Tuesday, December 20, 2016

JUST OPEN IN PARADISE – ST REGIS VOMMULI RESORT

We have found a new spot in paradise – the St Regis Vommuli Resort. Right up there with the best in the Maldives, this brand new hotel is a truly refined luxury experience.

Just back from this tiny spot of superb indulgence in the great big blue, our hotel inspector writes... 

Top top quality resort with stunning architecture based on tropical wood used in several ways to create authentic yet very contemporary aesthetics. St Regis Vommuli Resort is very elegant and sophisticated, perfect for guests wanting a refined top luxury experience.

The island

The small island is located 45 mins by seaplane south of Male. The longest walk would be from the furthest water villa to the spa which takes around 15 mins.



Where to stay

Garden villas are cnclosed in greenery and will suit those who prioritize privacy over view. The beach villas (140 sqm) comprise a Dhoni shape building with enormous ceiling height and windows from floor to ceiling facing the ocean with a view out from their pool decks.

View from Beach Villa

Beach villa with its tall windows and pool

Beach villa - dhoni shaped design

Very nice – but nevertheless personally I prefer the overwater villas, which are wonderfully light and spacious at 180 sqm.  My top favourite is the Overwater St Regis Suite – a whole 282 sqm in size

Here you find beautiful relaxation and abundant indulgence outdoors with a 9x3 swimming pool, 5 over ocean nets to loll in, a huge partly shaded daybed, 2 extra wide sunbeds with luxurious mattresses, outdoor dining and outdoor hand held shower. Step down stairs into the ocean – with the sea at around 1 metre deep and currents manageable for the average swimmer you can reach the reef which is 100m out.

pool and daybed in the overwater suite

Inside the Overwater St Regis Suite enjoy a spacious living room with table, sofa, huge flatscreen and great sound system with Bluetooth connection. In the pantry enjoy an Illy coffee machine. The bedroom is large with luxurious linens and smart lighting – and the bathroom too is spacious with yet another TV and massive vanity. On top of that you can keep your private domain looking cool and collected as there is a large dressing room to get rid of all your luggage.


Overwater Suite dressing room

Overwater Suite living room


Extra bathroom in overwater suite

There are also some two bedroom accommodations and spacious three bedroom estates for families.

Impressive service 

The service was impressive considering St Regis Vommuli has only been open a few weeks. But then they have been able to get staff from other top Maldivian resorts.  Each room gets a dedicated butler that really makes a difference. They buggy you everywhere, pick you up for dinner etc. They are intuitive and very likeable.

The butler will press up to 2 pieces per person per day, serve afternoon tea in your villa, buggy you everywhere and organizes all activities, take care of room service etc.

Spa

Stunning complex with impressive changing rooms and beautiful relaxation areas.

The spa offers a large selection of treatments including more advanced ayurvedic treatments such as medical grade ghee poured into open eyes, or herbal oils poured in to the ear canal, or sinus treatment with massage and oil poured into nose and sinuses.

Overwater spa treatment room

Other activities

Everything you expect from watersports centre to table tennis, gym, yoga studio, tennis court and kids club. I recommend the aerial yoga (anti gravity) offered everyday at 11 -  deep stretch of the whole body.


Diving: some good sites within 10 min and others 30 min away. The house reef is near and has lots of fish but the coral needs time to recover from construction work.

Restaurants and level of cuisine

Breakfast is really impressive and generous – a buffet with a large selection of a la carte items like  lobster and Alaska crab omelette with oscietra caviar or waffles with duck leg confit with raspberries and maple syrup. Three kinds of Benedicts include one local with yellow fin tuna, coriander and deep fried soft shell crab. Altogether there are 40 dishes on the menu plus Bloody Mary, mimosa and prosecco all included in the price when booking with Select Collection.

Sublime crab omelette

There are two main restaurant complexes: Alba is the all-day dining where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. For lunch nearby Crust offers gourmet pizzas.

Alba - outdoors


The other main restaurant is Orientale which has three menus/show kitchens: Japanese, Indian and Chinese. A great concept where you can mix and match between the cuisines or divide and have complete Indian one night, Japanese the next etc.

A place to have a whale of a time. Whale bar and beach

Summary

We are impressed and feel it offers top quality and refinement in every way for those willing to pay for it.

For more about The St Regis Maldvies Vommuli Resort CLICK HERE.

Friday, December 16, 2016

CONTEMPORARY STYLE SEYCHELLES - RAFFLES PRASLIN

 If you are staying on the enchanting Seychelles island of Praslin and demand quality look no further than Raffles, suggests Neil Bedford.

Praslin is a truly beautiful island and a must for Seychelles travellers, either for daytrips or to stay. Raffles is a great choice with its classy ambience and feel of quality throughout. It appeals especially to those who like contemporary style, which you find in its 86 smart and comfortable pool villas.

Starting at 125 sqm the villas are large, stylish and practical for modern travelers, neatly layered down the slope. The outdoor terraces are well furnished for dining or relaxing by a private plunge pool of 10sqm. Most have sea views.

Food is another highlight - really high quality.

Lobby at Raffles

For families

For families with older children this is an excellent choice of holiday destination. All villas can take two adults and two kids under 18, with one bedroom villas taking advantage of sofa beds in the living room. There is a pair of spectacular two bedroom villas – some of the biggest in this category I have ever seen. The resort is built on a hill and all pools are infinity so it’s less practical for younger children. The main pool is big and suits families while the beaches are lovely but tend to be exposed to wind and waves in our summer season.




For couples

Couples will enjoy the choice of dining options, with some high end restaurants and bars to dress up for. They will also fall in love with the excellent quality villas and the spa. While all villas are stylish and welcoming, for those wanting a spectacular view we suggest an upgrade to higher category.

Ocean view pool villa



Where

Raffles is 25 mins by car from Praslin airport (which is 15-20 mins domestic flight from Mahe). A 45 mins public catamaran ferry goes from Mahe to Praslin’s main jetty, a car ride away. Raffles has a helipad – from which it takes only 5 mins to Six Senses Zil Pasyon, and 20 mins to Mahe/Fregate/North.

Beach and island excursions

Anse Lazio is one of the Seychelles very best beaches, a lovely 30 mins walk (10 mins taxi away). Here you can swim/snorkel and stay behind for magical sunset.

Just 5 mins taxi takes you to a couple of nearby villages with a few restaurants and guesthouses, to ring the changes for dinners or lunches. A day tour around Praslin including the national park Valee de Mai is worth doing.  The hotel runs daily boat excursions (in season) to Curieuse and St. Pierre islands for snorkeling and exploring. Curieuse is famous for its free roaming giant tortoises.


Style & Character

Vegetation around the hotel gives some privacy for the villas. The hotel is the most contemporary of all our Seychelles properties and villas are dotted around the hill slope, most with sea views facing east (sunrise side).  Service is polished and friendly.

Arranged down a gentle slope

Food & Drink

A good choice is offered - 7 restaurants (if you count everything) with 3 atmospheric choices for dinner. All are high quality, and dining is definitely a strength of the hotel. 

Curieuse Restaurant

Features, Wellness & Amenities

There are two picturesque beaches, though not especially wide, with good beach service. One is exposed to weather in our summer.  There is a high quality spa in the hills.



Verdict

This is a high quality hotel and Praslin island is one of the really beautiful spots on Mother Earth. 


Neil Bedford, the author of this review, is Product Director at Select Collection.


For more about Raffles CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

CRUISING TO ATACAMA & GALAPAGOS - BLUE FOOTED BOOBIES & BANANAS

From Guayaquil, Ecuador to Valparaiso, Chile – 14 days of cruising onboard Silver Explorer. A perfectly comfortable adventure, learning about the Galapagos and its animals, with good food and high quality expeditions.

Laila Ånestad writes:

Silver Explorer is a different kind of cruise. It is all about adventure, nature and animal life with many excursions and a chance to learn a great deal about our world.  In addition our cruise had a theme of food and photography.



Common sight: Blue-footed Booby


About to spot whales on Silver Explorer

As you can see from the picture above, Silver Explorer is about to change direction. Big whales were spotted and the captain, Mrs Maggi Ettlin, definitely knew how to satisfy the guests! She turned the ship completely, to get closer to the big animals.

To meet our food and banana theme, Executive Chef Marcelino and corporate chef of the Oro Verde Hotels in Ecuador Antonio Perez gave several cooking demonstrations on how to use bananas and chocolate in different dishes.  Bananas and cacao from Ecuador are exported to all over the world. Some bananas are red.  

                   

SUITES


Our Suite – Expedition Suite – was located mid ship on Deck 3. 


It was very spacious – and double the size of the Vista/Veranda Suites. The bathroom with bath and separate shower had good water  pressure, Etro bath-robes and Bvlgari amenities. Plenty of towels which they changed 2-3 times per day. Big walk-in closet, 4-5 sqm. The ship is quite old, so the furniture were in typical brown, purple and orange – but fashion was not the focus on this Expedition trip.

LIFE ONBOARD      

        
What kind of people can you expect on Silver Explorer?

We were in total 107 guests and 110 crew members from more than 25 different nations worldwide.
Most people we spoke to were retired, some of them quite early. At all meals we were asked if we would prefer a table for only two – or if we would like to join some of the other guests. In most cases, we joined others – as mingling is a part of the life on board.

I quickly understood that the guests were frequent luxury travelers – and many of them had already been in Antarctica 2 and 3 times. These were very nice people with a lot of experience and knowledge and nobody was there to “show off” where they had been before and which expensive hotels they had stayed in. Most of the guests were also members of the Venetian Society, a special family of travelers who enjoy seeing the world in luxurious fashion.


There was no swimming pool onboard, but 2 heated jacuzzis - one in each corner at the rear of the ship. They were only used by us and another couple! 


CROSSING BORDERS


Crossing the borders between countries was very efficient – organized by the reception at the ship. As they collected all passports the first day, Silversea was in contact with the Port Authorities. We just had to fill in customs form, which was placed on our bed a couple of days before entering a new country.  We were always reminded to bring our passport on shore excursions, if necessary.

EXCURSIONS


Silversea always provided us with the very best local guides and buses, in addition to the ship`s own professional biologist, geologist, archeologist, expert on birds etc.  VERY interesting.

Going ashore

We had so many excursions to so many different places, both transfers on land and to islands by zodiac boats.  Some days when the trips were a little bit challenging, there were two different options to sign up for. It could be the altitude or the length of the bus trip that could be difficult (the longest one lasted for 18 hours) so for those who did not want to join, there was an alternative.

A few snapshots taken during excursions:
                   



Lauca National Park. Altitude 4500 meters


In the driest place on earth


The Atacama desert in Chile; no rain here since the year 1570!


Visit to Santa Catalina Monastry. A nice place to be!

Valle de Luna, with unique rock formations jutting out of the sand, eroded by wind into incredible shapes. Below – an indigenous ritual.

Ritual to Mother Earth

Below: Peruvian Paso Horse. The characteristic gait was utilized for the purpose of covering long distances over a short period of time without tiring the horse or the rider. Horses arrived in South America during the Spanish Conquest, beginning the arrival of Pizarro in 1531.



Our Silver Explorer journey even included excursions over the Nazca Lines with small aircraft.


Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, in southern Peru. They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Determining how they were made has been easier than figuring why they were made. 40 minutes to fly there – then 30 minutes circling over the different figures. No air conditioning on board. Be prepared to get sick as the aircraft turns in a 45 degree angle on both sides, for the best view of the geoglyphs. Not very easy to see all of them.
              
There was very little time for shopping on the different tours – places visited were mostly museums, ruins or National parks. Many of us missed having local products in the ship shop.

Below: Some real ones - Vicunas. Some of the world’s most expensive wool. Could be USD 500-1000 for a scarf!



   

CONCLUSION


The standard and knowledge of the Expedition team is VERY high – and everything is VERY well organized. The food is good and the staff try their very best. They greet everybody with names after one day.

 It was rather sad to leave the ship – because after 2 weeks you start to know different people and their personalities. 

There were many repeaters who like to learn about places that are  challenging to visit by yourself. And  – they get new friends who they can travel with on their next Silver Explorer Cruise!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

ECUADOR FROM QUITO TO RAINFOREST


On an adventure in Quito and the cloud forests of Ecuador, Select Collection's travel advisers pass on some of their secrets…

1. Don't take backpacker advice at the airport.

2. A charming place to stay in Quito.

3. How to find the magic of the rainforest…

Laila Ånestedt writes…

Advice...

We arrived in the evening and took a bus to the Quito bus station – a bad idea suggested by an Expat – and something we will never advise our clients to do. From the bus station we continued by taxi to Hotel Casa Gangotena – in heavy traffic through narrow streets – very slowly.

Our advice is simple. Travel by car direct from the airport to that lovely hotel.

Picturesque Quito old town. Click for larger images


Casa Gangotena

This hotel lies in the historic part of Quito, San Francisco Place – and is probably the best hotel in the city. We were entranced immediately we saw it: nice and white, with old charm – beautifully lighted up in the darkness.

Construction work is currently in progress in front as they are building a new metro. But we heard no noise in our minimalistic garden room at the back, and slept well. The next day we  moved to a room on the first floor with big white marble bathrooms and a little more in the way of décor.

Room with local feel

The garden at the back is one of the delights of this hotel. Another is the complimentary afternoon tea in the atrium in the middle of the hotel, where a glass ceiling lets in the light. The breakfast is very good.

Delightful garden at the hotel

Now we were  heading for our ultimate destination – the rainforests…

Mashpi Lodge




View of Mashpi Lodge clinging to a mountain side deep in the rainforest

Mashpi means: "Friends of water" and you enjoy lush growth, deep forests and high humidity in this private reserve.

It is located in the northwest part of Ecuador in the Choco region, 3-4 hours drive on winding roads. The last 45 minutes is on a bumpy sand road. To shorten the journey you can arrive at a neighbouring village by helicopter but you can’t miss out the last 45 bumpy minutes.

The lodge clings to a steep hillside at 900-1500m above sea-level – a large property of 1200 ha. You understand why there is rainforest. It is very humid – 85.95% with a staggering rainfall of around 2000mm per year – rainy London receives a mere 600mm. Best time in terms of lower rain is Jul-Sep. Pools and rivers are a pleasant 20 deg C.



The views are breath-taking . We looked into the rainforest from our room – but it was very private and no one was looking back at us as the valley is so steep that it is not possible to walk through the forest.

Our room with its fabulous view

From the dining room you look out over the landscape through truly vast windows.  Some 45% of the hotel is made of glass to give the optimal view. It was difficult logistics to bring all the materials into the area and construction of the Lodge took 3 ½ years.

Mashpi Lodge - glass windows viewing the forests

Inside the lodge, it is very open with a lot of natural light coming in. Here you can see the terrace where morning birdwatching took place:


Bird watching terrace


The stunning dining room where all meals were served


Life at Mashpi

Dine with magnificent views. All meals and soft drinks are included - buffet breakfast and buffet lunch – a la carte dinner. We liked the lunch best as it had the best selection. It is possible to have the meal outside on the terrace.

Days are full of exploration. The trails are muddy and slippery with steep slopes. All guests are supplied with boots and walking sticks, if needed. Recommended to bring a light jacket and comfortable pants that dry quickly. It’s not cold, just very humid and misty. The rule in the rainforest is: Do not touch anything before asking!

Laila

Why you need gumboots (the hotel will lend you a pair)

I recommend 2 or 3 nights. A typical day in Mashpi Lodge:

06:30     Birdwatching outside the hotel for those interested. Coffee/tee/hot chocolate served.
07:30     Breakfast
08:30     Activity
12:30     Lunch buffet
15:30     Activity – different
19:00     Lesson about Mashpi – inside the building, in the lobby. Could be a video for example.
19:30     Dinner

Located close to the hotel, the sky bike makes for an original and exiting way to explore the forest canopy up close. Designed for two people to use at once, one person pedals the bike, along the cables stretched between two points in the forest, around 200 meters apart, crossing a gorge above a river flowing between rocks and trees below. Silent, easy-to-use and fun, it’s an activity for children over 8 years-old accompanied by an adult, providing guests with another chance to observe the natural world close to the lodge.

Night walks. Optional night walks head out from the hotel after dinner to discover its creatures and their behaviour, ranging from moths as big as your hand, to miniature glass and tree frogs, croaking toads, birds, owls, rodents and mammals. We saw a big, black tarantella!
Mashpi is an exiting place for photography and botany (particularly orchids) in general. Special interests can be accommodated upon request. This was our guide 


Flying over the rainforest on your own natural steam

Because Mashpi Lodge is in an earthquake area, and the country was hit by an earthquake last year near the coast, they have decided never to lock any doors during the night. This way, the guests will have the possibility to leave the building if it happens again. 


Mashpi is a private reserve, owned by Roque Sevilla.

Laila Ånestedt, author of this review, is a travel advisor at Select Collection Stavanger.

For more about Select Collection's Ecuador programme, CLICK HERE


Monday, November 7, 2016

DREAM ISLAND IN THE SEYCHELLES - NEW SIX SENSES ZIL PASYON

We visit a new island resort in the Seychelles, the country most sought after by romantic royals but also becoming more popular with families. Six Senses Zil Pasyon is the only hotel on the island of Felicite and it captivates Neil Bedford with its many stunning features…

Jungle flowing steeply down to rocky shores and white beaches

This is the ultimate barefoot chic private island. “Barefoot” might sound overly rustic, but Six Senses Zil Pasyon has it all…combining the best features of our favourite barefoot destinations.

Indeed it is a dream island for couples and honeymooners. And for kids who have got old enough to be allowed to explore on their own, Felicite will be an island of adventure and lifetime memories. It is not the ultimate destination for younger children because of the steep terrain – but there is a kids club for tiny tots to keep them safe while the parents are out swimming and exploring.

The island is steeply hilly and covered in jungle, rising to 213m, scattered with picturesque granite boulders.  It has three beautiful beaches – one west-facing, one south, and one north, meaning there is usually one sheltered.  



Unique experiences to enjoy include trekking on the rugged green island, snorkeling off the main beach and off the sensational Cocos Island just a short kayak paddle away. 

Oceanfront villa nestled into foliage


Thirty highly desirable villas with one or two bedrooms lie near the shore or further up the slope, all with a lush tropical feel, large open living spaces, infinity pools and sublime views.  They are functional, light and open with little drops of bright colour and floor-to-ceiling sliding doors taking up half the villa to showcase the sea views.  

The bathrooms are some of the best I have ever seen. Huge open spaces with giant showers, his and hers vanities, bathtub right by the window and space age toilet with enough gizmos to make you nervous what will happen if you press the wrong button. One demonstrated  by our butler (Guest Experience Maker), emits (organic) perfume.

Stunning villa bedroom


In addition several contemporary residences are being built higher up with three to four bedrooms and loads of living space.

Extensive living room in a Residence

In a “central”area of the island there is a library, wine cellar, chefs table, 2 tropical bars and a rum lounge, 2 restaurants, boules court, overwater hammock/nets, sun loungers on boulders, main pool, watersports centre, tiny tots club, boutique…

Dining fits in perfectly with the destination with light fresh food and local flavours.  Ocean kitchen is a no-meat restaurant with incredible seafood and salads. The Island Café does a mix of cuisines with a local feel. You can also dine in the Wine Cellar or at magical spots around the island.

Ko-Ko Bar


Wine cellar 


Service is approachable and friendly – and staff are dressed down in T shirts. Close enough to La Digue and Praslin, Six Senses has access to a good pool of staff and can keep them smiling and happy.

Tipped to be one of the world’s best, a spa will open on Felicite in March 2017. Carved into the cliffs above the sea with its infinity pool, it will have dedicated wellness programmes – but also be the place to dip in and out, with all Six Senses awakened.

It is only 15 minutes to La Digue by boat  – a must visit. La Digue is best explored on a bike as much of the time will be spent on the beach of Anse Source d’Argent – which is a protected site with an entry charge. 

Another must is sunset cocktails on the granite boulders.


Verdict: Six Senses Zil Pasyon is a worthy favourite – up there with the best.


Today's blog is by Neil Bedford  Product Director of Select Collection.

For more about Six Senses Zil Pasyon, FOLLOW THIS LINK.