Top 10 Christmas Gifts for luxury travellers

Have you written your letter to Santa? I have mine ready since September, and have sorted all my Christmas shopping. I know most of you will laugh, but it is how I do it every year.

I have been asked for some Christmas gift suggestions for friends and family, and here are my Top 10 Christmas Gifts for luxury travellers, from £10.
For the lux hotel lovers

1. Mr. and Mrs. Smith vouchers (not your average boring hotel voucher, promise)

Have a picky partner? Boutique hotel experts Mr & Mrs Smith’s Get a Room! hotel gift cards can be used towards stays at any of the 1,000 hotels in the worldwide collection.

Putting their own irreverent spin on the seasonal-ad phenomenon, they’ve produced this somewhat cheeky film telling the tale of one man’s attempt to wow his wife on Christmas morning… (Warning: it’s a little bit sweary.)

Presented in a sexy black pop-out box that little bit more exciting than your average envelope, Smith hotel gift cards are available for any amount from £50 up, and can be put towards a stay at any Smith hotel in the world, from all-out luxury five-stars to one-of-a-kind boutique retreats . Whisk me away!

For the memory lovers

2. A photoshoot with Flytographer

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

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

I am a great fan of Flytographer and have used their services more than 10 times in the past year or so. In the trips that I have used them (Lisbon, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Venice, Amsterdam and Istanbul to name a few), I have the most amazing photographs which are indeed, the best memories. You can choose between a 30 minute, 1 hour or 2 hour shoot and they will be super discreet. If you have an upcoming trip, it would be perfect, but if you know someone who is going somewhere, it could make their whole trip extra special! From $250 for a 30-minute session or $350 for a 1-hour session at Flytographer. For $50 off your session, use ‘MrsOHoliday’ discount code when you book.

For the beauty product addicts

3 – Liberty London Print Christmas Advent Beauty Calendar

Every day you will get a pre-Xmas beauty product. I kid you not!Every day you will get a pre-Xmas beauty product. I kid you not!

Every day you will get a pre-Xmas beauty product. I kid you not!

The ultimate indulgence for the festive countdown, this Liberty Print advent calendar will make a sensational pre-Christmas gift for a special someone. A new surprise is unveiled every day, complete with an enviable selection of Liberty’s must-have beauty buys, from skincare to scents and everything in between. A decadent delight for lovers of all things beauty, just remember not to peek at the goodies before it’s time. £149 (shipped to UK addresses only) at Liberty London. NOW SOLD OUT (IT WAS THAT GOOD!)

For the gadget lovers

4. Bose QuietComfort 25 accoustic noise-cancelling headphones

Flying will never be the same again

Flying will never be the same again

Mr. O and I had been resisting this purchase as it is not the most practical thing to carry around when you travel, and usually we get decent headphones in long haul business class flights, but there was life before Bose and after Bose. The new series, the 25 acoustic is fantastic and very comfortable to wear. From £269 at Amazon. (ships internationally too)

5. Avantree PowerHouse Universal Multi-device USB Desktop Charger

Uber organised charging station

Uber organised charging station

Something so simple, but it was causing some trouble at home. Why? Too many devices and too many chargers. This charging station seats neatly anywhere around the house, looks very pretty and works with any smart phones or tablets (you just need to buy the right charging cables). The other plus, is that we always know where our phones are now. From £29.99 at Amazon (international shipping)

For the leather goods lovers

6. Stow Amelia Leather Luxury Case in Pink (and other colours)

A must have for all ladies who travel

A must have for all ladies who travel

Stow London is a recent brand whose development I have been watching since the beginning. I love the way they present themselves and how practical their products are (and oh so pretty). This luxury leather travel jewellery case is designed for longer trips and clever storage of both jewellery and tech gadgets including the brand’s portable power banks.  The Amelia luxury jewellery case is available from £230 from Stow London (international shipping)

7. Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull MM in Epi Leather

Possibly one of the best travel handbags ever

Possibly one of the best travel handbags ever

I have been searching for a good ‘any time travel’ handbag which looked great and was flexible enough to take as a second bag on a plane (with magazines, books, phone chargers etc), but also would fit my laptop and other gadgets, but that I could still wear as a normal handbag say on a weekend trip. Whilst Louis Vuitton have had this bag in monogram and other patterns, it has recently launched the Neverfull MM model in its trademark Epi leather  in 14 colours, so I made mine navy, of course. It also comes with an inside clutch which can be used on its own, and the bag’s laces can be tightened to create a more compact, chic city bag. From £1,160/€1320 at Louis Vuitton (international shipping)

For the gin lovers

8. Shortcross Gin

One of the my most recent discoveries... which hails from Northern Ireland

One of the my most recent discoveries… which hails from Northern Ireland

Hand-crafted by Rademon Estate Distillery, Shortcross Gin is the first gin to be distilled and bottled in Northern Ireland . This citric classic gin uses local produce as botanicals, such as apples from County Armagh and wild Irish clover foraged from the distillers’ garden. A classical style of gin, it has a unique twist, showing floral meadow notes with green, wet berries and citrus.  From £40 at Fortnum & Masons. (UK shipping)

9. Gin Mare

It was impossible to find outside Portugal and Spain, but no more...

It was impossible to find outside Portugal and Spain, but no more…

Gin Mare is a small-batch gin inspired by Mediterranean culture and made using the finest botanicals of the region such as Arbequina olives, thyme, basil and rosemary. It hails from Spain and works wonderfully with rosemary or basil (I am serious!) – I love it paired with FeverTree Mediterranean. From £39 at Waitrose (UK shipping) or  Amazon (international shipping)

10. The perfect gin & tonic kit

This is going to make a lot of people happy!

This is going to make a lot of people happy!

I was looking for the perfect gin & tonic glasses and whilst searching, I found this kit, which is the perfect Christmas gift. If you just want to buy the glasses, click here. We have the full set at home and our gin and tonic parties have never been the same again. The kit is costs £25 at El Corte Ingles (also ships internationally).

So, what have you asked Santa this year? Do any of these take your fancy?

Happy shopping!

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: Sofitel Paris Arc de Triomphe

myhotel

Located in Rue Beaujon, which connects Avenue Hoche and Avenue de Friedland, just off L’Etoile, the Sofitel Paris Arc de Triomphe is a relative newcomer to the Paris luxury hotel scene, having opened in 2013. It is a small hotel, with little over 120 rooms, but very cosy and comfortable – the rooms’ progressive decor showcases what I believe Sofitel wants to be in the future across all its properties (stylish, clean, comfortable and tres sexy).

Sofitel is, I think, the only French luxury hotel chain with true international projection, who has changed a lot in the last couple of years and may surprise you if you haven’t stayed at one of their hotels in the not too distant past. Recently, I have stayed at its Lyon, London, Berlin and Amsterdam properties, the latter being one of the top 5 city hotels I have ever stayed at (and that is not a compliment I would give lightly!).

Here’s how my recent stay at the Sofitel Paris Arc de Triomphe went.

The Sofitel Paris Arc du Triomphe

The Sofitel Paris Arc du Triomphe

Pre-Arrival

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

My stay was organised very last-minute, with less than a week to spare. It was organised by a multitude of channels and confirmed by email.

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

I had, and the hotel responded to me during the week (i.e. not the weekend)

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

The Sofitel team knows me quite well by now and I really did not need anything special.

Arrival

The reception area of the hotel

The reception area of the hotel

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

My first initial reaction was quite interesting – judging from other Sofitel hotels I had stayed at, I was expecting a much larger reception area and was a bit surprised to find quite a cozy space. There was nothing wrong with it – it looked very nice, but just different from what I expected.

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

We had a fantastic check-in, not only was it super efficient, it was well humoured too, which in my opinion, makes a huge difference.

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

Absolutely.

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

I had a junior suite confirmed and it was the room type I was assigned.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Very much so. Throughout the 3 days we were at the Sofitel, everyone, no exception was brilliant.

The area by the lifts, leading to the Living Room

The area by the lifts, leading to the Living Room

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

We gave our bags to the doorman and only saw them again in our room.

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

 We were told about the complimentary basic wifi and it’s very simple one-off login process (just with a password and no other fuss).

Room Experience

My stunning junior suite

My stunning junior suite

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was lovely – the journey from the lift was also very soothing as the hotel perfectly worked the grey, white and beige colour scheme.

–          Welcome amenity

When we returned to our room after our first day out, I found some lovely macarons, le yum!

Les macarons pour Mme. O'Reilly, merci!

Les macarons pour Mme. O’Reilly, merci!

–          The bed

I am a great fan of Sofitel’s ‘My bed’ concept. So much so, that it is the bed I have at home – I don’t have the bed structure, but I have the featherbed, the pillows and the duvet, which I adore. So every time I stay at a Sofitel, I couldn’t feel more at home – the bed was heavenly and difficult to leave, which is a welcome side effect.

–          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.

The wardrobes were located at the entrance of the room (which you cannot see from the image above), and I felt they were quite compact. We struggled a bit with hanging space for 2 people staying for 3 days, and would be harder for longer stays. Nonetheless, it was well-appointed and had some interesting details, the best being the coat hangers by the door, which meant our coats were always in great shape and did not take space elsewhere (either in a wardrobe or in some chair).

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

The room has quite a snazzy sound system which an iPhone 4 dock, which we did not use.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, and lovely.

Room details at the Sofitel Paris Arc

Room details at the Sofitel Paris Arc

–          Coffee and Tea

Oui oui, with a Nespresso coffee maker and tea making facilities. I also noticed the lovely individually shaped sugar cubes (which are all the rage in Paris at the moment).

–          Free bottled water

Yes, Evian, of course.

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

I did not find any magazines.

–          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.

One side of the bed had spare plugs, but the other (coincidentally, mine did not have any spares). But there were plenty of plugs around the room, including a USB port by the TV which also worked to charge our devices.

Bathroom

Ze tres sexy bathroom. Tres sexy indeed.

Ze tres sexy bathroom. Tres sexy indeed.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was fantastic. Fantastique. Magnifique. Without a doubt, one of the room’s features, which I adored.

–          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?

It was a mini Grohe paradise as are most Sofitels and it was really well designed. My only criticism is that it has a separate room with a loo (toilet) only, which wasn’t to the same standard of the rest of the bathroom. The bath looked amazing (but we sadly did not use it) and the shower room was fab. Great pressure and a massive shower head.

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

Sofitel towels are usually very good and they did not disappoint.

The shower was fantastique!!

The shower was fantastique!!

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

Sofitel uses Hermes toiletries and although I am not a fan of the conditioner, I love the smell of the shower gel.

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

We had everything we needed in this department, nicely displayed.

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

Yes, under the sink and with plenty of power points which allowed one to use it by the mirror, which doesn’t always happen.

Breakfast

The very nice breakfast room, which doubles up as a restaurant

The very nice breakfast room, which doubles up as a restaurant

One of my favourite parts of staying at a Sofitel is, without a doubt, the breakfast. Why? Because they are very French (mais oui), which is lovely no matter where you are in the world, and being Portuguese, bizarrely, means that our breakfast habits are very similar to the French (and not the Spanish, for example). So I know I will have a great selection of fresh bread, hams and cheeses, pastries (and in a Sofitel, my beloved chausson aux pommes, which I miss on a day-to-day basis), juices and decent coffee.

Obviously there were plenty more options, for every taste, but all I wanted were my chausson aux pommes. And cake.

I am a great fan of Sofitel breakfasts

I am a great fan of Sofitel breakfasts

Bar

The cozy bar area

The cozy bar area

By reception, there is an area which doubles as hotel lobby and a bar, where you can also eat. It is quite cozy and open, and would be fair to say it is for hotel residents only. We did not use it as a bar during our stay, but ended up having lunch before leaving to the airport on our last day. I had a very nice croque monsieur and orangina and liked being able to just sit down and relax a bit.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It wasn’t stellar, I have to say. At times it was so slow, I just used 3G.

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

Not over the weekend, which is when my stay took place, but certainly acknowledged by stay before and after, and its concierge also helped us make some lunch and most importantly, hairdresser appointments.

–          Location

A location that worked for us, very well – maybe 2 blocks from Place Charles de Gaulle, between Avenue Hoche and Avenue de Friedland.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Standard rooms from €290 per night, and junior suites from €490.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Without a doubt.

–          Would I stay again?

Oui oui.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

A night at the Raymond Blanc Festival of Music at the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons

Ahhhh so close to home and so so nice! Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

Ahhhh so close to home and so so nice! Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

Freshly arrived from our epic trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train from Venice to London, it was clear that I needed a little bit more Belmond love in my life. One should always have as much Belmond (the new brand name of Orient Express hotels, trains and cruises) as possible in their lives.

And luckily for me, I have one of the UK’s most special places, the fab Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, the home of chef Raymond Blanc, almost around the corner from me. OK, it is 30 minutes away, but it is a place we have visited quite a few times before for epic meals with friends and family, and we know very well. So it is always a pleasure to go back.

On this occasion, we were invited to Raymond Blanc’s Festival of Music 2014, which consists of three very special evenings where fine wining and dining are paired with music in exceptional surroundings (I really like this place, as you can probably tell). This year’s line up included Russell Watson, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Tasmin Little. I did actually have a choice, but due to other commitments, we could only attend on the Saturday, and we were delighted.

Bonsoir, Bonsoir! We had arrived at the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons

Bonsoir, Bonsoir! We had arrived at the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons

We arrived at around 7pm, just in time for the Laurent Perrier Champagne Reception, which is a staple in all the events organised at the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons. We also enjoyed stunning canapés (which were seriously out of this world) – my favourites were the foie gras and apple (of course), and the mini beef carpaccio bites. Uber simple but oh so good.

It was a black tie event (comme il faut, mais oui), and everyone without exception looked fab. The reception took place at the various sitting areas of the restaurant, which are so homey and comfortable I cannot tell you. Every time we visit this venue, we feel transported to France immediately (ze sexy French accents help too, of course).

Ooops how did that Magnum of Laurent Perrier got into my hands? Ooops, oops!

Ooops how did that Magnum of Laurent Perrier got into my hands? Ooops, oops!

We relaxed and chatted to other fellow diners for around 45 minutes, until we were directed to the chapel, a short walk away from the hotel, so start the second part of the evening.

It has been a while since I had been to a classical music concert, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. I do go to a lot of concerts throughout the year, to be fair, but not classical. Tasmin Little is one of today’s leading international violinists and in 2012 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Birthday Honours list, for services to music.

Stunning setting for this private concert. Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

Stunning setting for this private concert. Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

At 7.30pm we went on a torch lit walk to the very pretty St. Mary’s Church, and enjoyed the performance, also illuminated by candle light, which lasted around 1 hour. Tasmin was accompanied by Martin Roscoe in the piano and played 4 songs, from Kreilser, Beethoven, Arvo Part and Franck.

Tasmin Little performing at St. Mary's Church. Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

Tasmin Little performing at St. Mary’s Church. Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

At around 9.15pm, we made our way back to the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, where a 5-course meal, with wine pairings awaited.

I was delighted to get a table in my favourite dining room.

I was delighted to get a table in my favourite dining room.

We started with a consommé of winter game with wild mushrooms, followed by a salad of Devonshire crab, smoked salmon and caviar. The third course was a ravioli of butternut squash, blue cheese and toasted almonds and the main course (le yum, kill me now!) was pot roasted guinea fowl, with cep, bacon and potato gnocchi. We ended this fab evening with a bang and Raymond’s ‘Millionaire Shortbread’, made with soft toffee with bitter chocolate on crumbly shortbread AND salted butter ice-cream. Heavenly indeed.

The food at Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, was delicious, as always

The food at Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, was delicious, as always

Obviously, being where we were, we indulged in some lovely French wines (the cellar has over 1000 bottles) namely a Blanc de Viognier 2013 by Domaine Grand Veneur (from Vallee du Rhone), a Pinot Noir Veilles Vignes 2011 by Vignoble Guillaume (from Franche-Comte) and ended in style with a 2009 Les Lions de Suduiraut, by Chateau Suduiraut, from the Bordeaux region (which I visited earlier this year and adored!).

We had a fantastic table, with really interesting people, and the conversation flowed easily all night, as did the wine and the laughs. Everyone was truly happy to be enjoying this special evening at such a lovely place, and the atmosphere was fantastic.

A fab evening indeed! Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

A fab evening indeed! Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography for Belmond

Before we knew it, coffee had been served, and everyone’s taxis were waiting. It was a brilliant evening, and needless to say, I shall be back for my Le Manoir fix very soon.

Au revoir!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclosure and Fact Box: I was a guest of the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons on this occasion, and I loved every minute of it. Tickets for the Raymond Blanc Festival of Music include a Laurent-Perrier reception upon arrival, the evening’s concert performance at St. Mary’s Church, followed by a 5-course dinner, with accompanying wines, and cost £395 per person for non-residents, and £370 for residents. 

The Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons organises many special evenings throughout the year, and it is worth checking their website to see the upcoming events (which are good value for money, as drinks are included. I am saying this because as I stated earlier, I have been a few times before).

A lux weekend in Venice, Italy

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I am a great believer that one can never have too much Italy in one’s life. So to end Autumn in style, and to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary, Mr. O and I made our way to lovely Venice. It was a special trip, as from there, we would depart on an epic journey onboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train back to London. Si si!

We landed at Venice’s Marco Polo airport late on a Thursday night, and were met by our Blitz Exclusive driver. As it was at around 10pm, and to ensure we would get to our hotel before the restaurant closed, we had a two-part private transfer, first with a Mercedes and then a speedboat, which took us straight to our hotel, the stunning Gritti Palace. Our boat was absolutely fantastic and the service ran like clockwork.

Dinner with an amazing view!

Dinner with an amazing view!

We got to our hotel just before 11pm, and were starving – the priority wasn’t actually getting to our room, but making sure that we could have a bite to eat. And with minutes to spare, we enjoyed our first meal in Venice with a stunning view. We shared both an insalata caprese and melon with Parma ham and a very nice bottle of Franciacorta sparkling wine. To say we were happy, it would be the understatement of the year.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early – and we were definitely on a mission. Friday was the only full day we had to explore Venice, and we had a packed itinerary, as we had chosen to do a walking tour with Walks of Italy and a Flytographer photo shoot at the same time. The time of the day was perfect, and the sun was shining (which wasn’t to last!)

St. Mark's Square at single digit time... a complete contrast of what we saw before it got dark again.

St. Mark’s Square at single digit time… a complete contrast of what we saw before it got dark again.

From our hotel, located a few minutes from St. Mark’s Square, we made our way to the Rialto Bridge, where our tour was to start (at Campo San Giacomo di Rialto, literally a couple of steps away) – but we also got a chance to see something quite special: not a lot of people at St. Mark’s.

We met Giusy, our lovely guide from Walks of Italy, and Serena, one of the local Flytographers, who was to spend part of the tour time with us and capture some of our best moments.

Who loves food markets? I do! Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

Who loves food markets? I do! Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

As our time in town was limited (and I was also very keen to help the local economy in the afternoon), we chose the ‘Highlights of Venice’ Walking tour, which takes just under 3 hours, and includes a private gondola trip. We started at the Rialto Market, which is one of my favourite memories from a previous visit to the city. My favourite part was, without a doubt, strolling around the fish market and see all the local varieties of fish and seafood. We weren’t hungry at this stage, but it wouldn’t be difficult to pick the ingredients for a fantastic meal. Our guide was a Venetian and offered some very interesting insights about life in the city – which has only 60,000 residents and with 22 million visitors a year.

Walking around markets is definitely one of my favourite ways to explore a city. You get to know a place very well if you understand what people eat and how they buy it. Photos by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

Walking around markets is definitely one of my favourite ways to explore a city. You get to know a place very well if you understand what people eat and how they buy it. Photos by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

From the market, we had some Flytographer moments captured (really lovely ones) and headed towards the Rialto Bridge, which is obviously one of the most recognised sights of Venice – it was busy, but we made it just before the cruises arrived and you could barely walk around town.

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

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

I did find it ironic that being a UNESCO heritage site, that should be preserved for future generations, that Venice allows so many cruise ships to dock in the Canal and have dozens of thousands of people just flood the city. I found it quite uncomfortable and not pleasant at all, and was delighted when Giusy made a turn into an alleyway and within seconds, we were the only ones walking around.

Never a dull moment with Mr. O. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

Never a dull moment with Mr. O. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

Canareggio is one of the loveliest and most authentic neighbourhoods of Venice and we saw not just beautiful sites, but also many locals just going about with day-to-day life – and understand how difficult it is to get things into the city, make building renovations and walk around town with a pram.

One of my favourite Venice moments without the crowds. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

One of my favourite Venice moments without the crowds. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

We saw stunning buildings and the prettiest canals, but what I loved the most was just chatting with our guide. She was funny, understood how much detail we wanted (or not), and just shared with us some of her favourite parts of the city.

Ta da! Not a person in sight! Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

Ta da! Not a person in sight! Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer

We stopped for coffee and bumped into one of Giusy’s many acquaintances, whose restaurant apparently is one of Venice’s best kept secrets. We had no plans for lunch and wanted to go somewhere lovely (and not touristy at all), and asked for a recommendation of a place where she would really go for a meal with friends and family. Good things would be coming our way.

This was our 3rd experience with Walks of Italy and I cannot recommend this company enough. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

This was our 3rd experience with Walks of Italy and I cannot recommend this company enough. Photo by Serena Genovese for Flytographer.

Before we knew it, we had made our way back towards St. Mark’s Square, which was packed – but we needed to get to the our gondola, and there was really no other option. We hugged Giusy goodbye and wished her well with her baby. We really had a great time.

Our gondola trip was pre-organised, which meant no queueing (priceless, in my opinion). For around 30-40 minutes, we just sat and enjoyed the sights – we were incredibly lucky with the weather that morning, and we saw the sun quite a bit.

We had to take a photo, of course!

We had to take a photo, of course!

Obviously the gondola was textbook touristy – we even heard another gondolier sing (for his guests), and I captured it in a short instagram video. Nonetheless, we enjoyed and finished our morning with a sense of accomplishment. We walked a bit, learned a bit and enjoyed each minute immensely.

At this stage, we were starving, so we took Giusy’s recommendation and made our way (with the very appreciated help of Google Maps) to Vini d’Arturo, which was fantastic. With only 10 tables, you absolutely need to book it for dinner. It was very simple but so lovely, you have to see for yourself. We decided to share a pasta dish and a main course as we knew we would never be able to have two courses each and it was of one of best meals I had in a while. Every celeb worth its weight has visited, and the team is flown every year to Los Angeles for a month to cook for every movie star you can think of.

The gorgonzola pasta was to die for and the biggest surprise was the beef with rocket (arugula). Absolutely stunning.

The gorgonzola pasta was to die for and the biggest surprise was the beef with rocket (arugula). Absolutely stunning.

We had to walk off those delicious and well-earned calories, and that meant helping the local economy, of course. In Italy, I always like to checkout Max Mara (which costs 50% less than anywhere else in the world) and other Italian staples, like Bottega Veneta, but I lost my heart (and a bit of cash) at Celine. Mr. O found a Boggi store, which is one of his favourite casual-wear Italian brands, so we were both happy!

We thought we should take it slow, and decided to head back to the hotel for a little nap. We had had a long week and not a lot of sleep, and as we were only staying for 2 nights in town, we wanted to enjoy our fabulous suite at the Gritti Palace. Our room was stunning and I was sorry we were not there for longer.

An impeccable renovation at one of Venice's leading hotels.

An impeccable renovation at one of Venice’s leading hotels.

Also worth mentioning, that the hotel was the best smelling hotel ever. Ever. If you like Acqua di Parma, you are in for a treat. Or many treats, actually. As soon as you walked in, that familiar smell just lingered and it was wonderful.

It wasn't a super-sized bottle of gin I found!!

It wasn’t a super-sized bottle of gin I found!!

Mr. O decided he should check out the spa himself, and booked a massage, whereas I had a hair appointment at a nearby hairdresser, which the hotel had booked for me. I was very jealous of Mr. O (I really wanted to go to the spa), but one needs fabulous hair to go on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, so it was non-negotiable.

I understand Italian reasonably well, but I cannot speak a word, except for a few pleasantries. So to say I was a bit nervous to go to a local salon, it would be an understatement.

My hairdresser Italian was not good, but the surroundings looked pretty. Very pretty.

My hairdresser Italian was not good, but the surroundings looked pretty. Very pretty.

English was not spoken at the hairdressers, but the international language of hair styling (with a lot of hand gestures and smiles) took over, and I did have fabulously bouncy hair. Whilst the salon itself wasn’t very fancy, I was actually very happy with the end result (and good value at €38)- I am pretty sure the hotel would have not organised a place that wasn’t good. So I was a happy bunny, who needed something very important: a Bellini!

It would be rude not to have a Bellini in Venice, and I decided that the best place to have it would be back at the Gritti – I seriously loved the canal-side bar terrace and wanted to make sure we used it as much. Plus, everything was just around the corner, so it made perfect sense. I had been to Harry’s Bar on my previous visit to Venice and have to say, I wasn’t that impressed. I mean the Bellinis were good, but it all felt to touristy and rushed. Getting a seat was a nightmare, and the Bellini was tiny (for a mere €15 back then). The Bellini at the Gritti was around €20, it was lovely, the setting was stunning and service outstanding, so worth every cent.

All was good in the world!

All was good in the world!

We were totally in the mood for cocktails, and had decided that there was a stop that we needed to make – we simply had to go to the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, in Giudeca island and have a couple of liquid specialities before dinner. So we made our way towards the canal side of St. Mark’s Square and boarded the hotel’s private boat shuttle (which is complimentary and operates in a continuous basis). The views we had on our short journey to the hotel were nothing short of extraordinary.

Absolutely stunning views of Venice

Absolutely stunning views of Venice

The calm before the storm....

The calm before the storm….

My friend Lynsey and her fiancé James were in town and were due to meet us at 7pm – but they were late, so we decided to make our way to the Belmond Hotel Cipriani and have to say, arrived just as a huge storm began. It was quite dramatic to see such a sudden weather change – but even more dramatic to think about my friend who was getting drenched just because she was 10 minutes late. But this was her punishment for having a long afternoon nap!

Walter, the head barman at the Cipriani, prepared some wonderful cocktails for us.

Walter, the head barman at the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, prepared some wonderful cocktails for us.

From the his and hers timed cocktail (we did well, I promise), we moved on to the cocktail that Walter Bolzonella created for George Clooney (which as everyone knows by now, had his wedding reception at this very same venue a week after we were there). This second drink was made with Prosecco, passionfruit and elderflower liqueur. When he asked Clooney, who was visiting the hotel, for help naming it, the pair came up with Nina’s Special, in honour of the actor’s mother. I have to admit that I liked this one better, and we all know why.

Cin Cin, Walter!

Cin Cin, Walter!

Happier than we arrived, we left the Belmond Cipriani (with our friends), and joined them for a great dinner at Ristoteca Oniga, which was lovely and one of Lynsey’s favourite places in Venice.

All good things come to an end, and our day was drawing to a close, but we were so excited about the following day, I could not tell you! We woke up the next morning like children on Christmas Day – it was *the* day.

Bye bye Gritti Palace, you were lovely. And smelled even better.

Bye bye Gritti Palace, you were lovely. And smelled even better.

At 9am, were met by our Blitz Exclusive boat driver (who were super punctual on both our journeys), who ‘drove’ us towards Santa Lucia Station, where our incredible return back to London would begin.

Our very stylish private boat limousine transfer, courtesy of Blitz Exclusive

Our very stylish private boat limousine transfer, courtesy of Blitz Exclusive

The transfer took around 30 minutes (it does depend on canal traffic, so check first!) and we took some time to reflect about our short but very sweet stopover in Venice. We saw a fair bit of the city, ate and drank pretty well, shopped a bit and even saw some friends, which made it even more special. We loved our hotel and to be honest, it was the perfect wedding anniversary.

But we knew that even better things awaited, and could not wait to get to the train station.

The journey was about to begin...The journey was about to begin...

The journey was about to begin…

Our journey from Venice to London took 30 hours, which we won’t forget in a hurry (and you can read all about it here).

Ciao!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and fact box: a huge thank you to those who made this trip so special, namely Blitz Exclusive, Walks of Italy, Flytographer and the Belmond Hotel Cipriani, who organised great experiences for us.

Sleep: we stayed at the Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection hotel by Starwood, where rooms start from €350 per night, and suites from €1200. 

See: Walks of Italy organises various tours in Venice (and other Italy locations) starting from €59 per person in a group setting, and €369 for a private tour for two, which we really enjoyed.

Play: a 30-minute photoshoot with Flytographer costs $250

Drink: we had drinks at the Gritti Palace and Belmond Hotel Cipriani where cocktails start from around €20 and come with views.

Eat: we loved Vini d’Arturo (lunch for two, around €80) and Ristoteca Oniga (dinner for two, around €100)

Get around: with Blitz Exclusive, who provides luxury private transportation services. The combined transfer from the airport to our hotel cost €420 including a €80 night surcharge, and our transfer from the hotel to the train station cost €260.

My Flight: JetBlue Mint cabin (new business class service) from LAX to JFK

A review of JetBlue Mint Cabin (Business Class)

Yes, you read it right. USA-based airline JetBlue now has business class. Named Mint (in true JetBlue fashion), it is available on routes between New York’s JFK and Los Angeles and just has been introduced on selected flights between JFK and San Francisco. On a recent trip to California, I had to connect via JFK so I really had to try it. And priced from just $599 each way, I was very intrigued to see how it would compare with other ‘transcontinental’ services which have been recently introduced by other airlines (which can cost 3-4 times more each way).

Here’s how My Flight with JetBlue went.

Pre-flight correspondence and experience

We made our booking online using JetBlue’s website and it was pretty straightforward. We had pre-selected our seats (1A and 1C) and expected a smooth ride. In the months that preceded our trip, we were surprised by a barrage of promotional emails (I had clearly opted-in without realising) which were totally inappropriate to us as a) we do not live in the USA and b) not one single email was about Mint class, so totally irrelevant.

On this trip, I was connecting in NYC and flying with British Airways to London. I was due to land in NYC at 5am and have a whole day in the city and then depart for London at 9.30pm. Since both airlines had recently announced some sort of collaboration, I was hoping I would get some luggage assistance as the flights arrived and departed for different terminals (and we *only* had 5 suitcases) and we really did not need our luggage.

I tweeted both airlines who said that not much could be done, which surprised me, as I was flying Mint and BA First and because they announced a partnership making things easier for passengers of both airlines. I was told by JetBlue’s team that my option would be to leave the bags with them at Terminal 5, which would mean I would have to go to NYC, come back to one terminal, get the luggage and miraculously find a cab which would take me to BA‘s Terminal 8. Getting 5 suitcases on the Air Train would obviously not be an option, so I took the luggage with me to the hotel and then checked in with BA at 10am and spent the day in NYC with no bags. I honestly think there is room for improvement here – seriously what is the point of that announcement? To be fair, JetBlue responded to me on twitter in real-time.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.07.28

Check-in 

We had checked-in online and I was curious about the number of check-bags we would be allowed. We knew we were over (and paying would not be the issue), but were surprised not to find any information. I checked the small print on our ticket and there was no mention, checked the website and ‘nada’, so they I tweeted JetBlue. The response came quickly, as always and we knew we had 2 bags each and would have to pay for 1 extra suitcase. Not an issue at all, but still found it weird… why isn’t it on the website?

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.13.56

At LAX, we found the JetBlue area and saw that there was a separate check-in line for Mint and Mosaic (frequent flyers) passengers, with no queue. There was hardly any queue for coach passengers either. When we checked in, we were told that we had to pay $75 for the extra bag, which we thought it was interesting as the first ‘extra’ bag is priced at $50. If you fly economy, your first bag is free, the second bag is $50 and the third or more bags are $75. As our allowance was 2 bags, one would assume that ‘our first extra bag’ would be charged at $50, but we were told that it counted as a third bag. I did not say a word for the sake of $25, but believe this could be made clearer going forward.

Smooth check-in for all passengers, to be fair.

Smooth check-in for all passengers, to be fair.

Security

As Mint passengers, we were able to use the Fast Track security lanes, which were not particularly busy and we went through under 8 minutes, which is not bad.

 

The Lounge

There was no lounge at LAX, sadly, so we found a bar and had a pre-flight Gin & Tonic. Getting a seat wasn’t easy and it was different from our normal flying experiences, but I understand that there is a lounge in NYC and there could be one on the way to LAX, soon. The terminal isn’t particularly exciting, with limited shopping and dining.

The Flight

I cannot tell you how excited I was about getting on the plane – the website did promise a very special flight experience with lots of curated touches, which I was keen to experience.

The very smart JetBlue mint cabin

The very smart JetBlue mint cabin

–          Welcome

We boarded and were very quickly directed to our seats, which were 1A and 1C. The cabin looked über smart, with great lighting and the crew were very friendly. Throughout the flight, I was surprised to see everyone always being addressed by name, which was a nice touch.

–          Amenities

On our seats, we found a snooze pack, a blanket and a pillow and later on, we got our his and hers Birchboxes. I love the concept (it is a subscription service whereby every month you get a box full of wonderful beauty products at home) and I thought it was a very clever brand association.

The contents and brands change each month on Birchbox which will make for interesting surprises.

The contents and brands change each month on Birchbox which will make for interesting surprises.

–          Drinks service 

Before take off, we were offered a Mint welcome cocktail – which was Minty, of course. How sweet. We were asked if we wanted it with or without vodka, so in the name of research, I said yes. They were yummy.

Mint cocktails for me, please.

Mint cocktails for me, please.

For the meal, we had 2 choices of American red and white wine, very appropriate, and a US-produced sparkling wine. There was also a bar and beer service with plenty of options as well as soft drinks. I tried the Sauvignon Blanc, which was good.

–          In-flight dining

I was looking forward to trying the food, as it isn’t your regular horrible airplane food (or so the marketing materials promised). In a partnership with Saxon & Parole (a very cool NYC restaurant which I had actually been to before), JetBlue hopes to revolutionise the food served on American skies, which can only be a good thing and much-needed.

The menus were also interesting and very well presented, as you can see.

The Mint Menu

The Mint Menu

The tray arrived and I have to say, it looked pretty good. The soup was delicious and the 3 tapas-style courses were not unpleasant to the eye. From the 3 options, I wasn’t so keen on the lentils, but the shrimps were good. The dessert was actually fantastic and the sorbet worked very well up in the air.

The dining experience

The dining experience

I wasn’t so keen on the breakfast sandwich, but I thought the concept was very interesting and JetBlue may be on to something here. It was, without a doubt, better than any other domestic USA flight I had ever taken.      

–          The seat

Best seats in the house - even numbers!

Best seats in the house – even numbers!

The seats and the cabin itself looked extremely smart – they were very comfortable and had lots of very interesting details. Storage was extremely well thought out, with room for a water bottle (which was there from the beginning), an actual place to put your phone so you don’t lose it (very clever), and lots of space overall.

Rows 1, 3, 5 have 2 seats on each aisle, but rows 2, 4, 6 have just the 1… with a door! Obviously I had no idea (but we were 2 people flying), and if you can, absolutely book these seats as you have a little mini suite and are more secluded from the rest of the cabin.

The seats supposedly become flat beds and have a massaging feature, but ours sadly did not work. The crew tried hard to change them, and were able to get them almost flat, or in landing position. It was a real shame as we were keen to test the seats (and sleep properly).

A fellow passenger let us take a photo as ours were never like this

A fellow passenger let us take a photo as ours were never like this

We were promised a $100 voucher per passenger, which never materialised. It would be nice to get them at some point. (Note: within 1 hour of this article being published, JetBlue’s twitter team has gotten in touch and provided me and my husband with the credit towards future travel. Impressive or what?)

There were proper power and USB plugs on each seat, which worked very well.

Lots of clever details and plenty of room

Lots of clever details and plenty of room

–  In-flight entertainment 

I had flown JetBlue once before in my life (a good 15 years ago) and was mesmerised when they had live TV on board. On this flight, they still offered the same, with many channels to choose from, and there were also feature films. I was surprised to find out that the films were not on demand, so they just kept going. This meant we missed quite a bit as obviously we had to interact with the crew during the meal service – don’t get me wrong, I always do this and think it is very rude to not to, but being a brand new plane, I wasn’t sure why this wasn’t featured.

We also had wifi (which is still a novelty for us in Europe) and I used it for 10 minutes just to test it for fun, and worked very well.

The In-Flight Entertainment

The In-Flight Entertainment

The headphones were OK and cancelled some of the noise and the in-flight entertainment was easy to use. The screen was large and worked very well.

Final thoughts

Despite some mishaps, I thought that the flight was very good and JetBlue is certainly innovating and created a very interesting business class product. Service was good, but you could tell it was a new concept and the crew were finding their way around, and doing a good job. At $599 each way, I thought it was extremely well priced and it delivered on the promise (assuming your seats work as advertised). Our bags were the first ones to get out on arrival and we were also ahead of schedule which is always good news.

Would I fly again? I would – even knowing that I would forfeit my beloved OneWorld points. Would I recommend it? Without a doubt.

To find our more about JetBlue’s Mint Cabin, visit its website.

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

Loving Gold in Istanbul, Turkey #lovegold

This post has been brought to you by the World Gold Council

As a good Portuguese wife, my wedding ring is a solid yellow gold band, and my husband’s matches mine. This is not to say that any other choices are wrong (of course they are not), but my choice was conditioned by my cultural heritage and tradition, and one I was always very keen to continue and will do so.

While researching places to visit in preparation for my recent trip to Istanbul, I came across these gorgeous Gold Jewellery Shopping Guides on LoveGold.com and I was really quite intrigued. I was also gutted that my discovery took place the day after I had returned from Los Angeles and New York. Why?

The displays were truly unique...

The displays were truly unique…

Well, because New York and Los Angeles are two of the 9 cities who are part of the LoveGold Shopping Guides. The others are Istanbul (Turkey), Sao Paulo (Brazil), London (UK), Paris (France), Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur (India). My next trip was to Istanbul and Mumbai and Jaipur are also on the horizon – so some stories are just meant to be told.

The concept behind LoveGold’s jewellery guides is simple – there are extraordinary jewellery designers around the world, and many up and coming ones, especially in cities where gold is traded as a commodity and you are never really sure what you are buying. Needless to say, if you want to buy gold in Istanbul’s grand bazaar, you are doing so at own risk.

By using the LoveGold guides, you will not only find unique jewellery designers in the 9 cities, but also buy with confidence. The website is very sexy and makes for an interesting read, I promise!

In Istanbul, Turkey, I chose to visit the Melié by Melike showroom, located in the über trendy Nişantaşı district. I honestly did not know what to expect – I obviously knew that it would be lovely! And oh my God.

Such a pretty space...

Such a pretty space…

To say that the showroom was stunning, would be an understatement – you knew you were walking into someone’s personal space, and someone with impeccable taste. Melike, the designer, was also there and was as lovely and pretty – it kind of all felt like a fairy tale!

The very talented Melie

The very talented Melike

But what I loved? The pieces – very unassuming, discrete, and using real high carat yellow or rose gold and a variety of precious stones.

I wear jewellery quite a bit – but only very small and discrete pieces. A ring, very small earrings and a small pendant. I am not one for bracelets, for example.

So at Melié, I was spoiled for choice. I enjoying looking at pieces which were very different to what I would normally wear (like the rings you can see below), but I was also delighted to find not 1, but 27 things I truly loved.

I loved the rose gold pendant with a black stone (which changed colour according to what I wear), and I had to buy it (i.e. not a gift, it is mine mine mine!).

I actually did want them all!

I actually did want them all!

We were also treated to impeccable Turkish hospitality and I have to say, the Turkish delights and chocolates were outstanding. It was a very personal shopping experience and I truly enjoyed every minute of it.

Best Turkish delights I had on the trip.

Best Turkish delights I had on the trip.

Without the LoveGold Shopping Guides, I would have not actually discovered this great part of town, and certainly not come across Melié by Melike. I know what I bought was of the highest quality, and the design had my name written all over it.

Next time, I shall take my LoveGold adventure around London, which is something I have never done, outside Old Bond Street, where most of my jewellery comes from.

Who's a happy girl? Me!

Who’s a happy girl? Me!

Do you also #LoveGold? What do you think of this concept?

Xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by LoveGold. Needless to say, and as you will know if you read my blog regularly, it reflects my personal opinion about the shop and the designer, whose creations I purchased on the same occasion, and were not a gift.

A journey on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express train

A journey on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train was something I have always wanted to do – it is one of those true luxury travel experiences that are on everyone’s bucket list. After a taster journey on the Belmond British Pullman, the sister train of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, earlier this summer, where we were treated to ‘The Dinner’ with 2-star Michelin celebrity chef Tom Kerridge, we knew good things were coming our way. Very good things indeed.

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

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

On this journey, we were travelling from Venice to London, departing at 11am from Santa Lucia station, and arriving at around 6pm the following day to London’s Victoria station. Seventeen hours of 1920s luxury, impeccable service, incredible scenery (as we travelled through Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France and the United Kingdom) and fine dining. And a glass of champagne or three.

The Check-in procedure at the Belmond Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, in Venice.

The Check-in procedure at the Belmond Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, in Venice.

We made our way to Venice’s main train station and had a little bit of trouble finding where we were supposed to get to – not sure if I was expecting more signage, but in the end, it was a matter of following well-dressed people, as they kind of stood out.

One of the things I loved when I got my travel documentation, was to read carefully about the dress code. It stated: ‘In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, you can never be overdressed on board‘. Needless to say jeans, shorts and trainers are not allowed on board, but in all honesty, there were some people almost breaking the code, and that made me sad. It is a special occasion and Mr. O and I were determined to, well, be ourselves, and dress the part. It is never a chore, believe me.

I must confess to one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. You know that moment. Everyone had that moment. I had it once 14 years ago as I was trying to board a plane – and did not have my passport with me. I saw the passports in the morning before we left our hotel, and I can swear to God that I put them in my handbag. But, when we were asked for them, they were nowhere to be found. BUT, for some bizarre reason, and as the lovely hostess was calling our hotel, and calling a water taxi, I decided to check our suitcases and found them inside my bag. I was blushing and Mr. O was very silent. No words were needed. You would think I had done this before.

Our boarding passes - no iPhone apps needed, thank you very much.

Our boarding passes – no iPhone apps needed, thank you very much.

At this stage, you let go of your luggage and you can check-in items that you will only see when you arrive at your destination (in this case, Paris or London), and you are allowed a carry-on bag (and a garment bag) per passenger which will be delivered to your cabin. The idea is that you have as little with you as you can, as you can imagine, space is limited.

Mr. O and I, together with other passengers, were then escorted to what we thought was the lounge, similar to the one we had visited at Victoria Station – but there is not a dedicated lounge at Venice, and instead, all VSOE passengers use a very nice coffee shop, where a spacious area has been pre-booked and you can have tea, coffee and biscuits.

And all of a sudden, it was 10.30am and the train was arriving at the platform. I have to say, this was and will always be one of the most treasured travel memories of my life. Everyone, without exception was so excited to be about to embark on such an experience, everyone looked like children at a candy store. And that was lovely – no one was ‘too cool’, every person (we had 120+ passengers on board on this date) looked truly happy.

Oh yes, it was about to become very real.

Oh yes, it was about to become very real.

The train was a beauty – and I have to say, the staff had the best uniforms ever. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train was quite long, but the walk was one to be enjoyed slowly, but surely. There were no queues, no rushing, and a lot of photographs being taken. And so many smiles, it was infectious.

Almost ready to board... but not quite!

Almost ready to board… but not quite!

And, I am not quite sure how to put this, the recruitment process at the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express follows very strict procedures, which surely you will understand if you look at every photograph.

The lovely gentlemen who looked after us very well during our meals onboard the VSOE.

The lovely gentlemen who looked after us very well during our meals onboard the VSOE.

We made our way towards our carriage (J) which was almost at the end of the train – for reference, the passenger sleeper carriages are at each end of the train, and the restaurants, piano bar, service and kitchen carriages are in the middle. Walking from one end of the train can take a good 15 minutes, and that depends on good you are walking in motion.

When we got to our carriage, we were met by Vincent, who was our Cabin Steward. A true Frenchman, with a great sense of humour, we knew we had nothing to worry about from the moment we first met.

There are 3 types of cabins on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train – single cabins, double cabins, and suite cabins. 90% of the cabins are double cabins and on each carriage you will find a single cabin and a suite cabin, which is basically two interconnecting rooms.

Our first view of the train - and where you can clearly see the cabins.

Our first view of the train – and where you can clearly see the cabins.

As luck would have it, we were actually assigned a suite cabin, which meant we had twice the space. There is no first class or second class on this train – everyone has paid exactly the same and has the same level of service. The double cabins sleep up to 4 passengers, are increasingly being used by families (with very well-behaved children, I have been told).

The lovely cabin

The lovely cabin

We were escorted to our cabin, where we found our luggage stowed away, and the first thing we did was just unpack our garment carriers so that our evening attire would be in tip-top shape for the festivities to come. All of a sudden, we felt the train move and we were on our way to Verona. Everything was simple and so different from an airplane.

We found a chilled bottle of champagne and nuts waiting for us, and we couldn’t resist it – it would be rude to. So champagne glass in hand, it has time to explore the our cabin.

The washing facilities on each cabin.

The washing facilities on each cabin.

In each cabin, you will find a basin and a vanity unit (with very interesting storage). I knew that there would be no showers, but I also knew it was kind of half the fun. I obviously took baby wipes, but I was very keen to see what was offered in terms of washing products – and possibly, the best wash bag in the world. Ever.

There were also branded tissues, many many bottles of Acqua Panna around the cabin (replaced throughout the journey), and wonderful Fragonard goodies. But the ‘dry-shower’ Temple Spa range was truly unique (and very effective, for the record). I tried pretty much every product and they were very good.

The prettiest vanity case ever.... ever...

The prettiest vanity case ever…. ever…

There are no loos in each cabin – but there are two per carriage. They were always impeccable and I never had to queue, so no issues there either.

The loos (which were always impeccable)

The loos (which were always impeccable)

At first, Vincent came to say hello to us, but also to explain how everything worked – we also handed over our passports, which were kept throughout the journey as we were obviously crossing various borders, including non-Schengen countries. We were also visited by the Maitre d’Hotel who came to explain how each meal worked and we were given the option between two seatings for lunch and dinner.

As it was 11.30am, we weren’t quite ready for the 12pm seating, so we chose the 2pm seating, which gave us time to just sit down and enjoy the ride. There was no rush.

Under an hour after Venice, we made a stop in Verona. Throughout the journey there are quite a few technical stops – very handy for smokers, as you cannot obviously smoke on the train – which allowed everyone to stretch their legs every now and then. Some stops were too short, but others were 20-30 minutes and it was good to be ‘in Innsbruck for 2o minutes’, for example.

On this photo, you can see 'the second' cabin and how they were joined together.

On this photo, you can see ‘the second’ cabin and how they were joined together.

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch – and we were starving! With the train fare, ‘Table d’Hote’ meals are included. This means that there is a set menu for each meal, and if you want to order off-menu, you pay extra, as you do for any drinks. Needless to say, that the team will be extra careful with any allergies or dietary restrictions, but you need to do this at the time of booking.

We were starving! But not for long!

We were starving! But not for long! I had crazy hair during my journey because of the serious downpour in Venice. But it was still acceptable, but the curls went a bit funny.

For lunch, we had duck foie gras which was wonderful. Those babies did not die in vain, is all I can say. This beauty was followed by pan-fried John Dory with butter beans and the best most exquisite mashed potatoes: it was made of white potatoes and violet. To finish, we had pineapple roasted in brown sugar and ‘its sorbet’, with yummy salted caramel mousse. Obviously, this is not the time to diet or even think about it. As we were always moving, the calories were almost negative. Trust me.

Lunch was very good indeed.

Lunch was very good indeed.

You are assigned a table and dining car, and during the journey, you will get to try a few of them – only the decor differs (and its distance from the bar), but gives you a little change of scenery.

Before retiring to our cabin, we actually walked around the train just to see everything in day light, before we headed back. We politely declined afternoon tea at around 5pm as we seriously could not eat, and I am not ashamed to say we managed a little nap in between writing postcards for our friends and family and also readers who had requested a postcard. Each cabin comes with 4 (and it is a free, but not express service, but then again, who cares if a letter takes a week or two?), and I had so many requests coming through Twitter, that I asked for quite a few more, and just wrote away.

How cool were the postcards?

How cool were the postcards?

We woke up when the train stopped – which I found quite interesting. I was a bit worried if I would sleep ok, but I assure you – no issues there. The motion worked wonders and the ‘problem’ was when the train stopped.

This time around, we were in Innsbruck for a longer stop as we had to change engines. What? Well, it was actually quite interesting. The train (and there is only one Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train, for the record, which goes on different journeys each time around Europe), is pulled by an engine, and each time you cross a border into a new country, you need to get a new one. The process was quite quick, but it was something I had never thought about, so it was interesting to see.

A bit of clicking and unblocking and voila!

A bit of clicking and unblocking and voila!

At this time, it was almost 6pm and perfect to see some of the scenery – I loved glancing out of the window and seeing how dramatically different the scenery was. And stunning.

Somewhere in Austria, I think!

Somewhere in Austria, I think!

Somewhere in Switzerland... potentially...

Somewhere in Switzerland… potentially…

We were visited again in our cabin to select our dining time (obviously it had to be the 9pm sitting) and it was time to get ready, as cocktails in the bar awaited. That meant a DJ (tuxedo) for Mr. O and a long evening dress for yours truly.

I had heard many many stories about the legendary bar cart and seriously could not wait. It was also where the whole train come together and you could see a many passengers at the same time in the same place.

The bar was cozy and very lively!

The bar was cozy and very lively!

We had a pre-dinner Gin & Tonic (very good to see different varieties, with Monkey 47 and Fever Tree being our clear favourite) and also canapés. Regarding the passengers, I often wondered if the average age was over 70, but I have to say – it was not. More than half the guests were in their 40s and 50s, with many 30-somethings like me, and obviously people who have enjoyed longer lives and it was a fantastic mix. Everyone was keen to chat and we did get to hear some fantastic stories.

Dinner was superb. All meals we had were true fine dining and I don’t know to this date how they prepare such dishes on a moving train. Walking around in heels wasn’t easy, taking photos was challenging, and I will always be in awe of the skill demonstrated by the team. No one ever spilled anything (I did, worry not).

Absolutely ready for Meal #2.

Absolutely ready for Meal #2.

For dinner, we started with a crab claw and avocado tartare, followed by veal, white truffle puree and sautéed potatoes. We spent a very significant part of the meal perusing and experiencing the cheese selection and I don’t know how, but we even got to try the lovely (and light) lemon cake and vanilla panna cotta. We paired this with a nice bottle of Barolo.

Beautiful dishes and do not get me started on the bread.

Beautiful dishes and do not get me started on the bread.

For the record, no espresso coffee is served on board, apparently due to the pressure necessary, which the train engine cannot take somehow – our lovely waiter even said ‘imagine how hard it is for me, I am Italian’. Too true.

After dinner, we needed a walk, which was perfectly timed with a longer train stop, and obviously went back to the bar. For a drink, or three.

A great night in, so to speak!

A great night in, so to speak!

I really want to say that I went to bed at 3am, like many many others did (the bar closes when the last passenger goes to bed), but by 1am we were so sleepy, I cannot tell you. Something to do with the motion. So we went back to our cabin, to find it had been transformed into a bedroom. There were lovely details like mints and I loved the blankets.

Our cabin made into a bed.

Our cabin made into a bedroom.

We could have chosen to sleep on the same side of the cabin, whereby the back of the seat would have come up and made up a bunk bed, which is the normal sleeping arrangement, but on this occasion, and because I had the choice, we chose to sleep on each cabin (at a lower level).

And if some of you may think, ‘oh, that is small/weird’, my answer will be, ‘this is 20 times better than any airplane flat bed in the world, and costs the same as a one-way business class ticket from London to New York, or half a first class seat’. And it lasts 17 hours.

We slept like babies, babies, babies, and woke up when the train stopped in Paris, where half the passengers were to leave the train. I actually had planned to sleep until 8am, so I stayed in bed until after we left Paris. It was ‘weird’ to open the curtains and see a normal train station with people everywhere, so I decided not to.

As we got up, we let Vincent know that we were ‘ready for breakfast’ and that meant that we went to use the facilities (a dry shower, quite interesting) and get dressed and when we got back, the cabin was pristine again and a delicious continental breakfast had been served. I loved not having to get up and just enjoy a quiet breakfast (I do not talk a lot in the mornings, ask anyone who knows me) and enjoy the last bit of French scenery.

Simple is best - and nothing beats a French continental breakfast, in my opinion.

Simple is best – and nothing beats a French continental breakfast, in my opinion.

I thought the choice of products and brands on the train was very interesting – the staff was mostly French and Italian (and so is most of the route), but there were a lot of interesting choices, clearly appealing to the various European nationalities. I am sure that Italians would find scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for brunch weird, but there were other carefully selected options, like proper tea! I loved the variety and just thought it was a very nice touch.

We were on the second seating for brunch, and I was actually very sad. I knew that shortly after that meal, we would be arriving in Calais and switch trains. More on that later. But before, it was time for one last meal. One last very good meal. Brunch!

Le brunch was fantastique...

Le brunch was fantastique…

For brunch, we started with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, followed by broiled lobster. It ended with nougat ice cream and we decided that champagne was the only drink that would do this meal justice. We were not wrong.

But I was so so so so sad, I cannot tell you. An hour later, we were to arrive to Calais. In the meantime, our luggage was taken from our cabin (it would make a separate journey from ours to London Victoria), our passports were returned to us and the end was very near.

Time to say goodbye to Vincent and the VSOE

Time to say goodbye to Vincent and the VSOE

As we approached Calais, the skies opened and we got soaked, as we made our way to the 3 buses which were waiting for us. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train does not cross the channel into the UK, but worry not, there was something to this journey.

Au revoir...

Au revoir…

As we all got on the bus, we made our way to the Channel Tunnel, were we were to cross the channel by getting onto a train. I had done this twice before and it is fantastic as it takes only 30 minutes or so. But before, we all had to clear UK immigration before we left France, which meant we had to get out of the train, go through passport control and then back on the bus. Which, by the way, had the best driver in the world as I can assure you he got the bus inside the train in 3 movements or three. Very impressive.

I kid you not, we got into this train.

I kid you not, we got into this train.

As we arrived into the UK, we were dropped off at Folkestone West, where the lovely lovely lovely sister of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express was waiting for us – the Belmond British Pullman would be our fab ride into London (you can read about my previous experience here).

We waited in a little lounge while the train arrived, and we had the loveliest welcome by a local band. You can see the video right here.

It was almost time...

It was almost time…

Our journey to London took under two hours and it went so quickly, I cannot tell you. We were welcomed with a glass of sparkling rose (British, of course!!) and treated to our final Belmond meal – a very tasty afternoon tea, which is one of my favourite meals.

What a journey!

What a journey!

And before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye. I loved our 17 hours on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and its sister train the Belmond British Pullman. I had an idea (or many ideas) on how this trip would go, and how wonderful it would be, but I have to be honest, it was even more than I ever expected. The train was incredible, the staff were out of this world (and so personable), the food was outstanding and the memories will be with us forever.

If you would like to see a promotional video which was actually shot on the journey I was in, just sit back and enjoy.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and fact box: I was a guest of Belmond, which is the new brand name of Orient Express Hotels, Cruises & Trains, on this journey from Venice to London, which lasts 36 hours and costs £1,990 per person, including set meals and excluding all drinks. To find out more about the various journeys planned for 2015 and beyond on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, and to book your next journey visit this website.

My hOtel: The Arch, London

myhotel

The Arch London hotel, in London (!!!), is the perfect example that great things can come in small packages. A boutique hotel located behind the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, just around the corner from Marylebone – in other words, perfect for my London life. I love Marylebone and have to say, this hotel, who is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, really surprised me.

The Arch, London (photo courtesy of hotel)

The Arch London (photo courtesy of hotel)

Pre-Arrival

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

My stay was organised months in advance via email, and everything was pretty clear. There was no direct contact with the hotel as such.

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

I did sent a tweet out before I arrived at the hotel, and I got a response.

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

I made no special requests, as per usual.

Arrival

The modern reception area

The modern reception area

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

As I walked in, I was immediately escorted by the doorman, who walked me to the reception area. I was seriously impressed with the decor and look and feel of the place. And to think I know the area so well and never heard of this hidden gem.

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

I love sit down check-ins and this was very good. Very efficient and the service was fantastic.

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

Absolutely.

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

I wasn’t sure what room I was going to get, so I was delighted to be told I was going to stay at the Abbey Suite.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

I thought the staff were absolutely fantastic – and honestly it was at par with the best hotels I ever stayed at. And when I met Michael, the fantastic GM and learned he came from the Four Seasons, everything made perfect sense.

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

I was escorted by the gentleman who checked me in, and taken to my room, which was, unusually, in the lower ground floor. I thought it could be interesting – but I wasn’t disappointed! It meant we had a private patio, which is lovely, especially in London.

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

Wifi was complementary throughout the hotel.

Room Experience

Our stunning room (photo courtesy of the hotel)

Our stunning room (photo courtesy of the hotel)

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was stunning. Stunning. Stunning. It was very spacious and very well designed. The whole hotel was incredibly tasteful and felt very inviting and warm. Besides a very large room with a small outdoor area, we also had a mini kitchen and a fab bathroom.

–          Welcome amenity

I had three lovely macarons and a note from the GM.

My welcome amenity

My welcome amenity

–          The bed

Was amazing and very comfortable. So comfortable, that on the last night we decided to go back to the room early after dinner and watch TV in bed, which we never do. At the end of the bed, there was a pop up TV!

–          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.

Impeccable and plenty of storage space for me and Mr. O.

I loved loved loved our Abbey suite

I loved loved loved our Abbey suite

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There was a dock for an iPhone 4, which we did not use.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Of course and for once I used the bathrobe. It was lovely and soft.

–          Coffee and Tea

Our mini kitchen came with a nespresso and a great collection of glasses.

–          Free bottled water

Not your average minibar, and included in all room rates (soft drinks only)

Not your average minibar, and included in all room rates (soft drinks only)

Yes of course, but even better, the all soft-drinks at the very well stocked mini bar were free of charge.

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

It was actually quite nice!

The magazine selection

The magazine selection

–          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.

I had plenty of sockets on my side of the bed, but none on Mr. O’s side – but he was closer to the desk and had plenty of outlets there. Worth noting that there were also European and US adapters.

Bathroom

I love a sexy bathroom!

I love a sexy bathroom!

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was huge and fantastic.

–          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?

All top-notch! We had a bath tub (with built-in TV, which we did not use) and a fantastic shower room. I was also able to figure the shower on my own, which doesn’t always happen.

Can you see the TV?

Can you see the TV?

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

Very soft and large.

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

The toiletries were from Malin+Goetz, a brand you do not see very often! Originally from NYC, the products are lovely and I may have taken an extra set home. Or not.

Fantastic toiletries...

Fantastic toiletries…

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

We had everything we needed.

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

I did not use it, but it seemed proper.

Restaurant

Hunter 486

Hunter 486

The restaurant has a restaurant and bar called Hunter486. It looked lovely and we enjoyed using it for breakfast, dinner and as a bar. It may seem weird, but it actually wasn’t – it has separate areas and they feel very different. On one of the nights, it was very busy, the other wasn’t so much. We had a great dinner (very English – Dover sole and steak!), but the highlight was the seasonal dessert: ice cream cocktails! OMG, they were so good, it was almost unbelievable!

The best dessert - EVER!The best dessert - EVER!

The best dessert – EVER!

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It worked well around the hotel, but not brilliant in the bedroom. I let the hotel know and they promised to look into it.

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

I did get a response back from my original tweet.

The digital ‘Maid Service’ and ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs - were a great idea, but I found that the DND turned itself off if you left the room.

The digital ‘Maid Service’ and ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs – were a great idea, but I found that the DND turned itself off if you left the room. No other way to take the photo, sorry you can see me!

–          Location

For me? Brilliant. I love Marylebone and believe it is a perfect base for London, whether you are visiting for leisure or business.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Standard rooms start from £205 per night, and suites from £1,005

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely.

–          Would I stay again?

Without a doubt.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of The Arch 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.

A lux weekend around Napa Valley, California

After a 8-year hiatus, we made it back to one of California’s best known winemaking regions, where we enjoyed a fantastic weekend in Napa Valley. We weren’t quite sure if we would actually get there, as on the day before we were due to arrive, following our stay in San Francisco, there was an earthquake in the area, which caused some damage.

We were due to stay at the Westin Napa, but sadly, and as we found out earlier that morning, it was to be closed for a whole week, following burst pipes. That happened to many other hotels – and not to mention the fact that due to the time of the year, the region was booked 100%. So after a few unsuccessful calls, we struck gold: the last room available at the Sheraton Petaluma (a good 20-25 miles from Napa), but at this stage, beggars could not be choosers. It would be that, or nothing and thanks to our Starwood status, we even got upgraded to a suite. Small mercies.

Not the greatest fan of the 'world famous' expression... but... it was lovely!

Not the greatest fan of the ‘world famous’ expression… but… it was lovely!

We arrived and weren’t quite sure how to feel. Everyone was acting pretty normal and trying to get back to business. You have to admire the resilience of Americans. Just get up and go. And on they went. And so did we.

We actually had no plans that evening as the restaurant we had booked wasn’t open and as we were staying closer to Sonoma than Napa, we decided to head to this postcard pretty town, and find someplace to eat.

Sonoma is a very quiet place, but very pretty.

Sonoma is a very quiet place, but very pretty.

It was funny how after all these years, we remembered where everywhere was, and where we had gone for drinks and dinner all those years ago. We then decided that we would go back to La Salette restaurant, which we loved last time we were in town. And it did not disappoint. Everything was just as we remembered, and the menu, which was (wait for this) modern Portuguese (ha ha), was fantastic. I am not one to go to Portuguese restaurants when I am abroad, namely because there aren’t many, but have to recommend this place.

A taste of Portugal in California

A taste of Portugal in California

A meal for two was around $150 with fantastic Portuguese wine (Esporao reserva, of course). The tapas were yummy, as I had possibly the best gazpacho ever… which came with dungeness crab on top.

On the next day, we were due to go on the Napa Valley Wine Train (who coincidentally were the reason why we were in this part of California. Following my trip on the Belmond British Pullman earlier that summer, the team did not give up until I found some dates to visit this part of the world. You see, wine and trains go very well together, I promise). But because of the earthquake, the train was not running the following day, but was that a problem? Absolutely not. Their team rescheduled us for the day after (and we were happy to delay our departure from Napa), and in hours, organised 3 wine tasting sessions for us. And not just your average tasting sessions – we were to go to 2 of our favourite wineries and… wait for this… the US home of Taittinger champagne (obviously not called as not produced in La France).

We kept seeing these around and have to confess, were very curious!!

We kept seeing these around and have to confess, were very curious!!

So at 10.30am (a tad early for us Europeans to start tasting wine, but apparently very normal locally, where people must be up at 5am!), we made our way to Domaine Carneros, the US home of Taittinger (which as you may gather, is one of my favourite champagnes), who have been in the area since 1987. Sadly, this meant I had been missing out for almost all of my adult life. I came across Domaine Carneros when I visited Newport, in Rhode Island the year before, but not seen it ever since. That shall never happen again, I promise.

A chateau in California...

A chateau in California…

I thought the chateau was a bit chateauey for California, but it was quite nice. We were one of the first guests doing a tasting, and judging by the number of tables available, it would be fair to say it gets busy. But we were lucky! We chose the $30 sparkling wine sampler, and tried the estate cuvee, blanc de noir, brut rose and the demi-sec. It was actually quite interesting as they were completely different to the Taittinger versions that we are used to. Obviously the terroir, weather and everything else plays a part. We quite liked the Estate Cuvee ($30) and then asked to try the Ultra Brut ($35), which we thought was fantastic. But our favourite, by a mile, was the $100 Reve, which was sublime. We brought home a combination of these 3, and I am delighted to report that all bottles not consumed within the USA made it safely to Maison O’Reilly.

Who's a happy girl??

Who’s a happy girl??

From Domaine Carneros, we made our way to Grgich Hills, which is not pronounced in any way that one would think. I would say it sounds like ‘guerguish’. We know their Zinfandel quite well and have been trying their wines for the last 5 years every time we visit the USA. I am a great believer in wine miles and I always drink local wine whenever possible. In California, in 2014 (not 10 years ago, in my opinion), one is spoiled for choice.

It will be a good vintage, I promise...

It will be a good vintage, I promise…

We had a private tour of the winery, which was very nice (and being a family owned business, you can tell the difference) and a $40 tasting session. If you visit in pairs, I would highly recommend splitting a tasting between two. The pourings are generous and it is a lot of wine to go through in an hour. We had tried the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc before, but really liked the Fume Blanc (which was a made up name by Mr. Grgich and Robert Mondavi, to come up with something to ‘rival’ France’s Pouilly Fume). Our favourite though, was the Yountville Selection 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. We also managed to buy 6 bottles, but sadly lost 2 on the flight back home.

At this stage, we were quite hungry and had had enough crackers, so it was time for lunch. We were recommended a restaurant called Mustard’s Grill, just a couple of miles away, and I have to say, it was good. Very good. Mr. O went for the Mongolian pork chop and I went for the slow smoked BBQ pork sandwich. Believe it or not, we passed on the wine. And dessert.

A great lunch choice!

A great lunch choice!

From here, we had our final wine visit, and one I had been looking forward to for years: I love Cakebread and its wines, and have been a devoted customer for the past 5 years, when my friend Amanda introduced us to it. We always make sure we bring some home, but when we are in the US, we always have it. I love their Sauvignon Blanc and it was the first American winemaker to make me drink Chardonnay.

I loved the winery and how everything was set up. We actually had a group tasting and mini tour as it was the only possibility with the change of plans (we were originally due to visit the following day and oh boy, they know of my love for them and were expecting Mrs. O). We had a ball and tried a little bit too much wine. It was fantastic and I now like Chardonnay a bit more – especially their Reserve limited edition one. We bought one of these special bottles and it was also broken on a plane. (I have to say in over 15 years travelling long haul, I never had a wine accident. This summer we had one bottle break on the way from Portugal, and 3 on the way from the US. Out of dozens (I will not admit to the exact number), it was not bad. But we missed out on that wine, which was a shame. But that only means one thing… I shall be going back for more.

I love love love Cakebread.

I love love love Cakebread.

After this visit, it was time to take a break from wine and meet lovely people! We first made our way to The Carneros Inn (where I am definitely staying next time) to meet Ana, who is a fellow Portuguese and a wine maker. We have been following each other on Instagram for almost two years and it was great!

We loved the bar area, called Farm.

We loved the bar area, called Farm.

We then made our way towards Napa, to meet Natalie (who is a loyal blog reader and with whom I chat a lot on Twitter) at Morimoto. It looked fantastic (and very trendy) and we almost stayed for dinner, but we honestly did not fancy sushi on that night.

I knew exactly what I wanted – I wanted cheese and charcuterie. And a glass of Zinfandel. And following Nat’s suggestion, we headed to The Thomas at Faggiani’s (which are like two restaurants in one). We loved the look and feel of the place, and were seriously impressed with what we ate. Mrs. O approved indeed.

All made locally... the charcuterie was also interesting.

All made locally… the charcuterie was also interesting.

After a lovely relaxed evening, we drove back to our hotel, which was 30 mins away and slept for 10 hours. We needed it!

The next morning, bright and early, we checked out and made our wine back to Napa for the last time. We easily found the starting point of The Wine Train – and I have to confess, I did not know what to expect. To be perfectly honest, the boarding area wasn’t the most inspiring – it was tired and does need a refurb. But once we saw the train, we had no worries at all.

When you go on the Wine Train, you basically pick from the various experiences – lunch, dinner, full day, etc. We were due to go on the Ambassador Winery Tour but as we changed the dates and could not go on the train for the whole day, we did the Lunch experience, on the Vista Dome cart.

Back on a train. And also very good wine and food.

Back on a train. And also very good wine and food.

Priced at $149+tax, I thought it was outstanding value for money. There are other less expensive options, but the difference in the experience is considerable (but the price difference is not). We had a lovely 3-course meal, with a welcome grass of Mumm (American sparkling) included. We then chose to pair each course with an appropriate wine, suggested by the team, and had an outstanding meal. Our train journey took 3 hours, and thanks to it I even got on USA TV that day. If you want to watch the 30′ clip, just click here.

On this journey, there are no real stops – you go from Napa to St. Helena and come back, but there are plenty of other options, with vineyard visits included, so worth having a look.

In my element!! I loved the Wine Train.

In my element!! I loved the Wine Train.

And before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to Napa and continue our California road trip . I really enjoyed my time there – it was better than I ever remembered. I loved the two days we spent there and everyone we met. And everything we ate. And all we drank.

Until the next time!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Napa Valley Wine Train, who also kindly organised the wine tasting sessions at Domaine Carneros, Grgich Hills and Cakebread Cellars. Opinions, as always, are my own. And I loved every minute of it.

Top 5 Autumn beauty essentials for 2014

Summer has come and gone, sadly, but there is something comforting about colder evenings and shorter days. I know it is wishful thinking, but it is what it is. But there will be jam, and more tea, and scones. And a slightly different beauty routine. Here are my Top 5 Autumn beauty essentials for 2014.

 Always smell lovely

I love love love this perfume.

I am making summer last as long as possible, as I am obsessed with Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino Eau de Parfum. It made me change perfume, which says a lot! From John Lewis, £142 (50ml)

For your pretty face

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I have been using Liz Earle’s products for a couple of years now and from the whole range, this is my favourite. It is very much a all-in-one product and also great value. You can now buy, for a limited amount of time, the  Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser Starter Kit (with the cloth included) for a discounted price. From John Lewis from £14.75 (100ml)

For your body

I love ESPA products and was introduced to its home range when I stayed at the Corinthia Hotel in London. I visited their spa and left with a very impressive selection, which I bought from their shop, as it was wonderful. The ESPA Zesty Lemon, Ylang Ylang & Crushed Tonka Beans Body Wash is fantastic and my favourite. From John Lewis from £16 (250ml)

For your uber healthy hair

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I must admit that the fact that Jennifer Aniston is one of the backers of this brand did make me try it, but I was not disappointed. I stocked up on Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo when I was in the USA, but delighted now that I can also buy it in Europe. From John Lewis from £9 (60ml)

For a good night’s sleep

support-breathe-essence

I am a huge fan of Aromatherapy associates and this is a new discovery for me. I have been using the  Support Breathe Essence both at home and when I travel, which is quite often, and I have to say, things are better. I love the smell, it is very calming, and I do feel that I sleep better. Coincidence? May be not! From Aromatherapy Associates , from £18 (10ml)

What products can’t you live without? Tell me more!

xo

Mrs. O