Hotel Sofitel Lisbon Liberdade

When I visit a new city for a few days I look for a centrally located hotel that is comfortable and welcoming. I’ve stayed in many of the Sofitel hotels, each has a different feel and style depending on the city and area it is based in.

The Lisbon Sofitel has a business vibe, discreetly placed on the grand Avenue de Liberdade, amongst the designer boutiques and towering trees. It is economical with space but doesn’t feel squashed. Inside, the hotel is decorated in dark colours, which offers a calm atmosphere coming in after exploring the hot streets of Lisbon. There is a glamorous bar for an evening aperitif and a lounge area ideal for mapping out your sightseeing plans.

Our bedroom was on the 5th floor, a quiet section of the building which felt very removed from the busy street below. When I stepped out of the lift, I noticed the corridors were filled with a fresh floral scent, inside the bedroom there was a cosy, plush feel. The twin beds were topped with marshmallow soft white duvets and luxuriously large pillows. I slept brilliantly well each night, waking up feeling rested and relaxed. A small desk was equipped with business essentials and in one corner we found tea & coffee facilities, which I was very grateful for. The bathroom was compact but smartly arranged with a powerful shower/bath complex and a set of expensive Hermes toiletries from Paris.

Breakfast is served on the lower ground floor, which sadly lacks windows and natural light, but I soon forgot about this when I saw the decadent spread of exotic fruits, cereals, pastries and Portuguese treats. We indulged each morning with the sweetest fresh orange juice, milky coffee and an array of tasty delicacies from the buffet.

When you want to leave the comfort of the Sofitel Lisbon, the knowledgeable concierge will guide you to the city’s most charming spots or book you in for a delicious meal at a local bistro, so you have the best time in and outside the hotel.

More information and book a stay here.

The Leela Palace, Udaipur

Udaipur is known as the Venice of the East. This charming lakeside destination is one of the lesser known Rajasthani cities, but is the perhaps the most beautiful I visited. There are plenty of five star hotels to choose from in Udaipur, but I highly recommend the regal Leela Palace, a luxurious abode which offers faultless service and the finest facilities.

We were collected in one of hotel’s white BMWs and dropped at the private jetty to get a boat across to the hotel. It is a charming way to reach the property, and a lovely opportunity to see the city from the water. Back on land we were greeted with cascading rose petals dropped from a balcony above us and serenaded with traditional Indian music.

To make our one night at The Leela Palace Udaipur particularly memorable the management team upgraded us to room 305, the Royal Suite. This magnificent apartment in the palace wing had ornate high dome ceilings, a glittering chandelier and impressive artwork depicting local royalty. After exploring the living room, I found the lavish bedroom with a giant four-poster bed topped with opulent silk cushions. The walk-in wardrobe and marble bathroom felt grown up and exciting to use, with numerous gadgets concealed within their clever design. Everything you could need can be found in the Royal Suite, including a spacious dining room and practical kitchen, and a butler is on hand to make sure your stay is perfect. Unfortunately in my short stay of just 24 hours I couldn’t spend as much time as I wanted to in this incredible suite, but I did have time to admire the beautiful details, craftsmanship and indulgent touches.

The hotel has 80 rooms in total offering spectacular lake and garden views. Thanks to the modern design all bedrooms are spacious and thoughtfully arranged. In the hotter months the plunge pool rooms and suites are particularly popular.

When you are not in your room, there are plenty of stunning communal spaces to enjoy. Each night the inner courtyard hosts live music and dancing, while artistic guests may wish to join the daily heritage tour of the hotel’s art and artefacts with the in-house historian.

Poolside lounging feels very extravagant thanks to the attentive staff who bring out fresh iced tea and cooling flannels. Casual food is available all day and is delivered in picnic hampers. I loved the falafel wrap, a welcome break from curry and spice.

Udaipur is beautiful during the day but at night it truly sparkles and the Leela Palace lakeside restaurant Sheesh Mahal is the ideal place to sit and appreciate your surroundings. It is only luxury hotel restaurant that also welcomes outside visitors, though with only a limited number of tables bookings are essential. It was wonderfully romantic when we sat and enjoyed a glass of local Sula wine and an epic Indian feast. The kitchen excel at regional Rejasthani dishes, most memorable was the spicy and creamy Hyderabadi Khatte Baingan (eggplant cooked with tomatoes and tamarind) and the assorted vegetarian kebab platter.

Breakfast can be enjoyed in your own room or downstairs in the main Dining Room where an abundant buffet is put on each morning. We opted for fresh waffles, exotic fruit and coffee, but if you are feeling brave, try some of the Indian delicacies.

Hidden in the foliage of the grounds is the serene ESPA Spa, a place for reflecting and relaxing. I was amazed at how my body responded to the two hour signature Ayurvedic treatment. This intensive massage treatment began with a brief consultation to determine my ‘dosha’ type before my therapist (Tashi) commenced with a foot ritual. She recognised both pitta and vatta tendencies and used specific oils and massage techniques to soothe and balance my body.

The next morning I returned to the spa for a private yoga class. This quiet and meditative class clears your mind before the day ahead and strengthens the core muscles.

Usually in a new city I am desperate to get out and explore, but the Leela Palace in Udaipur completely won me over. I just wanted to stay at this beautiful hotel and experience everything it has to offer. After a brief but beautiful stay I was sad to float back to reality on the mainland.

More information and book a stay at The Leela Palace Udaipur here.

Halcyon House, Cabarita Beach, Australia

Of all the hotels I have visited around the world, a few stand out in my memory. Halcyon House made a lasting impression, with its fantastic bright beachy design, stylish innovative cuisine and prime seaside location. A recently renovated and transformed former surfer motel, this special hotel has already won a handful of prestigious awards.

I spent an afternoon enjoying lunch at the hotel’s destination restaurant, Paper Daisy, and relaxing by the pool. The décor is decidedly blue, from the crisp staff outfits to the books on the shelves.

The chef, Ben Devlin, is one of Australia’s most talented young chefs, having previously worked at Noma and Esquire. The menu reflects the seasons, and local produce is the main focus. The dishes are creative and thoughtful, sophisticated cooking without unnecessary fuss… which perfectly suits the setting.

Highlights included raw & preserved vegetable salad with fresh ricotta, a beautiful rainbow of ingredients paired with creamy homemade cheese. The Wagyu grade 9 rump with curry leaf, sesame and sugarleaf was the winner from the main course section of the menu. Irresistibly velvety-soft meat with a caramelised crisp edge dressed with Asian herbs.

Desserts are simple with a tropical theme. I loved the Stonefruit tart with caramelised white chocolate and nectarine, a satisfying contrast of sweetness and acidity. With our meal we opted for a refreshing Australian white, ideal in the hot climate.

After lunch we dozed by the pool and dreamt of staying in one of the eclectic Halcyon House rooms. I can’t think of a more idyllic place to spend a summer holiday.

If you are lucky enough to be staying at Halcyon House there are lots of interesting and quaint towns nearby, each with exciting eateries and independent shops to explore. Here are a few of my favourites:

Byron Bay – grab a flat white and healthy, organic brunch dish at Bayleaf, or head to The Farm for a wholesome lunch.

Brunswick Heads – Fleet is a trendy restaurant run by a husband and wife, with innovative contemporary cuisine and carefully selected Australian wines. Be sure to book ahead as the small venue fills up fast.

Mullumbimby – for a delicious wood-fired pizza and lovely local atmosphere, take a short drive to Mullimbimby’s Milk & Honey. The rustic pizzas are huge so get one to share between two.

Newrybar – this tiny village’s highlights are all on one street. Harvest serves inventive and tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner and sells its produce at the deli next door. Shopaholics will love the tempting homeware and gifts at Newrybar Merchants.

Coolangatta – avoid Surfer’s Paradise and Gold Beach and instead head to Coolangatta for a quieter, more picturesque, white sand beach.

Brisbane – often forgotten in favour of Australia’s larger cities, Brisbane is a great stopover city as you head further north. Head to Esquire’s casual eatery Esq for a tapas style dinner, and chic café Morning After for great coffee and food. Lone Pines Koala Sanctuary is a wonderful place to meet Australia’s best loved animals in a friendly environment.