A luxury weekend in Seville, Spain

We were looking for the perfect place to spend a not so wet Autumn weekend. And Seville, the capital of Andalusia in Spain, has always had a special place in my heart – but not for the reasons you may think. We have been wanting to go for quite a long time – but getting there from London wasn’t particularly easy – and when British Airways started to fly direct, we knew it was time for us to spend the perfect weekend in Seville.

I have been to Seville many times as a child and teenager. During most of those, we were enroute to Marbella, and stopping meant having a fabulous lunch at ‘La Dorada’ (the home of the salt-baked sea bream, which sadly does not exist anymore) and, more often than not, having the contents of our car stolen. I am laughing now, but back in the 80s, if you had a Portuguese car, you knew it would happen. If you were Portuguese there, your car was full of wonderful things like your Spanish shopping, cash cash cash (credit cards in those days were not the same). I do not wish to paint Seville in a negative light – but it what I remember. The most vivid memory of such episodes was being stopped on a traffic light, with my mother’s handbag in the back seat (with the 3 of us in the back), and a motorbike coming over with a rock, break the window, grab the bag and take everything. How we continued on holiday is a story in itself, which I can share some other time.

Incidents aside, I wasn’t worried in the slightest when we visited Seville – and I know that this doesn’t happen anymore. Returning to Madrid as an adult was top of my list and it finally happened.

I honestly only wanted to stay in one place – the Alfonso XIII, a Luxury Collection Hotel which is where I stayed quite a few times with my parents. It is one of Spain’s most iconic hotels, a grand dame, which was recently restored to its former glory.

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The stunning Alfonso XIII hotel in Seville

I felt 10 years old when I walked in again as everything looked exactly the same – and it was stunning. Just stunning. We stayed for 2 nights and I cannot fault the hotel in anything. Service was friendly, the rooms were gorgeous (and modern, worry not) and, best of all, it had a gin menu at its fab Bar Americano. As you walked through the hotel, you can see the photos of who’s stayed there in the past and how it is so important to the city’s history.

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Some details of the hotel – look at the details of the wardrobe itself. Gorgeous!

And every day, at 5pm, the hotel’s concierge organises a little guided tour of the property for all guests, which comes with a glass of something – so if you stay, do make the time as it is quick and totally worth it.

Friday evening

As our British Airways flight departed from Gatwick, and both of us were working in the city during the day, we tried Airportr‘s same-day luggage collection service, which was excellent. Bags were picked up from our house and delivered to us when we checked in. Simple and oh so useful.

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We loved Airportr’s service and will use it again.

We landed just before dinner – and sadly not before being taken for a ride by the taxi driver. We were charged 45 Euros from the airport (I was sharing a taxi with my husband Simon and our friends Chris and Terene) which I thought was excessive. As we arrived to the hotel, the doorman looking at our expressions guessed something was wrong and we immediately knew we had been done. There is a flat rate to and from the airport of €22.2o during working hours and €24.70 at all other times and that includes all supplements and charges for luggage etc. Interestingly, the taxi driver stopped where he knew the hotel cameras would not be able to see his licence plate (and they went through the footage as they were quite offended too), but Mr. Taxi driver knew what he was doing. So take note, you now know what you should be charged.

We arrived to our beautiful hotel and had time to unpack and freshen up before dinner, which was to be a special affair.

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Our room at Alfonso XIII

Our room, a Junior Suite, was very spacious and really was beautiful. Taking photos at night never does it justice, but we all know that photos the next day will never be the same – as one starts unpacking and feeling at home. I had another deja-vu moment when I went to the bathroom – oh my God, I did remember the tiles. They were still there.

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Very unique bathroom – and one small detail: plugs in the bathroom which are slowly disappearing all over the world and I do not know why. I am sure I have not read about anyone dying at a hotel whilst blow drying their hair.

At the hotel lobby, Shawn Hennessy, or Miss Tapas Sevilla, was waiting for us. We had pre-booked a private tapas tour with her (you can read all about my favourite foodtours here) weeks before, as she is a very very busy lady. And she is very very good.

We spent around 4 hours with Shawn and went to the most incredible places in town, most of which we would never dare enter – because we wouldn’t know how good they would be. Out of respect for Shawn, I won’t name every place as I believe the service she offers comes down to the knowledge she has of the city and that it worth every penny. Tours cost from 80 Euros per person, including all food and drink.

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My friend Terene looking very happy as she was having one of Spain’s best gifts to the world: jamon iberico de bellota

One thing worth noting: there is a fair bit of Jamon Iberico to be enjoyed. Why? Because it comes from not far from the city. And as you taste the various charcuterie items (chorizo, lomo, etc), you also learn about the different types of this wonderful food item.

Our night ended with a night cap at the hotel – the Bar Americano was gorgeous! And something quite funny happened: I asked for the drinks menu and when I got it, I was surprised to see that there were no gins in it. And a proper gin & tonic (or gin tonic as they call it in Spain) was exactly what we wanted. Turns out there is a GIN MENU, as a couple pages on the main menu just weren’t enough. SO my kind of place…

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Notice two of the pages of gins (there were more), organised by country of origin, but also notice the variety of tonics. And they did all the pairing for you, of course.

Saturday

Our morning did not start at the crack of dawn (because ‘gin’) and also because the hotel has breakfast on until 11am. Served in a beautiful room (of course) and with some of my favourite items.

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One thing at a time… but of course I had to have churros.

After we were re-energised, it was time to explore the city – very happy to see the sights, but we were obviously focused on one thing: shopping. Because ‘Spain’.

On our way to the city’s main shopping street (C/ Sierpes and those nearby), we passed Seville’s cathedral – which is one of the oldest in the world, literally steps from the hotel, and spent some time admiring one of Spain’s most special traditions – the display of nativity scenes, or Belens, as they are called.

In the run up to Christmas, there are vendors of these nativity scenes which really are works of art. My mother is a great fan of those, and as children, I remember the work put into it – and buying all the different bits and pieces each year was also a lot of fun. If you look at the images, notice the details of the items and think that in most cases, they are smaller than a thumb.

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The nativity scenes in Sevile

As per normal, all roads led to El Corte Ingles, Spain and Portugal’s only department stores. We were delighted with what they have done in its last floor – where a Gourmet Experience was created. Basically you can buy any of the items and enjoy them right there and then (think jamon iberico), or just buy them and take home. The outside area was gorgeous and you can also enjoy some of the city’s best views.

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We loved the El Corte Ingles Gourmet Experience.

I love El Corte Ingles as I can get my ‘Iberian Fix’ of life products to bring back home to the UK – be that pharmacy, beauty, gin, wine and of course food. And sometimes, some shoes. Worth noting that as a tourist, you can get a 10% discount card (which can’t be used everywhere in store). The discount works after the first purchase where, for example, if you spend 100 Euros, you have 10 Euros off your second purchase and so on. So do the math and buy larger items first, and then get the other smaller ones for free. I got myself a Nordes gin bottle at the end, with all my credit, and was very pleased!

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Not a bad view, huh?

After a fair bit of shopping, it was time for lunch. Shawn gave us some recommendations and, as expected, they did not disappoint. We went to La Pepona, a few minutes away from ECI and loved its modern tapas. Lunch was around 25 Euros per person including a glass of wine.

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Very modern tapas at a gorgeous place.

In the afternoon, we continued to help the local economy – Seville doesn’t have the same caliber of luxury shopping as Madrid or Barcelona, for obvious reasons, but you will be able to find shops like Max Mara, Purificacion Garcia, Adolfo Dominguez, Maje, Utreque, and others, of course. And all the Spanish brands you would expect.

We had a little nap at the hotel (why not?), and before we knew it, it was time for dinner again. We did not have set plans (which is a shocker for me, as I always do), but we wanted to try the hotel’s Carles Abellan restaurant at some point. We decided however to revisit some of the places we had been to the night before with Shawn, like Bodeguita Romero, before we ended our evening at the hotel. We really liked the space, the tapas and, of course the gin and wine. (Dinner was around 80 Euros per person, including ‘all the gins’).

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When in Seville…

If you haven’t come across Carles Abellan, do so before heading to Spain. He’s from Barcelona and has been building a little empire. I will always be thankful that thanks to him (not personally), at Tapac24, I was introduced to Hendricks Gin, 15 years ago, in a proper glass, 15 years ago. 15 years ago – and I have never looked back, as you all know.

Sunday

Shops are not open in Spain on Sundays (with the exception of the first Sunday of the month, and closer to Christmas), so we decided to explore the city a little bit. The hotel was so well located, you could walk everywhere – and so we did.

Our first stop was the Real Alcazar, a royal palace in Seville, Spain, originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings. We went at around 11am and queued just a little bit, but you can now buy your tickets online (tickets €9.50).

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The Real Alcazar de Sevilla

We loved the weather – we had 20c and it really was lovely in the sun. In late November. From the Palace, we made our way to Parque de Maria Luisa, which was the grounds of the 1929 Expo. The Portuguese pavilion, for example, it is still the Portuguese embassy nowadays.

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A gorgeous city!

But the one place we wanted to get to was the magnificent Plaza de Espana – it was the heart of the 1929 Expo and incredibly beautiful. From what I understood, this great event welcomed Spanish from all over the world back ‘home’ and it has some little areas dedicated to each main city. The point is that you would ‘go’ to the city where you or your ancestors came from and have a moment.

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Just wow!

After a fabulous morning walking around town, it was time for our last meal, which we took very seriously. We headed to Vineria de San Telmo, again as recommended by Shawn, and enjoyed our last tasting of Jamon Iberico, some octopus from Galicia (of course) and the most incredible lemon merengue pie. If we had to go, we had to do it in style. (lunch was around 35 Euros per person).

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My Spanish staples include Fanta Limon. And we couldn’t not try Porta des Indes, the local Seville gin.

Returning to Seville as an adult was very special – the city is gorgeous and full of life. We loved the food, the hotel and literally everything else. And we even tipped an extra €5 to the lovely taxi driver who took us back to the airport and did not overcharge us.

If you haven’t been to Seville – go. We have only seen a little bit of what the city has to offer and believe me, we will be back soon.

xo

Mrs. O

Fact box: I was a guest of Alfonso XIII, a Luxury Collection Hotel and I loved it. Rooms start from €280 per night.

British Airways flies to Seville from London Gatwick from £85 return.

A private tapas tour with Seville Tapas costs from 80 Euros per person.

Airportr offers same day bag transfers and will collect your bags in and around London to your chosen airport (Heathrow, Gatwick and City) , or the reverse, from £15 each, depending on location. I really enjoyed the service as I had a day in London working and was dreading having to take my bags around with me in the city. They were picked up from home and delivered to me by the British Airways check in.

My Top 5 Destinations for Autumn 2016

Looking for inspiration for where to go this Autumn? Well, I am here to help. Here are my Top 5 Destinations for Autumn.

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I have travelled to Scotland earlier this summer and sampled some of their best whiskies and I was only delighted to go back again. This time, the reason for my trip to Inverness was to attend a conference in which I was a speaker and I am glad I went a bit early and got a taster of what this part of the world has to offer. Whilst I did not spot Nessie, I was almost emotional when I got my first glimpse of Loch Ness. I will definitely go back and explore some more.

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I have been to Barcelona well over 150 times – my previous corporate life took me there almost every week for 4 years and ever since I left, I have missed it a lot. Interestingly, I have not been back that many times (last time was a good 5 years ago). So I have planned 5 amazing days in town where I will be with my amazing friends Trudi and Terene for there whole time, and we will allow the boys to join us for the weekend. Just for the weekend. We picked Barcelona as it offered the best combination of what is needed for a true girls weekend: great accommodation (and a pool!), great shopping, restaurants and bars and, of course, very pleasant on the eye.

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Photo Credit: Belmond

I love love love Mallorca – which comes to no surprise if you are a regular reader of the blog. After a 10-year hiatus, I started going back to the island every year, almost religiously, because I love it. This time around, I am travelling with Sovereign and go inland, rather than stay right on the beach. And where will I stay? At the incredible Belmond La Residencia, which was Richard Branson’s private home in the island. I cannot wait.

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Photo Credit: Visit Bath

We visited Bath for a proper weekend this time last year and we loved it. We really did. Mr. O is celebrating a milestone birthday this year and we are organising a proper O’Reilly reunion. When it came to choosing the right place for all of us (which are based in London, Henley, Brighton and Devon), there was only one perfect choice: Bath. We have rented a house just outside the city, but near enough for some shopping, of course.

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Photo Credit: Starwood

I have been picking my brain for a few weeks on where I should take Mr. O for the weekend after ‘the birthday’ and I couldn’t decide. We wanted a bit of sun but also something quite different – and then I discovered that the W was opening in Goa at the beginning of the month of November. Getting there will be interesting – but we managed to get BA flights to Hyderabad and then will try our luck with a local airline (flight is only 1 hour away). We loved our first taste of India last year – we went to Mumbai and Jaipur and we wanted a bit more of that. Goa has always been on our list – and well, I cannot wait!

We are also heading to the USA for a week, as Mr. O has business there, and as a good wife, I feel I should keep him company! He has business in Minneapolis and Philadelphia and at the end, I get a weekend in Greenwich, Connecticut with my fabulous friend and co-founder of #LuxTravelChat,  Luxury Travel Mom.

Where are you planning to go this Autumn?

xo

Mrs. O

A first taste of Budapest, Hungary

Very few times I have been so surprised by a destination, I thought: “how come I did not know it would be so beautiful? And fun?”. Well, that is exactly that happened the first time I visited Budapest, the capital of Hungary.

Full disclosure here – I did not go on a normal weekend away, I visited the city as a guest of Corinthia Hotels, which had organised a special weekend to celebrate the 120th anniversary of its Budapest hotel. As a result, there was a pre-set programme for guests and I did not do things like go out for dinner – so obviously I need to go back and explore some more of this beautiful city. Incredibly beautiful city.

Here are some thoughts and ideas for your next trip to Budapest.

The Hotel

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Exterior and interior views of the Corinthia Budapest

We stayed at the Corinthia Budapest, which was located in one of the city’s main streets and within walking distance to The Boulevard and the main shopping street in the city.

The hotel has been refurbished and is in good condition – but I found the service did not match my expectations. Whether it was to make a spa appointment, or to get a drink at the bar, I felt that nothing really flowed. And whether we were ‘with the VIP group’ or on our own, it did not really make a difference, I am afraid.

The rooms were comfortable and modern and we slept well – which is what you would expect.

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Our Executive Room at the Corinthia Budapest.

One of its special features (if you could get an appointment) was, without a doubt, the spa. I had only one treatment during my stay as it was fully booked, but was really quite impressed with the quality of the therapists and treatments. I had a massage and it really was exceptional (priced at 100 Euros for 50 mins).

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The spa, bar and internal courtyard

Sightseeing and entertainment

On the first morning, we sneaked away from the programme and made our way to Budapest Castle – this is where we got our first glimpses of this truly majestic city. We also had a photo shoot with Flytographer (because I love them) and a chance to explore the old part of town.

I am glad we went early (say around 10am) to beat the crowds visiting the attractions.

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Isn’t this gorgeous?

I was blown away by the city and I was ashamed of myself for not having a clue how beautiful it was before actually arriving. Everyone can picture Prague, for example, but I did not have a visual for Budapest. I now do.

We had a private tour of the city with a driver and guide (that was somehow surreal as she did not shut up for one single minute, which actually at a point became quite funny). Nonetheless, it was a great way to get a general feel about it and have further ideas of what to explore on subsequent trips.

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Happy in Budapest captured by Flytographer

One of my favourite things was a Legenda boat trip on the Danube – it took around 30 minutes but was really a great way to see the city from its heart. Priced at 60 Euros per person, it really was incredible.

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Spectacular views of a spectacular city

One evening, we went to the Opera House and watched a performance. The venue was incredibly beautiful and I have to say, I was disappointed with how half the people were wearing suits and dresses and others were wearing jeans. Also, modern opera not for me. The performance had English subtitles so you could follow the storyline but it wasn’t melodic, so to speak. But it was still a good night out.

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The Budapest Opera House

The Bathhouses

You cannot go to Budapest without going to its famous bathhouses. But whilst I booked a massage at Gellert (which was excellent), I really did feel the baths were way too busy. I loved the idea of going to one of the ‘Sparties’, which take place at night time, but stupidly I thought you could go and not get yet. So whilst it seemed a great idea, it really wasn’t practical.

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The Gellert Bathhouse

I booked our VIP Massage (priced at 70 Euros for 50 minutes) online via email (and was very surprised with how efficient it was) – and was quite amused with the actual experience. As a pre-booked customer I had to queue to get a token by one of the ladies in the counter you can see above. Then, I had to queue with all the day guests who had not pre-booked and pay. It felt very 1957 and as I said, amusing. The least amusing part is that there were about 30 people ahead of us and we almost missed our slot. The VIP rooms were surprisingly very nice and my masseuse was young, very chatty and very very talented. I had snapped my calf muscle the day before whilst sightseeing and could barely walk and she really worked her magic. I had visions of being ‘beaten up’ by a very large older lady during this experience and it was the exact opposite.

Eating and drinking

And this is where things got really interesting. We were surprised by the number of rooftop bars the city offered – most with incredible views and very cool people from all over the world. Budapest is the new Berlin, some told us – whatever that means.

In terms of food, we enjoyed a very traditional Hungarian meal at Rosenstein, which was excellent. I would certainly recommend a lunch there (45 Euros per person including wine).

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Very interesting meal – it really was delicious

We also had a very good lunch at the rooftop bar of the Aria Budapest hotel. We loved the look and feel of this place too – and whilst it was empty when we arrived (perfect for photos), it was packed within an hour. We went here for Sunday lunch (around 80 Euros for 2 with wine) but heard it was one of ‘the places to go to’ for sunset and evening drinks.

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Great lunch at Aria Budapest

We also went to 360, another rooftop bar, on Saturday afternoon, before dinner. It was located 4 minutes from our hotel and I highly recommend a visit.

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The 360 rooftop bar

But what we loved loved loved? The ruin bars! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – and I have to say, I couldn’t believe how cool they were. Also, I was worried we would be a bit too old for them – and you can go in peace. Great variety of nationalities and ages.

We went to Szimpla Kertmosi, which was also within walking distance of the Corinthia hotel and really enjoyed ourselves.

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How cool was this?

What else can I say? Budapest really surprised me. I did not expect it to be as vibrant as it was, and certainly will be making a return trip to explore some more, as it really is calling my name.

Have you been to Budapest? What did you think of it?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: I was a guest of the Corinthia Budapest and all opinions are, as always, my own. Room rates for executive room vary between 250-900 Euros per night per room, including breakfast. A 30-minute photo shoot with Flytographer (we had Dana and loved her) costs $250.

My Top 5 Beauty Essentials for Autumn 2016

Summer has come and gone for us at the Northern Hemisphere and it is time to update parts of one’s beauty routine. Just because. Here are my Top 5 Beauty Essentials for Autumn 2016.

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Things seem to be quite exciting at Molton Brown – and I love their new fragrance experiments. I loved their Spring Lily of the Valley perfume and I have recently tried their brand new Rosa Absolute range – made up of shower gel, body lotion and eau de toilette. It is quite a strong scent which becomes quite subtle and changes according to your skin.

Get it now: Shower Gel £20, Eau de Toilette £39, Complete Set £84 from Molton Brown.

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I know you must be wondering… whisky? Indeed. I discovered this product on a recent trip to Dufftown, in Scotland, aka the Single Malt Capital of the World, and the home of Glenfiddich and Balvenie. The latter can be found in this product, which absolutely smells divine. We also got a reed diffuser which has been performing quite well in terms of evaporation.

Get it now: Handwash £18.00 from Fortnum & Mason.

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If you have a Brazilian friend in your life, or know Brazil a little bit, you will have come across Natura, which is Brazil’s number 1 beauty brand. If you lived in Paris, you may have spotted its shop on Rue des Sevres – and that was about it. I have been stocking up on this ‘three-phase’ shower oil for a few years now every time I went to Paris, but worry not – you don’t have to go. They now have a European website which makes things much easier. After you shower (and use normal shower gel), you just shake this bottle (so the 3 oil mix) and you just apply to your body. Towel dry and voila. No need to moisturise.

Get it now: Shower Oil €20 from Natura.

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I find it that I need to change moisturiser (and shampoo/conditioner) every season as the face (and hair) gets used to it, and since discovering Nuxe last Summer, I have been wearing its ‘Anti-Fatigue’ moisturiser which I love. It’s light, smells lovely, and de-puffs quite well. Happy days.

Get it now: Face moisturiser £18.50 from Amazon. Also worth trying Nuxe’s Travel Kit which includes this cream and the ‘Huile Prodigieuse’ for £13.50 from John Lewis.

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I love True Grace products and since I visited Bath last year, Amber is now the ‘smell’ of Maison O’Reilly. All around the house and having tried many many diffusers and candles over the years, I have to say – True Grace are the best (for me). They last really well (which is an issue with many other diffusers) and I am sure that if Amber is not your thing, you will find the right scent for you. I love them.

Get it now: Candle £28, Diffuser £42 from John Lewis.

Have you tried any of these products? What did you think?

xo

Mrs. O

Best of Summer of 2016 – by Mrs. O and Friends

I hate to say it, but Summer 2016 really is over for us on the Northern Hemisphere. Mine wasn’t the best at all – my father passed away at the end of June and 2 weeks after that, my husband had a partial knee replacement, which kept us home for 7 weeks.

There were highs and lows – quite a bit of pain, both physical and emotional, but also wonderful events such as Mr. O’s first grandson at the end of July (you can call me step-granny now) and my sister’s wedding at the end of August.

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The latter took place in Portugal and really was wonderful, and I could not be more grateful for Mr. O to have walked my sister down the aisle – the whole event gave us something to look forward to and I think I cried more than than at my own wedding!

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Whilst I did not travel much, guess who did? All my lovely readers. One day in August, Peter (who follows my Facebook page) sent me a photo of this fabulous hotel in Greece with a little note to say that he thought Mrs. O would love it. Then the next day, Claire did exactly the same – and I loved it. So what did I do? I asked everyone to share with me their favourite summer photos – and I can only say three words: ‘wow’ and ‘thank you’.

Wow because how lucky are we? *We* meaning Mrs. O & Friends – those who like what I do and allow me to appear on their social media feeds. I love the banter and back and forth – and knowing that we share the same love of travelling in style and try to find the best bits of each place and share with one another.

So without further ado, here are some of my readers ‘Best of Summer 2016’ moments. From Mykonos to Vietnam, Montenegro to California. We really went around the world.

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Peter – Santorini, Greece

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I took this one! Algarve, Portugal

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Rodrigues Pereira – Vietnam

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Adelia – Azores Islands, Portugal

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Joanna – Mallorca, Spain

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Morgen – Hua Hin, Thailand

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Sonia – Marrakesh, Morocco

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Anthony – Serengeti

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Rebecca – Rovijn, Croatia

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Elaine – Montenegro

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Paola – Mykonos, Greece

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Nicky – La Jolla, San Diego, USA

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Antonella – Iceberg lagoon, Jökulsárlón, Iceland

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Carolina – Exuma Key, Bahamas

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Ana – Santorini, Greece

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Anabela – Gstaad, Switzerland

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Nadia – Cadiz, Spain

mrs o and friends best of summer malaysia

Bety – Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

mrs o and friends best of summer verona

Silvia – Verona, Italy

mrs o and friends best of summer cape cod

Jennifer – Cape Cod, USA

mrs o and friends best of summer crete

Belinda – Crete, Greece

mrs o and friends best of summer brazil

Maria Helena – Praia do Forte, Brazil

mrs o and friends best of summer switzerland

Alexandra – Flims, Switzerland

mrs o and friends best of summer 3 santorini

Jo – Santorini, Greece

mrs o and friends best of summer kew bridge

Liliana – Kew Bridge, London

mrs o and friends best of summer berlin

Katie – Berlin, Germany

mrs o and friends best of summer amalfi

Lynnsay – Amalfi Coast, Italy

mrs o and friends best of summer malta

Rosie – Valetta, Malta

mrs o and friends best of summer berlengas portugal

Carmo – Berlengas, Portugal

mrs o and friends best of summer dubai

Carlos – Dubai, UAE

mrs o and friends best of summer kotor montenegro

Amelia – Kotor, Montenegro

mrs o and friends best of summer norway

Andre – Ramberg, Norway

mrs o and friends best of summer madeira

Chris – Madeira, Portugal

Thank you once again for taking the time to send me these photos.

xo

Mrs. O

Travelling to prepare for a special moment

This post is brought to you by The Ritz-Carlton

 

I have been asked many times a rather simple question: why do I travel? It seems simple enough, but the answer is not as straightforward. I travel for many reasons – to search for the sun, to have some down time, to spend quality time with friends, family and my better half. I also travel to discover wonderful destinations and learn about their culture, history and food. And I always try to get away to celebrate my birthday or Mr. O’s. Or our anniversary, of course. Oh, and I also travel to shop – and that qualifies as an important milestone in my book.

But this time around, we travelled for a very different reason. We travelled all the way to Bali, in Indonesia (obviously to do a bit of everything I mentioned earlier), but for something different: to prepare for a medical operation.

ritz carlton reserve mandapa bali ubud luxury hotel 25

Enjoying a walk with ‘good knees’ in Ubud, Bali.

My husband Simon has many good qualities, but his knees aren’t his best feature. For the past 6 years, we have been through 3 knee arthroscopies which meant a 3-week recuperation period but after the last one, we knew the big op was coming. The big op was a partial knee replacement. Which meant at least 8 weeks away from the office, planes, beaches and any driving.

Scheduling 8 weeks off our diaries, namely my husband’s wasn’t easy, and due to the nature of his work and my day time job (as a marketing consultant), the best time to do it was during the Summer, in early July. So in March we made that decision and decided to book a very special trip: we were going all the way to Bali, in Indonesia.

We spent some time in Seminyak, which we really liked, but the ultimate destination was Ubud, and more precisely, the Mandapa, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve, which promised to be the perfect place to get a final hurrah before the op. We did manage to squeeze in a long weekend in Spain and a weekend in Scotland just before the big day, but this was *the* trip.

ritz carlton reserve mandapa bali ubud luxury hotel 3

Spending some quality time at Mandapa

 

So why was Bali our chosen destination to prepare for this operation?

 

The hotel

ritz carlton reserve mandapa bali ubud luxury hotel 9

Not your average hotel lobby, is it?

I tell no lies. Every now and then, a hotel can be a destination (I unashamedly have plenty of those in my life), and in this case, we knew we were in for something pretty special. It was exceptional and we felt that 4 days were not enough. From incredible decor to impeccable grounds, it really had it all.

 

The culture

ritz carlton reserve mandapa bali ubud luxury hotel 26

Our very own rice field at the hotel…

We had never been to Indonesia and it was always on our list. It wasn’t a hop and a skip from London – we flew to Paris, then on to Doha (6h) and then onwards to Denpasar (9h) and it kind of took us 24 hours, with the time difference and transfers to get there. Whilst we really enjoyed Seminyak, the destination of the trip was, without a doubt, Ubud, also known as the cultural capital of Bali. We really got into it, and enjoyed plenty of time outside the hotel – we went to the town for some meals, for shopping and what not. But our favourite moment was a private tour on a vintage VW organised by the hotel that took us to the key temples around us. I loved its simplicity and how much we got from a 5-hour trip.

ritz carlton reserve mandapa bali ubud luxury hotel 24

How cool was this car?

 

The food

We fell madly in love with Indonesian food. The meat skewers, the soups, the mango sticky rice – you name it, we had it. We enjoyed a variety of meals at the hotel – from a picnic by the river, to a candlelit dinner on the rice fields, to a fabulously simple spring roll feast by the pool.

ritz carlton reserve mandapa bali ubud luxury hotel food

The food was exceptional

We loved the options we had – and how the hotel was not afraid to proudly serve local cuisine, and not ‘just a little bit’ for show. We also loved asking those who worked there to help us navigate the menus as we had no idea – we also got them to pick their local favourite dishes for us. Service was exceptional – some of the best we have experienced, yet so friendly.

I also loved how the hotel was not afraid to send us to simple places in town for lunch – because quality is what matters and we really had some exceptional meals. Some for $150 a head, others for $15. Because who cares?

ritz carlton reserve mandapa bali ubud luxury hotel 10

One of our favourite bars and restaurants – the design really was quite something

 

The peace and quiet

We really needed some of this and that is why we chose Ubud was our destination. We had a private villa with a pool, which was perfect. We did not have to see anyone when we did not want to – and gin & tonics made their way to our villa pretty quickly.

ritz carlton reserve mandapa bali ubud luxury hotel private villa with pool 2

Our own little bit of paradise

At times, yes, we wanted to see others but nothing was forced – and that is what I loved about it. We had time to sleep, to go to the spa, to talk to each other and also not to talk at all and just be together. And this was the perfect place to do so.

 

ritz carlton reserve mandapa bali ubud luxury hotel 21

Mr. O enjoying some ‘good knee’ activities like climbing up a rice hut.

 

The operation went very well and so has the recovery. But having been on a big trip before the operation really made it special for us – we picked somewhere different from where we normally go, and there could have been a closer option, but we surely celebrated and cherished this moment.

Travel is about celebrating whatever matters to you – what have you celebrated recently?

 

xo

Mrs. O

 

Disclaimer: this post was sponsored by The Ritz-Carlton, who has asked me to share a special moment of my recent travels. Opinions are, as always, my own.

The post Travelling to prepare for a special moment appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

The ultimate online shopping guide

I may have a little addiction to online shopping. Or maybe not so little! Here are some of my favourite online hangouts – I hope you enjoy the Mrs. O online shopping guide as much as I do.

It may take a little bit of time to load the whole page with all the logos. Be patient – a very good online shopping experience awaits. For reference, most international websites selected deliver to the UK, Europe and other international countries, not just the USA. And in most cases you can take advantage of the popular American savings and know exactly how much extra (for tax and shipping) you will need to pay, and make an informed decision.

Below you will find the whole list of brands, or to make it easier, select by category using the search button below.

Happy online shopping!

 

 

the mrs o around the world online shopping guide

 

Which other websites do you use regularly and would recommend? Let me know, as I will be updating this page very regularly.

 

Disclaimer: please note that this page contains some affiliate links, which means I will make a small commission from anything you purchase, at no extra cost to you. It is a great way to support the website. An idea? Bookmark this page and make this the starting point of future shopping experiences.

The post The ultimate online shopping guide appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

5 gadgets to take on your next trip

Technology changes so quickly, which means that every now and then there are some great products hitting the market. Below, you can find 5 gadgets to take on your next trip, all bought, tried and tested by myself.

Jackery power banks / portable chargers

jackery best phone portable charger

Without a doubt, the best portable chargers we have purchased – and a year on (I have the silver and the gold one), we are still getting at least 3 charges from each – I cannot ask for more. Perfect for when on the go, either for a day out or when travelling. They are light and very portable (think dinner clutch) – and most of all, they are outstanding value.

Get yours from £14.99 (UK/Europe) and $16.99 (USA)

Anker Nylon Braided USB Cable with Lightning Connector

anker smartphone iphone android super fast charging cable lightening

In our house we used to go through cables like cold water on a Summer’s day. For two reasons: because they broke and because my other half has a cute little habit of saying they are all his. We switched to these cables over a year ago and they are still impeccable. Because they are braided, they don’t break as easily and the colour coding brought some of my marital problems to an end. You can select 2 lengths – 3ft and 6ft and 4 different colours. And Mr. O does not like pink, so there you go.

Get yours from £6.99 (iPhone) and £5.99 (Android) (Europe) and $9.99 (USA).

Belkin Rotating Universal In Car Air Vent Mount Holder for Smartphone

belkin vent smartphone car holder

I have a love/hate relationship with my car’s built-in satnav system and more often than not, I much prefer using Google Maps and/or Waze. For that, I need my phone and somewhere to put it. I have purchased a few options (a lot of trial and error here) and the best solution I found (namely because I have a leather cover on my phone and I don’t want to stick anything to it), is this Belkin device, which can be easily attached to any air vent. We have three – one in each car, and one in our travel bag, which we use anytime we rent a car.

Get yours for £11.99 (UK Europe) and $11.99 (USA)

USB Wall Chargers

usb plug socket chargers belkin technet

So many devices and the main problem is.. where to charge them? We are considering changing our wall sockets around the house, but I am not sure how well they would work. In the meantime, we have resorted to these 2 items: the Tecknet 4 USB charger which we have in the kitchen and a spare one in our travel bag, which means anyone can charge their phones no matter what. In our guest bedrooms and around the house, we have selected the Belkin version which still gives you the power socket. Both work very well.

Get the Tecknet for £8.99 and the Belkin for £9.99 (UK/Europe).

For USA options, click here for the Belkin ($16.69) and Tecknet ($8.99).

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones for Apple Devices

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones for Apple Devices - White

I have had these Bose headphones since April (a lovely birthday gift from very thoughtful friends) and LOVE them. Mr. O has the over-ear ones which I also recommend, but find these more portable AND I can also sleep with them much better. There are 2 different versions available – for iPhone and Android/Samsung, and also 2 colours: black and white. You can also use them as normal headphones and I like that they are rechargeable via USB, which you can do on the go or actually on the plane.

Get yours for £189.99 (white version) in the UK/Europe and $249 in the USA.

Which gadgets can you not travel without? Would love to hear your thoughts as we all have the same issues!

5 gadgets to take on your next trip – 2016 Edition

Technology changes so quickly, which means that every now and then there are some great products hitting the market. Below, you can find 5 gadgets to take on your next trip, all bought, tried and tested by myself.

 

Jackery power banks / portable chargers

jackery best phone portable charger

Without a doubt, the best portable chargers we have purchased – and a year on (I have the silver and the gold one), we are still getting at least 3 charges from each – I cannot ask for more. Perfect for when on the go, either for a day out or when travelling. They are light and very portable (think dinner clutch) – and most of all, they are outstanding value.

Get yours from £14.99 (UK/Europe) and $16.99 (USA)

 

 

Anker Nylon Braided USB Cable with Lightning Connector

anker smartphone iphone android super fast charging cable lightening

In our house we used to go through cables like cold water on a Summer’s day. For two reasons: because they broke and because my other half has a cute little habit of saying they are all his. We switched to these cables over a year ago and they are still impeccable. Because they are braided, they don’t break as easily and the colour coding brought some of my marital problems to an end. You can select 2 lengths – 3ft and 6ft and 4 different colours. And Mr. O does not like pink, so there you go.

 

Get yours from £6.99 (iPhone) and £5.99 (Android) (Europe) and $9.99 (USA).

 

Belkin Rotating Universal In Car Air Vent Mount Holder for Smartphone

belkin vent smartphone car holder

I have a love/hate relationship with my car’s built-in satnav system and more often than not, I much prefer using Google Maps and/or Waze. For that, I need my phone and somewhere to put it. I have purchased a few options (a lot of trial and error here) and the best solution I found (namely because I have a leather cover on my phone and I don’t want to stick anything to it), is this Belkin device, which can be easily attached to any air vent. We have three – one in each car, and one in our travel bag, which we use anytime we rent a car.

Get yours for £11.99 (UK Europe) and $11.99 (USA)

 

USB Wall Chargers

usb plug socket chargers belkin technet

So many devices and the main problem is.. where to charge them? We are considering changing our wall sockets around the house, but I am not sure how well they would work. In the meantime, we have resorted to these 2 items: the Tecknet 4 USB charger which we have in the kitchen and a spare one in our travel bag, which means anyone can charge their phones no matter what. In our guest bedrooms and around the house, we have selected the Belkin version which still gives you the power socket. Both work very well.

Get the Tecknet for £8.99 and the Belkin for £9.99 (UK/Europe).

For USA options, click here for the Belkin ($16.69) and Tecknet ($8.99).

 

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones for Apple Devices

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones for Apple Devices - White

I have had these Bose headphones since April (a lovely birthday gift from very thoughtful friends) and LOVE them. Mr. O has the over-ear ones which I also recommend, but find these more portable AND I can also sleep with them much better. There are 2 different versions available – for iPhone and Android/Samsung, and also 2 colours: black and white. You can also use them as normal headphones and I like that they are rechargeable via USB, which you can do on the go or actually on the plane.

Get yours for £189.99 (white version) in the UK/Europe and $249 in the USA.

 

Which gadgets can you not travel without? Would love to hear your thoughts as we all have the same issues!

The post 5 gadgets to take on your next trip – 2016 Edition appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

A luxury villa holiday rental in Marbella, Spain

It is no secret that Spain has a very special place in my heart. My parents made sure to that. And a place that brings incredible family childhood memories is, without a doubt, the South of Spain. So when The Luxury Villa Collection invited me to return to the area and stay at Villa Malibu, I knew who the perfect company would be: my mother and my sister. The most civilised girls weekend (well, a 5-day weekend) ever who were in need of a luxury villa holiday in Marbella.

Luxury Villa Collection Marbella Michelle Chaplow Photography Ana Silva O'reilly

My kind of girls weekend – with my mother and sister in Marbella. Photo by Michelle Chaplow.

 

Booking a luxury villa holiday in Marbella

My stay was organised directly by Lindsay, who owns the company and after a villa was selected for us (the only one not booked on the dates I travelled in May – which should tell you something!), and everything was super smooth. I received all the correspondence that a normal guest would, with maps, directions, information about the house, everything. I was also put in touch with Fay, who runs the LVC’s concierge service, who then helped me organise a few other things.

 

Getting there

I flew to Malaga airport from London, and my mother and sister drove from Lisbon. The team had pre-arranged a private transfer to pick me up from the airport and drive me to the villa, which is located in the Los Monteros gated neighbourhood, a few miles before Marbella.

The transfer took a bit under an hour (and had cold water and chocolates waiting for me), and on arrival at the villa, I was met by both Steve (who is in charge of operations) and Fay, who gave me the tour of the house and ensured I knew how everything worked and where I could find things.

 

The villa

Villa Malibu has 6 ensuite bedrooms, and obviously, we only used 3 of them. I thought the villa was even better than the photos on the website showcased – and I love when that happens.

The decor was incredibly modern and I loved it. There was only one aspect of it that I didn’t like – a little bit too much fur in the bedrooms, which we put away on arrival and did not have to see again. The specs overall were excellent (the renovation is very recent) and I cannot fault anything else on the villa.

Allow me to take you on a little tour!

 

Bedrooms & Bathrooms

As I said before, the villa has 6 ensuite bedrooms – all with double/king beds, except for one, which has twin rooms. Each room is very spacious.

My sister stayed at the master bedroom, as I thought she would love the walk-in shower and the gym. And the pool view, of course.

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu master bedroom

The master bedroom

I stayed in one of the 2 bedrooms in the ground floor, as I thought I would like to have direct access to the pool (should I have a midnight urge). As we could choose from 6, why not?

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu bedroom1

My bedroom and bathroom

I liked that every bathroom had liquid hand-wash (yay) and honestly I wasn’t expecting toiletries. We did not use them, but I thought it was a nice touch.

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu 5 bedrooms

The other bedrooms and bathrooms – well appointed. We just didn’t love the fur covers and cushions (and we made them disappear).

 

Living Space

Indoor or outdoor living room? Our choice to make. The indoor living room was lovely and we used it quite a bit during our stay.

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu living room

Villa Malibu’s living room

The villa had a great sound system as well, which we (surprisingly) were able to operate.

However, should we be bored of the living room, we had a conservatory-style option just next door. This house is a house made for entertaining – be that groups of friends or families.

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu outdoor living room

I loved this room!

This room was gorgeous. We had dinner in once (with a private chef) and my only comment is that the chairs looked prettier than they were functional. They were not very comfortable (but we found cushions) and really quite heavy, so not ideal in a family scenario.

 

The Kitchen and Dining Room

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu kitchen

Not your average kitchen!

The kitchen was not only very very sleek and sexy (I loved it), it was incredibly well stocked too. Should you want to prepare any meals at home (we had lunch once), you needed for nothing. I was also very impressed by the welcome basket and the stocked fridge, which I honestly wasn’t expecting. From iberian ham, to olives, water, tonic water (duh!), fanta lemon, milk, cereal and gin mare… what else could I need? It was a very nice touch.

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu cinema room gym

Details: the stocked fridge, our pool towels, the cinema room and the gym and a rather successful expedition to El Corte Ingles supermarket (the empty suitcase was no more!)

BUT (I think you can see where I am going with this)… should you be bored with this kitchen and dining room, there was an alternative. I am not joking.

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu 5 dining room

The indoor dining room, and the outdoor one!

I am gutted we actually did not use the outdoor kitchen as the barbecue really was calling my name. It added a lot to the house and it was also beautifully done.

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu gin tonic pool michelle chaplow photography 1

Perfect Gins at home! And did I mention we had some turtles in the pond? Photo of us by Michelle Chaplow.

Worth nothing that the house was perfectly equipped for the perfect Mrs. O gin and tonic experience – glasses, ice, tonic and fresh rosemary from the garden.

 

The pool

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu outdoor swimming pool

The pool was super clean and we got 3 full days of use. And we loved it.

 

 

Concierge Service

Fay was the concierge and she helped me a lot making sure we knew where to go. The brief was clear: no sightings of TOWIEs and very real Spain was what we wanted.

We had breakfast out in Marbella (we had a list to choose from) and Malaga, and for dinner, one night, a private chef came over to prepare dinner for us and some friends – Ana and Vitor and their 2 children – who were visiting. The experience was good and the food was delicious. My negative comment was that more things could have been cleared from the dining table when they left, as I really did not fancy unloading the dishwasher and load it again. But I did it and it did not hurt me. But I really did not want to… When I mentioned this the next day, I was told that most people have a cleaning service daily and they would have taken care of that – which makes perfect sense.

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu private chef dinner my local concierge

An Asian inspired dinner at home, prepared by a private chef.

I also tested Fay to the limit when on Sunday I asked to have a very real paella nearby. With 30 minutes notice.On the beach. Nothing fancy – and with lots of Spanish people around. And boy, did she deliver!

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu beach lunch recommendation my local concierge

 

Out and about

If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I continue to visit this part of the world almost religiously every late June/early July? Why? Time for my annual pilgrimage to Finca Cortesin, which is my favourite hotel in the world. Not sure why (well, I may know why!), but I just find it perfect. So being so close, there was no way I could not pay a little visit – and also my mother and sister were intrigued as I may mention it to them a little too much.

kabuki raw finca cortesin casares spain michelin japanese restaurant luxury villa collection marbella

A fabulous evening out at Finca Cortesin

We got things started with a little (or not so little) gin, because.. Spain and then enjoyed a tasting menu (12 courses, 145 Euros) at its Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant, Kabuki Raw. It was outstanding (but we had to cut the menu short as we really could not eat it all!). All Finca Cortesin restaurants are open to non-residents but you absolutely need to book way in advance.

The following night, we met with my friend Michelle Chaplow who I always see when I am in the area and we went to one of our favourite places – a very very simple restaurant located at the Port of Estepona called La Escollera. From Michelin star to the fishing port within 24 hours – life does not get boring, does it?

la escollera restaurante seafood estepona puerto luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu

Local specialties in Estepona.

 

Private Tours in Malaga and Marbella

And what did we do the rest of our time when we were not by the pool or eating out? We were with Manni from Toma Tours. Manni organised a super evening out for us in Marbella’s old town, which included tapas and a bit of shopping.

toma tours toma coe private food tour marbella old town luxury villa collection marbella 2

So good going back to Old Town Marbella!

It also included a spectacular olive oil tasting at D’Oliva, which you must visit if you are in town. I have been back to the area since this visit (for my annual Finca Cortesin retreat) and we went back and let’s put it this way: olive oil was bought. And wine. And salt. Yum.

toma tours toma coe private food tour marbella old town doliva olive oil gourmet shop luxury villa collection marbella 2

One of Marbella’s best kept secrets.

The following day, we spent it with Manni too. Where? In Malaga! I had been to Malaga a few times (and I will admit it, only for shopping) and I was blown away with the city. It really has changed dramatically and after spending half a day walking around (and not shopping only), I am seriously considering going back for a weekend, with Malaga as a destination it itself.

toma tours toma coe private food tour malaga catedral luxury villa collection marbella 2

Malaga, you are gorgeous!

We went all the way to the top of the cathedral, visited the Picasso Museum and got lost in the little streets in the old part of town. I got lost, but Manni knew where we were going, namely as we stopped in some delightful little places for a bite of this and a bite of that.

toma tours toma coe private tour malaga luxury villa collection marbella 1

We are so coming back to Malaga!

We loved our time with Manni so much, my mother felt quite disoriented on the third day when she realised there would be no more Manni for us. I think it was the best private tour we have ever done and Manni really was lovely. You can read about my favourite food tours in this article.

 

Final thoughts

We absolutely loved our time in and around Marbella. Villa Malibu was excellent at all levels but what really impressed me were the people who run the operations – they really cared about what they were doing. They know the area for decades (a lot of love for all things Spanish) which really was an added bonus.

I liked how easy it was for them to coordinate between themselves and how you don’t just book a villa when you book with The Luxury Villa Collection. You get a lot more – attention, service and a genuine desire to help you have the best experience the region offers.

luxury villa collection marbella villa malibu pool michelle chaplow photography

A fab time at Villa Malibu. Photo of us by Chris Chaplow.

And what more could I ask for? Nothing.

Hasta pronto!

xo

Mrs. O

 

Disclaimer and fact box: I was a guest of The Luxury Villa Collection and all opinions are my own. 

The Luxury Villa Collection are offering Villa Malibu in May for £8,500 per week, and £9,995 in peak season, which includes a personal meet & greet, a complimentary massage, welcome gift and free membership to their private concierge service offering a pre-departure itinerary planning and a local concierge on call. Private villa chefs can be hired from €300 per service with tailor-made menu design available.

We enjoyed two bespoke tours with Andalucia experts Toma Tours, who very much live by their ethos “Experience the Spain you never knew!”  A Marbella Old Town Tapas Tour  can be booked from €136 per person including tapas and the Picasso’s Malaga tour from €143 per person without lunch, based on 4 people on the tour with a private guide.

The post A luxury villa holiday rental in Marbella, Spain appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.