The Fingal, Luxury comes to Leith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Maiden Cruise, Seabourn Encore, Romance of Rivieras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about it here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An intimate and exclusive experience with fab food too!

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

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

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

A nice touch, if not just a tad opulent!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Star Luxury, The Church Tower, Crieff, Perthshire

Our Scottish breaks to Avernish Lodge and Crosple Cottage in autumn last year were more rural in character and we wanted something a little different to shake off the January blues.

We know the the area around Crieff well, as we visit annually during December to enjoy the party nights at the Hydro.  The high street in Crieff always has a good feel to it so we thought Crieff would be a great place to base ourselves for our first break of 2019.

A quick five-star property search threw up the Church Tower. Sitting in a prominent location as you enter Crieff from the South we had driven past the former St Ninians Church place many times and had no idea there was such a unique and unusual property hiding in there for us to enjoy.

Featuring exposed stone, oak flooring, and arched windows, the property is quirky and full of character.  With spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding area, the three-bedroom apartment has a small sitting area at the top of the tower.  

The perfect place to watch the sunrise and the sunset with a coffee or glass of wine in hand. 

A small fan heater kept the tower warn and comfortable as we watched the ever-changing scene and views over to Loch Turret and Ben Chonzie.

St Ninians dates from the late 19th Century and was converted in the 1960’s into a Church of Scotland seminary retreat and training centre.  The Church Tower, opened in 2007, combines original features like exposed church walls and beams, with the comforts of modern living to provide a unique 5-star standard of holiday experience.

As one would expect in a Church Tower there are 4 flights of stairs up to the apartment front door. Once in the Tower, there is a further flight of stairs to the living room / kitchen area, and another flight to the very top of the tower.   A word of warning the apartment is not for those with limited mobility – if there ever was a case to travel lightly this was it!

You could also guarantee whatever you were looking for was on a different floor to where you were.  This, to be honest wasn’t a bad thing, as it helped burn off a few extra calories to allow us to enjoy the treats available in the high street,

On the first floor, there are 2 double rooms, both with en-suite wet-rooms with under-floor heating and a twin room, together with a large family bathroom.

All bedrooms are decorated to a high standard as are the bathrooms.  The en-suite wet rooms are also very quirky, with the open shower arrangement taking a little getting used to.  Bathrobes and toiletries are provided adding a nice luxurious touch to the stay.

From the first floor, you ascend the light-flooded Tower, with the steel staircase. The Tower has retained its originally features in the old stone walls and evangelistic windows, but the modern LED lighting certainly brings it into the 21st Century.   

Halfway up the Tower staircase, you enter the large open plan living area, with the balcony at one end and the dining area / kitchen at the other.

The, kitchen although small, was more than adequate, for us to rustle up some meals including some fantastic fresh seafood from Fish in Crieff.

The balcony enjoys impressive views over the Crieff hills and beyond, although given the time of year, we never managed to enjoy it to the full.

Off the living area is a snug and cosy tv room with 42″ wall-mounted TV, together with a comfy sofa.  This was a great place to chill out and relax after exploring the Perthshire countryside. We thought we’d try another box set this time round and we settled down to watch Season 1 of the The Vikings – have to say we’re already hooked and working our way through Season 2.

The apartment is unique and quirky and certainly worth a visit providing you can cope with all the stairs.

Centrally located in Crieff, The Church Tower is perfect for exploring the South Highlands of the Trossachs National Park and Perthshire countryside and we managed to fit in several walks, enjoying a spell of rather outstanding weather for the time of year.

Walkhighlands has the usual great coverage in this area and we took in a few of our old favourites including The Knock of Crieff, Lady Mary’s walk and Laggan Hill circular.

We also managed a few new ones nearby at St Fillans Viewpoint circular and the River Earn walk from Crieff to Muthill – although looks like some locals had recently visited!

We had visited Highland Safaris a few years back for a red deer experience and a trip into the mountains to see the amazing Perthshire scenery, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit again during winter. The weather on the day was simply incredible and perhaps the best day of the year so far, with blue skies and more than a ‘crisp’ in the air! You can read about our experience here.

We had a bit of a religious theme going on with this trip, not only were we staying at The Church Tower, in Crieff we had lined up a visit to Little’s Restaurant in the former Riverside Methodist Church in Rattray and Blairgowrie.  

Cargill’s Leap and the Knockie circuit in Blairgowrie helped us walk off the calories from a very filling and tasty lunch.  You can read about this here along with our visit to Fish in Crieff.

Basing ourselves so close to the Crieff Town Centre was a master stroke with a butchers, fishmongers, chocolatier, deli, bakers and confectioner within easy walking distance from the apartment, it may however have been better for our waistline if we had been further away from the chocolatier! 

There were also a few great restaurants to eat in nearby and we had some pretty tasty food at the Tower Gastro Pub and Craobh.  Although we never managed to visit during our stay The Lounge also deserves a mention for another excellent menu to choose from – one to visit again in December.

John Burke, the owner, has really created a unique place to stay and has respectfully kept the character of the Church and cleverly added modern and unique elements for his visitors to enjoy.   

This was a really great trip and certainly on our radar to visit again in the future, although we’ve already got an eye on John’s newest property Dun Aluinn an exclusive use venue situated in Aberfeldy Perthshire, Scotland. 

Just waiting for an invite to visit!

Other Information: This was a sponsored / discounted visit; however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you to John Burke / Dun Aluinn Estate 2018 for allowing us to use some of their images in this blog.

Avernish Lodge, Lochalsh Luxury, Scotland

According to the website Avernish Lodge is situated on the banks of Loch Alsh, with stunning views over Eilean Donan Castle, is miles from any passing traffic and serenity is guaranteed.  This is a 100% accurate description and just what we needed before winter took hold in Scotland.

Slightly further north than our trip in October back to Crosple Cottage Loch Melfort, Avernish Lodge is ideally placed to explore the Kyle of Lochalsh and another great excuse for a journey via Glencoe.

We set off a little later than planned meaning we arrived at Avernish just as the sun was going down; when we approached the village of Dornie, Eilean Donan Castle was magically lit up to honour the 100-year Armistice celebrations.  What a welcome to the area!

As we turned off the main road it felt like the local pipistrelle bats were guiding us along the track as the light faded for the day.  Avernish Lodge, completed in 2016, is about a mile off the main A87 road down a quiet single-track road which gives access to several crofts scattered along the banks of Loch Alsh.

The lodge sits in an elevated prominent position on the hillside with unrestricted views over the loch and over to Glas Eilean, a small island in the middle.

It was a first for us arriving in the dark and little strange, however, as soon as we entered the lodge we were at home.  The lodge is finished to an extremely high standard and has been very well looked after by guests and owner James.

You enter the lodge via a handy utility room with a sink, washing machine, tumble dryer and a drying cupboard for hanging up outdoor clothing.

The living area is large with a high-pitched roof, it’s a modern open-plan well equipped space complete with a log burning stove, HD television with Sky TV, Wi-Fi Internet and a solid wood dining table separating the living area and the kitchen.

The bathroom and en-suite are also very impressive adding to an already luxurious experience.

Our biggest decision when we arrived was which of the two bedrooms, we were going to sleep in. 

The largest bedroom can be set up as two single beds or a super king, but the views from the slightly smaller en-suite bedroom overlooking Eilean Donan made it an easy choice for us.  

There was something enchanting about falling asleep with the castle lit up in the distance.  We didn’t fully appreciate the stunning view until the next morning – waking up to a glorious sunrise over the loch was even more special.

When we entered the living space the next morning the extent of the views of Loch Alsh from the floor to ceiling windows was mesmerising.

We both had our eyes on the luxurious rotating chair positioned in the corner window – luckily it was big enough to fit two!    Many a morning started sitting here with a coffee enjoying the views.

Our ‘batch’ cooking at Crosple Cottage was a real success so we did the same again for our break at Avernish.

Again, we just needed a few pots and of course a microwave to prepare our meals, but the kitchen is fully equipped for the more adventurous chef to rustle up some local delights, but a must visit place is Buth Bheag seafood shack in Kyle of Lochalsh to stock up and sample some local produce.

The dining table was perfect place to relax, enjoy the view whilst tucking into a piping hot bowl of soup or casserole as well as a glass (or two) of red.

All rooms, including the living space, are fitted with independently controlled underfloor heating, which is great.  A word of warning though, it can get very warm if the temperature is set to high so take it easy on the first few nights especially if you need to use the log fire as it heats up the large living area in no time.

During our week we were very lucky with the weather; November in Scotland can be sometimes unpredictable and very cold however we managed out every day to explore and most of the days the sun was shining.

On a couple of occasions, it was that warm we had to ditch the fleeces and jackets.

At this time of year, the daylight hours were short with the sun going down just after 4pm so as we returned to the lodge most days we could enjoy watching the sun go down.

Each of the bedrooms and living areas has a glass door that opens onto a paved patio area, offering outdoor access which you could make use of during the warmer lighter months.

Although the lodge is remote the broadband connection is not too bad and at a little over 5mbps allowed us to keep an eye on the weather, download some walks and fire up a Netflix box set to enjoy via our own Apple TV.  The Smart TV also has a full Sky Sports and Movies package as well as access to a suite of apps such as BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Netflix etc, perfect for those cosy autumn evenings with a roaring log fire burning beside you.

As we said before when holidaying in Scotland there can only be one series to settle down and watch – Outlander.  Season 3 was our choice this time round and like our accommodation didn’t disappoint – no spoilers, but we can’t wait for Season 4 to complete so we can binge on it during our next stay wherever that may be.

No box set would be complete without a nice Scottish Gin to accompany it, Makar was this week’s choice (one of Linda’s favourites) with a wee Drambuie to finish off most evenings.   Afraid, we made the fateful mistake of discovering a Bonnie Prince Charlie’s aka Prosecco and Drambuie!  Very nice – they certainly had the desired effect.

Worth pointing out that while fibre optic isn’t yet in the area the coverage of EE’s mobile 4g signal at the lodge was impressive at lmost 20-25mbps and Vodafone’s 4g was around 5mbps. Always good to know for those social media hungry people who like to keep in touch or book up their next trip!

The lodge is very close to a number of popular tourist attractions, such as; Eilean Donan Castle, The Isle of Skye, Plockton and numerous other castles, mountains and tourist hotspots.

A wee pit stop went down well at the Plockton Inn before we ventured over to Duncraig Castle to explore.  That’s on our radar for a visit next year!

During our stay we always turned left when we left Avernish along the main tourist route towards Skye, maybe next time we’ll venture right.

All our walks and the towns / villages we explored were generally within about a 30-minute drive although we did venture over to the Fairy Pools on Skye on our last day – well worth a trip.

Wildlife encounters included seals, otters, mountain goats, red deer and roe dear not forgetting the local bats!  Highlight was this close up encounter with a very friendly chaffinch as we set of to explore the Fairy Pools.

Would highly recommend spending time having a look at walkhighlands.co.uk  our go to website before you arrive and plan a few walks to get you started.

This is our second year we have holidayed in Scotland at this time of year and we would highly recommend it.  The roads are generally quiet, and, on many occasions, we didn’t encounter any other walkers when we were out exploring – check out the scenery in these pics.

Yes, some venues are closed or have restricted hours, but the great outdoors are well and truly open and not to be missed.

James has created a real place to get away from it all and it was a wrench to leave at the end of our stay.  For those looking for luxury self-catering accommodation and a holiday experience in a picturesque setting Avernish Lodge is up there with the best.

We really can’t stress how relaxed we felt here overlooking Loch Alsh and Eilean Donan Castle and we would highly recommend a visit.

With so much to do in the area James has created a perfect base for you to return each day to relax, recharge and reflect on your adventures and, of course, sip a wee refreshment.

Other Information:

Although this was a discounted visit, the review is an independent and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you to James for use of some property images in this article.

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.

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. Thank you to Clare Graham from www.advantagepr.co.uk for the connection and to Highlands Safaris for a few of the images.

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!