Interview: Independent hotelier Mustafa Najmudeen on recovery of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry

Sri Lanka suffered a devastating terrorist attack on Easter Sunday. Over 250 lives were lost and hundreds more injured. As ever, ripples were felt further beyond. 34 countries issued travel advisories against all but essential travel in the days that followed. Tourism which employs over half a million Sri Lankans took a severe hit.

Read my full interview here: https://tikichris.com/2019/06/01/interview-mustafa-najmudeen/

Why I still stand by Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is open. That is what I’m telling the world in my capacity as a travel writer. Moving on from a terror attack, which is amongst the worst the world has seen, the country is facing an unequivocal truth; life must go on.

Read my full article here: https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/why-i-still-stand-by-sri-lanka/

Why Basel, Switzerland should be on your radar

If anyone were to whisper, Switzerland in my ear there are a few things which may run through my mind: blue lakes, snow-capped mountains, astonishing scenery. It’s the picture-perfect destination one cannot forget. Switzerland, of course, is all of these things. However, there are also the big cities filled with culture, cuisine and history. Basel, for example, with transport links to UK and Europe, is the perfect city break. With quaint neighbourhoods, beautiful architecture and connection to art it’s the underrated Swiss city we all need to visit in 2019. Here are a few handy tips to know before you visit Basel, Switzerland:

  1. Basel is the culture capital of Switzerland and has 40 museums in an area of 37 square kilometres.
  2. Given the city’s proximity to the borders of France and Germany the food influences here are wonderful. From high end dining options to an array of international cuisine the city deserves an honourable mention for its food.
  3. Basel SBB train station is Europe’s busiest international border train station linking the city to domestic destinations as well as Italy, Germany and France.
  4. All public transport within Basel is free for visitors. Yep, that’s trains, trams and buses for anyone staying in the city for one night or more.
  5. A city pass known as Basel Card can be collected at the reception of every hotel and offers 50% discounted admission to museums, Basel Zoo and Theatre Basel amongst others.
  6. Tourists also have free guest wifi in the city’s wifi network.

Where to spend the perfect weekend in Basel, Switzerland

Carpeted ornate staircase of Les Trois Rois five star hotel

Where to stay: Hotel Krafft Basel is where I stayed and loved. Their river view rooms are all you could wish for. As the hotel sits on the bank of the Rhine there are undisturbed views. The gleaming green water carries boats and swimmers across Basel in all weather and you’ll be privy to it from the balcony of your room. The location couldn’t be more perfect for a short stay. It’s within walking distance from the Old Town and tram stops. This utterly beautiful hotel was awarded the City Historic Hotel Award (2017) by Historic Hotels of Europe.

Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois is part of The Leading Hotels of the World and is as magnificent as you can imagine. It too stands on the bank of the Rhine as it has done since 1681. As you can expect from a heritage hotel the rooms are lavishly decorated and the service is faultless. There is a restaurant and bar open to all and you do not need to be a guest of the hotel. However, I recommend reserving your table at the restaurant as preference is given to hotel guests.

Where to eat

Volkshaus Basel is an easily accessible French brasserie and bar serving great classic dishes with seasonal produce. The extensive menu covers anything from foie gras terrine to sirloin steak and fries with an impressive wine list. There is also a beautiful courtyard and beer garden to enjoy in the summer months in particular. Please note that Volkshaus is closed on Sundays.

Nomad Eatery, as the name suggests, serves breakfast, brunch and dinner with travellers in mind. You can enjoy a menu of world cuisine and great cocktails. The menu changes weekly to keep things exciting. Breakfast is served daily from 7am and dinner until 11pm.

Walliser Kanne is a great place to enjoy a refined Swiss dining experience. The restaurant is located in the Old City of Basel and serves Swiss classics of cheese fondue, raclette and Wiener schnitzel. The menu is accompanied by an incredible wine list including the best of Swiss, Italian, Spanish and French wines. Please note that Walliser Kanne is also closed on Sundays and public holidays.

People seated around cosy bar of Les Trois Rois five star hotel

Where to drink

Bar Rouge sits 105 meters above the city offering panoramic views as the sun goes down. With an impressive cocktail list, bar menu of light snacks and late opening until 4am this is a great place to enjoy the city’s night life.

Consum is the cosy, atmospheric wine bar attached to hotel Krafft Basel. With live music on selected days and an authentic tavern feel it’s the place for a quick drink. A menu curated for light drinking offers cured meats and cheeses with over 100 labels of wine. The bar is popular with locals and gets packed very quickly so get there early or be prepared to wait for a table.

Les Trois Rois Bar offers the ultimate drinking experience in a five star setting and impeccable service. Enjoy a refined whisky or smooth cocktail overlooking the Rhine in a lavish setting here. It was awarded the Swiss Bar of the Year in 2015 and is also the winner of the Mixology Bar Award in the same year. You’ll be in good hands.

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Things to do

Take a guided walking tour – I highly recommend a guided walking tour of the city to really get under its skin. Basel is rich in history and is home to Switzerland’s oldest university, an Old Town and a labyrinth of old canals which make for a rich heritage. Cities with old ports often have the most interesting history connected to trading routes and Basel is certainly one. Both group tours and private tours are available and I couldn’t recommend my private tour enough. I learned that Basel’s wealth, in the past, came from the most unlikely commodity. Take the Old Town Tour and find out more.

Fondation Beyeler – No visit to Basel is complete without visiting at least two of its utterly impressive museums and art galleries. Switzerland is a traditional society and many shops and restaurants are closed on Sundays making it the perfect day to visit museums which remain open throughout the year. Fondation Beyeler was my favourite and I was lucky enough to view the spectacular Balthus exhibition during my visit. With an equally impressive calendar of Picasso, Rudolf Stingel and an autumn exhibition of Resonating Spaces it’s an unmissable experience.

Kunstmuseum Basel – If you only have time for one museum in Basel I recommend Kunstmuseum. It’s Basel’s fine art offering and will astonish you as it did me. From the current exhibition of Fuseli (until 17th February 2019) to Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse the museum is a joy. They were my best hours spent in Basel.

Theatre Basel – Make Theatre Basel the highlight of your stay by watching one of its productions. I watched the ballet Carmen and was wowed by the energetic and passionate performance. It was a wonderful way to immerse myself in the cultural capital of Switzerland and the perfect end to my stay.

I was a guest of Basel Tourism. All opinions expressed are my own. Find out more at: www.basel.com

Castello Del Nero Hotel and Spa – Review

October is my favourite time of year to visit Italy. The weather is milder, the air cooler and this year I was going to Tuscany. I was a guest of Castello Del Nero Hotel and Spa in Tavarnelle Val de Pesa. I’d been longing to be here for almost a year and counted down the days as a child would towards Christmas. Read on for my review of this heritage hotel and spa.

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History

12th century Florence, a private family chapel, a grand Italian garden and an estate spanning the horizon of the famed rolling hills of Tuscany. This is the setting of magnificent Castello Del Nero Hotel and Spa. To walk through its doors is to become a part of its illustrious history. It’s the story of two Florentine aristocratic families who lived, breathed, loved and left their legacies behind: Del Nero and Torrigiani.

Wherever you may find yourself on this 750 acre, elegant estate you’ll be but a breath away from its rich past. Vaulted ceilings, original frescoes and raging fireplaces yearning to bestow the heritage of its ancestors. As it was for me, for you too, it will be futile to resist the draw of Castello Del Nero’s history. You will simply surrender to it.

The Hotel

This castle of noblemen, which has evolved into its new life as a luxurious hotel, is extraordinary. 50 rooms and suites span across the castle and farm buildings. The nobleman’s floor offers its most exclusive suite, named after Sir James Galway, with unparalleled views from a private terrace. The terrace dates back to the origins of the castle; a rare addition indicating that this has always been a safe haven.

The rooms and suites with original frescoes have been painstakingly restored under the guidance of the Italian Fine Arts Commission. Walls are painted with marble dust mixed paint making them soft as silk to the touch. Roll top baths sit on stone floors ready to be filled with the warm lather of lavender, sage and salt which fill the air with the scent of the surrounding hills.

It is little wonder then that Castello Del Nero Hotel and Spa has an array of awards and accolades won over the last 11 years celebrating its heritage, cuisine and spa. Needless to say that this hotel is part of the prestigious collection curated under The Leading Hotels of the World.

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Accommodation

Each room or suite in the castle is unique making every stay a new experience for returning patrons. 12 suites have hand-carved four poster double beds, inspired by an original, found in a stable during renovation. Silky white monogrammed sheets and pillows contribute to the best sleep you could possibly imagine.

My suite consisted of a separate living and dining room, double bedroom and a bathroom twice as spacious as the bedroom. Neutral soft mint against white accents highlighted with flecks of gold made for a breathlessly serene space which I didn’t want to tear myself away from. Deep, soft towels and the ethereal feeling of simply being in a castle is one I can only describe as my most enchanting experience this year.

At the end of each evening a discreet turn-down service, the silence of the hills and the warm luxury of my suite effortlessly disconnected me from the outside world. I sunk in to my bed and a restful night of sleep on both nights of my visit.

Facilities

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Dining

Michelin-starred La Torre Restaurant, under the stewardship of  Executive Chef Giovanni Luca Di Pirro, serves a magnificent menu consisting of seasonal produce; some grown on the estate by the Chef himself. Breakfast is always served at La Torre with the unforgettable view of cypress trees and hills being gently caressed by a morning sun. I sat mesmerised by the view longer than I’d thought possible.

La Taverna poolside restaurant remains open from midday until 18.00 serving a relaxed menu of pizza and sandwiches as well as main dishes of fish and meat. My lasagna with beef ragout served here was wonderful with a distinctly Tuscan flavour recognisable by chunks of soft meat cooked in herbs. When you dine here don’t miss the Torta della Nonna which translates to grandmother’s cake. It’s served with custard cream and fior di panna ice cream; Italian home-cooking at its best.

Head to The Bar, after dinner for a night cap, which serves Champagne, cocktails and an array of wines from the castle’s own cellar which boasts over 1000 labels. The Bar is set in what was the original kitchen of the castle. The sinks, hearth and food lifts which serviced the noble floor remain perfectly preserved from its heyday.

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Spa

In keeping with Florentine tradition the castle offers an indulgent spa with ESPA treatments and plunge pool. The relaxed treatment rooms offer signature experiences of facial and body treatments as well as massages. A holistic approach to wellness offers hot stone massage and rejuvenating natural therapies. If you wish simply to experience the plunge pool or sauna you are required to wear swimwear.

Pool and tennis courts

The open-air pool sits in the garden beneath the hotel’s vast terrace. Set amongst the olive groves it’s 25 meters of gleaming warm water served by pool staff. Two tennis courts which are flood-lit for the evening are supplied with rackets and balls. Should you wish to book private lessons this is also possible and maybe arranged with the concierge.

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The Estate

Legend has it that Marquise Teresa Del Nero commissioned a path through cypress trees allowing her a shaded, private route to the woodland next to the castle. The path remains to this day should you choose to follow in the Marquise’s footsteps. It’s a beautiful, gentle walk and far less challenging than the other hiking routes around the estate.

On a final note, I must add, that the castle produces its own wine and extra virgin olive oil. They are used in the restaurant’s kitchen as well as the spa’s signature treatments. As of this year it has also harvested honey from its own hives. The unmistakable lavender notes in the honey is a fitting addition to its repertoire of fine food and wine.

Tuscany has remained one of the most captivating regions of Italy since time immemorial. Castello Del Nero only reinforces this allure. It sits nestled in a picture-perfect landscape only 25 kilometres from historic Florence, 35 kilometres from Siena and 20 kilometres from San Gimignano. The hotel has a free shuttle service on alternate days to Siena and Florence which can be pre-booked via the concierge service. Add to this mix informed staff, most of whom have remained with the hotel since the beginning, with unparalleled local knowledge and a passion for the castle’s heritage and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better experience in Tuscany. I travelled alone and not for a moment did I feel it. It felt as though I’d returned home albeit a rather more magnificent one than I could remember.

 

 

I was a guest of Castello Del Nero Hotel and Spa. Opinions expressed are my own. Enjoy a festive three night’s New Year’s Eve stay package from €740 per night. For more information visit: www.castellodelnero.com