Posts from the “Europe” Category

Monachyle Mhor Hotel: A little slice of Scottish heaven

 

Review :

Chances are that when you rock up at an unassuming boutique hotel on the edge of a Scottish loch far from civilization and there’s a helicopter sat on the lawn, you’ve probably found somewhere worth the journey.

Loch Voil is just an hour away from both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports in the less visited part of the Trossachs National Park. It’s a stunning landscape of glens, babbling rivers and forests, and is steeped in the history of Rob Roy McGregor, made famous by Daniel Dafoe and Sir Walter Scott, who lived, fought and died here.

Far down a single track road, which is barely marked on the map, the Monachyle Mohr estate has been owned by the Lewis family since 1983. It’s a real family run business that has been built up with hard graft over the intervening years to bring it to where it is today – a lovely boutique hotel, a working farm producing quality meat and veg, an award winning restaurant, and owner of a host of other business in the area including Mohr Bread (a bakery), Mohr Fish (a fishmongers and restaurant), and Mohr Tea (a tearoom).

 

Monochyle Mohr

On our visit, we stayed in one of the feature rooms in the old granary on the ground floor across the courtyard from the main, rather startlingly pink house. It was a spacious and warm, wooden-floored bedroom with a homely gas fire, a steam-room, and a very comfortable bed. It didn’t have much of a view, but that was hardly a deal breaker as it was the only bedroom available when we booked just the day before.

When we arrived, lunch had already finished but we were offered door-step sandwiches and huge mugs of tea in the cosy lounge in the main house instead. Just what we needed after a long, wet drive from Grantown-on-Spey way up north in The Highlands.

What we had really come for though was the promise of a great evening meal, as it was the award winning restaurant that attracted us in the first place when it had appeared in Mr H’s internet search for “best Scottish restaurant”. The subsequent discoveries that the hotel itself was rather wonderful and the location so stunning were purely bonuses.

Using local game, the farm’s own grass-fed, dry-aged angus beef and lamb, and vegetables grown in the garden, Tom Lewis prepares wonderful food from the ingredients available on the estate, and from the best fish and seafood Scotland has to offer.

 

Mhor CourtyardI can understand why people fly in from the city by seaplane or helicopter for lunch to enjoy the likes of Perthshire spring lamb, mustard celeriac remoulade, chantenay carrots with juniper jus, or crispy hen’s egg, new season’s white and green asparagus, with lemon sorrel – we certainly weren’t disappointed with what we were fed.

As ours was a bit of a whirlwind tour around Scotland we only had one night to stay in the Mohr, so we left wanting more. You could spend days wandering the countryside, fishing the loch or birdwatching, and the estate manager Alan will take you on safari to tell you the history of Rob Roy and to spot the local wildlife – well worth the money for a morning of exploring.

Sent on our way at noon the next day we were given a hearty packed lunch of sandwiches, fruit, local cheese with homemade oatcakes, and even a butter knife each from the restaurant. As we drove away and came to the end of the loch we spied a for-sale sign on a piece of land, so promptly took down the details for further investigation. One way or another we’ll definitely be back to Loch Voil and The Mohr to experience this little slice of Scottish heaven again.

Price: Rooms start from US$312 per night.

Location: Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Perthshire, FK19 8PQ. Tel: 01877 384622.

Website: http://mhor.net

The Garth Hotel, Grantown, Scotland

The Garth HotelIt’s unusual for me to be in Scotland as a tourist, so the past few days have been an absolute delight. In the Highlands almost every bend in the road reveals another breathtaking vista, and we had the perfect weather for touring – strong winds that produced roiling clouds, localized showers and startling sunshine. We stayed on the edge of the Cairngorms, in the Trossachs and finally in Edinburgh and we received some wonderful hospitality.

The Garth Hotel, Grantown on Spey

Our Coutt’s World concierge suggested this small hotel in Grantown, as it’s recognized as having a rather good little restaurant.  We turned up unannounced and managed to grab the last of the 18 bedrooms, and although we were right above reception meaning a little bit of noise first thing in the morning, we had the strongest wifi signal in the building.

Rooms

The rooms were unexpectedly well appointed if I’m honest. Newly refurbed, they were cosy, nicely styled and had bright bathrooms with heated towel rails (important in somewhere like Scotland). The double beds were just standard double-sized so pretty small, but there were comfortable.

Service

The front of house staff were delightful.

Food

A mix of cuisines at dinner, but a lot of solid Scottish fare with quality local ingredients. The smoked salmon was real good, but it was the melt-in-the-mouth smoked mackerel that was truly delicious. We had beef and game hotpot, steak and some great cheese too.

Breakfast was the star of the show though. Once you’ve started off the day with a full Scottish of that standard you’ll want to do it every morning.

Drink

A good selection of Speyside whiskeys as you would expect, some local beers and a modest wine list.

Price

We paid a very reasonable GBP45 per person for bed and breakfast. It was the last room they had and gave us a bit of a discount, which was a nice and unnecessary touch.

Location

Castle Road, Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire, Scotland, PH26 3HN. Tel: 01479 872 836, email: reception@garthhotel.com

Summary

If I was ever in Grantown again, I wouldn’t bother looking for another hotel, I’d definitely go straight to the Garth – it’s homely, comfortable and delightfully styled.
We poked our noses in at another couple of hotels and were not tempted. The Craiglynne Hotel was full of coach parties, and whilst I do love old-people, I don’t want to feel like I’m staying in a care home. The other was the Grant Arms, which was rather more outwardly striking than the Garth, but the rooms weren’t up to much.

Hotel Lancaster, Paris – sublime.

Review:

This post is part of the same Parisian story that saw my partner and I leaving Hotel Costes rather earlier than expected after a run in with some particulary obnoxious staff.

Having either been bumped from our room, or just downright lied to by that hotel, our lifestyle manager, who was distraught that we’d been screwed about, got us booked into a suite at the truly 5* Hotel Lancaster just off the Champs Elyseés instead.

As soon as we entered the serene lobby and the receptionist smiled winningly at us, I fell in love with Hotel Lancaster.

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When I stepped into Suite 75, I knew I was home. It was the most perfect, elegant Belle Epoque apartment for a romantic stay in Paris. It was everything Hotel Costes wanted to be, but would never, ever achieve.

It’s full of carefully chosen antiques and artwork, has all the modern facilities you could want, from iPod docks to wifi, and is the ultimate in quiet sophistication.

The bedroom of suite 75 opened up onto a lovely long balcony overlooking Paris and the Zen garden below.

lancaster_75_bedroom_parisWe had a lounge where we would be served an enormous breakfast every day, and was so cosy and sumptuous in the middle of winter I hardly wanted to leave it.

salon_lancaster_paris_75And the suite had one of my all time favourite bathrooms.  Just look at that art-deco dressing table. Absolutely gorgeous, and so much light. I was also introduced to a wonderful range of Greek beauty products - Korres – their citrus body milk is my particular favourite.

bathroom_75_lancaster_paris

outside_lancaster-parisThe service at Hotel Lancaster is as good as it gets. They are on the Mandarin Oriental level of excellence in my books. The concierge introduced us to a really good modern Sichuan restaurant, and helped us find out about particular shops etc. The housekeeping and room service staff were efficient, friendly and discreet – what more do you need?

The hotel has lots of facilities and a 2* Michelin restaurant, but we really didn’t take advantage of all that because we were so cosy and wrapped up in our suite. Having spent weeks on the move traveling around Europe, being able just to lounge around in this gorgeous set of rooms and having Paris outside the windows was blissful. I have to admit I got rather too used to it.

Location: 7 rue de Berri, Champs Elyseés, 75008, Paris. Tel: +33 1 40 76 40 76. Pretty close to the George V Metro, close to the Place d’Etoile end of the Champs Elyseés.

Boys – if you ever want to take a loved one to Paris, I promise you that if you book into either the Dietrich, 75 or 76 suites at the Lancaster they will be yours forever. It is captivating, exhilarating, elegant and utterly sophisticated – and some of that is bound to rub off on you…

Hotel Costes, Paris – Supercilious sons of bitches.

Review:

THIS IS NOT CHILD FRIENDLY READING…

As I’ve mentioned before on these pages, I have been lucky enough to stay in some fantastic hotels. Unfortunately, the massively hyped Hotel Costes in Paris, does not fall into this category.

I’d first stumbled across Hotel Costes back in the summer of 2006 walking home from a club to our rather more modest hotel early one morning. As we tottered down Rue St Honore we saw an inviting and mysterious doorway, and decided to have a looksee into the ultraviolet-lit tunnel. What we found was the ground floor of Hotel Costes and we stayed and had a drink in their wonderful courtyard, surrounded by the leggie lovelies and sharp suited boys. Fun.

We went back for brunch a couple of days later, and the courtyard really was a super place to sit and chill, listening to the birds over a pot of tea and a croissant, recovering from trawling the shops.

So, when my beau and I more recently decided to pop to Paris for a few days on a whim, I asked if we could stay at Costes. Our concierge duly booked us into a room with a balcony for later that same day.

On arrival at the hotel early that evening we walked in to find reception unmanned, and the bell boy had to be sent off to find someone to attend to us. This person duly arrived some 5-10mins later – not what you expect when you are paying close to €1000 a night to stay somewhere.

I knew that my boyfriend’s hackles were already raised by this point, but we were processed and then escorted to our room.

I have never in my life seen such a poor excuse of a room in a luxury hotel.

It had no balcony to begin with, but rather more importantly, the window that it did have was so far up the wall that I couldn’t even see out of it.  The room was shoebox sized and dingy to boot besides looking like it was furnished with faux antiques – overthemed to the max.

No class, and certainly no elegant decadence.

As you can imagine we turned round to the receptionist who had brought us up and asked him where our room with the balcony was. Whilst we checked with our concierge company that they had confirmed a room with a balcony (they had), our receptionist was checking out whether they had the right room.

So, dumped back in reception (not even the bar) with no offer of a glass of water, let alone an apology for the inconvenience caused thus far, we started to wait.

After being glared at for 15 minutes by some pointy-nosed prick who had all the savoir-faire of his ignorant Visigoth barbarian ancestors, we’d had enough.

He and whatever other staff came into our locale would get into whispered huddles and dart supercilious glances at us, and after a quarter of an hour, it was obvious that no attempt was being made to resolve our situation.

We called our concierge (who was mortified), and he immediately booked us into a suite at the Lancaster, which is one of the loveliest hotels and set of rooms in all of Paris.

That these squirts in their off-the-peg suits and cheap shoes decided to be so offensive to us wasn’t what really got up my nose. They are just idiots who will live very small lives.

What did bother me was that they wasted our time, and that the management of the hotel obviously condones and promotes this kind of behaviour.

Of course I will never again set foot in that nest of mediocrity and specious sophistication, which is a shame as I like their bar and their courtyard cafe – but you do have to stick to your guns.

And so, my well traveled friends – just don’t do it to yourselves. Never stay in a hotel like Costes where the staff think they are more important than their clients.

There is only one word for people like that, and it’s one I save for special occasions – c***s.

Villa Amistà, Verona – Byblos owner has created a ludicrously good hotel.

Review:
I’m going to resist the temptation to post lots of photos of this hotel, and would recommend that you don’t look at the website too deeply (or at all) before you book, leave it as a surprise…
To have somewhere like the Villa Amistà sprung on you after a particularly long and harrowing journey, is disconcerting to say the least. Our concierge service had booked us in earlier that same day after we could only find one rather depressing hotel on Lake Garda that was open in February, and had suggested that Verona was our best bet.
We were told the hotel was in a refurbed villa, and housed a large collection of modern art. What she should have said was, “I’m booking you into this hotel – it’s completely bonkers, but trust me, you’ll love it.”
It’s as if a madman had got control of the Hadron Collider and decided to see what happens when he placed a 15th century Italian villa complete with contents, a bunch of paints and a hiccuping Murano glass blower inside and thrown the switch. The result is startling.
I must admit that when I first walked in, drained and jaded from the schlep from Milan via Garda (many times via Garda in fact, but let us not revisit dark times), I did think “Holy Crap, what the f**k has our lifestyle manager done to us? This place is preposterous.”
To say that it houses a collection of art is an understatement, it is in it’s entirety one carefully constructed installation piece. It’s vibrant, irreverent and whimsical, but there is also a strong vein of elegance running throughout. Dino Facchini owner of Byblos houses a big chunk of his personal art collection here, and he uses the villa to showcase all the pieces of his Byblos Casa operation, so you can walk out with an armchair if it takes your fancy.
Rooms: We stayed on the lobby level of the villa which is the only level that has balconies. These are the best rooms, and they were bloody gigantic. I understand that the standard rooms are rather snug, so would suggest spending the money to bypass these. The bathrooms are some of the best I’ve experienced. All white, with proper lighting so that girls can actually apply their makeup properly (wish other hotels would cotton on to this).
Public areas: The public areas of the hotel are fascinating, every nook and cranny has some weird or wonderful piece of furniture or art. Most of the 15th century style ceilings are intricately painted, there are gorgeous salons to lounge about in, beautiful gardens, a lovely pool and a spa.
Restaurant/Bar: There is a great bar and a wonderful restaurant.  I have no idea why the Restaurant Atelier doesn’t have even one Michelin star. It was miles better than the 2* Il Desco we went to in Verona one night, and the sommelier was fantastic. He introduced us to Ripasso which sees the unpressed grape skins that go into making the wonderful Amarones, added to the already blended and fermented Valpollicella wine to finish it off. This process adds body and character to the simple Valpollicella – and the results are hugely successful. I always buy them now as it’s cheaper and lighter than Amarone.
Service: Really wonderful. During the black hours of being lost in the northern Italian industrial hinterland, they actually sent a car to look for us (how Italian is that? Incredibly chivalrous, but completely illogical). They have shuttle-buses to take you in and out of Verona whenever you need, and they provide faultless hospitality.
Price: I remember we paid around €300 for one of the best rooms in the house in February, and they seem to do lots of specials and promotions at different times of year, including around opera season. Fantastic that it is open year-round.
Location: via Cedrare, 78, 37020 Corrubbio di Negarine (Verona) – Italy. Tel +39 045 6855555, reservation@byblosarthotel.com. Corrubbio is just under 10km from the centre of old Verona.
We loved the hotel. It was completely bonkers, and service and food were truly excellent. Just make sure that you have a map and good directions as it’s a bitch to find. Fortunately there were lots of prostitutes on the outskirts of Verona who we could ask for directions !@?$*
Before we ended up in Verona we had decided that we wanted to stop off at the lakes on our way to Venice, but nothing was open at this time of year. I’m so pleased we went there, as the old town is beautiful, the restaurants are world-class and it’s slap bang in the middle of a wine producing region. I’d definitely go back.

Review:

I’m going to resist the temptation to post lots of photos of this hotel, and would recommend that you don’t look at the website too deeply (or at all) before you book, leave it as a surprise…

villa_amista_caustic_candyTo have somewhere like the Villa Amistà sprung on you after a particularly long and harrowing journey, is disconcerting to say the least. Our concierge service had booked us in earlier that same day after we could only find one rather depressing hotel on Lake Garda that was open in February, and had suggested that Verona was our best bet.

We were told the hotel was in a refurbed villa, and housed a large collection of modern art. What she should have said was, “I’m booking you into this hotel – it’s completely bonkers, but trust me, you’ll love it.”

It’s as if a madman had got control of the Hadron Collider and decided to see what happens when he placed a 15th century Italian villa complete with contents, a bunch of paints and a hiccuping Murano glass blower inside and thrown the switch. The result is startling.

I must admit that when I first walked in, drained and jaded from the schlep from Milan via Garda (many times via Garda in fact, but let us not dwell on the dark moments of our lives), I did think “Holy Crap, what the f**k has our lifestyle manager done to us? This place is preposterous.”

To say that it houses a collection of art is an understatement, it is in it’s entirety, one carefully constructed installation piece. It’s vibrant, irreverent and whimsical, but there is also a strong vein of elegance running throughout. Dino Facchini, the owner of Byblos, houses a big chunk of his personal art collection here, and he uses the villa to showcase all the pieces of his Byblos Casa operation, so you can walk out with an armchair if it takes your fancy.

villa_amista_caustic—candy1Rooms: We stayed on the lobby level of the villa which is the only floor that has balconies. These are the best rooms, and they were bloody gigantic. I understand that the standard rooms are rather snug, so would suggest spending the money to bypass these. The bathrooms are some of the best I’ve experienced. All white, with proper lighting so that girls can actually apply their makeup easily, (wish other hotels would cotton on to this).

Public areas: The public areas of the hotel are fascinating, every nook and cranny has some weird or wonderful piece of furniture or art. Most of the 15th century style ceilings are intricately painted, there are gorgeous salons to lounge about in, beautiful gardens, a lovely pool and a spa.

Restaurant/Bar: There is a great bar and a wonderful restaurant.  I have no idea why the Restaurant Atelier doesn’t have even one Michelin star. It was obviously better than the 2* Il Desco we went to in Verona one night, and the sommelier was fantastic. He introduced us to Ripasso which sees the unpressed grape skins that go into making the wonderful Amarones, added to the already blended and fermented Valpollicella wine to finish it off. This process adds body and character to the simple Valpollicella – and the results are hugely successful. I regularly buy Ripasso now as it’s cheaper and lighter than Amarone.

Service: Really wonderful. During the black hours of being lost in the northern Italian industrial hinterland, they actually sent a car to look for us (how Italian is that? Incredibly chivalrous, but completely illogical). They have shuttle-buses to take you in and out of Verona whenever you need, and they provide faultless hospitality.

Price: I remember we paid around €300 for one of the best rooms in the house in February, and they seem to do lots of specials and promotions at different times of year, including around opera season. Fantastic that it is open year-round.

Location: Via Cedrare, 78, 37020 Corrubbio di Negarine (Verona) – Italy. Tel +39 045 6855555, reservation@byblosarthotel.com. Corrubbio is just under 10km from the centre of old Verona.

We loved the hotel. It was completely bonkers, and the service and food were truly excellent. Just make sure that you have a map and good directions as it’s a bitch to find. Fortunately there were lots of prostitutes on the outskirts of Verona who we could ask for directions !@?$*

Before we ended up in Verona we had decided that we wanted to stop off at the lakes on our way to Venice, but nothing was open at this time of year. I’m so pleased we went to Verona instead, as the old town is beautiful, the restaurants are world-class and it’s slap bang in the middle of a wine producing region – i.e. ticks all my holiday boxes really!

Ca Maria Adele – perfect, bijou hotel in Venice.

Review:

With all this recent brouhaha from debating the banning of day-trippers from Venice, I thought it time to put together some posts on that rather wonderful city.

ca_maria-adele_caustic_candy

I have to admit that I am a lucky so-and-so to have stayed in such amazing places over the years, and for me, one of the most memorable was Ca Maria Adele in Venezia. There is nothing like staying in the city, roaming the streets at night when all the day-trippers have left. Magic.

My first time in Venice, we took a Riva directly to the hotel. We’d stashed the car at the railway station after an horrendous drive through the industrial wasteland between Verona and Venice, and I was seriously doubting whether Venice was going to live up to it’s promise. But when we got in that taxi and made our way through the foggy, almost deserted canals I was utterly blown away. Venice, in winter, in the fog is an astonishing place, and to pull up outside this little palazzo with it’s front door flanked by huge hurricane lamps, with no other life around and just the hulking presence of the basilica – thrills me just thinking about it again.

Ca Maria Adele is perfectly positioned (opposite the basillica of Santa Maria della Salute), right at the far tip of Dorsoduro, which is arguably the prettiest and most non-touristy part of the city.

It is perfectly proportioned, having only 12 rooms.

It is perfectly sumptious – 5* luxury, with an incredible mix of materials, fixtures and fittings, from original 16th century oak beams, to Murano chandeliers, to african wood nicknacks and even furry walls…

And your hosts are perfectly delightful too. Very helpful, very accommodating.

I challenge anyone to try and find a more romantic bolt-hole in Venice.

caustic_candy__ca_maria_adele2

Rooms: 12. 2 suites. We stayed in suite 339 which has a little roof terrace, and is all gold brocade and exposed oak beams. If you don’t need the outdoor space then there are some gorgeous themed rooms with huge Murano chandeliers, red velvet walls etc definitely worth a look on the website.

Dining: There is a beautiful breakfast room on the 1st floor with windows that open out onto the church and canal, as well as a Moroccan inspired terrace round the back, where you can sit and sup. There is no lunch or dinner served at the hotel. The breakfast room, terrace and lounge are for tea and cocktails (and breakfast…).

Service: Impeccable service. It can take them a little while to get to you as there are lots of twisty-twiny stairs to climb to get to certain rooms. The concierge was very good and the GM Nicola Campa is often at reception and he is just the bees knees when it comes to hospitality.

Facilities: This isn’t a place crammed with facilities, it’s a tiny palazzo.  It’s more like going to stay in someone’s incredibly beautiful home. No swimming pools, no gyms etc.  It’s just utterly private and gorgeous.

Access: If you have mobility problems then this hotel isn’t for you as there are no lifts, and you can only get there by boat.

Price: Now, I have only ever been to Venice in winter, and frankly would never go at any other time. We stayed in a suite for about €400 per night  in Feb over Carnival. This was a lot cheaper than high season, and an utter bargain as far as we were concerned.  Our concierge service at Coutts World found this hotel and sorted the price, and is probably still one of their most impressive finds/deals for us.

Location: Dorsoduro 111, 30123 Venice, Italy. Tel: +39 041 520 3078. email: info@camariaadele.it

If you are looking for somewhere awesome to stay and love small, high-end hotels, then this is an absolute must. It’s tucked away in a lovely, quiet part of Venice but within spitting distance of many of the major attractions.

Also if like us, you have to have outside space wherever you stay, then room 339 is one of the most romantic you will find with the little roof terrace tucked amongst the eaves (you don’t get a big view, but it’s just secret and hidden). My other personal favourite roof terraces at the moment are Hotel Gallery Arts in Florence, and the Lancaster in Paris but that’s for later…