Hotel Review: A long weekend at Ville sull’Arno

When I was planning my trip to Tuscany I read so many hotel recommendation lists as I really wanted to stay in a Tuscan villa with a view. When I came across the five-star Ville Sull’ Arno mentioned in a few lists, I knew it was the one. It combined that Tuscan country feel I craved with the added advantage of proximity to the city so that I could tick off all the major sights on my list.

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When we arrived I could instantly smell the fresh aroma of lemon trees in the air and there were pretty flowers everywhere. The Villa has a wonderful location on the banks of the river Arno. It has beautiful gardens and a pool with plenty of sun loungers making it the perfect place to recharge and relax. I literally felt so chilled there.

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There are 45 rooms, some of which are suites, each with a very different individual design. Our room was upgraded to a suite with a river view and a Jacuzzi tub and it was all I needed for a relaxing weekend in Tuscany. The decor in our room was more modern than another room we had seen and it was in a building separate to the main villa, which hosted the restaurants and bar. It was literally a 1 minute walk though.

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The outside space was my favourite and I loved sitting outside in the morning with a cup of coffee before we headed for the main breakfast room or in the evenings watching the rowers on the river.

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The decor in the villa is based around the 15th century with original stone doors, mahogany furniture and vintage curios. The pretty soft pastel pinstripe interiors and floral fabrics give it a charming vibe.

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Alongside an outdoor pool, there is a spa with a heated Jacuzzi. I was really impressed with the Spa but had so much planned that I didn’t get any free time to actually enjoy it. It has open-plan wellness rooms and the products used at the spa are from one of Florence’s oldest pharmacies, the Farmacia Santissima Annunziata.

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Back to the room though, we had a large spacious dressing area which was fantastic to spread out my toiletries and make up.

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The bedroom area was also large and there was air conditioning in the room and free wifi available throughout the hotel, which was fabulous as we struggled with data in Florence. The hotel also had wifi enabled phones which you could take to use around the city if you wished.

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My favourite part of the stay was breakfast – just look at that breakfast bar!

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It was the cutest and best breakfast I have ever had at a hotel. It had been laid out adorned with flowers and vegetables for decoration and the choices were immense. There was everything you could want – from fresh breads and pastries, to cheese and cold meats, cooked breakfast and fresh fruits and cereals.

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The cakes were my favourite as were the freshly squeezed juices. I got pretty addicted to fresh Blood Orange juice.

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The absolute highlight though was the honeycomb and honey! This was served straight from the comb and just utterly divine. It was popular with all the guests.

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There was also a pretty bar and lounge area in the hotel where you could relax with a glass of wine and read or play board games.

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If fitness is a priority when on holiday you will be pleased to find that they have a gym in the villa too. It has the main equipment you would need.

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In terms of location, it was a half an hour walk into the centre of Florence and incredibly convenient, whilst being detached from the crowds. We walked to the main sites and in the evening just got a taxi back.

The staff were incredibly warm and welcoming and so helpful in terms of advice and recommendations. We felt very well looked after and it was like a home away from home.

If you are looking for a Tuscan villa experience and want to be close to the city this is perfect. It was so reasonably priced too and just fabulous in every sense. We flew to Pisa airport and then got a bus straight to the centre of Florence and then a taxi to the villa. It was all really easy. If you are driving to the villa there is ample parking. I had a fantastic time and would definitely stay here again.

For more information visit their site here.

 

 

 

 

A luxurious breakfast at The Lanesborough

When I walked into Céleste at The Lanesborough I was so wowed by the interiors that I couldn’t stop staring at the walls. The ornate details, the classy chandeliers and the grandeur absolutely took my breath away. It was the most magical venue for a long overdue catch up with a dear blogger friend over breakfast.

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My friend’s blog name is Planes and Champagne so of course we had to have some Champagne to kick off our breakfast date. The charming waiter brought over a bottle of Tattinger and patiently waited whilst we took our various photos of him pouring 😉

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Toasting to fond memories and exciting times ahead we excitedly caught up on all of Maggie’s travels and adventures and my transition in the months to come from a banker to a blogger. The dining room was magnificent and perfect and just the right amount of opulence to avoid being gaudy.

To re-hydrate whilst we sipped on our bubbly we both ordered fresh juices. Maggie went for Carrot juice whilst I went for Grapefruit juice. They were so refreshing and delicious.

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The breakfast menu is incredible and I was torn between Truffled Scrambled Eggs or Boiled Eggs with soldiers and decided on the latter as if you know me you know that what I call “Dippy Eggs” are my absolute breakfast favourite.

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The presentation was absolutely adorable and I had ordered a side of sauteed potatoes and Avocado, which were seasoned with a little bit of chilli.

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I love and constantly need coffee so I also had a Cappuccino for the caffeine hit.

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Maggie opted for the Lanesborough breakfast and for her eggs she went for Eggs Benedict after being stuck between getting poached or the former.

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I loved the simple yet elegant presentation with the garnish of the vine tomatoes. I did have a little envy as I do love Egg Benedict!

To accompany our breakfast choices we had a basket of various breads and pastries which were freshly baked and all so heavenly. Out of sight in this basket was a pastry topped with fruits which Maggie and I shared which was absolutely divine.

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Our breakfast was superb and the service was exceptional. Our waiter was even worried that my cappuccino was getting cold and offered to get me a new fresh one but I had to admit that I am one of those people who wait till their coffee is luke warm before downing it.

The choices are on the high end/pricier side but the location, service, choices make it a wonderful venue to toast to a special occasion or for a lovely treat. I absolutely adored every single moment we spent there and definitely want to come back to try some more dishes. The hotel itself is absolutely beautiful and the definition of luxury!

If you are looking for a fabulous breakfast venue I highly recommend Céleste at The Lanesborough.

The Lanesborough can be found at Hyde Park Corner, Belgravia, London SW1X 7TA. Exit 4 of Hyde Park corner tube station is the closest.

 

My Top 3 Luxurious Rooftop Bars and Restaurants in Athens

Whilst we loved Athens during the day and seeing the awe-inspiring Acropolis, at night Athens was even more magical and I adored all the twinkling lights. The illuminated Acropolis, however was the best part and the best view was from Athens’ various rooftop bars and restaurants. Here are my top 3 picks for food and cocktails which also had a serious luxe factor.

The Galaxy Bar at the Hilton Athens

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Not only were the cocktails delicious, the rooftop bar at the Galaxy Bar at the Hilton Athens was stunning. It was a fabulous place to enjoy the cool breeze and look at the glistening Acropolis in the distance amongst the sparkling gems of the city lights.

The food here is also fabulous so you could make an evening of it or simply just come here for drinks. There is an inside seating area too and they make a pretty mean Mojito 😉

 

Premiere Restaurant & Lounge Bar at the Intercontinental Athens

This is an award winning rooftop restaurant with a stunning Acropolis view located at the Intercontinental Athens. The food is absolutely amazing and very innovative whereby Mediterranean ingredients are cooked with a French Flair.

Although the menu had no vegetarian options on it the evening we dined, the Chef happily prepared a risotto for me. This has recently been updated and there are some really decent choices available.

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My favourite part of the meal, aside the view that accompanied it, was the novelty factor and presentation of the dishes. For example, one dish arrived sealed in an envelope. How cool is that? Inside were some tips that you had to dip into a herb mousse which reminded me of the classic Greek spinach pie.

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The dessert was pretty phenomenal too and this was called The Tube and had Guanaja Chocolate namelaka with peanuts and caramel miso ice cream.

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The Roof Garden at Hotel Grande Bretagne, Luxury Collection

The Hotel Grande Bretagne is part of the Luxury Collection and the interiors of the hotel are absolutely spectacular. We dined on the roof top at the very snazzy restaurant, which has an outside terrace area with impressive views of the Acropolis.

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The pictures inside the restaurant are a little dark as it had a very romantic ambience to it and I highly recommend it for the delicious food! We shared an immense cheese selection, and for mains I had a delightful Ravioli whilst Amit wanted comfort food so went for a Pizza, which he devoured.

 

 

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I went for the Paris Brest dessert which was just heavenly! All the choices looked amazing though and wish I could have managed to try one more.

The view from the rooftop terrace was really pretty and the hotel even had a photo spot where you could stand to get the best shot!

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The Roof Garden at the Grande Bretagne is a must visit and the food is so good it makes the visit an all round success!

Those are my 3 favourite spots to marvel at the Acropolis from. I would love to know yours if you have visited Athens. Let me know in the comments section below.

You can read my Top Ten Things to do in Athens here.

Binny xx

 

Cocktails at Bar Boulud at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park

Located at one of the most enviable addresses in Knightsbridge, the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park is home to Daniel Boulud’s French Bistro style bar and restaurant, Bar Boulud. He also has venues in New York and Boston.

Now the Mandarin Oriental has some fond memories for me as when Amit and I were in the early stages of our relationship we decided to spend one new year’s eve celebration there and it was a truly luxurious experience! Sadly this was well before I started my blog so I didn’t even think to take room photos at the time. We had such a stunning room and we stayed hydrated with a bottle of chilled champagne and were snug from the freezing temperatures outside. It was truly marvellous.

Knightsbridge, I find, no matter what time of day it is, always seems to be busy with tourists, either keen to shop or window shop at some of the finest stores in the vicinity. Bar Boulud, as we discovered, is an amazing sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the mad rush outside and we felt relaxed the moment we stepped in. We had decided to have drinks there before moving on elsewhere in Knightsbridge for dinner. It is rare we get to spend a weekday evening out together so it was fabulous.

Greeted with welcoming smiles and friendly hosts, we were shown to our table with swift service and given the cocktail and wine menu to peer through. We weren’t pressured for time at all and loved the ambience, as well as the fact that it was so spacious and that I could see the bar and watch the bartenders mixing drinks and theatrically shaking cocktail shakers.

Now the signature cocktail at Bar Boulud is the White Cosmopolitan, which is served with white grape juice in lieu of cranberry juice. It is rather special as it also comes with a flower frozen in a floating ice ball. I didn’t personally order this but had drink envy at a neighbouring table who had ordered it! I had a good reason not to on this occasion because there was also Champagne Mojito on the menu which is what I went for! I will try the White Cosmopolitan when I next visit the bar.

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The Champagne Mojito was utterly delicious and I usually prefer my Mojitos classic but the addition of champagne just made it that much more special. It was a lovely drink and I would definitely be back for it! Chairman’s reserve rum was the base rum used for this cocktail alongside the usual mint leaves, lime, soda water and for that extra sparkle, champagne.

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Amit had wanted a more manly drink so he chose a Venezuelan Old Fashioned, which was really well mixed and tasted so good! This was a blend of Diplomatico reserve rum, averna chocolate bitters, orange bitters and demerara sugar. We both somehow ended up having rum based cocktails so we are definitely a match made in heaven 😉

The drinks were excellent, as was the service. The restaurant is adjacent to the bar so we could see the various dishes heading towards the eager and excited diners as well as catch their aroma, which made us want to come back on a different day for dinner to try the food as it smelt really good.

Bar Boulud is an ideal place to catch up with friends or work colleagues or to relax after a day of shopping or battling the crowds outside. It is also lovely for a date night as we found. If you happen to be in the area you really have no excuse not to drop in for a tipple.

The venue is gorgeous and the drinks are really good. Both the wine and cocktail menu are extensive and the service is excellent. I had a superb time at Bar Boulud and will definitely be back. Thanks for having us!

For more information on Bar Boulud visit their website here.

 

 

A regal stay at Bovey Castle

Introduction to the Angles

Once upon a time, in a land surrounded mostly by high rise buildings, the London Eye and Big Ben, properly known as The Elizabeth Tower named after a real life Queen, were four friends known as the Angles, who had all assembled to this land and made it their chosen home. One Angle (me) originated from the continent of Africa, the other New Zealand, whilst the remaining two were born in England.

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Photo credit: Angie

These Angles, for the sake of this story, happened to be Prince and Princesses too and the Prince in this tale is our one and only Aftab from Fresh and Fearlesss, whilst the Princesses are Angie from Silverspoon London, Emma known as the London Kiwi Emma and myself, Binny from Binny’s Kitchen.

So how did this Prince and 3 Princesses cross paths? Well as strange as it sounds, it was actually through the blogosphere through their common love for blogging, and they firmly became friends over copious amounts of Mojitos, Pornstar Martinis, Champagne, breakfast dates and generally because they had so much in common and all complimented each other’s vast personalities.

Before anyone thinks my spelling has gone all crazy, Angles is used deliberately and was our fitting name born from an auto correct error on Whatsapp by the Prince of the group, who had meant to call the Princesses his Angels but ended up calling them Angles. It was also said Prince’s birthday recently and so the 3 other Princess Angles had decided to surprise him with a birthday trip away.

PS: all 4 Angles make a perfect square 🙂

The secret plot

The Princesses created a secret Whatsapp group called “Don’t tell Aftab” and quickly plotted options of where to take the Prince on his surprise trip. Train tickets and Junior Suites were booked once the destination was chosen and then the Prince was taunted with threats of selfies with Paddington Bear, McDonald lunches and camping (not glamping) on muddy terraines forcibly wearing backward caps. It turns out the Prince doesn’t even own a cap! (Don’t worry Aftab, this will be rectified soon).

In reality, the Princesses had gone all out and booked massive rooms at Bovey Castle, a luxury castle in Dartmoor, for an overnight stay. The only clue Prince Aftab had been given was that Princess Angie was getting her hair done and that it was a good idea to pack a suit. All other questions were ignored swiftly to avoid giving away even the tiniest of detail.

The Journey to Bovey Castle

The Princesses and the unsuspecting Prince began their journey at Paddington station at 11:30am on a Sunday morning. They jumped on to a train with the Prince not allowed to read the destination. Princess Angie had kindly brought Champagne for refreshments which were well consumed after many boomerang attempts had been made.

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Prince Aftab was still none the wiser during the journey and when the train pulled up at Exter St Davids was when the Prince and Princesses all jumped off.

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However, it was still another 40 minute drive to the castle and this further added to the anticipation as even the driver, known as Mr Apple (that was the name of the taxi company so he has inherited this name) decided to join in the taunting fun and scared Prince Aftab with descriptions of muddy campsites with no wifi and having to eat daffodils for survival. The funny part is that they were actually without wifi for a good couple of hours.

It was all worth it though, driving through the gorgeous English countryside and Prince Aftab spotting horses and ponies along the way being a massive equestrian lover. The car soon arrived at regal looking glossy gates and then a winding road leading up to the castle and Prince Aftab shrieked with excitement realising that he was going to spend the night in a castle.

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The rooms at Bovey Castle

Check in was smooth and seamless and the Prince and Princesses were all shown their individual rooms, where they quickly took obligatory room photos and videos for insta stories and then re-assembled for lunch outside on a glorious day as they were all absolutely starving.

All the rooms were Junior suites and had some serious design features, breathtaking views and just all massive!

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Princess Binny’s room is pictured above and had a super comfy bed complete with Mulberry England pillows, a separate lounge area and a spacious bathroom with both a dreamy tub and a shower.

However, Princess Angie’s bathroom was the one that they were all super jealous of. Look at that!

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Lunch at Bovey Castle

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How gorgeous is this lunch spot and how amazing are the views?

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Lunch was delicious and the Prince and Princesses were all so hungry so everything was devoured rapidly. Princess Binny went for the SMITH’s fish ‘n’ chips, Princess Emma chose scotch eggs, and Princess Angie went for smoked salmon whilst Prince Aftab opted for the roast chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato.

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After lunch the Prince and Princesses relaxed in the bar area with some coffees whilst they planned what they were going to do that evening and the next day.

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The Princesses had arranged for some champagne to be sent to Prince Aftab’s room and he somehow ended up with two, so one bottle was consumed before everyone went to their rooms to freshen up and get ready for dinner.

Dinner and Drinks

The Prince and Princesses wore their respective fancy outfits and met up for dinner, which was the most excellent affair. Starting off with champagne (Ruinart), they enjoyed some luscious starters, mains and desserts and it was a fabulous fine dining experience.

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The selection of starters included smoked & cured South coast sea trout served with winter beetroot and goat’s curd, seared diver scallops, accompanied with a Oyster emulsion, pickled onions and beer battered clams and beetroot salad with goat’s curd. I do apologise for the quality of these photos as my camera just did not like the lighting that evening!

 

The mains included a poached fillet of Cornish turbot, rosette of Devon lamb and fillet of “Dartmoor Beef Welly” which had to be shared between two people.

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Dessert was a selection that included warm dark chocolate fondant with fennel ice-cream and blood orange, honeycomb ice-cream and a baked rum pineapple served with coconut cake and raisins.

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Breakfast and Exploring the grounds

After a champagne fuelled evening, the Prince and Princesses had breakfast with slightly sore heads and opted for cooked breakfasts from the menu, before heading off to explore the gorgeous grounds of the Castle. Pictured below is a delicious Egg Benedict.

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A Golf Buggy was hired and Prince Aftab and Princess Emma took it in turns to drive.

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There is so much to do and see within the vicinity and they just could not stop marvelling at the perfectly manicured green gardens, rolling hills, lakes and features. The majority of the grounds is a golf course so if you are a keen golfer this is an idea holiday venue.

There are also tennis courts and lovely areas to walk around in.

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All was going well with the Golf Buggy and exploring the area snapping away taking various photos and the Prince and Princesses were thoroughly enjoying themselves. It was a lovely sunny day with warm temperatures and that fresh crisp countryside air to breathe in while birds chirped away happily.

An Outtake and Crime Scene

…Until disaster struck and the Golf Buggy managed to get stuck in the mud. The below area will forever be etched in the minds of the Prince and Princesses.

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All four royals descended the buggy and attempted to push it out of the mud and after several attempts were successful, even though with muddy shoes and slightly bemused faces.

The Golf Buggy had also been decorated with bits of mud. This didn’t deter the Prince and Princesses, who continued their journey across the grounds to get the best shots.

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This is what you get when bloggers are faced with an amazing view of the castle! Thanks to Princess Emma for capturing this action shot!

Saying goodbye to Bovey Castle and resident Beaky

After a very thorough exploration, the Prince and Princesses returned to the castle for a final lunch and to catch their breath before taking a taxi drive back to the station to return to their promised land, London.

The blog post cannot end with mention of resident Beaky, who lives in a gorgeous room at the castle.

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Yes we all know how much Princess Binny loves African Grey Parrots so this made her very excitable and she loved getting to know Lord Beaky.

The verdict

The Prince loved his stay at the castle and was totally in his element. The princesses also had an amazing time and they would all recommend Bovey Castle for a fabulous escape without any hesitation.

The rooms were just brimming with wow factors and the bed was so comfortable. They had lovely little touches such as complimentary Sloe Gin in the room.

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The grounds are stunning and so picturesque. Sometimes it is a great reminder of how serene the English countryside is and how a staycation is so ideal to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. You don’t always have to fly abroad to have a holiday 😉

It is also very romantic, as well as being perfect for a family break. Dogs are very welcome too so if you are looking for a dog friendly venue, this is perfect.

There us so much to do, as well as there being a spa on site if you want to pamper yourself, as well as an indoor pool.

The food and drink is fabulous and the Prince and Princess thoroughly enjoyed all their meals on site.

All in all it was the perfect escapade and choice of venue for Prince Aftab’s birthday surprise and all the royals were keen to come back one day, as well as already planning the next Angle adventure.

For more information on Bovey Castle go to their website, which can be accessed here.

 

 

Hotel Review : Swahili Beach – a luxury hotel in Diani, Kenya

During our trips back home to Kenya we always try and have a mini break in Diani, the south coast of Mombasa, and this time we chose Swahili Beach, a luxury 5 star hotel, as our chosen venue to relax and unwind on a half board basis.

Swahili Beach has a unique look and designed with a traditional Swahili and Arabic architectural flair which is characterised by the use of arches, high ceilings, stone and pale colours. I love this design and find it has a charm of its own. Everything is so spacious and open and tranquil. The decor is all deliciously Swahili and beautiful.

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The resort

The resort itself is extensive with 7 cascading pools, gorgeous gardens and set on the beach with a view of the Indian Ocean. I have to highlight that it is not the most beautiful stretch of beach in Diani but it is still lovely and peaceful.

There are various areas across the resort with ample sun loungers and chairs to relax in and there is also a coffee lounge, where afternoon tea is served daily, and a beach bar and restaurant, which is really nice.

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Check in

Upon arrival we were given refreshing Dawas, which are a popular Kenyan cocktail, to cool down with in the intense heat. This was a lovely gesture and check in was really smooth, quick and seamless. The staff were really welcoming and friendly.

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The rooms

At Swahili Beach they have three categories of rooms – standard, superior and Executive. We were upgraded to the Executive suite, which was MASSIVE. It had its own lounge area, bedroom, ginormous bathroom and impressive balcony. There was a view of the pool area palm fringed with the coconut trees I adore!


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The balcony was so difficult to capture in one shot but here is a series of shots so you get an idea!

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The bathroom had a dreamy sunken bath as well as a separate shower and had a stunning design.

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The room had a large TV, desk, ample mirrors and plugs in convenient spots, hairdryer, eco friendly toiletries as well as air conditioning and a fan. The wifi was good and the room was clean and extremely comfortable. We had no complaints about anything.

Food and Drink

There were lots of choices with a lot of African and Indian dishes as well as classic continental ones. As we were on a half board basis, we decided to have lunch at the beachside restaurant Barharini, which was really nice. The sound of the waves whilst eating your lunch is one of my favourite ways to eat al fresco.

For dinner we dined at the buffet restaurant, Majilis, which means meeting place. There was a really good selection, especially for vegetarians as one of our party was a vegetarian. It was a special occasion and the hotel pulled out all the stops to make it special so we were very happy and grateful for that.

Breakfast, also in the Majilis, had an incredible spread of fresh fruits, juices, cold meats, cheeses, pastries, cereals, eggs, hot food and also some Kenyan specials.

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The Kahawa Lounge, where we had our afternoon tea, serves coffees and teas, and at tea time you can have pancakes, bhajias, cakes, and other delicious treats. This is complimentary.

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The cocktails were really good at Swahili Beach too! The mojitos kept me refreshed and happy.

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Amit was more than content with his chilled beers :o)

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The Dawas were delicious too!

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If you fancied it, you could also have fresh madafu (coconuts). I adored this little table that signposted this.

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The hotel also has a seafood restaurant and an Indian restaurant, but we didn’t get a chance to try these out.

Service and Facilities

The service at the hotel was really good. The staff were really attentive without being intrusive and quick at helping or taking food and drink orders.

The pool was my favourite feature of the hotel, and I had a fantastic time swimming and sunbathing by the pool. The hotel was very quiet when we stayed so we had most of the pool to ourselves.

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The hotel also has a spa but I didn’t get a chance to try it out.

The Location

Swahili Beach is located on Diani Beach. The beach is really relaxing and peaceful but I wouldn’t say it is the best stretch of beach you can find in Diani, having stayed at other hotels at the South Coast. However, it is still a really decent stretch of beach and there are nice comfortable lounge chairs to chill in.

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Overall we really enjoyed our stay at Swahili Beach. It was really good value for money when comparing rates at other hotels (March 2017) and the service, food, room and overall experience was wonderful and we would recommend it.

For more information about Swahili Beach visit their website.