App review: CreateTrips (a must for any traveller)

This post was brought to you in association with  CreateTrips

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

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

create trips app screen 1

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

create trips app screen 2

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

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

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

create trips app screen 3

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

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

create trips app screen 4

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

create trips app screen 5

create trips app screen 5

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

create trips app screen 6

To sum it up:

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 20 Depart UK

Depart London Heathrow on BA 43 at 5:35pm

March 21 Arrival, Table Mountain and wine tasting

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

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

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

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

NB: Drinks are on your own account

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

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

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

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

NB: Drinks are on your own account

March 22 and 23  – Renovating a day care centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 24     Fly to Sabi Sabi, game drive

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

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

After settling in, enjoy lunch.

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

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

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Dinner is served at the lodge.

March 25     Game drives

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

All meals are at the lodge.

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March 26     Game drive; Fly back to Cape Town

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

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

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

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

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

March 27     Cape Peninsula, Boulder’s Penguins

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

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We have lunch en route.

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

March 28     Free day and fly out

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

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

March 29     Arrive back in London

You arrive back in London at 7:45am.

Price:

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

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

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

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

Single supplement: £3,430

This includes:

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

To included:

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

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

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

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

A lux weekend in Los Angeles, California

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

Ahhh Beverly Hills!

Ahhh Beverly Hills!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lovely pool at the Four Seasons LA

The lovely pool at the Four Seasons LA

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

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

See? I told you! Photo by Four Seasons

See? I told you! Photo by Four Seasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xo

Mrs O

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

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

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

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

My hOtel: Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet, Turkey

myhotel

Hard to believe it was once a prison...

Hard to believe it was once a prison…

Pre-Arrival

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

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

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

They did indeed.

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

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

Arrival

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

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

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

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

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

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

–          Was I addressed by name once reservation has been located? (it is all about the small details, some others are outstanding with this, and I love it, like I do when I board an airplane)

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

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

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

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

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

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

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

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

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

Room Experience

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

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

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

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

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

–          Welcome amenity

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

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

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

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

–          The bed

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

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

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

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

No problems here!

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

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

–          Bathrobes and slippers

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

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

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

–          Coffee and Tea

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

–          Free bottled water

Of course, and changed daily.

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

I had a copy of Four Seasons magazine.

–          Power sockets in useful places – we have more and more devices and we know where we want them! By the bed, by the working area.

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

Bathroom

Totally my kind of bathroom

Totally my kind of bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

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

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

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

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

Very very good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakfast

The very nice breakfast room

The very nice breakfast room

–          Décor of breakfast room

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

–          The spread (inc yumminess)

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

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

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

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

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

Bar

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

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

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

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

Worked very well indeed. No issues at all.

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

A little bit, yes.

–          Location

How close can you get??

How close can you get??

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

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

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

Beautiful courtyard.

Beautiful courtyard.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Without a doubt.

–          Would I stay again?

Any. Time. Any. Time.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

My hOtel: Hotel d’Angleterre in Copenhagen, Denmark

myhotel

The grand dame of Danish hospitality, the Hotel d’Angleterre, in Copenhagen, was the only place on my list on my recent visit to Denmark’s capital. Recently the subject of an incredibly tasteful refurbishment, I must admit it was one of the most beautifully designed hotels I have ever stayed at. Pair that with possibly the best looking team ever, and we were in for a treat.

We arrived in a mid November Friday, which turned out to be a special day in the hotel’s calendar – the day when the Christmas lights come on. There was a crowd gathered outside which tells you how special these are. And they were indeed.

A very special Christmas display at the Hotel d'Angleterre in Copenhagen.

A very special Christmas display at the Hotel d’Angleterre in Copenhagen.

Pre-Arrival

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

My stay was organised a month or so before our arrival, all via email.

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

The hotel actually does not have a presence on Twitter, only on Facebook, so there was no 1 to 1 communication during my stay, which took place over a weekend.

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

As per normal, I did not have any special requests, but had some very nice surprises during my stay.

Arrival

The hotel was... absolutely stunning. No other words can describe it.

The hotel was… absolutely stunning. No other words can describe it. These photos are from the hotel as there was no way I could take photos without people.

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

Stunning. Not only we were slightly wowed with the Christmas lights outside, when we got in I think I just said ‘Ahhh’. There was a lot of grey in the decor, with accent colours and the end result was phenomenal.

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

We waited for less than 2 minutes until a check-in agent was available and it was a breeze.

–          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.

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

No. The hotel was fully booked (which is often the case) and I had a deluxe guest room confirmed, which was what we got.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Did I ever? As you can read on my post which details our fab weekend in Copenhagen, not only everyone was incredibly helpful and efficient, they were also a delight to look at. I hereby commend the Head of HR of the hotel for the extra eye candy provided to guests. In all honesty, it was part of the guest experience (I kid you not), but also a trait of the Danish. How good-looking were they? OMG.

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

We were escorted to our room and were able to take our carry ons with us. I then realised that a carry-on for a weekend in Copenhagen is not enough, as I learned during the following 3 days. Lesson learned.

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

Wifi was complimentary and worked well during our stay.

Room Experience

Our room at D'Angleterre

Our room at D’Angleterre

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was beautiful – I loved the grey, white and purple colour scheme and it was a good size. It felt incredibly comfortable from the moment we walked in.

–          Welcome amenity

We had a lovely bottle of champagne, and some DELICIOUS sweets, courtesy of the hotel chef. Simple and perfect.

What else would Mrs. O need? Exactly, nothing at all.

What else would Mrs. O need? Exactly, nothing at all.

–          The bed

The bed was fabulous. Incredibly comfortable and I LOVED the individual duvets. You can’t see them in the photo, but after turndown, we actually had a his and hers duvet, which could be the end of many marital problems. I know it is normal in Northern European countries, but no so much where I come from. I wasn’t quite sure about the square pillows though – I missed the sides of them, I must confess. But they were very comfortable and the right height and weight for me.

A bed we did not want to leave!

A bed we did not want to leave!

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

No issues here. At all.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There wasn’t one, but plenty of well located sockets around the room.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, and smaller ones for me. Yay!

–          Coffee and Tea

Indeed. A Nespresso coffee machine and a kettle for tea.

It was all about the details at the d'Angleterre.

It was all about the details at the d’Angleterre.

–          Free bottled water

Of course.

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

Must confess I did not notice anything in the room, but to be fair, I did not need any.

–          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.

Absolutely. Spot on.

Bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was large, with a fab walk-in shower and great windows. The only thing I would say, is that due to the sink layout, we did not have much space for our own toiletries, so we had to be creative, which we managed to, with the help of the trolley.

–          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 did not have a bath, but had a great shower. It was very good.

A very sexy bathroom. Loved the underfloor heating.

A very sexy bathroom.

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

Very very good towels.

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

The hotel uses a brand called Laura Bonne, which I was not familiar with. I liked the shower gel, but not the conditioner.

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

One of the best ever, and I have to say, the face wipes were a very nice touch. I brought them with me and have them in my washbag for emergencies.

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

I saw one which looked good, but I did not use on this occasion.

Breakfast

The breakfast was fantastic. And the room, OMG.

The breakfast was fantastic. And the room, OMG.

The room was simply stunning. It is, after all, the hotel’s 1 star Michelin restaurant Marchal. The spread was excellent and I was particularly keen on the rye bread. Don’t ask me why.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It worked well throughout our stay. No complaints.

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

No.

–          Location

Possibly the best location in the centre of Copenhagen, moments from all the landmarks and, most importantly, the shops at Stroget.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

A deluxe guest room costs from 3500DDK (approx. £335, $510, €450).

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Without a doubt. She would adore it.

–          Would I stay again?

It is just a matter of when. It takes a bit to impress me, to be very honest, and I adored this hotel.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Hotel d’Angleterre during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Top 5 Destinations for Winter 2015

Baby, it is cold outside, as they say. I have always been very honest about my preference for warmer climates, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time and a place for fabulously warm clothes, a fireplace and a glass of wine.

Brrrrrrr, and then it snowed!

Brrrrrrr, and then it snowed!

So when it is cold in Europe, I try to escape to warmer climates – but also find some incredibly lovely cold places to unwind. Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Destinations for Winter 2015 (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere).

Campeche, Mexico

Mexico like I never thought existed...

Mexico like I never thought existed…

I ended 2014 and began 2015 in a tiny town called San Francisco de Campeche, in the Mexican state of Campeche, which is located approximately 5 hours west of Cancun (inland) and to say we loved it, would be an understatement. It was a lovely sleepy town (UNESCO world heritage), with a lovely hotel – we stayed at Puerta Campeche, which is one of five Haciendas part of the same group (and managed by Starwood’s Luxury Collection).

St. Moritz, Switzerland

Postcard pretty Switzerland - good for the mind and the soul

Postcard pretty Switzerland – good for the mind and the soul

My second ski trip of this season took place in St. Moritz, in the Swiss Engadin mountains and we absolutely adored the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains, where we stayed for 4-days. We loved how chic, yet incredibly relaxed it was. We were also blessed with 1 metre of fresh snow on arrival and three incredibly sunny days, which made for an unforgettable lux ski weekend away.

Lisbon, Portugal

Time for a sunny city break in Lisbon, my hometown. Photos on the right by Flytographer.

Time for a sunny city break in Lisbon, my hometown. Photos on the right by Flytographer.

January is not particularly warm in Lisbon, Portugal, but it can be sunny – so it does make for an interesting city break. It is my hometown and I do enjoy going back a few times a year – last time this year I went to get my new passport, which was nothing short of a nightmare experience, so I am expecting a lot less drama this time. And some fab seafood, of course.

Prague, Czech Republic

A very special Valentine's Day for Mr and Mrs O!

A very special Valentine’s Day for Mr and Mrs O! Photos by Four Seasons

I wasn’t sure where to head somewhere close to home in February and asked the lovely people who give me part of their time on Facebook – and collectively had some seriously good ideas. One of the favourites was, without a doubt, Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.

I have been to Prague once, 10 years ago, and it is where I met Mr. O for the first time. There are no romantic memories, but we always promised we would go back to the city that somehow got us together – and we are looking forward to a magical stay at the Four Seasons Prague, and explore a little bit.

Mumbai and Jaipur, India

And to end winter in style, Mr. O and yours truly are going to search for some sun… in India! I am very excited as it is our first time. We will be travelling with Jet Airways and test its business class (expect some reviews, of course).

Looking forward to this flight!

Looking forward to this flight!

We will fly from London to Mumbai, where we will stay at The Oberoi Mumbai, which looks pretty fabulous. After a few days in town, where there is a lot to discover and I would think a fair bit of shopping, we will fly over to Jaipur, where we will be blown away by the sights and hopefully get a little bit of sunshine at The Oberoi Rajvillas. Visas and vaccines are sorted, so we just need to start the countdown!

A new country for us, which we are dying to get a taste of.

A new country for us, which we are dying to get a taste of.

Have you been to any of these 5 places? Do you have any recommendations? Would love to hear them!

Keep warm!

xo

Mrs. O

Top 5 Winter 2015 Beauty Essentials

Brrrrr, it is cold outside. In our case in the UK, it is seriously cold! And that means there is a real *need* for, well, more beauty products, which are appropriate for the season. Here are my Top 5 Winter Beauty Essentials for the season, all tried and tested by yours truly.

Hermes Le Bain range

Get ready for something quite special...

Get ready for something quite special…

No more stealing from hotels… (to be fair, I don’t do it *that* often)… Hermes has finally launched its Bath and Body collection, which includes shower gel, hand wash, moisturisers and a hair care range. When I spotted this on a recent trip to the shop, I could not resist the ‘Eau the Pamplemousse’ shower gel, and a traditional ‘Eau de Orange Verte’ hand wash, which I absolutely adore. Cost: £38.00 from Hermes.

Aromatherapy Associates Moisturising Lip Balm

My lips 'go' with the cold, so I don't take any chances. And very happy with current choice.

My lips ‘go’ with the cold, so I don’t take any chances. And very happy with current choice.

I didn’t even know that Aromatherapy Associates (a brand that I have been in love with for the last 2 years) did lip balms until a recent flight with British Airways (the brand now supplies the goodies of the BA First cabin). After I finished the one that came in the washbag, I decided to see if I could get some more – and found this beauty.  Cost: £15 from Aromatherapy Associates.

Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser Invisible Oil Shampoo (and Conditioner)

My latest obsession....

My latest obsession….

I rotate my hair care products regularly (i.e. don’t use the same brand consecutively), as I am a great believer that one needs to change routines and Bumble and Bumble is a brand that I really like. My hairdresser recommended this new range, which really impressed me since I started using it. These products are sulfate free (hair colour lasts longer, yay) and the mix of the oils has left Mrs. O with super shiny hair. To be paired with matching conditioner (and also check out the primer). Cost: £23 from John Lewis.

Clinique Sonic System Purifying Cleansing Brush

I adore my Clinique Sonic System Purifying Cleansing Brush and take it everywhere with me now

I adore my Clinique Sonic System Purifying Cleansing Brush and take it everywhere with me now

I am now on my second replacement brush head, which means this baby is a keeper and has found a starring place in my very limited daily beauty routine. I have been using this brush for 3 months now and have seen a visible improvement in my skin, and because it is waterproof, you can leave it in the shower, which means I will actually use it for the 30 seconds necessary each day. Cost: £79 from John Lewis.

Elie Saab L’Eau de Couture eau de toilette

Smells wonderful.... and wintery!

Smells wonderful…. and wintery!

New season, new perfume and very rarely I ‘get sprayed’ and have this incredible need to buy a new perfume. But I couldn’t resist this ‘cooler’ version of Elie Saab’s classic fragrance, which I am really pleased with. Cost: £30 for 30ml at John Lewis.

What products can you not live without this season? Let me know your favourites as always keen to try!

Keep warm!

xo

Mrs. O

Back to Mallorca for a long weekend

A_lux_weekend_in_500x100px_HL2

The summer had come and gone and when we got to October, I was missing the sunshine. A lot. I really was. So I started investigating options close to home, in the UK – where could I go for a little tan top up in mid October that wasn’t too far away? And where could I eat some gambas too? Important aspects of a last-minute trip. My beloved Mallorca, the largest of the Spanish Balearic Islands was the answer.

I have come to know the island reasonably well over the last 2 decades, but stopped visiting for about 10 years – and after a magic return in 2013, I vowed to add it to our annual places to visit (one of my first world problems, as I am a ‘repeater’).

I decided to get a villa with Mallorca Farmhouses, because I fancied a longer stay, where I could potentially/technically work from a quiet location for some of the days I was to be away – I just really wanted to do it in the sunshine. The only downfall was that because villa rentals go from Saturday to Saturday, Mr. O couldn’t come with me just for a day. So I asked the lovely Ashley from The Lazy Travelers to keep me company for 5 days, under the promise of a lot of gambas eating and jamon iberico. It wasn’t difficult to convince her.

You can now get direct flights from Heathrow to Palma, but as my BA year was coming to an end (and those tier points are precious as they get you a gold card, or not!), I decided to be clever and fly via Madrid – I earned more tier points, the business class flight was cheaper and actually, because we took a 6am flight (ridiculously early), we got to Palma 3 hours before we would had we flown direct. I am all for direct flights, but in this case, humm, it worked rather well.

Saturday

We got to the airport, and sadly had another disastrous car rental experience (seriously, I seem to collect them), where this time the new surprise was ‘No excess’ as opposed to ‘Zero excess’, which means you are liable for any damage to the car without a minimum excess as per normal (obviously solved by purchasing another mysterious and unique € 240 insurance policy – on top of what we had already pre-paid – at the counter). Zero points to Goldcar, which was the supplier of Vipcars.com, with whom we booked this time after some good experiences.

Puerto Portals in Mallorca... one of my favourite places in the island.

Puerto Portals in Mallorca… one of my favourite places in the island.

It was time for lunch and I had been dreaming about it for days – all I wanted was to get to Flanigans, in Puerto Portals, located under 20 minutes from Palma. I have been going to this restaurant for over 15 years and I have been known to return more than once per trip. On this occasion, as we were to be based in the North-East of the Island instead, in the lovely Pollenca, I knew this was my one and only chance to be ‘flaniganed’ and I took it.

Puerto Portals is a small marina, which is absolutely lovely. The boats are quite big and beautiful and would certainly be classified as ‘boat-eye candy’. It has a handful of restaurants and bars (with the best gin & tonics ever, which I sadly did not get to experience as it was lunchtime and I was driving), and my absolute favourite is Flanigans.

Local delicacies and.. the view...

Local delicacies and.. the view…

I thought Ashley deserved a crash course in Spanish beach cuisine and I wanted to test her limits – so I thought nothing about ordering squid croquetas, Galician-style octopus nor on-the-shell gambas, which would have to be peeled using your cutlery (as we do). She documented her experience on her blog, The Lazy Travelers, and it is worth a read. The meal was delicious, and obviously we pre-ordered the apple tart, which is the way to end a meal in style. If you find yourself in the island, I urge you to come to this place.

Not hungry anymore, we wanted to make our way to our villa, but decided we needed to stock up on essentials (one needs to be organised when not staying at a hotel), so we stopped (not so briefly) at Supercor (the supermarket chain owned by department store El Corte Ingles, which is the local equivalent of Waitrose in the UK). We filled our carts with iberico ham, manchego cheese, fresh fruit, ventresca (best tuna in the world), water, wine, Gin Mare (one of my favourite gins, which is appropriately Spanish) and, of course, a full selection of tonic water. I mention the tonic water because if you are a gin lover (I converted Ashley on this trip…), you need to see a tonic water supermarket aisle in Spain. It will make you cry – and want to buy everything, from the cardamom and pink pepper Schweppes (I kid you not), to the lemon Fever Tree (which is impossible to find in the UK).

After a couple of hours (we did lose track of time), we made our way north and after a bit of a struggle with the directions we had been given by the villa company, we finally found Pepi.

Hola Pepi, you are so pretty!

Hola Pepi, you are so pretty!

Pepi was the 2-bedroom villa that was our home away from home in Mallorca, courtesy of Mallorca Farmhouses, which has an impressive portfolio of luxury villas in the island. It was perfect for us. I loved the traditional style of it, and how well proportioned it was – 2 en suite bedrooms, a large open-plan kitchen, dining and lounge (the latter needs some updating in my opinion), a beautiful emerald pool and great outdoor space.

Inside Pepi

Inside Pepi

The outdoor sitting area was were we spent all of our evenings and nights and I was eaten alive by mosquitos. This is what happens to me when I do not take my lovely husband to warmer climates – he usually gets bitten and I get spared. This is obviously karma (and I do remember the evil laughs every time we spoke on the phone…).

On our first night, we stayed in – it was a long day, and feasted on our tapas. And gin. And wine… and slept like babies!

Sunday

In Pollenca, which is the nearest town (about 10 minutes away), there is a local food market on Sunday mornings and we thought it would be rude not to check it out. We were right at the end of the season and were surprised how many people came to town on that day!

We had a good walk around town (which I have to say, was lovely) – postcard pretty and with a great buzz. I also got to have my first ensaimada, which is a brioche-type cake traditional from Mallorca, which was, well…. delicious!

Pollenca was a very nice surprise, and a town we visited a few more times during our stay

Pollenca was a very nice surprise, and a town we visited a few more times during our stay

As we were out and about, we thought it would be a good idea to explore the island a bit more. When we first posted a photo on Instagram with our whereabouts, many of our followers and friends started suggesting places to go. There were some places that we were not so keen to visit, but Sa Calobra, on the west coast, seemed intriguing.

What we did not know, was how hard it would get there – which I have to say, was one of the craziest drives I have ever been in. And not sure if I want to do it again.

Not your average road, and believe me, this was one of the easier bits...

Not your average road, and believe me, this was one of the easier bits…

Once we got down to the beach, the scenery was pretty spectacular. But as we walked via the caves to the actual beach, we couldn’t help but be… disappointed. I am glad it wasn’t August, as the hundreds of people we saw were more than enough. And to be perfectly honest, the food and beverage selection was so unimpressive (so tatty, and cheap), that I am not sure the whole adventure was worth it.

Very pretty, but I am hiding the bits you wouldn't want to see on this photo

Very pretty, but I am hiding the bits you wouldn’t want to see on this photo

We carried on driving west, towards the south, via Deia. And just before we got to this pretty town (which I still did not get to visit properly), we stopped for paella and a glass of cava at El Mirador de na Foradada, which had pretty spectacular views. Incredible, really, so we just stayed and enjoyed them as much as we could.

Cava, sun and a view in Mallorca. Stunning!

Cava, sun and a view in Mallorca. Stunning!

From here, we did a full circle drive around the island, and an hour and a bit later, we got back to our villa, just before the sun set. Because of the type of the roads, it was quicker to drive South and take the motorway back to the North East, then to drive back – Google Maps never lies.

We got home, and decided that the last thing we wanted was to go out again – so we just got our lovely tapas sorted (we did have an impressive selection!) and chatted all night.

Life is all about the simple things...

Life is all about the simple things…

Monday

On Monday, it rained. We knew it was coming (and I was getting worried as we had not tried the pool yet!), and I had a plan. A very good plan. Mallorca, despite being an island, has a proper city, so to speak, which is called Palma. Palma has VERY good shopping. And Ashley and I were in a serious mood to help the local economy.

The action starts on Passeig del Born, which is a short stroll from the cathedral which is a sight for sore eyes – every time I see a photo of this monument, my heart skips a little beat. I don’t know why, but it does. We had a tip of from Twitter, where we were told to head to a particular shop (La Principal, on c/ Paraires 15), where we were to ask for ‘The Map’. It turned out that ‘The Map’ was fabulous, as it was a self-funded initiative by 24 ‘cool’ shops in Palma, which I was not familiar with. As we had time, we ended up visiting them all, with the highlight being Rialto Living, which was incredible.

Never a dull moment shopping in Palma de Mallorca. Never.

Never a dull moment shopping in Palma de Mallorca. Never. Photo by Ashley from The Lazy Travelers

Nearby, it is also worth having a look at Zara’s more upmarket sister shops, like Massimo Dutti and Uterque, as well as Carolina Herrera and Boss (these two really have flourished in Spain and you get a much better selection and value here than anywhere else in the world).

For lunch, we were really in the mood for fish (of course), and walked (in the rain of course) to El Caballito de Mar, where we enjoyed various starters such as boquerones, and a local favourite – fideua, which is like paella, but with pasta (which I adore).

So so so good!

So so so good!

We shopped a bit more (shoes, my darlings, shoes), and drove back home (which took around 40 minutes, and 3 speeding fines, on the same road…. oops).

We got back to our villa, and after changing for dinner (and comparing shopping successes, of course), we headed out to Pollenca, where we had dinner. Being Monday, we were not spoiled for choice, sadly, but had a good meal at Manzanas y Peras, which came highly recommended.

Tuesday

The sun shines on the righteous, and on our last full day, we were very lucky. A decision had to be made and it was unanimous: we were to stay at home and enjoy the pool and do absolutely nothing.

Not a worry in the world or a cloud in the sky!

Not a worry in the world or a cloud in the sky!

We were also excited because we had organised for a private chef, from Delicioso to come round and cook for us (namely as we both had an online class to attend – seriously, we were both on the Google Square course), and it meant that we would finish too late to go out for dinner, even by Spanish standards.

A lovely lovely pool

A lovely lovely pool

I can’t tell you how disappointed we were when mid-afternoon, we were told by Mallorca Farmhouses that they had cancelled last-minute. It was a shame as actually we had no food left and going out was not an option, and we were left high and dry. There are quite a few private chef companies operating in Mallorca and we tried to book someone last-minute, but it was too late as the markets were closed and everyone working was already booked. So we had no option but to go to the supermarket and buy some food.

Wednesday

On our 5th day, it was sadly time to say goodbye to Pepi and Mallorca. Needless to say, it was lovely and sunny – as it usually happens when you leave a sunny place and head to the airport, where we were to fly to London (via Madrid, ha ha) at around lunchtime.

We had to say goodbye to Pepi

We had to say goodbye to Pepi

The villa experience was good, but I must confess I wished we had extra cleaning services (and someone taking out the rubbish). The photographs were spot on and I was impressed with the Mallorca Farmhouses service from the beginning to the end.

Returning to Mallorca was, as expected, almost magic. There is something about this island – very relaxed, but also quite chic, and also very pleasant to the eye. I like the variety that it offers – you can be in places where you see no one, you can do some decent shopping, the food is incredible and the sea is so beautiful, you can’t quite believe you are in Europe. But you are and only a couple of hours away from home.

Hasta pronto! I shall be back.

Xo

Mrs. O

PS: I flew with BA (on that first leg) and Iberia (on the other 3) on this occasion and have to say, it was surprisingly good. As much as I love BA, I do not feel the same way about its sister airline, on the contrary, and do avoid it unless there is no option. I don’t know what happened, maybe some of the BA culture is finally rubbing off and truth be told, service was very good and so were the planes. Everything worked and I may even do this again.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Mallorca Farmhouses, who provides villa rentals in the island. The Pepi villa, with two bedrooms, sleeps 4 and costs from £828 per week (not per person), which is incredible value for money. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Gatecrashing Paradise (The Maldives) with Tom Chesshyre @tchesshyre

A few of you may already be familiar with my friend Tom. He is one of the UK’s leading travel writers, and you can see his work regularly featured on The Times. He is also one of the best storytellers I know, and he has recently released his 5th book, named  Gatecrashing Paradise: Misadventures in the Real Maldives. His previous book, ‘A Tourist in the Arab Spring’ was also featured on this blog a while ago, and generated a lot of commentary from interested readers who were keen to ask Tom some questions and share some stories.

In his latest adventure, beyond luxury hideaways, Tom Chesshyre travels to see the real, unexplored Maldives, skirting around the archipelagos periphery, staying at simple guesthouses, and using cargo ships and ferries. He discovers that beyond the glossy brochures lies an almost undiscovered country that is brimming with life, yet also a paradise teetering on the brink of trouble.

In the Maldives outsiders used to be banned from islands not officially endorsed as tourist resorts, but now a thousand sandy shores can be visited in this remote nation deep in the Indian Ocean the flattest on Earth. This is island-hopping for the twenty-first century, sailing around 600 miles of the most beautiful islands and atolls on Earth, often to communities that have not seen an outsider for decades, …and gatecrashing the odd posh hotel.

What you may not know, is that we were in the Maldives at the same time – and at the same hotel. I did not know either – it was only for a day, and was gutted that we did not meet on location! I can imagine a great evening with lychee caipirinhas with Tom and Mr. O – but failing that, we catch up regularly in London. I was offered a pre-release copy of Gatecrashing Paradise: Misadventures in the Real Maldives and loved it. But being me, I had to ask some questions to Tom – and here is what he had to say!

lux maldives sea

The Maldives is certainly very different from Tunisia, Libya and Egypt soon after the Arab Spring revolutions – or so you might imagine. Yet in some ways there are similarities. Few people who pick the much-lauded ‘honeymoon heaven’ for their holidays have a clue of what goes on behind the scenes on the islands, yet I had heard stable whispers of great discontent. A democratically-elected leader had been ousted – the opposite of the Arab Spring revolutions, perhaps, but obviously a big event on the archipelago.

There was said to be a rise in Muslim fundamentalism: threats to and attacks on those promoting gay rights, for example, just as in parts of the Middle East. Human trafficking of workers from Bangladesh and elsewhere was rife, with passports taken by foremen and pay withheld; effective human slavery. Then also, great questions were unanswered about where all the tourist cash was going, quite possibly into the pockets of cronies of the regime. Local journalists who tried to find out were intimidated. Add to this the vast gulf between the wages of the average Maldivian and tourists spending $1,000 a night on water villas, and the matter of the ‘haves and the have-nots’ of the world that so many people are concerned about was laid bare.

The Beckhams were estimated to have blown the annual salaries of the equivalent of 64 Maldivians during their luxurious 11-night visit. Meanwhile, the country was the flattest on earth and likely to face evacuation of many islands due to rising seas by as soon as 2050. So many of the world’s most pressing concerns seemed to be lurking in the holiday brochure ‘paradise’. I was intrigued.

Tom travelling through Maldives by local transport

Tom travelling through Maldives by local transport

2. What were you expecting from the various trips, before you went on them?

I travelled round the islands on cargo ships and local ferries mainly – and I had no idea what to expect. Finding the right ride was tricky, and when I did I might end up on a simple, open-sided deck sleeping next to sacks of onions or boxes of powdered milk. Ferries timetables seemed to be almost non-existent. I decided to go with the flow and let the boats take me where they would, though I knew that I wanted to cover the entire length of the 1,200-island archipelago in a big circle. I expected to see little islands with no tourists . . . I was not heading for five-star land.

3. What was the best moment of gatecrashing paradise?

There were many memorable moments, but in terms of excitement my overnight tuna fishing trip stands out for me. We gathered at 11pm, and went out into the ink-black waters to collect bait fish with the help of floodlights beamed into the sea; this attracted little fish that were subsequently scooped up. Then at the crack of dawn we took off in search of tuna. The fishermen consisted of 16 guys with joust-like poles who were poised waiting. We soon found the fish and then great sprays of water were fired off the back of the boat to fool the tuna into thinking the water was alive with bait fish – of which a few were flung from the night’s haul to add reality to this illusion. The rods were soon whipping back and forth and tuna flew through the air thudding on the deck before being swept into a hold. It was incredibly dramatic. This is how the little cans of tuna in your supermarket get the fish that’s in them.

Tom on a local ferry

Tom on a local ferry

4. You mention the local Maldivian food a lot (something I also adored and grateful to have been able to try on my trips to this part of the world). How weird was it to have tuna for breakfast? What was your favourite meal?

My favourite meal was called garudia, which consists of smoked tuna with lime, chilli and onion in a thin soup, usually served with rice. It’s very more-ish and healthy too, I’m assuming. I also enjoyed boakiba, fishcakes made with onion, garlic and coconut. As I was off-the-beaten-track I’d be served dishes like this at the homes of people I met. Tuna for breakfast is excellent – the Chinese are much weirder about what they have in the morning: braised duck blood and chicken feet and so on.

Dr Krishnakant Bubhavant of Maldives Climate Observatory

Dr Krishnakant Bubhavant of Maldives Climate Observatory

5. If you had to pick 3 things that negatively surprised you what would they be?

The three biggest ‘negative surprises’ were being followed by the secret police on occasion, meeting young female activists for democracy for had been thrown in cells for no good reason, and seeing that an island rebuilt after the 2004 tsunami was already disappearing back into the sea due to wave erosion (50ft of land already gone).

Tom on Rubbish Island

Tom on Rubbish Island

6. How do you feel about the Maldives as a destination? Has this adventure changed your perspective and opinion?

It is, despite all of this, one of the most beautiful places on Earth – while it is still there. The rising sea is such a huge problem and the Maldives has come to symbolise, I think, our heads-in-the-sand attitude to climate change. And yes, of course, I recognise the paradox of flying and emitting CO2 in order to go on holiday there. Tourism will not go away, so it is a given across the globe now – in fact, if it did go, much of the world’s economy would most likely collapse. My adventure did not change my opinion of the beauty of the watery nation, just the people who run it.

Tom sampling the local happy hour

Tom sampling the local happy hour

7. Where to next? Make us jealous!

Wales is next . . . what prettier a place than the beaches on the Gower Peninsula? You don’t have to take off round the planet to enjoy somewhere heavenly.

Tom Chesshyre is the author of five travel books that have taken him from Hull to Tripoli via assignments in North Korea, Nepal, India and Iceland. He writes for The Times and has contributed to the GuardianThe Financial Times, The Times Literary Supplement and the Mail on Sunday. His magazine work has been for Geographical and Condé Nast Traveller. 

On his travels he has been hijacked in Africa, met tornado-chasers in America and followed in the footsteps of Graham Greene in Haiti. His previous books include A Tourist in the Arab Spring, Tales from the Fast Trains, How Low Can You Go and To Hull and Back: On Holiday in Unsung Britain. For more information, visit Tom’s website.

And to make things more interesting, Tom will be giving 5 signed copies of Gatecrashing Paradise: Misadventures in the Real Maldives to 5 lovely readers, which is also available on Amazon. To enter:

1) Answer this question in the comments area below: ‘Where was the most beautiful place you have ever been to, which you would describe as paradise?’

2) Share this post via social media (Twitter, Facebook or Google +) using the sharing buttons on the left hand side or below.

This competition is now closed. Winners have been selected and contacted via email.

And Happy New Year!

xo

Mrs. O

2014: My year in travel – 26 trips, 53 flights and 110 nights away from home

I have started doing these annual recaps (see 2012 and 2013) and I have to say, I love doing them for one reason: it makes me happy to look back and see where the year has taken me, literally.

In 2014, we have been on 26 trips and took 53 flights (and I am not even counting Mr. O’s business trips, which have nothing to do with me!). We have also spent 110 nights away from our lovely bed at home. On average, we tend to go away twice a month, with some exceptions… never a dull moment indeed! I am not a professional travel (nor I ever aspire to be), and this is the balance that works for my husband and I. We have busy lives, and work takes us outside of the UK very regularly (and it would be rude not to enjoy some cheeky weekends away at the end of a business trip, wouldn’t it?)

So here is how 2014 worked out for us!

January

We started our year in Miami, where we stayed for 9 nights but sadly, only managed to go to the beach once! But let’s put it that way, pleeeennnty of time to shop!

Happy New Year from Miami, Florida.

Happy New Year from Miami, Florida.

Most of the month was then spent back in the UK, namely in London and over two weeks, I was able to try two very interesting hotels: The London Marriott Grosvenor Square (which was a very nice surprise!) and the fab London Edition, which I keep going back to.

At the end of the month, I made my way to Val d’Isere, in the French Alps for half a week of skiing (and eating, of course), which I adored.

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

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

February

In the shortest month of the year, I took my first ever UK domestic flight and headed to Newcastle, to speak at a conference, which was quite interesting. I also spent 3 lovely and busy days at the Four Seasons Park Lane in London, which is one of my favourite places in town.

I loved loved loved my room at the Four Seasons London

I loved loved loved my room at the Four Seasons London

March

March was full of surprises and contrasts. We returned to Val d’Isere for our annual ski week-long trip with friends (you can tell I like this place!!), and also enjoyed some true luxury at The Stafford in London, which is a legend, and I adored.

Later in the month, we headed to the Maldives for almost 2 weeks, purely in the name of research. And because I was lacking in vitamin D, of course!

The Maldives make me very happy indeed!

The Maldives make me very happy indeed!

April

April is my birthday month, and I started the festivities in the Maldives (of course) and then had a last-minute cheeky romantic weekend in Paris (why not?!).

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

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

We then went in search of some warmer temperatures in Abu Dhabi, which was indeed a surprise and an incredible trip. I loved everything about this trip and really want to go back at some point.

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

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

May

In May, we headed to Cyprus in search for (yet) more sun, but were not very lucky, sadly. But we still had a great time at the Columbia Beach Resort. The following weekend, we had an INCREDIBLE time in Bordeaux, France, which really blew us away. I am a huge fan of La France, and return often but this part of the world was new to me and I adored it.

Absolutely worth a visit. I loved St. Emilion.

Absolutely worth a visit. I loved St. Emilion.

On the last bank holiday of the month (yes, we get 2 in May!), we stayed closer to home and had a lovely time with family in Devon, South West England. It is an area I have come to know reasonably well over the past 9 years and I love it. We stayed in Salcombe at the Harbour Hotel and at the Magdalen Chapter in Exeter, both very positive experiences.

Welcome to Salcombe! What a view!

Welcome to Salcombe! What a view!

June

In June, it was time to return to Italia and discover a new area for us: the stunning Puglia, in the heel of Italy’s boot. We loved everything about this trip and vowed to return in the not so distant future!

La Selfie Italiana - Mary Anne, moi, Mr. O and Jeff and Ashley at the back. Fab memories.

La Selfie Italiana – Mary Anne, moi, Mr. O and Jeff and Ashley at the back. Fab memories.

In June, I also got to try the brand new Cheval Harrington Court, in South Kensington in London, which provided luxury apartment accommodations and a nice home away from home.

July

July is one of my favourite months to travel to Southern Europe (I avoid August at all costs!) and early in the month I returned to the stunning Finca Cortesin (who is possibly my favourite hotel in the world, quite a statement!). This time, I took Mr. O with me and I even got to learn how to make a Spanish tortilla de patatas.

The fab beach club at Finca Cortesin

The fab beach club at Finca Cortesin

Mid-month, we went on an unforgettable journey on the Belmond British Pullman, where we had dinner cooked by 2-star Michelin chef Tom Kerridge. This was the first of two train journeys this summer…

Chic in navy at the Belmond British Pullman

Chic in navy at the Belmond British Pullman

Later in the month, we went back to Portugal for 10 days – part of the O’Reilly pre-nup, non-negotiable. We went back to Herdade do Vau in the Alentejo (which we first visited last year), and then spent 6 days in the Algarve, split between the Quinta do Lago and the Sheraton Algarve, where we have spent the last 10 summers.

One of my favourite beach walks ever...

One of my favourite beach walks ever… Quinta do Lago, in the Algarve

August

I think Henley-on-Thames is so so so pretty

Yes, there can be something called Summer in the UK!

In August, we enjoyed the best of the British Summer and pretty much stayed at home – we spent 3 days in London trying out The Arch London, which is a little gem of a hotel, and later in the month, we headed to California (again, part of pre-nup agreement), where we spent 15 days.

September

Who's a happy girl?? At Domaine Carneros by Taittinger in Napa

Who’s a happy girl?? At Domaine Carneros by Taittinger in Napa

To end Summer in style, we had one of the busiest months travel wise – obviously one of the most fun! We spent the first part of the month in California, starting in San Francisco where we stayed at the Mandarin Oriental and slept through the earthquake. No drama – there really is no story to tell! We then revisited Napa, which we had not been to for 8 years and had a fab weekend indeed.

From Napa we made our way to Palm Desert (one of our spiritual places and where we have a place indeed, hence why I return every year) and then ended the trip in style in Los Angeles, at the one and only Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, which I will keep going back to forever and ever.

I adore the Four Seasons Los Angeles

I adore the Four Seasons Los Angeles

A couple weeks later, we headed to Venice to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary – and to say we had the best weekend ever, would be an understatement.

A very happy moment in Venice. Photo by Serena Genoviese for Flytographer.

A very happy moment in Venice. Photo by Serena Genoviese for Flytographer.

We spent 2 nights at the Gritti Palace (which was gorgeous), but could not wait for the last day of the trip. Why? Because we were to return to London onboard the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express, a journey that took 30 hours and we will never ever forget. If I have to pick the number one moment of this year, this would be it.

Welcome on-board the most iconic train in the world, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express

Welcome on-board the most iconic train in the world, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express

Summer came to and end (and what a summer it was!), and we started Autumn in Istanbul, a city we got to know reasonably well due to my previous professional life and had not returned to in 6 years. We were a tad unlucky with the weather (except for the first day), but that did not ruin it at all!

Istanbul, the city where Europe meets Asia and definitely gets the best of both worlds. And very happy memories for me. I love it.

Istanbul, the city where Europe meets Asia and definitely gets the best of both worlds. And very happy memories for me. I love it.

October

October was a quieter month, for obvious reasons! Mid-month, I needed some Vitamin D and headed to Mallorca in Spain with my friend Ashley from The Lazy Travelers. I did my best to get Ashley half as obsessed with gambas as I am, and it is fair to say I did a very good job (click on the link for Ashley’s version of the trip).

Cava, sun and a view in Mallorca. Stunning!

Cava, sun and a view in Mallorca. Stunning!

November

November is a special moment in our house (any excuse!) as it is Mr. O’s birthday month! But as he was busy way with work, I sneaked away to Paris for a cheeky girls’ weekend with my friend Lauren, and fair to say, we really helped the local economy in the run up to Christmas.

A very relaxed girls weekend in Paris, France. Photo by Flytographer.

A very relaxed girls weekend in Paris, France. Photo by Flytographer.

Then we got back into celebration mode, and I whisked away Mr. O to Copenhagen, in Denmark for a bit of wintery cold, and delicious food. And for a lot of eye candy, because I am a very nice wife. And I have eyes too.

The stunning Christmas lights at the iconic Hotel d'Anglaterre, in Copenhagen

The stunning Christmas lights at the iconic Hotel d’Anglaterre, in Copenhagen

And to end the birthday month in style, we headed to Northern Ireland, which was simply stunning. We knew it would be very nice (or no point in going), but were absolutely blown away by the people, the scenery, the food and do not get me started on the gin and whiskey.

Not a bad view to wake up to in Northern Ireland. We loved it.

Not a bad view to wake up to in Northern Ireland. We loved it.

December

In the final month of the year, I headed to Cannes, France, for the annual ILTM – International Luxury Travel Market, which is the main event in the luxury travel industry. A very busy 4 days, but still with enough time to appreciate the views…

Cannes is a very special place!

Mid-month, and just before the Christmas madness began, we found our ski legs in Alta Badia, in the Italian Dolomites. Whilst the snow was limited (only a few slopes open), the incredible food more than made up for it. Believe me!

The hills were kind of alive in Alta Badia, Italy

The hills were kind of alive in Alta Badia, Italy

Christmas will be spent at home, with friends and family who we cannot wait to see. We shall ring in the new year in a very quiet place in Mexico, and I have to say, I need that vitamin D again.

Thank you for your support over the last 12 months – and for making Mrs. O Around the World a destination in itself. I really do appreciate it, in more ways than I can describe in words.

Here’s to a fab Christmas for everyone, and let’s make 2015 a year to remember.

xo

Mrs. O