What: The Grand Hotel Excelsior Terme is a former aristocratic mansion set amongst a beautiful garden by the sea, on the magical island of Ischia in Italy’s Bay of Naples. Here, you will be treated like royalty. The service and staff are some of the loveliest we have found to date. With beautiful art scattered throughout, an excellent restaurant, pretty rooms, and private access to their own secluded beach, this old-world Italian luxury hotel is the perfect base for exploring the beautiful island of Ischia. Not only that, you are only minutes away from Corso Vittoria Colonna, the loveliest shopping strip on the island.
Where: Ischia, Italy. A short 10min drive from Ischia’s Port (after the one ferry from Naples).
When: May 2019.
Why: A little bit of old-school Italian luxury on our first-ever visit to the island.
Stayed: 3 nights.
Which room: We stayed in one of the Junior Suite Sea View Rooms which was absolutely gorgeous. You can choose between Sea View rooms and Garden View rooms, but I definitely recommend going for a Sea View as it is so lovely looking over the swimming pool and garden and out to sea. If budget is no option, I can also vouch for the Grand Suite (of which we had a tour one day) which is absolutely stunning – featuring original watercolours by German artist, Eduard Bargheer.
Eating and drinking: Belvedere restaurant at Grand Hotel Excelsior Terme is headed up by Ischian local, Libera (the first chef from Ischia to be awarded a Michelin star). Libera’s cooking showcases local and seasonal produce (many of the vegetables come from the hotel’s own garden) and her menu changes daily. Breakfasts are something to behold – with freshly baked cakes, pastries, fruit, eggs – anything you want really. Bountiful and delicious. On the day of our arrival we enjoyed a two course lunch at Belvedere which was incredible – homemade pastas, buffalo mozzarella cheese, the sweetest tomatoes we have ever tastes, and fresh seafood.
Don’t miss: Every village of the island is worth a visit. The most popular attractions are: the Cathedral, the Church of the Holy Spirit, the Aragonese Castle and the Sea Museum in Ischia Ponte; the Church of Santa Restituta, the Archaeological Museum, and Negombo thermal park in Lacco Ameno; La Mortella botanic garden, the Church of Soccorso, Poseidon thermal park in Forio; the church of San Michele and Sorgeto bay in the fishermen's village of Sant'Angelo; last but not least Barano with its beautiful hiking trails and the popular Maronti beach. Enjoy a breath-taking view from Mount Epomeo all over the island and the Gulf of Neaples.
Best bits: Handsdown, the staff. The staff at Grand Hotel Excelsior Terme are some of the friendliest, most passionate and kind hotel staff I have ever come across. A very special thanks to Alessandro Leonessa for taking such good care of us. Alessandro went out of his way each morning to suggest the best itinerary for our day (recommending we visit La Mortella botanical gardens (a must), Forio (“do not miss the church of Soccorso (the white one on the promontory), the Arciconfraternita S. Maria Visitapoveri in Piazza Municipio (the famous statue of the Angel, used for the Easter procession, is in the sacristy), the church of S. Gaetano near the harbour, the Corso Umberto where you can see Bar Internazionale, the meeting point of artists in the '50s, Torrione (the biggest of the defense towers, now a museum) and on the way to the Basilica of S. Vito (the patron saint) the famous house of Tommaso Cigliano with its polygonal tower in the corner”), and Sant’Angelo in one afternoon. Extremely passionate about the island, and art as well, Alessandro delighted in sharing with us information about all the featured artists around the property. We learnt about Jeffrey Smart, a renowned Australian artist, who lived on the island in the 1950s. You would be hard-pressed to find more genuine, kind, and committed service anywhere else in the world. A very special thanks also to Antonio Mancusi, reservations manager, and Peppe – the most wonderful waiter – for their kind service as well. This is definitely what sets this property apart from the rest.
Other highlights include the outdoor heated swimming pool, surrounded by their pretty garden, and outdoor massage tables; as well as the hot thermal springs of the indoor pool, and the private beach.
What: Dating back to 1874, The Hotel Grande Bretagne is without doubt the grande dame of Athenian hotels. With spectacular views over the Acropolis, this is Athenian luxe at its finest, and it is really quite beautiful here. With 320 rooms and suites, with their period decor in tact; 3 restaurants; 4 bars (including the famed Alexander Bar); and a renowned Day Spa; the Hotel Grande Bretagne offers an opulent accommodation option in the heart of Greek’s capital.
Where: Depending on traffic (which can get pretty funky from time to time), it should only take about 30mins by car to get from Athens airport (or the port) to the Hotel Grande Bretagne. The hotel itself is within walking distance from all of Athens’ most revered historic sites and museums - the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Syntagma Square, Parliament, and the Original Olympic Stadium, for example.
Which room: We were booked in for a Classic King Room, but somehow ended up with a very lovely upgrade to a Deluxe Acropolis View Room - looking straight out over the Parliament building and all the action of the main square as well.
If you want something super extravagant, check out either their one Presidential Suite or their one Royal Suite as well. We love the old-school, classic details and antique furnishings.
Don’t miss: A treatment at the GB Spa. With its very own thermal and herbal steam rooms, grotto, mud chamber, and ice fountain (just to name a few), this spa really has it all. A treatment here will transport you far away from the Athens craziness that lies outside.
Best bits: Extremely friendly staff and super polished service; the amazing rooftop restaurant, bar and pool; and stand-out facilities such as their in-house nail salon and barber salon.
Eating and drinking: With 3 restaurants and 4 bars onsite, there are plenty of wining and dining options within the hotel. Our favourite was the breakfast each morning. Served up on the GB Roof Garden, with its spectacular views over the Acropolis and all of Athens, this breakfast spread is more than impressive. We also loved the GB Pool Bar for a quick snack and drink by the pool; and also Alexander Bar in the lobby for something much more classic - the perfect spot for a cocktail.
Price: Rooms with an Acropolis view will obviously set you back a bit more, but the price of the standard Classic rooms are definitely more digestible (besides, you can get a killer view anyway from the GB Roof Garden)! It’s beautiful here.
What: The Peninsula Beverly Hills is an elegant, luxurious and tranquil oasis in the heart of LA. Tucked away in the very pretty, leafy and fancy Beverly Hills, this French Renaissance-style hotel is perfectly hidden behind trees and palms and exudes a feeling of intimacy. Here, the hotel is renowned for its exceptionally personalized service. Over 70% of guests are return guests. It is a true 5 star experience.
Where: Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. Easy walking distance from Rodeo Drive and only 30mins from LAX airport.
Why: A little bit of luxury on a quick trip back to Los Angeles.
Stayed: 2 nights.
Which room: We were in a King Deluxe Room - bright and airy with French doors that opened up to look over the pretty gardens and Beverly Hills skyline. The best part about the room was walking into find our very own personally-monogrammed pillows: one that said GH, and one that said @_itsbeautifulhere. Cute, really cute. The feeling in the room is classic and luxurious. The marble bathrooms are super spacious and Oscar de la Renta are the amenities of choice. The robes (love a robe!) are delightfully comfy and cosy. There are 195 rooms in total throughout the hotel, including 38 suites and 17 private villas. Another unique touch is the bedside iPad which controls everything from room temperature to a 'Do not disturb' sign illuminated next to your door.
Little touches we like: The personally-monogrammed pillowcases are definitely our favorite personalised touch - the hotel apparently urges you to take these home with you (however I didn't realize that, and sadly left mine behind!!!)
The “Pen-Air Inflight Menu” was another cute touch I liked. Designed for those who have to be up early the following morning to take a flight out of Los Angeles, you can order ahead your breakfast and the hotel will package up all of the items for the ease of travel - a really great range of options, all of which are created to be consumed cold or at room temperature.
Don’t miss: Book in for one of the legendary Peninsula Afternoon Teas which is served daily in The Living Room - a super luxurious high tea with all the trimmings: French champagne, endless treats and delicious cups of tea. The service is supreme. It’s a super fancy way to spend an afternoon (amazing people watching, too).
Best bits: The Rooftop pool, without a doubt. The Peninsula’s gorgeous and intimate rooftop is home to a 60-foot rooftop pool (as well as the Peninsula Spa) and beautiful blue and white cabanas. There is waiter service up there too and you can enjoy cocktails by the pool while soaking in the LA sunshine. It’s the best.
it’s healthy here: The Peninsula Spa is hidden away up on the Roof Garden and is not only a popular spot for guests, but LA locals as well. Here they are renowned for their amazing facials, using cult French brand Biologique Recherche. I didn't get a chance to try one but I hear they produce some pretty amazing results. Recently launched a holistic wellness program the Spa now offers guests the opportunity to book a healthy, active “staycation”. Calling it an “Urban Wellness Retreat”, it is available as a one-, two- or three-night package and includes private fitness classes, guided meditation and a daily restorative sports massage, as well as a specially created menu of healthy meals featuring locally sourced ingredients of the highest quality, some of which are plucked from the hotel’s own rooftop garden. There is also a 24-hour fitness centre and one-on-one yoga and pilates classes on request.
Eating and drinking: There are four restaurants and bars within the hotel. The Roof Garden was definitely our favorite (try one of their signature cocktails, the Speckled Jalapeño Margarita), but we also loved The Club Bar for something more cosy and classic Hollywood. Breakfast in the fine-dining Belvedere restaurant was lovely as well.