I was in Kuala Lumpur on business for a week and thought it would be worth trying a new hotel. I had stayed at the Mandarin Oriental before and, while I liked it's location (right next to the Petronas Towers), I felt that it was a little dated and in need of a refresh. Not to mention that it's very large and somewhat impersonal.
I joined the Leading Hotels of the WorldLeaders Club program earlier this year (at a friend's suggestion) and was interested to see what they offered, especially as the program includes a free room category upgrade at time of booking. There's only one KL hotel in the LHW list, The Majestic. I liked the look of the room and decided to give it a go. The rate was reasonable and it was a suite for the same price as a deluxe room.
When I first at the airport, I wasn't met by a car (like I had been when I stayed at the Mandarin Oriental) but was greeted nonetheless by a gentleman who had purchased a KLIA Express train ticket for me. A colleague of his escorted me to the correct train, so I wouldn't be lost, and informed me that I'd be met in KL by a driver. This is, indeed, what happened. Given that the train ride was only twenty minutes, this did seem a sensible way to make the journey (my first drive had taken 45 minutes). However, this was only satisfactory, because I was travelling alone. Had I been with my family, this would not have been an ideal scenario. Imagine a travelling circus going up and down escalators with toddlers and luggage. In that case, I would have preferred to have been met by a car at the airport.
My driver was very courteous, but he dropped me off at the wrong entrance to the hotel. This was put right when I tried to check-in. At first, I thought I'd come to the wrong hotel, because it was huge and nothing like the photograph. It turns out that I was meant to go to the old wing of the hotel (the "Majestic Wing"). Instead, I had been shown into the cavernous lobby of the new hotel wing, which is a high-rise.
At first, the sound of going to the 'old wing' wasn't appealing. But, it's anything but. The older part of the hotel is much more magical. It has been beautifully restored in a colonial style that was very tasteful. Normally, I prefer more modern fixtures and fittings, but they had done a superb job. I passed the tea room and dining area, where a Jazz singer was crooning smoothly to a backing band. In places, the hotel has a slight Deco feeling to it. The doormen at the old wing wore pith helmets and reminded me of the Raffles hotel in Singapore. It transports you back in time.
The staff where very eager to please. I was introduced to my butler, who acted as a personal concierge, inviting me to request anything of them. The room was newly decorated and nicely turned out. I found the work area in the sitting room to be comfortable and spacious. There are plenty of surfaces scattered around to accommodate a flexible schedule. The vanity in the bathroom might be a tad small for two to share, but the bathroom itself is large.
There is a Spa next door that is ostensibly part of the hotel, but run by different management. They have their own pool, which is smaller than the main pool, but more convenient to get to. You need to get permission in advance, however, as it's reserved only for spa guests. My LHW booking came with a voucher for a fee treatment. This challenged the Spa staff, as they had never seen one before. After ten minutes of telephone calls to various managers, they agreed to take me into their care.
The main hotel gym and pool are both located in the other building, so you have to parade yourself in a towel past people having tea or dinner, while a band is playing in the evening band, which is not ideal. The gym is open 24 hours, which is wonderful. The equipment is very new, but spartan. I would have loved to see a rowing machine and a few more weight machines (although they have plenty of free weights). The pool is a good size, but I have yet to come across a dressing room, although you could use the bathroom to change in.
I have very few, minor complaints. For instance, the Internet is incredibly slow, even if you pay for the 2Mbps service (which is nowhere near), but the staff did their best to help work something out and comp'd the fees. I think a lot of the staff was new. There was only one person who was truly capable, so I sought out her help as much as possible. That said, the others really wanted to do their best, so I was forgiving.
The location of the hotel is decent, but you will want to go everywhere by car. There's very little to explore nearby on foot. This is very different from staying at Petronas Towers, which has an enormous shopping complex on its doorstep. However, the Majestic offers a point-to-point, complimentary car with driver service, so this wasn't a problem.
I have heard a few horror stories about the tea room, although I didn't use it myself. These centred around staff behaviour. In one example, a group of six were asked to give their credit card over even before they had ordered, which they found rude. Another group came when the place was empty and was told there were no more tables. This is unfortunate to hear, as it is a lovely space. It sounds as if there are some rough edges with staffing that need to be smoothed out.
I would happily stay here again. The staff I dealt with were extremely helpful and kind. The room rate (under LHW) was very competitive and came with some good perks. The car service was helpful. Perhaps, the location was slightly apart from the hub of KL prime, but quieter as a result.
Soaring high above the coast in the southernmost tip of Cape Panwa, you could be forgiven for mistaking Sri Panwa for a blessed place between heaven and earth.
Life does not get much better than this. Sitting on my king size bed in the wall to wall, floor to ceiling, glass aviary of the master bedroom, after a late morning swim... A perfectly chilled glass of Sancerre in hand, soothing lounge music on the villa’s pre-loaded ipod... I gaze out over the U-shaped infinity pool that spills over seamlessly into the 180 degree endless ocean views towards a few small surrounding islands that gently dot the landscape. Suddenly, I am seized by the irrational thought that I never want to go home. World weary sybarites, take note. A quiet oasis of luxurious escape and beauty awaits you on the under-appreciated south-eastern point of Phuket.
Splendid by name, splendid by nature. Portofino is quite possibly one of the world’s most perfect towns, and the Hotel Splendido, one of the world’s most perfect hotels.
Ensconced in the protective embrace of rugged, rocky cliffs, high above gin clear waters of a protected marine sanctuary, this ex-monastery was abandoned by monks centuries ago due to too-frequent pirate attacks. Rescued from an ignominious fate, it was converted into a family summer house, and finally transformed into a hotel in 1901. This grand old dame has lost none of its lustre and has held pride of place within the Orient Express hotel group’s firmament of stars since 1985.
Kissed by the sun, set within a veritable forest of towering cypresses, pine and palm trees, bedecked with hydrangeas and bougainvillea in eye popping shades only found in this part of the Meditteranean, theHotel Splendido has views so pretty it hurts the eyes.
Sitting on my junior suite’s expansive terrace (generous by Italian standards), I gaze out at sleek sailboats bobbing tantalisingly in the sparkling, azure sea, while seagulls soar above the lush green landscape. On the opposite side of the bay, rising steeply up, classically elegant villas half hidden by the foliage reveal themselves like memories of a time long past.
I've been looking for an affordable and low-key hotel in midtown manhattan for awhile and decided to try out the Chambers Hotel on my last trip to New York. The Tripadvisor reviews seemed decent and the price was reasonable ($400/night).
The hotel positions itself as a boutique hotel and is tracked by the likes of "Mr and Mrs Smith" - which, I assumed, was a plus.
The marketing photos make it look a bit more posh than it is in reality but the rooms are furnished in a tasteful, yet functional, way. The bathroom is small but the large watering-can style shower had good pressure (for which I was thankful).
The staff were courteous and helpful. There is a very limited in-room dining menu. Food comes from a restaurant and bar on premises. There is also a coffee shop attached to the hotel.
The best thing I can say about the place is that it's in a fabulous location. There are tons of restaurants on your doorstep and for Apple apostles, you are a stones throw away from the Apple store. Fifth Avenue shopping is only a block away.
There was a very large window in my room that - thankfully - could be opened. The view was pleasant. I could even see a nice roof garden across the way.
Breakfast came at blistering speed - only ten minutes after I ordered it. Unfortunately, it was rather tasteless. However, I appreciated the speed, as I was in a hurry to go somewhere.
The laundry service was prompt and my things were returned within twelve hours.
Overall, I would say that I would definitely stay there again. The hotel has a funky-looking library on the mezzanine level - which is a pleasant place to meet up for drinks. It isn't as full-service as some of the alternatives but the price was right.
I've been using the Luxe City Guides for several years now. They are hip and savvy, full of insider tips, travel intelligence and great suggestions for aesthetes like myself who enjoy the finer things in life. These are an Urban Nomad's best friend.
However, they are not for 'Tourists'... but that's why I like them 😉
I say this because they don't have glossy photos, maps and other bumpf. They contain small (hard-to-read) text, like someone's private notebook. They are leaflets full of insider knowledge and secrets. In fact, if anything, the presentation helps to be off-putting to the types of people you wouldn't want to see in the places you visit in these guides.
Does this sound elitist or snobbish? Of course! I don't want to hang out with other tourists when I travel. So, let those people purchase Frommer's, or Lonely Planet, or whatever. I want to hob nob with glamour, see the unseen sides of the city... get to know what the locals know.
Personally, I love the packaging. They are small, durable and fan-folding. You can slip them in a back pocket (or, purse) and pull them out easily when you need to consult them. The print is a little small but that keeps down the bulk of the guide. Slim and sleek.
I recently made use of the Bangkok City Guide and loved the restaurant and bar recommendations.
If you visit their website, you'll see that they've branched out considerably. Now they handle hotel reservations, private tour bookings, bespoke travel and provide mobile apps. They also produce box sets of the world!
This Travel Intelligence Report comes in 3 parts...
Arriving in St Barths
Arriving in St. Barths is very exciting. Only small planes are allowed to land on the island and they have to slow their engines, rapidly ascend a mountain peak, then dive-bomb downwards onto a very short landing strip. If they fail to stop in time, they will probably decapitate sun seekers lying on the beach, because the end of the strip is the beach in St Jean.
[this is one of the reasons why I don't recommend staying in St Jean. Even though this is where a lot of the action is, it's also where the airport is... which means you'll be listening to a lot of planes landing throughout the day. Thankfully, the island only allows flights to land during daylight hours.]
Here's what a beach landing at St. Barths looks like...
Airport at St Barths
The airport is tiny but very efficient - and, thankfully, air conditioned. After clearing immigration (one policeman sitting behind a window), you collect your bags and head outside to where the car rental agencies are. Those of you renting villas, or staying at swank hotels, will be met by your representatives.
Clearing immigration is a doddle. Have you ever noticed that the more third-world a country is, the more paperwork they require? It's an inverse relationship between sophistication and bureaucracy. When you land in St Barths, there's nothing to fill out (save a recommendation canvassing for but it's not required) and there's hardly ever a queue.
Car Rental in St. Barths
Please rent a car. You're not going to enjoy the island without one.
There is a Hertz, an Avis, a Europcar, Budget, and a bunch of local vendors. DO NOT RENT from MAURICE. They ripped off a friend of mine terribly when his car suffered minor damage. It became a long and very protracted case and I thought they behaved abominably.
Hertz, Avis and Europcar have the best fleet. But that isn't saying much. Most of the cars here look like they've been in major collisions... dents, scratches and damage everywhere. Your rental condition report of the vehicle will look like a braille diagram. Most likely this is because the roads were planned by a drunken roller coaster designer. Plus, the drivers in St Barths are some of the worst drivers in the world.
Agree to all the insurance you can on your rental agreement. Normally, this is a scam. But in St Barths you'll need it. It doesn't matter if you are a careful driver. Other people will use your car as target practice when parking, bumper crunching, smacking off wing-mirrors, knocking over scooters, etc. Mind you, you will probably still end up having to pay 600-1,000 euros in excess even WITH the insurance. This is a nice earner for the rental agencies, as it's not uncommon to come back with fresh dents, scrapes and broken mirrors (see below)... so, factor that into the cost of your rental.
I rented from Island Car Rental. They were half the price of Avis. There is a reason for this. They have fewer vehicles in their fleet, so you'll have less choice. And their vehicles are even more smashed and trashed than the competition. But you save money. And, besides, everybody is driving a trashcan... so you're not going to look silly if you are, too. Okay... there are the occasional flash cars. I did see a Porsche Cayenne on the island once but this is very rare.
Beware when parking near La Plage in St Jean. I had my wing mirror taken off when my car was parked there. The rental agent told me that this was fairly common in that location.
Best Hotels and Luxury Resorts in St. Barths... A Few Highlights
There are lots of great St Barths resources on the Web, so I'm not going to re-create them here. I will only give the highlights in my experience.
I've stayed at Eden Roc and Le Toiny. Both are very nice hotels that will charge you a fortune for the privilege. I have not yet stayed at Ille de France, although I've been there many times for meals and beach time, and I imagine it to be in the same category. I know someone who did and was very happy there. You might even see the owner - a British priest - tooting around the island in his massive Turkish Gulet.
Ille de France is on Flamands beach - one of the nicest beaches on the island (but the waves are frequently high, making it less appropriate for very small children to swim in). The Hotel has a nice stretch of beach, a beach-side bar and sun loungers, making it a wonderful destination for lunch and beach. It's very tastefully decorated in a French plantation style.
It also seems to be the place where celebrities love to stay. I sat at a table adjoining Uma Thurman the first time I went. Then, last week it was Courtney Cox. Whether this is a good sign or not, it's hard to say. At least their PA's believe it's the best place on the island.
The restaurant does a great lunch service with a well-conceived menu. The Wok of the Day is great (especially when they offer a seafood mix). Dinner Service is mediocre and the menu very disappointing. Prices are as high as they come (wine is marked up 4x). Service is friendly but somewhat ineffectual - certainly not as attentive as they should be at a hotel of this calibre. This is St Barths chic - for mature and calm sun seekers.
Ask for tables 23 or 24 which are partially inside, partially outside the restaurant. They have lovely views and are sheltered by palm fonds. It will make you feel as if you're island living all the more.
Eden Roc is right in the middle of St Jean. There's lots to do in the area and the hotel is very tightly managed. Unfortunately, they've been on a bit of an expansion spree, which has compromised the feeling of exclusivity that they once cultivated long ago. Now, you'll find beach villas, time shares, a real estate office, Sand Bar and all sorts of other people coming and going. Much more hectic than it used to be.
The Beach at St Jean is one of the calmest on the island and great for small children. The Sand Bar restaurant is right on the beach and you can rent some sun loungers to sleep off a heavy lunch by the water's edge. Expect to spend 30 euros a day for loungers. This is pretty much the deal everywhere with a few exceptions. The menu at the Sand Bar is small but adequate. They recently lost their main chef, so food quality isn't as impressive as it used to be.
The rooms are very simple but elegant French chic. Shame about the airplanes taking off and landing overhead. But you get used to it after awhile. It doesn't happen all the time, thankfully, but comes in waves.
Le Toiny is a bit of a fading star in my opinion, yet still in the top five. I first stayed there ten years ago and there's no doubt that it was a top-notch hotel at that time. The furnishings were fantastic and the food always outstanding. Their restaurant is still one of the few, truly gourmand eateries on the island. But staying there a week, as I did, was hard going. Eating michelin star meals every day and night is too much of a good thing. You start to crave simple dishes and the chef did not oblige. It was his way or the highway. I remember begging him for a burger that wasn't smothered in foie gras but to no avail. Anticipate gaining 10 pounds or more if you lodge there for a week.
Unfortunately, time has taken its toll. The restaurant is still one of the most expensive and tasty but it's not as innovative as it used to be. Service is terribly ssssllooooooowwww. The location of the hotel is unfortunate, as its on the windiest sides of the island, perched on a hill. There are no beaches immediately nearby and you will feel a bit isolated from the rest of the island. If you drive in one direction, you will face powerful headwinds and a landscape that looks very tortured. Don't go that way; go the other way.
The room I stayed in was sheltered from the winds but that made it a mosquito paradise and I was nearly eaten alive. Click here for photos.
I'd recommend going to Le Toiny once in your life for a blow-out dinner. Take someone you care about - preferably in a romantic way - and spend a relaxed evening eating dinner in elegant surroundings.
Other Hotels in St. Barths worth considering...
Guanahani is a very family-friendly place and quite enormous. It has a large swimming pool and tennis courts. The beach gets wonderful breezes and is located inside a sheltered lagoon. Unfortunately, the sheltered bay is full of sea kelp, so it isn't as pleasant to swim in as, say, St Jean.
Tom Beach Hotel (at La Plage)
La Plage is really one of my favourite beach hangouts on the island, because it's low-key and bohemian in a way that St Barths was when I first discovered it. It's located in St Jean, so it's very central, calm and collected. Sun loungers are 20 euros a day - but an additional 10 euros for an umbrella (bizarre). Food is good. Service so-so but friendly. But - very important - they had the coldest beers on the island.
I don't know what the hotel's like but given its good location and happy beach set-up, it's worth considering.
This is an interesting, boutique hotel for people that like something a little tucked away, ethnic in design and family-run. I stayed in one of their cottages a few years ago and enjoyed the quiet location and close proximity to Flamands with fantastic views (Flamands and Colombier being my two favourite parts of the island for beach and nature). Their main hotel area and restaurant has a lot of dark, teak furniture with French-Caribbean influences. It's a tad bit on the 'heavy' side design-wise but, nevertheless, it feels more authentic and local.
There are a few supermarkets on the island, the best of which are the Supermarche U by the airport and the one in Gustavia Harbour. People argue over which of these two is best but it doesn't really matter, because if you cook a lot and plan to be on the island for awhile... you'll be shopping at both. Why? Because they have different delivery schedules and good produce is really hard to come by here. When there is a fresh delivery, the locals descend like locusts and strip the place.
The Supermarche U by the airport has the best booze selection - tons of fine (and not so fine) wines, champagne, beer, etc. They also have Fischer Beer (thank God). Why? Because some idiot has the stranglehold on beer distribution on the island and has decided that people should only drink Heineken, Caribe, Corona, Presidente and Amstel Light... and NOTHING else! Every bar on the beach you go to will only serve a selection of these. I'm sorry but Caribe only tastes good ice cold. Otherwise, it should be used as a cleaning product. Thankfully, the U has a couple of other beer options. Hooray!
Food is going to be really expensive and not in good condition. Grapes covered in penicillin fur, scary fruit and rotting produce are not unusual. There will be the occasional amazing find, so persevere. Not everything is as bad as it sounds - just keep looking. Complain for a little while, then get over it. This is the way things are on the island. When a fresh delivery of green beans come in - get them fast, pay the exorbitant price and be thankful for it. You were one of the lucky ones who got a handful.
La Petite Boulangerie
This Bakery is located on the road between the Roundabout (Gustavia / Airport) and the road to Flamands & Colombier. Get to know it. It will become your best friend.
It's on a steep hill opposite a school. Don't go during the morning or afternoon school run. It's a death trap of irate parents, crazy cyclists and pedestrians all trying to avoid killing one another.
It opens obscenely early (6am?) and most of the best pastries will sell out immediately. But it stays open until roughly midday. They sell savoury food as well - sandwhiches, pasta salads, rotisserie chicken, etc. The food is reasonably priced and the bread and pastries seriously fantastique.
A Moment of Silence
The Cafe Sandwhich shop on the steep incline as you drive from St Jean to Saline - the one that had fabulous wraps - is no longer with us. Let us lament its passing with a moment of silence.
Okay... I'm signing off now. Next week, I'll cover the restaurants!
The Taj Hotels group has obtained a 19-century palace from Hyderabad royalty, who personally oversaw the restoration of this impressive monument.
If you still dream of the Raj, here is one way of experiencing it. This colonial, Indian palace - The Taj Falaknuma Palace - offers 60+ rooms of anglophile opulence with European touches, obsequious staff, and, according to the reviews, a fantastic boutique shopping experience.
As one review on Trip Advisor puts it, "This is truly an opportunity to reside in a museum." This may or may not be a good thing, depending upon how you look at it... but, suffice to say, that the 10 year restoration and decor is truly exquisite and extensive.
The Grand Presidential Suite features its own private swimming pool and salon for entertaining.
Other Resources you might consider: The Golkonda Hyderabad, India, Hyderabad
The Golkonda Hyderabad is a refreshing stylish new hotel located in a prestigious and convenient location, at the foot of Banjara Hills and only moments away from the city’s main commercial shopping and entertainment hubs. Beautifully furnished in contemporary style with lavish use of glass, wood and steel, provides a distinctive level of luxury and comfort with the impeccable service. An ideal hotel for both business and total indulgence. Central location with a contemporary style but featuring Indian specialities with Modern facilities, including a swimming pool.
The Residence, Hyderabad, India, Hyderabad
The rooms’ interiors have been fashioned by designer Deepika Govind who is known for her understated luxury and exquisite detailing. Wenge and beach wood furniture with silk, Egyptian cotton and handpicked original paintings and sculptures from young artists from around the country, have been used to create an intimate ambience. Overlooking the Hussain Sagar Lake - an Indian style, Boutique hotel with a Rooftop restaurant.
The Chatwal is a new boutique, luxury hotel in the heart of Manhattan. $100 million later and the 83,000 sq foot (now, 10-storey), Stanford White-designed building has been restored into a travel destination for the global JetSet. Originally home to America's first professional theatre club, The Lambs, until the 1970's it has finally passed on down to Sant Chatwal - Chairman and CEO of Hampshire Hotels & Resorts - who has made it a five-star sleeper in the heart of the city's theatre district.
The job of redefining the interior of this historic site was given to architect, Thierry Despont, who is no stranger to hospitality design: Claridge's and The Dorchester in London, The Carlyle in New York, Boca Raton Resort in Florida, Hotel de Crillon in Paris and Principe di Savoia in Milan... just to name a few.
Despont has given the property a very lush, reflective and lacquered look with deep reds, blues, blacks, cream and amber. A feeling of subdued opulence permeates throughout, very in keeping with the Deco & Empire State style of yesteryear's Manhattan JetSet. His office has also designed all of the bespoke furniture, fixtures and fittings. Despont has said in interviews that the room interiors were inspired by the phrase, 'The Art of Travel', and include motifs and cabinetry inspired by the artisan craftsmanship of vintage, seaworthy Louis Vuitton travel trunks and the like.
The compact hotel houses 83 rooms of which 37 are suites. The Barrymore Suite penthouse has a heated terrace with a 1,000 square foot roof deck overlooking 44th street. There is also a Spa with three treatment rooms, changing suites, relaxation lounge and saltwater lap pool.
Forte dei Marmi is a well-kept secret amongst Italians. It is packed in summertime - primarily by locals - although there are waves of Russians coming in thick and fast.
It has all the rustic charm of the region, combined with the Italian seaside. What a great combination.
It is well located just a few blocks away from the centre of town and a couple of blocks away from the beach. It's fun to ditch your car and bicycle around town - and the hotel has plenty of baby-blue bicycles with a front-mounted basket for you to use during your stay.
The Principe is very hip, very stylish and very contemporary. There are 28 guest rooms and suites, dressed with B&B Italia, Armani Casa and the like.
The rooms are horrendously expensive in high season, as you might expect - but I think that 800 euros a night is steep for a broom closet. But - they are very stylish broom closets!
The rooftop of the five story hotel features a panoramic view of the Alps and the sea, while offering guests a pleasant backdrop to some Prosecco, sushi, dim sum and more local Italian dishes. Very chic.
I had a drink here in July and the views are pretty stunning. You can just see an expanse of sea over the treetops - a great way to watch the sun set.
The decor of the Sky Bar is not as chic as the photos suggest. Furniture is a bit 'IKEA' in places and iron railings aren't as chic as glass would have been. The DJ was mixing up a strange medley of Tom Jones and Frente - playing both too loud. The venue ambiance is more "Cafe del Mar" than "Sex Bomb" in my opinion...
Still, the bar snacks are delicious. You basically order cocktails at 18 euros a pop and then enjoy a large plate of tapas (cold cuts, scampi, risotto balls, etc).
You can't argue with the view. And, there is eye-candy. When we went, there were mostly fashionable, middle-aged jetsetters. Not as young a crowd as you might expect from their marketing but - with those prices - you can understand why.
The nearby Marechiaro Club offers butler service at a private beach, plus access to the hotel's private yacht.