In 2017 our Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge guestrooms had private plunge pools.
Ordinarily our articles are based exclusively on the experiences and photography of our contributors at a destination and property. The near complete Covid-19 pandemic travel pause made it necessary to offer alternatives for those adventurous souls ready to seek new horizons or return to ones visited previously before we do. To that end we are reaching out to properties our contributors have visited (often more than once) and asking about their status and updates.
Our first Sabi Sabi profiles, of Earth Lodge and Selati Camp in South Africa, date to 2007. In 2017 our contributors returned to the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve within the Sabi Sand Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Reserve, an area world famous for its quality game viewing. While there they spent one night at Bush Lodge and revisited Earth Lodge. Earth Lodge, Bush Lodge and Selati Camp are three of four Sabi Sabi properties. Little Bush Lodge is the fourth.
By July 1, 2021 three of the Sabi Sabi safari properties are due to be open and by August 1, 2021 all four are scheduled to be open, according to a Sabi Sabi spokesperson who replied by email to our questions. The properties can be reached via nearby airports (as far as we know there is commercial service to Mpumalanga, Skukuza and Hoedspruit) and road transfers, by road transfer from Johannesburg and via Federal Airlines from Johannesburg to the reserve, in the past our favorite option.
“There is wifi at all lodges, however it is important to note that due to the environment we are in, interruptions may happen due to wildlife or weather interference,” she said when asked about high speed internet access at the reserve. When asked about exclusive use accommodations, private vehicles and extended stays she replied that they are subject to availability and on request.
The Amber Presidential Suite had the amenities of regular guestrooms as well as extra space, seclusion, privacy and a bush and pool facing master bedroom.
According to an undated property brochure she provided Sabi Sabi has adjusted to the pandemic as follows: “Our daily routines and activities have been adjusted to ensure the highest safety standards are met. However, you will still experience the Sabi Sabi quality guiding and safari experience that we have crafted since 1979.” The brochure indicates the availability of round the clock medical response, quarantine facilities in the form of fully equipped suites, a doctor on call from a remote location, sanitizers and hygiene packs onsite; “dining areas have been increased to allow for safe social-distancing,” and a maximum occupancy of six guests per game viewing vehicle (eight for groups traveling together and requesting such conditions).
See details of our experiences and original photos at the three Sabi Sabi properties in 2007 at Selati Camp (we understand the property has undergone a renovation) and in 2017 Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge and Earth Lodge (At Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge excellent game viewing). Earth Lodge was our favorite for its boutique features, outstanding meals, excellent game viewing and warm and attentive service. The Amber Presidential Suite had the amenities of regular guestrooms as well as extra space, seclusion and privacy. It also had a bush and pool facing master bedroom, extra large en suite bathroom and oversize walk-in closet. There was also a second full bathroom, library, living room, dining room and kitchenette. The attentive property managers, air conditioned workout room with glass wall facing a water feature (see photo in Earth Lodge profile) is one of the amenities we recall along with the many wildlife sightings from the main area of the lodge in between the twice daily game drives.
Ordinarily our articles are based exclusively on the experiences and photography of our contributors at a destination and property. The near complete Covid-19 pandemic travel pause made it necessary to offer alternatives for those adventurous souls ready to seek new horizons or return to ones visited previously before we do. So… we are reaching out to properties our contributors have visited (often more than once) and asking about their status and updates.
Leopard on a tree at Rattray’s in 2016
Because they have consistently impressed us with their reliability and high standards in past stays over the years, and thanks to their representative’s speedy responses and willingness to answer questions MalaMala is first. Of the reserve’s three properties we have profiled two: MalaMala Rattray’s Camp (previously known as Rattray’s on MalaMala) several times and MalaMala Camp (previously known as MalaMala Main Camp) in South Africa’s well known Sabi Sand Reserve adjacent to the famous Kruger National Park. MalaMala Rattray’s Camp is reopening this month after a one year closure.
Once in Johannesburg, South Africa the MalaMala camps can be reached via direct flight from that city’s international airport on Federal Air (we are awaiting a reply from the airline with details) into the reserve’s airstrip a few minutes drive from the camps. Another option is on Airlink into Skukuza Airport. From there a road transfer is necessary.
“All our camps will be open from 01 June 2021 including MalaMala Rattray’s Camp,” said Alison Morphet, managing director, MalaMala by email about the reserve’s camps. “We are offering a pay 3 / stay 4 for travellers and yes there is high speed internet access in all the rooms. It is not available in the public area’s out of consideration to other guests enjoying their safari experience. A limited number of private vehicles are available and of course all our suites and rooms are stand alone. Guests may opt to have room service for their meals but with the relevant social distancing between tables, the outdoor nature of a safari experience and all our staff wearing masks, most guests choose to have their meals on the deck (and boma dinners when available).
The game viewing is better than ever and I am delighted to report that Covid has had some silver linings. We have had time to re think our product offerings and refine these over the long lock down. We have also relied on feedback from the South African market who travel extensively to Southern African bush destinations and their feedback has been invaluable.”
Minibars and in-room dining amenities are a godsend on days when travel or the excitement of the game drives leaves us spent, seeking comfort food and indoor relaxation. One of the MalaMala updates we like is the buffets were replaced with plated meals and a la carte dining. Having said that during past stays our contributors found Rattray’s willing to provide room service with no fuss.
At Rattray’s we fondly recall the intimate setting, spacious rooms with double bathrooms and private plunge pool, workout facilities, full size swimming pool, and service oriented staff. From the game viewing perspective MalaMala rangers drew attention to the creatures large and small in the bush while focusing on the Big Five, and one of our favorite features anywhere, Rattray’s four guest maximum per safari vehicle. That is as good as it gets shy of a private game viewing vehicle.
For details of our experiences and original photos at the two MalaMala camps see our profile of MalaMala Camp from 2006 and our most recent profile of MalaMala Rattray’s Camp from 2016 at Rattray’s on Malamala.
Article and photos by Scott S. Smith
The entrance to the recently remodeled Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort
The first Hilton my wife, Sandra Wells, and I ever stayed at was the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort (633 East Cabrillo Boulevard, Santa Barbara, California 93103, +1 805 – 564-4333, text +1 805 – 465-9770, fax +1 805 – 564-4964, reservations 800/879-2929, https://www.hiltonsantabarbarabeachfrontresort.com/) in June 2019. In 2018, it had undergone a $15 million redesign and renovation. It had previously been a Double Tree, a Hilton brand, part of its 30-year partnership with the family of actor Fess Parker. The location was where a roundhouse for the Southern Pacific Railroad was built in 1911 and demolished in 1982 to make way for the resort, opened in 1986 (hence, the name of the hotel’s breakfast room, The Roundhouse).
The initial view of the hotel was striking: it had three levels and was spread out over 24 acres with large lawns, with a pale exterior and red tile roof, a design inspired from the Spanish heritage of California. Santa Barbarans like their buildings to fit into the environment, rather than being tall monuments to corporate egos that demand the highest possible viewpoint. The hotel was within easy walking distance (about one mile) of Santa Barbara’s quaint downtown.
The lobby was open, airy and spacious with white and pastel colors.
Our check-in went smoothly, with well-informed and courteous associates trained, as general manager Chris Inman told us, “to get to know our guests so we can provide exceptional service with sincerity and authenticity.” Because we were two hours early for the hotel’s 4 p.m. check-in time (for an extra charge it was possible to book a room as early as 7 a.m.) we had to wait an hour while the staff completed the cleaning of Room 336. It was a King Bed Resort View Balcony in the Gardenia building connected to the lobby, priced at $335 that particular night. It came with a Daily Resort Charge card listing amenities, such as a two-hour bicycle rental ($30 value), basic Internet access for two (worth $12.95 and premium was available for an extra $15.95). Standard WiFi was ubiquitous throughout the hotel. Our room rate also included two bottles of bottled water in the room (a $7 value). Self-parking cost $25 a day (valet parking was $35). Shuttles provided complimentary transport from the Amtrak station and the Santa Barbara International Airport from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. There was an electric vehicle charging station.
The view of East Beach from the Rotunda outside the lobby
The lobby was open, airy and spacious with white and pastel colors, perhaps an appropriate entry for a destination renowned for its mild climate and sophisticated, artsy culture. The hallway walls and carpets also were in subdued hues of turquoise, gold, gray, white with seascape paintings on the walls of public spaces and our room (the hallway walls were bare). The design was meant to provide a feeling of being in a calming oasis from the turbulence of the outside world, according to promotional materials.
Beyond the far doors of the lobby was the 20,000-square-foot open-air Plaza del Sol, suitable for dining and dancing, with stairs to the second level Rotunda, providing views of East Beach just beyond the lawn and highway (on the other side of the property are the low and lovely Santa Ynez Mountains).
Our spacious (450 square feet) Hilton room
Some of the furniture in our room
In the lobby was the Fess Parker Wine Tasting Room with a self-service wine dispenser. At The Set restaurant there were photos from Parker’s career on the walls. He is best-remembered as the star of Disney’s Davy Crockett mini-series on ABC in 1955-56 (he was discovered by Walt himself and in 1991 was named a Disney Legend); and portraying Daniel Boone in an NBC series 1964-70. He bought hotels and a winery, which now has 1,500 acres of vineyards. His son and daughter run the company. He passed away in 2010. The logo on their bottles is a golden coonskin cap, a reminder of his most famous roles. The winery appeared under another name in the movie Sideways.
Partial view of the fitness center
The main floor had: business desk with a computer and printer, ATM, car rental desk, concierge, gift shop, fitness center, and salon and spa. The resort was pet-friendly. There was a $50 non-refundable cleaning charge per pet.
Our room was 450 square feet in size with an open design. It had the following security features: an automatic door closer, electronic locks, a secondary locking device, a thumb dead bolt, a wide-angle door viewer, and a hidden safe. We found the king-size mattress and pillows comfortable. We requested that our room not be cleaned during our overnight stay. We dispensed with the turn-down service, and noted the commendable policy that unless otherwise requested, linens were changed every three days to minimize impact on the environment.
Furnishings included beige oversized loveseat sofa bed, armchair, desk with chair, and large chest of drawers. In the closet there was an iron and full-size ironing board. Among the amenities was a landline with speaker phone and voicemail. In addition to the empty mini refrigerator, there was a bucket for the ice machine in the hallway next to the elevator. The flat-screen TV was a 55 inches LG LED with HBO, ESPN, and other premium cable channels. It was easy to use and turned on quickly.
The walls, ceiling, and carpet in our room adhered to the resort’s color scheme of white, beige, tan, gray, and turquoise. We liked that drawing the drapes made the room dark for sound sleeping (we had to cover the lighted clock when we were not using it as a night light). There were copies of USA Today and Santa Barbara Magazine in our room. There was a complimentary welcome tray with nuts, dried fruit, and cheese.
The sink was deep and wide (9 inches x 14 inches), the water turned hot immediately, and there was plenty of counter space. The toilet flushed strongly. I found the bathroom lighting fine, while some hotels try to be sophisticated by setting it too soft. Sandra felt it was too bright and would have liked to have a magnifying mirror for makeup. The shower was easy to use (unlike some at top hotels that are annoyingly complicated), powerful, and the water came out hot quickly. Sandra would have preferred a wider spray option. The hairdryer was the powerful Conair 1875. The shampoo, conditioner, and soap were Crabtree & Evelyn. We forgot to bring toothbrushes, toothpaste, and a nail file. It would have been helpful to find those amenities in our room.
The pool view from our balcony
From our private balcony, furnished with a small round table and two chairs, we had a partial view of East Beach on the Pacific Ocean. The 85 feet by 50 feet swimming pool, was by far the largest we have ever seen at any hotel we have stayed at. The pool was open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. We had to delay our normal bedtime to 10 p.m. because the noise from the pool was so loud.
According to promotional materials, the hotel complied with the guidelines of Americans with Disabilities Act in guest and public areas from the restaurants to the fitness center. There was a handicapped lift for those who needed help entering the pool. Our room had a 32 inch clearance width; there were Braille room numbers and closed-captioning on TV; we understood that flashing lights would accompany the sound of fire alarms in public areas.
The Set was a bistro-style restaurant and full bar (featuring Fess Parker photos on the walls), with a patio for al fresco dining overlooking, in the background, the sea, and ever-burning outdoor fire pits. It was open from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., including a Yappy Hour at 4 p.m. when pooches received complimentary dog biscuits (Happy Hour was 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.). The food was locally-sourced and inventive. The restaurant did not accept reservations. Because we were on a tight schedule, we had pre-ordered some menu items. We arrived early and changed our order. Anthony Fanella, director of food and beverage for the resort, ensured our new choices were prepared on time (he answered some of our questions about the hotel in general and introduced us to the Rotunda, which we might have overlooked, the perfect vantage point for a photo of East Beach).
Al fresco dining
We shared a delicious and Tomato Soup au Gratin with aged cheddar ($12). We also tried the Tomato and Peach Salad, with Burrata mozzarella, pickled cherry tomato, arugula, mint, preserved lemon, olive oil, and aged balsamic ($17). I had the Kobe Burger with the plant-based Hungry Planet patty. I found it to be a perfect knock-off of a beef burger ($20). Sandra ordered the Quinoa Fricassee, with toy-box tomatoes, olives, caramelized onions, haricots verts, carrots, cauliflower, preserved lemon, piquillo peppers coulis, and thyme ($19). Our wait-person, Jay, was friendly and helpful. She had only been there a week and came from a popular high-end restaurant. We had a tasty and pleasant meal.
We shared a delicious Tomato Soup au Gratin with aged cheddar.
For breakfast we had the buffet in The Roundhouse ($58 for two plus tax and tip). I liked the Royal Coffee, while Sandra liked the chamomile and green tea blend. She enjoyed a custom-made vegetable-and-cheese omelet. She found the toaster too slow, yet it could suddenly burn, if not watched carefully. I liked the organic granola blend and honey milk, the granola and berry yogurt parfait, plain Greek yogurt with honey, and something I had never tried, overnight oats, which had been soaked in milk. We also sampled some of the ripe fruit and juices.
In the morning we had the buffet in The Roundhouse.
The property was a promising introduction to the new Hilton brand because the location and design were matched to support a relaxing and enjoyable experience with friendly and helpful staff, rather than formal and purely reactive, as at some top hotels. We are eager to try out some of the many other types of properties within the brand and the amenities we did not have an opportunity to experience this time.
Article and photos by Elena del Valle
A panoramic view of the cottage and its grounds (click to see full size)
During a recent trip to the South Island of New Zealand I spent two nights at Ferry Mans Cottage, part of the 40-acre Birds Ferry Lodge and Ferry Mans Cottage (163 Birds Ferry Road, Westport, New Zealand, +64 21337217, birdsferrylodge.co.nz, firstname.lastname@example.org) luxury boutique lodge established in 2004 by Alison and Andre Gygax. They had embarked on the development of the property relying on Alison’s love of cooking and her degree in hospitality as well as Andre’s 15 years of experience as a South Island tour guide.
A sign by my cottage door
One of two bedrooms at Ferry Mans Cottage
From the main house it was a short stroll to my two-bedroom one bathroom northwest facing 1,200 square foot (estimated) cottage. Although at night the road that connected the cottage with the lodge was rather dark during the day it was an easy sunlit walk. On the first night I had dinner in the lodge with other guests and my tour guide. I enjoyed a refreshing pinot noir on offer along with several cheese filled dates Alison prepared. Dinner was a set menu.
The well equipped kitchen included a washer and dryer.
Andre and Alison served snacks and drinks at 6:30 p.m. sharp to everyone together before we dined at a shared table in the lodge main room. Because in the evening there were mosquitoes and sandflies, when we stepped out on the terrace to admire the sunset we were invited to apply repellent. At the conclusion of the meal, two guests climbed into the lodge hot tub in the back porch. I returned to Ferry Mans Cottage.
A view of Ferry Mans Cottage from across the manmade pond
The night of my arrival the owners explained that a photography team was scheduled for the following day, asking if I would mind if they photographed my cottage while they were there. That meant making myself absent from the cottage during the only full day I would spend at the property (check out was at 10 a.m. the following morning). I got the impression the photos were important to them so although it was inconvenient I agreed, ensuring my belongings remained packed before I left for breakfast at 8 a.m., earlier than I had planned to go out. Later I found out the photos were necessary because the property was for sale. The “Business will sell as a going concern and we will be involved in the handover to ensure all services and standards remain,” Alison replied by email when I asked about the listing.
Alison and Andre Gygax in the Birds Ferry Lodge kitchen
Inside Ferry Mans Cottage, including the dining table, fireplace, sofa, bathroom and kitchen
The main course at dinner
Perhaps my favorite feature of the handicapped friendly cottage was its serenity and its views to the onsite rain forest from the back, and to an expansive lawn and a pretty manmade pond from the front. Cottage amenities included WiFi (limited to 500 megabytes), television, fireplace, homemade cookies, fruit bowl, and well equipped kitchen, including a washer and dryer. I was strongly urged to hang my clothes on an exterior clothesline instead of using the dryer to conserve energy. Since they didn’t want to photograph the cottage with my clothes hanging from the clothesline the owners agreed to hang the clothes at the end of the photo shoot. When I returned that evening they were damp and crumpled in the hamper.
One of the many pretty flowers in the lodge’s kitchen garden
Children and “well behaved pets” were welcome in the cottage. Cottage guests could prepare their own dishes in their private kitchen or request meals in advance from the lodge. Alison used as many fruits and vegetables from her garden and ingredients from local producers as she could in the meals, she explained later. Breakfast consisted of continental options as well as cooked to order pancakes or eggs and sides.
Alison used as many fruits and vegetables from her garden and ingredients from local producers as she could in the meals.
On request it was possible to visit the kitchen garden and the rain forest. I visited the garden in the morning while the photography team was in my cottage. In the early evening, Andre guided me through the rain forest until we were caught by rain showers. He pointed out scented orchids, sterile moss, berries, rimu and beech trees.
During the day, the road that connected the cottage to the lodge was an easy walk although at night it was rather dark.
One of the property features I liked was that the owners were kind to the environment, recycled whenever possible, including plastic, metal, glass, cardboard and paper. They fed kitchen scraps to their chickens, harvested their own water, used solar water heating, and relied on a chemical free cleaning system.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
Watching the sun come up with the Southern Pride was one of the highlights of our trip.
On a recent safari trip to South Africa we stayed at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge and Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge (Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, Sabi Sand Wildtuin, Mpumalanga, South Africa, lodge +27 13 7355-656, Sabi Sabi head office +27 11 447-7172, www.sabisabi.com, email@example.com). The two five star properties, members of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, were family owned and located within the 6,000 hectare Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, which is within the Sabi Sand Reserve. It in turn is a Big Five reserve adjacent (without fences) to the famous Kruger National Park. At Bush Lodge we stayed in comfortable and spacious rooms, and we especially enjoyed the game viewing in a private vehicle and spa massage.
Our beds had color coordinated mosquito netting, a change from the customary white netting
Our spacious bathrooms had a bathtub as well as indoor and outdoor showers.
During our visit, Stefan Schoeman, general manager lodges, Sabi Sabi, assisted us with camera related issues with speed and ease. We were glad to have our cameras in good working order since we saw the Big Five at Bush Lodge. On our first of two game drives we saw four of the Big Five. We drove around in an open Toyota LandCruiser in search of wildlife and interesting natural features to observe. We were delighted to have the game vehicle and Francois Rosslee, ranger, and Dollen Nkosi, tracker, to our selves. We have found that private game drives enhance our bush experience. So it was at Bush Lodge. Francois, a friendly man fond of his job, had been our ranger at Earth Lodge, where we had shared the vehicle with two other guests. That facilitated our arrival and check-in at its sister lodge.
The main deck had several lookout points over the dry river
Francois was a Full Trails Guide Level 2 of the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) with six years of experience and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. Dollen had attained a FGASA Tracker Level 2 and had been with Sabi Sabi for nine years.
Our ranger Francois Rosslee (right) horsing around with Lawrence Mkansi, assistant lodge manager and head ranger
At Bush Lodge we saw the following mammals: buffalo, common duiker, dwarf mongoose, elephants, hippopotamus, kudu, leopard, lion, scrub hare, side-striped jackal, spotted hyena, tree squirrel, vervet monkey, warthog, waterbuck, white rhinoceros; insects: African monarch butterfly, Broad-bordered grass yellow, blue pansy, scarlet tip; trees and shrubs: jackalberry, knobthorn, leadwood, buffalo-thorn, silver cluster-leaf, large-leaved rock fig, greenthorn, and tamboti; and plants: wild cucumber, fannel weed, feather-top chloris, herringbone, and thatching yellow.
We saw or heard the following bird: African fish eagle, African grey hornbill, African scops-owl, bateleur eagle, Burchell’s starling, Cape glossy starling, Cape turtle dove, crested barbet, crested francolin, dark-capped bulbul, emerald-spotted wood-dove, fork-tailed drongo, go-away-bird, greater blue-eared glossy starling, green woodhoopoe, magpie shrike, rattling cisticola, redbilled oxpecker, southern yellow-billed hornbill, spotted thick-knee, Swainson’s spurfowl, laughing dove, Flappet lark.
One of the lions
Approaching a sighting in progress
The 25 room family friendly property owned by Hilton and Jacqui Loon had two swimming pools, an amply stocked boutique shop (branded clothing, jewelry, coffee table books, art, accessories), Amani Health Spa, and EleFun Children’s Centre. Although the game reserve and lodge opened in 1979, during 2015 and 2016 the public areas and rooms were completely refurbished.
Our rooms had a sitting area, desk and small outdoor patio facing the dry riverbed.
Our 80 square meter well appointed Luxury Suites faced a dry riverbed. They were comfortably furnished (I especially appreciated the large pleasantly firm bed), quiet, cool when it was hot outside and warm when it was cold. Like its sister property it had a number of amenities such as coffee machine, mini refrigerator and perfume scented Charlotte Rhys toiletries as well as thoughtful touches like a convenient location for electric plugs on the desk and pre-stamped postcards.
We had excellent closeup sightings of Cape buffalo, one of the Big Five.
A young kudu male with horns just developing
Stefan Schoeman, general manager, was a gracious host.
Meals were buffet style, with a made to order station, in an open air dining room in the main area. We sat at the table of our choice, where staff took our beverage orders. We enjoyed a delicious dinner, including Lamb neck, grilled meat and venison (gemsbock) in the boma (African open air enclosure).
The pool deck had a view of the river
One of my favorite activities was a massage treatment with Tarren, the spa manager and Francois’s girlfriend. Had there been more time I would have explored the spa menu further. The excellent Big Five game viewing and spa treatment made our stay at Bush Lodge special. I would return and recommend it to friends seeking a family and group friendly stay in the Sabi Sand Reserve.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org). 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).