Mention Las Vegas and most people would immediately think gambling, casinos, showgirls, Mariah Carey, the Bellagio fountains and stag weekends. What might not spring to mind is fine dining, vintage wines and cocktails, but that’s where food festival Vegas Uncork’d is hoping to make the difference.
Now in its ninth year and backed by Bon Appetit magazine, Vegas Uncork’d bills itself as ‘The Ultimate Wine and Food Experience’ with a four-day long extravaganza of tasting, making, scoffing, slurping and swilling at some of Las Vegas’ best-known hotels, including Caesars Palace, MGM Grand, the Cosmopolitan and the Bellagio.
I’d been to Las Vegas a couple of times before, the last time being with my mother which made for a memorable week [see article here] and have really enjoyed my visits – there is something quite unique about Vegas which makes it unlike any other place on earth. This trip, however, I was not going to spend my time sunbathing, drinking free gin and tonics while playing on slot machines or taking a helicopter to the Grand Canyon. Instead I was going to really get to know the food scene and I couldn’t wait.
There was nothing around to disturb the peace of my morning stroll around the 300 acres of Hertfordshire countryside which surrounds The Grove hotel – nothing, that is, until a helicopter suddenly swooped down and landed on the immaculate lawn just outside the main building.
Any hotel where the guests arrive by air is usually full of the super-rich or the super-busy, but thankfully The Grove is large enough to absorb all sorts of guests without feeling too full. In fact one of the best things about our stay is that in spite of there being 225 rooms at The Grove – 26 in the older Mansion House and 191 in the more modern West Wing – it never felt crowded.
Owned by the Ralph Trustees, the privately-owned family group which also owns the Athenaeum and Runnymede hotels, The Grove used to be the family seat of the Earls of Clarendon before becoming, over the decades, a gardening school, health centre, riding school and a girls’ boarding school.
It was even the secret HQ for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway during the war and was bought by its current owners in 1996 who rescued it from near ruins.
Opened as a hotel in 2004, The Grove now attracts a rather well-heeled clientele, with the vast car park full of the more expensive type of car – Jaguars, Daimlers and even a Rolls-Royce could be seen next to my rather more humble Fiat 600 . It also has its own 7,152 yard championship course which has played host to the likes of Tiger Woods, and its popular luxury spa, Sequoia.
No-one would ever call Charing Cross station an oasis of calm. Yet right in the heart of the daily maelstrom of commuter traffic which swirls through one of London’s biggest railway stations, the Amba Hotel Charing Cross is surprisingly quiet. And spacious. And plush.
In fact it turned out to be generally much nicer than I’d expected when I turned up at Charing Cross station in the middle of rush hour.
I was offered a free glass of fizz (or juice) as I checked in, which was a nice touch, and then as I left the smart but small lobby, was surprised by the wide corridors and the six-storey sweeping staircase which brought a more genteel age of travel to mind.
The day was bright and sunny for Her Majesty and Prince Philip as the Royal party arrived to launch P&O Cruises new ship Britannia last Tuesday, a welcome change from the drizzle and rain of the previous day.
Before the official naming ceremony took place though, the seated guests (thoughtfully supplied with hand warmers and mugs of hot spiced cordial) were treated to some acrobatic ‘zorbing’, the exuberant Red Hot Chilli Pipers and the Bands of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines and The Irish Guards.
There was a brief speech from David Dingle, chairman of P&O Cruises’s parent company Carnival, a prayer from the Bishop of Southampton, and then the invitation for the Queen to name Britannia from Captain Paul Brown, with proceedings ably and entertainingly MC’d by comedian Rob Brydon.
For frequent travellers who find hotels increasingly soulless – or just miss being able to cook dinner – there is another option: the serviced apartment.
Rather than having to inhabit just one room and go out for meals, the appeal of serviced apartments is often the extra space – such as a separate living room and kitchen – plus the security of a reception, a daily maid service, a central location and being able to stay there for the night, a week, or months and even years at a time.