Stay here: The Art Inn, Florence, Italy

The Art Inn
6, Piazza di San Lorenzo, Florence
http://theartinn.com

Once we realised we’d be in Florence for New Year’s Eve, husband and I thought we’d better to book our accommodation in ASAP – it’s not the biggest city in the world, but young people from all over Tuscany come flooding in for it and we didn’t want to miss out on somewhere to sleep!

We vetoed Airbnb and decided to treat ourselves to an actual hotel to ring in the new year. A bit of searching and comparing prices led me to The Art Inn, and I was super sceptical – it seemed too cheap for what t promised. Turns out my scepticism was completely unfounded.

The Art Inn brand is only a few years old, starting in 2013 in Lisbon, and having expanded now to Florence, Seattle and Rotterdam. The concept is boutique hotel specifically located in an area of the city central to both major attractions and public transport, and decorated with art work inspired by the city. Florence is home to some really beautiful art, so it seems like an obvious choice to set up one of their hotels there. So why stay there?

Location. Unbeatable. A few minutes walk from Florence’s main train station and right on the doorstep of the San Lorenzo Market and Il Duomo.

Room size. Enormous! After spending the last several weeks in tiny European apartments and hotel rooms, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we were taken to our room. Very spacious, every room has its own unique pieces of art to admire. And the space doesn’t stop in the room – bathrooms are massive, too..

Amenities. Free wifi, an excellent breakfast included at a cafe a few doors down, in room mini bar, complimentary bottle of water, tea and coffee, tv, iPod dock, toiletries hairdryer. And there’s an absolutely beautiful library/reading room for guests to relax in.

Service. Every email was answered within a few hours, and no question was too silly. We were greeted with a smile and a “hello” every time we left and returned . And when we realised the week before visiting that we had no restaurant reservation for New Year’s Eve dinner, I emailed the hotel, and we had a table at one of the best restaurants in town half an hour later.

Value for money. We stayed for 3 nights over the New Year’s period, with a cafe breakfast included every morning, and paid around AUD $650.00.

Stay & eat here: Moraine Lake Lodge, Alberta, Canada

Moraine Lake Lodge
1 Moraine Lake Rd, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
https://morainelake.com

5 hour layover in Seattle? Perfect time for a blog post! We’ve been on the road for a week so far,  and I’ve slipped back into travel life likea duck into a pond 🙂 We spent week 1 in Alberta, Canada, and I think I can pretty confidently say it’s the most beautiful place in the world. I’ll have a longer post coming on how to DIY road trip the Icefield Parkway so you won’t have to join the hoards of buses doing the rounds, but for now, a quick look at our one night of fancy accommodation for the trip, at Moraine Lake Lodge!

I, like many others, had the dream of spending a night at the Fairmont Lake Louise, and was prepared to shell out a bit of money for the honour. Until I saw that the $800 or so for a lead in room type was one of the crappy out-the-back no view rooms, and we’d have to pay more for car parking and breakfast. Ummmm no. I started hunting for an alternative and found Moraine Lake, with the Moraine Lake Lodge coming in at the top of my searches for lake view cabins in the area. And as far as alternatives go, this was perfect.

 

Location?
Right on the lake. As in, any closer and you’d be in the water. Moraine Lake is completely breath taking, the most perfect shade of blue you could possibly imagine, and surrounded by mountains and trees. As you can see from the shot below, taken from our balcony…

 

Rooms?
We stayed in a Lodge Queen room, which was located on the second floor. No TVs in the rooms to encourage you to really switch off and relax, but there is free wifi available to guests if you get desperate. We also had a gorgeous antique gas fireplace, a nice big balcony, complimentary tea and coffee, and a nice big bathroom.

 

 

Amenities?
– Free parking in a private guest carpark, away from the day visitor lot
– Complimentary buffet breakfast
– Free wifi throughout
– Complimentary tea and coffee service in the Library each afternoon
– Guided hikes and canoe hire

 

Cost?
It varies depending on time of year and room type, but we paid around AUD $475 for one night. We thought it was money well spent; the location was beyond anything I could have imagined, waking up and being able to walk straight up the top of the path to look out over thr lake with hardly anyone else around was priceless, and the service was so friendly and professional all at the same time – we even had a bottle of bubbles on ice and a happy anniversary card waiting in our room upon arrival 🙂

 

Dining?
The Walter Wilcox Dining Room is the restaurant where breakfast is served to guests only, and dinner is open to anyone – but your best bet is to make a reservation, as it’s a fairly small and intimate place. The menu is elegant, and takes full advantage of the local produce and specialties. Not a cheap feed, but a really memorable special occasion meal. Special mention to not only the chefs, but the servers – friendly, helpful and attentive service made a good meal a great one!

Eat here: Healesville Hotel, Victoria (Modern Australian)

Healesville Hotel
256 Maroondah Hwy, Healesville
http://www.yarravalleyharvest.com.au/index.php

Know what’s fun to do on a long weekend? Take a quick road trip. For those of us Melbournians with Monday off (hooray for Labour Day!), might I suggest a quick trip out to the Yarra Valley? You can even make it a day trip if you don’t have the time to spend a night out there; the views are stunning and the food is great!

Last weekend involved a road trip out to the Yarra Valley for a friend’s wedding, and we decided to make the most of it but heading to Healesville early for some lunch before the late afternoon ceremony. We were in the mood for nibbles, and saw some great options on the menu of the Healesville Hotel, so out of the hot midday sun and into the air conditioned and wooden floored hotel we went.

Sitting conveniently close to Kitchen & Butcher and Sanctuary Harvest (it’s actually an amazing little group of food-and-drinkeries), the produce available is amazing. K&B in particular is a favourite of mine – in their own words, think country butcher meets deli meets bakery meets charcuterie. Those are a few of my favourite things.

We went with the K&B Charcuterie Board with assorted meats and pickles, and the coal baked sweet potato, cashew & chili dip with grilled flatbread. And a beer for the husband and an Aperol Spritz for me. At $70.00, it was not a cheap feed, but it was a damn good one. It seems we’ve been saving non-stop for one trip after the other for the past several years, so we don’t often treat ourselves like this. But sitting there with this spread, it was really nice to indulge a little, appreciate the amazing quality of produce we have in Australia, and forget about budgets and saving for a little while 🙂

The Harvest next door is one of my favourite spots in Healesville, too – the most incredible pastries and cakes, and the best place to stop for a cup of coffee or pot of tea! And if you need a few other ideas on what to do with your time in Healesville, this might be helpful 🙂

Healesville Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Stay here: Hoi An Holiday Villa, Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An Holiday Villa
414/9 Cua Dai street, Hoi An, Quang Nam, Vietnam
http://hoianholidayvilla.com/

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved this place, or how wonderful our stay was here. Right from the very first contact via email when we booked, up until our final footsteps out of the lobby, the team at the Hoi An Holiday Villa couldn’t have been more kind, accommodating, friendly and welcoming 🙂

We found it quite by chance while looking for somewhere to stay in a particular area of Hoi An near Cua Dai Street, and this little place with only a handful of rooms available at very decent prices, looked perfect for us. We booked it in, and I had a lot of communication with Cherry who looks after the bookings in the lead up to our trip. She was an angel, helping us to organise everything from car transfers to collect us from the airport upon arrival and bring us back at the end of our trip, to tailor recommendations for the husband who was in the market for a new suit. She also kept an eye out for us of an evening, to make sure we got back to our room safely for the night 🙂

On arrival at Da Nang airport, we were promptly met by a driver who whisked us away to our new home for the next 6 nights; we were met again with a smiling face and two glasses of ice-cold passionfruit and orange juice and a seat at the lobby. Despite the fact that we arrived several hours before official check in time, we were assured our room was already prepared for us. Before we were taken over, we were given a map with a whole lot of information on where to find food, coffee shops, markets, etc.

Our room was gorgeous – clean and bright, with amazing air conditioning and heaps of room, it was the perfect headquarters for our Hoi An leg of the trip 🙂

In terms of the specifics, we had:
– king size bed
– free wifi
– mini bar fridge
– desk
– sitting area with complimentary tea & coffee
– toiletries (toothbrushes, shampoo, shower gel, etc)
– cable TV channels
– breakfast included

There was also a small but beautifully kept pool area, where you could order little bites to eat and drinks from the shade of your umbrella and lounge chair. After our early starts around 7am and several hours of walking around in the Hoi An heat, arriving back to lounge in and around the pool for an hour or two after lunch each day made alllll the difference!

Because it’s such a small place, breakfast wasn’t the usual buffet, but an order-from-the-menu scenario. But as I mentioned above, your accommodation rates include breakfast, so you can order until your heart’s content and your belly’s full! On our last day, we were due to fly out quite early in the morning which meant we’d miss breaky, but as our 6.30am car service was pulling up to take us to the airport, we were given special packed little breakfast boxes for our drive. Warm baguettes with butter and jam, fruit and yoghurt – not at all necessary, but another example of the wonderful service 🙂 And another – as we were climbing into the car with our breakfasts, another one of the lovely staff members came running out to us with a parting gift – a beautiful, traditional Hoi An lantern each!

It may not have been  a fancy la-di-da 5 star resort, but the team at Hoi An Holiday Villas made us feel like absolute royalty. We couldn’t have been more grateful for their kindness and hospitality, and wouldn’t dream of staying anywhere else the next time we visit 🙂

5 ways to make the most of that layover in Kuala Lumpur

2.1** Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Traveloka, however all opinions contained herein are based on my own experience.

 

If you live in Australia and love to travel, chances are you’ve had at least one decent layover in Kuala Lumpur. It’s one of the bigger gateway cities for us Aussies on our way out to the rest of the world, and when you’re travelling on a tight budget, you can often find yourself with a few hours to kill before your connecting flight on to the rest of Asia or Europe.

As we’re starting to prepare for our next big adventure, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we planned for the first one; when we travelled to Europe a few years ago, we had the option of saving a few hundred dollars on our flights, with the compromise being a 14 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur. We were already going to be ticking 5 countries over 2 continents off our list, so we figured it would be a great opportunity to see a bit of the city and add another continent to the itinerary! When we told people we planned to do this, they all told us we were crazy; the standard response is to complain about the long mandatory waits, and here we were ready to take advantage of it instead (any exuse!). And with a little bit of pre-trip organisation, it’s actually not that hard to do – here are a few tips that helped us enjoy the layover…

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1. Book a hotel for the day
If you’ve saved money on your flights, the small amount of money you’ll spend by booking a hotel for the day will be more than worth it! If, like us, you’re arriving into the city around 7am and leaving after dark, having a hotel room is an absolute godsend; you’ll have somewhere secure to store your luggage for the day, and be able to have a shower and get changed into fresh clothes after a day out before you jump onto your next flight. You can book a room in Kuala Lumpur online with Traveloka with hotels a stone’s throw from the airport from as little as AUD$20.00 for a day – that’ll save the stress of finding something when you land!

 

2. Check the booking options
Some hotels cater specifically for layover guests, like the Plaza Premium Lounge KLIA 2; they have options for stays as short as 4 hours from AUD$65.00, as well as 6 hours, 10 hour and overnight bookings. If you’re only stopping over for a few hours, you may find that you can get a better rate on a 6 hour booking rather than an overnight booking. And money saved on accommodation is money to spend on shopping and food (roti bread… ohhhh roti bread…)!

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3. Check out the hotel facilities
Because the more that’s included, the easier the layover will be! A lot of hotels will offer things like airport transfers, wifi, luggage storage and 24 hour reception, and they make the world of difference when you only have a short amount of time to work with. Most hotels also have multi-lingual staff who are happy to help out, so it’s worth speaking to team on the check in desk to see if there’s anything going on in the city that may cause extra delays in getting back in time for your next flight.

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4. Public transport is your friend
It’s quick, clean, efficient, and definitely the easiest way to get around. The Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) website offers some good information on how to get around using the Express Rail Link, which connects the airport to the main city centre in under half an hour. Much easier than car hire or taxis!

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

5. Be realistic
You’re only there few a few hours, so be realistic about what you’ll be able to see and do! The best bet is to pick out a couple of things close to each other, so you can enjoy a bit of time in the one area without having to rush too much. We decided to head to the Petronas Twin Towers which were every bit as spectacular (blog link) as we’d imagined them to be. We also spent a bit of time wondering around the shops below the towers at the Suria KLCC complex, and relaxed by Symphony Lake for a while.

Stay here: Hotel Grand Chancellor, Hobart, Australia

Hotel Grand Chancellor
1 Davey St, Hobart
http://www.ghihotels.com/hgc/hobart/hotels.aspx

I was lucky enough to be gifted a voucher for a night’s accommodation at any Hotel Grand Chancellor in Australia by my very generous boss at work last year, and I knew immediately that I wanted to use it during our visit to Tasmania over Easter; their property in Hobart is the most popular one on their roster, and for good reason!

Sitting right on the water, the hotel may not look like much from the outside with it’s older brown brick facade, but step inside and you’re in a completely difference world. The 4.5 star stunner has views of the Derwent River out one side and Mount Wellington out the other, so you’re not going to be disappointed either way; we were lucky enough to get a room with a view over the water…

It’s in the best location, a stone’s throw from pretty much everything, particularly the great food and bar district at Salamanca Place. If you can’t be bothered, though, they also have a bar and restaurant on site, as well as a pretty well decked-out gym and indoor heated pool area.

We stayed in a harbour view spa room, which was big, beautiful, open, bright and everything you could possibly want to end a trip with. If you’re thinking about staying, some of the other perks you’d get to enjoy are:
– big, comfy king beds
– work desk/station
– mini bar
– tea & coffee station
– hairdryer (I know the men don’t care, but the ladies do!)
– Peter Morrissey toiletries
– dry cleaning and laundry services
– room service
– 24 hour front desk
– on site parking (charges apply)
– post and parcel services
– currency exchange
– there’s even an on site hair dresser and massage services!

While I wouldn’t have been able to justify spending the money on something this nice before we visited (lead in rooms started at AUD$189.00 per night), being a very budget-conscious traveller, now that I’ve actually been I’d have no problem expanding the budget a little if I visited again to treat myself to a night or two here. I mean, look at the view from our room as the sun went down…

Stay & eat here: Port Arthur Motor Inn, Tasmania

Port Arthur Motor Inn
29 Safety Cove Rd, Port Arthur, Tasmania
http://www.portarthur-inn.com.au/

Husband and I decided to spend a few nights in Port Arthur because, well, I dunno. We just did! Being a history nerd, I was really keen on seeing the historic site of the convict settlement, and I read that the Port Arthur Motor Inn was the best place to stay, as it’s the only accommodation that gives you walk-in access to the site, literally a few metres away.

First up, let me say that if you’re a bit precious about your accommodation, this isn’t the place for you. It’s a proper motor inn; it’s not only accommodation, it’s also the site of the local pub. It’s not modern or fancy, but it does have all the essentials (including a small fridge, TV, reverse cycle air con/heater, bathroom with hairdryer, bedding and towels), and the view from the motor inn grounds over the historic site is absolutely unbeatable.

The restaurant does great proper Aussie pub grub – I had a chicken parma with chips and veggies, and it was fantastic! Big servings for decent prices, quick and friendly service as you’d expect from a country town area, and again, the most stunning view out over the grounds as the sun goes down…

Leave any pretentiousness at the door and enjoy the stay at one of the most fabulously located accommodations in Australia!