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Posts from the ‘Hotels’ Category

Our Best and Worst Hotel stays of 2019

Two hotels in New York for this year’s pick. One a legendary grand dame undergoing a gentle nip and tuck that more than lived up to its reputation, the other a new, much hyped opening that failed to deliver.


The Best of Times: The Carlyle


The Carlyle entrance

The Carlyle, New York


We booked a three night stay at The Carlyle to celebrate a special occasion and the whole experience was superb. The hotel embodies wonderful Upper East Side New York glamour, just as we’d envisaged. A discreet entrance just off Madison Avenue leads to the small, elegant lobby decorated in Art Deco monochrome with splashes of golden velvet. While the hotel is exclusive we found the service friendly and attentive throughout. And everyone seems to be greeted with “nice to see you” whether it’s your first or hundredth visit.

The Carlyle is being subtly refurbished in parts but cleverly all the classic features that make it special are still there including the famous Bemelmans Bar and the elevator attendants. Our room was one of the recently refurbished ones and successfully blended classic with contemporary. There were some lovely touches such as Central Park murals and quirky rabbit objects reminiscent of the Bemelmans bar downstairs. The room wasn’t huge and the bathroom a bit tight but that’s usual for New York and the beautiful décor made up for it.


Bemelman Bar

Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, New York

We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts every morning in the chic Carlyle Restaurant. And dinner there was the icing on the cake of our stay. We were given the type of table we’d requested beforehand (a corner banquette) and the classic menu and slick service matched the stylish setting perfectly.

For exploring the Upper East Side the hotel’s location was also superb. We had the Met museums and Central Park right on our doorstep and of course the shops of Madison Ave. There are newer, trendier hotels in more fashionable parts of New York but for sheer class this is hard to beat.


The Worst of Times: TWA Hotel


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TWA hotel, JFK, New York. Credit: Max Touhey


When we heard the TWA Hotel opening was coinciding with a trip we had booked to the US, changing planes at JFK, we switched our onward flight so we could stay the night at the hotel. We wish we hadn’t.

The problems started when we looked at the website a few days before our arrival and noticed that the hotel’s only sit down restaurant was fully booked for the evening of our stay. We contacted the hotel direct to ask if they were keeping any tables back for hotel guests and were flatly told no by the Assistant Director of Front Office. He suggested we try the “grab and go” take away outlets in the lobby instead. As we’d been looking forward to an elegant dinner in a “Jean Georges Vongerichten” restaurant it was hardly the experience we hoped for. He also confirmed as per the website that the restaurant was fully booked for breakfast – something we have never encountered in a hotel before.

On top of that, we’d booked the hotel some three months ahead of time and had not been advised then to reserve a restaurant booking as we have with other hotels with popular eateries. When we pointed that out the Assistant Director replied: “reservations didn’t start being booked until mid April.” He did not respond when we questioned why we hadn’t been contacted at that point – still a month before arrival.

The hotel was easy enough to get to when we landed at JFK and the architecture is truly stunning so we still hoped to enjoy our stay. However we were surprised to be told when we tried to check in at 3pm that the room wasn’t ready and that check in wasn’t until 4pm. It seems puzzling to have such a late, inflexible check in at an airport hotel when guests are arriving at all times. After an early start and a transatlantic flight the last thing we wanted to do was hang about for the room.

When we eventually checked in the room (we had booked a Deluxe King with a Heritage View) was very attractively designed. Small, but we expected that in New York. But the lack of wardrobe and the fact that my husband could barely walk around one side of the bed was an issue. There was no room for chargers on the bedside tables either. The floor to ceiling windows gave us a great view of the stunning Saarinen building but it also meant we were completely on show to everyone inside that building.

We tried to find the much publicised roof top swimming pool and bar but were told that they weren’t yet open. This too was disappointing as pictures of the roof top had been heavily promoted as part of the hotel’s appeal.

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Sunken Lounge, TWA hotel. Credit: Max Touhey

On the plus side the Sunken Lounge was fun for a cocktail (at Manhattan prices). Plates of olives ($10) and cheese ($20) were not enough for dinner and nearing 8pm we were hungry so went in search of the “grab and go” only to find most of the stalls closed. We managed to buy some gyro from the Halal Guys just minutes before they too closed. No offence to the Halal Guys (they were the only reason we had sustenance that night –there’s no room service) but a donor kebab was not what we had envisaged after our martinis. On returning to our room we found the television didn’t work.

In the morning we checked out first thing and headed to the airside of Terminal in search of breakfast, we’d had enough of the TWA experience. To add insult to injury when we looked at our bill we had been charged $10 plus tax (note this is payable per room per night) “facility fee”. This purportedly covered “free” wi fi “complimentary” access to the fitness centre and luggage storage on arrival/departure. Leaving the wi fi aside, we have never before been charged for fitness centre access (which incidentally we didn’t use plus the pool wasn’t open) or luggage storage in any hotel.

The following week we needed to travel through JFK again and then on to Upstate New York. It would have been ideal to check into the TWA hotel and then travel upstate the following morning. Based on our experience we chose not to – instead we took a cab to Manhattan to stay the night.

Aman set to Become Even Bigger in Japan

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How Aman Niseko on Mt Moiwa, Japan will look

Just when we thought Aman in Japan couldn’t get any better, the luxury hotel brand has announced plans to open a fourth property in the country.

Aman Niseko will be a retreat situated on the high slopes of Mt Moiwa on an untouched nature reserve in Hokkaido’s Niseko region.

The Niseko region is known for abundant snowfall and long ski runs. The resort will be all season and the mild weather in the summer months make the area appealing for hiking, mountain biking and river rafting.


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An Aman Niseko Villa


Again designed by Kerry Hill Architects the resort will be made up of just 30 guest rooms and an extensive spa.


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Aman Niseko Entrance Reception

The Aman Spa will feature single and double treatment suites, pre-treatment lounges, relaxation pods and extensive thermal spa areas, including saunas, Watsu treatment chamber, cold plunge pools, steam rooms, hammam, experience showers and onsen.

An indoor lap pool and an aqua fitness pool will overlook an outdoor terrace with forest and mountain views.

You’ll have to wait until 2023 to check in though.


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Aman Niseko Spa Swimming Pool

For more details visit



Countdown to Aman Kyoto

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Living Pavillion at Aman Kyoto

Aman’s third hotel in Japan is on course to open on November 1st 2019.

Aman Kyoto, designed by Kerry Hill Architects who also designed Aman Tokyo and Amanemu, is set within 29 hectares of forest and three hectares of exquisite gardens. Stone pathways and steps meander through the garden leading to upper platforms bordered with yama momiji maples and kitayama-sugi (Japanese cedar).

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Exterior of Living Pavillion at Aman Kyoto

At the heart of the resort is the Living Pavillion opening up onto a terrace overlooking the gardens. The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, to guests and non residents with advance booking.

Executive Chef Kentaro Torri will serve home cooked Kyoto style cuisine as well as innovative Western chef using local, seasonal produce, many sourced from the hotel’s garden.

Taka-an is the resort’s Japanese restaurant. Here, seasonal, local produce will be prepared and served with meticulous precision in keeping with the Japanese art of hospitality.


TAKA-AN Restaurant, Aman Kyoto Taka-An restaurant at Aman Kyoto


TAKA-AN Restaurant, Aman Kyoto

TAKA-AN Restaurant, Aman Kyoto

Aman has 26 guest rooms housed in six stand alone pavilions designed as contemporary versions of traditional Japanese ryokans. The rooms have floor to ceiling windows showcasing the spectacular surroundings and come with tatami mats covering the floors. Large bath tubs in each guest room have been crafted from the native hinoki cypress wood.

Two presidential suites, the Washigamine and Takagamine Pavillions, are set within the most secluded and highest part of the property with expansive views. Both pavillions have two bedrooms, living area, dining room, kitchen and tatami room.


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Living room in Suite at Aman Kyoto


The bucolic grounds at Aman Kyoto provide a serene setting for the spa. The natural spring water that flows underneath the resort provides traditional onsen bathing facilities at the spa with both an indoor and outdoor hot water spring.


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Outdoor onsen at Aman Kyoto

For more information and bookings visit

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Belmond Mount Nelson – the Cape Town hotel with a nod to British Royalty

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Belmond Mount Nelson

Where Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are staying while visiting Cape Town is being kept closely under wraps. It’s thought to be an official residence but if so they’re missing out on the best hotel in town that’s hosted Nelson Mandela, John Lennon and one of the Duke’s ancestors.

The Belmond Mount Nelson stands at the end of a grand palm tree lined avenue, reached through a colonnaded entrance, that was created ahead of the Prince of Wales’s visit in 1925. From the saluting guard at the entrance to the top hatted doorman at the front door, guests will have the unmistakable feeling that they’ve arrived at somewhere special. A sugar pink building with white gingerbread trim, the glorious shade dates from just after the First World War when the then general manager decided to paint the hotel a cheerful hue in celebration.


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Belmond Mount Nelson


With its enviable position at the foot of the iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town’s most recognisable landmark, there’s no mistaking the location when staying at the Mount Nelson. Should guests wish to hike or cable car to the top of the famous flat topped mountain they couldn’t be better placed. And they’ll find the buzzy Kloof Street right on their doorstep. Both the stunning beaches and wine regions of the Western Cape are an easy car ride away from the hotel.

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Belmond Mount Nelson

The warm climate from November to May has long made this Coastal South African city and the Mount Nelson a magnet for visitors escaping colder climes. The eye catching gardens, filled with verdant trees and bright flowers, were first developed in 1843. Now they include two outdoor swimming pools – one family oriented and the other for guests aged 16 upwards.

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Belmond Mount Nelson


The Mount Nelson was opened in 1889 to provide a suitably first rate hotel for first class passengers disembarking from the Union Castle luxury liners at Cape Town. There was nothing of its standard in the area at the time and it was the first hotel in Cape Town to offer hot and cold running water. The owner also happened to own the Union Castle Shipping Line. The wooden chairs in the Lord Nelson restaurant today are the original deck chairs used on some of the Union Castle ships.

But the hotel’s name derives from much earlier. When the property was advertised for let in the newspaper in 1806 it was referred to as “Mount Nelson”, thought to be a reference to both Table Mountain which it stands in the shadow of and the then ubiquitous Lord Horatio Nelson who died the year before.

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Belmond Mount Nelson

A young Winston Churchill stayed at the hotel as a war reporter during the Boer War  and deemed it “a most excellent and well appointed establishment which may be thoroughly appreciated after a sea voyage”. Almost a century later, and a few months before his death, John Lennon checked in under the pseudonym Mr Greenwood. Staff remember him as exceptionally tidy and said he mediated on Table Mountain.

The hotel has seen some intriguing dramas over the years. The imposing grandfather clock that still stands in the lobby is said to have enraged one guest so much with its loud chimes at midnight that he hammered two six inch nails into the hands. The clock remained silent for 20 years until another guest repaired it (these days, the chime is a lot quieter). Guests were also reputedly outraged by Sherlock Holmes author and keen spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle holding public séances in his room.

More recently, Nelson Mandela dined regularly at the hotel. Margaret Roberts a waitress at the hotel for over 30 years remembers he had a favourite table in the restaurant and he would always chat to all the staff including in the kitchen.

Afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson, fondly nicknamed “tea at The Nellie” by loyal locals, is an institution. So popular is the tea that the number of sittings per day has been increased from one to four. A morning tea and an evening tea have been added as well as a second afternoon sitting. The morning tea is a little lighter and the evening tea features more cold cuts like smoked ham and biltong and a selection of cheeses.


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Belmond Mount Nelson


Even the standard Deluxe rooms at the Mount Nelson come with a sitting area and most have balconies. The impressive number of suites range from Junior to Presidential, the latter featuring 1930s Baccarat crystal light fittings and a desk dating back from when the hotel opened in 1899. The spaciousness is evocative of the colonial guests from the northern hemisphere who often stayed for months at a time – bringing their own bone china and fine crystal with them. And many present day guests stay for a week or more.


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Belmond Mount Nelson

Offering the ultimate in luxurious seclusion, there are eight Garden Cottage suites housed in perfectly restored Victorian cottages, each set in its own rose garden with a white picket fence, and right next to the adult’s swimming pool. The sumptuousness is further emphasised by the décor of toile wallpaper, Venetian mirrors, four poster beds and working fireplaces. Not surprisingly they are highly sought after by honeymooning couples and guests seeking privacy.










Where to stay when you’re visiting Downton


The Old Swan

[UPDATE: IRL the village of Downton is actually filmed at Brampton, Oxfordshire. Our pick of where to stay if you want to visit is the Old Swan in nearby Minster Lovell. The hotel will arrange a guided tour of Brampton.]

The Old Swan, Minster Lovell

Imagine the ideal country inn and you’ll picture The Old Swan. Exposed beams and brick, flagstone floors, log fires, cosy nooks, inviting bar… this is a wonderful weekend retreat in the Cotswolds countryside.

When it comes to eating, choose between the more formal restaurant with vaulted ceiling and rich wool tapestries or the pub like but equally appealing dining room.

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Old Swan

Settle down by the fire for a nightcap (the snug is for residents only) before climbing the wooden stairs to one of the most comfortable beds you’ve ever slept in.

Bring your hiking boots as there are walks aplenty almost from the front door.

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