Checking out - travel reviews

The Selling Travel team's latest reviews of accommodation, flights, cruises and more - personally tried and tested

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 FACILITIESWith 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: 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. 



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.


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.


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 (


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.


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.

THE DETAILS: A: Lincoln Green Lane, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, GL20 7DN. T: 01684 295 405. E: W:

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.


For more information on Tuolumne County, please visit

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.


For more information on Lake Tahoe, please visit

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 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: 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: 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: 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:

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:

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: T: 0121 237 5600

Wow Air

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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