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Fayrer Garden Hotel, Lake District

The Fayrer Garden Hotel nestles in a beautiful part of the Lake District, about half way between the town of Kendal and the small lakeside resort of Windermere.

The lounge and bar areas of the Fayrer Garden are furnished with plush sofas and deep, comfy armchairs and the overall impression is one of unashamed luxury and comfort, with a touch of history. An ideal place for a quiet weekend, or mid-week break away from it all.

The hotel staff are smart, friendly and helpful – if a little overstretched at times – and you always get the feeling you’re being well looked after.

Our room was a decent size, quite cosy, comfortable and well-equipped, with a giant double bed – worthy of the set of Dallas. The wi-fi, however, only worked in the lounge and it might be a good idea to upgrade that facility, if only for the business travellers, of which there appeared to be quite a few.

But the Fayrer Garden isn’t just for golf-jumpered company execs on awaydays. All kinds of people stay there – from retired couples on second honeymoons to young newlyweds having a crack at it the first time around. From daughters treating their mums, to parents escaping their kids.

If you’re lucky with the weather, as we were, the rooms to the rear of the hotel boast spectacular views. In the near-distance, the hotel’s huge and well kept gardens – and as a breathtaking backdrop, Lake Windermere, dotted with sailing craft and pleasure boats and surrounded by towering tree-topped hills.

We enjoyed our pre-dinner drinks in the lounge, even though the canapés were a little uninspiring. We were then ushered into Fayrer Garden’s “smart but casual” restaurant, where we quickly learned that jeans and T-shirts are frowned upon. Luckily I had packed a suit.

We were serenaded by both Swan Lake and the Greatest Hits of Doris Day, while being served a delicious starter of pigeon with parsnip puree. Our chosen main course was local lamb served on a bed of braised red cabbage, which I personally found a little overpowering. We finished with Crème brûlée, which was perfect.

After dinner we retired to the peaceful hotel garden and drank our coffee as the sun went down over Lake Windermere.

In the morning, we weren’t quite so lucky with the weather, and watched from the restaurant as monsoon-like rain swept across the landscape. However, the Full Lakeside Breakfast did not disappoint – the stars of that show being a brace of sizzling Cumberland Sausages.

Overall, we enjoyed our stay at the Fayrer Garden, and we’d highly recommend a visit to this part of the world for anyone looking to get away from it all for a few days. 6/10

Official Fayrer Garden Web Site

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Broadoaks Boutique Country House, Windermere

Sowerby & Luff write…

As we drove up the crunchy gravel drive towards Broadoaks we were immediately struck by the quaint charm of the building – constructed of local flint and sporting a tall, elegant fountain in the front drive – the lawns and hedges as neatly trimmed as a footballer’s wife.

Co-owner Jo Harbottle told us that she has set out to create a hotel in which “Country House meets Boutique”, and at first sight she appears to be walking that tightrope with considerable aplomb. Duty manager Joe Nichols described the philosophy of the place to us as “laid back luxury for aspirational couples.”

Broadoaks was built in the 1830s and features an impressive music room designed by none other than William Morris. The Music Room is a quite delightful place – its ceiling encircled by hand-painted plaster friezes and lovingly distressed by a century of Havana cigar smoke.

In its literature Broadoaks proudly boasts “that it was the first house in Windermere to have electricity, and is now the last to have wi-fi in the bedrooms.” But it assures us that this is a work in progress,

Our bedroom boasted a flat screen TV in the bathroom, and you’d have to be very dull indeed not to find that a little bit sexy. Mind you, at times the seemingly 19th century plumbing was so noisy that it was almost impossible to hear the telly. But isn’t that all part of the fun when Country House meets Boutique?

We were a tiny bit disappointed that none of the rooms at Broadoaks directly overlook Lake Windermere, but the view from our bedroom was none-the-less spectacular – a plunging, tree lined gorge with miniature white water rapids at the bottom.

Pre-dinner canapés in the Music Room were fleetingly delicious – tuna with horse radish and black caviar and rare roast beef slivers with mustard, accompanied by a quirky mix tape of musical delights: Dean Martin followed by Judy Garland who then seemed to hand over to Don Draper’s Groovy Christmas Hits from the 1950’s.

The closest thing to local ale in the bar is a pressure keg of Tetley Yorkshire Bitter and Peroni lager on draught. But then, not everyone is looking for real ale these days. Wine prices start from around £20 for a bottle of Merlot to an eye-watering £280 for a bottle of Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse De LaLande 1985.

The menu at Broadoaks is ambitious for such a small hotel. We thoroughly enjoyed the asparagus with soft poached quail eggs and croutons, and the grilled goats cheese on a crispy crumpet with beetroot. As a main course we chose Beef Wellington and Rack of Lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and a suggestion of grilled halloumi. The lamb was cooked to perfection, the Beef Wellington rather less so.

The staff at Broadoaks are professional, friendly and eager to please, and the attention to minute detail is meticulous throughout. The flowers, ornaments, cutlery, glasses and crockery are all tastefully sourced and thoughtfully placed throughout the hotel. Everything seems to be of the highest possible quality and design.

In all, Broadoaks is a quirky, enthralling and enjoyable place to stay, and very different from the kind of hotel you might normally expect to find in the Lake District. 7/10

Official Broadoaks Web Site

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Simonstone Hall Hotel, Hawes, North Yorkshire

Sowerby & Luff write:

It’s unlikely that you would ever come across Simonstone Hall by accident. But if you are lucky enough to stumble upon it, you’ll have uncovered a perfect little gem.

This small country house hotel is in a quiet corner of North Yorkshire, just outside the tiny town of Hawes. Unimposing from the front, a short walk around to the rear of the hotel reveals a charming courtyard garden with sweeping, uninterrupted views of the Yorkshire Dales – overlooked by quaint, stone-clad buildings, with a hit of gothic. There’s a “village clock”, a tall spire, and the whole place is so photogenic it simply cries out to be booked for a fairy tale wedding reception.

The bedrooms are large, airy and well equipped, and in the room we occupied there was a luxurious, super-sized four poster bed. The wi-fi connection, however, was intermittent at best – not a problem if you’re trying to escape civilisation for a few days, but tricky if you’re trying to post a review.

The staff at Simonstone Hall are friendly and efficient without being intrusive, and there is an air of cheerful, well-drilled professionalism about the place.

The dining room is a intriguing labyrinth of oak panels and mirrors with breathtaking views across the Dales, and the atmospheric wine cellar doubles as a small function room, in which private parties can be held and regular wine tasting events take place.

The lounge bar sports a splendid tartan carpet and is as snug as any traditional English pub, with a good selection of beers including a tasty local ale Black Sheep. The restaurant at Simonstone Hall is fast gaining an excellent reputation in the area, and from what we experienced during our short stay this is thoroughly deserved.

The menu features good honest local produce served with flair and individuality. Everything looks so mouth-watering it’s actually quite difficult to decide what to have. After much deliberation we eventually went for smoked duck salad with a breaded poached egg, and pearl scallops with lemon and thyme risotto. We followed this with Prime Yorkshire Beef in port and stilton and Yorkshire Venison with Poached Pears. Both dishes were skilfully presented, perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious..

We also recommend Simonstone’s Luxury Berry Soufflé – which is so light you might actually find room for a selection of Yorkshire cheeses, served with home made pear chutney and a big lump of fruit cake.

This splendid little country house hotel has been a secret for too long, and richly deserves to reach a wider clientele.

Official Simonstone Hall Web Site

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Singapore Night Safari

Sowerby & Luff write…

Since sunset in Singapore always takes place punctually at 7.30 pm, everyone always knows exactly when to show up at the Night Safari. We arrived promptly, in broad daylight, at 7.29 pm, and a minute later the sky was pitch black. I swear I heard a click as night fell. We ventured slowly into the darkness, and before long came upon a clearing in the jungle, in which was built a bar and a fast food restaurant called Bongo Burgers.

The Night Safari, though voted best tourist attraction in Singapore for the last three hundred years, was just that, very touristy. Drumbeats and fire lanterns welcomed the crowds, and you were almost immediately subjected to enforced photo opportunities with painted backgrounds, ranging from shadow puppets to wild animals. Gift shops selling African mammal-based trinkets lined the walkways.

Night Safari is the world’s first wildlife park built solely for visits after dark – offering visitors “the unique experience of exploring wildlife in a tropical jungle at night”. If you think about it, it’s actually a very clever marketing idea, since around 90% of the animals in most zoos are nocturnal anyway, and are much more active after dusk.

We quickly made our way to the bar, where we sat and ordered a couple of tall glasses of Chang beer, which quickly lightened our mood, and it was with alcohol driven fervour that Georgina dared herself to go and touch a huge snake on the stage adjacent to the bar area.
“What type of snake is it?” she enquired of a keeper.
“Python, very dangerous,” came the terse response.
“May I stroke it?” Georgina asked, with no small amount of trepidation. 
“Five dollar,” came the stock response.

Georgina came back to the bar. “I’m buggered if I’m spending thirty dollars to get in here, then another five dollars to do something I’m not convinced I want to do in the first place,” she snapped.
She ordered another beer.
“Five dollar,” said the barman.

We were told that before we set off on the safari, there was some kind of live performance, so we downed our Changs and, with pseudo African drums ringing in our ears, made our way towards the Creatures of the Night show.
We were astonished to discover in the next jungle clearing an entire open-air theatre, complete with auditorium, raked seating and a powerful lighting grid. I hit the record button on Roland as the show began with a classic voiceover intro.
“When the sun goes down… it gets dark. It becomes wet. It’s cold. It’s time for the Creatures of the Night.”

A blue spotlight faded up slowly on a rocky platform at the side of the stage, and a real-life wolf shuffled tentatively out of the wings. He sat for a while scratching himself, then attempted to make an early exit, at which point he was silently encouraged back onto his mark. There was no way that wolf was going to be allowed off that stage until he’d howled at the moon.

The wolf looked wistfully into the wings, then reluctantly lifted his head to the night sky and let out a half-hearted howl. He looked off stage again. Was that it? Could he go now? Nope, he was going to have to howl with a little more effort than that. He howled a bit louder, then coughed and trotted off for his meagre food reward. The audience applauded politely. Georgina got the giggles.

To be honest, that was the highlight of the show, and we said as much in our short review for the podcast as we filed out of the theatre 20 minutes later. We’d thought that the days of training animals to perform humiliating tricks for tourists were over. But we were wrong.

Now it was time for the safari. We piled into the back seat of the zebra-striped road train and waited for it to begin. It wasn’t long before we heard the voice of our guide come echoing through the loudspeakers.
“It’s a jungle out there,” she began, in an accent and style that was unlike anything we’d ever heard before. Kimberly, as we later discovered was her name, had a knack of placing a kind of exaggerated slow motion emphasis on the last two words in each sentence, in such a way that it sounded like she was voicing a porn film.
“Take a look at the rhino’s… skin,” she purred like Marylyn Monroe. “It may seem very rough and.. tough, but the rhino is still very… sensitive.”
I pointed Roland at the loudspeaker and the red record light flashed in the darkness. We had a feeling that sexy Kimberly was going to be one of the stars of our Singapore podcast.
“These pigs may look rather ugly to … you,” she teased, “But the female pigs find them rather… sexy.”
“Do you think this is the only safari in Asia to feature a Happy Ending?” I whispered to Georgina. But she was laying face down on the back seat, sobbing with laughter.

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Impressions of Hong Kong

Sowerby & Luff write…

As we came in to land at Hong Kong Airport, we could immediately see the famous yellow smog of pollution which hangs permanently over the city.
“Isn’t this one of the world’s most dangerous airports?” asked Georgina.
“It used to be,” I said. “But they moved the runway to somewhere safer.”
“I hope they told this pilot where they’ve moved it to,” said Georgina.

Our luggage defied all laws of international air travel and arrived safely with us in Hong Kong, where we strolled delightedly into the fresh air outside the arrivals hall. A cool, spring-like breeze greeted us, and the temperature was a comfortable 70°F, with almost no humidity at all. There was oxygen in the air. Unlike Singapore we could actually breathe for ourselves without the use of any medical apparatus.

We jumped onto the Airport Express and after quickly passing through Tsing Li and Kowloon, arrived in the town centre twenty minutes later. We hailed a cab.
“L’hotel, Causeway Bay, please” we said to the taxi driver.
He stared at us as if we were from the Planet Zob.
He clearly didn’t understand. We showed him our hotel booking form.
“Ah, L Hotel!” he said, and he shoved the cab into gear and headed across town.
French pronunciation appears to be frowned upon in Hong Kong, so L’hotel has always been known as L Hotel. How on earth could we possibly have known that? Had we not had that piece of paper, we might have been trying to locate L’hotel for days.

“Hong Kong is one of two special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China, the other being Macau. It lies on the eastern side of the Pearl River Delta, bordering Guangdong province in the north and facing the South China Sea in the east.”
“Do you have to read that out loud?” snapped Georgina, as we headed towards Causeway Bay.
“I’m trying to educate myself,” I said. And I stubbornly continued to read aloud from the guidebook.
“Hong Kong was a crown colony of the United Kingdom from 1842 until the transfer of its sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China in 1997. China is still responsible for the territory’s defence and foreign affairs, while Hong Kong maintains its own legal system, police force, monetary system, and immigration policy.”

“Please tell me you have finished” said Georgina.
“But, I thought Hong Kong was now a part of China,” I said. “It turns out to only partly be a part of China.”
“Does that matter?” asked Georgina.
“Well, it’s just that for weeks I’ve been referring to this part of the trip as The Podcast That Ate China. I suppose that’s not strictly true, is it?”
“I’m sure no-one will notice” smiled Georgina. “And it is a very snappy title.”

The Podcast That Ate China arrived at L Hotel in the late afternoon of Monday 26th November 2007.
“Here’s your room key, madam” said the receptionist to Georgina. “You are on the 26th floor.”
Georgina went very pale. “Do you have any rooms lower down the building?” she asked. “Like, maybe, in the basement?”
“I’m sorry, madam,” said the receptionist. “That’s the only room we have available.”

We hauled our bags over to the elevators. Nothing. We pressed the button again.
“Lifts very busy” said the man on the concierge desk.
“Thank you,” we said. “We’re not in a hurry.”

About 15 minutes later one of the lifts arrived, and we pressed the button for the 26th floor. The lift lurched skywards, leaving our stomachs behind on the ground floor. Georgina gulped.
“You’ll be fine” I said. “It could be worse. It could be the 27th floor.”
Georgina said nothing.

“Wow, you have to come and take a look at this!” I said, as I pulled back the blackout curtains in the room.
Georgina swallowed hard. “I’d rather not” she said.
“I know you don’t like heights, but you cannot stay in a hotel for a week and not look outside!” I said. “Look, solid glass. Double glazed glass. You cannot fall through it. You are safe. Perfectly safe. The bloody windows don’t even open! Shall I call reception and ask for a parachute?”
Georgina slowly edged her way around the walls towards the large panoramic window.
“Oh fuck!” she said, as she took in the dizzying view for the first time. From 26 floors up we could see the whole of central Hong Kong and across the harbour, the whole of the centre of Kowloon.
“I think I’ll have a little lie down,” said Georgina and she slumped onto the large double bed, her hands pressed firmly over her eyes.

Even having so recently visited Manhattan, we were staggered by the height and scale of the buildings in Hong Kong. The city has quite literally been built vertically, with even ordinary apartment buildings towering to 50 or 60 floors. Of course, this means that most people spend their entire lives waiting for lifts.

Night was falling fast across a city which contains four of the tallest skyscrapers on the planet, and an extraordinary light show was flickering into life. The room had an amazing view of the Bank of China Tower, which has attracted heated controversy in Hong Kong – its sharp angles said to cast “negative Feng Shui energy” into the heart of the financial district. We also overlooked the HSBC Building, which was built on the site of Hong Kong’s first ever skyscraper.

“Two International Finance Centre” is the tallest building in Hong Kong and the 7th tallest in the world, and at 88 floors it’s almost exactly the same height as the World Trade Center. They were actually half way through building this tower when 9/11 happened, which must have been a pretty traumatic time for the builders. We’d have had a terrific view of 2IFC from our hotel room, but someone had rather carelessly built a 50 story apartment block in the way.

I dragged myself away from the view, and shuffled slowly towards the bathroom in the twilight. Thud. I walked straight into a huge floor to ceiling mirror on the wall.
“Ow!” I yelped and went into the bathroom to study the bump on my nose.
“What are you doing?” called Georgina from the bed. There were a few seconds of silence, followed by another loud thud. Georgina came into the bathroom holding her forehead.
“Did you walk into the mirror too?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, and we both began to laugh.
My BBC Health and Safety training kicked in immediately.
“That mirror is an accident waiting to happen!” I announced. “We must stick something on it!”
“Stick what on it?” said Georgina.
“I don’t know,” I said, “But we will find something.”
Five minutes later, using L Hotel complimentary toothpaste as glue, we had attached six pieces of L Hotel notepaper to the mirror.
“That should do it!” I announced proudly. “We will never walk into that mirror again.”
“I wonder what the cleaners will make of it,” pondered Georgina.
“They must have seen it dozens of times before,” I assured her.

“I need a cigarette” said Georgina.
“Well, you can’t smoke in here!” I snapped. “You’ll have to go outside.”
“But that’s 26 floors down!”
“Then it’s an excellent time to give up smoking!” I said.

Georgina grabbed her duty free Marlboro and headed for the lift. 25 minutes later she came back.
“I can’t get a lift” she said. “Can’t I just have one cigarette in here?”
I pointed to the smoke alarms, and to the “No Smoking” sign which talked darkly of “severe penalties.” 
“Georgina, do you really want to spend the next 20 years in a Hong Kong jail?”
She headed back towards the lift. An hour later she came back into the room.
“Did you enjoy your cigarette?” I asked.
“I fancy another one now” she replied.
“See you in a couple of hours,” I said.