5 luxury hotels perfect for Summer

Summer is my favourite season of the year – I am a beach bunny, albeit covered in SPF 30 from head to toe. But olive skin does have its advantages. I keep getting asked for ideas of where to go by readers and friends, so I thought I would make everyone’s life easier by preparing a selection. Here are 5 luxury hotels perfect for Summer.

 

Finca Cortesin, near Estepona, Spain

10 beach hotels to try this summer finca cortesin.jpg

I first visited Finca Cortesin in 2012 and it was love at first sight. So much so, that I have been going back religiously each year. I love its simplicity yet incredible attention to detail. Each room is different and beautifully decorated – and its toiletries may be worth stealing too. But what I love the most is the food – how besides all the fine dining options, chef Lutz and co. are not afraid to give us the best of Spain on a plate.

Nearest Airports: Malaga (AGP) or Gibraltar (GIB) with British Airways.

Cost per night: from 750 Euros in high season

 

Pine Cliffs Hotel & Resort, Algarve, Portugal

10 beach hotels to try this summer pine cliffs resort algarve

When I return this Summer to the Pine Cliffs Hotel, in the Algarve, it will be my 12th or 15th visit. Why? Because I love it. And I love it even more now that it has been completely renovated. You can see some of the new rooms here. This Summer, I am booked into the brand new Ocean Suites and looking forward to my sunset gins.

Nearest Airports: Faro (FAO) or Lisbon (LIS) which is a 2h30 drive with British Airways.

Cost per night: from 500 Euros in high season

 

Blue Palace, Crete, Greece

10 beach hotels to try this summer blue palace crete

A pretty special hotel for the O’Reillys – it is, after all, where Mr. O asked me to become Mrs. O many years ago. We returned last Summer to make some new memories and it was as fabulous as we remembered. My favourite part? The in-room infinity pools and the beach-side taverna.

Nearest Airports: Heraklion (HER) with British Airways.

Cost per night: from 450 Euros in high season

 

Mandapa Reserve by Ritz Carlton, Ubud, Bali

10 beach hotels to try this summer mandapa reserve ritz carlton ubud bali

The Mandapa Reserve by Ritz Carlton, just outside Ubud, in Bali was, without a doubt one of the nicest surprises I have had this year. Despite the distance from home, it is a hotel we will absolutely return to. Bali was the wildcard in my Spring travels this year, and I have to tell you: one week is absolutely not enough. This hotel was nothing short of perfect – the rooms were stunning and do not even get me started on the food. Perfection.

Nearest Airports: Denpasar via Doha with Qatar Airways.

Cost per night: from 500 USD in high season

 

Nizuc Resort & Spa, Punta Nizuc, Mexico

10 beach hotels to try this summer nizuc cancun mexico

Although I visited this hotel during our European Winter, for a bit of off season sun, I have found myself daydreaming about being back countless times. Probably one of the best designed hotels I have ever been to – with the service to match. Punta Nizuc is not far from Cancun, but you really are a world away. Best thing: mango margaritas and a new found love for proper tequila.

Nearest Airports: Cancun direct with British Airways or via Miami with American Airlines.

Cost per night: from 500 USD in high season

 

True to my word, I am literally back from Finca and heading shortly to Pine Cliffs. I am a creature of habit… what can I say? What are your favourite Summer hotels? Anywhere in the world.

 

xo

Mrs. O

 

 

 

 

The post 5 luxury hotels perfect for Summer appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Top 5 Beauty Essentials for Summer 2016

My favourite season is upon us and it requires some extra TLC. Here are my Top 5 Beauty Essentials for Summer 2016.

 

Kerastase Fluidissime Anti-Frizz

kerastase Fluidissime anti frizz hair spray

The Kerastase Fluidissime Anti-Frizz Spray has been, without a doubt, my discovery of the season. When I am away, sometimes I do blow dry my hair before dinner, but sometimes I really don’t want to – and this beauty works both ways. It is a leave-in product, to be applied after you towel dry your hair and you can then decide if you want to have a bit more work.. or not!

Get it now: £15.00 from Amazon

 

Babyliss Big Hair Dual Brush

babyliss dual big hair salon brush

I am pretty useless (and oh so lazy) when I have to do my hair (and probably why I do outsource this at least once a week – no judging, this is a safe place). But a year or so ago, I bought this Babyliss Dual Brush and I have never touched my straighteners again. If I can use this, anyone can – I promise you. In 5 minutes (I tell no lies), and after roughly drying my hair, I can leave the house or stay in and look pretty decent. At times people have even asked me if I had it blow dried. I take it everywhere with me (just with the smaller brush) and my cost per usage is now around £0.05.

Get it now: £60.00 from Amazon

 

Korres Limited Edition Shower gel duo

 

korres bergamot pear shower gel 2 for 1

Korres is one of Greece’s best exports and having recently visited, I obviously stocked up. I was drawn to the obvious 2 for 1 deal – but also loved the new fragrances. And was even more surprised to see it easily available in the UK. And I confession: you may not know that I very rarely think hotel toiletries are worth stealing, so on longer stays I always take my own products so I don’t have to fiddle with the little bottles and their annoying tops.

Get it now: £8.00 for the 2-pack from Amazon

 

Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse dry oil

 

nuxe huile prodigieuse dry oil

The Huile Prodigieuse by Nuxe is a travellers dream as you can use it as an after sun for face, body and hair. It isn’t oily oily and smells divine. Give it a try with the smaller 50ml size and see how you get on. You may love this.

Get it now: £15.00 for 50ml from Amazon

 

Diorskin Nude Air Glow Powder, 003 Warm Tan

dior warm nude bronzer

I switched to Dior makeup 8 years ago and never looked back – and one of my favourite items, which never leaves my side is its Nude Air Glow Powder (my shade is #3). I love how natural it feels and how the various shades blend together – and how long it lasts. Also worth investing in the Dior bronzer brush (it does make a difference!)

Get it now: £35.00 from Amazon

 

What are your top Beauty Essentials for Summer 2016? Do let me know as I love to try new ones!

xo

Mrs. O

The post Top 5 Beauty Essentials for Summer 2016 appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Finding more about the design of British Airways First Class Suites

Ever wondered how an airline cabin actually comes to life? Today we get to meet a lady who knows a thing or two about British Airways’ First Class Suites.

One of the best things about having the blog is the people I get to meet – and one of these special people is Jenny Reeves. I met Jenny almost 4 years ago when she was the winner of tickets to an event in London to meet Simon Reeve (not her cousin!). Since then, we have become friends and I have learned a fair bit about what goes behind the scenes at British Airways, my airline of choice. Jenny has been on the other end of countless emails and texts (namely when I have something to complain about – my current one being ‘Why does BA not serve Taittinger on board in Club and at lounges anymore?’ It kills me). I now understand a bit more of how decisions are made and have asked Jenny, who has recently left BA some questions about its First Class cabin.

Jenny Reeves was a Product Manager for British Airways responsible for delivering the new First Class suites onboard.

Jenny talks to me about premium bespoke aircraft seating, the challenges of development and delivery – and bringing the product to life for us all to enjoy…

 

british airways first class seat b 787 dreamliner

The new British Airways First suites, onboard its B787 (Dreamliner)

So, how do you pick a seat, or create one?

These days most aircraft manufacturers ask airlines to pick their interiors from a catalogue of choices. This allows the airframers to build versions of known products very quickly and get the aircraft out of the factory equally as quick.
Airlines generally find this difficult because how will they ever differentiate their brands from each other if competitors have access to the same premium seat function choices and interiors?
Usually therefore, where the spend is warranted (in premium cabins, usually) airlines will elect to spend money either customising catalogue seats or fully bespoking suites for their most valued customers. It’s also a good opportunity to unleash some innovation, if there’s an appetite for it.

 
Pretty easy then?

No, it’s not as easy as it sounds! Balancing the business needs against customer expectation is a delicate balance and usually ends up as a trade-off between real-estate and luxury versus economical potential. The trick is to guess-timate what a customer is willing to pay a price for in each brand of cabin, and deliver the best product you can, with the money the company gives you.

 
So they give you money to spend on the interiors?

Well, yes and no. There’s always an assumption that the company will apportion money to fit out the aircraft, but we still have to go to the business and ask for it. Then we have to deliver a product (3 or 4 years later) that is still a market leader, and matching current brand propositions.
And of course the capital expenditure isn’t the end of the story… We have to clean and maintain the product throughout its life, and like a car, that gets more expensive with age.

 

british airways first class seat b 787 dreamliner cabin view

Cabin view of the new British Airways First product.

Your car goes on for regular service checks, and I assume the aircraft do too – so what happens when things break in the cabin?

It’s interesting, as we don’t fly engineers around any more, and so when things break, as they inevitably do, we can’t fix them until at least the next station landed at, and not all stations have the expertise to fix bespoke items, even if they can fix catalogue ones.
Often complicated fixes have to be returned to base for repair, and this means blocking seats from use if it’s that bad. Annoying if you’re looking for a last-minute upgrade, because the seat is there, but maybe won’t recline, so you have to stay in a different cabin, knowing it is empty; but that’s the nature of aviation…

 
So how long a life do airline seats have? 

Usually it’s s 15-20 year life span, although this is improving with better materials on the products, combined with periodic overhauls; defined by Brand spec or competition. Often these are driven by technology, as this is such a fast-paced market, it’s hard to keep up with the changes and keep the relevance of the product in the market. Especially as the speed-to-market in bespoke terms is 2-4 years for development. Interestingly the seats don’t always ‘retire’ with the aircraft; they are often robbed for spares before the aircraft get parked in the Californian Desert for their retirement!

 

british airways first class seat 2 b 787 dreamliner

Not a bad way to fly!

 
Who looks after the cabins during the service life of the aircraft?

Engineering and cleaning have a joint responsibility to commit to “cabin excellence”. For cleaning, they have extremely tough rules about what products can be used on an aircraft and what can’t, but also we guide them on which areas to focus on, to make the best of short turnaround times. For Engineering- on quick turnarounds, if it’s broken, they will try to fix it, but I’m afraid wear and tear items usually have to wait until the bigger maintenance checks.

 
How did you get in to Product Development in the first place? 

I pitched an idea to the head of department around 5 years ago and as a result, won a secondment initially to Head office to work on some small projects. It escalated from there!

 

jenny reeves british airways first class cabin product development
Originally trained as a secondary school teacher, Jenny decided to take a 6 months break after her BEd (Hons) degree at DeMontford University to go travelling. Over 20 years later, spent mostly in the airlines, predominantly in the air flying as cabin crew, she made the transition to the ground, landing a plum job of developing the latest First Class suite for British Airways.

 

Want to find out more? Visit British Airways’ website with details on its various travel classes and more specifically, its brand new First class.

 

So there you have it. I have a further list of questions for Jenny – so if you would like to ask some more, just let me know.
xo
Mrs. O

The post Finding more about the design of British Airways First Class Suites appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

10 Premium Gins to try on World Gin Day #WorldGinDay

June 11th marks a very important day in my calendar – it is World Gin Day. To be honest, I did not know that this day existed until last week, but I promise you one thing – this could be my favourite ‘World Something’ Day ever.

Gin, as you may well know, is my spirit of choice. I am a #ginlover left, right and centre and at home, we even have our own gin cart – so I tell no lies!

world gin day gin and tonic bar cart west elm

Here are some of my favourite gins – of course not to be consumed all in the same day! Enjoy with moderation. I picked all options that have Amazon Prime delivery so you can enjoy them the very next day.

 

Hendricks Gin

I remember the first time I had a Hendricks, served with cucumber, and in a proper gin glass. It was 2004 and I was in Barcelona. Life was never the same again.

Get it now: £27.00 from Amazon

hendricks gin world gin day worldginday

 

Monkey 47

Hailing from Germany, it is one of the country’s best creations. I remember enjoying 3 or 4 of these beauties onboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train.

Get it now: £35.00 from Amazon

monkey 47 gin world gin day worldginday

 

Bulldog Gin

Not so well known in the UK, it is one of the gins I always get from USA Duty Free (not sure why, but it is always there) and also Spain. It is fantastic.

Get it now: £15.00 from Amazon

bulldog gin world gin day worldginday

 

Whitley Neill Gin

One of my most recent discoveries (a story I could probably tell over a gin or three) – it is a fairly new small batch gin with African botanicals.

Get it now: £24.00 from Amazon

whitley neill world gin day worldginday

 

Gin Mare

One of Spain’s best gifts to the world, alongside jamon iberico de bellota and Finca Cortesin. I have mine with rosemary, and sometimes I go mad and even have it with basil (there is some logic to this madness).

Get it now: £31.60 from Amazon

gin mare gin world gin day worldginday

Citadelle Gin

The French are on to something with their gin. And this one may be one of my absolute favourites.

Get it now: £32 from Amazon

citadelle gin world gin day worldginday

 

Shortcross Gin

From Northern Ireland to the world – a beauty of a gin, which is best enjoyed with orange (for real).

Get it now: £41 from Amazon

shortcross gin northern ireland world gin day worldginday

 

Star of Bombay

Bombay’s first proper foray into premium gin – which does not disappoint. Although I am a fan of its Bombay Sapphire East (dark blue label), this is the one to try.

Get it now: £34.85 from Amazon

star of bombay gin world gin day worldginday

 

St. George Gin

God bless America, is all I can say. Gin and USA are not two words that usually go hand in hand, but this California distillery really is making waves. I first discovered it as an in-room amenity at Four Seasons Los Angeles and have been indulging ever since.

Get it now: £38.05 from Amazon

st george gin terroir green world gin day worldginday

 

Broker’s Gin

And a relatively newcomer to the O’Reilly gin cart – discovered in Seville (because Gin & Tonic tastes better in Spain, of course). It was voted ‘Best Gin in the World’ by someone who knows about this stuff – and it is excellent.

Get it now: £24 from Amazon

brokers gin world gin day worldginday

 

And don’t forget the tonic

As the clever people of Fever Tree say, if your gin is 3-quarters tonic, make it the best you can get. I am a great fan of Fever Tree (and there are other excellent tonic waters around). My favourite ones are the normal one (full fat) and the Mediterranean (turquoise blue) – they really are fantastic.

fever tree tonic water

I also love what Schweppes has been serving in Spain for years now – proper premium tonic with interesting flavours such as orange blossom & lavender, ginger & cardamom and pink pepper, for example. But for some reason, in the spiritual home of gin (i.e. the UK), they don’t have them. Maybe the brand managers could do with some more weekly calls.

schweppes premium tonic water

 

And the proper gin glass

I have lost count of the number of times I have brought gin glasses for myself and friends, and friends of friends from trips to Spain (obviously hand luggage with British Airways). But, at last, you don’t have to do this anymore. Schott Zwiesel now makes these beauties (at same standard of its other premium glass collections) and you can just order them online.

Get it now: £13.95 for 2 glasses from Amazon

schott zwiesel gin glasses world gin day worldginday

 

And with this, all that is left to do is to wish you a very happy World Gin Day. Or Gin Weekend. Or Gin Week. You get the idea!

Have you tried any of these gins? And what other brands have you found and would like to recommend? Let me know!

 

xo

Mrs. O

The post 10 Premium Gins to try on World Gin Day #WorldGinDay appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

‘onefinestay’ in Marylebone, London – a luxury apartment rental review

Once a month, I stay in London during the week, which allows me to enjoy a bit more of ‘city life’ after client meetings. I usually stay in hotels (and you can read various reviews here on the blog), but this time around, I tried something different. onefinestay, who provide luxury apartment rentals in London, Paris, NYC, Los Angeles and now Rome, invited me to stay at one of their London properties.

If you think onefinestay follows the model of airbnb or something similar – forget about it. Every property on their books is exclusively theirs (and it is someone’s real home) and they offer all the services that make the onefinestay experience come to life – and I will show you what that means exactly in a minute. They are not a ‘platform’ where A and B come together – if you own a luxury home in one of their cities, onefinestay will manage your property for you and market it. The sheets, the towels, the cleaning crews, the concierge services – they are all theirs. And that was absolutely key for me – I really want to know I have someone I can call 24/7 in case something goes wrong.

I chose Marylebone as my London location – an area I know very well and absolutely love. I was sent a selection of available properties on my dates and overnight they were all booked bar 1. James Street II was the one left and the apartment where we stayed.

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair luxury apartment rental living room james II

Our London apartment in Marylebone.

 

Booking

You book through the website and/or telephone and you receive an email with all the information about your booking. For security reasons, you will need to name any other guests and are also invited to download the onefinestay app where you can manage your booking, find directions, things to do in the area and learn more about the property. I was super impressed with the process, to be honest.

 

Check-in

We had organised for a 4pm check-in as I had other appointments later in the evening (coincidentally one of them being a reception organised by onefinestay to celebrate its recent acquisition by Accor Hotels). My check in host texted me to introduce himself and asked me to let him know when I was going to arrive so he would come down to the building door, let me in and also help me with my luggage.

My check-in time was slightly earlier than the onefinestay team had expected (but pre-agreed), so interestingly when I arrived, the cleaners were still on property. I actually found it fascinating to see how the final part was carried out – the supervisor took photos of every detail of the property, namely the security tags (more on those later) which I thought was very reassuring for both sides.

My check-in host walked me around the apartment, showing me where things were, how things worked and explained to me what the tags were – basically, all onefinestay apartments are real people’s homes so part of their personal property stays in the house, in cupboards/wardrobes, of course, which are sealed. If I tried to snoop around, the seal would break. Again, very clever.

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair james II luxury apartment rental app

Your own iPhone to be used during your stay.

I was also given my own iPhone with a local SIM card – which every guest gets and introduced to the onefinestay app, which really was useful. It included the house manual and instructions, one-click access to onefinestay’s team – by phone, text, email, whatever suited me -, and local recommendations which I particularly liked.

My ID was confirmed and verified and I also left a £1,000 security deposit (payment was taken by credit card over the phone during the check-in process).

 

The location

Our apartment was located on James Street, in Marylebone, across the road from St. Christopher’s Place. It had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a living room/kitchen/dining room. Interestingly, there were some mentions of Mayfair as the neighbourhood, but it absolutely isn’t as it is on the North side of Oxford Street. In all honesty, I did want an apartment in Marylebone, one of the few central London neighbourhoods who really still feels like a (lovely) village and I did not understand why the need to mention Mayfair at all. I love Mayfair, don’t get me wrong – I really do.

James Street is busy and close to many outdoor restaurants and cafes – I was worried about the noise at night, but have nothing to report on that front. Everything shut before 11pm and the double-glazing did its job well.

We had 2 sets of keys and never had a problem.

 

The apartment 

The apartment was light, bright and spacious, as you can see from the photos below.

 

Master bedroom

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair james II luxury apartment rental master master bedroom 1

The master bedroom

This was the most ‘clinical’ room in the house, decor-wise but very functional. We had half of the wardrobe for our own use and access to an en suite bathroom.

It lacked a full-length mirror (which I suspect would be inside the sealed wardrobe doors) and I asked if it would be possible to have one – magically, the next day it appeared while I was out in meetings. The hairdryer (which you can see on the right bedside table) also wasn’t excellent, and would be one of the details I would improve.

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair james II luxury apartment rental master bedroom 1

Notice a little dot on the wardrobe doors to the left – the security seal.

The mattress and bed linen were great – no complaints there – but I found the pillows too hard, and so did Mr. O, who is not as picky as me in this department. As a proud owner of Sofitel pillows at home (which are the best ever), I hope this is one of the areas that can be improved – it really would make for an excellent addition to the experience. On a personal note, I did not love having the towels on the bed – I would have preferred for them to be in their place, in the bathroom.

 

The master bathroom

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair luxury apartment rental master amenities bathroom1

A very sexy bathroom

I loved the bathroom. And what I loved about it the most is that it had the same Hansgrohe taps and ‘Starck for Duravit’ loo we have at home. I know how much these cost (believe me) and the whole apartment really was very well appointed, so to speak.

This bathroom had an unusual layout with a bath tub and then a walk-in shower, which I thought it was a very clever use of space. We had 2 sets of towels and The White Company toiletries which were very nice. We had enough for more than the 3 days of our stay.

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair luxury apartment rental bathroom 1

The master bathroom

 

The second bedroom and bathroom

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair james II luxury apartment rental bedroom 2

The second bedroom

The apartment had a twin second bedroom and a separate bathroom which followed the same clean design and high spec. We did not use them during our stay.

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair luxury apartment rental bathroom 2

The second bathroom

 

Kitchen

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair james II luxury apartment rental master amenities kitchen facilities

The kitchen

The kitchen, dining area and lounge were all in the same room and I thought the space flowed well – the kitchen had everything you could need and more – and I did appreciate the Miele appliances. Obviously it had a coffee maker, a kettle and a variety of cooking appliances (which we did not use). I did like that the pots & pans were the same Le Creuset ones we have at home – but again, we only had wine and used the fridge for drinks. I almost had a ‘seal’ tampering episode once I opened the fridge as I saw a perfume bottle and was going to put it away. But then realised that these items were left intentionally there and obviously did not touch them!

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair james II luxury apartment rental master amenities kitchen details 2

Kitchen details

We had a little welcome hamper which included milk, tea, bottled water, popcorn and some other small items. I liked that there were plenty of books and useful guides which I had a look at. I tell no lies!

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair james II luxury apartment rental master amenities keys detail

Details – and the full length mirror that made me very happy!

 

Dining/Lounge Area

onefinestay london marylebone mayfair luxury apartment rental living room

The living room and dining area

I ended up spending part of my days here, and found it a very nice place to work – and watch a bit of TV. It offered Sky satellite, so I knew how to work the controls and found it very homely.

WiFi was very fast and there were plugs everywhere for all the devices you could want. There was also a washing machine (which we did not use), ironing board and iron (which we did use).

 

Check-out

I had to check out early in the morning, so I was told to leave the iPhone charging (which I did, of course), and the keys on the kitchen table. I later received a text message confirming everything was fine and my deposit was returned quickly.

 

Final thoughts

We had a very comfortable stay at this apartment and bizarrely it did feel like home. I know the area very well and booked all my meetings nearby and kept coming in and out of the apartment and loved having a key.

 

Things that can be improved:

  • Pillows and hairdryer
  • Having towels on the towel rack

Things that I loved:

  • I loved knowing that I had someone to call at any time not only if something went wrong, but also if I wanted, say, restaurant reservations. I felt there was a real company behind it, and a very professional one at that.
onefinestay london marylebone mayfair james II luxury apartment rental master amenities keys detail 2

Details

  • The app was very clever – and they made it super easy to get in touch with the team. And I loved the ‘Call an Uber’ feature – you didn’t even have to know your address.
  • House was spotless and I felt comfortable using everything that was at my disposal

 

Have you stayed at an apartment during a trip? What were your thoughts?

 

xo

Mrs. O

 

Disclaimer: I was a guest of onefinestay on this occasion and really enjoyed the service. Opinions are, as always, my own – and I have no problem recommending it to any of my readers. Prices for a one night stay at James Street II start from £240 per night based on two people staying at the flat and including all onefinestay services. To book or for more information visit onefinestay.com or call + 44 207 167 2524. 

The post ‘onefinestay’ in Marylebone, London – a luxury apartment rental review appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Behind the scenes at Heathrow Airport #britainsbusiestairport

This post is brought to you by Heathrow Airport

I am no stranger to Heathrow Airport. In fact, I am a so-called ‘Heathrower‘ and more specifically a ‘T-Fiver‘ and I may even be a little bit in love with this airport. Why? Because it is my home airport – the starting and ending point of 98% of my travel adventures.

I am obviously biased because of location – Heathrow Airport is located a mere 35 minutes away from where we live, but I measure all my airport experiences against my normal Terminal 5 (the home of British Airways) experience – which is pretty good. For me, it is a stress-free experience – I love the light and airy feel of the airport, the silence and its slick decor. And the now much improved fast track security experience (10 people go in at each time at T5 South, for example, which means that the belt has 5 entry points and you don’t get behind a very slow traveller). Or the 90% touch-free restroom facilities – where the stalls are wide and let you take your luggage with you and you pretty much don’t touch anything – from the flush, to the taps. Oh, and they are always spotless and smell good too.

heathrow terminal 5 check in area

And let’s not talk about the shopping for now (or the excellent champagne selection, which we buy when we depart on a EU flight and it is ready for us to collect when we land. And with Vintage Taittinger at £46 a bottle, I can’t ask for more). And I don’t – just don’t make me go to Gatwick, which I know is getting better, but in my opinion still has ‘too many feet on display, not enough pedicures’. I can be a little bit mean sometimes – it is my blog, after all.

So when Heathrow’s team invited your truly and a select few others for a day behind the scenes, offering a little taste of what will be shown on the upcoming ITV’s documentary series titled ‘Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport (series 2), I really could not resist. And worry not, true to my word where I never showcase anything on the blog which a reader cannot replicate (because what would the point be?), some lucky people will have the chance to go behind the scenes as well. More on that later!

We started our stay at the Animal Reception Centre, where 200 million (!!!) creatures travel through each year. Not all are cats and dogs – we are talking horses, zoo transfers, everything. I was a bit sad when I heard that George Clooney had been round 2 days before me to pick up his dogs – 2 days. Can you imagine if I had better timing? One thing I found interesting was that if you travel from certain countries (EU and a few more), your cats and dogs, provided they have all the necessary documentation, only stay for 1 hour. Others stay for 4 hours only. Only those coming from select locations are in fact quarantined.

behind the scenes of heathrow britain busiest airport itv documentary animal centre

Heathrow Airport’s fluffiest passengers

From here, we made our way to somewhere I was really really looking forward to visit: Heathrow’s VIP Terminal, which is actually located inside a very discreet area of  Terminal 5 (obviously not accessible via the normal ‘passenger drop-off’ road.

With your own entrance, lounge, security and car transfer to your plane, it is the choice of quite a few passengers who want to bypass the airport terminal. Worried about missing out on the shopping? It will come to you, as will Tax Refund, Customs and Immigration.

You get off your private car (pick-up service is included of course) and are welcomed by a hotel-style porter, who is obviously expecting you (for the record, you obviously need to pre-book this service) and greets you by name. Your luggage is taken from you by a hotel-style bellman and you never see it again. You just make your way to your private lounge and the rest comes to you.

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Heathrow’s VIP Service

Whilst in your private lounge, you have access to a menu where you can pick anything you’d like and your own butler will bring it to you. My only negative remark was when I asked which champagne was served and was told Bollinger and Taittinger. I asked if Vintage, but the answer was Brut. I believe that for £2,750 + VAT for 3 people, vintage champagne should really be included. BA serves you Vintage Taittinger in its First and Concord Room Lounges – for ‘the people’ (like me), so in all I think this could be an improvement to be made (as well as first class branded toiletries – also a good opportunity for product placement, says the marketer in me). Security was a dream – the Heathrow VIP team makes sure you don’t clash with other passengers, so it will be just you. We went through it, so we were then ‘airside’ and continued our journey to the new Terminal 2, where we went for lunch.

For the record, the first 3 passengers cost £2750 + VAT, but the next 3 are only £750 + VAT. If you do the math, it is interesting for a group of friends.

Lunch at the Gorgeous Kitchen at Heathrow's Terminal 2

Lunch at the Gorgeous Kitchen at Heathrow’s Terminal 2

I was curious about The Gorgeous Kitchen, located at Heathrow’s Terminal 2, which has recently been named as the best airport restaurant in the world (not sure by whom), and if I wanted to be generous, I would say it was OK. They have a 25 minute menu which took over 50 minutes and the food, although nice, wasn’t warm at all. Nevertheless, you really are spoiled for choice at Heathrow – there is something for everyone and every budget. If you don’t have lounge access (BA for example makes the best egg and bacon sandwich in the world for breakfast – in my humble opinion, and a pretty decent burger too, at its First Lounge), there really are lots of options – from Heston Blumenthal, to Gordon Ramsay, to Caviar House & Prunier… and lots of high street names of course.

We were running late – so we got on our mini bus and spent the rest of the afternoon with Simon Newbold, Airside Operations Training Manager, who was not only a character (very funny, super knowledgeable) but you kind of know why he works at an airport. He loves running things like clockwork – like it should!

behind the scenes of heathrow britain busiest airport itv documentary british airways dreamliner concorde ana silva oreilly

The next couple of hours were really special – we really went as close to the action as possible and saw things we don’t get to everyday. The Concorde was one of them – and I hope one day I get to go inside it. I am just curious!

As we were close to 3pm, we witnessed something quite interesting – a runway swap. Heathrow has 2 runways (and hoping for a third one soonish), and until 3pm (bear with me, I do not speak plane) one is used for taking off and another for landing. At 3pm, they swap over, to give local residents a bit of a break.

We stood by the runway and tried to understand how the magic happens. There are take offs and landings every 45 seconds, and the idea is to get a small plane followed by a big plane, which means some time savings can be made. I absolutely stand to be corrected here (and anywhere else!) as I am not 100% sure of what I am saying.

behind the scenes of heathrow britain busiest airport itv documentary operations

Following a plane!

We visited the operations centre – this team’s mission is to make sure that everything at the airport is working. Its teams remove items from runways, make sure there are no birds around and are ready for any emergency.

Our next stop: a brand new British Airways Dreamliner (B787), which had arrived from Hyderabad in India and was being cleaned and ready for departure. We were escorted by a BA First Officer and were allowed into the cockpit which is something I had not experienced (for obvious reasons) since I was like 15 years old. I did ask for his cap (he thought I was joking and I was like ‘Not joking at all’). I felt like a child (and a very happy one at that) and also enjoyed exploring the First cabin. I have flown on BA’s Dreamliner to Kuala Lumpur earlier this year, but it was in Business Class, so obviously I had not had the chance to snoop around the first cabin which has a new design – and feels more like a suite than the previous generation of BA First.

behind the scenes of heathrow britain busiest airport itv documentary british airways dreamliner cockpit 1

First Officer O’Reilly. Where should we go?

The cleaning crew was turning the airplane around and we were quite shocked to hear that – get ready for this – 12 seats were soiled (read: with pee), of which 2 had a bonus (read: poo). I honestly could not believe that this could happen unless it was an accident but apparently, it happens ALL the time. I actually felt very sorry – and then asked some people in this industry who told me that indeed this happens (some destinations more than others) and the seat cushions have to be replaced and sometimes the plane has to even go into maintenance). Imagine the cost and delays this causes. Some people really are animals.

behind the scenes of heathrow britain busiest airport itv documentary british airways dreamliner 2

The BA Dreamliner First Cabin and the Pilots’ secret room.

And to finish off the day in a very special way, we made our way to the Air Traffic Control Tower (full disclosure: I had never ever noticed where it was located on my 3456754 trips to Heathrow Airport). We couldn’t actually go to the room itself – too disruptive, but we went almost all the way up and got a great view of the surroundings of Heathrow – from Windsor Castle to London.

I also particularly enjoyed looking at the terminals from the top and understanding how the airport is changing. If you look at the photo below, you will see Terminal 3 (which is first generation compared to today), and how the planes are parked in a cul-de-sac, which means that if one plane is manoeuvring, others cannot move. The current airport design (which you can experience on Terminals 2 and 5), are rectangular buildings, connected by a train, which allow for much easier movement of the aircrafts. The things you learn, huh?

behind the scenes of heathrow britain busiest airport itv documentary airplanes

Terminal 3 (old style) and Terminal 5 (new style). And look at the differences of the sizes of the planes. And if you look at the runway, you will see the big plane followed by the baby plane.

I really enjoyed my behind the scenes day at London Heathrow Airport – I felt I could come back the next day and be taken around some more. It really is fascinating!

If you are curious about how Britain’s busiest airport operates, look out for the new ITV1 3-part series, which premieres on May 30th 2016 at 9pm, titled: ‘Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport’. Follow #britainsbusiestairport live on Twitter for the latest.

To find out more about this series, visit the Your Heathrow website, which will include profiles of the people featured, airlines and aircraft facts and figures and two big competitions. One of them will be the #votemeairside which will give you the opportunity to win your airside tour of Heathrow Airport.

And until the next adventure!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: this post was sponsored by Heathrow Airport and opinions and thoughts are my own.

My readers’ favourite customer service experiences from around the world

Having excellent service when travelling is a given – or so one thinks. But sometimes, we have all been surprised when others do go beyond their call of duty or just really love what they are doing – and we all knows it doesn’t happen everything. I have recently shared by favourite travel customer service experiences – and that prompted many readers from all over the world to send in theirs, for which I am very grateful.

It all comes down to one thing: not the most expensive hotel or airline – but down to the people who work there and seem to care. Most of these touches cost companies very little or nothing – and these are the ones each reader remembers fondly.

Without further ado, here are some of the stories sent to me recently:

hotel ritz four seasons lisbo

‘Talking to someone at the Four Seasons in Lisbon about a great strawberry purée dessert they had. Noted how good it would taste with champagne. An hour later two glasses of champagne with strawberry purée were delivered to our room’. Amber, Bangkok

‘At the Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, in Cusco, Peru, the service  is fabulous in all areas, however, we found it stood out from others as your dedicated butler would come to your suite each evening and mix you sundowner cocktails of your choice at your own in room cocktail bar. Naturally it has to be a Pisco Sour enjoyed on your balcony overlooking Cusco! The hotel also pumps oxygen into your room to help you acclimatise to the altitude, how thoughtful and it truly goes the extra mile! At Home House Club, in London, I returned to Home House after a hard days shopping to find a chilled glass of bubbly waiting for me in my room. Their timing was impeccable and they must have seen me arrive and rushed to have it waiting for me to enjoy and relax! And finally, at Limewood Hotel, Lyndhurst, New Forest (UK), two things stood out for me during my stay. Firstly on check in they ask you what morning beverages you would like for the following day and at what time. It is great to wake up with a coffee that is automatically brought to your room so you can start your day. On check out I also submitted a customer survey questionnaire as you do. By the time I had got home I had received a personal email and thank you from the general manager for my feedback. This is extremely rare indeed!’ Rosie, Switzerland

‘I loved the Park Hyatt Siem Reap. In this busy town it was a calm and relaxed place. I never saw the staff. But when my napkin fell down at the breakfast table or I needed another one of their fabulous Vietnamese iced coffees, they magically appeared’. Anja, Cologne, Germany

‘When I stayed at Como Shambala -Ubud in Bali, we went for a hike around the rice fields. I slipped in the mud and my shoes and socks were all dirty and muddy. When we arrived at the hotel, one of the house keeping ladies was waiting for me (the tour was booked at the hotel front desk) with a basket to collect my shoes and socks. The next morning when we woke up, we found the basket with the shoes  impecably cleaned and the socks wrapped in silk paperNever had service like this before’. Amelia, Portugal

‘While on holiday with my small dog at the Belmond La Residencia in Mallorca, Spain. I had been invited to a Chefs Dinner and after my return I found that not only had my whole room had turn over service, but I found my dog sleeping on his own little dog bed and a treat placed on my desk to give him when I got back. It’s truly those little things!’ Joanna, Spain

luxury customer service experiences

‘BA Club World’s crew giving us a bottle of champagne on our arrival in Tokyo to enjoy on our honeymoon (and also on the return to enjoy at home!!) and at Park Hyatt Tokyo, when we checked in and escorted to our room, they noted the air conditioning temp that we were comfortable with so they could set it the same every day. They also left me fresh milk in the fridge for my tea after I requested it once, and extra Rooibos Plum Tea when they realised that was my in-room favourite. Other special touches included taking our photo in the library and leaving it for us in a frame in our room one day, requesting for baby shampoo to rinse my eye out when it was sore and it arrived in minutes…the gift of sake and nuts in a gorgeous wooden box…the list goes on….We were there for 9 nights before a couple of nights at the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel (never again!!) We can’t wait to go back and are planning for Christmas 2017!!’ Melanie, UK

I recently stayed at The Library Hotel, New York. Friendly, comfortable, central but what I loved the most was the complimentary provision of a ‘wine & cheese’ reception every day 5 – 8pm in the Reading Room. It made a lovely start to the evening and although by no means compulsory, gave the opportunity to socialise with other guests. I have never been anywhere else where they have this policy and it works beautiful‘. Lynnsay, UK

A check in staff member at BA in Dallas business class saw I had a bad back last year and escorted my husband and I through security (saving over 45 minutes wait) as she was going off duty. What a difference that was to a long trip back to the UK‘. Ali, Portugal

“My experience is a tiny one (perhaps because I believe exceptional service is extremely hard to find) but it had a big impact on me because it was so unusual.  My husband and I went for lunch at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire and the attentiveness of the staff was excellent throughout, as I expected.  However, what impressed me most was when the waitress came to the table mid-way through our lunch with a basket of bread rolls and suddenly used my name, “Would you like a bread roll Mrs Evans-Howe?”.  The first use of my name during this dining experience was so understated and cleverly used to imply a genuine interest, it quite took me by surprise! I felt this showed genuine empathy and also demonstrated a high level of management skill to cultivate such a small, yet significant, spontaneous moment of truth”. Sarah, UK

‘When a small hotel in Sombor, Serbia (Garni Andric) had read my online comment prior to arriving and had brought in diabetic friendly food for me’. Jackie, Staffordshire, UK

How is that for the perfect colour combination? At Lux Maldives

Cocktails at Lux Maldives

‘At Lux Maldives we had wine and sweets on our return visit to say thank you for coming back and we loved when we they brought lovely cocktails on the beach when we hadn’t even ordered them. I will never forget Platinum heritage tours, for going out of the way to find my daughters sandals she left behind in the desert – they even came back cleaner!’ Bronwen, UK

‘Stayed at two Singita camps in Tanzania. At the second the lunch waiter ask ‘Am I right that you prefer sparkling water Richard and you prefer still Jo?’ A very small thing in the big scheme of travel, but shows the care they put into your stay’. Richard, UK

The Lenox Hotel, Boston: I asked if they could help me to get a parcel to the UK for me. I would pay for the shipping as it was a birthday gift which I should have arranged before travelling. I didnt want it to arrive too late. The hotel packed and shipped it for me. They even waived the costs‘. Molly, Spain

Just returned from Anantara Rassanda in Koh Phangan – such amazing service in a relaxed luxury hotel. Little things like cleaning your sunglasses whilst eating your breakfast so they are nice and clean ready for a day in the sun! Also upgraded us as we were on honeymoon.’ Nicola, UK

Four Seasons Riyadh was there on business and had forgotten to pack my cuff links. On enquiring at reception where I could buy some for use the next day I was offered a comprehensive selection of the hotels own to select a pair to borrow‘. Steve, UK

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‘On a flight between Bangkok and Dubai aboard Emirates A380 in F. I didn’t have time to have a shower (long drive from Krabi), so I asked for a shower first thing. No dinner, just wanted to sleep. But asked for second shower before landing in DXB. So it was (and i’s not meant to, only one shower p/pax). The surprise was a Dom Perignon Mimosa AND a double espresso right in the bathroom, just waiting for me!‘ Rodrigues Pereira, Portugal

I think one of the most special customer service experiences I have had is at Angama Mara in Kenya. It was truly special from beginning to end. One example, my husband and I were watching a film in the library when drinks and snacks arrived without either of us asking. It’s always the little things…An amazing place, I actually cried when I waved goodbye‘. Lisa, UK

‘I was very impressed with Virgin Atlantic’s customer service. Their dedicated entry into Heathrow, being met outside the airport by their personnel who whisk away your luggage and lead you through a private security line – makes traveling that much more civilised!‘ Mary, USA

I can’t say enough about Virgin Atlantic myself. We lived in London and regularly flew back to the States to visit family with a newborn who aged through toddlerhood and I often did it alone.  VA could not have been more different. The flight attendants were falling over themselves to help me, checking in with me regularly to see what they could do for me, helping me with my bags, you name it. We flew VA exclusively whenever possible. Also on my “forever grateful” list is the Schloss Fuschl, a luxury Resort & Spa in Salzburg, Austria. Again traveling with the littles, but this time my parents as well and we really wanted to take them to he gorgeous restaurant in the castle for a nice “grown-up” dinner. But what about the kiddos sleeping? Easy. One of the restaurant hosts just took my baby monitor, said, “I’ll be sure to come get you if there’s any stirring. Now go have a glass of wine.” and BOOM. Holiday made!‘ Kerri, USA

Luxury Travel Mom

When traveling with a family, customer service can be the most important part of a hotel. While vacationing at Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos our little guy stepped on a shell and cut his foot, in the grand scheme of things, not a huge injury, but he was in tears and it really hurt. Every decent hotel has some band aids and access to health care if you need it, but Parrot Cay sent a nurse to our room without us even asking. She arrived with a first aid box and a hug. Of course every aspect of their customer service was similarly fabulous, but this was really above and beyond what I have seen any hotel do and it really saved the day‘. Kim-Marie, USA

‘As a mom of a child with special needs, flying alone with my daughter is really a challenge. She loves to fly, that’s the easy part. Wrangling luggage, her meds and specially fit wheelchair and car seat through TSA and on the flight with her in her car seat (she’s non-ambulatory), then doing the reverse on the other side takes every ounce of my energy. The airlines offer basic assistance to and from the gate, some airlines are better about helping with pre-boarding than others, but one young man with Delta in Salt Lake City took it to a whole new level. He met us at the gate, carried the car seat and my carry ons to baggage claim, picked up our bag at baggage claim, then took everything out to the rental car where he installed the car seat and cheerfully packed everything up for me. Needless to say, I gave him an awesome tip! We had such a great vacation in Park City, and that young man started it all, I’ll never forget that’. Karin, USA

One that comes to mind was a resort in Anguilla that is no longer open, the Malihouna, I believe. It was an amazing little European boutique hotel. We had our own personal butler who would basically follow us around the resort making sure we were comfortable. One time my husband was out snorkeling with his friend, and his wife and I were waiting for them on the beach. We ordered cocktails, and asked them to bring one for the guys for when they returned. He took a little boat out to them to deliver their cocktails!

I’ve had great experiences also at every Four Seasons we have stayed at, especially the one in Seattle. I was on a girls trip and one of our friends broke her foot right before we left for our trip. She had to use one of those scooters you rest your knee on to get around. The Four Seasons Seattle offered to drive us everywhere. Everywhere. Even outside of their mile radius that the house car was allowed to go. Even to the market literally across the street. They even made sure we had the bigger car so they could put her scooter in the trunk. They were super accommodating and took the stress out of the trip so we could relax and enjoy more. 

One more Four Seasons story, this time in Bali. I had an issue with the initial hotel I was staying- the room flooded, and since they were under construction, there was no other room available for me. I was so frustrated, I called the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay and they not only were able to put me up in one of their garden villas which was absolutely stunning for the same room rate, they quoted me a price that included full breakfast in my villa, AND offered to send a car to come pick me up from the hotel I was stuck at!‘ Stefanie, USA

Bali luxury hotel

‘I was staying on my own at a hotel in Bali and I was so surprised when I had a fish bowl and a note delivered, so ‘I wouldn’t be lonely’. Such a small touch, but I will never forget it.‘ Fatima, Portugal

We arrived last weekend at the Four Seasons Troon North just before noon, and our room wasn’t ready. We were encouraged to go for brunch at the restaurant and they’d text us when it was ready. By the time my husband ordered his second beer, the waiter had identified him as a “beer appreciator” and started pointing out certain ones on the menu, bringing him samplers, and finally brought him a bottle of his own personal favourite, which was no longer on the menu. On the house. It’s the little things that make all the difference‘. Jennifer, USA

Where did you have your magical customer service moment? Leave your comments below!

xo

Mrs. O

Luxury hotel toiletries worth stealing (or my favourite hotel toiletries!)

Many people bring home every little bottle of shampoo they find. In all honesty, I actually don’t – because at home I do not have 1.5 showers and don’t want my shower filled with mini bottles. But I am not judging – why? Because very very rarely, I do bring some of those babies home. And only when these luxury hotel toiletries are really worth ‘stealing’.

I have discovered many a brand through hotel stays (and airlines too) and if I love them, I will purchase them at a later date – and I stay true to my word: 8 of these have a regular place at the Os. One of them, you really can’t buy (but there are always ways!).

This is a very personal choice – there are better known brands out there, but I found that with those brands, I tend not to like the shampoo and in 99% of times, the conditioner. That said, I still travel with mine at all times, because you just never know.

Here are my Top Luxury Hotel Toiletries worth stealing:

Agua de Loewe

best hotel toiletries agua de loewe 2

I grew up with this smell (and my mother’s love for this brand) – it just reminds me of Spain. Now part of the LVMH empire, it has a lovely surprise to become re-acquainted with this Spanish classic. We loved it so much, we each bought the his and hers perfume versions before we even finished our recent trip to San Sebastian.

Find it at: Hotel Maria Cristina – a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Sebastian, Spain

Lux Resorts

best hotel toiletries lux island resorts maldives mauritius

These are the ones you cannot buy. Which of course makes me want them even more. Developed exclusively by Lux Resorts using local ingredients and scents from where they have hotels, these products are amazing. I have had some ‘shipments’ from friends who have stayed over the past couple of years (since the day I discovered) and was delighted to receive a MASSIVE stock from their Maldives hotel when I recently visited this part of the world. And they are big sizes. (So if you go to Lux Maldives under my recommendation, be nice and ‘get some for me’).

Find it at: Lux South Ari, Maldives (read my review here)

L’Occitane Mer & Mistral

best hotel toiletries loccitane mer and mistral

As much as I love L’Occitane products, I always found it a little bit weird to see products from Provence in NYC or in beach properties. I discovered this range in Mexico recently and absolutely adored it. Same L’Occitane quality we are used to but with a better sense of place. The scent is divine and you don’t have to unscrew the tops like many others (which is one of my pet peeves) – the top just clicks open. Voila!

Find it at: Nizuc Resort & Spa, Punta Nizuc, Mexico

Asprey Purple Water

best hotel toiletries asprey purple water

These products just make you want to shower 1000 times a day. I find them very hard to find nowadays, so it does bring me great joy when I see them at a hotel. I think it is the only occasion when I bring hand lotion home, as it comes in a squeeze tube and it simply smells divine.

Find it at: Hotel Villamagna, Madrid, Spain (read my review here)

Aromatherapy Associates

best hotel toiletries aromatherapy associates

This may be my favourite range of all – and very popular with our guests at Maison O’Reilly. The conditioner is one of the best I have ever had, and I buy various products from Aromatherapy Associates very often. I really cannot recommend them enough.

Find it at: The Kensington Hotel and The Marylebone Hotel (read my reviews here and here).

Laboratoire Remède 

best hotel toiletries remede st regis

I discovered this brand on various stays at St. Regis hotels from around the world and my most favourite item is actually missing from this photo – it is the face wash (called something ‘souflee’). I love it perhaps a bit too much – and I always find that a few bottles surprisingly make their way to my suitcase. The reason is because they are a very handy size (and my usual Clarins is quite big) and would last for a week’s trip, for example. I am also quite partial to its shower gel which has some little spheres in it.

Find it at: St. Regis Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi

ESPA

best hotel toiletries espa corinthia london

Mr. O voted this as his favourite range as, in his own words, ‘is not very girly’. I find Espa’s scents very soothing and long lasting and this is also one of our go-t0 brands at home.

Find it at: The Corinthia London (read my review here).

Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet

best hotel toiletries penhaligons blenheim bouquet finca cortesin reids palace 1

Another great British gift to the world, which in recent year really came back to life. From all of Penhaligon’s scents, this is my absolute favourite – and I must confess I love their ‘really quite large’ bottles.

Find it at: Finca Cortesin (read my review here) and Belmond Reids Palace (read my review here).

And now, time for you to spill the beans… which were the best hotel toiletries that happened to make their way home with you? I won’t tell a soul, promise!

xo

Mrs. O

Wine Tasting in Portugal – a visit to Herdade do Esporao in Alentejo

Although I visit Portugal a good 4-5 times a year, very rarely I get to be a tourist – except when we go to the Algarve for a week each Summer. This year, as my mother’s birthday actually fell on a weekend, we thought we would get together and head to one of our favourite places in the country: Alentejo, which is one of Portugal’s leading wine making regions and I still believe, one of Europe’s best kept secrets.

The key word here is, of course, wine. And the lovely Herdade do Esporao produces some of the best wines in the country – I am no stranger to their delightful grape juices nor the venue. I believe I have visited a good 4-5 times before.

wine tourism portugal herdade do esporao wine tasting tour lunch view

So with the help of Wine Tourism in Portugal, a company that organises bespoke wine-related experiences around the country, we visited the winery and did more than just taste some wine. And this may be the reason why I love going back.

We arrived at 10am sharp (a tad early for wine, but our ‘Biodiversity Tour’ had a few activities that kept us busy before it was wine o’clock). We were met by our guide (we had requested an English-speaking tour as Mr. O was with us and his Portuguese was a bit rusty) and taken to see the estate – and obviously where the wine was made.

wine tourism portugal herdade do esporao wine tasting tour cellar 1

This building was new to me (I don’t recall having visited it before) and it was interesting to see how things have evolved – and how the winemakers at Esporao continue to be innovative and keep on trying new things. There were some interesting wine containers (different from the oak barrels and stainless steel vats) and I must confess, I really enjoyed the commentary.

wine tourism portugal herdade do esporao wine tasting tour cellar 2

I love the underground cellar – which holds most of the wine and I always think that it would be a fabulous place for an event. I just imagine it with lots of candles and that gorgeous smell – I think one day I will just host a party there with friends from all around the world (maybe when the much awaited Esporao hotel is built!).

After a little walk around, it was time for the tasting. And for that, we headed to the wine shop, where one can find a *lot* of inspiration. I love the minimalist design of Esporao – the main building is only a few years old and a far cry from the traditional experience it used to offer. It is sleek, modern and I love how comfortable it feels – and how they really give you a sense of place by using only local artists and craftsmen’s works.

wine tourism portugal herdade do esporao wine tasting tour wine shop and olive oil

There are various types of wine tasting sessions you can pre-book, and we chose the premium one, as it is a chance to taste wines that really aren’t available by the glass anywhere else, and some quite difficult to find. One thing worth noting: Esporao produces excellent olive oil (a staple at our house back in the UK) and obviously this is the place to get some.

After the tasting, we were driven around the estate in a van – which was really interesting. I had visited the main cluster before but have never really explored around (obviously one cannot do that unescorted) and we had the chance to visit the Tower (which is the base of Esporao’s logo), which hosts a little museum and the family’s private chapel. We also drove around the vineyards and were surprised with how many types of grapes they are actually planting – over 100 varieties, and most of them as tests. The terroir changes, the weather changes, who knows what the future will bring?

And before we knew it, it was past 1pm and we were, let’s put it politely, ‘starving’. So we headed to the restaurant where a delightful meal awaited.

wine tourism portugal herdade do esporao wine tasting

For the first time ever, we ate inside – we visited in February and let’s say that it was quite cold outside. The restaurant is gorgeous – but I still have to say: if you go and it is warm outside, you are in for one of the most special ‘lunches with a view’ ever.

We had a pre-set menu, which began with something I was really looking forward to: local bread (which I think is the best in the world. I know I am being biased – and I can be, because it is my blog, so do not be offended). It also gave us a chance to try the various olive oils that Esporao produces, which really were excellent.

wine tourism portugal herdade do esporao wine tasting tour lunch bread

Obviously the challenge here was to balance the amount of bread eaten while perusing the menu, which was going to be of 3 courses with wine pairings and dessert.

Our meal was exceptional – and this is where I tell you why we go back so often. Because we love it. And as ingredients are seasonal, it is never the same – so it is an experience I look forward to regularly.

wine tourism portugal herdade do esporao wine tasting tour lunch at restaurant 1

We started with mackerel, followed by ‘black pork’, which is a very special type of pig which is very local to Alentejo, and ended with citrus fruits (and the best merengue ever). We tasted each wine (not much left, I will not lie) and the sommelier was so great, he brought over something quite special for us to try – which was some of Esporao’s test wines – which you can buy only there.

I just want to draw your attention to Test 4 and Test 5 – which is made of Alicante Bouchet, a grape which is very popular in this part of the world, produce in 2 different vineyards – at different altitude and location. Couldn’t be more different.

wine tourism portugal herdade do esporao wine tasting tour lunch at restaurant 2

One thing also worth mentioning – the quality of service. I am Portugal’s biggest fan, but also one its most vocal’s critics – things do not always go well in this part of the world. At Esporao? Exceptional, world-class. The level of English spoken was outstanding – and this is not new. It has always been like this at Esporao, and hence why we always return.

wine tourism portugal herdade do esporao wine tasting tour lunch view wine glass

We ended up leaving at around 4.30pm – but not before we really stocked up at the wine store. Because I really need a fair bit of Esporao in my life back home.

And so will you, if you visit.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: I was a guest of Wine Tourism in Portugal who organised this experience at Herdade do Esporao. Lunch costs 40 Euros per person (for real) and 65 Euros wine with wine pairings. The guided estate tour, including all mentioned activities (and the wine tasting) costs 26 Euros per person. Opinions are, as always my own, but I am pretty sure you can see how great this place is. Go there now!

Top 5 Destinations for Spring 2016

Winter has come and gone (almost!), so I am ready to explorer warmer climates. Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Destinations for Spring 2016.

Maldives

baros maldives small luxury hotels of the world

Ahhhh the Maldives! What a surprise, huh? It is, without a doubt, the most beautiful place I have ever visited and Mr. O and yours truly were delighted to kickstart Spring in style. We stayed for 10 days to celebrate my birthday (because, of course!) and chose to return to Velassaru (which we adored) and tried somewhere new which was absolutely gorgeous: Baros Maldives. Both resorts were a speedboat ride away from Male airport – nice and simple to get to, all organised by Sovereign.

I shared this trip live on social media and by the number of likes, it is fair to say that you all loved it as much as I did. I stayed on beach villas only during this stay – because they are fabulous and I believe I was able to showcase a very special type of accommodation. If you are curious, just search for #MrsOSovereign across Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

velassaru maldives small luxury hotels of the world sovereign

Marbella, Spain

An old favourite of the Silva family – and I am looking forward to 5 days with my mother and sister. Because it is just us girls, we thought that getting a villa would be perfect for us. So with the help of The Luxury Villa Collection, we found the gorgeous Villa Malibu which is very close to the beach. Now I am just hoping for some sun. And gambas, of course. You will be able to follow this trip live.

villa malibu marbella the luxury villa collection

Budapest, Hungary

Corinthia Budapest

I had never visited Budapest and I am super excited about my upcoming trip with Corinthia Hotels. We are staying at its gorgeous Corinthia Budapest and have the most exquisite itinerary planned – that includes going to the opera, a gala dinner and some serious exploring. Let’s just say I won’t be packing light for this trip!

Bali, Indonesia

bali ubud ritz carlton mandapa

Also a first for the Os and booked a little bit last minute (because why not?). I am dying to see the rice fields and also the sea in Bali. And maybe some shopping?

We will be staying at the beautiful Mandapa, a Ritz Carlton Reserve and cannot wait! Any tips you have for me for this part of the world, let me know as I am still planning this trip.

New York, USA

the carlyle new york rosewood luxury hotel

Exactly. How could I not go to the USA for a whole season? A lovely friend is getting married in nearby Greenwich, Connecticut, which is a gorgeous part of the world, which I got to know a bit better over the last year thanks to my friend and business partner Kim-Marie Evans of Luxury Travel Mom. So I am heading to the city for 3 days and stay at The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, a hotel I have stayed in the past (almost 10 years ago). Also looking forward to a shopping spree with Ali, my fab NYC stylist!

So there is a bit of variety this Spring for sure – and obviously hoping to work on my tan a little bit in each place we visit. Have you been to any of these places? What did you love the most? And which are your Top 5 Destinations for Spring 2016?

xo

Mrs. O