Monday, 19 November 2018

The Queensberry Hotel Bath - Cool and Luxurious Accommodation With A Michelin Star Restaurant

Bath is, I must admit, my favourite city in the whole of the UK.  In fact, I have actually thought about moving there. It's a historic city, the only one in the UK to be designated a UNESCO world heritage site, and this mixed with the beautiful Georgian architecture, the fabulous restaurants and eclectic mix of independent shops and well-known chains make it a must visit city.

Just a couple of streets away from the main shopping area is The Queensberry Hotel. I've wanted to stay here for a while, as its reputation precedes it, so when I was offered to review it and report back to my readers, in exchange for a complimentary stay, it wasn't hard to say no. I just hoped it lived up to my expectations.

Tammy on reception couldn't have been more delightful. She took our bags from us and informed us that our room wasn't ready yet but we could have a drink in the lounge or we could explore Bath. She also took our keys and valet parked our car for us.

So we left our luggage and went to explore. When we returned at 3pm we were shown to our room. Our room, room 30, was at the top of some winding stairs. The hotel is four original buildings now made into one and it adds to the charm and individuality of the property. As it is a listed Georgian building, not all rooms are accessible if you have mobility problems, although some are via a lift.  It's worth ringing ahead to get an accessible room if this could be an issue. 

Our room was large and spacious, with a comfy seating area, full-length ornate mirror, fitted wardrobes, a dark wood chest of drawers and a flat screen TV. In the centre of the room was a large king sized bed (by Harrison Spinka) with a padded headboard and the room was decorated in chic shades of grey and white, with a dark blue carpet. 

The feature wall with animal print wallpaper added a unique touch and brought the room up-to-date.

It was the sort of room that immediately impressed with the luxurious details, such as the design features, complimentary water and chocolates and an air of elegance. A little bit cheeky and quirky but still contemporary and delicious.

They say that all rooms are individually designed and you can view some of the rooms on their website if you are nosey like me! Check out the suites, they look gorgeous.

Classical music was playing when we entered the room, and I noticed Classic FM was selected on the DAB radio - so relaxing.  Something I liked about the room was that there a number of plugs as well as USB points, which I feel is so important these days.  The lighting was excellent too, being bright enough to work, but also adjustable for an evening glow.

The bathroom really had that wow factor! The bathroom was made up of a huge freestanding slipper bath with a window view on one side, a large white porcelain sink in the centre and a spacious rainfall shower on the opposite side.

The wallpaper in the bathroom with an animal print was really cute.

White Company toiletries, as well as plush robes, added an air of comfort and quality. 

So after we unpacked, we decided to go and explore the rest of the hotel.

The lounge downstairs, next to the reception area is lovely and welcoming, and a selection of magazines and newspapers were available to read.

Complimentary tea and coffee are available here at all times, and fresh milk was also provided - they even brought soya milk when asked. It was nice to sit here and chat over a cup of coffee with Mr W. 

A few steps away is the Old Q Bar area. A smart snug bar, small but perfectly formed and with another lounge to sit with your drink close by.

Sandwiches, snacks and hot drinks can be ordered here, I liked the sound of the fish finger sandwich with tartar sauce and skinny fries, yum! Drinks included a range of wine by the glass and bottle and the usual spirits. I noticed locally produced drinks on the menu too like the Bath Ales Golden Hare ale. Cocktails looked good, with lots of classics like Margaritas, Daiquiris, Martinis and more so we decided to come back later and try one.

It was a sunny day so I decided to have a look around outside. When I explored more I noticed there were three areas to sit, and which would be lovely with a coffee or a glass of wine on a warm day.

It was starting to get later in the day now so I retired to my room and indulged in the chocolates they had left us.

It wasn't that long before it was time to get ready for dinner in The Olive Tree Restaurant in the hotel. As I was getting ready a couple of things I noticed a couple of design features. In the bathroom, there was a sensor light that came on when I entered and in the wardrobe, lights had been built in that came on as you opened it. Genius.

So just before dinner, we went back down to the Old Q Bar where we decided to have Mojitos. They were made to perfection, not too sweet, with a good balance of sharpness from the lime. Then it was time to head to the Olive Tree Restaurant.

The Olive Tree Restaurant is in the basement of The Queensberry Hotel and is a cosy little restaurant. The food here recently was awarded a one Michelin star for its cuisine so we were in for a real treat.

What I noticed immediately was the warm and friendly service, it felt like a special occasion restaurant, and everyone was dressed up but it had an unstuffy ambience which I was pleased about.  Gitana showed us to our table and presented us the menu. 

The head chef is Chris Cleghorn, who has worked under the illustrious Michelin Star chefs Heston Blumenthal and Michael Caines, so expectations high, we went for the 5-course tasting menu.  Mr W had the vegetarian option whilst I had the standard menu above. I noticed on the website there was a vegan tasting menu as well as a dairy-free menu too. 

As with all the best restaurants, the produce is locally and lovingly sourced, with Walter Rose in Devies and Everleigh Farm in Wiltshire providing meat as well as the Eades family farm the vegetables.

We browsed the wine list, which was extensive and had a decent selection under £30 as well as wine by the glass and the half bottle.  Mr W ordered a bottle of Verdejo Spanish white wine which was crisp, light bodied and fresh.

An amuse bouche was our pre-starter. A tasty morsel of ox, with a decoration of pineapple sauce, it was scrumptious. The chicken skin with cod mousse wasn't to my taste but the presentation was excellent. Mr W had a vegetarian amuse bouche, but he's a quick one so it was popped into his mouth before I could get my camera out. In fact, I must admit I don't have many photos of his food at all, sorry readers.

My scallops were presented as a work of art. The scallops were raw, but were served with a citrus sauce, almost like a ceviche and was accompanied by a sharp refreshing granita of pink grapefruit and a dill mayonnaise which added a creaminess. Totally delicious.  With the Ums and Ahs coming from Mr W, he obviously enjoyed his course too.

My next course was a dish of tagliatelle. Now I'm not a huge pasta fan, I can take or leave it but this was so full of flavour, I think it was my favourite course. The creamy sauce was light and well seasoned and the dish was topped with generous shavings truffle as well as 36-month-old aged parmesan.

Next was a dish of stone bass. Served with a 'mushroom tea', the waitress had great delight with the ritual of pouring the clear consomme from a little teapot over the fish. The fish was cooked well with a crispy skin, and good seasoning and fell apart with a fork. 

At this stage, we were also offered bread. When it came the wholemeal bread rolls were warm and floury and really hit the spot when served with creamy salted butter.

By this stage, we were starting to get full but we were looking forward to our 'main' course.

The next course was larger than the others and was duck served three ways. This included duck confit, roast duck and duck pate. I enjoyed the confit of duck the most, whilst the duck pate was rich and smooth and the roast duck had Asian five spice flavours. Served with barbecue cauliflower which was quite smoky, the duck three ways was surprisingly filling and the addition of hazelnuts added a nice crunch.

At this stage, we were offered a sweet wine to go with our dessert. Casha the sommelier was very knowledgeable about the wine and suggested a glass of the Trimbach Gewurztraminer.  This medium sweet wine had fruit, spice and honey notes and tasted very perfumed. Mr W really enjoyed it.

I finished off the meal with baked milk chocolate, peanut brown butter ice cream and salted caramel. I love peanuts in a dessert and the sweet caramel flavours went exceptionally well with the chocolate too.

Our last course was petit fours, which were little delights of creamy chocolate.

All in all our meal took over three hours but it was such a fantastic experience, especially for a foodie like me. Almost every single morsel was fantastic and I savoured the whole meal. For £68 for five courses, I think it is excellent value for a one Michelin-star restaurant. The staff were attentive but never pushy, the environment felt special but not stuffy and the quality and flavour of the food were exceptional.

So full, we retired to bed and had a restful nights sleep. The next morning we came down for breakfast.

Breakfast the next morning was a relaxed affair. A selection of cereals, bread and pastries, fresh fruit, yoghurt and fresh juice was accompanied by a hot cooked to order breakfast. 

I liked the homemade granola and the fact that the juice was fresh - something you don't always get in a hotel.

We ordered from the cooked to order menu - Marcus had a cheese omelette and I had something I haven't eaten in a long time - kippers.

My kippers were perfectly done to order, drizzled with butter and herbs and served with a wedge of lemon,  Very good indeed.

So it was time to pack our bags and leave the Queensberry Hotel. We were really sorry to go and we absolutely loved our stay here. The room was spacious with a glorious bathroom, and the staff attentive and welcoming. The position is also excellent for the centre of Bath and the icing on the cake was the fantastic food in the Olive Tree Restaurant. With rooms starting just under £100 a night, I think for this quality of hotel, the price is definitely worth it. We will certainly be back and we are planning to bring my mum here in the future.

Check out this video Mr W made for our Fly Drive Explore YouTube channel.

Did the Queensberry Hotel live up to my expectations? Most certainly. Highly recommended. 

The Queensberry Hotel and Olive Tree Restaurant,
Russel Street, 
BA1 2QF.
T +44 (0)1225 447928

*We were given a complimentary stay in exchange for a review, as always all my opinions are my own. 

Friday, 16 November 2018

Why You Should Visit Bucharest

Bucharest is a city you may not have thought about visiting but if you are interested in history, architecture and a vibrant city life it's a place that should be on your radar.  Bucharest is the largest city in Romania, a country located at the crossroads of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe and bordering the black sea. It's the capital, cultural and financial centre of Romania. 

I was invited to Bucharest recently as part of the Experience Bucharest initiative, a project which is part of Travel Massive Romania, which invites influencers to the city to share with them, and their readers what Bucharest has to offer.

Our full two days focused on tours jam-packed full of information and stories of communism, Rroma history, street art, architecture, garlic and Vlad the Impaler. It made me realise in my brief visit that there were many reasons to visit Bucharest. Here are just some of them.

For the history

Arcul de Triumf - The Triumph Arc

Bucharest's history is one thing - certainly not boring. Now I'm not a historian and you could write reams on the history of Bucharest and Romania, so here is a very brief history lesson, of some of the important historical events in Bucharest's history.

Legend has it that a shepherd named Bucur founded Bucharest on the banks of the Dambovita River, however, it was first mentioned in 1459, as one of the residences of Vlad III (the Impaler), ruler of Wallachia. Yes, that is Vlad the Impaler, on which the story of Dracula was based - more of that later. 

After Ottoman rule, two hundred years later it became the capital of Southern Romania. in 1866, the Hohenzollern prince, the future King Carol the 1st, modernised the capital with the help of the political elites. 

In the early 20th century Bucharest was known as 'Little Paris' and this was the golden age of this city.

The balcony where Nicolae Ceaușescu gave his last speech

However, bringing history up-to-date is the story of Bucharest as a communist country.  Bucharest was bombed by the German and the Allies in the 1940s. After three consecutive fascist regimes, the communist regime came to complete power in 1947.

Nicolae Ceaușescu was the communist leader from 1965 to 1989, and during his reign, his government became severely totalitarian, His secret police was responsible for mass surveillance as well as severe repression and human rights abuses within the country. It was a dark time in the history of Bucharest.  He gave his last speech on a balcony known as Revolution Square and thousands of workers were bussed into the square under threat of being fired. He was overthrown in 1989 and executed by firing squad three days later.

To see the architecture

University Library

The architecture in Bucharest is a wonderful mix of styles due to the history of this city. Here are some of the notable buildings.

Stavropoleos Monastery

The Stavropoleos Monastery is definitely worth seeing. From the Brancovan architectural style from the Ottoman empire, a mix of Islamic, Byzantine and Orthodox Christian design, go inside to see the beautiful ornate decor.

Triumph Arch

The Arcul de Triumf or Triumph Arch was built hurriedly after Romania gained it's independence in 1878 so that the victorious troops could march under it. The original version was built of wood. This modern version made of stone was built in 1936. Soon tourists will be able to go inside and see views of the city from the top. The arch has a height of 27 metres. and the facades are decorated by famous Romanian sculptors.
 Parliamentary Palace

The Palace Of The People, now known as the Parliamentary Palace is the second largest administrative building in the world.  During the communist regime over 10,000 buildings were destroyed, and over 50,000 people were moved into communist buildings as Ceaușescu's vision was to transform villages into cities   Many buildings were demolished to make way for Ceaușescu’s grandiose project, the Palace Of The People and surrounding civic centre. It's a large and dominating building.

The Romanian Athenaeum 

The Romanian Athenaeum is one of the most impressive buildings in the city. A neoclassical French designed concert hall which was restored to its original glory and saved from collapse in 1992. It's Bucharest's main concert hall and home to the "George Enescu" Philharmonic and of the George Enescu annual international music festival. 

Abandoned buildings

In contrast to some of the beautiful buildings built in its history, the communist era left Bucharest full of buildings with flat panels, in a simple unadorned no-frills style. Today some of these buildings have been neglected due to arguments about rights of ownership. It's interesting to see some of these buildings where people still live, that are designated unsafe. We were surprised that people still live in some of these buildings.

To find out more about the architecture of Romania, including the palaces, the ‘Belle Epoque’ period and the hidden Art Deco gems, which I haven't covered here, take a trip with Walkabout Free Tours.

For the street art

Some amazing street art

Bucharest has its fair share of graffiti dotting the buildings but also has some amazing street art.  Over the years graffiti in Romania was used as a form of protest against the corruption of those in power. Now it's an expression of creativity.

Our Open Door Travel tour guide

I did a tour called the 'Alternative Tour' with Open Doors Travel which showed us a lot of the street art around the city today. Street art around the world can be a controversial topic, but we were asked to think about whether we wanted to see an advert or vibrant colourful street art. I think I know what I would rather see.  

So bright and vibrant

Today there are street art initiatives to make the streets more colourful, such as the Un-hidden Bucharest street art project, and personally, I think that could only be a good thing.

Street art by Jace

One artist that stood out was Jace, who is a French graffiti artist. He has lots of little sculptured masks hidden around the city, as well as larger paintings like this face above.

How detailed is this?

As you can see the street art brightens up the streets

More cool street art

For the food

Garlic themed food tour with My Secret Romania 

Bucharest has a great cafe culture and an emerging food scene. Traditional food features meat heavily, soup and sarmale, which are stuffed cabbage leaves, polenta and local wine.  As well as traditional restaurants serving food that has been passed down through generations, it also has a handful of top-notch restaurants of which The Artist, and Kane, stand out. 

Garlic and bean pate

I was here though to try the traditional cuisine and signed up to the 'Garlic-themed food tour with My Secret Romania.  Our meal was at La Copac - a restaurant known for traditional food. 

Sausages and potatoes with a healthy portion of garlic 

We heard about how garlic is a 'magical' plant in Romanian and how garlic kept the vampires at a safe distance. The menu consisted of a bean and garlic pate served with a topping of peppers and onions, huge tasty sausages with garlic, and potatoes in a parsley and garlic sauce. 
Tuica - Romanian brandy

Our guide Ioana told gruesome stories of Vlad the Impaler as we ate. A cruel but fair man apparently, he secured his kingdom using fear and he impaled his enemies on steaks vertically, avoiding the major organs so they would live longer! It was almost enough to put me off my sausages! We heard about Strigoi, the Romanian vampires of legend. The writer Bram Stoker combined the real-life person of Vlad the Impaler, with the stories of the Strigoi to make Count Dracula. 

We also heard more about Vlad and other legends of Bucharest on the 'Old Town Legends and Stories tour' by B Trip Bucharest, another tour well worth doing.

We finished the meal with a shot of Tuica, a Romanian brandy, which was very strong but delicious.

For the people

Ciprian from B Trip Bucharest

Before I came to Romania I read about the country and the people. When I came I found the Romania people warm and friendly, especially when they get to know you. It was certainly true about Tudor, the organiser of Experience Bucharest and all our tour guides. Our guide on the B Trip Bucharest walking tour, Ciprian, was exceptionally friendly and even offered us a lift to one of the evening events.

I also saw another side of the people of Romania, when I went on the Rroma Heritage Tour by Open Doors Travel. The Rromas or gypsies as they used to be known, originally came from India, then they travelled through Turkey before expanding into Eastern Europe in 1385. It was sad to hear how they were welcomed originally due to their skills in craft making, tool making and selling, and then they were kept and sold as slaves, sold by weight, even little babies. 

Rroma flower market

We went to see the Rroma flower market and saw children helping out their parents and the huge wreaths all made up for funerals. 

Mesteshukar ButiQ-MBQ

Our last stop was a co-operative where the Rroma people sell their goods, called Mesteshukar ButiQ – MBQ. The prices were good and it was interesting to see unique pieces of jewellery. 

Jams and honey

They also sold bags, clothes and some lovely jams amongst other things. The Rroma tour was interesting and thought-provoking and definitely worth doing as it challenges misconceptions and looks at the history of the Rroma people.

How to get there

Blue Air

Bucharest is easily accessible from most European destinations. We flew there from the UK with Blue Air from Luton Airport and Wizz Air, British Airways and Ryanair also fly there.

The city is easy to get around, many of the main sights are walkable, and there is also the Bucharest Metro which is easy to use and cheap. Buses and trams criss-cross the centre of the city and run from early in the morning until 11pm. Look out for the yellow kiosks with the logo RATB to buy your tickets. Tickets are cheap at less than 30 pence a ticket.

Taxis are also cheap compared to most of Europe, we used Uber and were never charged more than £2.00 for a short trip, although our trip from the airport to the hotel was in the region of £6-7.00.

Where to stay

Radisson Blu Bucharest

Bucharest has a variety of accommodation options, from the exceptionally cheap but well run independent Pura Vida hostels with prices from £11 per person per night to the 5 star Radisson Blu Bucharest with rooms from £80 a night, and everything in between.  

We can highly recommend the Radisson Blu Bucharest, as the breakfasts were amazing, and the facilities including 5 restaurants, 3 bars and a wellness centre with swimming pool, exceptional for Bucharest.

Cost of living

Passage Victoria

The cost of living in Bucharest is higher than the rest of Romania but is relatively low compared to western Europe and the US. The currency is Lei and you get a better rate to exchange there at currency exchange centres than changing your money in the UK. 

Pin for later

Check out the comparison prices at Numbeo to get an idea of the cost of living. As an idea, a meal in an inexpensive restaurant in Bucharest is £5-6.00, a meal in McDonalds £3.55 and a cappuccino in a cafe £1.57.  We found it is a destination where you get a lot for your money, and why not add on a few days exploring the smaller towns and villages in Romania to get even more for your money too, and see what else Romania has to offer?

Thanks to Experience Bucharest for the opportunity to explore this interesting city. Food, accommodation and tours were provided on a complimentary basis in exchange for a blog post and social media coverage. Check out the social media coverage by following the hashtag #ExperienceBucharest and for more information on Bucharest check out Romania Tourism.

Let me know, would you visit Bucharest?
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