Nimb Hotel

Words by Isabelle Hopewell

Synonymous with Hans Christian Anderson, pioneering design, retro flair, galleries to die for (Louisiana Museum of Modern Art springs to mind) and gastronomic haunts that change the way people understand food, Copenhagen is a city like no other. There is so much to lure you to this northern wonderland – and so many reasons to stay – yet a particular gem, a welcoming abode that offers old world luxury with character, is Nimb Hotel. Part fairy-tale, this is where you venture when seeking a decadently blissful Danish escape.

Found in the Tivoli Gardens (the world’s second oldest amusement park – and one hotel guests are given private access to), this domed, light-festooned hotel somehow manages to be simultaneously gallery-esque, vintage and playful. The palatial structure, built in 1909, comes to life the moment you step through its doors; the interiors combining soft lighting, antique furnishing and objet d’art, an abundance of rich wooden detailing, glittering chandeliers, bird motifs, natural tones and flower arrangements more akin to blooming works of art.

In the rooms – of which there are 38, some of which come with their own fireplaces (making a winter visit seem rather delicious) – the focus is on the minute. There are vintage cocktail cabinets filled with Alice in Wonderland-worthy jars of spirits, ornate writing desks and thriving house plants. My four poster bed was at least part cloud, while the tub, which I filled to the brim with bubbles, proved almost impossible to leave. Although, with dinner and drinks calling, I somehow found to will to depart this opulent, comforting space – an homage to the best of Scandi design. It’s worth noting too that spa treatments can be carried out in the bedrooms upon request. To learn more about The Nimb’s other wellness offerings click here.

Food is another area where The Nimb excels. There is an assortment of restaurants and bars on site, meaning all tastes can be catered for – whether it’s fine French fare, cocktails or afternoon teas complete with all the Danish staples that you hanker for. As it was summer, and everything was suitably relaxed, I made for Fru Nimb, renowned for its open sandwiches and view over the Tivoli Gardens – their summer herring, elderflower, horseradish and radish is a thing of beauty. Light-filled and glorious, this restaurant only opened in 2015 and is named for Louise Nimb – restauranteur extraordinaire of the 1800s. Vegetarians will delight in the creations of Gemyse while wine connoisseurs will fall for the wonders of Vinotek – the hotel’s wine cellar. Clearly in this charming, pioneering Copenhagen abode, there is something for everyone.

To find out more about the hotel – or indulge, escape and book a room – click here.

Mountain High

Words & Photographs by Betty Ried 

There’s something otherworldly about the snow-dusted, wildflower-adorned peaks of South Tyrol. Found in Italy’s far north, just shy of the Austrian border, South Tyrol is an area of staggering natural beauty, a place full of the unexpected, a melting pot of cultures, histories and landscapes – and yet, thankfully really, it remains largely unexplored. And, while there is pasta, wine and sun in abundance, you’ll also find dumplings, snow, alpine forests, breathtaking mountain passes and wooden refuges that feel worlds away from the villas of Tuscany or waterways of Venice. This is an entirely different Italy – a place of magic and wonder where travellers can embrace all things adventurous or simply unwind in a singular, spectacular setting.

While South Tyrol has long been synonymous with wintery escapades – it had 1,200 kilometres of ski slops after all – this alpine wonderland proves glorious year round. With 350 mountains over 3,000 metres, seven nature parks and what feels like only a handful of visitors, how could it not be? Here the setting – think chocolate box villages found amongst soaring, time-ravened peaks, the terrain a collage of greens and greys – comes with a rather liberating sense of space.

With each passing season South Tyrol has been adding attractions to its tourism programme. A cable car takes early-risers skywards to watch the summer sunrise, mountaincarts speed down winding dirt tracks and the Plose Looping will leave you equal parts exhilarated and euphoric. Thanks also to a collection of rustic mountain lodges scattered throughout the region, everything remains accessible; Rossalm will delight youngsters after a morning tramping along the ‘WoodyWalk’, while Maurerberg Lodge, which sits at 2157 metres, serves up typical Tyrollean dishes and views you can get utterly lost in. Here you will also find around 16,000 marked hiking trails, mountain bike routes, spa towns, healing waters and mountain lakes – like Caldaro, Dobbiaco and Carezza – that are among the warmest in the alps, making them ideal destinations for wild swimmers. It’s no surprise to discover that locals have long made a  habit of heading into the wild the moment work finishes. Spend a few days surrounded by such beauty and you’ll find that this local pride is infectious. 

My base for South Tyrollean exploration was the newly-opened My Arbor, a modern and open, nature-inspired boutique abode found on the mountains above Bressanone. Bathed in light, the design is elegant and innovative, full of earthy tones and organic textures that make the space feel like an extension of the surrounding forest. Rooms are expansive, the view impossible to ignore and forest bathing de rigueur – as is lounging by the pool, feeling kinks loosen in the spa, indulging in a restorative multi-course meal, or letting time slip away in a mediative massage. 

Best of all though, South Tyrol is home to the Italy’s most northerly wineries and, thanks in part to the cooler climes, their wines are clean, smooth and distinctive. Known more for their white varieties, entire days can be spent visiting wineries like Novacella, which is found in an old monastery and is famed as much for its library as its coveted tipples. But whatever draws you to this mountain-filled paradise – be it wine, calm or daring do – know that a few days here will leave you breathing deeper and thinking clearer and that you’ll depart utterly in awe of all South Tyrol has to offer.

To learn more about South Tyrol, click here.

Another Place, The Lake

Words & Photographs by Renae Smith

Around 20 minutes after leaving the train station I felt our taxi turn down a long driveway. My husband and I were in the heart of the Lake District and my eyes were instantly drawn to the blue waters of Ullswater – until we came to a complete stop in front of the doors to Another Place, The Lake.

With a few guests to check in before us we took a seat, admiring the central part of the original Georgian house. We’d passed by a collection of wellington boots by the entrance, ranging in size and shades of mud, and I spotted a bundle of wood in the corner of the library room, hinting at the presence of a fireplace, and a restaurant off to the right. As couples, a young family and dogs filtered through, it felt less like the reception area of a hotel and more like a large family house full of warmth and charm.

A smiling face caught my eye from behind the reception desk and as we were shown to our room in the hotel’s new extension, passing the Living Space and a casual restaurant/bar area and terrace, followed by the pool, sauna and treatment rooms. With the team from the Watergate Bay Hotel behind its creation, there are significant similarities in design and overall feel throughout – however, its place amongst the vast national parkland on the second largest lake in England ensures Another Place, The Lake stands on its own.

I lingered by the entrance to the indoor pool, struck by the view through the wall to ceiling windows. With a complete rundown of the hotel facilities and outdoor activities – from canoeing and paddle boarding, to tramping along the area’s many trails – I could foresee the challenge of indecision about what to do beyond the itinerary we had already booked in. Why do holidays never come with quite enough time?!

Our room was light and welcoming, with a view out over the lake and on to the snow-capped mountains in the distance (it had been an unseasonably long winter). I opened the balcony door and welcomed the crisp air into my lungs, the weight of the city now far behind me.

The next morning, the cloud that had rolled in over the lake in the early hours having long since burnt off, we went for breakfast at the Rampsbeck Restaurant, and it felt like the sun and the blue skies were competing for brightness.

As my husband had a paddle boarding lesson arranged, I opted for indulgence and made my way towards the treatment rooms for a pedicure. Although, having passed the Library with the sun streaming in, the thought of grabbing a book and curling up on one of the couches in front of the fire for the day certainly appealed.

With my feet thoroughly pampered I was tempted to give in to my relaxed state and head back to the room as I still had some time before my husband was to return, but then I remembered the three-course dinner we had planned that evening, so instead grabbed a map and selected a hiking trail. The map had a great selection of walks ranging in length and difficulty, but with limited time I decided on a short amble, saving a longer trek for the both of us to do the next day.

On my walk back to the hotel I spotted my husband’s paddle boarding group out on the water and decided to watch them come in from the terrace while I enjoyed something to eat from the Living Space menu. I felt deliciously calm and thought about when we would return; it was easy to imagine spending many types of holidays here throughout the year, each of the season’s offering up a different backdrop and range of adventrues.

Whatever the reason for making a trip to Another Place, The Lakes, you are assured of a view that will overtake the desire to curl back under the covers, no matter the weather.

The Old Clare Hotel

Sydney has changed since I left for London seven years ago. It’s still an utterly glorious harbour-side oasis adored for its coffee and cafes, and it still has beaches I yearn for on cold English mornings. But it has become noticeably cooler in my absence. The galleries that were little more than tiny, unknown establishments in my early 20s have flourished and spread, architects are taking greater risks, food is increasingly daring and festivals of light and creativity seem to be on everybody’s minds. This may be the distance speaking, but I love what Sydney has become.

 

This change is most noticeable when booking into the city’s hotels – and Chippendale’s The Old Clare Hotel in particular. Constructed from two heritage-listed buildings (the original Clare Hotel pub and the Carlton & United Breweries Administration Building), this 62 room property, part of the Design Hotels collection, is the warm, light-filled definition of industrial chic. A place that honours its history, embraces Australiana and makes leaving its welcoming, elegant interior very difficult indeed

 

 

Within the hotel’s walls natural tones abound, with each room (all subtly different in design) boasting high ceilings and massive windows. There’s polished wood, exposed brick, marble tiling and gleaming concrete, with glass used in communal areas to invite the outside world in and draw attention to the bones of the original buildings – metal external stairwells transformed into pieces of art and brick walls mirroring the streets beyond. There are pendant lights and vintage furnishings (the dentist chair by reception sets to tone immediately), all of which nod the Chippendale’s industrial past. Colour is added with the use of soft furnishings, which include cushions inspired by Australia’s wildlife and wildflowers and throws you long to secret away. 

 

 

Once a lesser-known haunt coveted by locals and uni students (music posters from its earlier incarnation have survived, which look rather glorious beside the brilliantly retro central bar), the revamped Clare Bar is open to all, with many of the cocktails made from spirits produced by the local distilleries popping up across the city. A rooftop pool beckons on warmer days – the chaos of the city seeming particularly far away – while the attached Kensington Street Social restaurant is the ideal breakfast haunt. Those unwilling to leave the lushness of their rooms are able to sample the fare as part of the in-room dining service. The hotel is also right beside Spice Alley, perfect if you have a hankering for something Japanese, Malaysian, Chinese … I could go on. This is Sydney street food and accommodation done right. Here’s hoping my hometown continues to thrive.

 

theoldclarehotel.com.au

 

Paramount House Hotel

Retuning to Sydney on my annual pilgrimage south there are certain things I need to do. Have a scoop of mint chock chip at Messina, indulge in a burger or two at Harpoon Harry, swim in the sea at Camp Cove, wander the Wendy Whitely Gardens, bask in all things Australia at the Unicorn and, because being a bit of a cliché is fun sometimes, be on Bondi for at least one sunrise.

On my most recent journey back to The Great Southern Land however I found a glorious new activity to indulge in – swapping the spare-bedroom-meets-storage-room I normally claim in my childhood home for a Loft room at the newly opened and utterly gorgeous Paramount House Hotel. This brick and copper-adored structure, in ever-trendy Surry Hills and just a short amble from the transport hub that is Central Station, is a destination in it’s own right. Across the road sit Longrain and Chin Chin, restaurants any gourmand would swear by, and within the building you’ll find Golden Age Cinema and Bar (the ideal date location for lovers of all things a little bit retro), long-adored breakfast haunt Paramount Coffee and co-working hub The Office Space

 

Having once been the offices and warehouses of Paramount Picture Studios, the 29 room hotel, which took four years to fully restore, feels like it comes with creative history. The interiors are warm, almost earthy – there are plants throughout and natural tones and textures abound. You’ll find polished concrete, exposed brick, floor to ceiling windows (in the Loft room at least), rich furnishings, a lift with the best wallpaper in town, French linens you long to secret away and a Japanese style bath made for soaking. The artwork has been curated by the nearby China Heights Gallery, while check in within the lofty lobby comes with a welcome drink – I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the the sour beery from Marrickville brewery Wildflower – and plenty of indie reading material. 

Paramount House Hotel is the work of Melbourne-based Breathe Architecture and you can really sense the love and attention that has gone into making it something distinctive – an industrial-chic hideaway you don’t want to leave. And you don’t have to. Check in, admire the set up, catch a film downstairs, listen to the sounds of Surrey Hills, raid the cheese and wine in the mini bar and bask in the brilliance of one of Sydney’s newest additions.  

Rooms from $240 
paramounthousehotel.com

Photos by Sharyn Cairns & Tom Ross

 

 

 

 

 

The Abbey Hotel

I adore Bath for many, many reasons. Firstly, it’s the home of the absolutely wonderful Magalleria – stockists extraordinaire – as well as Mr B’s – one of the UK most delightful book stores. There are Jane Austen connections aplenty (even if her relationship with the city was a touch tempestuous), healing waters, afternoon tea destinations worth travelling for (case in point, The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa) and a rather inspiring local creative community – we’ve stumbled upon more than a few contributors in this town, making Society Cafe and Colonna & Small’s our temporary offices on multiple occasions (coffee lovers take note).

When you love a city this intensely you find yourself venturing there repeatedly – which means you’re often in search of rather inviting places to rest your head. And our latest find is a grand one indeed, especially if you have a fondness for fine fare, cocktails with character and a location that is as central as can be. Found, as the name suggest, right beside the magnificent Bath Abbey (when England’s first King was crowned … fun fact) and a mere amble from those much-adored Roman Baths, you walk into this stone structure to find a hotel positively brimming with art and personality.

Built from three converted Georgian townhouses, The Abbey Hotel is filled with works from the private collection of its previous owners; picture a vibrant combination of Picasso prints, vintage maps and contemporary wonders. These are most striking in the appropriately named ArtBar, with boats covetable lighting features and a cocktail list you’ll find yourself all to keen to make your way through. Here the inventive tipples taste as delicious as they look; delightful, creative indulgences that will not cost you much more than your cognitive facilities (temporarily). 

Artistic flourishes elevate the hotel’s 62 rooms and while these are perfectly cosy it’s the restaurant, Allium, that is the true standout. Modern artworks are ever present but there is also an Old World richness to the space thanks to the bold colours and dramatic wooden tables. This is the domain of chef Rupert Taylor and his dishes are perfectly British and suitably magical. Flavours are inventively balanced and at times a touch unexpected, the hearty winter dinner I feasted upon (featuring venison, parsnip puree and beetroot carpaccio) remaining surprisingly light and deliciously moorish. The experience is enhanced further by Allium’s wine list. You’ll inevitably fall asleep feeling totally sated and wake thrilled to discover that breakfast awaits. 

Should you require a spot of post-feasting pampering pay a visit to No 15 Great Pulteney – the hotel’s sister property that’s equally art-besotted – and spend an afternoon in their spa, before proceeding to the lesser-explored Holburne Museum and then wander along the canal to keep those holiday vibes flowing. Do this and I’m sure you’ll soon agree that Bath is utterly worthy of adoration. 

To discover more, pay a visit to the hotel’s website by clicking here.

Hôtels Barrière les Neiges

Those who believe skiing holidays benefit from a liberal sprinkling of the ultra luxe should sample the welcoming decadence of Courchevel’s Hôtels Barrière Les Neiges. Relatively new to the luxury scene – it only opened in late 2016 – this mountain-framed hotel’s design is a fusion of rustic charm and contemporary sophistication – playful and elegant all at once. The entrance feels almost like a gallery (made all the welcoming by a roaring fire and lashings of red highlights) while the spa is a secluded haven of calm, with a few playful details of course. When it comes to public spaces, Hôtels Barrière Les Neiges clearly has a fondness for the vibrant. 

That said, rooms are made to unwind in – picture cloud-like beds, ultra modern bathrooms, rich timber, covetable upholstery, faux cowhide (complete with flex of gold) and monochromatic photographs of the surrounding peaks in all their snow-capped glory. Art continues throughout the hotel with Koons-esque sculptures and silver screen icons watching on as you float through the corridors – presumably en route to Spa Diana Barrière to discover the meaning of bliss (and bid farewell to any post-skiing kinks).

 

While clearly a celebration of all things luxurious, the hotel is decidedly family-friendly – and feels all the more inviting as a result. There is a dedicated kid’s spaces, and a tempting pool and a projection room, while the hotel can arrange for private ski instructors (for adults and children alike) who can cater days on the slopes to all abilities. It’s rather remarkable just how much ground you cover when someone with an intimate understanding of the ski field leads you down the mountain – and does all they can to make your (well my) ski style a touch more graceful.

The surrounds are the definition of ‘winter wonderland’; mountains tumbling over themselves into the distance with Mont Blanc standing proud upon the horizon, a liberal shrinking of snow making the entire scene all the more perfect. But should it be the après-ski culture that lures you to this deliciously decadent corner of the world, make sure to stop by Cave des Creux, a charming restaurant situated on the slopes some 2,112 meters above sea level, with a terrance clearly created with winter sun seekers in mind. 

Back in Hôtels Barrière Les Neiges, the ski room is sure to delight piste lovers – helpful hands ensure you simply step out the door and onto the slopes (even buckling you into your boots), ski-in, ski-out at its best. Dining here is also a gastronomic treat. Should you crave something with an Argentinian twist visit Restaurant B Fire by Mauro Colagreco (a chef worthy of his stars), or sample Savoyard cuisine with a raclette in a custom-built chalet designed for the secluded enjoyment of aromatic cheese, or indulge in a  long lunch at Le Fouquet’s – part installation, part ode to all things fabulously French. Thank goodness for the brilliance and sheer expanse of Les Trois Vallées’ slopes, otherwise you’d never dare leave.

To book a room or learn more about the hotel’s rather tempting offerings, click here.

This is a longer version of a write up that will appear in our France magazine. To order a copy click here.

The Nation’s Kitchen

Words & Photographs by Angela Terrell & Illustrations by Flora Waycott

This piece originally appeared in our Japan magazine – you can order a copy here.

The first thing you notice is the noise. Pedestrian crossings, escalators and subways trill and beep while alleyways resonate with emphatic voices luring you at full volume into shops and arcades. Totally bewildering at first, flashing lights, brash advertising and constant momentum only add to this raucous cacophony and you quickly find yourself a bemused observer of the throng. Yet Osaka is enigmatic and under this clamour is another world, one populated by friendly citizens who don’t take themselves too seriously, and plenty of paradox.

Wide promenades are criss crossed by neighbourhood laneways seemingly narrower than the cars navigating them. Fluorescent neon floods the sky whilst lanterns and a canopy of exposed power-lines light historic alleyways. Shrines, love hotels and street food vendors sit side by side, and immersed within the teeming masses, instead of feeling hemmed in, you experience a surprising sense of calm.

So how to explore the layers and ambiguities of Osaka? Getting your bearings from the top of its tallest buildings, the Umeda Sky Building or Abeno Harukas, is a start. But then it’s best to just meander, locals happy to help disorientated tourists lost in the maze. Composed of village-style neighbourhoods, you’ll uncover tiny vintage and design shops (not to mention cat cafes) amidst the quiet lanes of Nakazakicho or boutiques of bustling Umeda. You can walk for kilometres along the vibrant arcades of Shinsaibashisuji and Tenjimbashisuji, visit frenetic Amerikamura with its cutting-edge shops and quirky lampposts, or window-shop in a daze along Midosuji Avenue. Turn off throbbing Dōtonbori (following the scent of incense through seemingly empty alleys where jazz first appeared in Japan) to Hozenji Temple where the juxtaposition of pious worshipers and chaotic nightlife is enthralling.

Wherever you go, food is ever- present. Thousands of stalls and restaurants line the streets where Osakans happily kuidaore, or ‘eat oneself to ruin’. Known as ‘The Nation’s Kitchen’ from its roots as a major trade and rice storage port, today this food-centric city has a reputation for entrepreneurship and creativity, even boasting the first sushi train. The Japanese believe those from Tokyo will become paupers from buying shoes, in Kyoto from kimonos and in Osaka from food, and while regularly frequenting three or four restaurants and bars in one night could induce poverty, the rule that ‘cheap is good’ sees residents snub non-compliant eateries.

Whether enjoying over-the-counter Kappo style dining (in such close proximity the chef adapts ingredients to suit customers’ moods), tachinomi (where standing while drinking is the custom), or dishes from street food stalls, the fare is unfailingly good. Over days spent wandering through markets and arcades guided by replica plastic food and orderly yet eager queues – or even blindly guessing from menus – I ate my way through Osaka. In Dōtonbori I feasted on moreish takoyaki, dough balls filled with octopus then lathered in sauces. For something different, Takoriki in Karahori uses kombu dashi, red ginger and freshly boiled octopus to create delicious morsels served with Champagne. In Shinsekai, kushikatsu, deep-fried skewers, were covered in a light, crunchy batter, magically maintaining the sweetness of tomatoes and succulence of salmon. Dipping only once in the accompanying sauce lest I wreaked the wrath of fellow diners, they were a perfect snack. Numerous restaurants and stalls offered okonomiyaki, savoury pancakes loaded with a variety of ingredients (cabbage is a staple) then doused in decorative sauces. Once only a meal for the aristocracy, today it’s enjoyed by everyone, especially at Yukari which has been perfecting its recipes since 1950. Said to combat diabetes, the pork, shrimp and squid mix is a classic, precise flipping ensuring the ingredients are steamed perfectly before being topped with ‘dancing bonito’.

At Kuromon Market, a 190 year old destination for local gourmands, the seafood choices are plentiful but my pick for quality sushi is Ichibazushi where tasty morsels (customarily devoured in a single bite) are prepared with artistic flourish. Despite the language barrier it was a joy to interact with the chef as he cut and seared fish that tantalised my taste buds – although I declined tessa (pufferfish sashimi) despite knowing it wouldn’t be lethal in his expert hands. Markets also proffered yakiniku, beef barbecued over charcoal and seasoned with salt, sesame oil or sweet wasabi. While I was too full to sample the horumon barbecue, where every part of a chicken (including pieces I didn’t know were edible) is cooked, I later tried kitsune udon, the noodles floating in a light dashi unique to Osaka and topped with tofu. Having even found stalls selling giant candy floss and the world’s tallest soft- serve, eating myself to ruin had been accomplished.

Mirroring the conundrum that is Osaka, alongside these hectic food stalls and tiny eateries are some of the world’s premier dining establishments. At Michelin three- starred restaurant Fujiya 1935, chef Tetsuya Fujiwara uses childhood memories to create a progression of courses that excite the senses, the food more about the feelings and sensations they evoke than individual ingredients. Chilled wasabi pasta decorated with carrot leaf and topped with sorbet followed the curves of the lotus-shaped plate like a work of art. Smoke from smouldering embers under a chestnut pudding with coffee jelly rose like a magic potion, its scent reminiscent of traditional autumn hay-burning. More than just a meal, eating here is like unwrapping a seasonal gift from nature enhanced by youthful recollection.

But what creates the flavours of Osaka? Seaweed expert Junichi Doi believes it is umami, the savoury taste found in kombu kelp, the basis of all broths in Osaka. Wearing gloves to handle seaweed that had ‘slept’ in a box for four years, we studied its greenish-grey hue, admiring the quality of the Hokkaido harvest. Fully aged, it is prepared for sale in Doi’s shop so anyone from Michelin chefs to home-cooks can create delightfully aromatic dishes. Those equally dedicated to their craft are the knife- makers of Sakai, traditional craftsmen from Mizuno Tanrenjo employing centuries-old techniques to shape steel and iron into the sharpest of tools. Few have mastered this art, with knife making a descendant of sword making, famously produced in the region before the fall of the samurai. Locals take as much pride in cutting and slicing as they do in cooking, the right knife imperative in ensuring food’s piquancy is preserved.

Sated after days of dining, I required amusement and while Osaka is proud of its thriving comedy scene, traditional forms of entertainment also flourish here. Hoping to protect the arts for future generations, Yamamoto Noh Theatre holds workshops and has performances in Noh (mask theatre), Rakugo (comic storytelling) and Bunraku (puppetry) that, despite being written over 600 years ago, are just as apt today; family worries, jealousy and vengeful woes apparently timeless. Sitting in the audience with the troupe from Cirque du Soleil I became lost in stories told purely by animated expression, intonation and evocative movement; with my lack of Japanese it was the only way to listen. Being able to draw an audience into the histrionics requires enormous mastery and years of training (it takes 20 years to control a puppet’s facial expressions), but by combining commitment with newly written plays on contemporary issues this intense art will continue to captivate.

There are also plenty of nearby destinations for day-trips such as Himeji, with its glistening white castle and Koko-en Garden, and Nara, with its roaming deer. Above a valley of rice paddies and owering cosmos is Kōyasan, a sacred Buddhist site where temples abound and the divine entity Kōbō Daishi, who brought Buddhism to Japan, lies in eternal meditation. Pilgrims have visited the site for over 1,000 years and following some through the cedar-filled Okunoin, with its 200,000-plus graves and moss-covered monuments, was serene rather than sombre.

Mount Inunaki, near Kansai International Airport, is a spiritual mountain retreat guaranteeing tranquillity. Wandering along pathways built over 1,350 years ago, past pristine waterfalls and shimenawa ropes denoting hallowed ground, I contemplated my tiny place in this beautiful natural setting. The gods of fire and water (appearing in the form of a sword-swallowing dragon) can be worshipped here, wishes fulfilled and purification attained by the ascetic exercise of ‘waterfall meditation’. This ritual can be brutal, some monks staying under icicle-laced water for hours, although quicker reflection is acceptable for visitors. Afterwards, Minamitei is perfect for a kaiseki-style lunch where a sequence of artistically garnished seasonal dishes are served as you sit on tatami mats in private dining areas. Later, relaxing with mothers, daughters and gossiping grandmothers in the healing waters of the onsen I understood true satisfaction.

With so much to discover, it’s worth getting lost in Osaka’s flamboyance, for it is then that you’ll find quietness behind the noise and meet people that charm. All the while revelling in plenty of guilt-free eating.

Forsthofalm

Daydreaming upon a bed of cushions, I open my eyes. Rain is falling on the glass ceiling and walls as I watch as a group or goats wander over the neighbouring hill, oblivious to the late October chill. It is there, warm and content in a post yoga-and-sauna daze, that I release just how glorious Austria is – regardless of the season. Whether you venture to the mountains beyond Salzburg to ski, cycle (this hotel is found by one of Europe’s biggest mountain bike trails) or hike, you’ll surely be swept up in the Forsthofalm magic (and the setting of course). 

While it may be found near the town of Leogang, Forsthofalm feels very much like it’s in the middle of nowhere; beyond these walls there is nothing but forest and mountains that make the idea of returning for a winter jaunt remarkably tempting – ski-in ski-out doesn’t get much more convenient/scenic than this. With only 54 rooms spread across seven floors, this in a sports hotel (there is no need to leave the premises for anything other than an adrenaline hit) with a difference. It is family run, offers the finest and heartiest fare and has an eco-friendly heart.

I’d journeyed here to try my hand at the Forsthofalm Mountain Life Programme – a series of indoor and outdoor exercise sessions ranging from early morning yoga (the ideal way to wake up) to rather intense pilates classes (good intense, don’t worry), hikes, weights-based workouts and evening saunas (to name just a few of their offerings). Even as one without a particularly effective core or a sizeable amount of motivation I found myself hooked; the combination of endorphins, expert teaching and sense of fun making the entire experience all the more enticing. And of course, when you work out you become totally deserving of a spa treatment – and on this front Forsthofalm once again delivers. After winding down in a series of scented saunas, it’s time for a massage, which is catered to one of the five moods you may find yourself in. The oils and scents used are created on site from wild herbs collected in the garden and forest for a little added bliss. 

Should you be able to pick your suite I’d recommend asking for the ‘Secret Forest’, which comes complete with suspended wooden bed, fireplace, private sauna and panoramic view of the mountains. That said, each sizeable, beautifully designed room, boasts plenty of charm. The hotel is built almost entirely from wood. The walls are spruce, as are the nails, the sculpture-like furniture is larch and bed is made from pine. Situated as it is in the middle of nature, it made sense to construct the building from natural materials – an added incentive for those in awe of the wild to travel up the mountain. These rooms are also designed to grow more more beautiful with age – the patina of time adding to Forsthofalm‘s warmth.

Here it really is all about seasonality. In summer you’ll find a rooftop bar by the outdoor pool serving a mix of cocktails and ice cream (the ideal post-sauna/work out cool down) and during October I sipped autumnal cocktails by the roaring fire of the bar. The restaurant menu also shifts throughout the year. Food is at the heart of hotel – indeed, it began as a place for skiers to enjoy winter lunches back in 1972. Enhancing their hearty meals (the menu changes every night and the ingredients used are largely organic and sourced from local farmers) is a collection of 300 wines – 50 of which are natural, a relatively new trend in Austria.

After dinner there are a string of events on offer, from live music to cocktail tastings, all designed to bring people together and help foster the sense of community the hotel prides itself on. That said, don’t underestimate the deliciousness of returning to your cloud-like bread and drifting off with a good book, no doubt dreaming of your return journey – which, let’s face it, is inevitable.   

You can learn more about the hotel and make a booking here.

Hotel Santa Caterina

Words by Marina Malthouse

Arriving at the glorious Hotel Santa Caterina on the Amalfi Coast requires a slight adjustment. Leaving the U.K. in mid-October means shifting from autumn in the West Country to southern Italy’s take on the season. From muddy walks to hikes along sun-dried footpaths. From cool, damp air to the heart-warming touch of a gentle sun. From sweaters to swimwear. Arriving in this hotel you feel as if you have walked into an opulent dreamscape from yesteryear. It is almost impossible to fully take in all that you see, the sense of discovery lasting until the moment you reluctantly depart.

Standing majestically on a sheer rock-face overlooking the Tyrrenhian Sea, Hotel Santa Caterina is strategically positioned one kilometre from the town of Amalfi. The cream-coloured building is typical of its time and whilst there, I was immediately drawn to the plethora of beautiful objects that filled the space. In accordance with Plato, there was proportion, harmony and unity among their parts. 

Built by Giuseppe Gambardella in 1850, the hotel was opened by his son, Crescenzo, in 1904. It is still owned and run by the Gambardella family who continue to offer homely hospitality, much to the delight of visitors and staff. The number of returning guests is high and those who work there (many hailing from the surrounding villages) have done so for years. Chance encounters, whether with groundsmen, receptionists, or waiters, were reminders of what it is to be human – each would greet with a ‘buon giorno’ or ‘buona sera’ as if about to break into song, delighting in the opportunity to connect.

 

One of the greatest rewards comes from looking out from the hotel across the water, as it is here that you appreciate exactly where you are. The rocky coastline stretches away on either side and the sea tempts many metres below, giving you the impression that you’re looking out from the bridge of a ship. The hotel facilities and gardens occupy this vertical landscape between the main building and the sea, and connecting the two is a remarkable feat of engineering – a lift that has been cut into the rock-face. The view as you travel in this glass-fronted structure is sure to rob you of speech.

Descending to sea-level on foot is preferable if you want to explore the grounds. From the hotel entrance, passing the drinks terrace and dining area, a staircase leads down to the hotel spa, which offers massages and treatments, a sauna, steam room and ‘Scottish’ shower complete with essential oil vapours, hot showers and a cold rinse (the invigorating process doing wonders for your health). As lemons grow prolifically in Amalfi (this is the home of Limoncello), lemon oils are an integral part of their signature massage treatment.

Several sets of steps take you past bedrooms and garden suites to one of the hotel’s two restaurants and The Beach Club, with its bar and gym. The terraces lining each level brim with citrus trees, flowers, herbs and vegetables and, like all the hotel grounds, are immaculate – I’m rather envious of those who know how to make things flourish in the changeable Mediterranean environment.  

Whilst staying at the Hotel Santa Caterina, visitors can venture to the various postcard-perfect towns of the Amalfi Coast; coveted destinations like Positano, Sorrento, Ravello, Amalfi and Atranti, or the island of Capri. Despite the intense blue skies, the kind temperatures of mid-October inspired me to choose the exhilarating one-hour walk from the hotel down to Atranti and up innumerable steps to reach the stunning town of Ravello. Views of the coast, of rooftops, churches and men hand-picking olives were my companions as I walked. All invoked a deep respect for those who work and build upon this remarkable land. Once in Ravello, having wandered its shop-lined streets, I strongly recommend visiting the breathtaking British-designed gardens of Villas Cimbrone and Rufolo – trust me on this.

I cannot imagine that anyone who stays at the Hotel Santa Caterina would be disappointed. While the hotel prices are high, it will certainly give visitors a true sense of the maxim, ‘you get what you pay for’.