Zermatt

Zermatt is in the German speaking Canton of Valais in Switzerland, at the end of a valley called the Mattertal. At 5310 ft above sea level, it is nestled between the mountains at the foot of the Matterhorn, one of the most … Continue reading

Verbier

I have just spent four days with friends in Verbier. I love skiing in Switzerland, it is just so easy to get everywhere by train, and the journey to Verbier is beautiful along the shores of Lake Ge…

Source: Verbier

A visit to Yellowstone National Park and Skiing in Jackson, Wyoming

It was something I have longed to do for a while, to see Yellowstone National Park. We had come across a good documentary last year, made by the BBC (currently available on Netflix, called Yellowstone: Battle for Life) and were … Continue reading

Baccarat Hotel, NY

New York is full of some great hotels from The Carlyle, The Four Seasons, The Mark to the more boutique properties like The Crosbie Street Hotel downtown. The newly opened Baccarat Hotel, the vision of the highly talented Barry Sternlicht … Continue reading

Verbier

IMG_0475I have just spent four days with friends in Verbier. I love skiing in Switzerland, it is just so easy to get everywhere by train, and the journey to Verbier is beautiful along the shores of Lake Geneva. It feels a lot less hassle than renting a car at Geneva Airport, which involves heaving luggage onto a bus for a short ride from the airport to the rental car, pick up and drop off.  Taking the train does take about three and a half hours, so longer than driving which is two hours but it costs less and once you are in the resort, the buses which are free, run around the on a regular timetable so it is easy to get around. It takes about ten minutes to walk from the Place Centrale to the Médran where the main gondola is. Alternatively and less stressful, cutting down the journey time, take the train to Martigny which takes just under two hours and we can organise a car service from there which takes 40 minutes.

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The skiing in Verbier is fantastic. It has about one hundred lifts and 400 kilometers of runs. IMG_0434_2 The scenery is breathtaking, and on exiting the gondola at highest point of the resort on Mont Fort, you can see Mont Blanc and as far as the Matterhorn in Zermatt on a clear day.  There is some awesome off piste skiing in Verbier and worth taking a private guide for on/off piste skiing. Make sure you contact École Fantastique, midway down the hill from the Médran and talk to Philippe Bruchez. They are well qualified and have the best private Swiss teachers for ski school for children/adults and fantastic guides. You will also receive a discount if you use them for your ski/boot hire only, in the ski shop opposite just next to the Fer à Cheval.

Verbier is not the best place for five star hotels, (it misses out on something like the Blizzard in Val d’Isère with its fantastic new Clarins spa), so we would recommend taking a chalet or apartment as it is full of really great ones to rent and we have a partnership with a very good agent based out in Verbier, so can help you find the best properties in the resort.

Here are my recommendations below for the best hotels in the resort.

Starwood Hotels opened the W Hotel in December 2013, which has three hundred bedrooms and is a welcome addition to a resort short on good hotel rooms. The W really is perfectly located by the Médran, so pretty much ski in/ski out give or take 50 metres. I am not a huge fan of W Hotels particularly but it is very new, still looks fresh, has a nice bar, good spa, great tapas restaurant downstairs and good bedrooms and bathrooms. Rates vary according to the season and they start at around CHF 400 per night in low season.  It is definitely one of the best places to stay.

Chalet Adrian is a Relais Chateaux property that opened 12 years ago. It is a more traditional style hotel with a lovely sun terrace, Champagne Bar and very traditional bistro Le Grenier at the bottom of Savoleyres. Rooms in low season are from about CHF 336. The hotel is cosy but the rooms are a bit tired and could do with some updating, as could the spa. Even if you don’t stay it is worth having dinner at Le Grenier and lunch on the terrace. You can take the gondola back up after lunch.

Another good hotel is the four star La Cordée des Alpes. It is not the best location as it is at the bottom of the town, (it has regular shuttle buses to the Médran) and we have heard rumbles of poor service this year which will hopefully change. The hotel has 32 indiviudal rooms and serviced apartments which are ideal for families, a nice spa, lovely restaurant and rooms start at around CHF 290 per night.

Hotel le Vanessa  is a firm favourite, located 50 metres off the Place Centrale. It is an excellent four star property, offering a good service, bedrooms that are simple but cosy and a great restaurant as well. It has a nice Wellness area with Jacuzzi. Rates start from CHF300 in low season for a deluxe room. It is worth going for a junior suite as they are spacious. Rates include wifi and breakfast.

VERBIER OVERVIEW

Hotels
W Hotel – right next to the Médran
Hotel le Vanessa – 50m from Place Centrale
Cordée des Alpes bottom of village with shuttle buses
Chalet Adrian, bottom of Savoleyres

Lunch
Chez Dany – favourite although food can be a bit hit and miss
Carrefour – even bigger favourite with amazing food
Marmottes (and for dinner and sledge back down)
Le Dahu
Cabane Mont Fort, rustic and with the best views of the mountain
Le Mouton Noir at Ruinettes, great terrace, good food, dj and dancing
Walk up to Marlenaz for lunch or dinner, it is the prettiest restaurant on the mountain

Coffee by Médran
W Café

Dinner in Village
Vieux Verbier
Potance
Nevai – Asian Fusion dinner and sushi bar
Chalet Adrian – bistro very traditional
Le Caveau – cheese fondue and raclette are their specialty
L’etoiles rouges dinner dancing
Le Rouge Restaurant

Clubs
Farm Club – super expensive but fun

Ski School
École Fantastique
Hire and Ski service opposite who give 10% off ski and boot hire if you book through École Fantastique
Heidi.com for t-shirts

Après ski
W Bar at bottom of regular shuttles to the Médran (you can almost ski to the bar!)
Le Rouge
W Bar/Living area

We would love to help you book your skiing holiday for the coming winter. Please contact us for hotel and private chalet bookings sarah@masonroseprivate.com

WHY I LOVE MY TRANVERZ EASTPAK BAGS…

ss15_travel_lookbook.15791.201501261455My super stylish interior designer friend, Samantha Todhunter introduced me to Eastpak bags a few years back. As we trundled through the airport, she and her two children had Eastpak luggage rolling gently along behind them. The fact that Sam is the ultimate Queen of Style anyway made me think this warranted further investigation.

I started with a medium sized one (midnight navy), then bought a small one (chocolate brown) and then completed the trio by buying the biggest one (midnight navy).

I love them for many reasons because they are not ridiculously expensive, are tough and lightweight and they come in a huge range of colours from pink squirls or army camouflage, to grey flannel to good old plain red, black or navy blue to mention but a few.

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If you are a multi Eastpak owner, you can easily fit one inside the other and therefore they do not occupy too much storage space.

Packing is a dream as they have two zip up compartments, one on either side of the bag, plus a zipped pocket on the outside. So imagine you are going skiing and have a big bag – ski kit including helmet on one side and regular clothes, toiletries etc. in the other. Coming home, if you have not had access to a washing machine or are too mean to use what can be the expensive hotel laundry service, then one side is for unclean clothes.

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When you have finished packing, have closed the two zipped up sections to become the one bag and then find you have inevitably left out your bag of chargers, or in my case, it is always my hairbrush (god forbid that would not be good), you just open the top and stuff the elusive item in between the two compartments. Easy. I stuffed a bottle of Ruinart in the middle recently and it survived.

The wheels are shhhhh, quiet, they roll along the ground effortlessly and smoothly. The handle is the perfect length for a five foot nine inch tall me and they have handles all over to help lift the bag on and off luggage carousels.

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I travel so much now that lugging a shoulder bag around with my mobile office is physically stressful on the old shoulder and neck, so my small chocolate coloured Eastpak one has all my work paraphernalia, documents, magazines on one side, my travel pillow and travel duvet from Brookstone, cashmere wrap, headphones in the other and my laptop and kindle in the front zipped pocket so I can get them out easily going through security. I can put my handbag, which is a Kelly Bag style over the handle, and it sits securely on top so I can just pull it around easily. On a low cost airline, I take a small crossbody bag and stuff it in between the compartments until I am on board the plane.

You can get them directly from Eastpak (they often have good sales and it features their entire range of bags). I bought mine from Amazon, who seem to have the best deals. Small bags start from £95, medium from £120, and the large ones start from £130. Trust me, they are worth it!

www.eastpak.com

NOT SO SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, Pan Pacific Hotel

It is a long old haul from the UK and a big time difference of 8 hours, but it is worth it. Seattle is the gateway to the magnificent areas of British Colombia and Oregon which are fantastic places to visit (see our next newsletter, to subscribe email info@masonroseprivate.com). Sadly I only had a couple of days to scratch the surface of this vibrant city, home to the Seattle Seahawks and the Space Needle.

I stayed at the Pan Pacific Hotel. It is a four star property which is boutique in feel. It is about a 20 minute drive from the airport and convenient for the shops which are about a ten minute walk away. It is a fifteen minute walk from the Space Needle and a 20 minute walk from Pike Place Market.

I had a corner room with a view of the Space Needle which was very spacious with a comfy bed, huge bathroom with a tub and walk in shower (good hairdryers), and work desk. You get a big bottle of complimentary water each night with the turndown. Rooms have a safe, an iron, coffee and tea facilities, an ice bucket, wine glasses and a well stocked mini bar. They have access across the street to Vida Spa which has a fantastic gym. The hotel bar has an outside terrace and Happy Hour is from 4-6pm each day. The staff are really helpful and the service was good. If you don’t want to spend the prices of the Four Seasons then this is a perfect spot. Rates start from about $285 plus tax per night so it is great value for money. There is a Starbucks next door (of course) which opens from about 5am and a huge, and I mean gigantic, Whole Foods down the steps and underneath the hotel where you can buy the most fantastic food and drink. Their hot chocolate is rather delicious. Opens at 7am. The hotel offers a complimentary car service within the central part of the city on a first come, first served basis. Book their town car service to the airport, it is $40 and you get a nice car and driver.

Restaurants are abundant and the seafood is fantastic. Try the Walrus & Carpenter over in Ballard for dinner (not open for lunch), Chandlers Crabhouse on Lake Union for excellent oysters and crab and Terra Plata for dinner which serves the most delicious sharing plates of carrots, tomatoes, roast pork and has a great wine list. Other recommendations were Canlis and Pink Door.

We had time to go up the Space Needle with its amazing views of the city and surrounding areas and to visit Pike Place Market with its plethora of food stalls with everything from doughnuts and bagels to Russian pastries, Chinese dim sum to slices of pizza.

I had a good blow dry by Catherine and a manicure at Gene Juarez salon which is a ten minute walk from the hotel, opposite Tiffany & Co.

The beds at the hotel were so comfortable that we slept fantastically each night in lovely sheets and with soft pillows. Not so sleepless after all. Heaven.

We are able to book flights from the UK, hotels, including the Pan Pacific Hotel in Seattle, and personalised tours all over this beautiful part of the world. We can organise private guides and drivers, book lodges and adventures so you can explore British Colombia and Oregon. Please email info@masonroseprivate.com

PASSING THROUGH BOSTON

During my stay in the US I spent a night in Boston. We stayed at The Liberty Hotel on Charles Street in Beacon Hill. This cruciform shaped structure made in 1851 from granite has an impressive 90 foot central rotunda topped with a cupola and it used to be a jail! It is located in one of Bostons’s oldest neighbourhoods and is full of little shops and bistros. If you go over the footbridge across the street it takes you to The Esplanade and a six mile stretch of riverside parks.

Make time to enjoy dinner at Scampo, award winning Chef Lydia Shire’s newest restaurant at the hotel. At street level this great restaurant is lively with a good atmosphere. It offers delicious contemporary Italian food and has an open kitchen preparing brick oven pizzas. In the summer you can sit outside. I shopped on Newbury Street where all the best shopping can be found from Armani, Burberry , Frye, Lululemon Athletica, Converse, Max Mara, Nespresso, Rag & Bone and Calypso St Barth to Diane Von Furstenberg where the lovely dresses are less expensive to buy in the US than the UK.

There is a delightful coffee shop close to DVF called Thinking Cup where you can have a delicious cup of coffee and a wonderful breakfast or casual lunch. Their salads and pastries are extremely good.

Boston is full of wonderful museums. I managed to see, on a friend’s recommendation, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which is an extraordinary collection of artefacts and paintings. Isabella was in love with Venice and the Italian culture and as a result her museum was fashioned after the Palazzo Barbaro where she stayed during her many visits. I walked the Freedom Trail which starts in the financial district and ends up at the USS Constitution, she is the oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy; she defeated five British warships rather formidably in 1812!

I wish I had been able to stay longer as Boston is a great place for a lovely weekend away. Other good hotels are The Fairmont and The Four Seasons. If you would like us to book flights and hotels please email info@masonroseprivate.com

Favourite things to do in Boston

Have a drink at the Top of the Hub on the top floor of the Prudential
Walk along Charles River, crossing the Mass Ave bridge
Brunch at The Oak Room at The Fairmont Copley Plaza
Visit the Museum of Fine Art ‘MFA’
Dine at Red Lantern for amazing sushi and chinese food
Dine at La Voile, great French restaurant on Newbury Street
Grab a sandwich from cafe Flour on Back Bay or Cambridge
Walk through the Quincy Market and lunch at Il Panino in Little Italy North End
Have breakfast with delicious pastries at the Tate Bakery
Visit Harvard Square and have lunch at the Borders Cafe
Walk on South End and go to Toro for amazing tapas
Enjoy a cocktail or two at bar Drink

NEW YORK and The Loews Regency Hotel

I used to stay at The Carlyle on 77th between Park Avenue and Madison Avenue for many years very happily but there are definitely other hotels in NY which I like as well; the Crosby Street Hotel in the middle of Soho being one of them. Location is so important to me, I am an Upper East Side kinda gal, so when the Loews Regency reopened its doors after a hugely expensive and total renovation I thought I should check it out.

Everything about this hotel works for me. It’s located on 61st and Park Avenue and is the best location I have ever stayed in. I can flounce out of the door and walk everywhere I want to go within minutes: Central Park, Fifth Avenue, John Barrett’s hair salon at Bergdorf Goodman, the Rockefeller Centre, Bloomingdales (a ten minute walk away tops), Donna Karan around the corner, it’s easy to walk up to The Guggenheim, close to MOMA, need I say more? They also have a Mercedes house car which will drop you at any destination within a 20 block radius on a first come first served basis, or you can book one of their two Fiat 500L cars for a transfer anywhere in Manhattan, so if you need your downtown fix one way is complimentary.

I arrived at the hotel after a transatlantic flight and check in was speedy and efficient. You are offered nice touches like the complimentary pressing of two items of clothing on arrival, free Wifi, complimentary Fiji bottles of water and a paper each morning. If you choose the turndown service your water is replenished and you get free cookies from Sant Ambroeus Coffee Bar.

Part of the renovations include 379 all-new apartment style rooms and 58 suites. The signature suites, designed by the likes of Nate Berkus,are beautifully appointed with their own kitchenettes, drawing rooms and dining areas. Many rooms are interconnecting so you can create three bedroom apartments, perfect for families. All the bedrooms are really spacious; each room has a work desk (there are plug points everywhere), the beds have fantastic linen and bedding. Bathrooms are huge and well lit with double vanities and most have big walk in showers. The hairdryers are fantastic so leave yours at home – they practically blow you out of the bathroom.

The gym is unusually large for a hotel with Matrix equipment. There are two Julien Farel spas; one for men (a traditional barber shop) and a large one for women that includes a steam room and hair salon.

The staff are cheerful and helpful and nothing is too much trouble from booking a manicure to arranging an airport transfer or restaurant booking.

With a partnership with Sant Ambroeus Coffee Bar (which has a separate entrance on 61st Street), you can satisfy your jet lag needs, (if like me, you wake early having travelled from the UK), and grab a nice cup of hot coffee and a croissant from 7am. They serve delicious sandwiches, pastries and salads throughout the day, and in the summer they have a little gelato cart on the street. You can sit outside if it is warm and then charge it all to your room. Serafina Always is a minute walk away serving great Italian food and good pizzas. Perfection.

The Loews Regency is known for its famous ‘Power Breakfast’ in their Regency Bar & Grill. Ask anyone in the know about where to have breakfast in Manhattan and they will tell you this is the place. This iconic restaurant is where politicians, bankers and New York’s movers and shakers come to observe a morning ritual that started during the financial crises in the mid 1970’s. Bob Tisch, the hotel’s founder, took it upon himself to invite the city’s business and political leaders to the breakfast at the hotel in order to discuss how they could get New York back on its feet. The people who attended were so significant and powerful themselves that he named it the ‘Power Breakfast’.

The bar buzzes with people meeting in the early evening as it is such a great location up town for a drink after work. Whether you are travelling on business or for pleasure this hotel ticks the boxes.

Rooms start from $399.00 per night plus tax. Please email us for further information and we can make your reservations – info@masonroseprivate.com.

Favourite things to do in New York

. Walk the High Line
. Have a martini at the Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle
. Visit the Guggenheim
. Anything in Central Park, walk, cycle (you can rent bicycles), run, eat
. Baz Bagels & Restaurant (have gluten free ones too, yum)
. Shop at Henri Bendel for favourite vanity bags & cases
. Blow dry or braids at John Barrett salon at Bergdorf Goodman
. Spend a couple of hours at The Frick
. Narcissa for brunch
. Have dinner at Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village
. Lunch at Cherche Midi
. Garance Dore’s blog, reading is a must if visiting NY, she is super chic http://www.garancedore.fr

KAMALAYA Wellness Sanctuary & Holistic Spa Resort, Koh Samui

Kamalaya is the creation of John and Karina Stewart. They met in the jungles of the Himalayas where John had spent 16 years devoted to spiritual studies. He lived in a Himalayan community embracing a traditional yogi lifestyle which taught him the values of truth, simplicity, love and sanatana (eternal) dharma. After they married John and Karina were regular visitors to Thailand. In 2000 they returned when John was poorly and they stayed on in order that John could recover. On one of his walks John came across the land upon which Kamalaya now stands; one of forested landscape, huge ancient granite boulders and a cave that was once used as a place of meditation and spiritual retreat for Buddhist monks. This was where Karina and John took the decision to create their dream. Karina has a BA in cultural anthropology and Asian religions as well as a deep interest in meditation and an existence of devotion and self-discovery. She is committed to creating a place where healing and harmonious transformation can flourish.

There are several quotes by famous clients and well-reputed journalists in the small brochure on Kamalaya. Two stand out: the first from film director Oliver Stone who writes (this is a shortened version), “The days went by and the weight came off, I look to return to paradise soon” and the second from Tiffany Darke from The Sunday Times who says, ‘The idea behind Kamalaya is that by the time you leave you’ll be happy, healthy and relaxed, but internally you’ll have something to take away with you. All the other spas out there had better sit up and take notice because this is where the industry needs to be”.

I could honestly leave it like that as they are right. I am not an experienced spa visitor and I was slightly dreading a six day detox, something I have never embarked on before. I have friends who enjoy the strict regimes of certain spas, something which fills me with apprehension, so I was very unsure of what to expect. Interestingly it was three days before I realised I was not eating any meat, fish or chicken. It was the last day when I was told that it was pretty much a vegan diet that I had been following. The food was utterly delicious and made with lovely fresh ingredients in superb Thai style that it felt, as Oliver Stone said, “as if the days simply passed by”. It was easy, peaceful and I felt very happy.

This is not a spa for clients who want very high end five star luxury or plastic surgical procedures. It is about rebalancing and regrouping your mental and physical. The best thing about Kamalaya is not the beach particularly, which is not the best on the island (you cannot really swim in the sea as it is on a very shallow, coral lagoon), or the fact that you have to walk up hill and down dale to get everywhere (good exercise). Where it shines and is outstanding is its total lack of pretention. Plus they get real results. No one is looking at you, no one is judging you, everyone is there for their own well-being, some to lose weight (one guest stayed for three months and lost 55 pounds in a very healthy way). There are no fad diets here, simply retraining of the head and eating habits. Some come to detox and some simply to recover. The food is really good and as a result demand has allowed them to put together a small book with some of the favourite recipes.
Treatments are all exceptional from facials, Thai massage, Royal Ayurvedic massage, India head massage, Shirodara to Vital Essence massage with your choice of essential oils and the most wonderful hand and foot massages. For those detoxing colonic hydrotherapy is also part of the package depending on the one you choose.

Kamalaya offers very reasonably priced packages for detoxing, weight loss, emotional balancing, relieving stress and burnout and general wellness programmes which can be tailor-made to suit you.

When you arrive in Kamalaya, having driven through streets of tourist bars, little shops and supermarkets, it feels like a breath of fresh air. I would highly recommend the one bedroom villas with outside bathrooms (or one of the new pool villas they are currently building on the other side of the hill) so that you have a bit of outside space to enjoy. They charge for wifi which is always such a bugbear of mine in any hotel, but they say it is to discourage people from connecting to the outside world and work. They have a very good point. Phones are not allowed in public areas including the spa and restaurants so if you go take a good book. Laundry packages are available for 30-90 items of clothing per week and are very reasonably priced – such a great idea when you are using lots of workout gear as it can be humid at certain times of year so you tend to change clothes quite a lot. Airport transfers are included for you in an air-conditioned 4×4 with a cold towel and bottle of water for the 30 minute journey.

It is a very comfortable place for couples who want a spa break together, small groups of friends and single people alike. In fact there were many singles there who seemed to keep themselves to themselves and enjoy the peace. If you want to join a community table there is a long one in the main restaurant, which was full every night. You can drop in and out if you feel like a bit of company. Many new friendships are forged here. It is great going as a single person, particularly if you are on detox, as you will find you are happy to find your own space and time; to sleep when you want, read quietly and not have the ‘what time shall we meet’ scenario. After your relaxing treatments you really do just want to rest, reflect and sleep.

There are some wonderful yoga and pilates classes for all levels in the open air yoga pavilion. I loved and learned a lot from chakra meditation and pranayama. Pranayama involves regulated deep breathing to help to balance the body and mind, relieve stress and to help you sleep – did you know it can help to bring your blood pressure up or down and possibly even get you off medication? That has to be worth a try if you suffer from one of these. There are movie nights, talks from experts and other enjoyable events most evenings.

There is a fitness centre, steam cavern, saunas, lovely swimming pools and a divine hammock by the beach to enjoy. Nothing better than a fresh coconut and sunbed in the shade of the palm trees.

I had a lovely time; it was peaceful and I felt great when I left spiritually and physically and that was what I had hoped for.

If you would like more information, or indeed to book Kamalaya, we can organise everything from start to finish including flights from the UK.

We can book flights on several different airlines either via Bangkok or Singapore to Samui and arrange all transfers and accommodation. BA offer a service on the return leg of your journey via Bangkok enabling you to clear immigration in Samui and check your bags through to London. Flights connect easily in the early morning for the 11.20am flight to London Heathrow Airport. Email us info@masonroseprivate.com

One Night In Bangkok

I had been told the traffic is terrible in Bangkok, so the day I arrived someone must have been looking down on me kindly, serendipitously it was Buddha’s birthday and therefore a public holiday, so no traffic jams. We cruised into town and it took 35 minutes to get to The Siam Hotel, a magnificent, sexy property on the Chao Phraya river, situated way up from the hustle of this vibrant city and the big hotels such as The Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, Shangri-La and such like.

Here, in Dusit, the oldest and most chic part of Bangkok, the family has created a breathtaking 38 bedroomed property full of beautiful antiques and photographs lovingly collected by the youngest son. The hotel designed by internationally acclaimed architect Bill Bensley, has a modern yet colonial feel. It is open, airy and completely different to the other five star properties further down. As well as two fabulous restaurants, the hotel also has a gorgeous spa, gym, yoga terrace, Muay Thai boxing ring, beauty salon, library/cinema and infinity pool.

Siam Hotel
 
The standard rooms, called the Siam Suites, are huge with separate living areas, large sprawling beds and beautiful bathrooms. I loved my luxurious bathrobe, slippers and good hairdryer (so many hotels have bad hair dryers).

Siam Hotel3
 
Each guest is assigned a shared butler. I was lucky enough to have Mac who was young, enthusiastic and utterly delightful. He booked everything for me from dinner reservations, car transfers and organised my ironing and spa treatment. I highly recommend having a massage; it was seriously good and really worth the pummeling after a hideous night flight. It will rejuvenate you for the evening ahead. (I am seriously unimpressed with BA’s Business Class; they need to take a leaf out of Etihad’s book. The food and presentation in Business Class on Druk Air, the Bhutanese national airline, was miles better.)

The General Manager of The Siam, Jason, is fabulous and amazing with all his guests. He was waiting for me on arrival and when I left for a quick boat trip later on he was on the Pier greeting guests, and waiting for others to arrive. He has been involved since the beginning and loves the property as if it were his own.

 
I took the hotel’s river shuttle for an early evening cruise – it is a regular service which means you can easily pop out for dinner to perhaps the Mandarin Oriental’s restaurant and then cruise back. It is also the best way to get around town – they will drop you off anywhere along the river with a pier and pick you up where you wish.

We went through Bangkok en route to Bhutan, it was a great stop over. If you would like us to make reservations including flight bookings for you, please email info@masonroseprivate.com

OSLO AND TROMSØ – in search of the Northern Lights

OSLO

I am one of many who saw the BBC documentary ‘In the Land of the Northern Lights’ with the enchanting Joanna Lumley a few years ago and had dreamed about going ever since.  Last October I mentioned it to my friend Inge Solheim, a well-travelled polar explorer and guide (he is the Expedition Leader for the expedition and guide for the American Team in the race to the South Pole for Walking With The Wounded this year) who of course made it happen.

I flew into Oslo for the first part of my journey,  as there were no direct flights at that time. I stayed at the Hotel Continental overnight, it is very central plus it has a great restaurant and lively bar. It is easy to get to on the Flytoget train from Oslo Gardemoen airport. The train, similar to our Heathrow Express service, takes 20 minutes, costs £19 for a single ticket, saves a fortune in taxis and is the quickest way to get there. I got off at the National Theater stop and took the Karl Johans gate exit where the hotel, is literally, a skip across the road. This family owned hotel has recently been refurbished and it is a good property with lovely staff and an excellent service. It is extremely important to ask for a quiet room off the main street, as there is a bar opposite which stays open until 3am plus rubbish is collected early morning, as I found out! The Theatercaféen is their fabulous restaurant and bar which serves amongst the usual French dishes, delicious Rakfisk – a fermented trout, not for the faint hearted and an array of rather expensive but good wine.  If you have time it is worth a trip out to The Fram Museum which tells the story of Norwegian Polar exploration. It is located about a 20 minute cab drive away on the peninsula of Bygdøy. The shopping in Oslo is not over exciting, however there is a Dale of Norway store very close to the hotel for those who love the beautifully knitted traditional Norwegian sweaters, hats and ski sweaters. There were lots of them visible in the airport on both adults and kids.

There are other good hotels in Oslo, the Hotel Bristol is one, I have not seen the rooms but I had a cup of coffee there and it was cosy with a nice ambience and well located on Kristian IV’s gate.

Next stop… Tromsø

Tromsø

Norwegian now fly from London Gatwick (there is a layover in Oslo on the way out of about an hour and a half but the flight home from Tromsø is direct).

View of Tromsø and the Arctic Cathedral shining across the water

View of Tromsø and the Arctic Cathedral shining across the water

Tromsø is a tiny airport so luggage arrives quickly. I took a taxi to the town centre and arrived at the Rica Ishavshotel within ten minutes. This is definitely the best hotel in Tromsø as it stands on the quayside overlooking the Tromsø Strait with magnificent views of the harbour, Ishavskatedralen and Tromsdalen. Rooms start from about £117-£250 for a standard room and you pay a bit more for a room overlooking the water which is well worth the view. The rate includes Wi-Fi and a fantastic buffet breakfast (and if you go off early before the buffet opens they will make you a packed breakfast/lunch!).

Tromsø is the second largest city north of the Arctic Circle. It is a pretty town with beautiful old wooden houses and some nice little shops and restaurants. Its Arctic Cathedral with its beautiful stained glass window at the back was built in 1965 and based on a rock out in Sommerøy.

Dinner that night was at Brasserie 69, which had, delicious dishes such as lamb shank, moules marinieres and steak frites on the menu.

Finding the Northern Lights…

After dinner I was accompanied by a lovely guide to go in search of the Northern lights…and find them we did. It is of course, never guaranteed and what I saw was not as spectacular as I had hoped for but it is an extraordinary experience to see these dancing shards, moving curtains of green, blue, yellow and purple light. You need a tripod to take good photos and a lot of patience unless they are very active. If you are lucky you will see them in Tromsø itself during your stay.

The ferry to Finnsness at 7am!

The ferry to Finnsness at 7am! 

The following morning I headed up to Finnsnes by ferry operated by Boreal Transport. The ferry dock is about a five minute walk from the hotel and the journey costs about £29 per adult and £19 per child. An hour and a half later when I arrived, I rented a car and drove up to the Polar Zoo which takes about an hour and a half. I am not keen on zoos and animals kept in small pens, however this is more like a park. The enclosures for the animals are huge and they house moose, wolves, lynx, red deer, reindeer, wolverine, arctic fox and two brown bears (actually one is an albino so is white!). It is a perfect park to visit with children as they are allowed into some of the enclosures with the smaller animals. The most exciting enclosure is with the wolves (children must be over 16 yrs old and then it is still at the discretion of the keepers). Smaller children can go into the Arctic Fox enclosure with the soft, small foxes. There is of course an additional price for this. The drive back along the coast line is spectacular and worth doing during daylight hours.

Dinner that evening was at Emma’s Dream Kitchen (Emma’s Drømmekjøkken) with Arne Trengereid and his staff, who run the Norwegian Tourist Board. The restaurant is famous in Tromsø and the food delicious.

The next day we headed out to Sommerøy, Porsanger, Norway, a 40-minute drive from Tromsø, passing small herds of reindeer foraging for food and driving alongside sandy beaches in small coves with crystal clear water.  Sommerøy is about 22 miles west of the city of Tromsø and is a beautiful drive. The island is connected to the neighboring island of Kvaløya by the Sommarøy Bridge. There is accommodation including some private houses to rent through the one hotel, it is all very basic but fine if you will be hiking and hanging around on the beaches during the day.

Going to Tromso, is a great trip for three or four nights, and certainly worth taking children, especially if you incorporate the Polar Zoo and are lucky enough to see the Northern Lights dancing. If you want to be more adventurous and travel onto Svalbard, then we have the experts to help. There are lots of wonderful things to do in Northern Norway from King Crab fishing, dog sledding, kayaking to see walrus, cruising (we can organise private yachts) and many other activities.

Inge Solheim takes small private groups of adults or families at his discretion on amazing adventures world-wide from Mustang in the Himalayas to walking in the Arctic, to a family holiday in Svalbard. If you wish to discuss this then please contact me for an introduction to him and then we can help to organise flights and hotels during that time.

You can fly to Oslo first with BA from Termimal 5 at London Heathrow Airport and then onto Svalbard with SAS. My sincere thanks to Arne Trengereid and his wonderful team at the Northern Norway Tourist Board for organising a great trip.

If you would like us to help organise a trip to Tromsø or Svalbard, please contact me us info@masonroseprivate.com

The moon on the way back to Tromsø

The moon on the way back to Tromsø

REFRENCES

Northern Norway Tourist Board

www.northernnorway.com

British Airways

www.ba.com

Norwegian (airline)

www.norwegian.com

Flytoget

http://www.flytoget.no/eng

Hotel Continental, Oslo

http://www.hotelcontinental.no

Standard Room including breakfast £386.00 per room, per night

Rica Ishavshotel

https://www.rica-hotels.com/hotels/tromso/rica-ishavshotel/

Standard Rooms including breakfast and Wi-Fi: £117-£250 per night

Superior Rooms including breakfast and Wi-Fi : £144.86 – £300 per night

Brasserie 69

http://www.69grader.no/

Skoringen Store

http://www.skoringen.no

Emma’s Dream Kitchen

http://www.emmasdrommekjokken.no/

Walking with the Wounded

http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/southpole2013

Inge Solheim

www.ingesolheim.com

Northern Norway Tourist Board

www.northernnorway.com