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 the ‘retiree’ in the group for the help with the write up on this one.

Seabourn Encore, Ultra Luxury at Sea, Our First Ever Cruise

Not only were we celebrating a special 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 their brand new ship Encore we set set sail from Barcelona on what was billed as the Romance of the Rivieras, visiting Mahon, Marseille, St Tropez, Ajaccio, Monte Carlo, Portovenere and Rome.

We were not disappointing and are now part of the ‘cruiserati’ world!

Full blog to follow, but pics tell a thousand words.   A few courtesy of our friends at Seabourn!

 

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!

Spring Sunshine, Ardnamurchan and Moidart, Scottish Highlands

This was our second trip to Ardnamurchan in less than 6 months, staying again at Garmoran Square, Mingarry, Moidart.   Our first trip can be found here.

Moidart is best known as Bonnie Prince Charlie country as he arrived in Kinlochmoidart in August 1745 landing at Castle Tioram on route from France setting sail up Loch Shiel from Dalilea.

It’s worth reading up on the history before you arrive as you’ll immediately fall in love with these stories and the folklore the area has to offer.

Full blog to follow shortly…..enjoy pics just now!

Pangkor Laut Resort, Malaysian Five Star Island Luxury

Sea otters, monitor lizards, hornbills, fruit bats and macaque monkeys with a background track of enchanting jungle noises played out for us during our morning walk to breakfast – we couldn’t believe how lucky we were – this was our kind of island!

We hadn’t visited this part of the world for over 15 years, so there was an unusual air of excitement before we set off from Scotland.  This was also our first big trip of 2018, kicking off a year of special birthday celebrations.

With an almost 27-hour trip from our home in Scotland via London ahead of us, we’d bagged a great deal on Business Class flights, so the journey was a breeze and started as soon as we arrived at the British Airways Lounge at Glasgow Airport.

The James Bond style speed boat trip at the other end of the journey was another story!

Located off the Straits of Malacca, Malaysia, Pangkor Laut Resort is a five star luxury resort situated on its own 300 acre privately owned tropical island.

We arrived shortly after 8pm at the Resort’s reception at the Marina Island Jetty on the mainland.  The Resort had arranged private transfers for us from the Airport. Fully air-conditioned, with comfortable leather reclining chairs, the luxury theme of our trip continued, making the 250 kilometre, 3 ½ journey much more enjoyable.   A great touch was the mobile Wi-Fi device which meant we could catch up on social media etc. during the journey!

The welcome at the Marina Island reception is what we expected – refreshing drink, cold towel and air conditioned lounge – what came next was not!  We were shown to a private jetty where our speed boat transfer was departing.

It was a little dark for any great pictures, however, the experience was exciting and exhilarating with the boat crashing through the waves – only thing missing was Sean Connery!  As the bow of the boat began to settle we saw the lights of the sea villas gradually come into focus and the magic of the island began to take hold.

We were given a great welcome on the island and shown to our Spa Villa to the south of the island.  A unique and mesmerising walk along the raised boardwalk ended our 27-hour trip from Scotland.  It was also the very first resort that our luggage had arrived at the villa before us – simple things make such a difference.

These private villas on stilts over the sea provide access to the Spa Village.   Linked by raised wooden boardwalks, they really are the signature accommodation of the Resort and provided us with an incredible level of privacy and exclusivity.

Our villa had an oversized bath, large balcony with padded sunbeds for private sunbathing and a great view of the Straits of Malacca.

One slight negative we had heard about the resort was the number of industrial ships which spanned the horizon of the Malacca Straits, especially in the views from the Spa Villas.  While it would have been nice to have had a clear horizon, we would have to say they really didn’t affect our trip at all and at night their lights provided an interesting feature to the sky line.   Really not a problem.

One piece of advice is to ignore weather forecasts.   Weeks before we arrived these had us worried, with very poor weather predicted.  The region has its very own micro climate.  For the periods we were there, we had the same poor forecast, which bore no resemblance to the weather we enjoyed.   Overall the weather was excellent, but very humid, just don’t move anywhere too fast and you’ll be fine.  For female readers, your hair can have a mind of its own and in Linda’s case its own personality – remember those hair clips!

The large oversized bath with overhead shower had shutters that folded back for a real ‘outdoor’ shower experience!

We even had our very own Nespresso machine to enjoy refreshing morning coffees on our balcony.   The mini bar was very reasonably priced and the complementary bottled water a great feature throughout the resort.

Complementary WiFi was provided via a small pocket size device, which worked very well.  Keep it charged and, except for the jungle trek, you’ll enjoy decent internet speeds across the island.  Top tip though, it’s great to leave it back in your villa on occasion and simply enjoy what the island has to offer.  There’s plenty time for social media later.

A minor comment was the limited number of power outlets in the villa, so we would highly recommend some form of ‘multiple’ USB charging plug to keep your various devices topped up.  A mobile power bank also goes down well if you’re out and about a lot.

The resort is very linear in nature and excellent if you want to work up an appetite or work off your evening meal!  Our villa was probably the furthest away as possible from the main lobby area, down at Coral Bay, and took around 15 mins to walk between these points.

Every walk though gave us a different experience with an abundance of wildlife to look out for.  Short video here.

The highlight being the sea otters that regularly joined us on our trips to and from restaurants.

Or was it the other way around?  Were we joining them on a visit to their restaurants?

Worth saying there were also air-conditioned shuttles available across the resort, but we rarely used them.  For the more adventurous there was the ‘jungle trek’ which took us through the 2 million year old rain forest to Emerald Bay, considered by some as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

The short trek is approximately half a kilometre long through the northern perimeter of the lush rainforest, while the longer more challenging two and half kilometre trek offers great views of the sea from the top of the southern perimeter.

On our first day we had planned to accompany the resort’s resident naturalist on his daily trek through the jungle, but we were delayed at breakfast.  After lathering up on sun cream and mosquito repellent, we were brave and decided to venture out on our own.

The jungle trek is part of the Chapman’s Challenge an event which celebrates British Colonel, Freddy Spencer Chapman, who made Pangkor Laut his destination for thirty-six hours in 1945. After spending three and a half years in hiding from the Japanese in the jungles of Malaya, he made his way to Pangkor Laut’s Emerald Bay to escape by submarine.

We obviously had much more of an enjoyable and luxurious encounter with the island, than Mr Chapman, but our daily circular trips reminded us of the conditions he must have experienced.

The packing of our walking shoes, digital camera and binoculars were great decisions and a must for anyone with an interest in wildlife.  Have patience and you’ll get great rewards, especially at the end when you see Emerald Bay.

We were on a full board package meaning we could enjoy all the dining options from the resort; this really was great value for money.   For a 5 star resort the drinks prices were not too bad with a pleasant New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as one of the house wines.

Situated in the Spa Village, Fisherman’s Cove provided western grill, fresh seafood and Italian cuisine and was clearly our favourites restaurant, dining here five nights during our stay.  A great excuse to dress up.

With an open show-kitchen and stunning sea view this really was what we had come to the island to enjoy.  Peaceful, relaxing, fine dining and great service from a team of staff to make your evening special.

Highlight of the menu was the Fried Marine Prawn with Citrus Aioli and caramelized walnuts starter and the Banana Crumble dessert, both amazing dishes.

Mains were great, but the Catch of the Day Chargrilled Lobster with garlic butter was something special.

On one evening we were treated to a unique ‘lightning’ show as a storm rolled over the mainland – there’s that micro-climate again.  You might be tempted to go for an outdoor table, but the secret is to be one row inside where you’ll get the luxury of a cooling ceiling fan.

Uncle Lim’s Kitchen was another restaurant we enjoyed, although not as exclusive as Fisherman’s Cove.   The restaurant is built atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea and named after the chef who has been with the resort since it opened.

Uncle Lim’s Kitchen specialises in Nyonya and Hockchew Chinese style home cooking and would have to say it went down very well and we enjoyed a few more casual evenings there.

Perhaps a little rushed at times but make a point in asking for service to be slowed down and you’ll be fine.  Certainly a restaurant not to be missed.

The Straits restaurant is another experience not to be missed, set on the rocks by the beach, and only open three nights a week, serving a maximum of 10 couples per evening.

It provides a very exclusive fine dining experience with bespoke personal menus drawn from South East Asian influences.  Private dining booths line both sides of the restaurant with one side offering exclusive views of the sea.

Another unique experience for us was the fruit bats flying overhead just metres above our head as we enjoyed our pre-dinner G&Ts.

The overall experience here was first class, however the food on offer at Fisherman’s Cove edged it for us.

The team at the Royal Bay Beach Club were great and helped us enjoy our afternoon lunches.  Overlooking the infinity pool, the menu had a selection of Asian and Western dishes and was the perfect setting to cool down with a warm beer or glass (or two) of wine.

The Feast Village featured a patisserie, café, Chef’s table and wine cellar where guests could purchase wines of their choice and is open for breakfast and dinner.

This was the main restaurant and quite busy.  Although the food here was good, we preferred the fine dining / leisurely experience at Fisherman’s Cove and the Straits.

The Spa Village located in the south east comprises eight treatment pavilions, a deluxe Belian Treatment Pavilion, three Healing Huts, two Bath Houses, three Thai Pavilions and a Herb Garden really is a unique retreat.

We were able to enjoy the Spa surroundings and use of the infinity pool and sun terrace, but we also tried out the treatments including the bath house ritual.   A soothing footbath and an invigorating chinese foot pounding, started off our experience.  We were then escorted to respective male or female Bath Houses to enjoy the traditional Malay “circulating” bath.

A Japanese-style cleansing with a goshi-goshi cloth in followed, before a dip in the heated rock pool.  An exfoliating Shanghai Scrub then set us up very nicely for our 80 minute Balinese massage.    An all-round great experience which really took us into the relaxation zone for the rest of our stay.

Our trip went by at a reasonable pace, not too fast and not too slow.  We really enjoyed the privacy and intimacy of our Spa Villa and were able to switch off and just be in the moment for most of the stay.

Our return trip home was pretty much the same but obviously in reverse.  It was light enough for us to enjoy the speed boat journey back to the Marina a little more before our journey to Kuala Lumpur and onward flight to the UK.

YTL Hotels owns and manages Pangkor Laut Resort and a prestigious collection of other award-winning resorts, hotels, boutique experiences across the world.  This was our first experience with them and have to say it was very special indeed.  Their resort management, headed up by Emmanuel, and supported by Stephen and Dashni were outstanding and made us feel so welcome.

We’ll no doubt be visiting more YTL Resorts and when we return to Pangkor Laut we’ve already got our sights on the famous Pavarotti Suite who understandably fell in love with the island!

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. 

Mains of Taymouth & Highland Safaris – Luxury in Perthshire

We’ve done our fair share of travelling in recent years across Scotland, however, Kenmore wasn’t a place that we’ve visited before.

It’s was great to get an opportunity to try somewhere new; even better that it was only 1 ½ hrs from our home and had so much to do, see and explore.    The journey up from Lanarkshire via Crieff was very scenic and got our weekend off to a great start.

Kenmore is a village at the mouth of the 14 mile long Loch Tay and is a great base for activities on and around the Loch itself, such as sailing, canoeing and water-skiing.

We were staying at Mains of Taymouth Country Estate & Golf Course for 2 nights.  The estate to the north of the village, is a 4 & 5 star award winning luxury self-catering resort, nestled on the edge of Loch Tay, comprising holiday cottages, houses, villa’s and apartments.

The estate has a range of luxury pet friendly lodges / cottages with hot tubs and private gardens and impressive facilities, including Golf Course, Riding Stables, Courtyard Bar & Restaurant and Boat Hire.  It also boasts decent 3g and 4g coverage – perfect for travel and food bloggers!

We arrived on a Friday and it was a great day in terms of weather with clear blue skies and bursts of sunshine.  We arrived early to enjoy as much of the area as we could, stopping off at the Courtyard Bar to refuel with coffee and homemade scones with jam, before we ventured up nearby Drummond Hill.   Walk Highlands, is our ‘go to’ website for Scottish walks, but Drummond Hill must be one of the most challenging grade 1s we’ve ever done – thankfully the views at the top are totally worth it.

The walk took a couple of hours and gave us a real appetite for lunch at the Courtyard Bar.  The food came very quickly, service was first class and hit the spot perfectly – all reasonably priced too.  We even managed to wash it all down with a couple of Scottish Gins, Edinburgh Gin and the Botanist this time round.

Our cottage was ready early around 3.30pm when we got the call from reception, but we were out enjoying the autumn colours and the banks of the Tay munching on the moreish gin and tonic fudge we’d bought earlier in the Courtyard Delicatessen.

We returned around 4.30pm and checked in at reception where we got a very warm welcome from the team and keys to ‘The Bothy’.

Situated in the northern corner of the resort is a 19th Century traditional courtyard; consisting of several different sizes of luxury cottages.  We were staying in the 5 star ‘The Bothy’.  This cottage is perfect for a romantic couples’ getaway and offered a level of privacy you perhaps wouldn’t have expected for such a large resort.   Perfect, especially if you wanted to enjoy the hot tub in your own private garden to the rear!

An open plan living space, wood burning stove and galleried en-suite bedroom made this a very cosy and intimate place to chill, relax and enjoy, the now customary box set (Ozark this time) and Scottish gin (Makar) we brought with us.   The bedroom was furnished with king-size bed, stylish bathroom with separate bath and shower with body jets, and under floor heating.

We had a lazy first night and were brave enough to use the hot tub while enjoying our gin and the remaining fudge.

Saturday’s weather wasn’t as good as Friday, but that never stopped us getting out and about.   We had planned a visit to Highland Safaris for a red deer experience and then a trip into the mountains to see the amazing Perthshire scenery.

We met up with Tony at the Red Deer Centre who gave us a very passionate, and informative talk about wild red deer. It would be unfair to share his stories as we couldn’t do it justice or provide the actions – go along and you’ll see what we mean! It was good fun though, interactive and interesting and ended with us hand feeding the Centre’s herd of tame Red Deer.  We also met the Centre’s Barn Owl who was keen to show us her flying skills; overall, we had a great time learning the secrets of this majestic bird.

Before setting out on our Mountain Safari we stopped off for some lunch at the onsite café.  It was absolutely jumping (to use a good old Scottish description for being busy!) and we had quite a short window before we set off in our Land Rover with Alistair.   The café staff were first class and managed to serve up some wholesome homemade soup and sandwiches in plenty of time – so much so that we had time for a coffee and some very tasty home baking.

We set off with Alistair in our land rover just after 1.30pm; he was so passionate about what he did for a living and the area he worked in – such a lucky person!   Again, it wouldn’t be fair to tell his stories, but they were informative and interesting covering legends and folklore, the Schiehallion mountain, the Jacobite rebellion, military roads built by General Wade, curious facts about the ice age and to top that the origins of the Guinness Book of Records!

After an interesting climb through the mountain tracks we were almost 2,500ft up in the Perthshire hills.  The weather could have been a little kinder for us, however, this is a year-round attraction and we still had a great time and managed to enjoy the autumn heather moors, spot a large stag protecting his hinds and even had a sighting of the elusive mountain hare.   We had a cosy stopover in a mountain bothy with some tea, coffee, Kenmore Shortbread and a dram of Dewars Whisky.

Highland Safaris are celebrating twenty five years of success this year which has seen it grow its business from one Land Rover taking small groups up into the hills, to its present level as one of Scotland’s premier five star rated visitor attractions, enabling visitors from home and abroad to successfully engage with Scotland’s wildlife, history and heritage.

We will certainly be back to visit again soon and to experience another season to see how the scenery has changed.  Overall a fab day out – looking forward to trying their new Loch Tay Safari also.

We had already tried the Courtyard Bar the day before, so thought we would try out the Restaurant on the Saturday evening.  This part of the resort is a great place to enjoy the friendly atmosphere and service.   It serves breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner daily whether it be inside relaxing on the couches by the cosy fire or outside on the extensive sun deck area.

We had a great table near the log burning fire.   The staff were very attentive, friendly and helpful and made you feel right at home.  The restaurant also had a real buzz about it with a good mix of guests, couples and groups.  There’s no better way to describe a restaurant experience that showing of the wonderful food we munched our way through – so here’s the pics!

Pan seared scallops, black pudding, chorizo and balsamic glaze

Pan roasted duck breast with rosti potatoes, baby vegetables and a star anise jus

Pan seared guinea fowl supreme with a rosemary mash, savoy cabbage and a wild mushroom jus

Dark chocolate and orange pot with crème fraiche and chocolate crumb

We only had a short stay in this area of Perthshire and we loved what we saw and did.

Mains of Taymouth Country Estate & Golf Course is a great base to explore the Perthshire area and has a range of facilities on site to make your stay more relaxing and enjoyable.   We would highly recommend it for anyone wanting to chill, relax and enjoy the wonderful scenery and wildlife Scotland has to offer.

Don’t forget to try the Gin & Tonic fudge!

Other Information:

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

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!

Riverside Cottage, Boreland, Annandale and Eskdale – Not just for driving through!

We’ve driven through Annandale and Eskdale hundreds of times, usually passing through on the M74 Motorway heading off on or returning from our travels.  This time we decided to explore the area and base ourselves for four days at the ‘new to the market’ Riverside Cottage.

To be honest we had left things late in booking our break and stumbled upon Riverside Cottage by chance – how lucky were we? Occupying an impressive riverside location in the small rural village of Boreland 7 miles north of Lockerbie this two-bedroom cottage benefits from stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The property features an open plan kitchen/dining/living area and a fabulous and tranquil sunroom which opened out onto a patio area.

The cottage’s location is not only a great base for visiting local attractions, cycling and walking it is also perfect if you just want to relax, unwind and enjoy the peace and quiet of south west Scotland. We manged to fit in a bit off everything.

We always look for that little bit extra and comfortable self-catering luxury accommodation set in a quiet, rural location. To get this at a riverside location was special. It’s been a busy few months for us so the cottage was perfect to relax, enjoy some fresh air, recharge our batteries and cosy down in the evening with a few gins and a box set!

The cottage is set off the main public road, and accessed via a private road which also leads to the owner’s house. Although Kate and Max are right next door, you wouldn’t know it.  The cottage has been carefully planned and everything is orientated to provide you with privacy and sense of being on your own.

The living area offers wonderful views of the outside and is warm and comfortable with a wood burning stove, two sofas and a window seat looking out over the river. The kitchen area is again spacious, light and cosy and offers views of the river and surrounding countryside.  Everything was brand new and nothing has been forgotten. There is more than enough crockery, cutlery and every utensil you could ever need!

A bonus for anyone staying here is having Kate right next door. She also runs a catering business and offers guests delicious home cooked meals which are ready just to pop in the oven or heat up.

Although, we’re pretty handy in the kitchen, we gave Kate’s food a try and loved it.  Having a home cooked meal waiting for you when you return from a long day out was fantastic – we would highly recommend the Moroccan Chicken Tagine; very tasty indeed!

The sunroom offers a peaceful space to chill out, put your feet up, read a book perhaps or just enjoy the views. We did all of them, including spilling out onto the patio one day when the sun was very kind to us.

The bathroom has a large walk-in shower, built in WC and wash hand basin and benefits from under floor heating.? A key plus point for any place we stay is how good the shower is and Riverside is up there in terms of quality and power – a great refreshing start to your day.

Out and about we would recommend stopping off at Brodies Restaurant in Moffat – offering a coffee lounge environment throughout the day and a relaxed restaurant, wine bar in the evening – it was perfect for us.  Sunday lunch was particularly impressive with a real fine dining feel about it.

We have only just started to get to know Dumfries and Galloway and to appreciate its diverse landscape, fascinating  history, amazing wildlife and outdoor activities. There were a couple of short, circular, local walks right from the doorstep of the cottage which take 30 to 60 minutes, but we never had time to give them a try.  We did tackle several nearby walks only a short 10 to 15 minute drive away including Eskrigg Reserve, Castle Loch on the outskirts of Lochmaben and Dyke Farm Nature reserve. All were perfect to unwind, enjoy the scenery and explore the wildlife.

A little further afield we had an amazing encounter on the Annandale Way. Shortly after setting off from Annan on the east bank we spotted a ripple in the water.  For the next 15 minutes, we sat and watched an otter overturning rocks and munching on the fruits of his labour! He knew we were there, but didn’t have a care in the world – this was a real highlight for us. Sadly, our camera was still back in the car, but a ‘heath robinson’ set up with an iPhone and binoculars captured some memories – sadly video too big too upload!

After all this outdoor activity, there was no better way to end the day than to fall asleep (with the window open) to the relaxing sound of the river. Boasting wonderful views surrounding countryside, the main bedroom offers comfortable accommodation, with a king size bed.  Even more impressive was waking up and looking out the large picturesque window to see horses galloping through the fields.

This is a new venture for Kate and Max and they have just finished the renovation and are putting the finishing touches to the outside, including the final coat of paint, which will make a real difference. The inside finish and outdoor space is very impressive and certainly on par with many five-star accommodation cottages we have stayed in across the UK.

Kate and Max should be proud with what they have achieved so far.

Overall, Riverside Cottage was perfect for us and we’ll certainly be visiting again, hopefully by then the tourist board will have visited and given Kate and Max the accreditation they deserve!

Elba Palace Golf & Vital Hotel (Update), Caleta de Fuste, Fuerteventura

Our first visit to Elba Palace felt like arriving home, so we didn’t know what to expect on our second.  Imagine arriving to a house full of friends – greeting you with a glass of fizz and hugs – that’s exactly what we received from Pilar and her team.

A first class welcome again, immediately putting you into holiday territory!

Our suite was fantastic with an amazing sun terrace to enjoy from late morning – sadly the sun itself was posted missing for much of the early part of our stay.  The suite was similar to our last visit and also had a good size wooden balcony which caught the early morning sun.

Our stay was another lazy one, and our previous blog from our August 2016 trip pretty much says it all.  A few updates though:

  • The hotel is still perfect for those looking for peace and quiet – a real jewel of a hotel and in our opinion the best in this area;
  • The guaranteed year round sunshine promise is up for debate as March was very different to our August stay;
  • Pilar George still knows how to run a hotel, making guests feel special and pitching in when needed;
  • A major plus point at the Elba Palace is that you can dine whenever you want. This is still the case as there’s no need to book or difficulty in getting a table in the St Andrews restaurant;

  • At this time of year it is too chilly to dine in the outdoor courtyard in the evening Although a more lively atmosphere, dining inside is not as intimate / romantic as the outdoor courtyard;

  • We explored more of the island this time round and it is worth repeating that Elba Palace food and drink prices remain very reasonable and can be enjoyed in much more pleasant surroundings than nearby resorts;

  • We reserved judgement on Caleta De Fuste during our last visit as there was some major beach reconstruction work underway. This is largely finished now and the resort does look much better;

  • Wi-Fi at the hotel has improved and is much faster;
  • There were definitely more golfers than before and guests slightly more mature!

Normally at this time of year we venture further afield than the Canaries – last year’s Jamaica trip feels so long ago! With a busy year ahead in 2017 though as well as looking after our bank balance for a few ‘big trips’ in 2018 Elba Palace certainly put up a very worthy performance – just a pity the weather didn’t do the same!

All in all, we had a very tranquil, relaxing and enjoyable stay in pleasant surroundings topped off with Elba Palace’s trade mark friendly, attentive and extremely courteous staff.  Special mention this time round to Priscila who looked after us very well throughout our stay – very attentive, pleasant and extremely customer focused.

Once again a big thank you to Pilar and her team for making our visit so special – hope to visit again some time in the future.