On my most recent stay in Luxembourg I stayed at the Mama Shelter in Kirchberg. Kirchberg is where all the banks, offices and the European parliament are located. In as much, it’s a prime location for all the business traffic to the city.
Mama Shelter is the Accor Group’s latest hotel franchise. And from what I can tell, their target demographic are the terminally hip and hopelessly trendy that normally stay at a CitizenM.
The décor of the hotel is gaudy and pretentious. Parts of it look as though they have been designed specifically to act as an ‘interesting’ backdrop for the selfie of yet another brainless influencer. There are so many different patterns and colours going on everywhere, it literally makes my brain hurt.
Dinner and breakfast are served in a large, cavernous space. Funky music plays over the loudspeakers, requiring you to yell at the staff for them to understand your order. Although I must say that the food at the restaurant is rather good and offers quite a wide selection of comfort food and healthy dishes.
The room is huge and has a fairly large bathroom. The shower is powerful and allowed me to take a shower without flooding the whole damn building. And the bed is very comfortable with a hard mattress.
But no matter how stylish the room may be, practical it is not. There is a desk to work on at the foot of the bed. But the only seat for it is this uncomfortable bench that is way too low for the desk and makes it inconvenient to work on.
All things considered, I think I would stay at the Mama Shelter again for a business trip to Luxembourg – partly because it still has the look and feel of a new hotel, whereas the Novotel and the Sofitel next door are starting to look old and dated. If you can look beyond the nauseating interior design, the room is comfortable, the food is very good and the staff are very friendly and helpful.
The Kempinski Engelberg is a five-star property that opened in spring 2021. Engelberg is one of Switzerland’s top ski resorts, partly due to the fact that it has some nice slopes, is easily accessible and not quite as far off as other places like Gstaad or Adelboden.
The Kempinski is in easy walking distance from the railway station. You really can’t miss it as you exit from the station. I spent just the one night at the hotel, from Saturday to Sunday, and also had afternoon tea and dinner there.
The public areas of the hotel are somewhat generic, and parts of it look haphazardly put together, with design elements that either don’t always fit or don’t match, such as the horrific plastic faux-palm trees…
The room I stayed was nice though, and I was quite surprised by how large it was. Clearly, they were going for rustic Alpine chic with the design of the room. And mostly I think they succeeded.
The room had a Nespresso machine with four cups, and there was a bottle of water on either side of the bed.
Most importantly, the bed was large, hard and tremendously comfortable.
The bathroom was also quite large and featured a separate bath and shower, as well as a separate toilet. The toiletries were by Salvatore Ferragamo.
And the view from the balcony was stunning.
Where the Kempinski really falls short, in my opinion, is the service and the staff. None of the things they did were really major issues, they just seriously lacked the kind of attention to detail I think a guest should be able to expect from a five-star property.
As I wasn’t sure how busy the hotel would be, I made a reservation for two persons on Saturday afternoon for tea. Only, when we arrived, it became quite apparent that there was no reservation for us, even though it had been confirmed to me by mail. In as much, it wasn’t really such a big deal, because the place was far from busy anyway. However, instead of sorting out the confusion, the staff seemed a lot more preoccupied in trying to figure out what had gone wrong and, more importantly, who they could pin the blame on. And while they tried to figure that out, they just ignored us.
I had also made a reservation for dinner for 19h30. However, the confirmation I received was for 20h00. I have no idea if this was an accident, but again, I would have expected better.
And then dinner was just a mess and honestly not very good. First, one of the waitresses came to ask if we wanted still or sparkling water, to which I responded that we would like sparkling water. I also told here not to bother with the wine menu as we don’t normally drink wine. The wine glasses were not removed and two minutes after she had left, the waitress returned wanting to confirm that we wanted still water.
A short while later she came back to take our order. For the main course, my partner ordered agnolotti filled with ricotta and herbs. A few minutes after we placed our order, the same waitress returned again, wanting to confirm that my partner had ordered the fillet of veal. So again, I explained that he was having the agnolotti. I mean, if the poor woman suffered from such a serious case of short-term memory loss, which didn’t she just write down what we’d ordered?
I ordered a soup to start and fish for the main course. However, the cutlery was not changed for me and it was only when the soup was served that the waiter actually noticed that I didn’t even have a spoon to eat it with. Then, when the main courses arrived, my partner was given a plate of Älplermagrone, which is a Swiss pasta dish with loads of melted cheese and didn’t really look all that appealing. When we pointed out that there had been a mistake, the waiter just wordlessly walked away in a huff and without even as much as an apology – leaving my fish on the table to get cold. And then nothing happened, until eventually the correct dish we had ordered arrived. By this time of course, the fish was cold. It was also very oily and frankly not all that good.
All things considered, I wouldn’t really recommend the Kempinski Engelberg. I think it’s seriously over-rated and over-priced for what you eventually get, and the service was, with all due respect, lousy.
In Rome I’m staying at the Sofitel Villa Borghese, which is perfectly located in a fairly quiet part of the city (as quiet as it gets in a place like Rome…). From the hotel it’s a twenty minutes walk to Roma Termini railway station. The Spanish steps and the luxurious Via Condotti, the Fontana die Trevi and the Vittorio Emanuele monument are all within walking distance.
The hotel’s facilities are excellent, the rooms and reception are elegantly appointed and very comfortable. What’s more, the restaurant is located on the top floor of the building and offers excellent views of Rome. Most importantly though, I think this Sofitel’s outstanding feature is its staff. Everybody at the hotel was very friendly and open, and gave the impression of actually liking their job.
The room I stayed in had a fully stocked fridge, tea and coffee making facilities and bottles of still water. The room overlooked the street leading up to the hotel, but it was still quiet enough to get a good night’s sleep.
The building housing the monastery of the Crutched Friars of the Order of the Holy Cross in the beautiful city of Maastricht is one of only very few buildings in the Netherlands build in the Gothic tradition that remains intact in its entirety.
In 2003 what used to be the monastery was sold to a hotel group and turned into the Kruiserenhotel, which is also a member of the Design Hotels. The hotel lies in a central location just off the main square of the town and about twenty minutes walk from the main railway station.
Once you are inside the hotel, there is a large outdoor courtyard that is closed off on all sides and is very serene and quiet. Generally speaking, there is something very grand and imposing about the place that constantly has you feeling you really should be whispering.
The hotels’s public area with the resturant and bar are probably the most spectacular features of the hotel. In the bar, the decor is kept in plush, extravagant dark red velvet that clashes dramatically with the austere lines of the gothic architecture.
The restaurant sits on top of the bar and here the decor is kept simple, presumably so as not to distract from the spectacular ceiling that gives an impression of infinity in the abesence of any other visual references to gauge the height. Which is probably the effect they were already aiming for when it was still a church.
There are sixty rooms in the hotel. The decor is something you may like or you may not. The contrast is certainly interesting between the bright decorations and the vaulted gothic ceilings in the building. A lot of the hotel’s design is dictated by the fact that when work started to turn the building into a hotel, they were not permitted to alter the structure. As such, anything that was added had to be inserted to the existing buildings.
All in all, the rooms at the Kruisheren are fairly small, after all the rooms were built for modesty and not opulence. But the hotel is comfortable, and even if you’re not staying, it’s definitely worth a visit.
The food at the hotel is very good and dining in a church is an interesting experience. They have a tasting menu which is extensive and probably safe even for the pickiest eater, because they will adapt the menus to suit your preferences.
The Al-Maha Resort is situated around half-way between the city of Dubai and the town of Al-Ain, which is actually in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. On clear days you can see as far as the Hajjar Mountains that separate the United Arab Emirates from the Sultanate of Oman.
Originally, the hotel belonged to the Emirates Airlines group, but has since been sold to Marriott Hotels.
Al-Maha is the Arab word for an oryx antilope, of which you’re likely to see quite a few during your stay. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you may catch one of the braver animals venturing right up to the edge of your pool for a drink in the early morning.
The hotel only has free standing villas, most of which have their own private pool and vary mostly in terms of size and the number of quests they can accommodate.
The interior of the villas is very Lawrence of Arabia, if oyu know what I mean, but they’re comfortable enough. The villas also have an easel, canvas and paints – in case you feel inspired to express your creativity during your stay. And I must admit, the light on the desert during the twilight hours really is quite spectacular to watch.
The Private Pool
So, as I already mentioned, most villas come with their own private pool. There is also a larger, common pool. But during my stay I don’t think I ever saw anybody in the larger pool.
The layout of the individual villas offers a lot of privacy. There is the main deck right by the steps leading into the pool. And then there is a separate sun deck off to the right.
I suppose if you wanted to, you could drive in to Dubai from the Al-Maha for some shopping or sightseeing. The journey by car without traffic is probably around 45 minutes. But in Dubai there is always traffic, and a lot of it.
The hotel does offer a good range of outdoor activities, which usually are scheduled for the early morning or in the evening, when the sun is not so fierce. You can go dune surfing, visit the falconry station or take a camel ride into the desert in the evenings for a sundowner.
I very much enjoyed my stay at the Al-Maha, mainly because I just loved the size of that private pool and because the venue of the hotel really is in a nice spot. There is something quite poetic about the desert. Other than that though, while the villa was comfortable, the style was not so much my cup of tea. Although I should say that the fittings and furnishings of the villa was very nice.
The Chedi Muscat is one of my favourite resorts. It’s just a very nicely finished and very well managed hotel. The moment you set foot inside the beautiful lobby, you just know you’re going to enjoy your stay.
I have no idea who the interior designer of the hotel is, but they definitely took good care to incorporate local architecture in the layout of the grounds and the individual buildings. As such, The Chedi is laid out in a style that is clearly reminiscent of the Al-Hambra in Spain. There is the main building with the lobby, restaurants and the standard rooms. But then there are the garden villas, the spa and the lounge, which are set amid neatly trimmed lawns and connected with each other by a system of elegant fountains and ponds.
The service at the Chedi is impeccable and very attentive. When you arrive, the first thing that happens is that you are seated and brought a wonderful rose scented cold towel and a glass of iced lemon water with mint. Everything is explained in detail, and the staff will point out things that may be of interest to you along the way as they show you to your room or villa.
There are many comfortable seating options outside where you can just lounge or have a drink. However, you have to keep in mind that this is Oman and the heat and humidity can be very high in the summer months. So sitting outside may not be the best idea, unless you’re visiting in winter. Even in the evenings, the temperature rarely dips below thirty degrees.
The rooms are richly appointed and very well maintained. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to capture all the fine details on photo. I usually stay in one of the garden villas, which have their own small patio and, in some cases, overlook one of the many ponds.
The villas are very private, and even when you’re sitting outside, you rarely every see any of the other guests.
I can highly recommend breakfast out on the patio, if you’re staying in a villa. But again, with the heat it’s probably best to have an early breakfast before the temperature and the humidity become too stifling.
If you’re going for a classic beach front vacation, The Chedi may not be what you’re looking for. The hotel has its own private section along Ghubrah Beach, and while it’s clean, it’s also not spectacularly beautiful. Furthermore, there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re at the beach in Oman: it gets so hot that it’s basically impossible to walk in the sand barefoot. You will literally burn your feet.
And don’t expect any respite once you enter the water, because the sea is warm too. You have to swim out quite far for the temperature of the water to cool down and refresh you. But unless you’re a good swimmer and used to swimming in the open sea, I really wouldn’t venture too far out.
The Chedi has three pools. One is for adults only and is close to the main building. Then there is a second pool down by the beach, and eventually the long pool in the most recently added part of the hotel. My favourite is definitely the beach side pool, because there’s usually a nice breeze going there and it offers enough shade to avoid the worst of the sun. And the pool restaurant is very good too!
Muscat is the name of a fairly large, sprawling area along the coast of Oman. As such, The Chedi is in Muscat but it’s still on the outskirts of the actual city. If you’re just visiting for a resort vacation and aren’t planning on going anywhere anyway, then that’s fine. But if you’re intending to see the sights, you’ll probably need a car or a driver. However, this is not necessarily a drawback specific to The Chedi, it’s an issue you’ll face which every hotel you stay at in the area.
The royal palace, the souk and the Corniche along the harbour are all located in Mutrah, which is about twenty minutes by car from the hotel. If you are going to rent a car in Oman, the good thing is that the petrol is dirt cheap. The driving is an experience.
The Chedi is a lovely hotel. It’s quiet, calm and very relaxing. It offers a lot of privacy to its guests and the grounds are extensive enough to make it easy to avoid having to interact with the other guests if you don’t feel like it.
The staff are exceptionally nice and genuinely friendly. Whether it’s in the lobby, by the pool or in the restaurant, they always have time for a friendly chat and ask you how your day has been.
Con Dao is one of sixteen islands of an archipelago just off the coast of Vietnam. The island has a rather dark history in that the French built a prison there in the 19th century that was later also used during the Vietnam war.
Today, the island of Con Dao is a lot more peaceful and quiet. I stayed at the Six Senses Hotel, which is a beautiful facility spread out along the beach. There is the main complex with the spa, restaurants, and reception and then there are the beach villas that sprawl over quite a vast area.
The villas offer a lot of privacy. I stayed in an ocean-front two bedroom pool villa, which was really quite huge and offered a lot of space for just two people. Essentially, there are three structures to the villa. In the centre is the common living area with the living room, dining room, kitchen and laundry.
To the left and right are the two bedrooms, both of which have large double beds and a large bathroom with an in- and outdoor shower.
The villa had two pools. The smaller, square one was probably intended as the kiddie pool, where as the larger one was for the ‘grown ups’. The larger pool was about ten metres long, so still not long enough to do laps.
Of course, for some serious swimming you can always take a dip in the sea, which is literally just a stone’s throw away…
The Spicer’s Hidden Vale is a lovely estate near Grandchester, Queensland. To get there, it’s probably best to fly into Brisbane and then continue from there by car. It’s a distance of about 100km and takes about 90 minutes to get to.
The hotel is spread over a number of buildings, with the restaurant in the main building and the guests’ rooms scattered across the grounds.
There’s also a pool and a spa and the hotel organises a whole set of daily activities for guests. However, if, like me, you just prefer to spend your day lounging about without doing anything much, it’s a great place to do it.
The room is comfortable and cosy, with a nice porch by the entrance. Although to be honest, by day there are too many flies and by night there are too many frogs milling about.
The food in the restaurant is good and breakfast outside on the veranda in the morning is really lovely. However, if you’re vegetarian or picky eater, then perhaps this may not be the place for you. I stayed for three nights and more or less exhausted the all the options on the vegetarian menu. But the dishes were certainly well prepared.
The Spicer’s hidden Vale is a lovely place set in a gorgeous scenery in the middle of nowhere. It’s the kind of place you should go to if you need to relax and unwind and you most certainly will. In the mornings I went running along the only road that passes through the area. It was always very quiet. And how cn you resist with a view like this?
The Datai Langkawi is a beautifully laid out facility draped on a hill that gently slopes down to the shores of the Andaman Sea. The main public areas are roofed but are otherwise open to the elements. The main building is up on the hill, and so are the rooms.
Further down the hill then, there are the the garden villas and eventually the beachside villas by the water. Some of the villas have their own pool, but there is also a large communal pool up by the main building.
On request, the hotel will also do a lovely afternoon tea with all the trimmings.
Just one word of warning for those of you who are perhaps a bit nervous around the creepycrawlies: The Datai is set in a forrest. As such, while there are quite a few sweet little monkeys in the trees, you should also expect quite a few bugs, geckos and frogs. I found it quite poetic to sit upstairs in the lounge with a drink in the evenings, listening to the sound of the forrest around me. But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
While I was there, I caught this guy taking a dump right on my doorstep…
In 2007 I visited Venice for the first time. The Hotel Palazzo Barbarigo had only just opened and was therefore offering exceptionally low rates, especially considering that the albergo is situated right on the the Canale Grande.
I arrived in the evening, after dark. The hotel had sent a little vaporetto to pick me up and take me to the hotel. I couldn’t really make out anything much outside because of the darkness.
Upon arrival at the hotel, I was informed that I would be the only guest in the whole hotel that night. And therefore, even though I had booked an absolutely rock bottom rate, I was given a room overlooking the Canale Grande, so I would have a view in the morning.
I honestly don’t remember much else about the hotel, except that the landside entrance was down a very small alleway way that I’m sure I would have missed if I’d arrived on foot.
I took the trip in December of 2007, which perhaps will explain the relative lack of crowds.
In any case, with COVID-19 it’s really not a good time to be travelling. And that’s what makes memories such as these all the more precious now – as a place to escape to within the confines and safety of your own mind.