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The old adage is that Dutch people work in Rotterdam, play in Amsterdam and live in The Hague. We had never visited the Hague before and it was not long before we realised why it would be such a great place to call home. Missing the dreadful packed streets, tacky bars and souvenir shops of Amsterdam and the industry of Rotterdam, this is a city rich in history and culture without their busy intensity.
At the heart of the city is the Binnenhof Royal Palace reflected in the Hofvijver, a scenic lake decorated by swans and waterfowl. You can freely stroll through its courtyards before dropping in to the adjacent, small but perfectly formed, Mauritshuis a 17th-century nobleman’s town house. With its dozens of Rembrandts and Vermeers, Steens and Holbeins, the Mauritshuis is one of the world’s great small museums, and includes Vermeer’s Girl With the Pearl Earring in its collection. For modern art try the Gemeentemuseum for an unparalleled selection of Mondrians and more.
The remaining City centre streets are largely pedestrian and a short walk from the palace brings you to a most of the city centre attractions. Perhaps try good-value bistros and browse the quirky fashion shops or designer antique emporiums of the old Hofkwartier or the historic old streets of Willemspark.
You can take a lazy bike ride along cycle lanes all the way to the seaside suburb of Scheveningen – a sort of small-scale Dutch Brighton – for Sunday brunch in a revamped beach pavilion.
You can also experience the coast without going that far – the Panorama Mesdag is a huge – and hugely impressive – cylindrical landscape painting from 1881 of the beach and fledgling resort at Scheveningen displayed in a purpose built round building. You can almost feel the sea breeze.
In such a delightful historic environment there is really on one place to stay. The Hotel Des Indes is a Belle Époque style gem that some ten years or so ago was revamped by the French interior designer Jacques Garcia (of Hotel Costes, Paris fame) in a playfully sumptuous style.
Formerly Baron van Brienen’s town residence, complete with rotunda and sparkling chandeliers, Garcia has brought red silks and purple velvet to the bar and hand painted tulip murals to the halls.
Hotel Des Indes Bedrooms classily add rich fabrics and colours like dark maroon to a background of cream walls and black wood.
Bathrooms are similarly decadent with purple walls, marble sinks carved from solid blocks of stone, hand painted tiles and black slate floors. There are luxurious beds, quality bath robes and toiletries, Nespresso machines, huge TV’s in very spacious rooms that also seem to have perfect soundproofing.
Breakfasts are from an impressive buffet with a big selection including varied baked breads and pastries, fresh fruits and juices and some hot choices.
If you want more there is are excellent afternoon teas and dining options, an atmospheric bar and a small spa.
Directly outside the door of the Hotel Des Indes are the antique shops and boutiques of the historic Denneweg and with pretty much everything else in the city centre within ten minutes easy stroll you would be hard picked to find a better spot for your stay in this delightful city.
In the France of one hundred or so years ago Cauterets was one of the places to be seen. Here was a highly fashionable spa town where the well-heeled and well connected could travel to enjoy the famed thermal baths of the region. From Paris travellers came directly by train, arriving in the pretty wooden station (that still stands in the square – looking much as it must have done in 1899), to catch their horse-drawn carriage to one of the newly built grand hotels.
Cauterets’ remote location, tightly enclosed in a narrow valley, has fortunately meant unsightly expansion and development has passed the town by and we can still enjoy the town much as it was in its heyday. The local population remains stable at a little over 1000 souls, just as it was in the early 19th century when it counted the Queen of Holland, Napoleon III and Victor Hugo amongst its illustrious visitors.
The result is delightful resort to explore – pretty, secluded and historic. The centre still has most of the original Belle Epoque architecture – all attractively painted in pastel yellow, orange and pink. The historic square is a fine environment just to wander and soak up the atmosphere whist the narrow streets feature interesting stores and local produce. Above the rooftops in all directions are steep forested hillsides and snowy peaks.
Where better to soak up all this atmosphere than a quintessentially French hostelry. Fortunately Cauterets is home to a perfect example – the Hotel du Lion d’Or. The Lassere family have owned and operated this small establishment for over a hundred years and the 4th generation is now in charge.
Located in a narrow town centre street the Hotel du Lion d’Or exterior features working blue-grey shutters and ornate wrought iron balustrades whilst the 19th century interior is similarly authentic. Any impulse to restore, ‘improve’ or change the interior has fortunately been resisted and every vintage floorboard, worn handrail and antique window has been lovingly polished and maintained. The only concession is a lift (fast becoming an antique in its own right) which has been shoe-horned in to the stairwell, but which doesn’t detract from the unique atmosphere.
To this framework the Hotel du Lion d’Or owners have gradually added multifarious antiques: brass pots, vintage pictures, old toys and even an art deco pram. They adorn every hallway, shelf and corner and there is something to catch the eye in each nook and cranny. Everything is immaculately cared for and the exceptionally friendly and attentive service is at a level only possible in a family run establishment.
Our bedroom was good sized and featured an embroidered bedspread on a very comfortable bed, vintage lighting, antique furniture and polished floorboards. Alongside were more modern touches like flat screen TV, Nespresso and a modern bathroom.
Each room is similar in style but uniquely furnished and decorated and include family and single rooms. Down a set of attractively wonky stairs were a small antique-decorated bar area, lounge with log fire and dining room.
The Hotel du Lion d’Or has a reputation for traditional high quality dining and our meals at the hotel were more than a match for other local restaurants that had higher aspirations (and prices). Breakfasts too were excellent, with a good buffet that included varied home made jams, pastries, ham & cheese and freshly pressed orange juice. Every day there were plates of invariably delicious home-cooked cakes, always including sugar-dusted ‘merveilles’ from Grandmother Lasserre’s own recipe.
The location too was perfect. You can step from the front door in to the winding streets of central Cauterets, whilst out of the back door (on the second floor) you arrived almost directly at the steps to the must-visit Les Bains du Rocher Spa (see our feature Best Spas of the Pyrenees).
In winter it is less than 100 yards from the ski room to the main gondola to the Cirque du Lys (more on the skiing in our coming feature on Skiing the Pyrenees).
Regionally there is plenty to see. A little up the valley is the famous beauty spot Pont d’Espagne – a historic bridge en route to the Spanish border that sits over a series of impressive waterfalls.
In the next valley is the UNESCO protected Cirque de Gavarnie. There are pretty villages and thermal spas, the healing waters of Lourdes and the historic city of Toulouse.
Best of all? Hardly a single English voice. This is an area strangely ignored by English-speaking tourists; an authentic bygone corner of the Pyrenees that is quintessentially French. Please keep it secret.
The Haute-Pyrenees has always been popular for thermal spas. In the 19th century, the region had some 30 hot spring spa resorts. A well-established tradition, royalty, politicians, and leading ‘faces’ of the day, including Victor Hugo and Edgar Degas, would travel for miles to ‘take the waters’. The Haute-Pyrénées was a popular spot because unlike the Alps, its slopes were lower and therefore warmer, whilst fed with the same mineral-rich water. In 1907 the French government passed a law which enabled spa towns to run casinos so ‘pleasure domes providing miracle cures’ sprung up. But all that changed post the Second World War when the government decided that it could no longer finance spa treatments as part of the national healthcare scheme. Many of the casinos closed down, but the area is still known for its therapeutic waters, rich in sulphur and other beneficial minerals, and there are still some wonderful thermal spas left to visit.
The Spa Sensoria in St. Lary was our first stop, accessed conveniently straight from our room at the Hotel Mercure through an underground passage. It is a rather large spread out Spa so it saves times to get full directions from the hotel before setting off. Sensoria offers a number of different environments around the central pool area, designed in a naturally lit canyon setting. You can enjoy the solarium, swim in the canyon or revive yourself under a waterfall. The thermal baths are recommended for those suffering from rheumatism as well as for general relaxation.There is also a zen-like spa therapy centre where visitors enjoy high-quality individual care, body wraps, and massages. Sensoria uses beautiful products from the Nuxe range. In addition, there’s a beauty salon and a well equipped fitness centre.
Les Bains du Rocher in Cauterets is a beautiful indoor/outdoor Spa and is often voted the number one Spa resort in the Hautes-Pyrenees. It is one of the oldest Spas having welcomed visitors since the 14th Century. From deep within the earth, the thermal waters emerge at a temperature of 53° to 60°. They are rich in oligoelements, silica and sulphur, which make treatments more effective and successful.
The naturally warm thermal waters flows in a lagoon which is delicately lit by natural light filtered though a glass dome, or you can relax outside, surrounded by a breathtaking panorama of mountain views. There are a mixture of very effective, and at times, very powerful currents and massaging jets placed at different heights and angles so every part of the body can be massaged. There are also jacuzzis, beds and bubble banquettes so you can really float away at your hearts content for several hours. But we recommend getting out of the water every twenty minutes or so to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. There is also a steam room, sauna, and chromotherapy room for the moments out of the water. ENT, respiratory problems and rheumatology are the main therapeutic focus at Les Bains du Rocher.
In the next valley to Cauterets, and close to the amazing UNESCO heritage site Cirque du Gavarnie, is the resort of Bareges. As a ski resort this connects to La Mongie and Pic du Midi as part of the Grand Tourmalet region – one of the best in the Pyrenees. It is also home to yet more wonderful thermal waters at the Cieleo Spa, the highest in France.
Here the highly alkaline waters are rich in sulphur, sodium, silica and a substance known as Baregine, found only in the local area. It is reputed to be strongly anti-inflammatory and antibiotic, especially effective in treatment of rheumatic problems and a section of the spa is devoted to varied thermal cures.
Meanwhile a two hour pass allows access to the ‘well-being’ section, an attractive domed area with a selection of powerful jets, bubbles, relaxation areas – all with the bonus of phenomenal mountain views.
Aquensis Spa in Bagneres-de-Bigorre literally is a ‘cathedral’ of well being with its stunning interiors and vaulted structure, mixing woods, marbles and glass to create a haven of bliss. There is a large recreational thermal pool with therapeutic jets, water curtain, counter currents, a relaxation pool with massaging jets and underwater music. You can also find an oriental relaxation/tea area with an exceptional hammam, Finnish saunas and a panoramic roof terrace with jacuzzis and solarium.
Each Spa is totally unique in its location, layout and treatments offered, but the common theme is the quality of the thermal waters, and after visiting all three Spas, we felt all stresses and anxieties literally melt away, and there was definitely a feeling of being more centred. Our Editor, who is coming back from a bad ski injury, also felt a massive improvement re the flexibility of her injured knee.
Thermal waters have been used for thousands of years to heal arthritis, joint pain and burns, and also to relieve the skin of certain afflictions. Thanks to its purifying effect and antioxidant properties, thermal water is the go-to product for those with atypical skin types. And if you have dry or sensitive skin or if you suffer from eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis, the waters will greatly benefit you.
All four Spas can comfortably be visited over the course of a few days, so we highly recommend combining them all. You may comfortably do this from a single base like the lovely Hotel du Lion d’Or in Cauterets (review to come) or as a tour enjoying stopovers in lovely traditional local towns like St Lary, Cauterets, Bareges and Bagneres-de-Bigorre. An added beauty is that they are all located in a spectacular an all year-round destination and can be combined with excellent skiing in the winter or mountain sightseeing, activities and hiking in the summer.
Weimar is a delightful small and cultural city not only famous as home to Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Nietzsche, but also as the original location of the Staatliches Bauhaus.
A century ago, Walter Gropius merged two former art institutions to create the new Bauhaus. Inspired by modernism and William Morris, he believed that mass production was reconcilable with the individual artistic spirit and aimed to ”to create a new guild of craftsmen, without the … barrier between craftsman and artist.”
Bauhaus went on to have a massive impact on art and architecture, changing accepted concepts and inintiating new trends. Often austere but also elegant, it’s ideas have shaped much of the urban landscape.
To celebrate these 100 years a new Bauhaus Museum Weimar has just been opened in a location which firmly places it within the regions historical context.
To one side is a sprawling 1920’s park, which marked a new, modernist approach to urban life. On the other is the massive Gauforum, a Nazi colossus built in the thirties to house administrative offices. It is also adjacent to the old Buchenwald concentration camp.
The Bauhaus Museum is designed as a suitably austere solid cube that resembles a heavy stone sarcophagus by day, but at night dazzles with strips of horizontal light.
The interior however could be from any modern museum and there is a feeling that some opportunity was lost to create something more dramatic and engaging. The concrete floor/white wall setting does nevertheless provide a reasonable backdrop to a hugely impressive collection.
With a focus on the early phase of the most influential school of art and design of the 20th century, the exhibition presents the treasures of the world’s oldest Bauhaus collection for the first time in such depth and scope.
The displays are arranged to educate us on the history of Bauhaus – the first floor gallery dedicated to its origins and Gropius’ 1919 manifesto.
The second floor shows how these ideas were implemented, with further galleries for each of the Bauhaus directors – Gropius, Hannes Meyer and Mies van der Rohe – at the top of the building.
Within the 13,000-pieces are some from Gropius’ notable contemporaries including Marcel Breuer, Paul Klee and Lászlo Moholy-Nagy. One of the highlights is a display of 160 original objects that Gropius donated to the city in 1925.
The museum is billed as just part of a cultural ‘Quarter of Modernism’, where one can experience cultural developments from the 19th century via the ambivalent events of modernism up to the present day. It also places Weimar firmly on a must-visit itinerary for anyone with more than passing interest in architecture or design.
The dusky pink neoclassical Toulouse Capitole building really is the vibrant heart of the city. Sitting proudly on the Place Du Capitole; a great rectangular square full of outdoor cafe’s which attract locals and visitors alike, the Capitole is a museum in its own right. But it’s a little livelier than most museums as here you can visit the opera, obtain a passport or get married, and it’s also the place where all local policy is decided upon. The square represents the symbolic seat of power in Toulouse, and is adorned with an Occitan crosse designed by renowned local artist, Raymond Morretti. The end of each arm shows the sign of the zodiac, the cardinal points, the months of the year and the hours of the day. The eight columns on the outer building symbolises the eight Capitouls (municipal magistrates) and was built between 1750 and 1760. There are also sculptures representing the arts and sciences, and strength and justice.
The inner courtyard, bounded by side galleries dates back to the 17th century, and is the oldest part of the present day building.
Te end of the 19th century saw the start of a major campaign to restore and complete the Capitole. This period saw some of the great Toulouse artists use their talent to adorn several of the state rooms. Weddings take place in the Salle Gervais which has been decorated with paintings by Paul Gervais. The theme is love and includes artworks which depict love at 20, love at 40 and love at 60 years of age. The island of Cythera where legend has it that Aphrodite was born is featured, as is Eros, surrounded by four nymphs: Grace, Purity, Innocence and Faithfulness. Gervais’ compositions recalls the world of Fetes Gallantes with voluptuous bathers with Belle Epoque hairstyles.
Another breathtaking salon is the Salle Des Illustres. Twenty Toulouse painters and sculptors all took part to develop various themes immortalising the city’s history under the banner: ‘Glorious Episodes in Toulouse Life, Toulouse City of the Arts, and Culture and Defense of the Fatherland’. Twelve paintings around the room celebrate the city’s artistic and literacy genius. La Belle Paule is an emblematic figure of the city’s artistic life, and as the muse of poets and painters, she is shown on her balcony summoned by the Capitouls, so that the citizens could revel in her beauty.
The great stairway, built in 1886, was decorated early in the 20th century by Jean-Paul Laurens. Another great muse of Toulouse poetry and the arts, Clemence Isaure, is shown enthroned on the ceiling.
In the Salle Henri-Martin, the artist evokes the passing of time both in the city and the countryside. Here the artist uses the same free brush strokes as the impressionists which sets his work apart with a more academic style.
In the council chambers, there are other artworks in various styles representing the city, including the Garonne river, the Autan wind, violets and farm produce from the Toulouse region including wine and wheat.
Tours of the historical rooms can be taken from Monday to Friday, 8:30 am to 7 pm.
Sundays and bank holidays: from 10 am to 7 pm.
Closed when receptions take place, on Saturdays, on December 25th and on January 1st.
‘To us, Sundance is and always will be a dream. What you see, smell, taste and feel here is a dream being carefully nurtured. It’s a place of extraordinary beauty devoted to people. What we offer in the form of art and culture, spirit and service is homegrown and available to all’. Robert Redford
Robert Redford’s Sundance resort lies surrounded by magnificent forest on the eastern slopes of Mount Timpanagos, which soars to 12,000 ft. The area was once a notorious hunting ground for the Ute Indians. Redford began his love affair with Utah back in 1961 when he bought a two-acre piece of land for $500, and built a house, literally by hand. Naturally, over time, the land and house became bigger, and Redford started to buy up most of the surrounding area to save it from “out of control development”. Consequently, thanks to his vision, 25,000 acres of land surrounding Sundance is now protected.
He first conceived of building a “community for the arts” back in 1969. What Redford refers to as his “experiment in environmental stewardship and artistic expression” now comprises an institute for independent film and the arts, a resort where you can ski in winter and ride in summer, a television channel, gift shop, deli, bar, restaurants, screening room, meeting spaces including the iconic Rehearsal Hall, the Redford Conference Centre, and of course, an annual film festival.
This is our second visit to the resort which also coincided with the Sundance Film Festival, but even in the midst of one of the busiest independent film festivals in the world, Sundance remained a quiet, peaceful retreat away from the hustle and bustle.
We stayed in an idyllic Sundance Suite; an elegant spacious cabin tucked away in the woods, and a convenient five minute stroll from the ski base. Each one is totally unique in rustic design. Beautiful fireplaces, Native American influences, rough-hewn wood and organic toiletries create a natural soothing environment. All the practicalities have been taken care of, including complimentary WiFi. You can also choose from a Standard, Studio, Mountain Suite, Mountain Loft or a Mountain Home, all placed in a tranquil setting, surrounded by pine trees and aspen groves on the edge of an alpine wilderness.
Dining options are plentiful at Sundance with an abundance of fresh ingredients and local produce on offer, integrating the earth-to-table philosophy at all the dining venues.
The Foundry Grill pays homage to the frontier settlers, farmers and miners who settled the land, and around the room, antique farming tools are displayed on the walls. The hearty, seasonal flavor is achieved through cooking techniques centered around the open kitchen. You can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner here, as well as the legendary and utterly delicious Sunday Brunch.
A very pretty looking breakfast at the Foundry Grill!
The Tree Room (our personal favourite) is an award-winning Forbes Four-Star restaurant specialising in fresh, seasonal mountain cuisine, lit by romantic candlelight centred around a real tree. The restaurant is decorated with stunning examples of American Native art from Robert Redford’s own personal collection, including a selection of his antique kachina dolls.
Another wonderful place to kick back and relax is The Owl Bar. The bar in its entirety was moved to Sundance from Thermopolis, Wyoming. The restored 1890’s bar is the original Rosewood Bar (complete with original bullet holes!) once frequented by Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. Redford remembers dismantling it and taking it across to Sundance “piece by piece”. There are nods to the film, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, dotted around, making it a very atmospheric place to enjoy a cocktrail or one of the speciality craft beers. There’s always a great choice of live music during the weekends. Don’t miss the Bluebird Cafe collaborations where you can experience a little bit of Nashville when visiting musicians come and play at Sundance.
The Sioux tribe call it a Hocoka; a sacred environment where the restorative powers of nature are summoned for healing the body and restoring the spirit. At Sundance, they refer to it as simply the Spa. Cocooned in a peaceful setting, the only sounds to break the tranquillity are that of an occasional Native American flute and the soothing crackle of a log fire. Respecting the healing powers of nature, and the legacy of the canyon, the Spa’s empahasis is on helping the body restore and maintain balance through the change of seasons. Healing herbs and botanicals that are indigenous to the region are carefully selected for treatments. We sampled the Gemstone Aromatherapy Energy Balance Massage, a deeply relaxing and energy-balancing massage/body treatment where imbalances are magically brought back into alignment. Organic aromas and four gemstones which have been energized along with herb infused oils, purify, soothe and naturally oxygenate tissues to support overall balance in body and mind.
Away from the Spa, there are also complementary wellness offerings available for guests. You can start your day with a guided meditation every morning seven days per week. Yoga is also available for all levels (children of ten years and older may attend); a chance to invigorate and rejuvenate your body, mind and spirit in a dynamic and flowing practice. There is also a chance to connect with Mother Nature and the spirit of Mount Timpanagos with a sacred nature walk. Your guide will lead you on a hike along the Stewart Falls Trail whilst inspiring you with Native American traditions and legends as you wander among the trees, streams and wildlife. Or you can try a Herbal Walk and discover the secrets of plant life, and learn about the benefits of wild herbs in the area. The latter two walks are seasonal and are for all levels and all ages.
If you’re a skier, the unspoilt Sundance area is a dream. For gentle slopes, try Maverick and Rays Run before graduating to the steeper blues and blacks off Amy’s Ridge. The difficulty gradually increases towards the Bearclaw Cabin, but it’s worth it for the view from the top: breathtaking Rocky panoramas as far as the eye can see. The Nordic Center provides cross country rentals for all ages and abilities for both classic and skating techniques. Snowshoe and boot rentals are available for all ages providing for a great family outdoor experience, and these are 15km of daily groomed trails to explore. And for the real adrenalin junkies, the Sundance ZipTour is one of the most exciting and scenic zip tours in the world, boasting over 3,870 feet of riding.
If outdoor activities are not your thing, then there are daily workshops at the Art Studio with live demonstrations by local artists; you can try your hand at pottery, photography, jewellery making, soap making, print making, journal making, painting or glassblowing.
Now in its 17th year, the wonderful Sundance Author Series strives to highlight authors whose books convey a meaningful message or tell a story that impacts the lives of others. Through the years the Resort has featured notable authors, including Jimmy Carter, Madeleine Albright, Eric Schlosser, Susan Cain, Jane Mayer, Jeff Flake, and Kathryn Stockett. Sundance invites writers from all walks of life to discuss a variety of issues in order to create a forum for ideas, inspiration and creativity.
Sundance Mountain Resort is totally unique in the fact that it’s a resort that can be enjoyed all year-round. Due to its spectacular location, it’s an equally stunning place to stay no matter what the season, and it brims with cultural and sporting activities during both the winter and the summer months. Equally, there is no pressure to engage in any activity; just being in tune with glorious nature is enough. There really is something for everyone here in this ancient magical canyon.
We’re always inspired by these words by Robert Redford which have been carved out in stone (see above pic); a gentle reminder of what Sundance truly represents.
‘This place in the mountains, amid nature’s casualness toward death and birth, is the perfect host for the inspiration of ideas: harsh at times, life threatening in its winters of destruction, but tender in attention to the details of every petal of every wildflower resurrected in the spring. Nature and creativity obey the same laws, to the same end: life’. Robert Redford
The journey from Salt Lake City airport to Zermatt Resort & Spa is a particularly memorable one. Despite not having the Swiss Alps, a mountain railway and the Matterhorn there are a good many spectacular sights to cram in en route. Our short 45 minute drive from Salt Lake City airport begins with a detour for a view across the world’s largest salt lake and a look at the ‘Great Saltair’ – a hulking, historic lakeside resort – before heading in to the mountains. We pass frozen lakes and enjoy broad vistas of snowy peaks before passing through the pretty village of Midway, where traditional Victorian houses are decorated with a few feet of freshly fallen snow and street lamps are adorned with fluttering Swiss flags.
We soon enter Zermatt Resort & Spa itself, along a cobblestone driveway, past a giant stone-carved bear and a stone colonnade backed by half-timbered buildings, painted with murals of mountain scenes. We pull up under a portico of giant wooden beams before stepping inside a high, wood-panelled lobby that features a stone fireplace, ornately carved statues, a wrought iron chandelier and painted plaques featuring coats of arms from the Swiss Cantons.
One could be forgiven for thinking we are describing a hotel in the heart of the Alps, but we are of course deep in the Wasatch mountains of Utah. This is an area often called “Utah’s Switzerland” because of the dramatic peaks around Mount Timpanagos to the west, and the presence of a large population of Swiss settlers that made their home in Midway during the 1860s and 1870s.
Whilst the veneer of Swiss authenticity is unsurprisingly fairly thin in places, it is of no real consequence as the whole effect is quite delightful. We are happy to be carried along with the illusion, and enjoy the atmosphere whilst not having to try and speak German or struggle with transactions in Swiss Francs.
The ‘European’ style is carried through in to the rooms with similar gusto. Ours featured an elegant four poster bed with richly coloured and embroidered fabrics, a stone fireplace with (gas) log fire, gilt-framed historical paintings and reproduction 19th century dark wood furniture.
A big wrought iron mirror, ornate light fittings and a vintage style sink unit put the historic touch on a lovely, modern bathroom. There are quality toiletries and big fluffy robes that can be worn down to the Zermatt Resort’s own spa.
The two restaurants have a strong meat bias with vegetarian options somewhat thin on the ground. Although this isn’t unique to Zermatt Resort, it would have been good to see some more non-meat and lighter dining choices. ‘European-style’ steak dinners are the main attraction at the smarter of the two, Z’s Steak & Chop Haus, where they boast ‘the finest cuts of prime aged steaks, chops, and seafood’. The Wildfire Smokehaus is more casual with excellent wood-fired pizza and their ‘famous’ homemade pies.
Excellent buffet breakfasts are also served at the Smokehaus although we often selected Zermatt’s own Bakery next door. Here you can watch the pastry chefs busily baking their award-winning pastries, fruit tarts and cookies. Espresso coffees, sandwiches, and soups are also served.
Although there is plenty to do here in summer – with lots of active options like hiking, biking and golf – we love it here in winter.
It is a very convenient, and lower cost, ‘back door’ in to the exclusive winter sport resorts of Park City & Deer Valley, an easy twenty minutes drive away. These are resorts that are not only very busy but often prohibitively expensive, especially during the Sundance film festival in late January.
Robert Redford’s own Sundance Mountain Resort is also a similarly short drive away and a great option for a few days skiing. It is a small and laid back resort with a delightful lunch stop at the Foundry Grill and an apres ski beer at the rustic Owl Bar absolutely de rigeur.
A final added bonus of a stay at Zermatt Resort are the spa and wellness options. The resort has its own full service spa with a great selection of massage, body and facial treatments and packages.
This is also an area of bountiful natural hot springs, known locally as ‘hot pots’, which bubble and steam across the landscape. Adjacent to the resort is the Homestead Crater, a 400-foot wide, 65-foot deep crater, filled with crystal-clear mineral rich water that stays around 90F all year. The warm water flowing from the mineral rich hot swing was instrumental in the resort beginnings as a place where weary miners and travellers could bathe and soak away their aches and pains. Now the ancient, 10,000 year-old hot spring offers year-round warm-water scuba diving in the calm, azure water. You can actually hire scuba gear and dive in to the crater, or have a snorkelling lesson, but many people prefer to just bathe in the mineral rich waters, and float/relax in the steaming water.
Afterwards take an instagram ready stroll through a forest of ‘ice castles’ formed by spraying water on to metal frames.
For sure nobody can accuse a visit at Zermatt Resort & Spa of lacking variety. Pick your season and activities and you are sure to find your perfect stay.
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.