Category Archives: Hotels

The W, New York

Times Square, just around the corner from the W
Times Square, just around the corner from the W

The W hotel sits right at the insomniac, neon heart of New York, on the corner where Broadway, Times Square and 46th Street meet. Traffic whirls around it in an endless circle; tour buses scoop up and set down sightseers on one side, taxis drop off and pick up theatre-goers on another. The surrounding streets teem with people, scenes of urban life, from the banal to the bizarre, play out day and night. Voices, music, traffic, machines and sirens merge into a discordant roar.

Swing through the W’s revolving doors, though, and you leave all this behind.

Water is the theme of the W’s décor. The roar of the city is drowned in a stream of cool music. The glare of neon is lost in soothing colours of stone and river. In the downstairs foyer, water ripples down one wall in a floor to ceiling tank and drops of light spill from the ceiling onto the flagstone floor. The music flows into the lift and up to the 7th floor. To the left is the Welcome or Reception area, ahead the concierge’s desk. Their lamps float like bubbles in the dim light.

The Water theme flows on up to rooms. There’s more stone grey, muted light and lots of glass. There’s a floating glass mural behind the bed (which surprisingly, is not a water bed, but is nevertheless as soft as a rolling wave) The bedside tables are cubes of orange glass. Mini bar goodies (Munch at the W) entice from a big glass box. On the wall is a rack of glossy magazines – Gotham, City and Wish. There’s a floating glass desk. The bathroom is a glass and grey box (with a generous supply of soft white towels and Bliss toiletries) A grey leather chaise longue unfurls below a giant window which looks out into the neon screens of Times Square.

In Sweat, the 10th floor gym, the submarine light and riverscape colours continue. Fast-flowing house music (or TV!) speeds you through your workout. Fat white towels, abundant Bliss toiletries and crisp green Granny Smith apples ease recovery.

On the 7th floor, adjacent to the Welcome area is The Living Room, the hottest bar in town. Fittingly, its colours are those of the reef and the beach. There are circles of sand coloured couches and screens. A coral orange glass mural shimmers on the far wall. The Living room is great place for star-gazing and intrigue spotting.

Down on the ground floor, The Blue Fin restaurant, despite its name, has a menu which goes well beyond the ocean. Its attractions too go beyond cuisine. From its front bar you can watch the 24/7 action of Times Square while in the shadowed corners of its back room you can spot New York socialites, celebrities and stars.

The W’s basement club Whiskey is one of a number founded by model, tycoon and husband of Cindy Crawford Rande Gerber. This is the place to be seen dancing the night away beneath the big screens, surrounded by hot music and cool New York party people.

The Store, open all hours, lit with bright white light and full of fabulous gifts, clothes, stationery, and groovy gum-boots as well as mundane things like toothbrushes.

It would be easy to while away New York days and nights here in this seductive self-contained W world. The hotel’s service philosophy is whatever, whenever. Blue Fin’s kitchen never closes. The Living room never draws its blinds. At sweat you jog your way through nights and days. The Store never shuts. Just call Room Service aka Whatever Whenever and a posse of Adonises in suits will deliver whatever you want whenever you want it to wherever you are. So there’s really no need to leave.

But eventually those neon lights outside the window beckon and the muffled sounds of the city call from beyond the walls. It’s time to get out and explore.


London’s Savoy Hotel

Like so many of the streets, landmarks and buildings that dot that rise of land stretching from Waterloo Bridge down to Charing Cross Station on the northern bank of the Thames, the Savoy Hotel takes its name from Savoy Palace.

The Savoy
The Savoy

Built in 1246 by Count Peter of Savoy, the palace became part of the estate of Henry II who rented it to his wife’s uncle for the extraordinary sum of three barbed arrows. Later, it was home to John of Gaunt, patron of Geoffrey Chaucer, and later still to the Earls of Lancaster. Finally, during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, Savoy Palace was burned to the ground. In 1505 the building was resurrected. It functioned as a hospital until the 1820s when it was demolished to make way for Waterloo Bridge. The Savoy Chapel was the only part of Count Peter’s palace to survive the conflagration, the rebuild and the demolition. It still stands today in Savoy Street.

The Savoy Hotel was built in 1889 by the great theatrical impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte. The building was funded from the profits of the neighbouring Savoy theatre, established in 1881 to stage Carte’s productions of Gilbert and Sullivan light operas. The 19th century Savoy hotel rivalled the world’s most innovative and luxurious. It was a dizzying nine stories high, was made of artificial stone and had hitherto unheard of horizontal windows.  It was one of the first hotels in the world to introduce the ensuite bathroom and full electrical lighting. The Savoy opened with Cesar Ritz (who later went on to found the Ritz Hotel in Picadilly) as manager and Auguste Escoffier, the legendary Frenchman, as Chef.

Over the years, the Savoy has been a popular haunt of the royal, the rich and the famous. It has hosted many great parties, like HG Wells’ spectacular 70th birthday party in October, 1936. The ultra chic and ambient American Bar has feted the opening and closing of countless theatrical shows. The vast River Restaurant, a sea of white-clothed tables, sparkling with crystal and silver, has seen innumerable celebratory dinners.

The Savoy bedrooms have hosted many celebrities. They have also witnessed their share of scandal likeOscar Wilde’s affair with Lord Alfred Douglas which took place in Room 346.

The Savoy’s outlook, across the Victoria Embankment over the river, is spectacular and Monet’s impressionist painting, the Thames, shows the the view from a third floor window.

In November, 2007, the tinkling piano in the American Bar fell silent. Much of the furniture, along with the china, the crystal, the cutlery and the linen fell under the auctioneer’s hammer. The doors to the Savoy closed, a shroud of scaffolding was thrown around its artificial stone walls and a lengthy programme of renovation and refurbishment began.

Fans and frequenters of the Savoy were left wondering what to expect. Had the Savoy as we all knew it and loved it gone for good?  Would those wide sweeping staircases remain? Would that grand dining room, with its windows onto the gardens? Had the American Bar vanished forever? Or would it all be back, the same as it was, but newer, fresher and better, to face the next century?

In October 2010 the Savoy re-opened. The new foyer (The Thames!) houses a winter garden gazebo, under a stained-glass cupola, which is the venue for both dinner and high tea. There’s a  teashop and patisserie (Savoy Tea) and a glass-walled gym with rooftop swimming pool, above the Savoy Theatre. The new black and gold Art Deco Beaufort Bar offers nightly cabaret. The erstwhile River Restaurant, now Kaspar’s,  is also decked out in the art deco style. The American Bar (thank goodness) remains almost untouched. The famous Savoy Grill, now relieved of its Michelin Star, is managed by none other than Gordon Ramsay. There are seven private dining rooms all named after Gilbert and Sullivan Operas.

The bedrooms on the Thames side sport Edwardian decor, while on the Strand side it’s Art Deco all the way..

An interesting addition to the new Savoy is the small museum, next to the American Bar, with a revolving exhibition of items from the hotel’s archives.

The hotel also now offers a champagne river tour, by motor launch departing from the Savoy Pier in front of the hotel and taking in historic spots both upstream and down.

As the hotel critic for the Telegraph wrote: “The Savoy is still The Savoy, only better. … and his counterpart from the Guardian said “The Savoy is back where it belongs – right on top.”

But even so, business is not brisk at the new Savoy and a cloud hangs over its future.

The Traditional English Pub

Quaint, cosy and colourful, the traditional English pub is high on the list of London’s visitor attractions. Not only that, but the pub business can be very lucrative for investors that know what makes a successful public house. So, if you want to Buy a pub, make sure you choose a property that has lots of potential to increase in value over time.

The Sherlock Holmes
The Sherlock Holmes

Many of them are little bolt-holes, tucked between buildings or sunk below street level, with bow windows of glass as thick as old bottles, low-beamed ceilings and smoke stained walls. Others are grand old establishments, with paneled walls, curtained alcoves or snugs, walls hung with trophies or portraits of eminent figures from history and cavernous fireplaces with crackling fires. There’s usually a certain aroma, peculiar to British pubs, not found in cafes or even in bars – of beer and comfort food; roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. There’s usually a comfortable, homely ambience too. It is no wonder people try to replicate this ambience by creating their own pubs and bars in storage containers that aim to capture a slice of the London pubs allure. If this is of interest to you then you should visit for more advice.

Many young travellers find a home away from home in a London pub, living upstairs and working in the bar or the kitchen and for many locals the pub is the lounge-room. Every pub has its history and its story, often found in its name, like the dark, subterranean Coal Hole on The Strand, Ye Olde Cheddar Cheese and Ye Olde Cocke in Fleet Street, the many Queen’s and Kings Arms and Heads, named for the reigning monarch at the time of construction and then, of course there are those named for some local landmark, like St Stephen’s tavern, in Westminster, named for St Stephen’s Tower at Westminster Palace .

The Sherlock Holmes on Northumberland Street at Craven passage is a classic. It has an ornate Victorian exterior and a dark-timbered, stained-glassed 19th century interior. It is redolent of fine old British fare. Formerly named the Northumberland Arms, it is thought to have been the Northumberland Hotel of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Now, of course it is named for its theme. The downstairs bar is hung with Holmes pictures, pipes and sticks. Upstairs is a replica of Holmes and Watson’s 221 Baker Street sitting room including period furniture, shelves stacked with potions, bottles and books, a violin and a Holmes mannequin. Yet, although this pub is many ways a Sherlock shrine which has its fair share of Holmes pilgrims and tourists, it still has that familiar, comfy, British pub feeling. It has its tables of locals and its completely “at home” handful of young Anzac accented bar staff.

There’s great, old English pub on every London block, often more. There’s one for almost every preference and anyone who stays for any length of time will surely find a favourite.

Putting on the Ritz in London

Frequented by Royals, rock stars and the rich and dripping with class, privilege and luxury, the Ritz has long enjoyed a reputation as the best joint in town – any town – Paris, New York, Rome or London. The epitome of all that is exclusive and, often, unattainable, to ordinary folk, it has informed song, in the cheeky “Putting on the Ritz”, story, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s whimsical “A diamond as big as the Ritz” and popular expressions, in  those stock retorts to dissatisfaction with fare or service at family tables the world over – “What do you think this is, the Ritz?” or even “Where do you think you are, the Ritz?”  So, what, really, makes the Ritz so special? What is it actually like behind that grand façade? What exactly is it that brings in all those big names and megabucks? I popped in for lunch recently to find out.


The Ritz
The Ritz

Arrival at the Ritz is a kind gauntlet run (and probably a well disguised presentation and security check, too) past top-hatted, waist-coated and bowing doormen, from the taxi, up the steps, through glass doors (opened and held by more top-hatted, bowing waist-coats) and across a lobby gleaming with polished wood.

The interior is a symphony for the eye – no discordant note of mismatched colour or misplaced decoration here – no, everything, from the perfectly pleated and draped curtains, the deep-piled carpets, the ceiling roses, the choirs of sculpted cherubs, the plaster cornices, the chandeliers bristling with twinkling bulbs, the huge wall mirrors, the furniture, the table linen, the china to the cutlery, is in perfect, soft-sheened pink, green, cream, white, gold, glass and silver baroque harmony. Classical piano music plays quietly against a background of discreet voices and the subdued tinkle of silver – no musak, no bursts of raucous laughter, no clash of stainless steel or crash of smashing plates here. No camera flash distracts the guests or disturbs the subtle lighting. Photographs are not permitted at the Ritz.

My three course lunch, from an unpretentious, English, three-choice menu, probably speaks for all Ritz cuisine. It all looked too good to eat but, in the end, tasted even better than it looked. The monkfish entrée was small, a manageable, melt-in-the-mouth lead-in to the “just-roast-pork-with-apple-sauce-and-four-veg.-but-oh-boy-what-they’ve-done-with-it” main, while the not too sweet and deliciously healthy vanilla yoghurt and fresh fruit dessert was the ideal finale.

Service at the Ritz strikes the perfect balance between the discreet touch and the flourish. Glasses never empty while plates and cutlery come and go as if by magic. Serviettes flap into place with a flick and a twirl while courses are ferried by waiters in single file who lift their silver covers with one accord. Staff are formal but not stiff, friendly but not familiar, attentive but not intrusive, respectful but not obsequious, efficient but not brisk, and mindful of their jobs but not afraid to be themselves.

Undoubtedly, the Ritz is luxurious, classy and exclusive. But the thing that really made my Ritz experience so special and that would certainly bring me back again, is that it is beautiful, comfortable, pleasant and welcoming.

Fifty Shades of Paradise in Fiji

I’m at the Uprising Beach Resort, about one hour out of Suva, on the Coral Coast, at the southern end of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji. It’s paradise.

Uprising Beach Resort, Fiji Travelstripe
Uprising Beach Resort, Fiji

I’m sitting on a deserted beach under a palm tree looking out across the smooth blue lagoon to a bush covered island. On the horizon is the white line of the reef. The sun filters through a light cover of cloud. The air is warm. There’s not a soul in sight. There’s no sound but the soft swish of the waves on the sand, the occasional rattle of leaves, the snap of a branch, the thud of a falling coconut or a snatch of bird song. Beside me there’s a bottle of Fiji water and on my lap is a copy of a notorious best-selling novel.

When it gets too hot I can slip into the sea or walk ten paces over the sand, across the lawn and into my spacious, airy Fijian bure-style villa. In fact, it’s inspired me to look into staying with Exceptional Villas in one of their luxurious properties when it comes to selecting the next vacation. I can take another ice-cold Fiji water, (or something stronger) from the refrigerator, and enjoy the view from the shady verandah, or through the wooden-shuttered doors of the bedroom or lounge. I can cool off in the indoor or in the outdoor shower where there’s generous supply of delicious coconut-scented soaps, shampoos and lotions. When the the sound of the ocean isn’t enough I can plug my ipod into the bedside dock and when the book is a bit much I can flick on the TV.

If I tire of the solitude, then just a short stroll through the gardens are the pool, the bar and restaurant. I can luxuriate in a deckchair either poolside or on the lawn, under a palm. If I absolutely must reach the outside world, I can access the internet in the bar. But I’d probably prefer to order an Uprising cocktail (the Mango Daqueiri, which looks like an ice-cream sundae and tastes like a fruit smoothie, is divine) Then, I can people-watch or strike up a conversation. There’s always someone to talk to – a fellow guest, a visiting local (always a good sign) or the Uprising staff, who are truly lovely and always up for a chat and a laugh. In the Uprising restaurant I can look out through the open walls, across the garden to the sea as, depending on the time of day, I breakfast, lunch or dine. At breakfast, I can have either cooked or continental, with tropical fruits and home-baked breads, buns and muffins. At lunch and dinner I can choose from burgers, parmas and steaks or curries, and pizzas and pastas. But I’ll probably opt for a delicious local dish, full of the flavours of the sea and the resort’s own gardens, like kokonda (raw fish) with cassava chips or fish salad.

If I feel like action, I can ride a jet-ski out across the lagoon to the island, or paddle across in a kayak. I jog up the beach or canter along it on horseback. I can snorkel, scuba-dive or take a fishing trip. I can bat a few balls over the net on the volleyball court or kick a few goals on the Ruby field at the front of the resort. And if I want to see some action, on certain evenings I can watch the Uprising Rugby team in training.

If I need rejuvenation after all this, I can enjoy an invigorating traditional Fijian massage, down beside the sea.

And then, at the end of the day, I can sit at the beachside bar, sip a long Vono beer and watch the sun sink below the little island at the western end of the lagoon.

It’s paradise – Fifty shades of paradise.



FIFA World Cup Wedding

The FIFA World Cup was on when we were in Hamburg in 2006. But Football fever seemed hardly to touch the peaceful Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club, at the edge of forest, on the outskirts of Hamburg, until that memorable day when Germany met Argentina in the quarter final.

Hotel Treudelberg terrace  at dusk
Hotel Treudelberg terrace at dusk

Football is, of course, highly popular in Germany, especially during World Cup season, and especially when Germany are hosting the World Cup. However, until the last 8 teams went to play each other, we hadn’t really seen a huge amount of interest in Deustchland’s favourite soccer players where we were.

At five o’clock, the terrace was deserted. The chattering fountain was the only voice in the garden, the swaying trees the only dancers on the lawn and on the golf course, only a lonely flag waited at the first tee. Inside, the corridors were quiet, the pool, the gym, the sauna and the beauty center were empty. There was no rumble of industry from the conference rooms.

“The game” said the smiling receptionist as she pointed me to the bar

“Oh, of course, the game!”

Inside the bar, the crowd stood shoulder to shoulder, squeezed into corners and squashed against walls. There were elderly ladies in brocade frock-coat ensembles; white-haired, jovial red-faced gents in waistcoats; a circle of middle-aged cigar-smokers in shirt-sleeves; elegant, coiffed, bronzed matrons in cut-away, slashed down-to-there, split-up-to-here dresses and dangerous heels. Blondes with umbrella drinks, big hair and beach-ball bums teetered on bar-stools. There was a team of beer-drinking suits. At the bar was a man with a flower in his button-hole. Right at the front was a woman in bridal whites, not unlike the elegant dresses one might find over on the Winnie Couture website – WWW.WINNIECOUTURE.COM/STORES/WEDDING-DRESSES-HOUSTON-TX/. Her eyes were fixed, like everyone else’s, on the TV screen where eleven Germans and eleven Argentineans chased a black and white ball backwards and forwards across a rectangle of green.

A scoreless first half ended with snorts of frustration and shaking of heads. Brocades, suits, stilettos, cigar smokers and beach balls receded like a rip-tide, leaving glasses and cigarettes, bags, stoles and jackets like flotsam and jetsam on tables and chairs. There was a lull in the bar, like the eye of a storm. Figures took shape in dim corners; a few football jerseys, a couple of golfers; conference people in logo tee shirts. There was a re-claiming of space, a charging of glasses, an exchanging of nods; a bonding of sorts.

Outside, under the umbrella, the man with the button-hole and the woman in white joined hands. Their friends closed in and blocked them from view. It was still for a second. Then the circle unwound and raced to the bar. Bride and groom shared a kiss and dashed after them.

It was four minutes into the second half and the commentator called the game in tones of mounting panic. “Nein! Nein!’ screamed the anguished crowd as Argentina scored. A lone cheer from a shadowed corner fell into a leaden silence.

There were ten minutes left when Miroslav Klose flipped the ball into goal. Bronzed arms waved above coiffured heads.

“Deutschland!” clap, clap, clap “Deutschland!” clap, clap, clap.

Shirt-sleeves thumped waist-coated backs. Beach balls and big hair bounced up and down. Brocades smacked kisses on startled red-faces. Bellowed snatches of “Deutschland Deutschland uber alles” transported the suits.

The air buzzed like an electrical field through extra time. People sprang to their feet yelling “Jaaaaaaaa!” as the ball spun towards the German goal, then sank into in their seats as Argentina snatched it away crying “Neieeeeeiiiin!

And finally, we arrived at that hour of judgement, that time of reckoning, that Armageddon of football – the penalty shoot out. Glasses were filled, smokes were lit, everyone settled, tensed, readied. The countdown began.

“Ein! Zwei!……Drei!………..”

If there was a voice raised for Argentina it was lost in the roar.


It was a German win! There was shouting, singing, cheering, laughing, crying, embracing – shirt-sleeves and big-hair, suits and stilettos, white-hair and beach balls, waistcoats and brocade, football jerseys and big hair, golfers and bronzées, conferenciers and coiffures, barmaid and barman, bride and groom, all on the same side now, all whirling around in a demented dance.

The commentator’s voice was drowned out. The TV flickered, forgotten, in its corner. The joy, the jubilation, the disappointment, the tears and the after-match ugliness played on, unheard and unseen, till the screen snapped off and it all vanished into blackness.

The bride and groom led their guests away, out through the French doors, and across the terrace. From a lawn striped with shadows, they threw bunches of white balloons into the fading sky. The trees shivered in the breeze, the fountain dropped curls of misty spray on the pond and beyond it, a group of golfers teed off, then chased specks of white along the darkening fairway.

There was an emptiness now in the bar and a tiny tinge of sadness, like the one that follows the end of a good book. But there was also a feeling anticipation and a sense of excitement too, like the one that comes when there’s more to the story.

A walk in the forest

The Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club
The Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club

I enjoyed my first two days in Hamburg, on the outskirts, at the edge of the Forest.

The Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club is only 10 kilometers from the centre of Hamburg but it seems a world away. Its roofs and gabled windows look out across a tranquil garden, over a thick curtain of trees into a flawless sky. The “outside world” stays discreetly between the covers of brochures, maps and guides. Life, as it is known to tycoons and top end escapists, goes on undisturbed at the Hotel Treudelberg Golf and Country Club.

On one side of the building, behind the closed doors of conference rooms, the machinery of global business ticks and whirrs. On the other, the corridors echo with the muted beat of aerobics from the Fitness Centre and the soft splash of swimmers at the pool. A scent of crèmes and oils drifts under the doors of the Center Estetika and robed wraiths slip noiselessly from sauna to solarium. Outside, golfers trundle along a fairway lit vivid green by a bright summer sun and beside it a path leads away to a fairy tale forest.

For avid golfers around the world, simply being able to play a round of golf with their friends in the sun is all they need to make them happy. It’s a time where they can spend a couple of hours away from the stresses of everyday life to relax and unwind, as well as having the opportunity to improve on their swing (or any other areas of their game). Apparently, their practice doesn’t have to stop on the golf course. Golfers now have the chance to use equipment similar to the skytrak golf simulator to help them continue playing the game from the comfort of their own home. It wouldn’t even matter if the weather is bad, as the sun may be shining brightly on their simulator course instead. The only thing about playing indoors is that they won’t be able to access the beautiful outskirts of the course.

The blue sky, the warm sun, the clear air and the beckoning path outside are irresistible. Feeling like Little Red Riding Hood, but without the basket of goodies for Grandma, I lift the latch on a dark green gate at the end of the hotel gardens and follow the path. It weaves along, through and around the golf course, under canopies of shady trees,past sunny fields of long grass. There’s a distant thuck of everyday clubs on ordinary golf balls, but it’s underscored with magical birdsong and the mysterious whisper of wind in leaves.

At a junction , a white arrow, on a mossy, brothers-Grimm rock, points me in two directions. Close by, there’s the sound of a barking dog, a splash, and the whirr of wings. Two big white birds rise with an outraged squawk above the trees. They hover, then turn and drop further down. Straight ahead, through the trees there’s a shaft of light. I follow a pattern of smudged footprints away from the path, across the damp earth to a clearing with a tiny lake set in steep banks. Sunshine freckles its dark surface, where a dog paddles, trailing a v of wake, towards a circle of disapproving ducks.

I pick up the path again and follow it round the lake, passing only a company of dogs on a dogs’ day out and some serious, stringy-legged hikers spiking their way, with alpen stocks, over humps and hollows, tree-roots and potholes. In distance, there are voices, the desperate whistles of lost dog owners and the faraway drone of an engine.

The path takes me back to the Treudelberg lawn where tall trees stir gently against the perfect sky and a fountain patters softly on a reed fringed pond. I sink into a deck chair and watch the play of light on the leaves. Just when I’m wondering whether life could be more perfect, a shadow falls across the lawn beside me and a waiter in a white coat and bow tie offers me champagne.

The Galini Seaview Hotel, Aghia Marina, Crete

The Galini Sea View is one of a number of large, modern hotels which have invaded the landscape around Aghia Marina.

The Galini Seaview Hotel
The Galini Seaview Hotel

In manner vaguely reminiscent of Club Med, it offers every possible enticement to enjoy Crete from within its pale yellow stone walls.

There’s no need to leave the Galini for anything really.

The Grand Blue buffet restaurant offers cuisine from all over the world for breakfast, lunch and dinner and just in case you feel that since you’re in Crete you should really do as the Cretans do, there’s a dedicated, traditional local section

There are two bars, one in the lobby (ideal for quiet people watching) and a poolside establishment, with a laidback daytime atmosphere and lots of lively and involving evening activities, like quiz contests.

There is a shop, with great souvenirs and all necessities, a library with books in a variety of language and a business centre (in case you can’t let go of it al)l.

There is a gym, of course, and two pools – one indoor and one outdoor. The outdoor pool is surrounded bya  lawn covered in deckchairs which never seem to be vacant, at least not in daylight hours. A group of enthusiastic young animateurs from Eastern Europe rouse the occupants at regular intervals for aquatic activities but they never fully vacate. There’s always some mark of ownership left behind!

If you do feel like a dip in the sea, it’s a short stroll down the hill, across the road and down an alley past the Galini Beachside hotel. This Galini is an older, smaller, humbler Galini but it has a pool, a restaurant and a bar and moreover, it has a charm that its big sister up on the hill does not. Besides, it’s closer to the sea. Out in front on the sand, dozens of deck-chairs and sun umbrellas are lined up, but like those at the pool, these are fully occupied in daylight hours. Luckily, just nearby, an enterprising gentleman has his own deckchair domain, (albeit without umbrellas, but then who comes to Crete for the shade?) and for the cost of a couple of euros you can recline from sunrise to sunset and beyond.

Our seven days at the Galini were really most enjoyable. I took full advantage of the Cretan section of the buffet at the Grand Blue. I didn’t swim in the pool or darken the doors of the gym, but the hike down and up the hill the long swims in the Aegean were workout enough. I didn’t once stretch out on the Galini’s deckchairs, either pool or beach side, nor did I take shelter under its umbrellas, but I benefitted fully from the Cretan sun and added a few euros to local small business. We dipped into a quiz night (but were defeated by a family of Brits) and enjoyed a night of Cretan dancing with the animateurs. I loved our cool, airy comfortable room with its sumptuous bathroom and its balcony with a glimpse of the sea.

All in all the Galini was a good base from which to explore and discover Crete.


Mykonos, Part 6, Theoxenia cuisine

The September Saturday night on Mykonos is wet and cold. Seaside bars, restaurant terraces and nightclubs have no appeal, even on the most famous party island in Greece. The soft, warm light of Theoxenia’s bar and restaurant are seductive. We opt for a night in.

The bar at Theoxenia, Mykonos
The bar at Theoxenia, Mykonos

Sipping on a pre-dinner Mythos in Theoxenia’s lobby bar we watch more intrepid fellow guests set off for their Mykonos Saturday night out. A pair of vampires flits past, followed by Derby and Joan in Macs and Wellies. I catch the barman’s eye. He smiles and shakes his head. “You can’t possibly imagine …” he begins. But before he can complete his observation, he is called away by a customer. To bring him back to the subject five minutes later would seem nosy, if not rude, so I am left imagining what I couldn’t possibly imagine until dinner time.

Theoxenia’s restaurant continues the simple, understated stone, white and blue of its Cycladic exterior. A large wall of windows looks out over the sea. With the darkness of the autumn night behind them, they reflect the warm glow of the room.

Travelstripe is not a gourmet and you will rarely find effusive raves about food in these posts. But the cuisine at Theoxenia must not go unmentioned. Our meal began with a taste of a sort of frittata, courtesy of the kitchen – delicious! Next we shared Haloumi parcels, with olive tepanade and balsamic dressing on a bed of rocket and sundried tomato salad – even more delicious. This was followed by chicken breast stuffed with haloumi and sundried tomatoes served with baked aubergine (for him) and fresh salmon on steamed spinach and redoman with balsamic vinegar (for me) – more delicious still. Unfortunately, we were unable to even contemplate desserts after this marathon.

We returned to Theoxenia’s restaurant quite early the next morning. Outside that wall of windows the sky was blue and the sun was dancing on the sea. The air was heavy with the aroma of Greek coffee. There were full cooked breakfasts of several nationalities on offer but why would you, in fact how could you, when the buffet offered Greek yoghurt, honey, figs, bread, pastries and all kinds of local treats?

Mykonos, Part 2 Theoxenia

When it first opened on Mykonos in the 1960s, Aris Konstantinides’ hotel,  Theoxenia was hailed as a masterpiece of innovation. Built in local stone, using local craftsmanship and following the traditions of ancient Cycladic architecture, it celebrated the island’s distinctive style. It also showcased all the hot, stream-lined luxe of the era.

Some years ago Theoxenia had a modern sixties glam makeover. Now, with its signature vintage look, it is one of the most famous luxury boutique hotels, not just in Mykonos, but in Greece. Theoxenia is designated a “national preserved property”.

Windmills outside Theoxenia
Windmills outside Theoxenia

When our taxi pulls up outside Theoxenia on that grey September day, a woman hurries towards. She is dressed in an oversized track suit and giant sunglasses cover most of her tanned face.

“This is a great place” she says with a catch in her voice, as she slides past me into the back seat.  She slams the door and buries her head in her hands.

“A reluctant departee?  a casualty of a summer romance? a victim of the Mykonos party season?”  I wonder, as the car drives off.

Soon, sitting on a couch, sipping a cocktail, cocooned in the white, turquoise and lime green that covers the walls, continues on the couches, chairs and curtains then flows into urns, floral decorations and art works, I have the answer. I’ve only been here five minutes and already I know I never want to leave and when I have to, I will certainly be in tears.

Outside, a quartet of windmills stand against a steely sky and beyond them the Aegean Sea is dark and ruffled with white. It’s a day for indoor pursuits and Theoxenia seems to offer many possibilities. First, there’s the bar which adjoins the spot where we’re sitting sipping. Downstairs there’s a gym, with views, through narrow windows, over the sea.  There’s a restaurant, with a menu of marvellous Mykonos cuisine and a panoramic vista. For the really determined there’s a pool, surrounded by day beds with billowing white curtains and deck-chairs covered with cloud-like cushions. Then, of course, there are the rooms…

Rooms at Theoxenia sprawl in low blocks around the grounds. Ours overlooks a small rocky bay with a boathouse, where one hardy soul is bobbing bravely up and down in the waves. It reflects all those old Mykonos traditions and all the sixties glamour which have made Theoxenia an icon, from the furniture, through the bold “modern” colours, to the fluffy white robes and slippers emblazoned with a movie star face.

It is tempting to stay here, wrapped in a fluffy robe, ordering up room service, watching the clouds scud past the narrow windows, but outside, the windmills are turning and Mykonos is waiting.