Category Archives: Hotels

Finding Paradise in Dahab – South Sinai

2019c dahab paradiseDahab Paradise
Blue Hole Road
Dahab, Egypt
+20-100-700-2527
http://www.dahabparadise.com
info@dahabparadise.com

A more recent addition to the hotels on the Red Sea Coast of Egypt, Dahab Paradise is a peaceful resort that offers a pleasurable holiday on many levels. Nestled between mountain and sea, it is uncomplicated in its design and landscaped in a way that takes advantage of the beauty and serenity of its natural surroundings. Dahab Paradise can easily be seen as a retreat from the world you left behind and from the touristy boardwalk of Dahab proper. Rooms are simply furnished, offering adequate comfort and amenities. Each of its second level rooms has a private terrace and ground level units include a private patio – each one of them overlooking the inviting turquoise of the lovely pool, and beyond, the immense, deep blue of the sea delights the eye.

With city sounds left in the distance, it becomes a difficult decision – shall we nap, lounge by the pool, walk along the seashore, or wander in the wadi directly accessible from the hotel? Many of the hotel guests have come to take advantage of the world-class diving and wind-surfing that make Dahab such a popular destination. From here one can arrange desert safaris, mountain treks, diving trips, sightseeing trips to Sharm el Sheik or a spiritual journey to Mt. St. Catherine’s. All are within easy reach.

If stillness and relaxation is on your menu, then stay put. For sustenance, the menu at Dahab Paradise Restaurant is tempting, varied, and most satisfying. One can select from traditional Egyptian fare or enjoy the chef’s tasty versions of more international classics. Ingredients are freshly sourced, carefully prepared, and beautifully presented. I would recommend their restaurant even if one is not a guest staying here. It is worth stopping by for lunch, not only for the food but for views of the sea, or for dinner when the grounds are illuminated in the most magical way.

Ah, delightful, soul-restoring Dahab… Just maybe this really is Paradise.

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

Crescent Hotel – the glow of welcome

2018c Crescent HotelCrescent Hotel
49-50 Cartwright Gardens
Bloomsbury London WC1H9EL
+44(0)20 7387 1515
http://www.crescenthoteloflondon.com
General.enquiries@crescenthoteloflondon.com

It is always with pleasure that I walk the final stretch of my return to the crescent-shaped Cartwright Gardens in the West End of London. Located in Bloomsbury, a very fashionable neighborhood, the Crescent Hotel is my temporary home while a guest in this vibrant city. The energy of the city and what it has to offer make me appreciate even more my approach to this quiet leafy park and the welcomed comfort of this family-run inn. The Crescent Hotel occupies a classic Georgian house overlooking the garden with its mature trees and tennis courts. It serves as an oasis in the midst of colorful shops, ethnic restaurants, and traditional pubs.

Cartwright Gardens is one of several parks in Bloomsbury, an affluent residential district designed and built up by the famed developer James Burton in the early 1800s. An intellectual and literary center in London, Bloomsbury is home to the British Museum, the largest in the United Kingdom, as well as numerous educational and publishing institutions – all within easy walking distance, as are many of the sights to be enjoyed on a first visit or a return visit.

Return visits to the Crescent Hotel are not unusual. This lovely inn has been owned and lovingly operated by the same family for three generations, now managed by the grand-daughter. The family has welcomed back more than one generation of the same family to Crescent Hotel. The 27 rooms, each uniquely decorated, are small and cozy and feel very much like home. The furnishings throughout the living area of the house reflect the tastes of the period, but with everything in place for one’s comfort by today’s standards. A generous English breakfast prepared to order is a great send-off for a day of adventure, but what I like best is coming “home” at the end of the day.

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

Park Hotel ai Cappuccini – immersed in tranquility

2018c Park Hotel ai CappucciniPark Hotel ai Cappuccini
Via Tifernate
06024 Gubbio (PG)
39-075-9234
http://www.parkhotelaicappuccini.it
info@parkhotelaicappuccini.it

Perched on the side of Mount Foce in a wooded park-like setting, the building of this monastery was begun in 1631 to accommodate the Capuchin monks who had settled in this region for its splendid views and the isolation it provided for a contemplative life. It remained an active monastery until 1866, was then secularized and eventually left to deteriorate. A century later it was converted into a hotel and in 1990 was meticulously restored to become the Park Hotel ai Cappuccini. Great care was taken to preserve its original architecture and its frescoes.

First and foremost, what remain are the splendid views, the tranquility of its setting, and a chance to retreat into a world of quiet contemplation. What enhances the experience is the addition of every modern amenity, an indoor pool that opens to a sun-drenched terrace, a spa, a fitness center, an award-winning restaurant, and a caring, attentive staff. The rooms are quiet and comfortable, the furnishings throughout the hotel are sophisticated and outstanding artwork is present everywhere. The public spaces offer an eclectic mix of ancient paintings, religious art, traditional pottery and contemporary ceramics and sculptures, representing the best of the region’s artistic achievements, both past and present. If a guest were to never leave the grounds, a stay here satisfies in every way.

But within a short distance, there is much to enjoy in Gubbio, a medieval town with roots that stretch back to ancient Rome and beyond. Begin your visit with a stroll around the ancient Roman Theater, take a cable car to the Church of Sant’Ubaldo, sample the local flat bread called crescia with a wedge of pecorino, admire artisan wares in the many shops, then return home to your hotel and enjoy a fabulous meal at Ristorante Nicolao.

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


A “Star” Hotel in the heart of Florence

2018c Helvetia & Bristol

original watercolor painting by Ginda Simpson

Helvetia & Bristol
Via dei Pescioni,
50123 Firenze
39-055-26651
http://www.starhotels.com
reservationshelvetia@starhotels.it

They say location is everything, and it certainly is true for the elegant Helvetia & Bristol in the heart of Florence, steps from Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza della Republica, the Duomo and the Uffizi. But a stay at this renowned hotel gives you so much more. Built in the early 1800’s, it opened its doors on June 28, 1885 by Giacomo Mosca, as the first hotel in Florence. It quickly attracted artists and writers, with its Winter Garden becoming the place for society to meet. It did not take long for it to become a much sought-after hotel during the days of the Grand Tour.

Restored and updated over the decades, it has maintained and even celebrated its original Art Deco features. Upon entering its lobby, guests are enveloped in an atmosphere that whispers of its aristocratic past. Period antiques, fine woods, graceful fabrics all add to its elegance, providing a warm and cozy welcome. A chilled pitcher of lemon-ginger spiced water awaits the hot and weary tourist upon his or return each day. In our room, we discover a pretty dish of sweets to add to our welcome while the décor and amenities add to our comfort. From our private balcony, we can look over the terracotta rooftops of the city, or close the shutters and retreat into a darkened stillness, a relief at the end of the day.

The Winter Garden serves as our breakfast room. Beneath its Art Deco pastel-colored stained-glass roof and wrought-iron chandeliers, a sumptuous buffet tempts us at every turn – from the savory selections of salami and cheeses, to hot servings of eggs, bacon, and vegetables. There are enough sweet choices to move a saint into sinful indulgence. Yes, the Helvetia & Bristol offers more than location. It delights, it soothes, it pampers…

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

 

Villa Gamberaia and Its Gardens

vgaVilla Gamberaia
Via del Rossellino, 72
50135 Settignano (FI)
39-055-697-205
http://www.villagamberaia.com
info@villagamberaia.com

Just kilometers from the city of Florence, a narrow country road (with narrow escapes) leads us from the center of Settignano to Villa Gamberaia, a Tuscan villa par excellence, elegant in its architectural simplicity overlooking both city and countryside. Inside the main gate, a graveled walkway flanked by cypresses leads us to the villa but gives no hint of the splendid gardens that await us.

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The Citrus Garden

In order to build Villa Gamberaia in 1610, a huge terrace was leveled on the slope and a high wall was constructed behind the villa to support a citrus garden and the woods, where many of the trees have stood for centuries. Within the foundation are wine cellars and agricultural store-rooms which can be reached directly from the house or from the fields below it, uniting the house with the land and surrounding countryside, achieving both practical and aesthetic qualities. An open air drawing room links the ground level of the house to the upper level of the garden. In 1717, an open loggia on the south side of the villa was added, to allow a view of the broderie parterre and the cypress belvedere which were created at this time. The inner courtyard of the villa is open to the sky, an unusual characteristic of the architecture and from here one can enter a large salone on the ground floor that overlooks all of Florence.

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The Open Drawing Room

Today is filled with brilliant light, perfect for exploring the garden, one which had its beginning in the 17th century as an orchard, followed by a broderie garden a century later, when broderies were made popular by the French. These gardens were “embroidered” with varying layers of shaped boxwood and embellished with broken shards, glass and stones, to create intricate designs, enjoyed best when viewed from above. The real transformation of the garden began in the 20th century when the property was purchased by Princess Ghika, her particular design luring scholars and landscape architects from around the world to visit and study its characteristics.

vgh copia

The Water Parterre

The water parterre created by Princess Ghika is located south of the villa. The enclosed beds of the broderie parterre became pools of water with borders of lavender, iris, lilies, roses and oleander, introducing more color to the garden to be reflected in the pools. Rows of tiered boxwood, spheres and other topiary shapes give this peaceful garden a symmetrical, sculptural dimension. Over the decades the boxwood grew to overtake the flowering plants giving the garden a predominantly green appearance, but recent plantings of flowering plants have brought back shades of color once again. A circular pond graced with water lilies and water irises rests tranquilly in front of the cypress belvedere at the far southern end of the water parterre.

Beneath an arched opening in the hedge are two chairs and a small table, inviting us to sit and gaze back at the villa gleaming in the late morning sun. We have brought a small picnic with us and this is a perfect spot to contemplate the history of this villa that was almost completely destroyed during WWII. Upon purchasing the ruined villa, its new owner, Marcello Marchi, used existing prints, photographs and maps to restore the villa to its original design and furnished it with tasteful period pieces that reflect what the interior would have once looked like. The villa is available for rent and for events such as weddings.

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The Bowling Green

Our apartment was built into the structure that was once used for indoor tennis. It faces a central element of the garden, the famous bowling green, a 225-meter expanse of grass along the north-south axis. On the northern end is the Nymphaeum, a massive fountain carved into the hillside surrounded by cypress trees. The southern end overlooks the Arno valley. The east-west axis is 105 meters long and runs through the center of the villa and leads one to the cabinet di raccoglia, also known as an open-air drawing room, an intimate oval shaped garden linking the villa to the upper citrus gardens and the woods. Curved walls are covered in stones, pebbles, shells and rocks, with niches, terracotta urns, statuary and fountains. There is a large limonaia that houses the lemon and citrus trees during the winter months. The facade of the house offers a uninterrupted view of the city of Florence.

I have chosen to sit in the shadow of the Nymphaeum and write these notes. I lean against an ancient wall that looks as if it might crumble into my lap. If only walls could talk, perhaps help me describe the beauty I see before me. I am not well versed in garden talk, but I know poetry when I see it! And a symphony when I hear it!

Visiting the Gardens of Villa Gamberaia

The gardens are opened from 9 am to 7 pm (last entry 6 pm) on weekdays.
On Sundays, the gardens are open from 9 am to 6 pm (last entry 5 pm).

Please note that from time to time the gardens are closed for a private event. It is recommended that you always contact the Villa to be sure that a visit is possible on a given day.

Cost of the entrance for the garden visit:
€ 15 per person, regular and groups
€ 12 per person, students

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

Salana Boutique Hotel – memories are made of this

2017c Salana Boutique Hotel

Salana Boutique Hotel – original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

Salana Boutique Hotel
112 Chao Anou Road,
Watchan Village
Chanthabuly District
Vientiane, Lao PDR
+856-21-254-254
http://www.salanaboutique.com
rsvn@salanaboutique.com

Surrounded by temples, Salana offers more than just a boutique hotel experience. I have been in Vientiane for less than 24 hours; and at dawn following a good night’s sleep I find myself seated on the sidewalk with women preparing to give alms to the procession of monks. I have wanted to see this for myself – not as a tourist – and their kind invitation to join them and share in the handing out of their offerings has pleased me immensely. Sacred and serene, this moment will be my first memory of Vientiane.

Salana Boutique Hotel also offers a place to feel at home while visiting the capital city of Laos. It is elegant in its simplicity of décor, complete in the thoughtfulness of its amenities, and gracious in its hospitality. “Sabaidee” and a smile of welcome meet us as we come and go. Our breakfast is generous and we appreciate the array of choices, both Asian and Western to meet the cravings of an international clientele. Both the lobby and the restaurant are decorated for Christmas, another thoughtful touch for their guests who find themselves far from their home countries where this is the most cherished of holidays.

After a full day of sight-seeing, we retreat to the comfort and quiet of our room. But not for long – I have decided to indulge in a spa treatment, a two-hour package that includes a full body scrub followed by an aromatherapy massage. At the Sarila Spa, I feel like I have been rescued from the cares of the world.

The hotel location is ideal for visitors who wish to watch the sunset on the Mekong, to visit nearby temples, or shop at the night market. There is street food to tempt and restaurants galore all within walking distance, but we come “home” and dine at the Salana Kitchen Vibe Bistro. One need not go any farther for a fully satisfying meal, followed by an hour or so in their “living room” listening to music and reading a good book. Ahh… all is well with the world.

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

The Pierre – a New York icon

 

2018 The Pierre for webThe Pierre
2 East 61st Street
New York, New York 10065-8402
1-212-838-8000
http://www.thepierreny.com

As I sit here in the lobby of The Pierre looking over the New York Times edition of February 9, 2018, I try to imagine what it was like when the headlines of this same paper on February 2, 1929 announced the plans for the new hotel to be built on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 61st Street, replacing an existing mansion. The $15-million project was a joint venture to create an exclusive hotel, reflecting simplicity yet the ultimate refinement within a club-like environment. It opened on October 1, 1930 and became the toast of New York society, until the Depression hit and years of financial struggles ensued. But the Pierre is a survivor. In 1959, The Pierre became a cooperative of permanent resident owners, while the remaining guest rooms, restaurant and bars remained open to a devoted international clientele. A series of reincarnations in the form of restorations, renovations and innovative social venues have made The Pierre what it is today – an historic icon of New York residential and hotel luxury. The Pierre has 140 rooms and 49 suites. Eleven Grand Suites have apartment-like quarters and private terraces.

We could opt to have afternoon tea at the Two E Bar & Lounge, an Art Deco room that was originally the Gentlemen’s Library but instead we choose to “lounge” in our room and enjoy its panoramic view of New York’s skyline and a tree-top view of Central Park. It is with pure pleasure and much anticipation that we dress up and wander through the Rotunda on our way to Perrine’s Restaurant. We linger to admire the 1967 murals by Edward Melcarth, painted in a palette of soft pastels, reminiscent of the frescoed rooms of European palaces. Opposite the Rotunda is the Grand Ballroom restored in 2006. It remains one of New York’s most sought-after settings for gala events and weddings.

The restaurant, on the other hand, is unpretentious, quiet, inviting. Sait, our waiter, orchestrates our dinner like an experienced conductor, leading us through a symphony of dishes created by Indian-born executive chef, Ashfer Biju. The cuisine is French-inspired and is superb. Appetizers, such as tuna tartare, steak tartare, a winter citrus salad and crab imperial flatbread are worthy of an imperial table. Sait knows just the wine to accompany these delectable treats. To continue on our culinary passage, we have lamb chops with polenta and roasted root vegetables, with a sampling of winter mushrooms and sweet corn and kohlrabi gratin. Finally, the ultimate in sweet indulgences leads us to the decision that we must now stroll through Central Park in the cold crisp air of early evening. We head to Wollman Rink, where skaters have glided across the ice since it opened in 1949 – a most enjoyable ending to our first day in New York. Tomorrow, our walk will take us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

copyright ginda simpson – http://www.rooms_withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

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

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