Sunday, 11 October 2015

La Coquillade Village, Picture Perfect Provence

It has been over 6 years since I last posted something on this blog... I might be a little rusty, but I hope that my experience of La Coquillade Village (early July 2015) can be of help. As usual, please feel free to ask me some questions in the Comments section and I will do my best to reply.

After a smooth EasyJet flight from Manchester to Marseille (make sure to book seats with priority boarding), we picked up our rental car at Europcar and managed to quickly set off for what would be four days of Provencal bliss.

Driving down the D900, surrounded by stunning vineyards and lavender fields, it is easy to miss the signs for La Coquillade. The tiny country roads taking you to what formerly was a small hamlet, might initially feel like being in the middle of nowhere but the grand gated entrance immediately reassures guests that they have indeed arrived 'somewhere'. Somewhere out of the ordinary that is. The pine tree lined drive to La Coquillade Village takes you to the reception where with a big welcoming smile - typical of 'Les Gens du Sud' - Benoit our 'voiturier' guided us towards the reception desk while taking care of our luggage and our car. After a swift, friendly and multilingual check-in, Benoit whizzed us around the jaw-droppingly fabulous property in one of La Coquillade's dedicated golf buggies, leading us to the very well appointed and spacious room that would be ours for the next few days. The beautifully designed and spacious Chambre Prestige would to any other standard be considered a suite with its dedicated seating area featuring two comfortable chaise sofas, a large smart TV, a Nespresso machine and a writing desk; while the stunning separate free-standing bath, wet-room type shower and double vanity unit were all cleverly laid out next to the ultimately comfortable bed. Not only are the rooms very stylish, but they actually 'work' really well for guests with form and function being in perfect harmony. The fact that every room also has its own dedicated outdoor seating area is a massive bonus since it allows guests to enjoy Provencal bliss, with for example a glass of wine and some cherries you freshly picked strolling around the domain.

Free standing bath looks stunning

Very comfy bed

Separate lounge area with Smart TV and Nespresso 
Double vanity unit 

Wet room with bath robes

Outdoor seating area

Enjoying some freshly picked cherries
La Coquillade Village is the brainchild of Swiss entrepreneur and cycling enthusiast Andy Rihs (and his wife), who have created a unique Provencal retreat where guests can enjoy the best that La Provence has to offer in total tranquillity and luxury. The BMC Cycling Centre at La Coquillade hints at the owner's passion for cycling and his BMC Cycling Team is well-known to Tour de France aficionados, bringing together a well-established team of world class professional cyclists. The Cycling Centre offers bicycle hire, a top-class bike shop, a workshop and test centre, while sports lovers can tackle totally bespoke bike circuits accompanied by a guide or pre-programmed GPS.
The hotel comprises of 22 rooms and 41 suites. The rooms are categorised as Chambre de Charme (30 - 35 square metres) and Chambre Prestige (40 - 55 square metres), whereas a multitude of different types of suites will cater to the most discerning of residents, with added space, luxuries, Jacuzzi baths and even a private pool. The original hamlet that forms the basis of the original La Coquillade, gives the hotel a very intimate feel while offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape with its marvellous hills, vineyards and lavender fields. It was converted to La Coquillade back in 2008 and initially only offered 28 rooms and suites. Last Winter however (2014-2015) a new wing was added offering more accommodation options with the new world class spa having only very recently opened its doors, at the end of June 2015.
New wing at La Coquillade

Outdoors relaxing area near the new Spa

Even though the massive expansion, guests can - literally - rest assured that La Coquillade Village never feels crowded and manages to retain its tranquil and relaxing nature thanks to the extra swimming pool, the numerous lounge areas and several dining options.
One of the numerous lounge areas

Yet another outdoor lounge area

Even though extra rooms, La Coquillade doesn't feel crowded
Admittedly, we do prefer the feel of the original hamlet when compared to the new section, which looks stunning but has less character.
Le Jardin dans les Vignes offers an extraordinary setting from where to enjoy the sound of crickets and a beautiful sunset while savouring the 'Retour du Marché' menu accompanied by the omnipresent and very palatable Aureto wines. On our last evening we opted for the ‘Aureto Soirée Rose’, where guests were encouraged to also reflect the pink theme by dressing accordingly, if possible. Live piano music set the perfect background for what would be a very enjoyable and memorable evening combining succulent cuisine - with foods matching the pink theme - and rosé wines - of course - in a picture perfect surrounding.
Le Jardin dans les Vignes

This view makes enjoying a meal rather easy

On cooler (or wetter) days, dinner and breakfasts are taking place in the aptly named Le Bistrot, while on mild and warm days breakfast is had in the bistro's outdoor area.
Le Bistrot's outdoor area
As an interesting side note, winery Aureto is also owned by Andy Rihs and it actually precedes La Coquillade Village which sits within the Aureto domain. It was on a visit to the wine estate and walking through the hamlet that the inspiration for La Coquillade Village emerged... it was just too much of an exceptional setting not to share with others, and so the 'mental seed' for La Coquillade Village was planted. True foodies should make sure to give the reputed Le Gourmet restaurant a try where the Michelin starred Chef Christophe Renaud creates some truly gustatory highlights to your Provencal dream holiday. Il Ristorante is the more casual but nevertheless stylish restaurant where guests can enjoy Italian inspired lunch - or dinner - options such as salads, ciabattas, pastas and pizzas while overlooking the swimming pools at La Coquillade. Be warned however that portion sizes at Il Ristorante are very generous - to say the least - and that you might need a siesta at the fabulous pool side afterwards... life can be hard at times. Luckily, the pool bar boasts some invigorating organic fruit 'virgin' cocktails, iced coffees and the intriguing Calimucho to quickly restore your energy levels, would you wish to do so.

Il Ristorante setting
Poolside bar
One healthy  poolside drink and one Calimucho
The recently opened 1,500 square metre Spa looks absolutely gorgeous and the setting is of a more contemporary and minimal styling, with lovely outdoor relaxation areas complementing the slick indoor infrastructure which boasts an indoor pool, hammam, sauna, steam bath, multi-sensory shower, hydrotherapy room, many treatment rooms and leisure areas. For guests fond of their privacy, the Spa offers a 'Private Spa within the Spa' including 2 massage tables, jacuzzi, sauna, hammam and garden. The treatment programme at La Coquillade focuses on health and nature, but also includes more traditional beauty treatments. It is perfect for relieving tired or sore muscles after completing a bike circuit in the wonderful Luberon region.

The 'hot' new Spa
Guests should certainly also ask concierge Antoine for some advice since this gentleman really knows how to avoid the tourist traps, while offering some very worthwhile and delightful alternatives. Next door to the concierge's desk, the La Coquillade Shop offers the perfect opportunity to quickly pick up some gifts for family and friends before returning home.

Should I get the right one or the left one? 
What makes La Coquillade truly exceptional however is not just the infrastructure, the design and its wonderful surroundings, but also the friendliness and professionalism displayed by all members of staff whose smiles complement 'le village' to ultimately contribute to an unforgettable Provencal escape.

There you go... that was my first travel blog post in over 6 years. I hope you found some useful information in here and please feel free to ask or comment!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Pulau Perhentian, June 2009

After spending 2 nights in KL, we flew out to Kota Bharu in order to get to Petani Beach House on Pulau Perhentian, our island destination. At the airport we bought an official airport taxi transfer ticket to Kuala Besut's jetty. We had been told by Debbie (the lady who manages/owns Petani Beach House with her husband Hash) to not go for the cheaper combined taxi-boat tickets if we wanted a better "boat experience". She also advised to look for Kuala Besut Travel at the jetty. It was a little hidden away, but was worth looking for since we managed to get a boat ride before most of the other people who were waiting for their boats. The lady who manages Kuala Besut Travel was very efficient and quickly got us on our way. The jetty is quite chaotic and confusing, so having someone that takes control is very handy. By the way, since Pulau Perhentian has been made a "Marine Park" you now have to pay an admission fee of 5 MYR to get on the island.

We must have looked a bit "out of place" with our over-sized luggage (blame the city destinations), excessive hand luggage and Siân's white leather handbag. The boat ride itself was fast, very fast and a little bumpy.

Getting all our luggage from the boat onto the beach, being helped by Eddie, we were greeted by Bianca who looked slightly amazed at the amount of stuff we brought along. Luckily a few days later we felt much better when Paul and Georgina arrived on the island carrying hard shell suitcases ;-)

My partner Siân was slightly worried about the fact that we wouldn't have aircon nor hot showers, but she wanted a "perfect beach" destination. I discovered Petani Beach House by accident 10 years ago (was able to find my name in the early pages of the Register Book) and afterward never managed to find a beach that lived up to that particular beach setting, not even The Crane in Barbados.
Now, in order to get the perfect beach on an island such as Perhentian you have to be willing to make a trade-off between luxury and nature. It would be really difficult to build concrete aircon bungalows without affecting the surrounding nature and destroying some coral while at it.

I knew the accommodation was going to be quite basic (but not as basic as some other places on the island) and that we should expect some creepy crawlers inside (the backyard literally is jungle), but I was also hoping that the atmosphere and setting would compensate for all these minor issues. And it did! Big time!

Even though Siân had asked me to come up with a Perhentian back-up plan (meaning a place with aircon and hot showers), once we arrived at Petani Beach House she didn't want to leave anymore. The atmosphere at Petani Beach House was just amazing, which was mainly due to the setting and the people who are running the place.

The owners, Debbie and Hash, were visting family in South Africa when we went, so they left the management of Petani Beach House to their children, with their partners and friends. Bianca and David are excellent at running "front of house", while Icken and Raisa are producing amazing food in the kitchen. And even with everybody being very efficient at what they do, there is no trace of stress to be found on this beach. If you can't chill at Petani Beach House, you need valium and if you don't like the food, you need other taste buds.

Remember me saying Siân was initially slightly worried about staying at Petani Beach House, and I honestly was also slightly worried how she would react to it after the 5 star luxury in the cities ... well, have a look at her review on TripAdvisor and you'll see she also loved it!

Tips when staying at Petani Beach House:
  • Go for the "specials" at dinner time. Every evening Bianca or David came by the bungalow to say what the special was that evening (always fresh from the day and served at about 8pm) and we systematically just went for it. We had some amazing food, and I particularly remember the red snapper, calamari and crab.
  • David organises his own snorkel tour which is just amazing. Do it! With David being ex-military, a qualified diver and having a certificate for rescue at sea, he made us feel very safe and relaxed while we were just totally gobsmacked at seeing sea turtles from up close, giant rays, sharks, and the most techni-colour bunch of fishes ever.
  • Make sure to have an underwater camera. I'm still kicking myself for not having brought one to the island.
  • Bring some battery powered LED book lights and torches when staying at Petani.
  • If you are planning on keeping some snacks or food inside the bungalow, make sure to bring Tupperware style containers, because the ants seem to be able to find your food wherever it might be (even when hung, in a tightly knotted plastic bag).
  • Mosquito repellent! Loads of it, and go for the strong stuff! Even though Bianca and David hand out mosquito coils and use them under the tables at the restaurant, the mosquitoes are really aggressive. Seemingly Off is one of the most efficient mosquito repellents for the island according to them.
  • For the ladies, bring a mirror you can place on the deck outside if you want to do a bit of pampering. (the light inside the bungalows might not be bright enough)
  • Get yourself a local Malay SIM card before going to islands. All the major Malay mobile network providers have a decent signal on the island.
  • The nearby bigger Impani resort is handy for when you want a snack when Petani's restaurant is closed, or when you need extra rental snorkel equipment.
  • Try the local Orang Utang rum, also known as "Monkey Juice". It mixes very well with Coke or pineapple juice.
So, if you love a good beach, you want some relaxation, amazing snorkeling and don't mind rather basic accommodation ... this is the place to be!

Kuala Lumpur, June 2009

From Singapore it only took a very short, SilkAir-operated flight to get to Kuala Lumpur. On arrival at the impressive KLIA airport, we went straight for the official Airport Taxi Desk, which seems to be subsidised, offering really good rates for what is quite a long drive actually (almost one hour) to get to KL city. There are several types of official airport taxis so just make sure you specify the type you want: Budget, Premium, Family, ... We had booked Traders hotel after having read some really positive reviews on TripAdvisor. On arrival we were greeted by Ronaldo who took care of our luggage and made sure to show us to the check-in desk on the 32nd Floor of the hotel. We had booked a Traders Club room, which gave us access to the Club Lounge with its own reception desk for fast check-in and check-out. The Club Lounge is available for breakfast (instead of the more extensive breakfast selection on the 5th floor) and complimentary afternoon tea, but this place really gets buzzing from 5:30pm onwards when the complimentary cocktail hour starts (until 7:30pm). Even though it is advertised as "nibbles", the food during cocktail hour is actually really good and I'm sure it would be challenging for anyone's stomach to go out for dinner afterward. We enjoyed many G&Ts and snacks here, and also used cocktail hour to do some online research using the free WiFi. The Sky Bar on the 33rd floor of the hotel is a definite must-see and while during the day the same space functions as the pool area, it is at night that it is at its best. It feels and looks a bit weird during the day with people trying to catch some sun coming in via the open side windows. The loungy cushioned seats are being used as improvised sun loungers, so in the evening you might end up sitting where previously had been some sweaty backs.

Our room offered an excellent view, with the Petronas Towers just in front of us. The room itself was decent, but not as functional storage-wise as one would expect.

Even though Traders hotel caters mainly to a business crowd, some of the facilities such as the complimentary business centre (free Internet and printing) and free cocktails and nibbles in the Club Lounge make it enjoyable to the leisure traveler. A special mention for Nick at the Concierge Desk. His recommendations were excellent, he checked us in for our flight while we were having a chat and also introduced us to Shangri-La's new resort on the Maldives. We didn't have time to explore much of KL but we went to Chinatown for some compulsory
knock-off shopping and we picked up a Malay SIM card in order not to get hammered with roaming charges when making local calls. KL's Golden Triangle, where many of the popular hotels are located, is trendy, high-tech and looks very cosmopolitan. In the evenings we went to Bukit Bintang and had a few drinks, while Jalan Sultan Ismail also is a popular spot for bars and restaurants.

Even though Kuala Lumpur is a top-notch South-East Asian capital city, it didn't have that "unique" feeling you get when going to Bangkok or Singapore. Even though everything is really good, nothing really "stuck" with us except for
the quality of the hotels. Which leads me to the Mandarin Oriental hotel. We stayed there for one night on our way back home from Pulau Perhentian. Now, if there is one thing I will remember from KL, this will be it! Together with Ca' Sagredo in Venice (even while being very different), this is the best hotel we have ever stayed at.

Service was second to none, the room was fantastic, the bed and pillows were outstanding and the room service was of excellent quality (and the aircon worked properly all of the time, something that Sentosa Resort nor Traders Hotels seemed to manage).
We booked this last-minute on the phone, while staying on Pulau Perhentian. With it being weekend we were offered the room (and one breakfast) for less than £100. Amazing value for money! Since we had a late flight, we asked if it would be possible to accommodate us with a late check-out and we were immediately offered a complimentary 3pm check-out. This already made things much easier, but since we would only be leaving at 6:30pm we still needed "a solution" for the next 3 hours. Now, we had been told locker rooms and showers were available (near the pool) for us to change before our flight, but we didn't expect these to be as good as they actually were. The so called locker rooms offered dressing tables with toiletries, several different types of showers, a jacuzzi, sauna, steam bath and relaxation lounge. Absolutely flawless!

Before booking the Mandarin Oriental, I also called the Shangri-La hotel because of our previous positive experience in Traders, but the booking agent on the phone was much less helpful and when I asked what the options were to accommodate a late check-out I was immediately told "50% of the price for 1 night", nothing else. I even asked if they would have a complimentary late check-out (which I know they do from a couple we met on Pulau Perhentian), but I was told that we would need to pay an extra 50%. This was in stark comparison with the telephone booking agent for the Mandarin Oriental, who couldn't have been more helpful, accommodating and polite. The entire process from calling the Mandarin Oriental to book a room, to actually leaving the hotel was flawless. The words "benchmark" and "best practices" come to mind when thinking about the Mandarin Oriental hotel.