Wednesday, August 17, 2016

LUXURY SECRETS IN POPULAR MALLORCA

Far from the holiday crowds of Mallorca, this hideaway that once hid soldiers now cossets honeymooners. The former citadel is a world of sweet indulgence only 20 minutes from Palma airport. Select Collection’s Louise Lundius gives her impressions of Cap Rocat and suggests a honeymoon combination...


Up on a clifftop in a corner of Palma Bay, Cap Rocat is a secret world – a hotel with only 29 rooms among a village of courtyards, drawbridges and turrets. It’s so steep that only children over 14 are allowed – which helps to make it a nest of tranquillity.

Once the canons peeped out of the batttlements looking at enemy ships, now lovers look out with glasses of champagne at sizzling blue sea and mountains. Though the rooms are themselves “caves” nested into the rock face, all have terraces with sunbeds and places to admire the view. Still my advice is to treat yourselves to a suite so you also have a beautiful view from the bedrooms. 


Sunset on an unusal pool terrace

A gazebo on your suite terrace

Your terrace is a perfect spot not just for cocktails but for intimate breakfasts, delivered in the morning by golf buggy. Or you can eat in an indoor restaurant during low season and during high season in a “wooden tent” on the roof of the hotel. The wooden building is the only area in the hotel that is built over the ground. This is the perfect place for weddings, a few steps from your romantic hideaway suite. It’s also a very nice venue for a conference – Google was there the week we visited. I guess they googled it from rave reviews…

Gourmet dinners can be enjoyed in the fortress. We had lunch at the Sea Club. The food was excellent and the view amazing. In fact, it’s sublime from many vantage points.

The infinity pool lies in a stunning position on the fortress wall.  You can join  yoga class up here with the sight of boats on the water far below.

At present spa treatments are given up on the hilltop, but a new spa will be ready in 2017.

The sunny courtyards

Imposing walls and blue sea

Arches and bridges, and a sense of history



WHO?

Who should go? I would say a couple of any age. Cap Rocat is a hotel for total relaxation and there are not very many options for activities – apart from tennis and mountain biking. You should go here to enjoy a beautiful/cool hotel, read a few books, eat delicious food and just enjoy.

HONEYMOON COMBINATION

For a European honeymoon it would be great to combine Cap Rocat with Belmond La Residencia. From the military citadel to an artist's hideaway high among the Tramuntana mountains near the enchanting village of Deia, where art, music, poetry and cafe life thrive. 

Honeymoon and art in the Mallorcan mountains

Belmond La Residencia - lush gardens, art and romance

For more about Belmond La Residencia CLICK HERE

For more about Cap Rocat CLICK HERE.

Louise Lundius is a multi-tasking online marketing coordinator at Select Collection. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

FiVE STAR ADVENTURE IN VIETNAM

Not our usual five star hotels but still a five star adventure in Vietnam. Ada from Oslo is one of our Vietnam specialists. This time she tested an itinerary for those who prioritize adventure and discovery.


This trip arranged for me by an adventure operator exceeded even my expectations. It was not the typical Select Collection experience as the hotels were more 4 star than 5 star, but I give it 5 stars for the experience – down to the details from beginning to end. This is something for our adventurous clients.

Six nights, seven days on a round trip in the north of Vietnam.


Including the magnificence of Halong Bay


Day 1: Hanoi arrival – Afternoon jeep tour
Day 2: Transferring to Mai Chau via Hoa Binh Reservoir – Swimming and boating
Day 3: Cycling in the countryside – Having lunch with a tribal family
Day 4:  Transferring to Ninh Binh – Taking the authentic row boat in Van Long Nature Reverse
Day 5: Transferring to Halong Bay – On board wooden junk
Day 6: In Halong Bay – Swimming and kayaking
Day 7: Transfer to airport - Departure

Day 1: Hanoi arrival – afternoon jeep tour 

Our adventure starts in Hanoi with a pickup at the airport where we met our local tour guide Tuoc and our Happy Van - a very nice Ford Minibus with captain seating and all the comfort you could ever need.

Happy Van


Apart from a jeep excursion, this was our vehicle for the week. The week was packed with experiences, I could write a book about the trip - but let me try to make it short - this is our itinerary:


The Ann Hotel in Hanoi
Good location for walks in the old town, very good breakfast and nice rooms.


And a pool with a city view


Anh Tuyet Restaurant Hanoi
Authentic and exceptionally good food. Nice small restaurant, more like a private home.

 

Jeep Excursion to Hanoi outskirts
Adrenaline kick - very good - fun - felt safe - will recommend to all travellers. Had a very nice dinner in a private house, in the garden.


Norwegian enthusiasm on city safari in Hanoi




Day 2: To Mai Chau via Hoa Binh Reservoir – Swimming and boating


Boat trip and lunch at Hoa Binh water reservoir - nice and rustic experience - the water is clean even though the color is a bit unusual.



Hoa Binh Water Reserve
Ada on a genuine funky fishing boat on the reservoir


Mai Chau Eco Lodge - exceptionally nice rooms and amazing views of rice fields and mountains. Very good food and service. The Spa was good and they have a dancing show in the evening. I'd say 4*+ for rooms, food and Spa treatments - 4* for the rest. I would definitely go again, reminded me a bit of our African lodges. Located in Mai Chau Valley – home of Tribal Villagers like the White Thai


Mai Chau Eco Lodge - serene between mountains

The charming pool of Mai Chau 

Rustic but delightful rooms

A private plunge pool at the ecolodge


Our outside shower at the ecolodge 
View from our balcony – what a beautiful sight to wake up to

.

  

Day 3: Cycling in the countryside –  lunch with a tribal family


Bicycle tour in Mai Chau - good bikes, nice scenery, not too challenging - but not "a walk in the park" either. Lots to see and nice encounters with the local people in the area. Very tasty and cozy lunch at a Home stay.




We visited another home stay for dinner and dance show  - another pleasant experience.



Delicious meal at Homestay – and our host in front of his traditional house on stilts...

Our host and his home

Day 4:  Ninh Binh – Taking the authentic fishing boat in Van Long Nature Reverse



Travelling on. Visiting Hoa Lu Temple on the way to Ninh Binh and having an  unusual  snack.


Hoa Lu Temple

Num num snack - cicadas, frogs, peanuts and beer

Amongst pools, mountains and rainforest

Ninh Binh - Emeralda Resort
Very nice resort with good spa treatments and restaurants. Nice large rooms and semi private pools. As the weather was a bit challenging we could not take the boat trip but I am sure it's a beautiful experience and a nice spot for peace and quiet.


Entrance to Emeralda Resort


A light-filled bathroom at Emeralda Resort




 
Continuing to Halong Bay

Day 5-7:  Halong Bay. On board wooden junk – swimming & kayaking 


Halong Bay is one of my favorite places on earth and experiencing it on a private charter with Paradise Privilege - away from the day cruisers - was amazing. Visiting the pearl farm and the floating villages was nice, but just cruising that bay with the beautiful scenery, having a swim and a trip in a kayak are the truly memorable moments. The caves and the beaches are just a bonus. My recommendation is to stay clear of the tourist traps, charter your own boat and do 2-3 nights.

View of Halong bay from the junk

Tai chi on deck

Off to visit a floating village

Our party lost for words

Paradise Privilege

Serenity on deck in the sunset

Day 7: Transfer to airport - Departure

Final advice

As a final note – we know how important it is to have a good guide in Vietnam.
I advise the same guide for the whole trip if possible - as a guide/tourleader. Just speak to us.

You will experience much more this way and in ways that are more personal. You will be able to tailor-make the trip to fit your needs, whether for families, groups of friends or a honeymoon couple.

If something unexpected should happen then you have a friend in a foreign place. It's worth a lot in a country like Vietnam.

Tuoc & Bao - part of our memorable experience


Thank you to my friends in VJT Adventures - our guide Tuoc and our driver Bao for making this a very memorable experience.

For our Vietnam programme based on Five Star hotels, click HERE.

Ada Størmer Papatheocharis, author of this post, is a senior travel advisor in our Oslo office.


Monday, August 8, 2016

A DREAM - SEADREAM

Ada and Dag from our Oslo office enthusiastically describe the boutique cruise boat SeaDream II - and throw in one night at an old favourite on the Athens Riviera, recently refurbished...


SeaDream II – what a gem


Such a welcome we received – with champagne, snacks and massage on the sundeck while waiting to check in. The atmosphere was so casual and kind, everyone smiling and joking around, but at the same time the SeaDream service is out of the top drawer. It's all intended to feel like your private luxury yacht, carrying special yet superbly relaxed guests.


Sleek and superbly relaxing - SeaDream II

A casual and natural feel pervades SeaDream, with outdoor living important along with perfect pampering. We were lucky to have all but one meal on deck, such a nice ambiance and amazing food. The service from the waiters, the presentation of the food and the feeling when you have a glass of good wine while the sun sets in the Mediterranean sea - all wonderful.



Cruising the beautiful coastlines of the Mediterranean

Set for deck dining. All guests can dine outside when the boat is in port or calm waer.


The Spa was a pleasant experience, very good treatments.  The Gym is very small, but I never saw it crowded. They also do yoga and tai chi outside at no extra charge.

As the ship arrived at new destinations each morning, anchoring up in short tender distance from beautiful small islands, we did not have much need for the activities offered onboard at daytime.

Every day was spent exploring the destinations on foot or moped on our own, except in Kusadasi (Turkey) where we had an  excursion to Efesos (arranged by SeaDream) that was very interesting.


On anchor outside beautiful Mykonos.

This image shows how close in the boats are. We could go in for exploring in the morning and back for lunch, then in for shopping in the afternoon and back for dinner, and could even have gone back for drinks in the evening if we had wanted to!


Our own culinary discoveries on shore

Dag - country manager Norway  exploring on two wheels

Beautiful sights

A little hint of Ada in the mirror as she drives

But we did find time to use the daytime complimentary  activities - like banana boat and jet ski – lots of fun.  In the evening there are lectures about the next day destination and the bar and small casino are open after dinner. Not showy  – but it's not needed either.

Designer . and an Aegean feel


The enchantment of Greece

Sleeping

The cabins are all alike, quite plain, but functional. Deck two has small round windows while 3 & 4 has panoramic windows – that’s the only difference. There are in addition  Commodore suites that are located on deck 2 and 3 and consist of 2 connected cabins where they remove part of the separating wall. Then there is  the Admiral Suite deck 4 nr 400 (35sqm) and Owners Suite  deck 3 no 315 (42 m2) both have semi-separate bedroom, bathroom and separate guest toilet.

The minibar is stocked – even with champagne – but who wants to spend more time than necessary in the cabin – life is outside.

In a nutshell

SeaDream is very social and casual. Guests on Seadream have well sorted finances – that is apparent – but they are not showing off. It's all so friendly, even among guests and staff.


Flights

I flew from Oslo on SAS in Economy Class – direct flight – all fine. Bought food on the flight – no problems at all – but no special service either.

Dag Åge Karlsen  flew Swiss via Zurich on Business Class – the best product in Europe in our opinion.

Pre-cruise night 

In Athens we stayed one night at The (New) Margi before the cruise. The hotel has received
a facelift where all the bathrooms are new and fresh, just beware that on the 4th floor they all have open solution bathroom.


The new pool is stunning, with pavilions that can be pre-booked at a price - also by outside guests.
The size of the pool is now three times what it was before and the sunbeds are both in and around the pool. It still gives this beautiful feeling of an oasis amid a residential area, both day and night. A very popular hang-out among the young and wealthy.

The pool area is chic and relaxing

The SPA is a new addition to the hotel and located on groundfloor, below the reception. It's not large, but such a peaceful area staffed with therapists from Amanzoe. Very good treatments at mid-range prices. Amenities   ILA – British brand – innovative and 100% organic.


The Margi Farm, supplier of greens to the hotel, is now in its second year of operation and guests can visit on Fridays. Very charming little farm – 30 minutes drive from the hotel – where guests can see and experience their farming of greens and animals. Very nice for families. It's possible to arrange dinners and lunches there for groups of different sizes.



Grape vines - the Margi farm





Ada Størmer Papatheocharis is a senior travel advisor at our Oslo office
.
Dag Åge Karlsen is country manager Norway and a master of gourmet travel.

For more about SeaDream click HERE.