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Best 5-star choice for the family

Hotel Baobab

Lopesan Baobab, located in Meloneras,  is arguably the biggest and most impressive looking hotel in Gran Canaria (we mean really big, almost a thousand rooms). When checking-in, you even get your own hotel map to study while sipping on a glass of sparkling wine. The design is African with vibrant art and an entrance built as a tropical garden with flamingos and waterfalls. But among all this architectural achievements, there is something very essential missing – lamps. The lightning is so bad in certain places that during the evening you actually have to make sure you don’t bump into a wall or sprain your ankle on the staircase. Cozy lightning is one thing but here you almost get the feeling that there is an electricity cut somewhere!

Hotel room

The rooms are normally sized and very well designed and if you get a balcony overlooking the sea, it’s even better. (But why on earth is the shampoo bottle attached to the wall a meter away from the bathtub?).

Food-wise you will definitely not be disappointed. The buffet offers a nice variety of choices and the restaurant “Akara” has a unique setting and a very tasty menu. For instance, we can highly recommend the spicy banana soup as a starter. It’s delicious beyond believe! The gym is small and relatively functional. But for some reason, no running machines are provided which we thought was disappointing. Another minus is that you have to pay extra for the safe deposit box (it’s the same in all Lopesan hotels in Maspalomas/Meloneras) which usually is offered free of charge in other 5-star hotels.

Banana soup

There are several pools and lots of stuff to do for the many kids at this hotel. You will even find huge crocodiles and giraffes (not real ones – plastic) around the pool area. As a couple, looking for a vacation in a relaxing atmosphere, who enjoy a spa and cool bars, we will probably avoid this place in the future. However, if you go to Gran Canaria with your kids, don’t hesitate; Hotel Lopesan Baobab can definitely be something for you.

Rating: 4/5

View from the hotel

Location, location, location

A lobby corner in all its glory

Claris hotel***** in Barcelona we found by chance on the internet; it sounded very nice and had a great location on Pau Claris so we decided to go for it. We were not let down. A beautiful building in downtown Barcelona houses this great 5-star hotel for holiday makers and business people with Passeig de Gràcia and Rambla de Catalunya just around the corner. Not cheap, for sure, but it offers its guests everything they can wish for: large and well-designed rooms, several restaurants, a roof-top pool, bar and friendly service. There is a small business center with free internet and a gym. The balcony in our room was a bit strange though, it was two meters below floor level so you actually couldn’t use it (remember that after a long night out), but at least we could get some fresh air in.

Josephine

Another thing: we had a duplex suite and for reasons that we still can’t fathom, the bedroom, closets and the bathroom were downstairs and the living room upstairs. It’s generally customary to have it the other way around. In this case we ended up never using the second floor (somewhat of a bummer). Otherwise, hard to complain.

If you are into seafood check out the small restaurant across the street, Josephine, serving great shrimps and oysters that one can enjoy in a charming urban atmosphere with fabulous local wine. The main shopping street is only a block away so you can spice up your cultural activities with some serious money spending on Louis Vuitton, Gucci and the likes.

Rating: 4/5

More reviews from Barcelona: Bar Mut

A royal vacation in Tenerife

“-My prince, I think we forgot the zoom”

If you want a quiet, secluded vacation with no hassles in a small boutique hotel, Royal Gardens Villas Hotel in Tenerife is your choice. A set of villas attached to each other offer you a 5-star delight that includes your own private swimming pool (small, true, but enough to leisure around with a glass of champagne), separate living room and bedroom; if you are in the mood for cooking a kitchen is provided. There is also a small gym. The hotel property has only 28 villas and you rarely run into other guests outside of breakfast. You can genuinely feel like royalty here.

The hotel has an excellent restaurant with some exquisite fish dishes that is worth trying (but why is it located in the basement with no windows?). The view from the terrace and the rest of the hotel is amazing: you can see the country side, mountains and the ocean. If you are into golf, you have come to the right place: the course is just across the street and the hotel will make all the necessary arrangements. The nearest beach is a bit of a walk but try to see it as a good chance to exercise, especially coming back when you have to mount a humongous hill. This is a true gem in the south of the island, far away from those all-inclusive hotel complexes.

Seaside Hotel Palm Beach – time for a new outfit

The second most expensive hotel on Gran Canaria, Seaside Hotel Palm Beach***** in Maspalomas, is advertised as a 5 star but fails to live up to the standards. Built in 1975, it was refurbished and re-designed into an updated version of the 70s style in 2002 and became the only hotel on the Canary Islands that belongs to Design Hotels. Sure, you get the welcome drink, rooms are nicely decorated and there is a fun bar in the basement. However, once you start looking closely you get more and more disappointed considering the amount of money you actually pay. “Is it really worth it?” was the question constantly popping up in our heads while staying here. The bathroom is a slightly enlarged shoebox and the room ends up feeling cramped (we can swear that the bed was at least 15 cm shorter than usual). We also tried their signature restaurant Orangerie and were not impressed. For starters, the oysters arrived at our table half frozen!! The restaurant manager tried to assure us they were fresh and that they just spent too much time on ice (hellloooo, guys, where is quality control?!). The outside gym looks like it hasn’t been updated since the stationary bike was invented. We actually never tried the spa and wellness center (Thalassotherapy pool, saunas and relaxation area) since we decided we just couldn’t take another disappointment. The only thing that impressed us was the 70s type bar with groovy tunes and fun bands playing late into the night. The clientele average age is high, though. So high most of them actually seemed to have been retired already when the Beatles made it big. To make a long story short: not a bad hotel but definitely not worth the money charged. Basically, Seaside Hotel Palm Beach is a semi-failed 5 star pretending being the flashiest kid in town.

Rating: 3/5

An unexpected 5-star surprise in Geneva

It didn’t start on the best of terms when we arrived at the Intercontinental, Geneva. As usual we checked in, got our keys, went up to the room, opened the door and…SURPRISE! somebody was sitting on our bed, in our room (well, at least it was supposed to be ours for a couple of days). After an embarrassing exchange of glances (staring might be a more proper word), we quietly closed the door and went back to the reception. After explaining this weird incident, a red-faced manager immediately apologized and decided to personally escort us to a nice suite that we later found out was almost four times the price of what we paid for. Wow, and this was one suite! (Intercontinental, we forgive you!)

We had a panoramic view of the Geneva Lake, a marble bathroom, lots of space and an exceptionally comfy bed. Some of the gadgets on offer required serious research on what exactly they can be used for and we’re sorry to say but we couldn’t figure out the purpose of four strange looking buttons in the bathroom. There are no surprises once service is concerned. If you want coffee delivered in ten minutes, it will be done so. Sharp. Exactly on the dot. (There must be a reason why all the best watches are being produced in this country).

One thing for sure, in Geneva the prices will scare the living daylights out of you. A beer at the hotel bar is about 16 dollars and pasta with your choice of sauce is 40 (yes, dollars!!). A five minute taxi ride downtown clocks 25 green ones. However, you will be amazed by the attention lavished at the bar, restaurant, reception, concierge, etc. All your requests are attended to as promptly as possible. The staff are fluent in 4-5 languages, so no worries here.

The food is first rate and the atmosphere in the lobby is one of calmness and efficiency. The Intercontinental looks a bit bizarre from outside (it’s a 60s type new architecture building), but if one can live with that, then you will understand why more than 150 heads of state have chosen to stay here over the past 50 years.

More reviews from Geneva: Hotel Beau Rivage and restaurant Auberge de Saviese.

Rating: 4/5


The Plaza of Gran Canaria

The Seaside Grand Hotel Residencia in the south of Gran Canaria is the only hotel on the island that is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World. It is a small paradise that overwhelms with the amount of luxury that is showered on you upon arrival.

Parisian photographer and interior designer Alberto Pinto made this hotel look like a miniature Spanish village with palm trees and a pool providing you with the serenity you always wished for when on vacation (no noisy tourists here).

All rooms have a patio or a balcony where you can contemplate your next move on the stock market. The terrace restaurant offers a breakfast that one is lost for words to describe. At the pool, you can nibble on shrimps or a salad for lunch. In the evening the bar will offer you a drink and then back to the terrace restaurant for dinner (makes our mouths water even as we write this).

Everywhere you go the atmosphere is tranquil and relaxing. Of course, how could it be else? At your services there is a spa, a gym and an exercise area if you happen to practice yoga. An instructor is on hand to help with your downward-dog pose. What better place to get away from all that city clutter?

Rating: 5/5

Sofitel, Rabat: The one and only choice

Sofitel in Rabat is not exactly located downtown, but once you see the hotel and its garden, you will definitely bite your elbows for all the times wasted in other 5 star establishments in Morocco’s capital.

The garden is a true work of gardening art – flamboyant, jazzy and highly luxurious. It enchants and soothes and there are few better pleasures than to sit at the pool restaurant gazing at the surrounding flora while your glass of wine is being refilled (they have some really fantastic local vintages that you can’t find anywhere else.)

The lobby, like most Sofitel lobbies, is vast and multi-functional. It offers you the ultimate in comfort: you can eat, drink, smoke a cigar and entertain yourself with a bit of shopping. If you are into comfy loafers or exquisite suits, Sofitel offers you a Tod’s and a Pal Zileri.

The rooms, as you would expect, are immaculate, the bathroom a pleasure to spend a few extra minutes under the shower and if you are fortunate to have a balcony, relieve some of the day’s tensions watching the sunset.

Sofitel has several restaurants, so take your pick: go crazy on couscous or watch that waistline and dig into one of their delicious salads (the chef truly proves that healthy food does not necessarily have to be boring). After dinner, move to the bar for some raspy live jazz.

Basically, if you are ever in Rabat, for business or pleasure, and want to be pampered, Sofitel should be your one and only choice.

Rating: 5/5

Hivernage: festive but don’t expect fireworks

Hivernage***** is a nice and cozy hotel and spa in Marrakech that strives for more but is not always up to the plate. It has a fantastic restaurant downstairs, “La Table du Marché” (where we had a grand time celebrating the arrival of 2012), an excellently equipped gym and a pool that for some reason (“thank you”, architects!) is located in the courtyard that never, never gets any sunshine during the winter months when you actually need it the most.

The rooms and the suites are well designed and some even have a jacuzzi and a sauna. The service is amiable if sometimes slow-ish. The location of Hivernage, though, is something to write home about. It is situated in one of the nicest areas of the city with top restaurants, bars and night clubs just a stumble away. A couple of minutes walk and you are in the Medina, the old town famous for its souks and snake charmers.

It’s a 5-star establishment that on close inspection (at least when we were there) does not deserve more than four. However, if you don’t want to spend a fortune and still enjoy certain luxuries, Hivernage will not let you down. And the money you save can easily be parted with next door in the just recently opened Louis Vuitton store where the service is a few notches higher, as well as the prices.

More reviews from Marrakech: 3 lounge bars you have to visit in Marrakech

Rating: 4/5

An oasis of luxury on the Atlantic

We have stayed in many fabulous hotels all over the world but even as seasoned luxury travellers we were flabbergasted by Sofitel***** in Agadir, Morocco. A true oasis of tranquility (just take a look at the lobby), fantastic service and amenities that make you go wobbly in the legs.

The rooms are decorated with great style, rose petals on the bed and in the bathroom, classy furniture and one comfortable bed makes you want to order room service throughout the day. Don’t be tempted, though, the rest of the hotel is just as fun.

You can be pampered around the pool with waiters tending to your every need, or enjoy a drink in the lobby where chicha smoke and cool people interact.

The restaurants offer some of the best fare in Agadir, from a mouth-watering buffet in the evening with the menu changing every day (don’t miss the Asian theme), to nice snacks and salads by the pool. The service is attentive and friendly.

Pets are just as welcome as any other patron, Sam loved the place.

Now, to be fair, one can find faults here, but let’s be honest, to quote P.J. O’Rourke, that’s like complaining about Sharon Stone’s toenails. The Sofitel is pure luxury perfection, a place we plan to visit again in the future, inshallah. And we highly recommend you do the same.

More reviews from Agadir: Restaurant So Good, La Madrague and Bamboo Thai.

Rating: 4/5

Daios deLuxe

Located in downtown Thessaloniki (Greece), this little gem is very expensive, luxurious beyond belief (try the suite) and has a really cool food-bar serving semi-Italian cuisine. If you go for one of the more exquisite rooms you get to sit on the balcony in the evening with a glass of Port enjoying the view of the Mediterranean just at your fingertips.  The hotel doesn’t have a pool but they don’t really cater to the holiday crowd and it is more suitable for the travelling businessman.

The area around Hotel Daios***** is nothing to write home about but there are a few bars worth visiting on the boardwalk. If you are craving for traditional American cuisine while visiting Greece (shame on you), Applebee’s is just a stone’s throw away.

The food-bar in Daios is a popular meeting point for the well-to-do who tend to indulge in some really fantastic pasta (try the spaghetti with squid ink and fresh tomatoes), fish or spicy chicken meatballs. If you are into something lighter, the salads are awesome too (don’t miss the one with warm goat cheese and pine nuts).  On weekends you can listen to some funky live jazz while sipping a glass of wine from the hotel’s collection of local vintages. If one is into cigars, the humidor is at your disposal offering the one and only, truly the best, hats off…Cuban Cohiba.

Bottom line, if you stay in Thessaloniki any day of the year, and happen to be too old to go to a disco, Daios is your answer to having an unforgettable evening.

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