Top 5 Destinations for Spring 2015

OMG, it seems that Christmas was only last week, but Spring is upon us. Time to put away the winter clothes and scarves and get ready for some lovely sunshine in the Northern Hemisphere. Where to go this time of the year? Here are my Top 5 destinations for Spring 2015.

Madeira, Portugal

The Belmond Reid's Palace in Funchal, Madeira

The Belmond Reid’s Palace in Funchal, Madeira

Madeira is a an island (which is part of Portugal) I have visited many many times during my teenage years and a place I loved. I think it had been over 15 years since I paid a visit to this part of the world, and I was dying to go back. I went for Easter, and stayed at the lovely Belmond Reid’s Palace. I travelled with Sovereign and was really looking forward to introducing Mr. O to this part of the world and my life. I cannot tell you how much I was looking forward to the food. (Editor: you can now read about my experience in Madeira).

Hamburg, Germany

Mrs. O is going to Deutschland, ja!

Mrs. O is going to Deutschland, ja!

I am going to Hamburg to attend a conference, but have decided to extend my stay a bit and explore Hamburg – it looks amazing and so much fun! It is also the home of Montblanc (one of my favourite brands) – did you know they were German? I only found out recently. It will be my first time, but Mr. O has been going very frequently on business trips and thinks I will be very pleasantly surprised. I will be staying at the Hotel Atlantic Kempinski and enjoy some truly wonderful hospitality. I cannot wait.

Halkidiki, Greece

Greece is calling my name!

Greece is calling my name!

I have never been to Mainland Greece. Ever. To be honest, I have been to Greece twice (Crete, to be more precise) and stayed in the same place – the lovely Blue Palace, which brings me some very good memories – and place I will be returning to at the end of Summer. I am delighted to be exploring the Halkidiki region and staying at the brand new Ikos Olivia, part of the Sovereign collection. The hotel looks amazing and is incredible value for money, so I must confess I am very curious.

Finca Cortesin, near Estepona, Spain

One of my favourite places in the world...

One of my favourite places in the world…

Or perfection, as I like to call it. I am going back (again and again and again) to Finca Cortesin, which may be my favourite hotel in the world. For the third time and many more to come. Looking forward to some sun, gambas and of course, epic gin & tonics.

Maldives

The Maldives make me very happy indeed!

The Maldives make me very happy indeed!

One of my favourite places in the world, without a doubt! I will be returning to the Maldives for 8 days at the end of April with Sovereign.

What do you think about my Top 5 destinations for Spring? And more importantly, where are you headed to?

xo

Mrs. O

Spotting the Big 5 on Safari

On my recent trip to South Africa, I spent 3 days at the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, located within the Kruger Park. It was my first safari experience organised by Hands Up Holidays – and I have to say, I loved it. During our stay, we went on 4 game drives (2 in the evening and 2 in the very early morning) and we were incredibly lucky to spot the ‘Big 5’.

The ‘Big 5’ is a term coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. They include the African lion, the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the African leopard, and the White/Black rhinoceros.

My sister Renata was with me on this trip and helped me test the Leica D-Lux.

African Lion

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

African Elephant

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Cape Buffalo

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

African Leopard

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Black Rhinos

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

I am testing various Leica cameras over the year, with a view of understanding if a ‘pretend iPhone photographer’ can have a chance at taking decent photographs. I have received no training other than a quick introduction and my purpose is to see if I can use the camera or not! The Leica D-Lux model was very light and easy to carry around (it did fit in a LV clutch), and once we finally figured it out, it was easy to transfer the images to my phone via the built-in WiFi capability. I still need to understand more how the focus and the exposure works as it wasn’t as intuitive, but there is hope.

This is just a little taste of what our safari experience was like. I shall be writing a full review of our trip very soon.

xo

Mrs. O

Fact box:  The Leica D-Lux costs from £749 and you can find out more information about the camera at Leica’s website. I have been provided with a camera for this trip and opinions are, as always, my own.

My Flight: Jet Airways Premiere (Business Class) London to Mumbai

A review of Jet Airways Premiere Business Class

A review of Jet Airways Premiere Business Class

On my recent trip to India, I tried Jet Airways’ Premiere cabin (business class) on a flight from London Heathrow Terminal 4 to Mumbai.  Our flight departed at 10.30am local time and was scheduled to land at 00.30am the following day at Mumbai, totalling 8h55 and allowing for the 5.30h time difference.

Here is how my trip went:

Check-in 

We quickly identified the correct check in area and proceeded to the Business/First Class desks, which had 2 passengers being helped as we got there. In a matter of minutes, we were able to check-in for our flight. We were met by a Jet Airways representative who kindly welcomed us and offered to escort us to the gate, which we declined. When I asked where the lounge was, I was surprised to be told that Mr. O and I would have no lounge access. To say I was shocked, would be an understatement.

Security

We breezed through security as we were able to use the Fast Track lane and were done in less than 5 minutes.

 

The Lounge

Well, no lounge...

Well, no lounge…

Well, I could not tell you. Having lounge access is one of the reasons I am loyal to a particular airline – and it is an important part of my travel experience. Jet Airways invited me and my husband to experience their business class (and surely have read my flight reviews prior to that) and I was really disappointed. The airline uses the Sky Team lounge at T4 (not the best place in the world from previous experiences), but I can tell you that Pret a Manger did a very good bacon and egg baguette and a cappuccino.

The Flight

Business class passengers were invited to board the plane first and we actually were the first ones to do so.

The Jet Airways Premiere Cabin

The Jet Airways Premiere Cabin

–          Welcome

The crew were very polite and greeted us (and every other passenger), and I have to say that throughout the whole flight, the service was very good. The cabin service director greeted every passenger on the cabin and at the end, the stewardess looking after us also did come and say goodbye to every passenger and thanked them for flying with Jet Airways. I thought it was quite a nice touch.

–          Amenities

Seat details

Seat details

On this flight, as it was a day flight, there were no wash bags given to business class passengers, which I thought was very strange. I think it was the first time this ever happened – why would you not give them on every flight? Our seat area was spacious and it was easy to find space for personal belongings. There was also a USA socket and a USB plug – but the latter did not work. Nonetheless, the crew promptly offered to charge both our phones, so it wasn’t an issue. The seats had a massage setting, which I thought was interesting, but did not use for long.

We were also offered newspapers and magazines.

–          Drinks service 

Before take off, we were offered juice or water. After taking off, the were offered pre-lunch drinks – on offer was champagne (Bollinger special cuvee), 2 types of white wine (Gavi la Battistina from Italy and d’Arenberg Olive Grove Chardonnay from Australia), 2 types of red wine (Rive Barbera from Italy and Rolf Binder Halliwell Shiraz from Australia). We also had a choice from 3 cocktails (gimlet, screwdriver and Bloody Mary), Campari, Johnny Walker Black Label, Chivas Regal Premium, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Absolute Vodka, Bacardi Carta Blanca Rum and 2 types of beer (Stella Artois and Tiger).

Bollinger champagne and nuts

Bollinger champagne and nuts

Obviously I choose to have a glass of champagne, and a refill was also offered.

–          In-flight dining

In terms of starter, there was an option between a soup and a salad, and a chose the latter, which was a Golden and Red Beetroot with blue cheese salad. I am not the biggest beetroot fan, but Mr. O had the same and said it was good. For our main, we both chose ‘Sarsonwala Jhinga’, which was shrimps cooked in gravy and flavoured with mustard and dill. This was served with ‘Aloo Palak’ (potatoes cooked with spinach), ‘Sal Lehsuni’ (lentils tempered with garlic) and basmati rice. The main course was outstanding and the crew were very good explaining to us (and other passengers) what went with what and how to eat it.

Our lunch onboard Jet Airways' Premiere cabin

Our lunch onboard Jet Airways’ Premiere cabin

We declined dessert (as were too full) and were served a light refreshment before landing in Mumbai, which doubled up as dinner. We had a very nice crab dim sum and chicken spring rolls.

I also got to indulge in some Masala Chai, which was delicious.

–  In-flight entertainment 

The screens (and a peek at the cabin)

The screens (and a peek at the cabin)

The screens were large (I did not count the inches) and there was a good selection of both Hollywood and Bollywood programming. I have to say I only watched Bollywood films and loved the choices. I picked them randomly based on the plots and did not regret one moment. The IFE system was easy to use and worked well.

–          The seat

Very comfortable seat.

Very comfortable seat.

Our seat was very comfortable and spacious, but I have to say it was different to have a forward-facing herringbone seat layout, which meant there was not a lot of privacy and two people travelling together cannot seat together. The layout is 1 – 2 – 1, where the 2 in the middle are back to back, so Mr. O and I sat more or less side to side, with the aisle in between – which was not a problem for us.

It had a fully flat bed and plenty of space for personal belongings. I also liked the ‘leather padded’ seat belts, which made them more comfortable when sleeping.

The cabin smelled very nice and the loos were very spacious and always impeccable. Korres toiletries were available.

On arrival, we had special assistance and were escorted at the terminal, fast tracked immigration and had our bags collected for us.

Final thoughts

I thought the service was very good, the cabin was very smart and the food/drink also on par with other airlines. I’m sorry we did not have access to the lounge, and even sorrier that the same happened on our return flight (we were given access not to the official lounge, which was so so bad, we left). After insisting, we ‘were let’ into the normal lounge, which was one of the best I have seen recently, and was very sorry not to have enjoyed it for more than 10 minutes. Jet Airways must not think it is part of the experience, but I dare to disagree.

All in all, it was a good experience, and based on the cost, it is very good value for money. Worth noting that Jet Airways is an Etihad Partner Airline.

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: Mr. O and I were guests of Jet Airways on this trip. Opinions are, as always, my own. A return from London Heathrow to Mumbai with Jet Airways costs from £1,734.76 per person travelling in Premiere (Business Class).

Top 5 Spring Beauty Essentials – 2015 Edition

It is Spring again and I am delighted to share with you my Top 5 Spring 2015 Beauty Essentials – following the success of this series launched last year (you can see my suggestions for Summer, Autumn and Winter 2014), not only with my female readers (apparently many of my male readers surprised the ladies in their lives a little bit)!

What have I been using lately? Sticking to my old favourites, but adding some new!

Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 14.25.43

The Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream was discovered on BA’s inflight magazine and I have to say, it is outstanding. I thought the packing was a tiny bit dodgy, but if it made it to their selection, there had to be something special about it. It is great for feet, hands, lips, face and elbows – and it is not liquid, and perfect to travel with. When my friend Kim (a New York-based make up artist) gave her blessing (‘I use it for years and for everything’), I knew I was on to something. Cost: £21.70 from Amazon (Prime delivery included)

Percy & Reed Invisible Dry Shampoo

71445fqyqaL._SL1500_I have been using Percy & Reed’s hair care range for a good 3 years now and I love their Dry shampoo and conditioner products. For those of you who have used dry shampoo before, there is always a bit of residue, which does not happen with Percy & Reed Radiance Revealing Invisible Dry Shampoo. I love it! Cost: £12.00 from Amazon (Prime delivery included)

RITUALS Happy Buddha Shower Foam

71lLvvtm5uL._SL1500_I usually stock up on RITUALS’ products when I go to Portugal and Spain, and the foaming shower gel is really one of our favourites – I love the texture and the smell. I have recently purchased (and loved) the RITUALS Happy Buddha Shower Foam, which is finally available with one click. Cost: £8.50 from Amazon (Prime delivery included)

Eyeko Me and My Shadow

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Love smokey eyes? And the easiest way to make the magic happen? Alexa Chung’s eye range for Eyeko was also a recent discovery (again, same inflight magazine, for real!) and I was impressed with how easy it was to use. The Eyeko Me and My Shadow comes in 3 shadows and works a treat. Cost: £15.00 from Amazon (Prime delivery included)

Miller Harris Citron Perfume

711y7Bcd9oL._SL1500_I have never gone wrong with Miller Harris and if you like citrusy smells, you will love the Miller Harris Citron Citron Eau de Parfum. This range has other fragrances, which are pretty good (I also loved the Pamplemousse scent). Cost: £64.00 for 50ml  from Amazon (Prime delivery included).

Which products are you using right now and love? Let me know!

xo

Mrs. O

A lux weekend in Northern Ireland

A_lux_weekend_in_500x100px_HL2

When I mentioned that I was going to Northern Ireland for a weekend, many friends and readers were really surprised. But it was one of the places I always wanted to go – it is shameful how little time I spend travelling around the UK, so I was keen to make it happen. Plus Mr. O does a fab Northern Irish accent and I wanted more. A lot more.

Thursday

On a beautiful Thursday morning, we left London Heathrow, and under an hour later, we landed at Belfast City Airport. Everything was going particularly well, until we realised that the car that had hired for us was not waiting for us at the airport – because it had been booked for the city centre. A couple of phone calls and Enterprise sent a driver to pick us up in under 15 minutes. You all know my track record with car rentals, so I thought I was due another repeat of a poor experience – and I have to say, I was not. We had the loveliest welcome and when we saw the car (which didn’t love as way too small), were surprised with ‘oh we can just upgrade it for £7/day’. Really? I was worried how getting back to the airport would be, and was assured that there would be a driver waiting for us and we wouldn’t have to wait.

Within minutes, we got to the city centre, which was alive and kicking. It was nearing lunchtime and we were starving and made our way towards the City Hall, where we parked at the NCP Car Park – I know you are thinking ‘Why the hell does that matter?’. Because it does, a lot. We got to the barrier and the car park was full, which meant we had to wait for another car to come out. A lovely car park attendant came towards our car to confirm this and as another car approached the barrier to leave, he asked us to wait. What did he do? We asked the other driver in which floor he had parked, so it would be easier for us to find the space. I think I was in shock for about 30 seconds and couldn’t thank him enough. Oh, the people of Northern Ireland. 2 points.

First impressions of Belfast. Good thing I had brought an appetite.

First impressions of Belfast. Good thing I had brought an appetite.

For lunch, we went to Mourne Seafood (which has 2 locations in NI and one in Dublin) – there wasn’t a person I did not speak to prior to the trip that had not recommended it. And obviously, it was fantastic. Really really good – you know I am a simple girl, give me the freshest fish and seafood and a glass of Pouilly Fume and you pretty much have me. Halfway through lunch, Mr. O made an announcement: he had a really bad toothache. Oh no. My first point of call was Google, which delivered a few results and after a few calls, we could not get an appointment for any money or love. I then called Pandora Skies, one of the people I was looking forward to meeting the most on my trip to Belfast (as we have been chatting for years now on Twitter) for help. Within minutes, she called back saying her dentist was fully booked but she would keep calling. The restaurant manager overheard us and came back with a few more numbers and suggestions. After a few calls, his dentist would see us two hours later. People of Northern Ireland, 3 points.

As we had a bit of time to kill, we walked around the city centre and had a look at the Christmas Market (not really my thing, to be honest) and then hit the jackpot and discovered Victoria Square, a new shopping centre which would keep me entertained for hours. We had time to go to the top floor and see some good views of the city, before the dentist appointment.

It turned out that Mr. O had an abscess, which had to be ‘popped’ and antibiotics needed to be taken. No worries, we thought. When we were paying for the appointment, expecting a 3-figure bill, not starting with a 1, we almost died when we were asked for £10 for the appointment. I know it took 2 minutes to check him out, but we did not see this coming. We went to get the prescription which cost us £5 and recommended a Hot Toddy for good measure. People of Northern Ireland, 4 points.

Our hotel, the Culloden Estate in Holywood (outside of Belfast)

Our hotel, the Culloden Estate in Holywood (outside of Belfast)

With the whole dentist episode, we were quite late getting to the hotel, with whom I was in touch via Twitter. We were welcomed with open arms by the Adrian McNally, the GM of the Culloden Estate, who assured he had the cure for Mr. O – a Hot Toddy would be sent shortly to our room, alongside a glass of bubbles for me. How sweet was that? People of Northern Ireland, 5 points.

The Culloden Estate, located in Holywood, outside Belfast is the grand dame of Northern Irish hospitality and our home for 2 nights. We had a very comfortable stay, although parts of the hotel felt dated, but there is a renovation going on at the moment and half of the rooms have been done. We had the Bishop Suite, which boasts probably one of the best views across the Bay.

Our suite which will be renovated soon - the bathroom was tired, but the ESPA toiletries were lovely. The beds were very comfortable!!

Our suite which will be renovated soon – the bathroom was tired, but the ESPA toiletries were lovely. The beds were very comfortable!!

We had dinner at the hotel, which has one of the Belfast’s top restaurants and we had an outstanding evening. The food, all locally sourced (and a big deal for Hastings Hotels, which we noticed throughout our stay in Northern Ireland), was exceptional. We had foie gras, a fillet of beef and ended (not sure how) with an Irish cheese board.

During dinner, we had the pleasure of meeting Peter McAllister, the hotel’s F&B Manager who introduced us to the delights of neat Redbreast whiskey (who is a brave girl? Exactly!) and really made our evening. We chatted actually for a few hours (I did have some questions) and then I asked a question which changed the course of our very well planned trip forever.

‘Name 3 well-known Northern Irish brands’, I asked. I also decided to ask Discover Northern Ireland and my Twitter followers (many of which are proud Northern Irish and I never knew). Well… it started with Tayto Crisps, obviously Bushmills whiskey, there was a tea brand I can’t recall, and mention of something truly special: Shortcross Gin, Northern Ireland’s first craft gin brand. I had to change my plans for the next day. People of Northern Ireland, 7 points (one is for Peter alone).

Friday

Not your usual room service breakfast! Thank you, Peter!

Not your usual room service breakfast! Thank you, Peter! PS. The whiskey was from the night before, obviously.

We ordered breakfast in bed as sadly, the weather wasn’t fab the next morning. Which kind of killed our plans to go on a scenic drive towards the South of Belfast. So we had a very lazy morning and managed to convince the Lady and Lord of Gin (seriously, best twitter names ever) from Shortcross Gin to welcome me to their estate later in the day.

But before that, it was time for lunch, and taking live advice from many many lovely people from twitter, we headed to Mourne Seafood‘s other location in Dundrum, because I really wanted some more of that chowder.

Our fab hotel (admittedly the following day) and a lovely lunch indeed.

Our fab hotel (admittedly the following day) and a lovely lunch indeed.

One thing that did not work well in Northern Ireland, was Vodafone. I was relying on Google Maps to get around and getting 3G signal was seriously difficult – Mr. O uses EE and he was fine, which is not the norm. And that made us get seriously lost and delayed on our way to the Rademon Estate, home of Shortcross Gin. But eventually, we made it, and were not disappointed.

I loved meeting David and Fiona, who are fellow gin lovers and created something very special – I had never seen a distillery before, let alone such a boutique one, but I loved their story – you have to respect someone who loves gin so much to go around the world for 2 years learning how to make it. And then deliver an exceptional product. People of Northern Ireland, 9 points.

A very important lesson in Gin making. And tasting, obviously.

A very important lesson in Gin making. And tasting, obviously.

We left our new friends and made our way towards Newcastle – which I couldn’t tell you what it looked like as the rain persisted and it got dark so early (we had changed from BST just a couple of weeks before which takes some getting used to, plus being further North than where we live in the UK). We had an appointment and at Soak Seaweed Baths, which I must confess, was not for me. It was a very interesting set up and Mr. O did enjoy his, but I couldn’t stay in the bathtub for 40 minutes, I just couldn’t.

We then lost track of time, and had to drive back to our hotel and change for dinner, which took place at Meat Locker by Michael Deane, a very well-known local restaurateur. It was great to finally meet Pandora Skies and we had a great night in town, which involved a few more after dinner drinks as well. When in Rome, you know… People of Northern Ireland, 10 points.

A night out in Belfast with dinner at the Meat Locker, followed by drinks at The Crown and Muriel's bar where we tried Shortcross Gin with orange ice cubes. Delicious.

A night out in Belfast with dinner at the Meat Locker, followed by drinks at The Crown and Muriel’s bar where we tried Shortcross Gin with orange ice cubes. Delicious.

Saturday

We made it to breakfast this time and were actually quite sad to say goodbye to the Culloden Estate. But there was more Hastings hospitality to look forward to and, guess what, the sun was actually shining. Our goal on this day was to drive north and take the Causeway Coastal Route, which stretches for 120 miles from Belfast Lough to Lough Foyle.

A beautiful drive on a stunning day.

A beautiful drive on a stunning day.

Unmissable attractions on this route included Carrickfergus Castle (pictured above), the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, and the world-famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site. The goal was to see them all. But it did not turn out that way. First, we just wanted to be by the sea and took every little road we could find – any brown sign that said ‘Scenic Drive’ was our goal and we totally lost track of time.

The colours of Northern Ireland

The colours of Northern Ireland

The twitter community was wide awake on Saturday morning and insisted we took another detour for lunch – instead of going to Bushmills for lunch, we should head to Portstewart’s Strand Beach and its latest addition – Harry’s Shack. When we finally got 3G coverage again, we realised we were almost 2 hours away and needed to move on. So we drove and drove and drove and finally made it to the restaurant at around 2pm. And to say we were starving would be an understatement.

Lunch at Harry's Shack in Portstewart and the fab Strand Beach

Lunch at Harry’s Shack in Portstewart and the fab Strand Beach

We had nothing to worry about and had not only a lovely table waiting for us, Harry welcoming us with open arms and a delightful fish meal. We also managed to walk around the beach for a bit – there were a few others wandering about and we just wanted to stay. And not go anywhere else.

Strand Beach (part of National Trust)

Strand Beach (part of National Trust)

If you look at the photos you will see something really bad happening – the sun was setting. We were not used to Winter time yet and really were caught by surprise. So we left and made our way towards Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, a few miles away, only to find it closed. We also tried to get to the Giant’s Causeway, but it was too dark, so we did not see anything. To soften our blow it was clear what we needed: some whiskey.

We drove back to Bushmills and managed to miss the last guided tour of the Old Bushmills Distillery. Seriously. So we settled for a (shared) whiskey tasting, which was nice.

Whiskey, anyone?

Whiskey, anyone?

As it was dark by then, we decided to drive to our hotel which was over an hour away, further South, in Ballygally. On the way there, we passed dozens of villages called Bally this and Bally that. We liked the sound of Bally Money and Mina and the rest. It was cute indeed.

Our hotel for the night, was the Ballygally Castle, located in, well.. guess.. what… Ballygally. A sister hotel of the Culloden Estate, it has been recently renovated and it is a ‘grand’ 4-star hotel. Grand was one of my favourite words from this trip.

The Ballygally Castle Hotel

The Ballygally Castle Hotel

Our room was nice and very comfortable and we were surprised how lively the hotel was – there was a wedding taking place but the restaurant was fully booked as well. I indulged a lot, and obviously had plenty of ‘champ’, which is a Northern Ireland speciality – mash potations with spring onions which were delicious. We spent the evening at the bar (and with the help of GM Norman McBride), we even managed to watch some Irish dancing at the wedding. We had a lovely evening and plenty of Redbreast, to continue with our whiskey evening traditions. We slept like babies, of course.

Sunday

On Sunday, we woke up to this view (albeit disturbed by the car park of the hotel) – and after a hearty breakfast, we started our drive back to Belfast (not taking the scenic route). It was our last day and we had a packed diary.

Good morning, from Ballygally Bay

Good morning, from Ballygally Bay

When we got to Belfast, our first stop was the epic Titanic Belfast (which we were due to visit on Thursday afternoon, but had our dental emergency). I was told that it was really worth a visit, and I have to say, it was EXCELLENT. The Titanic was actually built in Belfast (I had no idea), and the ‘museum’ was incredibly well curated, very modern and the building itself was nothing short of spectacular.

A perfect day in Belfast

A perfect day in Belfast

Our next stop was St. George’s Market, which was very lively indeed. I love visiting a market when I am somewhere, and it was good to see lots of little boutique brands and great food. By this time, lunch was *really* what we could think about, so we headed to Bert’s Jazz Bar at the Merchant Hotel for a lovely brunch.

Our last activity, suggested (and organised) by Peter McAllister at Culloden Estate was to do a Taxi Driver tour of Belfast. I have to confess I was quite intrigued – basically, you get a black cab for an hour (or 90 mins or whatever you want) and the taxi driver shows you his favourite places, the historic places and you can either ask for a Protestant or a Catholic driver, or just be surprised, which is what we chose. Our driver, Ian, was excellent and it was very interesting to hear a bit more about the events that happened and changed Northern Ireland forever.

Our taxi tour of Belfast was a great way to end our long weekend in Northern Ireland

Our taxi tour of Belfast was a great way to end our long weekend in Northern Ireland

And after that, we dropped off our car, had a well timed transfer to the airport and got back home in under an hour. We were on such a high after the weekend we had in Northern Ireland, I cannot tell you. We were stunned by the natural beauty of this part of the world, surprised by the food (and drink, and drink) and above all, the people, who were simply incredible and made our stay truly unique. Or ‘grand’ as they say in ‘NornIron’. 100 points.

We shall be back.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: A huge thank you to Tourism Ireland and Discover Northern Ireland who went out of their way to organise a truly fantastic weekend. Special points to the Twitter team behind @DiscoverNI on twitter, who were on duty for the whole weekend, day and night, and contributed to the complete change of our itinerary. Their sense of humour was fantastic and made the trip extra fun. 

I was a guest of Ballygally Castle (coastal deluxe rooms from £100) and Culloden Estate (standard rooms from £150, suites from £380). 

A lux ski weekend in St. Moritz, Switzerland

It had been a couple of seasons since I last skied in Switzerland, so it was something I was keen to rectify this year. And I thought that the delightful village of St. Moritz, in the Engadin mountains would be more than ideal. Perfect, really.

Standing tall at 1856 metres high, and offering over 250 kms of ski slopes, it is known for being one of the most exclusive ski resorts in Europe. Getting there is also not difficult at all – you fly to Zurich, and then get to the resort by train, making a change at Zurich HB (Central) station and at Chur, where you then take a delightful train ride all the way to St. Moritz town. On the day that we travelled, it was snowing heavily, and we were informed that we had to change our plans slightly as the last train would not be running, but instead if we connected 4 times, we would make it to St. Moritz at the exactly same time as planned. I have to say, changing trains so many times was not ideal or part of the plan, but you can’t do anything about the weather. What really impressed me? How there was a precise solution which minimised inconvenience and worked like clockwork. Swiss efficiency at its best. Obviously.

The good thing was, of course, that I would be hungry along the way, but that was not to be a problem as I found something rather delicious at Zurich Airport – and I was willing to share with Mr. O and Maria, who were with me on this Swiss ski adventure.

Yes, size does matter. Can I offer you some chocolate?

Yes, size does matter. Can I offer you some chocolate?

Saturday

So at around 4pm, we finally got to St. Moritz. After a short taxi ride, we made our way towards Bad, the area where the delightful Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains is located. I had seen many photos of the hotel beforehand, but I couldn’t help a little ‘ahhh’ when we got there. It really looked like the photos, but even better – because you can’t really smell the mountain air until you get there. I knew we were in for a treat.

The wonderful Kempinski St Moritz

The wonderful Kempinski St Moritz

As we got to the hotel, we were welcomed by the reception team and taken to our bedroom, where check-in would take place. I have to say, it is a little something that more and more hotels provide, and it does really add to the experience. But we had a problem, we were SO hungry that we decided to quickly head to the lounge bar, where we had a quick bite to eat, paired with a glass of champagne, as nothing says welcome like that. I am delighted to report that I tasted something quite fabulous – a Flammkuchen, which is traditionally German and could be described as the thinnest pizza or foccacia which you can imagine. It was delicious and I repeated the experience (so you can see some more photos below).

We went back to our room, which was the Spa Suite – and it was enormous. The only downside was that it was a bit of a walk away as the hotel is made up of various buildings (and the corridors were a bit bland and clinical). But the room was lovely and really spacious.

The Kempinski St Moritz Spa Suite

The Kempinski St Moritz Spa Suite

We had a large entrance hall, a kitchen, two dressing rooms (his and hers), a bedroom, a half bathroom and a full bathroom. It was decorated very simply and elegantly and it made for a very comfortable stay. I will be doing a detailed review soon.

But there was no rest for the wicked, as we wanted to sort 2 important things before unpacking – our ski equipment, and book a ski instructor, which is something I always do, no matter where I go. It is worth the money and besides the educational part of it, having a ski guide who knows the mountains and slopes always makes the ski experience more productive and enjoyable.

The hotel offers both services in-house, which makes things much easier. The ski shop and rental service were very good and I have to say, the staff were great. It was also very neat and we found everyone very helpful, something that continued throughout our stay (and small touches where you are helped taking your boots off, etc). Booking a ski guide was also painless, and we got to do it sitting down, at the main lobby, where there is an area dedicated to this service.

The ski shop, ski rental area, the very well dressed Kempinski Ski Guides and the booking area. All very slick and guest friendly.

The ski shop, ski rental area, the very well dressed Kempinski Ski Guides and the booking area. All very slick and guest friendly.

After we sorted all the logistics (some people leave it to the next day, but we just rather get on and do it), we went back to the room and unpacked and just relaxed for a bit. On a ski trip the unpacking is more difficult than normal and has to be done with Swiss-German precision, and I have to say, I was incredibly grateful for the space we had – having a dressing room each made it super easy.

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner, and I was impressed with the options on offer – at the hotel, you can choose between 5 restaurants, which is perfect if you stay for a week. You may want to head into town for a night (and the hotel has a shuttle that takes you there and back) or just stay in. On ski trips, I like to stay in.

On the first night, we had dinner at Enoteca, which is famous for its St. Moritz trilogy – three delicacies in every course. I thought it was too much for me, so I only ordered 2 courses, but Mr. O went all the way and it was a great experience. We loved the Italian wine pairings (in sync with the restaurant) and also the service.

The very nice Enoteca restaurant at the Kempinski St Moritz

The very nice Enoteca restaurant at the Kempinski St Moritz

On that night, and due to the early wake up call, we went to bed at around 11pm, and slept very very well.

Sunday

We woke up and were really looking forward to breakfast. Why? Because I had several readers to tell me to expect something slightly different from a normal luxury hotel breakfast. I have to confess, I was intrigued. Basically, most of the buffet display is located around a circular island at the centre, where there are various chefs cooking everything for you. One touch I particularly liked was the bread area, where the chef would actually slice your bread (we have all seen how messy it can get when done by guests). Also liked the same touch on the cheese board, which meant they were always looking yummy.

The breakfast at the Kempinski St Moritz

The breakfast at the Kempinski St Moritz

We went to get our skis and boots, and were met by our guide Robert, who would be skiing with us all day. From here, we had to walk to the ski lifts, which are located across the road from the hotel (so technically very close, but I must confess I really am a ski in-ski out person). Robert kindly took my skis and I took his poles, which made it better. But this was all worth it when we got up there… and saw this!

The stunning views!

The stunning views!

On the first couple of runs, we had to find out ski legs and guess what, they weren’t that far away. We had a great time and were delighted with the weather. The previous day the area had some proper snow, which was badly needed and we had not only fresh powder, but also sun. My Swiss-German Gods were totally with me.

Lunch took place at La Marmite, by Mathis, which is a destination in itself (I did spot Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice on the table behind us), and also a Kempinski partner which means that a) you can get a table booked in advance – or you will be queuing for hours, and b) you can charge everything to your room. Genius!

Mr. O and Maria, ready for post lunch skiing!

Mr. O and Maria, ready for post lunch skiing!

We didn’t have a whole afternoon skiing as we had something VERY important to do – we had to go to the spa. The Kempinski Spa is nothing short of outstanding and I have to say, we liked it so much, we made sure we went as many times as possible. On the first day, I tried a massage focusing specially on my very achy legs.

The Spa was spectacular.

The Spa was spectacular.

We relaxed for a couple of hours and then met at the bar for a quick drink before dinner. On that night, we were in for a special treat, as we were dining at C’a d’Oro, the hotel’s flagship, 1-star Michelin restaurant. To get things started, nothing like a glass of Dom to get you in the mood.

Pretty flowers and DP were a great way to start the evening

Pretty flowers and DP were a great way to start the evening

The food was outstanding, paired with incredible wines. I loved the foie-gras scampi starter, followed by the codfish. We shared the dessert, which was a mix of the three on offer and it really made for a memorable meal. Service was faultless but also very personable. I liked that the staff showed their personalities – and talked to us, cracked a joke, etc. It really makes a difference from the usual formality.

A real fine dining experience at C'a D'Oro, at the Kempinski St Moritz

A real fine dining experience at C’a D’Oro, at the Kempinski St Moritz

We went to the bar for a night cap as we needed some time to digest the dinner and because the bar was fab. I honestly did not expect a Kempinski to have a DJ at the hotel bar, and how lively it was. I also got to try my beloved German gin, Monkey 47, as we were in close proximity to its source and it would be rude not to.

Monday

After breakfast and the trek to the ski lift, we were blessed with another stunning day. So beautiful (and also much quieter as it was Monday!)

The mountains were almost just for us

The mountains were almost just for us

We skied for a couple of hours, and then I decided to seat down and just enjoy the view. I had a conference call i couldn’t reschedule, so I found a nice cafe, called Glunetta, where I set up base (and topped up my face tan, of course). Mr. O and Maria carried on skiing, but then met me for lunch.

I know. My thoughts exactly.

I know. My thoughts exactly.

I had it pretty much for myself for almost an hour, but then it started to fill up, and I was glad I had a table! For lunch, I decided to be adventurous and have a ‘Tirolei Knodelsuppe’ which is basically a Tyrolean bread dumpling soup. One thing I must say, it was very interesting to be in a German-speaking area whilst skiing. It was my first time ‘not skiing in French’, and I kept saying ‘bonjour’ and ‘excuse-moi’ and just could not stop.

Who was a happy girl??

Who was a happy girl??

After lunch, we skied down and made our way back to the hotel, where another afternoon at the spa awaited. I was due a facial (a treatment I have regularly not for enjoyment, only for its medical and ‘needed’ benefits), and I was curious about the HydraFacial MD series of treatments the hotel offered. I have to say, for once it was not painful and it did everything that it was supposed to, and more. I left with incredibly soft and glowing skin and I have booked a follow up treatment in London, as it was nothing like I have experienced before.

The HydraFacial MD set up at the Kempinski Spa.

The HydraFacial MD set up at the Kempinski Spa.

I also had another massage (yes, it was that good) and then went back to the room for a nap. I felt I earned one, and I always sleep well after a morning skiing, don’t ask me why.

On our last night, we had chosen a more casual dinner, and I was delighted as I was dying to have another Flammkuchen. And some more bubbles.

Our casual dinner at the bar, where we stayed all evening.

Our casual dinner at the bar, where we stayed all evening. And the fab Flammkuchens.

Tuesday

We had a bit of time before going to the train station, so decided to have a little lie in and head to the heart of St Moritz, which is 5-10 minutes away from where the hotel is. Whilst we managed to do a bit of shopping, I have to confess I didn’t love it. I much preferred staying away from all the traffic and buildings. Everything felt a lot more peaceful – I don’t know why, but that is how I felt.

I also felt sad to leave the hotel – it really grew on us and we felt so comfortable. The people made a huge difference and our stay truly extra special.

Very sad to leave this hotel...

Very sad to leave this hotel…

At around noon, we got to the train station and went on the journey we had originally planned on the way in – part of the line between St Moritz and Chur is one of the most beautiful in Switzerland, and protected by UNESCO. Click on the image below to see the video.

A stunning train journey

A stunning train journey

In under three hours, we got to Zurich, and being so organised, we left our luggage in a locker at the station (which fit our big bags, very impressive), and headed to town for a spot of lunch… and a fair bit of shopping, before we headed to the airport. Needless to say, it was incredibly easy to do this journey and everything ran like clockwork.

We had a fabulous long weekend in St. Moritz and loved how different the experience was from previous ski trips in the country and closely in France. Which means we will need to go back to make sure it wasn’t just beginners’ luck.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: I was a guest of Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains, which looked after us incredibly well. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Sleep: at the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains. Rooms from CHF 520 including breakfast and the Spa Suite from CHF 1000 also including breakfast.

Relax: at the Kempinski Spa Hydra Facial: CHF 295,00 (60min), Deluxe Hydra Facial: 395,00 CHF (90 min), Alpin Massage: CHF 165,00 (60min)

Ski: Ski hire costs CHF 55 for skis and boots CHF 19 per day and a Ski instructor costs CHF 410 per day. A ski lift pass costs CHF 35 per person per day when booked through the hotel.

Get there: I was a guest of Swiss Tourism who provided a ‘Swiss Transfer Ticket‘ which covers a round-trip between a Swiss airport and your final destination. It costs £92 in second class and £148 in first class.

App review: CreateTrips (a must for any traveller)

This post was brought to you in association with  CreateTrips

When CreateTrips asked me to review their app, which has been getting some really rave reviews, I couldn’t think of a better trip than NYC to put it to the test – a city I love (of course), but usually a trip where my agenda is packed – because there are so many places to go, and I am VERY organised on (most of) my trips.

The first thing I had to do, after visiting the website, was head to the App Store, where I downloaded the free version of the app. You gotta try it before you commit to it, right?

create trips app screen 1

The first thing I did was to create a personal account, which was very easy was it offered a Facebook login option. I then selected my unit system (I still don’t hundred percent think in miles, I am sorry), and took the offer the app suggested and created my first trip. In order to do so, I simply entered the words “New York” and some magic happened.. and the app took me to NYC, which I set as a destination.

create trips app screen 2

The first thing I had to do, was to start searching for venues. Top of the list came the hotel, which on this occasion was the W New York on Lexington Avenue (the ‘original W’). As there are a few other Ws, the one I was searching for did not come up in the top 3 results, but I found it without a problem.

I clicked to add it to my list of ‘Added Venues’ and took a moment to look at the photographs. Interestingly enough, CreateTrips uses location-tagged photos from Instagram, and there is no control of what comes up as a result. On this occasion, the photo of cocktails was the most interesting one I could find (there are 3 results per location), and none of them was actually ‘the hotel’. I was looking forward to seeing the hotel’s entrance, lobby or a sexy modern room, but that did not happen. To be honest, this was one of the few things I did not love in the app.

I carried on adding places I needed to go to during my trip – I had made reservations and appointments, and it was very easy to add them into the app.

create trips app screen 3

Once you found your venue and added it to your trip, you could very easily find it at any stage of the trip. I loved how easy it was to call the venue (and I used it as I had to change one of my dinner reservations), and also liked that it had direct links to the website and mapping facilities.

One of the things that I was very curious about (and is VERY useful), is the navigation – because if you upgrade to the paid version of the app (£1.49), you can access offline maps, without using data, and I thought this was an excellent feature.

create trips app screen 4

I tested this feature both on and offline and it did work a treat.

create trips app screen 5

create trips app screen 5

Another feature of the app, which could be quite interesting (based on taste and type of traveller), are the TravelBooks, whereby you can purchase, for £4.49 a complete trip itinerary – but needless to say, it has to match your own personal interests. Say, if you like my blog and the way that I travel, you could just *trust* me and get all my personal NYC trip tips… I could really see where this could go.

create trips app screen 6

To sum it up:

What I didn’t love about Create Trips – the random instagram photos as they were not curated and could have been much better. Sometimes venues did not come up in searches, although you could zoom in on the map and find them manually. The geotags are based on Four Square for the time being.

What I loved about Create Trips – it was super easy to use, it actually added value to my trip and the offline maps were fab. Best £1.49 you can spend before a trip. I really liked it and have used it again and again.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: this post was sponsored by CreateTrips, and as you can imagine, all opinions are my own. 

CreateTrips, the Helsinki-based mobile travel startup is well on its way in becoming the world’s leading travel app, with being in the TOP 10 of travel apps on the App Store in almost 100 countries. The app, currently available for iOS, is revolutionizing how trips are planned and made. It is the social trip planner for the smart traveller, as users can share their adventures with friends and have trip plans offline with maps and navigation – avoiding all data roaming costs.

Giving back in South Africa – join Mrs. O Around the World and Friends on a luxury adventure and safari

I have been to South Africa once, 5 years ago, and going back has always been on the cards. The first time I went, it was as part of my MBA field trip, which involved working with a local charity on a strategic consultancy project. But it made me decide that the following trip, I wanted to actually roll up my sleeves and do a bit more.

With the help of Hands Up Holidays, a luxury travel company which offers luxury travel experiences by combining expertly led sightseeing with meaningful community development through volunteering or philanthropy, this trip will happen shortly.

So on March 20th, with my lovely sister Renata, and my good friends Ashley & Carolyn from The Lazy Travelers, I will embark on a 9-day trip around the stunning city of Cape Town and Sabi Sands (for an incredible safari experience). On this trip we will indulge in some wine tasting, take a cable car ride up Cape town’s iconic Table Mountain, encounter penguins, explore Cape Peninsula, plus enjoy spectacular safari, all in luxury. And a lot more.

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Here is the itinerary which you are welcome to join (on these dates), or any other dates of your choice: 

March 20 Depart UK

Depart London Heathrow on BA 43 at 5:35pm

March 21 Arrival, Table Mountain and wine tasting

Arrive Cape Town at 7:05am. You are met at the airport and get your trip off to a spectacular start with a cable car ride up Table Mountain, to give you an overview of this stunning city.

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You are then transferred to your luxury hotel in Franschhoek, La Cle des Montagnes.

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These four villas set in a vineyard just a stone’s throw from Franschhoek village are spectacular, with spacious indoor and outdoor living areas, with their own private pool, and en suite bathrooms for every room. Each villa is distinctive, and incredibly tastefully designed and furnished to the highest standards. You will have your personal butler who will dazzle you with a cooked breakfast in your villa, and ensure your stay is superb.

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Lunch is at La Motte. La Motte is home to the finest wines, recognised internationally for exceptional quality. With its picturesque setting, traditional cuisine and historic charm, La Motte is an enchanting destination for those who appreciate the finer things in life.

NB: Drinks are on your own account

We head to another fabulous vineyard to keep the wine tasting going, and then head back to your villa so you have time to enjoy it.

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Dinner is at The Tasting Room where you can delight in a unique eight course, contemporary African inspired surprise Tasting Menu.

Here, serious diners have the opportunity to experience a true journey of taste, that continues to evolve and astonish, The Tasting Room creates a dining experience unlike any other . . . one where surprise and nostalgia take centre stage.

In The Tasting Room every dish is engaging; refined with a distinct feminine touch and, at the same time, unexpectedly exciting … exhilarating in fact. It is this contradiction that results in The Tasting Room dishes balance.

NB: Drinks are on your own account

March 22 and 23  – Renovating a day care centre

We have an early start to get you to your work site on time. These two days promise to be incredible, meaningful and fulfilling days that you will treasure. We will be working with New Kidz, and the location of our project is not yet determined as it will depend on that help is needed closer to the date.

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The aims are to help establish loving homes for orphaned, vulnerable and destitute children in South Africa by:

  • Building sustainable child–support networks in communities and linking them with foster families and children’s homes
  • Facilitating the renovation and maintenance of children’s homes; foster family accommodation and Early Childhood Development Centres.

Lunch is on site, and at the end of the day, you are transferred to the glorious Atlantic Coast, and check-in to the magnificent Tintswalo Atlantic.

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Nestled at the base of Chapman’s Peak, overlooking the Cape’s iconic Sentinel, lies the enchantingly elegant Tintswalo Atlantic. Quiet charm infuses the hotel, from the moment one is welcomed inside. The décor, light and quaint, sharply contrasts the waves crashing on the pebbled beach just metres away, and with the ocean rolling in to kiss the foot of the hotel decks, you are left with the impression that you have arrived at the edge of the world.

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Each of the ten luxury suites are individually decorated to mirror the personality of ten beautiful Islands of the World, ensuring each guest a unique experience. Every suite is afforded the same hypnotising view, that of the magnificent Sentinel across the bay.

Having been described as the most dramatic and romantic destination in Southern Africa, Tintswalo Atlantic promises to be an idyllic location to rejuvenate oneself, away from the stresses and distractions of modern living.

You have dinner here. NB: Drinks are on your own account

March 24     Fly to Sabi Sabi, game drive

We have a very early start to make your 6:15am flight to Sabi Sabi via Jo’burg, arriving at 10:50am. You are met at the airstrip and transferred to the fabulous Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge.

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On the border of South Africa and Mozambique and in the heart of the Kruger National Park, this is a next generation luxury camp. Ingenious design means that even just arriving to check in is a sensory adventure, and the 13 suites are ultra-luxurious. The bush lodge style here is definitely artistic. Sabi Sabi has an extensive Habitat Management Plan in place that is continually reviewed. This encompasses concepts such as pumping water into pans, clearing encroached seeplines and grasslands, and correctly placing and maintaining roads. Other issues that constantly demand attention are the eradication of alien species, a sustainable fire management programme and waste-water disposal.

After settling in, enjoy lunch.

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Relax some more, perhaps get a massage or other spa treatment before gathering for afternoon tea and your afternoon game drive.

The Sabi Sands Private Reserve is one of the world’s great safari locations, and is renowned for the Big 5, and world-famous for its leopards. Lions are also commonly sighted, as are the endangered wild dogs. Each drive promises to be incredible.

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Dinner is served at the lodge.

March 25     Game drives

You have an early morning game drive, and another afternoon game drive. In between, you can eat, relax by the pool, read a book, get a spa treatment, or visit one of the villages supported by Sabi Sabi.

All meals are at the lodge.

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March 26     Game drive; Fly back to Cape Town

You have an early morning game drive , followed by breakfast, relaxation, lunch, and are then transferred to the airstrip for your 2:50pm flight to Cape Town via Jo’burg, arriving at 7:45pm.

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You are met at the airport and then transferred to your hotel, the One & Only, on Cape Town’s Waterfront.

This is an urban chic resort setting a whole new standard for South Africa hotels. Offering a high level of luxury and service to one of the world’s most fascinating cities, One&Only Cape Town will enchant your senses and renew your sense of self.

One&Only Cape Town creates a welcoming atmosphere for all visitors.

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Dinner is at Reubens, one of the One and Only’s restaurants, run by award-winning chef Reuben Riffel.

March 27     Cape Peninsula, Boulder’s Penguins

The craggy coastline and beaches of the Cape Peninsula have many surprises. You can enjoy the spectacular Cape of Good Hope, and then head for Boulder’s Beach, part of the Table Mountain National Park.

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We have lunch en route.

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Dinner is back in the Waterfront, at the Table Bay Hotel, which includes a foraging experience.

March 28     Free day and fly out

You have the morning to relax in the Waterfront, a great spot for shopping, or visit the excellent aquarium, or get one last view from the Ferris Wheel.

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Your flight back to London is at 5pm on BA54 via Jo’burg, so we leave for the airport at 2pm.

March 29     Arrive back in London

You arrive back in London at 7:45am.

Price:

£7,535 per person, based on two people sharing, including economy class flights with BA from London Heathrow;

£8,385 per person, based on two people sharing, including premium economy class flights with BA from London Heathrow;

£10,895 per person, based on two people sharing, including business class flights with BA from London Heathrow;

£6,890 per person, based on two people sharing, excluding international flights.

Single supplement: £3,430

This includes:

  • Accommodation as specified above
  • All meals apart from lunch on departure day
  • Expert guided tours
  • All transfers & internal flights
  • Entrance fees
  • Flights if this option is selected
  • £250 per person donation to the renovation work

To included:

  • Tips
  • Items of a personal nature such as phone calls
  • Any meals other than those specified

To book or for more information, contact Hands Up Holidays on +44 207 193 1062 or +1 (201) 984 5372 from USA/Canada or visit their website. You are welcome to join us on these dates, or have the same trip (with any modifications you require, tailored to your specifications) at any other time.

I am raising £1,000 for New Kidz – if you would like to make a contribution, please visit my Fundraising page. I will be matching like for like every donation for the first £500.

Terms & Conditions: No reservations have been made, and all accommodation is subject to availability. Payment is required to be made in full, and is subject to our standard terms and conditions.

A lux weekend in Los Angeles, California

I love LA. I love LA. I love LA. I know it is a love or hate city (and a very large city at that), but I am a fan. I am even a bigger fan of a little nice ‘mini-city’ (in true American style, of course) called Beverly Hills. You *may* have heard about it.

Ahhh Beverly Hills!

Ahhh Beverly Hills!

After a delightful 6 days in Palm Desert, we stopped over in LA for 2 nights, intending to make the most of three full days. We have found that some time in LA at the end of our usual California summer trip, prepares us for returning back to the UK. More about that later.

On our previous trip we absolutely adored the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, so we decided to come back – some hotels are truly special (and in LA you are spoiled for choice, for the record), and this one is one of the O’Reilly favourites. It has a very interesting location, a couple of blocks from everything you would want – and I like the peace and quiet it gets you.

Coolest welcome amenities ever at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills? Gin cocktails and chocolate, please!

Coolest welcome amenities ever at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills? Gin cocktails and chocolate, please!

This time, we were not disappointed either. At all. We had a beautiful suite, very similar to the one we had before, and the most thoughtful welcome amenity ever – Gin cocktails (hum hum) and, well…, chocolate. Mr. O could not resist a bite of the ‘Holly’ bit, bless him.

Our plan in town was simple – meet friends, no shopping as no further luggage space available (it will become clearer later, bear with me), go to the spa and catch some rays at the pool. This was supposed to be a preparation for the return to real life in England. Baby steps, as they say.

So our first stop was… drum roll… the pool.

The lovely pool at the Four Seasons LA

The lovely pool at the Four Seasons LA

Quiet and private – in other words, perfect for me. Really perfect. At the end of the afternoon, Mr. O went to the spa, whereas I got myself a hair appointment at the nearby The Dry Bar in West Hollywood (which is an invention which desperately needs to come to the UK – someone please open one!) When in LA, one needs truly fab hair – and I love my LA hair.

We stayed in at the hotel in the evening. Why? Because I now have a little (well, it is in its 2nd year) tradition, whereby I organise a little drinks party with my LA friends that happen to be in town, and it is always so nice. The bar and restaurant at the Four Seasons, called Culina, is really nice and you just don’t want to leave. And you may even spot some very interesting people, take note. I cannot divulge any further information.

See? I told you! Photo by Four Seasons

See? I told you! Photo by Four Seasons

We went to bed quite early, as we were still on holiday and it would be our last chance for a full 10-hour sleep – no judging, please. And when we woke up, in our stunning suite, We did something we very rarely do – order breakfast in bed. I cannot explain why, but it was just what we wanted.

Simple, tasteful decor and a lot of Old Hollywood charm. Made me very happy!

Simple, tasteful decor and a lot of Old Hollywood charm. Made me very happy!

The next day, we were very lazy and spent most of it by the pool. Because it was so lovely – and we knew the moment we got on that plane, Summer would be over forever. And ever.

I think we did not move for hours, stayed in for lunch (which was delicious, by the way) and at around 4pm, finally decided to explore the city a bit more, just so we would say we did nothing but stay by the pool.

The food was phenomenal. And the cocktails.. well...

The food was phenomenal. And the cocktails.. well…

We went for a little drive around Beverly Hills and after we realised where the restaurant we were due to go was located, we decided to go to the Beverly Center, which is a huge mall, for one last-minute bit of shopping (you never know what you might find. For others, of course). We were meeting my instagram and twitter friend Molly and her husband for a great casual seafood dinner at Son of a Gun, on West Third Street, not far at all from the hotel. I had never been to that street before, and was really pleasantly surprised with the variety of bars, restaurants and boutiques, and promise to go back in day light next time we are in town.

We went back to the hotel for a final round of drinks and the next morning, had to cut our sleep short as we had to be ready to go at 10am. That meant a single-digit- sleep (the horror!), which was totally worth it as we had something very cool planned for the morning: a private 2-hour guided tour of LA with Glitterati, and a photo shoot with Flytographer.

If you are going to do it, do it properly... Top and right photo by Flytographer.

If you are going to do it, do it properly… Top and right photo by Kate Doherty for Flytographer.

Bryan, our guide and driver (see? Men can multitask), picked us up from the hotel and I knew I had nothing to worry about for the next 2 hours and a bit. We had plenty of refreshments and cupcakes (ha ha!). I have been to LA a good 10 times and know the area (Greater is LA is really large) reasonably well, but it was really nice to have someone who knew what they were doing show you around and actually take us a) to places where we had never been to before and b) places we had been ages ago and never managed to go back to.

On our tour, we picked the whirlwind version, of around 2 hours, depending on LA traffic, of course. We started with a drive through Melrose Avenue, then made our way into Hollywood to see the last of the major studios still in the area. I also got to stop outside the Scientology Celebrity Centre and Katie managed to take some good photos which no one will never know about, of course.

It was nice to get out of the city for a bit too! photo by Kate Doherty for Flytographer.

It was nice to get out of the city for a bit too! Photo by Kate Doherty for Flytographer.

Needless to say, a photo-op of the Hollywood sign was a must, so we zigzagged our way into the hills for a close up. Or three.  We then headed to Hollywood Boulevard with its Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese and Dolby Theatres and made our way west through the Sunset Strip to view the some interesting homes of relatively known people of Beverly Hills.

More moments from our Glitterati tour. It was fab having the car stop so close to where we needed to go and just hop in and out. Photo by Kate Doherty for Flytographer.

More moments from our Glitterati tour. It was fab having the car stop so close to where we needed to go and just hop in and out. Photos by Kate Doherty for Flytographer.

Bryan was really funny and entertaining and I have to say, we had a great time – it went so quickly, I cannot tell you. Kate, our Flytographer, ended up staying with us for the whole tour, as she also found it interesting, despite being an ‘Angelena’ (is that what the inhabitants of LA are called?).

Before we knew it, we were back at the hotel, where we had to finish packing and then slowly make our way to London, via New York (just so I could finally have lunch with Luxury Travel Mom for the first time ever). Mad, I know, but totally worth it.

A decent amount of luggage for 2 weeks, non??

A decent amount of luggage for 2 weeks, non??

But needless to say, we had a really good time in LA – no late nights this time, but of course, there is always next summer, right?

LA has always been kind to us (except with the traffic some times). But we shall be coming back for more, for sure.

LA has always been kind to us (except with the traffic some times). And we shall be coming back for more, for sure.  Photo by Kate Doherty for Flytographer.

xo

Mrs O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: a huge thank you to those who made this trip extra special, namely the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills,  Glitterati and Flytographer.

SLEEP: At the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills from $500 per night, with suites starting from $900.

SEE: A private 2-hour tour with Glitterati costs $139 per hour, with a minimum of two hours (not per person).

REMEMBER: A 30-minute photo shoot with Flytographer costs $250, and $350 for an hour.

My hOtel: Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet, Turkey

myhotel

Hard to believe it was once a prison...

Hard to believe it was once a prison…

Pre-Arrival

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

My stay was organised months in advance, via email (very organised, I know!) and prior to me arriving, the hotel did send out some tweets indeed. I was arriving very late (you can read about my trip here) and I wanted to make sure I was able to eat something on arrival.

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

They did indeed.

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

At this stage, it is fair to say that the Four Seasons know me quite well – I never ask for anything special and if at a Four Seasons, I know everything I need will be there.

Arrival

I have really never visited a prison, but this one felt very homely.

I have really never visited a prison, but this one felt very homely. Photo by Four Seasons.

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

We arrived past midnight and assume we were the last guests to check-in, so the doorman actually knew our names, which made for a very nice welcome. Our check-in form had been pre-filled in, so we were to complete check-in in our room – something that happens more and more and I find such a nice touch. Obviously at this time of the day (or night!), there were no queues and we really appreciated the gesture.

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

Well, extremely efficient as stated before. We just signed everything and provided our credit card details.

–          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)

Oh yes, right when we stepped out of our airport car.

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

I wasn’t sure which room I got, and was delighted to be given a one bedroom suite.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

In all honesty, the staff were exceptional – and that is what made this stay so unique.

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

We actually never saw our luggage, which was taken straight to our room.

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

All Four Seasons hotels now provide free wifi (at regular speed), and also offer a paid faster offer.

Room Experience

I never stayed at a suite at a Four Seasons I did not love...

I never stayed at a suite at a Four Seasons I did not love…

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our suite was incredible and huge, and very very well-appointed. I loved how the gentleman who escorted us to our room prepared us for what was to come, by saying ‘you know this was a prison before? we tried to stay as true to the roots of this building and provide an experience as close as possible to the original’. I had to think twice to get what he was saying and really did laugh.

The suite has a large corridor, a great living room, bedroom, dressing area and a fab bathroom. More on that later.

–          Welcome amenity

Tough to beat a Four Seasons welcome... I tell you!

Tough to beat a Four Seasons welcome… I tell you!

Remember when I said I would be hungry and wanted to make sure there would be something to eat? Well, I wasn’t exactly expecting a model of the Bosphorus bridge, complete with a cheese selection, lots of nibbles and a bottle of red wine. But we ate it all, almost!

On the second night, we were surprised by some Gin & Tonics, which really was a nice touch.

–          The bed

Four Seasons beds have a real problem - you don't want to leave them...

Four Seasons beds have a real problem – you don’t want to leave them…

The bed was indeed wonderful and incredibly comfortable, as expected.

–          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.

No problems here!

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There was a Bose docking station for iPhone 4 which we did not use.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

I always say I never use the bathrobes or slippers unless it is more of a spa hotel, but I had to. I had to. Why? Because the hotel provided me with kids slippers and adult small ones, and I thought it was the sweetest thing. For the record, I have small feet (size 36 EU, 3.5 UK, 6 USA) and hotel slippers are always huge. So I have to report I was heartbroken when the kiddie ones were a tad too small – but the others were OK. The hotel also provided 2 different types of robes, and I adored the printed ones. I did wear them around, and if they were a tad smaller, I would have purchased one.

It is all about the details... and do you recognise who is on that photo frame?

It is all about the details… and do you recognise who is on that photo frame?

–          Coffee and Tea

There was a Nespresso coffee machine, which we did not use.

–          Free bottled water

Of course, and changed daily.

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

I had a copy of Four Seasons magazine.

–          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.

We had a bit of an issue, but found sockets near the desk, where we charged all our devices.

Bathroom

Totally my kind of bathroom

Totally my kind of bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The first thing I noticed was the rug, which was very different from normal and really gave a sense of place to the hotel. I knew I was in Istanbul, Turkey, at all times and I loved the decor of the hotel. The bathroom was very well-appointed indeed.

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

We had a bath tub (which we did not use) and a fabulous shower room, which a very good shower head. I did have to ask Mr. O for instructions, but we now have a system where he goes first and then figures it out.

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

Very very good.

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

We had Bulgari toiletries, which are nice, although I am not keen on the shampoo/conditioner.

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

I LOVED the clear liquid bags provided by the hotel (I only saw them once before at the FS Boston). I am not even ashamed to say that I brought them all back with me.

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

I did not use it on this occasion, but located the hairdryer which looked proper.

Breakfast

The very nice breakfast room

The very nice breakfast room

–          Décor of breakfast room

We loved the breakfast room, especially the fact that we were able to enjoy an alfresco meal on the first day, and had to retreat indoors on the other days.

–          The spread (inc yumminess)

Mr. O declared this to be one of the Top 3 breakfasts he ever had – which is saying something. The spread pleased locals and any international tourists, and I have to say, the ‘Turkish options’ were outstanding. I have very good memories from my breakfasts in this part of the world and I won’t be forgetting this one in a hurry. I also discovered for the first time in 10 years that Mr. O was obsessed with honeycomb, which was one of the stars of the show.

No words, no words. Good thing calories do not count when you are abroad.

No words, no words. Good thing calories do not count when you are abroad.

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

We paid £35 for two (it was included in our room rate, but we still signed the bill), which was actually incredible value.

Bar

Not my favourite part of the experience, but the cocktails were awesome.

Not my favourite part of the experience, but the cocktails were awesome.

I have to confess, I did not love the bar – I found it too stiff and not very comfortable. There was also another area, where we ended up sitting and having a cocktail, but I found it uninspiring, quite a contrast with the rest of the hotel. The gin selection was quite limited (for Mr. O), but I had a great dirty martini.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

Worked very well indeed. No issues at all.

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

A little bit, yes.

–          Location

How close can you get??

How close can you get??

If you are visiting Istanbul as a tourist and plan to visit the old town (you can read all about my trip here), this is possibly the best location ever. We were actually able to walk to quite a few places.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Standard rooms start from 380 Euros and suites from 740 Euros.

Beautiful courtyard.

Beautiful courtyard.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Without a doubt.

–          Would I stay again?

Any. Time. Any. Time.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property.