A hotel to remember: Ashford Castle, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Visiting Ashford Castle, in the West Coast of Ireland was, without a doubt, one of my Top 15 travel moments of 2015. Following an extensive refurbishment, the Irish grand dame reopened in 2015 as the one of the flagships of Red Carnation hotels – and I thought that it would be the perfect location to celebrate the beginning of Mr. O’s birthday week (yes, week!).

landing shannon airport from london heathrow aer lingus british airways oneworld ashford castle

Back in the Emerald Isle – the land of Mr. O’s ancestors.

We chose to fly from London Heathrow to Shannon Airport (I had once landed before at this airport enroute to NYC), with Aer Lingus – which meant a short drive from home to the airport, and a 1h45 minute drive to Ashford Castle, but with a little stop for lunch. We hired a car (as we wanted to explore a little bit on the first and last days of this weekend) and made a pit stop at a delightful waterside restaurant recommended by the hotel concierge – the lovely Moran’s Oyster Cottage in Kilcogan, Co. Galway. We had our first taste of Irish soda bread, Guinness and fresh seafood. It couldn’t be more Irish.

ashford castle morans oyster cottage ireland

Mr. O’Reilly feeling right at home ?

After a quick 45-minute drive, we arrived at the stunning grounds of Ashford Castle, just before it got dark. We visited the hotel in November, when days are shorter and were very conscious of not wasting any daylight. Why? Because we would have missed this:

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland arrival sunset

Our first peek of the castle

It had stopped raining, so we saw this as an omen of good things to come – and I have to tell you, we were not disappointed. At all.

We arrived at the hotel and were warmly greeted by the doorman, who made our luggage disappear and walked us to the reception area. We sat down and just took in our surroundings – Ashford Castle lives up to its grand reputation, but with a difference: it felt immensely cosy and from the first minute we felt at home. Needless to say, the lovely Irish accents helped. Of course they did.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland interiors

Not too shabby for Mr. & Mrs. O – and who are the dogs? Well, you get to meet and pet them every morning at around 10am.

We were escorted to our room and given a little tour of the main building – which I would recommend to every arriving guest. The current castle is made up of various additions and there are different levels and helps you find your way around at later stages (particularly handy after an evening at the bar, I would say).

And our bedroom (#430) was… beautiful. It was as grand as it can get – and I loved all the details. The team that led the refurbishment thought of everything and it this is a great example of old-meets-new in terms of interior hotel design.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland stateroom suite

Our beautiful bedroom at Ashford Castle

Our bedroom, classified as a Stateroom was very spacious as you can see, and made up of two levels – there was a mezzanine with a day bed. Everything you see is brand new – but you get an immense sense of place. Everything is where it should be and looks like it belongs there – the fabrics, the scents, the technology. It was nothing short of perfect.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland stateroom bedroom suite details

No words…

Power sockets by each bed? Check. USB ports? Check. Sherry? Check. Heated bathroom floors and incredibly powerful shower? Check. There is nothing I could think that would be missing. Powerful hairdryer? Check. Organic toiletries? Check. Fabulous towels? Check.

What is more… we had what could be considered a ‘room with a view’. Not a bad one indeed. Just bear with me.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland stateroom bedroom bathroom details voya organic

Our gorgeous bathroom which featured Voya toiletries. I had never heard of this brand until this weekend and since then, I have seen it in very interesting places. Worth a look.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland stateroom details

Room details – and note that the keys are touch cards, but Ashford Style of course.

We unpacked and went for a little wander around – outside as a) it was dry for a brief moment and b) it was almost dark. So we were treated to these views:

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Our room was the one on the top left.

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A room with a view – stunning grounds!

We spent the rest of the afternoon in our room, before heading to the bar for a quick drink before dinner. On the first night, we had a booking at the Dungeon, a more traditional (and relaxed, yet smart) Irish option, featuring Irish classics from past and present. We had a great meal and I had another fix of crab claws and tried my first Irish stew.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland dungeon restaurant dinner

The Dungeon restaurant – and of course ir would be rude to say no to Irish cheese.

After dinner, we walked around the hotel a little bit and stumbled upon the billiards room. Over time, so did half of the hotel, and I have to say – we had one of the best unplanned nights ever. The hotel was completely full and I think that a good 30 of us stayed up until the wee hours. I discovered that Mr. O was a master at snooker (and you think you know a man after 11 years, ha!) and we indulged in a very local pastime: drinking Irish whiskey. I was re-acquainted with Red Breast (which I had first discovered in Northern Ireland, the previous year), and over the weekend, we tried a few others which we loved.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland billiards room bar gin irish whiskey

So many whiskeys and gins to try… so little time! But we did our best!

We had a relatively late night but somehow, made it for breakfast in time – how could I miss another serving of soda bread and Irish butter?

After breakfast, we made our way towards the Irish School of Falconry, which is located in the grounds of the castle. I had never tried this type of activity, but so many readers urged me to try this, so I couldn’t say no. Also, we had a boat trip planned which was subject to weather conditions, which did not materialise. It was pouring and cold, but we borrowed some wellies and rain jackets from the hotel and off we went.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland irish school of falconry

Please don’t bite me, was all I could say at the beginning…

I was ever so slightly terrified at first (the photos do not lie), but, as time passed and my confidence grew, I was so surprised – and delighted! The experience took an hour or so, in the rain, and I couldn’t have cared less. We made those birds fly and return to us. It was fantastic.

If you want to see a video of our excellent falconry skills, just head on to Instagram.

Who knew I was almost a natural with these little ones? Falconry Ashford Castle Ireland

Who knew I was almost a natural with these little ones?

After this activity, one of many you can enjoy at Ashford Castle (seriously, there is something for everyone), we took advantage of the fact that it stopped raining for a little bit and walked around. That was before we met Tom, who manages all activities who took us on a proper tour around the Estate, complete with commentary.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland grounds

Even in the rain it looks fab, doesn’t it?

One of the things that I found truly special at Ashford Castle were the people who worked here. Never in my life, have I been to a hotel where people were so proud to work there. Many have been working there for decades, and so did their parents and grandparents. Everyone was incredibly welcoming and sweet (and funny, actually) and that pride was so visible, it was actually touching. We talked about this with other guests (at the bar), and they all agreed.

We decided to skip lunch as we were due for Afternoon Tea – and a girl can only eat so much! This time around, Tom drove us to The Lodge, which is a separate building on the grounds of Ashford Castle (it is a 4-star hotel, more family oriented and at a different price point). We went to Wilde’s, its top restaurant and enjoyed a very different take on this tradition. Let’s put it this way – there was a chocolate egg, which was smashed on our table.. and we then got to eat everything that was in it. It was fun and delicious!

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland lodge wildes chocolate afternoon tea

A very chocolatey Afternoon Tea.

Following tea, we went to the spa. We were not going to let the rain ruin our weekend – and there was so much to do inside (including napping), that it honestly did not matter. The spa is the latest addition to the hotel – its style was very different but quite interesting. The pool was quite busy, but the treatment area was nice and quiet. I enjoyed a Voya Signature treatment whereas Mr. O had a deep tissue massage.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland spa voya organic

The spa at Ashford Castle.

After the spa, I will not lie – we napped a little bit. Our bed was so comfortable, it was difficult to say no to it. So we didn’t.

We also met Eanna, the hotel’s F&B director, who has known my blog for a while (prior to joining Red Carnation) and enjoyed a glass of champagne and had a little private tour of the castle’s wine cellars.

Ashford_Castle_in_County_Mayo

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland hunter boots wine cellar room keys

The wine cellar and the secret passageways and our very cool collection of Hunter boots.

On our last evening, we started it with a nice ShortCross Gin & Tonic at the Prince of Wales bar, before heading to the Georges V dining room, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant. Please note that there is a strict dress code enforced (jacket for gentlemen) and in all honesty, I was delighted. It was a special dining experience, with all the staff in white tie and having someone in shorts and trainers would have ruined my dinner. I am a great believer that there is a time and a place for everything and obviously we were prepared.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland georges v fine dining restaurant dinner

A great evening indeed!

The restaurant offers a 5 or 8 course tasting menu (priced at €74 and €85, respectively, or €145 with wine pairings for the 8-course), but we were quite full from our tea, so we chose to go a la carte. We loved the prime rib of beef carved at the table (so old school and fab) and also some surprises that the chef sent over. It was an excellent meal and I loved that one guest was wearing her own tiara, because she felt that special!

We had an earlier night – after a few more whiskeys of course and slept like babies.

On Sunday, after a 10-hour rest, we enjoyed our last hearty breakfast before leaving the hotel, and heading towards Galway for some shopping, and yet another lunch at Moran’s before flying back to London.

ashford castle luxury hotel ireland entrance

Not easy to say goodbye to Ashford Castle.

Saying goodbye to Ashford Castle wasn’t easy – because we absolutely adored it. Everything about it – the grounds, the decor, the comfort and luxury and, most importantly, the people who worked there. We felt at home and part of this great family. Which means we need to go back, without a doubt.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and fact box: We were guests of Red Carnation Hotels, and adored our stay at Ashford Castle. Opinions are, as always, my own. But this wasn’t voted best hotel of 2015 by Virtuoso by accident – it really was fantastic. Rooms at Ashford Castle start at €245 per night (B&B) and staterooms like ours at €850 (B&B). A one-hour hawk walk costs €65.00 per person, based on a group of 2.

My favourite Winter Sale picks

After the most depressing week of the year, i.e. the very first one, there were only two things that made me smile: booking some trips and indulge in some excellent online shopping. Here are my favourite Winter Sale picks:

Aromatherapy Associates

aromatherapy associates sale

Aromatherapy Associates is one of my go-to brands for skin care and body care, so to speak. Their products very rarely go on sale, except for their Christmas specials, which you can now get for 50% off for a very limited time. My picks were the Bath Jewels which are now priced at £14, The Star for £5 (seriously!), The Relax & Revive set for £9 and, the piece of resistance, The Destress & Comfort set for £18.

There are some additional products on the Space NK website also on sale.

Saks Fifth Avenue

saks fifth avenue duty free sales

Saks Fifth Avenue is one of my favourite USA department stores – and one thing I love about it, is that it now ships worldwide AND every now and then (the case being NOW), they offer free express shipping for orders over 100 USD AND Duty Free shopping, meaning that the price you pay is the same price someone would in the USA and your duty and any tax due is covered by Saks. I have ordered a few things online as a test and it worked beautifully.

From their Winter Sale, which also ends very soon, I picked 4 pairs of shoes. I compared the prices with other websites and these were the best I found – the difference in Europe is that luxury good never really go on sale like they do in the US. My first pick are these Manolo Blahnik knee-high boots which were £938 and are now £371. One of my star buys last season where the Aquazzura Wild Side Suede and Mesh Cage Sandals – my heart skipped a little bit when I saw them on sale for £260. Unbelievable! I also love the Aquazzura Candela ankle-tie satin pumps which are now on sale for £202. Finally, the classic Prada t-bar sandals which can be yours for £113.

Smythson

smythson 2016 winter sale

I am a great fan of Smythson all year round, but I must confess I cannot resist their sales. I have ordered one of these Envelope East West handbag totes which is now £397.50 down from £795 (and is available in various colours). On the website there are some great sale gems, such as the Heart Zip Coin Purse for £67.50, the Burlington Card Holder for £57.50, the Panama Slim Coat Wallet for £97.50 and the Panama iPhone 5 case for a mere £19. Some great gift ideas here – the sale ends very soon.

Happy New Year and Happy Shopping!

xo Mrs. O

My Top 15 Travel Moments of 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, Mr. O and I were reminiscing over our travel year – it was a fantastic one with a good mix of business and leisure trips, just the way I like it. It was difficult to pick 15 moments, but we did our best – here are my Top 15 Travel Moments of 2015 (in no particular order!)

Jaipur, India

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The Amber Fort and Palace in Jaipur

We visited India for the first time and went to Mumbai and Jaipur, which could not be any more different. Needless to say, we adored the food in both cities.

Halkidiki, Greece

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My first visit to mainland Greece

My knowledge of Greece has always been limited (namely as I keep going to the same place over and over again). This Summer, I visited Halkidiki, in the mainland and really was impressed.

Seville, Spain

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Returning to Seville after 20 years

It took me around 20 years to return, but boy, was it worth it! I have been asked to name a ‘hot place’ for 2016 and this would be, without a doubt, my recommendation for a city break in Europe.

Prague, Czech Republic

Flytographer Vacation Shoot Prague Mrs O Around the World

Where it all began.. Prague!

A very emotional trip for us. Why? Because it is where we actually met for the first time over 10 years ago – and this time round, it was time to make some romantic memories in Prague.

Cape Town, South Africa

Flytographer Cape Town Mrs O Around the World

A very special girls trip to South Africa

When I think about a girl’s trip, I always think of somewhere closer to home – but why limit the fun? I loved going back to Cape Town, this time around with my sister and friends Ashley and Carolyn. The most special part of the trip? The charity work we did for New Kidz.

Maldives

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel welcome

My favourite place in the world – the Maldives

This year, and after my third visit, I finally admitted it: the Maldives is my favourite place in the world and I will not deny it again.

Crete, Greece

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Returning to Crete

Why was I so excited about this trip? Because the Blue Palace in Crete was where I was actually asked to become Mrs. O. Enough said!

Madeira, Portugal

Madeira Island Belmond Reids Palace

Madeira Island was incredible!

Another trip down memory lane after 18 years of absence. We adored our Easter break in Funchal, Madeira – and it wasn’t all to do with the wine!

Algarve, Portugal

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My beloved Sheraton Algarve, in Portugal

I think our number of stays at this property has reached 15, and it is fine by me. And we have plans to return next July, as always, to the Sheraton Algarve in Portugal.

St. Moritz, Switzerland

I know. My thoughts exactly.

Skiing in St Moritz, Switzerland

I usually ‘ski in French’, but this year we decided to mix it up a bit, and ‘ski in Swiss-German’, in lovely St. Moritz. And they were very kind to me when I kept saying Bonjour and Excusez-moi!

Ashford Castle, Ireland 

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A truly amazing hotel – Ashford Castle

Probably one of the most special moments of the year – and hotels I have ever stayed at. Never once I have been to a place where the staff were so proud to be there. Perfect place to celebrate Mr. O’s birthday!

Bagan, Myanmar

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Watching the most beautiful sunrise in Bagan, Myanmar

The second time I have spent Christmas away from home, and OMG, it was so special. Mr. O and I loved our trip to Myanmar, where we boarded a very special cruise.

Bath, United Kingdom

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Our first very British Christmas market, in Bath

I love living in the UK and explore this great island – and we adored our very first Christmas market ‘in English’. What do I mean a Christmas market in England? Yes, in Bath, which is probably one of the prettiest cities in the UK. And they have their own gin – enough said!

Palm Springs, USA

palm springs aerial tramway

We visit Palm Springs every year, and it is always very special

My love for Palm Springs is well documented in this blog – and it will continue to be. Each year we go back and plan to return. There is something about it!

New York, USA

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New York gets me every time.

And for me, New York is the centre of the world. I can’t deny it and I won’t fight it – I have visited for the first time 15 years ago, and promised I would return every year. I went 3 times in 2015 and will be my very first trip of 2016. And I won’t even apologise.

I am very grateful for 2015 and cannot wait to see what the 2016 will bring. What were your top travel moments of the year?

xo

Mrs. O

Mrs. O’s Top 10 Christmas gifts for luxury lovers

It is that time of the year! But to be very honest with you, I am all done with my Christmas shopping for the year, so I feel free and ready to shop for some more things, but most probably, for yours truly. So what are this year’s top 10 Christmas gifts for luxury lovers, I hear you ask? To be honest, I have compiled 9 things that I have bought myself (or Mr. O) over the year and one that is on its way.

MRS O TOP 10 CHRISTMAS GIFTS FOR LUXURY LOVERS

True Grace Amber Diffuser (250ml)

true grace amber diffuser 250 ml

Love at first smell, and our house now smells of this beautiful True Grace scent. I have been a fan of the brand for years, and fell in love with it again when I recently visited Bath (in the UK), where you can find its only standalone shop. But worry not, you can get it online at John Lewis for £48.00.

Jonathan Adler Pop Bourbon Candle

jonathan adler bourbon pop candle

Given to me as a gift last Christmas by Ashley from The Lazy Travelers, I spent the whole year searching for these in the UK and the USA (and buying them in bulk). Well, I have found them on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue for £29 (instead of the usual £42 which costs here), and if you spend over $100, you will get duty-free shopping and free shipping on most items (for real!).

Victoria Beckham Liberty Tote

victoria beckham liberty tote black

Over the past year I have become ever so slightly obsessed with Victoria Beckham’s handbags and clothes and this was one of the top purchases of the year (mine was in royal blue, which has sold out) and you can get one for £1,100 from Farfetch.

Canon Powershot G9x

canon-powershot-g9-x silver and brown leather

I have been looking for a camera that a) any idiot can use (that would be me), b) takes GREAT photos and c) can fit in my pocket or evening bag. I tried a Canon Powershot G7x recently and loved it, so I got my hands on one of these last week – a Canon Powershot G9x – which has just been released. It is light as a feather, works a treat with wi-fi and I must confess, I love the way it looks. A winner! You can get it for £399 from Amazon.

Smythson Panama Camera Case

smythson panama camera case

A match made in heaven with our camera, this Smythson camera case comes in various colours and is really lovely and unique. You can get it from Smythson for £50.

Valentino rockstud ballerinas

valentino rockstud shoes ballerinas black flat

Because a girl can never have too many shoes. I have a respectable collection of Valentino Rockstuds and I love how versatile they can be – and whereas I can’t wear the super high heel ones, I love the kitten heeled version and the 2 flat models. Also note that different retailers have different colours and models, so you need to shop around. The price is always the same. I got mine from Matches Fashion for £585.

Carry On Cocktail

CARRY ON GIN TONIC KIT

One of the nicest things I have seen recently – although admittedly my favourite airline has G&Ts on tap – and discovered via my friend Lauren during our weekly #LuxTravelChat on Twitter. The company that makes these, is based in Brooklyn and offers other beautifully designed products. You can get yours from W&P Design for $25.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2000

comtes de taittinger blanc de blancs champagne 2000

My love for Taittinger champagne is well documented (check out my Instagram if you have any doubts) and Mr. O and yours truly are quite partial to some of its vintages. Our current favourite (not for a Tuesday night, of course) is the 2000 Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne which you can get from Waitrose Cellar for £100. Cheers!

The perfect cashmere travel cardigan

neiman marcus pleated cashmere cardigan

One of my favourite pre-USA trip activities is to spend some time at Neiman Marcus’ outlet website, called Last Call by Neiman Marcus and have everything shipped to the hotel (or a lovely friend’s house). The good news is that they now ship worldwide and works a treat – and the prices are amazing. I bought this cashmere cardigan in 4 different colours and it is now on sale for $90 on LastCall.com.

12′ Apple MacBook

macbook air 12 space grey

Without a doubt, one of the key purchases of the year – which really made a difference to my day-to-day – I stopped using my iPad and can actually take this MacBook in my handbag wherever I go. If you want the full spec one, have a look at your local Apple website. Otherwise, you can get it from Amazon from £965, depending on the spec.

So there are my Top 10 Christmas Gifts for luxury lovers and I hope you found some inspiration, if you are still working on your shopping list. From this list, which is your favourite? And more importantly, from your own list, what are you hoping for this Christmas?

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: Belgraves London, a Thompson Hotel

thompson belgraves london hotel outside luxury travel blogger

A deja vu at Belgraves London Hotel

Sometimes London really surprises you – and boy was I surprised and delighted on my recent stay at Belgraves London, a Thompson hotel. The funniest thing? We stayed at this hotel a few years ago (back in the day when it was the Sheraton Belgravia), and exactly in the same room – yet the experience couldn’t have been different. Or better. Here is how my stay at the Belgraves London hotel in London went.

Pre-Arrival

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

I did a tweet a couple of days before my arrival, as I was incredibly impressed with the pre-arrival email I received – it was without a doubt, one of the most memorable. And useful.

I also got an email from the concierge asking if I needed any assistance with dinner reservations – the intent was there, but I had actually sorted everything a few days before. It is London, after all.

belgraves london thompson hotel check in email

Great use of technology

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

I did try and got a response, but no interaction during the actual stay.

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

Oh yes, and in a very non-intrusive way, which I really appreciated.

Arrival

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

When I arrived by taxi, I wasn’t quite sure if the doorman was actually working there – as his outfit was quite different to normal. I honestly was a bit lost for a second as he was so casually dressed, I just thought he was someone hanging by the hotel door. The hotel is very stylish and it all became clear once I walked in!

The hotel lobby was very cool and also quite cozy, which I liked.

thompson belgraves london hotel reception

Day and Night transformation from my previous visit.

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

It was great, very friendly and efficient. I had received a text earlier saying that my room was ready, so it all worked well.

–          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 I have to say, the reception and concierge team were always super friendly throughout the stay.

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

I didn’t and I was secretly delighted that that was the case – as I got the exact same room that I had before. A double aspect room is not very common in London, nor its layout and I always remembered it for some reason. I had a studio suite.

thompson belgraves london hotel reception stairs luxury travel blogger

The staircase which led to the mezzanine floor where you could find the bar and the terrace.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Yes yes yes. Service was great and very personable – I kind of felt at home!

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

I was escorted to the room by the doorman, who showed me around and took my bag. All quite simple.

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

 Free and very easy to use. It didn’t work so well in the room when I was on some conference calls, but when I enquired about it, it was reset and back to normal.

thompson belgraves london hotel reception lobby luxury travel blogger

I loved the touches of blue around the hotel.

Room Experience

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was beautiful and very spacious – yet incredibly cozy and comfortable. The moment I walked in, I recognised it immediately from a previous stay – it was perfect.

thompson belgraves london hotel king size bedroom luxury travel blogger

Loved our Studio Suite

–          Welcome amenity

I had a fruit platter (nicely prepared actually) and water, which arrived after I had checked in, so it was nice and fresh.

–          The bed

It was very comfortable and one of those you do not want to leave.

–          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.

All good here.

thomson belgraves hotel london studio suite bedroom

Very sexy room and one of the most useful (and usable) phone docks ever.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

Possibly one of the best combos I have seen recently, where for once, I could use my USB cable and connect it to the docking station.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, of course. And I used the slippers for once, as they were my size! It was a small lovely touch.

–          Coffee and Tea

I had a Nespresso machine and a wide selection of pods, but I did not use.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, and replenished at turn down.

thomson belgraves london hotel room details amenities luxury travel blog

Room details

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

There was ‘the’ Caitlin Jenner issue of Vanity Fair, which meant I had to read it.

–          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.

Yes yes yes yes yes. Besides the docking station, there were sockets on each side of the bed.

Bathroom

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Stunning bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

I cannot fault the bathroom in any way – it really was excellent.

–          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 I could want and more – the bath did have a view and a half, the shower was outstanding and I was even able to use it without guidance.

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

Fabulously soft. And plenty.

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

We had REN, which is a brand I love and I felt it was a good match for the hotel too. We had baby sized toiletries.

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

All there.

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

Indeed, but I did not use.

Breakfast

thomson belgraves hotel london breakfast pont street restaurant luxury travel blogger

Very good breakfast (for the Continental European in me!)

Breakfast was an interesting experience. It took place at the Pont Street restaurant which is open to non-residents and I quite enjoyed the options – but ultimately I went for the continental buffet (priced at £17.50) as the bread looked excellent, for a change. The interesting thing was that, for a moment, we did not feel we were in London at all – as every other guest, no exception, was American. It was an interesting moment, which I had not noticed at other times during our stay. Quite funny.

Bar

belgraves thompson london luxury hotel cigar bar terrace luxury travel blogger

Absolutely loved the bar areas at the hotel!

We used the bar quite a bit – and had friends join us at different occasions. We loved the cigar bar / terrace which was really pretty and it felt like a little oasis in the centre of London. After dinner (as sadly the terrace closed at 10pm, which I am not quite sure why), we enjoyed the indoor bar, which was heaving every night. Very lively and the cocktails (priced at £12+) were excellent.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

Overall very decent, except for one particular occasion, but the hotel did sort it out in a timely manner.

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

Not particularly.

–          Location

Located on Cheshire Place and Pont Street, I loved being in Belgravia and so close to Chelsea and Knightsbridge. It was excellent.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Standard rooms start from £250 and my suite from £600 per night.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

She would LOVE it.

–          Would I stay again?

Without a doubt – the hotel was very sexy, service was excellent, the location was unbeatable and good value. Not many around like this one.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Belgraves London and Thompson Hotels during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. 

Mrs. O Around the World ‘s 4th Birthday Blog Giveaway #MrsO4

I cannot believe how quickly time goes. Mrs. O Around the World turns 4 this month! 4 years old! I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support over this time – and my way of doing so is to offer you a chance to enjoy some of my favourite luxury experiences and items from around the world.

What are the prizes for the 4th Mrs. O Around the World Blog Anniversary giveaway, I hear you ask? Well… they are quite special!

 A four-night cruise onboard The Strand Cruise by the legendary Myanmar Strand Hotel

Operating a​ schedule of three and four-night itineraries between the ancient cities of Bagan and Mandalay, the Strand Cruise is a reinvention of the legendary style of its sister property, The Strand Hotel Yangon. The new 27-cabin ship is enhanced with latest technology such as individually controlled air conditioning and WI-FI from satellite communication.  

The Strand Cruise is a genuine luxury cruise experience with access to many private moorings close to landmarks along the river. A highlight of the itinerary is an exclusive mooring overnight at Ava on the journey from Bagan to Mandalay, allowing passengers access the beautiful temple of Maha Aungmye Bonzan after the crowds have departed in the evening until the following morning, when monks join passengers for a very special farewell.  The Strand Cruise is also the only operator on the river to offer visits to the iconic U-Bein bridge on both north- and south-bound itineraries.  

Opening Season offer:​ The Strand Cruise has a special launch offer available for sailings from January to March 2016 of 20% off the published high season rate. During this time, the three-night journey between Mandalay and Bagan will be from US$2,592 (usually from US$3,240) per person based on double occupancy, and the four-night journey between Bagan and Mandalay will be from US$2,874 (usually from US$3,592) per person based on double occupancy. There is also a special 2 for 1 offer on the first two cruises (Christmas and New Year). Mr. O and I will be sailing on the Christmas cruise and very much looking forward to sharing this unique experience live. Follow The Strand Cruise on Twitter and Facebook.

The Strand Cruise is offering passage for two people sharing a cabin on a four night journey between Bagan and Mandalay.  The prize is valid until 1 November 2016 and is subject to availability.  Prize includes all excursions and activities as described in the set itinerary, three meals during full sailing days, breakfast on day of disembarkation, soft drinks & local beer, house wine during meals, port charges, English speaking guides (alternative language guides can be provided on request subject to availability), satellite WI-FI in all cabins and public areas and complimentary international daily newspapers available on guest’s digital tablets.  It excludes domestic and international flights, visa costs and transfers.

A weekend at Ashford Castle in Ireland

ashford castle luxury hotel in ireland giveaway

Ashford Castle is magnificent five star hotel set on 350 acres in County Mayo, on the shores of Lough Corrib and the River Cong, with a spectacular backdrop of woodlands, lake, river, and mountains. With 85 guest rooms, a wealth of activities and thoughtful touches throughout, guests will enjoy acclaimed Irish hospitality on a grand scale at Ashford Castle. The striking interiors are in keeping with the castle’s history and grandeur – it’s a treasure trove of art and antiques with more than 800 paintings and around 130 chandeliers.

Following a two-year restoration of the 800-year-old building, the hotel reopened to guests in April 2015. The expansive 350-acre estate lends itself perfectly to a range of outdoor activities; from country classic pastimes such as horse riding, fishing, and falconry, to more modern activities such as golf, cycling and kayaking. So whether you are the active type or prefer to relax and soak up the scenery, you are spoilt for choice at Ashford Castle. After a busy day of outdoor activities, guests can indulge in exceptionally gourmet cuisine offered in the castle’s four main dining rooms – fine dining in the grandeur of the George V Dining Room, casual dining in the comfortable setting of Cullen’s at the Cottage or Cullen’s at the Dungeon, or a delightful Afternoon Tea in the elegant Connaught Room.

Mr. O and I visited recently and I have to say, it was all we expected and more.

Ashford Castle is offering one lucky winner a two night getaway for two people, including breakfast. Prize must be claimed before the end of April 2016, is subject to availability and certain blackout dates will apply (including; Christmas, New Years, the St Patrick’s Day weekend and the Easter weekend). Flights and transfers not included. Non transferrable.

3 nights at Ikos Olivia in Halkidiki, Greece

ikos olivia halkidiki greece

Ancient olive trees and fragrant firs provide both shade and privacy throughout the spacious grounds, the manicured lawns eventually meeting the white sands and refreshing waters of the Aegean. At Ikos Olivia chic design goes hand in hand with subtle elegance to offer a warm welcome to the most discerning traveller.

Relishing its exclusive location on the Gulf of Toroneos, this contemporary Greek masterpiece extends across a perfectly landscaped 22 acres framed by an exclusive white sandy beach. I visited Ikos Olivia earlier this year with my sister and was really impressed.

Ikos Resorts bring a new era of hospitality to the Mediterranean. Luxury resorts in stunning natural locations, where elegance is omnipresent, yet understated. Ikos have redefined the all inclusive holiday by offering an exceptional food and beverage experience and exemplary service. Each Ikos property is located on a golden sandy beach and features 5 restaurants, 4 of which are a la carte and overseen by Michelin starred chefs. 24 hour room service, a dine out experience in selected local restaurants together with an extensive wine list, branded spirits in all bars and in your hotel mini bar and waiter service by the pool and on the beach are just some of the extra touches you will experience as part of the Ikos Resorts Infinite Lifestyle experience.

Ikos Olivia is offering a very lucky reader a 3-night stay in a sea view double room and a chance to experience its Infinite Lifestyle concept. Offer is valid until October 2016, excluding dates from 15th June – 15th September.

AirPortr luggage concierge for as many bags as you can carry (except you won’t have to carry them!)

airport luggage service heathrow gatwick london city portr

AirPortr is your London airport personal luggage concierge service.
It doesn’t matter how luxurious the destination you may be travelling to is – sometimes it is that trek to and from the airport that can take the 5* feeling away. Now AirPortr are on hand to treat you like a VIP and deliver your luggage for you. On your day of travel, AirPortr can collect your luggage from your home or hotel and deliver it to the airport later that day leaving you free to take your time and travel to the airport at your leisure, totally bag free. Similarly when you land in London, you simply leave your luggage with the AirPortr team in the airport terminal and the next time you see your bags will be at your home or hotel later that day.

I don’t know about you but having someone carry my bags for me always makes me feel a little bit jet-set!

 

AirPortr are offering their luggage concierge service complimentary for two people for your next return trip for up to 25 bags, includes sports equipment/oversized luggage (any weight any size).

Service is limited to operational areas, please refer to portr.com for current airports serviced and qualifying delivery/pick up areas. Prize valid for 12 months.

Molton Brown Tobacco Absolute Set

Molton Brown Tobacco_Collection

With over 25 years of experience, Molton Brown has naturally built up a renowned reputation as body and bath connoisseurs. Their team travels around the world looking for the rarest and finest ingredients before returning to their beloved home in London to blend them to the highest standards. Think luxurious shower gels, lavish body lotions, indulgent hand care and fine eau de toilettes…  Molton Brown is inspired by London, a city that never sits still; this is what makes their colours brighter and their scents bolder.

Explore Molton Brown’s full collection to discover your favourite blends this Black Friday weekend with up to 25% off your order*. Its Christmas gift range holds glorious treats for you and your loved ones; from a wide selection of stocking fillers to luxury gift sets, show your friends and family what they really mean to you.

To start the festive celebrations, Molton Brown is giving away the latest addition to their men’s collection, Tobacco Absolute. A reassuring collection of a bath and shower gel, a sensual eau de toilette and a refreshing deodorant spray containing masculine woody notes and a light hint of citrus. This will make a sophisticated Christmas gift for the modern gentleman in your life. *t&cs apply. Offer is valid 26 – 30 Nov 2015

The World Grand Tour Box from LUXE City Guides

luxe city guides box luxury travel guides

Super-svelte and full of sass, LUXE avoids all the fluff and filler of other travel guides and gets straight to the meat of a destination. The result? Ultra-smart printed city guides and digital apps stacked with sharp and snappy city insights.

Right in time for gifting season, LUXE has also put together a shortlist of pressie ideas sure to please any global gadabout. And, as a special Christmas treat, they’re offering free shipping on all orders of USD$50 or more.

Want to get your manicured mitts on some? Enter to win the LUXE World Grand Tour Box, a smart selection of 12 LUXE city guides – Bangkok, Dubai, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo. Phew!

The ultimate Tinggly experience (and you can choose your own)

tinggly luxury travel experiences

What do you buy a person that has it all? A whole world of choice is available when you think about a Tinggly gift box. Unique gift experiences which can be the ideal gift for loved ones whether it’s for a birthday, a wedding or just because. The Tinggly choice voucher lets the recipient choose from hundreds of fab experiences across the globe (in more than 80 countries), and is valid for up to two years, so there’s no need to make a decision straightaway!

There are three different value collections: Essential, Premium and Ultimate. Each experience in these collections is quite unique and will appeal to different moods, locations and, of course, who will use it. Experiences range from a high speed luxury yacht in the UK, to a yoga camp in India. One of my favourite ones is being able to create my own perfume in France and there are also lots of cooking classes around the world.

Tinggly is offering my readers one Ultimate Experience gift box which will be valid for 2 years.

To enter this competition, simply do the following:

a) subscribe to the blog by signing up on the right hand side of this page. You will receive an email confirmation and you are free to unsubscribe at any time as soon as this competition ends.

b) share this blog post via Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus. Make sure it has the hashtag #MrsO4 so I can see it!

c) let me know which prize you would prefer (if you could choose!), and answer the following question: ‘Where would you spend your perfect New Years and with whom?’

This competition is now closed. Winners will be selected by each prize sponsor, based on the answers and will be contacted by email.

A luxury weekend in Jaipur, India

After a fabulous taste of Mumbai, which we really really enjoyed, we hopped on a short flight (under 2 hours) to Jaipur, also known as India’s ‘Pink City’.

We flew with Jet Airways on its premiere class, which was very comfortable, as per our international experience. The main difference was of course, the type of plane and seat, and the fact that there was no alcohol served on board – which of course, didn’t make a difference.

jet airways domestic business class mumbai to jaipur

I must say that this domestic flight experience with Jetairways was better than many European ones we have. The seats were comfortable and there was *plenty* of legroom in its business class or ‘premiere’ cabin.

As we landed, we were met by our driver from Tamarind Tours, a company that organised all our local transfers and activities, and as per our experience in Mumbai, the service was faultless. In under 40 minutes, we arrived at one of the most special hotels I have ever stayed at: the stunning Oberoi Rajvillas, located outside the city of Jaipur.

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India mrs o around the world

The stunning Oberoi Rajvillas in Jaipur

We also had one of the most beautiful welcomes ever – as we walked towards the front of the hotel, all I remember were the candles, and someone throwing rose petals from the top of the building. Obviously we don’t have any photographs – but it was a moment I will never forget.

As we got to the hotel, we couldn’t help but be impressed with our surroundings – the hotel was stunning and quite grand, just what was needed for a location like Jaipur. We were escorted to our Royal Tent, which was made up of two separate tents and a large private garden area.

Rajvillas Jaipur India Luxury Villa 1

Villa 220 at the Oberoi Rajvillas

One of the tents had our beautiful bedroom and bathroom – a bath had been prepared for us and it was still hot as we got there. It was a very thoughtful touch.

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India Luxury Villa bedroom

A lovely room ?

And then on the other tent, we had a living room and a waiting bottle of Indian sparkling wine, which was actually a very pleasant surprise (we had tried other wines from the same brand in Mumbai and they were very good!).

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India Luxury Villa 2

The second tent

We spent the rest of the evening at the hotel, where we had a very interesting dinner, as the chef prepared us a tasting menu of the local cuisine – it was outstanding.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel (I must confess I did not indulge in local specialties, choosing to have fruit and a continental breakfast), before we were met by our driver and guide, who were there on the dot.

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India breakfast

I loved the fresh fruit and juices in India (obviously in the safety of the hotel).

We made our way to the first monument of the day: the one and only Amber Fort, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and by far, the most visited attraction in the area. As we went early, we beat some of the queues – and that was a great idea. The palace is located 10 kms from Jaipur, and a must visit.

amber fort jaipur india

The Amber Fort and Palace in Jaipur

Our driver dropped us off at the bottom entrance and for a second I did not quite understand how we were going to get all the way up – and before I knew it, we were riding an elephant. If there is one thing I regret from this whole trip – was this very moment. I felt incredibly guilty for doing this, it was uncomfortable and not particularly hygienic and the elephant was so tired (or looked like he was), I actually thought we were going to fall. It is not my place to tell others not to do something, but your driver can take you actually to the very top of the fort by car (which is where we were picked up at the end).

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India amber fort1

Mrs. O was not smiling. I really did not enjoy this part of the trip.

The fort itself was incredible – actually it was the set of two of the Bollywood films I had watched on the plane and I almost felt like I knew it. As we were early, it wasn’t crazy busy – and we were even able to take some photos without others in sight. Our guide was knowledgeable and quite relaxed which was good – there was a lot to see and we spent quite few hours here.

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India amber fort2 mrs o around the world

Smiling again – and enjoying the views

It was really quite hot and humid – and the obvious downside is that you need to drink water. And if you need to drink water, you can imagine what one might need to do later. I can report that the loo facilities at this venue are actually quite good – namely the paid ones, of course, so this is one less thing to worry. I was really worried, and all for nothing.

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India amber fort2

What a place!

From the palace, we made our way to the city, and visited the Jantar Mantar Observatory, which has a lot of time measuring instruments (not exactly our cup of tea). We also visited the Albert Hall and the City Palace, which were way more interesting and worth the time.

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India Pink city 1

The beautiful Hawa Mahal, also known as the “Palace of the Winds.” Below, the other buildings we have visited.

Lunch was a very quick affair and took place at a local hotel and in the afternoon, I was a woman on a mission: shopping of course! I had visions of buying beautiful beach dresses, tunics and sandals and spent quite a few hours looking at the local stalls. Jewellery was also on the cards – but somehow I wasn’t 100% sure of what I would be buying if we think about diamonds, but in terms of gold, I actually didn’t find anything simple enough. After wasting a few hours (I really was disappointed in that sense), our guide took us to one of ‘his friend’s’ shop, which was actually quite interesting.

We enjoyed learning how rugs were made and most importantly, I discovered that they had a tailor. I also learned about the traditional block printing – which is a way of ‘decorating’ fabrics and I even had a little go at it. If they charged us double for what we bought, it did not matter – we actually had a fantastic time. And more importantly, I got to order 4 made-to-measure beach dresses, choosing the model, variety of fabrics and extras, which would be delivered to our hotel the following day (amazing!!). For the record, the dresses were an average of £20 each – which I found to be outstanding value for money. AND they fit.

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India Pink city 2

A city of contrasts, of course. And I still couldn’t get used to having cows everywhere – but they were where they should be.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel, where we enjoyed a spa treatment and a little walk around the grounds. It was lovely and quite relaxing – it was interesting the contrast of the city noise (and the chaos and the smell), and the hotel, which was so quiet, you could hear the birds. It was perfect.

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India luxury hotel details

Some details from our stay at the Oberoi Rajvillas. And my dresses!

For dinner, we went outside the hotel – and visited another hotel! A local landmark, Rambagh Palace by Taj was also spectacular, yet completely different from where we were staying. We had cocktails at its polo bar (which was a lot of fun) and an epic 3-hour meal at Suvarna Mahal, its fine dining restaurant. Again, we asked the chef to prepare whatever he wanted as we weren’t sure what to choose – and it was phenomenal.

suvarna mahal taj rambaugh palace fine dining cakebread wine jaipur india

An epic meal at a very special hotel.

Dinner costs around £35-50 per person excluding drinks – we were incredibly surprised to see one of our favourite American wines, Cakebread on the menu (and we had done so at the Oberoi), and had to have it again – even if it was to boost their local sales. Funnily enough, it wasn’t an accident – it pairs wonderfully well with the food and all the waiters love the name of the wine. Word of warning, try not to eat for at least 6 hours before this meal.

On our final day, we took it very easy. Very very easy – we stayed by the pool and enjoyed a little bit of sun. Our tasting trip to India was quite non-stop, and it was just what we needed. And it was so quiet, it was perfect.

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India swimming pool

Not too shabby for Mr. and Mrs. O – and the hotel provided travel-sized sunscreen.

Before we left, the hotel surprised with with a little blessing at its temple – I must confess I didn’t understand what was said, but it was lovely.

Oberoi Rajvillas Jaipur India wedding ceremony blessing

Something different!

And leaving the hotel, was actually really quite hard – we had a quick meal as it would be a few hours before we could eat again (we were flying to Mumbai and then on to London). But what I will never forget was what happened when we got to the car and drove off – as we did, 6 or 7 members of staff were strategically placed by the driveway, waving goodbye in a very synchronised manner. As I got to number 4, I was in tears.

I know that going to India and visit both Mumbai and Jaipur in 5 and a bit days was crazy. REALLY crazy. But it was one of the most special trips we have been on. We loved the people, the food, the hotels and will certainly go back and explore more of this incredible country again.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: We were guests of Jet Airways, Oberoi Rajvillas and Tamarind Tours. Our trip was nothing short of perfect, and opinions are, as always, my own.

Fly: with Jet Airways from London Heathrow to Jaipur with a stopover in Mumbai in business class from £1800. Read my flight review here.

Sleep: at the Oberoi Mumbai, where a deluxe room costs from £300/night and tents from £600. Exceptional service and decor. Mrs. O approved indeed.

Get Around: with Tamarind Tours, who provided exceptional service both in Mumbai and Jaipur. Our 5-day trip, complete with driver and guides, and airport transfers cost £250.

Take photos: with the Leica V-Lux. With its long wide-angle to super-telephoto and macro zoom range, the Leica V-Lux succeeds in doing justice to the beauty of the world in all its facets. For photographic memories in excellent picture quality. Its extremely fast autofocus ensures that spontaneous shots are only a breath away. A camera for people who see life as a great adventure with countless things to discover as they travel through it. Cost: £925.

A hotel to remember: Ikos Olivia in Halkidiki, Greece

Up until June this year, I had never visited Greece’s mainland. But more and more incredible hotels have been opening – and seasonal direct flights with BA from London, definitely put this part of the world in my horizon.

May 2015 marked the opening of Ikos Olivia, a stunning luxury hotel located in Halkidiki, Greece. The hotel follows an all-inclusive concept – which is something I am not particularly keen on, as a traveller, but it promised something different: ‘infinite lifestyle’ which translates as something quite unique. Read on.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel map

Where in the world?

On this trip (as with others this year to Madeira, Maldives and the Algarve), I travelled with Sovereign, who organised my trip. My guest this time around was my dear sister Renata who was spending some time with me in London. I think that some one-on-one sister time (and the promise of some sunshine even in early June) was just what we needed.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel no 1 traveller lounge london gatwick north airport

No. 1 Traveller Lounge at London Gatwick North, standard to all Sovereign guests

I am not a huge fan of 6am flights, namely from Gatwick (which adds considerably to our journey), but that meant a direct flight with BA (and double tier points compared to Europe, which comes as a little bonus of flying to places like Greece, Turkey and Cyprus – 160 to be precise) and a late morning arrival, due to the 2-hour time difference. Luckily, Gatwick’s Premium Security opened just as the queue for all passengers was incredible, and we made our way to the No. 1 Traveller Lounge, which is a perk for all Sovereign guests. It is a lovely lounge and we were able to have breakfast and get some magazines too.

Our flight was around 3.30 hours, and I must confess, I slept all the way through – I woke up on the ’10 minutes to landing announcement’ and was rewarded with a beautiful landing – we could see the turquoise waters, which is exactly what we went to Greece for. On arrival, we were met by Keith, the local Sovereign concierge and our private transfer was ready for us. And in under 40 minutes, we arrived at the beautiful Ikos Olivia.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel british airways flights to thesaloniki

An easy and very comfortable journey, organised by Sovereign.

The hotel is made up of 2 sections – a main building, and a series of bungalows, many of which have their own private pools. It offers 4 a la carte restaurants and 1 buffet, and all options are available for breakfast, lunch and dinner, meaning you can choose anything you would like, at any time.

We were starving as we arrived, and the first thing we did, literally, was to have lunch. We found a snack bar by the beach where we tucked into our first of many Greek salads and just took in our surroundings. The hotel was new and it really was very nice.

We walked around a bit and saw a large beach area, 3 different pools, and as we got to the bungalow area, where we were staying, discovered a separate pool and quieter beach area – reserved to guests staying in the bungalows (which had the black keycards).

Our room

Our bungalow was on the beach, at the very edge of the hotel ground – it had a living room and two ensuite bedrooms and bathrooms (one with a king bed and one with two twin beds).

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel living room suite

The living room of our two bedroom bungalow – with didn’t have a bad view either.

We loved the colour scheme (not just of the room, but the whole hotel). We were seriously very impressed with the hotel from an interior design perspective (and my sister being one herself and a trained architect even more).

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel master bedroom bungalow

The master bedroom was beautiful.

We loved how spacious our 2 bedroom suite was and I must confess, I was particularly impressed with the USB ports in each room and the fact that besides the standard European plugs, there were also UK ones. Small touches – but very useful ones.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel bedroom bungalow

The second bedroom which was also stunning. The bathroom specs were great too, and we loved the full-sized Anne Semonin toiletries.

Outside, we had a very comfortable seating area (and that inspired me to completely redo our patio area at home) and stunning views to the quiet sea and our almost private beach.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel 2 bed bungalow

Our lovely outdoor area

Dining options

When we ordered our first meal, I did think it was rather strange not having to sign something or tip. But as we continued to enjoy our stay, we got to enjoy it quite a bit.

I am no fan of buffets, and if you are not either, you are in for a treat. The restaurant options were outstanding and I have to say – the decor and design theme continued throughout the dining outlets. We tried Ouzo, the Greek restaurant by the beach and it must be one of the nicest beach restaurants I have ever seen anywhere in the world. Sadly I couldn’t take many other photos as the other tables were full!

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel beach dining

Beautiful setting for dinner and stunning food.

On our second night, we tried the ‘Dine Out’ Experience, which basically lets you leave the resort and go to a local restaurant, which has a menu for Ikos guests. To be honest, we really wanted to have some really Greek specialties and went off menu and just selected what we fancied – and it was lovely. We also got to discover a little shop around the corner, called Melithea and we just loved the owners – a mother and son who had a lovely selection of organic oils, olives, jams, spices, herbs and the lot. We couldn’t resist and brought quite a few things back with us.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel melithea shop outside hotel

If you go to this hotel, do try and find this shop. You won’t be sorry!

On our third night, we had dinner at Fusco, which offered a very interesting Italian fine dining experience. The meal was excellent, as were all the others we experienced.

For breakfast, we tried different options each day – we loved the little buffet at the Provence restaurant and actually were incredibly impressed with the main buffet restaurant. It was one of the most well designed buffets I have seen – and I was not expecting it.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel breakfast

We were really spoiled for choice at the restaurants.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel food options

We were very impressed with the standards at the hotel – and service was very friendly too.

During the day, you had pool and beach side service like you would at any luxury hotel – and we ordered some drinks (a frappe, ice tea, soft drinks etc). When it got closer to sunset time, we changed our order to gin & tonics, of course.

We were very pleased with everything on offer – except one thing: the gin selection. Obviously after asking, it was clear that gin isn’t a thing in Greece (yet) and the hotel did take the comments on board – there were many British guests and this matters to us (me not being British but I live there). The wines recommended to us were also really quite good and in all honesty, the whole experience felt like a ‘sign at the end’ hotel, and the service and attention totally matched it.

But there was one thing the hotel wouldn’t be able to get me – simple fresh grilled fish. And there was one person that could help me: Keith, the 24h Sovereign concierge.

Keith, our super Sovereign concierge

When you travel with Sovereign, a couple of days before your trip, you get a special call. You never know when it comes (it is like a surprise!). And basically the local concierge introduces him/herself and offer to help you in anyway they can. It also makes the airport arrival much nicer as you then get to meet the person. We never mean to trouble anyone, but on this trip, we *really* used and abused Keith’s time and local knowledge.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel cocktails

Doing a bit of cocktail homework

We texted Keith asking if he could help us get a car and find grilled red mullets. It really was as specific as that. Keith was actually close to the hotel and met us so we could go through all the details. Armed with maps and information, we plotted our little journey around the local area. I was slightly worried about renting a car on the spot (as I have a record for quite horrible car rental experiences) and was surprised with his answer. Sixt would have a car ready for us at the hotel the next morning. What? Yes.

So the following morning, we sat down at a sofa in reception… handed over credit cards and driving licences, filled a form, and were given a key. It was SO simple and so personal and so nice. Hats off to Sixt for providing this service to all Ikos Olivia guests – a rep comes each morning and evening and you can just sit down and sort it out. Car types are limited of course and start from 50 Euros a day.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel sixt car hire

Not all car rentals are the same. Nor the traffic jams. We were quite adventurous and did get stuck a bit..

We spent a whole day driving around the various peninsulas and were really impressed by its natural beauty. We also loved how ‘undeveloped’ the area felt – and I mean this in the nicest way possible. No neon signs, no shabby souvenir shops, it was actually quite refreshing.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel sixt car hire exploring

Guess what I had for lunch?

We found this little place called ‘5 steps in the sand‘ in the Sithonia peninsula and had a really lovely meal. It was still early in the season and was quite quiet – so we had extra attention from the owner, who was delighted to see a tourist ask for red mullets! Lunch for 2: 50 Euros.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel

Yes, this is what this part of the world looks like. Truly stunning.

A bit of TLC

The hotel had a lovely (and very busy) spa – and I couldn’t resist booking a signature Anne Semonin massage for an hour, in between very busy naps at the beach. The spa was excellent and so was the therapist. A 60-minute massage was 120 Euros.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel anne semonin spa

I wanted to bring those seats back home, I really did.

But where we really spent our time.. was at the beach. The lovely quiet beach – we had some rain, but we also had some sun. And when it rained, we took naps on our outside sofas which were covered.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel beach pool all inclusive

Visiting this part of Greece was a lovely surprise – we really liked it. The hotel was outstanding and I honestly will be going back with Mr. O and friends next year. Because I need to see this sunset again.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel beach sunset

PS. I also need to check if there are more types of gin, of course.

xo

Mrs. O

Fact box: I was a guest of Sovereign on this trip and I enjoyed every minute of it. Opinions are, as always, my own. Sovereign (+44 1293 731 566) is offering seven nights at the five star Ikos Olivia in Halkidiki, staying in a one-bedroom bungalow suite on an All Inclusive basis, from £1,139 per person – saving up to £411 per couple. Sovereign guests benefit exclusively from a complimentary private cocktail by the beach and a farewell gift. The holiday also includes UK airport lounge access (where available), private resort transfers and return flights from London Gatwick with easyjet. Based on departures 2 May 2016. (British Airways’ flights to this area will begin in mid May 2016)

My hOtel: Porto Bay Liberdade, Lisbon, Portugal @portobay

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal facade

When old becomes brand spanking new – the lovely Porto Bay Liberdade hotel in Lisbon, Portugal

I like nothing more than being pleasantly surprised when it comes to my hometown of Lisbon, Portugal. And nothing makes me happier to see local hotel brands (Porto Bay is originally from Madeira, Portugal and is connected to the Blandy family, the largest winemaker in the region) really pushing the boat and creating something quite unique. Here is how my stay at the recently opened Porto Bay Liberdade hotel went.

Pre-Arrival

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

There was indeed. This has been a brand that has followed me for quite a few years and I was actually delighted to finally get to try it.

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

I did, and they were on top of their game, despite my stay having taken place over a weekend (some hotels still believe social media is a Monday-Friday job, which isn’t the case).

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

No, but then again, I had no special requests as per normal.

Arrival

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

We meant to drop our luggage before actually checking in as we had some errands to run in town, and at that very moment, there was no bellman outside. Once I got inside which our suitcases (Mr. O was double parked), I was promptly helped by the reception team who came outside to give us an extra hand.

I quickly looked around and thought the space was lovely. The hotel decor was really quite different than what I was expecting – with lots of unique pieces and I really liked it.

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal lobby and reception

The reception and lobby area

The hotel is a new development of a collection of old buildings in one of Lisbon’s most important business and tourist areas – I am aware of the building restrictions and issues and I have to say, I was surprised with some of the facilities the hotel managed to ‘squeeze in’.

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

Once we returned to the hotel again (I had said my name before, of course), the reception staff had the keys ready. We showed our passports (which is a very interesting Portuguese hotel requirement, where copies are taken – and happens randomly around the world, but we kind of knew of course it would happen) and left our credit card for any extras.

We were escorted to our room and given a little tour of the facilities – which was important as otherwise we may have not imagined that we were to find so many surprises.

–          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)

I was (and it is always a comical moment when I am address as Sra. O’Reilly in Portugal, which still sounds very strange after so many years). I have been Sra. Silva all my life. I was also very grateful that they understood my husband did not speak the language and always spoke to him in English (and with me too, to make it easier). This doesn’t happen often, and I appreciated the gesture.

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

I was confirmed in a deluxe room, and that is what I got.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Very much so – we were actually impressed with how good the staff were throughout my stay. It was good to see.

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

Our luggage was sent to our room during the time that we dropped it and arrived again in the afternoon.

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

Wifi was free and the codes were provided.

Room Experience

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal deluxe room

Our cozy room

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was really quite cozy (rooms are not very large at the hotel), but tastefully decorated. We also had a separate seating area, as well as a little balcony overlooking the back of the hotel. I preferred to be on this side as I would not get any noise from traffic, etc.

–          Welcome amenity

We had a bowl of fruit and water.

–          The bed

The bed was very comfortable – and the pillows were very good. There was a pillow menu available but we didn’t need any extras. The bed linen was also lovely.

–          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.

All good in this department, although we had to ask for more hangers (which were brought whilst we were in the spa).

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

Even better, and I think it is time to update these reviews – the item to look out for will be a USB socket. And I am delighted to announce that yes, the hotel had them.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Indeed, but we did not use.

–          Coffee and Tea

There was a Delta (which is Portugal’s leading coffee brand) pod-operated machine, which was great to see. We did not use it.

–          Free bottled water

Yes.

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

It wasn’t anything to write home about – there was Essential Lisboa which is quite good if you are from out-of-town but nothing else.

–          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 couldn’t find any by the bed per se, but we had the USBs at the desk, so we charged our phones there. No problem at all.

Bathroom

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal deluxe bathroom rituals toiletries

Very rarely I have a shower as good as home. This time, it was the same! As in the same we have at home.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was actually not small at all – and very nice.

–          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?

Oh yes, the hotel spent money on these items and the whole fit out was excellent. As I said on the photo caption above, very rarely we have a shower which is as good as what we have at home. This time around, it was like as if we were home. Great shower.

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

No problems here.

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

I was surprised to see Rituals, which is a well-known brand in Europe (and quite popular in Portugal) whose products I actually really quite like. Very rarely you see them in hotels, so it was good. The products are very good. They were presented in small-sized bottles.

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

Everything, and quite nicely presented.

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

I did not use it, but the hairdryer looked very ‘real’, which is good news.

Breakfast

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal breakfast

I loved breakfast, included in the room rate – and in the middle photo at the bottom you can see the coconutty ‘God’s bread’ which were delicious.

Breakfast was… excellent! This is where I am completely biased (and you will understand – I can, because it is my blog!). I am Portuguese and everything I missed and could want was there – from a simple selection of cheese and hams, many types of bread (including God’s bread which is something you need to try when you go) and custard tarts of course. I was like a little kid in a candy store – obviously there were eggs and bacon and other things catering to international visitors. But my husband only tried the Portuguese specialties too :)The hotel has a quite well-known restaurant which we did not get to try, as we had already made plans to see friends. But quite a few friends have been (non-hotel guests) and said it was excellent.

Spa & Pool

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal indoor pool

I wasn’t expecting a pool this size in Central Lisbon, I really wasn’t.

One of the nicest surprises, was indeed, the spa. I was not expecting to see an Aromatherapy Associates spa at the hotel (it is one of my favourite brands and I love their spa concept). We both had a message each and I thought the whole experience was excellent – I had the ‘ultimate aromatherapy experience’ for 50 minutes (priced at 95 Euros) and really enjoyed it.

We also got to try the pool – which was quite large but sad we did not catch some rays in the outdoor area (no time).

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal rooftop jacuzzi and bar

And saving the best for last…

And as an extra treat, guests can enjoy a rooftop terrace which also has a bar.. and a hot tub! And I have to say, excellent Gin & Tonics, served in proper glasses! It really was lovely.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

Excellent and no issues during our stay.

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

Indeed and we had a bit of fun.

–          Location

The hotel is located just off Lisbon’s main street, Avenida da Liberdade. I thought it was an excellent location, close to all the designer shops and very easy to get to and from.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

The best surprise – rooms start at 120 Euros per night, which is excellent value for money.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Without a doubt. Since I stayed in July (and shared my experience via social media), quite a few readers have tried the hotel and were very pleased.

–          Would I stay again?

Without a doubt. I felt like I found a little oasis in the centre of town and wished we stayed for more than 3 days. There is always next time.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Porto Bay Liberdade during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. 

Discovering Campeche and Yucatan in Mexico

Going to Mexico, away from the crowds, was something Mr. O and yours truly were very keen to do. But where in Mexico? We didn’t want to put ourselves in any weird situations (as we did want to drive around a little), so after some research, we found the right place for us: we were to explore the states of Campeche and Yucatan, in the north east of Mexico.

map of yucatan and campeche

Where in the world? This should make it easier – look for Cancun, Merida and Campeche.

Getting there:

Looking at the map, the best way for us (in the absence of a direct flight, of course), was to fly to Dallas, with we did with British Airways, and connect with American Airlines to Cancun. Connecting in Dallas wasn’t as brilliant as most people say it is (immigration and connection services were a joke…), but our second flight was delayed which meant we did not have to stress so much. We were meant to land in Cancun at around 7pm local time, but ended up landing close to 11pm, which wasn’t ideal, but what else could we do?

We did not want to stay in Cancun for just a night, and we wanted to make headway to where we were going, so we organised to be picked up by Samuel, a Mayaland driver, which was the best idea we had. We were far too tired to drive the 2-hour journey from Cancun to Chichen Itza, and certainly did not want to do so at night.

We arrived close to 2am at the Mayaland Lodge at Chichen Itza and literally passed out. The hotel was defined as luxury (it was on the Conde Nast list… but in 2003), but in our opinion, it was a different type of luxury. It was simple and everything worked… and we slept for only 4 hours. The reason why we chose this hotel was clear: if we slept there, we would be the first ones to have access to Chichen Itza the following morning and that was a no brainer. If I went back to the area, I would do exactly the same thing again – and have no problems recommending the hotel based on this assumption.

mayaland resort lodge chitchen itza mexico

The Lodge at Chichen Itza, Mexico. Basic but functional.

We had breakfast and met our guide and driver – Augusto, who was to spend the day with us and show us around. Chichen Itza is an UNESCO world heritage archaeological site with excavated ruins of the large Maya city, including an iconic step pyramid. It was one of the things I really wanted to see, and having access to it virtually on our own (with other hotel guests, of course), was really worth it.

The only downside is that we had to queue for tickets (which could have been pre-organised, so ask for this when booking). Entrance costs around 19 USD (208 pesos) and is cash only. And we had limited cash (we only managed to get around 500 pesos at the airport the night before).

chichen itza ruins mayaland resort mexico yucatan

Just like a postcard – the Chichen Itza archeological site in Yucatan, Mexico.

We walked around the site for an hour – the street vendors will still setting up their stalls, but the timing was perfect. At around 8am, we started making our way towards the city of Merida, very slowly, with a few pit stops on the way.

chichen itza ruins mexico yucatan

I did not plan my outfit too well (too much of the same colour and wrong handbag). But if life was perfect, what would be the fun?

This area of Mexico is quite undeveloped and it felt quite ‘real’. One thing we also wanted to see, was a ‘cenote’, which are found in this area. What is a cenote, I hear you ask? According to Google, it is a “natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath”. In other words, something truly stunning.

There are many cenotes in the area, and we went to ‘Yokdzonot’ which was small and beautiful. Entrance cost around 4 USD (60 pesos) and as we beat the crowds, we had it all to ourselves. I was very sorry that I had not planned ahead and had a swim.

cenote yucatan mexico mrs o around the world

Worth noting that my hair was completely straight when I had left the hotel earlier that morning!!

From here, we made our way to Izamal, which was a delightful little town. One of Mexico’s 35 ‘magical towns’. According to the Mexican government, a town can be magical if it has rich historical tradition and is near ‘interesting places’ and a larger city (72km from Merida). Izamal is painted yellow and its Franciscan convent is a must-visit.

izamal town yucatan mexico

We thought Izamal was very pretty and worth a visit.

The drive to Merida, the capital of the Yucatan state was quick and a great way to see the scenery. We stopped for lunch at Casa Parrilla (where I enjoyed my first of many ‘sopa de lima’ or lime chicken soup, which was my first taste of the local cuisine, which I adored). We felt that Merida would have been worth more of our time and wished we had planned it a bit better. But gives us another reason to return one day.

merida city yucatan mexico

We managed to squeeze in a little walk about Merida.

Our driver dropped us off at the airport, where we had pre-booked a car hire with Hertz – I know I have *really bad luck* with car hiring experiences, and here we were treated to one of the best (read: worst) ones ever. Booking a car was a challenge – there is the game of supply and demand and the fact that no car hire company gives you an accurate amount for insurance which must be taken locally and at the counter. I read a lot of awful reviews online and tweeted Hertz a day before to triple check everything was OK. We booked the only car available then (at $125/day for 5 days) and were ensured everything would be peachy. Well, there was no car. At all. Apparently this happens quite a lot (and I did everything I could to prevent this) – and they couldn’t care less. It was ‘normal’ and our wait was for at least 5 hours, ‘or the next day’. I seriously could not believe it. What surprised me the most was Hertz’s response on social media. Click here to read the whole conversation on Twitter. It was almost comical.

hertz car hire twitter merida mexico 1

Excellent customer service…

We managed to find a car with Sixt (which wasn’t available online to book) – so seriously, if you are considering a car rental, be prepared. The car ended up being the same rate – but with insurance included (for something quite… limited), but we were able to move and continue with our trip.

A few hours later, we arrived at Campeche, the capital of the state with the same name. Its town centre is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I have to confess, driving around town, I could not wait to get there. The approach to the town was quite chaotic and when we turned into the walled part of the city, we couldn’t believe the contrast. It was stunning!

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico hotel

The Hacienda Puerta Campeche, where we stayed for 6 days.

Starwood’s Luxury Collection brand has a selection of a few stunning haciendas in the area, and I must confess, it was how I first heard about this part of the world. We couldn’t decide which one to stay at – and did not fancy moving hotels during the stay, so we went with Puerta Campeche, which is located in the town centre. We figured that it would be better to be able to go out for dinner, have some shopping options, etc.

The hotel is very small and in great condition – it is also very ‘in touch with the place’. Our room was on the top floor and was a junior suite of sorts. Quite spartan, in a way – but super super comfortable.

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico hacienda puerta campeche bedroom

Our room at Hacienda Puerta Campeche

We did not have many plans for the following days – we went into town and explored a bit each evening, but there was something we really wanted to do: enjoy the stunning pools.

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico hacienda puerta campeche indoor pool

Not ashamed to say we travelled all the way to this part of Mexico for this. The tamarind margaritas were also fab.

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico puerta campeche pool

Not your average hotel pool, for sure!

There weren’t a lot of sun loungers (which I found most strange), but we always managed to reserve two the day before. On some days, we visited the hotel’s sister property located half an hour away – the stunning Hacienda Uayamon. We also organised sun loungers and booked massages, which were fantastic (the setting was better at Uayamon, but the therapist was better at Puerta Campeche – good to have options!!)

the haciendas luxury collection hacienda uayamon campeche mexico

Almost no words to describe Hacienda Uayamon – to this day, I still don’t know if we should have stayed here. But having the opportunity to use both and have a change in scenery was excellent and anyone can do it.

the haciendas uayamon luxury collection campeche mexico

We felt we had the pool to ourselves – I other guests did a lot more sightseeing than we did. Which was fine by us!

In terms of food – we were also very pleasantly surprised. We did have lunch by the pool most days (or every day, rather) and thought the hotel selections were excellent. I was madly in love with the ‘sopa de lima’ and we worked our way around the menu. We ventured out for dinner based on the hotel concierge’s recommendation 3 times, but actually really liked the hotel. We also tried some local bars on the main street. I have to say that service was a bit slow all around and lets put it this way, Mr. O was pleased his wife spoke Spanish.

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico food

We really liked the food in the area. Small portions and not everything smothered in cheese.

In terms of shopping, a packing mistake meant I forgot to pack any pool dresses. It wasn’t very easy to find something simple, but almost on the last day, we found Taller Maya, which was very interesting. Imagine a cooperative of local artisans who are given the opportunity to produce local arts and crafts and have a selling platform – there was a shop just outside our hotel in Campeche, a concession at Hacienda Uayamon and also a few other stores. We loved the detail (and had loved the hotel soft-drink can coasters), so obviously we had to stock up. We really bought some lovely items and it is worth a visit. I loved to know who made our items and that they were paid a fair wage.

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico colourful houses

The very colourful houses of Campeche. You can also see Mr. O peeking at a house – he was fascinated that there was a car inside the living room. He checked it every day.

I have to say, we really enjoyed this trip – it was really quite quiet and we really liked the area. People were lovely and overall we felt it was great value ($5 handmade margaritas at the hotel, which can give you an idea of what they would cost elsewhere). The food was outstanding and we felt very comfortable and safe (even with the odd police check on the road, which happened daily).

We hope to be back one day!

Xo

Mrs. O

Fact Box: We travelled with British Airways to Dallas, American Airlines from Dallas to Cancun and returned from Merida to London Heathrow via Mexico City with Aeromexico and British Airways. Our tickets were short of £3,500/US$5,000 when added up.

We were guests of Mayaland who provided our driver and a night’s accommodation at The Lodge at Chichen Itza. The transfer from Cancun Airport to Chichen Itza costs US$390.00 one way, the room at the Lodge at Chichen Itza was US$237.00 with tax included. Our transportation from Chichen Itza to Merida cost US$364.00 one way.

Our room at Hacienda Puerta Campeche was US $600/night (rates vary depending on season). Our car hire with Sixt cost $700 including insurance.