At Kenwood Travel, our destination knowledge comes from of a genuine passion for seeing the world. Our globetrotting team test-drive every aspect of our getaways, from the airline cabins and hotel rooms to local excursions and exotic dining. As they say: it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
Because our destination expertise comes from the time we spend in resort, you receive an invaluable booking experience when you call our sales team. So far this year our team have spent a combined 97 days in 21 different countries, so we thought it high time they put their jetsetter schedules on pause and told us all about it. We sat down with Alex, Craig, Lai, Chris, Georgi and Jenny to talk Portugal, Ras Al Khaimah, St Kitts, Vietnam, Maldives and Barbados respectively. So read on for road-tested recommendations, trustworthy travel tips and peerless destination knowledge on your favourite escapes from the holiday experts who know them best.
Portugal, The Algarve
European Product Manager Alex has seen a lot of changes to the Algarve region during his decade-or-so as a regular visitor to Portugal. For the tourist it seems, the hotel luxury of this coastal hotspot is starting to rival its scenic beauty. On a whistlestop Algarve visit earlier in the month, Alex identified the recent launch of luxury hotels like Anantara, plus planned openings for brands such as Vicreoy and ‘W’, as raising the profile of the destination as a whole. He admired how Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort has managed to blend Asian hospitality with Portuguese charm & character to create an atmosphere, he says, that is unique in the area. And it’s clear he enjoyed the dining too: “The sommelier at EMO restaurant was so knowledgeable, and introduced me to the world of Soalheiro!” (Wine from northern Portugal – Ed.).
Whether it’s the verdant greenery of west coast Sagres, waterfalls & freshwater swimming pools inland or clifftops and beaches like Falesia & Olhos d’Agua on the East Coast, the Algarve’s varied landscape creates spectacular scenery right through the region. Alex’s advice? Hire a car to see it all. And don’t miss Vilamoura marina and the new Puro beach which open this week.
The Middle East, Ras Al Khaimah
Craig kicked off his sojourn in Ras Al Khaimah last month with horse riding in the desert. Before long there was archery and falconry to round off a list of authentic experiences that he describes as simply “amazing”. A self-confessed fussy eater, Craig enjoyed the traditional food at the local Emirati restaurants, and says the fact that guests can have a drink by the pool during Ramadan was an added bonus at this time of year. Craig’s must-do recommendations for holidays to Ras Al Khaimah are the waterparks and the mountain-top picnic. “Go at sunset,” says Craig, “the views are out-of-this-world.” His top hotels this trip were Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa Marjan Island, Rixos Bab Al Bahr and The Ritz-Carlton, Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert, recommending the latter especially for its secluded desert setting.
The Caribbean, St Kitts & Nevis
Back in February, Kenwood Travel Caribbean expert Lai hotfooted it to St Kitts & Nevis to sample island life like an A-lister. Her first impressions were of a place “untouched, very quiet and not touristy at all.” To set the scene, one Sunday Lai and her travel buddies went into town for breakfast, only to discover the sole establishment actually open was a beach shack. Far from being disgruntled by the fact that this beach shack only sold beer (breakfast of champions in Lai’s eyes), they embraced it (hic). Because that’s the point; things are a little more relaxed out here.
That said, visitors can still find enough opportunities to speed things up on a luxury holiday to St Kitts & Nevis. Lai partook in an exhilarating 4X4 road trip as well as some kaleidoscopic scuba action, and recommends Golden Rock as a must-visit attraction for its food, scenery and gardens.
On seeing the headland’s white-capped mountains, Columbus named Nevis after the Spanish for ‘snow’. No chance of snow spoiling Lai’s visit though, whose highlights were sunset champagne sipping at Four Seasons and dining outside in the sun at Oualie Beach Resort. We asked Lai to sum up her trip in three words: “Luxurious, understated, far from the maddening crowd.” Lai clearly can’t count, but at least she knows her stuff when it comes to Caribbean holidays.
The Far East, Vietnam
Kenwood Travel’s in-house design whizz Chris spent a 16-day “trip of a lifetime” in Vietnam this March. His Far Eastern adventure took him to Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Da Nang and Saigon on a whirlwind of street food, hotel rooms “the size of houses”, lantern making, temple tours and breath-taking scenery. Chris remembers the contrast between the different regions in Vietnam being really interesting; the constant buzz of Hanoi one day followed by bayside tranquillity in Ha Long the next, for example. Chatting to people in Nha Trang, Chris picked up on the important role tourism plays in the local economy. There are a lot of new hotels popping up now, they told him, so they’re optimistic about the future. Good news all round then, as Chris continued to seek out the best of what Vietnam holidays can offer.
The Unesco-protected My Son National Park was a stand-out moment: “Amazing views and ancient ruins similar to Cambodia, plus the Cu Chi tunnels where Vietnam War fighters built an underground maze of narrow tunnels; I almost got stuck!” And a boat cruise round Ha Long Bay was another bucket list occasion. What was his most memorable moment? “It has to be the fresh fish we bought from the floating market. Within ten minutes it was pulled from the sea, gutted, descaled, cooked and on your plate. (The head was made into soup too.) Never had fish so fresh in my life.” The food quality and variety was also excellent at Boutique Hoi An Resort, where Chris also rates the accommodation highly, especially the ‘house-sized’ Beach Villa with Private Pool room category.
The Indian Ocean, Maldives
Resident Indian Ocean team member Georgi lists OZEN by Atmosphere and Jumeirah Dhevanafushi as his favourite Maldives hotels, and can now add Baros to that list after staying there on his last trip. Top of the list for in-resort experiences for Georgi was the food: “The piano deck champagne breakfast in the middle of the ocean and a fine dining evening at The Lighthouse (12 courses) were amazing, and the service was superb.”
“Don’t miss the great range of watersports available on your Maldives holiday either,” insists Georgi. “My favourite thing to do there is snorkelling; it’s honestly the place to do it in the world. Every island has unique marine life and different colours of coral and fish.”
The Caribbean, Barbados
In May this year our Caribbean product manager Jenny jetted off to Barbados and was happy to report a major improvement since her last visit: no seaweed on the beaches! The standout hotels on her trip were Colony Club by Elegant Hotels: “great staff, nice pools, west coast location,” Sugar Bay Barbados: “Great value, all-inclusive hotel on the south coast,” and, finally, The Sandpiper: “Understated luxury, great food and a nice new pool since I was last there.” On her “sunny, busy and fun” stay Jenny also found time to admire sea views from Gun Hill Station and dine in style at The Atlantis Resort Barbados on the East Coast (definitely worth hiring a car to do this, she says). As the only place outside of the colonial US to be visited by George Washington, Barbados has always been able to attract visitors with its climate, beaches and leisure pursuits, and today is no different. Jenny recommends Harrisons Cave, Mount Gay distillery and local rum shops to get a feel for authentic Barbados. Cin Cin, Lonestar, Daphne’s and Champers are all must-visit restaurant venues for speciality cuisine too, as is Oistins, especially on Friday nights.
Featured image photo credit: Gavin Howarth