Phuket, Thailand hotel offered luxury amenities, beach access

Room at Twinpalms Phuket

The bedroom in a three level suite at the Residences at Twinpalms Phuket

Tasty and attractive appetizer plate

A tasty and attractive appetizer

When one of our team members was in Phuket, Thailand recently she spent time at Twinpalms Phuket, a luxury adults oriented hotel on the west side of the popular island. She liked the ultra private and luxurious accommodations in the Residences building including a three level suite with a rooftop pool and a shared concierge.

Catch Beachclub was right on the beach

The beach

Palm Spa Reception

Palm Spa at Twinpalms Phuket

Thinking of traveling to Phuket or just curious? Visit the Thailand page of Simon & Baker Travel Review to read a dedicated property profile about Twinpalms Phuket and Palm Spa, the property’s in house spa.

The Breakers, a Florida icon

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The Breakers Hotel

The Breakers Palm Beach

This family owned and family friendly resort in tony Palm Beach Island in Florida’s east coast made fans out of us. There are many reasons to like the 140-acre property such as its handsome Italian design interiors and pretty rooms, beachfront location, two 18-hole championship golf courses, ocean facing swimming pools, spacious spa, boutiques and multiple restaurants. Our favorites: the manicured look pervasive throughout the resort including uniformed staff and the high level of service, often friendly and helpful, wherever we went.

Fountain at the Breakers

There were many comfortable areas to relax and enjoy the property

We enjoyed a midweek stay just as the season was closing and although the weather did not cooperate as much as we would have liked (there was a constant lifeguard red flag during our stay) we appreciated the calm environs. We particularly enjoyed massages at the resort spa, a sunset dinner at the The Flagler Steakhouse and a molecular gastronomy tasting menu dinner at L’Escalier, the resort’s gourmet restaurant.

Elaborate cuisine at L'Escalier

Cuisine as art at L’Escalier

Another favorite was a day at Beach Bungalow 17, one of several day rental cabanas fronting the adult relaxation infinity pool and facing the beach beyond. The bungalow provided quiet space aside from the crowded pool area and the private area with a concierge made our time under the sun especially relaxing. The 150-square foot indoor area plus a segregated patio was stocked with some complimentary amenities and plenty of pool towels. For sun time the patio had three outdoor lounge chairs and an umbrella.

A pool bungalow at the Breakers

Beach Bungalow 17

Inside the open air space had a ceiling fan and a tower fan, lanai, armchair, rectangular wood table, private outdoor shower, water closet and sink, binoculars, house brand toiletries (body lotion, bathing gel, shampoo, conditioner, liquid soap), blow dryer, tissue paper, WiFi connection, LG flatscreen television with satellite connection, Zenith DVD player, fruit bowl, ice bucket and mini refrigerator stocked with house brand purified complimentary water. There were also four types sodas and snacks in our bungalow for purchase (Snickers, Skittles, Reese’s, M & M and PowerBar).

A private getaway at the Breakers pool

Our view of the pool and ocean beyond from inside the bungalow

Krissy, our concierge

Krissy, our Bungalo concierge, made sure we had everything we needed with a smile

Although the resort facilities and amenities were within easy reach it was nice to know we did not have to do anything or go anywhere if we did not care to. Even lunch was easy.

We selected Florida Fish Tacos, Turkey Club Wrap and a side order of Avocado Fries from the Ocean Grill menu in our bungalow and placed our order with Krissy, a uniformed concierge who checked on us regularly. Within minutes our food arrived. In case we were still peckish around 3:30 p.m. she brought a styrofoam plate of frozen grapes. We wrapped up our day feeling lazy and relaxed and ready for dinner at Echo, the resort’s offsite Asian eatery a short shuttle ride away in downtown Palm Beach. Click here to read about our experience at The Breakers Palm Beach, The Spa at The Breakers and L’Escalier.

Duck wraps from Echo

The duck at Echo was served with flour wraps and crisp vegetables

Regina Isabella, a seaside hotel and spa in Ischia, Italy

Photos by Gary Cox


The distinctive rock Fungo is just offshore of Lacco Ameno

The ferry to Ischia

The ferry from Naples to Ischia

Earlier this year, one of our teams visited the island of Ischia near Naples best known for its thermal springs and spa facilities. While in Ischia, our team stayed at the well known Albergo della Regina Isabella in the tiny town of Lacco Ameno on the island’s northern coast. The seaside hotel had a large health spa and in house dining options including Ristorante Indaco, a gourmet restaurant (see A surprisingly delicious dinner at L’Albergo della Regina Isabella). Click here to read about their stay at Albergo della Regina Isabella and their spa treatments at Terme Della Regina Isabella, the hotel spa.

Regina Isabella water view

The Regina Isabella sits right on the water in Ischia

Local chef in Ischia

Chef Pasquale Padamaro, a native of Ischia

Pretty Johannesburg boutique hotel, spa in quiet residential neighborhood

By Elena del Valle and photos by Gary Cox

The Fairlawns pool

One of the first things we noticed on arriving at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa in an upscale residential neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa was the scented saringa flowering tree at the entrance. Once cleared through the obligatory guarded gate we were surprised to find a quiet property dotted with manicured gardens. In addition to spacious and luxuriously appointed one-bedroom suites, the growing hotel (a new building was under construction) had meeting rooms, a work out area, a swimming pool, a restaurant and spa on site.

Reception and the restaurant were in a single story main building. Within a two-minute walk several separate two-story buildings housed the spa and fitness area and guest suites. After checking in we were led past the restaurant and central gardens to our respective suites within one of the two-story new looking buildings. Our ground floor one bedroom suites, suites 13 and 15 named for Emily Hobhouse and Nelson Mandela respectively, were spacious and handsomely decorated, each one with a different interior design style (during a second visit we stayed upstairs in the Oppenheimer Suite).

Living area of the Emily Hobhouse Suite

Living area of the Mandela Suite

The suites were well appointed including complimentary WiFi Internet access and spotlessly clean. My favorite, suite 15, was divided into three distinct areas, a living area, a sleeping area and a bathroom. Decorated in an Africa theme it had animal print accents and a comfy sofa facing a fireplace (underfloor heating kept my suite toasty too). For the media minded there were two television sets, including a large flat screen television and DVD player across from the king bed in the bedroom.

The Jacuzzi bathtub in the Mandela Suite

The bathroom too was spacious with marble counters and floors, twin sinks, shower, water closet with bidet, and Jacuzzi bathtub. Tall built-in closets with an ironing board and electronic safe took up one entire wall opposite the sinks.

Additional amenities included fresh flowers, complimentary fruit bowl, complimentary in room sherry, Irish Duke and Forsyth travel size toiletries (conditioning shampoo, shower gel, body lotion, nail kit, shower cap and soap) and, at turn down, a small bottle of water and a nougat. The ambiance was serene although there were meeting guests at elegant hotel, owned by John and Anna Thacker.

Inside the Fairlawns Spa

The spa building, across the lawn from our building, had a work out room accessible at guest convenience with the electronic room key. I was pleased to be the first to arrive, at 6 a.m., for an early work out although I was soon joined by others. The spa itself was mostly in an adjacent walled garden area next to, and separate from, the swimming pool. The shady spa garden was filled with private corners and treatment rooms. In spite of our arrival in the late afternoon (spa treatments were available until 5 p.m.) we were in time to enjoy side by side massages in one of the loveliest and largest treatment rooms in the far corner of the spa garden.

The breakfast buffet at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa

While were were there we sampled a couple of items from the room service menu and dined in the outdoor area of the restaurant. Mornings were my favorite meal time at the Fairlawns. There was an ample breakfast buffet with cereals, fruits (fresh and dried), cheeses, deli meats, cold fish, and varied delicious homemade pastries to compete with the made to order breakfast menu. Sitting in the restaurant patio under the shade of large umbrellas we enjoyed the placid view of the nearby pool and flower filled gardens. We look forward to revisiting the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa, Alma Road, Morningside Manor, Ext. 6, Sandton, Johannesburg,, +27 11 804 2540/1/2/3,

Sedona, soothing for the soul

Article by Elena del Valle, photos by Amparo Cadavid

A hot air balloon near Sedona

A hot air balloon near Sedona

Outdoor dining at L'Auberge de Sedona

Outdoor dining at L'Auberge de Sedona

The pool area at Sedona Rouge

The pool area at Sedona Rouge

Sedona, a small town in northern Arizona known mostly for its red rocks and energy centers or vortexes, proved to be as pretty as we had heard. Although it is a highly touristy area in the low summer season when we were there its natural charms easily outweighed the drawbacks of a tourism driven area.

When we were there it was quiet, serene, uncrowded and pretty. Its magnificent red rocks were reason enough to draw us there and its lovely setting, crime free and clean environs made fans of us eager to return. We liked the accommodations at L’Auberge de Sedona and Sedona Rouge.

A mermaid at Sedona Rouge

A mermaid at Sedona Rouge

Guests at L'Auberge de Sedona had access to Amara Spa

Guests at L'Aubege de Sedona were welcome at Amara Spa

On our way from Sedona to the Grand Canyon

On our way from Sedona to the Grand Canyon

Among our favorite activities were hiking the rocks, discovering the creeks, listening to flute players such as Jesee Kalu, a midday meal at the ChocolaTree (especially the guacamole), creek side dining at L’Auberge de Sedona restaurant, and early morning time at our L’Auberge de Sedona cottage outdoor deck.

We also enjoyed time at the Sedona Rouge Spa, a day long train ride to the Grand Canyon on the Grand Canyon Railway, a dosha type session by the Buddha Stupa, a dawn balloon ride with Northern Light Balloon Expeditions and a fun and thought provoking astronomy session with Dennis Young hosted by our hotel. Click here to read more about our visit to Sedona.

Delighted with Black Forest, southwest Germany

By Elena del Valle, photos by Gary Cox

Frankfurt was our gateway to Germany's Black Forest

Frankfurt was our gateway to Germany's Black Forest

Earlier this year, my husband and I had an opportunity to visit the famed Black Forest and nearby areas of southwestern Germany. We were pleased to discover several small family owned and managed hotels, part of the Romantik chain of 200 independently owned and managed hotels and restaurants in 11 European countries, offering comfortable and modern accommodations including some with spa facilities. We were especially delighted with the friendly and welcoming hosts and their staff, striking scenery and outstanding foodie havens we visited during our two-week drive through the countryside.

Although neither of us speaks German we had visited that European country in the past and were confident we would have a pleasant trip. In past trips to Germany most of the business people we encountered spoke some English so we were surprised to discover that once we veered off the urban core of Frankfurt, English was scarce. So we made do with our few phrases of German and many smiles. Almost without exception locals made us feel welcome with their warm and friendly attitude. Whether it was fellow guests, staff or strangers in public areas someone was always willing to listen to our broken German and communicate with us.

A quiet area at Bollant's Spa

A quiet area at Bollant's Spa

Petit fours at Passione Rossa

Petit fours at Passione Rossa

After landing in Frankfurt and picking up our spiffy German rental car with heated seats (it was late winter/early spring and definitely cold) and global positioning system (GPS), we headed to the village of Bad Sobernheim where we spent two nights recovering from the jet lag and being pampered with good food and spa time at the Romantik Hotel BollAnt’s im Park, Bollant’s Spa at at BollAnt’s im Park Romantik Hotel and Vital Spa and Passione Rossa restaurant.

Jörg Glauben and Birgit Neumueller at Tschifflik restaurant

Jörg Glauben and Birgit Neumueller at Tschifflik restaurant

We also visited the Romantik Hotel Landschloss Fasanerie on the outskirts of the town of Zweibrucken near France. Once again we took advantage of the property’s spa services and sampled its outstanding local and continental cuisine. Before leaving we had a gourmet dinner at the well known Tschifflick.

The lobby at Residenz am See in Meersburg

The lobby at Residenz am See in Meersburg

A delicate fish course at Casala

A delicate fish course at Casala

Behind the scenes at Residenz am See

Behind the scenes at Residenz am See

From there we headed south through snow covered mountains to Meersburg, a small and picturesque village with cobblestone streets on the shores of Lake Constance. We thoroughly enjoyed our brief stay in a penthouse suite at the Romantik Hotel Residenz am See, one of our favorite properties during the trip for sheer friendliness, a well appointed suite and delicious food. While we were there we attended a German pastry baking class in German. With the help of our small group of fellow students and the pastry chef’s interjections we learned a little and had a fun morning baking delicious regional and German treats. Meals at the hotel restaurants including dinner at Casala Restaurant, were outstanding!

The Romantik Hotel Sackmann Spa pool

The Romantik Hotel Sackmann Spa pool

One of the delicious dishes we tried at the Restaurant Schlossberg

One of the delicious dishes we tried at the Restaurant Schlossberg

From there we returned to the Black Forest to the Romantik Hotel Sackmann in the municipality of Baiersbronn. We especially liked the hotel’s riverside location, gourmet restaurant and fabulous spa facilities.

We would recommend the region to scenery, spa and gourmet food oriented friends and acquaintances willing to venture to areas where English is not commonly spoken. As an added bonus this part of Germany offered great value for money compared to urban areas in Europe.