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.

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.