CELLOPHANELAND* unwraps the best of Arts & Culture, Food, Health & Beauty, and Travel with its exclusive sneak previews, expert recommendations and insider tips. Dedicated to informing, engaging and inspiring its audience, whilst giving access to the brightest cultural minds.
For us the biggest selling point of any ski hotel has to be a ‘ski-in ski-out’ location, and when the local area also happens to be one of the largest linked ski regions in the country then we are most definitely sold. We were very excited indeed to visit the Gartenhotel Theresia in Salzburgerland Austria. It has the fortune to lie directly on the slopes of the Saalbach ‘Ski Circus’, a linked system of 275km of piste.
Recently Fieberbrunn has been linked to the ‘Circus’ adding a good chunk of very interesting and impressive ski country. Much of this is across a series of deep rocky valleys which adds some welcome extreme terrain and big mountain skiing to the tree-lined pistes of the Saalbach – Hinterglemm – Leogang axis. If the skiing ever gets too much then there is a remarkable selection of traditional mountain restaurants in which to take a well-earned break.
It is hard to see how any level of skier would not be comfortably satisfied with whats on offer – from gentle beginners slopes, through almost unlimited gladed cruising, to open slopes of inviting powder. From the heart of the region a long piste, right from the mountaintop, leads you back to the hotel door.
Just outside the Gartenhotel Theresia you can also fit your self up with equipment, as well as any ski lessons or guides that may be required, through SkiLL. This is an impressively slick and modern rental shop and ski school, affiliated with the hotel and located just a few steps away at the bottom of the Mitteregg Lift.
We flew in to the nearby Salzburg airport having pre-booked a pick up from Holiday Shuttle – a local company who offer an excellent value and efficient airport transfer service to a number of Salzburgerland resorts – and in little over an hour we were already unloading our bags at Hotel Theresia.
Adjacent to the rushing Saalach river the building is in a traditional chalet-style. Its fifty-odd rooms are bright and fresh, come with wooden floors and comfortable Austrian-style beds (two mattresses and sets of bedding on one king frame). Cable TV, free minibars (soft drinks) and bathrobes are standard.
The public areas are similarly modern and stylish with plenty of bright contemporary art and nods to tradition via plenty of wood and stone, leather seats and cow-print fabrics.
The hotel is very much a family affair, with the Brettermeiers having owned the property for three generations. We were greeted by the current owner Marianne, who explained the property’s rich history. The hotel is actually named after her grandmother, who was by all accounts, a formidable woman. Starting as a self-employed herdsman she very slowly scrimped and saved enough money to buy a small plot of land, with her dream to open her own guesthouse eventually coming to fruition in 1955.
This background in local produce and a sustainable resources inspired the family to create the first organically certified ‘Bio’ hotel in the region. As one would therefore expect the catering here is very special indeed and its quality has been recognised in top food guides like Gault Millau.
We start the day with an excellent breakfast buffet of certified organic, regional, wholefood and low-fat products. We stayed up the mountain at lunch times but you can also return to enjoy a fine buffet at the hotel. Apres ski there are plenty of cakes, ice-cream, hot soup and snacks.
Evenings we felt privileged with an immaculately presented 5-course gourmet menu that always included vegetarian and regional choices. Starters included smoked salmon with roast potatoes, celery and yoghurt followed by an intensely flavoured soup.
A main dish might be perfectly cooked monkfish accompanied by belly bacon, cucumber, risotto and nigritella. Elaborate deserts such as honey crème brûlée with tamarillo, strawberry and nougat were other highlights whilst a fresh salad and raw food buffet plus a selection of Salzburg cheeses were also available.
All these food choice may seem rather excessive but the cuisine at the Theresia is created with such a fine hand that it never felt overwhelming. Dishes were created with clear precise flavours, presented with remarkable precision and cleared with impressive efficiency – we always felt healthy and satisfied, ready to relax at the bar or in front of the roaring log fire in the lounge.
As if a lovely hotel in a great location with gourmet food was not already enough, the Mountain Green spa is yet another impressive feature, with a good-sized indoor pool, saunas, steam baths and full selection of treatments and massages. All treatments are accompanied by exclusive use of eco-certified cosmetics by Annemarie Börlind. Outside in the steaming heated pool you can enjoy wonderful snowy mountain views whilst luxuriating in the waterfalls and bubble jets.
Our visit was of course in the winter, but a whole world of other outdoor activities and mountain scenery tempts us to return for an Alpine summer holiday – hopefully something we can enjoy another time!
Not too long ago a night at an English pub was something to be studiously avoided. Most likely it would mean being consigned to a stuffy room up a back staircase, and a breakfast at a pub table with a whiff of stale beer.
Things are now hugely improved with regular openings of stylishly refurbished properties offering fine dining and impeccable facilities. An example of one of the very best is the Cow at Dalbury Lees, one of a handful of impressive properties from Berkeley Inns. This small chain offers exquisite boutique accommodation in and around the Derbyshire Peak District.
The white-painted Cow at Dalbury, sitting on the village green, only opened its doors just over a year ago, but retains the atmosphere of a real ‘local’. It is a big compliment to say that such a recent conversion has created a homely and cosy spot where everyone, local or tourist, will immediately feel at home.
Under atmospheric lighting, there are mis-matched scrubbed wooden tables and old chairs whilst crackling log fires burn at either end of the main room. Vintage pictures and mirrors are grouped on the walls, and nods to the bovine theme are provided by touches like milk churn bar stools.
Upstairs the twelve bedrooms are all spectacular, and could grace any 5* hotel. A feel for the Dales and the country setting is provided by plenty of traditional materials with walls of rough-hewn planks or stone supporting the historic beams. Our own room had darker woods and fabrics but some others are in a paler ‘New England’ or even more gothic Victorian style.
There are cast iron radiators, solid wood doors and wooden floors whilst lamps may be industrial style metal or polished copper. Generous heavyweight curtains accompany real wool throws that lie over comfy beds fitted with Egyptian cotton.
Bathrooms are equally extravagant and stylish with stone tiled walls and black basalt basins that sit on chunky solid wood cabinets. Rooms have rainforest showers, deep baths, or sometimes both. Classy Molton Brown products, heavyweight towels and monogrammed robes complete a luxurious picture.
The inclusive breakfast is from a modest buffet with an interesting range of cooked extras like poached Finnan haddock or eggs florentine.
Lunch and evenings, the menu is modest and mostly oriented towards casual dining. Organised around snack plates, larger sharing plates and flatbreads, there are well-priced choices like turkey & cranberry sausage rolls, potato scones with wilted spinach & poached egg or butternut & blue cheese gnocchi.
This is better than average pub grub, intentionally informal due to the relatively small number of tables available. The fine dining option is however catered for by another Berkeley Inn, The Horsehoes, handily located nearby in Long Lane Village. Cow at Dalbury‘s own ‘London’ taxi conveniently provides the transport.
It goes without saying that this is a perfect spot from which to explore the glorious countryside of the Peak District, and the historic houses like Chatsworth. Then again you may just find yourself venturing out from the cosy firesides at the Cow at Dalbury somewhat less than expected.
Copenhagen is a place of hugely varied appeal. It is a richly historic city packed with architectural gems with, at its heart, the worlds longest shopping street. Proud to be green there is always open space by parks or water – it is criss-crossed by canals and on the shores of Oresund and probably the most bike friendly city in the world.
Arts culture and theatre are everywhere whilst the Little Mermaid statue marks the city as a home of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales – a legacy that led to the formation of the Tivoli Gardens and inspired Disney and much of todays popular culture.
To CELLOPHANELAND* however it is its position as a capital of design that draws to the city, and where else to stay than at a property from the portfolio of the excellent Design Hotels Group, The Nobis Hotel Copenhagen?
Housed in the historic former Royal Danish Conservatory of Music starchitect Gert Wingårdh has transformed the classical building into a cutting-edge luxury hotel. Period features such as ornamental mouldings and grand marble staircase have been augmented by contemporary twists.
It is a hotel where attention is everywhere drawn towards the fabulous design. The reception desk is a stark concrete block, whilst the central stairwell is occupied by a cascading modern chandelier that falls the height of the building.
A lounge area features pale leather chairs, navy blue flooring and clever designer lighting. The adjacent dining area has the same colour scheme with pale wood tables and stylish pendent lighting. Some walls are completely mirrored, whilst others, looking over a courtyard, are glass. The illusion is of a room that seems to extend almost forever.
If you can draw your eyes from the decor the dining is equally impressive with top quality cuisine always an important aspect at Nobis Hotels. Stylish and healthy breakfasts are served at Restaurant NOI where in the evenings it is Modern Nordic cuisine on offer, with their eight course tasting menu the ideal pick.
Otherwise a la carte choices include a Piri Piri with red prawns, chili, garlic & parsley with seared tuna, chimichurri and Nobis dressing or a perfectly cooked lemon sole with beurre blanc and grilled lemon to follow.
Bedrooms have high-ceilings that give a feeling of space to even the smaller ‘Superior’ rooms. Dark navy walls are offset by natural leather stools, wood parquet floors and woven rattan chairs. Beds are dark metallic ‘cubes’ with Duxiana mattresses.
The bathrooms are clad in stunning white and black patterned Italian marble, chrome and steel with rainhead showers or freestanding baths and Byredo toiletries.
Downstairs is a small gym and a suitably stylish spa room with two saunas, showers, a hot stone, cold water pool and treatment table.
Entering the grounds of the Titanic Hotel is rather like arriving at an imposing Victorian prison. Castellated turrets resembling giant chess pieces guard the entrance and exit of a large cobbled courtyard that lies before a formidable looking redbrick building.
Some five stories high and once a rum warehouse the building sits alongside Stanley dock. Facing it from the opposite side of the dock is the similarly huge Tobacco warehouse that is now, inevitably, being developed in to luxury flats.
This is the heart of the Stanley Dock conservation area, the latest region of the city slated for regeneration and development. Although sitting a couple of miles from the city centre and Albert Dock, what the hotel loses in convenience it gains in space.
Where hotels in the central part of the city have modestly sized rooms and comparatively limited public space, the Titanic Hotel interiors are vast, open and airy.
Entering the property under a suitably industrial steel sign, the building’s industrial heritage is clear to see. Solid iron columns and girders rise from dark wood floors to support the high vaulted brick ceilings.
The designers have carefully added to this with solid furnishings, leather chairs and industrial style light fittings. An open plan reception morphs in to a lounge and Stanley’s Bar & Grill. Sadly the menu offerings are somewhat overpriced, fairly unremarkable and lack imagination. Those less keen on standard meat-oriented meals should note that there are hardly any alternative diet or vegetarian options at all.
The lounge and bar atmosphere however are good, and those seeking fresh air can spill out on to a spectacular and long terrace that overlooks the docks. Breakfasts, taken in the Stanley Grill are from a very generous and good quality buffet but they disappoint with an extra charge for cappuccino or latte.
Also disappointing is the fact that the pool facilities are only accessible with yet another extra charge. For a brief morning swim it costs £40 for two people to have a dip – a minus point in an otherwise excellent stay.
The pool is part of the subterranean Maya Blue spa which also has treatment rooms, a hydrotherapy pool, sauna and steam room and relaxation lounge, all attractively set under the same brick vaulted ceilings.
Whilst the dining and pool facilities disappoint, the rooms more than compensate. The smallest start at a vast 56m2, more than many good sized local apartments and are truly spectacular value for money.
With the ultra cool style of a Manhattan loft or Wapping warehouse there is exposed brick, original vaulted ceilings (in many rooms) and a tasteful colour palette. Pale grey walls are countered with flashes of blue, leather and mid-tone wood. Angle-poise style lamps are mounted beside the beds and large prints of historic dockyard scenes of ships designs grace the walls.
Bathrooms are similarly generous in size, stylish fitted and well stocked with white fluffy towels. The rooms have all the usual extras in the way of Nespresso machines, safes and so on as well as plenty of extra seating and desk space to use up the excess footage. The best views are from those rooms that face the hulking Tobacco Warehouse nearby.
With a name that nods to the Liverpool connections of the notorious liner – this is a big, bold and brave hotel. Once the extra charges are considered, the Titanic Hotel provides a spectacular and unique stay.
Over the years, Mykonos has become synonymous with the ultimate luxury Greek island experience. It first became a playground for the international jet set back in the 1960s when Aristotle and Jackie Onassis were regular visitors. Since then it has become famous for its VIP shopping, nightclubs, and parties, but if you look more closely, you can still find the true, authentic Mykonos behind the glitz and glamour.
With this authenticity in mind, a local man, George Daktylides, began the Myconian Collection back in 1979. The collection now comprises nine luxury hotels and villas. More than forty years later, his sons, the Daktylides brothers, took over the reins of what remains a true family business.
We chose to stay at The Myconian Utopia Relais & Chateaux located 300 metres above Elia beach. Elia is the longest fine sand beach on the island, famed for its natural beauty, crystal clear waters and sophisticated atmosphere. The Utopia has its own private beach section with sunbeds and umbrellas as well as a convenient beach bar service for beverages, smoothies and snacks.
The Myconian Utopia Relais & Chateaux artfully marries the natural beauty of its location with a sense of contemporary opulence. The devil really is in the detail here. Locally quarried, hand-cut stone and sustainable materials provide a rustic, authentic backdrop to the luxurious rooms and suites, appointed with iconic design pieces and furnishings in what culminates in ultra glamorous interiors. It’s the kind of design where you really do want to enquire about every single object, from the light fitting to the bathroom sink.
The Pavilion Relais & Chateaux restaurant has a refined ambience of casual sophistication with lots to tempt on the Mediterranean-inspired menu, set against an unforgettable backdrop of magical framed sea views. It’s the perfect place to watch the ever changing symphony of colours that make up the sunsets every night.
The The Myconian Utopia Relais & Chateaux as a whole pride themselves on their dedication to giving back to the island wherever possible. They have begun various environmental conservation initiatives which include local sourcing and consistent support to the Cycladic communities: all waste is recycled, and worn linen is donated to old age homes, prisons and monasteries.
But as the two sides of the island do co-exist, and Mykonos is a shopper’s paradise, we couldn’t forget to mention the The Myconian Utopia Relais & Chateaux boutique at the hotel which is part perfume bar, part concept store. The perfume bar offers an exquisite collection of candles and perfumes from a variety of brands including Fornasetti, Maison Bereto and Lalique. The concept store stocks sunglasses from Pawaka and Vibe and men’s fashion from Army of Me.
This collection of hotels and villas is for discerning travellers who are looking for genuine quality, high end luxury, but also warmth and exemplary customer service, combined with authenticity.
Any regular visitor to Bristol will know that the only place to stay is as close as possible to the harbourside. This is an attractive and vibrant area, now largely pedestrianised, where luxury flats sit comfortably alongside converted warehouses and workshops.
The same visitor will also be well aware that there a distinct lack of hotels in this self-same area. Fortunately The Bristol Hotel is one of the few that has managed to secure a spot in this desirable spot, sitting a next door to the Arnolfini, opposite the Watershed and a short stroll to a host of dining and drinking options.
We were initially drawn to the Bristol following our stay in The Dupont Circle in Washington DC (see our review here), one of the Doyle Collection’s US hotels. We enjoyed a wonderful stay that was accompanied by the Doyle speciality, a high quality level of service with a super-friendly attitude.
We looked forward to the same level of can-do service in Bristol and weren’t disappointed. Right from our greeting at the kerbside to breakfast service every member of staff was exceptionally welcoming, professional and cheerful.
There are many Bristol Hotels worldwide, mostly named after the notoriously demanding 18th century globetrotter, Frederick Hervey, Earl of Bristol. This particular Hotel Bristol is an exception, naturally named after the city, and rather than being housed in a grand historic building, it’s home is an austere Brutalist concrete edifice.
It’s a landmark that splits local opinion, but once through the door everyone will appreciate the calm and classy atmosphere. There are no overly fancy touches, bright colours or edgy lighting.
Cutting edge design is eschewed for modest tones of brown, maroon and grey. There are marble tiled floors, cream leather, dark woods and subtle lighting. It is elegant and businesslike.
The same themes extend to the rooms which also have plush carpets and rich fabrics. The big beds are wonderfully comfortable with duck-down duvets and plush bedspreads. The bathrooms are suitably smart with Temple toiletries. Upgrade to the harbour view rooms for more space and the best views.
The River Grille (why the ‘e’?) serves modern English bistro food and is located adjacent to the waterfront, making the most of the fine view with lofty ceilings and huge picture windows. There is outdoor seating when weather allows.
We tried the delicious new season asparagus with poached egg and parmesan shavings followed by cod fillet which came perfectly cooked together with warm new potato and crab salad and a lemon aioli dressing.
We also enjoyed the Friday night jazz piano that accompanied the meal, Saturday a jazz band takes over. A substantial and good quality breakfast buffet is also served here with plenty of choice and nice extras. Lighter meals can be taken in the Shore Café Bar, whilst the hotel also has its own juicery.
When it was time to check out we stored our bags with the concierge and stepped out of the waterfront door. Outside we crossed the distinctive Pero’s footbridge, named in honour of a 17th century slave, and enjoyed a delightful stroll along the waterfront. A perfect end to a perfect stay.
The 1988 cult classic The Big Blue directed by Luc Besson, is regarded as one of the most visually stunning films ever made, mostly due to the natural beauty of Amorgos where much of the filming took place. Re-watching the film recently spurred us in to action – we just had to go and see this remarkable island for ourselves!
We expected that reaching its relatively remote location might be quite an arduous process, but this actually turned to be relatively easy. By taking a direct flight to Mykonos (where we added a few days stay here to enjoy the island – see our previous stay at Grecophilia Suites) we were able to link painlessly with a daily high speed catamaran (Seajets.gr).
In just a little over two hours we were climbing through the rugged mountains of Amorgos towards the islands only luxury property – the fabulous Aegialis Hotel & Spa. The half hour drive from the harbour allowed us to take in the scenic wonders of Amorgos which, despite being only about 20 miles long and just a mile or two wide, was extraordinarily mountainous, with peaks approaching a thousand metres.
The spine of the island is a sinuous, high altitude ridge that affords spectacular sea views and its easy to see why this is a top attraction for hikers. A few pretty whitewashed villages cling to the slopes whilst the remainder of the craggy land is occupied by some twenty-five thousand goats, many of which happily use the island’s single main road as a useful path.
The rugged cliffs that lined the coast way below us are punctuated by enough sandy bays and gravel coves to keep beach lovers more than happy. The Aegialis Hotel sits above the best of these – Aegiali/Ornos beach, a wonderful broad arc of golden sand with shallow aquamarine water.
Upon arrival at the hotel the overwhelming impression is of space. Its hillside location allows all the public areas, pool, restaurants and rooms to all enjoy the remarkable panoramic view. Immediately you know that you are in a place that is perfect for a peaceful and deeply relaxing stay.
The rooms and suites are all within a few minutes stroll of both the central reception and lounge areas and the pool below. Located in whitewashed single storey buildings and surrounded by colourful gardens they vary from relatively simple ‘superior’ rooms through many different styles and sizes up to large family and honeymoon suites including some with private jacuzzi.
Whilst all are comfortable, quiet and stylish the main attraction are undoubtedly their private terraces and expansive views.
All rooms have free access to the biggest thalassotherapy spa in the Cyclades with sauna, hammam, jacuzzi, sea water indoor swimming pool and fitness center. We recommend taking advantage Miriam’s excellent free yoga classes that takes place twice daily.
The hotel often plays host to yoga retreats and as would be expected this means that dining options are excellent. Although a la carte is available, the buffet is spectacular and always provides a wide range of healthy eating and vegetarian options.
Locally the hotel shuttle runs to the Nissi beach bar where towels and comfy loungers are included. Here there are a handful of tavernas, a small adjacent harbour. A short walk or shuttle inland are a series of pretty villages well worth the excursion.
Around the island there is plenty more with the stunning Hozoviotissa Monastery and the wreck of the Olympia, that both feature in The Big Blue, must-see attractions. Walking tours are plentiful and recommended and diving is of course on offer.
Finally, don’t depart without trying the local Amorgan produce. Instantly noticeable in Amorgos is a powerful aromatic scent that drifts in on the warm breeze. The island is well known for the quality and strength of herbs such as chamomile, marjoram, sage, thyme and rosemary. The delicious Amorgan honey reflects these flavours as done the ubiquitous Psimeni raki – a powerful local digestif often proffered after local taverna meals. Beware – drink too much and you may never leave!
If only the biggest and best resorts of the French Alps were much closer to Geneva. This is surely a recurring dream for anyone making the tedious haul up busy roads to the big names of the Tarentaise – resorts like Meribel, Val D’Isere and La Plagne. If only there was top quality skiing to be had at resorts that were so much closer…
You will not be surprised of course that I am now going to reveal that dreams can indeed come true. Located in the heart of the Haute-Savoie between Annecy and Chamonix, around an hour from Geneva Airport, lies the Massif des Aravis, home to Le Grand Bornand and La Clusaz.
These are the biggest resorts of the Aravis and although they are not linked, it is just a short drive between the two. Between them are almost fifty ski lifts and some 215 kilometres of varied and attractive slopes.
This is a scenic region that features much of its skiing either through pine forests or just above the tree line. The pistes are particularly pretty with a varied mix of open slopes, gladed cruisers and gentle terrain that will ideally most skiers. Even those seeking the steeps and deeps will find more than they expect in the way of tougher terrain and off piste routes. There is even an array of walking paths for those who choose not to ski.
Le Grand Bornand resort too is suitably picturesque, and here we get double value from two separate village centres. The heart of the main town is dominated by the attractive neo-gothic church either side of which runs a traditional style main street with plenty of small bars, restaurants and pretty shops with local produce and hand made crafts.
Meanwhile, just a few kilometres up the road is Chinaillon, a smaller satellite village, also linked directly in to the ski system, with the same mix of dining and shopping plus an adjacent ‘old road’ of historic wooden homes.
This is not a resort of swanky hotels, exclusive apartments or luxury chalets. Visitors come here to soak up the local style and atmosphere and enjoy the mountains – be it summer or winter. Cafes sit around the village squares and after perusing the shops a pleasing variety of restaurant styles allow dining from traditional Savoyard, through the inevitable Pizzas to perhaps fine cuisine.
The majority of buildings here are chalet style, scattered over the hills around the village centres. We selected Le Delta Hotel – a modest size property with the appearance of a large chalet, just a five minute stroll from the church square. With only nineteen rooms it is cosy and modern alpine in style, with plenty of wood beams and local stone.
It is conservatively graded at 3 stars, and with the extended facilities of a larger hotel would inevitably be a little more. Even so the hotel punches over its weight in extra facilities. There is a small ski shop handily attached to the front lobby, a breakfast area where the excellent and nicely varied buffet is taken and a small lounge books and games and comfy sofas around a log fire.
Last but not least there is a spa area with sauna, steam, relaxation area and an outdoor jacuzzi with fabulous views along the valley.
The atmospherically lit bedrooms have wood panelled walls, very comfortable beds, solid locally made wooden furniture and a palette of blues, grey and cream for the floors, fabrics and accessories. Bathrooms are slick and modern with stone coloured tiles, wood and chrome.
I would be exaggerating to say this is ‘off the beaten track’ as this is a popular French resort with top rank facilities. The real charm lays in the feeling that we had stumbled across a little secret resort. It is friendly, traditional, relaxed and scenic – definitely a place that we will be back to before too long. Just don’t tell anyone else!
We have always thought that the best airport arrival is at Venice Marco Polo. A few moments out of the terminal and you are on spectacularly scenic water taxi ride across the lagoon. Well what do you know? We have just discovered that pretty much the same experience is available at Boston Logan International Airport.
Just a brief (and free) shuttle bus ride from the terminal takes you directly to the water taxi stop. From here its just a few dollars and a ten minute hop across the harbour to the city centre – with some wonderful skyline views along the way.
Combine this spectacular start to your visit with a stay at the Boston Harbour Hotel and your trip could hardly have a better start. The taxi cruises right up to the hotel door where a hotel bellboy will be waiting to take your bags to your room.
Airport convenience is not the only reason to stay at the Boston Harbour, it is great 5* hotel too. Leisure travellers will appreciate the stunning waterfront location as well as the fact that it is an easy walk to all of the city centre attractions via the Rose Kennedy Greenway park. An enjoyable and easy stroll on the Harbor Walk takes you either to the New England Aquarium and the North End or towards the Institute of Contemporary Arts.There is an indoor pool and spa, two great restaurants – the award-winning fine dining of the Meritage restaurant plus the waterfront Rowes Wharf Sea Grille.
Business guests will also find themselves just yards from Bostons business district in a hotel which also seems to overloaded with top level meeting, conference and event facilities – we understand The Boston Harbour Hotel is one of the best in a city with many great commercial hotels.
From June to August there is the bonus of live waterfront entertainment and al fresco dining at the hotel’s own Summer in the City series. We enjoyed dinner whilst simultaneously watching sunset over the harbour and some great live musicians on a stage floating a few yards offshore.
The rooms and suites face either city or harbour – views over the water are of course the preferred choice. Pick a Deluxe, Premier or Suite for extra space and more windows and ask for a room on an upper floor to make the most of them.
The decor is classy and understated with plenty of marine blue, grey and cream. There is no fancy design – the main attraction here is the expansive view from the big picture windows.
The beds are exquisitely comfortable and the extensive facilities include smart TV’s, an in-Room tablet, illy Coffee Machine and complimentary Wi-Fi.
Bathrooms are impressive with lots of marble, rainforest showers, baths and Lorenzo Villoresi products.
We did not want to leave of course, but a cocktail on the waterfront awaiting the water taxi and a picturesque ten minute cruise straight to the airport softened the blow an awful lot!
As we take in the mightily impressive views from the top of Helen’s Tower we discover why the great poet was inspired to write his poem. An impressive 360 degree panorama encompasses the city of Belfast, the green hills of county Down, Belfast Lough and, on a clear day, the coast of Scotland.
Surrounding us is the woodland of Lord Dufferin’s Clandeboye Estate with, in the middle distance, the main house, a sometime wedding venue. Van Morrison, one of the city’s most famous sons, is a regular visitor – his music rising rising above the courtyard where he sometimes rehearses.
Fortunately it is not just the likes of Lords and Ladies – and Van Morrison – who are able to enjoy the views from the grade A listed Tower. Having been restored in the 1980s it is now a holiday let managed by the Irish Landmark Trust.
This magical three storey stone tower is nestled so deep in the woods that we have to arrange to meet the Tower’s manager in advance. Our car is then escorted along pretty country lanes before turning on to gated farm tracks and along a winding dirt track that climbs through the hills. After about 15 minutes we arrive at the tower on the peak of a wooded hill. In a small clearing stands Helen’s Tower – a perfect fairytale stone tower complete with battlements and turrets.
Appropriately an old fashioned key and iron handle open the huge creaky door. It perhaps goes without saying that the living accommodation is arranged vertically. On the ground floor is a cosy wood panelled double bedroom with an ensuite bathroom with hip bath.
A spiral stone staircase leads up to a well equipped kitchen with a dining table but it is the next two levels where the very special atmosphere of the tower becomes evident. The decor is in Gothic Revival style, the lounge with original wood panelling, an ornate painted ceiling, antique furnishings and a vintage sofa in front of a log fire.
Up one more level is a similar ornate octagonal panelled room set with poems from the likes of Browning, Tennyson and Kipling engraved on metal plates. Above is the roof terrace with its stunning views. There are a table and chairs making this an idyllic spot for a sundowner followed by dinner under the stars.
This is an idyllic and peaceful spot to really get away from it all. Nights are completely silent, disturbed only by the occasional owl hoot – we were lucky to observe a short-eared owl as it sat outside our window one night, oblivious to our presence.
Helen’s Tower was built in 1848 by Frederick Lord Dufferin in honour of his mother Helen Selina Blackwood. Designed by architect William Burn it had a dual purpose. The area had been affected by the Great Famine, resulting in widespread poverty, and the construction was done in part with the objective to provide employment to local people.
Visitors can enjoy the walking routes that pass the door including the Clandeboye Way whilst the airport and Belfast city centre, with attractions like the hugely impressive Titanic Belfast, are less than half an hour away.
The full version of Helen’s Tower (1860) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Helen’s Tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land.
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Mother’s love in letter’d gold.
Love is in and out of time,
I am mortal stone and lime.
Would my granite girth were strong
As either love, to last as long
I should wear my crown entire
To and thro’ the Doomsday fire,
And be found of angel eyes
In earth’s recurring Paradise