For those who have checked on my blog more than the once this year, you’ll likely notice the significant lack of content. Yes, our travels have decreased this year down to a paltry 4 months, but it’s been more a case of a few priorities in life creeping in: building a new home, getting married, buying a dog, and, most importantly, dealing with the aftermath of the terrible Game of Thrones ending. It has taken its toll. So here’s your bi-annual summary of where we’ve been, just so you don’t feel you’ve missed out on everything in my life.
Umaid Bhawan Palace
In case it was not clear, I really hate hotels that dabble in self-adulation. I have two eyes, so even when I’m down to 50% capacity I can figure our your greatness by myself. Umaid made it clear that we were staying in the best hotel of all time, as voted for by I Swear I’m a Real Travel Award and their annual 3 subscribers. Whilst there is no doubt the setting and building is sublime, everything else is all a bit too meh. In particular the distressingly tired and surprisingly cold rooms, average food and seemingly pointless spa. The welcome is the best part, so I would recommend staying no more than an hour. It’s clearly the best option in the area, but I’m not sure that’s good enough for their next award: Best Hotel in Jaipur, as There’s Nothing Else. When, on departure, they asked for our feedback, they rounded up all managers from each department we criticised. That way we could tell them again, right to their faces, so they can all probably be shot.
A truly awful camp that masquerades as luxury to clueless Brits that read about it in Readers Digest. Sadly the only “luxury” option in the area, assuming that having no practical heating, whilst it’s 2 Celsius, counts. We ended up sleeping in our most snuggly clothes to warm-up, as even though they pack the tents close enough together for you to hear your neighbours, sadly their body heat did not benefit us. The setting is no better – it is far more developed than you would imagine, with villages right near the camp destroying the idea of being in the wild. The occasional sound of a train doesn’t help either, although it does comfort to know escape is possible.
Yet ignoring all the issues, it’s actually a pretty dull affair too, with its primary issue very similar to Aman-i-Khas: if you cannot see a leopard/tiger, there is nothing else to look for. Africa this is not. Still, we did see a male and female leopard fighting, so losing a few fingers through frostbite was worth it. Or at least I think we did. I would need a tape measure to be sure, but I think we were on the same continent as the leopards. What were they doing? At times they were so far away that they could have all been planning the next 9/11 for all I know.
It has been a long time in the making, but this was my first Oberoi. I had only heard vast praise for their Indian operation. And so it turned out to be true.
Having such fond memories from my previous Indian trip, notably the butler Aman-i-Khas, I was coming back expecting more of the same. We had to get past Umaid Bhawan Palace and Jawai before a similar service level kicked. This is a delightful hotel, with a beautiful lake front setting, backed-up by great facilities, warm service and decent food. It’s only let down by the rooms, which are a-ok. The garden rooms are best if you cannot get a semi-private pool – although they are not heated, so I would never use them anyway. You can upgrade, but I take issue with going from around £700/n for a room to £7,000/n for a suite, which is only twice the size. The main competitor will be the infamous Taj Lake Palace, although Udaivilas is more to my taste. Although I can definitely see the appeal of Lake Palace – it can definitely qualify for the definition of unique – it’s too claustrophobic and has that Taj design that you either hate or you were born prior to 1920.
Has a bit of an Amanjena vibe to it with the architecture – or perhaps what it will look like in 100 years. The deserve immense praise for their service, but everything else fell a bit flat. It is the only Oberoi property where I would instead recommend a Taj; Rambagh Palace, in this case. Rajvilas felt very uninspiring, whereas Rambagh Palace, for all its flaws, gave a real sense of location. They both have vast grounds, but Rajvilas’s all led back to the main restaurant or the pool, which odily was surrounded by vendors trying to sell their wares.
My second trip to India, but really the first – sticking to Aman properties does not maketh an Indian trip. Still, old habits die hard.
It’s always interesting to revisit somewhere and see if it wowed because it was new and I was an inexperienced traveller or because it genuinely is amazing – Aman-i-Khas is the latter. I really loved our stay there, not least of which for seeing tigers on the first drive, and on the final night having said butler running towards me to tell me to jump in a jeep as a tiger was right outside the camp. She came right up to the vehicle and I resisted the urge to pet her. This was a welcome few days of relaxation in a rather hectic schedule.
The only choice if you wish to see the Taj Mahal and stick around. Whilst underwhelming in so many areas, the average stay is just 1 night, so providing you can cope with that in order to see one of the most majestical buildings on earth, you’ll do fine. Throughout our trip, Oberoi offered absolutely fantastic service. With the exception of Agra. Here they performed a complete comedy of errors. It started when we couldn’t get lunch, so free drinks were offered as an apology – which were then billed for. Then a free dessert was offered, but it took over an hour to arrive, so we gave up waiting. During breakfast, the yoghurt tasted off, so we complained and the chef came out to admit it and apologise. At least 8 different managers apologised for it and our bill was wiped, without us saying anything. If you don’t need to stay here, don’t bother, but do not miss the opportunity to see the Taj Mahal.
With fond memories of my 2015 stay, I decided to return. Either my mind had become polluted by all the fumes or The Lodhi decided to just give up on life. It felt very dated, and even more so when we went to check out the new flagship Oberoi property. It is also the first hotel I may have regretted getting upgraded; we found ourselves in a Lodhi Premier Suite, but I would have been happier in a Premier Room. The layout was remarkably stupid, with the corridors taking up at least 99% of the available space and the other 1% for the open planned toilet next to the bed.
There is no reason to stay here.
Taj Nadesar Palace
With only 10 rooms, this is an intimate offering to see the crazy Varanasi. I did not like the rooms, which were so dark you could only escape it by opening the blinds onto the public walkway, which allowed everyone to look into; nor did we enjoy the food, and there were multiple service mishaps, yet I cannot help but feel they did their best. After all, the only alternatives are 4 star hotels.
It’s Paris, so you’ve gotta be perfect. They were not. There’s just too many other excellent hotels in Paris, that aren’t likely to be burned down by the gilets jaunes.
Four Seasons George V
Ever had someone go on and on about how great something is, so you finally do it, just so you can absolutely, definitively know they’re wrong? That’s what I was going for here, but failed in the latter part; it is a wonderful hotel. The new spa, brilliant cuisine and great service makes it obvious this is Four Seasons flagship property.
Four Seasons Surfside
If you absolutely have to be in Miami, it’s likely now the best option. If you don’t have to be in Miami, lucky you.
There’s nothing for you if you’re a couple, but as a family you may enjoy it. They really did try their best and there is nothing fundamentally wrong, it just had the feeling that we’ve been there, done it all before, and it was much better elsewhere.
The staff’s enthusiasm immediately became infectious – they loved this place and so did we. Quite easily one of the best resorts we’ve stayed in this year. The rooms are spacious, private and beautiful, but why not treat your favourite travel blogger and book a week stay in the penthouse? First class flights would be appreciated too. English was not the best, but everyone so desperately tried; none more than the GM, who personally drove us to the airport after discovering they screwed the transfers up.
Four Seasons Mexico City
The courtyard tricks you into thinking you’re in a good hotel. Once you get past the ground floor, you will swiftly realise that this is almost certainly going to be a Marriot in the next few years.
Yeah, but no. Similar to Mayakoba, just with more deluded staff.
Four Seasons Prague
One must go visit the in-laws, and one must do it in style. Easily the best hotel in Prague. Probably. Cos I haven’t been to any others.
A Michelin star restaurant that actually delivered real, quality food. The rest of the staff could learn a thing or two from the chefs. We definitely didn’t get the luck with the weather, so the only ray of light was the Ajax vs Tottenham game. The rooms definitely did not feel “royal”, but champagne there was, so it’s not an entire lie. Yet the spa was a thing of beauty and with a convenient hour journey from Paris, this is one to watch.
La Reserve Ramatuelle
The first ever foreign luxury property I stayed in, so 7 years later, a repeat visit was in order. The modern, concrete feel may not be to everyone’s taste, but I remain a fan. It is still very much a good property, even if their concierge sent us to a restaurant that made me quip that we were about to experience our first strip club together.
La Bastide de Gordes
Even as a reader never gave up pestering me to go here, I still came away surprised by how good it was; one of the finest properties in Europe, in fact. The food, the setting, the service: sublime. Absolutely everything is great here, except the absence of the jacuzzi, and perhaps the paintings that stare at you as you sleep.
Villa La Coste
I really wanted to love it, but I really couldn’t. It just felt like that kid in the gang that no one really wants to hang around with, but you never really could explain why. Years later you found out he was a serial killer, so your instincts were right. It does not take much for me to dislike somewhere, but a huge amount for me to love it. After Bastide, Villa La Coste was already in a losing battle, but their soulless rooms, decorated with creepy photos of the owners friends, matched by dreadful food certainly did nothing to change my mind. The grounds are incredibly impressive with their vastness allowing for an art tour that feels more like a hike – I just find modern art absolute shit and more pointless than Jeremy Corbyn.
Park Hotel Vitznau
One of the worlds best hotels managed to become the best. Not because they improved, as breakfast was still a complete farce and the AC so weak that it must be powered by wind turbines sped by a sole gerbil, but because I’ve turned all romantic – on the 3rd of our 4 night stay, I got married in this fine hotel. The event was absolutely beautiful and I wish you had all been there, but just because you were not is no excuse not to have bought us wedding gifts. The entire event was beautiful and was delivered with absolute class by everyone. The guest list was alright too, although the Dalai Lama must have been busy that day, otherwise I’m sure he’d have come.
Possibly my favourite city hotel. As if the spa was not enough to stay here, the service has become sublime. It seems to get better every time I visit, with this being the 5th. Getting married sure has mellowed me. Lucie believes the spa therapists are amongst the best in the world, whilst I have strong evidence to suggest they are the most expensive. I will never complain about an upgrade, but here there feels little point, even if they do always kindly move us into higher suite category and we never once use any of the additional space. It really is a rarity when any room is a good one.
Our 3rd stay and this time for of our honeymoon. I could talk all about it, but I would just be repeating myself. I do love so much about Laucala, not least the uniqueness and generosity, but I shouldn’t feel the need to do an appraisal of it every time I visit. At least hotel inspectors get to stay for free. They really need to improve, otherwise next time the only service recovery will be the transfer of ownership of the island to me.
My first compromise of married life – and proof, kids, that compromise gets you nowhere good. Dig your heels in and stay in Aman Tokyo, I say. I had no desire to stay here, knowing full well it was just a city version of Gora Kadan , yet stay I must. Surprisingly, I loved it. Only kidding – it’s Gora Kadan were it built in the 2010s, for christ sake. They even shared that damp wood smell that triggered the unpleasant memories of the militant operation we were in for. I can’t say anymore, as the prison wardens, I mean staff, are onto me.
I’ve had better.
Really enjoyed the 1H18 summary. We are headed back to the Park Hotel Vitznau in September. Given your comments about the AC I hope the temperatures in Europe normalize by that time. I do agree about the breakfast, but other than that the PHV is near perfection.
Felicitations on your marriage! Looks like I get to cross India off my travel list. Sometimes I think it’s much better to travel via the big screen TV with the AC on in the summer and the heat on in the winter. No bugs, a toilet where it should be and all I need to add is a full time housekeeper and a personal chef!
Did you do the submarine at Laucala again?
I have no doubt that VR travel will be a thing. It’s one way to get your carbon footprint down.
As for the submarine, I did not. There’s a blog post in the making for that.
Thanks for writing this six month update, enjoyed reading about your adventures and entertaining reviews.
Good to read the reality of the Jawai property and leopard sightings. I had a feeling the sightings are from a very far distance.
PS – I believe the tigress in your photo with the 2 young cubs is the beautiful Arrowhead! She is famous for her tenacity and her arrow-like facial markings.
You were very lucky to see her when her cubs were so young. This is her second litter, unfortunately she lost the first litter.