Category Archives: On the road (2012)

La Vigie Restaurant in Monte-Carlo – summer lazing in style

A peckish customer (without a yacht) outside La Vigie restaurant

Sure, it’s still a few months before summer kicks in but if you plan to visit La Vigie Restaurant in Monte-Carlo, you better start saving up some money now (this is no surprise, but everything in Monaco requires a few wads of cash).

Located in the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel complex, La Vigie offers exquisite Mediterranean inspired dishes in a tranquil setting. Chef Paolo Sari, an Italian who learned the trade in Italy, Switzerland and the US, specializes in seafood. We tried the buffet and grill during lunch-time and we can definitely vouch that this is one of the better places around. The meal is complemented by a grandiose view of the sea and an excellent selection of wine.

You reach La Vigie by taking a small path from the Monte-Carlo private beach, or, if you happen to arrive by yacht (damn, we are NOT jealous…okay a little bit maybe), the restaurant also has its own landing-dock where you can moor your boat. It’s a nice little amenity that is appreciated by the “floating villa owners”.

This small gem is only open two months a year (28 June – 25 August), so if you happen to be in the area on those dates, we can definitely recommend this elegant place for some great food and boat watching. La Vigie Restaurant will not let you down.

 

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Les Bar des Bergues in Geneva – the place to be seen

Les Bar des Bergues terrace

The Four Seasons in Geneva is one of the best hotels in the city, so no wonder Les Bar des Bergues on the ground floor is where the local high society types and the world’s rich and famous mingle. If weather permits, La Terrace is where to lounge and contemplate life over an exquisite cocktail. It’s by far one of the most chic places in town.

When we visited Geneva in September, we came to Les Bar des Bergues on a couple of occasions and sat both inside and outside for a quick lunch. Now, this is Four Seasons, so no reason to write about excellent service and so on, that’s pretty much clear.

However, even though this is technically a bar, the food here is absolutely fantastic. They have a reasonably light menu with plenty of salads to chose from (though our favorite pick was the hamburger, not exactly what one would refer to as light fare but trust us, it was irresistible).

If you are on a tight travel budget than avoid Les Bar des Bergues like the plague, but if cash is not an issue, this is the place to mingle and nestle in with the crème de la crème of Geneva.

Palais de la Méditerranée – a Nice-ish hotel

Excellent location

Excellent location

Palais de la Méditerranée is one of the more recent additions in Nice, having opened after restoration in 2004. It is located on the Promenade des Anglais, the main boardwalk, and is only an arm’s length away from the turquoise water and fantastic beaches. The location is definitely as good as it gets: close to the city center, restaurants and bars that are in abundance here.

Palais de la Méditerranée-lobby-Nice

The lobby

However, although Palais de la Méditerranée describes itself as a “luxury hotel” it still has a lot of work to do to actually become one. For starters, the service is not very efficient, there are long lines during check-in and check-out and only one or two persons at the desk dealing with customers. The rooms are clean and functional but more of a 4-star level. The restaurant has breath-taking views of the sea but there the glamour ends: the food is mediocre, the service abysmally slow. Not what you would expect when sipping an over-priced glass of wine while waiting for your starter.

The room has nice colors but it's pretty basic for being a five star

The room has nice colors but it’s pretty basic for being a five star

There is one thing that really stands out and that is the concierge service: also slow-ish but nevertheless you will get your reservation in a popular restaurant. Even if you need a vet (we did for Sam) they will go the extra mile and find one for you. But that was probably the only pleasant experience we had at Palais de la Méditerranée.

You are much better off at Hotel Le Negresco a few blocks away, where you for more or less the same money get surrounded by stylish luxury and history.

Rating: 3/5

More about Nice: 24 Nice hours

A very sunny Christmas

Christmas drinks by the pool

Christmas drinks by the pool

Sure, for most people this holiday season is associated with snow, winter tires and the occasional frostbite that turns your ears purple red. Coming from Sweden and Russia, we have been there, done that. Dragging the Christmas tree while trying to balance on the slippery pavement making pirouettes that even Baryshnikov would be impressed with. Freezing one’s butt off, installing the Christmas lights on the house. Trying to de-frost the car lock with matches that are falling out of the already frozen hands. Hell, absolute hell!

Well, this year we said: no more five pairs of socks and six sweaters, no more boots and furry hats! We want hardcore warmth, sun caressing our backs while lying by the pool sipping on a tropical drink with real tropical fruits in it. We want our clothing options along the following lines: today to be a t-shirt or not to be. Cold weather is out. Basta! Palm trees and little umbrellas in our cocktails are in!

So, how did we celebrate Christmas this year? We ended up sitting on a terrace at the Salobre Golf Clubhouse in Gran Canaria, drinking Champagne and watching the sunset. Wearing t-shirts and big smiles, chatting away, happy as two clams. Sounds boring? Maybe, but sure beats trying to get the heater on in -30 degrees weather.

Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden in Oslo – perfect for a weekend

Cozy but not much space to maneuver a big suitcase

Cozy but not much space to maneuver a big suitcase

The Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden in Oslo is an eco-friendly establishment that doesn’t fall under the category “luxury hotels”. However, we would still like to review it on our blog since we thought it offered amenities that made this hotel somewhat special. (I shouldn’t use the royal “we” since Alex unfortunately couldn’t join me. I also know that he would have insisted on staying in the Grand Hotel or something along those lines. You know him by now, right?)

Anyway, I ended up at The Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden for a couple of days in July when I was in Oslo doing some research for a travel story for the National Geographic Traveler. I was kind of in a hurry and I was desperate to find a hotel that could accept my fury friend (Sam). The Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden was the first hotel I found where dogs were allowed (that in itself is worth an extra star in my book).

The Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden is small, family-owned and quite centrally located on Parkveien 78. The rooms are nicely decorated in neutral earth tones, but, they are really small. Really, really small. This is definitely a weekend hotel so you should keep your luggage to a minimum (there is no closet, only a coat hanger). But the fact that the room was tiny didn’t really bother me too much. Everything was clean, fresh and the service was super-friendly and that is more important than anything else.

The breakfast room had a warm and cozy atmosphere and the buffet offered a wide range of mainly locally produced, organic food. Natural yogurt, cereals, wide selection of nuts, home-made jams… (I can go on forever). If I wasn’t in such a hurry, this is definitely the place to sit down with a warm cup of tea and chitchat with other hotel guests for hours.

If you are visiting Oslo for a weekend and are not dragging along a big suitcase (and you’re not planning to spend most of your time in the hotel room), I would definately recommend Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden.

Rating: 3/5

Hotel Splendide Royal in Rome – Not splendid, not royal

Hotel Splendide Royal

The 5-star Hotel Splendide Royal in Rome is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World and advertises itself as “designed to be royal and luxurious.” We really don’t know what royalty they are talking about but suspect those that have lost all their money gambling and now reside in this hotel that at least has “royal” in its name. We stayed in a suite that was smaller than most standard rooms in an average 5-star hotel. The so-called living room could barely accommodate two people. The bedroom wasn’t much bigger.

The lobby

The top floor Restaurant Mirabelle boasts of having one Michelin Star. We suspect the Michelin people have not been checking on their client recently. Sure, the view from the 7th floor over Rome is amazing, mesmerizing and the atmosphere romantic. But the food was really below any standards. The pasta was overcooked and the sauce tasteless, the fish a bit chewy. There is no bar downstairs and the one upstairs closes in the evening when the restaurant opens. To call it a bar is probably a bit pushing it since there are only two bar stools and enough space for about 3-4 people to mingle without getting their elbows into each others faces.

Hotel Splendide Royal definitely does not deserve its 5-stars, 4 maybe, if not 3.5. Or it needs a major face-lift to get up to the level it professes it is already.

Rating: 2/5

History Lessons in Geneva

Hanna’s latest blog post published today by the National Geographic Traveler: History Lessons in Geneva

La fondue crèe la bonne humeur

Auberge de Savièse – classic fondue place in Geneva

The headline is actually an old slogan which means “fondue creates a good mood.” It sounded very promising so when we visited Geneva a couple of weeks ago we were of course curious to try this traditional Swiss dish.

A restaurant called Auberge de Savièse was highly recommended by the concierge at our hotel. It is located on 20 rue des Pâquis, and has a robust and friendly atmosphere with small tables, wooden paneling and (of course) a cuckoo clock on the wall.

The cheese fondue originates from the Swiss Alps and is a blend of hard and semi-hard cheeses (for example Emmenthaler and Gruyère), dry wine (we also tried one with Champagne which was excellent) and Kirsch. You get white bread, potatoes and pickled onions to dip into the pot of melted cheese.

So why not put yourself into a good mood and dip into a pot of steaming hot cheese fondue. (Just remember: no double-dipping.)

Cheese fondue

Looking for the Man in the Iron Mask

Just a short boat ride from Cannes (France) one discovers the Island of Sainte-Marguerite. A few fishermen live here and there are only two restaurants. The place is frequented by tourists for its natural beauty but you find here also the historic Fort Royal. Not much, right? So why are so many writers and historians trying to digg up what actually happened on Sainte-Marguerite in the 17th century? Why the attention?

Those who read the Three Musketeers series by Alexandre Dumas know the answer. The last book of the trilogy The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later describes the twin brother of French King Louis XIV being a prisoner who was forced to wear an iron mask so that his identity could never be revealed. He spent several years behind bars on Sainte-Marguerite and his cell still exists.

However, French King Louis XIV is only one of many theories. The French poet Voltaire describe the Man in the Iron Mask as the illegitimate half-brother of Louis XIV. Other names have been mentioned, including the father of Louis XIV and the son of Oliver Cromwell. Historians continue digging, writers and movie producers continue bringing the story to a mass audience. Remember Randall Wallace’s movie The Man in the Iron Mask from 1998 where Leonardo DiCaprio plays both King Louis XIV and his identical twin brother Philippe? It was also filmed here on the island.

In reality, nobody really knows the name of the person hidden behind the mask. Was he a nobleman who went afoul of the King, a general who failed in battle?

We can highly recommend to everyone visiting Fort Royal on the Island of Sainte-Marguerite to learn more about this fascinating mystery. The question remains: who was the Man in the Iron Mask?

24 Nice hours

This summer the Sam and the dunes team had a chance to visit Nice, Cote d’Azur. It was a short visit and we started to think – how much can you possibly see and do in only 24 hours? We gave it a shot and the end result you can read about in the National Geographic Traveler. We also want to share with you some pictures from our, how should we put it, frantic-fantastic trip. Voilà!

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