Saturday, May 4, 2013

Ireland: Ballyfin Demesne

Want to stay at Downton Abbey...?

County Laois, not perhaps Ireland’s most interesting County, is however home to one of Ireland’s finest - and most expensive - hotels. Home to the Coote family for just over a century, Ballyfin glittered, before being sold in the 1920s to the Patrician Brothers, a monastic order which ran a school in the neoclassical mansion. In 2002, Fred Krehbiel, a Chicago-based electronics magnate with an Irish wife, set about Ballyfin's meticulous restoration, completing it with ravishing, yet deeply comfortable interiors by Colin Orchard and the original Coote family portraits purchased directly from the descendants.

There is so much to feast your eyes on, from the fine collection of contemporary Irish art to the exquisite marquetry floor, superb stucco work, antique furniture, porcelain, paintings and chandeliers… but also deep sofas, crackling fires and views over the Pleasure Grounds, Cascade and lake that dazzles in the dappled light. The 15 bedrooms of this Relais & Châteaux jewel are both gracious and luxuriously equipped, the food is superb, and the staff is excellent.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Foraging by Kayak

It is no secret that Ireland has some of the world’s finest weed. Not only that, it is in plentiful supply, cheap and it’s a superfood. The weed is, of course, seaweed, and anyone who has had a seaweed bath will not need convincing as to its benefits and in terms of sustainability, seaweed is also a no brainer.

This unique experience in West Cork teams you up with an expedition kayaker extraordinaire and local marine life font of knowledge to take you on a fun and educational foray in to the intertidal zone to discover how to identify and ecologically harvest a dozen edible seaweeds and land plants. The trip includes a visit to remote islands and inlets in search of wonderful seaweeds such as kelp and Dulse seaweed scones.

Ireland is a land filled with powerful and dramatic landscapes just waiting to be discovered – from rugged rural landscapes to Europe’s highest sea cliffs, and West Cork is often called the Jewel in Ireland’s Crown. Sea Kayaking is a fantastic way to admire these awe-inspiring landscapes while also having the chance to see some of the off-shore birds and marine life of the coastal waters, including, occasionally, dolphins and whales.

Friday, October 21, 2011

London: The St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel

It is nearly a century since the Midland Grand hotel, the Victorian palace attached to St Pancras station, last flourished, and 76 years since it was a hotel at all. It is almost a half-century since the struggle began to rescue it from oblivion, 26 years since it had any full-time use and five since construction started to return it to its original purpose as a luxury hotel, with a wonderful spa too.

The hotel has been restored at a cost of £200m: ‘it has stood, like the weird house of a crazy old lady in some village, unmissable, spooky and inaccessible.’ The life of the city swirls around it and under it, in and out of some of the busiest train and underground stations in Europe (6 tube lines accessible from the hotel). It has been possible to see inside on the occasional tour, and its interiors have been shown worldwide to unknowing millions, as locations for Harry Potter, 102 Dalmatians, Batman, Richard III and other films requiring lavish Gothic creepiness. Now, its restoration nearly complete, it feels like both a lost world and something familiar, that has always been part of the furniture of London.

Inside, it is a thing of movement, a web of stairs and endless corridors. Even the coffee room, one of its most splendid interiors, is built on a radiused curve, like a railway viaduct, as if you had not quite left a train carriage. In short, this is one of the most exciting ‘new’ hotels on the London scene.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Best Hotels in: Istanbul

There are a number of incredible hotels in Istanbul, whether you choose to go for the beautifully appointed ex-prison that is the Four Seasons or the ultra-modern fashion centre that is the Park Hyatt there is something for everyone.

Our favourite at the moment is the landmark ‘Pera Palace Hotel’, fresh out of a €23-million facelift. The restoration is completely in-tune with the original designs and the hotel has kept a very classic feel in all its communal spaces. However, once you enter any of the 115 rooms you will notice that much thought has gone into maintaining the original decor whilst showcasing the latest technology. The rooms have everything you would possibly need for a comfortable stay and some feature delightful balconies from which you can enjoy the bustling city below.

The impressive lobby leads to the majestic, domed Kubbeli Saloon and Tea Lounge with its exotic 'Arabian Nights' ambience. The Orient Bar and the Patisserie de Pera have a nostalgic charm reminiscent of a journey on the Orient Express. This was after all where you would stay after journeying on the luxurious train.

A new basement level features a spa and Turkish bath, as well as the refined Agatha restaurant (named after Agatha Christie, the hotel's most famous guest). All in all this is a wonderfully located hotel with the perfect mix of modern and classic. A little treat when staying here: have a ride on the old lift! Pera Palace was the first address in Istanbul with an electric lift (it's the second oldest in Europe after the Eiffel Tower's)

To see more:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A New District Rises in Lyon

The southern tip of Lyon’s central peninsula, long devoted to manufacturing and transport, is the focus of an unprecedented project of urban renewal. Reclaimed from the waters in centuries past, this riverside site is re-embracing its banks and natural environment. The redevelopment is gradually highlighting an outstanding location and unique landscapes. Set to ultimately double the size of the city centre, this project is a rarity in Europe, a major challenge for the metropolitan area, and an incredible new opportunity for its residents.

The confluence of the rivers, where the Saône flows into the Rhône at the southern tip of the Presqu'île, is a compelling sight, and has added to Lyon's allure for centuries. But while building began in the wide centre of the peninsula in the 16th century, the triangle at its tip remained waterlogged for another 200 years. Eventually, construction techniques allowed city developers to shore up the riverbanks and the tip became viable for building, evolving into an industrial zone.

A huge gasworks and the terminal for the train line from Saint-Etienne to Lyon—the first in France—were built in the 19th century. The city's two prisons were installed, as were the slaughterhouses, and prostitution moved in, too. Lyon's wholesale market, once the biggest in France, was established, with more than 300 trucks coming and going each day laden with fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and flowers. The banks of the Saône and the tip of the Confluence were owned by the Port de Lyon-Port Rambaud, which was built in 1926. Its activities ceased in 1995 and it took until 1998 for talks to begin on redefining the district. The Confluence, it was decided, would no longer be Lyon's industrial quarter and a dumping ground for some of the city's less salubrious activities. It would become a quarter where people lived and worked in attractive, thoughtfully designed apartments and offices, a vibrant area that made the most of its amazing natural location between two rivers. Work began on the €1.16 billion Phase 1 in 2003, and two of its most important elements were inaugurated in June 2010.

The most eye-catching is the Place Nautique, an immense square that is the biggest public space in the area. Half of its ten acres are taken up with a huge inner harbour, fed directly by the Saône. A bridge along the banks of the river opens to allow pleasure boats to pass into the Place. Tiered paths, trees, cafés and restaurants surround the basin, and an elegant passerelle, a wood and metal footbridge, spans it.

The second major project is the Parc de la Saône. A busy road, the Quai Rambaud, used to run alongside the river, with traffic noise and pollution ruining the prospects of a riverside walk. Now the road has been diverted away from the riverside, and in its place is a 35-acre park designed by landscape architect Michel Desvigne, with wide paths for cyclists and smaller paved walking paths along with gardens and planted ponds intended to attract birds and other small wildlife.

A stroll southward down to the Saône leads visitors to the old port area, where a handful of houseboats are anchored on the riverbank, and the customs buildings and former warehouses are being renovated. The old sugar warehouse, La Sucrière, is already in use as an exhibition space—part of the city's renowned Biennale of Contemporary Art is usually held there. And, installed in an old salt warehouse, the vast contemporary covered market and restaurant Rue Le Bec, run by the two-star chef Nicolas Le Bec, is already drawing trendy crowds into the area.

Meanwhile, Phase 2 has just begun, overseen by landscaper Desvigne and Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, who are best known for converting a power station on London's River Thames into the award-winning Tate Modern museum, and for the Dominus Winery in Yountville, California. The entire development project is scheduled for completion by 2020.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Yorkshire Museum Reopens

The Yorkshire Museum in York – home to some of Britain’s greatest treasures – reopens its doors after a major two million pound refurbishment that has totally transformed its interior.

The city’s Roman heritage is the central theme for the new look museum, with major exhibitions also highlighting its strong medieval and natural history collections.

Objects on show include the most complete Anglo Saxon helmet ever found in Britain, the exquisite Middleham Jewel, the most significant Viking Hoard to be found in 150 years and one of Britain’s biggest Ichthyosaurs. Some of these treasures will have returned from the British Museum where they have been on display, the first time they have ever dedicated a gallery to a regional museum.

In turn objects belonging to the British Museum from the classical will be on display in the Yorkshire Museum for the opening on August 1.

Andrew Morrison, head curator at the Yorkshire Museum, said: “This refurbishment will once again transform the Yorkshire Museum into one of the country’s greatest museums. It is a beautiful building that is home to some of the most significant archaeological finds and scientific collections in Europe.

“This project was vital to restore the galleries to their former glory. In doing so we believe we have created a museum that shows off its proud heritage while at the same time being a place that will inspire and delight the 21st Century visitor.”

The project, which saw the museum close in November 2009, has seen many of the relatively modern interior walls removed to create a much more open and welcoming space. The visitor will first enter the main hall, to be greeted by the Museum’s statue of the Roman God of War, Mars. It is the finest example of Romano British sculpture ever found. The rest of the museum is split into the 3 sections: Roman York, Medieval York and Extinct. As well as the three exhibitions there will also be two other new areas: The History of York and The Learning Level, which includes the Museum’s Impressive Victorian Library.

To carry out the major refurbishment York Museums Trust secured £200,000 from the DCMS/Wolfson Foundation, £315,000 from Renaissance in the Regions, £300,000 from the Monument Trust, £200,000 from the Garfield Weston Foundation, £75,000 from the Foyle Foundation and other donations from the University of York, Feoffees of St Michael’s Spurriergate, Museums, Libraries and Archives PRISM Fund, the William Reed Trust, the Yorkshire Philosophical Foundation and the York Museums Trust Development Group. The City of York Council also granted the Trust a further £850,000 as match funding.