A lux weekend in Prague

Prague is a special city for me. Why? Because 10 years earlier (almost to the date), I visited this city for a 3 or 4 days for a business conference. What I didn’t know, was there during such conference, I was to meet the man I would marry 4 years later. It is true, promise. Whilst we did not have any romantic memories in the city (not that kind of girl!) – Madrid became our ‘city of romance, a year later’, it was a place we were both very keen to visit again for a luxury weekend. Even if it would take us a long time.

But life got in the way, and we actually never made it to Prague – but always said we would, *one day*. So we did, on a glorious Valentine’s weekend. With a flight a little over 90 minutes, we arrived to the Czech Republic’s capital just before lunchtime on a Friday afternoon. And here is how our lovely weekend in Prague went.

Friday

Stunning or what? One of the most unique Four Seasons hotels in the world.

Stunning or what? One of the most unusual Four Seasons hotels in the world.

We arrived at the airport and were met by our BlackLane driver (a company I first tried in Istanbul last year and have been booking almost every other time we have travelled since). The service was excellent and within 25 minutes, we arrived to the Four Seasons Prague, which was to be our home away from home during this weekend.

I am a huge fan of Four Seasons Hotels and I have to say, there is nothing in Prague like this hotel – the location was pretty incredible (you can see in the photo above) and I think that during our weekend, we walked everywhere, which was excellent for my FitBit average number of daily steps. One of the most interesting things about this hotel, is the fact that it is made up of 4 different buildings – and each building has its own decor. I had no idea which room we would be assigned – that was half the fun, of course – and were delighted with our King Deluxe Riverview room on the Renaissance Building.

As we got to our room, there was definitely a ‘wow’ moment, when we realised that this… was our view.

A room with a view. Photo taken with a Leica T-System camera

A room with a view. Photo taken with a Leica T-System camera

Prague Castle on the right, Charles Bridge on the left (you can’t see it on this photo, obviously) and the Vltava River and Malá Strana area. It was absolutely fantastic. It wasn’t a sunny day, but hey, it was February. It did not rain either, so we were pretty pleased!

By this time, it was almost 1pm, and after we explored the hotel a little bit, we decided to stay for lunch and try its restaurant, as we had a pick up at 2pm and to be honest, didn’t really want to go anywhere else. Cottocrudo is open to non hotel residents and its simple lunch menu was just what we needed. Word of warning: book first just in case, as it is one of the power-lunch spots in town.

The tuna spaghetti was really quite something. Photos by Four Seasons , as we were starving!

The tuna spaghetti was really quite something. Photos by Four Seasons , as we were starving!

At 2pm we were ready to go. Where, you ask me? Well, I booked a 1-hour Flytographer session as obviously it would be unthinkable not to. And I have to say, Eliska was a gem, and took some of our best ever photographs.

Obviously no random person would take this photo.... Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer.

Obviously no random person would take this photo…. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer.

We started just outside the hotel, and would be pretty fair to say that we could have stayed in the area for hours – because everything was *there*. From the riverside, we made it to Prague’s most touristic attraction – Charles Bridge. And I have to say one thing – go on Friday and be prepared to see a lot of people. And this was off-season – so you can do the math.

The emptiest we ever saw the Charles Bridge. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer.

The emptiest we ever saw the Charles Bridge. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer.

We carried on walking, and to be honest, I was just happy to get away from the crowds – and Eliska knew just the place to take us. It is quite funny how sometimes 10 metres in the right direction makes such a difference. On this trip, I was testing Leica’s T-System camera in silver – which was an experience in itself. Over this year, I am testing a few different Leica cameras to see if I could potentially be persuaded to take a decent photo with a real camera.

There was a fair learning curve and Eliska actually helped us out (being a proper photographer and all!) and was very impressed with the camera.

Serious multitasking going on here. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer.

Serious multitasking going on here with the Leica T. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer.

I thought the camera was quite heavy (and we had the Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm lens – Chinese to me as I know nothing about lenses or cameras), but the LCD touchscreen and the presets were outstanding. 99% of the photos you will see on this post were taken with the camera and with no editing at all, which I found quite unbelievable. And the wi-fi connection to my phone was incredibly easy and quick. And really worked.

We continued walking and made our way towards Prague Castle, which was obviously a place we were very keen to visit.

The walk up to Prague Castle is considerable. But totally worth it at the end. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer.

The walk up to Prague Castle is considerable. But totally worth it at the end. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer.

Eliska was very chatty (and very nice) and we really enjoyed her company – and we were quite impressed with how much we walked (all optional, for the record. Excellent for my fitbit stats). But the best thing was that we saw the busiest touristic sites on the Friday – believe me, things changed dramatically over the next couple of days.

One of my favourite photographs ever, which I would never get if it wasn't for Flytographer. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer.

One of my favourite photographs ever, which I would never get if it wasn’t for Flytographer. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer.

We slowly made our way back into the Old Town and to the hotel and did something we rarely do – we went for a nap. I am not going to lie, but it was just what we needed. We ordered some nice Earl Grey tea and just relaxed for a couple of hours.

Our fab room at the Four Seasons Prague. Photos taken with Leica T camera.

Our fab room at the Four Seasons Prague. Photos taken with Leica T camera.

One of the things I always do, is ask those who give me the time of the day on Facebook and Twitter for suggestions on where to go. And at least 10 people told me the same thing: I had to go for cocktails at Hemingway Bar. So just before dinner, we turned up (without booking) and I have to say, we were incredibly lucky as we got the last 2 seats available (which we would have to vacate before 8pm for the next booking). So do not risk it – and pre book!

We loved the atmosphere, but most importantly, we loved the cocktails. They were very unique – and I am not going to spoil it for you. There was one involving bacon, is all I can say.

One of our best discoveries in town - Hemingway Bar. Please please please book before. Photo taken with Leica T.

One of our best discoveries in town – Hemingway Bar. Please please please book before. Photo taken with Leica T.

The following day was Valentines and we were of course clever – we pre-booked our bar seats for the following night (again, just before another reservation). Cocktails were just under £5 each.

For dinner, we asked the Four Seasons team for help – namely as all our first options were fully booked (Valentine’s Day, my darlings, madness) and for the first night we wanted something casual and Czech. The choice was the Olympia Brewery which was just what we wanted. Packed with locals (and a few of us), great atmosphere and the food was very interesting. We were warned about the very generous food portions and skipped the starter, which was the best decision we ever made – as we could barely finish our mains. We had the pork knee and the leg of goose. Dinner for two was under £30, for real.

Well, when in Prague.... Photo taken with Leica T

Well, when in Prague…. Photo taken with Leica T

We walked back to the hotel via the Old Town and to be honest, it was so full of people, we just went back to the hotel and had a drink at the bar, before turning in early. Which was just what we needed. Cocktails: £8.

Saturday

On Saturday, we had a very light breakfast (very very light) as we were on a serious mission. We were doing a walking food tour with Eating Prague (I loved my first experience with them in Rome, and knew what would be coming).

So we walked around town, which was lovely and quiet, and I even managed to check out some shops before we slowly made our way to the first stop, where we were going to meet our guide Jan. It was in a very residential area, slightly away from the centre, which I thought it was brilliant – as you know they will take you to real places.

What I didn’t expect was to be greeted by Jan and these beauties.

Good lord. Cream and chocolate. And apparently Napoleon's favourite dessert. Photo taken with Leica T.

Good lord. Cream and chocolate. And apparently Napoleon’s favourite dessert. Photo taken with Leica T.

Our tour took 4 hours and we had 6 stops, I seem to recall. And each was as unique as the next one. Our favourite one (if I really had to choose) was the butcher’s, which was SO different. I learned a bit more about the nation’s obsession with meatloaf and tried some wonderful meats.

Jan was a delight to be with and very knowledgeable about the city and its traditions. Photos taken with Leica T.

Jan was a delight to be with and very knowledgeable about the city and its traditions. Photos taken with Leica T.

The aspect I also found interesting was to meet the owners of the places we stopped at – they were all very small-scale places and in most cases, very unique. I loved this Eating Prague tour and highly recommend it – it completely changed my perception of the city and the Czech culture and there is no way I would have tried as many local delicacies as I did. Needless to say, it had negative calories, also aided by walking.

No words, no words.... and the Cafe Louvre was pretty cool! Photo taken with Leica T.

No words, no words…. and the Cafe Louvre was pretty cool! Photo taken with Leica T.

Despite being a bit tired, we decided to walk it off any remaining calories a little bit and did so by heading towards Parizska, where most designer shops were located. Interestingly, I found items much more expensive than in the UK, for example, which was surprising given the cost of everything else in the city we had experienced so far.

The Old Town Square by night. Photo taken with Leica T.

The Old Town Square by night. Photo taken with Leica T.

We went back to the hotel for a little rest, and to change for dinner. But before that, we went back to Hemingway for a couple cocktails. Because it would be rude not to.

Dinner took place at Kalina, which I have to say, was excellent. Dinner for 2 was under £90. To end our evening, we went back to the hotel, and enjoyed one last cocktail before bed. We thought the bar was really comfortable and we didn’t want to be anywhere else.

See why we didn't want to go anywhere else? Exactly. Photo taken with Leica T

See why we didn’t want to go anywhere else? Exactly. Photo taken with Leica T

Sunday

A very very nice breakfast buffet (with cooked to order hot dishes) at the Four Seasons Prague. Photo by hotel.

A very very nice breakfast buffet (with cooked to order hot dishes) at the Four Seasons Prague. Photo by hotel.

Our Sunday was quite short, as we had a lunchtime flight back to London. So we actually slept 11 hours and just about made it to breakfast, which was really quite fantastic. As we had missed out a bit the day before, we decided to make up for it!

We loved Prague. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer

We loved Prague. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer

We spent the last hours we had before our car arrived just wandering around. Prague was the city that brought Mr. O and I together – and whilst we had no memories together, we made sure we created some new ones this time around.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: a huge thank you to Four Seasons Prague, Eating Prague and Flytographer who made this trip extra special. Opinions are, as always my own.

Sleep: At the Four Seasons Prague, where rooms start from €330 per night (£230).

Eat: the 4-hour Eating Prague costs €75 per person (£53).

Remember: a half hour shoot with Flytographer costs $250 (€232, £165) and a one-hour shoot costs $350 (€325, £230)

Play: on this trip, I used a Leica T-System camera in silver, £1,350.00 RRP with the Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm lens, £1250.00 RRP. This camera is available at Leica Store Mayfair and selected Leica stockists. The Leica T Camera System is the world’s first camera with a body made completely of aluminium, and is polished by hand for 45 minutes.

Mrs. O’s 2015 birthday giveaway. Or your own #paradisefound moment

Well well well, another year has gone by – and what a year it has been! As you may know (or not), my birthday is on April 14th and I am a great believer in celebrating what I call ‘birthday month’. Because a day is not enough, obviously. So to celebrate it in style, I have partnered with Sovereign, one of the most respected UK luxury travel companies for this luxury travel giveaway.

With more than 40 years experience in providing luxury holidays they pride themselves in offering exceptional value with superior treatment on every holiday.

What’s more, they are obsessed with one thing: finding your own Paradise. According to the Oxford Dictionary it’s the ‘ultimate abode’ – the most lovely, perfect place that you can imagine. At Sovereign, they are experts at finding that place for thousands of people every year.

And guess what, 5 lucky winners will be finding their own paradise very soon, as I have 5 extraordinary Sovereign hotel stays to gift to 5 readers.

What are the prizes, I hear you say? Well… read on!

5 nights at the Belmond Reid’s Palace, Madeira, Portugal

sovereign belmond reids palace madeira
Perched on cliff-tops overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Belmond Reid’s Palace in Funchal, Madeira has been the ultimate place to stretch out in the sun and relax for over a century. Located in subtropical gardens, this legendary luxury hotel boasts three swimming pools, an extraordinary oceanfront spa and two fantastic restaurants, all within walking distance of Funchal’s shops, restaurants and nightlife. When not enjoying the fabulous facilities, guests can wander down to the sea-level platform and jump straight into the ocean.

Belmond Reid’s Palace is offering the opportunity to win a five night stay for two people with daily breakfast. Bookings are on request and subject to availability and black-out dates (28th December 2015 to 5th January 2016 and 21st March to 3rd April 2016). Terms and conditions apply.

5 nights at Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas in Crete, Greece

Sovereign Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas
Daios Cove is a new five-star destination where luxury and exclusivity meet. Set across a hillside in its own secluded bay the resort is set on the northern coast of the beautiful island of Crete. Here guests will discover dazzling views; stunning contemporary architecture; fine-dining restaurants; a superior spa; an infinity pool; and, of course, the resort’s own private beach. Daios Cove is an unforgettable and welcoming location.

Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas is offering the opportunity to win a five nights stay in a Deluxe Double Sea View Room with breakfast and dinner (on a Half Board basis) for two valid for the periods of 17/04 – 27/04/2015, 12/05 – 21/05/2015, 01/06 – 09/06/2015, 01/09 – 15/09/2015 and 31/10/15. Reservation is on request, and confirmation is subject to availability. Terms and conditions apply.

5 nights at the Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort, Lanzarote, Canary Islands (Spain)

Sovereign Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort
The fabulous five-star Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort is situated in Playa Blanca, a pretty and tranquil spot on the Canary Island of Lanzarote. The resort is privately owned and exceptionally well cared for with perfectly manicured gardens and stunning sea views looking on to Fuerteventura and Isla de Lobos. The luxurious suites, impeccable service, Kikoland kids club, Thalasso-therapy spa and gourmet dining options make the Princesa Yaiza the ideal getaway for young, old, honeymooners and families alike.

The Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort is offering the opportunity to win a prize of a five night stay on a B&B basis in a Double room for two people. Reservations are on request and subject to availability and black-out dates. Terms and conditions apply.

5 nights at The Skiathos Princess Hotel, Skiathos, Greece

Image-1-1
Overlooking a sandy beach on the glistening island of Skiathos, Greece, Skiathos Princess Hotel represents a unique element of bohemian luxury, reflected in elegant accommodation, healthy Mediterranean cuisine and extensive wellness activities such as Herb Hikes, Spa Rituals and YOGAqua – yoga performed on a stand up paddle board which is available at the property all season long. The property is also home to an extensive organic tea menu, luxurious Juliette Armand, SAMPAR and Moroccanoil spa products as well as an innovative Brunch on the Beach concept. Guests can relax in the minimal yet elegant atmosphere of the Muse Pool Bar with a contemporary a la carte or set brunch menu, combining traditional brunch with innovative, fine and fresh ingredients. Guests can also enhance their stay with Greece’s first Yoga Festival, ‘YOGAfest, a YOGqua Retreat’, led by YOGAqua’s creator, trainer to the stars and ambassador of yoga inspired athletic apparel company Lululemon, Sarah Tiefenthaler. The 2015 Yoga Retreat will run from 1st – 8th May 2015, winners can also take advantage of this unforgettable experience next year too!

The Skiathos Princess Hotel is offering the opportunity to win 5 nights in a Deluxe Room for two people at Skiathos Princess Hotel on a B&B basis. Valid for one year from 14th April 2015. Bookings are on request and subject to availability and with a black-out period from 4th-25th August 2015. Terms and conditions apply.

3 nights at the Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa, Mallorca, Spain

sovereign jumeirah port soller mallorca
Located on the picturesque, unspoilt and rugged north-west coast of Mallorca, the Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa brings a new and unrivalled luxury to this beautiful Balearic island. It goes without saying that from its clifftop location there are spectacular sea views; you might be surprised though by the magnificent mountain vistas that this corner of the island affords. Be sure to venture out and explore pretty Port Soller with its soft sand beaches and typical local bars, shops and restaurants. The resort itself may prove hard to leave, however, with its huge signature spa, several bars, restaurants and pools and relaxation areas.

Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa are offering the opportunity to win three nights for two people on a B&B basis plus one complimentary dinner. The prize is valid for a year from 24/04/15. Bookings are on request and subject to availability and black-out dates (including August 2015 and Easter 2016). N.B The hotel is closed for the season between 8 Nov 2015 – 18 March 2016. Terms and conditions apply.

Like what you see? Excellent! THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. Winners will be announced by 5pm on April 27th 2015  GMT+1 (UK TIME) via email and social media. Open to all countries. No purchase necessary. As stated on each prize, flights are not included.

To enter:

1) Answer these question by commenting on this post below: Where did you go and thought you actually found paradise? And which prize would you like to win?

2) Share this post via your preferred social media platform using the sharing buttons on the left or below.

3) Subscribe to the blog via email, by entering your email address on the top right of this page (if you received this post by email, you are good to go). You will also be subscribed to Sovereign’s email newsletter. You are free to unsubscribe with one click at any time once the competition ends.

I would to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continuous support over the last year. This is my way of saying thank you, once again.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: this giveaway is sponsored by Sovereign but as you can possibly imagine, it is *really* my birthday. 

Top 5 Destinations for Spring 2015

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

Madeira, Portugal

The Belmond Reid's Palace in Funchal, Madeira

The Belmond Reid’s Palace in Funchal, Madeira

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

Hamburg, Germany

Mrs. O is going to Deutschland, ja!

Mrs. O is going to Deutschland, ja!

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

Halkidiki, Greece

Greece is calling my name!

Greece is calling my name!

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

Finca Cortesin, near Estepona, Spain

One of my favourite places in the world...

One of my favourite places in the world…

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

Maldives

The Maldives make me very happy indeed!

The Maldives make me very happy indeed!

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

Spotting the Big 5 on Safari

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

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

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

African Lion

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

African Elephant

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Cape Buffalo

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

African Leopard

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Black Rhinos

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

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

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

A review of Jet Airways Premiere Business Class

A review of Jet Airways Premiere Business Class

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

Here is how my trip went:

Check-in 

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

Security

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

 

The Lounge

Well, no lounge...

Well, no lounge…

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

The Flight

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

The Jet Airways Premiere Cabin

The Jet Airways Premiere Cabin

–          Welcome

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

–          Amenities

Seat details

Seat details

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

We were also offered newspapers and magazines.

–          Drinks service 

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

Bollinger champagne and nuts

Bollinger champagne and nuts

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

–          In-flight dining

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

Our lunch onboard Jet Airways' Premiere cabin

Our lunch onboard Jet Airways’ Premiere cabin

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

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

–  In-flight entertainment 

The screens (and a peek at the cabin)

The screens (and a peek at the cabin)

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

–          The seat

Very comfortable seat.

Very comfortable seat.

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

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

Top 5 Spring Beauty Essentials – 2015 Edition

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

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

Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream

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

Percy & Reed Invisible Dry Shampoo

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

RITUALS Happy Buddha Shower Foam

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

Eyeko Me and My Shadow

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

Miller Harris Citron Perfume

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

A lux weekend in Northern Ireland

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

Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

A beautiful drive on a stunning day.

A beautiful drive on a stunning day.

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

The colours of Northern Ireland

The colours of Northern Ireland

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

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

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

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

Strand Beach (part of National Trust)

Strand Beach (part of National Trust)

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

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

Whiskey, anyone?

Whiskey, anyone?

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

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

The Ballygally Castle Hotel

The Ballygally Castle Hotel

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

Sunday

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

Good morning, from Ballygally Bay

Good morning, from Ballygally Bay

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

A perfect day in Belfast

A perfect day in Belfast

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

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

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

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

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

We shall be back.

xo

Mrs. O

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

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

A lux ski weekend in St. Moritz, Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

The wonderful Kempinski St Moritz

The wonderful Kempinski St Moritz

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

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

The Kempinski St Moritz Spa Suite

The Kempinski St Moritz Spa Suite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The very nice Enoteca restaurant at the Kempinski St Moritz

The very nice Enoteca restaurant at the Kempinski St Moritz

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

Sunday

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

The breakfast at the Kempinski St Moritz

The breakfast at the Kempinski St Moritz

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

The stunning views!

The stunning views!

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

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

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

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

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

The Spa was spectacular.

The Spa was spectacular.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

The mountains were almost just for us

The mountains were almost just for us

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

I know. My thoughts exactly.

I know. My thoughts exactly.

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

Who was a happy girl??

Who was a happy girl??

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

The HydraFacial MD set up at the Kempinski Spa.

The HydraFacial MD set up at the Kempinski Spa.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

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

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

Very sad to leave this hotel...

Very sad to leave this hotel…

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

A stunning train journey

A stunning train journey

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

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

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

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

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

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

App review: CreateTrips (a must for any traveller)

This post was brought to you in association with  CreateTrips

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

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

create trips app screen 1

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

create trips app screen 2

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

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

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

create trips app screen 3

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

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

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

create trips app screen 5

create trips app screen 5

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

create trips app screen 6

To sum it up:

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 20 Depart UK

Depart London Heathrow on BA 43 at 5:35pm

March 21 Arrival, Table Mountain and wine tasting

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

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

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

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

NB: Drinks are on your own account

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

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

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

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

NB: Drinks are on your own account

March 22 and 23  – Renovating a day care centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 24     Fly to Sabi Sabi, game drive

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

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

After settling in, enjoy lunch.

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

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

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Dinner is served at the lodge.

March 25     Game drives

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

All meals are at the lodge.

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March 26     Game drive; Fly back to Cape Town

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

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

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

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

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

March 27     Cape Peninsula, Boulder’s Penguins

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

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We have lunch en route.

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

March 28     Free day and fly out

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

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

March 29     Arrive back in London

You arrive back in London at 7:45am.

Price:

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

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

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

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

Single supplement: £3,430

This includes:

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

To included:

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

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

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

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