Friday, January 28, 2011

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO SANTORINI, part 1, Santorini Grace



Like a postcard, breathing myths and magic. One of the famed Grace hotels clings on the edge of the ancient sunken volcano of Santorini, looking over soft blue waters and islands. Though Santorini is one of the world’s most noted destinations, up here on the edge of the caldera you are on your own.

This is a serene, romantic and intimate hotel. From the infinity pool you have views to die for, yet there is almost no one there. That is because most rooms have their own plunge pool. Not just any plunge pool, but a pool with a mesmerizing view. Our accommodation had chairs by our pool – larger suites have sunbeds. We blissed out on sunbeds by the infinity pool, surrounded by sky and sea.

Grace Santorini is so totally right for the Greek islands. There is a style and simplicity that charms, with its bright white walls and the blue of sea and sky repeated like a theme in the décor.

This is luxury with a delicate and authentic touch. There are 20 deluxe rooms and suites, white and fresh in feel with loving touches of candles and fruit, large bathrooms and luxurious amenities.



Service, for which the hotel has won high fame, has the same delicate and authentic touch. The management couple Martina and Joseph are pleasant, accessible and very hands on.

You can dine al fresco poolside or in an intimate restaurant. We found the food excellent and not exorbitant. There is a pool bar, as well as a small gym.



There is also a choice of restaurants in the little town of Fira. We took a beautiful walk along the top of the caldera. With narrow paved streets, Fira clings to the cliffside with stupendous views, charming white houses and blue windows and doors. This little Cycladic town also offers stylish boutiques, blue domed churches, museums and monasteries. Fira is also the place to take your partying.

Note: Grace Santorini is a perfect romantic hideaway for couples on honeymoon or second honeymoon. Not for children or the infirm as there are too many steps up and down. From the road where the hotel car drops you off, you have about 5 or 10 minutes stepping to do to get to the hotel front door. But it’s worth every step and more…and of course, they help you get to paradise with your luggage.







HOW TO GET TO GRACE SANTORINI
15 minutes by car from Santorini International Airport


Thursday, January 20, 2011

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO MAURITIUS, part 3, Dinarobin



TROPICAL CHARM DELUXE

There is a sense of joy at Dinarobin, a feeling of light and water, to complement its tropical charm. Waterways, huge pool and fountains sparkle among lush palms at this very stylish resort. The airy lobby creates a good start to your holiday. Here you check in seated, enjoying a drink.

In a beautiful location on the island of Mauritius, Dinarobin lies at the foot of Le Morne Mountain with the Paradis golf course beside it. And the Indian Ocean is as it should be in tropical paradise. Clear blue and turquoise. At low tide the reef is very close to the beach, but only 20 to 30m away you can lie in the shallow lagoon and see pretty butterfly fish through the clear water. Watersports (a full range of different activities) are available next door at Paradis, most included in the rate.

That means the beach at Dinarobin is all the more peaceful. It is a natural sandy beach with seashells and little bits of coral adding to the charm. Since there are private pools for every house block – this attracts guests to stay in their semi-private space, leaving just us and a few others on the beach, enjoying the silence.

We stayed in a Junior Suite on the second floor with a huge balcony and sunset view. The rooms are spacious and light and the bathrooms are huge.



There are a total of 172 suites all with terrace or balcony. The junior suites (65 sqm) are priced differently depending on closeness to the beach, amenities and club facilities. More space and perfect position come with the Club Senior Beach Front suites (115 sqm). For families with 2 or 3 children space can be extended by booking “family suites” (2 connecting junior suites) or taking the top of the line Club Luxury Family Suite Beach Front.

We ate at all four restaurants at Dinarobin, buffet restaurant, Italian restaurant, French restaurant and a beach restaurant that is open for lunch. On the beach you eat contentedly with your feet in the sand. All the restaurants are excellent, and service faultless and very personal. The half board is valid for all restaurants, with a supplement at the French. Here, where we ate an amazing nine courses, you tell the chef your preferences and a menu is composed with a theme to suit you. The atmosphere in the Italian restaurant was particularly pleasant, and the antipasta unforgettable. What a huge table of nibbles BEFORE you even reach the starter. Another couple stood there with a tray looking bemused.“Where do you start?” he asked. An additional four restaurants at Paradis add to the quandary of what to choose when and where…

The spa by Clarins is famous for its beauty and excellent treatments. Master of Shiatsu Wesley has been flown round the world by guests when they suddenly find they cannot live on without him. One can understand why. At the Select Collection spa in Stockholm we too flew Wesley in for the grand opening in May 2010.

Guests at Dinarobin are a mix of nationalities with a good sprinkling of French, Italian, German and English. Though there are loads of kids enjoying the private pools, kid’s club, kid’s pool and watersports next door, the resort remains serene.

Dinarobin offers all the sophistication of a 5-star deluxe resort, but it does not overdo it. The mood is easy going. Service is available when you need it. And if you don’t, they sense you should be left alone. Masters of the personal touch…

HOW TO GET TO DINAROBIN
1 hour 30 minutes by car or 20 minutes by helicopter from Mauritius International Airport



Serenity on the beach (above) - guests enjoying themselves at the pools (below) or doing watersports at Paradis. (Or playing golf.)









Saturday, January 15, 2011

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO MAURITIUS, part 2, The Residence





CHIC AND ON THE BEACH

Uberchic. It’s hard to imagine anything more chic than The Residence. As you step into the lobby you are bowled over by the awesome height of the angled ceiling – and the brilliant white walls.

Then as you step out again you are stunned by the beauty of the beach. It too is brilliant white, washed by the warm turquoise water of the lagoon. It seems to go on forever.

The design of The Residence was inspired by the Mauritian Colonial plantation houses of a century ago, yet very contemporary in style. Though there are 163 rooms, three restaurants and the Carita Spa it does not feel like a big hotel. It feels somehow intimate, strung along the beach.

The suites are very attractive, and all offer ocean views. We stayed in an ocean front room – really to be recommended if you don’t have a budget for a suite. (There are several categories below the ocean front room, which are further from the sea.) What we most loved about our room was the balcony, with its view of the sea. Every time we went into our room we gravitated straight to the balcony, a place to drink some Jägermeister, taking in the atmosphere of this truly wonderful spot.



One nice touch for a couple on holiday who don’t want to do any tidying, is that you don’t have to. You can just sling your suitcases and the ruffle of clothes into the walk-in cupboard. That the rest of the room is tidied for you goes without saying.

The beach is hypnotic. It was hard to pull yourself away from the mesmerizing turquoise lagoon and white sands, so fortunately at The Residence you are able to eat on the beach at lunchtime. You could eat anything from pizza to lobster. And all day long they came past bringing cold towels, iced lollies (popsicles), fruit and other refreshments. So why move?

Well of course, you move when sunburnt and ready for a shower and a drink on your own balcony. And at 6pm every day we joined other guests at the open air lounge beside the pool to listen to jazz and drink the best gin and tonics ever created. Time also to chat to other guests, unwinding after a hard day on the beach.

The atmosphere at The Residence is beautifully relaxed for all its marvellous chic. Not at all stuck up. The service is out of this world, and staff take a genuine interest in everyone, remembering the children of returning guests and asking after them.

It’s certainly a great place for families. The Kid’s Club is something special, built like a plantation house, and kids can eat all three meals there. Apparently it is so good that parents have to drag their kids out of it so they can have some time with them.

Another winner for the hotel is the pool area – 2000 sqm. The spa is nice with different treatment rooms, gym, sauna etc and open for everyone even if you have not booked a treatment. Activities include scuba diving (of course), undersea walk and horse riding, as well as complimentary snorkelling, waterskiing, windsurfing, hobicats, kayaks, glass bottom boat, three tennis courts, fitness equipment and internet salon.

Last and certainly not least, the food. Delicious with a capital D. Apart from the excellent half board you could eat a la carte for a reasonable supplement, clearly marked on the menu.



HOW TO GET TO THE RESIDENCE

1 hour by car from Mauritius International Airport or 15 minutes by helicopter.


View from the lobby


Our ocean front room



Bright morning over the pool and lagoon


Paradise lagoon and beach

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO MAURITIUS, part 1, Royal Palm



STYLE WITH WARMTH

Mauritius is one of our most beloved destinations, warm in every sense, with radiant waters and welcoming people. Mauritian style is hospitable and gracious, with extraordinary fusion cuisine and romantic elegance rooted in the Colonial past. Friendly to children yet perfect for honeymooners. And plenty to do for sporty souls, along with indulgence for all.

Follow us on a recent journey to some favourite spots…

PERFECTION IN PARADISE: ROYAL PALM



Royal Palm oozes luxury, and complete and utter serenity. The service is there if you want it – and they leave you in peace if you don’t. It’s called perfect service…

Relaxing on the white beach we saw a remarkable sight, which epitomises Royal Palm. A bellman in red suit and white gloves was delivering something to a family on a silver tray – snorkelling gear for the kid.

Every detail at Royal Palm is in place. Everything in its 84 suites is of finest quality. We had a Junior Suite on the first floor with beautiful ocean view and the beds were the most comfortable we had ever slept in. As for the food … We could only wonder why they had not been awarded any Michelin Stars.

On half pension one is offered a choice of three starters, three main courses and three deserts. If you do not fancy anything from the set menu you can choose from the a la carte at no extra charge. Then you also have a chance to eat at Natureaty for a supplement. In fact we were so pleased with the food at the main restaurant we did not even try the other restaurant.

Breakfast was nothing other than “absolutely fabulous”. Eggs and hot food were a la carte and when it came to pastries, fruits, cereals etc you just pointed at what you wanted and someone served you on a plate.

The Spa by Clarins is a special place and the treatments top quality.



It seems a very adult hotel. In fact there are kids there (happy kids) but seen rather than heard. The kid’s club is excellent. That may be the secret of the silence – or just the spell cast by the palms.

Royal Palm is serene but absolutely not stuffy. It is relaxed. At lunch you will see a couple in slops and shorts next to women full of perfume and jewellery. Everything goes. In the evenings it gets a little more formal, but never starched up to the collar. A man can wear a polo T-shirt for example instead of a tie but should wear long trousers.

Perhaps too low key for those who think glamour is glitter? But to us, it was perfect elegance … A home away from home. No wonder it is full of guests who have been there before.


Our Junior suite, home away from home


Romantic and serene, under the palms

We took it really easy. But there were endless things we could have done - from free tennis, squash, waterskiing, windsurfing and kayaks to snorkelling on coral reefs. Scuba diving, cruising and speedboat rides also possible for extra charge.

HOW TO GET TO ROYAL PALM

1 hour by car from Mauritius International Airport, 20 minutes by helicopter.

Monday, January 10, 2011

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO: Bali, part 6, Kayumanis Ubud



AMID ARTISTS & JUNGLE - YOUR OWN VILLA

On the holy river Ayung, among jade green jungles and rice fields, Kayumanis Ubud at Sayan is a small collection of villas with one, two and three bedrooms. Within easy reach of the art and culture of Ubud.

As with most Balinese villa living, accommodation has two distinct areas – the bedroom (indoor), and open air bathroom/ living /dining area and plunge pool. Our villa was modern, yet rustic with an individual and informal feel.

Closer to the river, the restaurant and main pool have great views set against the backdrop of the jungle. There is a shuttle service to Ubud, where you eat, shop and experience the talents of the immensely gifted local artistic community.

Kayumanis also offers villas at Jimbaran or Nusa Dua. We highly recommend a combination to experience the rare charms of Ubud up in the hills, and the different beach settings, Nusa Dua with its long sandy beach, international hotels and exclusive shopping malls, or Jimbaran with its coconut grove, market, fishing village and seafood restaurants. At each Kayumanis resort guests have a restaurant and in-villa dining available on the property as well as a spa offering signature treatments. Each guest is assigned a butler.

Kaymanis villas offer a personal, more private concept, and are perhaps not for those who favour the buzz of large international hotels.

HOW TO GET TO KAYUMANIS

Kayumanis Ubud is 40 minutes by car from Bali International Airport, Kayumanis Jimbaran is 10 minutes, and Kayumanis Nusa Dua is 15 minutes from the airport.





Saturday, January 8, 2011

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO: Bali, part 5, The Legian





YOUR SPACE ON LEGIAN BEACH

An all-suite property set in tropical gardens, THE LEGIAN is located on a quiet white sandy beach, yet close enough to shopping and high life if you want some contrast.

Originally constructed as an apartment hotel, all room categories are very spacious. For example lead-in Studio Suite(s) are a generous 99 sqm. Design is modern, with traditional dark wood flooring and all mod cons (ipods, espresso machine etc.).

Categories include the aforementioned Studio Suites, Deluxe Suites (110 sqm), Two-bedroomed Suites (155 sqm), The Beach House (secluded one bedroom residence), and the designer Seminyak, Sunset and Legian Suites.

The Legian has a great location, opposite trendy Ku de Ta. Reasonably priced luxury for honeymooners. Also suitable for families – there is babysitting, and very useful well-stocked pantries in the suites.

Plus – excellent value and loads of space for weddings. Some very discerning guests who hosted their wedding here, told us they were very happy with the event and its organisation. So it’s a good consideration for those with stricter budget.


HOW TO GET TO THE LEGIAN

25 minutes by car from Bali International Airport.



Thursday, January 6, 2011

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO: Bali, part 4, Bulgari



BALINESE STYLE LUXURY AT LAND'S END

Bulgari Resort gives a dramatic impression. It has a wonderful location in Uluwatu, with a stunning reception area made from hand-hewn exotic stone. And the sunsets are spectacular.

A village theme prevails at the resort, with 59 villas between 300 and 500 sqm in size combining indoor bedroom, (huge) bathroom and closet area, and outdoor living space with infinity edge plunge pools. Interiors are rich, dark mahogany, very elegant.

But beware of the monkeys! They can be very cheeky, indeed the resort changed the fridges (located in the outdoor living area) because they could actually open the original models!

Bulgari is a good choice for young, affluent Europeans who set store by indigenous culture. Set apart by its design and interiors, Bulgari is very evidently Bali. Another plus is that it has a private beach club, reached via funicular. It is not possible to swim in the sea, but this is still a lovely spot for lunch and sunbathing and should be experienced.

Fine dining at the Italian restaurant is excellent, in a very stylish and romantic setting. Indonesian cuisine also available at Sangkar, which we preferred to in-villa food.

At night the resort looks stunning, with hundreds of hurricane lamps twinkling, adding to the sense of tranquillity and romance.

Special mention must go to the Spa, which is an antique Joglo house (transported piece by piece from central Java) and commanding views overlooking the Indian Ocean. Would recommend pre-booking.






Main pool Bulgari

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO: Bali, part 3, Alila Villas Uluwatu



HIGH STYLE ON BALI

Alila Villas Uluwatu is a very modern eco-resort, housing spacious villas in a dramatic setting perched high above the sea at Uluwatu.

Uluwatu means “rock at the land’s end”. It is not possible to swim in the sea here, as currents are very strong. But the scenery is absolutely stunning. The main 50 metre cliff edge pool area is a great hang out area, with cabanas and ample sunbathing space. Or you might well prefer to linger around your private pool - the pools in each villa are pretty big.

The 84 pool villas are all about private space. Villas (from 294 sqm to 3000 sqm) are all similarly appointed (think ultra modern décor) with one, two or three bedrooms. The open-plan design, unique flat lava rock roofs and bamboo ceiling allow the gentle sea breeze to flow in freely, while from the bed to the bathtub, every view is open to the outdoors.

Luxurious amenities include indoor and outdoor rain shower and jet shower, Ploh bed linens, and separate His and Hers bathroom amenities. But perhaps best of all is your your private pool and cabana looking out toward the Indian Ocean.





The famous Uluwatu Temple is close by. Here there are daily dance performances at 6pm. Half or full day trips can be organised beyond Uluwatu for guests wishing to soak up Balinese culture.


This is likely spot for the trendy set who go for modernism over clutter. Overall, super stylish. During peak period, this could be the place to be seen!


HOW TO GET TO ALILA VILLAS ULUWATU

30 minutes by car from Bali International Airport













Main Pool and in villa, Alila





Next post, Bulgari, also in a stunning location nearby.