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!

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.

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)

Edinburgh West End Luxury, The Chester Residence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edinburgh Gin, Connoisseur Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Some pictures courtesy of Edinburgh Gin Distillery)

The Range

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

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

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

Seven ‘Secrets’ – Secrets Capri, Mayan Riviera, Mexico

Our last trip to Mexico was back in 2007 and a lot has changed since then including what we look for and enjoy on our trips.

In recent years, most of our trips to the Caribbean have been to Sandals Resorts in the early part of the year. Trying a new resort group, in November also, made us a little apprehensive.

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We needn’t have worried. Secrets Capri in the Mayan Riviera was outstanding and is currently sitting high up on our most relaxing and enjoyable trips ever. Without taking anything away from Sandals Group, who have and will continue to give us some amazing trips, Secrets Capri certainly matches them for standards and quality.

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We stayed in a Preferred Club Deluxe Ocean View room (on the northern / eastern side of the resort). The room was very spacious and exactly what you would expect from a five-star resort of this type. The in room ‘edible delights’ waiting for you when you returned at the end of the evening were a pleasant surprise and highly recommended.

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Here are our seven ‘secrets’ to look out for.

#1, The overriding plus point from this resort is that their employees are outstanding. They are very attentive, friendly and nothing is ever a problem. Service is so good we genuinely had to tip one of them to stop bringing us cocktails and champagne one day!

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#2, The Cactus Club, which overlooks the Caribbean, has it all – it is great for breakfast, lunches and a romantic drink at end of the evening. We would recommend trying for a table adjacent to the beach and you will have one of the most relaxing breakfasts you will ever have had. 2016-11-16-10-01-20

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For lunch we would highly recommend the vast ceviche selection and the ‘fish fingers’ aka golden battered grouper fish.  Simply amazing, ditch the fries, and ask for two portions of fish fingers!

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#3, The restaurants on offer are genuinely good and two restaurants are venturing on fine dining. Portofino is first class and we had a few great evenings here, including our final night, where we had a special dining experience in our own private wine cellar.
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The oriental restaurant, Himitsu, was also great with excellent sushi on offer. The range and high quality of food from what you would expect at the usual beachfront place at Cactus Club, all the way up to their fine dining Italian restaurant Portofino is what all resorts should aspire to. Being able to choose from a variety of á la carte restaurants, a buffet and a café is great, but never having to worry about reservations was the real plus point. Perhaps worth saying that in our 10 nights dining (between 7pm and 8pm) we only ever had to wait on a table once and this was only for 10 minutes.

2016-11-19-10-26-02 2016-11-19-10-39-242016-11-19-10-39-00#4, It’s refreshing to visit a resort where there are more sunbeds than guests and there was absolutely no issue with finding one (even with a parasol) at any time of the day. The pool area is split into two with more ‘active’ guests at the southern / western side and the more relaxed / chilled out guests at the northern / eastern side.

2016-11-19-12-39-55Needless to say we spent a lot of time at the southern / eastern side.? It is worth pointing out that on some nights they set up for the night time entertainment late afternoon on this side and you are asked politely to move to another sunbed for the remainder of the afternoon.? Not a problem, if you know about it, so keep an eye on the evening entertainment plans and ask one of the team what’s happening as the shows are pretty good.

#5, We like to keep active, at least for some parts of the day, and managed to explore the grounds of the resort on most days. This included a walk out towards the main gate and spa complex. We would suggest doing it either early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low and you can benefit from a little shade from the trees that line the route. As you can see below we were lucky and managed to observe some of the locals going about their daily business.

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In the morning, before breakfast, we hit the gym and took part in cross fit sessions with Daniel the resorts personal trainer. We also managed to fit in daily walks along Mayakoba Beach towards Playa Del Carmen around 1 ½ hr round trip.

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All very worthwhile activities to help us work off those extra calories from the amazing food and drink on offer.

#6, For bloggers and twitter addicts like us an effective internet connection is essential and we would have to say the internet was pretty good – just be ready and prepared to switch to different routers depending on time of day and where you are in resort.

#7, Coco Café, is a real find, and asset for this resort. This place is open 24 hrs and offers coffee, pastries and snacks. Just what you need first thing in the morning, late at night or if you fancy a sneaky bite away from your other half!

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Finally, a big thank you to Monica Sierra who is doing a fantastic job as E-concierge and Social Media Co-ordinator and Javier Suarez, Division Manager who made our stay all the more special. Grissell, the poolside waitress, was also the most bubbly and engaging waitress we have ever been fortunate to have – top member of the team.

Overall, we had a fantastic luxurious time time at Secrets Capri and it will certainly be a place we will be visiting again soon.? We might try out a few of the other Secrets Resorts before then though so look out for our next blog.

Elba Palace Golf & Vital Hotel, Caleta de Fuste, Fuerteventura

This was our first trip to Fuerteventura and we were simply looking for a lazy, relaxing and chilled out week in nice surroundings along with good food.

The Elba Palace Golf & Vital 5-star boutique hotel offered this in abundance and at a great price. This couples’ hotel, with only 61 rooms over two floors, also didn’t leave you feeling like one of the masses as you perhaps do sometimes in larger hotels – there is something really unique about this place.

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A 20 min walk from the main commercial centre, the hotel is positioned at the top of an 18-hole golf course and is perfect for those (i.e. us two!) looking for peace and guaranteed year round sunshine, as well as for those interested in golf (i.e. not us two!).

The hotel has been designed with colonial dark wooden balconies surrounding an internal courtyard planted with palm trees and other plants native to the island.

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We arrived at the hotel around 9pm after a pretty rapid and efficient airport transit and private transfer. What an incredible welcome we received – we honestly felt we had an arrived at family member’s house. Director Pilar George and David could not have been more friendly, welcoming and attentive.? Check in was swift and was accompanied by a lovely glass of pink fizz. We received the usual orientation style information and then we were shown to our room.

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Director Pilar George really knows how to run a hotel, make guests feel special and help out when needed. Where else in the world, when reception gets a little busy, would you ever see a Director assist guests with their luggage. Elba Hotels really have a top leader there and I only hope they can keep her – until our next visit at least!

Our suite was stunning and the bottle of cava with freshly made petit fois chocolates was a nice touch. We had been allocated an upper floor south east facing suite overlooking the pool area; this would not normally have been our first choice, but it was perfect. At that time of year only a handful of rooms seem to receive the sun late afternoon and early evening – thankfully one of them was ours.

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The suite, with a good size wooden balcony, was very spacious with a separate lounge area and large fully tiled bathroom area. A nice touch was the hydro massage shower and luxury bath along with the usual complementary gown, slippers, tea and coffee facilities and 2 x LED TV. ? The room also had a safe for use, mini bar and free Wi Fi.

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One of the real plus points at the Elba Palace is that you can dine whenever you want. There’s no need to book and no difficulty in getting a table in the tranquil outdoor courtyard style restaurant appropriately named St Andrews – after the home of golf. You simply turn up, sit down, order wine, choose food, relax and enjoy.

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St Andrews is an a la Carte restaurant with indoor and outdoor courtyard dining areas. It offers a romantic setting, dining under the palm trees and stars, and listening to a pianist or live music (on most nights). We dined here each night and had some really nice food. Main courses were good and the dessert buffet was fantastic – there is simply no chance of only choosing one!

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One thing management should perhaps consider is to have background music playing in the background before and after the live singers as it creates more of an atmosphere for guests to enjoy. All in all, we had seven very tranquil, relaxing and enjoyable dining experiences in pleasant surroundings topped off with Hotel Elba’s trade make friendly, attentive and extremely courteous staff.

Breakfast was served in Café Hoyo 19 which also served a wide range of dishes throughout the day including Tapas, Snacks and fresh salads.

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Breakfast was what you would expect from a buffet style set up with nice freshly brewed coffee and pastries to finish. We managed to bag a table each day on the outdoor terrace which was a nice way to start the day. Service was a little slow during our last few days, but we got the impression that they were maybe a little low on staff numbers. It wasn’t a problem though as it just meant we had longer time to enjoy our coffee accompanied by one (or two) of their amazing freshly made custard filled donuts.

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Perhaps worth noting that Elba Palace isn’t your usual type of 5 star hotel in terms of food and drink prices. Although more expensive than establishments in nearby Caleta De Fuste prices are very reasonable and you can enjoy them at the hotel in much more luxurious surroundings. Would be nice to see the suite mini-bar prices come down a little though, but you can’t have everything.

We only ventured out a few times to Caleta de Fuste, which is only a 20 min walk away, but with nice food and lovely surroundings we didn’t feel the need to leave the Elba Palace much as it was such good value. We’re also going to reserve judgement on Caleta De Fuste until our next visit – there is some major beach reconstruction work underway (August 2016) which certainly had an impact on our first impressions.

Although smaller than the usual hotels we stay at, the pool area was spacious and was very relaxing and tranquil. We never had a problem securing one of the comfortable cushioned wooden sunbeds with parasols and there were always a couple of balinese beds available if you wanted to give them a go later in the day. Pool service was available and the fresh fruit served early afternoon was again a nice touch.

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The Wi-Fi was a little temperamental around the pool, but it was nice to have a little digital detox time when it was down!

The hotel has plenty of other facilities including a relaxation area with jacuzzi, sauna and steam bath. Massage cabins, gym and padel tennis court. We also had free access to the seawater circuit at the nearby Sheraton Thalasso Spa and a personal trainer offering a daily sports program including Yoga, Tai Chi, Fitness, Aquagym and Pilates. We would love to say we tried all of these, but we never managed given we were only there for a week – perhaps next time though!

Would like to give a special mention to Laura who served us on our first few days – she was simply first class and always had a big smile – sadly she seemed to be on leave for the remainder of our stay, but the other staff stepped up to the mark in her absence. A mention is also due to Chapin from guest services / reception.  This young gentleman always had a smile on his face throughout our stay and he was always there to help and assist us whenever we had a question or needed assistance.  Our nearby city of Glasgow has a saying that ‘People make Glasgow’ – this is equally true at the Elba Palace where it is clear that the staff make the hotel what it is.

We don’t normally do seven day breaks as we never feel it is long enough for us to relax and switch off.  The Elba Palace though has changed that – from the very first day we were totally chilled and in the relaxed zone.  This feeling was down to the fantastic welcome we received, the outstanding customer service and supremely calming and tranquil ambience this hotel offers.

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We had such a great time that within 2 days of returning we booked again for a 10 day break in March next year. We also have a funny feeling this hotel will be on our radar for many future visits too.

Ballathie House Hotel, Fine Dining in the Heart of Scotland

A long landscaped tree lined avenue meets you on arrival at Ballathie House Hotel with a stunning turreted 19th century house appearing through the trees at the end. Before we even entered the hotel we understood why it was named Country Sporting Hotel of the Year earlier this year. The setting on the banks of the River Tay is truly amazing and it immediately gives you a sense of tranquillity and relaxation.

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Ballathie is a luxury country house hotel in Perthshire with a 2 AA red rosette restaurant.  Its setting in a quiet secluded area on the banks of the River Tay offers a really high standard of hotel accommodation in Scotland.

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Located just over 1 hours drive from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Inverness Ballathie House Hotel is easily one of the finest 4 Star hotels in Scotland. Our trip up from Lanarkshire was pretty good with an unusually warm, sunny, but windy day, to enjoy.

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As we were only staying for an overnight we arrived early so we could enjoy what Ballathie had to offer. We never had enough time to enjoy everything, but the fishing beats on the River Tay are highly regarded amongst anglers, and, in addition to fishing, the Estate also offers a variety of outdoor sports and activities including walking, cycling, clay pigeon shooting, all just a short stroll from the hotel.

Our check in was great and the welcome was one of the best we have had at any Scottish country house.  We were given a short tour of the ground floor so we could get our bearings. What stood out within the first few minutes of our arrival was the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff – nothing staged, just very natural and friendly.

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Room 10, Inverness, was impressive indeed with lots of period features and a large dark oak four poster dominating the traditionally Scottish country house room when we entered.

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A traditional, and good sized bathroom was off to our left and whole room immediately gave us a feel good factor.

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We already had our eyes on the two easy chairs overlooking the river Tay to relax in after we had explored the area and had a soak in the super-size, incredibly fast filling bath tub!

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Before we explored the estate we nipped down to the cosy Restaurant Bar for a light ‘soup and sandwich’ lunch. The malt whiskies were very tempting, but it was only early afternoon – plenty of time for that later!  The Restaurant Bar and rest of the house is adorned by hunting and sporting memorabilia throughout and you could easily have spent the entire afternoon exploring the displays.

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Armed with a map and advice from reception we ventured down to the edge of the River Tay and, although a little muddy, followed the river bank for a good 45mins or so, explored a few salmon fishing jetties before returning on a circular path via a wooded path. All in all, a very enjoyable walk with some amazing scenery, just what we needed to start our mini-break off. Back to the room for coffee, and some relaxing time in those easy chairs before our evening dinner.

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We headed down for pre-dinner drinks and were spoiled for choice from an extensive and exciting menu. There was also a good wine selection, reasonably priced, to choose from.

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The dining room is plush and opulent with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the front lawn which slopes down to the River Tay. The food is what we came for and although we hadn’t heard of Head Chef Scott Scorer – a sneaky peak at his menu over pre-dinner drinks gave us a sense of excitement.

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There’s no point in trying to describe in fanciful words the food we were served as our pictures tell a thousand words.

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The smoked salmon parfait amuse-bouches were an instant hit, although they disappeared in the blink of an eye – oh well they are meant to be bite sized after all!

Our starters of Salad Gourmand consisting of smoked salmon, cured beef, marinated venison, quail egg, asparagus and truffle dressing and a Confit Duck Terrine with ginger crumb, golden raisins and truffled brioche set the standard for precision and detail very high for the rest of the evening.

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A real hearty and flavoursome cream of mushroom soup, served with freshly baked breads, followed our starter before we both enjoyed a succulent Roast Loin of Sutherland Venison main accompanied by sweet potato dauphinoise, homemade sausage and a red wine jus.

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Our dining experience was topped off with an amazing sweet of Dark Chocolate waffle with caramelized bananas, peanut butter cremeux and fudge ice cream.

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Needless to say the food was excellent and Chef Scott Scorer’s precision and attention to detail is simply outstanding.

The menu brings together the finest produce from around Perthshire and Scotland and I have to say Ballathie certainly offers a real special dining experience. Service was top notch and again very attentive and friendly.

After our dinner we moved through to the drawing room and finished off our night with freshly brewed coffee and petit fours. We retired to our room around 10pm, crashing out on the four poster bed – all that walking and eating had obviously been too much for us and we needed a good night’s sleep as we knew we had breakfast to finish off in a few hours.

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As a past winner of Rural Restaurant of the Year, Ballathie is known for its food, but they openly state they don’t like to make too much of a meal of it, but why not!

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They should be shouting it from the rooftops and should be really proud of consistently achieving their 2 AA rosettes.

Ballathie is certainly on our ‘visit again’ list, hopefully next time for a little longer.