Spa Review: The Spa @ Sheraton Porto Hotel, Portugal

Stepping off the elevator, we’re greeted by the minimalistic lobby of The Spa (aptly named). In case we’ve forgotten which floor you’re on, the words are engraved onto a bronze plaque on the floor.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaA friendly face at the reception desk takes our room number and then shows us the dressing rooms (separate male and female).

The spa at the Sheraton Porto Hotel is a sprawling level, consisting of various water and heat therapies. The dressing room was elegantly appointed with wonderfully lit vanities and digital lockers. I slipped into a soft, creamy toweling robe and donned the rather strange looking rubber slippers. The main room, also the largest relaxation area, contains a wonderful heated vitality pool, big enough to still feel spacious when at capacity. In front of the ample pool are arranged several ergonomic loungers covered in bright orange towels.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

We choose two loungers at the far end and settle into them, adjusting the backrest to our perfect specifications via the handy remote.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaBut it isn’t long before the lure of the tranquil swimming pool calls out. Slipping into the warm waters is heaven. The pool is virtually deserted, and perfect for lap swimming, if you’re so inclined.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

I much rather preferred to try the hot tub. The hot tub was very popular, and several people lazed inside; some applying the traditional jet therapy to their backs and necks, whilst others preferred the more efficient hydromassage from the gushing showerheads at the center of the jacuzzi.

As the crowds in the jacuzzi swelled, we decided to try some of the heat therapies. We made our way to the herbal sauna. The room was dimmed to perfection and eerily quiet. The only sounds appeared, like clockwork, when the wooden bucket tilted to release a burst of water onto the hot stones below creating a hiss of herbal steam.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

There is also the option to enjoy a more traditional steam room, but much preferring dry saunas to steam rooms; we quickly showered and opted to try the salt inhalation laconium next. This was by far my favorite heat experience at The Spa.

Much cooler than the other saunas, the room gave off an oriental feel, and the dim lighting and red mosaic tiled couches welcomed us. Breathing deeply into the salty air, I felt myself totally relax. When too hot, we hosed off with cool water and continued in our meditative state. After 20 minutes in the laconium, I felt completely rejuvenated, and the niggling muscle aches I’d been carrying around that week evaporated.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

Apart from these wonderful water and heat experience The Spa at the Sheraton Porto Hotel also features a fully functional gym with state of the art workout machines. Our time at the hotel did not permit us to try the gym, but I would have loved to have tried one of their Fitness by Core Performance classes.

There is also a yoga room, and a small but beautiful Zen Garden – complete with soft wicker couches and a trickling waterfall to totally relax your mind and soul.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe spa treatments at the Sheraton Porto Hotel are reasonably and wonderfully priced, so we booked massages for the next day. Being a huge fan of the ESPA range we opted to try their ESPA body treatment – an hour long aromatherapy massage.

We arrived at the spa the next afternoon after a very long day of sightseeing around Porto, and we were really looking forward to a relaxing afternoon at The Spa. My legs were sore from walking endlessly around the city, and I felt in desperate need of a good massage. My therapist was simply fantastic. Welcoming and extremely friendly, she led me to the treatment room where I prepared for my massage.

The next hour went by in a blur, but to be honest, as a person who has had her fair share of massages in her lifetime – I can truthfully say this was by far the best massage I had ever experienced. From the perfect pressure to the quick responsiveness of my therapist, I felt complete and utter bliss for a full hour as she worked on my tired muscles. Afterwards I felt like a new person, deeply relaxed and completely peaceful as I sipped on green cinnamon tea. We were shown to the relaxation room were we spent a good half hour, eyes closed, reveling in the wonder of The Spa.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

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.

Buttered Side Down

Murphy’s Laws for Travel

Murphy’s Law states that whatever can go wrong; will. While an optimistic outlook should always accompany you on your travels (it’s even listed as a travel essential on my What to Pack list!)…there are some days, in a strange and foreign land, when Murphy seems to be laughing…and you’re the butt of the joke!

What follows is a collection of the most hilarious Murphy’s laws for travel.

When Flying:
  • When you’re running late, your departure gate will be the one furthest away from the security check point.
  • When arriving at the airport early, the flight will invariably be delayed.
  • Length of flight delays will be directly proportional to the importance of you arriving at your destination on time.
(Photo Source: travelsort.com)

(Photo Source: travelsort.com)

  • When passing the security scanners, the alarm will only sound when already running several minutes late for boarding.
  • The largest person on the plane will be seated next to you.
  • The one time you do not pre-select your seat, you will be assigned the middle seat. Your neighbors will hungrily hog the armrests.
  • The crying baby will belong to parents seated in your immediate vicinity.
  • During the flight, the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign will illuminate the minute you realize you need to go to the bathroom.
  • When you decide to go the bathroom, and are seated in window seat, your neighbor will be fast asleep.
  • When in the aisle seat, those in your row will need to go to the bathroom frequently, and most likely when you decide to get some shut-eye.
  • There will be no record of the special meal request you made several months in advance.
  • Your luggage will be the last to appear on the carousel.
(Photo Source: aerotool.net)

(Photo Source: aerotool.net)

When Touring:
  • You will find an array of delicious-looking local food options immediately after you’ve succumbed to buying a McDonalds burger.
(Photo Source: luxuo.com)

(Photo Source: luxuo.com)

  • You will dent/scratch/bang a rental car if you’ve opted out of the additional insurance choices.
  • Souvenirs that you bought will always be cheaper at the stall immediately after your purchase.
(Photo Source: stlawrence market.com)

(Photo Source: stlawrence market.com)

  • When no purchase is made, the first stall you passed selling a coveted souvenir would have had the cheapest price.
  • The chances of getting lost on foot are directly proportional to the weight of the luggage you’re hauling.
  • The must-see attraction at your destination will be closed during your visit, and will reopen the day after you leave.
(Photo Source: flickr.com)

(Photo Source: flickr.com)

At the Hotel:
  • You will invariably be the last person in a long check-in queue.
  • The last available room upgrade will be given to the person immediately ahead of you.
  • If your trip encompasses many sightseeing tours, your room will be located the furthest from the elevator. If you plan to work/relax in your hotel room, your room will be located directly outside the elevators.
  • The soundproofing of your hotel room will be inversely proportional to your need for quiet.
  • If seeking a tan, all the hotel’s ideally positioned sun loungers will be occupied. The opposite will be true when requiring shade. The loungers are of course, immovable.
(Photo Source: telegraph.co.uk)

(Photo Source: telegraph.co.uk)

  • During your visit, the hotel’s outdoor pool will be closed for maintenance/renovation.
  • Housekeeping would have only just begun cleaning your room when you return from your long day of sightseeing.
  • The delay for room service delivery will be directly proportional to your degree of hunger.
(Photo Source: telegraph.co.uk)

(Photo Source: telegraph.co.uk)

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.

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 Great Trek

Every year I make the annual pilgrimage to my home town in South Africa. Durban is a sleepy coastal city, famed for its great beaches (The Golden Mile), its lush tropical foliage, and is known as the home of the Zulu tribe.

It’s a true melting pot of color and creed, which is represented in the vast array of savors one can find. From fresh, just-caught seafood delights (think succulent sardines drizzled in olive oil and coarse sea salt) to choice cuts of dry aged steak, even the most refined palate will be spoiled for choice.

Then there’s the unmissable bunny chow. A genius combination of spicy curry and carb overload, it consists of a hollowed out potion of bread filled with a delicious curry of choice. The middle part of the bread is never discarded, but instead forms a convenient device for mopping up any gravy that dare escape its doughy ‘container’. Typically eaten with the hands, and from the top down, it’s a feast that should not be overlooked.

Bunny Chow Durban

Bunny Chow (Photo source: http://www.cooksister.com)

Of course my trip home will encompass many, many braais. A shortened form of the Afrikaans word for barbeque – “braaivleis”, it literally means ‘grilled meat’. In South Africa, the braai is more than a typical BBQ, but rather a social event where friends and family come together. A carnivorous bunch, expect a variety of meat (steak, sausages, boerewors, chicken, ribs etc.), cooked on a braaistand and eaten leisurely outside. Typically enjoyed with servings of salad, mashed potatoes, baked beans and corn on the cob, the braai can turn into a whole-day affair.

Braai Durban

Braai (Photo source: http://www.roadsandkingdoms.com)

Don’t even get me started on samoosas, koeksisters, breyani, biltong, snoek, chicken tikka… The endless assortment will certainly be a foodie’s heaven.

**During my time in SA, I plan to visit and some of the top local eateries. You’ll find these reviews right here in the coming weeks.**

The coast of Durban is lined with hotels to suit any taste and budget. From the posh and glamorous Beverly Hills Hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean in Umhlanga Rocks, to an array of bed and breakfast options, one will be spoilt for choice. My personal favorite is the Suncoast Hotel (where Mr Wolf and I tied the knot).

There is even the possibility to rent self-catering holiday apartments on the beach. Prices vary drastically by area and size of the apartment, but in my experience the best area to book a self-catering vacation is Umdloti beach.

Various activities from safaris to water sports are on offer, and many of these cater to families with children as well.

Surfing Durban

Catch a Wave (Photo source: http://www.durbanaccomodation.net)

With year-round sunshine, Durban is a leisure destination of choice for both South Africans and foreigners alike.

The time has finally arrived for my annual Great Trek, and I am SO looking forward to spending some quality time with the places and faces I love. I’ll be updating with my experiences regularly, so stay tuned!
<3

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.