Luxury African adventure: Malawian style by @davidsbeenhere

I had heard of Malawi because I have always been quite good at Geography, but also of course because of Madonna’s adoption. I have been following David Hoffmann’s blog for almost 8 months and was amazed by his recent trip to this remote part of the world. I had no idea that Malawi could have such stunning scenery and have to thank David for putting it on my map.

I also knew I just had to ask him to share his fabulous trip with my dear readers. I hope you enjoy this post and photos as much as I did. David has been around pretty much everywhere.. aren’t we lucky that @davidsbeenhere? I may be persuaded to go on a great luxury African adventure after seeing this! Xo, Mrs. O

Safari at Nyika Nat'l park

Safari at Nyika Nat’l park

When thinking about Africa, visions of zebra, elephants and leopards likely pop into your mind. But what about snorkeling, sailing and sunset cocktails? The reality is that Africa is an immense and diverse continent that offers much more than great migrations across the Serengeti. Sure, it is a sight to behold when it comes time for the Mara River crocodiles to chomp down on ill-fated wildebeest, but unforgettable and indulgent adventures can be had in some of Africa’s smaller countries. One such jewel is Malawi. Known as “the Warm Heart of Africa,” the Republic of Malawi is located in Southeastern Africa. It is home to the third largest lake in Africa, Lake Malawi (aka Lake Nyasa) that is roughly the same size as the country of Belgium. I traveled to Malawi in June 2012 for three exciting weeks. Here you have a re-cap of the various activities and accommodations that I experienced.

Map of Malawi

Map of Malawi


Though small in size (about 46,000 sq miles) Malawi has a geography that is as diverse as the indigenous wildlife- mountains, rainforests, marshlands and forests comprise the landscape. What that means for tourists is that there is plenty to see and do, and a plethora of excellent hotels and restaurants throughout the country.

 

Safaris Galore

Luxury safari groups such as Robin Pope and Wilderness Safaris hve taken a conservationist approach to providing visitors with memorable experiences both in the bush and at the lodges. These well-established hotel groups employ locals and put forth great efforts into respecting biodiversity. They are the two biggest names in Malawi for luxury eco-tourism because of their boutique style accommodations, superior customer service and mouthwatering menus. Malawi also features several privately owned resorts that offer everything from private beaches and massages to yacht charters and up-close encounters with wildlife. The best part of all? You don’t have to rough it if you don’t want to.

 

Boat Tour in Liwonde National Park by Mvuu Lodge

Boat Tour in Liwonde National Park by Mvuu Lodge

 

Tree house lobby at Tongole Wilderness Lodge

Tree house lobby at Tongole Wilderness Lodge

 

Jeep safari at Majete Wildlife Reserve by Mkulumadzi Lodge

Jeep safari at Majete Wildlife Reserve by Mkulumadzi Lodge

 

Tour of Zomba Plateau given by Sunbird Ku Chawe Hotel

Tour of Zomba Plateau given by Sunbird Ku Chawe Hotel

 

Lake Malawi

The lake features over 2,000 species of colorful cichlid fish and supports a large population of aquatic birds such as herons, egrets, fish eagles, cormorants, geese, kingfishers and pelicans. These feathery inhabitants attract hundreds of bird watchers and photographers to the country each year. Lake Malawi National Park is a protected section of the lake where there are dozens of water sports and diving opportunities available. Here are just a few:

 

Feeding cichlids in Lake Malawi National Park

Feeding cichlids in Lake Malawi National Park

 

Fishermen in Cape Malawi

Fishermen in Cape Malawi

 

Sailing in Cape Maclear

Sailing in Cape Maclear

Feeding Fish Eagles on Lake Malawi

Feeding Fish Eagles on Lake Malawi

 

Luxury Hotels in Lake Malawi National Park

 

Pumulani

Pumulani


 

Mumbo Island

Mumbo Island

 

Danforth Yachting

Danforth Yachting


Other lakeside hotels

 

Chintheche Inn

Chintheche Inn


Makuzi Beach Lodge

Makuzi Beach Lodge

Makokola Retreat

Makokola Retreat

 

Shopping

For the bargain-hunter in you, Malawi boasts lively markets where you can find unique wooden crafts like masks, furniture, kitchenware and sculptures. Amazingly, the majority of these local artists have no formal training, but their pieces tell beautiful stories of Malawian culture.

Crafts Market

Crafts Market

 

The pieces you will discover are inexpensive and ideal for decorating your home or for gifting to loved ones back home. The top three markets in terms of quality and selection are: Nkhata Bay (Northern Region), Senga Bay (Central Region) and Zomba Plateau (Southern Region).

 

Basic Info

Languages: Chichewa and English

Currency: Malawian Kwacha

Airports: Lilongwe and Blantyre

Tourism: www.malawitourism.com

 

David Hoffmann

David Hoffmann

For more information about Malawi or David’s trips, visit his blog here.

 

The post Luxury African adventure: Malawian style by @davidsbeenhere appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

My thoughts on airline loyalty programmes

Airline loyalty programmes is one of the topics closest to my heart as a marketer, but also, for obvious reasons, as a traveller. There are so many programmes to choose from – airlines and hotels, and I often get questions about my personal preferences.

I love flying

I love flying

I have been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks now, and in preparation, reached out to both my Twitter and Facebook contacts – I wanted to know if they had a preferred programme of either kind, why they chose one instead of another and was overwhelmed by the response. Loyalty matters – whether it is heartfelt (i.e. people being real brand advocates/ambassadors.. or terrorists) or just being very good at playing the points game.

These are, as usual, my personal opinions and I have not been influenced by any company to write this post.

I have to be honest – I am the *queen* of points, as my friends call me. But I am a great believer in quality vs quantity in pretty much everything in life. As we speak, I only hold 1 frequent flyer card and 1 frequent stayer (hotel) card in my wallet. Others are kept in drawers or God knows where. More than enough for me!

Today, we shall focus on  airlines

We are conditioned by where we live and the airlines that serve our “home” airports. If you live in say, Paris, it is pretty probable that you will join the Air France programme and Sky Team. If you live in London or NYC, you have more choices. This is an obvious point and I believe that most people forget it.

Star Alliance TAP Silver Card

Star Alliance TAP Silver Card

I was a Star Alliance Silver cardholder for 8 years plus, via TAP Portugal. The more I flew with other airlines within Star Alliance, the more frustrated I became. Using airmiles for free flights or upgrades with TAP wasn’t a huge problem, was actually OK, but being a stupidly frequent traveller (3-4 times per week, although on short routes), the one thing I valued was lounge access. The Lisbon lounge was OK and I was allowed to use it.. except if I had a ticket issued by another S.A. carrier. That drove me mad. Imagine flying to Istanbul, via Zurich, with Swiss and Turkish Airlines, with stopovers, and being told that I could not access the lounge, for an unknown/unexplained reason. Why should I bother flying with those Alliance members to be treated like this?

Another thing that frustrated was the fact that luggage policies were different from airline to airline, and I found myself arguing everytime I checked-in “my” extra 15kgs, which was a benefit of my card with TAP. At Heathrow, as all Star Alliance carriers are now together, the check-in staff wouldn’t know about it. I resorted to carry a print out of the website rules.

On the other hand, Mr. O had always been with British Airways Executive Club (I was blue as I only flew to London every now and then) – and by being silver, I started noticing that as his guest, I could always go into the lounge with him. I could also fast-track security. When we plotted our airline world domination, we agreed that I would keep status on Star Alliance and he would do so on OneWorld. We did the same for hotels.

It didn’t work out for us – I couldn’t take him into the lounge or fast track, or even board, whereas he could. OneWorld (BA) won hands down. Which means that being Silver in Star Alliance is shocking compared to being Silver (or Sapphire for my American friends, the equivalent of  one level down below our top tier in Europe – for you, it must be bling bling and diamonds or double diamonds with platinum) on OneWorld.

How did I get out of Star Alliance? I started flying with BA via London every time we went to the US or even somewhere in Europe and was surprised that it was actually better value (and Gin & Tonic in any class, which Mrs. O loves). With our honeymoon ticket, I got to silver. It has been 4 years and never looked back. I am now been gold for the past 2 years, but I think I will go back to silver – sadly, but this isn’t a bad thing necessarily as I find BA extremely kind to the 2 upper tiers of the Executive Club. (Again, someone please tell me what being Star Alliance silver means, I don’t really know).

 

BA Silver and Gold cards

BA Silver and Gold cards

Does status matter?

For me, it does, as it translates in obvious benefits:

– Being able to book a seat when I buy my ticket (although the 5 first economy rows seem to be blocked until 4 days before the flight. I don’t get this and hate the extra work it gives me if I want my 5 A-C or any other single-digit seat numbers).

– Have an extra piece of luggage every time I fly, in addition to the cabin’s standard policy (this is worth a lot to me!). And no arguing at airports;

– Having lounge access on every One World Alliance lounge if I travel with a One World carrier (of course!). All OW carriers have a colour code which level all different member programmes. Meaning that if you are BA Silver, that is roughly the same as AA Platinum with diamonds encrusted. I am exagerating the names, but basically if you have a little Sapphire (Blue) or Emerald (Green) dot on your card, you are good to go. And no arguing at the lounge. Ever. And you can always bring a guest, which is a nice touch.

I must confess, one of my favourite perks is chocolate - calories don't count in the air!

I must confess, one of my favourite perks is chocolate – calories don’t count in the air!

– Priority Check-in  – I really like this, despite the class you travel.

– Fast-Track boarding and security -with a friend, of course, but mostly in UK airports only, sadly. I know airlines have to pay for this in other airports, but they should. If it’s fast track, has to be everywhere.

– More airmiles – which of course lead to more free flight or upgrade opportunities.

– Special paid upgrades through the BA “Manage my Booking” system or mobile app (this is a huge one, which I LOVE).

How you move from one tier to another depends on the airline. Star Alliance was based on actual miles travelled, whereas BA have the concept of Tier Points, whereby these are allocated depending on your fare, route and cabin. As a point of improvement, I would suggest that this (i.e. number of tier points and miles) is made clear before one books/pays for a ticket. Currently, you only find out afterwards. TAP Portugal and Swiss actually have a really good booking system whereby you have various fare options in both economy and business class and if you pay more, you get more points. Whether you choose to do it or not, it’s totally up to you, but it is very clear.

If you want to be BA Silver (where you need 600 tier points), you need 3 Europe to US Premium Economy trips (180 tier points each) plus a couple European flights (20 tier points for each economy return flight or 80 in club europe). That would have a cost of around €3000, give or take.

When I stopped using Star Alliance, they sent me a “goodwill” Silver card, valid for 2 years. I was surprised and thought it was nice and used it once or twice. On a particular flight, when I added by second piece of baggage (for those extra 15kg), I was told I wasn’t eligible as my card wasn’t really “real”. I was so offended, I vowed never to fly with them again unless I do not have an option. It has been 8 months and still counting.

Time in airports matter

Time in airports matter

One thing I haven’t mentioned is upgrades – I really don’t get the system. I rarely travel alone anymore, which certainly helps getting those seats, but every now and then we have a surprise. There is no sense of entitlement from my part whatsoever and that is fine. I recently found out that some American airlines (as in from the USA) hand out x upgrade vouchers each year to frequent flyers and, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind a bit of that (guaranteed) love.

I love playing the points game (I could expand this post and talk about Credit Cards…but maybe we could leave this for another opportunity), but I really enjoy flying with my airline of choice as I feel looked after, safe and love the little tweets they send me every now and then when I travel.

Let’s get this debate started. Favourite airline? Loyalty programme? What matters to you? Are you willing to pay a premium to fly with your preferred airline?

Let me know.

xo

Mrs O

The post My thoughts on airline loyalty programmes appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

An English summer tradition: the BBQ

This post has been brought to you in association with Taylor’s Port

When I moved to England, almost 7 years ago, I knew there would be compromises – the weather, the beaches, the food and, of course, my family and friends.

What I didn’t really know, was how to enjoy sunny days in this part of the world. Where would I go for fresh grilled fish? How often would I see the sea (as in the beach)? Little did I know how much fun one could have in a small, medium or large garden.

The ultimate European BBQ - meat, fish and seafood

The ultimate European BBQ – meat, fish and seafood

The Brits are obsessed with BBQs, I found – and once the sun is out.. there come the invites! I personally became such a fan of this quirky tradition, that I found myself organising an Olympic-sized BBQ this year – for 50 of my closest friends.

No mean feat, a lot of prep involved, but what I really wanted was to mix it up a bit – every Portuguese tradition I have adopted at home has been welcomed with open arms by my UK-based friends, especially if it involves food or drink.

Mrs. O gets her hands dirty!

Mrs. O gets her hands dirty!

I may have mentioned my sangria-making skills once or twice, and this time around, I was determined to out-do myself – to make Mrs. O’s sangria using not sparkling wine, but rosé port. You heard it here first.

Croft and Taylor’s Port challenged me to recreate some Portuguese classics using Port instead of wine – and I must say, these 2 drinks were the absolute hit of the party.

 

Croft Pink Rosé Port Sangria - the real deal

Croft Pink Ros̩ Port Sangria Рthe real deal

I know what you are going to ask me.. did we get headaches the next morning? Absolutely not! We mixed 1 bottle of rosé port with 2 litres of lemonade (sprite for the non-Brits), lots of ice and, of course, the fruit (anything you want, but strawberries and peaches are a must for me).

Another nice surprise? Dry white port and tonic.. with some mint leaves and lots of ice. Very refreshing and perfect as an apperitiv. We mixed it as we would mix an European Gin & Tonic (no mean UK sizes).

I loved trying White Port and Tonic

I loved trying White Port and Tonic

Time for some food and we tried every meat in the world – I think we totally over-catered and will have food for weeks (any excuse to have more friends around and fire up the BBQ). One thing I now love is corn on the cob, something we don’t have a lot in Portugal, and I could have it pretty much every day.

Love BBQed corn on the cob

Love BBQed corn on the cob

We have been blessed with 2 amazing weekends in August, and I had the chance to test some more Portuguese delicacies, which I would love to share with you.

Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato - clams with wine wine, garlic and coriander

Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato – clams with wine wine, garlic and coriander

Ameijoas, or clams, must have been one of Mr. O’s first Portuguese words… he has never forgotten them, and I am now almost able to make them. As they say, the more you try, the luckier you get.

Summer on a plate

Summer on a plate

But grilled sardines is my ultimate summer staple – it is as simple as it gets. And makes me miss Portugal a little bit less.

How how did we finish our day? With a slightly chilled glass of 10 year old tawny. So amazingly different – I am liking Port more and more!

Chilled... yes, chilled!

Chilled… yes, chilled!

 

Wishing everyone a fab summer – not long to go now, sadly, but determined to enjoy it until the last minute!

xo

Mrs. O

 

PS. A big thank you to Taylor’s and Croft for sharing their cocktail recipes. As we say, Port is not just for Christmas 🙂

The post An English summer tradition: the BBQ appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

So hard to leave San Diego, California

San Diego… San Diego… San Diego.. it is very interesting how these two words became so important and meaningful to me. We first visited a good 5 years ago and didn’t go back until last year, until BA started flying directly to London. Having started in San Francisco, we thought it would be the perfect place to end our annual, almost religious, California trip.

Coronado Bridge and San Diego skyline

Coronado Bridge and San Diego skyline

Our love affair with San Diego started then, and continued this summer, when we decided we just “had” to go back. There is something about this place – the very laid-back, yet elegant atmosphere, the southern California accent and the amazing food, of course.

Why do I love it? I like the fact that is right on the Pacific Ocean (one I have yet to try, despite really wanting to.. water may be a tad cold and, for some bizarre reason, no sunloungers!!), it is small and compact (in a couple of days you can really get a feel of the place), has some really cool tourist attractions (which I normally avoid, but it seems that I have a thing for sea-creatures) and it is so pretty, it hurts.

Yes, a bit of colour coordination at SeaWorld never hurt anyone

Yes, a bit of colour coordination at SeaWorld never hurt anyone

I need to admit something – I was never really tempted by Mexican food. I really don’t know why. So this time, and with the help of the W Hotel concierge (the only place we have ever stayed in town – so nice, we always go back for more), we decided to be super adventurous… and that is how another O’Reilly obsession began…

Mexican food - is good. Enchiladas, burritos, tacos.. just send them my way

Mexican food – is good. Enchiladas, burritos, tacos.. just send them my way

We were determined to try as many different Mexican delicacies as possible, and surely weren’t disappointed with the options the city had for us. And Margaritas, of course.

The biggest surprise? The lovely Old Town San Diego, located not far from the city centre, which is kept in pristine condition. I love “main street” America and seriously loved this place. We had not ventured there before, and so glad we did this time. (and had some more more Mexican food. And margaritas – the best in town).

Happy in Old Town San Diego

Happy in Old Town San Diego

But what I loved the most about San Diego (if we exclude shopping, as Fashion Mall is one of the best shopping centres in the world, and I did my absolute best  to help the local economy), is nearby La Jolla, a little upmarket town, a good 10 miles from the city centre. Quirky boutiques, incredible views and some of the best restaurants in the area.

I will always remember fondly Eddie V, a stunning place, where we had white wine and oysters until they ran out of ice last year – the city had a 8-hour blackout in the summer of 2011, which was an interesting experience, to say the least. As we were denied the “full experience” then, we had to go back on our recent trip. At the last minute, we changed the reservations to a different day, only to be sitting next to the Kardashian clan. Funniest thing? I didn’t even noticethem – I noticed the cameras (as it was graduation week I thought some poor soul’s family thought it would be fun to film the dinner.. sad, I know..), but all I cared about was this view. But Mr. O did have a good look and you can ask him who he thought was the prettiest.

The view from Eddie V, La Jolla

The view from Eddie V, La Jolla

Jokes aside, leaving San Diego always makes us sad. Because 2 days isn’t enough to really enjoy this place.  When I think of California (my favourite state in the US, please don’t be offended, I love them all!), and I close my eyes, this is what I can see…

La Jolla, California

La Jolla, California

.. it is my own very own “California dream”. It’s 10 months until we go back – and believe me, we can’t wait!

Missing San Diego already..

xo

Mrs. O

 

The post So hard to leave San Diego, California appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Is cruising for me? My honest opinion

As you may know, I have been invited to go on a cruise recently, which was a bit of a surprise, as I always said that I would never go on one. Never, ever, ever. But I did. Did I like it? Will Mrs. O go cruising again? What did I really think about the experience? Here is my honest opinion.

Some of my favourite moments

Some of my favourite moments

I was invited by MSC Cruises to go on a bloggers’ trip in early July. The itinerary was quite exciting, and perfect for a weekend. We started in Rome, where I did a bit of shopping, we then stopped in Genoa and managed a little hop to Portofino, and I even learned how to make mojitos on the ship.

I accepted this invite as we were not going on the main part of the ship. These ships are big – we are talking 3,000+. I liked the concept of the Yacht Club which is “a ship within a ship”, or a boutique hotel inside a hotel. With only 70+ suites – 140 people.. I was definitely curious.

Want to know more about it? Well I did, and asked the Yacht Club’s head butler to tell us a bit more about this luxury product. Just click here, or on the image below.

My 3rd and final video

My 3rd and final video

The Yacht Club was lovely – the rooms could have been a big bigger, but to be honest, I didn’t really spend a lot of time in them. Everything worked perfectly,  and I loved having a butler. I was an easy passenger as I didn’t ask for much – I never leave for a trip without shiny shoes, so didn’t need that and all my dresses travel well. But of course I can see the appeal of having your ironing done, which I would totally use, if necessary.

I LOVED the pool deck. We had a huge area with a bar, lounging chairs, a pool, 2 jacuzzis and a viewing deck, for exclusive use of the Yacht Club guests. It was super spacious and not crowded at all (my worse nightmare). I loved the fact that there are more sunloungers than guests… so even if at full capacity, it will never look full.

The Top Sail Deck - nice and peaceful

The Top Sail Deck – nice and peaceful

I LOVED the spa – it was one of the best experiences ever, and I have had a few massages and facials around the world. The treatment rooms were amazing, state of the art, and the view.. wow, that will be difficult to replicate anywhere else. Must confess it was a bit strange to undress whilst leaving Genoa – I know that no one could see me, but a very weird feeling indeed.

A spa room with a view

A spa room with a view

I LOVED the Yacht Club lounge – just like a hotel lounge – with food, drinks, etc. You could have simple meals throughout the day, drinks, etc. Very nice and the hub of this part of the ship

Food and drink were also excellent. We had access to the fine dining restaurant, and I cannot fault anything.

What I didn’t like? Having to cross the whole ship in order to get to it. It is not for the walk, it is for the sheer contrast of the cruising experience. I am talking thousands of people, being super loud, everywhere. And not wearing trousers after sunset. Or shirts. I am not being snobbish (maybe I am), but there is a time and place for everything. If you wear shorts during the day, make an effort for dinner. I am not suggesting everyone should wear tuxedos and evening gowns (although I would love to have an evening like that!), but trousers, long sleeve shirt and proper shoes is an absolute minimum for men. On the yacht club, there is a requirement for gentlemen to wear jackets and that was absolutely fine. I wore cocktail dresses every night, nothing formal, but as I would do for any dinner.

Would I go again? To the Yacht Club, absolutely – for a long weekend, it would be perfect for me. And with a group of friends – I think cruising is like skiing, more of a group activity. To the other part of the ship? Absolutely not. If we all liked yellow, life would be very boring and I am glad that there are different options at different prices.

So there you have it. I would really like to thank MSC for the great trip they organised for us. One of the best parts of the trip was actually meeting fellow bloggers and the team. We had an amazing weekend, not a lot of sleep, but I got back to Barcelona feeling happy and relaxed.

W Barcelona is becoming my home in this city. Always welcome to drop by :)

W Barcelona is becoming my home in this city. Always welcome to drop by 🙂

With enough time before my flight back to London, it would be rude not to enjoy the sun and have my first dip ever in Barcelona, thanks to the W Hotel, who let us use their beach club. And, of course, enough time for some delicious Spanish Tapas.

Oh yes - boquerones, calamares, croquetas, pan con tomate and the piece of resistance, ibérico ham. This and cold rosé wine was a treat!

Oh yes Рboquerones, calamares, croquetas, pan con tomate and the piece of resistance, ib̩rico ham. This and cold ros̩ wine was a treat!

 

Who knows if you will find me on a cruise again? 😉

Mrs. O

 

The post Is cruising for me? My honest opinion appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Wine, sun and lux in Alentejo, Portugal

As I said previously, no matter how many places Mr. O and I are fortunate to go, there is a trip that it is non-negotiable: our week in July in the South of Portugal. And how do we start it? With a weekend in Alentejo, which is the bit (quite large!) between Lisbon and the Algarve.

Alentejo is one of my favourite places in the world. It is not overdeveloped (on the contrary), it is quiet, hot, the food and wine are amazing, and the pace of life slow slow slow – perfect to wind down and start a week. Or stay there forever.

The scenery in Alentejo is stunning

The scenery in Alentejo is stunning

Alentejo is also one of the best-known winemaking regions in Portugal. I am not sure how familiar most of my readers are with Portuguese wines, but as Mr. O says, it is one of Portugal’s best kept secrets (the others being the food.. and the women.. I wonder why?).

Herdade do Esporão is one of my favourite winemakers in the world. I have visited their estate quite a few times, but was excited to see their new “enoturismo”. The new site, opened early this summer, provides a place  where lovers of wine culture and gastronomy can go for a “crash course” in  nature, beauty, art, history, wine, and food of Portugal and Alentejo in particular.

This was my welcoming view at Herdade do Esporão

This was my welcoming view at Herdade do Esporão

We arrived just before lunch and had a private tour of the property, whilst tasting some wines. It would be rude not to.. a great start, indeed. I was looking forward to lunch, as always, but particularly to something quite different Рolive oil tasting. Espoṛo produces some of the best olive oils, which I always make sure I take back home in the UK.

Different types of olive oil - cooking, dressing and more. A very interesting concept.

Different types of olive oil – cooking, dressing and more. A very interesting concept.

But what I will never forget besides the fantastic food and wine pairings? This beautifully set table, right on the vineyards. If this doesn’t put you in the mood for a glass and start a holiday, I don’t know what does…

Notice where the wine is - I want one of those! Photo by ricardobernardo.net

Notice where the wine is – I want one of those! Photo by ricardobernardo.net

After lunch, it was time to learn a bit more about wine. And buy some more to bring back! I loved the new wine bar, which doubles up as a shop, where you can select from Esporão’s whole range. I did endulge – and not ashamed to admit it!

This shop made me want to buy everything.

This shop made me want to buy everything.

After an amazing time at Esporão, I needed a little rest, and there was only one place to go: the fab Convento do Espinheiro, located not far away, in Évora. I have been quite a few times and I must say it is one of the best hotels in Portugal in terms of its setting and, very specifically, service. I don’t usually comment about this, but I feel I must.

Welcome to the Convento do Espinheiro

Welcome to the Convento do Espinheiro

This hotel is quite special – part of it was in fact a convent, and it was a great mix of modern and old decor styles. It is not grand – and nor would I want it to be. There is something quite special about it, that makes you feel in the mood. Could be the wine, though!

 

A bit of sun and a bit of snooze - Mrs. O likes the pool and the spa (photo by SPG.com)

A bit of sun and a bit of snooze – Mrs. O likes the pool and the spa (photo by SPG.com)

We had a bit of sun, a bit of spa (which is fantastic, by the way) and it was soon time again for a bit more wine. The hotel kindly organised a private tasting for us, like in previous times and it was a great start to the evening. One thing I particularly love, is the fact that the hotel is independent (of the wineries) and everytime we go, we always discover great new wines.

An incredible dinner (and guess what, a bit more wine) were next, followed by a great 10-hour sleep. I don’t know about you, but if I can get 10 hours, I am a pretty happy girl.

And to wake up to this view… I can’t think of a better place to start the summer.

A room with a view - Convento do Espinheiro

A room with a view – Convento do Espinheiro

xo

Mrs. O

The post Wine, sun and lux in Alentejo, Portugal appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Summer cocktails, anyone? Mojitos and Sangria onboard

It is summer (my favourite season of the year) and with it, comes that uncontrollable urge to enjoy watching each sunset with a glass in hand. Does this happen to you too? I love summer, I love cocktails…

I love a drink here and there and have some firm favourites. But if I need to be honest, there are 4 drinks that really do it for me!

 

Bubbles

Like without bubbles.. is not the same!

Like without bubbles.. is not the same!

 

Life without bubbles it’s just not the same. I must confess that it was when I moved to England, almost 3 years ago, that I really started drinking a bit more of it. Every time seems to be champagne time! I have also developed a healthy addiction to Italy’s version of this juice, called Prosecco. There are occasions for both. On my recent cruise, and for all MSC Yacht Club passengers, this was available “on tap” – guess who was a happy girl?

 

Mojitos

Pomegranate Mojitos in San Diego

Pomegranate Mojitos in San Diego

I really like mojitos, especially in the summer. The mint makes it quite refreshing and we all know how hot it gets in England (no comment, was being sarcastic!). I like the original one, but have been surprised recently by some interesting variations like lychee or pomegranate (shown here in San Diego, California – where else?)

As you know, I have recently been on a cruise and had the opportunity to film 3 short stories – and of course, chose things I really like doing, one of them being shopping… and the other being mixing cocktails!

One drink I have never actually made myself is a Mojito, so I was delighted to learn how to make one. After that, I shared my (adapted) recipe for Sparkling Sangria, one of “my” drinks (almost an obsession at this stage). I had to make do with the ingredients available.

What do you think? Just click here or on the image to see the video.

Cocktails at sunset - A masterclass!

Cocktails at sunset – A masterclass!

 

Sparkling Sangria

Rosé sangria

Rosé sangria

This is the drink I miss the most from home. It equals lazy summer lunches by the beach in Portugal, usually with fresh grilled fish and prawns. What is so special about it? In Portugal, those who like this drink take some pride and joy, and come up with really creative recipes, away from the usual – wine, lemon, orange and sugar.

Here is how I make my sangria:

– 2 parts sparkling wine (prosecco, cava) – preferably rose as it looks lovely
– 1 part lemonade (if you are going to do it, you are going to do it)
– Sugar syrup to taste (a discovery on the cruise, as I just usually add sugar, or Splenda to be more truthful)
– Fruit cut in pieces  – strawberries (essential), raspberries, peach, pineapple, banana, lemon (use anything you have. Strawberries are a must!), a cinammon stick and fresh mint
– lots of ice

I’d say add everything except the wine, mix it up a bit and then top up with the sparkling.

 

Port Cocktails

White Port and Tonic

White Port and Tonic

Lastly, there is Port. Yes, Port. I know I am not over 65 – and it is something I have been discovering in recent years and keep going back for more. I love dry white port and tonic (add some mint, and ice and I am a happy girl!).

I really really enjoyed going behind the bar on board MSC Splendida’s Yacht Club – I do understand it is not available on demand, but appreciate the company letting me do this for the blog.

So, tell me, what is your favourite summer drink?

xo

Mrs. O

PS. Enjoy Summer (and send some sun over to England, please!)

 

Disclosure: I was invited by MSC Cruises to join them on a blogger trip onboard MSC Splendida. All opinions expressed in my blog are, as usual, mine. You simply cannot buy the love.

 

 

The post Summer cocktails, anyone? Mojitos and Sangria onboard appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

My secret place: Fazenda Nova, Algarve

It doesn’t matter how many trips I have booked or intend to book each year, one is absolutely non-negotiable (or even sacred!) – and that is my week in the south of Portugal, which includes at least a day in the Alentejo, and the rest of the week in the Algarve. It was part of my pre-nuptial agreement with Mr. O (he didn’t really argue – I suppose he was glad I am not from a cold country).

This year, we were in for a treat. There had been rumours for months – “where is it”? “it’s supposed to be amazing!” or “when does it open?” All questions I had been asking myself – and couldn’t be happier when Hallie and Tim invited me to have a look at Fazenda Nova before it opened.

 

Welcome :)

Welcome 🙂

 

When we got there, I had the weirdest feeling ever – I felt that I had been there before. I know now why – and I shall tell you in a minute.

You know things are going to go very well when you are welcomed with sparkling sangria on arrival – I keep saying this: the Portuguese know a thing or two about this drink!

This is my summer drink of choice.. and always reminds me of Portugal

Fazenda Nova is a very special project. I call them “labour of love projects”, because I really admire people who have the courage to leave their lives behind and pack up their jobs and suitcases and are willing to set up shop in a foreign country. I particularly admire those who choose Portugal to do so.

I always say, highly influenced by my Portuguese mother, that if one leaves home, it has to be better. I seriously needn’t have worried. What do you think?

Simple, understated but stylish - my cup of tea for sure!

Simple, understated but stylish – my cup of tea for sure!

I particularly loved the bathrooms and noted the Hansgrohe rain showers, just like home, and loved the REN toiletries, which aren’t easy to find in Portugal. I thought it was a nice touch.

I am seriously obsessed with grey bathrooms

I am seriously obsessed with grey bathrooms

It was time for lunch, and this is one of the best parts of this stylish guest house. The food was incredible. Stunning. As Portuguese as it could possibly get – we were treated to the best gaspacho of my life, followed by red mullet (which they didn’t know, but is my favourite fish in the world) and an obscene dessert indulgence. With incredible wine pairings. We were absolutely lost for words, which doesn’t happen very often.

Fazenda Nova's interpretation of this classic, based on the Algarve chopped salad

Fazenda Nova’s interpretation of this classic, based on the Algarve chopped salad

After lunch, it would be rude not to spend a bit of time at the pool.. it was all mine anyway 🙂 and at peak times, with only 10 suites, it will never be crowded anyway.

Hard to beat this...

Hard to beat this…

All of a sudden, I realised why this place was so special and familiar – it was a very strange feeling. It felt like… home, which is something I don’t feel a lot, except, you know, when I am home. Some years ago, Mr. O and I toyed with the idea of having a house in the Algarve – not by the beach, but somewhere in the countryside, exactly like Fazenda Nova. And the place looked exactly the same – of how we wanted it to be.

 

Happy at Fazenda Nova

Happy at Fazenda Nova

Life, for me, is all about the simple things – great comfort (and as understated as possible. I honestly don’t think places like Dubai are for me), peace and quiet (so I can sleep and read while I sunbathe, which is something I love) and great food. As simple as possible – no sauces are needed. And, I almost forgot, some Portuguese sangria.

So what am I going to do? Go back as soon as possible. Octobers in the Algarve are wonderful – no crowds, lovely weather and we now have Fazenda Nova as our home away from home.

To find our more about Fazenda Nova, visit fazendanova.eu

Até breve,

xo

Mrs. O

The post My secret place: Fazenda Nova, Algarve appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Shopping in Rome and boarding my first cruise

It is not a secret I had a few reservations about going on a cruise. But as the time of the trip got closer, I got progressively more excited – the weather wasn’t fantastic in England in early July and the prospect of a bit of shopping in Rome, followed by a bit of eating in Genoa (and Portofino, one of my favourite places in the world) and a bit of style in Barcelona (beach and some tapas) was quite exciting.

Rome, Rome, Rome!

Rome, Rome, Rome!

We flew to Rome early on a Friday, and I must confess it was quite surreal to visualise what would happen next: I was to film the first of three short films (for the first time in my life!) and having decided on my three stories beforehand, what to do in Rome was pretty obvious: buy (more) shoes!

I actually needed to buy some ballet flats and a session with Anna Maria, one of Italy’s most renowned personal shoppers and stylists was organised. We met at the Via Condotti (home to some of the best Italian fashion houses – you know the drill, Bulgari, Tod’s, Gucci, Loro Piana etc etc) and decided to go totally off the beaten track, i.e. I can go back any time and buy these brands anywhere, so we here in for a bit of an adventure.

 

A bit of personal shopping in Rome

A bit of personal shopping in Rome

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for – the video! Just click here to be redirected to You Tube. It is worth it, promise!

 

I cannot tell you how hot and humid it was – notice how much I play around with my hair! – and how strange it was to see me on camera for the first time. But Ana Garcia, my lovely director made me feel at ease and we actually had a bit of fun.

When I rejoined Mr. O and the rest of the group for some much needed prosecco and lunch, you could tell I was a happy girl. I also bought Mr. O a tie (he loves them!!) and some more goodies. Sadly, I didn’t buy the Mario Gala hat as he did not take credit cards!

By this stage, it was around 4pm and we had to make our way to the ship, which was docked at Civitavecchia, the “port” of Rome, which is over 80km away.

We were not really sure what to expect – but to say the ship wasn’t huge, would be an understatement. I tried really hard to take a photo, but it was impossible! I was a bit worried, but it all went away as we were met by our personal butlers, who quickly helped us check-in, board and make our luggage magically appear in our cabins.

Civitavecchia as seen from our suite

Civitavecchia as seen from our suite

We were taken to this little area, called the Yacht Club. This little detail makes a huge difference – it is a special part of MSC Splendida, with separate facilities from the rest of the ship’s 4000 passengers. This area is reserved for the 71 suites which are part of it and has its own lounge, bar, pool deck and spa. Like a small boat inside a ship – or a boutique hotel inside a big resort, if you’d like.

In this area, there is, as I said, a butler for every 5 deluxe suites – and pretty quickly all the staff in this area get to know your name, which is a really nice touch. After we checked out our accommodation (which was modern, nice but a little tiny bit small – not little little, I was just expecting a bit more space!), we met the group (which was lovely, by the way) for drinks at the Top Sail pool bar – in our private pool.

Enjoying my prosecco and the sunset

Enjoying my prosecco and the sunset

All guests in this area of the ship have meals in the Fine Dining restaurant included, as well as drinks (there is a supplement for things I like such as Tanqueray Ten), but I knew it would be OK when I realised prosecco was on tap. I like my bubbles, and over the last couple of years, have developed a special admiration for this type of Italian sparkling wine. It is so light, so easy to drink…

I couldn’t get over the views we got – and how much water we had around us. It was simply stunning!

Couldn't get enough of these views

Couldn’t get enough of these views

So, if this was just the first hour, I was pretty sure I could quite enjoy the rest of our 3-day stay on MSC Splendida. Notice how guarded I am at this stage… more to come soon 🙂

Love from the Med

xo

Mrs. O

 

Disclosure: I was invited by MSC Cruises to join them on a blogger trip onboard MSC Splendida. All opinions expressed in my blog are, as usual, mine. You simply cannot buy the love.

 

 

The post Shopping in Rome and boarding my first cruise appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

A Perfect Weekend in Boston

Being on twitter as a blogger allowed me not only to actually start this blog, but also to meet some amazing people from all over the world, with whom I share many things in common. One of the most special people I have met, actually in person, and loved is the fab @loladimarco who has since become a good friend of Mr. and Mrs. O. I love her blog, her style and her way of thinking and of course I had to ask her to write a guest post for me, while I am away. Lola *just happens* to live in Boston.. which *happens* to be one of my favourite cities in the world. She’s sharing her favourite places with us. Love xo Mrs. O

Hancock Building reflected in the Hancock Tower by I. M. Pei

Boston

One of the United State’s oldest cities, Boston makes a perfect weekend getaway destination for so many. It is a short drive for many United States East Coast cities and a short flight from some further away US destinations. From the US West Coast or Western Europe, the flight is a bit longer but still worth the trip as you can see and do so much in a long weekend’s time frame.

Where To Rest Your Head

The Ritz-Carlton Boston

Four Season Boston

There are many lovely options in Boston. You could go with an iconic institution like The Ritz or Four Seasons or you could try a newer kid on the block like The Liberty Hotel or Ames. Obviously, you know the standards you are receiving along with the price tag at The Ritz or Four Seasons. The Liberty Hotel and Ames are potentially more affordable and the service there is exceptional too. All have unique things to offer amongst them. And, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is everything else in between. No lack of property options here, however, Boston is a popular destination so plan to book your stay ahead.

The Liberty Hotel

Ames Hotel Boston

Good Eats and Dining Treats

Barbara Lynch’s Sportello

Ideal dinner options are among any of the Barbara Lynch restaurants. Lynch is an institution in Boston dining and for a good reason. All of her restos are wonderful and the staff is some of the most knowledgable around. In the South End, there’s B&G Oysters or The Butcher Shop which are both unique in their approach and delicious. In the Fort Point Channel area there’s Barbara’s Sportello, a modern interpretation of the classic lunch counter, and Drink, a unique cocktail lounge. These two, one on top of the other, are amongst my favorite Boston hotspots. Though not in the Lynch family, I am quite fond of Island Creek Oyster Bar. The decor is fantastic, service fabulous and the food to die for. ICOB also has a great cocktail menu and serves wonderful drinks.

Island Creek Oyster Bar

Some wonderful lunch spots are The Met Bar off of Newbury Street. A perfect stop during a shopping spree as well as Towne Stove & Spirits on Boylston. If you’re planning to take in some art during your visit, the Museum of Fine Arts has the New American Cafe as well as the nicer Bravo restaurant.

Towne Stove & Spirits

My ALL TIME favorite breakfast spot is Paramount in Beacon Hill. A comfortable bistro, Paramount’s breakfast is cafeteria style but made to order for you. You go through the line, place your order, watch it be prepared and then pay and take your delicious breakfast to one of their open tables. It is worth any wait! Brunch options are aplenty in the South End. A recent fabulous discovery, Kitchen, presents food with a take on historically inspired foods which is a burgeoning trend right now. With every dish on the menu, Kitchen tells you how old the recipe is.

Drinks and People Watching

Cocktail Hour

With Boston being such a walking city, people watching is fantastic all over. Another place I enjoy the “see and be seen scene” is a great hotel bar and many of the “where to rest your head” options are perfect for cocktails and people watching. Four Seasons’ Bristol Lounge is a great place to kick off an evening as is Ames’ Woodward. Recently, I’ve enjoyed post-dinner drinks at Red Lantern, a relatively newer hotspot. Liberty Hotel’s Clink is a perfect place to close out a night on the town!

Strolling, Shopping & Culture

The Old State House where the Boston Massacre took place along The Freedom Trail

The Swan Boats in the Boston Public Garden

It depends on your preferences, of course, but in Boston there’s something for everyone. You could just stroll the Esplanade along the Charles River or choose to take in some history on The Freedom Trail. Self-guided tours make these easy options to do at any point during a long weekend. Personally, I love the Boston Public Garden – it’s so enchanting. Shopping options also abound in Boston. There’s the notoriously stylish Newbury Street but wonderful boutique shops can also be found in the North End or South End or Beacon Hill – even Cambridge. New discoveries and favorite-finds await you. And for culture – well, I’m not one to wish to spend all day indoors on a quick getaway but I would say it’s worth checking out what is the visiting exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. They often have the most amazing shows and an audio tour typically only takes about an hour out of your day. Other cultural things you might consider partaking in could be a symphony at the Boston Symphony Orchestra or a concert at the many different music venues around Boston. Then there’s the legendary Boston professional sports alternative for the die hard sports fans. Bottom line, you won’t run out of options for things to do in the ole “Hub of the Universe”.

Who is Lola?

Lola

Lola’s Travels – lolastravels.com

A sassy, fun-loving, and flirtatious traveler, Lola has a flair for finding adventure and making new friends. A typical Lola trip is only a few days, so she’s a master at getting the most out of her getaway. A Frommer’s guide this is not, but Lola does spotlight exceptional places to stay, eat, shop and play in a playful, yet informative way.

You can also follow Lola on Facebook and Twitter.

The post A Perfect Weekend in Boston appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.