BUERGENSTOCK RESORT, SWITZERLAND

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Balanced like an eagle’s nest atop a forested reserve, 500 metres above  Lake Lucerne, the 60-hectare Bürgenstock Resort presides over glass-like vistas, cow-filled meadows and serrated Alpine horizons. There’s road access and a car park, but the best way to arrive is by high-speed catamaran  from Lucerne, then funicular train up to the resort. The high-speed catamaran cuts the journey time from Lucerne to only 30 minutes.


From its origins in 1873 to the Fifties and Sixties, when Hollywood stars such as Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn lived here, the Bürgenstock Resort has quite a long and deep heritage. Its image following a nine-year, 500 million Swiss Francs renovation is fittingly spectacular. An architectural collage of four hotels melds 19th-century grandeur with ultra-modern design.

The 10-storey cube-shaped Bürgenstock Hotel cuts a striking contrast beside the Belle Époque Palace Hotel – although the two share a polished lobby with colossal windows. More discreet properties are the larch lattice-clad Waldhotel and chalet-style Taverne 1879. A network of broad panoramic terraces gives the impression the resort is suspended in mid-air.

The resort’s 8 restaurants, lounges and bars, open year-round, encompass Asian specialities, hearty Swiss offerings and ‘clean’ menus free from animal fats and salt. Enjoy French fine dining at RitzCoffier, which has Renaissance-style marbleised pillars and features 3 Michelin Stars. Also worth a taste is Oriental restaurant Sharq, located in a cube clinging to the mountainside. Not to forget the beautiful “Lakeview Lounge” overlooking the stunning alpine view, the lake and the city of Lucerne. Finally, there’s Spices restaurant, a Pan-Asian venue with grand-views and the Oak Grill which has a classy steakhouse atmosphere. All meals during my stay were delicious; and were cooked with the freshest ingredients.


I stayed at the Palace Hotel and my room was spacious, offering the newest state-of-the-art fittings in a contemporary design. There was a Nespresso coffeemaker, a kettle, free soft drinks and beer in the minibar and many other amenities. The bathroom offered a spacious shower, a separate toilet with closomat, Bulgari amenities and a towel heater. 

The hotel also features the 15,000 sq.m. Alpine Spa which is a an attraction in its own right. A large variety of treatment programs are available and both the indoor and outdoor pools offer above-the-clouds views. The Alpine Spa is simply beautiful and complementary access is included in most room rates. (Attention: not all room rates include complementary access to the Spa, check the website carefully not to get any bad surprises. The Spa alone charges about 90 CHF for day-use access.)

The Bürgenstock Resort was voted as Switzerland’s Number 1 hotel in 2018 and I truly enjoyed my stay. I was there during December and there was so much to see and to do. Be sure to allow enough time for a visit. All the hotel staff I met were super courteous and helpful. Everyone was professional, friendly and always open for a chat. 

https://www.buergenstock.ch/en

ASPIRE LOUNGE, ZURICH AIRPORT, SWITZERLAND

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The Aspire Lounge Zurich Airport Terminal E is operated by Swissport and has a fresh and bright ambiance. The lounge offers various seating options including high bar tables, leather chairs, a dining area and a panoramic terrace with outdoor seating.

The lounge offers a good variety of drinks but the food selection is rather limited, comprising a soup, a salad bar, hot dog style sausages with mustard and a choice of 2 warm items. Small packed cheeses and cookies are also available. 

Newspapers are on display for lounge use and free wifi is provided for 2 hours. 

The lounge can get very busy at certain times of the day, depending on flight departures and airlines which use this lounge. I saw many dirty tables which had not been  cleaned for a long time and that made the place look a little sub-standard compared to other lounges available at Zurich Airport in Terminal E.

The lounge is open for public use for a fee of 35 Swiss Francs. (I would recommend to check the occupancy of the lounge before paying the entrance fee)

https://aspirelounge.ch/en/

AXEL HOTEL, MADRID, SPAIN

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The Axel Hotel Madrid is a “hetero-friendly” gay hotel where all adults are welcome. Several Axel hotels are located in various cities in Europe. 

The hotel is located on the busy Atocha Street on the edge of the literary quarter. This neighbourhood, around the Plaza de Santa Ana, is where Madrid’s first theatres sprang up in the 16th century but now the narrow streets are lined with bars, restaurants and independent shops. It is one of the most popular areas in Madrid for a tapas tasting.

Axel hotels are renowned for taking good care of their guests and making sure everyone is having a good time. The rooftop pool, with a sundeck with loungers and a bar, is where the party is at in the warmer half of the year. There is a well-equipped gym on the top floor with big windows so you can gaze across the rooftops. The gym also has a steam room and sensual treatment rooms. 

The Axel has 88 rooms and suites. The hotel offers two room categories – City and Premium. –  The Premium rooms are bigger and have a balcony or a terrace. Design is dramatic, not to mention erotic, with moody blue walls with neon slogans, black-and-white tiled headboards, wooden floors and black lace curtains. It is all glamour in the bathrooms with gold mosaic tiles in the shower. All rooms have bathrobes and slippers, a kettle, safe and minibar.

A bar and a restaurant are located on street level where breakfast is also served. I had a very good nights sleep and I enjoyed my stay at the Axel Hotel very much. I would particularly like to highlight the staff who were super charming and adorable.

MADRID AIRPORT, PUERTO DE ALCALA VIP LOUNGE, SPAIN

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The Puerta de Alcala lounge at Madrid Barajas Airport Terminal 2 serves passengers traveling within Europe’s Schengen zone. The lounge welcomes elite and premium customers of a dozen airlines including Air France KLM, Alitalia, Lufthansa and SWISS as well as members of popular lounge access programs such as Priority Pass. All passengers, regardless of airline or class or service, may also purchase access.

The Puerta de Alcala lounge at Madrid Barajas Airport Terminal 2 is located on the upper level, near gate D62. The spacious lounge boasts a long window wall and benefits from ample daylight and exciting views of the tarmac and airport grounds.

While the slightly industrial and old fashioned décor is unremarkable, the layout is open and spacious, with plenty of space to walk around. A single large room is home to a dining area, a seating area, and a business zone. The seats are located by the windows with a side table and power outlet at every seat. Immediately across is the buffet and dining area with both traditional café-style seating and table seating. 

The buffet offers a selection of snacks, salads, sandwiches, yoghurt, and other packaged items such as fruit salads. There are also rotating hot entrees such as pasta dishes. The selection varies, and hot food availability may be hit or miss, but the spread is substantial enough for a quick meal on the ground.

The Puerta de Alcala lounge at Madrid Barajas Airport Terminal 2 is a comfortable lounge, with a pretty strong line-up of amenities for short distance travel within Europe’s Schengen zone. I liked the panoramic window very much. 

http://www.aena.es/en/madrid-barajas-airport/puerta-de-alcala.html

GRAN HOTEL MANZANA KEMPINSKI, HAVANA, CUBA

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With the opening of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, Havana got its first 5 star hotel. It is located prominently on Parque Central  which is a lively square with a small park and plenty of old vintage limousines available to do a sightseeing tour of old and new Havana.

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski offers 3 restaurants, a roof-top swimming pool and a state-of-the-art spa as well as gym on the top floor which offers a great view. The spa is very beautiful and offers a lot of space and many options which is fantastic. The infinity swimming pool is a perfect place to relax on a hot afternoon while enjoying a magnificent view over the rooftops of Havana.

The rooms are generous in size with an oversized shower and a separate toilet. The decor is very modern and timeless. Espresso-maker and other 5*star hotel amenities were also available. The famous Kempinski “lady-in-red” concierge service is available around-the-clock and is always helpful.

The reception lobby of the hotel is small, but there is a huge bar/lounge on the first floor. The Bar is open 24 hours and features live music including singers and a fantastic harp player which made the waiting time to go to the airport a very pleasant one. A cigar smoking lounge is also located on the first floor as well as another bar called Constante.

Breakfast was served in the Confluencias restaurant and offered a huge variety of breads, fresh fruit, cheese, cereals and muesli. Hot egg dishes such as eggs benedict were served at the table. I loved the breakfast very much as there were also smoothies and healthy juice options available. Good value for money here.

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski is a beautiful new hotel with a solid service for a 5-star hotel but it was missing a “wow” effect such as a little treat for Discovery Members or a staff or management member who was available for chatting with guests or inquiring about their well-being.

 

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https://www.kempinski.com/en/havana/gran-hotel-kempinski-la-habana/

EDELWEISS AIR, SWITZERLAND

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HAVANA – ZURICH

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I flew on an Edelweiss Airbus 330 with a configuration of 27 Business Class and  298 Economy Class seats.

There was a long check-in queue line for Economy Class passengers at Havana Airport but the Business Class counter was free and check-in was a breeze (There were only 11 Pax booked in C-class)

The Edelweiss Airbus 330 features the same Business Class seats as offered by  SWISS/Austrian with a full flat sleeping option and the same layout as well.

I found the Edelweiss in-flight service very pleasant. There was a pre-dinner drink service followed by a first course, a main course and cheese and dessert. All return flight food items were catered in Zurich so the quality and taste was very good. After a good sleep a nice breakfast was served and the famous swiss Biberli (Biber cake) were handed out before landing.

I enjoyed the service from the Edelweiss crew a lot. They were attentive and charming and, of course, the flight being half empty made it a very comfortable experience.

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http://www.flyedelweiss.com

 

CONDOR GERMAN AIRLINES

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FRANKFURT – HAVANA

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Condor is a German airline with a long history. The airline used to be part of the Lufthansa Group but is now owned by Thomas Cook International. While the Condor aircraft tails carry the Thomas Cook heart  on them, the airplanes show the Condor name on them and many things reminded me of the Lufthansa times. The crew uniforms are still LH-style, the menu cards and the service still show the signature of Lufthansa.  Condor is also part of the Miles-and-More program. This makes it easy for collecting and spending miles and getting good connecting flights as well as a check-through bag arrangement.

My flight to Havana boarded from a bus gate at Terminal B in Frankfurt and when boarding the airplane through the aircraft steps a true holiday feeling came up because many passengers were taking pictures and everything was very relaxed.

The aircraft was a 21-year old Boeing 767-300. The Business Class seating was 18 seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. The seats were angle-flat but reclinable to 170 degrees. Economy seating was: 237 in 2-3-2 configuration.

After a welcome drink, menu cards and immigration forms were handed out. The purser took the menu choice and after take-off they served the first course right away. After the first course, the entire tray was cleared and the hot dish, cheese and dessert were served separately. Then duty free sales was done, followed by ice-cream and a rest period before another meal was served. The landing in Havana was on-time and after walking from the aircraft to the terminal building immigration was done in a matter of minutes.

I enjoyed my flight with Condor very much despite the lack of wifi and the rather “vintage” seating. The  crew was very pleasant and I felt well being taken care of. Condor offers a solid product at very competitive fares.

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http://www.condor.com