I've stayed in many super posh hotels over the years, and my fair share of those that were not some, but I appreciated the effort that goes into the running of a good hotel. Like so much in travel, a lot is down to your mood and expectation, but from a trendy steel tower in Doha to a run down guest house once used by T.E Lawrence, here are some of my favourite (and least favourite) hotels.

Working as a travel journalist, I'm often hosted by travel companies or hotels. It doesn't stop me being critical, but in the interest of openness I'll mention when a stay was complimentary.


 
   2956 views   
UNUSUAL HOTELS
On a bend in a river in remote western Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains, there is a floating hotel...
posted by Richard Green on 22/03/2017

I dived into the water from the decking in front of my room and enjoyed the refreshing treat of a swim on a hot, sunny day. The water was glass-surfaced, slow-flowing, the temperature perfect; and time spread out before me like a childhood summer break. Looking back to the room was a dreamy sight, too. It was safari-style and posh, a khaki tent on a bend in the river below the Cardamom Mountains. And the real revelation was that I was so utterly relaxed — in Cambodia.

Cambodia is a wonderful country to visit — enthralling, moving and fascinating — but relaxing it is not. Now, though, for the first time, there’s a perfect place for a restful finale.

The country’s two must-see sights are hardly chillout zones. The vast complex of temples at Angkor is stupendous, but you need to make an early start to avoid the hottest sun or sharpest downpours, and there’s lots of walking. It’s tiring and sweaty going; and, although three or four days is about right to cover the best bits; weighty guilt awaits anyone tempted to truant by the hotel pool.

The tents are private enough for honey-mooners, the bar is informal enough for anyone in the mood to make friends Then there’s the capital, Phnom Penh, with its colonial-era facades and pretty palaces. These are truly lovely, but it’s a noisy and chaotic city, and the Khmer Rouge relics are harrowing.

The appalling cruelty of the former Tuol Sleng prison and the callous brutality of the killing fields aren’t easily brushed off. So the savviest travellers catch planes to Thai or Vietnamese beaches before their journeys home. It’s a big deal that, at last, Cambodia can offer a luxury hideaway within its own borders.

Enter the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge — a 12-room river lodge with no temple temptations and no killing fields. So roll on swimming, reading and relaxing in the sun — all guilt-free.

That may sound a world away from civilisation, but 4 Rivers is only a 30-minute slow-boat ride from the Tatai bridge. The bridge is part of the main road between Phnom Penh (3-4 hours’ drive away) and Ko Kong, near the Thai border (less than half an hour away). The Thai city of Trat, from where you can take a short flight to Bangkok, is 90 minutes further on.

The tented rooms each cover 500 sq ft, with a bedroom/lounge area, and a large bathroom off to one side, where there’s a double washbasin and a Japanese-style wood-barrel shower with hot water. Each has coconut-tree furniture, a rattan chaise longue, Vietnamese silk rugs and Finnish glassware. The tents come from South Africa and were designed for posh safari lodges. There’s no phone signal, but you will find free wi-fi and a flat-screen television.

This inventive scheme is the brainchild of Valantin Pawlik, a no-nonsense marine engineer from Romania. When I asked him how a Romanian came to build a floating hotel in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, he sipped his cold beer from the can and said: “Like all Romanians, I wanted to work in Paris. I got a job there, and the company asked me to run ferryboats on the Mekong River, in Cambodia. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Where’s Cambodia?’”

He now lives in Phnom Penh and is proud of his project. It feels four-star and boutique. The tents are private enough for honeymooners, while the decked common area, with a rattan-furnished restaurant/bar, is informal enough for anyone in the mood to make friends.

It isn’t a wilderness lodge in a pure sense, though — after all, people do live in Cambodia’s remote southwestern corner. The islet of Ko Andet, opposite the lodge, is home to several families — their houses are hidden behind thick forest, but they use a rickety single-file jetty in plain view. The night-time soundscape includes the odd plop of a briefly airborne fish, gecko calls and an exotic cacophony of crickets, but also the thrump-thrump from the engine of a passing sampan, and always the distant hum of a generator. That may make eco-warriors bristle, but it’s fine for your average eco-whittler, like me.

True, the generator and the lodge sampans are fuelled by dirty diesel, but 10% of the lodge’s power comes from solar panels, the toilets feed into underwater cisterns and much of the furniture is made from local materials. Fourteen of the 21 staff come from local villages, too.

You don’t want to be too fidgety in a place like this, as there isn’t much to do, or much space for walking, come to that. There is a little library of books and DVDs, but it’s the restaurant and bar that are the real focus beyond your room. The chef caters to most palates. Breakfast is chosen from a small à la carte menu, with dishes such as spicy chicken noodles and poached eggs, lunch is light and sundowners start at £3.40. Evening meals include local dishes such as amok (lightly curried fish) with green mango sauce and rice, or beef fillet with whisky sauce.

The lodge’s romantic, bayou-style seclusion and super-friendly staff make it feel homely, and to interrupt the routine of reading, swimming and sunbathing feels like an effort.

It’s worth it on occasion, though. I took a boat trip to a large waterfall, kayaked to a nearby colony of fireflies and joined my fellow guests for a voyage to Ko Sra Lau, a fishing village on stilts 45 minutes downstream. Weaving through the shallows on the way — the banks crowded by pristine forest, the scent of hibiscus and salt hanging in the breeze — I asked Allan and Margaret, a couple of Aussies, what they thought of the lodge. “Ah, look,” said Allan, the sunnily disposed owner of a construction company in Adelaide, “this place has turned our holiday around. Before here, we were at a wedding in Ireland, on a driving holiday in France, and then sightseeing here in Cambodia — and they felt like a bit of a chore by comparison.”

Two British honeymooners, Cat and Jamie, said it was “pretty much perfect”.

We moored at the village and clambered out. It was intimate — with rough wooden planks connecting some of the houses, and many of the doors and windows open to look through. I padded through the lanes warily, as if I had woken early after staying over at a friend’s place. We needn’t have worried. Soon, children ran out to say hello, and the kindly smiles from the women mending the fishing nets melted any discomfort.

When the time came to leave the lodge for good, I splashed out of the river, dried off and left my tent as late as I possibly could. Allan was right: walking along the decking in shoes for the first time in four days did feel like a chore. I said my goodbyes to the staff, and to Valantin; and, as my sampan chugged upriver, I stared back, watching the lodge grow smaller and smaller until it was obscured by lush green forest.

I’ve been to Cambodia before, but this time I departed more relaxed, more revived — and reluctantly.

***

I travelled as a guest of Ampersand Travel. Other tour operators featuring the hotel include Silk Steps Silk Steps and Abercrombie & Kent

04 Reasons to be cheerful:
   
30 Always check your government's travel advice before booking, and check that your travel insurance is valid in this country. See here for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice.
   
31 Getting there: the floating lodge is 278 kilometers from the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, but it's a fairly grueling 4-5 hour drive. The eastern Thai city of Trat is 157 kilometers away, which is about a 90 minute drive, not including the time it takes to cross the border.
   

Further information: see 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, and for general country info see Tourism Cambodia


 
   2875 views   
UNUSUAL HOTELS
Despite the latest coral bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef, a holiday on one of it's idylic island resorts remains travel gold...
posted by Richard Green on 21/04/2017
 

The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s preeminent natural wonder, a vast string of coral shallows off Queensland’s Pacific coast running 1,400 miles from north of Cairns almost to Brisbane. The mindboggling expanse is matched by magnificent marine life and stupendous coral gardens, as well as beautiful beaches and luscious low-key resorts.

However, its fragile ecosystem is threatened by man and by climate change, and recently the reef has suffered another bout of coral bleaching. This is where the coral turns a ghostly white thanks to rising sea temperatures, the growing acidification of the oceans, infestations from crown-of-thorns starfish, or damage from pollutants like fertiliser run-off.

It’s a bleak picture, as until recently Australia’s great reef was actually faring better than others around the world, partly because tourism has helped keep the reef in the public eye.  

Tourism on the reef began in the 1920s when a few intrepid groups were escorted out from Cairns to enjoy the marine life and for ‘turtle riding’. It wasn’t an auspicious start: tourists would compete to stand on a turtle’s shell for the longest, holding onto a rope lassoed to a female turtle’s neck as she crawled seawards after laying her eggs.

The spectacle - from the 1930s - of tourists enjoying turtle riding on a Great Barrier Reef island

Visitors are better behaved these days and all the Great Barrier Reef hotels issue strong guidelines on turtle watching, urging no flash photography or torches, and to stand well back from the turtles. But in the huddled groups that I’ve been part of there were flashing cameras, bleeping phones and people within inches of the giant carapace. 

When David Attenborough - that most beguilling of eco-warriors- made his first visit for his ground-breaking 1957 documentary Zoo Quest, getting to the reef was a huge investment in time and money, so visitor numbers were fairly low. Around 125,000 people visited in 1963. However, the boom in long haul travel, the invention of fast multi-hulled sailing vessels and the proliferation of helicopters and light aircraft, have seen visitors today soar to around two million annually.

Snorkelling practise at Heron Island. Splendidly uncrowded, but two million tourists now visit the reef annually. Photo Heron Island

The Great Barrier Reef is made up of many thousands of reefs that form a long, narrow loop that’s about the length of Italy. Its size means that choosing where to stay is the tricky part, but handily the reef comes to within 10 miles of shore in the north, before gradually veering up to 100 miles out to sea further south. Fast boats and helicopters mean getting to the reef from gateway towns like Cairns and Port Douglas in the north, Townsville and Airlie Beach in the middle, and Gladstone in the south, is easy enough. You just need to decide whether to experience the reef on a day trip by boat, a yacht cruise, or from an island resort.

My first trip out to an island resort was in 2012, when I joined three other holidaymakers in a chopper at Gladstone airport, 340 miles north of Brisbane. The young pilot, Simon, was tousle-haired and laconic, and the flight to Heron Island took about 30 minutes, but after take off, we were greeted by an ugly orange sea-slick: “There are 26 empty coal ships waiting for a berth right now,” said Simon, “and that mess is from dredging to expand the harbour.”

Finding your own Nemo (aka Clownfish) is a certainty almost anywhere on the Great Barrier Reef

Heron, at least, was as advertised. It’s a wooded 29-acre island surrounded by turquoise sea, with 109 cheery rooms connected by sandy paths. There’s super snorkelling and diving, and like several other island resorts, it runs semi-submersibles around its part of the reef. It feels like a Disney ride, but the sharks, turtles, and fabulously coloured fish are real enough – as are the excited shrieks from kids spying orange and white Clown Fish, aka the famously misplaced ‘Nemo’.  

The resorts – even at the cheaper and family-oriented end of the scale like Heron – are pricey, but you can do the reef on a budget by day-tripping out to a floating platform.

I boarded a jolly-crewed catamaran in Cairns for the 90-minute journey out to the reef, then snorkelled, demolished an Aussie buffet and rode in a glass-bottomed boat. I did a try-dive too – even though getting into the water in a metal gantry beneath the pontoon felt more Poseidon Adventure than I would have liked.

Much of the coral is in water that’s shallow enough for snorkelling. And even if you don’t swim, you can sit on a scooter-like contraption called a Scuba Doo. (Presumably fashioned by Q during his apprenticeship with Fisher Price, it’s a bright yellow ‘submarine scooter’ with an upside down goldfish bowl on top supplied with air.) 

If you crave coral gardens right off your luxury suite, then you’ll need to splash out on an upmarket island resort. I stayed four nights on Orpheus Island and was very reluctant to leave. The five square miles of forested National Park are deserted save for one luxe resort with a manicured lawn, swanky infinity pool, perfectly pitched service and outstanding food.

Here, dives on the reef were made from a snazzy motor launch rather than a pontoon, and instead of being hectored to put my wetsuit in the right storage box, I was greeted after diving with, “Would you care for a chocolate muffin and a cold beer?”

A deserted sandy inlet in the Whitsunday Islands

The 74 islands of the Whitsunday group are about half way between Cairns and Brisbane and 40 miles from the outer reef. They’re famous for yachting and the relatively developed resort island called Hamilton. Cruise Whitsundays boats leave here for the large ReefWorld pontoon - a viewing and diving platform about the size of two tennis courts.

It’s where I enjoyed a unique reef experience called a ReefSleep.

After the day-trippers had finished with their snorkelling, I waved them off on their homeward journey. It was 3pm, and I suddenly had the pontoon to myself, except for a couple of crew divers and a host. Up to nine guests a night are allowed to sleepover, so I swam and snorkelled some more, watched the sunset and ate a marvellous meal of seafood chowder and steak in the surreal surroundings of a deserted pontoon. Then I bedded down on the top deck in an Aussie ‘swag’ - a canvas sleeping bag, in this case with a mattress, linen sheets and fluffy pillows.

Helicoptering to the outer reef is big with the Whitsundays’ jetset, and the most wildly popular patch of reef to fly over is ‘Heart Reef’. Even I cooed along with the honeymooners when the extraordinary heart-shaped coral came into view. 

Most southerly of the reef resorts is Lady Elliot Island, which is reached by light aircraft from the mainland town of Bundaberg. It has the look and feel of a research institute, though with a buffet restaurant and tiny pool. Soon after landing I was treated to a hearty dinner of lamb stew, then invited to go turtle watching. Before long I was lying in the warm sand - I confess a lot closer than I should have been - to watch a female turtle digging her egg chamber. Then out popped dozens of eggs like squidgy Ping-Pong balls.

To witness this fragile wonder and the rich marine life that supports it you should visit now, while it’s still glorious. The threats are mounting, and as David Attenborough warns in the third episode of his 2015 swansong documentary, ‘These [changes] are going to happen in five years or 10 years… it’s the severity of the changes and the swiftness of these changes which [are] going to be catastrophic.’

***

Choosing a Barrier Reef Island resort

There are thirty Great Barrier Reef island resorts and choosing the right one is a giant conundrum. Incredibly, the reef is as long as Italy, and the resorts all have different atmospheres, styles and costs. Luckily, divine turquoise water, abundant marine life and gorgeous white sand beaches come as standard, but which is the best resort for you?

Best for families: Heron Island

Sandy paths connect simple but cheery accommodation in this 109-room island resort. The family friendly vibe is terrific, plus there’s a cute little swimming pool, decent bar, buffet meals and chipper staff. Budding naturalists spy Nemo’s from the semi submersible and the Junior Rangers programme covers themed walks, presentations and snorkeling lessons.

Aerial shot of Heron Island and its lagoon. Photo Heron Island

There’s no TV or mobile signal on the 39 acre coral cay, but lots of free reef fun, and dive rates are affordable - from just £40. Details, B&B Family Rooms sleeping four are from £207 per night, with free transfers from Gladstone airport to the marina, then it’s two-hours by ferry for £53pp return. See Heron Island

Best for sybarites: Orpheus Island Resort

Orpheus Island is rugged National Park land covered in dense acacia, surrounded by reef and edged by seven kilometers of shoreline. The low-key luxe resort is by a west-facing beach and has 21 rooms in crisp white décor, a manicured lawn and large infinity pool. Service is perfectly pitched, and weekly BBQ’s keep things convivial -or you can enjoy a romantic dinner a deux, ‘Dining with the Tides’, on the jetty.

Roughing it not required at the Orpheus Resort. Photo Orpheus Resort

The reef is rich and accessible right off the island, or there are free motorised dinghies. Details, pool ‘try dives’ are free, reef dives are £160. All-inclusive doubles are from £749 per night, and the 30-minute chopper flight from Townsville is £294pp return. Orpheus

Best for ecologists: Lady Elliot

This is the most southerly of the island resorts: handy if you are driving up from Brisbane – 226 miles away. Its 41 rooms include basic eco cabins through to private Island Suites. The resort staff are passionate environmentalists, as is owner Peter Gash, who’s installed solar panels and a desalination plant and made the resort carbon neutral.

Swimming with turtles is a cinch on Lady Elliot Island. Photo Lady Elliot Island

Marine life is spectacular, with coral gardens easily reachable snorkeling straight off the beach. There’s a dive centre and small swimming pool, but no TV’s or radios, and rooms are fan cooled. Details, boat dives are from £59, twin eco cabins from £176 per night half board, and light aircraft flights from Bundaberg are £147pp return. Lady Elliot

Best for divers: Lizard Island Resort

Cyclone Ita walloped the island in July 2014, which after extensive rebuilding is due to reopen in March 2015. The island is four square miles of hilly granite, with 24 beaches and a dreamily blue lagoon. It’s 150 miles northeast of Cairns too - far from pollution sources. The plans is for a super contemporary resort with a spa, gym and tennis court, but the diving here is unsurpassed, with teaming reefs right off the beaches.

Another Day, another private beach at the Lizard Island Resort. Photo Lizard Island Resort

There are also boat trips to the famous Cod Hole where you can swim/dive amongst the big gawping groupers. Details, dives cost from £94pp, double rooms will be from about £800 per night, all-inclusive. Sixty-minute light aircraft transfers from Cairns are £337pp return. Lizard Island

Best for castaways: Haggerston Island

Roy and Anna Turner run a Swiss Family Robinson style retreat that’s actually closer to Papua New Guinea than Cairns – though light aircraft transfers leave from the latter. The 100-acre island caters for just 15 guests, has lagoons off the beach rich with fish and coral, and thatched timber huts among the forests. Ingredients for dining in the Main Pavilion come from the garden and surrounding waters. You can catch fish off the jetty, or aboard the 40-foot Jojo III.

Hang out with a Robinson Crusoe crowd at Haggeston Island. Photos Haggerston Island

Off-the-beach coral gardens make for fabulous snorkeling, or on the outer reef there’s a shallow water shipwreck from the 1840s. Details, double huts are £444pp per night, all-inclusive except alcohol. There’s no dive centre, and it’s an equally eye-popping £615pp return for the two-hour transfer from Cairns. Haggerstone Island

Best for exclusivity: Bedarra Island Resort

Australia’s first super-luxe boutique resort played host to Elton John, Cameron Diaz and Princess Stephanie, and then Cyclone Yasi ended the fairytale. The excess has been pared down to create a less ostentatious tropical haven, with only seven villas (formerly sixteen). Each is wooden-decked and wonderful, nestled amongst the treetops with tremendous ocean views.

Not your average bedroom, at Bedarra. Photo Bedarra Island Resort

The island is rugged and thickly forested, but you can kayak around it in about 20 minutes, or take a gourmet picnic in a motorized dinghy (included in the rate). The pool is sublime; the gardens lush, and there are no kids under 16. Details, suites are from £583, all-inclusive. Thirty-minute ferry transfers leave from Mission Beach, 86 miles south of Cairns, for £211 per couple return. www.bedarra.com.au


 
   2322 views   
UNUSUAL HOTELS
Five magnificently minimalist hotel bars...
posted by Richard Green on 01/03/2017
 

American Bar, Sofitel Vienna

On the banks of the Danube Canal in central Vienna is the arresting 18-story architectural triumph of the city’s Sofitel. And prominent and dazzling – even from the streets below – is Le Loft, a rooftop structure containing the restaurant and bar. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, this avant guard space has wrap-around 10 meter high floor to ceiling windows. The space mixes minimalism with a vast painted and illuminated, multi coloured ceiling by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist. It contrasts wildly with the monochromatic guest rooms and the dark colours and simple raised platform of the American Bar. ‘Le Loft’ signature cocktail is Cîroc Vodka, Midori liqueur, Rose´s Lime Juice, and Champagne. See Sofitel Vienna

Le Bar Long, Le Royal Monceau, Paris

Off the Champs-Elysees and nearby the Arc de Triomphe, Philippe Starck has designed interiors that hark back to the 1930’s and the French ‘art de vivre’. The hotel boasts an acoustic guitar in every room, a private cinema and the cities first Art Concierge. In the bar are white linen curtains and on mode lamps and chandeliers. The conventional bar top is enlarged with a long luminous bar jutting perpendicularly into the room - barmen taking orders and serving drinks from behind. New in February 2015 is a celebration of chocolate with Pierre Herme, who has created indulgent hot chocolates with corn foam, Chantilly cream and South American spices. Le Royal Monceau

Bamboo Bar, Armani Hotel, Milan

In the heart of Milan’s ‘quadrilateral of fashion’, the Armani Hotel is topped off dramatically the Bamboo Bar. It’s in the 7th floor ‘glass hat’ - a two-story rooftop structure with floor to ceiling glass-panelled walls that reveal terrific views of the city’s Duomo and skyline. The traditional array of bottles is pruned back in favour of a bottles spread along two sleek shelves. Backlit onyx walls and cream coloured box table lamps infuse a gentle light over the white leather sofas and black marble floor. Drinks include a Blue Cheese Daiquiri, Tiramisu Martini, and the signature Caprese Mary – a Bloody Mary with mozzarella foam, fresh basil and tomatoes. Armani Hotel Milan

Café Gray Deluxe Bar, Upper House, Hong Kong
Walk through the candle lit colonnade into this chic 49th floor bar and relax and slink into a semi private window side curved banquettes for superb sunset views over Hong Kong Harbour. Or be entertained by the skilled moves of the mixologists behind the 14m long white marble bar. Alternatively, sink into one of the low leather green tea and mineral blue coloured armchairs in the high ceilinged lounge. Champagne cocktails are the forte here, like the Hong Kong Highball made with Belvedere vodka, ginger, honey, cassis, pomegranate and champagne.Upper House

Upstairs Bar, Ace Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles

Opened in 2014 in Downtown LA’s unmistakable Spanish Gothic style United Artists building, the Ace Hotel is a solid new addition to the up and coming hipster enclave here. The rooftop ‘Upstairs’ bar attracts an in crowd to its bare concrete floored bar – décor is sparse, save for a large faux industrial chandelier made from chains, hoists and movie lights. Outside of the bar are two large outdoor patios – one with a small pool. Bar bites are Moroccan inspired, specialty cocktails are frozen, although not the potent Wing Wing – mescal, green chartreuse, pineapple, lime and angostura. Ace Hotel
 


 
   3022 views   
UNUSUAL HOTELS
A few aircraft are having their own second lives - as bars, restaurants, hotels, and even a tree-top villa...
posted by Richard Green on 25/01/2017
 

Jumbo Hostel, Stockholm 

At Stockholm's Arlanda airport there's a Boeing 747 equipped with flatbeds; and whether you're in first, business or economy class, you get a bed and it'll cost you from $70. The catch is that you don't go anywhere - or even leave the ground.

It's called the Jumbo Hostel and the old jet is parked up just outside the perimeter fence of the airport's taxiways. As a stopover, it's a lot of fun, and it's even practical if you arrive late or depart early on a flight to or from Stockholm.

The Jumbo Hostel Lounge is in the former first class nose section of the old 747

The experience is delightfully tongue-in-cheek. I climbed the steps and entered the fuselage to be greeted with a "Welcome aboard" from a smiling girl in cabin crew uniform. After check-in I was told - 'complete with hand gestures' - that there were "Two toilets at the front of the cabin, and six at the rear..."

There are 29 rooms - some dorms and some private doubles/triples, the latter with a double bed and a single bunk above. All are small and span about five windows - original oval aircraft style ones of course - plus there are eight full-sized shower cubicles at the back of the plane.


Sleeping in a grounded plane fuselage is surreal, and after years of flying my brain was tricked into some strange double takes.

Looking out of my windows at the snowy airport and passing planes, I kept thinking we were about to taxi for example. And while the noises of nearby take-offs and landings were well muffled, sounds from inside seemed amplified. A hair dryer firing up at 5am next door had me fumbling for the brace position.

Several of the staff are ex-cabin crew, among them Rod, who took me on a little tour of the plane. "This Jumbo was delivered to Singapore Airlines in 1976 and flew with Cathay and Pan Am, amongst others," he said enthusiastically.

In the nose section of the plane he showed me the reception/lounge area, now with a fitting 70's style logo, bright orange seats and small candle lit tables. We climbed the spiral staircase into the upper deck bubble of the plane where a lounge uses old business class seats.

Forward of that is the cockpit suite, with some of the old instrument panels intact and great views of the airport.

Next morning in the lounge, my breakfast was brought on a plastic tray just as though I was on a flight - a witty touch with cellophane covering small plastic bowls of fruit and yoghurt.

“We get the food from the same catering company that the airlines use,” said the hostess/ hotel receptionist/comedienne. Of course these days you can lie flat in business class on many airlines, but they'll cost you a heck of a lot more. And they're not nearly as much fun.

Taking the sleeping in an old plane idea to extremes, even the engines are converted into cabins

Get to the Jumbo Hostel on the free transfer bus 'ALFA' that connects the terminals (5am till midnight, every 15 minutes and a journey time of five minutes). See Jumbo Hotel

                                                                                        ***
A few more plane crazy venues...

Hotel Costa Verde, Costa Rica

On the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the tiny Miguel Antonio National Park is famous for its beaches, sloths and monkeys. But near the park entrance is a fuselage that juts from the forest on a 50ft pedestal - a 1965 vintage Boeing 727 that once flew for Columbian flag carrier, Avianca. It's now a two-bedroom suite, with bizarre teak fittings, kitchenette and an over-wing terrace with ocean views. See Costa Verde

The Costa Verde Treehouse, where one Avianca Boeing 727 went to die. Photo Costa Verde 

Wings & Waves, USA

Not your average waterpark, Oregon's Wings & Waves just happens to have an Evergreen Airways Boeing 747 planted on its roof. And not only that, but the aircraft has been incorporated into the experience with the addition of a couple of waterslides twisting into the pool below from its fuselage. See Wings & Waves

Two waterslide tubes swirl down from the jumbo jet and into the pool below. Photo Wings& Waves

Next door are the two giant hangars that make up the Evergreen Museum, the star attraction of which is the original Howard Hughes Flying Boat H-4, or Spruce Goose as it is usually known - a gigantic eight-engined wooden flying machine that flew just the once, 70 years ago. Other aircraft on display include the B-17 Flying Fortress, SR-71 Blackbird, and a Titan II Missile.

Hotel Suites, Netherlands

Drive by the aerodrome at Teuge in eastern Netherlands and you'll spot a gleaming old propeller plane. The cockpit is much as it was when built in 1960, but everything else inside this smartly restored Ilyushin-18 is unrecognisable from the days when Erich Honecker, former leader of the German Democratic Republic, and his cronies, used it as state transport. The single Airplane Suite has luxurious white decor, three flat-screen TV's, kitchenette, Jacuzzi and sauna. See Hotel Suites

The spruced up exec-jet style interior of Honecker's old Ilyushin. Photo Hotel Suites

Keramas Aero Park, Indonesia

Twenty kilometres east of Bali's capital, Denpasar, is the Keramas Aero Park, centred around a plane on a plinth. It's a 33-ton ex Lion Air aircraft that's been converted into the 'Inflight restaurant and bar', serving Indonesian favourites, plus Chicken Chasseur and BBQ spare ribs, for 125,000 Indonesian Rupees (£7). The Ground Bar splays out over the lawn and is popular with locals. See Keramas Aero Park

The Ground Bar and Restaurant, with a repainted ex Lion Air 737 looming aobove it. Photos Keramas Aero Park 

Aircraft Cafe, Ethiopia

Ten miles northwest of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in the small settlement of Buraya, is an old 737-200 that has been turned into a cafe. It's a pretty relaxed affair and does a good turn serving the fiery local honey-wine called Tej. Some of the honey comes from a bee colony that has spontaneously chosen to set up a hive in part of the rear galley.

Oddly, this particular plane never actually flew for Ethiopian Airways. It was in fact delivered to Saudi Arabian Airlines in 1972, before being bought by Djibouti based Silver Air in 2005.

Lily Airways, China

Two hours flying time west of Shanghai is the the capital of Hubei Province, Wuhan - a city of 10 miilion people. Inspired by Stockholm's Jumbo Hostel, the new owner spent 5.2 million US Dollars on a bancrupt Batavia Air Boeing 737 that was unservicable and parked up at Jakarta Airport. He chopped into several large sections and transported it by ship and road to Wuhan.

Diners 'board' the restaurant by means of a real airport glass jetty, and are then served by waiting staff who have been selected along similar criteris to real cabin crew - in the sense of looks, height and deportment. 

   

The Lily Airways restaurant, complete with boarding jetty 

Runway34, Glattbrugg, Switzerland

You can't dine on board, but instead in a hangar with a 1957 Ilyushin Il-14 inside. It was flown from Moscow Zhukovsky Airport to Zurich in 2005. Runway 34

DC-6 Diner, Coventry, UK

This DC-6 was built in 1958 and was used by the Civil Air Transport of Taiwan, and after passing through several airlines over its working life, was retired in 2006, and made its last flight from Deenethorpe Airfield to Coventry, sporting Air Atlantique colours. See DC-6 Diner

Ristoaereo, Rome, Italy

Ristroaero is a Convair Metropolitan 440 built in San Diego in 1957. The aircraft was first acquired by Alitalia and was subsequently used by Italian presidents Giovanni Gronchi and Giuseppe Saragat. The restaurant serves a Mediterranean menu of al carte and 4-5 course set menus. Ristoaereo

Air Restaurant, Czech Republic 

The Air Restaurant is an old TU-104 aircraft, which was made in 1950 in the former Soviet Union. Ústí nad Labem is 90 kilometres north of Prague. Air Restaurant

The Air Restaurant Tu-104 exterior and interior. Photos Air Restaurant

Woodlyn Park, New Zealand 

A couple of miles from New Zealand's Waitomo Caves is Woodlyn Park. Hosting cultural shows and quirky (but basic) accommodation, you can choose between a 1918 railway carriage, 'Hobbit Underground Motel', WWII patrol boat and a 1950s Bristol Freighter. The plane served in the Vietnam War, but now has a cockpit and a tail section self-catering unit, each sleeping a family of four. See Woodlyn Park

 

Woodlyn Park's Bristol Freighter cum caravanette. Photo Woodlyn Park 

Rumba Nautica, Ecuador

I stumbled across this forgottten fuselage in Coca, Ecuador. It sits at the confluence of the Coca and Napo Rivers in the far west of the Amazon rainforest. I was heading down to a river transfer to the lovely Sacha Lodge for a dose of rainforest and wildlife, when I spotted this abandoned plane near to the town's main river jetty. The aircraft is a F28 Fokker Fellowship - it flew with local carrier Icaro Airlines until overshoting the runway in 2008. It ran as the 'Nautical Party' nightlub for a time, but these days it has closed and sits stranded on a pontoon.   

The Rumba Nautica F-28 beached in Coca. Photo My Bathroom Wall


 
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UNUSUAL HOTELS
See what happened when the Missoni brand took on designing a hotel, in Kuwait City...
posted by Richard Green on 24/01/2017
 

Missoni room and doorman's Missoni dishdasha. Photos My Bathroom Wall

The multi-coloured stripes like those on my bathroom face cloth scream Missoni - and I met Rosita Missoni at the opening of her then new hotel in Kuwait City back in 2011.

The Italian fashion house and family business is famous for putting vibrant stripes into women's wear from the 1960s onwards, and have now branched out into homeware too.

The Kuwait City hotel was a blast of colour in the middle of a sandstone coloured town. And as you can see from the photos, the stripe theme was lavished on every aspect of the property, from the pool to the room furnishings, and even the specially designed dishdasha's with a difference worn by the doormen.

The 187m tall Kuwait Towers, symbol of Kuwait, built in 1979 as a series of water towers. Photos My Bathroom Wall

In truth Kuwait City is quite a challenging destination, not least because of the scorching desert summers, when temperatures regularly hover in the high 40s, but also - quite an important this one for me - the entire country is dry with alcohol completely forbidden.

But the hotel did its best to overcome such matters with its stripy decor, extensive list of superb mocktails, excellently attentive staff, and airport transfers in Maserati's - which included what the General Manager called their 'Maserati moment' when the driver would warn the newly arrived guest and then shove the accelerator to the floor for about as big an adrenaline rush as there is in Kuwait.

Those with an aversion to stripes, need not book. Even the base of the pool is stripy. Photos My Bathroom Wall

That said, the people are wonderfully gracious and hospitable, and apart from the iconic water towers that you can catch the lift up, there are some good art galleries, fine Bedouin style restaurants, a wonderful handicraft shop called Sadu House, the grisly House of National Works Museum that uses dioramas to illustrate Kuwait's suffering during the first Gulf war (1990-91) weirdest museum to a war I have ever seen, and a quite bonkers private home called the House of Mirrors. A visit to the later involves an ultra personal tour of all the rooms from the house owner Lidia, including one where the lights are switched off and you and your host throw luminous plastic boomerangs at a Velcro black cloth wall. 

Mirror mirror on the wall..and on the door and on the ceiling. Photos My Bathroom Wall

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Further information: The Missoni Hotel has many of the original features and decor, but is now the Symphony Style HotelSee Visit Kuwait 

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Getting there: Kuwait International Airport is 15 kilometres south of Kuwait City and handled 11 million passengers in 2015. Kuwait Airways destinations include Bangkok, Doha, Dubai, London Heathrow, Manila, Mumbai, New York, Paris, Rome and Tehran. Kuwait-based low cost carrier Jazeera Airways  flies to Alexandria, Beirut, Cairo, Dubai, Istanbul, Luxor, Sharm el Sheikh and others. Other useful routes include Athens with Aegean Airlines, London Heathrow with British Airways, Dubai with FlyDubai, and Istanbul with Pegasus Airlines. 

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Always check your government's travel advice before booking, and ensure that your travel insurance is valid in this part of the country. See the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.

One more thing...

Actually Missoni's first hotel venture was opening a hotel in Edinburgh in 2009. It featured all the trademark multi coloured decor, and stripy kilts for the doormen. Unfortunately both the Kuwait and the Edinburgh ventures no longer have the participation of the Missoni brand, so those two cities have - in my opinion - just grown ever so slightly less colourful.

The Missoni Hotel in Edinburgh, with distinctive kilts for the doormen and bold colours throughout

 


 
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UNUSUAL HOTELS
A former radar station protecting the Panama Canal - now The Canopy Tower hotel, Panama
posted by Richard Green on 24/01/2017
 

Formerly a radar station used to protect the Panama Canal, the tower was converted into a hotel in 1995

Once a remote radar station that was built to guard the Panama Canal, the Canopy Tower is now a spectacular hotel conversion, just 30 minutes drive north of the capital, but surrounded by the pristine rainforest of the Soberania National Park.

First impressions are that the structure is a bit more rudimentary close up than the dreamy aerial shots make it look - so the ground floor reception is quite Spartan, with exposed pipes and girders, a few posters, plus unsurprisingly there isn't a lift.

The dining room is comfy and cosy, with 360 degree views of the jungle canopy

Each of the 12 room are very simply furnished, but they all have large windows overlooking the jungle, and no sooner had my backpack landed on the bed, I was suddenly overtaken by the total thrill of being in such an unusual place.

The dining area cum library is gloriously cluttered and has a wooden floor and 360-degree views above the canopy. The feeling is intimate and cosy - certainly nothing flash, and strewn with red and yellow striped fold-out director's chairs - but the simplicity is more than compensated for in the tremendous atmosphere, corking location, and the knowledgeable and friendly staff.

Toucans and three-toed sloths can be easily spotted from the rooms, the dining area, and the roof terrace

There is free coffee and juices throughout the day, an honesty bar, and hearty buffets at meals times. When I stayed the food was under the guidance of the owner's sister, who's a Panamanian celebrity chef. The salads were very inventive, the chicken in pesto and garlic super, and the Tiramisu - though unconventional in its consistency, was about the best I have ever had.

Tea and biscuits are served at dawn on the large roof terrace by the geodesic dome. The thick mist and was surprisingly chilly so early in the morning, but it burned off gradually to reveal terrific views out over the rolling hills of the national park.

I was probably the only person there who wasn't into bird watching and armed with binoculars and birding books, but even with little patience and no binocs, I saw parrots, toucans and monkeys, and the super surreal sight of ship superstructures cleaving the jungle as they glided along the canal.

Superstructures cleave through the jungle a couple of miles distant, and the simple decor of the rooms

A group of senior citizen twitchers from Houston persuaded me to go on the night drive, which I had imagined would be a tad on the dull and pointless side, but thanks to the affable expertise of Carlos the local guide, who literally charmed an owl down from the trees with his calls and was full of interesting information, I was very glad to have made the effort.

The highlight for me though was seeing four sloths hanging in the trees as though someone had thrown wet brown blanket over the branches.

puzzle

Fitting the Canopy Tower into a holiday: any trip to Panama should include a visit to the canal - either a quick call at the Milaflores Locks 13 kilometres northeast of Panama City, or a ride from the Pacific to the Atlantic  on the 1855-built Panama Canal Railway. But the Canopy Tower is a super way of combining a relaxing hotel with some wildlife watching, and the sight of large ships seemingly gliding through the jungle.  

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Getting there: despite being located in the Soberania National Park, the hotel is only about a 90-minute drive from the centre of Panama City, or an hour from Panama City's Tocumen Airport. 

weather

When to visit the Canopy Tower: January-March is the high season, owing to lots of sun, little rain. March-May is the Spring migration, ideal for spotting warblers, raptors, and lots of fresh plumage. The rainy season is May-August is the rainy season, with heavy showers most afternoons, and reduced price room rates. Then September-early November sees the impressive 'fall migration' with hundreds of thousands of raptors overflying the tower on their way south.  

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More info: see the hotel's site at Canopy Tower, and for more on Panama in general there's Visit Panama

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Visa and safety: always check your government's travel advice before booking, and ensure that your travel insurance is valid in this part of the country. See the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.


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  • "The aeroplane has unveiled for us the true face of the earth"
    Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French writer, poet and aviator