GTActivities

GTActivities – your inside eye on what we’re getting up to!

GTaste

GTAste – All overseas Meetings, Incentives Conferences and other Events offer opportunities for different experiences and sensations. GTAste is intended to explore some of those experiences through the flavours, festivals, fashion and more of our destinations.

Under GTAste you can explore the flavours  and scents of delightful food from our destinations (recipes you can try at home) and read of  destination wines. Some of our recipes will be from the DMCs home “kitchen”. While Switzerland, Morocco, The Balearics and Malta produce some great wines they are either not available in the UK or are hard to find – shame you will have to visit the destination to try their wine!

If you do try any of our recipes or wines please post feedback on GTA’s Facebook or tweet your experience.

Portugal is “BUZZing”

Finally, and sadly, left the Portuguese sun and 30 plus degrees to return to a chilly UK.

Missing the lovely food …….so Altis Belem Hotel & Spa Lisbon “kindly” sent me the above tasty image of Tuna Belly Tartar from their Feitoria Michelin Star restaurant.

We found Portugal to be Buzzing; a hive of activity with new/recent properties, new owners, new ideas and great refurbishments …. with more to come.

Of course the biggest BUZZ in Portugal’s MICE scene remains Buzz DMC. Buzz also have their own new developments this year – launching a third office, in Madeira, and extending the Lisbon office later this year.

We were delighted with the quality of fine dining and delighted to be introduced to some the Algarve’s great quality wines.

And, of course, Portugal offers great value and service in a country where the people are as warm as their weather.

Conference hotels with flair and individuality as well as great facilities along with stylish incentive hotel options. Not just in Lisbon…… but Algarve too as this last three years has seen some interesting new openings that provide large conferences spaces in distinct style.

Portugal has so much, is so different and so close. So if you have an event and feel that Portugal would be a good option drop me an email alan@gtassociatesdmcs.com

Day 1

Arriving at midnight is not always the best ….but……

…Our first hotel was on the airport’s doorstep and the fifteen minutes by limo was sweet and short and we and we had the whole day in lovely Lisbon’s sunshine.

With two nights, and a show round, at the Lisbon Marriott we had ample chance to admire their refurb and the comfort of their superior room.

The Marriott has great conference facilities and is so handy for the airport and city centre; not surprisingly it is a popular choice ….so book early.

Post refurb the hotel has a relaxed modern feel, light and airy feel. With a welcoming reception area and bar.

The MICE team and hotel are very inventive on using unusual hotel spaces and so flexible on branding.

Post our show round it was off to Lisbon for a quick visit to the Buzz Team’s office. Visiting the office was literally it, as Buzz had so many events running, most of the team were out. We did get to meet the COC – Alfredo the Chief Office Cat but he ignored us and played with his pressies.

Then onto another refurbished hotel, their sister four star and, for me, I had to try Luis’s recommendation to eat the best steak tartar ever.  Luis was right Tivoli Lisboa’s Brasserie Flo serves a mean tartar steak; thanks Luis for also suggesting the lovely Portuguese red to accompany my steak.

Tivoli’s Lisboa 5* and Jardim 4* offer a mix and match on their event spaces (17) and restaurants (4). We especially loved the Lisboa’s roof top terrace bar (amazing views over Lisbon and Tagus river) Jardim’s Yakuza by Olivier restaurant and the Palacio event space complete with own garden & pool. No other central Lisbon hotel offers a swimming pool!!

And post lunch what better than to visit five restaurants!!

First up was a great fun party venue – a converted pipe factory able to host two hundred and forty pax. If you are looking for a fun ex industrial venue that retains some authentic machinery/fixtures this is a top choice. There is one huge table whose base is a massive steel deck that was part of the pipe rolling machinery. The venue comes complete with a specially created old shop, three private dining spaces, rather interesting toilets (amusing, and the first time I have been shown round the ladies’ toilets) and a large bar area overlooking the shop floor.

Next another favourite a rather gently quirky stylish restaurant with a bistro wine bar/dining area which makes a great disco space. The hillside setting provides great views out to the river Tagus AND they have permission to hold welcome drinks in the little square a few metres away. Comfortably seat 80 in the main restaurant.

A short walk through the narrow streets brought us to our fourth dinner venue.  Able to seat over 200 with atmospheric vaulted ceilings.

And on the Docas de Santo Amaro. This is a lively area for casual lunches, dinner and dine arounds. Converted warehouses hold restaurants and lively bars next to a small marina. Buzz have two favourite restaurants here; each capable of hosting around 200 pax. (Inside and outside seating).

Given the heat we stopped for thirst quenching drinks tailor made to our individual orders. Mine was freshly squeezed oranges (from the Algarve of course) and lime with sparkling water, mint and ice.

A little site seeing around Belem and on to our own dinner venue for the evening. But first a show round of Altis Belem Hotel. 5* luxury and very Design modern with a theme. All the rooms are named after places that the great Portuguese explorers discovered.

Altis Belem has many lovely little touches, eg a lounge area where each section has its own “small” LCD TV on which each group can choose their programme and adjust the sound. I hate being in a lounge with massive TV screens all set on a news channel (or football) with the sound off!!

The bedrooms are all light and all face the river, minimum size 28 sqms.

We took a quick look round Altis Belem’s Michelin Star’d Feitoria restaurant – the menu looked amazing, then time for a pre-dinner drink.

We more than pleasantly surprised when we accepted the suggestion to try a really refreshing Algarve Rose. I am not a fan of Rose but the one offered is supposed to be great for drinking in the summer – one or two glasses later we had to agree!!!

And so to dinner; not in the Feitoria but in the main restaurant which is heavily influenced by the more auspicious Michelin Feitoria.

Post a large breakfast – my excuse being I needed to test both the Marriott breakfast and a lovely lunch we had decided that two dinner courses would be enough. After a tasty starter and main course, not being as smart as Gill, who refused to look at the dessert menu, I saw something unusual…. A recipe for more eating.

I could not understand how condensed milk ice cream could be held within the centre of a crumble exterior. However it was done it was done and was so so tasty – not too sweet either.

So ended our day and back, via a nightcap to test the bar service, to a so comfy bed at the Marriott.

Day 2

We started with another totally refurbished hotel – there are just so many changes happening in Lisbon —- if you are not there you can’t keep track.

The Altis Grande 5* has enjoyed a major design makeover and refurbishment to great effect. The result has impact and is so different that it makes it very difficult to pigeon hole the Grand with a style label.

Many traditional elements have been kept, but with a twist, and original design furniture/sculptures have been refreshed with a very modern touch’. Watch out for the many contemporary art objects on display. Some of the furniture has been in storage for many years – it was “designer label” and the hotel owners felt it wrong to junk it – which was a wise move as updated the furniture looks great and so environmentally friendly.

Altis will cover events from 8 to 750 pax across 20 meetings rooms with the majority located within three floors….. and with the new design will have appeal for larger incentive groups as well as conferences.

On to another Altis – the Altis Park which has a partial refurb with much more planned. If you need a good location for a conference of up to 500 pax or an auditorium for 280 and your budget is not at all great then Altis Park could work for you.

Next stop lunch at an Epic hotel. Epic Sana.

If you want modern Wow, loads of meeting space and great Wi-Fi this could be your hotel. Meeting space is so flexible and able to be divided into 13 spaces covering events for up to 1300 pax.

We loved the light rooms, spa, art and rooftop pool/bar.

Our thanks to Michael Borges for a lovely lunch. Who could ignore the glorious sunshine on Epic’s lovely terrace, we could not, so we voted for sun over restaurant and enjoyed a leisurely sunny lunch.

Epic has managed a great balance, perfect for both incentives and large scale conferences…. with a great location close to central Lisbon.

Now a break from hotels – off to one of Lisbon’s atmospheric large dinner venues. A building with many histories – starting as a 16th Century Hospice and variously a Hospital, Monastery and Industrial building.

It could be that the building is blessed or due to its strong construction but the building survived the great earthquake 1755.

This is a venue that offers great capacity where your imagination, and party, can run riot.

Back to hotels and what a hotel next – intrigue, history, royalty, renovation and refurbishment in a magnificent building.

Add style and class and Estoril and it has to be Palacio Estoril – 5* luxury.

And it was for us, at least for one night – a lovely junior suite with garden view, decanter of port and fruit.

Our show round started with a walk through the new historic gallery of Europe’s Second World War residents – royalty, famous and infamous and learnt of the “Spy” history that probably gave rise to the character of James Bond.

The Palacio has modernised while keeping its Old World charm and elegance. This is traditional with a light, and historic, touch with two exceptions.

The state of art purpose built Spa and a new wing featuring duplex rooms. Guests have a direct underground access to the new Spa building.

Such a shame we were so busy during our stay – we saw so many magnificent Spa’s and Gill did not have time to try even one of them.

So onto our two final hotels of the day and another fine dining experience.

The Grande Real Villa Italia is a touch of Italy in Cascais. The original building was built as an Italian Palace and home to King Humberto II – King of Italy for one month.

Is this hotel modern, contemporary or classical Italian!! We think a lovely combination of all three.

Love this hotel for small meetings and small to mid-size incentives. Such a shame, for us, Italia was 100% booked so we missed seeing the rooms.

And finally to Cascais Miragem and yet another stunning location. Miragem has an enviable across the road from the beach location and enjoys amazing sunsets over Cascais Marina.

Imagine lazing in the first floor infinity pool, comfortably higher than the road, with views over the beach and, to the right, over the Marina.

A good conference hotel, Miragem’s largest conference space takes 400 pax theatre style and the hotel has many spaces where you can create everything from fashion shows and car launches to amazing dinners/ cocktail receptions.

And fine for incentives with great access to beautiful beaches, Sintra and Lisbon.

Our host for dinner, Ines Sotelino was lovely and such great company. The food, wine and service were brilliant and we loved the different olive oils with fabulous breads.  I remember I had a fish main course with a superb Portuguese white but the company was so good we did not keep note.

I do remember repeating my mistake of looking at the dessert menu – well if you are going to make a mistake make a good one.

A decision made post our return home is to photograph the menu and wine labels.

The downside of lovely company – we left for the Palacio rather like Cinderella – after midnight. Fortunately neither Gill nor Joanna were wearing glass shoes.

As it would be criminal not to try the complementary Port in our room we enjoyed a small glass!

Day 3

Waking to blue skies and sunshine – lovely.

It was time to pack again as we were off to The Algarve.

But first breakfast and then a special Belem mid-morning coffee.

Breakfast at The Palacio made us feel as if we were at home. Just something about the atmosphere and service – it certainly was not the crest embossed fine china or solid silver cutlery as we do not have this at home.

Perhaps it was the peaceful feel of permanence, the staff being efficient, attentive and friendly without seeming hurried. We felt they “belonged”; not so surprising when you consider that many staff have been at the hotel for many years.

And so onto Lisbon. Then a short walk around Belem before entering another of Portugal’s institutions – Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. Buzz’s Joanna added our pastry and coffee break to our itinerary as she said we just could not leave Lisbon without trying them – though we suspect, in part, this was a good excuse to enjoy one herself.

How many world famous pastries can claim to owe their existence to Nuns and Monks starching their habits!!!!

Pasteis de Belem does. Although this heavenly dessert is exported all over and sold throughout Portugal there is only one proper way to eat them.  Fresh from the bakery. Served hot the pastry is still crunchy even though the filling is a so creamy.

Fortified for the journey we departed Lisbon – a very pleasant and surprisingly fast 200 miles away.

Scenery, sunshine, sand, storks nests gave way to rolling hills, orange groves, grape vines and eventually Tivoli Victoria 5* (our hotel for last two nights).

And it was time for lunch with Victoria’s Luis Garcia.

With the sun shining it was an easy choice – lunch on the terrace not in the restaurant. This time I avoided looking at the dessert menu and stuck to two courses!

As Rui Silva is based in Buzz’s Faro office and fresh back from IMEX he joined us for lunch and, as it is, with good company, great food and a glass of wine we overran lunch.

We deferred check in and Luis took us round Victoria’s meeting spaces.  Another really good conference hotel. Eight meeting spaces and largest space hosting 700 pax theatre and all rooms have natural daylight.

And Victoria works well for incentive groups especially those who want to include golf on the hotel doorstep. Choose from the Victoria, home since 2007 to the Portuguese Masters, and the Millenium and Luguna.

On to Tivoli Marina able to host over 1300 pax in its Conference Centre and featuring 17 rooms in all well as further spaces in the gardens able to host hundreds more.

The Marina has had a recent refurbishment and we loved the terrace overlooking the Marina.

Finally – and too late to change for dinner – off to the Conrad 5* de-luxe for our show round and dinner.

But the Conrad had 100% occupancy, so there were not any rooms to see, and our late arrival plus a wedding and an Artist’s launch party meant that the event spaces were in all use too.

But dinner was still on the table and what a table. The three of us were so suitably “scruffy” that we were the stand out diners where others dressed to impress. For the ladies Jimmy Choo shoes were probably the low cost option.

The menu at Gusto by Heinz Beck is based on the finest local and international ingredients, prepared in a manner befitting an upscale Grill run by a 3 Michelin-starred chef.

Though we were late we still dined at the Chef’s Table; where we enjoyed watching the chefs and other staff perform.

And we so enjoyed dinner.

We loved the ambience in the restaurant bar, perfectly manicured gardens and pool.

Conrad is certainly 5* de-luxe.

And back to Victoria to check in, have a swift nightcap and to sleep.

Day 4

Gill & I were feeling thoroughly spoilt.

Four days of sunshine and temperature around 30 degrees, well fed and “watered” thanks to our various host hotels and Buzz DMC with Joanna being great company and chauffeuse.

So all we had left were three great hotels to visit and one lunch to eat before a little free time back at Tivoli Victoria.

First on our list was the Sheraton on The Pine Cliffs Resort.

For a change we were not visiting a recent build or renovated/refurbished property. We were visiting a work in progress and viewing some earlier refurbishments. The Sheraton was “closed” over winter so that the first phase of a new wing could be built and the Hotel reopens on 01 July.

So we missed out on seeing the meetings spaces and hotel rooms. But, we were the first to see one of the completed luxury apartments – especially finished on Saturday to fit in with our visit. So far our lottery numbers have not come up but one of these apartments is now on our shopping list.

Sheraton’s largest space can host up to 700 pax and there are 12 other great spaces even before the extensive grounds are considered.

Despite not seeing the meetings space or any hotel rooms we still spent close to two hours viewing the rest of the property. Various apartments, residences and grounds of the main resort – this was viewing by golf buggy.

Loved the outdoor events spaces above the cliffs and beach.

Whether your event is a conference, incentive, corporate incentive, golf or wedding Sheraton/Pine Cliffs is a lovely option.

Now for the Nau Hotel – Salgados Palace and Congress Centre. Nau have produced a strikingly unusual modern contemporary feel that is definitely different and grows on you.

Nau is set close to beach and golf and the Congress Centre is the largest privately owned Congress Centre in Portugal.

The 1,650 seater auditorium is superb and can be used in several seating configurations while the largest meeting space can host over 800 classroom style. In all there are 20 rooms plus four foyers, halls and a terrace.

The Hotel is 5* but the chain has 4* room options on the same resort, so the Congress Centre can host Pharma as well as a wide range of other events.

An Epic end to our hotel visits – the EPIC SANA. Our last hotel this trip. The Epic SANA Hotel and Conference Centre is another relatively new hotel.

But first lunch by the pool with views over the garden and towards the beach.

This is yet another great incentive hotel with a large conference centre. The modern/contemporary, light and airy design creates a sense of space and relaxation and we loved the bar design. We also thought SANA’s “Love Tree” was a lovely touch – those who attend SANA’s Valentine Dinners can hang messages for their partner.

The 24 de-luxe garden suites are ideal for small incentive groups who wish to be secluded while within a great hotel.  The suites are located away from the main hotel with twelve to each floor.

The modern Conference Centre has its own direct access as well as a link to the hotel via a covered passage.

Scalable rooms allow a 1,000 pax theatre style or adapt for smaller groups.

And, for larger conference groups, SANA also offers their 43 apartments. Set a very short walk away with their own pool and gardens the apartments also work for larger incentive groups wishing a degree of seclusion.

So back to pack and hope for sunshine at Manchester airport!!!!

Having fine dined enough we opted for a light dinner in Victoria’s bar and early night – our flight departed at 09:00 Monday morning.