Category Archives: Hotels

Riverside Relaxation in Vang Vieng, Laos

2017c Riverside Boutique HotelRiverside Boutique Resort
Ban Viengkeo
P.O. Box 360
Vang Vieng, Vientiane Province
Lao PDR
+856 (0)23 511 726
http://www.riversidevangvieng.com
info@riversidevangvieng.com

After the long drive from Luang Prabang, it is a treat to sit back on our balcony and watch the Nam Song River flow past the magnificent limestone karsts for which Vang Vieng is known. Better yet, on this hot afternoon, is a dip in their pool, where one can chill out with a glass of ice-cold Beer Lao. Riverside Boutique Hotel does not simply offer luxury in Vang Vieng, it offers guests the chance to learn about the diversity of the Lao culture through its studied décor which showcases the various ethnic influences of the country. There are hints everywhere of this rich diversity – in the design of the rooms, the artwork selected, the textiles used. Their boutique gallery and gift shop gives guests a chance to admire and purchase some of the finest examples of the artisan crafts of the Lao people. Be sure to visit the shop and ask the desk for their brochures that explain the rich traditions of the various Lao tribes.

The Crab d’Or Restaurant provides a relaxed setting in which to sample a tasting menu of Lao cuisine, a great introduction to the most popular dishes of the country or an opportunity to sample them again. The cook is happy to adjust the “heat” of the chilies so beloved by the local people. The restaurant features a wrap-around terrace overlooking the river and the garden, where In the evening, lighted lanterns and fairy lights provide a touch of magic. At breakfast, this same dining room offers sustenance, a rich buffet of both Asian and Continental selections sure to please guests, no matter what their tastes or dietary restrictions might be.

Vang Vieng awaits, luring visitors from the comforts of Riverside Boutique Hotel. There are trips down the river in traditional river craft, tubing and kayaking for the adventurous, villages and rice fields, temples and shops that tempt. Go ahead, explore, or simply rest in the natural beauty that surrounds you.

2017c Riverside Boutique Hotel view

View of the Nam Song River – original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

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Satri House – the Enchantress of Luang Prabang

2017c Satri House Secret Retreat

Satri House  –  original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

Satri House Secret Retreat
057-Photisarath Road
Luang Prabang – Lao PDR
+856 71 253 491 2
http://www.satrihouse.com
info@satrihouse.com

Built in French colonial-style, yet deeply influenced by Lao culture, Satri House’s main villa dates back to 1904 when it was the residence of Prince Soupha-Nouvong, known as the “Red Prince” who was later to become Lao PDR’s first president in 1975. Expanded over the years, it was eventually converted into a “secret retreat” hotel featuring 28 guestrooms and 3 suites.

Satri House is an unabashed enchantress; she leads me from garden path to lily ponds, to a still channel of water where Lao sculptures and palm fronds are reflected in its surface, pleasing my eye not once but twice. Pathways through these lush gardens and quiet corridors invite us to the secret retreat that will be our accommodation for the next few days. Our room makes me feel like I have been invited by the Prince himself to luxuriate in his private home. Furnished in rich wood and dressed in delicate silk and linens, our room has a queen-sized bed draped in mosquito netting that while practical, lends a romantic air. Lao in all its beauty is everywhere, but the temptress does not stop here. A shuttered doorway opens to our private garden, a short walk takes us to the pool or the spa, and finally there is the restaurant with a wrap-around terrace that offers an intimate view of the garden from above.

The first evening we enjoy a set menu of Lao dishes, a perfect introduction to the country’s cuisine. Mme. Lamphoune salad is a green papaya – green mango salad with chicken and shrimp in a lime dressing; the Som Ho pomelo salad made with shrimp and vegetables is equally as tasty. For our main course we have Gaeng Phet Bhet Myung, a red curry duck with pineapple and become acquainted with Khabab Paa, grilled Mekong river fish wrapped in banana leaf, one of Lao’s most popular dishes. And for our sweet tooth, we get to sample another Lao specialty – local dark-sticky rice with fresh mango.

Three nights are simply not enough at this hotel. If our enchantress is benevolent, perhaps we will be lured back to her secret retreat again someday.

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

The best of two worlds at Savoy Hotel Yangon

2017c Savoy Hotel

Savoy Hotel Yangon    –    original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

Savoy Hotel Yangon
129, Dhammazedi Road
Yangon, Myanmar
+95 1 526-289
http://www.savoy-myanmar.com
reservations@savoy-myanmar.com

Nearly everything pales to the experience of visiting Shwedagon, Yangon’s most cherished Buddhist Pagoda that glitters in the sunlight and dazzles one’s very soul. So afterwards, we slowly make our way back to our hotel, where we lounge poolside in a garden-like setting. I have ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Aythaya Vineyards, Myanmar’s nascent wine industry on the slopes of the Taunggyi Mountains in the Shan State. Its crisp, fruity bouquet suits my idle mood. I close my eyes and breathe in the stillness, punctuated only by a splash in the pool and the caw of crows as they swoop among the tall trees perhaps declaring their territorial rights. Who can blame them? There is the hum of traffic – not far from where I sit, but seemingly worlds away.

Hotel Savoy is a colonial-style hotel that easily transports its guests to a by-gone era, when life was unhurried. It is an intimate hotel with 24 light-filled, spacious rooms and six suites, tastefully decorated in Myanmar style, with teak furnishings, fine linens and weavings, with here and there beautifully arranged antiques, paintings and wood-carvings that reflect the culture.

Later in the evening, we dine at Kipling’s Restaurant known for its Green Pan Asian Cuisine as developed by Florian Eberhardt, chef extraordinaire who brings with him worlds of experience. The cuisine is light, using the freshest organic ingredients to be found in the Shan State while going moderate in its use of sugar, salt, butter and cream. The lightness of the dishes allows diners to experience the full, distinct flavors of the herbs and spices that make the food so satisfying and memorable. We start with Shwe Taung Khauk Swe, Golden Mountain noodles with chicken in a creamy coconut soup, bursting with flavor. We sample the Burmese lamb curry and vegetables, savoring the aroma of cumin, turmeric and shallots that steam up from its terracotta pot. The steamed bass is an offering fit for a temple – bathed in spinach with lotus seeds, lemongrass, ginger and Yamasa soy. We could be no place else but in Asia, and there is no place else we would rather be at this moment!

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

A Warm Welcome at Mandalay’s Eastern Palace Hotel

2017c Eastern Palace Hotel

View from my room at the Eastern Palace Hotel  –  original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

Eastern Palace Hotel
66A, 19 St.
Mandalay, 100101
Myanmar
+95-261-016
http://www.easternpalacehotels.com
reservations@easternpalacehotels.com

A welcome haven to the weary business or leisure traveler, the Eastern Palace Hotel is located several kilometers to the east of the Old City walls and its picturesque moat. After over 24 hours of travel, we were welcomed by the cheerful smiles of its staff at reception and then in their restaurant. Their menu offered a variety of continental and Asian choices, for either light dining or appetite-satisfying meals. We chose two Asian specialties, both generous portions of tasty vegetarian and meat and rice dishes.

Our room was bright, well-equipped, lacking nothing but comfort and rest. Too keyed up to sleep, I wandered to the rooftop terrace to enjoy the view over Mandalay, then back down to ground level where I was tempted to dip into their sparkling swimming pool. Finally I settled on a visit to their Pa Dau Spa and what a good decision that was! I opted to be pampered by one of their treatments. Metu, with her strong hands and gentle spirit, treated me to an invigorating yet relaxing 60-minute foot massage, while I sipped hot ginger tea and dreamed of Mandalay – my introduction to the Golden Land of Myanmar. She spent the final ten minutes kneading the tightness from my shoulders and back, preparing me for rest before taking on the vitality of the busy neighborhood outside our hotel.

We did attempt a short walk, but were too overwhelmed with fatigue to combat the chaos that awaited us during the early evening rush hour. Motorcycles, cars and trucks whizzed by us without pause, as we stood trying to get up the courage and the speed it was going to take to cross the street. Finally we simply asked two locals to accompany us and with genuine smiles they did just that, seeing us safely across the road. Oh, how we are going to like our Burmese sojourn! Oh, how we loved the retreat that the Eastern Palace Hotel offers!

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

B&B Villa Diana – a Sicilian country house

2017c B&B Villa Diana

 

B&B Villa Diana
S.S. 122 n.14 (Km. 5.4)
92100 Agrigento (AG)
Sicily
http://www.villadiana.ag.it
info@villadiana.ag.it

Villa Diana is not an Italian villa as one might imagine the Tuscan-red villas nestled among the vineyards of Chianti, or a rose-colored villa in a lush garden perched high above the sea on the Amalfi Coast. It is rather an unpretentious country house on the rocky terrain of sun-drenched Sicily and herein lies its charm. One is immediately struck by the contrasts that meet the eye and give pause for contemplation. Inside, the warmth of our host and owner of this cherished family home spills out the minute he opens the door and introduces us to his home. The sunshine of his welcome illuminates an elegant interior, a sweeping staircase that leads to four guestrooms, each gracefully decorated in typical Sicilian fashion, and each equipped with an attention to detail that will provide restful comfort.

Agrigento (17)

The color of our bedroom walls reminds me of the lemons that grow not far from where I am standing, the furnishings a tasteful blend of wrought iron, fine wood, and a pleasing mix of decorative items, both contemporary and traditional. I love the presence of family portraits, landscape paintings, whimsical ceramics, and religious art – a selection that beautiful celebrates the essence of Sicily. In the central parlor, antiques, old and new books, shimmering glassware and small decorative collectibles offer warmth and welcome to a weary traveler.

Agrigento (11)

On the other hand, on a generous balcony that wraps around two sides of our room, we are offered another view of Sicily – that of its land, its light, its labors. The family who still reside in the home raise sheep, goats, donkeys, geese, ducks, and chickens. These provide the music of country life, lived according to the seasons, in a timeless landscape of olive groves, fruit orchards, umbrella pines and thorny Indian figs that take root with abandon among rocky crevices of the hillside.

Agrigento (31) copia

This abundance of the land is brought to our table at breakfast, where a grace-filled buffet invites us to indulge in fresh ricotta, organic yogurts, pecorino and salamis, homemade jams and preserves, as well as freshly baked goods and sun-ripened fruit.  One is tempted to linger if it weren’t for the temples of Agrigento that lure us into action.  After a day of excursions, we are comforted by the knowledge that we will be returning to a fine Sicilian home that will provide us with rich repose.

2017c Sunrise in Sicily

Sunrise in Sicily – View from Villa Diana                     Original Watercolor painting by Ginda Simpson

 

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Villa Il Poggiale – from family home to elegant hotel

2017c Villa Il Poggiale

Villa Il Poggiale
Via Empolese, 69
50026 San Casciano di Pesa (FI)
39-055-828311
http://www.villailpoggiale.it
villailpoggiale@villailpoggiale.it

A steady downpour holds me captive inside, but it is Villa Il Poggiale that captivates me. A Florentine Renaissance home, this villa dates back to 1408, passing down ownership from one family to another until it was purchased by the Vitta family in 1960. Three generations enjoyed this, their family home, and when no longer needed as a residence, it was decided that they would convert their elegant mansion into a hotel. The owners have worked hard to maintain the style and charm of the original interior, even as they expanded and re-designed the structure, so that one can still enjoy today the welcome of its shaded loggia, the frescoes that adorn walls and ceilings, and the intimacy of the rooms. Villa Il Poggiale offers all the luxury of a first-class hotel, but has successfully achieved their goal of maintaining the feel of home. This is made clear from the beginning when we are handed the keys to the front gate and the entrance to the villa so that we can come and go as we please.

At the moment, I am sitting quietly in our room listening to the music of raindrops. I am embraced by the comfort of our room, one of the 24 rooms and suites in the villa, each furnished differently with the finest of linens and antiques. I glance out my window from time to time to watch the puddles form below in the garden and in the distance, a purely Tuscan landscape glistens in the mist. I wander through the many little salons, each one beckoning me to sit and read my book within their cozy spaces, and I finally choose one. As late afternoon arrives, and it is clear that there will be no swimming in their lovely pool, I choose to visit the in-house spa and indulge in the warmth of a sauna.

We dine at the villa’s restaurant, La Tinaia, the space where the peasants used to bring the grapes at harvest time. Here, where the emphasis is on taste AND healthy eating, guests are given a choice – not an easy one – from a fixed menu or à la carte that reflects the simple yet refined cuisine of Tuscany. A generous buffet of antipasti leads the way and the entrées that follow include ingredients brought right from their garden to the table. The wine list does the rest.

It is easy to fall in love with this villa and the staff who treat us like family, but the countryside awaits. Villa Il Poggiale offers custom-designed tours of the neighboring towns, with wine-tastings and even cooking classes for those who wish to explore Tuscany in this relaxed manner. Even for the independent traveler, the possible excursions throughout the Chianti region are many: Greve, Panzano, San Miniato and the towered town of San Gimignano await. And then, there is Florence…

copyright ginda simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Ancient baths – renewed spirits: at Hotel Posta Marcucci

pm 5

Albergo Posta Marcucci
Via Ara Urcea 43
I-53027 Bagno Vignoni (SIENA)
39-0577-887112
http://www.postamarcucci.it
albergo@postamarcucci.it

My eyes are closed and I am melding into a lounge chair, the gentle May sunshine warming my shoulders. The sounds of silence contain a quiet concert of birdsong, of glasses being clinked at the bar counter, of a murmur of hushed voices, pierced by the occasional burst of a child’s laughter. With eyes closed I could be in a sanctuary, a refuge infused with reverence. Resting. Peaceful. I am in the garden of the Hotel Posta Marcucci, having just enjoyed a dip into their thermal pool.

The thermal baths of Bagno Vignoni, enjoyed by the Romans who consecrated these waters to the Nymphs, became even more popular during the Middle Ages, thanks to their proximity to Via Francigena, an important thoroughfare connecting Northern Europe to the Italian Peninsula. From the 12th century and throughout the 13th century, Bagno Vignoni became a stopover point for Christian pilgrims traveling this route on their way to Rome. Bagno Vignoni is described in a document dating back to 1334 as a “thermal spa arranged and surrounded by buildings and taverns with a chapel in the middle. It has a very beautiful square layout, with the spring divided in two parts and a roof for protecting the infirm…” This pool, no longer used by the public, is a massive basin of steamy water, which forms the main piazza, creating an element of pleasurable surprise. Warm reflections of stone buildings, tiled roofs and potted geraniums dance across its surface to delight the visitor.

bv1

When I first visited this hotel, nearly 14 years ago, I was intrigued by its history of hospitality and by the surrounding landscape. In the 1800’s, the Marcucci family operated a small inn with ten rooms and a tiny store. Then in the 1950’s, Grandpa Marcucci dug up his vineyard and began construction of what is now the main hotel. Grandma’s cooking drew guests from the area and eventually from afar. It was Aunt Licia’s idea to create the swimming pool using the mildly sulfurous geothermal waters of Bagno Vignoni. The large pool was dug from the hillside and became a major attraction to their hotel. Guests could swim in the comforting waters, bask in the warmth of the sun and look out over a captivating landscape, a magic potion of beauty and silence that heals the soul.

Ownership has changed and the hotel has been renovated, with interior improvements to the rooms and the spa. There are now ten suites and 26 double rooms, spacious lounges filled with cherished family furnishings and artwork and a terrace where breakfast is served in the summer. The Water Rooms bring the thermal waters into a smaller pool inside the building. A Jacuzzi, a sauna and a Turkish bath complete this complex where various types of massage are offered. The restaurant walls were opened up to accommodate panoramic windows, allowing diners to never be far from the breath-taking views. The half-board plan includes a dinner that reflects a refined cuisine of Tuscan specialties, accompanied by an extensive wine list.

The “cure” begins with the journey itself – the road to Bagno Vignoni traverses the Val d’Orcia, past undulating fields of wheat, vineyards, olive groves and verdant hills where green-black cypresses stand tall. It is a visual treasure chest accentuated by dazzling yellow broom and brilliant red poppies scattered along the roadside like precious gems dropped extravagantly by some benevolent prince. This exquisite landscape accompanies you to the nearby towns of Pienza, San Quirico, and Siena. Ancient baths – renewed spirits…

Tuscany 10

copyright – Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com