Friday, December 21, 2012

TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN, part 1, Four Seasons Gresham Palace

Budapest in December instead of flying off to sunshine and pristine beaches?  We asked one of our sales consultants, Tommy, a new father, to tell us all why he made this choice for his latest break…and how it worked out.

Click for a larger panoramic view of the city from the Buda side


“This being the first trip as a small family, we thought the distance was perfect, just above 2 hours flight, no stopovers, no time difference or anything like that. An excellent chance to try out travelling with an infant.
The flight with Norwegian worked above all expectations. Our little baby Theo was in a brilliant mood charming all the onboard staff with fits of giggling.
On site in Budapest, Four Seasons was waiting for us right after luggage claim and swiftly we were rushed off to the waiting Mercedes with a big throne of a child seat. Being in a car seat is not really Theo’s favorite activity, but this time he was all smiles, and looked quite like a little prince being driven around.

The Little Prince

Upon arrival at the hotel, all luggage was whisked away and we entered the beautiful lobby of the Gresham Palace. Built in the beginning of the 1900s it has been many things, but it’s extremely suited to being a Four Seasons hotel.
Art Nouveau grace
Directly we are shown to our room, very classic in style, marble and thick carpets, separate shower and soaking bathtub and an amazing view over the chain bridge and the Buda Castle over the Danube river.
View of the Danube from our room

Hospitality for little ones


Now comes the special hospitality for babies and their parents! Small gifts start dropping in, a nice bottle of wine, some baby toys, canapés, bottle warmer, diapers, extra towels and fresh fruit. It really made us feel extremely welcome as a family, and we felt secure in good hands.
Theo with all the nice things
Upon examining the room closer we also found child sized bath robes, not really small enough for our little toddler, but it is the thought that counts right?


Great dining


I must mention the restaurant. Excellent breakfast with buffet style for most things but egg dishes are made a la minute.

One thing all guests must do (and it is not a recommendation, it is a Must)  if they spend a weekend in Budapest is to book the Four Seasons Sunday brunch. Italian themed during our stay, we sat for a good two hours eating our way through Italian delicatessen. Same as breakfast, much was buffet style but all the hot dishes were prepared a la minute.

Besides this fantastic location and great food, the thing that really struck us the most about this place was the impeccable service and hospitality. Everyone from front desk, cleaning, room service, restaurants and concierge had a very good sense of service and you really felt them doing their utmost to make all clients happy.


Exploring with baby

 

Magical lights
Tearing ourselves from the hotel we started exploring Budapest. Walking around the neighboring areas we discovered the city was very easy to get around in with a baby stroller. Good sidewalks and crossings and never any real problems. The only downside was that in the Christmas markets it could get quite narrow, and we had to cross many of the small genuine restaurants and cafés off our list just because they were too small, but fortunately there were many to choose from.

Christmas lights the dark

We quickly felt that it was a city that has a lot to offer, beautiful sights, museums and architecture, great food ranging from Goulash to Sashimi at Nobu and a buzzing market with lots of local handicrafts and the smell of glüehwein hanging in the air.

Ice rink at the Christmas market
So all in all, perfect trip for a short getaway: short flight, lots to see, great food and great hotel. What else do you need? Ah yes: for a family all members should be welcome…and we were…."

How to get to Four Seasons Gresham Palace

30 minutes by car from Budapest International Airport

Who to stay

Discerning couples and families...

Special offer

We must point out the incredible offer of stay 3 pay 2  (or stay 6 pay 4 etc) for stays until 30 April 2012. Phone or mail one of our offices.



Note: All images are informal snapshots by Elina Örmin, apart from the B/W image by Four Seasons

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO MARRAKECH

On our Select Collection trips to Marrakech we like to combine a luxury hotel in the medina with a stay in the Atlas Mountains - for the best of both worlds. 


La Mamounia

Night magic at Mamounia

Probably our favourite hotel in the city of Marrakech. La Mamounia is a stunning property right in the medina, but you feel as if you are in the countryside thanks to the massive gardens. One of the property walls is actually the wall of the Medina and you enter through an impressive gate.


Pool with cabanas in the lush garden

The hotel is in classic Moroccan style, with exquisite details throughout the hotel. Service is really good and all the common areas are beautiful.
This is the place for all who want to experience Marrakech in true Select style in a marvellous central location.
Classic Moroccan style
Our tip is to book a park view room. The Koutobia view is towards the street so you miss the whole oasis feeling, and it feels more like a city hotel. The Agdal view is over the pool, which is nice, it works, but it's just a (nice) pool. The park is what makes Mamounia unique so that is the place you want to view. Also, Park is cheaper then Agdal for some reason.
However, if you are needing a deluxe Park room with an extra bed, be aware that they are actually below ground. They are half a staircase down so you get absolutely no view whatsoever. They have made these rooms a little larger to compensate, and that is whey they can take the extra bed. So if needing an extra bed we strongly suggest you upgrade to a Junior suite.

How to get to La Mamounia

15 minutes by car from Marrakech International Airport.  La Mamounia offers its own VIP lounge at the airport.
Though not the usual Select-style airline, Norwegian is very convenient for Marrakech and very good for a low cost carrier. You get what you pay for, a seat with limited pitch but nice staff onboard. Food on the plane is not inspiring so we recommend you eat before departure. Wifi onboard is a great idea, but it's excruciatingly slow.



Note that if you make a package with Select Collection including Norwegian you get advantages not available if you book individual items yourself on the internet.



Select added values

Bottle of champagne in Executive suite, Signature suites and Riads. Space available complimentary upgrade, guaranteed complimentary early checkin and late checkout

We definitely suggest combining with an out-of-town property.

Kasbah Tamadot


One hour from the Medina is another world - Kasban Tamadot.
Views to dream of...
Snow on the Atlas mountains behind
Kasbah Tamadot - late November 2012
Sir Richard Branson’s secluded lodge up in the Atlas mountains features stunning views from almost everywhere, and a stable with donkeys and dromedaries. And lots and lots of activities both within the hotel and  in the surrounding areas.

Our private terrace in our hideaway in the Atlas mountains -
great place to drink champagne and stare at the views
Don’t consider anything less than a Berber tent if you want to pamper yourself. They are absolutely amazing, especially the ones with plunge pool. Deluxe suites are also very attractive (see the terrace  in the above image - a place we loved being). 

Deluxe room accommodation

Kasbah Tamadot is a gorgeous place for relaxing, hiking and exploring. If you spend a whole week in Morocco you will enjoy combining this mountain hotel with a city property.



And also lazing in the sunshine amidst stunning panoramas

In a nutshell

A very good value for couples and families - if you like an active holiday or just want to relax and enjoy the views and the spa.

How to get to Kasbah Tamadot

45 min by car from Marrakech International Airport

Select Added values

Bottle of wine and fruit in the room. Complimentary upgrade, early checkin and late checkout if space is available.


Note: Images are informal iPhone snaphots by Select team. The others (images 2, 3 & 4) are (c) La Mamounia & Virgin Kasbah Tamadot

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

SPA CHECK THAILAND, part 1, Kamalaya



Losing weight is not a problem. It’s a pleasure. That is what all the guests tell you at Koh Samui’s famed wellness sanctuary Kamalaya. Most people on a weight control programme lose around 2 kg in a week while enjoying a pleasant active holiday. Our Select Sales Manager Ulrika lost 4 kg.

Firstly – the food is great – good protein, fruit and vegetables –  tasty, fresh and full of colour. 

Secondly, it does not feel like a clinic. Kamalaya is beautiful, lush and tropical, surrounded by rainforest and mountains, not far from the beach.

“The beach is just a walk down the hill,” says Ulrika, adding: “Though on the first day it’s a tough walk up again, at the end of the week you are so fit you can almost run up.”

You don’t have to do anything at Kamalaya – you can treat it just like a beach resort and lie on a sunbed.  Or join gently into yoga and mystical moments in this undeniably exotic place.

But we recommend you sign up for a wellness package.  For one thing a package very cost-effectively includes three meals a day, ordinary healthy food, detox fare or  a la carte eating, and a lot else. For a pre-booked wellness package (for min 7n stay) all Select customers get a voucher for 150 euros worth of extra treatments.
For a charge guests can even drink ecological wine and beer at night. But our Select team noted that almost no one opted for the vino. They were so satisfied with fabulous fruit drinks, wheatgrass shots and so on.

At Kamalaya your treatments are from top experts who combine holistic therapy and science…. You can choose between packages focused on ideal weight, optimal fitness, detox, stress and burnout, even sleep enhancement.  Detox and “ideal weight” are very popular  programmes.

Ideal weight (Ulrika's  chosen programme) is a lot about shape and toning – not just the number of kilos. So stomach massage, detox treatments like far infra-red saunas, body scrubs, wraps and so on aim at reducing cellulite – the big enemy of the body beautiful.

Where you are makes a big difference when you get treatments.  “The treatment rooms are wonderful,” says Ulrika. “Only three walls – you hear the sounds of the sea and the singing of birds…”
There are also a range of holistic activities you can join to get fit, feel calm and happy  – apart from yoga, there is Pilates, stretching, and in the evening lectures and Thai dancing.
For some programmes you also get a personal trainer...

On top of that we think that the staff are fantastic, and the accommodation lovely… especially the beach front villas…
Note: Images are all informal iPhone snapshots by Select.
Select added value - in addition to the 150 euro voucher for prebooked treament package, you get complimentary upgrade, early checkin and late checkout if space is available. See also our web page, and our CEO Leija Graf's blog on Kamalaya's detox programmes.



Finally we pass the word over to one of our customers, Elisabeth Whitefield, who has just returned from Kamalaya:





"It was a wonderful place, with so much warmth. Professional but still personal. Perfect for me; I felt better than I ever imagined was possible. 
I will definitely return…"


Thursday, November 29, 2012

HOTEL CHECK OMAN, part 1, Six Senses Zighy Bay


Arriving at Six Senses Zighy Bay!

“Would you like to paraglide in to the hotel sir?”

Not your typical chauffeur’s question when travelling to a luxury hotel, but this is not a typical property. It is hthe only hotel located on a magnificent 1.6km stretch of golden sand beach, the bay is hemmed in on all sides by jagged mountains. With a philosophy of "redefining experiences" Six Senses offers this arrival option along with speedboat or 4WD.

For us the 4WD journey through the narrow mountain pass was adventure enough in itself so we skipped the paragliding option and enjoyed the still spectacular view down to the bay from our luxury vehicle instead of from a harness under a floating tent. To be fair, we did see many other guests take this option and it looked like a lot of fun and certainly rather more professionally set up than our previous paragliding experience in the Colombian countryside…but that’s another story.

A real beach resort, a sanctuary only 2 hours from Dubai
Located just 2 hours from Dubai, Six Senses Zighy Bay is actually in Oman but Dubai is the closest big airport and city so it was an easy option to combine a short stay here in this isolated beach resort to contrast with Dubai’s ‘busier’ feel. Incidentally Banyan Tree Al Wadi – see our previous post - is halfway between the two and a tour of all three destinations is great for those who get restless feet but don’t like long transfers (the longest is Zighy Bay to Dubai airport at just 2 hours).

Our instant feeling on arrival was “this is our kind of property” and our love of the place only grew through our stay. Barefoot luxury is the now oft used phrase to describe a place like this. Buildings are naturally styled to blend in to the environment and aside from the glimmering private pools (present for all rooms) you can see the design is to replicate a typical Omani village.

Privacy and space

The 81 stand-alone villas are scattered over a large area and once inside feel very private and spacious. The rustic nature of the interiors with their stone floors and aged wooden adornments is supplemented with rope door handles and a private courtyard with a sand floor. Each pool is infinity edged and well sized at around 20+ sq mtre and hidden from prying eyes with a bamboo fence.


Our private pool and a  background of rugged mountains


Stone floors, natural materials, rustic space and privacy

The 15 Beachfront Pool Villas have the advantage that you can open up the front of your courtyard for direct views and access to the ocean, which virtually laps at your door come high tide. The upgrade cost of around US$400 per night (depending on season) is significant but one which many will consider worth paying for such a view. For those happy to rise early, we can happily recommend a 5am start (perhaps just once during your stay) to see the sun rising from the ocean directly in front of you.  

Sunrise from the sea in front of your villa

As well as enjoying our villa’s private pool, we could also enjoy the hotel’s shared pool which was always quiet and boasts an excellent panorama of the sea in front of you and towering mountains rearing up behind. Then yet another option is the beach and sea itself - sunbeds are set up close to the water and served by a nearby bar, with the water itself warm and clear. If, like us, you are happy to spend so much time in the water that your skin wrinkles up to the extent that your feet and hands feel like they have aged 50 years then you are sure to enjoy the place.

 From meditation to levitation....

Six Senses is famous for its spas and this is no exception. Sauna and steam room are available to all resort guests but the spa treatments themselves are well worth trying. Highly trained and experienced therapists offer a range of treatments and Indian Head Massage is highly recommended…indeed the quality of treatments reaches those on offer in our Select Collection Stockholm Spa where we have Six Senses trained specialists J.
Further ways to enjoy your time at the hotel include experiences such as snorkeling/diving trips, sunset Dhow cruises, 4WD tours, water skiing and many more options. There are also some great complimentary activities run on a weekly schedule such as “martini mixology” at the bar, meditation at the spa pavilion and kayaking.

For our earth...

One of the most impressive aspects to the hotel (and indeed all Six Senses properties as a general rule) was their environmental work. All water is from the on-site well and supplied in 1 litre glass bottles (ever replenished which was important in the summer heat) rather than plastic. The other initiative is the “non-meat Tuesdays” that is operated. Guests may well not even notice this is happening, such is the extent of the seafood buffet and vegetarian options available on this day. These two initiatives have no negative impact on the enjoyment of your stay but over the course of a year have a really noticeable impact on the environmental footprint of the property and we are hopeful this kind of action can spread to other properties

Sensational dining experience

Speaking of food…it is an absolute MUST to try the Sense-on-the-Edge restaurant during your stay. Barely visible from the ground, the restaurant is tucked in the mountains and boasts sensational views and a unique atmosphere. Cocktails and canapés on the outdoor terrace began a decadent evening where we tried the chefs 7 course menu together with wine pairings. Unique dishes, excellent presentation and superb service, in a mountain location that seemed to get more awe-inspiring with every glass, made for a truly memorable evening.
Sense-on-the-Edge - roasted red pepper dish

We left the hotel the next morning as we had entered, with a 4WD journey through the mountains and a final look back to the hotel from the summit with very fond memories, full bellies and a slight headache.

Who to stay

Couples and families who want a beach holiday.

How to get to Six Senses Zighy Bay

90 minutes by car and 4WD from Dubai International Airport, 45 minutes from Ras Al Khaima

Select added value

1 bottle of wine in room. Complimentary upgrade, early checkin and late checkout if space is  available.

Friday, November 23, 2012

HOTEL CHECK MALDIVES, part 7, Six Senses Laamu


Bright sunshine at the small airport outside Male'. Here we are met by our hotel, Six Senses Laamu. To get to the resort, we travel with domestic flights to Kadhdhoo Laamu Atoll about 50 minutes south of Male', and then a short ride by speedboat.

Water villas come into view, threading over
the turquoise lagoon

Six Senses Laamu is part of the upscale chain Six Senses Resorts & Spas. We get a very warm welcome on the pier where our speedboat arrives, icy juice in coconuts decorated with orchids, and necklaces made of plaited palm leaves. Our GEM (Guest Experience Maker) will help us with everything from check-in, dinner reservations and surprises with ideas for excursions and activities.

Cocktail party - entertainment

Excursions by traditional Dhoni



Golf car takes us to our water villa of 108 sqm situated along the jetty ​​- here we can snorkel directly from the terrace, enjoying a bath in the tub that is made entirely of glass, or admire the fish through the glass floor to the bathroom.

Glass bath, glass floor...


Bathroom entertainment - peeps into
the underwater world


Everything is extremely tasteful: natural materials covering all high tech features so they do not intrude, and this villa has everything you could wish for – tast, charm and modern functionality.

Chic charm with natural materials
For families, we recommend the larger beach villas with two bedrooms and private pool –these villas are 185 sqm (285 sqm incl. Garden). Note that kids taken to Laamu should be able to swim ... most of the restaurants are built over water and most water villas stand over deep water.
Perfect reading material .... Slow Life
Private pool of beach villa - in the distance water villas
Six Senses Laamu offers six different restaurants with amazing food. The vegetables come from the resort's own organic garden and you'll always find the day's catch on the menu. If you love fresh fish and seafood, you're in the right place. Choose from exciting buffets with inspiration from around the world, or enjoy an exclusive a la carte. When you feel you have had enough of the white sandy beach or reading a book on the terrace, there are lots of activities to choose from.
You have yoga every morning, and we can heartily recommend a snorkel or dive trip with the resort's marine biologist. During our tour, we saw turtles, rays and fish every tint of the rainbow.

Here is a little Select movie of our swim with a turtle:



Select team snorkling



...diving



In a coconut shell




Good value for luxury in astounding surroundings. Six Senses Laamu is perfect for the newly in love. Here you will enjoy good food, pleasant lounge music and a romantic island that has everything. If you are holidaying with kids at Laamu they should be able to swim, as many restaurants including the breakfast restaurant are built over the water.

How to get to Six Senses Laamu

50 minute flight south to Kadhdhoo in the remote Laamu atoll then 25 minutes by speedboat.

Select added values

Bottle of wine and fruits on arrival. Early checkin and late checkout complimnetary subject to availability.

Max from our marketing department
all kitted out for a dive
...and relaxing too
Private, natural, chic...