Wednesday, October 31, 2012

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO BURMA


The golden marvel of Shwezigon Pagoda.

Select Collection travelled around magical Myanmar/Burma by longtail boat, car and plane. A journey back in time among glittering pagodas, stately Buddhas, and timeless lakes and rivers. We also wandered through today's intriguing markets, ate at some good (and not so good) restaurants, and saw the new icon of Burma - the home of Aung San Suu Kyi...

 But let us start with tips, some learnt the hard way:
  • Good word to know is Mingalaba (r) - hello.
  • Visa on arrival works perfectly. The cost is 30 USD, paid at the airport upon arrival.
  • Supply us with a scan of the passport page with all relevant information, at least three weeks before.
  • Your cell phone cannot be used in Burma, unless you rent a SIM card.
  • ATM machines do not work for foreign credit cards.
  • Cash is the best payment throughout the tour.
  • Bring USD non-marked bills. They are very strict about this, and will not take your money if it has even the smallest stain or folding marks.
  • You get best exchange rate for 100 and 50 dollar bills.
  • Just a few of the top hotels accept payment with credit cards.
  • Most of the airports have exchange facilities, and the rate of exchange is good.
  • Myanmar currency is kyat (say chaat).
  • Bring a good torch. Can be useful if you walk outside late evenings, or to be used visiting some of the pagodas.
  • Wet tissues are also worth bringing. Shoes need to be taken off before entering every temple and pagoda, so it is nice to be able to wipe off your feet before purring  your shoes back on.

Now follows a brief diary of our travels (note at the very end we had brief look at our Select Collection property Governor's Residence in Yangon - formerly called Rangoon):

22 September


We started the trip the best way, with an upgrade with Thai airways to business class on the direct flight from Oslo to Bangkok. The seats are quite ok, not all flat, but wide and comfortable.

23 September

Arrive Bangkok in the morning with just a few hours before the flight to Yangon.

In Yangon we were met by Erik Moe, the guide who would follow us all the way around Myanmar. He is a Burmese although his name sounds very Norwegian. Our agent lets one guide follow the guests around for the full trip, instead of getting a new local guide at every new place. 

In Yangon we started with a walk along Kandawgyi Lake, a green lung in Yangon, used by the locals for recreation. We ate at a restaurant built as a ship on the lake, where you can join a dinner show. The show is said to be great, the food was not so great.

In the afternoon we visited Scott market, a very crowded one, followed by the National Museum. Highlights are the manequin dolls dressed with national costumes from all the tribes in Myanmar and the lion throne.

We also visited the colossal reclining Buddha Chaukhtatkyi and ended up with a visit to the awe-inspiring Shwedagon Pagoda, a golden pagoda which can be seen from all over Yangon. This is one of the most beautiful pagoda complexes in Asia and should not be missed. See the image at the top of this page.

We ended the evening having dinner at a very good restaurant, The 365, with very good food and a nice atmosphere. The restaurant is at Thamada hotel. http://www.365cafeyangon.com/365.html

24 September

A very early rise this morning to reach the morning flight to Bagan, Myanmar's first capital. We flew with Yangon Airways, one of the five operating carriers. They all use the same aircraft - ATR turbocraft. Flying time from Yangon to Bagan is 1 hour 10 minutes.

Bagan is known for its many temples, pagodas and stupas. We visited many of them, but the highlight was the red and golden one called Dhammayazika. We climbed up on this one in the morning. To be on top of one of these gives a great view of this overwhelming collection of temples and pagodas spread over a big area.

We watched the sunrise from the top of this colourful
pagoda Dhammayazika.


We also had a chance to visit one of the villages in the area. We had a stroll in this village, to get the feel of people's regular lives.
We ended this day with a great river cruise on Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy)  river.  Highly recommended. Tea and snacks are served.


25 September

A new day visiting different temples and pagodas.
A highlight of the day was the sunset watched from top of another pagoda, Shwesandaw. The climbing up was tougher this time, with steeper steps than the one we climbed earlier. But the climb was well worth the effort to get the great view from the top. This is a popular place so you will not be alone here. We ended the evening with dinner and puppet show.

In Bagan we visited the best hotel here, situated in the middle of all the temples and pagodas, with a great view of them. The hotel has only 114 rooms, two restaurants, spa and gym, swimmingpools. We liked the deluxe rooms facing the pool, some with pagoda views. For longer stays we recommend the Garden deluxe rooms.

Aureum Palace:  http://www.aureumpalacehotel.com/

One thing we missed, but which we recommend for our clients, is hot air ballooning. Runs only in high season from mid October to March.

Recommended restaurants in Bagan:

The Green Elephant and the Beach Bagan.

26 September

An early rising again for the 30 minute flight to Mandalay,  the last royal capital of Myanmar.

In Mandalay we started with a visit to the ancient royal capital of Amarapura. First the well known bridge, U Bein bridge, crossing Taungthaman lake. It is more than two centuries old and at 1.2km is the longest teak wood bridge in the world. Here are a lot of vendors and beggers and the visit is better done early in the morning or late afternoon. It is nearly 45 minutes drive from Mandalay to Amarapura.

U Bein bridge, the world's longest teak bridge

We also visited Mahagandayon monastery, a huge complex with more than 130 buildings for about 1300 monks and novices. This is a school for young monks. We got the chance to watch the food ceremony.

Arriving Mandalay early afternoon, we visited more pagodas, a gold leaf hammering craftshop, Shwenendaw monastery and Kuthodaw pagoda with the world's largest book for its 729 stone slabs containing the entire Buddhist scriptures. We ended the afternoon with a drive up to Mandalay Hill. This is done with trucks, as the bus could not take us up the winding roads. Here we find a great view of all Mandalay and surroundings, including the Ayeyarwaddy river.

Dinner this evening we had at a Little Bit of Mandalay. This was a good choice when it comes to food and service.


27 September


A new early morning wake up call before the drive (c. 1 hr) to the airport for our 30 minute flight to Heho, the nearest airport to Inle Lake, our next destination.

We start with a one hour drive from Heho airport to the town called Nyaung Shwe where we enter a longtailboat to take us into the lake district. But first we took a stroll into the local market, quieter than the ones visited earlier.

One of Myanmar's few wineries is located close to here, Red Mountain estate. Here we got a tour of the house followed by wine tasting. The estate lies at the altitude of 1000 m, and all plants are imported from Europe.

After lunch we enter the longtail boats heading for the lake. Inle Lake is situated about 900 m above sea level.


Life at Inle Lake
In the afternoon we visited a lotus and silk weaving factory, and Jumping Cats Monastery. A heavy rainfall makes the trip exiting and exotic, umbrellas and raincoats keeps us as good as dry, but we end this day of sight seeing early.


28 September


Sun shining, we start the day entering the longtail boats again to discover more of the lake.

We start with a visit to Indain and its enchanting 17th century pagodas. During the day we visit a silversmith, a cheerot (burmese cigar) making and Shan traditional paper making family.

A "long necked" lady lives here, and we get a chance to see her and get the story behind this tribal feature. In Leshae village we visit Phaungdaw U Pagoda and see where they make Buddha images from dried flower powder.

During lunch at Mr Toes,  another heavy rainshower comes, but now we are safe under a roof.

The scenery is great during these two days and we see a lot. Most spectacular is to see the fishermen, standing on one foot, rowing with the other, using both hands to throw a net out or drag the fishing net back into their boats.

The art of balance - a fisher's dance at Inle Lake

29 September

Day of departure. A new early rise as we have both a long boatride and a car ride ahead of us before the flight back to Yangon. During the boatride we see the sunrise.

Flight time from Heho to Yangon is 1 hour 10 minutes.

In Yangon we have some hours to spend before the evening flight to Bangkok.

Driving from the airport into the city we pass the house where Aung San Suu Kyi lives, and where she sat in house arrest for so many years. NLD, National League for Democracy, now  have their offices here.

We start with an early lunch at Padonmar Restaurant.

 http://www.myanmar-restaurantpadonmar.com/profile.htm

This lies in the embassy district, and a short walk from the Orient Express Hotel Governors Residence.

This is the premier Burma property that we have in our Select Collection. We had a short visit to this hotel, but they had no rooms free to show us.
The Governors Residence is a small boutique hotel, housed in an old building from the 1920s, built in colonial style. There are only 48 rooms. The Deluxe rooms with garden view look into a nice green backyard.

Here there is a pool with deckchairs around it, a restaurant and a bar. They can offer traditional massage, in the rooms. No spa or gym.

Ngapali Beach is said to have some of Asia's best beaches. It is worth exttending your trip to spend some days here.

See more of our images:

Beautiful colours at the market.


It felt like being in an Indiana Jones movie.


Different ways of fishing.

Monks attending the food ceremony at
Mahagandayon monastry.


View from the top of the temple.




Buying spices at the market.




Monday, October 29, 2012

HOTEL CHECK MONACO, part 1, Hotel Metropole

Behind the Bentleys ... a sanctuary
in Monte Carlo.

From northern Italy we travelled on to Monaco by train. Arriving at the Hotel Metropole our taxi first had to squeeze it’s way past the Bentleys parked outside whilst their owners were inside enjoying one of the two Michelin Star restaurants under the command of Joël Robuchon. (The hope is that the third Joël Robuchon restaurant due to open early next year will also receive the Michelin accolade and thus become the only hotel in the world with three Michelin starred restaurants). 

Amid huge diamonds...


Monaco is a place where it’s residents like to show off - the cars are loud, the diamonds are big and the bar bills enormous…but the Metrople seems like a sanctuary away from this. The elegant lobby sets the tone and the service (which has received a number of prestigious awards) friendly and assured.
Our Superior room
Though the deluxe rooms are small, Select clients do not need to worry about this as you will all receive a guaranteed complimentary upgrade (worth around €150 per night) to a Junior Suite - much more comfortable J.  While the restaurants (and beautiful breakfast terrace) are excellent, in early 2013 the hotel will unveil their new outside premises redesigned by Karl Lagerfeld (including the pool, spa, gardens and restaurant) then it will be even better!



One night in Monaco...

Our one night in Monaco was spent enjoying the area around the hotel. Aperitifs at Café de Paris, some roulette and Blackjack at the iconic casino (Metropole guests can enjoy complimentary access to the private lounge with the high rollers), followed by spending our winnings (just about enough for an ice cube) on the terrace of the Buddha Bar where the valets were kept ever busy by the constant stream of Lamborghinis, Porsche and Ferraris. We tried to finish the night at the famous Jimmy’s night club but 130am was evidently still too early and with the dance floor empty we retired to Le Tip Top restaurant/café which is virtually next door to the hotel and famous as the late night/early morning place to go for your (fancy) burger and chips. Before leaving the next day we took in the Opera House, harbor area and Monaco’s beautiful Old Town with it’s palace and churches  - all very impressive.

A short spin from Nice airport (or 10 minutes by shuttle helicopter which costs only €125 per person), a weekend in Monaco is highly recommended as something a bit different from a typical short getaway.

How to get to Hotel Metropole

40 minutes by car from Nice International Airport or 10 minutes by helicopter.

Select added values

Complimentary upgerade guaranteed for bookings of Deluxe room and higher categories. Fruits in room.

Friday, October 26, 2012

HOTEL CHECK FRANCE, part 1, Chateau de la Chèvre d’Or

  





WOW!

Select colleagues all say how impressed they are when they return from Chateau de la Chevre d’Or. And the true experts (our clients) all say  how fantastic this Riviera property is. Still our recent visit to Chateau de la Chèvre d’Or was a wonderful surprise. Wow over and over...

This hotel is for anyone who enjoys a great panorama (a high floor and balcony and we are happy). You literally cannot escape amazing views from anywhere in the hotel. Almost hanging off the village of Eze, high above the Cote d’Azur, the seemingly endless blue skies and waters are all the more impressive when showcased from this cliff edge property. The hotel is immersed into the medieval village to such an extent that many of the suites are actually former village homes that have been renovated and so your doorway can literally front on to the narrow cobbled street (no cars in Eze). 


Hotel gardens seeming to tumble down the slope

Gardens tumble down the steep slopes in front of Chateau de la Chèvre d’Or and offer spacious terraces as well as hidden spots where you and your loved one can take a glass down from the bar and watch the yachts and fishing boats sailing through the azure blue waters far below. It took some finding for us (there are so many paths down through the gardens!) but we eventually found the small but perfectly formed gym, a real workout with a view! Sauna and steam room are also located nearby as well the massage patio.

Working out with blissful view
All rooms were recently refurbished to a very high standard but the numerous different room types mean your main choices are whether you desire a sea view, balcony, or need a lot of interior space. The Deluxe room we stayed in was perfect - around 45 sq mtre with a gorgeous bathroom that included a Jacuzzi bath (in all rooms), rain shower and twin vanities; a huge King Bed; plus of course the balcony with stunning view.

Our bathroom with jacuzzi

Sunrise from our balcony

The upgrade cost from the lead in room type of Classic Room (village/garden view and no balcony) to a Deluxe room with a sea view and balcony is around €450 per night. If you have a short stay and aren’t likely to be in your room too much then you may feel than this amount could be spent dining at the 2 Michelin Star restaurant (La Chèvre d’Or) where you can also enjoy the views with the accompaniment of truly world class French cuisine.

Deluxe room balcony

Sunrise from the breakfast terrace

Three other restaurants plus cosy bar mean you are not short of choices in the hotel and in Eze itself there are also more options. We enjoyed a wonderful diner at a tiny cave-like restaurant in the village that is run by two sisters who cook sensational rustic Italian dishes and was very popular with the few remaining local residents of the Eze meaning a fun boisterous atmosphere.

Bar interior
Bar terrace
We must also make mention of the amazing front desk and concierge team at Chateau de la Chèvre d’Or for whom nothing is too much trouble and all seem to wear a permanent smile - Sylvie, Philippe and Karine will ensure all Select guests are treated as VVIPs from the moment they arrive and we are very happy to know they are there for you.

Who to stay

Romantics. To note - because of the location of the hotel and Eze itself if you have mobility issues then we would not recommend the property as you need to go and down steep stairways and cobbled streets as soon as you leave the room.

How to get to Chateau de la Chevre d'Or

30 minutes by car from Nice International Airport.

Select added values

Bottle of wine and fruits in the room. Space-available complimentary upgrade, early checkin and late checkout.






The wonderful world of Melissa Odabash...





Celebrity designer Melissa Odabash has taken the luxury swimwear scene by storm with her sensual and glamorous creations. We are proud to offer our customers the chance of winning one of her famous kaftans. In this blog, meanwhile we talk about the wonderful world of Melissa Odabash... 

Creation "Kara"
 "Sanela" - More creations below...

Where in the world does she most like to travel, and which places most inpire her creativity?

 What are your favourite holiday destinations of all time? 


“Being American, I have a soft spot for Florida and Miami  - I have a home there, I can spend time with my family, there is great weather all year round, great shopping and restaurants. I love to take my kids there as there is so much for them to do.  Tuscany is my favourite for dining, the food is to die for!  I also love the little islands to discover during the day, the shopping is always great and the Italian men aren’t too bad to look at either!  For a more chilled out atmosphere, I head to Ibiza – I love the old town and the tapas bars, Formentara just of the coast is a great place to escape to after a little too much partying, the sea there is pure turquoise!  And of course St Tropez combines the best of relaxation with jet-set partying, and there are great cafes along the port for a spot of people watching!”

 

Where do you like to go to completely relax, chill out and escape?


“The Banyan Tree hotels in Thailand are fantastic for unwinding, I go there and switch off my phones and relax!   The Banyan Tree Spa Sanctuary in Phuket is the best for a complete well-being experience, and the DoublePoolVillas in Phuket are perfect for complete escapism, whilst for a bit of glamour I love Banyan Tree Samui . Each property is so peaceful and the spas are amazing, I always look forward to my holidays in Asia!”  


Where are your favourite beaches across the world? 


“I would have to say St Barts – Salinas beach; White Beach – Boracay Island Philippines; and beaches on Long Island – Southampton, NY, however the beaches of the Maldives and the Seychelles look very enticing and are on my hit list to visit!” 


Which destinations around the world give you inspiration for your designs?   

“It has to be Bali – I love all the prints and embroidery that comes from there.  I can even have a massage whilst getting inspired… I am so lucky that my job entitles me to work on a beach!  Also Morocco - I recently travelled there and explored the beautiful souks.  As the kaftan originated from this country, the inspiration is endless!”


What do you think makes a great hotel spa?


“The atmosphere is extremely important, you want to feel like you have been transported from day to day life into a calming and relaxing environment.  Banyan Tree Phuket has one of the best spas in the world, with the largest treatment rooms (they’re private villas!) and an authentic, personalised service, which I love.  I have had so many spa treatments in my lifetime that I know when it will be a good or bad experience, I am sure I am destined to open my own spa!”

Where do you want to go for your next holiday (that you haven’t been to before)?


“I would love to go to one of the Banyan Tree resorts in the Maldives (Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru and Banyan Tree Madivaru), the perfect destination to combine complete relaxation, fabulous beaches and refined luxury!”



"Paris"



"Louise"




For a glimpse at Melissa's fabulous kaftan creation that we are giving to 30 Select Collection customers who book a Banyan Tree or Angsana resort, see below, and for more information about this great offer please go to www.selectcollection.com/banyantree.








* More on our website about our special collaboration with Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts and Melissa Odabash. To get one of these kaftans you need to book the right resort at the right place at the right time.   Book a Banyan Tree or Angsana resort through any office of Select Collection after 1 November 2012 - and tell our consultant you would like a Melissa Odabash kaftan... first come first served. (Important: See our web page for all the rules on how to qualify.)
For Melissa's own website see

 
www.odabash.com

Thursday, October 25, 2012

HOTEL CHECK GREECE, part 10, Mykonos Grand


A sublime hotel we visited in the summer, Mykonos Grand Hotel & Resort! We loved it. And now two families of our most discerning customers have returned after their autumn holidays at Mykonos Grand, with brilliant, glowing praise. After all the uberluxurious hotels these couples have enjoyed around the world, this Mykonos property gets full marks for everything, in particular its aethetic perfection.

There is only one slight problem, it is so well liked that you have to book many months ahead. The hotel closes for the winter this month, but we are still able to book. So please contact us NOW if you are thinking of a top luxury spot of sublime beauty for your Mediterranean holiday in the spring, summer or autumn 2013.  Perfection amidst stunning classic Greek milieu.

Mykonos is your archetypal Greek island, a world of dazzling blue and white, with nice places to eat and good high-end shopping. We think it is a perfect island destination for the Select customer.

Our impressions of Mykonos Grand Hotel & Resort
This is a classic but modern Greek hotel built in the form of a village above a beautiful secluded beach. It is an amazing 5 star property about 5-10 minutes drive from Mykonos “town”, with very  friendly and welcoming staff. We could not find a thing wrong!


Accommodation

Bedroom

Bathroom

This fair-sized hotel offers 107 rooms and suites, in harmony with the fresh palette of colours and uncluttered lines of the island.  For families we recommend a suite which takes 2 adults and 2 children. And for everyone we suggest you book a seaview as the vistas are unbelievable.  Standard rooms are very nice and spacious. We did not see the suites with pool, but the pooldeck looked absolutely fantastic from outside!

Room types are Standard Garden view, Standard Sea View, Superior, Suite, Executive Suite, Suite (Deluxe and Grand) with private pool.


Facilities

Infinity pool

Attractive spacious pool area. Very nice gym with a squash court. Different secluded areas for sunbathing if you don’t want to lie around the main pool. Beautiful secluded beach. Small amphitheater for special events or small concerts, also private dining.


Who to stay

Families, couples (young and old), in our opinion almost everybody would like this. Is there anyone who should NOT stay here? Guests wanting a small boutique hotel.

How to get to Mykonos Grand

15 minutes by car from Mykonos airport.

Select added value

Bottle of Mastic with some Greek pastries and fruit in the room. Complimentary upgrade, early checkin and late checkout if space is available.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, part 16, Villa San Michele


History, views, terraces and lemon trees.

As you wind your way up the narrow country roads and get your first glimpse of Villa San Michele (facade attributed to Michelangelo) you will instantly be impressed. Without doubt it is one of the finest hotels in Florence and has an enviable location overlooking this breathtaking city.

The hotel has been faithfully restored from a 15th century monastery and lies amid immaculate terraced gardens filled with lemon and olive trees. It has a unique dining terrace perching over the valley; and 46 romantic rooms and suites located in the old monastery building or nestled amid the beautiful gardens. Many rooms enjoy spectacular views and each has its own unique style and antique furnishings.


Our terrace, our view, our Garden Suite


We were lucky enough to be given a spacious Garden Suite with private terrace overlooking the city and historical main building. The separate living area is great for those who desire space but we can also recommend the Junior Suites if your budget would prefer.


Afternoon tea, chianti and Tuscan delights

Just ouside our room - what a garden...

As well as spending time wandering through the stunning gardens, we suggest an afternoon tea in the garden enjoying the early evening sun. Relax by the pool ,which is at the highest point of the hotel, or simply unwind with a glass of chianti on your terrace...

The pool - relaxation and views

The Tuscan cuisine served on the hotel terraces is famous throughout Florence, and at weekends you will often find groups of family or friends here treating themselves to a long lunch for a special occasion.

Local life

Of course dining in this luxury hotel is sure to be memorable. But if you hanker for more local life, you may also want to walk up to the village of Fiesole, which is just 20 minutes amble up the slope behind Villa San Michelle. A handful of restaurants and wine bars can be found around the piazzetta and there is also beautiful small church where you can see a magical sunset over Florence. Our concierge made arrangements for the best table in the best (most local) restaurant in the village and we ate like royalty and enjoyed some lively Italian banter between the local diners!

The Renaissance city

Climbing the Duomo for breathtaking views
The complimentary hotel shuttle to Florence is a smooth journey of around 25mins and runs every hour right in to the heart of the city. Absolute must do’s in the city include climbing the Duomo for 360 degree views of the city, wandering through Michelangelo sculptures in Galleria dell'Accadamia to see the famous David, and visiting the Mercator Central - a giant delicatessen style market dedicated to the finest Tuscan food.


How to get to Villa San Michele



20  minutes by car from Florence International Airport, 15 minutes from Firenze railway station

Select added value



A local welcome amenity


The lobby - in the 15th century this was a convent



Monday, October 22, 2012

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, part 15, Hotel Splendido

Glamour all the way to the top.

Arriving in to nearby Santa Margherita train station we were met by our impressively attired chauffeur and our equally impressive BMW and taken on the short coastal drive to Portofino and Hotel Splendido.

Glamour exudes from every pore of the Splendido; with its history and reputation you feel as if you may bump into a famous face around any corner. Indeed visit the hotel’s “Golden Book” to see some of their more well known guests over the years. http://www.hotelsplendido.com/web/ospl/golden_book.jsp


Portofino & Hotel Splendido - long building to the right on top of the hill.
Luxury yachts and fishing boats in the cove

Back to the present and our stay. The terrace is the focal point of the property and it is no wonder, perched as it is on a steep hillside with views down to the azure blue waters of Portofino‘s cove and the luxury yachts that are berthed there. Decadent breakfasts of prosecco and the finest Italian hams and cheeses give way to lunchtime cappuccinos, afternoon cocktails and then as the sun sets a transformation in to one of the most romantic dining spots in Europe.

Accommodation

Almost all of the 69 rooms and suites enjoy excellent sea views and we would certainly recommend those with private terrace/balcony to maximise your experience. Our Junior Suite was beautifully appointed with warm colours and fabrics and a sensational view. Deluxe rooms are smaller but equally stylish while various other suites can be found on the upper floors with spacious terraces.

Executive suite

Executive suite

Facilities & activities
As well as a gorgeous infinity pool (once again boasting those magnificent views) the hotel has a small spa (where incidentally one of Select Collection’s excellent spa team used to work), tennis court and fitness centre. For a special experience let us help you reserve the hotel’s private boat for an afternoon cruising along the stunning coastline or perhaps for sundowners in the bustling harbor. Costing from only €500 for a sunset cruise with champagne and canapés, or from €1000 for a half day’s hire we think it is well worth looking into.

A regular shuttle takes you to Portofino in just a few minutes, but the walk takes only 10 minutes (a little more time and energy is required coming back up the hill). Small cafes, bars and restaurants line the piazzetta and waterfront, while in the narrow streets you will find boutiques and luxury stores such Hermes. It’s fair to say that much of the price you pay to eat in Portofino is for the view…but what a view it is. Luxury yachts bob up and down sharing the same small harbor as traditional fishing boats and the backdrop of colorful old buildings or forested slopes with castle turrets and luxury mansions means a stunning vista from any angle.

On the opposite side of the cove to the village is a small peninsula, home to an old castle, stunning gardens and some of Italy’s most expensive homes. A narrow path through the heart of this peninsula gives you a glimpse of these stunning properties but also affords you with memorable views and at the end of the path is a Lighthouse which is home to a small bar looking out over the sea and on to the Italian coast. From the bar we went a little “off piste” and made our way through the trees to some nearby cliffs where we enjoyed one of the most incredible sunsets. Waves crashing below, a view along the deserted coastline and a bright orange sun dropping in to the blue waters…

For a longer walk we can also suggest the coastal trail to San Fruttuoso Abbey.

San Fruttouoso Abbey beach

A cliff path leads from behind the hotel up in to the hills and past an eclectic mix of centuries old farmhouses mixed with magnificent mansions. Planning is extremely strict in the area so all buildings blend in to the surroundings (or often as not are almost completely hidden) and no new buildings have been allowed since the 1960s. Amazing views meant the 70 minute walk took us around 2 hours, so often were we stopping to admire the scenery. The tiny bay of San Fruttuoso can only be reached by boat (and even then only in very calm seas) or on foot and is incredibly picturesque. A couple of local restaurants share space with the 11th century  abbey and your path to the beach actually takes you under the cloisters – quite an entrance. Straight in to the clear waters to cool off from the walk, followed by an ice cool Birra Moretti before the passenger boat took us back to Portofino and our fabulous hotel…

Splendid Splendido...

Hotel Splendido terrace restaurant

Monday, October 15, 2012

HOTEL CHECK UAE, part 9, Banyan Tree Al Wadi




Banyan Tree Al Wadi revisited - a magnificent desert experience. 

We arrived through the protected desert nature reserve of Al Wadi  where golden sand dunes sent shimmers of heat up through the air. What a contrast from the skyscrapers of Dubai, left behind us an hour ago. 

Stepping out of our luxurious air conditioned car it felt like an oven....thankfully we were whisked to our vast Al Khaimah Tented Pool Villa where within a matter of minutes we were bathing in the huge cool private pool and looking out on to the vast expanse of desert.

Our view stretches forever- and what is more we are cool!


In the summer heat, this is what the Banyan Tree Al Wadi delivers – peace and relaxation – a wonderful contrast from the more bustling atmosphere in Dubai. As long as you are happy to spend your days reading a book and jumping in to your private pool (this is an all pool villa property) every 10 minutes then it makes for a great  place.

And at less than an hour's drive from Dubai, it is very easy to combine with city life. Also easy to combine with beach life, either at one of our beachside Dubai properties or at Banyan Tree's own beach club a short drive away from Al Wadi.

As temperatures cool from mid October to April, more options of things to do open up. The hotel’s excellent raptor centre has a unique champagne and canapes show in the evening and it is impressive to see these huge birds soaring above you before dive bombing to the desert floor.

Desert safari with falcon


Camel rides, an archery centre, apart from the nearby Banyan Tree Beach Club, mean you do have options in the day...particularly useful if you have children in tow.

Children's corner

An all year round must do is the complimentary rainforest experience in the spa. Encompassing a series of spa experiences including sauna, steam room, ice room, salt room, plunge pools, and hydrotherapy jets which you experience over the course of a 45 minute walkthrough with your partner, it is a unique spa session!

In the evenings an aperetif on the rooftop of the Moon Bar was followed by dinner at the desert restaurant ‘Saffran’ serving authentic Thai food. All staff and chefs at this restaurant are Thai and the menu genuine rather than typical tourist choices, and we can honestly rate as the best Thai we have eaten away from Bangkok. Eating on the terrace here comes with the added bonus of views over the desert watering hole and we were lucky enough the see a small group of gazelle passing through for a quick drink under the moonlight....The perfect way to finish our stay here.

Cocktails in the Samar Lounge
See also our last blog on Banyan Tree Al Wadi, with more information on family accommodation.