Where to stay in Phuket: La Flora Resort and Spa in Khaolak

I fell in love with Thailand on my first visit, many years ago and that love affair grows every time I return. It’s very appropriately called the Land of Smiles – there’s always plenty of smiling going on – which is extremely catching. This was my third visit to Phuket (my first to Khaolak), which makes it my favourite Thai destination – so far anyway.

Today we’re heading an hour’s drive north of Phuket International Airport to La Flora Resort & Spa in Khaolak.

The hotel’s set in beautiful gardens with two pools, overlooking the golden beach of Bang Liang and those perfect Andaman Sea vistas.

Here’s what I loved about La Flora.

The beach

La Flora sits on a beautiful bay framed by palm trees. The beach is perfect for long post-breakfast meanders before settling down for the inevitable sunbed session. I was often the only person paddling through the beautifully warm water and watching the lone fisherman in action.

The sweeping beach is perfect for sunny meanders

The heavenly view from my subbed

Colourful boats alongside the beach

The drinks on the beach

There’s great beach-side service at La Flora. From frothy cappuccinos, fruity shakes and daily cocktail specials, all delivered to your sunbed for you to savour.

A mango shake makes beach life better

Cucumber gin and tonic overlooking the sea

The pool-side rooms

We upgraded from a regular to a pool-side room. And what a good idea that was.

Our spacious and comfy room offered all the facilities on my really-want list: a fridge, kettle with coffee and tea, a safe, good air conditioning, plenty of fluffy towels and great wifi. The bathroom had a huge shower and a magnificent spa bath complete with lights that changed colour as you submerged yourself in clouds of bubbles. Very indulgent.

The comfortable, huge bed in our stylish room

The room opened out onto a deck complete with two sunbeds (a lot of sunbed action going on at La Flora, you can see). One more step and you were in the sparkling blueness of the pool – private for those lucky enough to be living alongside it.

The pools

Step out of your room for an early morning dip, swim up to the central pool bar or expend some energy doing lengths in perfect peace. The sparkling water and fluttering palm trees made a fantastic scene to open the blinds to in the morning.

Living the pool life – steps from our room

And here’s the jacuzzi. Simply press the button and enjoy some relaxing bubbles on the top step.

Our own personal jacuzzi right outside our stunning room

You’re spoilt for swimming choice at La Flora as there’s also the main pool adjacent to the beach. You’ll have to be up fairly early if you want to  nab one of the overlooking sunbeds. It’s an active pool with swimmers, paddlers and those simply enjoying the view.

The main pool is right on the edge of the beach

The food

How I love the breakfast buffets in South East Asia. The colourful platters of tropical fruit make for a delightful start to any day. My three favourites – the combination of Ps – Passion fruit, Pomelo and Papaya. All made to taste even more delicious by eating them overlooking the beach. And that’s just the start.

The perfect way to start the day

Gotta love a multi-course breakfast. The Asian selection was quite intimidating – all that decision making first thing in the morning. A couple of times a week there was a huge dim sum offering which I dived into.

Lift the lid to reveal myriad dim sum

The restaurant had tables right on the edge of the beach which we always headed for whatever the meal. You couldn’t find a nicer eating environment. For lunch we often tucked into starters from the a la carte menu, all of which were delightful, like these chicken satays.

Eating chicken satays overlooking the sea

On the beach just to the side of the hotel was a street food cart. Or should that be a beach food cart? Corn piled high, large, luscious spring rolls, satays and my favourite Thai salad – green papaya made in front of you.

Beach food delights right next door

We ate dinner several times off the a la carte menu which offered a great choice. And twice a week the hotel set up an incredible buffet spread showcasing a wide range of Asian and Western dishes.

It’s also worth mentioning that there was a decent selection of good, well-priced wine on offer which is not always the case in Thailand. As wine drinkers it made our La Flora experience just that little bit more enjoyable.

The service

Thailand is known for its friendly service and La Flora didn’t disappoint. Waiters made an effort to get to know you and make you feel welcome and everywhere you went you were greeted with a cheery sawsdee ka. One night the manager even got an extra table set up for us overlooking the beach when they were already all reserved.

The entertainment

We enjoyed listening to the duo from the Philippines who sang on a few of the nights, took requests and could perform a mean version of Candle in the Wind. Plus one night we were treated to beautifully elegant traditional Thai dancing. Here are the lovely ladies.

Beautiful, graceful and colourful traditional Thai dancers

The nearby town

Okay, this isn’t actually about the hotel but the fact that it was set just back from a charming little town is definitely worth a mention. Five minutes walk up the street to myriad massage opportunities, rustic al fresco restaurants and bars and shops for all your necessities. Oh and a marvellous array of street food, too.

The street food is great in Khaolak

An array of tasty skewers to dazzle

La Flora Resort & Spa is the perfect get-away-from-it-all spot for a relaxed beachside holiday with beach walks and plenty of swimming, delicious food and warm service. They do offer a range of excursions if you’re inclined to explore the area more, but as ever I found it hard to drag myself off that perfect beach.

 

Where to stay in Malton, Yorkshire: The Talbot Hotel

Continuing my series on Where to Stay on your travels, today we’re taking a mini break, heading north from London to Malton, Yorkshire.

The Talbot Hotel was originally built in the early 17th century as a hunting lodge and has traded as an inn since 1740. It was completely restored in 2011. Here’s why you should stay there.

The location

Set in the heart of the historic market town of Malton with its myriad shops and great food, it’s also only 10 miles from the North York Moors and 18 miles from the city of York. I love that you get the mix of country living – fresh air, peace and open spaces – as well as a bustling little town with great food shopping and a cookery school. Read more about what I saw in Malton here.

The views

Quintessentially English with green, rolling countryside as far as the eye can see. The hotel is set on a hill so you get a wonderful perspective on your surroundings and the rural world around you.

dsc01172

Yes, it really was this green, the English countryside at its best

The rooms

The beautifully decorated rooms are generous in size with a large, extremely comfortable bed, desk, separate seating area and lovely ensuite. I particularly loved the huge shower and its striking black and white tiles.

There’s a kettle and a range of coffee and tea including a lot of herbal brews – a refreshing cup of tea in the comfort of your room is always welcome.

Oh and the wi-fi’s really good – fast and reliable.

022

The breakfast

One of the absolute best things about staying in a hotel has to be breakfast time. I’m not usually much of a breakfast eater. I know, it’s the most important meal of the day, I just can’t manage it – unless I’m in a hotel, that is, and options are literally presented to me on a plate.

There’s a buffet offering of fruit, cereal and pastries and a menu of delights, too. The first morning I tucked into poached eggs and avocado on toast – heavenly.

img_3824

I love the combo of avocado and egg

On morning two I wrestled with my choices, ultimately abandoning one of my favourite breakfast treats – eggs benedict – for the delights of a full English. Thought I’d better sample the local bacon, sausage and black pudding and I wasn’t disappointed. I liked the fact that it wasn’t stupidly huge like they sometimes are and I managed to polish off the whole plate.

Okay, I admit it, I must be a breakfast eater, just not if I’m making it myself.

img_3862

The full English Talbot-style

The Cookery School

Not only can you shop for and eat amazing food in Malton, you can learn how to cook it too. The Malton Cookery School is allied to the hotel and is just down the road. We did a Yorkshire lamb workshop, which you can read about here. There’s a wide range of courses all held in a kitchen with fantastic facilities and knowledgeable, professional teachers. A really fun and educational way to spend a morning and you’ll come away inspired with new ideas to try at home. I promise.

dsc01174

The spacious kitchen is a pleasure to work in

The Wentworth Restaurant

We had a delightful dinner in the hotel’s Wentworth restaurant (there’s also the more informal Malton Brasserie which I didn’t have the chance to try out). The menu showcases local products and offered some intriguing choices.

Like this cheese and pickle starter. Smoked Ribblesdale mousse was served with pickled golden vegetables and mustard granola. One of the prettiest starters in a long time and great in flavour, too, with its soft cheesiness, crispy veg and crunchy granola.

img_3839

A different take on a classic English combo

I opted for some local scallops which were served with pork belly, black pudding, carrot and blood orange. I’ve experienced the scallop/black pudding thing before and it’s quite amazingly good. The small slivers of pork belly were tender and flavoursome and the carrot puree sweet and delicious.

img_3843

Scallop heaven partnered with black pudding

The fish main course option was roast North Sea halibut which was served with mussels, braised fennel, Jeera (cumin) sauce and coconut. The sweetest of fish with an elegant and subtle cumin-flavoured coconut sauce.

img_3845

Fish with a touch of the Asian flavours

As we’d spent the morning cooking and eating lamb I had a rare desire for a vegetarian dinner. Lucky for me there was the perfect dish on the menu. The fried potato gnocchi came with woodland mushrooms, peas and broad beans and a silken truffle cream sauce. The little towers of gnocchi were beautifully browned and slightly crispy – just the way I like them, and the pea, bean and pea shoot added greenness and sweetness. The perfect dinner dish after a meat-filled day.

img_3847

A delightful plate of indulgent gnocchi

Tonight we were going big – so dessert was on the cards. The options were too good to resist. The Valrhona Manjari chocolate marquise came with cherries in kirsch, cherry sorbet and pistachios. The perfect pudding in shades of purple.

img_3852

Who could resist this chocolate/cherry combination

Being not much of a dessert person I took on the responsibility of trying the local cheeses with this substantial artisan selection served with yummy sloe berry chutney, poached grapes and biscuits. All good stuff – and as for the poached grapes.

img_3856

Yorkshire is definitely for cheese lovers

The service 

From the warm and efficient welcome at reception to the friendly greetings and smiles from staff, great dinner service and the chatty barman in the cosy bar, everyone is clearly doing their best to make sure you’re happy. And they seem to be enjoying it too.

I felt at home at The Talbot from the moment I walked through the door. It has a warmth and comfort about it and is the perfect base for exploring this beautiful and delicious part of Yorkshire.

003

Looking up towards the lovely hotel

Where to stay in Tuscany: Borgo Santo Pietro

Continuing my series on beautiful hotels I recommend, we’re visiting Tuscany.

Situated about two hours’ drive from Pisa near the hillside town of Chuisdino, Borgo Santo Pietro is the stuff that dreams are made of. Overlooking the stunning Valle Serena, the five-star boutique hotel is set in huge grounds, creating the ultimate escape. And the food, service, extra activities and amazing attention to detail make for a holiday idyll where you can totally immerse yourself in Tuscan life and the ultimate in luxury.

Here’s what’s I loved about it.

The setting

From the moment the majestic gates open and you drive down the cypress-lined avenue, you’ll be enraptured by this magical place. With the 13th-century villa at its heart, Borgo radiates out into the most beautiful of grounds to stroll around and lose yourself in.

borgo

Welcome to Borgo…you’re not going to want to ever leave

The stylish manor house is the heart of Borgo

The stylish manor house is the heart of Borgo

panorama

The view out over the Valle Serena

The accommodation

Talk about wow factor! Spacious, stylish and stunning, the ultimate in hotel luxury. Twinkling chandeliers, enormously plush beds and large bathrooms with huge walk-in showers and deep  bathtubs. And beautiful outdoor space to chill out among vines and orange trees while inhaling the purity of that Tuscan air.

bedroom

The view of the bed from the lounge area. Sparkling chandeliers abound here…

bathroom

Luxury bathrooms for your indulgence, time to soak in the tub

terrace

The most idyllic of terraces in the Tuscan sun

The restaurants and the food

The main restaurant, Valle Serena (named after the valley it overlooks) is overseen by Executive Chef Francesco Gasbarro. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect dinner setting and as Borgo Santo Pietro grows its own vegetables and herbs, you’re guaranteed the freshest and tastiest of ingredients. Wonderfully mouth-watering and creatively constructed dishes to enjoy – more to come in a later post (watch this space) – I have plenty to say about the wonderful dishes I sampled.

hotel at night

How’s this for a charmingly romantic restaurant?

pork

My beautifully tender and flavoursome pork main course

The other restaurant, The Treehouse, is open for lunch and dinner. And on Mondays it hosts a farmers market, displaying a wealth of Tuscan delights to select from. Again, more on this later.

buffet

There’s plenty to tempt you at the Treehouse buffet

The breakfasts, served in the Manor House kitchen, were fabulous, too…and I’m still dreaming of those cappuccinos.

The attention to detail

The extra touches constantly amazed me. Seriously, they’ve thought of everything. Like supplying books and magazines (in several languages) at the pool – just in case you left yours behind, I guess.

books at pool

Reading matter awaits beside the pool and its early morning mist

Some other amazing examples…There’s a mobile phone in your room which you’re encouraged to carry with you around the grounds, so wherever you are you can call up and order a drink or some food. Heaven forbid that you’d have to go and fetch it yourself.

If you take advantage of the hotel’s transfer from the airport, or wherever you are, there’s wifi in the car for you to log on to.

If you sign up for the truffle hunt (and I can’t recommend it enough), you’ll be lead to a walk-in cupboard to select hiking boots supplied by the hotel in your size. No chance of being unprepared for your trek through the forest.

There are fireplaces everywhere…who doesn’t love a fireplace. Even in your room, just call reception to get it lit.

The grounds and spaces

The beautiful gardens are scattered with seating areas. Whether you want to lounge by the pool, meditate on life by the lake or have a cappuccino in a tiny corner away from everything…

garden

Find your own favourite spot…and enjoy

And then there’s what was probably my favourite spot…The Treehouse. It’s not up a tree but at the base and this beautifully welcoming room is the perfect place for a drink any time, or just for a proper get-away-from-it-all chillout.

treehouse

Leather sofas, a real fire and more chandeliers…aaaah

The activities

Once you’ve switched into Tuscan time and shed all your cares, there’s all the lovely activities to contemplate. Try a wine tasting with Simona, the charming sommelier; take painting with the artist-in-residence or flower arranging lessons; enjoy yoga classes or a treatment at the spa. Or as we did, go truffle hunting for those oh-so-precious truffles with local truffle hunters and their dogs. A wonderful experience that you can read more about on another post (you can see, there’s still plenty of Tuscan magic to come). And don’t forget, there’s masses of beautiful countryside and amazing villages to explore: by foot, Vespa or even horseback. Make sure to order a picnic to take with you.

Stella the truffle dog sniffs out the truffles, then waits patiently

Stella the truffle dog sniffs out the truffles, then waits patiently

Any time spent at Borgo Santo Pietro is extraordinarily special. This is a unique experience (which obviously comes at a price) but you’ll be constantly amazed in this little piece of paradise. Start saving now for the experience of a lifetime.

Find out more at www.borgonsantopietro.com

Cocktails and glamour on Jermyn Street

To state the obvious, London is teeming with pubs and bars…but it’s also packed full of people. And I hate all that pushing and waiting to be served and never being able to find a seat. I’ve never got the joy of standing for hours drinking. Frankly, it makes me quite grumpy. So I’m always seeking out new refuges to escape the busy London streets where I can sit and relax and  try something new.

My latest discovery is the Rosa Lewis Bar in the Cavendish Hotel.The hotel’s set on genteel Jermyn Street, where it’s been since 1815. I love Jermyn Street, it’s an oasis after the hectic-ness of Piccadilly (which it’s just off). It’s home to lovely bars, restaurants and shops including the famous (in our family anyway) “shaving shop” where you can buy shaving brushes made using the hair from badgers’ tummies (mmm very soft) and a cornucopia of delectable products, perfect Christmas presents for all the men in your life.

The recently refurbished bar is named after the intrepid lady who ran a catering business from the hotel from around 1899 and then refurbished the hotel to attract an amazingly glamorous class of customer! A nice bit of London history, I’d have loved to have been be a fly on the wall at some of those parties. Her famous rebuke to anyone who misbehaved was “You treat my house like an hotel!”

The bar is glamourous and comfortable with sparkling lights, plush carpets and Rosa herself looking down on her guests (well a portrait of her anyway).

You still get the feeling that Rosa is looking out for her guests

You still get the feeling that Rosa is looking out for her guests. That’s her in the blue dress

Looking towards the sparkling bar

Looking towards the sparkling bar

There’s an amazing array of drinks on offer including fabulous cocktails, like this one, made from raspberry, passion fruit, vanilla vodka, Finlandia vodka and Limencello.

rosa lewis3

A cocktail that tastes as good as it looks

My new secret escape place for a break from shopping or to get away from the overcrowded pre- and post-theatre bars.

Until the 15th September (so for the next week), cocktails are half price on Mondays.

The Rosa Lewis Bar is at 81 Jermyn Street SW1.

Oh and if you’re interested, the “shaving shop” is called Taylor of Old Bond Street and is at 74 Jermyn St.