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More favorite European luxury hotels…

Happy Saturday, blog fans. I usually try to update my travel blog on the weekends with reports on restaurants, fun activities, or travel. This weekend, Bill is recovering from two back to back TDYs, some kind of respiratory infection that isn’t COVID, and irritable bowel syndrome. He is out shopping for food right now, but I have my doubts that we’re going to get out and about today.

Although we have lovely fall weather, we’re both kind of tired… Bill from sickness, and me from tending to Arran all week and repeatedly getting up in the middle of the night. Arran is doing okay today, except for his rancid, atomic farts, and being a little sleepy from his chemo. He did get a chemo pill today, as well as Prednisolone; the Endoxan pill makes him want to snooze. And two days post Vincristine infusion is also when the side effects tend to kick in. He was a little low energy this morning, and threw up a little of his food.

This is actually kind of a bummer, though. I’d rather Arran not be dealing with side effects on Saturday, which is the one day Bill and I can go anywhere and things will be open. Maybe we should try to change the day of the infusions. We’ll have to do that anyway, if Arran is still with us next month. We still have plans to visit France, starting on Wednesday, the 16th, which is our anniversary.

But maybe it’s not so bad that we aren’t going out today. I’ve been wanting to write another post about some of my favorite European luxury hotels. We’ve been to some good ones since the last time I did one of these posts, in February 2017. Our fortunes have improved since that time, five years ago, when I wrote about our favorite luxury digs. These aren’t necessarily ranked in order, nor are they even my favorite lodgings of all time. They’re just luxurious European places we really enjoyed and haven’t forgotten. So here’s another post about some of my favorite hotels when we want to drop a load of euros. Here goes.

10. Grand Hotel du Lac, Vevey Switzerland

From the very first moment, we were impressed… until we ate in the restaurant and our waiter sold us 40 CHF glasses of Cristal Champagne, and waved a truffle under my nose!

Bill and I stayed at this five star hotel in Vevey, Switzerland in December 2015. I went with him on a business trip to Vicenza, Italy, and we decided to stop in Switzerland on the way home, so Bill could visit the Giger Museum in Gruyeres. I noticed the Grand Hotel du Lac the first time we lived in Germany, but in those days, our finances made it impossible to book such a place. Switzerland is expensive no matter what, but a five star hotel there is quite a splurge. Still, I decided to go for it, and even sprang for a lake view, as the hotel is right next to Lake Geneva. The lake view was a waste of money, though, because there was fog the whole time we were there during waking hours. The one full day we were in the area, we spent in Gruyeres. Still, the hotel is absolutely beautiful and comfortable, and I remember our stay there fondly– with exception to our experience in the restaurant, which was not as impressive. Vevey is a pretty town, too. I’d love to go back! And I would definitely stay in this hotel… though I might go elsewhere for dinner.

9. Merrion Hotel, Dublin Ireland

Merrion Hotel is wonderful! And it’s close to lots of authentic Irish pubs, too…

In 2018, I whimsically bought tickets to see a bunch of concerts, one of which was in Dublin, Ireland, and featured Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Bonnie Raitt. Yeah, that was a great show, and it lasted about six hours! We obviously needed good digs, so we could get proper rest. I decided to book Merrion Hotel, which is supposedly Dublin’s best… or, at least it was when we were there in 2018. Anyway, we didn’t have an upgraded room, but the room we had was nice enough. Bonus was that they gave us lots of chocolate– like three huge bars of it– milk, dark, and white. I remember loving the breakfasts at this hotel, which were cooked to order and absolutely amazing. Plus, there was a beautiful pool area, and top notch service. Highly recommended!

8. Europäische Hof Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany

This was a very tastefully decorated and comfortable room. The owner of the hotel obviously takes great pains to make her hotel special.

In June 2021, Bill and I decided to pay a visit to Heidelberg, Germany, a city not that far from where we currently live. At the time, COVID-19 cases, and the restrictions that accompanied the pandemic, were in full swing. We decided we wanted to stick close to home. I booked a few nights at Europäische Hof Heidelberg, a beautiful five star hotel with a long history and high service standards. The hotel has been family run for generations, and the attention to detail and care for guests are obvious. The owner of the hotel was very attentive and visible during our visit. Afterwards, when I wrote a review on TripAdvisor, she responded personally, and even sent me an email. We had a gorgeous, comfortable room, and the location was very convenient to the downtown area. I still get email offers from this hotel, and I’d love to go back sometime. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s not a rip off.

7. Park Hotel Sonnenhof, Vaduz, Liechtenstein

The view from our patio. What a beautiful place! I could stare at those mountains all day!

Bill and I visited Vaduz, Liechtenstein in May 2022, on our way home from a trip to Italy to taste wines. Originally, I had planned to stop in Lugano, Switzerland, but determined that Lugano wasn’t close enough to home. We had visited Liechtenstein once, back in 2009, and I thought it might be interested to visit the tiny country one more time. When I saw that it had a very highly regarded hotel with beautiful views, I was definitely onboard with booking. We had a lovely time in Vaduz, and delighted in tasting even more wines there! Park Hotel Sonnenhof is a very restful hotel with an excellent restaurant. It’s great for a splurge.

6. Hotel Bareiss, Baiersbronn, Germany

The view from the hotel. So pretty!

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might know that Bill and I only recently stayed at the Hotel Bareiss in Baiersbronn, Germany. It’s probably the most expensive hotel we’ve ever stayed at, but it’s important to remember that the price of the room includes breakfast and dinner, as well as an afternoon cake buffet. At this hotel, food is front and center, but it also offers classic, quaint Black Forest inspired rooms, a petting zoo, daily activities, walking trails, several restaurants, and a first class pool and spa area. I LOVED the pool and spa areas, actually. We were there at a great time to enjoy them, too, because it wasn’t crowded at all! I wish we’d had a chance to try the a la carte restaurants, because the items that we had that weren’t part of the board menu were truly very special. Service is also outstanding at this hotel! Baiersbronn is a great town for foodies, as there are quite a few exquisite Michelin starred restaurants there. It’s also a fine place for hikers, especially if they want to see waterfalls.

5. Upper House, Gothenburg, Sweden

Coolest pool ever! This is jutting out from the building on the 18th floor, and has a glass bottom.

In late June 2019, Bill and I went to Gothenburg, Sweden to pick up our brand new Volvo at the Volvo factory. Although we could have stayed at a hotel chosen by Volvo, I wanted to go to the Upper House, a hotel in Gothia Towers. Why? Because of the pool. It juts out from the side of the building on the 18th floor! Also, the hotel is very swanky and beautiful, and offers beautiful views of the amusement park next door. Bill and I both loved the breakfasts, which were very unusual and cooked to order with fresh ingredients. If you’re going to Gothenburg and looking for something special, The Upper House is a good bet. The spa area is dreamy, but so is the bar… and I distinctly remember loving the bed. I wish I’d thought to find out where the mattress came from. That was a pretty epic trip. We combined it with stops in Copenhagen, Rostock, and Leipzig, and saw Mark Knopfler, both in concert, and at the bar in the Leipzig hotel where we were staying!

4. Auberge au Boeuf, Sessenheim, France

The pastries alone were worth the trip! The room was nice, too!

In March 2022, we had to go see our dentist in Stuttgart. At that time, COVID-19 rules were in full effect in Germany, and things were feeling a bit dystopian. We decided we wanted to get out of Germany for a few days, so I looked for a place just over the border. That’s when I discovered tiny Sessenheim, a little village near Soufflenheim, where a lot of French pottery is made. Sessenheim boasts a marvelous Michelin starred restaurant called Auberge au Boeuf, which also has four rooms to rent. This isn’t a big hotel, but the room we stayed in was the only one I have ever stayed in my lifetime that had its very own private sauna. It also had a jacuzzi bath. But the most impressive and memorable part of our stay at this hotel was the breakfast, which included the most delicious pastries I’ve ever had! They were obviously made on site, and served on special pottery that appeared to be locally made. Breakfast also included cheeses, smoked fish, cold cuts, and a variety of other goodies, all of which were brought to us. No breakfast buffet!

3. Hotel Oberwaid, St. Gallen, Switzerland

Beautiful pool area. There are also great spa facilities on the ground floor.

If you ever feel the need to feel “safe”, Hotel Oberwaid is a good bet. This hotel, located within sight of Lake Konstanz, is also a health sanitorium. There are physicians on staff for people who go there for health reasons, but it’s also a very comfortable hotel. From June until December, children are not allowed at the hotel, so it’s a very restful, adult oriented place. The restaurant serves excellent local cuisine, and there’s a fantastic pool and spa area. What I loved most about this hotel, though, was that they went to great lengths to make guests comfortable. After four nights at a noisy resort in Italy, I was definitely in the mood for a peaceful, quiet couple of nights at a place that was climate controlled and had good beds. Hotel Oberwaid had that, but it was also a very classy place. I can see why people go there for their health, even though I didn’t feel like I was staying in a hospital. The focus is on health and wellness, but in a comfortable, visually appealing setting. I’d like to go back sometime, if the fates allow.

2. De Witte Lelie, Antwerp, Belgium

A birthday surprise!

This is the hotel Bill chose for us when I turned 50 in June. It’s not the most luxurious of the properties where we’ve stayed. It doesn’t have a spa or a pool. However, it is beautifully and stylishly furnished, and offers every comfort, and it’s very convenient to downtown Antwerp. What I loved most about it was the service, which was very warm, personal, and professional. They brought out a beautiful strawberry tart and some fizz for my birthday morning, and we stayed in the funkiest room I’ve ever seen. I like this hotel because it’s so hospitable; we were so pleased with everything! One caveat I would mention is that if you have mobility issues, you might want to call the hotel for advice on which rooms are best. Our room required climbing a couple of flights of stairs. The other side of the hotel has elevator access for that part. The featured photo is of the hotel’s iconic red front door!

1. Brenner’s Park Hotel & Spa, Baden-Baden, Germany

A room truly fit for royalty…

In November 2018, Bill and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. We were also preparing to move to Wiesbaden from the Stuttgart area, in what would turn out to be a very stressful relocation, particularly considering that we were moving within Germany. I wanted to find us a really beautiful place to spend our anniversary, and I found it in Brenner’s Park. One of my former professors from Longwood University recommended this hotel, calling it “a little slice of Heaven”. Indeed, that’s what we found when we got there, especially since they upgraded us from a deluxe room to a junior suite… and that room was palatial! Brenner’s Park has a resident cat named Kleopatra, a fantastic spa, beautiful pool area, delicious food, and a classy bar. I would LOVE to go back there, even though it’s not very far from where we live now. Maybe on a future dentist excursion, we’ll book Brenner’s Park… but I don’t know if we can spring for a junior suite, and it’ll be hard to downgrade after staying in one. In a word… WOW.

I won’t deny it. Bill and I have been living a pretty sweet life over here… and I am very grateful we’ve had these opportunities to enjoy some of Europe’s loveliest hotels. I hope we can visit a few more before it’s time to retire and settle somewhere permanent. For now, we’re going to keep splurging for as long as we can. You only live once!

If you’re curious about any of these places and want more details of our visits, be sure to search the blog. I have done extensive review series of each place listed in this post!

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Ten things I learned in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein…

Now that my latest travel series has been completed and up for a few days, it’s time for my usual “ten things I learned” post. I like to do these posts after most trips, if only to offer a quick recap of our travels and make myself feel better for all the money we spent. 🙂 I also think these top ten posts are a bit easier for the casual reader to get through than the heavily detailed, blow by blow accounts. So, here goes…

10. Italy was actually stricter about COVID rules than Germany was!

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Italy was strict about masks and “green passes”, since Italy was one of the first countries hard hit by COVID-19. However, Italy is typically “slacker” about a lot of things than Germany is, so it was a bit strange to be allowed to visit a rest stop maskless in Germany, but not in Italy. By the time our trip was over, the mask rules and green pass rules were dropped, anyway, in most places.

9. But Switzerland and Liechtenstein were both pretty “slack” about the COVID rules.

I wasn’t that surprised that Switzerland and Liechtenstein were liberal about masks. In 2020, when the pandemic was just getting started, we visited Italy, Austria, and Switzerland, and were very surprised that of the three countries, Switzerland’s rules were the least strict. Since Liechtenstein is basically a tiny country akin to Austria and Switzerland, it’s not too surprising that their rules were more like those in Switzerland.

The drive was breathtaking!

8. Modena and Parma are refreshingly non-touristy.

I was especially surprised by Modena, which really felt like an authentic Italian town. I didn’t hear any other American accents during our visit there. Parma was maybe a touch more touristy than Modena, but we didn’t get the sense that a lot of Americans were there during our trip.

7. Cortona is a super cute town, perfect for Tuscan getaways and fans of the film, Under the Tuscan Sun.

The 2003 film, Under the Tuscan Sun was partially filmed in this very lovely town, which also boasts at least one excellent winery.

6. Liechtenstein is a fine place to be if you want peace and quiet… and if you have money.

Like neighboring Switzerland, Liechtenstein is very sedate and civilized. It’s also expensive! But it was nice to be there for a couple of nights, if only to decompress a bit and gaze at the Alps. You can also find some nice wines there, with grapes from Austria, Switzerland, or even locally.

5. Andermatt may be halfway between Wiesbaden and Florence, but it’s not easy to get there!

We had to climb a mountainside with our Volvo to get to the ski town. I saw so many bikers who looked like they were in the seventh ring of Hell, trying to get up the steep incline. I alternately felt sorry for them, and felt glad I no longer have to ride a bike to get from point A to point B. It’s a pretty place, but not what I would call super beautiful. I probably wouldn’t make an effort to go back, although we did like the hotel we stayed in.

In Liechtenstein, you might see cows from your office.

4. If you need to pee in Switzerland, you can use euros at the rest stops.

I probably already knew that, but we so seldom go through there, I might have forgotten.

3. It’s possible to have a bad meal in Italy.

Avoid fast food joints called Old Wild West at all costs! Or, maybe just avoid fast food joints altogether.

2. But if you need to buy groceries or gifts, the rest stops in Italy have you covered.

And you will have to run the gauntlet when you leave the rest stops, too. There’s no other way to exit without walking past all the wines, olive oils, vinegars, and whatever else.

Italy is always beautiful!

…and .1 Bo and Luke Duke are still famous in Italy.

Actually, we saw a lot of 80s era TV shows in Italy, but were especially surprised by The Dukes of Hazzard. No wonder we’ve seen the rebel battle flag in Italy so many times! It obviously doesn’t mean the same to Italians as it does to us Americans. Back in the 80s, it was everywhere in the US, too. Maybe Italy is still kind of stuck in a previous era.

Sure, there were other things we learned while we were on our trip. But, this particular journey involved drinking a lot of wine, and my memory is probably a little fuzzy due to that. We had a wonderful time during our travels. I’m already looking forward to our next trip, which will probably be next month when I– gasp– turn 50.

It still snows in late April in Switzerland.

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Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part sixteen

One last fancy dinner, then time to go home!

After our walk around Vaduz, we stopped by the Park Hotel Sonnenhof’s pool and spa area. I noticed one person who reviewed this hotel was disappointed that the hotel doesn’t have a gym. The owners of the hotel reminded everyone that it’s a small hotel, and there are many wonderful walking trails and bike paths for fitness enthusiasts. And there’s also the pool, which we enjoyed, especially since we had it all to ourselves.

After a short swim and a shower, which was actually nicer than the one in our room, we went back to the room for a short rest before our 7pm dinner reservations. Maree has minimal dress standards, meaning that athletic wear is not allowed in the restaurant. Although this was a decidedly casual trip for us, I did bring a dress, and managed to look pretty nice– for me, anyway– for our dinner. Maree’s menu is pretty much Europe centric. They do have a set menu option for thrifty types. Bill and I decided to go a la carte. I had a US beef filet with roasted potatoes, white asparagus, and Hollandaise sauce. Bill had Gilthead filet with herbed pesto, and spinach risotto. The beef was tender enough that I could cut it with a fork. I was also pleased that the asparagus wasn’t too much. Before we began our culinary journey, we were visited by the Hubertus Real, owner of the hotel, who also bid us farewell when we left a couple of hours later. Below are a few more photos from the hotel grounds, as well as our Liechtenstein dinner.

After our second restful night, we enjoyed another breakfast. The hotel’s breakfast is pretty plentiful, with something for everyone. There’s a buffet with breads, cheeses, cold cuts, and smoked fish. They also have a lovely lemon cake, a variety of juices, and sparkling wine for those who want it. Eggs and pancakes are also available, made to order.

It was during our second breakfast that I noticed some of the other guests at the hotel. They were among the top 1% of earners. That was reinforced as we were loading our Volvo. I looked around the parking lot and saw a bunch of very expensive cars. There was a Ferrari, a couple of Porsches, a couple of BMWs, an Audi, and even a Bentley! We later saw the Bentley, chauffeured, and occupied by three Asian businessmen who had been having breakfast at the same time we were.

What was especially funny, though, was that one of the Porsches in the lot was apparently a bit of a lemon. After he settled the bill, a fit looking guy called to Bill, asking for help pushing his classic Porsche back into the parking spot. Bill, being a super nice and helpful sort, helped the guy out. As they were pushing the heavy sportscar, the owner mentioned that he was due to race the “classic Porsche” in Monaco in a couple of weeks! And he was going to have to call Herr So and So in town to fix his wheels!

We were still chuckling about the deadlined Porsche as we made our way out of Vaduz and headed back to Wiesbaden. Our drive back was mostly uneventful, save for a quick dog leg through Austria that required Bill to get a vignette. Fortunately, Austria sells vignettes for smaller blocks of time than Switzerland does. I think the sticker cost just a few euros, instead of over 30. Maybe he could have risked not getting a vignette, but we both know what happens when one tests Murphy’s Law.

For lunch, we stopped at a Burger King… talk about a fall back to Earth! But I did spot a Ukrainian truck at the rest stop.

I think as happy as we were to take this trip and experience all we did, it was great to come home. We missed Arran and Noyzi, and the grass in the backyard was insanely high! It took me three days to get it to an acceptable length with the robot mower and trimmer. Plus, we had lots of laundry to do and mail to collect.

We really had a good time on our trip, especially as COVID-19 restrictions are easing. It seemed like we were gone longer than we actually were. I know that we found some places we want to explore a lot more, if the future allows. We’ll see…

Time to wrap up this series and walk the dogs. Tonight, we’re finally going to Mainz to see Keb’ Mo’ perform after about 18 months of waiting. The original show was November 16, 2020, but we know what was happening then… So I’m going to end here, so I can write about Keb’ Mo’ tomorrow. There will probably be a “ten things I learned” post, too. We did learn a lot!

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Italy, Liechtenstein, restaurant reviews, road trips, wine

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part fifteen

Landing in Liechtenstein…

As I prepare to write the last two parts of this series, it does occur to me that I need to work on my titles. At least no one can accuse me of writing “click bait” titles, right? What you see is what you get. Ah well, I’ll work on it.

On Monday, May 2, Bill and I made our way to our final stop on our spring tour– Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Originally, we had planned to go to Lugano, Switzerland, for the last two nights. I have been wanting to go to Lugano forever. But I realized that Lugano was too close to Florence and not far enough away from Germany. Staying there would potentially mean arriving too early for check in on May 2, and having to drive all day on May 4, when we made our way back to Germany. Also, I couldn’t decide on a hotel in Lugano. There was one that really attracted me, but was quite pricey. Another one was less expensive and got very high ratings, but didn’t lure me like the other one did. I finally got frustrated and decided to change plans.

I decided on Vaduz because of something that happened in 2009, when Bill and I lived in Germany the first time. It was June, and Bill’s mom had come from Texas to visit us. We were going to be PCSing (permanently changing stations– moving) in September of that year, so we were trying to cram in some last minute travel. At the time, Bill’s mom had never been to Austria, Switzerland, or Italy, or really, anywhere in Europe except for Germany and Ireland. I got the bright idea to book us a long weekend at an apartment in extreme southern Bavaria. On the second day, we went exploring, and eventually found ourselves in Italy, where we literally got stuck for hours, due to a sudden rainstorm that flooded the roads.

On our way to our joyride mishap in Italy, we stopped in Vaduz, Liechtenstein for a look. It was novel to be visiting the tiny country bordered by Austria and Switzerland. Parker got her passport stamped. I remember thinking that Vaduz was a pretty town. I took a few photos, since we were fortunate enough to have, at least at that point, beautiful weather. Hours later, I wished we’d turned around after we visited Liechtenstein… or even Chur, Switzerland, where we had lunch.

Remembering how pretty I thought Vaduz was in 2009, I went looking to see if there were any nice hotels there. I kind of wanted a splurge, since I knew we’d be tired after a week in Italy. I love Italy very much, but being there has a tendency to wear me out. But that might be because we often stay in somewhat busy areas.

I was also looking for peace and quiet, and very comfortable accommodations. That’s when I found the beautiful 29 room Park Hotel Sonnenhof, which also has a well-regarded restaurant called Maree. I noticed all of the enthusiastic reviews of the hotel, and found myself lured by the idyllic photos of the snow capped mountains and green lawns around the hotel. Then I noted that it was about a six hour drive from Florence, and maybe five hours or so from Wiesbaden. Perfect! That would split up our drive home nicely, and give us the chance to experience something novel– a tiny German speaking principality (62 square miles) with Swiss currency and ties to Austria. As small as Liechtenstein is, there are three other countries in Europe that are even smaller! Liechtenstein is also one of only two double landlocked countries in the entire world, the other being Uzbekistan. That means that it’s surrounded by countries that are also landlocked, and reaching a coastline requires crossing at least two national borders.

Below are some photos from our drive out of Italy… It was a very beautiful journey, although there are even prettier routes through Switzerland. We crossed over some majestic mountains to get to Vaduz.

When we arrived at the hotel on May 2, I was immediately struck by how beautiful and peaceful the surroundings were. The parking lot was mostly empty, and it was very quiet and calm as we approached the front door. A Tesla charging station was located at the front of the parking lot. I would later see many very expensive cars at this hotel. It’s clearly the “best” hotel in Vaduz.

An efficient receptionist who spoke flawless English checked us in, reminding us that Maree is currently closed on Mondays, but a small snack menu is available for hotel guests. I was glad of that, since it was mid afternoon when we arrived, and we were both tired of being in the car. It is possible to walk to the city center of Vaduz from the hotel, but it would have been a stout stroll, as the hotel is in an residential part of town.

We were assigned a junior suite– room 33– which has an African theme. The rooms are individually decorated. The room was very nice. The bed was especially comfortable, which was great after our week in Italy. We had a small terrace that overlooked a serene “park”, and offered majestic views of the Alps. I could have sat there all day, watching the mountains change with the sun and clouds. I had picked up a sandwich just before we arrived at the hotel, but Bill was hungry, so we ordered from the snack menu. It was just enough to satisfy us for the first night. Bill turned on the water cooler (air conditioners are illegal in Liechtenstein), and we enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep.

On Tuesday morning, we slept in a bit, then had a nice breakfast at Maree, which is where we also had dinner reservations. After breakfast, we walked around Vaduz, took pictures, and talked about everything. When it was time for lunch, we made our way to the Cellars of the Prince of Liechtenstein and the Hofkerllerei, which is a winery and restaurant. We hadn’t planned to visit this place in advance, but decided to go there because it looked like the menu was promising. Besides, we had spent our entire vacation drinking Italian wines. What better place to cap off the vacation? Below are some photos from our day in Vaduz.

And more pictures from Vaduz, lunch, and our wine tasting…