1 September 2013

France, Lot-et-Garonne, Le Mayne de Boulède

My eldest son has just turned 5, so as of now we are officially doomed to book high season holidays.... Finding a charming place to stay in the South of France in August was not easy for 2 families with in total 5 kids (age: 1-7), who can best be characterised by the description:  'enthusiastic high energy level swimming pool addicts without swimming certificates (except for 1)'.

So we were searching for:
- a charming authentic house
- with a child friendly fenced swimming pool
- and lots of space to run around
- a great terrace with a view for endless wining and dining
- playground stuff not spoiling our view when wining and dining : )

Quite a wishlist....but we have found the ideal place.


Our stay at Le Mayne de Boulède was a 'totally relaxed, great for the kids, big chill for the parents, we will definitively come back' experience. Karen and Rolf, a Dutch couple with 3 daughters, have bought this little private hamlet ten years ago and turned it into this charming joie de vivre family paradise with 5 holiday houses and 2 swimming pools. You can see and feel the passion for their dream in everything. I love the little details like a the 'bread service' in and old Renault, hammocks for a little afternoon snooze, the playground with an old fishing boot sandbox, the massage room with the little chalkboard sign : pssst... massage. 

Le Mayne de Boulede is situated just a few kilometres away from the lovely little medieval village Monflanquin and a 20km beautiful scenery roadtrip away from Monpazier. Both are charming little French villages with lots of restaurants and a typical place du village. Le Mayne de Boulede doesn't offer a table d'hote, but with the fully equiped kitchen and so many restaurant and eating/drinking market alternatives nearby you will hardly miss it.

The evening markets in July- August are a real thing in this area: venez faire un tour sur les marchés nocturnes et de producteurs de pays ! De 18h à 23h, dans une ambiance musicale, venez vous régaler : des tables et chaises seront mis à votre disposition, n'oubliez pas vos couverts ! Sans modération, pour les gourmands et les gourmets ! 

So we say: Au Revoir! 

31 August 2013

France, Limousin, La Souterraine, Maison Numero Neuf

Country living au centre du village.

Maison Numero Neuf is situated in the middle of La Souterainne, a typical French tres petit village just along the A20 highway. We stayed there for a 2-day stopover travelling from Lot-et-Garonne to Normandy and we are FAN! 

So lovely, so beautiful, so delicioussssssss!!!! Maison Numero Neuf is run by an English family with 2 kids and is just the BEST mix of all good things of their old and new homebases. Beautiful brocante with a touch of Farrow & Ball combined with colourful floral wallpapers, a henhouse, swings and chandeliers in the trees, crisp cotton linen and towels from 'The White Company' and a selection of  L'Occitane toiletries. And above all: the lovely owners are not only incredibly friendly and hospitable, but having run a successfull, award-winning, restaurant in Buckinghamshire in their former life, they serve superduper dinners!


To give you a flavour, this is the email I received from Duncan (the owner): 'Thank you for your reservation.  To prepare dinner for you will be a pleasure. We are more than happy to do a children's dinner earlier. We find that Lisa's mini chicken fillets in a parmesan and polenta crumb with some chips go down well with our younger guests. We can then do dinner for the adults later on.'

....Hurray!!! A kiddies table d'hote around 6pm, and a finger lickin' good romantic dinner for the two of us afterwards. Quite a USP.

4 June 2012

France, Rhone-Alpes, Saint-Didier-de-Formans, Chateau de Tanay

Quelle trouvaille!

Staying in this beautiful castle as stopover on our way to the South of France was THE best way to start a great holiday. Lovely room, lovely owners, lovely gardens, lovely swimming pool and... lovely chocolates on our pillow!

The place (little bit above Lyon) is charming and romantic, but also child friendly with a playing room and an enormous field for little boys to offload energy after a 8 hour car drive ; ) Actually just the way we like it, and affordable.They serve a wonderful breakfast but no table d'hote, fortunately there is a small restaurant just opposite to the castle and for some more serious dining L'Embarcadere in Villefrance sur Saone is a real treat. http://www.georgesblanc.com/uk/l-embarcadere-jassans-riottier.php#

15 April 2012

Netherlands, Katwijk aan Zee, Kust Strandhuisjes

As we all are longing for summer to really arrive...., I had a sneak preview (although 8 degrees C...) on the beach yesterday having dinner with friends at a nice restaurant in Katwijk aan Zee. If you like seafood I can absolutely recommend this one http://www.kw106.com/.

Directly next to the restaurant (located on the beach) I saw these lovely beach cabins you can rent. They are brand new and designed and decorated with style. Fresh white with colorfull Fermob, hammocks, a mezzanine floor with a boxspring for guaranteed seaview... Sleep on the beach; the concept is not new, but this execution is really great! Two bedrooms, so a perfect weekend trip with kids. Rent a few next to eachother with friends and enjoy the sunset with bottles of wine on the porch while the kids are having fun on the beach... Nice!


The Dutch beaches are great (weather permitting : ). There are many choices. Katwijk aan Zee is a quiet little village, a traditional fishing village, with a pure, unspoiled beachlife. No festivals, or beach club decibels, but a relaxed child friendly atmosphere.

1 April 2012

Austria, St Anton am Arlberg, Valluga Hotel

Yeah!!! Another discovery... with Mozartkugeln on our pillow, every evening!

Just returned from a quality time spring skiing break with husband, without kids...We found the perfect setting: Valluga Hotel in St Anton withs lots of snow and lots of sun. We are fan, what a great place to stay! 

The Swedish owners of Esplendido and Portixol in Mallorca (also real ChocolateOnYourPillow material) have opened the doors of their dream hotel in the Tyrolean Alpes December last year. They renovated an old chalet and created a state of the art cosey homey retreat with spacious rooms, great food, wellness, gym and a great 'living room' area with big sofa's, open fires, MACs, a libary, pool table, a bar. All in a fresh retro Scandic design.

As we planned a 'quality time just the two of us' holiday, the overwhelming apres ski possibilities in St Anton were not the main magnet for us (for many visitors they are ; ).

We loved skiing at the Rendl side with fantastisch wide slopes (a tip we got from our Valluga waiter) and the Lech area (just one ski bus away). Fantastic restaurant with an awesome view for lunch or just a pitstop in Lech is Balmalp  http://www.palmenalpe.at/ and enjoy apres ski in style in the champagne icebar Frozen on the piste  http://www.frozenlech.com/icebar/ . If it's sunny and you sit outside don't forget to check out the interior with icebar and frozen champagne bottles... nice!.

29 January 2012

Netherlands, Maastricht, Hoogeweert Suites

Just returned from a wonderfull birthday celebration weekend in Maastricht. My parents offered to babysit our boys (the best birthday present ever!), so we took off down south. 

As we are frequent visitors of Maastricht, we wanted to stay somewhere else and not per definition in the centre of town. A few years ago (sort of in another lifetime ; ), when we were training to run a marathon we always took our gear where ever we went, also when staying in Maastricht. During one of our runs we discovered an area of real natural beauty, so close to the centre. If you start at the St Servaas bridge you just walk (or run : ) along the Maas (at the Wyck side of town) in the direction of the Kennedy bridge and you just go straight on and on and on. At a certain point in the natural parc you will find a marina and you will see a beautifull idyllic 14th century castle, just opposite the ENCI factory at the other side of the river. It's the recently renovated castle The Hoogeweert, with seven uniquely decorated suites in the red plastered coach house. I like castles! So we decided to celebrate my birthday in style and stayed in the Eve suite. The suites are similar in their modern design interior, but very different in space, set up and theme. The Eve suite is a 'love suite', particularly suitable for couples (or better to say only suitable for 'happy' couples). It was quite an experience, not per definition the most practical hotel room I have ever stayed in, but it was fun and definitely different.

The white and pink Eve suite has an integrated bath/living room, with a pretty egg shaped design bath tub in the centre of the attention. The bed is upstairs, its a matress on a mezzanine floor. It is absolutely cosey as it is 1,5m high up there, so you have to crawl to bed! This and the fact that there is no shower were minor comments. The plusses are: the friendly welcome with a free glass of prosecco, the beautifull parc and the great terrace of the restaurant SOFA (especially nice in summertime), small kitchenette with tea/coffee and the breakfast in your room service.

Check out the website for more details and see the different themes and designs of the suites. The bridal suite (Royal suite) in the castle itself is absolutely amazing.  

27 January 2012

Belgium, Antwerp, Hotel Julien

Suffering from winter depression? And a plane to the sun or a skiing trip is not an option... why not book a night in hotel Julien for a weekend break Antwerp. Anti depression features:

1) central location in the middle of the shopping area (and the Januari soldes are on : )
2) endless possibilities to wine, dine and drink Belgium beers (ask for latest addresses at the reception, 't Zuid is a nice area)
3) great hotel spa to reboot
4) dvd library and delicious breakfast in your room service to cocoon to the max
5) and enough things that make you smile like pretty design, custom made linen and friendly people 



31 December 2011

UK, London, Sanderson

In the middle of the X-mas Holiday season I have to write something about London, the City of X-mas (shopping ; )

Since one of my best friends moved to London I am a frequent visitor and... I have now the best ChocolateOnYourPillow place to stay... her beautifull cosey stylishly decorated Victorian house in South Kensington. Lucky her... and lucky me! 

But if I have to choose my favourite hotel in London, it is without a doubt the Sanderson. It is just SO COOL.

The first time I entered 'Phippe Starcks surrealistic world' I had a meeting with a creative agency in the courtyard of the Sanderson. I had no idea! I thought it was just another hotel lobby get together. But was amazed when entering the hotel (which is big 50s flatblock building from the outside); the red lips sofa, the long bar with the eyes, the light, the colors, the shapes, the courtyard. They could not have choosen a better place to meet. Pretty inspiring.

Sanderson is located in the heart of London's West End, as central as can be. It is not only a great place to sleep and pamper yourself in the lavish Urban Spa as they call it, but also to meet, eat and have some cocktails with the hip and happening. It all comes with a price tag, but... you're worth it! 

7 November 2011

Netherlands, Maastricht, Townhouse Hotel

Home away from home, in every sense.

There are many great hotels in Maastricht, but Townhouse Hotel sets itself apart in redefining the hotel experience. It's that personal, cosey, nostalgic, vintage vibe that gives you the idea of staying with your favourite hippie aunt (who is still very much in the know and in sync with the latest technology : ). 

Of course we did not find a chocolate on our pillow, that would be too ordinary, so what about a nice cup of soup! We enjoyed our complimentary cup of homemade vegetable soup on a couch in front of a retro styled SMEG gas fire. I would say, a warm welcome!

'Adding something special to your daily routine' is the philosophy of the Townhouse management. This philosophy is executed in detail with humour and style. Rent the 'fish of the house', play Wii Fit or just wind down in the spacious nicely designed living room. Nice to know: Townhouse Hotel is available for every budget with S, M, L or XL rooms and prices (and you wil get a Hästens bed in every room).    

Townhouse is located just opposite to the Central Station in the popular Wyck area. It's a 10 minutes walk away from the restaurants and shops. The best addresses in Wyck: for a coffee, a beer or a sunday brunch: http://www.cafezondag.nl/, read the newspaper at the best terrace in town: http://www.cafezuid.nl/, lunch, cake n coffee: http://www.coffeelovers.nl, for seafood lovers: http://www.restaurant-o.nl/, for simple Italian food - made con amore - lovers: http://www.sjiekkookpunt.nl/ and off course there are Beluga, Mediterraneo and Giallo e Rosso if you are looking for a more formal upscale culinary treat. Don't miss the Rechtstraat with its nice interior shops.

31 October 2011

USA, New York City, Room in Soho

Indian Summer, fortunately there is an upside of summer being over...

And where better celebrating Autumn than in NYC. Although NYC is an every season great-to-be-never-want-to-leave-definitively-will-come-back-place Central Park is so absolutely stunning in Autumn that it's my favourite NYC-trip time of the year.

If you are planning to go there you can of course find plenty of fantastic hotels, but if you want to have a real unique experience check out Room in Soho. 200% ChocolateOnYourPillow: stay in a Soho loft, sleep in an art gallery, feel like NY incrowd. This Bed & Breakfast address is the home of Canadian/French artists couple Michelle and Albert. They own 2 amazing floors in a typical industrial loft in downtown Soho (Lafayette street / Grand street).

We stayed in one of the bedrooms on the 7th floor in the art gallery with a private bathroom and a bar style kitchen. There are also 2 rooms on the 5the floor where Michelle and Albert work and live, but you can imagine the absolute charm is to wake up in ´your Soho loft´ with stunning city view and make yourself a coffee at the bar in the art gallery. So go for the 7th floor!

The rooms are  simple, but charming and are (as can be expected) creatively styled. If you look for a real 4-5 star hotel service level, find yourself a great hotel, but if you like to meet interesting people and would not bother ending up at a cocktail party that the owners spontaneously organise for their friends... it´s one of those places you will never forget. http://www.tripadvisor.nl/Hotel_Review-g60763-d783941-Reviews-Room_in_Soho_Loft-New_York_City_New_York.html

Difficult to believe but if you are not yet in the Empire state of mind a little help: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UjsXo9l6I8

27 September 2011

Tanzania, Zanzibar, Nungwi, Ras Nungwi Beach Hotel

If you like diving, hammocks and if you don't hate honeymooners... Ras Nungwi Beach Hotel is the best. Laid Back luxury the owners call it, and it's 100% true. And what can be a better ending of a Tanzanian safari than the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar... For us it was the ultimate African dream combo.


The Northern tip of Zanzibar is known for its unspoiled beaches, beautifull nature and perfect diving. It is quite a drive from Stone Town so you should only go there if the beach is your destination; i.e. don't expect too much of the surrounding villages. But the resort offers so much peace and relaxation, that we did not even think about going elsewhere. There is a spa, a great bar and restaurant and numerous activities for restless souls like diving, snorkling, fishing, sailing, surfing, water skiing... the three days we stayed here were gone in a second.

Ras Nungi's USPs are the setting (cottages idyllically located at the beachfront in a lush tropical garden scenery) and the relaxed atmosphere (loungebeds and hammocks everywhere and a super friendly staff). We found a honeymoon present (Zanzibar spices) on our pillow with handwritten congratulations from the members of the staff and got a free bottle of champagne. And... not to forget: they organized a private beach dinner for us, complete with flaming torches... So I can only reccommend this one to you, especially as the rates are not top of the bill. 

26 September 2011

Tanzania, Zanzibar, Stone Town, 236 Hurumzi (former Emerson & Green)

If you choose Zanzibar for the exotic, romantic, 1001 vibe.... stay at least one night in Stone Town, and specifically in 236 Hurumzi. This hotel is an old merchant's house restored by the former owners Emerson & Green. Its 24 charming rooms and suites are all different but are all full of Zanzibari antiques, carved doors, big stone bathtubs, colorfull glass, walls and decoration ( http://www.i-escape.com/236-hurumzi/overview)

We stayed in the semi open Pavillon suite, at the top floor, a spacious blue/white/yellow room with painted filligree wood arches, a little veranda and small private deck with panoramic Stone Town views. Stunning and very romantic to sleep in the open air in a harem-like bed (as they call it).


One big remark about this hotel: it has a big charm factor for its unique style and rooftop views, but you should not expect 5 star service, its not perfect and the antique furniture is not selected primarely for its comfort. As it has been a while since we stayed there I just checked the recent reviews, ranging from excellent to horrible.... Be ware to expect an authentic experience more than a shiny polished international hotel treatment.

If you would like to play it safe, book a room elsewhere, but - please - have dinner in the The Tower Top restaurant of 236 Hurumzi and make sure you will be there around sun set. Sit down (bare feet) at Persian carpets/pillows, enjoy a cocktail while gazing at the Indian Ocean and you will definitely think you fly away on a magic carpet....

20 September 2011

Tanzania, Lake Manyara, Serena Safari Lodge

What a pool, what a pool, what a pool, what a mighty good pool!

I have a soft spot for infinity pools... The Serena Safari Lodge one overlooking Lake Manyara National Park is just ... great and an absolute perk.


The Serena hotel group offers luxurious accomodation in Africa and the Middle East, in Tanzania they have several really nices lodges. It's perhaps a bit more hotel chain and a bit less boutique. But let me give a bit of background...When we were planning our honeymoon in Tanzania we came across the fact that the local Safari lodging market can be divided into 3 levels: good, great and top of the bill. Unfortunately we started to look at http://www.andbeyondafrica.com/ (= extremely top of the bill, but extremely 'out of africa' all you would fantasise of and more ....) so we were spoiled to the bone when looking at alternatives... just take a look at Lake Manyara Tree House, Klein's camp or Grumeti in the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater lodge and you will understand what I am talking about, all amazing... but incredibly expensive..... and at some point you have to stop using the sentence 'It's our honeymoon, we will only do this once, so let's forget about the price tag'... : ) In the end we decided to make a mixture of the 3 levels, we started in a Sopa Safari lodge (good), stayed in several Serena Lodges (great) and stayed one night in the Ngorongoro Crater lodge (top of the bill). This combination - and especially in this order- was wonderfull and we enjoyed every place we stayed in for its specific charm.

Lake Manyara National Park

The Serena lodges in Lake Manyara and Serengeti are winners as not only the location is great and the view breath taking, these lodges consist of individual typical African 'rondavels' with a central base camp with dining room, bar, veranda and pool. This increases the Charm and Safari experience factor. The interior is perhaps not the most featured in International Interior Design Magazines, the exterior of the Lake Manyara Serena lodge is really lovely and romantic with panoramic views and of course ... this small but fantastic pool.

31 August 2011

Tanzania, Arusha, Arusha Coffee Lodge

A great tip when going on a safari holiday in Tanzania is to fly into Kilimanjaroo and stay the first night(s) in the Arusha Coffee Lodge for a pre-safari retreat. Arusha Coffee Lodge is a Boutique hotel lodge with 18 plantation houses beautifully located at the foot of Mount Meru in Tanzania’s largest coffee plantation. Chill at the pool, relax at your private deck patio, enjoy the fine cuisine, walk in the gardens or read a book at the open fireplace. Great way to get rid of your jetlag.

And....if you are too excited to just lay down and unwind.... you can also go for a day game drive with picnic lunch to Mt Meru and Arusha National Park or visit the Maasai market in Arusha on Faya Road.

Maasai market

Tanzania, Ngorongoro Crater, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

Glamour in the bush.....

We just celebrated our wedding anniversary, so was dreaming away thinking of our honeymoon in Tanzania. The most incredibly expensive - but most luxurious, amazing, breathtaking - place I have ever stayed is the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. Its really top of the bill, so real honeymoon material or a great way to celebrate that you have won the lottery : ) But what you will get is an unforgettable experience; it's for a reason that it is often referred to as the 8th wonder of the world.

The Ngorongoro Crater itself is awesome, the colors, the vegetation, the wildlife.... And the Crater Lodge is dramatically build at the edge of the Crater, guaranteeing amazing views. The Crater Lodge has 30 individual huts (=suites) divided into three separate camps (North, South, Tree) with each its own communal lounge and dining building. The exterior design of the mini roundels is inspired by the Maasai mud-and-stick manyattai, and the interior of each fabulous suite is a combination of hardwood, crystal, gold, silver, ruby and raw silk. Most memorable features: a private butler, an open fire, a balcony deck and an ensuite bathroom with chandeliers and fresh roses...

A bathroom with a view...

A few tips to maximise your return on -the huge- investment:
- You will definitively want to spend more time in the Ngorongoro Crater than just one night (we could not afford more nights in the Crater Lodge), so start with two nights in another place and enjoy the fantastic gamedrives. We stayed at http://www.serenahotels.com/serenangorongoro/default-en.html.
- Arrive just before check in time and leave just after check out time.
- Plan your gamedrives around the check in/out. The Crater Lodge will also provide an excellent picnic lunch.
- Take a bath, call your butler to order a glass of wine and enjoy it while gazing at zebra's and buffalo's and sinking deeper into the hot water... life is good : )
- Have dinner and breakfast in the beautifully decorated communal area of the (North/South or Tree) Camp.

We did not found a chocolate on our pillow but a bag with fresh Tanzanian coffee beans and a personal letter that ended with the words 'We look forward to welcoming you back to share our African Dream'. We wish....

One of my favorite pictures of the Ngorongoro Crater


31 July 2011

France, Ile de Ré, Le Bois Plage en Ré, Les Bois Flottais

My Ile de Re ChocolateOnYourPillow favourite is the small scaled bed & breakfast hotel Les Bois Flottais that is situated in between the little village of Le Bois Plage and the beach (just 300m away). The 19 different rooms are set up like a little fishing village around 2 heated pools. The eye for detail and style of the owners is visible in everything, they serve a superb homemade breakfast and you can book massages in your room or relax in the hammam.

Just have a look and judge for yourself:


With its laid back atmosphere, lovely sandy beaches and numerous possibilities to cycle or hike Ile de Ré is a great destination when travelling with kids. If you do so... definitively check out Les Bois Flottais. It's childfriendly and there are family rooms; but note that with small childeren the set up around the pools and the fact that there are no cooking possibilities/restaurants in the hotel are not that ideal. Therefore a great tip is to rent the family house the owners recently have renovated. It's near the hotel and can be occupied by 4 adults and 4 kids. And you can use all the facilities of the hotel... so sounds like best of everything!

Family house 'Rue Jean Moulin'

France, Ile de Ré, Ars en Ré, Hotel le Sénéchal

There are quite some inspiring, lovely hotels and chambre d'hotes at Ile de Ré, so consider to move around the island and stay different places... This is totally unnecessary if you have a practical mind (the isle is 30km long and 5 km wide), but fun and exciting if you love discovering great places to stay.

Hotel Le Sénéchal in Ars en Ré is such a place. Don't stay there for the village, it is very small (though lovely) and can be easily visited out of Saint Martin, but I really enjoyed staying a few days in the fresh, crisp, sea-side atmosphere of Hotel Sénéchal.


What I like about the hotel? Apart from a great breakfast and a nice (small) swimmingpool, the interior. Such a great combination of industrial and victorian furniture against a basic set up of brick, wood and white, decorated with colorfull flowers and cushions/ blankets. Just loved it.

There is quite a range of different options to stay (small rooms, suites, family rooms, appartments, private house), check the site for the different options and prices.    
France, Saint-Martin de Ré, Ile de Ré, La Maison Douce

The perfect match for a holiday that has it all: Paris & Ile de Ré. After a few days of romance/charm/shopping/clubbing/sight seeing in Paris take a car, train or plane and wash away the city dust in the Atlantic ocean. Romantic for an escape a deux, but also ideal when travelling with kids.

Ile de Ré is a 5 hour drive from Paris and is known for its charm with its ton-sur-ton white washed villages, colorfull flowers, fine sandy beaches, oysters, salt marches, ports, forests and more. It has a warm and sunny micro climate bringing the typical vegetation of the South of France (like olive trees, laurels, figs) to the isle. Therefore it's so special and popular with famous and arty Parisians; so close to the mainland, but a complete different atmosphere. For more info on the island check:  http://www.iledere.com/

Ile de Ré has 10 different villages. When going there you will definitively not miss Saint-Martin de Ré, the main village and world heritage site of Unesco. It has lovely terraces overlooking the port where you can enjoy a plate of oysters or the catch of the day. A great place to stay is La Maison Douce. A absolute recommendation, as the charm, the colors, the lovely interior, the garden, the friendliness of the owners of La Maison Douce represent 100% the Ile the Ré way of living. 

Most memorable of La Maison Douce: the spa/jaccuzzi, the victorian bath tub in your room and breakfast in the sunny garden.  

11 July 2011

France, Paris, République, Hotel Le General

An apple on your pillow, a selection of colorful beauty pills next to the croissants for breakfast, a fresh stylish design and a great bed & bathroom (with l'Occitane toiletries ...score!).

Be surprised, be inspired... stay at Hotel le General. Ideal if you want to stay in the heart of Paris but not in the touristic epicentrum and if you prefer urban cosmopolitan above typical French romantic brocante.

Hotel Le General is located a few steps away from Place de la Républic and at walking distance from Le Marais on one side and the Grand Boulevards on the other. If you are interested to discover the undiscovered Paris ask the reception for restaurants/bars in the area, there are plenty. Or check: http://www.mylittle.fr/mylittleparis/en/-bars-restaurants-.html

One NOT TO BE MISSED address... when walking from Le General to Place de Vosges via Boulevard du Temple / Beaumarchais, you will pass concept store Merci. It's ..... just great, inspiring and has it all. A fantastic loft location, a literary cafe, restaurant, flowers, designer clothes, bed linen, scented candles, unique perfumes, juwelry, home and kitchen materpieces/goodies, everything you need to write, to create... and more. Merci makes you smile and happy, from the entrance with a red fiat 500 in the courtyard to the check out where all the profit of everything you buy is donated to charities... What a feel good concept!   

8 July 2011

France, Paris, Marais, Caron de Beaumarchais

Paris, Paris! Je t'aime! Especially in Summertime, especially at the start of the Soldes : )

Just returned from a 48 hour Paris trip to visit a good friend, who now lives in the city of light (and love, and inspiration, and style, and so on and so on). How nice!

When I am Paris there are a few thing I HAVE to do. I cannot leave without 1) having been to the parcs (so nice to sit down and look around in the chairs at the ponds of the Tuileries or Parc du Luxembourg), 2)having had a coffee at the terrace of Café Marly in the gallery of the Louvre (just opposite the glass pyramid) and 3) having spend at least half a day in the Marais. 

While shopping and strolling in the Marais I suddenly stood in front of one of my favorite hotels in Paris, Caron de Beaumarchais. I stayed here a few years ago. It is so lovely, and so typically French and so centrally located in the Marais, that I definitely have to add it as ChocolateOnYourPillow address.


The hotel is named after the 18-century playwright Beaumarchais, who lived a few blocks away from the current location of the hotel when writing his famous play 'Marriage of Figaro'. This play has inspired the decor of the hotel: 'Charm, gaiety, joie de vivre, elegance, refinement and a spirit of freedom; all are elements of the originality of French culture, and they were born under Beaumarchais'. When entering the hotel it's just going back in time...

Mind that you have to make a reservation early in advance (it's a small hotel, 19 rooms and the cheapest roomrates -145€ for a double- are popular). See the raving reviews on tripadvisor: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187147-d188745-Reviews-Hotel_Caron_de_Beaumarchais-Paris_Ile_de_France.html

Although you should discover your Marais addresses yourself (it's part of the fun and new places pop up all the time), here are just a few of my favorites: café Chez Marianne, Zadig & Voltaire, the great selection of clothing brands at Abou D'Abi Bazar, a L'Olivier, art & photography gallery YellowKorner, Kusmi tea,  Entreé des fourniseurs, Satellite Paris Bijoux, the courtyard of Museé Carnavalet... et plus... et plus...

One last thing... if you are not planning a trip to Paris shortly, just take a look at http://littlebrownpen.blogspot.com/ so now and then. It could be that you will change you plans...

Bon Voyage!

28 June 2011

Morocco, Skoura, Kasbah Ait Ben Moro

I already confessed that I like the tales of 1001 nights; to be honest I think I was an Arabic princess in my former life : ). So to sleep in a late 18-century Kasbah in an oasis, with amazing mountain views, surrounded by palmtrees was a fantastic experience.

Kasbah Ait Ben Moro is definitively on my list of Moroccan favorites. My husband and I stayed here a few years ago when making a roundtrip in Morocco (Marrakech - Essaouira - Skoura - Erfoud - Fez - Meknez). Loved this place (that is actually a sand castle made out of mud and straw) because its beauty and simplicity.


A lot of the restored Kasbahs hotels in Morocco would be better off in Disneyland than in the pure and rough Moroccan mountain and desert scenery. Kasbah Ben Moro is one of the few authentic places that still has character. As a consequence it is basic, and that for me is beautiful. I loved the fact that there was only electricity untill 11pm, so after a (great!) dinner we had to go back to our room with a lighted candle in our hand walking through hallways and stairs all lighted in fantastic patterns by lanterns. That's why you go to a country like Morocco, isn't it?

So do not expect glamour and nightlife, but enjoy the romance that nature brings. Two absolute musts when out there: 1) rent a mountainbike (owner can arrange this) and tour around in the Palmeraie and 2) visit Kasbah Ait Benhaddou, a UNESCO world heritage site, and decor of many many movies like Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A%C3%AFt_Benhaddou. Quite funny when you walk through the Kasbah and all of its inhabitants proudly tell you 'did you know I played a part in that that and that famous movie?'.  

I found Ben Moro in a great hotel guide 'HIP hotels budget', that is just exactly my cup of tea. As the author writes in his introduction 'all the ingredients that make a HIP Hotel - fantasy, orginality, style, location- are available at less than astronomical rates, if you only know where to look'... Its an oldy (published in 2001), but you can always doublecheck the places on tripadvisor, I know for sure that most of the listed places still get raving raviews  http://www.amazon.com/Hip-Hotels-Budget-Herbert-Ypma/dp/0500283028

26 June 2011

Morocco, Marrakesh (Palmeraie), Dar Zemora

What do you want after being overwhelmed by the sounds and smells of Marrakech's Medina, after exploring the nightlife and after hiking in the mountains?

Simple. We just wanted to relax at a swimming pool with comfortable deck chairs.

And...we discovered the perfect place to do so. Dar Zemora, a country house style boutique hotel in the Palmeraie, just outside Marrakech. Dar Zemora has not only a nice swimmingpool with comfi deck chairs it has much more... beautifully decorated rooms (my favorite: the open air sittingroom with an explosion of pink and turquoise), spacious gardens, a hammam and a good cook!

Dar Zemora is such a great place and unfortunately that means it has a price tag... But there is one important thing I learned when organizing this trip. Pls pay attention, because this is real valuable advise:
1) don't bargain only at the souk! 
2) and be shameless!

I should not personally take credit for this insight. I organized this trip with a friend. We were the perfect team. I spotted the places and she asked without any sign of embarrassment for discounts (on the rooms, on the dinner), free extra beds in the room, a free transfer to the airport! And she succeeded. All is off course dependant on the time of the year and whether they have a lot of bookings. But it's definitively worth to try.

Hear hear for Jiske!
Morocco, High Atlas, Imlil, Kasbah du Toubkal

Some places do not need sophisticated design or stylish decoration, it's just the authentic character, the friendly smiles of the staff and an awesome location...

Ecolodge and Berber hospitality centre Kasbah du Toubkal, located at 1800m in the High Atlas, is such a place. Basic luxury I would call it. Its the total experience that makes it unique, from the arrival by feet or donkey to the hammam that awaits you after a challenging hike in the mountains. 


Located just 60km away from Marrakech at the foot of Jbel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa, Kasbah du Toubkal is an ideal base for trekkings. Options range from a Toubkal ascent for diehards to strolls and daytreks.

Berber hospitality centre means that the Kasbah is not a hotel in the traditional sense; it's an extension of the hospitality of the Berbers who run it. That is what makes it unique, but expectations should also be managed, as the owners write on their website: "What many guests enjoy and find unique is the feeling of equality and community at the Kasbah. However, it is important to realise that it is not necessarily to everyone. Its unique broad-based approach to welcoming guests may not suit those that expect the place to be perfectly 'dressed' all the time. People expecting an approach more typical of a 4 or 5 star hotel should think carefully before visiting." 
If you asked me, either as place to stay during a hiking expedition or as daytrip to have lunch or tea, Kasbah du Toubkal should not be missed.

19 June 2011

Morocco, Marrakech (Medina), Dar Chelita

Marrakech is a magical place where the best of different worlds come together. It's the mysterious romance of 1001 nights in a boho laid back atmosphere filled with culture, art, aesthetics and cosmopolitan flair. I can best describe it as a sensory roller coaster along spices, roasted lamb, rosewater, Arabic sounds, French pastry, donkeys moving through the small Medina alleys, renewed skin after a revitalizing hammam ritual, pinkish red against the backdrop of snow capped High Atlas peaks, fresh cobalt blue of Jardin Majorelle, lanterns scattering beautiful patterns of light... I can go on forever! I just really love Marrakech!

It was love at first sight years ago when I first visited Marrakech during a roundtrip in Morocco with my husband. And I recently came back with a group of 8 friends. What a great reunion, Marrakech and me! And honestly... although perfect for a romantic tete-a-tete... it's even better when you can shop for ever with your friends in the souk and the ville nouvelle, party till the morning in bo-zin or pacha, have all the beauty treatments you want in the hammam, and chill and chat at the roof terrace of the riad in the sun with croissants and mint tea and wine and olives...

The best Marrakech experience is to stay in a riad (old family palace) in the Medina (the old town). It's a great experience to walk through the medieval Medina with its labyrinth of small dark alleys, find the door of your riad and then enter and feel like a princess. Most of these riads are beautifully restored, styled and decorated with European touch and often featured in interior magazines.


We found Dar Chelita on the internet and immediately fell for the style, the location and the fact that we could rent the whole riad. Funfact: Jamie Oliver stayed here as well. Dar Chelita has a refreshing simplicity as the UK based owner calls it, with a mixture of traditional and contemporary furniture. The rooms are very comfortable, light, spacious and it has a sitting room overlooking the courtyard and a fantastic roof terrace with pleasant places to relax surrounded by beautiful bougainvillea. Dar Chelita is situated next to the Katoubia mosque and the Djemaa el Fna square. And the 5* Hotel Jardin de Katoubia is just around the corner with a not to miss hammam and swimming pool http://www.lesjardinsdelakoutoubia.com/uk/navigation.htm

Although you should definitively stay for dinner and/or lunch in the riad (absolute treat and great value for money in a lovely ambiance) try to book a table at Le Foundouk and Bo Zin as well. Two great and totally different experiences, Le Foundouk http://www.foundouk.com has a traditional superb Morocan cuisine in the old part of the Medina; Bo Zin http://bo-zin.com is a stylish restaurant/club that is a 15 min drive from the Medina that will give you a great insight in the cosmopolitan nightlife. 

And last but not least do not forget to add some products of Les Sens de Marrakech to your shopping list of must have souvenirs. The products are great, not cheap but worth it, lovely smell, based on Argan oil and beautifully packed: http://www.lessensdemarrakech.com/

9 June 2011

Portugal, Alcacer do Sal, Casas do Sal

The award for creative interpretation of a chocolate on our pillow goes to Casas do Sal. We viewed the movie Chocolat beamed on the swimming pool wall under a sky full of stars with our feet in the water laying in big comfortable lounging coushions while sipping our wine....

How about that?

Casas do Sal is a family owned 2000-hectare estate situated 100km South of Lisbon idyllically hidden in the remote country side of Alenjeto and a half hour drive away from one of the most beautiful Atlantic beaches. The traditional white / cobalt blue colored cottages house 8 spacious rooms and apartments. Everywhere there is a laid back, bohemian and colorful vibe. Turismo rural as Sara and Joao (the vibrant and life enjoying owners) call it. I would describe it as hammocks and horses, caipirinha's and cork oaks, bikini's and bird watching. Click on the following link to get a good impression: http://www.wonderfulland.com/wonder2006/sleep/sal/indexhouse.htm#atmosphere

Casas do Sal is such a great discovery as it is a real 'no compromise' address when travelling with kids (we were there with a 2 yr old and a baby of 8 wks). Sara and Joao (who live in Lisbon as well) have three young kids of their own, so there is a natural child friendly atmosphere (and they have baby cots, baths, high chairs and even a off road easywalker we could use). There are some rules though that makes it nice for adults as well. In the cosey communal living area (with honesty bar) kids under 15 are not allowed by themselves. But Sara dedicated one apartment to be a playing room with TV and all the toys and entertainment you can think of. Very smart, and very convenient. Aside from this room, kids will love the enormous variety of animals all around (dogs, horses, chickens, birds, pigs, a parrot...) and the swimming pool is great for kids as well as it has a shallow end where they can play.

Massage in the garden, playing room, white & cobalt blue, horses

Things to do on the estate: chill at the pool or in the garden, explore the grounds by bike or feet and dive into the beautiful private lake (2 km away from the cottages), play tennis, book a massage (in the garden!), do some fishing or even hunting. If you are into golfing there are multiple options in the area. And you should also not miss: Badoca safari park (great for kids), Evora (lovely World Heritage town) and Comporta beach. One of the most beautiful and clean Atlantic beaches I have ever seen. 

There are two beach clubs at Comporta: Ihla do Arroz and Comporta Cafe. Both stylish, relaxed, child friendly and an absolute reccomendation for a dinner on the beach.

Are there also remarks / things to know about Casas do Sal? Just a few:
1) Fly into Lisbon and rent a car.
2) The walls of Casa so Sal are very thick, so bring a baby phone/ walkie talkie with baby phone function with good reach.
3) The location is remote and your roomrate includes bed & breakfast. There is a simple but good bar menu for lunch, but dinner is only served in the off season (before July 12 and after September 14) and will cost 30 eur pp for adults.
4) The apartments have a small kitchen (fridge, microwave, cooker, coffee machine) which is very convenient to prepare a small lunch or dinner for the kids but real cooking is not possible/ allowed.

We were in Casas do Sal in June, so we had dinner at the estate a few times, went to the beach and had dinner in Comporta Cafe and Ihla do Arroz and prepared a simple 'appetizers' meal ourselves several times with bread, salads, local cheeses, sausages, olives and a good bottle of wine. With the kids sound asleep, sitting on our terrace watching the sky turning all colors of red/ purple we enjoyed these kind of meals perhaps even the most...