Mayakoba – Riviera Maya, Mexico

With direct flights from London and good weather awaiting you, Mexico and the Mayakoba resort are a wise choice if you are contemplating guaranteed sun, thanks to temperatures that rarely drop below the low twenties.

Getting to the Mayakoba from Cancun airport is easy and convenient with a short drive of less than an hour along a very straight road. It’s worth noting that I encountered minimal hassle at Cancun airport aside from a customs form you have to complete (and retain for the return). In fact I don’t think I have had an easier journey from plane to hotel.

Arriving in Mexico under the cover of darkness I felt the reassuring warmth in the air from a hot summers day. Sadly it was almost pitch black outside as our driver proudly told us about the 200 miles of Caribbean coastline we couldn’t see to our left as we travelled along Highway 307, a long straight coastal route to Playa Del Carmen, the coastal town on the Riviera Maya in which Mayakoba is located and my home for the next 10 days.

The Riviera Maya is a tourism resort district beside Highway 307 and part of a region called The Yucatán Peninsula which juts out of mainland Mexico like a thumb separating the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, therefore you can expect the same glorious Caribbean weather as I found in Grenada, with great beaches and the worlds second largest coral reef.

Not only is the weather great here but the region also contains the unique feature of well over a thousand sinkholes, known as ‘Cenotes’, which in some cases have been turned into swimming parks such as the popular Xcaret, one of many in the area. Apparently these drains were carved out of limestone over centuries through the erosion caused by the natural water drainage running out to sea. More are being discovered regularly which leads me to imagine the ground beneath your feet being quite possibly like swiss cheese in substance.

The other big attractions to this coastline area and worth a trip are Tulum beachside resort area, the ancient Mayan city ruins of Tulum and the Mayan pyramids of Coba.

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None of this however is quite as remarkable as the resort of Mayakoba; an eco-friendly, both architecturally and naturally beautiful resort created as a passion project by a Spanish construction company in a swamp.

Now, leave your initial thoughts for a moment, because this is no ordinary swamp. I am aware the word conjures up all manner of negative thoughts from muddy and smelly waterways to alligator death-traps. The reality of the swamp here is rather different to any preconceived notions.

The water is mostly gin clear and often a brilliant turquoise blue. That in itself sounds ideal but what makes Mayakoba really special is that you are literally surrounded by nature and the lagoons and trees are simply alive with indigenous flora and fauna. The design is so carefully thought out that when in your villa the resort feels empty despite occupancy fluctuating between 60-90% during my visit. Exactly what you would wish for on a holiday.

Mayakoba has it’s own beach and almost all accommodation is facing the water whether it is a lagoon or the sea, mine was facing the lagoon and I really enjoyed early mornings in the garden with a spiced Mexican coffee while I watched a variety of wildlife swim past me in the swamp, including whole families of turtle, tilapia fish and all manner of song birds through to herons and ducks. One of the most fascinating things I saw was a skinny looking version of perhaps my least favourite bird of all, the cormorant, in this environment the bird was extremely graceful to watch as it hunted it’s prey down under the clear water.

Opportunities to spot wildlife are abundant here and during my visit I saw several Iguana’s a Spider Monkey, A Coati (type of Mexican racoon) and a small Crocodile. I was reassured to know the the crocodiles are kept under observation and removed before they start to see you as on the menu!

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Mayakoba is a luxury resort with a first class level of service throughout however what makes Mayakoba more special than resorts of this type I have visited is because within it’s boundaries it offers accommodation with four recognised hoteliers; Banyan Tree, Rosewood, Andaz and Fairmont.

Each hotel has the ability to cross-payment so the whole resort is open for exploration wherever you stay. Now rather than be limited to four or five dining options and just one spa you have a multitude of dining options and four spas so there really is zero excuse to struggle for options during even the longest of holidays. Some lucky residents have seized this opportunity for a lifelong holiday purchasing homes within the resort.

Map Of Mayakoba

Most importantly Mayakoba offers fishing excursions and hosts two outstanding golf courses: El Camaleón an 18-hole golf course designed by PGA legend Greg Norman and The OHL Classic at Mayakoba, the latter of which made golfing history in 2007 when it became the first PGA TOUR event ever contested outside of the US and Canada. This is a truly stunning location for golfing, where else in the world can you play golf amongst beautiful turquoise blue lagoons? The stunning contrast between golfing greens and bright blue waters I have captured below in this picture but only the natural eye can really do them justice.

The golf course has an excellent restaurant called Koba with a large full fronted outdoor terrace looking out over the course, there truly has been no better way to relax after a game of golf than with one of their margaritas and outstanding octopus panucho dishes.

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Within Mayakoba there is also the opportunity to visit their very own sinkhole Cenote Burrodromo and ‘El Pueblito’ a rather tastefully newly-built version of a classic Mexican village square complete with a marketplace which hosts a farmers market on Sundays, a cafe, boutiques and an art gallery, most impressive was a beautifully decorated Catholic chapel as pictured below.

I stayed in Banyan Tree and Rosewood but had my favourite meal in Casa Amate at Andaz, a review of all these to follow soon.

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Mayakoba Residences
www.mayakobaresidences.com
info@mayakobaresidences.com
Tel. +(52) 984 8734920

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The Signature Collection at Celtic Manor, Wales

Celtic Manor is an interesting part of Welsh history going back to at least 1634 when it was recorded as the the residence of the High Sheriff of Monmouthshire, Lewis Van. Following this The Manor House itself was built over two hundred years later in 1860 by Thomas Powell then the world’s most prominent exporter of the black gold Wales is famous for, coal, he was also the first coal millionaire.

The current owner Sir Terry Matthews was actually born here as it had changed use to become the Lydia Beynon Maternity Hospital in 1940, he then purchased the Manor house in 1980 spending over 100 million converting the residence to accomodate 17 bedrooms.

Celtic Manor today boasts some 70 rooms, a spa, several restaurants and 10 lodges. However most notably the resort is now a world-class destination for golf, with three championship courses, The Twenty Ten course built to stage The 2010 Ryder Cup, Roman Road and The Montgomerie as well as a Golf Academy and two clubhouses.

I was invited by my guests to experience the very latest chapter in their history; The Signature Collection, and I was eager to see what Wales has to offer Golfers having enjoyed a recent trip to Gleneagles.

First impressions are quite breathtaking as the hotel gradually appears on the horizon then in no time at all looms above you as you approach from the M4 motorway down below appearing like a colossal man made mountain, albeit one with red awnings. Once inside the building the lobby you are presented by an impressive light open glass lobby space which is somewhat undone by two of the only odd things I didn’t enjoy during my stay; plastic flowers and dated looking wooden dragon sculptures.

The Signature Collection of rooms can be found at the top of the hotel up on the sixth floor along with the hotel’s best views but what sets these rooms apart from the rest of the resort is that extra slice of luxury we found, each room was designed for adults only and finished to an impressively high standard with a relaxed modern ambience. All rooms have a 6ft king-size double bed, sitting area, a really nice marble bathroom with a large vanity unit, bath and separate shower.

All guests here have access to the Signature Lounge a stylish bar which made a great location for our first Gin & Tonic courtesy of the stunning views from the balcony and Breakfast is served on the same floor so any early morning stress can be avoided.

Signature Collection

Most importantly there are many great dining options at Celtic Manor:

Steak on Six – a steak restaurant and part of The Signature Collection described as “showcasing signature steaks from around the British Isles, Steak on Six offers contemporary dining with a relaxed, rustic flavour“. We ate a fabulous t-bone steak here which was cooked perfectly medium rare and the restaurant had a great wine menu to choose from.

Epicure by Richard Davies – a modern European dining option also part of The Signature Collection described as an “exquisite modern dining experience is sure to impress with its intricate menus and fresh, intense flavours“. We did not eat here but shall do if I return.

Cen at Celtic Manor – Asian fusion cuisine by Larkin Cen a 2013 finalist of BBC’s MasterChef UK described as “from delicious fluffy steamed bao buns to slow cooked oriental pork belly and succulent sharing platters of Cantonese duck, savour this sociable dining experience bursting with authentic pan-Asian flavours“. This was perhaps the highlight of our stay, we all thoroughly enjoyed the Asian dishes, excellent cocktails and relaxed restaurant ambience.

Rafters – a restaurant set within the prestigious Twenty Ten Clubhouse, the cuisine here is described as simple and elegant “from the finest locally reared beef to fresh fish and seafood, Rafters’ talented chefs use some of the best ingredients Wales has to offer to create succulent steaks and grills with a uniquely Welsh flavour”.

The Grill – another clubhouse restaurant offering relaxed informal dining of honest and simple food described as a “tempting menu of wholesome ingredients mixes distinctive flavours and textures offering a mouthwatering selection of comforting favourites including succulent steaks, pasta, fresh fish, salads and burgers”.

Olive Tree & Garden Room – the resorts family friendly dining option.

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Something very rare happened at Celtic Manor which surprised me: We didn’t eat a bad dish during our stay! I can therefore say on behalf of a group of four quite demanding customers that I can recommend visiting the resort purely for dinner.

There is plenty to do besides golf, too many activities to mention in one post, particularly if you have kids.

The activities I spotted and took part in include:

  • Forest Jump – I tried my hand at this treetop assault course and sadly have to admit I was truly terrified! The logo is deceptive rather than being an activity for kids it really puts your bravery to the test. There is a lower version for kids also.
  • Laser Clays – Having done quite a bit of clay shooting recently with the outstanding Phillip Thorrold Shooting Academy I enjoyed having a go at this activity which I found surprisingly realistic and much less noisy!
  • Fishing Excursions – Sadly I didn’t have the time but the river Usk is definitely worth a trip as is Wales for fly fishing in general.
  • Shopping – a couple of clothing boutiques and gift shop with a nice selection of designer labels.
  • The Forum Spa – the staff here were truly great and I would definitely visit again for another massage which really helped ease my aches and pains from the assault course.
  • Above all what impressed me the most during my stay was the relaxed atmosphere and warm welcome from all of the staff which made me feel very much at home in Wales. I will definitely be returning here for dinner again soon on the way back from one of my fishing trips to the River Usk.

    The Celtic Manor resort
    Coldra Woods
    The Usk Valley
    Newport
    South Wales
    NP18 1H2

    Tel: +44 (0) 1633 413 000
    Travel Info: Driving M4 (J24) Trains from Newport Rail Station or 90 minutes from London Heathrow and 45 minutes from Cardiff and Bristol Airports.
    www.celtic-manor.com

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    GT Approved: Yaxell Knives

    I have recently been introduced to Yaxell, a Japanese brand who make high quality kitchen knives favoured worldwide by many top professional chefs, and an amateur like myself.

    I’m sure you will agree from the image above that their ‘Ran 25.5cm Chef’s Knife’ really looks the part for a very affordable RRP of £129.95. This, along with their other blades, are produced in Seki Japan formerly the traditional home for the manufacture of Katana swords for over 780 years.

    Quite sensibly a law was passed in 1876 prohibiting public sword-wielding and this forced skilled tradesmen to find a new outlet producing fine domestic knives, a tradition which has carried on to this day, with Seki remaining at the forefront of worldwide knife manufacture.

    Established in 1932 Yaxell combine their knowledge and expertise with cutting edge technology to produce several knife ranges; Gou, Super Gou, Ran and Tsuchimon. On all Yaxell knives the tang is forged from an 18/10 stainless ingot which is then seamlessly welded onto the blade and is as strong as the blade itself and this construction itself is unique to their knives.

    Yaxell Knives are only available from a company called Steamer Trading, a family owned cookshop from Alfriston East Sussex since 1985.

    Their website is definitely worth a look and they also have stores throughout the UK. You can browse their Yaxell Knives here but they also offer a great range of other knives and cookware; a useful gifting source for gadget-lovers.

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    The SCROOSER

    I have often chuckled to myself watching grown adults whizz around Chelsea on scooters. The scooters may well belong to their children and save precious time but nothing can detract from the fact that an adult on a scooter looks like an overgrown child.

    I know parenthood tends can take your eye off the ball with regards to personal style, understandably, but adults riding a scooter in my opinion is a no-no.

    That is… unless it is a SCROOSER.

    The SCROOSER is a new trend of adult-friendly scooter I have been alerted to from Germany and you can tell straight away by looking at it that it is no child’s toy.

    The exterior is really appealing with wide tyres and a curved frame that offers a very unique style. The interior features an electric motor which lasts for around 34 miles on a 4 hour charge with a legal road speed. All the rider has to do to get going is simply push off against the ground with your foot to activate the drive and the integrated electric motor will then augment the force of the push and accelerate to up to around 15mph.

    According to the manufacturer “the SCROOSER detects how hard the rider pushes and scales the motor power accordingly.
    Guaranteed to get you from A to B in style – and back again. Absolutely no stress – and absolutely loads of fun.”

    Series production of the SCROOSER has just begun meaning it’s available to order now. I truly hope to see more of these on the streets soon. Anything but adults on child’s scooters!

    Take a look here: scrooser.com

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    The Globe Tavern Restaurant, Borough Market

    The entrance to The Globe Tavern looks like any Borough boozer; noisy and bustling with media, legal, and creative types.

    Inside the only indication toward the restaurant is underneath a chalked “toilet” sign. We hope some people get lost on the way and end up in the dining room and what a delicious detour that would be.

    The Globe Tavern restaurant is managed by Michael. He waits on the room like you were in his own home but it turns out we are as his flat is above the restaurant*. The restaurant is horseshoe-shaped and split into two dining rooms both wrapped with windows that look down onto Borough Market. In the far room a banquette takes one side and a few tables the other. In the near room the main focus is towards the missing wall that splays open the kitchen in all its shiny, prepping, glory.

    Open kitchens, despite the nature of them being open, often feel very closed yet Head Chef Luke Hawkins and his team step beyond the invisible wall and actively work the room. They serve the bread and the glorious brown butter butter. Brown Butter Butter. Brown butter mixed in equal parts with butter. Double butter. What a perfect way to start an evening. Hawkins also brings around the Special (often a larger cut from supplier downstairs in the market) and says they “actively speak to each table at least once”. This interaction releases the pressure cooker and the room is open, relaxed, hospitable. Have a question about the dish? How did you make this sauce? Where does the lamb come from? Catch their eye and if they don’t shout the answer from behind the pass (in the nicest possible way)  they wander over and explain at your table.

    Chef Luke Hawkins

    You could be in a country pub. You could be in a neighbourhood restaurant. Actually you are five minutes walk from The Shard and sitting above 1002 years of trading history with many more thousands of people passing by every day.

    And the food, well, similarly neighbourhood. If you were located within a market why wouldn’t you wander our of your door and pick the brightest and best produce? It seems logical to most however sadly not always put in practice; GT has witnessed beautiful fresh Scottish lobsters leave Loch Inver for France while Roux’s Inver Lodge Hotel looks down from the hill and orders theirs from Billingsgate.

    Thankfully at The Globe Tavern the menu reads like a local shopping list with ingredients that utterly shine and what the menu doesn’t say translates to much much more.

    Take the “Beef, Apple, Scallop, Broccoli” dish. The beef is from half a Dexter from Swaledale butchers in Yorkshire that Hawkins and his team butcher themselves and the scallop roe is made from hand dived Dorset scallops then dehydrated.

    “Asparagus, Smoked Egg Yolk, Pickled Spring Onion, Ramson Flower” is asparagus from Portwood Farm in Norfolk, via Turnips in the market, and the accompanying egg yolk is cooked for two hours at 65 degrees then smoked with Earl Grey.

    Strawberries? Raspberries? Nothing less than Gariguette and French Tulameen.

    More dishes such as “Crab, Clementine, Peanut, Chicory”, “Lamb, Cockles, Jersey Royals, Sea Purslane” and “Sea Bass, Tomato, Red Pepper, Nduja, Black Rice” offer the same simple listing with complex results like our lovely Brown Butter Butter.

    When it’s this good who wouldn’t double up?

    Mains Dish

    Dessert

    Cost of a 3 course dinner and bottle of wine:
    £43 per person

    Food:
    9 out of 10 – picked straight from the market you can’t get more seasonal and fresh

    Atmosphere:
    8 out of 10 – homely, informal, welcoming and lively although perhaps a little stark for some. Ditch the paper napkins Michael!

    Service:
    7 out of 10 – friendly greeting and the whole team were amiable with their guests including the Chef and brigade

    Overall:
    7 out of 10 – excellent food and service although the restaurant is rather hidden and the toilets leave a lot to be desired

    Summary in seven:
    Brilliant market kitchen that deserves more customers

    Details:
    8 Bedale Street,
    London,
    SE1 9AL

    Sunday/Monday: 12:00 – 19:00
    Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday: 12:00 – 15:00 and 18:00 – 21:30
    Saturday: 12:00 – 21:30

    Website: theglobeboroughmarket.com
    Phone: +44 (0) 20 7407 0043
    Email: hello@theglobeboroughmarket.com

    *The flat above the restaurant also belonged to “Bridget Jones”. Michael has not started any official tours as yet although the mention of this on The Globe Tavern’s new website could possibly increase demand. Watch this space!

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    Brunch at Bandol, Chelsea

    Having recently read there was a new restaurant in my neighbourhood with a brunch worth investigating coming from the husband and wife team behind popular Chelsea restaurant Margaux I was hopeful to discover a new place to revive myself on a Sunday afternoon.

    The restaurant is named Bandol after the charming wine region in France’s South West I once visited as a boy and they specialise in Niçoise and Provençale sharing dishes but more importantly, could Bandol be a new destination for those acceptably late Sunday breakfasts and the prerequisite caffeine, I wondered curiously.

    I was also keen to see how such a tiny space, formerly a bar I frequented serving good cocktails (including picklebacks; a Bourbon and pickle juice shot drunk back to back) and rather poor Americana food, could be transformed into a neighbourhood restaurant.

    Having visited Margaux before I felt safe to assume there would be a significant upgrade but I wasn’t expecting the transformation to be quite so brilliant. The restaurant is quite literally gleaming with bronze and rather tastefully furnished indeed. The masterful interior designer deserves great credit for making the best use of the limited space, the restaurant floor now looks three times the size and even offers space for two additional private dining areas.

    Our waitress proudly informed us that we were their very first brunch customers which I suppose made us the inevitable guinea pigs so we put our new role to effect immediately ordering with haste two lattes, a tapenade and anchoïade dip to share followed by eggs benedict and eggs royal.

    We also chose two freshly squeezed juices of pink grapefruit and apple-orange-ginger. Admittedly these are simple brunch items but also very easy to ruin and I have almost more often than not been disappointed with eggs benedict, quite amazing how many people don’t know what hollandaise sauce is, mine however was excellent and future Sunday afternoon visits are all but guaranteed.

    Bandol Brunch
    Eggs Benedict

    Cost of brunch with one coffee and a fresh juice:
    £20 per person

    Food:
    7 out of 10 – good selection of brunch items, presented nicely and well cooked

    Atmosphere:
    7 out of 10 – hard to tell being the first customers but the dining room is a really pleasant space to dwell

    Service:
    8 out of 10 – friendly greeting and the staff were very attentive

    Overall:
    7 out of 10 – attractive in both menu prices and decor this is a great choice for a casual brunch and dinner

    Summary in seven:
    The perfect spot for brunch in Chelsea

    Details:
    60 Hollywood Road,
    London,
    SW10 9HU

    Monday to Friday: Lunch 12:00 – 15:00 / Dinner 18:00 – 23:00
    Saturday: Lunch 12:00 – 16:00 / Dinner 18:00 – 23:00
    Sunday: Lunch 12:00 – 16:00 / Dinner 18:00 – 22:00

    Website: barbandol.co.uk
    Phone: +44 (0) 207 351 1322
    Email: contact@barbandol.co.uk

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    GT’s Best Of 2015

    Best Of 2015 is a retrospective look back at my favourite items and experiences of 2015, an excellent year in which has seen much exploring as well as the opportunities to brush up on sailing, golfing and fishing.

    Best Hotel Experience

    The Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire Scotland. Quite possibly best place in the UK to learn to play golf with excellent rooms and faultless service.

    Best Dining Experience

    Dinner on the beach at Four Seasons, Koh Samui. An evening of spectacular entertainment including fire dancers and superb seafood and Thai cuisine.

    Best Experiences

    Catching my first Grayling on the river Itchen in Hampshire. Boating on The Norfolk Broads. Sailing from Athens through the Corinth canal to Kefalonia.

    Favourite Clothing Brand

    Our Legacy. Yet another Scandinavian clothing brand which consistently produces great quality casual clothing. I particularly like their Oxford Shirts which are near perfect.

    Favourite Destination Visited

    Kefalonia, Greece. A beautiful island with many hidden charms and lots of sailing opportunities.

    Favourite Album

    Alabama Shakes ‘Sound & Colour’. I first saw the Alabama Shakes on The Jools Holland show a few years ago and was impressed but didn’t get around to following it up. This year was a different story with another live performance and their latest album ‘Sound & Colour’ which is often on my stereo.

    Favourite Single

    Glass Animals ‘Gooey’. A dreamlike song which best captures the bands unique sound and lingers in your memory.

    Favourite Photograph

    Banks of the river Tweed in October. A stunning Autumn shot with the rusty, orange and yellow leaves at their most magnificent. Pictured Above.

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    INSTRMNT Minimal Watches

    I would like to share the latest watch to catch my eye, The INSTRMNT 01-A; a high quality, minimalist watch designed with care in Glasgow and made in Switzerland.

    INSTRMNT’s small collection draws inspiration from mid 20th century industrial design whilst blending in high quality Swiss components with simple utilitarian design to create minimalist, high quality watches that are accessible to all at the price of around £180.

    The watch pictured above features a gunmetal steel casing with high quality German-made tan leather strap.

    This watch and two other variations are available to buy now from Opumo.

    Details:

    Swiss Ronda 585 3H movement
    PVD coated 40mm steel casing
    Sapphire crystal glass
    18 MM German leather strap
    5 ATM water resistance

    Minimal watches look set to be big in 2016, what do you think? Comments and tips always appreciated.

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    The Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire Scotland

    I was recently invited to attend a short Golf 101 break at The Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire. My first thoughts were of trepidation due to the fact I haven’t picked up a golf club in a decade, shortly followed by anticipation for the opportunity to visit such a revered and famous resort that has recently celebrated a 90 year anniversary.

    I am what you might call quietly competitive by nature, in fact I have up until this point deliberately avoided opportunities to play golf with friends as I don’t like the fact I am unable to compete and ultimately lose. The opportunity to learn correct golfing techniques from some of the UK’s best instructors was the perfect tonic to my avoidance.

    Not sure what to expect from a hotel that is setup for golfers I chose to discover upon arrival rather than my usual approach of researching to near fatigue. I suppose this can either make the discovery more exciting as you refrain from anticipation or highly disappointing if your destination doesn’t live up to your hopes. Fortunately I can state wholeheartedly that I am glad I chose to discover instead. As soon as you arrive at The Gleneagles gates you can instantly tell that you are in a special setting as you take in wonderful views of the Ochil Hills behind you and the stunning landscaped grounds around you that feature a lake, club house and immaculate golfing greens.

    The greeting at check-in was friendly and the atmosphere in the hotel can best be described as warm, mildly informal yet classy which pleased me instantly I can recall golfing friends complaining at length about how stuffy the atmosphere can be in golf clubs. I was surprised to learn that the hotel was purpose built for golfing retreats in 1924 rather than a re-imagining of a country estate as with most grand buildings of this size.

    My double room was suitably luxurious with a small lounge area including it’s very own fireplace and view out onto the golfing greens. For a Bed & Breakfast rate of £335 per room the bathroom in particular was better than many I have stayed in at this level with a double sink area, bath and shower. Being brought a tin of good quality Scottish shortbread on arrival was a nice touch and made a great gift upon my return (albeit with one missing). The fabrics in the room included tartan and tweed and featured their Scottish roots very tastefully, many places I have visited can go a bit over the top on tartan which can make you feel like you are trapped in a giant game of chequers.

    Having browsed the welcome pack I think it is fair to say that you could have a very enjoyable time at Gleneagles without ever picking up a golf club, in fact the hotel is perfect for a leisurely short break for either groups or couples with mixed tastes.

    Aside from the golf there are also the following activities:

    • Fishing: Gleneagles has six trout lochs and offers lessons from skilled ghillies and the chance to have your catch cooked, also Salmon fishing trips can be arranged with a weeks advance notice.
    • The Spa by ESPA: Massage, facials, treatments, detox, tropical shower, crystal steam rooms and swimming pool. There is also a nail bar for the ladies.
    • Horse Riding: From beginner to advanced including an introduction to Polo.
    • Gundog and Falconry: Introductions and lessons are available and dogs are made very welcome at the hotel.
    • Indoor Tennis: Four acrylic courts with a good choice of professional lessons.
    • Off-Road Driving: Gleneagles has two purpose built off-road courses and offer lessons for anyone, a good chance to actually use your 4×4!
    • Shooting: Clay pigeon, archery and air rifle.
    • Programme of kids activities: From horse riding, mini athletics and air gun shooting to movie nights and arts & crafts.
    • Shopping: wandering the corridors of the hotel there are numerous shops selling whisky, cashmere, leather goods, jewellery, sports and lifestyle clothing and tweeds of which the focus is on quality Scottish items and produce.

    As you can see these are mostly aligned to Scottish field pursuits but there really is something for most tastes on that list and talking of taste the hotel really delivers on the food and drink front with five superb dining opportunities.

    Visitors can choose between the following restaurants:

    • The Bar: The bar is avery comfortable space which also offers light lunches. I haven’t eaten here but I can tell you as you would hope in Scotland their whisky selection is second to none and we enjoyed two evenings sampling whiskies recommended to us and my personal favourite Lagavulin 16 years old from the Isle of Islay.
    • The Dormy Clubhouse Bar & Grill: A classic all day menu of favourite dishes from sandwiches and burgers to fish and chips with a tandoor grill. I opted for their tandoori chicken dish which was cooked and presented beautifully.
    • The Strathearn Restaurant: This is one of the very largest grand dining rooms I have eaten in and has a tangible air of nostalgia about it. Sitting at the table gazing into the open floor ahead of me I could easily picture the scenes of past decades and I doubt very much the piano playlist or the ceremony behind the crepe suzette the table next door ordered has changed in all the dining rooms 91 year history, a wonderful site to behold. I ate a very decent Crab starter and Halibut main course here and at least one meal in this restaurant is a must for any visitor
    • Deseo: a relaxed Mediterranean restaurant serving classic holiday style dishes. This was perhaps my favourite restaurant which I would choose even over The Strathearn Restaurant, mainly because their choice of dishes is almost a checklist of things I personally like to eat on a European holiday. I chose to sample their gazpacho which was every bit as good as in the Mercado de San Anton in Madrid and a Scottish beef Rib eye steak which I can honestly say nudged ahead of Hawksmoor for the best steak I have eaten this year.
    • Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles: This is a two Michelin starred restaurant and unfortunately I haven’t eaten here as you would expect you need to book.

    The main reason for my visit however was the golf. During my short two night break we had one and a half hour lesson with with Andrew MacRae a PGA Senior Golf Professional and very pleasant and patient coach. In our first session we received coaching on the correct stance and how to strike the ball correctly. Having mastered the stance we had varying degrees of success with striking the ball which we recorded on video and quickly analysed before returning to the driving range to see a marked improvement and further fine tuning from Andrew as he watched our progress. My main issue it seems and where I have been going wrong in the past is leaning backwards as I strike the ball, to quote the famous phrase “it’s all in the hips” and rotating them effectively. I managed to iron out my poor swing by keeping my eyes firmly on the ball and my chin up which I then practised for a while after the coaching ended aided by enthusiasm from the afternoons progress.

    The following day we had a one hour morning session where we learned how to pitch and putt. I managed to make good progress on putting but the pitching eluded me somewhat as the technique of cutting dead your swing was an entirely new discipline from driving the ball. Following the session I stayed behind with two enthusiastic members of our group and we practised pitching for quite a while with Andrew’s tips still fresh in our memories until we had improved quite considerably.

    After a long lunch in the Dormy Clubhouse we all played the “Wee Course”, a short nine hole course amusingly endorsed in the hotel by Ronnie Corbett himself. The course was great fun and there were plenty of oohs and ahhs as we moved from great shots to howlers as our old habits crept back in, however the marked improvement in our group in just two sessions was clear for all to see. I personally fared very well, even surprising myself by managing to par one hole.

    Having only just learned the basics I will need to get some practice in on smaller courses before attempting a full round of golf at Gleneagles but should you already be an accomplished ‘swinger’ you have the chance to play on three of Europe’s very finest championship golf courses.

    Gleneagles offers three full size courses:

    • The PGA Centenary Course: The host venue for last years Ryder Cup.
    • The King’s Course: Gleneagles world famous course opened in 1919.
    • The Queen’s Course: A secluded course in a woodland setting with many water hazards and favoured by legendary golfers such as Greg Norman and the one I remember the most Seve Ballesteros.

    Enthused by my very rapid progress in just two days I am now looking into my first set of golf clubs and my next golfing invitation which this time will not be declined.

    PGA Centenary Course

    The Gleneagles Hotel
    Auchterarder
    Perthshire
    Scotland
    PH3 1NF

    Tel: (0)1764 662231
    Email: resort.sales@gleneagles.com
    Travel Info: Simply within one hour of either Edinburgh or Glasgow airport and train stations.
    www.gleneagles.com

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    Learning How To Fly Fish in London

    Having been a coarse fishing fan throughout my life I have only recently caught the fly fishing bug

    Fly fishing has always been something that held a certain unattainable charm, particularly fly fishing on rivers, but the opportunity to go with friends hadn’t arrived until recently. This is partly due to limited opportunities in my home county of Norfolk which is a coarse fishing paradise but not so well catered for the fly fisherman.

    Fishing is a particularly friendly sport and I find it is usually necessary to have somebody to exchange ideas with before attempting a new discipline of fishing, thankfully that opportunity came along and I have now been on a few successful Salmon fishing trips in the Highlands on the river Oykel where I have so far managed to catch five Salmon and two Brown Trout, along with less successful trips to the Tweed in the Scottish Borders where I’m sad to say I have as yet only drawn blank days.

    My appetite for fly fishing has been tempered somewhat by my casting technique which was quite frankly in need of some professional help. Fortunately again this opportunity was presented to me by Orvis who invited me as a guest to their recent fly fishing 101 event ‘fun on the fly’ on Green Park. The event was designed as an introduction to their rather generous free beginners fly fishing courses and their company that has been making rods in the same factory in Vermont since 1856.

    As you can see from the link above there are some wonderful opportunities for Londoner’s to learn fly fishing either for free or for a very reasonable fee throughout the year including courses such as: Free Beginners Course, Beginner’s Schools, Chalk Stream Schools, Stillwater Schools, On-the-Water Course and Adventures Abroad. There is a huge range of tackle, flies, gadgets and outdoor clothing at their flagship store on Regent St which I was pleasantly surprised to find offers a huge range of items for simply being outdoors not only fishing.

    My suggestion to anybody in my position who has desired to go fly fishing but not quite made the jump would be to pop into the Orvis store and talk to one of their knowledgeable staff who will be able to advise you, rather than wait for an opportunity to arrive like I had.

    Since attending the ‘fun on the fly’ event with Orvis I have purchased a copy of John Bailey’s ‘Where to Fly Fish In Britain and Ireland‘ and found a great place to test my new improved casting skills. This being the grounds of Syon Park, the Duke of Northumberlands London residence where there is a fishing stillwater shaped like a small stretch of river that was originally created by ‘England’s Greatest Gardener’ Capability Brown in the 1760’s, unbelievably this is only seven miles and a 30 minute journey from my doorstep so I really have no excuses now.

    Having relied on borrowed tackle until now the next step for me is to get tackled up and start giving it a go. I shall be putting together an informative article with expert recommendations on that soon.

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