Tag Archives: hotel

The Big Island, Hawai’i

Arriving at Kona Airport, we realise how different this island is to Oahu.  There’s miles of arid landscape, next to miles of green rainforest, both interrupted by somewhat violent yet occasionally beautiful hardened rivers of lava.  Mother Nature has been busy here.  It is very literally The Big Island, and you’ll need a car to explore.  Though a guide tells us that it was once upon a time the small island, growing over time from the eruption of volcanoes.

There is a lot to do here, and in our six days we only manage some of what we’d planned, underestimating time and distances, and wanting too to spend time relaxing at our gorgeous resort and enjoying the spectacular sunsets on the “Kona side”.  Funny that the west side is one of the driest spots in the USA, while the island’s largest town of Hilo (pronounced Hee-lo) on the east, some two and a half hour drive away, is one of the wettest.

The boys want to know if Panulu’u Black Sand Beach really is black, and one morning we set off on the two hour drive.  Its a lovely scenic route of coast, mountain, coffee and macadamia plantations.  In some areas they are trying to promote re-growth of plants, but its a hard ask through the lava.

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There are also a few small strips of shops with interesting antique and vintage stores, as well as this…..

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And yes, Black Sand Beach is indeed black.  Shoes are recommended, as understandably the sand is scorching.  So turtles love it, and there are a few wandering around.  One has laid an egg, and someone has built a little protective barrier around it.

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On the way back we stop in at a bakery for a treat. They do a roaring trade in Lilikoi (passionfruit) Malasadas, their best seller.   But I don’t think they are quite as good as the ones at Leonard’s in Oahu.

We next head to Papakolea Green Sand Beach, the southernmost point of the USA.  You’ll need a four wheel drive and some serious experience in off road rough driving to get here.  Otherwise there’s a group of drivers with suitable trucks and experience in navigating the bumpy terrain.  If you’re game, you can walk the rocky three miles from the car park – it is about an hour walk and a tough one in scorching heat.  Calling it green sand is a bit of a stretch, but the setting is pretty spectacular.  Nearby there is a cove where the sand is in fact green, but without such a dramatic backdrop.

On another morning we check out Hapuna Beach which is popular with the locals.  Easy to access and sparklingly clean, it is lovely for a swim.

In Kailua-Kona you’ll find Hulihee Palace, once the modest Summer palace of the Royal Family.  There is no longer a monarchy in Hawai’i, as the members of the family died out.  One of the larger towns in the island, it is still a fairly low key place.  There is a pier which could easily be turned into another Santa Monica type place, but I suspect it is a very conscious decision for the island not to go down that path.

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After walking around, we make a pit stop at Kope Lani Ice Cream which has some interesting flavours.  You’ll find Kona Coffee to be a popular flavour on the ice cream front in Hawaii.  Like Champagne or Parmeggiano, the rules around what can be called Kona Coffee are very strict.  The beans must come from a very specific area, and they are all hand picked.  The coffee plantations are all small family owned businesses; we met a few of the families during our stay, and it really is a labour of love. I would have loved to buy some of the coffee beans to bring home and support them, but at over US$80 per kilo of coffee, it was a bit of a stretch.

Driving up a mountain one day we stop at Holukaloa Garden Café.  Its almost classifies as in-the-middle-of-nowhere, but we are clearly onto something as very shortly the place is full.  They are all about slow food made from scratch. The glorious tomatoes are from the owners farm and under my fish is a bed of unfamiliar but really delicious greens. The Marito’s generous vegetarian lasagne is topped with a tasty macadamia pesto.

The most awesome thing we do is a helicopter tour of the island.  We debate this one a bit as it is quite an extravagance. But I come across a local magazine with an offer for a good size discount, and the deal is sealed.  The friendly ground staff give us a safety briefing (“please turn your devices to helicopter mode” they deadpan) and our pilot Koji gives us a briefing of our route.  The flights generally go for 1.5-2 hours, and Koji advises we’ll be on the longer end today as there is sniper training going on at the military base that day and we’ll have to go around it – I wasn’t  entirely sure if he was joking or not!

It is a pretty amazing way to look at the island.  Kealakekuka Bay is stunning, and apparently the site of Captain Cook’s death – there is a monument there in his honour.

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Along the way the landscape alternates between thriving green and volcanic black emptiness.

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We pass a 10 mile crack in the ground – the result of a 1975 earthquake.

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We then head towards one of the volcanoes.  This one is currently active, but not dangerously so.  Even though we are a long way up, when the pilot opens a small window and tells me to stick my hand out, it is scorchingly hot.

Continuing around the island, we head up to Waipi’o Valley – just stunning. There are some seriously long waterfalls.

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And then we circle back to Kona Airport.  What a ride!

Accommodation

We stayed at the Four Seasons Hualalai – wow. It was fabulous.   And it wasn’t just the stunning surrounds (I have never seen such amazing frangipane trees)…

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…or the turtles wandering on the shore

…but the warmth and sincerity of the staff, and the fact that they think of everything (“ma’am, would you like me to clean your sunglasses for you?”). At the pool station where you can grab towels, there is not only sunscreen, but goggles, toddler swimming nappies, leave-in hair conditioner, and goodness knows what else.  There are very cute toddler sized sunbeds at the small pool (there are several pools, so it is never crowded). At turndown a locally made ceramic jug and cup are placed on each bedside table with cool water. On the balcony, there is a small hanging rack for your swimmers (why don’t all beach resorts do this?).  And throughout the rambling resort, there are several fully equipped laundry rooms for guests so that you don’t have to return home with a suitcase of dirty washing. The rooms and bathrooms are a little dated, but very spacious.

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Sitting on our balcony, I enjoy this local pineapple soda.

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Our booking comes with quite a large voucher for the restaurants which we make good use of, as they are expensive and alternatives are a ten to thirty minute drive away. Ulu Ocean Grill is Japanese/Asian and it holds its own against Sydney’s Sokyo or Tokonoma. And while the prices are similar to Sydney, the servings are much bigger.

The Ahi Poke (pronounced pok-ee, it is almost a national dish) is prepared at the table and served with taro chips. Sublime.

I adore the kochujang sauce that comes with the crispy calamari, I want to pour it over everything.

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The miso Kombacha is perfectly cooked and the side of corn has a sauce with a kick.

Beach Tree, which serves largely Italian, while expensive, is excellent.

If only it didn’t have to end! Ziplines are popular on the island, but the boys did not weigh enough (you need to be at least 70 pounds) so we’ll need to put that on the list for next time.

Four Seasons Kona, http://www.fourseasons.com/hualalai/
Paradise Helicopters, https://paradisecopters.com/

Ulu Ocean Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Florence, Italy

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I knew this would happen.  I’m in one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, Florence, and I don’t want to leave my hotel. Maybe ever.

A couple of years ago we stayed at the Ferragamo family’s Portrait Hotel in Rome.  It was one of my favourite hotel stays of all time. So when I heard that they were opening another Portrait Hotel in Florence, I didn’t hesitate to book it.  The other reason I was keen is that they have family suites, which are often in short supply and high demand in Europe.

And it’s beautiful.  The epitome of modern elegance and style.  All I needed was a Fairy Godmother who could wave her magic wand and turn me into Audrey Hepburn so I could sit by the window and stare out, pouting appropriately.  The staff too, are fantastic, thoughtful and warm (and some of the best dressed hotel staff you’ll see anywhere!).  The fine eye for detail, comfort and quality I love in my Ferragamo shoes has been seemingly effortlessly translated to hotels.

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The hotel breakfast is top notch – everything is excellent quality.  Because we were booked as Virtuoso guests (see below), the fabulous breakfast was included.

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Eventually of course we do venture out and I am reminded why I love this little city – easily walkable, hardly any traffic due to car restrictions, amazing history, great food, and plenty of shopping.   A guide tells us there are 36 museums in Florence – enough to keep you busy for a while.  Of course don’t miss the magnificent Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia, and the Uffizi Gallery. And do go up to Piazzale Michelangelo for a lovely sweeping view over the rooftops.

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And one thing to remember when you are in Florence – look up!  Some of the ceilings in these places are just as amazing as the statues and paintings you will see.

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Do go to the Florence food market.  What a vibrant, fantastic market – we came here almost every day.

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There are a few little counters where you can sit an eat, but otherwise just pick up some fresh bread, some cured meats, cheeses, salads, marinated vegetables, and make yourself a beautiful lunch.

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On one of the days we saw something you don’t see too often – fresh truffles! At the bargain basement price of EUR800 per kilo.

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We also stumbled across this fabulous grocer in Via Dello Studio called Pegna which was a treasure trove of goodies, some of which I bought home (and yes do declare them at customs).

A few places that we liked – Il Borro, on Via Lungarno Acciauoli, is a smart modern Tuscan bistro, with a small amount of outdoor seating but the interior fit out is beautiful.  I bought some of their fantastic olive oil to bring home.

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Cantinetta Antinori in Piazza Antinori is a more traditional Tuscan restaurant.  The star of the show here was a pasta dish with fresh porcini mushrooms. We don’t get fresh porcini in Australia and in fresh form they are fragrant yet delicate.  Combined with silky pappardelle, this was a winning dish.

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We went to Il Pizzaiuolo for some good pizza, but I loved the Sfizio Misto, which had some potato croquettes, some arancini, and some zepulelle (a fried dough) – delicious.

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For a casual and very central eat, try Osteria del Porcellino on Via Val di Lamoni near Piazza della Signoria. On the way there you will pass the porcellino statue – make sure you touch the nose – it apparently brings good luck!

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Something there is an abundance of in Florence is gelatarie – I think it must be council law there to have at least one on every street! One of our favourites was Gelateria Santa Trinita, at Piazza Frescobaldi

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On the shopping front, there are loads of stores everywhere in Florence, but for some of the most high end outlets you’ll ever see, head to The Mall at the Florence outskirts. A bus there, which costs 5 euro and takes a bout 40 minutes, can be caught from the bus depot at Via Santa Caterina di Siena. There are only about 25 stores but all very high end. The Prada and Gucci are enormous and I picked up some very very well priced shoes.

And then of course there are the random entertaining things you see when you are travelling…..

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Florence, you’re a pretty steep competitor to Rome.

Belinda Manning is a luxury travel advisor and Virtuoso specialist http://agents.mtatravel.com.au/bmanning/

http://www.lungarnocollection.com/#/en/the-collection/florence/portrait-firenze/