Shopping with a personal stylist in NYC – a review of GoodLooks

My love for clothes (and shoes) is well document. In fact, it is a passion that goes hand in hand with my love for travel. You know, because travel can equal incredible shopping experiences. Unashamedly, I do not pack light – but what I don’t always tell you is that many times my Tumis leave home empty. You can see where I am going with this.

On a recent trip to New York, I was invited by Good Looks to try their personal stylist service. I have to say I was intrigued – I had never shopped with a stylist, and always felt that there would be no need unless you were spending tens of thousands of dollars, or that if you picked an in-store option, you would kind of be forced to buy random things.

Good Looks offers a platform in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago where you can find the right stylist for you. The fees are clear (charged per hour) and you do not have to buy anything. However, if you do, your stylist will make a 5%-10% commission depending on the service you select. More on that later.

Picking a stylist was my first priority – and the key here was picking the right stylist for you. I am quite ‘classic’ in my style, a great believer in quality over quantity and also a keen worshipper of the ‘cost per usage’ way of life. I much prefer to invest in pieces which will last me a long time (and are wardrobe staples) – but will mix it up with seasonal pieces. I am not ‘super trendy’ by definition and obviously the goal of the session was not to become a catwalk junkie.

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Ali’s profile on GoodLooks

After looking at various profiles, and with the help of Mitzi (one of the founders of Good Looks), we decided that Ali Call was the woman for the job. You can choose by price, neighbourhood or approach and I loved Ali’s profile. Also liked that she specialised in designer, discount and up and coming – but with a classical approach. We could be on to something.

I contacted Ali via the platform saying that I would like to update my winter wardrobe with some key pieces which would be travel friendly (duh), and I would like a mix of city chic and ‘suitable for a weekend away’ items. We established the budget at $1000 and over a couple of weeks we exchanged emails where she asked me what I liked, what I did not like, which brands did I usually buy and so forth.

goodlooks personal stylist service ali call correspondence

Black and White, just the way I like it…

As I was visiting New York, the option of an in-house call and wardrobe edit was not a real possibility – and I was checking out of my hotel that day, so we went for a real in person ‘trailing the shops’ experience. This would be like shopping with your BFF with a difference: she wouldn’t lie to you. Ali would visit the shops beforehand and have all the items preselected for me which would save time, of course.

We settled for a 3 hour session (priced at $120/hour) and a 5% commission on my $1000 budget, which brought it to a total of $410, which you settle via GoodLooks (and I was the first international shopper and can confirm that the system worked brilliantly).

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Bloomingdales

As it was sales season, I made Ali’s job harder – but this is where personal connections make a difference and stores will hold stock for the right person. Needless to say, there was a real opportunity to score some real bargains.

We met at Bloomingdales (which I must confess I had not been to for years, and has been ‘revamped’ recently) and made our way to the Elie Tahari concession where Ali had reserved a large and spacious dressing room. I love Elie Tahari and it is one of my ‘must visit’ shops on every trip to the US – and funnily enough, Ali used to work at Elie Tahari in her pre-stylist days. It does classics very well, it has a little bit of an edge, the quality and cut is excellent and it never disappoints.

I told Ali I wanted to focus on blue and grey as she was going blind on my actual wardrobe – so we knew it would complement what I already had.

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The initial selection

At first glance, the colour palette was spot on – we were off to a good start. But there were so many items I would have never picked… But I was approaching this challenge with an open mind and obviously I was game to try anything that came my way. The first items I tried were quite key – namely as this is when you get the chance to say ‘I don’t like it at all’. But Ali surprised me and went like ‘Nope, nope, nope’, or ‘This isn’t you at all’. And that was a key moment in building trust – this woman was not selling me things for the sake of selling me things – her fees were covered and all she really wanted was for me to look fab.

I was sold on all cashmere items (even some she had picked up and bought for me beforehand – again no obligation as it could be returned) and we did particularly well on some open cardigans for $100. God bless America and its sales.

good looks stylist experience new york city ali call elie tahari bloomingdales luxury travel blogger mrs o around the world

I don’t wear white or leggings. Famous last words.

Turns out I look quite good in leggings – and one can match them with heels (I wore heels all my life but stopped. Or have I?). And after all, white does not make me look so fat. Please note that I picked the worst week of the year to go shopping: the first week of the year, after the Christmas fatness and 4 days indulging with friends in Boston and Greenwich.

I felt good. There was a newfound confidence too. I honestly loved the feeling. And who knew that there were silk camis that you can layer under sweaters and they take 5 pounds of you?

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Super Ali and our final selection from Bloomingdales featuring Elie Tahari, Sanctuary, Magaschoni Cashmere and Bloomingdales Cashmere.

From Bloomingdales, we hoped on a cab to takes us to Aritzia, which is a Canadian store on 5th Avenue. Interestingly enough, I had popped round on a previous visit to the city and thought it was ‘way too trendy for me’. I am past my mid-thirties, after all.

Turns out Ali knows the various collections and labels inside out and this place is FAB for wardrobe staples like the silk camis and the world’s best gift to women: high wasted leggings. Exactly. Ali also found this gorgeous dress for me. In green ?

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Our picks from Aritzia.

Now you are looking at the photo above and thinking: are those LEATHER leggings? WTH? Well, they are liquid leggings (in Ali’s words, so extra good quality not real leather) and they would go VERY well with the white cami, the white jumper from Elie Tahari and my own dark red Valentino flat rock studs. And between us, I have worn the outfit a few times in London and have people come over to me all the time. Quite interesting.

What I bought

A few days after our session, I got an email from Ali which detailed what I bought and very importantly, what to do with it. Here goes:

Magaschoni Sleeveless Turtleneck – royal blue 
“This cozy sleeveless turtleneck can be worn back to skinny jeans and flats or layered with an Aritzia camisole and skinny pants or leggings. Heels or flats. Add a leather jacket or fur vest for a luxe layered look”.

Elie Tahari Turtleneck – ivory
“I love this back to skinny jeans (blue or gray denim) or black pants, dressed up with a heel or more casually with an ankle bootie or flat”.

Magaschoni Swing sweater – cobalt blue
“This cozy, casual sweater looks great back to a white tank and leggings, with trainers or flats”.

Aritzia Dress – evergreen
“This comfortable, chic dress can be worn dressed up with heels (stiletto pumps, open toe or knee boots) and the graphic topper, or dressed down with a flat. Add a luxe element like a fur vest for texture”.

Aritzia Liquid Leggings – black
“I love these leggings with a textural sweater. Wear with the Magaschoni slevveless turtleneck and white aritzia cami back to flats or heels (layer over a black jacket or outerwear piece), the more casual swing sweater or the ivory Elie Tahari turtleneck. The liquid leggin can also be worn back to a blouse/blazer combo”.

Elie Tahari Tuxedo pants – black
“This sporty pant looks great dressed up with a pump and silk blouse, or worn sportluxe with a cashmere sweater and white trainers”.

Sanctuary Sleeveless Topper – black/white
“I love this graphic topper back to an all black ensemble (black turtleneck and black slim pants or pencil skirt) and an accessory that pops (bright shoes or handbag). This topper would also look great back to the green Aritzia swing dress and your black Aquazurra Shoes”.

I also bought 2 pairs of high wasted black leggings and we identified some items for me to source later – i.e. the famous grey fur vest (with we got from Joie and I had it shipped to Ali, who in turn gave it to a friend of mine who was visiting as for some bizarre reason one cannot ship fur from the USA to the UK) and a black sleeveless turtleneck to go with the white/black vest. We stayed within the $1000 budget (I think it was $1100 at the end) and I could have not been happier.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed my experience with Ali – at the risk of sounding ridiculous, it was life changing. I went home and did a little wardrobe edit and really found a new sense of style – very close to my previous one, so it isn’t like I had a personality change, but with a little bit more edge. Mr. O loved all the items and it has been interesting to see how friends and clients actually reacted to the new looks. The other obvious thing is that we picked American brands so not every item is available here in Europe (and that is one of the reasons I always shop stateside). Want to hear what my friends thought? Have a peek at this Instagram post and read the comments. Priceless.

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I loved every minute of my GoodLooks experience.

We have been in touch since and I have made the decision to continue to work with Ali (via GoodLooks, of course), even though I am based in London and she is in NYC. We are now going to do a spring wardrobe edit and she’s going to help me find the key items for my ‘Spring Look’ but also tying in with what I already have. I don’t think I have ever looked forward to a Skype call this much.

Next time I am in town (you know that NYC is one of my favourite cities in the world – and one of my Top 5 Destinations for Winter 2016), I am getting together with Ali again. And boy are we going to have fun.

If you are planning a visit to NYC, LA, Chicago or San Francisco, I urge you to try this service – not only for the wardrobe benefits. It does wonders to your self confidence too.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: 

GoodLooks is a marketplace featuring the largest selection of personal stylists.  They curate and vet every stylist to make sure they can provide clients with the best services possible. GoodLooks provides the tools to find a stylist by using filters including service desired, price, neighborhood, and approach/vibe.  We currently offer our network of stylists in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. GoodLooks is an LA based tech start-up founded by Mitzi Reaugh and Cynthia Rupeka.

A personal stylist session takes between 3-4 hours and costs between $200-500 (depending on the hourly cost of the stylist). Mine cost $360 + 5% commission and was courtesy of Mitzi. Opinions are, as always my own, and I LOVED this service.

The Strand Cruise – a boutique luxury cruise journey from Bagan to Mandalay, Myanmar

The maiden voyage trip of the luxury boutique The Strand Cruise was, without a doubt, one of my absolute travel highlights of 2015. Departing from Bagan, in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and making a 4-day journey on the Ayeyarwady river towards Mandalay, the Strand Cruise offers only 27 cabins – bringing the maximum number of passengers to 54. Small and cozy – just the way I like it.

Full disclosure here: I had been on a cruise in 2012, and even though I enjoyed it (it was the ‘business class’ of a larger ship), I have consciously not been on one ever since – but the allure of what was in fact a boutique hotel on water, and a staff ratio of 2:1 and stunning scenery made us decide to change our plans (and booked air tickets) from Rio de Janeiro and join the maiden voyage of The Strand Cruise.

We started our journey in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we spent 36 fantastic hours (blog post to follow, worry not!) and after 2 nights in town, we made our way to Myanmar. We flew with Malaysia Airlines from KL to Yangon, the capital, and from there, took an interesting domestic flight to Bagan, with 2 stops along the way.

Our driver met us at the airport, and within 20 minutes, we made it to where the Strand Cruise was moored, and I have to say, we were very very excited.

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The Strand Cruise moored in Bagan, Myanmar

We were welcomed by fresh towels and invited to leave our shoes at the door, so they could be cleaned – something that happened every time we re-entered the ship, and I have to say, set the tone for what was to come. We were escorted to our Strand Cabin, which I was dying to see as I had only seen computer-generated images and nothing beats real life, as they say.

As I don’t want to spoil your future journey, and describe every single step of the trip – it really wouldn’t be fair, I would like to invite you to take a guided tour of The Strand Cruise, which will hopefully leave you wanting for more. A lot more.

The Cabin

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Our cabin at the Strand Cruise – really quite spacious.

From the minute we stepped on the boat, we really felt like we were at a boutique hotel. Everything felt spacious and the decor was lovely. Our cabin, a ‘Strand Cabin’ had a very good layout – with a fabulous bed, a separate seating area and bathroom.

I was a little bit worried about the storage area, and at the end (namely when I asked for an extra 15 hangers, ha), it all worked very well. I am not afraid to admit that I am NOT a light packer.

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Some details from our cabin – USB ports, plenty of storage, the pre-trip welcome pack and must haves like mosquito repellant, provided for all guests.

We arrived just as it was getting dark, hence the photos – but I was also able to take a day light photo. One can describe this as a room with a view indeed. One can wake to great views – but that depends where the boat is moored each day (so take a peek before opening your window in the morning!).

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Not a bad view…

With regards to the bathroom, I have to say, it was one of the parts that impressed me the most. Good size, excellent fittings and a great shower. Also loved the Roger & Gallet toiletries which were very good quality and smelled delicious – so no need to pack anything else.

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Top marks to the bathroom. Hairdryer was also good and there was a socket in there, which made my life easier.

Housekeeping comes round in the morning and for turn-down and we never had a problem with timings.

The ship

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We loved the decor of the ship

Bring brand spanking new, and built to spec, there were obviously no excuses for oversights – and there were none. I loved the decor of the ship, which gave us a great sense of place, so to speak. It was modern, local but very very homely. I felt very comfortable everywhere and obviously the staff helped.

The ship has a dining room, a lounge and bar, an outside deck with seating area, a pool, a gym and a spa – so there is something for everyone. With only 50-something passengers it obviously does not get busy or crowded.

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The sundeck and pool. And Mr. O’s sofa – you’d always find him there.

One of the largest selling points of The Strand Cruise is, without a doubt, the sundeck and pool – which other boats do not offer. Obviously it is small, but it was never ever too busy. We used it namely for afternoon naps which were much needed.

The ship has 2 spa treatment rooms and we booked a 1-hour massage each ($65) – we were the very first guests to have a treatment and really quite enjoyed it. We wanted to book more, but afternoon time over the next couple of days was not easy to find. Next time.

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The upper deck lounge

On the opposite side of the sundeck, you will find the outdoor lounge, where we enjoyed lunch every day and obviously used as a place to socialise and top up our sun tans. At night, this is where we watched the sunset and had a gin & tonic or three. This is also the only smoking area on the ship.

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The dining room

There is one restaurant for everyone – and you can always choose to have your meals outdoors or indoors. We chose to have breakfast and dinner indoors and lunch outdoors. The three meals, including soft drinks and wine are included in the cost of the cruise – and not only were the wines good, I felt they were very generous by leaving a significant amount of extra bottles at the bar for some post dinner indulgence. If you wanted a coffee or a soft drink or water during the day, it was never charged.

The food was excellent and varied – my only comment was that it was too ‘international’. Having travelled all the way to Asia, I would have expected more local food, but also understand that many guests come from that part of the world and fancy something different. All in all, no problems. If anything, we were overfed – we had afternoon tea on the first afternoon and never again, as it really was too much.

Worth noting that most of the management team is French, so there is a significant French influence in all the food – obviously that means excellent bread and pastries too.

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The bar and lounge

The bar was well stocked and had a good selection of gin – the tonic was the issue. It is one of the hardest items to get in Myanmar (it is easier to get foie gras, put it this way). Fever Tree is not popular in Asia yet, and Schweppes disappears in seconds at the market. But the team (potentially surprised with how much gin was enjoyed) promised to look into this – we never ran out of tonic, for the record, it just wasn’t ‘it’.

Excursions and activities

All excursions and activities (with the exception of spa treatments, of course) are included except one: the hot air ballooning in Bagan, which costs $350 per person.

We did this on the very first day and loved it. It involves a 4.30am wake up call but the views were worth a million dollars. A word of advice: if you want to do it, book it when you book your trip as there may not be any room left. The reason why I say this is that our ‘balloon pilot’ told us that on some days, there are 200+ people on a waitlist. There is a limited number of balloons and only one flight a day, so it is a game of supply and demand.

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A very special experience.

You get picked up by a local private bus, then given a safety briefing over a light breakfast and up you go. The whole experience lasted over 2 hours, and that includes the transfers, the flight and the post-flight breakfast, which is served with sparkling wine. It gets very cold in the morning, and the Strand team had these lovely shawls that we were able to take with us.

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Wait until you see the video which will come at the end of this post. Just you wait!

Every day, we had excursions organised for us – always with a different type of transportation! From carriages, to tuk-tuks, it was all covered. You do not have to go on anything you don’t want – I skipped one on Christmas Day as I fancied a little lie in. No problems whatsoever.

My favourite excursion was Mingun, where we visited the unfinished pagoda and the Bell. Mr. O decided to be brave and climbed all the way to the top.

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Mingun

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Wait until you see the footage that this fellow guest captured on his drone.

On another day, we visited Ava which had the most exquisite temple. We visited just before sunset and I will never forget the views. Note that these excursions took an hour or so each, so it wasn’t ‘too much sightseeing’ at all.

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The stunning temple in Ava

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Sagaing Pagoda – one of the largest in Myanmar

Scenery

The whole journey, which took 4 days (and 4 nights), was stunning. I was worried that it would get a bit the same, but with all the hops and excursions, if anything, I felt I needed more time on the ship.

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Some moments from our trip.

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This is the bit I missed in and around Mandalay

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Beautiful views on the Ayeyarwady river

Service

We were the first guests of the ship and on the first day, I would say that there had been some growing pains. But, in all honesty, the managing team was absolutely on top of their game and everything became great. Day to day you saw the staff’s confidence increasing, and it was wonderful to see their sense of achievement by the time we ended the cruise. Hats off to the team. Everyone was super kind and contributed a lot to our experience.

The Strand Cruise offers a 2:1 staff to guest ratio, which is the highest of all luxury cruises operating in the area.

Technology

We did not have the satellite wi-fi working during our trip, but I understand this is now up and running. We bought a local SIM card from the ship reception and were able to get 3G when we were closer to shore. Not a problem at all.

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We loved our Strand Cruise experience.

My final verdict:

If you are considering a trip to this part of the world (and you should), I absolutely recommend the Strand Cruise. The boat was gorgeous, we were very well looked after, and really really relaxed. There was no motion and we slept really well. If anything, 4 days was not enough. And this coming from a non-cruiser, is saying something.

And saving the best for last – one of our fellow passengers made a spectacular video using a drone during our trip. It showcases this journey from a completely different perspective and I urge you to watch. You won’t be sorry.

And until the next time!

Xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: My husband and I were guests of the Strand Cruise and opinions are, as always, my own. 

The lead in price for a three-night journey on the Strand Cruise between Mandalay and Bagan is from US$1,782 per person and the four-night journey between Bagan and Mandalay is from US$1,976 per person, both based on double occupancy.  There is a special launch offer for sailings from now until the end of April 2016 of 20% off published rates. Price includes all excursions and activities as described in the itinerary, three meals during full sailing days, breakfast on day of disembarkation, soft drinks & local beer, house wine during meals, port charges, English speaking guides (alternative language guides can be provided on request subject to availability), satellite WI-FI in all cabins and public areas and complimentary international daily newspapers available on guest’s digital tablets.

Top 5 Destinations for Winter 2016

Winter in the Northern Hemisphere means a *bit* of cold – and obviously sun elsewhere. A knee injury has prevented me from skiing this Winter, which made me very sad – that meant I had to chase the sun instead. A little bit. Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Destinations for Winter 2016.

New York, USA

I have a thing for NYC, I will not lie – I first visited when I was 21 and I promised myself I would go back at least once a year, and 15 years later, I have not defaulted on my promise. 2015 took me twice to the city that never sleeps – and I started the year the way I intended to go on.

I also discovered a delightful new boutique hotel – 1 Hotel Central Park which was a delightful surprise.

NEW YORK CITY USA LUXURY WINTER DESTINATIONS

Punta Nizuc, Mexico

What do you do when your husband goes away skiing with the boys? You meet your BFF who lives in New Zealand somewhere halfway. Our previous meeting point was in Palm Springs, California last Summer, so we decided to be creative and met at the stunning Nizuc Resort & Spa in Mexico. Not far from Cancun, but a world away in terms of the crowds and buildings. It was one of the best designed hotels I have had the pleasure of staying at and loved every minute of it. For reference, Air New Zealand now flies directly from Auckland to Houston (13 hours) and from there it is a very short hop to Cancun. Her travel time was just a few hours more from mine as I flew from London via Miami.

PUNTA NIZUC MEXICO LUXURY WINTER DESTINATIONS

Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain

Mr. O surprised me with a weekend in a secret location (more precisely for Valentine’s Day) – I only knew it would be wet, 15c and the flight would be under 2 hours away from London. I was delighted to find myself flying to Bilbao and then enjoying a very well organised weekend between that city and San Sebastian. Bilbao was our first weekend away together almost 11 years ago and I can’t tell you how lovely it was to go back. I particularly liked the fact that he had taken an empty suitcase, booked every meal and activity possible AND allowed plenty of time for shopping. We stayed at the lovely Hotel Maria Cristina – a Luxury Collection Hotel, which is a place I stayed many times before with my family.

DONOSTIA SAN SEBASTIAN SPAIN LUXURY WINTER DESTINATIONS

Alentejo, Portugal

You can take the girl out of Portugal, but not Portugal out of the girl, as they say. I am surprising my mother (well, not really a surprise now) and sister with a lovely weekend in one of our favourite places in the world – the Alentejo region, located between Lisbon and the Algarve. There aren’t many plans so far, but you know the drill: drink a little wine, eat a little food and just relax.

ALENTEJO PORTUGAL LUXURY WINTER DESTINATIONS

Dubai, UAE

I have resisted Dubai until now but no more. I loved Abu Dhabi and quite enjoyed Qatar on previous visits (it is always my connecting stop when we fly to the Maldives with Qatar Airways) and after a bit of persuasion from a few readers, I am giving it a go. It will also be my first trip of the year with Sovereign, with whom I travelled to quite a few places last year such as Madeira, Maldives, Halkidiki and the Algarve. I’m hoping to discover a slightly less blingy version of Dubai and the Sovereign team is preparing something quite special for me, so watch this space.

DUBAI UAE LUXURY WINTER DESTINATIONS

What do you think of my Top 5 Destinations for Winter 2016? Do you have any tips for me? And more importantly, where are you planning to travel this season?

xo

Mrs. O

A hotel to remember: Pine Cliffs Hotel in the Algarve, Portugal

Some hotels really become part of one’s life. And the Pine Cliffs Hotel, in the Algarve in Portugal, has been part of mine and my family’s for many many many years. Decades, really. The Pine Cliffs Hotel, a Luxury Collection Resort is the new name of the Sheraton Algarve (which has always been part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection) – I never quite got how a hotel could be double-branded, but that is now a thing of the past.

In the Summer of 2015, I was able to stay at the hotel’s first batch of brand new rooms which were the first stage of a complete renovation. The hotel is currently closed until June 2016 – and things will never be the same, as they say.

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Not difficult to guess why we go back year after year…

I am not quite sure how old I was when I first stayed at this hotel… maybe 10-12? Most of you can work out how old I am, so it is just a question of math.

Located on one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the Algarve, the Pine Cliffs Hotel gives us our yearly dose of a Portuguese Summer in a week. Mr. O started his annual pilgrimages 10 years ago (on our second year together) and we agreed to make this weeklong stay part of our pre-nuptial agreement. You think this is a joke? It is actually not.

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Hotel design details

The hotel has quite an interesting style – quite Moorish in a way, which gives you a little bit of sense of place. But what I like about it the most, is how spacious and quiet it is. There is something about the hotel (and the rest of the resort), which has a very beach chic and very unpretentious feeling about it.

Like many of my trips last year, I travelled with Sovereign who offer a range of exclusive benefits on all of its holidays including private resort transfers and complimentary lounge access.  However, this time I already had my flight booked so I just booked my accommodation with them and instead I made the most of chocolate dipped strawberries and sparkling wine which are a complimentary welcome gift for all Sovereign guests.

The new rooms

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A renovated deluxe room at the Pine Cliffs Hotel

We stayed in a premium deluxe bedroom (instead of the normal junior suite we book every year), as it was the only room type that had been refurbished.

I have to confess I was worried about one thing: that tiled headboards would go. A very first world problem, I know – but it is one of the things that makes this hotel truly unique. And they stayed. They were actually moved (each tile, one by one, in some cases), so the room design would make more sense, but they are there for the next generation to enjoy.

This room type is really quite spacious (so if you upgrade, it only gets better than this), and I loved the new décor. It was simple, very neutral, but so homely. We do not like a lot of bling in Portugal. It is a beach hotel – I really could not ask for more.

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Very tasteful decor and some special treats for Sovereign guests!

All Sovereign guests get a lovely welcome treat – chocolate dipped strawberries and a bottle of sparkling wine.

All the beds (and bedding, and pillows) have been upgrade to The Luxury Collection current standards and were excellent. The bathrooms are brand new and I cannot point a finger – again very tastefully done (can’t go wrong with beige), with a full bath and a kick-ass power shower (so good, I actually took a photo). And one of my bathroom weaknesses are built-in toiletry holders, which as you can see, were provided.

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I really liked the new bathrooms

The amenities were Elemis (an interesting choice, not common at all in Portugal), which are good. My only comment is related to the size of the bath towels which are tiny (and is a very Starwood thing at the moment, which could be improved). I don’t know about you, but I like my bath towels to cover everything. Everything.

On the tech front, it was the second hotel I have ever seen provide USB chargers (the first being Ikos Olivia in Greece). I was really quite impressed.

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Our outside space and the much appreciated USB ports

The only issue I had was with the turndown service – and this happened for the first time in decades. I would come back to the room at 7.30pm from the beach (a very Portuguese time) and find the room in complete darkness. We complained every day, as the whole point of turndown is to have the room ready for when you arrive in the evening and only on our 5th night it got sorted – as I said before, this never ever happened before as the hotel caters for Portuguese and ‘foreign’ eating times. And beach times. And G&T times.

Food & Drink

We always stay on a B&B basis, as there are so many places to explore in the area, and I did not want it to change our stay in any way.

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I really like the breakfast at the hotel – and service was better than in previous years.

Breakfast at the hotel is excellent – and you have a few options. We prefer the outdoor one, which is always lovely. If you choose to be outside, you have access to a smaller buffet, but also have made to order options for eggs and the like. I love how Portuguese the buffet is – but worry not, there is something for everyone, promise.

For lunch, we always go to the next beach (outside the hotel) to a little seaside shack called Golfinho Azul, and have the best fish and sangria we can possibly imagine. They know us well, we have to call on the first day to book a table and then have a daily reservation at 3pm. The service is quite decent and every day we have something different – but the same sangria.

pine cliffs hotel sheraton algarve portugal luxury collection hotel sovereign renovated beach sangria

Never enough!

Lunches come out at between 20-35 Eur per person, depending on what we eat (e.g. sardines are cheaper than other fish for example – but not less delicious).

pine cliffs hotel sheraton algarve portugal luxury collection hotel sovereign luxury lunch golfinho azul

For 51 weeks a year I look forward to these lunches…

I have never been particularly inspired by the hotel options for dinner, but that does not matter as new restaurants will open this Summer. Hopefully Olivier will continue to be part of the Summer programme – we always have dinner one night at Yakuza by Olivier, which has a pop-up Japanese restaurant at the resort during the Summer – and excellent drinks too.

With regards to drinks, well… When we leave the beach, we always have our sunset G&T at the Mirador Champagne Bar. This means being in our best beach attire – whilst half of the guests are already showered and ready for dinner. This is where the hotel handles very well the Iberian (Portuguese and Spanish guests) and the ‘more European’ guests which have different habits. They have been doing this for decades, after all.

pine cliffs hotel sheraton algarve portugal luxury collection hotel sovereign luxury gin sunset bar

Best sunsets of the year… (PS. That photo of us was taken on the only day we actually did not go immediately after the beach)

After dinner, we tend to go to Olivier for a drink as somehow everyone seems to go to bed at around 11pm!

Beach & Pool

pine cliffs hotel sheraton algarve portugal luxury collection hotel sovereign beach bar

The beach area for the hotel guests

Beach or Pool? Well, to be fair, we always go to the beach. Why? Because it is actually one of the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve, although erosion is really damaging the experience.

pine cliffs hotel sheraton algarve portugal luxury collection hotel sovereign luxury beach

Look how the beach is getting quite small and the incline…

The sun loungers are packed quite close together, but that is because of the beach incline, which has gotten worse in recent years. I know the hotel brings in sand bags to even things out, but it is still far from ideal. Will be interesting to see how it will change this year – I would think a wooden decking on stilts could work, giving us more space between the sunloungers.

pine cliffs hotel sheraton algarve portugal luxury collection hotel sovereign beach 1

Lovely time spent with friends and family – and we always give the watersports a go with the kids.

If you choose the pool, which we do in the afternoon sometimes, you then actually have all the space in the world. And if you choose not to be by the childrens’ pool, you will notice how quiet everyone is. Half the guests will be reading or napping under the pine trees and no one will make any noise. We love it.

pine cliffs hotel sheraton algarve portugal luxury collection hotel sovereign luxury pool

The pools at the hotel

Spa & Golf

A few years ago, the hotel started offering massages on the beach, which were quite popular and we have had a few. What I had never realised, what that the hotel actually had a spa facility. Duh!

pine cliffs hotel sheraton algarve portugal luxury collection hotel sovereign spa

Not your average massage room!

I had a massage (equally priced) at the Tower room, with beautiful sea views – which I really enjoyed. At the same time, Mr. O (and my brother-in-law) enjoyed a complimentary 9-hole golf round, which they loved. It is not everyday you get to play golf and enjoy these views.

pine cliffs hotel sheraton algarve portugal luxury collection hotel sovereign luxury 9 hole golf course

The master at work!

It was very difficult for me to review a hotel I know like the back of my hands. We have been going for so long, that the ‘older’ members of staff recognise us each year (and our family and friends) and that makes us feel at home. The day Sr. Filipe retires from the sunset bar, our holiday will never be the same. And hopefully we will have many years before that happens.

Things are not always perfect – so manage your expectations, namely if you are Portuguese (sometimes the staff like to think that everyone is non-Portuguese speaking and have the most interesting conversations that they should not, in front of guests – which is a ‘local’ issue that sadly still happens). But I still want to go back – and I always tell the hotel what goes wrong so that can be changed.

We could go to any hotel in the world for a week, but something draws us back to the Pine Cliffs Hotel each Summer – it feels like home. To be honest, to this day, my godson who comes to see us each Summer, still thinks that the hotel is Auntie Ana’s ‘house’. I am sure one day he will question why there are a few other people there too, but until then, well, I am not going to disappoint him.

We are booked again for this Summer, but we will go at the end of August instead of July, so we can get a little tan before my sister’s wedding. And again, booking a handful of rooms as the rest of the family and friends always want to go back. And if you go, you will too.

Until the Summer!

Xo

Mrs. O

I was a guest of Sovereign on this trip, but opinions, well, you know the drill by now: they are mine mine mine! 

Sovereign (Tel: +44 1293 762 003) is offering seven nights at the Pine Cliffs Hotel in the Algarve, on a B&B basis, from £1,285 per person. The price includes an exclusive welcome gift, UK airport lounge access (where available), private resort transfers and return flights from London Gatwick with British Airways. Based on departures 12 July 2016. 

A luxury weekend in Bath, England

I had the pleasure of visiting Bath, in England, for short day trips a handful of times. But after a nice meal and some very good shopping, I always felt I was missing out. Would Bath have enough to do for a whole weekend? Well, recently I made the decision to do exactly that – and spend a lovely weekend in Bath.

This time around, there were no trains, planes or boats – I am based in Henley-on-Thames and Bath is located under 100 miles away from our home. So we got on the M4 and in less than 90 minutes, we arrived. It was quite different – in a way it felt too easy. But I liked it. A lot. (For the record, Bath is easily accessible by train from London, taking exactly the same time).

Friday

We made our way towards our hotel – which was very easy to find as it is located in one of Bath’s landmarks: the Royal Crescent, a row of 30 terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent. And guess what the hotel was called? Yes, it was very accurately called The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa.

luxury weekend in bath england royal crescent hotel relais chateau

Yup, no doubt where we were. In Bath, and ready for any type of weather – which we were determined not to let it spoil anything.

We literally dropped our bags, and made our way towards the city centre which was really far away. I am joking: literally a 7-9 (notice the precision) minute walk down Gay Street (pictured above), left on George Street and then right on Milsom Street, which is ‘my’ heart of Bath. Maybe because it is where all the lovely shops are located. More about that later.

We were a bit late so had to find a place to eat – and we couldn’t eat too much because of the activity that followed, but when I saw a sign to Burger & Lobster, I couldn’t resist. If you are not familiar with this concept, it is a quite clever one – you can have a burger or a lobster (either a whole one or a lobster roll) and a glass of something lovely for £20. In London, it means around the block queues – we were very lucky as it was early for lunch and we got seated immediately. And boy, did we enjoy!

luxury weekend in bath england burger and lobster restaurant

His and hers lobsters at Burger & Lobster and the lovely Milsom Street.

After a lovely meal (cost: £40), we quickly walked down Milsom Street (whilst making mental notes of where I would be shopping later) and made our way towards the Thermae Bath Spa which is actually a publicly owned facility and where you can benefit from the healing Bath waters (and no, you cannot do this at the Roman Baths!). We had a little walk around the facility, which was modern, yet supersized (lots of people and actual queues outside the door –  I could not quite believe it). One place you need to head to is the top floor – where you actually have a rooftop pool with incredible views of the city.

Following the advice of my readers (which I greatly appreciate and I mean it), we had booked something else: our own private thermal bath. Yes, I did have a bath in Bath.

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The first photo was taken from the rooftop pool. On the right, you can see a round building – that is where the Cross Bath is located. On the lower left photo, you can see the main Thermae Bath Spa building and the Cross Bath. Not that far away ?

The Cross Bath is part of the Thermae Bath Spa and can be booked by anyone, for up to 12 people for two hours (costing £145 for a 2-hour session midweek and £195 over the weekend). I honestly could not believe that a place like this was available – it was truly special and we enjoyed every minute of it. We stayed for a little over one hour and we loved the hot water and.. the prossecco. There are nice little touches that you can organise that really enhance this already unique experience. And for the record, you have everything you need – robes, towels, slippers, private changing rooms and, of course, your own lifeguard.

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The Cross Bath which we loved. If you go to Bath, do not miss out on this experience.

Feeling very relaxed, we thought it was time to explore a little bit of shopping. As it happens, Bath offers exceptional shopping besides being postcard pretty – coincidentally, the reason why I had visited quite a few times before. The best thing about it, is that you can explore the whole city on foot – we did not touch our car until we checked out on the Sunday.

I just wanted to follow my nose a little bit, to see what I would find – and I have to say, I was impressed with all the more recent openings which really elevated (so to speak) the offer. Mrs. O would use her Amex and help the local economy, no problem.

luxury weekend in bath england shopping jollys house of fraser jo malone anthropologie t2 tea shop society caffe

Plenty of shopping options – you really have very good upscale shopping in Bath. And many local brands, which make everything even more interesting. Clockwise from top: Anthropologie, Jolly’s (which is House of Fraser – a UK department store – in disguise), Jo Malone, T2 (very cool tea shop) and Society Cafe, which looked fab).

We walked back to the hotel and quickly changed for cocktails & dinner – and there was only one thing on my mind: GIN. We went to the Canary Bar, which offers over 200 different gin options. 200. Fair to say that the Os were very impressed. Peter, who owns the bar was a delight and a real character and let us in on a secret: he was also the creator of… Bath Gin. A very nice surprise indeed – and I absolutely could not be rude and not try it. And I did not regret it. At the bar, I also met Lynnsay who has been reading my blog for a long time and it was great to finally meet. As I have said before, I am so grateful how social media has helped me connect with such interesting people around the world.

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Plenty of options for Gin Lovers at the Canary Bar.

We had a bit of a mix-up where we were supposed to have dinner and interestingly found ourselves without a dinner reservation on a Friday night, in Bath. I knew we would not go hungry, but after 5 calls to some of the best places in town which were fully booked, we decided to be adventurous and just walk in to restaurants that looked nice.

In the meantime, we walked around the Bath Christmas Market, which had started that very day – and it was SO NICE! At night especially!

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The great Christmas Market in Bath

luxury weekend in bath england bath christmas market

I like the idea of Christmas markets then the actual event itself – namely as I rarely find things to buy. But I did here: gin and cheese.

We left the market and found ourselves outside Le Bistrot Pierre on George Street and as luck would have it, they had just received a call cancelling a table for 2. It was ours.

We had a lovely dinner – the tarte flambée was excellent and one cannot go wrong with steak frites. Mr. O had a lamb shoulder and we enjoyed a nice bottle of Cotes du Rhone (cost: £85 for two, including wine).

luxury weekend in bath england bistrot pierre

A bit more sightseeing and a lovely dinner in town. Restaurant photo provided by restaurant as it was so full, we couldn’t possibly take photos.

We walked back to the hotel just before it started raining – and discovered its lively bar, where we stayed for a few hours and even made friends before turning in.

luxury weekend in bath england royal crescent hotel relais chateau bar

A lovely bar and a great selection of Armagnacs and Whisky. Notice the French twist on everything – it is a Relais & Chateau, after all. Yummy.

Saturday

At the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa, we had an incredible suite –  The Sir Percy Blakeney Suite, to be precise. Located on the first floor, we had both front and back views to the Royal Crescent and the back garden.

luxury weekend in bath england royal crescent hotel relais chateau sir percy blakeney suite

Our lovely lovely bedroom at the Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath.

Service at our boutique hotel was impeccable – but also very personable and a very interesting mix of British and French. I had plans to spend a lot of time here and enjoy as much as I could.

But first things first: we had to meet Josh Tully, the creator of the Bath Concierge book – an independent guide to the city, which showcases the absolute best that Bath has to offer – and I was delighted that Bistrot Pierre was actually on the list. As was the Foodie Bugle, a sweet artisan deli around the corner from the hotel where we met for breakfast. We had a copy of the book waiting for us at the hotel, but as we walked around town, we saw it being sold pretty much anywhere (ha ha, that meant, of course, we only went to the best places!).

luxury weekend in bath england foodie bugle bath concierge josh tully

It was great to meet Josh for breakfast

I really admire people who like to solve problems – and I really really loved the book. We used it throughout our stay (potentially to get some validation that we were making the right choices) and were not disappointed once. That said, we actually went into shops we would not know existed – and that was excellent news for me. Of course.

Josh took us for a little stroll, just to position us at the Bartlett Street Quarter, where we could start exploring. We liked shops like The Loft, Article and the David Simon Contemporary art gallery.

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The Bartlett Street Quarter

We made our way towards Milsom Street again and there was one shop I wanted to go to: True Grace, which is located at Milsom Place, which has a great shop selection. I love their scents and have done so for years and Bath was the only location they had a physical store (until now – one has opened in London since). We got a little bit carried away – we had excellent help from the store manager who really took her time and let us go through all the smells (they have all their scents at their flagship, which of course does not happen at department stores). Let’s put it this way: the extra-large diffuser is something I definitely needed, so they prepared it for us to pick up the following day as it was quite big. We also stocked up on candles and for the record, my new ‘smell’ is Amber. True Grace comes not too far away from Bath and it is one of my favourite British brands – we have been customers for over 5 years. Their diffusers really last – and I think the XL one will last a year. So far, so good.

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Milsom Place is probably the best smelling shopping gallery in the UK. Just saying.

We also discovered Brissi, a fabulous home store (also in the book, of course) and we particularly liked their lamps, so we decided to update our living room at home. All easy – to be picked up by car the following day. They also have stores in London, but their 3-story flagship is indeed located in Bath. I was having a little bit too much fun – Mr. O decided we should sightsee a little bit more, for a change.

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We liked Brissi a little bit too much – really great selection of home goods.

So we walked the short distance to the Bath Visitors Centre, by the Abbey where we collected our Bath Visitor Cards – which allowed us entrance to most museums and attractions. We used ours to go to the Roman Baths at a great time (i.e. before it got way too busy). I think I have visited 5-6 times before, but it is a special place and we enjoyed our time there.

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Enjoying our visit to the Roman Baths.

The city centre was getting quite busy at this stage so we knew we had to make our way towards our next landmark: Pulteney Bridge. I had been there before, but I had not noticed – how silly can one be? So basically, you have this bridge, which looks like a bridge – no doubts there. But when you actually get to the ‘bridge’ as a pedestrian, it is actually a normal looking shopping street. The Pontevecchia of Bath. And some pretty good shops too!

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The Pulteney Bridge

At this stage, we were quite hungry and again, we couldn’t eat too much due to the lovely afternoon plans we had: so we headed back to Bartlett Street and enjoyed a panini each at Caffe Lucca (+ soft drinks, £22 for 2). Looking around, I saw a sign that was very familiar: Bertinet Kitchen. I knew that name, I knew that name… well, it is the bread we buy a few times a week at Waitrose back home. I had to go in and see what the store looked like – there was very little bread left, but it smelled lovely. It is actually a cooking school, so one thing to do on a future trip to Bath.

We walked back to the hotel at around 2pm and decided to have a very lazy afternoon – we were not to leave until the next morning.

The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa (rooms from £265 and suites from £495 on a BB basis) was really fantastic and we loved our room so much, we just stayed in the living room for a couple of hours and watched TV and read a little bit. OK, I may have napped a little bit too – we really felt at home.

luxury weekend in bath england royal crescent hotel relais chateau sir percy blakeney suite living room

Why would we want to leave?

From our living room, we ventured towards the spa and the pool – and ladies and gentlemen, this is not your average city luxury hotel pool. Whilst the lap pool wasn’t huge, the hot tubs and steam room and sauna looked and were amazing. I had seen photos, but it was one of those rare cases where a place is even better in real life.

luxury weekend in bath england royal crescent hotel relais chateau pool and spa

Loved loved loved the pool and spa!

The spa features ESPA products and I had a 75 minutes aromatherapy massage (£100) whilst Mr. O had a deep muscle massage (£100). Caroline was my therapist and she was excellent – we ended our experience with some tea and went back to our room for a little nap and to get ready for dinner.

The hotel is set in two areas, separated by a beautiful garden – which we could view from our room too. On one side, you have the main building with most rooms, whereas on the other side you will find the spa and pool, bar and restaurant, as well as some other rooms.

luxury weekend in bath england royal crescent hotel relais chateau garden

If these gardens were so lovely in Winter, I can only imagine what Summer sunset gin & tonics would be like!

Our evening started with cocktails – namely as our barman claimed he made the best dry martinis in town. Also, I loved that Taittinger is the ‘official’ champagne of the Royal Crescent – and I was intrigued by this piece of equipment. I had to ask what it did – it puts bubbles back in the bottle. Clever or what?

luxury weekend in bath england royal crescent hotel relais chateau fine dining experience taittinger

A great evening at the The Dower House Restaurant at the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa.

Dinner took place at The Dower House Restaurant, its AA 3-rosette fine dining restaurant. We went a la carte as we felt that the 6-course menu would be too much (but it is very well priced at £70pp). We had an excellent meal – and again, loved all the French accents.

Sunday

We woke up early and had a hearty breakfast at the hotel – we went full continental as one can at a Relais & Chateau (you know the breads and pastries will be outstanding). We were sad to leave the Royal Crescent but one thing I tell you – we will definitely stay again when we return.

We went back to Brissi and True Grace to collect the items we had purchased the day before and left Bath, enroute to somewhere quite special: Kilver Court Designer Village. Located in Shepton Mallet, under an hour from Bath, it is actually the home of Mulberry. Roger Saul was the original founder of the brand (he then sold it on), and is the owner of Kilver Court, which offers designer goods at discounted prices all year round. You will still find the Mulberry store (which is a stand alone store outside the main building) there.

Kilver Court has a very different layout – made up of two buildings, you will find that brands have ‘corners’ or areas, instead of stand alone shops. You will find brands like LK Bennett, Pringle, Agnes b, Joseph, Joseph Joseph (not a typo, this is the kitchen ware brand which I love), REN, True Grace, Neom Organics and more, at discounts of up to 70%. Not bad at all!

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A lovely setting for a very unique outlet village.

We discovered an Irish brand called Magee, which we loved. I bought a tweet coat and Mr. O really had his eye on a lovely wool/cashmere overcoat. They did not have the size in stock, but I was so impressed that they took our details down and let us know later if they could track it or not. I was also told that anytime I needed a product, I could contact the retail manager and ask for it to be sent to me. How useful is that?

luxury weekend in bath england kilver court designer outlet

Not your average outlet: you can also visit the gardens, which are beautiful.

We had lunch at the Sharpham Pantry which was a really unique place – we loved the comfort food it served. Just what we needed before our drive home.

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Huge sense of accomplishment!

Every time I visited this part of Britain in the past, I always felt I was missing out by not staying over – and I was totally right. We had a fantastic weekend in Bath – beautiful scenery, great hotel, amazing food and shopping. And lovely people we met along the way.

Absolutely worth it and we will do it again. Promise.

xo

Mrs. O

Fact Box: our trip was organised by Visit Britain who did an outstanding job of organising the perfect weekend for Mr. & Mrs. O. The shopping and opinions, are all mine. I had a great time in Bath experiencing some #OMGB moments as part of the VisitBritain campaign – do share what your #OMGB moments on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag..

We borrowed a Canon PowerShot G7x (approx £300) on this trip and we loved it. Why? It fit in any pocket or evening bag, wifi connection was excellent and we were able to take great photos on an automatic setting. I loved it so much, I actually bought the PowerShot G9x (£399) which was released a few weeks later. 

Top 5 Winter 2016 Beauty Essentials

Baby, it is cold outside. And in the Northern Hemisphere, it took a while for the temperatures to drop, but the cold came for those who waited. Literally. Colder weather means dryer skin and extreme measures are sometimes necessary. Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Winter 2016 Beauty Essentials.

 
Elizabeth Arden Visible Difference Refining Moisture Complex 2x75ml plus 30ml bonus travel size

elizabeth arden visible difference cream duo luxury beauty travel blogger

I was on the lookout for a new moisturiser and asked my lovely Twitter followers for a suggestion. More than 20 mentioned Elizabeth Arden, a brand we are all familiar with, but swore by this particular cream. I did a little research and found this incredible set, which comes with 2 full size jars and a handy travel sized tube. I have been using this cream since before Christmas and it is rich, thick and actually lovely. You feel the difference immediately – and works for day and night. Buy this set on Amazon for £32.51 (inc. Prime Delivery)

Dior Capture Totale DreamSkin, 30ml

dior dream skin luxury beauty travel blogger

Or absolute magic. 90% of my make up is from Dior and has been for over 5 years and I have never regretted a purchase. I recently tried a sample and couldn’t quite believe the impact – people actually commented and said I had a ‘glow’. I have now been using this beauty since early January and it really is magic. It does perfect your skin and it makes it feel illuminated and super soft. A winner. Buy it from John Lewis for £79.

Molton Brown Lipsaver

molton brown lip saver balm luxury beauty travel blogger

I was introduced to a version of this product 15 years ago onboard my first ever British Airways Club World flight from Toronto (back then, Molton Brown did the amenity kits). I will never forget it as my lips had not reacted well to my first Canadian business trip and I was actually in pain. By the time I landed in London, they were as good as new. Every year since, almost religiously, I buy one of these (they last for a year), and take it with me everywhere – perfect for the cold (including skiing) and all warmer trips. You will not regret this buy. Buy it from Molton Brown for £12.

Malin+Goetz Rum Body Wash 473 ml

malin goetz rum body wash luxury beauty travel blogger

Did you know that Malin+Goetz was actually American? I only discovered this little bit of information on a recent trip – I always thought it was Nordic (or German!), as I first came across this brand at a hotel in Helsinki. I have been trying some of their products on and off and this shower gel is one of our current household favourites. I am trying their shampoos next month and will report back. I love the smell and actually how a little goes a long way. Buy it from Liberty London for £28 (the extra large version).

Aromatherapy Associates Wash 300ml

aromatherapy associates hand wash luxury beauty travel blogger

This is actually both a hand wash and a body wash, but at home we use it as a hand wash – the smell reminds me of The Kensington Hotel in London, where you can find it everywhere. It is lovely and smells amazing. Buy it from Aromatherapy Associates for £20.

If you get any of these products, do let me know your thoughts. And what have you been buying? Let me know as I would love to try more products.

xo

Mrs. O

Top Luxury Travel Bloggers – the leading ladies of luxury travel

Often I get asked which are MY favourite luxury travel bloggers – who do I trust and go to for recommendations? Which blogs do I actually read?

The number of ‘so-called’ luxury travel bloggers has increased dramatically over the last few years – but whose opinion really counts (for me)? I have to be honest, I chose those who I have gotten to know over the last few years of my blogging career – and they tend to have something very special in common with me. This REALLY is their lifestyle – their lives have not changed dramatically because of their blogs, it is really them. Not any 5-star hotel in the world will be ‘amazing’ – because they have been staying at these places all their lives. And that, makes a huge difference.

Without further ado, here are some of my luxury travel bloggers – or the leading ladies of luxury travel, as I call them.

Kim-Marie Evans aka Luxury Travel Mom

luxury travel bloggers luxury travel blogger kim marie evans luxury travel mom

Probably one of my favourite people in the world. She knows luxury like no one else – and she is one of the most outspoken and direct writers I have ever met. She is funny, she is sassy and I adore her and her family – and her sense of humour, the most. We co-founded #luxtravelchat, the only weekly twitter chat dedicated to luxury travel on twitter and surely there is a reason for that. To read: Luxury Travel Mom.

Tiffany Down aka Luxe Tiffany

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If there is one person that lives and breathes luxury hotels, it is Tiffany. The leading lady of hotels and one of the world’s top luxury travel influencers, she is also a delight and I appreciate her very honest opinions. To read: Luxe Tiffany.

Katie Dillon aka La Jolla Mom

luxury travel bloggers luxury travel blogger katie dillon la jolla mom

Katie hails from San Diego in California and we have not had the pleasure of meeting face to face – but our time will come. She shares my love for first class cabins and beautiful hotels, and her voice really is her own. I find her honesty refreshing and I know we will enjoy our first glass of champagne together. To read: La Jolla Mom.

Amie O’Shaughnessy of Ciao Bambino

luxury travel bloggers luxury travel blogger Amie O'Shaughnessy ciao bambino

Amie has built a very successful travel planning business and we very often go back and forth with little recommendations to each other, to ensure that those trips are perfect. She trusts me and I trust her like very few other people. And something quite interesting: in real life, we only had one degree of separation between us – we share a very close friend who used to live by her in San Francisco and now lives by me in the UK. Small world or what? To read: Ciao Bambino.

Nancy Besharah of Luxe Travel Family

luxury travel bloggers luxury travel blogger nancy besharah

When we first met (at last!) the first thing she told was “I love Lufthansa’s first class, have you tried it?’ and like me, she will not fly longhaul in economy. We discussed this over dinner and established that our maximum threshold was 5 hours. From Canada, she is a delight of a person and will not say no to a good glass of Barolo. And she won’t settle for less than perfection – she’s fab. To read: Luxe Travel Family.

There are a few other luxury travel blogs I read, and I look forward to updating this post regularly. But most importantly, I want to know: who are YOUR favourite luxury travel bloggers?

xo

Mrs. O

A hotel to remember: Ashford Castle, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Visiting Ashford Castle, in the West Coast of Ireland was, without a doubt, one of my Top 15 travel moments of 2015. Following an extensive refurbishment, the Irish grand dame reopened in 2015 as the one of the flagships of Red Carnation hotels – and I thought that it would be the perfect location to celebrate the beginning of Mr. O’s birthday week (yes, week!).

landing shannon airport from london heathrow aer lingus british airways oneworld ashford castle

Back in the Emerald Isle – the land of Mr. O’s ancestors.

We chose to fly from London Heathrow to Shannon Airport (I had once landed before at this airport enroute to NYC), with Aer Lingus – which meant a short drive from home to the airport, and a 1h45 minute drive to Ashford Castle, but with a little stop for lunch. We hired a car (as we wanted to explore a little bit on the first and last days of this weekend) and made a pit stop at a delightful waterside restaurant recommended by the hotel concierge – the lovely Moran’s Oyster Cottage in Kilcogan, Co. Galway. We had our first taste of Irish soda bread, Guinness and fresh seafood. It couldn’t be more Irish.

ashford castle morans oyster cottage ireland

Mr. O’Reilly feeling right at home ?

After a quick 45-minute drive, we arrived at the stunning grounds of Ashford Castle, just before it got dark. We visited the hotel in November, when days are shorter and were very conscious of not wasting any daylight. Why? Because we would have missed this:

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Our first peek of the castle

It had stopped raining, so we saw this as an omen of good things to come – and I have to tell you, we were not disappointed. At all.

We arrived at the hotel and were warmly greeted by the doorman, who made our luggage disappear and walked us to the reception area. We sat down and just took in our surroundings – Ashford Castle lives up to its grand reputation, but with a difference: it felt immensely cosy and from the first minute we felt at home. Needless to say, the lovely Irish accents helped. Of course they did.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland interiors

Not too shabby for Mr. & Mrs. O – and who are the dogs? Well, you get to meet and pet them every morning at around 10am.

We were escorted to our room and given a little tour of the main building – which I would recommend to every arriving guest. The current castle is made up of various additions and there are different levels and helps you find your way around at later stages (particularly handy after an evening at the bar, I would say).

And our bedroom (#430) was… beautiful. It was as grand as it can get – and I loved all the details. The team that led the refurbishment thought of everything and it this is a great example of old-meets-new in terms of interior hotel design.

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Our beautiful bedroom at Ashford Castle

Our bedroom, classified as a Stateroom was very spacious as you can see, and made up of two levels – there was a mezzanine with a day bed. Everything you see is brand new – but you get an immense sense of place. Everything is where it should be and looks like it belongs there – the fabrics, the scents, the technology. It was nothing short of perfect.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland stateroom bedroom suite details

No words…

Power sockets by each bed? Check. USB ports? Check. Sherry? Check. Heated bathroom floors and incredibly powerful shower? Check. There is nothing I could think that would be missing. Powerful hairdryer? Check. Organic toiletries? Check. Fabulous towels? Check.

What is more… we had what could be considered a ‘room with a view’. Not a bad one indeed. Just bear with me.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland stateroom bedroom bathroom details voya organic

Our gorgeous bathroom which featured Voya toiletries. I had never heard of this brand until this weekend and since then, I have seen it in very interesting places. Worth a look.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland stateroom details

Room details – and note that the keys are touch cards, but Ashford Style of course.

We unpacked and went for a little wander around – outside as a) it was dry for a brief moment and b) it was almost dark. So we were treated to these views:

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Our room was the one on the top left.

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A room with a view – stunning grounds!

We spent the rest of the afternoon in our room, before heading to the bar for a quick drink before dinner. On the first night, we had a booking at the Dungeon, a more traditional (and relaxed, yet smart) Irish option, featuring Irish classics from past and present. We had a great meal and I had another fix of crab claws and tried my first Irish stew.

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The Dungeon restaurant – and of course ir would be rude to say no to Irish cheese.

After dinner, we walked around the hotel a little bit and stumbled upon the billiards room. Over time, so did half of the hotel, and I have to say – we had one of the best unplanned nights ever. The hotel was completely full and I think that a good 30 of us stayed up until the wee hours. I discovered that Mr. O was a master at snooker (and you think you know a man after 11 years, ha!) and we indulged in a very local pastime: drinking Irish whiskey. I was re-acquainted with Red Breast (which I had first discovered in Northern Ireland, the previous year), and over the weekend, we tried a few others which we loved.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland billiards room bar gin irish whiskey

So many whiskeys and gins to try… so little time! But we did our best!

We had a relatively late night but somehow, made it for breakfast in time – how could I miss another serving of soda bread and Irish butter?

After breakfast, we made our way towards the Irish School of Falconry, which is located in the grounds of the castle. I had never tried this type of activity, but so many readers urged me to try this, so I couldn’t say no. Also, we had a boat trip planned which was subject to weather conditions, which did not materialise. It was pouring and cold, but we borrowed some wellies and rain jackets from the hotel and off we went.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland irish school of falconry

Please don’t bite me, was all I could say at the beginning…

I was ever so slightly terrified at first (the photos do not lie), but, as time passed and my confidence grew, I was so surprised – and delighted! The experience took an hour or so, in the rain, and I couldn’t have cared less. We made those birds fly and return to us. It was fantastic.

If you want to see a video of our excellent falconry skills, just head on to Instagram.

Who knew I was almost a natural with these little ones? Falconry Ashford Castle Ireland

Who knew I was almost a natural with these little ones?

After this activity, one of many you can enjoy at Ashford Castle (seriously, there is something for everyone), we took advantage of the fact that it stopped raining for a little bit and walked around. That was before we met Tom, who manages all activities who took us on a proper tour around the Estate, complete with commentary.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland grounds

Even in the rain it looks fab, doesn’t it?

One of the things that I found truly special at Ashford Castle were the people who worked here. Never in my life, have I been to a hotel where people were so proud to work there. Many have been working there for decades, and so did their parents and grandparents. Everyone was incredibly welcoming and sweet (and funny, actually) and that pride was so visible, it was actually touching. We talked about this with other guests (at the bar), and they all agreed.

We decided to skip lunch as we were due for Afternoon Tea – and a girl can only eat so much! This time around, Tom drove us to The Lodge, which is a separate building on the grounds of Ashford Castle (it is a 4-star hotel, more family oriented and at a different price point). We went to Wilde’s, its top restaurant and enjoyed a very different take on this tradition. Let’s put it this way – there was a chocolate egg, which was smashed on our table.. and we then got to eat everything that was in it. It was fun and delicious!

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland lodge wildes chocolate afternoon tea

A very chocolatey Afternoon Tea.

Following tea, we went to the spa. We were not going to let the rain ruin our weekend – and there was so much to do inside (including napping), that it honestly did not matter. The spa is the latest addition to the hotel – its style was very different but quite interesting. The pool was quite busy, but the treatment area was nice and quiet. I enjoyed a Voya Signature treatment whereas Mr. O had a deep tissue massage.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland spa voya organic

The spa at Ashford Castle.

After the spa, I will not lie – we napped a little bit. Our bed was so comfortable, it was difficult to say no to it. So we didn’t.

We also met Eanna, the hotel’s F&B director, who has known my blog for a while (prior to joining Red Carnation) and enjoyed a glass of champagne and had a little private tour of the castle’s wine cellars.

Ashford_Castle_in_County_Mayo

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland hunter boots wine cellar room keys

The wine cellar and the secret passageways and our very cool collection of Hunter boots.

On our last evening, we started it with a nice ShortCross Gin & Tonic at the Prince of Wales bar, before heading to the Georges V dining room, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant. Please note that there is a strict dress code enforced (jacket for gentlemen) and in all honesty, I was delighted. It was a special dining experience, with all the staff in white tie and having someone in shorts and trainers would have ruined my dinner. I am a great believer that there is a time and a place for everything and obviously we were prepared.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland georges v fine dining restaurant dinner

A great evening indeed!

The restaurant offers a 5 or 8 course tasting menu (priced at €74 and €85, respectively, or €145 with wine pairings for the 8-course), but we were quite full from our tea, so we chose to go a la carte. We loved the prime rib of beef carved at the table (so old school and fab) and also some surprises that the chef sent over. It was an excellent meal and I loved that one guest was wearing her own tiara, because she felt that special!

We had an earlier night – after a few more whiskeys of course and slept like babies.

On Sunday, after a 10-hour rest, we enjoyed our last hearty breakfast before leaving the hotel, and heading towards Galway for some shopping, and yet another lunch at Moran’s before flying back to London.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland entrance

Not easy to say goodbye to Ashford Castle.

Saying goodbye to Ashford Castle wasn’t easy – because we absolutely adored it. Everything about it – the grounds, the decor, the comfort and luxury and, most importantly, the people who worked there. We felt at home and part of this great family. Which means we need to go back, without a doubt.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and fact box: We were guests of Red Carnation Hotels, and adored our stay at Ashford Castle. Opinions are, as always, my own. But this wasn’t voted best hotel of 2015 by Virtuoso by accident – it really was fantastic. Rooms at Ashford Castle start at €245 per night (B&B) and staterooms like ours at €850 (B&B). A one-hour hawk walk costs €65.00 per person, based on a group of 2.

My favourite Winter Sale picks

After the most depressing week of the year, i.e. the very first one, there were only two things that made me smile: booking some trips and indulge in some excellent online shopping. Here are my favourite Winter Sale picks:

Aromatherapy Associates

aromatherapy associates sale

Aromatherapy Associates is one of my go-to brands for skin care and body care, so to speak. Their products very rarely go on sale, except for their Christmas specials, which you can now get for 50% off for a very limited time. My picks were the Bath Jewels which are now priced at £14, The Star for £5 (seriously!), The Relax & Revive set for £9 and, the piece of resistance, The Destress & Comfort set for £18.

There are some additional products on the Space NK website also on sale.

Saks Fifth Avenue

saks fifth avenue duty free sales

Saks Fifth Avenue is one of my favourite USA department stores – and one thing I love about it, is that it now ships worldwide AND every now and then (the case being NOW), they offer free express shipping for orders over 100 USD AND Duty Free shopping, meaning that the price you pay is the same price someone would in the USA and your duty and any tax due is covered by Saks. I have ordered a few things online as a test and it worked beautifully.

From their Winter Sale, which also ends very soon, I picked 4 pairs of shoes. I compared the prices with other websites and these were the best I found – the difference in Europe is that luxury good never really go on sale like they do in the US. My first pick are these Manolo Blahnik knee-high boots which were £938 and are now £371. One of my star buys last season where the Aquazzura Wild Side Suede and Mesh Cage Sandals – my heart skipped a little bit when I saw them on sale for £260. Unbelievable! I also love the Aquazzura Candela ankle-tie satin pumps which are now on sale for £202. Finally, the classic Prada t-bar sandals which can be yours for £113.

Smythson

smythson 2016 winter sale

I am a great fan of Smythson all year round, but I must confess I cannot resist their sales. I have ordered one of these Envelope East West handbag totes which is now £397.50 down from £795 (and is available in various colours). On the website there are some great sale gems, such as the Heart Zip Coin Purse for £67.50, the Burlington Card Holder for £57.50, the Panama Slim Coat Wallet for £97.50 and the Panama iPhone 5 case for a mere £19. Some great gift ideas here – the sale ends very soon.

Happy New Year and Happy Shopping!

xo Mrs. O

My Top 15 Travel Moments of 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, Mr. O and I were reminiscing over our travel year – it was a fantastic one with a good mix of business and leisure trips, just the way I like it. It was difficult to pick 15 moments, but we did our best – here are my Top 15 Travel Moments of 2015 (in no particular order!)

Jaipur, India

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The Amber Fort and Palace in Jaipur

We visited India for the first time and went to Mumbai and Jaipur, which could not be any more different. Needless to say, we adored the food in both cities.

Halkidiki, Greece

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My first visit to mainland Greece

My knowledge of Greece has always been limited (namely as I keep going to the same place over and over again). This Summer, I visited Halkidiki, in the mainland and really was impressed.

Seville, Spain

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Returning to Seville after 20 years

It took me around 20 years to return, but boy, was it worth it! I have been asked to name a ‘hot place’ for 2016 and this would be, without a doubt, my recommendation for a city break in Europe.

Prague, Czech Republic

Flytographer Vacation Shoot Prague Mrs O Around the World

Where it all began.. Prague!

A very emotional trip for us. Why? Because it is where we actually met for the first time over 10 years ago – and this time round, it was time to make some romantic memories in Prague.

Cape Town, South Africa

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A very special girls trip to South Africa

When I think about a girl’s trip, I always think of somewhere closer to home – but why limit the fun? I loved going back to Cape Town, this time around with my sister and friends Ashley and Carolyn. The most special part of the trip? The charity work we did for New Kidz.

Maldives

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel welcome

My favourite place in the world – the Maldives

This year, and after my third visit, I finally admitted it: the Maldives is my favourite place in the world and I will not deny it again.

Crete, Greece

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Returning to Crete

Why was I so excited about this trip? Because the Blue Palace in Crete was where I was actually asked to become Mrs. O. Enough said!

Madeira, Portugal

Madeira Island Belmond Reids Palace

Madeira Island was incredible!

Another trip down memory lane after 18 years of absence. We adored our Easter break in Funchal, Madeira – and it wasn’t all to do with the wine!

Algarve, Portugal

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My beloved Sheraton Algarve, in Portugal

I think our number of stays at this property has reached 15, and it is fine by me. And we have plans to return next July, as always, to the Sheraton Algarve in Portugal.

St. Moritz, Switzerland

I know. My thoughts exactly.

Skiing in St Moritz, Switzerland

I usually ‘ski in French’, but this year we decided to mix it up a bit, and ‘ski in Swiss-German’, in lovely St. Moritz. And they were very kind to me when I kept saying Bonjour and Excusez-moi!

Ashford Castle, Ireland 

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A truly amazing hotel – Ashford Castle

Probably one of the most special moments of the year – and hotels I have ever stayed at. Never once I have been to a place where the staff were so proud to be there. Perfect place to celebrate Mr. O’s birthday!

Bagan, Myanmar

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Watching the most beautiful sunrise in Bagan, Myanmar

The second time I have spent Christmas away from home, and OMG, it was so special. Mr. O and I loved our trip to Myanmar, where we boarded a very special cruise.

Bath, United Kingdom

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Our first very British Christmas market, in Bath

I love living in the UK and explore this great island – and we adored our very first Christmas market ‘in English’. What do I mean a Christmas market in England? Yes, in Bath, which is probably one of the prettiest cities in the UK. And they have their own gin – enough said!

Palm Springs, USA

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We visit Palm Springs every year, and it is always very special

My love for Palm Springs is well documented in this blog – and it will continue to be. Each year we go back and plan to return. There is something about it!

New York, USA

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New York gets me every time.

And for me, New York is the centre of the world. I can’t deny it and I won’t fight it – I have visited for the first time 15 years ago, and promised I would return every year. I went 3 times in 2015 and will be my very first trip of 2016. And I won’t even apologise.

I am very grateful for 2015 and cannot wait to see what the 2016 will bring. What were your top travel moments of the year?

xo

Mrs. O