Mount Nelson: historical & now

February 2, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (154)

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The grand driveway

Mount Nelson: 209 rooms & suites, 3 restaurants, spa, 2 tennis courts, 2 swimming pools including one for adults only, large gardens with sculptures, lawns, trees  & flowers.

Beloved Mount Nelson – a landmark in the “mother city” for a century.  At the top of an impressive palm lined drive, its various buildings (in 6 different wings) ramble through a lush garden in quite an eye-bashing pink.  This was the very pink mixed to cheer people up in England after the second world war and was exported to Cape Town,  inseparable from the memories of Mount Nelson’s regal history.

The hotel was built by the Union Castle Line – which brought the mail and all the important travellers to Cape Town. There was no democracy then and all the rooms were very class conscious – great rooms for first class passengers and other tiny rooms for steerage…  (surviving these days as cute single rooms).

Since those early days they have incorporated more elite accommodations taking over a doctor’s residence, a couple of whole streets of authentic Cape terrace houses and the old Helmsley Hotel, with its ostentatiously large suites. Only this Helmsley wing of the hotel is not pink – it is dunnish beige – again part of history as being 100 years old it is a monument that cannot change its skin. I was upgraded to a huge old fashioned (“junior”) suite in this wing, and saw some bright newly renovated junior suites in the Oasis Wing. Altogether 30 brand new rooms with modern feel and a touch of nostalgia. The real old Mount Nelson dowagers might not like that decor.

This hotel is history and perfect for those that appreciate the old ways, even while it is a popular meeting place for the new South Africans. It feels “real” …. .

Table Mountain looms up above the hotel. The “table cloth” feels close and dramatic as the clouds lying flat on the top waterfall wispily down the rocky sides rearing 1000 metres up. There is a complimentary shuttle to the cable station for rides up to the top. And those with a sea-lust can make use of a shuttle to Camps Bay (on demand / when available…). Camps Bay is perhaps 8-10 minutes’ drive from Mt Nelson taking the stunning pass over “Kloof Nek”.

A landmark resort in the city…

Mount Nelson is more than a city hotel, it is very much a resort. Two pools include a shady romantic pool for adults only. A whole street of the old Cape Town has been incorporated into the spa. There are also two tennis courts somewhere out of sight on the large lush property – you see the odd tennis ball bashing guest dash past. Then there are three restaurants.

The gracious old Cape Town is reached down the grandiose avenue past stately parks, museums and government buildings. It’s also a mere 50 metres from the start of trendy upper  Cape Town emerging in Kloof Street and Long Street, with low key relaxed restaurants and boutiques, crafts and businesses. This is where the actors, writers and IT people hang out. I heard them talking business, company image, and the like, dressed in shorts and sandals.

It makes you realize that Cape Town is not just a holiday destination; it is a relaxed and functioning city – with a spirit of optimism and fantasy. Though of course I really don’t know what it feels like for the millions out there on the Cape flats.

Rooms and more

The British have been loyal customers of Mount Nelson since way back and have not all rushed off to the Waterfront. Only recently, the Americans have discovered it and their numbers are increasing fast…

I remember yellowwood antiques from my last hotel inspection here in 1998 or so. Now the luxury rooms I was shown and the Junior Suites had been renovated. They danced a way between the neutral tones that have dominated five star décor in recent years and silver that added brightness without declaring war. Many suites still more traditional.

I was upgraded to one of the Helmsely suites. My suite was very traditional in style and no views to speak of  (my dayroom on the other hand, a single room in main wing had fab views of palms and mountain and was lovable).

I wandered around my larger suite not knowing what to do with all this space. I had 5 doors to the outside including a security alarmed terrace. The wind (a south-wester that had been uprooting trees for a few days) was making metallic bashing sounds into the night….and I wondered whether to tell housekeeping I had no tea and coffee making in my antique cabinet, or to watch the TV that rose with a groan out of a treasure chest when I pressed a switch, and played a loop of gorgeous Orient Express promotions that had no superstitious shadows behind the perfection…

Mountain facing rooms in the main wing and the Green Park wing have the iconic views. A wing of Classic Suites looked nice from the outside … at least the roomy garden terraces.

But if I could choose I would stay in the Garden Cottage wing, which is a former street called Sydenham (?). That’s for lovers of the old Cape Town – one and two bedroom cottages in authentic style, just over way from the adults only pool.

As mentioned above – 30 fresh and sparkling rooms have just become available with the reopening of the Oasis wing. They are uplifted by views of the swimming pool and Signal Hill – and original art from nearby Michaelis art school.

Locals to high tea and other culinary things

In the new South Africa the colonial days are still honoured especially at afternoon tea time – high tea. For 185 rand – a large sum by local people’s budgets – you get to eat as much as you like from a long table of sandwiches and cakes, and I noticed the guests were mostly local in all colours of the rainbow, though of course there were tourists too.

The tourists were casually dressed but the locals were smart modern people, putting Stockholm youth in the shade when it comes to worldliness. I overheard this conversation:

“She has only 200 friends on Facebook. She will never get a job. You need to have 2000 friends. You don’t have to know them. But you need to network. Everyone is their own brand these days…!”

The afternoon tea was almost the same price as the marvellous breakfast at the Oasis restaurant – which consisted of a buffet of granolas, seeds, yoghurts, fruits and an extensive choice of hot items (price 195 zar) but the afternoon tea had very little savoury choices, and those there seem to have been included without any heart and soul (and no fear of sugar or love of herbs and cheese).

By the way the pastry chef at Mount Nelson has won a prize, so – don’t listen to me…

Still, my lunch at lobby veranda restaurant was much nicer I thought for only 140 zar – a vegetarian curry with the freshest taste of newly toasted spices, served with the lightest most mouth pleasing samoosas …

I also had a very generous starter of smoked trout at reasonable price which served as a meal at that pleasing restaurant on the veranda – with view of the park and a big tropical flower as reminder that I was far from the snows of Stockholm. It was 30 deg and you have to love the heat to sit on the veranda.

I did not try the other destination for locals – the Planet restaurant. I looked over it empty in daylight, which is perhaps not fair, for in daylight the balls depicting planets hanging from the ceiling look a little plastic instead of hauntingly mysterious.  The carpet is an expensive custom-made rendering of the heavens with a real star chart.

I tried the pleasant Oasis Restaurant at breakfast – but it promises to be tantalizing for other meals too – its old buffet concept has made way for a la carte Mediterranean inspired menu with some local classics like Cape Malay chicken curry.

In a nutshell

•    Orient Express hotel
•    Historical, beloved by the British and now Americans. Dining here trendy with young local professionals
•    Resort with lovely views, 3 restaurants, big green gardens,  tennis, 2 pools (1 for adults only), spa
•    30 newly renovated rooms in Oasis wing (junior suites and deluxe rooms)
•    Quaint historical garden cottages and some very roomy older suites
•    Close to Kloof Street & Long Street and lots of choice of reasonable dining
•    Afternoon tea generous (albeit not so sophisticated) but fabulous cheesecake
•    Historical Cape  Town with Parliament and museums and oak-shady parks, easy walk (advisable only in daytime)

1.    Rambling and spread out
2.    Hemsely Wing has no views and is high quality old style
3.    Verandah and garden  hot in summer  even in the shade – (misses the seabreezes of the waterfront)    (it was 30 degrees)

How to get to Mount Nelson

30 minutes by car from Cape Town International Airport

Mont Rochelle: peace, views & winelands

January 20, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (40)

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View from my Cape Classique suite

Mont Rochelle: 16 rooms and 6 suites, spa, Mange Tout restaurant, bar

A quiet boutique property that is partly new, rebuilt after a fire, with some authentically retro, quality hardwood furniture. It offers a peaceful, sleepy air and pleasant views down onto the Franschhoek valley, reached by the first turn to the right as you enter the Franschhoek village from Stellenbosch.

Its main attraction is probably the Mange Tout restaurant, which is excellent and rated among the top 10 in Franschhoek. Apart from very reasonable and delicious food, it is a round room affording an almost circular view. Very romantic to watch the night fall over the jagged blue Franschhoek mountains as you wait to start a 5 course degustation menu at 350 zar (excluding the paired wines). Down below on another wine estate we could see traditional Cape style architecture and a mauve jacaranda in full bloom looking as if it could lift and float.

Breakfasts are very South African in the best sense. Enough food for an entire day of jogging, cycling, surfing or mountain climbing. The buffet, silhouetted on tiered plates against the stunning view, includes the usual things like lots of yoghurt types, fresh baked loaves inviting eating, and blueberry muffins. But it’s the hot menu which bubbles over with imagination including rosti breakfast with potato pancake, egg and “stricky” bacon; beef sausage; South African omelette with biltong (traditional South African dried meat with salt and herbs); Franschhoek scrambled egg with trout, chives and farm bread; and poached egg Florentine. We are actually not so far from Florence here, in the sense of the Mediterranean climate and vineyards, but we are closer to France of course, as it is the Huguenots (French Protestants who fled Catholic persecution) that founded it and gave a rocket launch to the wine industry.

While there was good service at Mange Tout, Mt Rochelle was not very proactive in the hotel as a whole …. but the smiles of staff were sunny and genuine. I guess they feel if you wanted something you would ask – quite down to earth, and part of the charm.  Smalmy they were definitely not…

I thought the spa pretty and cute, but very small. As to the wine tasting room in the hotel, it was even smaller. But the winery is probably where you are meant to do the tasting.


In conversation, my guide round Mont Rochelle rated his property somewhere between Delaire Graff and Franschhoek Country House & Villas. Mont Rochelle does have some ostentatiously large suites – like my Cap Classique (rack was 9900 zar at peak) – larger than the Villa Suites at FCH, but Mont Rochelle does not give that trendy tweak to the old fashioned look, as you get at FCH in the villa suites (next blog).

My Cap Classique suite was huge and opened out through both lounge and bedroom onto a grassy terrace overlooking a rural scene and mountains. In fact a tractor trundled by to emphasize the charmingly rural atmosphere. The lounge could have seated 8, comfortably. There were two sunbeds and a small plunge pool, a Jacuzzi bath, inside and two desks (or perhaps that extra one was a make-up table, if so the double vanities had place for one vainer person preparing to outdo the other at the degustation dinner).

The leadin room types are small in the old building: Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot rooms, some with balcony. I saw a neat Pinotage room in the new wing, small but atmospheric with thatched ceiling and beams, small balcony, small lounge.

Who to stay

People who want to be close to Franschhoek and all the gourmet delights and wine tasting, looking for a  peaceful boutique property with a  sense of place…

Why to stay

  • Views
  • Peaceful
  • Boutique
  • Mange Tout restaurant
  • Massive suites
  • A quick ride to the centre of Franschhoek village


Rooms might be considered a bit dated if you don’t admire genuine quality retro. Service warm but not proactive. I am left with memories of a great restaurant, stunning views, a roomy suite, and a kind and gentle laissez faire….

Breakfast in Tuscany

June 3, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (1)

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Four Seasons park view

Notes written 20 to 26 May during breakfast at three hotels in Florence and in the surrounding Tuscan hills. I enjoy the sense of place arising after a morning cappuccino…especially in Italy.

Monday Four Seasons Firenze

Strains of violins, with Rococo nostalgia and flourish. In tune with the décor of the Four Seasons dining room, elaborately lavish and ornate, but in taste. Perfectly in style.  I try to drink it in. It is an experience to be here – perfect lifestyle.

I ask for vanilla tea. A polite pause. He returns. We have no vanilla tea…pause. But we have… my mind runs to Ceylon tea in a yellow bag. Wrong. “We have real vanilla beans in hot water”. I remembered my usual morning tea with Oatley cream but felt that too much so asked instead for hot milk. So I now have a delicate jug of hot milk and await the real vanilla tea. It comes in a silver pot, while music ripples and triples. But I realize it is divine vanilla water without tea.  I finally delicato ask for tea to add to my vanilla. It finally comes  but my glasses are off so I allow him to gently ruin my vanilla with Earl Grey. The mystery tea (mystery why people think it is superior).

So that was a failure despite the best intentions. My morning caffeine is still required.

Charming waiter with a melodious Italian voice asks: Was your tea right now?

Oh, I said, not wanting to tell him I don’t like Earl Grey – he has been so keen to please. So instead I say: Now is the time for my coffee.


Latte please…café latte. Now that was fine.

My omelette was also a Four Seasons experience in ultimate service. I asked Could I have an omelet with cheese and tomato … no meat. My charming waiter said: I have better – with mozzarella and herbs and tomato.

Delicious. And now I cannot eat more. I do not even need the delights of the buffet, among which is date cake tasted yesterday as subtly sweet as you could wish, like a mere whisper of temptation.

I am waiting for A. She is not ready yet.

The breakfast room opens into the private park. And so do the best rooms look that way into the greenery. Our room doesn’t – it looks into narrow lane Borgo Pinti. Where the main entrance is.

It has rained like a drain so further visits to town seem horrendous. Luckily Four Seasons is an art study and a romance kick all in itself.

And by the way – I have found out – they do keep a small stock of almond milk. Now why didn’t I think of that for my tea or my cappuccino?


Wednesday Villa Mangiacane

 A quiet moment with the tinkling of piano music, soft and fluid. My perfect cappuccino. The shabby chic chairs with purposeful chips in the gray paint have charm. A little Shetland pony stands outside the window, where the view stretches out over Tuscan countryside. Under the white grey sky a soft fertile green with patches of woodland, vineyards and olive groves.

The main feel here at Villa Mangiacane after two nights is contentment and ease despite the rain. It’s the highly personal service; though laced with unexpected interludes and little eccentricities, you feel friendliness overall.

I had no idea when booking the car that the hotel was so casual and generous with shuttles – i.e. lifts to town (Florence) or “the village” – the pretty little provincial town of San Casciano (Cashana) 5km away. Not it turned out according to timetable, but on demand – if they can fit you in.

Apart from great local dining and coffee bars al fresco , we found two shops for sunglasses (Dior, Gucci, Dolce cabana etc) cheaper in this village than in Florence, and a designer “outlet” from Milan in the cute narrow shopping streets lined with roses.  And four shoe shops. So we lost desire for our car that was to be an escape from what we imagined would be a snobbish place – an old palace built by Machiavelli – “nobleman’s home”.

In fact Machiavelli never lived here. He wrote The Prince in one of the houses on the ridge facing his palace. He oversaw the designs and his plans are now in the Uffizi. He died before he could move in.

His architect was also the designer of the Duomo in Florence, we were told. So at some stage the direction of the villa was changed to give a view of the Duomo – now golf ball size on the horizon. They obtain permission every few years to cut a V shape in their own woodlands. Next cut is next year 2013, said Juan, the GM.

The hotel is richly attired in eclectic fashion, with haunts of history and fancy – all embraced by vines and Tuscan greenery – somehow gently unpredictable, warm and exuberant, Italian style. But actually no longer owned by an Italian. A South African has bought it as a home from home and costs of maintenance made sense of turning it into a hotel.

Thursday Villa Mangiacane

 Cappuccino in Italy. Where else can it taste so good? Cake today for breakfast instead of croissants. The same cake as at complimentary afternoon tea. Delivered bit by bit on a tray by a girl who crosses the park from the kitchen to the comfortable lounge in the original villa Machiavelli with its Baroque frescoes and details.

Last night we crossed through the vineyards (500 metres)  to restaurant Albergaccio Di Nicolò Machiavelli in the little hamlet on the ridge, Sant’andrea. We were told it is better than the restaurants we experienced earlier in San Casciano:  Cantinetta del Nunno and Cinque di Vino. However  I preferred the San Casciano eateries. The pasta at Machiavelli was cold in areas and warm in others, as if reconstituted from  pre-prepared ingredients of different vintage. Cheese sauce does need heat to taste good. We sent it back and finally it did taste right. But not before I had remembered our experiences in Provence. Roadside restaurants with tourists dining rather than locals, ALBEIT picturesque and Provencal, did not perform well in culinary terms. In Machieavelli we saw just tourists from our own hotel.  The simple Nunno with its modest prices was full of locals (and some tourists also booked there by our hotel).

Carmen is playing, as the mist clears and sunshine floods the grapevines, with a shimmering haze over distant trees. Life is good. Second cappuccino even better: round, foamy, rich.

We are entitled to omelette with our buffet breakfast  – which otherwise costs 20 euros. Nice omelette. The buffet is not huge, but it has quality, strawberries and kiwis, luckily some plain yoghurt among all the fruity ones in plastic tubs, some hams and cheese for those who like to eat that on their bread…adequate. It is the view and the ambience, not to forget the cappuccino that makes it delightful.

Friday the Savoy Florence

View of Piazza della Repubblica through glass doors. Quiet now – last night brimming over with life. Icecream festival, merry go round, yellow benches under canvas. But the icecreams dripped in the heat after a 28 deg C day and we dumped them in the trash. Then made for the inviting street tables of the Savoy with the privacy of a ring of Rosemary bushes. Coffee 6 euro. Definitely worth it for the sensation of living out Florence lifestyle in the balmy evening (at last), with the pulse of a live band floating over from another pavement cafe in the Piazza.

This lively square is a haven of peace in comparison with the Piazza adjoining and surrounding Duomo–number one item to tick off the ‘must see’ list.  Other must sees close by are the somewhat tarnished glamour of Ponte Vecchio, and the huge weight of Renaissance and medieval heritage that is the Uffizi. Then  past the Duomo and the long queues you reach Galleria dell’accademia and the uplifted wonder of the original David,  surrounded by worshippers and duty visitors with itching hands (not allowed to take snapshots) – though they make up for it next to the gigantic burlesquely coloured David copy in the Accademia courtyard. Miles of facebook smiles.

But back to the Savoy. You get the must sees close by and the must be’s (moments of being, like sitting at the Savoy tables staring out). Here and now.

Ten out of ten for location said the Australian woman at the next table…also staring out…

Her name is Goldie.

Been cruising and staying at Leading Hotels (she is a member). She was disappointed they hadn’t upgraded her at the Savoy from her Classic room, when she had been upgraded everywhere else. Her room was too low down she felt. Our executive room on the 5th floor (same level as the gym) was small but uplifted by sky and the view of the whole square. My confidante Goldie was rather upset over having to pay extra for her eggs when she had buffet breakfast included. But the small buffet was excellent quality – most Scandinavians would not need more than the espresso or cafe latte (included), Parma ham, salami, smoked salmon and big choice of cheeses – not sliced neatly with your obligatory cheese slicer, but put out in hunks of the best. Fresh breads of course. And fruit salad of tropical fruit chopped small.

Now I love Italy, A. said, adding: I remember annoying men in Rome but here they are normal. Indeed, they look appreciatively, but do not goggle or coo, and certainly bottom pinching days are over even for gorgeous girls. Or is it just the North? The North was always held up as an example of Italian refinement.

But back to the Savoy. Yes 10 out of 10 for location and a soothing Roccoforte hotel with Michelin star restaurant, al fresco dining, pleasant service. Food prices not over the top for your Michelin starred dinner. Plus the concierge is on the ball to help with dining Tuscan fare out on the town.


I used to think that plastic Davids in all the shop windows cheapened the David – just imagine how many Davids and other treasures are featured in Facebook merely because someone is smiling in front of them. Or am I a hopeless snob…who has never forgiven facebook for changing the face of chats to be so surface oriented, compared with the deep world of the imagination called up by the first chat sites when you used communications programmes rather than www platforms.

Stonehaven Villas: pools & flowers

May 14, 2012 in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Comments (5)

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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. 


April 16, 2011 in CYPRUS | Comments (300)

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Almyra main pool

Almyra is a Design Hotel. Simplicity is the keynote, in a style based on straight lines and Mediterranean flat roofs – but there are little touches that spell Designer and Balance. Throughout it offers comfort, oodles of light and blue sea views…

A walking promenade lies between Almyra and the Beach, leading round the bay to the port and castle.

Almyra doesn’t have the long sandy beach and knock-dead natural setting of its sister hotel Anassa. It fronts a small sandy beach, nestled between rocks. Nor is Almyra five star deluxe like Anassa. Though it has a spa, hairdresser, kid’s club, all the pools you need (four), fabulous food at a choice of restaurants and friendly service, it is somehow not firmly five star, but excellent value and very lovable, especially for families.

Between Almyra and its other sister hotel Annabelle, there are plenty of restaurants for dine around – making half board a good option. But close by are many more restaurants in the town and on the beachfront, as well as cafes and bars. Plus shops of course, with rather low prices. And then others with not such low prices.

On the beachfront lies the pool area. The main pool has a dark floor so it retains solar energy. There is also a kid’s pool shaded in summer and warmed in winter. If you want to get away from kids on the other hand, the spa has an outdoor pool for adult’s only. A serene place, small but with a view over the bay. The spa also has an indoor heated pool.

The top suites at Anassa are Kyma. Perfect spots for listening to the sound of the waves or staring out to sea. Mesmerizing. The Kyma suite has a sofa placed just inside the wide glass frontage, perfect place for sea gazing, and opens onto a small verandah with more seating and a grass terrace with your own two sunbeds and parasols. The verandah is more private than the sunbeds, as your neighbor’s sunbeds are close by. Though you can’t see the path just below, you can sometimes hear voices above the sound of the waves.

The other special thing about a Kyma suite is the flat rooftop patio. You have your own patio for each suite, lying side by side with other private sitting areas on the rooftop. From there the view goes across the bay to the castle.

Kyma suites can interconnect to suit families.

If you don’t want kids as neighbours, you might enjoy an Atheon room – in a block of adults only rooms (see image in the gallery above).  Or if you have kids and don’t want them to fall off the balcony – a Superior Seaview room – no balcony. Instead the balcony space is incorporated into the room (a total of 28 sqm) (see image). Then again, if you do want private outdoor space you have a choice of a terrace room or a verandah room (28 sqm including the balcony). To delight families there are loads of connecting rooms for family intimacy. You might connect a terrace room with a junior suite for example. The junior suite has a sofa bed and can accommodate a child in the extra bed and also a baby cot – in a total of 35 sqm. One-bedroom suites are 55 sqm including a separate lounge. The two-bedroom suite has most space – 73 sqm.

 Wi-fi is complimentary at Almyra – good news for those who find it difficult to pay for something that these days seems as natural as air.

But don’t get stuck.  I do recommend you go out and see the mosaics and ruins of the Unesco site. Even if just to see the flowers popping up between the ancient stones…


December 5, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (6)

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Lobby - floating bubbles of light


We tested out the new Nobis hotel in Stockholm. How cool is it, or how hot, and how luxurious? Follow the quest…

First of December was the launch of the new ”cool luxury” hotel Nobis in Stockholm. In Norrmalmstorg, a square on the fringe of designer shopping and other upmarket hotspots.

We were there its second might of operation. The sense of new and now was still in the air. In fact it felt like party night though it was a Thursday, with all the invited guests and others trying out a new hotel and its watering spots for the first time.

So where do I start?

At the bottom line: is it cool? Is it luxury? Or do I start at the moment we found the solid wooden doors in the elegant façade and walked in out of the slush of Norrmalmstorg on 2 December 2010.

Following you in, of course, is the cold air, gusting into the entrance passage. But first thing that meets you is a perfect antidote to winter savagery. Gas heaters are burning in that passage and the staff there (doormen?) look happy with life and pleased you breezed in. The overnight bag gives them a good clue – you are not just a diner, you have come to stay the night.

Pointed pleasantly into the lobby, you note the elemental input (fire) is no longer necessary. Here the heating system is almost coping with the intrusions of cold air. in a stunning chic contemporary interior, the air is full of circular lamps of different sizes like gigantic bubbles, and people relax on smooth round and cubic soft things. Very pleasant feel. Modern and simple but cozy, not aridly minimalistic.

And the front desk actually exists in both architectural and human form, with quite a row of attendants.  What is more, enthusiasm reaches you – as expressions indicate wow we have guests, how nice. After taking my surname and checking the booking in the computer, he looks up and says my first name with correct pronunciation in pleasant “nice to meet you” kind of voice. That is one of the things about egalitarian Sweden – they don’t have to say Mrs or Miss, and they don’t feel they have to treat you obsequiously or show you your place down the rank.

On the other hand, no-one offers a woman with a broken arm help with her baggage, while my beautiful lithe daughter is offered every assistance. J

Then again on the plus side. No-one asks me for a passport, ID card or even credit card imprint, though I have not yet paid. Trust is the coolest thing of all. You do need your door card to use the lift though so they are not harum scarum.

The rooms (201 in all)?

Our r0om was cute. Really cute, with the soft sheets and puffy pillows and duvets you expect, and a tall headboard that is half organic and half shiny something. Large flat screen TV on, emitting little musical sounds. All sorts of lighting including skinny metal arms holding small lights and big bubble like shades resting on the floor. Ceilings are moulded and wonderfully high. Cupboard roomy enough (hairdryer, sewing kit, shower cap – all sorts of amenities). Bathroom cute – grey Carrera marble tiles all up and down, shower, attractive designer hand basin (splashes a bit when tap runs onto the fancy basin cover, but worth it for sense of style; and you can remove the designer element).

However, some things about this room become less nice as the night goes on. We shall talk about that later.

Now we go down to eat, and we discover the big plus and the thing that will make Nobis a hotspot for sure.

This is a genuine old building that has been revamped. Imaginative use has been made of the typical  inner courtyard. Such courtyards are sometimes a seasonal garden in typical Stockholm buildings, but more often paved and functional.

This courtyard has been converted most adorably to a lounge. Way up at awesome (religious temple) height there is now an adorned ceiling, from which is suspended a glorious lamp like a burst or jet-trail  of sparkling light. It glitters mystically high above, dwarfing the happy humans enfolded in the embrace of high back chairs. Glasses of drinks and animated voices suggest party rather than relax lounge.

This interleads with a bar, a square tunnel inside copper, where more party is on the go.

Well this is cool Stockholm, nothing other than the new party town. Even though everyone looks young to me, Aleah says: how nice, all ages. To her the 30 year olds are middle of life.

Now to eat. I tried to book a week beforehand (too late) and am merely waitlisted for their fine dining Caina restaurant. My suggestion that we might eat there sounds like science fiction to them as it has such a long waitlist still. So we head for the Italian bistro, conveniently opening off the entrance hall of the hotel. Again.  All staff friendly, though apologetic. Yes we fix and trix and take out all allergy inducing ingredients out of our panini. But do you want to sit? Try coming back 45 minutes later.

That worked. Warmly greeted on return, we were given a precious table in the small bistro. Pleasant relaxed atmosphere with the odd laptop keeping people company. And the panini was really good. Only little negative was that instead of aubergine it contained courgette. Why was this we enquired? She went off to find out. Oh so sorry, we ran out. But if you really want some I will go fetch aubergine from the main restaurant…

In no time, fried aubergine delivered as side dish. Where there is a will there is a way.

Price very reasonable (less than 70 sek per delicious egg, cheese and “aubergine” sandwich).  The water cost more than the food. Sparkling water.

Now for the room experience.

This is where things started to go wrong – not in will to help, but in way. The room was really hot – it read 25 degrees on the heating controls and demanded instant divestment of clothing. We turned it down to 20. Still felt hot and stuffy.  Now the TV was switched off and the sound of the air-conditioning let out a constant hiss or rumble, hard to ignore.

We rang reception. Quick answer and a person was quickly sent up to investigate. It was suggested that the aircon was trying to cool down the room and when 20 was achieved it would switch off. It would be quieter they suggested if we turned the room back to 25.

No impossible – not with this thick duvet. A duvet designed for an Arctic hut or something. Well they could bring us a thin duvet. Now too tired to wait it out, we turned down the kind offer and used our nice fluffy five star dressing gowns as blankets.

Hard to sleep. Even while trying to reach 20 it felt hot and stuffy. The stuffier it felt, the smaller the room seemed to get. To an overheated brain. the lovely  high roof seemed to get higher and higher while the side walls seemed to get closer, and the aircon carried on regardless. Fortunately the windows do open, which reduced claustrophobia, but the noise level in the street was at that time a bit too high to use that way out.

In the morning the air was cool but the aircon/climate control was equally noisy, obviously trying to sustain the 20 degrees that it had finally reached.

Breakfast was fine –  one wall of bakery items and toppings for sandwiches, a little fruit and mueslis, plus a few hot dishes like omelette, pancakes and sausages. Nice touch was a selection of apparently home made organic jams.

So now – the bottom line – is Nobis cool luxury?

In the more idiomatic sense, definitely cool and upmarket. Good looking people, both guests and staff, relaxed feel, sense of general enjoyment and animation. Friendly, flexible and willing service. Chic and imaginative design, creating fun feeling without being corny. It gives a sense of happening. Stockholm will come to you if you stay at Nobis. You won´t even need to step out into the slush. Yet when you venture out, you find yourself right on top of designer shopping, and a short walk from the major area of fashion stores. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes stroll from art galleries. For the summer, easy walk to the hop on-hop off boats for sightseeing the main attractions, and not far from the boats to the islands.

In the final analysis, however, one cannot call it real luxury until they get on top of their climate control system and make it physically cooler, quieter and more manageable by individual (fingertip) controls. Still, this was only day two. It may well be fixed in a day or two more.

Hope so. ”Because (dear Nobis) you’re worth it…”

Dar JL: more gardens than guests

November 11, 2010 in MOROCCO | Comments (694)

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An oasis in the Palmeraie district of Marrakech.  Out of rush hour this riad-style resort is just 10 minutes drive from the Medina.  We entered another world. An enchanted world, with hundreds of lanterns glowing under palms and olive trees that stretch through a vast 13 acres of grounds.

A blaze of lanterns leads you up stairs to stepping stones over water into the inner sanctum of Dar JL.

A sense of discovery prevails. We came out onto the main pool area which at night was impossibly romantic, with a sculpture apparently dancing in the flickers of a fire.

You won’t see too many people here at Dar JL. All this space has actually only 10 bedrooms spread out in various residences, fancifully decorated in a homely and colourful way.  Lounging areas are spread out too, with plenty of space to get away from the other guests, should you want to. Wall hangings, carved lanterns, rugs, cushions and hand-fashioned furniture evoke an exotic mood, with themes from as far afield as Sweden (deluxe room Mora with a private terrace), Italy (deluxe room Milano), Asia (suite Cashmir) and Africa (suite Mali) (all in residence Dar Limoon).

Three of the bedrooms lie in villa Dar Jennat which can be rented for sole use – a popular venue for parties and weddings with its large living room and extended terrace area – including plenty of outdoor dining space, sitting space and potential dance platform.  Two Superior Rooms (Fez and Toubakal) lie in residence La Tour – a tower that offers a view and colourful chillout areas.

Yet another room quaintly called Hippie Village is a dream-like walk (or perhaps a dance) over and up a stone path, between the shadows and flickers of lanterns. It was a love affair with Morocco’s colour and textures, woven mats and wall hangings. By contrast, this faraway room features a modern kitchenette.

In this more isolated setting there is an attractive ornamental pool with live fish. Stairs take you up from the pool to the equally hip chillout area. This is a great party venue says Salma Bennani Manager of Dar JL. Among the magic of the trees, lanterns and pool, you won’t disturb anyone. On normal evenings it is open to all guests.

Dar JL is owned by a Swedish couple, who opened it to the pubic some 18 months ago, creating a little stir among those who follow luxury. One extraordinary fact about these gigantic gardens and the handful of rooms is that gardeners outnumber guests. An amazing 80% of the food on the table is organic, produced on the property, says Salma with obvious pride.

Our dinner gave witness to the care and style devoted to food. It also gave a taste of the rare individuality and magic-maker quality of Dar JL. Set up in a tent in the garden, surrounded by the flicker of giant candles in rows of lanterns under the spectre shapes of olive trees. We sat on what I imagine are Bedouin-style cushions by a low table. Our waiter, with infectious friendliness, brought three courses that would delight beyond delight. First a sophisticated kind of spring roll, that sparkled on the tongue with flavours, followed by exotically presented salmon – baked or grilled under a half mango succulently sauced, and then a dessert to remember, chocolate cake hot enough to melt the icecream.

At the end the waiter asked if he could bring the cook to meet us, so there was really an intimate family feeling. Our tips to both seemed to surprise them, almost “no no – you don’t have to” –  demonstrating their genuine friendliness.

Other delights and finesses at Dar JL are the little spa, with hammam and two treatment rooms, tennis court, and a jogging track through the olive groves. Despite the faraway feel it has hi-tech at your fingertips with wi-fi throughout the 5.5. ha estate  – and the hotel loans a Moroccan mobile phone to guests to keep contact with staff.

The other nice thing is the warm welcome of Dar JL Manager Salma…and her staff.

This is also presented with images in:



October 24, 2010 in SWITZERLAND | Comments (0)

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La Reserve – pool in October sunshine

A resort hotel with a cool and playful difference from other five star hotels in Geneva. La Reserve lies in a park with its own jetty on Lake Geneva, only 5 minutes taxi ride from Geneva Airport, 10 minutes from Cornavin Station – and a 15 minute boat ride from the quay in the city centre.

I took the boat – an option from March to October. It is a pleasant walk from Cornavin station down Rue Mt Blanc … and along the waterfront past the grand traditional hotels of Richemond, Beau Rivage and D’Angleterre to the mooring in front of Grand Hotel Kempinski.

The October sunshine brought a holiday feel to the waterfront, and turquoise brilliance to shallows in the lake. The miraculous sight of Mt Blanc seemed to float like a gigantic meringue behind the foothills.  It seemed all very personal. It was only me to catch a ride, and someone had swiped La Reserve’s mooring. We had to somehow keep the boat still, and get my luggage on board. And then away, speeding over the sparkling blue.

Throughout the boat ride to La Reserve, Mt Blanc seemed to float along with us, far off in the French Alps. While the wake of the speedboat rose in high ridges, dwarfing the distant St Peter’s cathedral on the hill of the old city.

We moored at the hotel’s own little bit of lake frontage. The boatman (a modern individual) pointed at a tunnel I should navigate to reach the hotel (under the road to Lausanne)…but seeing my dismay, called someone to help me with my luggage up the stairs.

It was 3.45 when walked into the “park” of La Reserve. Someone was by the pool sunbathing in the warm late afternoon.

I had less than 24 hours to enjoy my stay – but would be pampered to perfection.


La Reserve lies in a grassy park with formally clipped hedges and some giant leafy trees, with partial views of the lake and the magic of Mt Blanc.

The first thing you feel is the relaxed atmosphere, far from uptight or stuffy. Geneva is a centre of international diplomacy and huge organizations so as a city it expects quite a lot of formality – which enfolds you in some richly traditional hotels on Geneva waterfront. Though a five star design hotel, La Reserve is in no way “posh”, perhaps because of the young clientele, resort setting and playful and somewhat extrovert decor.

In the evening the hotel comes into its own right, and a magnet for Geneva’s young “Le beau monde”. For one thing there is plenty of parking for all the gleaming cars, for another it is reputed to have Geneva’s best Chinese restaurant, along with a gourmet restaurant, a DJ in the comfortable lounge and (in the summer) a safari restaurant in the park.

The lounges spill out to wide terraces facing the pool, lake and mountains. In the daytime the extrovert individuality of the public areas emerges with leather and velvet, reds and purples, gold leaf and shining studs. Elephant sculptures here and there, and glass parrots hanging from lamps, are among the quirks of the safari design theme. But in the evenings the lamps come on, bathing all in sunset glow. The deep comfy leather chairs are filled with the beautiful young Swiss speaking lively French.

La Reserve is proud to call itself a resort, a destination spa, a city hotel, and an airport hotel. It is all those to one degree or another though it has more rightful competitors to the title city hotel.

With a sizeable 2000 sqm spa area, this is the place for a really mind-escaping massage. The spa features 17 treatment rooms, indoor pool, gym with 6 trainers, and health restaurant. Oh indeed – and a hairdresser and beauty specialist too, but the main thrust is health care using signature treatments under the guidance of a physiotherapist and medical doctor with additional homeopathy diploma. At the moment they are offering 4-day, 7-day and 14-day courses of treatment. The health restaurant true to the hotel’s eye catching design combines white leather chairs with a striking striped mat that seems to be heading straight through. A nice touch is a table full of mystical glass containers holding different concoctions for different health purposes. One tasted very medicinal.

On the sporty side, adding to the profile as Geneva’s only city resort, there are two tennis courts and two instructors. Child care is provided and a children’s supervised play area with roomy tree house, right by the outdoor pool. In the summer there are water activities too.

The hotel building has on the internet been criticized as having “motel structure”. No doubt many motels have thought of the idea of spread out low-rise buildings, but have surely not laid claim to the design. There are two wings at La Reserve, so the one has garden view, and the other has both garden and lake view. Altogether 85 rooms (30-40 sqm) and 17 suites (50-130 sqm), most with terraces or balconies.

I was shown a deluxe room with a terrace. Nice feel, a little less extroverted than my suite. Superior rooms and Executive rooms cost less and have park views.

I had the good fortune to be upgraded to a suite that stretched across the end of the front wing (number 216), with separate lounge opening onto a French balcony with lake view, and bedroom opening onto a roomy balcony with park view. The lounge was on the sunrise side, and the bedroom and balcony on the sunset side – a good place to eat one of the rosy apples they had placed in the lounge.

View from suite 216 (above), bedroom below.

My next good fortune was to be smoothly massaged and kneaded into forgetfulness at the spa (forgetting all the heavy luggage I had hauled around this sunny October).

That was followed by further good fortune: a meal in The Loti fine dining restaurant. I was told that this was not a gourmet restaurant, but given to good food from fresh produce. However, the good looking, radiantly healthy chef produced creative masterpiece after masterpiece, not fazed by my sudden announcement I did not eat meat. First course included a crème made from fennel with a delicious decoration of vegetables. Then followed pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin shell, with truffles waiting on the pumpkin bottom to surprise me.

That was followed by truffle risotto. Then came a choice of three gleaming raw fish for me to choose from. The chef settled on my behalf for John Dory (a sole-shaped saltwater fish)…needless to say, grilled to perfection, served with a side vegetable of Swiss chard stalks in Swiss chard crème. By the time I got to course three I was not able to eat more than half, and kept honestly assuring my host that I really loved it all. Nor could I get through so much wine as was so thoughtfully poured into my glass. We tried the wine produced by La Reserve´s owner at both his French wine estate and his Hungarian (3 different bottles).

The bed in my suite was superbly comfortable, and the thick lavish curtains kept me in the peaceful dark. In the morning I admired but forgot to photograph the black granite bathroom, with bidet and loo just out of sight, but snapped the morning sun glancing over the lake. Opening the salon doors and standing there I realized there was a hiss of traffic from behind the hedge – morning rush hour going in to Geneva, with the lake beyond. Lucky the room is soundproof.

Breakfast was adequate though not extravagant, with a lot of eggy things in silver dishes, muesli, fruit salad, bread, cold meat, cheese, and not lavishly buttery croissants.

Tried to do some work in my spacious suite – sitting on the red velvet armchair over the wave-patterned red and white carpet, but couldn’t get the wi-fi to work. I thought how one could seat at least 8 people comfortably in that private lounge. Noted the bookshelves needed more books. Noted some marks on the carpet and decided someone on short-term contract at one of the international agencies in Geneva had stayed here for a few months and lived it up.

Before I left, the concierge gave me some tips for Geneva visitors.

Dine in the park by the lake at Perle du Lac (north of Quai du Mont Blanc)

Take a boat over the water from Quai du Mont Blanc to the pier of the famous fountain (Jet d’eau) squirting high out of the lake

Walk or take a taxi to the beautiful old town on the hill. Get the taxi to drop you off at Place-de-Bourg-de-Four – a popular square high at the “back” of the hill. Dine in a restaurant of that name. Then walk back towards the water, through the quaint narrow streets – a downhill walk.

Visit St Peter’s cathedral at the crown of the hill and see the archaeological findings underneath it.

I can add one few more. My favourite place in Geneva area is the little jazz club Le Chat Noir in Carouge.

And oh yes – back at Mont Blanc Pier you can hop on a boat, to cruise on that radiantly green and blue inland sea. Old medieval towns: Yvoire, with castle and absurdly pretty streets and restaurants, Lausanne, Montreux and Evian – where I have just been. Now I am heading home… 

And they were right. It WAS only 5 minutes drive to the airport…

Gstaad Palace fairytale

October 17, 2010 in SWITZERLAND | Comments (3)

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3 October – magic autumn summer

In the main street of Gstaad, with chalet style shops offering designer labels  and hotels blooming with colourful window boxes, it is not hard to work out where Gstaad Palace lies.

On top of a hill overlooking the town, its slender white towers rise up behind the trees like something from a fairy tale. And to continue the fairytale theme, after she meets her prince she checks in at the Penthouse suite. From the suite’s generous terrace the magical towers point up, within view of your Jacuzzi. And all around are tall mountains to create more magic.

Inside you have a chalet- style lounge or parlour, with fireplace adorned with stag horns, and traditionally decorated yet very elegant dining set. Each of the 3 bedrooms feels like a suite, and each different, with so much art deco flourish you could study them  all night – yet warm and harmonious in a mix of  luxury and alpine tradition.

Penthouse bedroom 2

Third bedroom – for the nanny 🙂

I was only a viewer, not a resident, shown around very kindly as the hotel was closed. Gstaad Palace opens only in winter and summer, keeping to times of high occupancy (65-85%). Note these are my pix – not taken by the hotel, and candid camera therefore…

As the bedrooms were empty I was given a viewing feast. The décor of the rooms is very special – I can only call it Gstaad Palace style – full of original charm, variety and detail. And the views in all of them are fit for a fairytale queen.

My choice until I win the lottery (or marry the king) might be a deluxe suite – in rosy florals – incredibly cosy and pretty without being twee. Great views from the balcony. My disappointment would be one of the newly decorated Junior suites – too brown.

 But it would be fine to have a Tower suite on the sixth or seventh floor (with two bedrooms). They made interesting use of the space inside the towers, with a round bathroom with Jacuzzi, and a round, private (ahem) smoking  nook leading off one of the bedrooms. Plus generous balconies and large living room with pleasant but quirky colours.

Tower suite with a round smoking “corner” in Palace tower

View from a Deluxe Double Room, showing the Olympic pool and tennis courts

The main restaurant was being totally renovated, which meant the public areas were topsy turvy with stored furniture and wood dust. The original intentions of a palace in medieval style were all the more evident in the accordingly austere atrium adorned with age-worn Swiss canton emblems in front of a colossal fire place that creates that après ski warmth in the winter.  

But the vistas were as magnificent as ever from the windows surrounding the half empty lounges. They brought in views of the garden, backed by tall green mountains dotted with pastures, and chalets.  The glaciers glittered on rugged rocky peaks between them.  In the winter of course this is all fairytale white.

Apart from the buffet restaurant under renovations, there is a rustic Swiss restaurant lined with wood  … an Italian restaurant under the chef of Il Pellicano, and a gourmet restaurant. The nightclub expands its dance space by lowering a wooden platform over the indoor pool.

A magnificent fireplace adorns the spa – very stylish and modern. Again the views distinguish the spa from a million other wellness facilities worldwide  – and a swim out pool where you can feast on snowy peaks from warm water. In summer the Olympic swimming pool is a feature, and tennis courts. Tennis weeks are among special events, along with jazz events and many others.

The Gstaad Palace was built in the 1913 and is family owned. Hence the appealing sense of individuality. I can imagine some minimalists would prefer a flash new design hotel without patterned carpets in the hallways. But then this Palace might win anyone over to lavish creation…

Chalet & restaurant hotel Elite

October 6, 2010 in SWITZERLAND | Comments (134)

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The second hotel in the village is Hotel Restaurant Elite, run with love by Nicole Peck and Kitty Brand.  It lies up the winding road from Hotel de Ville, passing green pastures with cows grazing, the tower and the church. Up on the slope the views are as alpine as you wish, tinkling sounds included.

Elite has 10 rooms, several with balconies. Spacious, clean and rustic, with attractive floral tiles in the bathroom that I viewed.

We had a most memorable Swiss style dinner there, with local wine. Highly recommended – they had a variety of potato pancakes (rösti) bursting with succulence and flavor. The favourite is full of onions with grilled bacon crumbled on top.

Hotel Restaurant Elite – Telephone 0041 26 924 52 12. Price as at October 2010: 136 CHF for a double room, 68 CHF for a single room. Elite has 6 double rooms, 2 single, 2 triple.

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