Hotel Review: Hotel Providence, Paris
Paris is cool again, according to Susan Gough Henly, who Checks into Hotel Providence in the heart of the action. From the moment we arrive at Hotel Providence, on cobblestoned rue René Boulanger in the hip 10th arrondissement, we are entranced. Wrought-iron balconies dot a cream limestone building adorned with delicate carvings. Metal tables and wicker chairs grace a tree-dotted terrace shaded with green awnings.   And just inside, a crackling fire warms a lobby cosy with leather smoking chairs and sink-into-me couches.   There are those who describe Paris as a museum piece with none of the edginess of Berlin or vibrancy of Madrid. They have clearly not spent time in the 10th arrondissement. This former working-class neighbourhood, still rich with immigrant diversity, is now the epicentre of hip and happening Paris.   Tech start-ups and boutique fashion labels perch beside African barber shops, artisan fromagers and hip bars. If you’re young or young at heart this is the place to explore.   Sit next to real Parisians at Melbourne-style cafes while you admire the exquisite symmetry of elegant Haussmann limestone buildings. That’s if you can bear to drag yourself away from the intimate environs of Hotel Providence.   The reception desk is next to the bar, right where I like it, and the very helpful receptionist says those magic words when you arrive before noon: “Yes, your room is available."   There are five categories among the 18 rooms: Mini, Classic, Superior, Deluxe and the top-floor Suite under the eaves of the mansard roof with views all the way to Sacré-Cœur.   Owners Pierre and Elodie Moussié and Sophie Richard have combined sumptuous velour wallpapers from House of Hackney with custom-designed bars (in each and every room) and antique gems from flea markets and second-hand stores that evoke an atmosphere of bohemian chic.   Our fourth-floor Classic room overlooks giant carved cherubs that adorn the theatre across the street. We can watch backstage staff haul up sets with a giant pulley but, we’re more entranced by the marble-topped bar with its antique cocktail shakers, martini glasses and jars of olives.   There’s a smart phone, chock full of insider Paris tips, which you can take with you during your stay. It even includes unlimited local and international calls.   The room, though compact, has oodles of charm, with deep forest-green velour wallpaper, a crystal chandelier, bronze storage rack and a metal-framed frosted-glass bathroom. The bathroom also has a vintage feel with old-fashioned white tiles yet its spacious glass stall complete with rain shower and high-quality toiletries is thoroughly up-to-date.   Come evening, the lobby bar has a warm glow. Locals and hotel guests are sitting at tables inside and on the terrace. We settle in to enjoy tuna tataki and avocado and a smoky roast lamb with an excellent, well-priced Bordeaux. Retiring to our sumptuous boudoir for the evening, in the interests of partial journalistic disclosure, all I can say is that the bedding is so sublime I order the sheets the next day.   Breakfast, which can be delivered to your room or enjoyed in the restaurant, is copious by French standards and includes excellent breads and pastries, cereals, yogurt, fruit and juice as well as hams, cheeses and boil-your-own eggs. Afterwards, we hop on a couple of the hotel’s comfortable bikes to pedal to the Canal Saint Martin. Nearby is one of the finest bakeries in France, Du Pain et Des Idees, as well as Holybelly, which takes its cues from a Melbourne-style cafe, where the coffee is excellent and the food inspired and affordable. Welcome to the new Paris. Details Hotel Providence 90 rue René Boulanger, 75010 Paris, France The IT verdict   Stylish boutique hotel with bundles of charm, perfect for young-at-heart Paris-bound travellers wanting to tap into the city’s design, fashion and tech scene.   Location: 8.5/10   Away from central (read touristy) Paris, the Hotel Providence is in a quiet nook of the uber-hip 10th arrondissement, chockablock with tiny boutiques and cafes.   Style/character: 10/10   Chic, stylish boutique hotel with a lot of attention to detail.   Service: 9/10   Front desk staff excellent. Some waiters could focus on client requests more attentively.   Rooms: 10/10   Whimsical and practical, each room had bucketloads of distinctive charm, plus a private cocktail bar. Bedding is sublime.   Food and drink: 9/10 Excellent expansive breakfast (for France) and an interesting range of tasty, reasonably priced dishes for lunch and dinner. There are plenty of excellent places to eat nearby too, such as Restaurant 52.   Value for money: 10/10 Exceptionally good value for money, especially on weeknights. We paid $338 per night. All IT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would.
United Airlines Business Class.
Review: United Airlines Business Class
Quentin Long test drives business class on United Airlines’ Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner – the world’s newest aircraft with claims to be the most comfortable for fliers – to see if the promises are actually kept.
The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand
Hotel Review: The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand
If you're looking for an abode to call your own during your stay in Thailand, it can seem a little more than overwhelming. Thankfully Danielle Norton has done the "hard" work for us, reviewing a 'calm' hotel that doesn't accept guests under 10 years of age. Where The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Phang Nga Province, Thailand. One hour’s drive north of Phuket Airport. What to expect You can find us by the pool in a cabana at The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.From the moment we are collected from the airport by Sarojin staff, until the day we leave, we are treated like treasured guests. The driver pulls over, one minute into our hour-long drive, to offer us a chilled towel and a refreshment from the esky on the front seat. We connect to the car’s wi-fi and he offers us an iPad to use on the journey.   This introduction is indicative of our entire stay at the Sarojin. As the original Lady Sarojin used to say, “excellence and nothing less”. The service at this resort is next-level and we love that every time we sit down, either poolside, in the foyer or waiting for a driver at the front of the property, an icy glass of water appears.   The Sarojin property is a paragon of meditative tropical resort gardens that encourage relaxation and deep contemplation. At night, hundreds of flickering lights glow in the ponds, bobbing like boats on a river, their reflections doubling their efforts. By day, the infinity pool and jacuzzi, surrounded by floating pavilions, glistens invitingly.   The communal spaces of the resort are designed with peace and privacy in mind. In the Pandanus Room library there are a wide range of reading materials; from novels to daily newspapers from around the world. Specific titles can be arranged on request.   A hotel that offers an ‘imagineer’ to create your special experiences is one for which I had high expectations. Staff can organise any type of romantic gesture you can come up with. Dinner on a candlelit beach is one thing but a ‘message in a bottle’ scenario for a special proposal during a couple’s beach stroll, or an engagement ring in a teapot while enjoying afternoon tea underneath a private waterfall, is quite another. The romance of this resort makes it an idyllic setting for honeymooners and loved-up couples. Fabulous food Dine out on the good stuff at The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.The Ficus restaurant hosts an all-day à la carte breakfast on the central resort lake, in the shade of the ancient tree after which it is named. Hundreds of water lilies float on the water’s surface and the sun shimmers; when the complimentary sparkling wine is served with our morning croissants, it feels like the most beautiful place on Earth.   The Edge restaurant and the Beach Bar look out onto a magnificent white sand beach. The degustation menu is a delicious parade of fragrant curries and delicate flavours: a brilliant way to try every dish on the menu in small portions.   Coupled with the golden light of the early evening and a cocktail, it’s the perfect end to a day in paradise. The restaurant seems casual but the service is exquisite, and the views over the Andaman Sea are spectacular, particularly the light show created by the setting sun. The accommodation The impressive accommodation inside The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.Our room has a garden view and a luxurious outdoor ‘sala’ under which we can bask on the day bed, reading or zoning out to our hearts’ content. Inside, the king-size bed with its mountain of pillows is sumptuous, hence the availability of the aforementioned all-day breakfast.   The rooms open onto an opulent, airy bathroom, lined with smooth pebbles to give the illusion of the outdoors in the wet area where there is a choice of showerheads and a huge oval bath, big enough for two. The spacious bathroom is almost as big as the 95 square metre room. If, like me, you prefer more privacy you can request curtain dividers between bedroom and bathroom.   The resort has 28 garden residences, 14 pool residences and eight jacuzzi pool suites and six one-bedroom spa suites which are like apartments with a generous lounge area leading out to the jacuzzi on the private balcony. These alternate with pool rooms, enabling a two bedroom configuration for families or larger groups via connecting doors. We loved The incredible spa bath inside the The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.The moment we set foot on the boardwalk leading from the resort’s main path to the Pathways Spa, tranquil notes of music waft around us and we breathe in deeply. Staff are eager to help us exchange our shoes for soft white spa slippers and usher us to a daybed where we sink into the soft cushions and contemplate life, looking at the leafy palm fronds in the gardens and listening to the trickling of water in the adjacent pond. A cleansing ginger tea is delivered along with a cold towel. Spa therapist, Nang, offers us four choices of oils. I opt for the romantic blend, a mixture of geranium, lavender and patchouli, keeping in tune with the theme of this honeymooner’s paradise. Nang calls it the ‘lucky oil’ and I feel very lucky indeed as I succumb to her skilled massage techniques.   The treatment room is designed to feel like the surrounding ecosystem; the floors are timber and one side of the pavilion is open to the garden. It’s soothing and rejuvenating and reminds me of the ‘forest bathing’ trend. Birds chirrup in the encircling jungle garden and the sound of waves lapping against the shore lulls me into a state of complete relaxation and surrender to the moment.   The spa menu options are plentiful. We choose the oriental-style massage – a combination of Swedish relaxation and Thai stretching techniques. Afterwards, a state of calm has infiltrated my entire being. Things to note Some of the scenery at the The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.The nearby Similan Islands has some of the best dive and snorkelling sites in the world. Sadly, when we visited they were still closed (May–October) for regeneration of the coral. Check on the state of these closures before booking.   The resort restricts children under 10. Because it is a place of peace and calm, kids must be old enough to respect this and maintain it.   A garden view room including breakfast costs from $670 per night for two people.   For more information and to book, visit Sarojin, Khao Lak.
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Inside the four-person suite at Le Relais Madeleine
Review: Le Relais Madeleine, Paris
Leigh-Ann Pow ignores five-star options and discovers the perfect Paris bolthole worth bragging about. Having the name of the perfect little Parisian bolthole tucked into the pages of your leather address book is the equivalent of liquid gold.   The French capital is renowned for its luxurious five-star establishments (The Bristol, The Plaza Athenee, George V, The Peninsula, The Ritz, need I go on?), any one of which will drain the average bank balance of funds for little more than a two-night stay.   But knowing about a place that has welcoming, familiar service, chic yet unintimidating interiors and a pleasingly reasonable tariff gives you the ultimate in bragging rights: “Oh yes, I have a little place I stay in the 9th Arrondisement that I just adore.” The perfect place for many The four-star Le Relais Madeleine is just such a place, for a romantic couple's trip - or an escape with the girls.   I happened upon it via the web when I needed to book a couple of extra nights’ accommodation after spending a week in a fabulous Airbnb mews house just off the Champs Elysee.   The fact that it looked pretty and that it was available at short notice were the deciding factors; I ignored the comments on TripAdvisor about the sex shop on the corner. [caption id="attachment_21930" align="alignnone" width="668"] The spacious antique writing desk.[/caption] It was only a few nights after all.   I arrive at the unassuming front door of the 19th century building via a typically narrow Parisian street.   I can see the aforementioned sex shop off in the distance, but immediately surrounding the hotel are little tea salons and restaurants and a small super marche (the only place in the whole city I was able to find the Bonne Maman rhubarb preserve my sister had requested I bring home). The reception area Inside the reception area is a charming sitting room complete with overstuffed sofas, wingback chairs and a coffee table festooned with magazines and fresh flowers.   A deliciously scented candle burns on a side table.   Check-in is conducted at an antique desk by a charming, floppy haired young man who explains that breakfast can be taken in the small dining room in the basement, before directing me to the typically bijoux lift (the glass fronting on it does give it more of a sense of space, but during my stay I invariably take the lovely old wood and wrought iron staircase that winds its way up six flights) to the top floor.   There are 23 rooms in all at Le Relais Madeleine, all individually decorated, ranging from singles to superior doubles, as well as a four-person suite which is exactly where I have been directed. The room The room is actually the entire top floor, complete with a separate sauna and pretty terrace. [caption id="attachment_21929" align="alignnone" width="668"] The four-person top floor room is decorated with flamboyant floral fabric on the walls.[/caption] Entering the room I walk into a lovely living area with a sofa (this converts into the second bed in the room), full size antique writing desk and vintage chairs.   The walls are lined in an exuberant floral fabric in shades of cream, burgundy and blue, there are bookshelves lined with cloth- and leather-bound books (some dating back to the early 1800s, along with Dan Brown) and framed vintage prints and artworks dot the walls.   The bedroom, with its cloud soft queen bed, bookshelves and mini-bar — which is amazingly upholstered so as not to disturb the aesthetic of the room — is as light-filled as the living area thanks to generous French windows that can be thrown open to let in the sounds of the city below.   The room is tucked into the eaves of the building, with the slope of the ceiling evident throughout, lending a cosy feel to the generous space rather than making it feel cramped.   And the bathroom is vast by European standards, with a muted palette, separate shower and bath and more light streaming through more French windows. Just try not to go exploring I can’t resist the temptation to go exploring, heading across my own private landing to first unlock the pristine sauna, and then venture out on to the terrace, with its glimpses of the rooftops of Paris.   Further afoot, the location of the hotel is brilliantly central, with the imposing Le Madeleine, the Opera and Place de la Concorde a mere minute or two away, along with shopping and cafes and restaurants and museums in abundance.   (I avoid the sex shop on the corner by simply turning left when I leave the hotel – take that TripAdvisor!)   Le Relais Madeleine is one of four properties under the Le Relais banner, with sister hotels in equally evocative locations throughout the city – Montmarte, Les Halles, Saint Honore and the Louvre – ranging from three to four stars, and each with the same delightful approach to interiors.   In a city where individuality and style are part of the vernacular, the Le Relais group, and the wonderful Le Relais Madeleine in particular, really is worth knowing (and bragging) about.   Details Le Relais Madeleine   11 bis, rue Godot-de-Mauroy, Paris France, THE IT VERDICT   This place is the perfect base in Paris.   You won’t be able to stop crowing to your friends about it. Location = 8/10 Numerous landmarks just moments away, and lots of cafes and shopping nearby make this a quintessential Paris location. Style/Character = 8.5/10 With its charmingly upholstered walls (and bar fridges), vintage books, overstuffed sofas and gorgeous 19th century lines, it’s more stylish than a lot of generic five-stars. Service = 7/10 Discreet and friendly, the front desk staff were always ready to help, arranging taxis and advising on what to see in the vicinity. Rooms = 8/10 Staying in the top suite I got to see the very best, and boy was it good: a pretty room with a soft bed, big bathroom and all the amenities. Value for money =  8/10 I paid $386 for the four-person suite with its sauna and terrace for my exclusive use, which represents pretty good value in my book, especially in a city known for the quality (and price) of its hotels.
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Review: The Imperial Osaka
In Osaka, finding a well-priced and spacious room comes with a few compromises. Finding space at a reasonable price is the age-old challenge in Japan; the stereotype of it as a restrictively expensive destination is the first thing most people ask about when I mention I am heading there. So the Imperial Hotel Osaka’s budget-friendly price tag was a real drawcard when visiting the city to sample its famous culinary scene and clock up some time at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.   Having arrived hours late after a medical emergency on our flight resulted in an unscheduled stop in Guam (and a Shinkansen trip from Tokyo having missed our connecting flight), we are taken through the check-in process with typical Japanese efficiency and quickly shown to our room. Even through a fog of fatigue I register the ample proportions, before crashing on the super-sized, super soft bed. [caption id="attachment_35826" align="alignnone" width="1024"] The Imperial Hotel's rooms are gorgeous to say the least.[/caption] The room The next morning I pull the curtains back on a spacious room with twin double beds, lots of floor space, a generous writing desk and cosy seating area, all rendered in a signature hotel palette of beige, brown and russet. There’s lots of wardrobe space and the room is flooded with light through giant windows that afford a view of the river below.   The touches were classic with a luxury feel, the bed was supremely comfortable and it did indeed feel like a home away from home. The real winner, the bathroom The real winner though is the bathroom, which can sometimes be hit-and-miss in Japanese hotels; I have stayed at a few places where they were presented like little capsules that you step up into, like on a cruise ship. Here there’s cheery cream and white striped walls, an ample shower and full-sized bath behind their own glass door, wet room-style, and a vanity area with seating. [caption id="attachment_35825" align="alignnone" width="1024"] The hotel's setting is gorgeous in cherry blossom season.[/caption] A dose of Japanese flair Back downstairs, after a good night’s sleep, I can appreciate anew the expansive lobby. There are several dining and drinking options on-site, including a signature Japanese restaurant and the Old Imperial Bar, which pays homage to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed the original Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, but there’s lots of choice at the shopping and dining complex right next door at a fraction of the cost. Heading out to explore We breakfast there before heading out on our daily trek; the compromise for the small price and big size. The Imperial is not exactly centrally located – attractions like Osaka Castle are a fair hike, and bits of the waterfront walk and some of the pedestrian bridges across the river are less than picturesque.   There is a cute neighbourhood railway station close by though, and the hotel offers a free shuttle bus to JR Osaka Station. But the walk is a small price to pay (literally) for being able to soak in a nice long bath in the generous bathroom of my large room. Details: The Imperial Hotel, Osaka The Imperial Hotel, 8-50, temmabashi 1-chrome, kita-ku, Osaka, Japan. The IT Verdict Location = 6/10   The riverside setting is very pleasant (especially in cherry blossom season), but it’s a hike to see the sights.   Style/Character = 7/10   Suitably luxe in proportion and execution, it ticks the big hotel boxes but doesn’t exactly ooze character.   Rooms = 8/10   Clean, bright and comfy, the space is a real bonus, especially when travelling with family.   Facilities = 7/10   There are plenty of dining options, and the Old Imperial Bar is worth a late-night cocktail; there’s also a fitness club with a pool that costs extra to use.   Value for money = 8/10 I paid $232 per night for a standard twin which, given its size and its 4.5 star rating, is amazing value for money.   All IT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would. 
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