A luxury holiday in Funchal, Madeira (Portugal)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

Incredible views of the city and some surprises!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

The perfect Gin & Tonic with a view.

The perfect Gin & Tonic with a view.

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are indeed.

xo

Mrs. O

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lux weekend in Mumbai, India

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

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

The screens (and a peek at the cabin)

Jet Airways’ Premiere cabin

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our stunning suite at the Oberoi Mumbai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oberoi Mumbai - details from our room and the hotel

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not your usual dry cleaners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 + 1 things to pack on your next trip

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

1. FitBit Charge

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

2. Mophie power station for iPhone/Ipad

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

3. Multi-USB charger

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

4. Belkin Mix It Colour range cables

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

5. Bose Quiet Confort 25 Noise Cancelling headphones

Flying will never be the same again

Flying will never be the same again

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

And a bonus: Auritech Earplugs

auritech-sleep

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

A lux weekend in Prague

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

We loved Prague. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer

We loved Prague. Photo by Eliska Fischerova for Flytographer

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

xo

Mrs. O

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. O’s 2015 birthday giveaway. Or your own #paradisefound moment

Well well well, another year has gone by – and what a year it has been! As you may know (or not), my birthday is on April 14th and I am a great believer in celebrating what I call ‘birthday month’. Because a day is not enough, obviously. So to celebrate it in style, I have partnered with Sovereign, one of the most respected UK luxury travel companies for this luxury travel giveaway.

With more than 40 years experience in providing luxury holidays they pride themselves in offering exceptional value with superior treatment on every holiday.

What’s more, they are obsessed with one thing: finding your own Paradise. According to the Oxford Dictionary it’s the ‘ultimate abode’ – the most lovely, perfect place that you can imagine. At Sovereign, they are experts at finding that place for thousands of people every year.

And guess what, 5 lucky winners will be finding their own paradise very soon, as I have 5 extraordinary Sovereign hotel stays to gift to 5 readers.

What are the prizes, I hear you say? Well… read on!

5 nights at the Belmond Reid’s Palace, Madeira, Portugal

sovereign belmond reids palace madeira
Perched on cliff-tops overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Belmond Reid’s Palace in Funchal, Madeira has been the ultimate place to stretch out in the sun and relax for over a century. Located in subtropical gardens, this legendary luxury hotel boasts three swimming pools, an extraordinary oceanfront spa and two fantastic restaurants, all within walking distance of Funchal’s shops, restaurants and nightlife. When not enjoying the fabulous facilities, guests can wander down to the sea-level platform and jump straight into the ocean.

Belmond Reid’s Palace is offering the opportunity to win a five night stay for two people with daily breakfast. Bookings are on request and subject to availability and black-out dates (28th December 2015 to 5th January 2016 and 21st March to 3rd April 2016). Terms and conditions apply.

5 nights at Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas in Crete, Greece

Sovereign Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas
Daios Cove is a new five-star destination where luxury and exclusivity meet. Set across a hillside in its own secluded bay the resort is set on the northern coast of the beautiful island of Crete. Here guests will discover dazzling views; stunning contemporary architecture; fine-dining restaurants; a superior spa; an infinity pool; and, of course, the resort’s own private beach. Daios Cove is an unforgettable and welcoming location.

Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas is offering the opportunity to win a five nights stay in a Deluxe Double Sea View Room with breakfast and dinner (on a Half Board basis) for two valid for the periods of 17/04 – 27/04/2015, 12/05 – 21/05/2015, 01/06 – 09/06/2015, 01/09 – 15/09/2015 and 31/10/15. Reservation is on request, and confirmation is subject to availability. Terms and conditions apply.

5 nights at the Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort, Lanzarote, Canary Islands (Spain)

Sovereign Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort
The fabulous five-star Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort is situated in Playa Blanca, a pretty and tranquil spot on the Canary Island of Lanzarote. The resort is privately owned and exceptionally well cared for with perfectly manicured gardens and stunning sea views looking on to Fuerteventura and Isla de Lobos. The luxurious suites, impeccable service, Kikoland kids club, Thalasso-therapy spa and gourmet dining options make the Princesa Yaiza the ideal getaway for young, old, honeymooners and families alike.

The Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort is offering the opportunity to win a prize of a five night stay on a B&B basis in a Double room for two people. Reservations are on request and subject to availability and black-out dates. Terms and conditions apply.

5 nights at The Skiathos Princess Hotel, Skiathos, Greece

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Overlooking a sandy beach on the glistening island of Skiathos, Greece, Skiathos Princess Hotel represents a unique element of bohemian luxury, reflected in elegant accommodation, healthy Mediterranean cuisine and extensive wellness activities such as Herb Hikes, Spa Rituals and YOGAqua – yoga performed on a stand up paddle board which is available at the property all season long. The property is also home to an extensive organic tea menu, luxurious Juliette Armand, SAMPAR and Moroccanoil spa products as well as an innovative Brunch on the Beach concept. Guests can relax in the minimal yet elegant atmosphere of the Muse Pool Bar with a contemporary a la carte or set brunch menu, combining traditional brunch with innovative, fine and fresh ingredients. Guests can also enhance their stay with Greece’s first Yoga Festival, ‘YOGAfest, a YOGqua Retreat’, led by YOGAqua’s creator, trainer to the stars and ambassador of yoga inspired athletic apparel company Lululemon, Sarah Tiefenthaler. The 2015 Yoga Retreat will run from 1st – 8th May 2015, winners can also take advantage of this unforgettable experience next year too!

The Skiathos Princess Hotel is offering the opportunity to win 5 nights in a Deluxe Room for two people at Skiathos Princess Hotel on a B&B basis. Valid for one year from 14th April 2015. Bookings are on request and subject to availability and with a black-out period from 4th-25th August 2015. Terms and conditions apply.

3 nights at the Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa, Mallorca, Spain

sovereign jumeirah port soller mallorca
Located on the picturesque, unspoilt and rugged north-west coast of Mallorca, the Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa brings a new and unrivalled luxury to this beautiful Balearic island. It goes without saying that from its clifftop location there are spectacular sea views; you might be surprised though by the magnificent mountain vistas that this corner of the island affords. Be sure to venture out and explore pretty Port Soller with its soft sand beaches and typical local bars, shops and restaurants. The resort itself may prove hard to leave, however, with its huge signature spa, several bars, restaurants and pools and relaxation areas.

Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa are offering the opportunity to win three nights for two people on a B&B basis plus one complimentary dinner. The prize is valid for a year from 24/04/15. Bookings are on request and subject to availability and black-out dates (including August 2015 and Easter 2016). N.B The hotel is closed for the season between 8 Nov 2015 – 18 March 2016. Terms and conditions apply.

Like what you see? Excellent! THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. Winners will be announced by 5pm on April 27th 2015  GMT+1 (UK TIME) via email and social media. Open to all countries. No purchase necessary. As stated on each prize, flights are not included.

To enter:

1) Answer these question by commenting on this post below: Where did you go and thought you actually found paradise? And which prize would you like to win?

2) Share this post via your preferred social media platform using the sharing buttons on the left or below.

3) Subscribe to the blog via email, by entering your email address on the top right of this page (if you received this post by email, you are good to go). You will also be subscribed to Sovereign’s email newsletter. You are free to unsubscribe with one click at any time once the competition ends.

I would to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continuous support over the last year. This is my way of saying thank you, once again.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: this giveaway is sponsored by Sovereign but as you can possibly imagine, it is *really* my birthday. 

Top 5 Destinations for Spring 2015

OMG, it seems that Christmas was only last week, but Spring is upon us. Time to put away the winter clothes and scarves and get ready for some lovely sunshine in the Northern Hemisphere. Where to go this time of the year? Here are my Top 5 destinations for Spring 2015.

Madeira, Portugal

The Belmond Reid's Palace in Funchal, Madeira

The Belmond Reid’s Palace in Funchal, Madeira

Madeira is a an island (which is part of Portugal) I have visited many many times during my teenage years and a place I loved. I think it had been over 15 years since I paid a visit to this part of the world, and I was dying to go back. I went for Easter, and stayed at the lovely Belmond Reid’s Palace. I travelled with Sovereign and was really looking forward to introducing Mr. O to this part of the world and my life. I cannot tell you how much I was looking forward to the food. (Editor: you can now read about my experience in Madeira).

Hamburg, Germany

Mrs. O is going to Deutschland, ja!

Mrs. O is going to Deutschland, ja!

I am going to Hamburg to attend a conference, but have decided to extend my stay a bit and explore Hamburg – it looks amazing and so much fun! It is also the home of Montblanc (one of my favourite brands) – did you know they were German? I only found out recently. It will be my first time, but Mr. O has been going very frequently on business trips and thinks I will be very pleasantly surprised. I will be staying at the Hotel Atlantic Kempinski and enjoy some truly wonderful hospitality. I cannot wait.

Halkidiki, Greece

Greece is calling my name!

Greece is calling my name!

I have never been to Mainland Greece. Ever. To be honest, I have been to Greece twice (Crete, to be more precise) and stayed in the same place – the lovely Blue Palace, which brings me some very good memories – and place I will be returning to at the end of Summer. I am delighted to be exploring the Halkidiki region and staying at the brand new Ikos Olivia, part of the Sovereign collection. The hotel looks amazing and is incredible value for money, so I must confess I am very curious.

Finca Cortesin, near Estepona, Spain

One of my favourite places in the world...

One of my favourite places in the world…

Or perfection, as I like to call it. I am going back (again and again and again) to Finca Cortesin, which may be my favourite hotel in the world. For the third time and many more to come. Looking forward to some sun, gambas and of course, epic gin & tonics.

Maldives

The Maldives make me very happy indeed!

The Maldives make me very happy indeed!

One of my favourite places in the world, without a doubt! I will be returning to the Maldives for 8 days at the end of April with Sovereign.

What do you think about my Top 5 destinations for Spring? And more importantly, where are you headed to?

xo

Mrs. O

Spotting the Big 5 on Safari

On my recent trip to South Africa, I spent 3 days at the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, located within the Kruger Park. It was my first safari experience organised by Hands Up Holidays – and I have to say, I loved it. During our stay, we went on 4 game drives (2 in the evening and 2 in the very early morning) and we were incredibly lucky to spot the ‘Big 5’.

The ‘Big 5’ is a term coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. They include the African lion, the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the African leopard, and the White/Black rhinoceros.

My sister Renata was with me on this trip and helped me test the Leica D-Lux.

African Lion

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

African Elephant

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Cape Buffalo

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

African Leopard

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Black Rhinos

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

Photo taken with Leica D-Lux camera

I am testing various Leica cameras over the year, with a view of understanding if a ‘pretend iPhone photographer’ can have a chance at taking decent photographs. I have received no training other than a quick introduction and my purpose is to see if I can use the camera or not! The Leica D-Lux model was very light and easy to carry around (it did fit in a LV clutch), and once we finally figured it out, it was easy to transfer the images to my phone via the built-in WiFi capability. I still need to understand more how the focus and the exposure works as it wasn’t as intuitive, but there is hope.

This is just a little taste of what our safari experience was like. I shall be writing a full review of our trip very soon.

xo

Mrs. O

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

My Flight: Jet Airways Premiere (Business Class) London to Mumbai

A review of Jet Airways Premiere Business Class

A review of Jet Airways Premiere Business Class

On my recent trip to India, I tried Jet Airways’ Premiere cabin (business class) on a flight from London Heathrow Terminal 4 to Mumbai.  Our flight departed at 10.30am local time and was scheduled to land at 00.30am the following day at Mumbai, totalling 8h55 and allowing for the 5.30h time difference.

Here is how my trip went:

Check-in 

We quickly identified the correct check in area and proceeded to the Business/First Class desks, which had 2 passengers being helped as we got there. In a matter of minutes, we were able to check-in for our flight. We were met by a Jet Airways representative who kindly welcomed us and offered to escort us to the gate, which we declined. When I asked where the lounge was, I was surprised to be told that Mr. O and I would have no lounge access. To say I was shocked, would be an understatement.

Security

We breezed through security as we were able to use the Fast Track lane and were done in less than 5 minutes.

 

The Lounge

Well, no lounge...

Well, no lounge…

Well, I could not tell you. Having lounge access is one of the reasons I am loyal to a particular airline – and it is an important part of my travel experience. Jet Airways invited me and my husband to experience their business class (and surely have read my flight reviews prior to that) and I was really disappointed. The airline uses the Sky Team lounge at T4 (not the best place in the world from previous experiences), but I can tell you that Pret a Manger did a very good bacon and egg baguette and a cappuccino.

The Flight

Business class passengers were invited to board the plane first and we actually were the first ones to do so.

The Jet Airways Premiere Cabin

The Jet Airways Premiere Cabin

–          Welcome

The crew were very polite and greeted us (and every other passenger), and I have to say that throughout the whole flight, the service was very good. The cabin service director greeted every passenger on the cabin and at the end, the stewardess looking after us also did come and say goodbye to every passenger and thanked them for flying with Jet Airways. I thought it was quite a nice touch.

–          Amenities

Seat details

Seat details

On this flight, as it was a day flight, there were no wash bags given to business class passengers, which I thought was very strange. I think it was the first time this ever happened – why would you not give them on every flight? Our seat area was spacious and it was easy to find space for personal belongings. There was also a USA socket and a USB plug – but the latter did not work. Nonetheless, the crew promptly offered to charge both our phones, so it wasn’t an issue. The seats had a massage setting, which I thought was interesting, but did not use for long.

We were also offered newspapers and magazines.

–          Drinks service 

Before take off, we were offered juice or water. After taking off, the were offered pre-lunch drinks – on offer was champagne (Bollinger special cuvee), 2 types of white wine (Gavi la Battistina from Italy and d’Arenberg Olive Grove Chardonnay from Australia), 2 types of red wine (Rive Barbera from Italy and Rolf Binder Halliwell Shiraz from Australia). We also had a choice from 3 cocktails (gimlet, screwdriver and Bloody Mary), Campari, Johnny Walker Black Label, Chivas Regal Premium, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Absolute Vodka, Bacardi Carta Blanca Rum and 2 types of beer (Stella Artois and Tiger).

Bollinger champagne and nuts

Bollinger champagne and nuts

Obviously I choose to have a glass of champagne, and a refill was also offered.

–          In-flight dining

In terms of starter, there was an option between a soup and a salad, and a chose the latter, which was a Golden and Red Beetroot with blue cheese salad. I am not the biggest beetroot fan, but Mr. O had the same and said it was good. For our main, we both chose ‘Sarsonwala Jhinga’, which was shrimps cooked in gravy and flavoured with mustard and dill. This was served with ‘Aloo Palak’ (potatoes cooked with spinach), ‘Sal Lehsuni’ (lentils tempered with garlic) and basmati rice. The main course was outstanding and the crew were very good explaining to us (and other passengers) what went with what and how to eat it.

Our lunch onboard Jet Airways' Premiere cabin

Our lunch onboard Jet Airways’ Premiere cabin

We declined dessert (as were too full) and were served a light refreshment before landing in Mumbai, which doubled up as dinner. We had a very nice crab dim sum and chicken spring rolls.

I also got to indulge in some Masala Chai, which was delicious.

–  In-flight entertainment 

The screens (and a peek at the cabin)

The screens (and a peek at the cabin)

The screens were large (I did not count the inches) and there was a good selection of both Hollywood and Bollywood programming. I have to say I only watched Bollywood films and loved the choices. I picked them randomly based on the plots and did not regret one moment. The IFE system was easy to use and worked well.

–          The seat

Very comfortable seat.

Very comfortable seat.

Our seat was very comfortable and spacious, but I have to say it was different to have a forward-facing herringbone seat layout, which meant there was not a lot of privacy and two people travelling together cannot seat together. The layout is 1 – 2 – 1, where the 2 in the middle are back to back, so Mr. O and I sat more or less side to side, with the aisle in between – which was not a problem for us.

It had a fully flat bed and plenty of space for personal belongings. I also liked the ‘leather padded’ seat belts, which made them more comfortable when sleeping.

The cabin smelled very nice and the loos were very spacious and always impeccable. Korres toiletries were available.

On arrival, we had special assistance and were escorted at the terminal, fast tracked immigration and had our bags collected for us.

Final thoughts

I thought the service was very good, the cabin was very smart and the food/drink also on par with other airlines. I’m sorry we did not have access to the lounge, and even sorrier that the same happened on our return flight (we were given access not to the official lounge, which was so so bad, we left). After insisting, we ‘were let’ into the normal lounge, which was one of the best I have seen recently, and was very sorry not to have enjoyed it for more than 10 minutes. Jet Airways must not think it is part of the experience, but I dare to disagree.

All in all, it was a good experience, and based on the cost, it is very good value for money. Worth noting that Jet Airways is an Etihad Partner Airline.

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: Mr. O and I were guests of Jet Airways on this trip. Opinions are, as always, my own. A return from London Heathrow to Mumbai with Jet Airways costs from £1,734.76 per person travelling in Premiere (Business Class).

Top 5 Spring Beauty Essentials – 2015 Edition

It is Spring again and I am delighted to share with you my Top 5 Spring 2015 Beauty Essentials – following the success of this series launched last year (you can see my suggestions for Summer, Autumn and Winter 2014), not only with my female readers (apparently many of my male readers surprised the ladies in their lives a little bit)!

What have I been using lately? Sticking to my old favourites, but adding some new!

Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream

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The Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream was discovered on BA’s inflight magazine and I have to say, it is outstanding. I thought the packing was a tiny bit dodgy, but if it made it to their selection, there had to be something special about it. It is great for feet, hands, lips, face and elbows – and it is not liquid, and perfect to travel with. When my friend Kim (a New York-based make up artist) gave her blessing (‘I use it for years and for everything’), I knew I was on to something. Cost: £21.70 from Amazon (Prime delivery included)

Percy & Reed Invisible Dry Shampoo

71445fqyqaL._SL1500_I have been using Percy & Reed’s hair care range for a good 3 years now and I love their Dry shampoo and conditioner products. For those of you who have used dry shampoo before, there is always a bit of residue, which does not happen with Percy & Reed Radiance Revealing Invisible Dry Shampoo. I love it! Cost: £12.00 from Amazon (Prime delivery included)

RITUALS Happy Buddha Shower Foam

71lLvvtm5uL._SL1500_I usually stock up on RITUALS’ products when I go to Portugal and Spain, and the foaming shower gel is really one of our favourites – I love the texture and the smell. I have recently purchased (and loved) the RITUALS Happy Buddha Shower Foam, which is finally available with one click. Cost: £8.50 from Amazon (Prime delivery included)

Eyeko Me and My Shadow

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Love smokey eyes? And the easiest way to make the magic happen? Alexa Chung’s eye range for Eyeko was also a recent discovery (again, same inflight magazine, for real!) and I was impressed with how easy it was to use. The Eyeko Me and My Shadow comes in 3 shadows and works a treat. Cost: £15.00 from Amazon (Prime delivery included)

Miller Harris Citron Perfume

711y7Bcd9oL._SL1500_I have never gone wrong with Miller Harris and if you like citrusy smells, you will love the Miller Harris Citron Citron Eau de Parfum. This range has other fragrances, which are pretty good (I also loved the Pamplemousse scent). Cost: £64.00 for 50ml  from Amazon (Prime delivery included).

Which products are you using right now and love? Let me know!

xo

Mrs. O

A lux weekend in Northern Ireland

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When I mentioned that I was going to Northern Ireland for a weekend, many friends and readers were really surprised. But it was one of the places I always wanted to go – it is shameful how little time I spend travelling around the UK, so I was keen to make it happen. Plus Mr. O does a fab Northern Irish accent and I wanted more. A lot more.

Thursday

On a beautiful Thursday morning, we left London Heathrow, and under an hour later, we landed at Belfast City Airport. Everything was going particularly well, until we realised that the car that had hired for us was not waiting for us at the airport – because it had been booked for the city centre. A couple of phone calls and Enterprise sent a driver to pick us up in under 15 minutes. You all know my track record with car rentals, so I thought I was due another repeat of a poor experience – and I have to say, I was not. We had the loveliest welcome and when we saw the car (which didn’t love as way too small), were surprised with ‘oh we can just upgrade it for £7/day’. Really? I was worried how getting back to the airport would be, and was assured that there would be a driver waiting for us and we wouldn’t have to wait.

Within minutes, we got to the city centre, which was alive and kicking. It was nearing lunchtime and we were starving and made our way towards the City Hall, where we parked at the NCP Car Park – I know you are thinking ‘Why the hell does that matter?’. Because it does, a lot. We got to the barrier and the car park was full, which meant we had to wait for another car to come out. A lovely car park attendant came towards our car to confirm this and as another car approached the barrier to leave, he asked us to wait. What did he do? We asked the other driver in which floor he had parked, so it would be easier for us to find the space. I think I was in shock for about 30 seconds and couldn’t thank him enough. Oh, the people of Northern Ireland. 2 points.

First impressions of Belfast. Good thing I had brought an appetite.

First impressions of Belfast. Good thing I had brought an appetite.

For lunch, we went to Mourne Seafood (which has 2 locations in NI and one in Dublin) – there wasn’t a person I did not speak to prior to the trip that had not recommended it. And obviously, it was fantastic. Really really good – you know I am a simple girl, give me the freshest fish and seafood and a glass of Pouilly Fume and you pretty much have me. Halfway through lunch, Mr. O made an announcement: he had a really bad toothache. Oh no. My first point of call was Google, which delivered a few results and after a few calls, we could not get an appointment for any money or love. I then called Pandora Skies, one of the people I was looking forward to meeting the most on my trip to Belfast (as we have been chatting for years now on Twitter) for help. Within minutes, she called back saying her dentist was fully booked but she would keep calling. The restaurant manager overheard us and came back with a few more numbers and suggestions. After a few calls, his dentist would see us two hours later. People of Northern Ireland, 3 points.

As we had a bit of time to kill, we walked around the city centre and had a look at the Christmas Market (not really my thing, to be honest) and then hit the jackpot and discovered Victoria Square, a new shopping centre which would keep me entertained for hours. We had time to go to the top floor and see some good views of the city, before the dentist appointment.

It turned out that Mr. O had an abscess, which had to be ‘popped’ and antibiotics needed to be taken. No worries, we thought. When we were paying for the appointment, expecting a 3-figure bill, not starting with a 1, we almost died when we were asked for £10 for the appointment. I know it took 2 minutes to check him out, but we did not see this coming. We went to get the prescription which cost us £5 and recommended a Hot Toddy for good measure. People of Northern Ireland, 4 points.

Our hotel, the Culloden Estate in Holywood (outside of Belfast)

Our hotel, the Culloden Estate in Holywood (outside of Belfast)

With the whole dentist episode, we were quite late getting to the hotel, with whom I was in touch via Twitter. We were welcomed with open arms by the Adrian McNally, the GM of the Culloden Estate, who assured he had the cure for Mr. O – a Hot Toddy would be sent shortly to our room, alongside a glass of bubbles for me. How sweet was that? People of Northern Ireland, 5 points.

The Culloden Estate, located in Holywood, outside Belfast is the grand dame of Northern Irish hospitality and our home for 2 nights. We had a very comfortable stay, although parts of the hotel felt dated, but there is a renovation going on at the moment and half of the rooms have been done. We had the Bishop Suite, which boasts probably one of the best views across the Bay.

Our suite which will be renovated soon - the bathroom was tired, but the ESPA toiletries were lovely. The beds were very comfortable!!

Our suite which will be renovated soon – the bathroom was tired, but the ESPA toiletries were lovely. The beds were very comfortable!!

We had dinner at the hotel, which has one of the Belfast’s top restaurants and we had an outstanding evening. The food, all locally sourced (and a big deal for Hastings Hotels, which we noticed throughout our stay in Northern Ireland), was exceptional. We had foie gras, a fillet of beef and ended (not sure how) with an Irish cheese board.

During dinner, we had the pleasure of meeting Peter McAllister, the hotel’s F&B Manager who introduced us to the delights of neat Redbreast whiskey (who is a brave girl? Exactly!) and really made our evening. We chatted actually for a few hours (I did have some questions) and then I asked a question which changed the course of our very well planned trip forever.

‘Name 3 well-known Northern Irish brands’, I asked. I also decided to ask Discover Northern Ireland and my Twitter followers (many of which are proud Northern Irish and I never knew). Well… it started with Tayto Crisps, obviously Bushmills whiskey, there was a tea brand I can’t recall, and mention of something truly special: Shortcross Gin, Northern Ireland’s first craft gin brand. I had to change my plans for the next day. People of Northern Ireland, 7 points (one is for Peter alone).

Friday

Not your usual room service breakfast! Thank you, Peter!

Not your usual room service breakfast! Thank you, Peter! PS. The whiskey was from the night before, obviously.

We ordered breakfast in bed as sadly, the weather wasn’t fab the next morning. Which kind of killed our plans to go on a scenic drive towards the South of Belfast. So we had a very lazy morning and managed to convince the Lady and Lord of Gin (seriously, best twitter names ever) from Shortcross Gin to welcome me to their estate later in the day.

But before that, it was time for lunch, and taking live advice from many many lovely people from twitter, we headed to Mourne Seafood‘s other location in Dundrum, because I really wanted some more of that chowder.

Our fab hotel (admittedly the following day) and a lovely lunch indeed.

Our fab hotel (admittedly the following day) and a lovely lunch indeed.

One thing that did not work well in Northern Ireland, was Vodafone. I was relying on Google Maps to get around and getting 3G signal was seriously difficult – Mr. O uses EE and he was fine, which is not the norm. And that made us get seriously lost and delayed on our way to the Rademon Estate, home of Shortcross Gin. But eventually, we made it, and were not disappointed.

I loved meeting David and Fiona, who are fellow gin lovers and created something very special – I had never seen a distillery before, let alone such a boutique one, but I loved their story – you have to respect someone who loves gin so much to go around the world for 2 years learning how to make it. And then deliver an exceptional product. People of Northern Ireland, 9 points.

A very important lesson in Gin making. And tasting, obviously.

A very important lesson in Gin making. And tasting, obviously.

We left our new friends and made our way towards Newcastle – which I couldn’t tell you what it looked like as the rain persisted and it got dark so early (we had changed from BST just a couple of weeks before which takes some getting used to, plus being further North than where we live in the UK). We had an appointment and at Soak Seaweed Baths, which I must confess, was not for me. It was a very interesting set up and Mr. O did enjoy his, but I couldn’t stay in the bathtub for 40 minutes, I just couldn’t.

We then lost track of time, and had to drive back to our hotel and change for dinner, which took place at Meat Locker by Michael Deane, a very well-known local restaurateur. It was great to finally meet Pandora Skies and we had a great night in town, which involved a few more after dinner drinks as well. When in Rome, you know… People of Northern Ireland, 10 points.

A night out in Belfast with dinner at the Meat Locker, followed by drinks at The Crown and Muriel's bar where we tried Shortcross Gin with orange ice cubes. Delicious.

A night out in Belfast with dinner at the Meat Locker, followed by drinks at The Crown and Muriel’s bar where we tried Shortcross Gin with orange ice cubes. Delicious.

Saturday

We made it to breakfast this time and were actually quite sad to say goodbye to the Culloden Estate. But there was more Hastings hospitality to look forward to and, guess what, the sun was actually shining. Our goal on this day was to drive north and take the Causeway Coastal Route, which stretches for 120 miles from Belfast Lough to Lough Foyle.

A beautiful drive on a stunning day.

A beautiful drive on a stunning day.

Unmissable attractions on this route included Carrickfergus Castle (pictured above), the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, and the world-famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site. The goal was to see them all. But it did not turn out that way. First, we just wanted to be by the sea and took every little road we could find – any brown sign that said ‘Scenic Drive’ was our goal and we totally lost track of time.

The colours of Northern Ireland

The colours of Northern Ireland

The twitter community was wide awake on Saturday morning and insisted we took another detour for lunch – instead of going to Bushmills for lunch, we should head to Portstewart’s Strand Beach and its latest addition – Harry’s Shack. When we finally got 3G coverage again, we realised we were almost 2 hours away and needed to move on. So we drove and drove and drove and finally made it to the restaurant at around 2pm. And to say we were starving would be an understatement.

Lunch at Harry's Shack in Portstewart and the fab Strand Beach

Lunch at Harry’s Shack in Portstewart and the fab Strand Beach

We had nothing to worry about and had not only a lovely table waiting for us, Harry welcoming us with open arms and a delightful fish meal. We also managed to walk around the beach for a bit – there were a few others wandering about and we just wanted to stay. And not go anywhere else.

Strand Beach (part of National Trust)

Strand Beach (part of National Trust)

If you look at the photos you will see something really bad happening – the sun was setting. We were not used to Winter time yet and really were caught by surprise. So we left and made our way towards Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, a few miles away, only to find it closed. We also tried to get to the Giant’s Causeway, but it was too dark, so we did not see anything. To soften our blow it was clear what we needed: some whiskey.

We drove back to Bushmills and managed to miss the last guided tour of the Old Bushmills Distillery. Seriously. So we settled for a (shared) whiskey tasting, which was nice.

Whiskey, anyone?

Whiskey, anyone?

As it was dark by then, we decided to drive to our hotel which was over an hour away, further South, in Ballygally. On the way there, we passed dozens of villages called Bally this and Bally that. We liked the sound of Bally Money and Mina and the rest. It was cute indeed.

Our hotel for the night, was the Ballygally Castle, located in, well.. guess.. what… Ballygally. A sister hotel of the Culloden Estate, it has been recently renovated and it is a ‘grand’ 4-star hotel. Grand was one of my favourite words from this trip.

The Ballygally Castle Hotel

The Ballygally Castle Hotel

Our room was nice and very comfortable and we were surprised how lively the hotel was – there was a wedding taking place but the restaurant was fully booked as well. I indulged a lot, and obviously had plenty of ‘champ’, which is a Northern Ireland speciality – mash potations with spring onions which were delicious. We spent the evening at the bar (and with the help of GM Norman McBride), we even managed to watch some Irish dancing at the wedding. We had a lovely evening and plenty of Redbreast, to continue with our whiskey evening traditions. We slept like babies, of course.

Sunday

On Sunday, we woke up to this view (albeit disturbed by the car park of the hotel) – and after a hearty breakfast, we started our drive back to Belfast (not taking the scenic route). It was our last day and we had a packed diary.

Good morning, from Ballygally Bay

Good morning, from Ballygally Bay

When we got to Belfast, our first stop was the epic Titanic Belfast (which we were due to visit on Thursday afternoon, but had our dental emergency). I was told that it was really worth a visit, and I have to say, it was EXCELLENT. The Titanic was actually built in Belfast (I had no idea), and the ‘museum’ was incredibly well curated, very modern and the building itself was nothing short of spectacular.

A perfect day in Belfast

A perfect day in Belfast

Our next stop was St. George’s Market, which was very lively indeed. I love visiting a market when I am somewhere, and it was good to see lots of little boutique brands and great food. By this time, lunch was *really* what we could think about, so we headed to Bert’s Jazz Bar at the Merchant Hotel for a lovely brunch.

Our last activity, suggested (and organised) by Peter McAllister at Culloden Estate was to do a Taxi Driver tour of Belfast. I have to confess I was quite intrigued – basically, you get a black cab for an hour (or 90 mins or whatever you want) and the taxi driver shows you his favourite places, the historic places and you can either ask for a Protestant or a Catholic driver, or just be surprised, which is what we chose. Our driver, Ian, was excellent and it was very interesting to hear a bit more about the events that happened and changed Northern Ireland forever.

Our taxi tour of Belfast was a great way to end our long weekend in Northern Ireland

Our taxi tour of Belfast was a great way to end our long weekend in Northern Ireland

And after that, we dropped off our car, had a well timed transfer to the airport and got back home in under an hour. We were on such a high after the weekend we had in Northern Ireland, I cannot tell you. We were stunned by the natural beauty of this part of the world, surprised by the food (and drink, and drink) and above all, the people, who were simply incredible and made our stay truly unique. Or ‘grand’ as they say in ‘NornIron’. 100 points.

We shall be back.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: A huge thank you to Tourism Ireland and Discover Northern Ireland who went out of their way to organise a truly fantastic weekend. Special points to the Twitter team behind @DiscoverNI on twitter, who were on duty for the whole weekend, day and night, and contributed to the complete change of our itinerary. Their sense of humour was fantastic and made the trip extra fun. 

I was a guest of Ballygally Castle (coastal deluxe rooms from £100) and Culloden Estate (standard rooms from £150, suites from £380).