Gran Melia Palacio De Los Duques, Madrid, Spain

An unusual blog here for us here as Mrs Amberpark has been off on her own wee adventure!

My three girlfriends and I normally enjoy spa weekends in the UK on special occasions. This trip to Madrid was arranged to celebrate two ‘memorable’ birthdays. However, being our first overseas trip together it would set the tone as to whether we would revert to spa weekends or make this adventure the new ‘norm’.

No pressure then Gran Palacio de los Duques – here come the girls!

We arrived in two separate parties around midday. Red level check in was in a separate area from main reception desk. The process was seamless with champagne being a very welcomed addition.

The initial ‘feel’ on entering the hotel was one of opulence and relaxation and these factors combined to make us feel part of something rather special.

The hotel is stunning both artistically and structurally. The reproduction Velazquez artworks, the strikingly beautiful individual pieces of furniture and the careful restoration of facets of the original building were all breath taking.

As a party of four females, after a glass or two of champagne, we all aspired to be the princess in Velazquez’s Las Meninas but clearly there is only one princess. There is also of course, a nun, a jester, a dwarf, two ladies in waiting and the famous man himself. Suffice to say we didn’t allocate roles! Four princesses continued their trip.

The hotel is extremely central. Very well located for some major tourist sights including: Teatro Real, Palacio Real, Plaza Mayor and numerous shops, bars and restaurants. The Parque del Retiro is about a 30-minute stroll away or a couple of stops on the underground and also worth a visit. Lots to see and do.

The street the hotel was located on was rather ordinary and it is easy to miss the hotel entrance  so its worth noting this in advance to aid any journey back especially after sampling the ‘comida y bebidas’ in the close by Mercado de San Miguel.

We occupied two red level junior suites for three nights.  At 45 square metres the suite was compact, but this is not unusual for a city centre hotel.

The bathrooms had a waterfall shower and freestanding baths , clarins toiletries and hair straighteners. There was a choice of pillows and water was replenished each day.  During our stay we obtained a kettle, additional tea, extra towels etc promptly and efficiently.

We didn’t manage to visit the Thai wellness centre however we did use the rooftop pool area several times. No problem obtaining four sunbeds despite it being the weekend. Service was efficient with water and towels on tap. The 360-degree rooftop view was simply stunning, punctuated only by us averting our gaze to reach for midday refreshments!

We would like to thank Lydia Sanchez who afforded us an upgrade to junior suites and arranged for small birthday cakes in each room. Reception staff were very helpful while being inconspicuous – not an easy combination to master and waiting staff were generally good, the only exception being when we ate at Monmatre restaurant on our last night.  There, we felt our initial waiter rushed us to order even after we advised him that we wanted a little more time. This slightly tainted the experience of indulging in such a varied and delightful menu.

Overall staff were very pleasant and clearly trained in a corporate ‘melia’ standard approach. They were also patient and friendly even when one of our party practiced speaking Spanish with them.

Our red level privileges allowed us to indulge in complementary cooked breakfast, varied buffet items, hot and cold snacks and all alcoholic drinks during both day and evening as part of our stay. The benefit of this cannot be understated.

It afforded us the ability to mix our experience perfectly. Booking restaurants in the evening and availing ourselves of the hotel facilities during the day. Importantly, while this facility was prepaid it still felt like a privilege and brought us back to the hotel.  This is a clever marketing strategy and it results in a guest / hotel win win situation.

As a group of four professional women our conclusion is interesting and completely reflective of our hotel experience first and Madrid second. This surprised us. Not only have we decided to do something similar again, we have agreed to choose the hotel first and the location second.

This is solely down to our experience at Gran Palacio de los Duques in Madrid and we hope that Melia group will remember us on future trips as we will remember our first trip abroad as a group to a Melia hotel.

Muchas gracias y esperamos verlos a todos pronto.

A big thank you to a special friend for the help with the write up on this one.

The Magic of the ‘Opera’, Moments Restaurant, Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona

With two Michelin stars, the Mandarin Oriental’s Moments restaurant continues to win awards and devotees thanks to its creative, fresh and healthy cuisine inspired by Catalan culinary culture.

Where better to celebrate Linda’s special birthday than here!

Managed by chef Carme Ruscalleda and her son Raül Balam, Moments offers one of the finest gastronomic experiences in Barcelona.

We were lucky to be able to try a new menu featuring twelve dishes inspired by the magic of the Opera. This unique dining experience was something special and transported us to another stage……

Full blog to follow soon……pics too good not to share now though!

Royal Mile Luxury, Old Town Chambers, Edinburgh

Squeezing in a wee luxury break in our capital city of Edinburgh, early in the New Year, has become an annual event for us.  This time our accommodation of choice was Old Town Chambers, literally seconds from the Royal Mile.

Located in the heart of the Edinburgh we were just a five-minute walk from Princes Street and a whole range of places to visit, things to do and places to eat.

Opened in July 2013 Old Town Chambers is a collection of 50 serviced apartments occupying several older buildings, including a 15th century house, complemented by zinc and timber-clad modern extensions.

Given our plans to visit Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith on our return home we chose to drive and would have to say the whole experience was seamless.  Old Town Chambers is right in the middle of the historic centre where you would think access by car would be a problem.  Not so!

We pulled in on the High Street / Royal Mile by Angels with Bagpipes and parked up for a few minutes.  After transferring our luggage via the narrow close to the apartments, down into Roxburgh Close, one of us parked up the car at Waverley Station Car Park, only a few minutes away.   Have to say it was very impressive to be able to park overnight / for 24hrs in Edinburgh for less than £17; just remember and validate your ticket at reception, where you’ll receive a 20% discount.

There seems to be something to suit everyone at Old Town Chambers and we were privileged to have opportunity to try out the three-bedroom Penthouse apartment.  Boasting incredible views over the City this is easily the most exclusive and luxurious City pad we have stayed in – now there’s a challenge to others!  Feel free to step up to the challenge.

The apartments allow you to experience staying within the World Heritage Site of the Old Town, combined with the luxurious comforts of a 21st century lifestyle.   Efforts have clearly been made during the design and development to respect the historical surroundings, but also provide travellers like us with the luxury and features they crave in a modern City.

As soon as we entered the elevator we couldn’t help but feel exclusive; there was only one apartment door number for our floor and our penthouse had its very own private landing.  We had the entire floor all to our ourselves!

As we entered the Penthouse we were  impressed by the vast open-plan living and dining space with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, leading onto a balcony with nothing short of stunning views over Princes Street Gardens, over to Fife and beyond.  We even caught a glimpse of the three bridges crossing the Forth at Queensferry.

Although the lighting took a little getting used to the apartment was fitted with state-of-the-art gadgets including hi speed Wi-Fi, electric window blinds, a smart TV and a top of range Bose sound system.  Anywhere that provides your very own Nespresso machine also gets our vote every time – the only thing missing was George Clooney.

We were staying for one evening and had plans to eat out at Angels with Bagpipes which was seconds from our building.  The large kitchen area would have been ideal if we were staying for longer.  Fully equipped with catering-standard knives and utensils, including integrated Siemens appliances as well as blenders / juicers this is place you really wish you were able to call home.

It was a wrench to leave the apartment so soon, but we had plans to explore Edinburgh and what it had to offer.

The City was somewhat ‘chilly’ that weekend, so we spent a few hours warming up and tucking into some homemade burgers at All Bar One on George Street washed down with a few large gins, before venturing up Calton Hill and the Nelson Monument where we enjoyed some even more incredible views of the City.

Returning to the apartment before dinner we were able to relax and chill out for a few hours on the italian designer chairs, firing up the Bose sound system and of course sinking a few more large gin and tonics.

Later that evening we had a lovely meal at Angels with Bagpipes before enjoying an evening of laughs at the intimate Monkey Barrel Comedy Club – both literally on our doorstep.  A great night by all accounts .  Top tip though, don’t sit too close to the front at the comedy club or you’ll become part of the show!

At the end of the evening and after a few more gins we ‘carefully’ made our way up the Royal Mile cobblestones and into Roxburgh Close to retire for the evening.  The Christmas market was also coming to an end and the fair was still in full flow, giving us a pretty unique and impressive night ‘cityscape’.

Two of the three bedrooms had en-suite bathrooms and private balconies overlooking Roxburgh Court.   

Oak wooden flooring led into eye-catching monochrome bathrooms with black granite wall tiling and grey slate flooring.

The beds were extremely comfortable and we had a pretty decent night’s sleep, although a few City revellers could have been a little quieter as they made their way home in the early hours and the chimes from St Giles Cathedral took a little getting used to.   We were in the heart of the City weren’t we so what would you expect and there was no real problem.

We did venture into the kitchen early Sunday morning to pull together some much needed bacon rolls to ease our slightly fuzzy heads, but sadly we had a wee smoke alarm incident!  After a high speed dash down several flights of stairs to the 24hr concierge, to let them know, we were pleased to see that the whole building wasn’t yet being evacuated.

As we watched the City wake up from our penthouse balcony the bacon rolls smothered in ketchup and our shots of nespresso were the perfect start to our day.

As well as the stunning apartments what made the Old Town Chambers stand out for us was the freedom provided to guests and the seamless check in process.   Check-in and check-out was through an individual pin-code access system which was delivered to us in our confirmation email.

With payment already processed, we were able to arrive and go straight to our apartment reducing the need for a check-in procedure.  The discrete 24 hour concierge team was on hand to help out if needed though – especially if you needed help to reset the penthouse smoke alarms!

Lateral City Apartments, who manage Old Town Chambers have really hit the mark with these apartments and really couldn’t have done anything more to provide us with such a private and luxurious experience in Scotland’s capital City.

See for yourself here.

This is certainly a place we’ll be back to visit as we continue to our food and travel journey.

Other Information:

Thank you to the Lateral City / Pagoda Port Novelli Media Agency for providing some of the above pictures for use in our blog. 

Edinburgh West End Luxury, The Chester Residence

We sometimes forget exactly what we have on our own doorstep here in Scotland, so we decided to spend time exploring our capital city of Edinburgh. Two days were never going to be enough so were keen to stay as central as we could.

The Chester Residence was the perfect choice. These award winning Georgian town house apartments in Edinburgh’s west end offer five star serviced apartments with full reception / concierge service and suites serviced daily.

All the luxury and service you would expect from a five star hotel, but with the freedom to come and go as if it was your very own apartment.

As there was only the two of us we chose the one bedroom apartments and managed to grab the Penthouse at Rothesay Place. The 100 steps to the top are worth it as you climb to your very own romantic city centre pad.

The Penthouse had a large roll top bathtub with tile television, huge walk-in double rain shower and a super king sized bed. We chose the penthouse for the large open plan living room / kitchen area.

The sloping ceilings were quirky and the fully fitted kitchen offered all the comforts of home including our very own Nespresso coffee machine which was a nice touch. If you didn’t fancy making breakfast , a nice touch was being able to order a continental breakfast delivered to your apartment.

Our bedroom faced out onto beautiful residential gardens which must have had such a fascinating history over the years. You also had a glimpse off the famous Edinburgh Castle from the bathroom over the adjacent townhouse rooftops.

The welcome we received when we arrived from Jill and her reception team was first class – topped off with a lovely Scottish welcome pack in our apartment.

Our stay included complimentary Wi-Fi, which was fast, a selection of Molten Brown toiletries, robes and slippers and complimentary water. A selection of DVDs was also available for us during your stay, but we never had time as we were out exploring.

We never had time to try it out, but the the IX Lounge and Bar on the ground floor looked excellent. In the evening, the lounge becomes an intimate bar with a selection of local beers, wines, spirits and cocktails.

The apartment’s location was excellent to take advantage of Edinburgh’s West End, just a short walk from Princes Street and the city’s main attractions, including the Edinburgh Gin Distillery and Mary King’s Close on the Royal mile. Have a look at our blogs from our visits – top attractions.

Normally when we travel to Edinburgh we use the train, but as we were heading to the office when we left we decided to drive. Reception, for a small charge, were able to arrange parking for us nearby in their private parking area. This was a great option for us and meant we could didn’t have to worry about feeding parking meters or worrying about getting a parking space.

Our apartment really was luxurious and a perfect base for anyone interested in spending their time in Edinburgh in style. Being able to explore the heart of the City and touch down throughout the day at the apartment was great.

The Chester Residence is an excellent option for those looking for a truly luxury experience in Edinburgh – we hope to be back sometime soon.  Thanks again to Jill and Siobhan for organising our stay and making our visit so enjoyable.

Edinburgh Gin, Connoisseur Tour

What better way to start our Edinburgh visit but with a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery.  Only five minutes walk from our apartment and nestled beneath the stairs at Rutland Place, the Edinburgh Gin Distillery visitor centre offered us a unique chance to discover the gin experience in a real working distillery.

A small-batch distiller and multi-award winner, Edinburgh Gin has been at the heart of the gin renaissance from Scotland’s capital. The tours available include the Gin Discovery, Gin Connoisseurs and the Gin Making Experience with prices starting from £10. We chose the Gin Connoisseur Tour largely as it ended with your very own tasting session in your own ‘Gin Haven’.

Lasting about an hour we had the pleasure of listening to Laura explain the history of gin from the traditional ‘jenever’ spirit through to it becoming popular in the UK when William of Orange, occupied the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones and finally all the way up to present day and the Gins that we now know and love.

Laura was great and really friendly and informative, even handling a few curve ball questions from the inquisitive guests. It would be unfair to retell her story, but it was fascinating and included the distillery process and a hands (and nose) on experience of the vast selection of botanicals, many Scottish, that make their way into the different types of Edinburgh Gin.

Edinburgh Gin recipes are inspired by Edinburgh’s gin-making heritage and surrounding landscape and Laura takes you through this history with great passion. The tour ended with our very own tasting experience in our gin haven? where we tried out the core range, namely Edinburgh Gin, Cannonball Edinburgh Gin and Seaside Edinburgh Gin.

With expert advice from Laura she tantalised our taste buds and shared with us the best way to serve, garnish and mix your gin with various flavoured and plain premium tonic waters. We also sampled a few of the liqueur ranges which went down equally well. Included in the visit (for both of us) was our own 20cl bottle of Edinburgh Gin – now, sadly, no longer with us!

This was easily one of our most favourite attractions and here it was in our very own capital City.  If you are gin lovers this is an absolute must visit attraction and if not you will be after your visit!

(Some pictures courtesy of Edinburgh Gin Distillery)

The Range

EDINBURGH GIN (43% ABV) – A juniper forward London Dry style gin, given a unique Scottish identity with its carefully balanced blend of 14 botanicals.

CANNONBALL EDINBURGH GIN (57% ABV) – Inspired by the famous One O’clock Gun, this navy strength libation has an intense flavour, defined by distinct juniper, citrus and szechuan pepper.

SEASIDE EDINBURGH GIN (43% ABV) – Distilled with foraged seaweed, scurvy grass and ground ivy from the Scottish coast, the unique gin boasts a sweet yet refreshing salinity.

Other Information:

This was a sponsored visit, however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.

Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh

Any stay in Edinburgh wouldn’t be authentic without experiencing some of the City’s wonderful and sometimes dark history.

Imagine a warren of streets frozen in time beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile where behind every twist and turn secrets lie waiting to be told. We had always been intrigued by Mary King’s Close, but had never had the time to visit previously.

Running perpendicular to the Royal Mile and now deep below the current City Chambers, Mary King’s Close and others were once the bustling heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, but are now sealed off and hidden from sight.

Mary King’s Close took its name from one Mary King, daughter of advocate Alexander King, who in the 17th century had owned several properties within the close.

The Real Mary King’s Close tour offers a social history considering the stories of the real people who lived, worked and died on these now underground streets.

Each tour is led by a costumed guide based on a one time resident of the close.

Agnes Chambers (aka Mel) was our guide and she was very enthusiastic, knowledgeable and witty. She quickly took us back in time to 1535 guiding us through a network of closes and houses which to this day still have the original smells and feel about them. Needless to say a walk through Prince Street Gardens (formerly The Nor Loch) now takes on a whole new meaning!

Agnes was a maid in the household of prominent merchant burgess, Alexander Cant in 1535. She told us about life in the town house on Craig’s Close, where there was a dramatic turn of events in the form of a MURDER!

We’ll leave it there as we wouldn’t want to spoil your visit, but needless to say it is pretty authentic and chilling to hear what happened in those days including how the plague was spread and ultimately ‘controlled’.

We heard about the trials and tribulations of everyday life, learnt why it was wise to avoid the streets at 7am and 10pm and discovered how all social classes lived together stacked on top of each other in tenements that are said to have been the world’s first skyscrapers.

The Real Mary King’s Close was a truly unique five star attraction, and is a must see on any trip to Edinburgh.

(All pictures courtesy of The Real Mary King’s Close)

Key Information

The Real Mary King’s Close is operated by Continuum Attractions.

Pre-booking is recommended; advance bookings can be made by calling 0131 225 0672, online at www.realmarykingsclose.com or in person at The Real Mary King’s Close.

The attraction is open throughout the year closing only on Christmas Day with tours departing every 15 minutes throughout the day.

November to March: 10am-5pm (Sun-Thurs) 10am-9pm (Fri-Sat) April to October: 10am-9pm

Due to the nature of the site under 5s are not permitted on the tour.

Other Information:

This was a sponsored visit, however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.