Sunday, June 20, 2010

Villa Padierna Marbella Spain

Fly to Malaga on the Costa del Sol in Spain, then get yourself to Villa Padiernain Marbella. When you walk in the door you will think you are walking into an Italian Villa. Not a hotel, more like someone’s private home, complete with tapestries, artwork and white-marbled sculptures. Then you are greeted by one of many Ritz Carlton employees who seem as glad to see you as though you are an old friend.
This a small hotel compared to the others I have visited this week. The hotel is sold out tonight and to look through the lobby you would think it was nearly empty.
And that’s the beauty of this courtyard style design; public, yet private.

There are 131 rooms and twelve of them are marvelous villas with private entrances. One of these has its own private pool fit for visiting Royals. Even the Saudi Royal Family comes here to book all of the 12 villas. And the going rate is well over a thousand of dollars per night.

I learned today that on, Villa Padierna is rated as the number one hotel in Spain and 28th in the world. In fact, even the hotels’ chef was recently voted best chef in Marbella. I concur with this assessment having eaten a luscious T-Bone steak dinner with seasoned potatoes and crisp watercress and béarnaise. Followed the next night by a Risotto like I have never tasted before.

The Golf Courses
I came here specifically to play golf, and they have two wonderfully challenging golf courses; the Flamingos Course, and the Alferini Course.

Los Flamingos is a par 71 that plays approximately 6300 yards from the tips, but everything here is measured in meters including the distance markers in the fairways, so you have to calculate an additional ten percent to account for the difference into yards. Once you get that down, there is club differential could change all that on this beautiful mountain course with lots of elevation changes and sweeping vistas, with the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.

We teed off on the Flamingos Course immediately after check-in since the driving range was not open.
Most of the fairways have ample driving room and provide a generous roll. Only a few such as number 9 and number 10 give little wiggle-room for a well-hit drive.
The greens are easy to read and are sure to hold your ball on line.
The tee box at hole number 14 is the highest spot on the course with panoramic views of the Costa del Sol and Marbella below. And it gives a player a chance to take in some fresh mountain air rolling up from the Mediterranean Sea. Los Flamingos is surrounded by hundreds of condo developments to take in its generous beauty. The course will host the Women’s’ Spanish Open for the next 3 years.

Adjacent to the Los Flamingos Golf Club is the Alferini Course. And one may say that it is completely opposite in nature to its neighbor.
Built into the highland valley, the Alferini Golf Course delights in solitude and splendor. There is no development, in view, rather, sweeping pastoral fairways and valley walls that frame the beauty in each hole.
The opening fairways sport large meandering gorges that dissect the pathways towards the distant greens. And the player is immediately put on guard to place each shot strategically into segments when calculating their par strokes. Number 3, the first par 3 on the course may have the largest green I have ever seen. It looks like a huge target, until you start thinking about mile long putts.

Midway through the front nine we began our assent into the mountain gorges and were rewarded with ample Bermuda grasses and a teasingly easy par 4 on hole number 6.
But this slight break in challenge is only temporary since it is followed by a nearly 510-yard par 5, a 175-yard par 3 (with a green protected entirely by a large man-made lake), and a 410-yard par 4.
The back nine brings the golfer into a meadowland of mountain grasses and stone-lined cliffs. Back to back par 5’s test your endurance while giving you the opportunity to unleash the “John Daly” within you. And you are reminded why you ever took up this game in the first place.
Midway through the back nine, with its ups and downs, you realize why nobody EVER walks this course! Every player needs all of their strength to blast off each and every shot on this 7000-yard course. The finishing holes fully challenge each player with a tempting par-3 green and a skinny 18th hole fairway for a last chance to lower your score. And while you may not like the total tally, you will definitely want to play this course again.

If you go

Delta airlines flys non-stop from the U.S to Malaga

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Abama Golf & Spa Resort Canary Islands Spain

The Abama Resort is on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands are part of Spain, but are actually located approximately two hundred miles off the coast of Morocco, in the Atlantic Ocean.
This is a very large and luxurious resort, with 476 suites and private casitas. It resembles a Turkish fortress with domed spires and large courtyards housing large tropical ponds complete with rainbow colored coy.
The spa has all of the normal spa treatments, but it has a unique hydro-center that plunges you into a sea of water sensations. It is beyond anything I have ever experienced.
We put on our bathing suits in the changing rooms and entered the dewy center. First up was the “world of showers” with three distinct full body showers. One of these was a large wooden bucket filed with cold water for dousing. Additional showers sprayed fine mists and messaging pellets of water.
The area is complete with a range of steam rooms. One is a herbal steam with healing scents. Another is a bath designed after a Turkish hammam beautifully tiled in silver and green mosaics.
There is also a snow cabin and a cold plunge bath, to activate the circulation. Of course, there is also the super-hot African sauna to cleanse all of your pores.
In the center of the room there is a whirlpool to beat all whirlpools. It had 5 separate sections, each concentrating the water pressure on different parts of your body; lower back, shoulders, neck and even a tube of hard running warm water that can make any knot in your body melt away. The entire hydro-therapeutic experience indulges all of your senses and ultimately leaves you tension free.
Abama, which sits on a bluff above the Atlantic Ocean, has multiple restaurants and seven swimming pools. There is a funicular that takes you down to the main beach where there are several “ocean pools” built into the seaside. The waves naturally bring fresh water into these pools nestled among the rocks. T
hey have almost ideal weather year round here with the temperatures varying only six-ten degrees. Last week we were fortunate to miss a windstorm that arrives a few times a year with intense heat and strong winds. And these storms from the Sahara desert of Africa bring lots of sand in its path. Surely, it is not a good time to be here.

Breakfast has everything you can think of to offer…. Enough said!!!
It is best to save your appetite for one of the gourmet eateries such as El Mirador where you can marvel at the technique of salt-fish cookery.
Over half of Abama guests are families with kids. They have a very active kids club and in their busy seasons (Easter Christmas and August) the club can have 50 to 60 kids doing activities each day. .

Then there is the golf
This golf course was designed by Dave Thomas, who is best known for his design of the Belfry Golf Course in Ireland. It sits on the south face of the Teide Volcana, which is the highest point in Spain. This is a mountain course on a tropical Isle and boasts 22 lakes, streams and waterfalls, and thousands of palm trees. There are views of the Atlantic Ocean looming in every direction. But it is the dramatic elevation changes that define the Abama course.
The first fairway is extremely up hill and it is better if you shoot a shot directly into the rough to prevent your ball from back-sliding to the tee. The next holes continue to climb higher until the course eventually flattens out. From a design point of view, the Par-5’s and Par-3s are the most interesting. On the downhill holes, it’s a thrill to watch your ball hang in the sky with the Atlantic Ocean in the background for several seconds.
Number 5 is probably the weakest hole on the course a short par 4 with a blind second shot to the green.
The greens roll true but with plenty of movement and some are two tiered. The rolling greens are a big part of the challenge here. And one must keep an eye out for the direction of the ocean since it is likely to pull your putt to the sea.
They say this course is walkable but the hills will take it out of you if you are not fit.
The carts have GPS which you can change from meters to yards so you can tell your distances but it is always a club or two different for the elevation changes. There is plenty of bottled water and bananas available everywhere. We used the Taylor made rental clubs and they were the current models and in outstanding condition.

There are many flights here from all over Europe, especially London . Frankfurt, Barcelona and Madrid. There is at least one regular direct flight from the U.S. on Air Europa.

If you go

Monday, June 14, 2010

Life Aboard the Scotish Highlander

European Waterways operates river barge cruses throughout Europe. One of their unique destinations is the West Highlands of Scotland.

We flew to Glasgow and took an enchanting four-hour train ride to Fort William. We spent the night in the lovely Inverlochy Castle Hotel and boarded the barge for our six-day cruise onboard the sixty mile Caledonian Canal. Twenty-two of these miles is completely man- made, with 29 locks to adjust for the various water levels.

The Scottish Highlander is 117 feet long and, several years ago, it was converted into a luxury hotel barge with a capacity of 8 passengers. It travels on the canal at a maximum speed of 7 miles per hour. You can ride, get off and walk, or bike along its towpath and be as active or relaxed as you wish.
The fees are all inclusive: including 3 gourmet meals a day with unlimited wine and cocktails and all the entrance tickets to all the activities. There is a crew of 4 (captain, cook, tour guide, and server) for 8 passengers (however there are only 6 on our trip).
Our travel mates are very interesting; one couple, Andrew and Susan, are from London. He is an author, having written a couple of travel books and she is an interpreter from English to German. The other couple, Steve and Jill, are from Melbourne, Australia. He is a retired Hydrologist who ran a very large consulting company working in the area of water management for governments and mining companies worldwide. They have traveled the world, and it is most interesting to learn so much about water as I have in these few days. Every meal brings stimulating conversation.
The Highlands of Scotland are breathtaking, as I am sure you have seen in many films— Most recently, you may have seen the Steam Train in the Harry Potter film—very nearby.

We boarded the boat at 4:00 P.M. after a safety briefing from the Captain and a quick overview of the coming days. We were escorted to our cabins to un-pack and get moved in for the next 6 days. Our cabin has a full bath, king size bed and plenty of storage for our luggage. But not much passing room. So it’s a bit cozy.

This was followed by a tasty dinner of Risotto Appetizer, Roasted Duck, Roasted Root Vegetables, and Hearty Crusted Bread. A fine selection of regional wines, and tortes or pie follow, with a finishing round of local cheeses and fruit to cap off a simply splendid meal. If this is what the food is going to be like on this trip--- its gonna be a gastronomical feast!

A colloquial breakfast was served at 8:00 A.M. with fresh slabs of Scottish Ham and eggs. At 9:15 we were off in a van to the valley of Glencoe, a lush and green valley of mountains and streams. This was followed by a detailed tour of the Ben Nevis Distillery, maker of single malt scotch whiskey. And by tours’ end, one may want to build a distillery right at home! At 2:00, we pulled away from the dock, headed up the canal, winding our way through glens of heather, rolling mountains, and ever changing cloud formations. Ft. William, and many other Highland towns, is loaded with B&B’s. It often seems that there is a local inn as often as every other home.
Our tour guide, Linda, took us to what she called “Fairy Glen” along a path hidden in the woods where locals have brought many items to create this little secret spot. Its’ primary charm is the fact that this is a secret place that few discover. “Our little secret” if you will. You will not see any thing about this enchanting spot in the tour books, and even if you parked 100 yards away, you still may not find it.
Imagine walking through the woods and coming onto a group of tiny dollhouses. That is not what is here, but that image will give you a taste of what we experienced.
It was probably started by a group of kids from a nearby town, who walked into the woods and left a group of stuffed animals among the trees. Then some other kids not only discovered it but added to it, perhaps a few yards down the path, until you now have a couple hundred yards of pathway decorated with all these little angelic collections. I would describe it in more detail if I could but that would spoil the fun of the discovery.

As things clouded up and a bit of rain appeared, our plan for the day changed. The boat was supposed to move in the afternoon but we moved in the morning in stead. In the afternoon we visited a woolen mill chuck-loaded with colorful Scottish plaids, and then took a gondola ride up the Ben Nevis Mountain.
This gondola is used for the ski area in the winter but last week it was the transportation for the World Cup Downhill Mountain Biking Championships. The views from 2000 feet up are panoramic and spectacular, even as the clouds rolled in and out taking our view from panoramic to almost white-out.

We set sail in the morning, moved through another set of locks and arrived in Ft. Augustus around 10:00 AM. Ft. Augustus is a charming little town hugging the side of the Loch Ness. Its’ streets are lined with stone covered cottages and local inns with flower pots hanging on almost every porch. However, no monster sightings as of yet, but it’s early.
In the afternoon we took a beautiful one-hour drive to the Eilean Donan Castle. Eilean (pronounced Ellen) is Gaelic for island and Bishop Donan was one of the early settlers of the area. Hence the name.
This castle was built in the early 1300’s. It was destroyed a couple hundred years later, then rebuilt and destroyed a second time. Finally, in the 1930’s it was restored to its current glory. For all those years it has been in the MacRae family and continues to be today. There is a private apartment that the MacRae family uses from time to time and the banquet hall is available to rent for weddings.
This is probably the most photographed castle in all of Scotland and has been a location for several movies, including one James Bond film. It is furnished so you can see what life was like in those times. The kitchen is redone to a point that you get a very clear picture of what food preparation was like back then. Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Scotland.

Its takes almost an hour to go through the four locks that take us 40 feet down to the level of Loch Ness. After lunch, we drove one-half hour to Urquhart Castle. This sits on the bank of Loch Ness and was built in the 1300’s it has been destroyed a couple times, the last time by its own inhabitants. It seems the area was being overtaken and they destroyed it so that the conquering enemy could not use it as a strong hold. Unlike Eilean Donan, It still sits in ruin to this day. But the gigantic trebouchet that sits on the front lawn is sure to delight every child with an imagination.
Returning to the barge, we visited a thrashing waterfall in Invermoriston.
Our trip is coming to a close. We cruised up the Loch Ness, but still no sightings of the Monster. This is the deepest Loch in the Highlands at nearly 1,000 feet, so there is plenty of room for a monster to hide. This afternoon we visited the 14th century Cawdor Castle famously associated with Macbeth. However this castle was built over 200 years after Macbeth reigned, but the castle owners let the association live in our minds. Unlike the other castles, this one is still inhabited. The dwellers move out each year during tourist season. The gardens here are ripe with bloom and cared for by eight full time gardeners. There is even a maze of holly in the garden. Spectacular! And local residents come to the castle in their own vintage costumes to play around with all of the visitors. It’s great fun to pretend you are a fighting soldier for a Scottish clan.
I’ve made an interesting observation throughout the area: I do not think we have seen a billboard since we arrived.
Motorcycles and bicycles leisurely roam along the windy, narrow roadways.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Highlands of Scotland

Take the train from Glasgow Queen Street station to Ft. William, in the West Highlands and you will be in for a truely scenic trip. We boarded the train at 8:20 AM and arrived in Ft William around noon. Soon we were riding along the "bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. But with the scenery of the ride into the Highlands, we were in no hurry for it to end. Alec and Richard, two local Scotsmen, were taking the trip one hour beyond our stop for the day and returning home. They were doing it mostly for the train ride. So were several other people who surrounded us in our car, several of whom had brought an abundance of sausage and ale. It was like a rolling party. Several people on the train were on their way to a hiking trip on “The West Highland Way” which is a 90 miles trek from Glasgow to Ft William. Many choose smaller portions of the hike as well.

Inverlochy Castle Hotel in Ft. William

We are staying here for one night before our departure on a six day barge cruise in the north of Scotland on the Scottish Highlander, but I wish we were staying here longer. It sits on the river Lochy and was built in 1873. Many notables have stayed here including Jefferson Davis (yes the one who was head of the confederacy in the U.S.), and numerous Hollywood celebrities, including Justin Timberlake, Charlene Tilton, from Dallas fame, not to mention the star of the hugely famous Harry Potter film.

This place is luxury personified. Even the hotel car is a Rolls Royce. These rooms are fit for a queen, as they were once fit for Queen Victoria, who stayed here in 1873. Brocaided curtains, antique floral wallpaper, and masterful artwork decorate every nook and crannie. It’s just like you would expect a castle to be except it also has all of the modern amenities; flat screen TV, state of the art in-room stereo and wireless wi-fi. Other than that it takes you back in time with 17 luscious suites. The names include; the Kings Suite,the Queens Suite etc.
get more information at:
1-888-424-0106 (toll free from the U.S.)

Penha Longa golf resort Sintra Portugal

The Penha Longa Resort is located 30 miles north of Lisbon, Portugal, in a beautiful city called Sintra. Penha Longa means “long rock” in English and was originally built in 1357 as a Monastery. During the sixteenth century it became the summer residence of Portugal’s’ Royal family. And today it is the site of a luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel and spa.
The hotel, with its 194 guest rooms, was built next door 17 years ago. Ritz-Carlton has made a substantial investment in the renovation of the Monastery and has used the charming aspects of the medieval past for modern day wedding and conventions alike. Even its splendid, marble church has been preserved with unequaled beauty. The monastery itself has retained colorful ceramic tiles, large wooden doors, spacious gardens, vaulted ceilings, and more. It is truly a dream locale for any bride.
The resort itself has two golf courses. One is a 9-hole course called “The Monastery.” The other is a championship course called “The Atlantic”, which is regularly rated in the top 40 in Europe and was designed by renowned golf architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. In fact, the course was recently renovated to the tune of two million dollars.
The Atlantic Course is sculpted into the high hills of Sintra. One can see for miles and even onto the Atlantic Ocean in spots. The elevation changes are what bring drama and beauty to this golf course.

The fescue fairways are a generous surfacing that seem to hold a rolling ball. They are lined with shading pine trees and occasional water ponds. But the most unique feature is the ancient aqua-duct and sentry look-out post framing the 6th green. These 14th century stone walls may even tempt you to pull out your putter and pretend it’s a sword….ChiChi Rodriguez style. VIVA
The bent grass greens run very true, Often, you will find them elevated and blind,. And well protected by bunkers. So accurate chip shots are a must. A general avoidance of the deep sand traps will surely lighten your scorecard. The back 9 is much more interesting the front, and the two finishing, downhill holes, with the Resort in the background, are a wonderful completion to a beautiful golf course.
The Portugal Open is being played here next week.. so watch for it on TV.
The Monastery course is a 9-hole par 35 course that is both challenging and a fun to play. It is not in the pristine shape of the Atlantic but excellent greens that roll true. The finishing hole #9 a downhill par 4 can rival many finishing holes in all of golf. A drive hangs in the air in such a way it would make an NFL punter proud.

Both courses are fescue and the fescue rough is much more challenging than normal U.S. rough. Thin in parts and thick and knurly in other parts. It’s easy to loose balls in some of the spots.

Distance is a challenge for us Americans too. There are markers for 200,150,100 but its in meters not yards. It would improve if there were more accurate yardage markers on the courses. Even with that minor drawback—I recommend you come and try it

Cuisine is always front and center at Ritz-Carlton. And the five international restaurants will satisfy every palate. The assiMassa with its authentic Portuguese flavors, Midori a spectacular, traditional Japanese restaurant, and the ultra contemporary Hole-In-One bar in the clubhouse all have delicious selections and provide spectacular, pastoral views. One should not miss the Butterfish Entrée with Black Truffles or the sporty Club Sandwich with Cracked Egg in two of these locations.

Next door, also housed in a 14th century bldg, is the six senses spa. They offer all the traditional spa services but in quite a unique setting. There are contemporary furnishings combined with antiques in this beautiful historic bldg. A very unique place for a spa visit.

Kids Club at Penha Longa

Ritz Carlton at Penha Longa resort has a kid clubs that will make you want to bring your kids with you on vacation to this luxury resort.
You can put your kids in there for part of or all of a day including evening if you wish. They have 3 activities per day; morning, afternoon, and evening. Each day is different but includes things such as Pastry Arts, golf lessons, visit the horse paddock, gardening, creating puppet shows and even nighttime star and moon observation. It is so popular that kids even ask their parents to bring them back year after year. It’s very affordable. This is a growing commitment at Ritz-Carlton resorts (not all hotels) as they grow their commitment to becoming a destination for the whole family

If you go
Penha Longa Hotel, Spa and Resort
Sintra Portugal .
Greens fees for the Monastery 30 euros
Greens fees for Atlantic approx 90 euros but discounts from travel packagers should be easy to find.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Volvos new saftey braking system

I never write about automobiles but I just participated in a demonstration that screams to be written about.

I am at Penha Longa resort near Lisbon and Volvo is hosting this years model introductions for auto journalists from all across Europe. I managed to get a demonstration ride showing their new auto-braking safety feature. It is called
Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake and Pedestrian Detection. I was blown away. It is a $2,000 option they are introducing this year on the S-60 and on all Volvos in the near future.

The average person takes 1.2 seconds to react to a danger and initiate an action to avoid it. A substantial distance can be traveled in that time causing a fatal accident. In this demonstration we drove at approx 25 MPH toward a mannequin. When the driver would still have his 1.2 seconds to react and take action, a warning light flashes in the windshield. If the driver did nothing, the brakes were automatically applied and we stopped several feet short of the mannequin. As we approached the mannequin I flinched and it appeared to me that we were much too close to avoid hitting him, but this system is amazing.
If that isn’t enough, it can detect “drowsy drivers,” when they change lanes without signaling and it sounds a warning, and also flashes a light when someone drives into your blind spot. This detection is good at all speeds.

I asked the engineer “ if every car in the world had this, by how much would traffic fatalities be reduced?” Their current estimate is 20%