Top 5 Destinations for Autumn 2015

After an very busy Spring and Summer, my travel schedule eases up a little bit (just a little bit) in the Autumn – no more long trips, just quick hops to places closer to home. Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Destinations for Autumn 2015.

Los Angeles, California, USA

top 5 destinations for autumn 2015 beverly hills los angeles california mrs o around the world

My love for California is well documented, and even though we went this Summer (to Palm Springs and to Santa Monica), Mr. O had a conference in town and well, I had to go with him. Gave me a chance to catch the last rays of sunshine and try again British Airways’ A380 on the way back.

I stayed *again* at the lovely Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills (read a previous review here), for the weekend preceding the conference and then moved on to Downtown Los Angeles, which was where the conference was located. As all nice hotel rooms were taken, we actually booked an AirBnb apartment which was lovely.

County Mayo, Ireland

top 5 destinations for autumn 2015 ashford castle ireland mrs o around the world

For Mr. O’s birthday week, we are starting the celebrations in his ancestor’s homeland: Ireland. I have never been to Ireland’s West Coast and am really looking forward to spending a weekend at the stunning Ashford Castle, which was been voted as ‘Best Hotel of the Year’ by Virtuoso. Weather permitting, there will be some boat rides, but in case it all becomes typically Irish, the recently opened spa awaits.

Sevilla, Spain

top 5 destinations for autumn 2015 seville spain mrs o around the world

To end Mr. O’s birthday week, we are travelling with friends to Seville in Spain (as there is finally a direct flight with BA). I have not visited the city as an adult – we always used to stop when we drove from Lisbon to the South of Spain many many decades ago) and I am really looking forward. I am also particularly keen to stay again at the stunning Alfonso XIII Hotel, which looks as grand as I remember – but also way more modern.

Bath, England

top 5 destinations for autumn 2015 bath england mrs o around the world

Much closer to home, we will be ending November in Bath, only an hour and a bit away from where we live. It may seem that I never spend time in the UK, but that is not the case. I have visited Bath a few times enroute to Devon (Exeter or Salcombe where we have family), and always thought I missed out by not staying the night. We are delighted to extend our stay for a whole weekend at the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa, which looks amazing. I am pretty sure there will be some great shopping, food and, fingers crossed, local gin!

Paris, France

top 5 destinations for autumn 2015 paris france mrs o around the world

And this is my wildcard for the season. We tend to visit Paris a couple of times a year (as a couple), but I haven’t spent the weekend since November last year – so all other business trips do not count. Mr. O, for example, goes a couple of times a month, so we promised to organise a very romantic weekend for both of us. He is taking care of everything, so I actually just have to turn up at the airport. Looking forward!

What do you think of my Top 5 Destinations for Autumn 2015? Have you been to any of them? Any suggestions on what we should see, buy or eat? And more importantly, where are you planning to go this Autumn?

xo

Mrs. O

Luxury Villa Review: The Blue Door in Palm Springs, California

the blue door palm springs

The Blue Door in Palm Springs, California

The Blue Door, is a beautiful 3-bedroom and 3-bathroom villa located in Palm Springs, California, which accommodates 6 people. On this occasion, I travelled with my husband, his daughter and my friend Trudi – making this the perfect-sized holiday home for us. We stayed for 5 nights.

Booking process 

We booked the property via a vacation rental website, and it was done in minutes. We had excellent communication with the owner of the property, Mike, even despite the time difference of 8 hours.

Extra costs such as housekeeping ($250 + tax), daily pool charge ($50 + tax) and a $1500 security deposit, were clear on the website and confirmed by the owner. Once the payment went through, we received a welcome email which included very detailed information about the area, ideas for restaurants and things to do, as well as the house manual. I was very impressed and really grateful for all the information.

Check-in

We were in touch with Mike since we left LA (we had flown in from London to LA and drove to Palm Springs), and had to delay our arrival as traffic was quite horrible. The drive usually takes 2 hours, but it took us almost 4. He was excellent about it (I felt terrible as I was ruining his evening plans) and was there when we finally arrived at around 7pm.

After a 10-hour flight and a long drive, getting to the house was all we wanted. We were quite surprised to be welcomed by a choice of champagne or wine – we chose the latter which helped break the ice (and was a great excuse to find out where essentials were kept in the kitchen). Mike then showed us around the house (for the record, this is a rental house, a professional operation – i.e. no one lives there), and I have to say, it was stunning. Do you know when you see photos of a place and they are not quite the same when you actually get there? We had the exact opposite experience. The house was even better than advertised.

I had also done some online shopping and some parcels had arrived for me.

The bedrooms & bathrooms

As stated earlier, The Blue Door has 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms – 2 of them are en suite (master and the blue room), and the green room has its own bathroom next door. That meant we all had our privacy and was exactly what we wanted.

All bedrooms were super spacious, in top condition, and all had closet space with proper hangers. Hotel-grade linens and towels were provided – and I have to say, the beds and pillows and everything were of outstanding quality. Worth noting that each bedroom has its own hairdryer.

Master Bedroom

blue door palm springs master bedroom

Our beautiful master bedroom

Our bedroom was huge and beautifully decorated – although I wasn’t quite sure about the bull head above the bed. It did not bother us in the slightest and we were very comfortable. This room had direct patio access to the pool area, which was quite handy during the day.

blue door palm springs master bedroom details jonathan adler

A very spacious and comfortable bedroom

We had a huge walk-in closet which we loved – I will admit that we had 7 suitcases (mostly empty at this stage, worry not), and were able to get unpacked quickly and organised.

Our bathroom was also fantastic – I loved small details like the Jonathan Adler soap and the beautiful orchids. But I adored the 2-head shower, which was excellent (and saved us a lot of time). The towels were of excellent quality and we washed these daily.

blue door palm springs master bathroom

The master bathroom

Blue Bedroom

blue door palm springs blue bedroom

I loved the colour scheme of the house. Plenty of blue for me. (second bedroom)

The second bedroom was called (well, I called it) the Blue room, and as you can see from the photos, it was really quite cool.

Half the wardrobe was locked, but the other half obviously wasn’t. There were great decor details and the bathroom was excellent. This room also had direct access to the pool area.

palm springs blue door blue bedroom details

The Blue bedroom and its en suite bathroom with walk-in shower.

Green Bedroom

blue door palm springs green bedroom 2

The Green room – in true Palm Springs style!

The Green bedroom was the only room without an en suite bathroom (although it was located right next door), and faced the front side of the house – that meant it had the most beautiful sunrise views of the mountains.

Shampoo and shower gel were provided in each bathroom (we had brought our own), and they were from different brands.

blue door palm springs green bedroom bathroom jonathan adler

A gorgeous lamp and the 3rd bathroom

The living room

blue door palm springs living room

This photo made me want to book this house.

The living room was the heart of the house and as you can see by the photos, it was stunning. I know I am using this word a lot – but you can see what I am talking about. The house was of course interior designed and it actually gave us a great sense of place. It said ‘Palm Springs’ left, right and centre.

blue door palm springs lounge flytographer

We had Flytographer come over as our stay at the Blue Door made our trip to Palm Springs truly special.

We had a comfortable seating area, and an easy to use TV and entertainment system (which we were shown how to use). Whilst we didn’t actually watch much TV, we used some of its radio channels to play music around the house and outside, where we spent most of our time.

The dining room

blue door palm springs dining room flytographer

A great dining area and some fun moments captured by Flytographer. The bubbles were part of our welcome hamper. Quite thoughtful!

We didn’t cook any meals in the house (except for the odd breakfast or lunch, which we enjoyed outside by the pool), so this room actually became our shopping room. I did most of my shopping online before leaving for California, and every day it was like Christmas. Worth noting one thing – the door bell also rang by the pool area, which was something that we were briefly worried about.

The dining room was also home to the ‘bar’, which featured only plastic glasses – I must confess I did miss drinking wine in proper wine glasses, and this would be one of the things that I would change going forward. The glasses were good, but it isn’t the same (although I understand the concern that some guests could take them to the pool and accidents could happen). But some of the glasses were excellent for some proper European-sized Gin & Tonics, I must say!

The kitchen

blue door palm springs kitchen

A very well equipped kitchen

The kitchen was spotless (as was the rest of the house), and we loved finding out where things were. The set up is so professional, there are even labels with things like ‘Bar Accessories’.

It had everything from cutlery, to plates, lots of serving plates and pots and pans. In the cleaning front, we also had dishwashing tablets, washing up liquid, plenty of kitchen towels and the lot.

I have to confess I was very impressed with the ‘welcome hamper’. There were peanut M&Ms and nuts and nibbles, and we had white wine, a bottle of (USA-made) Chandon, lemonade and orange juice, water bottles and milk. I thought it was so nice of the owners.

There were also some long-life previously used items like sauces, spices, olive oil etc in the pantry and fridge.

There was a coffee maker (which we did not use as we are weird Europeans and we did not want to attempt to break the machine), microwave, oven, any baking device you could ever need, a dishwasher and a fantastic fridge (I have a thing for American super sized fridges).

blue door palm springs west elm kitchen

You could pretty much find anything you could possibly need.

There was also a separate utility room, with a washing machine and dryer. We had no idea how to operate it, but we eventually figured it out – so different from the European front load machines) – and we used it a lot. Everyday we washed our bath and pool towels, so they were nice and fresh daily. There was also a cupboard with extra linens and towels. Washing products (i.e. detergent pods and conditioner) were provided. There was also an ironing board and an iron – which I personally did not use, but my friends have and worked very well.

On a more domestic note, we emptied our rubbish daily and placed them in the large bins located outside the utility room. Not a problem there.

The Pool and Outdoor Area

blue door palm springs outdoor area flytpgrapher

We loved the fire pit (which we only turned on once just to try it out!). Moments captured by Flytographer.

The outdoor area was also very well conceived – the plot wasn’t huge, but felt very comfortable and spacious.

We had a pool and a jacuzzi (which we learned how to operate on check-in and used a few times), which was actually cleaned by someone during our stay (we were out but noticed that when we returned). The patio area had 4 sun loungers, and 4 different areas – 2 seating areas, and 2 eating areas featuring a bar and a dining table. Spoiled for choice, huh?

The Pool

blue door palm springs pool area

Our gorgeous pool – no doubt we were in Palm Springs

We spent most of our time actually inside the pool – as it was so hot outside (it was over 40c!). We loved the floaties and used them a lot! Obviously we did not heat the pool – if anything, we would have done the opposite.

We had 8 pool towels, which were in good condition and we washed daily.

Outdoor Area

blue door palm springs outdoor area pool

A different perspective of the pool, as well as various outdoor dining areas.

We used the bar for the odd lunch we had at home and for pre-dinner gin & tonics, of course and in the evenings, after we came back for dinner, we sat either at the dining table (which had very comfortable chairs), or by the fire pit. I think we moved around every day just for variety. Everything was in excellent condition and super comfortable.

There were things like a covered ice-bucket that we used daily to get out water bottles cold, the night lights and lanterns were also used each evening.

There was also a ping-pong table, which we did not use, and in the garage, there are 6 bicycles, which I personally did not use, but everyone else did – to get coffee each morning. I think they cycled each morning, but then drove the other days. ?

There was also a top of the range BBQ (and all the utensils), but we did not use during our stay.

Parking

The Blue Door has a parking garage for 2 cars, and there is also off street parking. No problems whatsoever in this department.

Air Conditioning

It took me a while to figure it out as it was so modern and different from what we are used to, but eventually we got it. My only complaint was that it was loud at night, but not having it on wasn’t an option. There were also ceiling fans in each room which we used.

blue door palm springs jonathan adler decor details

It is all in the details…

Cleaning

We paid $250 (+ tax) for our ‘end of stay’ clean, and managed quite well during our stay (which was 5 days). Were we staying for longer, we would have had a clean every 3-4 days. The house was spotless and we kept it that way. A quick clean would cost $50, and a change of sheets etc would cost $150.

Wifi

Was of course provided and worked well during our stay.

Check-out

We were in touch with Mike during our stay (mostly to ask about local recommendations as all the ones we had given us were spot on). For the record, we have been coming to this area for almost 10 years, but we do not actually stay in Palm Springs, hence why everything was quite new. We did not have any problems or issues during our stay.

We left at around 11am (we actually had a late check out until 2pm), and had an email from the owner asking us not to touch anything (i.e. to leave towels etc where they were) except to take our rubbish out, which of course we did.

Whilst we were driving to LA, we got our security deposit refund with a note thanking us for looking after The Blue Door as well as our own home. I thought it was a lovely touch and all very straightforward.

Location and nearby amenities

We were located in a very quiet upmarket residential area, and within 2-3 minutes drive, we had various retail areas with supermarkets, dry cleaning etc. We were located 5-10 minutes from Downtown Palm Springs. We also used Uber on some nights and never had to wait for more than 5 minutes.

blue door palm springs front area flytographer

Our front garden – and some more moments from our Flytographer shoot.

Cost

Rates vary between $600-750 depending on the time of the year, with some exceptions like Coachella. There are also Summer specials with a free midweek night during July and August, which we benefited from. Minimum stay: 3 nights.

My thoughts and impressions

There is no other way I can word this – we adored The Blue Door. We were travelling with friends and family and the set up was perfect for us. The house was beautiful, had everything we needed and we loved the privacy of having our own pool. We loved the house so much, we had our Flytographer shoot in there – it was that perfect. We also got a lot of inspiration in terms of decor, and have brought lots of things from the Blue Door home – and by that, I mean that we went to West Elm and Jonathan Adler and bought quite a few things!

And I am pretty sure we will go back in the future.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and fact box: I paid a discounted rate on some nights during our stay, but opinions are, as always my own. For more information, visit The Blue Door booking page.

Experiencing a Gourmet Skisafari in Alta Badia, Italy (by Mr. O)

The culinary season on the slopes of Alta Badia, in Italy’s Dolomites, starts on a very special day: the day that the Gourmet Skisafari, haute cuisine at 2,000 m altitude, takes place.

This event brings seven Michelin chefs in five mountain huts in the Alta Badia ski region. Basically, you ski from one hut to the other during the morning, and on each one, you experience some of the best dishes in Italy. Chefs come from all parts of the country – it really is a treat.

If there is one person that loves his food, it is indeed Mr. O. So as he enjoyed this trip so much, I asked him to share with us his memories of this very special day. I think he is a natural. xo Mrs. O.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world mr o

The mountains were calling the Os again!

We travelled to Alta Badia for a long weekend to start our ski season in style. But as it was early, there wasn’t as much snow as we had hoped for. We were able to ski, but not as much as we would have wanted. But worry not – there were plenty of other wonderful things to do. Like eating.

After a brilliant dinner the evening before, we woke up and wondered if our collective prayers had worked – was there a snow fall that night and would we be able to conduct our gastronomic tour on skis to taste the best Italian cuisine, by some of the finest Italian Michelin-starred chefs?

I opened the curtains of our bedroom and it was a beautiful day – and I was upset. No fresh snow! So I knew then that I was going to have to “work out” and earn the right to be there to participate in a fabulous day ahead of us and do the “Gourmet Safari” by snow-shoeing to three different huts (instead of the preplanned 5 huts).

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world ski area

A little bit of snow – but it was very early in the season!

On a positive side, I thought that this might be a perfect way of eating and drinking and combining it with exercise to make room for the next hut and next beautiful tasting and so on. So, by the time we were ready to leave the hotel, I was mentally prepared for the adventure ahead.

We arrived at Piz La Villa station and we were fitted out with snow shoes and poles and ten of us departed in the cable car to the top. We took time to assemble the shoes and get used to walking with them on the snow, I felt as if I was Scott going to the North Pole, it felt so weird! Different, but fun. The views were terrific and of course as we were walking, we had more time to take in our surroundings.

The first hut (Utia I Tabla) was about an hour’s stroll and I certainly worked up an appetite.  We arrived at around 10.15am, removed our snow shoes and were greeted with a glass of Spumante. Well even I thought this was a tad “too early” – I had to wait at least until 10.30am! So I had a soft drink and made my way to sample Chef Claudio Sadler’s salt cod escalope with Prosecco, dried olives and storo polenta and paired with a glass of  Alto Adige Spumante. Wow, it just melted in my mouth.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world chef claudio sadler

Chef Claudio Sadler’s salt cod escalope

What a way to start the day and with a cold glass of Spumante (it was now after 10.30am!) – a perfect beginning. There were a lot of knowing nods from others as soon as they had their first taste. Of course, we were tempted to sneak a second little sample but looking at the menu for the other chefs’ offerings we declined!

I slowly walked to go to the other room sipping my Spumante, where Chef Nicola Laera was plating seared organic beef carpaccio, turnip parsley cream, artichokes preserved in oil and rye bread wafer. Oh boy, heaven again. This was paired with Alto Adige Pinot Nero – just perfect.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world chef nicolau lair

Chef Nicola Laera

So suitably filled, happy and extremely content, we were encouraged to re-fix our snow shoes and head off to the next hut, which was 20/30 minutes’ walk away. Actually, I was now getting used to this new mode of transport and thought what we were doing was a great idea. The thought of actually skiing after some wine did not sit comfortably with me. So, pleasant exercise made room (well at least in my head) for the next delicious delight that was being prepared for us.

We arrived at Piz Arlara hut (well, this was far larger than a hut) and were greeted by Matteo Metullio who had prepared our meal the previous evening. His dish was “Jota” bean cream, fired potato chips, sauerkraut, speak oil and shrimp tartare with lemon along with a glass of Alto Adige Sauvignon. This was light and exquisite. We stayed a little to enjoy the views and the atmosphere and were persuaded to try a local drink called “Bombardin”. This was all about preparing us for the next hike to the final hut.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world Chef Matteo Metullio

Chef Matteo Metullio and his dish

Snow shoes on and we left to walk or shuffle to the next hut – some 30 plus minutes away depending how long it took you to climb the last hill before you reached the Utia Col Alt, the hut at the top of another cable car and our way back down off the mountain.

Some of the group were tempted to take the snow cat instead. We were not as we felt we were here to do this Safari on snow shoes and we needed to burn off some food and make more room for the final two culinary dishes! A lovely walk through the woods until the slope. Then we regretted not taking the cat, but actually it was a nice way to warm up and be prepared.

Here the two Chefs, Norbert Niederkofler and Chef Giancarlo Morelli had prepared 2 different dishes. A knuckle of lamb on corn cream, onion salad and julienne of parsley and buckwheat flour tortello with bitto-chees, organic potatoes, fondue of lightly smoked white onion and crispy chanterelles, respectively.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world Norbert Niederkofler and Chef Giancarlo Morelli

Chefs Giancarlo Morelli & Norbert Niederkofler working in tandem.

The dishes were paired off with some fine wines, with the lamb Alto Adige Lago di Caldaro Schiava and the tortello Alto Adige Gewurztraminer.

We stayed for a little while taking in the scenery and sipping the wines and then talking with the Chefs who circulated once the dishes were concluded. A really fun morning and afternoon and it was sad to end and have to depart back down the cable car and then transport back to the hotel.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world

Chef Giancarlo Morelli, Mrs. O (you may be familiar with her) and our friend Melvin.

This was the Third Season of the Gourmet Skisafari or as they say “the cooking tour on skis”. The concept is that it focuses on typical local products in the region and the dishes prepared are all great classics that have been reinterpreted especially for the occasion and reflect the Chefs own stories of the Italian regions, their traits and the journeys they have made from North to South of Italy. The wines are all from South Tyrol.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world ana

Mrs. O loves the mountains. She was more of a beach bunny when we met 10 years ago, but that has all changed now.

The Gourmet Safari is an all season event and the cost for the five huts is €45. Extremely good value and well worth doing. A fun day with great food and if you were on skis you could do many runs to the huts between 11 and 3.30!

Mr O

PS. This was my first blogging attempt, so be gentle with me.

Disclaimer and Fact Box: Mrs. O and I travelled to Alta Badia with Powder Byrne, who were excellent. A luxury 3-night Ski Weekend starts from £925 per adult staying in a double room on half board at the 4-star Hotel Gran Paradiso, price includes Powder Byrne concierge service, return British Airways flights from Gatwick to Venice and private transfers to and from the airport.

A 6-day lift pass for the Alta Badia ski area start at £159 for adults and £110 for children (under the age of 14).

Experiencing voluntourism in Cape Town, South Africa @newkidzprojects @handsupholidays

On my recent trip to which began with some days in the Winelands and Cape Town, I got to do something special: for 2 days, I got to help a local charity – New Kidz on the Block, a local organization that works to create awareness for South Africa’s 3 million orphaned, destitute and vulnerable children with their work, which includes makeovers to daycare centres in the outskirts of Cape Town. It was my first ‘voluntourism’ experience, so to say – and this was organised by Hands Up Holidays, who specialises in this type of activity.

Before our departure to South Africa, and after assessing our skill set – that would mean mine, my sister’s and the two ladies’ (Ashley & Carolyn) from The Lazy Travelers who were travelling with us. We were ‘cleared’ for painting, which got us quite excited.

We had agreed to raise £500 for the charity, but I wanted to see if I could stretch this budget – and I reached out to my readers and want to thank personally everyone who a) trusted me, b) believed in the cause and c) made a donation. Through GivenGain, I raised over £2,300, which have now been handed over and spent by New Kidz on the Block.

On our first day, we were picked up at 8am and taken to the Samora Machel township outside Cape Town. Our goal was to makeover 2 Early Childhood Development Centres: Lusanda Educare, which looks after 30 children from a very small room, and Noma’s Day Care, which is a larger facility with capacity for 58 children.

The before picture - and where you can see artist Theo, who was directing our work. Photo by The Lazy Travelers

The before picture – and where you can see artist Theo, who was directing our work. Photo by The Lazy Travelers

Obviously there was a big cultural shock for us – when we think about the childcare facilities we have available to us, but I was so touched by what we saw. And how despite all the difficulties, there are people wanting to make life easier for the others. If someone can look after the children, then parents can go to work. And if the spaces they occupy can be nicer, then the better. To give you an idea, the money that our group raised was used to buy the materials and cover all costs on both projects – but the donations included toys, clothes, art materials, snacks, sterilisers, nappies, gifts for the staff, etc.

I was no artist, but I did my best to paint within the lines.

I was no artist, but I did my best to paint within the lines.

The founders of New Kidz on the Block, Michael and Hilda DeBeer were with us and other volunteers during our two days and meeting them was really quite something – you really have to admire their determination in helping others less fortunate than them. The charity started some years ago with them and some friends helping out ‘on weekends’.

The end result of our efforts, led by New Kidz on the Block.

The end result of our efforts, led by New Kidz on the Block.

After a packed lunch, we moved on to Noma’s day care, which was a much larger facility in the same area – but we had more volunteers helping us as there was a lot more work to do. We did everything that we were asked to – namely painting.

Noma's Educate before...

Noma’s Educate before… (photo by Lazy Travelers)

We were again led by mural artist Theo, who made the drawings and taught us how to ‘colour them in’. I hadn’t done anything like this for a while – and it was really interesting. From a teamwork perspective, we had to achieve a lot in a short period of time, but the satisfaction coming from the end result was much more important – when we saw Noma and how much she loved the new-look centre, it was very touching. We all got quite emotional, to be honest.

A good day's work at Noma's Educate in Samora Machel with New Kidz.

A good day’s work at Noma’s Educate in Samora Machel with New Kidz.

Without a doubt, this was a fantastic experience – and if you are going to South Africa anytime soon, I would urge you to connect with the charity and see if you can help out for a day or two. I can imagine it being a great family activity or if you are travelling with your partner and/or friends.

I was most impressed with the organisation of New Kidz on the Block and how we received an excel detailing how all the money we collectively raised was spent. It is all accounted for and I saw it being used first hand.

I would like to thank Steffen, Debbie, ChinWe, Nars, Rebecca, Molly, Megan, Michelle, Amanpreet, Deborah, Lauren, Veera, Farrah, Nicole, Lisa, Charles, Kim-Marie, Rosa, Ian & Alex, Amie, Chris & Terene, Martin, Karim & Sara, Matt, James, Ruta, Renata, Jorge, Liz, Craig, Rosie, Padraic, Polly, Trudi, Gerrie, Monika, Paola, Andrew, Angelina, Stephanie, Corina, Matthew, Kathleen, Silvia, Jaqueline, Esther, Elyse, Angie, Lucy, Victoria, Andrew, Peter, Chelsie, Nancy, Thomas, Eileen, Heather, Nick, Anisha, Anne, Diana, Sara, Mirjana, Marcus & Kristin, Maria, Justine, Miguel, Marian, Clara, Jen, Keith, Carolyn, Susan, Suzanne, Margarida, Juliet, Marie, Lauren, Stephen, Ana, Damon, Andre, Gerard, Kiera, Rosana, Natércia, Morven, Katie, Duarte, Stephane, Laura, Anna, Lisa, Kathryn, Benedict, Paul, Eliana, Mark, Maria, Richard, Greg, Pandora, Chris, Jane & Calum, and Simon for your donations. £2,300 is a lot of money and I appreciate your support.

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: Eccleston Square Hotel, London @ESquareHotel

eccleston square hotel london facade

The lovely Eccleston Square Hotel in London

Located in the sought-after Eccleston Square, in London’s Pimlico neighbourhood, this little gem of a hotel – the Eccleston Square Hotel, was a very nice surprise. Possibly the most high-tech hotel I have ever stayed at, with a very special ‘home away from home’ feel. Read on, as you may be tempted to check-in sooner than you think.

Pre-Arrival

eccleston square hotel london welcome email

Not your average ‘hotel email welcome’. The details do count.

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

Well, there were indeed, and I truly felt that my experience at the hotel started a few days before I checked in when I got the ‘pre-arrival’ email. I must confess I was quite intrigued and explored the options before I left home. I was particularly interested in the ‘docking station menu’, and I was able to let the hotel know what devices I would be bringing with me. I also thought the dining information (and local area information) was very thorough and, most importantly, very well curated.

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

Absolutely – there was a very personal touch to the messaging and interactions, and once you get there, you realise that it is the hotel owner who looks after the social media which makes a world of difference.

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

The pre-arrival email was excellent and I was able to select all that I would (possibly) need.

Arrival

eccleston square hotel london 2 reception

Beautiful interiors at the hotel. Photo by hotel.

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

I said a little ‘wow’ when I walked in and did not stop for a fair bit. The hotel is beautifully decorated and I loved it. When you walk in, you have a corridor in front of you, and can turn right for the reception area, or left, to the restaurant and bar areas.

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

Very quick and efficient.

–          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 that continued throughout the stay. The hotel has under 40 rooms and many repeat guests, which was obvious during my stay. As it is located moments from Victoria Station, many corporates choose this option during the week.

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

I did not – the hotel was fully booked and I was assigned a Signature King room.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

I thought everyone was lovely – and very chatty (in a nice way). I did spend a considerable amount of time at the hotel and being so small, it is easy to recognise staff and vice versa.

–          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 bag with me and took it to my room.

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

Of course there was wifi. And of course there was no charge.

Room Experience

eccleston square hotel london bedroom

Our room was quite small, but incredibly comfortable.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room wasn’t large by any standards – it was quite compact, but it did not feel claustrophobic. I loved the decor colours (not so much the flurry comforter and pillows) and I was very keen to play with all that would be available.

–          Welcome amenity

I was surprised by a very decent selection of reading material and some macarons and sweets. A lovely touch.

eccleston square hotel london room details mini bar

Room details – the Nespresso and free water, my welcome amenity, the honesty bar and room scent.

–          The bed

The bed… should have a blog post totally dedicated to it. It was very possibly one of the best beds I have had the pleasure of sleeping in. The hotel has Hastens beds, which have a life of their own. You can use the remote and adjust anything you would like and not know you need in your life. I loved it.

–          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.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

Indeed, and as stated before, you could pre-select the exact one you needed prior to arrival, or during your stay.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, of course, and I for once used the bathroom as I did spend a fair amount of time in bed, working from there – as I was extremely comfortable.

–          Coffee and Tea

eccleston square hotel london in room dining ipad

This is how you order tea at the hotel.

Whereas the is a Nespresso machine in each room, there are no tea making facilities. Why? Because Olivia, the owner of the hotel believes that kettles in the room could pose a potential hygiene factor and prefers to have a fresh pot sent to your room, any time of the day or night, whenever you want it. You literally press a button on the iPad and the tea arrives within 15 minutes. I also decided to order a banana (under ‘comments’) just to see if it was read or not. Result!

–          Free bottled water

Of course, but also I liked the ‘fair priced’ mini bar, where all items are sold at cost price. No £8 diet cokes.

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

Mine was very nice and tailored to me, and you can see the magazines I got in the photo above.

–          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.

eccleston square hotel london in room technology

I was a bit wary of ‘too much technology’ as sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to use, but I felt smart, for a change. I could actually operate everything that I wanted.

Well well well. If there is a hotel that thought about all this, it would be this one. By the TV you had sets of UK, US and EU sockets as a starter – life changing. Obviously I was ‘playing at home’ on this stay and I only had UK devices. By the beds, you could charge whatever you wanted. Brilliant.

Bathroom

eccleston square hotel london bathroom

A very sexy bathroom. Photo by hotel.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

It was quite spacious and it was stunning. Beautiful really. I do have a thing for bathrooms, as you may know by now.

–          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 didn’t have a bathtub, but had a phenomenal shower – it was even a ‘triple’ shower as you could have a rain shower, a power shower or a vanity one. Everything was top range – and surely it wasn’t an accident.

eccleston square hotel london bathroom 2

The coolest room feature – you touched a button, and well, you can guess what happened.

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

They were very good. No complaints there.

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

We had baby L’Occitane toiletries which are very good quality – but I must confess I was surprised with the brand choice. I always associate this brand with more rural settings.

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

Everything we needed was actually hidden in the cupboard, with plenty of space for our own toiletries.

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

It was a good one, as expected.

Dining and Bar

eccleston square hotel london breakfast

The largest TV screen I have ever seen – 103 inches if you are counting, and a lovely breakfast display.

The hotel has a lovely dining area – with a standalone restaurant, bar and breakfast/sitting room. I tried dinner one night and it was good, and breakfast was excellent. I loved the choices and presentation (and the simple a la carte menu).

I thought the bar area was too small and too visible to guests, and something needs to be done there. Also gin selection very limited (with I noted during my stay).

But the best thing about the hotel? The keys that you can borrow and make your way to Eccleston Square Garden. I loved it so much (remember that Notting Hill moment with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant? Something similar to that). Needless to say, I enjoyed a couple of drinks there each day. You can take them from the hotel, or have the team come and prepare a picnic, for example.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It was excellent and to be honest, I did expect that!

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

Absolutely and we had quite a bit of fun.

–          Location

For me personally, it was too close to Victoria Station (which isn’t a particularly nice area). But the area of the hotel itself was very civilised and quiet.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

£220 per night.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely. I think she would love it.

–          Would I stay again?

Without a doubt.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

My favourite travel moments with Flytographer

One of the best travel concepts I have discovered is, without a doubt, Flytographer. If you are a regular reader of my blog (or indeed follow some of my adventures via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram), you will notice that sometimes, I will have photographs from a trip that are clearly better than others. Why? Because we booked a session with Flytographer in such location.

Flytographer provides timed photoshoots in 150+ locations around the world – they started in 2013, and my love affair with them did too – and in Lisbon, Portugal, of all places.

flytographer vacation photographer lisbon portugal mrs o around the world

Our first shoot in Lisbon, Portugal

I usually travel with my husband, and there are so many trips we have been on and the only photo we have of both of us together was a blurred shot taken by some random person in the street. I am sure it has happened to everyone – and since we started using Flytographer, this worry is now a thing of the past.

Flytographer vacation shoot Paris Mrs O Around the World

It is not just about having couples photos – with all due respect to my beloved husband, there is no way he could take a photo of me like this, right?

At last count, I think we have used Flytographer over 15 times since 2013 – and in incredible locations around the world. The company is growing at a steady pace with locations added every month depending on demand and requests, of course.

More and more, we have been trying Flytographer with friends. Taken in Palm Springs, California

More and more, we have been trying Flytographer with friends. Taken in Palm Springs, California

Booking a session is easy – you get on the Flytographer website, pick a location and then select your photographer, depending purely on your preference. I like to see what different styles each one has, although more often than not, I just simply ask Flytographer to book whoever they think is best. I think their recruitment is excellent and the 15 photographers were totally ‘on brand’. Obviously, there were some shoots which were truly special – but the models could have been more inspired, right? I honestly have no complaints.

Flytographer vacation photographer Mumbai India Mrs O Around the World

Up and early to avoid the crowds in Mumbai, India.

If you are booking a shoot with less than 2 weeks notice, Flytographer advises you to check availability before booking and paying – some locations get extremely busy, so you must do that. Once you book, your Shoot Concierge will get in touch with you and organise the shoot itself – I find this stage of the process very neat and handy. Phone numbers are exchanged, meeting time and location are fixed. And it all works!

Flytographer Shoot Scoop

The ‘Shoot Scoop’, which you will receive by email before every shoot.

I still get a bit nervous before each shoot – and I like talking to the photographer and define the style. Some people want direction, others not so much – I personally like a bit of both. They are professionals and know what works, and you can see examples of really fun shoots in Istanbul or Los Angeles.

Flytographer Cape Town Mrs O Around the World

With Ashley and Carolyn (from The Lazy Travelers) and my sister Renata in Cape Town.

The obvious advantage of having a shoot with friends (30 minutes costs $250 – £160-€220, 1 hour costs $350-£225-€305) is the fact that you can split the cost – and you can ask for some group shots, individual and pairs. A great example recently was on a trip to Cape Town, where we wanted to get some individual photos, but in this case, Ashley and Carolyn wanted some of just the two of them, and my sister and I did too. We got what we asked for without a doubt.

Flytographer Vacation Shoot Prague Mrs O Around the World

One of our favourite shoots: Prague.

You can define your route and decide where you want to meet – or you can also pick from a pre-defined route. After thousands of shoots, the Flytographer teams around the world know what works if say, you have 30 minutes in Paris or Rome. In all honesty, I used to pick my locations but in the last year, I decided not to. Why? Because I have been getting the best surprises ever.

Flytographer Abu Dhabi UAE Mrs O Around the world

We had some ‘hot’ shoots – Abu Dhabi in the UAE at 46c.

In Istanbul for example, we asked the photographer pick the area and route and we discovered the area around Galata Tower which we hadn’t visited before or were planning to. In Prague, we met at our hotel and hit half of the city’s touristic spots all the way to the Castle and we did not have to go over the weekend, when it was full of people.

Discovering Istanbul with our Flytographer.

Discovering Istanbul with our Flytographer.

Once you have done the shoot, you will receive your photographs within 5 days. And now, as a little teaser, you even get a postcard halfway through – just to get you even more excited.

flytographer postcard santa monica

Your post-shoot postcard.

And then you get *the email*. The number of photos you get, depends on the package you select. Expect 15 photos if you book 30 minutes, and 30 photos when you book a one hour session. I think the ratio is extremely generous and works a treat.

You will get your photos in low resolution and also in high resolution – so you can print them.

flytographer photos by email

The most awaited part of the process. There are from our recent photoshoot in Brooklyn, NYC (another location Flytographer chose for us, which we loved)

So 2 years and 15 photo shoots later, I have to say Flytographer is indeed one of the best concepts I have discovered – and really really add to my travel experience in each place that I visit. I also found that Flytographer sessions make for wonderful gifts to friends (what do you give to the person who has it all?) – I recently purchased a session for a friend who was celebrating her engagement in Venice. She loved it!

Flytographer Vacation Shoot Venice

Because as they say, memories are your best souvenirs. And this has to be one of our favourite photos ever. In Venice, Italy

So on your next trip, do give Flytographer a go. I love it and could not recommend it enough.

xo

Mrs. O

My Flight: British Airways Club World A380 from London to Los Angeles

Flight Review: British Airways Business Class A380 (Club World)

Our flight to California each Summer is one of the ones I look forward to the most all year. Why? Because it is a good 12 hours – I don’t know about you, but I love long flights as they provide me with the opportunity of not doing much, for a change. No interruptions, no internet, no emails – all I need to do is lie back, catch up on movies, sip a couple of glasses of champagne and even do some thinking, if I really have to.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review

One of British Airways’ A380 – not a small plane!

This time, I was particularly excited to fly as we had booked our Club World seats months in advance with our Avios on one of the airline’s darling planes: the A380. A few years ago, we tried it on the way back but in premium economy (not bad…  but not the same, of course). As I have said many many times before, I am a very proud British Airways Gold Cardholder (Oneworld Emerald) – a card that doesn’t earn itself without a very fair share of paid flights. But one of the perks of flying so much, is that you get your reward: free flights and upgrades. Many people have thousands of Avios and always assume they cannot spend them. Well, with careful planning, you can find reward seats (and spend those babies in other things too), which give you access to experiences like these.

Here is how my August 2015 flight from London Heathrow (LHR) T5 to Los Angeles (LAX) T8 went. The flight was scheduled to depart at 9.45am and land at 12.25pm local time.

Check-in 

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review Heathrow Terminal 5 First Class Check In

The First Check-In area at Heathrow’s T5, the home of British Airways. Also Mr. O getting busy with our luggage, business class check-in area and a view of the terminal.

As a BA Gold Executive Club cardholder, one of my perks, despite which class I fly, is that I am able to check in using the ‘First’ area, which is separate from the business class check-in desks. At LHR T5, this means the area at the very end of the terminal (last door when you get to the departures concourse). The business class area actually had a queue, but the first class area only had 2 people before us.

Check-in was quick and efficient – we had 8 suitcases between 3 passengers (so were no way near our generous allowance which would be 3 bags per passenger and an extra one for being a gold member), which were tagged and sent on our way. The agent was very nice – he also double checked our ESTAs for the USA, which were in order, of course. We were also given our US Customs form.

Security

All business class passengers get to fast track security, which we did. We used the South Terminal checkpoint, which is the closest one to the First/Business Class check-in areas, and we had 3 people ahead of us, which was a nice bonus. The terminal was heaving and was quite busy, but I like the new system they have at T5 where 3-4 people can use the belts at one time, making it much quicker. No problems here. Please note that in the UK, there is still a liquid restriction, laptops etc still have to come out, but if you are not wearing heels, you can keep your shoes on, which I find very civilised).

 

The Lounge

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review Heathrow Terminal 5 First Lounge Taittinger Champagne

99% of my flights start at this very place – this is my home lounge at the British Airways T5 Terminal. The Taittinger helps, of course.

Before we got to the lounge – we could use either Galleries lounge for business class passengers (North or South or at the B Gates), or in our case, the First lounge – we indulged in some shopping before we made our way there.

At the lounge, the first thing we did was to order breakfast – there is a buffet, but you can also get some made-to-order items, like the egg and bacon sandwich, which I am a very big fan of.

Whilst we waited for our order, we used the Foreign Exchange desk to get some dollars (which is located in the lounge and means you don’t have to queue), and we tried to get an Elemis spa treatment. On this occasion, we weren’t successful – and as we were leaving from C gates, we didn’t even have the option of having a treatment at the B-gates lounge. Business class passengers cannot pre-book treatments, and I find it almost impossible to get a treatment at LHR as there always seems to be more rooms than therapists.

I also tried to stock up on magazines – newspapers are never a problem – but despite there being hundreds of different titles, mostly were ‘lounge’ and rather obscure magazines. No Hello, Tatler or Vanity Fair this time – despite it being 7am. To avoid going to WHSmith (and the whole boarding pass debacle), I had packed a few kilos of magazines and books in my luggage and just hoped there would be magazines on the plane.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review LHR T5 First Lounge

Some details of the BA First Lounge at T5.

Breakfast was excellent and we couldn’t resist a glass of 2006 Milesime Taittinger, which I adore and is the champagne currently being served at the lounge. I noticed there was also a gin bar/display (first time!!), but as it was so early in the morning, I did not try.

I quite like this lounge, but find it is getting busier and busier. Food is good, service has improved lately but I still find the bathroom facilities need an update. With this being BA’s First Lounge at its home airport, there is no excuse. (Please note that First passengers can use the Concorde Room).

 

The Flight

We made our way to C-gates (T5 operates from a main terminal – A gates, but has 2 satellite terminals (B & C) which are accessible via a quick train). It took us 10 minutes to get there and a short walk to the gate. I used BA’s app which sends me push notifications and told us when to start making our way to the gate and when we got there, our flight was boarding.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review iphone app and notifications

The very handy BA app.

–          Boarding

To board the plane, we used the fast track lane (which can be used by bronze, silver and gold cardholders as well as business and first class passengers). There was a bit of a queue, but not a problem. As we were going to the USA, there are extra security checks in place with security guards checking your passport whilst the check-in agent checks your name.

For the A380, there are different boarding procedures as the plane has 2 floors – instead of being organised by class, it was organised by seat number, so we followed the signs to ’50 and higher’ and made our way to the plane.

We ‘arrived’ directly on the top floor.

–          Welcome

We showed our boarding passes so the crew could direct us to our seats, which were right at the front of the cabin. We were addressed by name once the lady spotted the surname and the big fat gold screen (it is a lovely touch and I love it, I must confess) and escorted to our cabin. We had seats 50 A/B on this trip, which I had chosen on purpose (thinking about older cabin configurations, but not this one in particular. More on that later!).

Whilst we boarded, we were offered a choice of drinks – champagne (Taittinger Brut Reserve being the option), orange juice or water. You can guess what I chose.

Newspapers were also offered, which I declined as I had gotten one from the lounge and I saw the magazines on the racks, which were ‘OK’ compared to other flights, but there was some decent reading material, if required.

–          Amenities

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review elemis amenities

The Elemis amenities kit and our pillow/duvet and headphones.

We were given a navy Elemis bag with products – and it was single sex only. On previous flights there was a female and male version, but not on this one. The bag (which is similar to a shoe bag, and I suppose can be re-used for that purpose or as a small laundry bag), contained a pen (unbranded, which was strange), ear plugs (my favourites in the whole world, yellow ones by 3M), toothpaste and a toothbrush, a navy eye-mask and socks, and a series of Elemis products which included a cleansing wipe, a lipstick, hand lotion and face moisturiser.

You are also given a pillow and a beige/blue duvet which I liked.

–          Drinks service 

Not too long after take-off (we were delayed by 30 minutes), we were given our menus detailing all the service options during the flight in terms of food and drink. There are some champagne cocktails available (Kir Royal or Bucks Fizz – or Mimosas for my American readers), champagne (Taittinger Brut Reserve, Castelnau Non-Vintage Rose and Castelnau 2004 Vintage), and a variety of spirits like whisky, vodka and gin. Whilst I don’t pay attention to the first two, I was disappointed to still see Gordons as the gin served in business class – being the same one offered in economy and premium economy. I honestly believe it makes no sense and BA could change it. Schweppes is still the tonic being offered BUT, listen to this, on my return flight from NYC to London, I was given a can of Fever Tree slimline tonic, so there is hope). A little upgrade on the gin and the tonic would be very welcome – to bring it on par with the champagne (namely when Taittinger) and wine choices, which I know the airline chooses and reviews carefully.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review kir royale and pretzels

One of my favourite inflight pairings: a Kir Royal and pretzels.

I choose a Kir Royal and asked the crew if I could get the pretzels (which are available in Premium Economy and Economy, I believe) instead of the nuts. Within minutes, I had not 1, but 4 packs of pretzels which I thoroughly enjoyed. I shared 1 with Mr. O.

In terms of wines, there were 2 reds and 2 whites. There was a French Chablis (Domaine Sante Claire 2014 from Burgundy) and an Italian Roero Arneis (Villata 2014 from Piemonte). I am a huge fan of Arneis and tried it with our meal. This proved to be a surprising choice – as most people were going for the better known Chablis, and gave way to a great conversation with the crew, which I always enjoy. In terms of reds, the options were Chateau Landat 2010 from Haut-Medoc (Bordeaux, France) and a Spanish Rioja (San Felices Reserva 2009). I tried the Bordeaux which was very good.

–          In-flight dining    

A weird thing on early day long-haul flights is that you are served lunch at around 11.30am. We had a hearty breakfast at the lounge, and I have to say, the champagne helped me get in the mood to eat.

There were two starter choices – a ‘Severn and Wye cured Scottish smoked salmon with caper berries, horseradish cream cheese and pea shoots’ and ‘watermelon infused with basil, feta, red onion and mint salad’. I chose the latter and it was delicious. I paired it with the white wine.

For the main course, there were 4 options – ‘seared filled of British beef with sweet potato royale and bearnaise sauce’, ‘roasted corn-fed chicken with Madeira sauce, soft herb mashed potatoes and baby vegetables’, ‘teriyaki stir-fried vegetables with egg noodles and cashew nuts’ and ‘main course salad of wild rice, quinoa and a bitter orange dressing accompanies by warm seared tiger prawns’.

I choose the beef and paired it (eventually – not seen on this photo), with the red wine.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review meal

Our meal was excellent and don’t get me started on the Hotel Chocolat chocolates.

For dessert, there were 3 alternatives: a ‘mango and raspberry cream torte with raspberry compote’, ‘Somerset Camembert and Barber’s cheese served with fig relish and biscuits’ and a selection of fruits. Coffee and tea and Hotel Chocolat chocolates were also offered. I skipped dessert and had the chocolates whilst finishing my red wine. I asked the crew if there were any other chocolates left and was rewarded with 3 more packs – they were delicious.

During the rest of the flight, Club World passengers have access to the ‘Club Kitchen’, which is a self-service area in the galley where you can help yourself to any drinks, snacks, chocolates, ice cream, fruit and a variety of sandwiches. We made a journey or two during the 12-hour flight to stretch our legs and have a chat.

A little over one hour before landing, we were served a 3-course ‘light meal’. The starters available were ‘tiger prawns in a Marie Rose sauce with cucumber and red pepper salad’ and a ‘meze plate featuring aubergine, pepper and tomato salad, labneh with mint, harissa and chilli humus’. The main courses were ‘roasted breast of corn-fed chicken with herb cream sauce, Mediterranean vegetables and boulangere potatoes’, ‘rigatoni pasta in a chestnut mushroom and pesto sauce with baby spinach and sun-dried tomatoes’, ‘main course Far East salad and sweet chilli dressing accompanied by warm seared Shetland salmon’ and ‘ warm sandwich of paprika-marinated breast of corn-fed chicken with tomato and watercress’.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review club kitchen and meal

The Club Kitchen (which I really like) and our second meal.

I must say I was looking forward to afternoon tea, which would have been perfect – and I love BA’s version of it. I chose the tiger prawns and the warm sandwich which were OK – not brilliant, to be perfectly honest. I didn’t finish the latter one. I had a Sprite and a cup of tea.

–          In-flight entertainment

The A380 features a 12′ touch-screen and lots of choices. I am quite partial to BA’s choice of movies – namely as I cannot remember the last time I went to the cinema, and I had no problem working it or choosing something suitable to watch.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review in flight entertainment usb

The 12′ screen and USB ports which worked beautifully. Worth noting that films on this IFE have a lot more subtitle options which is very handy.

We were given headphones which I think are due an upgrade – we used our Bose instead.

In terms of technology, there are 2 USB ports on each seat, as well as a power socket, which is compatible with UK, EU and US plugs. I used the USB to charge my phone and worked well.

–          Shopping

I bought some gin (Tanqueray Ten at £25 for 1 litre and Bombay Sapphire East at £17 for 1 litre), which are better deals than at the airport. I also bought some Egyptian Magic as the version you can buy elsewhere is bigger than 100ml, which makes it difficult to travel with.

–          The seat & the cabin

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review cabin

The A380 Upper Deck Club World Cabin

There are 2 business class (Club World) cabins onboard the A380 – one upstairs, where we sat, and one downstairs. I did not see the one downstairs. Upstairs, it offers a 2-3-2 configuration, which is different from other BA planes, and means that if you are in the rear-facing middle seat, you don’t get so up close and personal with your neighbour. There are privacy screens (which are much-needed) and you still may need to jump over someone else to get aisle access.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review seat

British Airways’ Club World Seat on the A380.

I always choose the first two seats in the cabin, and pick the aisle seat, and on this journey (having done  no research), I picked 50 A-B which were the first two on the left hand-side of the cabin. I didn’t realise they were right by the loos and the stairs connecting to downstairs. I was a bit worried with extra traffic and noise, but must confess everyone was quite quiet and I wasn’t disturbed. There is a curtain right the seats which is closed during the flight so you don’t actually see people queuing to use the facilities.

The bathrooms were *huge* – and were spotless throughout the whole flight.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review cabin and toilets

Most spacious loos ever – and useful side storage.

With regards to the cabin, it looked very smart – and you knew you were on a BA flight without a doubt. Interestingly, the seats were not navy as usual – but more of a barley grey / brownish colour.

The seat was similar to the other Club World services I have experienced in the past – it lies flat to 180 degrees and you can control it from the side buttons which allow you to just seat at any angle you would like. There is a stool at the end of your seat which connects to the seat itself and gives you some more extra room. As I am short, if I want to use the foot stool, I need to recline my seat a little bit so the gap narrows.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review seat

Club World seats – photo by BA

There is also a drawer where you can keep personal belongings, dedicated seat storage space and on this plane, additional ‘side’ storage which we used.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review cabin detail

Cabin details – view from seat 50B, which was close to the stairs and loos.

–          The crew  

Were excellent and very personable. One of the reasons I fly BA over and over again is because I love how they are ‘allowed’ to be themselves and talk to passengers, show a bit of personality and that can make or break the flight. The purser came round to us during the flight to introduce himself – this is becoming standard on BA flights, now that they have iPads and can identify Gold and Silver members and it is a nice touch. We were also addressed by name during the flight, which again makes a difference.

–          Arrival

We had possibly one of the worst arrival experiences into LAX, where we queued for 1h15 minutes to get through immigration. There was no business class fast-track option offered (to anyone), and we were unlucky as we merged with 2 other flights landing at the same time. On the plus side, the luggage was ready for us when we finally got to it.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed our flight (as expected), and managed to sleep for 6 hours, quite comfortably. The A380 is so much quieter than other planes – and that adds to the experience too. The crew was excellent, which makes for a much better flight and I shall indeed try to book myself on other A380 services.

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

PS. You can also read other flight reviews – BA Club World (Business Class) between LHR and JFK, World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy) on the new A380, and for the BA001 all business class service from London City to JFK. See also other airlines including Qatar Airways (Dreamliner), Jet Airways (Premiere) and JetBlue (Mint).

Disclaimer: I had booked my flight with Avios 6 months before this trip, but in the meantime, BA’s Avios Team got in touch with me and hired me to share my Avios experience live on my social media channels, as an ambassador for the #DoMorewithAvios campaign. My ticket for this journey, which cost 50,000 Avios and £250 tax was refunded. I was not required to do a flight review. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Top 5 Beauty Essentials – Autumn 2015 Edition

A new season, means a refresh of my beauty routine (which I must admit, is quite limited). Following the success of the Top 5 Beauty Essentials series (thank you so much for your feedback on the Spring and Summer editions), I am delighted to share with you my Top 5 Beauty Essentials – Autumn 2015 Edition.

Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot Body Wash (500ml)

molton brown orange and bergamot body wash

I have been loyal to Molton Brown for decades, namely its body and hand wash ranges. My favourite smell has always been ‘Naran Ji’, which has had a rebrand and it is now called ‘Orange & Bergamot’. You can buy this 500ml (twice the normal size) for a limited time at John Lewis for £22.

Aromatherapy Associates Revitalising Hydrating Face Oil (15ml)

aromatherapy associates box hydrating revitalising face oil

I was looking for something quite powerful (in terms of moisturising abilities) and as effortless as possible, and recently purchased this face oil – and hit the jackpot. I put it on at night before and smells divine. And a little goes a long way. You can buy it at John Lewis for £45.

Bumble and Bumble Don’t Blow It Hair Styler (150ml)

bumble and bumble air dry dont blow it hair styler

I had been looking for something like this for years now – namely on ‘beach holidays’ and when you (or I) don’t really want to waste time blow drying my hair every day after the beach/pool. I am a great fan of bumble and bumble and this product does exactly what it promises. It isn’t easy to find it in the UK (at the time of writing) but I managed to track some via Amazon for £28.95. I bought mine in the US for $35, so there isn’t much of a difference.

Babyliss Big Hair Duo

babyliss new big hair duoI have been faithful to my GHD hair straighteners for a good 3 or 4 years now, but saw this recently and was quite intrigued. There are 3 versions of this product – the BaByliss Big Hair 50mm 2885U Styler (£44.99) and a similar but with smaller brush with 39mm (£29.99), but I bought a pack which included both, and I could only find it online at Amazon for £65, which is an excellent deal. My first impression was that I made a big mistake, but after going on YouTube and watching some videos, I must say I am very excited about my purchase. Getting my hair done (with a bit of body) is now possible in under 10 minutes.

Tumi washbag

tumi wash bag toiletry bag

I had been trying to replace a set of 2 Tumi wash and make up bags for a single item and have recently purchased a black version of this washbag earlier this Summer. I like it so much, I have been telling all my friends about it, and between 5 of us, we now have one in each colour, I kid you not. I like the 3 different compartments and the fact that I can have everything that I need for a week in a single bag. I was getting annoyed with having to carry at least 2 separate items on each trip, but no more! I bought mine at a Tumi store in the USA, but found it online on Amazon for £74, which is almost half of what I paid for mine. It is available in various colours.

If you try any of the products mentioned above, do let me know your thoughts. But more importantly, what are you planning to buy this Autumn? Let me know!

xo

Mrs. O

A beginners guide to Madeira Wine

On a recent trip to Madeira (my first in over 15 years), I obviously got to taste a fair bit of Madeira Wine – it would be rude not to. But the truth is, I don’t know much about it – so I asked Chris Blandy, who I also met during my trip to explain a little bit more about its history and how we can enjoy it year round. Cheers! Mrs. O

What is Madeira Wine?

By Chris Blandy

Madeira is a fortified wine produced and bottled the Island of Madeira, in Portugal. Its origins came about during the era of discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries when the sailing ships passed by the island to pick up fresh water, supplies and ballast, in the form of wine in barrels. Legend has it that on one particular round trip to India, the barrels of wine were returned to the producer on the island who discovered that the wine had improved considerably due to the heating of the wine as the ships crossed the equator.

Madeira Wine Guide Quinta do Furão

Madeira’s dramatic scenery – Quinta do Furao

For centuries afterwards, shippers continued to send casks of their wines on long voyages, for no other reason than to develop greater character. Today, this ageing is replicated via the Estufagem and Canteiro methods in the wine lodges on the island. Fortification of the wine with brandy was introduced in the mid-18th century and today, the process continues with natural grape spirit.

Madeira wine is typically a mono-varietal wine, with each white varietal representing one of the four styles of Madeira. Dry, medium-dry, medium-rich and rich. The red Tinta Negra varietal is diverse enough to be able to represent any one of the four styles of Madeira.

What are the different styles of Madeira Wine?

Each white varietal represents a style.

SERCIAL

This varietal originates from the region of Bucelas, near Lisboa, where it was traditionally grown under the name Esgana Cão (Dog Strangler), having been introduced in Madeira, where it was given the name Sercial. The varietal produces big bunches of medium sized, thin skinned berries. The varietal has a late ripening and is resistant to oidium and mildium. Sercial produces wines that rarely achieve more than 11% alcohol before fortification. The wines are dry, remarkably fresh and present intense and vibrant aromas.

Madeira Wine Guide Blandy Serial 5 years with almonds

A 5-year Sercial with a side of almonds.

VERDELHO

Verdelho is widely cultivated in Madeira since the seventeenth century and was probably brought from northern continental Portugal during the early days of settlement on the island. This variety requires deep soils with some degree of moisture. Verdelho has low yields per hectare and early ripening.
The varietal offers compact and small bunches with a few berries. Before the arrival of phylloxera in Madeira in 1872, Verdelho represented approximately two-thirds of the vineyards of Madeira. Today is the white variety with the largest area (47 hectares) in Madeira, especially on the north coast, in vineyards located in Ponta Delgada, and São Vicente. The must has moderate sugar levels and a marked acidity. Verdelho is always vinified to produce medium-dry fortified wines.

Madeira Wine Guide Blandy Verdelho 10 years paired with cheese

A 10-year old Verdelho pairs wonderfully with cheese.

TERRANTEZ

Terrantez is an old variety that used to be widespread on the Portuguese island of Madeira, as evidenced by the 19th and 20th century bottles still sold at auction today. The varietal has very low yields, even zero in some years, and a late ripening. Although it is resistant to diseases in general, the compact bunches and extremely thin-skinned berries make it prone to botrytis bunch rot and berry splitting. As a result of its outstanding character once aged, Terrantez has recently been replanted on Madeira.

BUAL

Cultivated mainly in the southern coast of the island, between the municipalities of Ribeira Brava and Calheta, Bual is quite vigorous, generally easy to grow, only moderately susceptible to downy mildew and botrytis bunch rot, more so to powdery mildew, and has a late budding, allowing it not be so exposed to the risk of spring frosts. This varietal tends to mature early. This variety produces wines with distinct notes of spice, dried fruit and in Madeira is vinified in Medium Sweet style.

MALVASIA (MALMSEY)

Malvasia was introduced to Madeira in the 15th century and is cultivated mainly in the parish of São Jorge in the district of Santana on the north coast of the island and in Funchal area in the south coast. The planted area is now stable at around 39 ha (96 acres) and produces the sweetest of the island’s fortified wines. One of the most emblematic grapes to produce Madeira Wine usually has early budding and late ripening.

In July 2002, Blandy’s MWC again launched a completely new style of Madeira with a radical presentation, "Blandy's Alvada". The wine is different to anything that has been produced before as it combines 2 noble grape varieties, Malmsey and Bual to arrive at a superbly balanced wine that combines the rich flavours of the Malmsey with the more complex and drier structure of the Bual.

Innovation: “Blandy’s Alvada”

In July 2002, Blandy’s MWC again launched a completely new style of Madeira with a radical presentation, “Blandy’s Alvada”. The wine is different to anything that has been produced before as it combines 2 noble grape varieties, Malmsey and Bual to arrive at a superbly balanced wine that combines the rich flavours of the Malmsey with the more complex and drier structure of the Bual.

TINTA NEGRA

The only red grape variety. Versatile and productive, it accounts for approximately 80% to 85% of the island production, being used predominately to make three-year old wines, although not exclusively.
This domain was especially pronounced when phylloxera struck the island in 1872, as growers chose to plant this variety which has a thicker skin compared to the white varietals. Depending on the altitude, humidity, region, solar exposure and length of fermentation of the must, the grapes can deliver richer or drier styles.

Madeira Wine Guide Blandy Quinta de Santa Luzia

Quinta de Santa Luzia in Madeira

THERE ARE TWO DISTINCT CATEGORIES OF MADEIRA WINE: BLENDS AND DATED WINES

BLENDS

The art of producing a consistent quality blend is perhaps the hardest job for the winemaking team. The combination of the older more aromatic wines with the more youthful wines to produce a balanced blend that satisfies both the nose and the palate of the consumer takes many years of experience. The authorized Madeira Wine blends are 3-year-old, 5-year-old, 10-year-old, 15-year-old, 20-year-old, 30-year-old, and “more than 40-year-old” and these are average ages of the wine in bottle.

DATED WINES

Single harvest dated wines are divided into two sub-categories: “Colheita” and “Vintage” or otherwise known as Frasqueira.

These wines are identified at harvest time, based on the exceptional quality of the fruit, placed into specific ageing programs and then regularly checked to ensure the wines continue to develop with quality.

Every year in November the winemaker tastes all wines ageing in barrel and decides which will be used to makeup blends and which will keep on ageing and released later as colheitas or vintage madeiras.

Madeira Wine Guide Madeira Blandy

A good collection of Madeira Wine

Colheita or Single Harvest
Colheita is a relatively new category, introduced first in 2000 by the Blandy family with the objective of releasing an exceptional wine prior to it becoming a 20-year-old vintage. The wines can age between 5 years to 18 years in cask before being bottled and released as a Colheita or commonly known as a baby Vintage. As least a barrel of the wine released as a Colheita is left to continue ageing to be later released as a Vintage.

Frasqueira
Vintage Madeiras must age for a minimum 20 years in cask before being bottled and released. It is a decision taken by the family and the winemaker on when the wine should be bottled, as each grape variety has its own ageing potential. It is due to this length of time spent in oak casks that gives these wines their unique aromas, intense complexity and freshness for which they are renowned. There is no maximum ageing period and the company still has wine ageing in barrel from as early as 1920.

Madeira Wine Guide Blandy sotao damendoa

Sotao da Amendoa, at the Blandy’s Wine Lodge in Funchal, which is open to the public.

STORING AND SERVING MADEIRA

All Madeira wines should be stored upright, away from direct sunlight and just below room temperature. The majority of wines are all bottled ready to be drunk and will not improve with age.
Vintage Madeiras have the fascinating ability to remain in excellent condition for many years, even for centuries. Older vintages should be decanted to remove any deposit that has built up over the years and should be opened well in advance before drinking. A general rule is to open the wine one day for every 10 years that the wine has been in bottle. Once opened, Madeira wine can last for many months if stored in the correct conditions.

Madeira Wine Guide Quinta do Bispo - on the north of the Island

Quinta do Bispo, located on the north of Madeira

When it comes to enjoying Madeira, we suggest that the dry and medium dry styles be served chilled (12°C) and the medium rich and rich styles be served slightly chilled (16°C). The glassware is important we suggest that all Madeiras should be enjoyed using a typical port glass.

Chris Blandy Madeira Wine Guide vineyard

Chris Blandy

The Blandys are unique in being the only family of all the original founders of the Madeira wine trade to still own and manage their own original wine company; 2 centuries of fine wine production. The family has played a leading role in the development of Madeira wine throughout its long history and members of the family continue to live on Madeira, maintaining a tradition that goes back to 1811. Chris Blandy is CEO and the 7th generation to work in the business. If you are visiting Funchal, you can also visit the Blandy’s Wine Lodge.

My hOtel: Hotel Atlantic Kempinski Hamburg @Kempinski_HH

myhotel

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg

A city landmark, the Hotel Atlantic. Photo by hotel.

I visited Hamburg in Germany recently for a conference and my choice of hotel was the one and only Hotel Atlantic Kempinski. The city’s ‘grand dame’, who has recently been the subject of a very tasteful refurbishment – and yes, it is the James Bond hotel.

Pre-Arrival

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

Yes indeed. My stay had been planned months in advance, and we were quite well acquainted by the time I arrived at the hotel. Worth noting that the hotel is quite active on social media, which makes for a refreshing change, and uses it to interact with guests.

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

I did and we actually had quite a bit of fun.

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

Not particularly, but then again I did not have any particular requests.

Arrival

To be brutally honest, my hotel experience started at the airport. I had pre-booked a private transfer to the hotel and as I got out of the airport, I looked for a sign with my name. What I wasn’t quite expecting was to see David, one of the hotel’s star concierges waiting for me in full uniform and a great smile.

He was also very chatty and even offered to drive me around the city for a mini tour before we got to the hotel. I wasn’t in a rush, it was Sunday, there was no traffic and it was incredibly useful as I got more or less my bearings and helped with my orientation over the next couple of days.

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg driver

Say hello to David. He will pick you up from the airport too!

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

We arrived at the hotel and I have to say I was quite surprised – it looked exactly as I thought it would from the outside, but I found the lobby area different to what I expected. The hotel has been recently refurbished and I was told by David that all the common areas were designed so they looked exactly the same way they did beforehand. So there was a lot of restoration rather than refurbishment.

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

In true German fashion, what could one expect? It was quick and very friendly.

–          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 indeed.

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

I wasn’t sure which room type I had been assigned, and was delighted with my junior suite with views of the lake.

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg hotel lobby

The hotel interiors

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

I did, and this continued throughout my stay – everyone I came across was incredibly friendly and helpful, and I must say, very good-looking (I do like these HR policies).

–          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, which was taken from the car to my room quickly.

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

 Wifi is complimentary and worked well during my stay.

Room Experience

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg room view

A room with a view, ja?

 

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

My room, a junior suite, was very spacious and beautifully decorated. Each floor has an accent colour, and mine was purple.

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg deluxe room lake view 1

A very spacious and comfortable room.

–          Welcome amenity

I had a fruit basket waiting for me, as well as 2 bottles of water.

–          The bed

I would have preferred a king bed (namely as I was travelling without Mr. O and would get the bed all to myself, which doesn’t happen often!),  but I had two twin beds which were comfortable, albeit on the hard side, but with excellent pillows.

–          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.

No problems there. I needed some extra hangers which were promptly sent by housekeeping.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

I didn’t find one, but in all honesty, I didn’t need it.

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg junior suite deluxe bedroom details

Room details

–          Bathrobes and slippers

They were lovely in true Kempinski style (you may want to read my review of a previous stay in St. Moritz), and for once, I actually used them!

–          Coffee and Tea

The room had a Nespresso machine and equipped for all coffee and tea needs, but as always, I did not use.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, on arrival and replenished daily on turn-down.

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

Nothing really worth mentioning, but it did have a very good shopping guide, which was quite handy as I was keen to help the local economy the following day before my conference started.

–          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.

Yes yes and yes. All very well positioned and I used them all!

Bathroom

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg junior suite deluxe bathroom

A beautiful bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was excellent – and very spacious. It also had underfloor heating, which I love.

–          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?

I had a separate bath and shower (and only used the latter), and have to say, it was very powerful and I was able to operate it without any assistance.

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

Very good and plenty!

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

I had Molton Brown toiletries – loved the shower gel, but did not use the shampoo/conditioner as I brought my own.

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

Kempinski hotels always have great bathroom amenities and The Atlantic was no exception.

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

There was one, which looked ‘proper’, but I did not use as I had a blow dry the following day.

Breakfast

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg breakfast

Lost for words. The perfect breakfast for a Portuguese girl (and everyone else!!)

I have to say, the breakfast was excellent. Excellent, excellent! And I have to be honest – I had some made to order eggs and bacon on the first day, but when I spotted the Portuguese bread rolls after I had the eggs, those were the only things I had for the rest of my 4-day stay. I wasn’t expecting to find a Portuguese community in Hamburg, and see so many familiar things, and this was a lovely surprise. I had room service breakfast one day as well, and it was just perfect.

Bar

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg gin sul and bar

A great discovery: Gin Sul. Perfect German and Portuguese mix?

As it was sunny, I actually did not use the bar per se so much, but I did use its courtyard, which was beautiful and a perfect place to enjoy a Gin & Tonic. I spotted a display of a local gin, called Gin Sul, which was made in Hamburg but with Portuguese botanicals – which was a lovely surprise. I was also able to get my gin served in a wine glass (in the absence of a Portuguese style gin glass), which made me super happy.

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg patio

The quietest place in the hotel – you wouldn’t believe you were in the city centre.

General thoughts

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg hotel

The Hamburg Grand Dame of hotels – which I absolutely loved.

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

The wifi worked well, but I had to connect a few times (it logged off if inactive). It was free of charge and very fast, I must say.

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

Indeed, and we had quite a bit of fun.

–          Location

The hotel is right on Lake Alster and has truly beautiful views of the city. It is 10 minutes away by foot to the shopping area easy to reach.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Rooms start from EUR 199 and a Junior Suite with Lake View starts from EUR 469.
–          Airport transfers

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg private transfers

Meet David and Joahnnes, the superstars of my stay.

I travelled to and from the airport using the hotel’s private transfer service (EUR 145 each way) and was driven by David on arrival and Joahnnes on departure and I have to say, both journeys were excellent and a great addition to the hotel experience. Why? Because both are actually employed by the hotel (and part of its super starred concierge team). I really enjoyed the conversation I had with each one, and got some ideas to go to some places which would have been difficult to capture in another way. I also had a very interesting conversation with Joahnnes on the way back to the airport about ‘how useful a concierge is’ at a luxury hotel nowadays – and his response ‘we have to be better than the internet’ really made me think about it. And by talking to both, it inspired me to dedicate some more time to this topic (and I will certainly be asking for their thoughts on an upcoming article).

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg hotel decor

I found this sitting area in my room floor corridor – and thought it would be the perfect place to read a book. I loved how the fabric worked well with the glass.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely. I felt very much at home at the hotel – very comfortable and very safe. I was travelling on my own and attending a conference, which required coming back to the room during the day to change etc, and arriving back late after the various functions and there was something quite homely about it. The staff were excellent and it never felt awkward to be on my own, which sometimes happens.

–          Would I stay again?

Without a doubt. I was very impressed with Hamburg (and did not have enough spare time). Mr. O has also visited a few times on business and we both agreed we would come back for a weekend, as there is something about this city.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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