Argyll Autumn Hideaway, Crosple Cottage, Melfort

Our Seabourn cruise in the summer surpassed our expectations in terms of luxury, fine dining and of course service.   We would however have liked some more relaxation as, being our first cruise, we tried to cram in as much as we could.  Days started early and ended late, so we knew we needed another type of break (or two) before winter took hold this year.

Look out for our trip to Avernish Lodge, Kyle of Lochalsh later in the year, but first up was Crosple Cottage, Loch Melfort, Argyll.

We’re so lucky here in Scotland – within just a few hours the car can be packed, and you can be on the road to many incredibly scenic and peaceful locations.

We stopped off at Inveraray for lunch and a wee stretch of our legs.   Check out the views from the top of Dun Na Cuaiche, the ascent certainly worked off a few of the added calories from the lunchtime fish and chips!

When we reached the small village of Kilmelford just over an hour later, we knew we didn’t have far to go. Crosple Cottage was just  2 miles further along the lochside, turning off the main road we ascended the final 400m via a farm track. The Cottage appeared round the final bend; our secluded hideaway for 7 days.

Crosple cottage has impressive views of Loch Melfort / Fearnach Bay and the open countryside, no neighbours (except the curious sheep), no interruptions, just peace and solitude with only the wildlife and each other for company.

If you do manage a visit, do not panic if you hear the occasional noise outside in the evening, its probably one of the curious sheep who jump the wall into the cottage garden.   If only we’d known about that when we arrived, it would have prevented the scare we got as we shone our torch outside on our first evening only to be greeted by a glowing pair of eyes.  Watch out for this chap on your travels  too – we were assured he was harmless!

The ground floor of the cottage is open plan and well laid out with a cosy sitting area and a wood burner, small dining area and a very well-equipped kitchen.   It was nice to see that sustainability is important to Rory and Jennie as there were clear recycling instructions for guests which is sometimes missing from properties we have stayed at recently. We had taken relaxation to a new level and had ‘batched’ cooked for our 7 day stay, so we just needed a few pots and of course a microwave to prepare our meals, but the kitchen is clearly equipped for the more adventurous chef to rustle up some culinary delights.

The living area has french doors that open out onto a south facing patio with views down to Loch Melfort.  Despite the time of year, we were fortunate enough to enjoy the patio on several occasions during our stay.

Off the hallway is a handy utility room with washing machine, tumble dryer and plenty of hooks for hanging up outdoor clothing.  Upstairs there is a compact bedroom with a large king-size bed and a good sized bathroom both with stunning views down to Loch Melfort.

The bathroom has a large walk in shower and a deep cast iron roll top bath which is perfect for a soak after a day exploring; even big enough for two.  It certainly helped us recover from our more energetic walks.  The underfloor heating, fluffy bath robes and Scottish toiletries added to the luxuriousness and created a real private retreat for us to enjoy.

Rest assured that every little extra has been thought of to make your stay perfect. There are vases of fresh flowers, a good supply of quality magazines and wide selection of books to choose from should you decide to have a lazy morning or afternoon. A Nespresso coffee machine is also on hand with capsules available to purchase, if your own supply runs out.

An impressive 11Mbps plus broadband connection allows you to review the weather, download some walks and fire up a Netflix box set to enjoy.

When staying in a wee Scottish cottage there can only be one series to settle down and watch – Outlander.  Season 2 was our choice this time round and like our accommodation didn’t disappoint – but you’ll never guess what happened at Culloden!

No box set would be complete without a nice Scottish Gin to accompany it, Arbikie AKs was this week’s choice (again), along with an impressive newcomer for us, Jinzu, both washed down with a wee Drambuie to finish off the evening.  The roaring log fire was the perfect backdrop for a cosy Autumn evening.

There are plenty of walks directly from the cottage if you don’t want to drive, including Melfort hill to the rear of the cottage.

We often meandered our way through the bracken, a scythe would have been handy mind you in some places, and joined the track for the Creag an Sturra circuit.  It was supposed to be a ‘short cut’, but the steep ascent in some places is for the more adventurous and definitely took its toll on our legs. Worth it though for the views!

We would also highly recommend the adjacent An Coire Lochan Circuit for some incredible views of Jura, Scarba and Lunga and everything in between!

The cottage has really good information on local walks, places to visit and things to do in the surrounding area.

Just find what suits and off you go – but don’t underestimate the benefits of some lazy mornings or afternoons just chilling in the cottage.   We managed this every day and have to say was just what we needed to recharge the batteries.

If you do venture further afield we’d recommend exploring Seil Island and of course crossing the ‘Atlantic’ via the historic Clachan Bridge.

Here you can visit Ellenabeich and climb the nearby hillside to see stunning views of nearby Mull and the slate island of Easdale.  Further south the Cuan Coast and Moor Circuit really is worth a try.

Wildlife sightings during our stay were sporadic, however, we managed three of the big five, catching a few curious seals in the Fearnach Bay, some deer up near Seil Island and a Golden Eagle swirling above Melfort Hill.

Crosple Cottage is the perfect romantic hideaway, located in a secluded spot nestled on a hillside and just 300 meters from the shores of Loch Melfort.  Just remember and pull yourself away from the cosy log fire to explore the beautiful Argyll scenery.

Rory Campbell Gibson and his wife Jennie have created something unique with Crosple Cottage, their second self-catering property situated on their farmland on the Melfort Estate near Oban.

Crosple Cottage and their first project, Fearnach Bay House, which is equally as impressive, were built by Rory himself and decorated internally by Jennie.  We hadn’t appreciated until the end of our break that Rory is also an artist and many of his pieces adorn the walls of Crosple Cottage.   For someone that has only taken up painting in recent years he has a real talent – see for yourself here.

Rory and Jennie sought to create accommodation to appeal to those who were looking for luxury self-catering accommodation and a holiday experience in a picturesque setting.  They have no doubt achieved this here at Crosple Cottage and we hope to try Fearnach Bay House some time soon.

We really can’t stress how relaxed we felt here in our very own secluded Argyll hideaway and we would highly recommend a visit.

Other Information:

Although this was a discounted visit, the review is an independent and true reflection of our experience.

Scottish Island Luxury, Cruickshanks Boutique Bed & Breakfast, Arran

Bed and breakfast stays are not our usual accommodation of choice, but there was something special and unique about Cruickshanks on Arran that we had to try.  Rob and Nanette bought the property in 2015 and have successfully converted a beautiful 19th century house into a comfortable and welcoming place to stay.

As soon as we arrived we felt the warmth and passion they have both invested in the place and instantly felt at ease with them.   In only their second season they have created what must be easily one of the top bed and breakfast destinations in Scotland. Even the AA think so awarding them AA Guest Accommodation of the Year in Scotland for 2018/19.

We were staying in the Pearl Suite which consisted of a pair of connected rooms with fine views over the Firth of Clyde. There was a spacious bedroom with a super-king-sized bed and an adjacent sitting room, with easy chairs and desk.

We have to say we were very impressed with the suite which was more spacious than the website images had portrayed.   This is not a criticism, but instead it’s nice to see a place being honest with their images as opposed to the use of some clever wide-angle lenses

We had two great peaceful and relaxing night’s sleep enjoying luxurious hypnos mattresses, egyptian cotton bedlinen and comfortable hypo-allergenic duvets from Snuggledown.   We were also able to chill out with a Scottish Gin (Edinburgh this time round!) and enjoy our sitting room to the max taking advantage of impressive Wi-fi for an island, flat screen Smart TV and a box set via our own Netflix account.

The suite and other two rooms are equipped with DAB clock radio with Bluetooth sound system and electric kettle with a selection of teas, coffee and hot chocolate.   All have ensuite bathrooms with bathrobes, towels, hairdryer and toiletries from Arran Aromatics, offering a real luxury feel – just look at the quality of those slippers!

In the morning just remember to open those black out curtains when you wake and enjoy those views over the Firth of Clyde, with some freshly brewed coffee and Nanette’s homemade shortbread bites.

Nanette also has other kitchen skills, however, will leave you to find those out when you stay – just remember to leave room for some tempting treats later in the evening! Sorry, they never lasted long enough for a photo.

We wanted to enjoy the outdoors as much as we could, especially as the Scottish weather was relatively kind to us, especially on our arrival on the Friday.   We were only on the Isle for a few days and had planned several walks, nothing to strenuous, but just enough for us to see what the Isle had to offer.

As ever walkhighlands.co.uk was our go to website and we managed to explore and see much of the Isle.

Arran is described as Scotland on Miniature and it’s clear to see why that’s the case with the Isle split in two thanks to the Highland boundary fault.  The lowlands to the south and highlands to the north.

We managed to cover the full 56 miles circumference of the Isle during our stay with whistle stop tours of Brodick, Lamlash, Kildonnan, Lochranza and Corrie along with a few walks thrown in between exploring Glen Coy and the Fairy Glen, Kings Cave on the west of the isle and Fairy Dell to the north at Lochranza.

Even though we were only on the Isle for a few days, we managed three of the ‘big five’ with sightings of red squirrel, red deer and seals all under our belt by midday on the Saturday.  Even managed to catch a group of stags relaxing on a nearby golf course – only in Scotland!

Also, we caught a great shot of this ‘peacock’ butterfly which is apparently quite common, but impressive all the same!

We had planned so much more, including a trip up Goatfell, but that’s now one for our next visit.  Arran has so much to do and we really need to visit again to explore all that’s on offer, including the Arran Brewery, Arran Distillery and the Arran Aromatics factory shop.

As the weather was so good we didn’t fully enjoy the Ceilidh Room back at Cruickshanks (so named after a former sea-captain who converted this space to indulge his favourite pastime), but we did have a wee refreshment on our last night with Rob and Nanette before retiring to bed. The room is cosy and homely with comfortable seating and a wood-burning stove.  Definitely a place to relax, read or simply look out to sea during the more challenging seasons on Arran.

Books, books and more books! We genuinely haven’t seen a place with more books other than our local library and these days perhaps even more than it!  But this really is a place to pick a good book, relax, chill out and, if you can, have a wee digital detox.   Sadly, we never managed the latter, but managed to relax very quickly during our stay.

Also, it’s worth mentioning there is some great outdoor space for guests to enjoy and we managed to spend an hour or so when we arrived catching the last few hours of the afternoon sun.

Although, Cruickshanks is a five-star luxury boutique bed and breakfast it’s not ‘stuffy’ or ‘posh’  and Rob and Nanette make all their guests feel instantly at home .   The attention to detail from the two of them is first class from the quality décor, piping hot plates to the polished cutlery and well-presented breakfast.   It is clear they both have very high standards and are keen for their guests to experience the same.

Rob’s full Scottish breakfast is easily one of the best we’ve had, even winning a commendation from the AA inspectors earlier in the year.  Would also highly recommend his poached eggs on homemade sourdough bread and Nan’s homemade Muesli was so moreish with toasted oats, maple syrup, raisins, dried cherries, pecans, coconut, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds – one bowl was never enough.

Nanette and Rob have lots of local knowledge and if you don’t have time to plan an itinerary before you arrive don’t worry, they’ll keep you right with some top tips on where to visit and dine when you’re out exploring.  Nanette even has her own take on a ‘PowerPoint’ presentation if you have the chance.

Worth a mention on the dining front would be Felicity’s in Whiting Bay which is a 10 to 12-minute walk from Rob and Nanette’s, although a few minutes slightly longer uphill for the return journey.  Some great homely food with a real buzz about the place.

If you’re out and about we would also highly recommend Mara Fish Bar and Deli, in Corrie.  They use seafood sourced from local suppliers, offering freshly made to order dishes in a takeaway style dining experience.   A real fab and tasty end to our trip before boarding the ferry back home on Sunday.

Rob and Nanette have really found a niche in the market on Arran and have opened our eyes to the world of bed and breakfasts. The only issue for us would be whether other accommodation can live up to their exacting standards.  They are both a little shy about their AA award, but they should be really proud of what they have achieved in such a short space of time and they can only go on from strength to strength in future years.

Arran has so much to offer and we would highly recommend the award winning Cruickshanks Bed and Breakfast as the perfect base to experience the Isle, whether it be for a walking, cycling, food and drink or wildlife trip.  We’ll definitely be back to explore soon.

Other Information:

Thank you to the Rob and Nanette from Cruickshanks / Andrew Surridge Photography for providing a few pictures for our blog.  Although this was a discounted visit, the review is an independent and true reflection of our experience.

Gran Melia Palacio De Los Duques, Madrid, Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muchas gracias y esperamos verlos a todos pronto.

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

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!