow and also includes a generous array of activities and inter-island transfers. Alphonse Island is a 60-minute flight from Mahé, with flights departing every Saturday.

Alphonse Island features 22 private Beach Bungalows and five Beach Suites, all overlooking the Indian Ocean. Beach Bungalows maximise the stunning surroundings, set amongst lush tropical plantation just metres from the beach. With outdoor showers – and the beach just steps away – the rooms are all focused on the surrounding natural beauty. The five one-bedroom Beach Suites are nestled amongst tropical plants, and are close to the white sandy beach. Discreet and luxurious, Beach Suites offer two bathrooms and a lounge area to give guests more space, as well as private plunge pools. Interiors reference Creole style and local materials, reflecting a sophisticated fresh island style of the 21st Century.

Alphonse offers guests a unique combination of activities exclusive to the island, many of which are included in the package:

· Kayaking

· Stand-Up Paddle-Boarding

· Floodlit Tennis Courts

· Flats Lunch on remote St. François or Bijoutier atolls

· Giant Tortoise Viewing

· Swimming with Spinner Dolphins (extra cost)

· Snorkeling with a Marine Biologist (extra)

· Diving Centre with PADI Courses (extra cost)

· Fly Fishing (extra cost)

· Guided Nature Walks (extra cost)

Alphonse Island is also famous for being the best scuba-diving destination in the Seychelles, with 30 dive sites surrounding the island rich with multiple marine species such as green turtles, eagle rays, nurse sharks and rainbow-hued tropical fish. This area is also an internationally renowned fly fishing destination.

Sustainability is the foundation of the Blue Safari Seychelles philosophy and all of the atolls and islands within the Blue Safari Seychelles portfolio are committed to the protection of the environment. Since September 2018, they are proud to be the first commercial Outer Island with a hospitality offering to rely on solar power and go completely ‘‘off-grid.’’

Designed to allow guests to reconnect with nature while respecting it, the Island Conservation Society (ICS) team offers activities to create an island that is intimately connected to the natural environment. As part of the guided walks and Native Vegetation Restoration project, guests can, for instance, choose to plant an endemic tree. Swimming with – and photographing – manta rays, is a particularly magical ocean experience, which helps capture important data about individual specimens and their movements. These islands also provide important nesting grounds for endemic hawksbill and green turtles; the turtle patrol and tracking project provides important insights into the population numbers and their movement, which helps the team protect them.

Alphonse Island is paradise perfected – and now guests can explore and relax all year round!

Further Information

E-mail – reservations@alphonse-island.com
Telephone – +248 4229705 (GMT + 04:00)
Website – www.alphonse-island.com

Heureka – I’ve Found It! The Height of Luxury (And Water) In Venice…. By Hannah Norman

The last thing I expected to be doing on a luxury break in Venice is wrapping myself up in big black bin bags, held in place by strips of ugly brown parcel tape, with bright blue waders and a pair of (admittedly slightly unnecessary) sunglasses to complete my look. This was not some sponsored “worst dressed” charity fashion event, however, but rather more a concerted bid to beat what I later found out were the fourth worst floods in Venice’s entire history.

But let’s back up a bit. I had been invited to the City of Canals to experience the charm and luxury of the beautiful Hotel Heureka, a newly opened boutique hotel situated in the heart and history of Venice, overlooking the Madonna dell’Orto Canal at the front, and with sweeping views straight across the lagoon at the back. Designed by Plan A Einrichtung, the hotel boasts contemporary design and striking architecture, making it an Instagrammer’s paradise, with unique furnishings, luscious fabrics and fun touches throughout. Consisting of just 10 individually-styled rooms, the hotel has a distinct look that is all its own, and a sympathetic two-year restoration project now sees a neat bridge between the architectural grandeur of the building’s past and the contemporary quirkiness of the interior design. Hallmarked by four-poster beds and coloured tile mosaics, each suite is a haven in which to escape and unwind (and then update your Insta feed).

If you can bear to tear yourself away from the comfort of the bed, then head outside, where Hotel Heureka hides a treasure in the form of a spacious secret garden. A little woodland oasis of tranquillity, by day the garden is the perfect place to relax under the leafy canopy of the trees. As night descends, it is an enchanting spot in which to while away an evening under a blanket of stars.

Image courtesy of Venice Quality Transfers

The best way to arrive at this private palace is by private transfer, and the best way of doing that is through Venice Quality Transfers. Helmed by the lovely Trisha Perolari, this private water taxi transfer business was set up with an aim to break even after 15 months. That in fact happened after only three and the rest, as they say, is history. Trisha and her team – which has grown with the business – will meet you at the transport hub of your choice, whether that’s on the platform at Venice Santa Lucia Train Station, or the more common pick-up point of Venice Marco Polo Airport’s arrivals hall. A swift glide across the lagoon from the airport to the hotel can be completed in less than 30 minutes.

In my case, this was just as well, as I had been invited to an evening of prosecco and cicheti by the maverick founder of London’s Polpo restaurants, Russell Norman (no relation – or at least, we don’t think we’re related). With the help of fellow Kent girl Anna Gilchrist cooking up a storm in the kitchen, the evening was designed to showcase Russell’s flair and passion for using local Venetian ingredients (think pickled vegetables from the nearby island of Sant Erasmo, and fish fresh from the lagoon), in the beautiful setting of one of the city’s newest boutique hotels. The endless platters of flavoursome, almost rustic, food were obligingly served with bubbling glasses of delicious prosecco from the Bisol vineyard.

The following day, while the tourists headed off to Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, I stuck to exploring Cannaregio, the quiet siestiere that Hotel Heureka calls home, to uncover the “undiscovered” side of Venice. First of all, a visit to Battiloro, a family business that sees beaten gold transformed into wafer-thin sheets for use in the art, food, building and beauty industries. The applications for the many hues of gold and silver that the company produces from its tiny workshop are as varied as they are international (think tiles, temporary tattoos and gold leaf as edible food decoration).

Images courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni

One such use of this most precious of metals is the gold face mask treatment offered at The Merchant of Venice Spa at San Clemente Palace Kempinski. The effects of the acqua alta – the famous Venetian high tide – and the resulting poor weather scuppered my chances of making it across the lagoon to try it out, so I decided to brave the tourist crowds and head to The Merchant of Venice’s flagship boutique on Campo San Fantin instead, right by both Teatro La Fenice and the Rialto Bridge. The beautiful store, originally a pharmacy, is now a treasure trove of perfumes and colourful bottles. I was initially swayed by the fresh scent of Blue Tea, the newest of The Merchant of Venice’s perfumes, but in the end, it was the rich, woody and seductive Venezia Essenza that made its way into my basket.

By now, the water had come cascading down the street in a fast-flowing torrent, and an escape to sustenance (read: a bottle of bubbles) was most certainly in order. A couple of hours enjoying pasta and prosecco meant delaying the inevitable and eventually, I had to accept that the only way I was going to make it back to the hotel was to wade through the flood waters of the swollen canals. Now above knee-height, this therefore meant employing the slightly unconventional tactic of binding myself in bin bags and hoping that the water wasn’t so deep that the streets were entirely off-limits! After a slightly soggy trudge from one end of Venice to the other, the hotel was a very welcome sight indeed, particularly when the staff came to greet me at the door bearing towels and slippers.

Image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni

Up early the next morning, and you’d never have guessed at the sheer extent of the floods the day before. A clear blue sky promised a day of adventure, and so it was that I ventured away from the mainland to the island of Burano, with its gorgeous candy-coloured houses lining the edge of the canals. It is well worth the “island hop” to come here and admire the quaint painted colour splashes of this charming neighbourhood (and did somebody say Instagram?).

Image courtesy of Rosalind Milani Gallieni

As the day drew to its close and the sun retreated into the depths of the lagoon, I headed back to Venice proper, taking one last look up at Hotel Heureka, before the team at Venice Quality Transfers arrived to whisk me back over the waves to the airport. This was one city break that I certainly shan’t be forgetting in a hurry!

Hotel Heureka has flung open its doors and is ready to offer guests a warm welcome – and a “heureka!” moment of their own….

Further Information

Hotel Heurekawww.hotel-heureka.com

Venice Quality Transferswww.venicequalitytransfers.com


Battilorowww.berta-battiloro.com

Nexa Eventiwww.nexave.org

Perfumes by The Merchant of Venice are available in the UK from Harrods, Harvey Nichols and House of Fraser.

Escape To Rustic Elegance At Castello Del Nero By Coral Manson

From truffle hunts to Michelin-starred dinners, Coral Manson discovers why Tuscany’s Castello Del Nero hotel is one of Italy’s hidden gems….

It’s sometimes said that the journey can be as important as the destination and, in the case of the drive to Castello Del Nero Hotel & Spa, this adage is spot on. Situated in the Chianti area of Tuscany, and surrounded by its own 750-acre estate, I wind my way up to the hotel through beautiful countryside filled with wild boar, pheasants and deer. As an introduction to a weekend of pampering, feasting and long wildlife walks, it couldn’t be more perfect.

In truth, it’s the perfect place for outwards-bound types as the hotel’s owners have crafted miles of trails for cycling, walking and running. Rather than my usual routine of pounding London’s streets, I was looking forward to taking a run through some of the more remote spots in the area.

However, even the most committed keep-fit enthusiast will find it hard to wrench themselves from the comforting embrace of this beautiful property. It’s been faithfully restored, and inspected and approved by the Italian department of cultural heritage, resulting in somewhere that is less a hotel and more a grand country house. From the perfect Tuscan background of olive trees, vines and cypresses to the traditional terracotta and chestnut wood of the property itself, this is a place to fall in love with.

And while it has rustic elegance in spades, Castello Del Nero also offers the best in modern amenities, such as a spa veranda featuring a heated pool with all the massage jets your muscles could wish for, plus a steam room, sauna, treatments rooms and a good gym.

The 50 bedrooms are also lovely, with some offering original frescoes and all impeccably decorated. The design was overseen by Alain Mertens, an interior designer to Sting and Madonna, and have an aesthetic that effortlessly combines homely with stylish.

The room of choice is the Royal Galway Suite, named for the flautist James Galway, a friend of the hotel’s owner, which includes a terrace that offers a stunning view and can easily hold 40 people. Frankly, it has ‘‘big birthday blowout party’’ written all over it, although I’m not sure that kind of raucous affair is entirely in-keeping with the relaxed vibe of this place.

I spent the day truffle hunting in the forest with my guide, Jacopo, and his dogs, Pia and Oofo. After digging up a few nuggets of ‘‘white gold,’’ I headed back to cook them in the hotel kitchens – an experience which is the epitome of ‘‘field to fork.’’

Later that evening, dinner was taken in La Torre, the hotel’s elegant Michelin-starred restaurant, housed in the former stables. The food is as impressive as the space itself, with the menu offering seasonal Tuscan classics such as wild boar ravioli, suckling pig, pigeon two ways and roast turbot. The red shrimp-filled pasta seemed to be a particular hit, getting oohs and ahs from those who’d ordered it. Of course, given where we were, the wine – particularly the red – was phenomenal and even the olive oil was so extraordinary that I bought several bottles of it for dressing salads at home.

And while I didn’t venture much further than the truffle-treasure woods nearby, there is a local town that’s worth a visit. San Gimignano, a quick 20-minute ride away, is a charming little place with narrow, winding streets, handsome plazas, and enough small boutiques to keep even the keenest shopper happy.

My advice, though, is to make the most of your time at the hotel – because this gem of a place is the last word in refined relaxation.

For more information, visit www.castellodelnero.com.

Escape To Luxury In Amsterdam At Hotel TwentySeven By Teresa Levonian Cole

As Amsterdam prepares to mark the 350th anniversary of the death of Rembrandt in 2019, the city also celebrates a new hotel, quite unlike any other. The creation of award-wining hotelier, Eric Toren, with designers Wim van de Oudeweetering and Cris van Amterdam, this small, sixteen-suite paean to luxury – unassumingly named Hotel TwentySeven – is the latest winner of the Boutique Hotel Awards’ coveted Most Inspired Design Hotel category. 2018 saw a flurry of awards for the hotel, as it was also awarded the title of Best Small Luxury Hotel of Europe at the International Property Awards, and it won “Best Wow Effect” of Luxury Hotels, an accolade awarded by Hospitality ON, the organisation behind the World Wide Hospitality Awards.

First, its location: in central Dam Square, above the celebrated Gassan diamond store, and an influential business club, TwentySeven occupies the 3rd to 6th floors of a 1913 building. “It was a total mess when we acquired it,” says Toren, who immediately set about the meticulous recreation of the central light-well and staircases, replicating the original 1920s tile-work, terrazzo floors, and marquetry of the elevator doors to restore their original splendour. Structural restoration aside, the interiors are a sumptuous evocation of the city’s Golden Age; a theatrical blend of classical – in the form of plush velvets and oodles of Rubelli fabrics dressing windows and upholstery – with bespoke furniture, lighting, and changing selection of art, the latter curated by Cobra Gallery.

The lift door opens on the third floor, to heady wafts of eastern promise – the signature fragrance, evocative of Amsterdam’s erstwhile role in the spice trade. Contemporary glass orbs hang from the light-well like celestial bodies, diffusing atmospheric changes of colour. This is the floor where you eat, drink and make merry. All around, drama lies in contrast: in Bougainville restaurant, for example, gothic black tasseled lamps and gold silk brocade seating are strikingly juxtaposed with oversized photographs of icons of the Big Screen. This is the intimate stage for Executive Chef Tim Goldsteijn, whose artistry has recently seen the restaurant awarded its first Michelin star, while “Dutch Sommelier Champion 2018” Lendl Mijnhijmer oversees a list of deliciously unfamiliar wines. The 7-course menu (with optional wine pairing), is the ideal solution for those faced with the delectable agony of à la carte indecision.

The lounge bar, meantime – a popular meeting place, and heart of the hotel – is not to be outdone in the championship stakes. The domain of the “World’s Best Bartender,” Eric van Beek conjures up his award-winning Cariňo – a creamy blend of rum, vanilla, lemon and yoghurt – from behind his backlit onyx bar. Here it is that autumnal tones dominate: plush amber velvet seating, a central artwork in the form of a horizontal ceiling light of polished tangled copper sheets, and copper thread adding shimmer to the silk walls. The copper, in fact, created unforeseen problems. “It played havoc with the WiFi,” says Toren, “so we had to find a way around that….”

Adjoining the bar, cigar-lovers will be delighted to find an elegant smoking room at their disposal, overlooking Rokin – and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of the ‘public’ rooms. No spas, gyms, or superfluous gestures here. The suites themselves are the focus of no-expense-spared comfort, ranging from a cosy 40 sq.m. to the palatial 245 sq.m. of the Imperial Terrace Suite. Somewhere in between come the romantic, Rapunzel-esque Tower Dream Suite with its “floating-candle” lighting beneath the copper dome, and the aptly-named Rooftop Stage Suite, with its huge round bed and unexpected crannies.

Perhaps the most atmospheric are the top floor rooms: fantasy dens with high triangular ceilings, snugs and oriole windows. But each suite, though unique in design and detail, displays the same exuberant interplay of textures in warm metallic tones: handcrafted bespoke Ebru silk carpets which introduce a touch of Islamic geometry over oak floors of Versailles design, custom-made furniture, satin cushions, silk brocades and devoré velvets, Pierre Frey-clad walls – every vertical and horizontal surface dressed to the nines. It is a campness which, by some sprinkling of magic dust, avoids tipping into vulgarity. Contemporary hand-picked artworks and whacky lighting provide the finishing touches, along with satisfyingly heavy crystal glasses for the well-stocked in-room bars, fresh flower arrangements, bathrooms – with jacuzzi and steam chambers – of marbled-inlay design, and a host of shower features the mastery of which might well require the assistance of your butler.

Service – which includes everything from personal shopper to private guided tours – is, of course, as you would expect of a hotel which has been referred to as ‘six-star,’ as is the touch-of-a-button technology and high-speed internet. Light sleepers will be glad of the luxury of silence, insulated from the tourist hubbub without. Rooms are totally sound-proofed, with 10cm-thick, triple-insulated wooden doors – each of which, Toren notes wryly, “was hand-made, and cost more than a car.”’ But of his overall expenditure on this hotel, Toren remains coy. “All I will say, is that it went €5 million over-budget,” he grins. “I won’t be retiring any time soon!”

Further Information

Hotel TwentySeven
Dam 27, 1012 JS Amsterdam
+31 20-21 82 180
www.hoteltwentyseven.com
Suites start from £445

Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort Unveils $20 Million Renovation By The Luxury Channel

Revealing a sophisticated design aesthetic with a traditional Maldivian feel, Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa, in the North Malé Atoll, has announced the completion of a $20 million renovation. Designed by boutique multi-disciplinary design practice, Topo Design Studio, the newly-transformed resort now exhibits beautiful Maldivian architecture with a contemporary twist, reflecting the five-star experience guaranteed at the property.

Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa is situated on the private island of Furanafushi in the Republic of Maldives – just 1km and a 15 minute speedboat ride away from Malé International Airport. The five-star resort offers 176 guest rooms designed to blend into the surrounding turquoise waters, pristine beaches and lush greenery. Also boasting 7 unique restaurants and bars, the Shine Spa for Sheraton (located on its very own island) and 3 outdoor tropical fresh water pools, the resort is the perfect destination for honeymooners, families and solo travellers alike.

Topo Design Studio took their inspiration from the surrounding environment to ensure that all aspects of the resort emulate a traditional Maldivian feel. As a result, all aspects of the resort have been elegantly renovated, from the restyled landscape gardens around the swimming pools, to the rooms and restaurants, ensuring a completely dovetailed style throughout the island.

“As the third eldest resort in the Maldives, dating back to 1937, it is very important to us that we continue to modernise our property to ensure it goes above and beyond the standards expected of a five-star resort, without losing the feel of our surroundings,” General Manager Emilio Fortini said of the reason for the renovation, adding that the entire hotel staff looks forward “to welcoming both new and returning guests to discover [the resort’s] new enhancements, which I have no doubt will only enrich their experience on our unique tropical paradise.”

A tropical paradise indeed, as Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa now boasts 10 different luxury room categories, all spaciously located around the island, including the re-styled Deluxe Cottages, and Water Bungalows with Pools. These spacious cottages all offer the utmost privacy and provide easy access to the heavenly white sandy beach and the lagoon. As part of the renovation, they now feature an outdoor so guests can truly immerse themselves in their luscious green surroundings.

Meanwhile, with a total of 7 bars and restaurants, the resort ensures that a variety of dining options are available to guests, ranging from a casual al fresco treat to a quintessentially Maldivian feast. The newest addition to the completed renovations includes the centrally-located Feast Restaurant, which has been uniquely designed to emulate the local culture and now boasts a cadent coconut roofing and a sophisticated white colour scheme. Feast Restaurant comes to life with chefs creating dishes from around the world from live-cooking stations made from cleanly-cut marble surfaces. Similarly, the Anchorage Bar has been elegantly renovated with a gentle colour palette that does not detract from the panoramic view of the stunning Indian Ocean. This creates a laid back atmosphere and encourages guests to relax on the comfortable day beds, listen to live music from a local band and sip on one of the resort’s signature cocktails.

Further Information

Rates: Nightly rates at Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa start from $400/£315 per night based on 2 people sharing a Deluxe Garden View King Room on a B&B basis. For more information, click here.

Address: Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa, Furanafushi Island, North Male’ Atoll, Maldives

Tel: +960 664 2010

Escape To Myanmar By Anya Braimer Jones

Picture raucously happy children swaying in a fairground boat ride that’s flying precariously through the air. Below them are women selling longyis (like sarongs) and other kids enjoying tamarind candies and fresh pineapple juice. There’s a dragon ice sculpture that soon turns into a melted serpent in the scorching heat. Novice monks in saffron robes with big smiles. Nearby, a boat race taking place on the Ayeyarwaddy River — the leading boat team sporting Arsenal shirts — and with, seemingly, the whole town as spectators, all waving their hands and scarves in the air. This is the festive scene in Bagan, Myanmar (Burma).

Bagan Ananda (Image ©Cees Rijnen)

Bagan — which Marco Polo described as one of the finest sights in the world — is probably magical every day, all year round. But it’s particularly special at night on an exclusive tour in the moonlight. After watching the sunset from a bridge, we start our night ‘temple safari.’ Candle-lit lantern in hand, we set off by foot to visit some of the 3000 temples spread across the Bagan Plain. Ananda temple —with its shimmering gold, 170-ft high hti (the pinnacale of a stupa) lit by the silver light of the moon is both spooky and enchanting. Afterwards we’re served some ‘temple’ snacks at Minn Oo Chantha pagoda, food that’s normally served during festivals. Items such as rice pancakes and penny wort akyaw (like tempura) off a traditional lacquerware tray. It’s with a spring in our step that we retire to our room at The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate.

Ox cart around Bagan Temple (Image ©JP Klovstad)

We’re in Myanmar on a 21-day bespoke family trip. A vacation that sees us hiking among remote, stupa-topped hills, travelling along red-mud tracks in ox carts and taking local tuk-tuks to visit and eat in village stilt-houses; not to mention clopping along in a horse-drawn carriage to the ancient imperial capital of Ava, and a historic train ride in ‘upper class’ over the dizzyingly high (318 ft.) Gokteik Viaduct.

Our itinerary covers Yangon with its wondrous golden Shwedagon Pagoda; historic Mandalay with Mahamuni Temple’s heaven-high, gold-covered Buddha; a cruise downstream on the mighty Ayeyarwaddy River aboard the all-teak Ayeyarwaddy Discovery (the latest addition to the country’s upmarket cruise scene); Bagan with its temples; and, finally, Inle Lake with its floating gardens and Intha fishermen ‘leg-rowing’ their boats on lakes midst purple river hyacinths. But we also follow the Burmese road rarely travelled too — some places only opened up to tourists recently….from seldom-visited Loikaw to far-flung Samkar, about which more later.

Samkar Lake in Shan State (Image ©Cees Rijnen)

After Bagan, we go to Heho, in southern Shan state. We have one of the high points of our trip at Green Hill Valley Elephant Sanctuary, an elephant conservation project located just beyond the colonial hill station of Kalaw. On the reception area wall we discover, much to our surprise, a vintage photograph of my grandfather, Charles, and his mahouts and elephants. (He oversaw timber forests here and then stayed on to fight the Japanese in World War II).

I think I’ve found my spirit animal – these heffalumps chomp away merrily for 20 hours a day, eating up to 200 kilos. Bliss or what? After a ‘light’ snack — just a few kilos of banana stem leaves and golden pumpkins — it’s shower hour i.e. time for a dip in the river. Both my family and the elephant, Hin Sit Wai, seem to be in ellie heaven sploshing around in the fast-flowing water. Scrubbing away with acacia bark (which smells fruity, nutty and woody all in one), I wash Babar. She sits there calmly whilst my sister and I scrub away. Of the many adventures I’ve been privileged to go on, this one goes down in my book as one of the best. Ever.

We go afterwards to colonial Kalaw with its half-timbered buildings and British south-coast vibe. We stay in the Kalaw Heritage Hotel – a Fawlty Towers-esque place, but one that has ceiling fans, plantation chairs, bedrooms the size of small airports and a truly colonial range of gins and whiskies. I can really picture my grandfather staying in this quintessentially British, colonial building with its menu offering a ‘Full English Breakfast’ and ‘Roast Beef with trimmings’ — all in the middle of a remote, military town. Bizarre and wonderful at once.

After a two-hour drive then a short and scenic train ride from Pinlaung (“The train schedule often changes, so we can’t specify an exact time,” says the guide), we are welcomed next day for a Shan lunch in a local family home, not too far from the opium fields. (Spicy soup followed by rice with vegetable curries. Then jackfruit served with avocado: two of my favourite foods, on one plate.) After lunch, we stroll over to the remains of a wooden palace that belonged to the last Sawbwa (prince) of the village Pinlaung, and collapsed due to lack of resources for renovation. “He was sent to prison,” says our guide, Naung Naung, “and his wife slept in a simple hut in the garden of the dilapidated palace, waiting for him to come back.” The princess eventually died a few years ago, still next to the old palace.

It’s another 90 minutes by car to reach Loikaw, way off the beaten track and in the tiny state of Kayah. Here we ready ourselves to go on a so-called trail of the ancestors, to see local tribespeople: the longneck communities who believe in spirits. We trek through Pemsong village and suddenly there they are….the women who wear thick, heavy bronze necklaces which — slowly over time — stretch the neck up to roughly 20cm longer than normal or natural. Strange but strikingly beautiful. Afterwards we enjoy (yet another) delicious lunch at a local village house – chicken curry, sticky rice in banana leaves. Then a bit of retail therapy in the next village, Kasae Kum: doling out Kyats, the local currency, on handmade bronze bracelets and rings, bamboo cups and the like.

Our next stop is Hta Nee La Leh village to meet the Kayan community. There we meet a gentle soul, Daw Soe Mya, 70 years old, with seven children and 30 grandchildren: standard around here. She plays an instrument that resembles a violin-cum-guitar in sound but looks like a small didgeridoo made of bamboo with strings. Afterwards, we take a short — and very, very bumpy — oxcart ride to see spirit houses, totem poles, and a shaman and his chicken bones (used for prediction). I take my (conical bamboo) hat off to the locals who rely on this uncomfortable mode of transport. I cushion my butt at lunch — a Kayah BBQ, served under what looks like Teletubby-meets-Zaha-Hadid bamboo house, resembling an upside-down boat.

Naung Naung takes us next with our boatman in our private longtail boat, which we ride over Pekon Lake to the beautiful and serene hotel, Inle Sanctuary. Put it on your bucket list now. Six contemporary wooden houses balance on stilts on a pier overlooking the calm waters. Fuchsia water lilies float amongst earthy green moss. Children from Phayar Taung Monastery splash about in the water a few hundred yards away: an exciting break after class is over, our guide reveals.

Next day, we make our way up the hill to the Phayar Taung Monastery itself. There we meet with Pongyi, the head monk, over cups of green tea. He is a fascinating man, full of wisdom which he shares whilst smiling and laughing. His eyes are kind yet tell a story and you can tell he is sure to have many tales to share. Naung Naung explains that Pongyi takes responsibility for the accommodation, living expenses and food for over 1,300 children, many of whom are orphans. He receives no support from the government.

Myanmar is a wonderful and multi-layered country. A place of contrasts, colours and smiling people. Of 135 ethnic groups, Buddhists, Animists and Christians. Somewhere boasting stupas, history, wildlife, stunning landscapes and vibrant markets. A place you should go at least once in every lifetime, if you’re lucky enough to have many.

There’s also a slight twist in this story. At the end of the trip, I find myself saying good-bye to my family. Nervous and excited, I’m ready for my next adventure. I’m volunteering for Pongyi at the Phayar Taung Monastery where I will teach English to the children. A holiday so good that I’ve decided not to go home? Now that’s a first.

Further Information

A trip like Anya’s can be organised by Arakan Travel, an organiser of experiences to Myanmar. Based in the country for the last 12 years, they have an intimate knowledge of the people and its places. To start the journey, e-mail myanmar@arakantravel.com or visit www.arakantravel.com.

A special recommendation is to read more about the monastery in Phayar Taung, and to support this charity – visit www.inletrust.org.uk/our-book.

Top Tip: Pack in TUMI luggage – high-end suitcases which they will personalise for you with your initials. If something goes wrong, they’ll fix it. If it breaks, they’ll repair it. If it’s lost, they’ll help you track it down. And they offer a worry-free, one-year warranty: even if your suitcase is run under a bus (or smashed by the airline), TUMI will replace it at no cost. You cannot afford to leave home without their accessories, either. Weigh your luggage first with a TUMI scale (£70, and good for up to 100lbs) with its backlit digital display. Their phone charger — £85, with a 2,600 mAh power bang that holds enough oomph to charge an iPhone 1.5 times and so light it scarcely registers on the scales — will see you through even the longest power cut, airport delay or unforeseen diversion. And their electric adaptor (£70) provides configurations for 150 different countries. They’re so ahead of the curve, they’re on a different track. As for customer service? Yes. The answer is always yes. Visit www.tumi.com.

On The Edge of Wilderness At Nihi Sumba By Fiona Sanderson

Think of giving not as a duty, but a privilege….

This philosophy is very much the heart and soul of Nihi Sumba, a unique (and almost undiscovered) luxury resort on one of Indonesia’s little-known islands.

Today more than ever, luxury travellers are looking for holidays which are more than just beach holidays; they want an experience – access to a new way of life, culture, local food and environment. They want adventure, fulfilment, to learn new skills, and get a sense of purpose. I was looking forward to visiting Nihi Sumba and meeting its owner, Chris Burch, who bought the island in 2012, in partnership with renowned hotelier James McBride, with the single priority of making Nihi Sumba one of the best resorts in the world, operating in sustainable harmony with both the natural environment and the Sumbanese people. The duo has definitely gone on to achieve this, as several publications have since voted Nihi Sumba the best resort in the world.

Sumba is an island the size of Jamaica in the Indonesian archipelago that has been cut off from the rest of the world for so long that its ancient animistic traditions survive to this day. Only now is it slowly being drawn into the present with help of Nihi Sumba and the Sumba Foundation, a charitable foundation that has brought health, vital medicines and education to many of the Sumbanese people. Recent high-profile visitors to Nihi and supporters of the Sumba Foundation include David and Victoria Beckham and their family.

The Beckhams at Nihi Sumba (images from the Sumba Foundation’s Instagram)

For travellers wanting a far-away escape with a unique culture, understated luxury, unrivalled experiences and a chance to “give something back” to the land and people, this is the place to go. I have travelled all over the world, and I still enjoy the feeling when a new place takes my breath away by sheer beauty. Nihi Sumba certainly did this, and fulfilled all my passions for “off the beaten track” understated luxury. Obviously, a travelling companion (in my case, a new husband) helps sets the tone for adventure, and our 5-day itinerary was filled with some truly unique experiences. This – as well as the setting and friendly staff – was key to a memorable stay.

Sumba is around a one-hour flight from Bali. Although twice the size, there is very little development and what hotels there are on the island are limited. Arriving by plane, you see how entirely different the island is to Bali’s mass tourism and populated hotels. After a 70-minute drive, we arrived at Nihi Sumba, which seemed an oasis of calm away from the street life and bumpy roads. We had an immediate view of the two and a half kilometre Nihi Sumba beach with its wild waves, including the famous left-hand break that attracts surfers from all over the world.

Each one of Nihi’s thirty-two villas have been designed and built with Sumbanese culture in mind. With magnificent views over the sea, we had a one-bedroom villa split over two levels, with an outdoor bathroom featuring a stylish copper bath and our own private freshwater pool. The conical roof was thatched with local Alang Alang grass and the interiors included local ceramics and traditional ikat textiles. The natural materials and subtle colours added to the feeling of wild beauty and calm.

The hub of social activity is the main sandy-floored Ombak (meaning “wave front”) open-air restaurant and lounge bar, which comes alive at night, when you can either mix with other guests at the bar or have your own candlelit dinner. (On one of the evenings, a party ensued and there were a few missing guests come breakfast time!) All the meals are included and you can choose from a wide variety of Western and Indonesian food. There are special dining experiences to choose from and as we love Japanese food, we chose the Kaboku Restaurant. Limited to just six people, the sushi chefs prepared a seven-course meal with an assortment of locally caught fish with wine and Saki pairings. All superbly prepared, and the food was as fresh as it was delicious.

Whatever you are interested in, the team at Nihi can create bespoke itineraries to choose from, including yoga, water sports, spear fishing, unique dining experiences, rice island hikes, sunrise spa safaris and horse-riding along the wild stretch of Nihiwatu’s white beach. Nihi Sumba Island has one of the world’s most coveted private waves. Known as “God’s Left,” experienced surfers from around the world come to surf here. However, to keep the surfing experience unique, Nihi limits the waves to ten registered surfers a day. The sea is too rough to swim in however, so we found just lazing by the Nio Beach Club infinity pool was equally as appealing!

One of our favourite experiences was when we took a one and half hour trek down through the jungle of the National Park to Matayangu, known as The Blue Waterfall, which although arduous, was really worth the effort when you first see the breath-taking blue falls. After swimming in the lake, our guide set up an Indonesian picnic above the falls. The trek up, however, took a couple of hours, which was tough and best done if you are a little fitter than we were!

The next day for me can only be described as one of the best spa days that I have ever experienced. My husband was anxious about the idea of another safari trek into the jungle but as it turned out, the 90-minute trek was an easy one across the rolling countryside and rice fields. On arrival at the cliff top spa, a fleet of staff bearing cold towels and fresh coconuts take you to a sheltered creek for a dip in the freshwater pool before breakfast. Overlooking the sea is a private breakfast area, where freshly prepared mango awaits you and a chef is ready take your order for a cooked breakfast. After which, you are shown to your own open-air, bamboo-clad treatment room overlooking the sea, where two spa therapists are ready to treat you with 3 hours of beauty indulgence – think deep massage, body wraps, hair smoothies and organic facials. I was in heaven! After lunch, we drove back through the villages to the resort in open-top vehicles – all part of the Nihi Oka Spa Safari experience.

Feeling utterly pampered, we got back to our villa just in time for a horse ride along the beach. This is a rare chance to have an entire beach to yourself as the sun is setting. We also had the opportunity to be part of a leatherback turtle release down on Nihi beach. The Nihi Sumba Turtle Hatchery was started in 2004 in response to seeing thousands of turtle eggs being sold in the local markets. Indonesia is home to six of the seven remaining turtle species in the world and in Sumba alone, they have found five of those species. This understanding for nature, the environment and the preservation of local culture is integral to Nihi and is part of the work that its owner, Chris Burch, and the Sumba Foundation are doing on the island.

The next day, we had a chance to visit the local school and clinic to learn more about the work of the Sumba Foundation from the General Manager, Kenny Knickerbocker, and the Health Program Director, Dr. Claus Bogh. What they have managed to achieve is impressive. Since the Foundation’s inception, 22 primary schools are now supported with education and food programmes, and they have built a network of health clinics, treating thousands of patients and saving hundreds of children’s lives with critical cases of malnutrition and malaria. Malaria infection was one the biggest concerns on the island and a 70% reduction island-wide is attributed to The Sumba Foundation Malaria Training Center, which was established in 2010.

“One way or another, everyone living in the area is benefiting from the many projects we have initiated over the years,” Kenny Knickerbocker told us. “Since the Foundation started 17 years ago, the communities are prospering, and families have been given an opportunity to rise out of poverty due to the health, education and economic programmes that we have put in place. Our projects have grown to now cover a 176-square kilometre area in West Sumba, but there is much still much to do,” Knickerbocker told us. All this work depends on the generous support the Foundation receives from corporate sponsorship and private donations and of course, from the Nihi guests (in fact, some 25% of the $800,000 annual funding that the Foundation receives comes from Nihi guests). Through support from Chris Burch, owner of Nihi Sumba Resort, all administrative costs of the Sumba Foundation are maintained, allowing 100% of donations to directly fund these meaningful projects.

We had a chance to meet with Chris, who clearly has a deep passion for the island and improving the lives of the Sumbanese. “I have always been a risk taker, and I knew when I first saw Nihi that I was in for the long run. The aim here was to have a positive and lasting impact on consumers’ lives, and to leave the place better than when we found it,” he told us. On our last night, I reflected on Chris’s words and looked back over the last few days of a wonderful stay and recognised that this little bit of paradise on the edge of wilderness, with all the good that Nihi and the Foundation are doing, is not only worthy of its title as one of the best resorts in the world, but also as a leader of responsible tourism, where every guest can feel part of a much bigger picture.

To book your own stay in the edge of wildness, go to www.nihi.com. To find out more about the work of the Sumba Foundation, click here or watch this film.

A Little Lost Love On Board The Ayeyarwaddy Discovery By Caroline Phillips

There are naked children splashing innocently in the water by the river’s edge – why would anyone waste much-needed kyats, the local currency, on swimwear? Others are climbing like mini Tarzans on anchor ropes that run high above the water from a ship to the shore.

My family and I clamber aboard a traditional wooden longtail boat — used locally for transporting custard apples, dragon fruit and piles of mustard leaves as well as for ferrying people. Nearby young men in longyis (like sarongs) stand waist-high in the water washing their hair with acacia bark (a natural shampoo) and scrubbing their bodies. This is the scene at the riverside in Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma).

Image ©JP Klovstad

Then we chug, chug our way across the water towards the Ayeyarwaddy Discovery, a traditional Myanmar teak riverboat and the newest addition to Myanmar’s upscale, boutique cruise market. She’s just 115 ft long by 24.4 ft wide.

We’re going on a three-night, two-day cruise to places with poetic names such as Sagaing, Ava and Yandabo then on to Mt Tantgyi and Bagan. Slow travel that will take in thousands of pagodas, temples, glittering stupas and golden Buddhas and jumping ship at remote villages with artisans.

We’re welcomed aboard by a line-up of our crew of 14: a distinctly tiara moment. Two are in white uniforms, the rest in longyis — and everyone barefoot, including the cruise manager, Zaw Min Thein. “Please take off your shoes,” requests this gentle man, highlighting a local custom. Call it Buddhist barefoot luxury, if you will. “Mingalaba (hello in Burmese),” the others say, as they offer us chilled flannels, fresh watermelon juice and huge smiles. We’re the only passengers aboard as we’ve hired it for exclusive use.

Barefoot Zaw shows us around. There’s the top deck with the smiling Captain in his bridge (“Mingalaba,” again), plus a simple dining and bar area, sun lounger mattresses on the stern (eyed greedily by our 21 and 23-year-old daughters), and sun beds nearby (ditto). At water level, there’s a deck with a teeny kitchen and five cabins — one suite and four deluxe — for a maximum of ten passengers.

Since 1998, the Ayeyarwaddy Discovery had been used for cargo, ferrying firewood and clay pots from Bhamo in the north down to Mandalay. Starting from nothing more than an old, used hull, she was renovated in 2014 and entirely Myanmar-built. The décor is modest: teak, yet more teak, simple fabrics and large photographs of stupas and such like; the sort of boat that a Buddhist monk might consider meditating in.

Soon it’s time for dinner. We soon find that home-cooked meals appear miraculously out of that tiny kitchen. Tonight it’s mustard seed soup, carrot salad with peanut and fish sauce, and aubergine curry. “Everything selected from the market this morning,” says Zaw.

We retire afterwards to our master cabin with its characterful sloping teak floor — somehow sleeping as flat as spirit levels, the bed having been set at a different angle to the floor. We awaken only when the engine starts at 6am and, through the port hole, spy golden stupas on the riverbanks. Soon we reach Sagaing, a former royal capital just 15 miles from Mandalay.

We clamber across gangplanks and, like pirates, jump aboard three other cruise boats to reach the shore with its packs of dogs and novice monks, the latter en-route to school. We drive up ‘Frog Mountain’ to Soon U Poonya Shin Pagoda: an acid-trip temple with more colours than can be counted, including tiles of pink, yellow, blue and red. (‘No socks, no shoes, no spaghetti blouses,’ exhorts a nearby sign). Chanting fills the air from the neighbouring nunneries as we gaze over the stupendous vista: flooded plains, pagodas and golden-tipped stupas. A man with betel-nut red teeth bangs a gong each time someone donates to the temple. Nearby another bell tinkles. More donations? “That’s the ice-cream man,” explains Zaw.

Afterwards we go to Ava on a public ferry filled with travellers and motorbikes. We take a horse-cart — one of maybe 200 in the village —to explore this 14th to 19th century former royal dynasty. “It was Shan then Burmese-dominated,” explains Zaw, standing in front of a notice that reads: ‘Do not allow taking photos with Buddha images as well as kicking the Buddha images with feet.’ Then we visit the 19th century Mal Nu Oak Kyaung Brick Monastery. “It’s fine place, no?” asks Zaw. “Poor Queen Mal Nu lived here trying and failing to gain the acceptance of the monks.”

There are more monasteries to come. This time, we bump along the dirt track to the mid 19th-century Bagaya Wooden Monastery. In its beautiful teak building — boasting 267 gigantic teak posts — a monk sits reading, surrounded by books; another is chanting; and one more reads while a novice sits at his feet. An uplifting scene of centuries-old pastimes and contemplation. “Meditation is good for your engine to stop,” explains Zaw.

Image ©Cees Rijnen

Back aboard, we cruise into the late afternoon. The relaxation of being on the boat, the breeze in our faces and the snapshots of river life are what make this trip so special. There are fishermen neck-high in the river with nets suspended between two rods, wooden boats transporting clay pots and hay, and women in longyis and conical hats washing themselves and their clothes on the riverbank. Plus banks with pagodas and golden stupas and exotic foliage: from rain trees and Chinese tamarind to maize and peanuts.

We stop eventually in the middle of nowhere. Travelling on such a small vessel, the Captain can set anchor anywhere — because of the low draft — allowing us to visit places that larger boats cannot reach. The crew puts a plank from the boat to the bank and two of them hold a bamboo culm, our handrail. While the crew take time off — swimming in the river with its very strong current and playing football — we amble with one of them to an off-grid village. He wants to introduce us to his grandmother. “The village has no electricity and they say you’re the first westerners to have visited,” he translates.

Our new village family offers us fried fish and nuts. “Why is it always people who have the least who seem to offer the most?” my husband, Adrian, asks me quietly. Then they talk about football. Which is as popular as rice in Myanmar. “We borrow electricity from the monastery to watch football on television,” explains the man wearing an Arsenal shirt. “Can I give them some money to thank them for their hospitality, or would that cause offence?” enquires Adrian. “They’d prefer a saucepan,” our impromptu guide replies.

Next day, we start cruising before breakfast, downriver to Yandabo: an unprepossessing village, but one where England and Burma signed their treaty in 1826. Nowadays, it’s famous for its handmade clay pots. Oh, and for the two 300lb sows, piglets crawling all over them, that guard the village. “The owner decided not to eat them,” reveals Zaw.

As we enter the village, a woman is tossing heavy urns to a man to load onto a lorry. “She flicks it with her finger as she throws it. If the sound isn’t clear, he chucks it away because it’s cracked,” explains Zaw. In a nearby thatched hut, a young girl kicks her leg back and forth athletically to work the potter’s wheel, whilst another throws clay onto it and expertly shapes it into urns. “They mix clay with river-sand,” explains Zaw. “Then they bake the pots by burning peanut shells, straw and wood.”

I guess you’ll be wanting to hop aboard now, won’t you? You’ll need all the detailed blah, blah then. Well, each cabin has an en-suite shower-room, intermittent WiFi and air-con (not cool enough in the master suite and weirdly, the electricity is turned off between 3am and 6am). Then there’s the lower deck, with the crew’s quarters, although it turns out they prefer to sleep companionably and alfresco in the steamy weather of August.

On the last evening, the crew decides to do a sing-song, sitting on deck with Zaw playing his guitar. “This is our engine man, this is our electrician….” he says, introducing them. They stand wreathed in smiles. Then they sing Burmese songs about young men pining for their lost loves. The candles flicker in their improvised bamboo stem holders. The stars twinkle above, the breeze strokes our faces and we sip fresh pineapple. Our daughters bliss out. Lost love? Even though we’re about to walk into history and the highlight of our trip in Bagan, it’s hard not to feel a little lost love when we end our cruise the next day.

Further Information

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

A trip like Caroline’s can be organised by Arakan Travel, an organiser of experiences to Myanmar. Based in the country for the last 12 years, they have an intimate knowledge of the people and its places. To start the journey, e-mail myanmar@arakantravel.com or visit www.arakantravel.com. For Discovery Cruises Myanmar, visit www.myanmar-discovery-rivercruise.de.

Top Tip 1: Pack in TUMI luggage – high-end suitcases which they will personalise for you with your initials. If something goes wrong, they’ll fix it. If it breaks, they’ll repair it. If it’s lost, they’ll help you track it down. And they offer a worry-free, one-year warranty: even if your suitcase is run under a bus (or smashed by the airline), TUMI will replace it at no cost. You cannot afford to leave home without their accessories, either. Weigh your luggage first with a TUMI scale (£70, and good for up to 100lbs) with its backlit digital display. Their phone charger — £85, with a 2,600 mAh power bang that holds enough oomph to charge an iPhone 1.5 times and so light it scarcely registers on the scales — will see you through even the longest power cut, airport delay or unforeseen diversion. And their electric adaptor (£70) provides configurations for 150 different countries. They’re so ahead of the curve, they’re on a different track. As for customer service? Yes. The answer is always yes. Visit www.tumi.com.

Top Tip 2: Get insured with BUPA Travel Insurance. I’ve never before needed emergency medical assistance on a trip — but I needed it in this case for my husband, who had an accident in an ox cart. Don’t ask. All I can say is that BUPA and the medical department of AIG delivered everything I could ever have wanted, and more. (Yes, I know this sounds like an advertisement. Which it’s not. At least, not a paid one). It was incredibly reassuring getting sound health advice in the middle of the night — it’s available 24/7 — from someone with global medical expertise. Plus AIG acted fast to change our flights, organise wheelchair assistance and to have a taxi waiting for us at Heathrow. And were really sympathetic and supportive too. BUPA offer cover nearly everywhere, including the USA. I wouldn’t say it’s worth having an accident for service like this. But almost. Visit www.bupa.co.uk for further information.

Escape To Four Seasons Jimbaran In Bali For A Honeymoon By The Sea By Fiona Sanderson

Bali, also known as the “Land of the Gods,” is a place that exudes colour and spirituality, and although it is a busy holiday resort, there is still much to see and do in this ancient and holy place.

It is not surprising then, that Bali has all the ingredients for travellers on their honeymoon wanting a luxury resort with exotic culture, majestic beaches, sports activities, excellent food, buzzing nightlife and of course, exceptional service.

For over 20 years, The Four Seasons Jimbaran Resort has secured its position as one of the top luxury resorts in Asia. With a reputation for high quality service and style, I was looking forward to staying overnight and sampling some of the newly-introduced experiences.

The gateway into Bali is by Ngurah Rai International Airport, which can be extremely busy, particularly as this small island now attracts over 5 million tourists a year. However, only 15 minutes away from the airport by car, Four Seasons Jimbaran feels as though you have been flung into an oasis away from the well-developed hustle bustle of Bali’s main town of Denpasar. Smiling staff, walkways of bougainvillea, koi fish ponds and a view out across Jimbaran Bay are very welcoming, especially after a long flight from Europe.

Thirty-five acres of tropical gardens are interwoven among a collection of 147 thatched-roof villas that blend into a hill. Being one of the first resorts on the island, Four Seasons Jimbarah was able to secure the best location with a combination of both cliff and beachfront land, and views across Jimbaran Bay’s fishing village.

The Resort’s most palatial villas have recently been rebuilt after a two-year renovation based on designs by the late Jaya Ibrahim. I stayed in one of the recently renovated Premier Ocean Villas, with its own private pool and an impressive view across the bay.

The villa had a very contemporary take on Balinese design with marble flooring, timber ceilings, new artworks and gorgeous fabrics. I liked the clean lines of the furnishings in mostly neutral tones, which were refreshingly elegant, modern and light. Of course, the full force of an outside shower amongst the bougainvillea and a large luxurious bed with honeymoon flowers, set the tone for a great start to my stay!

I started the evening at cocktail hour at the resort’s Sundara Beach Club Restaurant, an all-day dining and lifestyle destination on the wide curve of Jimbaran, where I enjoyed cocktails and a little soul searching with a James Brown tribute band by the ocean. There was a great vibe with a mix of ages clearly enjoying themselves. The restaurant has a series of food stations, covering Italian, Japanese, Korean and Balinese cuisine. I thoroughly recommend the sushi tuna as a starter and I’m told that the Sunday lunch buffet is a must!

After cocktails, I had dinner at Taman Wantilan restaurant, which is a new interactive dining concept where you create your own culinary journey as a host of specialty chefs cook an extensive variety of Asian and Western cuisine in open show kitchens. It was a difficult choice to know which station to choose, with the sashimi and seafood bar where you can choose a selection from the famous Jimbaran Fish Market, to the station cooking up home-style curries, or the Italian station with an array of pasta dishes or the station serving slow-roasted macadamia-crusted prime ribeye and lamb racks and hamburgers. In the end, I chose the Singaporean chilli crab with a light salad from the wellness station, which was delicious and just light enough if you are planning a day in a bikini by the beach!

The resort prides itself on a host of new destination-inspired experiences and activities to celebrate all that Bali offers, from art and culture to natural landscapes, traditional healing, beauty treatments and adventure sports. You can also sign up for dance classes, heli-surfing, paddle-boarding and water biking adventures.

Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay also has a special programme for guests who want to learn traditional Balinese dancing in a very unique way. The hotel will organise groups to visit the School for the Hearing Impaired, and using sign language, they will learn the art of this style of dancing (the resort sponsors the school). Since the students here cannot hear the music, the dancers follow sign language given by a choreographer to match their movements to the music. Just incredible to watch. Balinese dance is so intricate and skilled, but guests are nevertheless invited to get up and learn some of the moves with the dancers. The performance can also be arranged at the resort as part of a welcome dinner or gala event.

I then chose to do a totally new experience – an Anti-Gravity Yoga lesson, which involves a ground-breaking “flying” technique, using hammocks to support your weight. Hanging upside down in a cocoon of silk in various positions can only be described as “bat-like” yoga! I was told by my instructor, Gunta, that the enhanced and inverted postures relieve stress, encourage healthy blood circulation, and do great things for your health and fitness. I certainly felt stretched and reinvigorated. It was fun – particularly seeing the beach from a different perspective from my anti-gravity position upside down. An experience not to be missed!

The following day, I managed to grab the last few hours before departure on a sun lounger at the Beach Club and took a dip in the infinity pool, which feels as though you are part of the sea, with the scent of frangipani flowers drifting across the pool. A spot I simply didn’t want to leave.

Clearly, time and reputation at Jimbaran have only added to the ultimate client satisfaction. I can see why Four Seasons Jimbaran’s extended family of guests will keep returning. The villa had all the comforts that you would hope for in a top resort, but it also has style and understated luxury which is difficult to get right.

One thing that hasn’t changed here, however, is the legendary Four Seasons service. The staff are very much a part of the experience here, as they were all so delightful and helpful wherever I went. Nothing was too difficult or too much trouble. They were always smiling, which really makes a difference when you are looking for a seamless stay on a honeymoon retreat.

Four Seasons may not be the only luxury hotel brand nor the only one with remarkable service, but Four Seasons’ consistency is what gives it an edge. Despite the brand’s rapid expansion and far-flung presence, there is no such thing as an underwhelming experience at a Four Seasons Hotel. Four Seasons at Jimbaran is indeed a very special place, and I am looking forward to coming back one day!

Insider Tip

Tie in a trip to the Four Seasons Sayan, where the Obamas stayed last summer, up in the cool rice valleys of Ubud for a totally different experience – the two make a great combination.

Further Information

Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay
Jimbaran
Kuta Selatan
Bali, 80361
Indonesia

For resort reservations, call +62 (361) 701010 or contact via the website here.

The History And Magic of Amanjiwo By Fiona Sanderson

Escape to Indonesia for our honeymoon special….

Stepping off the plane at Yogyakarta felt a world away from Jakarta, Indonesia’s biggest and most congested city – traffic and pollution were not what we had in mind for our first honeymoon destination! However, an easy flight just over an hour from Jakarta took us into another world. If Jakarta is Java’s financial and industrial powerhouse, Yogyakarta is its soul. Central to the island’s artistic and intellectual heritage, this city was the seat of power that produced the magnificent temples of Borobudur and Prambanan in the 8th and 9th century and powerful Mataram kingdom of the 16th and 17th century.

We were greeted at the airport by our Amanjiwo representative who gathered our luggage and swept us to our car for a short ride to the hotel. Arriving at the entrance to Amanjiwo, we felt as though we were being guided up the stairs into a temple. Granite stone and welcoming staff gave us a first glimpse through the pillar entrance of the hotel and beyond to Java’s great temple of Borobudur, the eighth wonder of the Orient and one of the world’s largest and most revered Buddhist temples.

Surrounded by the mist of tropical rainforest and rice terraces, at Amanjiwo you really feel as though you are stepping back in time. Set in two graceful crescents around the central Rotunda, Amanjiwo’s main building is framed by 36 suites. The exotic suites all have 4-pillar beds and feature terrazzo flooring, high ceilings, domed roofs and a thatched pavilion with relaxing day beds on which to sit and soak in the reverence of the surrounding temples and history. I particularly liked the open-air bathroom with its walled gardens and pavilion. If you are lucky enough to have one of the small private pools in your suite as we had, you will wake up to the haunting sounds of early morning prayers across the valley and see the reflections of the hills and volcanoes in the green limestone of your pool. I didn’t feel disturbed by the calls to prayer, echoed by the numerous mosques in the area during the day. I thought the calls were quite beautiful, especially in the evening when they gradually blended with the crickets chirping. In fact, there is a romance and stillness about Amanjiwo that is hard to find. In its lushly forested setting, Amanjiwo is the epitome of peace, with an elegant limestone 40m infinity pool flanked by rows of cream parasols and wooden loungers, where you can lie back and admire sweeping views of the surrounding rice fields and volcanic peaks.

It’s the little extras that count, and the Aman hotels are always very spoiling in this regard. Each night we were given different gifts in our room, such as a Batik handkerchief, a bookmark made from Bodhi Ead, raffia hats and fresh fruit. There were roses and candles in the bath and around the bed, all of which served to make us feel very special.

Breakfast was a peaceful affair with the cool of the fans, the sunlight shining through the pillars and the sound of the call of prayers from beyond the warmth of the paddy fields. Various breakfast options were available but my favourite early morning pick-me-up was made using white turmeric to cleanse and soothe, followed by smashed avocados and poached eggs.

If you like spicy food, Indonesian cuisine is delicious (the Indonesian archipelago was once known as the “Spice Islands,” and it was from here that Portuguese and Dutch traders brought pepper, cloves and nutmeg to the West). We loved the dining room with its silver inlayed ceiling and majestic crescent lined with neoclassical columns, and views over the valley and volcanoes. Amanjiwo offers a choice of Indonesian and Western cuisines with a blend of Indonesian spices. We chose the Lumpia spring rolls with prawns and bamboo shoots, Terencam with fresh coconut, cucumber and cabbage, and turmeric and chili salad followed by Indonesian-style grilled fish and spicy chicken satay with mixed veg and red rice. No Michelin stars as yet but very delicious all the same.

The highlight of our stay at Amanjiwo, however, was a sunset tour to Borobudur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a guest of Amajiwo, you can enjoy the temple either at sunrise or sunset. In this visit, you will be given more time to explore the temple during the early evening when most of the visitors have departed. You can really only take in the magnificence and complexity of the building when you are up close. Built in the 8th century, it ranks with Pagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia as one of the great archeological sites of Asia, if not the world. The monument guides pilgrims through an extensive system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the walls and the balustrades. Borobudur has one of the largest and most complete ensembles of Buddhist reliefs in the world. These intricately carved temples scattered across the verdant Prambanan Plain are a truly breath-taking sight to behold. Once a year, Buddhists in Indonesia celebrate Vesak at the monument, and Borobudur is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist attraction. Borobudur remains popular for pilgrimages, so do avoid coming in mid-May because of this.

Other things to do include guided treks, archaeological tours, art gallery visits, shopping and massage treatments. We went to Spa Heaven, where the therapist, Tari, gave us a very strong deep tissue massage. I left feeling utterly relaxed and my calf muscles in particular felt very well stretched.

Amanjiwo is pure unadulterated luxury. Although children are allowed, there were none on our visit, which was ideal as there was no noise. Maybe leave the kids at home if you are planning on coming here, as the resort is ideal for couples either on honeymoon or celebrating something special. Whatever your excuse, you will be truly pampered. The slow pace of life is blissful and so it is certainly a honeymoon haven.

After our stay at Amanjiwo, we flew to Bali, Indonesia’s best-known and most-visited island, located just off Java’s southeastern coast. Bali is small – about 100 miles wide and 70 miles north to south – and, unlike the rest of Indonesia, its 3.9 million residents are mostly Hindu, not Muslim.

We stopped for lunch in Ubud at Amandari, one of three Aman hotels in Bali, which looks out over cascading rice paddies and ornate Hindu shrines. It feels as though Amandari has been there for thousands of years, as the culture and architecture both celebrate the natural surroundings. The villas are incredibly beautiful and are designed similarly to traditional Balinese homes, with beautifully lush flora and fauna decorating each room. The restaurant here is open to both guests and non-residents, offering delicious and distinctive Indonesian cuisine made with locally grown ingredients. Gamelan players perform here every evening, their songs joined by the dusk chorus of the birds who fly over the valley.

The Aman experience, offered at all the group’s hotels, is a way of life and makes their resorts luxury destinations of choice. It is “no expense spared” pricing but it is your honeymoon after all! There is a genuine authenticity (both culturally and in terms of the sincerity of the hospitality) to the experience. Among the hotels in which I have stayed, Aman remains in my top list of favourites! There really is only one thing left for me to say – Terima Kasih (“thank-you” in Indonesian).

For more information and to make a booking at Amanjiwo, click here. For more information and to make a booking at Amandari, click here.

Escape To Kampala By Anya Braimer Jones

Kampala, Uganda. I am sitting in Sparkles Salon, in the Game Mall, sixty minutes into what I’m told will be a marathon four-hour hair-braiding session. Not your usual tourist activity, perhaps. But this isn’t an obvious tourist city. In fact, most visitors give Kampala a miss and rush instead to see the gorillas and big four (for five, the rhino, you need to go to the zoo). But Kampala should be a compulsory stop, a must-see for anyone who likes food, art and African life. About which, more later.

But back to my hair. God only knows how, but I’ve managed to persuade my dear companion kindly to sit with me in the salon whilst two women attempt – with finger-work faster than a cheetah on the run – to turn me into more ‘gap year Afrikaaan’ than my usual English white gal look. And whilst they’ve said it’ll take four hours, this is Africa – where time keeping is as flexible as a baked plantain – so it will likely be closer to six or seven. (Our African guide teaches us that the only way to get anything done fast is to say, “I’m on the way to the airport.” But it’s not worth trying that for my tresses. They might plait me to the chair).

Let’s wind back. We arrive in Kampala after a tough and gruelling week of trekking in beautiful Mount Elgon (a little-visited extinct volcano in the East with tropical rainforests and a Jurassic Park-style caldera), doing wild camping (think water only from the stream and light just from the stars) and living like cavewomen. So when we arrive in Kampala and more specifically at the Sheraton….oh boy, am I excited!

This five-star hotel – built in the ‘60s and towering at 14 storeys – boasts an ice-cream parlour in the lobby, strong WiFi throughout the hotel, a 24-hour fitness suite and a pool big enough to drown a whale. Or a whole school of them or whatever the collective noun is for a bunch of whales. In our room, a complimentary basket of fruit awaits us – miniature bananas, mangos and T-tomato fruit (like sweet ’n’ sour tomatoes). Plus two generous servings of chocolate cake – the like of which we cavewomen haven’t seen for 120 hours and seven minutes.

Best of all….there’s a bath, shower and mirrors. Plus enough toiletries to open an outpost of Space NK. I never thought – in my 22 years on Earth thus far – that I would consider a bath, shower and seven different toiletries to be the ne plus ultra of luxury. Frankly, the whole shebang would earn the ‘luxury’ tag for any well seasoned, smart living traveller – not just cave women.

After our past five days of living ‘Bear Grylls’ style, the finer things of life offered by this hotel come as a particularly welcome surprise. I’m delighted by everything from their vast menu of room service options (and portions to feed a small army of whales) to their complimentary shoe-shining service (that returns my Timberland hiking boots clean enough to take back to the shop for a credit note) and oh, let me mention again the generous array of toiletries. You see, they offer more toiletries than I’ve ever seen in a five star hotel.

Alas, my companion insists that it’s time to explore the city. We’re joined by Emma (a man; apparently it’s short for Emmanuel), a guide. There’s Kabaka’s Palace with its chilling reminder of Idi Amin’s reign of terror: this is where he built his underground torture and execution chambers. And yes, yes, of course there are churches, mosques, cathedrals, tombs and the likes which you can read about in any guidebook.

But we’re cavewomen in search of retail therapy and hence lose ourselves shopping for African hand-printed fabrics; in craft markets — searching for wicker baskets, beaded walking sticks and cow horn cups — and wandering through endless lanes and alleyways: there’s one for hardware, one for stationery, another for computers, one for fake designer trainers, you get the gist.

Everything here is chaotic and manic, but in an exciting way. Cross the road and you’re risking your life between boda-boda motorcycle taxis and matatu taxi vans piled high with people. Emma takes us to The Old Taxi Park – the Victoria Coach Station of Kampala, but for taxi vans. Two thousand of them squeezed into less than ten acres and all plying for trade as 100 more arrive each hour. A woman – balancing a wicker basket of plantain on her head with her newborn snoozing in a kikoy sling on her back – rushes past us to sell the (delicious) green fruit to the vehicle that has just pulled up in front of us.

We wander on, squeezing between cars, vans, bikes, people, dogs and live chickens en route to market. Boys are hastening to school, whilst buttoning up their yellow shirts. A man shouts, “Mzungu” (a friendly word which translates as ‘white person’ in every East African language) and asks us if we would like a mani-pedi. At the side of the road, as it happens. Next to the beggars, stressed businessmen marching to their meetings and chaos that makes up this wonderful city. I think I will pass mate, but thanks for the offer.

This brings me to my next point: the ‘Mzungu’ issue….if one more person shouts this at me, I am going to flip! Or fry my face to match my dark braids. My companion has taken it upon herself to answer back: “Eeeeh Mafrica” each time someone calls her ‘white person.’ Apparently, ‘Mafrica’ means “hey black person.” Or so she thinks. This fills me with dread as I’m not sure whether her greeting will receive a smile, a laugh or perhaps result in a punch-up. Luckily, a huge grin is the regular response.

I get called ‘Mzungu’ at least ten times in the market. Ah, the market. This is a two-acre open air area space dedicated to fresh foods – and open every day from 6am until 10pm. You can’t get much fresher than a live chicken in a cage, throttled to order. Or the delicacy of just-caught grasshoppers ready to fry. There are also sacks filled to the brim with coriander, cumin seeds, star anise and cinnamon sticks the size of small oak trees. For any foodie, this is an unmissable experience.

From there, we go to another street that is solely for the tailors of the capital; a place where young girls sit with wrinkled men, all working away at their vintage Singer sewing machines. No factories with nasty man-made fabrics here. Just good, proper, old-school work, as my grandfather would say. In Kiyembe Lane in downtown Kampala, each little fabric store is bursting with materials piled floor to ceiling: splashes of colour, strong ethnic prints, waxed cotton and local handcrafted materials for sale by the yard (for a mere £2).

Next, we go to some of the art and artefact galleries. Kampala has a burgeoning contemporary African art scene. My favourite is the Afriart Gallery. It boasts a temporary exhibition of acrylics daubed on bark cloth. And my top choice for African crafts is Banana Boat (a real er, Mzungu haunt), where they sell hand-sewn and beaded dog collars, purposefully misshapen rustic brass hoop earrings, cow hide drums, paper bead jewellery made out of recycled cereal packets and magazines, and hand-blown coloured glass fashioned from old wine bottles.

After a full-on and chaotic day in the city, it’s back to the Sheraton to have a Ugandan massage. Uganda isn’t famous for its massages – it’s not part of their culture. People don’t ask, “Are you going to spa in Thailand or Uganda?”, do they? But wow, wow, wow! I am impressed. My companion, a spa junkie and reviewer, is blown away too. My lovely massage therapist really knows what she’s doing. First, she applies a body scrub of bananas, avocado, ground coffee beans and salt – most of the contents of the fridge, detractors might say – but to me, this is heaven. After leaving it to soak into the skin, I shower until I’m gleaming clean. Then she gives me a great massage kneading my tired muscles with lemongrass oil.

Afterwards, we love the meal at the Sheraton’s Seven Seas restaurant, its (mostly) Italian eaterie. Don’t get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed the rice and beans we have had almost daily since arriving and trekking in Africa….but fresh fish and grilled vegetables send me to another planet. Their Serbian chef, Aleksander Pavlovic, cooks using mostly Ugandan ingredients (but also Italian and Serbian….we’re talking truly international here) and serves dishes packed with flavour and colour, and presented prettily.

We have the creamiest avocado and tomato salad known to mankind: Ugandan avocados are, hands down, the best in the world; a sweet but tangy and crunchy mango and raw vegetable salad; flipping fresh Nile Perch baked in a banana leaf; and Talapia (a fish found in Ugandan lakes) with black bean sauce and gonja (another form of plantain). I opt for lots of plantain, of course, because after eating my weight in the stuff since arriving in Africa, no meal would be complete without it.

All too soon it is time to leave. Cue for tears of sadness. It’s just ninety minutes by car from Kampala to Entebbe, then just over an hour’s flight by Kenya Airways from Entebbe to Nairobi. In the latter, we’re welcomed to the airline’s Simba Lounge. It has a wide selection of international newspapers from Le Monde to the New York Times; a VIP room; Halal breakfast options (think sour brown porridge); the best macadamia nuts I have ever tried; and fluorescent fruit juice. Plus comfy chairs and deliciously fierce air-conditioning.

Once on board, I’m delighted to be welcomed with a wash bag that even today, even at over two decades of age, the highlight of my flights is seeing what’s inside that bag. In this case, a cosy pair of yellow socks with paw prints for grip on the sole is the winner. The seats are comfortable too and adjust perfectly into flatbeds. Even the menu is impressive – at least for a flight — and the food is good. Think beetroot carpaccio and lamb biryani.

As we soar above the clouds, I think of the city we’ve left behind. I reckon it would be safe to say that Kampala is not for the faint hearted. It is crazy, yes, but it is also an authentic and life-enhancing experience – a welcome break from the sometimes hamster-wheel existence of London and other cities. Oh, and I forgot to say….my hair-braiding took six hours. That’s Africa for you. But did I tell you how many toiletries they give you in the Sheraton?

Further Information

Mahlatini Luxury Travel (02890 736 050; www.mahlatini.com) offers a 2- night stay at the Sheraton Kampala (www.sheratonkampala.com) from £320 per person sharing on a Bed & Breakfast basis, which includes road transfers from Entebbe International Airport. Fares from London Heathrow to Uganda (via Nairobi) from GBP390 including tax – visit www.kenya-airways.com for more information.

Escape To Atmantan By Caroline Phillips

There are some unique boards by the roadside. ‘A fit and healthy you is the best fashion statement you can make,’ reads one sign. Another says, ‘Be transformed — in the land of prana (life energy), there is no app for this.’ Nearby folk wearing kurta pyjamas raise their hands prayerfully in Namaste greetings. This is the Atmantan wellness resort, the name of which is derived from the Sanskrit words for ‘mind’, ‘body’ and ‘soul.’

Atmantan is a 90-minute drive from Pune in Maharashtra, India. It’s nestled in the Sahyadri mountain range (‘older than the Himalayas,’ boasts the brochure, and also chokka with healing crystals, apparently) and overlooks the twinkling Mulshi Lake. The spa is surrounded by 40 manicured acres with red flame trees, bursts of blue and purple blooms, and a jungle’s worth of orchestral birdsong. Plus, there are decorative driftwood elephants, serene Buddha statues and gardeners sweeping the grass. We’re 2200 feet above sea level, where the air is as clear as eucalyptus, the mornings cool and the evenings pleasant.

Atmantan offers a 360-degree approach to health and fitness — encompassing everything from nutrition to spa therapies and functional fitness: from Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine and yoga to naturopathy (natural cures); from Western approaches (blood diagnostics, colonics) to physio (postural assessment and alignment). All under the care of six doctors, a tip-top team of therapists and a crack duo of physios.

There are nine retreat programmes, ranging from yoga to master cleanse, weight loss and restorative physiotherapy. (I’m trying a little of all of them). Most guests are encouraged to get active and there are fitness challenges, hiking, exercise from a vast array of classes, and personal training on offer. (One of the founders, Nikhil Kapur, is an Ironman tri-athlete).

My bedroom is a golf-buggy ride away (the one and only vehicular trip that I take during the week) up the hill. Its decor is contemporary (with a super-high bedhead and bold rug) but there’s no mistaking that I’m somewhere that takes health seriously: there’s a mattress that’s certified by the American Chiropractic Association, with a reinforced centre for spinal support; a pillow menu that includes orthopaedic ones; and a mini-bar only offering options like homemade muesli snacks and a seeds mix. My marble bathroom has chemical-free toiletries, a card indicating that there’s a ‘tongue scraper on request’ and a sunken tub overlooking a picture window. (For the truly spoiling, there are two villas; one of 1500 sq. feet and the other 2500 sq. feet, and each with a private infinity pool, gym, sauna, steam, open-to-the-sky showers, and personal butler).

I make my way to lunch, noting that ‘no bathrobes are permitted in the dining pavilion.’ I pass massive bowls of fresh petal mosaics. There’s a minimalist sweeping stone staircase down to the restaurant, Vistara — which means ‘spectacular view,’ and it is. And three other places to eat, including a tea and juice bar (that looks like a trendy Indian nightclub on a day off), barbeque lounge and ‘outdoor kitchen.’

They’re into locavarian fare (locally grown and seasonal, much of it from their 20-acre organic farm) and offer Mediterranean, Asian and Ayurvedic specialities. The Vistara menu gives calorie counts for the food and the items are also broken down into their nutritional composition. There’s a choice of two dishes in each of the four courses. ‘Green bean soup, 55 cal serving, 2.4g fat, 14.5g carbs’ is one example. And raw okra salad and pan seared pomfret with bell pepper cheese patty and chickpea mash is another. (You do the calorie maths).

The doctors and chefs customise and modify food for guests, and I know this may be my last chance for a grande bouffe. But, despite myself, I take it slowly and moderately, eating mindfully whilst looking at the other guests. They’re mostly Indian — a teeny bit of Bollywood, a large smattering of middle-class locals and one other white face. And what of the meal? The food is fine, the staff slick and professional, and the less said about the piped muzak the better.

Afterwards, I wander around the grounds. Nine months after the spa opened (in April 2016), there are 73 rooms that are operational and soon there will be 106. There’s mini golf, croquet and a sports centre with table tennis and pool tables — a nod to the corporate groups they hope to attract. And a glorious amphitheatre with views over the hills and lake and sun, for doing yoga al fresco.

Then there’s the eff-off spa. Truly. It has 23 treatment rooms, a spinning studio, a high tech gym, aerobic studio, indoor salt-water pool with water features, and yoga studio. Plus infrared sauna (with infrared light waves to induce sweat and the release of toxins, to support cellular health) and a hammam. Plus a water bar with bottles of H20, each infused with different herbs and vegetables.

Next I have an appointment with Dr. Manoj, an excellent naturopath and Ayurvedic consultant with a Masters in psychology: a man who is super well informed about health. Dr. Manoj prescribes a bespoke diet for me that includes chia and cacao smoothies, steamed veg and a daily small bowl of fresh ginger and garlic — the last a foul-tasting anti-inflammatory. After the lean diet, he moves me on to a juice one that I manage for a full….24 hours.

He also introduces me to the encyclopaedic spa menu: everything from a green tea body scrub and firming wrap of grapefruit and frankincense to vibration training with mechanical stimulation to exercise the body parts; from a Vichy shower with nine heads of water to massage the body to acupuncture and moxibustion. The list goes on. And on.

My week is soon filled with an (organic) jam-packed schedule. There’s a visit to Dr. Navita for a detailed and illuminating physio examination and postural assessment. (She gives me exercises and top tips for bunions and ergonomic seating.) Then there’s floating yoga on the swimming pool (good for the core muscles) and Uduwarthanam (deep tissue massage using herbal powders, rather like warm sand being sprinkled on the skin and then being rubbed with fairy sandpaper, to help muscle stiffness and skin tone).

There’s Takradhara (medicated buttermilk) being poured from a copper chatti bowl onto my head (enhances mood), Pranic healing (spiritual healing complete with energising of the chakras), Chi Nei Tsang (Chinese abdominal massage) and Ajna light therapy (a new technique stimulating the pineal gland with light and sounds….good for relaxation or, it’s claimed, for inner eye meditation).

I love it all, particularly the yoga with Seema in the amphitheatre beneath the early morning moon. (I even manage Jal Neti [Ayurvedic nasal cleansing] with her and six other women in a communal bathroom used exclusively for this purpose). And then there’s my hike up the mountain with Hemanta, personal trainer and national kickboxing champion — for muscle tone and stupendous views. And synchronised massages with therapists so good I want to take them home with me. The week passes in a blur of restorative therapies and I would have stayed another week, if I could.

I arrived at Atmantan with what’s known as a ‘corporate hunchback’ i.e. a rounded spine — and depart feeling taller and straighter. My ‘before’ and ‘after’ statistics — such as my fat mass — on my body composition analyser print-out are much improved after just a week. I leave with more muscle, less cellulite and supple as ghee. As I drive away, I notice more roadside signs. ‘Take care of yourself, you are living with you all your life,’ instructs one. ‘Breathe in this mountain air,’ reads another, ‘and boost your immune system.’ And so I will and do.

For further information, go to www.atmantan.com.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites.

Bad Kleinkirchheim Is Good For The Health! By Ramy Salameh

With a passion for its roots, the prestigious Ferienhotel Kolmhof in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria, is a family-owned property, which mixes tradition with contemporary Austrian lifestyle. Sitting at the foot of the Nockberge Mountain range and opposite St. Kathrein thermal spa, the hotel was our perfect base for three days of relaxation, rejuvenation and active-adventure.

Bad Kleinkirchheim sits within the region of Carinthia known for a Mediterranean-style climate. Nearby, the borders of both Italy and Slovenia help influence the relaxed nature of locals and the fine regional produce. As the owner of the Kolmhof, Achim Lienert casually remarked “we are on the sunny side of the Alps.”

Having taken over the business from his late father, Lienert has brought an entrepreneurial energy to the hotel, which caters for all ages and tastes, in both summer and winter. Returning guests and new arrivals to the area are greeted by staff in the national dress (Dirndl and Lederhosen) and more often than not by Lienert’s mother, the matriarch of this family-run hotel.

The hotel has a photo wall running along a corridor linking the wood-panelled restaurant with the lobby lounge. Celebrated figures of Austria and beyond are now part of the hotel’s history, ever since it opened back in the 1960s. One face and photo that appears often in Carinthia is that of the legendary skier Franz Klammer, who was born in a village close to Bad Kleinkirchheim. He achieved Olympic gold not so long after the hotel had opened and he remains in the hearts and minds of Austrians to this day.

Even when ascending the summit of the Nockberge Biosphere Park, our gondola passed another in descent, fully wrapped with a golden livery devoted to Klammer, featuring his distinctive silhouette, crouched and on the edge of his skis hurtling towards one of many victories of his career. Nowadays, Klammer is a devotee of golf and cycling, as much as skiing, and helps promote the Alpe Adria golf trail between Carinthia, Italy and Slovenia, playing on some of the finest courses in the Eastern Alps.

Using the hotel’s state-of-the-art e-mountain bikes made the 5km ride up toward the St. Oswald’s cable car station and Biosphere Park in Brunnach, an easy and scenic ride. The verdant panorama is punctuated by the sight of dark-wood farm houses, adorned with geranium-filled balconies and deer antlers mounted under the pitched roofs. Ancient orchards, and farmers scything the long grass in the fields during early summer, completed the chocolate-box setting, attesting to the conservation of the alpine’s natural and cultural landscape.

Atop the Nockberge, the dramatic vistas stretch out to towards rolling rather than jagged peaks, which is a unique geological feature and rare in the Alps. The moving shadows, created by the odd passing cloud, slowly unveiled a mountain hut that offers refreshment to hikers from the many trails that split like veins across the torso of the mountain range. After our own short hike, the upper cable car restaurant provided deck-chairs from which to bask in the sun and enjoy a coffee before we zipped back to the hotel, our own downhill mountain bike race an exhilarating end to our elevated excursion.

Bad Kleinkirchheim has a very long history as a spa town, stretching back to the Middle Ages – more so than as a winter ski or summer resort. The many active adventure pursuits are one way to enjoy the balmy climate in the region; the other is through the thermal waters. The town is book-ended by two major spa facilities, Römerbad and St. Kathrein, sitting at either end of the main thorough-fare. The former is the larger of the two, set across three storeys and 12,000sqm of alpine spa and wellness to help soothe well-hiked muscles, whilst the latter incorporates an 86m waterslide alongside Roman baths and swimming pools.

The Kolmhof, like other hotels in the area, offers its own spa facilities. “We developed and built our own spa area of 1000sqm to reflect the changing nature of what our guests wanted,” stated Lienert. To access the heated hotel pool, one swims from inside to out, with head popping up from the surface of the water into the calm serenity of landscaped gardens and a full sweep of pine-covered mountains.

The Kolmhof also has its own private beach beside Lake Millstätter, the second biggest lake in Carinthia. The vast body of water stretches 12km in length with a depth of just under 150m. The 19th and 20th century villas that rise from the northern shore to the hillside, the cafes and the bathers provide an ‘‘Alpine Riviera’’ feel. The northern shore is also home to a Romanesque Benedictine Abbey whose gardens, arcades and cloisters provide shade to retreat from the summer heat.

Having followed the meandering journey of the clear mountain water, which begins as a trickle of a stream and ends in flowing rivers that finally spill into the lake, we then had to retrace our steps back up towards our evening meal. The Ferienhotel Kolmhof prides itself in serving Austrian and Carinthian specialities using local produce, which like most things in Bad Kleinkirchheim, benefit from a sun-filled climate!

For more information go to www.kolmhof.at.

Escape To Gleneagles By Caroline Phillips

If there’s a smart place to take a hound, Gleneagles is it. It hit the headlines in 2005 when it hosted the G8 summit, despite the leaders being minus their pooches. But recently, it has been becoming famous for its excellent hospitality for the four-legged. There’s a rigorous vetting (excuse the pun) procedure prior to my arrival with Poppy, my Boxer. On most counts, she probably shouldn’t be allowed to stay. Show her a fluffy, small, white dog and she thinks: canapé. Oh, and she farts a lot with no compunction about doing so in five-star hotels. And, let’s face it, this all makes me feel nervous.

Any dog wishing to stay at Gleneagles can only be up to the equivalent size of a Labrador. (It’s a no-go if Poppy opts to wear a pair of Jimmy Chews). The dogument — the hotel’s dog reservation form — goes on to explain that they ‘reserve the right to move noisy or disruptive dogs to The Kennels, with additional costs.’ But Poppy is a performer. Boxers are clowns. She likes howling at the moon. Oh, and at the television, the radio, and voices outside the bedroom. I can feel it in my (whisper the word) bones: barking-mad Poppy barking madly and being dragged ignominiously off to the doghouse with additional costs. (There’s already a room charge of £100 per dog, maximum two hounds per room).

My anxiety rating is as high as a Boxer jumping up to lick someone’s face as we motor up the drive to Gleneagles. The owner of another hotel (the Palace, Gstaad, since you ask), told me once how they’d had to turf a bedroom for one of their guests who didn’t want to take her dog out to do its business in the cold. There will obviously be no need for that sort of thing at Gleneagles. It’s a sparklingly bright day and the hotel (which opened in 1924) is set midst an 850-acre estate in Perthshire, just where the Highlands and the palette of green, brown and gold begin. It was built originally to offer country leisure pursuits to Caledonian Railway travellers: a kind of railway resort cum grand hotel. Now it’s more a (somewhat dour externally) palace in a very pretty location midst bracken and yellow gorse, daffodils and hills. There’s a vintage Rolls-Royce in fern green in front of the hotel. So gorgeous and so old, I think, until I clock that it’s my age.

Things continue badly. The lady at the reception desk tells me that we’ve got a meeting shortly with the hotel’s puppy, and I start wondering whether it’s a little, fluffy, white canapé. Then I ask if Poppy can accompany us for a quick late lunch, and I’m told she may. So we go with trepidation and Poppy into the American Bar, which is styled like an iconic 1920s bar. It’s not that Poppy does a whoopsie on the carpet or anything. It’s just that she’s not a guide dog. And it turns out that only helpful dogs like that are actually allowed in there.

So we go and sit instead in the reception area of the lobby and we eat the best pea soup (thick, and sprinkled with crumbs, pea shoots and crispy pancetta), the lightest crab cakes and three different types of salmon smoked respectively with whisky, gin and mulberry, each slice better than the last. And Poppy looks at me with those mournful eyes until I sneak her a bread roll and tell her and my human friend that I think the interior vibe is comfy Arts Deco meets corporate and that it’s lovely. And that the service is excellent: friendly, unstuffy and attentive.

The Gleneagles staff has a marketing mantra — they keep saying that it’s a ‘playground.’ It turns out that it’s a countryside estate that encompasses a 5-star hotel, three champ golf courses, Andrew Fairlie’s 2-star Michelin eaterie, and seven places to eat. Plus an ooh-ah Espa spa (with a blissful signature treatment, The Source, which involves massage, hot poultices, oats and local honey) and heated poolside recliners, a tropical fruit scented shower, and crystal and eucalyptus steam room. There’s also a club with a swimming pool that’s as hot as a bath. And golf, tennis, riding, off-road driving, cycling, archery (with recurve bows), fishing (with ghillies in trout lochs), shooting, falconry and gun-dog classes.

And what of our bedroom? To say that Gleneagles is big is an understatement. You need a SatNav to get to your room. It boasts 232 bedrooms, with both traditional and modern interiors. We’re in a (ugly) modern extension in a special dog-friendly room overlooking the garden and with a sensible wooden floor near the door for wet paws. The interior is all very tasteful, pared down and homely.

The sheets must be a zillion thread count and the bed is so comfortable it can surely only be a ViSpring. There’s an equally luxurious bed for Poppy: an Onyourbed: think of it as the ViSpring of the canine world. They’ve also given her a foam duvet, plastic floor mats, two bowls and a poop scoop set. When we leave the room, there’s a sign hanging on the door, ‘Be careful, dog in room.’ (When we return after dinner, the bed has been turned down and the curtains drawn. A tribute to their staff, given the possible chien méchant in the room).

Next we have our meeting with Colin Farndon, director of leisure, and Henry, the hotel’s puppy. My heart goes into my mouth when I note that he is small, white (well, golden) and fluffy. (Henry, not Colin.) He’s a mini Lab. The sweetest puppy you ever did see. A sort of one-mouthful job for the Boxers of this world.

But it soon becomes clear that there’s something about Colin and his calm demeanour, his I’m-the-head-of-the-pack vibe. And suddenly Poppy starts behaving as if she’s been to finishing school. And that’s when it all changes for me. Colin lets her off the leash. She plays hide and seek with Henry. She behaves like a four-pawed angel. Colin tells me that Henry is the therapy dog. Which means that he calms tricky customers. Ones like Poppy.

Colin explains how Gleneagles is a dream for people with Nature Defecit Disorder. (Yes, it’s a thing.) He points out the kennels with its working dogs (unlike Poppy, who’s probably signing on). It has a gun-dog school chokka with highly-trained Labs (not the usual supine and cake-eating kind). They also have state-of-the-art indoor heated kennels for dogs belonging to guests: each kennel kitted out with a king-size dog bed (I won’t mention the V word again or it’ll sound like product placement). Plus outdoors there are behaviour and gun-dog classes.

After dinner in the brasserie and a good night’s kip, all too soon it’s time to go. There are things to do nearby like Grouse tasting — tippling whisky not scoffing birds — and castle viewing, including Stirling Castle, Blair Atholl Estate and Castle, and Scone Palace. We beetle off after a very happy one-night stay. As we drive beside the fern, gorse and bracken, I gaze at the daffodils and the low cloud snuggling on the hilltop. I look back at the hotel standing majestically, as if preparing to take a selfie. My heart glows with pride. And it all gives me paws for thought. Yes, I think: yes, we did it. Poppy had her first sleepover. And she didn’t howl, jump or bite. And she slept like a dog.

Room rates start from £390 per night based on two people sharing on a B&B basis. For more information, go to www.gleneagles.com.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Escape To Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort By Caroline Phillips

It’s not often that there’s a resort hotel that boasts an unusual welcome ceremony, a Nature Guru who’s a conservationist with a Masters in Environmental Science, and a great Ayurvedic doctor too. I’ll start with the first: a greeting that involves singing, drumming and three Sinhalese ladies in a lobby. That’s the welcome I get at the Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort. I guess it means, “Hey! You’ve just arrived at a corker of a resort,” or something like that. At any rate, that would be true.

Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort — let’s just call it Anantara to save my word count — is on a rocky outcrop along a secluded stretch of Sri Lanka’s southernmost coastline (under three hours’ drive from Colombo), near the town of Tangalle. It’s set in a former coconut plantation and with golden crescent, sun-drenched shores and Indian Ocean views. It’s of a high-end design that pays tribute to the god of Sri Lankan architects, Geoffrey Bawa. It’s also the country’s first full-blown, bells and whistles waterfront resort. It’s only since the 30-year civil war ended in 2009 that tourists and hoteliers have been returning to this tropical island, and Anantara was opened in 2015.

I kick off my Anantara experience with Edi (short for Ediriweera) Anuradha, the resort’s Nature Guru. He takes me around the organic gardens and shows me an interesting thing or two: over there a chameleon agamid lizard camouflaged in the vegetation; and here, a saliva palace made by red ants between leaves — like a bag in which to keep their eggs. “That’s a rain tree,” he adds. “Or it’s called a 5 o’ clock tree because it’s sensitive to light and its leaves close at five.” He points out wild almonds, breadfruit, gardenia and passionflowers. And curry leaves for lowering cholesterol. He picks a leaf and squashes it in his fingers. “Any idea what it is?” he asks. I take a sniff. Cashew, obviously. (No, I didn’t guess really.)

We stop near their paddy field for beli. Yup, this is a resort with its own paddy field. There we sip a herbal drink sweetened with jaggery (local cane sugar) and served in coconut husks. “It’s good for the kidneys,” Edi reveals. The paddy field itself has a yield of 450kg of organic rice which the resort folk give to the local community. They spray the paddy with neem. They’re making breeding stations for dragonflies, the natural predators of mosquitos. They recycle grey water for the garden. At Anantara, they get enough environmental stars to make a firmament, they’re so keen on saving the planet. They don’t even use plastic straws.

They’re also helping the turtles by working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), observing the turtles over 100km of coastland. (Did you know turtles can stay underwater for up to 40 minutes? That they can sleep underwater? And that they can live to over 100? Or that turtles come up to the beach from January to October? Edi tells me all this and more). Guests contribute $1US per room per night to this cause, and Anantara matches that.

“There’s a snake somewhere over there,” Edi says, suddenly. “The birds are warning. It’s a rattlesnake looking for birds’ eggs. If it’s a venomous snake, the birds make that huge sound.”

The mangrove stream is certainly teeming with birdlife: there are a mere 70 different bird types on the property. They’re big on wildlife around here. A notice nearby tells me to look out for otter, the Indian robin, rose-ringed parakeet, land monitors and an Indian flying fox (I’d like to see a fox flying but, annoyingly, it’s otherwise known as the greater Indian fruit bat). I see peacocks, langur monkeys, parakeets and another guest saw a Malabar giant squirrel (it’s rare).

Time to move on to the next interesting feature of the resort. A visit to Anantara wouldn’t be complete without an appointment with Dr Thampi, its spa director cum Ayurvedic doctor from Kerala. We meet in his consultation room in the 5000-square foot spa to discuss the 5000-year old science of Ayurvedic healing. Dr Thampi hails from a family of healers (from his grandfather to his uncles) and says he “grew up in Ayurveda.” He’s charismatic, boasts high energy and is prone to dropping into conversation aphorisms such as, “Living is local, dying is universal” and “Don’t look at what you’re eating, look at what’s eating you.”

We talk about everything from his views on the energetic transfer that occurs when being treated on a wooden Ayurvedic massage table to my Dosha (or humours) and whether I’m big on wind (Sanskrit ‘vāta’), bile (‘pitta’) or phlegm (‘kapha’), and in what balance. (Turns out I’m a fiery pitta with some phlegm chucked in, since you ask.) He also gives me some lifestyle suggestions such as, “After cleansing bowels, take a spoon of coconut oil with a pinch of turmeric added” and the like.

I guess you want to know about the rest of the resort. The amenities and all that stuff. Well, they’re excellent. There’s an ocean-sized infinity pool with sun loungers in the shallow end, to enable you to splash-cool your body with one hand whilst drinking a cocktail with the other. There are 152 rooms, pool villas and beach cabanas. I have a private Garden Pool Villa with its own wine humidor, desk and small plunge pool (there I go boasting) and a view from sliding doors across palm-fringed lawns. The villa comes with a third of a butler — or rather, an entire butler who is shared with three villas. And then there’s that man in the sarong who appears in my garden just by my pool (did I tell you I have a private pool?) to see if I would like a drink: at which he will shin up the tree to pluck down a fresh coconut, juice in its original packaging.

Inside the villa, there’s a king-sized bed and day bed. Fluffy pillows, a Bose sound system, Nespresso coffee machine, loose tea, bagged tea. I could go on. Actually, I will. Think also soaring ceiling and fan, cream walls and sandy and coral-coloured upholstery. And a bathroom that’s the size of a small island, with a free-standing tub and a rainfall shower area and every last detail considered: from four types of soap and after-sun moisturiser to flip flops, two kinds of dressing gown (one cotton, one towel) and books in the loo.

And what of the food? My favourite is the Italian meal we have in Il Mare — handmade pasta, pizza straight from a brick oven, homemade focaccia and fresher-than-fresh grilled lobster. Their beachfront Verele restaurant offers cuisine that’s (loosely based on) Teppanyaki: try the Lagoon prawns. Then there’s Journeys, where it takes me 15 minutes to walk around ogling the ginormous breakfast buffet with its specialities that are Sri Lankan, Arab, British….from waffles to curry, tropical fruits to a gluten-free section and an impressive array of sugars including lemon sugar, cinnamon sugar and jaggery.

Sri Lanka is a fascinating island full of intense history, religion, beautiful scenery, elephant sanctuaries, wildlife parks with leopards. Oh, and tea plantations and pristine beaches and Buddhist temples. Still, there’s not much point in leaving the resort when there’s a therapist, Nandika, in the spa for a massage that sends me to heaven and beyond; friendly and helpful staff; and a charming GM who wanders around chatting to guests. Plus the Nature Guru and the Ayurvedic Doctor. To say I leave Anantara on Cloud 9 would be too low a number. And as I do, guess what? They perform a traditional farewell ceremony.

Nightly rates at Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort start from £185 for an Ocean View Room on a bed & breakfast basis. For more information about Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort, go to https://tangalle.anantara.com.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

A Roaring Success At Bel & The Dragon By Fiona Sanderson

For those wishing to escape London and enjoy a little piece of old England with a personal fine dining experience, the 15th century Bel & The Dragon coaching inn in Cookham offers upscale country-chic rooms and modern British cuisine, giving you a taste of Old England with cosy roaring log fires and and reasonably priced regular supper clubs. Headed up by Executive Head Chef Ronnie Kimbugwe, they offer a three course menu paired with fine champagne.

Only 29 miles from London, Bel & The Dragon sits on Cookham village’s picture postcard high street which has changed little in appearance over the centuries.

I was invited to join the first Supper Club of 2018 with their partner, the renowned Champagne House Laurent-Perrier. The evening was hosted by Lauren Perrier’s UK Managing Director, David Hesketh, who gave us a fascinating insight into the company’s 200 year old history as well as giving us a taste of their finest champagnes. Remarkable to think that a company founded in 1812, by Monsieur Laurent, are still a family-owned brand and continue to make some of the world’s most elegant champagnes. Along with a daily glass of champagne, David told us that he still feels privileged to be part of a company whose legacy and experience in wine-making continues to thrill people whatever the occasion!

To match the fine champagnes, Executive Head Chef Ronnie, who is a former sous chef of Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, created a really delicious, well-presented three-course menu of Torbay scallops with black pepper, roasted watermelon and pea puree, which was followed by a tender slow-roasted Guinea fowl with spring truffle, new potatoes and watercress. As a finale, he created a warm gooey chocolate fondant with wild raspberry sorbet. A love of chocolate is no doubt shared by the inn’s co-owner, chocolate heir Joel Cadbury, who completely renovated Bel & The Dragon in 2010.

Executive Head Chef Ronnie has been there since the beginning and he told us that he is always trying to create ambienbuy.net menus which are full of twists on an array of classic British dishes, with a focus on local, sustainable and, above all, quality ingredients. “I constantly try to push boundaries in the kitchen, creating dishes using seasonal and local produce. Food is central to Bel & The Dragon, so it’s exciting that I’ve played an instrumental role in developing the brand,” he told us. “I get very involved in all areas of the Inn and hope that the love and passion that I have put into the place really shows.”

After supper, I retired to one of Bel & The Dragon’s recently refurbished bedrooms in The Cottage, which are all named after the paintings of the famous artist Sir Stanley Spence, whose gallery is situated across the road. I liked the little touch of complimentary Sipsmith Sloe Gin & scotch whisky – even though I was not tempted after all our delicious champagnes! The beds were extremely comfortable, perfect for viewing the HD flatscreen TV, and the towels were exquisitely white and fluffy. Although compact, the Farrow & Ball painted room was a welcome luxury after a full fine dining experience.

The following morning, the open log fires were a welcome sight on a very frosty morning. A hearty breakfast and my choice of Poached Duck Egg with Avocado Bacon Chutney & Hollandaise, and Organic & Free Range Scrambled Eggs with Cured Scottish Salmon and Chopped Chives were just too hard to resist.

Homely, with delicious food and comfortable accommodation, I will definitely be returning!

Further Information

Bel & The Dragon is part of a collection of seven country inns situated cross the South of England, in Berkshire, Surrey and Hampshire, offering exceptional food, fine wine and characterful bedrooms.

The Supper Club offers the opportunity to taste a Three-Course Menu with paired champagne, priced at £60 per person.

Bel & The Dragon is situated at High Street, Cookham, Berkshire SL6 9SQ.

Tel: +44 (0)1628 521263 or visit the website by clicking here.

Kandy Samadhi Centre – For The Luxury of Tranquillity, Beauty And Simplicity By Caroline Phillips

It’s almost possible to touch the white clouds that move slowly across the hilltop in front of my terrace. There’s a hammock hanging between vintage wooden pillars and monkeys swinging in trees watching me watching them. Lying there is great too for listening to the orchestra of birds and crickets. Sweet music conducted by tree frogs, with backing vocals from a singing river and wild boar rustling in the bush. There’s a view of the Knuckles Mountains and of paddy fields, bamboos, forests of mango, jack trees and guava. It’s like waking up in Heaven a few years too early.

This is the Kandy Samadhi Centre: a former tea plantation turned yoga, Ayurveda and switch-off and write, dream and paint retreat. It’s a 50-minute drive north of Kandy, Sri Lanka. It’s the creation of antiques dealer and organic farmer cum self-dubbed ‘21st century hippy,’ Waruna Jayasinghe, an unusual hotelier. He’s wearing an abundant beard, bone and silver jewellery (his own designs) and a sarong. “I’m on a spiritual quest to link humanity,” he says. “People come to Samadhi to work out their karmic issues.”

But let’s rewind. On arrival, I’m given fresh papaya juice and a torch, then shown to my pavilion — led for five minutes along a jungle path by a barefoot man with my suitcase on top of his head. The hotel’s website warns that there may be snakes and spiders. So I stamp my flip flops fiercely and shine my torch menacingly. Reader, I have to tell you something. Over the course of six nights, I run across animals sharp of tooth and claw — known in Sinhalese as a ‘baḷalā’ and a ‘ballā.’ (Respectively a ‘cat’ and a ‘dog’).

My bedroom is Bohemian — with a wall of pebbles, frescos of naked ladies, and lamps fashioned from vintage tea urns. Its guest book bears testimony to many joyful stays: words like ‘spiritual,’ ‘magical,’ and ‘healing’ are sprinkled across its pages. Next morning, I move to another bedroom, still closer to the abode of the gods. It sits atop the hill with the aforementioned magisterial view.

All the rooms boast antiques, and many have vintage showers and freestanding claw-footed bath tubs in bathrooms with sides open to the jungle. In his Kandy antiques shop, Waruna sells everything from museum-quality saris to wicker snake baskets; from Hindi, Buddhist and mother goddess figures to vintage cooking utensils, and old signage and 17th century Sri Lankan exorcist masks. Many such pieces are in the Samadhi bedrooms. “Material accumulation is a headache,” Waruna claims. “My project now is to bring Ayurveda and yoga to the world.”

So far, his reach is 26 pavilions set in 18 acres at Samadhi (accommodating 40 guests). Waruna designed everything, despite having no formal architectural training. “Samadhi is the place to get in touch with your higher consciousness,” he says. “Somewhere to find your purpose in life.” The architecture is, he says, inspired by meditation and temples of tranquillity. After days, I am still finding hidden joys, like the pavilion for reading on the river. And even though my stay is during peak season, there are only four guests: a peaceful number.

So what of the food? At 7:30pm (everything happens early here), I make my way to dinner: the kerosene lamps (like hanging tea pots) are lit all along the stone paths to guide the way to the open-sided dining room. It’s beside the river and with vintage lamps on the tables — their flaming wicks flickering in the inky night. There’s a buffet for all meals, served in rustic terracotta pots warmed over naked flames. It’s simple and organic, home-cooked village fare that’s mostly plucked from Waruna’s garden, and all freshly prepared. Even the rice is home grown.

There are dishes like bean curry, dhal, red rice, mushroom curry and string hoppers (a Sri Lankan staple made of rice flower). And cassava, egg curry, and milk rice. And just occasional chicken, fish and eggs. There’s no alcohol. Just mountain spring water, teas and fresh juices. Dr De Silva, Samadhi’s Ayurvedic doctor, pops up suddenly during dinner. He stands waiting patiently beside a guest, an artist from London who’s supping on a fluorescent green, liquid herbal Ayurvedic concoction with added ghee (clarified butter). “Eat all your soup,” counsels the good doctor. “It’s good for bowel movement.”

I fall quickly into the rhythm of Samadhi. I rise daily with the sun to do group yoga in the open-sided Meditation Pavilion. Waruna’s wife, Yumi, has taught since 2005, and offers her own eclectic practice with “everything that has worked for me, and a lot of emphasis on the upper back. Westerners are all hunched when they come here.” Originally a cartoonist in Tokyo turned Buddhist and yoga teacher, she takes us through a fast-moving class that does indeed tackle my journalist’s hunchback.

After a consultation with Dr De Silva — who trained in Colombo for seven years, hails from a traditional healing family and specialises in Panchakarma cleansing cures — I visit Samadhi’s Ayurveda Spa daily. They offer an authentic experience including wooden Ayurvedic massage tables (albeit with added cushions for over-indulged Westerners) and coconut husks as mugs for drinking medicinal brews. Instead of relaxation muzak, there’s the sound of the gurgling river.

The treatments range from Shirodhara (warm nutty oil dripping on the forehead to stop those pesky thoughts) to full body massages and a detoxing sweat with Ayurvedic herb leaves in a coffin-style ‘Nardy’ steamer. For wannabe Cleopatras, there’s a bath in asses’ (in reality cows’) milk — well, two therapists actually pour the warm milk over me from brass teapots — which makes me smell like yoghurt but leaves my skin soft as Indian silk.

I go on one river walk through verdant tropical vegetation to waterfalls where palm-size butterflies flit in the air, and I sit on my own in contemplative silence. I take a dip in the chilly waterfall, its cascading waters cleansing the air. I don’t do much else during my stay. I don’t want to.

I slow down, and start savouring the moment. It’s hard to get a mobile signal, there’s no Wifi in the bedrooms and — even close to the router, which is way down one of the many paths that meander through the jungle — the signal is patchy. So I surrender and go with the flow. Yes, there are local sights like the Udawela cave temple, Hantana tea museum, a tour of Kandy, a trip to watch elephant bathing, or an outing to the Dambulla cave temples. Or a Sinhala cookery lesson at Samadhi. But they can wait until next time. I do almost nothing. Simply think, dream and lie in a hammock.

“A breatharian came to Samadhi and didn’t eat for a year,” claims Waruna. “Another woman came and discovered her inner child and her past incarnations.” Who knows? Certainly it’s a quirky place beloved of dreamers and eccentrics, writers and artists. Where Westerners have a chance to escape cities to savour old-style village life, get back to nature, peace and to be creative. Where the luxury it offers is tranquillity, beauty and a simple pace of life. And somewhere with soul and magic, where life in the slow lane seems too fast.

Further Information

A week at Kandy Samadhi Centre starts from $1250 for two including full board and seven yoga sessions each. From $300US (single or $450 double) for a 2-night yoga package (which includes room, full board, and two daily yoga sessions), from $320 for an Ayuruvedha package or from $380 for two nights yoga and Ayurvedha. Visit www.thekandysamadhicentre.com for more about the Centre, and www.warunaantique.com for more about the antiques gallery.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Top Destinations For A Royal Honeymoon In 2018 By The Luxury Channel

As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle prepare to tie the knot this spring, speculation is already rippling about where the couple of the year might be spending their honeymoon. With that in mind, we bring you a round-up of some of the world’s most romantic spots for a newlywed escape, sure to rival any royal holiday! Whether your dream is to live like north African nobility at the spectacular Royal Mansour in Marrakech – itself owned by King Mohammed VI of Morocco – or to recreate Harry and Meghan’s first African adventures or even to just enjoy a stay in the most romantic city in the world, our selection of options offers something for every couple….

Rustic Romance In An Alpine Cabin

Rustic, cosy and incomparably peaceful, Gstaad Palace’s Shepherd’s or ‘Walig’ Hut – built in 1783 and changed little since – can be hired for an exclusive overnight stay, warmed by candlelight and log burning stoves and complete with a mouth-watering three-course dinner complimented by Swiss wine. With the building sitting proudly at 1,700m above tFionahe Gsteig region, couples can enjoy an inimitably romantic evening gazing over Gstaad and the Saanenland. Pair with a luxurious stay at the fairy-tale Gstaad Palace itself, which offers a dedicated ‘Time For Romance’ experience in the main hotel, in the form of a two-night stay in a specially decorated room, including a bottle of champagne and a two-hour Hammam experience with a massage for two. Guests can also enjoy half board and full access to the hotel spa.

The ‘Alpine Night’ at Walig Hut is available from 1,600CHF (approx. £1,220) in Summer season only. The ‘Time For Romance’ package is on offer on select dates subject to availability, from 1,973CHF (approx. £1,505). Contact info@palace.ch, call +41 33 748 50 00 or visit www.palace.ch.

Ski Across Colorado

Ski stylishly into married life together by exploring the stunning scenery over Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass with two free daily ski passes for every night at the luxurious mountain haven of The Little Nell (based on a minimum three-night stay). The Little Nell is Colorado’s only 5-star ski-in, ski-out hotel and one of the world’s most iconic ski lodges. Located at the base of Aspen Mountain, its location in the heart of downtown makes it perfect for exploring the exclusive shopping, dining, nightlife and galleries that Aspen has to offer. The Little Nell’s 52 guest rooms and suites all feature a contemporary ‘Aspen Aesthetic’ design, some offering breath-taking mountain views. With two restaurants on site – Elements 47 and Ajax Tavern – plus exclusive ski programmes which enable guests to access of Aspen Mountain before the gondola opens and customised adventure programs including fly fishing, snowcat skiing, jeep tours, complimentary bikes and weekly yoga atop Aspen Mountain, The Little Nell caters to every desire for a 5-star mountain break.

The ‘Ski Free’ package is available from $585 (approx. £421) per night, based on a three-night stay in a Town Side Guest Room. To book, visit www.thelittlenell.com and quote promotional code ‘NSKIF.’

Desert Island Romance In The Maldives

Opening in the last quarter of 2018, the sublime new JOALI Maldives, on Muravandhoo Island in Raas Atoll, is a sophisticated and artistic luxury retreat. Celebrating the joy of life, JOALI is a honeymoon hideaway that represents the ultimate romantic desert island dream; with a focus on sustainability, creativity and individual flair, it couldn’t be further from the feeling of a chain resort. Explore the island on bicycles, inspire the imagination with a library of books in each of the 73 elegant beach and water villas, spend time learning to paint in the Art Studio, watch the reef below while enjoying a couples’ massage at JOALI Spa by ESPA or see the sun set over your own private candlelit dinner on a secluded sandbank.

For bookings and further information, visit www.joali.com.

Princess Perfection In Marrakech

The exquisite Royal Mansour in Marrakech – one of the world’s most discreet hotels and owned by King Mohammed VI of Morocco – is designed to regal standards, fit for any princess. This really is the case, as the hotel attracts royalty and dignitaries from around the world. Secret tunnels that have been built beneath the hotel ensure guests have the utmost privacy, with a service that is unrivalled, intuitive and discreet. The rooms are set in 53 individual Riads with exquisite craftsmanship throughout, and the hotel is just a stone’s throw from the medina and a short distance from the recently opened Yves Saint Laurent Museum. It has an exceptional spa which – amongst its myriad relaxing treatments – offers one of the best hammam experiences in the world. Cuisine at Royal Mansour is led by Michelin starred Yannick Alléno, who creates delectable cuisine throughout the hotel across its four restaurants, from the sophisticated La Grande Table Marocaine which serves more-ish Moroccan flavours in its sumptuous setting, to new poolside open-air restaurant Le Jardin whose menu includes light grilled dishes and sublime sushi in relaxed and atmospheric surroundings. Newlyweds looking for a honeymoon fit for royalty will delight in Royal Mansour’s ‘Romance’ package as this includes 3 nights in a Superior 1-bedroom Riad (with a romantic set-up), an upgrade to a Premier 1-bedroom Riad dependent on availability, daily gourmet breakfast at La Table or on the rooftop terrace of their Riad, a romantic dinner at La Grande Table Marocaine, spa treatments in a Private Spa Suite (one hammam experience, followed by a massage per person), fast track service upon arrival & departure at Marrakech Airport, and private airport transfers.

The ‘Romance’ package starts from 3,300 Euros (approx. £2,903) and is based on two people sharing a Riad. Valid until 27 December 2018. To book, visit www.royalmansour.com or call +212 529 808080.

Pampering In Paris

After a day taking in all that the City of Love has to offer, couples can enjoy some romantic R&R time in their own Private Spa Suite at the world-famous Peninsula Paris hotel in France. The three-hour break (which can be extended subject to availability) includes full use of the sumptuous suite – consisting of a double bath, shower and private bathroom – with a two-hour treatment each and time to explore the spa’s full range of facilities. Perfectly situated at 19 Avenue Kléber, just steps from the Arc de Triomphe, The Peninsula sits in the heart of Paris within walking distance of some of the world’s most famous monuments, museums and luxury shopping districts. The gorgeous hotel houses 200 luxurious rooms, including 86 suites. Inspired by Haute Couture, the theme suites at The Peninsula Paris hotel – some of the French capital’s most spacious and the world’s most highly customised – are veritable showcases of French heritage and savoir-faire.

The ‘Spa Experience For Two’ package is available from 880 Euros (approx. £777) based on a three-hour stay. Rooms are available at The Peninsula Person from 765 Euros (approx. £675) per night. For the spa package, contact spappr@peninsula.com for further information, or visit www.paris.peninsula.com.

African Romance In Rwanda

Echo Prince Harry and Meghan’s passion for Africa and sustainable, mindful travel at Volcanoes Safaris in Rwanda, where the pioneers of ecotourism are inviting newlyweds to experience a truly memorable honeymoon with a safari adventure complimented by a host of special traditional treats. Watch the sun rise over the staggering African vistas, spend your day tracking gorillas and chimpanzees in their natural home, and wind down with a special couple’s massage and private meals on request. Enjoy special treatment from staff at your eco-luxury lodge, which will be furnished on arrival with the gorgeous gift of a Rwandan woven basket loaded with two celebrated Kitenge bathrobes, a bottle of sparkling wine, a gorilla ornament carved by local craftspeople, traditional ceremonial marriage ties to wear on your wrists, and a selection of tea, coffee, honey and soap, provided by the group’s VSPT sustainable projects programme.

Rooms are available at Volcanoes Safaris from $210 (approx. £151) per night based on two people sharing a Mount Gahinga Lodge. To book, contact enquiries@volcanoessafaris.com or visit www.volcanoessafaris.com.

Supreme Safari In South Africa

It’s a poignant time for all visitors to South Africa this year, as the country marks the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth – and nowhere is it more so than at The Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa in Johannesburg where the acclaimed political revolutionary sojourned to write some of the final words of his autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom. Add some history to your honeymoon by immersing yourself in local centenary events while enjoying the natural and wildlife highlights of these renowned retreats. Nestled in a peaceful tree-lined corner of Johannesburg’s Sandhurst neighbourhood, The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa is set in 10 acres of lush landscaped grounds that once formed a historic private home. Its prize facilities include six swimming pools, three luxurious dining venues – including the recently launched Luke Dale Roberts X at The Saxon – two bars, and the tranquil Saxon Spa, which blends modern understanding with ancient techniques to balance energies and restore wellbeing. Meanwhile, The Saxon’s sister property, Shambala Private Game Reserve, promises an unforgettably authentic African bushveld experience, boasting 12,000 hectares of wilderness in the Limpopo Province, home to the ‘Big Five’ and set against the backdrop beautiful Waterberg mountain range. Couples staying at its eight luxurious lodges – each constructed in traditional Zulu materials – are invited to forego television and enjoy exclusively organised game drives, guided bush walks, star-gazing, fishing, sundowner cruises and bush picnics, as well as unwinding at the intimate Shambala Spa. Also set in the grounds of Shambala is the historic Nelson Mandela Villa, built especially for the former President as his personal retreat.

Rooms at The Saxon Villas and Spa start from R7,400 (approx. £440) based on two people sharing a luxury suite including breakfast, while stays at Zulu Camp at Shambala Private Game Reserve start from R11,750 (approx. £699) based on two people sharing a chalet, including all meals, sunset cruise, game drives and bush walks. Exclusive hire of The Nelson Mandela Villa starts from R75,000 (approx. £4,443) including all meals, sunset cruise, game drives and bush walks. To book, visit www.saxon.co.za and www.shambalaprivategamereserve.co.za.

La Dolce Vita In Southern Italy

Immerse yourself in Italian authenticity this spring, as Masseria Trapanà in Lecce is welcoming guests to indulge in its brand new wellness space, transforming a former olive pressing room into a fabulous spa, offering restorative treatments using local ingredients. As well as three treatment rooms, couples can make full use of a plunge pool, relaxation area and small cinema room, or take in the hotel’s gorgeous gardens with outdoor yoga classes. Set in sixty hectares of olive groves and with only nine individually designed suites, Masseria Trapanà offers the ultimate peace and seclusion for honeymooners, whether you want to lounge in a pool-side hammock, or stroll around the hotel’s six fragrant gardens, brimming with nineteen varieties of fruit and nut trees.

Rooms are available from 250 Euors (approx. £219) per night, based on a Courtyard Room including breakfast. To book, contact info@trapana.com, call: + 39 0832 1832101 or visit www.trapana.com.

Simply Bliss In Sri Lanka

Celebrate your wedding in storybook style with a four-night stay at Owl And The Pussycat in Galle, Sri Lanka – a sun-drenched, exotic boutique gem. As well as one complimentary night’s stay in an ocean-view suite, this dreamy offer includes one candle-lit dinner for two at the hotel’s poetically themed The Runcible Spoon restaurant, and a sundown cocktail on an evening of your choice. Arrive to an in-room welcome of fresh flowers and a tropical fruit basket, wake up to a delicious and nutritious daily breakfast, and round off each day with a special honeymoon turn-down service. Owl And The Pussycat also offers an alternative three-night romantic getaway package, including a couples full-body massage on the water’s edge, as well as one three-course candle-lit dinner – complete with a bottle of bubbles and chocolates – on an evening of your choice. Sitting on the water’s edge on the south coast of Sri Lanka in the village of Thalpe, near Galle, Owl And The Pussycat boasts contemporary design alongside beautiful craftsmanship from local artisans, with a laid-back atmosphere. Guests can enjoy light, fresh food including Sri Lankan specialties, sip delicately-spiced cocktails at the bar next to the waves, take a dip in the sea-front 17-metre pool and stretch out on the yoga platform. The hotel is also well-located for jungle adventures and cycles through the rice fields.

Stays at Owl And The Pussycat are available from $260 (approx. £187). The ‘Romantic Getaway’ offer can be booked on select dates subject to availability. Contact bookings@otphotel.com, call +94 7772 40077 or visit www.otphotel.com.

Honeymoon Bliss In Venice

Settled on its own private island – called Isola delle Rose – JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa offers a full package of romantic treats for newlyweds. The Honeymoon Bliss package includes a champagne and chocolate-covered-strawberries welcome on arrival and a 50-minute massage for two in the privacy of a GOCO Spa Venice Spa Suite, as well as a free upgrade upon availability and late check-out. Guests can also enjoy a 15% discount on all other spa treatments, as well as daily breakfast served either in room or at the Cucina restaurant. JW Marriott’s flagship complex will open for the 2018 season on 16th March, offering visitors to Venice a peaceful respite just a short boat ride away from the crowded hustle and bustle of the main city. This spring, it will play host for the first time to the Venice Food & Wine Festival, welcoming some of the world’s most esteemed chefs and artisan food producers to the resort. The resort is also home to the Sapori Cooking Academy, where guests can learn to prepare traditional Italian dishes from master chefs, and the Dopolavoro rooftop restaurant, where locals and hotel guests can enjoy a Michelin-star meal while gazing over the Venice skyline.

The ‘Honeymoon Bliss’ package is available from 599 Euros (approx. £530) per night. To book, visit www.jwvenice.com or call +39 041 852 1300 and quote the promotional code ‘HON.’

Surya Lanka Ayurveda Beach Resort – The Meaning of Life…. By Anya Braimer Jones

A healthy retreat is just the thing I need. What could be better? I’d like to cleanse and relax — aka ridding my body of my accumulated sins. Think smoking, drinking booze and eating mounds of sugar. I’m also here to tackle the ghastly acne which inconveniently popped up on my face a few months ago. Joy of all joys. Will I be going cold turkey? Is it going to be hardcore? And what is Ayurveda anyway? ??I arrive at Surya Lanka Ayurveda Beach Resort, an Ayurvedic health retreat in Talalla, in the deep south of Sri Lanka, greeted with smiling faces and a delicious chilled King Coconut in its original packaging. I like this place already. A quick tour of the property is led by a very smiley lady in a sari. There are simple bedrooms for 50 people —only three with air conditioning —a library, a yoga hall with sides that open onto the garden and two buildings for treatments. The centre focuses on Panchakarma Ayurvedic cleansing cures and has been doing this since 1995. Indeed, it was the first Ayurveda resort in Sri Lanka to cater exclusively for Panchakarma guests.

The resort offers three levels of Ayurveda programmes, allowing you to choose the intensity of the cleanse you wish to do. This is perfect for beginners but also great for your typical yoga-bunny-green-juice-loving-vegan type. Jackpot!

Lunch is under the shade of palm trees. There are buffets for lunch and dinner. It’s all Ayurvedic – not the bland, salt-free green stuff I was expecting but instead, a mixture of flavours, textures, sweet, sour and spicy yumminess. I’m a big foodie and am proud to be able to stomach spicy curries like no other Westerner: a surprise to the locals. Luckily, I manage to find hot and hotter among the endless dishes on offer.

I am also astonished by the variety: chicken curry, mango curry, lentil pancakes, avocado mousse, and date cake. Plus a colourful selection of pumpkin curry, fragrant coconut and ginger soup, saffron stained rice, papaya salad, red mountain rice, and shredded coconut salad.  A very welcome break from the usual rice, dhal, coconut fish curry and curd for pud that I’ve become used to during my travels on the island. I could go on. Before I’ve even had a treatment, the food is what makes Surya Lanka stand out for me – hands down the best grub in Sri Lanka. 

After a leisurely stroll on the beach – a whole 50 yards along a sandy path from my room – I go and sit next to a small medicinal herb garden to wait for my initial consultation with the Ayurvedic doctor. I’ve read that everything from nutmeg to sandalwood, aloe vera and pineapple may be used in this system of medicine. And I am eager to discover how this array of plants might possibly help me. I understand that they’re also going to diagnose my doshas (or humours) —whether I’m big on wind (Sanskrit v?ta), bile (pitta) or phlegm (kapha), and in what balance. (It turns out that I’m a fiery pitta with less of the others, since you ask.)

After a brief chat, the sari-clad doctor checks my pulse, tongue, and heart rate and —lo and behold! — informs me that I am healthy. For a hypochondriac of my calibre, this is confusing news (yet, surprisingly, music to my ears). Luckily she notes one problem, the unmentionables (shhh, spots) on my cheeks. This discovery proves that I’m not 100 per cent a hypochondriac. She starts me on a course of Ayurvedic pills – neither particularly pretty in colour, scent or flavour. But for the sake of scientific research, I am willing to give them a go.

Ayurvedic treatments and medicine have been around for thousands of years, possibly since prehistory. So I don’t see why I should question what they’re doing or compare their approach unfairly to the antibiotics I’ve been taking to date. But I am sceptical. Let’s call it question mark number one. Nonetheless, I do as I’m told.

The following klonopintabs.com day, I lie down on a bed with my face looking towards the ceiling fan in the simple, hospital-style cubicle. The therapist begins my Shirodhara treatment – God knows what it is about, but it involves trickling oil onto my forehead and is supposed to help calm a ‘busy mind.’ Slowly, she begins gently pouring warm oil into my hair, across my temples, gently back and forth – this rocks! I can never shut up my mind – nor my mouth for that matter – but suddenly I feel at peace, at one with nature, and even the crashing sound of the waves outside the window starts slowly to recede. 

My next treatment is a facial. Let’s call this question mark number two. She starts with a gentle exfoliation, then places what feels like gauze over my face and begins painting on a cream. I’m sure that I can smell some sort of curd mixed with a herbal concoction, and I start to laugh. It smells like the leftovers of yesterday’s lunch and is very unlike my usual chemical peels, clay masks and rose-water steams. I ask her what she’s using. “Milk mixed with various herbal powders,” she replies. Right ho…. 

The following day, I’m welcomed back for my ‘HBS.’ Unsure as to what I am about to experience, I lie down gingerly on the couch. The therapist begins by wiping a warm cloth over my face, arms, legs and even my feet. Next a handful of warm, nutty oil is rubbed into my skin: heavenly. The pressure is perfect; the fragrance spot on. The whole experience is 10/10. Incidentally, ‘HBS’ —I discover —stands for ‘head, body, steam.’ 

Half out of it, on cloud nine, I am led afterwards to a room with a closed coffin-shaped wooden casket with a head-sized hole at one end. The therapist opens it and asks me to lie down inside. For someone like me who suffers from claustrophobia —you see, I’m not just a common hypochondriac — this rings alarm bells. But, once again, I do as I’m told. It turns out that this is the ‘steam’ part of HBS. Let me spell it out again: this coffin is a steam bath.

It turns out to be strange, hot, but very relaxing. I lie there with my eyes closed, motionless, my trusty therapist at my side, dabbing my perspiring forehead. As I feel the steam delicately diffusing over my body, the oil sinking into my skin, I think I may have cracked the meaning of life. 

After just three days (a very brief time to sample Ayurveda) my skin is miraculously eighty per cent back to it’s previous dewy, baby soft stage. I am amazed. Who knew that milk — which I’ve avoided for years — could calm down my cheeks and forehead?! 

Yes, I carried around those slight question marks of the Ayurvedic sceptic for a while. But after my first few treatments, I am sold on the Ayurvedic way. Would it be fair to say that I’m a convert? Well, all I can say is that I leave the resort feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and glowing proudly. Oh and the meaning of life that came to me whilst lying in the coffin? Ayurveda at Surya Lanka Ayurvedic Beach Resort, that’s it.

Yoga at Surya Lanka Ayurveda Beach Resort, with model pictured wearing Lululemon

Further Information

Surya Lanka Ayurveda Beach Resort:

Surya Lanka Ayurveda Beach Resort was the first Ayurveda Resort in Sri Lanka to cater exclusively for Ayurveda Panchakarma guests. Established in 1995, Surya Lanka has gained a reputation for providing authentic Ayurveda and Yoga in Sri Lanka. It offers three levels of Ayurveda programs, allowing you to choose the intensity of the program. Prices from £135 a day, including full board accommodation, Ayurveda treatments, Ayurveda massages, yoga, meditation and half day excursions. For more information, visit www.suryalanka.com.

Sri Lankan Airlines:

Sri Lankan Airlines flies daily to Colombo with fares starting from £500 – visit www.srilankan.com for more information.

24 Hours In Colombo By Caroline Phillips

Galle Face Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka

They’re serving afternoon tea on cake stands with fans circling overhead and the Indian Ocean as a backdrop. There’s a lawn for croquet. Beyond this — and framed by 19th century columns and palm trees — there are ladies sashaying in gold and purple saris to watch a wedding on the promenade. The sound of traditional instruments fills the warm air and the sun is setting, a crimson ball in the sky. Who would imagine that this is just steps away from a vehicle-clogged city of dust, concrete and bustle?

This is the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I’ve arrived on the island on a Sri Lankan Airways flight (an A330-300, since you ask) travelling horizontally on the flattest of lie-flat seats.

Business Class cabin on the Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus 330-300 on the London-Colombo route

Danuska, a chauffeur (one from a fleet of super-safe drivers available through Gameni) spirits me off in a BMW. “No, ma’am,” he explains. “This is Nissan car; just have a BMW badge on the steering wheel.”

The Grande Dame of Colombo — as the Galle Face Hotel is known — was built in 1864 on the shoreline. Originally a Dutch villa , it now has 156 guest rooms. It’s been owned by the Jardiner family for forever and longer. Its bar boasts black and white photographs of its equally historical guests. There’s Che Guevara who rested his feet here in 1958. The astronauts of Apollo 12 being escorted from the airport in 1970. Cole Porter was here night and day in 1929. Plus Richard Nixon, Noël Coward and Indira Ghandi all checked in. I don’t know whether one of the above slept in my bed (sadly probably not as the hotel has been extensively refurbished in recent years) but the style of bedroom décor still has its heart happily in its Colonial past, which is good enough compensation.

The pool area of Galle Face Hotel

After another (longer) stretch of horizontal sleep, it’s time to visit the highlights of Colombo. The hotel is one of its landmarks. So: tick. I can tick off another must-see instantly because to one side of the hotel is the Galle Face Green, a 12-acre promenade laid out by Governor Sir Henry George Ward in 1859. Here there’s a performing monkey and a snake charmer sitting on the grass. It’s also a place for picnics and where dozens of children fly kites.

Then I hit the traffic-clogged roads with Danuska and his wannabe BMW again. There are policemen instead of traffic lights, kamikaze drivers, and buses with faces three-deep peering from each window. In the middle of the fumes and tooting and beeping, Danuska tells me about William Shakespeare and William Wordsworth. But we don’t get on to William Blake.

Galle Face Hotel’s Sunset Flag Lowering Ceremony, held at 5pm with kilts and bagpipes

I visit the Colombo National Museum which was established in 1877 by the then-British Governor of Ceylon, Sir William Henry Gregory. The Colonial-style building alone is worth a long gawp (and its contents even longer). There’s one man to take my cash for my ticket, another to hand me my change. By being there at opening time, I’m almost alone in its galleries — bar a security guard who’s asleep. There’s also a transfixing array of seated Buddhas, standing Buddhas and reclining Buddhas; and a particularly fetching pair of 9th century AD ‘gold sandals’ (feet) — belonging, no doubt, to Buddha.

As I leave, the police hurtle into the driveway of the museum, followed at speed by ambulances with their sirens blaring and ‘Air Force’ on motorbikes. They screech to a halt, get out — and then have an amiable chat in front of the museum.

Galle Face Hotel – the grande dame of Colombo – faces Galle Face Green to the north and the sea to the west, with sweeping staircases and trademark checked-tile floors

The Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple is another must, its foundations laid ‘close to the last leg of the 19th century’ according to its pamphlet. We park in the road that flanks it, by its old printing presses lining the street, and take off our shoes to enter. Inside its quirky museum, there are gifts on display that have been given to the Chief Monk over the decades. Furniture, curios, watches, cameras, and vintage cars set midst plastic seats, plastic flowers and offerings.

Shopping takes place at the Saskia Fernando Gallery. (Saskia is from ‘Sri Lanka’s leading design family,’ in the words of Vogue India.) She represents exclusively 23 contemporary artists. “As long as there’s a reference to Sri Lanka, any artist is welcome,” she says. I can nab an emerging artist for £100 (on their online platform, Art Space Sri Lanka) or a Pintelon (a Belgian living on the island and one of its premier artists) for £9000. “Most of the work purchased leaves the country,” says Saskia.

Saskia Fernando Gallery

Downstairs from the gallery is another cool space: it’s PR (a shop owned by another member of the Fernando family) and sells everything from hip clutch bags fashioned from rice sacks to linen dresses (£90 upwards), silk PJs and batik skirts; and the family’s own Maus clothing brand.

There’s so much to see in Colombo, and so little time. A quick lunch at the Old Colombo Dutch Hospital, a former asylum turned venue for snazzy eateries. A sneak peek at the Pettah Market, the place to haggle for fabric, paper and jewellery. A drive past Beira Lake, surrounded and illuminated at night by a network of fairy lights and lanterns.

Galle Face Hotel

Back at the hotel, I could do with some rejuvenating in a Spa L’Occitane, the first of that brand to hit Sri Lanka. But its opening has been delayed, so there’s only builders’ dust. It’ll soon be sort of grand hotel meets Provencal brand, apparently in tribute to the hotel’s Hollywood heritage. There will be 12,000 square feet with eight treatment rooms, a couple’s room, and indoor and outdoor relaxation areas plus steam, sauna and Jacuzzis.

The hotel does, however, already boast a museum and art gallery which houses the first car that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh owned, and several pieces of memorabilia from the hotel’s history. I’d read about it. But I’m so jet-lagged that I think mistakenly that the black and white photographs in the bar must be said historical artefacts. (I’ll have to return. I spend only one night there. Contrastingly, a certain K. C. Kuttan joined as a bellboy in 1942 and didn’t check out until his death in 2014).

Galle Face Hotel

At dinner in the hotel’s Sea Spray restaurant — with oceanfront view, and smiley and attentive staff — they offer fish in every guise: ‘Raw, chilled, grilled, crispy, steamed, and hot-pot,’ as the menu puts it. Pescatorial choices like ‘chimichurri’ and ‘negombo curry’ or ‘seafood Ambulthiyal:’ at least one of them being lobster. Cashew pesto with bread in the shape of fishes, which makes the Feeding of the 5000 look positively pedestrian. I’m offered an iPad at the end of the meal to rate the service, ambience and food with a sad emoji, a cheery one, or one who won the lottery. I go for the last emoji.

Further Information

For more information about Galle Face Hotel in Sri Lanka, visit www.gallefacehotel.com.

Sri Lankan Airlines flies daily to Colombo with fares starting from £500 – visit www.srilankan.com for more information.

For drivers in Sri Lanka, use Gameni – e-mail gamenilanka@yahoo.co.in or call 00 94 (77) 792 0602.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

55 Things To Do In Kenya By Jane Rogers

If you want an adventure-packed experience, then you have every reason to visit Kenya. With an unmatched wealth of game and over forty different cultures, Kenya will spoil you with an array of choices. Talk of enjoying sunny weather throughout the year while exploring the country’s natural beauty, having a chance to run along some of the world’s greatest athletes and interacting with the friendly locals, among many other things. Coupled with the fact that it is one of the most affordable tourist destinations and you have the perfect destination.

1. Maasai Mara Safari (Narok)

With its scenic beauty, aura and variety of game, the Maasai Mara will give you an authentic African safari. No words or pictures can fully convey the atmosphere in this reserve. Having housed over 90 species of animals and over 400 bird species, Maasai Mara is one of the greatest wildlife destinations in the world.

2. Hike At Hell’s Gate National Park (Naivasha)

The name might sound scary but the experience is quite the opposite. Hell’s Gate is one of the few parks in which you can walk alongside zebras, gazelles and elands among other animals. A hike in the park takes 4-6 hours. The scenery is decorated with rugged landscape, gorges, and hot water streams. The scenery is so spectacular that it inspired several Hollywood movies. Camping areas are available where you can pitch a tent or park your RV.

3. Watch The Wildebeest Migration (Narok)

You have probably seen lions, elephants and cheetahs. You have probably seen a wildebeest too. But have you seen over a million of them in a rush to close a river while numerous crocodiles prey on them? Occurring between July and October, this event between the Maasai Mara in Kenya and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is so spectacular that it was named the seventh wonder of the world as well as the “world cup of wildlife.”

4. Go To The Big Five Snake Safari (Watamu)

The Bio-Ken Snake Farm organises snake safaris for the strong-willed reptile lovers to interact with the snakes on riverbanks, trees and rocky cliffs. A group of experts leads the safari which can take up to five nights. You get a chance to catch pythons, cobras, puff adders and other members of the big five.

5. Watch Flamingos (Nakuru)

There is nothing better than watching a lake being turned into a mass of moving pink. Hundreds of thousands of spectacular birds flock the salt water lakes in the Kenyan Rift Valley every year creating an unmatchable spectacle. Lake Nakuru is turned into candy-land as flamingos and hundreds of other bird species blanket its surface. The best time to catch this immense beauty is between April and June.

6. Relax On The Kenyan Coast (Mombasa)

While going on safari is exciting and adventurous, the Kenyan coast has been known to put a smile on a visitor’s face. With its sun-bleached sandy beaches and its warm inviting waters, the Kenyan stretch of the Indian Ocean will take your breath away. Lie in the shade of the coconut palms sipping a drink as you squint through the rays of the afternoon sun to watch local fishermen in their traditionally made dhows.

7. Go Diving (Mombasa)

If you thought the Kenyan game parks were rich, you are yet to see the ones hidden in the depths of the Indian Ocean. Experience the adrenaline rush of coming face-to-face with a shark and other big water creatures, and the excitement of being in the warm waters surrounded by colourful fish and the beauty of the coral reef.

8. Go Deep Sea Fishing (Mombasa)

There is immense excitement and feeling of accomplishment that comes from reeling a giant fish, both for beginners and seasoned pros. Marlin and the acrobatic sailfish are the most common in the deep waters of Mombasa, and you can be sure that the experience is nothing short of spectacular. A fishing trip takes 4-8 hours. Some of the world’s fishing records have been set and broken in these same waters!

9. Bungee Jump (Sagana)

This is not for the faint hearted or for nervous souls; it is for the real adrenaline junkies. Throw yourself from a 60 metre tower into the brown Sagana River and experience a thrill you have never felt before. One thing for sure, your screams of fear and excitement will be heard from a mile away!

10. Rock Climb (Voi)

There are a lot of rock climbing venues in Kenya but none can beat the alluring rocks in Tsavo National Park. Climb a 300 metre rock as elephants roam below, and falcons and eagles circle above. It is said to be among the most challenging rock climbing events, but the view from the top is very much worth the effort.

11. Paraglide (Eldoret)

Paragliding in Kerio Valley is an opportunity to defy gravity and turn into an eagle for an hour or two. Fly in the simplest and most beautiful way as you look at the landscape from a bird’s view. To get the most bang for your back, time your trip between January and April, when the winds are strongest.

12. Skydive (Diani)

Is there anything more thrilling than being dropped from 10000 feet above the beach? Diani is the only place where the weather is perfect for skydiving almost throughout the year, and every fall is a beach fall. As you fall towards the fantastic view below you, you will feel your heart beating faster and the adrenaline rush through your body. Don’t let this distract you from smiling for the camera!

13. Watch And Eat Crocodiles (Mombasa)

Whether you have seen crocodiles on safari or not, the Mamba village is a must-see. East Africa’s largest crocodile farm gives you an opportunity to see the predators from close range, especially their aggressiveness during feeding time. Find out what grilled crocodile meat tastes like, too.

14. Try Go-Karting (Mombasa)

If you have children, they will definitely love the famous Mombasa go-karts. If you don’t, then this would be your chance to discover whether you are a child at heart. Take an hour to drive a small four-wheeled car around a track in a wonderful tropical garden.

15. Take A Dhow Trip to Wasini Island (Mombasa)

Lying on a five square kilometre area south of Mombasa is the popular and pristine Wasini Island. The trip is lined with dolphins, with the Shimoni caves full of history and ancient Swahili villages. Enjoy a tasty meal by the ocean after a session of snorkelling. The dhows usually leave at 9 am and return at 6 pm.

16. Visit Mombasa Marine National Park (Malindi)

Interact with sea horses, sea urchins, crabs and lots of other fascinating sea creatures at the marine park. Divers and snorkelers get a chance to see them up-close and personal while those who can’t get into the water can see these sea friends through a glass-bottomed boat.

17. Take A Picture Beside The Elephant Tusks (Mombasa)

You can’t prove that you have been to the Kenyan coast if you don’t have a picture beside the trademark tusks in Mombasa. The tusks were made in 1952 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit and form the letter M, representing Mombasa.

18. Participate In The Rhino Charge

The Rhino Charge is an exciting competition where participants drive a 4×4 on the most unforgiving and roughest terrains that Kenya has to offer. The funds collected go towards conservation of the endangered black rhino. Competitors are required to complete the circuit within 10 hours. The location is never disclosed until two days before the event. Support a great cause all while having a great time!

19. Ice-Skate (Nairobi)

Kenya and winter sports aren’t usually mentioned in the same sentence, but the Panari Sky Centre in Nairobi has turned that around. Escape the heat and buzz of Nairobi town and cool off on East Africa’s only ice rink. Taste the experience of skating in the tropics!

20. Foster An Elephant (Nairobi)

The David Shedrick Wildlife Trust was created for baby elephants who are orphaned mainly because of the brutal ivory trade. Get an opportunity to watch the elephants being bottle-fed and learn how they got there. The best time to visit is around 11.00 am. You can also foster a baby elephant at the cost of $50 and above. Show your love at the haven for orphaned elephants.

21. Go Hot Air Ballooning (Narok)

A hot air balloon ride comes with excitement regardless of the setting, but taking one over the beautiful landscape of Maasai Mara is simply breathtaking. Fly early in the morning to see the spectacular sunrise and the animals. The flight coves 15 to 25 kilometres and normally takes one hour. If there is something you have to do once in a lifetime, this should be it.

22. Hunt With The Pack (Nanyuki)

When you share a small wilderness camp with a pack of wild dogs, you are bound to become friends. Trail the wild dogs at Laikipia Wilderness Camp and get to watch them hunt. If you are looking for the real bush experience, this is the place to be!

23. Sleep Beneath The Stars (Nanyuki)

Sleep in the open under the most beautiful canopy while watching the bright African sky and listening to the roars of animals beneath you. Trail the Milky Way through the sky and watch the sun rising at Loisaba Star Beds while a Samburu warrior guards you.

24. Tour Nairobi

The green city under the sun may not always get the best reputation, but it is well worth a tour. Given that it is the only capital city with a national park, there are endless activities for everyone in Nairobi. A weekend is enough to see what it has to offer, and the night life is out of this world.

25. Complete A High Rope Challenge (Rongai)

This is for the thrill seekers and those who like overcoming challenges. Walk on ropes, cables and logs set high above the ground at the Diguna high rope course. Test your courage, strength and balance!

26. Camp In Shimba Hills (Kwale)

If you are looking for an elephant and antelope-oriented camp, Shimba Hills will not disappoint. Sleep in a tent or RV while listening to the sounds of the night. If you are an early bird, you will catch a trail of elephants in search of food and water.

27. Train With Maasai Warriors (Narok)

Most of your guides on safari may be dressed in trousers and shirts but don’t let that fool you. Back in the village, they wear their robes and carry a sword and spear to protect their families and livestock. The training of a moran is long and challenging. Get a 4 day sample at Bush Adventures Camp in Laikipia – your journey to becoming a warrior starts here!

28. Enjoy A Festival

Kenya is a land of many tribes, and so are the festivals. Immerse yourself in a wealth of culture while watching the cultural diversities. The Lamu Festival, Turkana Festival and Rift Valley Festival are worth considering while planning your safari.

29. Experience A Camel Safari (Nanyuki)

Join a camel train and tour the vast wilderness of Sabuk Lodge while being guided by a Samburu warrior. Experience excitement and anticipation as you come across lions, buffaloes and elephants along the way. The sound of Ewaso Nyiro River completes the feeling of oneness with the surroundings. You can choose to go on a half day excursion or the full day.

30. Walk With Baboons (Il Polei)

Scientists have proven that primates are capable of creating relationships with baboons. Il Polei Ranch puts this concept into practice by giving you a chance to accompany a troop of baboons on an excursion in the wilderness.

31. Track Black Rhinos (Wamba)

It is a pity that the black rhino species is almost extinct. Get a chance to track some of the only remaining black rhinos on foot with the assistance of a GPS tracker at Saruni Rhino Camp. You have to participate to understand just how exciting this activity is.

32. Ride For Lions (Emali)

Participate in a 6-day mountain biking event across the treacherous plains of South Eastern Kenya in the Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks. Funds collected go towards protection of the declining number of lions in the area.

33. Cruise On Lake Naivasha (Naivasha)

With over 400 bird species and a local oncologist to help you identify them, Lake Naivasha is exciting in a unique way. Cruise on a boat and see hippos and other animals in the lake. The main spectacle is watching an eagle swoop low to catch fish out of the ocean.

34. Picnic On Crescent Island (Naivasha)

Hidden from the world in Lake Naivasha, Crescent Island is a unique National Park with hundreds of bird species, gazelles, giraffes, impalas, wildebeests and hippos. The serene atmosphere on the Island makes it one of the best picnic spots in Kenya.

35. Tour A Flower Farm (Naivasha)

Naivasha has the biggest flower farms in Kenya. The flowers are later exported to Europe. Take a tour and learn how the flowers that millions of people have used to express love are grown. An hour on the farms will teach you a lot about roses.

36. Drive To Turkana

While you can fly to Turkana from Nairobi, the journey by road is just as exciting as the destination. Experience the feeling of remoteness by taking a 3 day trip to Kenya’s hot and parched desert. Park your RV to explore the numerous villages along the way.

37. Visit The Cradle of Mankind (Turkana)

The area around Lake Turkana cannot be compared to any other place on the planet. With the rocky landscape, crocodile-filled lake, volcanoes and remoteness, the Cradle of Mankind is worth the tiring excursion. Get to see the largest human fossil in the world at Koobi Fora.

38. Watch 7D Cinema (Nairobi)

Kenya is synonymous with safaris and the wild, but that does not mean you should forget modern luxury when you are here. Enjoy 7D cinema, complete with weather effects and movements, at Thika Road Mall. You can even feel the “whoosh” as the bats fly!

39. Do The Nairobi Safari Walk (Nairobi)

For those who do not have a lot of time to do a full safari, the Nairobi Safari Walk has got you covered. Walk through the wetlands, grasslands and woodlands as you see the animals in open enclosures. This is definitely the best activity if you have kids who can’t tackle a safari. It takes an hour and is only a few minutes from the city centre.

40. Take A Family Vacation (Lamu)

Located on the south coast, Lamu has the capability to offer you and your family a slice of paradise. Book a hotel by the beach or rent a beach house and enjoy an escape from your normal life.

41. Take A Nature Walk In Kakamega Forest (Kakamega)

If you are a lover of nature, take a walk in Kenya’s only equatorial rainforest and see some of Africa’s best hardwoods and softwoods. A typical walk in the forest takes 3 hours. With a wealth of flora, enormous amphibians and orchids sitting on branches, the forest is definitely worth a trip.

42. Learn About Samburu Culture At El Karama Eco Lodge (Nanyuki)

If you are taking a trip with your family, then this is one of the places you must visit. Get familiarised with Samburu culture, learn how to mold termite clay and even how to track wild animals. Camping by the river is a topping.

43. Try Beading In Kazuri (Nairobi)

If you appreciate local art and craft, then the Kazuri Bead Factory in Nairobi will blow your mind. Learn how the stunning jewels in the market are made. You never know, your veins may be full of creative juice!

44. Participate In A Conservation Project

Take a week or even a month to volunteer in a wildlife conservation project in Kenya. This is packed with loads of fun especially if you volunteer as a group. Enjoy yourself while fulfilling a noble cause.

45. Head To The Viewpoint At Iten (Eldoret)

Apart from the fact that most of the world’s greatest long distance runners hail from this place, Iten is arguably an ordinary Kenyan shopping centre. But a drive a few kilometres from the center will give you something you can’t get anywhere else. You will find a view of the Rift Valley that will literally take your breath away.

46. Experience Serenity On Mt Marsabit (Marsabit)

Sometimes you don’t want to go to the crowded areas buzzing with tourists. Located in the semi-arid northern Kenya, Mt Marsabit is a whole package. With three crater lakes, a national park and dozens of “singing” wells, the mist-swathed mountain is an ultimate destination.

47. Lake Victoria (Kisumu)

This is another less crowded gem hidden in western Kenya. It serves as a border between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as well as the source of Africa’s largest river. There is enough fish in the lake to serve the three countries and the daybreak here is unforgettable.

48. Challenge Yourself At Thomson Falls (Nyahururu)

Thomson Falls in Nyahururu provides a wonderful view from the top into the falls and the rugged landscape surrounding it. If you have what it takes, walk to the bottom of the fall and hike back up (this usually takes 30 minutes). Beware of the playful monkeys on the track!

49. Spend A Night At Treetops (Nyeri)

Visit the place where a princess became Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. Treetops Lodge is right along a migratory path used by elephants as they move from Mt Kenya to the Aberdares. Sit at the balcony and watch animals drinking from the waterhole below you.

50. Quad Bike In Kipsing (Isiolo)

If you want to treat yourself to truly a unique experience, then a thrilling quad bike trip on the elephant-trodden routes of Kipsing should be on your bucket list. The terrain is smooth enough for beginners, and the surroundings are stunning.

51. Go To Fourteen Falls (Thika)

As the name suggests, this is a series of fourteen waterfalls along River Athi in Thika. But the real excitement comes from watching daring souls diving from the top and plunging into the water below.

52. Flyboard (Diani)

For a heart-pounding moment, this extreme watersport comes highly recommended. Experience an adrenaline pumping moment at Pinewood Resort in Diani as you literally fly above the ocean.

53. Try Ziplining (Nairobi)

Word has it that this is the best activity to help you de-stress. Travel at speeds of up to 60kph on a cable that is over 400 metres long in Kereita Forest. One thing is for sure, you will forget your troubles for a moment!

54. Experience Harsh Life At Lake Magadi (Magadi)

For a dose of adventure and harsh wild life, Lake Magadi is second to none. Live in a hut or a tent while listening to animals roaming throughout the night. Reward yourself with a swim in the hot springs early before sunrise.

55. Spa In The Wilderness (Narok)

Who said wild life has to be tough? Get a good mixture of bush life and luxury complete with spa and massage. After a busy day hiking and watching game, relax by the pool and let gifted hands do their magic.

I could go on talking about all the awesome things you can do in Kenya. From the Savannah grasslands to the sandy beaches and jagged snow-capped peaks, this small East African country is the gift that never stops giving. See you there!

Jane’s article first appeared on Your RV Lifestyle.

Discovering A “Lille” Bargain! By Ramy Salameh

Lille’s flea market culture has some pedigree. After all, it is home to Europe’s largest in the form of La Braderie that takes over the city for two days in September every year, and is a tradition that stretches back to medieval times. So, having taken up a challenge from the owner (a Francophile) of Haslemere’s landmark Grade II listed hotel, The Georgian, to source a genuine French antique to compliment a Gallic theme for their new lounge-come-brasserie space, Lille was an ideal city to explore even during a crisp December weekend.

Eurostar deposits passengers at the business and residential quarter of Euralille, an architecturally refined and strikingly modern cluster of buildings that cleverly links them to the front of Gare De Lille Flandres, mostly under the canopy of the shopping mall’s avenues of retail heaven.

From Gare De Lille Flandres, the walk to the Grand’Place is a symbiosis of Franco-Flemish architectural styles and historic buildings. December heralds the start of festivities and so the historic square gives way to the glittering lights of the city’s Christmas market that spreads itself across the ancient cobbles. Even the giant Ferris wheel cannot upstage one of the city’s great buildings, The Vielle Bourse (Old Exchange); this was the vision of architect Julian Destrée, who built 24 adjoined houses in 1652. The majestic façade hides a beautifully arched internal courtyard where visitors leaf through the dusty tomes and journals from the few booksellers circuiting the inner sanctum of the building.

Waking early on Sunday morning, I head to Wazemmes Flea Market; the district of Wazemmes is one of Lille’s most multicultural and vibrant districts, just 10-minutes to the south of the centre yet light years away in terms of vibe. As if to confirm this, the pavement in front of ‘‘Marché de Wazemmes’’ is occupied by hipster activists armed with saxophones, trumpets, drums and a repertoire of Jazz tunes, to circulate their message to ‘‘Fight with music for the freedom of diversity, fair distribution of wealth and the joyful use of a public space!’’

With the sounds of a saxophone petering out, I snake past rows of fruit and veg sellers competing for passing trade with repeated shouts of “deux euro par kilo.’’ Moving deeper into the market, I pass electrical goods, cosmetics, shoes and clothes but there is little sign of any antiques.

Entering the covered market, as much for the aromas of local cheeses, baking bread and cured meats as to ask for directions; a strong waft of freshly ground coffee from L’Episcerie Equitable – a dried spice and tea outlet – is too good to ignore. It is also another chance to sit and observe the badinage between sellers and consumers from my perch. ‘‘Le Brocantes on-y-va,’’ the barista says pointing to another exit.

The antique and bric-a-brac stalls of the flea market sweep around the foot of Saint Pierre Saint Paul Church every Sunday. Whilst few in number, their disparate, vintage and antique objects provide an unconscious historical narrative to the city which slowly emerges as one eventually visits the key sites across the Lille and Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.

My eyes are immediately drawn to several art-deco bronze figurines in stylised poses, balanced upon their marble bases; closer inspection, however, shows them to be modern and simply cast.

Zig-zagging between stalls, ignoring the seemingly endless amounts of glass and chinaware, searching above and below the table-tops of contrasting items, my attention is caught by a frayed tricolour service ribbon, whose medal is date stamped 1942. It accompanies other ephemera relating to both World Wars, including shell cases that now carry intricate metal work designs to postcards of soldiers heading to the Front during WW1. These items point towards the key figures and sites that are a must to explore; the Lilloise are very proud that Charles De Gaulle was born in their city and his birth house (a museum and historic monument) is restored to its 1890s glory, at 9 Rue de Princesse.

An intricately carved section of wood is a tempting purchase and easily envisaged within The Georgian Hotel but is too large to carry. Its hand-carved ornate swirls of dark, solid wood reminds me of the entrance to another of Lille’s famous sites, the Hospice Comtesse, a former hospital founded in 1237, situated along Rue de la Monnaie, a cobbled street to the rear of the Gothic church of Notre Dame de la Treille.

Looking behind one seller to a table next to the open door of his van, I spot a brass lamp; solid, heavy and well-made. It clearly has age and remnants of candle-wax in its base. Stamped into the brass it reads ‘‘Luchaire – Rue Erard. 27 – Paris.’’ Léon-Henri Victor Luchaire (1830-1899) was an entrepreneur who specialised in producing lamps for various industries including the Railways. The antique is circa 1870 and the dealer believes it to be a railway Carbide lamp. Without hesitation, offers are exchanged until the dealer accepts a fair price.

The lamp will soon be heading to Surrey. Energised by seeing such an eclectic mix of objet d’art, the nearby Palais des Beaux-Arts museum, home to France’s second largest art collection outside the Louvre, deserves time to be enjoyed. The museum displays work from Picasso to Goya and Rembrandt to Rubens.

Having found The Georgian Hotel a small piece of French antiquity, thoughts of returning next September for La Braderie, to brave its 200km of stalls lining the ancient streets, seems a little less daunting and would surely secure me another ‘‘Lille’’ bargain.

For more information about Lille, go to en.lilletourism.com. To book with Eurostar, go to www.eurostar.com or call +44 (0)3432 186 186. For more information about The Georgian Hotel, go to www.georgianhotelsurrey.com.

Simply Delicious Puglia By Emma Oxley

I am sitting on a terrace by the blue Adriatic, white linen before me, like a blank canvas waiting for the creativity of Saleblu’s kitchens, the fabulous restaurant at La Peschiera Hotel. Francesca, my companion and guide, is explaining to me that Puglia has the soul of a mother. When a mother shows her love she offers food, and this is the Apulian way. You could be travelling through a remote village in the “heel” of Italy, surrounded by fields and dry stone walls, lost, and someone will appear out of their house; you’re about to ask for directions, and they will ask, “Would you like something to eat?” It is in every Pugliese’s nature. Puglia is a destination for those of us with a passion for simple delicious flavours and an interest in the provenance of food. The land is rich and bountiful, the 500 miles of coast offer a profuse fresh catch, and they pride themselves in “zero miles” ingredients.

So back to Saleblu at La Peschiera, a quietly stylish hotel by the clearest blue sea, which offers elegance with as little interruption to the surrounding beauty as feasibly possible. All that separates me from the water and the endless blue sky is decking beneath my feet and a white rope, yet here comes the waiter bearing my oyster martini, which I am assured is an excellent pairing with the iced glass bowl of pesce crudo. Red and violet shrimps are draped on the rim encircling sea urchins, muscles and molluscs which only the most sophisticated kitchens can reliably serve. He offers me olive oil and pepper saying some people like it, but the implication is it is so fresh and just perfect naked. Indeed he is right, as simple and naturally beautiful as the surroundings. Then comes scampi tartare chopped with green apples for a crisp texture, surprisingly with a lemon and ginger ice-cream and pretty drops of blue salt, sale blu. The waiter says the dish has hints of sweetness so proposes some chilled Fiano to accompany. Puglia grapes have traditionally been used to blend wines in other countries, but along with the recently evolving tourism business, Puglia is developing its own wines, like this headily scented Fiano di Salento. For primi, we have tortelli filled with fava beans, chicory, codfish, acquaviva onions, yellow Pomodoro eterno and of course, olives. This is the land of fifty million olive trees, historic gnarled trunks bearing witness to centuries of history. My final course is lobster. It tasted fantastic and I knew it had been in the sea but a few hours before.

I am too full to even look at a dessert menu – just a coffee I venture. Indeed Francesca admits, “In Puglia, we have a problem with size.” Each dish has been a selection of rare fresh delicacies but they have been presented with Puglia’s typical generosity of spirit. My espresso comes, and to my amusement it is no more than a teaspoon, albeit perfect coffee. “Yes,” muses Francesca, “we do have a problem with size!” Coffee itself is one way to tour Puglia. I am taken through the historic streets of Monopoli, a charming fishing town suddenly favoured for celebrity nuptials, to try a caffè speciale which comes with a twist of lemon, a shot of some liqueur, possibly grappa, and cream. I want several but hold back. In baroque Lecce, they do the same but with almond milk. We try an espresso with ice, in the cliff-hugging town of Polignano famous for the acrobatic diving championships. I’m shown how to swirl the coffee in the ice and listen to the cubes and liquid, giving the coffee an unexpected sensory dimension.

Even after the coffee tastings I sleep well, as my pillow in my suite at La Peschiera is 10 feet from the sea that laps over the rocks in a hypnotic rhythm. I am lulled with this soporific pleasure only to wake with a gentle knock on my door announcing breakfast. I step out to my terrace and stretch in the sun. My table is laid with delightfully enticing fresh fruits including cactus (Indian fig) from the gardens. But first, I step down gingerly straight into the sea for a refreshing morning dip.

After breakfast, I move inland to La Peschiera’s sister hotel, Il Melograno. This is Puglia’s most famous “masseria,” a nobleman’s country house and estate.

This prestigious, and one of the largest, masseria is more like a small village where the farmers worked the land, then returned to revels in the private piazza. It is easy to imagine the rhythm of this productive life as I meander past white-washed buildings, through bougainvillea-splashed alleys to my room. Here whatever can be preserved has been, leaving so much of its former atmosphere, with stone flag floors, cottage windows, even ancient olive trees growing through the dining room. In the bar, the drinks are kept in a stone trough indicating the floor was previously trod by cattle hooves.

At Il Melograno, they have hundreds of olive trees, each mapped and protected, and the estate produces delicious extra virgin olive oil. They offer me an olive oil tasting; we are sitting in Mùmmulo, the dignified restaurant, with dark wood antiques, white cloths and the intransigent ancient olive tree.

Rosanna is serious about olive oil – she is Official Taster for the Republic of Italy and representative of Il Melograno’s respect for fine produce. I learnt that there are blended olive oils, some with just a touch of extra virgin which Rosanna pronounced emphatically “disgusting.” Olives can be harvested any month they are ripe, unlike grapes, but the process is challenging – there is picking by hand, or the trees are beaten with a rope and the olives caught, or the trees can be shaken by a machine, or olives simply fall into a net beneath the tree, but this is risky as they can ferment and then they are “disgusting.” Olives are taken to the “grind dinger,” which was a mysterious and important part of the process, and took me some time to realise was the grinder, or press. Olives are not like grapes which live and mature, the oil must be kept in a darkened glass bottle and consumed within 18 months, or it is “disgusting.” It must also be stored at an even temperature – if it gets cold, it will also be “disgusting.” I thought of my bottle of oil chilling in winter weeks at my empty cottage, which I regularly desolidify on top of the cooker, and felt ignorant.

So we tasted Le Ferre Leccino oil, grass and hay, pronounced Rosanna, and because our throat is warm, while this oil is mild in the mouth, it suddenly becomes spicy in our throat. Le Ferre Coratina was bitter around the edge of my tongue. “This bitterness is not a bad thing; it is very good with fava beans, peas and meat,” Rosanna said. The Melograno oil she pronounces perfect. I might add it was fruity and light with an enduring flavour, and it was definitely the most delicious in the tasting, unsurprising as they have been refining their production for about 500 years.

I move to the bar for a cosmopolitan made with melograno, the pomegranate which ripen on trees in the garden. My appetite is sharpened, ready for a four course dinner which promises to include tiny quail legs and taglialinni with a rabbit ragu. While Puglia’s delicious food is usually sourced from the chef’s next door neighbour, epicureans should travel the world for the experience.

Further Information

Il Melograno (www.melograno.com) is approximately 40 minutes from Bari airport and 15 minutes from sister hotel Il Peschiera (www.peschierahotel.com) on the coast.

Escape To Essaouria By Caroline Phillips

Le Jardin des Douars

There’s a man in a baseball cap and wellington boots opening and selling sea urchins beside the sand-coloured ancient ramparts. Call it African fast food. Nearby on the quay, a youngster is dragging a dead young shark into a lorry, and then pulling another finned specimen behind him and yet another Mini Jaws — taking them to a restaurant. There are piles of fishing nets waiting to be mended, and at the other end of the port, boats being built in the traditional style in which they have been constructed for centuries.

It’s easy to get the 2000.2 miles here from the UK and it’s well worth it, even for a long weekend. Welcome to Essaouria (pronounced essa-weera), the laid-back, hip, Atlantic-side Moroccan town. Somewhere known for its writers and musicians. The place that’s also renowned for its bohemian vibe and wind. (It’s dubbed the ‘Wind City of Africa’). Except when I’m there in early October, there’s not even a breeze: just a haze of fog playing over the beach and crashing waves.

Villa Basmah at Le Jardin des Douars

“Happy weather come this afternoon, inchallah,” promises my driver Mohammed, who says he’s known as ‘Simone’ on account of two of the other drivers in the hotel also being called Mohammed. I’m staying in Le Jardin des Douars, about 20 minutes from the medina. So I get to meet a few Mohammeds.

So what of the town? My first impression is that the air is heady with the smell of salt and fish. It’s also the sort of place that could be a location for Game of Thrones, and was. There are those fortifications with cannons, and there’s an 18th-century medina with a fair bit of restoration going on. This turns out to be the local version of putting down a red carpet. “The King is coming soon to open the Jewish museum,” explains Abdellalatif, curator of the town’s hippest gallery, Elizir Gallery (about which, more later). “The buildings have to look good.” The museum will be in the 19th century Attia synagogue.

Le Jardin des Douars

There are also gates in Essaouria that are called ‘babs,’ the sort that look as if they need a Roman chariot driving through them —although the town was actually only founded in 1765. Plus there are narrow lanes with blue-trimmed houses and merchants selling rugs, leather jackets, spices and baskets; and pharmacies with fleur d’orange, saffron and prickly pear concoctions. Not to mention vendors with those regulation pouffes in ruby, amethyst and various shades of cow. And stalls spilling with pomegranates and Arabic flat bread. Nobody hassles me to buy anything. They’re a gentle, solicitous people. I get lost and a guy leaves his shop to show me the way. “No money, just friend,” he says. “I come from Sahara, 900 km away.”

There are some great boutiques. One is even called a ‘concept store.’ (Outside it there’s a cardboard box in which ten cats and kittens are snoozing happily, but that is probably not the concept). Histoire de Filles sells Moroccan salt scrub to artisan jewellery and kaftans for around a hundred quid a shot. I do ‘fooding and shopping’ (as the business card proclaims) at trendy L’Atelier with its cool soaring ceilings and ‘tapis union jack.’ (That’s a leather rug to you.)

L’Heure Bleue Palais

My favourite shop is the quirky Elizir Gallery which used to be the Elizir Restaurant. (Don’t ask. Oh OK, Abdellatif got tired of cooking, serving and working all hours). It boasts an eclectic mixture of vintage and retro European and tribal African art and artefacts collected over 12 years and two floors. Think tribal masks, 1960s TV sets, modish fifties lighting — some purchased from the hotels and villas of Agadir and Tangier — and a gramophone on which he plays vinyl from morn until eve. Think also Haik blankets (worn by tribespeople before they make it onto Notting Hill’s beds), bright Perspex chairs and historical Moroccan pottery. I leave having purchased an antique tent peg — everyone needs one.

I have lunch (with the new GM, the charming Eric Molle, who started at the hotel only a nanosecond before my arrival; oh, and I eat grilled prawns that are still flapping they’re so fresh) on the roof terrace of L’Heure Bleue Palais, a hotel built into the medina walls. It’s where Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley used to chill – and understandably so. It has a kind of colonial vibe and courtyard with palm trees. For 350 dirhams (about £28), you can have a set lunch, swim, rooftop shower and loll for the afternoon. Afterwards I’m scrubbed, rubbed, pummelled and washed until I’m gleaming in its teeny black marble spa.

Hammam at Le Jardin des Douars

Outside again and sporting at least fifteen fewer layers of skin, I wander the streets once more enjoying the compact medina with its souk, cafés and wood-carving shops. I saunter past the maze of crumbling mansions of the erstwhile Jewish quarter to a pocket-sized synagogue. Then just outside the city gates, past the taxi rank of skinny ponies and traps, I visit the Old Jewish Cemetery, the guardian of which is an Arab gentleman. It’s next to the Christian burial ground, has its marine sandstone tombs built above the ground and overlooks the Atlantic. There can be few better locations in which to end your days.

Later, I sit in a café and drink espresso as Arab women in indigo, beetroot and green scarves and dresses go about their business. Men pedal past on bicycles or pushing carts laden with eggs or stone slabs, but never the two together.

Le Jardin des Douars

Next day, I have lunch with Abdellatif in the port. We walk past eel, tiger prawns and toothless men. He picks cuttlefish, sole, sardines: sea-to-fork in under four hours….and lunch for less than a fiver. Then he takes it to Marssa Grillade, a beach shack with plastic chairs and cheery locals. They grill our ‘catch’ — call it BYO food — on their al fresco rusty barbecue. The fish scores 12 out of 10 in my books.

More glamorously, I dine at the Villa Maroc — formed of 18th century riads, one of which was once a bordello — with its view of the ocean and ramparts, and inside its characterful nooks, crannies and courtyard and lovely atmosphere. It could be the magazine cover for beautiful Moroccan living with its exotic hanging lamps, African antiques and bazaar pieces. I sit beside a roaring fire with flickering candles on my knee-high table, and dine on home-made bread with argan oil (all the rage around here) and crème de carottes dip with harissa, followed by Moroccan salads and sole: tasty family cooking.

The pool at Le Jardin des Douars

Back in the oasis that is my hotel, Le Jardin des Douars, I sit in its abundant gardens among cacti, bougainvillea, palms and a variety of look-at-me flowers in fluorescent colours of purple, orange and fuscia. It’s wedding central for bright young things from Europe and also attracts young families. It’s nestled in the Essaouria hills above the wind of the town, so you can swim in two pools when it’s too billowy below.

It offers peace, tranquility and authenticity. That is has no televisions, mini bars or phones in the rooms gets my vote, but might cause my teens to expire. I lie lazily on my bed with its Berber vintage fabric throw and gaze at the tadelakt (Moroccan plasterwork) walls and domed ceiling, prettily punctured with star shapes and coloured glass: the sun sending jewel-hued shafts into the room. Essaouria may be a Unesco heritage site. But my bedroom ceiling is pretty good too. And after all that walking in the medina, it’s the place to be.

Le Jardin des Douars

For more information about Le Jardin des Douars in Essaouira, go to www.jardindesdouars.com. B&B priced from £150 per room, per night or £450 per villa, per night. There are over 90 flights a week between the UK and Morocco – find out more at www.muchmorocco.com/2017/07/up-up-and-away.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Salzburgers Are Fashionably Traditional By Ramy Salameh

With a healthy glow to her cheeks, Gabriele Jenner stood behind the counter eager to introduce us to Jahn-Markl, her “Trachten” (traditional Austrian dress) shop; the sign above the door symbolically stated 1408; Salzburg’s oldest former tannery was founded over 600 years ago, around the time another of the city’s great passions began – the brewing of beer.

Gabriele Jenner of Jahn Markl (image courtesy of Visit Salzburg)

Jenner’s family traces ownership back to 1890 and she was eager to open the shop’s customer book. With pride of place at the end of the counter, the owner leafed through the delicate pages, picking out 20th century heavy weights; “Marlene Dietrich, Pablo Picasso and Max Reinhardt, who established the Salzburg Music Festival,” she commented, tracing her finger across the signatures. “Even Emperor Franz Josef I, liked a specific dark antique-looking leather colour, Salzburger Altschwarz,” she added pulling a neatly folded lederhosen from the shelves for us to examine.

Marlene Dietrich’s signature (image courtesy of Ramy Salameh)

Trachten has enjoyed a real revival in Austria for some time now and the Jahn-Markl boutique surely must count itself as part of the inspiration for the resurgence. Jenner retells a story of not recognising Vivienne Westwood when she made an unexpected visit. There are also dedications from Karl Lagerfeld and Louis Vuitton in “The Book;” so it came as no surprise that aspects of Austria’s national dress have found its way to the world’s fashion capitals. In 2014, in “Schloss Leopoldskron” on the outskirts of Salzburg, Lagerfeld displayed his Alpine folklore collection for Chanel.

Trachten-wearing folk dancers at St. Rupert’s Fair (image courtesy of Visit Salzburg)

Outside Jahn-Markl’s shop, St. Rupert’s festival was awakening for another year and the Trachten revival was all too evident. An array of colours and fabrics carrying intricate hand-stitched embroidery designs flowed passed the doorway. Visitors from all across Salzburgerland were congregating in preparation for the opening ceremony.

Domplatz Cermonial Canon (image courtesy of
Ramy Salameh)

In honour of St. Rupert, the Patron Saint of Salzburg, the fair celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. On Domplatz, outside Salzburg Cathedral, the ceremonial canon was fired with deafening rapidity marking the start of the festivities; after the final shocking bang, a momentary silence was replaced with a murmur of excitement, as Salzburgers turned their attention back to their steins or to try the local produce on offer.

Vintage rides at St. Rupert’s Fair (image courtesy of Visit Salzburg)

The fair weaved in-between the intricate Baroque architecture of the Alstadt’s (old town) squares. This dramatic and elegant backdrop provided an alternative catwalk for all the Converse-wearing teenagers in lederhosen heading towards the vintage fairground rides and the couture-like adaptions of the Dirndl worn by Salzburger ladies. Speaking with festival goers, it was clear that the Trachten reflects modern Austria, with a new-found interpretation of traditional culture in a fun, creative and patriotic way. “All my family are wearing it today but each of us puts our own take on it,” one student told me, gesturing towards her siblings.

Mozartplatz Tract Shopping (image courtesy of Visit Salzburg)

Young designers, such as Lena Hoschek, must have shared that same view growing up. She tailored her first Dirndl at the age of 13 with the help of her grandmother, before going on to become an international fashion designer. Hoschek brings her own unique take on the Dirndl to create several cutting-edge collections that celebrate and accentuate the traditional style and the ultra-feminine hourglass shape.

Steigl beer sign (image courtesy of Ramy Salameh)

In the same way that Trachten has inspired the young designers and a new generation to adapt and evolve Austria’s traditional dress, Salzburg’s history of brewing beer has resonated with young creatives keen to present their own brands of craft beer. Around the fair, flags fluttered above the stalls bearing the names of Stiegl, Hofbräu, Die Weisse, Trumer Pils, Gusswerk; a mix of mostly family-owned breweries from across the region, all with their own story to tell.

Hohensalzburg Fortress (image courtesy of Visit Salzburg)

“St. Rupert’s fair is still warming up, so if you want to try one of the best and oldest beers in Salzburg then we will reach it from up there,” our guide said, pointing towards the imperious HohenSalzburg Fortress; atop Mönchsberg mountain, the castle has watched over Salzburg’s UNESCO World heritage centre since the 11th century. It commands dramatic views to the distant and snow-capped peaks of the Alps, one of which is the Untersberg Mountain rising to 1972m from the nearby town of Grödig. An earlier journey to the peak of the Untersberg was made via the vertiginous cable car that gently rocked us breathtakingly close to the jagged cliff face, before rewarding us with a full sweep of Salzbergerland.

Augustiner Brewery (image courtesy of Visit Salzburg)

From HohenSalzburg Fortress, we followed a forested path that stretched north along the ridge line of the Mönchsberg towards Mülln and the Augustiner Brewery, presenting glimpses and alternative angles of the city and the fortress through the treeline. The most photogenic perspective of the city was from the terrace of the Museum of Modern Art, capturing the Salzach River cutting a meandering path through the heart of Salzburg. This fast flowing river has always been fed by the glacial waters of the Alps and this pure mountain water has sustained Salzburg’s brewing heritage.

Augustiner Brau (image courtesy of Ramy Salameh)

“Since its foundation by the Augustinian monks in 1621, the monastic buildings have remained on the northern slopes of the Mönchsberg,” our guide mentioned as we descended a grand staircase inside the Augustiner Bräu. This led to the “Schmankerlgang,” the name given to the delicatessen arcade, from which regional specialities are purchased. We then lifted a ceramic stein from the rack before waiting for our Bräustübl beer to be drawn straight from the wooden barrels. With steins in hand and a platter of cold cuts, we snaked between the happy revellers and joined one of the many communal tables in the “Stockhammersaal,” the largest of the five halls.

Augustiner Brau cold cuts (image courtesy of Ramy Salameh)

Here we met one of Salzburg’s young craft beer brewers who comes to Augustiner brewery regularly and for several reasons. “Firstly for the social and friendly atmosphere,” he stated, “but also to feel inspired from a place where brewing has been taking place for centuries and to think that the municipal water from the mountain is still used to help create the distinctive flavour of the Augustiner beer.” He puts his enterprising spirit down to the fact that Salzburg was an independent state from the 14th century to the early 19th century, and has a history of protecting and preserving the traditional arts and culture that is still handed down through the generations. “This autonomy may well still exist in Salzburger psyche, if not on the map,” he confided.

Maybe that is what made a visit to Salzburg during St. Rupert’s Festival so special, as the true nature of the city is on show and you may well see just how “fashionably traditional” Salzburgers really are!

For more information on holidays in Salzburg and Austria, visit www.salzburg.info and www.austria.info.

Mauritius’ Top Features For Weddings And Honeymoons By The Luxury Channel

With its miles of white sand beaches, surrounded by lush forests and dramatic volcanic peaks, Mauritius is made for romance. From the first swim-up pools on the island to sea-urchin tasting at sunset, Mauritius has a host of new and exciting wedding and honeymoon experiences for 2018….

Experience the new swim-up rooms at the Victoria Beachcomber Resort & Spa

From January 2018, the Victoria Beachcomber Resort & Spa will introduce its new adult-only wing, the Victoria for Two. The new accommodation will consist of 40 two-person terraced rooms, each of which will open up to the marine park and private beach. 17 of these are the first swim-up rooms to launch on the island, all of which will be sea-facing and open up onto the swimming pool. The wing will also see the opening of a brand new restaurant, the Moris Beef, boasting spectacular sunset views and a new swim-up pool bar, the Nautil Café. The new concept has been designed to meet the needs of a different type of clientele – the couple travelling child-free and desiring quiet, comfort and a breadth of facilities, perfect for a honeymoon getaway.
www.beachcomber-hotels.com

Experience the new sea urchin tasting experience at LUX* Le Morne

Located on the southwestern tip of the island in Le Morne, the five-star LUX* Le Morne is set on one of the island’s most attractive lagoon-facing spots. Guests to this UNESCO protected part of the island are invited to relax under the palm trees by the sea and explore the Black River Gorges National Park. Newlyweds are guaranteed to enjoy the culinary delights of the hotel, some of which include beach barbecues and authentic island cuisine, as well as the new ‘‘Sea Urchin Tasting At Sunset’’ experience. Just before sundown, the resident guest experience manager and Sea Urchin Ma, Vik Chutter, heads into the lagoon in search of fresh sea urchins, one of Mauritius’ most special delicacies. The sea urchins are then cut, cleaned and served fresh to guests on the beach during sunset.
www.luxresorts.com/en/hotel-mauritius/luxlemorne

Experience the new private wedding venue at The Four Seasons

The five-star Four Seasons in Anahita have launched their newest wedding package, where couples desiring a quiet wedding experience are invited to the new wedding venue on the islet of the Quiet Beach. This setting is ideal for intimate ceremonies for two or a small group wedding celebration. For guests wishing to add a quirky feature to their wedding, the Bridal Buggy service is perfect – golf buggies are decorated with flowers and flowing fabric, with the classic ‘‘happily ever after’’ sign attached to the back.
www.fourseasons.com/mauritius

Experience the new wedding package at the Shangri-La Le Touessrok Resort & Spa

The five-star Shangri-La Le Touessrok Resort & Spa has introduced their new wedding package. Guests are now invited to host their special day on the exclusive L’Ilot Mangénie private island. A mere ten minute boat ride from the hotel, the island is surrounded by the calm waters of the lagoon, where couples and their guests can spend their big day day in complete privacy. The hotel is a haven of relaxation, where guests are encouraged to take advantage of the resorts restaurants, bespoke experiences and spa facilities.
www.shangri-la.com/mauritius

For more information, please visit www.tourism-mauritius.mu

Lake Como – The Height of Sophistication And Style By Fiona Sanderson

The Luxury Channel’s two new favourites on Lago di Como are Il Sereno and Villa Pliniana….

Il Sereno (image courtesy of Patricia Parinejad)

One of Lake Como’s most recently opened hotels, Il Sereno, is quite simply stunning and somewhere that you must stay if you want a really first class hotel and a romantic adventure by the Italian lakes. The hotel is both stylish and sophisticated – and no wonder, since it was designed by Wallpaper* Designer of Year 2015, Patricia Urquiola. Located along 450 feet of Lake Como’s legendary Eastern shore, the property is surrounded by dramatic views of the Italian Alps and idyllic small towns, and even features its own private beach and boat dock with three special Cantiere Ernesto Riva boats.

Meanwhile, Milan restaurateur and Chef Andrea Berton, whose impressive CV boasts Michelin starred kitchens, is at the helm of Il Sereno’s signature restaurant, Ristorante Berton Al Lago. Awarded its first Michelin Star within only a year of operations, the restaurant’s exquisite menu pays tribute to the rich and diverse area of Northern Italy by taking the finest ingredients of the local region and creating contemporary homages to traditional cuisine.

Il Sereno (image courtesy of Patricia Parinejad)

The hotel comprises 30 spacious rooms, ranging from 650 square meters in size to The Penthouse at 2,000 square meters, with floor-to-ceiling windows and views over Lake Como. There is a spa too, situated under the original, old arches but without doubt the highlight is the 60-foot-long heated freshwater infinity pool, which is suspended over the lake. Il Sereno is certainly set to indulge the senses with this newly launched and incredibly tranquil haven of rest and recuperation, where treatments have been designed to harmonise and relax both body and soul.

Whilst the spectacular views of Lake Como and the surrounding scenic mountain ranges demand your attention outside, it is the centre of the hotel that really takes your breath away once inside. As you walk in, your eyes are drawn to the stunning staircase that serves as a truly striking focal point. Made with natural materials including walnut wood, the large steps are encased in bronze and effortlessly “float” as you stand before it. The dark and beautiful veins of the walnut wood complement the stone found throughout the hotel. An exciting starting point for the design in the rest of the hotel, which is also highly contemporary. Patricia Urquiola has used largely natural materials, including wood, stone, wool and other fabrics, and the overall effect is both dramatic and refreshingly timeless. Urquiola has also used colours that reflect the lake and environment. I was particularly struck by the 2,000 square foot penthouse, which had huge windows incorporating breath-taking views of the lakes, floors which were inlaid with Venetia terrazzo flooring, and glamorous stone bathrooms.

Il Sereno (image courtesy of Patricia Parinejad)

I was looking forward to my lunch overlooking the lake and to tasting Andre Berton’s cuisine, which certainly didn’t disappoint. With more than 27 years of industry experience, Berton is a well-known and respected restaurateur who has won four Michelin stars across three restaurants in Milan. The menu, I am told, encompasses the crossroads of the distinct regions near Lake Como including: the lake with its fish and aromatic herbs; the mountains of Valtellina which are renowned for incredible wines, cheeses and meats; and the nearby Pianura Padana which is well-known for its risotto. I chose the starter of “Cardoncelli” mushrooms, lotus root, and little onions all sweet and sour with fresh mint pesto but you could have alternatives such as the marinated cod, crispy cabbage and umeboshi plums. I followed this with watercress ravioli and Venus clams, and then Berton’s famous tiramisu with a warm topping. All to die for and utterly delicious.

I would have liked to have stayed longer and been able to retreat to the Penthouse suite with its floor-to-ceiling windows and views over the peaceful waterfront for a little Sunday relaxation but my appointment with Samy, the General Manager, to see Il Sereno’s sister property certainly did not disappoint. A short boat ride away, Villa Pliniana is no doubt one of the world’s most exclusive properties for hire in a completely private setting, tucked away on the shore of Lake Como. Villa Plinina has all the right ingredients – luxury, security and privacy for the world’s top millionaires. I hear Mark Zuckerberg was one of their most recent guests.

Built in 1573, the Villa has over the years hosted many artists, scientists and monarchs such as Leonardo da Vinci, Bellini, Volta, Napoleon and Queen Margherita of Savoy, to name just a few. Renovations have been going on for several years and this historical Villa has been gracefully restored to its former splendour, with the addition of a spa and heli-surface.

This 16th-century palazzo is located in an estate as expansive as the accommodation. The main villa offers ten exquisite bedrooms within four large apartments, while three additional villas provide a further nine bedrooms. Altogether, Villa Pliniana can accommodate 39 guests. Two lavish ballrooms are equipped to host events of up to 200 guests, while the stunning waterfront gardens can accommodate up to 500 guests for large weddings and events. The estate has its own private spa with covered heated pool, Jacuzzi, Turkish bath, Scottish showers, sauna and a lounge area. It also has a heliport, on-site parking and a large jetty.

Under the management of the new Il Sereno Hotel, Villa Pliniana without a doubt has the same luxurious feel that I found in Il Sereno. The interiors, again designed by Patricia Urquiola, include elaborate Venetian terrazzo-style floors and painted wooden ceilings. Villa Pliniana is also home to the piano on which Rossini wrote the opera Tancredi. Perhaps the incomparable surroundings will inspire you to write your own masterpiece!

If real privacy is what you are after and you have the budget to match, you can hire Villa Pliniana’s private villas for you and your guests (not so much open to the public, the Villa is a buyout grand palace for those with deep pockets, or who are looking to hold their wedding there). Il Sereno’s suites, meanwhile, are the perfect place to relax and enjoy the beauty of the lake. Both properties are very unique, and utterly special.

About The Sereno Properties On Lago di Como

Suites at Il Sereno Lago di Como are priced from €750. For more information, go to www.ilsereno.com. For more information about Villa Pliniana, go to www.villapliniana.com. All Sereno Hotel properties are members of Leading Hotels of the World and Virtuoso.

Jordan – On The Wild Side By Ramy Salameh

The Khamsini – a dry, hot, sandy wind – was building as we entered Wadi Rum. The grand rock formations and their geological layers of colour were beginning to disappear behind a swirling, hazy cloud of dust and sand.

This beautiful and and bewitching place, described by T. E. Lawrence as “vast, echoing and godlike,” reminding us that “Rum” (as locals call it) was a wild and hostile environment, to be respected. Before veering off the road and into the desert proper, our 4WD followed the narrow single gauge tracks of the former Hejaz Railway line, until we reached the steam engine and carriages, the like of which would have transported pilgrims from Damascus to Medina and Mecca at the turn of the last century. The railway became notorious during the Arab Revolt (1916-18) as it was the principal target for the Arab Legion and Lawrence of Arabia in the revolt against Turkish domination.

Climbing aboard the driver’s cab with sand whipping through, enabled one to imagine Lawrence’s men appearing out of the haze upon horse and camel to ambush and attack this old relic. Even today, capturing such a moment is still possible but only through the Jordan Heritage Revival Company’s (JHRC) re-enactment of those times. This is a chance to live history upon the very sand dunes that bore witness to these events.

The Khamsini was not abating and as trying to reach our Bedouin-style Camp “Rahayeb” was proving tricky, our only option was to continue towards another historic edifice, where the past once again comes to life through JHRC at Shobak Castle, in the Ma’an region.

“Wake up at sunrise and watch Shobak Castle light up,” my guide Ma’moun had insisted; at dawn I parted the curtains, to observe a view that could not have changed much since the crusaders stood upon the ramparts in defence of their quest. Serenely and without a breath of air, the great fortification bounced hues of soft pinks, oranges and gold off the sandstone rocks, that has crowned the hill on the eastern side of The Sharah Mountains since 1115. To complete this ancient scene, an elderly Bedouin, with staff in hand and wearing a red-checked keffiyeh, shepherded his flock up the steep escarpment; a snapshot of centuries past.

Fully illuminated in the morning sunshine, Shobak Castle, although a ruin, still holds a grandeur when set against a cloudless sky. The greatest privilege was to be the only visitor to explore its visible and hidden treasures, such as the tunnel, whose 365 steps still lead to the bottom of the valley to reach a water source, and the calligraphic Arabic script wrapped around the turrets.

The re-enactment of Ayyubid soldiers preparing for battle under the command of “Saladin” takes place within the ancient castle arches, chambers and vaults that have echoed to the footsteps of the Crusader, Ayyubid and Mamluk forefathers. They would have surveyed the surrounding hills from their strategically valuable elevation to spot invaders or caravanserai following historic trade routes passing across the plateaus and rugged hills.

A circuitous drive across the mountain tracks of Al Juhair, one of Shobak’s many villages, unveiled similar dramatic vistas stretching from Wadi Musa (home to Petra), Wadi Araba and all the way across to the chain of valleys that make up the Dana Biosphere Reserve. Nowadays, some of these visible tracks form, at least in part, walks along the recently created Jordan trail that runs 650km down the spine of Jordan.

The trail represents Jordan’s nomadic Bedouin roots and natural affinity for trekking, and throws up unexpected encounters along the way. Even on our mountainous drive, Ma’moun gestured towards three locals, crouched beside a tree, who immediately ushered us to join them for sweetened tea that was boiling away on the campfire. “With Ramadan approaching, this is their last chance to hunt,” Ma’moun mentioned as they sat waiting for potential prey to cross their path.

After an overnight in Shobak, our meandering journey took us back to Wadi Rum along shimmering tarmac roads, passing open-sided Bedouin tents desperately trying to circulate fresh air, which signalled that the Khamsini had passed as dramatically as it had arrived. Every fissure, rock statue and distant camel was, once again, visible on the horizon and Wadi Rum’s epic landscape was back in full focus.

It was not long before the 4WD Jeep was swaying upon drifts of sand, as if enjoying a slow dance with its passengers, as we passed narrow gorges and towering cliffs, before reaching a natural rock bridge, that seemed both architecturally impossible yet defiantly immovable; “scramble up this part, between that crevice, and you will reach the top,” Ma’moun said with a wry smile.

I left the rock climbing to other hardy souls, but was prepared to scamper onto other rocks to view 2000 year old rock art, that would have been carved by ancient Thamudic and Nabatean people, a direct connection with “Rum’s” earliest inhabitants depicting their way of life. Generations have maintained an unbroken history breeding camels, goats and sheep while living in tents or in caves.

Heading to Camp Rahayeb, the sun was starting to set over “Rum” and so the daily ritual of 4WDs and camels darting across the desert to find the best elevated ledge had begun. Every rocky outcrop was silhouetted with motionless human figures waiting for the sun’s mellowing rays to fan out their corridors of light, before slowly melting into the landscape.

Nestled within a rocky enclave, our camp provided protection from the desert’s harshest conditions. Inside the main tent, the material walls were adorned with local Bedouin handicrafts; camel saddles, musical instruments, arched swords and cooking utensils that all formed parts of indigenous life. As the fire crackled in the heart of the camp, the “Oud” (stringed instrument) was played by its master, who sang softly as we headed to our beds.

Our guide Ma’moun broke the early morning silence to announce it was time to leave camp and the rose-coloured desert. We were heading out of “Rum’s” remote beauty and parched landscape and onward to the clear waters of the Gulf of Aqaba.

With the mountains behind us, the Gulf of Aqaba was a captivating view. It must have been the same for every weary traveller who had carved a path through the desert, to finally make the gradual descent towards the sea. Having chanced upon a water colour painting by Robert Moresby from 1833, I could still make out the same dominant natural features across the horizon which meant that modern developers were trying to be sympathetic to their surroundings.

Aqaba is Jordan’s only coastline, and preserving and sustaining its delicate resources has become as important as all the major new developments redefining the landscape. The Marine Science Station And Aquarium (a place where the marine eco-system can be monitored) and the Aqaba Bird Observatory (a stopping point for migrating birds to and from Africa) were just two of the landmarks our boat skipper pointed out to me, as I joined him on a fishing excursion.

The gulf’s refreshing spray, cool breeze and striking perspective looking back towards the port city, with a complete sweep of muscular mountains wrapping a protective arm around the shoreline, was the ideal way to depart southern Jordan.

Ramy Salameh travelled with Royal Jordanian Airlines and Aqaba Tourism, part of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority. For more information, go to www.aqaba.jo.

Escape To The Four Seasons In Florence By Caroline Phillips

There are five-star hotels, and then there are the ones that deserve an entire firmament of stars. Places like the Plaza in New York, Claridge’s in London, and the Hôtel Ritz in Paris. I’ve stayed in the gold list of historical hotels from Mumbai’s Taj Mahal to Raffles in Siem Riep and Le Meurice in Paris too. It’s with this context in mind that I say that the Four Seasons in Florence is a real corker. A hotel so good that I’d like to live there, per favore.

It’s made up of two Renaissance buildings: the 15th century ‘Palazzo Della Gherardesca’ and ‘La Villa,’ a convent in the 16th century. The suites would probably make Renaissance uber-man Leonardo’s heart skip a beat — with up to 1300 square foot of soaring ceilings, Baroque frescoes, chandeliers, and traditional Italian décor. As for the bi-level Duomo Suite, with its two marble bathrooms, and its numero duo sitting room overlooking the Duomo and the Hotel’s 11-acre private botanical park plus the ooh-ah vista of Firenze rooftops….every last detail is perfect. Even the cupboards are scented with bags of frankincense.

The hotel is a feast for the eyes, soul and stomach. There’s the lobby that’s a 15th century courtyard with intricate bas reliefs and stuccoes of classical and mythological events. Function and private rooms with ceiling murals, porticoes, barrel-vaults, and ornamental coffering. A capella (chapel) turned reading room. And a former church now banquet hall that has been restored to its 
19th century splendour.
 Everywhere the air is heady with fragrances created by Dr. Vranjes, a Florentine artisan perfumer and ‘nose’ extraordinaire – and, from the scent of profusions of flowers arranged by Vincenzo D’Ascanio, a man who’s more flower artist than florist.

I wander through rooms where a Chancellor of the Florentine Republic under Lorenzo il Magnifico, Pope Leo XI’s sister, Costanza, and the Viceroy of Egypt lived. Then order my husband some shoes from Stefano Bemer: custom-made ones, priced from 1150 Euros for standard measurements and from 3650 Euros if they’re made entirely by hand….in my dreams.

Afterwards, there are Bellinis in the Atrium Bar, with a live piano tinkling in the background. Then we eat superb regional cuisine in the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Il Palagio — midst tapestries, candelabras and linen tablecloths. The food is cooked by God’s right hand man, Executive Chef Vito Mollica. Think roasted scampi with parsnip velouté, Iberian guanciale and hazelnut oil; scallops carpaccio with ox bone marrow and caviar; Cavatelli pasta ‘cacio e pepe’ with marinated red prawns and baby squid; risotto with raw shellfish and champagne; ‘Laura Peri’ pigeon cooked in pork bladder with Vin Santo and thyme scented caramelised fruits; and venison loin with chestnut purée and pomegranate reduction. We eat it all. Every last morsel. That’s what tasting menus are for. (Five courses just 130 Euros.)

There are also excellent wine pairings, a list of nearly 400 bottles, and 50 on offer by the glass. Tenuta Fessina A Puddara Etna Bianco 2014, Feudo Montoni Etna Ros 2015, Dr Loosen Riesling Ürziger Wűrzgarten 2013, Fattoi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2008….they get the thumbs up. Or for people (like me) who don’t drink alcohol, there are gourmet juices such as a Sauvignon grape juice or Gazzosa with Amalfi lemons selected to accompany the appropriate dishes.

Next day, a visit to the Four Seasons Spa. It’s reached by strolling down a tree-lined path beside lawns, statues, pools and fountain. Not to mention a small Ionic temple. The Spa has 10 treatment rooms — pungent with the scent of pepper, amber and orange — and wet rooms with glass mosaic walls and floors. It’s possible to have Black Pearl treatments that contain 24k gold. Or an excellent bespoke massage with therapist Francesca, with oil that smells of Calabrian oranges.

I could stay inside forever. Happily. But Firenze beckons. I spent an entire summer holiday here once, living in a pensione, visiting endless churches, the Uffizi, the Accademia Gallery. Falling in love with Giotto’s work. Gawping at all those Leonardos and Raphaels and the David. Not to mention visiting the Duomo with its Giorgio Vasari ceiling fresco, and spending endless rapt moments in front of its doors with Ghiberti’s bronze relief baptistery doors. So yes, go and see them all. Again and again. And visit the more recent museums, such as the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo with its reliquaries, paintings, wooden models and tapestries. Beautifully designed by architect Adolfo Natalini, its four floors are guaranteed to make the heart soar – and that’s before even seeing Donatello’s moving penitent Mary Magdalene, and the monumental singing galleries by Luca della Robbia and Donatello. And only the stylish Italians would put a Michelangelo Pieta in the same room as (electronic wizard) Bill Viola’s Observance. Bellissimo!

Then I head off for Via de’ Tornabuoni — just a mile from the hotel — for clothes from Armani to Zegna. Despite the invasion of H&M, Zara and the like, there are still a lot of independent shops too. In particular, near the Santa Croce church, the Scuola del Cuoio sells jackets, bags, purses, wallets and the like of calfskin to snakeskin – and all handcrafted by folk you see at work in this erstwhile Franciscan friars’ dormitory. Afterwards I sit simply to soak up the atmosphere in a cafe beside a piazza with a fountain — whilst licking il gelato of pistacchio, mandorla e cioccolato from a gelato heaven that sells mountains of tiramisu, menta and amarena ice-cream. But the Four Seasons soon beckons again….like the best dream-meets-fairytale with a sprinkling of Renaissance angel glitter.

Stay in the Four Seasons Hotel urban resort in the heart of Florence with an outdoor pool, spa and a 5-acre garden, in a Standard Room from 400 Euros per night, with breakfast excluded. Book online at www.fourseasons.com/florence, e-mail flo.reservations@fourseasons.com, or call +39 055 26261. Car hire available from www.holidayautos.co.uk.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Nicaragua – The Land of Lakes And Volcanoes By Annabel Illingworth

As I creep up to the edge of the Masaya Volcano, my heart is pounding. It’s not the sulphur fumes – although those will hit me later – but the sheer scale of the crater. Only a small wall separates visitors from a thousand-foot drop and as I peer over, pungent smoke swirls and fogs up the depths. Surely this sort of thing is the preserve of scientists, loaded up with more equipment and protective clothing than their body mass?

Humbled and thoroughly overwhelmed, I am transfixed. Then the smoke clears, to reveal a lake of bright orange lava bubbling merrily away. It’s such a contrast to our digital world – so raw and primordial. Legend has it that centuries ago, maidens and children were sacrificed in the ‘‘Mouth of Hell’’ to appease a witch in the earth or, some say, to stave off drought. As excursions go, this lies beyond bucket-list territory – it’s literally and metaphorically breathtaking.

Nicaragua is one of a handful of countries possessing lava lakes, the others being in Hawaii, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Antarctica and Vanuatu. Masaya has the added benefit of being easily accessible by car (parked pointing downhill, if one obeys the signs). The spectacle is even better at night, with a blaze of fire set against the midnight sky.

Nicaragua’s other volcanoes are somewhat tamer but equally worth a visit. Mombacho, near the charming colonial city of Granada, is covered in cloud forest, rich in exotic flora and fauna, and offers a panoramic view over the islets on the lake. In a two-hour walk, it’s commonplace to see howler monkeys, glasswing butterflies, sloths hanging in the misty kamagrawiki.org vines, and a colourful array of orchids.

Not for the faint-hearted, Cerro Negro’s jet black slopes have the ideal incline to hurtle down on a wooden sled, reaching speeds of up to 30mph. The formidable combination of lunar landscape and adrenaline rush sees millennials flocking to try ash-boarding, kitted up in boiler suits and goggles. As the mercury soared above 40 degrees Celsius in March, my travel companions and I were advised to give the adventure a miss. When I say, ‘‘Shame,’’ I can’t decide if it’s ironic or genuine.

The pleasure was bona fide, nevertheless, when we jumped in the pool of the magnificent Santa Emilia waterfall to find it blissfully warm. As was the water on the shore of the vast Lake Nicaragua and the brackish, if a little choppy, crater lake at Apoyo. Consummate wild swimmers should keep bathing clothes close to hand at all times, as opportunities are abundant and thoroughly rewarding.

No trip to Nicaragua would be complete, however, without a foray into its colonial cities. Bright and bold colours cover almost every exterior wall, or else striking and meaningful street art. The revolutionary Sandanista era may over but it’s certainly not forgotten in Leon, with its gigantic cathedral and idealistic murals.

There exists in Nicaragua a deep sense of culture, ranging from poetry by the revered Ruben Dario to the magical trees of life in the capital, Managua, and far more in between. Cigar lovers can experience Nicaragua from afar – Doña Elba would be my recommendation – but for those who prefer their smoky delights more earthly, it’s pretty hard to beat Central America’s land of lakes and volcanoes.

Escape To Amsterdam By Caroline Phillips

Caroline Phillips stays in Hotel Seven One Seven in Amsterdam, and then ventures out for some sightseeing….

Amsterdam, as seen from Tower A’DAM (image courtesy of Dennis Bouman and I amsterdam)

A member of staff wearing a long cream apron opens the front door.

‘May I offer you a glass of wine? A seat in front of the fire?’ asks this cheery Dutchman. We sit down for a cup of tea in the achtersalon (drawing room) midst classical busts. There are antique leather armchairs, comfy sofas, burning candles and a roaring log fire. Plus fresh roses, orchids and daffodils. Even hot off a KLM flight with my 21-year old daughter, it’s easy to set about the business of pretending this is our home.

The hotel’s interior decorator — once a fashion stylist — put his signature on the curtains, chairs and lampshades….they’re all made from men’s clothing material. ‘One suite even has a sofa of blue striped men’s suit fabric,’ says the concierge. Additionally the library (bibliotheek) and the drawing room each boasts a serious and eclectic private collection of art — including bronze statues and antique ceramics. Hotel Seven One Seven, Amsterdam, is nothing if not different.

Seven One Seven was the first and only boutique hotel in the Netherlands when it opened two decades ago. It’s in an elegant 1810 building on the architecturally splendid Prinsengracht: a terrace of tall and sometimes lopsided canal houses. The hotel is in an erstwhile merchant’s house — its dining room was once a sugar store — and has only nine rooms and suites. It’s also centrally located: a five-minute bike ride to the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum.

Guests can chill in the Seven One Seven library with a brandy and ciggie: no Hatha or Ashtanga yoga in this hotel. For lunch (a club sandwich or soup) or dinner (by arrangement), staff will bring a picnic basket of a dish such as chicken curry and rice upstairs. Ah! Those stairs. They’re like scaling Kilimanjaro. (That’s a characteristic of Amsterdam. The merchants were allowed to build towards the sky, but were only afforded limited canal frontage.) We reach our suite — Mahler. All the rooms are named after cultural figures — from Picasso to Tolkien. Each one is decorated differently, but all with antiques, modern and African art. Ours has a brass bed and a sofa large enough to seat an orchestra.

After a peaceful night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast (eggs, cold meats, cheeses) taken downstairs in the erstwhile sugar store, we set out for a day’s sightseeing. Do we need umbrellas? ‘Holland weather,’ replies the concierge, enigmatically. We take brollies.

We’re also armed with I amsterdam City Cards — which allows us free entrance to more museums and attractions than we could ever visit, a canal cruise and unlimited use of public transport. Plus we have acquired skip-the-line tickets for the Rijksmuseum through Musement. (Musement is like a concierge in an app. They’ll book activities, tours and restaurants for you in 50 countries. In Amsterdam they offer 102 suggestions, including eight “must dos”). Call me organised, if you must.

First, we take a taxi to join a Mike’s Bike Tours group. ‘Please stop by those bikes,’ I say to the Uber driver. Stupid. In these parts, that’s like instructing, ‘Stop by the man with two legs.’ This is, after all, a city where there are more bikes than people.

Our guided cycle tour lasts three hours and involves about 10km: the Red Light district, (‘The twins were Amsterdam’s oldest prostitutes and retired at 70 after more than 50 years in the sex trade,’ says our guide); the coffee shop scene (‘Cigarette smoking is forbidden, but joints are encouraged’); the 116-acre Vondelpark, (‘Al fresco sex is tolerated, but bongo drums aren’t’). ‘Wild parking of bikes not allowed,’ adds the guide as we finish the tour.

Afterwards we go to the Anne Frank house. Even off-season, there’s an enormous queue outside (it attracts one million visitors a year) and only a few people are allowed in at any one time. This was where Anne, the wartime diarist, went into hiding with seven others during the Second World War — before being deported to concentration camps. We walk in silence through its secret annexe, rooms that were emptied on Nazi orders. The witness testimonials are poignant.

Next the Rijksmuseum ticks all the boxes — it holds one of the largest collections of Rembrandts in the world — and its C19th Cuypers Library (boasting a kilometre of art history books) is also worth a visit. The Van Gogh Museum is a must too: not just for the Sunflowers, but also for The Bedroom, Self-Portrait and the Yellow House — where Gauguin moved in with Van Gogh. “Vincent and I see eye to eye on very little,” Gauguin wrote a few weeks later.

And what of food in Amsterdam? There’s little that matches the standards of London. I can’t recommend everything, but we have an excellent cheeseburger at the Dylan’s all-day Occo Bar Brasserie. It’s a cosmopolitan eatery on the Keizersgracht — one of Amsterdam’s most famous canals — and has a cool, curved bar almost as long. 26 foot to be exact. Plus faultless staff.

Keizersgracht canal houses (image courtesy of Emilio Brizzi and I amsterdam)

We have another meal at Jansz in the quirky Pulitzer Hotel. Tuna tartare, miso-glazed cod, US hanger steak, blueberry cheesecake: you get the drift. International. The best aspect of the food is that it’s beautifully presented. The restaurant is also light and airy with wooden floors, white walls and brasserie chairs. Plus the service is attentive and charming.

As we sit eating, we discuss Amsterdam. It’s a city of spices, porcelain, textiles and tulips. A place that speaks of the legacy of the Dutch West India Company. It’s also somewhere with souvenir shops where you can buy salt & pepper penises, and “cannabis” chocolate. A place in which there’s a Sex Museum — with interesting art, photos and huge phalluses — and a Museum of Prostitution. Not to mention the Condomerie — the world’s first specialist condom shop.

View of the “Skinny Bridge” in Amsterdam (image courtesy of Blue Boat Company and I amsterdam)

That’s all very good. But the final, real highlight is our one-hour canal cruise through the UNESCO World Heritage canal district. We boat past the C17th Skinny Bridge and probably around 1500 other bridges, give or take. Past warehouses, old street lights casting a warm, golden glow and C17th houses with decorative gables, ornate door cases and beams for hoisting furniture by ropes and pulleys to the top. As dusk falls, we peep nosily into the former merchants’ houses — nobody seems to have curtains here — now bookish, artistic homes. And then, happy as can be, we return to our own home: the Seven One Seven.

Further Information

Seven One Seven
Prinsengracht 717. 1017 JW Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Phone: +31 20 427 0717
Website: 717hotel.nl
Price: From 300 to 650 euros per night
NB: WiFi is included; breakfast is extra

KLM
KLM Economy fares to Amsterdam start from £71 return and are inclusive of taxes. To book or for additional information, check www.klm.com or call the reservation line on +44 (0) 20 7660 0293.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Donna Coraly Resort – An Oasis of Calm By The Luxury Channel

An hour’s drive from Catania airport in Sicily sits the exquisite Donna Coraly Resort. A hideaway with just five suites, it’s the perfect place to retreat from the hectic pace of life, and is ideal for a group of best friends to book the entire resort and make it home. Run by Lucia Pascarelli, the designer and owner, it is steeped in history with a moat and watchtower dating back to the 14th Century, but of the most historical prominence is that this is where the Armistice was signed in September 1943.

Donna Coraly is truly the epitome of luxury. Each of the five suites is cleverly styled with an expert interior designer’s eye, using the finest fabrics and locally-sourced materials. Each suite is different and distinguished by a beautiful, hand-painted tiled mosaic in the centre of the room leading to French doors that open out onto your own private garden. Adding a touch of character, each suite is decorated with an iconic Sicilian “Teste di Moro” head, famed in the region for the tragic love story from which these unusual pots derive.

Donna Coraly Resort not only offers an intimate stay in a secluded environment but also caters for food connoisseurs, boasting an impressive fruit and vegetable garden. Each morning, the garden’s seasonal produce is freshly picked and served with every meal, meaning the menu changes daily. All produce is either from the farm or sourced locally, realising the “farm to fork” philosophy, so expect traditional Sicilian dishes homemade daily by the resort’s talented private chef, Giuseppe. All meals are naturally dressed with homemade olive oil from the groves next door, and the wines at table are made on site too.

Among the resort’s lush gardens is a thermal spring pool which contains “i sali della vita” – essential micro mineral salts that leave your skin gorgeously hydrated and are known to strengthen the immune system. After a reviving dip, pull out one of the white sun loungers that line the pool, or seek refuge from the sun’s rays under the white, canopied gazebo, and immerse yourself in pure tranquility. The resort even has an in-house therapist based at the on-site wellness oasis, offering massages on demand.

If you can bear to tear yourself away from all the tranquility here, enjoy a bespoke experience that Lucia will organise, ranging from a trip to the Baroque town of Noto for a piano concerto, to Ortigia to listen to opera at the historic Greek amphitheatre, or a boat trip around the Southern coastline of Syracuse. Alternatively, laze by the beautiful beach of San Lorenzo, or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, Mount Etna is around an hour’s drive away. The annual Infiorata (where flowers carpet the street, stretching up the road as far as the eye can see) is held on the third weekend of May every year, and is also something to plan for.

An oasis of calm, Donna Coraly offers quiet luxury and unrivalled service. Lucia will have you plotting your next trip back before you’ve even left the gates of this 600 year old estate.

For more information, visit www.donnacoraly.it/en.

Rula Lenska At Saruni Rhino Camp By Rula Lenska

I have been lucky in my life to travel far and wide….India, Nepal, safari on elephant back, Tibet on a pilgrimage, deepest China writing for a magazine, Peru, the amazing Amazon, the Galápagos Islands, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, New Zealand, white water rafting, hot air ballooning and many other exciting, intrepid and extraordinary adventures. So it was a huge privilege to be invited as the first guest at Saruni Rhino Camp in Samburu, Northern Kenya. I can truthfully say that the rhino tracking experience was the most exciting and adrenaline-coursing experience I have ever had.

The small camp is exquisite. Hidden perfectly in the palms using natural materials, it blends in unobtrusively with nature. The staff, mostly dressed in colourful Samburu traditional costume, were enchanting, warm and welcoming. The accommodation was comfortable and cosy with views over the “lugga” (dry river bed) and within easy viewing distance of the small water hole visited by elephants both nights we were there.

The evening meals served by strategically-hung hurricane lamps on the dry river bed were delightful and I don’t think I have ever slept so well in the bush as here. The drives to the rhino sanctuary – though bone rattling – were expertly driven and we saw many animals to and from the sanctuary gates, as well as colourful locals. Our guides and trackers, under the expert tuition of Pietro Luraschi (of Asilia) were truly wonderful; knowledgeable and caring. Once the tracker had located the whereabouts of the rhino who have had chips inserted into their horns, the journey on foot through quite difficult terrain was spell-binding. We were very well schooled in bush discipline; hand signals and talking kept to a minimum, with total trust in the boys and with Pietro still taking the helm. On the first day, we had excellent sightings though fairly distant. But there is something about being on foot in the domain of these huge, powerful, prehistoric beasts that lends an added thrill to the walk itself.

On the second morning came the adventure of a lifetime. We had been told there were four, maybe five rhinos in our vicinity, therefore progress was extra careful and we hung carefully onto every sign and direction given to us by the trackers. Though rhinos have very poor eyesight, they make up for it with excellent hearing and smell, and the guides constantly made certain by dropping very fine powder to make sure we were downwind of them. Suddenly, we were motioned to move super quick behind a large fallen tree intertwined with huge thorny bushes. The next thing we saw was this thundering rhino hurtling full speed towards us, literally yards away, huffing and puffing like a steam train. Pietro and the boys started yelling and throwing stones and at the last moment, the rhino veered off to the left away from us. When we all got our breath back and my sister Anna had recovered from uncontrollable giggles, we were assured he was actually trying to get at another rhino below us, but we were in his way….oh boy, it was indescribably, heart-poundingly wonderful. For me, it reiterated once again how small and puny we humans are in the land of the animals….but it was an unforgettable adventure. Pietro and the boys were wonderful and it was an honour to have had the experience of being so close to these extraordinary threatened beasts. If you are of an intrepid adventurous nature, I cannot recommend Saruni Rhino more. It is an exclusive experience and never to be forgotten….

P.S. While you are there, don’t miss The Singing Wells….another extraordinary and humbling experience. Hundreds of cattle, camels, goats and donkeys being watered at this string of underground-connected water wells accompanied by rhythmic chanting, perfectly tuned in with the bells hanging round the animals’ necks….truly special.

For more information, go to www.saruni.com or click here.

Niseko – The St. Moritz of Japan By Giles Hoff

If you were asked to picture the best countries around the world to visit on a skiing holiday, the chances are Japan would not turn up on the list. However, one Japanese resort that is earning nothing but praise from its visitors is Niseko – on Japan’s most Northerly island, Hokkaido – and it has become something of a sensation with serious skiers across the world.

A few people were in the know as early as the 1960s, and they nicknamed Niseko “The St. Moritz of the Orient.” More recently, the New York Times chose to adapt this to “Japan’s own St. Moritz” in a headline before heaping praise upon the resort.

Hokkaido is home to a number of world class ski resorts, but Niseko is unique among them with the rate it is growing. Each year, many more visitors from around the world are drawn to the unique skiing experience the location offers.

One of Niseko’s key draws is the vast amount of powder, naturally brought in on the icy winds of Siberia by local weather patterns. This makes for deep, reliable coverage and means it is relatively easy for guests to find snow that remains untracked. Especially popular are the tree runs amongst snow-dusted pines. As well as skiers, Niseko is also popular with snowboarders.

The scenery is also something that gets routinely singled out as a favourite point. The mountains have less of a rugged, imposing look than many other ski resorts; instead, they have a gentle, enchanting beauty. In the summer, hikers come to the area to wander among these picturesque mountains.

Off the back of Niseko’s popularity, the amenities that service visitors have flourished. A range of restaurants have sprung up over the years, offering all kinds of good food. Visitors to the area can also be accommodated in some truly excellent luxury resorts. Among these is the Hilton Niseko, where large suites command spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Add traditional Japanese touches, fine dining, and a spa which includes access to a number of hot springs, and the Hilton has developed a perfect complement to the area’s high-quality skiing experience.

An equally fantastic but more boutique option is the Green Leaf. Like the Hilton, the Green Leaf offers large rooms with exceptional views. On the top floor, suites occupy corners of the building where huge windows give 180 degree views. There are a range of fine dining options, and a traditional spa with access to a natural hot spring. The Green Leaf has a slightly more contemporary feel than the more traditional Hilton but when it really comes down to it, the only thing that can separate these resorts is personal taste.

Both resorts offer ski in / ski out, and you can share the facilities of one whilst staying in the other.

Another bonus is that there are 50 ski instructors at the Hilton alone, all English-speaking and 50% of those boast English as their mother tongue. So no language barrier issues here. The other major benefit of Niseko is the array of non-ski activities available, especially for children. In fact, children are generally catered for brilliantly, with activities including snow rafting, reindeer sledging, snow mobiling and snow shoeing. There is also a very good kids ski school, which has the added benefit of an early drop-off (from 8.30 am).

All in all, this is an unbeatable resort for serious powder hounds and families alike. At approximately £3,500 per person for 10 days including flights, private transfers, ski hire, lift pass and 5* accommodation, it really has to be considered, especially as it’s no further to get to than Canada or the USA’s major snow fields. Trust me, you will never look back!

Further Information

Visit Japan through Savile Row Travel:

Website: www.savilerowtravel.com

E-Mail: info@savilerowtravel.co.uk

Address: 1 Market Place Mews, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 2AH

Tel: From the UK – 01491 575 987, and from the USA – 1-800-678-4196

In Search of The Perfect Spa In Japan By Giles Hoff

It’s 6.00 am, and while I would normally be just about stirring, a combination of jet lag and excitement mean I have eagerly been awaiting the opening of the Onsen since 5.00 am. I expect to be the only one there as I guess no-one else will be jet-lagged (I am the only foreigner here), and no-one gets up this early when they’re on holiday – surely ?!

My assumptions are correct, for the time being at least. I take my first dip in the steaming waters which are housed in a natural rock pool. First a toe, then a leg and then I go hell for leather and just dive head first under-water. Wow! Immediately, the hot fresh spring water wraps me in a cocoon that is completely relaxing, making my whole body feel on fire and totally revived in a second. I crouch in the middle of the shallow pool, only my head protruding, and notice the steam constantly swirling around my head while simultaneously clearing my lungs. I find it hard to comprehend how this water just comes out of the ground beneath, heated by volcanic activity thousands of feet below the surface, but it does….

There’s no-one else here, and nothing else to do except soak, relax and know that you’re doing your body the power of good in the process, so I find an edge of the rock pool and lean back against the volcanic rock which seems to fit my back perfectly. I close my eyes and drift off into semi-consciousness, despite the excitement of my first foray into an Onsen. I’m a million miles from anywhere, physically and mentally. Perhaps this is it – perhaps I found Paradise….

I had decided to go in search of the perfect spa after I grew conscious of the way the word “Spa” is so misused in the West these days. After all, “Spa” literally means “healing through water.” I’d visited Japan before, but from a totally different perspective, primarily sticking to the main cities and exploring the culture and history of the country, which in themselves are utterly absorbing and fascinating.

At that time, I’d heard of “Onsens” (hot springs) and the “Ryokans” (Inns) that are often built next to them, and I thought this would be an amazing combination – seeing the ancient customs and traditions of a Japanese Inn, combined with the etiquette and rituals of the Onsen bathing experience – and how right I was!

The Japanese Inns began to spring up during the 1600s when the Feudal System demanded that Samurai and other Lords would have to make the journey to the capital, Edo, to pay their dues and respects to the Shogun. Along the way, they’d need a place to stay and eat and so the Ryokan was born; the tradition of including an evening meal and breakfast in the price still remains (but the provision of ladies to entertain the Samurai by night does not!)

Having started in Japan’s furthest outpost (The Okinawa Islands) where I checked out how their beach resorts compared to the rest of Asia (favourably, I can report), I travelled to the opposite end of Japan, from sub-tropical climes to the snow-clad island of Hokkaido, to a place about an hour from Sapporo. This was more like Alaska than the Japan I knew, and as the train started to hug the coastline, the journey became more and more scenic and I had the feeling I was heading somewhere very unusual.

I arrived at Kuramure, a place I had read about and coveted for many months. A selection of warehouses, joined together on the banks of the river, lined the road for 100 yards or more, yet their single storey structure makes them subtle and unobtrusive. You certainly would not imagine this was a Ryokan. No entrance was evident, the cobbled stone walls cleverly cladding the building and hiding any evidence of an official doorway. When I did eventually arrive at the front door, I didn’t even know it – a part of the wall I was standing next to simply slid silently to one side and invited me to enter a small inner corridor. As it closed quietly behind me, I thought I would be plunged into darkness before another door slid open in front of me and I stepped into the cosy front lobby. I was greeted immediately with big smiles and handshakes from the owner and his staff and led straight to my room, a maisonette-style apartment with a living area, Japanese bedroom, bathroom, and of course, a hot tub.

I was more interested in their communal outdoor Onsen though, and headed straight that way. The men’s outdoor tub is longer than it is wide and runs along the back of the building where the river flows and the hills rise up steeply before you, and there was plenty of snow on the ground around the hotel. This gave a wonderful sensation with the contrast of the hot water hugging your body while the cold air invigorated and refreshed your head and face. A night-time soak with the snowy hills lit up in front of me by the hotel’s lights was a great prelude to a good night’s sleep – well, that and some sake….

I then flew in to Komatsu airport, arriving in the early afternoon to some brilliant weather and awesome scenery, and that was not just down to the Japanese Alps, still snow-capped in the near distance. I had, for the second time, planned my Japanese sojourn quite well with regards to the cherry blossom season.

This made my stay at Beniya Mukayu all the more pleasant. With its garden full of blossom trees, sitting on a hill overlooking the small town of Yamashiro, Benija Mukayu is a minimalist design classic. Cool white walls are broken by long lines of glass. A free-standing wood burner kept the lobby cosy, along with comfortable chairs all looking out to the beautiful Japanese garden which is also adorned with outdoor art installations donated by some of the country’s most gifted artists.

However, what most excited me about this place was the fact it was a hybrid, combining the traditional Japanese Onsen (private rotenburo on the balcony of each room, plus communal baths) and also a massage treatment area. In addition, the owner, Sachiko, is an avid Yoga practitioner and teacher, and has created a Yoga Hall overlooking the garden, called “Horin” (literally “Square Forest”), which is simply a large wooden floored square lined with floor to ceiling wooden beams that represent trees.

So, to the experiences themselves. After putting on my Yukata and slippers (most Ryokans make this compulsory attire once you have checked in, and I have to say it enhanced the experience hugely, apart from being very comfortable clothing), my first port of call was to take a massage, and they duly fitted me in at a moment’s notice. They stick to what they know here and I took the signature treatment which was a herb ball massage, which uses different herbs (all locally grown), pack into a muslin and then steamed. After applying for 45 minutes or so, they finish with an aromatherapy oil massage to help the herbs soak in. This was all finished off with a foot bath and foot massage.

After a sumptuous 14 course Kaiseki dinner served in my room by my butler (everyone is assigned one on arrival and they will tend to your every need), I decided to head to the communal baths. They are on the ground level overlooking the Japanese garden, which houses a small Japanese tea house for tea ceremonies, amongst its beautiful plants and trees. I’d have preferred the large wooden tub to be outside, but the huge window from floor to ceiling is enough to give you the impression of being in the garden and touching the trees. Slightly drowsy, I headed back to my room thoroughly relaxed and began to really feel the benefit. No sooner had my head hit the pillow on my futon then I was fast asleep.

Benija Mukayu is so far the top contender in my search – I couldn’t fault any of the Spa or Onsen facilities, and to have the option of those massage treatments as well as the healing hot spring waters, yoga classes and private tubs on your balcony, really demonstrated a complete package that I haven’t seen anywhere in the world, let alone Japan.

I undertook some fascinating train journeys to reach my final destination, Hakone. Only an hour or so from Tokyo, this is the countryside playground frequented most by the citizens of the city, with its charming hills, views of Mount Fuji, lakes and various villages that dot the incredibly quaint Hakone Tozan Railway.

My first port of call was Gora Tensui. Whilst a Ryokan in the traditional sense, with predominantly Japanese rooms and tatami mats with futons for sleeping, this Inn, like most I visited, had hauled itself into the 21st century with some sleek design work. My first treat was to be seated immediately at the bar, after being asked to remove socks and shoes. The reason for this became quickly apparent as I placed my feet in what seemed like a trench running the length of the bar, but it was in fact a foot spa! You are then allowed to order any drink you like, whether that be champagne or a good cup of tea. This was a great start and a good way to end my long journey from the west of Honshu.

What amazed me most about my trip was the standard of the food. I have always loved Japanese food and never tire of endorsing it to friends and clients alike. Just as I thought I had had the best meal I could, the next place would raise the bar again, and Gora Tensui did just that. An exquisite squid dish that just melted in the mouth (the quality of Japanese squid is so different from the rubbery rubbish we are fobbed off with in Europe) and was followed by quality beef. The Japanese just don’t know how to do things badly!

My host at Gora, the general manager Mark, then invited me to try their new “Rock Bath,” rather like a sauna. I lay down on a slab of pure marble which is heated by the natural spring waters running beneath it. They then create some humidity with a sauna-like system but the heat is kept at a tolerable temperature because the space is quite large and the ceiling high. I actually fell into a deep sleep, which was incredibly relaxing – the heat treatment doing wonders for the muscles and joints.

The next morning, I went to the communal baths. They have an indoor man-made option and then through sliding glass doors, you get to the piece de resistance, and possibly the clincher in my search, a rock pool full of milky, sulphuric hot spring water. Up until now, all the places I had visited were pure clear spring waters, still full of minerals and goodness, but this is the colour of water I had been looking for, indicating a greater concentration of healing properties. Unlike some such pools though, this did not have a high enough level of sulphuric matter to make a smell which would have ruined the experience.

On my way home, I began to reflect on my exploration. The truth is, I found it very hard to pick a winner. The winner was really Japan as a whole and the sum of all the parts made the journey spectacular. The only difference with Japan was, I couldn’t find anything negative to say at all. There are normally downsides to any country but with the land of the rising sun, everything is good, or should I say, exceptional, from the food to the hot springs, the quality of the accommodation and most importantly, when dealing with Inns and the like, the hospitality.

My search for the perfect Spa had subtly turned into something else – the perfect journey. Whilst I hadn’t planned it, I had unwittingly travelled to all the major islands of Japan and its lesser travelled ones in Okinawa, and had discovered immaculate and unique Ryokans to stay in all over this country. Rather than pick one Ryokan to stay in, why not experience them all? It’s a great way to see Japan and you know that every night you are going to end up somewhere unique and very special.

Further Information

Visit Japan through Savile Row Travel:

Website: www.savilerowtravel.com

E-Mail: info@savilerowtravel.co.uk

Address: 1 Market Place Mews, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 2AH

Tel: From the UK – 01491 575 987, and from the USA – 1-800-678-4196

Savile Row Travel are currently offering a discount to readers of The Luxury Channel – 10% off for all Japan Ski bookings made by 31st March for 2017 departure, or 10% off all bookings made by 31st July for all 2018 bookings.

Escape To Ethiopia By Caroline Phillips

Ethiopia, it’s said, is perhaps the most intriguing country in Africa. It’s a place of scale, Biblical beauty, and oodles of historical treasures. It’s a land boasting a colourful, gracious and welcoming people. And somewhere with awesome landscapes, the likes of which are rarely seen outside of good dreams. This is an impressionistic account of its wonders.

Something I’ll never forget is the merkato — Africa’s largest open-air market — in Addis Ababa. There the air was heady with the smell of kocho (fermented banana stem). Women sat cleaning their teeth with twigs, men walked by with six mattresses on their heads and people sold recycled everything – including sandals and horse tack made from used car tyres. (Best hotel in Addis Ababa? The Sheraton hit the spot with its international cuisine, acres of marble, and swaying palms. It also offered tip-top service, all mod cons, displays of contemporary Ethiopian art, and a big swimming pool.)

It was just a short plane hop from Addis Ababa to another of my favourite places: the ancient monolithic and semi-monolithic churches of Tigray — which are less well-known than the (famous) 12th century ones of Lalibela. The Tigray churches are set among the Gheralta cluster of mountains that rise majestically above the fluorescent green fields, cacti and acres of maize.

We clambered up sheer rock, picking our way like goats, to see these religious wonders. At the top we found priests, peace and ancient murals lit by the flickering light of handmade beeswax candles. Nearby a local hermit lived in a cave. ‘He survives only on honey and vinegar,’ explained our guide. (And the top local hotel? The Gheralta Lodge. It has views to eternity and beyond, and stylish rustic bungalow rooms that are circular and boast timber ceilings and stone walls. Owned by an Italian couple, it also offers delicious home-cooked Italian food — a relief after so much ‘injera,’ the sour-tasting and ubiquitous Ethiopian pancake).

Afterwards we drove for hour upon hour through rural areas without seeing any cars, just wide views of fields of maize, millet and acacia trees. And the bluest of open skies, kids shepherding their sheep, and locals meeting in the shade of sycamore trees. At one stop, we wandered by a funeral ceremony that was taking place in a tent, the participants segregated by gender and wearing white shawls. Beside them a woman crouched on the ground with ‘rue’ herb stuffed up her nose: a traditional cure for colds. Nearby, children with elaborately plaited hair played games with sticks and plastic bottles.

Another memorable sight (just three hours by car from Gheralta) was the teeny museum in Axum, which seems to have no name. (It’s next to the chapel that allegedly holds the Ark of the Covenant and Moses’ Ten Commandments.) Its contents wouldn’t look out of place in the glossiest-of-glossy Christie’s catalogues with zillion-dollar reserve prices. Think gold crowns and antique chalices and ceremonial crosses studded with precious stones. Amazingly, the security in the museum is almost zilch: the treasures are in cabinets that are fastened with the sort of lock you’d put on a filing cabinet. This adds to its charm.

Finally, we had a 40-minute flight to Lalibela, the jewel in Ethiopia’s crown. After seeing the appropriately-dubbed ‘eighth wonder of the world,’ the rock-hewn churches – written about so often that I shall not cover them here; suffice to say it must be true that they were built, in part, by angels at night – one of my other indelible memories is of the town’s Saturday market: a Biblical scene that stretched as far as the eye could see.

Locals walked past with hessian sacks of grain on their heads. There were traders carrying live chickens hanging from wooden poles. Size zero donkeys. Tethered goats. And bleating sheep ready for slaughter – but not for feasting on on Wednesdays, known as Fasting Day, when Orthodox Christians cannot eat animals. Market traders crouched under umbrellas — to protect themselves from the sun — or stood to greet one another with four kisses or by tapping their shoulders against their friend’s shoulders.

There were farmers and villagers wearing shawls and sitting cross-legged; traders flogging mounds of lentils and piles of ‘fer’ — the super grain used for making ‘injera;’ women selling sacks of ‘gesho’ —bitter hop-like leaves for making local beer; and everyone dealing in bank notes so worn it was hard to decipher their denomination.

I’d never seen a market like this — we could have been transported back to past centuries or have walked onto the film set of The Ten Commandments. And we were the only westerners there. That’s one of the benefits of the recent political unrest. So go there soon. It’s definitely the most intriguing place in Africa.

NEED TO KNOW

Ethiopian Airlines:

Ethiopian Airlines fly daily from Heathrow to Addis Ababa with a modern fleet (see review here). Lead in return fares start at £505 economy and £2,065 business class, inclusive of all taxes. Bookable online at www.ethiopianairlines.com/UK; telephone 0800 016 3449 or via travel agencies.

Kibran Tour Operators:

Kibran Tour Operators – the spirit of luxury Ethiopian adventure. If you want a private chartered plane or helicopter, they’ll fix it. They’re bang there in Ethiopia with their ears to the ground. They are super flexible, adapting to last-minute changes in itinerary instantly. They also provide English, German, French, Italian and Spanish-speaking guides. Tel: +251 11 662 62 14, or visit: www.kibrantours.com for more information.

How To Maximise Wellness Holidays For Less Leave By The Luxury Channel

The Luxury Channel discovers how to maximise 18 days of wellness holidays in 2017 by taking just 9 days off work….

There’s no better time than the New Year to start planning your wellness holidays and, as we discover, it is entirely possible to enjoy 18 days off work by booking just 9 days of leave, thanks to how British bank holidays fall in 2017. Grab your diary, as Health and Fitness Travel (the leading experts in tailor-made wellness holidays worldwide) has created a wellness travel bucket-list to assist you. The secret to maximising your time off means doubling your annual leave, so boost your health and fitness for the year ahead and get planning now so you have longer wellness holidays to look forward to. This guide will ensure you have plenty of wellness holidays to keep you going in 2017.

New Year: Health And Fitness In India

Take off: 3 days for a 10-day holiday
Book off: December 28th – 30th
Bank holidays: December 26th, December 27th & January 2nd
Your holiday: December 24th – January 2nd
Where to go: Atmantan Wellness Resort
Price: 7 nights with Atmantan from £2,830 pp or £3,690 for single occupancy (includes full board, a wellness programme, return flights and transfers)

Make January a healthy month with a detox, Ayurveda and yoga retreat. Achieve your New Year resolutions with Atmantan’s healing programmes from Master Cleanse to Fitness in the serene Sahyadri Mountains of Northern India. Stay active with TRX training and group hiking, and relax with meditation and yoga. Enjoy 10 blissful days of wellness with a combination of yoga and holistic treatments for a spiritual awakening. Choose the Atmantan Ayurveda programme for optimal health and to learn more about ancient Indian healing methods. This healthy retreat offers a fully encompassing wellness experience to improve and sustain your well-being for the year ahead.

Easter: Discover And Recover In Bali

Take off: 8 days for a 16-day holiday
Book off: April 10th – 13th and April 18th – 21st
Bank holidays: April 14th, April 17th
Your holiday: April 8th – 23rd
Where to go: Bali Discover Recover
Price: 10 nights Bali Discover Recover Programme from £2,015 pp or £2,740 for single occupancy (includes return flights and transfers)

Discover the wonders of Bali this Easter and mix culture with wellness by booking a Discover Recover™ holiday. The picturesque landscape and glorious beaches of Bali will fulfil your active adventure desires with jungle trekking, volcano hiking, cycling tours and snorkelling. Recover on a wellness retreat where you can indulge in therapeutic spa treatments and recharge with holistic activities. Unwind on the beach at Komune where you can balance on a surf board, stretch away stress in a yoga class or soothe tired muscle at the health hub. Enjoy a tailor-made trip and make the most of your annual leave this Spring.

Early May: Stay Active By The Beach In Marbella

Take off: 4 days for a 9 day holiday
Book off: May 2nd – 5th
Bank holiday: May 1st
Your holiday: April 29th – May 7th
Where to go: Marbella Club Fusion Fitness
Price: 7 nights with Marbella Club Fusion Fitness from £2,080 pp or £2,970 for single occupancy (includes breakfast, a Fusion Fitness™ programme, return flights and transfers)

Go to the glorious shores of Marbella for an active holiday that will transform your fitness. Get ready for Summer by the beach, at this luxury wellness resort on Marbella’s “golden mile.” The Fusion Fitness™ programme starts guests with a personal fitness evaluation before you embark on a pathway of either Cardio, Strength & Sport, Mind & Body or Renewal. With every detail taken care of, indulge with reviving spa treatments in the grand beachfront Thalasso spa, take a dip in the sunlit pool or keep active with a beach bootcamp workout and hiking in the mountains. Unwind with yoga, Pilates or mediation and feel your spirits lift as you boost your endorphins.

Late May: Kick-start Your Health And Fitness In Beautiful Antigua

Take off: 4 days for a 9-day holiday
Book off: May 30th – June 2nd
Bank holiday: May 29th
Your holiday: May 27th – June 4th
Where to go: Blue Waters Living Retreat
Price: 7 nights with Blue Waters Living Retreat from £2,450 pp or £2,730 for single occupancy (includes an all-inclusive stay, the retreat programme, return flights and transfers)

Kick-start your health and fitness in beautiful Antigua with a retreat to promote your mental and physical wellness. The Blue Waters Living Retreat launches on 1st May 2017 and runs until 31st October. Enjoy an array of activities to promote mental and physical wellness from yoga, meditation and Pilates to kayaking, boxing and body conditioning. Expert lifestyle coaches will guide on topics such as detoxing and weight loss with nutritional seminars so you can learn how to prepare healthy meals. With free time, indulge in a relaxing spa treatment and unwind on the powder white sandy beach. Leave this wellness retreat having achieved realistic goals and feeling energised and relaxed.

August: Energy Reboot In Lake Garda, Italy

Take off: 4 days for a 9-day holiday
Book off: August 29th – September 1st
Bank holiday: August 28th
Your holiday: August 26th – September 3rd
Where to go: Lefay Resort & Spa Lago di Garda
Price: 7 nights with Lefay from £1,560 pp or £2,210 for single occupancy (includes breakfast, a wellness programme, return flights and transfers)

Take a luxury, healthy break for an energy reboot and enjoy summer at this eco-friendly wellness retreat by magical Lake Garda, nestled in the mountains. The Lefay spa method is all to do with the flow of energy, so begin your stay by relaxing in the private saline pool. Spa treatments are holistic in nature and range from East to West in origin, with wellness menus listing the calorie content of each meal to guide you. From yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi to circuit training, workout with a view over the infinity pool, lakes and mountains. End your stay with a guided walk in the energy and therapeutic garden at this chic Italian wellness getaway.

December: Focus On A Full Body MOT In St. Lucia

Take off: 3 days for a 10-day holiday
Book off: December 27th – 29th
Bank holidays: December 25th, December 26th & January 1st
Your holiday: December 23rd – January 1st
Where to go: The BodyHoliday and BodyScience
Price:7 nights in The BodyHoliday St. Lucia from £4,640 pp (includes an all-inclusive stay, a BodyScience programme, return flights and transfers)

As 2017 ends, it’s time to assess the body as you turn the art of living well into a science. Carry out a full body MOT at this leading St. Lucian wellness resort designed to maximise well-being and improve health, using state-of-the-art technology and Ayurvedic principles. The BodyScience programme will have you fully informed on your physical abilities and progress including nutrient, hormone and stress levels, heart health and circulation to establish the best course to better living. Combine yoga with pranayama, meditation, a beautiful beach and healthy food to truly bring the year to a healthy end.

Further Information

Health and Fitness Travel offers clients a tailor-made seamless service with the very best health and fitness holidays, handpicked by its expert team, together with exclusive and added value packages with the best deals. As leading specialists, Health and Fitness Travel has also created their own collection of trademark healthy holidays in various destinations which include Fusion Fitness™ BodyBreaks™ and Discover Recover™, offering clients the best value and holiday experience. To book, visit www.healthandfitnesstravel.com or call +44 (0)203 397 8891.

Find Your Soul In Seoul By Fiona Sanderson

Is it possible to find peace, tranquillity and well-being in a city? Re-energising the body and mind for Seoulites is part of the city’s DNA – and citizens of this trendy Asian capital, home to 25% of Korea’s entire population, are living proof that finding your ‘‘Yin, Yang’’ is an essential part of their everyday life. Seoul has even made it onto Lonely Planet’s Best In Travel 2017, citing Korea’s capital as ‘‘striving to become a greener, more attractive and user-friendly metropolis.’’

Gyeongbukgung Palace

Korea is also a food lover’s destination, a hidden gastronomic gem with its own distinct flavours and centuries of tasty tradition. With your own Gastro tour, you can explore the local restaurants, markets and traditional neighbourhoods that form the beating heart of Korea’s food culture, and because food is entwined with life, you also get to learn about the local history, heritage and landmarks as well.

Bukchon Hanok Village

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days at the Grand Hyatt Seoul (read our interview with General Manager Adrian Slater here), where I set off with a guide and translator to one of Seoul’s finest restaurants. DADAM brings back the basis of Korean food by presenting the fine tastes of the four seasons with fresh seasonal ingredients grown in different regions of Korea, prepared by true Korean master chefs. The authenticity of the cuisine is rooted in hundreds of years of craft and traditional artisan methods. Recipes are made with the finest ingredients like Baekbong silky chicken, Jinju crippled wheat, Southern coast hairy crab, and Jeju red-banded lobster, bringing the true flavors of the hidden foods of Korea. I tried pan-fried webfoot octopus with spring greens, and braised Jeju pork salad with green tea oil made by artisan green tea maker Shin Guang-su, which was utterly delicious. The restaurant has a modern setting and is totally understated – just perfect!

Changing of The Guard Ceremony At Gyeongbokgung Palace

Koreans regard their cooking as a holistic process and their food is prepared as if it is medicine for the mind. So I was keen to visit Korea House, where traditional court cuisine is cooked on the basis of the records contained in ancient literature. The foods are cooked by superior chefs under the supervision of Han Bok-ryeo, who is known for his expert knowledge about the court cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty. The dishes are Sinseollo (also called ‘‘Yeolguja tang,’’ meaning it makes the mouth happy) which is often put on the dinner table for state guests; Jeonyuhwa, which can be shared by friends on happy occasions; and Gujeolpan, which provides delicate tastes from vegetables and meat, arranged on a wooden plate divided into 9 compartments. All the dishes are prepared with the most delicious raw materials of the season in a sincere manner by the best chefs in Korea, to offer the best flavour and promote the health of diners. Well worth a visit!

Seoul’s N Tower

Few capitals match Seoul’s dynamic blend of the ancient, the modern and the cutting-edge. Skyscrapers tower over historic palaces and temples, whilst Seoul N Tower stands imperious atop Mount Namsan and is the first visible landmark welcoming you to the city. It is from this viewpoint that you realise Seoul is not only protected by surrounding mountains, but also bisected by the Han River, the city’s life-blood flowing through its core.

Changgyeong Palace

Walking around Seoul is the best way to see this unique city. There are walking tour programmes covering five tour zones that showcase Korea: ‘‘Ancient Culture’’ traces prehistoric times through to the period of the Three Kingdoms; ‘‘Traditional Culture’’ focuses on the main palace of the Joseon dynasty dating back 600 years; ‘‘Modern Culture’’ infiltrates recent turbulent history through architecture; ‘‘History-Ecology-Restoration’’ follows Cheonggyecheon Stream as it winds its way past eight beautiful city sights; finally, the ‘‘Past-Present-Coexistence’’ tour zone will take you to the viewpoint at Naksan Park and enable you to visit the private residence of the first Korean president.

Cheonggyecheon Stream

Such energetic pursuits need to be balanced by other fundamental Korean characteristics. Visiting an ‘‘Oncheon’’ (thermal bath) or ‘‘Jjimjilbang’’ is a daily part of contemporary culture for Koreans and includes a choice of clay, crystal and mugwort herbal saunas and exfoliations scrubs, known as seshin, to extract bad toxins. I went to the new Cheongkwanjang Spa G facility, which specialises in using six-year-old red ginseng roots in their treatments. I first received a water massage to stimulate my blood circulation and then a steam treatment and an Asian core body massage to detoxify and provide nourishment using red ginseng concentrate. Stress-free and feeling lighter than ever, when I left I felt ready to face the rest of the day.

Myeongdong

If the night remains young after a full-day sightseeing and eating, the nocturnal vibrancy of Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Hongdae and Insadong will excite and exhaust in equal measure. Flashing neon signs with clubs, bars and an overwhelming variety of museums, theatres, markets and malls will ensure your ‘‘Yin, Yang’’ is in perfect harmony.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

For further information about visiting Korea, go to the Visit Korea website by clicking here. For further information about DADAM restaurant, click here. For further information about Korea House, click here.

Glimpsing Sardinia’s Inner Beauty By Ramy Salameh

The north east coastline of Sardinia, at one stage in the past, was seen by farmers as useless for grazing their cattle. The real bounty was the mountainous interior that produced more than the fishing line could, and so the coastal land was given to the women folk to continue their crafts and to fish.

Little could these local Sardinians have ever imagined that in the 1960s, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV would turn part of this rugged and idyllic coastline into one of the most exclusive ‘‘go to’’ vacation destinations for the super-rich, albeit in an eco-sensitive way using local architectural styles and materials that were innate to the island. This brought the focus back from the mountains to the shoreline, which to this day remains very popular; however, there is a growing interest to head inland and discover the rustic and wild interior.

The turquoise coastline is as blue as the sky, as it circuits the Mediterranean’s second biggest Island. The enchanting cluster of marinas, villages, countless bays, coves and sandy beaches is especially charming either side of Olbia city; in one direction, the glitz and glamour of Costa Smeralda and in the other, the marine protected area of Tavolara.

But as I was to find out, just behind this enigmatic coastline, there is a dramatic and beautiful inner spine of mountainous terrain, increasing enthusiasm to uncover the pastoral culture of the rugged interior that blossoms with all types of fauna and flora, and boasts an unusually high number of Island centenarian inhabitants, brought about through their healthy lifestyle. One does not need to step back far from the coast to find a side of Sardinia that cannot have changed much in centuries.

Butterfly On Granite

Standing atop Galluria’s Mt Nieddu, my eyes focused intently on a falcon that was hovering in the void between the embrace of the mountains. For those few mesmerising seconds, this majestic bird appeared motionless in the air, before swooping and banking hard around the mountain in search of prey. With one natural spectacle over, another came into focus as a butterfly fluttered beyond my nose resting on the granite slab that seconds before was adorned with the outstretched limbs of a lizard, before it darted into the macchia scrub.

Lizard On Granite

I was so consumed by this natural theatre taking place around me, that when I finally re-adjusted my focus into the distance, the pristine coastline came into view. To the north-west of my sightline, the huge iceberg-like granite outline of Isola Tavolara towered over a series of arching bays of white sands that shield the lagoon areas from the ocean; this whole sweep of coastline is a marine protected area. Clusters of terracotta red roofs broke up the natural scenery, yet blended harmoniously into the Gallurian countryside.

In contrast to the iridescent waters of the near shoreline, the cobalt blue waters of the lagoons are alive with both marine and aquatic life that has been instrumental in the need to protect the area. The day before our mountain excursion, we boarded a small deck boat and drifted slowly across the Lagoon of San Teodoro, allowing time to appreciate the wildlife; the boat silently passed the gaze of flamingos, kingfishers and kestrels common in this part of Italy. Two fishermen were casting their nets from their craft, as fish popped from the surface of the water as if advertising the bounty below. Our captain leaned from the side of the boat and plucked a flamingo feather from the water, a rare souvenir for one passenger. Each person on board rested binoculars on the bridge of their noses so as not to miss the lagoon’s unusual and rare habitat. The boat navigated the weathered granite boulders that were thrust from the surface millions of years ago; they were the ideal perches for storks or cormorants and were so sculptural in form that they were as much part of the lagoon’s gallery of riches, as the wildlife.

Flamingos On Lagoon San Teodoro

Throughout Galluria, these granite headlands, inlets and promontories outline the clear waters, leading to grander undulations made up of ridges and monolithic pinnacles. This is the landscape that is still worked by shepherds, where pockets of traditional and authentic Sardinian life can be found. Amongst the widespread Mediterranean bush, networks of dry stone walls divide up the land on the lower slopes. Within these boundaries, the stone built ‘‘Stazzo’’ – shepherd farmer cottages – can be found, surrounded by the crooked and bent limbs of wild olive and cork oak trees, the elder statesman of the region.

Arbutus Fruit

On our way to Mt Nieddu’s jagged zenith, our Land Rover skirted the narrow and dusty mountain paths to reach stazzo Casa Pitrisconi; our driver stopped intermittently to share handfuls of myrtle, lavender, thyme and Arbutus fruit, all of which creates the unmistakeable Mediterranean aroma. From Casa Pitrisconi, a lung-busting and boulder-strewn hike brought us to the nearby rock pools perilously peering over granite gorges. Fixed rope lines dangled invitingly towards the mirror-like pockets of water reflecting the granite’s ghoulish shapes, patterns and changing hues. Granite is a main part of Sardinia’s geological make-up and emits a palette of pinks, greys and golden tones that morph into more extraordinary shades with the passing of the seasons.

On our return to Casa Pitrisconi, the veranda table was dressed with Cannonau red wine, slices of Pecolina cheese, salami and shards of the crisp ‘‘Pane Carasau’’ thin bread. This is the food that has always sustained the deeply proud agrarian people of Sardinia and may be a clue to their longevity. Our hosts were quick to point out that ‘‘Cannonau de Sardegna’’ wines tend to be high in antioxidant-rich compounds which have been linked to a healthy heart.

Gastronomy also plays an integral part in Sardinian life and Galluria is no exception. The ingredients are to be found from the land around and support the agro-economy mosaic. Sardinian cuisine is exquisite in its simplicity and is based on this rural existence. These products are characterised by roasted meats (wild animals, game and suckling pigs), breads, cheeses, cold meats and honey, and will always be found on a well-laid Sardu table.

Local Produce

During our bumpy descent from the mountain peak, heading back to the coast, a quote I read by D. H. Lawrence (Sea and Sardinia, 1921) fitted the moment quite perfectly: “Let it be Sardinia. They say neither Romans nor Phoenicians, Greeks nor Arabs, ever subdued Sardinia. It lies outside; outside the circuit of civilisation.” It certainly felt as though, just for a short time, I was out the circuit of civilisation and had glimpsed part of Sardinia’s inner natural beauty.

Ramy Salameh stayed at www.paradiseresortsardegna.com.

Saruni Rhino Camp Launches First On-Foot Rhino Tracking Experience By Fiona Sanderson

Elephants (image courtesy of Northern Rangelands Trust)

With Africa’s wild animal populations being decimated, it seems unthinkable that the biggest mammals on earth could disappear. Losing such species as elephants and rhinos from Africa is a slow erosion of humanity, leaving an empty world full of people and nothing living wild. Saruni Rhino Camp has subsequently set up the first on-foot black rhino tracking experience, a vision created by conservationists Ian Craig OBE and Riccardo Orizio.

Craig was awarded his OBE for services to conservation and security to communities in Kenya. Raised in Kenya, he converted his family’s 62,000-acre cattle ranch into a rhino sanctuary at the peak of the elephant and rhino poaching epidemic. The rhino sanctuary flourished at a time when few did, and later, it was re-established as the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Craig’s vision propelled Lewa to great success, and the Conservancy has grown to become a world-renowned catalyst and model for conservation that protects endangered species and promotes the development of neighbouring communities. Through Lewa, Craig began partnering with surrounding local communities to support sustainable land management, conservation and peace efforts. Out of this, the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) was born, and today supports 33 community conservancies across northern Kenya. The community conservancies are governed by local people and are transforming the lives and landscapes of northern Kenya. They have reduced elephant poaching by 52% since 2012, and are rehabilitating large areas of degraded land for the benefit of livestock and wildlife. NRT supports Conservancies with fundraising, advice and training working closely with The Kenya Government and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to provide security for both wildlife and people in the region.

Ranger tracking rhino (image courtesy of Digital Crossings)

Craig’s partner in the venture, Riccardo Orizio, is a reporter, author, safari guide and conservationist. Since 2003, he has lived in the Kenyan bush surrounded by wildlife and dramatic landscapes, where he manages the four deluxe safari camps Saruni Mara, Saruni Ocean, Saruni Wild and Saruni Samburu. Employing 90 people, Orizzio provides the communities in which the Saruni Group operates with hundreds of thousands of dollars in income every year. We speak to him about his work….

How would you describe your new partner in the Saruni Rhino Project, Ian Craig?

Well, he is a visionary and an extraordinary man who is shaping not only conservation but also many other things like modern fundraising in Africa and beyond. Not just content inheriting a farm in the White highlands of Kenya, he decided to re-invent his land into a wildlife park and as an example of community-based conservation for everybody around it. Quite extraordinary! He is a typical example and representative of the smallest, but not least one of the most interesting tribes here in Kenya, the white tribe, which is changing the African landscape.

How does the Saruni Community Conservation Project work and why do you believe it will be a success?

The basic principles are that the local community own the land and are employed, and we have a lodge where tourists will pay a conservation fee of $175 which is re-distributed to the community. If we make the owners of the land happy and incentivised, they will be keen to keep out the poachers who inevitably kill the rhinos for the value of their horns. Kenya has 44 million inhabitants and land today is becoming more and more critical. People – including the government – were sceptical at first, but now they understand it and support us. We believe that community-based conservation can protect the landscape and the animals who live there, and it is certainly the way forward for Northern Kenya as the game of conservation is right at the centre of the future of this country.

Why do you think the on-foot rhino tracking experiences will be successful?

Well, the winning element is a mixture of Ian’s conservation knowledge and the Saruni Group’s experience in the luxury travel market. We bring something unique to clients who are looking for something different and not just the usual gold tap, seven star luxury. This isn’t an old fashioned type of safari, but a new type which is doing good to the communities and to the environment and so is compatible with the idea if going “beyond luxury.” We are as competitive as anyone else in terms of the consistency of the service, the quality of the cuisine, the design of the interior decor, and the quality of the vehicles we use. Combining the luxury element with saving the planet is a powerful combination. It’s a perfect partnership, and we represent one of the leading examples of this vision. We hope to give our clients something over and above the usual luxury experience, giving a long-lasting memory which is also bonding particularly if you are with your family. This is a “beyond luxury market experience” which benefits everyone. It demonstrates an important reason why we need protect the wildlife and the community.

Essentially, Saruni Rhino will be offering a unique walking safari experience tracking majestic black rhinos on-foot, accompanied by an expert Saruni guide and a highly-trained Sera Community Conservancy ranger. Along with using traditional Samburu tracking methods, the rangers will be equipped with transmitters that are connected to a microchip inserted in the horns of the 11 rhinos which communicates their GPS whereabouts throughout the spectacular 54,000-hectares fenced sanctuary, which is surrounded by Sera Community Conservancy. This will enable guests to track within metres of the rhinos. The memorable experience will endeavour to educate and encourage the further protection of the species for future generations. Opening in February 2017, the new safari property is located in Sera Community Conservancy, a vast wildlife reserve situated in the spectacular Northern Kenya region, and the first community conservancy in Africa to own and operate a sanctuary dedicated to the conservation of this iconic species. This unique experience marks the return of the endangered black rhinos to the land of the Samburu warriors after an absence of a quarter of a century and marks a historical achievement for conservation in Kenya.

Saruni Rhino will be initially comprised of two stylish ‘‘bandas’’ (open stone cottages) which sleep 4- 6 and a main ‘‘mess’’ cottage just outside the sanctuary. An additional tented camp inside the rhino sanctuary will be added soon.

Guests will be able to dine and relax at their leisure in the camp surroundings which are true to Saruni-style – elegant but simple in a harmonious blend with the natural environment and in celebration of local craftspeople. Nestled amidst the swaying doum palms dotted along a large dry river bed, the cottages have sweeping views of a nearby waterhole which is a popular stop-off for a diverse range of wildlife including the indigenous Samburu Special Five: the endangered Grevy’s zebra, the long necked gerenuk, the reticulated giraffe, Beysa oryx and the Somali ostrich, making it great ‘‘bush TV’’ from the comfort of each cottage’s veranda.

Saruni Rhino is located within driving distance of sister property Saruni Samburu, allowing guests to top or tail their experience in style. Saruni Samburu comprises six luxury eco-chic villas subtly located on the top of a stunning rocky kopje overlooking 200,000 acres of unspoilt wilderness. The property has recently launched a unique experience for Kenya: an elephant-proof, open ground level hide based at a waterhole, where both keen photographers and wildlife enthusiasts can quietly enjoy the animals just metres away.

In addition to Saruni Rhino, the Saruni Group portfolio of properties currently includes:

Saruni Mara – a boutique lodge in the Masai Mara located in exclusive Mara North Conservancy. It has five elegant cottages, one family villa and one private villa with a maximum of 18 guests, making it very intimate and exclusive.

Saruni Wild – a tent-only private camp elegantly and comfortably furnished with all the necessary luxuries of a wild yet classic safari. The camp is located in the heart of the Masai Mara plains, on the border between Lemek Conservancy and Mara North Conservancy.

Saruni Samburu – a lodge |(with six luxury, eco-chic villas) which is open and spacious, heralding spectacular views over Kalama Conservancy and Mount Kenya, considered by some as the most beautiful and innovative lodge in Kenya.

Saruni Ocean – an intimate property offering something totally unique on Kenya’s secluded south coast in magical Msambweni, it has six beautifully designed villas comprising of 14 stunning suites appealing to couples, families, groups and friends.

From $630 (USD) pp per night sharing plus an additional $175 pp conservation fees (which includes the Rhino Tracking Experience). To allow access to the Sera Black Rhino experience, all bookings require a minimum stay of 2 nights at Saruni Rhino and 2 nights at nearby Saruni Samburu. Sera Community Conservancy and Saruni Rhino have two private airstrips that can be used by chartered aircrafts and helicopters. For all other internal flights, the nearest airstrip is Kalama. For more information, go to www.saruni.com. Alternatively, read actress Rula Lenska’s review here.

Lewtrenchard Manor – A Little Piece Of Heaven And History Tucked Away In A Secret Valley By Fiona Sanderson

Fiona Sanderson finds the perfect escape for a wedding weekend in Devon….

Arriving at this Jacobean Manor in a secluded valley in Devon, you really feel as though you are stepping back in time. With its staples – stucco ceilings, wood-panelled halls, creaky floors, portrait-lined walls and blazing fires – Lewtrenchard is filled with a colourful history. There are tales of an Admiral of the Fleet, a dead bride, a king’s confidante, an arctic explorer, gun fights, gamblers and hidden tunnels, as well as this being the ancestral home of Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, who was best known for writing the hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers. I immediately felt at home and was looking forward to soaking up its history amongst the comfortable sofas surrounded by interesting antiques.

My bedroom overlooked a wisteria-clad courtyard with its own terrace. Its chintz wallpaper, deep pillows and luxury bed linen were warm and cosy. I was glad to see a large contemporary bathroom with a deep bath and large shower, rather than an old pipe system which is so often the case in these country hotels. Sadly, I didn’t get to stay in Melton Suite with its ornate wooden four-poster bed which belonged to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. However, there are 14 rooms to choose from which I believe have all been updated but are equally filled with a little history.

My dinner was served in a wood-panelled dining room lined with old family portraits. I understand why people come just for the Chef Matthew Peryer’s menus as my food was very fresh and delicious. I started with a ceviche of Cornish monkfish, with flaked crab, pickled ginger and Thai puree followed by a citrus fillet of cod, with garden greens and new potatoes. The vegetables were so fresh that it would not surprise me if they had come straight from the hotel’s walled garden. My pudding was a bitter chocolate ganache with garden mint ice-cream, followed by a cheeseboard that was a picture in itself. I can honestly say that the whole experience was utterly delicious. The hotel also offers a ‘‘chef’s table dining experience,’’ in which diners can watch dishes being prepared for £49.50, and I am sure is well worth it if you have the time and the appetite!

I happened to be there at the same time as a small wedding party. With Lewtrenchard’s backdrop of wood-panelling, ornate ceilings, stained glass windows and ornamental carving around the Manor, it proved to be the ideal wedding setting. As the hotel has a civil ceremony licence, the couple were able to get married and have the wedding reception all under the same roof. Even though I could see the staff were under a little pressure, they were more than helpful in taking the time to plan my itinerary for the following day. Sadly, I didn’t have time to explore the nine acres of gardens, lake and walled garden. I will be back, however, and soon….

Further Information

Prices:
Double rooms from £180 in low season and from £200 in high season (breakfast is included and there is free Wi-Fi).
Address:
Lewtrenchard Manor Lewdown, Okehampton, Devon EX20 4PN.
Contact:
+44 (0)1566 783222
Website:
www.lewtrenchard.co.uk

Lamai’s Wild Luxury Soars High Above The Serengeti By Emma Oxley

Mother And Baby Lion

Nomad Tanzania’s safari lodge takes you one step further into Africa, into the wide beauty of the Serengeti plains, the animal scents and roar of a beast, in high style. In this vast flat wilderness, there is one boulder-strewn hill and along the seam sits Lamai, a discreet eyrie for the traveller who has a sense of the intrepid, is curious about the truly wild and ready to pay for something extraordinary.

Mkombe House Living Room

I envisage the people behind Lamai as posh Brits brought up in East Africa, lean men, their wives clear-eyed, tousled-haired beauties bathing babies in buckets, spirited and classy. They know Africa Mkombe House Bedroomand they know the greatest comforts of English country homes, and they’ve brought it all together. There is much talk of the mess, spear-bearing askari, and gin and tonics. Lamai is bewilderingly relaxed and stylish, as near to being in a tent in the middle of the Serengeti hunting grounds, yet cushioned in comfort. There are no door keys, just wooden latches, strangely relaxing, and you wend your way to scattered villas through dusty paths along the boulders. Inside your light, airy home, you lie on the most downy of beds, with pillows like clouds, drifts of satin smooth sheets, a soft white muslin between you and the wide views of Africa, a front seat on the widest sunset in the world.

Mother And Baby Rhino

There are so many thoughtful touches, but nothing unnecessary. Walls are white plaster with bare wood poles framing the windows and a cream sheep skin on the floorboards. I write this at a white wood desk, a glass decanter of fresh water set upon it, the Serengeti bared before me. A pack of extravagantly long postcards features a covetable series of animal photography, in black and white of course, and they’ll post them, probably even write them if you wish. There’s a professional ornothologist’s checklist, beauty lotions and mosquito sprays. If you need anything – a designer Masai bracelet or a swimsuit for the pool – there’s a tasteful boutique, but no-one to pay; you just let them know when you leave.

Image courtesy of Esme Moszynska

Image courtesy of Esme Moszynska

At seven, a call and our coffee was being pushed through a box hatch in the wall. I opened my side, exchanging ‘‘habari gani, msuri sana’’ and Barak asked if I’d like to see a lion? I opened my door and above the foot path, not 50 feet away was a lioness. We watched each other for a few minutes, then she padded off followed by her lion. Barak tripped off with his empty tray. It is hard to understand, but Nomad bring you closer to the wild than you can imagine, yet they are clear it is safe. There are no signs cluttering the natural wood of the doors with beware of lions, let alone fire escape plans, and the rules are few – don’t leave your room between 7pm and 6am without an askari (a spear-carrying guard), and don’t run if you see a lion. Quite simply, we are not on their menu, we haven’t been for a millennia and they’re not keen to try us. This was a step into a rare wild world and a complete escape from our daily life; I think that is what a real holiday is about.

Wildebeast

When we thought Lamai had achieved a zenith on the Serengeti, Nomad moved us to their rarest accommodation, Mkombe’s House, the only private house in the plains. Bring a party or family to share the four enormous bedrooms, deep baths, indoor and outdoor showers, two pools, cascade of terraces and open living room with roaring log fire. All is manned by a team of joyfully enthusiastic staff, who wrap towels, lift shades, bring iced drinks and announce three course dinners with ceremony. Having served our cognacs, they formed a trio and sang to all with romantic songs of nature’s love and of course, that old ditty, Jumbo, Jumbo Bwana!

Mkombe Terrace

Lying in our enormous double bed, we waited in the scented darkness for the sun to rise, listening as a lion bellowed and panted triumphant over its kill, loud enough to shake a leaf 10 kilometres away. Later, a zebra was found eviscerated beneath our room. Eventually dawn came, painting the horizon a soft pinkish hue, then like a switch as the sky turned golden, the lions silenced and the laughing doves and superb starlings took up the soundtrack. Light revealed impalas grazing and monkeys chasing beneath our terrace, wildebeest dotted across the plains like ants, cape buffalo silhouetted beneath a spreading acacia. This is even more magnificent when you take one further step into the wild, sleeping on the ‘‘star bed’’ set up on the terrace.

Image courtesy of Stefan Moszynski

Image courtesy of Stefan Moszynski

Service is full of Serengeti surprises. One evening we had cocktails on the highest rock they could find not occupied by lions, where we were accompanied up by gun-bearing rangers. We clambered over a ridge of stone to find Barak, bar set up, ready to mix our poison. He made me a Campari and orange, clinking in ice, handing out canapés, with nothing behind him but a fifty square mile view and a 200 foot fall. Breathtaking.

Sundowners Served On Lion Rock

Our personal Nomad guide, Sammie, exuded a calm intelligence, but always ready to smile. He took us, with armed rangers again, on a walking safari, revealing bush craft of the Masai who squeeze the liquid from elephant dung for a nutritious drink, and felled trees elephants had stripped trees for bark, in turn bringing tasty green leaves in reach of the smallest impala. He revealed the two clawed foot prints of hyena, hollows made by aardvarks where leopards nest, a giraffe ‘‘pointing’’ in the distance, examining some danger. After two hours as the sun warmed, we spotted chairs set in the shade; breakfast was laid out on a clothed table, with fresh coffee. Stylish.

Days were filled with jeep safaris, and with refreshing interludes in our private pool. We passed herds of grazers, content in their mutual crowd of safety, and scanned river beds and rocks for rarer creatures, hugely rewarded as we found a leopard and a magnificent mating lion. Snake eagles carried off their prey, giraffes leaned down to kiss their young, majestic elephants dusted themselves with sand, adorable anxious babies beneath their legs, and everywhere bleached bones and desiccated hides, nothing ever removed or disturbed, just nature’s undeniable course revealed.

Sheltering Baby Elephant

When you imagine there is no way you could enjoy the splendour of the Serengeti plains more, Nomad soar higher.

Further Information

Lamai Serengeti and Mkombe’s House Lamai are created by Nomad. For more information, go to www.nomad-tanzania.com. The safari and Nomad stay was booked by Natural High on +44 (0) 1747 830950. Costs from USD 655 a night in low season to USD 1,130 in high season, plus park fees and internal flights. For more information, go to www.naturalhighsafaris.com.

Top Luxury Travel Destinations In A Hunton Yacht By The Luxury Channel

Hunton Yacht

Think of James Bond’s gadgets and it does not come much bigger than a yacht. A luxury yacht is the ultimate style icon, be it from sailing a 54-foot yacht up Venice’s Grand Canal as in the movie remake of Casino Royale, to navigating through the British Virgin Islands or coasting around the Cote d’Azur. The world’s your oyster as far as top destinations go for sailing a coveted luxury yacht to paradise and mooring up.

Hunton Yacht

Yachts from the likes of Hampshire-based British luxury yacht maker Hunton (designed by legendary offshore powerboat racer Jeff Hunton), are not just confined to being used for dramatic purposes in the film world. Driven by an uncompromising quest for excellence, the Hunton Yacht range – from the XRS 37 (£375,000) to XRS 43 (£470,000) and the new XRS 54 (with a £1m price tag) – are akin to being Aston Martins of the waves and offer both a smooth ride and exceptional handling.

Hunton Yacht

Aside from the outlay in buying a luxury yacht, there are the annual running costs and mooring fees to consider. While such fees might be a drop in the ocean for well-heeled owners, daily mooring fees at the world’s top marina locations can range from around €1,000 at Yacht Haven Grande in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands, and ACI Marina in Split, Croatia, right up to over €2,500 at Marina di Porto Cervo in Sardinia or Marina Grande on Capri, Italy. At the end of the day, millionaire and billionaire owners need to choose a marina to dock up where they can entertain, cruise around, host a party and explore new experiences onshore. While the marinas themselves often offer round-the-clock concierge services, for the yacht owners it is far more about the destinations, most of which have beautiful beaches, great nightlife, private clubs and other jet-set activities.

So here is a list of the top destinations around the globe to berth your luxury yacht:

1. Yacht Haven Grande, US Virgin Islands

Amongst the top luxury travel destinations, Yacht Haven Grande in St. Thomas, regarded as the premier marina in the Caribbean for super yachts measuring over 137 metres, is located beside seaside residences in the area and offers a shopping mall with a plethora of eating, entertainment and recreational options. Yacht Haven Grande’s welcome village and entrance lead to the mall shops, exquisite waterfront dining and a breathtaking seaside atmosphere.

Hunton XRS 43

2. Port de Saint-Tropez, France

Not only one of the most famous ports in the world, Port de Saint-Tropez in the south of France is regarded as one of the major hubs in the Mediterranean and has long been linked with the rich and famous. It is probably one of the best spots to people watch in the world, with plenty of outdoor port cafés to relax in. Made famous by Bridget Bardot back in the 1950s, this town with its quaint narrow streets on the French Riviera still attracts celebrities, actors and models to this day.

3. Port de Gustavia, Saint Barths

Gustavia, the capital of the Caribbean island of Saint Barths which also contains the island’s main harbour, has many top-end boutiques and some 25 hotels. After docking your Hunton, why not check out a few of the restaurants serving a wide range of global cuisine? Meanwhile, Reserve Naturelle, the island’s marine nature reserve covering 1200 hectares, is designed to protect the island’s coral reefs and definitely worth checking out.

Hunton Yacht

4. Marina Grande, Capri, Italy

Bump into A-list celebrities such as Beyoncé and George Clooney exploring the island of Capri in the Gulf of Naples. It has been a favourite with the rich and famous since Clark Gable and Sofia Loren used to congregate on the island back in the 1950s. At Marina di Capri, one can pay around $4,000 a night during high season. The most visited attraction on Capri is the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra), a cave with the remains of ancient Roman rock that was discovered in the 19th century. Other main island features include the little harbour of Marina Piccola and Belvedere of Tragara, a high panoramic promenade lined with villas.

5. Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi

Dock, dine and discover in Yas Marina, situated on Yas Island. Not only does it boast one of Abu Dhabi’s best marinas but is home to vibrant venues that offer food, fitness and other leisure facilities. The 227-berth marina features seven licensed restaurants and lounges catering to all tastes and budgets. From each outlet along the waterside promenade, great views are afforded of the race track where the F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is held and where later this year in October, the Yas Marina Boat Festival will take place.

www.hunton.co.uk

Escape To Iran By The Luxury Channel

Iran

A hugely fascinating country, Iran’s history and ancient culture has created a magical land with everyday life woven and working with tradition. Visit bustling bazaars, impressive ruins, majestic mosques, oasis gardens and fine art galleries, and witness firsthand the country’s intricate craftsmanship. With BA’s new direct flight between London Heathrow and Tehran, it has never been easier to visit.

Iran

Tim Best Direct has arranged one of the most attractive tours of Iran – a 14 night itinerary visiting Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz, Persepolis, Kerman and Yazd. Join a small group tour departing on 22nd October 2016 or alternatively, request your own private itinerary.

Contact

E: info@TimBestDirect.com
T: +44 (0) 20 3862 9559
W: www.TimBestDirect.com

Escape To The Seychelles By Emma Oxley

Wildly beautiful and naturally private, Emma Oxley escapes to Fregate Island Private in the Seychelles….

Fregate Island Private

I find it difficult to imagine Fregate Island Private existing without me; it seemed to exist only for me when I was there. On this diminutive Galapagos of the Seychelles, delightful people are falling over themselves to make you happy. Sometimes you can’t even see them trying to make you happy. You trip down 100 steps to a secluded beach and there’s an ice box with fresh drinks, rolled up towels on a day bed and a stretch of empty white sand.

Anse Macquerau

Irresistibly tempting with a frisson of adventure, you can’t quite believe you’re allowed to enjoy this much natural beauty all alone, with a giant tortoise lodged in the shrubs and an eagle ray floating in the shallows. But if after cavorting in the soft cloud of pale blue waves you get a little peckish, reach for the phone secreted in a tropical bush and soon enough, your Private Assistant will arrive with a beaming smile, white linen and lunch.

Turtle On Beach

Our Private Assistant was called Bonnie and he managed a perfect balance of relaxed charm suited to the island setting, and efficient professionalism in keeping with the price. As we luxuriated with a crushed ice cocktail enjoying our own palm-fringed Indian Ocean cove, Bonnie enquired where we might like dinner – a secluded spot by the sea, a lobster barbecue on our villa deck or Fregate House Restaurant with moonlight mirrored on the beach below? This might be preceded by high tea on a clifftop, on a boat, or in the leafy fronds of a 30 foot banyan tree.

Glacis Cerf

Fregate Dining Private means you can dine anywhere you like on the island, with food and drinks included, making it a pleasure to use your imagination. Though you may have the sand beneath your toes, with hermit crabs enjoying a shell swapping party around you, the service will be perfect, the Chablis chilled and the cuisine ambitiously sophisticated.

Island Dining Experience

Most of the produce, including all water, is collected or cultivated from the island and ocean, seeming to give ingredients a fourth dimension in flavour. One morning, I strolled through the green acres plucking and tasting the many varieties of basil and mint, when Bonnie arrived out of nowhere with a basket. Invited to fill it, I duly tossed in lemon grass, ginger, squash, kale and cos; Bonnie sped off with my harvest and at lunchtime, I found it transformed into a delicious, zesty salad.

Starfruit

Activities were included too. On our first day, we were ushered to the Rock Spa for a treatment to bring us down to earth. There was deep sea fishing that didn’t seem very sporting given the easy haul, and diving over coral gardens buyneurontinonlinehere.com amidst yellow clouds of unicorn fish and the odd hawksbill turtles.

Deep Sea Fishing

You have a buggy to zip about the paths that criss-cross the island. Tanya heads a team of ecologists, and happily accompanies guests to explore the many rainforest trails, revealing such mysteries as cashew nuts being poisonous until roasted twice (and you wonder what tragedies preceded that discovery). A myriad of rare and curious birds are at your fingertips yet quick to flee, including the Seychelles Magpie Robin which they’ve nurtured from just fourteen birds to healthy hundreds. Meanwhile, the 2,000 giant Aldabra tortoises place themselves solidly all over the island, in the middle of the buggy paths, on the helipad, and mating noisily without a by-your-leave.

Tortoises

The island is named for the Fregate bird which flew away when its habitat was destroyed by the 18th century coconut and bamboo planters. Tanya talks with an optimistic glow, explaining the island’s real objective is conservation. To date, they have replanted 100,000 indigenous trees so now she occasionally sights the sea bird circling nearby. ‘‘When the Fregate returns, the island will truly be considered a success.’’

Fregate Vogel

The Villa Residences are utterly sympathetic with the surroundings, yet justify the price tag, competently delivering the luxury that funds the forest restoration project. On an island the size of Monaco, it is a surprise to find there are only 17 villas. Ceilings are made of ylang ylang palms, and soft teak beneath your feet keeps you forever in touch with nature. An outdoor shower has ferns peeping out of the rock walls and giant fruit bats soar above you. Subtle indulgences include crisp linen, muslin-enshrouded four poster beds, Wi-Fi and an infinity pool, though it sounds spoilt to include it under subtleties – it does cascade with natural ease into jungle foliage.

Villa

I feel like some part of me was left behind on that idyllic dot in the Seychelles. The wildly beautiful surroundings draw you in, dissolving the world about you. For a few days, your life is a horizon of clear blue sea, a nest of fresh lush rainforest filled with content creatures. I wake up in town quite disorientated, no morning yoga session by the yucca palms, while charming people prepare my papaya that dropped off a tree this morning. I can’t believe someone else is doing that instead of me.

Beach Occupied

Visiting Fregate Island Private

From 3,100 Euros for a Private Pool Residence with your own buggy to zip about the island and a Private Assistant at your beck and call, including all dining anywhere, drinks, spa and activities. From Mahé, it is a ten minute helicopter ride; alternatively if you have your own Twin Otter or Cessna, the island has its own licensed air strip.

Fez Pulsates To A Timeless Rhythm By Ramy Salameh

Sahar Mohammedi and musicians entertained with sacred Persian songs, her hauntingly beautiful voice keeping alive the traditional Persian Radif music

Fez – the fabled city of the Maghreb and its ancient landmarks – was the perfect stage for The World Sacred Music Festival. Now in its 22nd year, the Festival is intricately interwoven with one of Morocco’s great imperial cities. The cultural cross-pollination of sacred music and artists from around the world continues to engender the original ideals for which the Festival began: peace, harmony and understanding through the language of music.

The Ingie Women’s Qanun Ensemble from Azerbaijan performed, plucking the strings of the Qanun

This year, the theme “Women Founders” paid tribute to Moroccan women who have left their mark on history. Delve into the light and shade of the medina’s maze of alleyways and it will lead to Morocco’s first University, the Karaouine, founded by Fatima El Fihriya as a centre for Islamic education and religious study, and has been the beacon of the spiritual capital of Morocco since the middle ages. Another prominent figure was Kenza El Awrabiya, the wife of Moulay Idriss, who helped secure unification between the Amazigh people and the Arabs.

R-L: Zainab Afilal, Sahar Mohammedi, Abeer Nehme, Dikra Al Kalaï as Dunyâzad and Nadia Kounda as Sheherazade

The series of concerts began with “A Sky Full of Stars,” bringing together a collection of stories from A Thousand And One Nights from the Golden Islamic Age, transporting me into a magical night of music and dance, led by Scheherazade who framed the tales. Each female artist represented a different story, through the music, dance and poetry of countries across the Islamic world and beyond. Our evening became a totally immersive adventure beautifully projected against the walls, ramparts and gate of Bab al Makina.

For the first time in the Festival’s history, a new concept to highlight one particular country was introduced, and homage was paid to the musical genius of India, the origin of many of the stories of A Thousand And One Nights. The flamboyance, extravagance and colour found in the courts of the Maharajahs and Nabobs was recreated once again upon Bab al Makina. Amongst the many performers, the north Indian Kathak Ensemble dancers showered the stage with rose petals as they pirouetted with perfect balance courting their audience with every spin and Chota Divana, the little princes of Rajasthan, captivated with their vocal range, their voices filling the vast parade ground in which we were seated.

As a backdrop, the city of Fez and particularly Fez el Bali, home to the world’s oldest and continually inhabited medieval medina, plays its own distinct melody with the rhythms of daily life providing the link, the staging and inspiration for much of the Festival. It is these sights and sounds that were to resonate most deeply with me.

A sense of timelessness imbues the ancient medina, as soon as you step beneath the Islamic arch of Bab Bajloud, one of fourteen gates that punctuate the ten miles of saffron-coloured walls and ramparts. Bab Bajloud was only built in 1913, but what draws attention to it, is the delicate arabesque and knot work ornamentations across the blue-tiled façade. These mesmeric tiles are known as Zillij and are an intrinsic part of Moroccan architecture, with Fez being the spiritual home of the art. Throughout the city, Zillij tiles can be found adorning public buildings, fountains and local residences, something of a social necessity regardless of wealth. It was within the tumult and colour that courses through the sun-dappled ventricles of the medina that the finest and oldest examples of the art can be admired, none more so than Madrassa Al Atterine, built in 1346 under the Merinid dynasty.

Zillij, meaning mosaic tile, is the work of great artisanal skill by craftsmen known as Zleyjis, but when they are placed upon the walls of a religious school dating back centuries, they become art of meditative beauty and awe-inspiring complexity. Inside the Madrassa, the rhythmic linear patterns of scrolling and interlacing cursive writing that dressed these ancient scholastic walls, must have entranced and inspired students as they stepped within the inner sanctum of the school.

The 17th century Nejjarine Fountain in Place Nejjarine, which still offers water to passers-by, is another landmark that owes its beauty to generations of master Zleyji craftsman. Patterns of radiating stars enclosed within an Islamic arch demanded my attention like a firework display across a night sky.

Fez el Bali has been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981 and continues to undergo an ambitious programme of restoration. The Nejjarine ensemble (including the fountain, woodworker’s suq and funduq) was an early recipient to benefit from the medina’s UNESCO status. The funduq, a former market area, has been sensitively restored and now houses a 51-room museum containing the vestiges of a bygone epoch that keeps alive the memory of traditional woodworking skills that are evident in the most cherished buildings of Fez. Set around a large courtyard, rising three stories with delicate cedar wood balustrades on each level that sit on sculpted white plaster columns, was reason enough to enter.

Returning to the sinuous passageways, the unrelenting tempo of foot traffic pushed and cajoled me around several corners, making way for the clip-clop of hooves from passing pack mules or young traders with carts loaded high, loudly announcing their right to move ahead. At times, this made it hard to stop and peer through doorways, which invariably opened into a cloistered space of contemplation or tranquillity that the medina’s walls have always shielded. One such door that opened briefly was that of the Karouine Mosque. As a non-Muslim, this was the only chance to glimpse the main courtyard and the ablution fountain surrounded by a checkerboard of coloured floor tiles that eventually reached the sanctity of the ‘‘mirhab’’ beyond.

This was the legacy that Fatima El Fihriya left the city of Fez in 859 and the reason she was being honoured in this year’s World Sacred Music Festival. It was not only the mosque she founded, but also the neighbouring Karouine University and Islamic library, which in its day attracted eminent thinkers and scholars from across the region. Today, it still contains a priceless collection of books that have survived in part by being bound and covered in the finest leather from the local tanneries whose processes have changed little in centuries. The newly restored Islamic library ironically sits within the metalworker’s Suq Seffarine; a constant clatter of tapping and hammering that reminds everyone that this is a place of work and commerce, as well as a learned and artistic city. All have their place within the medina.

In its own way, the World Sacred Music Festival contributes to Fez’s journey of preservation and regeneration through enhancing the city’s cultural renaissance. After more than two decades, the Festival is an intrinsic part in Fez’s rhythm of life that is both historic, authentic and why UNESCO made the protection of Fez a duty devolving upon the whole of mankind.

For more information about Fez and Morocco, go to www.visitmorocco.com.

HIP Hotels – A Grand Tour of Highly Individual Places By The Luxury Channel

La Minervetta

When it comes to travel, we all want to find that unique outpost with character, charm and just a little je ne sais quoi, something that makes a getaway just that little bit extra special. That particular travel nail is hit firmly on the head with HIP Hotels – the “hip” part of the equation standing for Highly Individual Places. So, whether that’s a private villa on a wild Greek island, or a hotel on a par with a 007 film location in Marmaris, you can bet there’s a property in the HIP portfolio that ticks all the right boxes, and then some.

Villa Ducale

The HIP Hotels name has been around for a while, but a recent re-launch has seen the business capitalise on its potential for business worldwide. Hotels that are selected to join the group share the HIP signature and, once they are accepted into the portfolio, gain a veritable stamp of approval. The fact that they are HIP hotels means they are unique properties with a story to tell and a culture to share.

Casa Angelina

In-keeping with the brand’s historical traditions, however, HIP has released The Grand Tour, a coffee table tome to celebrate all that is great about travelling in Italy. World-famous travel photographer Herbert Ypma has lent his discerning eye to the project, along with Fiorenza Lago, a writer with an infinite passion for her home country. Part of an ongoing series, the first HIP Hotels City book was released in 1999, and with the other 13 titles that followed, travel connoisseurs and curious holiday-makers alike have been waiting for HIP’s next journey.

HIP Hotels

With The Grand Tour, they will most certainly see that wish granted. Scouring Italy to bring the ultimate travellers’ encyclopaedia into one single volume, the team at HIP has worked tirelessly to uncover Italy’s hidden gems; living, eating and breathing the Italy has inspired travellers to visit here for centuries. One of the world’s most romantically idyllic destinations, readers of The Grand Tour will be instantly transported to the most inspiring properties the country can offer, absorbing their enriching culture, unique designs and majestic beauty.

Capri Palace

Just to add a contemporary twist to proceedings, HIP has launched an innovative new web app called Sheradill. Mini breaks at HIP Hotels can easily be gained by sharing properties with friends and followers on social media. For every action or share, a user earns Sheradill credits, which in turn bring down the price of their getaway. Find the date that suits, and book the hotel – it’s that easy! Time to start planning your next escape….

La Minervetta

For more information about HIP Hotels, visit www.hiphotels.com and for more information about Sheradill, visit www.sheradill.com.

Seoul Man By Fiona Sanderson

Adrian Slater

Adrian Slater, General Manager of the Grand Hyatt in South Korea, talks to The Luxury Channel about life in the hotel and living in Seoul….

How long have you been with Hyatt Group?

Almost 30 years – it’s a great company. What it does extremely well is give everyone the opportunity to grow, and I think the hospitality industry is all about creating experiences for people as well as their guests. I have had so many opportunities – I have worked in the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, and now South Korea. I started working for Hyatt when I was 16. I was only going to work for a year as a waiter, then go onto hotel school in New Zealand and see what happened. Here I am 30 years later!

What is it like for a young person going into the hotel industry?

It’s not a 9 to 5 job. You have to be very flexible. But it’s an industry where you can see the world and there are opportunities, although maybe not early on in your career but later certainly. I think working in the hotel industry exposes you to a very multi-cultural society, understanding customers who are very different from you. That’s something you don’t realise until you have been through it. I had two roles in the Dubai Hyatt, and I really saw what a multi-cultural society is. I had 54 different nationalities coming through our hotel doors – you don’t get that in any other country in the world!

Grand Hyatt Seoul

What changes have you seen in the hotel industry over the years, and where is the focus today?

I think the hotel industry has become so design-focussed – the importance of the interior designer, the space they create and the experience around it. It’s all about delivering the experience to the customer that matches the environment. I think technology within hotels has changed dramatically. From finance systems to check-in, to the telephone and internet. Consumers today are using technology more and more to find out things and the hospitality industry was very slow at first but is much savvier on that front now. You now look at the habits of the millennials and how they respond and behave, which can be quite a challenge, then you have the baby boomers who are a little bit more analogue in the way they operate. The millennials will just flick through and say, look we can get this deal. You have to be really up to speed with it to make sure you know what they are talking about and you can relate to their issues and their experience and market.

What’s the difference between a Grand Hyatt and a Park Hyatt?

Customer expectation is very high and can differ between hotels. When you come to a Grand Hyatt, you expect a grand experience. When you walk into the lobby, you are awed by the music, the ambience, and the sheer look and feel of the place. Our Park Hyatt brand is very personalised, but not so grand so when you arrive into a Park Hyatt, the lobby has a bit of a residential feel. They are all very different, though. Normally, a smaller hotel has a more personalised service than perhaps a Grand Hyatt like this, which has probably over a thousand people walking through the lobby every day. We have about a thousand staff. Koreans are fantastic in the service industry and they really pride themselves on this. I took a lot of Korean nationals with me to Dubai because they understand service and what is required to make it perfect, and they are very, very proud of that. This hotel is 38 years old and some of the employees have been here since the opening. They recognise the guests and that’s what the guests like. Recently, a guest returning after six years recognised the bell boy and gave him a big hug and said “its so nice; it’s like coming home!”

Grand Hyatt Presidential Suite Living Room

Why is Asian service known for its perfection?

If you teach a Korean how to do things well, they will do the same for the next 40 years and I think that’s a commitment. I think it’s in the culture, it’s in the history, how they strive to do better and how they are committed to making sure the guest experience is awesome. Korea is challenging but rewarding. I think there is a lot of history here, a lot of culture. They are very proud, particularly when you look at what it was like after the Korean war and what they have achieved since. I was away for five years and came back, and when I got off the plane, I said “I am home!” because relationships stick for a long time here. You can build solid relationships here but it does mean a lot of nights out getting to know people and building the trust.

What is the attraction of South Korea and who comes here as a tourist?

Our biggest market is the US. Lots of luxury brands are here. Korea is a market that is known for testing cosmetics; if it works in this market, it will work anywhere else in the world. Koreans know what they want. It’s a very dynamic city but you have to know where to go. As a foreigner coming here, it may not be as easy to get around like New York but it’s getting better. They are really committed to making it “user friendly.” I think you will find if you were lost in tourist areas and went looking for help, they would be more than happy to help and guide you where to go. The other thing is that if you have got kids, they really take care of them. If you are in a queue, they will bring you straight to the fore. Seoul is really amazing as you really have the four seasons to the fullest. The cherry blossoms are extraordinary – such vibrant colours and you see the reds, the blues – incredible! The infrastructure works, as they are all ahead of the curve.

Grand Hyatt Presidential Suite

The fashion here is amazing; you only need to sit in the lobby here and see what people are wearing. There is a real style focus here. It’s a fun city. With Korea, you either love it or hate it, and I love it. Once you know how to find your way around here, it’s amazing. If you want sophistication, it’s all here, with great hotels and restaurants. There is a big outdoor restaurant scene here, and the nightclub scene has really taken off. The Koreans are extremely well-educated with almost a 98% literacy rate. There is a massive focus from families on education, and it’s very competitive – getting into the top universities and jobs, and going overseas. They’ll speak a minimum of three languages. When I was GM of the Park Hyatt, I went into the restaurant kitchen and I was amazed; everyone spoke fluent Italian and the Koreans weren’t speaking in their own language, they weren’t even speaking English, but Italian! Korea is also quite health conscious – all the buses run on natural gas and electricity. People are recycling in line with Europe. There are vinyl bars here – like the old juke box cafes where you drink whisky, usually one or two bottles, and then it’s time to go home.

What are the defining features of this Grand Hyatt hotel in Seoul?

It’s all about giving the guest an experience which we hope we achieve. The staff are incredible. They care about their guests. At night time, the whole lobby transforms into the most amazing auditorium. We have a band and it is really an experience – the lobby lounge here is spectacular. In the summer, we have a barbeque by the pool. It’s amazing to sit out there in the fresh air and look at that view. The beauty of this hotel is that we are a resort within the city. This is the Beverly Hills of Seoul.

Grand Hyatt Presidential Suite

When you look back on your time in the industry, what do you remember?

I remember John Cleese was staying with us and he came into the hotel – where he was supposed to be being interviewed – wearing a dressing gown and slippers and I said, “Mr. Cleese, are you going for the interview dressed like that?” and he said, “yes, it’s only for the radio.” You see a lot of celebrities. The saxophonist Kenny G comes to Korea a lot. Last time I saw him, we got into the elevator and he asked me if I had heard his latest album, which I said I had not and he said, “it’s much better than my elevator music used to be!” We sit down and he has a glass of wine just like any other person, and then he hears some music in the bar and then just grabs his bag and decides to have a 45 minute jam session. It was a free concert in the bar! He wasn’t playing the saxophone, he was playing guitar and drums and it was just amazing. We gave our musicians the night off. This was not orchestrated; it was just, let’s just have a jam session. It was just giving something back to the people. So that was a big highlight.

Grand Hyatt Presidential Suite

The other person I loved was Tina Turner. She was really fit; she had her own chef who travelled with her and cooked for her. That was the key to her health. So, mixing with the celebrities and rubbing shoulders with these people is quite fun and rewarding. This hotel has been the host to four US Presidents, The Queen, and even Princes Diana. This hotel is iconic; it’s not modern or flashy – it’s a statement. Everyone knows it. If you travel around the world and say, “I work at the Grand Hyatt,” people know it. Last week, we had the French president staying – when these guys come, it runs like clockwork, all run by the Koreans extremely well. The streets are all blocked, and the police escort the whole hierarchy. It’s amazing.

What is your biggest achievement?

My biggest achievement in my career? I think it’s important as you go through your career to be very humble and realise you can’t do it alone – it’s about building a team to work with you to achieve the results. I think that’s something that only comes with experience. It’s a lot of posing the ideas but letting people run with them. The biggest satisfaction for me is seeing the team coming together to deliver the end product. My biggest wish is that I had more time going, to go around to thank everybody!

To book a stay at the Grand Hyatt Seoul, click here. For more information about visiting Seoul, click here.

Royal Connections By The Luxury Channel

Umaid Bhawan, Jodhpur

Umaid Bhawan, Jodhpur

In anticipation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit to India and Bhutan, bespoke tour operator, Ampersand Travel, has created an itinerary to showcase the links between England and the Indian Subcontinent, existing since the days of the Raj. This 24-night all-suite itinerary to Rajasthan and Bhutan suggests palaces and hotels that hold a personal connection for their Royal Highnesses (not least as sources say that William is keen to see a tiger and visit his father’s old friends in Rajasthan).

The Oberoi Amarvilas

The Oberoi Amarvilas

William and Kate would feel at home arriving at The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, a place that dominates the bustling markets of Janpath with its cool white Lutyens design and priceless collection of British art on India. First timers should visit the iconic Taj Mahal at Agra and stay at The Oberoi Amarvilas, only 600 metres away. As wildlife enthusiasts, William and Kate would enjoy the thrill of tracking the elusive Bengal Tiger in Ranthambhore – one of the most densely populated tiger reserves in India. Sher Bagh – a SUJÁN luxury property and the first tented camp to open in Ranthambhore – provides a sumptuous sanctuary in the wild.

Sher Bagh

Sher Bagh

The Prince might like to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandmother, by visiting the ‘‘Pink City’’ of Jaipur and staying in the Prince of Wales suite at the newly restored SUJÁN Rajmahal Palace, once home to Maharaja Jai Singh and his wife, the legendary Gayatri Devi. Over at the Blue City of Jodhpur, Maharaja Gaj Singh II – a personal friend of Prince Charles – would welcome the young Royals to his home, the magnificent Umaid Bhawan Palace, also recently voted TripAdvisor’s best hotel in the world, with the Art Deco interiors of the Maharani Suite spanning the length of the palace. Kate might like to follow the Royal household in creating her own fragrance with the in–house perfumer. Jodhpur is famed for its polo season where the two renowned schools of their respective countries, Eton vs Mayo College, go head to head at the polo club. The Duke and Duchess would enjoy seeing the fine breed of Marwari horses at the Royal stables.

Perfume

The final leg of the journey will be the glorious mountain Kingdom of Bhutan. The Duke and Duchess will have much to discuss with the King and Queen regarding the recent birth of the Crown Prince. If the Duke and Duchess fancy a bit of time alone, Amankora’s five lodges here offer the opportunity to explore ancient monasteries, remarkable landscapes and the region’s rich cultural heritage – all beneath the soaring peaks of the Himalayas.

Bhutan

Getting There

Ampersand Travel offers bespoke tours to India and the subcontinent. The Royal Connections Package starts from £17,674, comprising 24 nights based on two people travelling together and sharing suite accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis, domestic flights, private transfers, fully guided sightseeing and Bhutanese visas. For further information, go to www.ampersandtravel.com or call +44 (0)20 7819 9770.

A Winter Wonderland Mardi Gras Awaits In Quebec City By Michael-Ann Rowe

Quebec is a destination known for being a romantic get-away, but the entire family will find fun, frolics and festivities at one of the World’s largest winter Carnivals….

Québec City Scape

After 62 years, Quebecers are no strangers to embracing the snow. In fact, their famous mascot, Bonhomme, is a 7-foot, 400-pound, walking, talking snowman! Across from Quebec’s iconic Parliament building, the stage is set as Bonhomme’s Ice Palace. It’s called Place de l’Assemblee-Nationale and it’s just one of the locations for outdoor concerts and activities. The palace looks brilliant at night time. From January 29th – February 14th, Quebec City is like a massive snow-globe that can be shaken or stirred over three weekends!

Quartier Petit Champlain

As you journey through the cobblestone streets like Place de Royale or Quartier Petit Champlain, you’ll be surrounded by Quebec City’s historic landscape that sits on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The foundation of ‘‘Old Quebec’’ is prevalent with its Unesco World heritage site – a centuries-old fortified wall that leads you right to the Plains of Abraham – the central playground for the Carnival, which turns into a massive open snow fortress of activity.

Ferris Wheel on the Plains of Abraham

Activities

If you’re into speed, go for the 120 meter-long ice slide (worth a screaming ‘‘selfie’’ video all the way down!). Then grab a snow tube and spin your way to the bottom of a hill before you work your way to the Sugar Shack for traditional beaver tails. Or you might want to warm your insides with the Carnival’s signature Caribou Rum – the perfect elixir for an adventurous ride with a dog-sled team, or zip-lining across the winter fairground! The Plains have mapped out a special kiddies playground where they too can happily wear themselves out.

Tubbing

Competitions

If you’re into watching competitions, I have witnessed one of the most extreme sports at the Quebec Winter Carnival – Ice Canoe races across the St. Lawrence River! The event has been going on since 1955 and originated from when they used to transport people and goods from Quebec City and Levis. Each year, over 50 teams of men and women from three countries demonstrate tremendous courage and athleticism as they dig and paddle through the broken icebergs that surface the river. It’s a sight to see. Another competition to watch is the one and two-man sleigh races on The Plains. Want to participate? Enter the snow racer grand prix, a giant snow-bowling competition, a snowshoe challenge, or Yukigassen (a snow-ball fight!)

Sleigh Race

Other Spectacles

One of my favorite spectacles was watching the International Snow Sculptures Competition take shape throughout the days of the carnival. As teams from around the world are provided with a box of tools, competitors start chiselling ginormous blocks of snow into monumental art pieces. When you see the sculptures, it’s quite amazing to learn some have never made a snow sculpture before.

Snow Sculptures

As night approaches, the ice and snow art come alive all over the city and performers hit the concert stages. This year, there will be a symphonic tribute to the music of the Beatles, by Beatles, Abby Road & Co. You might also plan your trip around the Carnival Night Parade. In Quebec, they take the planning of costume and character creations seriously, so it’s a spectacle of colorful Cirque de Soleil-like characters and masqueraders on stilts, music and high fire acts through the streets.

Night Parade

If diving into the snow in your swimsuit is on your bucket list, sign up for the traditional Snow Bath with Bonhomme, on the Plains of Abraham. It’s been going on since 1987 and a sight that will have you howling.

Ice Hotel Entrance

While you’re in Quebec, take a ride ten minutes from the city center and visit the amazing Ice Hotel; an ice and snow structure of themed hotel rooms, a bar and ice slide, and its own chapel. If you’re the extreme adventurous type, you might want to check in for the night.

Boulliabaisse

What To Eat

Quebec has been applauded for some of the best French cuisine this side of Europe. Open your palate to wild game in a ground beef pie, or seafood from the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, and Quebec’s amazing local cheeses melted into a fondue. As you make your way along the intertwined carnivalesque streets, the familiar sight of maple toffee in the snow and carts of poutine are simply irresistible. Add the Hotel Frontenac’s fromagerie tasting room to your list. I was in awe sitting at their 1608 wine and cheese bar while overlooking one of the best views of the St. Lawrence River.

Carnival-goers in front of Château Frontenac

What To Wear

Red and white are the signature colors. Along with your signature Effigy (see the picture below), you may want to sport a red or white arrow sash, to be shown off around your waist. Add a pair of carnival winter gloves and a trendy toque and you’ve got the perfect Quebec Carnival fashion statement. Dress warm so you have nothing else to think about but pure winter fun (although hand warmers are sold all over).

Effigy

Admission

The Carnival Effigy is your passport to all 17 days of festivities at the main festival sites. The Effigy is a small pendant you wear throughout the carnival and costs $15 Canadian. It has become a collector’s item, with many having collected all 62 Effigies. A full carnival pass can be purchased for $35-Canadian.

Michael-Ann with Bonhomme

In its 62nd year celebrating a magical winter fest, Quebec City shares its joie de vivre with the world. When your day winds down, take a horse-drawn carriage back to your hotel and nestle in by the fireplace at an old Victorian-style hotel or stay at the Hilton where room views overlook the St. Lawrence River, the Ice Palace, Parliament and the Plains of Abraham. The world’s snow capital gives celebrating Mardi Gras a new meaning at the Quebec Winter Carnival!

Bonhomme with  a snow sculpture

For more information, go to https://carnaval.qc.ca. Images above courtesy of Quebec City Tourism & Quebec Winter Carnival, and Restaurant L’Echaude.

Michael-Ann Rowe is an Emmy Award Winning food and travel journalist. See more of her work at www.michaelannrowe.com.

The Most Luxurious Road Trip On Earth By The Luxury Channel

Land Rover

Range Rover and Abercrombie & Kent have teamed up to create The Most Luxurious Road Trip on Earth – a road trip like no other that combines the world’s most beautiful locations, hotels and driving routes. This is an unrivalled 21 day trip-of-a-lifetime, taking in five continents, eight countries and nine of the world’s best hotels, with truly off-the-beaten-track driving experiences from behind the wheel of the most luxurious Range Rover ever produced, the SVAutobiography.

“We set out to design a trip worthy of the ultimate luxury SUV and thanks to our partners at Abercrombie & Kent we have achieved just that,” Mark Cameron, Land Rover Experiential Marketing Director at Jaguar Land Rover, told us. “From Europe to Australia, this trip is all about the epitome of luxury but done so in a Land Rover way – the unexpected, the off-the-beaten-track and the once-in-a-lifetime experiences. This itinerary represents the definitive drive adventure, achieved in the definitive vehicle.”

Land Rover

Starting in Europe, the trip takes in the twisting mountain roads of Monaco, the coastal highway to Portofino and the breathtaking vistas of the Italian lakes, all from the leather-lined luxury of the SVAutobiography. Accommodation for the first leg includes Four Seasons Cap Ferrat, the Villa D’Este overlooking Lake Como and the San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge in the stunningly beautiful and remote Dolomites region of the Alps. Lunch is taken at world-renowned eateries including Joel Robuchon at the Metropole and unique, bespoke activities include a personalised fragrance-making class in the lavender scented hills of Provence and a glacier picnic – by chartered helicopter – in the peaks of the Alps.

The second leg of the trip sees guests fly to Marrakech for a three-night stay at the unsurpassed Royal Mansour. Drives in the region take in the arid desert around Ouarzazate (the perfect territory to develop off-road skills!), and a route up into the Atlas Mountains, ending with a lunch at Richard Branson’s exquisite hotel, Kasbah Tamadot.

The unique climate of the Arizona desert is the destination for the third part of the trip, as guests fly in to experience the one-of-a-kind Amangiri resort in Utah. Amangiri – meaning “peaceful mountain” – is located across 600 acres, tucked into a protected valley with sweeping views towards the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. The resort is built around a central swimming pool and blends the dramatic surrounds with deep canyons and towering plateaus to create a raw and captivating landscape. Activities for this leg include a hiking and scrambling excursion into Antelope Canyon, a private dinner under the stars at a local Sandstone Butte and breakfast in Zion National Park.

Land Rover

The fourth leg involves an overnight flight to Chile to experience the Atacama Desert – the driest non-polar desert in the world. Staying at Awasi – one of the most luxurious and remote lodges in South America – guests are assigned a personal concierge who designs a wholly bespoke experience customised to their interests. The driving excursions in the area are some of the most epic on earth and include a day drive to the Alamo Observatory, a £1bn telescope that can see the “beginning of time.”

An overnight flight to Sydney marks the final part of the trip. A night’s stay at the Park Hyatt means the opportunity to relax after a VIP bridge climb and behind-the-scenes access to the landmark Opera House. A short hop to Tasmania the following day provides the opportunity for a stunning drive through the vast, rugged wilderness, taking in coastal heathland and forest, giving drivers the chance to put the SVAutobiography through its paces. Guests stay at Saffire Freycinet, where they experience a breakfast like no other – standing knee-deep in an estuary enjoying fresh oysters and local sparkling wine.

Prices for the most luxurious road trip on earth start from £100,000 per person, available through select boutiques in the UK, Abu Dhabi and Monaco. Land Rover Adventure Travel by Abercrombie & Kent offers a variety of incredible driving excursions throughout the year. For more information, please see www.landrover.com/experiences/adventure-travel/index.html.

Escape To Fattoria Corleonese By Caroline Phillips

Fattoria Corleonese

Rolling landscapes, home grown tomatoes and traditional red clay roof tiles. This is Fattoria Corleonese, a gorgeous manor house for holidays in Sicily. It’s in the heart of the country, part of a working farm and in a building that has been in the same family since 1873. It’s set in 92 hectares of beautiful countryside, among cornfields and sheep with clanking bells on their necks. All midst plum trees, cypresses, and ancient walnut trees as far as the eye can see. You’d be hard pushed to find a more pleasant place.

The house is built around an uneven cobbled courtyard with sun-bleached terracotta walls and bottle-green louvered shutters. Plus walls that are bougainvillea, oleander and ivy clad. The hot air reverberates to the sound of cicadas and the fluttering of butterfly wings. Otherwise, all is still and peaceful, save for the occasional bark of a farm dog – of which there are four large ones of varying degrees of shagginess. That is because part of the house is lived in by the owners, a charming couple – Salvatore Paternostro, a retired lawyer and gentleman farmer, and his wife Angela, a Tuscan artist elegant in white linen.

Fattoria Corleonese

Inside our apartment there are heaven-high ceilings and antiques: think oil paintings, elaborate, free-standing cupboards with sculpted cherubs, and dripping Murano glass chandeliers with candles. Days are spent lazily on the terrace beside the apartment, underneath a parasol midst potted geraniums and overlooking a fountain with a lion’s head.

Nearby there’s a swimming pool set in a secret garden amongst olive, walnut and almond trees, overlooked by a towering limestone mountain and bordered by rosemary and lemon verbena bushes. Hours and days pass and we do little more than gentle laps and loll beside the pool, the peace disturbed by nothing more than the occasional call of a cockerel or flit of a dragon fly.

Most days the farm hand brings us a wicker basket laden with organic produce from the land. Blushing tomatoes, baby zucchini, cucumbers with thick green skins, bottles of home-pressed olive oil and cheeses from the farm: smoked mozzarella, pecorino and home made sheep’s cheese. We feast on homemade pasta – gnocchi with tomato sauce fatto in casa, drizzled with pungent olive oil – and finish the meal with sun-ripened nectarines. And there’s the local Donna Fugata sparkling wine to accompany the meals, another present from Salvatore and Angela.

Fattoria Corleonese

When we can tear ourselves away from this rural idyll, Corleone is a fifteen minute drive away. It’s a hilltop town made famous by Mario Puzzi’s The Godfather. Tourists didn’t come to Corleone before the film. Walk into Central Bar – it’s the one with the poster of The Godfather outside – and the owner turns on the theme tune of the movie. Its walls are covered with stills from the film – pictures of Marlon Brando wearing his gangster hat and those famous cotton-wool-puffy cheeks. By the door there are some framed newspaper cuttings that record Al Pacino’s visit to see his grandmother who lived in the town.

We drink stronger than strongest coffee and fresh-pressed lemon juice in Central Bar, hiding for moments from the searing noonday sun. Then we leave the bar, past old men sitting in the shade gossiping and setting the world to right. It seems to be a town of old men. Mostly the young of Corleone have left to work abroad.

Corleone

Up the street, Luca Trombaturi guides us around an upstairs room in a former monastery – the Galleria Corleone. ‘This is my passion,’ he says, pointing to this room that bears witness to his hometown. ‘La storia del nostro passato.’ The white walls are covered with photographs of the most infamous clan members who moved from Corleone and started their clandestine operations in New York. Luca wears two earrings, shaved hair sides and tresses gelled on top. ‘Extortion, prostitution, drugs charges,’ he’s saying as he flails his arms, indicating photos on the wall of former Mafia chiefs.

Afterwards Lea Savona, the dignified and first elected female mayor of Corleone, drops by. We sit in a circle on white plastic chairs. Luca translates at breakneck speed as she tells us how she is tackling the Mafia – ‘I don’t confront them and they leave me alone to get on with my work,’ she says – and how the Pope’s secretary sent her a letter to say they were praying for her good work. ‘Would you like to go to her office to see her awards?’ asks Luca, with pride.

Another day, we go further afield – a spectacular 90 minute drive to the Donna Fugata winery in Marsala on the coast. Past villages, lush vineyards, mountains and incredible rock formations. The vineyard is family owned, and they produce 2.5 million bottles of wine a year – about ten different varieties – a mixture of red, white and sparkling white, plus a sweet wine from the island of Pentelleria. Most destined for new markets in the US, Europe and Japan. Our group tries seven wines, swilling it in their mouths, the professionals among them spitting it out. ‘It’s too good to spit out,’ says Sandra, our friend, drinking it.

Fattoria Corleonese

Closer to Fattoria Corleonese, a mere five minutes in the car, is the Agriturismo Giardinello. We go there for antipasti, delicious pizzas and home made limoncello, sitting among tables each of more than ten people, all Italian families. We’re the only people there who speak English. Afterwards, walking midst the farm dogs and playful puppies, we go further up the hill from the agriturismo, past pens with bulls and calves, to where the farmer produces hand-made cheese. There’s a room like a walk-in refrigerator with freshly made ricotta, some recently smoked mozzarella and floor-to-ceiling shelves of pecorino truckles. The master cheese maker climbs a ladder to reach a six month old one for us to taste. It is delicious, salty yet still fresh and pungent.

But we don’t want to visit many places. Fattoria Corleonese is too much of a lure. Why leave its mellow light, spectacular scenery and our broken Italian chats with its genial owners? Why spend much time away from its fine old buildings, the peregrine falcons circling in the blue sky, the friendly farm dogs and the ancient olive trees? Or away from those rolling landscapes, home grown tomatoes and traditional red clay roof tiles?

For more information, go to www.solosicily.com or phone +44 (0)20 7097 1413. Car hire is available from www.holidayautos.com.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Escape To Casalnuovo By Caroline Phillips

Casalnuovo

The sky is streaked pink and purple. There are hills that recede into the distance where the Tyrrhenian Sea twinkles and the magical Aeolian islands stick temptingly out of the water. The villa is surrounded by an organic estate with olive trees, two gamboling dogs and a vegetable garden with sun-blushed tomatoes, beans and squash. Nearby are the Nebrodi mountains with walking trails, lakes, streams and woods.

Welcome to the off-the–beaten-volcanic track. This is Casalnuovo villa in Tindari, Sicily. A charming place where few tourists go.

Casalnuovo

It sleeps 15 – perfect for families or big groups or even a business conference. Its pool looks over the rolling hills and days are spent doing gentle laps. Or lying in the sun. One day Carlo, a chef, comes and teaches us how to make pizzas. Slugging back red wine and with Sicilian good cheer, he shows us how to knead the dough and flip it in the air, before putting just-picked tomatoes and tangy local cheese on top. For all this, there’s a wood-burning pizza oven in the garden.

Another day, we go riding on Arab horses that are a mere trot from the property. We canter up paths bordered by cypruses and lemon trees, the air thick with the scent of fennel.

Casalnuovo

Further afield, the Franchetti winery beckons. (Wine producer Andrea Franchetti looks like a young Yves Saint Laurent). His rosé tastes like roses, and one red tastes deliciously like caramel: these are wines that are profound, unique and superb. There’s also Cefalu for a day trip – with its Norman duomo and seafront. Plus Mount Etna – the largest and most volatile volcano in Europe. At night, it booms theatrically and spills molten lava down its sides, splashing red under the stars.

As for food, the holiday is a hit. In Montalbano – the nearest town to Casalnunovo – we find the local speciality of fresh macaroni with pork sauce. Also worth trying are its Croccantino Bianco, a hazelnut concoction covered in white chocolate. Then there’s Fattoria Grattazzo, a remote farm house with geese and dogs wandering around outside. (It’s 15 minutes from the villa). The owner, a septuagenarian, makes all his own cheeses – including the creamiest of ricottas – and home-cured meats. He offers a rustic and delicious menu with no choice.

Casalnuovo

In Palermo, a two hour drive away, we go to one of the best friggitorie (fried food shops), I Cuochini, for arancini (rice balls), timballini di pasta (deep-fried pasta), pasticcino (a sweet pastry filled with mince) and sfinciuni, a soft flat bread topped with tomatoes, onion, anchovies, cheese, toasted breadcrumbs and oregano. It’s little more than a Euro per item.

For those who wish to strike further afield (by helicopter is best), there’s a tip-top fish restaurant, Da Vittorio. (“My favourite place in Sicily is Da Vittorio Ristorante, a fish restaurant on the beach in Porto Palo di Menfi,” recommends chef Giorgio Locatelli). The antipasti includes the sweetest of red prawns, swordfish carpaccio, octopus in oil and lemon juice and whatever the fishermen have caught that day. It’s almost worth a trip from London for its pasta with sea urchins, pasta with mixed seafood, and catch of the day grilled on the barbecue.

Casalnuovo

Back at Casalnuovo, we put our feet up to watch the evening spectacle of a star-spangled sky, glasses of local limoncello in hand. We admire the 360-degree view and the twinkling lights of boats bobbing on the sea in the distance. There’s nothing in our minds but the thought of yet another lazy day. One of swimming, sun bathing and enjoying nature. Of riding on the Arab horses stabled at the bottom of the estate. What could be more relaxing?

For more information, go to www.solosicily.com or phone +44 (0)20 7097 1413. Car hire is available from www.holidayautos.com.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Fifty Years of Chewton Glen By Isabel Donnelly

One of The Luxury Channel’s very favourite “staycation” hotels is Chewton Glen, on the outskirts of the New Forest, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year.

Chewton Glen

Chewton Glen is one of the UK’s top hotels for a reason. Featuring an award-winning restaurant, world-class leisure facilities and luxurious accommodation, Chewton Glen is the perfect destination for romantic escapes, relaxing getaways, corporate events or even for a girl’s getaway, which is what we managed to do on a wintry Hallowe’en day.

Chewton Glen

Despite its classic heritage and old-world charm, Chewton has always been ahead of the curve. Its founder, Martin Skan, had zero experience as an hotelier when he bought the property, but he had plenty of experience as a hotel guest, which he put into practice when he made the then-revolutionary decision to put an en-suite bathroom into each bedroom. Chewton was also the first country house hotel in Britain to have a Spa, and the first to feature treehouses as suites.

Treehouse Loft Suite Lounge

Since then, Chewton has won countless accolades that are true testament to the team here. Recent awards include Executive Head Chef Luke Matthews winning Executive Chef of The Year at the Hampshire Life Food & Drink Awards 2015, and the Spa was voted third Best UK Hotel Spa 2015 by Conde Nast Traveller (on that note, the Spa itself offers particularly indulgent experiences, all in the location of this world-class retreat). Chewton has also been awarded International Five Star Standard 2016-17.

Kitchen Garden

The awards speak volumes about what a wonderful retreat this really is. Surrounded by acres of nature, and just minutes from the beach, this is a very tranquil setting that enables one to simply get away from it all. Understated luxury is what this hotel is all about, giving you a home-from-home feeling when you stay.

Junior Suite

My girlfriend and I stayed in a Junior Garden Suite with a separate bedroom and balcony on the floor above. Our suite was decorated in muted colours with velvets and fine wools placed on the beds, with comfortable deep-seated sofas. What more can a girl ask for, other than an enormous bathroom, crisp white linen sheets, huge white bath sheets and soft dressing gowns? Just what we needed on a cold, blustery evening.

Hunter Boots

Chewton Glen boasts a famous literary link through the fact that Captain Frederick Marryat stayed for periods during the 1840s, gathering material for his famous novel The Children of The New Forest (Marryat’s brother George in fact owned the property from 1837 until 1855). Today, many of the rooms have been named after his novels and the characters in them.

Activities

The perfect balance between celebrating heritage whilst keeping up-to-date is definitely what makes Chewton a holiday destination of choice. New for 2016, for instance, is the Strictly Fitter, Stronger Luxury Retreat weekend on the 8th – 10th January. A luxury health-boosting fitness weekend run by Strictly Come Dancing stars Ian Waite and Camilla Sacre-Dallerup, this is definitely one to book onto to lose those extra Christmas pounds!

Swimming Pool

However, for a far gentler start to the New Year, the Spa at Chewton Glen is a must! Offering the ultimate in relaxation, the facilities include a 17 metre indoor swimming pool, a hydrotherapy spa pool, an outdoor whirlpool, aromatherapy saunas and crystal steam rooms, all designed to help you really unwind. If you feel like you want to be a bit more active, then the purpose-built dance studio and tennis centre (with indoor and outdoor courts) are worth paying a visit. We tried the hydrotherapy pool which has has nine different areas including three single person loungers and swan neck pipes. We found the water blissfully warm and the jets comfortably powerful.

Hydro Pool

Of course, one can’t come to a hotel without sampling the cuisine! Spread across five rooms, including the wonderful Wine Room and newly constructed Summer House, The Dining Room offers settings to suit all dining occasions and times of the day, from light lunches to wine tasting dinners. The menu is English at its core. We chose a favourite, lemon grilled dover sole with locally sourced fresh vegetables – simple but with enough cosmopolitan flair to tempt even the fussiest diner. Delicious!

Dining Room - Summer House

We were particularly intrigued by the Wine Room, which is both a working cellar and private dining area. Glancing through the wall of wine bottles carefully arranged for the enjoyment of guests, the cellar is illuminated by wine cabinets that contain some wonderful wines. This is not a pretentious cellar but a fun space either for private parties or wine tastings. Chewton holds regular Saturday night open tasting sessions available to all guests staying at the hotel, which provide an opportunity to taste an assortment of varied and interesting wines from around the globe. Cheers!

Dining Room - Wine Room

We wish the staff who make all their guests feel so special a very Happy New Year and a successful 2016.

Christmas Presents….

In the meantime, it’s nearly Christmas Day! Are you still in need of that important Christmas present? Take a look below at some of the perfect gifts available….

For Ladies That Lunch
Treat all of your friends and family to lunch this New Year. Banish the January blues with a three-course lunch for only £26.50 per person. The perfect gift to give on Christmas Day, something to enjoy even after the festivities have finished!

For Those Who Have It All
Give the gift of Chewton Glen this Christmas. From an indulgent champagne afternoon tea for two to a monetary gift voucher for them to spend on whatever they choose, why not buy that someone special a gift voucher this Christmas?

Chewton Glen Christmas Tree

For The Ones You Want To Impress
Buy them something different this year. Find out about Tiff Needell’s fast-paced Grand Prix racing career or listen to classic West End songs being sang to you over a delicious four-course dinner. Whatever their interest, there is a special event at Chewton Glen to suit everyone.

For The Ones You Love Best
Unsure what to buy that loved one that already has everything? Give them the gift of a spa day at Chewton Glen. Enjoy a breakfast box on arrival, selected treatment, lunch, refreshments and full use of the spa and leisure facilities. The perfect start to the new year!

For more information, visit www.chewtonglen.com.

Bohème – A Secret Sanctuary of Style By Caroline Phillips

Image © Unique Home Stays

Image © Unique Home Stays

Bohème. Does the very name conjure up thoughts of Puccini’s opera? Well, think again. Because this Bohème is actually one of the loveliest self-catering houses in Somerset. Say the word, ‘Bohème.’ And imagine now a converted sixteenth century former cider mill turned drop-dead stylish, modern-rustic house. Say ‘Bohème’ and imagine instead a place that was also an erstwhile dairy farm and now blends original features with contemporary dash and comfort.

Image © Unique Home Stays

Image © Unique Home Stays

I’m loath to divulge its whereabouts. It’s one of those places I’d like to keep secret. It’s just so perfect for everything from extended family occasions to hen shindigs and even office parties. Oh, all right…It’s in Stawley – just over the Devon border – and set at the end of a long farm lane, midst 100 acres of green and pleasant land. A place so peaceful you can hear a field mouse squeak. The stuff of which rural idylls are made.

Image © Unique Home Stays

Image © Unique Home Stays

My family and friends stride out into the fields with our Boxer – well-behaved dogs are welcome to stay – the winter sun smiling on our faces. We clamber over farm gates and see cotton-wool-fluffy lambs bleating and suckling. (For as far as we can walk, the estate belongs to PJ and Minky Luard, the delightful owners of Bohème). Later, we wander down the drive, this time to the River Tone – with its small waterfalls – and St Michael and All Angels, a church that dates from the 13th century.

Image © Unique Home Stays

Image © Unique Home Stays

Back at the house, there’s an indoor pool with picture window onto the rolling hills, a 25-metre kitchen/dining area with 20 red chairs surrounding a refectory table, acres of bleached wood floors and miles of under-floor heating, and a barn-size games room with pool table, comfy sofas and a wall for projecting movies from the snazziest bit of techie equipment.

Image © Unique Home Stays

Image © Unique Home Stays

Then there are the ten double bedrooms: ones that have a kind of chalet vibe with their white-on-white and wood, including one known informally as ‘the love nest.’ (It’s up a secret staircase, and is as private and comfortable as can be). Plus there’s a pretty courtyard and, at the front of the house, views that put Heaven to shame.

Image © Unique Home Stays

Image © Unique Home Stays

Most of the time we do nothing, bar the occasional lazy lap in the pool (it’s heated to 86 degrees) and playing games of cards and Scrabble and sitting reading in front of a roaring log fire (in the coolest concrete, contemporary fireplace). Somerset cider plays a starring role. We take our indolence to new heights by having massage, reflexology and facial treatments from My Personal Sanctuary, mobile therapists who put the ‘ah’ into ‘spa.’

Image © Unique Home Stays

Image © Unique Home Stays

The therapists are tip-top and offer luxurious treatments. (MPS have a national network and offer their services in exclusive rental properties). There’s something so gratifyingly slothful about being in a country house and padding around in a fluffy white dressing gown, popping onto a heated couch and having a Neal’s Yard geranium back scrub before being slathered in lavender oil for a massage.

Image © Unique Home Stays

Image © Unique Home Stays

In the evening, Sam Rom caters for us. He used to be the head chef at River Cottage. He specialises in culinary idiosyncrasies like squirrels on toast and wild boar porchetta in trotter stock. Nose to tail eating. ‘I like the cuts that most people don’t use,’ he says cheerily. Afterwards, with full tummies and soaring hearts, my family and guests tumble into our comfortable beds and sleep round the clock.

Bohème. The opera’s great. But the staycation? There’s little to beat it.

Further Information

For further information about Bohème, click here, or call +44(0) 1637 881183.

Caroline Phillips is an award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to publications from Sunday and daily newspapers to glossy magazines and various luxury websites. To see more of her work, go to www.carolinephillips.net.

Escape To The City At St. James’s Hotel – Absolutely Fabulous! By Isabel Donnelly

With its perfect location moments from Mayfair, The Royal Academy, Fortnum & Mason and St. James’s Palace, plus its Michelin starred restaurant, it is easy to understand why people say St. James’s Hotel is one of the most desired addresses in London.

St. James's Hotel

On this occasion, I was lucky to not only spend a day with my girlfriend doing what girls like to do – lunching and shopping – but also to spend an evening at the hotel in one of their superior suites. Upon arrival, we were swept swiftly up by private lift to the St. James’s Suite on the seventh floor with magnificent views of the Elizabeth Tower and the Millennium wheel.

Westminster Suite Terrace

The décor immediately puts you in a relaxed mood in a wonderful home-away-from-home setting, complete with designer fireplace and Bose speakers. I jumped into a huge Jacuzzi bath which comes equipped with delicious-smelling Penhaligon’s products, which offered much-needed respite after a long day shopping in nearby Bond Street!

Bathroom

For art lovers, the hotel boasts an impressive private art collection of more than 450 paintings, pictures and sculptures. Called the Rosenstein Collection, this spectacular showcase is a brilliant display of 20th century works from across Europe. With art and pastels adorning the walls, it is truly understated elegance and sophistication.

Art Collection

As cocktail hour beckoned, we headed downstairs for the delicious concoctions on offer at the bar, and also for the popcorn which apparently changes flavour every day. We were told that the one of the hotel’s highlights is their cheese, wine or chocolate masterclasses. Sommelier Christophe Thuilot has extremely trustworthy taste buds and his unconventional pairings give a new twist to the classic cheese board.

Bar And Bistro

In the last few years, London has become arguably the culinary capital of the world, and the hotel’s Michelin starred restaurant, Seven Park Place By William Drabble, certainly enhances that reputation. The smallest Michelin starred restaurant in London, the dining area has been stylishly designed, and the staff here are highly professional. The restaurant recently retained its star for the sixth year running, and William’s menu is influenced by classic French cuisine but made using only the very best British produce. The provenance of each dish is derived from either a local farm or caught fresh from the sea.

Seven Park Place

We were lucky enough to sample a Menu Gourmand of seven dishes, showcasing William’s new truffle and game inspired menu. The evening included insight into the best way to cook with these fine ingredients from William himself, but also from one of his all-time favourite suppliers, John Houldsworth of Cornvale Food, part of the Gressingham Duck Company.

Seven Park Place

As delicious as the meat courses – such as marmite of game with truffle – proved to be, special mention must go to the truffle ice-cream port wine reduction dessert, which was mouth-watering! This really was a perfect way to end the evening, and we retired by our private lift to our suite, where I slept like a princess in my sumptuous bed. A memorable stay in a memorable hotel.

St. James's Suite Bedroom

In the run-up to Christmas, the hotel is offering the unique opportunity to experience an exclusive tour of London on a horse-drawn carriage whilst enjoying a luxurious overnight stay in a Junior Suite. This is an unmissable chance to discover all that the city can offer, and a bespoke tour can include a trip through one of the Royal Parks, or to Buckingham Palace or Westminster Cathedral. Each tour lasts two and a half hours, and the offer is valid until 30th December 2015, subject to availability, with rates starting from £995.

www.stjameshotelandclub.com

St. James's Hotel In The Snow

St. James’s Park

St. James’s Park is an easy stroll from the hotel, where the park’s wildlife officers feed the pelicans every day at 2.30pm. The Serpentine Gallery, which hosts regular events and exhibitions of cutting-edge art and sculpture, is at the far end of the park. You’re also very close to the Institute of Contemporary Arts and, of course, Buckingham Palace.

Escape To Venice By Fiona Sanderson

“Aman Canal Grande Venice is a hotel, it is a Palazzo, and it is also a home, a very grand one, but still a home…”

Aman Venice from the Grand Canal

Venice is undoubtedly one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in the world. Built on water and steeped in history, Venice is a fabled destination with a glorious past. Once a major power and flourishing trade centre in the Mediterranean, Venice today is known for its architecture and its artworks. The city plays host to several internationally-renowned events including the annual Carnival, the Venice Film Festival and the Art and Architectural Biennales.

View of Venice from Altana

The flow of life and history in the city, for both visitors and Venetians, is measured out by the Torre Dell ‘Orologio – the Clock Tower and its large astronomical clock, masterpieces of technology and engineering that date from 1499. Venice is also home to the Piazza San Marco and Saint Mark’s Basilica, but it is perhaps the Grand Canal that is the city’s most iconic feature, which is lined with buildings that are between 200 and 700 years old.

Canal view

I was lucky enough to be invited to stay at the Aman Canal Grande Venice – the place that George Clooney recently chose for his wedding – which is situated near the Rialto Bridge in one of these regal old palazzos, at the heart of the city in the San Polo district (one of the oldest parts of the city, known for its beautiful palaces, churches and the Rialto Market). The Aman Canal Grande Venice has recently undergone a 35 million Euro major restoration project, which has meticulously returned the palazzo back to its former glory, and you are instantly transformed back in time to one of Venetian splendour. The palazzo in which the hotel is housed, Palazzo Papadopoli, was built in 1550 by the architect Gian Giacomo dé Grigi.

Pier

One of only eight palazzo monumentali on the Grand Canal, I arrived by boat from the airport, docking at a landing that leads directly into the lofty-ceilinged Reception Hall. From here, a sweeping staircase rises through two levels to the first piano nobile, traditionally the grandest floor of a palazzo that the resident family would use for entertaining (at the Aman Canal Grande Venice, unusually for a Venetian Palazzo, there are two piano nobile floors). The decorations of the first piano nobile are significant examples of the Neo-Renaissance and Rococo styles that were all the rage in 19th century Venice. The Ballroom, the Bar, the Red Dining Room and the Yellow Dining Room all have soaring ceilings with original frescoes, Murano glass chandeliers, ornate stucco, gilded mirrors, silk wall coverings, terrazzo floors – and spectacular views of the Grand Canal. These breathtakingly beautiful spaces have hosted some of the grandest of parties over the centuries.

Ballroom

The second piano nobile is home to the Salon; a regal, high-ceilinged entertaining room featuring a grand piano and wonderful views across Venice. The historic Library, adjacent to the Salon, is a peaceful retreat with a range of interesting books taken directly from the Count Giberto Arrivabene Gonzaga’s collection.

Aman Venice

The privilege of space in the Palazzo extends to the Gardens, very unusual features in Venice. The beautiful gardens here are a green oasis of calm in this historic district, with water all about. In the summer months, they provide shady outdoor spaces for dining and entertaining and are very popular, I am told.

Aman Garden

The Aman Canal Grande Venice offers 24 suites, all of which are unique in layout and design. Many feature frescoes, reliefs and chandeliers that reflect the past periods of art and architecture.

Suite Tiepolo

I wanted a morning off and went to try out the Spa and a facial with Aman’s specially prepared beauty products. I must say that I cannot think of anywhere more serene to have one of the best facials I have ever had. With a combination of reflexology and beautiful creams and scents, the beauty therapist worked her magic and sent me to heaven and back.

Spa

The Aman signature is one of luxurious minimalism. Whether it’s in the Spa or in the rooms, every detail is meticulously thought out. It could be the comfort and freshness of the muted décor, or those little extras such as fresh lemons and ice left for your evening gin and tonic, or the little gifts that really make you feel special. This is true luxury at its best.

Aman Venice Red Dining Room

With so many restaurants surrounding the Palace, it’s easy to wander out of the hotel for dinner but I was keen to try the hotel’s own Red Dining Room and a meal prepared by Chef Davide Oldani. He turned out to be most charming of men and prepared the most delicious meal of locally caught fish with all the authentic Italian flavours. The menu offered a delight of choices. If only I could stay for another night….

Aman Venice Dining Table

Venice is full or colour, music and entertainment particularly at Carnival time. I was told that the Aman can arrange costumes, clowns and dancers if needed. For flowers and decorations, they work with the most wonderful florists here in Venice, who can create dazzling arrangements (in fact, the signature flower – the white amaryllis – is everywhere in the Palazzo, in hand-blown Murano glass vases). Everyone loves candles and for special events, the team at the Aman will go to town, with candles throughout the hotel, placed under the twinkling lights of the chandeliers. To recreate a Carnival evening, they work with Venetian ateliers who can provide costumes for every guest, to be waiting in their rooms on arrival. What did I say, true luxury and service at its best!

Aman Venice

Venice is a place for walking so of course, despite the beauty and elegance of the hotel, no trip to the city would be complete without exploring it in all its magnificent glory. But first, you must get lost! Head out the back gate of the Palazzo and start wandering. It really doesn’t matter which way you go – there is beauty to be found in all directions. I was lucky to be guided by Filippo di Lenardo, Managing Director at Elite RetrEat Italia, who knows all there is to know about hidden Venice, its restaurants and attractions. Filippo sent me to meet Mauro Vianello, a glass-maker, who took me through the art of glass and how to make the perfect shell. It was fascinating, and is what Venice is all about. I also tried Filippo’s restaurant suggestions which really completed my trip.

Venice

I will certainly remember my visit to this stylish and grand Palazzo Papadopoli, and the friendliness of the Aman staff. Where else will you get the impression that you have chanced on a house party in a grand and civilised Venetian home?

A Few of Our Favourite Things In Venice

  • Getting very lost!
  • The slipper stern of the Aman boat
  • The Pala D’Oro at the Basilica San Marco
  • San Germaine Royale in the Blue Bar
  • Shells from the lagoon: razor clams, soft-shell crabs, and tiny scallops
  • The Redentore fireworks
  • The Canova tomb at the Frari
  • The Campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore
  • Cycling the Lido to Alberoni
  • Sunday pastry at Rizzardinis
  • Dinner Osteria Santa Marina
  • Lunch at 1 Vini da Gigio
  • The hands of the little marble monk in the Miracoli Church
  • The cicchettis at Schiavi

Further Information

AMAN CANAL GRANDE VENICE
Palazzo Papadopoli
Calle Tiepolo 1364
Sestiere San Polo
Venezia 30125
Italy
Tel: (39) 041 2707333
E-mail: amancanalgrandevenice@amanresorts.com
Website: www.aman.com/resorts/aman-venice

MAURO VIANELLO
A great artisan and glass-maker: www.glasshandmade.com

BEVILAQUA
A top Italian artisan with amazing works: www.luigi-bevilacqua.com

ELITE RETREAT ITALIA
Filippo di Lenardo, Managing Director at Elite RetrEat Italia
Tel: +44 (0) 207 460 1098
Mob: +44 (0) 753 925 4387
E-mail: filippo@eliteretreatitalia.com
Website: www.eliteretreatitalia.com

Marrakech – A Visualisation of The Past And Future By Ramy Salameh

La Maison du Photographie

With the Marrakech Museum for Photography and Visual Art (MMPVA) scheduled to open in 2016 and a temporary photographic exhibition housed in El Badi Palace, Marrakech is blossoming as a centre for the arts. Ramy Salameh explores one of the world’s most photogenic destinations through its timeless heritage….

Standing on the roof terrace of Maison de le Photographie and looking out toward the majestic snowy peaks of the Atlas Mountains, standing like sentries over the city of Marrakech, I realised that Morocco’s second oldest imperial city has not changed much over the centuries and that there are two levels of life in Marrakech — the one that takes place on ground level and the one that takes place on the flat roof terraces.

Ben Youssef Madrasa

The gallery was inaugurated in 2009, housing a collection of 8,000 original prints and postcards within a building that encapsulated much of what makes Marrakech so enchanting. Its location is in the northern quarter of the souk, near Madressa Ben Youseff, hidden behind one of the many unassuming Marrakechi doors within the medina; thus it remains a relatively well-kept secret to stumble upon. This was to be a recurring pattern throughout my stay.

Maison de la Photographie charts the early journey of the medium in Morocco from the late 19th century through to the middle of the 20th century. The early pioneers of photography within the region first came to Tangiers, which was seen as the gateway capital before making their way to Marrakech. These exquisite images captured the very essence of the country through the eyes and architecture of its citizens.

La Maison du Photographie

And so it was that these stills, hanging from the stark white walls, allowed me to compare the city in the early 1900s with the present day. Very little has changed within the walled city, the same sun-weathered faces peer from beneath hooded djellabas and the atmospheric beams of light that cut through the wooden slats of the covered souk, are still to be found within the labyrinthine warren of alleys of the old city. Similarly, the only high rise feature of the cityscape are the square minarets, whose design can be traced to the Umayyad rulers of Islamic Spain. During the call to prayer, the roof terraces are the places to be, as the first Imam sets off a domino effect that bounces from minaret to minaret across the city until it creates some unity of religious devotion.

The photography gallery is housed in an ancient Fondouk. Whilst not having the religious significance of a mosque, or the political importance of a Palace, the ‘‘Fondouks’’ (the word ‘‘Funduk’’ is still often used today for ‘‘hotel’’ in Arabic) played an important role in the medieval market life of the souk, to help stimulate the passage of trade for the passing caravans. Today, they are the workshops of artisans who dye leather, hammer metal work or serve as small bakeries.

La Masion du Photographie

From my perch on the terrace café of the gallery, I peered over a side railing to see a young Moroccan boy laying out rows of tanned leather hides upon the roof of the neighbouring tannery, to allow them to be dried by the sun, part of an age-old tradition. In the distance, the Koutoubia Mosque’s minaret is one of the great landmarks of the city, and is also one of the oldest, dating to the 12th century and thanks to old French colonial legislation (that no building in the medina should be above the height of a palm tree), provides the ideal reference point above the maze of the souk.

As with most fondouks and riads, the footprint of the building is based around the central courtyard, beautifully tiled and featuring a central water fountain, both of which are open to the elements and allowed to interact with bright sunlight that funnels down into the central area. This cascade of light bounces off the glass-framed images adorning the gallery walls, creating a series of reflections placing the zellij mosaic tiles and arabesque stained-glass windows of the building with these early ancestors. Whether by clever design or coincidence, this fusion is illuminating.

La Maison du Photographie

The maze of alleyways are the ventricles of the old city, where modern caravans of trade and life continue to pass through. The tightly-packed stalls use every inch of available space to design, drape and display their wares; everything from babouche pointed slippers to fanous lanterns and leather bags, to antiques and perfumes. But the most eye-catching are the colourful rows of spice stalls, all offering the same sculpture of fresh dates, almonds, pistachios, melon seeds, cumin, cinnamon and much more. The chequer board of produce is piled high like pyramids, engulfing the vendor who pokes his head through a solitary gap between his mountainous local fare.

The contrast of aromas overlap, mix and change as you move from district to district, each one specialising in traditional crafts. The most distinctive smell emanates from the famous Tanneries district, located in the north east of the medina just next to Rue de Bab Debbagh. The process of fermenting, colouring and drying the hides is a fascinating spectacle, but also one that requires a sprig of mint positioned under the nose.

Souk

However puzzling the souk’s alleys may appear, they eventually lead to Djemaa El-Fna square, designated and considered by UNESCO as a ‘‘masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.’’ There can be no better description of the uniqueness of Marrakech’s famous central forum. It is, of course, the most visited part of the city by tourists and the daily ritual of snake charmers, dancers, tooth pullers, highly decorative water sellers and followers is hyped to lure the tourist dollar, yet every component has its roots in the historical fabric of the city. As night descends and the food stalls move into prime position, they become a hive of activity. Steam and smoke ascend into the night air along with the rhythmic drumming coming from the huddles of people crowding around performers. Locals and visitors sit down in the square’s alfresco setting for the renowned Tagines or Harira soup, which is a spicy blend of tomato, lentil and chickpea, to contemplate and cogitate over their busy day. So it seems natural for one of the most photogenic places in the world to be the home of MMPVA, expected to be one of the world’s biggest photography galleries. Marrakech is most definitely visualising the future.

We stayed at Le Naoura Barriere. For further information about Marrakech, go to www.visitmorocco.com.

Escape To Es Saadi – A Passion For Art And Detail By Fiona Sanderson

“The utmost pleasure of an Art Collector is to share his passion with other Art Lovers and as many people as possible” – Elisabeth Bauchet-Bouhlal, Président Directeur Général, Es Saadi Palace Gardens & Resort, Marrakech, Morocco

Es Saadi

The Luxury Channel was delighted to meet Elisabeth and her family, who run the Es Saadi estate and whose exquisite taste has produced something quite unique in the heart of Morocco. We spent time with her to explore her passion for art, and find out why Es Saadi has become such a success….

Es Saadi

Situated in the heart of Marrakech, Es Saadi Palace Gardens & Resort is located close to both the bustling, history-filled Medina and the quiet of the Hivernage neighbourhood in a peaceful backdrop of lush greenery. The resort resonates with the beating heart of the city and the calm of a remote oasis. The Es Saadi Palace was built by Moroccan architect Aziz Lamghar, who studied at l’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and has 84 suites and 8 Ksars, which are two story Berber-inspired villas. The Oriental architecture and design of the Palace is based on the ancient Palaces of Marrakesh, and every detail of the interior has been inspired by a love of art and design, overseen by Elisabeth and her team.

Es Saadi

Elisabeth designed the interiors as though they were her own home, using antiques from around the world that she and her husband had collected. “We had a dream and didn’t know what it was,” she told me, “but when something beautiful comes along, you have to take it.”

Es Saadi

The resort was originally created in 1966 by Jean Bauchet, not long after the Casino de Marrakech was built in 1952 (the first casino in Africa, and currently the only casino outside the US that welcomes the World Poker Tournament). The resort has been passed down through three generations of the Bauchet family and today, founder Jean Bauchet’s daughter Elisabeth Bauchet-Bouhlal and grandson Jean-Alexandre Bauchet-Bouhlal (along with Jean-Alexandre’s wife Caroline) lead the management of the resort.

Es Saadi

“The hotel has been a success since the beginning,” Elisabeth tells me proudly. “When we opened, we were new – rather like a boutique hotel today. From the beginning, people came to our hotel because it was different and it was trendy, and in the sixties, everything was changing. My father knew that if you opened a place, you had to get photographs of it in the papers, and the best way of doing that was to get well-known people and VIPs photographed there. That’s why we had the Rolling Stones stay here for two weeks, so there were pictures in the press!”

Es Saadi

Elisabeth’s family roots are in France rather than Morocco, but she clearly feels that this has only aided the success of the resort. “It was fashionable,” she tells me. “It was French people coming with new ideas, great cuisine and good service.” So how did the Bauchet family end up in Marrakech? After moving from a village in the north of France to Paris in the fifties, at the age of just 24, Jean Bauchet wound up working at the world-famous Lido, frequented at the time by the Pasha of Marrakech. Recognising Bauchet’s talents, the Pasha suggested he might want to do something in Marrakech – and so it was that the seed of an idea had been planted in Bauchet’s mind. “He definitely fell in love with Marrakech,” Elisabeth smiles. “It was different then, and it was love at first sight. But Marrakech has always had something different.”

Es Saadi

Elisabeth herself, however, didn’t move to Marrakech until she was 23. “As a child, I wasn’t brought up here,” she says, looking around at the hotel that is now her home. “I was living in Paris, and that was our home. When I first came here, I actually wanted to be an interpreter, but my father said no, you’re going to work for the family – and it was a time when you didn’t say no to your father!”

Es Saadi

Jean Bauchet’s dream was achieved by investing the money he had made as an artist living in Paris, but this artistic background has had a massive impact on the way the resort has developed and grown. “My father knew a lot of artists, and he also knew how difficult it was for them to live and to paint, to really find the time to do what they liked, because they had to earn a living doing something else,” Elisabeth says. “My father felt he had to help them. He gave a monthly salary to young artists and at the end of the year, they would give him a painting. We would go and choose what we liked, which was nice. My father was always interested in art, so he bought famous paintings, more expensive paintings, but he wanted to help the young artists succeed too. They did a lot of modern art, abstract art, which was rather new and people weren’t so accustomed to it. Today, though, Moroccan art is flourishing and it’s amazing. I’ve always supported it.”

Fatima Hassan El Farrouj

Indeed, the family philosophy behind the entire resort is to support local and authentic design in order to maintain the spirit of a city steeped in culture, heritage and tradition, thus creating an homage to the best of Morocco. The art collection now numbers some 400 different pieces, including abstract paintings, large sculptures and interesting frescoes from a range of young emerging artists and renowned Moroccan talent, reflecting the diversity and culture of modern Morocco.

Es Saadi

Aside from the art, what else is Es Saadi famous for? Well, the beautiful and reinvigorating Spa, for one thing! “What is important to us is to give people the feeling of being in an Arabian dream for a while, and to escape the stress of everyday life,” Elisabeth says. The Spa is certainly the place for doing just that, with 24 treatment rooms spread over three floors, including a Dior Institute – one of only two in the world. Bliss! We particularly liked the Moroccan hammams, inspired by ancient Oriental traditions in stunning eastern décor with mosaic zellige fountains and stuccoed cupolas. The perfect place to hide away and be primped, polished and pampered! It’s no surprise to hear that the Spa won at the World Luxury Spa Awards last year.

Es Saadi Spa

Another highlight of the trip was a hot air balloon ride, courtesy of Ciel d’Afrique. We left Es Saadi before dawn and drove to the countryside, where two balloons took off as dawn broke. The views of the Atlas Mountains were simply stunning, and we then enjoyed a delicious Berber breakfast on descent.

Hot Air Balloon

All too soon, though, my Arabian dream came to an end and I left Morocco and the beauty of the resort behind – although this perfect combination of the two cultures of France and Morocco, married with authentic Moroccan design and five star customer service means that I won’t be leaving it behind for long. A return visit most assuredly beckons.

For further information about Es Saadi, please visit www.essaadi.com. For further information about Ciel d’Afrique, please visit www.cieldafrique.info.

Les Prés d’ Eugénie By Antonia Peck

Experience gourmet cuisine whilst whittling your waist in the historical spa town of Les Prés d’ Eugénie….

Chaîne thermale

The hotel and spa of Les Prés d’ Eugénie has established itself and taken flight as one of the leading wellness destinations in France under the stewardship of the talented Guérard family. Whether you’re looking for Michelin starred cuisine, great hospitality and spa treatments based on the natural sulphur waters found in the Landes region, there is something here for everyone looking for peaceful rejuvenation.

Chaîne thermale

Family-owned and evidently loved, the chateau and adjacent hotels were originally bought by Christine Guérard’s father, Adrian Barthelemy, and under her direction were re-opened as part of the Relais & Chateau group. The family have been revealing the alchemy of the healing properties of the natural landscape in all its glory since the 1970s.

Jardin

The spa attracts those wanting to lose weight in the manner of the Empress Eugenie, the spa town’s namesake and unofficial patron, whose repeat visits made the therapeutic qualities of the waters famous across France. When Christine married the 3 Michelin starred and celebrated chef Michel Guérard, his nouvelle cuisine and slimming menu worked in perfect harmony to provide guests with the ultimate cure. Today people visit as much for the spa’s curative waters as for the truly exceptional culinary delights.

Guerard Gourmet

The Spa – La Ferme Thermale

The spa is housed in a fairytale farmhouse that takes inspiration from the popular, rustic architectural fantasies of the nineteenth century so popular amongst the nobility and European elite.
It is surrounded by a beautiful rose and herb garden that immediately appealed to my romantic sensibilities, providing an aesthetic harmony as well as a source of produce for the kitchen. Herbs are collected daily, with bouquets given to you before you bathe in the spa’s sulphur-rich waters. The French Medicine Academy consider Eugenie’s thermal waters to be particularly effective for the treatment of rheumatic and metabolic diseases, due to their rich sulphur content, which is recommended for inflammatory pain and to help the liver deal with blood sugar and fat.

Chaîne thermale

The treatment rooms are some of the prettiest I have ever reviewed, and touches such as portraits of the hotel’s namesake Empress Eugenie and gold duck-faced taps add to the enchantment. However, this is also a spa that means serious business – some of the water treatments are far less relaxing than I anticipated! Each guest is prescribed a bespoke programme and, to be fair, the doctor did warn me that this treatment was painful but yielded great results. So for the purpose of journalistic endeavour, I was game. The reality of the situation I faced involved being naked against the stark tiles in nothing but a frilly shower cap having my thighs and stomach ‘‘needled’’ via a water jet. It was sharp, raw and made me feel vulnerable and exposed. But if you want to lose weight, the spa recommends the needle shower that triggers lymph and blood circulation helping to break down toxins and fat – no pain, no gain, as they say! Thankfully, the spa technician was delightful and charming throughout the ordeal, which took some of the edge off. In any case, it made the other treatments on my schedule all the more luxurious and enjoyable.

Salon

These included the indulgent, peaceful sulphur baths, a soak in the white mud pool – where I floated in suspended animation feeling like a classical statue – and an exceptional Decleor aromatherapy facial. All are an absolute must on your bucket list of spa treatments! My programme was exceptionally crafted to my every need. I had arrived at the spa in need of a little tender love and post-baby care. I wanted to lose some weight and soothe my aching muscles. The combination of the spa routine and the food menu meant that I was successful in whittling 1.5 inches off my waist and my skin felt much smoother. The most noticeable effect was the absence of muscular pain in my neck. Three months later and I am still free of neck pain, which is nothing short of miraculous, as I have tried everything in pursuit of a cure. Was it really that I had a sulphur deficiency? Are the curative powers of the water that strong? I can honestly say an emphatic yes! Sulphur is the 8th most common element in the human body. It is critical for metabolism so a deficiency damages fat and muscle cells, making them glucose intolerant. Sulphur is both anti-parasitic, anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory.

Chaîne thermale

Guests are encouraged to play tennis, swim, explore the grounds and keep physically active so that they have a bon appetite for the exceptional culinary delights that are on offer here. The beauty of the grounds and the facilities allow for this, and provide good soul food. I found the serenity of the pool especially satisfying and there is a personal training team in place for those who need an extra nudge.

Salle de restaurant

Michel Guérard Cuisine

Guérard has had his 3 Michelin stars for 39 years and deservedly so. The food at Les Prés d’ Eugénie is exceptional. So exceptional, that I was perfectly willing to scupper my vain attempt to stick entirely to the slimming cuisine for the five days. Luckily, a feast day was included in the programme. It would be too tempting otherwise! Guérard understands the psychology, stating that ‘‘every human being functions with pleasure in mind. Nobody truly wants to live an ascetic life for slimness and health. But everybody wants both.’’

Guerard

Actually, there were some main courses from the slimming menu that were just as tantalizing as those found on the gourmet menu. Michel Guérard’s slimming cuisine is delicious and divine, whilst skilfully weighing in at around 600 calories per meal. The slimming menu changes every day and includes a starter, main course and dessert. Examples of the main courses could include: champvallon lamb with thyme, creamy risotto of vegetables with shrimps, sea bass ceviche with mango, Paris-Brest with chicory, and more than 200 other guilt-free recipes!

Guerard Restaurant

I didn’t fully follow my programme (I said yes to bread and champagne, and the irresistible gourmet breakfasts). I had travelled with my young son and mother, and the epicurean delights on offer were a crucial part of the healing vibes I craved. However, Guérard’s philosophy (encapsulated in his book Michel Guerard’s Cuisine Minceur) highlights the essence of well-crafted slimming cuisine and I certainly brought these ideas back to my own kitchen at home.

The Key Principles:
• Seasoning is paramount
• Choose the correct cooking method (i.e. steaming, in papillote)
• Keep your diet as varied as possible
• Increase the proportion of vegetables
• Herbs add variety
• Dieting does not mean sacrificing style (i.e. display food beautifully!)
• Remember you are feeding body and soul – you are what you eat!

Chaîne thermale

Harder to recreate at home is the exceptional service on offer and the sheer charm of the staff. They are all are so cordial, helpful and elegant. The Maître D’, Emmanuel Perignon, enchanted our dining experience on every occasion. He even made sure my 18-month-old son’s food was served on a silver platter and took him for little walks around the restaurant! The staff are an extremely positive reflection on the hotel and testament to the Guérard family. Who could not love working for a man who feels the vocation of his work and says things such as: “I cook the way a bird sings – free, clear, light, cheerful, ethereal, calm, silky, smooth….I play with the joy of flavours the way Mozart used to play with notes – impertinently, inquisitively and poetically.” A stay at Les Prés d’ Eugénie will make you feel this way too!

Contact

Les Prés d’Eugénie Michel Guérard
334 Rue René Vielle
40320 Eugénie-les-Bains
France
www.michelguerard.com

Sofitel Wine Days In Amsterdam By Harriet O'Grady

Amsterdam sits on the edge of our collective unconscious. We have all heard of its canals, the tall, narrow gabled houses, its innumerable bridges and bicycles, the red light district where the girls sit in windows and the “pot” cafes. Amsterdam, as I discovered on my first visit in early October, is all these things and more. As well as its fabled museums, which house the great collections of Rembrandts and Van Goghs, this is also a 21st Century city with the streamline architecture of The Eye and Renzo Piano’s Nemo that resembles a vast green ship.

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam Hotel

I came to Amsterdam at the invitation of Sofitel for a seminar on wine. This year, Amsterdam was chosen to launch Sofitel Wine Days 2015, a programme of events and activities that celebrates French wine, art-de-vivre and gastronomy throughout the Sofitel global hotel portfolio. These wine days have been going for many years and take place during the traditional harvest season, enabling guests to discover French wines at Sofitel hotels around the world through events such as dinners with French wine makers, wine appreciation classes and wine-based cocktail nights.

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam Hotel

The seminar took place at the very exclusive 5 star Hotel The Grand Amsterdam, one of Sofitel’s 5 Legend hotels. The very tall and charming general manager, Remco Groenhuijzen, explained that The Grand had been, in the 17th Century, the headquarters of the Dutch Admiralty. In the 19th Century, the building became the City Hall before being transformed into a hotel in 1998. The City Hall period was an interesting one. Various works were commissioned for the building that are considered today of artistic importance and have preservation orders on them. Sofitel is proud of this heritage and has gone to great trouble and expense to restore and preserve these works. Close to the hotel’s one star Michelin fish restaurant, Bridges, stands a 1949 mural, “Questioning Children” by Karel Appel of the Cobra movement. Meanwhile the vast Council Chamber was entirely redecorated in 1924 with stained glass, wood panelling, Murano glass lights and fine examples of Art Deco carved wooden figures. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands was married here in 1966.

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam Hotel

But the cherry on the cake must surely be the room where the seminar took place. This is the Marriage Chamber, completed in 1926. It is still used to celebrate marriages. I don’t think I have ever seen anything quite like it. Every inch of the ceiling was painted in intricate patterns, the walls covered with life size (albeit slightly menacing) Art Deco figures celebrating man and woman’s journey from childhood to marriage, the whole thing in a predominant colour of viridian green. The artist Chris Lebeau, an eccentric figure, shut himself up with his assistant for two years in this room, not allowing anyone access until the work was completed.

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam Hotel

Within these extraordinary surroundings the seminar took place, hosted by Enrico Bernardo, Worldwide Best Sommelier 2004. He set out the conclusions of a global study involving seven countries (France, China, Russia, India, Australia and Brazil) carried out by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) to define how people appreciate wine. The IFOP study found that 76% of those canvassed drink wine. Interestingly, 92% of women in China drink wine, mainly white wine or champagne. 33% of people choose fine wines for special occasions. 51% of people in the study still associate wine with France.

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam Hotel

Enrico, who had originally trained as a chef, realises the importance of matching wine with food. He has also noticed a significant shift in the way that we drink alcohol. The young (20 to 25 year olds) have moved from strong spirits to wine. Ten years ago, one person would choose the wine for lunch or dinner, mainly Bordeaux. Today, 64% of people choose wine to go with their choice of food. There is also a trend to drink important wines in a simple way – i.e. at a bar with finger food.

Ink Hotel Amsterdam

We were given an example of a Sofitel Wine Days dinner with accompanying wines. The sommelier explained why a particular wine had been chosen for a particular dish – either to complement or enhance the flavours. For example, Cour cheverny DeDe, Philippe Tessier, 2009 was served with red mullet, smoked capsicum jus and sourdough, whereas Meursault-Perrieres, Germain, 2009 was served with turbot and lobster, girolle and truffle.

Ink Hotel Amsterdam

I was put up at a new 149 bedroom 4 star hotel called The Ink which, along with Sofitel, belongs to the Accor Group. The general manager, Joachim de Looij, who was involved from the conception of the hotel to its completion, is 30 years old and the youngest hotel manager in the group. The hotel was opened in April and was completed in just four and a half months, which can only confirm the Dutch reputation for hard work and industry. Every detail has been thought through, from the very comfortable beds to the cutlery on the table. There isn’t one note that jars. The hotel is a conversion of an old existing building once the home of the Dutch equivalent of The Times, hence the name The Ink. Everywhere there are reminders of its journalistic past, from the colour scheme of black and white to the books lining the shelves in the bar area, and the anagram above the reception desk.

Ink Hotel Amsterdam

Concrete Amsterdam, the architects, oversaw the conversion. Their intention was to bring the street, in other words Amsterdam, into the hotel, by using outside materials within. This theme is carried through from the bar which leads in an open plan to the dining area and to the kitchen, where you can watch chefs busy at work producing quality fresh food. The effect is to make you feel relaxed and takes away the usual stuffiness of a hotel. What you see is what you get – but in a very good way. The whole place is stylish and the happy waiters are attentive and friendly. One has to wonder if this hotel isn’t the way forward and that the traditional commercial type of hotel has maybe seen its day (as it does seem terribly old hat by comparison).

Ink Hotel Amsterdam

On this note, I shall end and say that I came away feeling revived and optimistic. Amsterdam, with its historic past and its modern day creativity, still has much to offer the rest of the world. It definitely begs a return visit to explore the old and the new.

For further information or to make a booking, visit Sofitel’s website here.

Clubbing By The Ocean At A Closing Party To Remember! By Hannah Norman

Ocean Club

“There ain’t no party like an Ocean Club party,” said probably no-one ever, but perhaps they ought to. A champagne-infused, black and gold-themed closing party ensured that Marbella’s biggest (and arguably best) night club destination had the season send-off it deserved, before everything shut down ready for re-opening on Friday 29th April next year.

Ocean Club

As far as summer party destinations go, Ibiza may have always held sway over everything else, but The Luxury Channel was only too pleased to accept an invitation to Ocean Club’s seasonal spectacular – and boy, are we glad we did! We were comfortably seated in the specially set-up VIP section, right by both the pool and the stage, with views out across the golden sand of the beach in front of us that had inspired the night’s theme. This was how to do summer clubbing in luxury, glamour and style – and it was a seriously slick operation. The champagne was flowing all night – literally – and so attentive were the waiters that my glass was never empty. The level of customer service was simply seamless.

Ocean Club

There were endless plates of sumptuous gourmet, with every palate catered for. Fresh sushi? Check. Spicy chicken? Check. Huge random dollops of mozzarella? Yep, check. As the sun went down over the Mediterranean, and the stars and the disco lights went up (we were sleeping aids outside, after all, making the most of the southern Spanish weather), the atmosphere crackled with anticipation of the night to come – and we certainly weren’t disappointed.

Ocean Club

We were welcomed by opulently dressed girls reminiscent of an Arabian harem, before the Club’s resident DJs – Eduardo Reyes, B-NY and Nilo Contreras – took to the decks to get the party started. We were lucky enough to get to watch street dancing troops Danseurs Fantastiques and Young Boyzz warm up, and as impressive as this was, this proved a poor substitute for their spectacular performances on stage, with tricks and flips (and at one point, ropes of fire) that had to be seen to be believed.

Ocean Club

However, the highlight of the night had to be a group known as Disco Bandits. A fusion of violin, sax and electronic music, this was a brilliant mix of contemporary disco clashing headlong with traditional instrumental arrangement. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but it worked. Their interaction with the crowd – and indeed each other – had every single person on their feet.

Ocean Club

The event culminated in a spectacular pyrotechnic display to music, as impressive fireworks exploded across the sea front. We drained the last of our champagne, and the night (and the season itself) came to a close. Roll on next year. We can’t wait!

For more information, go to www.oceanclub.es.

The Changing Face of Belgrade: The New Cool By Ramy Salameh

Belgrade

Belgrade

Belgradians and Beirutis have a shared characteristic – they love to party, and their legendary nightlife has become part of the fabric of everyday life. The other common factor between the two cities is that they both went through devastating and destructive civil wars that remain in their recent history and psyche. The latter encouraged the former; when citizens of both cities lived through the daily threat of bombardment, the local nightlife industry boomed, taking clubbing to an art form. When the sound of battle subsided, the sound of DJs became louder, allowing a hedonistic social scene to get the global recognition it deserved.

Lasta, Belgrade

Lasta, Belgrade

Marko Savic, one of Belgrade’s key nightlife dynamos, is owner of Belgrade At Night and involved with Mikser Garden, a bar / design centre that is at the very heart of Savamala district; he says ‘‘the city is more alive than any other.’’ Mikser is also central to the district’s renaissance as a creative hub, as the former warehouse area of the bar exhibits the work of young designers that one can peruse whilst listening to the DJ play a classic set of 80s tunes amongst revellers outside.

Lasta, Belgrade

Lasta, Belgrade

Savic buzzes around the hipster crowd, joining clusters of young and beautiful Belgradians who are kicking their night off at Mikser before going to party into the early hours on the river boat clubs. One of the most popular nightclubs is Lasta, which pulsates with light and energy on the quayside. Savamala is ‘‘alternative rather than bohemian,’’ remarks Savic, which reminds me of a Serbian version of London’s Shoreditch. Just around the corner Berliner Bar spills revellers on to the pavement, and bunting zigzags from building to building in preparation for a beer festival. The vibe is cool, relaxed and representative of a young dynamic population.

Savamala's Berliner Bar

Savamala’s Berliner Bar

Neighbouring the hipster bars of Savamala the Belgrade waterfront development along the Sava riverbank, comprising of hotel, residential and commercial space, is defining the future. A model of the new development is housed within the Geozavod (Belgrade Cooperative Building), one of Savamala’s and Belgrade’s most beautiful architectural monuments, built between 1905 and 1907. It is ironic that the Geozavod now showcases the new waterfront architecture, because during the early 20th Century when the building foundations took shape, Serbia was a country demanding a renaissance in architectural style. Today, the Savamala district headlines a new spirit of design and innovation and will become the gleaming face of the capital’s future.

Belgrade Cooperative Building

Belgrade Cooperative Building

The city is ‘‘compact and everywhere is reachable,’’ Savic says, reminding me that the Bohemian quarter nearby is called ‘‘Skadarlija’’ – or Skadarska Street – and is no ordinary avenue. The simple gradient of winding cobbled alleys in the heart of Belgrade has always been the centre of life, popular with urban bohemians. The traditional Kafanas (bar and restaurants) have inspired many of Belgrade’s actors, poets, directors, painters, musicians and writers, but fundamentally, this is a place for music, dance and celebration. The care-free attitude can be seen on sign boards standing in front of bars, offering “Free Jokes, Free Hugs, Free Advice – Beer Is Paid For” which keeps a smile on the face of tourists and locals alike. The cobble stones give an indication of how Serbia may have looked in the 15th Century under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Belgradians fondness towards ‘‘Skadarlija’’ has preserved it from encroaching redevelopment.

Belgrade's Skadarlija District

Belgrade’s Skadarlija District

When the sun rises, the place to head for is Kalemegdan Citadel, Belgrade’s indefatible fortress. Centuries ago it was a defensive stronghold perched high above the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers and now is described as the heart and lungs of the city. The ancient walls, arches and ramparts still watch over the city and waterways, but with soft and tranquil eyes. The Citadel is Belgrade’s largest park and is an oasis of open verdant spaces, with pine trees shading the wooden benches that capture a rare breeze and a little peace in one of Europe’s most vibrant and energetic capitals.

Kalemegdan Citadel

Kalemegdan Citadel

For more information, go to www.serbia.travel.

Balearic Bliss By Scott Manson

48 hours in Ibiza is perfect, provided you’re travelling by private jet, says Scott Manson….

Image courtesy of aviation-images.com

Image courtesy of aviation-images.com

Full disclosure. This is not my first time on the White Isle. Nor is it my second. Or my third. I have been to this party island no fewer than 47 times, most of that in a previous life working for Ministry of Sound – the global clubbing brand.

Back then, life was lived in a fog of Marlboro smoke and Red Bull, with little chance of luxury, save for the occasional free glass of champagne in club VIP areas. This trip would address all that, giving me the sort of Balearic experience traditionally enjoyed by the likes of top international DJs and music artists, many of whom visit the island throughout the summer months.

Although a flying visit, it would take in a private jet, a ‘‘rock star’’ villa, a tasting menu at a top restaurant and a night of partying at Pacha, one of the island’s most iconic clubs. It started, though, in the less-than-luxurious environs of Luton airport, on a rainy Tuesday morning.

A chauffeur-driven car to the airport, arriving at its private jet terminal took the sting out of it though. I was travelling with Jet Partner (www.jetpartner.net), an innovative private aviation operation founded by Patricio Zunino and Antony Rivolta – two veterans of the industry who came together to create a smart internet-based service that fills empty seats on private jets with people who’d like to travel on them. For the uninitiated, there are hundreds of planes flying every day without any passengers on them, either because they are going to collect people or they are being positioned for their next operation.

Image courtesy of aviation-images.com

Image courtesy of aviation-images.com

Dubbed ‘‘empty leg’’ flights, the smart chaps at Jet Partner came up with a simple digital offering that allows you to log in and select your flight and book one of these empty leg trips on the spot, at a fraction of the usual cost. This puts a short break in Ibiza, with none of the annoyances of flying commercial airlines, in reach of many more people than just the privileged few.

And what a pleasure it is. From the comfy lounge where I wait, to being whisked through the passport procedure via a super swift special channel, plus the fact that the jet itself is laden with fine champagne and comes with a captain who has a nice line in amusing patter – this is the only way to fly.

Better still, Jet Partner has an agreement with top Mayfair restaurant Novikov, to supply what is surely one of the world’s best in-flight meals. My small table is groaning with goodies, from truffled scrambled eggs, to fabulous sushi, miso black cod, caviar, king crab and lobster thermidor. It’s so good, in fact, that I make a mental note to book a table at this London restaurant as soon as I return.

Purple Sky

Upon arrival in Ibiza, I’m taken by private transfer to Can Tehani, a recently renovated eight-bedroom villa in a stunning hillside location just 15 minutes drive from the airport. Every room is exquisite and the public spaces are beautifully considered, from the uber-cool pool to the 10,000 sqm of landscaped gardens. There’s even a big cinema room, in the event that you need a night of relaxation – essential for those visiting the island for a week or more. Celine, the villa owner and our fabulous host for the trip, has created something truly magical here.

Similarly beguiling is Bambuddha (www.bambuddha.com), one of Ibiza’s most famous restaurants. This ‘‘Mediterrasian’’ masterpiece combines the best local produce with an Asian aesthetic, all set in the sublime surrounds of a Balinese pagoda that was imported (at great expense, I’m guessing) piece by piece from Indonesia. There’s a fusion feel to the menu, and we were lucky enough to be treated to the tasting selection, with head chef Alejandro Arquero Martinez on hand to explain every course. It was all I could do to sit politely while we had this chat, so keen was I to dig into every delicious morsel. The bar, too, boasted mean mixologists that were the equal of any of London’s best bars. Little wonder, then, that many people come here for a meal, but then choose to stay much later.

The interior of Bambuddha

The interior of Bambuddha

For us, though, the Ibiza institution that is Pacha was calling. Set near Ibiza town itself, we were whisked to this mighty nightclub by Felden, who runs Boutique Ibiza (www.boutiqueibiza.com), a luxury concierge company that caters for the island’s elite guests. Anything you need while there, Felden is your go-to guy.

As hundreds queued outside, Felden negotiated us swiftly past the velvet rope, through the back stage rabbit warren of corridors and up to our VIP seats. With a full bottle selection available on arrival and the fierce sound system cranked up to the max, I proceeded to party the night away like I was 20 years younger. How Felden keeps this up every night, I have no idea.

A few hours shut-eye, followed by some poolside lounging the next day and, of course, a lunchtime feast courtesy of the villa’s private chef, saw me sadly pack my bag ready for the trip back. Again, though, the superb service offered by Jet Partner – and another bottle of decent champagne on the flight – soon banished those back-to-work blues that were starting to descend. No longer the preserve of playboys, footballers and lottery winners, private aviation has opened up to almost everyone and, boy, does it feel good.

Krimml Waterfalls – Austria’s Force of Nature Proves Healthy Ramy Salameh

It was as long ago as 500 years that the famous Austrian Doctor Paracelsus expressed the view that ‘‘each country is given its own illnesses, but for each of these illnesses they have been granted their own ancient medicines and remedies.’’

Krimml Waterfall

Standing below the thunderous and cascading Krimml Waterfalls – the fifth highest in the world, located in Hohe Tauern National Park in Salzburgerland – the doctor’s sentiments seem to make more sense. Krimml Waterfalls have been scientifically proven by the Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg to have healing properties. The fine spray that covered my face in regular refreshing bursts accompanied by a crescendo of noise is not just visually appealing but has a positive effect on the respiratory tract and improves lung function.

The source of the Krimml Waterfalls is the mountain waters of the ‘‘Krimml Ache’’ which is a glacial stream, where the comparatively gentler flows bypass the verdant and rolling pastures so common in Austria, before hurtling down a trio of sheer rock cascades at 20 to 25 cubic meters per second. Standing at the bottom of this mighty wonder of nature, the words ‘‘glacial stream’’ seem a little tepid as millions of gallons of water is deposited into the valley each hour and the thunderous roar of nature can be heard kilometres away. The feeling is uniquely exhilarating!

The water tumbles from a height of 380 metres and hits the rocks on the valley floor with such incredible force, that the water molecules shatter into tiny fragments. The resulting effect is mushrooming clouds of micro-fine spray with a high density of negatively charged air ions which attach themselves to each droplet. When inhaled, they penetrate deep into the respiratory tract giving a long-lasting and cleansing effect on the body and immune system. As early as 1808, the late medical expert Wolfgang Oberlechner was recommending stays at the Krimml Waterfalls to his patients and this practise continues today as a natural remedy, opening up new therapeutic options to allergy sufferers and asthmatics.

Krimml Waterfalls

The Krimml Waterfalls also have another interesting and modern historical significance, as the starting point of a journey for groups of Jewish refugees in 1947, fleeing persecution. In the summer of that year, early one morning groups of between 150 and 200 from a total of around 5000 men, women and children assembled before the waterfalls. Awaiting them was a 15 hour trek on foot. Their goal was Palestine, which could only be reached by means of illegal flight. Their lives, homes and most of their relatives from Eastern Europe had been lost during World War II and even after the war had ended, they were still being persecuted. Many survivors were accommodated in the so-called transit camps in the city and province of Salzburg. The only remaining escape route by the summer of 1947 was the arduous trek over the 2634 m high Krimmler Tauern Pass into Italy. All other routes were closed due to political pressure from Great Britain, the ruling power in Palestine at that time.

On the 60th anniversary of the exodus, the peace initiative ‘‘Alpine Peace Crossing’’ was founded in 2007 by Dr. Ernst Loschner and continues to this day. The national park APC Peace trail is dedicated to all refugees worldwide. The power and force of the waterfall and the surrounding area continues to benefit and amaze those who visit. Back in 1796, Europe’s highest waterfall was described as the “most magnificent natural spectacle in the State of Salzburg” and still today, few can argue with this, as the sheer thrill and excitement of Krimml remains as potent as ever.

For more information, go to www.austria.info.

It’s A Pet’s Life At Pera Palace By The Luxury Channel

Ali Yeşilırmak & Max (image courtesy of Tamer Yilnaz)

Ali Yeşilırmak and Max (image courtesy of Tamer Yilmaz)

For those who can’t bear to leave their four-legged friends at home, Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah is the perfect destination. Istanbul’s most iconic hotel (whose impressive list of guests has included Greta Garbo, Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock) has launched a new pet-friendly service to ensure pampered pooches experience the same impeccable service as their owners. A new in-room dining menu has been specially developed for pets with veterinary approval to ensure guests’ four-legged friends can enjoy delicious and nutritious food in the hotel’s iconic surroundings. From poached fillet of salmon to chopped fillet of beef, all meals are prepared without any seasoning or bones to ensure a healthy meal.

Sinem Güven & Şeker (image courtesy of Tamer Yilmaz)

Sinem Güven and Şeker (image courtesy of Tamer Yilmaz)

Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah is committed to helping local animals, and recently partnered with an animal welfare charity to raise funds for a nearby animal shelter. The ‘‘My Tiny Love’’ project raised awareness about the number of abandoned and stray animals living in shelters, and generated crucial funds by photographing Turkish celebrities with their pets in glamorous locations around Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah. The pictures were taken by respected Turkish photographer Tamer Yilmaz.

Şükrü Çobanoğlu and Thor & Eva (iamge courtesy of Tamer Yilmaz)

Şükrü Çobanoğlu and Thor & Eva (iamge courtesy of Tamer Yilmaz)

The hotel itself is located in the heart of the vibrant Beyoglu district. The epitome of timeless elegance, its unique heritage combined with a modern touch symbolizes the cosmopolitan culture that Istanbul is renowned for. Overlooking the Golden Horn and the historical old city, and within walking distance to the Bosphorus, Galata Tower and the famous shopping street of Istiklal, Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah boasts one of the best locations in Istanbul. The hotel was frequented by Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, and in 1981, his original room was restored and nationally recognised as being a unique historical feature, resulting in the hotel gaining status as Istanbul’s only Museum Hotel.

For more information, visit www.jumeirah.com.

La Belle France By Harriet O'Grady

If bling is what gets you going or if you are in search of instant thrills, then the Dordogne and the Lot departments in South West France are not for you. But, if you enjoy the finer things in life such as history, good food, fine wines, or simply countryside, rivers and landscapes that leave you with a sense of wonder, then this is, indeed, the place to go.

France

This is, after all, a part of France steeped in the most romantic of French and English medieval history. The Dordogne was part of the land of the beautiful Eleanor of Aquitaine, patron of the arts, courtly love and the troubadours; Queen of France by her first marriage, then Queen of England, bringing with her the land of Aquitaine to the English Crown for over 200 years. She was also mother of the tall, blond, handsome and legendary Richard the Lionheart, great grandson of William the Conqueror, who was so sure of his invincibility that he rode unprotected within striking distance of the French.

France

This is a wooded land of starlit skies, gentle hills, vales and valleys, limestone cliffs, rivers, gorges and ornamental grottos, to name but the famous Lascaux. It is known for its truffles, wines, walnuts, lamb and, of course, foie gras. The wisteria and lilacs are in full bloom, and the grass and leaves are bright green from new spring growth when my companions and I gather for a Relais & Chateaux Route du Bonheur trip with stays in three well established hotels: Le Vieux Logis, Le Château de Mercues and Château de la Treyne.

BMW

BMW, the official sponsors of Relais & Chateaux, have provided us with two cars, an open top 650i Cabrio and an X5M 50d. I have driven across the Massif Central, a spectacular drive in itself, through unspoilt countryside to arrive, in the early evening, at our first hotel, Le Vieux Logis, a 4 star hotel with a 1 star Michelin restaurant, set in the village of Tremolat, with its large meander in the river Dordogne. Henry Miller came to Le Vieux Logis for one night but ended up staying for several weeks. He was so struck by the beauty of this exquisite region that he wrote in The Colossus of Maroussi that “France may one day exist no more, but the Dordogne will live on just as dreams live on and nourish the souls of men.”

Les Vieux Logis

Originally a priory and then a large 17th Century farmhouse, the grounds have been turned into the loveliest French-style garden by the landscape architect, Laure Quonian. Estelle Arnoult, the Directrice, welcomes guests with the famous warmth of the people of this area. It is the type of hotel where one immediately feels at home, with large comfortable sofas, armchairs and plenty of prints on the walls. Chef Vincent Arnoult, who obtained the title of “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” in 2007, specialises in tasty seasonal dishes using the best local produce. We sit down to a very good dinner in what used to be a large tobacco drying barn. It is the season of asparagus. We have lamb from the Quercy valued for its aromatic flavour, strawberries as well as fine wines from the area.

Les Vieux Logis

The next morning, we are off in the warm spring sunshine through pastoral countryside following the Dordogne river to Beynac, a medieval town built in local pale yellow sandstone with pitched roofs that winds its way up to the large 12th Century fortified castle of Beynac which was overtaken by Richard the Lionheart. Later in the afternoon, we take a boat trip on the Dordogne from La Roque-Gageac. By now perfectly relaxed, we dream and drift along this wide black river bordered by bucolic banks where trees and grass gently meet the water. Everywhere we look there seems to be a castle. Finally, we visit the medieval village of Domme and its spectacular view of the Dordogne river.

Château de Mercuès

Our second night is spent at the imposing Château de Mercues, a four star hotel. The château sits atop a ridge 100 metres above the river Lot. In the past, it had been the summer residence of the Bishops of Cahors. In 1944, it became an hotel. General de Gaulle himself stayed here in 1951. He wrote: “From the Château de Mercues, you can feel the flow of history coming up to meet you.”

Chateau Mercues

The Château has been owned since the 1980s by the Vigouroux family. In the 1970s, Mr. Vigouroux’s father reintroduced the Malbec grape from the Argentine to his nearby domaine at Haute Serre. This area around Cahors had been an important wine-growing area, even more important than that of Bordeaux, until the pest known as philoxera wiped out the vineyards in the 19th Century. Today, Cahors wines are in the top ten appellations in France. When Mr. Vigouroux bought the Château, he built an immense “cave” in the cellars which produces over 200,000 bottles of wine. His son now carries on the family tradition with the same passion as his father.

Grapes

We are welcomed to the hotel by the 34 year old general manager, Yann Potet. It is impossible to meet a more charming or helpful person. Not least is the brilliant 32 year old chef, Julien Poisot, who cooked us a memorable meal based on the best local produce accompanied, of course, by Mr. Vigouroux’s wines from Mercues and Haute Serre.

Chateau Mercues

The next morning after a good night’s sleep and what can only be described as the most delicious and abundant breakfast, we leave the hotel for a visit to Cahors. This is a French town as one likes them, authentic and without pretence, with a twice weekly market and good local shops. One shouldn’t miss a sight of the Pont Valentre, a perfectly preserved medieval bridge. We then drive to Saint Cirq la Popie, a village nestling within the side of a white limestone cliff overlooking the Lot. Andre Breton, the father of surrealism, lived here. A community of artists gathered round him and, to this day, this little village remains an artistic centre.

Cha‰teau de la Treyne

There are some hotels which touch your soul. The 17th century Château de la Treyne is one of them. The setting is magical with its utterly romantic terrace set above the Dordogne. To sit here, at cocktail hour, watching the sunset and the wide river flowing peacefully below can only be described as one of those special moments in time. Dinner in the Louis XIII dining room is a must. Not only is the setting authentic, but the meal, prepared by 1 Michelin star chef Stephane Andrieux, is a reminder that France is still at the top of its gastronomic tradition.

Cha‰teau de la Treyne

Philippe and Stephanie Gombert own the hotel. Stephanie has that rare ability to make each guest feel special and at home. Her taste is impeccable. This is reflected from the differently themed bedrooms, which are of the highest standard of comfort, to the decor of the Château as a whole.

Ch‰ateau de la Treyne

This is a perfect base from which to visit the famous Gouffre de Padirac , a 103m deep chasm with a subterranean river that can be negotiated by punt; the beautiful medieval town of Sarlat which was restored thanks to the efforts of Andre Malraux, one of France’s most eminent Ministers of Culture; the pilgrim site of Rocamadour and its black virgin on the road to Santiago de Compostela; as well as the magnificent Jardins d’Eyrignac, a vast private garden noted for its perspectives of architecturally shaped box, yew and hornbeam.

Les Jardins d`Eyrignac

Whatever you do, come to this lovely land at least once in your lifetime!

For further information, please visit www.relaischateaux.com.

Dive Into Egypt’s Soma Bay By Hannah Norman

Some Bay Jetty

I’m staring out across a calm sapphire sea, barely distinguishable from the sky, with a glass of something sweet, syrupy and strawberry-flavoured in my hand. The sun is blazing and all I can hear is the gentle sound of the waves lapping at the shore. This could be the Caribbean. This could even be the Maldives. But it’s not – it’s nowhere near. I’m actually just five hours away from London. Welcome to Soma Bay, a peninsular in eastern Egypt that dips invitingly into the crystal-clear Red Sea.

The Kempinski

This serene – and surprisingly quiet – finger of land has been turned into a postcard-picture resort, which has already been bought into by several big hotel chains, the most majestic of the current crop being the Kempinski. Morocco is frequently touted as the place to escape to for a long weekend, but with the Kempinski’s reception styled much like a souk bar, with decorative oil lamps and enormous sprays of flowers (and did I mention the glorious weather?), I would implore you to travel to Morocco’s continental cousin here instead. My room afforded me views across the enchantingly lit lazy river to the sea and mountains beyond, and a cosy bed (so big I could have got lost in it) with huge cloud-like pillows ensured the best nights’ sleep I’ve had in ages, nodding off to the sound of the sea little more than mere metres away. Bliss!

Soma Bay Beach

By day, it’s very tempting to retreat to one of the sumptuous loungers by the pool and just do absolutely nothing but luxuriate in the sun. With obliging waiters on hand to attend to your every whim, gastronomic or otherwise (curry by the pool, anyone? Yes, really!), it seems almost expected that you’ll want to indulge in a spot of laziness. However, adventure beckons and this is certainly the place for doing that. For golfers (and beginners), the Gary Player-designed Challenge and Championship courses allow for some truly breath-taking holes, with fantastic panoramas across the Bay and spectacular sea views whichever way you care to look.

Aerial View

Soma Bay is also the world’s premium destination for kite-surfing, and, therefore unsurprisingly, the world kite-surfing championships are held here every year. The guys at the Kite House claim they can turn you into a surfer with just 5 days tuition, and whilst our morning on the beach was a huge amount of fun, it was more inspiring to watch the couple of seeming pros who were out taking on the calm, performing clever leaps and tricks that made us disproportionately jealous.

Soma Bay Kite Surfers

However, for a more relaxing adventure and for a real highlight of your holiday, I completely recommend snorkelling in the Red Sea. Soma Bay’s house reef provides an amazing opportunity to come within inches of gorgeously coloured fish and spectacular coral. A truly serene, slightly surreal experience, this was a perfect way to spend a morning, blocking out noise and stress to appreciate the beauty of the Bay at its most staggeringly visceral.

Diving

All this adventure, however, is hungry work, and we were completely spoiled for choice when it came to gourmet. My personal favourite, however, has to be Bamboo, located at the Kempinski. Executive Chef Mehmet Koyuncu and his team served the smoothest butter chicken curry, and the most delicious vegetable sushi (yes, such a thing evidently does exist!). Baked ice-cream for dessert, washed down with fine Egyptian wine, was surely the perfect end to a lovely evening.

Soma Bay

Soma Bay is a truly beautiful part of the world, and the perfect place to come to escape from it all. The combination of sun and sea (and Spa!) was unbelievably reviving, and we were already looking up flights to come back before we’d even left for the airport to go home. But every paradise on earth has its downsides. The internet here is ridiculously elusive, but short of running around waving your phone in the air to try to get some sort of Wi-Fi signal, the best thing to do is to treat this as a real escape – from work, from worry, and from the weather back home. Switch off and do nothing, or get out and do everything. Either way, this is entirely restorative – and it only means taking a couple of days out of the office (although, of course, a week may be more in order). Your frazzled, stressed self will thank you for it.

Spa

Getting There

Seven nights staying in a Lagoon View Room at the 5* Kempinski Hotel in Soma Bay on a Bed & Breakfast basis is from £635 per person. Upgrade to Half Board for an extra £145 per person. Prices include return flights from London Gatwick, airport tax, 20kg baggage per person, private transfers and airport meet & greet service. Prices are subject to availability and may change without notice. Call 020 3384 0030, email info@holiday-designers.com or see www.holiday-designers.com for more details.

Kempinski Christmas & New Year Package

Prices start from £68pp per night and are subject to 24.32% taxes and service charge. Offer valid for stays from 18th to 31st December 2015 for stay dates up to 10/01/2016 (minimum stay 7 nights)

Rate includes:
Choice of luxury accommodation
Limousine transfer from and to Hurghada International Airport
Daily breakfast at The View Restaurant
One bottle of local sparkling wine per room per stay
Christmas Gala Dinner for stays including 21/12/2015
New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner for stays including 24/12/2015
New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner for stays including 31/12/2015
Free soft drinks mini-bar in guest rooms
Free access to hotel fitness centre including Gym, Jacuzzi, Sauna & Steam Room

To book, click here.

The Luxury Channel’s Guide To Florence By The Lex Chapter

Florence

As I stepped out onto the cobbled streets and looked up at the terracotta tiled rooftops against the vivid blue skies, I just knew two days here wasn’t going to be enough. The reason? Despite the city of Florence being a world heritage site, it is as busy and vibrant now as it was when it was the beating heart of the Renaissance. There’s so much to do here that planning your itinerary can seem overwhelming, so my advice would be to concentrate on key sights and indulge in some lazy lunches. If the three hour queue for the Uffizi gets the better of you, scold yourself for not pre-booking entrance tickets….and then use it as an excuse to come back again.

Michelangelo’s David

Michelangelo’s 14ft Renaissance masterpiece, David, was created from an enormous block of white marble which had previously been rejected by two other sculptors. They claimed it had too many imperfections so it lay neglected outside for 25 years before a young Michelangelo took it on as a commission for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Michelangelo worked on the commission in secret between 1501 and 1504. Preferring to work outside, he would sculpt in the pouring rain in order to perfect the last detail. Michelangelo was the first artist to capture the biblical figure David before his fight with Goliath. Michelangelo chose to show David at the apex of concentration and he now stands contrapposto in the Galleria dell’Accademia under custom-built sky light. Be sure to get here early to beat the crowds and groups of chattering school children.
Via Bettino Ricasoli, 58/66, 50122

David

Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella

Although a little tricky to find the inconspicuous door, once you enter inside you’ll discover the longest established pharmacy in the world. It was set up in 1200s by Dominican Friars desperate to find a lotion or potion to alleviate or even cure the Black Plague. In the 1500s, Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella created what could be called the first celebrity fragrance when it was commissioned by a young Catherine de’ Medici to create a signature fragrance. ‘‘Acqua della Regina’’ caused a sensation amongst the court, with word spreading from Italy to France and England. Nowadays, Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella still creates bespoke, high-end colognes and fragrances. If your budget doesn’t stretch to a luxury perfume then you can always treat yourself to some beautiful scented soap.
Via della Scala, 16, 50123

Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella

Ponte Vecchio

This segmental arched wonder has been standing over the narrowest point on the Arno River since 1345. During Medieval times, the bridge was home to butchers and grocers who would clear their waste directly into the river. When Cosimo, Grand Duke of Tuscany, moved into Pitti Palace on the south side of the river, he decided he didn’t want to walk amongst the masses so built a one kilometre walkway that would link his home directly to his office. This sits on top of the original bridge and can be seen to this day. He also decided that silver and gold merchants would be more suitable businesses for the bridge, a tradition that remains to this day. My favourite time to visit this bridge is at twilight. Grab a spot to admire the sunset which makes the muted tones of Florence glow, providing the perfect photo opportunity.
Via Por Santa Maria / Via Guicciardini, 50125

Florence

Caffe Coquinarious

You’d be forgiven for thinking Caffe Coquinarious is another simple Tuscan restaurant but a quick glance around reveals that it is full of animated locals. Conveniently located one block away from the Piazza del Duomo, Caffe Coquinarious’ vaulted room provides a cool oasis from the intense heat and crowds. The stand out dishes include pear and pecorino ravioli and venison carpaccio. If you fancy something a little bit lighter, the salads here are generous and interesting, something not always easy to find in Italy. Caffe Coquinarious offers a wide selection of wine, including some produced by local vineyards that are not commonly known.
Via delle’ Oche, 11R, 50144

Cafe

Basilica di Santa Maria Del Fiore, Duomo

Basilica di Santa Maria Del Fiore, or the Duomo, is arguably the most famous landmark in Florence. This grand structure has dominated the sky line for over 800 years. If you are fit and able, then it is well worth taking the trek to the top. Get up close and personal with the late 16th century frescos which depict ‘‘Giudizio Universale,’’ or ‘‘Last Judgement,’’ and peer through the tiny dome windows for a snapshot of this terracotta-roofed city. As you reach the top of the dome, you are forced to climb almost horizontally before clambering up a ladder. All your effort pays off when you step up onto the viewing platform and find yourself at the very top of Brunelleschi’s dome. Appreciate the light breeze that will cool you down, take a deep breath and absorb the most spectacular panoramic view of this medieval city.
Piazza del Duomo, Firenze

Florence

Gelateria La Passera

I’m pretty sure it’s a statutory requirement to try at least one portion of gelato whilst in Italy. This little gem is located on a backstreet in Oltarno district not too far from the Palazzo Pitti, and was somewhere I stumbled upon accidentally when trying negotiate the backstreets of Florence. This small establishment is easily identifiable by the small queue of locals snaking around the corner. The flavours are both creative and dynamic, and the pear sorbet was my ultimate favourite. Gelateria La Passera is also open until midnight so you can give in to your ice-cream cravings at any time of the day!
Gelataria Della Passera, Via Toscanella,15R, 50125, Florence

Gelato

Gucci Museo

This museum isn’t just for fashion fans but for people who appreciate exquisite craftsmanship. Guccio Gucci was born in Florence and was inspired to start producing long-lasting, luxury travel wear when he was working at The Savoy in London. As his popularity grew, he expanded into ladies fashion and went on establish himself as a leading Italian fashion house. One of his particularly famous pieces is the ‘‘bamboo bag.’’ The original design had leather handles but due to a post-war material shortage, he adapted the original bag design. Gucci Museo is also home to a sleek bistro recommended for a delicious lunch and a world-class fashion bookshop.
Gucci Museo, Piazza della Signoria, 10, 50122, Florence
Gucci

Maggie And Rose’s Going Out Guide By Antonia Peck

From restaurants to museums, we discover where the founders of private family club Maggie & Rose go to keep their little ones entertained (as well as the best places for ‘‘date’’ night!)

Best Restaurants For Families

Maggie: We both love the Soho House Group – The Electric and Shoreditch House especially. My kids love going to Shoreditch House and it’s cool for them to go east. You can swim in the morning, have breakfast and then wander around.

Shoreditch House

Rose: Soho House gives the times that it is okay to bring your children, so you know that you are okay! On occasion, I take my seven-year-old out for a nice lunch to Bellamy’s, which is where my husband goes on business meetings. She will have the Dover sole, which is such a treat and she has got to that stage where she can behave herself, have green beans and not spit them out on the floor!

Bellamy's

Maggie: However, we usually don’t tend to take kids to restaurants, as I don’t actually believe that they want kids in there! When they are newborns, you can go pretty much anywhere. When you’ve got toddlers, you have to go to a chain like Byron Burger. Byron deals with kids really well. You go in and they’ve got activities and it is a little bit chaotic in there anyway, so you don’t feel like people are looking at you.

Best For Date Night

Maggie: We like The Hoxton Hotel.

The Hoxton Hotel

Rose: Barnsley House is just amazing – incredible rooms, beautiful bathrooms and it’s just a perfect night off. For short weekend breaks, you can’t go wrong in Paris. I used to live there (pre-babies!) so I love it – especially Le Cost Hotel. It’s cool and you get great cocktails, delicious food, great music and it’s a complete break – and it’s so easy going to Paris with the Eurostar too.

Barnsley Spa

Maggie: Chiltern Firehouse is good for a special night out. Dirty Bones serves hot dogs and cocktails – it’s really good on a Sunday night with an awesome DJ!

Best Parks In London

Rose: We love Kensington Palace Gardens and Hyde Park. You’ve got the Diana Memorial Fountain and the pirate ship park, so the kids can go and run around like crazy and then come back to their parents sitting at The Orangery, which serves really nice tea and cake.

Kensington Palace

Maggie: Holland Park is also incredible – you have the ecology centre and football fields – it feels like you’re not in London.

Best Festivals For Families

Rose: In Oxfordshire, we go to Wilderness, which conveniently also happens to be where I live! It is absolutely brilliant for children and the food is wonderful as well. Other festivals I’d recommend are at Cornbury Park, which is so big and unbelievably well organised, and Festival, which is Jamie Oliver and Alex James’ food festival. I’d recommend staying at Daylesford.

Wilderness

Best Museums

Maggie: The best museums for children in London are the V&A and the Science Museum. We practically live there, as it is literally ten minutes down the road and it’s free. When babysitters are booked or grandparents are in town, these museums are their first port of call. We try to avoid holidays just because the queues are massive.

Blenheim Palace

Rose: We go to Blenheim Palace a lot because the kids can scoot all around the grounds on their scooters and we get to go on a really lovely walk – it is a beautiful place. Woodstock also has a Dinosaur Museum, which is free – it’s brilliant!

For more information, visit www.maggieandrose.com.

Redonda Bay’s Aqua Wellness Resort By Caroline Phillips

Aqua Wellness Resort in Redonda Bay, Nicaragua, is for the zen seeker who wants marshmallows on the campfire after her yoga session. Or a pizza night after her papaya body scrub.

Yoga Platform

It comprises 28 tree houses set in a tropical forest chokka with cacti, iguanas and howler monkeys – and overlooking an ooh-ah bay with sweeping beach, the Pacific and diving-for-fish pelicans. Not to mention the beautiful Giant’s Foot rock formation.

The tree houses are jungle chic with mahogany, Brazilian cherry and teak – think open-plan bedroom with wooden shower in the corner and a top-notch kitchen in the adjoining villa. Plus, there’s a private deck plunge pool too – though whether anyone ever uses one for anything aside from washing her feet is a question of metaphysical importance. (Eco warriors please note: the tree houses get eco-brownie points for being above the canopy of the rainforest – which means they don’t interfere with the delicate environmental system).

Villa Deck Overlook

The beachside restaurant serves top nosh – all delivered by super-friendly waiting staff. They offer organic greens and catch-of-the-day steamed in coconut milk. Or zero-size-me green papaya salad with a glass of fresh-squeezed tamarind or passion fruit juice. (If you want to forget all that wellness blah, you can feast on steak and egg burrito). You’ll find the thirty-something crowd here – families, couples and the occasional yoga bunny – mostly Americans and Canadians.

What else? It’s a deliciously unplugged experience of no TVs and dodgy Wi-Fi (after all, it is a remote area). There’s kayaking, paddle boarding and snorkelling, and if you want time away from the noonday sun, take the chocolate-making class and get creative with roasted cacao beans, which you peel then blend, sprinkling afterwards with chilli, sesame or cashew. Yum.

Kayking on Redonda Bay

You can do your downward dogs on an ocean-view wooden yoga platform. But there are so many steps everywhere that you’ll have done a workout even before you get there (luckily, they give you a mobile phone if you want to call reception). The yoga platform is so windy your mat flies away – but it’s worth it for the bird’s eye view of the demerara-sugar beach and emerald coast with jade water.

As for the yogis, they’re peripatetic teachers – from Acro to Ashtanga ones. Learning the Acro (as in ‘acrobatic’) yoga poses must surely allow you to run away to join the Cirque du Soleil.

Rainforest Yoga Pavilion

There’s also a small spa (two rooms) which deals in splendiferous views, cacao exfoliation and Mombacho massage (which apparently mimics the rhythms of the volcano). Try the rejuvenating facial – it involves some plastic cupping and does what it says on the tin. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a therapist charmingly called ‘Darling.’

Peak experience? A full moon with a turtle burying her eggs on the beach, scattering sand with her flappers in the process. Who could beat that? Certainly go there to get away from the hurly burly of life in the fastest lane.

Thatched Room Lounge Area

Journey Latin America specialise in tailor-made holidays to Central & South America, including Nicaragua. A 7 night stay in Aqua Wellness Spa Resort costs £1930pp based on two people sharing, including return transfers from the airport and international flights with United Airlines (who offer three daily non-stop services from London Heathrow to its hub at Houston/George Bush Intercontinental Airport, with onward connections to Managua, Nicaragua, and over 300 other destinations across the Americas).
Tel – +44 (0) 208 600 1881