Living the fairytale life at Hotel Chateau du Grand-Luce

Glorious Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé

From the moment I disembarked at diminutive Tours Airport I could feel I was in for something special. Driving through sunflower fields and idyllically sleepy villages I felt my sense of expectation growing as we headed deeper into the verdant Loire Valley. Final destination? The village of Le Grande-Luce.

It’s a dreamy sort of village with a church, two boulangeries, a chemist and, bizarrely, three hairdressers. And the piece de resistance (well, we are in France) set proudly in the centre of the village is the Château du Grand-Lucé.

Built by the Baron de Luce in 1764 it’s had a rich and somewhat turbulent history having survived the French Revolution, a rampant fire in the village and two World Wars. In the second one it became a hospital for wounded British military officers and paintings from the Louvre were hidden from the Nazis in a cellar under the stables. Since then it’s been a cinema, a holiday home and a fabulous wedding venue, and from Spring 2019 it opens for the first time as a hotel.

As the heavy black metal gates slowly opened, revealing the sweeping driveway and the imposing, neoclassical chateau, I breathed in the regal air and readied myself to play my part in its incredible history. And to enjoy living like a fairy-tale princess for a while!

Grand-Luce: me

Loving the chateau lifestyle

Come on in…

The stunning interior shows off high ceilings, sparkling chandeliers and classically elegant decor. There’s a grand pink dining room (you could have some dinners to remember in there), and plenty of plush seating areas for chilling out.

Grand-Luce: lounge

The beautifully stylish living area

Grand-Luce: dining room

The spacious grandness of the pink dining room

And then it’s time to go upstairs. Wow! How I can imagine dancing down that glorious staircase. The rooms on the first floor are all uniquely decorated, no one is the same. I stayed in the luxury of the Butterfly room, home to the antique wallpaper covered in, guess what, butterflies. Living surrounded by these beautifully delicate creatures quite simply makes life better.

Grande du Luce: seating area

My comfy seating area surrounded by butterflies

A large double bed with canopy and luxurious linen led to blissful nights of sleep and awakening in butterfly heaven, refreshed and ready to enjoy a new day in Loire heaven.

Grande Luce: bed

The tempting, luxurious bed

And from the moment I drew back the curtains (some of the biggest (and heaviest) curtains I’ve ever seen) my heart leapt at the view across the sweeping lawns towards the oak forest in the distance.

The magnificent grounds

Château du Grand-Lucé is set in 80 acres and  you’ll find flourishing flower, herb and vegetable gardens, a lake and meadows. The garden is dotted with statues given as a gift from King Louis XV, may of which are exact replicas of statues at Versailles, and crystal chandeliers hang from the avenue of trees. Seriously, chandeliers in the trees – and they come on at night!

Grand-Luce: crystal chandeliers

The trees sparkle with crystal chandeliers

There’s a quirky perfectly round swimming pool beside the orangery for lazy, sunny days.

Grand-Luce: pool

The sparkling pool beckons

With so much outside space, Château du Grand-Lucé is the perfect place for alfresco dining. Which we did a lot of. Long tables set with crisp linen and decorated with fresh flowers from the garden. You’re off to a good start before you even start eating.

Grand-Luce: dinner outside

Gotta love dining alfresco

Grand-Luce: dining table

Beautifully decorated with flowers from the garden

Grand-Luce: fruit and veg

The greenery of the fruit and vegetable garden

Grande Luce: sunflower

Giant sunflowers punctuate the Loire landscape

Grand-Luce: secret spot

One of many secluded spots to relax in

Food glorious food

Okay France is well-known for its stunning cuisine. And the Loire region does offer a lot of local deliciousness. Like these amazing pork rillettes. Melt-in-the-mouth snacking joy! Or how about some pigs in blankets? Impossible to resist.

Grand-Luce: rilettes

Tasty rillettes are a speciality of the area

Here’s a taster of what to expect. I’m warning you…be prepared to salivate!

Perfectly cooked steak served with a creamy Bernaise sauce and roasted vegetables from the chateau’s garden.

Grand-Luce: steak

Tender steak with perfect Bernaise sauce

Grand-Luce: apple tart

When in France eat apple tart tartin

Grand Luce: salads

The freshest of salad spreads

Grand-Luce: cheese

French cheese simply should not be resisted

And here we are posing in our fabulous, huge windows. It was irresistible. Loved those windows.

Loved Château du Grand-Lucé. A truly fabulous piece of Loire paradise.

Grand-Luce: windows

The best windows with the best views

The details

Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé opens in June 2019.

Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé is less than an hour’s drive from Tours Airport. It is also less than one hour from Paris by train to Le Mans which is about a half an hour drive away.

Find out more

Château du Grand-Lucé, le Grand Luce, Loire Valley, France

Visit https://chateaugrandluce.com/

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/chateaudugrandluce/  

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/chateaudugrandluce/  

Where to stay in Franschhoek, South Africa: Mont Rochelle

The heaven that is Mont Rochelle

Franschhoek is one of those places I keep going back to. I simply have to. This small town deep in the Winelands of the Cape, just about an hour from central Cape Town, is known as the food capital of South Africa. For good reason – there are certainly more restaurants than you can possibly eat in on one visit (or even several!). And there’s even more wine to taste. A serious gourmet heaven in the most beautiful of surrounds.

Today we’re heading for the paradise that is Mont Rochelle. This intimate 26-room hotel is part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition Collection. It’s set in expansive grounds just outside the centre of town with fabulous views across the vines and valleys towards the majesty of the distant mountains.

Mont Rochelle: hotel

The beautifully stylish hotel awaits, across the vines

Here’s what I loved about it.

The welcome and the service

You’ve barely stepped foot out of your car when you’re enveloped in the warmth of Mont Rochelle. Peter is waiting to enthusiastically welcome you and before you know it you’re on the verandah taking in the breathtaking view with a glass of bubbles in your hand! I certainly felt instantly at home.

All the staff are friendly, helpful and knowledgable without being intrusive. Some of the best service I’ve ever encountered makes Mont Rochelle an even more enjoyable experience.

The beautiful suites

Having finished our bubbles, we were escorted to our Cap Classique Suite in the Vineyard Wing. And some suite it turned out to be, too! An enormous bedroom, ensuite bathroom with spacious shower and deeply inviting bath and large lounge area with inclusive mini bar make up the interior. It’s certainly breathtaking.

Mont Rochelle: bedroom

A hotel room that’s the ultimate in comfort

Mont Rochelle: lounge

And then there’s the elegant, spacious lounge

Gotta love an expansive bathroom. Unfortunately due to the dreadful drought so I didn’t have the chance to luxuriate in this mega-bath. Think it’s worth going back for that alone. Not that I need an excuse.

Mont Rochelle: bathroom

Being clean and fresh has never been so stylish

And then you go outside. The double verandah leads to a private, heated plunge pool and looks out across rich green vineyards and valleys towards the towering mountains in the distance. This is the sort of place you’re never going to want to leave. Like ever.

Mont Rochelle: verandah

Looking back over our private plunge pool to our double verandah

Mont Rochelle: hanging chair

Terry chills out on the hanging chair

Mont Rochelle give all guests a signature duck, so cute. Here are mine chilling by my plunge pool.

Mont Rochelle: pool

Little Mont Rochelle ducks chill too, by the pool

Beds are turned down and scattered with rose petals while you’re out exploring the delights of Franschhoek.

Mont Rochelle: petals

Petals, robes and slippers ready for you after dinner

The pools

The main pool has even more spectacular mountain and valley views. It’s heated and lined with plenty of comfy loungers with a bar at one end for a reviving poolside cocktail or a glass of the local wine. The perfect place to soak up the sun and relaxation in luxury.

Mont Rochelle: pool

The perfect pool complete with sun loungers

Our suite also had its own heated plunge pool, twinkling invitingly in the sun with more fabulous vineyard and mountain views.

Mont Rochelle: room view

Chill out overlooking the private pool towards the valley

The stunning design and art

As well as being set in fabulously beautiful natural surroundings, Mont Rochelle is stylish and packed with quirky art. And there are plenty of surprises in store with myriad nooks and crannies to explore. Like this beautiful fountain.

Mont Rochelle: fountain

The picturesque fountain and beautiful valley views

And the Mont Rochelle rhino looking majestically across the valley.

Mont Rochelle: rhino

Love the Mont Rochelle rhino hiding in the garden

And also the clambering goats in the restaurant. I really wanted to take one home.

Mont Rochelle: goats

Quirky goat statues grace the restaurant

Mont Rochelle: Miko

Miko is stylish and unique in its design

The feast at breakfast time

Start off your day with a wonderful selection of tropical fruit, pastries, cereals and other cold delights. Passion fruit is my favourite and these were real beauties.

Mont Rochelle: breakfast fruit

Perfect passion fruit tops the tower of fruit

Before moving on to ponder the delightful cooked options on offer. A full English is always hard to resist and this was a substantial plate complete with all the favourites.

Mont Rochelle: full English

Starting the day with a tasty full English breakfast

I treated myself to a twice baked cheese souffle with mushroom sauce, crisp bacon and creamed spinach. What an indulgent start to the day.

Mont Rochelle: souffle

Souffle for breakfast, the ultimate morning indulgence

Beautiful Franschhoek town

As hard as it is to tear yourself away from the luxuries of Mont Rochelle, Franschhoek also has a lot to offer. The best way to explore the picture perfect town and taste the incredible range of local wine is on the legendary Wine Tram. You can read all about my hedonistic day of wine tasting here.

And finally, explore the lovely, individual shops, stop for a coffee at Sacred Ground (my favourite name for a coffee shop), and certainly try out one (or some) of the amazing, high quality restaurants. I’d particularly recommend Marigold in the main street for fabulous Indian cuisine. You can read about our dinner at Marigold here.

Of course in a foodie heaven like Franschhoek there are always new restaurants opening. So there’s just the excuse I need for another visit. Bring it on!

Mont Rochelle is at Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek, 7960, South Africa.

Where to stay in Mexico: Grand Velas Los Cabos

Loving life at Grand Velas Los Cabos

I’m still slightly reeling from my fabulous year of travel in 2017. I visited eight new countries, two new continents and completed my full house of seven continents visited when I set foot on magical Antarctica. What a trip that was, you can read more about it by clicking here.

And one of my new countries was fabulous Mexico. An overnight flight to Mexico City, a short hop to the little airport of Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsular and a drive through the cactus-lined desert and we arrived at the glorious Grand Velas Los Cabos.

This five-star all-inclusive resort overlooks the sparkle of the Sea of Cortez and has everything you could possibly want for a heavenly beachside escape.

Here’s what I loved about it.

The views

The hotel is designed so that no matter where you are there’s always a stunning azure sea view, punctuated by the blue sparkle of the pools, the greens and vibrant colours of tropical plants and palm trees and of course the perfect white sandy beach. What a combination!

Grand Velas: pool and sea

Views in different shades of blue

I even found myself up early in the morning (extremely early) watching the golden sunrise from my balcony and taking endless sea vista pictures. Views don’t get better than this for beach babies like me.

Grand Velas: balcony view

The stunning view from my balcony

The beach

The beautiful white sand was perfect for early morning meanders – especially as often I was the only person around. How I loved leaving the first footprints of the day in the sand.

Grand Velas: beach

The pool leads on to the quiet beach

And little cabana-style beds on the beach are the perfect place to chill and enjoy a cocktail or two.

Grand Velas: Beach beds

Chill out on your private beach bed

Grand Velas: Beach

My footprints on the beach early in the morning

The pools

There are plenty of beautiful lounging opportunities at the cleverly designed beachside infinity pools with their tempting, comfy beds. And of course the chance for an instantly refreshing dip any time of day.

Grand Velas: pool and sea

Escape to a land of blue sparkle

My personal concierge

Grand Velas Los Cabos is all-inclusive and that includes all food and drink and your own personal concierge. We swapped mobile numbers at check-in and I was instructed to text or call her if I wanted anything. Not that I ever needed to as she seemed to appear as if by magic every time I even thought about asking a question. These angels will make all your wishes come true, bring you food and drink anywhere on the resort, book spa sessions, print out boarding cards (and anything else you may need printed)…generally make sure you want for nothing. Superb.

The suites

The rooms are beautifully decorated in shades of blue and white with huge beds, a desk and seating area, great wifi and a large balcony with totally stunning sea views.

Grand Velas: Room

How I loved my beautiful, spacious room

The mini bar

And a mini bar…worth a mention on its own. Constantly restocked, it has a wide choice of liquor and soft drinks, tea and coffee making facilities (with a wide range of beautiful teas to choose from) and a stylish bottle of local tequila. Delicious it was, too!

Grand Velas: Mini bar

Happiness is…a fully stocked mini bar

The fabulous food

Grand Velas Los Cabos is culinary heaven. It has seven restaurants – yes seven, and eating at all of them is included. You’ll find Mexican, French and Italian cuisine as well as fabulous seafood and steaks. Cocina de Autor does an amazing tasting menu with some truly inventive dishes inspired by local ingredients. The presentation was a sight to behold and the flavours so beautiful. Plus we had the chance to try plenty of Mexican wine – a first for me. I’m now definitely a fan.

Grand Velas: Cocina de Autor

Delightfully exotic dishes at Cocina de Autor

Grand Velas: sole

Delightfully sweet sole in a delicate foam

If you can’t drag yourself out of your stunning suite you don’t have to! Of course you wouldn’t have to – Grand Velas Los Cabos is that sort of place. It’s like they have anticipated every wish you could have and are ready to make them all come true. The 24-hour in-suite dining menu offers so many choices. I couldn’t resist this beautiful tuna tartare served with guacamole, salsa and tortillas. Every fish dish I sampled was out of this world – and as for the guacamole. Mexican avos rock.Grand Velas: Room service

Room service for tartare and guacamole

The food by the pool is also fabulous. There really is something special about lying on a sun lounger looking at the ocean and tucking into a fabulous fresh ceviche while sipping a mango daiquiri. Really – does life get better than this?

Grand Velas: poolside food

More fresh tuna, this time at the pool

The breakfast spread in Azul is jaw dropping. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a bigger array – it’s seriously a three-course breakfast type of place. And with more spectacular views it’s the ideal way to start your day.

Grand Velas: Azul

Sunny breakfasts on the terrace at Azul

The spa and gym

After all that breakfast feasting it’s just as well there’s a superb gym. Large, packed with equipment and with blue views over the sea to keep you motivated to work off some calories so you’re prepared for your next foodie treat. And yes, I did use it.

Grand Velas: Gym

The view from the gym makes exercise more enjoyable.

There’s also what the hotel describes as a lavish Water Ceremony. It’s basically the biggest jacuzzi I’ve ever seen with plenty of clever ways to massage different parts of your body and loungers to relax on if it all gets too much for you!

Grand Velas: Spa

The best jacuzzi in the world in the stunning spa

And the spa is like paradise within heaven. We had amazing massages and lay back afterwards with warm pillows and the softest of throws. Boy was it difficult to get up off that bed.

The sunsets and sunrises

How I love a good sunset (or rise), though being more of a nighttime sort of person I don’t see many of the rises. However at Grand Velas Los Cabos I found myself awake and ready to witness the dawning of the day before my early-morning walk on what felt like my private beach.

Grand Velas: sunrise

The best sunrises and sunsets ever

The excursions

Grand Velas Los Cabos is halfway between the towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. Both lovely places to visit with trendy shops and boutiques, bars to try and lots of water-based activities to enjoy. We went sailing out into the blue, saw amazing jumping manta rays leaping all around us, plunged into the balmy waters for a swim and sipped myriad cocktails as we sailed into the wind. Tequila Sunrise anyone?

Grand Velas: Sailing

Sipping cocktails while sailing the ocean blue

Grand Velas: Arches of Cortez

The Arches of Cortez against the azure sky

The Spanish-ness

Okay here’s a different one. Of course I was aware that Spanish is the language of Mexico but I guess I hadn’t computed that it would remind me very much of Spain. And my love of Spain is well documented – I visit at every opportunity I get. So I immediately felt so at home in this beautiful Spain-like country on another continent. And fell in love with its people too.

I really, really loved the paradise that is Grand Velas Los Cabos. Here’s my happy, sun-kissed  selfie to prove it.

Grand Velas: Beach selfie

And of course…a beach selfie

I flew to Mexico with AeroMexico, direct from London to Mexico City with an easy connection to Cabos San Lucas.

Check out the website at grandvelas.com

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Looking up towards the lovely hotel

Where to stay in Sri Lanka: my five favourites

Sri Lanka is a country of contrasts, from its cosmopolitan capital Colombo to the many sweeping beaches and majestically green mountains and forests, there’s a different aspect around every corner. And wherever you venture the welcome is warm, the food is exotic and delicious and there’s plenty of history and tradition to absorb.

Today I’m taking you to five places I visited and continuing my Where to Stay series, I’ve included five hotels I stayed in and why I particularly liked them. It’s a five-for-one sort of day. The pictures could speak for themselves really…some truly stunning places.

I started in Colombo. The city has a long history as a port on the ancient east-west trade routes (going back over 2,000 years) and it’s a very diverse history, too. Sri Lanka was ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British before independence in 1948 and this is reflected in the capital’s culture and architecture.

A mix of old and new (and updated) with teeming streets of myriad vehicles, bustling markets and people of all religions living in harmony. It’s the only place I’ve ever seen a mosque, a temple, a Roman Catholic church and an Anglican church all metres from each other. An example of diversity at its best. And easy to explore from the comfort of our base at The Kingsbury Hotel.

THE KINGSBURY HOTEL, COLOMBO

Perched proudly on the coast, The Kingsbury‘s sweeping driveway and spacious, high-ceilinged lobby makes for a grand entrance. And the rest of the hotel lives up to that initial expectation.

THE BEDROOMS

In the days of shrinking hotel rooms, I was delighted with the space and light with floor-to-ceiling windows and a massive bed in the centre of the room. I mean seriously massive, with the biggest and plushest pillows ever. How I wanted to bring one of those pillows home. A large ensuite with luxury walk-in shower was well stocked with Bulgari toiletries and fluffy towels.

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Beds don’t get more comfortable than this

THE FOOD

Buffets are extremely popular in Sri Lanka and The Kingsbury takes this to a seriously new level. Their splendid buffet spreads out over two rooms (I missed the second half initially) and offers a spread of Western, Indian, Japanese and South East Asian cuisine prepared by renowned chefs from around the globe. There are stunning displays of fresh produce at breakfast, lunch and dinner, an array of ready-prepared dishes and (my favourite part) food stations where the chefs cook fresh dishes in front of you. It’s where I ate the first of many hoppers (more of that in a later post) – a Sri Lankan favourite that I fell in love with. Their High Tea is a real show stopper.

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The indulgent seafood section

THE SKY LOUNGE

Gotta love any opportunity for some alfresco socialising. The Sky Lounge is the perfect spot for sundowners – breathe in some of those sea breezes and watch the sun sink below the horizon. There’s a great cocktail list, so settle in.

Prishan Pandithage Photography

Al fresco sundowners overlooking the sea

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My first Sri Lankan sunset…stunning

JETWING, YALA

Yala National Park, in the south-east of the country, is the second largest in Sri Lanka. It’s a unique mix of jungle, grassland, forest and scrubland also bordered on one side by the ocean. It is home to 215 bird species, 44 types of mammals and has one of the highest leopard densities in the world.

Set just outside the park, Jetwing Yala is the ultimate escape-from-everything sort of place. It nestles in an unspoilt forest reserve down a dusty road (always a good thing), bordered on one side by a stunning beach.

THE BEDROOMS

I’m no camper but give me a tent any time if it’s like this one. From the minute I unzipped the door (a novel way to get in to any room), I loved this large airy space and could have spent hours lying on the luxurious bed looking out towards the sea. And then there’s the bathroom. Light-filled and stylish with two showers – one indoor and one outdoor – I did love showering under the blue Sri Lankan sky and certainly left Yala squeaky clean.

Tented Villas, Jetwing Yala, Sri Lanka

Now this is my kind of tent

THE PEACE AND HARMONY

You’re driven in golf buggies to your tented villa (a quick call to reception and they’re there to pick you up again) and it really does feel you’ve been delivered to your own private piece of paradise. The large terrace looks out across the forest towards the sea and when night falls twinkling lights create a wonderland where the only sounds are the occasional animal on night time explorations. You’re woken at dawn by the rising sun and birdsong – another day to breathe in the freshest of Yala morning air.

Tented Villas, Jetwing Yala, Sri Lanka

As dusk falls, a new world unfolds

THE BEACH

A wonderful first for me – a national park that’s also a beach resort. And the beach at Jetwing Yala is stunning. There’s a bar and beds perched on top of the dunes where you can while away sunny hours or you can organise your own private dinner by firelight overlooking the sea. Just watch out for elephants – really, there’s a sign warning you to.

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Sand dunes, the white beach and sparkling azure sea

JETWING KADURUKETHA, WELLAWAYA

Jetwing Kaduruketha offers a different environment to escape to. Set in the peaceful village surroundings of Wellawaya it’s a real chance to get in touch with the people and traditions of Sri Lanka. There are 25 chalets spread over 60 acres, overlooking the working paddy fields.

THE ROOMS

Beautifully spacious with light flooding in and an open-access bathroom running down one side. The huge shower looks straight over the fields. Plenty of seating options with a sofa, desk (with a fabulous view, I enjoyed blogging from here!) and verandah chairs. All rooms are supplied with their own bicycles for getting around the resort or heading off on your own voyage of discovery.

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Your own private space with views all round

THE RESTAURANT

The open-sided dining room overlooks the hotel’s stunning pool, the paddy fields and majestic mountains in the distance. There’s an a la carte menu with a mix of traditional Sri Lankan dishes and contemporary Asian and International cuisine. Breakfast offered such a selection of deliciousness – my eggs Benedict was spectacular, with the addition of curry leaves for a bit of local flavour.

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An amazing breakfast: Sri Lankan eggs Benedict

THE SCENERY

Kaduruketha is a perfect picture in shades of blues and greens. The resort itself with its trees, vegetable gardens, freedom and open spaces provides an instant leap back to nature. Meander through the fields, amble along the banks of the nearby bubbling streams, explore the village full of friendly locals or hike through the mountains. It’s your chance to kick back and immerse yourself in rural Sri Lanka.

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Nature’s view: Paddy fields, forests and mountains

THE BLACKPOOL HOTEL, NURAWA ELIYA

The heights of Nurawa Eliya are often referred to as Little England – it was the favoured escape for the English and Scottish pioneers of Sri Lanka’s tea industry. The weather’s even pretty British – with swirling mist and plentiful rain. You can smell the aroma of tea in the air and see it growing all around you from The Blackpool Hotel (another touch of England for you).

THE BEDROOMS

The contrast from the steamy weather of the lowlands brings the opportunity to enjoy plush carpets underfoot, thick duvets to snuggle under and a wonderful in-room fire to toast your toes in front of. Large doors open onto the balcony overlooking the far-reaching greenness of terraced tea plantations.
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THE FOOD

Another amazing buffet spread to marvel at, below is just a small selection of the desserts on offer. Mind blowing! I also loved their grill station and area preparing fresh Asian dishes. Their chef prepared tempered potatoes and traditional dhal for us – two favourites from my trip – and these were the best I tried. The hotel also does a fantastic high tea – well you are in tea country after all. Remember to drink lots of tea while you’re here – it’s in a class of its own.

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Dessert choices to make you very confused

THE SURROUNDINGS

I hadn’t anticipated that tea plantations could be so beautiful. On a magically misty morning the pickers were out in full force undertaking their daily delicate task of picking the best of the shoots from the tea plants. They punctuated the slopes of green in their colourful garb. The mountain views are stunning and the roadsides dotted with aromatic food stalls, tiny restaurants offering all means of local delicacies and fruit and veg vendors around every corner. The British introduced their favourites so as well as the usual Sri Lankan treats you’ll find plentiful strawberries, cabbages and cauliflowers on display. Nurawa Eliya’s like nowhere else in Sri Lanka.

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A landscape of green with dots of colour

JETWING BLUE, NEGOMBO

Negombo is the fourth largest city in Sri Lanka and is famed for its expansive sandy beaches and fishing industry. Set on the west coast close to the airport, it’s a relaxing destination for a beachside break. You can see reminders of Dutch, Portuguese and British influence in the colonial charm of the town. And there’s an amazing fish market – more of which in another post. Jetwing Blue is one of four sister hotels set along a seemingly endless beach lined with palm trees.

THE BEDROOMS

Even when you’re in your room there’s no doubt you’re at the beach. The polished tiled floors, huge windows and balcony overlooking the sand and sea cleverly reflect your environment. There’s plenty of space to move with another enormous bed in the centre and a large desk area perfect for blogging. The stylish bathroom comes complete with Jetwing’s special toiletries and a deep bath to luxuriate in.

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The perfect room for beach life

THE BEACH AND THE POOLS

It’s well documented that I’m a dedicated beach baby. So how heavenly is this beach/pool combination? Life is focussed on outdoor living with all roads leading to the beach which is lined with pools, bars and restaurants (but not too many) facing across the perfect view. There are plenty of sun loungers to chill out on and miles and miles to walk and ponder. Life’s better at the beach.

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THE FOOD

With one of the most fabulous fish markets I’ve ever visited just down the road, I knew there had to be great fish dishes at Jetwing Blue. The Negombo Crab is one of the signature local dishes and was made for us from scratch on the beach using a cornucopia of spices and the very freshest of crabs. The hotel’s buffet is another masterpiece of taste and vision. I started the day with a plate piled with tropical fruit – I don’t think my fellow travellers had ever seen so much passion fruit consumed by one person before. And there were more of those fabulous hoppers freshly made to order.

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Negombo crab curry cooked for us on the beach

There’s a lot to discover in Sri Lanka. And its charming, welcoming people make it even easier to fall in love with this country of incredible diversity. Not to mention the food…more of which in a later post, so come back soon.

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Sailing boats are a typical sight on the beach in Negombo

I was a guest of the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotions Bureau on this trip.

I flew to Colombo on Emirates via Dubai.