Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Corliss Group Review: Evoc Bike Bag Review

Taking your bike overseas can feel like more hassle than it's worth. Thankfully, the Evoc Travel Bike Bag is here to help, writes Jonny Cooper.

A confession: the first time I took my bike abroad, it took me two and a half hours to pack it adequately into my bike box. Like many modern cyclists, the value of my bike is (shamefully) disproportionate to my mechanical know-how; I hesitated over every dismantling step, fearful that I'd never be able to put the thing back together again. And then there was the tetris-like puzzle of working out how to squeeze the fractured mess into a box that felt like nothing more than an oversized Samsonite suitcase. Those two and a half hours were far from fun.

So, taking a bike abroad can be a stressful experience - and that's long before you've even reached the airport and signed over your prized steed to the absentmindedly boisterous attentions of the baggage handlers. When it came out the other end, my rear derailler hanger was bent out of shape and I had to find a mechanic to come to my rescue.

In the context of such a fluffed transit, the Evoc Travel Bike Bag is a minor Godsend. This structurally strong canvas bag has been well designed to hold and protect a road or mountain bike with a minimum of fuss.

To get your bike into the bag, you take off both wheels and pedals, and unhinge the handlebars (they stay connected to the frame via the brake and gear cables). The frame and bars fit into the bag's main cavity, where a succession of adjustable straps hold them securely in place, while the wheels slot into two pockets on the side. The bottom bracket is protected by a huge foam pad, and the pedals slip into a side pocket.

And that's that. It took me 50 minutes to get my bike into the bag and zipped up the first time I tried - and that reduced to 20 minutes on the second attempt. It's impressively straight forward.

Of course, bike bags have to be more than easy to use: their primary purpose is to protect your bike from the vicissitudes of transit. A cursory glance around bike forums reveals a number of sob stories on this front - and a healthy debate over whether soft shell (the Evoc) or hard shell (for example, the frequently recommended Bike Box Alan) is better. Hard shell cases are supposed to protect against external knocks better than their soft siblings - but then the bike can also move around and bang against the hard internal walls. Or so the arguments go.

All I know is that the one time I travelled with a hard case, my derailer got bent, whereas my bike has been fine in the Evoc. One thing that's surely worth doing is padding the bag on the inside with enough bubble wrap and/or old sheets to ensure your bike is well cushioned from internal or external movements.

A definite benefit of the Evoc over hard cases is its foldaway nature. The bag is kept structurally strong by 8 removable rods; take them out and it collapses in on itself, allowing you to store it in a cupboard or under a bed. A major boon for cyclists already in trouble at home over their space-sapping hobby.

The only slight let down is that unlike other bike boxes, the Evoc has two rather than four wheels on its base, which means you have to pick up one end to wheel it along. You start to feel a bit jealous of those who gently push their four-wheeled boxes around when you've got one arm going dead thanks to the weight it's lifting. A minor complaint, but two wheels good, four wheels better.

The Evoc Travel Bike Bag comes with two optional add ons. An aluminum bike stand fits into the bottom of the bag and screws onto your bike's frame via the fork ends, lifting the bottom bracket off the foam pad and lending extra stability to the setup. The ease of mind it creates will cost you £89.95 - if you don't fancy shelling that out, there's a protective foam fork pad available for £19.95.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Corliss Group Review of Artist Residence Penzance

Artists, and art lovers, have been coming to western Cornwall for centuries, but the picture-postcard appeal of St Ives, with its Tate Gallery and Barbara Hepworth Garden, tends to steal the limelight from its plainer sister, Penzance.

Yet this historic port has much to love: atmospheric pubs, smart restaurants, designer-y shops and galleries that have established it firmly on Cornwall’s art trail.

Gallery-cum-boutique hotel Artist Residence is on Chapel Street, the most charming and browsable street in Penzance’s old quarter. But for art lovers the real draw is the original designs by British artists in the hotel’s 14 bedrooms.

The reception area opens into a spacious cafe-gallery hung with paintings of Cornwall (all for sale) and mismatched shabby-chic tables and chairs. On a sunny Saturday it’s buzzing with couples and young families, setting a laid-back tone for the rest of the hotel.

Friendly staff show us to the Picture Room, a light and airy double with crisp white linen and walls hung with playful graphic prints saying things such as “Rise and shine”. It’s modest rather than spacious: a comfy double bed leaves room for two stylish arm chairs and a desk with views to the neighbouring buildings. (Only the two attic rooms have sea views.)

My favourite room is one by artist Jo Peel with a Chapel Street scene in orange and turquoise murals. Designs range from Sinead Geary’s Dolly Devine, with delicate butterflies in soft green, clean seascapes of the Muju Room, whose designers have a gallery in St Ives.

A 40-minute stroll along the coast takes us to Marazion, for a dip in the bay and a pint in the Godolphin Arms overlooking St Michael’s Mount. Back at the hotel we freshen up in the small bathroom – just room for a clawfoot bath and powerful shower with BeeKind products. The hotel doesn’t serve evening meals but the Bakehouse a few doors up does a mean steak, and we follow it with a nightcap at the Turk’s Head, Penzance’s oldest pub.

Next morning my exemplary cooked breakfast (all locally sourced ingredients) makes me wonder why it doesn’t branch out into full meals. The homemade fruit compote with Greek yogurt and granola would have been a healthy option if I hadn’t chomped it down as a first course. While coffee-lovers may bemoan the Nescafe sachets in the rooms (what no Nespresso!), the Artist Residence has personality in spades. It’s cheering to find a hotel that celebrates this area’s artistic culture. And best of all is waking up in your own mini art gallery.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Corliss Group Review of Hotel in New York about $500 bad review fee

A small hotel in upstate New York suddenly found itself in a media maelstrom (and a flood of bad online reviews) on Monday, and all for what it says was a joke.

The Union Street Guest House in the Catskill Mountains in Hudson, New York, got slammed by bad online reviews after a story in The New York Post stated it had a policy of charging customers $500 for each negative online review posted by wedding guests after they stayed in the Greek Revival establishment, built in 1830.

As of early morning Monday, the hotel’s website did have a policy statement in its weddings section that stated: "If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review. (Please NOTE we will not charge this fee &/or will refund this fee once the review is taken down)."

Later Monday, that policy was removed. When contacted by CNBC, the hotel said it was all in jest. "The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced," the Union Street Guest House said in an email to CNBC.

The story in The New York Post, followed by other media outlets, yielded dozens of one-star reviews on Yelp and one from Jonathan S. who wrote: "That's funny. Yelp doesn't publish real reviews I've gotten that are positive but they'll publish all these negative reviews from people that have never been to the establishment."

Experts say the policy probably would have been difficult to enforce, anyway.

"Legally it probably has the same effect as a no-smoking policy," said Gene Policinski, the chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the First Amendment Center. "It's maybe more to do with intimidation than enforcement."

A policy like that wouldn’t fall under First Amendment laws because the inn is not operated by the government, so enforcement would likely have fallen under contract law as an agreement between the hotel owner and the customer, Policinski said.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Corliss Group Review: Madrid, Spain

BARCELONA may have the glamour as far as Spanish cities go but there's more to Madrid than meets the eye, discovers WILL METCALFE

THERE is an expectation among many that a capital city will be the most invigorating, most exciting part of a country with the biggest, brashest attractions – but that is not always the case.

For London, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam this could be said to ring true but in Spain all eyes are on Catalonia, leaving the capital Madrid, in the heart of the desert, often overlooked.

That’s a shame, because with its gentle hills and meandering streets it makes a great location for a chilled break.

Best known for its football teams, Madrid is as much a city of food and drink as it is sport.

Visually it is a stunning city, the Gran Via – the cities main artery – is lined with multi-story architecture that points to a different Europe.

Where it’s southern European counterparts are packed with hustlers and tourist traps there is something about Madrid, stranded in the middle of the Spanish peninsula, that remains hassle free.

Even in its busiest squares, and in the packed shopping streets, you can wander worry free.

In terms of sights, sport vies with culture for centre stage.

North of the city sits the stunning Bernabeu – home to Real Madrid, the most successful football team in European club history – while their rivals and Spanish league champions Athletico Madrid play across the city at the Vicente Calderon with a somewhat more chequered history.

But really, it’s the culture that should draw you. With three of the best respected galleries in Spain within spitting distance of each other you are almost guaranteed to be wowed at every turn.

The Museo Del Prado holds masterpieces by Rubens, Goya and Rembrandt while the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum has Van Gogh, Salvador Dali and Picasso and the Reina Sophia hosts the heartbreaking homage to the brutality of the Spanish Civil War – Picasso’s Guernica.

One thing that is inescapable in Madrid is the history – from cathedrals painted by the Spanish master Goya, to hotels that have housed the likes of Picasso, Dali and Ernest Hemingway.

We stayed in a hotel on the edge of the so-called museum district, which itself played a cultural role as the one-time residence of Ernest Hemingway during one of his stints in the city.

The Innside Suecia is tucked down a quiet side street near the Banco de Espana and the Cafe del Art, a one-time training centre which counts Picasso among its alumni which is now a restaurant/bar with a brilliant view over a bustling city interchange at Gran Via.

Around two minutes walk from Gran Via, the hotel is in a prime location, not only for exploring the museums and galleries but for the bars of the lively Chuecha district.

It’s in the bars and the restaurants that you get the real feel of the city and luckily while the brusque reputation of the waiters goes before them it’s not always true – especially if you escape the brash metallic tourist areas and find yourself surrounded by throngs of Madrileños enjoying a post work glass of wine or four.

There is also a bit of revival going on around the food markets, including the sprawling Mercado San Miguel where you can chow down on doughnut-like churros or try something a little more exotic (barnacles, anyone?) to the more modern, and less busy, Mercado San Anton.

The markets are a brilliant place for people spotting but also a great place to sample some Spanish delicacies for just a few euros.

Once you’ve taken in the sights of the city there is always Parque del Retiro, just behind the Prado.

The park offers a retreat and boasts one of the few statues dedicated to the devil at 666m above sea level – but don’t let that put you off.

The dusty paths lead to a boating lake and if the sun is shining, which it almost certainly will be, it’s impossible to resist hiring a rowing boat.

Unlike other city breaks I’ve encountered there was something relaxing about Madrid – sitting in the city squares while pensioners idly took in a coffee and made small talk, or watching the scores of scrappy dogs being taken for a midday carry, the city is made for people spotters.

While Madrid is no shrinking violet, fans of Barcelona might notice the city isn’t as tourist orientated but this is no bad thing, as after even a few days you’ll feel like an adopted Madrileño.

Weather wise there isn’t a bad time to visit Madrid; if you go in summer you can expect temperatures in the high 30s and while winter does get a bit chilly you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Corliss Group Travel review: De Haan, Belgium

As we settle back with a coffee and a full cooked breakfast, the English Channel stretching before us, calm as a millpond under a blue sky, we briefly consider the rather more stressful trips we’ve taken that began with a plane or train.

But this time was different.

The ease with which we cleared customs at Dover, drove on to our ferry headed for Dunkirk and waved farewell to the “marshmallow cliffs” had got the holiday off to a very good start, despite the early hour.

It is a two-hour sailing, and once we’ve all eaten, stocked up on duty-free and supervised a run-around in the children’s soft play area, our destination port is in sight, and we’ve not heard a single “are we nearly there yet”.

We hadn’t previously considered Belgium as a holiday destination, but the opportunity to indulge the children’s obsession with bike riding and their appreciation for waffles inspired us to give it a go. We fancied an easy trip abroad with the prospect of mussels, frites and mayonnaise, and of course, it would be rude to visit without sampling the Leffe.

We’re staying at Sunparks De Haan, a family holiday park that’s an easy 45-minute drive up the coast from Dunkirk. It offers cottages with gardens, a lake and safe roads, once everyone has unloaded their luggage and deposited their cars in the separate car park. It’s the perfect base to explore 42 miles of Belgian coastline on foot and by bike, with museums and theme parks thrown in for good measure.

One of the park’s attractions is the Aquafun subtropical pool complex with three water slides, waves every 15 minutes and pools to suit any age. We spend our first afternoon, conscious that the children have been up since 5am, very happily shambling around the waterways before hitting the adjacent restaurants and huge outdoor deck for pizza and beer as the sun sets.

We’re careful not to indulge too much though, because the other main draw card here is the cycling. We strap our youngest into a seat on the back of one bike while our five-year-old quickly comes to terms with a tandem. The evening is still blissfully warm so we set off for a ride around the lake, the children waving to all the other youngsters whose parents are similarly merrily disregarding bedtimes.

Being Belgium, there are dedicated cycle paths criss-crossing the countryside, so we take to the bikes the next morning and set off for De Haan, the coastal town with its beautifully restored Belle Epoque neighbourhood, in search of sea and waffles.

It’s an easy 15-minute cycle - marred only by one in our party throwing up his hands in horror when we come across a car - before we find ourselves amid exquisite homes and gardens and the elegant La Potiniere recreation park surrounded by picture-perfect carousels and ice cream vendors.

High-rise building in the town is forbidden and owners are only allowed to build on one-sixth of their plot. The winding streets guarantee peace and quiet and safety for junior cyclists. Restored approximately five years ago, La Potiniere is the “green heart” of the De Haan and has a network of paths perfect for the go-carts available for hire.

We stroll to the promenade and select a beachside cafe where we order the best waffles we’ll ever eat, before making a leisurely trip back to our cottage via a spot of window-shopping at the boutiques selling designer homewares and children’s clothes and accessories.

De Haan is a 15-minute car journey from Bruges - too tempting a trip to pass up. We wrangle the children away from the pools and bikes with the promise of a canal trip, which we make as the sun sets on the city’s plentiful and beautiful spires and bridges.

The city - for all its world-class history and architecture - is a blast for children. Ours spend the afternoon marvelling at the steady procession of horses trotting around with their carriages full of tourists and street entertainers handing out lollipops to those throwing them a coin.

We eat mussels and frites at a reasonable price - by no means a given in Bruges - and top off our visit with yet another ice cream as we wander through the central market square and its extraordinary buildings.

But the trip home is no stress-filled journey back to reality either.

We set off back down the coast at a leisurely 10am the next morning and stop off at the Plopsaland theme park, named after the popular Belgian children’s television character. It’s all Viking-themed swords and helmets across this lovely park, where queues for the rides for youngest children can be fairly long, but those for older visitors can be practically non-existent if you time it right over lunchtime.

The newest section of the park features the ‘Wickie the Battle’ ride where all but the very youngest children can board pirate ships and fire water guns in fierce fights with passing boats, or at unsuspecting bystanders peacefully eating lunch from the Viking-themed grill. Never was more fun had on the way home, and the day’s activities make for a peaceful car journey for the remaining 15-minute trip to the port, gentle snores coming from the back seats.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Corliss Group Review: TripAdvisor challenge the Two Providers of Online Travel Services

“BREAKFAST is nasty, the rooms are nasty.” So complained a reviewer of an Oregon guesthouse earlier this year. There is nothing unusual in that: all hotels must deal with the odd disgruntled guest. This critique, though, appeared on TripAdvisor, a travel-review website. When the correspondent went on to document drunken housekeepers and licentious receptionists, the owners sued him. It was more than a point of pride. What customers say on TripAdvisor can make or break hotels. Around 260m people visit the site each month to read some of the 125m reviews.

The firm makes money by displaying prices from online travel-agents (OTAs) alongside its reviews, and then charging those agents each time a customer clicks through. It is such a good example of a network effect that it is the subject of a Harvard Business School (HBS) case study. The more users post reviews, the more useful the site is to those about to book a holiday. This makes it more important to hotels and travel agents, who offer better deals. This results in more traffic—and more reviews—closing the virtuous circle. Last year TripAdvisor reported revenue of $944.7m. Because users post reviews free of charge, in 2012, Jeffrey Bussgang, an HBS lecturer, calculated that its gross margin was an astounding 98%.

For these reasons, some think TripAdvisor may be able to take on the “big two” OTAs, Expedia (from which TripAdvisor was spun off in 2011) and Priceline, which on August 6th bought up to 10% of Ctrip, a large travel website in China. These firms sell flights and hotel rooms directly, rather than pass booking requests on to others, as TripAdvisor does. But, says Blake Harper of Wunderlich Securities, a stockbroker, the two ways of doing business are converging. Sites owned by the big two, such as and, now encourage user reviews. At the same time, TripAdvisor has launched Instant Booking, which lets smartphone users complete their bookings without leaving the TripAdvisor site (although the transaction itself will still be with an OTA or a hotel).

Instant Booking serves another purpose. Half of TripAdvisor’s traffic comes through mobile devices. Being able to book in a single place will make its app slicker. Moreover, smartphones are creating firms which cater to travellers when they arrive at their destination—and TripAdvisor is getting into that business. In May it paid a reported $140m for La Fourchette, an online restaurant-booking service. On 24th July it said it was paying $200m for Viator, a firm that sells guided tours and other touristy activities.

TripAdvisor’s boss, Stephen Kaufer, denies he wants to take on the big two. “We are a media site,” he says. “I want Expedia and Priceline to thrive because they are my clients.” But soon, holidaymakers will be able to book their entire trips without leaving the TripAdvisor app. Rivals beware.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Weekend Escapes of The Corliss Group review

1 - Kennebunkport, Maine

Aside from President George H.W. Bush leaping from the sky in celebration of his 90th birthday, Kennebunkport is a fun summer destination filled with picturesque outdoor activities and endless people-watching opportunities. Whether you opt to sit on a bench in the downtown area and absorb the views that include quaint inns, shops and the river, or participate in kayaking, a whale-watch or sunset cruise, you’ll be able to unwind and enjoy the scenery in the process.

STAY: The newest inn on the block is The Boathouse, located right on the river for the best views. Relax on your balcony, open a bottle of wine and watch the boating action before heading out to join in the fun.

EAT: At The Boathouse for oysters and fried clams. Wash it down with a few specialty cocktails.

For breakfast, it’s best to head out for a walk to Mornings in Paris, where you’ll get an authentic French experience; the staff and many of the customers practice the language of love.

DO: Kayak along the river, and spend some time strolling along the shops downtown.

2 - Tybee Island, Georgia

Also referred to as “Savannah Beach,” Tybee Island is a quintessential beach town offering constant ocean breezes and a salty ocean aroma to lure Savants from their steamy streets in summertime. A mere 18 miles away from Savannah, the best days on this easily accessible barrier island are spent doing nothing but rocking on a porch swing, looking out at the ocean and sipping on a cool white wine while enjoying the company of new acquaintances. Be lazy, be cool. Enjoy a swim with the dolphins or a kayak along the river to view the wildlife that may include some alligators.

STAY: At Surf Song B&B ( and breathe in the intoxicating scent of jasmine blooming everywhere. Breakfast and home-baked kitchen snacks are a highlight during a stay, as is a float in the refreshing pool. The rooms and interior design throughout this restored home are worth the stay alone, but it’s the service that will keep you coming back.

EAT: A contemporary version of a low-country spicy shrimp and grits dish at Sundae Café (, where the locals flock and reservations are mandatory. And try the seafood pie appetizer.

A.J.’s Dockside ( is where you can enjoy one of the best fried oyster Caesar salads you’ll ever have on a waterside deck.

DO: Swim in the ocean, where there’s a good chance you’ll swim with dolphins.

Climb the 178 steps inside the Tybee Island Lighthouse Station, which is the second-oldest lighthouse in America. The view from the top is of the Atlantic Ocean and the mouth of the Savannah River. On a crystal clear blue-sky kind of day, the view is nothing short of amazing. Continue reading…

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Travel review: Stylish surroundings worth every penny at Waldorf Hilton hotel

The Corliss Group review – The trick with London is to spend as little as possible on the journey so that you can splash out a bit more on accommodation.

An open return in standard class from Manchester Piccadilly to London is now an eye-watering £321. But book ahead for a Friday afternoon trip, returning home the following evening, and the price plummets to £54.50.

Travel with a loved one and you can bring this down to £36 per head if you invest in the new Two Together railcard.

On arrival make your way by bus – more on this later – down to Theatreland and envelop yourselves in the delights of the sumptuous Waldorf Hilton hotel.

This, as they say, is a bit posh. It dates back to 1908 and retains all its Edwardian grandeur while incorporating the comforts of today.

Our recently refurbished room referred to another era, the art deco style of the 20s, complete with black and white photos from the first golden age of Hollywood.

The hotel is in Aldwych and if your aim is to take in a show then this is the perfect base with Drury Lane and Shaftesbury Avenue close by.

But the theme for our trip was fine art and fine beer.

Take a short stroll down to the bank of the Thames then along to the Millennium Bridge and over to Tate Modern where the magnificent Matisse – The Cut-Outs is running until September 7.

This is a fantastic insight into his delicate later works when Matisse, too ill to paint, found a way to create stunning works of art with coloured paper and scissors.

Later this year Tate Britain, also not too far away, is showcasing the later works of Turner.

And Tate has just announced its exhibitions in London for 2015 with retrospectives of the works of Alexander Calder and Barbara Hepworth making the headlines.

Another way to save a few quid if you are a regular visitor to exhibitions is to acquire the Art Fund card. This gets you a sizeable discount on entry to the Tate’s exhibitions.

And it will also give you free entry to the Courtauld gallery which is two minutes’ walk from the Waldorf and considerably less crowded than the Tate. Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is the star of their permanent collection.

As for fine beer, I am a recent convert to the world of craft beer which appears to be a bit like real ale but with bubbles as the beer comes in kegs.

Brewers in the United States, no doubt sick of tasteless Bud, have led the way but there are also some superb craft brewers back home.

And that explains why trendy young things in Holborn are knocking back pints of Magic Rock from Huddersfield. We headed up Drury Lane then along High Holborn to join them at the Holborn Whippet.

Like most bars in London on a Friday night the place was heaving with what seemed an impenetrable crowd squeezed into a small roped area outside.

But Londoners have learned how to cope with the crush and even when it appears to be six deep at the bar the drinks are never long in coming.

There was a similar throng outside the Craft Beer Company in Covent Garden which offered a huge range of draught beers.

So in a merry mood we returned to the more refined but far from austere surroundings of the Waldorf bar and did the correct thing by switching to cocktails.

The list abounds with classics such as Old Fashioned and Sazerac. Then we headed for an excellent dinner in the hotel’s Homage Grand Salon restaurant.

So what didn’t we have time to do?

Well there was no squeezing in afternoon tea.

And despite packing our kit we never made it to the pool and fitness club which hotel guests have access to.

It would have been great to try one of the Waldorf’s famous picnic hampers. St James’ Park, Victoria Embankment and Temple Gardens are close by for al fresco dining.

 But all too soon it was time to leave. We thanked the concierge for offering to get us a cab and headed to the bus stop for a cheap trip back to Euston.

 So my parting money saving tip is to invest in an Oyster card at any underground station but go nowhere near the overcrowded Tube and make your way round London on the top deck of a red London bus. Just £1.45 a ride – what a bargain!