Tuesday, November 29, 2016

ECUADOR FROM QUITO TO RAINFOREST


On an adventure in Quito and the cloud forests of Ecuador, Select Collection's travel advisers pass on some of their secrets…

1. Don't take backpacker advice at the airport.

2. A charming place to stay in Quito.

3. How to find the magic of the rainforest…

Laila Ånestedt writes…

Advice...

We arrived in the evening and took a bus to the Quito bus station – a bad idea suggested by an Expat – and something we will never advise our clients to do. From the bus station we continued by taxi to Hotel Casa Gangotena – in heavy traffic through narrow streets – very slowly.

Our advice is simple. Travel by car direct from the airport to that lovely hotel.

Picturesque Quito old town. Click for larger images


Casa Gangotena

This hotel lies in the historic part of Quito, San Francisco Place – and is probably the best hotel in the city. We were entranced immediately we saw it: nice and white, with old charm – beautifully lighted up in the darkness.

Construction work is currently in progress in front as they are building a new metro. But we heard no noise in our minimalistic garden room at the back, and slept well. The next day we  moved to a room on the first floor with big white marble bathrooms and a little more in the way of décor.

Room with local feel

The garden at the back is one of the delights of this hotel. Another is the complimentary afternoon tea in the atrium in the middle of the hotel, where a glass ceiling lets in the light. The breakfast is very good.

Delightful garden at the hotel

Now we were  heading for our ultimate destination – the rainforests…

Mashpi Lodge




View of Mashpi Lodge clinging to a mountain side deep in the rainforest

Mashpi means: "Friends of water" and you enjoy lush growth, deep forests and high humidity in this private reserve.

It is located in the northwest part of Ecuador in the Choco region, 3-4 hours drive on winding roads. The last 45 minutes is on a bumpy sand road. To shorten the journey you can arrive at a neighbouring village by helicopter but you can’t miss out the last 45 bumpy minutes.

The lodge clings to a steep hillside at 900-1500m above sea-level – a large property of 1200 ha. You understand why there is rainforest. It is very humid – 85.95% with a staggering rainfall of around 2000mm per year – rainy London receives a mere 600mm. Best time in terms of lower rain is Jul-Sep. Pools and rivers are a pleasant 20 deg C.



The views are breath-taking . We looked into the rainforest from our room – but it was very private and no one was looking back at us as the valley is so steep that it is not possible to walk through the forest.

Our room with its fabulous view

From the dining room you look out over the landscape through truly vast windows.  Some 45% of the hotel is made of glass to give the optimal view. It was difficult logistics to bring all the materials into the area and construction of the Lodge took 3 ½ years.

Mashpi Lodge - glass windows viewing the forests

Inside the lodge, it is very open with a lot of natural light coming in. Here you can see the terrace where morning birdwatching took place:


Bird watching terrace


The stunning dining room where all meals were served


Life at Mashpi

Dine with magnificent views. All meals and soft drinks are included - buffet breakfast and buffet lunch – a la carte dinner. We liked the lunch best as it had the best selection. It is possible to have the meal outside on the terrace.

Days are full of exploration. The trails are muddy and slippery with steep slopes. All guests are supplied with boots and walking sticks, if needed. Recommended to bring a light jacket and comfortable pants that dry quickly. It’s not cold, just very humid and misty. The rule in the rainforest is: Do not touch anything before asking!

Laila

Why you need gumboots (the hotel will lend you a pair)

I recommend 2 or 3 nights. A typical day in Mashpi Lodge:

06:30     Birdwatching outside the hotel for those interested. Coffee/tee/hot chocolate served.
07:30     Breakfast
08:30     Activity
12:30     Lunch buffet
15:30     Activity – different
19:00     Lesson about Mashpi – inside the building, in the lobby. Could be a video for example.
19:30     Dinner

Located close to the hotel, the sky bike makes for an original and exiting way to explore the forest canopy up close. Designed for two people to use at once, one person pedals the bike, along the cables stretched between two points in the forest, around 200 meters apart, crossing a gorge above a river flowing between rocks and trees below. Silent, easy-to-use and fun, it’s an activity for children over 8 years-old accompanied by an adult, providing guests with another chance to observe the natural world close to the lodge.

Night walks. Optional night walks head out from the hotel after dinner to discover its creatures and their behaviour, ranging from moths as big as your hand, to miniature glass and tree frogs, croaking toads, birds, owls, rodents and mammals. We saw a big, black tarantella!
Mashpi is an exiting place for photography and botany (particularly orchids) in general. Special interests can be accommodated upon request. This was our guide 


Flying over the rainforest on your own natural steam

Because Mashpi Lodge is in an earthquake area, and the country was hit by an earthquake last year near the coast, they have decided never to lock any doors during the night. This way, the guests will have the possibility to leave the building if it happens again. 


Mashpi is a private reserve, owned by Roque Sevilla.

Laila Ånestedt, author of this review, is a travel advisor at Select Collection Stavanger.

For more about Select Collection's Ecuador programme, CLICK HERE


Monday, November 7, 2016

DREAM ISLAND IN THE SEYCHELLES - NEW SIX SENSES ZIL PASYON

We visit a new island resort in the Seychelles, the country most sought after by romantic royals but also becoming more popular with families. Six Senses Zil Pasyon is the only hotel on the island of Felicite and it captivates Neil Bedford with its many stunning features…

Jungle flowing steeply down to rocky shores and white beaches

This is the ultimate barefoot chic private island. “Barefoot” might sound overly rustic, but Six Senses Zil Pasyon has it all…combining the best features of our favourite barefoot destinations.

Indeed it is a dream island for couples and honeymooners. And for kids who have got old enough to be allowed to explore on their own, Felicite will be an island of adventure and lifetime memories. It is not the ultimate destination for younger children because of the steep terrain – but there is a kids club for tiny tots to keep them safe while the parents are out swimming and exploring.

The island is steeply hilly and covered in jungle, rising to 213m, scattered with picturesque granite boulders.  It has three beautiful beaches – one west-facing, one south, and one north, meaning there is usually one sheltered.  



Unique experiences to enjoy include trekking on the rugged green island, snorkeling off the main beach and off the sensational Cocos Island just a short kayak paddle away. 

Oceanfront villa nestled into foliage


Thirty highly desirable villas with one or two bedrooms lie near the shore or further up the slope, all with a lush tropical feel, large open living spaces, infinity pools and sublime views.  They are functional, light and open with little drops of bright colour and floor-to-ceiling sliding doors taking up half the villa to showcase the sea views.  

The bathrooms are some of the best I have ever seen. Huge open spaces with giant showers, his and hers vanities, bathtub right by the window and space age toilet with enough gizmos to make you nervous what will happen if you press the wrong button. One demonstrated  by our butler (Guest Experience Maker), emits (organic) perfume.

Stunning villa bedroom


In addition several contemporary residences are being built higher up with three to four bedrooms and loads of living space.

Extensive living room in a Residence

In a “central”area of the island there is a library, wine cellar, chefs table, 2 tropical bars and a rum lounge, 2 restaurants, boules court, overwater hammock/nets, sun loungers on boulders, main pool, watersports centre, tiny tots club, boutique…

Dining fits in perfectly with the destination with light fresh food and local flavours.  Ocean kitchen is a no-meat restaurant with incredible seafood and salads. The Island Café does a mix of cuisines with a local feel. You can also dine in the Wine Cellar or at magical spots around the island.

Ko-Ko Bar


Wine cellar 


Service is approachable and friendly – and staff are dressed down in T shirts. Close enough to La Digue and Praslin, Six Senses has access to a good pool of staff and can keep them smiling and happy.

Tipped to be one of the world’s best, a spa will open on Felicite in March 2017. Carved into the cliffs above the sea with its infinity pool, it will have dedicated wellness programmes – but also be the place to dip in and out, with all Six Senses awakened.

It is only 15 minutes to La Digue by boat  – a must visit. La Digue is best explored on a bike as much of the time will be spent on the beach of Anse Source d’Argent – which is a protected site with an entry charge. 

Another must is sunset cocktails on the granite boulders.


Verdict: Six Senses Zil Pasyon is a worthy favourite – up there with the best.


Today's blog is by Neil Bedford  Product Director of Select Collection.

For more about Six Senses Zil Pasyon, FOLLOW THIS LINK.



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

HUVAFEN FUSHI – THE FINER THINGS IN LIFE

Just a 35 minute speedboat ride from Male airport yet seemingly far faraway, Johan Paloheimo was captivated by Huvafen Fushi...

Johan writes:

Huvafen Fushi has long been on my bucket list - and it met all my expectations. 

The second I stepped off the speedboat and onto the arrival jetty I got this utterly serene feeling of calmness and peace. It felt like coming home, but to a much better and nicer home.

It is the perfect match for someone looking for all the finer things that the Maldives has to offer: beach, snorkelling, diving, harmony, fantastic food and perfect service combined with a very laid back yet sophisticated atmosphere and approach to life.  

The wow factor began at Male Airport. As I walked out into the arrival hall, the Huvafen Fushi airport representative was waiting outside with the hotel sign. He looked me right in the eyes and said “welcome Johan” with a big smile on his face. It seemed he had done his homework so he oculd recognize me instantly.

The staff were brilliant. They were very relaxed but professional and interacted with guests in a way I have not experienced in a long time. Every single staff member made me feel so welcome and at home…and everyone had a good dose of humour.

Pristine beach at Huvafen Fushi

Huvafen means Paradise and Fushi means island. Huvafen Fushi is really a slice of paradise.




Though there is no kids club, Huvafen Fushi is very child friendly. Having said that, the resort is more for couples, families with older children and divers - even single travellers seeking peace and quiet. The Maldives is not usually a destination to recommend to a single traveller but Huvafen is a perfect option, as their philosophy is to give their guests space and time to relax. This is the ideal place to stay if you just want to unwind. 


Yoga pavilion

Accommodation


I stayed in an Ocean Bungalow with Pool, number 32 to be exact. The Bungalow was very spacious and appealed to me in every way. It was not over the top, no bling bling, just very harmonious, homely and comfortable. The bed in my bungalow was the best bed I have ever slept in. 

Ocean Bungalow with Pool - number 32

The overwater accommodation would be my first choice, but I suggest beach accommodation for families with very small children.

Lagoon Bungalow

Lagoon Bungalows are on the sunrise side. Ocean Bungalows are on the sunset side and the two units of Two-Bedroom Ocean Pavilions are also on the sunset side.

Lagoon & Ocean Bungalows are perfect for a couple or for a family of 3. The delightful Two-Bedroom Pavilions are perfect for 4 adults or a family with teenage children…


Ocean Pavilion

A great option for a bigger family or group is the Three-Bedroom Villa on the Beach (CUBE), which was occupied when I was there. All three bedrooms are upstairs on that villa.

For a family with smaller kids I would recommend the Deluxe Beach Bungalows with Pool.

Activities

Their house reef is amazing. You can actually snorkel around the whole island if you have the stamina for it. The reef is very healthy and teeming with marine life. They have stingray feeding every evening at 18:30 which is good fun and kids love it.

Snorkelling Point


F&B
The food is amazing. Their main restaurant Celsius is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Fogliani´s is open for lunch where you can enjoy everything from a wood-fired pizza to Asian flavors. RAW is also open for lunch focusing on healthy raw food. Their wine cellar holds 6000 bottles when fully stocked and not to mention their fine dining restaurant Salt…fabulous. 

Huvafen is also brilliant at arranging destination dining, so if you fancy Thai, Indian, sandbank dinner….you name it they got it.

And of course then there is the wonderful underwater Lime Spa…..pictures speak louder than words.

 
Underwater - Lime Spa

For more about Per Aquum Huvafen Fushi CLICK HERE.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

AMAZING HOTEL SANT FRANCESC - AND OTHER TREASURES IN MALLORCA

Our guest blogger this week is a Select Collection client and frequent visitor to Mallorca. This time Petra tried a new gem, Sant Francesc Hotel. Here is her review and tips on what to see and do on "the island that never ceases to surprise...."


SHE WRITES:

I usually choose to stay inside the city of Palma. I like the simplicity of having a rental car to get around the island during the day and then in the evenings enjoying Palma’s fine selection of restaurants, shops and trendy bars.

This year we had the privilege to stay in the incredibly nice Sant Francesc Hotel Singular in the old part of Palma, the Placa de Sant Francesc.

The area is calm and pleasant and the hotel has been restored to perfection. The building is from the 1800s and a good mix of design, colour and form has enhanced its character.

The rooms are large and spacious with everything you might want. We stayed in a Privilege room with nice balcony where we enjoyed a good cappuccino every afternoon with the establishment's Macarons.

The hotel's rooftop is magical. There is a captivating view over the rooftops with the Cathedral in the background. Their cava sangria is really good and a must to try; and every morning we enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast.

Images of Sant Fransesc:








Some tips around the island

During  the daytime we visited Pollenca, Deia, Ses Salines, Camp de Mar, Antraxt and several other wonderful villages.

This trip I really fell in love with some of them: Camp de Mar’s newly opened beach club Accona and restaurant Cassai in Ses Salines, the recently opened Fosh in Palma, Duke in trendy Santa Catalina and the classic Il Paradiso of course!





In Camp de Mar one sees the emergence of a luxurious resort with beautiful wooden decks along the beach, luxury apartments being built, and the newly opened Accana Summer Club located here.

Almost a must if you are visiting Majorca.
http://accanasummerclub.com/en/


Ses Salines has a completely different character. Simple and authentic. This is where the charming and trendy restaurant Cassai is located. The restaurant also has a beach house down by the beach - incredibly charming.
http://cassaibeachhouse.com/en/restaurant/


Cassai


Just outside Port Andratx is the Gran Folies Beach Club. Stunning views and not too many people. Visit it, sit in the shade, sip a glass of cava and enjoy the view!
http://beachclubgranfolies.com/es/inicio


Santa Catalina - a very trendy area of Palma. We ate at the trendy and aware restaurant Duke with surf 'n' turf theme.
http://www.dukepalma.com/#theduke

Fosh - Marc Fosh (one Michelin star) has several restaurants in Palma. This year we tried the newly opened Fosh Kitchen which is absolutely amazing!
http://www.marcfosh.com

Il Paradiso – An island classic that we visit every time. The view, the staff, the food, the atmosphere ... I can not describe in words how good this restaurant is!
http://www.ilparadiso.es

Il Paradiso


Eight days on Mallorca goes too fast. There is so much to discover and see. Every time we find new unexplored places on this wonderful island.

We'll be seeing you again!

For more about Sant Francesc Hotel Singular  CLICK HERE.

Friday, September 30, 2016

BETWEEN DESERT & RED CITY - THE MANDARIN ORIENTAL MARRAKECH

Neil Bedford is blown away by this property on the outskirts of Marrakech ...


The Mandarin Oriental Marrakech is a stunning pool villa resort on the edge of the desert overlooking lovely gardens and the Atlas Mountains. Known for its Asian minimalism, in Marrakech the brand has subtly melded  Moroccan arts and contemporary style. Whispering of luxury (rather than shouting), it is perhaps the most simply graceful of the ravishing properties  that have popped up around the city of Marrakech.


Mandarin Oriental Marrakech main biuilding nestled in beautiful grounds

The 54, single-storey villas and central low-rise hub are nestled in a fully mature garden dotted with reflection ponds, centuries-old olive trees and more than a hundred thousand roses. A  vast sparkling pool is lined with indulgently oversize loungers. Or guests can hide away by their private pools – in some of the most impressive pool villas in Marrakech.


Pools and gardens


Inside there is subtle sense of place with influence from Berber arts. Add to that standards of service not usually attained in Morocco. There were many small touches and gestures from the staff that you would expect in Thailand/Bali but often disappear completely in many other countries.

While not a typical family resort, the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech can certainly please families. For romantic couples it is perfect with everything you could wish for from the gorgeous spa, high end dining, total privacy in your pool villa, chance to dress up in the evenings...

If one fancies  wandering among the souks, they are only 20 minutes taxi ride away amidst the excitement and intrigue of the Medina.

In the winter this hotel  is an ideal destination for a tranquil spa break. Reputedly the best spa in Marrakech it has a vast indoor pool and sublime treatment rooms, some with your own small terrace garden, other couples rooms with oversize baths. Some rooms feature private hammams.


Hammams

Pool villa bliss

The most impressive array of pool villas in Marrakech.

The Mandarin Villa is totally WOW - a 100sqm interior + 200sqm private courtyard with 22sqm pool. Small touches like the various courtyard sofas/furnishings allowing you to relax in several different areas to follow/escape the sun depending on your preference. Inside the design features a lounge, stunning bathroom and bedroom. As it is a villa compound you have no views but due to their size and open design it certainly does not feel enclosed.

Mandarin villa


Mandarin Villa pool bedroom
The 2 bedroom Oriental Villa is essentially the same set up but with a bigger courtyard/pool and the second (ensuite) bedroom nestled within the courtyard reached by a courtyard walk.


Oriental Villa

Designed for families the 2 bedroom Infinity Pool Suite is approx. 300 sqm (like the Mandarin Villa). A small garden and well sized pool (approx. 20sqm) with excellent set up for private dining.

Breakfast at the  villa
For those seeking views:

The Atlas and Panoramic Suites are located on the first floor above the lobby/restaurants. They have fantastic views of the gardens and Atlas Mountains and private plunge pools on the balcony.

The 2 bedroom Royal Suite above the lobby/restaurants  features a similar interior to the Infinity Pool Suite plus two plunge pools on the balcony. Lastly The Penthouse is made up of the 8 suites on the first floor above the lobby/restaurants.


Food & drink

After several days in Marrakech, when I went to Ling Ling I rejoiced! Outstanding food, service and atmosphere. Fantastic sharing style modern light Cantonese cuisine with every dish beautifully constructed and packed with flavor. It is operated by Hakassan the luxury restaurant group with places in London, New York, Las Vegas, Dubai. The bar inside gets lively with a DJ on till 1am on weekends. For romance ask for a table outside overlooking the pools and gardens.

The other main evening restaurant is Mes’Lalla – modern Moroccan. It has a great reputation among high end locals. Breakfast, afternoon tea and the Champagne Bar are in another room with great views over the gardens and pool.

During the day you can eat outside on the terrace of the pools so for a 4 night stay there is just about enough choice.

Dining on the restaurant terrace or taking the sun down by the pools

Fine dining

Quick facts

Contemporary villa resort on the edge of the desert. 54 stand alone pool villas (1 & 2 bed) and 9 1st floor pool suites (1 & 2 bed)

Location

20 mins taxi to the Medina/airport. 2 mins drive to Royal Golf. 5 mins drive to Al Maaden Golf. Great views to the Atlas Mountains from all over the property.

Who to stay

Truly top end clients.  Perfect for couples, but also works well for families.

Verdict

A stunning hotel in all aspects.


NOTE

Neil Bedford is Product Director at Select Collection.

For more about Mandarin Oriental CLICK HERE.






Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A NORWEGIAN IN CANADA

Great feedback from a Norwegian client in Canada. One thing our Norwegian traveller did NOT see was another Norwegian – apart from his party. What he did meet was captivating wilderness and wildlife, along with good hotels, good food and good service…


Bears were one of the thrills…

BEAR NEWS

”On our way from Lake Louise to Jasper today we had to stop for a Black Bear who wanted to cross  the road. That’s how polite we should be, but unfortunately we could not get our camera out in time,`” commented our Norwegian traveler. But he did get this image...


"Blackcomb-Whistler Peak 2 Peak Gondola   World’s longest cable on a gondola – 3.03km – and the highest point above ground is 436m it says in Guiness Book of Records…we could see a small black dot 400m below us, a Black Bear enjoying the riverside..."


OVERALL REVIEW

Written to his Select Collection travel advisor Ada in Oslo:

We are back from Canada - and I just wanted to thank for job well done from your side.
Everything worked out just brilliant. Dreamliner with Air Canada on the way over was very good. Car and hotels also excellent. 
The highlight when it comes to the food / drink menu was in Lake Louise but all hotels kept a very high standard. 
We found great service and friendly staff in all places - and an experience to travel through the Rocky Mountains.
Absolutely to recommend to others.
I think it's the first time I've been on vacation for 14 days abroad without coming across a single other Norwegian.

ON THE THEME OF WILDLIFE




Moose aplenty...


Wise owl...


 Cute squirrel...




SPECTACULAR NATURAL BEAUTY


Lake Louise


Lake Louise in the distance, ringed by gigantic peaks

Roaring water

Magnificent Blackcomb

Jasper

And despite all the very snowy mountain landscapes- a winery among the vineyards of an old goldfield.


Wine tasting

Wine country Lillooet - former gold fields

SPORTS


Watersports

A skitrail in summer

Trying your hand at motor sports


ITINERARY

Flight with Lufthansa Oslo-Calgary // Vancouver Oslo
AVIS Rental Car Chevrolet Suburban or similar
June 28-30  - 2 nights at the Post Hotel & Spa in Pipestone, Lake Louse
June 30-July 2 - 2 nights at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper
July 2-3  - 1 night at Sun Peaks Grand Hotel in Sun Peaks - 2-bedroom Condo
July 3-5  - 2 nights at the Four Seasons Resort Whistler
July 5-13 - Vancouver private stay

BACKGROUND

The trip was put together by Select Collection senior travel adviser Ada Størmer Papatheocharis from our Oslo office . Many thanks to our client for his permission to publish his comments and images.

For our standard Canada programme CLICK HERE

However, as masters of bespoke travel, we are always at the ready to go "out of the book" to tailor totally different luxury journeys for our clients.