Trees, timber and tiled opulence

Like many people, I travel for the experiences, all of them  – the good, bad, challenging, joyful. Sometimes the more challenging the better. I prefer a pavement to a bus, a bush track to a manicured garden. And if I’m not camping somewhere remote, then I love to find accommodation that is out of the norm, that is as much a part of the experience as the people and the destination.

We’ve camped across Victoria, Tasmania, NSW and South Australia in some beautiful places and some wretched ones we couldn’t wait to leave. Put Sloop Reef in the Bay of Fires region of Tassie, Geehi Flats in Kosciusko National Park, Antechamber Bay on Kangaroo Island and the banks of the Franklin River in the former; put the free camp opposite the pub in Triabunna in the latter category. You get what you pay for! A month in the Flinders Ranges was on our agenda in April-May – until coronavirus threw a spanner in the works.

On a family trip to Cambodia and Vietnam a few years back, I did all the travel/accommodation bookings because I love the research – it’s almost the start of the actual journey – and found two gems that lived up to their potential. They were much more interesting than the 5.5-star finale in Hanoi – the Sofitel Legend Metropole. As grand and sumptuous as it was, it just doesn’t speak my language.

Here are my top three.

No. 3, Villa Paradiso, Phnom Penh
When you arrive in Phnom Penh and navigate the chaotic on-the-spot visa entry system – money makes for a quick exit from the airport – this small boutique hotel behind tall brick walls is a beautiful oasis. The streets may be wonderfully busy and dirty and vibrant, but walk through the gates and you’re at peace with the world.

At this point we were travelling with two single sons and another son and partner. Our daughter and her partner would join us in Siem Reap. I chose Villa Paradiso, a, because of location – within walking distance of shops, restaurants, bars and tourist sights – but also because of its size (only about 12 rooms) and layout.

It was architecturally beautiful – a colonial-style building with teak staircases, high ceilings and lovely gardens – and all rooms were themed. Two sons had the movie room with projector and giant screen, son and future daughter-in-law the opulent Khmer Room, hubby and I the Balinese Garden room. I loved the mass of timber, the pool, the outdoor cafe and the laidback staff who allowed sons to buy a basket of Anchor from a nearby shop for about 50 cents a can and drink them in the spa. Wouldn’t happen in Melbourne.

No. 2, Le Bout du Monde, Kep
My favourite in Cambodia was in Kep, ‘famous’ for its crab market, on the south coast. Le Bout du Monde, a traditional Khmer-style lodge in the foothills of Kep National Park and overlooking the South China Sea, is definitely not for everyone, however. Anyone with mobility issues should look elsewhere, unless things have changed in the past few years.

Le Bout du Monde has been built on the side of a mountain l for a nature walk. The sunsets over the South China Sea from the private balconies are spectacular, enhanced only by a super-cheap Anchor or Tiger from the fridge.

The tall tree houses were perfect for the climate, catching every breeze. Timber everywhere, including the fans and four-poster beds. The showers were outdoor ensuites, complete with green frogs; the pool, which was half filled with water lilies and sweeping views of the sea, glorious.

The walks down to the town were easy, the slog back good for the heart and lungs, and to work up an appetite for lunch or dinner. Even the tuk tuk drivers could not get all the way up.  Not a lot to do in Kep, but glorious accommodation.

No. 1 – Riad El Yacout, Fez
What a fascinating country is Morocco – so long as you get off the beaten track. The accommodation on our private four-wheel-drive trip for three (parents and one very fortunate son) was mostly three-star or below, but the finale, in Fez – Riad El Yacout – can only be described as magnificent.

As with many hotels and riads in Morocco, the ‘ambience’ on the street doesn’t match the quality of the accommodation once you walk into the walled compounds. That ranges from pleasant surprise to astonished admiration.

Riad El Yacout is a 4.5-star centuries-old 20ish-room hotel that was the private residence of a rich merchant. It was restored by expert craftsmen and is breathtaking in its detail.

Off the dusty street and into the central courtyard, was simply jaw-dropping – a riot of splendour, colour and tiled opulence.

A central fountain, a dining area with sweeping murals, first storey rooms that are grand and spacious.

The riad is in the heart of the medina and while it’s tempting to eat in, Fez is for exploring – when you’re not relaxing in a giant tub or in the pool. Such a beautiful city.

And to add further cred to this riad’s CV, this is where U2 filmed some of the scenes for their hit Magnificent. An easy No. 1.

What are your 1-2-3 when it comes to magic places you’ve stayed?

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Janelle Ward
Janelle Ward
Energetic and skilled editor and writer with expert knowledge of retirement, retirement income, superannuation and retirement planning.
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