We understand that no one aims to come in second place; there is no recognition for mediocrity. We at Five Star Alliance understand better than anyone the importance of offering the most luxurious resorts in the world, so we notice what’s going on in the industry, and it matters to us, because it matters to you. We'd like to welcome you to our new blog series, Best of the Best, where we’ll be featuring the best and most luxurious resorts in various categories. But don’t take our word for it. These resorts have been recognized as the best in the business by the prestigious World Luxury Hotel Awards, so you can relax and stop worrying about your upcoming trip, knowing that it truly will be the best of the best.
Today’s featured locale is the Solis Lough Eske, recipient of the Best Luxury Countryside Hotel award in 2011, or should we say "best castle"? Located just outside of Donegal Town, Ireland, the Solis Lough Eske Castle is on the water’s edge of Lough Eske and surrounded by the incredible Blue Stack Mountains. Like escaping into a fairytale, the Solis Lough Eske Castle has its spa facility located in the castle garden, providing you with every opportunity to relax and take in the natural beauty of Ireland. Looking for a thrill? The Solis Lough Eske Castle offers some of the best hiking, mountain biking, and surfing in all of Ireland. Whether you’re looking for some peace and quiet or an adventure, the Solis Lough Eske Castle is the perfect and best destination for an escape into the magnificent countryside of Ireland.
September 28, 2011
By: Christopher Roney
The 2011 World Luxury Hotel Awards have announced their Global Winners across a variety of categories, and we’re confident that each of these hotels represents the finest in luxury accommodations. We'll be spotlighting many of these individually in the coming weeks and offering our critical commentary, but for now, take a look at the winners such as the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, winning Best Luxury Hotel overall, and the Sandals Royal Plantation, the Best Luxury Island Resort.
Click here to check out the full list of best hotels, listed alphabetically by location so you can find the names of the top hotels in your vacation spot of choice, and search here if you're interested in booking any of the top hotels of 2011.
Seville, the capital of Andalusia, is a historic city with tiny, winding, bustling streets and a rich culture symbolized by Moorish influence. If you’re in search of an energetic nightlife or a cultural excursion to discover some of the most renowned monuments in all of Europe, consider visiting the heart of Southern Spain.
In the center of Seville lies Hotel Alfonso XIII, named after the king who commissioned it 83 years ago. This luxurious hotel offers rooms with varying themes and styles including Isabelline Baroque, Moorish, and Castillian. Hotel Alfonso XIII is situated downtown, just minutes from the Royal Alcazar Palace and the Plaza de España, making this hotel the perfect, centrally located destination.
Seville has an incredible charm emanating from the streets, and the people have a very relaxed attitude about life. I encourage you to fully embrace the culture and see a flamenco show, or try the pairing of green olives with beer, or sip on a Tinto de Verano, which is a light, refreshing blend of red wine and lemon soda.
Be sure to get your shopping done in the morning or evening, as many store owners close down their shops for a few hours in the afternoons for a siesta. My recommended hotel is currently closed for renovations, but it’ll reopen in March 2012, just in time for the beautiful spring months and Semana Santa, which is one of the most significant, traditional events in Seville. Can’t wait that long? Consider some of the other incredible resorts located all over Spain, and get ready for a fiesta!
September 27, 2011
By: Oksana Balytsky
Ukraine (or Ykraina, as it is pronounced in the majority of the world), is a country that has some of the most incredible, lush hills rolling throughout its countryside and beautiful cobblestone roads throughout its cities. Granted, being Ukrainian myself, I’ll admit that I’m slightly biased, but I guarantee you’ll be awestruck by all Ukraine has to offer. Still don’t believe me? I challenge you to visit the Breadbasket of Europe and see for yourself!
Kiev, Ukraine’s capital offers everything and anything from fascinating museums, theaters, and ancient ruins, to contemporary buildings and breathtaking cathedrals. A wonderful hotel to consider for your stay in Ukraine is the Hyatt Regency Kiev. This luxurious hotel is located in the heart of the capital and is surrounded by the culture and history of Kiev’s Old Town. Consider exploring Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery and one of Kiev’s most recognized landmarks, Saint-Sophia’s Cathedral. Both attractions are walking distance from the Hyatt Regency Kiev. After a day of exploring the most beautiful monasteries and cathedrals in the world, consider perusing the diverse boutiques and shops on Kreshchatyk Street, where you’ll find gifts and articles of clothing unique to Ukraine. Hoping to bring your kid(s) on your travels? The Hyatt Regency Kiev offers a phenomenal brunch on Sundays, complete with a children’s playground, paint lessons, magicians, clowns, puzzles, and toys. Speaking of food, be sure to order pierogies (cheese and potato dumplings), and olivye (salad) during your visit, two of Ukraine’s typical dishes that will complete your stay in the best country in the world!
September 26, 2011
By: Oksana Balytsky
Qatar Airways hosted a media reception at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, September 21, 2011. With the opportunity to attend the event, I thought you, our luxurious travelers might like an inside look into this luxury hotel in the sky!
Qatar Airways has earned the reputation of offering a luxurious experience the moment you set foot on the plane, but for us, the special treatment began the moment we arrived. Our evening started with champagne and hors d’oeuvres being served at Qatar Airway’s downtown office. Afterwards, we proceeded to Dulles Airport, aboard a Reston’s Limo Bus, giving everyone on board a flashback to senior prom. Upon arrival, we were taken on a tour of the airport and got a quick rundown of how the control tower manages incoming and outgoing flights.
We then proceeded to the best part of the evening, an on-the-ground tour of a Boeing 777. The sheer size of the plane was breathtaking, and it made you wonder for a second how a machine of that magnitude can fly. Our tour continued onto the aircraft, which had two business classes, accommodating 42 seats total. The plush, crimson chairs recline fully, and the pristine flight attendants pride themselves on providing five-star service. Qatar Airways prides itself on delivering individual service and catering to every passenger on board. There is no designated meal time; at any point during your flight you can enjoy anything off the unlimited menu that offers indulgences such as zucchini soup, salmon, and even ice cream. And by unlimited, they really mean unlimited. If you want eight servings of ice cream, you are more than welcome to it.
Our evening ended with an incredible dinner, and at that point it was quite clear why Skytrax voted Quatar Airways Airline of the Year in 2011. Qatar Airways flies to over 100 destinations, and since it is at the forefront of the luxury travel industry, it’s bound to meet and exceed your expectations.
(Photo via Qatar Airways)
September 26, 2011
By: Christopher Roney
I last traveled to Helsinki on the summer solstice, in order to see the light dip barely below the skyline, the rim just kissing the hilltops before rising again to usher in a new day. It was every bit as surreal as I imagined it would be. Without darkness, the days blend together as if drawn with pastels; you can tell one from the next, but the edges are blurred and indistinct. In the summertime, Helsinki is gorgeous. Bordering on the Baltic Sea, the city embraces its harbortown personality. The fresh fish market along its dockside offers the finest in local cuisine – some of the fish is sold right off the boats on which they’re caught, and the fruit sellers bring their wares from outside the city to set up rows of stalls. Easily the best meal I ate in my whole time there, it’s impossible not to salivate at the thought of some fresh Finnish fish.
And it’s not far to the ferry that shuttles tourists and locals alike to Tallinn, the neighboring capital of Estonia. Only a pair of hours on the boat (which boasts tax-free shopping and high class amenities) and you’re at one of the most up-and-coming cities in Europe, one that deserves a post in its own right.
Just be forewarned: don’t go to the city on the solstice unless you have more than a few days to spend. The locals of Helsinki abandon the city for the forest for a few days and everything shuts down. While you are free to walk the streets of a ghost town of more than 500,000, which is an experience in and of itself, it’s probably better to come a few days earlier or later to catch the amazing daylight hours in a city that’s open for business.
And when it comes to staying in the city, there’s a clear forerunner in accommodation options. Opened in 1887, the Hotel Kamp is just 500 meters from the dockside market and adjacent to the Esplanade Park, a large pedestrian zone that acts as the heart of the city. If you want to see the best that Finland has to offer, use the Hotel Kamp as your base of operations while you explore a beautiful and welcoming city.
September 23, 2011
By: Christopher Roney
We return now to our series of fantastical destinations as well known for their stories as their reality. [For previous installments, read about New Zealand and Crete.] Today, we visit another kind of fantasy: Paris, the city of love and home to the dreams of many.
Part 3 - Paris
So famous for being the romantic capital of the world that an entire movie was made about it as a setting for love stories, Paris is a city of wine and of cafes. But love is not all that happens in the cafes of Paris. Two locations stand out today as sites of some of the most famous movie scenes of our time.
The Café des Deux Moulins is famous for its art deco style and fine food, but it’s even more well-known for the fantasy character who once worked there. Located in Montmartre, the small café played home to Amélie, and it was here that she dreamt of happiness and set out to find it for others. The Crème Brulée is now named for this sweet girl who helped so many, and many flock to the Café to see her .
The Café Debussy, on the other hand, doesn’t exist either in real life or in the fantasy world where it featured prominently. Actually a deli called Da Stuzzi that was repurposed for the Christopher Nolan film, the Café Debussy explodes in a shower of rubble as Inception’s dream-world destabilizes around it. This quiet deli located on a side street hasn’t been overwhelmed by the crowds of Inception-lovers, and it is a lovely place for lunch, run by a true local who only wants her shop to do well. In that sense, Da Stuzzi is the perfect fantasy location. The humble reality of the spot is almost bigger in your mind than the stars who once sat there.
So next time you’re in Paris, it’s worth making a trip out of your way to see these gems.
Claridge's and children go together like a horse and carriage. Claridge's Mayfair Hotel is offering a new child-friendly package of toys and games to keep your kids entertained while you enjoy their fine dining or luxury spa options or just want to lie down and have a nap. The kit includes an adventure checklist of things to do around the hotel or in the room, like riding the escalator or brushing your teeth, a card game called “I Insist,” wind-up flying butterflies, and a Make Your Own Hotel kit that allows you to, well, make your own hotel with the cunning use of stickers.
And in case you’re a fan of reality tv, Claridge’s can entertain you, too, when you dine at Gordon Ramsay, the restaurant imagined by the new Chef/Reality Star. Starting a new series where he investigates and fixes mismanaged hotels, Gordon Ramsay will be traveling the world to examine poor hotel properties. At this fine dinig experience, you can judge for yourself how he stacks up against his own image as hotel aficionado.
Departing from the traditional model of a business hotel, Claridge’s Mayfair Hotel is making itself a great destination for families as well.
No matter how many blog posts, review sites, and travel brochures you read, nothing can compare to personal experience of a city. I want to share some of that first-hand experience with you, not as an expert, but as one traveler to another. In each installment, I’ll share my experience of a city I’ve lived in or explored extensively. And to start things off, there’s no better first destination than Berlin.
Berlin is a city so full of personality it’s impossible to begin talking about it having any sort of unified character. In a lot of ways, Berlin is at the crossroads of modernity – because it was forced to rebuild so much in the last twenty years, it is at the forefront of new technologies and environmental policy, but all you need do is turn around to see the past. Sleek and modernized around the bombed out remains of history, an underground life bustles below the veneer of its tourist-friendly city center. Each neighborhood seems to be an oasis with a distinct personality from any other. But the pulse of a conflicted city, still determining its character, beats through the veins of the trolley lines and U-bahn stations that tie these disparate regions together in a cohesive web that only grows stronger as it pulls against itself. There’s a certain measure of unity to the ever-changing cityscape.
And that’s why I love it so much. Nowhere else I’ve been has a city felt so alive beneath my feet. Everyone knows the must-see locations: Checkpoint Charlie, Alexanderplatz, the remains of the Wall, the Brandenburg Gate. But what you don’t realize until you visit is that the real charm of the city is how it has grown up around these historical centers. Just walking the streets, you’ll see how a never-repaired husk of a building has been turned into an enclave for industrial art; how despite the line dividing the city having been consigned to history, the feeling of division still floats in the air. From the regal Charlottenberg palace to the contemporary art exhibit lodged in an old train station, Berlin is a city that wants to be seen, to be lived in.
If you want to see more than just another cookie-cutter royal palace or national history museum, Berlin cannot fail to deliver. Get off the beaten path, explore the neighborhoods, and really experience a city in transition. So grab a room at any one of its top-class hotels and give yourself an opportunity to fall in love with it the way I have.
September 16, 2011
By: Christopher Roney
Hello, Sir or Madam. Welcome to my little corner of the internet. You’ve probably come because you Googled something like “luxury hotels + minotaur” or “best hotel in Crete + part 2 of a series of real-life destinations that will spark the imagination and transport you to another world.” You didn’t? Well, in any case, do have a seat; and, if you’ll let me, I’d love to tell you a bit about another destination as well known for its fantasy as its reality. Check out Part 1 here.
Part 2 - Crete
What do you call someone from Crete? A Cretin? Cretacious? Creatine? Well, four thousand years ago, it was the Minoans who called it home. Besides having the most powerful mercantile fleet in the Mediterranean, the Minoans are most well-known for their namesake, King Minos. As the stories tell it, Minos was beholden to the legendary Minotaur who lived in a vast labyrinth and demanded a sacrifice of 14 young men and women every nine years. For decades, the king complied, until the hero Theseus promised to slay the Minotaur. As much a ladies’ man as beast-slayer, Theseus killed the minotaur and survived only with help from his lover, Ariadne, who provided him with a ball of string he used to track his path through the maze. Theseus returned home in triumph, but unfortunately for his father, raised the black sails that indicate he had died on the voyage, and his father threw himself from a cliff in anguish before Theseus reached the port. Little did we know the whole story was just an allegory for calling your family.
Not surprisingly, modern-day Crete is better known for its beaches than its endless mazes. Situated in the middle of the Mediterranean, the coastal waters are as blue as the summer sky. And while your journey to Crete is unlikely to involve slaying a legendary beast, you might vanquish a few canapés as you enjoy the pristine waters and unequaled service at Elounda, one of the world’s most exclusive beach resorts. While you’re there, make a trip to Knossos to check out the ruins of the 1000-room palace that was the site of the myth of the Minotaur. Just remember to raise your white sail on the return home.