Checking out - travel reviews
The Selling Travel team's latest reviews of accommodation, flights, cruises and more - personally tried and tested
Celebrity Beyond Mediterranean cruise
by Jeannine Williamson
THE BACKGROUND: Continuing a partnership with a global team of interior designers and architects, including Britain’s Kelly Hoppen and Tom Wright, Celebrity Beyond is the third ship in Celebrity’s Edge-class series.
Celebrity Beyond set out on its maiden voyage from Southampton in April and will sail in the Mediterranean before relocating to the Caribbean in October for the winter 2022/23 season. With its feeling of laid-back luxury and incredible design details the line hopes it will attract seasoned cruisers and turn the heads of anyone who claims cruising isn’t there cup of tea.
Carrying 2,260 passengers, and with 17 decks, Celebrity Beyond is 20 metres longer and has an extra deck compared with its Edge-class sisters ships Celebrity Edge and Apex.
THE ROOM: Ultra-stylish public areas are filled with stunning and thought-provoking artwork by more than 700 artists from 40 countries. This extends to the cabins, once again overseen by Kelly Hoppen, which include the all-new Aqua Sky Suites linked to the ship’s wellness programme.
KEY FACILITIES: The entertainment scene is as innovative as the ship and ranges from high-tech shows to informal gatherings in smaller venues. The main theatre is set against the backdrop of a 20ft LED screen that curves 110ft around the stage and creates spectacular special effects during the shows.
I really enjoyed Arte, where characters from famous paintings started talking to each other before the high-energy performance by talented singers, dancers and acrobats. It was worthy of any West End stage.
Eden is a gorgeous multi-purpose area and one night it was the venue for Decadence where the small dance floor became the setting for a cabaret-style show with performers mingling with the audience and, quite literally, dancing on the tables.
With a very large spa and gym, there’s a big wellness vibe and Celebrity has partnered with Gwyneth Paltrow who will be aboard in September for a goop-themed cruise linked to her lifestyle brand.
RESTAURANTS & BARS: Celebrity has enhanced and enlarged popular venues brought over from Edge and Apex and introduced the all-new Le Voyage. Marking the first-ever restaurant at sea for two Michelin star chef Daniel Boulud, the intimate 50-seater speciality restaurant has a travel theme.
Celebrity Beyond has 32 food and drink venues and other for-fee options include Fine Cut Steakhouse, Raw on 5 sushi and Le Petit Chef, an enchanting experience where an animated story is projected onto your plate between courses.
Unlike many ships with one main complimentary dining room there are four to choose from - Cyprus, Tuscany, Normandie and Cosmopolitan. Each one has a very different style, and I especially liked Normandie which is reminiscent of a classic liner. Some 75% of the menus are the same in all of them and the remaining dishes showcase different signature dishes from around the world. Guests can opt for early or late sittings or choose Celebrity Select Dining Anytime and eat when they want.
Suite passengers get the perk of dining in the elegant Luminae and AquaClass guests can head to Blu, with its focus on ‘clean food’.
The tranquil Sunset Bar makes much more of a statement on Beyond, with a new pergola-style entrance and seating on different levels. A livelier spot is the extended Martini Bar where each night bar tenders juggle cocktail shakers and bottles to music beneath an LED chandelier.
THE VERDICT: Retaining the standout Magic Carpet, a cantilevered bar, lounge and dining venue that moves up and down the side of the ship, Celebrity Beyond is a statement vessel for anyone wanting to sail in supreme comfort without any stuffiness, and could well float the boat for first-time Generation X cruisers.
THE DETAILS: A nine-night Italian Riviera & France cruise staying in an inside cabin starts from £1,354pp.
Hilton Lake Como, Italy
by April Waterston
THE HOTEL: Located just a short stroll from Como town center, Hilton Lake Como is ideally positioned as a base to explore the lake. Como town is well connected with its ferry port, and a train station allows for quick and easy transfers to Milan and its surrounding airports.
A former silk factory, the grand facade of the hotel nestles perfectly into the surrounding landscapes, concealing the modern yet thoughtfully designed extension behind. There are 170 rooms and suites, many of which boast a view of the lake.
CHECK-IN: I was greeted quickly and warmly by the concierge who explained to me all the facilities the hotel had to offer. Within five minutes of arriving I was shown to my room – a two-storey loft suite located in the original part of the building. Whilst I was grateful for the quick service, I would have been more than happy to wait and relax in the tastefully decorated lounge area. The lobby bar also offered more communal space to relax (or work, as some guests were doing), however at the time of my visit it had not yet re-opened for service post-Covid, despite the hotel being fully-booked.
THE ROOM: My loft-suite room, 242, was on the top floor of the original factory building. It truly felt like a home away from home, and whilst I was only there for one night I can imagine it would be ideal for a longer stay. There was plenty of room to spread out and get comfortable, with ample storage, a desk, a downstairs lounge/ seating area with television, large bathroom with a double-ended bathtub and a walk-in shower, all topped off with a separate sleeping area upstairs with a very comfortable bed, and another television. The room was tastefully decorated with white walls and dark wood flooring and accents throughout, creating a modern feel. Wifi was easy to connect to and adequately fast.
The highlight of the room was the vaulted glass ceiling, which not only allowed for light to flood the room, but also made the suite feel spacious and airy. Remote-controlled blinds offered privacy at night and lake views during the day. Sadly it was a little overcast during our stay, however I was told that on clear nights you can leave the blinds open and sleep under the stars!
THE FACILITIES: The hotel offered everything one would expect. Having opened after extensive redevelopment not long before Covid, every inch of the hotel felt very clean and new. A chic wellness center with a spa, indoor pool and gym is located on the ground floor. Up on the rooftop, accompanying the unbeatable views of the lake are a heated infinity pool, jacuzzi, and drink and dining provision from Terazza 241. A well-stocked breakfast buffet is served every day in the ground floor restaurant, with additional items like waffles available to order.
Hilton Lake Como also offers plenty of meeting and events space, with conference rooms and meeting rooms available to hire.
THE FOOD: All diets go out the window when the world’s best pasta is on your doorstep, so I jumped at the opportunity to experience the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, Terrazza 241. Located on the rooftop next to the pool, I enjoyed an idyllic evening sipping on a sweet rosé recommended by my waiter whilst watching the sun set over a panoramic view of the lake. I ordered the Parmagiana Ravioli as a main and Tiramisu for dessert – both were delicious and well-portioned.
A large area of the restaurant had been booked out for a private business function, but that did not impact our service. It seemed to be a well-organised affair.
THE VERDICT: As a base to explore Lake Como, the Hilton Lake Como couldn’t offer much more. The only catch is, you might not want to leave!
Nightly rates at Hilton Lake Como begin at 180 Euro per night based on double occupancy with breakfast included.
Hotel Botánico, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife
by Richard Williams
THE BACKGROUND: This five-star, 252-room hotel is part of the group that owns Siam Park theme park and the Loro Parque zoo. It has a classic, old-fashioned charm, and was one of the first hotels on this north coast of Tenerife, where tourism started on the island. It has ISO 14001 certification for sustainability.
THE LOCATION: It is on the east side of Puerto de la Cruz, handily placed across the road from the Botanic Gardens from which it gets its name. Being on a hill above the main town makes it an easy 20-minute walk to the nearest beach and a bit further to the promenade and town centre. The hotel runs a regular shuttle bus service to the town.
THE ROOM: My Double Deluxe Mountain View room had floor-to-ceiling windows and a door to the full-width balcony overlooking the pool with the mountainside beyond. There was a large, comfortable bed, a fridge and safe, and lots of storage space including a big hanging cupboard. Numbered prints on the walls were of Yellow-winged Amazon parrots by the artist Eric Peake. The bathroom was in marble, with bath and spa-style shower, twin basins and an enlarging mirror. The single rose in a vase was a nice touch.
KEY FACILITIES: The striking feature of the hotel is its extensive grounds with sub-tropical palms and vegetation, beautifully kept, and with butterflies, exotic birds and lizards in abundance. There are tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a golf range with putting green and practice bunker. The Oriental Spa Garden is a separate area, with two more pools, and offers a range of treatments, massages and rituals. Three of the five restaurants are à la carte. The large bar is home to an interesting collection of paintings from Canarian artists such as César Manrique, Oscar Dominguez and Pepe Dámaso. There is also a library with small pool and billiards tables.
THE VERDICT: A very comfortable, characterful hotel with all the facilities you could wish for. The choice of pools means you can always find a peaceful setting for your swim among the palm trees. The spa is excellent, as is the choice of restaurants, and you can easily walk into town.
Duisdale House Hotel, Isle of Skye
by Julie Baxter
THE BACKGROUND: The four-star Duisdale House Hotel is a boutique hotel with a classic country house vibe. It is part of The Sonas Collection, an independent, family-run group of luxury hotels on the Isle of Skye.
THE LOCATION: A short 5-minutes drive from the ferry port at Armadale (Caledonian MacBrayne ferries (calmac.co.uk) cross from the mainland at Mallaig taking 40 minutes) or it’s a 20-minute drive from the road bridge which joins the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh. ScotRail serves both entry points.
THE ROOM: My bright and airy, large bedroom with good sized, modern bathroom had two stand out features: a huge, comfortable bed, and spectacular views. The view looked out towards of Sound, with the stunning peaks of the mainland beyond, and could be enjoyed from seating in the bay window or directly from the sumptuous, super king bed. The smart bathroom with bath and overhead power-shower was modern and roomy. In-room facilities included espresso and tea making set up.
KEY FACILITIES: The lounge is the heart of the hotel with welcoming log fire and cosy sofas, and the dining room spans another cosy fire-lit room and a bright glass-fronted conservatory leading onto a terrace. There is also a bright Chart Room bar with plenty of whisky/malt-tasting opportunities. The menu in the two AA rosette restaurant offers high-end and distinctive choices created using local produce and seasonal specialities, all presented beautifully.
THE VERDICT: The most comfortable of beds and wonderful food might be all you need from a great hotel but add in the highly-attentive and super friendly staff, fabulous food and gorgeous views of this hotel and you get a truly special stay in the Isle of Skye. Highly recommended for those exploring this dramatically stunning island or keen to bag one of Skye’s 12 Munros.
THE DETAILS: Duisdale House Hotel, Isle Ornsay, Sleat, Isle of Skye IV43 8QW; Tel: 01470-373737 or email email@example.com; skyehotel.co.uk/duisdale . A double room including full Scottish breakfast costs from £289 per night in April, from £219 per night in winter and from £389 per night in summer. Rates are based on two people sharing
Azamara Onward Mediterranean cruise
by Jeannine Williamson
THE BACKGROUND: The latest addition to the Azamara fleet marks the reunion of four small cruise vessels, known as R-Class ships, which were originally constructed for the now defunct Renaissance Cruises and built up a loyal following.
Azamara Onward was constructed in 1999 and from 2002 sailed as Pacific Princess for Princes Cruises. After being acquired by Azamara in 2021 it underwent an extensive refurbishment. With a larger than average ratio of public space per passenger, the 11-deck ship carries up to 670 guests and is able to dock in smaller ports that are inaccessible to large cruise ships.
Joining sister R-Class ships Azamara Journey, Quest and Pursuit, Azamara Onward was renamed in Monte Carlo in May and will spend its inaugural season in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Aegean.
THE ROOM: With its expansive wooden decks, some laid out with steamer chairs and areas such as the glittering Mosaic Cafe, the ship has a very classic and welcoming feel. While it is difficult to completely transform older cabins, modern additions include USB ports.
KEY FACILITIES: A key part of the Azamara experience is what happens off the ship rather than aboard, so there are no waterparks or glitzy shows. Instead passengers can expect to visit lesser-known destinations, with plenty of time spent in port, and each cruise features at least one AzAmazing event. On our sailing this was a ‘takeover’ in the pretty Italian Riviera village of Portovenere where the line had arranged for musicians and singers to perform along a self-guided circular route with a waterside food and drink area serving complimentary local specialities. It was a real highlight.
Back onboard a highly anticipated event is the signature Azamara white night party held on deck. The rest of the entertainment is fairly low-key and includes song and dance shows in the Cabaret Lounge.
A nice touch is the Destination Shop that sells clothing and souvenirs from the destinations being visited. The ship also has a spa and gym.
RESTAURANTS & BARS: A notable addition to Azamara Onward, which isn’t available on its sibling ships, is the Atlas Bar. Located up on Deck 10, and replacing the library on the other vessels, the travel-themed bar was my favourite spot for a pre-dinner cocktail. It specialises in imaginative craft cocktails combining ingredients from around the world, including Date of Cairo with vodka, Egyptian date sauce and passionfruit juice, and Osaka Spice, mixing sake, lime juice, lime syrup and wasabi. For an additional fee there are small bite pairing recommendations such as wagyu beef with Osaka Spice. It’s a standout venue.
There are seven places to dine and the two included restaurants are Discoveries, which is the most formal, and the casual Windows Cafe buffet. Food was good throughout. A nice touch is the Windows Cafe transforming into a waiter served a la carte venue at night, with menus showcasing destinations visited, such as a French menu one evening and Mediterranean the next.
The cafe extends out into the al fresco Sunset Veranda, which is a beautiful spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner on warm days and it is heated on chillier evenings.
My favourite speciality restaurant was the Italian-themed Aqualina, an elegant and light room with panoramic windows. Other places to eat are the Mosaic Cafe, serving tempting pastries and treats, and there is also a pool grill and 24-hour room service.
THE VERDICT: Fans of Azamara and anyone who enjoys small-ship cruising in a cosy atmosphere with longer stays and overnights in some ports will enjoy this ship. It is best suited to mature passengers looking for a traditional, quieter cruise experience rather than those in search of all-singing all-dancing entertainment.
THE DETAILS: A seven-night Italy Intensive cruise staying in an inside cabin starts from $1,119 (£907).
by Julie Baxter
THE JOURNEY: Inverness to London Euston
THE CHECK-IN: Check-in was quick and easy, done on the platform as I boarded the train and combined with a welcome explanation of the cabin key-card system and dining options. Digital displays in each carriage gave location and destination guidance and updates.
THE SEAT: My Club Room offered bunk beds, wash basin and an ensuite toilet which doubled as a shower cubicle. The space was limited but good design touches ensured there was sufficient space to stow a bag, hang clothes and power or charge electricals. A collapsible table pulled out from below the sink for those who want to work or dine in the cabin. The lower bunk doubled as seating, with head rest for added comfort. Each cabin has its own temperature controls, dimmable lights and complimentary wifi.
THE SERVICE: This overnight journey leaves Inverness at 8.26pm (and it left on the dot) and arrives in London approximately 12 hours later (depending on signalling priorities). Towels and Scottish toiletries were provided and the bunks were made up ready for the night with a very comfortable well-padded Glencraft mattress, two full-sized pillows and a generous duvet in quality white linens. The entire train felt clean and modern with décor and colour schemes matching that of the Scottish landscape.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE: Due to staff shortages the station lounge was closed but onboard dinner was available for purchase in the Lounge Car from boarding (45 minutes before departure). Menu choices included Haggis, Neeps and Tatties or Macaroni Cheese, as well as a local cheese board and snacks. There was a broad choice of wines, whiskies and soft drinks. The staff were very friendly and cheerful. Breakfast is pre-ordered by door card half an hour after boarding and can be delivered to your cabin or served the Lounge Car. The menu ranges from yoghurt and granola to a hearty Full Highland Breakfast complete with potato cakes and black pudding.
THE VERDICT: This was a fun experience that will get your client from one end of the UK to the other with ease. No queuing and no security checks, no luggage restrictions. The rocking and rumbling of the train is a constant companion through the night, of course, but I awoke refreshed. The staff were helpful and friendly and the trip really was fuss-free. In these CO2-conscious times, this rail journey really did make the switch from air or road to rail seem a sensible, easy and enjoyable option.
MORE INFORMATION: The Caledonian Sleeper started a new chapter in a long history in 2019 when a fleet of new trains was introduced. These are modern and attractive with good consideration of disabled traveller needs. Club Rooms are priced from £205 return for a solo traveller and £250 for shared. Classic Rooms, Caledonian Doubles and Accessible Rooms are also available.
For more information see: sleeper.scot
P&O Iona UK cruise
by Sara Macefield
THE BACKGROUND: It’s always a big deal when P&O Cruises brings its latest flagship to market, and the pandemic means the arrival of Iona has been more keenly anticipated than most.
This month’s maiden voyage to the Scottish isle from where Iona takes its name finally allowed the debutante to show off its ground-breaking credentials and on-trend attractions that P&O hopes will woo a new generation of cruisers.
At 5,200 passengers, and with a price tag of £730 million, Iona is the largest ship to fly the UK flag and first LNG ship to sail from British shores. Its 19 decks brim with attractions, bringing more of a resort feel, especially during evenings when multiple venues come alive.
THE ROOM: A multi-million pound art collection and palate of muted shades give a modish feel to public areas, reflected in staterooms where new must-have cabin category, conservatory mini-suites, come with a wonderful glass sunroom between the main cabin and balcony.
KEY FACILITIES: With tribute acts, comics, silent discos and laser shows, entertainment is a key part of Iona’s appeal, with its USP being the 710 Club, whose music director tasked with showcasing new talent is none other than Britpop legend Gary Barlow – who will join sailings next year.
I loved this atmospheric hideaway (taking just 90 guests), for the eclectic slant its musicians brought to popular hits, and judging by the queues – sometimes forming 40 minutes before sessions – others did too.
Even the traditional stage show has been given a modern makeover with Festival, a colourful energetic caper with feel-good music and remarkable LED effects.
It’s a similar story in the new glass-roofed SkyDome which resembles a conservatory by day, but transforms to an entertainment hub at night when a retractable stage covers the pool for laser shows and aerial displays.
RESTAURANTS & BARS: In true P&O style, there’s a sprinkling of classic watering holes with the Crow’s Nest Bar for far-reaching sea views and contemplative air of Anderson’s Bar and Library – the setting for Iona’s bijou gin distillery.
It is the first at sea and has been established with the Salcombe Distilling Company to brew Marabelle Gin, specially created for P&O Cruises and including ingredients from Iona’s namesake isle.
With more than 30 drinking and dining haunts, anyone on seven-night sailings can easily dine somewhere different each night, with forward booking encouraged through a new MyHoliday smartphone app.
Among complimentary options is The Quays piazza-style dining spot, serving crispy fish and chips plus Asian and American staples, and cosy Olive Grove restaurant for Mediterranean fare.
A new complimentary Chef’s Table inspired by P&O Cruises’ “Food Heroes” Marco Pierre White, Eric Lanlard and Olly Smith debuts on Iona’s gala celebration nights.
The mainly a la carte (and reasonably-priced) speciality restaurants include old favourites such as Indian cuisine at Sindhu, fine dining in Epicurean with Nordic-inspired dishes reflecting Iona’s Norwegian fjords itineraries and intimate dinner show vibe of the Limelight Club.
I liked the buzzing bistro feel of the new Keel and Cow gastro-pub serving an appetite-slaying Prime Minister burger, and nearby Glass House for wines and tapas, both located in the three-storey Italian marble atrium, Iona’s stylish hub with vast glass walls that let natural light flood in.
THE VERDICT: With 22 cabins for solo travellers and a raft of family-friendly attractions that include four pools (two of which are infinity), 18 hot tubs and a four-screen cinema, Iona has across-the-board appeal, though is more likely to find favour among those with a younger mindset than staunch traditionalists.
THE DETAILS: A seven-night Southern Short-break cruise staying in an inside room starts from £499pp.
Rocky Mountaineer, Vancouver to Banff
by Julie Baxter | March 2020
THE JOURNEY: Passage to the West, Vancouver to Banff.
THE CHECK-IN: The journey began at Rocky Mountaineer’s dedicated station in Vancouver at 7am where up to 900 guests are welcomed with tea, coffee and an ‘all aboard ceremony’. Bagpipes play, the train manager welcomes all passengers and a traditional train whistle is sounded. We head to our pre-allocated carriage where crew see us over the red carpet and up the stairs to our seat.
THE SEAT: My window seat was in one of the new double decker Gold Leaf carriages with domed glass ceilings to ensure no sight along the journey goes unseen. Bright and airy the carriage seats 72 passengers in leather, reclining seats with lots of leg room, lumbar support and footrest. Each has seat heating, USB port and table in the armrest.
THE SERVICE: This two-day journey comprises two full days of spectacular views and creative culinary experience. On each day, soon after departure I was given a hot towel and then a pre-breakfast snack of freshly-baked cinnamon scone with tea or coffee served at my seat. Gold Leaf passengers are served breakfast and lunch in a dedicated dining room (downstairs from their seats) in two sittings. Breakfast included numerous choices and I opted for poached eggs on English muffin, freshly cooked and delicious. Soon after returning to my seat, the bar service was offered and a regular round of beverage and snack offers began. The crew were engaged and friendly, full of stories of the route and clearly keen to personally interact with passengers. Back in the restaurant car, lunch features signature burgers and pacific prawns, AAA Albertan steaks, sockeye salmon and other creative culinary choices rich in seasonal produce and local ingredients, all served with local British Columbian wines, and followed by lush chocolate brownies and other delicate desserts.
THE VERDICT: A truly relaxed Canadian adventure packed with historic interest and stunning views and culinary choice which bring a real taste of the destination onboard. All delivered by cheerful, engaged staff for whom nothing is too much trouble
THE DETAILS: Agents can make a booking by creating an Agent Portal Login here: https://communities.rockymountaineer.com/agent/s/login/ Or by contacting our sales team: 0800 088 5541
Hotel NH Collection KLN Mediapark – Cologne, Germany
by Steve Hartridge | January 2020
THE BACKGROUND: One of eight NH Collection Hotels in Germany, this four-and-a-half star, 217-room, property had a major renovation in 2016. The contemporary glass-fronted building holds a ISO 14001 environmental certificate, just one of its many sustainability credentials.
THE LOCATION: An easy 15-minute walk from Hansaring train station, the hotel sits in a ‘media park’ that was built to attract TV channels and music companies (although many have since moved to Berlin). It is located on the edge of the city’s green belt, next to an ornamental lake and a large park with jogging and walking trails. It’s a 20-minute walk to the city centre.
THE ROOM: My ultra-modern Premium Room was very spacious, clean and bright. Features included a wooden floor, large cream rug, two bright-red chairs, a man-size mirror, a white table with a faux-marble top, an Nespresso machine, a large walk-in closet and a huge bathroom with a standalone shower and separate bath. The bed was ultra-comfortable, with an extra-thick mattress. My view looked down on the lake and the city beyond, with the famous Cologne cathedral just visible in the distance.
KEY FACILITIES: An informal ground-floor restaurant serves both local and international dishes. The same venue has an extensive breakfast buffet. In the summer a terrace hosts al fresco dining and barbecues. There’s also a gym with a steam bath and sauna.
THE VERDICT: If ever I return to Cologne this is where I will stay. The location is great, the design touches are both warm and eye-catching and the hotel is full of quirky touches designed to make you smile – like the rubber duck in the bath and a birdcage containing sweets and chocolates in the room. I also liked the oversized cityscape pictures of Cologne and its cathedral placed by the elevators.
THE DETAILS: W: nh-hotels.com
Westjet, Calgary to London Gatwick
by Julie Baxter | November 2019
I was already a fan of the Dreamliner aircraft but Westjet team has done much to make it their own and create subtle but valuable points of difference. The cabin colour scheme and finishing reflect something of the airline’s Canadian roots, and touches like the specially-commissioned boarding music by Sean Jones, toiletries from the Rocky Mountain Soap company, and indigenous menu offerings, all add to the Canadian flavour. The service on this flight really was exemplary and the crew genuinely seemed to love their jobs. The ‘low fare, high care’ philosophy was clearly in action.
THE FLIGHT: I was travelling in Premium Economy on Westjet’s flight to Gatwick, departing Calgary at 19.55 and operated by one of the airline’s sparkling new 787-9 Dreamliners.
PRE-BOARDING: The terminal was pretty quiet and dropping off my bag was quick and easy at the self-service kiosks. I had checked in online and progressed quickly through security and to my gate. Westjet built its reputation as a low-cost, domestic carrier in Canada but is currently transforming itself into a full-service, value international carrier. Waiting at the gate it was clear some passengers familiar with the low-cost history were not entirely sure if they would be getting a meal or inflight entertainment, and were busy checking, downloading and stocking up just in case.
THE SEAT: My aisle seat, 7D, offered plenty of leg room, coat hook, two storage areas, charging point, plug and headphones jack. The recline and footrest operated smoothly, and the arm rest included a wood-effect drinks shelf. The smart blue and granite textiles were complimented by leather finishings including indigenous-style stitching on the adjustable headrest. The seat back IFE screen was also adjustable to enhance viewing. My personal space was roomy and comfortable and was set up with Rocky Mountain Soap company washbag, plush high-quality quilted cover in vibrant blue, and noise-cancelling headset.
THE SERVICE: The crew was friendly and attentive from the start and clearly engaged. Sparkling wine or juice, and menus, were served as soon as I settled into my seat and my attendant introduced herself and addressed me by name, chatting pleasantly as she took my meal order pre-departure. She highlighted key features of the seat, made dinner recommendations based on her own favourites, and asked if I had travelled in a Dreamliner before, saying how she loved it.
THE CATERING: Meals were served on a white tablecloth and the delivery tray was a smart wood-effect grey. The beet and goat’s cheese appetiser was fresh and different, served with a good, warm ciabatta roll. I took my attendants recommendation and chose the Signature shepherd’s pie created by indigenous chef Bill Alexander. It was great – full of flavour and very filling with a cheesy spinach, mushroom and vegetable base topped with sweet-potato mash. The dessert was a Sullivan & Bleeker red velvet jar-cake, and there was OKA cheese and crackers. Further snacks were available in the ‘social’ area of the galley and an hour before landing a continental breakfast with egg and a lavish cheese selection was served alongside fresh fruit, yogurt and warm croissant. Lashings of hot strong tea was available in bespoke full-sized mugs.
THE DETAILS: W: westjet.com
Devasom Khao Lak Resort, Thailand
by Steve Thompson | November 2019
Thailand is known as the land of smiles and the staff at Devasom really do epitomise that! Situated in a great location, near where it is all happening in Khao Lak, this is the perfect hotel to discover the delights of this relatively undiscovered part of Thailand.
THE BACKGROUND: Devasom is derived from ancient Indian – ‘Deva’ meaning angels and ‘Ashram’ meaning residence. The 69-room hotel has been open since December 2018, the sister to a propery in Hua Hin. Its design is based on the intricate art and architecture of a lost civilisation that once flourished at the site.
THE LOCATION: Khao Lak is a 70 minute transfer from Phuket Airport but feels like a different world. The hotel has views over Sunset Beach on one side and natural lagoon on the other. Nearby are many laid back beach bars and restaurants.
THE ROOM: The Seaside Grand Deluxe rooms are 54 square metres and feature an extra-large bed or two twin beds and partial views of the Andaman Sea from a large private balcony. There’s free tea and coffee, a non-alcoholic mini bar, LED satellite TV with blue ray player and film selection, free wifi and blue tooth speakers.
KEY FACILITIES: Two restaurants serve Thai and Western cuisine and the beach grill offers the catch of the day. A poolside service for F&B means you never have to leave the lounger. Private dining can also be arranged. A beautifully decorated spa has a wide choice of treatments. Activities on offer include cycling tours, cooking lessons and watersports (many free of charge), plus a gym and yoga studio.
RATES: Seaside Grand Deluxe rooms from £110 per room including breakfast.
Harbour Rocks Hotel, Sydney, Australia
by Jo Austin | October 2019
A real gem in this bustling area. The hotel’s staff were welcoming and helpful and as long as guests appreciate quirky heritage buildings and are happy to climb stairs, then this unique property could not be more entertaining. Bundles of atmosphere and I loved the colourful library reception area with sofas for relaxation.
THE BACKGROUND: A member of the MGallery Collection, this unique property was Sydney’s first hospital in 1887 but is now a boutique hideaway offering 59 rooms and a penthouse suite. Quirky design reveals original brickwork and exposed beams to give a real sense of history and a conducive atmosphere.
THE LOCATION: In the heart of the historic Rocks area with its shops, market, restaurants and bars. A stone’s throw from Circular Quay’s ferries and train station and a short walk to the Opera House.
THE ROOM: The terrace of six historical buildings features five room types. Our spacious Harbour View Suite had a private entrance via a concrete staircase and huge windows. All modern amenities including a super-sized bathroom, small kitchenette, writing desk, flatscreen TV and iPod docking station. A sofa bed in the lounge area can accommodate an extra guest. Best of all, we had a private rooftop terrace with views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
KEY FACILITIES: Breakfast is served on the airy ground floor and there is a popular bar and creperie that opens onto the street. The Middle Eastern cuisine of Tayim is exceptional for in-house dining.
RATES: The Harbour View Suite is from £415 a night for two.
Montpelier Plantation & Beach
by Jessica Pook| September 2019
I feel like I’ve entered my own tropical oasis as I walk the grounds of the Montpelier Plantation & Beach on the tiny island of Nevis. The gardens are thick with greenery and immaculately kept, but still wild enough that they create natural privacy. And it’s not short of character as the looming sugar mill acts as a reminder of the islands long-standing history. It’s easy to see why it was the accommodation of choice for Princess Diana when she visited the island.
THE BACKGROUND: The resort was built around one of the island’s original 18th century sugar plantations and was also where Horatio Nelson married Fanny Nisbit. Although it now features modern cottages and elegant décor, it still features subtle reminders of its 300-year-old past.
THE LOCATION: With views of both the volcano to one side and the sea to the other, the property blends in seamlessly with its surroundings. The private beach can be found six miles away, with a shuttle taking guests regularly, and offers weekly barbeques with a backdrop of the ocean. However, with the island just eight miles long, it's not hard to fully explore Nevis in its entirety.
THE ROOM: The 19 rooms and three villas are all individually themed and feature modern amenities and plush cushions and bedding. The design has been carefully thought through and the large rooms feel roomy, fresh and light. I really appreciated the small touches such as bug spray in the room, hand written welcome note and the Molten Brown amenities in the bathroom. The blue and white colour scheme of The Plantation Room gave it an elegant and modern look and the balcony invites you to sit and listen to the birds whilst taking in views out to sea. It's the perfect place to enjoy the surrounding tranquility.
KEY FACILITIES: There’s a large pool with ample deckchairs and both casual and fine dining options onsite. The cuisine at Montpelier is contemporary Caribbean with an emphasis on fresh, local ingrediants. For a memorable experience, enjoy an intimate candlelit dinner in the 300 year-old sugar mill, which can be converted into the only restaurant of its kind in the world. Cosmo, the resident dog, makes visitors feel very welcome, especially if you're willing to share food.
RATES: A Premier Room with a garden view costs from $170 per night and a night in the Plantation Room with an ocean view starts from $455.
THE DETAILS: montpeliernevis.com
Casa de Campo Resort & Villas, Dominican Republic
by Martin Steady | September 2019
Casa De Campo is described as the most inclusive resort in the Caribbean, providing affordable luxury at competitive prices. The breadth of options is vast - unlimited horse riding and weekly clay pigeon shooting in addition to all of the normal all-inclusive features - yet expertly dealt with. The resort has options for every kind of traveller and endless ways to get away from it all. Impressive from start to finish.
THE BACKGROUND: Truly a remarkable luxury holiday destination, Casa de Campo covers 7,000 acres and has three world-class golf courses. But that’s just the start of it, and the resort’s huge array of facilities attract a wide ranging clientele, including families, honeymooners, sports enthusiasts, and even a few celebrities and heads of state.
THE LOCATION: Romana, in the southeast of the island, east of historical capital Santo Domingo and close to Punta Cana international Airport.
THE ROOM: There are 247 rooms, from hotel suites to private villas, some with private pools and staff. I stayed in the Elite Balcony Room which is spacious, cool and well appointed. An enormous and very comfortable bed faces a multi-channel TV. There’s a large bathroom with free-standing bath, walk-in shower and double sinks, and a further dressing area with a safe and wardrobe. Patio doors lead onto a good-sized balcony, perfect for morning coffees and evening sundowners. There are also tea-making facilities, a Nespresso machine and mini bar.
RESTUARANTS/BARS: There are ten excellent restaurants, including coffee, juice, cocktail and beach bars. The dining choice is vast - Spanish tapas, classic Italian, fresh sushi, Mexican, up-scale food trucks and more. La Caña restaurant offers French-inspired fare and guests gather at the outside bar and lounge area each night to enjoy live local music and, if you fancy it, hand-rolled cigars and a range of Dominican rums.
KEY FACILITIES: I loved the stunning new Minitas Beach Club but other venues for relaxing and activities include the Caribbean’s largest marina, an equestrian/polo centre, shooting centre, tennis courts, water sports centre, various shopping options, several swimming pools – one with a swim-up bar - and three private, pristine white sand beaches. For the kids there are supervised programmes including all activities.
There are also a great number of unique locations for destination weddings and a state of the art wellness facility with extensive spa, holistic treatments and yoga.
Not to be missed is a visit to the unique village of Altos De Chavón, a full-sized 16th century Italian-style replica village with restaurants, shops, an archaeological museum, the St. Stanislaus Church, sweeping views of the Chavón River and a 5,000-seat Grecian-style amphitheatre that is used for internationally-renowned concerts. Frank Sinatra was the first star to perform there when it opened in 1982. The village is also a cultural centre for working artists like painters and weavers.
RATES: Rates: Net rates can be obtained via Resort Marketing International (resort-marketing.co.uk)
THE DETAILS: casadecampo.com.do
Air New Zealand, London to Auckland
by Lisa Young | September 2019
Air New Zealand regularly wins top awards and accolades – not least for their creative air safety videos. Air New Zealand’s cabin crew are some of the most professional and polite in the air. Even when stretched, their patience and friendly attitude is solid.
THE FLIGHT: I travelled from London to Auckland, Air New Zealand’s flagship route, on flight NZ1, a Boeing B777-300W aircraft, with a stopover in Los Angeles. The first leg took 11h 25m, and the second leg usually takes 12h 50m, but we landed in Auckland 25 minutes ahead of schedule. I flew to Los Angeles in Premium Economy and to Auckland in Business Premier.
THE CHECK-IN: We departed from Heathrow Terminal 2 on Friday. The Air NZ check-in system was down when we arrived but the staff remained fluster-free and reassured us the issue would soon be rectified, which it was. Despite being full, we boarded quickly and we took off on time at 4:15pm. We arrived into LAX on time at 7:40pm (US time) and into Auckland on Sunday. Air NZ has a loyalty plan with Star Alliance.
THE SEAT: When it comes to seating, Air NZ are the only airline licensed to use the same herringbone Business seating plan developed by Virgin Atlantic. However, the Business Premier cabin doesn’t feel very personal, and you are quite exposed to everyone else around you. The second Business Premier cabin is smaller, with only four rows, so more intimate.
The Business Premier bed is very comfortable and perfect for long-haul routes. On boarding, the crew always ask if you have flown with the airline before, so they can explain the mechanism of the seat, and its bed mode.
There are quite a few steps in setting this up. The screen and table have to be fully stowed away and once the seat back flips forward into flatbed position, there’s a pad and then a memory foam mattress placed on top of the bed base. It’s topped off with a large blanket and a plump pillow.
The mattress is thick and comfortable, but also retains heat, so the cabin temperature has to be a couple of degrees cooler to combat the heat that’s generated from all the bodies warming on the mattresses.
Premium Economy seating is a traditional reclining foot-rest chair and very comfortable too. There’s a kick down foot bar, a TV screen as business, and USB and personal headphone ports. The table is stowed inside the armrest.
Air NZ also has its ‘Skycouch’ available in economy, where passengers can buy three seats that are converted into a flat bed. This is ideal for one, or possibly two people who are happy to be close! It’s also great for kids. It’s possibly more comfortable than Premium Economy, as you lie flat, although you don’t have the same luggage allowance.
THE SERVICE: The Business Premier cabin looks remarkably fresh, despite being 11 years old, and the mood lighting adds a relaxing touch. The Business Premier fold down table is large and can easily fit a meal and a laptop at the same time. There’s plenty of storage around the seat. You can’t see clearly out of the windows because of the angled Herringbone seating arrangement.
In Economy, passengers can order snacks and drinks at any time through a fun app accessed through their screen - ideal for passengers in middle seats who don’t want to disturb adjacent sleeping passengers.
The food in all cabins is well presented and there are plenty of options, with a wide variety of great New Zealand wines regardless of where you sit. A substantial main meal and breakfast is offered as well as snacks. There’s free satellite wifi throughout the plane and it’s remarkably fast and works well.
It’s important that passengers know Air NZ ground staff are on the ball in LAand will come and find them in the queue to get them through immigration faster if needed.
THE PRICE: Air New Zealand operates daily flights from Heathrow to New Zealand via Los Angeles. Return fares start from £1,302 in Economy, £2,464 in Premium Economy and £4,178 in Business Premier.
THE DETAILS: airnewzealand.co.uk
Tewkesbury Park, Gloucestershire
by Jo Austin | August 2019
Sell this on an overall sense of informality combined with attentive and friendly staff who simply cannot do enough to help make you (and your dog!) feel welcome. The perfect place for a relaxing break or a golfing/walking weekend. I loved the collection of colourful wellies in reception, ready for guests to take on a walk.
THE BACKGROUND: This family-owned and run hotel, set in 165 acres of parkland outside the historical city of Tewkesbury, has recently completed the second phase of its extensive multi-million pound renovation. Perfectly suited to business and leisure, the hotel offers 84 guestrooms and nine suites as well as a new events and conference space for up to 200 guests. It also features an 18 hole golf course and is very pet friendly - it was awarded Fido’s Favourite Pet Friendly Hotel by Best Loved Hotels in 2017.
THE LOCATION: With stunning views of Tewkesbury Abbey and the Malvern Hills from its hilltop position, the property has a contemporary feel while retaining its historic features. It is only five minutes from M5's junction nine, on the doorstep of Tewkesbury and within easy reach of Cheltenham, Gloucester and Worcester.
THE ROOM: Dog-friendly ‘pampered pooch’ rooms are on the ground floor overlooking the golf course with doors leading onto private parkland. There's a Scottish influence, with tartan carpet and dog bed, plus an en suite bathroom and amenities including tea and coffee making facilities.
KEY FACILITIES: As well as its golf course and tennis courts, the leisure club features a sauna, gym and indoor swimming pool. There are loads of great walks, especially into Tewkesbury, famed for its Battle in AD1471 when the Yorkists defeated the Lancastrians. There's a large, airy reception and bar area, a breakfast room for dog owners and a separate buffet style dining room with an extensive self-service breakfast buffet and a la carte dining
RATES: Rooms are from £134 and suites from £230, including breakfast. A round of golf is £38 and a dog is charged at £20.
Sonora Inn, Tuolumne County, California
by Jessica Pook | August 2019
This historic hotel has maintained its charm of days gone by but has all the amenities of modern day accommodation. Part of its appeal is that you feel you've gone back to the Wild West and the neighbouring saloon adds to that illusion. Located in the heart of Gold Rush Country, the inn is only an hours drive from Yosemite National Park, making it an ideal base for those that want to explore the rich history and bountiful nature of California.
THE BACKGROUND: The hotel has been a staple in downtown Sonora since it was built in 1896 and now replicates the California Mission style of the 1920s. It even hosted the likes of Grace Kelly during the filming of High Noon and more recently Drew Barrymore.
THE LOCATION: Situated in the heart of California’s Gold Rush Country, the surrounding areas are all rich with history and recreational activities highlighting that era. The hotel overlooks the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which can be fully appreciated from the pool. In the town there are a number of saloon-style bars and restaurants. Guests also benefit from being within 45 minutes of Yosemite National Park.
THE ROOM: The hotel has seven different rooms types, ranging from King Suite to Two-Queen rooms. All rooms are spacious, with the décor reflecting a bygone era, a theme that runs rather too strongly into the bathrooms, which are an acquired taste. Within the room you’ll find a coffee maker, a refrigerator and a microwave. There is free wifi throughout the hotel.
KEY FACILITIES: All rooms are air conditioned and include a complimentary continental breakfast. The outdoor rooftop pool provides a welcome break from the rising temperatures but can only accommodate a few people at a time.
RATES: One night at the Sonora Inn in a Historic Queen room starts from £97.
THE DETAILS: W: thesonorainn.com
For more information on Tuolumne County, please visit visittuolumne.com
Hotel Azure, South Lake Tahoe, California
by Jessica Pook | August 2019
The first thing you notice about the Hotel Azure is its proximity to the Lake Tahoe, which is just a stone’s throw away across the street. The hotel provides the perfect base for activities such as watersports, hiking or skiing the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the winter months. Its location on the Califonia side of the lake means the hotel offers quiet surroundings of alpine tranquility with the bustle of Heavenly Valley, on the Nevada side, just a 10 minute drive away.
THE BACKGROUND: Hotel Azure is a small boutique-style property consisting of 100 rooms, ranging from the deluxe two-bedroom Lakeview Suite to ground level Accessible Rooms. In 2016 the hotel (formerly the Inn by the Lake) completed a $3.5 million dollar renovation which included all guest rooms and suites, public spaces including corridors, and upgrades to the exterior.
THE LOCATION: Situated close to the slopes of Heavenly ski resort, and not far from the mountain terrain of Sierra Nevada and Kirkwood, Hotel Azure is a popular choice for winter sports enthusiasts. The hotel also enjoys prime views of Lake Tahoe and is within a short walking distance to watersport activity centres which provide kayaks, paddleboards and jetski hire. It’s also within close proximity to various restaurants, bars and the lively casinos of Heavenly Valley.
THE ROOM: Extremely spacious and decorated with calm and neutral colours, the rooms give the illusion of bringing nature indoors. The plush beds and modern bathrooms give the room a luxurious feel and all guestrooms feature a patio or balcony with views of either the lake or the surrounding alpine vistas.
KEY FACILITIES: The pool and hot tub provide the perfect place to unwind and relax after a full day of activities and are heated year-round. The Bear Beach Café, located onsite, provides a hearty breakfast and there's also a Scottish pub next door which offers a full menu of pub favourites. Guests also enjoy complimentary wireless internet, parking, fitness facilities and a games room.
RATES: One night at the Hotel Azure in a Lake View Double Queen room starts from £193.
THE DETAILS: W: hotelazuretahoe.com
For more information on Lake Tahoe, please visit tahoesouth.com
The Prince Sakura Tower, Tokyo
by Lisa Young | July 2019
Prince Sakura Tower Tokyo rubs shoulders with other towering competitors, but its focus on creativity stands out. It offers an oasis of calm and tranquillity in the centre of this buzzing capital city. The neighbouring area around Gotanda station is a study in modern contrasts filled with unique restaurants and a lively nightlife.
THE BACKGROUND: The hotel first opened its 288 guest rooms to the public in 1998, with its design incorporating the traditional art of weaving, and focusing on harmony, between the man-made hotel and the Japanese cherry blossom garden outside. The hotel is known for its central location, immaculate service, cleanliness, and great value.
THE LOCATION: Tokyo’s Haneda Airport is a convenient 20-minute taxi ride (Narita is 61 km away). The Japanese style boutique hotel is located in Shinagawa, an important transit hub which was a port town during the Edo era and still home to old Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The hotel sits within a 20,000-square-metre Sakura, or cherry blossom, garden, which is home to 210 cherry blossom trees of 17 varieties- a sight to behold when in full bloom. The subway station is right across the street, which is extremely convenient and makes getting around Tokyo a breeze.
THE ROOM: The room décor was created by Jotaro Saito, a recognised kimono designer, and with effective designer lighting by another household name, Masanobu Takeishi, the hotel rooms achieve a true Japanese feel. In the spring, every room has a view of blossoming pink cherry trees. Rooms include wifi, room service, air conditioning, mini bar, non-smoking and smoking rooms, and suites available too. The rooms are well appointed but the bathrooms are a little dated, allbeit with state-of-the-art Japanese toilets.
KEY FACILITIES: Guests can use the gym facilities, sauna and whirlpool bath at no additional cost. There are three recognised restaurants, banquet facilities, and a business area. There’s also a very popular executive lounge offering breakfast, lunch and dinner for those with access. Dine at the spectacular WAKATAKE tempura restaurant located on the 1st floor of Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa, across the garden from Prince Sakura Tower. They specialise in serving the finest seasonal ingredients for their delicately prepared traditional tempura, while guests are seated at a traditional lowered table in front of well-known Chef Akira Kaneko.
RATES: One night at the Prince Sakura Tower Tokyo in a deluxe room or a deluxe king room starts from £240, based on two people sharing.
THE DETAILS: W: princehotels.com/sakuratower
The Sapporo Prince Hotel
by Lisa Young | May 2019
The hotel's location offers easy access to shops, restaurants and downtown attractions, all within walking distance. Rugby fans will appreciate the short drive to the Sapporo Dome when England and Tonga play their first match during the Rugby World Cup in September 2019. The hotel is slightly dated but clean and comfortable and with friendly service and spacious rooms.
THE BACKGROUND: Compared to other cities, there are fewer hotel options in Sapporo, which makes this reasonably priced hotel a popular choice. There are 587 rooms spread over 28 floors and all within the eye-catching, white, round tower of a hotel.
THE LOCATION: Sapporo is Japan’s fifth-largest city and the capital of Hokkaido, the country’s most northerly island. It’s a short drive from the airport to the cylindrically shaped hotel in the heart of the Sapporo.
THE ROOM: For a panoramic mountain backdrop, your clients should aim for the higher floors. The views are spectacular, especially on a snowy winter’s day. Royal floor suite occupants have exclusive access to the 28th floor breakfast lounge where Japanese and western food is served; it’s quieter and there are no large groups to contend with. Rooms have free wifi, flat screen TV, a safe, room service, air-con and are non smoking. There’s also an open-air hot spring bath and spa.
KEY FACILITIES: The Sapporo Prince Hotel sets its sights on using Hokkaido’s local, sustainable and seasonable food. It has a number of restaurants including Le Trianon French Restaurant, as well as the Sky Lounge, where your clients can enjoy a cocktail whilst watching the sunset over the city. The hotel works closely with the local food market, so your clients can get an authentic cultural experience, and there’s a complimentary shuttle bus service to and from the market. For your self-driving clients, there’s a secure and reasonably priced underground car park at the hotel.
RATES: Prices at the Sapporo Prince Hotel in a standard twin starts from £83, and a deluxe double room from £248, based on two people sharing.
THE DETAILS: A: 11 Chome Minami 2 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-8615, Japan. W: princehotels.co.jp/sapporo. T: +81 11-241-1111
Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort, Tobago
by Alan Orbell | April 2019
For an all-inclusive stay in one of the Caribbean’s most appealing islands, the Magdalena Grand ticks all the boxes. And if your clients are golfers, it’s perfect. The resort offers all the benefits traditionally associated with an all-inclusive, food pretty much all day and all drinks included. And for time away, it’s easy to organise trips out to see the island’s stunning rainforest and secluded beaches.
THE BACKGROUND: Tobago’s largest resort hotel offers 200 rooms and suites, all with a terrace or balcony overlooking the island’s Atlantic coast. It was fully modernised in 2012.
THE LOCATION: Just a short transfer from the airport, on the Tobago Plantations Resort which includes a PGA-designed 18-hole golf course as well as many beautiful private houses, both of which make for delightful features if you take a stroll or cycle ride around the grounds. Bikes can be hired free of charge.
THE ROOM: Spacious, with king-sized beds and all amenities such as TV, mini-bar, tea/coffee-making items and a balcony overlooking one of the resort’s three swimming pools. The en-suite bathroom had both a walk-in shower and bath. It’s worth booking a south side room where your clients might be lucky enough to see nesting turtles.
KEY FACILITIES: As well as the golf course, there are three restaurants, a pub, lounge, café, gym, extensive spa, art gallery, shops and swim-up bar in the main swimming pool complex. Two ‘satellite’ pools at either end of the crescent-shaped complex complete the amenities. A free shuttle operates to nearby Pigeon Point on the Caribbean coast.
RATES: £1799 for seven nights’ all-inclusive including Virgin flights from LGW based on a September 8 departure.
THE DETAILS: A: Tobago Plantations Estate Lowlands, Tobago. W: magdalenagrand.com. T: 001 868 660 8500
Native Bankside, London, UK
by Steve Hartridge | March 2019
This was a highly comfortable and cosy stay in a building with plenty of history. The term ‘home from home’ is overused but I could imagine spending an extended stay here. Its location, on a cobblestone street, feels like a step back in time, and I liked the mix of ‘historic’ London and all mod cons. Its location – makes it a great choice for those looking for an alternative to a city hotel.
THE BACKGROUND: This 75-key apartment-style property, which opened last summer, occupies a converted Victorian tea warehouse. Features include exposed brick walls and arched factory windows.
THE LOCATION: In the heart of ‘Shakespeare’s London’, it is ideally located on London’s South Bank, just a 10-minute walk to the City and Monument Tube Stations. It’s about the same distance from London Bridge Station or Blackfriars Stat
THE ROOM: I stayed in a premium studio, a larger room that was stylishly furnished, with a bright colour palette of vibrant blues, reds and yellows. It features a fully-equipped kitchen and other practical amenities included an iron and board, clotheshorse, hair dryer, and USB charging ports. The bathroom area was ultra-modern - all chrome, stainless steel with streamlined sinks and taps – and with a powerful shower.
KEY FACILITIES: There’s no restaurant but there is a complimentary common area ‘pantry’ on the first floor, with items like pasta (in a jar), jams, fruits, popcorn, cereal, milk and coffee. Its location means there are plenty of bars and restaurants nearby.
RATES: From £160 a night (plus VAT).
THE DETAILS: A: Empire Warehouse, 1-2 Bear Garden, London SE1 9ED. W: nativeplaces.com. T: 020 7313 3886
Hotel Roanoke, Virginia, USA
by Steve Hartridge | March 2019
There’s a real sense of timelessness at this Tudor-style hotel. But although on the National Register of Historic Places it offers all the comforts of a stylishly modern hotel – and has a buzzing pub and a top-notch restauramt to boot. The staff are excellent and the complimentary car transfer from the hotel to a train station now served by an Amtrak service from Washington D.C. was very welcome.
THE BACKGROUND: This property dates all the way back to 1882 but after being closed for several years it reopened in 1993 and is now a Curio – A Collection by Hilton historic property with newly renovated guest rooms.
THE LOCATION: The stately-looking hotel is set in a former railroad town that is one of the main gateways to Virginia’s Blue Ridge, a mountain area with a growing range of outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking and various watersports.
THE ROOM: I stayed in a king bed deluxe corner room. Features included complimentary wifi, a large work desk, an oversized chair with ottoman, flat-screen TV and a generous-sized bathroom. Big windows looked out over the Roanoke Valley and the Appalachains beyond.
KEY FACILITIES: The Pine Room Pub, with its good selection of grub, pool room and live music was lively. It was the night before a college American football game and the local Virginia Tech team and its supportes were in town. The Regency Room is a AAA Four Diamond restaurant serving Southern-style cusiine - like peanut soup and corn-fried oysters.
RATES: Fom $196 a night
THE DETAILS: A: 110 Shenandoah Avenue, NW Roanoke, Virginia, 24016, USA W: hotelroanoke.com
Oaks on Market, Melbourne, Australia
by Julie Baxter | February 2019
For foodies and sightseers of all demographics this smart contemporary property is ideally located and well set up for a fuss- free city stay. The apartments are spacious and the public spaces have a warm and welcoming vibe. The views are great and the staff are friendly and helpful.
THE BACKGROUND: Oaks Hotels & Resorts has 51 properties across key locations in Australia, and Oaks on Market is a 4.5-star serviced apartment tower offering 280 studios and apartments.
THE LOCATION: Located in the heart of the city close to some great restaurants, the Collins Street shops, the iconic Flinders Street Station and the tram network.
THE ROOM: My spacious one-bedroom apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows had fantastic views. The apartment was modern and minimalist in style with an open living room (with huge TV). The kitchenette was well-equipped and the bedroom and en suite were both large. All rooms had air-conditioning.
KEY FACILITIES: The reception area doubles as the social hub of the property, complete with contemporary furnishings and with an informal restaurant alongside. There was a small but well set up gym and lovely pool and sauna. 30 minutes’ free wifi a day is included.
RESTAURANTS/BARS: The Oak & Vine restaurant within the central hub offered a wide selection of fresh seasonal dining options plus a good bar portfolio and daily happy hour. Room service was available. An ‘opt to go green’ no cleaning option earnt me a AUS$5 a day credit here.
RATES: Prices start from around £100 a night.
THE DETAILS: A: 60 Market Street, Melbourne. W: oakshotels.com
Staycity Aparthotels, Birmingham, UK
by Jessica Pook | January 2019
Perfect for a short stay in Birmingham for those who want to be self-sufficient. Staff were friendly and helpful and made me feel very welcome upon arrival. The location is within easy access of some of Birmingham’s main attractions and the room is both comfortable and stylish.
THE BACKGROUND: Staycity has over 3,000 apartments across ten different cities in the UK, Ireland and France. Staycity Aparthotels in Birmingham’s Newhall Square has 142 one-bedroom and 24 two-bedroom apartments that can accommodate up to six people. The brand has recently launched a sub-brand, Wilde Aparthotels by Staycity, which I’m keen to try after my experience.
THE LOCATION: Situated in the city’s historical Jewellery Quarter, the property is less than a 10-minute walk from Birmingham city centre and New Street Train Station. As the hotel is in a busy area, street parking is not an option. There is limited space available in the on-site car park or, alternatively, a 24-hour NCP car park is just next door. Both options cost £12 per night.
THE ROOM: My compact and modern one-bedroom apartment consisted of a living area with flat screen TV, a fully-equipped kitchen with hob, microwave, cooking utensils and dishwasher, plus a dining area, bedroom with king-size bed and bathroom. I was particularly impressed with the powerful and roomy shower.
KEY FACILITIES: There is a fitness centre on-site along with a café – breakfast is available at an additional cost. There is free wifi access throughout the property.
RESTAURANTS/BARS: There’s no restaurant on-site but Staycity Aparthotels is just a five-minute walk from the bars and restaurants of bustling Broad Street.
THE DETAILS: A: 88 Charlotte Street, Birmingham, B3 1PW. W: staycity.com T: 0121 237 5600
by Richard Williams | December 2018
A good experience, with friendly and attentive cabin crew. The seat was comfortable with sufficient legroom for tall passengers. The lack of entertainment onboard was a surprise, and the only major drawback to this admittedly budget flight.
THE FLIGHT: Our Wow Air flight to Boston Logan, with a two-hour stopover in Keflavik, Iceland, was scheduled to leave from Gatwick South on Sunday 23 September at 11.40am. The first leg took three hours 15 minutes, and the second leg approximately six hours, landing on time.
THE CHECK-IN: We left from Gatwick Airport South Terminal on a new A321, smart in Wow’s mauve/purple livery. The ground staff were very friendly and helpful, giving good advice on a last-minute visa problem and remaining calm throughout. We left from an easy-to-access gate, no 1, and after a short wait on the tarmac, we set off about 20 minutes after our allotted takeoff time.
THE SEAT: The seats were three across on each side, with good elbow and legroom. We had booked Wow Plus, and were in 5A and 5B. Upfront there were two rows of two seats each side, in a Big Seat section that was not divided from the rest of the cabin. The ‘Wow me up’ service allows passengers to bid pre-flight for these seats and the extra legroom seats around the exits.
THE SERVICE: The cabin crew were very smart in their mauve uniforms, which matched (almost) the purple and dark brown leather seats and discreetly patterned carpet in the cabin. After about half an hour, the drinks service trolley came around. We ordered two beers and two bottles of water, which came to an eye-watering US$18.57 - a timely warning of alcohol prices in Iceland itself. We had not pre-ordered food, but my neighbour had what looked like a well-cooked and presented scrambled egg with fresh tomato. A small selection of sandwiches, baguettes, pizza and Greek salad was available from the onboard menu, all at around US$10, plus soups, noodles, yogurt, porridge and snacks.
There was no wifi onboard, no seatback screen, and no entertainment provided. The Wow Inflight Magazine, however, was a special ‘Art Issue’ and was well worth reading for its information on the Reykjavik underground art scene, as well as museums and galleries.
THE SECOND LEG: We had a stopover of about two hours at Keflavik airport, which is clean and efficient, with lots of food and shopping outlets. The A321 took off at 4pm, 30 mins later than scheduled. This plane had three seats each side, with no Big Seat option. The seats had plenty of legroom and were quite comfortable, though a bit of skimping in the padding of the seat became noticeable after the first three hours.
There was no wifi or entertainment, apart from iPads for rent at US$25, with a small selection of films and games. The lack of inflight entertainment was more noticeable on this longer leg of the journey and made it a rather boring flight.
THE DETAILS: Wow Air flies from Gatwick to Boston via Reykjavik once or twice daily, with a total journey time of around 11 hours. Flights are from £150, but Wow Plus at £225 gets you checked bag and a cabin bag, and a better seat.
10 Castle Street, Dorset, UK
by David Clare | December 2018
This was a wonderful country house experience and the property has obviously been lovingly restored, with each common room offering a unique atmosphere and design. Mobile phone signal wasn’t great but that could be seen as a positive for those wanting a real rural escape.
THE BACKGROUND: This Grade II listed country house hotel is near Cranborne, Dorset (15 miles from Bournemouth Airport) and set in stunning grounds. Recently remodelled, it has nine individually designed and furnished guestrooms.
THE ROOM: On the second floor, it’s nicely designed and decorated with white and cream colours complemented by dark wood furniture and red seats. It featured a superbly comfortable super king-sized bed, desk, and a seating area with sofa, two armchairs and a coffee table in front of a fireplace. Amenities included hot drink-making facilities, iPod docking station, DAB radio and Smart TV. The stunning marble-clad en-suite bathroom came with Temple Spa toiletries.
KEY FACILITIES: Complimentary wifi is throughout the property. Activities like wine tasting, game shooting and screenings can be arranged. There are plans for a spa to be opened.
RESTAURANTS/BARS: There are two bars, a billiards room and various lounges, including one outside, each with a unique atmosphere and design. The elegant restaurant also offered a ‘tasting room’ where guests can sit and watch the chefs at work. The food is all locally sourced including from a vegetable garden within the grounds.
RATES: From £265 (B&B).
THE DETAILS: A: 10 Castle Street, Cranborne, Wimborne, BH21 5PZ W: castlestreet.com
The Westin Copley Place, Boston, USA
by Julie Baxter | November 2018
Fresh from a complete refurbishment earlier this year, The Westin Copley Square is a stylish and comfortable, well-located hotel with a strong focus on guest wellbeing. Friendly staff and many little touches give this large hotel a more boutique personal feel than most its size.
THE BACKGROUND: Managed by the Marriott Group, the hotel has 830 rooms (including 143 suites) over 36 floors - all of which have been recently refurbished. It positions itself as the friend of the frequent traveller with touches designed to create a home-from-home lifestyle.
THE CHECK-IN: Entrance to the hotel is at street level with check-in one floor up in the lobby. The staff were friendly, efficient and full of local tips for a good stay. The check-in was quick and smooth. Mobile check-in is also available pre-arrival.
THE ROOM: My Club Access room was large and comfortable with picture windows over- looking the city to the Charles River beyond. Grey and purple tones and photos within the décor have been chosen to reflect the local parks and scenes of the area. The Westin Heavenly king sized bed was heavenly and the seating and desk area roomy and well positioned. The compact but well-equipped bathrooms featured large walk-in power shower.
KEY FACILITIES: There’s free wifi, a business centre and Club Lounge. The hotel prides itself on being wellbeing and offers free guided runs, yoga classes and an extensive gym with peloton exercise bike.
RESTAURANTS/BARS: Traditional Brazilian steakhouse restaurant, Fogo de Chão, and Bar 10 off the lobby for beers, cocktails and American fayre.
RATES: From $514 per night.
THE DETAILS: A: 10 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA. W: westincopleyplaceboston.com
Hyatt House Washington D.C., USA
by Steve Hartridge | October 2018
Three blocks south of the National Mall, Hyatt House is an excellent alternative to the hotels in the Penn Quarter and Du Pont Circle areas. It’s a chic-modern hotel with great restaurants on its doorstep (although the hotel will also do a ‘grocery run’ for you). Super comfortable and quiet, the views from guest rooms are some of the best in the city. The downside? Perhaps the $35 per day parking rate.
THE BACKGROUND: This apartment hotel of 237 studio rooms is located on The Wharf, a one-mile-long stretch being developed next to the Potomac river. Also on The Wharf is a Canopy by Hilton, Intercontinental, upmarket restaurants, bars, a music venue and outdoor stage.
THE CHECK-IN: Confusing at first as signage near the hotel isn’t the clearest, but the welcome was warm and smiley and the registration process swift.
THE ROOM: My Executive corner room (903) on the top (ninth) floor was enormous. It opened into a small kitchen area with a hob, dishwater, fridge-freezer and coffee-maker, and led into a dining room with a work table, sofa-bed, chairs and a large TV. The biggest wow factor is reserved for the bedroom, with its king-size bed, chairs, couch and huge windows with magnificent views of The Wharf’s marina, Potomac and distant Thomas Jefferson memorial.
KEY FACILITIES: Wifi and breakfast (featuring a range of fruits, cooked items and an omelette station) is included in the nightly rate – which is unusual for hotels in the city. There’s a small workout room and rooftop pool. A pier on The Wharf right in front of the hotel rents kayaks, boats and paddleboards, while the Washington Nationals’ baseball stadium, several monuments and Smithsonian museums are a short walk away.
RATES: Rates from $200 a night, on a B&B basis.
THE DETAILS: A: 725 Wharf Street, Washington DC, 20024 W: hyatt.com
Galle Fort Hotel, Sri Lanka
by Benjamin Coren | October 2018
This stunning boutique property is a welcome retreat from bustling Galle. Its central location and access to the ramparts makes it the perfect base from which to explore. With historical architecture and modern comforts, each room has its own personality. The dining is excellent and the romantic colonial decor makes it great for couples.
THE LOCATION: At the heart of the UNESCO-listed Galle Fort on Sri Lanka’s south coast, its location makes exploring the ramparts and streets on foot easy. Originally a Dutch mansion and warehouse, it retains much of its original façade.
THE CHECK-IN: Entering through the large 18th century doors into the open, airy reception evoked real wow factor. I awaited my key with a cool drink in the atmospheric pillared courtyard, before being given a brief tour of the amenities.
THE ROOM: I stayed in the luxurious Porcelain Suite which features walls adorned with 19th century blue-and-white porcelain plates and is filled with other authentic antiques. The room has high-vaulted ceilings and a four-poster bed. Double doors go through to a dressing room and bathroom with toilet, shower and sink. There’s a minibar, but no television, although wifi is found throughout the hotel.
KEY FACILITIES: This is one of the few hotels within the fort which has its own pool, out in the central courtyard. There’s also a bar and a restaurant serving abundant fresh seafood. The hotel advises guests on attractions, spa facilities and walking routes.
RATES: The Porcelain Suite starts from US$350 a night. Garden Suites are much cheaper.
THE DETAILS: A: 28, Church Street, Galle 80000, Sri Lanka. W: galleforthotel.com
The Merrion, Dublin
by Dominic Brennan | September 2018
The Merrion manages to be dignified and stately without ever feeling too formal. It wears its long history with ease and has a gravitas that is obvious the moment you enter the hotel. Take tea in the Drawing Room or enjoy a top wine in the ‘underground’ Cellar Bar. The Garden Room restaurant is superb – try the Irish oysters, organic salmon and crab linguini.
THE BACKGROUND: The Main House of the Merrion is formed from a collection of four listed Georgian townhouses, whilst the newer Garden Wing overlooks two immaculate private gardens.This five-star hotel, Dublin’s most luxurious, seamlessly blends classical and modern. Whilst the exterior is stately but simple, inside the hotel is elegant and comfortable – a place to sit back, read the papers and relax.
THE LOCATION: The Merrion is centrally located, opposite Government Buildings and close to the National Gallery and the popular Baggot and Grafton Streets.
THE ROOM: My spacious Junior Suite looked down on the hotel’s private gardens. It was brimming with Irish fabrics and period-style furniture, with a king-size bed, sofa, two armchairs, a writing desk, coffee table, an Nespresso machine and a fully-stocked mini-bar. A large bathroom featured Italian Carrera marble, and a separate bath tub and shower.
KEY FACILITIES: A unique feature of the hotel is the antiques and various artworks scattered throughout. Guest can take a 45-minute audio tour of the artworks, the largest private collection in Ireland. The Tethra Spa has a 60-ft infinity pool, treatment rooms and a gym.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS: The Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud is Ireland’s only two-Michelin-starred restaurant. The newer Garden Room Restaurant, overlooking the gardens, offers a range of seasonal Irish-themed fare using local ingredients. In the summer, light meals are available from the Garden Terrace. The cosy No.23 bar is off the main Drawing Room, while the Cellar Bar, set in an original 18th century wine vault, has a gastro-pub style menu.
RATES: A Junior Suite is from £810 a night (add €29 for a full Irish breakfast).
THE DETAILS: A: Merrion Street Upper, Dublin 2, Ireland. W: merrionhotel.com