Top 5 Beauty Essentials – Autumn 2015 Edition

A new season, means a refresh of my beauty routine (which I must admit, is quite limited). Following the success of the Top 5 Beauty Essentials series (thank you so much for your feedback on the Spring and Summer editions), I am delighted to share with you my Top 5 Beauty Essentials – Autumn 2015 Edition.

Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot Body Wash (500ml)

molton brown orange and bergamot body wash

I have been loyal to Molton Brown for decades, namely its body and hand wash ranges. My favourite smell has always been ‘Naran Ji’, which has had a rebrand and it is now called ‘Orange & Bergamot’. You can buy this 500ml (twice the normal size) for a limited time at John Lewis for £22.

Aromatherapy Associates Revitalising Hydrating Face Oil (15ml)

aromatherapy associates box hydrating revitalising face oil

I was looking for something quite powerful (in terms of moisturising abilities) and as effortless as possible, and recently purchased this face oil – and hit the jackpot. I put it on at night before and smells divine. And a little goes a long way. You can buy it at John Lewis for £45.

Bumble and Bumble Don’t Blow It Hair Styler (150ml)

bumble and bumble air dry dont blow it hair styler

I had been looking for something like this for years now – namely on ‘beach holidays’ and when you (or I) don’t really want to waste time blow drying my hair every day after the beach/pool. I am a great fan of bumble and bumble and this product does exactly what it promises. It isn’t easy to find it in the UK (at the time of writing) but I managed to track some via Amazon for £28.95. I bought mine in the US for $35, so there isn’t much of a difference.

Babyliss Big Hair Duo

babyliss new big hair duoI have been faithful to my GHD hair straighteners for a good 3 or 4 years now, but saw this recently and was quite intrigued. There are 3 versions of this product – the BaByliss Big Hair 50mm 2885U Styler (£44.99) and a similar but with smaller brush with 39mm (£29.99), but I bought a pack which included both, and I could only find it online at Amazon for £65, which is an excellent deal. My first impression was that I made a big mistake, but after going on YouTube and watching some videos, I must say I am very excited about my purchase. Getting my hair done (with a bit of body) is now possible in under 10 minutes.

Tumi washbag

tumi wash bag toiletry bag

I had been trying to replace a set of 2 Tumi wash and make up bags for a single item and have recently purchased a black version of this washbag earlier this Summer. I like it so much, I have been telling all my friends about it, and between 5 of us, we now have one in each colour, I kid you not. I like the 3 different compartments and the fact that I can have everything that I need for a week in a single bag. I was getting annoyed with having to carry at least 2 separate items on each trip, but no more! I bought mine at a Tumi store in the USA, but found it online on Amazon for £74, which is almost half of what I paid for mine. It is available in various colours.

If you try any of the products mentioned above, do let me know your thoughts. But more importantly, what are you planning to buy this Autumn? Let me know!

xo

Mrs. O

A beginners guide to Madeira Wine

On a recent trip to Madeira (my first in over 15 years), I obviously got to taste a fair bit of Madeira Wine – it would be rude not to. But the truth is, I don’t know much about it – so I asked Chris Blandy, who I also met during my trip to explain a little bit more about its history and how we can enjoy it year round. Cheers! Mrs. O

What is Madeira Wine?

By Chris Blandy

Madeira is a fortified wine produced and bottled the Island of Madeira, in Portugal. Its origins came about during the era of discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries when the sailing ships passed by the island to pick up fresh water, supplies and ballast, in the form of wine in barrels. Legend has it that on one particular round trip to India, the barrels of wine were returned to the producer on the island who discovered that the wine had improved considerably due to the heating of the wine as the ships crossed the equator.

Madeira Wine Guide Quinta do Furão

Madeira’s dramatic scenery – Quinta do Furao

For centuries afterwards, shippers continued to send casks of their wines on long voyages, for no other reason than to develop greater character. Today, this ageing is replicated via the Estufagem and Canteiro methods in the wine lodges on the island. Fortification of the wine with brandy was introduced in the mid-18th century and today, the process continues with natural grape spirit.

Madeira wine is typically a mono-varietal wine, with each white varietal representing one of the four styles of Madeira. Dry, medium-dry, medium-rich and rich. The red Tinta Negra varietal is diverse enough to be able to represent any one of the four styles of Madeira.

What are the different styles of Madeira Wine?

Each white varietal represents a style.

SERCIAL

This varietal originates from the region of Bucelas, near Lisboa, where it was traditionally grown under the name Esgana Cão (Dog Strangler), having been introduced in Madeira, where it was given the name Sercial. The varietal produces big bunches of medium sized, thin skinned berries. The varietal has a late ripening and is resistant to oidium and mildium. Sercial produces wines that rarely achieve more than 11% alcohol before fortification. The wines are dry, remarkably fresh and present intense and vibrant aromas.

Madeira Wine Guide Blandy Serial 5 years with almonds

A 5-year Sercial with a side of almonds.

VERDELHO

Verdelho is widely cultivated in Madeira since the seventeenth century and was probably brought from northern continental Portugal during the early days of settlement on the island. This variety requires deep soils with some degree of moisture. Verdelho has low yields per hectare and early ripening.
The varietal offers compact and small bunches with a few berries. Before the arrival of phylloxera in Madeira in 1872, Verdelho represented approximately two-thirds of the vineyards of Madeira. Today is the white variety with the largest area (47 hectares) in Madeira, especially on the north coast, in vineyards located in Ponta Delgada, and São Vicente. The must has moderate sugar levels and a marked acidity. Verdelho is always vinified to produce medium-dry fortified wines.

Madeira Wine Guide Blandy Verdelho 10 years paired with cheese

A 10-year old Verdelho pairs wonderfully with cheese.

TERRANTEZ

Terrantez is an old variety that used to be widespread on the Portuguese island of Madeira, as evidenced by the 19th and 20th century bottles still sold at auction today. The varietal has very low yields, even zero in some years, and a late ripening. Although it is resistant to diseases in general, the compact bunches and extremely thin-skinned berries make it prone to botrytis bunch rot and berry splitting. As a result of its outstanding character once aged, Terrantez has recently been replanted on Madeira.

BUAL

Cultivated mainly in the southern coast of the island, between the municipalities of Ribeira Brava and Calheta, Bual is quite vigorous, generally easy to grow, only moderately susceptible to downy mildew and botrytis bunch rot, more so to powdery mildew, and has a late budding, allowing it not be so exposed to the risk of spring frosts. This varietal tends to mature early. This variety produces wines with distinct notes of spice, dried fruit and in Madeira is vinified in Medium Sweet style.

MALVASIA (MALMSEY)

Malvasia was introduced to Madeira in the 15th century and is cultivated mainly in the parish of São Jorge in the district of Santana on the north coast of the island and in Funchal area in the south coast. The planted area is now stable at around 39 ha (96 acres) and produces the sweetest of the island’s fortified wines. One of the most emblematic grapes to produce Madeira Wine usually has early budding and late ripening.

In July 2002, Blandy’s MWC again launched a completely new style of Madeira with a radical presentation, "Blandy's Alvada". The wine is different to anything that has been produced before as it combines 2 noble grape varieties, Malmsey and Bual to arrive at a superbly balanced wine that combines the rich flavours of the Malmsey with the more complex and drier structure of the Bual.

Innovation: “Blandy’s Alvada”

In July 2002, Blandy’s MWC again launched a completely new style of Madeira with a radical presentation, “Blandy’s Alvada”. The wine is different to anything that has been produced before as it combines 2 noble grape varieties, Malmsey and Bual to arrive at a superbly balanced wine that combines the rich flavours of the Malmsey with the more complex and drier structure of the Bual.

TINTA NEGRA

The only red grape variety. Versatile and productive, it accounts for approximately 80% to 85% of the island production, being used predominately to make three-year old wines, although not exclusively.
This domain was especially pronounced when phylloxera struck the island in 1872, as growers chose to plant this variety which has a thicker skin compared to the white varietals. Depending on the altitude, humidity, region, solar exposure and length of fermentation of the must, the grapes can deliver richer or drier styles.

Madeira Wine Guide Blandy Quinta de Santa Luzia

Quinta de Santa Luzia in Madeira

THERE ARE TWO DISTINCT CATEGORIES OF MADEIRA WINE: BLENDS AND DATED WINES

BLENDS

The art of producing a consistent quality blend is perhaps the hardest job for the winemaking team. The combination of the older more aromatic wines with the more youthful wines to produce a balanced blend that satisfies both the nose and the palate of the consumer takes many years of experience. The authorized Madeira Wine blends are 3-year-old, 5-year-old, 10-year-old, 15-year-old, 20-year-old, 30-year-old, and “more than 40-year-old” and these are average ages of the wine in bottle.

DATED WINES

Single harvest dated wines are divided into two sub-categories: “Colheita” and “Vintage” or otherwise known as Frasqueira.

These wines are identified at harvest time, based on the exceptional quality of the fruit, placed into specific ageing programs and then regularly checked to ensure the wines continue to develop with quality.

Every year in November the winemaker tastes all wines ageing in barrel and decides which will be used to makeup blends and which will keep on ageing and released later as colheitas or vintage madeiras.

Madeira Wine Guide Madeira Blandy

A good collection of Madeira Wine

Colheita or Single Harvest
Colheita is a relatively new category, introduced first in 2000 by the Blandy family with the objective of releasing an exceptional wine prior to it becoming a 20-year-old vintage. The wines can age between 5 years to 18 years in cask before being bottled and released as a Colheita or commonly known as a baby Vintage. As least a barrel of the wine released as a Colheita is left to continue ageing to be later released as a Vintage.

Frasqueira
Vintage Madeiras must age for a minimum 20 years in cask before being bottled and released. It is a decision taken by the family and the winemaker on when the wine should be bottled, as each grape variety has its own ageing potential. It is due to this length of time spent in oak casks that gives these wines their unique aromas, intense complexity and freshness for which they are renowned. There is no maximum ageing period and the company still has wine ageing in barrel from as early as 1920.

Madeira Wine Guide Blandy sotao damendoa

Sotao da Amendoa, at the Blandy’s Wine Lodge in Funchal, which is open to the public.

STORING AND SERVING MADEIRA

All Madeira wines should be stored upright, away from direct sunlight and just below room temperature. The majority of wines are all bottled ready to be drunk and will not improve with age.
Vintage Madeiras have the fascinating ability to remain in excellent condition for many years, even for centuries. Older vintages should be decanted to remove any deposit that has built up over the years and should be opened well in advance before drinking. A general rule is to open the wine one day for every 10 years that the wine has been in bottle. Once opened, Madeira wine can last for many months if stored in the correct conditions.

Madeira Wine Guide Quinta do Bispo - on the north of the Island

Quinta do Bispo, located on the north of Madeira

When it comes to enjoying Madeira, we suggest that the dry and medium dry styles be served chilled (12°C) and the medium rich and rich styles be served slightly chilled (16°C). The glassware is important we suggest that all Madeiras should be enjoyed using a typical port glass.

Chris Blandy Madeira Wine Guide vineyard

Chris Blandy

The Blandys are unique in being the only family of all the original founders of the Madeira wine trade to still own and manage their own original wine company; 2 centuries of fine wine production. The family has played a leading role in the development of Madeira wine throughout its long history and members of the family continue to live on Madeira, maintaining a tradition that goes back to 1811. Chris Blandy is CEO and the 7th generation to work in the business. If you are visiting Funchal, you can also visit the Blandy’s Wine Lodge.

My hOtel: Hotel Atlantic Kempinski Hamburg @Kempinski_HH

myhotel

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg

A city landmark, the Hotel Atlantic. Photo by hotel.

I visited Hamburg in Germany recently for a conference and my choice of hotel was the one and only Hotel Atlantic Kempinski. The city’s ‘grand dame’, who has recently been the subject of a very tasteful refurbishment – and yes, it is the James Bond hotel.

Pre-Arrival

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

Yes indeed. My stay had been planned months in advance, and we were quite well acquainted by the time I arrived at the hotel. Worth noting that the hotel is quite active on social media, which makes for a refreshing change, and uses it to interact with guests.

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

I did and we actually had quite a bit of fun.

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

Not particularly, but then again I did not have any particular requests.

Arrival

To be brutally honest, my hotel experience started at the airport. I had pre-booked a private transfer to the hotel and as I got out of the airport, I looked for a sign with my name. What I wasn’t quite expecting was to see David, one of the hotel’s star concierges waiting for me in full uniform and a great smile.

He was also very chatty and even offered to drive me around the city for a mini tour before we got to the hotel. I wasn’t in a rush, it was Sunday, there was no traffic and it was incredibly useful as I got more or less my bearings and helped with my orientation over the next couple of days.

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg driver

Say hello to David. He will pick you up from the airport too!

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

We arrived at the hotel and I have to say I was quite surprised – it looked exactly as I thought it would from the outside, but I found the lobby area different to what I expected. The hotel has been recently refurbished and I was told by David that all the common areas were designed so they looked exactly the same way they did beforehand. So there was a lot of restoration rather than refurbishment.

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

In true German fashion, what could one expect? It was quick and very friendly.

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

I was indeed.

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

I wasn’t sure which room type I had been assigned, and was delighted with my junior suite with views of the lake.

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg hotel lobby

The hotel interiors

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

I did, and this continued throughout my stay – everyone I came across was incredibly friendly and helpful, and I must say, very good-looking (I do like these HR policies).

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

I had a small carry on, which was taken from the car to my room quickly.

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

 Wifi is complimentary and worked well during my stay.

Room Experience

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg room view

A room with a view, ja?

 

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

My room, a junior suite, was very spacious and beautifully decorated. Each floor has an accent colour, and mine was purple.

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg deluxe room lake view 1

A very spacious and comfortable room.

–          Welcome amenity

I had a fruit basket waiting for me, as well as 2 bottles of water.

–          The bed

I would have preferred a king bed (namely as I was travelling without Mr. O and would get the bed all to myself, which doesn’t happen often!),  but I had two twin beds which were comfortable, albeit on the hard side, but with excellent pillows.

–          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.

No problems there. I needed some extra hangers which were promptly sent by housekeeping.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

I didn’t find one, but in all honesty, I didn’t need it.

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg junior suite deluxe bedroom details

Room details

–          Bathrobes and slippers

They were lovely in true Kempinski style (you may want to read my review of a previous stay in St. Moritz), and for once, I actually used them!

–          Coffee and Tea

The room had a Nespresso machine and equipped for all coffee and tea needs, but as always, I did not use.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, on arrival and replenished daily on turn-down.

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

Nothing really worth mentioning, but it did have a very good shopping guide, which was quite handy as I was keen to help the local economy the following day before my conference started.

–          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.

Yes yes and yes. All very well positioned and I used them all!

Bathroom

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg junior suite deluxe bathroom

A beautiful bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was excellent – and very spacious. It also had underfloor heating, which I love.

–          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?

I had a separate bath and shower (and only used the latter), and have to say, it was very powerful and I was able to operate it without any assistance.

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

Very good and plenty!

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

I had Molton Brown toiletries – loved the shower gel, but did not use the shampoo/conditioner as I brought my own.

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

Kempinski hotels always have great bathroom amenities and The Atlantic was no exception.

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

There was one, which looked ‘proper’, but I did not use as I had a blow dry the following day.

Breakfast

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg breakfast

Lost for words. The perfect breakfast for a Portuguese girl (and everyone else!!)

I have to say, the breakfast was excellent. Excellent, excellent! And I have to be honest – I had some made to order eggs and bacon on the first day, but when I spotted the Portuguese bread rolls after I had the eggs, those were the only things I had for the rest of my 4-day stay. I wasn’t expecting to find a Portuguese community in Hamburg, and see so many familiar things, and this was a lovely surprise. I had room service breakfast one day as well, and it was just perfect.

Bar

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg gin sul and bar

A great discovery: Gin Sul. Perfect German and Portuguese mix?

As it was sunny, I actually did not use the bar per se so much, but I did use its courtyard, which was beautiful and a perfect place to enjoy a Gin & Tonic. I spotted a display of a local gin, called Gin Sul, which was made in Hamburg but with Portuguese botanicals – which was a lovely surprise. I was also able to get my gin served in a wine glass (in the absence of a Portuguese style gin glass), which made me super happy.

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg patio

The quietest place in the hotel – you wouldn’t believe you were in the city centre.

General thoughts

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg hotel

The Hamburg Grand Dame of hotels – which I absolutely loved.

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

The wifi worked well, but I had to connect a few times (it logged off if inactive). It was free of charge and very fast, I must say.

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

Indeed, and we had quite a bit of fun.

–          Location

The hotel is right on Lake Alster and has truly beautiful views of the city. It is 10 minutes away by foot to the shopping area easy to reach.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Rooms start from EUR 199 and a Junior Suite with Lake View starts from EUR 469.
–          Airport transfers

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg private transfers

Meet David and Joahnnes, the superstars of my stay.

I travelled to and from the airport using the hotel’s private transfer service (EUR 145 each way) and was driven by David on arrival and Joahnnes on departure and I have to say, both journeys were excellent and a great addition to the hotel experience. Why? Because both are actually employed by the hotel (and part of its super starred concierge team). I really enjoyed the conversation I had with each one, and got some ideas to go to some places which would have been difficult to capture in another way. I also had a very interesting conversation with Joahnnes on the way back to the airport about ‘how useful a concierge is’ at a luxury hotel nowadays – and his response ‘we have to be better than the internet’ really made me think about it. And by talking to both, it inspired me to dedicate some more time to this topic (and I will certainly be asking for their thoughts on an upcoming article).

hotel atlantic kempinski hamburg hotel decor

I found this sitting area in my room floor corridor – and thought it would be the perfect place to read a book. I loved how the fabric worked well with the glass.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely. I felt very much at home at the hotel – very comfortable and very safe. I was travelling on my own and attending a conference, which required coming back to the room during the day to change etc, and arriving back late after the various functions and there was something quite homely about it. The staff were excellent and it never felt awkward to be on my own, which sometimes happens.

–          Would I stay again?

Without a doubt. I was very impressed with Hamburg (and did not have enough spare time). Mr. O has also visited a few times on business and we both agreed we would come back for a weekend, as there is something about this city.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Hotel Atlantic Kempinski during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. 

A luxury holiday at the Coco Bodhu Hithi in the Maldives

I will be honest – the Maldives is my favourite place in the world. You would think it would be incredibly hard to pick a place, but I cannot lie. So for the third time in as many years, Mr. O and yours truly returned to this beautiful part of the world to celebrate my birthday (or rather, to end my birthday month in style).

On this occasion, we travelled with Sovereign, with whom I also went to Madeira earlier this year, and stayed at the Coco Bodu Hithi resort, 45 minutes away from Male airport. Our Sovereign experience started a couple of days earlier, when Laura, the local concierge gave us a call – you may think it is nothing, but has been one of the most special parts of travelling with Sovereign (i.e. having someone local, who you can reach 24/7). Laura wanted to give me some practical advice (like not to buy duty free alcohol as you are not allowed to bring any into the island, to stock up on magazines and books and to let me know about the weather, as well as small details like I didn’t need to bring any adaptors as the UK plugs are standard in the island).

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel Concierge Male Airport

Our arrival at Male Airport was very efficient, and we were transferred to the hotel by private speedboat, included for all Sovereign Guests.

Our journey from home in the UK to paradise took exactly 14 hours door to door – and we took advantage of the fact you can pick any airline, class and dates for your journey with Sovereign. Needless to say, and after two very good experiences with Qatar Airways in previous years, we road tested its business class again (and hit the jackpot on BA/Oneworld tier points as we collected 560 each roundtrip). But when we got to the hotel, got off the boat and on to the jetty, we stopped and smiled. And just enjoyed the moment – because it is never always like this. How beautiful.

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel welcome

Welcome to paradise. No words necessary.

The difference with Maldives hotels and others is the fact that the hotel knows exactly when each guest is arriving (by speedboat or seaplane, depending on the distance to Male), and you are always welcomed by a dedicated staff member who will take care of check-in. Ours was as efficient as it could be – and very friendly. We sat down, had a welcome drink, left credit card details, were given a map and a little orientation to the island and then asked if we wanted a buggy or to walk to the room. We chose the later, as it gave us the opportunity to chat to Ricarda, our hostess, and stretch out legs after the flights (when you fly with Qatar Airways, you stopover in Doha).

The Room

By the time we made it to our room, which was an Escape Water Villa (there are four room categories – Island Villas, Water Villas, Escape Water Villas and the new Coco Residences). I had seen the photos and knew what to expect, but I love it when reality is as good as the mental image. How could one not?

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel Escape Water Villa bedroom

A room with the view. And so proper magazines.

Escape Water Villas at the Coco Bodu Hithi are, in effect, 1 bedroom suites, with a separate living room, bedroom and bathroom. And pool, of course. The curtains open all around and if you do not like blue, don’t go there. You have been warned.

The room was very spacious, but I felt it was somewhat tired – the wooden furniture and the mirrors namely (due to the sea effect). But the decor was good, the bed was excellent and the shower incredibly good. I must confess I was surprised by the toiletries which were from a brand called Green Tea from.. Texas! I will add that they were excellent and I used everything every day and cannot complain. But still felt it was funny.

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel Escape Water Villa Bathroom

Our bathroom was quite sexy.

I know what you want to see next and I will not disappoint you. Is it the bottle of champagne? That went down rather well, I must say. But the first thing I did (after unpacking of course, as it is something I need to do as soon as I arrive), was to get in the pool. Because it would be rude not to.

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel Escape Water Villa Pool

Because no one needs to share pools in the Maldives. Ever.

Dining 

One of the reasons why Sovereign and I chose Coco Bodu Hithi was because of the dining options. I must confess I am not a buffet girl and I like having a choice. This island offers 7 dining alternatives, which means you don’t have to repeat any in a week. We actually did – but because we wanted to.

Sovereign offers half board, which means you have breakfast and dinner covered, except for drinks – but only at the main restaurant. When I questioned this – I was pleasantly surprised to be told that we could dine anywhere and a $70/per person dining credit would be applied, which we made sure to test drive.

For breakfast, you could enjoy the buffet (which was excellent to be fair), or if you are staying at the Coco Residences, enjoy an a la carte breakfast. We were given both options, and even found a third: in-villa dining and if you are going down this route, pick the Maldivian breakfast. There will be some tuna, but the banana pancakes are out of this world (and funnily enough, so was the tuna).

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel Dining options

Let’s say Mr. and Mrs. O were not bored. At all.

For lunch, you could go to the buffet – we did try it twice, and again no problems, or go to the Stars restaurant by the Coco Residences. We liked having different menus – and after a couple of days really got hooked to the in-villa dining, which is most unlike us. Why? Because we felt time by went way too quickly and we had to maximise swimming, snorkelling and spa time. And early sundowners.

For dinner, well, this is where Christmas comes early. And I have to say – the food was excellent at the resort. Our favourite restaurant was the Beach Barbecue, which we tried twice – the setting was stunning and I never say no to grilled tiger prawns. We also tried the Japanese restaurant, the fine dining (Stars) and the buffet (one night only, on arrival). I can’t praise the food and service enough. But perhaps the most beautiful setting was Aqua, where it was just us… and the sea. One night, we also asked for a traditional Maldivian curry to be cooked for us, which wasn’t a problem. And it was yummy.

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel Dining options 2

Main pool with bar and Japanese restaurant, the best table in the house, sunset and a Mrs. O style gin.

For pre and post dinner drinks, you had 2 options – by the Coco Residences or by the main reception area. I was pleasantly surprised to see both bars busy after dinner, every night, but must say I found the gin selection very limited. I did ask for wine glasses and we were able to enjoy more European-style ones. I also found the bar area slightly out of date, stylewise, which was disappointing – bearing in mind it must surely be the most used areas of the hotel. Seats were comfortable and all, but white is dangerous – if you see what I mean (and the green indoor area just didn’t go with anything else).

Coco Bodhu Hithi Maldives

The bar needed an update, I thought (but service was excellent). And ladies, think before you pack your shoes. Heels are a no no and from my experience, dark sandals will suffer. I ended wearing 2 pairs of leather (and NOT fabric) t-bar sandals all week long for dinner.

The Spa

I enjoyed one massage courtesy of the hotel, but to give you an idea, Mr. O and I enjoyed 11 others during our stay. The spa was stunning and the therapies available were excellent. We had a standing appointment at 5pm each day, which would enable us to just about make it to sunset after showering by 7pm. A one-hour aromatherapy massage cost around $100 + Tax.

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel Coco Spa

For the record, I never went to the gym. But I tried and tested a lot of massages. Stunning.

Activities

There are plenty of activities to be enjoyed, and Mr. O went fishing one day, but two really stood out from the menu.

The first was a private snorkelling session – it lasted an hour, but we got to know where the best places to spot beautiful fish/coral were and, even better, Lisa, one of the marine biologists, took some photos of us. Mr. O is a diver and I am not, but having Lisa gave me the confidence to then go out on my own (and with Mr. O).

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel welcome

I loved our snorkelling session.

On our penultimate day, we went on a private sandbank picnic, which meant we were taken by boat to a nearby sandbank, and had half a day to look each other in the eyes a bit more. I am joking – it did feel like a private island and the food was delicious.

And before you start worrying, the boat crew is nearby (although at a distance) and you know when they pick you up. They set up the little tent and everything else, and then pick it all up at the end.

This was the best experience we had and I highly recommend it.

Coco Bodu Hithi Maldives Sovereign Luxury Travel Private Sandbank Picnic

You may want to skip breakfast before this experience. We loved every minute of it.

What was it like?

We spent a week at Coco Bodu Hithi and we really enjoyed it. We thought service was outstanding and so was the food – but all in all we thought it was excellent value for money. All the extras were reasonable and cocktails cost $15, which is less than any other city in the world.

What a beautiful place!

What a beautiful place!

Our Sovereign experience was faultless – but I must confess I did not want to come back. But Laura made it super easy as we approached Male Airport island – our Sovereign concierge met us again and organised for someone to pick up our luggage and escort us to the Qatar Airways check-in. It is small things like this that make us really appreciate travelling with Sovereign – and I shall repeat the experience again and again.

You can catch up on the best bits by watching this video.

And until the next time…

xo

Mrs. O

Factbox: I was a guest of Sovereign on this trip, and opinions are, as always, my own. A 7-night stay at an Escape Water Villa with economy flights with Qatar Airways via Doha costs from £1,700, including half board (breakfast and dinner). With business class flights from London Heathrow, the same experience costs from £3,700, depending on travel dates. 

All Sovereign guests receive speedboat transfers. Sovereign has a current special offer for this hotel, whereby you can stay 7 nights and pay for 5 nights for holidays between 12 April – 31 October 2015 or stay for 7 nights and pay for 6 nights for holidays between 01 November – 26 December 2015.

On this trip, I used a Leica X Camera, which I adored. I have been testing various Leica cameras over the year (see my posts on Prague and South Africa) and I think I found ‘my match’. Priced from £1,550. For their size, Leica X-Cameras feature an impressively large, professional image sensor with a high resolution of more than 16 megapixels, resulting in images of superior brilliance — down to even the finest of details. All this is complemented through an elegant iconic design and the use of high-class materials.

Shopping with Mrs. O – Outdoor Patio Edition

We have recently updated our outdoor patio area at home – we bought new furniture, had a deck installed and I have scoured the internet for little bits and pieces to make it as homely as possible. Many friends came to visit recently and all wanted to know where I got this and that, so I thought it would be easier to put it all in a blog post.

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Outdoor rug

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This whole new patio scenario started because I wanted an outdoor rug. I know it may sound silly, but hey, it is my house! I found these great rugs at Green Decore and I couldn’t resist them. They are plastic and waterproof and pretty perfect. I also got a yellow one for my sister’s outdoor area in Lisbon, and they really are great. Cost: from £29.00 (depending on size)

Cushions

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I couldn’t find the cushions I wanted in the UK – it sounds ridiculous. They needed to be brightly coloured and with weather proof fabric. You would think that this would be a popular product in the UK, but noon. So I discovered Etsy and a vendor who could provide the cushions I so *needed*. The ordering process was super simple and within a week or so, the cushions were in the UK. Each cushion cost £9 from Etsy.

Outdoor Lighting

I was in the Maldives recently and became obsessed with some of the light fixtures that came out to the bar area of the hotel after sunset. After a bit of research, I found some very similar ones (they come in all shapes and sizes) on Amazon.

We bought 2 of the PK Green 40 cm LED Cube Mood Light Tables – which can be used as a table, a stool or just as decor. We have tried and tested all its uses and are very happy. It comes with a remote and you can change colours and we love it.

PK Green Rechargeable 40cm light stool

We also bought 2 of the 20 cm table top cubes, which are exactly the same as the 40cm ones, but smaller, obviously. To finish things off, we also got a couple of 10cm cubes for good measure.

Outdoor heating

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One of the best purchases (and for under £30), was the Bio Ethanol table top fireplace which not only provides warmth but also adds to be whole outdoor experience. Expect to use 1 bottle of Ethanol per evening (assuming you would have it lit for 5 hours), so bear this in mind when ordering. Cost: from £27 from Amazon.

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To keep us warm in those delightfully chilly British Summer evenings, we got a Firefly outdoor infrared heater which has been excellent and widely used. We weren’t sure between a fire pit, a mushroom heater or a wall mounted solution and have to say we are delighted with this option (which only works if you have power plugs outside). Cost: £49.99 from Amazon

Parasol

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We have been delighted with the new parasol, a 3.5m cantilever parasol from Kettler which we bought from John Lewis. You can move its direction – e.g. to provide shade to the dining area or the lounge area and it is very sturdy. One super important thing: you need to buy the weights to go on the base separately – I hadn’t realised it, and it meant we couldn’t use it until we got them. John Lewis now sells it as an extra. Cost: £299 for the parasol and £49 for the weights from John Lewis.

What do you think about my selection? I would love to hear what else you have bought recently for the garden as I feel we are not done yet. But the best bit? The O’Reilly Gin bar is now open.. who wants to join us?

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And if you want to buy the Gin glasses, the lovely people at El Corte Ingles now deliver worldwide. A set of 4 can be yours for £9 (for real).

Here’s to a great Summer!

Xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: Trump Toronto, Canada

A review of the Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto in Canada

I have recently visited Toronto for a very quick trip, and Mr. O and I stayed at the Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto. I hadn’t been to Canada for almost 15 years, and this trip was planned with very short notice – we had a friend’s birthday party over the weekend (a very good reason to cross the pond), and Mr. O had some business in town.

I had never stayed at a Trump Hotel before – and must confess, I was quite curious and was very surprised. Here is how our stay went.

Pre-Arrival

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

Well well well, this hotel (and its marketing team) know me via Twitter, and for almost a year, they had been taking part in the weekly twitter chat I co-host every Thursday, called #LuxTravelChat. I had an open invite to the hotel for months but had no plans to visit the city, and when they materialised, I was delighted to accept their invitation. I was also curious to meet their very active twitter team.

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

Absolutely and I actually had an outstanding twitter experience prior to my stay (and during my stay), which I will always use as an example of proper use of social media – i.e. to make a guest’s life easier. We spent the weekend outside the city with friends, and as we drove back to Toronto, I wasn’t quite sure where to drop off our car. We were due to return it to the airport, but were told we could drop it off at any downtown location – so I tweeted the hotel and asked if there was one nearby. There was indeed, blocks from the hotel, but it could close as we were to arrive. I was blown away when the concierge team, which also has its own twitter account (clever!), actually contacted the rental company and arranged for our car to be dropped off at the hotel. I was very surprised and impressed – and it really helped our travel and arrival experience.

For when people ask - how can luxury hotels use twitter properly? This would be an example. A very good one.

For when people ask – how can luxury hotels use twitter properly? This would be an example. A very good one.

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

I didn’t ask for anything, as I had no special needs.

Arrival

Trump Toronto Hotel Canada reception mrs o around the world luxury travel blog

The stunning reception at the Trump Toronto – and what a building!

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

We had no trouble finding the hotel – but we couldn’t really find the door, which was not on the main facade of the building, but after driving around, we were successful. We had an excellent (efficient and friendly) welcome by the doorman, who escorted us to the check-in area and took care of our luggage and, most importantly, the car.

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

Brilliant.

–          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?

Well… I kind of knew I was getting a suite a couple of days before check-in and was very excited.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

100% and this lasted throughout the stay. The staff was incredible – to me, my husband, everyone that was in the hotel. Super friendly and helpful. We really felt like home.

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

Our bellman passed on the luggage to our suite attendant, who escorted us to our room and showed us around. A very nice touch.

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

 Of course. And no charge.

Room Experience

The living room area of our Deluxe 1 bedroom suite at the Trump Toronto

The living room area of our Deluxe 1 bedroom suite at the Trump Toronto

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was beautiful. Actually – the hotel decor was beautiful. Very understated, beautifully designed (I was expecting a bit more bling from a Trump hotel and was delighted to have been proven wrong). I loved our room from the moment we walked in.

–          Welcome amenity

I had a little surprise, and I loved it – admittedly this one would not be for every guest, but I appreciated the hotel taking the time to prepare this.

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A very sweet welcome

–          The bed

The bed was excellent and very comfortable. I loved the bed linen and the pillows. Cannot fault it in any way.

–          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.

Not a problem here.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There was an iPhone dock with an iPhone 4 socket, but there was also an USB connection.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, but I did not use.

Trump Toronto Hotel Canada deluxe suite bedroom mrs o around the world luxury travel blog

Our room was beautiful. I did not need 3 pillows, but they were actually lovely.

–          Coffee and Tea

We had a Nespresso coffee machine, but I did not use.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, and replenished every day at turndown.

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

There were some books, but no 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.

Yes indeed – by the side of each bed, we had sockets.

Bathroom

Trump Toronto Hotel deluxe suite bathroom Canada mrs o around the world luxury travel blog

Our bathroom featured a separate bath and shower. And had a token TV, of course.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

I can’t fault it – it was white and had everything we needed. Very spacious too.

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

We had a separate bath (which we did not use) and walk in shower, which had proper water pressure. I surprised my husband by being able to operate it without his supervision (I am seriously bad at shower taps).

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

If there is one thing that wasn’t perfect, it was actually the towels, which were tiny tiny. I am 5’2 and not a big person and I really struggled. So I asked housekeeping if they had other towels – which they did and were excellent. Huge and soft. They need to be standard, in my opinion.

–          Toiletries – own brand, super brand, baby ones or proper ones? 

Own brand, which I found interesting in this day and age – I tried the shower gel which smelled lovely, and Mr. O said the shampoo was OK.

Trump Toronto Hotel deluxe suite bathroom details Canada mrs o around the world luxury travel blog

Bathroom details

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

The amenities were on a silver tray (not made of silver of course), and very well hidden, as they should be.

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

There was one, which looked powerful, but I chose to use the salon.

Dining

I had breakfast one morning at America, the main restaurant at the hotel and I also really enjoyed it. It was also excellent value at $14 for two eggs on toast with bacon, which were very good. Service was also very friendly. At night, we tried the Calvin Bar, which was quite busy and alive too.

Trump Toronto Hotel America Restaurant Calvin Bar Canada mrs o around the world luxury travel blog

The various dining options at the Trump – I tried breakfast and drinks and really enjoyed the venues.

Spa

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The Purebeauty Salon & Spa at the Trump Toronto

I visited Purebeauty, the salon and spa located on the 31st floor of the hotel. They had kindly invited me to try the new bamboo massage (210 CAD for 75 minutes, approx. $160/£100) which I was very curious about. I had an excellent therapist who actually trains others in using this new massage technique – which means they use a bamboo stick to massage you. It was very different from the normal, but very relaxing.

I liked the venue so much, I also tried the salon and booked a blow dry ($40 CAD, approx. $30/£20) which was not only super quick (30 mins in and out) but excellent. I was really impressed with the salon and have recommended it to friends who live in town. I loved that is was super quiet and very chic. Pretty perfect.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

Can’t fault it – worked well, didn’t require multiple logins. Can’t ask for more. And free of charge.

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

Yes indeed and I thought they were excellent.

–          Location

For a business trip, it was perfect. Mr. O’s office was around the corner. I actually spent a lot of time at the hotel working and ventured out one morning and had no problem finding good shops! But I never saw any sights as this was a different type of trip, and fine by me.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Superior rooms cost from 500 CAD, or 380 USD / 240 GBP, and 1 bedroom suites cost from 600 CAD, or 460 USD /300 GBP.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Without a doubt. She would love it.

–          Would I stay again?

Absolutely. I REALLY enjoyed my stay at the hotel – it was beautiful, the service was excellent and I felt very comfortable. I got to spend a lot of time there, which is unusual in a city hotel and I can’t recommend it enough.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Trump Toronto during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luxury trip to Cape Town South Africa - Boulders Beach Penguins

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

Luxury Trip to South Africa - Cape of Good Hope

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

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

Luxury Trip to Cape Town South Africa Cape Point Drive

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

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

Luxury Trip to Cape Town - Dock House Boutique Hotel

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

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

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

girls having fun in cape town dinner at sevruga

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

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

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

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

Top 5 Beauty Essentials for Summer 2015

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

Pureology Hydrate Shampoo and Conditioner

pureology hydrate shampoo and conditioner

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

Surf by Bumble and Bumble infusion

bumble and bumble surf infusion

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

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

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

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

Neom Real Luxury Body Scrub

neom body scrub

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

Top 5 Destinations for Summer 2015

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

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

Algarve, Portugal

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

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon View in Portugal - Messagez.com

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

Palm Springs Area, California

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

Charleston & Kiawah Island, South Carolina

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

Crete, Greece

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

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

xo

Mrs. O

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-Arrival

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

Yes indeed, and the hotel communicated directly with me, although a third-party organised my stay.

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

I did and I have to say, they were excellent. I liked the sense of humour and also the genuine feeling of helpfulness.

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

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

Arrival

The hotel entrance. Photo by hotel.

The hotel entrance. Photo by hotel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

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

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

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

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

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

Room Experience

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

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

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

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

–          Welcome amenity

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

–          The bed

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

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

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

Bedroom details - I really liked our room.

Bedroom details – I really liked our room.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

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

–          Bathrobes and slippers

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

–          Coffee and Tea

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

–          Free bottled water

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

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

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

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

Absolutely and by the side of each bed. Perfect.

Bathroom

A fabulous bathroom! Photo by hotel.

A fabulous bathroom! Photo by hotel.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

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

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

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

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

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

Bathroom details

Bathroom details

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

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

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

All items were cleverly ‘hidden’ and there.

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

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

Breakfast

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

Excellent breakfast at Rubens. Service was very good too.

Bar

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

Delicious cocktails at the bar!

Delicious cocktails at the bar!

Restaurant

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

A great dinner at Nobu

A great dinner at Nobu

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

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

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

Yes, and we had a lot of fun.

–          Location

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

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

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

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

The Pool at the One&Only Cape Town

The Pool at the One&Only Cape Town

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

–          Would I stay again?

I would without a problem.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of One & Only during this stay, on a trip organised by Hands Up Holidays, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. For more information about the hotel, visit its official website.