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.

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.

R&R at Riverside

Spa Review: Riverside Day Spa – Durban, South Africa

The best spas in the world all have something in common: They succeed in effortlessly making time stand still.

I was looking for such an experience when I stepped through the softly-swishing glass doors of the Riverside Spa in Durban. Nestled on a hill overlooking the Umgeni River, the spa is coupled to the well-known Riverside Hotel, belonging to the notable Three Cities Hotel Group.

My senses were immediately invoked by the calming sounds of soft music, and the clean open spaces of the reception area.

Having dreamed of visiting the islands of French Polynesia ever since…well…ever since I could dream; I had made sure to book the spa’s “Polynesian Experience” from their spa journeys menu.

After a brief check-in at the reception, I was escorted to the spa’s common room. I absolutely loved the décor of this space – rich royal blues and stately greys in plush velvets. The room was adorned with white orchids in large silver pots, which drew to attention the white of the wall decorations against the pale blue paint.

Riverside Day SpaRiverside Day Spa  Riverside Day Spa

Large windows let in an abundance of light and paid due justice to the sweeping views over the city’s famed greenery, the commanding Umgeni river, and the majestic image of the new stadium that has forever changed Durban’s skyline.

After quickly trading my ‘street’ clothes for the velour (yes, it was winter!) bathrobe in the small but beautifully appointed change room (decorated with calla lilies); I was ushered to the lower floor to enjoy the spa facilities.

  Riverside Day Spa

I leapt almost immediately from the shower into the ‘heated’ pool, expecting to indulge in the warm water –but alas; it was simply not heated enough. In fact, it was actually cold! Very disappointing. I thawed out in the sauna, before enjoying a quick session in the steam room (for the sake of a complete review, of course!)

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

I found the spa’s facilities basic, but adequate. It’s worthwhile noting that the scheduling of reservations is attempted in such a manner to ensure that guests may enjoy private time in the facilities area. As the space is quite small, this was highly appreciated.

Upon returning to the serene common room, I finally met my therapist. I took an instant liking to her bubbly personality as we proceeded to the treatment room. It was much larger than expected, with not one, but two beds, and a grand jet spa bath in the corner.

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

As I got comfortable, she talked me through the list of treatments in my Polynesian Experience package, and the exceptional Thalgo products she’d be employing.

The first stop on the incredible journey was the island of Taha’a. Producing 80% of French Polynesia’s vanilla, the island is aptly known as ‘Vanilla Island’. My day spa experience began with a luxurious marine salt and vanilla full-body scrub. The room filled with these delicious aromas as my skin was buffed and exfoliated to perfection. Completely attuned to my silent preferences, she lingered over the foot scrub, adding a marvelous, impromptu foot massage to the mix.

I was eager for the next stop on my journey – a visit to the tiny island of Manihi. The coral atoll, famous for its pearl farms, inspired the soothing aromatherapy spa bath with essential oils and luxurious bath pearls. My lovely therapist set up the bath exactly as I liked – piping hot. She lit a scented candle, and with a scattering of rose petals, she was gone.

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

As I lay soaking in the fragrant hot water, I was able to enjoy the panoramic vistas over the city.

Riverside Day Spa

View from the bath

Time lost all meaning and the rushed pace of everyday life ground to a complete halt.

Riverside Day Spa

I emerged, rejuvenated from the bath, and enjoyed a wonderfully-presented cup of green tea before being carried off to the next idyllic destination on my Polynesian journey; the incredible island of Bora Bora.

Famed for its beauty the world over, the island is surrounded by stunning turquoise waters and powdery soft, white sand. Accordingly, the massage that followed was a slow, powerful massage using warm sand pouches and Monoi oil to deeply relax and loosen the muscles.

I had never encountered a massage that employed sand pouches before, and I quite enjoyed the experience. My therapist hit all the right spots, saving the best for last: a brief, but deeply gratifying scalp massage. I dozed off at various times during the hour long full-body massage – such was its excellence.

The fourth, and sadly final, stop on my journey was the island of Raiatea. Regarded by the Polynesian people as a sacred marae of their ancestors, my concluding treatment entailed a radiant rub in sacred oil. Sweet-scented, with a glowing shine, the rich oil left my skin pampered and deeply nourished. The word ‘Raiatea’ loosely translates to ‘Bright Sky’… apt to describe the mega shine of my skin as I left the secluded confines of my treatment room.

I dined in the common room, and lunch consisted of a crumbed hake fillet served with veggies. It went down exceptionally well with a glass of chilled champagne.

Riverside Day SpaRiverside Day Spa

What I loved:

  • The décor – extremely serene and luxurious, it invoked a sense of calm, and made me feel relaxed and pampered… exactly as a spa should!
  • Orchids and Calla lilies (my absolute favorite flower) adorned each room, and added to the glamorous feel of the spa.
  • The massage: heavenly!

What I didn’t love: 

  • Apart from the cold ‘heated’ pool, I really have no complaints.

I will most certainly be heading back to Riverside spa for a day of pampering when I’m back in Durban!

Riverside Day Spa

This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 19 July 2013

Disclaimer: No part of this spa experience was paid for by Riverside Day Spa. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

Riga-rous Design

Spa Review: Espa Riga – Riga, Latvia

The Espa brand has cemented its image as one of the world’s leading spa creators, and Espa Riga is no exception to that standard. Condé Nast Traveller awarded Espa Riga the prestigious first place in the Condé Nast Traveller Reader’s Spa Awards for Favorite Overseas Day Spa in 2012.

So when an opportunity for a business trip to the Latvian capital arrived, my hand was frantically waving in the air. (I’m a very diligent employee).

I am not a fan of the Radisson Hotel group, having had some dodgy experiences in the past, but chose to stay at the Radisson Blu Latvija for convenient access to the spa (Espa Riga is situated on the hotel’s premises, but also has a separate street entrance for non-hotel guests).

I had booked a day spa package that included full use of all the heat and water experiences (vitality pool, saunas, steam rooms), a back massage, a facial, a scalp massage and hand treatment with paraffin gloves. The package also included a 2 course meal at the Spa Café.

I had booked my treatments to commence at 10am, so promptly at 8am; I arrived to enjoy 2 pre-treatment hours in the spa’s renowned facilities. Upon checking in, I was offered a tour of the 6 floors. I had read that spa’s décor had been inspired by the opposing elements “Fire and Water”, and this theme surely came through in the details. No detail was spared on the exquisite interior.

Extravagant Spiral Staircase, Espa Riga

Extravagant Spiral Staircase (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

The entire 6 floors were focused around an eye-popping spiral staircase of black mosaic. The experience showers were painted in flamboyant, deep, shimmering greens and purples. The lavish water wall and opposing fireplace added even more drama. I must say, the art nouveau concept, and the extravagant design aspects were breathtaking.

Experience showers, Espa Riga

Experience showers

After the tour, I was given a luxurious cream bathrobe and a pair of Espa slippers, and was shown to the changing rooms on the 3rd floor.

I was happy to note that the sleek designs and lavish nature extended to the changing areas. I quickly showered (using the luscious Espa bath products provided) and headed for the indoor swimming pool. The water was so warm! I enjoyed a few laps before I tried the 1st floor steam room. For the next hour or so I alternated between the saunas, steam rooms and lap pool.

Indoor Vitalty Pool, Espa Riga

Indoor Pool (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

I was advised to wait for my therapist in the relaxation area on the 6th floor five minutes before my treatments were to begin, so I made my way up there with enough time to enjoy the outdoor vitality pool. I must admit, this was my favorite of all the ‘heat and water’ experiences. It was a very cold morning, and the incredibly warm water condensed into the icy air generating puffs of steam clouds that created an eerie, yet mysterious setting. At this point, I couldn’t see how it could get any better; I was loving every moment of luxury in these stunning surroundings.

Outdoor Vitality Pool, espa Riga

Outdoor Vitality Pool (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

After my swim I helped myself to a serving of green tea whilst I gazed at the impressive granite fireplace. I still had plenty of time so I knew I had to check out the Rondello sauna. To be fair, the sauna was incredibly beautiful and featured an amber glass skylight, but really, it was just a sauna.

1st Floor steam room, espa Riga

1st Floor steam room (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

I took a walk around the 6th floor and noticed the individual steam ‘pods’ – what a perfect idea for those seeking some solitude. At that point, since I had finished my ‘touring’ I made my way to the female relaxation room to await my therapist. I reclined into one of the incredibly comfortable loungers plugged in my iPod, and almost dozed off!

Individual steam 'pods' Espa Riga

Individual steam ‘pods’

My therapist arrived promptly at 5 minutes to ten. I was escorted to the therapy room, which was decorated in opulent deep purple. She asked me some standard questions, and gave me the privacy to undress and get comfortable. We began by choosing the scents and oils I preferred, and commenced with the back massage.

I was expecting a heavenly experience, just by observing the standards I’d already become accustomed to at Espa Riga. But in the interest of being totally honest, it was not the best massage I’d ever received. Not by far. I asked for more pressure several times, but eventually gave up.

It was over pretty quickly, thankfully, and we then moved on to the head massage. Now, this, I loved. Just the right amount of pressure, and she hit all the right spots. I closed my eyes and enjoyed every moment. Before I knew it, she was waking me up from a relaxed sleep.

Espa Riga Shop

Products (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

We paused a little after the head massage as the therapist undertook a basic skin analysis in order to determine which products to employ for my facial. Cool cotton swabs were placed on my eyes, and before she started, she placed each of my hands inside a hot paraffin glove. The gloves were heated to perfection and my hands loved the treat. With both hands snuggled inside their piping hot cocoons, she commenced my facial. The products were very luxurious, and felt rich and velvety against my skin. I enjoyed the rhythmic strokes she utilized at each step of the cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing process. The effects were immediately noticeable, and my skin felt smooth and polished.

After the facial, she removed the paraffin gloves and gave me a brief but gratifying hand massage. Before I knew it, my session had come to an end. I was given some time to slip back into my robe before the therapist returned with a product card. She ticked all the products that she used during my treatment session, and a few others that she thought would suit my needs. Of course, I was advised that each of these products were available for purchase at the Espa Riga shop. It was an obvious sales pitch, but it was not executed in a way that made me feel pressured to purchase anything.

Fireplace, 6th Floor Espa Riga

Fireplace, 6th Floor

When I was ready to leave the lush purple treatment room, I was escorted to the 5th floor relaxation area. This area is off-limits to general spa users, and only accessible to people actually receiving spa treatments. The room was darkened and lined with the same ergonomic recliners as the one before. Before I got comfortable, I helped myself to another green tea, and plate of nuts and dried fruit.

Relaxation Room Espa Riga

Relaxation Room on 6th Floor

It was perfectly quiet and I lay there totally relaxed for a few minutes before in barged 2 very loud women, badgering on about the massages they had just received. My solitude being broken, I retreated to the change room where I took a lengthy shower, washed and dried my hair, and even styled it using the ceramic straighteners available in the changing area. I returned the slippers and bathrobe, asking the attendant if the robes were for sale. I was interested in purchasing one, as they were extremely soft and comfortable. Unfortunately the robes are not available for purchase, which I found strange, as the shop sold every Espa product you could dream of, and more.

I made my way to the 2nd floor where the Espa Café is located. This floor also houses a fitness studio and the nail bars. The design feel of the spa extended even to the café, and the avant-garde décor included rich black tables and purple leather booths.

My two-course meal commenced with the pumpkin and sweetcorn soup, served with hunks of fresh, warm bread. I love pumpkin soup, and wouldn’t have thought I would have had the best pumpkin soup at a spa café! I chose fish for my main course, which consisted of a cod fillet served on a bed of shaved potato slices and tomato purée. I enjoyed both courses immensely. While the portions were on the tiny side (think minimalistic i.e. large white spaces on the plate with creative brush strokes of sauce), the presentation of the dishes was immaculate and the food was very tasty. I can deal with tiny portions if at least it’s not pretentious. I rounded off the satisfying meal with a strawberry smoothie.

Spa cafe Espa Riga

Delicous pumkin soup

And so concluded my day at the Espa Riga. What did I think of it? Well, I loved the feeling of luxury that enveloped me as soon as I stepped through the glass entrance doors. I felt like royalty as I enjoyed the various heat and water experiences. I will never forget that feeling of being surrounding by condensing clouds on that freezing morning in the outdoor rooftop pool while I floated, cocooned in the warm water.

While my massage, the focal point of my days’ treatments left a lot to be desired, the feeling of opulence that Espa Riga provided transcended that disappointment.

Would I go back? Most definitely!

NB: Due to the low level of lighting inside Espa Riga, the picture quality may be affected. For this reason, and due the fact that I enjoy providing images for all my reviews, I have supplemented my own photos with a few official photographs from http://www.espa.com.
Disclaimer: No part of this spa experience (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Espa Riga. 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.