Category Archives: sight seeing

Fatma Hanoum Boutique Hotel – Eastern fairy tale in Crete

The driving style of the Kriti (locals) is just one of the many surprises that await you when arriving in Crete. You will see plenty of European tourists, mostly from France or Russia, and many big hotels along the marvelous beaches. But one thing that will be special even among all of the other surprises on the island, is a little boutique hotel called Fatma Hanoum Boutique Hotel in Chania.

If you are planning to stay in Chania then the Fatma hotel is an absolute must as you really will not find anything like it in the world.
The Fatma Hanoum Boutique Hotel in the Jewish Distric Palia Poli of Chania takes you on a journey into the past.

Owners Giorgos and Marianna have managed to create a real thousand and one night fairytale with the help of local architect Dany Droianos that combines Ottoman and Venetian architecture with eastern elements including a great choice of lightning, oriental carpets, soft fabrics and high tech facilities. The concept, from the hotel’s name to the name of each of the rooms makes you feel as if you are being taken by the hand of Fatma herself into an enchanting and unique world.

The hotel, opened 3 years ago, has undergone a massive renovation. Evidence of this can be seen in the elegant entrance area, the breakfast room and the each of the 6 rooms.

Wood, stone, and glass are harmoniously combined with modern furniture and high quality products such as the i-compatible stereo, espresso machine, and the beds of Coco-Mat (natural sleep products) complete with Tempurpedic pillows. They have also included small details like essential supplies deviantly hidden in the drawers.

We stayed in the Yildiz room for the first few nights, which I personally chose because of my favorite color: green. Isolated on the second floor with it’s an own roof terrace, Yildiz is just as beautiful in reality as displayed on the hotel’s website. But then, the same could be said for all of the rooms.

Our last night (which we added after our initial booking) we stayed in the Yasmin Suite. This suite has a maisonette type room with the bed up on a mezzanine level. Like the other rooms, the wood and glass is nicely blended into the interior as well as the lighting. The only thing missing was a dedicated balcony extending out over Skoufon street. Even without the balcony, you still can admire the view through the windows and the shared roof terrace just outside the door is plenty large.

My personal favorite and the room I would book next time is the Güzel. This wide open room welcomes you in green with a small balcony overlooking the indoor patio and a walk through closet that leads to the large bathroom decorated in both green and blue with a beautiful period bathtub shielded by a glass wall.

Breakfast is served in a sunlit atrium with a beautifully placed pebble stone floor and two cozy oriental niches in the background. The buffet is set-up with a love for detail, offering local products like dakos, cheese pie, and yogurt – a certified original Greek Breakfast.

Of special note is the hostess Marianna. She really made us feel welcome and fulfilled all of our wishes. This includes everything from the morning coffee to suggestions for excellent restaurants in Chania, the surrounding mountains, or even locations as far as the most northeastern part of Crete. Her sunny and charming manner from the first moment you step into the Fatma Hotel, to the last minute, when leaving is exceptional.

Tips:

  • Book a massage with Rita
  • Eat at the  tavern Glossitses

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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.

Lisbon is like Fado…

It has multiple souls. One is serious, straightforward and dramatic like the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the discoverers, artists and monarchs, following Henry the Navigator. Another soul is light, colorful and international like the different districts of Alfama, Baixa or Bairro Alto. And there is the sad, in pain but powerful one, like the fado singers, clenching their fists against their chests, with their eyes shut, singing out their pain.

The best location to fly out and experience all these different souls of Lisbon is the historical downtown Baixa-Chiado district. This is also where our reviewed hotel is located, in the heart of Lisbon, within walking distance of Santa Justa Elevator and Rossio Square, and in decent strolling distance from Bairro Alto, the Castle of Sao Jorge or the Lisbon Cathedral.

Browns’ has decided to focus on providing a hip environment with 36 individually decorated rooms, combining simplicity, elegance, comfort and Hi-Tech featuring Mac computers with working stations, LCD TV, docking stations for Apple products and free Wi-Fi access. All rooms have kitchenettes with fridge, kettle and coffee maker and some have balconies, overlooking the Rua dos Sapateiros.
While the hotel does not offer dining amenities, there are some excellent cafès and restaurants nearby where you can experience Portuguese culture and cuisine. The staff at the front desk will be happy to recommend somewhere or help with any query you may have while at Brown’s DownTown.

7th Heaven in Venice – Settimo Cielo

Spend a couple of days in Venice, dive into the streams of people wandering the streets, but then retreat to the wonderfully refined boutique B&B located just a short walking distance away from major attractions like Saint Mark’s Square, Rialto Bridge, Palazzo Grassi, Accademia Galleries.

Hidden on the second and third floor of a private palazzo that dates back to the 13th century, two B&Bs share the same service, style of accommodation and a communal breakfast area as well as a delightful roof terrace with spectacular views across the rooftops of Venice.

delightful roof terrace with spectacular views across the rooftops of Venice

The lower floors belong to Settimo Cielo’s,  owner Paolo Battistetti, while the upper floors belong to Bloom’s, owned by Alessandra Vazzoler. The two business partners worked with a local architect to design the B&Bs tastefully, merging old with new.

At Settimo Cielo, the B&B selected, rooms are all styled differently, each featuring elegantly original and successful mix of classical Venetian style and modern design, from rich reds and purple brocades to more calming beiges and creams.

While there’s no in-house restaurant, there are lovely areas where you eat breakfast, and, best of all, the breathtaking roof terrace with great views over piazza Santo Stefano. The rooftop is accessed via a cosy lounge, whose fridge stores complimentary bottles of Prosecco – perfect accompaniment to the sunset over Venice.