Top 5 Unmissable Durban Experiences

Durban is the South African city where I was born and raised. I’m so proud to call this friendly, permanently-sunny place my home. More laid-back that Johannesburg, and perhaps not as vibey as Cape Town, Durban has its own beach culture going on and is the perfect place to grab some rays on the golden mile.

With various attractions and must see museums on the Durban must-see list, here are the top five experiences that shouldn’t be overlooked when in the city.

1. Get a bird’s eye view at the Moses Mabhida Stadium

The gorgeous (yes, I said gorgeous when referring to a piece of architecture) Durban stadium, built for the memorable 2010 Football World Cup offers a series of activities regardless of your age, or interest in physical activity for that matter. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you can try the Big Swing; which allows only the very, very brave to bungee jump from the centre of the stadium’s impressive arch. If you prefer something a little tamer, that will still get your heart racing, why not give the Adventure Walk a try? Tackling the zillion (it must be, right?) steps up the arch isn’t for the fainthearted.

Then, if you’re like me and breaking a sweat isn’t really your thing, why not get the same incredible panoramic views by opting for the Skycar. A two-minute journey in the Skycar takes you to the very top of the arch where you’re presented with unparalleled 360° views over the city.

durban stadium Top 5 Durban

(Source: e-architect.co.uk)

For more information and pricing: http://www.mmstadium.com/

2. View an eyeful of birds at the Umgeni River Bird Park

Situated, as the name suggests, along the banks of the Umgeni River, the Bird Park is an ideal family activity that is fun as well as educational. From bird feedings, to interactions with friendly Lorikeets, there are a variety of activities arranged on a daily basis. With a collection of over 800 birds from more than 200 species, the bird park is a must do when in Durban.

umgeni river bird park Top 5 Durban

(Source: umgeniriverbirdpark.co.za)

For more info: http://www.umgeniriverbirdpark.co.za/

3. Get your shopping on at Gateway Theatre of Shopping

With an abundance of stores ranging from quirky boutiques to designer labels, from monstrous supermarkets to jewellery outlets, Gateway is the perfect place to shop when in Durban. But it is so much more than just a mall. Having coined the term “shoppertainment” for good reason, the centre provides fun-fill activity choices including one of the largest indoor climbing mountains, a videogame arcade, a Wavehouse and a skate park. The centre offers 18 movie theatres and a variety of restaurants and coffee shops. Prefect way to spend a Sunday (or any day, in my humble opinion).

gateway durban Top 5

(Source: southafrica.net)

http://gatewayworld.sourcecloud.co.za/

 4. Bike the Golden Mile

The golden mile (actually longer than your typical mile) is a paved stretch of promenade along the golden sandy beaches of Durban.  Craft markets, fisherman, surfers and beachgoers line the coast and make for an interesting ride along this route. Numerous bike rental companies offer fantastic rates, so there is no excuse not to enjoy a leisurely ride along this track with the sun on your back and the warm Indian Ocean breeze in your face.

durban bike Top 5

(Source: south-african-hotels.com)

 5. Spice things up at the Victoria Street Market

There aren’t too many places in this world where you can buy a sari, get a henna tattoo and scoff down a deliciously hot curry in a day. Not outside of Asia anyway. So with one of the largest Indian populations outside of India; Durban is by far one of the Rainbow Nation’s most multicultural cities. The Victoria Street Market is a homage to Indian culture, with almost 200 stalls bustling with oriental products. From spices to clothing, from souvenirs to fresh fish, the lively market is one stop that shouldn’t be overlooked when in Durban.

victoria street market Durban Top 5

(Source: snapflycook.wordpress.com)

Designer Deluxe

Hotel Review : Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom, Vienna – Austria

Located along the banks of the Danube canal, the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is rightfully described as a living work of art. All geometric slants and angles, the building appears sloping, as if to give its neighbor a peck on the cheek. A skyscraping structure of sleek glass paneling, this spunky hotel designed by French architect Jean Nouvel is a contemporary haven.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

From the onset as you enter the hotel – your eyes are drawn to the illuminated ceiling, and you know immediately that it’s going to be a very special stay. The first ‘bonjour’ of the day comes from the handsome bellman as he ushers us inside.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomThe check in (preceded by quite a few more ‘bonjours)’ is seamless, but since our room was not yet ready, we are taken on a guided tour of the spa and fitness area. Presented with two exotic fruit smoothies, we perch awkwardly, fully dressed, on the enormous white geometric loungers in the spa’s relaxation room for a few minutes before we were quickly whisked away to our suite on the 15th floor.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Jean Nouvel chose three monochromatic palettes for the rooms; black, grey and white. Our room happens to be grey. And I mean really grey! The floors are grey, as are the walls. The bedside cupboards are grey, the desk and chair are grey, the large modern seating area is, yep, you guessed it: grey.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomThe bathroom comprises of a walk-in shower, large rectangular bathtub (grey, obviously) and his and hers vanities (also grey!). We find an abundance of sumptuous Hermès bath products and well appointed toiletries including a nail kit.Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Looking back I can see that the monochrome design may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we loved it. The room was sleek and modern, well designed and spacious.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

You would think the best part would be the view; staring directly over the canal and onto St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Even the (grey) window blinds could be geometrically opened to allow you to select the size of your window depending on your mood.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

But no, the best part for me was the SoBed. A celebration of all that is heavenly, this bed is virtually indescribable. But I’ll try: It’s large. So large in fact that it’s easy to lose yourself amongst its pillowy softness. That secret of that softness? The SoBed’s additional layer of plush called the ‘Featherbed’ that lies on top of the SoBed, creating that ‘sleeping on a cloud’ feeling. Along with a pillow menu of various choices (synthetic or real down) and a crisp white duvet, it made for the comfiest bed in the whole entire world.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

That evening we slip on our waffle robes and head for the spa. Not exceptionally large for a hotel of this size, the spa area is nevertheless as sleek and modern as the rest of the hotel.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomTwo black slate Jacuzzis are bubbling quietly on either side, surrounded by large slanting windows. There are two hammans filled with eucalyptus steam. The atrium houses a relaxation area with aforementioned geometric loungers, while a state of the art gym caters to those so inclined.Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomWe eat dinner at the hotel’s famed Le Loft occupying the 18th floor, and have the most memorable meal in the glamorous restaurant whose chef was awarded three Michelin stars. You can read about that experience here.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The location of the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom could not be more perfect for visiting the city’s sights. Its namesake, St Stephan’s Cathedral, only a short walk away, and other major attractions are easily reached by foot or public transport.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomBreakfast is a casual affair, also served at Le Loft. The restaurant is starkly beautiful by day, the views just as impressive without the golden glow of the ceiling’s illumination. We enjoy fresh mixed berries, Greek yogurt and honey; followed by deliciously cooked scrambled eggs on seeded bread rolls. Sipping on French-pressed coffees and flutes of champagne, we take in the stunning 360° vistas le Loft offers.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Again that evening after a long day of sightseeing, we head to the spa to unwind and relax. A full range of spa treatments are on offer (at a fee), and while I’m tempted by the 24 carat old massage, due to time constraints, I reluctantly refrain from making a booking.

We dine in-room, and the speed and quality of room service is exceptional. My order of risotto arrives piping hot, with a fresh bread basket, butter and condiments. The room service prices are outstandingly good value for a hotel of this standard.

Of course, wifi is complimentary, and we never had any issues, irrespective of the number of gadgets we connected.

But for me, perhaps the most enduring memory of the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is hotel’s façade at night, with the two illuminated ceilings creating a breathtaking silhouette after dark. Each evening after dinner we head out and stroll along the canal to admire the hotel’s design.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Two days later, when it’s time to check out I have to dig deep and find superhuman strength to leave the blissful cocoon of the SoBed.

All in all, the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is one of the most spectacular hotels I’ve stayed at. The service is second to none and the daring design and glamorous details will surely see us heading back in a few months (and this time I will ensure enough time to experience the spa treatments!).

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The prices are as expected, hardly cheap, but for those seeking contemporary luxury in the heart of Vienna, for whom great service is non-negotiable – the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is well worth the indulgence.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

 Rates from 200€ to >3000€. For more information and special offers, visit the hotel’s official website.

 

 

Sky-High Dining Splendor

Restaurant Review: Le Loft – Sofitel Stephansdom Vienna, Austria

Located on the 18th floor of the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom hotel, with ceiling-to-floor glass windows on all sides; restaurant Le Loft makes it easy to imagine you’re suspended in the air, floating above the beautiful city of Vienna.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomI’m not sure if it is unbelievable vistas in every direction that make my jaw go slack; or if it is the vibrant, illuminated work of art designed by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist that stretches across the ceiling, creating a sublime contrast with Jean Nouvel’s minimalist interior. Perhaps I will never know.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Its 8:30 pm and Le Loft is buzzing. The raised bar at the centre of the restaurant is awash with beautiful people sipping even more beautiful cocktails. The decadent pops from champagne bottles being open and wine corks being pulled create the background music. The tables along the gargantuan windows are by now, all occupied, save for one – right in front (or so it seems), of the gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, for which the Sofitel Vienna is named.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomAnd as luck would have it, we’re escorted to the lone free table by the friendly maître‘d. I sit down with a sense of reverie. The ceiling is alive. Animated with eccentric videos (I’ve read that in the videos, Rist aims to capture the viewpoint of a child looking up into the world). The crispness of the autumn leaves on the ceiling canvas casts a golden glow around the restaurant and onto the surrounding glass panels. The view! Oh the view! Breathtaking and unparalleled, the sights stretch well over the city and is sure to provide one of the most memorable dining experiences ever.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Le Loft’s French head chef, Antoine Westermann grew up in the Alsace region of France and his dishes are a delicious fusion of Alsatian and Viennese influences. In a rather unprecedented move, after being awarded a highly prestigious three Michelin stars for his Strasbourg restaurant Le Buerehiesel,  he shortly thereafter chose to hand over the reins of the restaurant to his son Eric.  The French chef remains ever nonchalant about his success, recognition and his choice to leave the Michelin star hype behind him. In an interview with FooDiva he explains: “It’s another life after the three stars. I am really, really happy without having to think about Michelin. My priority is making my customers happy, finding the right produce and offering a great price.” 

At his side, is his protégée Raphael Dworak, who he worked with at Le Buerehiesel, and the two continue to collaborate closely at Le Loft.

At our table, we scan the menu and are presented with crisp bread basket (of which the olive bread is to die for) and beurre CharentesPoitou. The chef’s suggested four and six course tasting-menus look well-defined and impeccably planned, but a little too adventurous for my tame palate (I dont eat red meat or chicken). I stick to a traditional three-course a la carte preference, while Mr. Wolf is positively salivating at the prospect of patés, foie gras and beef filets.

We each commence with an aperitif of kir-royale whilst still staring, speechlessly at the view that lay before us.

Le Loft Sofitel

Le Loft’s sommelier is knowledgeable, and suggests an impeccable white wine to pair with my fish appetizer and mains, whilst Mr. Wolf is presented with a Austrian burgundy to complement his menu choices.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomThe chef’s amuse bouche – a lobster cappuccino is presented in espresso cups. The soup is frothy, creamy and deliciously decadent.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

For the appetizers I decide upon the poached pike served with crayfish, pumpkin purée, parsley coulis and jus vadouvan. The pike is cooked to perfection and the pumpkin puree melts like butter in my mouth.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomMr. Wolf enjoys paté en croute, which consisted of foie gras and pigeon breast served with elderberry gelee. I can’t comment much on the dish apart from its excellent presentation, but I safely say from the decadent sighs of satisfaction coming from the other end of the table that is was delicious.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomLe Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomIf you’re expecting a quick meal, I’d advise you not to book at Le Loft. The service at the restaurant is incredibly slow. And rightfully so! Each dish, a work of art, is consumed slowly and celebrated bite by bite. In between courses, the view itself will provide endless distraction between soft chatter and clinking glasses.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

For my main dish I select the pan-fried lake char with porcini mushrooms, homemade tortellini and mushroom sauce. The char is fried crispy on the outside and soft and delicious through the center, while the porcini mushrooms add an earthy, nutty flavor to the dish.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

My dining companion has chosen the beef fillet. The dish is typically served with brussel sprout ragout, potatoes gratin and truffle jus. However, being allergic (self diagnosed!) to brussel sprouts, Mr. Wolf kindly requests an alternative. He’s pleasantly surprised when his fillet is served with the potatoes gratin, but instead of the ragout, there is a side of soft, buttery gnocchi. After having a bite of the gnocchi, I can honestly attest that it was the best I had ever eaten.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomLe Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Selecting dessert is the most difficult part of the evening for me. Each mouth-watering option holds its own merits, but in the end my love affair with chocolate dictates my choice.

Mr. Wolf concurs, and we both choose the chocolate and mint liaison: Jivara chocolate mousse and mint ice cream served in an elaborate chocolate cage shaped like an egg.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The mint ice cream is truly impeccable. Forget the mild store-bought variety with prerequisite choc-chips – this ice cream is made from freshly ground mint leaves that give a hint of sharpness to the cream. I enjoy every last bite.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomWashed down with coffees and the chef’s beautiful (and ample) mignardise selection, we are completely satisfied.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The dining experience at Le Loft is not cheap, but it is well and truly exquisite, and so worth the splurge. An excerpt from the hotel’s website: “The restaurant exudes exclusivity and extravagance, combining Viennese charm and international flair”.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The hotel, as seen from the street, with restaurant Le Loft illuminated on the top floor

This perfectly sums up our experience of the night, dining on fabulous dishes, in a surreal setting, literally on top of the world.

Disclaimer: Mr Wolf and I were treated to a complimentary dinner at Le Loft during our stay at the Sofitel Stephansdom Vienna, although I hope you will see that has in no way affected my experience or any opinions expressed in this post.

For more please visit the official website.

Booking at Le Loft should be made 3-4 weeks in advance to guarantee a seating.

Spa Review: The Spa @ Sheraton Porto Hotel, Portugal

Stepping off the elevator, we’re greeted by the minimalistic lobby of The Spa (aptly named). In case we’ve forgotten which floor you’re on, the words are engraved onto a bronze plaque on the floor.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaA friendly face at the reception desk takes our room number and then shows us the dressing rooms (separate male and female).

The spa at the Sheraton Porto Hotel is a sprawling level, consisting of various water and heat therapies. The dressing room was elegantly appointed with wonderfully lit vanities and digital lockers. I slipped into a soft, creamy toweling robe and donned the rather strange looking rubber slippers. The main room, also the largest relaxation area, contains a wonderful heated vitality pool, big enough to still feel spacious when at capacity. In front of the ample pool are arranged several ergonomic loungers covered in bright orange towels.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

We choose two loungers at the far end and settle into them, adjusting the backrest to our perfect specifications via the handy remote.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaBut it isn’t long before the lure of the tranquil swimming pool calls out. Slipping into the warm waters is heaven. The pool is virtually deserted, and perfect for lap swimming, if you’re so inclined.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

I much rather preferred to try the hot tub. The hot tub was very popular, and several people lazed inside; some applying the traditional jet therapy to their backs and necks, whilst others preferred the more efficient hydromassage from the gushing showerheads at the center of the jacuzzi.

As the crowds in the jacuzzi swelled, we decided to try some of the heat therapies. We made our way to the herbal sauna. The room was dimmed to perfection and eerily quiet. The only sounds appeared, like clockwork, when the wooden bucket tilted to release a burst of water onto the hot stones below creating a hiss of herbal steam.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

There is also the option to enjoy a more traditional steam room, but much preferring dry saunas to steam rooms; we quickly showered and opted to try the salt inhalation laconium next. This was by far my favorite heat experience at The Spa.

Much cooler than the other saunas, the room gave off an oriental feel, and the dim lighting and red mosaic tiled couches welcomed us. Breathing deeply into the salty air, I felt myself totally relax. When too hot, we hosed off with cool water and continued in our meditative state. After 20 minutes in the laconium, I felt completely rejuvenated, and the niggling muscle aches I’d been carrying around that week evaporated.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

Apart from these wonderful water and heat experience The Spa at the Sheraton Porto Hotel also features a fully functional gym with state of the art workout machines. Our time at the hotel did not permit us to try the gym, but I would have loved to have tried one of their Fitness by Core Performance classes.

There is also a yoga room, and a small but beautiful Zen Garden – complete with soft wicker couches and a trickling waterfall to totally relax your mind and soul.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe spa treatments at the Sheraton Porto Hotel are reasonably and wonderfully priced, so we booked massages for the next day. Being a huge fan of the ESPA range we opted to try their ESPA body treatment – an hour long aromatherapy massage.

We arrived at the spa the next afternoon after a very long day of sightseeing around Porto, and we were really looking forward to a relaxing afternoon at The Spa. My legs were sore from walking endlessly around the city, and I felt in desperate need of a good massage. My therapist was simply fantastic. Welcoming and extremely friendly, she led me to the treatment room where I prepared for my massage.

The next hour went by in a blur, but to be honest, as a person who has had her fair share of massages in her lifetime – I can truthfully say this was by far the best massage I had ever experienced. From the perfect pressure to the quick responsiveness of my therapist, I felt complete and utter bliss for a full hour as she worked on my tired muscles. Afterwards I felt like a new person, deeply relaxed and completely peaceful as I sipped on green cinnamon tea. We were shown to the relaxation room were we spent a good half hour, eyes closed, reveling in the wonder of The Spa.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

Modern Luxury in the Heart of Porto

Hotel Review : Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa, Porto – Portugal

The Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa is a 5-star oasis of tranquility in Porto, a short metro/taxi ride from the city’s attractions. The modern steel and glass structure sits in the heart of Porto’s business district, and from the moment you set foot onto the red carpet, you know you’re on to something special.

SONY DSC Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

We arrived earlier than anticipated, and of course, check in was not for hours yet, but the very accommodating reception staff ensured that our luggage was whisked away, we were given temporary room cards and shown to the club lounge on the 12th floor. Here we enjoyed a drink and caught up on emails thanks to the high-speed, complimentary wi-fi.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The club lounge is an access-limited feature of the Sheraton hotels, giving club member (or guests staying at the club floors) some additional perks such as complimentary internet access, and the privilege of using the club lounge.  In the lounge, you find a little relaxation space, with comfy couches, a computer with printing facilities, and a large screen TV. There are complimentary snacks throughout the day, and we enjoyed an aperitif each evening before dinner of Porto’s signature drink; Port wine.  The club rooms are also typically positioned on higher floors, ensuring sweeping views over the city.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

Club members can also choose to have breakfast in the lounge, although I wouldn’t recommend it if your stay already includes breakfast, as the Porto Novo restaurant, in my opinion is a far superior option. But more on that later.

After spending about an hour and a half in the lounge, I went back to the reception to enquire about the availability of our room. I must add at this point, the elevators in this hotel are truly amazing. So speedy, and so silent, I often got the buoyant feeling of being on a Disneyworld ride each time I went up to the room. By this time, our room was ready, and we headed up to the 10th floor, to find our luggage had already been placed inside. The room was large, airy and bright. Faultlessly clean with white linens, and plenty of soft towels. I found delicious smelling toiletries, the same ones we’ve had at previous stays at Sheraton. However, there was no little bottle of mouthwash this time – I am not sure if they have decided not to leave these in the rooms anymore?

Sheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

There was plenty of closet space, and we quickly unpacked the essentials, getting the suitcases out of the way. It had been a long week, and seeing as the weather was grey and dull, we headed to The Spa to enjoy the heated pools and saunas.  (I’ll be writing a post on our amazing spa experiences soon).

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the comfy day beds in the spa, before heading into the historic city centre (UNESCO World Heritage site) for dinner.

The Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa is not a small hotel – with 12 floors and over 260 rooms, but the level of service we experienced at the hotel was second to none.  I loved the décor, from the use of modern glass and steel that merges effortlessly with the more traditional wood and marble.

Our room was quite large and the king size bed was super comfy. We found enough plug sockets for 2 iPads, both our phones, and a camera, all conveniently located – without having to move a couch or unplug a lamp.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The bathroom was big and wonderfully lit – not the type of hotel where you needed to squint around in a dimly lit space to apply your makeup. His and hers sinks was convenient, and the ample-sized bathtub was a draw card which faced the room via a glass wall. But if you’re not travelling as a couple, fear not, there are blinds that can section off the bathroom to ensure privacy. There is also a separate shower and a separate toilet –which I appreciate.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The next morning we enjoyed a spectacular breakfast at the Porto Novo restaurant on the lobby level. I loved the breakfast at this restaurant because the food choices were so vast (both hot and cold options) with everything from fresh fruit to made-to-order eggs and omelets. I enjoyed pancakes one morning topped with fresh berries and drizzled in maple syrup. A mimosa added to the relaxing feeling of being on holiday.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The reception staff were ever-willing to hand out maps and point us in the right direction for all the city’s major sights. And after a long day of sightseeing, battling the famous Porto winds a little bit, we welcomed the opportunity to return to our luxurious room ach afternoon, slip into our swimsuits and decompress in the Jacuzzi.

The New Yorker bar located in the lobby is the ideal spot to enjoy a cocktail or three, as the soothing sounds of the grand piano envelopes the room. Plush carpeting, richly textured couches and expertly mixed drinks all add to the feeling of glamour.

SONY DSC SONY DSC Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

All in all, I found the Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa to be the perfect hotel in Porto, whether you’re travelling for business or leisure. The location may not suit everyone, particularly those wishing to stay in the historical centre itself, but I found the location perfect for sightseeing, and enough removed from the city hub to give a sense of calm.

SONY DSC Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The level of service is what one would come to expect from a 5 star establishment: courteous and highly efficient.

The design of the hotel itself is impressive, and the imposing all glass façade is a feast on the eyes.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

I would not certainly hesitate, for a second, to stay the Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa when in Porto again.

SONY DSCRates from 90€ for a deluxe room, to 2000€ for the presidential suite. Club rooms rates begin at 156€. 1 Night spa packages from 190€ pp sharing. For more information and specials, please go to the hotel’s official website.

Disclaimer: We received a complimentary upgrade to club level at the Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa. All opinions expressed in this review however, remain completely my own.

Old World Charm

Afternoon Tea at Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Berlin – Germany

What do Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin and Michael Jackson all have in common? Well, they were all guests of the Hotel Adlon in Berlin. Not at the same time, of course – although that would have sure been something!

The Hotel Adlon is one of the most famous hotels in Germany, if not Europe itself. The hotel survived both the first and second World Wars, only to be gutted by a fire mere days after WW2 had ended. But like a phoenix rising from ashes of the old, the Adlon was rebuilt shortly after the reunification of Germany, and now operates as part of the luxury Kempinksi Hotel chain.

Hotel Adlon Berlin

The Adlon’s history is vast, rich and somewhat chequered; yet in modern-day culture, it is primarily known as the hotel from which Michael Jackson notoriously dangled his then-infant son Blanket from the hotel’s balcony, in a somewhat misguided attempt to debut the baby to the hordes of screaming fans outside.

If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know that I do love a good Afternoon High Tea (proof here, and here). There is just something about the elegant British tradition that I absolutely adore.

So, on a warm summer’s day in Berlin, I made my way over to Pariser Platz to enjoy afternoon high tea at this iconic institution.

Brandenberg gate Berlin

When I arrived at Berlin’s most famous square, the Brandenburg Gate took center stage, poised about a 100m from the hotel itself. Greeted courteously by the smartly dressed porters outside, I made my way along the same path that I presume Brad and Angelina strolled when they stayed at the Adlon, and into the hotel’s stunning lobby.

Afternoon tea is served in both the Lobby Lounge bar, and the Bel Etage (first floor lounge). Sophisticated clientele were seated around the Lobby Lounge, amidst thick conversations in German, Italian and French (from what I could decipher).  There were young clusters of women enjoying the tradition of afternoon tea, businessmen in suits and colorful ties, and groups of families having a late lunch.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

I settled into a plush velvet chair and immediately succumbed to a friendly waiter proffering a chilled glass of Moët and Chandon – how could I resist?

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlinafternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

Having skipped lunch to fully appreciate the tea experience, I got to work on my three-tiered cake stand filled with delicious treats, as I took in the ambience of the hotel.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

The style and décor can only be described as old-world charm. From heavy fabrics to imposing chandeliers, the impression of old-fashioned luxury in the lobby expands like the film set for the Great Gatsby. Again my mind drifted back to the Adlon’s illustrious guest book – Nelson Mandela, Franklin Roosevelt, Greta Garbo, and the Queen herself, have all enjoyed the hotel’s impeccable hospitality.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

Feeling rather special amidst the history and grandeur, I delved into the savory portion of my cake stand…several finger sandwiches displayed ever so elegantly . The quail egg and cucumber sandwich went down effortlessly well with the glass of champagne.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlinThen, as I smothered my scones in clotted cream and strawberry jam, I was somewhat disappointed in the rock-hard texture of the scones. Perhaps left a little too long in the oven, the scones were slightly harder than I prefer.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlinHaving chosen a delightful summer tea bouquet (named Granny’s Garden – a fruity rhubarb concoction with a hint of bourbon-vanilla), I sipped the delicious tea, poured from a real silver teapot. The hotel thinks of everything, even going as far as supplying a soft, monogrammed teapot holder to avoid guests burning their hands on the teapot, as silver can get smoldering-hot.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

By the time I arrived at the third and final layer of my tea stand, I was actually quite content to sit back, cup in hand and listen to the soothing sounds coming from the grand piano on the Bel Etage.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlin

If I closed my eyes, right at that moment, with the backdrop of hushed conversations and the tinkling of fine china floating around, it would have been easy to forget the present day and time, and simply slip into a bygone era where flapper dresses, wingtip shoes and fedoras were all the rage.

But a white chocolate truffle with my name on it kept calling out, and soon the delicious burst of café-crème filled my tastebuds as the truffle was washed down with the last of the champagne.

afternoon tea adlon hotel berlinThe sound of the central fountain in the courtyard of the Lobby Lounge was ever-present, adding a serene and calming ambience to the experience. And with one final peek at the luminescent stained-glass dome high above, I shook off the ghost of Daisy Buchanan and I said goodbye to the Adlon Hotel.

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Tapping in to Lux 11

Hotel Review : Lux 11 Design Hotel, Berlin – Germany

Imagine the scene, under communist rule, the phone lines of normal East Berlin citizens are tapped, and conversations recorded. The KGB officers in charge listen attentively, trained to discern any signs of ‘unorthodox political and religious ideas’; basically, any signs of free-thinking.

As I relax, cocooned in a luxurious room in one of Berlin’s hottest new boutique hotels, with its candy-cane bedthrow, and amply stocked minibar catering to my every whim, I find it hard to believe the Lux 11 Hotel was once the headquarters for such operations.

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinLocated a mere 5 minutes from Alexanderplatz in the vibrant Mitte neighborhood, the hotel is perfectly poised for a night on the town; be it club hopping or bar crawling. If that’s not your thing, then the location is also ideal for visiting the city’s museums and galleries, and there is no shortage of restaurant choices; whether you’re craving Berlin’s famous currywurst, authentic Italian pizzas or spicy Mexican burritos.

Lux 11 is a boutique hotel, housed in a sprawling whitewashed building. The alabaster backdrop is a designer’s dream, and as such, the minimalistic design elements of the hotel come to life. The furniture, in muted earthy tones allow for the deep contract of hot pink splashes that seem to jump out at you, aiming to surprise.

Lux 11 Hotel Berlin

I check in to an executive suite on the 3rd floor. The room is huge – by any standard. Large windows run along one wall, letting in masses of daylight. There is a living area, with beautiful monochrome couches and a contemporary low-lying coffee table.

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinI find a long table on one end, which can be used for dining or working depending on your need. Sectioned off from the living area is the huge king sized bed in clean white linen, and the stylish bathroom with rain shower. The enormous walk in closet is any woman’s dream come true.

Lux 11 Hotel Berlin

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinLux 11 Hotel Berlin

It’s cozy, relaxed; with an ‘at-home’ feel that can be sorely missed after spending too many days on the road. There is a fully functional kitchenette stocked with crockery and cutlery for 6 place settings and the bar fridge is well-appointed.

Lux 11 Hotel Berlin

I find a toaster and a coffeemaker, which I use frequently. I think I love the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the room almost as much as the coffee itself. In the cupboard I find several long-stemmed wine glasses, and they seem to be issuing a siren call to the bottle of red sitting on the counter. To my amazement I find there is even a dishwasher!

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinI love the luxurious full-size bath amenities and like its sister hotel, The Weinmeister, I find  a range of essential toiletries in a gift box by the vanity –including minty dental floss.

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinLux 11 Hotel Berlin

Lux 11 is exploring the concept of the ‘apart-hotel’, which provides all the comforts and luxury of a traditional hotel but with a coziness that allows guests to make the room their own – even if only for a short while.

Lux 11 Hotel Berlin

From the candy gifts to the iPod docking station, it seems no detail is too small at Lux 11.

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinWith its prime location and the contemporary minimalistic design, Lux 11 is the embodiment of Berlin itself: classic yet ever trendy; stately, but with a hint of a wild side.

Lux 11 Hotel BerlinLux 11 Hotel Berlin

For the latest pricing and special offers visit the Lux 11 website.

Rates from 119€ to 299€ per night (depending on various factors such as room category, season, events in Berlin and the number of people), excluding continental breakfast.

Disclaimer: I was a guest at the Lux 11 Design Hotel, staying in an Executive Suite. All opinions expressed in this review however, remain completely my own.