5 Reasons To Visit Madeira This Winter

5 Reasons To Visit Madeira This Winter

Madeira is the ideal winter sun destination, located 960km southwest of Lisbon, just off the northwest coast of Africa. Its subtropical climate, botanical gardens, outstanding cuisine and rugged volcanic landscapes and levadas, together with an eclectic nightlife, are an enticing mix for any visitor. Here are five reasons to visit this Madeira this winter.  

1 Funchal
Madeira’s capital city Funchal is located on lush terraces and steep hills, a visually arresting backdrop for this vibrant city. The city’s selection of historical buildings includes sea forts and convents and museums. Funchal has a beautiful harbour to explore; take a walk alongside the boats to São Tiago Fortress. Constructed back in the 1600s, it houses the Contemporary Art Museum. Plant lovers will appreciate the lush tropical gardens while oenophiles will savour the world-famous Madeira wine cellars. The colonial era Cathedral – a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles is especially beautiful. 

2 Madeira Botanical Garden
Drive about 4km northeast of Funchal to enjoy this invigorating sub-tropical paradise. Madeira’s stunning Botanical Garden boasts rich flora and fauna comprising thousands of indigenous flowers, trees and plants. There’s a manor house here that belonged to the estate’s original owners which is now the Natural History Museum. It has a fascinating display of fossils, minerals and more and you can stop for lunch at the terrace café and enjoy the superb views over Funchal.

3 Walking the Levadas
Madeira’s 16th-canal system, known locally as ‘levadas’, are unmissable. They make walking in the country’s mountainous areas relatively easy. Breathe in the scent of fabulous laurel forests and lush vegetation. Levada dos Tornos between the Palheiro and Funchal municipal botanical gardens is an easy intro levada, while Rabacal, Queimadas, Ribeiro Frio and Kings guarantee lush rainforest and enticing waterfall pools.

4 Teleférico de Funchal (Maderia Cable Car)
For the best views of Funchal and the surrounding countryside, take the cable car up to Monte. The ride is about 15 minutes and leaves from the esplanade near the Zona Velha. You can go as far as the Jardim Botanico or head further to the Jardim Tropical Monte Palace, the cable car’s final stop. The views over Funchal’s rooftops and gardens, as you climb 1,837ft, are superb. In time-honoured tradition, descend the mountain on the official Monte basket cars made of wicker that slide on skis. You don’t have to do any work as two guides will push you from behind! 

5 Mercado dos Lavradores
Visiting Funchal’s markets will be one of the highlights of your stay. Located east of the Sé on Rua Profetas, this fruit, vegetable, flower and fish market is a riot of colour, held in a gorgeous Art Deco hall. The smells of tuna and espada (scabbardfish) will draw fish lovers to the basement, while the first floor is an Aladdin’s Cave of stalls selling local arts and crafts in leatherwork, wicker and pottery. Go early on Friday or Saturday and catch the freshest produce from the region’s farmers.

Five Reasons To Explore Copenhagen

Five Reasons To Explore Copenhagen

Copenhagen, Denmark’s beautiful capital, is located on two coastal islands (Zealand and Amager). And as fans of Scandi-noir thriller The Bridge will already know, Copenhagen is linked to neighbouring Malmo in Sweden by the iconic Öresund Bridge.

As well as its surrounding canal and coastal landscapes, the city has a cool café culture, and a beautiful historic centre to explore. Here are 5 reasons to visit Copenhagen:

1 Tivoli Gardens
The second-oldest amusement park in the world, Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens is located in the centre of the city, near City Hall. Dating from 1843, Tivoli is now bang up to date with a new digital virtual reality experience known as The Demon, where rollercoaster passengers are taken through a Chinese fire-dragon universe. Tivoli has beautiful gardens to stroll in and a selection of great restaurants. You’ll find everything from traditional Danish cuisine to French bistro or Asian food. During the festive season, Tivoli Lake is transformed into a sound and light show and there are spectacular fireworks here on New Year’s Eve.

2 Little Mermaid
Possibly Copenhagen’s most famous attraction, the bronze and granite sculpture of the little mermaid was a gift from Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen to the City of Copenhagen. Created by sculptor Edvard Eriksen, you’ll find her on a rock by the waterside at Langelinje Pier, where she’s been looking out to sea since 1913. Apparently, the artist was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale about a mermaid who gives up her life in the sea so she can be with her handsome prince on the land. The model for the sculpture was the sculptor’s wife, Eline Eriksen.

3 Nyhavn
Nyhavn is a beautiful 17th-century waterfront, canal and entertainment district in Copenhagen. Lying between Kongens Nytorv and the harbour front south of the Royal Playhouse, this once-thriving commercial port is now a popular tourist destination, renowned by its restored 18th-century townhouses (many of which were home to well-known artists), live music and eclectic cafes, shops, bars and restaurants. You’ll also see historical wooden ships in the canal. Danish author Hans Christian Anderson once lived in the area, and during the festive season there are market stalls along the cobbled quay.

4 Christiansborg Palace
Formerly the home of the Danish royal family (they moved to Amalien Palace in the 1800s), Christiansborg is located on the island of Slotsholmen. Known as the Borgen, the Palace is now home to the Danish Parliament, while parts of the Palace are used for state events. Built in 1773, this Baroque palace is stunning: head for the Tower Room, the Oval Throne Room, the Velvet Room and the Great Hall with its unique tapestries. Then stop for lunch or a coffee in the Tower restaurant, just below the viewing deck. At 106m it’s the highest tower in Copenhagen and has superb views over the city and canals.

5 Carlsberg Museum
Carlsberg, probably the best beer in the world. Whatever your amber nectar preference, a visit to the Carlsberg Museum is a must for beer lovers. The former Carlsberg Brewery is now a living homage to the art of Danish brewing with daily guided tours from experts, who share the ingredients and processes that create such a world-renowned lager. It’s not all history and great architecture though, visitors are encouraged to join the daily beer tasting sessions. The brewery founder, JC Jacobsen lived next to the brewery and gave workers their own daily beer allowance. You can also do a self-guided tour and there’s a Carlsberg merchandise store.

Review: Hotel Formentor, a Royal Hideaway Resort

Review: Hotel Formentor, a Royal Hideaway Resort

Gina Baksa heads to Mallorca for a stay at Hotel Formentor on the island’s idyllic north west coast

Mallorca’s reputation as a tourist package nightmare of epic proportions is unwarranted. Sure, you’ll find Dante’s Inferno at Magaluf and Arenal, but elsewhere this enchanting haven ‘twixt Ibiza and Menorca has much to attract the more discerning and sophisticated visitor.

The largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, Mallorca is largely unspoilt and offers stunning coves, superb beaches, great biking and cycling roads – and beautiful luxury hotels. Head to the picturesque UNESCO protected north-east of Mallorca to Cap Formentor and you’ll find yourself – as I did – among scented pine forests atop limestone cliffs that drop majestically into the azure blue waters below. A yachting haven, there are plenty of hideaway inlets to explore far from the madding crowd.

The Serra de Tramuntana mountains meet the Med here on this 20km peninsula just northeast of Pollenca, the local fishing port. Its main beach, Playa Formentor, is a stunning cove on the peninsula, with a gorgeous mountain backdrop.

We’ve arrived by car from Palma – just an hour’s drive (46 miles) via a mix of zigzag mountain roads and a motorway – at the award-winning Barceló Hotel Formentor – A Royal Hideaway Resort. Winner of the Best Leading Boutique Hotel (World Travel Awards) 2016, the Formentor boasts an extraordinary elevated setting, with breath-taking Mediterranean gardens and stunning views out across the Bay of Pollença and the mountains.

Attracting celebrities and the cognoscenti since 1930, this idyllic hideaway has hosted luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin, Churchill, Princess Grace and Audrey Hepburn. Now owned by the Barcelo Resorts Group, the Formentor has retained its understated elegance and feels like a luxury holiday villa – albeit on a super grand scale. All the hotel’s 121 double and double superior rooms and suites have mountain or garden views that overlook the well-stocked terraced gardens and pergolas, leading to the two large swimming pools and then down to the pine-fringed sandy beach.

My suite on the third floor has stunning 180-degree vistas of the Bay and Illa de Formentor , the backdrop to the resplendent gardens and swimming pools. There’s no balcony here due to the hotel’s design, but the windows open (heaven!) allowing a cooling sea breeze even though the air con is sufficient. I notice generous balconies on the second floor below me.

My suite has a dressing room area with his and hers wardrobe, two TVs and a lounge with sofa bed. The suites are homely – no super bling here – and are in keeping with the vintage feel of the hotel. To be honest they could do with a little refresh, but the superb grounds and amenities – and proximity to the sea – means you will rarely be in your room.

Fridge, Nespresso, kettle, ironing board and iron – all check. And a selection of different sized pillows atop the most comfortable bed. There’s a lovely turndown service with chocolates. And some of the best towels I’ve ever used, along with White Company amenities. After a taste of the very welcome local cake thoughtfully placed in our room, we walk through the beautiful grounds (imagine lofty pine and palm trees) down to one of Formentor’s four restaurants – the smart beachside Bar Platjamar. Open air and inside dining here is just steps from the sandy, pine-fringed beach – pure bliss.

The menu is an eclectic selection of local favourites with a sophisticated twist – my Yellowfin Tuna Tartare followed by vegetable and fish paella (we shared two massive portions) was delicious and well accompanied by a Baron de Ley Rioja Rosé. Followed by a financier of red fruits with sorbet and English cream. We lingered long here… taking in the spectacular view and the relaxing atmosphere. Rarely have I felt so at home so immediately at a resort: The Formentor really is something special. Excellent attentive service and fresh local provenance make for a seductive dining experience.

We had a chance to view the hotel and coastline on a boat trip during a fabulous sail around Pollensa Bay. Wearing our Hotel Formentor straw trilbies, we looked like extras from an Agatha Christie movie. It was so exciting to be this close to the water. As the pine-clad beach retreated we could see the Formentor – white and stately atop the hillside – a commanding presence.

Damian, the boat’s charming owner and skipper gave up his desk job a few years ago to run this family business – and he loves it. Being so close to the water in this stunning landscape was so relaxing and energising.. Trailing my hand in the white foam I breathed in the sun and air deeply. What a joy! We dropped anchor in a quiet cove and Damian produced masks and fins for snorkelling. Bobbing fish ebbed and flowed in the current as we luxuriated in the feeling of being held buoyant by the deep blue seas.

He produced a bottle of his fine home-grown red wine along with some local cheese… what a superb trip. His boat is available to charter too, for €250 + VAT a day.

Before dinner at Hotel Formentor’s à la carte El Pi restaurant, I explored the grounds – such a multitude of flowers and shrubs here – the gardens are exquisite. I also discovered the spa, gym, tennis courts and even a mini-golf.  The hotel is ideal for families – as well as couples. And the main swimming pool is huge. With plenty of sunbeds and loungers poolside and on the nearby lawns, it’s easy to find a private nook to read or daydream. And such an extraordinarily peaceful vibe in the grounds, with attentive staff who appeared from nowhere to set up the parasol and put out the mattresses for the sunbeds.

El Pi Restaurant is just opposite the pool area under a shady leafy pergola. Comfortable in our wicker chairs we tucked in to a delicious lunch of squid truffles with yellow chilli pepper, followed by a superb monkfish – with an Amazonas rum tiramisu to finish. The wine list is extensive at Hotel Formentor, offering a super selection of Mallorcan and Spanish varieties – I loved the Jean Leon Pinot Noir Rosé.

Time seems to stop at Hotel Formentor… our stay was just 48 hours, but we felt we’d been at the Cap for weeks. Mallorca is renowned for its textiles and we were lucky to see production at Teixits Vicent (Majorcan artisan fabrics) who have been creating their famous cloth of tongues Ikat design since 1854. Using 70% cotton and 30% linen ensures a strong fabric with an identical pattern and the front and back. The production process is still partly carried out by hand using warm and weft and plain weave. On looms. With great patience! Their showroom and factory in Pollença stocks ceramics as well as cushion covers, espadrilles, tablecloths and more.

Olive oil is also big business in Mallorca. One of the island’s specialist producers is Solivellas olive – using only the arbequina and picual olive varieties. We were shown around the olive farm with its scented orange and lemon trees. You can buy larger bottles of the olive oil in Duty Free at Palma airport.

We enjoyed lunch the second day at Las Palmeras, Hotel Formentor’s beachside Italian restaurant that’s also open to the public – and feasted on the largest seafood pizza. Waddling down to the beach later (sunbeds and Balinese beds are available to hire) and working off the pasta with a swim in the shallow clear waters was heaven. As well as water sports, there are plenty of challenging hiking trails around the resort to enjoy. You could stay at the Formentor for the duration of your holiday, but I recommend hiring a car and exploring the area. Drive along to the lighthouse on the farthest tip of the peninsula, via the En Fumat mountain tunnel. Or head into the nearby historic town of Pollença with its charming cafés and markets that still proudly retains its Mallorcan heritage.

A weekend away isn’t complete unless you’ve enjoyed a relaxing spa treatment. We made full use of the luxurious private Balinese cabanas overlooking the gardens. At just €100 for a half day and €150 for a full day they are replete with bed, jacuzzi and showers and loungers. The perfect oasis of calm to relax pre-and post my superb head and shoulder massage from Thai masseuse xxxx her name?. As you’d imagine, it was with some effort I prised myself away from this paradise for the divine buffet dinner at El Colomer restaurant. The hours drifted by as we feasted on the Hotel Formentor’s superb cuisine, exemplary service and very fine wine and Cava. Perfection, really.

The Hotel Formentor – Royal Hideaway Resort – is the only hotel on the Formentor Peninsula lending an air of discreet exclusivity. With 3 grand suites and 18 Junior Suites, the hotel is perfect for families as well as loved-up couples, honeymooners and singletons of any age. The location is the  perfect spring, summer and autumn retreat and also boasts six villas in the grounds each with 2 to 5 bedrooms. Classical music buffs with love the  Formentor Sunset Classics concert series held each summer at Hotel Formentor with performances from international artists.

I’m already planning my return to the beautiful Formentor peninsula and the haven of peace and relaxation that is the Hotel Formentor. Its stunning location, superb service and relaxing gardens and beach are divine – I can’t remember feeling so relaxed.

Highly recommended!

How & Where
Where: Platja de Formentor 3, 07460 Port de Pollença, Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain.
How: Please phone + 34 971 899 100 or +34 902 101 1001, or visit www.barcelo.com/barcelo-formentor to make a booking.

Restaurant Review: La Cucina Angelina, Courchevel

Restaurant Review: La Cucina Angelina, Courchevel

Five star ski-in ski-out luxury and fabulous cuisine at Le Portetta, Courchevel Moriond, French Alps

Le Portetta, Courchevel Moriond is home to Angela Hartnett MBE’s new restaurant La Cucina Angelina. Gina Baksa samples Italian-influenced cuisine with a nod to the Savoie

A hop skip and a jump down the valley from Courchevel 1850, you’ll find Courchevel Moriond (formerly 1650). The slopes are wider here – perfect for beginners and intermediates – you’re in sunshine for longer and your credit card won’t melt. Connection to the vaste Trois Vallees ski region – around 600km of trails – is easy and queue times are significantly shorter than at many Alpine resorts.

Courchevel Moriond is also home to the rather fabulous Le Portetta hotel. Proudly part of the UK-based Lime Wood Group (The Pig hotel chain, Lime Wood Hotel) Le Portetta is ideally situated at the base of the main slope near the lifts, and boasts 38 rooms, 6 gorgeous lofts within the main hotel and four separate luxury lodges. All are available to rent during summer and winter months.

Le Portetta now boasts a fabulous new restaurant, La Cucina Angelina, opened only last December and helmed by one of the world’s favourite and most respected chefs, Angela Hartnett, MBE. As any foodie will know, her Mayfair restaurant Murano has a one-Michelin star, where seasonal British produce is artfully used in the creation of sublime Italian dishes. An influence Angela readily acknowledges comes from her childhood spent at the home of her Italian grandmother, who taught her to appreciate Italian food – and how to prepare and cook it.

At La Cucina, Angela is collaborating with Portetta’s long-term chef, Henri Dereani and – since she is mostly engaged at Murano, still finds the time to visit Courchevel for a few days every month. Indeed, this is her second collaboration with the Lime Wood Group, having already worked alongside chef Luke Holder in its flagship New Forest hotel, Lime Wood.

Alas, Angela wasn’t in Courchevel the weekend of our visit, but we met briefly with Chef Henri Dereani. Admiring his stock of Génépi in glass-fronted cabinets at Portetta’s reception, he tells us that he makes this fabulous liqueur himself. A local lad, he thinks nothing of lofty walks at 3000m to collect the wormwood that is the base of this exquisite concoction. His Génépi is available for sale, as are his homemade confitures.

Indeed the lounge area leading to the restaurant has a cosy yet sophisticated vibe: think rustic mountain chic, reclaimed wood and stone – the flooring came from an old manor house – tactile textures, warm rich fabrics, oversized sofas and chairs. Taxidermy of any kind leaves me cold, but the animals on display here somehow feel completely at home in this environment. And so the relaxed décor continues into the restaurant area, where we are greeted by attentive French and English staff. All young and all very warm and professional.

We had a complete refurbishment of the restaurant, lounge and reception area at the end of last year,” Portetta’s director, the charming Nicholas Dumont tells me, as we tuck into slices of succulent cheese and tomato pizza to share. “And we only just finished in time for Christmas.”

‘It was hectic,” he adds, with classic French understatement. “But we made it!”

This pizza amuse bouche is honestly the most flavour-full wood-fired pizza I have ever tasted, and as wine uncorked – in our case a delightful Puligny Montrachet (Etienne Sauzet) we segued into the menu proper. Beguiling antipasti included a salad of pear, pecorino, fennel, radish and parsley (my choice). Other treats: mozzarella, lentils, olive oil and marjoram. Friends chose the Vitello tonnato: succulent veal, tuna, capers, rocket and parmesan. To say I had choice envy was an understatement, though my pear and pecorino salad was divine.

If we’d had enough room for a primi, I would have chosen the Tagliettele alla Bolognose (ragout, parmesan and parsley) or maybe the Agnolotti: guinea fowl and sage – one of Angela’s favourites. Instead, I opted for the Zuppa di pesce: a heavenly combination of fruits de mer, mullet, bream, chilli and garlic. Quite the best fish soup I have ever tasted, the sensation of flavours was intoxicating – as were the vibrant colours thanks to the generosity of the tomatoes. We ordered a side of polenta fries – the perfect accompaniment – as was the fresh, almost orgasmic bread and butter.

Grilled meat cuts (from a huge grill in the centre of the restaurant) provide the nod to traditional Savoyard favourites, as did the ubiquitous tartiflette, while the minestrone soup has a French flavour it is graced with Beaufort on toast, rather than Parmesan.

I skipped dessert, but friends enjoyed creamy chocolate and almond torta, which they heartily devoured over coffee.

If weather permits, then I recommend eating on Portetta’s Fire and Ice terrace. Warm yourself by the log-burning fires, order a quick wood-fired pizza, omelette or even spag bol, or settle in for a long lazy lunch before you head back to the slopes. Happy hour is between 4.30-7 and if you buy any ice-shot or drink, you’ll be rewarded with a slice of delicious wood-fired pizza – on the house.

La Cucina has an all-day menu – the owners hoping to attract skiers from other Three Valley resorts such as Meribel and Val Thorens.

A most welcome addition to Courchevel Moriond, La Cucina Angelina is the perfect destination for a lunchtime break from the slopes, or a more relaxed evening meal. Expect a charming lack of pretension, succulent flavour-bursting quality Italian food, with a nod to the Savoie, all beautifully presented and served by La Cucina’s efficient – and very cute – waiting staff. Highly recommended.

Where and How
Where: Le Portetta, Courchevel Moriond (1650), 73120 Saint Bon, France
How: Please phone +33 (0) 4 79 08 01 47, visit portetta.com or email info@leportetta.com to make a booking.
Getting there: 2.5 hours from Lyon or Geneva. 7 hours from Paris via the A6. 4 hours (via TGV) from Paris Gare de Lyon to Moutiers-Salins Brides Les Bains, followed by transfers to Le Portetta by taxi or limousine. The ride is 30 minutes. Courchevel is 2 hours from the airports of Lyon and Geneva. Transfers to Le Portetta can be arranged by cab, limousine or helicopter. The Altiport at Courchevel is 10 minutes from Hôtel Le Portetta. British Airways operates a 1.5-hour flight from London’s City Airport to Chambéry throughout the ski season.

Dining At Les Terrasses de Lyon, France

Dining At Les Terrasses de Lyon, France

I experience fabulous hospitality and gourmet cuisine at Lyon’s 1-Michelin-starred Les Terrasses de Lyon restaurant

La Villa Florentine, deservedly five stars and a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group is a sumptuous, sophisticated hotel destination. Sitting proudly atop Lyon’s Fourvière hillside, she provides guests with superlative views across France’s second largest city and UNESCO heritage site. The city of light is an acknowledged centre of gastronomic excellence, spearheaded in part by its favourite son, the renowned chef Paul Bocuse, the acknowledged master of nouvelle cuisine.

A 17th-century former convent, the 28-room luxury hotel combines Italian Renaissance aesthetics with luxurious modern comforts. Antique furniture, rich fabrics, marble bathrooms and modern art all create a haven of peace for guests who can choose suites that feature private saunas and exposed beams.  

Spring and summer is the best time to enjoy the garden area, with its panoramic views across Lyon. Enjoy breakfasts alfresco on the lush terraces, or take a dip in the hotel’s heated pool and Jacuzzi. 

La Villa Florentine is also home to the celebrated 1-Michelin-starred restaurant, Les Terrasses de Lyon. My first visit here, I’m impressed by the floor-to-ceiling windows affording star-filled views across night-time Lyon and equally by the charming and attentive staff. 

Chef David Delsart (who took over from Chef Davy Tissot in August 2015) is already making his mark and has prepared a select menu for our group, with provenance from the best local suppliers. All of which are available at the renowned Les Halles de Paul Bocuses market in the centre of the city. 

Delsart is keen to maintain long-term relationships with suppliers, and also works closely with nearby schools, introducing children to the art of tasting, of flavours textures and of cooking. 

We begin our meal with a wonderful Cuvée Solera champagne from Roger Pouillon. His vineyard practices culture raisonnée – a form of organic viticulture that avoids use of fungicides, chemical fertilisers and defoliants. Delicate, fresh; it’s the perfect apero before our amuse bouche – followed by a succulent pressed skate wing (from Brittany) and chestnuts flavoured with citrus. This kind of gourmet presentation and preparation is all about flavours, which Delsart has made into an art form.

Roasted veal loin – from the Dordogne – is melt-in-your-mouth excellent, especially with our wine from Nuit St Georges/Clos de L’Arlot. Honey and vanilla on the nose, followed by a full-bodied suppleness. Exquisite. 

Our superb Chef Sommelier, Gaëtan Bouvier is a delight. Carefully explaining in excellent English his pairings for the evening, he tells us about his obvious passion for all things grape. Named ‘Meilleur Sommelier de Rhone Alps by the Gault & Millau Guide in 2013, he also reached the final of the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ last year. Further accolades include his Sommelier of the Year award in Lyon last year. And he is also entering the ‘Meilleur Sommelier in France’ competition. A busy man.

Dessert arrived in the form of Piemont chestnuts in the Panna cotta au chocolate Jivara, alongside a superb Crème glacée à la banane – simply out of this world. 

Port – chilled Quinto do Noval Black. Flavour burst and chilled, was the perfect accompaniment to rich smooth coffee and delightful petit fours. Packed with a seductive flavours of chocolate, prunes and grapes and at 19.5% proof, this refined offering from Portugal’s Douro region provided the perfect denouement to a fabulous evening. 

Tables at Les Terrasses de Lyon are booked weeks in advance, so make a reservation now and enjoy one of the finest gourmet dining experiences in the city of lights. 

How & Where
Where: Villa Florentine and Les Terrasses de Lyon restaurant, 25 Montée Saint-Barthélémy, 69005 Lyon, France
How: Visit  www.villaflorentine.com or phone +33 4 72 56 56 56 to make a booking.
Getting there: Lyon has an international airport. Travel to Lyon from London via Eurostar. The journey time is 4 hours 41 minutes. 

Gina travelled to Lyon courtesy of Eurostar, SNCF, A Tout France and Lyon tourist board.