Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa Edinburgh

18th Century Philosopher Voltaire once said, “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.”  The same could be said about the newly transformed Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh, a model of modern hotel luxury and civility which now serves as the iconic brand’s flagship property.  In fact, the Sheraton Grand’s multi-million £ refurbishment now serves as a blueprint for revitalising Sheraton hotels worldwide.

The 5 Star Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa Edinburgh is an impressive warm honey-coloured stone building located at One Festival Square, off Lothian Road and adjacent to the Edinburgh Convention Centre.  Its enviable location in the heart of Edinburgh offers breathtaking views of Edinburgh’s hauntingly beautiful castle and makes it ideally located to bistros, bars, and boutiques.  Opened in 1985, the Sheraton Grand has long been a favourite of business and leisure travellers alike and enjoys a reputation for a high standard of luxury, service, and guest comfort.

Informal Area in The Link@Sheraton

The hotel’s reimagined interior blends contemporary design with Scottish charm.  Common spaces, most notably the reception area, hotel lobby and The Link@Sheraton were designed to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere, using a neutral colour palette, warm clean lines, and contemporary decor along with traditional Scottish finishes.

Stately Chic Lobby

Gentle nods to the hotel’s Scottish heritage are evident in areas like the lobby, where a crystal clear contemporary chandelier perches above neutral-coloured sofas and red ottomans, all of which rests over a subtle tartan-striped rug.  Additionally, a glance behind the reception desks reveals perforated aluminum panel artwork featuring Scottish deer which was created by a local artist.

But look beyond the striking decor in The Link@Sheraton and you’ll see what lies at the heart of the Sheraton Grand’s revitalisation – Sheraton’s “Meet You There” initiative which aims to position the brand as “The World’s Gathering Place.”

Computer Stations & Workspace in Link@Sheraton

The communications hub in the Link, which provides guests with complimentary WiFi and PC workstations, together with other hotel spaces, are available to connect guests to the digital world.  Sheraton even created a website at www.sheraton.com/meetyouthere to facilitate interaction so that people can access and/or submit real-time social content about their Sheraton experience from/to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TripAdvisor, and Foursquare.

Sheraton Heavely Bed

Guests can continue to stay connected to the outside world in any of the 269 newly renovated guest rooms via a cutting-edge Bluetooth media hub, with cable and wireless internet access and a 37-inch interactive television screen that also doubles as a computer screen.  In addition to the state-of-the-art technology, the redesigned rooms are tastefully decorated to a high standard with subtle Scottish hues blended with contemporary textures, enhanced mood lighting, modern decor, and of course, the legendary Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Bed – the Holy Grail of hotel beds.

Best Hotel Bathroom in Edinburgh

The 5 star hotel is reportedly the only one in Edinburgh to feature both a walk-in shower and spacious bathtub in each bathroom.  The bathroom’s elegant glass-walled design, Shine for Sheraton bath amenities, and the option to stream music from the room’s media hub add to the overall luxury experience.  Bathrooms are also equipped with what I call “rainbow lighting” which allows guests to choose from a myriad of colours with which to light the bathroom. 

Now my hair flat iron will work!!!

But I would be remiss if I failed to mention two of my favourite guest room features:  1) 120 volt outlets that actually worked, located at the guest room desk (appreciated by American, Canadian and Japanese travellers, along with a handful of other nations – yes, I mean you Suriname), and 2) a “night light” switch next to the bed which features a calming red backlight inspired by the hotel engineer’s past experience serving on submarines (I predict this feature will be quickly adopted by every luxury hotel on the planet).

Bar at One Square Restaurant

My favourite area of the hotel is the über stylish bar at One Square which overlooks Edinburgh Castle.  The bar serves as the perfect place to meet and perhaps enjoy one of the over 40 different varieties of gin listed on the menu.  The bright colour scheme – green, purple, and yellow hues – used in contemporary chic furnishings and light fixtures makes for a spirited gathering place for locals and hotel guests alike.  The One Square restaurant is equally welcoming and offers a menu focusing on seasonal UK produce and featuring British classics such as haggis and slow-cooked beef cheek.

Striking decor in Club Lounge

Bottom Line: Rates start at around £155 single bed & breakfast which is a great value for a 5* hotel in the centre of Edinburgh.  To fully enhance your visit, splurge for a Club Level Room which allows access to the stunning Club Lounge.

Final Verdict: As someone who travels for both business and leisure, I agree with Sheraton’s view that travelling is a time to discover and interact with people.  As a hotel guest, I want a luxury experience that allows me to enjoy the privacy and comfort of my guest room while also offering welcoming social spaces where I won’t feel lonely even when I’m travelling alone.  The refurbished Sheraton Grand has been reimagined to bring people together and promote interaction, no matter the reason for the stay.  With its stunning re-design, polished and welcoming service, and a renewed emphasis on the guest experience, there is no better place to gather in Edinburgh.  Meet you there!

Details: www.sheratonedinburgh.co.uk
www.sheraton.com/meetyouthere
Twitter: @SheratonEDI

Marvelous Mevagissey

I first discovered Cornwall about 20 years ago on one of my frequent visits to the UK and was immediately enchanted.  After only a few glances of picturesque fishing villages, breathtaking headlands, sparkling coastal waters, and long sandy beaches, I was hooked.  I immediately sensed that Cornwall was a wonderfully mysterious and romantic place, an opinion which was shared by English author and playwright Daphe du Maurier (who lived in Cornwall for many years and eventually died in the town of Par).

Welcome to Mevagissey

Welcome to Mevagissey

Countless others apparently agree with my assessment of Cornwall, as it’s popularity has grown as a holiday destination.   In the early 1990s, approximately three  million tourists visited Cornwall each year.   Currently, the region is visited by about five million tourists annually.  As a result, the region has become not only increasingly stylish, but more expensive.  Four and five star hotels and, consequently, high prices abound in and around the popular destinations of St. Ives, Fowey, Falmouth, St. Mawes and Newquay.

So I wondered, where could I figuratively drop anchor and experience the charm of Cornwall without paying an exorbitant amount for accomodations?  My requirements:  it had to be at least 4 star accomodation and I required a sea view.  It would also be helpful if there were a few interesting shops and restaurants in the village to visit.  I began researching Cornish seaside villages and came across a fishing port on the South Cornish Coast called Mevagissey.

MEVAGISSEY: The picturesque 14th Century fishing village was named after Irish Saints Meva and Issey.  The town features numerous shops, art galleries, pubs and restaurants along with romantic narrow streets, a busy inner and outer harbour, pleasure vessels, and working fishing boats.  In fact, the town was reportedly the first in the U.K. to have electric street lighting.

I discovered that numerous types of accomodation are available in Mevagissey including B&Bs, self-catering cottages, Guest Houses, Inns and Hotels.  I researched a number of B&Bs and Guest Houses and was pleased to see that there was a wide selection of reasonably priced four and even five star accomodation – and many of them featured lovely sea views.

Tregorran Guest House

Recommended Mevagissey Accomodations with Sea Views:  I only had about a week or two advance notice to find a place to stay in Mevagissey, in the high season no less.  This was a challenge but I was determined.  Armed with the internet and Tripadvisor.com, I was able to quickly determine the best places to stay with a sea view in “Meva”.

Portmellon Cove Guest House: 5 star Guest House, Enjoy England Gold Award, website: www.Portmellon-cove.com.  Portmellon Cove Guest House has three en-suite bedrooms, is situated in a quiet cove, and is close to the coastal path.  Rooms start from £90 per room per night during the high season.

Tremarne Hotel: The Tremarne has been named one of the top 25 Hotels in the UK by Europeans.  It is rated on TripAdvisor as the number one hotel in Mevagissey.  The regular tariff per person per night during the high season for a standard sea view room is £59, inclusive of breakfast and VAT.  Website: www.tremarne-hotel.co.uk.

Wild Air Guest House: Wild Air is a 4 star B&B which has been awarded the Enjoy England Breakfast Award and Gold Award.   The B&B boasts three newly refurbished rooms, all with bay windows and sea views.  The B&B costs £80 per room per night, based on 2 sharing a double room.  Website: www.wildair.co.uk.

Honeycombe House B&B: Honeycombe House is a family run Victorian house located a few minutes walk from the Mevagissey village centre.  It sits on the top of Polkirt Hill and enjoys stunning views over the inner and outer harbours.  The tariff for a double with sea views starts at £34 per person per night.  Website: www.honeycombehouse.co.uk.

View from window of Tregorran Guest House

Unfortunately, all of the aforementioned accomodations were booked solid.  However, I was able to find availability at Tregorran Guest HouseTregorran offered five rooms and I paid £35 per person per night for a twin room with a sea view.  The guest house has been awarded four stars and a Silver Award from Enjoy England.  The room was stylishly furnished and I especially appreciated the iPod docking station.  The beds were incredibly comfortable and I enjoyed the sound of the seagulls outside the window.  The full English breakfast was very satisfying although I found the strict serving time of 8:30 am – 9:00 am to be a bit rigid.  If you have no problem with the firm breakfast time, then I can recommend the Tregorran as a lovely place to stay.  Website: www.tregorran.co.uk.

Top Gear photo by Rakka

The one place you’re likely to find my husband, daughter and me on a Monday evening is in front of the telly watching the latest and greatest episode of Top Gear on BBC America.  We look forward to the once-dreaded weekday because “The Beeb” (or actually the BBC’s flagship U.S. channel, BBC America) features glorious hours of Top Gear episodes in a marathon-of-sorts format.

Now, who would’ve thought a television show about cars hosted by three middle-aged Englishmen would hold so much appeal for an American man, woman, and 12 year old girl?  The show’s universal appeal is almost as difficult to explain as it is to refute.  With an estimated 350 million viewers worldwide, it is reportedly the most popular non-fiction television programme in the world as well as one of the most heavily downloaded.  Top Gear’s appeal inevitably comes down to great chemistry between the show’s presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, as well as clever writing and a real, honest television format that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

As diehard Top Gear devotees, my family members and I wondered if there were any places we could visit on our forthcoming trip to the UK that would be related to our beloved show?  We discovered two great venues that any diehard fan would enjoy visiting.

Top Gear Studios, Dunsfold Aerodrome, Surrey, UK by Rob Warde

Dunsfold Aerodrome, Surrey - The Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, near the village of Cranleigh (13 miles west of London Gatwick Airport), began life during WWII as an emergency airfield built by the Canadian Army.  Since 2002, the site has served as home to the Top Gear team which uses the site to record the show.  The aerodrome’s former paint shop serves as the studio and parts of the runways and taxiways as the test track.  The BBC allows guests to join the audience while the show is being filmed.  Tickets to attend the filming are free and the recording begins around 2pm on the Wednesday before each show airs.  The recordings typically last throughout the afternoon and end around 7pm.  For tickets, apply online by visiting: http://www.applausestore.com.  You may also want to visit the BBC website for additional information at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/topgear/show/participate.shtml.  Keep in mind that studio audience members ust be 18 years of age (yes, my daughter is devastated that she’s too young to see Richard Hammond in person).  Audience members are required to remain standing for long periods during the recording since there is no place to sit.

Top Gear's Reliant Robin rocket - photo by Simon & Vicki

Beaulieu National Motor Museum in the New Forest – The National Motor Museum in the village of Beaulieu, in the New Forest, Hampshire was founded in 1952 by the present Lord Montagu as a tribute to his father, who was one of the great UK motoring pioneers (Papa Montagu was the first person to drive a car into the yard of the Houses of Parliament).  Today the museum houses 250 of the most historically important motor vehicles to have been produced since the late 19th century.  Vehicles on display include the ‘flying’ Ford Anglia from one of the Harry Potter films, a display of James Bond vehicles, and the Mini driven by Mr. Bean.  The museum’s latest exhibition is “World of Top Gear” which displays the actual cars created by the the trio of Clarkson, May, and Hammond.  The cars represent some of the most ambitious challenges on Top Gear as seen over the years.

James Bond "Die Another Day" Jaguar - photo by amcgore

Incredibly, the collection includes the famous (or infamous?) amphibious Toyota, the Alfa/Saab stretch limo, the Reliant Robin rocket, the snowbine used to clear an entire Norwegian road of snow, the rocket-powered Mini, and other “TopGearmobiles.”  Tickets to Beaulieu include entrance to the National Motor Museum as well as the Palace House and Gardens, and Beulieu Abbey.  Prices are £16.75 for adults and £9.00 for children.  Family tickets are also available.  For more information about World of Top Gear and the Beaulieu National Motor Museum, please visit: http://www.beaulieu.co.uk/attractions/world-of-top-gear.

The Gardens at Chatsworth by UGArdener

Whether you’re visiting London and need a respite from the madding crowd or you simply want to find your zen in the tranquillity of a lush bed of flowers, a garden visit is a wonderful way for you to relax and unwind while embracing nature.
The British are known as a “nation of gardeners” and the island-nation certainly enjoys a rich horticultural past. In AD 43, the Roman invasion of the British Isles resulted in the introduction of ornamental gardens in the UK. Thus began the British love affair with soil which has continued through the ages. The nation’s varied microclimates, soil conditions, and local histories allow richly diverse gardens and landscapes which change in harmony with the seasons.
You will find a plethora of gardens throughout the UK to beguile your senses and reinvigorate your spirit. Many such gardens are planted around grand stately homes and castles, others along English coastal areas. Should you wish to explore the tranquillity of a spectacular garden from your hotel room, you may want to consider the following upmarket accomodations which are renowned for their colourful and abundant gardens:

Barnsley House photo by jcdl

Barnsley House - This Cotswolds countryside retreat is located in Barnsley, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire. Originally built in 1697, the grade II listed country house hotel, restaurant and spa was the former home of internationally-renowned English gardener, Rosemary Verey. The imposing manor house features rooms with private terraces, floor-to-ceiling windows in the spa, and a restaurant with terrace dining, all of which showcase the hotel’s lush gardens, ornate lawns and ancient meadows. The gardens are open to the public from 10.30am to 4.30pm daily. Vibe: relaxed contemporary elegance; Rooms from £275 a night, inluding breakfast. Website: http://www.barnsleyhouse.com

Lewtrenchard Manor photo by chericbaker

Lewtrenchard Manor – Part of the swish von Essen hotel group, this Jacobean Manor is located in Lewdon, on the edge of Dartmoor in North Devon. The mansion, parts of which date from the 1600s, is set in 12 acres of beautiful gardens and parkland. The elevated setting of the house provides splendid views over the gardens, which feature streams and ponds, sunken lawns, a rustic dovecote, a walled garden, courtyard, and an avenue of beech trees. Vibe: refined but welcoming; Standard doubles from £155. Website: http://www.lewtrenchard.co.uk

Swinton Park Hotel photo by dylans

Swinton Park – This exclusive luxury castle hotel, the ancestral home of the Cunliffe-Listers, is located in Swinton Park, Masham, Ripon, North Yorkshire. The castle and stately home is set in 200 acres of parkland, lakes and gardens which allows guests access to rivers, moorland, dales and stunning Yorkshire countryside. There is a rockery located to the west of the castle along with a sunken path and rockwork steps. A pathway leads toward a pond, past a lime and yew avenue and colourful garden which blooms profusely during spring and early summer. There is also a Bird of Prey Centre in the Aviary near the Walled Garden. Guests are welcome to walk the grounds which can take up to 2.5 hours to fully explore. Vibe: Impressive but unpretentious and comfortable; Special rates from £155 per night, including breakfast. Website: http://www.swintonpark.com

Chatsworth House photo by kev747

Chatsworth House - This well-known and prestigious property, located near Bakewell, in North Derbyshire has an 105 acre garden, a huge maze, cottage and kitchen gardens, and a trough waterfall in the rockery. The historic estate has an impressive history, serving as the principal seat of the Cavendish family (Earls and later Dukes of Devonshire) since the 1550′s. The grounds also feature over five miles of walks along rare tress, shrubs and streams. Its gardens are managed by a team of 18 gardeners and trainees, and are visited by about 300,000 people each year. Less known is the fact that there are accomodations available on the estate, which include four hotels, six holiday cottages which sleep 4-8 people, and a converted stable which sleeps 2-3 people. Vibe: Historical charm on a grand scale; Prices for accomodations vary, so please visit the website at: http://www.chatsworth.org.

  

Cavendish London Hotel "Royal-Tea"

 UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt predicts that around 2 billion people will be watching the April 29th nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  That’s an astounding figure, considering that the entire population of the planet is 6.9 billion people.  It’s also a number that greatly eclipses the 750 million people who tuned in to watch Prince Charles marry Diana Spencer in 1981. 

Whether you’re among the 2 billion who will be joining in the royal wedding celebrations or you’re a republican (little “r”) who believes monarchies are an anachronism that seem out of place in the 21st century, you can readily enjoy an indulgent Royal Wedding tea.  After all, they’re springing up all over London at the most posh hotels faster than daffodils in Hyde Park. 

Best London Venues for Royal Wedding Teas:
The Cavendish London Hotel, Jermyn Street, St. James SW1The Cavendish London Hotel is one of my favourite hotels and afternoon tea spots for a number of reasons.  The modern, contemporary hotel has a chic design, attentive staff who provide an outstanding level of service, and a brilliant culinary team.  Its exclusive location, in the heart of Piccadilly, can’t be beat.  In honor of the impending royal nuptials, the culinary team created a special afternoon tea which they named “A Taste of Royal-Tea.”  The tea is served in The Lounge on the first floor where guests can relax in style and enjoy scrumptious treats including: Scottish smoked salmon and cucumber tea sandwiches, fluffy scones with home-made strawberry jam, Victoria sponge cake served with a dollop of fresh Hampshire cream, a slice of wedding cake with royal icing, a glazed pear William apple tart, and a selection of chocolates called “Katie’s selection.”  The special tea is available throughout April 2011 and costs £15 per person.  Website: http://www.thecavendish-london.co.uk/

Cavendish Hotel's "A Taste of Royal-Tea"

The Hilton London Park Lane, Mayfair W1:  This posh hotel is situated on Mayfair’s legendary Park Lane with views overlooking Hyde Park.  The hotel’s modern Podium Restaurant offers a limited edition Sapphire Afternoon Tea in celebration of the royal wedding.  The tea takes its inspiration from the bride-to-be’s sapphire engagement ring.  The tea itself features selections that highlight the sapphire gem.  The tea features a Loveberry cocktail, tea sandwiches, choice of scones (plain, raisin or chocolate chip), cupcakes with “K” and “W” iced decorations, shortbread wedding cake, and chocolate and passion fruit hearts. The tea is available from April 26 – May 1 and costs £32 per person.
Website:  www.hilton.com/London-Park-Lane
 
The Royal Horseguards Hotel, Whitehall Court SW1:  This splendid 120-year old Victorian hotel, located near Charing Cross, Trafalgar Square and the Strand – with breathtaking views of the River Thames – won the prestigious accolade of AA London Hotel of the Year 2010 – 2011.  Tea is served in the Lounge Bar, located in the hotel’s stylish lobby. The tea is billed as “a quintessentially English afternoon tea treat with a royal twist.”  In additional to the traditional tea sandwiches and scones, it includes: a mini fruit royal iced wedding cake, English Rose cupcakes, Kir Royale jelly, and chocolate royale served on a tartlet.  The cake stand is beautifully presented with William and Kate inscribed heart-shaped cookies attached at the top.  The tea is available throughout April at a cost of £32 per person. 
Website: http://www.guoman.com/en/hotels/united_kingdom/london/the_royal_horseguards/

Traditional afternoon tea at Langham Hotel, photo by vicchow

The Langham Hotel London, Regent Street W1:  Afternoon tea at the five-star Langham Hotel is served in the dazzling Palm Court, which serves as the hotel’s centerpiece.  It is renowned as the very place where the tradition of afternoon tea was born over 140 years ago.  This historic and enchanting tea venue was in 2010 awarded the highly coveted Tea Guild’s Top London Afternoon Tea award (akin to the Oscars of the tea world).  Created by the hotel’s pastry chef, the royal wedding tea is named “Tea Royale” and includes tempting treats such as a Westminister Abbey chocolate cake, an apricot and raspberry royal crown, and a royal champagne jelly along with traditional tea offerings.  Served throughout April, the tea starts at 40 GBP per person.  Website: http://www.palm-court.co.uk 

So even if your invitation to the Royal Wedding “got lost in the mail [Hyacinth Bucket?],” celebrate with the most delicious British tradition – a delightful afternoon tea.  Do you plan to celebrate the Royal Wedding and, if so, in what way?