2014: My year in travel – 26 trips, 53 flights and 110 nights away from home

I have started doing these annual recaps (see 2012 and 2013) and I have to say, I love doing them for one reason: it makes me happy to look back and see where the year has taken me, literally.

In 2014, we have been on 26 trips and took 53 flights (and I am not even counting Mr. O’s business trips, which have nothing to do with me!). We have also spent 110 nights away from our lovely bed at home. On average, we tend to go away twice a month, with some exceptions… never a dull moment indeed! I am not a professional travel (nor I ever aspire to be), and this is the balance that works for my husband and I. We have busy lives, and work takes us outside of the UK very regularly (and it would be rude not to enjoy some cheeky weekends away at the end of a business trip, wouldn’t it?)

So here is how 2014 worked out for us!

January

We started our year in Miami, where we stayed for 9 nights but sadly, only managed to go to the beach once! But let’s put it that way, pleeeennnty of time to shop!

Happy New Year from Miami, Florida.

Happy New Year from Miami, Florida.

Most of the month was then spent back in the UK, namely in London and over two weeks, I was able to try two very interesting hotels: The London Marriott Grosvenor Square (which was a very nice surprise!) and the fab London Edition, which I keep going back to.

At the end of the month, I made my way to Val d’Isere, in the French Alps for half a week of skiing (and eating, of course), which I adored.

A kir royale with a view. Je t'aime, Val d'Isere

A kir royale with a view. Je t’aime, Val d’Isere

February

In the shortest month of the year, I took my first ever UK domestic flight and headed to Newcastle, to speak at a conference, which was quite interesting. I also spent 3 lovely and busy days at the Four Seasons Park Lane in London, which is one of my favourite places in town.

I loved loved loved my room at the Four Seasons London

I loved loved loved my room at the Four Seasons London

March

March was full of surprises and contrasts. We returned to Val d’Isere for our annual ski week-long trip with friends (you can tell I like this place!!), and also enjoyed some true luxury at The Stafford in London, which is a legend, and I adored.

Later in the month, we headed to the Maldives for almost 2 weeks, purely in the name of research. And because I was lacking in vitamin D, of course!

The Maldives make me very happy indeed!

The Maldives make me very happy indeed!

April

April is my birthday month, and I started the festivities in the Maldives (of course) and then had a last-minute cheeky romantic weekend in Paris (why not?!).

Who was a happy girl in Paris? Me! Photo by Flytographer

Who was a happy girl in Paris? Me! Photo by Flytographer

We then went in search of some warmer temperatures in Abu Dhabi, which was indeed a surprise and an incredible trip. I loved everything about this trip and really want to go back at some point.

Abu Dhabi was more than I expected. Photos by Bernard Richardson for Flytographer.

Abu Dhabi was more than I expected. Photos by Bernard Richardson for Flytographer.

May

In May, we headed to Cyprus in search for (yet) more sun, but were not very lucky, sadly. But we still had a great time at the Columbia Beach Resort. The following weekend, we had an INCREDIBLE time in Bordeaux, France, which really blew us away. I am a huge fan of La France, and return often but this part of the world was new to me and I adored it.

Absolutely worth a visit. I loved St. Emilion.

Absolutely worth a visit. I loved St. Emilion.

On the last bank holiday of the month (yes, we get 2 in May!), we stayed closer to home and had a lovely time with family in Devon, South West England. It is an area I have come to know reasonably well over the past 9 years and I love it. We stayed in Salcombe at the Harbour Hotel and at the Magdalen Chapter in Exeter, both very positive experiences.

Welcome to Salcombe! What a view!

Welcome to Salcombe! What a view!

June

In June, it was time to return to Italia and discover a new area for us: the stunning Puglia, in the heel of Italy’s boot. We loved everything about this trip and vowed to return in the not so distant future!

La Selfie Italiana - Mary Anne, moi, Mr. O and Jeff and Ashley at the back. Fab memories.

La Selfie Italiana – Mary Anne, moi, Mr. O and Jeff and Ashley at the back. Fab memories.

In June, I also got to try the brand new Cheval Harrington Court, in South Kensington in London, which provided luxury apartment accommodations and a nice home away from home.

July

July is one of my favourite months to travel to Southern Europe (I avoid August at all costs!) and early in the month I returned to the stunning Finca Cortesin (who is possibly my favourite hotel in the world, quite a statement!). This time, I took Mr. O with me and I even got to learn how to make a Spanish tortilla de patatas.

The fab beach club at Finca Cortesin

The fab beach club at Finca Cortesin

Mid-month, we went on an unforgettable journey on the Belmond British Pullman, where we had dinner cooked by 2-star Michelin chef Tom Kerridge. This was the first of two train journeys this summer…

Chic in navy at the Belmond British Pullman

Chic in navy at the Belmond British Pullman

Later in the month, we went back to Portugal for 10 days – part of the O’Reilly pre-nup, non-negotiable. We went back to Herdade do Vau in the Alentejo (which we first visited last year), and then spent 6 days in the Algarve, split between the Quinta do Lago and the Sheraton Algarve, where we have spent the last 10 summers.

One of my favourite beach walks ever...

One of my favourite beach walks ever… Quinta do Lago, in the Algarve

August

I think Henley-on-Thames is so so so pretty

Yes, there can be something called Summer in the UK!

In August, we enjoyed the best of the British Summer and pretty much stayed at home – we spent 3 days in London trying out The Arch London, which is a little gem of a hotel, and later in the month, we headed to California (again, part of pre-nup agreement), where we spent 15 days.

September

Who's a happy girl?? At Domaine Carneros by Taittinger in Napa

Who’s a happy girl?? At Domaine Carneros by Taittinger in Napa

To end Summer in style, we had one of the busiest months travel wise – obviously one of the most fun! We spent the first part of the month in California, starting in San Francisco where we stayed at the Mandarin Oriental and slept through the earthquake. No drama – there really is no story to tell! We then revisited Napa, which we had not been to for 8 years and had a fab weekend indeed.

From Napa we made our way to Palm Desert (one of our spiritual places and where we have a place indeed, hence why I return every year) and then ended the trip in style in Los Angeles, at the one and only Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, which I will keep going back to forever and ever.

I adore the Four Seasons Los Angeles

I adore the Four Seasons Los Angeles

A couple weeks later, we headed to Venice to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary – and to say we had the best weekend ever, would be an understatement.

A very happy moment in Venice. Photo by Serena Genoviese for Flytographer.

A very happy moment in Venice. Photo by Serena Genoviese for Flytographer.

We spent 2 nights at the Gritti Palace (which was gorgeous), but could not wait for the last day of the trip. Why? Because we were to return to London onboard the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express, a journey that took 30 hours and we will never ever forget. If I have to pick the number one moment of this year, this would be it.

Welcome on-board the most iconic train in the world, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express

Welcome on-board the most iconic train in the world, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express

Summer came to and end (and what a summer it was!), and we started Autumn in Istanbul, a city we got to know reasonably well due to my previous professional life and had not returned to in 6 years. We were a tad unlucky with the weather (except for the first day), but that did not ruin it at all!

Istanbul, the city where Europe meets Asia and definitely gets the best of both worlds. And very happy memories for me. I love it.

Istanbul, the city where Europe meets Asia and definitely gets the best of both worlds. And very happy memories for me. I love it.

October

October was a quieter month, for obvious reasons! Mid-month, I needed some Vitamin D and headed to Mallorca in Spain with my friend Ashley from The Lazy Travelers. I did my best to get Ashley half as obsessed with gambas as I am, and it is fair to say I did a very good job (click on the link for Ashley’s version of the trip).

Cava, sun and a view in Mallorca. Stunning!

Cava, sun and a view in Mallorca. Stunning!

November

November is a special moment in our house (any excuse!) as it is Mr. O’s birthday month! But as he was busy way with work, I sneaked away to Paris for a cheeky girls’ weekend with my friend Lauren, and fair to say, we really helped the local economy in the run up to Christmas.

A very relaxed girls weekend in Paris, France. Photo by Flytographer.

A very relaxed girls weekend in Paris, France. Photo by Flytographer.

Then we got back into celebration mode, and I whisked away Mr. O to Copenhagen, in Denmark for a bit of wintery cold, and delicious food. And for a lot of eye candy, because I am a very nice wife. And I have eyes too.

The stunning Christmas lights at the iconic Hotel d'Anglaterre, in Copenhagen

The stunning Christmas lights at the iconic Hotel d’Anglaterre, in Copenhagen

And to end the birthday month in style, we headed to Northern Ireland, which was simply stunning. We knew it would be very nice (or no point in going), but were absolutely blown away by the people, the scenery, the food and do not get me started on the gin and whiskey.

Not a bad view to wake up to in Northern Ireland. We loved it.

Not a bad view to wake up to in Northern Ireland. We loved it.

December

In the final month of the year, I headed to Cannes, France, for the annual ILTM – International Luxury Travel Market, which is the main event in the luxury travel industry. A very busy 4 days, but still with enough time to appreciate the views…

Cannes is a very special place!

Mid-month, and just before the Christmas madness began, we found our ski legs in Alta Badia, in the Italian Dolomites. Whilst the snow was limited (only a few slopes open), the incredible food more than made up for it. Believe me!

The hills were kind of alive in Alta Badia, Italy

The hills were kind of alive in Alta Badia, Italy

Christmas will be spent at home, with friends and family who we cannot wait to see. We shall ring in the new year in a very quiet place in Mexico, and I have to say, I need that vitamin D again.

Thank you for your support over the last 12 months – and for making Mrs. O Around the World a destination in itself. I really do appreciate it, in more ways than I can describe in words.

Here’s to a fab Christmas for everyone, and let’s make 2015 a year to remember.

xo

Mrs. O

A ski week in Val d’Isere, France

It is not a secret that I am a huge fan of Val d’Isere, which I had visited in 2012 and 2013. So much so, that late in March 2013, I decided to go back again. Yes, again. I like it that much. I usually do a couple of ski weekends each season, which are very useful to find my (not so fab) ski legs, and having travelled twice with VIP Ski, with whom I had been to Val d’Isere before and also to Alpe d’Huez, both in France, I decided to book a chalet with 5 close friends of ours, who we usually travel with on annual long ski adventures.

As I had been the organiser of the last 9 annual ski trips, I asked one of my friends to deal with VIP and all the booking process, and also so we would have a completely normal booking experience – I was happy not to be dealing with the financials and all the email correspondence with our group, for once.

One of the decisions we had to make, when we booked was if we were to take the whole package (flight, transfer and catered chalet) or not. When we asked what would the discount be if we were to take scheduled flights and told it would be £50pp, and that the transfer would not wait for us if we were delayed, we hit the first stumble. As a group we decided that we would join the   flight as a) I had flown on an empty (6 of us!) VIP Ski charter flight at the beginning of the season and it wasn’t bad and b) the flight was only 1h20m, so we would not die.

So on an early Sunday, we made our way to Gatwick Airport, South Terminal and naively expected to see a check-in desk for our flight. I am not London Gatwick’s biggest fan, namely the South Terminal, so that in itself was a bit off-putting. But I think I died a little when we were faced with this:

My worst nightmare...

My worst nightmare…

We seriously could not believe it, and tempers started to get going amongst all of us. 50 minutes later, we were done, and because I was slightly prepared, I had organised for me and some of my friends, fast track security and lounge access with No 1 Traveller. I have to say, it was the best moment of my morning (overall!), and a must any time I have to fly from London Gatwick South. It is available to any airline passengers and great value at £22.50.

The No 1 Traveller Lounge at London Gatwick South really was an oasis of calm, with very good bacon sandwiches.

The No 1 Traveller Lounge at London Gatwick South really was an oasis of calm, with very good bacon sandwiches.

Our flight was quite uneventful (and a hint, if you go on these charter flights, ask for a seat in the first rows as they have extra space) and in less than 90 minutes, we arrived to Grenoble Airport. There was a bit of chaos on arrival, with all the luggage, and the coach allocation and I will never forget my friend Steffen who kept saying ‘This is not very VIP’. It wasn’t fun, to be kind, and the whole arrival could have been easier, and shared bus transfers are definitely not for me or my friends. To make it even worse, we were starving and stopped at the most uninspiring petrol station in France (which was a shed with days-old sandwiches, so I had to make do with some chocolate). I don’t know why we did not go to another one… oh well!

After almost three hours, we finally arrived to the centre of Val d’Isere, where the whole VIP Team was waiting for all of us – we had a mini bus to take us to our chalet, and our bags were to follow suit.

We got to Davos, our 4-bedroom, 5-bathroom chalet, which was lovely and a most welcoming sight after our journey, and a huge relief. But all we wanted was to do was to eat, and were delighted with the selection of fresh bread and cakes our chalet hostesses had prepared for us.

Our chalet was very nice...

Our chalet was very nice…

We felt much better at this stage and were impressed by the welcome from our chalet hostesses, as well as the manager, who came to each chalet and answer any questions we had and explain how everything worked. We had pre-booked our ski lift passes, which were then delivered to us (saving us a long walk), and we were also given the opportunity to have our ski equipment booked and delivered that day. As we weren’t sure if that was an option, I had pre-booked with Sweet Ski, who I had used before and really liked, and a lovely gentleman came to us, at 6pm as organised with all our equipment.

At this stage, our luggage arrived and it was time to head to our rooms, which had been pre-allocated by VIP’s team. Mr. O and I got the master bedroom, which was phenomenal, and sadly, not all the rooms where of the same standard (and size). In my previous experiences with VIP they had always been at par, to be perfectly honest, and we did not check this time. The main issue was not the spec, as the rooms were all very nicely done, but the size and the height of some of the rooms. So, always triple check this before you book, as we had some really unhappy guests.

A stunning master bedroom with dressing room and a great bathroom.

A stunning master bedroom with dressing room and a great bathroom.

We had towels (to be changed mid-week, which I wished happened more often), and Molton Brown toiletries (which were actually not replaced at all), which was a nice touch, especially the Lip Saver, which is a great lip balm!

Some of the other bedrooms, the living space and the hot tub!

Some of the other bedrooms, the living space and the hot tub!

On the first and last night of your stay, you have champagne and canapés, which is a good way to start (and end) the experience. We had booked a chalet for 8 (with my share being complimentary for the purpose of this review), but in the end we were only 7 (so we did pay for myself). However, at the last-minute Mr. O and one of the other husbands had important business meetings and were only to join us on Tuesday – which meant we had extra champagne and wine for a few days ?

6 of the 7 nights, you have a 3 course meal with wines (with others available at a supplement), and having had two experiences before with VIP, as I said earlier, with the meals cooked by the chalet hostesses on one occasion and a chef on the other, my friends opted for the first option, based on my feedback. And I have to be honest, whereas on my first stay the food was very good, on this stay, it was only OK.

Some desserts and details, and our fab driver service, which always worked brilliantly.

Some desserts and details, and our fab driver service, which always worked brilliantly.

Our days were pretty much the same, and that is something I love about ski weeks. I love the routine. Each morning, we had our VIP driver taking us to the slopes (a service available from 8am to 8pm each day, on demand, which always worked brilliantly) and then split as a group as we had different ski instructors, except for some of the boys, who skied on their own.

This time around, I spent my mornings with Matteo from Oxygene Ski School, who was Italian and great fun. Very skilled, but also quite relaxed, which makes for a great ski instructor.

It has been 10 years since I started skiing on a regular basis and having a private ski instructor is really worth the money.

It has been 10 years since I started skiing on a regular basis and having a private ski instructor is really worth the money. Because I am not a natural!

Each day, we had lunch at a different mountain restaurant, and we ended our lessons at the agreed location, so I always got to have lunch with the rest of the group. We went to La Folie Douce 3 times (I do like their Fruitiere restaurant), to Le Signal once, and discovered Le Peau de Vache, which was also very nice.

Never a dull moment at La Folie Douce...

Never a dull moment at La Folie Douce…

My afternoons were spent doing 3 different things… walking around town (where there is a bit of shopping to do, but not so much…), napping or using of the chalet’s best feature: the hot tub. It was outdoors and worked brilliantly – and we loved it! Because we all got back at different times in the afternoon, it meant we didn’t have to be in it together.

No sharing!!

No sharing!!

We used VIP Ski’s concierge service a few times – to book our lunches, and most importantly, our dinner on the hostesses’ night off, which is midweek. On our only night out, we started with cocktails at Le Blizzard, which was a very nice hotel bar, and then had dinner at La Casserole, where we feasted on fondue, raclette and other local specialties.

It was great to have a night out, for a change, but we felt very comfortable at the chalet on the other nights.

It was great to have a night out, for a change, but we felt very comfortable at the chalet on the other nights.

This wasn’t the perfect trip, for a number of reasons, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and hopefully, this blog post will be useful when you next decide to book your ski holiday.

What I did not like:

– The charter flight and shared transfer. Next time I will just suck it up and book a BA flight and private transfer or hire a car, which would cost maybe £300 total per person.

– The food. The breakfasts (cooked to order) and afternoon tea were really fantastic, but I thought the dinners were really subpar, so I would definitely have VIP’s Platinum Service, which a private chef and a different selection of wines (from £350, per person, per week). I had that before and it is definitely worth the money.

– The ski room was the next door chalet’s garage and was pretty bad and dirty. If we were all there at the same time there was no place to sit and put your boots on, and even if we were not, the options were not great.

– Pre dinner drinks – we ordered a bottle of gin at the beginning of our stay and tonic water every night (charged extra, great value), but we always struggled with ice every day. We kept asking, but if we could do one round a night with ice for all, we would be lucky (and there was no room in the freezer to make more).

– The room distribution – with a price per person, everyone should get more or less the same as the others, and to be fair to VIP, on all other occasions, they always were. We may have chosen the wrong chalet for us.

What I really liked:

– The quality and spec of the chalet in general

– The concierge service worked very well and always on the case

– The on demand driver service was spot on, and worked very well

– The hosts were nice and all the VIP on location team were very professional and pleasant

– Knowing that any problem would be sorted

Our trip to Val d'Isere was still a lot of fun.

Despite the mishaps, our trip to Val d’Isere was still a lot of fun.

Despite some aspects, we did have a good holiday – we all slept well, skied a lot, spent some quality time together and the snow was divine. And I continue to be a great fan of VIP Ski, but next time I know I need the 2 extras and spend more time looking at the room sizes. Oh well!

Au revoir, Val d'Isere

Au revoir, Val d’Isere

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box:

I was a guest of VIP Ski but the rest of the group were not, of course (and we did pay for the extra person at the end). A week at Chalet Davos costs from £1059 to £2639 per person (based on an occupancy of 8 people), depending on the time of the year and it includes chartered flights from London Gatwick, shared bus transfers and half board accommodation (breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner), including select drinks. Platinum service, which includes a private chef, starts from £350 per person, per week.

 Oxygene in Val d’Isère are an innovative ski & snowboard school offering on-piste, off-piste and adventure activities. They do whatever it takes for their clients to have an amazing time, whether it’s for beginners, children or adults, snowboarders or ladies only, they’ll enjoy every moment. They can even organise everything from heli-skiing to private jewellery viewings and have their own in-house equipment rental shop. Children’s groups start from 295€, adult groups from 222€, private lessons from 60€ per hour and private off-piste guiding from 315€ for a half day adventure.

For Ski Rental, contact Sweet Ski (prices depend on type of skis, of course).

Val d’Isere Lift Passes cost €260 for 6 days (for Espace Killy, which includes Tignes and over 300 kms of pistes).

No 1 Traveller operates stylish lounges at various UK airports, with single-entry access starting from £22.50 (if pre-booked).

A lux weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark

Besides a very quick hop to Helsinki a year or so ago, I must confess that I really have not explored Scandinavia at all. So I have decided that that needed to change and I really wanted to surprise Mr. O for his birthday – Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark was always on our list, so away we went for a quick weekend away (where the flight from London takes a mere 80 minutes!).

The first impressions of the population of this small (but delightful) European country were set from the minute we stepped on the plane: I was like ‘Hello!!’ – everyone was so good-looking, it really was a sight for sore eyes. And in case you were wondering, these gorgeous people were to be found everywhere in town. Everywhere.

Friday Afternoon

The stunning Christmas lights at the iconic Hotel d'Anglaterre, in Copenhagen

The stunning Christmas lights at the iconic Hotel d’Anglaterre, in Copenhagen

We landed at 5pm and were quite sad as we were going to miss one of the pre-Christmas traditions – the turning on the lights of the Hotel d’Angleterre, our hotel for the weekend. But when we arrived, we were stunned by this wonderful display. And obviously plenty of good-looking Danes admiring the view next to us.

The Hotel d’Angleterre, is the grand dame of Copenhagen hotels, having recently re-opened following a serious renovation – and I have to say, it was truly stunning. With the perfect blend of 45 shades of grey (not 50, note that), it was truly beautiful – a great mix of modern design and tradition, and incredible service.

The first thing we did, when we got to our hotel, was to head to our room and change for dinner. And boy, what a fab room! (Interestingly, it really reminded me of Hotel Villamagna in Madrid – just because it was one of my favourite recent hotel experiences, also a classic hotel recently refurbished to incredibly high standards and with great grey and white hotel rooms!).

A stunning hotel room at Hotel d'Anglaterre

A stunning hotel room at Hotel d’Angleterre

We had a bit of time until dinner, so we made our way to the hotel’s cocktail bar (Marchal), and tried one of the season specialties: Glogg wine, which is the Danish version of mulled wine, which is delicious. I had the white version whereas Mr. O had the red version and absolutely worth a try if you are in town this time of the year.

Sorting out our dining experiences in Copenhagen was a bit of an adventure – the food scene is of course very interesting, and most restaurants use the same booking service which allows you to book a table online or get on a wait list. Noma and Geranium are the most booked ones, and despite being able to get on the wait lists for each meal while we were in town, we never got the call back. I did call Noma on the Friday to find out I was #72 on the list and everyone had reconfirmed. Not a chance in hell, but hey, there are plenty of fab options in town (and we booked everything with 2 weeks notice which is not ideal!).

An incredible meal at Fiskebar, in Copenhagen's Meat Packing district.

An incredible meal at Fiskebar, in Copenhagen’s Meat Packing district.

I took advice from a friend, and booked a table at Fiskebar, which is located outside the city centre in the Meat Packing district. We were taken for a ride on our way out (as the taxi fare cost double than the return one… interesting!) and adored this restaurant from the minute we walked in. The service approach in this part of the world is nothing short of spectacular – everyone is so friendly and helpful and seem genuinely happy to welcome others to their country and places of business. Run by ex-Noma sommelier Anders Selmer, it is super hip and the seafood was delicious. We tried quite a few of their small bites and ended with a glorious Danish cheeseboard and a bottle of Chablis. Dinner for two cost approx €170, and €20 taxi ride one-way (€10 on the way back, oops).

We got dropped off just outside the hotel, but felt like doing a little walk around just to understand where we were located, which is as central as it gets. We realised that some serious shopping could potentially take place the next morning (yes!!), and then discovered this amazing champagne bar in the hotel’s back street. It turned out that Balthazar is part of the Hotel d’Anglaterre, and Denmark’s first champagne bar. It was fantastic and we stayed longer than we originally intended to!

Baltazar Champagne Bar (photo by hotel)

Balthazar Champagne Bar (photo by hotel)

The place was heaving and again, we were surprised by the quality of the service – we did not prebook a seat, but a gentlemen still took our coats without making us go to the cloakroom and returned with our ticket. He even found us a table to lean on, and made sure the waitress brought us the drinks menus. Having a look at a table which just became vacant, we asked if we could sit down, obviously expecting a no. We were very politely told that the table was reserved in 45-minutes time but we would be very welcome to sit until then. Living in London, you know this would not happen, and in Paris not a chance in hell (and I am not complaining. *really*). It was just interesting how things were approached in this part of the world.

Needless to say, everyone was dressed in black and looked über stylish and I got to see a lot of fur eye candy (and Danish eye candy), which then I learned it was absolutely necessary to survive the brutally cold days. And nights.

Saturday

I have very few friends who had been to Copenhagen, and did not have a clear idea of what I needed to see, so after a fab breakfast, we decided to have a long chat with the hotel’s concierge. The whole chat was normally different from normal as he wanted to understand exactly what we were looking for and more importantly, where did we want to have our open-faced sandwiches for lunch. Apparently, it is one of Denmark’s delicacies (and we had no idea), so we just went with his recommendations. This was serious stuff as we could not get into any of the top places on Saturday (all fully booked), but managed to get a table for Sunday. So we decided to split our walking day and indulge in a bit of shopping whilst slowing making our way towards the Tivoli Gardens, whose Christmas market started that very same day. Coincidence? I think not!

Stroget, the heart of Copenhagen's shopping district

Stroget, the heart of Copenhagen’s shopping district

Shopping in Copenhagen proved quite an interesting experience – Stroget has a mix of designer and high street stores, many of those you see in other cities, but I found the department stores most intriguing. Danish design made the homeware departments my destination, and rather worryingly for Mr. O, made me want to buy lots of things. I was quite taken with Nomess, which reminded me of Muji, but way better. I was smitten with the small boxes which are perfect for travelling (e.g. earrings, ear plugs, pills, you name it) and LOVED the black toiletry range – finally, cotton buds that match my bathroom at home! I was also very taken by the fur shops – I totally respect those who may not be keen on fur, but obviously no one has to buy anything they do not want. I actually have been looking for a fur coat for a while as a) my mother does not seem keen to let me inherit her collection, b) it has really gotten colder in Europe and the normal wool/cashmere blend won’t cut it anymore (I was wearing my black Max Mara coat on this trip, which is usually very warm, and I almost froze to death) and c) it is part of Danish culture and also mine (blame it on my mother).

Always keen to help the local economy, always.

Always keen to help the local economy, always.

I spent quite a few hours at Peak Performance‘s flagship store as I adore its ski clothes. It is a Swedish brand (but actually owned by a Danish group) and it was good to see the whole collection which won’t make its way to Val d’Isere and other ski resorts. What was also interesting, was the price difference – which I estimated to be 40%, but convinced myself it was 50%, just to make the deals sweeter. They do these really cool slim fit skinny ski trousers and they were indeed half the price. And so was my lovely new jacket.

With a fair bit of shopping in hand, we made our way to the Tivoli Gardens. I am not sure what the best way to describe this place – it was super quaint, and one felt Christmassy instantly, but it also felt a bit touristy with all the amusement park-style attractions. Nonetheless, we spend a few hours walking around and had a great time. I had a Copenhagen Card which included free transportation and entry to many attractions, but whilst I took only taxis, I did use it on this occasion.

We spent a fun afternoon at Tivoli Gardens

We spent a fun afternoon at Tivoli Gardens

Lunch was also fantastic – we had a table booked at Brdr. Price (again, not easy to do it on the day, so do book ahead), which was lovely. I had my first open-faced sandwich (ha ha), and of course, being in Scandinavia, I had to eat as many prawns as humanly possible. The word in Danish for these works of art is ‘smørrebrød’, and I could only guess how this could be pronounced. Mr. O decided to be more adventurous and had one of the Christmas platters, which meant he had a bit of a selection (with salmon, duck, herring and the lot), and I did try his of course (whilst trying not to give him too many of my lovely prawns).

Another fabulous and very pretty meal in Copenhagen

Another fabulous and very pretty meal in Copenhagen

We paired our meals with a glass of wine each and a local delicacy, snaps. I had never had those (and was picturing peach schnapps) and let’s put it this way, it helps you keep warm. Very warm. Lunch for two was €80 including drinks.

We spent the rest of the afternoon just walking around town, and slowly made our way back to the hotel. We also got to walk around and explore some of the Christmas markets, and taste some more Glook, of course.

Mrs. O very happy in Copenhagen.

Mrs. O very happy in Copenhagen.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel, where we had a lovely (and very civilised cup of tea), at the residents lounge, overlooking the fireplace. We felt very relaxed and just happy to be there.

Dinner was to take place at Manfreds & Vin, the sister restaurant of Relæ, the baby of former El Bulli and Noma chef Christian Puglisi. Manfreds is much more casual and very interesting – we decided to be adventurous and had the chef’s menu, which we accompanied with the wine suggestions (and notice that they were not wine pairings and came whenever our waiter fancied, which was quite fun). The focus was on natural organic wines, which we found quite unusual.

A good and relaxed dinner at Manfreds

A good and relaxed dinner at Manfreds (photos by restaurant)

We enjoyed our meal, but I have no idea what we ate – the chef’s menu changes daily and to be honest, I felt we were given way too many picked vegetables – but to be fair, the menu said ‘a lot of vegetables, a bit of meat and fish’. The smoked trout was outstanding.

We headed back to the hotel for an early evening as we were tired (we both worked for the whole week, like any normal person) and the Hotel d’Angleterre was so homely and comfortable, we just wanted to spend as much time there as possible. We headed to the bar to have a round of fantastic cocktails and then to bed, where we enjoyed our half bottle of Pol Roger that came with our welcome amenity and our individual duvets (which may be the end of many marital problems, in my opinion). Our evening was perfect, and we even watched a documentary on Scandinavian cuisine on BBC Lifestyle (no comment!).

The Tanqueray glass that had two parts. We did have the heads up!

The Tanqueray glass that had two parts. We did have the heads up!

Sunday

No sun in Nyhavn but still quite pretty

No sun in Nyhavn but still quite pretty

Obviously we were one of the last people to make it to breakfast at 10.30am, and I had to try again the magnificent rye bread with butter. And some more. But calories do not count when you are abroad, and we fully planned to walk them off. So we walked towards Nyhavn, the port area (whose photos usually equal Copenhagen to many people). As it was (relatively) early in the morning, and bitterly cold, there weren’t a lot of people around. But it was so windy and cold, that we decided not to walk for as long as we planned – but we had a peek at the royal Palace (and sadly no sight of the very good-looking Danish Royal Family).

Amalienborg, the winter home of the Danish Royal Family

Amalienborg, the winter home of the Danish Royal Family

We walked back towards the hotel as we had a couple of hours until lunch, and took shelter from the wind at the Magasins du Nord department store, which conveniently had a fantastic selection of cashmere lined leather gloves, which I could not resist. Because I really needed them!

We spent a little bit more time at this store, and then walked back to Nyhavn, more specifically to Told & Snaps, which is one of the spiritual homes of ‘smørrebrød’, which you know of course, is the word in Danish for open-faced sandwiches. And guess what? I had prawns again (absolutely delicious), whereas Mr. O went for a beef and egg combo, which he also loved. You are spoiled for choice (do have a look at the menu on their website, as it is worth it).

More prawn yumminess, of course!

More prawn yumminess, of course!

We also tried various types of snaps – in keeping with local custom and also to fight the cold. Obviously. And then decided what we should see if the fur shop still had my coat – which they did of course. Lunch for two cost 60 Euros.

Our weekend in Copenhagen was just a little taster of that this part of the world has to offer, and I have to say, we loved everything about it, but the Danish concept of hospitality really surprised us and really makes us want to go back for more. Oh those pretty people.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: a huge thank you to Hotel d’Angleterre (rooms starting at €450/night)  and Visit Copenhagen who hosted us on this trip. If you are considering a visit to this part of the world, I recommend you have a look at the destination website (which is something I don’t do normally – it is that good and useful). Opinions are, as always, my own.

A lux weekend in Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, the city where Europe meets Asia and definitely gets the best of both worlds. And very happy memories for me. I love it.

Istanbul, the city where Europe meets Asia and definitely gets the best of both worlds. And very happy memories for me. I love it.

Returning to Turkey for a luxury weekend in Istanbul was high on my list, very high indeed, and it was the first of my Autumn 2014 destinations. For those of you who know me well, it is no secret that in my previous life (as a marketing director for a big multinational company), I had a bit of fun in Istanbul. A lot of fun indeed, but since multiple trips in 2007 and 2008, we had not had an opportunity to return to Turkey’s most cosmopolitan city as a couple and reminisce away. Whilst eating wonderful Turkish food of course.

We arrived at Ataturk Airport very late on a Thursday night (and a little hint, for those of you who also fly BA regularly – Istanbul counts as medium haul and you clock in 160 tier points in Club Europe for under £500, which is like Christmas arriving early). I had pre booked a driver with Blacklane Limousines as a) I had heard great things about them, b) getting a taxi at the airport is a nightmare and get ready for the mayhem of people everywhere and c) there was a huge price difference for the same standard of car if booked directly with the hotel (at least twice the price).

Arriving at Istanbul is always an interesting experience – from getting the visa on arrival (which has different prices according to the currency you hold – and beware, just for fun, they do not take Turkish lira, only Pounds, Dollars or Euros, I kid you not), to getting the luggage and then exiting the airport. That in itself will wake you up if you were feeling a tad sleepy like I was – but we knew very good things awaited.

Thursday Evening

The lovely Four Seasons Sultanahmet, one of the two Four Seasons in Istanbul, which is quite unusual.

The lovely Four Seasons Sultanahmet, one of the two Four Seasons in Istanbul, which is quite unusual.

On this very long weekend, we were to be based at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet, but due to the hotel being busy, we agreed to move over to its new Bosphorus location on the 3rd night. Originally a jail (oops), it has been converted to a little haven of luxury, keeping very much in touch in terms of style and decor with its location. I have stayed at many Four Seasons before, and have to say, this was one of the most special of all.

We got to our room past 1am and were planning to go straight to bed, but were surprised with the most delicious welcome amenity, which featured not only a model of Istanbul’s most iconic bridge, but it came with a lot of bites and Turkish wine, which was even better than I last remembered it. So it would be fair to say we slept very well at our lovely suite. You can read my review of the Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet here.

Friday

After a little over 7 hours sleep (needs must) and a spectacular traditional Turkish breakfast at the hotel (where I discovered that the man I love the most in the world and have known for almost 10 years has an obsession with honeycomb, which I never knew), we were met at the hotel by the Luxury Istanbul team who were to be our guides for the following two days. I love being shown around not as part of a larger group, with our own driver and someone who knows the city very well. We also had Ugur, the founder of the company as a bonus for the morning, who had designed a special itinerary for us (based on the time we had available, our personal interests and the weather, as they would for any client).

A trip to Istanbul not seen by the Bosphorus is not a proper trip. And if you are going to do it, do it in style. Mrs. O will always approve.

A trip to Istanbul not seen by the Bosphorus is not a proper trip. And if you are going to do it, do it in style. Mrs. O will always approve.

The weather forecast was looking quite horrendous for the upcoming 3 days, and Ugur decided we should move things around and start with our private Bosphorus cruise on a yacht as the sun was shining (and that was not to happen again during our stay). Hakan, our guide and a 2-man crew also joined us, and fair to say, we loved it.

We went all the way to the Bosphorus bridge and returned to the port, clocking in quite a few landmarks on the way. The boat was very comfortable and spacious, and would be perfect for a group of friends visiting the city.

Happy days in the Bosphorus with Luxury Istanbul.

Happy days in the Bosphorus with Luxury Istanbul. On this image, you can also see the Four Seasons Bosphorus in a way that we never got to again during this trip… more on that later!

Once we got back into the city, I had a special stop to make in Nisantaci – and that would be to visit the showroom of one of the country’s up and coming jewellery designers, the lovely Melie, who is one of the approved gold sellers of Love Gold, a global initiative run by the World Gold Council. This obviously meant a great excuse for shopping, and you can read all about it in this article.

The very talented Melie

The very talented Melie

By this time, we had the choice to stop for lunch, or take advantage of the time and hit one of Istanbul’s landmarks, Topkaki Palace whilst the world had lunch. You know me and crowds, so it was a very obvious choice. Hakan had obviously organised our day, and had pre-bought the entrance tickets, which meant no queues (and believe me, there were quite a few). It was really nice to just take the time and walk around the palace, and get some interesting information about it, without it being too much, if you see what I mean. Hakan understood how much detail we wanted, and made the whole experience very enjoyable.

Great to be back at one of Istanbul's most iconic landmarks

Great to be back at one of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks, Topkapi Palace.

After the visit, we made a quick stop for lunch, to a very simple restaurant which Hakan loved and we had lovely food and recharged our phones, which was absolutely necessary at this stage. We carried on the sightseeing, and made our way to Hagia Sophia, which is a great architectural beauty and an important monument both for Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Once a church, later a mosque, and now a museum, meaning it is open for visitors at all times, it is a must see for first time and seasoned visitors. It has been many years since we last visited and we were very keen to go back.

Scenes from our visit to Hagia Sophia with Luxury Istanbul

Scenes from our visit to Hagia Sophia with Luxury Istanbul

No rest for the wicked, and before we knew it, it was almost 5pm – so we asked our driver to drop us off by the Galata Tower (more or less), where we were to meet Murat Guneri, our Istanbul Flytographer.

We picked a nice bar to wait for Murat and kept our fingers crossed for the rain not to begin, and let’s put it this way: we were half successful.

Eating mussels around Istanbul. My mother would so kill me.

Eating mussels around Istanbul. My mother would so kill me. Photos by Murat Guneri for Flytographer.

A couple of months ago, I was at home and managed to watch a re-run of Anthony Bourdain’s trip to Istanbul – the food he was eating, and the places where he was eating it at, really made me book the tickets and return to the city. One of the things he did was to eat mussels (with a rice stuffing and lemon) on the street. I am not one for street food, and my mother would absolutely kill me if she knew I had warmish seafood from a random place (this will be a true test to see if she really reads this blog. Watch this space). But I tell you what, they were delicious and so was the pomegranate juice from another stall.

Where was the rain? We fought as hard as we could!

Where was the rain? We fought as hard as we could!  Photos by Murat Guneri for Flytographer.

I vaguely remember the Galata area, and we picked it on purpose as we would not necessarily cover it during the rest of the weekend (one of the advantages of getting to know locals), and we enjoyed the narrow cobbled streets and very cool shops, which lived side by side with more traditional establishments. I have always found Istanbul very trendy (which surprised me on my first visit in 2007), and was glad to see the trend continuing.

A slightly different way to see the city. Photos by Murat Guneri for Flytographer.

A slightly different way to see the city. Photo by Murat Guneri for Flytographer.

Getting a taxi back to the hotel so we could change into dry clothes and get ready for dinner was nothing short of a miracle. Cities like Istanbul definitely need Uber coming in and putting things right. Because it was raining, we were asked for double the fare, but once we realised we were talking about £10, we just caved and got in. I hate it that it is still 2014 and things like these happen (hence why I am such a Uber fan).

Dinner with a view at Hamdi (make sure you book a table at the top floor restaurant). Photo by restaurant.

Dinner with a view at Hamdi (make sure you book a table at the top floor restaurant). Photo by restaurant.

Dinner took place at Hamdi, which is quite an Istanbul institution – not because it is fancy, but because it is as traditionally Turkish as you can get, plus the views. It was recommended by a colleague of Mr. O, and we were quite happy with the choice available. After watching Anthony Bourdain, I wanted some ‘real food’ one night, and some very fancy food the other night. Dinner for two with wine was around 80 Euros.

I love Turkish food and Hamdi did not disappoint. Bring an appetite, of course.

I love Turkish food and Hamdi did not disappoint. Bring an appetite, of course.

We made our way back to the hotel, and enjoyed a lovely evening at the bar, with a nice dirty martini and got some decent sleep that night. Because we really needed it!

Saturday

By 10.30 am and after another epic breakfast, we were ready to meet Hakan again and we had one thing in mind: visit the Blue Mosque properly and hit the Grand Bazaar. We did drive to the Blue Mosque and attempted to walk around, but the rain was relentless. The queue to get in was also ridiculous so we decided to leave it until next time we got back to town.

The Blue Mosque did not provide shelter so we had one option... to shop, of course!

The Blue Mosque did not provide shelter so we had one option… to shop, of course! Hakan was also really tall, as you can see!

There was only one thing to do: keep dry and we decided that the bazaars were just what we needed. We were driven to the Spice Bazaar, which is not too far from where we had dinner the previous night, and literally just walked around. Hakan helped us understand the types of spices and what not, and we also found some honeycomb (remember, my husband’s favourite thing in the world which he never mentioned).

And you think you know a man after 10 years. Think again!

And you think you know a man after 10 years. Think again!

Hakan was keen to do some shopping himself, so we walked with him to the vendor where he usually gets his spices from. We got a bit overexcited and bought some to bring home (vacuum packed of course, but now very difficult to guess which is which, and something I need to figure out soon as I really want to use them). We also got a whole Turkish delight experience and actually bought way too many to bring home with us. Word of advice, don’t buy the ones made with sugar. We went for the handmade type, made with honey and everything pistachio, and although they were 3 times the price of the regular stuff, it was absolutely worth the money. There are none left, and all our friends who got to try it absolutely adored it.

We also ventured into the Grand Bazaar, literally just to walk around and get dry. There wasn’t much else we could do, and to be honest, it was fine by me.

Let's do some shopping!

Let’s do some shopping!

We bought a couple of bowls and a scarf or two, but literally stayed away from the gold, as I had learned the day before that you really do not know what you are getting, so it is pretty much pointless. Having Hakan with us certainly made things easier and it was bittersweet to say goodbye to him at the end of the morning. We had a great time with him, thought the experience was outstanding, and were also very impressed with the driver service who was always waiting for us whenever we needed it. Very good coordination and I could not recommend Luxury Istanbul enough.

Before we knew it, and a bit later than usual due to the overload of Turkish delights (we did eat like 10 each, I kid you not, but purely in the name of research), we made our way back to the hotel, where we were to check out and hand the luggage to the hotel, who would transfer it over to the other Four Seasons. However, we had made lunch reservations at a fantastic fish restaurant nearby, and decided to travel with the luggage.

One of the best fish lunches I ever had outside Portugal. And coming from me, it is saying a lot!

One of the best fish lunches I ever had outside Portugal. And coming from me, it is saying a lot!

Lunch took place at Balakci Sabahattin, which was absolutely incredible. We started with the meze, and even ordered the stuffing of the street mussels just to see what it was like. Yummy. The grilled red mullets were out of this world and I would certainly go back. Lunch for two with wine, around 120 Euros.

We had to say goodbye to the Four Seasons Sultanahmet, which was one of the best hotel experiences I ever had. There will be a review soon, so watch out for it.We had to say goodbye to the Four Seasons Sultanahmet, which was one of the best hotel experiences I ever had. There will be a review soon, so watch out for it.

We had to say goodbye to the Four Seasons Sultanahmet, which was one of the best hotel experiences I ever had. There will be a review soon, so watch out for it.

After lunch, we made our way to the Four Seasons Bosphorus, which opened recently, and offered a completely different experience – much more modern and with incredible views, but sadly, due to the rain, we could not enjoy most of what the hotel had to offer.

Our room, which was on the main palace building, was amazing, but we could hardly see the views as the rain did not stop.

The stunning Four Seasons Bosphorus

The stunning Four Seasons Bosphorus

We had the whole afternoon ahead, and there was only one thing that interested me: the spa. And not for a regular massage, I was really looking forward to be scrubbed within an inch of my life and lose several layers of skin – this is what happens when you have a traditional Hammam experience.

I had had a few before, and they are very interesting – a bit hurts, but the other bits do not hurt at all, and the Four Seasons version of it, in outstanding facilities was the best I ever had – it lasted 90 minutes and cost around £150 per person.

This is what a hamman treatment room looks like (Photo by Four Seasons).

This is what a hamman treatment room looks like (Photo by Four Seasons).

There is a lot of water involved, a lot of washing, moisturising and a bit of massaging too. It is a fantastic experience and for obvious reasons, I could not take my phone in with me.

We spent the whole afternoon at the spa, and after a stop at the hairdressers (located next to it, who blow dried my hair in 8 minutes), we got ready for dinner which was one of the most exciting parts of the weekend.

I have kept in touch over the years with many colleagues from around the world, and Ozge was my favourite person in Istanbul – she was lovely, uber professional, I loved her clothes and she always helped me when I needed her. We have kept in touch thanks to Facebook and seeing her again was certainly special.

Needless to say I had her pre-approve all my Istanbul choices as she did on every trip I took to the city. I knew dinner would be somewhere fab, and her choice, Vogue, obviously did not disappoint.

In Istanbul you are spoiled for 'dining with a view' spots. I was sad we could not enjoy the terrace for obvious reasons. Photo by restaurant.In Istanbul you are spoiled for 'dining with a view' spots. I was sad we could not enjoy the terrace for obvious reasons. Photo by restaurant.

In Istanbul you are spoiled for ‘dining with a view’ spots. I was sad we could not enjoy the terrace for obvious reasons. Photo by restaurant.

As the weather was so poor, and the place was quite lively, we ended up staying there all night as traffic was horrendous and honestly, I did not want to go anywhere else, except to try the hotel bar once we headed back.

Sunday

Our Sunday was short but very sweet. We had some odd flight times, and we had to leave the hotel at around 12 noon, in order to make it on time to the airport (which is always a bit of a Russian roulette situation).

So we slept late, enjoyed another amazing Turkish breakfast at the Four Seasons and just relaxed. We tried to walk by the Bosphorus with an umbrella but that proved a bit slippery, so we just enjoyed the views from our room. And wondered what we could be doing if the sun was shinning, as this pool was calling my name.

You can see why I really wanted to go in...

You can see why I really wanted to go in…

But our Blacklane Limousine driver was also waiting for us, which meant we got to the airport in time, and with a bit of luck, could even indulge in some tax-free shopping. Which would be rude not to.

Very impressed with the Blacklane Limousine service in Istanbul.

Very impressed with the Blacklane Limousine service in Istanbul.

Our weekend in Istanbul was nothing short of magic. It is a fantastic city, very pleasant to the eye, with serious traffic issues, but which city with 18 million inhabitants does not? Everything runs in some sort of organised chaos, and that gives it its charm. The people and the food are what makes it extra special and we look forward to returning again, and not wait another 6 years, this time around.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: a huge thank you to Four Seasons, Luxury Istanbul, Blacklane Limousines and Flytographer, who have hosted us on this trip. We had a fantastic experience with all companies and if you read this blog regularly, you know Mrs. O never lies.

Sleep: a night at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet or the Four Seasons Bosphorus costs from €295, excluding breakfast.

See: a private yacht cruise on the Bosphorus costs from €249/hour (min. of 2 hours), but takes 12 passengers. See Luxury Istanbul‘s website for more details. A one-day private guided tour, with driver, costs from €115 per person per day (based on two sharing).

Remember: a photoshoot with Flytographer costs $250 for a 30-minute shoot and $350 for a one-hour shoot.

Arrive: a business class transfer from the airport to our hotel (assuming a BMW 5-series car), costs €65 each way with Blacklane Limousines

Top 10 Christmas Gifts for luxury travellers

Have you written your letter to Santa? I have mine ready since September, and have sorted all my Christmas shopping. I know most of you will laugh, but it is how I do it every year.

I have been asked for some Christmas gift suggestions for friends and family, and here are my Top 10 Christmas Gifts for luxury travellers, from £10.
For the lux hotel lovers

1. Mr. and Mrs. Smith vouchers (not your average boring hotel voucher, promise)

Have a picky partner? Boutique hotel experts Mr & Mrs Smith’s Get a Room! hotel gift cards can be used towards stays at any of the 1,000 hotels in the worldwide collection.

Putting their own irreverent spin on the seasonal-ad phenomenon, they’ve produced this somewhat cheeky film telling the tale of one man’s attempt to wow his wife on Christmas morning… (Warning: it’s a little bit sweary.)

Presented in a sexy black pop-out box that little bit more exciting than your average envelope, Smith hotel gift cards are available for any amount from £50 up, and can be put towards a stay at any Smith hotel in the world, from all-out luxury five-stars to one-of-a-kind boutique retreats . Whisk me away!

For the memory lovers

2. A photoshoot with Flytographer

Who was a happy girl in Paris? Me! Photo by Flytographer

Who was a happy girl in Paris? Me! Photo by Flytographer

I am a great fan of Flytographer and have used their services more than 10 times in the past year or so. In the trips that I have used them (Lisbon, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Venice, Amsterdam and Istanbul to name a few), I have the most amazing photographs which are indeed, the best memories. You can choose between a 30 minute, 1 hour or 2 hour shoot and they will be super discreet. If you have an upcoming trip, it would be perfect, but if you know someone who is going somewhere, it could make their whole trip extra special! From $250 for a 30-minute session or $350 for a 1-hour session at Flytographer. For $50 off your session, use ‘MrsOHoliday’ discount code when you book.

For the beauty product addicts

3 – Liberty London Print Christmas Advent Beauty Calendar

Every day you will get a pre-Xmas beauty product. I kid you not!Every day you will get a pre-Xmas beauty product. I kid you not!

Every day you will get a pre-Xmas beauty product. I kid you not!

The ultimate indulgence for the festive countdown, this Liberty Print advent calendar will make a sensational pre-Christmas gift for a special someone. A new surprise is unveiled every day, complete with an enviable selection of Liberty’s must-have beauty buys, from skincare to scents and everything in between. A decadent delight for lovers of all things beauty, just remember not to peek at the goodies before it’s time. £149 (shipped to UK addresses only) at Liberty London. NOW SOLD OUT (IT WAS THAT GOOD!)

For the gadget lovers

4. Bose QuietComfort 25 accoustic noise-cancelling headphones

Flying will never be the same again

Flying will never be the same again

Mr. O and I had been resisting this purchase as it is not the most practical thing to carry around when you travel, and usually we get decent headphones in long haul business class flights, but there was life before Bose and after Bose. The new series, the 25 acoustic is fantastic and very comfortable to wear. From £269 at Amazon. (ships internationally too)

5. Avantree PowerHouse Universal Multi-device USB Desktop Charger

Uber organised charging station

Uber organised charging station

Something so simple, but it was causing some trouble at home. Why? Too many devices and too many chargers. This charging station seats neatly anywhere around the house, looks very pretty and works with any smart phones or tablets (you just need to buy the right charging cables). The other plus, is that we always know where our phones are now. From £29.99 at Amazon (international shipping)

For the leather goods lovers

6. Stow Amelia Leather Luxury Case in Pink (and other colours)

A must have for all ladies who travel

A must have for all ladies who travel

Stow London is a recent brand whose development I have been watching since the beginning. I love the way they present themselves and how practical their products are (and oh so pretty). This luxury leather travel jewellery case is designed for longer trips and clever storage of both jewellery and tech gadgets including the brand’s portable power banks.  The Amelia luxury jewellery case is available from £230 from Stow London (international shipping)

7. Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull MM in Epi Leather

Possibly one of the best travel handbags ever

Possibly one of the best travel handbags ever

I have been searching for a good ‘any time travel’ handbag which looked great and was flexible enough to take as a second bag on a plane (with magazines, books, phone chargers etc), but also would fit my laptop and other gadgets, but that I could still wear as a normal handbag say on a weekend trip. Whilst Louis Vuitton have had this bag in monogram and other patterns, it has recently launched the Neverfull MM model in its trademark Epi leather  in 14 colours, so I made mine navy, of course. It also comes with an inside clutch which can be used on its own, and the bag’s laces can be tightened to create a more compact, chic city bag. From £1,160/€1320 at Louis Vuitton (international shipping)

For the gin lovers

8. Shortcross Gin

One of the my most recent discoveries... which hails from Northern Ireland

One of the my most recent discoveries… which hails from Northern Ireland

Hand-crafted by Rademon Estate Distillery, Shortcross Gin is the first gin to be distilled and bottled in Northern Ireland . This citric classic gin uses local produce as botanicals, such as apples from County Armagh and wild Irish clover foraged from the distillers’ garden. A classical style of gin, it has a unique twist, showing floral meadow notes with green, wet berries and citrus.  From £40 at Fortnum & Masons. (UK shipping)

9. Gin Mare

It was impossible to find outside Portugal and Spain, but no more...

It was impossible to find outside Portugal and Spain, but no more…

Gin Mare is a small-batch gin inspired by Mediterranean culture and made using the finest botanicals of the region such as Arbequina olives, thyme, basil and rosemary. It hails from Spain and works wonderfully with rosemary or basil (I am serious!) – I love it paired with FeverTree Mediterranean. From £39 at Waitrose (UK shipping) or  Amazon (international shipping)

10. The perfect gin & tonic kit

This is going to make a lot of people happy!

This is going to make a lot of people happy!

I was looking for the perfect gin & tonic glasses and whilst searching, I found this kit, which is the perfect Christmas gift. If you just want to buy the glasses, click here. We have the full set at home and our gin and tonic parties have never been the same again. The kit is costs £25 at El Corte Ingles (also ships internationally).

So, what have you asked Santa this year? Do any of these take your fancy?

Happy shopping!

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: Sofitel Paris Arc de Triomphe

myhotel

Located in Rue Beaujon, which connects Avenue Hoche and Avenue de Friedland, just off L’Etoile, the Sofitel Paris Arc de Triomphe is a relative newcomer to the Paris luxury hotel scene, having opened in 2013. It is a small hotel, with little over 120 rooms, but very cosy and comfortable – the rooms’ progressive decor showcases what I believe Sofitel wants to be in the future across all its properties (stylish, clean, comfortable and tres sexy).

Sofitel is, I think, the only French luxury hotel chain with true international projection, who has changed a lot in the last couple of years and may surprise you if you haven’t stayed at one of their hotels in the not too distant past. Recently, I have stayed at its Lyon, London, Berlin and Amsterdam properties, the latter being one of the top 5 city hotels I have ever stayed at (and that is not a compliment I would give lightly!).

Here’s how my recent stay at the Sofitel Paris Arc de Triomphe went.

The Sofitel Paris Arc du Triomphe

The Sofitel Paris Arc du Triomphe

Pre-Arrival

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

My stay was organised very last-minute, with less than a week to spare. It was organised by a multitude of channels and confirmed by email.

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

I had, and the hotel responded to me during the week (i.e. not the weekend)

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

The Sofitel team knows me quite well by now and I really did not need anything special.

Arrival

The reception area of the hotel

The reception area of the hotel

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

My first initial reaction was quite interesting – judging from other Sofitel hotels I had stayed at, I was expecting a much larger reception area and was a bit surprised to find quite a cozy space. There was nothing wrong with it – it looked very nice, but just different from what I expected.

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

We had a fantastic check-in, not only was it super efficient, it was well humoured too, which in my opinion, makes a huge difference.

–          Was I addressed by name once reservation has been located? (it is all about the small details, some others are outstanding with this, and I love it, like I do when I board an airplane)

Absolutely.

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

I had a junior suite confirmed and it was the room type I was assigned.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Very much so. Throughout the 3 days we were at the Sofitel, everyone, no exception was brilliant.

The area by the lifts, leading to the Living Room

The area by the lifts, leading to the Living Room

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

We gave our bags to the doorman and only saw them again in our room.

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

 We were told about the complimentary basic wifi and it’s very simple one-off login process (just with a password and no other fuss).

Room Experience

My stunning junior suite

My stunning junior suite

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was lovely – the journey from the lift was also very soothing as the hotel perfectly worked the grey, white and beige colour scheme.

–          Welcome amenity

When we returned to our room after our first day out, I found some lovely macarons, le yum!

Les macarons pour Mme. O'Reilly, merci!

Les macarons pour Mme. O’Reilly, merci!

–          The bed

I am a great fan of Sofitel’s ‘My bed’ concept. So much so, that it is the bed I have at home – I don’t have the bed structure, but I have the featherbed, the pillows and the duvet, which I adore. So every time I stay at a Sofitel, I couldn’t feel more at home – the bed was heavenly and difficult to leave, which is a welcome side effect.

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

The wardrobes were located at the entrance of the room (which you cannot see from the image above), and I felt they were quite compact. We struggled a bit with hanging space for 2 people staying for 3 days, and would be harder for longer stays. Nonetheless, it was well-appointed and had some interesting details, the best being the coat hangers by the door, which meant our coats were always in great shape and did not take space elsewhere (either in a wardrobe or in some chair).

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

The room has quite a snazzy sound system which an iPhone 4 dock, which we did not use.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, and lovely.

Room details at the Sofitel Paris Arc

Room details at the Sofitel Paris Arc

–          Coffee and Tea

Oui oui, with a Nespresso coffee maker and tea making facilities. I also noticed the lovely individually shaped sugar cubes (which are all the rage in Paris at the moment).

–          Free bottled water

Yes, Evian, of course.

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

I did not find any magazines.

–          Power sockets in useful places – we have more and more devices and we know where we want them! By the bed, by the working area.

One side of the bed had spare plugs, but the other (coincidentally, mine did not have any spares). But there were plenty of plugs around the room, including a USB port by the TV which also worked to charge our devices.

Bathroom

Ze tres sexy bathroom. Tres sexy indeed.

Ze tres sexy bathroom. Tres sexy indeed.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was fantastic. Fantastique. Magnifique. Without a doubt, one of the room’s features, which I adored.

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

It was a mini Grohe paradise as are most Sofitels and it was really well designed. My only criticism is that it has a separate room with a loo (toilet) only, which wasn’t to the same standard of the rest of the bathroom. The bath looked amazing (but we sadly did not use it) and the shower room was fab. Great pressure and a massive shower head.

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

Sofitel towels are usually very good and they did not disappoint.

The shower was fantastique!!

The shower was fantastique!!

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

Sofitel uses Hermes toiletries and although I am not a fan of the conditioner, I love the smell of the shower gel.

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

We had everything we needed in this department, nicely displayed.

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

Yes, under the sink and with plenty of power points which allowed one to use it by the mirror, which doesn’t always happen.

Breakfast

The very nice breakfast room, which doubles up as a restaurant

The very nice breakfast room, which doubles up as a restaurant

One of my favourite parts of staying at a Sofitel is, without a doubt, the breakfast. Why? Because they are very French (mais oui), which is lovely no matter where you are in the world, and being Portuguese, bizarrely, means that our breakfast habits are very similar to the French (and not the Spanish, for example). So I know I will have a great selection of fresh bread, hams and cheeses, pastries (and in a Sofitel, my beloved chausson aux pommes, which I miss on a day-to-day basis), juices and decent coffee.

Obviously there were plenty more options, for every taste, but all I wanted were my chausson aux pommes. And cake.

I am a great fan of Sofitel breakfasts

I am a great fan of Sofitel breakfasts

Bar

The cozy bar area

The cozy bar area

By reception, there is an area which doubles as hotel lobby and a bar, where you can also eat. It is quite cozy and open, and would be fair to say it is for hotel residents only. We did not use it as a bar during our stay, but ended up having lunch before leaving to the airport on our last day. I had a very nice croque monsieur and orangina and liked being able to just sit down and relax a bit.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It wasn’t stellar, I have to say. At times it was so slow, I just used 3G.

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

Not over the weekend, which is when my stay took place, but certainly acknowledged by stay before and after, and its concierge also helped us make some lunch and most importantly, hairdresser appointments.

–          Location

A location that worked for us, very well – maybe 2 blocks from Place Charles de Gaulle, between Avenue Hoche and Avenue de Friedland.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Standard rooms from €290 per night, and junior suites from €490.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Without a doubt.

–          Would I stay again?

Oui oui.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

A night at the Raymond Blanc Festival of Music at the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons

Ahhhh so close to home and so so nice! Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

Ahhhh so close to home and so so nice! Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

Freshly arrived from our epic trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train from Venice to London, it was clear that I needed a little bit more Belmond love in my life. One should always have as much Belmond (the new brand name of Orient Express hotels, trains and cruises) as possible in their lives.

And luckily for me, I have one of the UK’s most special places, the fab Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, the home of chef Raymond Blanc, almost around the corner from me. OK, it is 30 minutes away, but it is a place we have visited quite a few times before for epic meals with friends and family, and we know very well. So it is always a pleasure to go back.

On this occasion, we were invited to Raymond Blanc’s Festival of Music 2014, which consists of three very special evenings where fine wining and dining are paired with music in exceptional surroundings (I really like this place, as you can probably tell). This year’s line up included Russell Watson, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Tasmin Little. I did actually have a choice, but due to other commitments, we could only attend on the Saturday, and we were delighted.

Bonsoir, Bonsoir! We had arrived at the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons

Bonsoir, Bonsoir! We had arrived at the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons

We arrived at around 7pm, just in time for the Laurent Perrier Champagne Reception, which is a staple in all the events organised at the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons. We also enjoyed stunning canapés (which were seriously out of this world) – my favourites were the foie gras and apple (of course), and the mini beef carpaccio bites. Uber simple but oh so good.

It was a black tie event (comme il faut, mais oui), and everyone without exception looked fab. The reception took place at the various sitting areas of the restaurant, which are so homey and comfortable I cannot tell you. Every time we visit this venue, we feel transported to France immediately (ze sexy French accents help too, of course).

Ooops how did that Magnum of Laurent Perrier got into my hands? Ooops, oops!

Ooops how did that Magnum of Laurent Perrier got into my hands? Ooops, oops!

We relaxed and chatted to other fellow diners for around 45 minutes, until we were directed to the chapel, a short walk away from the hotel, so start the second part of the evening.

It has been a while since I had been to a classical music concert, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. I do go to a lot of concerts throughout the year, to be fair, but not classical. Tasmin Little is one of today’s leading international violinists and in 2012 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Birthday Honours list, for services to music.

Stunning setting for this private concert. Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

Stunning setting for this private concert. Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

At 7.30pm we went on a torch lit walk to the very pretty St. Mary’s Church, and enjoyed the performance, also illuminated by candle light, which lasted around 1 hour. Tasmin was accompanied by Martin Roscoe in the piano and played 4 songs, from Kreilser, Beethoven, Arvo Part and Franck.

Tasmin Little performing at St. Mary's Church. Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

Tasmin Little performing at St. Mary’s Church. Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

At around 9.15pm, we made our way back to the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, where a 5-course meal, with wine pairings awaited.

I was delighted to get a table in my favourite dining room.

I was delighted to get a table in my favourite dining room.

We started with a consommé of winter game with wild mushrooms, followed by a salad of Devonshire crab, smoked salmon and caviar. The third course was a ravioli of butternut squash, blue cheese and toasted almonds and the main course (le yum, kill me now!) was pot roasted guinea fowl, with cep, bacon and potato gnocchi. We ended this fab evening with a bang and Raymond’s ‘Millionaire Shortbread’, made with soft toffee with bitter chocolate on crumbly shortbread AND salted butter ice-cream. Heavenly indeed.

The food at Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, was delicious, as always

The food at Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, was delicious, as always

Obviously, being where we were, we indulged in some lovely French wines (the cellar has over 1000 bottles) namely a Blanc de Viognier 2013 by Domaine Grand Veneur (from Vallee du Rhone), a Pinot Noir Veilles Vignes 2011 by Vignoble Guillaume (from Franche-Comte) and ended in style with a 2009 Les Lions de Suduiraut, by Chateau Suduiraut, from the Bordeaux region (which I visited earlier this year and adored!).

We had a fantastic table, with really interesting people, and the conversation flowed easily all night, as did the wine and the laughs. Everyone was truly happy to be enjoying this special evening at such a lovely place, and the atmosphere was fantastic.

A fab evening indeed! Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

A fab evening indeed! Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

Before we knew it, coffee had been served, and everyone’s taxis were waiting. It was a brilliant evening, and needless to say, I shall be back for my Le Manoir fix very soon.

Au revoir!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclosure and Fact Box: I was a guest of the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons on this occasion, and I loved every minute of it. Tickets for the Raymond Blanc Festival of Music include a Laurent-Perrier reception upon arrival, the evening’s concert performance at St. Mary’s Church, followed by a 5-course dinner, with accompanying wines, and cost £395 per person for non-residents, and £370 for residents. 

The Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons organises many special evenings throughout the year, and it is worth checking their website to see the upcoming events (which are good value for money, as drinks are included. I am saying this because as I stated earlier, I have been a few times before).

A lux weekend in Venice, Italy

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I am a great believer that one can never have too much Italy in one’s life. So to end Autumn in style, and to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary, Mr. O and I made our way to lovely Venice. It was a special trip, as from there, we would depart on an epic journey onboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train back to London. Si si!

We landed at Venice’s Marco Polo airport late on a Thursday night, and were met by our Blitz Exclusive driver. As it was at around 10pm, and to ensure we would get to our hotel before the restaurant closed, we had a two-part private transfer, first with a Mercedes and then a speedboat, which took us straight to our hotel, the stunning Gritti Palace. Our boat was absolutely fantastic and the service ran like clockwork.

Dinner with an amazing view!

Dinner with an amazing view!

We got to our hotel just before 11pm, and were starving – the priority wasn’t actually getting to our room, but making sure that we could have a bite to eat. And with minutes to spare, we enjoyed our first meal in Venice with a stunning view. We shared both an insalata caprese and melon with Parma ham and a very nice bottle of Franciacorta sparkling wine. To say we were happy, it would be the understatement of the year.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early – and we were definitely on a mission. Friday was the only full day we had to explore Venice, and we had a packed itinerary, as we had chosen to do a walking tour with Walks of Italy and a Flytographer photo shoot at the same time. The time of the day was perfect, and the sun was shining (which wasn’t to last!)

St. Mark's Square at single digit time... a complete contrast of what we saw before it got dark again.

St. Mark’s Square at single digit time… a complete contrast of what we saw before it got dark again.

From our hotel, located a few minutes from St. Mark’s Square, we made our way to the Rialto Bridge, where our tour was to start (at Campo San Giacomo di Rialto, literally a couple of steps away) – but we also got a chance to see something quite special: not a lot of people at St. Mark’s.

We met Giusy, our lovely guide from Walks of Italy, and Serena, one of the local Flytographers, who was to spend part of the tour time with us and capture some of our best moments.

Who loves food markets? I do! Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

Who loves food markets? I do! Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

As our time in town was limited (and I was also very keen to help the local economy in the afternoon), we chose the ‘Highlights of Venice’ Walking tour, which takes just under 3 hours, and includes a private gondola trip. We started at the Rialto Market, which is one of my favourite memories from a previous visit to the city. My favourite part was, without a doubt, strolling around the fish market and see all the local varieties of fish and seafood. We weren’t hungry at this stage, but it wouldn’t be difficult to pick the ingredients for a fantastic meal. Our guide was a Venetian and offered some very interesting insights about life in the city – which has only 60,000 residents and with 22 million visitors a year.

Walking around markets is definitely one of my favourite ways to explore a city. You get to know a place very well if you understand what people eat and how they buy it. Photos by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

Walking around markets is definitely one of my favourite ways to explore a city. You get to know a place very well if you understand what people eat and how they buy it. Photos by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

From the market, we had some Flytographer moments captured (really lovely ones) and headed towards the Rialto Bridge, which is obviously one of the most recognised sights of Venice – it was busy, but we made it just before the cruises arrived and you could barely walk around town.

A very happy moment in Venice. Photo by Serena Genoviese for Flytographer.

A very happy moment in Venice. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

I did find it ironic that being a UNESCO heritage site, that should be preserved for future generations, that Venice allows so many cruise ships to dock in the Canal and have dozens of thousands of people just flood the city. I found it quite uncomfortable and not pleasant at all, and was delighted when Giusy made a turn into an alleyway and within seconds, we were the only ones walking around.

Never a dull moment with Mr. O. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

Never a dull moment with Mr. O. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

Canareggio is one of the loveliest and most authentic neighbourhoods of Venice and we saw not just beautiful sites, but also many locals just going about with day-to-day life – and understand how difficult it is to get things into the city, make building renovations and walk around town with a pram.

One of my favourite Venice moments without the crowds. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

One of my favourite Venice moments without the crowds. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

We saw stunning buildings and the prettiest canals, but what I loved the most was just chatting with our guide. She was funny, understood how much detail we wanted (or not), and just shared with us some of her favourite parts of the city.

Ta da! Not a person in sight! Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

Ta da! Not a person in sight! Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

We stopped for coffee and bumped into one of Giusy’s many acquaintances, whose restaurant apparently is one of Venice’s best kept secrets. We had no plans for lunch and wanted to go somewhere lovely (and not touristy at all), and asked for a recommendation of a place where she would really go for a meal with friends and family. Good things would be coming our way.

This was our 3rd experience with Walks of Italy and I cannot recommend this company enough. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

This was our 3rd experience with Walks of Italy and I cannot recommend this company enough. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

Before we knew it, we had made our way back towards St. Mark’s Square, which was packed – but we needed to get to the our gondola, and there was really no other option. We hugged Giusy goodbye and wished her well with her baby. We really had a great time.

Our gondola trip was pre-organised, which meant no queueing (priceless, in my opinion). For around 30-40 minutes, we just sat and enjoyed the sights – we were incredibly lucky with the weather that morning, and we saw the sun quite a bit.

We had to take a photo, of course!

We had to take a photo, of course!

Obviously the gondola was textbook touristy – we even heard another gondolier sing (for his guests), and I captured it in a short instagram video. Nonetheless, we enjoyed and finished our morning with a sense of accomplishment. We walked a bit, learned a bit and enjoyed each minute immensely.

At this stage, we were starving, so we took Giusy’s recommendation and made our way (with the very appreciated help of Google Maps) to Vini d’Arturo, which was fantastic. With only 10 tables, you absolutely need to book it for dinner. It was very simple but so lovely, you have to see for yourself. We decided to share a pasta dish and a main course as we knew we would never be able to have two courses each and it was of one of best meals I had in a while. Every celeb worth its weight has visited, and the team is flown every year to Los Angeles for a month to cook for every movie star you can think of.

The gorgonzola pasta was to die for and the biggest surprise was the beef with rocket (arugula). Absolutely stunning.

The gorgonzola pasta was to die for and the biggest surprise was the beef with rocket (arugula). Absolutely stunning.

We had to walk off those delicious and well-earned calories, and that meant helping the local economy, of course. In Italy, I always like to checkout Max Mara (which costs 50% less than anywhere else in the world) and other Italian staples, like Bottega Veneta, but I lost my heart (and a bit of cash) at Celine. Mr. O found a Boggi store, which is one of his favourite casual-wear Italian brands, so we were both happy!

We thought we should take it slow, and decided to head back to the hotel for a little nap. We had had a long week and not a lot of sleep, and as we were only staying for 2 nights in town, we wanted to enjoy our fabulous suite at the Gritti Palace. Our room was stunning and I was sorry we were not there for longer.

An impeccable renovation at one of Venice's leading hotels.

An impeccable renovation at one of Venice’s leading hotels.

Also worth mentioning, that the hotel was the best smelling hotel ever. Ever. If you like Acqua di Parma, you are in for a treat. Or many treats, actually. As soon as you walked in, that familiar smell just lingered and it was wonderful.

It wasn't a super-sized bottle of gin I found!!

It wasn’t a super-sized bottle of gin I found!!

Mr. O decided he should check out the spa himself, and booked a massage, whereas I had a hair appointment at a nearby hairdresser, which the hotel had booked for me. I was very jealous of Mr. O (I really wanted to go to the spa), but one needs fabulous hair to go on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, so it was non-negotiable.

I understand Italian reasonably well, but I cannot speak a word, except for a few pleasantries. So to say I was a bit nervous to go to a local salon, it would be an understatement.

My hairdresser Italian was not good, but the surroundings looked pretty. Very pretty.

My hairdresser Italian was not good, but the surroundings looked pretty. Very pretty.

English was not spoken at the hairdressers, but the international language of hair styling (with a lot of hand gestures and smiles) took over, and I did have fabulously bouncy hair. Whilst the salon itself wasn’t very fancy, I was actually very happy with the end result (and good value at €38)- I am pretty sure the hotel would have not organised a place that wasn’t good. So I was a happy bunny, who needed something very important: a Bellini!

It would be rude not to have a Bellini in Venice, and I decided that the best place to have it would be back at the Gritti – I seriously loved the canal-side bar terrace and wanted to make sure we used it as much. Plus, everything was just around the corner, so it made perfect sense. I had been to Harry’s Bar on my previous visit to Venice and have to say, I wasn’t that impressed. I mean the Bellinis were good, but it all felt to touristy and rushed. Getting a seat was a nightmare, and the Bellini was tiny (for a mere €15 back then). The Bellini at the Gritti was around €20, it was lovely, the setting was stunning and service outstanding, so worth every cent.

All was good in the world!

All was good in the world!

We were totally in the mood for cocktails, and had decided that there was a stop that we needed to make – we simply had to go to the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, in Giudeca island and have a couple of liquid specialities before dinner. So we made our way towards the canal side of St. Mark’s Square and boarded the hotel’s private boat shuttle (which is complimentary and operates in a continuous basis). The views we had on our short journey to the hotel were nothing short of extraordinary.

Absolutely stunning views of Venice

Absolutely stunning views of Venice

The calm before the storm....

The calm before the storm….

My friend Lynsey and her fiancé James were in town and were due to meet us at 7pm – but they were late, so we decided to make our way to the Belmond Hotel Cipriani and have to say, arrived just as a huge storm began. It was quite dramatic to see such a sudden weather change – but even more dramatic to think about my friend who was getting drenched just because she was 10 minutes late. But this was her punishment for having a long afternoon nap!

Walter, the head barman at the Cipriani, prepared some wonderful cocktails for us.

Walter, the head barman at the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, prepared some wonderful cocktails for us.

From the his and hers timed cocktail (we did well, I promise), we moved on to the cocktail that Walter Bolzonella created for George Clooney (which as everyone knows by now, had his wedding reception at this very same venue a week after we were there). This second drink was made with Prosecco, passionfruit and elderflower liqueur. When he asked Clooney, who was visiting the hotel, for help naming it, the pair came up with Nina’s Special, in honour of the actor’s mother. I have to admit that I liked this one better, and we all know why.

Cin Cin, Walter!

Cin Cin, Walter!

Happier than we arrived, we left the Belmond Cipriani (with our friends), and joined them for a great dinner at Ristoteca Oniga, which was lovely and one of Lynsey’s favourite places in Venice.

All good things come to an end, and our day was drawing to a close, but we were so excited about the following day, I could not tell you! We woke up the next morning like children on Christmas Day – it was *the* day.

Bye bye Gritti Palace, you were lovely. And smelled even better.

Bye bye Gritti Palace, you were lovely. And smelled even better.

At 9am, were met by our Blitz Exclusive boat driver (who were super punctual on both our journeys), who ‘drove’ us towards Santa Lucia Station, where our incredible return back to London would begin.

Our very stylish private boat limousine transfer, courtesy of Blitz Exclusive

Our very stylish private boat limousine transfer, courtesy of Blitz Exclusive

The transfer took around 30 minutes (it does depend on canal traffic, so check first!) and we took some time to reflect about our short but very sweet stopover in Venice. We saw a fair bit of the city, ate and drank pretty well, shopped a bit and even saw some friends, which made it even more special. We loved our hotel and to be honest, it was the perfect wedding anniversary.

But we knew that even better things awaited, and could not wait to get to the train station.

The journey was about to begin...The journey was about to begin...

The journey was about to begin…

Our journey from Venice to London took 30 hours, which we won’t forget in a hurry (and you can read all about it here).

Ciao!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and fact box: a huge thank you to those who made this trip so special, namely Blitz Exclusive, Walks of Italy, Flytographer and the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, who organised great experiences for us.

Sleep: we stayed at the Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection hotel by Starwood, where rooms start from €350 per night, and suites from €1200. 

See: Walks of Italy organises various tours in Venice (and other Italy locations) starting from €59 per person in a group setting, and €369 for a private tour for two, which we really enjoyed.

Play: a 30-minute photoshoot with Flytographer costs $250

Drink: we had drinks at the Gritti Palace and Belmond Hotel Cipriani where cocktails start from around €20 and come with views.

Eat: we loved Vini d’Arturo (lunch for two, around €80) and Ristoteca Oniga (dinner for two, around €100)

Get around: with Blitz Exclusive, who provides luxury private transportation services. The combined transfer from the airport to our hotel cost €420 including a €80 night surcharge, and our transfer from the hotel to the train station cost €260.

My Flight: JetBlue Mint cabin (new business class service) from LAX to JFK

A review of JetBlue Mint Cabin (Business Class)

Yes, you read it right. USA-based airline JetBlue now has business class. Named Mint (in true JetBlue fashion), it is available on routes between New York’s JFK and Los Angeles and just has been introduced on selected flights between JFK and San Francisco. On a recent trip to California, I had to connect via JFK so I really had to try it. And priced from just $599 each way, I was very intrigued to see how it would compare with other ‘transcontinental’ services which have been recently introduced by other airlines (which can cost 3-4 times more each way).

Here’s how My Flight with JetBlue went.

Pre-flight correspondence and experience

We made our booking online using JetBlue’s website and it was pretty straightforward. We had pre-selected our seats (1A and 1C) and expected a smooth ride. In the months that preceded our trip, we were surprised by a barrage of promotional emails (I had clearly opted-in without realising) which were totally inappropriate to us as a) we do not live in the USA and b) not one single email was about Mint class, so totally irrelevant.

On this trip, I was connecting in NYC and flying with British Airways to London. I was due to land in NYC at 5am and have a whole day in the city and then depart for London at 9.30pm. Since both airlines had recently announced some sort of collaboration, I was hoping I would get some luggage assistance as the flights arrived and departed for different terminals (and we *only* had 5 suitcases) and we really did not need our luggage.

I tweeted both airlines who said that not much could be done, which surprised me, as I was flying Mint and BA First and because they announced a partnership making things easier for passengers of both airlines. I was told by JetBlue’s team that my option would be to leave the bags with them at Terminal 5, which would mean I would have to go to NYC, come back to one terminal, get the luggage and miraculously find a cab which would take me to BA‘s Terminal 8. Getting 5 suitcases on the Air Train would obviously not be an option, so I took the luggage with me to the hotel and then checked in with BA at 10am and spent the day in NYC with no bags. I honestly think there is room for improvement here – seriously what is the point of that announcement? To be fair, JetBlue responded to me on twitter in real-time.

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Check-in 

We had checked-in online and I was curious about the number of check-bags we would be allowed. We knew we were over (and paying would not be the issue), but were surprised not to find any information. I checked the small print on our ticket and there was no mention, checked the website and ‘nada’, so they I tweeted JetBlue. The response came quickly, as always and we knew we had 2 bags each and would have to pay for 1 extra suitcase. Not an issue at all, but still found it weird… why isn’t it on the website?

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At LAX, we found the JetBlue area and saw that there was a separate check-in line for Mint and Mosaic (frequent flyers) passengers, with no queue. There was hardly any queue for coach passengers either. When we checked in, we were told that we had to pay $75 for the extra bag, which we thought it was interesting as the first ‘extra’ bag is priced at $50. If you fly economy, your first bag is free, the second bag is $50 and the third or more bags are $75. As our allowance was 2 bags, one would assume that ‘our first extra bag’ would be charged at $50, but we were told that it counted as a third bag. I did not say a word for the sake of $25, but believe this could be made clearer going forward.

Smooth check-in for all passengers, to be fair.

Smooth check-in for all passengers, to be fair.

Security

As Mint passengers, we were able to use the Fast Track security lanes, which were not particularly busy and we went through under 8 minutes, which is not bad.

 

The Lounge

There was no lounge at LAX, sadly, so we found a bar and had a pre-flight Gin & Tonic. Getting a seat wasn’t easy and it was different from our normal flying experiences, but I understand that there is a lounge in NYC and there could be one on the way to LAX, soon. The terminal isn’t particularly exciting, with limited shopping and dining.

The Flight

I cannot tell you how excited I was about getting on the plane – the website did promise a very special flight experience with lots of curated touches, which I was keen to experience.

The very smart JetBlue mint cabin

The very smart JetBlue mint cabin

–          Welcome

We boarded and were very quickly directed to our seats, which were 1A and 1C. The cabin looked über smart, with great lighting and the crew were very friendly. Throughout the flight, I was surprised to see everyone always being addressed by name, which was a nice touch.

–          Amenities

On our seats, we found a snooze pack, a blanket and a pillow and later on, we got our his and hers Birchboxes. I love the concept (it is a subscription service whereby every month you get a box full of wonderful beauty products at home) and I thought it was a very clever brand association.

The contents and brands change each month on Birchbox which will make for interesting surprises.

The contents and brands change each month on Birchbox which will make for interesting surprises.

–          Drinks service 

Before take off, we were offered a Mint welcome cocktail – which was Minty, of course. How sweet. We were asked if we wanted it with or without vodka, so in the name of research, I said yes. They were yummy.

Mint cocktails for me, please.

Mint cocktails for me, please.

For the meal, we had 2 choices of American red and white wine, very appropriate, and a US-produced sparkling wine. There was also a bar and beer service with plenty of options as well as soft drinks. I tried the Sauvignon Blanc, which was good.

–          In-flight dining

I was looking forward to trying the food, as it isn’t your regular horrible airplane food (or so the marketing materials promised). In a partnership with Saxon & Parole (a very cool NYC restaurant which I had actually been to before), JetBlue hopes to revolutionise the food served on American skies, which can only be a good thing and much-needed.

The menus were also interesting and very well presented, as you can see.

The Mint Menu

The Mint Menu

The tray arrived and I have to say, it looked pretty good. The soup was delicious and the 3 tapas-style courses were not unpleasant to the eye. From the 3 options, I wasn’t so keen on the lentils, but the shrimps were good. The dessert was actually fantastic and the sorbet worked very well up in the air.

The dining experience

The dining experience

I wasn’t so keen on the breakfast sandwich, but I thought the concept was very interesting and JetBlue may be on to something here. It was, without a doubt, better than any other domestic USA flight I had ever taken.      

–          The seat

Best seats in the house - even numbers!

Best seats in the house – even numbers!

The seats and the cabin itself looked extremely smart – they were very comfortable and had lots of very interesting details. Storage was extremely well thought out, with room for a water bottle (which was there from the beginning), an actual place to put your phone so you don’t lose it (very clever), and lots of space overall.

Rows 1, 3, 5 have 2 seats on each aisle, but rows 2, 4, 6 have just the 1… with a door! Obviously I had no idea (but we were 2 people flying), and if you can, absolutely book these seats as you have a little mini suite and are more secluded from the rest of the cabin.

The seats supposedly become flat beds and have a massaging feature, but ours sadly did not work. The crew tried hard to change them, and were able to get them almost flat, or in landing position. It was a real shame as we were keen to test the seats (and sleep properly).

A fellow passenger let us take a photo as ours were never like this

A fellow passenger let us take a photo as ours were never like this

We were promised a $100 voucher per passenger, which never materialised. It would be nice to get them at some point. (Note: within 1 hour of this article being published, JetBlue’s twitter team has gotten in touch and provided me and my husband with the credit towards future travel. Impressive or what?)

There were proper power and USB plugs on each seat, which worked very well.

Lots of clever details and plenty of room

Lots of clever details and plenty of room

–  In-flight entertainment 

I had flown JetBlue once before in my life (a good 15 years ago) and was mesmerised when they had live TV on board. On this flight, they still offered the same, with many channels to choose from, and there were also feature films. I was surprised to find out that the films were not on demand, so they just kept going. This meant we missed quite a bit as obviously we had to interact with the crew during the meal service – don’t get me wrong, I always do this and think it is very rude to not to, but being a brand new plane, I wasn’t sure why this wasn’t featured.

We also had wifi (which is still a novelty for us in Europe) and I used it for 10 minutes just to test it for fun, and worked very well.

The In-Flight Entertainment

The In-Flight Entertainment

The headphones were OK and cancelled some of the noise and the in-flight entertainment was easy to use. The screen was large and worked very well.

Final thoughts

Despite some mishaps, I thought that the flight was very good and JetBlue is certainly innovating and created a very interesting business class product. Service was good, but you could tell it was a new concept and the crew were finding their way around, and doing a good job. At $599 each way, I thought it was extremely well priced and it delivered on the promise (assuming your seats work as advertised). Our bags were the first ones to get out on arrival and we were also ahead of schedule which is always good news.

Would I fly again? I would – even knowing that I would forfeit my beloved OneWorld points. Would I recommend it? Without a doubt.

To find our more about JetBlue’s Mint Cabin, visit its website.

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

Loving Gold in Istanbul, Turkey #lovegold

This post has been brought to you by the World Gold Council

As a good Portuguese wife, my wedding ring is a solid yellow gold band, and my husband’s matches mine. This is not to say that any other choices are wrong (of course they are not), but my choice was conditioned by my cultural heritage and tradition, and one I was always very keen to continue and will do so.

While researching places to visit in preparation for my recent trip to Istanbul, I came across these gorgeous Gold Jewellery Shopping Guides on LoveGold.com and I was really quite intrigued. I was also gutted that my discovery took place the day after I had returned from Los Angeles and New York. Why?

The displays were truly unique...

The displays were truly unique…

Well, because New York and Los Angeles are two of the 9 cities who are part of the LoveGold Shopping Guides. The others are Istanbul (Turkey), Sao Paulo (Brazil), London (UK), Paris (France), Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur (India). My next trip was to Istanbul and Mumbai and Jaipur are also on the horizon – so some stories are just meant to be told.

The concept behind LoveGold’s jewellery guides is simple – there are extraordinary jewellery designers around the world, and many up and coming ones, especially in cities where gold is traded as a commodity and you are never really sure what you are buying. Needless to say, if you want to buy gold in Istanbul’s grand bazaar, you are doing so at own risk.

By using the LoveGold guides, you will not only find unique jewellery designers in the 9 cities, but also buy with confidence. The website is very sexy and makes for an interesting read, I promise!

In Istanbul, Turkey, I chose to visit the Melié by Melike showroom, located in the über trendy Nişantaşı district. I honestly did not know what to expect – I obviously knew that it would be lovely! And oh my God.

Such a pretty space...

Such a pretty space…

To say that the showroom was stunning, would be an understatement – you knew you were walking into someone’s personal space, and someone with impeccable taste. Melike, the designer, was also there and was as lovely and pretty – it kind of all felt like a fairy tale!

The very talented Melie

The very talented Melike

But what I loved? The pieces – very unassuming, discrete, and using real high carat yellow or rose gold and a variety of precious stones.

I wear jewellery quite a bit – but only very small and discrete pieces. A ring, very small earrings and a small pendant. I am not one for bracelets, for example.

So at Melié, I was spoiled for choice. I enjoying looking at pieces which were very different to what I would normally wear (like the rings you can see below), but I was also delighted to find not 1, but 27 things I truly loved.

I loved the rose gold pendant with a black stone (which changed colour according to what I wear), and I had to buy it (i.e. not a gift, it is mine mine mine!).

I actually did want them all!

I actually did want them all!

We were also treated to impeccable Turkish hospitality and I have to say, the Turkish delights and chocolates were outstanding. It was a very personal shopping experience and I truly enjoyed every minute of it.

Best Turkish delights I had on the trip.

Best Turkish delights I had on the trip.

Without the LoveGold Shopping Guides, I would have not actually discovered this great part of town, and certainly not come across Melié by Melike. I know what I bought was of the highest quality, and the design had my name written all over it.

Next time, I shall take my LoveGold adventure around London, which is something I have never done, outside Old Bond Street, where most of my jewellery comes from.

Who's a happy girl? Me!

Who’s a happy girl? Me!

Do you also #LoveGold? What do you think of this concept?

Xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by LoveGold. Needless to say, and as you will know if you read my blog regularly, it reflects my personal opinion about the shop and the designer, whose creations I purchased on the same occasion, and were not a gift.