The Luxury Travel Blog Network – December 2013 Edition

LTBN Luxury Travel Blog

I am sorry.. where has 2013 gone? I cannot believe that Christmas is upon us. I had a very interesting month, where I went to France not once, but twice! I spent almost a week in Cannes, and I am just back from a fantastic ski weekend in Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps – a good warm up to the new year.

Not a bad view. Loved my weekend in Alpe d'Huez, France

Not a bad view. Loved my weekend in Alpe d’Huez, France

For the first time in many years, Christmas will be spent in the UK, which is a lovely idea – our families are coming to us, which I think is fab. And to end the year in style, we will be heading to Miami, Florida for 8 days where we will take a real break and come back to England re-energised and ready to start 2014.

And where have the other ladies been? Well well well, let’s find out, shall we?

Love love love NYC

Love love love NYC

Katie Goldstein focused on her hometown, the fab New York City, which is one of my favourite places in the world. There is something about that city. So she very kindly compiled a list of the Top 10 places you cannot miss on your next visit.

Cocktails in Vegas? Yes, please

Cocktails in Vegas? Yes, please

Newlywed Nadine Jolie (many congratulations, again!), headed to Vegas for a bit of fun. She stayed at the classic Caesars Palace which had a very nice refurbishment. I haven’t been to Vegas for years and I am kind of in the mood now…

Kim-Marie stops over in London on her way back from Mauritius...

Kim-Marie stops over in London on her way back from Mauritius…

And last, but certainly not the least, the one and only Kim-Marie Evans, aka Luxury Travel Mom, shares with is a fab video of her stay at Le Prince Meurice in Mauritius, where she took one of her lovely children. It is quite interesting to see how this destination is trying to make the shift from honeymooners to a family destination. On her way back from paradise, she stopped over in London for a night, and tried and loved The Apartments at the Sloane Club. They had champagne for her, and Legos for Keaton…

And there you have it! We are all done for the year and I would love to take this opportunity to thank you for keeping me company throughout the past 12 months. Here is to the next 12. Thank you so much, and I wish you and your family a fab Christmas.

xo

Mrs. O

A lux weekend in Rome

I was excited to go back to Rome, very excited. Why? Because my readers decided that it was where I should go and spend the 100,000 Starpoints that American Express and Starwood really wanted me to use over a weekend.

During this weekend in Rome, I was hosted by Starwood, who gave me 100,000 Starpoints to spend in the best way I saw fit. I took advantage of the ability to book any flights (with no blackout dates) and used 60,000 Starpoints for my sister’s flight from Lisbon and mine from London. With the remaining 40,000 Starpoints, I booked 2 nights at the St. Regis Rome.

We will sleep like princesses at the St. Regis Rome...

We slept were looking forward to being treated like princesses at the St. Regis Rome…

Thursday (or a normal person’s Friday)

When I arrived at Fiumicino airport, things were looking good – I left a very wet London earlier that morning – there was actually some sun. I also had butterflies in my stomach as I was to have a very special person with me over these 3 days: my lovely sister Renata, who as she lives in Lisbon, I don’t get to see every day like I used to. Some magic happened and both our flights landed on time and we actually met on the terminal without even calling each other. That was certainly a sign of that was to come.

We hugged and just got into our ‘official taxi’ – it usually is not so difficult to get an official taxi in other European cities, so please beware (and don’t believe a word other people say. €48 flat fee including luggage is the deal). We just said, ‘andiamo a St. Regis Hotel, per favore’. (my Italian is stellar as you will find out).

Half an hour later, we entered this Rome grand dame hotel. We were a bit too early to check in, but our room was ready (we had an email from the St. Regis concierge the day before double checking if we needed anything or help with any bookings). We took the opportunity to unpack and check it out, and I must say, we were not disappointed! Thanks to my Starwood Platinum status, we were upgraded to the best available room at the hotel, which happened to be a lovely suite, as in the one that appears on hotel photographs. It was lovely.

We had a stunning suite at the St. Regis Rome

We had a stunning suite at the St. Regis Rome

No rest for the wicked, and it was time for some lunch with my friend Diana, aka Browsing Rome. She wanted to take us to a real restaurant, something simple, yet delicious – and we loved Colline Emiliane which was located at moments from Piazza Barberini, not far from the hotel. We loved how Italian this place was – and how local everyone else was too. Luckily Diana is fluent and we were able to order – and having all these Emilia Romagna specialties really made me want to explore this region further… perhaps next year!

After lunch, we walked around Piazza Barberini where we saw the Triton Fountain which had just been unveiled after a good clean up. Diana wanted to take me shopping, and she suggested the Prati district, not far from the Vatican – I thought it was a great idea as we would get to have a little walk around and yes, I would not mind looking for some new shoes. Or a coat. Or a handbag.

Yours truly and the lovely Diana at St. Peter's Square in Rome. Always very special to go back to the Vatican every time I visit Rome.

Yours truly and the lovely Diana at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Always very special to go back to the Vatican every time I visit Rome.

We walked and walked and sadly, we did not buy anything. Can you believe it? Whenever we liked something, there was nothing our size… We decided this would not stop us – and we should persevere. So we actually walked from Prati to Via del Corso and explored this lovely part of town. Via Condotti never disappoints and it was fun having a look at some of my favourite Italian brands – such as Max Mara (I wanted a new grey coat and didn’t find any), Tod’s or Gucci.

At this stage, we got to the Spanish steps and it started to rain. And it never stopped again during our time in Rome.

How can one go to Rome and *not* take this photo?

How can one go to Rome and *not* take this photo?

We decided to go back to the hotel and change for dinner. Obviously, this is code for ‘we wanted to be back at 7pm as the hotel sabers a bottle of champagne and gives a glass to everyone sitting at the lobby’. When we got to our suite, we were surprised by our own bottle of prosecco (how did they know I was so thirsty?), and actually never made it downstairs in time… oh well!

That prosecco just arrived at the right moment… thank you, St. Regis

That prosecco just arrived at the right moment… thank you, St. Regis

After changing to a more fitting dining attire, we headed towards Trastevere, a neighbourhood I had heard of, but never been. We were there to meet my friend Maria, aka Heart Rome, who had planned a whole night out for us.

I instantly fell in love with the area – it felt so untouristy (it is quite touristy during the day, apparently, but less so at night), so real. Loved it. We headed to a little bar for a pre-dinner drink, and I know I picked the wrong drink as I was in Lazio, not Veneto, but I had to have an Aperol Spritz. I love this drink (my favourite one was at the Aperol Terrace in Milan earlier this year) and I really try not to have it outside Italy (it is everywhere now, but in my opinion, just not the same!).

Piazza di Santa Maria a Trastevere. Loved it.

Piazza di Santa Maria a Trastevere. Loved it.

To say dinner was amazing, it would be an understatement. We had possibly one of the nicest meals I ever had in Italy (and this should tell you something) at Glass Hostaria, which not only looked stunning… the modern twist on Italian classics was incredible. I loved the foie-gras ravioli and my half chocolate-half Guinness button pasta. The champagne, the lovely Chianti and the moscato at the end certainly made it even more special. It was just the perfect evening.

I adored our dinner at Glass Hostaria with my sister Renata and my friend Maria.

I adored our dinner at Glass Hostaria with my sister Renata and my friend Maria.

And as good girls we were, we went to bed early. It had been a long day (up at 5am for a 7am flight) and by midnight, it was time to say Buona Notte.

Friday (or a normal person’s Saturday)

After breakfast, which was complimentary as usual for all SPG Platinum members, we got a cab to the Villa Borghese, one of Rome’s many landmarks and home to an impressive art collection. A visit to Rome cannot be all about shopping – and while I had no plans to do the reverse, i.e. only sightsee, I thought a bit of culture was due.

Villa Borghese (photo by Browsing Rome)

Villa Borghese (photo by Browsing Rome)

Just before 11am, we met Jeanette, our private Walks of Italy guide, who for two hours, was going to guide us through this amazing place. When we got into the entrance, I was a little bit scared when I saw the queues… but then thought, this is when a private tour really makes a difference. No queues, no time-wasting.

Sadly, no photos could be taken inside the Gallery, but I have to tell you I really enjoyed it – I was a bit worried about being forced to look at stuff for 2 hours, but found myself lost in Jeanette’s tales of Caravaggio. She was an amazing story-teller, and knew the museum really well.

By 1pm, we were starving, starving! And how can one be hungry in Rome? It is just wrong!

Starving in Rome. Yes, it did happen.

Starving in Rome. Yes, it did happen.

As we had a date with our Flytographer photographer for a little photoshoot in Rome, we decided to have lunch nearby. Trastevere was really in my cards for this trip and this is where we spent most of our day. Thanks to Maria, we had a lovely simple lunch at Osteria der Belli, where we enjoyed homemade Sardinian specialties – I loved my gnochetti!

We were hoping that the rain would stop, but of course it did not. Oh well. We met our Flytographer at Piazza Santa Maria and just walked around the neighbourhood, trying to capture real life moments, and boy did we get some!

Out and about in Rome. Even checking out the local talent. Photos by Flytographer.

Out and about in Rome. Even checking out the local talent. Photos by Flytographer.

From Trastevere, we walked towards the Campo di Fiori, but only after a stop for some coffee and cannoli (again, suggested by my friend Maria, who by this time, was able to join us too).

We decided the rain would not stop us (you can see how our hair gets progressively worse, but hey, you only live once). We did a bit of sightseeing and even managed to tick off the Piazza Navona, which is always a nice sight.

The girls about town. With a side of Cannoli. Photos by Flytographer.

The girls about town. With a side of Cannoli. Photos by Flytographer.

From there, we walked to the Pantheon, where we finally stopped for a drink (it was 5pm after all!).

We said goodbye to Maria, and continued our mission: to find shoes. I don’t know what it was, but the shopping Gods were not with us this time. I think it was the first time I ever went anywhere and did not buy anything. But I ate – so that has to count for something.

My sister was keen to go to the Fontana di Trevi, and how could I disappoint her? I can’t tell you how busy it was, but we managed to get our photo taken eventually.

Yes yes, I did it in the pouring rain. So I will come back to Rome for sure!

Yes yes, I did it in the pouring rain. So I will come back to Rome for sure!

We had exciting plans for dinner (more on that later), but with an hour to go, we decided it wasn’t worth going back to the hotel – so we decided to walk. More. In the rain. (it really seemed like a good idea).

To say we were soaked, would be the understatement of the year. I do not remember ever having such wet feet (and the most appalling choice of suede shoes for the day), but eventually, we made it to our destination: a private loft in the Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II where we were able to cook our own dinner.

Walks of Italy organises some incredible activities in Italy (I loved my walk with them in Milan) and not all involve walking. Some involve making you work in other ways). I loved the idea of an evening with a private chef and actually learning how to make my own pasta.

David, our chef, made us feel at home instantly – it must have been the glass of chilled prosecco waiting for us. I loved the space – it wasn’t actually his house, it is a rooftop floor with an amazing balcony (obviously not to be enjoyed on that evening and a purposely built space for this type of activities).

Want to make your own pasta? Just follow these very simple steps!

Want to make your own pasta? Just follow these very simple steps!

My sister and I were joined by an American couple, and I have to say, we had a fantastic evening. It turned out that we were naturals (we did require a lot of direction, ha) , but at the end, we did it. We cooked some very interesting shaped pasta (pici, just so you know) amatriciana, which is one of Rome’s most famous sauces.

And with this, we went back to the St Regis, where our lovely suite awaited. We were knackered with so much walking! But so happy, I could not tell you!

Saturday (or a normal person’s Sunday)

We had been warned NOT to eat breakfast. But I need to eat shortly after waking up so I only had some eggs. Needless to say, half an hour later I regretted this decision.

Our morning was going to be slightly different from the previous one – we were going on a food tour. For 4 hours. And die after that, of course.

Italian street-style. A risqué photo by Flytographer.

Italian street-style. A risqué photo by Flytographer.

Spending a morning with Eating Italy was one of the nicest memories I will have from this trip. Our tour (in the rain ha ha), was run by Kate, and we were joined by 6 other very hungry visitors to the Eternal City. We were there to explore the neighbourhood of Testaccio (another place I had never been to) and basically eat our way around it.

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

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

From wonderful charcuterie and cheese, to pizza, to cannoli, to pasta and gelato – you name it, we had it all. I loved visiting the market and actually having a chance to buy something (well, I hadn’t bought any shoes, I could not turn up at house empty-handed). Chestnuts, cheese, bread and tomatoes – not an usual combination if you are inspired by the local specialties.

We really had an amazing time, and before we knew it, it was time to quickly head back to the St. Regis Hotel, pick up our luggage and head home.

Good things come to an end – and this weekend was incredible (and would be nothing short of perfect if it wasn’t for the never stopping rain).

On this trip, I spent 100,000 Starpoints which covered both our flights and our hotel stay. If you would like to know more about the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card, click here and find out how it can help you go to even more places, always in style. If you apply and are approved for the Preferred Guest Credit Card my lovely sponsors are also giving you 20,000 Starpoints when you spend £2,000 in the first three months of Cardmembership as a bonus  (UK residents only) – that is enough for one night at a St. Regis Hotel (seriously) or two nights at the Sheraton Lisbon (one of my favourites). Click here for Terms and conditions.

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

Representative example: Representative 36.2% APR variable. Based on annual fee of £75 and assumed credit limit of £1200. Interest rate for purchases: 19.9% p.a. variable. Terms and conditions apply. 

 

And I am pretty sure Italy will keep calling my name. I can’t wait to go back.

Ciao!

Xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: this post was sponsored by American Express and Starwood. I was a guest of Walks of Italy, Eating Italy and Flytographer on this trip – and I loved every minute of it.

Applicants must be 18 years old or over. Approval is subject to status and terms and conditions apply. The information relating to the financial information of the Card is the responsibility of American Express Services Europe Limited and SPG accepts no responsibility for inaccuracies. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc, registered in England and Wales is an introducer appointed representative for insurance mediation activities only, of American Express Insurance Services Europe Limited. The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card is offered by American Express Services Europe Limited registered office: Belgrave House, 76 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9AX, United Kingdom registered in England and Wales, Company Number 1833139, and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority under the Payment Services Regulations 2009 (reference number 415532) for the provision of payment services. American Express Services Europe Limited is an appointed representative for insurance mediation activities only, of American Express Insurance Services Europe Limited (reference number 311684) who is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Details can be found on the Financial Services Register. American Express Services Europe Limited also subscribes to the Lending Code which is monitored and enforced by the Lending Standards Board and is licensed by the Office of Fair Trading for the provision of credit products and related services.

Eating my way around Palm Springs, California

I have said it more than once: I adore Palm Springs in California. Love love love love. Yes, I really do. For the last 8 years, no exception, Mr. O and I head to this beautiful part of the world once a year, every year. No ifs or buts. We just go.

It is one of my favourite places in the world – and we really have a routine, with our favourite places to shop and eat, and things to do. Every year is the same – and we love it.

Looking healthy at the top of the San Jacinto Mountain (accessed by Palm Springs Aerial Tramway)

Looking healthy at the top of the San Jacinto Mountain (accessed by Palm Springs Aerial Tramway)

But this year, the lovely people at the Greater Palm Springs CVB wanted to challenge my taste buds – things do change from year to year and there were some exciting new openings in the wining and dining front. And the shopping. But thankfully, no changes in the ‘sleeping and reading by the pool all day every day’. Small mercies.

So I was ready to eat, and went on an interesting culinary journey around the Palm Springs Desert – starting in Rancho Mirage, moving on to Palm Springs, Palm Desert and La Quinta, four of the nine ‘Desert Cities’ which make up Greater Palm Springs.

Feeling hungry? Here are some of the yummiest places in town (seriously, I did not have a bad meal).

Workshop Bar + Kitchen, Palm Springs

The Workshop Bar + Kitchen was very sexy and the cuisine very interesting.

The Workshop Bar + Kitchen was very sexy and the cuisine very interesting.

I really did not know what to expect and believe me, I was wowed from the moment I walked in. This workshop place was totally up my street and full of surprises. We were surprised to see it completely packed on a Monday, testament to its reputation. I loved the classic cocktails with a very unique twist, but I can’t tell you how much I actually enjoyed the food. I was not expecting to eat brussels sprouts in this part of the world – and the octopus carpaccio really threw me. The lamb chops were also to die for. And the wine selection? Yes please. I stayed faithful to my ‘wine miles’ concept which wasn’t 100% easy as the wine menu features some very very interesting world wines. A place I will go back to, for sure. Visit website.

Figue Mediterranean, La Quinta

Modern but very true to its Mediterranean roots

Modern but very true to its Mediterranean roots

Also a newcomer to the Desert dining scene, Figure Mediterranean was one of the highlights of our stay. Chef Francoise and manager Frederic’s charm offensive started when we walked through the door – and did not end until we could not move. I love mediterranean cuisine (for obvious reasons), but I am also a bit wary of how it is interpreted. Francoise is a real European and cooking is in his and his family’s blood. Figue had one of the sexiest doors I have ever seen (and I won’t share a photo – you will need to get there and have a look yourself). The food was also incredible – I was very partial to the lamb tartare (oh my) and the  kuni kuni pork. The wine selection was also outstanding – and with a lot more American wines. We fell in love with some Oregon and Washington reds (and cheated on California, but at least they were all American wines). And lots of figs everywhere, which I adore. I cannot wait to go back. Visit website.

Pinzimini, Rancho Mirage

Pinzimini at the Westin Mission Hills

Pinzimini at the Westin Mission Hills

Interestingly, we always stay at the Westin Mission Hills – it is a beautiful property and we love the villas. We tried the restaurant many moons ago and were not inspired at all – so it was interesting to go back. The hotel is trying hard to make this a destination restaurant, namely for non hotel guests and a lot of work has been done in the inside – it does look quite smart indeed. We had a good meal – very Italian with an Chef’s tasting platter and an incredible bistecca alla Fiorentina paired with an incredible Amarone, selected by Dan, the manager (I did fail on my wine miles but it was for a good reason).

Sadly, we ate outside (as the weather was so fab) and we lost out. The outside area is quite uninspiring and the lighting does not do it any justice – it did feel like a nondescript hotel restaurant, which was a real shame. The food was good – and I would consider going back if there were some layout and decor changes. It is interesting how it all makes a difference. Visit website.

Las Casuelas Nuevas, Rancho Mirage

Oh Margarita, mi amiga Margarita.

Oh Margarita, mi amiga Margarita.

A very casual Mexican restaurant, hacienda-style of course, which has been around for over 20 years in this part of the world. And we had no idea! After so much eating during the week, it was actually a very nice change of scenery – and I loved to see how many Mexican customers the restaurant had. My love affair with Mexican food is only a couple of years old, but I have to say, it continued. And those mango margaritas.. well… mas, por favor. Visit website.

It was also very interesting to discover that one of our favourite restaurants in town, Cork Tree (with possibly the best wine selection in the area – read about it here) is also owned by the same family. We did not get a chance to visit this time, but surely will when we are next in town.

Because I always go back to the desert – we went once by mistake, and have been going back every year ever since.

xo

Mrs. O

From Palm Springs, I headed to Los Angeles, for a completely different type of weekend. You can read all about it here.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Greater Palm Springs CVB. Opinions, as you know by now, are always my own.

Cannes, Cannes, baby! An #ILTM recap

I know it seems like I have been away for ages, and I seemed to be in Cannes. All these bits were true. But what was I doing in Cannes? As a hosted VIP Media at ILTM, which is the International Luxury Travel Market, I spent almost a week in this lovely part of France, meeting some of the world’s leading hotel luxury brands and destinations.

Yes, that is how one should always arrive in Cannes.

Yes, that is how one should always arrive in Cannes.

Things went off to a *fantastique* start as my arrival in Cannes was nothing short of a film star. It was a stunning afternoon and why not get into Cannes-mode by transferring from your flight with a bit of help of Heli Air Monaco? The views were spectacular and in 10 minutes we had arrived.

Hello Cannes, I am back!

Hello Cannes, I am back!

My home away from home over this week was the classic Hotel Martinez, which recently became part of the Hyatt family. I had a room with spectacular views and loved the attention to detail that the hotel had during my whole stay. Over twitter I booked hair appointments (one needs fab hair), restaurants, and everything else I, well, needed.

Had a lovely stay at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Martinez

Had a lovely stay at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Martinez

It was fair to say they had me at Taittinger, but I looked forward every night for the sweetest treats – from CDs, to their new room fragrance (which was yummy, by the way) or beautifully-made chocolates. It is all about the little things.

I attended many media-specific events, and things started on a high with lunch at the spectacular Hotel du Cap – Eden Rock by the Oetker Collection. Not only the setting was spectacular, but the food and company were wonderful.

Champagne with a view for sure at Hotel du Cap

Champagne with a view for sure at Hotel du Cap

But if you think it was all play, do think again. I had over 50 meetings over the past 5 days – and all incredibly useful. The show was extremely well organised by CUT Comms and I was able to meet face to face with many of the hotel brands I already had relationships with, but also with new ones, who were able to request meetings with yours truly.

In terms of day events, I attended a beautifully prepared breakfast hosted by the Dorchester Collection and a great lunch at the Carlton, part of the Intercontinental family.

The balance between a day’s work and the nights out was a little bit challenging, but only because they were so much fun! I loved the Four Seasons penthouse, strategically located just by the Palais des Festivals, where one could just unwind and enjoy the hospitality with spectacular views. It was open every day and really a safe haven.

Meeting the girls at the Four Seasons Penthouse

Meeting the girls at the Four Seasons Penthouse

Every night there were parties – and notice the plural. I attended just some of them – the one at Louis Vuitton where we heard the latest about its hotel venture, Cheval Blanc, the one at Ferragamo where I was introduced to its very sexy hotel concept, Portrait (opening its second venture in Florence soon), and the W Hotels über secret villa party, where one was ferried away to an undisclosed location and teleported to various W locations (the Maldives, Barcelona or its first alpine resort which is opening shortly in Verbier, Switzerland).

The W House

The W House

The two official parties, one held at the Hotel Martinez on the Tuesday and the final one at the Hotel Majestic on the Wednesday were epic – thousands of people from all over the world, but somehow it worked well. I was also able to attend suite parties at the end of each event and must say, the Dior Suite at the Majestic was incredible.

Oui, some champagne, s'il-vous plait

Oui, some champagne, s’il-vous plait

A lot of hard work, and a lot of play indeed. But I am extremely grateful for being invited for the first time to this incredible event – which allowed me to meet so many interesting people and luxury hotel brands in one place. I really do not need to attend any other travel-related conference.

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

My hairdresser French was not brilliant – I asked for ‘straight and no volume’ and got ‘fab and curly’. Ou la la

But as with everything in life, good things come to and end. And I just could not leave France without one of my favourites..

Meeting the girls at the Four Seasons Penthouse

The epic French drink – there is nothing like Orangina.

Merci Cut Comms and ILTM for a great week in Cannes. Mrs O shall be back.

xo

Mrs O

Disclaimer: I was hosted as VIP Media by the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) organised by CUT Comms. Opinions are obviously my own – and yes, the champagne helped.

My hOtel: Hotel Villamagna, Madrid, Spain

myhotel

The Villa Magna in Madrid, Spain

The Villa Magna in Madrid, Spain

If I had to choose very few words to describe the Hotel Villamagna, in Madrid, they would be a classic reinvented, absolutely stunning and I do not know what else. A hotel I have known for many years (and stayed many times before), it is, without a doubt, a Madrid landmark. Renovated recently, which was needed (every grand dame needs a lift every now and then) – I must say it was an absolute pleasure to return. And how was my stay? Delightful, I would say. Vamos?

Pre-Arrival

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

My stay was organised via email and the whole process was seamless and efficient. I also booked 2 extra rooms for friends coming with me on this trip as it was a special one: Mr. O’s and my BFF’s husbands’ birthday weekend, when we always organise something special for our boys, and bring some special friends along.

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

I did try before and during, but sadly never got a response.

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

Not really, but I suspect some research went on…

Arrival

One of the most tasteful refurbishments I have encountered

One of the most tasteful refurbishments I have encountered

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

To be honest, I did not know what to expect as I knew it would look completely different since my last visit, a good 8 years ago. But from the moment the doors opened, all we could say was wow. Simple, beautiful colours and the Spanish warmth all around. It was also buzzing which is always a great sign.

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

Very good and very friendly. After we established we were to speak English (as Mr. O’s Spanish is a bit rusty), it was a breeze. The check-in team were great and we were escorted to our room. Baggage was to follow suit.

–          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)

Absolutely, and all the time throughout my stay. I know (and appreciate) how difficult O’Reilly is to pronounce in Spanish (and in Portuguese) and I loved the effort.

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

No, I was confirmed in a deluxe king and it was what (we all) got.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

I did indeed. And it continued throughout our whole stay. Everytime we arrived – late at night, in between shopping, etc, everyone was lovely (and always very happy to help us, especially with the shopping).

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

We did have a funny episode actually. Our bags were taken away from us when we arrived by taxi (we were with another couple, and at the same time, another unknown couple was also arriving). We were not really asked for our names or given a tag, which resulted in all our luggage being mixed up – we ended up having the third couple’s luggage brought to our room, but it was quickly sorted and my Tumis (I say plural as I came prepared for a weekend of shopping in Madrid) and I were soon reunited. We all took it with humour – it was a mix up but not a real issue, to be honest.

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

 Yes and it worked really well throughout our stay. It was free of charge and did not kick us out regularly, which is always a blessing.

Room Experience

A really spacious and understated room, overlooking the Paseo de la Castellana

A really spacious and understated room, overlooking the Paseo de la Castellana

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was simply stunning – spacious (I loved the double doors which meant that people could be singing in the corridor and we would never hear), and beautifully decorated. We overlooked the Paseo de la Castellana and the windows were quadruple glazed (or something) and it was so silent, I cannot tell you. The windows also opened (normally, which is not normal anymore) and it was great. There was a lot of wow wow wow as we inspected the room.

–          Welcome amenity

A Villamagna-style welcome. I say, gracias!

A Villamagna-style welcome. I say, gracias!

I loved the tea towels that the hotel left for us, and loved the sweet combinations that were changed daily throughout our stay. That blue macaroon was something else, I have to say.

–          The bed

Well, the bed was amazing. The mattress topper was one of the best ever I have encountered and even Mr. O commented on it. He also made one of his now famous comments, which went along the lines of ‘oh my, the sheets are so soft, are they frette?’. I love a man with good taste and an eye for detail. The sheets were incredibly soft and the pillows were amazing. Top 5 ever, I am sure.

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

Our wardrobe was located inside the bathroom (see the photo below) which was the best idea ever. It is where one gets dressed, right? And everything beautifully presented inside.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

We had great plugs by the bed, so we did not use.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

They were there, of course, but we did not use.

–          Coffee and Tea

No and I never missed them. To be honest, I am pretty sure I could call anytime and ask for a tea or coffee. It is not very common in Southern Europe to see these amenities and I totally understand why.

Incredible attention to detail - the bed, the pillow menu and the amenities drawer in the closer.

Incredible attention to detail – the bed, the pillow menu and the amenities drawer in the closet.

–          Free bottled water

Yes and replenished daily. I love how the whole bottled water movement in Spain is miles away from any other country, with the glass bottled aisle at any supermarket is worthy of a gourmet store. We had very stylish Bezoya bottles, which went beautifully with the room decor (I am not joking).

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

Nothing to write home about to be honest. I would have loved a copy of Hola (the original Hello)!

–          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.

Oh yes, absolutely, on each side of the bed and plenty by the desk. Very well thought (and as it should be).

Bathroom

Timeless. Loved our bathroom.

Timeless. Loved our bathroom.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our bathroom was spacious and split in two – one room with the vanity unit (and the closet) and another with the bath, loo and bidet. Perfect.

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

Everything was great and to the highest standard – I would have preferred a walk in shower, but we had a bath instead. The shower was good.

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

Some of the best towels I have seen in a hotel recently – the size was amazing, proper size (is it me or are hotel towels getting slightly smaller compared to the ones at home?). I actually did check and they were made in Portugal (oh the pride).

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

It was the second time I encountered Asprey products and I must say the love affair continues. I love this brand and the smell. Yum.

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

One of the best amenity kits I have seen (see photo above) – everything we needed and more and very cleverly hidden away, leaving the basin area uncluttered.

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

It was found inside the wardrobe and was very good.

Breakfast

I love Spanish breakfasts

I love Spanish breakfasts

Breakfast is served until 11am at the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, and it is stunning. The cost (€30) is in line with most 5-star hotels and is included in most room rates as it is one of the hotel’s pride and joys (and rightly so).

I love a good Spanish breakfast and I did not need much, to be honest – I stopped right by the ‘queso de burgos’, and my meals consisted mostly of soft white cheese (my favourite), fresh fruit, fresh bread and a tad more cheese and iberico ham. Service was über friendly and it was a really nice experience.

Bar

This is what I call a gin & tonic

This is what I call a gin & tonic

We used the bar on both days and it was always lively and busy. We had to go and do some quality control on the gin & tonics (a hugely popular drink in Spain, and you can tell where I got this condition from). And indeed they were served in the proper glasses. And the cava selection was awesome.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

Very good. Nothing negative to report.

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

Sadly no, and it was a shame.

–          Location

For me? The best location in Madrid, without a doubt. I used to live in the Salamanca district, and this is where my Madrid base usually is – where my shops and restaurants are and, the Villamagna is one of the few hotels located here, away from the tourist areas. It is simply perfect and we walked almost everywhere.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Double rooms start at €380 per night including breakfast.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Well, she was there with me and loved it.

–          Would I stay again?

Oh yes, any time. It is my Madrid hotel without a doubt.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

The Luxury Travel Blog Network – November 2013 Edition

LTBN Luxury Travel Blog

What a month it has been for me and the ladies! After California in October (which was lovely) and you can read the highlights of my LA weekend right here, it was time to stay on the ground for a month – work and real life called! I kicked off November in style with a little Euro tour – a return to Amsterdam (I had been there earlier this year, such a cool city) and I am just back from Madrid, a place where I called home for four years and where Mr. O and I fell in love. After a 4-year break, we were back to celebrate his birthday in style. I am on my way to Rome shortly and then.. well, the mountains are calling, n’est-ce pas?

Kim-Marie and her soon loved the Mauritius

Kim-Marie and her soon loved the Mauritius

Kim-Marie, aka Luxury Travel Mom took her son Keaton.. to the Le Prince Maurice in the Mauritius to prove the point that this destination can be child friendly. Did she succeed? Have a little read and find out. Note: I insist, I want Kim-Marie to adopt me sooner rather than later.

Nadine and fiancee... and Mickey Mouse

Nadine and fiancee… and Mickey Mouse

Nadine surprised me again this month as she went to Disney to find luxury. Seriously? And she went without kids (they aren’t born yet). By her recount, it is to be found indeed and I must say it looked fun.

St Barts... yes please

St Barts… yes please

Katie made me über jealous as she shared her perfect guide to St. Barts, a place that has been on my list for ages. I can just picture the cocktails from this balcony. Can’t you?

It is all from us this month! I think we are all feeling the cold and can’t wait to escape to warmer climates!

xo

Mrs. O

Returning to Rome with American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest: you chose it! #AmexSPGMrsO

This post is brought to you by American Express

There are a few very special things in my life: Mr. O, my family and friends, and in the last two years, the readers of my blog who found me God knows how – maybe it was a friend who recommended you, maybe it was a very lucky google search, or maybe you found me (and keep me company) via social media.

I am not being cheesy – I first started this blog for my friends and over the last two years, a community has been built. And I am extremely grateful for that. People always ask me how I can travel so much and the way that I do – and I have always been very honest. Both my husband and myself have successful professional careers, which afford us the lifestyle that we are fortunate to have. The blog hasn’t changed anything – I don’t travel more than I did before (in all honesty, do ask my friends) and I never accept any invitation to do anything I wouldn’t be able to afford. It wouldn’t be right, or real. I may get invites (and I do turn 80% of them down because a) I do not have time and my objective is not to be on the road all the time (if I am to be some source of inspiration, I need to have a life as normal as possible and that means having a paid job and enjoying my life at home and b) I will not go anywhere I wouldn’t pay to go. It is as simple as that.

But everyone’s resources are limited – well ours are for sure, and for the last 10 years we have done everything we can do obviously go to the places we wanted, stay where we wanted to stay and fly the way we wanted to fly. It took us some time to realise what was the best way of doing it and we have stuck with it ever since.

I have one credit card, one airline loyalty card and one hotel loyalty card. It is as simple as that – we pool all our spending on it, and for the last ten years, it has taken us to some amazing places. And we will keep on going…

The AmEx SPG credit card

The AmEx SPG credit card

When American Express and Starwood approached me to take part in an experience focused on redeeming Starpoints (and were incredibly gracious and professional in the way they led all conversations) I said yes for one simple reason: I have a real emotional connection with both brands and I would be delighted to be their ambassador. So what is this Rome trip all about? It is very simple. Starwood has given me 100,000 Starpoints to redeem in whichever way I wanted over a weekend. I could go anywhere in the world with them (and pay for my flights separately), or I could even be cleverer… and buy my air tickets with the Starpoints without any blackout dates. I am not kidding.

So I asked you on Facebook and Twitter – where would you like me to go? For time issues we decided on Europe (and were obviously restrained by practicalities like easy direct flights from London Heathrow – just to make it easier for me, and obviously locations where Starwood had a fab hotel, which wasn’t so hard). We worked on a shortlist and there was an obvious country: you really want me to go to, Italy. The big contenders were Rome, Florence and Venice – all fab Starwood locations, but when we factored in the flights, well… Roma was the one.

I am really excited to go back to Rome. It has been way too long

I am really excited to go back to Rome. It has been way too long

I can’t tell you how excited I am to go back to Rome – I haven’t been properly for over 6 years (I did have some business trips in the meantime, but did not stay the weekend). So on November 21st, I will take a BA flight (of course) to Rome, and will be joined by my lovely sister Renata, who will get there on a TAP Portugal flight from Lisbon. Our flight schedules match to perfection, so we will be ready for a weekend of fun.

My sister and moi - we have travelled together so many times. It will be great to have a little weekend without our boys. Just sister time.

My sister and moi – we have travelled together so many times. It will be great to have a little weekend without our boys. Just sister time.

With 100,000 Starpoints, I booked my flight with BA with 30,000 Starpoints (and the way it works, BA gets a normal booking via the SPG flight booking system, so it will be not an award ticket but a normal commercial ticket, earning me both tier points and air miles) and I booked my sister’s flight with another 30,000 Starpoints from Lisbon. All taxes and extras are included when redeeming for flights or hotels, so no surprises.

With the remaining 40,000 Starpoints, well, we needed to book the hotel. And now one is actually spoiled for choice in Rome (wasn’t the case 10 years ago) and we will be resting our heads at the St. Regis, which looks lovely. I did stay at the Westin Excelsior on my last trip (which was stunning) so I am looking forward to trying something new. 40,000 Starpoints are enough for two nights which is just what we need.

We will sleep like princesses at the St. Regis Rome...

We will sleep like princesses at the St. Regis Rome…

I have a packed schedule – all self-inflicted, worry not, and I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to this. But with this opportunity, I will hopefully be able to show you how American Express and Starwood can really take you places.

This trip has already taken place and you can read all about it here.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: this post is sponsored by American Express and Starwood.

Mrs. O turns 2, let’s celebrate together #MrsOBdayGiveaway

2 very happy years!

2 very happy years!

No no no, it is not a joke nor a rumour. I am not quite sure where time has gone, but Mrs. O Around the World is turning two years old this November. And what two amazing years! I am still amazed how I started a blog for my friends to read (and for my mother to know where in the world I am) and I am this short of reaching 1 million page views. I still can’t quite believe it myself.

I want to take this time to thank every single person who has dropped by and read the blog, who has interacted with me through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and of course, those who have sent me emails. I have always said that the reason why I developed this online persona was to be truly sociable (which I would like to think I am in real life) and I have done my best to respond to every single message in (almost) time. I have also met in person many readers and supporters – and made some amazing new friends. I am truly grateful and incredibly happy.

If it wasn’t for every single person who supports the Mrs. O Around the World project, there would be no Mrs. O and I love this little community we have built over the past two years – it is not about me suggesting places to go, it is about us being together throughout each adventure and stopover. It is about you telling me where to go too – because most of us travel in a certain way and advice goes both ways.

So to say thank you properly, and as actions sometimes speak more than words, I have teamed up with some of the brands that have really believed in me (and in our community) over the past year. I went through all the blog posts and social platforms, and there were simply some places that you really loved (and so did I, who am I kidding?). And the right thing to do, is send you over to some of these places so you can enjoy and send me some photos!

Shall we start? Yes, please!

2 nights at Finca Cortesin, Andalucia, Spain

How's this for a pool with a view? Not bad

Finca Cortesin, or the most special hotel I have ever visited. And will go back forever.

Finca Cortesin, in the South of Spain, was, without a doubt, my hotel of the year. I had the perfect hotel stay with my lovely friends Trudi and Terene – and so much so, Terene couldn’t wait for us to return and immediately took her whole family back for the summer. I am lost for words – it was beautiful, the service was out of this world and the food was to die for.

The prize: two nights for two in a junior suite with breakfast included. Subject to availability and please note that blackout dates do apply. Excludes July-August 2013. To find out more about this great hotel, click here.

2 nights at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, USA

My beautiful Executive Suite

I adored the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills and am pretty sure you will love it too…

The Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills was a very special hotel for me – for many reasons as you can guess from reading my review. It could have been the Mrs. O lychee cosmo they invented for me…

The prize: two nights for two in a superior balcony room. Subject to availability and please note that blackout dates do apply. To find out more about this great hotel, click here.

2 nights at the Westin Grand Berlin, Germany

A spacious suite

The stunning spa suite at the Westin Grand Berlin

Do you remember that shower? I have never forgotten it and counting the days until I go back – because my little taste of Berlin was not enough…

The prize: two nights for two at the Spa Suite. Subject to availability and please note that blackout dates do apply. To find out more about this great hotel, click here.

1 night at the Corinthia London, United Kingdom

The stunning lobby

Stylish? Check. Sexy? Check, that is the Corinthia London for you…

A new landmark hotel for London, in my honest opinion. Beautifully decorated, a place I almost didn’t want to leave…Find out why.

The prize: one night for two in a superior king room. Subject to availability and please note that blackout dates do apply. To find out more about this great hotel, click here.

A weekend for two at the Herdade do Vau, in Alentejo, Portugal

Yes, the pool was all mine. And the views...

Yes, the pool was all mine. And the views…

A hidden gem in Portugal – a place that did more for our souls than you can ever imagine. Understatement at its best and an opportunity to remind ourselves that life is all about the simple things. And fab wine.

The prize: two nights for two in a superior king room with breakfast included in February, March or April 2014 and subject to availability. To find out more about this great ‘gem’, click here.

A photo shoot with Flytographer

Fun or what? Photo by Flytographer.

Fun or what? Photo by Flytographer.

Flytographer has been one of my best discoveries of the year – and I love them so much, I had three shoots recently, in Lisbon, Los Angeles and Amsterdam. The concept is simple, you go to one of its 55+ locations around the world, and their fab photographers spend some time with you (30 mins, 1 hour or 2 hours) and capture your best moments in a non-intrusive way. Every experience has been simply brilliant and I am delighted that they keep believing in me so much.

The prize: A 30 minute photo shoot in any of Flytographer‘s 55+ locations worldwide, valid until 30th April 2014. Flytographer will post some of the photos online for promotional purposes. For more information, visit their website.

A collection of Hg2 Guides

Hg2 - certainly not your usual travel guides

Hg2 – certainly not your usual travel guides

My travel guides of choice – I will never forget my first visits to Cape Town and Marrakesh and the incredibly trendy places I found thanks to Hg2. Interestingly enough, they were the first people who challenged me to write an article, which then led to Mrs. O Around the World. In their own words, “intelligent, irreverent and inspired they are the perfect tool to help travellers really understand a city”.

The prize: a set of Almaty & Astana, Baku, Cape Town, Dubai, Istanbul, Marrakech, Miami, Rome, Sydney and Toronto printed guides. To find out more about Hg2, click here.

This competition is now closed. Winners have been contacted by email.

My hOtel: Corinthia London

myhotel

The Corinthia London, a new landmark

The Corinthia London, a new landmark

The Corinthia London had been on my list for a while. Opened a few years ago, it doesn’t smell of new anymore – it smells better! It could have been the in-lobby beautiful flower shop or the Harrods concession, but in my opinion, there is an even better story to tell. Located in Whitehall, very close to Trafalgar Square and other Central London sights, it is the flagship property of the Corinthia group, a small chain originating in Malta of all places who is determined to make an impression everywhere they go. And they seem to be going places.

Pre-Arrival

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

The hotel has a new PR Director who I know quite well and it was since she joined that I developed a relationship with this hotel chain. My stay was carefully organised by her team, who were very efficient and helpful.

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

I had a few times over the last year or so but never really got a response. But ever since I stayed there, and throughout my stay, this has changed and has continued until today.

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

Not really, but I didn’t feel it was necessary.

Arrival

The stunning lobby

The stunning lobby

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

I had visited the hotel beforehand (and was incredibly impressed), but I was still as impressed the second time round. It is a beautiful building inside and outside, but the decor is quite something.

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

The lobby and reception area were quite busy when I arrived, but after 5 minutes, I was quickly checked in. I was also escorted to my room by the reception lady which I thought was a very nice touch.

–          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 indeed and this went on throughout my stay.

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

Sadly no, I had an Executive King room confirmed – I was dying to stay in one of the suites which are simply spectacular. But being a current favourite with celebs (and I saw some, but have been sworn to secrecy), they are taken almost every night, which is obviously great for the hotel.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

I did. I thought at times service was a little bit stiff, but everyone was quite helpful when I needed any assistance.

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

I had a small overnight bag and was able to take it to my room.

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

 WiFi was complimentary and worked well during my stay.

Room Experience

A beautifully appointed room

A beautifully appointed room

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was simply stunning – I loved the decor and how chic and comfortable it felt. It was also super spacious and had great light.

–          Welcome amenity

My welcome amenity was simple but very tasty – I had some handmade chocolates which were delicious.

A very simple amenity - but I loved the chocolates!

A very simple amenity – but I loved the chocolates!

–          The bed

Was very comfortable and to be honest, I struggled to get out of bed the next day.

–          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, we had plenty of hangers and they were all as they should be.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

Of course, although for iPhone 4.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, and for once I used them as I went to the spa and came back wearing one using the spa lift (so no one would see me, obviously).

–          Coffee and Tea

I have to say that there were some details which were incredible. I am not a coffee drinker (in the room, as you know by now), but obviously had to investigate the options. I couldn’t find it at first but then, of course, there was magic. Behind a sliding panel, I found this – the nespresso, the mini bar and a great snack selection.

One of the best mini-bar and coffee set ups I have seen at a hotel.

One of the best mini-bar and coffee set ups I have seen at a hotel.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, on arrival and replaced at turn down.

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

Best magazine selection I have ever seen. Why? Because they had the 2 magazines I really read regularly so it was a treat – and these are available on every room. A great idea (and no obscure stuff, which is always a hotel staple)

Vanity Fair and Monocle - I may refuse to leave the room

Vanity Fair and Monocle – I may refuse to leave the room

–          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.

I did find one by the bed, so I was a happy girl.

Bathroom

Our stylish bathroom at the Corinthia

Our stylish bathroom at the Corinthia

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Loved loved loved loved. Not huge, but quite spacious, I loved the fact that it had natural light. The fittings were great and hello… look at the shower!

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

We had a separate bath and shower, but it was the latter that got to me… I adored it and  during my stay I used it once more than I would have normally just for quality control purposes.

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

Lots and they were lovely.

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

Major winner here. The Espa products (albeit baby sized) were lovely and so much so, I couldn’t resist buying the range at the spa when I visited it. I adored the smell of the shower gel and also thought the shampoo and conditioner were very good (which very rarely happens).

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

We had everything we needed.

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

With all those showers, I did obviously have to wash my hair and it was a perfectly working proper hairdryer.

Bar

A champagne flight - yes please!

A champagne flight – yes please!

I spent the evening with my friend Jenny who is a great fan of this hotel – it seemed appropriate to invite her to spend some time with me before Mr. O joined us after his business dinner. Jenny and I have many things in common, but two stand out: our love for champagne and airplanes (preferably business class, or first, actually). Well, on offer was a champagne flight and we both thought it was a sign. It would be rude not to. We got our evening started at the Northall Bar, which was a very lively vibe and very comfortable too. Loved it and have been back since.

Restaurant

The stylish Massimo restaurant

The stylish Massimo restaurant

We had a lovely meal at the mediterranean-inspired Massimo restaurant – you know where I come from, so I was keen to see the hotel’s interpretation. I had octopus for the first time ever in London, followed by red mullet, which were delicious. We had great service and also really interesting wine pairings.

Breakfast

Served at the Northall bar, it was where the experience felt a bit short – the spread looked good, but it was so busy, I really felt rushed. Personally, I thought that £32 was a bit steep for what was on offer (any made to order items were to be charged extra) and was most surprised by the 12.5% service charge, when I actually served myself.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

I used it on my iPad and didn’t have any problems with it.

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

There was some interaction and it was fun.

–          Location

Very interesting location – not where I would normally choose to stay, but actually I did not have any problems getting there or getting where I needed to the next day. It is perfect for the West End and to the City too.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Standard rooms cost from £320 and Executive King Rooms from £495 per night.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

I would without a problem.

–          Would I stay again?

I would indeed. I thought the hotel was beautiful and the offerings available (the spa – which I will review on a separate article, the bars, restaurants and common areas were very inviting and comfortable. Service could have been a bit more personal (it did feel a bit stiff), but that is something that can be refined.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

A fun girls weekend in LA, California-style

Our annual trip to California (yes, it has been 10 years since this annual pilgrimage started) is one of my favourite trips each year. I love this place and I always come back for more. A lot more.

This year, after stops in San Diego  (I adored staying at Rancho Valencia) and Palm Springs, and a little over a week of bliss with Mr. O, we decided to mix things up a bit and ‘meet the girls’ in Los Angeles, for an action-packed weekend – if you are going to do it, do it properly, is all I have to say.

LA, baby!

LA, baby!

The girls, as you know by know, are Lauren di Marco and Mary Anne Been – we are starting an exciting project soon, whereby the three of us go places and invite a fourth guest to join us. And on this trip, we had the fab Maxine Tatlonghari, aka Vanity Girl Hollywood as our guest and host.

Friday

Mr. and Mrs. O loved the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills

Mr. and Mrs. O loved the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills

Things started well, as I checked in the fab Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. Very well indeed. After a lazy lunch, it was time to get my LA hair. I am making a bit deal of my LA hair because only there I do let my hair get carried away. I found this great place, called the Dry Bar and was delighted with the results (and good value too at $40).

One of the highlights of my California trip: finally meeting Greg Velazquez.

One of the highlights of my California trip: finally meeting Greg Velazquez.

Back at the hotel, it was time to get things started – and I was delighted that the Four Seasons team organised a little party for yours truly and friends. We feasted on wonderful nibbles from Culina, its signature restaurant, paired obviously with bubbles and cocktails.

I am more of a gin girl, but very impressed by the choice available at Nic's Beverly Hills

I am more of a gin girl, but very impressed by the choice available at Nic’s Beverly Hills

From there, we headed to Nic’s Beverly Hills for dinner, which was quite interesting. The food was fine, but I have to say I enjoyed getting up dressed in fur coats to do a little vodka tasting in the ice bar. We do look strange bearing in mind the temperature outside was in the high 20s (Celsius!).

We intended to party the night away, but we are not 20 anymore. So after saying goodnight to the girls, I took my boy for a nightcap back at the hotel, fully intending to be in bed before midnight – well, that did not happen. The Windows Lounge at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills was so busy and fun, that we ended up staying until the bar closed. Oh well.. you only live once!

Saturday

After a very lazy morning and a lazy breakfast in bed, it was time to leave our hotel and head to another fabulous hotel: the Beverly Wilshire. Yes, the “Pretty Woman” hotel. We checked-in to our suite, which was huge and had the best views in town: oh yes, give me Rodeo Drive any day of the week.

No rest for the wicked, and before we knew it, it was time for someone to make me pretty again. Maxine had organised an afternoon of fashion and beauty for us – what is not to like?

Getting ready was an experience for the four of us...

Getting ready was an experience for the four of us…

We were to spend the rest of our day in West Hollywood, which is just around the corner from Beverly Hills. The team at Fragola, an appointment-only showroom which sells mostly Italian designer fashions, couldn’t have done anything more for us.

First things first, I needed to hide the lack of sleep from the previous night and maintain my fab LA hair. I needn’t have worried as the fab Lyric Cross, did a great job on me and the girls. I have to confess I did enjoy the attention – a lot!

With the help of our über cool stylist, I tried a variety of wardrobe choices, but there was something about Nina Ricci’s dress collection – all the ones I wanted were hers, so I took it as a sign.

That paired with a fab pair of Sergio Rossi’s (which I later bought as I really liked them and were a bargain at under $100) and ‘those’ diamond earrings, and I was good to go. Those earrings, courtesy of Gerald David Bauman, were amazing. I usually only wear very small earrings but was glad to be challenged to try something different – and was quite pleased with the result.

I did have my Pretty Woman day

I did have my Pretty Woman day

After we were all ready, it was time to begin the photo shoot – and I can tell you, I can totally get used to this! Before we knew it, it was time to wrap. We spent 5 hours trying on great clothes and shoes and being made up whilst sipping champagne and eating strawberries – I can’t tell you how much fun it was.

As I had skipped lunch, I was a bit peckish and we still had some time before dinner, so Maxine suggested we went to Tortilla Republic, which I have to say was a fab idea.

We had a great time at Tortilla Republic

We had a great time at Tortilla Republic

We decided to be brave and try the jalapeno margaritas – oh my God. They really had a kick – and let’s say it purified my body – and were delicious. I did spend most of the time in tears while I was there – but they were happy ones. You could play ‘spot the European’, as it was that obvious. I also really enjoyed the ‘salsa tasting’ with the tortilla chips – very different from the usual. The place looked fab and so did the crowd.

Maxine and Lauren enjoying fab cocktais at Sur

Maxine and Lauren enjoying fab cocktais at Sur

Maxine did a great job of picking this place, especially as it was next door to SUR, where we were to have dinner. Here, we were met by Alison, the LA Flytographer, who was to keep us company for the night and capture some of our best moments, without us posing or noticing. You will see that this is the second time I have worked with Flytographer and really really like this new company and concept.

A fab girls night out at SUR in West Hollywood

A fab girls night out at SUR in West Hollywood

Dinner was fun and again, we intended to go party the night away, but we were a little bit tired. But I couldn’t go to bed and back to the hotel before hitting one of my favourite places in the area – the bar at the SLS Beverly Hills who does something amazing, so amazing, there are almost no words: it is called the ‘Ultimate Gin & Tonic’. Mr. O and I went with Lauren and we decided to be brave and just order gins we wouldn’t normally have – it was so interesting! But after one drink we did go back to our respective hotels…

The Ultimate Gin & Tonic

The Ultimate Gin & Tonic

Sunday

I can’t tell you much I was looking forward to Sunday… why? I hear you ask.. well, because we were going to the beach. What was so special about it? Despite having been and stayed in Santa Monica over 10 times, I had never been to the beach. Why? I know what you are going to say.. but I only like going to the beach with sunloungers… and for some bizarre reason, they don’t exist in California (you will see them on every beach in Europe and in Florida, for example, so I don’t understand).

Our perfect Sunday - a say spent in Santa Monica

Our perfect Sunday – a say spent in Santa Monica

The City of Santa Monica wanted me to change my perception and organised a day at the beach with our own beach butler. The concept is a little far-fetched (we do have all this in Europe, except we don’t call the people who help out butlers) but it worked. For 50$ at Perry’s Cafe, you get 2 sun beds (I wouldn’t call them loungers as they are not quite it, but they were absolutely fine), an umbrella, unlimited water and lunch. Yes, lunch (from a menu, excluding alcohol). Basically as you want things, you use your walkie-talkie and call the butler and ask away.

The Beach Butler at Santa Monica

The Beach Butler at Santa Monica

From there, it was time to shower and change. We did so at the Exhale Spa at the Fairmont Hotel, where we spent the rest of the afternoon. This beachfront hotel has a great garden and outdoor seating area, and we simply stayed and sipped some wine. I will never forget the amazing sunset… which made me sad: our girls’ weekend was coming to an end, and even worse, so was my California trip.

Shrimp Ceviche at the Border Grill. Yum!

Shrimp Ceviche at the Border Grill. Yum!

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. This time around, we went to Border Grill, where we had some great Mexican food in a very casual setting. It was lovely.

Monday

Mrs. O loved her stay at the Beverly Wilshire

Mrs. O loved her stay at the Beverly Wilshire

On Monday, I had my Pretty Woman day at the Beverly Wilshire. We woke up reasonably early, had an amazing breakfast and I headed to the spa, whilst Mr. O headed to the pool – it wasn’t a bad compromise. I then joined him in our cabana where we made the day last as long as possible – but LA time goes quickly, it always does when you are having fun.

After a quick turnaround, it was time to say goodbye to the Beverly Wilshire, where we spent an amazing weekend (and worry not, I shall review it shortly, as well as its amazing spa on a new series I am starting soon).

I hate leaving California, but it is always a bittersweet feeling: because I always know that in less than a year, I will come back for more. I always do.

Xo

Mrs. O

PS. To read about my flight experience back to London on British Airways’ new A380, click here.

Disclaimer: a huge thank you to everyone who made this weekend perfect, especially the cities of West Hollywood and Santa Monica. I rested my head at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills and at the Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons Hotel. I indulged at Fragola, Tortilla Republic, SUR, Perry’s Cafe, Exhale Spa and the Border Grill. And I loved being photographed by Charles Hopkins and Flytographer.