A Tour of Guba – Azerbaijan

Qadim Quba - Guba Forest Restaurant

The top tourist spots and highlights from Guba and the surrounding area in Azerbaijan. I visit a carpet factory, eat in a forest restaurant and meet some of the local Jewish population at a synagogue recently given back to them by the government.

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A Tour of Baku – Azerbaijan

Baku Old Town

The top tourist hotspots and highlights from Baku and its Old Town in Azerbaijan. I visit the Flame Towers, Martyrs’ Alley, the Maiden Tower,  and try some tea, jams and cakes in a tea house, as well as a formal dinner in a traditional but cosmopolitan Azerbaijani restaurant.

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Camping in Croatia – App Makes It Easy

Croatia Camping App

The Croatian Camping Association has developed a mobile app for Android and iPhones. The app is free to download and has a wealth of information for camping enthusiasts heading to Croatia this summer. The guide lists 200 sites in Croatia and is constantly updated.

Croatia Camping App

Each site listing features photos, descriptions, contact information, and some even have YouTube videos. Plus there’s handy GPS data to make locating the nearest site easy. The app also provides the latest weather forecast, the exchange rate, and traffic information, as well as useful emergency numbers. The best bit? Once downloaded nearly all of the functions can be used without internet connection. Find out more at www.camping.hr/mobile-app

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Hotel Lone Launches Prostor – A Concept Store Championing Croatian Design

Hotel Lone - Prostor

I previously wrote about Hotel Lone when it became a member of Design Hotels – a curated selection of more than 200 independent hotels in more than 40 countries across the globe. The hotel based in Croatia’s seaside town of Rovinj has particularly striking design and was the first property in Croatia to become part of the group.

Hotel Lone - Prostor
Hotel Lone – Prostor

Now the hotel has launched a new concept store in its lobby. Prostor retails a curated selection of products by up-and-coming Croatian artists and designers. There’s everything from art, to fashion and even furniture. Highlights include toys from Antiforms by Ivan Levak, O! Candles, and Madame Demode clothes and accessories. The best bit? All products are made locally. That’s the bit I really love. Prices range from 10 to 700 Euros.

For more information visit Design Hotels – Hotel Lone

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InterContinental Returns to Moscow

Intercontinental Moscow Tverskaya

While at International Luxury Travel Market in Cannes last week, I was invited to dine with the InterContinental team. At lunch I met Alexey, General Manager of the InterContinental Tverskaya which opened on Monday 5th December and marked a return of the hotel group to Russia after a decade away. The hotel is built on the site of the Soviet-era Hotel Minsk and it tries to combine contemporary chic style with a distinct Muscovite residential feel. The hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from most of Moscow’s key landmarks including the Kremlin and Red Square. Despite what may be going on in Russia in terms of elections and protests at the moment, I believe Russia will continue to grow (I for one am visiting in April) and this hotel will no doubt prove popular among leisure and business travellers alike.

Intercontinental Moscow TverskayaThe 184 en-suite rooms have all the usual mod cons but it was the properties spectacular 19 suites, including three Penthouse suites which caught my eye. There’s also a superb ballroom which seats up to 250 guests for your very own Russian banquet (if you so please). While for a bit of a chill out, there’s a spa by Elemis (personally one of my preferred beauty brands – the quartz facial remains in my book unchallenged).

Intercontinental Moscow TverskayaWe all know I love to eat, so on to the restaurant. There’s the 126-seat Chekhonte restaurant which offers a contemporary take on traditional Russian dishes. I’m interested to see how this plays out. However, perhaps what intrigues me most is the Chocolate by day, martinis by night lobby lounge and bar P-Square. I suspect it will be particularly bling, but then who could blame them, isn’t that part of the Russian charm? I’ll just have to visit to find out!

InterContinental Moscow Tverskaya

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Hotel Lone – Croatia’s First Design Hotel

This month property developer, Maistra has opened Hotel Lone in the picturesque Istrian resort of Rovinj in Croatia. The 248-key hotel is situated in a unique location near the sea, surrounded by centuries-old Park Forest Zlatni Rt and only a few minutes’ walk to the town centre. Together with the five-star Hotel Monte Mulini (opened March 2009), and hotels Eden and Park, Hotel Lone will be part of the exclusive Monte Mulini zone.

Hotel Lone was designed as a contemporary expression of the classic Croatian resort of hotel from the 1970s, with sea-facing terraces and large lobbies, by the 3LHD architectural team from the Croatian Faculty of Architecture under the guidance of architect Silvije Novak. Interiors saw 3LHD working with Croatian designers Numen. In 2009, while still on the drawing board, Hotel Lone became the first Croatian member of exclusive lifestyle brand Design Hotels AG.

Hotel Lone

The hotel’s interiors are based on the theme of contrast, with fabric as the connecting element. This varies from a thin ‘veil’ in the restaurant separating operational and seating areas; rich to decorative murals in the lobby; and dynamic wall coverings in the rooms. The bright and open lobby area features white stone surfaces, fabrics in tones of beige and gold and furniture with oval lines, echoing the curve of the building’s exterior. Conceptual artist Ivana Franke created the large space sculpture for the lobby. Made of steel and measuring 8.7m, the sculpture’s solid elements entwine without actually touching, creating an impression of weightlessness and suspension.

Colours and materials in the 248 spacious guest rooms are more muted with warmer darker fabrics, wood including Slavonian oak, and terrazzo. All rooms, including the 11 suites and one presidential suite of 129 metres, have either sea views or views onto the Golden Cape Forest Park, and balconies and laminated mirrors are placed alternately on side walls to reflect light and an image of the surrounding vegetation. Bathrooms are separated from the room by glass walls, allowing penetration of natural light.

Hotel Lone

This blending of the hotel’s natural surroundings with its interiors continues into its spacious public areas, with interior planting and gardens creating smaller, more intimate areas some of which extend to expansive outside decked terraces. This hints at Hotel Lone’s status as the region’s first significant conference hotel, with 10 multi-purpose meeting rooms and an auditorium with a seating capacity of 600, all equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Together with its sister hotels in the Monte Mulini zone, Hotel Lone is capable of hosting major events with over 3,000 participants.

The restaurants and bars of Hotel Lone will uphold the gastronomic standards established by Hotel Monte Mulini, offering a mixture of traditional Croatian and Mediterranean fusian-style food with a wine list featuring many vintages from the surrounding region of Istria. The three restaurants include a Sushi and Seafood Bar – E; as well as an à la carte restaurant – L; and less formal dining experience – On. Guests can relax in several bars including the Lobby, Conference and Vital bars and the night club bar – Lone – which hosts live performances by acclaimed domestic and international jazz artists.

Finally, one of Hotel Lone’s main attractions is its spa. Covering an area of 1,700 square metres, it connects to the wellness centre of Hotel Monte Mulini, creating an impressive total of 2,500 square metres. The wellness offer at Lone is focused on facial and body treatments, including massages and a scented steam sauna, Finnish sauna and infrared sauna; gym, relaxation room, indoor fresh-water pool with special hydro-massage effects; and two connected “sunken” rooms, offering the opportunity to float and relax on hydro massage beds and chairs. There are eight multi-function treatment rooms using Bioline and Comfort Zone products, some of which have glass walls with views of the surrounding national park.

A short stroll along the marina from Hotel Lone is picture-postcard perfect Rovinj, a reminder of how the Mediterranean used to be. A central square is edged with lively cafés and restaurants spreading out on to a charming harbour, from which spread narrow cobbled streets crowded with Venetian-roofed houses. There are endless opportunities for idle browsing in the many colourful galleries and shops filled with local arts and crafts. Pride of Rovinj, and dominating the skyline, is the 18th century church of St Euphemia. The view of Rovinj’s wooded islands from the bell tower is worth the climb!

Rovinj is easily reached from the UK by flying to Pula (served by Ryanair) or Trieste.

Hotel Lone

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Hilton Vienna Danube Hotel Refurbishment Complete

Hilton has completed its refurbishment of the Hilton Vienna Danube Hotel located 20 minutes from the airport and 7 minutes by metro from the city centre.  The hotel has 367 rooms and guests can enjoy Austrian and international dishes made from local ingredients at its Waterfront Restaurant.

Hilton Vienna Danube Hotel

The hotel has a spacious terrace and the Pier 269 Bar & Lounge.  There is also a new Hilton Fitness by Precor, sauna and outdoor pool.

For more information visit Hilton Vienna Danube Hotel.

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DoubleTree by Hilton to Debut in Bratislava

DoubleTree by Hilton is set to debut in Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava, this April. The hotel will be part of a new sport complex and tennis arena, a short drive from the historic city centre. The hotel will offer 120 comfortable guest rooms in three categories: Guest rooms, Deluxe rooms and One Bedroom Suites. Each room will feature king or twin Sweet Dreams by Doubletree Sleep Experience beds, MP3 alarm clock, LCD satellite televisions, wifi and walk-in shower or bath. The hotel will boast an indoor heated swimming pool, saunas (dry and steam) and a fitness centre.

For more information visit DoubleTree.

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Rossiya Airlines London Gatwick to St. Petersburg Route

Yet more airline route news! This April Rossiya Airlines is launching a new route between St. Petersburg and London Gatwick. Flights will be operated on Wednesday and Sundays but by May the number of flights is expected to increase to five a week – on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday. Departures from St. Petersburg fly at 11.30am and return at 12.50pm.

For more information on flights visit www.rossiya-airlines.ru

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Walking with Bears in Slovakia

I’ve written about similar trips before so was excited to hear that the UK’s leading trekking holidays company, Walks Worldwide, is now working closely with conservation group, Projekt Medved, and has created a unique trip called ‘Walking with Bears’ in the High Tatras mountains of Slovakia.

The High Tatras are the highest mountains in the Carpathian Arc which stretch from Romania to the Czech Republic.  The range is small in area but they are very steep and provide the only High Alpine environment in Europe north of the Alps.  There are a number of well-marked tourist trails but the highlight of this new trip are the days spent off the trail, following animal tracks and ancient smuggling paths in the company of guides who know the region and wildlife inside out.

Bear

This trekking holiday with a big difference, provides the chance to walk not only in a spectacular mountain area populated by bears, but with the intention of seeking the mighty beasts on foot!  The tour actually begins in Poland and initially follows recognised way-marked trails across the High Tatras, descending into Slovakia.  On reaching the Ticha, the group will be joined by a Park Ranger who will take the group ‘off piste’ and walk among the mountains and valleys in an area where tourists are normally forbidden.  This unique opportunity is restricted to a maximum group size of eight people in order to minimise disturbance.  Walking is graded as demanding, hiking at altitude in mountainous terrain for up to 9 hours per day.

The one-off trip departs on Sunday 14 August and costs from £985 pp (land only). This includes ground transportation, 7 nights’ accommodation, most meals and the services of and expert walking and wildlife guide. Call 0845 301 4737 or visit www.walksworldwide.com

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