A return to paradise… the Maldives

After our first trip to the Maldives in 2013 (you can read about it here), I promised myself one thing – I would go back, and sooner, rather than later. And then again and again. To say that I love this part of the world, would be an understatement. And I was delighted when the opportunity to begin ‘my birthday month‘ in style presented itself. I was beyond myself.

Navy dress, a tan and a smile. Sunset happiness at Iru Fushi

A tan and a smile. And a boat – yes, some of the reasons why I love the Maldives so much.

We originally planned to go for a week, but then ended up extending our stay to 12 days and try 3 hotels. On our first trip, we split the week between 2 hotels (which I would recommend to anyone as you get a change of scenery, people and food) and I was keen to do it again. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and not having paid close attention to the transfers between islands, we ended up wasting valuable time. So a lesson learned: 2 hotels next time and with minimum connecting.

Having said that, I loved the variety and the three hotels I have visited – the whole trip was fantastic and I am delighted to share it with you.

First impressions count, and Lux Maldives did not disappoint.

First impressions count, and Lux Maldives did not disappoint.

We landed at around 1.30pm local time, following an overnight flight from London, connecting in Doha, with Qatar Airways. We were met on arrival by the Lux ground team, who took us to the Lux Lounge, where we were to wait for internal flight to the hotel. The lounge as lovely, but having to wait 3 hours (and not knowing about it) wasn’t so nice. We ended up arriving at the hotel just before sunset, which meant we lost a whole day.

That meant, of course, we had to make up for lost time! We loved our prestige water villa – it was bright and airy and was located on the west part of the resort. Lux Maldives stands on a relatively large island and we were a little bit lost for at least 24h – then, a sense of familiarity kicked in and we were totally at home.

Our water villa at Lux Maldives

Our water villa at Lux Maldives

After a first lovely dinner, we had an early night due to the travelling. We spent our second day enjoying the sun and just lounging around (and exploring the island) and spent the afternoon napping and at the spa. Despite the rain, which made further appearances during our stay, we just took the opportunity to catch up on sleep and relax. As one should, in the Maldives.

Some of the scenery - the spa, our rooms, the stunning beach and one of my favourites: a lychee cocktail. Yum.

Some of the scenery – the spa, our rooms, the stunning beach and one of my favourites: a lychee cocktail. Yum.

On our third day, we were in for a treat! The sun was out and we were to spend the morning on board the hotel’s catamaran, which can be hired with a crew by guests. It was the perfect opportunity to get a bit of sun and see many of the other islands – inhabited and not. We also got to snorkel and even swam next to a whale shark – it was absolutely fantastic and I will never forget it. Needless to say, it started to rain when we got back to the hotel – and guess what we did? We had a nap and went to the spa. Oh well!

A great day out of our island.

A great day out of our island.

We felt really at home at Lux – the staff were out of this world. Very approachable, nice and always smiling. I commented on this on my review of Lux Maldives, which I have posted recently.

The dining options were fantastic – catering well for both Eastern and Western guests. We also liked that it was a lively resort, which meant that the bars were always busy and not everyone was on ‘honeymoon-mode’.

Even in the rain, this part of the world looks stunning. And I loved the pop up bar!

Even in the rain, this part of the world looks stunning. And I loved the pop up bar!

One of my favourite finds? The secret pop up bar, which moves around the island daily. I loved the concept and I am sorry to report that I only found it at 10am on my last day, so I did not indulge. I did however love our last meal, pictured above – how is that for a breakfast with a view? Tough one to beat.

It is not everyday that you are on first name terms with an airline.

It is not everyday that you are on first name terms with an airline.

We were due to leave the hotel early on a seaplane back to Male Airport and then on to our next hotel, the fab Constance Halaveli. And sadly (and predictably, apparently), the flight times just happened to change. I couldn’t quite understand the concept, but I didn’t have much choice either… so a few hours later, we arrived to our second Maldivian hideaway… at 4pm, instead of 11am, which meant we lost almost another day. I have to say that the fact that Constance has a lounge at the airport was particularly nice, and helped with all the waiting. We also checked in while we were there, so it saved us a bit of time when we finally arrived.

Our first impressions of Constance Halaveli were wonderful – it was a much smaller island, and also beautifully kept. I was particularly looking forward to seeing our room, which was a water villa with a pool (note that this is the starter room level at this hotel, which tells you something).

A fantastic room indeed. And loved the view from our shower.

A fantastic room indeed. And loved the view from our shower.

We had a few hours before sunset, and we decided to make the most of it. Because soon, it would be time for cocktails and dinner. And we were starving as we had skipped a meal!

One thing we found quite interesting, was despite the fact that the hotel was full, there were very few people at the bar after dinner. Which was quite interesting at 9.30pm!

We simply didn't want to leave our room. And we hardly did.

We simply didn’t want to leave our room. And we hardly did.

The sun shined for us throughout our stay, and I must confess we hardly left our room, because we didn’t need to. We loved the breakfast buffet (the best we had in all 3 hotels), but on the last 2 days, we simply ordered in – I know it was lazy, but it was just so nice. We did leave the room to go to the spa which was also outstanding and dinner. And sometimes lunch.

A pool we never tried, but we walked around the island… in 15 minutes!

A pool we never tried, but we walked around the island… in 15 minutes!

We tried all the dining options (you have 3 restaurants), and our favourite was the one on the last night, the Asian-inspired Jing, which was located by the over water villas which was certainly different. That meant great views from the bar and I also found the food excellent.

A drink with a view…. and the prawns were lovely too.

A drink with a view…. and the prawns were lovely too.

Our four days went so quickly, we couldn’t quite believe it. We had an early flight the next morning, so we went to bed quite early (10pm). And guess what happened the next day? The flights were delayed again for hours, and instead of reaching our next and final resort, Iru Fushi at 10am… we arrived after 2pm, wasting another half day. This was very frustrating – and we weren’t the only ones disappointed. The fact that there is only 1 provider of seaplane transfers means that there is no option. Flight times change all the time – and there is simply nothing you can do. Worth noting that all hotel transfers are not point to point, i.e. you need to connect at Male airport, which means missing your onward connection (which is just a detail).

But good things come to those who wait – and we had only 2 nights at Iru Fushi, so the delay was the last thing we wanted. Sadly we needed to be back to the UK on a specific day, and were unable to stay for longer.

A room on the ground? Yes, please!

A room on the ground? Yes, please!

The Iru Fushi resort has recently opened and been refurbished to a very nice standard, and we were very keen to spend our last 2.5 days not on stilts, but on the ground. Our beach villa with private pool was nothing short of stunning – and don’t get me started on the bathroom. An indoor/outdoor combo which was hot, but really cool.

Sizewise, I would say the island was medium-sized (compared to the other 2) which meant much longer walks, which we did enjoy.

Our private pool villa was fantastic. Really great and I missed the sand!

Our private pool villa was fantastic. Really great and I missed the sand!

Dining wise, there were 4 options and we really liked the smaller restaurants – the fish grill was our favourite. The breakfast area and main bar felt too big and busy, and I would say a bit more mass market, in stark contrast with the rest of the offering.

One of the nicest surprises? The spa! It was absolutely fantastic and the treatment rooms were some of the best I have ever seen.

The beach was all ours. And do not get me started on the spa. It was wonderful.

The beach was all ours. And do not get me started on the spa. It was wonderful.

And before we knew it, our last day and come and gone, and it was time to head back to London, which we did again, via Doha (read my review of Qatar Airways’ new Dreamliner business class here).

We had a great time in the Maldives – the weather got better, the food was very good at all hotels, service was also friendly and the spas were possibly the best value I have ever seen (1 hour massages at $110-140), which was something I didn’t actually expect. It was very interesting to try different hotels, and I will do it again in the future – but will play closer attention to the geography and logistics, as we sadly did lose 2 days of our trip for no reason.

The last sunset, boat trip and spa... (and the only photo Mr. O and I have together!)

The last sunset, boat trip and spa… (and the only photo Mr. O and I have together!)

I feel at home in the Maldives – it seems that nothing else matters in the world, and it is perfect to rest and just enjoy the company of your loved ones. I honestly think that it isn’t just a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip anymore, as it is a lot more affordable than it was 10 years ago – and flights are also much better priced. And believe it, it is not just a honeymoon destination. At all. We saw groups of friends, families, couples like us and newly weds just happy to be in such a beautiful place. I actually looked at families and saw the children playing in the sand with no worries in the world – and I just smiled.

As for us, we left with a smile on our faces. Because we will go back. It is just a matter of when.

xo

Mrs. O

Fact box:

7 nights at Lux Maldives on a prestige water villa costs from £2,115 per person on a bed and breakfast basis, £2,590 on half board, £2,272 on full board and £3,005 on an all-inclusive basis. 

7 nights at Constance Halaveli on a double water villa costs from £2,248 per person on a bed and breakfast basis, £2,600 on half board. 

7 nights at Iru Fushi, on a deluxe beach villa with pool costs from £1,494 on a bed and breakfast basis, £1,910 on half board and £2,201 on full board. 

Prices are based on 2 people sharing and include seaplane transfers to and from Male airport.

Flights with Qatar Airways cost from £695 in economy and £2200 in business class from London Heathrow via Doha.

To book, contact Holidays Please on 0845 365 65 65 or visit their website.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Lux Maldives, Constance Halaveli and Iru Fushi on my recent trip to the Maldives.

Top 5 Beauty Essentials for Summer 2014

With Summer fast approaching (and I must confess I had a little head start as I picked my ‘Spring’ destinations in places considerably warmer than the UK), I thought I would share my top 5 Summer beauty essentials.

1. Sunscreen

Clarins smells of summer

Clarins smells of summer

My sunscreen of choice is, and has been for almost a decade, Clarins’ SPF 20 Milk Spray. I am not too keen on oil and like the practicality of a spray product, so this totally works for me. It smells amazing – literally the definition of Summer. Cost: from £17

2. Face After Sun

One of my favourite beauty products

One of my favourite beauty products

Yes, face after sun. We all get all crazy with the normal after sun, but what do you put in your face? My choice is again from Clarins’ sun care range. I love this product, which has double purpose: not only do I use it on beach holidays, I also take it skiing with me. Smells wonderful and is available in a travel-friendly size (under 100ml). Cost: from £23.

3. Hair products

These babies go with me everywhere

These babies go with me everywhere

I usually pride myself for being very low maintenance, but my hair always gets a beating during the summer months. For the last 5 years, I have been using the Rene Furterer hair sun range – the SPF 90 hair spray for when you are outside, and then the fantastic shampoo and conditioning masque. For some reason, it is impossible to find this brand in the UK, so I usually stock up when I go to Portugal or France, of course. Cost (approx): conditioner £30, shampoo £17, protective fluid £12.

4. Light Perfume

Lovely cologne

Lovely cologne

I have been loyal to Jo Malone for many years now, and the Nectarine Blossom & Honey is my smelly choice for Summer – very light and not too ‘sweet’, perfect for summer holidays. Cost: from £79 for 100ml and £39 for 30ml

5. Kissable lips

REN never disappoints

REN never disappoints

I am not a huge lipstick user, but maybe it is ‘age’ – I now actually need lip balm on a regular basis. I have been using Molton Brown’s vitamin lip saver for years, but on a recent BA flight, I tried a slightly different version of REN‘s lip balm and loved it. It wasn’t available for general sale for months, but I found this one… and love it. Cost: from £9.

What are your top 5 summer beauty essentials? Would love to hear about them! ?

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: Four Seasons London at Park Lane

myhotel

Some hotels are special. Truly special. And make you feel special. My love affair with the Four Seasons London at Park Lane, has been a long one. Why? Because it is one of my favourite hotels in London – so much so, it is where I have my London office. Well, I don’t *really* – what I mean by this, is that it is the place that I choose to have business meetings and the (very) occasional after work cocktail.

The Four Seasons London at Park Lane.

The Four Seasons London at Park Lane.

I feel so at home (in what is a busy hotel), that I keep coming back, and recently I decided I had to accept the hotel’s invitation to make it my London pad for the week. I was afraid that some of the magic would be gone – I cannot explain why, but this is why I had been delaying that stay for years actually. And I tell you what, I did not want to leave.

Pre-Arrival

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

Well, of course, and for years. This stay was meant to happen for a long time, and I think it would be fair to say that both parties were very excited. Very.

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

I did indeed and so did the hotel. But no differently than it does almost every week just for no reason, or when I visit a couple of times a month.

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

Not particularly, but it would be fair to say that my love for the Lychee Rose Petal Affair is well documented.

Arrival

My office, hahaha

My office, hahaha

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

There is something different about this Four Seasons. It is only a few years old and certainly part of the new generation. I like the colour contrast and how warm it is. There are lots of seating areas around the lobby leading into the living room and the bar and restaurant areas, which are all very welcoming.

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

Not a problem at all.

–          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)

Yes, and this happened throughout all my stay by everyone I saw in the hotel. And anyone who books a table at the bar, for example, gets exactly the same service. If you book a table, you leave your name, and I will bet you will be addressed by name while you visit. One of those Four Seasons things.. that I love.

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

I wasn’t sure which room I was getting this time, and I was told I was to experience an Executive Conservatory room (which by then I had no idea what it meant).

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Absolutely. And before my stay, and after my stay.

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

I had a small carry on, which I was allowed to take to my room, despite the fact that I was escorted by the reception lady.

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

Yes, some changes here, which is brilliant. Free standard wifi is now offered to guests, and a paid (faster version) is also available.

Room Experience

I loved loved loved my room at the Four Seasons London

I loved loved loved my room at the Four Seasons London

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Well, well, well. What can I say? It was almost love at first sight. It was spacious, light, airy and very comfortable and welcoming. I had a strange feeling which I couldn’t tell what it was. It was only when Mr. O arrived a few hours later that we cracked it: it felt exactly like our home, with the same colour scheme. It was a very interesting feeling. Our room had a bedroom area, a living room area and a cute outside patio too.

–          Welcome amenity

On the second day of my stay, as I got back from work, I was surprised… with afternoon tea! I was actually starving and it was lovely.

This certainly made me feel welcome. I did leave some scones for Mr. O, promise.

This certainly made me feel welcome. I did leave some scones for Mr. O, promise.

–          The bed

I love Four Seasons beds. They are soft, huge and the sheets were wonderful, as was the mattress topper. We slept really well. Not easy to get out of bed, put it this way.

–          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.

Our closet room

Our closet room – and interesting details: would Madam fancy UK, US or Euro plugs?

We had a walk-in wardrobe by the bathroom area, which meant that we had plenty of space for everything, and the room was to be void of any luggage or anything else.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There was no iPhone charger, but there was a Bose sound system. We had plenty of plugs, so not a problem.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, and I used the slippers for once (just for fun). Why? Because someone finally realised that I am not shoe size 45 (actually I am a 36, no jokes, please). And because they came in various sizes, they weren’t too big, for a change.

It is all about the details. Fab magazines and thank you for the jewellery box.

It is all about the details. Fab magazines and thank you for the jewellery box.

–          Coffee and Tea

Absolutely, a Nespresso machine, which we did not use.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, on arrival, and changed daily at turn down.

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

It was excellent. I had Vanity Fair and Tatler, which are 2 of the 5 magazines I actually read on a regular basis. So simple… but so rare.

–          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.

Not a problem at all.

Our great bedroom complete with outdoor area. Brilliant!

Our great bedroom complete with outdoor area. Brilliant!

Bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

It was timeless and very nice.

Our spacious bathroom

Our spacious bathroom

–          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?

This hotel has some of the nice fittings in London, it is an Axor temple. And can I say that the shower was just the way I like it? No instructions needed – just left or right.

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

Lots and fab. And the best bath matts (standard FS, I must say).

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

The hotel uses Roja as a brand and we had the full range (in medium size). I liked the shower gel, but did not like the conditioner, at all.

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

Everything as expected.

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

Yes, and it was a very good one. I also had my straighteners which I used and got back to the room to have found that the housekeepers kindly wrapped the cord around them very neatly (which I never do). On a subsequent trip, I found my straighteners done in the same way and looked at Mr. O, who simply said ‘I did them Four Seasons style’. I had to smile. Details.

Bar

Stunning cocktails… every time!

Stunning cocktails… every time!

I know the Four Seasons bar well. Very well. Perhaps too well. And if you tried a Rose Petal Affair (the one on the far right), you would know why. It is totally understandable. I love the bar, and as I said before, I visit often. Service is impeccable (and personal, staff have a lot of personality and it is not something you see every day) and a very comfortable space. I prefer to use the lounge area before dinner, and the actual bar after dinner.

The lounge area. Or my living room as I like to call it.

The lounge area. Or my living room as I like to call it.

Restaurant

I have dined at Amaranto quite a few times, and obviously had to try it again (just for quality control reasons). And it was fantastic. We started with the signature parmesan cheese, and carried on with pasta and the most exquisite fish dish. For lunch, I had one of my favourite dishes in the world: vitello tonnato and rabbit ravioli (Amaranto has a great midweek lunchtime menu for £19 for 2 courses and £26 for 3. Do not miss out).

Hungry? Well, this is the place to be.

Hungry? Well, this is the place to be.

Breakfast also takes place here and it is a very civilised affair with also a good mix of hotel residents and guests. There is no buffet and there are plenty of options – I had the fruit platter one day and scrambled eggs and bacon on another day. Very good indeed.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

I didn’t use it on my phone as I was in the UK and have data at all times, but I did connect my laptop and had no issues.

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

Yes indeed and we had quite a bit of fun.

–          Location

One of the best in London (for me and my life in the city). It is located on Hamilton Place, just off Park Lane. And needless to say, that the first come first served Rolls Royce driver service is available (for a 2-mile radius). I sadly didn’t get to use it this time, but I have before and it is… very nice.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Superior rooms start at £320 per night, and Executive Conservatories from £785.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely.

–          Would I stay again?

Oh yes, believe me.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

A luxury break in Abu Dhabi, UAE

My first taste of the Middle East took place over a year ago – a stopover in Doha, Qatar, on the way back from the Maldives, did make me curious. Very curious. So earlier this year, I decided I would go back to this part of the world, but not make it a stopover – it would be a destination in itself. A BBC documentary on the region sealed our fate – we were going to spend Easter in this part of the world.

It had everything that we were actually looking for: nice warm weather, interesting food, stunning hotels and certainly a different cultural experience. Abu Dhabi seemed to offer everything we wanted. And to top it off? The perfect flight times with British Airways, on the days we wanted, right over Easter – another sign.

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

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

As this was a region I knew pretty much nothing about (I had actually resisted visiting this part of the world), some research was needed – so I asked my lovely readers and social media followers (on Facebook and Twitter) what was I supposed to do, and, most importantly – where to stay. Having a blog and building a community goes both ways – my readers travel the same way I do, and between all of us (just a few thousand!!), we certainly clock up enough business class miles and five-star hotel stays. The response was overwhelming – many of them knew the region well, and there were some very strong opinions about ‘which was the best place to stay’. A lively debate followed, and I had to make a decision – I would have to try 3 different Abu Dhabi experiences over 5 nights. It can be a pain to switch hotels (and pack and repack), but looking back, it was the best decision to make. I had a fantastic (and very diverse time) in Abu Dhabi, and loved every minute of it.

To make things easier (in the packing department), I decided this was the ideal time to test First Luggage‘s service – I was to fly without any luggage. Exactly! Our Tumis would go ahead of us and would be delivered to our first hotel: the Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri Abu Dhabi. I have to confess it did feel strange (I had to pack 4 days before the departure date, just as I landed and unpacked from Paris), but very liberating. My luggage pick up did not take place at the scheduled time, but once the bags were gone, I had nothing to worry about – and I knew they had arrived at the hotel before I even got on the plane. Amazing stuff.

First impressions were amazing at the Shangri La. I would say there was no need for the welcome fireworks, but…. (Obviously it was a coincidence)

First impressions were amazing at the Shangri La. I would say there was no need for the welcome fireworks, but…. (Obviously it was a coincidence)

After a 7h flight (which for the first time ever in my life was eventful – we had really badly behaved passengers in our cabin, who overindulged on the alcohol on offer and would not stop kicking our seats and having a little party of 4 as if they were at home with friends… where the situation was actually very poorly handled by the BA crew), we arrived at Abu Dhabi airport and were met by our driver (I had a private transfer booked through Viator). And in 15 minutes, we finally arrived at the hotel.

Our first impressions were very good – the style of the building was in accordance to the location, we certainly did not feel we were in a Western hotel. We loved our deluxe room which offered great views of the channel where the hotel is located and were starving, so we made our way to the Vietnamese restaurant where we had an incredible meal. Although it was 11pm, we weren’t tired due to the time difference (2h ahead of the UK), so we headed to the bar. I cannot tell you how surprised we were to meet some fellow passengers (who had witnessed the little incident and offered their sympathy) – but even better, we saw *that* couple, who at this stage were as quiet as mice. We headed to the hotel’s rooftop bar (Caviar & Pearls, no less) and had a brilliant night out with our new friends (read: 2.30am), as we kind of gatecrashed a wedding party. I say kind of as we were allowed to be in the rooftop bar as hotel guests, but also we were the only ones not dressed for a wedding. Oh well.

Oh, what a nice view in the morning! I also got to try the Spa, which was outstanding. Mr. O chose to spend some time at the beach.

Oh, what a nice view in the morning! I also got to try the Spa, which was outstanding. Mr. O chose to spend some time at the beach.

I always find it very weird to arrive to a hotel in the dark, as I am never quite sure what to expect in day light. And although we were really happy with what we had seen in the dark, we weren’t quite ready for the daylight effect. The hotel was very well-kept and could be a real destination in itself (most people we met were staying there for a week or so), providing the perfect ‘close to town, resort experience’. I spent the morning at the spa, where I had a signature massage, while Mr. O chose to explore the beach and the pool – it is always nice to have some ‘me’ time, and we were reunited at lunchtime.

Our afternoon was to be very different – and I cannot tell you how much I was looking forward to it. Viator had invited us to experience its private ‘Abu Dhabi Highlights Tour’, which takes 4-4.30h, originally aimed at cruise passengers. It is now offered to ‘normal’ visitors and it is the perfect day out. We were met by Ursula, a serial (and lovely) German expat, who has been in AD for over 7 years. We weren’t sure what to expect, but just went with the flow. We were also met by Bernard Richardson, who is the Dubai Flytographer. Dubai is only 1 hour drive away from Abu Dhabi, and we were very keen to capture the tour moments.

The imposing Sheik Zahed Mosque. Photos by Bernard Richardson for Flytographer.

The imposing Sheik Zayed Mosque which we visited with Viator. Photos by Bernard Richardson for Flytographer.

Although I was wearing trousers and had covered arms, I had to cover up to visit the Sheik Zayed Mosque. It wasn’t easy as it was 42c, but obviously, in respect for local culture, it was the thing to do. We were incredibly impressed with this work of art – beautifully designed and finished – and certainly worth a visit. Needless to say, because we had Ursula with us, we learned things that we would never would on our own.

With the tour, you have a guide and a driver, and you basically stopover at some pre-defined city highlights. Abu Dhabi is incredibly spread out – there are various islands and interest points, it is not a place you can walk around (to see all these things). Setting this afternoon for the tour was one of my most inspired decisions, I must say.

From the Mosque, we headed to Saadiyat Island, where we visited the Cultural Centre, which tells you what is coming up development-wise. While Dubai is the best known Emirate state, Abu Dhabi is the one with the money (oil and gas, obviously) – it has lagged in tourism development but there are certainly plans to make up for lost time. Put it this way: there will be a Guggenheim and a Louvre museum in town soon. I kid you not. (I also made a mental note to stay in this location on a future trip to Abu Dhabi, as it seems to be the perfect location for a ‘beach experience’).

Next stop: Yas Island, which must be a familiar location for all Formula 1 fans. I am not particularly interested in cars, but you can’t ignore the ambition and determination of the Emiratis. From here, we went to the market. I love visiting markets and was excited to have this opportunity – and with dates being like the local currency, it would be rude not to try 2 or 3. Or 30.

At Yas Island, Saadiyat and the date market. Photos by Bernard Thomson for Flytographer.

At Yas Island, Saadiyat and the date market with Viator. Photos by Bernard Thomson for Flytographer.

Mr. O famously hates dates, but I am delighted to announce we have a new convert. Needless to say, the local dates are juicy and tender, not like what we usually get in the UK. At this stage, we had to cut the rest of the tour short, as we needed to get to our new hotel before meeting some friends for drinks.

New hotel, I hear you ask? Yes, it sounds mad, but I had to try the new Rosewood Abu Dhabi. I just had to. And I have to tell you, it is one of the sexiest hotels I have been to recently.

Loved loved loved the Rosewood Abu Dhabi

Loved loved loved the Rosewood Abu Dhabi

Located in Al Maryah island (which is directly across the Abu Dhabi city island), it offers a ‘city’ experience (so would be perfect for business travellers). This island is also home to a new promenade and a very nice new shopping mall, which is connected directly to the hotel – The Galleria. Very nice indeed.

We met a friend’s friend (the lovely Estelle) for a drink and spent a lovely evening at the hotel. For the first (and only) time during our stay in Abu Dhabi, it was the only opportunity we had to see and spend some time with locals (aka Emiratis) – it was very interesting as there doesn’t seem to be a lot of mixing up socially. The local fashion parade was quite something. Worth noting that most of the socialising takes place at hotels due to the liquor laws (i.e. only place where alcohol is served).

We had quite a few options for dinner at the hotel (which welcomes outside guests, of course), and decided on the Lebanese. It was warm, but we still decided to eat outside – we had a lovely view of the city and it was also quite busy, so there was quite a cool atmosphere.

A night of firsts - shisha, of course! We stayed on course and had Lebanese wine (which we tried before and were really impressed with).

A night of firsts – shisha, of course! We stayed on course and had Lebanese wine (which we tried before and were really impressed with).

One of my favourite moments? Trying some shisha. It took quite a bit of coughing – and actually trying on different flavours. I posted a video of Mr. O on instagram (it is quite funny, worth watching) and did like the flavour suggestions we got in real-time: grape and mint was our preferred one!

After a lovely sleep, and a wander around the next morning, we got our car and headed somewhere very special: the desert and the stunning Qasr al Sarab resort, located a good 2h30 from the city of Abu Dhabi. The roads in Abu Dhabi are great but the drive was long: a straight road with the odd camel. But we got there in the end.

The Qasr al Sarab - a mirage? No!

The Qasr al Sarab – a mirage? No!

To say that the Qasr al Sarab by Anantara, was unique, would be an understatement. Getting a room here (as any other hotels in Abu Dhabi on these dates) was nothing short of a miracle, and I cannot tell you how happy we were to arrive. The hotel was beautifully kept and it was peaceful (although obviously you saw other people – I was surprised with how many German and Italian guests there were!) – and the rooms were out of this world.

Needless to say, you are miles away from civilisation, and that is what one should look for if visiting this place. Unsurprisingly, the food and drink options were outstanding. We had a traditional BBQ in an Arabic tent which was quite fun, and yummy cocktails, I have to say.

On our second day, we just lounged by the pool, which was really nice. We also tried the spa (look at the view of the spa room in the photo below – the exact opposite of the Maldives, but oh so striking!), which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea. I mean, the timing, wasn’t – and let me tell you why: because before sunset, we went dune bashing. Again. Dune bashing is a Middle Eastern national sport almost. Click on the image below and you will be taken to a little instagram video we did. No comment necessary.

We should have gone to the spa AFTER dune bashing, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I stupidly did the exact same thing when I first ‘dune bashed’ in Doha. I won’t do it again, promise.

We spent the rest of our stay doing pretty much nothing. We were looking for some sun, reading and just spending time together, and that was exactly what we did. It was nothing short of perfect.

I jumped again… and we saw some camels!

I jumped again… and we saw some camels!

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the city. But interestingly, as our flight was only at 2am (seriously, a bit strange, but not bad at all!), I got to do something really cool: meet one of my longtime readers and social media ‘friend’, a fellow Portuguese, also called Ana and her boyfriend. Ana lives in Dubai, but knowing we were coming so close, offered to come and meet us and organise dinner and drinks. It was a fantastic evening, and we loved every minute of it. We were to return to Yas Island and meet for drinks at Skylite at the Yas Viceroy hotel (very cool bar!) and then head for dinner at the fab Cipriani in Yas Marina.

The striking Yas Viceroy and the very cool Cipriani

The striking Yas Viceroy and the very cool Cipriani

I was gutted that we didn’t actually take a photo together – we were too busy talking! But that just means we have to do it again.

Before we knew it, it was almost midnight and time to head to the nearby airport, and fly home. We were back to normal BA service and had a brilliant flight (and slept like babies, before our 6.30am landing).

Our Easter break in Abu Dhabi was exciting, relaxing and certainly interesting – we did a lot, but we also had enough down time, so we arrived back to London refreshed and (almost) ready for real life. I was intrigued about this part of the world, and I am glad I took the time to explore a tiny bit of it, and not just treating it as a stop over.

Goodbye Abu Dhabi, you were lovely!

Goodbye Abu Dhabi, you were lovely!

But what I will never forget? The stunning sunsets. And the sweet mint ice tea.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and fact box: I would like to thank all of those who made this trip possible in a relative short time, and within one of the busiest travel dates of the year.

Hotels:

I loved the 3 hotels I visited on my stay – I was a guest of the Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri (room rates from £280), and the Rosewood Abu Dhabi (room rates from £200) and paid a discounted media rate at the Qasr al Sarab (room rates from £300). 

Travel:

Our  Abu Dhabi Airport Private Transfers to our hotel cost £58 for 2 and our private Private City Highlights Tour cost £165 for two people, both provided by Viator.

First Luggage kindly took our luggage from our home in the UK to our Abu Dhabi hotel at a cost of £172 door to door. A 30kg bag from London to NYC or LA costs £125. First Luggage’s sister company, LuggageDeliveryCompany.com, provides return luggage delivery as well, starting at £47 one-way (UK to Italy), which is comparable to any airline’s baggage fees, minus the hassle.

Photography:

You know I cannot travel without Flytographer, and I cannot thank them enough for making this Abu Dhabi experience happen, namely as their team is based in Dubai. A 30 minute photoshoot, on any of its 90+ locations around the world cost $250, with a 1-hour shoot costing $350. Are memories the best souvenir? I think so.

Top 10 Photos of the Week – Coast

There is nothing like the sea – being born and raised in Lisbon,Portugal, I was undoubtedly spoiled, as I got to see it almost every day. My move to the UK sadly meant no sea on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to see it as often as I can.

Here are some of my favourite coastal moments.

1. Hotel du Cap Eden Rock, Antibes, France

My hairdresser French was not brilliant - I asked for 'straight and no volume' and got 'fab and curly'. Ou la la

Mrs O in the Cote d’Azur

2. Landing in Lisbon, Portugal is simply stunning

And before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to Lisbon.

Landing in Lisbon, Portugal always makes me smile

3. Getting wet in Newport, Rhode Island

How much excitement can one have in an afternoon? In Newport, RI you never know!

How much excitement can one have in an afternoon? In Newport, RI you never know!

4. The nearest I can get to the water in the UK, in Henley on Thames

The stunning River Thames (and the boys don't look bad either)

The stunning River Thames (and the boys don’t look bad either)

5. Puerto Banus Marina, near Marbella, Spain

Hola Puerto Banus!

Hola Puerto Banus! Always good for boat eye candy

6. The stunning British coast… in Salcombe, Devon

What's not to love about Salcombe?

What’s not to love about Salcombe?

7. Blown away by the natural beauty of Los Cabos, Mexico

Stunning scenery aboard our cruise. Strangely enough, Los Cabos reminded me of Portugal...

Stunning scenery aboard our cruise in Los Cabos. Strangely enough, Los Cabos reminded me of Portugal…

8. A pleasant surprise? A Summer day in Helsinki, Finland

Mrs. O loving Helsinki

Mrs. O loving Helsinki

9. A lunch with a view, in Mallorca, Spain

Not difficult to guess why we didn't want to leave

Not difficult to guess why we didn’t want to leave Mallorca

10. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – simply stunning

Our semi-private beach in Rio de Janeiro

Our semi-private beach in Rio de Janeiro

Feel free to send me your favourite coastal photos. Say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Wishing you a lovely weekend

xo

Mrs O

My hOtel: Lux South Ari Atoll (formerly Lux Maldives)

myhotel

You may already had a peek at some of my favourite moments of my recent Maldives trip. Now it is time to share details of my hotel stay at Lux Maldives.

Arriving at Male Airport, is just the first step. Yes, it takes a good 11-12h from Europe (I had a great experience with Qatar Airways) but the airport is not the destination. You don’t just get a cab to your hotel… Depending on the location of your island, you will be met by hotel representatives (this always happens) and then either taken to the pier for a speedboat transfer, or to one of the airport terminals. But as we had a fair bit of time before our flight (which usually you do not know, worth noting, and not exactly what we would have wanted, a 3h layover), we headed to the Lux Maldives airport lounge, which was just what we needed. Gave us a taste of what was to come, a chance to reconnect to the internet, and have a bite to eat and drink.

On this occasion, we were to try the new Maldivian domestic airline, Flyme, which flew us from Male to Maamigili ($167 one way), a mere 20 minutes away. We had an on-time departure and the Lux team took care of all our luggage and check in procedures – we were not to see our bags until we got to our room – I liked the sound of that! At the ‘airport’, we and other guests were welcomed by the Lux team, who took us to our speedboat, where a 10-minute journey awaited. And then… we had arrived!

All guest arrivals and departures are always an occasion at Lux Maldives

All guest arrivals and departures are always an occasion at Lux Maldives

Pre-Arrival

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

There was indeed. A few days prior to my departure, I got some very nice tweets which I could call teasers – of cocktails, of sunsets, of beaches. Very nice indeed.

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

Absolutely.

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

I had not asked for anything (except for a doll, for a photo stunt, don’t ask!!). Needless to say, I had a Barbie waiting in my room.

Arrival

Arriving at sunset was quite special

Arriving at sunset was quite special

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

We arrived just as the sun was setting, and I have to say it was stunning. I have a very vague recollection of the check in, for which we sat down, handed over our passport and credit card and within minutes, we were on our buggy.

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

Incredibly efficient and friendly.

–          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)

Yes indeed. And called Ana and Simon, which was lovely and very relaxed – we loved the atmosphere at Lux.

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

I had a confirmed Prestige Water Villa and that was the room we got. Very exciting.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

We did. Every time we walked past someone, we were always greeted with a lovely smile, and hello, of course.

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

I hadn’t seen my luggage since we arrived on the big plane to Male airport. And that was fine by me.

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

Yes indeed. It was free of charge and you just needed to log in with your email address once. Easy peasy.

Room Experience
We were driven from reception (located on the Eastern side of the island) to our Prestige Water Villa, which was located towards the West side of the Island. This little drive actually gives you a great sense of place and location – and how large the island actually is (comparing to others).

The West Point. Oh yes.

The West Point. Oh yes.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our lovely water villa did not disappoint in any way. At almost 100sqm it was spacious and airy. We had the bedroom (which included also a sitting area), a fab bathroom and the deck area.

–          Welcome amenity

We had a lovely bottle of ScrewCap, a wine from South Africa blended exclusively for Lux Resorts. It was a lovely touch and we enjoyed many other varietals of this brand throughout our stay. Oh well.

–          The bed

It was very good, über comfortable and huge. We slept really well throughout our stay.

Our lovely bedroom

Our lovely bedroom

–          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.

Plenty of space – and I also loved that is was located inside the bathroom, where one usually gets dressed. Very neat, plenty of space and hangers.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

We had a dock for iPhone 4 which we did not use.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Of course – and I  used them for a change. We also had some colourful flip-flops which were incredibly comfortable – I used them at the spa and then on my last couple of days when I discovered how nice the padding was.

–          Coffee and Tea

Yes indeed, but we did not use.

Small touches at Lux Maldives

Small touches at Lux Maldives

–          Free bottled water

Every day, each guest gets a 1-litre bottle of still water a day. Lux Resorts does not believe in overpriced bottles of water (it is actually one of their brand statements, alongside bad coffee).

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

Not here, but we had some books. You need to bring your own magazines and books to the Maldives, as you won’t be able to buy them anywhere.

–          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.

Once I disconnected the iPhone dock, I had my own plug socket (UK type, worth mentioning). Mr O had plenty on his side.

Bathroom

I am very partial to lovely bathrooms, I have to say...

I am very partial to lovely bathrooms, I have to say…

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Oh yes, oh yes. It was lovely and spacious.

–          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?

Everything was brilliant and worked very well. The shower was fantastic.

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

Lots, and I loved how they were displayed (i.e. in the wicker basket). They were also lovely.

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

Unbelievable products.

Unbelievable products.

The own brand products were outstanding. The smell and quality were out of this world. So much so, that I begged the hotel for more – I was a happy girl when I left the Maldives only because of these goodies. I am almost through the ones I brought back, and I cannot tell you – the memories that come with the smells. If anyone goes out there, please bring me some (I haven’t got the courage to ask the hotel for more!).

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

All there and in a very colourful display.

How is this for a bath with a view? We did have one on one of the rainy days and loved it.

How is this for a bath with a view? We did have one on one of the rainy days and loved it.

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

There was one but I did not use – I went for the au naturel look.

Sun, pool and beach

No need to leave your room...

No need to leave your room…

Well well well, where do we start? We loved the privacy of our water villa – the sun loungers were very comfortable and the towels were great. With direct access to the sea, what else could you want?

Maybe a bit of sand?

Maybe a bit of sand?

We did not really use the beach, but it looked lovely. Specially at sunset. But we walked around the island and enjoyed many special moments like these…

Our beach. Lovely.

Our beach. Lovely.

We snorkeled a fair bit, and even saw a whale shark – we had a great morning on board the hotel’s catamaran and got to see even more islands and breathtaking scenery. There really are 12 shades of blue in the Maldives.

No filters or comments necessary.

No filters or comments necessary.

Dining

Where would you like cocktails today?

Where would you like cocktails today?

I can’t praise enough the food at Lux Maldives – it was outstanding. We had breakfast every day at the buffet (both the Western and the Oriental one) – and I have to say, it is the only meal where I can enjoy the variety. For lunch or dinner, to be honest, buffets are not for me. So I was delighted with the options we had – a fantastic Indian Ocean restaurant, where we tried a fab Maldivian curry and other local specialities, a great Italian meal and my absolute favourite, the Japanese, where I had one of the best things ever: foie gras sushi. As I said, if I had to die there and then, I would go happily.

Hungry? Oh well!

Hungry? Oh well!

It is worth mentioning that you need to check carefully the meal plan you choose when you book your trip – it pays to be organised (and choose the option where you can dine around). The wine selection was great (and the Screw Cap wine was $35, cocktails from $15) and all drinks were well priced.

Spa

Yes indeed. Le Spa!

Yes indeed. Le Spa!

We had a complimentary treatment courtesy of the hotel, and loved it so much we were back every day. The treatment rooms were stunning (imagine the views) and everything felt very zen. We were uber relaxed and really enjoyed the massages and foot scrubs, and the occasional glass of champagne (I kid you not, this was a package the hotel had for $219 per couple for 90 mins). What I always asked for? Separate rooms as I find couples massages the least romantic thing ever.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

I had some issues with it, but Mr. O did not, so I don’t understand. It worked always well in our room, but not to much in other areas.

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

Yes they did and had a bit of fun.

–          Location

As the only settlement on the island of Dhidhoofinolhu in South Ari Atoll, Lux Maldives is a 25-minute seaplane ride away from Male Airport, or 20 minutes by scheduled flights and a 10-minute boat ride.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Beach pavilions cost from $200 and Water Villas from $400 per night, excluding taxes (18%) on a room-only basis, for low season dates. These can increase 3-fold in high season, which runs from December to March-April.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely.

–          Would I stay again?

I promise I will. We saw a lot of families at Lux, and the happiest children ever – and I have to say we were never disturbed. So I will go back!

Yummy lychee cocktails… I miss Lux Maldives already!

Yummy lychee cocktails… I miss Lux Maldives already!

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Lux Resorts during this stay, on a room and board basis and obviously responsible for any extras, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. For more information about the hotel, visit its official website.

My Flight: Qatar Airways Dreamliner B787 Business Class – Doha to London

My review of the Qatar Airways Business Class service on the 787 (Dreamliner) between Doha and London.

After a very good first experience with Qatar Airways last year, on a trip to the Maldives, it was clear that the experience was to be repeated, even if we were not planning to actually stopover in Doha this time around. Destination: the same, of course.

A journey from London to Male, is actually very straightforward – a 6.5h flight to Doha, Qatar and a very speedy (under 1 hour) connection to Male, which we successfully accomplished, as did our luggage (the flight time from Doha to Male is approximately 4h30). On the return journey from paradise, I picked my flights carefully so I could do one thing: try Qatar Airways‘ new Boeing 787, aka the Dreamliner and test its new business class product.

The new Qatar Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The new Qatar Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Check-in 

All business class passengers check in at the Premium Terminal in Doha. This terminal is an oasis of tranquility and beautifully designed. When you arrive, a hotel-style bell boy takes your luggage and escorts you to the check-in desks where you get to sit down.

Fantastic first impressions on arrival at Doha's Premium Terminal

Fantastic first impressions on arrival at Doha’s Premium Terminal

We had landed from Male at around 10pm, and headed out to Doha for dinner, so when we came back at around 1am, we had no luggage with us. We were flying business class (there is no first class on the B787), but I had asked Qatar Airways if we could use the First Class lounge as an exception, as we had to ‘overnight’ at the airport (it would make no sense to sleep at a hotel for 3 hours).

Security

Well, there was no one except us. No fast track as the whole terminal is fast track and a breeze.

A truly luxury travel experience awaited...

A truly luxury travel experience awaited…

From security, you head up the escalators towards the lounge area. At the reception area, you are personally welcomed and directed towards the correct lounge – the First or Business Class. They are very similar in style, but differ in size (business class is larger) – one of the main differences is the spa and wellness offering, which I was really keen to try.

Outside the lounges, and available for all premium passengers are a business centre, prayer rooms, smoking rooms (also available inside each lounge), a family room, medical facilities and a games room (pictured further down). Plenty to do while you wait for your flight! There is also a small duty free area on the main floor, close to the departure gates.

The Lounge

All I could possibly want for a short connection

All I could possibly want for a short connection

I had been to this lounge before and was truly impressed – and this time around I wasn’t disappointed either. We were able to use one of the bedrooms available for connecting passengers, and did manage to get 3 hours sleep, before having a shower, breakfast and make our way back to London.

We slept well (but were a bit cold as we were unable to control the air con) and breakfast was outstanding. When we woke up at 5am the lounge was busy and smelled delicious. I have to say that the food selection would rival any 5-star hotel in the world. There were also made-to-order options, which we didn’t try as we were keen to spend the rest of the time at the business class terminal, where we found everything to be quite similar. There was a lot of staff and everyone was very keen to help and see if we (and everybody else) needed anything.

Great food selection at both lounges

Great food selection at both lounges

Due to the early time of the day, we abstained from any alcohol but I did see a considerable selection and the magic cocktail making table – I was gutted not to try one of the made to order cocktails, but I shall leave something for next time. We made our way towards the boading gates where mini shuttles or cars escort passengers to the plane.

Getting ready to board

Getting ready to board

We were delighted to be surprised (again) by a private transfer – and I have to say, it was fantastic. We got to board the plane before everybody else, which was actually handy (and I could take some photos without looking a little bit silly).

This is how one boards a plane, Qatar Airways' style

This is how one boards a plane, Qatar Airways’ style

The Flight

There is nothing like a new plane. Loved the cabin interiors of the Dreamliner

There is nothing like a new plane. Loved the cabin interiors of the Dreamliner

–          Welcome

We were welcomed by name by the crew, who I have to say, were very attentive throughout the whole flight. We were escorted to our seats, which you cannot actually see on the photo above as they were at the very back of the cabin. Once we realised we were still on our own, the crew obviously let us wonder around so we could see the cabin in more detail.

Here you can see a bar, at the rear of the cabin. Our seats were just behind, which was actually quite a private area.

Here you can see a bar, at the rear of the cabin. Our seats were just behind, which was actually quite a private area.

–          Amenities

On our seats, we found a little white (for ladies) or black (for men) pouch by Salvatore Ferragamo. It included face cream and other beauty products, as well as perfume. We also had an eye mask, socks and ear plugs – please note that this was not an night flight (it was a 6.30am departure, and therefore no pyjamas, which we had on other flights).

–          Drinks service 

The surprise of this trip was the fantastic lemon and mint juice, which I had on every leg of our trip to the Maldives. Yes, I declined champagne. It was fantastic and this was how I chose to start this trip. Obviously, there was a good selection of non alcoholic and alcoholic drinks (and Rose Bollinger, yes! Interestingly, the brut option was Lanson, which isn’t quite the same. I wonder why!)

My first Qatar Airways experience last year brought spiced chai to my life. This time around, the mint and lemon juice. I have the chai at home now, but not sure how I will find the lemon juice! Ideas?

My first Qatar Airways experience last year brought spiced chai to my life. This time around, the mint and lemon juice. I have the chai at home now, but not sure how I will find the lemon juice! Ideas?

–          In-flight dining

Oh, I had a lighter breakfast at the lounge, as I was really looking forward to having a meal onboard. On my Maldives leg I had missed out on the ‘Arabic breakfast’, and I was determined to try it. And I got it – and loved it. I seriously think I was middle eastern in one of my other lives as I simply adore the food.

We had 2 meal services, one after take off, and one before landing (the flight was around 6h). Qatar continues to work with various Michelin-starred chefs and you can choose if you would like Western, Middle Eastern or Indian food. I went for Middle Eastern all the way – I first had the Arabic breakfast, and before landing I had the Arabic meze and the grilled halloumi salad.

I loved the menus (which are in a nice binder) and the food was outstanding.

I loved the menus (which are in a nice binder) and the food was outstanding.

–  In-flight entertainment

Oh, I went to town, I have to say. The screen was huge and the selection was almost overwhelming. And what I really liked? The incredible selection of films, not only western style, but also from Bollywood and China. I did actually spend a good 20 minutes just going through the ‘world blockbusters’, but ended up watching some of the latest Hollywood releases.

The IFE system worked very well and you could access it via the touch screen or the iPod style remote. The flight had wifi too (which is still a novelty in my part of the world), but I decided I had plenty to do and see and did not use it.

Very good in flight entertainment

Very good in flight entertainment

–          The seat 

The new business class seats are, without a doubt, a huge improvement from the previous generation. Our little capsule was very spacious and had plenty of space for personal belongings, with a shelf, a side storage area (for magazines and water, for example) and a fully controllable seat. Needless to say, this seat turns into a fully flat bed and it is comfortable.

The new Qatar Airways Business Class seats were very good.

The new Qatar Airways Business Class seats were very good.

I also felt that there was enough personal space should you not be travelling with someone you knew – this may seem a small thing, but it really matters.

Final thoughts

Needless to say, I had (yet another) exceptional experience with Qatar Airways, who has recently joined Oneworld, and makes it even more interesting for frequent flyers partial to this alliance, like me, to try this airline on future trips. I was impressed with the new cabin, service and the food and drink. Our flights were also always on time, which is always appreciated. Will I fly again with Qatar Airways? Absolutely – the connection in Doha is not a problem at all (it is actually quite nice to have a break), and its destinations are particularly interesting for me. I shall be back!

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: Mr. O and I were upgraded on our trip by Qatar Airways, on the basis that we purchased an economy ticket ourselves, and subject to standby on some of the legs. All the effort and attention were greatly appreciated. Opinions are, as always, my own. An economy ticket to Male, in the Maldives via Doha from London Heathrow costs from £565 return including taxes, and from £2600 in business class.

Mrs. O’s birthday giveaway – lux and love for my readers

Oh, I know, I can be lovely sometimes ? Birthday month has been amazing – it started in the Maldives, then a lovely weekend in Paris (totally unexpected, but that is Mr. O for you) and I have a great Easter trip in the Middle East to look forward to – you can read all about my top 5 destinations for Spring, right here.

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

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

But as I said, I get more pleasure in giving, than receiving (not always, but you see what I mean), so I thought I would organise an incredible giveaway to thank my readers for their continuous support. Turning 35 is not a milestone in itself, so one might as well have fun with it.

I know you are dying to know what the prizes are…

7-nights at the stunning Masseria Il Trullino in Puglia, Italy, courtesy of Passepartout Homes

More than the Dolce Vita, with Passepartout Homes

More than the Dolce Vita, with Passepartout Homes

Yes, you read it right. Your own 5-bedroom luxury villa in this stunning part of Italy (the heel of the boot, to be precise), perfect for a week away with family and friends. The prize is valid from 1st October 2014 until 31st May 2015 and obviously is subject to availability. To find out more about Passepartout Homes (and the incredible villa options they offer), click here.

1 night at the Four Seasons Hampshire, UK

You shall be Lord or Lady of the Manor...

You shall be Lord or Lady of the Manor…

I have very fond memories of my stay at the Four Seasons Hampshire – one never forgets the first English sun tan (and you can read all about it here).  One lucky winner with get to enjoy the perfect English countryside luxury experience in the usual Four Seasons style – prize includes one night in a deluxe room, with breakfast for 2 guests. Valid Sunday through Fridays and excluding Saturdays, Bank Holidays and festive periods. Valid for six months and it is subject to availability.

A Night at Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam and Personalised Historic Vase Gift

Get ready to be dazzled by this Sofitel...

Get ready to be dazzled by this Sofitel…

Located in the old City Hall building in Amsterdam, the Sofitel Legend The Grand was one of my Top 5 city hotels ever – beautifully designed, located and with incredible service (read my review here). The prize on offer includes one night in a Superior Room with breakfast for two, subject to availability. The winner will also be gifted with a porcelain vase engraved with the winner’s name; the vase is officially registered as a historic monument and features characteristics dating back to the 1920s.

A 30-minute photo-shoot with Flytographer in one of its 85+ locations around the world

Some of my favourite Flytographer moments around the world

Some of my favourite Flytographer moments around the world

I adore Flytographer – it is almost fair to say that I cannot travel without them. Firm believers that memories are the best souvenirs, I would love to invite a reader to experience the Flytographer experience in a location of their choice. I have tried Flytographer 5 times in the last 6 months (in Lisbon, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Rome and Paris), and cannot recommend it enough – they are, without a doubt, the best photos I have from my trips. To find out more about Flytographer, click here. Prize valid for 12 months.

A meal for two at the fantastic Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, in Oxfordshire, UK

One of the most exceptional dining experiences in the UK. And also where I celebrated my birthday last year. Coincidence? Maybe not!

One of the most exceptional dining experiences in the UK. And also where I celebrated my birthday last year. Coincidence? Maybe not!

Since opening in 1984, the Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons has achieved the highest awards and accolades of any restaurant and country house hotel in Great Britain and is regarded as one of the very best in Europe. One of the few restaurants in the world to retain 2 Michelin stars for 29 years, it remains a mecca for gourmets the world over.  2014 celebrates the hotel and restaurant’s 30th anniversary, led by the legendary Raymond Blanc.

The prize is dinner for two people, including coffee & petit fours (this prize must be taken before the end of June 2014, Sunday to Thursday night inclusive, subject to availability).

For followers wishing to book a meal at Le Manoir (separately from this prize), simply  tweet @lemanoir and be offered a complimentary glass of Champagne du Manoir before dinner (Sunday – Thursday nights inclusive, until the end of June, subject to availability).

High Wine for two at The Dylan in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I kind of think this beats Afternoon Tea...

I kind of think this beats Afternoon Tea…

Indulge in The Dylan’s very own interpretation of High Tea – High Wine. Their Sommelier selects four wines, depending on seasonality, which the Chef matches with four amuse style savory bites. A delicate afternoon treat served daily between 3 and 6 pm. I recently experienced High Wine at The Dylan in Amsterdam and cannot recommend it enough. The prize is valid for 12 months.

Lounge Access and Security Fast Track for two from UK Airports courtesy of No1 Traveller

I am a true believer that a travel experience begins when you get to the airport...

I am a true believer that a travel experience begins when you get to the airport…

Start your holiday in style courtesy of airport hospitality specialist No.1 Traveller, who is offering  a pair of tickets to any of its airport lounges located at  Heathrow Terminal 3, Gatwick – North and South Terminals, Stansted or Birmingham, in the UK. The winner and a guest will be able to take advantage of No.1’s bistro, fully tended bar, self-service pantry table, free WiFi and selection of newspapers and magazines. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also receive complimentary premium security lane access so they can speed through the queues like a true VIP.

Please note that premium security lane access is available at Gatwick, Stansted and Birmingham only. This prize is valid for one year from the day the winners are announced. Lounge entry is subject to availability.

Travel with style… without any luggage, thanks to First Luggage

Yes, you travel without the bags… it does sound wonderful.

Yes, you travel without the bags… it does sound wonderful.

First Luggage is the world’s leading international door-to-door luggage collection and delivery service – I shall be trialling their service on my upcoming trip to Abu Dhabi and so will a lucky reader. First Luggage collects your luggage from your home (or any nominated address), then safely and swiftly transports them directly to their destination – be it a hotel, villa or other address. It avoids excess baggage charges and alleviates struggling to the airport with baggage, allows for simple and swift check-in, and then crucially no baggage collection at the luggage carousel at the destination airport. You go straight from plane to car to final destination point seamlessly.

The prize includes the transfer of up to two bags (weighing up to 20kg each) to and from a destination of choice (excluding Mauritius, Egypt, Malaysia, Canada, Russia, China, Canary Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and all destinations in South America). Prize to be taken by 31 December 2014.

A double pass for the Eating Italy Testaccio Food Tour in Rome

Ooops, I did eat my way around Rome with Eating Italy. And no regrets.

Ooops, I did eat my way around Rome with Eating Italy. And no regrets.

Eating Italy Food Tours offers food tours in two of Rome’s coolest neighbourhoods. They showcase the food and family-run establishments that locals know about but tourists rarely stumble upon. I spent a morning with my sister eating my way around Rome and have to say I was very impressed. And did not eat for 2 days afterwards.

A Sweet Secrets tour in Paris with WonderfulTime

This tour was one of my birthday treats in a recent weekend in Paris. You cannot eat lunch before - you have been warned.

This tour was one of my birthday treats on a recent weekend in Paris. You cannot eat lunch before – you have been warned.

Together with Alex on WonderfulTime’s “Sweet Secrets” tour, you’ll search for the most delectable treats Paris has to offer. The best pastry chefs and chocolatiers in the chic and sophisticated Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood know Alex, your private tour guide, well, and are glad to open their doors to her and her guests. Always on the lookout for the highest-quality ingredients for her own dessert creations, she also has the good fortune to get tips from some of the greats about the raw materials and specialty products they use. One of her favorite pastimes is visiting the hottest pâtisseries and chocolatiers that are the talk of the capital, and she can’t wait to share her knowledge.

Like what you see? Well, to take part in this competition, it is simple….

1. Subscribe to the blog by email (see box on the right of the screen). 

2. Share this post via your preferred social media channel (Facebook, Twitter or Google +)

3. Answer this question, by commenting below: what was your favourite birthday ever? What did you do? Also, let me know which would be your favourite prize.

Entries will be accepted until Friday 25th April 2014, 12pm noon UK time. Winners will be randomly selected and announced at 5pm UK time on the same day.

This competition is now closed. Winners have been contacted.

Good luck!

xo

Mrs. O

Top 10 Cocktails Around the World

Mix up a few ingredients, carefully, of course, and you may be up for moments of happiness. I love cocktails and am frequently asked which are my favourites. I cannot answer that – it would be like asking a mother to choose their favourite child – so for this article, I chose 10 cocktails I enjoyed recently, on location.

Travel for me is all about the memories – the times shared with friends and family. Meeting for drinks is one of my favourite past times – and one I am particularly good at.

1. Mango and ginger Mojitos in the Maldives – perfect to watch the sun set.

Mango mojitos? Yes, please

Mango mojitos? Yes, please

2. Punch in London – going back in time is not a bad thing.

How fab do they look? And I can assure you, they were delicious.

How fab do they look? And I can assure you, they were delicious.

3. A Kir Royale with a view in France. Because one needs to rest after skiing.

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

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

4. The perfect Gin & Tonic in Madrid. Because Gin tastes better in Spain (the glasses must have something to do with it).

This is what I call a gin & tonic

This is what I call a gin & tonic

5. A very dirty martini in Beverly Hills. Where were you all my life?

Very dirty martinis... loved them!

Very dirty martinis… loved them!

6. The first summer Pimms of the season, at home in Henley on Thames. British summer in a glass.

A Pimms with a view (mind the plastic glass.. health and safety and all...)

A Pimms with a view (mind the plastic glass.. health and safety and all…)

7. A mango margarita in Mexico. The juice was freshly squeezed, which makes it count towards your 5-a-day, for sure.

Más mango margaritas, por favor!

Más mango margaritas, por favor!

8. Lychee caipirinhas in the Maldives. Possibly the best drink ever.

Lychee Caipirinha

Lychee Caipirinha

9. A glass of Taittinger on board. Because you know it will be a great flight.

I got the window seat and the wall (just the way I like it)… and the bubbles too!

I am off for 8 hours. Do not disturb.

10. Vermouth at 11.30am in Madrid. Would be rude not to partake in a national pastime.

Vermouth in Madrid, just go with it

Vermouth in Madrid, just go with it

Based on the memories, and the moments around each cocktail, I cannot help but smile – life is to be enjoyed with people you love and make you happy.

Which shared moment comes to your mind? And where? Would love to know!

xo

Mrs O

Finding 12 shades of blue in the Maldives

On my recent trip to the Maldives, I learned something truly fascinating: there are 12 ways to describe the word blue in the local language. And blue just happens to be my favourite colour.

I don’t know the actual words (and I did try to google them), but here is my interpretation of what I saw.

1. ‘I can see 12 shades of blue without trying too hard’ shade of blue. And if I take a deep breath, the world stands still.

It really was (at Lux Maldives)

It really was paradise at Lux Maldives

2. ‘I will never leave my room because I have a pool and the sea’ shade of blue. On one of the days, we were so lazy we ordered in breakfast and lunch, and I am not ashamed to admit it (says she who never orders room service, ever).

No need to go anywhere. At Constance HalaveliNo need to go anywhere. At Constance Halaveli

No need to go anywhere, when you have a room like this at Constance Halaveli.

3. ‘I am really tired from swimming, I will just rest for a couple of hours’ shade of blue. And I can just stare at the horizon. Or read a book.

I sat down for hours at Iru Fushi

I sat down for hours at Iru Fushi

4. ‘I will never go to a beach with other people’ shade of blue. And if I see someone else, I will wonder what they are doing there.

Not a soul, if I don't want to see anyone - at Iru Fushi

Not a soul, if I don’t want to see anyone – at Lux Maldives

5. ‘It is quite refreshing to see other colours rather than blue’ shade of blue. If you leave your room for a walk around the island.

Blue goes well with white sand. And green. At Constance Halaveli

Blue goes well with white sand. And green, at Constance Halaveli

6. ‘I have just realised that my clothes are also blue’ shade of blue. Seriously, 80% of the clothes I took were indeed blue. I kid you not.

Navy dress, a tan and a smile. Sunset happiness at Iru Fushi

Navy dress, a tan and a smile. Sunset happiness at Iru Fushi

7. ‘I will only drink juice if the colour matches with the rest’ shade of blue. And I cannot tell you how lovely this freshly squeezed papaya juice was.

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

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

8. ‘This is my type of airport’ shade of blue. No need for lounges and business class (who am I kidding?)

It was a little bit noisy, but oh so convenient. Arriving in style at Constance Halaveli

It was a little bit noisy, but oh so convenient. Arriving in style at Constance Halaveli

9. ‘If I stay in the water all day, my legs will finally get darker’ shade of blue. Because I was almost transparent when I arrived to the Maldives. Seriously.

Good to see some magic happening to my legs. At Iru Fushi

Good to see some magic happening to my legs at Iru Fushi

10. ‘When the sun sets, it is time for a gin and tonic with a view’ shade of blue. One of my favourite moments of the day.

Only here I watch the sun set with intent. At Lux Maldives

Only here I watch the sun set with intent – at Lux Maldives

11. ‘The clearest water in the world’ shade of blue. 

And one cannot be happier either. At Constance Halaveli

And one cannot be happier either. At Constance Halaveli

12. ‘One can be really good at something’ shade of blue. I am almost an Olympic champion at ‘beaching’, I kid you not.

I am better at this than skiing. At Iru Fushi.

I am better at this than skiing. At Iru Fushi.

What is your favourite shade of blue?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Lux Maldives, Constance Halaveli and Iru Fushi on my recent trip to the Maldives.