A luxury weekend in Cape Town, Cape Peninsula and the Winelands in South Africa

The first time I visited South Africa was in 2010, as part of my MBA. I enjoyed my time in the city and the winelands immensely (but also worked quite hard, believe me) and it was a place I always wanted to return to. Without a doubt. And 5 years later, I was really due a luxury weekend in Cape Town again.

So when Hands Up Holidays, who organises luxury experiences around the world, coupled with volunteer work (completely tailored to your wants and needs), I really couldn’t say no. Plus to make it even more special, it would be a girls’ trip – my friends Ashley and Carolyn from the Lazy Travelers would  be joining us. Us meaning my lovely sister Renata and yours truly. Husbands were incredibly jealous, of course – but they couldn’t take the time off. We were also hoping that other 2 friends would join us, but at the end, it didn’t work out.

Organising this trip wasn’t easy – it was potentially the most time-consuming trip ever. We had plenty of hiccups before and during our trip – to give you an idea, one of the hotels we were going to stay at, burned down in a fire a month before we arrived. Our experience with domestic flights was… one to forget. But the positive aspects of the trip were exceptional, and it is a trip I won’t forget. Ever.

british airways club world luxury travel blog mrs o around the world

Our overnight flight from London to Cape Town, was actually one of the most fun ever. It could have been because somehow a very nice group of people gathered at the Club Kitchen downstairs and some Taittinger with ‘new friends’ was sipped. My sister kept asking me if all my long haul flights were always like that, and I had to confess I had to disappoint her. But it was fun – and we even managed to get over 7 hours sleep.

On arrival, we had our first hiccup. Between the 4 of us, we had 8 boxes with clothes, stationary, books and other items we had collected to give to the charity we were working with, NewKidz on the Block. We had maxed out our collective luggage allowance and BA had kindly let us take some extra boxes. I can’t tell you how surprised I was when we were stopped by Customs, and after declaring the collective amount of the goods (which actually had no cost), were told ‘that we just had to pay some tax’. It didn’t matter what it was – it was ‘just too many boxes’. If you take into account that there were 4 of us, and 8 small boxes, it made no sense. We had to call our guide who was waiting for us and get some money (as cards were not accepted) and then were given a receipt which stated we had brought in duty-free goods – which would be no use to the charity and a clear lie. It wasn’t the best way to welcome us to the country – to say we were mad, would be the understatement of the year.

We were met by Janice, our guide and driver, who told us that due to the wind our planned breakfast at the Table Mountain would not take place, and took us on a brief drive around Cape Town where we stopped for some breakfast. I would love to tell you where, but all of us were feeling quite disoriented and dizzy – I can’t explain what happened, but I had exactly the same feeling on my first trip 5 years prior. I don’t know if it was going from Northern to Southern Hemisphere that quickly – but the breakfast helped.

Our itinerary was packed and we headed to the Winelands, located an hour drive from Cape Town. Our first stop was the Waterford Estate in Stellenbosch – and it was stunning.

Luxury trip to Cape Town South Africa - Wine Tasting Waterford Estate

Hands Up Holidays arranged for us to experience Waterford’s signature Chocolate and Wine pairing, which was actually the perfect way for us to settle in. Our (incredibly good-looking – just like everyone working at the winery) wine expert and server brought us three glasses of wine — a Shiraz, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Natural Sweet — paired by three custom-made chocolates, created by Waterford owner Kevin Arnold and Chocolatier Richard von Geusau. We were left to enjoy our surroundings and even found the way to the wine shop, as we really wanted to take some of these beauties back home with us.

Luxury trip to Cape Town South Africa - Wine Tasting Delaire Graff

Our next stop, which included lunch, was Delaire Graff – yes, owned by the Graff family (who also have some lovely diamonds). I had convinced everyone that you would get a diamond per tasting, but for some reason that did not happen that day. We had a stunning lunch – all very simple, fresh and in a beautiful setting, and a glass of their sparkling wine.

Our last stop was Moreson, but I must confess, I was dying to get ‘home’. We hadn’t showered and had been on the go since landing at 7.30am and by this time it was getting close to 4pm. We had packed way too much in on a first day.

Notice that I didn’t say hotel – that night (and sadly for only one night due to our itinerary) we were to stay at one of the villas at La Cle des Montagnes in Franschhoek. We got there and simply could not utter a word – it was that beautiful. And I never wanted to leave.

Luxury trip to Cape Town South Africa - La Cles des Montagnes

But we had to. We had an hour to shower and unpack, and get ready for dinner. We also got to spend some time with Peggy and Larry, who look after the property and when they mentioned they were preparing a Braai (the South African version of a BBQ), we couldn’t quite believe it. It would have been perfect. Because we were exhausted – like anyone would be in our circumstances.

If you go to this part of the world, do not do what we did – on the first day, go straight to La Cle (absolutely have to stay there) and have a lazy day by the pool and dinner in – or out, but no stress. Then the next day, go around town, visit some wineries and have a fine dining experience and it will be pretty perfect.

Our dinner took place at The Tasting Room, which was truly exquisite and innovative – but it took over 3 hours, and at some point, the body just said no. I absolutely need to return to this restaurant – we had a 7-course meal and ate an incredible variety of things, paired with very interesting local wines. Service was also very good.

Luxury trip to Cape Town South Africa - The Tasting Room Franschhoek

Needless to say, we slept like babies and were just about awake for our 7.30am pick up, where Janice was ready to take us sightseeing. Basically, we were taking the slow coastal route back to Cape Town – which is nothing short of breathtaking.

We started our visit (after a little nap in the car, of course), at Boulders Beach, where we went to see some penguins. They were incredibly sweet – and oh so many!! As we were there just after 9am, we actually beat the crowds and almost had the beach to ourselves. It was a pretty special moment, and better than the one I remembered it on my first trip.

Luxury trip to Cape Town South Africa - Boulders Beach Penguins

From here, we continued our drive, via the coast and made our way to the Cape of Good Hope, which was a place I was dying to visit with my sister Renata. It means nothing to anyone who isn’t Portuguese, but according to our history, crossing it was a milestone in the Discovery era – it was called the Cape of Torments by Bartolomeu Dias, and 10 years later, Vasco da Gama finally was able to cross it, opening the sea route to India (and renaming it Cape of Good Hope).

Luxury Trip to South Africa - Cape of Good Hope

I have to say, I was incredibly excited, and grateful to have my sister sharing this moment with me – and obviously ever so slightly proud to share with Ashley and Carolyn how ‘my people’ were once great. We really counted our blessings as we left – and 2 buses arrived. Doing the reverse route was really paying off.

besties-at-the-cape-of-good-hope

Janice drove us to Cape Point, and we chose the lazy way up, of course – we took the funicular up and really enjoyed the views. And no people – which were all arriving as we left, of course. Lunch took place at Two Oceans, right there – and although it was a bit touristy, I did enjoy the langoustines (the first of many I was to taste during our 10-day trip).

Luxury Trip to Cape Town South Africa Cape Point Drive

We then made our way very slowly back to Cape Town, and were dropped off at our hotel. We were due to stay at the Tintswalo Atlantic, which sadly didn’t survive a recent fire in the region. We drove past it and were able to see some of the ruins, and hope to return one day.

Our Cape Town hotel was The Dock House, right on the V&A Waterfront. It promised 6 rooms, each with its own butler – I have to say, I was excited about it. Our room was stunning and the hotel decor was really beautiful.

Luxury Trip to Cape Town - Dock House Boutique Hotel

We had a bit of time to unpack and have a nap – we all needed it. But we needed to dress up and look fab – as Ronel, our local Flytographer, awaited us for a little guided walk around the V&A Waterfront. We had booked an hour shoot, as there were 4 of us and we wanted to get some individual, pair and group shots, and it worked quite well. Very well indeed.

Luxury Trip to Cape Town South africa - photo shoot with Flytographer

Dinner took place at Baia, recommended by quite a few readers of mine, and I have so say – I had double digits of langoustines. I am not going to say how many, because a lady never tells. The girls discovered Mozambican prawn curry (which I now know why we have it in Portugal) and we just had a quiet early night. To make sure we slept well, we shared a glass of wine at Sevruga, where we went the next day for dinner.

girls having fun in cape town dinner at sevruga

The next day, we were up and ready to go and spend a day with NewKidz on the Block, in one of the Cape Town townships. And I have to say, it was an incredible day.

So good, it deserves its own post. Very soon, I promise.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: this trip was organised by Hands Up Holidays –  costs and a detailed itinerary can be found on a separate blog post.

A one-hour shoot with Flytographer costs $350 and it is always one of the best moments of every trip. 

Most photos on this trip where taking with a Leica D-Lux , which costs from £749 and you can find out more information about the camera at Leica’s website. I have been provided with a camera for this trip and opinions are, as always, my own.

Top 5 Beauty Essentials for Summer 2015

Summer is here, and that means, of course, a whole new review and revamp of one’s beauty routine. This time of the year, I tend to go away for longer periods of time (one or two weeks – read about my Top 5 Summer destinations for 2015), which means I feel slightly less guilty to pack larger sized products. Here are my Top 5 Beauty Essentials for Summer 2015.

Pureology Hydrate Shampoo and Conditioner

pureology hydrate shampoo and conditioner

Every quarter I change shampoos, as recommended by my hairdresser and my latest discovery has been the Pureology range, which is simply amazing. I have even recently had a Brazilian blow dry treatment and as this range is sulfate free, I could just continue to use these products. My hair is shinier and it smells amazing. You can buy it from Amazon (inc. Prime shipping) from £34.95 (both the shampoo and conditioner).

Surf by Bumble and Bumble infusion

bumble and bumble surf infusion

I have used the Surf Spray for years, and recently purchased its new version – the Surf Infusion, which comes in a handy 100ml size and makes the post beach hair washing and styling exercise less painful. In official speak, it is a “salt-in-oil innovation, (and) this mellow mix of tropical oils and texturizing sea salts creates soft, sea-tossed waves with sheen’. Anyone looking for soft, touchable waves, look no further. You can buy it from John Lewis for £21.50.

Clarins After Sun Replenishing Moisture Care for Face & Décolleté
Clarins After Sun Replenishing Moisture Care for Face & Décolleté

About 8 years ago, I asked Mr. O to grab me some Clarins Face Sunscreen, and by mistake, he got me this product. And yes, it is face after sun – which makes perfect sense to me. One needs separate products for body and face, and the smell of this cream (which comes in a travel-friendly size) defines Summer for me. You can buy it from John Lewis for £27.00 (and expect it to last the whole summer).

Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot Handwash Set 100ml
Molton-Brown-Travel-Size-Orange-Bergamot-Hand-Wash-Lotion-Set_MBG205_XLThis may seem borderline ridiculous, but yes, I take hand wash with me on longer trips. Why? Because I don’t like soap so much for washing my hands. And if I am staying at a hotel or villa for 7 nights or more, I really want all my home comforts. I have had a Molton Brown Naran Ji 100ml bottle for almost 5 years, which I refilled every time we went away for the summer. Imagine my delight then the brand got inside my head and just launched this product as a stand alone (also note that Orange & Bergamot is the new name for MB’s Naran Ji fragrance). I have also bought some extra ones for guest bathrooms which don’t have the same traffic as other ones in our house. You can buy it from Amazon (with Prime delivery) for £20.

Neom Real Luxury Body Scrub

neom body scrub

I have been enjoying (possibly too much) Neom’s candle range for over a year now at home and key hotels around the world and I adore this brand. I have recently started trying different products from its range and really like its body scrub. It also travels well (in checked luggage), and smells divine – and really leaves your skin feeling baby soft. You can buy it from John Lewis for £34.00.

I am mentally packing already for my upcoming trips – and would love to hear your thoughts about these products. More importantly, which beauty products can’t you live without this time of the year?

xo

Mrs. O

Top 5 Destinations for Summer 2015

My favourite season of the year is upon us – so it is time to share my Top 5 destinations for Summer 2015. Interestingly enough, this is the time where the weather is nicest back at home in the UK (there is such thing as a British Summer, believe me), and Continental Europe gets a little bit mad.

This time of the year, our travel schedule slows down in terms of the number of trips, but they increase in duration – and time to do a bit of repeating. I am a creature of habit and there are 2 places in the world I always visit this time of the year – bet you could guess where!

Algarve, Portugal

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No surprises here, I am sure – and part of my pre-nuptial agreement. This year, due to a dear friend’s wedding, we have to skip the Alentejo part of the trip, but we will be returning to the Sheraton Algarve, a Luxury Collection Hotel, for the 10th summer in a row (or is it 12th? I cannot remember). This O’Reilly favourite has had a facelift and I will be trying the new rooms (quite intrigued!). I will be travelling with Sovereign, of course!

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon View in Portugal - Messagez.com

But of course. We never fly direct to Faro in the Summer, so we choose to fly to Lisbon and drive South – which means, of course, we get a whole weekend on the way back, which is perfect to catch up with friends and family and, I will not lie, for some seriously good shopping. This time around, I will be trying a new hotel: the brand new Porto Bay Liberdade – I shall report back.

Palm Springs Area, California

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I think it will be our 10th visit – and a place where I find the peace and quiet that I need. I love the dry heat, the early sunrises, the days lounging by the pool. And I will not lie – the excellent, excellent, excellent shopping and dining options. We are going for 7 days, and this year will be extra special as my BFF Trudi (who has recently moved back to New Zealand) is joining us. Palm Springs is indeed between the UK and NZ.

Charleston & Kiawah Island, South Carolina

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I have been to Charleston in South Carolina twice (but not in the last 5 years) but never to Kiawah, which seems to be incredible. I am visiting my good friend Kim-Marie Evans of Luxury Travel Mom and spend 4 days at their beach cottage. Our husbands are like long-lost brothers and there will be a lot of golf involved – and Cards Against Humanity over a couple of bottles of champagne. And Sweet Tea Firefly Martinis (a local specialty!).

Crete, Greece

189-ArsenaliLoungeBar

And to end Summer in true Mrs. O style, we are going back to one of the most special hotels I have been to – twice! The last time, it was extra special as Mr. O asked me to become Mrs. O – in one of the stunning private infinity pools. I have always promised I would go back – but the lack of direct BA flights stopped me. No more, as they are back! I will be travelling with Sovereign to the stunning Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection hotel in Crete and surely make some new special memories.

I am pretty pleased with our Summer plans – I know I keep going back to the same places, but what can I say? I love them. Where are you planning to go this Summer? Tell me all about it!

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: One and Only Cape Town, South Africa @oocapetown

My Hotel: Review One and Only Cape Town Luxury Travel Blog Mrs O Around the World

A review of the One and Only Cape Town luxury hotel in South Africa

My Hotel: Review One and Only Cape Town Luxury Travel Blog Mrs O Around the World

On a recent visit to Cape Town, in South Africa, I stayed for 3 days at the One&Only hotel, located in the V&A Waterfront, and some bonus eye candy (Table Mountain). Here is how my stay went.

Pre-Arrival

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

Yes indeed, and the hotel communicated directly with me, although a third-party organised 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 I have to say, they were excellent. I liked the sense of humour and also the genuine feeling of helpfulness.

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

No. I have to say that the company that organised my stay failed to inform the hotel I was sharing the room with my sister and therefore required two beds, and the hotel’s team picked that important bit of information from a tweet, when I said ‘I was on my way from the airport’. Luckily, they were able to change the room type and we sorted everything, but needless to say, this could have been prevented.

Arrival

The hotel entrance. Photo by hotel.

The hotel entrance. Photo by hotel.

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

We arrived by private transfer (which was also pre-organised by the hotel), from the airport, and it was quite busy. I have to say that the doormen weren’t as welcoming as we would have hoped for – we got out of the car, there were plenty of staff, but no one came to help us with our luggage immediately. We had to get someone’s attention repeatedly.

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

Our check-in was actually effortless and was done sitting down, which is something I always appreciate. The hotel wanted to confirm if I was going to be needing a twin or double bed, and very quickly everything was sorted.

–          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)

We were indeed, but only at check-in. It is quite a large hotel, for the record.

The stunning lobby area featuring the bar and stunning views of Table Mountain. Photo by hotel.

The stunning lobby area featuring the bar and stunning views of Table Mountain. Photo by hotel.

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

No, as we had to switch rooms last-minute, and the hotel was completely full.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

If I am going to be over critical, I felt the front desk and concierge teams were very good, but service lacked at the bar, for example – and this happened throughout our stay. We had no issues at the restaurants.

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

The luggage was collected by the doormen, and we were told they would be sent to our room. It did take a while, as we only got them after we came back from lunch. It wasn’t a real problem as we didn’t need them immediately, but it wasn’t as smooth as it should have been.

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

Basic wifi was complimentary throughout the resort, up to 500MB/day, but a faster option was also available. We quickly used this allowance on the first day, so obviously upgraded.

Room Experience

Our double queen room, with incredible views! Photo by hotel.

Our double queen room, with incredible views! Photo by hotel.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The first thing I did when I got to the room was to check out the view from the balcony – it was truly impressive! Our room was very spacious, very well-appointed and was very comfortable. Could not fault it in any way. The decor was stylish and it smelled lovely!

–          Welcome amenity

We had a bottle of wine (thank you!) and a fruit basket.

–          The bed

We had two queen beds which were extremely comfortable. The bedding was also lovely.

–          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 a very spacious closet area, located inside the bathroom, which is perfect for when two people (not a couple) are sharing.

Bedroom details - I really liked our room.

Bedroom details – I really liked our room.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There was an iHome dock, which we did not use.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Absolutely and very comfy. I did use the slippers for once!

–          Coffee and Tea

We had a very spacious and well-appointed area with the mini bar, Nespresso machine, kettle, etc.

–          Free bottled water

Two large bottles at all times, and two smaller ones on turn-down.

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

We had 2 local magazines (Slow and House & Garden) and also a great selection of coffee table books.

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

Absolutely and by the side of each bed. Perfect.

Bathroom

A fabulous bathroom! Photo by hotel.

A fabulous bathroom! Photo by hotel.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was fabulous – very well-appointed and directly connected to a dressing area.

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

We had a separate stand alone bath which was a real feature and a walk in shower.

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

There were plenty, as you can see on the photo above, and they were excellent.

Bathroom details

Bathroom details

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

I loved the large-sized Charlotte Rhys toiletries (which is a local brand), but as they were refillable, one of them was broken, which was a shame. We just asked for a new one, and were given a smaller size, but without the pump issue.

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

All items were cleverly ‘hidden’ and there.

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

We had no issues using it, and it was quite powerful.

Breakfast

Breakfast (included in all room rates) was excellent and took place at the Rubens restaurant. The spread was seriously impressive, namely the pastry stand.
Excellent breakfast at Rubens. Service was very good too.

Excellent breakfast at Rubens. Service was very good too.

Bar

The cocktail menu at the bar was incredibly impressive (and due to the exchange rate, outstanding value for money, with cocktails at around £4), and it was a very comfortable space. But as I mentioned before, the service wasn’t particularly impressive – and we used the bar a good 5 times throughout our stay. It took an incredibly long time to get served or just to get someone’s attention, even at times when it wasn’t particularly busy.

Delicious cocktails at the bar!

Delicious cocktails at the bar!

Restaurant

We had dinner at Nobu, which is one of the 2 restaurants at the hotel, and the food was excellent. I found the decor a bit sterile, but the food (and service) was excellent.

A great dinner at Nobu

A great dinner at Nobu

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

We had no problems, but the free wifi only allows for 500MB/day, which in my case was used in a couple of hours (blame it on Instagram, of course).

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

Yes, and we had a lot of fun.

–          Location

The hotel is located on the East side of the V&A waterfront (if you are facing the sea), but you need to walk a good 5-10 minutes to get to the restaurant area. We had no problems, but avoided walking on our own at night, of course.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

5000 South African Rands, which is approximately £250 or $400, which I felt was good value for money.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

The Pool at the One&Only Cape Town

The Pool at the One&Only Cape Town

No problems, but I would manage expectations about the service and that it is quite a large property, with a resort feel. We saw the pool and I honestly felt it was surrounded by too many buildings, so I would recommend this for a ‘city’ stay, where a pool comes as a bonus, but not as a destination in itself.

–          Would I stay again?

I would without a problem.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of One & Only during this stay, on a trip organised by Hands Up Holidays, 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.

My hOtel: OD Port Portals, Mallorca, Spain

myhotel

Hotel-OD-Port-Portals

My love for Mallorca has been quite well documented on this blog (read here and here), and this time around, I visited the island for a special occasion: my good friend Lynsey was hosting her hen weekend in Puerto Portals, which may be just my favourite place in the area. In my previous visits (in a different life, pre blog), I have always stayed at the marina, but on a boat (which wasn’t bad. At all). Puerto Portals doesn’t have a lot of accommodation (on purpose), but the recent opening of OD Port Portals changed things quite a bit. Part of the Design Hotels family, it did not disappoint!

Pre-Arrival

First impressions count!

First impressions count!

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

Funnily enough, I got to know the hotel via Twitter, when on a previous visit to the island, they actually helped me find places to eat and shop. There was plenty of communication, let’s put it this way. My stay was organised months before.

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

Yes indeed and during my stay I asked for some things (i.e. where would the nearest spa be?) and got prompt responses.

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

I never have any special requests, except that I needed separate beds on this occasion and the hotel team was really helpful – the hotel was full when I visited and I was very grateful.

Arrival

It isn't everywhere that you kind of check-in at the bar.

It isn’t everywhere that you kind of check-in at the bar.

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

The hotel isn’t a looker from the outside (as it is a reconverted old apartment building), but as soon as we stepped out of our taxi, we were very pleased. We arrived after midnight and were delighted to see everything open and working and plenty of people around in the lounge and bar area.

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

We had an excellent check-in, which even came with a side of cava (Spanish sparkling wine).

–          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, but not really during my stay. The hotel was super busy but it wasn’t a problem at all.

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

I had a deluxe room with balcony, which was the room type confirmed as the hotel was fully booked.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Yes. We thought the staff were excellent – the level of English was outstanding (which is quite important) and everyone we saw throughout our stay was really nice and helpful.

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

The hotel doesn’t have a ‘porter’ so to speak, so we took our bags directly to the room.

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

Yes and it worked well, although I used my cell service most of the time.

Room Experience

Cozy but lovely room.

Cozy but lovely room.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room wasn’t huge, but it had everything we needed. It felt comfortable and warm and the decor was simple but nice.

–          Welcome amenity

We had a bottle of cava, plenty of water and also a fruit platter.

–          The bed

The bed was fine and the pillows were good.

–          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.

There was a small (quite small) wardrobe, which we used, but would assumed it wouldn’t suit a 7-night stay with 2 people sharing the room.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

No, but we had plenty of plugs in the room.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, but we did not use.

–          Coffee and Tea

No – but surely we could have asked someone to bring it up. To be honest, I never use this service.

–          Free bottled water

Yes and replenished every day.

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

Didn’t find anything and I wouldn’t have had any time.

–          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.

Indeed and in the bathroom too, which is more and more unusual.

Bathroom

Open plan bathroom.

Open plan bathroom.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

In terms of design, it was great, but I must confess I am not a huge fan of open plan bathrooms. The loo and walk in shower you see on the photo above had a glass door to it, which made it easier for sharing a room, but I honestly do not find them practical.

–          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 walk in shower, with looked phenomenal but the water pressure was too low, in my opinion.

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

Not a problem – plenty and of good quality.

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

We had small own brand toiletries, which I found quite interesting. The shower gel was fine, but the shampoo/conditioner wasn’t stellar.

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

Everything we needed was there, and shower caps replaced daily.

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

Yes, but not very powerful, so to speak, which I found surprising being a new hotel.

Breakfast

An excellent breakfast

An excellent breakfast

Breakfast was excellent – with a small but very well thought out buffet, and made to order hot dishes, like eggs. I feasted on iberico ham and cheese and the excellent bread and super sweet orange juice. Service was also excellent.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

We did not have a problem at all.

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

Yes indeed.

Great design details at the hotel.

Great design details at the hotel.

–          Location

The location is a little bit interesting, as it is next to a busy road, which makes the pool very difficult to use. We were meeting our other friends at the marina, and it was a 5-7 minute walk, and we had no problems.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

From 125 Euros per night, including breakfast, which was very good value (and worth it). It is a 4-star hotel with good amenities.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely.

–          Would I stay again?

For a quick hop to Puerto Portals, it was perfect.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

Amberlair: how we are going to create the first crowdsourced boutique hotel together

Amberlair: the world's first crowdsourced boutique hotel

Amberlair: the world’s first crowdsourced boutique hotel

I get asked many times what my favourite hotel in the world is, and I find it incredibly difficult to answer – in other words, it is like to ask a mother to pick a favourite child. Very unfair! But to be perfectly honest, my perfect hotel would have bits and pieces from various hotels around the world – perfection isn’t easy. And if it was, well, it wouldn’t be special, would it?

But now, something very special is about to begin. An adventure that has interested me from day 1 – Amberlair is a true revolution in luxury travel whereby me, you and everyone you know can be part of something unique: together, we are going to build the most perfect hotel in the world. And where? Well, we get to decide.

What makes the perfect hotel? What would I have in my own hotel? I have answered these questions on Amberlair’s blog in a recent interview. I can tell you one thing: there will be a gin bar (and a champagne bar, while we are at it), there will be some sort of technology which will allow me to sign a single bill at the end of my stay, and there will be USB power points everywhere. And I will make sure that the hair products really do what they say – there could even be a choice of toiletry brands before arrival, who knows?

We can do it together - let's decide where the first Amberlair should be!

We can do it together – let’s decide where the first Amberlair should be!

I know that there are a lot of questions… where to begin? Well, here are some of the answers, which will prepare you for the journey ahead.

What is Amberlair?

The world’s first crowdsourced and crowdfunded boutique hotel.

Where is Amberlair?

You may have the answer.

Amberlair is a unique concept: a boutique hotel created with the help of the energy-filled resource that is the global travel community. Hamburg-based couple Kristin Lindenberg and Marcus Orbé have had successful careers in, respectively, the travel and events sector and the airline industry. Tired of being put up in cookie-cutter, could-be-anywhere clone hotels, they set off on a tour of more than 40 countries on six continents, researching boutique hotels, getting the inside track on what works and what doesn’t. They also met fellow guests with a passion for quality and authenticity, inspiring them to use the online input of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to develop the first in a group of extraordinary places to stay around the world. Amberlair will be a destination that seamlessly combines a modern aesthetic with a sense of place and offers a 21st-century reinterpretation of Gemütlichkeit, the German concept of relaxation and hospitality.

Step 1: Crowdsourcing The Location

The location of the first Amberlair boutique hotel will be decided by the online travel community. If you know the perfect place for Amberlair to put down its roots, go to amberlair.com and submit your suggestion. They are seeking a location with character and allure. Have you spotted a building with history for sale – an abandoned theatre, perhaps, or a collection of old cottages – or, alternatively, a suitable piece of land available for development? The more details you can provide – plans, photos, owner’s contact details etc – the better. We welcome suggestions from property professionals but you certainly don’t need to have a direct connection to the location – other than thinking it would be great for Amberlair! And there is a great prize to be won for the person who submits the location finally chosen…

An example of a perfect hotel: Singita Lodge in South Africa.

An example of a perfect hotel: Singita Lodge in South Africa.

Step 2: The Competition

When we have received all your suggestions, we will choose a shortlist of the most suitable locations and, once again, we will turn to the online community – those who have registered with Amberlair – and put the location to a vote. Whichever location receives the most votes will be the site for the first Amberlair boutique hotel – as simple as that. And the community member who proposed it will win a fantastic prize: a week’s stay for two at Amberlair* (see terms and conditions), plus a VIP invitation to the opening party.

Step 3: The Future

Once the first Amberlair location is decided, we will open up the crowdfunding campaign. Rather than accept the compromises involved with mainstream investment, we will invite the online travel community – the sort of people we have met on our travels who share our love of personalised, eclectic places to stay – to invest in Amberlair. Benefits for crowdfunding contributors will include free stays at Amberlair and benefits while staying at the boutique hotel.

Further down the line, we will also be crowdsourcing the details of our boutique hotel – we’ll be seeking designers with original ideas, local suppliers of artisan produce etc. The spirit of cooperation will infuse every part of the Amberlair boutique hotel.

What should you do now?

Pretty simple. Head on to Amberlair’s website and become acquainted with the idea. The next step would be to submit a location – it is truly your decision. You can also follow Amberlair via their various social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: this post has been sponsored by Amberlair. I have been involved with this project since day 1 and will be continuing to do so. Opinions really are my own, and as you can imagine, my mind is buzzing with ideas.

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A luxury holiday in Funchal, Madeira (Portugal)

Returning to Funchal, for a luxury holiday in Madeira (which is part of Portugal), was really high on my list. For like 15 years. It seems like a joke – but not going back for such a long period of time was one of the silliest things I have ever done.

I spent many Summers in my teenage years on the island (and neighbouring Porto Santo), and returned in my mid-twenties (technically as an adult) and it is a place I have always loved. You do feel like you are in Portugal – but you feel you are somewhere truly unique: you are in Madeira, an island with its own personality, customs and, extremely important, food.

And where is Madeira? Well, take a look at Google Maps and you will understand why it is so unique – it is located in the Atlantic Ocean, closer to Africa than to Europe.

Landing in Madeira is a truly unique experience - not for the faint hearted. But our approach was stunning, even on a cloudy day.

Landing in Madeira is a truly unique experience – not for the faint hearted. But our approach was stunning, even on a cloudy day.

This trip to Madeira, which took place over Easter, was our first trip with Sovereign, and my first official Spring trip – so needless to say, I was keeping everything crossed for some sun. Our Sovereign experience actually started the day before we left – I must confess I was (pleasantly) surprised when I got a call from Hayley, the Sovereign Madeira concierge, who told us she would be waiting for us with our driver at the airport and asking if there was any help we needed locally (e.g. reservations, ideas, etc). I thought it was a very nice touch and let me tell you, having Hayley on call 24/7 was extremely useful and I will tell you why in a second or three.

One of the reasons why I was keen to return to Madeira was because BA recently announced direct flights from London, but sadly for me, our travel dates were before the route launch, so our only option was to fly with Monarch. With Sovereign, you can book any flight on any airline you want, so this was the best option and I have to say, I needed all the bells and whistles I could get, as I would be missing out on my ‘normal’ travel experience. We bought extra legroom, onboard meal, checked luggage and priority boarding and check-in (all pre-organised, so Sovereign handled all the booking process). There was one thing missing – and this was another incredibly pleasant surprise. Where available, all Sovereign guests get fast track security and lounge access in UK airports, and in this case, we got to start our journey at the No. 1 Traveller lounge at Gatwick, which I had visited on previous occasions and I have no say, it was the way to start our journey. Mrs. O approved indeed.

The bright and airy No. 1 Traveller Lounge at Gatwick Airport where we had a lovely brunch (sadly I missed the breakfast by 20 minutes and the fab bacon sandwiches. Oh well.)

The bright and airy No. 1 Traveller Lounge at Gatwick Airport where we had a lovely brunch (sadly I missed the breakfast by 20 minutes and the fab bacon sandwiches. Oh well.)

Friday

Our flight took almost 4 hours (and the legroom on the first rows was better than BA’s new Club Europe, which kills me, for the record) and as planned, we were met by Hayley and our driver mid-afternoon. Worth noting that the luxury private transfers where also part of the Sovereign package, available for every guest. We got a folder with our transfer information, all activities planned and some new ideas to try – a very nice touch indeed.

On this occasion, and on my previous trip to Madeira, we stayed at the lovely lovely lovely Belmond Reids Palace. I have never had a Belmond experience I did not love (the British Pullman, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express or Le Manoir), and I must say – this was no exception. The Belmond Reids Palace is the ‘Grand Dame’ of Madeira and a lovely one.

First things first... where was the pool? Incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean at the Belmond Reids Palace.

First things first… where was the pool? Incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean at the Belmond Reids Palace. Photos taken with Leica D-Lux camera.

We were welcomed at the Belmond Reids Palace by the lovely Isabel, who offered us a quick hotel tour. There is a reason for this – the hotel layout is not the easiest to understand, due its location and collection of various buildings. To give you an idea, our room was on the ground floor of the main reception building, which would be one of the top floors if you look at the photo above. It was very useful and do say yes when offered. The hotel has had some face-lift over the years and I quite liked the ‘mix of styles’, let’s put it this way. Some common areas are more modern than others and exactly the way they should be.

We then went to our room, which was simply stunning. A junior suite with partial ocean views – beautifully decorated and incredibly comfortable.

Our stunning suite and our fab welcome amenity. All Sovereign guests receive a bottle of Blandy's Madeira Wine and yummy local cakes.

Our stunning suite and our fab welcome amenity. All Sovereign guests receive a bottle of Blandy’s Madeira Wine and yummy local cakes. Photos taken with Leica D-Lux Camera.

After we unpacked and explored the hotel a bit more, we decided to head into town. We could have taken a taxi (5 minutes to the centre, if that), but we wanted to walk and see some more. And I have to tell you – it was the best thing I ever did. Why? Because if I had taken a taxi, I would not have seen one of the most *important* sights in Madeira: the statue of Cristiano Ronaldo, one of its better-known exports.

I am being slightly sarcastic (namely as the statue does not really look like him or the actual need for one), being it was quite funny walking by the port and actually being surprised by it. And before you ask, no, we did not to go the CR Museum.

Does it look like him? I don't think so. But the city was so pretty.

Does it look like him? I don’t think so. But the city was so pretty. Photos taken with Leica D-Lux camera.

We spent the next couple of hours, *cough*, shopping. Funchal has very good shopping options (developed since my last visit), and we helped the local economy at the Dolce Vita shopping centre and walked around town, towards our restaurant. At this stage, I decided to text Hayley, our Sovereign concierge and give her a challenge: to find us a good post-dinner bar. She got back immediately asking what type of bar we wanted and said she would get back to us shortly. My only request was that it wasn’t too far from the restaurant that had been booked for us.

Dinner took place at Gaviao Novo, in Rua de Santa Maria, in the old part of town, and it was excellent. It was our first real taste of service in Funchal (excluding the hotel of course), and I must say, not only I was extremely impressed, but the theme would continue throughout our whole stay. Fish was the staple for the evening and of course, one of Madeira’s national dishes – limpets or lapas, which are like clams but nothing like it (ha ha) and incredibly delicious. We did try the local white wine, but must confess we did switch to Esporao (one of my absolute favourites), namely as I had been dreaming about that first sip for a couple of weeks. (Dinner for 2 with wine: €80)

Dinner out in Funchal and a great night out at Santa Maria Gin Club.

Dinner out in Funchal and a great night out at Santa Maria Gin Club.

After dinner, we went to one of the Poncha Bars (Madeira’s drink, which is stronger than you think) and then to the Gin Club that Hayley had recommended. I was in Gin heaven and seriously very impressed. (Gin: €12-15)

Saturday

We did not wake up that early, I will not lie, but we just about made it to breakfast, which was very good. The weather was so-so and we had a morning to explore the city a bit more. There was one place I wanted to go to: the market. To say it was alive and kicking, would be the understatement of the year. I love visiting markets everywhere I go – and I found the food on sale so different from Mainland Portugal. Mr. O was a bit confused too and kept saying ‘this is so different, this is so different’.

Some moments from our day, including the champagne dinner we had later that day at the hotel, the spa and the market.

Some moments from our day, including the champagne dinner we had later that day at the hotel, the spa and the market.

We ended our morning at the other shopping centre (Forum Madeira) and we couldn’t help but notice something quite unique – taxis are yellow in Madeira, which is not the point of my comment, and there are many many of them and lots of taxi ranks, making it quite convenient. But when in one, the taxi drivers do something quite incredible: instead of moving forward once the taxi ahead leaves, they get out of the car and push it. I had never seen that before and found it quite… strange.

At 2pm, we were picked up by Jaime in a Land Rover, for a 3-hour jeep tour of the Eastern part of the island. Madeira is BIG – and notice how I named this blog post ‘A lux weekend in Funchal’ – in 3 days, we saw very little of Madeira and hence most people stay between 1 and 2 weeks. I used to spend a month almost each summer and it was never enough.

Incredible views of the city and some surprises!

Incredible views of the city and some surprises! Photos taken with Leica D-Lux camera.

The island is… stunning. Incredibly diverse in terms of scenery – and very very steep. In under 10 minutes, we had dropped 15c in temperature. Madeira has a lot of interesting aspects – and many people visit the island just to look at its flowers and plants. We did not have a chance to see the Botanical Gardens (next time, next time), but Jaime was very keen to show us as many varieties are he could, namely when he realised that Mr. O has very green fingers. And he even topped it up when he took us to a cider place.

I am sure you thought about plants and cider and thought… hum.. UK? Well, there is a lot of history between both countries and significant amount of influence. There are many prominent families with British surnames in Madeira and obviously many visitors. The level of English spoken on the island is excellent (I have never seen it before) and the attitude to service was outstanding. I was (secretly very proud and) very impressed.

How beautiful was this? And so much more to see.

How beautiful was this? And so much more to see. Photos taken with Leica D-Lux camera.

At the end of the afternoon, we made it back to the hotel, where we took a little nap before dinner, which was the Belmond Reids Palace’s Saturday night champagne gala. Excellent selection of food, very generous servings of Pommery and let’s put it this way, we even danced to Abba that night.

Sunday

We had some activities planned for the day, but something happened: heat. We had sunshine the other days, but not enough heat to make us want to lie by the sea – until this very day. So we cancelled everything and did something we do *very well*. We stayed by the pool.

It is worth noting that Madeira’s coastline is rocky and there are no sandy beaches in general. But you have access to the ocean and despite being cold, I was challenged by my lovely readers to jump in, and I have to say, I have photos to prove it.

Brrrrrrr. It was cold, but it was totally worth it. And the ocean pool... bliss!

Brrrrrrr. It was cold, but it was totally worth it. And the ocean pool… bliss!

We stayed at the hotel all day, having just nipped out for lunch for some ‘lapas’ and fresh fish (which we needed!!) and then back in the sun. I also went to the spa whilst Mr. O enjoyed his ‘English Garden’ tour (I kid you not) and we watched the sunset doing something we are also very good at…

The perfect Gin & Tonic with a view.

The perfect Gin & Tonic with a view.

For dinner, the concierge had booked us a very traditional place (at our request), where we could enjoy another of the island’s specialties: grilled beef on skewers, fried corn and passion fruit mousse. Obviously we also had ‘bolo do caco’, which is bread with garlic butter…? Oh well! We had dinner at Zarcos, and we could not have been better looked after. (Dinner for 2 with wine: €50).

Mr. O was a very happy boy. The food in Madeira overall was exceptional.

Mr. O was a very happy boy. The food in Madeira overall was exceptional.

We had made our way back to the hotel, and had our first sip of Madeira Wine (from our welcome amenity). I called it homework for the following day.

Monday

Monday was our last day in Madeira and we were going to end it in style. When staying at the Belmond Reids Palace, all Sovereign guests receive a complimentary breakfast in bed. I will not lie and say I did not expect something special – but I did not expect this incredible spread. If anything, way too much for two people. But a lovely touch and a breakfast I will not forget in a hurry. Or ever.

A special treat for Sovereign guests at the Belmond Reids Palace. Amen. Photos taken with Leica D-Lux camera.

A special treat for Sovereign guests at the Belmond Reids Palace. Amen. Photos taken with Leica D-Lux camera.

Following my experience the day before at the spa (which was outstanding), we booked treatments a little bit after breakfast and just enjoyed our morning, before our final treat.

Of course we couldn’t go to Madeira without tasting the best Madeira Wine. I must confess I knew very little about it, and it was a real treat to have Chris Blandy, who I have known for a few years (and a lovely man), who also loves travelling, showing us around the Blandy’s Wine Lodge. His mission is to take Blandy’s as far away as possible and doing an incredible job at it. If you would like to discover more about Madeira Wine, take a moment to read the Beginners Guide to Madeira Wine that Chris prepared for me.

We loved our tour of the Blandy's Wine Lodge. Photos taken with a Leica D-Lux camera.

We loved our tour of the Blandy’s Wine Lodge. Photos taken with a Leica D-Lux camera.

We had a quick lunch with Chris, before we said goodbye. But not before I went to the shopping centre to get the dresses I had bought 2 days before which needed alterations (which were made over Easter weekend. I kid you not. Incredible). Needless to say, we coordinated this with our Sovereign concierge, who organised for our driver to pick us up from the city centre, nip to the hotel for the luggage and made our way to the airport, before our flight home. Worth mentioning that if you don’t want to take your wine in your luggage, Blandy’s has a shop at the airport past security and you can take everything back home as hand luggage, which is exactly what we did.

I loved our 3 days in Madeira – and I was so mad with myself for taking so long to visit the island again. We had an exceptional time – Sovereign were excellent, the hotel was amazing, the food was out of this world and once thing was constant: the quality of service. I am a very proud Portuguese, but have to say good service and Portugal do not always go hand in hand. In Madeira, it was one of the best experiences I remember in a long time. Credit where it is due – it was world-class.

And after this little taste, I couldn’t help but smile when Mr. O said as we boarded our plane back to London ‘We are coming back next year, aren’t we?’

We are indeed.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: I was a guest of Sovereign, who organised our whole trip. Our experience was outstanding and opinions (and sighs) are, as always, my own. 

Capturing the essence of grandeur, Belmond Reids Palace is a supremely elegant and stylish hotel with breathtaking views of Funchal’s bay. Situated on a clifftop overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by ten acres of subtropical gardens, this hotel offers a fabulous ocean front spa and direct access to the sea. Sovereign offers stays at this hotel on a B&B or a Half Board basis.

Sovereign’s long standing relationship with the Belmond Reid’s Palace together with their team of dedicated experts with their exceptional knowledge and enthusiasm ensure great service and value is offered to Sovereign’s customers. 

A 7-night stay at the Belmond Reids Palace with Sovereign costs from £1012 per person, based on two sharing, including direct flights from London Gatwick (other regional airports available) and private airport transfers. Sovereign guest also benefit from the following exclusive perks:

Welcome Gift – Sovereign guests receive a complimentary bottle of Madeira wine in their room on arrival. 

Complimentary Breakfast in Bed – Sovereign guests receive one complimentary breakfast in bed per stay.

Spa offer – Sovereign guests receive €30 spa credit per person per stay towards the cost of their first treatment (minimum of 45 mins) for holidays between 01 May – 31 October 2015.

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

A lux weekend in Mumbai, India

Having a little taste of India, in true style – over 5 days, was the purpose of this trip. I know it sounds mad, but it was all the time we had available and we thought we could have a very interesting experience by visiting Mumbai and Jaipur. And if we liked it, we would go back. And are we? Well… read on!

Bombay, or Mumbai, is the capital of Maharashtra and the economic powerhouse of India. It’s the fastest moving, most affluent and the most industrialized city in the country. Yet, once upon a time, Bombay was nothing more than a group of low-lying, swampy and malarial mud flats presented to the British by its Portuguese occupiers as a wedding gift in 1661. (See? My ancestors can be nice, sometimes).

The screens (and a peek at the cabin)

Jet Airways’ Premiere cabin

We left London on a Saturday morning, and flew the 10h30 to Mumbai with Jet Airways, which offered a very good business class experience. With the time difference (5h30), we landed in Mumbai past midnight the following day, which I have to say, was very weird.

We were met by our driver, organised by Tamarind Tours, who took care of all our ground arrangements whilst in India and made our way to the stunning Oberoi Mumbai, which has recently been refurnished and redesigned and, let’s put it this way, it was AMAZING. Our ride from the airport was uneventful, and as it was dark, we actually did not see much. Which was perfectly fine by me.

Sunday

The time difference made it weird for us to go to sleep immediately, but we had a 7am wake up call the next day, so we did our best to sleep. Our lovely suite was incredibly comfortable, and when we woke up, we were blessed with this view.

A room with a view, from the Oberoi Mumbai. Photo taken by Leica V-Lux.

A room with a view, from the Oberoi Mumbai. Photo taken by Leica V-Lux.

We honestly had no idea what to expect – but it was a beautiful day and the skies were quite clear, which apparently is something that doesn’t happen every day. We had breakfast at the hotel, and jumped in a cab, which took is to the Colaba area, not too far from the hotel so we could meet our Flytographer.

In hindsight, it was the maddest thing I ever did – to have a photoshoot after so little sleep! But the plan was to be up before the city started coming to life, even if it was a Sunday.

Having the city almost to ourselves paid off! Photos by Flytographer.

Having the city almost to ourselves paid off! Photos by Flytographer.

Walking around such a different city was quite interesting. My mother had given me the ‘don’t eat street food or walk barefoot’ pep talk (as if I would do it anywhere else!), and friends who had visited before keep telling me to me careful with this and that. I have to say I was terrified of the stray dogs and the general litter on the streets, but so far, so good. Having our Flytographer with us, provided some insight into city life and habits and not only woke us up, but kept us entertained.

One of the places we ‘had’ to see, was obviously the Gateway of India, Mumbai’s most iconic landmark, was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to India in 1911 – and let me tell you something, getting up early was the best idea ever. (we drove past it a few times during our stay in the city and it was always incredibly busy).

A first glimpse of the Gateway of India, in Mumbai. Photo by Flytographer.

A first glimpse of the Gateway of India, in Mumbai. Photo by Flytographer.

We took another taxi back to the hotel (hum… which cost half then on the way out… all £0.25 of it, but still!), and took some photos on the promenade outside where our hotel, the Oberoi was located. This proved to be a great idea, as we even saw some scenes of a Bollywood film being shot (my new obsession, trust me, they are excellent).

The only photos of *both* of us in Mumbai. How can I travel without Flytographer? I can't, is the answer.

The only photos of *both* of us in Mumbai. How can I travel without Flytographer? I can’t, is the answer.

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was just past 9am, and guess what we did? We went for a little nap until 11am, the time we were due to meet my twitter friend Neha, who was picking us up from the hotel and taking me shopping. I needed all my energy.

Our stunning suite at the Oberoi Mumbai

Our stunning suite at the Oberoi Mumbai. Photo taken with Leica V-Lux.

That hour actually made a difference, and I was ready to spend some rupees. Word of advice – take cash and think carefully about the shoes you are going to wear. I was told to take an old pair of shoes (which looked nice), but worn, and that was the best thing I ever did. Gone were the pretty ballerina pumps I almost totally ruined earlier that morning, and came out an older version, which let’s put it this way – the shoes never left India. The roads are uneven, with many potholes and not particularly clean (this could define many other cities in the world, fear not), but delicate shoes won’t do.

With Neha, we were on a mission – to buy sandals and beach dresses. I was particularly successful on my second goal. I had visions of buying 20 beautiful pairs of sandals (like many I have which are made in India and did not exactly cost £10), but I couldn’t find anything I really liked. The beach dresses, half of them bought on the street, others in little boutiques, were awesome.

Shopping in Colaba and having our first proper Indian meal - a mixed tandoori grill.

Shopping in Colaba and having our first proper Indian meal – a mixed tandoori grill.

After a couple of hours shopping and eating, we hugged Neha goodbye and made it back to the hotel, where Jasmine, our private guide awaited us, to take us on a half day private tour of Mumbai. We would never normally pack it all in like that, but we had limited time and we had to make the most of it.

Our tour obviously started at the Gateway of India, which was completely packed and from there we drove past the Victoria Terminus, Mumbai University and Rajabai Clock Tower. We also drove past Marine Drive, Chowpaty Beach, the Parsi Towers of Silence and Malabar Hill. Basically we drove, we stopped whenever we wanted a photo and we thoroughly enjoyed Jasmine’s commentary. She was witty, funny yet incredibly softly spoken – and I loved her clothes.

Scenes of Mumbai - including cows, the Tower Clock, Victoria Station and the Oval where Mr. O was desperate to make friends and join one of the 1000 cricket matches going on.

Scenes of Mumbai – including cows, the Tower Clock, Victoria Station and the Oval where Mr. O was desperate to make friends and join one of the 1000 cricket matches going on. Photos taken with Leica V-Lux.

One of our favourite stops, was Mani Bhavan, the old Mumbai residence of Mahatma Gandhi. As it was Sunday, and there was little traffic, we actually finished the tour 90 minutes before we were supposed to. So we headed back to the hotel, and just relaxed a little bit – I really wanted to go to the spa.

The spa is open 24 hours, which I never heard of before, and I was disappointed not to get an appointment – it was so busy! But we settled for something quite unique: a massage at midnight. When in Mumbai, why not?

So we went to the bar, and had a lovely… cup of tea. (Surprised you, huh?) I love Massala Chai and had a whole pot, whilst Mr. O enjoyed his beloved Earl Grey.

The Oberoi Mumbai - details from our room and the hotel

The Oberoi Mumbai – details from our room and the hotel. Photos taken with Leica V-Lux. (The first one is from the hotel)

For dinner, we were in for a treat. I was also finally to meet my twitter friend Ajay, who I have been chatting to for years and happened to be in town that weekend (which was really a happy coincidence). We had a great meal at K&K at the ITC hotel (Dinner for 3 £9o inc wine) and also my first Uber experience in Mumbai, which didn’t go so well. Want to laugh? Driver confirmed the pick up, but then decided to pick up someone else instead. We then called a new one, and same driver picked up the job. I thought it was hilarious, namely when we were charged a no-show fee – but have to be fair to Uber, who via twitter sorted everything out. We then called another uber to take us back to the hotel, and all worked very well. I love uber – and use them a lot – and just thought the episode was funny.

We went back to the hotel, had a drink at the bar… and then headed to the spa. We allowed enough time to digest the food, worry not, and I will tell you something, I slept like a baby both during the massage and afterwards in bed. (Massage was £70)

Monday

I started the day at the hotel’s salon, for a quick wash and blow dry, which was priced at an incredible £12 (less than a gin, which had normal ‘western prices’). I have to say, it was very good too, which made the deal even sweeter. After breakfast, we were met again by Jasmine and our driver, which were to take us somewhere quite exciting. Obviously I had seen the itinerary that Tamarind Tours had prepared for us, but I honestly did not understand half of it – or what it meant.

We started our morning at Crawford Market, which was incredible. I loved visiting markets everywhere I go, and was quite curious to see what one in India would be. I was dazzled by the variety of fruits and vegetables, and the size of the market.

LOVED Crawford Market! You can see the lovely Yasmine and many local delicacies. Photos taken with Leica V-Lux

LOVED Crawford Market! You can see the lovely Yasmine and many local delicacies. Photos taken with Leica V-Lux

From here, we made our way to Churchgate train station, where we witnessed something quite unique. At a specific time, the Dabbawalas, who are men who deliver home made food to the workforce of Mumbai, arrive at the station. The word “Dabbawala” can be interpreted as “box-carrier” or “lunch pail-man”. The concept of the Dabbawala came into being when a person named Mahadeo Havaji Bachche started the lunch delivery service with about a hundred men.The Dabbawala operation is one of the most organized unwritten systems in the world. Every day, hundreds of thousands of lunches are collected from individual homes and then delivered to offices and worksites. How incredible is this?

An incredible operation to witness. Photos taken with Leica V-Lux

An incredible operation to witness. Photos taken with Leica V-Lux

We then headed to the station, and boarded a train to Mahalaxmi. I was told we were travelling on a first class cabin… but I must confess, I wasn’t quite expecting what you will see below – it was fun, not a problem at all, and an experience in itself. Our train journey took around 15 minutes and took us to this Mumbai suburb, where we visited Dhobi Ghat, an open air laundry.

Not quite the first class train I was expecting! Photos taken with Leica V-Lux

Not quite the first class train I was expecting! Photos taken with Leica V-Lux

This is (apparently) the world’s largest open air laundry, and hundreds of people live and work here. Many come from outside Mumbai and are able to send their families part of the money they earn. It was very eye-opening. The service they provide include pick up, washing and pressing and delivery, true showcase of India’s service industry and entrepreneurship. There is someone to do exactly what you need, at a cost. Apparently, there are people who clean other people’s ears. I kid you not.

Not your usual dry cleaners.

Not your usual dry cleaners. Photos taken with Leica V-Lux

Our tour ended just before lunchtime, and there was a place we had to try. The Oberoi’s Ziya fine dining restaurant, which many readers urged me to try. Many of them have been visiting for business regularly and I actually had a lot of great recommendations – but not enough time! As we had to leave for the airport at around 4pm, to catch our Jet Airways flight to Jaipur, this meal was meant to be.

An outstanding meal, and our first taste of Indian wine. Photos taken with Leica V-Lux

An outstanding meal, and our first taste of Indian wine. Photos taken with Leica V-Lux

Impeccable service, the food was outstanding and I have to tell you, the wine was a surprise. (Lunch for two with wine £120)

We were met at the hotel by our driver, organised by Tamarind Tours, and made our way to the airport, where we tried to digest lunch, and the previous 40 hours. The contrasts – you can see a street of luxury apartments next to shacks, the number of people, the chaotic traffic (and we never saw an accident), the smells (good and bad)… we finally saw the slums on our way to the airport, which obviously were no different to other large cities around the world.

To give you a little visual taste of what we experienced, and what happened in Jaipur, I put together a little video.

We had a taste of Mumbai, just a little one and it left us begging for more. The service we had everywhere was outstanding, everything worked despite the chaos around us and the people we met were out of this world. I honestly cannot wait to go back and explore some more.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: We were guests of Jet Airways, Oberoi Mumbai, Tamarind Tours and Flytographer. Our trip was nothing short of perfect, and opinions are, as always, my own.

Fly: with Jet Airways from London Heathrow to Mumbai in business class from £1700. Read my flight review here.

Sleep: at the Oberoi Mumbai, where a deluxe room costs from £310/night and suites from £798. Exceptional service and decor. Mrs. O approved indeed.

Get Around: with Tamarind Tours, who provided exceptional service both in Mumbai and Jaipur. Our 4-day trip, complete with driver and guides, and airport transfers cost £250.

Create Memories: with Flytographer, who provides 30 minutes ($250) and 1 hour ($350) photo shoots in over 125 cities around the world. I love them so much. 

Take photos: with the Leica V-Lux. With its long wide-angle to super-telephoto and macro zoom range, the Leica V-Lux succeeds in doing justice to the beauty of the world in all its facets. For photographic memories in excellent picture quality. Its extremely fast autofocus ensures that spontaneous shots are only a breath away. A camera for people who see life as a great adventure with countless things to discover as they travel through it. Cost: £925.

5 + 1 things to pack on your next trip

I keep getting asked what travel gadgets I always bring with myself on a trip. And to be honest, the list keeps growing and growing and my goal is to find the simplest ones, because the other issue it causes is how much space (and hassle) it takes on your hand luggage.

1. FitBit Charge

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I am obsessed with my FitBit Charge (in blue, of course) as I am currently on a health kick (ha!). I love how it counts the steps you take every day (my goal is 10,000 a day) and how it tracks your sleep (I finally have proof when I do not sleep well, which is quite often). I am not sure about the calorie burning counter (it seems too generous, to be honest), but I also found it useful as a watch over the past month or so (my real watch has been sent in for an annual clean and service and we were apart for a long time). It syncs with a phone app via Bluetooth and works a treat. Available from Amazon from £84.99.

2. Mophie power station for iPhone/Ipad

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You use your phone, you need extra juice. Sadly, I need a lot of it and have found a lifesaver in my Mophie. I have recently upgraded to the Powerstation Plus 3X 5000 mAh model, which charges my iPhone 3 times, which is just about enough. There are plenty of other alternatives, but this is the one I use. Available from Amazon from £89.95.

3. Multi-USB charger

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Best thing I ever bought as it makes things so much easier. At your destination (or wherever you are), you only need 1 electric socket to charge up to 4 devices. It also comes with 4 international adaptors to make it even sweeter. Possibly the best £10 I have ever spent. Available from Amazon from £10.99.

4. Belkin Mix It Colour range cables

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Between Mr. O and I we must share a good 5-6 white iphone/ipad cables and everyday we would argue about them – who took my cable? Where is my cable? Well, now we have them in different colours and the arguments have ended. Mine are the blue and pink – they are available on various lenghts and for various devices. His are all the whites and the green. Available from Amazon from £13.95.

5. Bose Quiet Confort 25 Noise Cancelling headphones

Flying will never be the same again

Flying will never be the same again

Without a doubt, one of the best purchases we have recently made. Technically they are Mr. O’s, so I keep stealing them, but I am caving in and getting myself another pair asap. They do enhance your inflight experience and I can actually sleep quite well with them on (which sounds a bit funny). Available from Amazon from £269.95.

And a bonus: Auritech Earplugs

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I am addicted to the BA Club World 3M earplugs (they are the only ones that fit my ears), and sadly, I have to wear them every day (for reasons you could probably guess… my husband!). Obviously you only get a pair when you fly, and it got to a state that friends bring me their unused ones. So, I was delighted to find Auritech, who do a sleep and a travel version (different, I know) and I have found them incredibly comfortable – and I cannot hear a thing. I love that they come in a little case and you can wash them. Available from Auritech from £19.95

What do you think of this list? Have you tried any of them? More importantly, what items can’t you travel without?

xo

Mrs. O

A lux weekend in Prague

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

We loved Prague. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer

We loved Prague. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer

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

xo

Mrs. O

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

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

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

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

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