Park Hyatt Vienna

Having passed through Vienna once previously on a school ski trip, my lasting memory was more of Mozart chocolates and strudel, than history and culture. I knew a return journey was necessary to explore the city that is held in such high regard by so many. Steeped in history and boasting an incredibly varied list of the great and good who were born or lived in this magnificent city from the obvious… Strauss, Mozart, Klimt to the less obvious… Marie Antoinette and Niki Lauda.

 

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Arriving in Vienna, we had high expectations and were determined to pack in as much as possible in our short trip. Our expectations were immediately superseded in the form of our driver, who surprisingly ended up taking on the role of tour guide as we entered the city. We organised a private transfer from the airport to our hotel Park Hyatt Vienna and this turned out to be an excellent choice. During the relatively short drive in he gave us a brief introduction to Vienna and the sights around us. We soon realised that on every corner there was some kind of fantastic monument/historical site or stunning architecture and it was great to be able to ask questions and receive such in depth and interesting introduction to Vienna.

 

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Park Hyatt Vienna is situated in the ideal spot for shopping, culture and general sightseeing in Vienna. Located inside what was previously the imposing figure of the former Länderbank set in the oldest square of Vienna, the building known as Am Hof 2 has been painstakingly transformed into a stunning luxury hotel. From the moment you step inside, the time and effort which has been invested to create a modern luxurious environment whilst simultaneously preserving Viennese style and history and the bank’s original features is truly breath taking. Many of the original features were removed, restored and carefully replaced back into their original position. This care and attention to detail in the design of the hotel was to be replicated throughout our stay at Park Hyatt Vienna.

 

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We were lucky enough to be given a guided tour of the property, which was incredibly interesting and gave us a chance to see all the nooks and crannies that we definitely wouldn’t have fallen across, including the stunning meeting spaces, rich with warm mahoganies and dark leathers, the ideal space for a discreet business meeting in comfort and style. The largest function room was awash with light and surrounded by beautiful wood panelling and traditional design features, the main attraction being a delightful tapestry which took centre stage and complimented the structure and weight of this regal hall. We were also introduced to The Bank restaurant, which was my favourite of all the rooms at the hotel. Light and airy the previous cashiers hall has been brought to life with exotic marbles and beautiful crystal chandelier details and provided a glorious environment in which to relax and enjoy breakfast and a delightful evening meal.

 

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The Park Hyatt Vienna is known as the pearl of the Hyatt group and this is reflected in the mother of pearl through the property, from the tables in the bar area, to the intricate marble detail in the floor of our room to the Pearl Bar which can be entered via an inviting mirrored hallway which sweeps downwards, just crying out to be photographed! As a mother of pearl fan, I was totally in my element and took more photos than I have in any other hotel before. Our bedroom was no exception and after our tour we made our way up to relax and enjoy. Spacious and comfortable our room looked out onto one of the main luxury shopping districts, the perfect location. The high-tech bath and beautiful marbled floors were a delight to behold and the separate living and bedroom area is perfect for those visiting Vienna for work or play.

 

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After spending far too long exploring our room (and photographing all the mother of pearl) we ventured out into Vienna and found our way easily around the city, taking in a beautiful food market in one of the central park areas which was filled with tourists and locals alike enjoying the sunshine and the incredible array of meat, cheese and wine on offer! We didn’t try and cram in too much and enjoyed wandering the city, getting lost in the winding streets and taking in the incredible beauty of the architecture. Park Hyatt Vienna is minutes away from the key attractions including The Vienna Riding School, which offer daily shows and many of the incredible classical music concerts which take  place day and evening in the city. The concierge can assist in booking tickets and the process is effortless.

 

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Another key site for us was the state hall at the national library which is known to be the biggest baroque library in Europe. Absolutely mind-blowingly beautiful is the only way to describe this room, floor to ceiling books and the most divine frescoes by the court painter Daniel Gram. I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Vienna.

 

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During our stay another highlight was the food, we definitely sampled a variety, from street food in the park, to small jazz cafes the local food was delightful. We were keen to try some of the traditional Viennese food and our favourite was The Bank restaurant in the hotel. We were guided by the knowledgeable hotel staff and tried a selection of regional cuisine, using  sustainable locally sourced products. Schnitzel and Veal came beautifully presented complimented by a beautiful sparkling Viennese wine. The highlight of the meal was Kaiserschmarrn (the emperors pancakes), of which we ate far too many.

 

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Unfortunately although we should definitely have got involved in the super high-tech gym to burn off all the Kaiserschamrnrn, it didn’t happen, so in the name of research I indulged and organised a treatment as a last hurrah to finish what was a truly beautiful weekend. Situated in the old bank vaults the Arany Spa offers a discreet yet beautiful hideaway in which to relax and retreat surrounded by healing crystals. The mother of pearl theme continues throughout the spa (to my delight) and the layout of the spa aims for maximum privacy and relaxation. After my delightful massage I was led to the relaxation area overlooking the pool, unfortunately with a flight to catch I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked there. I could have happily sat, herbal tea in hand taking in the rich tones of gold and turquoise. For those who wish to take a little peace of heaven home with them, the spa also stocks the fabulous Cire Trudon candles, which again are one of my favourites and remind me of my trip and the Arany Spa to this day. I will definitely be returning and would advise one and all to choose The Park Hyatt Vienna as their go to hotel when in the city and I am not alone. Tyler Brûlé agrees.

 Nightly rates at Park Hyatt Vienna will start from EUR480/approx. £340 per room for two persons in a Park Room (King or Twin) excluding breakfast. For further information please visit www.vienna.park.hyatt.com or call +43 1 227401234

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The World of Westeros Descends on Ballygally Castle

 

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 Game of Thrones Inspired Afternoon Tea at Ballygally Castle

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Game of Thrones fans will be thrilled to hear that Ballygally Castle, part of the Hastings Hotels group in Northern Ireland, has launched a brand new Game of Thrones Afternoon Tea.

Fans can now indulge in their very own game of scones with tasty treats inspired by the fantasy lands of Winterfell, Iron Islands, Kings Landing or Stormlands, including Lannister egg Rolls,  Baratheon Bread, Little Finger Chicken Caesar wraps, Jon Snow Cakes and Dothraki Trifle with mini Dragon’s eggs before heading out to explore the region were the series was filmed.

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Game of Thrones is shot on location in Northern Ireland and is currently HBO’s premier production and one of the most popular and successful fantasy TV series ever made.  Filming of seasons 1-4 took place in the Titanic Studios in Belfast and across various locations throughout Northern Ireland including the Cushendun Caves, Murlough Bay, Ballintoy Harbour, Larrybane, Antrim plateau, Castle Ward, Inch Abbey and Downhill Strand.

General Manager of Ballygallly Castle, Norman McBride said:  “Our delicious afternoon tea just got better as we’ve added a little Game of Thrones magic to our selection of sumptuous edibles.  Game of Thrones is incredibly popular with both the people of Northern Ireland and many of our American visitors, as almost 80% of the show is filmed here, so we’re delighted to be giving fans of the hit TV series, and of delicious treats, a little taste of Westeros in the stunning setting of Ballygally Castle.”

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Not only is Ballygally Castle’s location star-studded but it is also historical, positioned at the beginning of the scenic Antrim Coast, near the foot of the famous nine Glens of Antrim, and the soon to re-open Gobbins Path, a famous and dramatic coastal walk originally built in the early 20th Century as one of the leading tourist attractions comprised of staircases along the cliff edges, dramatic tubular bridges and numerous tunnels. The hotel offers glorious views over Ballygally Bay and towards Scotland and also boasts 18 new deluxe coastal view bedrooms including six family rooms making it one of the largest hotels on the Causeway Coastal Route with 54 bedrooms.

Ballygally-Castle-Hotel-0304Fans will also feel regal in the midst of Steensons jewellers, the official jewellery supplier to Game of Thrones. Ballygally Castle is the only official supplier outside of the shop itself to sell their products. So if guests want to take a piece of Game of Thrones home with them this might be the best way. The hotel will also be offering medieval banquets for groups of 10-30 people booked in advance and can arrange Game of Thrones horse-riding and high end tours upon request. The Game of Thrones Afternoon Teas will immerse people into the dark and mysterious mood of the show and are available from 2 – 5pm Monday to Saturday and 3-5pm on Sundays for only £18 per person. Please allow for 24 hours’ notice for reservations.

Coastal Escape Package

Hastings Hotels (www.hastingshotels.com, 028 2858 1066) is offering overnight stays on a B&B basis at Ballygally Castle including the Game of Thrones Afternoon Tea from £65pp based on 2 people sharing. Valid until end of June 2015 For further information or to book go to www.hastingshotels.com/ballygally-castle or call 028 2858 1066.

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‘This is independently operated by The Ballygally Castle Hotel.  It is not sponsored, endorsed, or affiliated with HBO or anyone else associated with Game of Thrones’.

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Bluespoon Restaurant, Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht

Bluespoon, Andaz Amsterdam

I recently visited the beautiful city of Amsterdam and just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to finally try the Bluespoon restaurant at the Andaz Amsterdam Hotel. Bluespoon is a European bistro that uses only local products, building on flavours from France and Belgium illustrated as rustic and simple food made with tender love and care. It is beautifully located on a street right beside one of the many Canals the city is famous for…

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On entering the hotel you are met with a beautiful scent and a wonderful atmosphere enhanced by the design of the hotel and the huge art installations…

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As we were early we were led to a table in the bar by our lovely waitress Finya, to enjoy just a few of the fabulous cocktails on offer…

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Vespa Martini, NYC Whiskey Sour and a couple of signature creation Graphity’s (there were two of us…)

After which we were led through to the Bluespoon for dinner and what a dinner it was. Unsure what to have, the selection is small but varied and undoubtedly all the dishes are a must have… We therefore let our brilliant waitress Samantha decide for us and it was probably the best decision we made all weekend. The Chateaubriand to share with a taster of starters – why not.

First Course: Taster of Steak tartare, Shrimp and Prawn Salad, Squash and Yellow Beetroot Salad with Feta and Mussels.

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Main Course: Chateaubriand with Ratatouille, roasted vegetable and the smoothest and tastiest mash potato to ever grace my fork with a triple sauce selection including our favourite the baileys sauce…

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And as if that wasn’t enough… I hate to admit it but we had to take a break. A chance to savour all those flavours and enjoy the atmosphere of the restaurant and talk a little with Samantha, who seemed to know a lot about the city so offered some great advice on where to go next.

She wouldn’t let us go however until we had eaten our entire desert.

Desert: A trio (of course) of the best Apple Crumble in the world, homemade Strawberry Ice Cream and a deliciously light Ginger Crème Brulee.

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Doing the job we do it is safe to say we get to eat in some fantastic places but the entire package at the Andaz Amsterdam is great. The Bluespoon Restaurant continues the hotel’s homage to the elegantly outlandish. The chef brings a French-style culinary flair to local Dutch ingredients, placing a locavore’s emphasis on provenance and seasonality to produce delicious dishes as above. The service impeccable, the staff knowledgeable, polite and smiles all round and the food delicious and prompt. You will not be disappointed if you choose to stay at the Andaz and dine at the Bluespoon, what a great experience.

www.amsterdam.prinsengracht.andaz.hyatt.com

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Corfu – The Land of Durrell & Doughnuts

Corfu – The Land of Durrell & Doughnuts

It was an absolute treat to re-visit Corfu a couple of months ago, not only to spend a bit more time discovering  the place but to head back and see how one of the islands most beautiful hotels was looking. MarBella Corfu has has benefited from a huge amount of investment over recent years and the renovations and upgrades across the property have been you can see for yourself here.

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Days begun with an early morning, pre breakfast dip – whenever I am travelling, I’ll always try and get a quick swim in to start the day…

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And we certainly didn’t go hungry…or thirsty…

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During the trip I got to experience Aerial Yoga for the first time. This is when you are suspended, weightless a few feet above the ground in a safe and comfortable yoga hammock and guided through various stretches and poses. Effie (the beautiful, calm and zen instructor) effortlessly spun and twirled showing us exactly what’s possible. I managed a few different poses before finding that you can simply cocoon yourself in the hammock and happily lie, swinging from the tree which was extremely relaxing and soporific…

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Exploring Corfu was made easy with a fantastic guide from Ichons – a company that offers a selection of superb walking and gourmet tours. Views from the New Fortress are exceptional and not to be missed and we happily ambled for hours through the cobbled streets of Corfu old town finding beautiful old churches and monuments.

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One thing we did discover (and something that made me very happy) was a little café called Stasi Meli (close to the Town Hall) where they served THE best Loukoumades – Greek style doughnuts. They either came smothered in honey sprinkled with pistachio or stuffed with chocolate and smothered in more chocolate. The perfect pit stop after a morning exploring…

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Corfu Sailing Club’s Restaurant located inside the old fortress is a great spot for lunch. Grab a table right by the water’s edge and choose from a great selection of Mediterranean and Greek cuisine. We went for a lovely wander afterwards to a new park dedicated to the legendary author Gerald Durrell (of My Family and Other Animals fame) and his brother Lawrence. If you can, I highly recommend trying to see some of Corfu from the water and hiring a boat – the coastline is stunning and guests staying at MarBella Corfu can get picked up straight from the beach. Oh…and if you have time, the Spa at the hotel offers some great massages using natural Greek products from Apivita to ensure you’re left looking and feeling like a Greek God/Goddess!

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One thing we did discover (and something that made me very happy) was a little café called Stasi Meli (close to the Town Hall) where they served THE best Loukoumades – Greek style doughnuts. They either came smothered in honey sprinkled with pistachio or stuffed with chocolate and smothered in more chocolate. The perfect pit stop after a morning exploring…

Corfu Sailing Club’s Restaurant located inside the old fortress is a great spot for lunch. Grab a table right by the water’s edge and choose from a great selection of Mediterranean and Greek cuisine. We went for a lovely wander afterwards to a new park dedicated to the legendary author Gerald Durrell (of My Family and Other Animals fame) and his brother Lawrence. If you can, I highly recommend trying to see some of Corfu from the water and hiring a boat – the coastline is stunning and guests staying at MarBella Corfu can get picked up straight from the beach. Oh…and if you have time, the Spa at the hotel offers some great massages using natural Greek products from Apivita to ensure you’re left looking and feeling like a Greek God/Goddess!

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Take Me Back…To Peligoni

 

The Peligoni Club, Zakynthos, Greece

The Peligoni Club, Zakynthos, Greece

The Peligoni Club, located on Zakynthos, Greece is a members club where guests can relax, socialise and make the most of the spa, pool, restaurant and bars as well as the incredible water sports centre. They specialise in offering boutique villa holidays with a portfolio of over 50 stunning properties dotted around the area. Recently we took a group of journalists out to experience The Club for themselves and to try out some of what Peligoni has to offer.

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The view from our villa, Assimi

We were met by excited Peligoni staff at the airport and given directions for our hire car to our villa about 45 minutes away. We stayed in a beautiful brand new villa called Assimi with a stunning infinity pool and 180 degree panoramic view. Apparently it’s the only villa available that boasts views of both the sunrise and sunset.

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The sun decks and sailing centre at The Peligoni Club

The Club was our daily base for activity which over the course of the few days we were there included tennis, hiking, sailing, snorkelling, boat rides and much more. The food here is outstanding and each day we enjoyed dishes such as the must try PeliBurger and a range of fresh seafood and of course no menu would be complete without a whopping huge steak to dive into.

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 Just one of the delicious dishes we enjoyed from Peligoni’s fantastic menu

Part of the reason we were there was to launch a new watersport at The Club. Subwing chose Peligoni to be the first official Subwing centre because of their passion for watersports, the excellent facilities and of course calm and very clear waters around the island. We all had a go and it was by far one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. It gives you the sense of flying underwater as you are towed behind a boat. You have to go out to Peligoni and try it!

Video of the Peligoni and Subwing press trip

As with all press trips the weekend was over far too quickly and we had to return to England however we all took away some great memories, fantastic experiences and all keen to return to The Peligoni Club as soon as possible. I’m going back in September…

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‘The Know’ Q&A Sessions – Alan Wright – BBC Presenter & After Dinner Speaker

We like to know what’s going on in the world of travel and getting all the inside information from the people who live and breathe it….. So we thought we would ask those we know, who are DEFINITELY in THE KNOW.

Look out for a series of Q&A’s from some of the brightest and best which will include travel tips and their personal recommendations on where next to add to your bucket list.

First up is Alan Wright, BBC Presenter & after dinner speaker.

With a career spanning 25 years, Alan Wright enjoyed huge success as a BBC Radio and TV Presenter, alongside which he was also able to indulge a passion of his, after dinner speaking.  He has appeared all over the UK, and abroad, and was named UK After Dinner Speaker of the Year, 2009. Between working on a new musical ‘King Pit’ alongside composers Stuart Brayson and Sir Tim Rice and releasing a new novel later this year

His career has allowed him to enjoy extensive travel and today he shares his thoughts and travel tips with us.

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Pictures courtesy of Alan Wright

1)      What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?

Helping to set up the new Durham County Cricket Ground in the early 90s when I was Chief Exec there – from a green field, literally, to an international Ashes ground!

2)      Share one “lifehack” you use to make life easier?

Internalise a comedy script of what is going on around you instead of getting annoyed about things you can’t change.

 3)      What piece of advice would you pass on to your 18 year old self?

Enjoy being 18! It doesn’t last very long.

4)      Why did you choose your career?

Love meeting people and seeing the world.

5)      What would be your desert island luxury?

A guitar. And could I  have the Telegraph crossword every day too?

6)      Most inspirational place you have visited?

Egypt. Just to breathe in what went before at the Pyramids and up and down the Nile.

7)      Top Travel Tip?

Learn a few words of the local language – always helps. And talk to strangers – there are some fascinating stories to hear.

8)     Dream Travel Destination?

Back to Cuba. A few cold beers while soaking up the local great music.

9)      Favourite holiday read? 

Going through the John Updike classics (again). A mesmerising master of words who sets the standard.

10)   Share your favourite holiday snapshot

View from one of my favourite hotels in the whole world – Saffire on the coast of Tasmania, from the lounge looking towards Wineglass Bay.

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Find out more about Alan Wright at his website HERE

Corfu’s leading luxury hotel, MarBella Corfu has teamed up with Classic Collection Holidays to bring guests an evening of laughter and commentary with Alan Wright himself between 29th August – 5th September 2014.

Classic Collection Holidays (0800 294 9318; www.classic-collection.co.uk) offers 7 nights at MarBella Corfu from £1,169 on a half board basis. Price based on 2 adults sharing a superior garden view room and includes return flights with EasyJet and private transfers. Departs 29 August 2014.

 

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