30 April, 2012

Castel Monastero

If I were to ask you to think of Tuscany, I bet you'd imagine rolling hills; vineyards, and ancient villages. If that picture appeals to you, then Castel Monastero will too. Located just 23km west of Siena in a country setting, the hotel occupies an 11th century walled hamlet, which was built as a monastery, and later converted into a castle - hence the name. 

Photo courtesy of Castel Monastero
The Country House Resort is perched on a hilltop, and centred on a stunning piazza is a collection of 11th century stone buildings that accommodate 76 guest rooms. Each room is unique - some have terraces and frescoed walls, others feature exposed wooden beams, and antique writing desks. 

Photo courtesy of Castel Monastero
Normally hotels in this part of the world have large windows from which to enjoy the view; but you have to remember you're staying in an old castle, and in my opinion, that adds to the ambience. There are two gourmet restaurants with menus overseen by multiple-Michelin star chef Gordon Ramsay, and working alongside him is the executive chef of Castel Monastero. 

Photo courtesy of Castel Monastero
So what is there to do here? There are tennis courts at the hotel as well as swimming pools, and there is a 10,000 square foot spa which offers a large variety of treatments. It's the only part of the resort that was not originally part of the village, and has 10 treatment rooms, a tea room and three outdoor pools.

Photo courtesy of Castel Monastero
While the serenity of the location is one of the highlights of Castel Monastero, it's also possible to do day trips to Lucca, Florence, and Siena. Having said that many guests said this property was so amazing, they found it a struggle to leave - now that is a sign that the staff have got things right! The official website can be found here..

27 April, 2012

Travel Photo Friday - The Barcelos Cockerel

Today, Travel Photo Friday features a fantastic photo that makes you want to be in the sunshine! Peter has kindly contributed today, and here is the story behind the photo.

Taken in the village of Alte just over the N125 to the North of Albufeira; the photograph encapsulates the  Algarve region of Portugal.....hot; blue sky; pantile roofs; pretty chimneys, and the proud symbol of the Barcelos cockerel.

Thanks Peter, and if you don't know the story of the cockerel, read on.....

A 13th century legend tells the story of a pilgrim who, on his way to Santiago de Compostela, stopped in the small town of Barcelos, in Portugal. He was wrongly accused of theft, for which the penalty was death by hanging. The pilgrim prayed to Our Lady and St James, the patron Saint of Protection, that justice be done, and as a final effort to save himself, the prisoner pleaded for a meeting with the judge.The judge was about to tuck into a roast cockerel when the pilgrim pleaded, "If I am innocent, may that cockerel get up and crow!" The cockerel rose up and crowed loudly. From that moment on, it has become a symbol of faith, justice and good luck. It is also a symbol of Portugal and can be found all over the country.

25 April, 2012

Luxury week - The Pucic Palace in Dubrovnik

If you popped in to read my blog post on Monday, you'll know that this week on Travel Lightbulb is 'luxury week'. I'm continuing the theme of beautiful accommodation today by featuring a completely luxurious hotel in Dubrovnik! The Hotel Pucić Palace is one of the finest noble homes in the city.

Photos courtesy of The Pucic Palace
It's a 17th century Baroque building but is a luxury five star boutique hotel located in the old town. It is located in Gundulić Square, one of the most beautiful spaces in Dubrovnik which serves as a quaint market in the morning and the setting for glamourous alfresco dining in the evening.

Photos courtesy of The Pucic Palace
What I like about the Hotel Pucic Palace is that, unlike some luxury hotels, this one features just 17 luxury rooms and two suites creating an exclusive and intimate experience for guests. It also has two fabulous a la carte restaurants meaning you don't have to venture out to eat if you don't want to.

Photos courtesy of The Pucic Palace
Dubrovnik is a historic and beautiful city, and the beaches within walking distance from the Pucić Palace are superb. Hotel guests have exclusive access to the East West Beach Club - Banje Beach, just a short stroll away and was voted as one of the top 5 beaches in Europe.

Photos courtesy of The Pucic Palace
The Pucić Palace is just 30 minutes from Dubrovnik airport, ten minutes from the Marina, and a minute from the old port. If you want more information on the hotel, go to the official website here.  So after two stunning luxury accommodation choices on my blog this week, I'd love to know.....where is your favourite luxurious place to stay?

23 April, 2012

Luxury week - The Portrait Suites hotel in Rome

Sometimes on Travel Lightbulb, I like to suggest accommodation that won't break the bank; and then I find totally gorgeous places that I think you'll all love to have a look at whatever the cost! I've decided to dedicate this week to two luxurious places on Travel Lightbulb in what I'm calling 'Luxury week'! 

Photo courtesy of The Portrait Suites
My first featured luxury accommodation is in one of my favourite cities in the whole world...Rome. The Portrait Suites is in the heart of Via Condotti, which is simply a stone's throw away from the Spanish Steps, and within walking distance to the Pantheon; Trevi Fountain and a metro ride to the Colosseum. The hotel can be found on the upper floors of the Ferragamo store, and is divided into 14 suites and a studio. The design of the suites celebrates Salvatore Ferragamo's creativity, and takes you back to the 1950's.

Photo courtesy of The Portrait Suites
The idea is that you have the feeling of staying in a private home, but have the highly personalised service of a top hotel. They take this so seriously that there is a 'lifestyle team' to help you get a top table in Rome's restaurants; provide you with itineraries to discover the city in the best possible way, and they can even arrange a Ferrari so you can to do that in style! 

Photo courtesy of The Portrait Suites
There is a fabulous terrace on the top floor, which gives you stunning views over the Trinità del Monti and is the perfect setting for breakfast - what a way to start your day in this romantic city. There's no doubt it's also a great spot for a cocktail or two!

Photo courtesy of The Portrait Suites
The location of this hotel is very hard to beat in the Italian capital, and I can't think of anything nicer than returning to such deluxe accommodation after a busy day of sightseeing in one of the world's most stunning cities. For more information on the Portrait Suites, visit the official website. Pop back to my blog on Wednesday, when I'll be featuring another stunning place to stay as luxury week continues!

20 April, 2012

The fame hungry pup in Peru

Trust me when I tell you today's photo doesn't have a fake background....I know this, because I took it! I was on a trek through the stunning Andes mountains in Peru, and when I got back I thought it was so beautiful it actually didn't look real! So what's the story behind the photo? I was at very high altitude at this point of the trek, and even walking slowly was tough. I stopped for a little rest, and realised that this stunning snow capped mountain range was behind me.

I sat down to take the photo, and the little dog came out of nowhere right in front of my shot! I like the fact he tried to steal the limelight and make sure he was the focal point of my photo. In your opinion, did he succeed? I haven't quite decided yet myself! 

If you want to share your own travel photo with me, just send it to me using the email address on my contact page, and include a short paragraph about where it was taken. Thanks in advance for your contributions.

18 April, 2012

The Lugger Hotel - a perfect location on the Cornish coast

Cornwall is a place on my destination hit list that I can't wait to visit. With the longest stretch of continuous coastline in Britain, there is a lot to discover such as small fishing villages, spectacular beaches and gorgeous countryside. The Lugger Hotel is in the beautiful village of Portloe, just 13 miles from Truro.

Photo courtesy of The Lugger
This unique 17th century inn has a dark history. In 1890, one of the hotel's landlords was sent to the gallows for smuggling! The inn subsequently ceased trading, and was reopened in 1950 with just six bedrooms. Today, the 22 rooms are all en-suite and have crisp white linens and bleached Portuguese woods for a contemporary feel.

Photo courtesy of The Lugger
The Lugger also has a very good restaurant which is the oldest part of the hotel. As the fishing boats that come into the harbour bring their catch straight to the hotel, it's no surprise that the emphasis on the menu is on seafood! Having said that the menu also caters for vegetarians and meat lovers.

Photo courtesy of The Lugger
The village of Portloe is a popular location for filming since it appeared as a backdrop in the 1935 adaptation of Treasure Island. If you want to head out and explore the surrounding area, there are some great walks in the area. In terms of tourist attractions, the Eden Project, and St Ives are not far away.

Photo courtesy of The Lugger
The location of this hotel is amazing and many rooms have a view of the sea; but what most guests comment on is the standard of service, and the little touches that go towards making it feel that little bit more special than other hotels. If you'd like more information on The Lugger, visit their official website here.

16 April, 2012

Transylvania without the bite!

Few would argue that Transylvania, a historical region in the central part of Romania, is a relatively undiscovered part of the world. It is often associated with Bram Stoker's novel Dracula (I may as well get that mention out of the way in the first paragraph!) but it's also a region with rich history, and scenic beauty. Many would say it feels like you have travelled back in time.

Photo courtesy of www.copsamare.ro
Copsamare Guesthouses are a perfect haven for relaxation and discovery in the heart of Transylvania. They are situated in the unspoiled Saxon village of Copsa Mare itself, just two kilometers away from Biertan, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Photo courtesy of www.copsamare.ro
There are just six rooms spread across a few separate houses. All have been restored with traditional architecture, and decorated with local furniture. The price of your stay includes bed and breakfast, but lunch and dinner are also available with 24 hours notice.

Photo courtesy of www.copsamare.ro
So what is there to do in this area? Well there are plenty of local villages to visit, but if you want to get more active, the region is perfect for horse riding; trekking; cycling, and you can also go wine tasting and truffle hunting!

Photo courtesy of www.copsamare.ro
One of the best things about this part of the world is the fact that it's relatively tourist free, and that you can enjoy the sights and sounds of local life without sharing your experience with other travellers. If you'd like more information on the Copsamare Guesthouses, visit the official website here.

13 April, 2012

Travel Photo Friday - Cycling the continents

I love today's photo - it comes with a great story which has certainly impressed me, over to Steve Fabes....

Like all decisions of great consequence my plan to cycle the length of six of the earth's continents over five years was made in a pub, beer in one hand, mini-atlas in the other! I'm currently two years in and riding through South America. The photo below was taken on a remote Andean pass near the Chile-Argentine border at over 4000 metres altitude. I was suffering a bit from altitude sickness at the time and just wanted to freewheel down the pass, but in the end I'm glad I took the time to line up the shot.

Steve - all the best with your incredible adventure, it sounds amazing, challenging and inspirational! If you'd like to follow Steve's progress, click here to have a look at his blog. If you want to share your own travel photo with me, just send it to me using the email address on my contact page, and include a short paragraph about where it was taken. Thanks in advance for your contributions.

11 April, 2012

'The new way of eating' in Edinburgh at Maison Bleue

On a recent trip to Edinburgh, I discovered a superb restaurant that I'd recommend to anyone visiting the city. The list of places to eat in Edinburgh is quite extensive and making the correct decision on which part of the city to eat in (never mind which restaurant!) is not easy. So if you're looking for somewhere a little bit different, then I highly recommend Maison Bleue.

It's located in Victoria Street, in the heart of the old town, which has started to draw more people to that area since the addition of places like The Missoni Hotel. The restaurant is made of a series of atmospheric small rooms, and there are lovely features throughout - a spiral wooden staircase, and stone arches add to the restaurant's charm. So why does it stand out from other restaurants in the Scottish capital? Well the menu is very different for a start.

It offers French, North African and traditional Scottish cuisine, and does each one brilliantly. I started with haggis balls in beer batter; clapshot (turnip and potatoes), and whisky sauce - simply devine, with deliciously spicy haggis! I went North African for my main, with a tagine of lamb - it was served on the bone, and simply fell away with the slightest touch of my fork! I finished 'en France' with a delicious cheeseboard from Ian Mellis - one of Scotland's leading cheesemongers.

The atmosphere in Maison Bleue was great. It's lively without being too noisy (you could easily have a romantic meal here) and the staff are attentive without being overpowering. Being from Edinburgh, I've been eating in the city for many years, and as the sign outside says, this really is "the new way of eating". If you'd like to know more about Maison Bleue, then visit their official website www.maisonbleuerestaurant.com.

09 April, 2012

Idyllic Ibiza

When Condé Naste Traveller and Tatler both feature a place in their lists of the world's best hotels for 2011, you have a feeling it's going to be worth checking out - it seems they've got it right! The Giri Residence is in the rural north side of Ibiza, just thirty minutes drive from the airport on the outskirts of the village of San Juan. Ibiza is the third largest of the Balearic Islands, and lies just 79km off the coast of Valencia. It is well known for summer club parties which attract a large numbers of tourists; but the northern side of the island is beautiful; much quieter, and deserves to be discovered.

The website describes this getaway as 'tradition meets fashion at this intimate and hip home away from home', and I couldn't have put it better myself. There are just five unique suites at this hideaway, which is a 150-year old finca. The former farmhouse has been superbly restored, and decorated with outstanding interior design.  The suites have different styles, but all feature a flat-screen TV with DVD player, and an iPod docking station.

So what about the dining options? The Living Room is the hotel's in-house kitchen which serves snacks by day, and gourmet meals by night. The Giri Cafe is a modern eatery and bar situated in the main square of San Juan that uses organic and seasonal ingredients to ensure high quality.

There is plenty to discover in the surrounding area - you're seven minutes from stunning north coast beaches, and Ibiza town is a mere 25 minutes away. Having said that, there are also many reasons to stay at the Residence and enjoy the great views across the hills of San Juan; the fabulous pool, and day beds in which to relax. There is also a spa suite where you can enjoy a jacuzzi, plunge pool or various treatments.

If you'd like more information on this Ibiza gem, click here to visit the hotel website.

06 April, 2012

Travel Photo Friday - Rome at dusk

We are heading to Italy for today's travel photo, which comes from Shanna. Let's hear more about it....

This photo was taken as we were eating dinner at one of those cute outdoor cafes that are all over Rome. The sun had just set, and the street lights were coming on creating a romantic glow. During the daytime hours, the heat in Rome in August is sweltering. The evening ritual of "La Passeggiata" brings everyone out of their buildings to enjoy walking in the cool evening air. This was one of our favourite evenings in Italy!

If you haven't been to Italy 'passeggiata' is a ritual where Italians dress up, and take a gentle stroll as the sun goes down. To read more about Shanna's trip to Rome, visit her blog post about it here, and if you'd like one of your own photos to be featured on Travel Lightbulb, then send it to me at travellightbulb@hotmail.co.uk. Please include your name; and a paragraph about where and when the photo was taken. All contributions are welcome!

04 April, 2012

Chapel of Bones - Alcantarilha

At first glance, the photo below looks like a very ornate chapel, but on closer inspection it is something very different. The Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos) adjoins the church in the quaint village of Alcantarilha in the Portuguese Algarve, yes.....I did say bones! The 16th century chapel was built on the grounds of an old cemetery. The bones of those buried in the grounds were removed, and this macabre chapel was created to house the remains.

There are over 5000 bones and skulls displayed on the walls and ceilings of the church, and the most curious thing is the way they are arranged in a specific order. For example, the skulls are lined up to make a row, and the hip bones form a pattern of their own.

Aside from the chapel, the village itself is worth a visit. Although you're only a few miles from popular Algarve tourist destinations; the narrow cobbled streets and the cafes, and local restaurants make you  feel like you're taking a step back in time!

The village of Alcantarilha can be reached by travelling along the A22 in Southern Portugal. You reach the Chapel of Bones from the EN 125. It's around 15 kilometers from the town of Albufeira.

02 April, 2012

What ingredients give a great holiday the X factor?

I can hardly believe it's already a month since my last Monday travel ramblings, but time clearly flies when you're having fun! I certainly had a lot of that having spent most of the month discovering the fantastic island of Tobago. While I was away I was thinking about writing this post, and a question popped into my head - what makes a truly memorable holiday?

Personally, the weather plays a huge part for me. Living in the UK, I'm so used to grey skies at this time of year that seeing the bright blue sky has a big influence on the way I feel. Destination is also key, experiencing a new place can be exciting but there's also something lovely about returning to a place you've been before and feeling at home.

I don't always stay in hotels when I travel (as you may have gathered by the unique places I feature on this blog!) but a great host can also be the difference between a good holiday, and a memorable one. If you are travelling with kids, then a family friendly destination is obviously going to make a trip more enjoyable and stress free. If you're travelling as a couple, then escaping the crowds may be the key ingredient.

In my opinion a great holiday doesn't have to be expensive; it doesn't have to be in a certain place, but I believe that your destination, and travel companions are the most important thing - after all, our travels are only what we make them. Those are my views, but I'd love to hear yours! Leave your comments below, or on twitter or facebook.