The Gibraltar story, told by a Gibraltarian – Ana Garcia

You know I am not a person that regularly discusses either politics or religion – certainly not on this blog, and most definitely not at dinner parties.

One day last year, more precisely when I arrived in Rome for a cruise project, I met Ana Garcia. She was to be the director of two of the three short films I was shooting on that trip. There was something intriguing about her – she spoke perfect English, but she didn’t look British. She looked a bit like me, or a bit Spanish – we were both wearing pearl earrings, which is a sure way to know if you come from that part of the world and our wedding rings were exactly the same (3mm yellow gold). I was so intrigued, I had to ask she was from… and believe me, I wasn’t expecting the answer. Gibraltar. It made total sense – the perfect mix.

It turned out that Ana and myself (same name, huh) had a lot in common, and over the weekend, in between shooting, we talked a lot about life. How we both chose to come to the UK but also how much we appreciated our heritage, our home countries (whichever ones they were) and more.

Out of nowhere, I decided to ask her about the whole Gibraltar – UK – Spain issue and was incredibly surprised when she told me her story, of which she made a film about. Months later, I got the DVD and learned so much about this part of the world and how politics really affected people’s lives – not just random people, but Ana and her family (and their friends).

Where this is all happening. Notice that Ceuta has a very similar situation in terms of sovereignty

Where this is all happening. Notice that Ceuta has a very similar situation in terms of sovereignty

I have visited Gibraltar quite a few times, and most recently actually flew there to go to a nearby hotel in Spain – I didn’t have an issue (only sad that I didn’t get to spend any time in Gibraltar itself). This was in June 2013. Fast forward two months and things have changed quite a bit – if you are not aware of the issue, just have a look at websites like the BBC.

Landing in Gibraltar, quite an experience

Landing in Gibraltar, quite an experience

For me personally, I have followed the story all my life from the Spanish perspective (and never understood it). I now live in England and Gibraltar is not really top of anyones discussion, except for now, which obviously adds an interesting perspective to this story. So I thought I would share the perspective of someone who is (or whose family is) right in the middle. Someone who is FROM Gibraltar.

Without further ado, meet Ana Garcia.

Mrs. O

Ana Garcia

Ana Garcia

Who is Ana Garcia?

I’m a London based documentary film maker. I grew up in Gibraltar and went to University in the UK and Italy (studying film, cinema and Italian). I got my first documentary job in 2005 working on a series about Italy for the Discovery Channel, never looked back!

When did you leave Gibraltar? Why did you move to the UK?

I was sent to boarding school when I was 12 years old. It was a shock to start with, the fields and rain weren’t quite the beach and sun I was used to but I did grow to love it eventually. I was passionate about film from an early age and there was always more opportunity for me in that industry in the UK than in Gibraltar. So after University I made the tough decision to leave the home I loved and chase the career I wanted in London.

Being Portuguese, we are not very far from Gibraltar, but only after meeting you when we went on a cruise last year and you directed two of my films, I understood the Gibraltar situation. All the press we got, if any, was of course Spanish-biased. If you could summarise the occurrence, without giving away too much from the film, how would you tell the Gibraltar story?

Big question! The Gibraltarians have been living on the Rock since 1704 when the King of Spain ceded the Rock to Britain. Spain have wanted the Rock back ever since and the Gibraltarians have refused to give in. Spain refuses to acknowledge the people or Government of Gibraltar, but we have been there for well over 300 years. The Gibraltarians are a peaceful people who ask only to be left alone. The Spanish Government has repeatedly used bullying tactics in attempts to break Gibraltar in to submission, examples include closing the border between Gibraltar and Spain for over 16 years, daily queues at the frontier, methods of intimidation on the road from police … the list goes on. As in other parts of the world, when pushed and bullied, people come together and become stronger as a community. This is what has happened in Gibraltar. As long as living generations can remember the aggression that Gibraltar has suffered at the hands of Spain, Gibraltar will never be Spanish.

Gibraltar and its unusual runway

Gibraltar and its unusual runway

I wasn’t aware that, for a time, Gibraltarians had the border closed, and could not leave the Rock. What impact did this have on business and general life? How did it impact your family?

Franco ordered the closure of the border in 1969. It was a blow that was intended to bring us to our knees. Gibraltar’s work force, at the time, came predominantly from Spain, as did most of our food. Spain at the time was just getting over the Civil War, so our Spanish neighbours were very poor and needed the work and income provided by Gibraltar. When the border closed, people had to decide which side they would stay on and many families, including my own, were separated. The border was shut by land, sea and air, even telephone lines were cut off. It was a huge blow to both sides, but on the Spanish side, people were starving. Any local today will tell you of the horrors at the gates. People would go daily to the gates to scream across at their loved ones on the other side, much like you might do behind prison bars. If a family member was sick but alive, a white handkerchief was waved, if the family  member had died, a red one was waved. Brides would come down to the gates to wave at their families on the other side, new mothers would bring their babies .. etc etc. It was tragic and raw and still haunts many of the families that suffered this separation today. In many cases, families were never again reunited; when the border finally fully re-opened in 1985, family members on the other side had passed away. In terms of business in Gibraltar, we turned to Morocco for resources and work force. Today we have a very healthy Muslim community on the Rock and that is something that Gibraltarians are very proud of – the rich mix of religion and people who live in harmony in this tiny place. Financially, it was the UK that helped Gibraltar through those very difficult years.

Why did you decide to make this film? What are your goals?

I promised myself I would make this film when I was ten years old, sitting in a border queue as a Spanish police officer interrogated my mother. I could see she was nervous and this made me angry. I felt a huge injustice every time I had to sit in the queue for hours, just so we could go for a walk in the countryside. It was always scary to be stopped by police because they would often refuse to accept our Gibraltar passports or Gibraltar licences, which is something they still do today. I felt it was wrong then and it’s still wrong today, that one huge power can bully and intimidate a relatively tiny power in the name of pride. Remember that Spain is 506,000 km2 with a population of over 47 million people. Gibraltar is 6.8km2 with a population of 30 thousand. I made the film because I felt that Gibraltar has been unfairly represented in the Spanish media for long enough, and generally unrepresented in the rest of the world. My goal was to let more people know who we are, why we fight to be British and why you can bet your life we will continue to do so in years to come.

How has it been received? How can people see it?

The film was critically well received in film festivals and by journalists who gave us kind reviews, but it is yet to be distributed to a wider audience. It has sold to broadcasters in Finland, Australia and Spain and the day it is broadcast in the UK, I think I may get struck down by lightning! (She must have been as since we published this interview, the film has been picked up by the BBC) It will be a very happy day for me the day everyone can watch the film on TV and it will be available for everyone to download online.

When did you know you wanted to be a film director? What gave it away?

I knew I wanted to be involved in the world of media from a very young age but it took me a while to figure out which side of the lens I would be on and what exactly I was going to do. It began to click in to place at school when I was allowed to direct my first play, and then at Uni when it suddenly became very clear I would never do anything else.

Spain and Gibraltar at far end

Spain and Gibraltar at far end

How would you describe the Gibraltarian culture? I am guessing it would have a very interesting mix of British and Spanish influence. Am I right?

Yes, you’re right. It’s very Latin in nature. The first Gibraltarians on the Rock were the ones who served the British Garrison back in 1704. They were merchants and traders who came from Italy, Malta and Spain to service the Garrison. Eventually they settled and had families and these people became the Gibraltarians we know today. I know my mother’s family originally came from Italy and my father’s came from Spain, and this is typical of a Gibraltarian family.

You now live in London, in the UK. How often do you go back to Gibraltar? What do you miss the most about it?

I go back as often as I can! Usually for a weekend every couple of months and then longer breaks over Easter, Christmas, Summer etc. I miss the family the most, the sense of community and safety. You are never alone in Gibraltar. And I miss the sun, the sea and the beach. I never stop missing the beach.

What is next? What projects are you working on at the moment? What will be the next Ana Garcia film?

I’m producing a series for BBC2 about Industrial Britain and developing an exciting drama documentary thriller with Revolution films … watch this space!

Ana's Film, Gibraltar

Ana’s Film, Gibraltar

To read Ana’s article for the Guardian, just click here. To see a trailer of Ana’s film, please visit her website.

The BBC will show Ana’s film on Wednesday 4th September at 10pm UK time on BBC4, followed by 7 days on the iplayer.

What are your views about this topic?

A British Summer day in Salcombe, Devon, UK

A perfect day in I remember how surprised my friends and family were when I announced that I was going to spend a significant part of my summer in the UK. Not in the exotic waters of Mallorca, Algarve or even Miami. The UK, more precisely in England. Why? Because it took me the last 8 years to realise how wonderful this part of the world is – seriously pretty – and I felt that I should give it a bit more of Mrs. O’s love.

The wonderful South Devon coastline

The wonderful South Devon coastline

Needless to say, I am not totally mad. The weather people were predicting a heat wave lasting longer than the usual 2-3 days (which in other countries are not defined as heatwaves, but anyway, I digress!). And we got 2 weeks, in the summer of 2013, of pure bliss. Too hot, possibly, to be honest… (ok, I will not complain!)

Immediately after the Henley Royal Regatta, one of my favourite summer events in the British social calendar, I headed to the South West of England, more specifically, to Devon. I know Devon better than any other English county as there are a lot of O’Reillys living here. It is a good place!

One of the prettiest places in the area, has to be Salcombe – a small fishing village, with stunning views of the sea (and bay) and possibly some of the best shopping in this part of the world. I am not going to lie, there is something more to Salcombe than its outstanding natural beauty!

What's not to love about Salcombe?

What’s not to love about Salcombe?

Did I tell you about the shopping? Well well well. In the main street, you can actually hit quite some nice “English-style” clothes shops within a few blocks. Home of Jack Wills (seriously!), you can also help the British economy at local favourites such as Joules, Crew, Salt, Cath Kidstow, etc – there is a common theme between them, so you just need to find out.

A rare moment of calm in Salcombe's main street

A rare moment of calm in Salcombe’s main street

After a wander around town (strict parking restrictions may limit you to one hour), it was time to head to the beach.

One of the local delicacies.. think scones and...

One of the local delicacies.. think scones and…

Before we reached our destination, we headed towards North Sands for lunch. And with a view like this, we kind of stayed there for almost 3 hours.

North Sands beach, Devon

North Sands beach, Devon

We had the laziest lunch ever at the Winking Prawn, a very relaxed seaside restaurant with incredible seafood (this platter for 2 was £21!). One of the things I miss about Portugal the most is the food, but especially seafood – which we barely cook. I can’t tell you how nice it was to find exactly that. And with a side of rose, it was pretty perfect.

Fresh seafood for 2 (slightly large!)

Fresh seafood for 2 (slightly large!)

After lunch, it was time to head to our hotel, the fab and cool South Sands Hotel, which we adored! Right on South Sands beach, it was a lovely place to stay. Recently refurbished (I did get a hint of New England style, which I loved), it was perfect for us! What I need to mention? The drive between North and South Sands (possibly a mile long) can be horrendous if you get two-way traffic in one of Devon’s epic narrow lanes). Certainly adds a bit of excitement (not!).

Our chic Beach Suite at South Sands

Our chic Beach Suite at South Sands

Upon arrival, we were led to our Beach Suite, which had 2 bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, a great living room and independent access (to the street and the beach) from the main hotel.

As we checked-in, we were surprised by a glass of bubbly as we got to our room. Where did we enjoy it? At the stunning beach. I must confess it was my first time at the beach in England and it was lovely (interestingly, it was a bit cooler than I expected, so no dips to report!)

My first time on an English beach...

My first time on an English beach…

We saw a lot of brave people swim, play, or indulge in more adventurous watersports. My favourite was a 80-year old couple who got in their dingy intending to get to Salcombe for dinner. How sweet was that? Well, for those seeking a more relaxed way to get to Salcombe for dinner or a drink, they could always take the ferry. I knew there was a ferry, and I was expecting some sort of proper boat. I can’t tell you how surprised I was with the South Sands ferry. A tractor which got into the sea and then transferred you over to a little boat. I thought it was adorable and promise to get in it next time I am over!

Love the local ferry interpretation!

Love the local ferry interpretation!

Dinner took place at the Beachside restaurant, which we adored. If you are in the area and not staying at the hotel, it is absolutely worth a visit. Fish and seafood are highly featured on the menu. And the view.. oh my God. Staff were also friendly but very relaxed, which really made our evening and stay quite special.

Fab seafood restaurant at South Sands

Fab seafood restaurant at South Sands

Before we knew it, and after a great night’s sleep, it was time to head back home. Saying goodbye to South Sands wasn’t easy, but other UK pleasures awaited.

It wasn't easy to say goodbye to this!

It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to this!

What I know for sure? That I will be back for more, come rain or that incredible sunshine that sometimes blesses this part of the world.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the South Sands Hotel who looked after us incredibly well.

A fab girls weekend in Los Cabos, Mexico

A_lux_weekend_in_500x100px_HL2A girls weekend in Los Cabos, in Mexico did sound like a great idea. But to be perfectly honest, my previous Mexican experiences were far from fantastic – but there was something very appealing about Los Cabos, in the Southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. Blame Jennifer Aniston and Chelsea Handler, if you must.

After Boston and Newport, RI, it was time to add a bit of spice to this incredible month, most of it spent stateside. Mrs. O had some fun, it has to be said!

Me and the girls - Leah, Mary Ann and Lauren at the Bahia Hotel & Beach Club in Los Cabos

Me and the girls – Leah, Mary Ann and Lauren at the Bahia Hotel & Beach Club in Los Cabos

A girls trip is always a special occasion – and every special occasion deserves a fab hotel! The Bahia Hotel & Beach Club, in Cabo San Lucas, were our gracious hosts during our stay, and let me tell you – what a cool property! Cabo San Lucas has great hotels, but it was great to experience something different – i.e. not one of the usual suspects. I love a boutique hotel and the Bahia was just perfect for us. Why? It was trendy, it had a very cool vibe (the bar and restaurant were incredible), the pool had no scene (which is something I personally really appreciate). The downside? No sea views (but only 1 block from Medano Beach) and a website that does not do it any justice…

Loved the simple decor at the Bahia Hotel

Loved the simple decor at the Bahia Hotel

Friday morning

Up bright and early, and after my first Mexican breakfast, it was time to go to the beach, and try something completely new. SUP. Yes, you heard it right – Stand Up Paddling. You probably know by know that Mrs. O isn’t “particularly” sporty, but I had to try it. And I did.

I wished this was me, but these were my fab instructors from CABO SUP

I wished this was me, but these were my fab instructors from CABO SUP

I have to admit that I wasn’t a natural.. whereas the other ladies were. I spent half the time falling down, but obviously, it was due to the strong currents (which were only affecting me, naturally). But do you know what? It was a great experience and I need to thank the team at CABO SUP, also owned by The Bahia Hotel & Beach Club, for their patience.

We paddled from Medano beach, towards Cabo’s incredible rock arches, which you can see on many of our photographs. We also headed to Lovers Beach which was incredible – also very interesting how the sea changes. On one side, you have the Sea of Cortez, where you can swim, but on the other, you have the Pacific ocean and huge waves. It was a stunning setting and one I will never forget.

The coolest photo ever... me and the girls at Lovers Beach!

The coolest photo ever… me and the girls at Lovers Beach!

We spent a lazy afternoon back at the The Bahia Hotel & Beach Club pool, which was really nice. We also indulged in poolside massages and great cocktails. But more on that later!

Cocktails and salsa... claro que si!

Cocktails and salsa… claro que si!

Dinner and the rest of our evening took place at Bar Esquina, the hotel’s bar and restaurant. From tasty cocktails to creative local delicacies, we were absolutely spoiled for choice. I adored the ceviche and the tuna tartar. Yum!

The uber cool Bar Esquina - reservations are essential, namely at weekends

The uber cool Bar Esquina – reservations are essential, namely at weekends

Saturday

No rest for the wicked – our time in Cabo was limited and we had plenty to do and see! We started our day at Nikki Beach Cabo, located at the ME Hotel. Being there so early, it meant that we had the pool all to ourselves, before the crowds arrived and the action started at around lunchtime.

A relaxed morning at Nikki Beach

A relaxed morning at Nikki Beach

This was actually perfect for me, as I was able to catch up on some reading and fully enjoy happy mojito hour (I love this concept!). From here, we headed to the incredibly stunning Las Ventanas al Paraiso, which is surely one of the better known resorts in this area.

Located 20 minutes outside Cabo San Lucas, it is perfect for couples and if you want to get away from it all. If you want a little bit more action, there are other options.

Thought that Las Ventanas was stunning with incredible views

Thought that Las Ventanas was stunning with incredible views

We ended our stay in style with a Sun Rider sunset cruise. I have to say I am not one to indulge in group “cruises” as usually they are too touristy, but really enjoyed the Sun Rider experience – the boat was great (by far the best we saw at the brand spanking new marina), service was very good and we really enjoyed our 2 hours aboard.

Stunning scenery aboard our cruise. Strangely enough, Los Cabos reminded me of Portugal...

Stunning scenery aboard our cruise. Strangely enough, Los Cabos reminded me of Portugal…

After our boat trip, we walked slowly towards the Bahia via the Los Cabos marina. I must say I was quite surprised with how modern it looked – and even more impressed with the shopping available. And can you believe I didn’t indulge? It was late at night and we were keen to go back, have a cocktail and enjoy a good night’s sleep.

Sunday

Sunday is a day of rest (or it should be), so I started my morning by heading to the nearby Hacienda Beach Club & Residences, who had invited me to try its spa. I have to say this was an very relaxing and luxurious experience – the spa building was different and the treatment rooms simply beautiful.

The lovely spa at La Hacienda

The lovely spa at La Hacienda

From here, we regrouped back at The Bahia Hotel & Beach Club, who had organised a private driver to take us to Todos Santos, a sleepy and “typical” Mexican town roughly an hour away from Cabo San Lucas. Home to the “original” Hotel California (which looked lovely, by the way), it was everything that I expected a Mexican town to be (Los Cabos is way more modern).

The very cool Hotel California in Todos los Santos, Mexico

The very cool Hotel California in Todos Santos, Mexico

From here, we headed to the lovely Guaycura Hotel‘s incredible (and quiet) rooftop bar, where we had an amazing meal, and possibly the best drink of the whole trip: a freshly squeezed mango margarita. Wow!

Más mango margaritas, por favor!

Más mango margaritas, por favor!

After a snooze back to Cabo San Lucas, it was time to dress up and have a little photo shoot – you will see that some of the photos from this trip were really more professional! An experience in itself – including various outfit changes…

Looking happy in Los Cabos, Mexico

Looking happy in Los Cabos, Mexico

The Girls at the Beach. We did get wet, by the way!

The Girls at the Beach. We did get wet, by the way!

And before we knew it, it was time for our last meal (we had an early flight back to Boston the following day). And what better way to end our trip than to wear some local fashion? We did turn some heads back at Bar Esquina, where we dined at the Chef’s table (and even tried surprisingly good Mexican wine. Who knew?)

Adios, Mexico! You were great!

Adios, Mexico! You were great!

What can I say? This visit to Los Cabos, courtesy of the Bahia Hotel, who organised an incredible trip for us, did change my mind about Mexico. So it means that Mrs. O may come back again!

Gracias!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of The Bahia Hotel & Beach Club in Los Cabos, Mexico, who organised an incredible trip for us. A huge thank you to CABO SUP, Nikki Beach Cabo, Sun Rider, Las Ventanas al Paraiso and Hacienda Beach Club & Residences for treating us to great experiences.

A perfect day in Boston

A perfect day in

I love Boston – there is no other way to put it. Whether it is because of the old buildings, the great parks, how great the food is – there is something truly special about Beantown. It feels strangely familiar, to me, who lives in England… as my friend Lauren and I said.. it is like England, but it’s new!

Before we headed to Newport, in nearby Rhode Island, it was time to give Boston a little Mrs. O love. I say a little, as we only managed two days. And after a 6-year break, it simply wasn’t enough!

The smartest jump I have ever done.. at Harvard, of course!

The smartest jump I have ever done.. at Harvard, of course!

Our day started bright and early? Why? Because I couldn’t go to Boston, without briefly getting into nearby Cambridge, MA, which is surely one of the smartest towns in “the world”. Home to MIT and Harvard, it is quite a quirky location, not totally full of geeks. There is something in the air, and not being particularly silly myself (I have a business studies degree and an MBA), I like soaking in as much inspiration as I can. As classes had already ended, the grounds were calm and quiet, but you could smell the knowledge in the air. You could also smell it particularly well at the Harvard Bookstore, which is one of the most dangerous places for me. Every time I have been, I have come back with dozens of books. They are just all there – it is almost worse than my fetiche for shoes! This time, I managed only 3, which is an achievement in itself!

After so much knowledge and information, my brain needed feeding… so we drove back over to Boston and went to one of my favourite places in the world: Legal Seafoods! This time round, we went to its newish Harborside location (notice the spelling, it is not “Harbourside”) and I can’t tell you how surprised I was. For me, Legal Seafoods is a Boston institution, not a particularly cool place, so to speak. But I must tell you, there was a little cool scene going on at the rooftop bar. The restaurant has 3 floors, with different menus and great views. The only downside to the rooftop bar is that it is more of a bar, but you can of course still indulge in a clam chowder!

Hello, clam chowder!

Hello, clam chowder!

We spent a lazy afternoon doing what I do particularly well, and that is helping the local economy! Boston has great shops and Newbury Street is so nice, it is quite ridiculous. I love it that besides all the usual suspects, it still has many unique boutiques, which really adds to the atmosphere. Copley Place, not far, is also a great mall where some serious damage can be done. Oooops (I was good, only 1 pair of shoes…)

I love Boston!

I love Boston!

We also took our time and strolled around Boston’s Public Garden which was beautiful. It was the first sunny day in a while (do not underestimate the “New” England connection), and everyone was in such good spirits. It was a lovely afternoon!

Moi and Lauren enjoying Boston's fab park

Moi and Lauren enjoying Boston Public Garden

Before we knew it, it was time to check-in at our hotel, the Four Seasons Boston, which was comfortable and nice, but a bit too corporate (when compared to other FS hotels). What it lacked in decor (which will be updated soon), it doubled in character, thanks to one thing: the people. If there is one hotel chain that is special in that sense, is their people, for consistency and passion. Ron was possibly the coolest doorman in the world, and I can’t tell you how welcome he made us feel during our stay. And how is this for the coolest hotel welcome ever?

Loved the Four Seasons personalised welcome!

Loved the Four Seasons personalised welcome!

After a quick wardrobe change, it was time to head out for drinks and dinner. And when you are in Rome, well, know know.. so we headed to the Intercontinental hotel’s Rumba bar where you can actually get some fantastic views. Part of the bar was really busy, the other was a little bit dead, but we still enjoyed some nice cocktails.

Nice views from the Boston Intercontinental Rumba bar

Nice views from the Boston Intercontinental Rumba bar

Before dinner, we headed to the newly-refurbished Oak Long Bar + Kitchen at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. It was so nice (and different from the rest of the hotel)! The hotel is very classic, and the contrast was really quite interesting. Definitely worth a repeat visit when I am next in town!

Lovely and colourful drinks at the Fairmont

Lovely and colourful drinks at the Fairmont

Dinner took place at the Bistro du Midi, which was absolutely fantastic. Located just a block from the Four Seasons, it was like having a bit of Provence right there. We had a great meal, and a glass or two of wine… from this incredible bottle!

You can tell how impressed Lauren was...

You can tell how impressed Lauren was…

 I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed my day in Boston. It was lovely, and I can’t wait to get back again.. and I promise you, it won’t be another 6 years!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Four Seasons Boston on this trip, who provided us with a lovely bed for the night, cocktails and possibly one of the best brunches I have ever enjoyed. We were also invited for drinks by the Intercontinental and the Fairmont.

A perfect day in Helsinki, Finland

A perfect day in

Good things come to those who wait – and Helsinki has been on my list for a good couple of years! Why? Well, everyone knows it quite a pretty city, but also, it has a special place in my heart, thanks to the Quality Hunters project, of which I am almost an “honorary founding member“. This project is led by Finnair and Helsinki Airport, and aims to help improve air travel at all levels, which is something that means a lot to me!

An early morning start for Mrs. O came with a business class ticket and an empty lounge at LHR

An early morning start for Mrs. O came with a business class ticket and an empty lounge at LHR

The time difference (2h) and flight time (2.30h) between London and Helsinki means that a 7.30am departure gets you to Helsinki just before 1pm. And with a weekend ahead of workshops (see what we got up to on Saturday and Sunday), I needed to explore Helsinki as much as I could on that very same day. Mrs. O loves a challenge.

The first thing I did was drop the bags at our hotel, the stylish Klaus K hotel, very centrally located. I love Design Hotels and was happy with the choice. Sadly, the rooms allocated were tiny (seriously tiny), but there is nothing that an upgrade request didn’t solve (and great value at  €50). My new room was fabulous, and I absolutely adored the shower (and toiletries). I know I am a girl, just bear with me!

You know my obsession for showers.. this Hansgrohe beauty did not disappoint!

You know my obsession for showers.. this Hansgrohe beauty did not disappoint!

From the hotel, we (that means me and the lovely Henriette from tinyitchyfeet.com) decided to explore as much as we could. That included a walk down the Etelaesplanadi, which was heaving as the sun was out.

Hello Helsinki!

Hello Helsinki!

This wide road, with fab shops on each side (was very hard for me to resist the sales, but I was a good girl for once!), leads to the seafront and port area, which is known as Kauppatori. I was told by a lovely friend (who may have played a little practical joke on me), to head there and search for buckets of prawns. This, with a nice glass of sauvignon blanc seemed like perfection, but after asking pretty much everyone we saw (and who thought we were completely mad), we gave up. For future reference, no prawns in buckets in Helsinki. But not one to give up easily, we found a fabulously looking restaurant which provided us with the wine and the prawns, albeit in a more traditional Scandinavian style: toast skaagen, one of my favourite things in the world.

Yes please!

Yes please!

After we wandered around the market for a bit (I will never forget the smell of strawberries), we headed on a ferry towards Suomenlinna, which is a maritime fortress located off the coast of Helsinki. I love boats and water and I think these really add to the way one experiences a city. We were very lucky with the weather and seriously enjoyed just walking around.

Mrs. O loving Helsinki

Mrs. O loving Helsinki

There seemed to be a wedding taking place on the island, which made it quite interesting – you had people sunbathing, children playing, and some very smartly dressed ones waiting for the big event. But in true Finnish style, it obviously wasn’t a problem!

The Port and The Island - what a fab combo!

The Port and The Island – what a fab combo!

No rest for the wicked, and before we knew it, it was almost 6pm, which obviously meant cocktail time. At this stage, we were met by the lovely Veera (a Finnish native, also part of QH), who very kindly took us out for the evening. Evening? There wasn’t much of that and I will tell you in a second.

We had a bit of champagne, as it seemed to be the drink of choice pretty much everywhere we went. It is interesting how some European cultures really like bubbles.. or not! I must confess I was expecting vodka on tap, but it was bubbles all the way, I am afraid… NOT!

Helsinki at 11pm.. unreal!

Helsinki at 11pm.. unreal!

After a nice dinner at Loiste (we also tried Pure the following day, which I really liked), it was time for a quick after dinner drink at this rooftop bar. And this photo, was taken at 11pm, which is completely unreal. It felt like 7pm and way to early to head back to the hotel – but we had to as a busy two days awaited us…

My visit to Helsinki, Finland, was short but sweet – which means I totally need to go back and explore this city (a favourite of Mr. O, who must have been more than 20 times for work).

And what I will always remember? This photo as it looked even better in real life than in postcards.

Kiitos Helsinki for a fab day. Mrs. O will be back!

Kiitos Helsinki for a fab day. Mrs. O will be back!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Quality Hunters on this trip. I would also like to thank Klaus K for the complimentary room upgrade.

The Luxury Travel Blog Network – July 2013 Edition

I love reading other blogs and have found some extremely talented writers out there. So five of us, decided that every month, we would bring you the best content we have each produced, and make it easy for our lovely readers to find some great travel inspiration.

So without further ado, meet my ladies and their July 2013 reading suggestions…

Kim-Marie

Kim-Marie Evans is a freelance writer specializing in luxury and family travel. She has traveled the world with her four children to places as glamorous as the south of France and as challenging as Rwanda. Her work has appeared in print and online. You can find her best travel secrets on her award-winning blog LuxuryTravelMom.com and at TravelingMom.com. With a background in radio and television, Kim-Marie is as comfortable in front of the video camera as she is behind the keyboard.

Follow Kim-Marie on her blog, Twitter and Facebook

Kim-Marie enjoys a fab weekend at the Villas of Grand Cypress in Florida with her family. Luxury Travel Mom style, of course!

Nadine Jolie

Nadine Jolie is a beauty and travel writer specializing in luxury spas. A former magazine editor (Lucky, Ladies’ Home Journal, FHM), Nadine was dubbed “the poster child for the blogger generation” by the New York Post and has published two books: Confessions of a Beauty Addict and Beauty Confidential. Nadine’s travels have taken her to spas in places including New Zealand, Austria, South Africa, Montreal, and Scotland. She is a contributing writer for VanityFair.com and Angeleno magazine and regularly writes for FoxNews.com and luxury New York publication Hudson Mod. Fluent in French and conversant/literate in Italian, Spanish and Arabic, Nadine enjoys learning how to say “Where is the nearest Sephora?” in new languages and is currently working on her third book, a novel set in England.

Follow Nadine Jolie on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channel.

Nadine makes jealous as she shares with us her incredible visit to Veuve Cliquot in Reims, France. She had me at champagne.

Katie Goldstein

Katie Goldstein is an avid traveler whose tastes are simple: she enjoys the best. Katie works by day as a lawyer and by night as a successful writer. Katie often lends her travel expertise to prestigious outlets, which include Forbes, Fodor’s, and She Knows. She has also written about varied topics for WE TV and for FoxNews.com. Katie is also the founder of famous luxury travel and lifestyle sites, Travelingpanties and Smartypanties, where she chronicles her adventures around the world to spectacular countries like Thailand, Argentina, Laos, Cambodia, Uruguay, Australia, France and more. When Katie isn’t traveling, she can be found scouring her home base, New York City, for the next hotspot. In her free time, Katie enjoys trying new restaurants, taking advantage of NYC’s fabulous shopping and practicing her photography skills.

Keep up with Katie’s escapades on her Blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Katie explores Canada’s Cape Breton, which was named Top 20 Places to See in 2013 by National Geographic and Third Best Island in the World by Travel and Leisure –  and is surprised by how beautiful and cool it is! I want to go too!

Wishing you all a great weekend, wherever you may be!

xo

Mrs. O

A day at the Henley Royal Regatta

The Henley Royal Regatta is one of my favourite events of the British Summer. No jokes here, please – there is something called Summer for a few days each year.

Taking place in the first week of July, this 5-day event brings many foreign visitors to town – and this year was no exception. I had my dear friend Lauren come all the way from the USA just to experience it – and the perfect way to start our little UK adventure.

Leah, myself and Lauren looking the part!

Leah, myself and Lauren looking the part!

Basically, it is all about the rowing – I actually find it quite an interesting spectator sport, and something that became part of my life for the past 8 years. I am no rower, but living in Henley, no one is immune to it.

The races take 5 days, from Wednesday to Sunday, and it is one of the key social events of the British summer calendar. I love attending it every year, as it is a great day out with friends and, of course, a fab excuse to wear a hat!

This year, we had 2 different HRR experiences – basically, you can get tickets (through members) for various enclosures or private members’ clubs.

The reason why we are all in Henley this time of the year

The reason why we are all in Henley this time of the year

We started our afternoon at Phyllis Court Club, a private members’ club located on Henley’s side of the reason. I love the mix of old and young and it is the perfect place for a civilised Afternoon Tea, which you can pre-book. The club has beautiful grounds and offers a very relaxed way of enjoying this quintessentially English event.

I love afternoon tea!

I love afternoon tea!

One thing that makes Henley Regatta unique are the strict dress codes for both men and women. Personally, I think it is a special event and they make total sense (no one is forced to attend!). Phyllis Court’s own dress code is very clear, and honestly quite “relaxed”, as you can see below:

“Gentlemen:
Gentlemen are required to wear lounge suits, or jackets or blazers with flannels or chinos, and a tie or cravat. Jackets must be worn at all times unless at the express permission of the Club Chairman.

Ladies:
Ladies are required to wear dresses or skirts with a hemline on or below the knee and will NOT be admitted if wearing culottes, jeans, trousers or shorts of any kind. The wearing of hats during the day would be appreciated.” From Phyllis Court Club website.

The whole issue for ladies is about the hemlines and the showing of knees!

The ladies enjoying HRR... love the hats!

The ladies enjoying HRR… love the hats!

Part of the river is “open” to boat traffic, and it really adds to the atmosphere. A lot of people choose to enjoy the Regatta from the water, in the privacy of their own boats (obviously with Pimms and champagne!)

A view of the river Thames from Phyllis Court's side

A view of the river Thames from Phyllis Court’s side

After a couple of hours, and a couple of jugs of Pimms & Lemonade, the “official” drink of Henley Royal Regatta, it was time to head to Stewards Enclosure, which offers a different regatta experience. In order to head to Stewards, on the opposite side of the river (you can see it from the photos above), you need to cross the Henley bridge, which gets so busy, it is quite an experience in itself.

A great perspective from the Henley Bridge - Phyllis Court is on the left, and Stewards Enclosure on the right

A great perspective from the Henley Bridge – Phyllis Court is on the left, and Stewards Enclosure on the right, but further down the river

The atmosphere and regatta experience at the Stewards Enclosure is quite different from Phyllis Court. It is busier, the age group younger and really quite lively. The “rules” are also much stricter!

Ladies must wear dresses below the knee (and every year people try to break this rule, only to be turned away at the entrance doors). Mobile phones are not allowed either and the penalties are quite serious.

Love the chairs...

Love the chairs…

“Those seen using mobile phones will be reminded of this ban by Security Guards and Regatta Officials, asked to stop and a note taken of their Badge number.  This will allow identification of the responsible Member.

If the request to stop is ignored, or if the same person is caught a second time using their mobile phone, then the person will be escorted out of the Enclosure and their badge forfeited”. (from Stewards Enclosure website).

Mr O also gets to wear a hat during Henley Royal Regatta

Mr O also gets to wear a hat during Henley Royal Regatta. I think it really suits him!

One of my favourite things about Regatta? The boys’ school blazers! It brings a lot of colour to the event and certainly adds to its unique personality. And the ladies’ hats, and the below the knee dresses!

It is all over for the year, but boy what a day out! Good thing it is all happening again next summer!

Mr. and Mrs. O say hello!

Mr. and Mrs. O say hello!

Can’t wait!

xo

Mrs. O

Discovering Newport, Rhode Island

Going to Newport, in the state of Rhode Island, in the USA, had always been “on my list”. A pretty seaside town, known for its yachting community, the incredible mansions, great food and shops. It had Mrs. O written all over it.

Located under two hours from Boston, Massachusetts, it was the perfect location for me to visit with my friend Lauren. Inspired by the current Gatsby craze (part of the film was actually shot there, and obviously easy to understand why), Discover Newport wanted us to explore all it had to offer… in true style.

Saturday

Helicopter Tour.. why not?

Helicopter Tour.. why not?

We drove straight to the local airport, as a helicopter awaited us – it was my first time up in the air in one of these babies and I was a little bit worried. But I tell you something, it was a great way to see the area from above and understand how everything fits together. The trip, organised by Bird’s Eye View Helicopters, took around 15 minutes (and great value starting at $65). I liked what I saw..

From the airport, we made our way to the port. Why? Because it was time to get a different perspective of this quaint and pretty little town.

What perspective? Well, from the air, we moved to the sea. We had over 2 hours in our America’s Cup yacht, courtesy of 12 meter charters (2-hour harbour cruises start at $73). There was a “little bit of water” and wind involved (see below, my trousers were not originally two-toned). Newport is also known as the “Sailing Capital of the World”, and boy did we breathe a bit of the Narragansett Bay!

How much excitement can one have in an afternoon? In Newport, RI you never know!

How much excitement can one have in an afternoon? In Newport, RI you never know!

After our water sports experience, it was time to warm up a little bit, so we headed back to short and feasted on a delicious clam chowder, with a side of Margarita, why not?

Keeping ourselves warm and nourished

Keeping ourselves warm and nourished

And then, it was time to finally check-in at our hotel, which was the lovely Vanderbilt Grace. Originally bought by Mr. Alfred Vanderbilt in 1909 as a gift to his mistress Agnes (why not?), it has been beautifully restored by Grace Hotels. The result? A very stylish, yet very understated and comfortable boutique hotel experience.

Our home in Newport, RI - The Vanderbuilt Grace

Our home in Newport, RI – The Vanderbuilt Grace

Nothing says welcome like a glass of champagne on arrival. Grace does it to every guest and I was intrigued and surprised by the sparkling wine on offer (you know that despite the method used, if it doesn’t come from the Champagne region in France, it cannot be called that). Domaine Carneros is one of the most reputable brands (from the USA) and this particular vintage was produced by Taittinger, one of my favourite champagne brands. I found this detail most curious, and was even more delighted when I found a whole bottle welcoming us to our very cool 2-bedroom suite.

J'adore Taittinger...

J’adore Taittinger…

Our first dinner took place at TSK – Thames Street Kitchen,  a “field to fork”, chef-driven eatery which offers locally sourced cuisine in a very relaxed atmosphere. True to its concept, Lauren and I “brought our own bottle” of Zinfandel, which was the perfect pairing to our great dinner.

TSK Thames Street Kitchen

TSK Thames Street Kitchen

Sunday

The cozy and stylish garden at Vanderbilt Grace

The cozy and stylish garden at Vanderbilt Grace

We spent a very lazy morning enjoying our champagne breakfast (included in all room rates at Vanderbilt Grace) at the stunning garden area. Pretty sure you can also imagine how tasty evening cocktails can also be.

Time for some shopping – and there was quite a bit of exploring to do in town. One of our favourites? Sequin. Originally from Newport, and with pop-up summer shops in the coolest places around the States (think Palm Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket), it was like going to a candy store. We coined the sentence “arm candy” and we did buy a few…

newport arm candy

Newport arm candy

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. This time around, we headed towards the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which reminded me so much of the UK! It was at this place that the first US National Lawn Tennis Championships took place (which led to the event which is now the US Open).

No rest for the wicked… so it was time to check out some mansions! We enjoyed breathtaking views as we walked part of the 3.5 mile Cliff Walk, where you can take more than a sneak peek at the incredible mansions.

Our home for the afternoon? The Breakers, which is the “grandest” of Newport’s summer cottages, and the playground of the Vanderbilt family. I thought it was a fine piece of real estate and a very nice summer home. As you can see from the photo below, plenty of space for garden party!

The Breakers mansion - plenty of space for Mrs. O and friends

The Breakers mansion – plenty of space for Mrs. O and friends

After a great couple of hours, we knew what we needed! And cocktails was the magic word! We quickly changed and made our way to the stunning Castle Hill Inn, a Relais & Chateaux hotel located just off the incredible Ocean Drive. I was incredibly impressed with my watermelon jalapeño margarita (I was getting into Mexican mode…) and Lauren introduced me to dirty martinis. Yummy!

Sunset Cocktails at Castle Hill

Sunset Cocktails at Castle Hill

It was also here that we enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets ever – it rained, but then it stopped and it was simply stunning.

One stunning sunset...

One stunning sunset…

We had an incredible dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, where from the a-la-carte menu, you could “build your own” tasting menu (starting at $75 for 3-course or $105 with wine pairings). We were brave and went for the 5 courses.. and certainly were not disappointed!

I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed our time in Newport. A weekend simply wasn’t enough, and I understand how so many people go back for more year after year.

Lauren and I loved this weekend trip

Lauren and I loved this weekend trip

One of the things I loved was how “unresorty” it actually felt – Newport has year round residents, and it isn’t only open for business 3 months of the year – and that says a lot about a place. Would I go back? I promise you I will next time I head over to that part of the world!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: A huge thank you to Discover Newport , who put together and organised this incredible itinerary for Lauren and myself. We were guests of Vanderbilt Grace who provided us with fab accommodation during our stay, and were treated by Bird’s Eye View Helicopters, 12 meter charters, TSK – Thames Street Kitchen and Castle Hill Inn. Our car was provided by Argus Car Hire. Opinions are my own – and I loved everything about this trip.

My hOtel: Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam

I know many people don’t often associate Amsterdam with luxury, but thanks to fab blogger Sabine de Witte, who prepared an incredible itinerary for me before my trip, I knew I could expect great things. What I actually wasn’t expecting? To encounter such an incredible hotel – I have been fortunate to stay in hundreds of fab hotels around the world (hence the existence of this blog), but if I had to choose my top 5, the Sofitel Legend The Grand, in Amsterdam, would certainly be part of it.

I could actually take it one step further and say it is one of my top 3 city hotels ever – it was beautifully designed, extremely comfortable (seriously, as I didn’t really want to check out) and service was great. Want more detail? Here we go…

Not your average hotel entrance..

Not your average hotel entrance..

Pre-Arrival

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

There was no communication via email and very little via Twitter prior to my stay.

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

I did, and the hotel interacted before and after my stay (which took place during the weekend). Nonetheless, I did feel special (and still do to this day).

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

No, and it was fine. This was the first time I stayed at a Sofitel for a long time and I was keen to have a stay as normal as possible. I have since stayed at other Sofitel properties in Berlin, Lisbon and Lyon. No hotel is perfect, as we all know.. but this one.. pretty special!

Arrival

Swanky and colourful - I really liked the vibe of the hotel

Swanky and colourful – I really liked the vibe of the hotel

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

After the first bonjour (a Sofitel trademark, which is making a serious comeback across the chain) when we left our taxi, it was difficult to be immune to the contrast between such a traditional and landmark building (the hotel was previously the City Hall), and such a modern decor.

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

We had a great check-in – it was busy but every guest was processed quickly and efficiently.

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

I was indeed.

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

Yes, we were upgraded from a superior deluxe room to a suite apartment, which interestingly, has its own door directly to the canal.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

The lady who checked us in and walked us to our room was lovely. Really friendly (and smiley), as were all the staff we encountered during our stay.

–          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 travelling with hand luggage only, and took our bags to our room.

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

WiFi is free at Sofitel properties in Europe.

Room Experience

I loved my little room...

I loved my little room…

 

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

There was something about this hotel – it could have been the fact that it was a shrine to grey (which I love) and fab carpets and colour scheme.. but the moment we walked into our Suite Apartment, we immediately felt at home. It was a very nice one-bedroom apartment – it felt more that way than a hotel suite. Don’t ask me why!

–          Welcome amenity

We had a local liqueur, and cheese!

–          The bed

Well, this is where our problems started. The bed (Sofitel’s My Bed), was so nice and comfortable, that it reminded me of home. I had a little test drive when we arrived, and the problem was that I didn’t almost want to get up for cocktails. And if you know me by now, it says something!

–          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.

We had plenty of closet space, and proper hangers.

 –          Iphone Charger/Dock

I honestly don’t recall, but it wasn’t a problem as for once, we actually had chargers and no extra gadgets.

I spent a whole morning just lying on the sofa, whilst Mr. O worked. Seriously reminded me of home.

I spent a whole morning just lying on the sofa, whilst Mr. O worked. Seriously reminded me of home.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Absolutely lovely.

–          Coffee and Tea

Yes, Nespresso central indeed.

–          Free bottled water

Oui, and Evian of course!

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

We didn’t have magazines, but we had a book, which was quite nice.

–          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.

Not a problem here, as there were sockets close enough to the bed. Could have been a problem if we had taken all our normal gadgets, though!

Bathroom

A fab bathroom

A fab bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

I loved loved loved the bathroom. Why? Because it is so similar to ours at home. Not exactly, obviously, but with the same type of materials and colour scheme.

–          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 fab Grohe shower “area” and every detail was beautifully selected.

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

Very good indeed.

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

We had the standard sized (baby) Hermès toiletries, which we quite like.

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

We had everything we needed.

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

To be honest, I didn’t use it.

Breakfast

 
The Bridges restaurant, which doubles up as the breakfast room

The Bridges restaurant, which doubles up as the breakfast room

–          Décor of breakfast room

Breakfast takes place at the well-known and acclaimed Bridges restaurant, which we were invited to try (but sadly hadn’t realised, and made plans elsewhere with friends). Obviously it means that a return to Amsterdam simply must happen. It is a really modern and cool space.

–          The spread (inc yumminess)

Detox cocktails were extremely necessary and appreciated. What a fab idea!

Detox cocktails were extremely necessary and appreciated. What a fab idea!

Magnifique indeed! A great mix of all French classics (which is a staple in all Sofitels, obviously), and the right local balance, which is something I always appreciate. But what I thought was the coolest thing in the world? The Detox Cocktail Bar. I thought it was a great idea and actually some of them were quite tasty and effective, if you see what I mean.

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

Breakfast costs €37.50 per person.

Bar

The comfortable library at the Sofitel Amsterdam

The comfortable library at the Sofitel Amsterdam

During our stay, we only enjoyed a cocktail at the Library bar, which is the perfect place to spend a lazy cold afternoon. This is a hotel to be enjoyed and explored.

General thoughts

Loved the garden...

Loved the garden…

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

The wi-fi was good and effective. And free.

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

No, but they did after my stay and do so 6 months later, which I do appreciate.

–          Location

Very central and with direct canal access in the apartment suites. How cool is that?

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Superior rooms start at €295 (and they are lovely, by the way) and apartment suites (similar to where I have stayed) start at €740 per night, excluding tax and breakfast.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

I would and we think it must be time for a return to Amsterdam soon.

–          Would I stay again?

Absolutely. It is just a matter of when.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

Mallorca, island lux in Spain

Returning to Mallorca, after a 10-year break, was high on my list. I had been planning this trip for over 4 months – not because it was difficult, but because I really wanted to get it right – getting there easily, stay in fab hotels, explore the island (both by the sea and inland), eat a little bit and, finally, (I am not very demanding), enjoy a bit of sun. Was I disappointed? Absolutely not!

When I announced this trip, I was overwhelmed with the reactions I got – many people still associate Mallorca with low-cost package holidays, but I was delighted to be contacted by many fellow Mallorcan lovers, which went out of their way to ensure I “hit” all the right spots. My previous trips to this stunning island, in the Spanish Balearics were incredible, but with a little difference – I always stayed at a boat (both in Palma and Puerto Portals), as luxury hotels were few and far between. That is not the case anymore.

Mrs. O has a lot of love for Mallorca

Mrs. O has a lot of love for Mallorca

After a quick direct flight from London (around 2.5h and it is worth noting that Mallorca has very good continental European connections), we were ready for 4 days of sea, sun and lux.

On this trip, we tried 2 hotels – which may seem weird to everyone else. Obviously part of my job is to check out the local gems, but in hindsight, if I went for 4 or more nights, I would do exactly the same thing again. Our first hotel was the incredible Castillo Son Vida, a Starwood Luxury Collection hotel. I have recently reviewed it on my “My hOtel” series and it is not difficult to guess why I liked it so much.

Thursday

The Castillo Son Vida, not far from Palma

The Castillo Son Vida, not far from Palma

The Castillo Son Vida is a very “peaceful” hotel – located on the hills near various golf courses and around 10 minutes from Palma – it is a place to unwind and relax. I loved the very unique style of the property and the views. Must confess I was also extremely impressed with the Gin & Tonic bar, which featured over 20 different types of gin perfectly paired with 6 different tonics.

On our first day, after a lazy check in to our fabulous suite, we decided that Palma awaited. Palma, Mallorca’s capital is a proper city (think fab shopping) and sometimes, you do forget you are in an island.

The stunning cathedral in Palma

The stunning cathedral in Palma

It has all the quirkiness of a Spanish town (think horse carriages, pretty flowers and cobbled narrow streets), but it is also a modern and vibrant city. Have I mentioned how fab the shopping is? The stretch from Plaza de la Reina to Passeig del Born is absolutely fantastic, with a good mix of international and local brands.

Palma has also not one but two El Corte Inglés department stores (one of my spiritual places), which was great as I needed to stock up on some local favourites (and yes, it did include a significant amount of iberico ham). It is worth noting that El Corte Inglés now has a “visitors” card which gives everyone a nice 10% (including to European citizens, which isn’t normal!).

Palma really has something going for it...

Palma really has something going for it…

Needless to say, that being an island, it is all about the sea.. and seafood. The marina in Palma is one of the most impressive in Southern Europe, and always a delight to walk around it – I am talking serious boat eye candy. We wanted something quite simple for dinner, and we were recommended to try Ca n’Eduardo, which we loved. It was a traditional Spanish fish restaurant, with great views of the port and the cathedral. We tried a bit of everything and these babies were incredible… Dinner for two with wine was around €60, which was a steal.

More razor clams and gambas "a la mallorqui" for me, por favor!

More razor clams and gambas “a la mallorqui” for me, por favor!

Friday

The Gin & Tonic Terrace

The Gin & Tonic Terrace

We spent the next day doing something I almost never do – we woke up late, enjoyed breakfast, a lazy day at the pool and actually never left the hotel. We enjoyed some lovely spa treatments, gins with views and a great dinner at Castillo Son Vida. I hadn’t had a day like this for a while and it was just what we needed.

Saturday

No rest for the wicked, and on day 3, it was time to explore a bit more of the island. For this trip, we had a great BMW X1, courtesy of Sixt, which was really nice and perfect for the “hills”. Mallorca has great roads and I love the freedom.

We made our way towards the north-west side of the island, known for its beauty. Our first stop was the pretty town of Sóller, where we stopped not only for caramelos. (Don’t laugh, going to Spain for sweets is a very Portuguese expression, which reminds me of the 80s, pre European Union, where we literally had to cross the border to buy sweets and other things, which weren’t so easily available in Portugal back then).

I couldn't resist this childhood memory

I couldn’t resist this childhood memory

Sóller was very pretty, as was nearby Fornalutx, known as a quintessentially Spanish town. Seriously pretty and great for a little stroll and some freshly squeezed orange juice. Mallorcan oranges are one of the islands biggest exports and are delicious (and everywhere). From here, we drove to Port de Sóller, which was only a couple of miles away.

Sóller and Fornalutz

Sóller and Fornalutz

After a great morning, it was time for lunch – and I can’t tell you how much we were looking forward to what was in store for us.

Bens d’Avall, the incredible restaurant owned by chef Benet Vicens is located on the road between Port de Sollér and Deia. Under its promise of “creative island cuisine”, we were blown away not only by the location, but by the creative interpretation of Spanish and Mallorcan classics with a serious twist.

Bens d'Avall

Bens d’Avall

Lunch (a 5-course menu, paired with great Mallorcan wines, which was a nice discovery for us – and priced at €75 per person), took over 2.5h, but believe me, we didn’t want to go anywhere else. So much so, that we spent a good part of the afternoon enjoying the sun and the view at the restaurant’s great outside area. I think everyone else there did exactly the same thing and no one rushed us, at all. It was like a foodie siesta.

Not difficult to guess why we didn't want to leave

Not difficult to guess why we didn’t want to leave

After this, we continued the drive towards Deia (which is also very pretty) and made our way to the St. Regis Mardavall, which was to be our home for the next two nights. Located right by the sea and minutes from Puerto Portals marina (which is one of my favourite places in the island), it was a great contrast from its sister property. Expect a detailed review of this hotel very soon!

We loved our stay here, for completely different reasons than the previous hotel. We loved our junior suite, which was bright and airy and had great views of the fab Balearic sea.

What we also loved? Our dinner at Es Fum, a one-star Michelin dining experience by chef Thomas Kahl, influenced by his journeys through Austria, France, Germany, and the United States. A six-course meal costs €130 per person, excluding wines.

The St Regis Mardavall

The St Regis Mardavall

Sunday

Another lazy day by the pool for us – although the hotel is by the sea, there is no real beach in this area (but you can actually swim via a jetty located outside the hotel).

We were quite impressed with the pool-side restaurant which, unlike many “chain” hotels, actually featured local food, which was great. We indulged in (yet more) gambas and croquetas and just enjoyed the day, which ended with a great massage at the hotel’s Arabella spa.

Puerto Portals

Puerto Portals

One of the places I was really looking forward to go back to was to Puerto Portals marina – I can’t tell you why I like it so much. Serious boat eye candy of course, but the shops aren’t even that fabulous (and were completely different from my last visit). I just like how small it is and how fabulous one particular restaurant was!

But before that, it was time for a Gin & Tonic, which seems to fuel the island’s blood and soul ( guess why I love this place so much!!). El Capricho (which you won’t have any trouble finding) had possibly the most creative gin & tonic selection and pairings I have ever seen. We had (only one, as they are Spanish sized) gin combinations, which were incredibly pretty and delicious.

The prettiest gin & tonic ever

The prettiest gin & tonic ever

The level of skill and detail was second to none (seriously) and I wished I had brought a menu home so I could recreate some of the recipes. This is obviously an excuse to put Mallorca back on next year’s calendar! But in its absence, I did a little video (which isn’t great quality, but still worth sharing – the “guy” was quite a character and a real gin expert.

Dinner took place at Flanigan (dinner for two with wine €80-100), which is *the* place I remembered the most from previous visits. With a great vibe and the usual Spanish smiles, it is a great restaurant. In true Spanish fashion, we were the last to leave at around 1am, but not before we worked our way through the incredible menu – think iberico, croquetes, gambas, paella, and anything else that reminds you of Spain. But the best? The incredible thin-crust apple tart, which is the signature dish and you must order when you actually order your meal. I must say that 10 years on, they still have it going!

With this, and a short sleep as we had an early morning flight on Monday.

Hasta pronto, Mallorca!

Hasta pronto, Mallorca!

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed our long weekend to Mallorca – it has every thing we could dream of and more. It is stylish, understated and has its own personality. Pretty much everything to become an annual destination for Mr. and Mrs. O.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and fact box: On this trip, I was a guest of Castillo Son Vida and the St. Regis Mardavall. Our stylish rental car was provided by Sixt UK and is available from €80 per day, including tax. Opinions are, as always, my own.