Introducing #LuxTravelChat, the first Twitter chat dedicated to luxury travel @luxtravelchat

Twitter's first weekly travel chat dedicated 100% to Luxury Travel

Twitter’s first weekly travel chat dedicated 100% to Luxury Travel

Founded by two avid luxury travel twitterers and influencers, UK-based Ana Silva O’Reilly aka Mrs. O Around the World (see twitter profile) and US-based Kim-Marie Evans, aka Luxury Travel Mom (see twitter profile), #LuxTravelChat aims to build a global luxury travel community on twitter, where like-minded brands can converse and identify like-minded consumers.

#LuxTravelChat is the first and only UK and USA-based luxury travel-themed Twitter chat, held Thursdays at 9.30am LA (PST), 12.30pm NYC (EST), 5.30pm London (GMT) and 6.30pm Paris (CET) for 3o minutes.

Every week, we will introduce a new topic and will seek your input by asking 5 different questions.

Each question will have the same format, i.e. “Q1 What is the best hotel you have ever visited? #luxtravelchat’ and answers should follow a similar pattern, i.e. ‘A1. Hotel 123 #luxtravelchat’.

Love all things luxury travel? Don’t be shy and follow @LuxTravelChat on twitter now.

New to twitter chats? Here is all you need to know. And don’t be afraid or shy, I promise we do not bite.

1. Don’t be afraid to lurk. – Especially if you are new to the world of Twitter chats as a whole, lurking is a great way to test the waters. You can just watch the stream in real-time or after it’s over and still learn like you were participating. You may not be introducing yourselves to the moderator and other participants, but it’s an excellent start. From here, you may move on to semi-lurk, meaning you retweet participants now and then but don’t jump in with your own thoughts. This is also the best way to find out if there are specific rules for the chat without accidentally breaking one first.

2. Remember your environment. – If you are planning to participate in the Twitter chat and tweet about other topics at the same time, remember your platform. This goes for participating in more than one chat, too. Try not to accidentally add even more content to an already busy stream.

3. Retweet the questions. – If you are in a chat that has structured questions rather than an open conversation (such as #LuxTravelChat , the moderators will tweet out the questions, most likely one at a time. Retweeting the question before answering it is helpful to both participants and your followers. Followers may be interested in your tweets but won’t know what questions you are answering. For fast-moving chats, having the question reappearing in the stream makes it easier for participants to find the questions without excessive scrolling.

4. Number your answers. – Most moderators number the questions that are asked in the Twitter chat by starting the tweet with “Q1:” or “Q2:” and so on. When answering the question, either include that or use “A1:” or “A4:”. People move through the chat at different paces and some conversations are longer than others, so not everyone is answering the same question at the same time. This makes it clear which question you are answering in your tweet. At the end, always use #luxtravelchat, so that those following the chat via the hashtag do not miss your input.

5. Don’t be afraid to reply and start conversations. – There is more to the chats than just answering questions in a single tweet. You’re on SOCIAL media, so be social. Discuss your answers with other participants and if you have any questions of your own related to the topic or someone’s answer, don’t be afraid to seek answers. Likewise, there may be other people asking questions that you would like to weigh in on.

6. Don’t veer too off topic. – Side conversations often pop up in Twitter chats, especially when the participants know each other well (either offline or just online). This is completely okay and often encouraged, but try to keep tweets using the hashtag at least somewhat on topic. If it veers too far off course, continue the conversation without the chat’s hashtag.

7. Twitter chat time is not promo time. – Do not use the Twitter chat as a promotional platform or try to advertise during it. Please respect the moderator’s wishes and keep the rest of the chat focused on the conversation.

8. Remember the rest of your followers. – When you’re looking only at the hashtag’s stream and not your whole timeline, you may forget that the rest of your followers (and Twitter users, for that matter) can see your tweets. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want anyone else to see. Also keep your followers in mind with frequency of tweets. If you are replying to people, it will only show in your followers’ timeline if they follow the other person as well. But they will see all of the other tweets. Some people get annoyed by Twitter chatters, so you may want to shoot off a warning that you’ll be tweeting a lot right before the chat starts.

9. Follow up. – After the chat, it’s a nice gesture to thank the moderator, any special guests or co-hosts, and the individuals you personally interacted with. While not necessary, it definitely deepens the connections made during the chat and is a nice way to show your appreciation to the chat. You can also reach out to these people to start other conversations in between Twitter chats.

10. Use the hashtag throughout the week. – This may be more encouraged in some chats than others, but hashtags are meant to be active. Participants frequently add the hashtag to their saved searches or as a stream in their Twitter client. If you share content in between chats, they’ll likely see it. If you find anything else related to the previous or upcoming chat’s topic, share a link with them.

We cannot wait to have you joining us!

Remember, @LuxTravelChat takes place every Thursday at 9.30am Los Angeles (PST), 12.30pm New York (EST), 5.30pm London (GMT) and 6.30pm Paris (CET).

Discover more with American Express and TripAdvisor

This article is sponsored by American Express

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I have a lot of love for my American Express card – it is the card that literally takes me places (and I also love the extra services they offer). What I am not so familiar with, is TripAdvisor – I am not a regular user, although I must confess I have spent a few hours perusing some very bad reviews of places I will never visit.

So when American Express launched this new joint initiative, I was intrigued – why would they partner with TripAdvisor? Since Wendy Peryn joined their team, I have actually been reading some of their content (because of Wendy, who I respect and admire) and I really wanted to understand the point of it.

If you know your local American Express website like your favourite book, you will see that more and more, you can ‘connect’ your card to various initiatives (like Foursquare, for example), or pre-load offers into your card so that if you spend x money in a particular retailer, you will get statement credits. It is a no brainer, and as it is ‘pre-organised’, you know that if you use your card on a particular place, you will then get your money back. Or a bit of money back.

The American Express – TripAdvisor initiative is actually quite interesting: by connecting your accounts, you will be tagged as an Amex Cardmember, and that tag will start creating a pattern based on your reviews – and those of other American Express Cardmembers around the world. And because it is a little (or not so little) club, where the card opens a lot of possibilities, it is possible that you may have some things in common with these other club members.

So I logged on to the American Express – TripAdvisor page.

A special offer from Jetsetter is something most likeminded people wouldn’t say no to, and I have to say, with that Maldives photo, we were off to a great start.

I scrolled down and got more information – and quite relevant, I have to say (and it all seemed to make sense).

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 13.27.19

I clicked on ‘Connect Now’, and was asked to connect with a TripAdvisor account and provide my personal details, including my American Express card number. And then this screen appeared: and I found something quite cool – in return for your first review as an Amex Cardmember, you can get a £5 statement credit. This offer is valid until December 31st. I also read the bit where is said ‘limited to 15,000 posted reviews’ and started doing some math (I could spend a couple of days writing reviews). BUT NO! I then read the full terms and you are limited to 1 review per card (but if you have more than 1 card and 1 TripAdvisor account, then, well, the world is your oyster).

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 13.28.16

So for the promise of a small glass of wine, I wrote my first review. I decided to be quite clever and actually review a wine place (where you can get glasses of wine for £5, so it all works subconsciously. Instant gratification and all!

My review of 28-50 Marylebone

My review of 28-50 Marylebone

Reviews take up to 48 hours to be posted (they need to be verified and rightly so), so it is just a matter of days until I get those £5 back.

But then, I decided to test the system, just to see if it did what it said on the tin – so I explored this part of the website a bit further.

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 13.31.38

So I picked London and a particular type of restaurant, and the results were not bad at all. If the results for a place I know are good enough (which they were), the potential for good recommendations around the world is quite interesting. Imagine going to Buenos Aires and not knowing where to eat, shop or drink, well, you can follow other American Express Cardmembers’ suggestions.

While I wrote this post, I got some mail (or e-mail, rather)…

So I know where I went for dinner in London last week, and when I had that glass of wine and know that is was with compliments from American Express and TripAdvisor. It is small, but could be the beginning of something great.

Join me on TripAdvisor and keep those reviews coming – but only places that Mrs. O would approve!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclosure: This article is sponsored by American Express. Opinions, as always, are my own.

Rediscovering Lisbon, Portugal

As you may know by now, Lisbon is my hometown – I go back a few times a year, but never as a tourist. Either I go to see family and friends (and have every 10 minutes of my time accounted for, usually around meals of course), or it is a strictly business trip, where I spend days with clients and never get to see the sights.

Lisbon is definitely one of our cities. Photo by Flytographer.

Lisbon is definitely one of our cities. Photo by Flytographer.

But this Summer, and with the help of Exclusive by TLC I decided that I deserved some touristy time – and see the many sights and the beauty that Portugal’s capital has to offer over 2 days. And I have to say, I loved every minute of it. Mr. O was also really looking forward to it, as he tells anyone that who will listen that he hasn’t seen Lisbon properly since he was courting me. That started almost 10 years ago, so we really had to do this.

We were met by Catarina and Joana from Exclusive by TLC outside our hotel and basically everything that was to take place was to be a surprise. And I love surprises. The first thing we did was actually to get on a tram. I have not been on a tram possibly for 30 years. Mr. O had never had the pleasure either. We rode on the 28 line, which is obviously one of the most touristy ones, but you can see why – it takes you from Alfama to Chiado (and many other places) and you do see a lot! We stopped at Praca Luis de Camoes, in the intersection of the Chiado and Bairro Alto districts,  both areas we knew well.

A very hot and sunny day awaited... and we were really looking forward to it!

A very hot and sunny day awaited… and we were really looking forward to it!

We had arrived that morning from the Algarve, so it was fair to say that we were hungry. Starving, even. So the priority was to eat – which is always a delight (note how Unbiased I am!). Cafe Lisboa, by chef Jose Avillez was the chosen place – and we loved it! Located inside the Sao Carlos National Theatre, it did remind me of ‘Old’ Lisbon. It was beautifully restored and the menu was fantastic. All Portuguese classics (with things I hadn’t eaten in years) – we chose the Executive Menu (incredible value at €16/head) which featured all the classics and I loved my veal croquettes and tomato rice. Mr. O went crazy with his Pastel (a meat filled pastry). The cherry gazpacho was also divine, as were the codfish nuggets.

Cafe Lisboa was a great choice for lunch. Great location too.

Cafe Lisboa was a great choice for lunch. Great location too.

From here, we decided that a walk was just what we needed. So we made our way towards Praca Luis de Camoes again, and headed up towards Principe Real via Rua da Misericordia. Along the way, we made some photo stops, of course. It would be rude not to!

Lisbon, we were so happy to be back!

Lisbon, we were so happy to be back!

Lisbon is built on 7 hills, and it is very true – and take my advice, avoid heels at all times. We walked and stopped – and I annoyed everyone when I wanted to stop every 5 minutes – but I really wanted to see the city. We stopped at this miradouro, where we took the photo above – I had driven past 100 times, but when was the last time I stopped? Possibly 15 years ago. I wanted my photo ops.

As we walked towards Principe Real (another district, or bairro, in Portuguese), it was very interesting to see how the retail scene had also evolved. Lisbon is great for shopping (both designer and high street), take my word for it, but this area was very different. It was great to see so many vintage, unique and local shops – with great things to buy!

One place I loved was Embaixada (or Embassy if we were to translate it) – it was basically an old building, which was restored and then each retailer took a room (or more). It resulted in an interesting mismatch.

A great idea - from a design perspective but also commercial. Up and coming brands can all be present in a special location.

A great idea – from a design perspective but also commercial. Up and coming brands can all be present in a special location.

From here, we hopped in a taxi and made our way to the atelier and workshop of painter Diogo Munoz – I have to confess I knew very little (or nothing, actually) about him, and couldn’t even pretend I did as I didn’t know that I was going to meet him (and let alone spend an afternoon with him). Diogo was a delight and not only we were very impressed with his work – everything you see below are paintings, not photographs – we really liked him as a person. He was quirky, very honest and direct, and quite funny. Mr. O and yours truly really warmed to him and actually learned a lot.

How cool are these? Photos by Diogo Munoz

How cool are these? Photos by Diogo Munoz

It was very interesting to learn about Diogo’s career (and how successful he is being around the world, namely in Asia, which I found most curious). It was even more interesting to open a few magazines the following day and see a lot of articles about Diogo. Coincidence? Maybe not.

We then left his workshop and there was a vintage car outside. I had seen it before we arrived, but I never put the two and two together. It was obviously our ride.

How's this for a very cool car?

How’s this for a very cool car?

Our 1930s Mercedes (with its driver of course) was fantastic! Diogo was to escort us to the Ancient Art National Museum (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga), where we he was to show us only two of his favourite paintings. I had to confess that the last time I had visited was probably on a school trip.

It was very interesting to hear Diogo’s theories about the St. Vicente panels, which he thinks are ordered in the wrong way.

Diogo and the St Vicent Panels at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

Diogo and the St Vicent Panels at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

It was so hot, we had to stop for a drink – and luckily for us, the perfect place was just outside the museum. Glass of water with a view, anyone? I had been to Le Chat a few times before, but never during the afternoon. It was packed with locals just enjoying a drink and the view – not hard to imagine why.

Not a bad view of the river indeed!

Not a bad view of the river indeed!

We walked a little bit down Rua das Janelas Verdes, and out of nowhere, there was a shop with a queue. I found it most intriguing as this is not a retail area at all – and the shop was packed. Turned out that Argentinian shoe sensation Paez has eclipsed Portugal and now I knew where everyone’s shoes came from. I was familiar obviously with Toms, but had never heard of this other brand. Needless to say, I had to have a pair!

Beach shoes, anyone? Mine were obviously blue. No surprises there.

Beach shoes, anyone? Mine were obviously blue. No surprises there.

From here, we went back on our fabulous car, and drove through Lisbon towards our next stop, which was, obviously, secret. So secret, I had no idea it existed. One of Lisbon’s landmarks, the Arch on Rua Augusta, can now be visited. I had no idea, but was even more surprised, and impressed, when the viewing terrace at the top, with possibly the most amazing views I have ever seen of Lisbon, was opened, after hours, just for us. This is one of the things that Exclusive by TLC handles extremely well – having access to special places and people – our experience was nothing short of stellar.

How to get to the Arch? It is on the left hand side of the actual arch, and a bit 'Blink and you will miss it'. I took these photos with the hope that it will make it easier for others to find it.

How to get to the Arch? It is on the left hand side of the actual arch, and a bit ‘Blink and you will miss it’. I took these photos with the hope that it will make it easier for others to find it.

And when we got to the top…

The most stunning views of Lisbon, ever! 360 degrees!

The most stunning views of Lisbon, ever! 360 degrees!

It was definitely a wow moment – not only to have the whole place to ourselves (seriously amazing), but to have such beautiful weather (that is more normal than you’d think). But the piece of resistance? When 2 lovely waiters arrived with canapés, wine and sparkling wine (Portuguese, of course). I was seriously blown away. It was beautiful and this moment will be one we will take with us forever.

Lisbon, I missed you, oh so much.

Lisbon, I missed you, oh so much.

From here, we walked towards the square you see and had another driver (with another modern Mercedes), waiting for us to take us back to our hotel. As we only had a night in Lisbon, we wanted to take it quite easy and see some friends, who were to join us at the Memmo Alfama Hotel, where we enjoyed fantastic gin & tonics, and a simple but delicious tapas meal.

Not enough views? Of course not!

Not enough views? Of course not!

And who says only the Spanish do the best gins? I beg to differ!

My Gin Mare was Spanish and delicious, but the view was 100% Portuguese. Cheers.

My Gin Mare was Spanish and delicious, but the view was 100% Portuguese. Cheers.

The next morning, we slept late (being in touch with the local culture and all) and met Catarina and Joana outside the hotel for one final surprise – a very lazy brunch at actually one of my favourite places in Lisbon.

I am sure Exclusive by TLC wanted me to try as many means of transportation as possible, so again, we were surprised with a… tuk tuk! It was so much fun, I cannot tell you!

This was totally unexpected and so much fun!This was totally unexpected and so much fun!

This was totally unexpected and so much fun!

I obviously did not drive, but I had to have a photo taken. And in 15 minutes, we made our way to one of my favourite Lisbon places: the rooftop terrace at the Bairro Alto Hotel, where I used to go almost every week after work to see the sun set.

We had a fantastic and very relaxed brunch, which was delicious. You can also have it exclusively to yourself (with the help of Exclusive by TLC), but I chose to sleep late and do not regret it, at all!

I know I am biased (and I am not even pretending not to be), but there is nothing like a good Portuguese breakfast. And fab views.

I know I am biased (and I am not even pretending not to be), but there is nothing like a good Portuguese breakfast. And fab views.

We said goodbye to Catarina and Joana and were quite sad. We were so ready to continue and explore Lisbon – it was wonderful to see it as a tourist, and actually have things planned just for myself, according to what I liked. That was very special.

All good things come to and end, and that meant we only had a couple of hours before we had to be at the airport. And that meant that I just had to have some delicious fresh fish and hug my family goodbye.

Red mullet - my favourite fish in the whole world.

Red mullet – my favourite fish in the whole world.

And buy some shoes.

Never too many shoes. And as responsible tourists, we should *always help the local economy*. Amen.

Never too many shoes. And as responsible tourists, we should *always help the local economy*. Amen.

I loved the 2 days I spent in Lisbon and I promise to go back as soon as I can… as they say, you can take a girl out of Lisbon, but not Lisbon out of the girl.

xo

Mrs. O

 

Disclaimer: a huge thank you to Exclusive by TLC , who create exceptional luxury holiday experiences throughout Portugal for individual travelers or small groups. Their tailor-made programmes give you access to some of Portugal’s most talented artisans from private family wine estates and wine makers to award winning restaurateurs who will show you their secrets in culinary master classes; private tours that reflect the hidden Portugal whether in Lisbon, Porto or on the Algarve. I was very impressed by their team and the quality of the programme. Prices on request.

 

The post Rediscovering Lisbon, Portugal appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Mrs. O Around the World’s Summer 2014 Luxury Giveaway

I have said many times before that Summer is indeed my favourite season of the year – there is something about the heat indeed! Mine has been very good so far – from the 5 trips for Summer I had planned, I have been on 3 of them. Needless to say, I cannot wait for the other two (my beloved California and the Venice-Simplon Orient Express trip from Venice).

If I moved any further.. where would I be? Not a bad place

I am *very* good at enjoying summer, I have to confess!

But you know me, I don’t want to keep these experiences all to myself – and 3 times a year, I organise some very special giveaways to share with my lovely (I mean it, seriously lovely and fab) readers. Around my birthday, the blog’s birthday and Summer!

So without further ado, here are the 4 summer prizes I will be giving away soon:

A day trip for 2 onboard the Belmond British Pullman

A fantastic day out in the UK for two on board the Belmond British Pullman.

A fantastic day out in the UK for two on board the Belmond British Pullman.

A reader (and a very lucky guest) will win a day trip on board UK luxury day train, Belmond British Pullman, sister train to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Departing from London’s Victoria Station, the winner will travel in the stylish 1920s carriages that evoke the golden age of travel. The winner can choose their prize from an array of day trips available, including visits to stately homes, cathedral cities and culinary journeys. Guests will enjoy excellent cuisine, fine wine and liveried steward service as the train journeys through the British countryside. With its vintage carriages, fine dining and breath-taking scenery, a trip on Belmond British Pullman will create memories that last a lifetime. To read about my recent experience onboard the Belmond British Pullman, click here.

Terms and Conditions: The prize consists of a day trip for two people only, aboard Belmond British Pullman. The prize excludes “The Dinner” and “Weekend breaks” journeys and is subject to availability, and must be redeemed before 31st August 2015.  Includes table d’hôte meals on-board and drinks as described in the itinerary provided at the time of booking. Additional drinks and any off-board or additional expenditure are not included as well as transport to and from the departure station. Once a trip is confirmed it cannot be cancelled or changed. 

3 nights at The Clubhouse in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires is totally calling my name.... is it calling yours too?

Buenos Aires is totally calling my name…. is it calling yours too?

Yes, you read it well – someone will be making their way to stunning Buenos Aires, in Argentina, courtesy of Oasis Collections who is an innovative hospitality company offering more than just a set of house keys, offering a handpicked portfolio of luxury apartments, houses and villas in the world’s most exciting destinations, on-the-ground concierge and unique social perks such as access to private Members’ clubs and exclusive events.

Housed in a converted four-story residence in Buenos Aires’ chic Palermo Soho neighborhood, The Clubhouse is Oasis Collections’ private members club where one lucky winner will win a complimentary 3-night-stay, a VIP welcome basket and dinner for two at The Clubhouse restaurant. Get the inside scoop on all things Oasis and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. All other readers visiting this city can also send a tweet to @OasisCollection and get a free cocktail at The Clubhouse.

Terms and conditions: The prize will be valid for a 12 months from the day the winner is contacted, subject to availability and blackout dates.

LONDON CALLING

And last, but certainly not the least, I have organised 2 London experiences – one in a luxury hotel, and another in a luxury apartment. I have experienced the Irish welcome (and lux) at the Kensington Hotel, a property I love to revisit and cannot recommend it enough. I have also recently discovered Cheval Residences‘ luxury apartment portfolio and really loved living in London like a local. Which one would suit you best?

An overnight stay at The Kensington Hotel

The Kensington Hotel is one of my favourite London stylish hotels...

The Kensington Hotel is one of my favourite London stylish hotels…

London’s Finest Townhouse, The Kensington Hotel, is perfectly located on Queen’s Gate in leafy South Kensington, moments from Hyde Park, Knightsbridge and Sloane Square.  The 150 unique and stylish guestrooms, and suites with roll top baths and four-poster beds, are truly befitting of this Regency quarter. An exuberant bar, magnificent lounge areas, and period drawing rooms offer a traditional but contemporary setting for cocktails, afternoon tea, lunch or evening dinners. A haven of timeless Georgian elegance surrounded by the most important museums in the capital.

Enjoy an overnight stay in one of The Kensington Hotel’s beautifully appointed guest rooms, full a la carte breakfast in The Library and a drink in its fab cocktail bar. To find out more about The Kensington Hotel, have a look at its social profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Terms and conditions: The prize will be valid for a 12 months from the day the winner is contacted, subject to availability and blackout dates.

A 2-night stay at a Cheval Residences luxury apartment in London

An apartment with a London view? Yes, please!

An apartment with a London view? Yes, please!

Sitting amongst London’s most sought after neighbourhoods are the eight luxury serviced residences by Cheval Residences.  Elegantly located within Knightsbridge, Kensington, Chelsea and The City, the apartments, townhouses and penthouses offer more than just a home, offering a style of management and quality of service rarely found outside of London’s finest hotels.

In 2014 Cheval Residences launched two new flagship properties.  Cheval Harrington Court in South Kensington and Cheval Three Quays at the Tower of London, offering the famous 5 star service for which Cheval Residences is renowned for.

To celebrate the openings of both these luxury residences, Cheval Residences is offering a short break for 2 nights, in a 1 bedroom apartment, in a residence of your choice in Central London.

Terms and conditions: This prize is valid until 30th June 2015 and is subject to availability.

 

Like what you see? Well, to take part in this competition, it is simple….

1. Subscribe to the blog by email (see box on the right of the screen). 

2. Share this post via your preferred social media channel (Facebook, Twitter or Google +)

3. Answer this question, by commenting below: what was your favourite summer trip ever? What did you do? Also, let me know which would be your favourite prize.

Entries will be accepted until Thursday 21st August 2014, 12pm noon UK time. Winners will be randomly selected and announced at 5pm UK time on the same day. Please note that all entrants must be over the age of 18 and prizes are not transferable or refundable and there is no cash alternative.

This competition is now closed. Winners have been selected and contacted via email.

Wishing you a fab summer (for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere)!

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: Cheval Harrington Court, London @cheval_london

myhotel

Located in South Kensington, seconds away from the tube station and in the heart of one of London’s coolest neighbourhoods, Cheval Harrington Court is the latest development by London-based luxury serviced apartment company Cheval Residences. I have stayed in apartments maybe twice or three times in my life (and all were pleasant experiences), but I was very keen to try this new place, in one of my monthly ‘London stays’.

Needless to say, it is not a hotel – so ignore the word ‘hotel’ from now on. I accepted this invite as I believed it would be a solid luxury stay alternative in London, by a company who has undoubtedly developed a great reputation around town, and different from staying in a ‘unique’ apartment rental.

Pre-Arrival

–          Was there any pre-arrival communication by the hotel with myself via email or social media?

Yes indeed. My stay was organised a couple of weeks before Cheval Harrington Court actually opened and the dates and details were set without any issue.

–          Did I try to engage the hotel via Twitter? Did the hotel interact with me and made me feel welcome/special?

I did indeed, and this continued throughout my stay.

–          Has the hotel tried to gather any personal information (e.g. preferences) prior to my stay?

I did not have any special requests, as per normal.

Arrival

The lobby at Cheval Harrington Court

The lobby at Cheval Harrington Court

–          The wow factor! What was the hotel decor style?

If I am going to be honest, as I always am, the lobby wasn’t 100% impressive. There was still a fair bit of work going on (cosmetic, of course), but I felt it a bit cold and not with a lot of personality.

–          How quick and efficient was the hotel check-in?

It was absolutely fine – I had a normal hotel-style form to fill and also left my credit card details for any extras. I was explained how the apartment worked, escorted to it and shown around. I also noticed that the apartment had a little balcony, so I asked for a key (which I received after signing a form stating that I wouldn’t try to jump).

–          Was I addressed by name once reservation has been located? (it is all about the small details, some others are outstanding with this, and I love it, like I do when I board an airplane)

I was when I checked in, but not again throughout my stay.

–          Did I get an upgrade from my confirmed pre-booked room type?

I wasn’t sure what room I was supposed to have – and was delighted with our 2 bedroom apartment.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Everyone I encountered was very pleasant.

–          Luggage – how many people did I have to tip before the luggage made it safely to my room? This is cultural, I know

I had a small carry-on and was able to take it to the room.

–          Wi-fi – was I told anything about it? Was there a charge?

 I was told about it when I asked, and given the password code which was exclusive to my apartment (meaning I had my own router and wouldn’t be sharing it with any other guests).

Room Experience

A very stylish brand new apartment

A very stylish brand new apartment

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Although I thought the corridors were also somewhat clinical (but smelled lovely, for the record), I was very impressed with our 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment. It was spacious, had lots of natural light and tastefully decorated. You had a small entrance hall which led directly to the lounge/dining room, to your left you had the second bedroom and bathroom (which wasn’t ensuite and perfect for non-staying guests), to the right you had the kitchen and finally, the master bedroom and ensuite bathroom.

–          Welcome amenity

I took longer than normal to inspect the room, as I was quite curious about what I would find. The first thing that I saw was a lovely welcome basket, which included Nespresso pods, biscuits, tea, and other staples. I thought it was very nice. When I got to the kitchen, I saw fresh bread on the counter and in the fridge fresh milk, still and sparkling water, butter and…a bottle of champagne. I thought things were off to a great start indeed.

Very interesting details indeed.

Very interesting details indeed.

I was particularly impressed with the kitchen – it was modern and had everything you would need for a shorter or longer stay and one thing I have to confess I did not expect was the vast collection of quality glasses. They were seriously very good (and plenty) – from water to proper wine and champagne glasses. I was also intrigued by the in-room dining menu, which came from a catering company nearby which clearly catered to western, middle eastern and asian customers. The selection was outstanding – I was tempted to try, but to be honest, there are so many great restaurants nearby, that I just picked somewhere different each day.

–          The bed

A very smart bedroom.

A very smart bedroom.

You cannot fault this bedroom anywhere in the world. The bed was comfortable and I liked the pillows, the bed linen was of very good quality and I like grey, what can I say? The only thing that I only noticed later (and throughout my stay), was the noise from the street at night. The apartments are obviously double-glazed and following guest feedback they are to be quadruple-glazed very shortly. This was the only thing that didn’t make for a perfect stay and I am glad that it is being addressed.

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

Absolutely great, with LOTS of proper hangers. I also found laundry bags in the chest of drawers.

The welcome basket I mentioned earlier, as well as some other in-room details.

The welcome basket I mentioned earlier, as well as some other in-room details.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There was an iHome dock, which I did not use, in the lounge, and a clock in the bedroom.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, but I did not use.

–          Coffee and Tea

Yes, including a Nespresso coffee maker. I did not try it.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, and replenished daily, both still and sparkling.

The second bedroom.

The second bedroom.

–          Magazine selection – had some nice surprises and doesn’t happen often enough!

I did not find anything.

–          Working area

I used the dining table in the lounge as my working area, and I did spend a fair bit of time on it. It was close to power sockets and had comfortable chairs. There was no dedicated working area in the bedrooms (just like one wouldn’t have at home!).

–          Power sockets in useful places – we have more and more devices and we know where we want them! By the bed, by the working area.

There were plenty of sockets around the apartment and in actually useful places.

Bathroom

A very neutral bathroom.

A very neutral timeless bathroom.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

It was absolutely fine – beige and white is a winning combination and everything was of the highest spec.

–          Bath, shower and taps – I am looking for Duravits and Hansgrohes (or other fab brands) around the world. How fab was the shower? And a little pet peeve.. was I able to operate the shower without asking Mr. O for help?

We had a bath (with a shower) and everything was Duravit and Hansgrohe and worked very well. I did master the shower without any help, which was just as well as Mr. O only joined me on the second night.

–          Towels – yes, please! How many and how soft and lovely?

Very good.

Lovely toiletries indeed!

Lovely toiletries indeed!

–          Toiletries – own brand, super brand, baby ones or proper ones? I shall find out!

I loved the Arran aromatics products, which I hadn’t seen in years. They were not baby sized and they were replaced every day. My friend Fi came for a drink one night and as she loves them so much, I gave her some to take home.

–          Amenity kit – I don’t want more sewing kits thank you very much, but I will need a shower cap.

We had everything we needed.

–          Hairdryer – is it a human one, or just something stuck to a wall that only makes noise?

Good quality hairdryer, found in the bedroom.

Dining

A fully stocked kitchen

A fully stocked kitchen

There is no bar or restaurant – you can obviously cook your own meals and have every means to do so. I chose to go out for all meals, as there was so much choice in the area (some great new finds too!). You can also order meals in.

I had guests (read: friends) over each night as it was actually nice to be able to welcome them to my 'London pad'. The little balcony was perfect. We stocked up on champagne from a drinks shop around the corner and everyone really enjoyed the sun!

I had guests (read: friends) over each night as it was actually nice to be able to welcome them to my ‘London pad’. The little balcony was perfect. We stocked up on champagne from a drinks shop around the corner and everyone really enjoyed the sun!

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It was very good and worked very well. Needless to say, it is free of charge.

–          Did the hotel interact with me via Twitter during my stay?

They did indeed and we had a bit of fun.

Cheval Harrington Court from the outside

Cheval Harrington Court from the outside

–          Location

Absolutely fantastic – literally 1 or 2 minutes from South Kensington underground station, with a taxi rank outside the door.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

For short stays, a 1 bedroom apartment costs from £170+VAT per night, and a 2 bedroom apartment costs from £330+VAT per night. Includes daily maid service.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely.

–          Would I stay again?

I would indeed. I had a very pleasant stay and with the window issue being sorted, I wouldn’t even think twice.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Cheval Residences during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. 

A Dinner onboard the Belmond British Pullman

There is something about certain train journeys – the old-school glamour, fine dining and fabulous outfits. And copious amounts of champagne – I have to confess, it had my name written all over it. The magic of the golden age of travel has been brought back to life by the Belmond British Pullman (the new brand name of Orient Express Trains & Cruises).

I had to take this photo, I had to!

I had to take this photo, I had to!

The British Pullman, is made up of 11 carriages that formed part of the most famous services in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s – each with its unique style and personality, beautifully restored and refurbished.

To say we were excited to go on this journey, would be an understatement – and funnily enough, we weren’t exactly going anywhere: the train ride was the experience, as we were to return and depart from London Victoria Station, after a 5-hour fine dining experience.

Not your average station experience!

Not your average station experience! The black-tie dress code made the experience even more special, in my opinion.

The 100+ passengers arrived at the station, half an hour before its departure. During this time, we got to enjoy the British Pullman lounge, which is conveniently located by its boarding platform. On arrival, we were immediately greeted by a glass of champagne and were handed a beautiful box with our tickets, which were part of our personalised travel journal. I loved this detail and how special it made everyone feel – this train journey is certainly a special occasion and this keepsake would be one of the memories to take back home.

Not your average train ticket, either!

Not your average train ticket, either!

The British Pullman operates both lunch and dinner services throughout the year, but this year, there is something even more special – Belmond has invited some of the leading British chefs to team up with its executive chef Robbie Gleeson and serve truly unique dining experiences. In our travel date, the pop-up chef was Tom Kerridge, the executive chef of the 2-star Michelin pub The Hand & Flowers (the only pub with stars in the UK). Needless to say, Tom was at the lounge meeting and greeting every passenger.

After a couple of glasses of champagne, it was time to board the British Pullman!

Our carriage: Cygnus.

Our carriage: Cygnus.

Obviously there was no luggage, so it was easier for everyone – but made even more special by the staff, which welcomed each passenger to its correct carriage. These are named and not numbered, so we did need a little help to find Cygnus, which was designed in 1938, but not completed until 1951.

The excitement was about to begin!

The excitement was about to begin!

When we got to our carriage, all we could say was ‘ahhhhhhhh’. It was stunning – and every person who boarded the train had exactly the same reaction. The tables were set and looking stunning and you could just feel the excitement in the air.

One of the few places in the world where each table has a view :)

One of the few places in the world where each table has a view ?

There are tables for 1, 2 and 3 on the main part of each carriage, with separate areas for tables of 4 (called coupes). We were actually assigned a table for 3, which meant we had an extra seat which was perfect for all the goodies we had – a signed Tom Kerridge book, a magazine, and of course our lovely box with our tickets.

It didn’t take long until we left. And to be honest, no one had any idea where we were going – but we found that information in our travel journal, which indicated that we were going on a loop journey via Ashford, Canterbury West and Whistable. It was actually interesting to see the various types of scenery, which changed dramatically from urban to rural and we even got some peeks of the sea.

Couldn't you tell how happy I was?

Couldn’t you tell how happy I was?

Champagne continued to flow and our culinary journey was about to begin – some pretty canapés arrived before our 5-course dinner.

Delicate and delicious canapés, which were matched to the Laurent Perrier champagne served on board the British Pullman.

Delicate and delicious canapés, which were matched to the Laurent Perrier champagne served on board the British Pullman.

Things got off to a flying start with the actual first course – an English cucumber gazpacho, served with creme fraiche and vodka. It was incredibly delicious (and something we will be attempting to recreate at home one day) and if I am perfectly honest, I have a complaint to make: it was too small. It was absolutely fantastic and a few weeks later, we are still talking about it. The cold soup was paired with a Jake’s Orchard Sparkling Cider & Nettles (I kid you not), from Kent, England, which was very nice.

My favourite dish of the meal!

My favourite dish of the meal!

The second course was chilled Cornish mackerel escabeche with pickled carrots, and I had to ask Mr. O if he had called in advance to let them know about two things I really don’t care for! Obviously, he had a little bit of mine. This course was paired with a cold Beaujolais (2011 Morgon Domaine Jean Descombe from France), which was lovely.

Not my cup of tea, but it did look pretty.

Not my cup of tea, but it did look pretty.

The third course was a braised new season lamb shank which was absolutely fantastic. It was served with pea and mint ragu, pickled girolls and salsa verdi. I knew the food was going to be amazing, but I was also incredibly impressed with what the chefs were able to cook on a train – it cannot be easy. It was paired with a 2008 Bandol Domaine de la Begude (from France), which was, without a doubt, the best wine served.

Apologies for the slightly out of focus photo - but the train was moving!

Apologies for the slightly out of focus photo – but the train was moving!

Service was outstanding – a lot of attention to detail and the timings were perfect. I had wondered if 5 hours would be too long for a dinner – but it actually wasn’t. Everything was timed to perfection, and needless to say, our glasses (both wine and water) were always tendered to. No detail was too small.

During dinner, we also had some entertainment (which we obviously didn’t expect). There were some musicians who played in each carriage and they were very good. If you want to hear a little bit, have a look a the little video I did on Instagram (only 15 secs, but gives you an idea).

Doesn't Mr. O look fab? I love him in black tie.

Doesn’t Mr. O look fab? I love him in black tie.

After a little break, it was time for dessert. In the United Kingdom, that means the cheese course, of course! I think it would be fair to say that most people who do not know the UK well, never heard about one of its secrets: amazing cheeses. On this occasion, we were treated to Beenleigh Blue, Gubbeens, Wealdwad Goats and Somerset Brie, served with grapes and raisin bread. This little bit of heaven was paired with a 20-year-old Ferreira Duque de Bragranca Tawny Port, from Portugal (obviously!).

Needless to say, Mr. O only ate his portion. There was nothing left from mine.

Needless to say, Mr. O only ate his portion. There was nothing left from mine.

At this stage, we other visitors: a magician who was actually very good. It got all of the passengers of the carriage chatting and laughing and obviously I cannot tell you the tricks he played on us.

I have to say I didn’t have a lot of room left at this stage, but it would be rude not to try the last course: a summer fruit fool, with pink peppercorn shortbread – it seriously does not get any more British than that! It was paired with a lovely lovely lovely 2013 Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont, Italy and I may have asked for seconds.

A lovely Summer fool.

A lovely Summer fool. Apologies for the lack of focus, but it was a combination of the train moving and the Moscato.

At this stage, we had realised that 4 hours had come and gone – and I cannot tell you how quickly it went. Especially when Tom Kerridge did the rounds of all carriages and came to say hello and chatted for a bit with every passenger. It was a lovely touch (and he got me some ideas of how to get a table for the Hand & Flowers before May 2015). He also signed the book and happily took a photo with us.

Tom Kerridge was really nice and it was a pleasure to meet him.

Tom Kerridge was really nice and it was a pleasure to meet him.

And after coffee and tea, I am not sure how, but we got back to London Victoria station where it all began, 5 hours before. I loved our evening at the British Pullman, and it was also great to meet other guests and find what occasion led them to that night: a birthday, wedding anniversary, engagement and quite a few tourists who thought they wanted a true British experience – and I cannot agree more. If you are visiting, it is one of the most quintessentially British experiences you could have, and one you could take with you forever.

A glass of Moscato I won't forget in a hurry. Or ever.

A glass of Moscato I won’t forget in a hurry. Or ever.

One thing you also get to take with you, besides the menus and the (lovely) travel journey, is the silver napkin rings. They were removed from our tables when service started, but were given to every passenger before we got back to London (so no, I did not steal them!).

Another very thoughtful keepsake.

Another very thoughtful keepsake.

As we got back to the station, you could tell everyone was smiling and oh so happy – a fantastic evening, in my case, spent in the company of my fantastic husband. And it won’t be long until I am back, as later in the year I will be going on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, from Venice to London, and once we cross the channel back to the UK, the British Pullman will be there waiting for us. And take us to Victoria again. And again.

And if you want to see what ‘The Dinner’ experience really looks like, I leave you with this video. It was truly exceptional.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: I was a guest of the Belmond British Pullman, and as always, opinions are my own. The ‘Lunch’ journeys start at £235 per person, including all food and drinks, and the ‘Dinner’ experience starts at £420 (£495 if hosted by a celebrity pop-up chef). You can find out more about upcoming journeys on the British Pullman, by clicking here. 

My hOtel: Salcombe Harbour Hotel, Devon, UK

myhotel

Located in postcard-pretty Salcombe, in South Devon (in England!), the Salcombe Harbour Hotel has recently opened and brought a lot of style and a breath of fresh air to the hotel scene in this quintessentially English seaside town. For those of you who know the region well, it is located on the ground of the Marine Hotel.

I know this part of the world well as the rest of the O’Reilly family leaves in the area, and I was very keen to try this hotel on a recent trip to Devon.

Welcome to Salcombe! What a view!

Welcome to Salcombe! What a view!

Pre-Arrival

–          Was there any pre-arrival communication by the hotel with myself via email or social media?

My stay was organised by email a couple of weeks before I arrived. One needs to live dangerously every now and then and we decided to head south to see the family with only a couple of weeks’ notice, which is pretty extreme for us.

So so so pretty!

So so so pretty!

–          Did I try to engage the hotel via Twitter? Did the hotel interact with me and made me feel welcome/special?

Nothing happened on the social media front.

–          Has the hotel tried to gather any personal information (e.g. preferences) prior to my stay?

Not really, but again not necessary. This hotel had something very special – and just bear with me for a bit until you find out.

Arrival

Loved the nautical style of the hotel!

Loved the nautical style of the hotel!

–          The wow factor! What was the hotel decor style?

As soon as we walked in, we loved the hotel. I loved the nautical and very ‘New England’ style, which went perfectly with the location.

–          How quick and efficient was the hotel check-in?

We had a fab check in with Jo, who was also the duty manager, who was fantastic.

–          Was I addressed by name once reservation has been located? (it is all about the small details, some others are outstanding with this, and I love it, like I do when I board an airplane)

Absolutely.

–          Did I get an upgrade from my confirmed pre-booked room type?

We weren’t sure which room we had been allocated and were delighted with our ‘Estuary Room with Balcony’.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Yes indeed. Everyone was lovely.

–          Luggage – how many people did I have to tip before the luggage made it safely to my room? This is cultural, I know

We only had a small carry on and were able to take it to the room.

–          Wi-fi – was I told anything about it? Was there a charge?

Wifi is free to all registered guests. 

Room Experience

An 'ahhhhhhh' moment indeed! Such a pretty room.

An ‘ahhhhhhh’ moment indeed! Such a pretty room.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was lovely and spacious and do not get me started on the view!

–          Welcome amenity

We had (as will any guest) the best amenity in the world: GIN! This little treat (or sherry) is possibly one of the best ideas ever. Free or charge and refilled every two days, you can have as many gins as you want. The tonic is, of course, charged (and interestingly we only had a bottle. I suggested to the hotel to have a tonic mini bar, with lots of brand choices to go along with the Plymouth. At around 6pm every day, housekeeping comes round with ice and lemon. Genius or what?

Best welcome amenity ever? I think so.

Best welcome amenity ever? I think so.

–          The bed

We slept really well – the bed was comfortable and the bed linens also very nice.

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

All good in this department.

Our room was L-shaped and had a lovely sitting area with great views too.

Our room was L-shaped and had a lovely sitting area with great views too.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There is an iPhone 4 dock, which we did not use.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

All there, but we didn’t use.

Little details. We loved the basket with the blanket and slippers.

Little details. We loved the basket with the blanket and slippers.

–          Coffee and Tea

Yes, with a Nespresso maker, plenty of pods and also tea making facilities (we did not use).

–          Free bottled water

Yes, to be found near the gin.

–          Magazine selection – had some nice surprises and doesn’t happen often enough!

It was very local and quite interesting.

Great signs!

Great signs!

–          Power sockets in useful places – we have more and more devices and we know where we want them! By the bed, by the working area.

We didn’t have a problem charging our devices.

Bathroom

Great bathroom too!

Great bathroom too!

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was great and very well fitted.

–          Bath, shower and taps – I am looking for Duravits and Hansgrohes (or other fab brands) around the world. How fab was the shower? And a little pet peeve.. was I able to operate the shower without asking Mr. O for help?

We had a bath with a great shower head, although I would have preferred a walk-in shower. The fittings of the bathroom were all Duravit and Hansgrohe, ha!

–          Towels – yes, please! How many and how soft and lovely?

Absolutely fine.

–          Toiletries – own brand, super brand, baby ones or proper ones? I shall find out!

The hotel used products from The White Company – a brand I love (their home range is fantastic), but I had never tried the toiletries. They were very good.

–          Amenity kit – I don’t want more sewing kits thank you very much, but I will need a shower cap.

We had everything we needed, neatly displayed as seen above.

–          Hairdryer – is it a human one, or just something stuck to a wall that only makes noise?

There was one, but we didn’t use.

Bar & Restaurant

A very sea to table experience at The Jetty.

A very sea to table experience at The Jetty.

Dinner and breakfast takes place at The Jetty, which is open to non-hotel guests. I loved the decor and, of course, the views. The restaurant was quite busy when we visited – but service was very personable and friendly. We had great seafood and of course, local British cheese for dessert.

Needless to say, the bar came with great views – and great gin & tonics too!

This was actually a local delicacy! Plymouth is very close to Salcombe.

This was actually a local delicacy! Plymouth is very close to Salcombe.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It was a bit patchy and so was phone reception due to the location.

–          Did the hotel interact with me via Twitter during my stay?

No, they didn’t.

A very interesting lift, I have to say - you really need to know your room number.

A very interesting lift, I have to say – you really need to know your room number.

–          Location

Possibly one of the best locations in Salcombe, within minutes of the town shopping area and, amazing estuary views.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Estuary rooms cost from £155 to £310, depending on the season.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely.

–          Would I stay again?

Oh, I will!

My thoughts, exactly!

My thoughts, exactly!

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Salcombe Harbour Hotel during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. For more information about the hotel, visit its official website.

Making the perfect Spanish omelette (tortilla de patatas) with @lutzbosing

Recently a friend of mine came over for dinner. And for some reason (thank God!) I asked her if she ate meat. I don’t know why I asked, but when she said she was a vegetarian, I was in a little bit of trouble – especially as my dinner party repertoire really isn’t vegan friendly. I immediately turned to my friends on Facebook and one suggested I made ‘tortilla de patatas‘, the traditional Spanish omelette – and honestly, I knew I couldn’t deliver. So I prayed my friend liked cheese and wine, and more cheese, and salad, and more wine, of course. The evening was a success, but it really got me thinking.

I am a very proud host (Mr. O and yours truly do put on a decent show when we entertain), but I was intrigued – and as I was on my way to the stunning Finca Cortesin, in Spain, I had a brilliant idea: ask their great executive chef Lutz Bosing, to give me a little lesson. In less than a couple of minutes, he tweeted back saying he was game for it and on my second day at Finca Cortesin, I learned from the very best.

So if you fancy trying something new, here is how you can make a remarkable ‘tortilla de patatas‘:

The ingredients

You will need eggs, potatoes, onions, salt and olive oil. As simple as that. You can see on the image garlic (which we used to make alioli) and roasted green peppers which we used as a garnish.

Very simple ingredients indeed!

Very simple ingredients indeed

Preparation

The first thing you will need to do is cut the potatoes. You can do it like a normal person, or chef-style like Lutz did. You can cut them in any shape you like, but I will follow Lutz’ lead – in small thin slices.

Don't listen to me... listen to Lutz!

Don’t listen to me… listen to Lutz!

Cooking

After this, you need to boil the potatoes. And interestingly, you do so with olive oil instead of water (a revelation for me), obviously in very low temperature – it is important that you don’t let it start frying.

This 'boiling with olive oil' technique was new to me.

This ‘boiling with olive oil’ technique was new to me.

After 1o minutes or so, you let the potatoes cool down and only start the next part of the process once they are cool again (so maybe best to do the potatoes bit a bit before the cooking). The same procedure applies to the onions, which are to be cooked the same way (and separately, of course).

Cool potatoes!

Cool potatoes!

Then the magic begins! Get a bowl and crack the eggs, and whisk them, like you would if you were cooking a normal scrambled egg dish. Add salt, of course.

Add the onion and salt to the eggs

Add the onion and salt to the eggs

Once you have added the onions, and whisked, you can then add the potatoes. You can see where this is going….

Are you still with me? This is cooking 101.

Are you still with me? This is cooking 101.

Now it is time to start cooking, and the first step is to have a frying pan with olive oil (notice the quantity, not a lot!)

A little goes a long way!

A little goes a long way!

Pour the contents of your bowl in the pan, and watch for the magic to happen.

Doesn't this look like it will be yummy?

Doesn’t this look like it will be yummy?

You will need to decide how cooked you like your eggs – it is nice to have some moisture on them, in my opinion. To see the cooking process, just watch this video below (or click here).

The really difficult part of this dish is to flip the tortilla (and pray that it lands where it should). You should cook the other side for a bit and then leave it to rest.

OMG, flipping should end like this.

OMG, flipping should end like this.

Enjoying

And then, after a few minutes (honestly), you will have one of the Spanish classics in front of you – a fabulously looking tortilla de patatas, or Spanish omelette.

It tasted delicious, and I will be never be caught short again when a non-meat eating friend comes round!

Yummy tortilla de patatas!

Yummy tortilla de patatas!

Have you ever attempted to make one of these babies? Do send me photos if you try!

xo

Mrs. O

Discovering Puglia, the heel of Italy

I am a great believer that one cannot have too much Italy in one’s life. It is a fact and I accept it in almost a religious way. What I love about Italy is the regional diversity – reflected in the scenery, fashion and, of course, food. I know the country reasonably well – I must have been 10 times or more, but I also accept that I probably need to go back 87 times, to be precise, to make sure that these were lasting impressions… just because.

La Selfie Italiana - Mary Anne, moi, Mr. O and Jeff and Ashley at the back. Fab memories.

La Selfie Italiana – Mary Anne, moi, Mr. O and Jeff and Ashley at the back. Fab memories.

For most people, Rome is the city of their dreams (and do not get me wrong, I love it), but I also have a lot of love for Milan, which most people don’t. I finally found my way around Genova, in the west,  after a couple of visits, but I may have left my heart in Barolo, in Piemonte. But guess what, I will find it in Venice when I return later this Summer (and come back to London on the iconic Belmond Orient Express, to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary).

Puglia has a very special location – if you picture the Italian map, which we all know looks like a boot, Puglia is the region located in its heel. Remote (as in not the easiest place to get to), underrated but simply stunning.

I recently had the opportunity to spend 5 days in this part of the world, following the invite of luxury villa company Passepartout Homes, who manage and operate a great portfolio of handpicked properties around the world, and some stunning ones in Puglia.

Day 1 – Wednesday

We arrived at Brindisi airport just after lunchtime (our flight with Alitalia was actually quite good, but our car rental experience inspired a recent post conveniently titled: ‘Why is car hire the worst part of the travel experience?’) and could not wait to get to our villa. After a stop in nearby Martano (where we met the concierge company who would escort us to the villa), we had arrived to our little Puglian paradise.

Oh yes, this was all for us to enjoy!

Oh yes, this was all for us to enjoy!

The first thing we did was explore our Masseria which had a very interesting layout. The U-shape you can see on the photo above actually helps explain it very well – the property was split into 4 self-contained areas, which made it perfect for sharing, whilst retaining hotel-style privacy. On the left, you had an area with 2 double bedrooms and a bathroom, which was occupied by the lovely Ashley from The Lazy Travelers (and her husband Jeff). In the middle (behind the arches), the area occupied by yours truly and Mr. O, which had the master bedroom, a second bedroom and a fab bathroom, and on the right hand side of the U, the common area of the house, made up by a fantastic kitchen and living area.

Our fab bedroom which was very well decorated and designed - everything was super simple, but of the highest quality. You really got a sense of place, and I loved it.

Our fab bedroom which was very well decorated and designed – everything was super simple, but of the highest quality. You really got a sense of place, and I loved it.

When we got to the kitchen, we were surprised by the lovely welcome basket which included supper staples (i.e. if we didn’t want to go anywhere, we could actually cook a meal). Needless to say, the first thing we did after we unpacked was to go to the nearby supermarket (which was fantastic, I have to say) and stocked up on essentials: water, fruit, burrata cheese, ham, prosecco and wine). We were planning to spend a lot of time at the villa, especially during the day and after returning from dinner and this was a great idea.

How lovely was this?

How lovely was this?

The villa, which has 5 bedrooms, sleeps 10 and it was only a bit later that we realised where the ‘final’ bedroom was – and we decided that as my friend Mary Anne and her husband Jason from JetsetExtra came all the way from California to spend some time with us, they should have it: didn’t their little abode look fab? It also came with a hot tub outside!

Mary Anne and Jeff's little Italian castle.

Mary Anne and Jeff’s little Italian castle.

For our first night, we stayed in – but we did not cook. We took the villa owner’s recommendation and enjoyed a fantastic welcome dinner cooked by a professional chef, Simone, who came in at around 6pm to start prep, and left after 10pm. We had a lovely meal, produced of strictly local ingredients and the wine we had bought earlier was perfect. It was the perfect welcome, and the best way to start our Italian holiday.

Day 2 – Thursday

On our second day, it would be fair to say we did not do a lot. It is what you are supposed to do when you come to this part of the world. Everyone slept late (I was so proud of my American friends clocking up respectable double digits) and we just spent the day by the pool. We had bought some lovely food – I have to say, our bruschettas may make some locals jealous and just spent the afternoon sunbathing. One thing worth mentioning: Italian time goes very quickly.

Totally embracing the Southern Italian way of life. And exploring our villa a bit more - lots of surprises!

Totally embracing the Southern Italian way of life. And exploring our villa a bit more – lots of surprises!

One of Passepartout’s local partners is an entity called Apulia Promotion, who had kindly organised a very special activity for us – to visit an aloe vera plantation (and beauty product factory). We weren’t 100% sure what to expect, but we had a very enjoyable couple of hours with Luigi and Domenico, the founder and brains behind Natura & Benessere. We first visited the beauty product plant, which was very interesting (and different!!) and then headed towards their property, the Naturalis Bio Resort, where we saw and learned more than we would ever dream of about Aloe Vera. We also loved our surroundings and were totally captivated by Domenico’s enthusiasm and passion. We also adored the products, which we brought home.

A beautiful property and who knew there was so much to know about Aloe Vera?

A beautiful property and who knew there was so much to know about Aloe Vera?

Dinner took place at a very local place (which came highly recommended by everyone we spoke to), called “La Porta Antica” in Sternatia, which was 10-15 mins away. This is a place where we spoke our best Italian ever (very very very limited) and had a fantastic dinner. We were also very surprised by the menu prices, so I was introduced to a new game: guess the total bill. The person who gets the closest figure, doesn’t pay, and the others do. At €125 for 6 (seriously, do the math and yes, it included wine and we couldn’t move), I won.

So we celebrated with prosecco back at the villa.

Day 3 – Friday

On the Friday, we decided that the beach was calling our name. And under 10km away, we headed to an area called Bagni Alimini. The beaches did look stunning and we could not believe how warm the sea was at the end of June.

We purposedly avoided the weekend, just in case, and had a great day out. We even got to see some local Italian talent (look closer at the photo below. I could not resist).

Checking out the local talent. No comment. Look closer.

Checking out the local talent. No comment. Look closer.

The beach is organised by various beach clubs and we were recommended Bagno Lucia, which were good and had a delicious yet very simple restaurant. I have to say I am glad I did go slightly off-season as obviously there was a lot of space between the sun loungers – something I am sure will not happen in July/August based on the photos I have seen.

The stunning beach and our fantastic lunch at Bagni Lucia - gamberoni and calamari... si, per favore!

The stunning beach and our fantastic lunch at Bagno Lucia – gamberoni and calamari… si, per favore!

After a lazy and late lunch (of course), we went back to the villa and changed. Something very special awaited: wine tasting.

Italy and wine go hand in hand – and one company I really like is The Winerist. I know the founder well and I was keen to explore a bit more about the local delicacies. So they organised a scaled down version (due to our time restraints, we had to go to the beach!!) of a wine experience which led us to a small town, past Lecce, called Squinzano.

As we focused purely on the wine, we headed to a stunning Palazzo where we not only learned about it, but also got to sample… a lot of it.

Getting immersed in local culture is very important.

Getting immersed in local culture is very important.

We spent two hours with the team, and tasted not only the wines you see above, but also did some olive oil tasting (and you can see Ashley on a video doing a perfect demonstration of the correct way of doing it), but incredible nibbles and bite sized food.

First things first: a bit of knowledge. Negroamaro and Primitivo are the 2 main local grape varietals which produce stunning red wines. Interestingly, from what I understood, Primitivo is genetically Zinfandel, known to be one of the unique USA grapes.

There was even a parade on the main square. We had to toast to them!

There was even a parade on the main square. We had to toast to them!

We had planned to go to dinner closer to home, but actually to one of the region’s top restaurants, but we were having so much fun in Squinzano, we just stayed longer. It was a special day for the town (patron saint day) so there was a great vibe. And wine, of course. So we just sat down, relaxed and made some new friends.

Making new friends everywhere!

Making new friends everywhere!

Back at our villa, we enjoyed a bit more prosecco and developed a new skill: sabering prosecco bottles with a normal knife. I know it sounds weird, but you will have some videos to see in just one minute, ‘beara witha me-a‘ (read with Italian accent).

Day 4 – Saturday

Our last full day, and we knew what we had to do – just stay home and enjoy our last full day at the villa.

We really didn't want to leave this pool. The villa was so comfortable, we felt right at home.

We really didn’t want to leave this pool. The villa was so comfortable, we felt right at home.

We went on another food shopping expedition and actually prepared a great lunch. We had a state-of-the-art BBQ (and an expert BBQer, Jason), so we just stayed in and prepared a very tasty meal.

And before we knew it, it was time for one last dip in the pool and change again. And head to town. And eat some more. Am I complaining? Absolutely not! But before we went, we did a little educational video of how to open the bottle of prosecco. Because we want to share the wisdom.

We were in for a treat – a culinary experience with Silvestro Silvestori, from The Awaiting Table.

We headed to Lecce, which was around 30 minutes away and were very pleasantly surprised with the city centre (we had driven past it a few times and were not *so impressed*). We met Silvestro at the main square and went on a little walk around town towards the market.

I love visiting markets (and very rarely resist buying something). Peaches and other summer fruit were in full season and the smells were incredible.

Lecce was indeed a pleasant surprise....

Lecce was indeed a pleasant surprise….

From the market, we headed towards Silvestro’s house – and wow, we were in for a treat. All in all, we spent almost 5 hours with him – and loved every minute of it. This ‘school’ provides very interesting experiences – from a dinner course (which we took part in), to a full day, or a week. There is something for everyone. In our session, we made pasta, and then split the various tasks of the main and dessert courses between all of us. My job was to remove pips from olives – and I may have eaten a few, oops.

A fantastic evening at The Awaiting Table

A fantastic evening at The Awaiting Table

Our day ended back at the villa where we finished off the rest of the prosecco. It has been a fantastic trip indeed.

Day 5 – Sunday

We were up bright and early for a 9.30am flight to Milan and then on to London. Take note – flight times change a lot on Sunday and connections are much longer than on weekdays. So we had 5 hours to kill in Milan – and staying in Linate (which is quite an uninspiring place) wasn’t really an option. So we headed to Eataly, which has recently opened a new store in Milan. Small detail: if you google directions, look up ‘Eataly Smeraldo’ as there are 2 in Milan and one is just a little shop.

I love the concept and it was the perfect place to spend a couple of hours – getting there from the airport took under 20 minutes, and we had not only a great lunch, but were also able to buy dinner which we took home with us on a plane.

A great layover in Milan: Eataly Milano Smeraldo

A great layover in Milan: Eataly Milano Smeraldo

And with this, it was time to say arrivedecci to Italia once again. We loved loved loved loved loved Puglia, and we only saw a tiny bit. Which means we need to go back for more. And oh we will.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: A huge thank you to Passepartout Homes who provided with us a stunning villa in Carpignano Salentino, to The Winerist for a great wine experience and The Awaiting Table for an unforgettable cooking experience. I would also like to thank  Apulia Promotion, who organised the visit to  Natura & Benessere and Naturalis Bio Resort.

STAY: The Masseria Il Trullino, part of the Passepartout Homes costs from €3500 per week and sleeps 10 adults (do the math, seriously). A dinner organised by a private chef in the comfort of your masseria costs from €50pp excluding wine. 

DRINK: Our wine experience The Winerist costs between €40-120 per person depending on the spec and duration of the programme, which is customised to each client. 

EAT: Our culinary experience, including unlimited wine during the meal with The Awaiting Table costs €95 per person.

GET THERE: I wasn’t spoiled for choice – the best option was, without a doubt fly from London Heathrow to Brindisi (close to Lecce and more precisely closer to Carpignano Salentino, where our villa was located), via Milan with Alitalia. The connections were good (but tight, and note, there is no concept of ‘Flight Connections’ at Milan Linate, you need to exit the airport and go through the main security queue again). The other options would be to fly Ryanair direct from Stansted (no, grazie), or British Airways (or Easyjet) to Bari, which would mean a 2.30h drive or more when we landed (plus the additional driving time to London Gatwick).

My hOtel: The Marylebone Hotel, London

myhotel

The Marylebone Hotel, a boutique hotel part of The Doyle Collection, and sister hotel of The Kensington Hotel (which I loved), is located in one of my favourite parts of London… guess what… Marylebone! This hotel is actually a London hidden Gem (with the trademark Doyle Irish accents as a very welcome bonus).

Great things inside, I promise!

Great things inside, I promise!

Pre-Arrival

–          Was there any pre-arrival communication by the hotel with myself via email or social media?

Yes there was. Like it happened with the Kensington Hotel, this property has been building a relationship with me for the past year, which I think is a nice touch.

–          Did I try to engage the hotel via Twitter? Did the hotel interact with me and made me feel welcome/special?

I did indeed, and worth noting that they are very active across twitter, engaging with guests and potential guests.

–          Has the hotel tried to gather any personal information (e.g. preferences) prior to my stay?

Not really, but then again, not really needed. Fair to say that The Doyle Collection knows me pretty well by now.

Arrival

Smart interiors throughout The Marylebone

Smart interiors throughout The Marylebone

–          The wow factor! What was the hotel decor style?

Very interesting indeed. Good colour scheme, some design pieces and also lots of seating areas.

–          How quick and efficient was the hotel check-in?

There was no queue and I was done in minutes.

–          Was I addressed by name once reservation has been located? (it is all about the small details, some others are outstanding with this, and I love it, like I do when I board an airplane)

Absolutely, and said correctly, i.e. with Irish accent and a smile.

Very nice indeed.

Very nice indeed.

–          Did I get an upgrade from my confirmed pre-booked room type?

My room was to be confirmed on arrival as the hotel was fully booked, so I was delighted by the 1-bedroom Luxury Suite.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

I did indeed.

–          Luggage – how many people did I have to tip before the luggage made it safely to my room? This is cultural, I know

I had just a small carry on and was allowed to take it with me to the room.

–          Wi-fi – was I told anything about it? Was there a charge?

 WiFi at all Doyle Collection hotels is free of charge.

Room Experience

Really comfortable room

Really comfortable room

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Absolutely lovely – loved the colour scheme and how comfortable it felt. Was obviously very spacious. The only thing we had an issue with was the street noise – and unluckily for us, there was some serious building works outside going on.

–          Welcome amenity

I had some fruit and extra water.

–          The bed

It was nice and comfortable.

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

Everything there as it should.

Details matter - and wait until we get to the bathroom bit.

Details matter – and wait until we get to the bathroom bit.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There was an iPhone 4 charger/dock, which I did not use, but Mr. O did.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, but did not use.

–          Coffee and Tea

Of course. Nespresso machine with plenty of pods and a kettle for tea.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, and changed daily throughout my stay.

The lounge area in our suite was spacious and also very comfortable.

The lounge area in our suite was spacious and also very comfortable.

–          Magazine selection – had some nice surprises and doesn’t happen often enough!

One of the best I have seen in a while – Conde Nast Traveller, Delicious and InStyle.

–          Power sockets in useful places – we have more and more devices and we know where we want them! By the bed, by the working area.

By each side of the bed, easy to reach.

Bathroom

You may have heard about my fetish for sexy bathrooms...

You may have heard about my fetish for sexy bathrooms…

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Well well well, where do we start? It was amazing.

–          Bath, shower and taps – I am looking for Duravits and Hansgrohes (or other fab brands) around the world. How fab was the shower? And a little pet peeve.. was I able to operate the shower without asking Mr. O for help?

All very good and the shower, was out of this world. Seriously powerful.

–          Towels – yes, please! How many and how soft and lovely?

All good.

–          Toiletries – own brand, super brand, baby ones or proper ones? I shall find out!

Oh well… only my favourite ones in the world. Aromatherapy Associates and LOTS of them. Need I say more?

–          Amenity kit – I don’t want more sewing kits thank you very much, but I will need a shower cap.

Absolutely fantastic and Aromatherapy Associates as well. Perfect.

–          Hairdryer – is it a human one, or just something stuck to a wall that only makes noise?

There was one but I did not use.

Restaurant & Bar

I hadn’t realised, that the hotel’s bar was, in fact, 108 Bar and Grill, a place I have visited in the past a few times – and because the hotel owns the whole block, I never put 2 and 2 together. I skipped breakfast as I was on a ‘strict’ diet during my stay, but only because I had The Juicery and had a bit of fun each day trying some smoothies. I had some successes and some serious misses. Kale and those greens are not for me.

Yum Yum Yum

Yum Yum Yum

And because I was so good for breakfast, how could I resist dinner? The steak was lovely and I am afraid I have no photos of the British cheese selection – because I ate it all.

Oh yes. If you are going to break the diet, do it properly. What can I say?

Oh yes. If you are going to break the diet, do it properly. What can I say?

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It wasn’t brilliant in the room, to be honest, but worked well in the restaurant.

–          Did the hotel interact with me via Twitter during my stay?

Absolutely.

–          Location

I love Marylebone and it is a very convenient location for my London life – and I think it was perfect. If you have never explored Marylebone, I urge you to!

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Rooms are great value, staring from £226 and my suite starts at £470 per night, including tax and breakfast.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely.

–          Would I stay again?

I would indeed.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of The Doyle Collection during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. For more information about the hotel, visit its official website.