Category Archives: 4-stars

Follow the Medicis’ steps – Ponte Vecchio Suites Florence

It is no surprise that the Ponte Vecchio Suites, in the heart of old Florence, are only a few steps away from the famous Ponte Vecchio itself. Opened in 2008 by manageress Valeria Raspini, the nine available Ponte Vecchio Suites offer apartment like rooms of different sizes, including all the comforts and luxury you would expect from a high-class hotel, without feeling overloaded and too busy.

Strategically located only a short walk from the name giving Ponte Vecchio, it also provides easy access to the Piazza Signoria and Uffizzi, the Duomo, Palazzo Pitti (with it’s magnificent gardens), and the Borgo San Jacopo. You can enjoy the nearness to all the main sights, but also experience the relaxation offered by the boutique suites only a short walk away.

The suite we stayed in on the first floor had two separate rooms for the bedroom and living area. The living area included a sofa, dinner table, and small kitchenette equipped with basic utensils and dishes as well as a Nespresso machine. The only downside was the fact that you had to pay for the coffee capsules and sugar was from Mc Donald’s, but the nice fruit basket made up for that small inconvenience. Breakfast, ordered in advance, is served directly to the room from a nearby bar. As an alternative, you can decide to take the short walk to the bar itself and eat there.

The spa and gym at the Ponte Vecchio is in the basement and has to be booked in advance, as it is for exclusive use. It is rather small and cold, but probably very comfortable after a hot day in the city. You can also book a massage if you desire. Highly recommended is Alessandro (+39 303 76 278) who is an experienced therapist. Beauty treatments are available as well, but need to be booked in advance as the person is external. Not sure if I would recommend the beauty service, so beware when you book it.

The excellent booking service provided by Larisa, and the very friendly personnel Elena and Tatiana at reception deserve a special mention. All three ladies went the extra mile to make sure that you feel at home, gave good recommendations for restaurants, and made any requested bookings with a smile. They were very helpful regardless of the request.

In addition to the room, we also booked a private tour through the hotel with a local guide named Paola. While her tour of Firenze was informative and provided a local view on Firenze, the one we would really recommend was the one we booked (with Paola’s help) the following day. The tour was through via florencepass.com, and Maurizio (the company’s founder) was an extraordinary tour guide. He is passionate about Firenze’s history and arts and we could have listened to him for days. In addition, he has a delightful sense of humor. On our private tour we did the Uffizi, accessed by a side entrance that saved us a ton of time avoiding the normal entrance lines. The Uffizi is great on it’s own, but with Maurizio, who knows where to go and what to look for, it became an exceptional experience.

The Vasari Corridor though was the icing on the cake. The corridor tour is private and not something you can buy a ticket for at a ticket office. It’s very limited and we felt special having the opportunity to pass beyond the locked doors into the corridor while everyone in the Uffizi looked on and wondered why we were allowed in there. It was incredible to see all the artwork hidden behind the doors that most people will never see in addition to walking the exact path that the Medici family walked from the town hall to their palace.

Tipps:
Book a private tour with Maurizio: www.florencepass.com
Park your car at Garage Lungarno, but make sure you call in advance because spaces are limited. The hotel staff will help you with that.

Garage Lungarno
Borgo San Jacopo 10/R – 50123 Firenze (FI) – Italy
Tel: +39 055 28 25 42

www.pontevecchiosuites.com

A magical journey through time – Cour du Corbeau Strasbourg

The Germanic name for Strasbourg, “the city of the roads”, captures the essence of a city that is worth the relatively short drive to get there.  Geographically closer to Zurich and Milano than to Paris, Strasbourg offers an diverse selection of monuments and sights within its complex maze of streets making it perfect for a weekend get away. Even though it hosts the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament it is metropolitan, without being in the least bit overwhelming. The chosen hotel, Cour du Corbeau fits perfectly into the Carrefour de l’Europe (crossroads of Europe).

Located only a short walking distance from the heart of the city (near to the cathedral and Place Kléber) the Cour de Corbeau invites you to feel the magic of past times. The hotel belongs to the MGallery Hotel Group (memorable hotels by Accor – whose ambassador is Kristin Scott Thomas).

Led by our navigation system, we arrived at the hotel only to find the entrance to the street blocked by an electronically controlled pole.  Luckily, a nice man asked us where we were going, directed me to drive up to the barrier, buzzed the hotel (explaining the situation in French) and magically the pole disappeared allowing us access to the hotel entrance.  Thierry, a valet came out right away and opened my door, making me feel like I was a celebrity.  After asking where we planned to park, he offered to manage the car for us directly, took the keys, and drove off to I don’t know where leaving me with a trusting feeling that everything was in order.  The first impression of the Cour du Corbeau was magnificent. The décor was serene combining old with new, luxurious with Neo-Baroque. The welcome at the reception desk by Gregoire was very pleasant and included a surprise that we were upgraded to a junior suite. He informed us about breakfast and that the hotel didn’t have it’s own restaurant, but was happy to provide a 24 hour room service, delivered by a nearby restaurant. We asked for a recommendation for dinner in the town (a place where locals would dine) and were rewarded with an excellent choice, the Restaurant L’éveil des sens.

The hotel was renovated in 2009 after spending a number of years as a vacant building.  The “before and after” pictures in the hotel were marvelous and really highlighted the accomplishments of what the builders were able to manage.  The hotel features 57 rooms, including 19 suites. The rooms are simple, with wooden floors and a post and beam construction that exposed much of the original structure – a wonderful blend of old and new. The bathrooms contain natural stone floors and romantically styled sinks in the form of a shell.  The lighting in the room played up the violet hues and taupe colored fabrics giving everything a warm feeling while still being chic and simple, not the usual overwhelming feeling of many historical places. In short, the suite was beautiful and contained the additional surprise of a complimentary bottle of white wine (from the region Alsace) as well as a somewhat hidden door (or at least not very obvious) that led to a long, wooden porch running along the inner courtyard of the building.  Simply charming!

The staff was discrete and very attentive, and the turn down service even left a rose on our bed, as it was women’s day.  There was also a hand-written weather prediction for the following day and breakfast info placed by the night stand.  The towels in the bathroom were even replaced with fresh ones, something I really appreciate, but wouldn’t have expected at a four star hotel.

I read another review that stated the breakfast is “not to be missed” and judging by the little tables in the gallery I am sure would make an exquisite start to any day. We chose to walk across the canal into town to have fresh pain au chocolat from the local Boulangerie, which was definitely worth every minute of the wait. Before leaving the area we stopped at “Les mains dans la farine” the Boulangerie in 16, rue du 22-Novembre to load up on supplies.  The selection was excellent and we ended up with bread and pastries for a whole week.

Check out at 12:00h is very generous at the Cour du Corbeau, which allowed even more time for a stroll through the town before leaving.  The receptionist Carol was so lovely, and Anne Gerber, the manager of the hotel was also very attentive and didn’t mind helping guests with information, check in and out.

With bags in hand we called for our car which was retrieved by Sebastién, who placed a bottle of water in the center console along with a note on how to exit the area through the one way streets and around the Pl. de Austerliz and wishing us a pleasant journey home. This last little surprise was perfect and really impressed me.  Many times it is the small things that make an experience special and this was a perfect example.  All in all it was just a lovely stay at the hotel.

White Turfing in St. Moritz

My first exposure to St. Moritz was extra special due to an annual event started in 1907: the White Turf.  While St. Moritz is well know for skiing, bobsleds, shopping and celebrities it also hosts a unique, exclusive, top-class (with lots of fur and jewels) event with exciting horse-racing, gourmet catering, live music, and exhibitions all of which takes place on a frozen lake surrounded by stunningly beautiful, snow-capped mountains.

The best location to stay if you want to experience all of within walking distance (no taxi needed) is the La Margna Hotel. A traditional superior hotel with excellent views of the mountains and the lake, the La Margna is well-managed by the young and attentive manager, Nina Stockburger, and offers a uniquely pleasant and peaceful environment, despite the proximity to the main train station on the south-facing slope of the hotel.

The La Margna was built in 1907 (the same year that the White Turf started) in typical Graubünden style and has preserved its charm to this day. The nostalgia is especially felt in the heart of the building, the unchanged hotel lobby in the Jugendstil, with its original cast-iron chandeliers.

Some might find the room furnishing quite old, the bathrooms rather simple and antique, but it is very clean and the room service provided a really touching surprise.  As part of the turn down service, the towels were exchanged, a little chocolate placed on the pillows, and the foot towel put in front of the bed (with a nighttime wish and morning greeting).  But the touching surprise was the lovely set-up of the pajamas on the bed that was simple, thoughtful and heartwarming.
Highlights:

  • The staff, including manager Nina Stockburger were attentive, very friendly and extremely professional.
  • The original Hotel Lobby and Bar was delightful with impressive arched ceiling and granite pillars, original chandeliers and forged iron fireplace
  • The proximity was close to the lake, St. Moritz town, and train station
  • Dinner at the in house Stüvetta restaurant, offering traditional Engadin specialties, fondue and Mediterranean dishes
  • Breakfast choices including Gipfeli that were better than an original French croissant

The only downside is that the La Margna will be closed at the end of the 13/14 season and will reopen in 2015 as the Grace St. Moritz. On completion of renovations the hotel will comprise 36 rooms and suites plus several serviced apartments. It will have three restaurants – the premier restaurant being an all-new internationally branded fine dining experience. There will also be a classic Swiss restaurant specializing in local cuisine and a more casual restaurant offering all-day dining, plus a new martini and cigar bar.

We can only hope that the future hotel manager and staff will be as good as the current ones.

Dreaming in Antigua

Nestled into a cliff overlooking the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean, this rustic but charming Antigua resort features 26 individual wooden Caribbean style cottages, each offering a private balcony with spectacular views and showers opening to the sea.  You will definitely find peace, an opportunity to decelerate and a place for your soul to relax.  What you won’t find is a boutique environment (by European standards), but rather a charismatically rustic, simple hotel, with very friendly staff, moderate and sometimes outstanding food, and a wonderful beach with powder white sand.

cocos_beach_viewWe landed in St. John’s, happy for the warm weather and the sunshine. Our pre-booked chauffeur, John, awaited us at the airport with a name card and pleasant smile. The ride to the hotel took approx. 25 minutes and I appreciated John’s calm driving style, especially after seeing the driving style of other locals.


The staff welcomed us in a very friendly manner giving us a positive first impression of the resort. Check in took longer than expected (approximately 40 minutes) and concluded with the delivery of a letter containing information on restaurant hours, and an offer for a complimentary massage of 30 minutes. Hasani, a young employee walked us up to our cottage via a steep concrete ramp that was not really adapted to people with walking issues.  The entrance to our cottage was down a set of really steep stairs made of both stone and wood with several landings.

All cottages are build in a traditional Caribbean chattel style with natural dark wooden floors and private balconies as well as outdoors showers.

The view from the room overlooking the ocean is spectacular.

The ocean looks like a postcard and faces west towards the setting sun.  The room itself however, does not make the same first impression. The outdoor shower is as advertised with a sea view, very open, but still very private.

Due to problems with our air conditioning, the manager gave us the option to relocate to another room.  This is a cottage we can definitely recommend (room no. 5).  Although smaller than the Premium Plus we left, our new room left us with a completely different experience.  Entering the room, our first impression was that the room was tidy, cozy, and had a romantic feel (this was in large part due to the “towel swans” on the bed and in the bathroom, which also contained a small arrangement of Bougainvillea flowers.  The porch wraps around the room in an “L” shape and is only half covered, the other portion open to the sky leaving you with a panoramic ocean view that covers two sides of the room.  There is a small plunge pool, two deck chairs, and two loungers that provide a nice alternative and more privacy than the beach.  The cottage is rated a premium, although in my opinion it easily could pass for a premium plus.

cocos_beach_view

If you do not mind sleeping during a green tree frog concert (in a room like ours that had problems with the air-conditioning), but with the gentle sound of the ocean, you’ll enjoy the experience. The sunset and sunrise are spectacular and waking up to a view of turquoise water and endless sea is truly special.

Dinner is served on a covered deck with an ocean view on two sides.  Consistent with our experience at the reception, the staff is very friendly and attentive, quickly responding to almost all requests.  The menu is simple with three choices for the main dish (fish, meat, and pasta) as well as a series of appetizers.   Complimentary drinks include water, mixed drinks, beer, and house wine. The house red is a Merlot or Cabernet and it not of the Bodegas Forjas del Salnes and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Three champagnes round out the menu including a Bollinger Special Cuvee, Prosecco Brut Sartori and a Nicolas Feuillate Special Cuvee. The food is good, and uses local fish with small to moderate sized portions. The desert choice is good, with at least three items to choose from.

The beach is beautiful, the water clean, and there are enough loungers available for the guests, although not all of them have their own umbrella.

It is important to set your expectations correctly before you arrive in order to fully enjoy your stay at the Cocos Hotel.  If you are looking for a romantic and rustic get-away, are willing to adapt to the Carib easy going ways and do not need permanent pampering – this is the place you want to be at. You will definitely have the chance to step out of your everyday life and relax as much as you are able.  You will find yourself welcomed by friendly staff including the security.  You can choose to accept things as they are or voice any complaints to the hotel’s staff that will do their best to set things right.