Peace, comfort and Tuscan safaris: Castiglion del Bosco

August 3, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (0)

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Infinity pool in the balmy evening

Famous for its deep red Brunello di Montalcino (takes 5 years to mature), Castiglion del Bosco charges 70 euro for a tasting session at its own winery; and its own golf club charges 220 euro for 18 holes (golf cart extra), limiting the number of rounds to non members to only 4 per year. Yet  the resort is all so understated, so natural.

Celebrities come here to “earth” themselves. With nibbles of celery straight from the large veggie garden. With hiking and mountain biking. With forests full of wildife. Even wolves roam those woods – and among activities like cooking courses, harvesting, and truffle hunting you can even go on safari.

The villas – beautifully restored Tuscan farm houses with private pools – cost from 3500 euro per night for a 3-bedroom villa to 5000 euro per night for a 5 bedoom villa, three by the hotel and six perched on hills somewhere on the 4500 acre estate. Rack rate on the borgo rooms from 620 euro per night including breakfast.

A veritable fortune and years of restoration turned the medieval village with its church and ruined castle first into a highly exclusive club and then a hotel, owned by Massimo Ferragamo, actually resident in the USA. He is the youngest son in  the illustrious Italian family Ferragamo. A name that sparkles in Italy.

Simplicity is refinement but can include very expensive details. Everything is antique or custom made.  TVs and minibars in leather cases. Four poster beds fashioned in wrought iron by craftsmen in Florence, the Renaissance city. Pictures from antique shops. Rows and rows of them, beautifully placed.

Though never flashy, the size of some its suites is something one might boast about. Like our suite Vigna Alta in the borgo village “main street”, with massive lounge, massive bathroom with tub and shower including stone seat, dressing room, extra bathroom and the best of all a spacious terrace with sunbeds, dining table, sofa and views of Tuscan hills.

We also got the chance to see two borgo rooms with terrace (some do not have terraces). The room Fontaccia alta has stairs down to a suite  that opens out into a garden with a pizza oven. There is a little kitchen so the two can be rented together as a villa.

Of course the resort has a spa and a gym – and a kids  club (25 euro per hour)  – and families are made very welcome. The trattoria/Osteria is perfect for kids, very low key, with plenty of pizza and pasta naturally. We dined there deliriously – not just admiring the real taste of pizza with flours mixed according to the chef’s secret recipe, but the real taste of crisp freshly picked salad. 

Technology up to date, but some of its best features are its oldest – the church with its 12 century etchings, the belltower on the former priest’s house – now the bar and trattoria Osteria La Canonica where you can taste the full Brunello range. The magical ruined castle where you can watch even deeper red sunsets.

Other old treasures of Tuscany can be seen on excursions. Siena is about 40 minutes by car and Florence 1 hour 30 minutes. Montalcino is two hilltops away (and two valleys) – my memory is it  took us an hour on its unsurfaced road, but other reports say 15 minutes.  The hotel charges 50 euro per way for a trip to Montalcino so it can’t be too far. See the images in the gallery above and in the previous blog.


BEACH & GOLF – BELLE MARE PLAGE

March 10, 2011 in MAURITIUS | Comments (0)

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Fabulous beach and lagoon

Wonderful setting on a long dazzling white beach. The fringing lagoon within the sheltering coral reef was a heady turquoise, a little ruffled by wind. The depth seemed perfect for bathing – it was the only lagoon in fact where I saw people really ACTIVELY  swimming.

This is quite a big resort (235 rooms and 20 villas), so there is a sense of buzz and action. Here you have a choice of 4 pools with sunloungers, 7 restaurants, shopping arcade, plenty of watersports of course and TWO golf courses. A shuttle goes every hour to and from Le Prince Maurice via the golf courses. For those who want to get away to delicious privacy I suggest the villas. I was shown an attractive two bedroom villa with pool, elegant bedrooms, roomy lounge with plenty of sofa space, small kitchenette. That is for the butler that comes with the villa.

 

View of the pool from upstairs bedroom

I also saw a deluxe suite with lounge and bedroom. Bedroom below. This suite can be connected to a prestige room.

Belle Mare Plage has of course a spa, fitness centre and, most important for a family resort – a kid’s club with pool.

HOW TO GET TO BELLE MARE PLAGE

1 house by car from Mauritius International Airport 


TROPICAL HIDEAWAY – FOUR SEASONS AT ANAHITA

March 7, 2011 in MAURITIUS | Comments (1)

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Four Seasons from the bridge linking island and resort

If the rainbow people are the ultimate wealth of Mauritius, Four Seasons has tapped its gold. This resort is an island unto itself of calm and happy faces, and friendly intuitive service. Everywhere you feel pampered in the most warm and delicate way. This is due to careful policies to keep staff happy, I was told by everyone I asked for the secret formula.

The site chosen for Four Seasons Mauritius at Anahita made many on the island raise eyebrows when construction began as there was no natural beach. Human ingenuity has created sandy beaches round a private island, paved banks, running pools and a deliciously tropical feel. Another twitch of the eyebrow was directed at the architecture as it seemed unMauritian, with its dark gleaming marble in open corridors. Of course it is very Four Seasons with its striving for perfection and a gentle corporate touch. But when you stay there you also feel it is very Mauritian. Because of the staff, the food, and the exquisite villas you are brought closer to the island’s “earth”.

There are a total of 133 villas and residences (latter with one or two bedrooms). Most of the villas are along the beaches of the island or facing the lagoon mangroves. A big team of golf buggies wends along the curving roads between villas.

Even the garden villas are hard to leave. Garden category here doesn’t mean absence of something better, it means colourful tropical garden and pristine private plunge pool with romantic double sunbed. It means a huge sofa on the patio where you can gaze at a small lake and a hill covered with banana palms. It means a table for dining outside, and an outdoor warming oven. Inside you are enfolded in warm but earthy colour, and all the usual comforts. Dressing room is ample. The inside shower faces the back garden and outdoor shower.

On my first morning I dashed out happily to look at the new day rising over the pool. A wind smashed the door closed behind me. I had no choice but to walk barefoot to the main building through a shower of summer rain, where the first person I found was the usher at breakfast. She was amused in a mild sweet way. Fortunately I was in my Four Seasons dressing gown and a new key was found for me quickly.

So now I returned to breakfast. Even though it was raining, it was a spiritual experience thanks to the tones of Vivaldi, the warm service, open windows and a perfect choice of things to eat.  Happiness included fresh pastries from a separate glass room, tropical fruit, café latte, and a table in a nook that jutted out into an ornamental pool. The warm rain drummed on the pool, fish could be seen swimming past, yellow coconuts ripened on an islet. And then of course the sun came.

There are four restaurants altogether, one at the golf course, the French restaurant (where I ate breakfast), a 2nd Asian restaurant poolside and beachside, and Aquapazza, Italian restaurant over the canal, reached by bridge. Ate at the pool & beach restaurant in the balmy evening with Melinda from the sales department. All perfect. Then alone at Aquapazza, a stylish place with bar looking over the channel.

The spa is also on the island, with treatment rooms overwater with views of mangroves. The waiting area is a platform with water views. Several bridges cross the water including a mini Bridge of Sighs, with upmarket shops. The golf course designed by Ernie Els, Four Seasons Golf Club at Anahita, is an 18-hole, par-72 championship course with large fairways.

So who will love Four Seasons at Anahita?

Definitely a resort of interest to golfers and families, AND those wanting delicious privacy, tropical charm and Four Seasons Mauritian-style food and service.

HOW TO GET TO FOUR SEASONS MAURITIUS AT ANAHITA

40 minutes by car, 15 minutes by helicopter.


ISLAND FEELING – LE TOUESSROK

March 5, 2011 in MAURITIUS | Comments (0)

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Le Touessrok pool

Island holiday feeling. Le Touessrok is built on a sandy peninsula lined with palms and extends onto an offshore islet ringed by beach and lagoon, so suites are all ocean front or beachfront. The island experience is extended to two more islands offshore, one with the spectacular Le Touessrok championship golf course, and the other an exclusive Crusoe island. You escape by the resort’s private boat to Ilot Mangénie for beach and dining.

Le Touessrok is a romantic resort, with its palms and pools. It is also a resort with a bit of fun – nightly entertainment. We saw dragon dancing on a platform by the pool celebrating Chinese new year. For guests who like to retire before 1130 pm, rooms away from the dancing and shows should be requested as one of our party was disturbed by the dance music. In my junior suite on Franjipani island, I heard nothing except some happy English people going “home” afterwards.

The beach, as is often the case in the large lagoons where rivers enter, is fine and sandy, more silver than white or gold. And the water was less dramatically turquoise as there had been a week of heavy rain before our arrival.

Complimentary snorkeling, canoes, pedalboats and ulimited waterskiing and windsurfing are offered. Scuba and catamaran sailing offered for a supplement. And of course there is golf on the island golf course designed by Bernard Langher.

Backing up the sporty life is a free fitness centre, four tennis courts and a jogging track.  For relaxation, the Givenchy spa is an elegant retreat with a motto “Beauty is no longer a ploy used in the art of seduction, it is the very essence of charm…” For dressing up and looking good, true to the resort’s sociable nature, you have a busy hair salon too.

Franjipani island is joined with the public areas by two bridges. We loved our split level Junior suite in Franjipani wing with its high quality floors and furnishings and bright touches of colour. Colours that “sing”. The desk, instead of facing the wall, lay on the higher level dividing bathroom from bedroom and mini lounge area. Sitting down at the desk (to do makeup in the lit makeup mirror) or working, you looked out through the glass doors onto the balcony, palms and beach. What a romantic view. You know you are in the tropics.

The bathroom was roomy with its own symmetry – central bath, a vanity on each side, and separate shower and toilet hidden behind two glass doors at the back. So well hidden I should add, that I was quite desperate to find them, and wrenched at the connecting door believing it must be the way to the loo. Should add we were not the only ones in our party to be confounded by the elegantly hidden facility.

Later on during a hotel inspection we saw other suites including the ocean suite. This has a separate living and dining area, and the special feature of two balconies coming off the master bedroom.  It has direct beach access.

One of the nice surprises was the deluxe room in the Coral wing (not on one of the islets but on the beach of the mainland). Very fresh and tastefully bright, also on two levels like a mini junior suite, with balcony with view. The Hibiscus wing is for families and I gather is not for the deluxe honeymoon customers.

Altogether there are 125 junior suites, 6 ocean suites and 68 deluxe rooms.

There are also three private villas. We saw one which was very spacious, with a happy holiday feeling for all its exclusivity. Comes with a butler and a kitchenette (his preserve).

The hotel offers 5 restaurants and 3 bars. We joined other guests at the manager’s cocktail party under the palms by the beach. There is nothing quite like a tropical evening when balmy breezes blow ozone off the water and coconut fronds rustle.

HOW TO GET TO LE TOUESSEROK

50 minutes by car from Mauritius International Airport.

PROS

Island holiday feeling as described above. You really feel you are on an island. Plenty of palms, sea and sand. Great for those who like something to be going on in the evening, who want to play golf, get fit, do watersports, go to the spa ….

CONS

Not for the ultra-quiet types (music and dancing)

I found some little creatures running round my nécessaire/vanity case. Either they came from Le Victoria where I did see ants on the hotel floor, or came out of the plumbing at Le Touessrok. Par for the course in the tropics – they live here. Its their habitat. Only way not to have them is poison.

I had trouble with my air conditioning. I heard others in my party did too. I finally switched mine off and left the door open, using mossie repellant to get a great sleep.

Beach and water colours not radiant white and turquoise – applies to most hotels in big lagoons on the east coast. Might be because they had a week of heavy rain before our arrival.

3-4 Feb overnight, cocktail party with management, dinner, breakfast, inspection