A country house hotel with an amazing fitness centre. Fab old country house down a long driveway. Fresh flowers in the entrance hall and friendly staff.
Big rooms with giant beds and nice cotton bedlinen. And smart flatscreen TVs with integral DVD player. But you will need to bring/buy your own as the selection downstairs is dire. Nice reading room too, but again, would advise own books, unless you are keen to read musty mid-century non-classics. Breakfast was good (though served only between 7-9am in the week).
What really made this place for us was the fitness facilities. Genuinely friendly staff meant a really great atmosphere. Good gym (not huge, but decent range of equipment- soon to be upgraded and enlarged apparently). Fantastic big 20m pool open until 9pm and lit sympathetically. Large sauna and steam room.
And, as well as grass tennis courts they have real tennis courts. Very odd, but the two that they have at Prested Hall represent about 1/40th of the world's total. The current no. 2 and no. 8 play there and you can bag a free lesson!
We paid £184 for two nights mid-week which seemed really reasonable.
Prested Hall, Feering, Colchester, Essex CO5 9EE
A lovely restaurant just off Soho Square.
Very precise cooking and fantastic flavours.
Arbutus also offers the chance to try any wine (sub 100 pounds) in a 250ml carafe.
The best thing is that, while main courses cost about £15, the set lunch is only £15.50 for three courses.
Staff are young and friendly and you can sit at the bar to eat if you don't want to sit at a table. Ask for seats near the window - it is quite gloomy at the back of the restaurant.
A 50m, heated, outdoor pool, near to Victoria Park and Hackney central. London Fields Lido has been renovated and is now open!
It is operated by GLL so facilities are spartan but it is fab and clean. Entry is less than £4 and the pool is open from 6.30am (mon-fri) or 8am to 8pm.
Lockers are poolside (20p) and changing rooms and showers are inside and out. There is also sunbathing space around the pool.
It is a blissful place to plough up and down: no gimmicky wave machines or even inflatables here.
Be aware, though, that if it really really rains, then you will be thrown out of the pool as visibility is reduced.
Sad irony that London summers mean that it is too wet to swim.
A classic English pub on a green. The Victory serves freshly made meals with local ingredients such as samphire.
As well as a pool room and cosy rooms inside, the pub garden looks directly out on to the green.
They are currently building rooms so you can stay overnight.
And there is a pick-your-own practically next door with raised strawberry beds so you can pick without the effort of bending over!
The Victory Inn & Restaurant
The Green Wickham St. Paul
Pick your own: www.spencersfarmshop.co.uk/
My favourite restaurant of all time. Delfina is actually only open one evening a week (Friday) and weekday lunchtimes. It is worth the effort though.
The menu is put together by a chef who really understands flavours- combinations might read oddly on the page, but they taste wonderful.
There are always tons of dishes that we want to try and they are always really different. It's a good place to come to be inspired.
The wine list is not too shockingly priced either.
You can pop in for just a cup of coffee and a biscuit, but, frankly, I'm too greedy to stop at that!
It is on Bermondsey Street- very easy to walk to from London Bridge and opposite the Garrison pub
A beautifully imposing converted church on Walton Street, this is a student treat which somehow makes you feel as if you are in on a secret.
It's not too done up, has a lovely long zinc bar, and serves strong cocktails and proper pizzas.
Plus there is seating out the front to people watch.
119 Walton St
Oxford, OX2 6AH
It's nearly perfect: stunning building, great food, lovely cocktails, good-looking staff, regularly changing art exhibitions, a garden with deckchairs and cool industrial loos in the basement.
Erratic service, especially when the owner/manager is in, mars it. Plus she wears really strong scent.
But I still end up going back there, and when it is good it is very very good.
Afternoon tea with cocktails in the garden of an old power station is certainly unusual.
Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Wapping Wall
020 7680 2080
Once you've eaten (alot) you could do worse than stroll back to Canary Wharf through the park opposite and then along the river
Jeow Bong is a smoky chilli and garlic paste traditionally made with buffalo hide. But Tamarind cafe - brilliant place - make a non-meat version which you can bring back to the UK without lawbreaking.
I just wish that I'd carried more jars of it home.
Pork candyfloss sounds vile, but is good. It's actually quite like a fluffy biltong. You can't ship it home so eat up while you're in Laos.
Tamarind will also organise morning trips to the market to look at the amazing variety of fruit and vegetables and also be grossed out by pig skin masks at the butchers.
Carolyn (who jointly runs Tamarind with her boyfriend Joy) is a fount of food knowledge.
Ban Wat Nong, Luang Prabang
It's a cafe in the middle of Regent's Park's playing fields. So a good place to watch people wearing themselves out whilst you sip on hot chocolate. But also, it has changing rooms, lockers (£1 returnable) and showers (£1.50) which you can use after a run round the park. Plus a schedule of gym classes. Slightly chaotic but all the nicer for it.
The band seem to wander around the town on weekend mornings. You can't help smiling when you see traffic held up for middle-aged men & women playing brass in a very serious way.
All adds to the charm of Hythe, which is a beautiful place - surrounded by gentle hills with a canal running through it (you can hire boats to row gently up and down, although occasionally the river is closed for an amateur fishing competition ... it's that kind of place).
Centre of Hythe, which is just west of Folkestone on the A259.
An old-fashioned seaside hotel with large, landscaped grounds and lots of different bars tucked around.
The Imperial also has a great gym and spa complex (to keep the golf widows happy, as it also has a beachside course).
Rooms are not special but are adequate.
For me the gym facilities absolutely made it.
Staff are really friendly and food is much much better than you would expect.
Ask for a seaview room.
Prince’s Parade, Hythe, Kent, CT21 6AQ,
Tel: 01303 267441
Hythe has a resident, solitary, dolphin who swims from the Imperial hotel away from the town centre.
He is really close to the shore and it made my Saturday to see him swimming around.
The beach, east of the town centre
A Thai restaurant down the bottom of the Isle of Dogs. I wouldn't come out here for the sake of the restaurant, but if you are out in Greenwich and fancy a riverside cocktail, then it is a short stroll from the foot tunnel or Island Gardens DLR.
Food is good, though not super-cheap (about £9 for a curry and about £2 for rice). Service is friendly.
But really it is all about the location on the river.
Locke's Wharf, Westferry Road
Tel: 020 7987 7999
This is a fantastic London institution. In the centre of Regent's Park it is a little piece of magic. You enter through a small gate and the softly draped fairy lights around the bar, the smell of barbecued meat and the excited buzz of over 1,000 fellow attendees makes for a really exciting night. Many start with a picnic on the lawns outside in the park which is a fab way to feel really summery. Tickets start from ten pounds. Every year performances include Midsummer Night's Dream, a children's play and something contemporary (this year it is the Boyfriend). It also stages comedy nights and concerts on Sundays. Comedy Store Players is fantastic but sells out quickly every year. It is a completely unpretentious night out, you can take wine and crisps etc. into the auditorium. Advise that you also take warm clothes and possibly waterproofs, depending on the weather!
Regents Park, 10 minutes walk from Baker Street tube.
Set up in the late 90s by two Dutch art-lovers, this is a gallery with a hotel and restaurant attached.
An old Victorian building is set up a windy driveway and looks over acres of sculpture gardens. These are set to surprise and entertain and wandering down to the brook is a great way to work up an appetite for dinner/ breakfast. The art is inside as well, with a large purpose-built gallery and pictures and works throughout the hotel.
Food is simple, fresh, local and filling. And, best of all, it is very near to Saunton Sands, Woolacombe and Putsborough beaches.
Sometimes the hotel is booked up for weddings or for art conferences but it makes for a really unusual and reasonably priced stay.
+44 (0)1271 850262
A great initiative to train young people up as chefs, waiters and bakers.
The restaurant serves French-accented Indochine cuisine in a lovely garden courtyard.
Seemed popular with diplomats when we were there.
Food is excellent and we felt very very full when we left, but very virtuous as we had helped people just by eating!
They also have a cafe and bakery called Baguette et Chocolat
www.hoasuaschool.com/index.php228a Ha Hoi (it is down a couple of side streets so you may need to look carefully for the signposts - or bring a map).
Tel: 4 942 4448
Baguette et Chocolat:
11 Pho Cha Ca
Tel: 04 923 1500
Okay, it is a chain and you are possibly subsidising Paris's hair extensions, but I thought that this was a really nice contrast to the great guesthouse we stayed at in Hoi An.
The (dis)advantage is that you are out of the hurly burly of the frenzied old town, which is where most tourists stay. For that you get a rooftop pool, gym, flawless service, huge breakfasts and a really peaceful night's sleep. You also get Americans on business travel shouting at the staff, but nowhere's perfect.
The hotel is next to the Opera House, five minutes' walk to the lake and another five to the edge of the old town.
It was less than $100/night (averaged it out with super cheap Hoi An guest house, so it did not feel too extravagant!)
This is an expensive hotel ($100/night) set up by Thai owners. It is not worth the money.
You are out of town with infrequent bus journeys in and out. They start late so you have to pay extra if you want to see the alms giving or to climb Mount Phousi at dawn.
If you want the map that they show you at check-in you have to pay extra.
The rooms are shabbily furnished and you can hear everything your neighbours are doing.
Service is poor and orientated towards the dozens of Japanese package holidaymakers who dominate the hotel.
While the scenery is absolutely magnificent, there is nothing to do, no gym, no pool. (I think generally Lao are against swimming, so this is probably not surprising.)
The walk into town is over an hour along a main road and not very nice.
We left after a night and regretted spending that long.
but really, don't bother
Luang Prabang is a town which only seems to cater for backpackers or honeymooners/touring middle-aged Japanese in terms of accommodation. So rooms seem to cost either $6/night or $100/night.
The 3 Nagas is definitely in the $100/night camp but it is worth it, unlike some others. It has been built from scratch in beautiful local wood by two French men and every detail has been thought about.
It is truly lovely and small enough that it remains personal - tour groups were nowhere to be seen. And the breakfast croissants are the best that I have had anywhere! Breakfast and free internet access from their computer are included in the room rate. Staff are friendly and each room has a sitting area (either onto the private garden or the veranda).
We had room 14 which was lovely, but it might be worth asking about the garden rooms as they looked lovely. The hotel is on the main road in Luang Prabang and en route for the monks' alms giving. The only downside, which everywhere in town has, is that you are near the wats. They are beautiful by day, but the chanting starts early and Thai donors supplied one near to us with loudspeakers. Think the record was 3am- 7pm. It may make buddhists serene, but I was not!
Really nice to be able to find walks and country routes when you are off the main drag.
The Map Shop is run by a very helpful man who will match a map to your requirements and it is always surprisingly cheap (think we paid about six pounds per map and they always arrive the next day, which has proved v useful!)
We found the
Mapa Provincial Granada, Direccion General del Instituto Geografico Nacional, Ministerio de Fomento useful, but also bought Parque Natural, Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama.
It is in Upton on Severn, UK
Freephone: 0800 085 40 80
Tel: +44 (0)1684 593146
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