Affordable luxury at The Berkeley Hotel in Richmond, Virginia

Affordable luxury at The Berkeley Hotel in Richmond, Virginia

Article and photos by Scott S. Smith


View from the top floor of The Berkeley Hotel in the restored tobacco warehouse district of downtown Richmond, Virginia

My bride, Sandra Wells, and I wanted to take our April 2017 honeymoon somewhere we could indulge our interest in history. We had never been to any of the sites related to the American Civil War and looked for the best place to learn more about that darkest of periods in our history. Atlanta had surprisingly little to offer, Gettysburg and most other battlefields were remote and focused just on local events, while we wanted to get a good overall understanding of the period. We came to realize that by far the best destination for this was Richmond, Virginia, around which dozens of battles were fought, since the capital of the Confederacy was just 109 miles south of Washington, D.C.

After consulting reviews and talking with experts in local tourism, we decided to spend two of our four nights at a 55-room luxury boutique hotel in the restored historic tobacco warehouse district in downtown Richmond, The Berkeley Hotel (1200 East Cary Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219, 804-780-1300, 888-780-4422, www.berkeleyhotel.com, info@berkeleyhotel.com). Downtown is just nine miles or 15 minutes from Richmond International Airport. It was built in 1988 by the Dobbs Family and prices were remarkably low for a four-star property (discounted because of ongoing renovation).

The Berkeley was set on the western edge of Shockoe Slip, whose cobblestone streets were a reminder that it was where the city started, and near the Central Business District. The hotel was an easy walk to the James River, where the American Civil War Center was located, and to the State Capitol, where the hemisphere’s oldest active legislature met (Richmond became the colonial capital in 1780; five years before, in a nearby church, Patrick Henry had given his speech with the famous phrase, “Give me liberty or give me death”).


The bed in our King Terrace View Room

The hotel assigned us a 300 square feet (27.8 square meters) King Terrace View Room on the top (sixth) floor. It had a balcony furnished with chairs to look out over the restaurants and stores that had breathed new life into the historic district. I’m not one to notice much about room décor, but there were lovely framed prints of flowers on the walls. We soon learned that many guests like to return to see how their new room is decorated because each was designed differently from all the others in carpeting, wallpaper, furniture, and even shape (there was a photo gallery on the website to compare some examples). The air conditioning and heat controls were easy to use and effective. The closet contained two terry cotton robes, an iron, and ironing board. There was a safe at the front desk.

The bed was very comfortable, with 100 percent Frette Italian linens, while the pillows were filled with down and feathers. The room was clean and we allowed cleaning once during our stay (it was normally once a day) and refused turn down service. We agreed to the hotel’s default policy of reducing impact on the environment by changing the linens every three days. Rollaway beds were available for an extra charge.

The bathroom in Room 604

There was a combination bathtub and shower with a powerful hydromassage showerhead. Like virtually every other luxury hotel we’ve been in, it had a makeup mirror with moderate (inadequate) lighting. There was a single sink, with toiletries from Gilchrist and Soames and cucumber and acai berry soap on the counter. The most unusual item was dental rinse (not something we normally have seen and helpful when dealing with flight liquid restrictions). There were two telephones, by the toilet and by the bed (local calls were free).


The desk and television side of the room

There was a coffee maker in the room, but we preferred to go to the lobby at 6:30 a.m. weekdays for fresh-made coffee, 7:00 a.m. on weekends (sweeteners included the best alternatives to sugar, stevia and erythiritol, which we have not seen often even in top hotels). There was also a desk and a 32-inch flat-screen LG television with cable. On the other side of the room there was a sitting area with stuffed chairs and a small round table.

There was complimentary high-speed wireless in the room and some public areas. There was no mini-bar or refrigerator, but ice machines were one floor below and elevators were fast (in a small hotel, that made transfers to other floors almost instantaneous). Complimentary health club privileges were available at the nearby Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). Children were welcome and the hotel was pet-friendly, charging $50 per stay, one per room up to 25 pounds.


Our bed in the Governor’s Suite

Any hotel can create a nice environment with upscale carpets, décor, and furniture. Under normal circumstances, adequate training may produce good service. But a crisis highlights staff's ability to balance conflicting demands from customers. On our first night at The Berkeley, we were asleep when around midnight we were awakened by a party next door. We asked them to keep it down, but when people get drunk they have a hard time judging whether they might be disturbing others. We finally called the front desk and within minutes a security representative invited us to move to Room 608 before he dealt with our neighbors. This seemed prudent: in our experience, most hotels prefer to start by asking guests to not disturb others, which usually just drags out the resolution. We had barely unpacked, so it was an easy move down the hall.

We were surprised when the new room turned out to be the Governor’s Suite, a pair of rooms behind a set of doors separating them from the rest of the top floor. The bedroom was 600 square feet (55.7 square meters) and had a 37 inch flat screen Philips television. Next to it was a Keurig coffee maker with Royal Cup and Green Mountain options. A three-panel full-length mirror stood in one corner. There were several sofa chairs around a low glass table and plenty of room for a small group to visit after a wedding (which is what the Suite was often used for, as well as for birthday celebrations and other special events; the adjacent room we just peeked into was for the reception or a dinner). The four-poster bed had two mattresses, which made for comfortable sleep. The Suite was rented the next night, so we returned to 604 in the morning.


The bathroom in the Governor’s Suite

The bathroom in 608 was larger than 604, the single sink had more counter space, and the décor was nicer (large gold-trimmed mirror and lights). There was also a large walk-in shower, rather than the small tub-shower combo in 604.


The view from the Governor’s Suite

There was a balcony with chairs outside 608 and a sculpture of a fish-headed, Egyptian-style god. The view was of the Central Business District.


Artwork in one of the hotel hallways

The rooms and hallways were decorated with prints of paintings from the colonial era and old maps, which made it seem a place of Southern elegance from a bygone time. Many on the 60 staff of the hotel spoke Spanish. The ones we spoke with were knowledgeable about the city when we asked questions.

William Price III, chef, The Dining Room


The Dining Room at The Berkeley

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served on the ground level in adjacent rooms, with a bar in the middle at the main restaurant, The Dining Room. William Price III, the young and friendly chef, had studied at the Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts and Le Cordon Bleu Institute’s Pittsburg campus.

The Dining Room’s Amuse Bouche

A salad at The Dining Room

 The chef's Signature Southern dish

We enjoyed our breakfast, including the Signature Farmers Market Quiche, grits, a three-egg omelette with aged cheddar cheese, onions, and sautéed mushrooms, the Southern specialty fried green tomatoes, and a salad. There wasn’t a vegetarian option on the dinner menu. While Chef Price was whipping up a meatless experiment he had been working on, we amused our palettes with the Amuse Bouche, an appetizer of grilled French baguette, pimento cheese, and pickled vegetables, with sorghum balsamic vinaigrette, an apple peach crisp, and bread pudding. The chef’s Signature Southern, a tentative name, was a delicious concoction with five green tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and sautéed spinach risotto.

We only had time to see the top priorities on our list in three days, including the Virginia Fine Arts Museum, the American Civil War Center, the Museum of the Confederacy, and the Black History Museum and Cultural Center (we also recommend the RVA Tour of the city over alternatives because of their extremely knowledgeable guides). Richmond was rich with culture, so we definitely want to return, and would stay at The Berkeley because of its location, comfortable beds, food, service, and price (we hope it remains a relative bargain when the renovation is complete).

Highlights of our Black Forest Highlands visit

Highlights of our Black Forest Highlands visit

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

A typical dreary day during our visit

A typical dreary day by Lake Titisee during our visit

We planned our week long trip to the Black Forest Highlands in Germany months in advance with the expectation that a spring itinerary would reward us with dry and sunny weather. Instead it our visit in June 2016 was far wetter, colder and foggier than we had anticipated. It rained on and off most of the day every day during our whole stay in the area, forcing us to revise our plans entirely. In lieu of trekking on mountain tops and cable cars we spent our days in our hotel room waiting for the rain to stop or remained indoors, dining, in museums, and churches for the duration of our visit.

The clock museum featured displays of clock history

The clock museum featured displays of clock history

Tools used to automate the creation of the gears and wheels were featured

Tools used to automate the creation of the gears and wheels were featured

We replaced nearly all our outdoor activities with indoor ones. The two lane mountain roads, slick from the rain and filled with impatient drivers, did nothing to improve the situation. In the end, we made the most of the situation, exploring as best as possible in moments of respite from the constant showers. We seldom encountered English speakers or materials in English, making it necessary for us to rely on our guide frequently to translate menus at restaurants and information sheets at attractions.

The Parkhotel Adler

The Parkhotel Adler in Hinterzarten was a favorite for its luxury facilities and spa

From the airport we drove to the Parkhotel Adler in Hinterzarten. It was the most luxurious of the properties we visited that trip. I spent time at Hoffmann Beaute & Physiontherapie, its serene spa. Because of the cool temperatures and showers I was thankful for the property's underground hallways that connected its facilities and provided us indoor access to the hotel spa and restaurants in adjacent buildings.

Seecafé in Schluchsee

The lake fronting Seecafé in Schluchsee

Black forest cake, strudel cake and cappucinno

We had Black Forest cake, strudel cake and cappuccino by the lake

The first attraction we visited was the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Clock Museum at Robert-Gerwig-Platz d-78120 Furtwangen, +49 7723-920 2800, deutsches-uhrenmuseum.de) northeast of Freiburg. It was a fun way to spend the morning and learn about the history of clock making in Germany.

Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel

We spent the weekend at the popular Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel

One afternoon, to satisfy our sweet tooth we stopped at the Seecafé (Im Wolfsgrund 26, 79859, Schluchsee, +49 76 56/98 88 97), where we indulged in hot beverages and huge slices of regional specialties such as Black Forest chocolate cake. Despite the chilly temperatures we enjoyed the Schluchsee lakeside setting and terrace seating until a steady flow of raindrops forced us to leave.

Our first sunny afternoon from the patio at Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof

We were delighted with our first sunny hour from the patio at Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof

In the Lake Titisee area we stayed at two family owned properties. We spent the weekend at the popular, lake fronting Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel (see Our weekend stay at Black Forest lake front hotel with spa) with a spa in the highly touristy town of Titisee. When our rental apartment plans fell through the friendly owners and staff at the charming and lovingly built Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof squeezed us in at the last minute without hesitation. The hotel, the Drubba Monument Shopping stores on the pedestrian street in Titisee, and the Hofgut Sternen hotel and adjacent shops were the property of the enterprising Drubba Family. It was at one of their shops where we watched a demonstration about the making of the famous cuckoo clocks. At another we caught the end of a glassblowing demonstration. Their hillside property was a favorite for its Lake Titisee views and foodie orientation.

hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler

One of the hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler in Grafenhausen

In Grafenhausen, we liked the hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler (see Black Forest shop carried on with wood carved mask tradition). In Grafenhausen-Rothaus, we visited Hüsli or small house (79865 Grafenhausen-Rothaus, Am Hüsli 1 im Naturpark Südschwarzwald, + 49 77 48/212, www.hüsli-museum.de), a folk art museum dating back to 1912 when actress Helene Siegfried built a summer home from second-hand materials. We also toured the Rothaus (Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus AG, Rothaus 1, 79865 Grafenhausen-Rothaus, +49 7748/522-0, www.rothaus.de, info@rothaus.de) brewery museum, a modern facility with self-guided tours, where we sampled locally produced beer and bought souvenirs at the small shop.

St. Blasien Cathedral

St. Blasien Cathedral, a lovingly maintained structure 36 meters wide and 62 meters high

The cupola in St. Blasien Cathedral

The interior of St. Blasien Cathedral

The cupola in St. Blasien Cathedral

The St. Blasien Cathedral cupola

We visited several churches while in the Black Forest Highlands. Salient among them for sheer size and the determination of its builders was St. Blasien Cathedral, a pretty and lovingly maintained structure 36 meters wide and 62 meters high. The early classical cupola is the largest of its kind north of the Alps.

Hotel Adler in Häusern

Our final nights were at the Hotel Adler in Häusern

Our last afternoon in the Black Forest got sunny

The sun made an appearance on our last afternoon in the Black Forest

Our final nights were at the Hotel Adler in Häusern, where we dined at the hotel's gourmet restaurant (see Dinner at Black Forest Highlands gourmet restaurant). We would recommend the Black Forest Highlands to friends who speak German or don't mind seeking translations, like moderate luxury in a heavily touristy area with authentic regional cuisine, enjoy mountainous landscapes and the outdoors, and are able to change plans in a hurry if the weather turns ugly.

Florida beach house’s outstanding location offset by issues

Florida beach house’s outstanding location offset by issues

Limefish from the beach

Limefish from the beach

Although we loved our Holmes Beach rental house's beachfront location, its outstanding views of the water across lush sea oats and sea grapes from the open porch as well as from the single contiguous air conditioned living, dining and kitchen room, we were disappointed with a number of aspects of the luxury rental house. Holmes Beach is one of three municipalities on Anna Maria Island on the west coast of Florida. In addition to its outstanding beachfront place the house was on the north end of Holmes Beach, which after some exploration became our favorite part of the island along with the town of Anna Maria. It was also conveniently one block away from a complimentary island trolley stop, and within walking distance to the main shopping streets in the town of Anna Maria.

The living room featured a great view

The living room featured an outstanding view of the beach

Limefish, a 1,500 square foot colorful three bedroom three bathroom house, faced the beach. The pool was on the north side and included a shady covered open air area with a propane grill, two lounge chairs, outdoor dining furniture with seating for eight and two showers. Indoors the air conditioned house was painted in bright colors. It had a master bedroom with a king bed and small en suite bathroom, a second bedroom with a queen bed and standard en suite bathroom, and a third bedroom with four bunk beds and an adjacent bathroom convenient for guests. The living area had two loveseats, a brightly painted coffee table and a built-in entertainment wall.

The pool area was inviting day and night

The private pool area was inviting day and night

We liked the quiet, especially indoors, and sense of privacy the home afforded us although it was sandwiched between other houses on two sides and an empty lot adjacent to a busy public beach access with parking. The muted sounds were the result of double-paned windows and a well tended garden with a narrow path that led from the back porch straight to the beach some forty feet away. The distance from the crowded beach and the garden seemed to serve as buffers. We also liked the large private heated swimming pool, an uncommon amenity in rental beachfront houses in town based on an informal tally, and the spacious parking area, which included three spaces under cover.

The bedrooms looked out on the driveway

The bedrooms looked out on the driveway

On the beach, many people walked by at a quick pace. Others set elaborate groupings of chairs and umbrellas, bringing babies, children and dogs (although the beach was supposed to be dog free). Because the water was chilly few went swimming. Once we spent time on the crowded beach we particularly appreciated having private space to ourselves where we could retreat anytime and enjoy beach views in quiet seclusion.

The second bedroom

The second bedroom

Although the company website made the rental properties look inviting there were significant errors. When we began our search for a vacation rental we encountered a number of red flags. First, there was limited information on the company website. One property appeared to have never been rented and the second one had had no reviews in more than a year. The most recent review we found said the house needed a facelift. We were unable to find details about the properties, such as terms and conditions, and availability on the rental company website. It also did not indicate when the photos of the house had been taken.

The kitchen was spacious and had a nice view

The spacious kitchen also had a beach view

After an initial email reply, the real estate agency woman was slow to respond. When reached on her mobile number she was unable to provide additional information. The first time she answered she explained she was grocery shopping. The next time she said she was visiting her daughter. Then she said she was a realtor and busy selling houses. Unlike every other person we spoke with on the island who answered questions easily and with a pleasant demeanor, her attitude seemed somewhat condescending and dismissive to us. A conversation with a second woman at a United Kingdom location was fruitless.

The dining table

The dining table

After some effort and contradictory information the company representative explained that they had made a mistake listing the first property, the one we preferred. It had a more upscale location and features. After some back and forth communication the representative said the listing with an elaborate video had been in error and the property was not for rent at all. Although it appeared for rent on the company website and was vacant they would not honor the advertised rental. The second property, she prompted, had been renovated and was available at a significant seasonal discount.

Outdoor chairs were shady in the morning

The deck and outdoor chairs were in the shade in the mornings.

We swallowed our concerns about the realtor and the property and took the bait. On arrival, the good news was that the property location was excellent. The house fronted the beach and had outstanding views from the back porch, and interior common areas. The pool, on the side of the house, was as we expected. There were however a number of disappointments, mostly the house was in a less than optimum state of repair and the amenities were of a lower quality than we had anticipated for a luxury property. We were surprised to read in the booklet with information on the house that if any equipment broke during our stay there would be no discount, only the agency's assurance they would try to fix it.

The master bathroom

The master bathroom

One of the things we disliked most was the six human hairs strewn in varying places (bed covers, bathroom sink, shower, facecloth, extra blanket) and the smelly mold on the washer door. The towels were mismatched, some stained and very thin. The kitchen towels were synthetic as were the pillows and bed covers. The sheets were of low thread count. The washer soap dispenser was dirty. The dryer didn't work well at first (we discovered accumulated lint that might have caused the difficulties). The spare blanket smelled strongly of women's cologne.

Cheerful colors gave it a summer feel

Cheerful colors and bright sunlight gave the house a summer feel.

With some effort the repetitive noise of the dining and living room fans subsided. Such was not the case with the loud washer and dryer. The dishwasher door was broken. It had to be latched in place or it would fall open every time we opened it to load or unload items in the appliance.

There were four bunks in the third bedroom

There were four built-in bunks in the third bedroom.

The colorful outdoor furniture made of synthetic material didn't overheat, making it possible to sit on the chairs at any time of the day. But because the chairs were in a fixed position they became less than comfortable after a few minutes. There were no cushions on the chairs, which also made then less than ideal for extended lounging. There were only four beach towels for the three bedroom house, which meant if we wanted clean towels after a day at the beach we had to run the noisy washer and dryer.

The sunsets were lovely about half the time

The sunsets were lovely about half the time.

By the pool there were only two adjustable lounge chairs without cushions or tables (we had to place books and beverages on the floor) and no umbrellas for shade. The lack of umbrellas or cover from the sun made it difficult to enjoy the beach facing porch in the afternoons when sunlight shined directly on that part of the house. No kitchen curtains meant sunlight covered and heated parts of the kitchen (as well as the dining and living areas) during most of the afternoon. The air conditioner and fans struggled to cool the house.

The beach was busy every day

The beach was busy every day.

We enjoyed our time at Limefish as well as our first stay in Holmes Beach and Anna Maria, despite the high density of visitors during our shoulder season visit, and would consider returning. Perhaps by then the property owners and managers will have given the beachfront house some tender loving care or we can find another rental beachfront home.

What we liked about the Sofitel London St James

Article and photos by Scott S. Smith

The London Sofitel

The Guards’ Crimean War Memorial in front of the Sofitel London St James

In September 2016, my wife, Sandra, and I spent one night at the Sofitel London St James (6 Waterloo Place, London SW1Y 4AN, United Kingdom, +44 0871 6630625 or 800-221-4542, http://www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-3144-sofitel-london-st-james/index.shtml, H3144@sofitel.com) in central London, United Kingdom. As history buffs, we chose it for its location a few blocks from the Piccadilly Circus subway stop on Waterloo Place, with its magnificent Guards’ Crimean War Memorial.

The memorial was originally erected in 1861 to commemorate 2,152 soldiers who died in the 1854-56 conflict with Russia. Three guards were cast in bronze from captured Russian cannons. The memorial was reconstructed in 1914 to make way for statues of Florence Nightingale and the man who hired her to reform nursing on the front, Secretary of War Sidney Herbert. Nearby is the 34-meter (112 feet) Doric column for Prince Frederick Augustus, the Duke of York, a hero of the British Empire. The area is packed with 150 historic buildings, as well as statues, including those of King Edward VII (eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) and Antarctic explorer Robert Falconer. It is also a few blocks from Buckingham Palace and Saint James’s Palace (where retired royal officials now live, and which has its own changing of the guard). A nice touch in the lobby were the gorgeous fresh flower arrangements each day.

 Our Premium Luxury Room

Our Premium Luxury Room

Room categories began with the Classic, then Luxury, Superior, Luxury with two single beds, and Premium Luxury. We stayed in a 32 square meters (344 square feet) Premium Luxury Room, one of 183 rooms at the property. We hadn’t realized it was a five-star hotel until we tried the king bed and pillows. They were so well liked by hotel guests (we found them so comfortable we weren’t surprised), that Sofitel sold them in various sizes and styles, from $1,750 to $2,123 at its online shop.

We appreciated the light on the headboard that allowed me to read and not disturb Sandra when she fell asleep early. The view over Waterloo Place and nearby parks was beautiful, but we had to keep the windows shut because of loud exterior noises late at night (we like fresh air, but didn’t mind adjusting the air conditioning instead). The walls, floor, and ceilings were soundproof, so there was no noise from other rooms (a common problem I have encountered at four-star properties). There was an LCD TV, iron and board, safe, Krups coffee-maker, regular brew coffee pot, and complimentary WiFi. There was also complimentary Internet access in the business center. There were two types of complimentary mineral water on the desk. We were surprised by the number of families in the lobby and noted that the hotel offered cribs.

An excellent bathroom

An excellent bathroom

The bathroom had a wonderful rainwater shower and Hermes toiletries. But the things which really distinguished this from other hotels were the deep and long bathtub with easy-to-understand controls (I can rarely find anything that can accommodate my 6’4” frame comfortably), the extensive counter space for both of our personal items, and an outstanding makeup mirror and lighting (even the best hotels usually have inadequate LCD lighting for the mirror).

The Rose Lounge
The Rose Lounge

Breakfast in the restaurant was perhaps the best we’ve ever had in terms of food quality and quantity for people as picky as we are (lacto-ovo vegetarians who prefer whole foods). The sheer number of choices for yogurt and cereal alone were amazing. For example, there were organic and unsweetened selections, including honey and stevia. There were also many choices of cheese for omelets and breads.

After breakfast we visited the Rose Lounge, a lovely area for teas, with a harp in the corner. The staff, each of whom was multilingual, was pleasant. Some were helpful in explaining how to find our way to our daytime destinations. Thanks to its location, friendly service, in room amenities and excellent breakfast the Sofitel London St James would be our number one choice for a future stay in London.

Our stay at new Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch in London

Article and photos by Scott S. Smith


courthouse front

The Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch, built as a courthouse and police station in 1903, was recently restored and opened as a hotel.

In September 2016, just four months after its soft opening and while it was still adding features and functions, my wife, Sandra, and I spent two nights at the Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch (337 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LL, United Kingdom, +44 203 3105555, www.shoreditch.courthouse-hotel.com, shoreditch@courthouse-hotel.com) on the cusp of northeast London, United Kingdom. The hotel, the sister property of the five-star Courthouse Hotel in Soho, was established in the former Old Street Magistrates' Court and Police Station (1903-96), a few blocks from the Old Street Station of the Northern Line of the Tube (subway).

Courthouse Lobby
The lobby with the statue of a British guard at the top of the stairs

The restoration of the Baroque-style courthouse and station cost £40 million (about $64 million). The lobby provided an impressive welcome with its marble floor, grand stairway guarded by a golden statue of a soldier, and a clean and sparkling redesign. Although top hotels usually have employees eager to help, the ones we encountered at Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch were exceptional in their friendliness and helpfulness. Although we arrived early in the morning expecting to leave our luggage with the concierge while we headed to the Tower of London, our room was ready and our first requests received immediate response.

We liked that the multi-lingual staff provided an overview tour of the facilities, and after we returned there was a more in-depth one. Not everything was fully functioning: the main restaurant was due to open soon, spa services were limited, and Internet access was available only at the front desk until the business center opens. We like to experience the emerging hot properties before everyone else discovers them, so the stay was to our taste.

courthouse rooftop view

From our sixth floor we looked out over the rooftop dining area and the historic Shoreditch Town Hall across the street, housing restaurants and a theater at the time of our visit.

Our sixth floor room looked out over the outdoor dining area on the fifth floor roof, directly across from the Shoreditch Town Hall, built in 1866 as a vestry, a building attached to a church used to store vestments and liturgical objects, with halls in which church and public meetings can be held. In 1888, it was the site of the inquest into the murder of Mary Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s last victim. The following year, the suburb was incorporated into the county of London, and in 1899 it became a metropolitan borough of London, with the town hall in operation until 1965, when the area was incorporated into the Hackney Borough. Shoreditch had been popular in the 16th and 17th centuries as a place for theaters, gambling dens, taverns, and brothels. When we were in London it had an edgy hipster reputation with abundant street art, galleries, nightclubs, and restaurants (the former town hall had some activities on offer, as well as a theater and event space. For more, check out the Top 10 Things To Do in Shoreditch (theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/top-10-things-to-do-see-in-shoreditch/). Past area residents have included the playwright Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare’s lead actor Richard Burbage, who is buried in the church. More recent ones have been artist Damien Hirst and actor Richard Brand.


courthouse bed

The Dalston King room was 26 square meters in size and had a comfortable bed.

We stayed in a Dalston King room, the first of three types of 86 guestrooms (the others were Magistrate King and Xscape). At 26 square meters (280 square feet), our room provided enough of space for the two of us. The bed was comfortable enough; though we prefer a slightly softer mattress and pillow, we slept soundly, which was all that mattered to us. Despite the nightlife in the area, our room was free of street level noise (finding a hotel in a quiet area has proven difficult in central London in the past). The insulation was also enough to keep us from being bothered by neighbors.

The best in-room feature was the Samsung 46 inch flatscreen hi-definition LED TV. It was larger than those at the other three hotels where we stayed and the only one that offered CNN. The television remote wasn’t responding, but that was a good test of the service: we called twice and had immediate responses. The first time the front desk sent someone who moved some wires in the back, which worked for a while. The second time, two technicians spent half an hour to provide a permanent fix. We also heard good things about responsiveness from other guests.

Our room had a desk and a table with chairs, plus bottles of sparkling and still water (other hotels provided two carbonated ones, so it was nice to have a choice). The small refrigerator was not yet being stocked as a mini-bar. We appreciated the fresh cream and good grade of instant coffee. The room had the usual upscale amenities, such as an iron and board, robe and slippers, and safe. Something we had never seen before was hangers with built-in lights so that at night or early in the morning we could see our clothes. We appreciated having a window that opened for fresh air (something top urban hotels sometimes lack), and we also liked the easy-to-use temperature controls. There was turn down service at night, but we declined.


courthouse bathroom

The bathroom had a bidet, the first we have seen in a luxury hotel.

We’ve reviewed many leading hotels and don’t ever recall one that had a bidet, evidence of management’s interest in attracting the international audience that shares French culture. We wanted to know how it worked. Although the drain was stuck it was fixed right away. The phone by the toilet was well-positioned. The counter space for makeup was larger than many hotels where we have stayed, but the lighting on the makeup mirror and overhead wasn’t as bright as it ideally should be (a weak area for even the best hotels). The shower had two nozzles that were easy to use: the standard showerhead and one for the overhead rain effect, which was pleasant.

courtroom bar rooms

The bar had semi-private rooms that formerly were jail cells.

The hotel retained some of the architectural features of the original building. In the breakfast dining room we saw signs of its use as a law library. The bar had several semi-private 5 by 15-foot rooms with reinforced metal doors. Those were originally holding cells which hosted the likes of East London gangster twins Ronnie and Reginald Kray.

courthouse pool

The hotel had a large, heated indoor pool.

There was a small gym with equipment for cross-training, cycling, and weightlifting and a four-lane heated indoor pool with current. Like the original Courthouse, the hotel had two rare features, a private movie theater with capacity for 196, including armrests and foldout tables for a planned film club, as well as a two-lane bowling alley. Bowling was one of those sports the city people came out to Shoreditch to engage in hundreds of years ago, so it was fitting for the location.

The movie theater features films for public and private events.

The movie theater

The bowling alley has proven popular and fits in with Shoreditch's history.

The bowling alley fit in with Shoreditch's history.

We liked the unusual features of the Courthouse Hotel-Shoreditch and the responsiveness of the staff. When it is fully functioning I would consider it among my top five choices for a different hotel experience on a return trip to London.

Our weekend stay at Black Forest lake front hotel with spa

Our weekend stay at Black Forest lake front hotel with spa

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The Treschers Swarzvald Hotel

The Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel

While visiting the Black Forest Highlands of southwest Germany we spent two spring weekend nights at the popular Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel, part of the Romantic Hotel Group since 2002. The hotel was on the shores of Lake Titisee in the tourist village of Titisee-Neustad 850 meters above sea level. The main highlight of our lakefront Four Star Superior accommodations, 38 kilometers from Freiburg, was the lake view. We could catch a glimpse of the natural lake from the restaurant dining room, our 27 square meter Classic Double rooms and Titinova, the pool and sauna areas on the opposite side of the hotel.

The weather was cloudy and rainy

The weather was cloudy and rainy during most of our stay

Viewing the hotel from the lake

A view of the hotel from Lake Titisee

We experienced rainy and chilly weather for virtually our entire stay. From the sunny blue sky we saw briefly one afternoon to the thunderstorm that serenaded us at dinner and the gray fog enveloping the lake the morning of our departure the lake drew my eyes whenever I was near a window. I loved the lake greenery. Lake Titisee, our tour guide explained, was free from over development, and thanks to a ban on motorboats (only rowboats and electric boats were permitted), especially clean. One of my favorite moments was Saturday night, when from the comfort of my balcony, I watched a short fireworks display from a boat in front of the hotel, part of a wedding celebration taking place onsite.

The standard room had a view of the lake

Our Classic Double Rooms had a small balcony and a view of the lake

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Marion Moninger, marketing manager, and Michael Moninger, hotel manager

The family hotel, the Hansjörg Trescher Michael Moninger families owned the property, was established in 1887. Although pets were not allowed, children of all ages were welcome. There were many families with well behaved children during our stay. There was a collection of valuable mechanical clocks in the lobby and lounge. I appreciated that some of the reception desk and restaurant staff spoke English. Many staff members were friendly and service oriented, especially our servers, such as Maike, at dinner.

The bathroom was nearly the size of the bedroom

The bathrooms were modern

To reach our rooms, 109 and 119, from the reception and lobby we had to pass through an open style restaurant facing the lake. It was there that we had the buffet breakfast between 7 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. a la carte dinner between 6:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Lingering food odors, some of them stale, assaulted my nose as soon as we approached the restaurant entrance. The pungent food smells in the main building and restaurant hung in the air at all hours, reaching into the hallways and rooms of our building. It was unpleasant and disappointing, making it challenging to enjoy our time at the property.

The spa featured water pools of varying temperatures

The sauna's central area

The hot salt sauna was a favorite

The Himalayan Salt Sauna was a favorite

Hotel facilities included three restaurants (two open during our stay) that emphasized fresh seasonal products and sourced most produce locally, according to a property spokesperson. There were also: Flaschlehimmel piano lounge, fireplace bar, terrace overlooking the lake, Bellezza Beauty Spa, 72 square meter fitness room (with eight Life Fitness, Kettler and Germania machines), indoor and outdoor pools, Finnish sauna with a panoramic view of the Bärental, steam sauna, Himalayan-Salt Sauna, infra-red twin cabin, plunge pool with a waterfall Kneipp Treatment, gift shop and beer garden.

The indoor pool had two levels of seating

The indoor pool had two levels of seating

The pool had a bar that opened in the afternoon

The pool bar

Given the foul weather a spa visit was especially in order. Although the hotel spa was fully booked, with the owner's assistance, I managed to try the San Vino Facial, one of the facility's signature wine based treatments. My visit was not without challenges as the spa menu was only available in German and the hurried woman at the spa reception spoke no English and showed no signs of wanting to try. On the plus side, my facialist was friendly and welcoming and I enjoyed the gentle treatment.

The spa Facialist

My therapist was friendly and the treatment was worthwhile

The spa features a treatment using local wines

The entrance to the spa featured a display promoting the local wine facial treatment

After making sure I was comfortable, she began the treatment by rubbing a mix of shea butter and grapeseed oil on my hands. She used a cleansing milk and tepid water to prepare my face for the facial, which began with a peeling product. While the mask hardened she massaged my feet. After removing the mask with a warm liquid that smelled of vinegar she applied a day cream followed by eye cream, which for once didn't irritate my eyes.

A plate of black forest hams and sausage

A deli plate including black forest ham and boiled egg was one of my favorite items

Trout with vegetables

Trout with vegetables

Before dinner at the waterfront restaurant, I donned the hotel branded cotton bathrobe and slippers from my room making my way across a long underground passage with automated lights beneath the restaurant to the Titinova on the other side of the hotel, where I spent a short while at the indoor pool, warmed to 31 degrees Celsius, and sauna area. Both had pretty lake views. In the sauna, for adults and children 14 and older, no clothes were worn. There was an ample supply of towels. I started at the Himalayan salt sauna (a favorite) heated to 45 degrees Celsius before moving to the infrared sauna for two heated to 55 degrees Celsius. From there I went to the Finnish sauna, heated to 95 degrees Celsius, before spending a few minutes relaxing on a lake facing lounger. Both had lake views. It was raining and chilly so I gave up my plans to swim in the outdoor pool.

The hotel employed 120 staff and had 155 beds in 82 rooms ranging from Classic to Family Apartments. In June 2016, the property received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor. Should we return to Lake Titisee we would consider a stopover at the Treschers Schwarzwald Romantikhotel Titisee (Seestrasse 19, D-79822 Titisee-Neustadt, Germany, +49 7651 8050 / +49 7651 8116, http://www.schwarzwaldhotel-trescher.de, info@schwarzwaldhotel-trescher.de).