The Fingal, Luxury comes to Leith

Want to experience an unprecedented level of luxury then look no further than Fingal, a luxury five-star floating hotel berthed at Leith docks in Edinburgh.

We’ve visited Edinburgh many times, but Leith hasn’t really featured, with the only exception a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia last year. We were therefore delighted to have the opportunity to stay aboard Fingal, Britannia’s sister ship and recent addition to the Leith landscape.

Fingal was commissioned by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1963 and was the last ship to be built by the Blythswood Shipbuilding Company in Glasgow.   Registered in Leith, Fingal was stationed for 30 years in Oban and then for 6 years in Stromness, ferrying lighthouse keepers, essential supplies and maintenance staff to lighthouses, as well as undertaking repairs to navigational aids throughout the West Coast and the North of Scotland.

Launched in January 2019 with 23 luxurious cabins this 237ft long floating luxury hotel and exclusive use venue has been beautifully restored and transformed and is in stark contrast to her hard working past.  If you do visit, make sure you have a peek at the pristine engine room to remind you of her past and the elegant ballroom to show off her present.

All Fingal’s cabins have been named after one of the Stevenson lighthouses she maintained throughout her operational service. 

We were staying in Girdle Ness one of the luxury cabins with a private door onto an open deck walkway, meaning you could enjoy some fresh air during your stay.

All the cabins have a nautical and historical theme with ‘lighthouse’ Davy lamps, heavy brass fittings, maps, compass designs and bespoke commissioned fabric and throws by local designer Araminta Campbell adding a real Scottish and personal touch. 

Look out for the Fingal emblem throughout the room and the rest of the ship.  If you look closely enough at Neptune’s trident you might just see something else you recognise!

The cabins also have a modern twist with smart TV, Wi-Fi and underfloor heating, although watch out for the slight floor level difference.  Thankfully it has been ‘corrected’ for the king size bed being installed, meaning you don’t inadvertently roll out of bed!

We spent a very leisurely and relaxing afternoon in The Lighthouse Bar sampling a few gins including a very nice Royal Yacht Britannia gin (a new one for us) along with some tasty snacks.

We never dined on board as the ship is perfectly located to explore Leith’s bars and restaurants.  We chose to visit the original Fishers Restaurant nestled on the historic Shore in Leith.  Set in a 17th Century watchtower we feasted on a several very tasty and fresh Scottish seafood dishes – including a rather indulgent fresh lobster which was simply outstanding.

We returned to the Fingal for a wee night cap and an expresso Belvedere Vodka cocktail ! Maybe next time we’ll enjoy a light evening supper or afternoon lunch on the ship as we couldn’t help but notice some impressive and tasty looking dishes in front of the other guests as our evening came to an end.

After a very comfortable and peaceful sleep, the following morning we enjoyed one of the most tasty and artistic ‘Scottish’ breakfasts we have ever had. 

We were only aboard Fingal for twenty four hours but during this time we did feel a sense of romance and relaxation.  The ship really does offer a level of opulence and romance you only find in a handful of venues across Scotland.  A real exclusive and luxury feel destination with some clever attention to detail complemented by very attentive and bespoke customer service.

If you want to spend some romantic and intimate time with a loved one and ‘push the boat out’ then Fingal would certainly be an excellent choice.

We were equally impressed with Leith and were overawed by its vibrancy, variety of bars and restaurants and diverse cultures even after only a few hours exploring.  Its definitely on our radar for a future visit!

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

Our Maiden Cruise, Seabourn Encore, Romance of Rivieras

As we were celebrating an important occasion, our first cruise had to be extra special, so we chose one of the top ultra-luxury cruise lines in the world, Seabourn.

Aboard one of their new ships Encore, we set sail on a 7-night trip from Barcelona on what was billed as the Romance of the Rivieras, visiting Mahon, Marseille, St Tropez, Ajaccio, Monte Carlo, Portovenere and Rome.

At 690 feet long and 92 feet wide Seabourn Encore is larger than the Odyssey-class vessels.  She embarked on her maiden voyage in January 2017 from Singapore and has been exploring the world’s ports ever since.  Carrying only 600 passengers in 300 suites this seemed the perfect size of ship to experience our first ever cruise.

Before we boarded the Encore, we spent a few days exploring Barcelona staying at the five star Majestic Hotel.  Located on Paseo de Gracia, it was perfectly placed to explore Gaudi´s famous buildings, and the city’s restaurants and bars.

The hotel was also celebrating its own special birthday, 100 years of luxury hospitality.

The Junior Suite was just what we needed to slip into the luxury life and relax.

We also enjoyed an incredible evening celebrating Linda’s birthday at the Mandarin Oriental Moments restaurant.

Read more about it here.

If you are looking for good food, culture, architecture, adventure and relaxation Barcelona has it all.

Barcelona really is an incredible city and deserves its own write up, so it is very much on our radar for a another trip.  For our first few days it provided a great base for us to set off on our maiden cruise.

When we boarded the Encore, we were chilled and relaxed. Perfect, as we had another 7 days of very much the same planned!

After a pretty slick and impressive boarding experience and fantastic welcome from Cruise Director Ross we found ourselves sipping champagne and devouring canapés on the Colonnade Restaurant deck at the rear of the ship.

After lunch we headed for the main pool area for the sail away and live opera, the champagne was flowing, the sun was shining and the entertainment team gave us an incredible send off as we departed Barcelona.  

‘Sail aways’ became a special part of our cruise experience trip and we never missed the opportunity each day on deck as we left port.

We were staying in suite 828, a port side mid ship / deck suite.  We had been advised this was a good location for our first cruise experience to see whether we had our sea legs or not.  Thankfully we did!

All Veranda Suites feature a full-length window and glass door to private veranda.  They also offered a very comfortable living area, queen-size bed, walk-in closet with personal safe, interactive flat-screen TV with music and movies. 

We also had a fully stocked bar and fridge, and a surprisingly very spacious bathroom with separate tub and shower.  Plush robes and slippers added to the luxury feel.  Our personal suite stewardess, nightly turndown service, and pillow menu was a nice touch and added to the intimate and personal experience Seabourn are famous for.

One of the main attractions of Seabourn is their award-winning cuisine. Encore offers a choice of dining venues and having the flexibility of being able to dine where and when we wanted was one of the reasons we picked this cruise line. Depending on our mood of the moment we could look out our glad rags for a fine dining experience or enjoy a casual dinner alfresco.

The food was so good and the surroundings that luxurious we never took enough pictures, a slight challenge when pulling together a blog like this.  Hopefully we’ve captured enough to give you a flavour of our experience.

The main restaurant was a stunning venue and offered a real elegant dining experience but perhaps less intimate and romantic than some of the other restaurants.  It features open seating and we always opted for a table for two.   The menu was varied and the food was impressive, we also enjoyed a special tasting menu here to celebrate Seabourn’s 30th anniversary. 

Our favorite restaurant was Sushi.   An amazing team of chefs and front of house staff created authentic and exquisite sushi directly before our eyes. 

You could choose to dine here for lunch or dinner.  Incredibly fresh produce masterfully put together for us to enjoy – a real highlight of our trip with every visit – and added a little romance to the cruise as you shared and enjoyed the amazing dishes prepared for you.

The Grill by Thomas Keller was also a must visit and highly recommended.  Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller has provided the inspiration for this classic American restaurant from the ’50s and ’60s, serving simple but iconic dishes, like premium steaks, whole roasted chicken and Lobster Thermidor.

An intimate and exclusive experience with fab food too!

The Colonnade, is a casual restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating offering meals prepared in open-kitchen style and served as a lavish buffet.  A nice venue, but we’ve never been one for buffets so we only ventured here a few times for breakfast, the odd afternoon snack and to recover from our tender incident!  Read on to find out more.

The Patio offers a relaxed poolside dining option with grilled specialties and freshly baked dishes.   This was our favorite spot for lunch. In the evening you can choose from a full menu and dine under the stars.

We did take advantage of room service most mornings and became pretty partial to an afternoon bottle of champagne and caviar on our veranda. 

A nice touch, if not just a tad opulent!

The WiFi on the ship was generally ok, however it was chargeable, so we normally waited until we were in port to contact the outside world.  This was probably our only real criticism of the ship as most luxury venues now offer WiFi / internet access as standard these days.  On one hand it did allow us to ‘switch off’ more than normal, so that wasn’t a bad thing.

Our first destination was Mahon the capital of Menorca, second largest of the Balearic Islands and the second largest port in the world after Pearl Harbour.

We arrived early that morning and after enjoying the arrival and breakfast on our veranda we set off to explore. 

The winding and narrow streets of this pretty medieval town were quirky, and the Gothic architecture and religious buildings were stunning.

Overall, we had an enjoyable few hours and returned late morning to the Encore for some sun, rest, relaxation and of course champagne and caviar!

Next up for us was Marseille, located in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region of France. An added twist for us cruise ship newbies was arriving into port by tender

The arrival into Marseille was a breeze, but the return journey to ship was eventful and quite simply the scariest experience of our lives! 

Have to say we were a little disappointed with Marseille.  The weather certainly didn’t help, as it took a real turn for the worst shortly after we disembarked the tender.  We couldn’t really put our finger on it, but the City didn’t really come across as welcoming and was less than impressive. 

We had also organised an open top bus tour, but given the torrential rain and lighting, it quickly descended into a bit of a wash out.  So much so that we had to cut the tour shortly, but only after we caught a glimpse of the famous Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica.  We’re putting it down to the weather; maybe our next visit will be more enjoyable.

Back at the Seabourn tender pick up point is where things became interesting.  We were greeted by a fantastic team albeit they seemed a little nervous.  It transpired that the tender before ours was in difficulty due to the weather conditions and couldn’t dock with the ship.  It then had to wait in the choppy seas until the ship could turn 360 degrees allowing it to dock under more favourable conditions.  When our tender eventually set off, we assumed all was fine, but no!  This was the most frightening 10 minutes of our life as the tender crashed through the choppy seas with us hanging on for dear lives. 

When we eventually reached the ship and docked it was clear that we were in the midst of a full-scale emergency operation as the crew, medical staff and senior officers were there to help us disembark.  Ok, we’re sure the crew knew what they were doing and wouldn’t have put us in any real danger, but it was a very scary experience.  We found out later as we recovered in the Colonnade that the tender before us had been stranded in the choppy seas for over 30 minutes, so that put our own experience into perspective.

Like falling of a bike, we were back in a tender the following day. Destination this time was the little port of St. Tropez in France one of the best-known resorts in Europe. 

Before we explored the harbour, we took a short panoramic drive to experience the beauty and contrast of modern Port Grimaud and the medieval Grimaud village.

Situated on a high hill and dominating the Gulf of St Tropez, is Grimaud, a ‘perched’ village. After a short uphill walk, we meandered through the quaint and rustic streets towards the centre of the village and then upwards again to reach a stunning viewpoint.

Back down at sea level Port Grimaud itself is a charming village which looks like an old Mediterranean fishing village, but its really a modern complex of luxury houses, fully equipped marinas, and seven miles of meandering waterways.  

We spent several hours and a short boat trip exploring before heading back to St Tropez.

Returning to St Tropez we found the harbour packed with tourists and fishing boats, excursion craft and luxury yachts all jostling for position.

On the waterfront were old pink and yellow houses, converted into cafes, cabarets and restaurants, luxury boutiques, galleries and antique shops.

After exploring some of the nearby streets and landmarks we settled down for a well-deserved cocktail or two at the famous Le Senequier Restaurant before returning to ship.

This was one of our best and busiest days off ship and we were pleased to return to recharge our batteries early afternoon. One of the things we loved about the Encore, and something we had been worried about before we boarded, was that we were always able to find somewhere to settle down for a few hours to enjoy the sun and relax.  As you can see this was not an issue.

There were always sun loungers available throughout the ship regardless of the time you returned, including some very quiet and discrete areas if you looked hard enough.

Given this was our first trip we never wanted to miss anything, and ended up burning the candle at both ends.  Waking early to ensure we never missed a port arrival and staying up late to enjoy an after dinner cocktail and catch the entertainment took its toll.  Although we enjoyed the experience we both felt that we needed another wee break to recharge after the trip.  Not great when you have day jobs to return to.  

Speaking of entertainment, we normally don’t bother, but being on cruise we had to give it a try. We had heard great things about cruise ship shows. This was our most disappointing aspect as most of the shows were geared towards the more mature passengers, and the lead singers only made an appearance on a couple of evenings during our 7-night trip.  The shows also didn’t have the scale or grandeur of some of the larger ships we had read about, but to be honest we didn’t mind as the smaller ships offer so much more in terms of intimacy and romance.

Ajaccio, located on the west coast of the island of Corsica was our fourth port to visit.

Following another enjoyable early morning arrival into port we explored the area on foot for a short time and then set off on a more successful and drier bus tour. 

First, negotiating the old town area then heading west along a very scenic coastal route towards Torra di a Parata a 16th Century tower landmark. A pretty decent morning, giving us plenty of time to relax back onboard Encore in the afternoon.

We had always been a little concerned that a cruise would perhaps feel overcrowded with issues over space on deck, but this really wasn’t the case on Seabourn.  You could always find a spot to relax, catch some sun, enjoy a cocktail or two in several bars or simply chat to other guests.

Glamorous Monte Carlo was our second last trip and a must visit for anyone wanting to experience luxury and an insight into how the other half live. 

The arrival early morning was spectacular, slowly edging towards port, squeezing past multimillion-dollar yachts, cruisers, watching the town wake up while catching glimpses of the famous Casino, parts of the Grand Prix circuit and the Prince’s Palace.

After disembarking we spent the morning exploring the obvious haunts including the grand prix circuit, grand casino, Hotel de Paris and Café de Paris. 

We also took our own audio guided walk through the narrow streets, past the Oceanographic Museum and the cathedral containing the tombs of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier and stopped off to see the changing of the guard at the Prince’s Palace.

Monte Carlo was impressive and certainly a must visit destination, but we’ve done it now and we wouldn’t necessarily rush back unless of course we won the lottery and had to find somewhere to berth our mega yacht!

Our final port was Portovenere located on the beautiful Ligurian coast of Italy. 

To be honest we hadn’t really known what to expect when we arrived, but it turned out to be our favourite trip of the entire week.

An old fishing village with a protected harbour it featured beautiful pastel shaded buildings, cobbled street and winding alleys. 

It wasn’t too busy either and we enjoyed walking around exploring Chiesa di San Pietro and Castello Doria, which after climbing to the top gave us breathtakingly spectacular and dramatic views of the Encore herself as she waited for us returning. 

All in a great destination that we hope to visit again, especially in the evening as we suspect the atmosphere would be pretty romantic.

Our final destination was Rome, unfortunately our flight home ruled out any chance to explore but we expect to visit again soon.

Our entire Seabourn Encore experience was fantastic and gave us an insight into the world of cruising, something we had wanted to do for some time.  It gave us the opportunity to visit some incredible ports enjoying some stunning scenery along the way and celebrate to the full a really special occasion for us.

Importantly though we did it at our own pace and were able to enjoy the luxurious surroundings and cuisine on aboard whenever we wanted to.  We are now officially part of the ‘Cruiserati’ and already on the look out for our next trip.

Other Information: This was not a sponsored / discounted visit; the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you to Seabourn for allowing us to use some of their images in this blog.

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

As soon as we entered the dining room we knew we were about to experience something out of this world. A real intimate atmosphere immediately descended upon us as we were escorted to our table.

With two Michelin stars, the award winning Mandarin Oriental Moments restaurant delivers fresh and healthy cuisine inspired by Catalan culinary culture.

It’s moments like this that makes our hard work throughout the year worthwhile – a perfect setting to celebrate Linda’s special birthday.

Sometimes it is best to let pictures tell the story so please sit back and enjoy the performance.

Act 1, Liceu – Tomato velvet, cod, black, garlic

Act 2, L’Oca Del Cairo – Goose, panko, pistachio

Act 3, Le Nozze Figaro – Ajoblanco, sardines, nora pepper, olive

Act 4, Maria Callas – Prawns, lentils, dill, American sauce

Act 5, Three Tenors – Modena, Madrid, Barcelone

Act 6, Norma – Eggplant, basil, dashi

Act 7, Opera – Lobster, monkfish, cuttlefish, hake, mussels

Act 8, Carmen – Ox tail, olla gitana

Act 9, Wagner – Montaglona, beetroot, black lemon, piquillo pepper

Act 10, Madame Butterfly – Umeboshi, sudashi, sakura

Act 11, Melba Peach – Peach, raspberry, vanilla

Act 12, Opera Cake – Almond, coffee, chocolate

Bonus course! – A life size (well almost!) interpretation of Sydney Opera House made out of cookies!

Managed by chef Carme Ruscalleda and her son Raül Balam,  Moments provided one of our best gastronomic experiences. A truly unique dining experience and a perfect setting to celebrate such a special evening for us.

We hope to visit again soon.

Other Information: This was not a sponsored / discounted visit; the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you to Mandarin Oriental for allowing us to use one of their images in the blog header.

Rainforest Retreat | Three Sixty Boutique Hotel, Costa Rica

It’s late February and we’ve just booked a low-key week long break to the Canary isles in March – but less than 24 hours later there’s been a change of plan and we’re instead heading off on a bucket list trip to Costa Rica! 

We had left our usual winter trip plans a little late this year; it’s amazing how things come good when all elements of a trip line up.  British Airways released some business class reward flights at the very last minute and we found possibly THE most incredible place we have ever stayed on our travels so far.  

Step up Three Sixty Boutique Hotel, Ojachal, Costa Rica.  Located on the South West coast of Costa Rica with breath taking views of the South Pacific and quite simply the most extraordinary sunsets you will ever see. Three Sixty provided a complete transformation from our usual trips.

Just over a year old Three Sixty is built on a 58-acre trail lined rainforest reserve, with 12 individual villas and the main building taking up less than 8% of the total area. Floating at an altitude of almost 1,000 feet the views of the fractal rainforest canopy and its flora and fauna, palm-lined beaches, distant islands and the endless Pacific Ocean are simply incredible, transporting you to another world.  The 300 km coastline view encompasses panoramas from Manuel Antonio to the Osa Peninsula, the migratory route of many species of whales and dolphins. 

We arrived around 9pm and were greeted with a warm smile by Rebecca who offered us a refreshing fruit cocktail.   There weren’t many guests around and as the place was so peaceful and quiet, we thought we were the only people staying.  

Our 24-hour door to door journey from Scotland had taken its toll, with the final 3 ½ hour leg from San Jose Airport well and truly putting us into the exhausted territory.  We checked in and headed to our villa to unpack and settle down for the night.

Despite being tired the first impression of our villa was impressive with a large open plan living area and bathroom with separate rain shower cubicle.  Furnished with luxury Indonesian furniture, a king size bed and Egyptian cotton towels and linens – we immediately had a sense of luxury and something special. 

The villa had the usual amenities you would expect from a luxury hotel, but it was nice to see a Nespresso machine, mini refrigerator, impressive Wi-Fi and importantly a first-class modern remote-controlled air conditioning system.   WiFi speed was pretty good at around 7mbps and coverage was excellent throughout complex – so good in fact we had to remind ourselves we were indeed at the top of a rainforest!

We had a sneaky glimpse through the floor to ceiling windows, but it was pitch black outside, so we had to wait until the morning to see whether we had a ‘good’ view.  As first nights go, we had a great sleep, but we were both excited with what the morning would bring so keen for dawn to break.

Wow! – I don’t think we will ever experience a more exhilarating first morning.   

Waking early to enchanting jungle sounds we drew back the curtains, the views were simply breath taking with butterflies, toucans and parrots to name a few in the trees providing a natural background soundtrack.  See for yourself here.

We had caught a glimpse of the main building the night before, but as we made the thirty second walk to breakfast in the Kua Kua Restaurant the beauty of the main building became apparent. 

It was simply stunning, made from traditional and modern materials it has open and airy architecture, natural floral walls and vaulted ceilings.  

In the centre an enormous fountain fed by natural rainwater reminds you that you are in the middle of a rainforest.

We were greeted by Christina who immediately made us welcome with her incredibly warm and engaging smile. Keeping with the ‘three sixty’ theme, the restaurant offers the concept of a full rotation of cuisine through the seasons – for the time being though we had our sights set on the Banana Bread French toast with maple syrup!

Breakfast was always special with fresh coffee, baked breads / pastries, fruit juice smoothies and some impressive dishes to choose from, including scrumptious avocado toast and freshly made waffles with fried chicken and syrup!  

Yes, that’s what we said.  Fried chicken and syrup.  See for yourself – a great start to the day. Don’t forget the pancakes too!

The hotel was quiet and peaceful during our stay and when we weren’t out exploring, we simply chilled out by the infinity pool.  

The views from the sumptuous padded sun loungers were incredible, and you easily lost yourself in your thoughts as you watched the array of birds soaring above you and looked over the rainforest canopy towards the Pacific Ocean.  

The team knew exactly when to bring us an ice bucket with a chilled water bottle, a sneaky afternoon cocktail or a beer served up by Eddy.  Even better, was when we harnessed just enough energy to lift our head off the sun lounger, we had to walk no more than 10 steps to reach the Kua Kua for an afternoon snack.

You can choose from the bar Bocas menu or an afternoon lunch menu.  We pretty much worked our way through the Bocas menu during our stay.  The menus were very reasonable in terms of cost and perfectly sized portions kept us going until early evening dinner.

Don’t forget the desserts!

A gin and tonic cost around $10, a very enjoyable bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc was $26, and bottle of Corona beer was $7.   Bocas ranged from $11 for fish tempura to $15 for a homemade burger.  All very reasonable and tasty too!

In recent years our trips have gradually become more active and wildlife focused so where better to take it to a new level than Costa Rica with its abundance of wildlife.  Look out for our other blog on this soon and a short video here!

With Playa Tortuga on our doorstep, Marina Ballena National Park close by and a local horse-riding tour this was the perfect place to explore.

We had had mixed information before we arrived at the hotel over how easy it was to explore the area on foot direct from the hotel.  Some reviews said you could, and others were clear that it was impossible to walk anywhere, and you needed a car.

The hotel team were a little  surprised at our exploits, indeed possibly thinking we were a little crazy, however, provided you’re relatively fit, avoid the hottest part of the day, take a water bottle and don’t mind a few more challenging inclines there is a 5km / 1hr 15mins circular route direct from the hotel front door.  

Halfway round there is a great pit stop at Restaurante Citrus where you’ll find a cool beer (or two) the perfect thirst quencher, ever!

We were a little apprehensive at first setting out to explore an unknown area, but we felt safe and comfortable exploring on our own on foot. You’ll experience some amazing vistas as you descend the tracks as well as some interesting bird life.

The locals had been performing rain dances during our stay as they were going through a very dry spell for the time of year.   It meant that the dirt tracks up from the main Route 34 to the hotel were very dry and dusty; top tip is to take walking poles to help you keep a sure footing.

If you’re up for the challenge the last 100 metre climb to the front of the hotel is one to burn off some of the banana bread french toast calories – alternatively a golf buggy is normally on hand if you’ve ran out of energy!

Special mention to Jose from guest services, who was always on hand to offer us his personal insight into potential trips and wildlife in the area.  A very guest focused individual who had a very natural way of engaging and making guests feel at ease – a real credit to the Three Sixty team.

Our villa was one of the best placed to enjoy the sunsets with the terrace offering an outstanding level of privacy and a feeling of being the only couple for miles around.  Whether we had chosen a lazy day by the pool or had been out exploring the Costa Rican wildlife we always found ourselves on our terrace enjoying the mesmerising and ever-changing sunsets. Have a look here to see what we mean.  

This was a real special part of our trip as we relaxed with music playing. Not too loud though that it drowned out the jungle noise but just enough to create a chilled feeling as we watched the sun gradually disappear over the horizon.  Even when the sun had disappeared it was amazing how the sky kept cycling through its kaleidoscope of colours and the jungle sounds began to change as night set in.

Before we forget, depending on where your villa faces, make sure you manage at least one early rise to catch the dawn from the main building – we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise sipping a Nespresso in the main building – a perfect start to the day.

Evenings at Three Sixty were very relaxed with a very intriguing dining menu to choose from including shrimp ceviche, octopus toast, a fresh fish main course, yellow curry and beef tenderloin.    

Chef Nelson Spichiger sources his fresh ingredients locally, visiting local produce markets and fishermen each morning.  The result is some very fresh and vibrant dishes.

All dishes were exceptional and served with a real attention to detail complemented by first-class table service from the waiting staff.  A special mention to Fauricio who was so passionate and enthusiastic about what he did; he and Erica were so attentive and genuinely made our dining experiences more enjoyable.

Again, dishes were very reasonable with starters ranging between $12 and $18 and main courses around $21 to $25.

If you’re lucky to be there for as long as we were Chef Nelson may offer to rustle up some specials for you.  Don’t forget if you’ve had an active day and want a lazy night you can always order in room service from the Bocas menu to enjoy on your secluded terrace.

We really can’t thank Amalia and her team enough; from our contact before we arrived to the experience during our stay Amalia and her team made us very welcome and genuinely provided us with a very personal, intimate and relaxing stay complemented by a very high-class level of service.   We would have to say that the entire team at Hotel Three Sixty has set the level of service benchmark for others to aspire to.

Costa Rica was on our bucket list before now and with so much to see and do it is certainly high up on our list for a second visit very soon – hopefully capturing a glimpse of the elusive Perezoso (or Sloth) next time round.

Hotel Three Sixty was an incredibly ambitious and innovative concept.  A special mention to the team behind it who have created an architectural masterpiece uniquely and sympathetically nestled into the Costa Rican landscape. 

More than likely Hotel Three Sixty will feature on our itinerary when we return as we’re looking forward to seeing the next stage of their eco-village plan fall into place.

Pura Vida as they say in Costa Rica.

Other Information: This was a sponsored / discounted visit; however the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you to Hotel Three Sixty for allowing us to use some of their images in this blog.

Scottish Seafood, Good for the ‘Sole’, Little’s Restaurant, Perthshire

We had a bit of a religious theme going on with our last trip staying at The Church Tower, in Crieff and then a wee visit to Little’s Restaurant in the former Riverside Methodist Church in Rattray and Blairgowrie. 

Look out for our Church Tower blog coming soon, but first up Little’s Restaurant and Fish in Crieff.

Willie Little is well known in the area and has a wealth of experience in the catering industry with Little’s being the latest in a line of popular restaurants he has owned and run in Angus and Perthshire over the years.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Willie during our visit and what an interesting and infectious character he is with some amazing and wonderful stories about the church transformation, floorboards, dry rot, his plans for the future, how the renovation came in a ‘little’ over budget and of course his passion for seafood.  

The full story of the church transformation can be found here

Willie is so passionate about fish it’s no surprise his menus feature traditional as well as some more unusual dishes. Willie also has a love for seasonal Scottish fish and seafood and has a passion for sharing this with his customers both at the shop and the restaurant. 

He spends his mornings at his fish shop in Crieff and then travels onto Blairgowrie in the afternoon to cook in the evenings in the restaurant.  Thinking up his daily specials whilst driving from Crieff to Blairgowrie his restaurant team  must be on their toes to spring into action for his customers arriving for lunch.

We arrived for afternoon lunch and were given a very warm welcome by Helen who invited us in to marvel at the unique surroundings.  The renovation is stunning and full of character; built in 1885 it became the headquarters in 1917 of the Labour Corps and around 20,000 men of all ages and ranks passed through in the following two years. Built from Pictfield Quarry stone to seat 440 people, the church was completed and consecrated in 1887.

As Helen showed us to our table, we couldn’t miss the unique and impressive central stained-glass window.  Erected in 1922, the window, we are told, is the only memorial in Britain to the 7,000 officers and men of the Labour Corp who gave their lives in WW1.

Our attention was eventually drawn away from the stained-glass window by an equally impressive fish menu and specials blackboard with many traditional and unusual fish and seafood pairings / combinations to choose from.  Decisions, decisions!

Our starters were a selection of seafood tasters including mussels with bacon, crispy squid rings, prawn mayonnaise and smoked salmon along with an impressive dish of hand-dived Orkney king scallops and black pudding.  A very tasty start to our lunch and the first restaurant we can truly say we really enjoyed the squid – very moreish!

Mains were just as impressive with a delicious fillet of sea bass, with rosti potato, smoked bacon, and cabbage and Fish of the Day.   Willies passion is to encourage his customers to try types of fish they may not have tried before.  On the menu for us was Megrim a flatfish similar in flavour to Dover sole. From the same family as turbot and brill, it has softer flesh and thin skin that can be easily crisped during cooking.  

Served with toasted almonds, sauté potatoes, and nut-brown butter, the Megrim was fab and very filling – a word of warning if you think you’ve finished, flip it over and you’ve got plenty more to work through.  So much so, the space normally left for desserts was easily breached.

Willie sources all his fish and seafood from trusted suppliers in places like Peterhead and Kinlochbervie knowing all the fishermen and the divers direct. What we found interesting was that he knew where everything in his restaurant and fishmongers, Fish in Crieff, comes from.

Through his fishmongers, Fish in Crieff, Willie has access to the freshest fish that Scottish waters has to offer coming daily from Scrabster Market in the North of Scotland, from market to plate within 12 hours. 

Staying at The Church Tower only a few 100 metres along from his shop in Crieff, Willie was pleased to arrange for us to visit and try some of the fresh produce on offer. 

We had hoped to catch Willie in his shop, but he was long gone on his daily journey to Blairgowrie by the time we arrived at the shop around 9am.  Suspect he had another busy day ahead of him.

Not to worry as we received another warm welcome from Shaun who was hard at work filleting some Red Fish at his work counter when we arrived.  Very knowledgeable and engaging Shaun showed us around the shop answering our questions and giving advice on how to prepare and cook the different types of fish and seafood. 

The shop has everything you would expect and much more and the people and visitors to Crieff are so lucky to have this on their doorstep.  We left with fresh mussels, red fish, scallops and some cod fillet.  Red Fish isn’t the most attractive fish, so we’ll save you from the before pictures, but the fillets and finished dish was a little more pleasing on the eye. 

Back at the Church Tower we set about trying to create dishes that might not be too far out of place on Willies specials board, including Thai Chilli and Coconut Mussels, Red Fish with Sweet Potato and Thai Chilli and Coconut Cod Fillet. 

We might need to work on our presentation, but even if we do say so ourselves, the dishes were fab.  Nothing to do with the skills of the amateur chefs, but instead simply down to the freshness of the ingredients!

The Riverside Methodist Church in Rattray and Blairgowrie was clearly a focus for the community and War efforts in years gone by and it’s a pleasure to see that it has become so once again.  With a warm and welcoming atmosphere Willie has created a unique venue, in a prime location, serving outstanding cuisine which perfectly showcases Scotland’s amazing seafood. 

Fish in Crieff is equally as impressive and is the type of shop that we wish every high street would have, providing everyone with the opportunity to prepare dishes with the same ingredients as Willie and other top chefs serve up to their customers.

We really can’t recommend Little’s Restaurant and Fish in Crieff highly enough and we’ll definitely be returning when we’re visiting Perthshire again.

Other Information: Thank you to Littles Restaurant / Fish in Crieff for providing a few pictures for our social media feeds / blog.  This was a sponsored visit, however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you also to Clare Graham from www.advantagepr.co.uk for the connection. 

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 Bahía Del Duque, Costa Adeje, Tenerife – Luxury Guaranteed

Bahía del Duque is a Leading Hotel of the World (LHW) and it easily lives up to that status.

It is situated in the most exclusive end of Costa Adeje and is a laid out as a mock 19th century Spanish / Canarian village with direct access onto Playa Del Duque. The ‘village’ has five pools, streets, squares, church towers and stunning architecture filled with a mix of palms, dragon trees, flame trees, jacarandas, fruit trees and cactus.

Bahía del Duque is located on a large estate of approximately 100,000sqm. This project by renowned architect Andrés Piñeiro, recreates a Villa, with nineteen low-rise independent houses.

What makes Bahía del Duque stand out is that it really doesn’t feel like a large hotel, but more of a homely Spanish village all on its own and in some areas, has scenes straight out of a fairy tale.

Our check in was seamless, a little automated to be honest, but efficient and speedy – it did what it said on the tin as they say! The staff, in their traditional dress, were excellent throughout the hotel and across all departments – nothing was ever a problem and they put you at ease from the moment you arrived.

One of the very few criticisms we did have of the hotel was the reception area which was very hot; it would have been nice to have an air-conditioned area for guests to relax and ‘chill’. Perhaps something to think of in the future, especially for guests waiting to be picked up for their journey home.

We were in a Deluxe Seaview room, on a half board basis, and we managed to land one with a sun terrace and decent views of the sea through the ‘village’ rooftops.

Since our last stay in 2012 the rooms have undergone refurbishment and they have more of a modern feel about them than before.

A nice touch was the bottle of fizz chilling for our arrival – needless to say it disappeared very quickly along with the chocolate dipped strawberries.

Having the sun on our terrace from mid-afternoon meant we could retire to our room, enjoy a bite to eat from the room service menu and then relax with a large gin on the incredibly comfortable sun loungers.

Bahia del Duque stood out for us during our last trip for its gastronomic dining experience and this is what we came back for.  This is where Las Aguas stepped up to the plate – pun intended! Worth noting that across all restaurants (except Sensu Kazan) guests on half board could choose ‘inclusive’ dishes, but for some dishes there were supplements to pay.

Las Aguas is the flagship restaurant of Bahía del Duque. Located within the area of Las Villas, in a unique and exclusive setting, it was created by the interior designer Pascua Ortega. Las Aguas serves traditional Canarian cuisine using the most avant-garde techniques developed by its chef Braulio Simancas.

Fresh fish, local meats, market produce and the chef’s own market garden provided a menu full of flavours and textures. Las Aguas is one of our favourites restaurants, so on our first night we chose the 13-course tasting menu.

Celebrating traditional, Canarian tradition and culture it was simply outstanding. From start to finish the dishes were fresh, intense and exciting and the experience was very well priced. The entire evening felt special and exclusive with the most attentive staff we have had for a long time.  Overall Las Aguas provided a first class start to our stay and set the bar for others restaurants to follow.

A special mention for the dessert of white chocolate soup, passion fruit, mint and cardamom – this dessert is delicious and remains one of our firm favourites; highly recommended and worth visiting Lad Aguas for that alone!

We dined again here on our final evening and chose the traditional a la carte menu as the tasting menu on offer was the same as our earlier visit.  Although, another enjoyable evening, it didn’t quite live up to our first night and it would have been nice to have an alternative tasting menu or wider selection of a la carte dishes for guests visiting the restaurant more than once during their stay. That said, the larger portion of white chocolate soup went down a treat.

With a beautiful view over the Hotel’s swimming pool and central plaza La Brasserie offered us a refined menu by prestigious Belgian chef Pierre Résimont. Developed further by chef Yoseba Llarena local and seasonal products made up an impressive menu of Gallic cuisine. We kept it simple and started with a Beef carpaccio cooked at low temperature, with tuna froth and then shared a lovely and simple Chateaubriand with Béarnaise sauce on the side. Sometimes simplicity and quality food is all you need for a special evening.

We were excited by the new offering since our last visit. Sensu Kazan, a partner restaurant for Bahia Del Duque, offered a menu of Japanese haute cuisine dishes, a Sushi Bar and a Robatayaki Grill.

We visited on our third night and although the food was excellent, fresh and authentic, we would have to say they really missed a trick in creating an atmosphere, capturing our senses and making it a memorable evening. Other than Sushi Bars, we haven’t eaten in many Japanese restaurants and it would have been nice to have been guided through what seemed to be an impressive menu.  Thankfully, the trusty Iphone was on hand to offer suitable translations. If they can get the customer engagement / experience right and to the same standards as the main hotel Sensu Kazan will become a worthy addition to the gourmet offering at the hotel. Not being part of the half board basis, they could perhaps consider the price point, as being very similar to Las Aguas, it certainly didn’t offer the same value for money.

Another new restaurant since our last visit, Sea, which means fire in Euskera (the Basque language), offered another gastronomic experience.

With expert chefs hard at work in an open kitchen they worked their magic with smoky aromas helping us on a journey into Basque cuisine.

We also dined in La Trattoria, which serves Italian cuisine, La Hacienda a mexican and Alisios Market Food.  All of them provided different atmospheres and options depending on your preferences each evening and importantly impressive menus and choices.

A buffet breakfast is served in El Bernegal restaurant with an excellent selection of cold, hot dishes and Nespresso coffee. When we chose to eat in the morning, led to a very different experience with the ‘family’ side of the resort clearing showing through during busier peak times. We ate here every morning just after 10am and it was very nice, but we did miss having the option of the more relaxing a la carte breakfast experience we have enjoyed at other hotels recently. A la carte breakfasts were available for guests staying in Casas Ducales and Las Villas accommodation, but that’s another level of luxury, sadly out of our price range!

El Bernegal offers themed buffets and show cooking in the evening where you could taste the best international cuisine.  We tried here one evening as we were dining early and were pleasantly surprised with the quality and presentation of dishes. Buffets tends to be more functional than a real dining experience and are not our preferred option however El Bernegal certainly provided a quality option for those guests with young children, or those perhaps looking for a less formal experience.

The Thalassotherapy circuit / spa is well worth a visit where a two-metre waterfall invites to enjoy hydromassage jets, bubble beds and the therapeutic benefits of sea water which is apparently taken directly from the Atlantic Ocean. We spent an entire day here during our second week and had one of our most relaxing experiences for a long time. This area is complemented by a hammam, saunas, a cold water pool and an outdoor solarium with shaded relaxation areas. The cold water pool certainly isn’t for the faint hearted!

This was our third time at Bahia Del Duque and our first since venturing into the food and travel world. This resort covers all the bases in terms of what we look for in a break, relaxation, luxury and a gourmet / gastronomic experience up there with the best!

The Bahia Del Duque, at this time of year anyway (August), didn’t give us the full couple’s experience we’ve enjoyed in the past, but it will also be a special place for us as it was probably the hotel that got us hooked on luxury and gourmet travel. No doubt we will be back in the future!

Greywalls Hotel & Chez Roux Restaurant, East Lothian

Greywalls Hotel is located on the edge of Muirfield championship golf course with views over East Lothian and the Firth of Forth in Scotland.

Overlooking the famous greens of the 9th & 18th holes, Greywalls has a reputation of being ‘a golfers paradise’. We weren’t there to enjoy the golf and the weather certainly wasn’t going to allow us to do that; instead we were there to sample the famous Chez Roux dining experience and enjoy the surroundings of this Scottish Edwardian Country House.

As soon as we stepped foot in the hotel you felt very much at ‘home’.

The surroundings were cozy and warm, staff were very friendly and helpful and nothing was too much bother.

Greywalls was built in 1901 and retains all the character from these times. There were several drawing rooms to allow a catch up, glass of prosecco (or two) and game of cards before getting ready for dinner. A few guests were taking advantage of afternoon tea, which was very tempting, but we had dinner to look forward to later.

Our rooms were nice and cosy and perfect for our overnight stay with all the amenities you would expect.

Before dinner we enjoyed canapes and drinks in one of the large wood panelled drawing rooms, which was a very nice and relaxing way to start the evening.

One of our parents is coeliac and Greywalls had absolutely no problem in adapting the dishes to ensure we all enjoyed the experience. A nice touch indeed.

Dinner was served in the original dining room seating up to 20 and sharing the same views as the main dining room overlooking the 10th tee at Muirfield championship golf course.  Albert Roux himself says Chez Roux offers “french classical cuisine with a flair and lightness, using local products as much as possible.”

The menu at Greywalls offers this in abundance with Orkney scallops, Alladale Estate deer, the more local North Berwick crab and guinea fowl from East Lothian to name but a few. It is certainly nice to see produce from all over Scotland being served in such a high quality restaurant.

We must say that the ‘Roasted Orkney Scallops’ and ‘Duck Liver Ballantine’ starters were first class and the ‘Poached Lemon Sole’ and ‘Perthshire Squab Pigeon’ mains outstanding.  Our images may not do them justice, but trust us the dishe tasted amazing!

Breakfast was also a very relaxing and pleasant experience with the usual choices you would expect from a five star Scottish Hotel.

We had plans to explore the walled gardens more, but sadly the weather didn’t allow it – maybe next time!

All in all, if you’re looking for an elegant, tranquil and peaceful fine dining experience Greywalls certainly offers this for you.  We absolutely loved our stay as did our parents who have been raving about it ever since!

(Some pics courtesy of Greywalls / ICMI Collection)