Tag Archives: City break

Experience the extraordinary – the Oeschberghof in the southern Black Forrest

Extraordinary it is indeed, this jewel in the German Black Forrest. Build on its so-called 5 columns Living, Spa, Golf, Business and Event, this hotel offers something unique for any vacation wishes. No matter if you are looking for an active and sporty get-away, or just relaxation, or a surrounding, which makes creative reflection on a new business strategy possible – the Oeschberghof has it all!

It has been more than 7 years, since I first experienced the Oeschberghof myself; it was a nice gift from my mother for my birthday. She had been there before on a business trip and wanted to share the pleasant discovery with me. Nice treat, right?

Since 2008 I have become a regular visitor myself. I have given away birthday gifts to spend here, suggested the hotel for short honeymoons and brought along my best friend.

She calls this place “her own little oasis”, and is coming all the way from Italy to enjoy it.

I was contemplating for a long time, if I should actually take the Oeschberghof up in my portfolio and on my page, truly, because it is such a jewel, I didn’t want to share it with more than just my closest friends for the time being.

But now, I do believe it is time, as there is no comparable place for wellness and relax I have found in Europe so far.

Not even a one and a half hours drive from Zurich, the Oeschberghof lays close to Donaueschingen, the home of the Danube river well. It is fairly isolated though, which makes it perfect of course for the golf lovers who can currently play on 3×9 holes courses. The driving range offers 40 exercising spots, 10 of which are covered, as well as pitching and chipping surfaces and 2 putting greens to improve the short plays. There is also a 3-hole academy for beginners and the NGO association “Golffreunde Öschberghof” aims at making Golf accessible to children and youngsters to experience nature and develop concentration skills and stamina. Currently there are more than 100 young talents active.

The own Oeschberghof Golf Academy is one of 6 competitive golf-sports bases in Baden Württemberg. Even during winter time, the PGA Academy offers training possibilities in the indoor golf center or via the organized golf training trips. In case you are planning to obtain your “Platzerlaubnis” (licence to play on German courses), you can get it in only 5 days.

By 2017 there will be 2 additional 9 hole tracks and the driving range will also go through some enlargement and optimization by then.

Besides the golfing experience, there are two soccer fields available, not only frequented by amateurs. I have seen that the teams of FC Schalke 04, Werder Bremen, VfB Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt have conducted their training camps here over the last years.

But golfing and soccer are definitely not the only reason you would come here. As secluded from noise, traffic and large crowds, the area around the Oeschberhof is also perfect for bike tours, hikes or simply enjoying nature.

However, personally once I have entered the main building area I will rarely leave it again. Why? – Two major reasons: the Spa and the Cuisine!

The spa of the hotel Oeschberghof is best described as 2500 square meters of “arrival, strengthening, relaxation and toning.” It deserves the name Dynamic Spa, developed together with the European Wellness Institute to strengthen body, mind and soul. This includes a large variety of treatments with la prairie, Horst Kirchberger or Ligne St. Barth products, as well as peelings, baths, wraps or massages. I have been pampered with Lomo-Lomi-Nui, Aroma, Hamam and Abhyanga massages so far and I couldn’t decide which the better, as they are all fantastic. Of course it is also the therapist that makes them special and I am strongly recommending Mrs. Lohr, as she has been my first choice over the last two years. All staff is excellent, but taste and needs are individual and therefore I guess you need to find your favorite therapist as well.

The beauty treatments are also very exquisite, and I was so glad to see that some of the staff have been there for years, specifically Ms. Zimmermann and Mrs. Lohr. This to me is a rather positive sign of a good working environment, which translates into the excellent service provided towards the customers.

Besides the spa treatments the wellness area also provides a 25×12.5m indoor swimming pool with Grander water, a sauna choice of 60 and 90 degrees, a steam bath, a laconium, Kneipp foot baths, holistic shower experiences as well as a snow iglu and a blockhouse sauna on the roof of the building.

There is also a Spa suite/ ladies spa including an infrared 50 degrees sauna, a sole steam bath and a Hamam with a own Hamam whirl bath.

From 12 am to 6pm you can help yourself at the Vital Bar with a choice of salads, deserts and snacks as well as drinks and coffee. One can relax on waterbeds, heat beds and hot stone loungers.

The gym offers a good choice of treadmills, cross trainers, bike ergometers and a power plate besides the kinesiswall. Courses like Aqua Fitness, Yoga etc. are being conducted daily, either in the dedicated course room on the sports terrace or the swimming pool area.

As I have come to know, there will be lots of changes and enlargements in the spa and fitness area starting in May 2016. The resort will stay open though and you might want to check for the variety of alternative offers. By the way, I can spill some of the new beans: there will be an infinity pool after the conversion.

The cuisine at the Öschberghof deserves a real thumbs up. Start with an aperitif at the Fair-Way bar or the Cheminée lounge before you have decided to dine at either the hotel restaurant, the restaurant Hexenweiher or the Övent hut.

The choice is between the romantic hotel restaurant, overlooking the golf course, serving a variety of fish, meat or vegetarian dishes, then the dolce vita experience at the Italian style Hexenweiher or the charming and naturalistic location of the Övent hut with a large outdoor deck and an interior that reminds me of a traditional hunter’s hut with lots of style. The Övent hut is also available to be booked for festivities and offers special events like “Weisswurst Breakfast”, Cigar nights, wine tastings, torch hikes etc.

Next to the main restaurant you will find an elegant vinoteque, some of the wine bottles on display are from 1955, the choice is immense either way. The two sommeliers can help you select the right wine from more than 450 local and international top quality wines.

After dinner, if you do like to enjoy an Absackerl (nightcap) accompanied by a cigar, the fireplace lounge is your place. More than 50 different cigars and cigarillos are available in the walk in humidor.

Concerning accommodation, the hotel offers 73 rooms, either in the main house or for pet lovers in the Dependance (the building is separately located between Golf course, parking and hotel). The rooms are 32 up to 48 square meters large. Rooms can also be connected for up to 6 persons with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.

Most of the rooms have a balcony or a terrace and are equipped with high standard bathrooms, LCD flat screens including cable and Sky TV as well as bathrobes and the most comfortable slippers I have ever used in a hotel. Wi-Fi is available for free in the whole hotel.

In case you do not bring your pet and want to use the wellness in winter, I am recommending you book a room in the main house. This way, you won’t have to walk between the houses with your slippers and bathrobe when it’s chilly outside.

For business events the Oeschberghof offers a decent amount of 9 rooms varying in size between16 square meters up to 282 square meters. One room even has an access for cars to be driven in, in case you are planning to present your prototype or similar. A team of over 5 people is supporting business events, it seems like there are no limits to what you can get. This includes modern technology, full and all day service and high quality catering.

I still hurt a bit to give away this secret bijou… All in all, should you choose to visit the Oeschberghof assure you that you will have an unforgettable stay! I hope you will cherish it just as much as I do…

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.

Axalp – runaway from the city

If you manage to survive the ride up from Brienz to Axalp, without knocking yourself out in one of the hairpin curves and hitting a cow or a hiker, you will be greeted by an open view of beautiful scenery.

The Chalet Alphüsli is setback from the main road leading up to the ski lifts. In winter, the house is basically on the slopes themselves. The owner, Sven Sonderegger from Basel is offering a newly built wooden chalet, ideal for families or friends wanting to spend some quiet time skiing (it is a small resort, one chairlift and three t-bow lifts, ideal for beginners and families) or hiking along the Schnitzerlweg to the Hinterburgseeli.

The chalet is modern, combining steel and wood, open and light. It is not overloaded, which makes the rather small inside comfortable. It offers 6 beds in two rooms on the second floor (one double room and a room furnished with a 4 person bunk bed) with the only drawback being space enough for luggage.

The living area and kitchen are open and surrounded by windows on three sides. There is a Swedish stove with a glass window including wood for your use and a door that opens to a stone patio and bbq area. In the corner a circular staircase leads directly from the living room upstairs to the bedrooms and the bathroom. The bathroom has a bathtub and a nice simple washing stand made out of wood. In the small entrance area, you can hang clothes, place boots and there is the door to a second separate little toilette.

The kitchen is equipped with all the basics (cups, plates, pans, etc.) and even includes a dishwasher, Nespresso coffee machine, Fondue and Raclette tools. Make sure you bring your own dishwashing liquid, sponge and kitchen towels with you.

For the evenings or rainy days you will find games, Sat-TV, WiFi access, Mac Mini, Blu-ray Player and some DVDs to watch.

One word of caution if you want to relax in the fall is to be sure that the Swiss Air Force is not conducting their annual air force live fire event in October. If so, you may be in for some loud training runs. Between 8:00-12:00 and 14:00-16:30 you will be surrounded by the ear battering noise of F/A-18s and Tiger Jets, that make you feel that the end of the world is near, especially when caught right in the rear-fired boiler at the lake Hinterburgseeli. Luckily for those seeking silence, the Swiss Air force is celebrating its centennial in 2014 and the live fire event will be held in Payerne on 30.-31.08. and 6.-7.09. So, in case you planned to go close to Payerne, cancel that, and go to Axalp.

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.