Ashford Castle and Tea

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I love tea and I wanted to stay in a Castle .  On my recent trip to Ireland I combined a few of my favorite things and spent an amazing afternoon at Ashford Castle.

Ashford is that fairytale Castle of your dreams.  The Castle has hosted Kings, Presidents and, most recently was the  site of golf pro Rory McIlroy’s nuptials, it has a wonderful golf course, excellent fishing, clays for shooting, falconry, a spa, beautiful gardens, and amazing food.  I now understand the concept of eating until you pop.

On a recent rainy Sunday, I was fortunate to spend the entire afternoon curled up by a fire having tea and champagne with my favorite gal pal.  Two pots of tea, four glasses of champagne and nibbles was the perfect setting to spend the afternoon.

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I opted for the Irish Wiskey-Cream tea.  Described as the “extravagant flavor of Irish whiskey with a hint of cocoa blended with a malty Assam tea” it lives up to its description as delicious.  Nibbles included chicken salad sandwiches, salmon, ham and cheese, scones with lemon curd, clotted cream, and strawberry and rhubarb jam.  The tip from the server was lemon curd with the cheddar cheese scone.  The pairing was perfect!  The sweets course included eclairs and other tasty sweets but the cheddar cheese scones were my favorite.

What an amazing setting to spend a rainy afternoon.

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Tea at the Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong and Dining in Hong Kong – Hong Kong (part 2)

I love historic hotels and a proper tea which means a visit and tea at the Peninsula Hotel was number one on my must do list. The Savoy in London, Ritz and George  V in Paris, the Cloisters at Sea Island, GA, the Greenbrier, the Homestead . . . . There is just something about a historic hotel; a certain je ne sais quoi? I’m thinking it may be the legacy, the history, or perhaps it is the ability to imagine a time gone by that fascinates me.  I mean can’t you just imagine Coco in her apartment when you visit the Ritz or TJ at the Homestead?

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The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong is synonymous with glamour and old world grandeur. Opening in 1928, it is Hong Kong’s oldest hotel and referred to as the Grande Dame of the Far East. It is legendary for its fleet of Rolls-Royce Phantoms that whisk you to your destination. It is also famous for tea and it was tea I wanted. From 2 pm to 6 pm people line up for the experience of a leisurely afternoon of a traditional afternoon tea. You will not want dinner after. Be prepared for a line and dress appropriately as there is a dress code. Also, be prepared to simply relax and enjoy.

We chose the traditional tea for two and added a champagne mojito for a refreshing cocktail. We then proceeded to eat our way from the bottom to the top of a three tiered tea tray. The first tier presented traditional English scones with clotted cream and jam. They were perfect. The second tray held scrumptious cucumber, salmon and chicken salad tea sandwiches; the third bite sized deserts. My favorite dessert was the raspberry wafer. Did I mention that the venue was also perfect for people watching?  Two hours and two pots of tea, champagne, and completely satiated wth food, later we departed to explore the Peninsula Arcade. The hotel comes complete with a selection of high end shopping from Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Harry Winston and the list goes on. Finally departing for a visit to the Jade and Temple Markets, we were treated to a glimpse of the Phantom fleet as it deposited new arrivals from the airport.

 

I would be remiss if I failed to mention other dining favorites visited during my trip.

Felix, also at the Peninsula Hotel, is a perfect venue for the light show over Victoria Harbour. Still stuffed from tea, but on a quest for a cocktail, the concierge at the Peninsula directed us to the bar at Felix. Sitting atop the Peninsula tower it was the perfect venue to watch the light show with, yes another, champagne mojito. They are addicting. Make certain you visit the restroom in Felix. They are legendary for their view of the harbor and unusual design.

Lung King Heen, a Michelin 3-star restaurant located at the Four Seasons, is a culinary experience not to be missed. Specializing in Cantonese cuisine it is the first Chinese restaurant to be recognized by Michelin. You will need reservations but do not miss this experience. I began dinner with a glass of champagne and suckling pig. My main course was wok fried beef tenderloin with steamed rice and a side dish of wok prepared asparagus and garlic. I’ve had many good meals in my life and dined at many excellent restaurants, my dinner at Lung King Heen surpassed them all. Not only was the food exquisite but the service was unparalleled. They went out of their way to make suggestions, to cater to our taste, and to make certain our dinner was superb.

 

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Hutong restaurant in Kowloon also deserves a shout out. We booked reservations for dinner as part of an evening harbor cruise and were not disappointed. The tasting menu was excellent. The sweet and sour fish is the best fish dish I’ve ever had. The view of Victoria Harbour is also excellent.

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My greatest challenge was learning to use chopsticks. By the end of the trip I’d finally mastered the art of eating without a fork.

Bon appetite!

Hong Kong (part 1)

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I just returned from an amazing ten days in Hong Kong. I’ve wanted to go to Hong Kong for years. Hong Kong has always fascinated me. I’m not certain if it is something mysterious about a mystical place half way around the world in Asia, or that when I was young I saw the question of the handover debated in Parliament, or, perhaps, I’ve read too much Clavell.

I stayed at the Four Seasons in a beautiful room overlooking  Victoria Harbour.

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Anticipating that I would be exhausted after hours (and I do mean hours) of flying, I made arrangements for the hotel to pick me up at the airport. I am now spoiled forever. When they say they will send a car they mean they meet you at the jet bridge of the plane, put you in a golf cart, whisk you through immigration and baggage claim to a beautiful waiting car with wifi, bottled water, and warm hand towels for the thirty minute ride to Central. At the hotel, I was greeted with my room key, did not pass go or the check in desk, and collapsed in my room where my bags were delivered shortly.  I understand that the Peninsula Hotel also has a version of this with a Rolls-Royce. Perhaps, this is customary for Hong Kong? I’ve not done a survey but given that I’d been up for well over twenty-four hours, the service was most appreciated and a wonderful welcome to Hong Kong.

I’d planned this trip for several months, reading travel guides, Fodor’s is one of my go to sources for trip planning, and stalking Trip Advisor for information and reviews on tours and places to see. The Four Seasons concierge was also helpful with suggestions and comments to the questions I emailed prior to leaving home. For several weeks, I debated flexibility over booking ahead and, after eying the weather, I opted for flexibility. I would be there during the rainy season and decided it was in my best interests to be able to adjust based on the weather.  This worked to my advantage. I ended up creating a “must visit” list which I was fortunate to almost exhaust while there.  Being flexible also allowed me to substitute based on local recommendations that led to some of my favorite moments of the trip.

My “must” list –

Take a ride on the Star Ferry. Since the 1920’s this ferry has transported people across Victoria Harbour. For HK $2.5 or $0.32 (yes, 32 cents US) you can enjoy the beautiful five minute ride from Central Pier 7 to Kowloon.

 

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Ride the Ferris Wheel for the view. Access is across from Central Pier 9 and the gondolas are air conditioned. The views from on high are wonderful and a must see.

 

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Symphony of Lights is a light show featuring the buildings along Victoria Harbour. Every night at 7 and 9 the buildings put on their show.

Tea at the Peninsula Hotel (see Hong Kong part 2)

Stanley Market – Stanley, once a fishing market and then a British military base, is now a beautiful seaside town with a famous market where you can find a bit of everything for a bargain. The linen shops were amazing.

Victoria Peak also known as “the Peak”  is the highest point on Hong Kong island. Best reached either by taxi or the Peak Funicular the views are spectacular. Generally a residential area the Peak Trail, a two hour circular hike of the Peak, provides breath-taking views of the area, weather pending. Make certain you visit the Lion’s Temple!

 

Happy Valley Racecourse located in Happy Valley is a popular social venue on Wednesdays for the races. This one I missed because of my travel schedule.

The China Club (also missed and an introduction is required).

Visit the UNSECO site in Macau. You will need  your passport as Macau is a different SAR.  Take the hydrofoil from the Macau ferry terminal on Central to Macau.  Another Las Vegas if you wish to gamble or shop (I did neither), the Portuguese old town is a must see. Grab a map of the old town from the ferry terminal and explore the temples, churches and historical buildings.  I saw some of the most beautiful churches outside of Italy.

Aberdeen is another fishing village that is the traditional home to those making their homes on the water. It is also home to the famous floating restaurant. I enjoyed a tour of the harbor in a traditional sampan.

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Repulse Bay is the site of a beautiful white sandy beach and is historically significant in the Opium Wars.

Go sailing on a traditional Chinese Junk. There are multiple options from Aqua Luna. I enjoyed a lazy Sunday afternoon sail to Stanley.  By Sunday I was ready to relax and what better way to do so than with a glass of Proseco and a sail.

Stroll down Hollywood Road. I think of this as the antique district. Lined with art galleries and antique shops it is perfect for a lazy stroll.

Hike the Dragon’s Back trail. This is a strenuous three hour hike. I’m thrilled I did it but if I’d known the difficulty, I’m not certain I’d have chanced it. Take water and wear appropriate clothes and shoes. Do not try this in the rain or immediately after. In places you are climbing up and down rocks and I’m not certain where the trail was.  The views are amazing and you can see forever but this is not for the faint hearted.

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Visit the Jade Market on Kowloon. This was a trip. Be prepared to bargain. You can find anything jade you want here and of varying quality.  I’m not certain all of it is real jade and I’m no expert but, well, the experience was fun.

Go shopping! Hong Kong has every designer boutique I’ve ever heard of and some I’d not. If you can imagine it, you can find it and they will package it to carry home.

I made a huge dent in my list of musts. I did not make it to Happy Valley or the China Club but being flexible let me add a visit to Cheung Chau (not to be missed), a visit to the Temple Market, and a wonderful tour with Jason Wordie through Sham Shui Po along with time to explore Kowloon’s multiple opportunities for shopping, the flower market and food stalls.

The trip to Cheung Chau, a fishing village that is on one of the outer islands was an absolute joy.

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Accessed by a local ferry from Central Pier, the island has no cars and all the fresh seafood you can want.

Jason Wordie’s tour was another not to be missed event. His knowledge of the history of Hong Kong is unparalleled as is his ability to provide you insights into Hong Kong like no other. If you have the chance to join him you will not be disappointed.