Friday, September 26, 2014

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO THE SEYCHELLES

Ultra chic paradise. Select Collection travel consultant Linda Isberg visits one of the world's most romantic and exclusive destinations. She reviews her Business Class flight, and summarizes features of our wonderful Select Collection resorts...

Raffles Praslin


A villa  at Raffles Praslin



Raffles Praslin is one of the best and most modern resorts on Praslin Island. Villa accommodation only is offered here. The view from Bay View Pool Villas can vary a lot from villa to villa, but is assuredly lovely in most villas.

The resort has full facilities, offering kids club, spa, snorkelling, sailing, kayaks, walking trails up in the mountains, excursions to Curieuse National Park with land tortoises and more.
The resort can arrange weddings and soon they will have their own helipad.

I had the best dinner on this trip in Raffles Losean restaurant.
This resort is very similar to Banyan Tree resort in layout. The interior of the villas is perhaps more simple and contemporary.

See our website.

Banyan Tree Seychelles, Mahe

Light and white - with marvellous views

This villa resort on Mahe Island is located near Anse Intendance. It is built in a colonial style, all in white which gives you a bright, warm and welcoming feeling when you arrive.

Here you can choose to book a beach front villa or one on the hillside with a view. I would personally prefer a beachfront villa, since this resort is large and you need to go by buggy everywhere if you are staying on the hillside. All facilities are located down at the beach side.

Dining with a perfect view

They have, of course, a spectacular spa, and great restaurant outlets like the Thai Saffron, which is their signature restaurant.


Hillside pool villa

Banyan Tree is perfect for honeymooners. They do accept children, but there is nothing really for larger children to do here. Those with little ones would be happy here if they don’t require a kids club and so on.


Light, spacious, and contemporary with warm touches of colour

See our website for more about Banyan Tree Seychelles, Mahe.

Four Seasons Seychelles

There are 67 perfectly built villas on the hillside overviewing Petite Anse beach. This is my favourite resort on Mahe, and also one of the most expensive ones.

In my opinion Four Seasons has the best location on the island. They are located at Petite Anse, one of the most beautiful beaches, protected against wind and seaweed. Even during the windy season June – Sep you can still swim here.

Some villas are located on the top of the hill with stunning views, called Serenity Villas.
Between the villas it is so lush that you don’t really see into you neighbours - very private.

Four Seasons caters for adults and children, and is very romantic for honeymoon couples. Facilities include a spa, Junior spa, Kids Club, Teens Club, Apart from watersports, you can have your own surfing teacher. The resort offers marine biologists, a gym, and a large swimming pool directly beside the beach.

Four Seasons - beautifully situated


Ocean view villa

See our website for more about Four Seasons Seychelles.

Constance Ephelia Resort

Junior Suite

Truly a resort that caters for everyone, but families in particular. They have a lot of activities like a playground for small children close to the beach, Kids Club, spa village, diving, gym, watersports, tennis and squash courts, Climbing wall, Zip Line etc.

The resort has 5 restaurants and if you book suites they are included with half board. You can choose from laid back “barefoot in the sand” dining to Fine Dining options, buffet or a la carte.

Junior suites and Senior suites take 2 adults + 1 child + 1 infant. But for families on a smaller budget, arrangements can be made to have 2 adults + 2 children in the same room, albeit cramped.

Note that the villas have 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms. I stayed in a 3 bedroom villa and it consisted of Master bed room downstairs. 2 smaller bedrooms upstairs, one King + one Twin. These 2 rooms upstairs can only be reached by outside stairs.  The Living room and sitting area are outside by the private pool.

There are many elements at this resort, which make you feel like you are at a Constance resort on Mauritius. They have used the same material to build the pool etc as on Mauritius.

One very positive thing about Ephelia resort is that they have two  beaches, located on two different sides of a peninsula, which you can choose from depending on the sea conditions.

Villas



See our website for more about Constance Ephelia.

Denis Island



A beautiful spot for a honeymoon, exuding quiet luxury and serenity, but also great for families.

It is a private island resort with only 25 bungalows and villas, all with outdoor bathrooms.

Families: All villas can take 2 adults + 2 children in extra beds. For a larger family I would recommend the Family villa that can take 2 adults + 3 children.

There are 5 different room categories, Beach Cottage 90 sqm, Deluxe Beach Cottage 130 sqm, Beach Front Spa Cottage 150 sqm, Family Villa 169 sqm and Beach Villa 325 sqm.

Breakfast and lunch is always buffet serving, and dinner is a la carte. The following activities are included in the price; canoes, snorkeling gear, billiard, tennis and bicycles,
Important to know: there is no mobile phone signal on this island, no internet and TV (except for the access in the library).




The resort doesn’t have a spa, but if you want to have a massage they can set this up in your room.  Spa Villas already have the massage bed.

The onwards domestic flight to Denis Island with Air Seychelles is a turboprop. Flight time 40 minutes (max 15kg luggage in soft bags).




Flights

Emirates: Flight EK158 from Arlanda to Mahe in business class via Dubai. The comfort and quality of service is high. They offer iPads to control your entertainment system and massage in the seats. Food and drinks were great, and  they offer you champagne when you board. The seats are not as wide as Qatar Airways business class.  Important information about the seating, if the flight has First Class onboard, business class has another layout:

EK Business when there is no first class cabin

EK Business when there is a first class cabin

First Class cabin with Bassinet

The Business class lounge in Dubai is the largest I have ever seen. It almost takes up a whole floor; it has to be several thousand square meters divided into smaller areas and different restaurant outlets like Kids Corner.

On arrival at Mahe Airport we were greeted by Mason´s staff for immigration and custom formalities and transferred to Mason´s Kapatya Lounge near Eden Island, located approximately 15 mins from the airport. They have a kid’s room, shower and changing area, TV, drinks snacks, and internet access too.

Background

This was a familiarization trip organized by the Seychelles Tourism Board and Emirates, Emirates and ground agents Mason's and Creole Travel.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ROAD TRIP TO MARBELLA

Louise Lundius, one of our product team and an inveterate traveller, drove from Stockholm to a magical villa hideaway in Marbella, with some interesting hotel stops en route...

Heading for....


A magical villa in the hills, Marbella

The first day we drove from Stockholm via Malmö to Denmark where we took the ferry from Rödby to Puttgarden. Then we drove to Hamburg 


Hamburg – Park Hyatt

Park Hyatt is located in the middle of the city, close to all the shopping streets and restaurants.  It´s a popular hotel for business travelers - a big hotel with 252 rooms, yet with friendly and helpful staff. For example, when we left the next morning we found they had put drinks for the journey in our car.

We stayed in a King double room and the room was modern with marble bath and Bang Olufsen TV.
Perfect after a day of driving . there is is a big spa (1000 sqm) with a big inside pool.



We had dinner at Apples Restaurant and the food was really good. This is where you can also enjoy their amazing buffet breakfast.

Second day - overnight Lyon

The next day we drove to Lyon where we stayed at a very special hotel...

Lyon - Cour de Loges

The hotel is situated in the old town and it was quite difficult to work out how to drive there. We had to park the car on a platform where we entered a code and then we could drive into the old town. The only cars allowed in the old town are the cars belonging to hotel guests.



The hotel is unique. It´s an old monastery and on the ground floor in the middle they have the restaurant, where it´s open all the way up to the sky through a glass ceiling.



We stayed in a Superior room. The style is very romantic and rustic. Since they had a lot of guests at the moment we didn´t see any of the other rooms, but in our room the bathtub is in the middle of the room and the toilet is a renovated closet.

Cour de Loges is perfect for a romantic getaway or if, like us, you pass through Lyon. The old town is very cozy and there are a lot of small restaurants and coffee shops. The hotel is great and the staff is very helpful and friendly. It might not be for very demanding clients but great for people that want something unique and romantic.


Third day - overnight Costa Brava, Spain


Alva Park

This is one of Select Collection's most surprising hotels. Hidden behind a plain exterior just off a public sandy beach near Lloret de Mar on the Costa Brava, the hotel  is loaded with art and unexpected luxuries.

The magical spa - music under the water in the Princess Bath

A suite - the bed as wide as it is long....
We stayed in a premier seaview junior suite. The suite was 70 sqm with a 2.40 meter wide bed, which was in fact wider than it was long. The room was amazing with a big bathroom, a dressing room, a study with a desk and a small kitchen area, separate toilet and a large bathroom with shower and bath tub.

The room has all the luxurious  details such as Bang Olufsen television, Bose sound system, Molton Brown amenities etc.

When we got there we had lunch by the pool, The food was great but in the evening we decided to get some variety. We tried to get a table for the adorable Japanese restaurant but unfortunately you had to book this 24 hours in advance. We therefore had dinner at the Butterfly Garden instead which was a nice experience and a lot of fun.
.
The hotel's pool area is a pleasant place to linger with a big pool and nice sunbeds. The beach, though public, is beautfiul with a wide stretch of golden sand.

See the layout of the room we stayed in.

Fourth day - overnight Marbella


Villa Casa Romana

We stayed in a beautful villa Casa Romana up in the hills behind Marbella. The villa has 7 bedrooms and ample living and dining spaces.

Ideal for a big family holiday or small group, the villa can be rented through Select Collection. Just look!


Villa Casa Romana

The villa's views down to Marbella

Its classical Spanish style

And its comfortable and elegant living spaces


Monday, September 22, 2014

WEEKEND BREAK ON SRI LANKA, Galle Fort

Our guest blogger Sonja Catani is back from Sri Lanka where she spent just three luxurious nights. Read her vivid account of Amangalla, shopping and spa bliss, on her "Girly Weekend" - and get inspired to do the same...

Weekendhopping to picturesque Galle Fort

To green lush and colourful Sri Lanka just for a weekend
Enjoying King coconut - the best drink on the beach in Sri Lanka
Shopping in quirky interiors

Jewellery and semi precious stones - part of the shopping excitement

It is all about investing minimum time in maximum travel experience: #weekendhoppers is perfect for busy people who have a hard time finding moments to really relax without having to halt life for weeks.

 I went with my lovely Norwegian friend Ine to Sri Lanka for a girly weekend. Our goal was to relax completely, get some sun, enjoy a lot of spa-pampering, eat great food, shop for jewellery and stay in a luxury hotel and enjoy life. We got all of that and then some.

Getting to fascinating Galle 

Wednesday morning after leaving kids at school/day-care Ine and I met at Arlanda Airport and flew Qatar Airlines Dreamliner business class (or Disney Class as my daughter calls it) via Doha to Colombo, Sri Lanka. This was my first visit to the new Doha International Airport, and I was a bit disappointed with the premium facilities as they were so great before in the old airport, with their own premium terminal. But on the other hand the airport is great for shopping and I think that most passengers will find it to be a great airport for transfer.

We landed early, early morning in Colombo and Sri Lanka in Style (Select Collection's preferred travel partner in Sri Lanka) had sent two cars to pick us up. Two cars, because I had a “slight” de-tour to make (see my footnote about my diversion). Ine travelled comfortably for about 1.5 hours on the new highway down to Galle, arrived for early breakfast at Amangalla, the fantastic colonial Aman-hotel in the old Dutch forte in Galle. Here she enjoyed her day resting in our beautiful two-room suite, had Thai massage, pedicure and manicure and a stroll to look at the surroundings in Galle Fort.

Amazing colour everrywhere

Amangalla

Thursday night arriving in Amangalla was a huge contrast compared to the orphanage and all the local villages I’d been driven through on the way south through Sri Lanka. Amangalla is a large 300 year old colonial building stretching inwards with lush gardens and fantastic pool.

Amangalla pool area

With only 30 rooms it is an exceptionally spacious hotel. You arrive onto the long veranda that stretches the whole length of the building, where people sit and sip cocktails or have their dinner.

Hidden patios and sitting areas everywhere at Amangalla


Lobby and sitting areas in Amangalla

Everything is like a set from a British film about colonial times. You suddenly get the urge to have a gin & tonic even if you never drink it otherwise.

Welcoming lounge area

 Inside you have large rooms with polished teak furniture, a grand piano, soft jazz music and of course the ever attentive hotel personnel who greet you by name and welcome you with the most dazzling smiles. I found Ine in the library at the back, solemnly reading a book and looking like she already would’ve had a week of vacation.

Our spacious suite

Our suite was in perfect Aman-style: spacious, extremely well equipped, highest quality in all amenities and so beautiful. We stayed in the old part of the house on the second floor, ceiling height over 4 meters with two enormous bay windows opening up towards the street in front of the hotel where tuktuk-drivers wait for customers and behind the thick fort walls you see the dramatic seas and the bay of Galle.

After a delicious dinner of tuna carpaccio, avocado and spices, signed by Executive Chef Sumit Batra, we retired to the cool thick Egyptian cotton clad huge beds and slept like babes.

The otherworldy spa

Friday we were greeted by rain and storm. Ine got a bit worried, but soon found out that Sri Lankan weather is unpredictable and changes quickly, assuring you seldom need to worry about rain for longer stretches of time. However we were happy that it rained as it gave us a chance to spend hours and hours at the spa. Amangalla spa is as good as it gets. It’s serene and stylish and the Balinese ladies were hand-picked as the best in their field. My massage therapist came from the Oberoi in Mauritus and she was amazing! I was shocked as the hotel manager Pietro actually recognised us after the treatment, so different did we feel that we thought we had taken on new personalities!

Good spa or shopping  weather - but the rain didnt last that long

Friday afternoon was spent shopping in Galle Forte in Mary Poppins weather. Thankful for the beautiful Amangalla colonial style umbrellas we headed out to the jewellery stores, flying down the narrow roads in the unspoilt beauty of the old fort town. As I mentioned I’ve been to Sri Lanka more than 10 times. My last visit to Galle was a few years back and oh my God how it’s developed! It’s an absolutely amazingly beautiful and picturesque colonial town. Everything is authentic and more and more houses are being renovated. Galle now boasts beautiful small galleries, jewellery shops, design shops, bars, private villas for rent and cosy boutique hotels.

Going mad about the jewellery - different coloured Sri Lankan sapphires

Find our best shopping tips at the end of the article!

Rounding up our shopping spree we went to the newly opened bar Livingroom by TPV. By TPV is a brand by three Swedish gentlemen; they also have a great shop in Galle Fort and a small boutique hotel outside Galle. The Livingroom is a bar that is so funky in it’s interior that for a moment we forgot we were in Sri Lanka and actually thought we were in Paris. The male servants all wear outrageously sexy shirts and all look like gods. Oh yes, we also enjoyed the wasabi-aioli shrimp avocado, almost forgot to mention that!

As we were so in love with our hotel we didn’t even try any of the restaurants in Galle Forte for dinner, but ate a fantastic dinner on the veranda.

Why Beach

Saturday we woke up to the most dazzling sunshine and perfect tropical island weather. The rain had cleared the air and it was about to be a great day. The hotel manager Pietro had kindly arranged for us to visit Why Beach, a semi-private home just 15 minutes tuktuk-ride from Galle Forte. Our wonderful butler had packed a beach bag with towels and water and off we went into rush-hour traffic in our tuktuk. Just driving through the new Galle town with it’s bustling street life, cricket stadium, kids off to school in pressed white clothes and seeing from the tuktuk the fish market, the busy harbour and everywhere smiling Sri Lankans, gives you a feeling of being in the middle of their daily lives. Sri Lanka is extremely safe for tourists and you can at any time ask your tuktuk driver to stop if you want to walk in the street or look closer at any of the local shops.

Sunloungers at Why Beach

Why Beach is owned by  Italian architect Massimo and houses his and his partner Lasith’s private floor plus two rooms for rent. At the end of the property towards the beach there’s a small restaurant – by appointment only – where they serve the best Italian food, all composed by Massimo’s wonderful mother Luigina. She has trained the chefs in Italian cooking and when we arrived she was in full speed preparing chocolate desert for us! Yummy.

All beaches in Sri Lanka are public. At Why Beach we got sun loungers on the terrace about a meter above the beach to ensure some privacy, but still able to look at local beach life, step down the stairs and go swimming in the ocean. The waters are quite rough in August and the beach is very narrow. During autumn the sand washes in and out and is cleaned by the huge ocean, in January when you return you’ll find wide beaches with sand so white it almost hurts your eyes to look at it.

We seriously enjoyed our day at Why Beach, the Italian lunch was amazing and it was great fun watching Massimo's Labrador puppies stumble around in the garden. For sundowners we walked a hundred meters on the beach to another property where we lounged by the pool and watched the dramatic weather changes in the sunset.

Having sunset drinks at Koggala Beach
Koggala Beach in dramatic afernoon light

To get back to the hotel, you need not to worry about your tuktuk-driver not finding you. Sri Lankans are extremely curious, some would even say nosy, and they love gossip. Therefore, no secret that “the Scandinavian girls” had walked to another property, there he was - our kind tuktuk driver - waiting for us outside the gates of the other house!

Sri Lankan beach in summer - in winter it is crisp white and 50 m wider

Raiding jewellery stores

Gems in all colours and sizes


Sunday was yet another beautiful day, blazing sun. Once again Amangalla’s colonial umbrellas came to good use, as sun protection. We decided to go for a second raid on the jewellery stores where we had reserved different jewellery. Sri Lanka is known for its precious stones, especially rubies and sapphires, but also semi precious stones. You can find wonderful contemporary designed large silver jewellery with semi-precious stones for ridiculous prices. Ridiculous as you realise, once you’ve done the exchange maths in your head, how cheap everything is.

You don’t haggle prices in Sri Lanka like in other Asian countries. You can ask for best price, or even better; suggest to the jeweller that you agree on a price that makes you both happy. But if you threaten to stomp out in an attempt to get them into a bargaining, they’ll just look at you and wish you a great day, whilst they return the jewellery into the case.

Contemporary Sri Lankan jewellery

We ended up buying an assortment of fine jewellery and design jewellery. There are so many shops and of course the quality varies. See end of article for best shops.

On Sunday we also went to the new Galle town. Its typical Sri Lankan; quite ugly and busy, but so much fun! We went into a local department store and bought frilly, crazy, pastel-coloured dresses for small girls to dress up in. Any fairytale princess would’ve been green with envy.

Locals out for a Sunday walk
We walked around, once again feeling secure and at the same time excited to be able to be so close to normal life and smell the exotic spices and talk to old people on bicycles and wave to smiling kids. Our tuktuk driver slowly shadowing us, scared to lose his best clients.



Lounging at Amangalla

For the afternoon Amangalla’s beautiful pool was perfect. Lie in the secluded shaded sun lounge open-air rooms and enjoy a fantastic lunch with a glass of crip Gruner Veltliner white wine, specially imported from the producers who are Aman fans. You have wifi all over the property in Amangalla and this was a perfect time to check up on e-mails and handle daily administration work. In this setting you don’t even realise you are working, but are just happy to have it done so that you can arrive home after a weekend and not get overwhelmed by a long TO-DO-list.

Lush gardens at Amangalla

Cooking class & dining magic

For Sunday evening general manager Pietro had arranged an authentic Sri Lankan cooking class. As a keen rice n’curry fan I was exited to cook a 10-course meal in the open air. See menu at the end of the article.

We had so much fun while mixing spices, stirring, chopping, laughing and of course adding the European flavour of drinking wine at the same time. Amangalla’s cooking class comes with a personalised cooking book including recipes, a beautiful apron and stunning setting in the gardens. Sous-chef Sri Lankan V. P. C. Roshan and his helpers cooked with us for hours.

The exec chef Sumit Batra and  chef Roshan

Afterwards we had time for one last massage in the spa and then we were invited for our special dinner. By the pool in the gardens the Amangalla-staff had lighted hundreds of candles and set up a table for us. We had enough food to feed a large family and everything was absolutely delicious. It was so good that in fact I even smuggled some food with me onto the plane, for our flight home later that night.

By midnight we had to love and leave Amangalla. Sam the driver came and picked us up. A large committee of Amangalla-staff waved us off and assured us that they will be missing the laughs and the jokes of “the girls”, as they called us. We certainly miss them all and the wonderful Amangalla hotel!

Our return flight with Qatar was excellent. Flatbeds on both the Colombo-Doha and Doha-Stockholm flights ensured that we landed in Stockholm fresh and full of energy, feeling like we had been away for two weeks! Still when I picked up my daughter at school the same day she had barely registered that I’d been away over the weekend!

Footnote on my detour to the orphanage

When Ine was whipped off from the airport straight to Amangalla, I myself, a frequent traveller to Sri Lanka, knew that I had a bumpier day ahead of me. My great driver Sam drove me up to a town outside Kandy in the middle of Sri Lanka, it’s a busy road – not at all like the newly built straight highway down to Galle. To avoid worst traffic we took some mountain roads and finally I arrived at my destination: an orphanage that I have sponsored with my family for many years. Select Collection has also helped in the sponsoring of the orphanage sister home in Northern Sri Lanka. I had a fantastic day with the 70 children and nuns that care for them. In the early evening Sam drove me to Galle. It’s a very long drive and by this time I was exhausted, but our discussions were so much fun I couldn’t even sleep. This is the great thing about Sri Lanka, the people are very knowledgeable, especially the drivers who meet so many tourists. They speak excellent English and do their out-most to make you feel safe and comfortable.

One thing in Sri Lanka that I need to be honest about with you, the roads are terrible, most cars are also quite uncomfortable and the traffic is very, very loud. This is why it’s a very good investment to get Select Collection to help you book drivers and cars through Sri Lanka in Style, they have the most experienced drivers and the best cars. You get cold towels, fresh water and snacks. As an added bonus you even have free wifi in the car!!! My driver Sam stopped on the way and bought me wonderful litchi- and mangosteen-fruit, the later being something out of this world, the most tasteful fruit you can eat and very hard to find.

One of the old churches in the old Galle Fort

Note about Sonja Catani

With the help of Select Collection expertise and planning skills I have managed to do successful long weekend trips to The Maldives, Burma, Sri Lanka, New York, Kenya and even Pakistan (ok staying as guests at the Swedish embassy, but still a trip to remember). Coming up next will be Bali and Thailand.

I am not paid by Select Collection, Qatar, Amanresorts or Sri Lanka in Style to write reviews. You can find inspirational pictures from travels around the world on Instagram #weekendhoppers

Top 7 places to shop in Galle Fort Sri Lanka


Jewellery

M.M. Ibrahim, 47 Church Street. For top quality gems and stones in international conventional design. They also make jewellery in your own design over the day!

Laksana, 30 Hospital Street. For widest range of jewellery from semi-precious stones to huge Asian-style jewellery. So much on display it takes a long time to wander through. Amangalla quests get great discount. They deliver to the hotel in nice packaging.

Sanhaken, 5 Pedlar Street. Best moon stones in Galle Forte. Also some really nice own designs. Good quality and nice work. Walk through their court yard to the créperie on the second floor and tea shop and gallery on the opoosite side.

Gifts, clothes etc.

KK Collection, 36 Church Street. Interior design and gifts. All products are chosen by George Cooper, interior designer and owner of lovely boutique hotel Kahanda Kanda outside Galle.

Barefoot, 41 Church Street. One of the first Sri Lankan shops for tourists, they still keep true to the colourful linen clothes, toys and interior design products, that made them popular in the 00’s.

Odel, 50 Peddlar Street. Sri Lankan subsidiary to the largedepartment store in Colombo. Local branch located in a small local two storey house. Nice clothes and friendly staff. Western style.

The three by TPV, 54 Pedlar Street. Design shop by Swedish designers. Costume jewellery, paintings, sculptures, stylish clothes and lot’s of interior design home ware.



Sri Lankan Cooking Class 10 course Menu

Send an e-mail if you want the recepie to any of the dishes!

Chicken Curry
Devilled Prawns
Dhal Curry
Eggplant Moju
Beetrot Dry Curry
Pineapple Curry
Fish balls
Coconut Sambol

Watallappan