Wine, sun and lux in Alentejo, Portugal

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

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

The scenery in Alentejo is stunning

The scenery in Alentejo is stunning

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

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

This was my welcoming view at Herdade do Esporão

This was my welcoming view at Herdade do Esporão

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This shop made me want to buy everything.

This shop made me want to buy everything.

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

Welcome to the Convento do Espinheiro

Welcome to the Convento do Espinheiro

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

A room with a view - Convento do Espinheiro

A room with a view – Convento do Espinheiro

xo

Mrs. O

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

Summer cocktails, anyone? Mojitos and Sangria onboard

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

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

 

Bubbles

Like without bubbles.. is not the same!

Like without bubbles.. is not the same!

 

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

 

Mojitos

Pomegranate Mojitos in San Diego

Pomegranate Mojitos in San Diego

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

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

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

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

Cocktails at sunset - A masterclass!

Cocktails at sunset – A masterclass!

 

Sparkling Sangria

Rosé sangria

Rosé sangria

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

Here is how I make my sangria:

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

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

 

Port Cocktails

White Port and Tonic

White Port and Tonic

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

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

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

 

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

 

 

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

My secret place: Fazenda Nova, Algarve

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

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

 

Welcome :)

Welcome 🙂

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am seriously obsessed with grey bathrooms

I am seriously obsessed with grey bathrooms

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

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

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

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

Hard to beat this...

Hard to beat this…

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

 

Happy at Fazenda Nova

Happy at Fazenda Nova

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

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

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

Até breve,

xo

Mrs. O

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

Shopping in Rome and boarding my first cruise

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

Rome, Rome, Rome!

Rome, Rome, Rome!

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

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

 

A bit of personal shopping in Rome

A bit of personal shopping in Rome

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

 

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

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

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

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

Civitavecchia as seen from our suite

Civitavecchia as seen from our suite

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

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

Enjoying my prosecco and the sunset

Enjoying my prosecco and the sunset

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

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

Couldn't get enough of these views

Couldn’t get enough of these views

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

Love from the Med

xo

Mrs. O

 

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

 

 

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

A Perfect Weekend in Boston

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

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

Boston

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

Where To Rest Your Head

The Ritz-Carlton Boston

Four Season Boston

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

The Liberty Hotel

Ames Hotel Boston

Good Eats and Dining Treats

Barbara Lynch’s Sportello

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

Island Creek Oyster Bar

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

Towne Stove & Spirits

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

Drinks and People Watching

Cocktail Hour

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

Strolling, Shopping & Culture

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

The Swan Boats in the Boston Public Garden

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

Who is Lola?

Lola

Lola’s Travels – lolastravels.com

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

You can also follow Lola on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Blown away by Chicago

My love for the USA is not a secret. I love New York, Miami, San Francisco, Boston and the rest. Chicago was an OBVIOUS gap in my travels and it had to be corrected asap.

Wow, what a sight - Chicago Skyline. Copyright protected

Wow, what a sight – Chicago Skyline. Copyright protected

It has been exactly 6 weeks since I last went to the USA, having enjoyed the coolest California road trip ever. I think I was getting withdrawal symptoms, mainly shopping ones. This trip took me to somewhat diverse places – Atlanta and the Midwest – St. Paul and Minneapolis (the Twin cities, who share pretty much everything) and, last but certainly not the least, Chicago, baby! What a place!

We arrived on a Friday evening, ready for the weekend with empty suitcases and a lot of appetite!

Checked in at one of the coolest hotels in town, the W City Center (www.whotels.com ) we were terribly excited to start our night at its super cool bar, before taking advantage of the hotel’s Acura Car Service – which takes guests anywhere on a 5-mile radius.

The cool living room at W Chicago City Centre - photo by spg.com

The cool living room at W Chicago City Centre – photo by spg.com

And where did we want to go? To Public (www.publichotels.com ), Ian Schrager’s new hotel, home of the Pump Room restaurant of course! The coolest new place in town, one needs to bag a reservation up to 2 weeks beforehand – of course, that wasn’t a problem for Mrs O!

The next morning, not very early (we had to try the cocktails!) we decided to take advantage of the wind and get clearer heads, and lend a helping hand to the American economy.

It was slightly chilly and windy, but what better excuse to buy some new clothes? Chicago has possibly some of the best shopping that can be found across the pond, having named its main shopping stretch, the Magnificent Mile – so so true!

 

The Millennium Bean in Chicago

The Millennium Bean in Chicago

Time for lunch, and we headed towards Rush street, more specifically to LuxBar (www.luxbar.com) famous for its sliders, burgers and deserts. We went to town and 5,000 calories later, can proclaim that the giant Sneakers pie was the best! We had to walk it off, so more shopping to do!

Sushi Samba Rio in Chicago. Photo by Mark Ballogg

Sushi Samba Rio in Chicago. Photo by Mark Ballogg

Due to the time change, it gets darker earlier and we found ourselves starting our evening at 6pm – when in Rome… – but that wasn’t a problem as we were looking forward to a fab dinner at Sushi Samba Rio (www.sushisamba.com), which is due to open at London’s Heron Tower in the new year, where we feasted on (guess what) sushi, ceviche and, of course, lychee and pineapple caipirinhas. We ended our night at Wonderbar, where we listened to some great blues and jazz. Not the trendiest place, but just what we needed to do.

I found that time went very fast – a signal that we were having fun! On Sunday we took some time to actually see the city, but on a boat tour, of course, and enjoy the sights of Lake Michigan and Millennium Park (which has a very cool Frank Gehry feature), before enjoying a Brazilian-inspired brunch at Zed451 (www.zed451.com ), where the weirdest thing we tried were sweet waffles and spicy chicken – seriously!

Time to rush to the airport and head back to Blighty. It’s been a while since I felt so excited about a city, as I really loved Chicago. Maybe it was the wind!

The post Blown away by Chicago appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

24 hours in Sao Paulo, Brazil

São Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world
São Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world

Going to São Paulo has never been on my bucket list, per se, but I have always been curious about this massive city, home to at least 17 million people. Knowing many people who have recently moved over there, taking advantage of a growing economic market, I kept hearing more and more positive things about Brazil’s financial and business capital.. so on a recent trip to Rio de Janeiro, I decided to take a little detour and spend 24 hours in São Paulo. And delighted to have done so.

We flew overnight from London and landed at Guarulhos airport quite early in the morning. First hurdle – how to get into the city. Risk a cab? Well no, pre-pay and pre-book one at the central airport booth. May be slightly more expensive, but you know where you are going. Safety is an issue and as you know, I am not one to take unnecessary risks.

We were told, by knowledgeable friends and business colleagues that, basically, there were “3 places to stay” – the Fasano, the Unique and the Emiliano. It was a very difficult choice, but we settled for the middle option – the Unique, and indeed it was!

Hotel Unique, São Paulo (Photo by Hotel Unique)

After a much-needed power shower and a strong Brazilian coffee, we were ready to enjoy what this giant city had to offer us. Time was ticking, and I knew what I needed to do… shopping and eating!

I had prepared for this trip – big time! Brazil, for me, equals bikinis which, in turn, equals Cia. Maritima. Brazilians know their swimwear (and worry not, they have what they call the “European cut”) and I found out that there was an outlet not “too far” from the hotel. The receptionist laughed when we asked her if it was as good as it sounded and confirmed my suspicions. I wasn’t disappointed – a $20 cab-ride later and 6 bikinis and 2 swimsuits, from the current European collection (Brazil is a season ahead of Europe) for the price of 2, seriously 2, swimming costumes, I was ready for Rio.. or was I? For the hard-core shoppers, the address can be found here.

By this time, I was quite hungry, but not sure what my stomach could take. I think overnight flights are quite strange in that sense and remembered a suggestion.. Hotel Fasano. I had booked a table there anyway, and knew it was “the place to be” for lunch, but wasn’t sure if I was in the mood or not.. I am glad we went.

Hotel Fasano, São Paulo - no one does understated luxury like Brazilians

Brazilians have amazing food, but are also very very good at looking after their fab bodies, so a light buffet lunch was just what we needed. It wasn’t a buffet in Vegas terms.. it was a selection of wonderfully presented salads, cheeses, fruit (oh my God) and desserts. That and a diet coke and I was immediately awake and ready for an afternoon at nearby Oscar Freire street.

Havaianas flagship at Oscar Freire, São Paulo

Havaianas flagship at Oscar Freire, São Paulo

There is something about Brazil.. and amazing shoes. I “had” to stop at the flagship Havaianas store, would be rude not to… but I wasn’t ready for Schutz. We are talking serious shoe-lust, love, whatever you want to call it!

Schutz at Oscar Freire - truly love at first sight

It hasn’t happened *that* many times, being surrounded and wanting to actually buy 10 pairs of beautiful shoes. I was so excited, I can’t tell you. I looked at the price tags and was in heaven. $50? Seriously? All of a sudden Mr. O looked worried but then started laughing. I didn’t understand, and honestly didn’t care – I work, I earn, I can buy my own shoes.. then he asked.. have you seen the price tags? yes.. they are great aren’t they? Well, yes.. but that is 1 payment of 6 or 10. What? Word of warning, don’t be fooled. It is “normal” for people in Brazil to spread payments over x months on their credit cards (interest free and all).. and the prices advertised reflected that.

I didn’t know where to look – the sales lady was very excited and I had to disappoint her. So I bought a pair.. and went back for another later on. (Want to laugh? One of the pairs of shoes is too small for me. Only realised that last week). Oh well.

We carried on down the street and loved most things we saw. But we were tired, and was time to head back to the hotel, have a swim, a little lie down, a cocktail and dinner.

Could you say no to this? I couldn’t and glad I didn’t!
The stunning rooftop pool at Hotel Unique, São Paulo

Of course we then had to say yes to the wonderful caipirinhas and stayed for dinner, and drinks and a bit of fun. I will never forget the view of the São Paulo skyline, from Skye, the name of the restaurant and bar.

The unforgettable view of the Sao Paulo skyline from the SKYE Bar

If this was part of the best of what São Paulo has to offer, I shall be back next time I venture over this amazing country. Next day, we were off to Rio for a week. Not bad at all, it is all I can say.

Beijos!

Mrs. O

The post 24 hours in Sao Paulo, Brazil appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Mrs. O’s Travel Tips

The most touristy photo you will ever find on this blog. Yes, we have all done it ;)

When it comes to travelling, I am a planner, and quite risk averse. I like my holidays and I like them a lot – and I will pretty much do everything I can to ensure I make the most out of them.

Being organised could be one of my *best* personality traits. I say “could be” as sometimes it doesn’t work brilliantly – but more about it later!

I spread my holiday allowance throughout the year, making the most of bank holidays, pretty much like everybody else – and in order to be able to travel at those times, one has to book early.

By definition, we never travel in August – we save our 2-week super holiday for early September (which I understand it is not very practical if you have children, but for the time being, I don’t really have to worry about that!).

Arriving in Moorea, French Polynesia

It’s then when we start playing one of my favourite games: “where should we go next year?”

We have no set formula, but like a bit of sun after Christmas, a bit of skiing in March, a bit of sun (again over Easter or early May, usually in Miami).. then a top-up in July and a fab break (usually in California) in September. Oops, I guess we have a formula after all!

My mother always said that if you are leaving your house, you need to go somewhere better than where you live. She also says that she loves camping.. in 5 star hotels. I am a good girl, and do as I am told.

The issue with that is that it can be costly – and I hate the idea of paying twice as much for my airplane seat than the person next door to me… hence why being prepared and organised works for me. I can totally understand the appeal of last-minute trips – but to be honest, I am not prepared to risk them on a regular basis.

So *finally*, where are some of the things I always do which hopefully can be of help to anyone who loves travelling as much as I do.

Getting there

Book Early – there is no other way around this. If you want to travel at busy periods, I have found that 8-9 months prior is when to book. I also like a bit of pampering, and this is the only chance you have to get some upgraded seats with miles. That said, if you can’t get one, I have found some upgrades on British Airways 48 to 24h before departure – this is the cut-off time for getting your miles seats cancelled and refunded and, inevitably, some people have to cancel. I have only found this recently and it is possibly the best tip someone has given me!

Where to stay

There is some wriggle room here, namely with last-minute possible savings. I try to book a refundable rate (which will be reasonably priced compared to the pre-paid rate). I then check every now and then and usually 48h before I can bag some considerable savings. Also found that booking directly with hotels works – it may be linked to the fact that you won’t get hotel points otherwise, which is important to me!

Moving Around

99% of the times I travel I hire a car, except when on an urban destination for obvious reasons – I can’t think of staying put in a resort, eating at the hotel all week and not having a peek at what’s going on in town. Hiring cars can be quite tricky as price changes. I always try to book fully refundable rates so I can check on them later. On a recent booking with Avis, I found that the rate had come down €100 for the same car type.. so it was easy to cancel my reservation and make a good one. It will be the exact same car.. why pay more?

Taking Risks

No insurance, no skiing!

I don’t travel light, I admit it. I am known to use my extra luggage allowance (thanks to loyalty cards) to exhaustion and take extra empty suitcases with me. You know, I like helping other countries’ economies.

The idea of having my bags lost terrifies me – and if you like Tumi suitcases like me – the average compensation does not even pay for the bag handles or wheels. What to do? Insurance, insurance, insurance! Adding £50 or whatever it costs is worth it, as the things you have in it can easily add up to thousands of pounds, euros or dollars. Especially when I come back from one of my epic trips to the States…

I ensure I am covered by my credit card (with which I paid for the ticket), by my bank (which covers automatically any travel I do, even if I don’t use their card, which I don’t) and take out luggage insurance just in case. This can be serious stuff.

 

Staying Connected

Smartphones are brilliant, but data roaming and call bills can be horrendous. Data roaming is now capped for Europe-based travellers, but obviously doesn’t apply elsewhere – so turn data roaming off!

My mobile operator gives me a daily data roaming allowance per day – in the countries they cover, which are quite a few, and that saves me a lot of money, but finding FON (www.fon.com) has been a life saver, as it gives me access to 6 million wi-fi hotspots worldwide, using my internet home provider log in. That is excellent value for money from something you already pay and can really use abroad. For calls, I use Justvoip.com which lets me use my phone (when connected to wireless) anywhere and charges me €0.07 per minute for mobile numbers anywhere in the world and just €0.05 per landline call. This meant for example, that after a 2 week holiday in Rio, I only paid £5 in roaming.. and not the usual £200! These tips are based on my personal experience and I can vouch for them – I hope you find them useful and that they help you on future travels. It is all about the experience, which should begin way before you board that plane!

Happy Travels,

Mrs. O

PS: I went to Rio de Janeiro earlier this year and planned the whole trip 8 months before. Just 2 days before travelling and whilst printing all the reservations, I realised I hadn’t booked all the internal flights, which I could swear I had… They were then too expensive to book as it was around new year and we ended missing up on a great couple of days in the south-east.. but that meant we got some extra time in Rio, which wasn’t  a bad thing (as I managed to convince the hotel to extend our stay at the same rate. Could have hurt otherwise!!)

The post Mrs. O’s Travel Tips appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

My favourite places in Palm Springs and Palm Desert

My love for California isn’t news to anyone. I LOVE it! People sometimes ask me why I keep going back year after year, and there is surely some type of magnet that attracts me to this place. I love San Francisco, Santa Monica and San Diego, but the Desert Cities, located a little over an hour from Los Angeles, have a special place in my heart.

California is one of Mr. and Mrs. O's favourite places in the world. Glad we found it by mistake!

California is one of Mr. and Mrs. O’s favourite places in the world. Glad we found it by mistake!

We first went to the area, to Rancho Mirage, to be more specific, by mistake, in 2008. I say by mistake because I was planning that year’s trip to go to San Diego for the first time and whilst exploring Google Maps, I couldn’t resist zooming in, and in and in!I think I must have been to “the desert” a good 10 times ever since and just got back last week.. and already looking at the best dates to go back in 2013. The interesting thing about this place is the variety of places one can go to – restaurants, shops, golf courses, you name it!

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

First things first – let me explain a little bit about the place. Everyone has heard of Palm Springs – and undoubtedly associate it with Hollywood, “in the good old days”. Streets have indeed been named after Frank Sinatra, Ginger Rogers and the like, who I am sure were regular visitors to the area. But Palm Springs is just one of the “desert” cities. Others include Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta and Cathedral City and are not far from 2 slightly larger towns – Indio and Coachella.

As you drive around the place, you keep getting in and out of each city – interesting, but strange. I am making this up, but one could almost say that, for example, Rancho Mirage (which borders with Cathedral City and Palm Desert, for example) is 8 blocks by 8 blocks. Surely there is a reason for this, but I am afraid I do not know the answer.

Hello, Marilyn! (Palm Springs)

Why do I like this place? The weather is stunning. Dry heat (easier for me), warm when it’s still cold in Europe, and super warm when it is not. I like it.

If you don’t like playing golf or lounging by the pool, I would say this isn’t the place for you. Also, if you are looking for late night partying, I would suggest other places. Having cleared this up, here is my California Desert Address Book:

Restaurants:

It kills me when people say that food in the US isn’t good. I love eating out (pretty much anywhere) and have had some of my best meals in this country. In this area, one is spoiled for choice!

– Morgans in the desert – La Quinta – my most recent discovery and a new favourite. Quite smart, yet relaxed. Loved the steak, short ribs and had possibly the best dessert of the spring – salted caramel and popcorn sundae. Seriously good.The Living Wine Menu at 3rd Street Corner

– 3rd Street Corner Bistro – Palm Desert – love the living wine list… basically you get up, and from a selection of 800 bottles or so on display, you choose the one(s) you want! Great value (you are charged at retail prices, not restaurant prices, plus $5 corkage). Special 3-course $30 menu with wine pairings included on Sundays only.

Mrs O likes her cocktails

– Pacifica Seafood – Palm Desert – as the name indicates, not a place for meat. Always have oysters and crab cakes (not together!). And great cocktails (Georgia Peach is usually my choice).

– Roy’s – Rancho MIrage – this was a good surprise. I have never been to Hawaii, so not quite sure what Hawaiian Fusion means. But I love the lobster sushi, the macadamia nut crusted mahi-mahi and let’s not talk about desserts (chocolate, chocolate, chocolate).

For a bit of post dinner fun (and think that most people have dinner early – and I mean early!! – we end up trying our luck at the Agua Caliente Casino, which is actually really nice and has a good selection of bars. I am terrible at gambling, and possibly why they want me to go back every time.

Shopping:

Now this is where it gets serious.. you are spoiled for choice and obviously it is one of my favourite “post-pool” and “pre-dinner” activities. We always try to squeeze in a little hour every day, so we don’t get tired.

I love this part of the world

Downtown Palm Springs is the place to go for vintage boutiques, and most shops have been around for a long time. If you fancy some glamour, well then you can’t miss the desert’s own Rodeo Drive, in Palm Desert. El Paseo, as it is called, is a very nice street which combines art galleries, boutiques, designer shops and some of my favourite American chains such as J Crew (with its own concept, not regular store), Williams Sonoma (makes me want to have 110v power sockets so I can use all their cooking gadgets) and of course, an Apple store.

Lastly, but not the least, one of my favourite places in the world – Desert Hills Premium Outlets. Not going to make any comments, but has a great selection and it is worth joining their VIP Club online before going and printing out the discount coupons. It may become ridiculous. Seriously.

Accommodation:

The view from our villa at the Westin Mission Hills

In terms of accommodation, I can only recommend the only place we have ever stayed at – the Westin Mission Hills. This was the hotel we found by “mistake”, and one of our favourites in the world. It is not the most luxurious place I have ever stayed at, but I love it. It’s spacious, super comfortable and quite understated. Oh and with its 2 PGA golf courses, it keeps Mr. O wanting to go back. We call it out home away from home.

There are plenty of choices in the area for every budget, but as always, I can only recommend places I have been to.

Getting there:

Palm Springs International Airport is around the corner, but the area is served by all Greater Los Angeles airports, which are around 1-2 hours drive away.

On this trip we drove from Scottsdale in Arizona to the desert, and from there on to San Diego in our rental car. We flew into Phoenix, AZ and out of San Diego, CA with British Airways.

I always say a gin tastes better with a view!

Our 2012 trip came to an end, but as I said before it is time to start planning our restful week for 2013. Anyone wants to join?

xo

Mrs. O

The post My favourite places in Palm Springs and Palm Desert appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

5+1 reasons why I love the UK

Why I love the UK

When people find out I am originally from Portugal, a question usually follows: “Oh, and you moved to England?”. I think people get even more surprised when I respond something along the lines of “Yes, and I love it”!

Yes the weather isn’t the same as in Lisbon – and not to say that I don’t love Portugal, I do – but there are some amazing things in this country. I have been thinking about this for a while and decided to share them with you.

1. The British are not cold and distant

It may take a while to break the ice, but if my experience is anything to go by, the Brits are possibly some of the nicest people I have ever met. Polite, kind and with a dark sense of humour. Once you take the step from being an acquaintance to becoming a friend, these connections last forever. People value them and will go out of their way to help you out. I have met some incredible people everywhere in the world, but there is something about the Brits..

The British sense of humour

The British sense of humour

As as a tourist, people will stop and give you the right directions more often than not!

2. It doesn’t always rain

I may be crucified but global warming has been OK, i.e. not in the general sense, but in the last couple of years, England has had nicer summers (but also colder winters). That means that summer can be actually a season, and a heatwave lasts more than 2 days (I love it when they call them heatwaves, or when they say “It is hotter today in London than in Havana”.

Nonetheless, there is no sense of entitlement and it is incredible how happy people become when the trees start blooming and you don’t need a coat anymore.

As a Portuguese, I will not wear sandals just because it is sunny – it can be slightly weird when in March, with 18C, everyone starts wearing shorts and flip-flops!

3. I love English food

Yes, there is such thing as English or British food and I love it. Everyone that has visited, no exception, has enjoyed the wonders of British cuisine with me – from chicken liver parfait, to pork belly, the sunday roasts and don’t get me started on the desserts.

The perfect Sunday Roast - photo by blog.mutewatch.com/tag/sunday-roast/

The perfect Sunday Roast – photo by blog.mutewatch.com/tag/sunday-roast/

I may start campaigning for British restaurants abroad. And overall, the Brits enjoy foreign and continental food so much on their holidays, they demand the same back home, so great ingredients are easy to find.

Thank God for sticky toffee pudding (my sister's favourite)

Thank God for sticky toffee pudding (my sister’s favourite)

4. The system works

When someone commits to a date or a deliverable, they mean it. You can count on it – and I like that. That means, of course, you are expected to do the same, which is more than fair. Customer service in the UK is second to none in Europe, there is such thing as a service industry and in my experience, if we exclude Asia, it is light years ahead from anywhere except the United States. If a company fails you, they apologise and more often than not, they try to make it right.

Say it when you mean it

Say it when you mean it

If you need to go to the doctor, you get an appointment on that day or the next day. They apologise if they run over 20 mins late – and this is the public health service. In Portugal, it drives me crazy when I pay €80 for a 15m appointment and the consultant is late and it is supposed to be OK. I really don’t get it.

5. Yes means yes, no means no (as it should)

..and that matters when a friendship has been started. One thing that drives me crazy is when you try to make dinner plans with someone in Portugal, they say yes and have no intention to actually commit to a particular dinner date. I try to go to Portugal regularly and with limited time, I like to book these dinners and meals early – this is difficult for people to actually understand that I won’t “wing” them. Whilst in England, with various groups of friends, we are completely used to make plans with a couple of months notice if need be. I have a busy social life and if you want to spend time with me, get it in the diary and I will honour it – I won’t cancel a dinner with someone because I got or am hoping to get a better offer.

Oh.. I forgot to mention I get to wear hats in England :) and I love them!

Oh.. I forgot to mention I get to wear hats in England 🙂 and I love them!

I saved the best for last of course, I love England even more as Mr. O is, guess what, British! In his own words, he is very continental. And apparently, I’m the reverse which it is why it works so well.

Time to end the rant. I really don’t know why England gets such bad press sometimes. I have felt welcome by everyone every time I moved here  – from the lady in the supermarket, to the doctor, the MBA teacher or my colleagues at work. I am Portuguese and a very proud one – don’t get me wrong, but that doesn’t mean I cannot live in a different country and also feel at home.

And there is no other place where people call you “love” all the time, I love it! “Alright, love?” “Can I help you, love?” You already have. Thank you for making me feel at home.

Mrs. O

The post 5+1 reasons why I love the UK appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.