Friday, November 29, 2013

HOTEL CHECK THAILAND, Rayavadee

Ann Jurk reports on a hotel blessed with the most wonderful scenery that Thailand can offer. Just like the movies...

Rayavadee Krabi. Infinity pool and views you dream of ...

Transfer to the hotel was by car and boat and finally a truck, on huge wheels gliding over the sand bottom due to the low tide, taking guests to the hotel where we were well received in the reception with cool towels and a cocktail.
Lovely reception area - lovely greeting

Lush tropical surroundings...

The hotel is set amidst luscious vegetation and surrounded by fantastic limestone cliffs, bordered by three beaches. Monkeys and other various animals were popping up everywhere!

We stayed in a Terrace pavilion, two storey buildings with a living room downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. Here you have a big bathroom with separate bathtub and shower. The houses are well hidden in the vegetation, which makes a nice setting that harmonizes with nature.

The terrace of our Pavilion

Bathroom in the 3-bedroom villa

In a 3-bedroom villa


The Villas are amazing. I can also recommend the pavilions with hydra pool.

What one does need to know is that there are no private beaches in Thailand. Beaches can be a bit noisy and crowded. The best beach is Raily beach which is located in the same area as the pool.

Another view of the infinity pool
near the best beach

Smiling!

The service level was good and the staff always had a smile on their faces! All restaurants keep up high standard, but the favorite was Krua Phranang (Thai restaurant). We also ate at The Grotto (cozy eating in a cave) and Raya (more fine dining) and  had lunch every day at Raitalay terrace. They were all really nice but the Thai restaurant became the favorite. Everyday at 16:00 afternoon tea was served in the main restaurant, Raya dining; this is free of charge for all guests.

You can also go out from the resort to have dinner at local restaurants and browse around some small shops.

I also booked a private boat to Phi Phi. It was high quality throughout, nice boat, amazing picnic and the guide (Suwan) was outstanding. He could really sense what a client needed.  I could easily say that this private trip was one of the best that I have ever experienced.

Our boat to Phi Phi island

You can also play tennis or squash, make the most of free watersports such as kayaking, snorkeling, windsurfing, laser boarding. And a picnic on the beach is something not to miss...

Picnic on the beach

Rayavadee Special 

The Spa was just amazing and the treatment I had (Rayavadee Special 75 min) was a really blissful experience!


The beautiful spa

At Rayavadee its  five star status is particularly visible in relation to the food, service and pool area - which is stunning. When it comes to accommodation,  I recommend you book a villa, or pavilion with the Hydra Pool.

Thai Business 

We flew with Thai in Business. Thai has a new business class with high quality and high comfort. Champagne is served when you enter the plane and you also receive an a al carte menu. You have three different set menus to choose between and a lot of different wines. You get flat beds with a big pillow and a large and soft blanket. It doesn’t feel as if you spent more than 10 hours on the plane.






Monday, November 18, 2013

HOTEL CHECK MALDIVES, Four Seasons at Landaa Giraavaru

Neil Bedford continues on a journey through paradise. Now it is Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru that captures his heart…



This hotel has everything you can ask of your dream island – exotic jungle greenery, immaculate white beaches and the turquoise water of a coral encircled lagoon. On the island you will find a collection of 102 luxurious villas (both overwater and beachfront), one of the finest spas in the Indian Ocean and a wealth of dining choices – everything you need to make you wish your time in paradise never comes to an end.

White beaches lapped by turquoise water


On the Beach

Our place...

We stayed in a Beach Villa with Pool giving 130 sq metres of indoor space, plus a large private pool, outdoor pool bale and even our own tree house complete with day bed and hammock looking out to the ocean. 
Our pool


A sand floored open-air living and dining pavilion means those who enjoy their villa comforts needn’t leave, while a narrow sand path led....

...through the bushes to our own
private stretch of beach with sun loungers
and snorkeling gear all ready just for us


Other accommodation options include Beach Bungalows with Pool (the same set up but a little smaller) and a collection of stilted Overwater Villas which differ in sunrise or sunset view and whether or not you have your own terrace pool. While all rooms can accommodation 2 adults and 2 children up to 12 yrs, there are more spacious options.

Sunset 2-bedroom water suite

Two-bedroom Family Beach Bungalows (with pool) have an additional twin bedroom linked by a short corridor to the master. A separate bathroom and outdoor shower make these especially suitable for families with older children and teenagers. The Family Beach Villas (with pool) have an attached study including a single bed with pullout underneath, a desk, wardrobe, TV and adjacent shower room - ideal for families with younger children.

New to paradise

The amazing Estate

NEW to the property, and welcoming its first guests the day we departed, is the amazing 3 bedroom Landaa Estate which is one of the finest villas in the country. This two-storey estate (513 sqm with maximum occupancy for 11 using extra beds) features a private 80 metre beach with coral reef in front, two pools (one on the upper floor with a waterfall down to the beachfront pool), a stargazing lounge, vast al fresco living space, fully equipped kitchen and even a nanny’s room.


Manta magic

Located in the Baa Atoll, the resort is reached by 30 minute seaplane taxi from Male and the atoll is Maldives' only UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Baa atoll is particularly famed for Hannifaru Bay, where from June to October you have the chance to snorkel with mass gatherings of manta rays and whale sharks. Unfortunately the timings of our visit meant the season was just coming to an end and the chances of sightings of either of these majestic sea creatures were looking slim. But Four Seasons do everything they can to give you the very best chance, including their fantastic manta-on-call programme.

When you sign up for this service, you'll be given a mobile phone in a waterproof bag to keep on you everyday and are contacted immediately when manta rays are sighted. Once you get the call, it’s all systems go as you race to the dive centre and hop on a speedboat to embark on an unforgettable experience. We were lucky enough to snorkel with six giant manta rays as a result of this programme and the experience will live with us forever.


Ayurveda over water


Back on the island, and a more relaxing activity….spa time. 

One of the most beautiful spas ever....

The spa at Landaa Giraavaru is one of the most beautiful you can imagine, 10 vast open-air treatment pavilions – including three dedicated to ayurveda – are nestled in their own lush tropical gardens or on stilts over the turquoise lagoon. The overwater pavilions boast an open front with sensational sea views as well as sections of glass floor under the massage table. Hidden in the herb garden, the Ayurvedic Retreat focuses on treating illness, preventing disease and enhancing physical, mental and spiritual well-being, A complimentary 30 minute Ayuverda consultation is offered to all guests.

Yoga pavilion

Early learning in paradise

Bright and happy kids club
Children staying at the resort can join the ‘Passport to Adventure’, a booklet presenting a series of island challenges where they get a stamp when they complete each challenge. Seven or more stamps earn a prize while if they collect all 14 they earn ice cream sundaes for the whole family! In addition to this there are up to eight daily activities such as coral reefscaping, lizard spotting, herb hunts and mocktail making. There’s also kayaking, cycling, cookie and pizza making, while children who are confident snorkelers can also go out on turtle snorkel safaris or even the manta-on-call.

The resort has its own Teen Centre, a hangout where they can shoot some pool, chill with movies, catch up on Facebook or play Wii. All this plus a large variety of watersports such as catamaran, jet ski and banana boat. Unique to Landaa Giraavaru, children over 8 can become a PADI Seal Team Member by carrying out  AquaMissions in the safe, sheltered lagoon coral gardens (rather than swimming pool environment which is offered at several other resorts). Here they can master the basics and then progress to specialty scuba missions such as navigation, night, and search and recovery.



Dining divinely

Dining options include Asian, Middle Eastern and Italian plus the freshest selection of grilled seafood. 

Catch of the Day

Blu Italian restaurant

For something extra special you can sail enjoy several unique dining experiences: sail to a floating platform in the sparkling lagoon where you are left alone to await the arrival of your dinner by boat while you are surrounded by the lagoon’s natural sea life, perhaps you might even spot a dorsal fin or two….; be whisked away by speedboat to your own deserted sandbank where you can enjoy a succulent barbecue dinner produced by your private chefs at a sand-carved candle-lit table beneath a blanket of stars.

Dancing for joy, upside down
- champagne in the sunset


After a superb dinner, make your way over the short sea walk to one of the most relaxed decks in the Maldives, Seabar. Here you can laze on cozy day beds and overwater net hammocks as you sip a cocktail and track the distinctive dark shapes of lemon sharks and rays in the illuminated turquoise waters below. 


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

HOTEL CHECK MALDIVES, One&Only Reethi Rah

“Paradise perfected”. That is how Neil Bedford sums up the fabled Reethi Rah after his recent visit to the Maldives. Here he gives details to help travellers to choose just where they want to spend their precious holiday…

Your holiday really does begin as soon as you touch the ground. On arrival in to Male airport we were whisked straight to the top deck of their sleek yacht and were relaxing on the day bed enjoying a chilled drink before you could say pass me the sun cream. 

Yacht transfer departing from Male

For a first time visitor to the Maldives, the 80 minute journey (soon to be possible in half that time with an optional speedboat transfer) was a highlight in itself, cruising past a mixture of deserted atolls and other hotel islands as well as sunken reefs where the turquoise waters really are as vivid and bright as in all the photos.


Arriving to pristine perfection

One&Only Reethi Rah’s proximity to Male itself has been raised as a question before - can you see skyscrapers, is the water clean, will it feel like the remote paradise island I hoped for? Such fears are totally unfounded. One&Only Reethi Rah is over 35 km from Male itself, meaning it is too far to see. One&Only Reethi Rah feels absolutely like a remote paradise.

12 island beaches...

One&Only Reethi Rah is actually found on one of the largest islands in the Maldives. There are no less than 12 island beaches for the 130 villas so even if the hotel is running 100% full it is always easy to find your own space to throw down your towel….not that many people do this however. Families and couples alike tend to enjoy the Beach Club – sunbeds and cabanas are places metres from the water where activities in the sandy bay include inflatable slides and volleyball; more adrenalin inducing options like water skiing and banana boats take place just out from the coral reef that surrounds the island; on dry land there is a climbing wall, golf simulator, pool and table tennis (plus tennis court and Astroturf foot ball pitch nearby) so while you just soak up the sun with a good book you needn’t worry about the kids (or husband/wife) getting bored.

Swinging -dazzling perfection at the beach club


This is also the best beach to snorkel from, with the house reef a short swim away or you can paddle out in a kayak and tie it up to a buoy or one of the floating sun decks! Another popular option for spending the day is around the Reethi Restaurant where a lagoon style pool partly shaded by palm trees is ideal for younger children, while adults can enjoy the more picturesque infinity lap pool that perches over the water nearby. Of course if those sound like far too much energy is required then you will have plenty of space by your luxury accommodation….


On the Beach

Silken sands

One&Only Reethi Rah’s Beach Villas (some with their own pool) all have their own section of beach and are spaced well apart from their nearest neighbour. On many islands, beach villas are often packed tight together and the beach they are found on is often the main island beach so you don’t feel a sense of privacy. Not so at One&Only Reethi Rah, we felt like the whole bay was ours such is the positioning of the vegetation and hidden nature of the villas. A small, but nice, touch was that our pool villa had 4 sun loungers plus a hammock so you could either be closer to the ocean and enjoy more expansive views, or nearer to the villa if you tend to be up and down.

Viewing our domain - paradise in a beach villa


...with your own pool under the palms

Having our own pool was an added bonus but not an essential if you are happy enough to cool off in the sea. It is worth noting that while the beaches are exemplary and water perfectly clear, the water in front of the beach villas is not a snorkelers paradise as the water level is generally quite shallow and there is no reef to speak of…but for avid snorkelers (like me) it is easy to visit the reef in front of the Beach Bar and there are may options every day for boat trips to deserted sand banks and other near by reefs where the knowledgeable staff know where the best chances are to see reef sharks, turtles, dolphins or manta rays.

Over the Water

One&Only Reethi Rah’s Water Villas are in small clusters of just 4 villas and have huge open decks with over water hammocks and steps in to the water. Water villas are the signature accommodation of the Maldives and it is tough choice whether to go for a water villa or a beach. As you fly above the islands you see many long branches of water villas extending from the main island in to the water, this can sometimes have the advantage of taking you in to deeper water (if you pay a premium to be at the ‘end’ of the branch) so you can swim and snorkel more easily, however you may need to go past 50 villas first before you reach yours. At One&Only Reethi Rah these tiny clusters are close to the mainland so you will not feel like you are out in the middle of the ocean, but you do still have great views from the terrace which wraps around two sides of the 130 sqm villa and you also still feel part of the island.

Sublime water villa

Villa interiors manage to be both strikingly beautiful as well as exceptionally well designed. In fact the word faultless was used when we sadly had to leave ours behind. While all room types do take a minimum of 2 adults and 2 children, Duplex Beach Pool Villas and the Two Bedroom Grand Beach Villa can accommodate up to 6.


Stuck on an island?

A worry for some when visiting the Maldives is that being stuck on an island you have to eat the same food in the same restaurant every day. Well even if this were true at One&Only Reethi Rah I would still have been pleased to do it because the food was just so good! Actually though you have a choice of 6 dining venues plus in-villa and signature dining excursions such as BBQ on a deserted sandbar. In keeping with the rest of the island, presentation holds as much importance as taste and both are delivered immaculately.

Tapasake delights 

Our favourite was Tapasake, an overwater dining venue serving modern Japanese tapas style cuisine and boasting arguably of finest selection of sake and Rieslings in the country. The nightly visit of Bob the local reef shark who is a 10pm regular can give you something of a shock if you aren’t expecting to look down and see a 3 metre shark under your feet. Other dining options include Asian, Mediterranean and Arabic, all manner of salads from the organic garden, grilled local seafood, imported Kobe beef….you really are spoilt. The breakfast experience is a highlight of the day - walk in to the giant cool room to be faced by a choice of fresh sashimi, tropical fruits, homemade pastries….all supplemented by further buffet offerings from around the word as well a la carte hot dishes and fresh juices or prosecco if you want to indulge.


 Having a dress code (shoes and trousers for men, ‘island chic’ for ladies) at some of these restaurants may sound somewhat over the top when you are staying on a tropical island. In reality it didn’t feel formal or out of place to go to dinner wearing the type of clothes you might have for a sundowner at the local bar or boat club in the summer. Some guests keep island chic very casual, others have their labels on show, both fit in as did the many of the men who borrowed a sarong to eat at Tapasake in place of trousers. 

Romance of champagne on the beach

Bliss not to miss

Getting around the island is by bike or buggy (the top room categories have buggies provided, or anyone can pay to rent one) and the sand ‘roads’ and gardens are beautifully manicured wherever you decide to explore….one of those places should definitely be the world class ESPA spa. It is easy to see why One&Only Reethi Rah’s spa has won a multitude of awards in recent years. Whether you are a regular spa aficionado or only tend to visit whilst you are away, you are sure to be impressed. Before a spa treatment enjoy vitality pools, crystal steam rooms, lifestyle showers, saunas and stimulating ice fountain. Luxurious treatment villas, nestled beneath thatched roofs each with spectacular ocean views add to the experience of being treated by expert therapists.

In a coconut shell

There is no denying that a stay at One&Only Reethi Rah does not come cheap but when you are willing to pay for the best all you want is to experience the best. There is no doubt that One&Only Reethi Rah delivers on this promise and justifies its growing reputation as one of the finest hotels in the world.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

HOTEL CHECK SPAIN, W Barcelona


W is a Barcelona landmark; locals often
call it Hotel Vela (the sail hotel)


At W Barcelona you can truly have a cosmopolitan beach holiday. The best of two worlds, one of the most amazing cities in the world just 5 minutes by taxi, and the beach at your doorstep. Select Collection checked in for a weekend to see if this gem was still as good as it was a year ago when we last visited....

And yes, it was probably even better. Because this hotel has managed the very unusual, to be cool and trendy and offer a truly five star service. The staff is just as attentive as in a classic iconic 5 star hotel. The concierge team deserves a special mentioning.

To sum it up there was basically just one thing we did not like, the lack of free wifi in the room.

But let’s take a snapshot tour…

The lobby walls sparkle like a 
Swarowski dress


Stunning early morning view over Barcelona
from a 17th floor room
Breakfast is available in two restaurants. We recommend Bravo for...

A petite and elegant presentation, cozy
interiors and possibility to dine outside
on the terrace
 
Fruits in Bravo


City view. Below is the huge terrace WET
WET features a pool, pool bar and loungers, and is just in front of the beach. 

More cool features...
.

An unconventionally planned room

In room shaker set with recipe for
3 signature drinks

 As we said, the only cool thing missing was free wifi .