Friday, November 21, 2014

HOTEL CHECK, Aman Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

One of our most discerning connoiseurs of luxury takes a look at an iconic resort in wild Montenegro, dating back to the 1400s. Has Aman Sveti Stefan managed to become a den of luxury and yet keep authenticity?


Aman Sveti Stefan is located on the island of Sveti Stefan. It is a legendary island which was first mentioned in history books in the year 1442. Originally built as a fortress with homes it has fought and survived many attacks. Over and over again it has been rebuilt. 

In the 1930s the island was a settlement and the village became a bustling market and trade centre. At its peak over 400 people lived on the island. In 1954 only twenty citizens remained in Sveti Stefan and a year later all moved out. In 1960 the island was converted into an exclusive hotel where the rich and famous would come for glitz and casinos. Then the island was left to decay... until Aman took it under its arms to restore the island. 

After years of love and care it reopened as an Aman.

Walking between beaches over a causeway to Sveti Stefan

It is a compact island full of buildings, alleys and narrow streets. It is cute and realistic and like no other resort we have ever seen. The cottages/suites have been adapted to the layout of the original buildings so no two are alike. They have all the comforts but are on purpose rustic and true to its origins. Don't expect dressed up luxury.

I am a fan of authenticity and found this place to be real and genuine.

Rustic, genuine, seeped in history


The private cove beach below the newly built spa

Nature touching a centuries old stone wall


View from the Aman spa.


The island has two black slate pools. One is adults only in a well tucked away/difficult to find location. The other is on top of the main restaurant, complete with sun loungers and captivating ocean and land views (pictured above).

Private black slate pool belonging to the biggest suite

Another black slate pool, complete with sunloungers


As for the food you have 3 1/2 options: 

The restaurant on land in the villa Milocer. 

The main restaurant on the island 

And finally the casual restaurant on the piazza which is split in three areas. An indoor cosy hut with wood fired oven for pizzas, an outdoor area and the deli in a separate building.

All the Amans worldwide offer daily compimentary afternoon tea. This is Aman Sveti Stefan's display of home made cookies along with Mint and herbal teas.

We preferred the casual restaurant for both lunch and dinner. For lunch it has a great outdoor terrace with stunning views. We had pizzas, souvlaki skewered chicken and pasta with spicy meatballs and a rustic tomato sauce reduced for a good amount of hours.

For breakfast we preferred the indoor main restaurant where the fishermans breakfast was our favourite. It is a plate of cold cuts and cheese, local quiche and yoghurt with bee pollen.

On land the hotel has a newly built spa and gym. Indoor/outdoor pool, a private beach with service in a hidden cove. It is a 15 minute walk from the island or a 5 minute ride in one of the hotel's Audi A8.

At the spa in a hidden cove

Closer to the island just across the walking bridge are two crescent shaped pink grained beaches. One is reserved for hotel guests the other open to the public.

On land is also Villa Milocer which has a few rooms and a restaurant. The rooms here are much less rustic but if you go to Sveti Stefan the whole point is to stay on the island.

Villa Milocer on the beach on the mainland



So what about the destination?

Montenegro is exciting and beautiful. The water is crystal clear and turquiose from a distance. The green hills that embrace the coastal communities create a nice backdrop when viewed from the island.



The green mountains of Montenegro embracing the shoreline communities

Who should go?

Aman Sveti Stefan is for the informed traveller who wants a totally unique experience as a break from your standard luxury resort. You are moved back in time and asked to settle for a less luxurious but still very rewarding experience. But it would be a mistake to evaluate the value for money based on hardware, this place can simply not be compared to any other resort we have ever seen.

You need to love it for what it is and just accept that it will cost you a lot and that you will remember it forever.

How to get to Aman Sveti Stefan

It is best to fly to Tivat if you can find a flight there. It is only 25 mins from the hotel. Podgorica is 1
hour away on quite entertaining roads. Dubrovnik is 3 hours.

I flew Air Serbia to Tivat via Belgrade. And on the return from Podgorica via Belgrade. Great connections both ways if you choose the right days of the week.

Select Collection covers five travel boutiques in the Nordic Area and the UK


Friday, November 14, 2014

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO CHAMPAGNE

Champagne. What could be more evocative of luxury than Champagne drunk in Champagne. One of Select Collection's foremost connoisseurs of both luxury and Champagne has returned from a reconnoitre of France's exciting Champagne district. An area full of lovely scenery, cute villages and friendly people - apart from nice food and the drink of the gods.

A quite unknown producer creating magical wines…
Before the trip at least 40 hours of research was conducted to get the trip tuned to perfection. Finding where to stay. Where to eat. Where to get the best Champagne...

That might sound a lot of time for an experienced travel expert. But don't imagine one can just breeze around Champagne and tap its best secrets. 

Gates and roads can be closed. Restaurants and hotels can be fully booked. Language is a barrier. Some estates don't even want visitors. Some accommodation is definitely not Champagne standard but might very well exceed Champagne prices. And some Champagne is not as exclusive as other Champagne...

So there there are very many secrets behind a successful Champagne voyage.

Select Collection invites customers to contact us to arrange your perfect Champagne adventure. As appetiser here are a few snaps taken on our Champagne Voyage of Discovery.


Nectar of the Argonne forest


A stylish kitchen with art

Tradition meets contemporary arts

Sounds of fermentation

The arts

Grapes in the very soil of Champagne, an estate lot called Clos in Champagne

From Eric Lemaire. He supplies champagne to the military, and they even get their own label

A posh chateau for uncompomised luxury

Cosy corners of rich comfort

Note Select Collection, covers five offices in Scandinavia and the UK. 




Monday, November 10, 2014

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO MARBELLA

Marbella is a great destination for beach lovers, golfers, families and foodies. Neil Bedford visits Marbella Club and Puente Romano and declares them ‘safe bets’ for a luxury holiday, providing a resort feel in a classy way - along with free golf...




The beach is good with golden sand and private beach clubs at both hotels, while the weather is a big attraction - less than 50 days of rain per year and only Dec–Feb average under 15 deg C.  

Marbella Town has a laid back atmosphere and genuine Spanish feel in parts, with its cobbled streets and piazzas. Some very touristy restaurants and some really high quality ones, as well as very local tapas bars where you are likely to be the only non-Spanish. Hotel concierges gave excellent recommendations.This is a great place to spend the evening wandering the streets and having dinner.

Its also worth a walk to Puerto Banus with its restaurants, luxury shops and the harbour where the most incredible superyachts are moored – best to do this in the daytime as from 7 pm until 7 am (in the summer) a mix of Scandinavians, Spanish and British literally fill every street ready to party.

A tip is to hire a car for a day or two to drive to beautiful villages like Ronda. Estepona is a laid back Spanish town that is a nice change of scenery. For those with real itchy feet you can do longer day trips to Tangiers in Morocco; visit the British territory of Gibraltar; head to the famous Spanish fortress of Alhambra in Granada or even travel to Cordoba or Seville (both around 2 hrs).

Remarkable buffet at....

MARBELLA CLUB




Beachfront pool and restaurant

“Around the pool women in their Pucci prints and kaftans, men in open necked shirts, some with medallions, others with cravats….” 

This is a quote from the hotel’s early glamour days in the 1960s but really not so much has changed. It is still the place to see and be seen and while the medallions may have got a little smaller, the sense of assured luxury still presides.

It is no exaggeration to say that tourism in Marbella can be traced back to the opening of the original 20 room Marbella Club in 1954 by Prince Alfonso. His influence on the area ensured that Marbella grew up as a playground for the rich and famous, and there is still no better playground than Marbella Club.

While you do feel the history of the hotel all around, it is not a place that solely trades off this history. It is a luxury property in its own right and one of the few beachfront hotels in mainland Spain where you can be really confident in saying this.

This legendary hotel boasts 80% repeater guests. Its classically designed rooms have a contemporary feel. Dining stands out, so does the  vast spa and exceptional levels of service that come with over 50 years of catering for Europe’s elite…

Design

The hotel is made up of lots of cottages and villas rather than one main building so it has something of a village feel and you are always outside walking from one part of the hotel to the next surrounded by the lush gardens. You get the sense that back in the first few decades, after each successful year another little building project was started. The property now boasts 121 rooms (plus 15 villas), a beachfront spa, 2 pools, incredible Kid’s Club and 6 dining options.

Facilities

The beach front is most people’s home for the day and here you will find the impressive Thalasso Spa, the Beach Club (where you absolutely have to enjoy the infamous lavish lunch buffet which is laid on every day of the year), salt water pool and beach area with hotel loungers, and MC Beach Bar.

Beach Club
As you walk back up through the gently sloping gardens you can find the innovative Kid’s Club. Open year round for ages 4-14, this is one of the most impressive I have seen on my travels. Keeping with the spirit of the Marbella Club, the 5000 sqm Kid’s Club is set in the spectacular grounds of Prince Alfonso’s original villa. This was where the magic first began as the von Hohenlohe family home and it’s where their children played alongside those of guests, such as Audrey Hepburn and the Duke of Windsor. Shaded outdoor areas are home to everything from vegetable gardens, open air cinema, kitchen, dance studio, music room, library, art and pottery area, computer room and an entertainment area.

Set beside the grand reception and luxury boutique shops, you will find The Grill restaurant - a local landmark and the most refined of the hotel’s dining options where classic dishes are delivered in an intimate candlelit setting in the gardens.

Grill restaurant

Grill bar
Finally there is  a second, more peaceful, pool and restaurant in amongst the orange, lemon, avocado, fig and banana trees,

Rooms, Suites and Villas

Various rooms and suites are scattered throughout the property. I was very impressed with the Deluxe Beach Front Rooms and the MC Suite with Partial Seaview, both of which are close to the Beach Club and are some of the few options with a sea view from their private terraces. Most other rooms do have their own terrace but generally don’t come with a view. The Imperial Suite, located on the top floor of the beachside building, features a fully furnished terrace with stunning Mediterranean views and would be our first choice.

Deluxe room

Ensconced in the hotel’s expansive gardens, the 2, 3 or 5-bedroom villas (some with private pool and kitchen) are ideal for private entertaining and families. Interiors of all rooms are fresh and colourful with modern touches such as complimentary iPad where you can order hotel services and review your current bill etc.

Pool villa
Last, but certainly not least, is the 6-bedroom Villa del Mar which is already one of the Costa del Sol’s most illustrious venues for weddings, private events or just a very special occasion to share with loved ones. Highlights of the villa include an infinity pool just metres from the beach (with your private ‘cove’); Alhambra-inspired gardens with fountains, a private Zen garden and waterfall; floor-to-ceiling windows; wood burning fireplaces….the 6 200 sqm space is perfect for an intimate private event. At approximately €30 000 per night in the peak summer period it has been fully booked for all of the first season it has been open so contact us soon if you are tempted.


Golf

Marbella Club’s 18-hole golf course designed by Dave Thomas is only 20 minutes from the hotel in an area of natural beauty. With 12 minutes between tee times, overcrowded rounds are not a concern and morning tee times are guaranteed. Hotel guests enjoy complimentary green fees (1 per person per day) and shuttle service to the Marbella Club Golf Course throughout their stay. As you would expect, service, equipment and maintenance is that of a five-star resort.

A Select golfer

Marbella Club Golf Course

Neil tries the lovely golf  course

HOTEL PUENTE ROMANO

Marbella Club’s younger sister. A playful property for the young at heart…and if you play tennis then look no further than the infamous Puente Romano Tennis Club.

Since opening in 1979, Hotel Puente Romano has had the charm of an Andalusian beachfront village. More ‘resort-like’ in feel than Marbella Club, it is perfectly suited for a carefree getaway as a couple or with family or friends.

The gardens

Design

The hotel is made up of several separate buildings that are linked through lush gardens fed by a natural underground river that takes you on a winding journey from the hotel piazza past 3 pools and various hidden enclaves before ending at the beach.

Facilities

The quiet ‘spa’ pool in the middle of the property is perfect for a relaxed day with a book and enjoying a bite from Rachel’s Organic café! As well as healthy food Rachel’s also offers yoga classes & massage/beauty treatments…a unique concept but one that is very popular! 

From Rachel's Organic Cafe

A larger ‘main’ pool is also found in the heart of the hotel while the standout beach club pool located by the beach is the largest and where guests can go between beach (private sunbed area for hotel guests), sea, pool and restaurant with ease. A (very) small kids pool is also available for parents taking the very young for a dip.

The hotel’s main gathering area in the evening is Plaza Village, a gastronomic courtyard embracing an eclectic mix of cuisine. Consisting of five restaurants; Japanese, Arabic, Italian and two restaurants by award winning chef Dani García - BiBo Andalusian Brasserie & Tapas and gastronomic Dani Garcia Restaurant with two Michelin stars.

Bibo

Dani Garcia

Down by the beach, the impressive Sea Grill is a memorable dining experience. Sit outdoors for views of the Med or indoors to soak up the atmosphere of the open kitchen and island bar. A steak tartare made from scratch at our table was a sensational starter and the perfectly cooked and beautifully presented fish dishes, picked with the chefs help straight from the plentiful selection on ice, still had a shimmer of ocean freshness.

Spa facilities can be enjoyed at Marbella Club (dual billing for all services) and also at the hotel Tennis Club where facilities are internationally known as one of the best in Europe. 10 courts, 8 clay courts and 2 hard (plexipave) courts and 4 paddle courts. The central court can seat approximately 2,500 people and is also used for the occasional concert. In fact the first important event hosted at the hotel was the wedding of tennis legend Bjorn Borg and Mariana Simionescu in 1980. From that moment onwards, the famous tennis player became the Director of the Club. Let us know if you plan to play as booking ahead is important and we can advise if any tournaments are scheduled in.
Central Court at Puente Romano Tennis Club.

The Kid’s Club opens exclusively for the months of July and August plus UK half term periods. While it is hard to look past the amazing Marbella Club set up, Puente Romano’s is nonetheless impressive, particularly if they take part in the KidsTennis and KidsPadel courses at the Tennis Club.
Like Marbella Club, a complimentary green fee at the Marbella Club Golf Course with shuttle transport is offered every day to all hotel guests. With the normal green fee €70 inc. buggy and a 20mins taxi to the golf course some €30 this is a fantastic perk for golfers.

Rooms, Suites and Villas

Like Marbella Club, Hotel Puente Romano is built on a long strip of land that slopes down to the beach with most rooms looking over the gardens, pools or hotel piazza. The select few Junior Suites and Grand Suites overlooking the beach and pool are worth the upgrade for a great view and more privacy.

Junior Suite


Note: Neil Bedford is Product Director at Select Collection, covering 5 offices in Scandinavia and the UK.

Marbella Club in a nutshell

Style, elegance, history
80% repeat guests
2 pools
Superb Thalasso spa
Champagne breakfasts
Incredible kids club open year round
One of the great lunchtime buffets at the beach club
FREE golf daily

Puente Romano in a nutshell

Light, bright and young feel in general though the rooms are actually more classic
Around 30% cheaper than Marbella Club, even more so in peak summer
Spacious main beachfront pool
Small kids club (4-10 yrs) open in summer and UK school holidays
3 pools plus a kids plunge pool
New spa will be completed by April 2015
More suitable for families looking for resort feel
FREE golf daily
Incredible tennis centre next door (clay courts)
Dani Garcia Restaurant with two Michelin stars

Favourites: higher floor rooms and those with a view over the pool rather than the plaza