This is what $2.4 million gets you, apparently.
US author George Saunders on Tuesday became only the second American writer to win Britain’s renowned Man Booker Prize, which was awarded for his first full-length novel “Lincoln in the Bardo”.
I first met Kristin and Marcus, the founders of Amberlair, in 2014 – when the dream of conceiving the world’s first crowdsourced and crowdfunded boutique hotel was it its very very infant stages.
Fast forward a few years – and a milestone has been achieved. After launching the project and starting to form a community of like-minded luxury travellers – who are affectionately called ‘boholovers’, short for ’boutique hotel lovers’.
You may understand why I have been involved from day 1 – as a friend, backer and consultant. I love hotels – and I love the idea of being involved in designing one from its very beginning. Wouldn’t you?
After the first round of crowdsourcing, where the community voted for the location, Italy is where both founders set foot. Italy beat both Spain and South Africa as semi finalists and it was in Puglia where they discovered the most amazing palazzo, which would be just perfect to develop a stunning luxury boutique hotel.
In Puglia, the Amberlair team will be renovating historical buildings set within the plot— each offering a different room style— to create the first luxury boutique hotel in the region and give guests an experience they won’t find anywhere else.
The current project allows for 60 rooms: 30 rooms in the historical villa, 10 rooms in a unique farmhouse building situated amidst olive groves and vineyards, 10 cave or spa rooms and 10 luxury tents.
Amberlair’s first boutique hotel in Puglia is at the heart of this crowdfunding request. Travelers today are looking for authentic experiences, and Puglia is a region renowned for its authenticity and continues to be a destination in high demand with the discerning traveler segment.
Puglia is remotely located between two seas – the Ionian and the Adriatic, and it is within easy reach of beaches, UNESCO world heritage sites and international airports (Bari and Brindisi).
I have been to Puglia once before and I loved it – it is very pleasant to the eye, the food is, of course fantastic, and let’s not even get started with its eye (I do love a bit of Primitivo). So it is fair to say, I am really looking forward to going back again and again.
The crowdfunding process
Amberlair have set up its first funding round, aiming to raise 15,000 EUR, which will used to draw the complex architectural development plans. The next steps will be announced in early 2018 – when it gets very very exciting.
In order to contribute, you can make a pledge for a set amount at Amberlair’s IndieGogo page – and they have created a series of experiences as your reward. From a 15 EUR bottle of wine to share with them when you first visit, to a highly discounted 2-night stay at the historic villa (for 290 EUR if you are a super early bird).
For those who want to be more involved, there will also be opportunities to name a suite (I do quite like the idea of the Mrs. O Around the World suite), attend brainstorming sessions in London with the founders and yours truly and also visit the site, during the construction and design phases in Puglia – and really helps shape its future.
What do you get out of this?
Besides being part of this community, made up of global citizens who really love boutique hotels, you will really be helping make decisions. Along the development process, that means until the hotel has opened its doors, the Amberlair team will run various contests and brainstorming exercises where backers have the chance to submit your ideas and to vote on your favorite ones:
- what does the perfect bathroom look like?
- how shall the perfect bedroom be designed?
- what kind of room service do you prefer?
- what would you like to eat in the restaurant?
- what would be the perfect amenities?
- what kind of activities would you prefer? Would it be cooking classes with nona, a series of sports activities (yoga, biking, etc.) or nothing at all?
- what should they do with the old birdhouse located in front of the villa?
The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, Spain will showcase master artworks of Picasso and Lautrec in the five sections of the exhibition, running from Oct 17, 2017 to Jan 21, 2018.
So in early June, Mr. O and I packed our bags and made our way there for a 4-day stay at Asia Gardens, which is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World.
Getting to Asia Gardens
The closest airport to Asia Gardens is Alicante, located about 45 minutes from the hotel by private transfer, which comes as standard to all Sovereign guests.
Alicante is, as most of you know, the gateway airport to Benidorm, which caters for a ‘different type of tourist’. So of course, there is no direct flight from Heathrow – so a trip to Gatwick (not my favourite airport in the world), had to take place. The interesting thing is that, of course, there are no shortage of flights to Alicante – and with Sovereign’s help I decided to try something a bit different. I was to fly out with British Airways in Club Europe first thing in the morning, but as I wanted to fly back later on Sunday, I chose to fly with Monarch (which sadly ceased trading this year). With Sovereign, you can book whichever flights you want and mix any airline and classes, so that is what we did. Obviously we got the Monarch ticket with all the bells and whistles and had luggage, priority boarding, priority check-in and ‘extra space’ in our seats. I shall tell you more about it later (but sadly the experience cannot be repeated).
All BA flights now depart from the South Terminal – but for some reason, BA operates different lounge hours at LGW compared to LHR. So, for example, if you are a Gold Member like me, you’d have access to the First Lounge from 5am. At Gatwick, if you are on one of the first 15 flights of the day, you don’t have it – and you actually have to queue with 50-100 people to access the Club Lounge, which also for some reason does not open at 5am.
The lounge is good, a great improvement from the previous one – and the First lounge is even better (the service is excellent compared to Heathrow, in all honesty).
The flight to Alicante takes 2 and a bit hours and on arrival, we were met by Sovereign’s pre-organised transfer.
We got to the hotel and were like ‘wow’. I had seen photos, I know quite a few friends who had been so I more or less knew what to expect. But it was better in real life.
Our check-in was slick and efficient and as we were a bit early and the hotel was at capacity (despite being early June), we accept the invite to have a tour of the grounds (which I highly recommend all guests do) and had lunch.
The hotel has 300+ rooms and 9 dining options – and occupies some seriously stunning grounds. The gardens are its pride and joy – but I have to say that I really liked how the room buildings integrated with the setting. There is a lot of space, a lot of pools and it does not feel crowded at all.
The photo above shows you how close you are to Benidorm – a few kilometres and a world away. Nothing to worry about.
Our room at Asia Gardens
Our booking was last minute and the hotel was at capacity, so we had the last room left, which was a Superior Deluxe Room. I thought it was very spacious, well appointed and we loved the bed and linens.
We also had a very large balcony and we were near a stream, so it made for a very relaxing soundtrack.
This is the second lowest category of rooms – so it gives you an indication of that to expect as you go up ‘the ladder’.
There was a lot of storage (and plenty of hangers) and I cannot fault the room. My only comment would be that there weren’t available power sockets on each side of the bed (the hotel is 10 years old +) but we made do with those by the seating area.
Our bathroom at Asia Gardens
We had a very nice bathroom, with a walk-in shower, separate loo and bidet area and a full bathtub, with a ‘window’ to the rest of the room.
The only thing I didn’t understand why the shower compartment did not have electricity – and I did mention this to the new General Manager, who said he was looking into it (so if you have been since the Summer of 2017, can you let me know?). To put it this way – one needs light in the shower.
The toiletries were Penhaligon’s (which are on my list of hotel toiletries worth stealing), but they were the little ones.
On the first day, we told housekeeping that we would only want turndown after 8pm (because Spain), and we never had a problem with it, which is worth noting.
The gardens and the pools
With the hotel being called Asia Gardens, you do build some expectations – and they were met. The gardens are incredible – and impeccably maintained. It was a delight to walk around the hotel (which is obviously set up so you do not really have to leave) at all times of the day.
Every corner you turned, you were surprised with a new feature – a lot of ponds and my favourite was the waterfall. And just for the record – this did not feel like any kind of amusement or theme park. The hotel is stunning and the number of repeat guests (including quite well known uber-discreet celebrities) speaks for itself.
This is a place to enjoy some peace and quiet – and sunbathe a little. The pools are, without a doubt, one of the hotel highlights and there is one for any need. A quiet pool, an adult pool, a family pool, a pool inside a pool, a secret pool… you name it.
And one thing worth noting – no sun lounger thieves. We got up a bit earlier so we could fly the drone and not disturb anyone and at 9am, no one was out. No one was in a rush, and that was lovely.
If you are staying in a suite, you also have access to the Suites pool which isn’t particularly easy to find or marked – but we did. It is just a smaller pool with a different seating area – and everyone there was super quiet.
Our meals & cocktails at Asia Gardens
First things first – breakfast. Served buffet style at the Udaipur restaurant, it was excellent. Service was slick (as everywhere else in the hotel) despite being quite busy and I loved the churros and the grilled ham and cheese sandwiches.
On the topic of food – and if you were like me a bit afraid that you were not going to feel like you were not in Spain, please don’t be.
We had a great Asian meal at Koh Samui, the fine dining Asian restaurant one night – it really was good, but the lunches we had on 2 occasions and the other dinner we had were very very Spanish (and that is exactly what we wanted).
Our poolside lunches were excellent – and as we were in the Comunitat Valenciana (where paella originally comes from in Spain), we tried all different types of paella and rice dishes. And I am picky – and I loved it.
The other dinner we had, we went to In Black, where we had some of our favourite Spanish dishes with a modern twist – from the foie mit-cuit, to a fabulous ceviche and the very local ‘ajo blanco’. Great Spanish wine list to match too (our dinners were approximately 120-150 Euros for two, including wine. Lunch was about 50-80 Euros with a glass of wine each and of course, plenty of seafood).
On the drinks front, we were a bit disappointed with the bar – it was great for pre-dinner drinks, but it could do with a bit more ambiance after dinner. The gins, however, were epic.
The Thai Spa at Asia Gardens
One of the highlights of the hotel – and most guests are clever and pre-booked their spa treatments. Guess who did not? Me! I had hoped to go to the spa every day for a massage, but we could only get one slot for a 50-minute massage (106 Euros) each on our last day, literally just before we left.
The spa also organises a significant number of classes every day – from yoga, to pilates, tai chi and more. I missed out on all of this – but I am not worried because I can really see myself returning (and 100% understand why most guests do).
We both thought (and discussed at length) that service was very good – if you were lost (which happened a few times), the staff would take you there without you even asking. The level of English was excellent. Anything you wanted was no problem. Even on the last day at the pool, I asked our pool attendant to call the restaurant and have our paella ready at 2.45pm – she didn’t bat an eyelid. Because we were in Spain – and we actually felt that – and that is how you pre-book a paella or any dish that takes a bit longer to cook. The things I learned from my father…
The journey back
On our penultimate day, we asked to rent a car (and for it to be dropped on and off at the hotel) so we could visit Alicante. Sovereign doesn’t have a concierge in this area like they do in their key locations – like Madeira, Algarve, Halkidiki, Mallorca and many other places, but they had a local agent who was very helpful. Our car materialised as we requested (and very well priced at 50 Euros a day with all the insurance) and our transfers were, of course, on time and the usual Mercedes service.
We flew back with Monarch (which is no longer), and were actually quite impressed – the ‘extra space’ seats were twice than any other airline I have seen (business class included), and for once, there was proper gin available (even if it was missing the cucumber!). I only chose it because of the timings (with BA I would have to return before midday and we wanted to make the most of the last day).
We really enjoyed our 4-day weekend at Asia Gardens (and I am so glad Sovereign suggested it, as something different). This is a place to go to and relax, in style (of course) and enjoy great food and weather. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then do not hesitate. We are going back for sure.
Disclaimer and fact box: I was a guest of Sovereign on this occasion and, as always, opinions, are mine.
Sovereign is offering a week at the five star Asia Gardens Hotel & Thai Spa from £1149 per person, including return flights with British Airways, seven nights accommodation in a Superior Deluxe room, including breakfast. Private resort transfers are included as well as access to the No.1 Lounge, where available. The price includes a saving £502 per couple, departing 12th October 2017.