Modern Luxury in the Heart of Porto

Hotel Review : Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa, Porto – Portugal

The Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa is a 5-star oasis of tranquility in Porto, a short metro/taxi ride from the city’s attractions. The modern steel and glass structure sits in the heart of Porto’s business district, and from the moment you set foot onto the red carpet, you know you’re on to something special.

SONY DSC Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

We arrived earlier than anticipated, and of course, check in was not for hours yet, but the very accommodating reception staff ensured that our luggage was whisked away, we were given temporary room cards and shown to the club lounge on the 12th floor. Here we enjoyed a drink and caught up on emails thanks to the high-speed, complimentary wi-fi.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The club lounge is an access-limited feature of the Sheraton hotels, giving club member (or guests staying at the club floors) some additional perks such as complimentary internet access, and the privilege of using the club lounge.  In the lounge, you find a little relaxation space, with comfy couches, a computer with printing facilities, and a large screen TV. There are complimentary snacks throughout the day, and we enjoyed an aperitif each evening before dinner of Porto’s signature drink; Port wine.  The club rooms are also typically positioned on higher floors, ensuring sweeping views over the city.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

Club members can also choose to have breakfast in the lounge, although I wouldn’t recommend it if your stay already includes breakfast, as the Porto Novo restaurant, in my opinion is a far superior option. But more on that later.

After spending about an hour and a half in the lounge, I went back to the reception to enquire about the availability of our room. I must add at this point, the elevators in this hotel are truly amazing. So speedy, and so silent, I often got the buoyant feeling of being on a Disneyworld ride each time I went up to the room. By this time, our room was ready, and we headed up to the 10th floor, to find our luggage had already been placed inside. The room was large, airy and bright. Faultlessly clean with white linens, and plenty of soft towels. I found delicious smelling toiletries, the same ones we’ve had at previous stays at Sheraton. However, there was no little bottle of mouthwash this time – I am not sure if they have decided not to leave these in the rooms anymore?

Sheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

There was plenty of closet space, and we quickly unpacked the essentials, getting the suitcases out of the way. It had been a long week, and seeing as the weather was grey and dull, we headed to The Spa to enjoy the heated pools and saunas.  (I’ll be writing a post on our amazing spa experiences soon).

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the comfy day beds in the spa, before heading into the historic city centre (UNESCO World Heritage site) for dinner.

The Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa is not a small hotel – with 12 floors and over 260 rooms, but the level of service we experienced at the hotel was second to none.  I loved the décor, from the use of modern glass and steel that merges effortlessly with the more traditional wood and marble.

Our room was quite large and the king size bed was super comfy. We found enough plug sockets for 2 iPads, both our phones, and a camera, all conveniently located – without having to move a couch or unplug a lamp.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The bathroom was big and wonderfully lit – not the type of hotel where you needed to squint around in a dimly lit space to apply your makeup. His and hers sinks was convenient, and the ample-sized bathtub was a draw card which faced the room via a glass wall. But if you’re not travelling as a couple, fear not, there are blinds that can section off the bathroom to ensure privacy. There is also a separate shower and a separate toilet –which I appreciate.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The next morning we enjoyed a spectacular breakfast at the Porto Novo restaurant on the lobby level. I loved the breakfast at this restaurant because the food choices were so vast (both hot and cold options) with everything from fresh fruit to made-to-order eggs and omelets. I enjoyed pancakes one morning topped with fresh berries and drizzled in maple syrup. A mimosa added to the relaxing feeling of being on holiday.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The reception staff were ever-willing to hand out maps and point us in the right direction for all the city’s major sights. And after a long day of sightseeing, battling the famous Porto winds a little bit, we welcomed the opportunity to return to our luxurious room ach afternoon, slip into our swimsuits and decompress in the Jacuzzi.

The New Yorker bar located in the lobby is the ideal spot to enjoy a cocktail or three, as the soothing sounds of the grand piano envelopes the room. Plush carpeting, richly textured couches and expertly mixed drinks all add to the feeling of glamour.

SONY DSC SONY DSC Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

All in all, I found the Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa to be the perfect hotel in Porto, whether you’re travelling for business or leisure. The location may not suit everyone, particularly those wishing to stay in the historical centre itself, but I found the location perfect for sightseeing, and enough removed from the city hub to give a sense of calm.

SONY DSC Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The level of service is what one would come to expect from a 5 star establishment: courteous and highly efficient.

The design of the hotel itself is impressive, and the imposing all glass façade is a feast on the eyes.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

I would not certainly hesitate, for a second, to stay the Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa when in Porto again.

SONY DSCRates from 90€ for a deluxe room, to 2000€ for the presidential suite. Club rooms rates begin at 156€. 1 Night spa packages from 190€ pp sharing. For more information and specials, please go to the hotel’s official website.

Disclaimer: We received a complimentary upgrade to club level at the Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa. All opinions expressed in this review however, remain completely my own.

Old World Charm

Afternoon Tea at Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Berlin – Germany

What do Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin and Michael Jackson all have in common? Well, they were all guests of the Hotel Adlon in Berlin. Not at the same time, of course – although that would have sure been something!

The Hotel Adlon is one of the most famous hotels in Germany, if not Europe itself. The hotel survived both the first and second World Wars, only to be gutted by a fire mere days after WW2 had ended. But like a phoenix rising from ashes of the old, the Adlon was rebuilt shortly after the reunification of Germany, and now operates as part of the luxury Kempinksi Hotel chain.

Hotel Adlon Berlin

The Adlon’s history is vast, rich and somewhat chequered; yet in modern-day culture, it is primarily known as the hotel from which Michael Jackson notoriously dangled his then-infant son Blanket from the hotel’s balcony, in a somewhat misguided attempt to debut the baby to the hordes of screaming fans outside.

If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know that I do love a good Afternoon High Tea (proof here, and here). There is just something about the elegant British tradition that I absolutely adore.

So, on a warm summer’s day in Berlin, I made my way over to Pariser Platz to enjoy afternoon high tea at this iconic institution.

Brandenberg gate Berlin

When I arrived at Berlin’s most famous square, the Brandenburg Gate took center stage, poised about a 100m from the hotel itself. Greeted courteously by the smartly dressed porters outside, I made my way along the same path that I presume Brad and Angelina strolled when they stayed at the Adlon, and into the hotel’s stunning lobby.

Afternoon tea is served in both the Lobby Lounge bar, and the Bel Etage (first floor lounge). Sophisticated clientele were seated around the Lobby Lounge, amidst thick conversations in German, Italian and French (from what I could decipher).  There were young clusters of women enjoying the tradition of afternoon tea, businessmen in suits and colorful ties, and groups of families having a late lunch.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

I settled into a plush velvet chair and immediately succumbed to a friendly waiter proffering a chilled glass of Moët and Chandon – how could I resist?

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlinafternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

Having skipped lunch to fully appreciate the tea experience, I got to work on my three-tiered cake stand filled with delicious treats, as I took in the ambience of the hotel.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

The style and décor can only be described as old-world charm. From heavy fabrics to imposing chandeliers, the impression of old-fashioned luxury in the lobby expands like the film set for the Great Gatsby. Again my mind drifted back to the Adlon’s illustrious guest book – Nelson Mandela, Franklin Roosevelt, Greta Garbo, and the Queen herself, have all enjoyed the hotel’s impeccable hospitality.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

Feeling rather special amidst the history and grandeur, I delved into the savory portion of my cake stand…several finger sandwiches displayed ever so elegantly . The quail egg and cucumber sandwich went down effortlessly well with the glass of champagne.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlinThen, as I smothered my scones in clotted cream and strawberry jam, I was somewhat disappointed in the rock-hard texture of the scones. Perhaps left a little too long in the oven, the scones were slightly harder than I prefer.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlinHaving chosen a delightful summer tea bouquet (named Granny’s Garden – a fruity rhubarb concoction with a hint of bourbon-vanilla), I sipped the delicious tea, poured from a real silver teapot. The hotel thinks of everything, even going as far as supplying a soft, monogrammed teapot holder to avoid guests burning their hands on the teapot, as silver can get smoldering-hot.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

By the time I arrived at the third and final layer of my tea stand, I was actually quite content to sit back, cup in hand and listen to the soothing sounds coming from the grand piano on the Bel Etage.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

If I closed my eyes, right at that moment, with the backdrop of hushed conversations and the tinkling of fine china floating around, it would have been easy to forget the present day and time, and simply slip into a bygone era where flapper dresses, wingtip shoes and fedoras were all the rage.

But a white chocolate truffle with my name on it kept calling out, and soon the delicious burst of café-crème filled my tastebuds as the truffle was washed down with the last of the champagne.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlinThe sound of the central fountain in the courtyard of the Lobby Lounge was ever-present, adding a serene and calming ambience to the experience. And with one final peek at the luminescent stained-glass dome high above, I shook off the ghost of Daisy Buchanan and I said goodbye to the Adlon Hotel.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlinafternoon tea adlon hotel berlinafternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

Tapping in to Lux 11

Hotel Review : Lux 11 Design Hotel, Berlin – Germany

Imagine the scene, under communist rule, the phone lines of normal East Berlin citizens are tapped, and conversations recorded. The KGB officers in charge listen attentively, trained to discern any signs of ‘unorthodox political and religious ideas’; basically, any signs of free-thinking.

As I relax, cocooned in a luxurious room in one of Berlin’s hottest new boutique hotels, with its candy-cane bedthrow, and amply stocked minibar catering to my every whim, I find it hard to believe the Lux 11 Hotel was once the headquarters for such operations.

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinLocated a mere 5 minutes from Alexanderplatz in the vibrant Mitte neighborhood, the hotel is perfectly poised for a night on the town; be it club hopping or bar crawling. If that’s not your thing, then the location is also ideal for visiting the city’s museums and galleries, and there is no shortage of restaurant choices; whether you’re craving Berlin’s famous currywurst, authentic Italian pizzas or spicy Mexican burritos.

Lux 11 is a boutique hotel, housed in a sprawling whitewashed building. The alabaster backdrop is a designer’s dream, and as such, the minimalistic design elements of the hotel come to life. The furniture, in muted earthy tones allow for the deep contract of hot pink splashes that seem to jump out at you, aiming to surprise.

Lux 11 Hotel Berlin

I check in to an executive suite on the 3rd floor. The room is huge – by any standard. Large windows run along one wall, letting in masses of daylight. There is a living area, with beautiful monochrome couches and a contemporary low-lying coffee table.

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinI find a long table on one end, which can be used for dining or working depending on your need. Sectioned off from the living area is the huge king sized bed in clean white linen, and the stylish bathroom with rain shower. The enormous walk in closet is any woman’s dream come true.

Lux 11 Hotel Berlin

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinLux 11 Hotel Berlin

It’s cozy, relaxed; with an ‘at-home’ feel that can be sorely missed after spending too many days on the road. There is a fully functional kitchenette stocked with crockery and cutlery for 6 place settings and the bar fridge is well-appointed.

Lux 11 Hotel Berlin

I find a toaster and a coffeemaker, which I use frequently. I think I love the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the room almost as much as the coffee itself. In the cupboard I find several long-stemmed wine glasses, and they seem to be issuing a siren call to the bottle of red sitting on the counter. To my amazement I find there is even a dishwasher!

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinI love the luxurious full-size bath amenities and like its sister hotel, The Weinmeister, I find  a range of essential toiletries in a gift box by the vanity –including minty dental floss.

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinLux 11 Hotel Berlin

Lux 11 is exploring the concept of the ‘apart-hotel’, which provides all the comforts and luxury of a traditional hotel but with a coziness that allows guests to make the room their own – even if only for a short while.

Lux 11 Hotel Berlin

From the candy gifts to the iPod docking station, it seems no detail is too small at Lux 11.

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinWith its prime location and the contemporary minimalistic design, Lux 11 is the embodiment of Berlin itself: classic yet ever trendy; stately, but with a hint of a wild side.

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinLux 11 Hotel Berlin

For the latest pricing and special offers visit the Lux 11 website.

Rates from 119€ to 299€ per night (depending on various factors such as room category, season, events in Berlin and the number of people), excluding continental breakfast.

Disclaimer: I was a guest at the Lux 11 Design Hotel, staying in an Executive Suite. All opinions expressed in this review however, remain completely my own.

 

Punk Rock Design

Hotel Review : Weinmeister Hotel, Berlin – Germany

‘Hip’ and ‘happening’ are two words that can be used to describe Germany’s capital city. From the street food vibe to café culture, Berliners seem to be in-the-know on the latest trends, remaining ever so edgy, yet ever in style.

In keeping, the Weinmeister Hotel located in one of Berlin’s coolest and most dynamic neighborhoods, Mitte, is a shining example of what transpires when design-luxury combines with all things ‘in vogue’. Referred to as the ‘Golden Cage’- in reference to the golden façade the six floor building exudes when lit up at night, it’s certainly a ‘cage’ you wouldn’t mind being stuck in.

Arriving at the hotel one shouldn’t be fooled by the seemingly haphazard graffiti scrawled across the front entrance. Graffiti is, after all, synonymous with Berlin, and the scribbling gives an opening taste of the provocative and daring design the Weinmeister hotel has perfected. Drawing a crowd of artistic clientele from the film, art and music industry, the hotel is known to be frequented by celebrities.

Weinmesiter Hotel Berlin

Exterior of Hotel

Paying homage to ‘monochrome’ with soft, earthy undertones the hotel oozes a luxurious modernity. None more so, than in the Lobby Lounge; defined by oversized chairs in plush fabrics that invite you to sink in with a coffee and a book. The space doubles as the hotel’s restaurant serving continental breakfasts and a selection of light dishes throughout the day.

Lobby Lounge Weinmesiter Hotel Berlin

Lobby Lounge Weinmesiter Hotel Berlin

The Schwarz Bar is the draw card for the trendy population that breezes through the door of the Weinmeister Hotel on a seemingly endless loop. The bar is believed to be named after the German actress Jessica Schwarz, whose family brews a popular liqueur especially for the hotel.

I check into room 501 – the Hurts Chamber; a rather special room at the Weinmeister Hotel. The room was designed by members of the British electro-pop duo, the Hurts, who have won a string of recognized music awards and have recently released their 2nd studio album. Alongside the generous bath in dark bold lettering: “I don’t mind the lullabies from the machines”; a quote from their song “Evelyn”.

Hurts Chamber Weinmesiter Hotel BerlinGiant black and white images of band’s members Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson adorn the space, and their original gold record for the song ‘Wonderful Life’ hangs on the far wall – a gift to the hotel.

Hurts Chamber Weinmesiter Hotel Berlin

The influence of these two artists can be felt throughout the room: from the framed signed poster, to the concert backstage pass; from the books in the drawer to the music uploaded on the iMac computer.

Hurts Chamber Weinmesiter Hotel BerlinHurts Chamber Weinmesiter Hotel BerlinDid I mention there is an iMac computer?! Traditional television sets being obviously too lackluster for the Weinmeister hotel, all rooms are fully equipped with a large screen version of cutting-edge Apple technology. Internet access is quick and more importantly, free; whether you prefer using the computer or connecting to the Wifi on your own device.

Weinmesiter Hotel Berlin iMac

The room is huge. There is a couch lining one wall, a walk in shower, a work desk, and the aforementioned bathtub. There is no closet but rather, exposed clothes-hangers suspended above a storage chest that doubles as a bench. It’s certainly unorthodox, but that’s just the style of the Weinmeister.

Hurts Chamber Weinmesiter Hotel BerlinThe room has a dynamic flow to it: the large floor-to-ceiling windows letting in an abundance of light. But it’s the bed – in its ‘pod’ design – that dominates the room. Oversized, and slightly imposing, it’s perfectly made up with crisp white linens. There is sufficient space between the pillows to fit another single bed – such is the enormity!

Hurts Chamber Weinmesiter Hotel BerlinThe vanity is stocked with outrageously decadent toiletries – full-sized bottles no less, so you’re not fumbling about with tiny lotions and shampoos like in typical hotels. There’s a collection for men with spicy masculine notes, and a female collection with softer, floral undertones created in collaboration with two leading perfumers. In keeping with the ethos of the hotel, the range is cheekily called “Love it or Leave it”.

Love it or leave it Weinmesiter Hotel BerlinLove it or leave it Weinmesiter Hotel Berlin

 

It seems the management has thought of everything, from the black cotton pyjamas that lay on the bed (in my right size!), right down to the dental floss and hairband I find discreetly presented in the amenities box tied with a black satin ribbon. Even the slippers and bathrobe are nontraditional! My feet are cushioned in fluffy flip-flops with hot pink soles, while the bathrobe is plush and soft.

Weinmeister Hotel berlinI run a bath and enjoy a decadent soak. I contemplate booking a session at the hotel’s spa on the 6th floor, but I make my way back down to the lobby for a little sightseeing instead. A little tip: when at all possible, take the stairs. The walls and corridors of the stairwell come alive as an urban art gallery. Berlin based artists have gotten together to create the colorful cartoons and perplexing drawings that jump out at you, making you glad you skipped the elevator.

Weinmeister Hotel berlin paint clubWeinmeister Hotel berlin paint clubWeinmeister Hotel berlin paint clubI know that once I step outside the hotel I will find myself right in the center of the lively Mitte district; an array of restaurants, bars and cafes at my fancy. Finally, squinting into the elusive German sunlight, I reluctantly ‘escape’ the cage – granting, only for a short while – as I begin my exploration of this fascinating city.

What I loved:
  • The stylish feel of the hotel: The edgy designs, the color choices and the flamboyant, oversized furniture choices create a space that doesn’t sacrifice function to form. I truly loved the modern feel of the rooms and common areas.
  • The rooftop terrace: with amazing views over Berlin, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a sundowner.
weinmesiter hotel rooftop terrace

View from the rooftop terrace

  • Location: There is not much more than can be said about the location of the Weinmeister hotel, except that it is the perfect base to explore the city.
  • Concept Rooms: From the Hurts Chamber, to the Peppermint Jam room, there are some special concept rooms available at the hotel that is sure to add a little something extra to your stay.

Hurts Chamber Weinmesiter Hotel Berlin

What I didn’t love:

• The one small gripe I have would be that the hotel serves only continental breakfast. If you’re looking to start your day off with a full, hot breakfast you’d have to find a restaurant in the nearby area. However, it’s worth noting that there is the opportunity to make your own waffles and boil your own eggs…if you’re seriously craving some hot breakfast options.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the The Weinmeister Hotel, which provided a fresh dose of contemporary luxury in the heart of Berlin.

For the latest pricing and special offers visit the Weinmeister’s official site.

In keeping with the über-cool nature of the Weinmeister, room categories are standard, medium and large, with rates from 119€ to 299€ per night (depending on various factors such as room category, season, events in Berlin and the number of people), excluding continental breakfast.

Disclaimer: I was a guest at the Weinmeister Hotel, staying in the Hurts Chamber   (large room category) including continental breakfast. All opinions expressed in this review however, remain completely my own.

Let Them Eat Cake

Afternoon Tea at the Four Seasons Georges V, Paris– France

Walking along the Avenue Georges V is an experience in itself. Having just passed the colossal Louis Vuitton flagship store, with its ornate gold dinosaur window displays, we rounded the corner and strolled along the relatively tranquil street in wonder. The Avenue Georges V, together with the Champs Élysée and Avenue Montaigne, form what it called the ‘Triangle D’Or’ – the Golden Triangle. Apt, seeing as the net worth on these 3 streets alone probably rival the GDP of some small countries.

We knew we had arrived at the Four Season’s Hotel Georges V, when our feet sank into a super plush carpet on the street entrance – a telling sign of the luxury that was about to come. Owned by a Saudi Prince, no extravagance was spared in the hotel’s renovations in 1997, and the hotel proudly claims a spot amongst the six establishments in Paris to have been awarded the honor of ‘Palace’ classification.

Having recently become accustomed to the decadent tradition of Afternoon High Tea, my friend Sam and I took the opportunity to investigate the High Tea offerings at this renowned Parisian Hotel.

Upon entering through the ornate revolving door, my breath was instantly taken away! In front of me stood the most theatrical, the most extravagant – by far – flower display I had ever seen.

Flowers Afternoon Tea Georges V

Don’t get me wrong, I was well aware that the hotel’s florist extraordinaire; Jeff Leatham has a long standing reputation at the Georges V, but nothing prepared me for the sight which greeted us in the hotel’s lobby. Coral-tinged peonies (hundreds and hundreds of them) elegantly collided with deep purple hydrangeas to create a summer wonderland. Indeed, feeling like two Alices who had just sashayed down the rabbit hole, Sam and I crossed the foyer and into the Mad Hatter’s dreamland.

Flowers Afternoon Tea Georges V

Flowers Afternoon Tea Georges V

To the left there was a giant installation (not arrangement, as Mr. Leatham likes to call it) of red posies – again a dazzling marriage of peonies and hydrangeas. En masse, and shaped into several perfectly round, individual bouquets, they took their daring places in tall flute vases of varying height to create what can only be described as a Jeff Leatham work of art.

Flowers Afternoon Tea Georges V

Flowers Afternoon Tea Georges V

In fact, so esteemed are the rock-star of florist’s creations, that his celebrity clientele include the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Celine Dion and Kylie Minogue. When he’s not creating floral installations for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or putting together daring designs for celebrity weddings (he was commissioned for Eva Longoria’s wedding to Tony Parker), he serves as the in-resident flower guru for the Hotel Georges V.

Flowers Afternoon Tea Georges V

We stepped out into the grand central courtyard of the hotel, and again uttered astonished ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ at the overhead floral designs. Strings of purple Vanda orchids were suspended in the air, fashioning a stunning canopy over the courtyard as rays of sunshine streamed in, creating an ethereal atmosphere.

Flowers Afternoon Tea Georges V

Making our way pass yet more impressive floral designs we headed to La Galerie where afternoon tea was served.

La Galerie’s décor can only be described as opulent. Priceless historical antiques adorned the space, along with fine Flemish tapestries dating back to the 17th century. Murano-glass chandeliers hung aristocratically from the high ceilings, and a 500 square-foot Savonnerie carpet graced the floors. No Dorothy, we were certainly not in Kansas anymore.

La galerie Afternoon Tea georges V

La galerie Afternoon Tea georges V

La galerie Afternoon Tea georges V

We were shown to our table which was set with fine Limoges porcelain. Before we even sat down, the maître d’ brought over two little stools for which to lay our handbags -no handbags on the floor at the Georges V!

We browsed the menu and settled on “Thé complet a la Française”: The French twist on an elegant British tradition.

Our waiter took our order, and promptly arrived with 2 champagne glasses (monogrammed, no less!) that were ceremoniously filled with Moet & Chandon bubbly. We toasted to our auspicious surroundings as we sipped on the liquid gold.

La galerie Afternoon Tea georges V

Taking in the atmosphere of La Galerie, I noted it is the most perfect spot in the hotel to people-watch. From the families outside in the courtyard enjoying lunch, to the well-heeled couples appreciating a sundowner before sundown; I kept one eye on the entrance half expecting a celebrity sighting (not uncommon at the Georges V).

Our waiter magically appeared with our three-tiered trays laden with epicurean treats. On the first tier; an assortment of finger sandwiches prepared with an array of different breads (tomato, rye and spinach). The sandwiches can be ordered to your preference, as I chose a vegetarian option.

La galerie Afternoon Tea georges V

The second tier comprised of an assortment of French delicacies that included a creamy, cinnamon-dusted macaroon, mille-feuille (‘thousand sheets’ – referring to the layered pastry) with piped custard, a strawberry tartlet, and apricot panna cotta topped with roasted almonds. The macaroon was by far the best I had ever tasted – Ladureé be warned!

La galerie Afternoon Tea georges V

As if that wasn’t enough, the top tier, and perhaps my favorite, comprised of a warm scone, a madeleine (soft French cake immortalized by Marcel Proust’s memories), a caramelized canelé from Bordeaux and a petite raspberry financier.

La galerie Afternoon Tea georges V

I covered my scone in clotted cream and generously smothered strawberry jam, while Sam simply drenched hers in honey. Our tastebuds went to heaven!

La galerie Afternoon Tea georges V

SONY DSC

For our hot beverages, my companion chose a white tea from the extensive selection, while I was eager to sample the hotel’s famous hot chocolate. Served in an authentic hot chocolate pot (‘chocolatière’) complete with frother, the hot chocolate is unbelievably decadent, thick and creamy. It is served with warm milk in the event you needed to dilute the chocolaty goodness. The beverages are poured for you (bien sûr!), and the waiter flitted by every now and then to see if we were in the mood for a refill.

A pair of musicians serenaded the guests, and we sat relaxed – chatting, laughing, and of course, eating. We only realized that 2 hours had gone by when the staff began lighting the evening candles, signaling that dusk was upon us.

I smirked at how discretely the bill was presented to us (ironic that talking about money in rich circles is considered philistine!) and picking our bags from their pedestals, we left the plush confines of the Four Seasons Georges V to join alas, the real world.

Afternoon Tea georges V

Thé  complet a la Française at the Four Seasons Georges V costs 58euro (approx 760 ZAR)
per person. For more: http://www.fourseasons.com/paris

Color P.O.P

Hotel Review : Hotel Luxe, Split – Croatia

A leisurely stroll away from Split’s ancient Old City and a stone’s throw from its bustling harbor stands the Hotel Luxe – taking the concept of ‘boutique hotel’ to whole new level.

The hotel is ideally situated for those wishing to tick off all Split’s tourist hotspots, yet still enough removed to give guests the opportunity to experience authentic everyday life in Dalmatia’s largest city.

We arrived at dusk, having made the drive from Zagreb, but I took immediate fascination with the white-on-white lobby and attached bar.

Hotel Luxe Split

Lobby (Source: hotelluxesplit.com)

Splashes of color jumped out at every turn, but it was the undercurrent of deep purples against the alabaster backdrop that made the reception area ‘pop’ – so to speak.

Our check-in was seamless, and soon we were eagerly riding the elevator to our superior room on the top floor. Throwing open the door, we were completely taken aback! The photos we’d seen prior to our arrival did not do justice to the psychedelic look of the room!

Hotel Luxe Split

Source: hotelluxesplit.com

The flamboyant use of color stopped just short of being overwhelming. From the multi-striped carpet, to the silver scatter cushions; from the tasselled lamp shades to the flashy art on the walls – the effect was reined-in to perfection by the use of glass and chrome finishes, and again, the all-white furniture. The resulting overall look was ultramodern.

Hotel Luxe Split

Source: hotelluxesplit.com

Tossing our suitcases in the corner, we flung open the glass doors to catch a glimpse of the view from our balcony. The ferries and cruise ships moored in the nearby harbor, their twinkling lights like glow worms on the horizon.

Hotel Luxe Split

Hotel Luxe Split

Bathroom (Source: hotelluxesplit.com)

After a quick shower (it’s worth noting the bathroom has a glass wall facing into the room, but it can be closed with a curtain) we made our way into the Old City for dinner along the Riva. The Riva, standing proud for hundreds of years in front of the Diocletian palace, is the bustling strip of waterfront with numerous restaurants, cafés and bars.

After having our full on of the best pizzas we’d ever eaten, we made our way back to the hotel for a restful sleep.

Our next morning commenced with buffet breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. ‘Restaurant’ may be a bit of stretch, due to the size; but the breakfast spread was delicious, and more than adequate. Comprising of the usual –and some unusual – hot and cold dishes, there was also the option of made to order eggs or omelets.

Hotel Luxe Split

Restaurant (Source: hotelluxesplit.com)

We spent our day exploring the history and charm of the Diocletian Palace, as well as making the uphill trek to Marjan for unrivalled views over the city.

We ensured sufficient time in the afternoon to make use of the hotel’s spa facilities. Albeit small, the wellness area, like the rest of the hotel, was ultra-modern. There was a fully equipped gym and a sauna, but the showcase of the wellness area was the jacuzzi room, with its starry skylight. Darkened and exuding privacy, the whirlpool gave off an eerie glow against the white, space-age loungers. The entire effect was sheer modernistic luxury.

Hotel Luxe Split

Source: hotelluxesplit.com

Hotel Luxe Split

Source: hotelluxesplit.com

I had booked an aromatherapy massage which I enjoyed immensely. I was left feeling rejuvenated and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.

spa hotel luxe split

What I Loved:
  • Location: The hotel’s location makes it a perfect base to explore the city
  • Boutique Hotel: I enjoyed the boutique feel of the property. Although smaller than other hotels we’ve stayed at, instead of feeling cramped, the hotel felt more intimate.
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi: Unlimited and quick – always wins me over!
What I Didn’t love:
  • In-hotel dining options: Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed going out to the Riva for dinner and lunches, I would have liked to have the option of a hotel restaurant when feeling lazy.
  • Parking: Although free for hotel guests, parking is available in a lot off a street behind the hotel. The street is EXTREMELY narrow, and due to the fact that traffic flows in one direction, if you miss the poor signage, you’ll be forced to circle around the block once more.

I will certainly consider returning to Split, and when I do, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay at the Hotel Luxe again.

Prices: The price of a superior room (with balcony and sea views) ranges dramatically from 130€ to 300€ per room, per night, depending on the season. Rate includes breakfast. For more: http://www.hotelluxesplit.com/

This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 17 August 2013.

Disclaimer: No part of this vacation (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Hotel Luxe, Split. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

The Mothership Has Landed

Hotel Review: Silken Puerta América Hotel – Madrid, Spain

They say it only takes 7 seconds, on average, to form a first impression. As we step through the doors of the Silken Puerta América Hotel in Madrid, my brain does its computations at lightning speed, and in or around 7 seconds, my first impression is born: This hotel is going to be special.

One of Madrid’s 5 star luxury hotels, the Silken Puerta América, seeks to boldly house 19 of the world’s top architectural designers under one roof. Whilst some were tasked to put their personal touches in certain elements of the common areas, thirteen of these designers were each given a floor, and then; carte blanche.

What transpires is a design explosion! An awakening of the senses, where one is able to be transported from one incredible fantasyland to another, by a mere press of the elevator button.

The outer façade of the hotel already hints at its design interior. The high-rise is painted in a tie-dye effect of reds and oranges, adorned with lines from Paul Eluard’s poem “Freedom”. At night, the lighting details showcase these warm colored elements, making the hotel unmissable on the horizon.

Silken Puerta America Madrid

As we made our way to the reception desk, I immediately notice the richly fragrant scent in the air. Our check-in though, is not as seamless as I would have liked. We wait for ages while the guests ahead of us are making their selection of which designer’s floor they prefer. With help from the reception staff, they are browsing photos and details on a dedicated iPad, whilst the check-in queue is getting longer.

It’s a nice touch, the use of an iPad to aid in the selection, but it does nothing to help the other guests who know exactly what they want. And we knew exactly want we wanted!

Having loved the work of Zaha Hadid since 2004, when she created a buzz by becoming the first female to win the acclaimed Pritzker Architecture Prize, I have had the pleasure of passing one of her pieces, the deeply convoluted Mobile Art Pavilion every day on my way to work, as it sits proudly outside the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris, since completing its world tour in 2008.

Earlier discussions had us split between the Jean Nouvel floor, with his striking use of color and eclectic ceiling art; but in the end, we had decided on Zaha Hadid’s Space Club room. The room promised futuristic, contoured designs, in a choice of either black or white.

We finally complete the check-in procedures and make our way to our room. As the elevator doors open, we are immediately transported into an otherworldly space. The large Vortexx chandelier dominates the lobby. A beautiful design piece; the lamp appears as a winding, endless ribbon. We walk slowly to our room, appreciating the blinding white effects, coupled with the sinuous protrusions of the hallway.

Zaha hadid Silken Puerta America 3

Whitewashed, with The Vortexx taking centre stage

Stepping into our room, it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before! The achromatic palette is a feast on the eyes. The lack of symmetry is staggering; there is no relief from the fluid-like curves in any direction. We explore the modulating bathroom, closet, and vanity as Mr. Wolf mutters under his breadth: “Welcome to the mothership”.

Zaha hadid Silken Puerta America 1

There are fine toiletries from Molton Brown in the bathroom, and the minibar is stocked with complimentary non-alcoholic drinks.

Forget the typical hanging ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs for the door; our room has a state of the art touchpad that can be used to illuminate a LED light on the outside of the door to signal everything from in-room breakfast, to “Please make up my Room”.

In case you’re wondering, the modernistic bed is firm, but immensely comfortable.

Zaha hadid Silken Puerta America 2

The design elements flowed into the space-age bathroom

During our stay, I insist on carrying out the hotel’s unofficial ‘challenge’: To snap a photo on each of the 13 floors. So, camera in hand I gleefully summon the elevator with a sense of pure excitement. At the Silken Puerta América, the lobby of each floor is the grand showcase that sets the tone for the floor’s design.

From the Art Deco inspired creations of Victorio & Lucchino, with their marble sphinxes; to the fire-truck red hallways of Mark Newson. From Kathrin Findlay’s alabaster leather benches shaped like amoebas; to Mariscal’s fun-inspired bunny shaped sculpture – there is a design to suit almost every taste.

Victorio & Lucchino silken-puerta-america

Victorio & Lucchino’s Art Deco Inspired Lobby

Ron Arad Silken Puerta America

“The world is round. Sometimes we are able to perceive”. Design by Ron Arad.

The Cactus, by Mariscal

The Cactus, by Mariscal

jean nouvel Silken Puerta America

Jean Nouvel’s Space

The most impressive of all? London’s Plasma Studio. With molten-like stainless steel twisted and contorted into geometrical shapes – the result is a 3-dimensional space that is almost science-fictional.

Silken Puerta America MadridSilken Puerta America Madrid Plasma Studio

Overdosed on design, we step out into the sunshine, and spend the day taking in the sights and sounds of Madrid. The capital city of Spain has so much to offer in terms of history and culture. We spend the morning visiting the acclaimed Prado Museum, admiring many of Goya’s masterpieces.

Prado Museum Madrid

For lunch we dine on tapas in a chic gastrobar before making our way to Parque del Retiro for an afternoon spent boating in the central lake. Throngs of teens are lazily chatting around the steps of the monument to Alfonso XII. Mr. Wolf takes the oars as I sit contentedly catching some rays.

Parc Del Retiro madrid

Parc Del Retiro madrid

Before we head back to the hotel, we have enough time for a quick tour to the ancient Egyptian temple of Debod, just as the sun is setting in the sky.

Debod Temple Madrid

Sunset at Debod Temple

A highly anticipated part of my stay at the Silken Puerta América Hotel is a visit to the Jean Nouvel-designed Skynight Bar on the 13th floor. One of the swankiest places in Madrid to see and be seen in, the bar offers breathtaking panoramic views over the city. The bar/nightclub has become a popular hangout, as scores of Madrid’s stylish and beautiful people try to elbow their way in on the weekends. There are fear-inducing glass walkways on the perimeter of the bar: my idea of hell. Inside the bar however, the barman expertly whips up my order of two lychee caipirinhas: my idea of heaven.

Skynight Bar Silken Puerta America 1

Mr. Wolf braving the glass gangway

Skynight Bar Silken Puerta America 2

What I loved:

  •  Partnership between the design industry’s bigwigs is certainly not new concept, but the Silken Puerta América Hotel has taken collaboration to a new level. I loved that each floor provided a new and unique outlook. It was like having 12 different hotels under one roof!
  • Molton Brown bath amenities
  • Oriol Balaguer chocolates

What I didn’t love:

  •  The hotel’s location. Far from central, there is next to nothing to see, or do in the vicinity of the hotel itself. A rental car is recommended, or one can make use of the metro station a few hundred meters away for connections to the city cente
  • The wait at check-in. This should never be a factor at a 5-star hotel. Period.

All things equal, I would certainly consider returning to the Silken Puerta América Hotel when in Madrid again. By simply choosing to book a room on a floor I hadn’t yet stayed on, I would be getting a unique experience, whilst being assured of the same great quality and service-standards I’ve come to expect from this hotel.

Silken Puerta America zaha hadid Vortexx

Disclaimer: No part of this vacation (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Silken Puerta América Hotel. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

Romancing the Pearl

Afternoon Tea at the Oyster Box Hotel, Durban – South Africa

Mere steps away from Umhlanga’s most prominent landmark, its lighthouse; and amidst a backdrop of colonial opulence, one can find the iconic Oyster Box hotel. Standing as proud as the day it opened its doors in 1947, it remains a distinguished jewel in Durban’s crown, trailblazing the way by winning scores of prestigious awards and accolades from the likes of Condé Nast Traveller and World Luxury Spa.

Oyster Box Hotel Afternoon teaSpeaking of crowns, it’s well known that the hotel was chosen by Monaco’s royals; Prince Albert II and his Princess Charlene, for a Royal reception party in 2011.

Since its R400 million makeover in 2009, the Oyster Box hotel has sought to create a handsome marriage of old and new by maintaining original antique furnishings and coupling these with modern touches and the latest technology.

Afternoon Tea Oyster Box Hotel

The presidential suite, encompassing two floors, with private patio pool, its own butler and personalized embroidered gowns, will set you back in excess of R50 000 per night. Certainly fit for a king!

And so it happens, one fine Friday as the winter sun shines cheerfully over Durban, my sister Ronelle and I don our finest stockings and mother’s precious pearls, and head off for Afternoon Tea in the lap of colonial luxury.

Being my first visit to the majestic hotel, I opt for a quick self-guided tour. Passing the stark white Grill Room, I head for the bar. Again, the combination of antique woods and tapestries mesh fluently with modern glass finishes. Inviting couches welcome us, and I love the glass floors providing a view of the dining areas beneath us.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Glass floors

Finally, we make our way to the terrace which offers sweeping panoramic views of the famous lighthouse and the seemingly endless Indian Ocean.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea is enjoyed in the hotel’s Palm Court, illuminated by extravagant chandeliers purchased from London’s famed Savoy Hotel. Surrounded on four corners by lush palm trees (which obviously lends to the name), guests are serenaded by the soft sounds of the live piano as the tea commences.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelWe are shown to our table, and our immaculately dressed waiter immediately materializes, enthusiastically welcoming us. The table is laid with crisp linens and a charming English-garden tea set. A personalized, handwritten welcome card is a tiny detail with big impact.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelWe order our respective cuppas (Earl Grey for me, and coffee (!) for my sister).

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

The scent of posh is in the air. I am fighting the urge to call everyone ‘daahhling’

The self-service table gracing the center of the Palm court is heavy laden with mouthwatering treats.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelI head over to the savories section where I sample the cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches. Mini pastries are topped with smoked salmon and dill, whilst the vegetarian options include cheese tarts and mini mushroom pies. An adequate cheese platter with fig and apricot conserve is surrounded by an assortment of crackers, fruit and nuts.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelWe chat leisurely, relaxed – there isn’t a care in the world. Our attentive waiter is ever present, but not intrusive, offering to refill our drinks or replace used cutlery. We strike up animated conversation with guests at the next table. An actual Englishman (and woman) enjoying the age-old English tradition of afternoon tea!

Then it’s on to the sweet treats! Unsure of which mouthwatering delicacy to try first, I settle for red velvet squares with lemon butter icing. One word: delicious!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelThere are individual crème brûlées and chocolate mousses in decorative glasses. There are cannelés topped with chunks of nougat. There is an assortment of cupcakes, each piled high with frosting. Carrot cake, chocolate ganache, lemon meringue and brownies with pistachio topping…even the most ferocious appetite is satisfied.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelAfternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelThe table’s eye-catching centerpiece is a giant, multifaceted candy jar!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelMy absolute favorite: the scone selection. With a hint of gooseberry jam and lashings of clotted cream, I can’t ask for more!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelIt’s at this point that I find I have to switch my tea selection to a sweeter vanilla blend, as my Earl Grey becomes washed out by the sugar overload. Our waiter is back with a new, piping hot teapot in no time.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelJust then the piano player strikes up the chords of “Happy Birthday to You”. The waiters bring out a special cake complete with sparklers and we all join in singing the popular chorus to the unknown patron.

We end our tea with heartfelt goodbyes to our new English friends, and many thanks to our superb waiter.

Would I consider going back to partake in the elegant tradition of afternoon tea once more?

Why of course, daahhling!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 19 July 2013

The Devil’s in the Design

Hotel Review: Farol Design Hotel – Cascais, Portugal

I heard about Farol Design Hotel from the Design Hotels (designhotels.com) online newsletter.

The first thing that struck me was the mysterious moniker: “On the Water”. I was enticed.

Further research was required. My sleuthing led me to extraordinary online images of delirious waves crashing violently over jagged rocks. Those pictures oozed mystery and wild abandon. I was in love. I read traveller reviews, scoured a few airline fares, and viola, a trip to Cascais was born.

Crashing waves, Farol Design Hotel

Wild and Mysterious

The hotel is situated approximately 40 minutes by car from Lisbon airport, on the Estoril Coast. The drive can be a bit tricky if you’re not a local, so I’d recommend employing a GPS navigator. The town of Cascais itself is a pretty little fishing village complete with a sleepy marina and a proud lighthouse. We found that is was relatively easy to make day trips to nearby Sintra and Lisbon by car.

Lighthouse cascais, Farol Design

Marina

Upon arrival, we found plenty of parking space. I particularly loved the huge sculpture at the entrance with the bent-over man proffering a flower. These savvy sculptural details could be found throughout the hotel, and added to the quirky, design feel of the property.

Design Farol Design Hotel

Quirky

Design 2 Farol Design Hotel

The hotel itself, a renovated 19th century mansion handsomely married to a new, modern wing which had been added to house the restaurant and some additional guest rooms. The breathtaking blinding white exterior with space-age loungers certainly fed my taste for contemporary and modern design.

Farol Design Hotel

Old and New

The hotel comprises of 20 guest rooms, 3 suites, and a penthouse. 9 additional ‘designer’ rooms (fashioned by different designers) offered guests the chance to experience a unique haven.

We had booked a sea view room, and were expecting some of the stunning views that are showcased on the hotel’s website. However we were hugely disappointed to find that ‘sea view’ meant only a small window that one could peer out of onto pool and sea. There was no balcony from which we could enjoy the views.

Window Farol Design Hotel Sea View Room

Sea View, if you’re literal

Furthermore, it seemed our room was situated in the ‘old’ section of the hotel, and the dark wooden beams criss-crossing the ceiling lent a dark and dreary look to the room. I was quickly disenchanted by the huge contrast from the contemporary appearance of the lobby and common areas, to the aged look of our room.

Sea View Room Farol Design Wood Beams

Not my cup of tea

We decided not to let our disappointment over the room ruin our romantic vacation away, and after unpacking we headed out to explore the property a little more. The relatively small grounds lead out onto the magnificent pool area. The sleek rectangular design of the pool flowed perfectly into the rocky backdrop of pounding waves. It was heavenly to sit out there, sun beating down and just enjoy the remarkable views.

Cleverly, the entire perimeter was fenced by clear panes, allowing for uninhibited views of the ocean. Stone and concrete flooring gave the impression of stylishly earthy finishes.

View Farol Design Hotel

View from our room (through the window)

The pool sparkled like a jewel but the water was freezing and made any hope of swimming disappear. Sleek sun loungers lined the wall closest to the pool while comfy day beds lay strewn along the patch of lawn.

Pool Farol Design Hotel

Sparkling

On our first day, we tried the Sushi bar, Sushi Design. The sushi was beautifully presented, and the taste and quality were exceptional. We would have liked to return for another meal, but we quite enjoyed finding local restaurants in the area instead. We never visited the Mix Restaurant, so unfortunately I can’t offer any advice on that. However the stunning décor of the restaurant left me breathless. Huge flower-petal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and the mixture of chrome, glass, black and white made for a very extravagant setting.

Restaurant Farol Design Hotel

Extravagant

Breakfast was included in our rate, and comprised of the usual hot and cold selections. Several made-to-order items were also available, such as pancakes or omelets, but one had to ask (or read the menu’s fine print). We ate out on the terrace every day, as we could not get enough of the magnificent views. The pancakes were outstanding and we found the patisserie fresh and tasty –not a dried croissant in sight!

Breakfast View Farol Design Hotel

What a view!

The breakfast staff were extremely polite and friendly. We had celebrated Mr Wolf’s birthday on this trip, and I had made mention of this to the waiter during breakfast. And what do you know… as we were finishing our coffees, the exceptionally sweet waiters brought over a birthday cake and two glasses of champagne to our table, on the house. It was a lovely, unexpected gesture and we really enjoyed the moment. Great service really goes a long way in creating lasting memories.

Birthday Surprise Farol Design Hotel

Happy Birthday


What I loved:
  • Bar on the Rocks: The poolside servers were very efficient, and soon after ordering, we had our cocktail of choice in hand. The bar prices are somewhat higher than typical hotels in the area, but the hotel’s 5 stars, and its affiliation to the Design Hotels group would certainly have contributed to that. All in all, for the exceptional views, stunning décor, and efficient services, I did not find the prices prohibitive at all.
  • Views to die for. I finally understood “On the Water”. It was literal.

On the Water farol Design Hotel

On the Water


What I didn’t love:
  • I’ll say it again and again. I hated the wooden beams and the darkness of the room. I wanted a bright, modern space. It’s what sold me on the hotel in the first place!
  • The neon lighting along the pool area at night: Fancy? Yes. Luxurious and fitting for a 5 star hotel? No.

Night lights farol Design Hotel

In summary, once I got over the disappointment of our room, I quite enjoyed my stay at Farol Design Hotel. The staff interact well with guests and are very friendly and helpful in terms of giving directions or suggestions for local activities, restaurants etc. The contemporary design appealed to me, but should extend to all guest rooms to ensure the flow is maintained.

That being said, I probably wouldn’t return to this hotel.

This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 11 June 2013

Disclaimer: No part of this vacation (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Farol Design Hotel. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

Caribbean Caress

Hotel Review : Secrets the Vine Resort and Spa, Cancun, Mexico

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the uber-deluxe Secrets the Vine Resort and Spa located on the Cancun hotel strip, for a week of pampering and sun. The strip is just that, literally a thin strip of land (over 22kms long) in the shape of the number 7, on which sit an endless line of hotels with views of the Caribbean sea on one side, and the Nichupte lagoon on the other.

Cancun Hotel Zone

The Strip

Being my first trip to Mexico, I didn’t know what to expect, but having researched the hotel in detail before arriving, I had great expectations.

When we landed in Cancun, even before we reached the resort, I found something I liked rather immensely: the 15 minute drive from the airport! After a 10 hour flight, one would certainly appreciate the short drive to relaxation.

Disappointingly we were not greeted with the customary glass of sparkling wine and cool towel on arrival, perhaps due the fact that we breezed in at 10:30pm? That did not discourage us at all though since the check in went very smoothly and in a matter of minutes we were whisked up to our room on the 20th floor.

I must make particular mention of the fact that we did not choose to book a room in the “preferred” category. After much online research prior to this trip I decided against upgrading to the preferred experience, as it just didn’t seem worth the additional cost for the 12th floor pool, preferential bath amenities, and newspapers.

The standard room (Deluxe Ocean View) fitted the description found on the hotel’s website. Our turn-down service had already been by, so our first impression didn’t include the azure green bedding this resort depicts on their website. However, it did not take away from the aesthetic beauty of the room.

The modern wood and tile finishes gave the room a sleek, minimalistic outlook: EXACTLY what appeals to me in a hotel. I was very satisfied. The bathroom and WC area were separated, each enclosed by glass “walls”. (Something to think about when not holidaying as a couple). I did feel that this design provided a sufficient amount of privacy though, as these glass walls were cleverly frosted in appropriate places. There was a set of ‘his’ and ‘hers’ vanity sinks complete with storage spaces for towels as well as mirrors. We found ample closet space, with bathrobes and slippers (which had been left on the side of the bed by the turn-down service).

The room Secrets the Vine

Contemporary and minimalistic designs echo throughout

We found all the hotel’s common areas (lobby, restaurants, pools) succeeded in exuding a feeling of large open space. This must have been particularly challenging to achieve, as the hotel itself if built on a relatively smallish piece of land (when compared to other hotels on the strip). The hotel is in fact a high-rise building, which doesn’t have a sprawling footprint so don’t expect to be surrounded by lush, tropical foliage. If this is a deal breaker for you, I suggest you book somewhere else. What you can expect though, is a sleek modern design, with contemporary décor and stylish finishes throughout.

Lobby, Secrets the Vine

The hotel’s lobby creates the impression of endless open space

Secrets the Vine

High Rise

The first restaurant we tried was the Market Café for the buffet breakfast. The Market Café also serves a buffet lunch, and for dinner, it transforms into an a la carte Mexican restaurant. I must admit, that I am not a huge fan of these all-inclusive type vacations. I really enjoy going out to local restaurants, whether for a gourmet meal, or a lunchtime burger. I enjoy the experience of scouring blogs and websites beforehand to find local foodie gems, and I love to experience and review these for myself. I also like knowing that we’re giving a little something back to the region’s economy by patronizing local restaurants.

However, at Secrets the Vine, once we were aware of the quality of the food on offer, and the sheer variety at the various restaurants, we were happy to ‘slum’ it on the resort and never leave!

We tried all of the restaurants, save for Olio (Mediterranean cuisine). The reason for skipping this one, was the fact that we tried Nebbiolo on our 3th night, and literally ate dinner there every night for the rest of our stay (It was just that good!)

Back to the Market Café though! We ate breakfast here almost every morning (we ordered breakfast room service once as we left early on a Chichen Itza tour). We loved it! The variety was astounding, and I experienced one of the best qualities of buffet standards EVER! I mean, have you ever had scrambled eggs from a buffet that actually tasted good? Well at the Market Café we did! There was something for everyone, from fresh fruit, to made-to-order omelets, from a smoothie bar to quesadillas. Anything and everything the heart wanted, it got. Even a mimosa or two. Or 3! (Hey, no judgment, I was on vacation!)

Market Cafe, Secrets the Vine

Breakfast choices at the Market Café (photo source: https://www.facebook.com/zuleica.econcierge)

For lunch we usually ate at the Sea Salt Grill. We avoided the pool side buffet (Barefoot Grill) for no reason except the fact that we wanted a sit-down, restaurant experience at lunch time and welcomed the break from lounging in the sun. (Yes, poor us.) We found this restaurant a bit hit and miss. We had a very good experience on our first visit, followed by uncooked grilled salmon on our next. The complaint about the salmon however, was handled very efficiently, and a new plate arrived within minutes, cooked to perfection. We found the waiters in this particular restaurant to be harried, and not as friendly as the other places, and our wait times were the longest here. I assume this was down to the fact that it was the restaurant of choice for lunch, and was usually full to capacity. However we went back several times, as the issues mentioned above did not outweigh the amazing shrimp tacos they served there!

Shrimp Tacos, Sea Salt Grill

Delicious shrimp tacos at Sea Salt Grill

We ate dinners at Dragons (fusion Asian cuisine), Blue Water Grill (Grilled specialties) and Nebbiolo (Italian fare). I enjoyed the meals at every one of these, but Mr Wolf did not appreciate his experience at the Blue Water Grill. (He was not happy with the choice of cut for his steak). As mentioned, once we tried Nebbiolo, we just couldn’t eat anywhere else. The food was impeccable and this was topped only by the service (ask to be served by Hector -you won’t be disappointed!) Mr Wolf swears by the beef carpaccio, and I think the Carciofo (artichokes cooked in mozzarella, spinach, parmesan and garlic) was the best dish I had at the resort. For dessert, I rarely strayed from the Pianono Reimpito (a hazelnut-filled canelé in a red wine sauce- heaven).

With the exception of the Market Café and Olio, all restaurants had a ‘casual elegance’ dress code for dinner. I quite enjoyed dressing up and “going out” to dinner each night.

Dress Code Secrets the Vine

Dress Code Tips (photo source: https://www.facebook.com/zuleica.econcierge)

We were also pleasantly surprised at the level of service and quality of food provided by room service. (Expect same standards as high end (non-all inclusive) hotels).

What I loved:
  • Smiles: Everywhere we went, we were greeted by smiles. Be it the man who kept the stairs at the entrance to the resort polished and gleaming, or the friendly lady who spent all day replacing towels in a pyramid shape by the pools. From waiters to poolside barmen, from restaurant managers to room cleaning staff. Secrets the Vine added a little extra magic to our vacation simply by hiring the friendliest, happiest, most polite staff. Ever.
Hector Secrets the Vine

The lovely Hector at Nebbiolo

  • Exceptional Cocktails: No watered down daiquiris and weak mojitos in sight! This was not your typical all-inclusive! Add to the fact that every drink was served with a smile, and cocktails magically reappeared when finished, and you have a winner!
Cocktail Secrets the Vine

Every hour is cocktail hour!

  • Coffee Bar: Nothing chases away the mid-afternoon munchies quite like a slice of cheesecake and a cappuccino. If you preferred, the lovely ladies at the coffee bar would whip you up a Baileys Frappuccino and offer to toast your steak and cheese sandwich. I loved the elaborate foam designs in my lattes, and even though this may not count for much to some people, these extra little touches, made the difference.
  • Chef’s Parade: Daily at 1pm, it became something we eagerly awaited. We loved the interaction with the chefs almost and much as we loved the delicious delicacies they served.
hef's Parade, Secrets the Vine

It must be 1pm!

  • Media presence: Zuleica, the resort’s wonderful e-concierge does a great job of updating twitter, facebook and pinterest. She is also proactive in responding to questions and suggestions from guests. I had several comments and special requests that were taken care of before I even arrived at the resort!
  •  The Views: Room service on your balcony staring at the endless turquoise Caribbean Sea. Need I say more?
Room Service Secrets The Vine

Room Service with a view!

  • The Bed: I won’t elaborate except to say that this was, by far, the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on. Hotel or otherwise. Seriously considered packing it up, and taking it home with me!
  • Heated pools: (in February) felt like a relaxing bath!
Pool Secrets The Vine

Fancy a dip?

 

What I didn’t love:
  • Cabana Bookers: Around the pools we found there were plenty of loungers, irrespective of what time of day you rolled out of bed. The few cabanas towards the sides of the pools however, were a different story. These were frequently “booked” by 7am, regardless of the fact that the ‘bookers’ sometimes rocked up as late as midday. I found this highly annoying, and it seems (from twitter and Facebook posts) that the resort is trying to implement policies to deter people from doing this. I doubt they will have much success in enforcing this though. I just think that this is a highly selfish and deeply irritating way to behave whilst on holiday (sorry, tangent).
Loungers Secreats the Vine

There are plenty of loungers, no need to be those annoying people who book

  • Spa Prices: I never did get to experience the Secrets Spa by Peruvia. I found the prices a little steep, especially having recently visited ESPARiga which had been voted the top overseas day spa in the Condé Nast Readers’ Spa Awards 2012. I tried to use the spa coupons for a massage, but the exclusions to coupon use extended to any treatment that wasn’t at full price.
  • Hot water issues: I love me a piping hot shower, and I frequently had to deal with lukewarm water in the mornings. I read this on some other Tripadvisor reviews since our stay, so I hope its something the resort management addresses soon. I must state however, that the lack of hot water seemed to resolve itself in the afternoons.
  • Blotchy Wifi: Free wifi? (good), highly sporadic wifi? (not so good)

All in all, we found Secrets the Vine to be one of the best resorts we ever visited. The concept of Unlimited Luxury echoes throughout the resort, and you end up feeling special and pampered throughout your stay. The look and feel of the sleek modern elements appealed greatly to my tastes, and the food was exceptional. We swam in the sea every day, and found the beach to be extraordinarily clean and remarkably maintained. The water was a bit rough, but we swam despite the red flags being up. I dare you to take once look at the topaz color of the sea and the powder-white sand and not swim!

Beach, Secrets The vine

The inviting Caribbean Sea (red flag be damned!)

One thing I must mention before I wrap up this review: the staff at Secrets the Vine work exceptionally hard to ensure you have a great vacation. People, please tip! Even $1 to the poolside server will be appreciated!

We rarely visit the same hotel/resort twice, as I feel this planet has SO much to offer travellers in terms of destinations and experiences. I want to have as many different experiences as I can in this lifetime, but that being said – I am already planning a return visit to Secrets the Vine in the coming year. I can’t wait to visit again, and see if they have managed to keep up their extraordinary level of service! (And you will surely read all about it, right here!)

Boardwalk Secrets The Vine

The boardwalk

Disclaimer: No part of this vacation (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Secrets the Vine. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.