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!

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)