A perfect day in Helsinki, Finland

A perfect day in

Good things come to those who wait – and Helsinki has been on my list for a good couple of years! Why? Well, everyone knows it quite a pretty city, but also, it has a special place in my heart, thanks to the Quality Hunters project, of which I am almost an “honorary founding member“. This project is led by Finnair and Helsinki Airport, and aims to help improve air travel at all levels, which is something that means a lot to me!

An early morning start for Mrs. O came with a business class ticket and an empty lounge at LHR

An early morning start for Mrs. O came with a business class ticket and an empty lounge at LHR

The time difference (2h) and flight time (2.30h) between London and Helsinki means that a 7.30am departure gets you to Helsinki just before 1pm. And with a weekend ahead of workshops (see what we got up to on Saturday and Sunday), I needed to explore Helsinki as much as I could on that very same day. Mrs. O loves a challenge.

The first thing I did was drop the bags at our hotel, the stylish Klaus K hotel, very centrally located. I love Design Hotels and was happy with the choice. Sadly, the rooms allocated were tiny (seriously tiny), but there is nothing that an upgrade request didn’t solve (and great value at  €50). My new room was fabulous, and I absolutely adored the shower (and toiletries). I know I am a girl, just bear with me!

You know my obsession for showers.. this Hansgrohe beauty did not disappoint!

You know my obsession for showers.. this Hansgrohe beauty did not disappoint!

From the hotel, we (that means me and the lovely Henriette from tinyitchyfeet.com) decided to explore as much as we could. That included a walk down the Etelaesplanadi, which was heaving as the sun was out.

Hello Helsinki!

Hello Helsinki!

This wide road, with fab shops on each side (was very hard for me to resist the sales, but I was a good girl for once!), leads to the seafront and port area, which is known as Kauppatori. I was told by a lovely friend (who may have played a little practical joke on me), to head there and search for buckets of prawns. This, with a nice glass of sauvignon blanc seemed like perfection, but after asking pretty much everyone we saw (and who thought we were completely mad), we gave up. For future reference, no prawns in buckets in Helsinki. But not one to give up easily, we found a fabulously looking restaurant which provided us with the wine and the prawns, albeit in a more traditional Scandinavian style: toast skaagen, one of my favourite things in the world.

Yes please!

Yes please!

After we wandered around the market for a bit (I will never forget the smell of strawberries), we headed on a ferry towards Suomenlinna, which is a maritime fortress located off the coast of Helsinki. I love boats and water and I think these really add to the way one experiences a city. We were very lucky with the weather and seriously enjoyed just walking around.

Mrs. O loving Helsinki

Mrs. O loving Helsinki

There seemed to be a wedding taking place on the island, which made it quite interesting – you had people sunbathing, children playing, and some very smartly dressed ones waiting for the big event. But in true Finnish style, it obviously wasn’t a problem!

The Port and The Island - what a fab combo!

The Port and The Island – what a fab combo!

No rest for the wicked, and before we knew it, it was almost 6pm, which obviously meant cocktail time. At this stage, we were met by the lovely Veera (a Finnish native, also part of QH), who very kindly took us out for the evening. Evening? There wasn’t much of that and I will tell you in a second.

We had a bit of champagne, as it seemed to be the drink of choice pretty much everywhere we went. It is interesting how some European cultures really like bubbles.. or not! I must confess I was expecting vodka on tap, but it was bubbles all the way, I am afraid… NOT!

Helsinki at 11pm.. unreal!

Helsinki at 11pm.. unreal!

After a nice dinner at Loiste (we also tried Pure the following day, which I really liked), it was time for a quick after dinner drink at this rooftop bar. And this photo, was taken at 11pm, which is completely unreal. It felt like 7pm and way to early to head back to the hotel – but we had to as a busy two days awaited us…

My visit to Helsinki, Finland, was short but sweet – which means I totally need to go back and explore this city (a favourite of Mr. O, who must have been more than 20 times for work).

And what I will always remember? This photo as it looked even better in real life than in postcards.

Kiitos Helsinki for a fab day. Mrs. O will be back!

Kiitos Helsinki for a fab day. Mrs. O will be back!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Quality Hunters on this trip. I would also like to thank Klaus K for the complimentary room upgrade.

The Luxury Travel Blog Network – July 2013 Edition

I love reading other blogs and have found some extremely talented writers out there. So five of us, decided that every month, we would bring you the best content we have each produced, and make it easy for our lovely readers to find some great travel inspiration.

So without further ado, meet my ladies and their July 2013 reading suggestions…

Kim-Marie

Kim-Marie Evans is a freelance writer specializing in luxury and family travel. She has traveled the world with her four children to places as glamorous as the south of France and as challenging as Rwanda. Her work has appeared in print and online. You can find her best travel secrets on her award-winning blog LuxuryTravelMom.com and at TravelingMom.com. With a background in radio and television, Kim-Marie is as comfortable in front of the video camera as she is behind the keyboard.

Follow Kim-Marie on her blog, Twitter and Facebook

Kim-Marie enjoys a fab weekend at the Villas of Grand Cypress in Florida with her family. Luxury Travel Mom style, of course!

Nadine Jolie

Nadine Jolie is a beauty and travel writer specializing in luxury spas. A former magazine editor (Lucky, Ladies’ Home Journal, FHM), Nadine was dubbed “the poster child for the blogger generation” by the New York Post and has published two books: Confessions of a Beauty Addict and Beauty Confidential. Nadine’s travels have taken her to spas in places including New Zealand, Austria, South Africa, Montreal, and Scotland. She is a contributing writer for VanityFair.com and Angeleno magazine and regularly writes for FoxNews.com and luxury New York publication Hudson Mod. Fluent in French and conversant/literate in Italian, Spanish and Arabic, Nadine enjoys learning how to say “Where is the nearest Sephora?” in new languages and is currently working on her third book, a novel set in England.

Follow Nadine Jolie on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channel.

Nadine makes jealous as she shares with us her incredible visit to Veuve Cliquot in Reims, France. She had me at champagne.

Katie Goldstein

Katie Goldstein is an avid traveler whose tastes are simple: she enjoys the best. Katie works by day as a lawyer and by night as a successful writer. Katie often lends her travel expertise to prestigious outlets, which include Forbes, Fodor’s, and She Knows. She has also written about varied topics for WE TV and for FoxNews.com. Katie is also the founder of famous luxury travel and lifestyle sites, Travelingpanties and Smartypanties, where she chronicles her adventures around the world to spectacular countries like Thailand, Argentina, Laos, Cambodia, Uruguay, Australia, France and more. When Katie isn’t traveling, she can be found scouring her home base, New York City, for the next hotspot. In her free time, Katie enjoys trying new restaurants, taking advantage of NYC’s fabulous shopping and practicing her photography skills.

Keep up with Katie’s escapades on her Blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Katie explores Canada’s Cape Breton, which was named Top 20 Places to See in 2013 by National Geographic and Third Best Island in the World by Travel and Leisure –  and is surprised by how beautiful and cool it is! I want to go too!

Wishing you all a great weekend, wherever you may be!

xo

Mrs. O

A day at the Henley Royal Regatta

The Henley Royal Regatta is one of my favourite events of the British Summer. No jokes here, please – there is something called Summer for a few days each year.

Taking place in the first week of July, this 5-day event brings many foreign visitors to town – and this year was no exception. I had my dear friend Lauren come all the way from the USA just to experience it – and the perfect way to start our little UK adventure.

Leah, myself and Lauren looking the part!

Leah, myself and Lauren looking the part!

Basically, it is all about the rowing – I actually find it quite an interesting spectator sport, and something that became part of my life for the past 8 years. I am no rower, but living in Henley, no one is immune to it.

The races take 5 days, from Wednesday to Sunday, and it is one of the key social events of the British summer calendar. I love attending it every year, as it is a great day out with friends and, of course, a fab excuse to wear a hat!

This year, we had 2 different HRR experiences – basically, you can get tickets (through members) for various enclosures or private members’ clubs.

The reason why we are all in Henley this time of the year

The reason why we are all in Henley this time of the year

We started our afternoon at Phyllis Court Club, a private members’ club located on Henley’s side of the reason. I love the mix of old and young and it is the perfect place for a civilised Afternoon Tea, which you can pre-book. The club has beautiful grounds and offers a very relaxed way of enjoying this quintessentially English event.

I love afternoon tea!

I love afternoon tea!

One thing that makes Henley Regatta unique are the strict dress codes for both men and women. Personally, I think it is a special event and they make total sense (no one is forced to attend!). Phyllis Court’s own dress code is very clear, and honestly quite “relaxed”, as you can see below:

“Gentlemen:
Gentlemen are required to wear lounge suits, or jackets or blazers with flannels or chinos, and a tie or cravat. Jackets must be worn at all times unless at the express permission of the Club Chairman.

Ladies:
Ladies are required to wear dresses or skirts with a hemline on or below the knee and will NOT be admitted if wearing culottes, jeans, trousers or shorts of any kind. The wearing of hats during the day would be appreciated.” From Phyllis Court Club website.

The whole issue for ladies is about the hemlines and the showing of knees!

The ladies enjoying HRR... love the hats!

The ladies enjoying HRR… love the hats!

Part of the river is “open” to boat traffic, and it really adds to the atmosphere. A lot of people choose to enjoy the Regatta from the water, in the privacy of their own boats (obviously with Pimms and champagne!)

A view of the river Thames from Phyllis Court's side

A view of the river Thames from Phyllis Court’s side

After a couple of hours, and a couple of jugs of Pimms & Lemonade, the “official” drink of Henley Royal Regatta, it was time to head to Stewards Enclosure, which offers a different regatta experience. In order to head to Stewards, on the opposite side of the river (you can see it from the photos above), you need to cross the Henley bridge, which gets so busy, it is quite an experience in itself.

A great perspective from the Henley Bridge - Phyllis Court is on the left, and Stewards Enclosure on the right

A great perspective from the Henley Bridge – Phyllis Court is on the left, and Stewards Enclosure on the right, but further down the river

The atmosphere and regatta experience at the Stewards Enclosure is quite different from Phyllis Court. It is busier, the age group younger and really quite lively. The “rules” are also much stricter!

Ladies must wear dresses below the knee (and every year people try to break this rule, only to be turned away at the entrance doors). Mobile phones are not allowed either and the penalties are quite serious.

Love the chairs...

Love the chairs…

“Those seen using mobile phones will be reminded of this ban by Security Guards and Regatta Officials, asked to stop and a note taken of their Badge number.  This will allow identification of the responsible Member.

If the request to stop is ignored, or if the same person is caught a second time using their mobile phone, then the person will be escorted out of the Enclosure and their badge forfeited”. (from Stewards Enclosure website).

Mr O also gets to wear a hat during Henley Royal Regatta

Mr O also gets to wear a hat during Henley Royal Regatta. I think it really suits him!

One of my favourite things about Regatta? The boys’ school blazers! It brings a lot of colour to the event and certainly adds to its unique personality. And the ladies’ hats, and the below the knee dresses!

It is all over for the year, but boy what a day out! Good thing it is all happening again next summer!

Mr. and Mrs. O say hello!

Mr. and Mrs. O say hello!

Can’t wait!

xo

Mrs. O

Discovering Newport, Rhode Island

Going to Newport, in the state of Rhode Island, in the USA, had always been “on my list”. A pretty seaside town, known for its yachting community, the incredible mansions, great food and shops. It had Mrs. O written all over it.

Located under two hours from Boston, Massachusetts, it was the perfect location for me to visit with my friend Lauren. Inspired by the current Gatsby craze (part of the film was actually shot there, and obviously easy to understand why), Discover Newport wanted us to explore all it had to offer… in true style.

Saturday

Helicopter Tour.. why not?

Helicopter Tour.. why not?

We drove straight to the local airport, as a helicopter awaited us – it was my first time up in the air in one of these babies and I was a little bit worried. But I tell you something, it was a great way to see the area from above and understand how everything fits together. The trip, organised by Bird’s Eye View Helicopters, took around 15 minutes (and great value starting at $65). I liked what I saw..

From the airport, we made our way to the port. Why? Because it was time to get a different perspective of this quaint and pretty little town.

What perspective? Well, from the air, we moved to the sea. We had over 2 hours in our America’s Cup yacht, courtesy of 12 meter charters (2-hour harbour cruises start at $73). There was a “little bit of water” and wind involved (see below, my trousers were not originally two-toned). Newport is also known as the “Sailing Capital of the World”, and boy did we breathe a bit of the Narragansett Bay!

How much excitement can one have in an afternoon? In Newport, RI you never know!

How much excitement can one have in an afternoon? In Newport, RI you never know!

After our water sports experience, it was time to warm up a little bit, so we headed back to short and feasted on a delicious clam chowder, with a side of Margarita, why not?

Keeping ourselves warm and nourished

Keeping ourselves warm and nourished

And then, it was time to finally check-in at our hotel, which was the lovely Vanderbilt Grace. Originally bought by Mr. Alfred Vanderbilt in 1909 as a gift to his mistress Agnes (why not?), it has been beautifully restored by Grace Hotels. The result? A very stylish, yet very understated and comfortable boutique hotel experience.

Our home in Newport, RI - The Vanderbuilt Grace

Our home in Newport, RI – The Vanderbuilt Grace

Nothing says welcome like a glass of champagne on arrival. Grace does it to every guest and I was intrigued and surprised by the sparkling wine on offer (you know that despite the method used, if it doesn’t come from the Champagne region in France, it cannot be called that). Domaine Carneros is one of the most reputable brands (from the USA) and this particular vintage was produced by Taittinger, one of my favourite champagne brands. I found this detail most curious, and was even more delighted when I found a whole bottle welcoming us to our very cool 2-bedroom suite.

J'adore Taittinger...

J’adore Taittinger…

Our first dinner took place at TSK – Thames Street Kitchen,  a “field to fork”, chef-driven eatery which offers locally sourced cuisine in a very relaxed atmosphere. True to its concept, Lauren and I “brought our own bottle” of Zinfandel, which was the perfect pairing to our great dinner.

TSK Thames Street Kitchen

TSK Thames Street Kitchen

Sunday

The cozy and stylish garden at Vanderbilt Grace

The cozy and stylish garden at Vanderbilt Grace

We spent a very lazy morning enjoying our champagne breakfast (included in all room rates at Vanderbilt Grace) at the stunning garden area. Pretty sure you can also imagine how tasty evening cocktails can also be.

Time for some shopping – and there was quite a bit of exploring to do in town. One of our favourites? Sequin. Originally from Newport, and with pop-up summer shops in the coolest places around the States (think Palm Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket), it was like going to a candy store. We coined the sentence “arm candy” and we did buy a few…

newport arm candy

Newport arm candy

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. This time around, we headed towards the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which reminded me so much of the UK! It was at this place that the first US National Lawn Tennis Championships took place (which led to the event which is now the US Open).

No rest for the wicked… so it was time to check out some mansions! We enjoyed breathtaking views as we walked part of the 3.5 mile Cliff Walk, where you can take more than a sneak peek at the incredible mansions.

Our home for the afternoon? The Breakers, which is the “grandest” of Newport’s summer cottages, and the playground of the Vanderbilt family. I thought it was a fine piece of real estate and a very nice summer home. As you can see from the photo below, plenty of space for garden party!

The Breakers mansion - plenty of space for Mrs. O and friends

The Breakers mansion – plenty of space for Mrs. O and friends

After a great couple of hours, we knew what we needed! And cocktails was the magic word! We quickly changed and made our way to the stunning Castle Hill Inn, a Relais & Chateaux hotel located just off the incredible Ocean Drive. I was incredibly impressed with my watermelon jalapeño margarita (I was getting into Mexican mode…) and Lauren introduced me to dirty martinis. Yummy!

Sunset Cocktails at Castle Hill

Sunset Cocktails at Castle Hill

It was also here that we enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets ever – it rained, but then it stopped and it was simply stunning.

One stunning sunset...

One stunning sunset…

We had an incredible dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, where from the a-la-carte menu, you could “build your own” tasting menu (starting at $75 for 3-course or $105 with wine pairings). We were brave and went for the 5 courses.. and certainly were not disappointed!

I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed our time in Newport. A weekend simply wasn’t enough, and I understand how so many people go back for more year after year.

Lauren and I loved this weekend trip

Lauren and I loved this weekend trip

One of the things I loved was how “unresorty” it actually felt – Newport has year round residents, and it isn’t only open for business 3 months of the year – and that says a lot about a place. Would I go back? I promise you I will next time I head over to that part of the world!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: A huge thank you to Discover Newport , who put together and organised this incredible itinerary for Lauren and myself. We were guests of Vanderbilt Grace who provided us with fab accommodation during our stay, and were treated by Bird’s Eye View Helicopters, 12 meter charters, TSK – Thames Street Kitchen and Castle Hill Inn. Our car was provided by Argus Car Hire. Opinions are my own – and I loved everything about this trip.

My hOtel: Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam

I know many people don’t often associate Amsterdam with luxury, but thanks to fab blogger Sabine de Witte, who prepared an incredible itinerary for me before my trip, I knew I could expect great things. What I actually wasn’t expecting? To encounter such an incredible hotel – I have been fortunate to stay in hundreds of fab hotels around the world (hence the existence of this blog), but if I had to choose my top 5, the Sofitel Legend The Grand, in Amsterdam, would certainly be part of it.

I could actually take it one step further and say it is one of my top 3 city hotels ever – it was beautifully designed, extremely comfortable (seriously, as I didn’t really want to check out) and service was great. Want more detail? Here we go…

Not your average hotel entrance..

Not your average hotel entrance..

Pre-Arrival

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

There was no communication via email and very little via Twitter prior to my stay.

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

I did, and the hotel interacted before and after my stay (which took place during the weekend). Nonetheless, I did feel special (and still do to this day).

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

No, and it was fine. This was the first time I stayed at a Sofitel for a long time and I was keen to have a stay as normal as possible. I have since stayed at other Sofitel properties in Berlin, Lisbon and Lyon. No hotel is perfect, as we all know.. but this one.. pretty special!

Arrival

Swanky and colourful - I really liked the vibe of the hotel

Swanky and colourful – I really liked the vibe of the hotel

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

After the first bonjour (a Sofitel trademark, which is making a serious comeback across the chain) when we left our taxi, it was difficult to be immune to the contrast between such a traditional and landmark building (the hotel was previously the City Hall), and such a modern decor.

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

We had a great check-in – it was busy but every guest was processed quickly and efficiently.

–          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?

Yes, we were upgraded from a superior deluxe room to a suite apartment, which interestingly, has its own door directly to the canal.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

The lady who checked us in and walked us to our room was lovely. Really friendly (and smiley), as were all the staff we encountered during our stay.

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

We were travelling with hand luggage only, and took our bags to our room.

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

WiFi is free at Sofitel properties in Europe.

Room Experience

I loved my little room...

I loved my little room…

 

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

There was something about this hotel – it could have been the fact that it was a shrine to grey (which I love) and fab carpets and colour scheme.. but the moment we walked into our Suite Apartment, we immediately felt at home. It was a very nice one-bedroom apartment – it felt more that way than a hotel suite. Don’t ask me why!

–          Welcome amenity

We had a local liqueur, and cheese!

–          The bed

Well, this is where our problems started. The bed (Sofitel’s My Bed), was so nice and comfortable, that it reminded me of home. I had a little test drive when we arrived, and the problem was that I didn’t almost want to get up for cocktails. And if you know me by now, it says something!

–          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.

We had plenty of closet space, and proper hangers.

 –          Iphone Charger/Dock

I honestly don’t recall, but it wasn’t a problem as for once, we actually had chargers and no extra gadgets.

I spent a whole morning just lying on the sofa, whilst Mr. O worked. Seriously reminded me of home.

I spent a whole morning just lying on the sofa, whilst Mr. O worked. Seriously reminded me of home.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Absolutely lovely.

–          Coffee and Tea

Yes, Nespresso central indeed.

–          Free bottled water

Oui, and Evian of course!

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

We didn’t have magazines, but we had a book, which was quite nice.

–          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.

Not a problem here, as there were sockets close enough to the bed. Could have been a problem if we had taken all our normal gadgets, though!

Bathroom

A fab bathroom

A fab bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

I loved loved loved the bathroom. Why? Because it is so similar to ours at home. Not exactly, obviously, but with the same type of materials and colour scheme.

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

We had a fab Grohe shower “area” and every detail was beautifully selected.

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

Very good indeed.

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

We had the standard sized (baby) Hermès toiletries, which we quite like.

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

We had everything we needed.

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

To be honest, I didn’t use it.

Breakfast

 
The Bridges restaurant, which doubles up as the breakfast room

The Bridges restaurant, which doubles up as the breakfast room

–          Décor of breakfast room

Breakfast takes place at the well-known and acclaimed Bridges restaurant, which we were invited to try (but sadly hadn’t realised, and made plans elsewhere with friends). Obviously it means that a return to Amsterdam simply must happen. It is a really modern and cool space.

–          The spread (inc yumminess)

Detox cocktails were extremely necessary and appreciated. What a fab idea!

Detox cocktails were extremely necessary and appreciated. What a fab idea!

Magnifique indeed! A great mix of all French classics (which is a staple in all Sofitels, obviously), and the right local balance, which is something I always appreciate. But what I thought was the coolest thing in the world? The Detox Cocktail Bar. I thought it was a great idea and actually some of them were quite tasty and effective, if you see what I mean.

–          Cost (I have seen a hotel charging €75 for breakfast – a tad much, maybe?)

Breakfast costs €37.50 per person.

Bar

The comfortable library at the Sofitel Amsterdam

The comfortable library at the Sofitel Amsterdam

During our stay, we only enjoyed a cocktail at the Library bar, which is the perfect place to spend a lazy cold afternoon. This is a hotel to be enjoyed and explored.

General thoughts

Loved the garden...

Loved the garden…

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

The wi-fi was good and effective. And free.

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

No, but they did after my stay and do so 6 months later, which I do appreciate.

–          Location

Very central and with direct canal access in the apartment suites. How cool is that?

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Superior rooms start at €295 (and they are lovely, by the way) and apartment suites (similar to where I have stayed) start at €740 per night, excluding tax and breakfast.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

I would and we think it must be time for a return to Amsterdam soon.

–          Would I stay again?

Absolutely. It is just a matter of when.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

Mallorca, island lux in Spain

Returning to Mallorca, after a 10-year break, was high on my list. I had been planning this trip for over 4 months – not because it was difficult, but because I really wanted to get it right – getting there easily, stay in fab hotels, explore the island (both by the sea and inland), eat a little bit and, finally, (I am not very demanding), enjoy a bit of sun. Was I disappointed? Absolutely not!

When I announced this trip, I was overwhelmed with the reactions I got – many people still associate Mallorca with low-cost package holidays, but I was delighted to be contacted by many fellow Mallorcan lovers, which went out of their way to ensure I “hit” all the right spots. My previous trips to this stunning island, in the Spanish Balearics were incredible, but with a little difference – I always stayed at a boat (both in Palma and Puerto Portals), as luxury hotels were few and far between. That is not the case anymore.

Mrs. O has a lot of love for Mallorca

Mrs. O has a lot of love for Mallorca

After a quick direct flight from London (around 2.5h and it is worth noting that Mallorca has very good continental European connections), we were ready for 4 days of sea, sun and lux.

On this trip, we tried 2 hotels – which may seem weird to everyone else. Obviously part of my job is to check out the local gems, but in hindsight, if I went for 4 or more nights, I would do exactly the same thing again. Our first hotel was the incredible Castillo Son Vida, a Starwood Luxury Collection hotel. I have recently reviewed it on my “My hOtel” series and it is not difficult to guess why I liked it so much.

Thursday

The Castillo Son Vida, not far from Palma

The Castillo Son Vida, not far from Palma

The Castillo Son Vida is a very “peaceful” hotel – located on the hills near various golf courses and around 10 minutes from Palma – it is a place to unwind and relax. I loved the very unique style of the property and the views. Must confess I was also extremely impressed with the Gin & Tonic bar, which featured over 20 different types of gin perfectly paired with 6 different tonics.

On our first day, after a lazy check in to our fabulous suite, we decided that Palma awaited. Palma, Mallorca’s capital is a proper city (think fab shopping) and sometimes, you do forget you are in an island.

The stunning cathedral in Palma

The stunning cathedral in Palma

It has all the quirkiness of a Spanish town (think horse carriages, pretty flowers and cobbled narrow streets), but it is also a modern and vibrant city. Have I mentioned how fab the shopping is? The stretch from Plaza de la Reina to Passeig del Born is absolutely fantastic, with a good mix of international and local brands.

Palma has also not one but two El Corte Inglés department stores (one of my spiritual places), which was great as I needed to stock up on some local favourites (and yes, it did include a significant amount of iberico ham). It is worth noting that El Corte Inglés now has a “visitors” card which gives everyone a nice 10% (including to European citizens, which isn’t normal!).

Palma really has something going for it...

Palma really has something going for it…

Needless to say, that being an island, it is all about the sea.. and seafood. The marina in Palma is one of the most impressive in Southern Europe, and always a delight to walk around it – I am talking serious boat eye candy. We wanted something quite simple for dinner, and we were recommended to try Ca n’Eduardo, which we loved. It was a traditional Spanish fish restaurant, with great views of the port and the cathedral. We tried a bit of everything and these babies were incredible… Dinner for two with wine was around €60, which was a steal.

More razor clams and gambas "a la mallorqui" for me, por favor!

More razor clams and gambas “a la mallorqui” for me, por favor!

Friday

The Gin & Tonic Terrace

The Gin & Tonic Terrace

We spent the next day doing something I almost never do – we woke up late, enjoyed breakfast, a lazy day at the pool and actually never left the hotel. We enjoyed some lovely spa treatments, gins with views and a great dinner at Castillo Son Vida. I hadn’t had a day like this for a while and it was just what we needed.

Saturday

No rest for the wicked, and on day 3, it was time to explore a bit more of the island. For this trip, we had a great BMW X1, courtesy of Sixt, which was really nice and perfect for the “hills”. Mallorca has great roads and I love the freedom.

We made our way towards the north-west side of the island, known for its beauty. Our first stop was the pretty town of Sóller, where we stopped not only for caramelos. (Don’t laugh, going to Spain for sweets is a very Portuguese expression, which reminds me of the 80s, pre European Union, where we literally had to cross the border to buy sweets and other things, which weren’t so easily available in Portugal back then).

I couldn't resist this childhood memory

I couldn’t resist this childhood memory

Sóller was very pretty, as was nearby Fornalutx, known as a quintessentially Spanish town. Seriously pretty and great for a little stroll and some freshly squeezed orange juice. Mallorcan oranges are one of the islands biggest exports and are delicious (and everywhere). From here, we drove to Port de Sóller, which was only a couple of miles away.

Sóller and Fornalutz

Sóller and Fornalutz

After a great morning, it was time for lunch – and I can’t tell you how much we were looking forward to what was in store for us.

Bens d’Avall, the incredible restaurant owned by chef Benet Vicens is located on the road between Port de Sollér and Deia. Under its promise of “creative island cuisine”, we were blown away not only by the location, but by the creative interpretation of Spanish and Mallorcan classics with a serious twist.

Bens d'Avall

Bens d’Avall

Lunch (a 5-course menu, paired with great Mallorcan wines, which was a nice discovery for us – and priced at €75 per person), took over 2.5h, but believe me, we didn’t want to go anywhere else. So much so, that we spent a good part of the afternoon enjoying the sun and the view at the restaurant’s great outside area. I think everyone else there did exactly the same thing and no one rushed us, at all. It was like a foodie siesta.

Not difficult to guess why we didn't want to leave

Not difficult to guess why we didn’t want to leave

After this, we continued the drive towards Deia (which is also very pretty) and made our way to the St. Regis Mardavall, which was to be our home for the next two nights. Located right by the sea and minutes from Puerto Portals marina (which is one of my favourite places in the island), it was a great contrast from its sister property. Expect a detailed review of this hotel very soon!

We loved our stay here, for completely different reasons than the previous hotel. We loved our junior suite, which was bright and airy and had great views of the fab Balearic sea.

What we also loved? Our dinner at Es Fum, a one-star Michelin dining experience by chef Thomas Kahl, influenced by his journeys through Austria, France, Germany, and the United States. A six-course meal costs €130 per person, excluding wines.

The St Regis Mardavall

The St Regis Mardavall

Sunday

Another lazy day by the pool for us – although the hotel is by the sea, there is no real beach in this area (but you can actually swim via a jetty located outside the hotel).

We were quite impressed with the pool-side restaurant which, unlike many “chain” hotels, actually featured local food, which was great. We indulged in (yet more) gambas and croquetas and just enjoyed the day, which ended with a great massage at the hotel’s Arabella spa.

Puerto Portals

Puerto Portals

One of the places I was really looking forward to go back to was to Puerto Portals marina – I can’t tell you why I like it so much. Serious boat eye candy of course, but the shops aren’t even that fabulous (and were completely different from my last visit). I just like how small it is and how fabulous one particular restaurant was!

But before that, it was time for a Gin & Tonic, which seems to fuel the island’s blood and soul ( guess why I love this place so much!!). El Capricho (which you won’t have any trouble finding) had possibly the most creative gin & tonic selection and pairings I have ever seen. We had (only one, as they are Spanish sized) gin combinations, which were incredibly pretty and delicious.

The prettiest gin & tonic ever

The prettiest gin & tonic ever

The level of skill and detail was second to none (seriously) and I wished I had brought a menu home so I could recreate some of the recipes. This is obviously an excuse to put Mallorca back on next year’s calendar! But in its absence, I did a little video (which isn’t great quality, but still worth sharing – the “guy” was quite a character and a real gin expert.

Dinner took place at Flanigan (dinner for two with wine €80-100), which is *the* place I remembered the most from previous visits. With a great vibe and the usual Spanish smiles, it is a great restaurant. In true Spanish fashion, we were the last to leave at around 1am, but not before we worked our way through the incredible menu – think iberico, croquetes, gambas, paella, and anything else that reminds you of Spain. But the best? The incredible thin-crust apple tart, which is the signature dish and you must order when you actually order your meal. I must say that 10 years on, they still have it going!

With this, and a short sleep as we had an early morning flight on Monday.

Hasta pronto, Mallorca!

Hasta pronto, Mallorca!

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed our long weekend to Mallorca – it has every thing we could dream of and more. It is stylish, understated and has its own personality. Pretty much everything to become an annual destination for Mr. and Mrs. O.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and fact box: On this trip, I was a guest of Castillo Son Vida and the St. Regis Mardavall. Our stylish rental car was provided by Sixt UK and is available from €80 per day, including tax. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Singapore Airlines ‘book the cook’ review by @inflightfeed

Singapore Airlines Book The Cook Review

I have never met anyone so obsessed and interested in airplane food – until I met the fab Nikos Loukas, aka Mr Inflight Feed. He has since became a good friend, and I love that he thought of me on a recent flight. Take it away, Sir! xo Mrs. O

I have been fortunate enough to have traveled and indulged (read gorged) on over 35 airlines, in various cabin classes, over the last 18 months, just to sample the airline meals.

However, this flight is one that I will remember for a very long time. Firstly, as the day before I had toured Cathay Pacific Catering Services in Hong Kong to see just how these meals were actually made, and secondly, because I experienced what I would classify as excellent customer service recovery inflight.

I used a service called ‘Book The Cook’ that is available on select Singapore Airlines flights (for business and first class guests) allowing you to choose and pre-order your main meal option. Depending on where you are flying to and from, you can select from a number of dishes here is an example of just a few:

– Portuguese-style beef curry with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and steamed rice

– Lobster Thermidor with buttered asparagus, red capsicum, baby yellow squash, and mashed potatoes

– Sourdough bread with crumbed chicken and mixed salad

For flights departing from Singapore, the airline offers a whopping 43 dishes to choose from including options from Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thai, Indian and Western options.

Alas, the Lobster Thermidor was not available for pre-order on my flight from Hong Kong to Singapore. I had to settle for the grilled fillet of beef with shallot tarragon sauce, French beans, roasted pumpkin and black pepper mashed potatoes (tough choice, but someone had to eat it!)

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In true Mrs. O style, first on the list were the inflight cocktails. I smiled as I opted for the Silver Kris Sling this cocktail, which is a delicious mix of Gin, Cointreau, Orange juice and Pineapple juice topped with Champagne. I am sure Mrs. O would also indulge in one of these.

Then came the entrée, which was a nicoise salad with marinated seared prawns, delicious!

Of course, in between all this, the crew continued to offer an array of Champagne (Charles Heidsieck), white wines f(rom Weinhaus Ress and William Fevre), and red wine options from Bordeaux including Chateau Preuillac and Chateau Loudenneall. Not to shabby for Mr. Inflight Feed…

Perhaps some bread with your meal ,sir?

My flight attendant confirmed my pre-order meal and asked if I was ready to indulge – and of course I was! The meal looked fantastic, but the beef was rather lukewarm. Nonetheless,  I continued to eat it… nearly finishing it.

Realising that something was wrong she asked “if the meal was ok”, and I responded (and reallydidn’t want to cause a fuss) explaining that it  was quite cold and ,without a thought, she took my plate away and asked me politely if I could wait a moment.  Within a few minutes, she returned to my seat offering me two piping hot alternative dishes explaining that her favorite was the Fried Pork with mandarin peel sauce, served with Chinese vegetables and steamed rice. So you can guess which meal option I decided on then?

Her actions, personal recommendation and quick thinking turned what was a rather mediocre meal experience into one that was truly memorable. This cabin crew member completely ‘recovered’ my inflight experience simply and without effort with excellent customer service skills. The alternative dish was absolutely delicious and ,of course, she continued to check up on me ensuring that everything was ok right up until the end of the flight.

At dessert time, the choices were endless:

Haagen Dazs frozen desserts, cheese platters containing: Camembert, Pecorino and Shropshire Blue, fresh fruit and of course teas from TWG Tea and an assortment of coffees from Brazil, Colombia and Kenya.

I opted for the Haagen Dazs ice-cream (I was totally channeling Mrs. O who claims that calories don’t count up in the air!),  and without a thought, my new inflight friend placed both flavors down smiled and told me to enjoy, which I did!

All in all, it was a great inflight dining experience which was recovered extremely well by the cabin crew member. Would I book the cook again on Singapore Airlines? Most likely.

How about you? If you had the opportunity would you pre-order your main meal from a set menu or play it by ear and select whatever is available in flight?

ARC

About Nikos: Nikos is the founder of Inflight Feed, a website dedicated to highlighting pre-order and buy on board airline meal options. He regularly contributes to airline industry magazines and blogs about inflight catering trends. You can follow him on twitter or Instagram.

How important is hotel safety? Some food for thought thanks to British Airways

I have recently attended a Flight Safety Awareness Course organised by British Airways, which also covered a session on Hotel Safety. To say it was an eye-opening experience (and a great way to spend 4 hours of my life), would be an understatement.

The session focused on air travel, for obvious reasons, but before we wrapped up a great afternoon, the team (who were lovely, by the way) wanted to bring to our attention various aspects concerning hotel safety – which made perfect sense as, if you are a frequent traveller, and fly, it is pretty likely you stay at hotels a lot.

I know what to do when there is smoke in a cabin (I hope)

I know what to do when there is smoke in a cabin (I hope)

Let’s start with the obvious.. emergency exits. Every hotel has to have on the back of the door, and clearly signed, the escape route in case of an emergency. We all know it – but the point is, what would we do with that information?

I “sometimes” look around the corridor to see where the emergency exit is – I do – but I have never done anything with it. As I now know, in case of fire/smoke, you can’t see a thing, so you won’t be able to see the lit up signs (potentially).

The BA team urged us to do the following:

– Check the map in your room and identify your escape route;

– Do the walk – go to the fire door in your floor and actually open it. A useful tip: count the number of doors between your room and the emergency exit, the same way you should count seat rows on a plane (with your hands, not looking at the numbers).

– Go down the stairs – where does the exit lead to? And more importantly, is it unlocked? Many hotels see this as a security hazard and more often than not, they are locked. (I do have a good friend who works for an oil company and she does this every time she goes into a hotel – she has to as part of her contract).

– Know the local emergency number – sadly they are not the same everywhere. Most EU countries are now moving towards 112, in the USA is 911 (but I still think 999 works in the UK) – in an emergency how will you know?

Where does this sign lead to? Find out

Where does this sign lead to? Find out

An other obvious point is knowing where to gather (whether it is a false alarm or not). Very interestingly, in the UK, in most conferences, events, and even meetings, whoever is chairing it always does a bit of “housekeeping” first and this information is always given to visitors and participants. I always thought it was strange (before I moved to the UK properly), and to be honest, I think it is vital information.

Many people will be saying “oh but it never happens” – well, actually I have had some false fire alarms in hotels, and they were great 5-star properties. All it takes is someone to smoke inside the room. How about leaving hair straighteners on and actually causing real fires? It is way more likely for something to happen in a hotel than an airplane!

So, part 2, if there is a fire and you do need to evacuate, what should you take with you?

This was a rhetorical question, and we got some of the answers right.. but not all!

– Shoes – a lot of injuries are caused by people not wearing shoes (burns, broken glass, etc). These should be by your bed and easy to put on. Heels not the best idea.

– Passport and room key – passport can be obvious (but difficult if inside the room safe) but the room key threw me. Why? Well, imagine if it is really smoky etc and staying in the room is the only real option.. how do you get back in? Duh!

– Phone – to be used as a flashlight and obviously to any necessary calls if needed/possible.

– A wet towel – something that would never cross my mind (or if impossible, a scarf). This made a lot of sense – to protect you from the smoke, and to help you breathe.

Ideally, you’d leave your shoes by your bed, with your room key and passport inside them and have your phone handy. Would I always do it? I am thinking not, but why not? It is quite simple…

Read the instructions...

Read the instructions…

To finish it off, we were asked a simple question: which floor do you prefer to stay at? Obviously I said, as high as possible, “for the views”. Wrong answer – fire ladders only get to the 4th floor (in the USA that would be the 5th floor because they are counted differently – not because ladders are larger, which could also be a possibility). That actually made me think a bit.

Obviously the point of this post is not to be alarming, in the slightest – but just to share the information I learned (which I must confess I never thought about before).

What happened to me since the course? I have started counting rows on airplanes (and have noticed other people doing so too) and I will surely start counting doors. It will take 2 minutes and could make a huge difference.

Stay safe!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of British Airways on this course. Views and opinions are, as always my own. To find out more about this course, which costs £162 per person, visit BA’s website.

My hOtel: Finca Cortesin, Spain @fincacortesin

The stunning Finca Cortesin, in Casares (south of Spain)

The stunning Finca Cortesin, in Casares (south of Spain)

Located in Casares, more or less between Estepona and Sotogrande, in the south of Spain, Finca Cortesin is possibly one of the hotels that has impressed me the most in the last couple of years. And believe me, I have slept at a few.. hundred! Here’s how my recent stay went.. and something tells me I will come back for more!

Pre-Arrival

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

There was indeed, and a lot of excitement too. I can’t tell you much I was looking forward to this trip.

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

I did, but the Finca Cortesin team (via a few twitter accounts) kind of beat me to it. We had a lot of banter pre, during and post stay.

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

Yes! Funnily enough, when we landed, we were asked what was our favourite cocktail. I said I would be partial to anything with gin or lychee. And I must say: my lychee gin & tonic on arrival was really quite something!

Arrival

Well hello! Or hola!

Well hello! Or hola!

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

It was absolutely stunning, the area outside reception where we dropped our car was beautiful (see the jump photo below) and the reception and the indoor patio area was simply stunning. And in this photo, you can see where we enjoyed our welcome lychee gin!

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

Very efficient and very personal – and a proper sit down check-in which is always a nice touch. It was also lovely to be welcomed in person by the hotel management team which I was very keen to see again. It was almost like going back home (although it was my first visit, if you see what I mean!)

–          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)

Of course!

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

We were booked on 2 separate junior suites (on this trip I was travelling with my girls Trudi and Terene for the ultimate girlie getaway) and we were upgraded to a 2 bedroom suite, which was a great idea. It was great to have our own living room and balcony, where we obviously enjoyed some sunset cocktails.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

We did, and it was possibly one of the nicest welcomes I have had. I can’t tell you how happy and impressed we were.

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

We left our luggage in the car and only saw it when we got to our room later on, and that is how it should be.

How's this for a pool with a view? Not bad

How’s this for a pool with a view? Not bad

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

 Charge? Passwords? Of course not! Just connect and enjoy.

Room Experience
–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor
To say our suite was beautiful, it would be the understatement of the year. I must say, the whole property was beautifully decorated (you may find some of my finger marks across the grey fabric wallpapered corridors). I love grey and it was simply stunning. Everything was super simple and understated – each piece of furniture carefully selected (and interestingly, available for sale).

–          Welcome amenity
We had a very creative amenity (see photo above) full of lovely sweet things, and every day we were surprised with something new. We were definitely spoiled!

A beautiful suite for Mrs. O and friends

A beautiful suite for Mrs. O and friends

–          The bed

My canopy bed was stunning – comfortable and firm and the pillows and duvet were to die for. I loved the sheets as well (a different type of stripe on stripe, beautiful!).

–          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.

They were great and all mine – plenty of space!

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

Sadly no, and interestingly, I think it would have been great – not just for phone charging purposes, but also for a bit of music.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

They were there and the slippers for once, were really quite nice. I even used them around the room!

–          Coffee and Tea

We actually had a fully equipped kitchen with everything we could need. Interestingly we only had things in pairs, even though we were three, so we always had to ask for an extra glass every day.

–          Free bottled water

Of course.

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

We had magazines and some great books. I loved the Quintessentially Reserve 2013 – what a beautiful coffee table book!

–          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.

If I had to make a small criticism, it would be about this. Of course they were there – but at the end of the bed, for example (not great for alarm setting etc). Weirdly, when I turned the lights off, the sockets were also turned off which didn’t make any sense. I did try to play with all the switches and not use the “master” one, but wasn’t successful.

My fab room at Finca Cortesin

My fab room at Finca Cortesin

Bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

I love natural light in a bathroom and I got it this time. It was simple and stunning.

–          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?

Everything was beautifully appointed and the shower was absolutely fantastic.

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

Possibly some of the best towels I have seen lately – looooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnngggggggggg and uber soft.

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

Penhaligon’s was again the brand of choice. I had adult sized ones, whereas the girls in their room had baby ones (why?).

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

Everything was there, and worth saying that the sink unit has plenty of hidden storage room so only the absolutely necessary was on display.

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

Yes and I did actually use it – and it was good!

Breakfast

Loved the concept of the "El Jardin Private Breakfast"

Loved the concept of the “El Jardin Private Breakfast”

 

–          Décor of breakfast room

Breakfast was outdoors, in the patio and it was stunning.

–          The spread (inc yumminess)

The hotel (which was around 60 rooms) has no buffet – which makes a lot of sense. Instead, it offers a “private breakfast” where the items on the left of the menu and are brought to your table and then you choose whatever you’d like from the a la carte menu. There was a lot of variety and everything was outstanding.

–          Cost (I have seen a hotel charging €75 for breakfast – a tad much, maybe?)

Breakfast is included in all room rates (as it should be in resort hotels).

Pool and Beach Club

My pool. and I refused to share it!

My pool. and I refused to share it!

Ho ho ho, how many pools did we need? Well, we were three ladies, so we got a pool each! We absolutely adored the 50m pool, which was so quiet, you could hear the birds. The sun loungers and towels were great (and cleverly, you got an extra towel to use when you got out of the pool, so obviously you didn’t have to “unmake” the bed). There were a lot of details like these at Finca Cortesin. Very nice.

Pool service was efficient and discrete. At the 30 metre pool, you had a great pool restaurant too, which we obviously tried! Where we didn’t spend enough time (and possibly an excuse to go back for more)? At the great beach club, located a couple of kms from the Finca, which is inland. It was so nice, I can’t tell you – but I can show you!

The fab beach club at Finca Cortesin

The fab beach club at Finca Cortesin

Spa

We also treated ourselves to a great massage each, one afternoon – and everything was absolutely first class. The rooms (and the indoor pool.. the 4th one!) were beautiful and the therapists (mine was Thai), were wonderful. I was seriously prepared not to leave.

Restaurant & Bar

Chef Lutz Bosing treated us like princesses...

Chef Lutz Bosing treated us like princesses…

We enjoyed a fab dinner at El Jardin, which if Chef Lutz Bosing’s little playground. He prepared a great tasting menu for us and even set us some challenges. We surprised him when we guessed the apple cucumber as one of the ingredients. We absolutely adored the strawberry foam dessert and want to go back so that he can show us how it’s done – it would be a great addition to the O’Reilly dinner party menu. Chez Lutz also joined us on the twitter fun during dinner and throughout our stay and was a great sport.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

The wifi was actually quite good around the hotel, with various connecting points.

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

Oh yes, oh yes. And René, the lovely hotel manager, even reacted positively when I announced, on my last night, that I would possibly refuse to check-out insisting I could stay forever. I could have said yes…

–          Location

Finca Cortesin is located in Casares, between Estepona and Sotogrande in the south of Spain. Nearest airports are Gibraltar (GIB) and Malaga (AGP). You will need a car to get around the area.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Junior suites start from €450 +tax. Suites start at €736 + tax and the 2-bedroom suite we stayed at cost €1236 + tax (160 sqm)

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Hum.. I am actually not sure… I am joking! She was there with me and loved it!

–          Would I stay again?

Believe me, I will – and this time, we will bring the boys (they were so jealous, we cannot tell you).

I loved Finca Cortesin – it is a beautiful hotel and I really enjoyed my stay there. Service was also great – people were nice, smiled all the time, great English and allowed to bring their personalities to work, which is what makes a stay truly special. Daniel made the best gins that side of Spain, ha!

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Finca Cortesin during this stay (and my friends were paying guests, but treated to spa vouchers and a wonderful dinner), but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property.

Doha, Qatar – more than just a stopover

An impressive approach to Qatar - this is all under water

An impressive approach to Qatar – this is all under water

My recent trip to the Maldives came with a bonus. More than just business class seats and incredible service from Qatar Airways, it came with 3 days in Doha, the capital of the Middle-Eastern state of Qatar. And to be honest with you, I was quite excited to have a (fair) bit of civilization to cushion the blow (and the glow) from ending our magic trip to the Maldives. I can’t tell you how sorry we were to leave that magic island – but I can’t also tell you how excited we were to arrive to such a different place.

Thursday afternoon and evening

A room with a view at the Four Seasons Doha

A room with a view at the Four Seasons Doha

Upon arriving, we made our way to the Four Seasons Doha, who welcomed us during our stay in Qatar. Located on The Corniche and with a private beach, we felt immediately at home. After a quick lunch, we were urged to enjoy the afternoon ahead as the weather was supposed to change. I didn’t quite understand what it meant – I thought Qatar was supposed to be warm and sunny all year round.. hum!

To be fair, Doha is not the “ultimate cultural destination”, but while Jean Nouvel’s team is busy building what will be the über impressive National Museum of Qatar, we were delighted to spend an afternoon at the MIA – the Museum of Islamic Art. Stéphane at the Four Seasons really insisted we went (and I wasn’t quite sure why… until we got there).

Doha's MIA - Museum of Islamic Art

Doha’s MIA – Museum of Islamic Art

An imposing building from the outside (and a considerable change of scenery from our over water bungalow in the Maldives), nothing quite prepared me for what we were to expect inside – and that was one of the most beautifully designed museums I have had the pleasure of visiting. Obviously I am not going to pretend I know a thing or three about Islamic Art, but the building (both inside and outside) was outstanding, and the collection was extremely well curated.

The impressive Doha Skyline

The impressive Doha Skyline

From the museum, we walked slowly, by the seafront to the Souq Waqif, where we were transported back into time. It was lovely to see how Doha made the old and traditional work with the brand spanking new – needless to say that this is a very wealthy nation, and it has been a while since I saw so many building cranes in one place.

The Souk was lovely, and one thing I am glad we did, was to head to the information centre. A lovely gentleman explained to us (as there were no maps) how the souk was organised – from the restaurants (all dry, take notice, except in 5-star international hotels, which is absolutely fine), to the clothing areas, the food areas, the ladies areas (where ladies cooked for free to passers-by), the spice market (obviously), the pet/animal area.. it was all clearly separated and organised. The Souq Wakif

I would love to say that I bought a lot of things, but sadly I didn’t. But what I did do? I ate, of course. We found the local food extremely interesting and strangely familiar. And halloumi cheese with everything? Yes, please!

Arabic break, baked halloumi and fresh tomatoes with a side of ice tea. My Doha kind of meal!

Arabic break, baked halloumi and fresh tomatoes with a side of ice tea. My Doha kind of meal!

After a couple of hours walking around, we braved the Doha rush hour traffic and headed back to the hotel, where we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at the Four Season’s Il Teatro, followed by its weekly pool party, which takes place every Thursday from 7pm to 1am. A great evening indeed!

A great venue for a party at the FS Doha

A great venue for a party at the FS Doha

Friday

Friday is our “Saturday”, i.e. the first day of the weekend. We were surprised  by the rain (which apparently almost never makes an appearance, but it did so during all of our stay). After a delicious breakfast, we retreated to the pool (in the rain.. why not? It was still warm) and I spent the rest of the morning at the spa, where I enjoyed the signature massage treatment. You can read my review here. This, turned out to be the silliest decision ever.. as I didn’t somehow prepare myself for what I was doing that afternoon.

Why? Because I am a girl and quite silly sometimes. Qatar Airways had prepared a special afternoon which involved going to the desert. I didn’t read the whole programme, assuming I was going for a little ride and look at some camels, potentially (hence why a massage before didn’t seem like a bad idea).

The quiet of the desert.. humm...

The quiet of the desert.. humm…

The beginning of our journey was extremely nice. What I didn’t know? That I was going to partake in Qatar’s national weekend sport: dune bashing. Dune bashing? Well, that involves being in a 4×4 and drive at high-speed on, around, and God knows what around the sand dunes. It was mad – at times I thought I was not going to survive (Mr. O has the marks in his hand), but I can’t tell you what an incredibly crazy but fab experience it was. The adrenaline rush I got from it (and the times my heart skipped a beat, oh my) is indescribable.

The star jump.. no comment necessary

The star jump.. no comment necessary

Obviously in hindsight, I wished I had filmed it, but my hands were busy and my mind was elsewhere. With this, we had to rush back into Doha, if we were to make it in time for dinner with some local friends. We had a great meal at a local restaurant, and as we didn’t have enough excitement in one day (I am obviously joking), we thought we would check out the W Doha hotel, which is one of the city’s nightspots.

I loved the contrast of über modern and über local – it was such a nice hotel. Sadly we couldn’t eat the delicious treat that the hotel had organised for us, but were able to enjoy a cocktail at Spice Market and then later at the pool bar.

The W Doha - very sexy indeed

The W Doha – very sexy indeed

Saturday

(Or Sunday, if I just want to confuse you!). Sadly the weather continued not to cooperate, so the pool or beach was out of the question. As we had seen most of the sights, the only thing we could do was shop. And one isn’t spoiled for choice as in nearby Dubai (but apparently it will change in the future).

So we headed to the largest shopping centre, the Villaggio Mall. I can’t tell you how surprised we were when we got inside.. we thought we were.. in Las Vegas! It was the most bizarre feeling… but very interesting to see all the brands and how they adapt locally, or not! It was a great mall, but prices weren’t really interesting for us as everything was pretty much the same price. But I did manage a pair of shoes!

Vegas in Doha.. or something like that

Vegas in Doha.. or something like that

After a quick bite to eat, it was time to head towards the Sharq Village & Spa, a really interesting resort, located not far from the airport, managed by the Ritz Carlton.

We spent a great afternoon at the Six Senses Spa, where we had incredible massages and other beauty treatments. I thought the spa was lovely and very different, as was the whole resort.

The beautiful Six Senses Spa at the Sharq Village

The beautiful Six Senses Spa at the Sharq Village

The Sharq also has a beach with great views of the Doha skyline, and where we enjoyed the last sunset of this incredible trip. To end it in style, we enjoyed a beautiful meal at its Persian restaurant, which was simply incredible and our best meal in Doha, without a doubt.

Our last sunset in Doha, from the Sharq

Our last sunset in Doha, from the Sharq

After a great two and a half days and some great sleep at the Four Seasons, which I absolutely adored, it was time to say good-bye to Doha. And we did so in style, by departing from Qatar Airways’ Premium Terminal, which is for exclusive use of business and first class passengers only, and a great idea.

What did I think of Doha? Well, to be honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I think 3 nights was possibly one too many (especially as we were quite unlucky with the weather), but we seriously had a great time. We actually met some incredible people, which make the memories even sweeter. I wouldn’t say I would go “on holiday” to Doha, but when I fly again with Qatar Airways, I will certainly stop over for a night or two and enjoy it all over again. May even go dune bashing again, who knows?

Mrs. O had quite a bit of fun in Doha!

Mrs. O had quite a bit of fun in Doha!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I would like to thank everyone who supported this trip and made it possible – Qatar Airways, Four Seasons Doha, W Doha, Sharq Village & the Six Senses Spa. Opinions, as you know by now, are strictly my own. And I had fun! If you want to find out what you could do on a quick stopover in Doha, Qatar Airways has some ideas – find out more, right here.