Me gusta Madrid – my favourite places

Madrid is one of my favourite cities in the world. For 4 years, and for professional reasons, I was fortunate to have to visit this city every week – I even had a permanent base (a lovely apartment), which helped me feel totally at home. Madrid is a vibrant place and easily accessible from anywhere in the world – and definitely worth a visit. I was asked recently to share with some friends my favourite places – so I could not let you miss out!

It's when I see the Post Office building that I know that I am in Madrid

It’s when I see the Post Office building that I know that I am in Madrid

With my parents, we used to drive to Madrid a few times a year for some “civilisation”. And shopping of course. The Portugal we have today wasn’t the Portugal we had in the 80s and the 90s. I remember the drives as if it was today – and knowing I really arrived to Madrid when we got to the Post Office building on the Paseo de la Castellana. Every time I visited, unconsciously I always did the same – it only counted when I spotted it.

Having gotten to know the tourist attractions quite well, it was in the Barrio de Salamanca (or Salamanca district/neighbourhood) that I felt at home. A nice grid neighbourhood which is bounded by Paseo de la Castellana, Calle Alcalá, Calle María de Molina and Francisco Silvela. Easy to walk and very pleasant to the eye. It is also one of the best shopping areas in town, used mostly by locals. The main streets are Serrano, Goya and Velazquez – but, in my opinion, the best surprises can be found in the little side streets.

Calle Serrano, Madrid - Photo by Turespaña

Calle Serrano, Madrid – Photo by Turespaña

Shopping in Madrid

I think Madrid (and Spain in general), has some of the best shopping in Europe. I like it that, despite globalisation, many brands remain proudly Spanish and I love the idea that we are not all wearing the same. I know Zara is Spanish and a global brand, but there are a lot more brands which are easy to find locally.

Mr. and Mrs. O love Carolina Herrera

Mr. and Mrs. O love Carolina Herrera

– Carolina Herrera – originally from Venezuela and based in NYC, most garments from this fab brand are made in Spain, which is great as prices are lower than in other parts of the world. It is one of my favourite brands and absolutely worth a visit.

– Adolfo Dominguez – for men and women

– Purificación Garcia – for men and women

– Bimba & Lola – love their handbags and accessories

– Uterque – Zara’s (or Inditex’s) latest brand, which has great shop fit-outs and great unique pieces

– El Corte Inglés – Spain’s leading (and only) department store. The Serrano and Castellana shops are, in my opinion, the best.

In this area, you will find these and a lot more stores. All designers can be found mostly on Calle José Ortega y Gasset and around.

Mr. O being a super tourist - and loving it!

Mr. O being a super tourist – and loving it!

Eating and drinking

One thing I love about Spain is how one’s social life really revolves around food. And it is sooooo good here! Below are some restaurants which I have been visiting for over 20 years – they are not the trendiest, but certainly some of my favourites.

Taberna El Rincón de Goya

Taberna El Rincón de Goya

– El Rincón de Goya is one of my favourite places in Madrid. The restaurant is outstanding, but the tapas bar used to be my canteen when I was in town. It also has some outstanding Gin & Tonics and my favourite, Tinto de Verano (red wine, lemonade, ice and lemon). If you want to get to the Tapas Bar, turn up before 8.30pm or you will never get a table.

– Goizeko Wellington – one of the best restaurants I have visited in town, slightly formal but with some of the best cuisine from the Basque Country.

– La Dorada – a classic, where my parents used to take me every time. Think sea bream baked in salt – it is delicious and an institution!

– Portobello – also a trip down memory lane. The best seafood bar I have ever been to – great for people watching (namely fur coats in winter)

– Pan de Lujo – trendier but relaxed with traditional Spanish food with a hint of a je ne sais quoi. Also one of my favourites.

The delicious suckling pig at Sobrinos de Botin

The delicious suckling pig at Sobrinos de Botin

– Sobrinos de Botin – a weekend lunch classic not far from Plaza Mayor. A recommendation: clams and of, course, the suckling pig. It is also supposed to be the “world’s oldest restaurant”.

Mallorca - perfect for breakfast (and any time of the day, really!)

Mallorca – perfect for breakfast (and any time of the day, really!)

I am, of course, saving the best for last – and that is my breakfast and mid morning place (a girl needs to eat). Pasteleria Mallorca, is one of Madrid’s best kept secrets and a place I really miss on a daily basis. It is very simple – but everything behind the counters is mouth-watering.

Madrid will always be a special place for us

Madrid will always be a special place for us

What I love the most about Madrid is the energy, the people and the laughter you always seem to hear. People are happy and, in my opinion, very generous and welcoming. I felt totally at home in the four years I kind of lived there and writing this post really makes me want to go back. It is also a special place as it is where Mr. O and I finally became “an item”. Great memories indeed.

As I said, Madrid me gusta. And I really need to go back. Gracias!!

xo

Mrs. O

A weekend in Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is a great city. So good, that every other year I make sure I go back for a weekend – and I did so recently for various reasons: I wanted some whiskey, some shopping,  great food and fun, under an hour from London and, of course, Lady Gaga. Here’s how my weekend in Dublin went.

Yes, I know I have an Irish surname, but Mr. O is as British as it gets. But he can surely put on a mean Irish accent, which, in my opinion, is the sexiest native English accent.

Friday night

Our flight with BA took under an hour and we landed just in time for dinner at Roly’s, one of Mr. O’s favourite places in Ballsbridge. A bit of fine dining never hurt anyone and, as usual, it didn’t disappoint either. Starting with the delicious soda bread, I quickly moved on to the Dublin prawns and one of my favourite desserts in the world.

I will have some of that pretty caramelised Lemon tart, please!

I will have some of that pretty caramelised Lemon tart, please!

From the restaurant, we headed back to the hotel, as it was late. In Dublin, we always stay at the Westin. Why? Lovely building, perfect location, not huge and I love the classic style. This time, I also loved the Oscar Wilde suite! I also love the themed nights at its Mint Bar. Sadly we missed Gin & Jazz (on Thursdays), but nothing prepared us for the Latin night. It has been ages since I had seen people dancing so well and such a good music selection. It was quite hard to believe I was in Ireland – almost felt strange to order a whisky!

The Westin - Mrs. O's home in Dublin

The Westin – Mrs. O’s home in Dublin

Saturday

Mrs. O was a good girl and even made it to breakfast at the hotel – after a good night’s sleep, there was lots to do! A minute away, we had a little peak around Trinity College – I still have not seen the Book of Kells, which simply means I have to go back again.

Wouldn't mind coming back for a bit of studying here... - Trinity College, Dublin

Wouldn’t mind coming back for a bit of studying here… – Trinity College, Dublin

At this stage, I could feel the excitement – I wasn’t far from Grafton Street. We went to say hello to Molly Malone and before I knew it, we were there. You may have heard that I like to buy shoes and things, but I have never mentioned the best department store in the world. The place where I pretty much like everything they have to sell – and don’t get me wrong, I am spoiled for choice in England and when we travel. But this place is something else.

This is it, Mrs. O's spiritual home

This is it, Mrs. O’s spiritual home

To prove that great things come in small packages, one wouldn’t be impressed by the size of Brown Thomas, also known as Mrs. O’s spiritual home. This Irish department store is, without a doubt, my favourite in the whole world. It is not massive, quite compact actually, but its buyers seem to know me very well. It’s very sleek and modern, the service is lovely and I love the carrier bags. And the handbag and shoe collection – pretty much all of it, which *almost* never happens. So if you and I are in Dublin at the same time, I can be found somewhere there. Promise.

From here, we explored all the little side streets and eventually found Powerscourt Centre, not your usual shopping centre. I liked it as it was a bit quirky and had lots of unique shops and boutiques. And also because the lovely Fiona Hilliard, a Dublin native who I was to meet later that day told me to go there, when she shared her favourite places in Dublin with me.

Olesya's Wine Bar

Olesya’s Wine Bar

A lazy lunch followed at Olesya’s wine bar, a place we found on our last trip, and promised to go back. It has one of Ireland’s most interesting wine lists – apparently 400 different wines, with over 100 by the glass, which I found quite interesting. The cheese and charcuterie sharing platters were delicious and perfect for what awaited us – a private visit to the Old Jameson Distillery.

The visit to Jameson was one of the most awaited moments of this trip. Firstly, because I got to finally meet Fiona, who I have been “interacting” on twitter since early this year and enjoying her great blog, but also, because Jameson’s & soda happens to be my after-dinner drink of choice.

But first things first, we had to get acquainted, so a little Irish Coffee seemed perfectly adequate!

Bonding with Fiona over an Irish Coffee at Jameson's Distillery

Bonding with Fiona over an Irish Coffee at Jameson’s Distillery

I had been to Jameson a few times before, but interestingly, this time was different – I had Mr. O, my super BFF and her husband and two new Irish friends. We weren’t in a rush to go anywhere, no queues and was lovely to go back. What I found super interesting? A video where people from around the world shared how they liked their Jameson. (You may not know, but in Southern Europe, whisky competes with vodka and gin for airtime, and it is enjoyed just like those two drinks). As I said before, I have always been a Jameson & Soda girl – not so keen on mixing it with coke, but never crossed my mind that people would mix it with other things.. and that I would even like it! Two very popular combinations were Jameson with Ginger Ale or with Cranberry. And I must say – although shockingly surprising, they were absolutely delicious.

Some of my favourite moments at Jameson's Distillery

Some of my favourite moments at Jameson’s Distillery

After the whisky tasting lesson – where we compared Jameson (which is triple-distilled) to Scotch and Bourbon, we were almost ready for Lady Gaga. But first, we had to stop at a Dublin institution, Mulligan’s for a bit of food. I loved its quirkiness, food and attention to detail (the menus were brilliant). Absolutely worth a visit.

Mulligan Grocer

Mulligan Grocer

Our evening was spent with Lady Gaga and some of our closest 50,000 Irish friends. I had seen her previously in Lisbon and really wanted to see her on the current tour. Unable to get tickets for the London show, we were surprised that we were able to buy the best seats and a flight for less than one ticket in London. I really don’t understand how this is possible – but pretty sure that I had a lot more fun and a great weekend in Dublin. I shall investigate further opportunities… it would be rude not to!

A great night out at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin

A great night out at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin

Sunday

Our Sunday was a lazy one – just the way I like it. We walked around other parts of town – I love how compact Dublin is, and how perfect it is for a weekend break.

Happy by the River Liffey

Happy by the River Liffey

I even found out that Mr. O had a little side business going on in Dublin and conveniently forgot to tell me… coincidence?

Do we have a pub in Temple Bar?

Do we have a pub in Temple Bar?

But our friend Derek was keen to get us out of the city – he mentioned seaside, delicious fish and an easy transfer to the airport. He had me at sea. We hopped on the DART and in around 25 minutes, we arrived at Howth, a pretty fishing village.

The pretty village of Howth

The pretty village of Howth

We had a wonderful lunch at Deep. where we tasted some of the best seafood I ever had – from oysters, to crab, to lobster. And to end it in style, I couldn’t say no to another Irish coffee.

Delicious food in Howth

Delicious food in Howth

We had a brilliant weekend in Dublin – I loved the people, the accent and the food. Oh and the shopping isn’t bad either. Maybe it’s time I go finding my “O’Reilly” roots and explore a bit more of this beautiful country. Ireland, I will be back!

xo

Mrs. O

Wine Tasting in England

Wine Tasting in England? Seriously? Oh yes! Every year, together with a group of close friends, who also appreciate wine, we go out and about Europe, trying to combine three of my passions – travelling, great food and, of course, wine. Last year, we went to Barolo in Italy, earlier in the summer we had a little stopover in the Alentejo, in Portugal and this time? We decided to stay right here in the UK and find out what is really going on with English winemaking.

Yes, this is in England - At Bolney Estate

Yes, this is in England – At Bolney Estate

We started the day bright and early and headed to Bolney Wine Estate, in West Sussex. This winery has been producing wine since 1972, having grown from 3 to over 30 acres of vines over time. British wines have been winning quite a few awards recently (in blind tastings) and we were really keen to find out why! Bolney is known for its sparkling wines, which were good, but have been trying to establish themselves as specialist red wine producers. We were indeed surprised by the Pinot Noir and the Sparkling red, which was actually very very nice.

Tours can be pre-booked, but were, in my opinion really quite expensive. I have never been anywhere where I had to pay £32 per couple for a tour and 3 little tastings of wine. I was also a bit disappointed not to have any discount on the actual wines (not even a refund of what we paid for the tour, which is, in my experience, normal in other winemaking regions). Nonetheless, it was worth visiting and I must say that the tour was very informative.

Pretty rosé sparkling bottles

Pretty rosé sparkling bottles

England’s terroir is ideal for white wines and also sparkling – and apparently, so so good, that many French wine makers are now buying land in South East England, or so we were told. I am no wine expert – I am just a girl who likes drinking and appreciating the odd glass of wine…

First point of difference? The grapes. It sounds silly, but I was expecting more chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, arinto and the likes. Of course not – the climate is totally different from Southern Europe (or the New World) and grapes used need to be different. Most grapes used are German varietals and really quite different – but also interesting. But British wine makers are determined to make World Class sparkling wine in the traditional method – similar to Champagne, and cool climate aromatic and complex still wines similar to those produced in Alsace, Sancerre and New Zealand.

Chapel Down

Chapel Down

Next stop was Chapel Down, in Tenterden, Kent. Chapel Down is one of the better-known wine makers in the UK (having supplied wines to Kate & William’s wedding reception), and the largest in the country. I was really quite impressed with the setup – of course, more commercial than the other wineries we visited. Interestingly, this was more similar to other places I have been, with a lovely restaurant in the property (I love the food+wine combination).

The tours cost from £7 per person, but they have a really interesting package which includes a 3-course meal, glass of wine, tour, tasting and £10 wine credit for £50, which seems incredible value. We really wanted to have lunch at the Swan, but arrived just as the kitchen was closing, which was unfortunate. But I can tell you that what we saw other fellow diners eat, looked amazing.

Chapel Down English Rose (not Rosé - I like the humour)

Chapel Down English Rose (not Rosé – I like the humour)

From this producer, I quite liked their Rosé Sparkling and one of their whites.

Last, but certainly not the least, was our final stop, in Biddenden, also in Kent. What it lacked in marketing, it had it double in charm. Malcolm was the most entertaining tour guide we have encountered. We absolutely loved it – Biddenden Vineyards is the oldest wine producer in Kent, founded in 1969 to produce wines and ciders. Being a smaller producer, interestingly, it uses some of Chapel Down’s infrastructure in order to produce its award-winning sparkling wines. We loved our Ploughman’s lunch (with a delicious chutney) and were also really surprised with one of its whites. Tours are free and lunch is around £15.

Light and refreshing white

Light and refreshing white

What I really liked and enjoyed during the day, was the warmth and hospitality of everyone around – and the knowledge each guide had (in all 3 wineries) was second to none. Maybe because this is something “newer”, everyone involved really knows the ins and outs of winemaking, plus they are native English speakers, which obviously doesn’t happen in most European countries.

Even the weather cooperated - it was 28C and glorious

Even the weather cooperated – it was 28C and glorious

The perfect way to end a fantastic day? An outstanding dinner at Thackeray’s in Turnbridge Wells. Young chef Richard Philips surprised us with an outstanding meal, set in a private dining room. I loved the decor, the attention to detail and the food. And everything being reasonable in terms of value.

I really liked these candles.. need to find them!

I really liked these candles.. need to find them!

But best of all? I loved spending a brilliant day with some of my closest friends. We love our little wine escapades – a great and relaxed way to spend some time together, catch up and just relax over a glass of wine. Next wine trip on the agenda – we are thinking Reims in France (bubbles, s’il vous plait) and Douro in Portugal. Which one? Tough choice, maybe we should do both!

More delicious sparkling, I love how these bottles photographed

More delicious sparkling, I love how these bottles photographed

So, if you ever find yourself in this part of the world, I’d definitely suggest going for wine tasting. In England, yes. And hoping they continue the great work they have been doing, and their wines win more and more awards, and become easier to find anywhere in the world. Cheers!

xo

Mrs. O

Cooling down in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona

I first went to Scottsdale, Arizona a good five years ago and had always promised myself I would go back. And this year, I did indeed. Taking advantage of the fact that one can fly to and from different airports in the US with BA, we flew from London Heathrow to the airport with the coolest name in the world – Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, a stone’s throw from Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Phoenician and the Camelback Mountain as a backdrop

The Phoenician and the Camelback Mountain as a backdrop

I never forgot Mr. O’s reaction when we arrived at The Phoenician last time we went. So, obviously, we had to go back there. One of those grand dame hotels, very comfortable – all in all, a classic. And of course, he said the same words again as we arrived at the gate. And I am not going to put them in writing!

Flying from Europe to this part of the world literally kills the first day, and night (thanks to the 8-hour time difference) so we always book a very relaxed dinner on the first evening. We asked for advice on Twitter (ha ha, thank you @hiltonconcierge ) and were recommended 2 places which we had to try.

Dos margueritas, por favor

Dos margueritas, por favor

Z’Tejas welcomed us with open arms and were determined to make sure we stayed awake, by getting us started with some fab margueritas. It kind of worked, as we indulged in two more, as we got busy trying on the Tex-Mex specialities (the discovery of this trip, which continued in California). From cornbread, to stuffed pimientos, spicy chicken salad to good old nachos, we relaxed and remembered why we were so keen to come back to Arizona – the hospitality is absolutely brilliant.

I will never forget the delicious Cornbread and honey butter from ZTejas, seriously

I will never forget the delicious Cornbread and honey butter from ZTejas, seriously

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to this view. I am slightly obsessed with American deserts, it seems – possibly because we don’t have this type of scenery in Europe. I find it fascinating and very very calming.

I love Arizona

I love Arizona

Mr. O played a bit of golf, whilst I enjoyed the pool. It was breezy, a nice “cool” 30C (ha ha), perfect for us Europeans to get into holiday mode. I love the fact that The Phoenician has a “quiet” pool, which is adults-only and for quiet people only. I am a firm believer that there is a time and a place for everything and being such a large resort, it means that it can please various types of guests. I seriously wished other hotels would follow this example. I love reading and sleeping when I am by the pool or beach and sometimes it is not *that* easy.

Kicking back and relaxing - just what Mrs. O needed

Kicking back and relaxing – just what Mrs. O needed

 

There are a lot of cactuses in Arizona

There are a lot of cactuses in Arizona

We spent a lazy day by the pool and indulged in one of my favourite past times.. guess what? Of course, shopping. Scottsdale has one of the best malls (Fashion Square) in the States and it would be rude not to go.

By this stage, we were starving and headed to Modern Steak, a place which was also new to us and certainly didn’t disappoint. I was super impressed with the restaurant decor. But the best? The cocktails, service and a very impressive wine list. But what I loved? Crab Legs (I know I was in the desert, but they were worth all the air miles) and a perfectly sized fillet (not 22 ounces, I can’t eat it! 5 ounces was perfect and for once, none went to waste).

I loved Modern Steak's decor :)

I loved Modern Steak’s decor 🙂

Why I need to go to Alaska - to stuff my face with Alaskan crab legs

Why I need to go to Alaska – to stuff my face with Alaskan crab legs

We ended our night at a pool party at the very cool W Scottsdale, which wasn’t there last time we visited and adds a bit of glam to the town.

I love Ws anywhere in the world

I love Ws anywhere in the world

I loved that they had completely different cocktails than other Ws and even had hashtags for the signature drinks. I think mine was #Namaste, but not really sure as we tried a few. It was great fun and different from the quiet nights we remembered from our previous trip.

Scottsdale makes me happy :)

Scottsdale makes me happy 🙂

But what we did wrong? We didn’t stay long enough – there is so much more to this part of the world than what we saw that there is only one way to solve it.. go back again!

 



The post Cooling down in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

My favourite 10 places around the world

A friend of mine recently asked me this question over dinner, and I seriously couldn’t answer. Doing a top 3 list was impossible, so I settled for a list of my favourite top 10 places around the world. I cannot rank them, so here they are, in no particular order.

 

California, United States

 

California, my favourite American state

California, my favourite American state

No surprises here 🙂 I first went to California 10 years ago, but it was when Mr. O and I started visiting as a couple that this American state became one of our favourite places in the world. We have been going back, at least once a year, for the past 7 years and it remains a firm favourite. We love San Francisco, where we try to go every other year, fell madly in love with Monterey and Carmel and its delicious wines (need to go back to Napa and Sonoma again!), but the Desert Cities is where we find peace and quiet (and a bit of shopping) and recharge batteries every year. The LA area, especially Santa Monica and Beverly Hills are obligatory stops, as is the lovely San Diego. I love the weather, the relaxed lifestyle, the stunning scenery and the food. Oh and the wine!

 

Paris, France

Paris is always a good idea

Paris is always a good idea

Paris will always be Paris – or as Audrey Hepburn said “Paris is always a good idea”. I know it is a cliché, but there is something special about the French capital – from delicious macaroons, to outstanding food (onion soup and oysters always come to mind) and shopping (yes, please). I always have fond memories of getting lost in Saint Germain de Prés and discover yet other areas. Being so close to it, I should go more often.

 

Sydney, Australia

Sydney, Australia - can't wait to go back one day

Sydney, Australia – can’t wait to go back one day

Sydney will always have a special place in my heart. Somewhere I always wanted to go, but being so far away it isn’t easy at all. It was the first stop of my honeymoon and a place I will never forget. I would love to go back and explore not only this amazing city, but the rest of the country. I will never forget climbing Harbour Bridge very very jet lagged and going to nearby Manly. Oh and wine tasting in the Hunter Valley.

 

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - stunning beauty and oh those drinks!

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – stunning beauty and oh those drinks!

One of the most beautiful cities in the world, Rio de Janeiro is somewhere  I have been to twice and will go back again anytime. Thanks to friends who know the place really well, we got to know our way around this stunning city, which is home to outstanding restaurants and shops. It has a unique setting, which makes it one of the most incredible cities I have ever been to. And I even managed to find a little private beach. Don’t wait for the World Cup or the Olympics – if you get a chance, just go.

 

New York, United States

New York, USA - truly the centre of the world

New York, USA – truly the centre of the world

It was a special moment, the first time I went to NYC. I was 21 and immediately after the 9/11 incidents. I felt an energy that I had never experienced before and ever again. I fell in love with this city, which I promised to visit at least once a year, every year, a promise I have never broken. May sound silly, but when I am there, I do feel I am in the centre of the world. I love how each season changes New York dramatically and can’t wait to go back soon.

 

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona - the perfect European city

Barcelona – the perfect European city

Barcelona may be one of the most perfect European cities – great location, which means short flights, fantastic weather, great people (seriously, some of my best friends and nicest people I have ever met are Catalans), amazing food, culture, history and, of course, shops. I have been fortunate to have lost count of how many times I have been to Barcelona (mostly, thanks to work), but everytime I go, I book another flight to go back. And now it even has a great beach.. another excuse!

 

Lisbon, Portugal 

Lisbon or Lisboa - the home of the magic custard pastries, and Mrs. O

Lisbon or Lisboa – the home of the magic custard pastries, and Mrs. O

Lisbon is my hometown, and where I lived for most of my live. The more I travel around the world, the more I miss it. My family, my friends and great memories and, of course, “the light” (something I never quite understood until I left). Mr. O loves Lisboa too, and only 2h30 away from the UK, not difficult to get to. A place I would urge you to go if you haven’t been yet.

 

Moorea, French Polynesia

Moorea in French Polynesia, the most amazing place I have ever been to

Moorea in French Polynesia, the most amazing place I have ever been to

Moorea was the star destination of our amazing honeymoon and, without a doubt, the most amazing place I have ever been to. Not easy to get to, and possibly a once in a lifetime trip, but it must be because of places like this that the word paradise was invented. One of Tahiti’s islands, it is a place I will never forget.

 

Menorca, Balearic Islands, Spain

Menorca, my favourite European island

Menorca, my favourite European island

Menorca is one of the most surprising places I have been to in Europe. The underdog of the Balearic Islands, the least known of all, and possibly the prettiest. Turquoise waters, delicious food and of course the place where mayonnaise (derived from Salsa Mahonesa, after Mahón, its capital) was invented. The only problem? Lack of suitable accommodation. Development is very controlled, which I totally understand, but I would love to go back and would love to hear any lux recommendations for this island.

 

Miami, Florida, United States

Miami Beach, my first "beach" of the year

Miami Beach, my first “beach” of the year

Miami Beach is, alongside Barcelona, another perfect city. Slightly urban, definitely very cool, with amazing beaches and the rest – shopping, restaurants, bars. May not be to everyone’s liking, but it does it for me. We have been going every May for the last 5 years – it is still cold(ish) in Europe, and it is where I usually get my first tan of the year. We couldn’t make it this year and I can’t wait to go back. We now don’t stay in Miami Beach anymore, preferring Bal Harbour or Hollywood, a couple of miles out as you can get all the sleep that you want/need, and nip into town for some excitement when necessary. That and a coconut cloud martini.. perfect!

 

I had a lot of fun writing this post – thinking about the destinations, going through photographs and actually writing it. Travel is, without a doubt, my passion and I work hard to make sure I can go somewhere nice whenever possible.

Something else I have also realised – I am a repeater. If a love a place, I always go back. From this list, the only places I haven’t been back are Sydney and Moorea. I have been through my calendar for this year and also realised that every place I have been to.. was a place where I had been happy before. So I decided to be more adventurous and go somewhere I have never been – the next new stop will be Girona, which surely will be special.

The point of this all? To inspire you to go somewhere new, and create new memories in the company of those that matter to you. No excuses, now!

xo

Mrs. O

The post My favourite 10 places around the world appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Luxury African adventure: Malawian style by @davidsbeenhere

I had heard of Malawi because I have always been quite good at Geography, but also of course because of Madonna’s adoption. I have been following David Hoffmann’s blog for almost 8 months and was amazed by his recent trip to this remote part of the world. I had no idea that Malawi could have such stunning scenery and have to thank David for putting it on my map.

I also knew I just had to ask him to share his fabulous trip with my dear readers. I hope you enjoy this post and photos as much as I did. David has been around pretty much everywhere.. aren’t we lucky that @davidsbeenhere? I may be persuaded to go on a great luxury African adventure after seeing this! Xo, Mrs. O

Safari at Nyika Nat'l park

Safari at Nyika Nat’l park

When thinking about Africa, visions of zebra, elephants and leopards likely pop into your mind. But what about snorkeling, sailing and sunset cocktails? The reality is that Africa is an immense and diverse continent that offers much more than great migrations across the Serengeti. Sure, it is a sight to behold when it comes time for the Mara River crocodiles to chomp down on ill-fated wildebeest, but unforgettable and indulgent adventures can be had in some of Africa’s smaller countries. One such jewel is Malawi. Known as “the Warm Heart of Africa,” the Republic of Malawi is located in Southeastern Africa. It is home to the third largest lake in Africa, Lake Malawi (aka Lake Nyasa) that is roughly the same size as the country of Belgium. I traveled to Malawi in June 2012 for three exciting weeks. Here you have a re-cap of the various activities and accommodations that I experienced.

Map of Malawi

Map of Malawi


Though small in size (about 46,000 sq miles) Malawi has a geography that is as diverse as the indigenous wildlife- mountains, rainforests, marshlands and forests comprise the landscape. What that means for tourists is that there is plenty to see and do, and a plethora of excellent hotels and restaurants throughout the country.

 

Safaris Galore

Luxury safari groups such as Robin Pope and Wilderness Safaris hve taken a conservationist approach to providing visitors with memorable experiences both in the bush and at the lodges. These well-established hotel groups employ locals and put forth great efforts into respecting biodiversity. They are the two biggest names in Malawi for luxury eco-tourism because of their boutique style accommodations, superior customer service and mouthwatering menus. Malawi also features several privately owned resorts that offer everything from private beaches and massages to yacht charters and up-close encounters with wildlife. The best part of all? You don’t have to rough it if you don’t want to.

 

Boat Tour in Liwonde National Park by Mvuu Lodge

Boat Tour in Liwonde National Park by Mvuu Lodge

 

Tree house lobby at Tongole Wilderness Lodge

Tree house lobby at Tongole Wilderness Lodge

 

Jeep safari at Majete Wildlife Reserve by Mkulumadzi Lodge

Jeep safari at Majete Wildlife Reserve by Mkulumadzi Lodge

 

Tour of Zomba Plateau given by Sunbird Ku Chawe Hotel

Tour of Zomba Plateau given by Sunbird Ku Chawe Hotel

 

Lake Malawi

The lake features over 2,000 species of colorful cichlid fish and supports a large population of aquatic birds such as herons, egrets, fish eagles, cormorants, geese, kingfishers and pelicans. These feathery inhabitants attract hundreds of bird watchers and photographers to the country each year. Lake Malawi National Park is a protected section of the lake where there are dozens of water sports and diving opportunities available. Here are just a few:

 

Feeding cichlids in Lake Malawi National Park

Feeding cichlids in Lake Malawi National Park

 

Fishermen in Cape Malawi

Fishermen in Cape Malawi

 

Sailing in Cape Maclear

Sailing in Cape Maclear

Feeding Fish Eagles on Lake Malawi

Feeding Fish Eagles on Lake Malawi

 

Luxury Hotels in Lake Malawi National Park

 

Pumulani

Pumulani


 

Mumbo Island

Mumbo Island

 

Danforth Yachting

Danforth Yachting


Other lakeside hotels

 

Chintheche Inn

Chintheche Inn


Makuzi Beach Lodge

Makuzi Beach Lodge

Makokola Retreat

Makokola Retreat

 

Shopping

For the bargain-hunter in you, Malawi boasts lively markets where you can find unique wooden crafts like masks, furniture, kitchenware and sculptures. Amazingly, the majority of these local artists have no formal training, but their pieces tell beautiful stories of Malawian culture.

Crafts Market

Crafts Market

 

The pieces you will discover are inexpensive and ideal for decorating your home or for gifting to loved ones back home. The top three markets in terms of quality and selection are: Nkhata Bay (Northern Region), Senga Bay (Central Region) and Zomba Plateau (Southern Region).

 

Basic Info

Languages: Chichewa and English

Currency: Malawian Kwacha

Airports: Lilongwe and Blantyre

Tourism: www.malawitourism.com

 

David Hoffmann

David Hoffmann

For more information about Malawi or David’s trips, visit his blog here.

 

The post Luxury African adventure: Malawian style by @davidsbeenhere appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

My thoughts on airline loyalty programmes

Airline loyalty programmes is one of the topics closest to my heart as a marketer, but also, for obvious reasons, as a traveller. There are so many programmes to choose from – airlines and hotels, and I often get questions about my personal preferences.

I love flying

I love flying

I have been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks now, and in preparation, reached out to both my Twitter and Facebook contacts – I wanted to know if they had a preferred programme of either kind, why they chose one instead of another and was overwhelmed by the response. Loyalty matters – whether it is heartfelt (i.e. people being real brand advocates/ambassadors.. or terrorists) or just being very good at playing the points game.

These are, as usual, my personal opinions and I have not been influenced by any company to write this post.

I have to be honest – I am the *queen* of points, as my friends call me. But I am a great believer in quality vs quantity in pretty much everything in life. As we speak, I only hold 1 frequent flyer card and 1 frequent stayer (hotel) card in my wallet. Others are kept in drawers or God knows where. More than enough for me!

Today, we shall focus on  airlines

We are conditioned by where we live and the airlines that serve our “home” airports. If you live in say, Paris, it is pretty probable that you will join the Air France programme and Sky Team. If you live in London or NYC, you have more choices. This is an obvious point and I believe that most people forget it.

Star Alliance TAP Silver Card

Star Alliance TAP Silver Card

I was a Star Alliance Silver cardholder for 8 years plus, via TAP Portugal. The more I flew with other airlines within Star Alliance, the more frustrated I became. Using airmiles for free flights or upgrades with TAP wasn’t a huge problem, was actually OK, but being a stupidly frequent traveller (3-4 times per week, although on short routes), the one thing I valued was lounge access. The Lisbon lounge was OK and I was allowed to use it.. except if I had a ticket issued by another S.A. carrier. That drove me mad. Imagine flying to Istanbul, via Zurich, with Swiss and Turkish Airlines, with stopovers, and being told that I could not access the lounge, for an unknown/unexplained reason. Why should I bother flying with those Alliance members to be treated like this?

Another thing that frustrated was the fact that luggage policies were different from airline to airline, and I found myself arguing everytime I checked-in “my” extra 15kgs, which was a benefit of my card with TAP. At Heathrow, as all Star Alliance carriers are now together, the check-in staff wouldn’t know about it. I resorted to carry a print out of the website rules.

On the other hand, Mr. O had always been with British Airways Executive Club (I was blue as I only flew to London every now and then) – and by being silver, I started noticing that as his guest, I could always go into the lounge with him. I could also fast-track security. When we plotted our airline world domination, we agreed that I would keep status on Star Alliance and he would do so on OneWorld. We did the same for hotels.

It didn’t work out for us – I couldn’t take him into the lounge or fast track, or even board, whereas he could. OneWorld (BA) won hands down. Which means that being Silver in Star Alliance is shocking compared to being Silver (or Sapphire for my American friends, the equivalent of  one level down below our top tier in Europe – for you, it must be bling bling and diamonds or double diamonds with platinum) on OneWorld.

How did I get out of Star Alliance? I started flying with BA via London every time we went to the US or even somewhere in Europe and was surprised that it was actually better value (and Gin & Tonic in any class, which Mrs. O loves). With our honeymoon ticket, I got to silver. It has been 4 years and never looked back. I am now been gold for the past 2 years, but I think I will go back to silver – sadly, but this isn’t a bad thing necessarily as I find BA extremely kind to the 2 upper tiers of the Executive Club. (Again, someone please tell me what being Star Alliance silver means, I don’t really know).

 

BA Silver and Gold cards

BA Silver and Gold cards

Does status matter?

For me, it does, as it translates in obvious benefits:

– Being able to book a seat when I buy my ticket (although the 5 first economy rows seem to be blocked until 4 days before the flight. I don’t get this and hate the extra work it gives me if I want my 5 A-C or any other single-digit seat numbers).

– Have an extra piece of luggage every time I fly, in addition to the cabin’s standard policy (this is worth a lot to me!). And no arguing at airports;

– Having lounge access on every One World Alliance lounge if I travel with a One World carrier (of course!). All OW carriers have a colour code which level all different member programmes. Meaning that if you are BA Silver, that is roughly the same as AA Platinum with diamonds encrusted. I am exagerating the names, but basically if you have a little Sapphire (Blue) or Emerald (Green) dot on your card, you are good to go. And no arguing at the lounge. Ever. And you can always bring a guest, which is a nice touch.

I must confess, one of my favourite perks is chocolate - calories don't count in the air!

I must confess, one of my favourite perks is chocolate – calories don’t count in the air!

– Priority Check-in  – I really like this, despite the class you travel.

– Fast-Track boarding and security -with a friend, of course, but mostly in UK airports only, sadly. I know airlines have to pay for this in other airports, but they should. If it’s fast track, has to be everywhere.

– More airmiles – which of course lead to more free flight or upgrade opportunities.

– Special paid upgrades through the BA “Manage my Booking” system or mobile app (this is a huge one, which I LOVE).

How you move from one tier to another depends on the airline. Star Alliance was based on actual miles travelled, whereas BA have the concept of Tier Points, whereby these are allocated depending on your fare, route and cabin. As a point of improvement, I would suggest that this (i.e. number of tier points and miles) is made clear before one books/pays for a ticket. Currently, you only find out afterwards. TAP Portugal and Swiss actually have a really good booking system whereby you have various fare options in both economy and business class and if you pay more, you get more points. Whether you choose to do it or not, it’s totally up to you, but it is very clear.

If you want to be BA Silver (where you need 600 tier points), you need 3 Europe to US Premium Economy trips (180 tier points each) plus a couple European flights (20 tier points for each economy return flight or 80 in club europe). That would have a cost of around €3000, give or take.

When I stopped using Star Alliance, they sent me a “goodwill” Silver card, valid for 2 years. I was surprised and thought it was nice and used it once or twice. On a particular flight, when I added by second piece of baggage (for those extra 15kg), I was told I wasn’t eligible as my card wasn’t really “real”. I was so offended, I vowed never to fly with them again unless I do not have an option. It has been 8 months and still counting.

Time in airports matter

Time in airports matter

One thing I haven’t mentioned is upgrades – I really don’t get the system. I rarely travel alone anymore, which certainly helps getting those seats, but every now and then we have a surprise. There is no sense of entitlement from my part whatsoever and that is fine. I recently found out that some American airlines (as in from the USA) hand out x upgrade vouchers each year to frequent flyers and, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind a bit of that (guaranteed) love.

I love playing the points game (I could expand this post and talk about Credit Cards…but maybe we could leave this for another opportunity), but I really enjoy flying with my airline of choice as I feel looked after, safe and love the little tweets they send me every now and then when I travel.

Let’s get this debate started. Favourite airline? Loyalty programme? What matters to you? Are you willing to pay a premium to fly with your preferred airline?

Let me know.

xo

Mrs O

The post My thoughts on airline loyalty programmes appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

An English summer tradition: the BBQ

This post has been brought to you in association with Taylor’s Port

When I moved to England, almost 7 years ago, I knew there would be compromises – the weather, the beaches, the food and, of course, my family and friends.

What I didn’t really know, was how to enjoy sunny days in this part of the world. Where would I go for fresh grilled fish? How often would I see the sea (as in the beach)? Little did I know how much fun one could have in a small, medium or large garden.

The ultimate European BBQ - meat, fish and seafood

The ultimate European BBQ – meat, fish and seafood

The Brits are obsessed with BBQs, I found – and once the sun is out.. there come the invites! I personally became such a fan of this quirky tradition, that I found myself organising an Olympic-sized BBQ this year – for 50 of my closest friends.

No mean feat, a lot of prep involved, but what I really wanted was to mix it up a bit – every Portuguese tradition I have adopted at home has been welcomed with open arms by my UK-based friends, especially if it involves food or drink.

Mrs. O gets her hands dirty!

Mrs. O gets her hands dirty!

I may have mentioned my sangria-making skills once or twice, and this time around, I was determined to out-do myself – to make Mrs. O’s sangria using not sparkling wine, but rosé port. You heard it here first.

Croft and Taylor’s Port challenged me to recreate some Portuguese classics using Port instead of wine – and I must say, these 2 drinks were the absolute hit of the party.

 

Croft Pink Rosé Port Sangria - the real deal

Croft Pink Ros̩ Port Sangria Рthe real deal

I know what you are going to ask me.. did we get headaches the next morning? Absolutely not! We mixed 1 bottle of rosé port with 2 litres of lemonade (sprite for the non-Brits), lots of ice and, of course, the fruit (anything you want, but strawberries and peaches are a must for me).

Another nice surprise? Dry white port and tonic.. with some mint leaves and lots of ice. Very refreshing and perfect as an apperitiv. We mixed it as we would mix an European Gin & Tonic (no mean UK sizes).

I loved trying White Port and Tonic

I loved trying White Port and Tonic

Time for some food and we tried every meat in the world – I think we totally over-catered and will have food for weeks (any excuse to have more friends around and fire up the BBQ). One thing I now love is corn on the cob, something we don’t have a lot in Portugal, and I could have it pretty much every day.

Love BBQed corn on the cob

Love BBQed corn on the cob

We have been blessed with 2 amazing weekends in August, and I had the chance to test some more Portuguese delicacies, which I would love to share with you.

Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato - clams with wine wine, garlic and coriander

Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato – clams with wine wine, garlic and coriander

Ameijoas, or clams, must have been one of Mr. O’s first Portuguese words… he has never forgotten them, and I am now almost able to make them. As they say, the more you try, the luckier you get.

Summer on a plate

Summer on a plate

But grilled sardines is my ultimate summer staple – it is as simple as it gets. And makes me miss Portugal a little bit less.

How how did we finish our day? With a slightly chilled glass of 10 year old tawny. So amazingly different – I am liking Port more and more!

Chilled... yes, chilled!

Chilled… yes, chilled!

 

Wishing everyone a fab summer – not long to go now, sadly, but determined to enjoy it until the last minute!

xo

Mrs. O

 

PS. A big thank you to Taylor’s and Croft for sharing their cocktail recipes. As we say, Port is not just for Christmas 🙂

The post An English summer tradition: the BBQ appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

So hard to leave San Diego, California

San Diego… San Diego… San Diego.. it is very interesting how these two words became so important and meaningful to me. We first visited a good 5 years ago and didn’t go back until last year, until BA started flying directly to London. Having started in San Francisco, we thought it would be the perfect place to end our annual, almost religious, California trip.

Coronado Bridge and San Diego skyline

Coronado Bridge and San Diego skyline

Our love affair with San Diego started then, and continued this summer, when we decided we just “had” to go back. There is something about this place – the very laid-back, yet elegant atmosphere, the southern California accent and the amazing food, of course.

Why do I love it? I like the fact that is right on the Pacific Ocean (one I have yet to try, despite really wanting to.. water may be a tad cold and, for some bizarre reason, no sunloungers!!), it is small and compact (in a couple of days you can really get a feel of the place), has some really cool tourist attractions (which I normally avoid, but it seems that I have a thing for sea-creatures) and it is so pretty, it hurts.

Yes, a bit of colour coordination at SeaWorld never hurt anyone

Yes, a bit of colour coordination at SeaWorld never hurt anyone

I need to admit something – I was never really tempted by Mexican food. I really don’t know why. So this time, and with the help of the W Hotel concierge (the only place we have ever stayed in town – so nice, we always go back for more), we decided to be super adventurous… and that is how another O’Reilly obsession began…

Mexican food - is good. Enchiladas, burritos, tacos.. just send them my way

Mexican food – is good. Enchiladas, burritos, tacos.. just send them my way

We were determined to try as many different Mexican delicacies as possible, and surely weren’t disappointed with the options the city had for us. And Margaritas, of course.

The biggest surprise? The lovely Old Town San Diego, located not far from the city centre, which is kept in pristine condition. I love “main street” America and seriously loved this place. We had not ventured there before, and so glad we did this time. (and had some more more Mexican food. And margaritas – the best in town).

Happy in Old Town San Diego

Happy in Old Town San Diego

But what I loved the most about San Diego (if we exclude shopping, as Fashion Mall is one of the best shopping centres in the world, and I did my absolute best  to help the local economy), is nearby La Jolla, a little upmarket town, a good 10 miles from the city centre. Quirky boutiques, incredible views and some of the best restaurants in the area.

I will always remember fondly Eddie V, a stunning place, where we had white wine and oysters until they ran out of ice last year – the city had a 8-hour blackout in the summer of 2011, which was an interesting experience, to say the least. As we were denied the “full experience” then, we had to go back on our recent trip. At the last minute, we changed the reservations to a different day, only to be sitting next to the Kardashian clan. Funniest thing? I didn’t even noticethem – I noticed the cameras (as it was graduation week I thought some poor soul’s family thought it would be fun to film the dinner.. sad, I know..), but all I cared about was this view. But Mr. O did have a good look and you can ask him who he thought was the prettiest.

The view from Eddie V, La Jolla

The view from Eddie V, La Jolla

Jokes aside, leaving San Diego always makes us sad. Because 2 days isn’t enough to really enjoy this place.  When I think of California (my favourite state in the US, please don’t be offended, I love them all!), and I close my eyes, this is what I can see…

La Jolla, California

La Jolla, California

.. it is my own very own “California dream”. It’s 10 months until we go back – and believe me, we can’t wait!

Missing San Diego already..

xo

Mrs. O

 

The post So hard to leave San Diego, California appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Is cruising for me? My honest opinion

As you may know, I have been invited to go on a cruise recently, which was a bit of a surprise, as I always said that I would never go on one. Never, ever, ever. But I did. Did I like it? Will Mrs. O go cruising again? What did I really think about the experience? Here is my honest opinion.

Some of my favourite moments

Some of my favourite moments

I was invited by MSC Cruises to go on a bloggers’ trip in early July. The itinerary was quite exciting, and perfect for a weekend. We started in Rome, where I did a bit of shopping, we then stopped in Genoa and managed a little hop to Portofino, and I even learned how to make mojitos on the ship.

I accepted this invite as we were not going on the main part of the ship. These ships are big – we are talking 3,000+. I liked the concept of the Yacht Club which is “a ship within a ship”, or a boutique hotel inside a hotel. With only 70+ suites – 140 people.. I was definitely curious.

Want to know more about it? Well I did, and asked the Yacht Club’s head butler to tell us a bit more about this luxury product. Just click here, or on the image below.

My 3rd and final video

My 3rd and final video

The Yacht Club was lovely – the rooms could have been a big bigger, but to be honest, I didn’t really spend a lot of time in them. Everything worked perfectly,  and I loved having a butler. I was an easy passenger as I didn’t ask for much – I never leave for a trip without shiny shoes, so didn’t need that and all my dresses travel well. But of course I can see the appeal of having your ironing done, which I would totally use, if necessary.

I LOVED the pool deck. We had a huge area with a bar, lounging chairs, a pool, 2 jacuzzis and a viewing deck, for exclusive use of the Yacht Club guests. It was super spacious and not crowded at all (my worse nightmare). I loved the fact that there are more sunloungers than guests… so even if at full capacity, it will never look full.

The Top Sail Deck - nice and peaceful

The Top Sail Deck – nice and peaceful

I LOVED the spa – it was one of the best experiences ever, and I have had a few massages and facials around the world. The treatment rooms were amazing, state of the art, and the view.. wow, that will be difficult to replicate anywhere else. Must confess it was a bit strange to undress whilst leaving Genoa – I know that no one could see me, but a very weird feeling indeed.

A spa room with a view

A spa room with a view

I LOVED the Yacht Club lounge – just like a hotel lounge – with food, drinks, etc. You could have simple meals throughout the day, drinks, etc. Very nice and the hub of this part of the ship

Food and drink were also excellent. We had access to the fine dining restaurant, and I cannot fault anything.

What I didn’t like? Having to cross the whole ship in order to get to it. It is not for the walk, it is for the sheer contrast of the cruising experience. I am talking thousands of people, being super loud, everywhere. And not wearing trousers after sunset. Or shirts. I am not being snobbish (maybe I am), but there is a time and place for everything. If you wear shorts during the day, make an effort for dinner. I am not suggesting everyone should wear tuxedos and evening gowns (although I would love to have an evening like that!), but trousers, long sleeve shirt and proper shoes is an absolute minimum for men. On the yacht club, there is a requirement for gentlemen to wear jackets and that was absolutely fine. I wore cocktail dresses every night, nothing formal, but as I would do for any dinner.

Would I go again? To the Yacht Club, absolutely – for a long weekend, it would be perfect for me. And with a group of friends – I think cruising is like skiing, more of a group activity. To the other part of the ship? Absolutely not. If we all liked yellow, life would be very boring and I am glad that there are different options at different prices.

So there you have it. I would really like to thank MSC for the great trip they organised for us. One of the best parts of the trip was actually meeting fellow bloggers and the team. We had an amazing weekend, not a lot of sleep, but I got back to Barcelona feeling happy and relaxed.

W Barcelona is becoming my home in this city. Always welcome to drop by :)

W Barcelona is becoming my home in this city. Always welcome to drop by 🙂

With enough time before my flight back to London, it would be rude not to enjoy the sun and have my first dip ever in Barcelona, thanks to the W Hotel, who let us use their beach club. And, of course, enough time for some delicious Spanish Tapas.

Oh yes - boquerones, calamares, croquetas, pan con tomate and the piece of resistance, ibérico ham. This and cold rosé wine was a treat!

Oh yes Рboquerones, calamares, croquetas, pan con tomate and the piece of resistance, ib̩rico ham. This and cold ros̩ wine was a treat!

 

Who knows if you will find me on a cruise again? 😉

Mrs. O

 

The post Is cruising for me? My honest opinion appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.