Riga-rous Design

Spa Review: Espa Riga – Riga, Latvia

The Espa brand has cemented its image as one of the world’s leading spa creators, and Espa Riga is no exception to that standard. Condé Nast Traveller awarded Espa Riga the prestigious first place in the Condé Nast Traveller Reader’s Spa Awards for Favorite Overseas Day Spa in 2012.

So when an opportunity for a business trip to the Latvian capital arrived, my hand was frantically waving in the air. (I’m a very diligent employee).

I am not a fan of the Radisson Hotel group, having had some dodgy experiences in the past, but chose to stay at the Radisson Blu Latvija for convenient access to the spa (Espa Riga is situated on the hotel’s premises, but also has a separate street entrance for non-hotel guests).

I had booked a day spa package that included full use of all the heat and water experiences (vitality pool, saunas, steam rooms), a back massage, a facial, a scalp massage and hand treatment with paraffin gloves. The package also included a 2 course meal at the Spa Café.

I had booked my treatments to commence at 10am, so promptly at 8am; I arrived to enjoy 2 pre-treatment hours in the spa’s renowned facilities. Upon checking in, I was offered a tour of the 6 floors. I had read that spa’s décor had been inspired by the opposing elements “Fire and Water”, and this theme surely came through in the details. No detail was spared on the exquisite interior.

Extravagant Spiral Staircase, Espa Riga

Extravagant Spiral Staircase (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

The entire 6 floors were focused around an eye-popping spiral staircase of black mosaic. The experience showers were painted in flamboyant, deep, shimmering greens and purples. The lavish water wall and opposing fireplace added even more drama. I must say, the art nouveau concept, and the extravagant design aspects were breathtaking.

Experience showers, Espa Riga

Experience showers

After the tour, I was given a luxurious cream bathrobe and a pair of Espa slippers, and was shown to the changing rooms on the 3rd floor.

I was happy to note that the sleek designs and lavish nature extended to the changing areas. I quickly showered (using the luscious Espa bath products provided) and headed for the indoor swimming pool. The water was so warm! I enjoyed a few laps before I tried the 1st floor steam room. For the next hour or so I alternated between the saunas, steam rooms and lap pool.

Indoor Vitalty Pool, Espa Riga

Indoor Pool (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

I was advised to wait for my therapist in the relaxation area on the 6th floor five minutes before my treatments were to begin, so I made my way up there with enough time to enjoy the outdoor vitality pool. I must admit, this was my favorite of all the ‘heat and water’ experiences. It was a very cold morning, and the incredibly warm water condensed into the icy air generating puffs of steam clouds that created an eerie, yet mysterious setting. At this point, I couldn’t see how it could get any better; I was loving every moment of luxury in these stunning surroundings.

Outdoor Vitality Pool, espa Riga

Outdoor Vitality Pool (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

After my swim I helped myself to a serving of green tea whilst I gazed at the impressive granite fireplace. I still had plenty of time so I knew I had to check out the Rondello sauna. To be fair, the sauna was incredibly beautiful and featured an amber glass skylight, but really, it was just a sauna.

1st Floor steam room, espa Riga

1st Floor steam room (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

I took a walk around the 6th floor and noticed the individual steam ‘pods’ – what a perfect idea for those seeking some solitude. At that point, since I had finished my ‘touring’ I made my way to the female relaxation room to await my therapist. I reclined into one of the incredibly comfortable loungers plugged in my iPod, and almost dozed off!

Individual steam 'pods' Espa Riga

Individual steam ‘pods’

My therapist arrived promptly at 5 minutes to ten. I was escorted to the therapy room, which was decorated in opulent deep purple. She asked me some standard questions, and gave me the privacy to undress and get comfortable. We began by choosing the scents and oils I preferred, and commenced with the back massage.

I was expecting a heavenly experience, just by observing the standards I’d already become accustomed to at Espa Riga. But in the interest of being totally honest, it was not the best massage I’d ever received. Not by far. I asked for more pressure several times, but eventually gave up.

It was over pretty quickly, thankfully, and we then moved on to the head massage. Now, this, I loved. Just the right amount of pressure, and she hit all the right spots. I closed my eyes and enjoyed every moment. Before I knew it, she was waking me up from a relaxed sleep.

Espa Riga Shop

Products (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

We paused a little after the head massage as the therapist undertook a basic skin analysis in order to determine which products to employ for my facial. Cool cotton swabs were placed on my eyes, and before she started, she placed each of my hands inside a hot paraffin glove. The gloves were heated to perfection and my hands loved the treat. With both hands snuggled inside their piping hot cocoons, she commenced my facial. The products were very luxurious, and felt rich and velvety against my skin. I enjoyed the rhythmic strokes she utilized at each step of the cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing process. The effects were immediately noticeable, and my skin felt smooth and polished.

After the facial, she removed the paraffin gloves and gave me a brief but gratifying hand massage. Before I knew it, my session had come to an end. I was given some time to slip back into my robe before the therapist returned with a product card. She ticked all the products that she used during my treatment session, and a few others that she thought would suit my needs. Of course, I was advised that each of these products were available for purchase at the Espa Riga shop. It was an obvious sales pitch, but it was not executed in a way that made me feel pressured to purchase anything.

Fireplace, 6th Floor Espa Riga

Fireplace, 6th Floor

When I was ready to leave the lush purple treatment room, I was escorted to the 5th floor relaxation area. This area is off-limits to general spa users, and only accessible to people actually receiving spa treatments. The room was darkened and lined with the same ergonomic recliners as the one before. Before I got comfortable, I helped myself to another green tea, and plate of nuts and dried fruit.

Relaxation Room Espa Riga

Relaxation Room on 6th Floor

It was perfectly quiet and I lay there totally relaxed for a few minutes before in barged 2 very loud women, badgering on about the massages they had just received. My solitude being broken, I retreated to the change room where I took a lengthy shower, washed and dried my hair, and even styled it using the ceramic straighteners available in the changing area. I returned the slippers and bathrobe, asking the attendant if the robes were for sale. I was interested in purchasing one, as they were extremely soft and comfortable. Unfortunately the robes are not available for purchase, which I found strange, as the shop sold every Espa product you could dream of, and more.

I made my way to the 2nd floor where the Espa Café is located. This floor also houses a fitness studio and the nail bars. The design feel of the spa extended even to the café, and the avant-garde décor included rich black tables and purple leather booths.

My two-course meal commenced with the pumpkin and sweetcorn soup, served with hunks of fresh, warm bread. I love pumpkin soup, and wouldn’t have thought I would have had the best pumpkin soup at a spa café! I chose fish for my main course, which consisted of a cod fillet served on a bed of shaved potato slices and tomato purée. I enjoyed both courses immensely. While the portions were on the tiny side (think minimalistic i.e. large white spaces on the plate with creative brush strokes of sauce), the presentation of the dishes was immaculate and the food was very tasty. I can deal with tiny portions if at least it’s not pretentious. I rounded off the satisfying meal with a strawberry smoothie.

Spa cafe Espa Riga

Delicous pumkin soup

And so concluded my day at the Espa Riga. What did I think of it? Well, I loved the feeling of luxury that enveloped me as soon as I stepped through the glass entrance doors. I felt like royalty as I enjoyed the various heat and water experiences. I will never forget that feeling of being surrounding by condensing clouds on that freezing morning in the outdoor rooftop pool while I floated, cocooned in the warm water.

While my massage, the focal point of my days’ treatments left a lot to be desired, the feeling of opulence that Espa Riga provided transcended that disappointment.

Would I go back? Most definitely!

NB: Due to the low level of lighting inside Espa Riga, the picture quality may be affected. For this reason, and due the fact that I enjoy providing images for all my reviews, I have supplemented my own photos with a few official photographs from http://www.espa.com.
Disclaimer: No part of this spa experience (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Espa Riga. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.
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Where in Paris (26/05/2013)

I’m so glad readers seem to like this little game! I’ve received Facebook messages with the answers! Feel free to also leave your answers in the comment section here below.

So today’s photo might be a little more difficult (they can’t all be easy, now can they?!)

Put on your thinking caps, whip out your google maps app…and let me know where you think this is:

Where in Paris 26/05/2013

Where in Paris? 26/05/2013

The Great Trek

Every year I make the annual pilgrimage to my home town in South Africa. Durban is a sleepy coastal city, famed for its great beaches (The Golden Mile), its lush tropical foliage, and is known as the home of the Zulu tribe.

It’s a true melting pot of color and creed, which is represented in the vast array of savors one can find. From fresh, just-caught seafood delights (think succulent sardines drizzled in olive oil and coarse sea salt) to choice cuts of dry aged steak, even the most refined palate will be spoiled for choice.

Then there’s the unmissable bunny chow. A genius combination of spicy curry and carb overload, it consists of a hollowed out potion of bread filled with a delicious curry of choice. The middle part of the bread is never discarded, but instead forms a convenient device for mopping up any gravy that dare escape its doughy ‘container’. Typically eaten with the hands, and from the top down, it’s a feast that should not be overlooked.

Bunny Chow Durban

Bunny Chow (Photo source: http://www.cooksister.com)

Of course my trip home will encompass many, many braais. A shortened form of the Afrikaans word for barbeque – “braaivleis”, it literally means ‘grilled meat’. In South Africa, the braai is more than a typical BBQ, but rather a social event where friends and family come together. A carnivorous bunch, expect a variety of meat (steak, sausages, boerewors, chicken, ribs etc.), cooked on a braaistand and eaten leisurely outside. Typically enjoyed with servings of salad, mashed potatoes, baked beans and corn on the cob, the braai can turn into a whole-day affair.

Braai Durban

Braai (Photo source: http://www.roadsandkingdoms.com)

Don’t even get me started on samoosas, koeksisters, breyani, biltong, snoek, chicken tikka… The endless assortment will certainly be a foodie’s heaven.

**During my time in SA, I plan to visit and some of the top local eateries. You’ll find these reviews right here in the coming weeks.**

The coast of Durban is lined with hotels to suit any taste and budget. From the posh and glamorous Beverly Hills Hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean in Umhlanga Rocks, to an array of bed and breakfast options, one will be spoilt for choice. My personal favorite is the Suncoast Hotel (where Mr Wolf and I tied the knot).

There is even the possibility to rent self-catering holiday apartments on the beach. Prices vary drastically by area and size of the apartment, but in my experience the best area to book a self-catering vacation is Umdloti beach.

Various activities from safaris to water sports are on offer, and many of these cater to families with children as well.

Surfing Durban

Catch a Wave (Photo source: http://www.durbanaccomodation.net)

With year-round sunshine, Durban is a leisure destination of choice for both South Africans and foreigners alike.

The time has finally arrived for my annual Great Trek, and I am SO looking forward to spending some quality time with the places and faces I love. I’ll be updating with my experiences regularly, so stay tuned!

Where in Paris? (15/05/2013)

I buy a lot of travel magazines, but my absolute favorite amongst them all has to be Condé Nast Traveller. It’s jam-packed with great articles, and unrivaled travel inspiration.

The minute mine’s arrives in the post, I eagerly turn to my favorite regular feature: “Where in the World”. I simply love this guessing game! Haven’t heard of it? Well, every issue features an arbitrary picture, from anywhere in the world. It could be a historic landmark, a well-known (or little known) building, and park, a river…basically anything. Readers have to guess where the photo was taken, and Condé Nast gives out a prize to a randomly drawn correct answer.

So, because I enjoy this guessing game so much, I’ve decided to create my very own. Every week or so, I’ll post a random picture of a landmark/park/building in Paris, and I’ll open the comment section of the post to answers. Unfortunately there’s no prize (for now) for guessing the correct answer, but if this seems to be a popular thread, I’ll add one!

So, here’s today’s picture! I’ve kicked things off with a relatively easy one. Care to venture a guess?

Where in Paris 15/05/2013

Where in Paris? 15/05/2013

The Devil’s in the Design

Hotel Review: Farol Design Hotel – Cascais, Portugal

I heard about Farol Design Hotel from the Design Hotels (designhotels.com) online newsletter.

The first thing that struck me was the mysterious moniker: “On the Water”. I was enticed.

Further research was required. My sleuthing led me to extraordinary online images of delirious waves crashing violently over jagged rocks. Those pictures oozed mystery and wild abandon. I was in love. I read traveller reviews, scoured a few airline fares, and viola, a trip to Cascais was born.

Crashing waves, Farol Design Hotel

Wild and Mysterious

The hotel is situated approximately 40 minutes by car from Lisbon airport, on the Estoril Coast. The drive can be a bit tricky if you’re not a local, so I’d recommend employing a GPS navigator. The town of Cascais itself is a pretty little fishing village complete with a sleepy marina and a proud lighthouse. We found that is was relatively easy to make day trips to nearby Sintra and Lisbon by car.

Lighthouse cascais, Farol Design

Marina

Upon arrival, we found plenty of parking space. I particularly loved the huge sculpture at the entrance with the bent-over man proffering a flower. These savvy sculptural details could be found throughout the hotel, and added to the quirky, design feel of the property.

Design Farol Design Hotel

Quirky

Design 2 Farol Design Hotel

The hotel itself, a renovated 19th century mansion handsomely married to a new, modern wing which had been added to house the restaurant and some additional guest rooms. The breathtaking blinding white exterior with space-age loungers certainly fed my taste for contemporary and modern design.

Farol Design Hotel

Old and New

The hotel comprises of 20 guest rooms, 3 suites, and a penthouse. 9 additional ‘designer’ rooms (fashioned by different designers) offered guests the chance to experience a unique haven.

We had booked a sea view room, and were expecting some of the stunning views that are showcased on the hotel’s website. However we were hugely disappointed to find that ‘sea view’ meant only a small window that one could peer out of onto pool and sea. There was no balcony from which we could enjoy the views.

Window Farol Design Hotel Sea View Room

Sea View, if you’re literal

Furthermore, it seemed our room was situated in the ‘old’ section of the hotel, and the dark wooden beams criss-crossing the ceiling lent a dark and dreary look to the room. I was quickly disenchanted by the huge contrast from the contemporary appearance of the lobby and common areas, to the aged look of our room.

Sea View Room Farol Design Wood Beams

Not my cup of tea

We decided not to let our disappointment over the room ruin our romantic vacation away, and after unpacking we headed out to explore the property a little more. The relatively small grounds lead out onto the magnificent pool area. The sleek rectangular design of the pool flowed perfectly into the rocky backdrop of pounding waves. It was heavenly to sit out there, sun beating down and just enjoy the remarkable views.

Cleverly, the entire perimeter was fenced by clear panes, allowing for uninhibited views of the ocean. Stone and concrete flooring gave the impression of stylishly earthy finishes.

View Farol Design Hotel

View from our room (through the window)

The pool sparkled like a jewel but the water was freezing and made any hope of swimming disappear. Sleek sun loungers lined the wall closest to the pool while comfy day beds lay strewn along the patch of lawn.

Pool Farol Design Hotel

Sparkling

On our first day, we tried the Sushi bar, Sushi Design. The sushi was beautifully presented, and the taste and quality were exceptional. We would have liked to return for another meal, but we quite enjoyed finding local restaurants in the area instead. We never visited the Mix Restaurant, so unfortunately I can’t offer any advice on that. However the stunning décor of the restaurant left me breathless. Huge flower-petal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and the mixture of chrome, glass, black and white made for a very extravagant setting.

Restaurant Farol Design Hotel

Extravagant

Breakfast was included in our rate, and comprised of the usual hot and cold selections. Several made-to-order items were also available, such as pancakes or omelets, but one had to ask (or read the menu’s fine print). We ate out on the terrace every day, as we could not get enough of the magnificent views. The pancakes were outstanding and we found the patisserie fresh and tasty –not a dried croissant in sight!

Breakfast View Farol Design Hotel

What a view!

The breakfast staff were extremely polite and friendly. We had celebrated Mr Wolf’s birthday on this trip, and I had made mention of this to the waiter during breakfast. And what do you know… as we were finishing our coffees, the exceptionally sweet waiters brought over a birthday cake and two glasses of champagne to our table, on the house. It was a lovely, unexpected gesture and we really enjoyed the moment. Great service really goes a long way in creating lasting memories.

Birthday Surprise Farol Design Hotel

Happy Birthday

What I loved:
  • Bar on the Rocks: The poolside servers were very efficient, and soon after ordering, we had our cocktail of choice in hand. The bar prices are somewhat higher than typical hotels in the area, but the hotel’s 5 stars, and its affiliation to the Design Hotels group would certainly have contributed to that. All in all, for the exceptional views, stunning décor, and efficient services, I did not find the prices prohibitive at all.
  • Views to die for. I finally understood “On the Water”. It was literal.
On the Water farol Design Hotel

On the Water

What I didn’t love:
  • I’ll say it again and again. I hated the wooden beams and the darkness of the room. I wanted a bright, modern space. It’s what sold me on the hotel in the first place!
  • The neon lighting along the pool area at night: Fancy? Yes. Luxurious and fitting for a 5 star hotel? No.

Night lights farol Design Hotel

In summary, once I got over the disappointment of our room, I quite enjoyed my stay at Farol Design Hotel. The staff interact well with guests and are very friendly and helpful in terms of giving directions or suggestions for local activities, restaurants etc. The contemporary design appealed to me, but should extend to all guest rooms to ensure the flow is maintained.

That being said, I probably wouldn’t return to this hotel.

This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 11 June 2013

Disclaimer: No part of this vacation (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Farol Design Hotel. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

Caribbean Caress

Hotel Review : Secrets the Vine Resort and Spa, Cancun, Mexico

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the uber-deluxe Secrets the Vine Resort and Spa located on the Cancun hotel strip, for a week of pampering and sun. The strip is just that, literally a thin strip of land (over 22kms long) in the shape of the number 7, on which sit an endless line of hotels with views of the Caribbean sea on one side, and the Nichupte lagoon on the other.

Cancun Hotel Zone

The Strip

Being my first trip to Mexico, I didn’t know what to expect, but having researched the hotel in detail before arriving, I had great expectations.

When we landed in Cancun, even before we reached the resort, I found something I liked rather immensely: the 15 minute drive from the airport! After a 10 hour flight, one would certainly appreciate the short drive to relaxation.

Disappointingly we were not greeted with the customary glass of sparkling wine and cool towel on arrival, perhaps due the fact that we breezed in at 10:30pm? That did not discourage us at all though since the check in went very smoothly and in a matter of minutes we were whisked up to our room on the 20th floor.

I must make particular mention of the fact that we did not choose to book a room in the “preferred” category. After much online research prior to this trip I decided against upgrading to the preferred experience, as it just didn’t seem worth the additional cost for the 12th floor pool, preferential bath amenities, and newspapers.

The standard room (Deluxe Ocean View) fitted the description found on the hotel’s website. Our turn-down service had already been by, so our first impression didn’t include the azure green bedding this resort depicts on their website. However, it did not take away from the aesthetic beauty of the room.

The modern wood and tile finishes gave the room a sleek, minimalistic outlook: EXACTLY what appeals to me in a hotel. I was very satisfied. The bathroom and WC area were separated, each enclosed by glass “walls”. (Something to think about when not holidaying as a couple). I did feel that this design provided a sufficient amount of privacy though, as these glass walls were cleverly frosted in appropriate places. There was a set of ‘his’ and ‘hers’ vanity sinks complete with storage spaces for towels as well as mirrors. We found ample closet space, with bathrobes and slippers (which had been left on the side of the bed by the turn-down service).

The room Secrets the Vine

Contemporary and minimalistic designs echo throughout

We found all the hotel’s common areas (lobby, restaurants, pools) succeeded in exuding a feeling of large open space. This must have been particularly challenging to achieve, as the hotel itself if built on a relatively smallish piece of land (when compared to other hotels on the strip). The hotel is in fact a high-rise building, which doesn’t have a sprawling footprint so don’t expect to be surrounded by lush, tropical foliage. If this is a deal breaker for you, I suggest you book somewhere else. What you can expect though, is a sleek modern design, with contemporary décor and stylish finishes throughout.

Lobby, Secrets the Vine

The hotel’s lobby creates the impression of endless open space

Secrets the Vine

High Rise

The first restaurant we tried was the Market Café for the buffet breakfast. The Market Café also serves a buffet lunch, and for dinner, it transforms into an a la carte Mexican restaurant. I must admit, that I am not a huge fan of these all-inclusive type vacations. I really enjoy going out to local restaurants, whether for a gourmet meal, or a lunchtime burger. I enjoy the experience of scouring blogs and websites beforehand to find local foodie gems, and I love to experience and review these for myself. I also like knowing that we’re giving a little something back to the region’s economy by patronizing local restaurants.

However, at Secrets the Vine, once we were aware of the quality of the food on offer, and the sheer variety at the various restaurants, we were happy to ‘slum’ it on the resort and never leave!

We tried all of the restaurants, save for Olio (Mediterranean cuisine). The reason for skipping this one, was the fact that we tried Nebbiolo on our 3th night, and literally ate dinner there every night for the rest of our stay (It was just that good!)

Back to the Market Café though! We ate breakfast here almost every morning (we ordered breakfast room service once as we left early on a Chichen Itza tour). We loved it! The variety was astounding, and I experienced one of the best qualities of buffet standards EVER! I mean, have you ever had scrambled eggs from a buffet that actually tasted good? Well at the Market Café we did! There was something for everyone, from fresh fruit, to made-to-order omelets, from a smoothie bar to quesadillas. Anything and everything the heart wanted, it got. Even a mimosa or two. Or 3! (Hey, no judgment, I was on vacation!)

Market Cafe, Secrets the Vine

Breakfast choices at the Market Café (photo source: https://www.facebook.com/zuleica.econcierge)

For lunch we usually ate at the Sea Salt Grill. We avoided the pool side buffet (Barefoot Grill) for no reason except the fact that we wanted a sit-down, restaurant experience at lunch time and welcomed the break from lounging in the sun. (Yes, poor us.) We found this restaurant a bit hit and miss. We had a very good experience on our first visit, followed by uncooked grilled salmon on our next. The complaint about the salmon however, was handled very efficiently, and a new plate arrived within minutes, cooked to perfection. We found the waiters in this particular restaurant to be harried, and not as friendly as the other places, and our wait times were the longest here. I assume this was down to the fact that it was the restaurant of choice for lunch, and was usually full to capacity. However we went back several times, as the issues mentioned above did not outweigh the amazing shrimp tacos they served there!

Shrimp Tacos, Sea Salt Grill

Delicious shrimp tacos at Sea Salt Grill

We ate dinners at Dragons (fusion Asian cuisine), Blue Water Grill (Grilled specialties) and Nebbiolo (Italian fare). I enjoyed the meals at every one of these, but Mr Wolf did not appreciate his experience at the Blue Water Grill. (He was not happy with the choice of cut for his steak). As mentioned, once we tried Nebbiolo, we just couldn’t eat anywhere else. The food was impeccable and this was topped only by the service (ask to be served by Hector -you won’t be disappointed!) Mr Wolf swears by the beef carpaccio, and I think the Carciofo (artichokes cooked in mozzarella, spinach, parmesan and garlic) was the best dish I had at the resort. For dessert, I rarely strayed from the Pianono Reimpito (a hazelnut-filled canelé in a red wine sauce- heaven).

With the exception of the Market Café and Olio, all restaurants had a ‘casual elegance’ dress code for dinner. I quite enjoyed dressing up and “going out” to dinner each night.

Dress Code Secrets the Vine

Dress Code Tips (photo source: https://www.facebook.com/zuleica.econcierge)

We were also pleasantly surprised at the level of service and quality of food provided by room service. (Expect same standards as high end (non-all inclusive) hotels).

What I loved:
  • Smiles: Everywhere we went, we were greeted by smiles. Be it the man who kept the stairs at the entrance to the resort polished and gleaming, or the friendly lady who spent all day replacing towels in a pyramid shape by the pools. From waiters to poolside barmen, from restaurant managers to room cleaning staff. Secrets the Vine added a little extra magic to our vacation simply by hiring the friendliest, happiest, most polite staff. Ever.
Hector Secrets the Vine

The lovely Hector at Nebbiolo

  • Exceptional Cocktails: No watered down daiquiris and weak mojitos in sight! This was not your typical all-inclusive! Add to the fact that every drink was served with a smile, and cocktails magically reappeared when finished, and you have a winner!
Cocktail Secrets the Vine

Every hour is cocktail hour!

  • Coffee Bar: Nothing chases away the mid-afternoon munchies quite like a slice of cheesecake and a cappuccino. If you preferred, the lovely ladies at the coffee bar would whip you up a Baileys Frappuccino and offer to toast your steak and cheese sandwich. I loved the elaborate foam designs in my lattes, and even though this may not count for much to some people, these extra little touches, made the difference.
  • Chef’s Parade: Daily at 1pm, it became something we eagerly awaited. We loved the interaction with the chefs almost and much as we loved the delicious delicacies they served.
hef's Parade, Secrets the Vine

It must be 1pm!

  • Media presence: Zuleica, the resort’s wonderful e-concierge does a great job of updating twitter, facebook and pinterest. She is also proactive in responding to questions and suggestions from guests. I had several comments and special requests that were taken care of before I even arrived at the resort!
  •  The Views: Room service on your balcony staring at the endless turquoise Caribbean Sea. Need I say more?
Room Service Secrets The Vine

Room Service with a view!

  • The Bed: I won’t elaborate except to say that this was, by far, the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on. Hotel or otherwise. Seriously considered packing it up, and taking it home with me!
  • Heated pools: (in February) felt like a relaxing bath!
Pool Secrets The Vine

Fancy a dip?

 

What I didn’t love:
  • Cabana Bookers: Around the pools we found there were plenty of loungers, irrespective of what time of day you rolled out of bed. The few cabanas towards the sides of the pools however, were a different story. These were frequently “booked” by 7am, regardless of the fact that the ‘bookers’ sometimes rocked up as late as midday. I found this highly annoying, and it seems (from twitter and Facebook posts) that the resort is trying to implement policies to deter people from doing this. I doubt they will have much success in enforcing this though. I just think that this is a highly selfish and deeply irritating way to behave whilst on holiday (sorry, tangent).
Loungers Secreats the Vine

There are plenty of loungers, no need to be those annoying people who book

  • Spa Prices: I never did get to experience the Secrets Spa by Peruvia. I found the prices a little steep, especially having recently visited ESPARiga which had been voted the top overseas day spa in the Condé Nast Readers’ Spa Awards 2012. I tried to use the spa coupons for a massage, but the exclusions to coupon use extended to any treatment that wasn’t at full price.
  • Hot water issues: I love me a piping hot shower, and I frequently had to deal with lukewarm water in the mornings. I read this on some other Tripadvisor reviews since our stay, so I hope its something the resort management addresses soon. I must state however, that the lack of hot water seemed to resolve itself in the afternoons.
  • Blotchy Wifi: Free wifi? (good), highly sporadic wifi? (not so good)

All in all, we found Secrets the Vine to be one of the best resorts we ever visited. The concept of Unlimited Luxury echoes throughout the resort, and you end up feeling special and pampered throughout your stay. The look and feel of the sleek modern elements appealed greatly to my tastes, and the food was exceptional. We swam in the sea every day, and found the beach to be extraordinarily clean and remarkably maintained. The water was a bit rough, but we swam despite the red flags being up. I dare you to take once look at the topaz color of the sea and the powder-white sand and not swim!

Beach, Secrets The vine

The inviting Caribbean Sea (red flag be damned!)

One thing I must mention before I wrap up this review: the staff at Secrets the Vine work exceptionally hard to ensure you have a great vacation. People, please tip! Even $1 to the poolside server will be appreciated!

We rarely visit the same hotel/resort twice, as I feel this planet has SO much to offer travellers in terms of destinations and experiences. I want to have as many different experiences as I can in this lifetime, but that being said – I am already planning a return visit to Secrets the Vine in the coming year. I can’t wait to visit again, and see if they have managed to keep up their extraordinary level of service! (And you will surely read all about it, right here!)

Boardwalk Secrets The Vine

The boardwalk

Disclaimer: No part of this vacation (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Secrets the Vine. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.