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.