Sunday, May 31, 2015

HOTEL CHECK SOUTH AFRICA, La Residence Franschhoek

We return to a colourful hotel in Franschhoek, the Cape Mecca of food and wine. At La Residence every room is not just different, it is an individual world ...

Sitting in the Victorian bathtub facing olives, purple lavender and tall Cape mountains we sampled the complementary wine from the minibar. La Residence Nicole Charlotte 2013 "reminiscent of the deep purple plums..."

And we agreed deep purple is right for this luscious hotel. With its eclectic and opulent decor, it suits those who can appreciate arty individuality and generous luxury. Staying there we felt like kittens on a satin cushion…purring.

The relaxed and friendly resident manager and his team make you feel like personal guests, and you accept your hosts’ extravagance along with their thoughtful caring….

Owner Liz Biden is an art lover. She continuously travels and finds the perfect piece for every corner. She makes a romantic world of colour and form, continuously evolving as she swaps out bits to get perfection.

When we got to know our very own room – the Tang room – we got into the lavish mood of colour and texture, beautiful handmade furniture, silken sheets and puffy pillows, and that memorable bath and terrace looking at the mountain with a glass of La Residence’s own wine from the free minibar.

The Franchhoek mountain soars up out of sight - seen from the bath or one of the sofas in the lounge style bathroom



Like all rooms the bathroom is vast and includes choice items of furniture, sofas and easy chairs. Doors open out onto the terrace and garden, what feels like your very own rose garden, your very own olive grove, and your very own mountain towering up into the sky. All rooms have views.

Very Provencal, very Cape...
It was a short one night stay – and a highlight was dinner. We felt truly like pampered guests

Eating splendidly 

Tasting meal
The dinner is served only to hotel guests and feels very exclusive and romantic, under the high colonial ceilings, with fire burning, candles flickering, and only 6 other guests there. The cost was 600 zar per person for a tasting meal including three glasses of wine.  Sitting on soft velvet chairs, it was a long and lingering meal, with the sommelier advising on a different wine for each course.

Fire burning and chandeliers glittering in this exclusive dining hall just for guests
It was autumn and some 15 deg C in the evening

My divine cheese souffle tartlet

I started with a puffy almost floating cheese soufflé tartlet and salad including sour green apple paired with a glass of Glenwood Chardonnay as explained by our sommelier "To match the creaminess of soufflés and touch of acidity of the salad ". then followed sweet corn soup and an apple sorbet to refresh the palate, then the main course of line-caught kingklip (the Cape’s best, perhaps the world’s best fish). Paired with wooded Chenin Blanc to "give depth to the kingklip".


Paired with my starter
Rickety Bridge Chenin blanc paired with the kingklip

If I had chosen the starter with prawns and asparagus, the wine choice would have been  Babylonstoren Chenin blanc unwooded.  At dessert time we hopped over the paired wine.

Lunch on the terrace
Again, only hotel guests were there, the meal was delicious even had a gourmet touch, and the prices reasonable.

Lunch on the terrace facing the palms, pool and mountain

Mediterranean salad including fried crumbed feta
The pool with the scent of roses

Breakfast by the fire
In the dining room quietly at our chosen table. Apart from the full essential buffet items a choice of hot dishes.


Franschhoek farmhouse breakfast ( not for vegetarians) included beans, bacon, egg (cooked any way) tomato, mushrooms. My choice was instead home done granola - something all our Cape hotels excel at with fresh and crunchy seeds, eaten with home-made natural yoghurt, raspberries and golden Cape gooseberries (different from green Northern gooseberries).

The buffet included home-made breads that gain flavor from the freshness and wholeness of locally grown wheat - eaten with a good selection of local cheeses and cold meats.

Eating in Franschhoek village
The hotel lies on the outskirts of the small village of Franschhoek, perhaps 15 minutes walk. But the hotel offers a free shuttle on demand (5 mins) and bikes. So for those staying a longer time this is a perfect opportunity to dine at some of this destination's gourmet options - like Reubens, Le Petit Ferme and The Tasting Room. But do book your table in the village when you book your hotel stay with Select Collection  - these three restaurants get booked up one year ahead in season and even out...

Reubens in the centre of Franschhoek

Rooms

There are 11 luxury and superior double rooms in the main building. As mentioned each a world of its own. The superior have balconies in two directions – one of the Superior rooms is the Maharani suite – known as the Elton John Suite after the star’s visit.

Le Chambre Bleu (superior room) with doors onto terrace in two directions - just below the Elton John suite.



Hibiscus Suite - a treasure or a comfortable sofa in every corner

One of the choice items in the lounging bathroom of the Tang suite

You float to sleep on the velvet bed of the Tang suite. No other bed looks like this. And no one room looks like any other room

Family options
For families they offer a nearby annex of Vineyard suites (villas) with one to three bedrooms.
Here the ambience is almost Bohemian - Bohemian luxury, with giant paintings and extraordinary living/ dining  rooms for each suite - with each living room encompassing a collection of moods with conversation corners and dining tables, plus beautiful objects. Giving the feeling that the artist was making long free strokes from her jewel colored paint box.

An artistic living and dining room in the Vineyard villa annex - suite comes with two bedrooms
We saw two interleading suites that together offered 5 bedrooms, 2 pools and 2 living rooms. The resident manager who showed us around said that  a number of extended families come back year after year to claim this relaxing and joyful space.


Arty living dining room of the 3 bedroom Vineyard suite 
Whimsical flowery bedroom in a Vineyard 3-bedroom suite

Another bedroom in the 3 bedroom Vineyard suite - art of a collector

Private pool of a 3-bedroom suite (Vineyard suite 5)
The two bedroom suite that can be occupied together with the three-bedroom suite...

A bedroom in one of the  2-bedroom Vineyard suites
We also saw a one-bedroom suite in the Vineyard annex with generous and colorful bathroom. There are two more two-bedroom Vineyard suites which we did not see (without pools)

One bedroom suite in the Vineyard annex

Yet another individualistic bathroom to lounge in

The vineyard annex has also a common pool and common lounge, kitchen and dining room.

Bathing by the vineyards by the Vineyard annex with a view of the Franschhoek mountains
Back to our room. We were very happy in the Tang suite – in particular moments in the bath with view out through double views to the mountain. Sip wine here - generously provided in the complimentary minibar / or on the wide terrace with table and chairs, sofa and sun lounger.  The vivid purple of lavender caught the eye under the silver green olives beyond a voluptuous rose garden where peacocks strutted. Very Med, very Provencal.

Our private terrace looking over the vineyards - with a foamy cappuccino and biscuits


And the mountain soared like Capetonian Alps beyond and above - as if you owned it.
It takes a few hours to the top we were told - hiking and picnic can be arranged with guide - and lots of other activities - the concierge  and reception have their fingers on the pulse of happenings.

La Residence in a nutshell

Floating and bottomless luxury where you are the personal guest of the hotel manager and his team. You grow to love the extraordinary eclectic interiors for their bohemian flair and individualism. Only guests can eat in the restaurant, which is surprisingly gourmet. But just  5 minutes by free shuttle to the Franschhoek village and its gourmet offerings. 11 very spacious rooms with terraces/balconies and 5 vineyard suites with 1 to 3 bedrooms, two with private pools.

Note: La Residence is part of the Royal Portfolio, which among others includes Birkenhead House in Hermanus. For more information on La Residence click HERE, and on Birkenhead House, HERE.

Images are just iPhone snaps by Select Collection on a visit late April (autumn in the Cape).

PS: for our previous blog with the 2015 Eurovision winner as guest blogger - Måns Zermerlöw - click HERE.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, Verdura

 Sicily for a Mediterranean holiday?  Verdura attracts golfers and other active people and suits both families and couples. Review by Neil Bedford and Therese Larsen …

                                                                                                                                                 
Verdura is a beautiful property with so much space and an open feeling, tucked away in private grounds. A huge infinity pool, vast spa with indoor and outdoor pools plus THREE excellent golf courses are part of the attraction. 

Extensive lawns for the children to play on

The resort is highly suitable for families who want a choice of casual quality restaurants, lots of space, watersports, tennis, bicycles and more. Golfers would of course be extremely happy but it is definitely more than just a golf hotel.


Choice of casual quality restaurants - there are 9 bars and restaurants in season


Large infinity pool
Verdura is also well placed for sightseeing – the interesting and authentic harbor town of Sciacca is only 20 mins drive.

ROOMS AND SUITES

All rooms and suites offer terraces or balconies with seating area (sun loungers on ground floor), stunning sea and golf course views, four-poster beds, shower and bath. From the terrace you have a big shared grass area in front of you. To reach the beach you have a 5 mins walk around the golf course.

View from deluxe room

Our favourite for couples is a Superior Deluxe Seafront room, and for families a Grand suite. 

We stayed in Superior Deluxe rooms - 40 sqm ground floor rooms on the back row. The design is minimalistic using concrete style, with four-poster bed and walk through wardrobe towards the large bathroom, which has shower and bath. The four-poster beds add a touch of warmth. It is lovely to wake up in the morning, open the “blackout doors” onto a vast open grass lawn and the sea - wherever you turn beautiful scenery catches your eye and you feel like you are surrounded with all the space in the world.

The Grand Suite spreads over 72 sqm and accommodates up to 4 people, with living room, one bedroom plus kitchenette, private terrace and hammock. These are spacious suites, each with a private entrance and shady inner courtyard planted with orange trees. An excellent family option, it can connect with a Superior Deluxe Sea Front room.

Grand Suite

Other suites to enthuse over are the 170 sqm Ambassador Suite (accommodates up to 3 people, with great view, two outdoor terraces, hammock, sun-loungers etc and interconnects with a superior deluxe room).

And the very nicest, the 175 sqm Presidential Suite with pool (connects with two superior deluxe seafront rooms to make a lovely nest for a small group or a large family). 


Presidential suite - a private domain

FACILITIES


Sunset from the roof bar - The southwest facing pool is basked in sunshine all day 

  • 4 restaurants and 5 bars (in peak season) ranging from fine dining to pizzeria
  • 3 golf courses (2 x 18, 1 x 9 hole) and driving range. I played the last 4 holes of the West Course which have stunning shoreline locations, very unique in European resorts
  • 60m spit level infinity pool which fronts on to huge green lawns and then the beach 
  • 6 clay tennis courts and a football pitch (Juventus kids training academy in the summer)
  • 4 000 sqm spa with 4 open air thalassotherapy pools, indoor lap pool, sauna, hammam
  • All around the accommodations you can find spacious green lawns ideal for kids playing
  • Watersports centre with a reasonable selection of motorised and non-motorised equipment (sailing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, windsurfing equipment for hire – lessons can be ordered for a supplement).
  • Push bikes are scattered all around the hotel so you just pick up and leave them whenever you are going anywhere. You only really “need” these when going to the golf club house which would take 10 mins walk or to the tennis courts which would be more like 20 mins walk. Buggies are also available.
 
Therese attempting a hole in one (of course)

Incredible prawns unique to the waters around Sicily, served with famous Sicilian oranges

Freshly caught fish in one of Sciacca's numerous seafood restaurants

YOU SHOULD KNOW

The beach is a wide, long strip backed by the hotel gardens and very nice indeed. Where the water reaches the shore it is rocky. These rocks end about 5 m in to the sea and then the seabed is sandy. You can also get out to the sandy area from the floating jetty.

LOCATION

90 mins from Palermo/2 hrs 30 mins from Catania. Hiring a car would be our preferred choice to explore the local area where you can visit ancient sites, wineries and beautiful villages. The ideal trip to Sicily would be to combine east and west with a stay in Taormina followed by Verdura. The closest town to Verdura is Sciacca (pronounced Shacka, 20 mins away) which is a bustling harbor town that can be explored in a day. It is an attractive town but also retains a really local feel and has some superb seafood restaurants…it is in fact the biggest fishing harbor in the Med.
A speedboat can take you there for around €200 (taxi €50).

For more about Verdura click HERE.

For a video on Verdura click HERE.


Note: Neil Bedford is Product Director Select Collection and Therese Larsen is a senior travel consultant in our Oslo Norway office.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO THE SEYCHELLES, part 2, Frégate Island Private

Continuing his trip through the hauntingly beautiful Seychelles, Erland Stubmo writes "WE SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST!"…


Frégate Island Private, part of the Oetker Collection, is a world wonder. There are seven beaches and only 16 villas on the island, and every one amazing…

Anse Victorin - often voted as one of the world's top 10 beaches

Our stay at Frégate was fantastic from beginning to end. We were picked up by helicopter after exploring La Digue, and after 15 minutes we were at Frégate.

Our Personal Assistant (another word for Butler) took us to the stunning Villa number 8.


The deck of our villa, number 8. This amazing villa is one of the standard categories on Fregate Island - it only gets better

This is actually the lead-in category, but is really elegant and spacious (approx. 450 sqm).
So much space, both indoor and outdoor. Two very large terraces on different levels, one of them with a pool and Jacuzzi.

We had spectacular views of the rocky shoreline, with stairs down to the beach. The sea was a bit rough most of the time, so we preferred the pool area or one of the seven other lovely beaches.

Our lounge in villa 8 - plenty of space for a family

This category can accommodate 2 adults and 2 children. If more persons are travelling together you have to book a Private Pool Twin Residence (570-700 sqm).

Exploring


My biggest surprise was that the island is so big. So much to explore and especially interesting for people into plants and birds. The hotel has different hiking routes and you can be followed by a conservationist who can explain more about the islands eco-system.

Otherwise you can move around with a mountain bike or a buggy. Each villa has its own buggy, so we could explore on our own whenever we wanted.

Even though the island is quite mountainous and steep it’s still possible to travel with children. There is a small kids club and the island has many giant tortoises moving (slowly)  around, which can be exciting for children.

Marina Beach

Food

The dining system is very flexible. Breakfast, lunch and dinner can be taken at Frégate House (the main restaurant adjacent to the reception area), but guests are encouraged to lunch or dine wherever they want. It could be a private beach barbecue, a set up in the library, the museum , in the villa, in the garden , on the islands highest point, etc.

We had a seafood beach barbecue one night and it was just superb. Equally astounding was the private dinner in the library. We chose to have breakfasts and lunches at the Frégate House. Everything was just perfect.

The island has its own organic garden and most vegetables and greens come from there.

The organic garden


The Personal Assistant is also the person who is your waiter when guests have their special private dinners.

Our villa dining space - perfect for a private dinner

Facilities

Frégate has a very beautiful Rock Spa “in the middle of nowhere”. So peaceful and inviting.
There is also a gym there.

Other activities include water sports, fishing trips, snorkelling and diving. The hotel has its own Yacht Club.

The island has seven stunning beaches. One of them is for private use (you just put a sign “in use” before climbing down the stairs to the beach and no one else will come).

We spent a few hours at Anse Victorin, which is said to be one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world, and even there we were completely on our own all the time.

The perfection of Anse Victorin

Frégate Island Private was a fantastic experience. It is very expensive, but now I understand a bit more why !

How to get to Fregate Island

15 minutes by helicopter and we were back at the main island Mahé again. 

For more about Fregate Island Private CLICK HERE.

Note: Erland Stubmo is a senior travel consultant in our Oslo office one of our most travelled and most discerning team members. He is also an experienced photographer.

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO THE SEYCHELLES, part 1, Constance Ephelia Resort

Back among the islands of ultimate royal romance, Erland Stubmo updates us on two of our luxury resorts. One lies on the main island, Mahe, and the other (see our next blog) is a totally private island resort with some of the world’s most celebrated beaches…

Anse Victorin Fregate Island - more about this in our next blog
Today’s blog reviews Constance Ephelia Resort, one of our best sellers in the Seychelles. Mahé tends to be a bit underrated, suggests Erland. It has dramatic and beautiful scenery and it’s possible to have a fantastic holiday there without going to the other islands. Constance Ephelia fringes a marine national park, is enveloped in luxuriant tropical vegetation and is graced by two lovely beaches.


Constance Ephelia Resort seen from a Cliff Villa

I visited Constance Ephelia Resort when they opened (2010). Returning in April 2015, I found it had settled in very nicely with the feel of a luxury resort from the moment you check in.

We were impressed by friendly service and excellent food, especially at the gourmet restaurant CYANN. Yes, it’s a big resort, but we didn’t feel it was a problem. The buggy system works well. They run constantly from south to north and vice versa to pick up guests. We never had to actually call a buggy.

Public areas

Orientation

The resort is divided into two areas each with their own beach.  The south part is where you find the main restaurant, kids club, main bar and all the Junior Suites. The north part is where the villas and Senior Suites are. Also the gourmet restaurant CYANN and the Creole restaurant SESELWA.

Bar area - Southern part

Rooms

The Junior Suites (62 sqm)  all with terrace or balcony are tastefully furnished, with attractive  large and modern bathrooms, separate bathtub and shower. Higher categories are in the northern part of the island (Senior Suites of 80 sqm), family villas with two or three bedrooms and private pool, and – for beach lovers – beach villas with one or two bedrooms.

For total privacy there are some Hillside Villas with one or two bedrooms, a short buggy drive away from the main resort. All with large terraces, private pool and beautiful views. The huge Presidential Villa (980 sqm) has 3 bedrooms, private gym and spa, 2 pools. It is placed in serene privacy up on the hill behind the Hillside Villas.


Who to stay

Constance Ephelia is very child friendly but suits all kinds of guests; most of the clients were couples when we were there.

How to get to Constance Ephelia

The resort is 30 minutes by car from Seychelles International Airport

For more about Constance Ephelia, CLICK HERE.

Note: Erland Stubmo is a senior travel consultant in our Oslo office one of our most travelled and most discerning team members. He is also an experienced photographer.