Saturday, 25 October 2014

Auberge Cavalière, 4 Star Character Hotel in the Camargue, South of France

Four Star Accommodation in the Camargue ©Solange Hando

The Auberge Cavalière prides itself in the authenticity of its accommodation, comprising just 69 rooms on extensive grounds, most of them in traditional Camargue cottages.

There are four categories of rooms, including family rooms with mezzanine, mirrored in quiet waterways, pools and ponds typical of the Camargue wetlands created by the wide delta of the river Rhône.

Guest Room, Cabane de Gardian ©Solange Hando

Guest rooms are furnished in a variety of styles, so you can choose according to taste. All are spacious, beautifully equipped and with soft lighting to enhance relaxation.

A great favourite is the cabane de gardian (the horseback herders of the Camargue), warm colours, minimalist decor and a stunning ceiling complete with beams, moulded on the conical roof and oval shaped end wall traditionally designed to deflect the north wind.

Swimming Pool at the Auberge Cavalière ©Solange Hando

The auberge has a wellness centre and two outdoor pools by the restaurants.
The smaller pool is near the 'Entre Terre et Mer' where breakfast is served on the terrace, as well as the buffet lunch known as the 'table camarguaise'.

The larger pool (above) is next to the stylish 'Le Pont des Bannes' serving local dishes such as fish of the day or 'duo steak' (bull and beef).
Or you can enjoy the casual atmosphere of the Ragondin Bar.

Camargue Horses at the Auberge Cavalière ©Solange Hando

But for many visitors, the great attractions are the stables which give the auberge its name of riders' lodge'. The beautiful white horses of the Camargue roam freely in lush grounds, nurtured with care and working only two hours a day.

There are riding lessons for beginners (ponies for children) and guided outings in small groups around the 'étangs' and on the beach. Carriage rides are also available with tuition on how to guide your horse.

Pink Flamingos in the French Camargue ©Solange Hando

Other activities are on offer, such as tennis or table tennis, but nothing beats exploring the pristine lands of the Camargue. Hire a bicycle at the auberge cavalière and enjoy the views, the peace and the wild life to your heart's content. You're sure to love the flamingos feeding in the shallows but if you want to get really close, the bird park near the auberge is the place to go.

Then, when you feel like a change of scene, the village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is just on the doorstep, a little place with big festivals, barely 8000 residents, but the proud capital of the Camargue.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Résidence du Vieux Port, Marseille in Provence

Résidence du Vieux Port, Marseille ©Solange Hando

This four star hotel boasts a great location on the Old Harbour quay, just 30 minutes from the airport and within walking distance of the railway station, the old Bohemian district of Le Panier, the main shopping avenues and the stunning new museum, MuCEM.

Guest rooms range from Superior to Club and prestigious Suites such as the 'Sky Suite' with its own roof terrace and panoramic views on the 8th floor.

Most rooms have balconies. All have tea and coffee making facilities, free WiFi and Occitane toiletries.

Relax in Retro Style at the Résidence in Marseille ©Solange Hando

But  above all, the Résidence is a luxury hotel with a difference, blending modern comfort and amenities with a 50s retro style draped in bright cheerful colours.

You find them in public areas, corridors and lift and slightly toned down in guest rooms where red might contrast with light walls, white linen and black lacquered tops.

Tapestry by Jean Lurçat ©Solange Hando

Even before you reach the brightest spaces, the reception surprises you with an original tapestry by Jean Lurçat, the famous French artist who revived this ancient skill in modern times.

With its warm colours and flowing leafy patterns, this superb work of art almost makes you forget you should be checking in.

All set for breakfast at the Résidence du Vieux Port ©Solange Hando

Breakfast is served on the first floor, indoors or on the terrace overlooking the harbour, while dinner is in the aptly named Relais 50 where in Parisian bistrot style, guests enjoy fresh seafood and Mediterranean cuisine accompanied by the finest wines.

A three course meal starts at 27 Euros but expect to pay 50+ for a traditional Bouillabaisse, consisting of three kinds of fish in a tasty saffron broth (order at least 24 hours in advance).

Marseille Old harbour and Notre-Dame de la Garde ©Solange Hando

 The Résidence du Vieux Port certainly claims a convenient location and unique décor but for many visitors, the icing on the cake are the superb views of the Old Harbour and hill top basilica, the city's best-loved icons.

It's breathtaking in brilliant sunshine but equally enticing at night when myriad lights twinkle along the quay. You may well be tempted to keep your curtains open as you drift into a pleasant sleep with one of the best views in Marseille.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Taipei 101

Taipei 101, Taiwan ©Solange Hando

 Taipei 101 is celebrating its tenth birthday. Open on New Year's eve 2004, it was at that time the world's highest building, a feat of engineering which combined modern technology and Eastern philosophy.

Today, at 508 metres, it's only in fifth place but it remains a tower of superlatives and the most eco-friendly of them all. Figures still defy the imagination: 550 000 tons, 380 piles sunk 80 metres into the ground plus 30 into the bedrock, 32 000 sprinklers, 24 000 glass panels and so it goes on.

Taipei Tower ©Solange Hando

To top it all, the tower boasts the world's fastest lift to whiz you up and down to your chosen floor. There are 101 altogether, a binary number, symbol of the digital age, divided into eight sections, an auspicious number, and designed like tapering treasure chests to catch every droplet of good fortune coming down from the heavens.

Luxury Shopping in Taipei 101 ©Solange Hando

So what's inside?
The lower floors, 1 to 15, are for shopping, all gleaming designer boutiques and great swathes of orchids leading to a vast bustling food court.

The upper floors are for business and finance but floors 88 to 91 are open for the public, brave enough to cope with the entrance queues and dizzying heights.

 The Tuned Mass Damper ©Solange Hando

But before heading for the views, everyone wants to see the gold-painted damper, a massive pendulum, hanging between floors 92 and 87 and designed to swing and keep the tower straight in case of earthquakes and gale force winds.

Taipei stands on a tectonic fault where quakes and typhoons are part of life but for the past 10 years, the damper has done its work.

 One View from the Top ©Solange Hando

Now, Taipei is at your feet, skyscrapers, tiny pagodas, roads, parks and mountains beyond.
In poor weather, you may have to be content with the 'cloud walk'  when on a computerised floor, clouds disperse now and then to allow glimpses of the cityscape.

Then, you can enjoy the traditional milk tea and pineapple cake, send a postcard home, suitably franked, and look around the dazzling Coral Art Gallery and the adjoining boutique offering the most exclusive items.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Fortune Telling in Taiwan

Fortune Telling, Taipei Night Market ©Solange Hando

In Taiwan, visiting an astrologer makes perfect sense.

There's nothing fatalistic about it, it's simply a way to help you make informed decisions and move in the right direction. Even politicians and academics consult astrologers for advice, sometimes on a regular basis.

One of the most popular places to discuss your future is the Shilin night market in Taipei. Walk along the brightly-coloured alley, choose your fortune teller and see what the palm of your hand or the cards might say. It may be related to your name and the year, month, day and time of your birth.

Auspicious Waterfall ©Solange Hando

But of course, you can always give fate a helping hand.
Surround yourself with auspicious symbols, water, red lanterns, goldfish and more, and plan your living and working space according to Feng Shui principles.

Longshan temple in Taipei

Then you can make your way to the Longshan temple draped in clouds of incense from morning to night.

It's a bustling yet quiet place where you can consult the most revered astrologers in the land, pick a number to open a magic drawer and see your fate revealed or throw the red divining blocks which will answer 'yes' or 'no' to your question according to the way they land.

Offerings in Longshan Temple ©Solange Hando

Offerings of flowers, vegetables and fruit are left in the courtyard to ensure prayers are remembered and if a blessing is requested on behalf of someone else, a photograph can be added with a note, perhaps for a sick relative or a student about to sit important exams.

Taipei 101 ©Solange Hando

Does it work?
Just look at Taipei 101, the world's highest tower when it was built and a booming business and financial centre. Here, everything was designed to ensure good fortune, the binary numbers, the slender silhouette as strong as bamboo, the treasure chests piled on top of each other, the fountain, the coin decorations.

And guess what?
The tower sits right on a fault line and after ten years of tremors and storms, it still stands above the city, a proud icon of the digital age based on new technology and ancient beliefs.