News & Reviews News 6 month summary of 2019 (Jan-June)

For those who have checked on my blog more than the once this year, you’ll likely notice the significant lack of content.  Yes, our travels have decreased this year down to a paltry 4 months, but it’s been more a case of a few priorities in life creeping in: building a new home, getting married, buying a dog, and, most importantly, dealing with the aftermath of the terrible Game of Thrones ending.  It has taken its toll.  So here’s your bi-annual summary of where we’ve been, just so you don’t feel you’ve missed out on everything in my life.

January

Umaid Bhawan Palace

In case it was not clear, I really hate hotels that dabble in self-adulation.  I have two eyes, so even when I’m down to 50% capacity I can figure our your greatness by myself.  Umaid made it clear that we were staying in the best hotel of all time, as voted for by I Swear I’m a Real Travel Award and their annual 3 subscribers.  Whilst there is no doubt the setting and building is sublime, everything else is all a bit too meh.  In particular the distressingly tired and surprisingly cold rooms, average food and seemingly pointless spa.  The welcome is the best part, so I would recommend staying no more than an hour.  It’s clearly the best option in the area, but I’m not sure that’s good enough for their next award: Best Hotel in Jaipur, as There’s Nothing Else. When, on departure, they asked for our feedback, they rounded up all managers from each department we criticised.  That way we could tell them again, right to their faces, so they can all probably be shot.

Jawai

A truly awful camp that masquerades as luxury to clueless Brits that read about it in Readers Digest.  Sadly the only “luxury” option in the area, assuming that having no practical heating, whilst it’s 2 Celsius, counts.  We ended up sleeping in our most snuggly clothes to warm-up, as even though they pack the tents close enough together for you to hear your neighbours, sadly their body heat did not benefit us.  The setting is no better – it is far more developed than you would imagine, with villages right near the camp destroying the idea of being in the wild.  The occasional sound of a train doesn’t help either, although it does comfort to know escape is possible.

Yet ignoring all the issues, it’s actually a pretty dull affair too, with its primary issue very similar to Aman-i-Khas: if you cannot see a leopard/tiger, there is nothing else to look for.  Africa this is not. Still, we did see a male and female leopard fighting, so losing a few fingers through frostbite was worth it.  Or at least I think we did.  I would need a tape measure to be sure, but I think we were on the same continent as the leopards. What were they doing? At times they were so far away that they could have all been planning the next 9/11 for all I know.

Oberoi Udaivilas

It has been a long time in the making, but this was my first Oberoi.  I had only heard vast praise for their Indian operation.  And so it turned out to be true.

Having such fond memories from my previous Indian trip, notably the butler Aman-i-Khas, I was coming back expecting more of the same. We had to get past Umaid Bhawan Palace and Jawai before a similar service level kicked.  This is a delightful hotel, with a beautiful lake front setting, backed-up by great facilities, warm service and decent food.  It’s only let down by the rooms, which are a-ok. The garden rooms are best if you cannot get a semi-private pool – although they are not heated, so I would never use them anyway.  You can upgrade, but I take issue with going from around £700/n for a room to £7,000/n for a suite, which is only twice the size.  The main competitor will be the infamous Taj Lake Palace, although Udaivilas is more to my taste.  Although I can definitely see the appeal of Lake Palace – it can definitely qualify for the definition of unique – it’s too claustrophobic and has that Taj design that you either hate or you were born prior to 1920.

Oberoi Rajvilas

Has a bit of an Amanjena vibe to it with the architecture – or perhaps what it will look like in 100 years.  The deserve immense praise for their service, but everything else fell a bit flat.  It is the only Oberoi property where I would instead recommend a Taj; Rambagh Palace, in this case.  Rajvilas felt very uninspiring, whereas Rambagh Palace, for all its flaws, gave a real sense of location.  They both have vast grounds, but Rajvilas’s all led back to the main restaurant or the pool, which odily was surrounded by vendors trying to sell their wares.

Aman-i-Khas

My second trip to India, but really the first – sticking to Aman properties does not maketh an Indian trip.  Still, old habits die hard.

The man; the absolute legend. Our butler from 2015, still here, still offering single-handed better service than most companies.  On arrival, our eyes locked, the warm glow of his smile warmed my very soul and we embraced with a warm hug.  He then proceeded to do what he does best:  looking after ill members of my family – last time my Dad had food poisoning and this time my wife was suffering some awful chest infection.  Pro tip: if you ever want to get immediate medical assistance, just take our 2018 itinerary and tell a doctor all the countries we went to, with particular focus on hanging around with primates.  You’ll be seen in no time.

It’s always interesting to revisit somewhere and see if it wowed because it was new and I was an inexperienced traveller or because it genuinely is amazing – Aman-i-Khas is the latter. I really loved our stay there, not least of which for seeing tigers on the first drive, and on the final night having said butler running towards me to tell me to jump in a jeep as a tiger was right outside the camp. She came right up to the vehicle and I resisted the urge to pet her. This was a welcome few days of relaxation in a rather hectic schedule.

Oberoi Amarvilas

The only choice if you wish to see the Taj Mahal and stick around.  Whilst underwhelming in so many areas, the average stay is just 1 night, so providing you can cope with that in order to see one of the most majestical buildings on earth, you’ll do fine.  Throughout our trip, Oberoi offered absolutely fantastic service.  With the exception of Agra.  Here they performed a complete comedy of errors.  It started when we couldn’t get lunch, so free drinks were offered as an apology – which were then billed for.  Then a free dessert was offered, but it took over an hour to arrive, so we gave up waiting.  During breakfast, the yoghurt tasted off, so we complained and the chef came out to admit it and apologise.  At least 8 different managers apologised for it and our bill was wiped, without us saying anything.  If you don’t need to stay here, don’t bother, but do not miss the opportunity to see the Taj Mahal.

The Lodhi

With fond memories of my 2015 stay, I decided to return.  Either my mind had become polluted by all the fumes or The Lodhi decided to just give up on life.  It felt very dated, and even more so when we went to check out the new flagship Oberoi property.  It is also the first hotel I may have regretted getting upgraded; we found ourselves in a Lodhi Premier Suite, but I would have been happier in a Premier Room. The layout was remarkably stupid, with the corridors taking up at least 99% of the available space and the other 1% for the open planned toilet next to the bed.

There is no reason to stay here.

Taj Nadesar Palace

With only 10 rooms, this is an intimate offering to see the crazy Varanasi.  I did not like the rooms, which were so dark you could only escape it by opening the blinds onto the public walkway, which allowed everyone to look into; nor did we enjoy the food, and there were multiple service mishaps, yet I cannot help but feel they did their best.  After all, the only alternatives are 4 star hotels.

February

Plaza Athenee

It’s Paris, so you’ve gotta be perfect.  They were not.  There’s just too many other excellent hotels in Paris, that aren’t likely to be burned down by the gilets jaunes.

Four Seasons George V

Ever had someone go on and on about how great something is, so you finally do it, just so you can absolutely, definitively know they’re wrong?  That’s what I was going for here, but failed in the latter part; it is a wonderful hotel.  The new spa, brilliant cuisine and great service makes it obvious this is Four Seasons flagship property.

March

Four Seasons Surfside

If you absolutely have to be in Miami, it’s likely now the best option.  If you don’t have to be in Miami, lucky you.

Rosewood Mayakoba

There’s nothing for you if you’re a couple, but as a family you may enjoy it.  They really did try their best and there is nothing fundamentally wrong, it just had the feeling that we’ve been there, done it all before, and it was much better elsewhere.

Chable Resort

The staff’s enthusiasm immediately became infectious – they loved this place and so did we.  Quite easily one of the best resorts we’ve stayed in this year.  The rooms are spacious, private and beautiful, but why not treat your favourite travel blogger and book a week stay in the penthouse?  First class flights would be appreciated too.  English was not the best, but everyone so desperately tried; none more than the GM, who personally drove us to the airport after discovering they screwed the transfers up.

Four Seasons Mexico City

The courtyard tricks you into thinking you’re in a good hotel.  Once you get past the ground floor, you will swiftly realise that this is almost certainly going to be a Marriot in the next few years.

Rosewood Las Ventanas

Yeah, but no.  Similar to Mayakoba, just with more deluded staff.

April

Four Seasons Prague

One must go visit the in-laws, and one must do it in style.  Easily the best hotel in Prague.  Probably.  Cos I haven’t been to any others.

May

Royal Champagne

A Michelin star restaurant that actually delivered real, quality food.  The rest of the staff could learn a thing or two from the chefs.  We definitely didn’t get the luck with the weather, so the only ray of light was the Ajax vs Tottenham game.  The rooms definitely did not feel “royal”, but champagne there was, so it’s not an entire lie.  Yet the spa was a thing of beauty and with a convenient hour journey from Paris, this is one to watch.

La Reserve Ramatuelle

The first ever foreign luxury property I stayed in, so 7 years later, a repeat visit was in order.  The modern, concrete feel may not be to everyone’s taste, but I remain a fan.  It is still very much a good property, even if their concierge sent us to a restaurant that made me quip that we were about to experience our first strip club together.

La Bastide de Gordes

Even as a reader never gave up pestering me to go here, I still came away surprised by how good it was; one of the finest properties in Europe, in fact.  The food, the setting, the service: sublime.  Absolutely everything is great here, except the absence of the jacuzzi, and perhaps the paintings that stare at you as you sleep.

Villa La Coste

I really wanted to love it, but I really couldn’t.  It just felt like that kid in the gang that no one really wants to hang around with, but you never really could explain why.  Years later you found out he was a serial killer, so your instincts were right.  It does not take much for me to dislike somewhere, but a huge amount for me to love it.  After Bastide, Villa La Coste was already in a losing battle, but their soulless rooms, decorated with creepy photos of the owners friends, matched by dreadful food certainly did nothing to change my mind.  The grounds are incredibly impressive with their vastness allowing for an art tour that feels more like a hike – I just find modern art absolute shit and more pointless than Jeremy Corbyn.

June

Park Hotel Vitznau

One of the worlds best hotels managed to become the best.  Not because they improved, as breakfast was still a complete farce and the AC so weak that it must be powered by wind turbines sped by a sole gerbil, but because I’ve turned all romantic – on the 3rd of our 4 night stay, I got married in this fine hotel.  The event was absolutely beautiful and I wish you had all been there, but just because you were not is no excuse not to have bought us wedding gifts.  The entire event was beautiful and was delivered with absolute class by everyone.  The guest list was alright too, although the Dalai Lama must have been busy that day, otherwise I’m sure he’d have come.

Aman Tokyo

Possibly my favourite city hotel.  As if the spa was not enough to stay here, the service has become sublime.  It seems to get better every time I visit, with this being the 5th.  Getting married sure has mellowed me.  Lucie believes the spa therapists are amongst the best in the world, whilst I have strong evidence to suggest they are the most expensive. I will never complain about an upgrade, but here there feels little point, even if they do always kindly move us into higher suite category and we never once use any of the additional space.  It really is a rarity when any room is a good one.

Laucala

Our 3rd stay and this time for of our honeymoon.  I could talk all about it, but I would just be repeating myself.  I do love so much about Laucala, not least the uniqueness and generosity, but I shouldn’t feel the need to do an appraisal of it every time I visit.  At least hotel inspectors get to stay for free.  They really need to improve, otherwise next time the only service recovery will be the transfer of ownership of the island to me.

Hoshinoya

My first compromise of married life – and proof, kids, that compromise gets you nowhere good.  Dig your heels in and stay in Aman Tokyo, I say.  I had no desire to stay here, knowing full well it was just a city version of Gora Kadan , yet stay I must.  Surprisingly, I loved it.  Only kidding – it’s Gora Kadan were it built in the 2010s, for christ sake.  They even shared that damp wood smell that triggered the unpleasant memories of the militant operation we were in for.  I can’t say anymore, as the prison wardens, I mean staff, are onto me.

Conclusion

I’ve had better.

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 3rd Jul '19

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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