Gourmet hideaway

February 1, 2019 in MALLORCA | Comments (0)

Tags:

More about Hidden Mallorca – Castell Son Claret is a refined hideaway with a two-Michelin star restaurant – Mallorca’s only…

Towering amidst lovely gardens

People make the pilgrimage all the way from Palma to Zaranda just for the evening or overnight to taste their way through the long menu from two-Michelin star executive chef Fernando Arellano. Other guests stay longer at Castell Son Claret to combine good food, exercise and quiet relaxation.

A sublime cocktail worth crossing the world to sip again with a wildflower float and a wildflower syrup along with the rest

Tranquility surrounds Castell Son Claret – you can almost hear the silence between birds and crickets calling. Wrapped In beautiful landscaped gardens at the end of a palm lined driveway in the foothills of the Tramuntana range, this small castle became a private boutique hotel in 2013.


Between mealtimes guests can be seen sunbathing silently by the sparkling garden pool, but most seem to disappear for spa treatments, hammam rituals, self-drive touring – or sporty activities.

Apart from Zaranda, the hotel offers restaurant Olivera, also mentioned in the Michelin guide, where you can dine in a winter garden or out on a charming stone terrace graced by olive trees and lavender.

Mediterranean ambience. Lovely spot for breakfast with bread and cakes from their own bakery plus lots of healthy items

Exercise is a very important drawcard at Castell Son Claret. There are two rambling trails on the estate totaling some 7 km. We saw a couple striding back from their circuit with Nordic walking sticks – not surprising since the quiet and tasteful hotel has a strong appeal for Northern Europeans.

You can walk the trails alone or with a guide, or keep on walking into the mountains. Cycling is a very important sport on Mallorca – and Castell Son Claret is well sited for a scenic road trip to Valldemossa along the astoundingly beautiful northern shoreline and back through the mountains…

Historical Valdemossa


Stunning views from the northern coastal drive


View from Es Grau, a popular pitstop for cyclists on the picturesque north coast

If the hills sound intimidating, you can get help in the form of an e-bike set to your capabilities – book at least a week in advance. Another sport is tennis on site.

In tune with its country setting, the décor at Castell Son Claret is a contemporary interpretation of old Spanish country style. Earthy and soothing elegance featuring oak panels, leather headboards and wooden beams.


Our room, a deluxe room, looked out over a Juliet balcony to the white garden paths and the impressive driveway.

But our hotel inspection had us hankering after a very appealing room with a vast terrace (if you want to book, ask us for the magic number)…

For those who at all costs must have a big balcony we also recommend one of the Tower Suites.

Then again – for those who love gardens there are demi-suites with exuberant flower filled garden terraces, set away from the main building. Or for more space and private pool – consider a pool suite.

Come evening it’s time to gravitate towards the bar – a gentleman’s club feel under centuries old Gothic arches. Here we had some of the most delicious cocktails ever…

We simply had to flash the iPhone at our Tramuntana cocktail (the cocktail image above) that looks good, tastes amazing and reflects the environment – a perfect suggestion before an environmentally friendly (and curious) tasting dinner at Zaranda.

Tramuntana cocktail: Local liquor palo containing herbs, fresh lemon juice, mint, home made syrup of the estate’s flowers topped with ginger beer.
A delightful gastronomic Olive Daiquiri. Their Sollers Orange Mojito
was another masterpiece.

Soller orange mojito – still struggling iwth new version of WordPress

To dine at Zaranda needs forethought – booking months ahead. Otherwise Olivera offers tastes from the same master. Some examples:
Pesca del dorado, 30 eur – delicious fish with bulgar and carrot creme, well presented. But try to sip your wine as you wait instead of eating too much of the”pan y apretivon” (dangerously delicious fresh made farm bread and virgin olive oil and dip).

The outside entrance to chef Fernando Arellano’s creative domain – in the restaurant castle-style slots see through to the magic kitchen

Zaranda’s locally made table ware.

It is like the thrill of hearing the orchestra tuning up as you wait for the two-Michelin star masterpieces from the kitchen. This is surely worth it. Zaranda’s 5 course meal with wine pairing 190 eur, 10 course with wine pairing 215 eur. items included waygu beef brisket and suckling pig – along with adventurous sea urchin, cuttle fish, congereel canelloni, artichoke with black truffle and foie gras roasted pigeon breast. Many other wonders of the earth may be on the menu

Another option is local dining in the village Es Capdella which is only 1,6 km – quite walkable. We ate well at Bar Nou (it’s popular and should be booked ahead). Other local dining options are Rocamar and Flanigan.

Those hankering for a swim in the ocean and a beachy relaxed mood can enjoy a recommended beach club some 20 minutes away.

Quick facts
No. of rooms: 38
Distance from airport: 40 mins
Distance from nearest town/shops/restaurants: 1.6 km to village Es Capdella
Dining: 2 restaurants & bar, incl. 2 star Michelin restaurant
Facilities: Outdoor and indoor pools, spa, gym, hammam, tennis court, 2 hiking trails on the estate, tai chi, yoga, cycling guides and trainers.
Who to stay
Foodies, seekers of peace and quiet, and those who would like some nature-blessed exercise. There are a few accommodations for families but it’s so blissfully quiet that it would be better to stay only with older children who want to join in a cycle tour and keep a low profile in adult company.

Summary
A tranquil boutique country retreat with the island’s only 2-Michelin star chef. A spot for superb cocktails, walking, cycling, tennis, hammam rituals and spa treatments, and resting by the quiet pool or in the beautiful garden. The small castle has been decorated in a contemporary interpretation of old Spanish country style. Earthy and soothing, fresh and new.
The driveway to Castell Son Claret and Zaranda

Note: this was written as a continuation of the series on Hidden Mallorca – not published till now


Hotel Hassler: original glam & charm

August 12, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (1)

Tags: , , ,

Picture 1 of 23

Half the panorama

Hassler lies at the top of the Spanish Steps with some of the best views in Rome. Most people who visit the eternal city climb at least once up the 138 pale worn steps or just sit on a step among many others. Like we did just absorbing the atmosphere.

One can fancy that the footsteps of history have passed here many times.

The US Army chose Hassler as their headquarters after World War II while in a lighter vein Grace Kelly chose it for her honeymoon, Tom Cruise chose it for his wedding according to my informant, and Woody Allen over and over for the panoramic views.

History seems to float in the air when you sit on Hassler’s terraces, with the domes and spires of Rome in the haze, or just palely glowing among the lights of night. You also drink in the view along with choice wines in the Michelin-starred Imago restaurant, with two sides of glass facing Roman magic. The corner table at Imago may have witnessed more marriage proposals than any other spot in Europe – it has views forever and back into time. There is another contender for romance in two deep red velvet seats tucked away in Imago.

The owner Roberto Wirth comes from a Swiss hotelier family. He is a hands-on owner and loves to linger around reception and greet guests. Mr Wirth is deaf and immediately explains simply: I am deaf, I lipread… A philanthropist who does a lot for deaf children, Wirth is a distinguished man with beautiful white hair and noble look, so I felt touched and deeply honoured when he came up and shook my hand, explaining about his lack of hearing and making conversation showing he had read up who I represented.

Wirth’s independence as hotelier is one of the charms of the hotel. With the help of his wife’s designer eye, it is so totally original through and through, so “uncorporate”. With a quirky charm, personality and glamour that brings people back. “We have many customers that come because their parents loved it,” said sales manager Barbara Ankin. “It is a generational hotel.” Many are from the USA.

Once called Hassler New York, the hotel is an eclectic mix of styles and tastes. There are zooty touches that go back to the jazz age. Glittery glam lounges. Refined velvety lounges. And simply staggering terraces, which must surely have the best views in Rome. We have sat in silent awe up there on the public terrace, enchanted.

Then here in this courtyard (where I am writing) you have an ancient wall of earth on one side, the edge of one of Rome’s seven hills. It is embedded with very old Roman objects, mossy urns, vases and sculptures. But in front is a flauntingly modern brand new bar, a glassy shell hovers over the counter (blue shell, silver counter) in the process of becoming a water feature. Water is due to run down the sides.

The rooms are all different with many different styles. Our deluxe room was renovated two years ago, plenty of wood, all white and bright. Pale marble bathroom. Delightful and fresh in feel. Another room (Junior Suite) we were shown was mostly black with black furniture and black marble bathroom – but had the advantage of one of the rare terraces. Another (Classic Suite) was newly attired in pale muted colours. Others newly designed were in red, black and white with waves and checks, a kind of new art deco.

The Presidential has been newly decorated with this playful flamboyance (by the owner’s wife). The Penthouse suite also flashes with vivid red. The main feature about this suite is its totally amazing unbeatable terrace. Huge…and with views to mesmerize. All the magic of Rome is there with domes and spires rising from the haze. What is more it has a roofed area on the terrace with a TV and grilling place. The Penthouse suites size, charm and status invites high society and celebrity weddings. Up to a hundred guests have been present at weddings here.

There is another public terrace adjoining the spa and the free gym where an American family of two generations was hard at work training (a former football trainer and two kids who looked like they played something pretty hard). There is a shortage of terraces among deluxe rooms – only two – but if you book really far ahead and have a good reason for asking for a balcony, you just might be lucky. You have to take a suite to get a terrace. Our Deluxe room had a view of Iglesia Trinita de Monte seen though a gap between two wings of the building. We had the best possible changing room, as there is plenty of place for two suitcases on a built in platform at convenient height (no bending over) plenty of drawers and hanging spaces. Marble bathroom. Nice amenities.

Altogether there are 95 rooms of which 13 are suites. Plenty of connecting rooms, deluxe to grand deluxe, grand deluxe to grand deluxe, and a kiddie’s programme. There can be fun for kids in Rome. Barbara Ankin mentioned a museum that taught the history of Rome to kids – Museum of the Roman Civilization. Of course kids can enjoy seeing the Colosseum, the Catacombs too and driving those fun bike/car things in the Villa Borghese park.

One very popular adult activity is unlikely to please the kids though. Window shopping in Via Condotti which starts only 138 steps down from Hassler and perhaps 50 more. Just to name a few brands that jostle side by side on a short stretch: Bally, Burberry, Bvlgari, Cartier, Damiani, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Hermes, Valentino, Vuitton, Prada, Ferragamo, Trussardi. An exception The Ferrari store will have some appeal for boys of all ages and is quite an exciting red.

See next blog about Roman Sunday.

Images (c) Per-Olov Broddeson


Tuscany: more than food & wine – history

August 5, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (0)

Tags: , , ,

Picture 1 of 11

San Gimignano medieval towers

In late July, harvested wheatfields are deep gold. Medieval stone towns cling to hilltops presenting the challenge of climbing up in burning heat. But they are worth it, full of little trattorias offering Tuscan fare.  Pizzas and pastas. Piazzas and duomos. History…

We drove up from Rome on the A1, then crossed hilly Val d’Orcia from Chiusi via medieval Montepulciano and Montalcino (park and climb)  on an entrancing winding route to the remote Castiglion del Bosco, and then drove a less exciting “fast” route chosen by our GPS,  bypassing Siena on the autostrada towards Florence and then turning south east towards Casole d’Elsa and Castello di Casole.

Both hotels (Castiglion and Castello) are well placed for exploring cultural treasures. Castiglion: Montalcino 15 minutes, Siena 40 minutes, San Gimignano 1 hour 20 minutes. Castello: Siena 60 minutes, San Gimignano 40  minutes, Florence 1 hour 10 minutes. 

We enjoyed the proximity to Casole d’Elsa when staying at Castello di Casole for its narrow stone alleys, and choice of less expensive dining venues with typical Tuscan fare.  And then we made a visit to San Gimignano. Again you are forced to park low down and walk in crushing heat  (unless you have can afford to just take a limousine or taxi).

As you climb you get closer and closer to what must have seemed a miracle in the middle ages. The tall austere towers around the Duomo…


Brand new hotel, 10 centuries old: Castello di Casole

in ITALY | Comments (0)

Tags: , ,

Picture 1 of 18

Stone structures from the 10th century

The petrol attendant in Casole d’Elsa pointed across the valleys: “There it is”. Finally we could see it after two hours of searching with our GPS. The brand new hotel Castello di Casole stood like a fortress village on the highest hill of its vast estate, amidst a panorama of rolling Tuscan countryside.

We were met with five-star grace, our car parked for us, and our luggage delivered to our corner suite in the exquisitely renovated 10th century castle. Friendly staff sympathised over our GPS troubles (see note below) apparently rooted in the newness of the hotel, open only on July 1 after 5 years of restoration.

It was now early evening and the air held a gentle buzz of expectation in the lobbies and courtyard, with trendy long dresses, high heeled sandals and bare shoulders in a play of see and be seen. Both the trattoria and the fine dining restaurants had tables out among the potted lemon trees. Candles were lit along the rim of the water feature and a balmy breeze cooled after an awesomely hot day. In fact outside the piazza/courtyard it was quite windy which is why they had moved tables into shelter away from the usual panoramic terrace.

Castella di Casole is indeed a romantic spot perched up on the hill with views all round. The fine dining terraces overlook the sunset and infinity pool and across the valley to the quaint medieval town of Casole d’Elsa, easily reached to provide many more Tuscan dining options. We had two top class breakfasts with the buffet choices supplemented by a la carte items and foamy cappuccinos. In addition we dined at the trattoria which held a very high standard offering authentic Tuscan fare, pizzas and pasta – with the sophisticated edge of vegetarian options. My vege lasagna was memorable.

Everywhere Tuscan ambience has been taken to the ultimate with perfect imaginative details, antique or customized; decorative wrought iron bedsteads and light fittings with twirls and flourishes, heavy dark beams, pictures from antique markets. Our suite was delightful, and the attractive wrought iron created a medieval flavor as befits its position on the 2nd floor of a 10 th century castle, and yet had the artistic flourishes of its artists and designers. I particularly loved the bathroom with views of the cypress lined drive from one side and Tuscan hills on the other (though over the parking lot).

We were given a welcome bottle of Castello Wine in the room, which we drank in the bath tub (with its reflections in fancy mirrors over the double vanities, separate shower cabinet and toilet/bidet nook).

It was a very delicious wine we sipped with flavours of perhaps chocolate and berries (I am no wine expert).The estate – 4200 acres of it – has 30 acres of olive trees for own olive oil production and 80 acres of vines producing its own wine, created in a winery off the property. They use the same winemaker as Sting.

See next blog post for more about the hotel.

PS flashback. Our Maps programme in the iPhone steered us to Casole d’Elsa apparently through lack of information on the new hotel address. We drove up hill and down dale in the area looking for signs, but saw none. We had approached from an unusual direction, as it is signposted for driving from Florence or Siena and we drove over fabulous Val d’Orcia from Castiglion del Bosco. Phonecalls to the hotel proved fruitless as the staff new to the area could not imagine where we were phoning from in Casole d’Elsa so kept sending us in wrong directions. The proper address given by someone at the hotel fed into our iPhone programme advised us we were 50 km from our destination…so who knows what went wrong there. Certainly not Telia.

It was the petrol station attendant who put us right in the good old style.

View across to Castello di Casole from medieval Casole d'Elsa

Far in the distance is Castello di Casole, seen from a pleasant trattoria in Casole d’Elsa

 

Narrow roads and passage ways in Casole d’Elsa – and some washing

Castello di Caole:

Built DCCCCLXXXXVII – AD 998

Transformed to Villa Borghese MDCCCXI – 1811

Restored MMXII – 2012


Peace, comfort and Tuscan safaris: Castiglion del Bosco

August 3, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Picture 1 of 20

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.


Deep into Tuscany

August 1, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (19)

Tags: , , ,

 

Picture 1 of 17

Chiusi

16 July

Heading for the ultimate in Tuscan luxury after a blissfully budget flight. We drove from Rome Fiumicino Airport in a jolly little Lancia  up the A1 to our first stop Chiusi. My iPhone “Maps” was much in use like a new toy and proved its worth by showing a bubble (i.e. our Lancia)  floating off our planned route from the A1 into the mountains. That discovery saved us lost time in the crushing heat and got us back on track.  It took us 2.5 hours from Rome to our first Tuscan hotel.

I’d booked a surprising gem of a four star hotel – so much nicer than I expected from the price. That’s what you call getting more than you pay for. Tomorrow we will be embraced by five star plus but today feels wonderful.

The former home of an Italian aristocrat – as all the Tuscan hotels seem to be, Il Patriarcha proudly hoists up a stone tower and radiates Tuscany with sizzling terracotta walls and green shutters. It’s been criticized for having a supermarket neighbour but our room was in a perfect position – one of the original classic rooms on a corner with views both side and back (the supermarket is a boring structure somewhat tucked away on the entrance side).

Behind the hotel on that hot day – that very very hot day of around 36 deg C – we sighed with pleasure to see the giant trees and real Tuscan views. Green rolling hills. A family was enjoying the pool. Nice sparkling pool.

We chose not to dine at the hotel. We decided to explore nearby Chiusi and dine there. I am already crazy about little authentic Tuscan towns with (hopefully) not too many tourists and this was one of them. The harmony and charm of old stone, narrow streets, churches and piazzas. Not to mention pizzas. I chose gnocchi and Pelle chose pizza with beer, which meant that of course I had to taste pizza too. This one was superb. How can wheat taste so full and nutty –  so nutritious…covered with simple ingredients like tomato and mozarella (buffalo).

Our room was Tuscan style with dark beams and a glitzy bedhead giving a romantic touch. Night was a dream. Breakfast had cake and sweet yoghurt, as Italians seem to feel they must deliver this morning sweetness. But it did have cappuchino and other edible  things.

And so on to our wonderful drive into the heart of Tuscany.

Green woods, silver olives, burnished wheatfields …. and of course more medieval stone towns. The secret of exploring Tuscany in the ferocious heat of July is white linen and comfortable sandals. Don’t try to take the car into the centres out of cowardice and fear of the raging sun. Park and walk. We somehow missed the treasures of Montepulciano by driving in and being unable to park.

But Montalcino found us parking at one of the signposted parking lots way down the slope, and walking…

Very lovely medieval town but lots of steps up. Dominated by the castle, we were drawn happily along  its narrow streets towards that structure and ate there.

Next stop will be Castiglion del Bosco, a byword in luxury.


Coco Reef: olde charm

May 27, 2012 in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Comments (0)

Tags: , ,

Picture 1 of 10

Coco Beach sunloungers

Coco Reef Resort & Spa

Beachside property. Pastel and pretty, with an old fashioned charm some might call dated. Flowers flourish in and out, on curtains and bedspreads, and in immaculate manicured gardens with white Italian style balustrades. Little bas reliefs remind of century old boudoir ware. Rattan furniture, sea views and the palm-lined beach, bring a meeting of beach holiday feel and pretty parlour hideaway.

The lobby is a pleasantly spacious place, with gleaming earth coloured tiles, high roof, mini gardens and white marbled sculptures echoing a quant old fashioned feel in new mint condition. Very fresh!

We were shown a honeymoon suite and given a two bedroom suite as dayroom, both of which opened into a garden and terrace with seaview.

The honeymoon suite was on two levels, had a smart up to date bathroom, pretty bedroom (of course) (not super-king as I remember it), lounge  and dining room opening out onto the terrace and its sea view. The TV was gigantic, which might be a good place to hang since some former guests have complained on Trip Advisor that there was not enough to do.

Problem there. Some want lots of entertainment and partying. Some want peace and quiet. So hotels do need to decide who they want to please. I think Coco Reef might have chosen the latter.

Anyway the Coral Suite we enjoyed had two very nice pretty bedrooms en suite with more old fashioned bathrooms. Everywhere the old earth coloured gleaming tiles (that I personally like very much for their genuine feel), small lounge and kitchen.

Who are the customers I asked?

Couples or families, UK Germans, Scandinavians.  No kids club but activities in season.

135 rooms, suites and villas, 114 with ocean views. Only 3 minutes from the airport, but the planes do not fly over the resort.


Two “Grand” hotels, one grander…

May 15, 2012 in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Comments (0)

Tags: ,

Le Grand Courlan

Three of our party were located there and did not like it. Service was almost non existent. Their room was not made up in the morning. Breakfast on day 2, we arrived to find they had not been served for 20 minutes. The one and only waitress was involved with looking after a group of Asians who all wanted their eggs in different ways. It took all her energy so she did not even say: I will be with you in a moment…

When we arrived Tiina and co stormed out. We met the GM arriving and told him we had not been served.  He said “But why did you not eat the buffet?” There was no buffet we said….”Oh” he said and marched in, with some displeased sounds in his ears….

The hotel had a wide tropical pavilion for eating, quite pleasant.

Nice pool area – on a long beach (separated by fence and gate closed at night). Green canal with fish was a bit slimy some thought.

Sofia went through the gate early in the morning and discovered Tobago Villas, each with a private pool and what is more right on the beach (some nicer than others). The owner told me “almost as good as Stonehaven Villas” but Sofia felt that many people would prefer them because of their beach position.

The other nice villas are Plantation Villas – they have a shared pool but are smart and modern I gather.

Magdalena Grand

Relaunched with bright or gleaming yellow and white paint – a former Hilton. A big hotel with a big pool area, it probably tops charter lists. Family friendly, kids club, lots of activities.

Its colonial past lives on in a lounge of cosy subdued brown leather. I haven’t seen anything so brown since the seventies though its heritage goes further back and it feels plush and lux.

Otherwise it all has a new spruce look. Another lounge and bar has playful Disneyish features (Spielbergish?)…Pirates of the Caribbean pop us as large sculptures, one of them in a corner with a treasure chest overflowing.

Beaches? Because of more powerful waves, not protected by coral reef,  a breakwater has been built to make safe quiet swimming along the sandy beach.

200 rooms. Only 15 minutes from the airport. Free shuttle.


Stonehaven Villas: pools & flowers

May 14, 2012 in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Comments (2)

Tags: , ,

Picture 1 of 12

Infinity pool and morning flowers

Tobago. Prime accommodation we felt was Stonehaven villas.

2 May

Fell asleep in my romantic bed, dreaming of morning. To open the plantation shutters and walk out barefoot onto the terrace, to see my two housemates floating in the clear infinity pool, with view of bright flowers and sea.

Magical enchanted place.

Stonehaven Villas lie high on a slope with a view of sea, above a beach we didn’t visit, though we glimpsed its palms and sand from Le Grand Courlan.

Among bougainvillea, palms and mango trees, the 14 villas are built with a stately colonial residence feel. Their best feature, the wide verandahs overlook a private infinity pool and the sea way below.

There is a sense of calm, space and permanence. You walk through  into a lounge and open plan kitchen – no kitchenette here, just the real thing. Gleaming black granite tops and barstools by the counter between lounge and kitchen.

Two bedrooms upstairs each with its own very desirable balcony with sea views. Master bedroom (mine) downstairs with a welcome laid out in flowers and swan shaped towel. The bed as wide as it was long was a four poster .

Plenty of sunbeds on the terrace, dining table for 8 on the verandah, and lounge furniture.

The house sleeps seven – there is also a maid’s room for the seventh person.

Duane the pleasant hands on GM was there to greet us – and the next morning to serve us at breakfast, cooked by the housekeeper. Very friendly nice man, enthusiastic about his marketing. The villas, 14 of them, marketed entirely through word of mouth and social media networking events. For example they invited young couples to an event – tipped off on who was not yet engaged but likely to take the step. They were shown the wedding facilities, their imagination stoked by romance of weddings, plus armed with professional images taken at the event, they were guided to publish themselves, their romance and Stonehaven villas on Facebook. They also ask celebrities to use twitter and Facebook.

Our first enthusiasm at the sensational charm of the villas put them at 5 stars. But in the morning we understood they are perhaps 4 and a half stars. The showers in typical Tobago style have shower curtains, and no hand shower attachment – only overhead and foot section. Not wanting to set my hair I ended up washing in the foot shower.

But this is a tiny hitch in relation to the overall charm.

Each villa is a well built spacious shady building (10 years old). It doesn’t meet the current fancy new standard in some respects, but in five years when flashy villas built today already are fading, these will still be beautiful and classy.

They are privately owned and renovation ongoing.

Service is not 24 hours.  The housekeeper is available from breakfast to 2pm, but she will discuss what you want for dinner, cook it and leave it. You do the shopping I gathered (hire car seems essential) but she will cook a meal for you and leave it for you to heat up later on. She will draw up a shopping list for you based on your wishes.

Up on the crown of the hill lies the reception building and restaurant, along with a larger infinity pool. The terraces have magnificent view …. Very charming place. 


PAPHOS & AKAMAS AREAS

April 18, 2011 in CYPRUS | Comments (0)

Tags: , ,

Picture 1 of 10

Paphos castle

On the west coast facing the sunset lies Paphos. Paphos is gathered behind a fishing harbor, castle and world heritage archaelogical site dating back to ancient Greece and the Roman empire. A narrow beach and rocky areas fringe a promenade walk lined with shops, cafes and hotels sporting their own pools and spas.

There are more serene and exclusive spots in Cyprus  – like  Anassa (see my earlier posts). And there are certainly less exclusive and more touristy spots than Paphos (around and beyond Larnaca), with so many northern Europeans that you wonder if you stumbled on a suburb of Stockholm, if it were not for the dry sun.

In Paphos you are definitely in Cyprus with a decent sized town full of Cypriots going about their lives behind the tourist front line along the seaside. In Paphos the shops cannot resist billboard size signs. That is very Cypriotic. Shoe shops abound of course – Cypriots love shoes. Café upon café of course, and a street known as bar street. Its not quiet and elegant – its busy in a relaxed Mediterranean way –  and commercial for sure in its own unpretentious way.

For me the real charm of Paphos is that you are sitting on top of an outpost of ancient Greece and Rome. That means real ruins to look at and mythology attaching itself everywhere. Aphrodite goddess of love and beauty is said to have come out of the waters off Paphos – various spots on the coast claim her birth just there. But more concrete and worth at least a whole day or two is the Unesco site House of Mosaics, with the villas of various noblemen surviving in the form of the odd wall with very beautiful mosaics, albeit damanged by time. In addition there are three museums in Paphos telling ancient stories.

The other thing I like about Paphos is our hotel staring out over the sea.  

Just one teeny little modest sign marks this hotel – “almyra” at the entrance to Poseidenos Avenue.  And already you know it is different, modest, tasteful.

A design hotel, it is an unpretentious place, yet stylish, with those little features that show a designer was here, making all this simplicity. It is a family hotel with endless connecting rooms, kid’s menus, kid’s clubs and so on. Next door lies sister hotel Annabelle. Both lie in gardens that stretch down to the beach walkway with their own beach restaurants and views over the blue Mediterranean.

Almyra was the first of the Thanos family hotels built in what was then avant garde style. Next Thanos hotel was Annabelle, which moved out of minimalism. It is still not elaborate, but it has round balconies, rusty marble and more colour, harking back to a more classical hotel style.

Almyra’s pools are square – Anabelle’s lagoon shape. Quite a few rooms also have plunge pools, and the luxury of outdoor showers. Annabelle was an immediate  success. In fact to date 80% of its guests are repeaters. So Thanos then went a step further in the classical direction. They built Anassa – on its own beach a 40 minutes to one-hour drive over the mountains, beside the Akamas peninsula nature reserve. Not just classical but UBERclassical and luxurious. See my earlier blog.

Anassa is not just a place to lie on the beach or by the pools. It’s great for sporty people – with sailing, windsurfing, squash, tennis, mountain biking and hiking on the wild and rocky peninsula.

Here you are again in the world of Aphrodite. If you had not heard of Greek mythology you would think she is a woman of flesh and blood, judging by the signs. Aphrodite swam in some baths nearby – see the image.

My choice would be to spend the first 2 or 3 nights of a Cyprus week at Almyra in a Kyma suite. And spend a whole day in the ruins again. The surviving mosaics are so fluid in their lines, it’s as if an artist did strokes of colour in minutes, rather than years or decades…exquisite. Then I would head off over the mountains to Anassa for more luxury, physical exercise and exquisite nature, chilling out totally…

This suggestion needs a sound budget.