The months of February and March took me on many mini travel adventures. So many in fact, that I’ve found it difficult to squeeze in time to write them all down. I’ve visited family in the South of France, spent a sunny weekend in Marrakech, went skiing in Austria and popped up to Scotland for a research trip, visiting beautiful hotels, sampling local food and picking up insider travel tips along the way. Taking advantage of the Easter weekend break before my next set of travels begin, I wanted to find a way to share some my recent discoveries, even if they didn’t fit neatly into a Top Ten list. Therefore, below you’ll find a complete mix of properties that I’ve stumbled upon over the last few weeks – everything from world-class 5* luxury resorts and small B&Bs to regal Scottish castles. The one thing that they all have in common is that, having tried and tested them on your behalf, they are definitely worth a visit on your next holiday, or at least lusting over for now.
1. Amanjena, Marrakech
When life presents me with the opportunity to visit an Aman Resort, I don’t say no. Therefore, when in Marrakech recently on a girly weekend, I couldn’t resist dropping in on the team at Amanjena for a delicious lunch. Designed by Ed Tuttle (the same Aman-architect that designed my favourite hotel on earth, Amanbagh), Amanjena is the definition of desert oasis. Rooms are standard Aman (although there’s nothing standard about them); tasteful and modest glamour with everything designed to the highest possible spec. The colour schemes throughout are classic desert chic; sands, beiges, crips whites and soft creams. With shaded terraces, gardens and private plunge pools, (room depending), Amanjena is definitely the place to come if you’re looking to catch the sun and soak up the finer things in life without being disturbed. So luxurious is it, that rumour has it Kim Cattrall and Kristin Davis stayed here while in town filming Sex and the City 2. The only complaint, and this is really pushing it, is that the swimming pool doesn’t have a view over the hotel’s surroundings. Instead, I soaked up the winter sun and drank my espresso overlooking the hotel’s central bassin. It’s a hard life….
See my photos of Amanjena here.
2. Le Royal Mansour, Marrakech
Not very often do I give a hotel the perfect score. However, as anyone who has been blessed enough to visit this cave of wonders will know, Le Royal Mansour utterly deserves its 10 out of 10 score. Completely in a league of its own, this really is the Marrakech of your wildest dreams; where the opulence and mystery of Arabian Nights come to life, but without an ounce of kitsch or faux glamour. Feeling more like a museum / art gallery / royal residence than a hotel, a show around the property left my jaw literally touching the floor. You enter through a discreet entrance into a secret world (like Narnia but with a lot more marble) that is so calm and tranquil you would never imagine the city’s very centre is mere minutes away. Endless open-air atriums, reflecting pools, mosaic ceilings and treasure-chest trove like rooms all combine to a wonderful effect and made me feel as if I were snooping around a Sultan’s palace rather than visiting a hotel. What brought this palatial property to life for me was the staff. I turned up, unannounced, on a Sunday and was shown around by a member of staff who insisted show-arounds were not his domain. However, his pride and his knowledge of the hotel was both touching and inspiring. He knew where the marble in each room originated from (Brazil, Pakistan…) the different techniques behind intricate roof carvings and showed me the staff’s secret passageways which allow guests to be waited on hand and foot, while feeling in a complete world of their own. Although the hotel has a pool of its own, the real draw of staying here is the plunge pools you’ll find on your private roof terrace. Completely hidden from the rest of the world, surrounded by comfy loungers, with your own bedouin tent, this is the place to spend an afternoon. If your budget can stretch this far, don’t even consider staying anywhere else in Marrakech.
See my photos of Le Royal Mansour here.
3. The Atholl, Edinburgh
Having now visited an awful lot of properties in Scotland, it has become apparent that hotels in this part of the UK tend to fall into the following categories: cosy B&B, traditional (read a bit stuffy) country house, faux-trendy ‘boutique’ hotel or fantastic restaurant with rooms. As much as I love Scotland (and I really love Scotland), there is a distinct lack of solid luxury accommodation options. For this reason I was absolutely ecstatic to come across The Atholl, run by ICMI, which, in my opinion, is the best place to stay in Scotland right now. Lying somewhere between a hotel and an exclusive use property, The Atholl is a centrally located traditional Edinburgh townhouse that has been split into 4 apartments (Palmerston, Cluny, Abercromby and Dundonald); which have between 1 and 3 bedrooms each. If budget allows go for either the Abercromby or Dundonald; they are both simply stunning (I tend to avoid this word, but really there’s just no other word to do them justice) and come with either a terrace, out door fire and hot tub, or private whisky tasting room and enormous living area. Absolutely everything within the four walls of The Atholl has been done with great taste and style; interiors are fun and contemporary, but without feeling for the sake or it or fad, bookshelves are lined with the latest art / fashion / photography coffee table books and walls are covered in exciting modern art that I couldn’t stop admiring. Service comes in the form of a dedicated butler (what else?) and a Roux-trained dedicated chef who cooks for you in-house. In other words, all complete and utter perfection.
See my photos of The Atholl here.
4. The Four Seasons, Marrakech
A Four Seasons hotel needs little introduction. Never one to break boundaries, Four Seasons properties are nonetheless all the pinnacle of classic, comfortable and American-style luxury done extremely well. The Four Seasons Marrakech is no different. A pleasant compound of Moroccan themed buildings and leafy palms, framed by that endless deep blue Moroccan sky, the Four Seasons Marrakech is for you if you want to come to Africa but play it safe, and in style. As always, the service is top notch and delivered with a smile, no details are spared and the entire property give off a reassuring and relaxing feel. Spread over a large estate, this is the kind of hotel where it’s best to get around in golf carts, unless you want to walk miles between your room and the pool. Discreet and quiet, so private is this hotel that several prominent politicians (I was sworn to secrecy) have taken villas in the property’s compound. Children are very welcome, but there is a designated Kid’s Club and a separate family pool (my favourite!), meaning that adults who are looking for a break can relax in peace. All in all, the Four Season Marrakech wasn’t my favourite hotel in the city, but there’s no denying that it’s a jolly good one.
5. La Mirande, Avignon
La Mirande is Avignon’s finest hotel, and my absolute favourite. A classy boutique hotel with just 26 rooms (21 which look out over the city’s Palais des Papes), the site which the hotel occupies has had a colourful history – public baths in Roman times and a cardinal’s palace under the city’s papacy to name but a few. The hotel’s magnificent facade is the original from 1688 and the interior has been designed to resemble an 18th century French townhouse – with everything from furniture to wallpaper done to the highest quality. Absolutely gorgeous both inside and out, La Mirande is very much the place to go if you enjoy the finer things in life and have a penchant for authentic and original boutique hotels. Centrally located, Avignon’s Palais des Papes and the city’s many shopping streets and restaurants are just a hop, skip and a jump away. You’ll also find Avignon’s boho cinema, Utopia, just down the road, where they screen foreign films and serve classic French brasserie cuisine at the in-house restaurant. Whenever I’m in town visiting my family, I always make sure to pop in for a cup of tea, as there is nothing more delightful than sitting by their open fire, or in their light-filled atrium, after an afternoon spent browsing Avignon’s many boutiques.
6. Kinloch Lodge / The Three Chimneys, The Isle of Skye
One of Scotland’s best-known foodie establishments, Kinloch Lodge on the Isle of Skye is owned and run by Lady Claire McDonald, an award-winning food writer, and her husband Lord Macdonald, High Chief of Clan Donald (it doesn’t get more Scottish than that). Although they no longer live onsite, the couple transformed this dilapidated building on the Macdonald estate into what is now a renowned food mecca – with Brazilian chef Marcello Tully currently at the helm. Rooms are simple and comfortable and make you feel that you are staying the weekend at a friend’s home in the country, rather than a luxury hotel. Shared public areas have roaring open fires, squashy sofas, ancestral portraits on the walls and warm and personable service. Our dinner was absolutely flawless; we started with some fantastic whisky sours (what else?) and proceeded on to the 7 course tasting menu, the highlight of which was without a doubt the quail. Breakfast the next morning, not that we needed it, consisted of apple, black pudding and bacon stacks – my new favourite way to start the day. I was absolutely taken by the Isle of Skye; if you haven’t been already, put a weekend away there on your wish list. With its fresh seafood (oh the oysters!), tranquil lochs, lunar landscapes and quaint white cottages, a weekend on the Isle of Skye will transport you to another, and very welcome, world. Another must-visit establishment on the island is The Three Chimneys. Even more of a restaurant with rooms than Kinloch, The Three Chimney serves excellent food in low-key cosy surroundings in the interiors of a cosy cottage. Rooms are next door and have been decorated in a fresh modern style; something of a rarity in the Scottish Highlands. Fluffy rugs, clean white walls, cosy sofas and lots of light make this a perfect place to stay if you aren’t willing to sacrifice standards while on the road. This comes at a premium however; rooms at The Three Chimneys are more in line with London prices than other properties in the area.
See my photos of the Isle of Skye here.
7. Fellah Hotel, Marrakech
A hotel with a sense of humour, Fellah Hotel is full of surprises. Shrine to Arnie Schwarzenegger? Check. A New York taxi as garden furniture? Check. Incredible views over the snow capped Atlas Mountains… also check. For a weekend away with some of my best girlfriends we wanted just two things, fun and sun, and Hotel Fellah delivered on both. Although a bit tired and in need of a soft refurbishment in places, and with service and food that could definitely be improved on, Hotel Fellah gave us a weekend to remember. Coming from London’s cold, dark and wet winter, spending a weekend by the pool looking out over THAT view takes some beating! In comparison to the public areas, our rooms were fantastic; light, spacious and airy, with French windows leading out to a garden, an enormous dressing area and expansive bathroom. The real piece-de-résistance was the outdoor bath. Egg shaped and large enough for us all to get into, hot tub style, this was the place to watch the sunset and the stars come out in the dark desert sky.
See my photos of Fellah Hotel here.
8. Loch Ness Lodge, Loch Ness
Staying at this owner-run boutique hotel for a second time confirmed to me that it is definitely one of Scotland’s best small hotels (strictly speaking a B&B). Owned and run by the absolutely charming Scott, a stay here makes you wish that all hotels were managed by somebody who cares so much about their guests. Enthusiastic, warm and welcoming, Scott is somebody who knows absolutely everything and everybody in Scotland. He’ll tell you the best place to eat nearby, what’s worth visiting and what isn’t and help you along the way with his never-ending list of helpful contacts. Loch Ness Lodge feels more like a home than a hotel; a series of classic but contemporarily decorated rooms look out over gardens below and the seemingly endless Loch Ness behind them. I spent quite a while gazing out over the view hoping to spot the infamous Nessie while getting stuck in to the complimentary sherry provided in each room. Bedrooms are tastefully decorated with nods to the Highlands, think creams, purples and greens with touches of tartan, beds are huge and snug and toiletries are Penhaligons. There is also a small spa room, with sauna and indoor hot tub, conveniently located just across the padded hallway from most rooms. Loch Ness Lodge is also the perfect place for downtime; read a magazine in front of an open fire in the snug, play board games in the cosy sitting room – whatever you do you’ll feel completely at home and at ease. One thing is for sure, you’ll definitely feel that you’ve left your heart in the Highlands when it’s time to go home.
9. Aldourie Castle, Loch Ness
Without a doubt one of the finest properties to rent in the UK, Aldourie Castle is like something out of a fairy tale. A Scottish Baronial style castle that has gone under various transformations over the ages, Aldourie Castle is set on the banks of Loch Ness in a private estate and surrounded by acres of grounds. Purchased recently by Roger Tempest, owner of Broughton Hall, from the last family to live in the castle, Aldourie has been painstakingly renovated to an incredible level of quality of and detail. It manages to succeed something incredibly rare; feeling completely authentic to the era of its heydey, yet wonderful relevant and incredibly comfortable, even luxurious, with top of the range central heating and bathrooms. The two main living areas, the library and the drawing room, manage to feel both cosy and grandiose at the same time; hung with ancestral portraits and chandeliers, they are the perfect place to curl up with a book (on the castle’s history) and a cup of tea. However, it’s the bedrooms and bathrooms that really stole my heart. Decorated incredibly tastefully, and with wonderful historic references, you’ll find everything from lavish four poster beds and William Morris wallpaper to rich Indian textiles, wooden bathtubs and nymph murals. Only booked for exclusive use, Aldourie is the place to come with a large group of family or friends to celebrate a special occasion. Booked out for weddings, royal hen-dos and big birthdays, Aldourie Castle provides a setting you will never forget.
See my photos of Aldourie Castle here.
10: The Witchery, Edinburgh
The Witchery is somewhere I’ve been before, but a place that I find myself revisiting every time I’m in Edinburgh. So wonderful and wacky, I need reminding just how fabulous it really it is in the flesh. This time I was lucky enough to visit some suites that I hadn’t seen before – Inner Sanctum and The Turret – both as beautiful as all the others, and with the expert level of detail that you can expect from this award-winning restaurant with rooms. Tucked away down a tiny little cobblestone alley, just mere metres from Edinburgh Castle, it’s not an exaggeration to say that The Witchery is an Edinburgh institution. It’s two dining rooms – The Secret Garden and The Witchery – are both fantastic; they conjure up the magic and mystery of the Middle Ages with flickering candles, rich upholstered and wooden vaulted ceilings. Suites are excellently eccentric; think Blakes in London, but more castle than town house, barmy than slick and with lashings of dark glamour and a lot of humour. Well suited to Scotland, The Witchery is actually somewhere I believe excels in winter; the perfect haven from the dark and the cold. Soak in a candle lit bath, get lost under the covers in your four poster bed or cosy up in front of the fire with a glass of champagne; The Witchery screams romantic getaway more than anywhere else in Scotland.
In the next couple of months I’m off to Paris, Wales, India and, closer to home, doing an East London walking safari. Be sure to follow my travels on TripTease, Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook. Or, for any travel questions, ping me an email. I’m always happy to share tips and talk all things travel.
Bon voyage! x
Cover photo courtesy of www.visitscotland.com