Beautiful riverside lodge in a spectacular jungle location. You can dine under the stars beside the river and set off early in the morning to track orangutans in the wild. Amazing place.
KG Bilit Seberang Jalan Sukau Kota Kinabatangan, 90200 Malaysia
Jaipur is a bustling, hectic, dusty place full of history and culture so you need an oasis of calm at the end of a day's sight-seeing. Arya Niwas is just that.
We couldn't believe our luck at finding such a gem of a hotel among the hundreds on offer in Jaipur. We weren't the only ones, though, as it was hyper busy in reception with people coming and going... this was the only place in India (so far) where the staff on reception were fast, efficient and courteous. Checking in and out was easy and they helped us with transport and maps. A number of people seemed to be staying at the hotel on a long-term basis.
We stayed twice, with a trip to Agra in between (see my review of the Tourists Rest House there). We were offered a choice of rooms on our first visit, the super deluxe with a balcony and the deluxe without. The cheaper room was twice the size of the first, high-ceilinged and prettily decorated in Rajasthani style, with a bath and shower. It was high up on the roof, overlooking an atrium. To get to the restaurant we walked through a trickling water feature on the roof and peered over balustrading into the garden below. It was a lovely place to sit and relax.
Food here is from a self-service canteen (tip: take a pen and write out the order yourself - it'll be quicker and you are less likely to have mistakes in your order). The food was a little hit and miss, but mostly very good indeed. We ate in the garden under the stars at night and in the shade of the flowery border in the morning.
A great choice in a great city the Arya Niwas is so good we would go back again.
Kannur is a five hour drive north of Fort Cochin, or faster by train. Few package tours venture this far, which means it is free of hotels and tourist developments. The long, white sandy beach is home to fishermen and palm groves, and on the backwaters tour you will probably be the only pleasure boat on the water.
In the high season at the Kannur Beach House a double room with half board will cost 2800 INR per night. Set in a coconut grove by a lagoon, each room has a veranda, and a view of the sea through the one hundred year old palms. The garden is scattered with hammocks and its peace and solitude make it a bird lover's paradise. All meals are cooked in Rozi's kitchen, and are typical of the area; you'll be served dishes here that you won't find in hotels or restaurants. Guests (there are seven rooms) share a long table in the courtyard, together with Rozi and Nazir's family.
Beach house, Thottada P O,
Kannur, Kerala, India
I cannot praise the place enough. I came here for my birthday treat and it turned out to be an excellent choice.
The food was quite simply the best we've had in Kerala, and that includes posh hotels like the Taj, smart places in Cochin and down and gutsy quick eateries in Ernakalum (we've been here for 18 months, so I feel I can write with some authority).
The room was prettily and simply decorated in white and terracotta. There were fresh flowers on the dressing table and a pristine bathroom. We fell asleep to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach right opposite us.
If you want to get away from it all, in a quiet area with no hotels around, stay here. Eat the best food in Kerala, go for walks on the beach, chat to the locals, visit the fish market and pick out your local catch for dinner, play games on the extensive roof terrace while being served endless fresh cold drinks and tea.
It's an excellent place for tired, burnt out workers looking for tranquility in genuine Keralan surroundings.
My one quibble is that because this is not a family home - the family lives elsewhere - it is not a true homestay. But what's in a label?
Kuzhupilly Beach Road, Ayampilly PO, Ayampilly PO, Kochi (Cochin) 682501, India
+91 484 2531456
Although we usually make our own arrangements, this time we used this local tour company. The owners, Ronnie and Raj, are young Assamese entrepreneurs who have invested everything in their travel business and own camp at Kaziranga. The service is personal, passionate and attentive.
Discovering our penchant for homestays, rather than hotels, Ronnie put us up with his own family in Jorhat. Homestays are not as popular here as elsewhere in India, but they found small, unusual hotels in Guwahati, a monastery on Majuli Island and we stayed in their own small camp at Kaziranga.
The communication before, during and after our tour was five star.
These new kids on the block deserve to succeed.
1st Floor, House No-96,Borthakur Mill Road
Ulubari, Guwahati, Assam : 781007, India
We arrived in the city late in the day, and no-one was more relieved than me to discover the hotel I'd booked wasn't half bad. I chose the no frills Hotel Trimoorti off Elgin Road. Its common parts were basic, resembling a cheap serviced office corridor, but the kingsize bed, crisp white sheets and modern, faultless bathroom of the 'super deluxe' room made up for no view and no hotel lounge. Speaking to the owner at the end of our stay, he explained that all the hotel's resources had been concentrated on comfortable rooms and efficient room service. At 8190 INR for three nights in a state capital, including a/c and breakfast, I'd happily recommend the hotel. (In my experience the best room in a cheap hotel beats the worst room in a top hotel any day.) The room service was fast and faultless and the food, particularly the local breakfast, excellent.
It is now a Hosteling International hostel in only its 4th or 5th year. It is a wonderful place to be and to explore from.
For Christmas 1991 I found myself high up in the Turkish Cappodocian mountians sitting down to a delicious meal at the Kose Pansion with my best friend, my two-year-old son and a group of backpackers from the four corners of the world.
We shared stories, sang songs and went on a group walk among the region’s magical snow covered faerie turrets. Later on, sitting round the fire drinking turkish tea, I realised one of our company knew a long lost friend of mine.
I can see from the website the Kose Pansion is now very different from when we visited. However, the reviews confirm that the lovely Kose family are still at the helm applying a friendly, family ethos to their hospitality and ensuring a comfortable home from which to explore this beautiful place.
My Turkish Christmas left me with a warm glow, a newly discovered address and a last minute buy, a present to myself, a kilim made by nomads depicting the tree of life.
A beautiful unspoiled fishing town.
Good transport links to Tunis and the south. A short shared-taxi ride to El Djem. The town is five miles south of a 'tourist compound' of huge hotels, etc. to be strictly avoided if you want to meet Tunisians and live as the locals do.
Google map: bit.ly/v6GI12
Needing to get far away from the traditional family UK Christmas, but eschewing airports, my daughter hit the search engines. On 18th December we two headed south to Marseille, with three tight-knit trains delivering us from Brighton in time for a late fish supper on the port. The next morning we boarded – along with over 2000 Tunisian ex-pats, going home for the holidays – the huge ferry to Tunis. Bad weather delayed us a little, but we got to know our fellow passengers and had warm invitations which ensured we eventually arrived intact in Mahdia, where we had rented a beautiful flat, very cheaply, for three nights. After exploring this unspoiled coastal town – and nearby El Djem - we caught the coast train back north to Tunis. Warm hospitality again met us at the Dar Ed Medina hotel, in the old city, where the fantastic staff ensured that we had a non-Christmas to remember. We’ve often thought gratefully of our kind hosts as their society has been in upheaval this year. But Tunisia is still welcoming independent travellers… get booking!
Travel details: Eurostar and TGV London to Marseille.
Ferry SNCM: www.sncm.fr/
Marseillle-Tunis return. Journey approx 19 hours. Very comfy cabins.
Tunis-Mahdia by train: daily, 4 hours.
Mahdia: Villa Zouila Mahdia, only £25 per night for the beautiful Olivier apartment. Great meals cooked by neighbour on request.
19 avenue Taieb Mhiri, 5100 Mahdia
+32 479 414 910
Tunis: Hotel Dar El Medina www.darelmedina.com/
Atmospheric rooms and a stunning rooftop terrace, in the old walled city.
64, Rue Sidi Ben Arous Tunis 1006, Tunisia
+32 71 563 022
I once spent Christmas in the Jebel Sahro mountains of southern Morocco. We arrived in Marrakesh to be surrounded by the exotic - dust, donkeys, palm trees and hot sun, reminding me more of a Christmas nativity story than anything I'd seen before. On Christmas day we headed south, zigzagging over the High Atlas mountain passes in a very full minibus (snow at the top - White Christmas!!) and down to the hot south, through the oasis town of Ouzerzat with it's flat-roofed (Bethlehem nativity scene) houses of pink and yellow mud, and on to the mountains. That night we stayed in a traditional Berber house in a small village with no streetlights, camping mats placed on traditional brightly coloured Moroccan rugs. We dined in a Berber tent in the courtyard, lit by traditional lamps, watching a bright starlit clear sky in the crisp desert night above the camp fire which kept us warm. We feasted on traditional Moroccan food. Our Muslim Berber hosts had, aware that for most of us this was Christmas Day, prepared a tray of delicious Moroccan pastries, crisp and light yet heavy with syrup and nuts. We ate them washed down with the ubiquitous sweet mint tea which was to become a favourite comfort food throughout our trekking trip. What better way to enjoy this special time of year than through the combination of an exotic trip and a reminder of the season with the traditional 'Christmas nativity' setting?
My favourite Christmas was spent in Nature's Valley on the Garden Route in South Africa – a wild and remote area tucked between the Tsitsikamma Mountains and the rolling blue Indian Ocean. In South Africa, Christmas is mainly celebrated on Christmas eve and it's a very laidback, low-key affair. I stayed in a homely, rustic backpackers called Wild Spirit, where dinner was eaten together in a log cabin overlooking the native forest below, followed by a few ice-cold Black Labels round the camp fire. On Christmas day, myself and some of the other guests hiked part of the famous Otter Trail in Tsitsikamma National Park, then drove to Jeffrey's Bay for the surf and parties. Of course, you can always add in the highest bungee in the world! It doesn't get much better than this.
Riad Abaka is a short but bustling walk from the square, and so is perfectly placed. You can exhaust yourself haggling in the souks, and dodging snake charmers and performing monkeys and still be a short stagger from the riad. It is a little oasis of calm in a frenzied sea of boiling humanity. The central area is calm . The roof terrace is a good place to retire to at night and the Koutoubia Mosque is in sight.
The room we stayed in was nice and was what I shall describe as tastefully basic. If you are expecting northern European luxury then you are, perhaps, on the wrong holiday - that's not what Marrakech is about.
The staff are really lovely humorous helpful people, who are down to earth and efficient. They are actually essential to the experience of being there. I extend them my great thanks.
Adill the manager is a charming and humorous man with a quick mind and a lot of knowledge. You receive a briefing on your first morning during which he talks you through geography, culture, and haggling in the souk (all free of charge!). The briefing is extensive but very useful, and the map you take away with it's biro squiggles and labels becomes an essential traveling companion.
Breakfast is in the Moroccan style - yogurt, fruit, french bread, coffee. It's good healthy stuff. You can always have mint tea, or English tea if you want.
21, derb Roukni, Marrakech
+33 6 07 39 34 02
We went to Rajasthan for Christmas with the original intention of getting away from traditional festivities. However, our hosts at Fort Chanwa had trimmed up with a tree and there were cheap crackers and party hats to accompany our Indian Gala Dinner. The whole evening had a lovely sense of things as they used to be; a quality that reminded me of childhood Christmases.
On New Year’s Eve the Maharaja threw a party for the locals, and my boyfriend and I dressed in Rajasthani costume - to the great amusement of the Indian guests who were all in the latest designer gear.
At the end of every evening we drank our nightcap around fire baskets on the lawn, and then watched the bright north star from the rooftop before retiring to bed - what could be more Christmassy than that?
Luxury B&B, superb breakfasts inc. choice of vegan and vegetarian. Kate and Alan were superbly witty and entertaining hosts and also cater for restricted diets.
Excellent base for The Peaks, with lots of information on what to do and where to eat.
51 Dimple Road Matlock, Derbyshire DE4 3JX
A guesthouse and restaurant housed in an 18th century farmhouse, this is the most impressive restaurant I've been to in the Czech countryside. A stone's throw from Prague (less than a 30 minute drive from the centre), Penzion V Polich is set in the pretty village of Malé Čičovice, a mile from historical site of Okor.
Penzion V Polich is a wonderful place to finish a romp in the countryside with some hearty food in comfortable surroundings. The menu has a heavy Czech influence and offers a lot of game, but the tastes are more refined and adventurous than you will see on a typical Czech tourist menu. On my recent visit options included smoked duck breast, foie gras, pork belly, goose, fallow dear and rabbit, all cooked exceptionally well.
The staff speak relatively little English by Prague standards but are incredibly accommodating of non-Czech visitors and patient in translating as much as they can. The penzion is warm and cosy on a winter's afternoon, but also offers outside dining space for the summer months. Prices are very reasonable: three courses and two beers set us back around 600 czk per person, for some of the best food I have eaten in the Czech Republic. Be sure to book ahead.
A real treat.
Malé Čičovice 26, 252 68 Malé Číčovice, Czech Republic
+420 733 680 728
Google map: bit.ly/vqjEFP
* Helen is our Been there local for Prague. Her page is here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/prague-local-helen-ford.jsp and she has her own blog here: czechingin.wordpress.com/
This hostel felt like staying at home! It is run by Miriam, Lucas and Hector, a lovely Argentine family that treat you like you are part of their family. The hostel is charming and clean, and the staff helped book excursions and make the best of my time in Ushuaia. The breakfast is better than most hostels - including Argentine medialunas, or croissants.
An organic farm shop and café with a difference. Set at the edge of the forest just outside the picturesque and historic town of Falkland, the Pillars of Hercules provides a pretty unique shopping experience. Recently and justifiably awarded the UK’s Best Small Organic Store it sells all manner of organic, fresh, local and tasty foods, lovely home made breads, chilled foods, toiletries, household items, wines, beers and of course the freshest of fresh veg and fruit – most of it grown on site, and even bouquets of local flowers. In season they sell plants in their little nursery and it’s lovely to stroll round the gardens.
However as well as a shop it’s a bit of a “holiday destination” as you can camp in a choice of the tipi field, orchard or banking field, spending evenings sitting round a campfire and days strolling round the different walks that start from the shop. Or rent the bothy with it’s wood burning stove for a few nights for a little more comfort. If you don’t feel like cooking they have a café serving delicious food from breakfast through to late afternoon snacks with the “Restaurant at the End of the Universe” open for dinner and music every month or so.
If you can manage to visit in July the “Big tent Festival” happens in Falkland – a weekend of music, eco and family friendly events and great food supplied by Pillars of Hercules and while in the area it’s worth taking the time to stroll round Falkland and visiting Falkland Palace and Gardens www.nts.org.uk
Excellent service with a smile. Comfortable accommodation - beautifully decorated, in a central but quiet location.
We had a fantastic five nights here and I recommend Oliver and his team to anyone wanting a friendly, welcome break in Marrakech.
Known to locals as “the Gladstone,” this hotel is located in the trendy Queen Street West area, where there is an abundance of arts and design studios and galleries. The hotel attracts both tourists and locals on a daily basis, hosting art exhibits and music gigs every night of the week.
The café also has menus for any time of day or night.
The most original hotel rooms in the city can be found here: there are 37 unique, individually designed rooms by local Toronto artists. The Biker Room features furniture and accessories influenced by motorcycles and biker culture. The Canadiana Room has an antler chandelier with forest wallpaper on one wall and cedar paneling on another.
Built in 1889, the Gladstone is Toronto’s oldest continuously operating hotel, with one of the last hand-operated elevators in the city. A true gem. Prices start at C$165, about £104 or 120 €.
1214 Queen Street West Toronto, ON M6J 1J6, Canada
+1 (416) 531 4635
Google map: bit.ly/vUC8Tw
* Giulia is our Been there local for Toronto. You can see her profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/places/canada/toronto/index.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/GiuliaFalsetti
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