Review: Fairmont Norfolk Hotel, Nairobi

Review: Fairmont Norfolk Hotel, Nairobi


The first in three-part Kenyan travelogue, I head for Nairobi for a stay at the iconic Fairmont the Norfolk Hotel


Landing in Africa to be greeted by her life-affirming, body-warming sunshine is always a joy. Azure sky, red dust, lush vegetation and the ever-present buzz of traffic and people. Our car is waiting to take us to Nairobi’s most iconic hotel, the Fairmont Norfolk. Haunt of the Happy Valley set, Churchill, Hemingway, Roosevelt; princes and politicians… the original vision of hotel baron Abraham Block is now privately owned by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal and managed by Fairmont.

Located directly opposite the University and Kenya National Theatre, the Fairmont Norfolk was Nairobi’s first luxury hotel (opened in 1904) and still stands a proud sentinel of a by-gone age. Well located in lush private gardens, the Norfolk’s 120 rooms and suites are well protected. Security is thorough. Massive grill gate slides across the driveway entrance; bags and bodies are scanned before we can reach the cool spaciousness of the veranda and reception inside.

The Cin Cin lounge bar just off the vast lobby area features a selection of paintings by local artist Coster Ojwang. Curated by William Ndwiga of Nairobi’s acclaimed Little Gallery, Coster’s landscapes and portraits are vivid with colour.

Walking past Lord Delamare Terrace, Tatu restaurant and the T Lounge, I’m soon in the quiet, shady courtyard garden with its palms and green grass. It’s hard to believe I’m in the centre of a city of more than 3.3 million. My room is a gorgeous Deluxe Veranda room in the two-storey 1937 wing that overlooks this peaceful green oasis. Spacious with a separate lounge area – and beautiful Kenyan roses, a lovely touch – and even a terrace for breakfast. Air-con is efficient, there’s a capacious power shower and the design is modern yet retains its 19th-century glamour and charm. For further luxury choose either the Karura or Signature Suites with elevated views of the courtyard.

We have massages booked for our group, so I happily doze on a sun lounger by the heated outdoor pool (warmest pool ever) before my aromatherapy session. There’s a well-equipped gym here at the Pambo Health Club, but I haven’t the energy!

Surrounded by high hedges and trees, the pool area is overlooked by adjacent buildings, but this doesn’t interfere with my relaxation. Hotel cat Regina appears for a cuddle, before vanishing into the foliage.

Exploring the hotel post massage bliss, I discover the T Lounge, serving traditional English High Tea and Snacks, and the Cin Cin bar – great staff and service – with its outdoor terrace.

We have lunch at Delamare Terrace. An all-day dining restaurant specialising in Pan-African cuisine with a strong Kenyan focus. There are myriad stations and super food. Breakfast is served here too. It’s a large space but very comfortable and relaxed.

Cin Cin served up superb G&Ts before dinner at the Norfolk’s award-winning Tatu restaurant. An inspired menu of local specialities and international favourites, I had a superb salmon ceviche in coconut milk, with avocado and red radish for starters. As well as a taster of crispy fried crocodile (surprisingly tasty). Meat features highly on the menu here, as you’d imagine, with superb choices from various steak cuts, lamb shank and ostrich burger. I opted for the ostrich burger for mains. Again, a surprisingly tender cut cooked in caramelised red onions. Our 2013 Catena Alta Malbec was a medium-bodied delicious accompaniment to the meat dishes. Book ahead for a fabulous chef’s table experience under the expert eye of its head chef.

Sleep that night was deep and very welcome. Heat and altitude – I’d forgotten Nairobi is at 1,795m – made me weary and the reminder to pace myself.

It’s a rosy-fingered dawn (I’m up early) the following day with a backdrop of excited birdsong and a subtle hint of the heat to come. A magical time to enjoy breakfast in my room. Coffee excellent. Huge fruit bowl, excellent scrambled eggs and delicious local jams with croissants.

Our itinerary for the next two days was extensive. And included a dream made maniest: a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust adjacent to the Nairobi National Park. Founded in 1977 by Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E, in honour of the memory of her late husband, the founding Warden of Tsavo East National Park, David Sheldrick MBE, the Trust is the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world. And carries out pioneering conversation work for wildlife and habitat protection across East Africa. To date, the Trust has successfully hand-raised more than 150 orphaned elephants and gradually re-integrated them into the wild, where many give birth to their own wild-born calves. The ever-present threat of poaching, deforestation and drought means that DSWT’s services are more important than ever.

I’m here to interview Angela, Dame Daphne’s daughter, but due to unforeseen circumstances this is not possible. Instead, I’m treated to an incredible behind-the-scenes walk with head keeper Edwin Lusichi to meet some of the orphans in an area not accessible to the public.

Originally called to the priesthood, Edwin found his true calling was looking after orphaned elephants. He’s dedicated his life to these beautiful beings – what an extraordinary man, as are all the keepers.

As he takes me past the babies’ blankets hung out in the warm sun, past their stables with date of birth and location, out on red earthed scrub towards the first group of orphans. he says: “I saw a lion when I was walking past here yesterday. Over there by that tree.” I follow his hand gesturing towards a thicket only a few hundred feet way. He’s kidding right?

Nope. And he hasn’t even got a rifle.

We meet one orphan who is barely a month old and so dehydrated he’s on a drip. His dedicated keeper by his side. It can take many months to recover from the trauma of seeing their mother’s death – usually by poachers. The keepers here look after their charges 24/7, even sleeping with them in their stalls.

This adorable baby touches me gently with her trunk and I stroke her face. She’s sucking on my hands and fingers like a pacifier. So adorable and so tragic. I’m moved to tears by these beautiful beings. Such a trauma losing their mothers at such a young age.

We meet other older babies who are far more robust. It’s actually quite overwhelming to be among these beautiful beings. I’m lost for words. They are so beautiful and great me like a lost friend. Trunks on hands and on my face and head. Their eyes hold such depths. Truly magnificent beings that show much greater compassion for each other and their herds than humans do about each other. We can learn a great deal from elephant behaviour.

The Trust relies on donations and have a special adoption programme. Follow them via sheldrickwildlifetrust.org. They also have a fabulous Instagram feed at @dswt where you can see daily video clips of the orphans. And they’re on Facebook too at @thedswt.

Afterwards I joined the public group session which meets around a circular enclosure where the elephants come to play in the mudbath – the red earth protecting them from the harsh African sun as well as insects.

Almost nothing could compare to my elephant orphan experience, but our next port of call to the Giraffe Centre in Lang’ata (around 5km from the centre of Nairobi) was superb on another level. Surely the most graceful of all African mammals, thanks to a high platform we were at eye level with these amazing creatures, and able to feed them with pellets.

The excitement of the wildlife and the hot Kenyan sun is surprisingly hungry-making. We stop for a bite to eat at Picazzo Restaurant at The Hub shopping mall in Karen, a wealthy suburb in the south west of Nairobi named after Out of Africa novelist Karen Blixen. Sitting out on the shady balcony overlooking the gardens was a welcome respite from the heat. The menu here combines local specialities (we had a mix of crispy fried crocodile, grilled octopus, beef and scallop for starters) followed by a delicious steak, rack of lamb and ostrich burger (surprisingly tender). Advance booking will get you a chef’s table experience here too.  The first taste of local Tusker beer and I’m hooked. This malt barely concoction is deliciously thirst-quenching.

We pass Karen Blixen’s former coffee farmhouse (now a museum) on our way back to the Fairmont Norfolk. It’s hard to imagine this farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills was once surrounded by farmland, such is Nairobi’s expansion.

We spent a morning looking around a few of Nairobi’s must-sees . Lunch at highly rated Talisman Restaurant at 320 Ngong Road in Karen. Terraces, gardens and an eclectic menu with veggies from their own organic farm and a substantial wine list. Eclectic menu from pork belly to Kung Pao Chicken, via Salmon Burger and fillet steak. Fusion of European, Pan-Asian and African cuisines.

Kenyan brewing is getting a resurgence, so we were keen to sample the offerings at Brew Bistro at 40 Piedmont Plaza on Ngong Road. Choose from the Nyatipa Pale Ale, the Simpils Pilsner, the Belgian-style Kifabock, the Temstout stout with coffee and xxx flavours, or my favourite, the Chuikolch, a refreshing pale blond malt that’s perfect for hot summer days.

Three must-see shops during your visit to Nairobi must include the Maasai market, the house of Treasures and the White Elephant Trading Company. The market is at a different location and sells mainly tourists wares such as sculptures, jewellery, soap, carvings and textiles. The House of Treasures really is as its name suggests. Located in Karen, at 70 Dagoretti Road, this is an Aladdin’s cave of indoor and outdoor furniture, architectural pieces, household designer décor, lighting, carpets and much more.

For more gift and home ideas, head to the incredible White Elephant Trading Company on No 18 Windy Lane, off Windy Ridge, Karen. This extraordinary place restores antiques and vintage furniture with a Kenyan edge. Kenyan craftsmen restore and reupholster vintage finds sourced in the UK and Europe. Superb.

That evening we dined off-piste and eschewing luxury five star, headed for where Kenyans grab bears and nosh after work or at the weekends. Accompanied by our fabulous host Njeri Chege from the Norfolk, she took us to Tulips Restaurant in Kileleshwa Estate. The selection of meats was nyama choma (roast goat meat), nyama ya kukarangwa (dry-fried meat) and kuku choma (roast chicken). Nyama Choma is the most popular meat and if you were to choose one, it would suffice for the entire meat-eating experience.

A peaceful and relaxing haven, the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel is superbly located and within easy reach of Nairobi’s international airport as well as its business and entertainment districts. We loved it as a recharge stop on our way to the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club – our next destination. Great food and attentive service, combined with a warm welcome and super amenities ensure that I will return to the Norfolk on my next visit to Nairobi. Highly recommended for your pre- and post-safari stay in this vibrant Kenyan capital.

Where & How
Getting there: Gina flew with British Airways from London Heathrow to Jomo Kenyatta Airport Nairobi
Where: Harry Thuku Rd, Nairobi, Kenya
How: Please phone + 254 (0) 20 2265000, email kenya.reservations@fairmont.com or visit www.fairmont.com to make a booking.

Review: Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort, Switzerland

Review: Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort, Switzerland


Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort takes luxury spa hotel and resort living to new heights, as I discover


Imagine a luxurious Swiss mountaintop retreat, high above Lake Lucerne, with a 10,000m² spa, dedicated wellness complex, four hotels, 12 bars and restaurants, multiple residence suites and an extensive range of leisure pursuits. This dream made manifest is the newly revitalised Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort complex near Lucerne.

Owners Katara Hospitality have invested a cool 550 million Swiss Francs in the restoration of this legendary resort, which now comprises the Bürgenstock Hotel & Alpine Spa 5* superior (102 rooms and suites), the Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence 5* (160 rooms and suites), the Palace Hotel & Conferences 4* superior (108 rooms and suites) and the Taverne 1879 3* (12 rooms). In its Fifties and Sixties heyday, the Bürgenstock welcomed Hollywood stars such as Audrey Hepburn (who married in the resort chapel), Sophia Loren and Charlie Chaplin, in addition to royalty and heads of state.

We arrive at this cliff-top Shangri-La by boat from Lucerne, docking at the Kehrsiten jetty before enjoying a vertiginous funicular ride through craggy cliffs and verdant forests almost to the summit of the Bürgenstock mountain. It all feels very James Bond, so I wasn’t surprised to find out that Sean Connery and the entire crew stayed at the Bürgenstock during the filming of Goldfinger.

Four minutes and 1,424ft later we’ve arrived at the newly revitalised resort: the Bürgenstock Hotel’s modern architecture and contemporary design a bold juxtaposition against the older-style grande dame Palace Hotel next door. Strategically, we have to walk through the Bürgenstock’s Sky Boutique to reach reception: A tempting selection of Swiss products and Bürgenstock-branded clothing and gifts. Other premium Swiss brand outlets in the resort include Longines, Swatch, Omega and the Choco Chalet.

The views out over Lake Lucerne and the sheer drop from the Bürgenberg Mountain are unforgettable. Designers MKV Design have allowed the outside world to take centre stage here. The massive entrance lobby with its 6m-high glass walls are breathtaking;  I’ve never seen such dramatic public spaces in a hotel. The views are to die for. In the centre of the lobby area is a round fireplace with seating, and desk pods at reception. Materials are local stone and beautiful American walnut. And this vast space somehow manages to be cosy, too. A bar at one side and a sunken level with deep sofas and embracing armchairs. The earthy colour palette is simultaneously warm and sophisticated, enhanced by the fireplaces. It’s extraordinary.

Bringing the outside in is a theme that continues in the Bürgenstock Hotel’s rooms and suites. My 4th floor eyrie looks directly over Lake Lucerne – I feel airborne, yet surprisingly grounded. The design is sophisticated and inviting: cosy padded window seat and cushions to savour this incredible view, while bronze, timber and stone textures and colours are complemented by dark walnut parquet flooring and oak cabinetry.

The work area has a superb wooden slab of a desk – illuminated by cowbell pendant lighting – and UK and European sockets. There’s a spacious walk-in closet and the king-size bed is perfectly placed next to a sofa area from which to enjoy the 42-inch TV and Bose sound system. I could move in now. The soft drinks and beer in the mini bar are complimentary.

Brass-meshed sliding doors separate the living area from the bathroom. And I enjoy my Bulgari amenities in a huge sunken tub that could fit an entire family, with its backdrop of Italian marble walls and oversized rain shower. There’s a gas-lit fireplace here too between the bathroom and lounge area… perfect at any time of the year to add warmth and romance. The Bürgenstock Hotel also has a number of outstanding suites from the 785sq ft. Senior Suite to the 7297sq ft. Royal Suite. This 6-bedroom suite occupies the entire top floor of the hotel and offers guess superlative views across the lake.

The adjacent Palace Hotel is reached via a long ‘museum’ corridor which showcases the history of this very special resort. Items of furniture from the former Palace, photographs of Audrey Hepburn and other Hollywood royalty, menus – even the former lift. I enjoyed breakfast each morning at the RitzCoffier restaurant. A heavenly concoction of croissants, creamy scrambled eggs and prosciutto accompanied by great coffee. My favourite time of the day and made especially satisfying since I was there for sunrise over the mountains.

I love the vintage copper pots on the walls in the restaurant, a striking original cooking range now re-purposed as the buffet counter as well as original timber doors and an antique hearth. Here in the Palace Hotel, MKV Design have left the ground floor public areas as they were in fin-de-siècle style, while the upper floors and hotel rooms are thoroughly modern.

Food takes centre stage here at the Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort. And we had the good fortune to dine at all four main restaurants. The Palace is French fine dining, Taverne 1879 serves typical Swiss cuisine from its Swiss chalet opposite the chapel. Sharq Oriental and Shisha Lounge serves Lebanese and Persian dishes in a cosy oriental-style restaurant and Spices Kitchen and Restaurant serves authentic Asian dishes with a showcase of Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Thai Chefs in full action in an open kitchen.

Culinary director Mike Wehrle is weaving his extraordinary magic across the board here and brings 23 years’ experience with Michelin-starred restaurants and luxury hotels across the world. Even the dedicated Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence centre will serve healthy dining options that are low in salt and animal fats.

Fortunately, there are ample ways to work off the superb cuisine at the Bürgenstock. Hikers and joggers will love the 70km of meadow and mountain trails. I hired a pushbike and enjoyed an energising ride through the forest and empty roads. I also recommend the 30-minute cliffside walk up to the Hammetschwand Lift. Dating from 1905, this fully restored glass-sided lift is the highest in Europe and takes visitors 152m to the top of the Hammetschwand in less than a minute. There’s a restaurant here and superb 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside. If golf’s your thing, then the 9-hole course adjacent to the hotel looks amazing, with instruction available daily. The fascinating Diamond Domes just a short walk from the hotel are Davis Cup-standard indoor tennis courts and the outdoor court turns into a magical ice rink in winter.

And of course, there’s the 10,000m² Alpine Spa; an entire building dedicated to the art of relaxation. The three-level spa is perched on the side of mountain, 500 metres above Lake Lucerne, and linked to the fourth floor of the Bürgenstock Hotel. The magnificent reception desk is carved out of a single piece of white Arabescato marble, while the wellness areas wrap around the fully glazed walls providing the ultimate in rejuvenating views from the pool, L-shaped relaxation room, numerous specialist treatment rooms and sauna.

On the landside, there is a state-of-the-art gym, hair salon and changing rooms, and in between, the spa restaurant connects the two wings and opens onto an outdoor terrace. There are also three outdoor pools, one of which is a spectacular infinity-edge pool with water maintained at 36 degrees, and a private spa terrace.

I had two fabulous massages – the staff are excellent. Saunas, hammans and Jacuzzis are here, as well as 13 massage rooms and beauty rooms. For VIPs, there are three completely private spas with separate entrances.

The Bürgenstock Resort & Hotels has its focus very much on health and wellness. The new Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence has 160 rooms and suites with an integrated spa facility. In addition to regular treatments, guests will also be able to take advantage of post-operative convalescence, medical check-ups and nutritional consultations and weight loss progams.

Lucerne in a Day
You may not want to leave the magic mountain, but I recommend a day trip to Lucerne during your stay at the Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort. Take the boat to the quay next to the railway station in Lucerne and perhaps hire a guide for a jaunt around the medieval Old Town. Climb up the Musegg and enjoy the panoramic views and the giant clock pendulum in the Zyt Tower Views across the Mt Pilatus – legend has it the burial place of Pontius Pilate.

Don’t miss Chapel Bridge with its octagonal water tower and the beautiful Jesuit Church. Directly next to the quay is architect Jean Nouvel’s KKL Culture and Congress Center. Housing the Modern Art Museum, as well as a world-renowned concert hall, and an auditorium, we had lunch here and a tour of the building. Spectacular acoustics in the concert hall attract international musicians.

Lucerne has many museums, including the fabulous Rosengart Collection with its early Picassos, as well as paintings by Keel, Monet, Cézanne and others. Your Swiss Travel Pass gives free admission to most of Lucerne’s museums. Or buy a Lucerne Museum Card for €36. You’ll have unrestricted access to all of the city’s museums over 48 hours.

If you want to buy into the lifestyle of the Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort and enjoy all the amenities, as well as invest in luxury real estate, then the Grand Residence Suites should be on your list. Located in the former Grand Hotel, the 27 residences and two penthouses share luxurious features, international art works and fine oak and marble – all thoroughly modern aesthetics behind an impressive 19th-century façade.

Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort is everything a discreet luxury mountain hideaway should be: impeccable Swiss hospitality and service, incredible cuisine and five-star amenities. Truly outstanding.

Where & How
Please phone +41 41 612 60 00, email information@buergenstock.ch or visit buergenstock.ch to find out more and make a booking.
Where: CH-6363 Obbürgen

*Gina travelled to Switzerland courtesy of SWISS swiss.com & travelled by train across Switzerland courtesy of SBB sbb.ch.*

Review: Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan

Review: Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan


Savour La Dolce Vita at Milan’s luxurious Hotel Principe di Savoia


Effortless elegance meets timeless tradition at the luxurious Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan. A destination hotel for the cognoscenti since the 1920’s, this stunning Neoclassical hotel (owned by Dorchester Collection) has welcomed heads of state to fashionistas to captains of industry.

This landmark hotel takes pride of place on the Piazza della Repubblica in Milan’s business district of Porta Nuova. Only a 20-minute taxi from Linate airport, Hotel Principe di Savoia is a seductive mix of Old World luxury combined with the latest high tech. Guest have included such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin and Josephine Baker, Evita Peron and Maria Callas, and more recently Madonna.

We arrive on an unseasonally warm October afternoon, this my first visit to the city. Arguably lacking the beauty of her southern sisters, what Milan lacks in aesthetics she makes up for in sheer energy and pride of place. The capital of finance and fashion, the Milanese are justifiably proud of their city, exemplified in finely cut tailoring, sharp suits and attitude. The women here look gorgeous. As does the foyer of Hotel Principe di Savoia – a cool marble and Murano glass chandelier backdrop to classical paintings, and a unique carbon sculptures from designer Alistair Gibson. The Principe Bar, undoubtedly one of the sexiest hotels bars I’ve ever seen, has also been transformed under the expert eye of New York designer Thierry Dupont who has created a decadent marble and velvet sanctuary to see and be seen. I could linger long here but have a massage appointment on the top floor at Club 10 – the sports and spa area.

My therapist Noemi is very professional and very thorough. My knots are undone and I can move my head again. I enjoy a relaxing steam, sauna, Jacuzzi and swim in the pool afterwards. From the outside terrace there are 180-degree views of Milan across Porta Nuova – Milan’s main business district, the newest area of the city. A well-equipped gym is on this floor too.

Relaxing in my room before dinner at Il Solferino, I’m enjoying the classic feel of the décor: think soft textures, fine fabric curtains, and mosaics in the well-appointed bathroom. A writing desk in an alcove between the bedroom and bathroom is a thoughtful design touch, and there is plenty of wardrobe space. And thankfully, the windows open allowing fresh air into the room. Nothing worse than being incubated in air-con. Well done Hotel Principe di Savoia! The lighting in the room is excellent.

Il Solferino is an intimate family-run restaurant and a local favourite with a superb wine list (I loved the Bertani Amarone) and a great selection of classic and modern Italian dishes. The veal Milanese was divine, as was my white truffle pasta and succulent salted crust sea bass. Somehow our group managed dessert: mill-feuille affair and tiramisu. Awesome.

Hotel Principe di Savoia has 257 rooms and 44 suites across its 10 floors, including nine new Principe Suites from London-based architect Francesca Basu. Imagine deep purple sumptuous sofas, Murano glassware on Lombardy style tables and Lasa marble baths. My favourite for decadence is the sumptuous Presidential Suite replete with its own private pool, sauna, Jacuzzi and hammam. An astonishing 5,400sq ft. of sheer luxury combining French and Italian design with gold, wood and velvet accents.

Hotel Principe di Savoia has an exciting Sensory Tour for guests, which we joined the following morning – amply fortified by the best scrambled eggs I have ever tasted. We joined our guide, author and fragrance expert Mariangela Rossi, for a visit to the renowned Atelier Fragrance Milano. This laboratory/office is the base for Luca Maffei, one of Milan’s most renowned ‘noses’. He creates fragrances for many top brands. “It can take 8 months to a year to get the perfume right,” he tells us, as we waft sample after sample, before cleansing our olfactories by a sniff of our own skin. Incredibly this man can smell 1,000 different scents. And tells us that just 1kg of Bulgarian rose oil (the best) takes 4 tonnes of rose petals.

Still on the floral theme we said bongiorno to former lawyer-turned-florist Margherita Angelucci in her artisan florist shop Foglie Fiori E Fantasia. Using seasonal flowers and herbs, the place is alive with colour and scent. And it was scent on the nose once again at olfactory boutique Perfume by Calé on Corso Magenta. There are many boutique fragrances for sale here, and you can also have your own signature scent offered to you via a short perfumery test.

Our olfactory senses thus heightened we stopped for a light lunch at nearby Om Food. A light-filled bistro serving organic food (and skin products) tucked away in a delightful courtyard. The parent company Officinali di Montaudo makes organic oils and cosmetics in Tuscany, some of which are available to buy in the restaurant.

After an energetic workout in the gym later in the day, I’ve sufficient welcome for a fabulous meal at Hotel Principe di Savoia’s own Michelin-starred restaurant, Acanto. Executive Chef Alessandro Buffolino is creating magic with his Italian-inspired cuisine. Fois gras and porcini segued into risotto and torellos. My Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato red was superb, and excellent pairing with delicious crusted lamb. We opted for single dishes but there is also the option of a 6-course tasting menu. Desserts were classic Italian – complete with a dry ice extravaganza. My fabulous sweet Maculan Torcolato 2008 from the Veneto region was an especially inspired choice from our sommelier.

We spent the following day on an excellent guided tour of La Scala, Galeria Vittorio Emanuele and the Piazza del Duomo. All must-sees on my first visit to Milan. Construction took a staggering 582 years and is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan, Mario Delpini. The Duomo is the fifth largest Christian church in the world and completely dominates the Piazza del Duomo. Inside the interiors are breathtaking. It even has a sundial. Take the lift to the rooftop for spectacular views of the Piazza and surrounding area – Italians definitely do it better.

Hotel Principe di Savoia is ideally located near the artistic district of Brera, home to bars and restaurants, and is within walking distance of the Quadrilatero d’Oro, the city’s exclusive shopping district. There is also a very welcome complimentary shuttle service to the city centre, as well as valet parking. Even small pets are allowed at Hotel Principe di Savoia.

Dining at Acanto just went up a level with the launch of its new Tavolo Cristallo private table dining experience. Surrounded by a wall of glittering Swarovski crystals, guests can enjoy bespoke menus created by Alessandro Buffolino and their own dedicated host.  I’ll book this for my next visit to Hotel Principe di Savoia, surely one of the very best hotels in Milan.

Where & How
Where: Hotel Principe di Savoia, Piazza della Repubblica 17, 20124, Milano, Italy.
How: Please phone +39.02.6230.5555, email reservations.hps@dorchestercollection.com or visit dorchestercollection.com to find out more and make a booking. 

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon


I discover the perfect stopover on my way to the French Alps, Lyon’s boutique hotel Mama Shelter in the city’s 7th arrondissement


You don’t have to be hip at stay at Mama Shelter Lyon, but it helps. The funky boutique chain is the brainchild of Club Med founders, the Trigiani family who have brought their self-styled ‘urban retreats’ to Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux, Istanbul and Paris. Funky décor by enfant terrible Philippe Starck (think exposed concrete walls, graffiti-blackboard ceilings, carpets with cryptic messages) provide the backdrop to a superb hotel experience, aided by welcoming and efficient reception and restaurant staff who speak perfect English.

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon

Mama Shelter Lyon is situated in the city’s 7th arrondissement to the east of the River Rhône and only a few minutes’ walk from the Metro Jean-Macé, and three stops from the station at Part-Dieu. Although slightly off the tourist trail, visitors are well placed to visit the old city (Vieux Lyon), the covered food market at Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse, Place Bellecour and the hillside Fourvière district with its stunning Basilica of Notre-Dame. The incredible science and anthropological Musée des Confluences, built where the Rhône and the Saône rivers meet, is also within easy reach and well worth a visit. Taxis are plentiful and the public transport system (metro, trams) is easy to navigate. 

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon

My room, a generously proportioned double, had a capacious bathroom, plenty of light and mirrors and a king-size bed so comfortable (soft, high-quality linens) it was a wrench to leave it each morning. I slept soundly and deeply… fully energised to savour the excellent buffet breakfast the following morning. Fruits, a selection of cereals, breads, meats, cheeses, coffees (quality), all waiting to be savoured from the long bar with helpful staff in attendance.

Lyon has plentiful nightlife and a mouth-watering choice of restaurants, from traditional bouchons to Michelin-starred establishments. Blessed with a tradition of innovative cuisine – led by national icon Paul Bocuse – Lyon is a gourmand’s paradise. Book at table at the sublime Michelin 1-starred Les Terrasses de Lyon at the hotel Villa Florentine. Helmed by Chef David Delsart, the superb cuisine and panoramic views over Lyon from the terrace will delight any discerning palate. 

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon

If you prefer to stay chez-vous, the in-room media centre, with its 27-inch iMac, connects you to a great selection of free movies, TV, free Wi-Fi, radio, and Skype as well as a comprehensive guide to Lyon. Dine downstairs in the open-plan restaurant and you’ll find an eclectic menu, designed by three-Michelin-starred chef Alain Senderens. Burgers are succulent treats and if you are especially ravenous you can tackle half a chicken. Non-carnivores are also well catered for (try the pumpkin soup) and the wine list is extensive, featuring Rhône classics, plus a nod to California with its Russian River Zinfandel and Mendoza Malbec. Or choose one of Mama’s divine mocktails: My ‘Naughty Mom’ provided a thirst-quenching mélange of hazlenut, pineapple, lemon and apple. 

Live bands play Thursdays to Saturdays, and most nights the giant island bar attracts a vibrant mix of tourists and Lyon’s smart young crowd, served by French-cool bartenders of both sexes. The inviting outdoors terrace is ideal for al fresco dining and DJ-and-cocktail sets in the summer months. 

Mama Shelter’s shop – in snazzy display cabinets in the foyer – offers quirky mementos and even a dedicated Mama skincare range, while business visitors will appreciate the free parking and a choice of six meeting rooms equipped with the latest presentation media.

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon

Investment capital from hotel group Accor (it bought a 35% stake in Mama Shelter in 2014) has ensured future Mamas will appear in London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lille, New York, Mexico City, Seoul and Zurich, with a second establishment scheduled for Paris.

The Mama love continues! 

How & Where
Where: 13 Rue Domer, 69007, Lyon, France
How: Please phone +33 (0)825 00 62 62 or visit mamashelter.com to make a booking.

Gina Baksa travelled to and stayed in Lyon with Eurostar, courtesy of Only Lyon and SNCF. Eurostar winter season trains travel from London St Pancras International to Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu every Saturday at 7:19, arriving Lyon at 13:00 local time. Enjoy a stopover in France’s second largest city on your way to the French Alps. 

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.

Hotel Review: Palais Amani, Morocco

Hotel Review: Palais Amani, Morocco


An oasis of peace among hectic Fez Medina, I discover Palais Amani’s world of calm elegance


Regarded as the historical and cultural capital of Morocco, Fez is finally breaking out of the shadows of its more well-known southern neighbour Marrakech and having its own moment in the African sun. Thanks to new flights from across Europe and a new internal flight from Marrakech, this vibrant northern city is more accessible than ever. Known for its vibrant car- and moped-free souks and stunning architectural heritage, Fes’s star is deservedly on the ascendant.

This is my first visit to Morocco and with adrenaline-fuelled excitement, I’m gazing out through double-height windows across a stunning palace Riad courtyard from my second floor luxury suite.

But this is no ordinary suite – I’m luxuriating in the impressive 100m2 Grand Suite at the beautiful  Palais Amani – an oasis of calm located just inside Fez Medina. Encompassing the entire south wing of the first floor, the suite’s highlight features include his-and-hers dressing rooms tucked discreetly behind the capacious superking bed, Berber carpets, sparkling stained glass windows that capture the mid-afternoon light, a massive plunge bath fit for a ménage à quatre, vintage tiled flooring and an ante room with desk, sofa and TV. Nespresso with complimentary Vivalto and Lungo pods are standard. As is a welcome kettle and complimentary water.

And it’s this jaw-dropping tranquil spaciousness that beckons my Ryanair-scrunched body to stretch and dance and whirl like a dervish. This suite is easily four times the size of my London flat. Ceilings are a vertiginous 10m tall. I feel like I’m in a cathedral.

Located at one of the most significant entrances to Fez Medina, the Palais Amani is a former 17th-century palace. Rebuilt in the 1930s, this stunning listed building with its Art Deco touches has undergone complete refurbishment and is breathtaking. Home to 15 suites and bedrooms, it offers guests a tranquil spacious haven – an elegant mix of traditional and modern aesthetics – replete with restaurant, roof top bar and cookery school and spa-hammam.

I’ve arrived by taxi from the new Fez-Saïs airport. A massive light and airy space with beautiful Moorish design and just a 30-minute taxi ride from the Riad. Collected by a uniformed Palais Amani host from the Oued Zhoune car park just 50m from the hotel (outside the car-free Medina), he helps me with my luggage up a narrow alleyway and we enter via an inconspicuous door.

Wealth is reserved for the inside of houses in Morocco and the Palais Amani is no exception. This opulent building’s focus is inward:  every window and door and plaster filigree looks towards the beautiful garden and fountain with its mosaic tiles, hand-carved panels, and chirruping birds who also inhabit this sanctuary. I savour a refreshing mint tea before exploring the Medina.

It’s the beginning of Ramadan and many of the shops are closed, however this hasn’t reduced the number of people meandering among the 10,000 narrow alleyways. I’m initially overwhelmed by the movement, sounds and aromas. The Medina alone has around 9000 shops… this rabbit warren of streets is replete with stray cats and kittens, foodstuffs, caged chickens, overladen donkeys (if you’re an animal lover or rescuer then look away), slabs of meat and fish on counter tops, flies a-buzzing. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Some locals are happy for you to take photos; others eschew being part of yet another influencer’s Insta feed and will wave you off with a stern look. I pass groups of Chinese tourists their noses covered with sprigs of mint or wearing face masks. As its Ramadan – no eating or drinking between sunrise and sunset – there are fewer tourists. My best advice is to walk slowly, savouring the visual, aural and auditory feast in front of you. And practice your bargaining chops with humour and grace. It’s an important part of Moroccan culture and the storeholders expect you to enter the game too.

Shops I visit include L’art mauresque at 50 Rue Jamma Laranja lablida and there are many stalls selling argan oil too – head for Herborite Divan for good products. My guide takes me to a superb carpet shop – Dar Ibn Khaldoun at 45 Derb Ben Chekroune Lablida. Expect to be shown myriad varieties of silk and Berber wool… all for a fraction of the price you’ll see in London showrooms. But be prepared to bargain hard.

The owner is charm personified and he knows how to get a deal. Unless you are a serious buyer/collector, eschew the mint tea offered and decide on your budget before you even enter the emporium. Begin your offer some way below that until you reach your desired price. And don’t go above. For lamps and tea pots head for Le Tresor Mirinides owned by Youssef Lamrini.

Unless you’re feeling unadventurous, don’t bother with a guide (he’ll only take you to friends selling carpets, scarves etc) and instead venture out and explore the Medina yourself. Located inside the ancient walled part of the city Fez Medina is Africa’s largest and its alleys are filled with food stalls, pop-up counters, established shops selling spices and new fusion restaurants. It’s perfectly safe – I was travelling solo. And since it’s pedestrian and donkey and carts only, you won’t be looking over your shoulder every two seconds to avoid mopeds and carts as I did in Marrakech. It actually feels like Marrakech probably was around 20 years ago. So visit Fes now before it bends to the demands of tourism.

The special Ftour or Iftar – the meal that breaks the daily fast – is served at Palais Amani between 7.30pm to 8.30pm. I choose from the à la carte menu and eat in the shady cool courtyard with birds my aural accompaniment, alongside a fine Moroccan Volubilia – my first taste of Moroccan wine. Restaurant Eden at the Palais Amani prides itself on using fresh, local provenance and the menu reflects this with my delicious entrée of beet apple and nut salad, followed by fish of the day with slow-cooked veggies tagine style, finishing with a delicious tarte au citron for dessert.

Watching the sun set from the Palais Amani rooftop with the aural backdrop of the muezzin call to prayer (Adhan) was intoxicating. An ancient call (five times a day) that ignited long-distant memories of another time and place.

I found myself on the rooftop again the following morning when I joined the Palais Amani’s cooking lesson – at their new purpose-built Fez Cooking School with superb views over the Medina and beyond. The school offers visitors to Fez a unique insight into this magical city combining a foodie tour of the medina followed by a cookery class.

Once at my cooking station (gas hob, thank God) all my ingredients are laid out ready. Charming Head Chef Hassim gives me a Fez and apron and I begin prepping the beautifully colourful fresh veggies which I then stacked wigwam-like in my tagine. Cooking the aubergine on a raw flame until it crisped then scooping out the warm insides was amazing. And I proudly ate my creation on the roof terrace – such fun!

Earlier I’d joined Chef Hassim for a fascinating and fast-paced amble through the souks, gathering prime ingredients among the 10,000 alleyways. The cooking school is available to all guests and includes a two-hour tour of the souks, including a breakfast soup treat, a mint tea expert and plenty of stalls selling cakes.

All guests on the Cookery Break take home a Palais Amani apron, a mini basket of spices and detailed recipe sheets to recreate the new recipes back home. Cookery classes include: Tajine and side dishes (€97 private or €77 part of a group) or Moroccan breads and pastries (€67 private). Palais Amani can also arrange wine demonstrations and tastings, city tours and even classes in henna painting. As well as recommending trustworthy craftsmen in the souks.

In addition to the Palais Amani’s own restaurant Eden, there are excellent local restaurants to explore too. At nearby Dar Roumana (+212 (0) 535 635524), French chef Vincent Bonnin, who trained at Michelin-starred restaurants, dishes up two- and three-course menus of prettily plated Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.

The menu changes daily, based on what looks good at the market that day. The restaurant is closed on Mondays, and it’s best to book in advance. In the heart of the medina, NUR  (+212 (0) 694277849) offers a contemporary take of traditional Moroccan meals from the Middle Atlas Mountains. Take a seat in the chic black-and-white dining room; dishes change daily depending on what fresh fare catches the chef’s eye at market.

There is a small café on a square near the Chaabine that is on the first floor overlooking a newly restored Fondouk; the tea is brewed in a large copper urn with huge bunches of mint and alarming amounts of sugar, but the smell is wonderful like mint imperials spearmint and almost as vivid green when poured from a height into a large glass.

Moi Anan, a tiny Thai restaurant (and boutique) in the medina that has delicious dishes should you fancy a break from the local delicacies.

Very close to the Palais Amani is a bazaar called Ali’s Art gallery. It’s very Tardis-like in that once through the doors it goes from floor-to-floor and room-to-room each overflowing with the most incredible works of art, furniture, jewellery, mirrors; an absolute Aladdin’s cave.

Farther afield, don’t miss the extraordinary Roman ruins at Volubilis – the best preserved in North Africa, boasting amazing mosaics – while the Atlas Mountains offer inspiring hiking trails and unbeatable views across the desert back to Fez, as well as the opportunity to visit a rural mountain village or two. And of course the enigmatic blue city of Chefchaouen is a must-see.

An oasis of peace among hectic Fez Medina, Palais Amani’s calm elegance, tranquil courtyard and rooftop, as well as superb service and outstanding rooms and suites makes for a truly memorable stay in Fez.

Where & How
Where: Palais Amani, 12 Derb El Miter, Oued Zhoune, Hay Blida, Fez Medina, Morocco
How: Phone +212 5 35 63 32 09, email contact@palaisamani.com or visit palaisamani.com.
Getting there:  Direct international flights to Fez from many European destinations. Taxis from Fez Saïs Airport take around 45 minutes. Fez station is 15 minutes’ drive from Palais Amani and linked to Tangier, Casablanca and Marrakech.
Cost: Rooms rate includes breakfast. From €160 for a  regular room. Grand Suite from €350.