A hotel to remember: Ikos Olivia in Halkidiki, Greece

Up until June this year, I had never visited Greece’s mainland. But more and more incredible hotels have been opening – and seasonal direct flights with BA from London, definitely put this part of the world in my horizon.

May 2015 marked the opening of Ikos Olivia, a stunning luxury hotel located in Halkidiki, Greece. The hotel follows an all-inclusive concept – which is something I am not particularly keen on, as a traveller, but it promised something different: ‘infinite lifestyle’ which translates as something quite unique. Read on.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel map

Where in the world?

On this trip (as with others this year to Madeira, Maldives and the Algarve), I travelled with Sovereign, who organised my trip. My guest this time around was my dear sister Renata who was spending some time with me in London. I think that some one-on-one sister time (and the promise of some sunshine even in early June) was just what we needed.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel no 1 traveller lounge london gatwick north airport

No. 1 Traveller Lounge at London Gatwick North, standard to all Sovereign guests

I am not a huge fan of 6am flights, namely from Gatwick (which adds considerably to our journey), but that meant a direct flight with BA (and double tier points compared to Europe, which comes as a little bonus of flying to places like Greece, Turkey and Cyprus – 160 to be precise) and a late morning arrival, due to the 2-hour time difference. Luckily, Gatwick’s Premium Security opened just as the queue for all passengers was incredible, and we made our way to the No. 1 Traveller Lounge, which is a perk for all Sovereign guests. It is a lovely lounge and we were able to have breakfast and get some magazines too.

Our flight was around 3.30 hours, and I must confess, I slept all the way through – I woke up on the ’10 minutes to landing announcement’ and was rewarded with a beautiful landing – we could see the turquoise waters, which is exactly what we went to Greece for. On arrival, we were met by Keith, the local Sovereign concierge and our private transfer was ready for us. And in under 40 minutes, we arrived at the beautiful Ikos Olivia.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel british airways flights to thesaloniki

An easy and very comfortable journey, organised by Sovereign.

The hotel is made up of 2 sections – a main building, and a series of bungalows, many of which have their own private pools. It offers 4 a la carte restaurants and 1 buffet, and all options are available for breakfast, lunch and dinner, meaning you can choose anything you would like, at any time.

We were starving as we arrived, and the first thing we did, literally, was to have lunch. We found a snack bar by the beach where we tucked into our first of many Greek salads and just took in our surroundings. The hotel was new and it really was very nice.

We walked around a bit and saw a large beach area, 3 different pools, and as we got to the bungalow area, where we were staying, discovered a separate pool and quieter beach area – reserved to guests staying in the bungalows (which had the black keycards).

Our room

Our bungalow was on the beach, at the very edge of the hotel ground – it had a living room and two ensuite bedrooms and bathrooms (one with a king bed and one with two twin beds).

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel living room suite

The living room of our two bedroom bungalow – with didn’t have a bad view either.

We loved the colour scheme (not just of the room, but the whole hotel). We were seriously very impressed with the hotel from an interior design perspective (and my sister being one herself and a trained architect even more).

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel master bedroom bungalow

The master bedroom was beautiful.

We loved how spacious our 2 bedroom suite was and I must confess, I was particularly impressed with the USB ports in each room and the fact that besides the standard European plugs, there were also UK ones. Small touches – but very useful ones.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel bedroom bungalow

The second bedroom which was also stunning. The bathroom specs were great too, and we loved the full-sized Anne Semonin toiletries.

Outside, we had a very comfortable seating area (and that inspired me to completely redo our patio area at home) and stunning views to the quiet sea and our almost private beach.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel 2 bed bungalow

Our lovely outdoor area

Dining options

When we ordered our first meal, I did think it was rather strange not having to sign something or tip. But as we continued to enjoy our stay, we got to enjoy it quite a bit.

I am no fan of buffets, and if you are not either, you are in for a treat. The restaurant options were outstanding and I have to say – the decor and design theme continued throughout the dining outlets. We tried Ouzo, the Greek restaurant by the beach and it must be one of the nicest beach restaurants I have ever seen anywhere in the world. Sadly I couldn’t take many other photos as the other tables were full!

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel beach dining

Beautiful setting for dinner and stunning food.

On our second night, we tried the ‘Dine Out’ Experience, which basically lets you leave the resort and go to a local restaurant, which has a menu for Ikos guests. To be honest, we really wanted to have some really Greek specialties and went off menu and just selected what we fancied – and it was lovely. We also got to discover a little shop around the corner, called Melithea and we just loved the owners – a mother and son who had a lovely selection of organic oils, olives, jams, spices, herbs and the lot. We couldn’t resist and brought quite a few things back with us.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel melithea shop outside hotel

If you go to this hotel, do try and find this shop. You won’t be sorry!

On our third night, we had dinner at Fusco, which offered a very interesting Italian fine dining experience. The meal was excellent, as were all the others we experienced.

For breakfast, we tried different options each day – we loved the little buffet at the Provence restaurant and actually were incredibly impressed with the main buffet restaurant. It was one of the most well designed buffets I have seen – and I was not expecting it.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel breakfast

We were really spoiled for choice at the restaurants.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel food options

We were very impressed with the standards at the hotel – and service was very friendly too.

During the day, you had pool and beach side service like you would at any luxury hotel – and we ordered some drinks (a frappe, ice tea, soft drinks etc). When it got closer to sunset time, we changed our order to gin & tonics, of course.

We were very pleased with everything on offer – except one thing: the gin selection. Obviously after asking, it was clear that gin isn’t a thing in Greece (yet) and the hotel did take the comments on board – there were many British guests and this matters to us (me not being British but I live there). The wines recommended to us were also really quite good and in all honesty, the whole experience felt like a ‘sign at the end’ hotel, and the service and attention totally matched it.

But there was one thing the hotel wouldn’t be able to get me – simple fresh grilled fish. And there was one person that could help me: Keith, the 24h Sovereign concierge.

Keith, our super Sovereign concierge

When you travel with Sovereign, a couple of days before your trip, you get a special call. You never know when it comes (it is like a surprise!). And basically the local concierge introduces him/herself and offer to help you in anyway they can. It also makes the airport arrival much nicer as you then get to meet the person. We never mean to trouble anyone, but on this trip, we *really* used and abused Keith’s time and local knowledge.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel cocktails

Doing a bit of cocktail homework

We texted Keith asking if he could help us get a car and find grilled red mullets. It really was as specific as that. Keith was actually close to the hotel and met us so we could go through all the details. Armed with maps and information, we plotted our little journey around the local area. I was slightly worried about renting a car on the spot (as I have a record for quite horrible car rental experiences) and was surprised with his answer. Sixt would have a car ready for us at the hotel the next morning. What? Yes.

So the following morning, we sat down at a sofa in reception… handed over credit cards and driving licences, filled a form, and were given a key. It was SO simple and so personal and so nice. Hats off to Sixt for providing this service to all Ikos Olivia guests – a rep comes each morning and evening and you can just sit down and sort it out. Car types are limited of course and start from 50 Euros a day.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel sixt car hire

Not all car rentals are the same. Nor the traffic jams. We were quite adventurous and did get stuck a bit..

We spent a whole day driving around the various peninsulas and were really impressed by its natural beauty. We also loved how ‘undeveloped’ the area felt – and I mean this in the nicest way possible. No neon signs, no shabby souvenir shops, it was actually quite refreshing.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel sixt car hire exploring

Guess what I had for lunch?

We found this little place called ‘5 steps in the sand‘ in the Sithonia peninsula and had a really lovely meal. It was still early in the season and was quite quiet – so we had extra attention from the owner, who was delighted to see a tourist ask for red mullets! Lunch for 2: 50 Euros.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel

Yes, this is what this part of the world looks like. Truly stunning.

A bit of TLC

The hotel had a lovely (and very busy) spa – and I couldn’t resist booking a signature Anne Semonin massage for an hour, in between very busy naps at the beach. The spa was excellent and so was the therapist. A 60-minute massage was 120 Euros.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel anne semonin spa

I wanted to bring those seats back home, I really did.

But where we really spent our time.. was at the beach. The lovely quiet beach – we had some rain, but we also had some sun. And when it rained, we took naps on our outside sofas which were covered.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel beach pool all inclusive

Visiting this part of Greece was a lovely surprise – we really liked it. The hotel was outstanding and I honestly will be going back with Mr. O and friends next year. Because I need to see this sunset again.

ikos olivia hotel halkidiki sovereign luxury travel beach sunset

PS. I also need to check if there are more types of gin, of course.

xo

Mrs. O

Fact box: I was a guest of Sovereign on this trip and I enjoyed every minute of it. Opinions are, as always, my own. Sovereign (+44 1293 731 566) is offering seven nights at the five star Ikos Olivia in Halkidiki, staying in a one-bedroom bungalow suite on an All Inclusive basis, from £1,139 per person – saving up to £411 per couple. Sovereign guests benefit exclusively from a complimentary private cocktail by the beach and a farewell gift. The holiday also includes UK airport lounge access (where available), private resort transfers and return flights from London Gatwick with easyjet. Based on departures 2 May 2016. (British Airways’ flights to this area will begin in mid May 2016)

My hOtel: Porto Bay Liberdade, Lisbon, Portugal @portobay

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal facade

When old becomes brand spanking new – the lovely Porto Bay Liberdade hotel in Lisbon, Portugal

I like nothing more than being pleasantly surprised when it comes to my hometown of Lisbon, Portugal. And nothing makes me happier to see local hotel brands (Porto Bay is originally from Madeira, Portugal and is connected to the Blandy family, the largest winemaker in the region) really pushing the boat and creating something quite unique. Here is how my stay at the recently opened Porto Bay Liberdade hotel went.

Pre-Arrival

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

There was indeed. This has been a brand that has followed me for quite a few years and I was actually delighted to finally get to try it.

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

I did, and they were on top of their game, despite my stay having taken place over a weekend (some hotels still believe social media is a Monday-Friday job, which isn’t the case).

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

No, but then again, I had no special requests as per normal.

Arrival

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

We meant to drop our luggage before actually checking in as we had some errands to run in town, and at that very moment, there was no bellman outside. Once I got inside which our suitcases (Mr. O was double parked), I was promptly helped by the reception team who came outside to give us an extra hand.

I quickly looked around and thought the space was lovely. The hotel decor was really quite different than what I was expecting – with lots of unique pieces and I really liked it.

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal lobby and reception

The reception and lobby area

The hotel is a new development of a collection of old buildings in one of Lisbon’s most important business and tourist areas – I am aware of the building restrictions and issues and I have to say, I was surprised with some of the facilities the hotel managed to ‘squeeze in’.

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

Once we returned to the hotel again (I had said my name before, of course), the reception staff had the keys ready. We showed our passports (which is a very interesting Portuguese hotel requirement, where copies are taken – and happens randomly around the world, but we kind of knew of course it would happen) and left our credit card for any extras.

We were escorted to our room and given a little tour of the facilities – which was important as otherwise we may have not imagined that we were to find so many surprises.

–          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 (and it is always a comical moment when I am address as Sra. O’Reilly in Portugal, which still sounds very strange after so many years). I have been Sra. Silva all my life. I was also very grateful that they understood my husband did not speak the language and always spoke to him in English (and with me too, to make it easier). This doesn’t happen often, and I appreciated the gesture.

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

I was confirmed in a deluxe room, and that is what I got.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Very much so – we were actually impressed with how good the staff were throughout my stay. It was good to see.

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

Our luggage was sent to our room during the time that we dropped it and arrived again in the afternoon.

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

Wifi was free and the codes were provided.

Room Experience

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal deluxe room

Our cozy room

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was really quite cozy (rooms are not very large at the hotel), but tastefully decorated. We also had a separate seating area, as well as a little balcony overlooking the back of the hotel. I preferred to be on this side as I would not get any noise from traffic, etc.

–          Welcome amenity

We had a bowl of fruit and water.

–          The bed

The bed was very comfortable – and the pillows were very good. There was a pillow menu available but we didn’t need any extras. The bed linen 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.

All good in this department, although we had to ask for more hangers (which were brought whilst we were in the spa).

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

Even better, and I think it is time to update these reviews – the item to look out for will be a USB socket. And I am delighted to announce that yes, the hotel had them.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Indeed, but we did not use.

–          Coffee and Tea

There was a Delta (which is Portugal’s leading coffee brand) pod-operated machine, which was great to see. We did not use it.

–          Free bottled water

Yes.

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

It wasn’t anything to write home about – there was Essential Lisboa which is quite good if you are from out-of-town but nothing else.

–          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.

We couldn’t find any by the bed per se, but we had the USBs at the desk, so we charged our phones there. No problem at all.

Bathroom

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal deluxe bathroom rituals toiletries

Very rarely I have a shower as good as home. This time, it was the same! As in the same we have at home.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was actually not small at all – and very nice.

–          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?

Oh yes, the hotel spent money on these items and the whole fit out was excellent. As I said on the photo caption above, very rarely we have a shower which is as good as what we have at home. This time around, it was like as if we were home. Great shower.

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

No problems here.

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

I was surprised to see Rituals, which is a well-known brand in Europe (and quite popular in Portugal) whose products I actually really quite like. Very rarely you see them in hotels, so it was good. The products are very good. They were presented in small-sized bottles.

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

Everything, and quite nicely presented.

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

I did not use it, but the hairdryer looked very ‘real’, which is good news.

Breakfast

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal breakfast

I loved breakfast, included in the room rate – and in the middle photo at the bottom you can see the coconutty ‘God’s bread’ which were delicious.

Breakfast was… excellent! This is where I am completely biased (and you will understand – I can, because it is my blog!). I am Portuguese and everything I missed and could want was there – from a simple selection of cheese and hams, many types of bread (including God’s bread which is something you need to try when you go) and custard tarts of course. I was like a little kid in a candy store – obviously there were eggs and bacon and other things catering to international visitors. But my husband only tried the Portuguese specialties too :)The hotel has a quite well-known restaurant which we did not get to try, as we had already made plans to see friends. But quite a few friends have been (non-hotel guests) and said it was excellent.

Spa & Pool

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal indoor pool

I wasn’t expecting a pool this size in Central Lisbon, I really wasn’t.

One of the nicest surprises, was indeed, the spa. I was not expecting to see an Aromatherapy Associates spa at the hotel (it is one of my favourite brands and I love their spa concept). We both had a message each and I thought the whole experience was excellent – I had the ‘ultimate aromatherapy experience’ for 50 minutes (priced at 95 Euros) and really enjoyed it.

We also got to try the pool – which was quite large but sad we did not catch some rays in the outdoor area (no time).

luxury hotel porto bay liberdade lisboa portugal rooftop jacuzzi and bar

And saving the best for last…

And as an extra treat, guests can enjoy a rooftop terrace which also has a bar.. and a hot tub! And I have to say, excellent Gin & Tonics, served in proper glasses! It really was lovely.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

Excellent and no issues during our stay.

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

Indeed and we had a bit of fun.

–          Location

The hotel is located just off Lisbon’s main street, Avenida da Liberdade. I thought it was an excellent location, close to all the designer shops and very easy to get to and from.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

The best surprise – rooms start at 120 Euros per night, which is excellent value for money.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Without a doubt. Since I stayed in July (and shared my experience via social media), quite a few readers have tried the hotel and were very pleased.

–          Would I stay again?

Without a doubt. I felt like I found a little oasis in the centre of town and wished we stayed for more than 3 days. There is always next time.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

Discovering Campeche and Yucatan in Mexico

Going to Mexico, away from the crowds, was something Mr. O and yours truly were very keen to do. But where in Mexico? We didn’t want to put ourselves in any weird situations (as we did want to drive around a little), so after some research, we found the right place for us: we were to explore the states of Campeche and Yucatan, in the north east of Mexico.

map of yucatan and campeche

Where in the world? This should make it easier – look for Cancun, Merida and Campeche.

Getting there:

Looking at the map, the best way for us (in the absence of a direct flight, of course), was to fly to Dallas, with we did with British Airways, and connect with American Airlines to Cancun. Connecting in Dallas wasn’t as brilliant as most people say it is (immigration and connection services were a joke…), but our second flight was delayed which meant we did not have to stress so much. We were meant to land in Cancun at around 7pm local time, but ended up landing close to 11pm, which wasn’t ideal, but what else could we do?

We did not want to stay in Cancun for just a night, and we wanted to make headway to where we were going, so we organised to be picked up by Samuel, a Mayaland driver, which was the best idea we had. We were far too tired to drive the 2-hour journey from Cancun to Chichen Itza, and certainly did not want to do so at night.

We arrived close to 2am at the Mayaland Lodge at Chichen Itza and literally passed out. The hotel was defined as luxury (it was on the Conde Nast list… but in 2003), but in our opinion, it was a different type of luxury. It was simple and everything worked… and we slept for only 4 hours. The reason why we chose this hotel was clear: if we slept there, we would be the first ones to have access to Chichen Itza the following morning and that was a no brainer. If I went back to the area, I would do exactly the same thing again – and have no problems recommending the hotel based on this assumption.

mayaland resort lodge chitchen itza mexico

The Lodge at Chichen Itza, Mexico. Basic but functional.

We had breakfast and met our guide and driver – Augusto, who was to spend the day with us and show us around. Chichen Itza is an UNESCO world heritage archaeological site with excavated ruins of the large Maya city, including an iconic step pyramid. It was one of the things I really wanted to see, and having access to it virtually on our own (with other hotel guests, of course), was really worth it.

The only downside is that we had to queue for tickets (which could have been pre-organised, so ask for this when booking). Entrance costs around 19 USD (208 pesos) and is cash only. And we had limited cash (we only managed to get around 500 pesos at the airport the night before).

chichen itza ruins mayaland resort mexico yucatan

Just like a postcard – the Chichen Itza archeological site in Yucatan, Mexico.

We walked around the site for an hour – the street vendors will still setting up their stalls, but the timing was perfect. At around 8am, we started making our way towards the city of Merida, very slowly, with a few pit stops on the way.

chichen itza ruins mexico yucatan

I did not plan my outfit too well (too much of the same colour and wrong handbag). But if life was perfect, what would be the fun?

This area of Mexico is quite undeveloped and it felt quite ‘real’. One thing we also wanted to see, was a ‘cenote’, which are found in this area. What is a cenote, I hear you ask? According to Google, it is a “natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath”. In other words, something truly stunning.

There are many cenotes in the area, and we went to ‘Yokdzonot’ which was small and beautiful. Entrance cost around 4 USD (60 pesos) and as we beat the crowds, we had it all to ourselves. I was very sorry that I had not planned ahead and had a swim.

cenote yucatan mexico mrs o around the world

Worth noting that my hair was completely straight when I had left the hotel earlier that morning!!

From here, we made our way to Izamal, which was a delightful little town. One of Mexico’s 35 ‘magical towns’. According to the Mexican government, a town can be magical if it has rich historical tradition and is near ‘interesting places’ and a larger city (72km from Merida). Izamal is painted yellow and its Franciscan convent is a must-visit.

izamal town yucatan mexico

We thought Izamal was very pretty and worth a visit.

The drive to Merida, the capital of the Yucatan state was quick and a great way to see the scenery. We stopped for lunch at Casa Parrilla (where I enjoyed my first of many ‘sopa de lima’ or lime chicken soup, which was my first taste of the local cuisine, which I adored). We felt that Merida would have been worth more of our time and wished we had planned it a bit better. But gives us another reason to return one day.

merida city yucatan mexico

We managed to squeeze in a little walk about Merida.

Our driver dropped us off at the airport, where we had pre-booked a car hire with Hertz – I know I have *really bad luck* with car hiring experiences, and here we were treated to one of the best (read: worst) ones ever. Booking a car was a challenge – there is the game of supply and demand and the fact that no car hire company gives you an accurate amount for insurance which must be taken locally and at the counter. I read a lot of awful reviews online and tweeted Hertz a day before to triple check everything was OK. We booked the only car available then (at $125/day for 5 days) and were ensured everything would be peachy. Well, there was no car. At all. Apparently this happens quite a lot (and I did everything I could to prevent this) – and they couldn’t care less. It was ‘normal’ and our wait was for at least 5 hours, ‘or the next day’. I seriously could not believe it. What surprised me the most was Hertz’s response on social media. Click here to read the whole conversation on Twitter. It was almost comical.

hertz car hire twitter merida mexico 1

Excellent customer service…

We managed to find a car with Sixt (which wasn’t available online to book) – so seriously, if you are considering a car rental, be prepared. The car ended up being the same rate – but with insurance included (for something quite… limited), but we were able to move and continue with our trip.

A few hours later, we arrived at Campeche, the capital of the state with the same name. Its town centre is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I have to confess, driving around town, I could not wait to get there. The approach to the town was quite chaotic and when we turned into the walled part of the city, we couldn’t believe the contrast. It was stunning!

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico hotel

The Hacienda Puerta Campeche, where we stayed for 6 days.

Starwood’s Luxury Collection brand has a selection of a few stunning haciendas in the area, and I must confess, it was how I first heard about this part of the world. We couldn’t decide which one to stay at – and did not fancy moving hotels during the stay, so we went with Puerta Campeche, which is located in the town centre. We figured that it would be better to be able to go out for dinner, have some shopping options, etc.

The hotel is very small and in great condition – it is also very ‘in touch with the place’. Our room was on the top floor and was a junior suite of sorts. Quite spartan, in a way – but super super comfortable.

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico hacienda puerta campeche bedroom

Our room at Hacienda Puerta Campeche

We did not have many plans for the following days – we went into town and explored a bit each evening, but there was something we really wanted to do: enjoy the stunning pools.

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico hacienda puerta campeche indoor pool

Not ashamed to say we travelled all the way to this part of Mexico for this. The tamarind margaritas were also fab.

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico puerta campeche pool

Not your average hotel pool, for sure!

There weren’t a lot of sun loungers (which I found most strange), but we always managed to reserve two the day before. On some days, we visited the hotel’s sister property located half an hour away – the stunning Hacienda Uayamon. We also organised sun loungers and booked massages, which were fantastic (the setting was better at Uayamon, but the therapist was better at Puerta Campeche – good to have options!!)

the haciendas luxury collection hacienda uayamon campeche mexico

Almost no words to describe Hacienda Uayamon – to this day, I still don’t know if we should have stayed here. But having the opportunity to use both and have a change in scenery was excellent and anyone can do it.

the haciendas uayamon luxury collection campeche mexico

We felt we had the pool to ourselves – I other guests did a lot more sightseeing than we did. Which was fine by us!

In terms of food – we were also very pleasantly surprised. We did have lunch by the pool most days (or every day, rather) and thought the hotel selections were excellent. I was madly in love with the ‘sopa de lima’ and we worked our way around the menu. We ventured out for dinner based on the hotel concierge’s recommendation 3 times, but actually really liked the hotel. We also tried some local bars on the main street. I have to say that service was a bit slow all around and lets put it this way, Mr. O was pleased his wife spoke Spanish.

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico food

We really liked the food in the area. Small portions and not everything smothered in cheese.

In terms of shopping, a packing mistake meant I forgot to pack any pool dresses. It wasn’t very easy to find something simple, but almost on the last day, we found Taller Maya, which was very interesting. Imagine a cooperative of local artisans who are given the opportunity to produce local arts and crafts and have a selling platform – there was a shop just outside our hotel in Campeche, a concession at Hacienda Uayamon and also a few other stores. We loved the detail (and had loved the hotel soft-drink can coasters), so obviously we had to stock up. We really bought some lovely items and it is worth a visit. I loved to know who made our items and that they were paid a fair wage.

the haciendas luxury collection campeche mexico colourful houses

The very colourful houses of Campeche. You can also see Mr. O peeking at a house – he was fascinated that there was a car inside the living room. He checked it every day.

I have to say, we really enjoyed this trip – it was really quite quiet and we really liked the area. People were lovely and overall we felt it was great value ($5 handmade margaritas at the hotel, which can give you an idea of what they would cost elsewhere). The food was outstanding and we felt very comfortable and safe (even with the odd police check on the road, which happened daily).

We hope to be back one day!

Xo

Mrs. O

Fact Box: We travelled with British Airways to Dallas, American Airlines from Dallas to Cancun and returned from Merida to London Heathrow via Mexico City with Aeromexico and British Airways. Our tickets were short of £3,500/US$5,000 when added up.

We were guests of Mayaland who provided our driver and a night’s accommodation at The Lodge at Chichen Itza. The transfer from Cancun Airport to Chichen Itza costs US$390.00 one way, the room at the Lodge at Chichen Itza was US$237.00 with tax included. Our transportation from Chichen Itza to Merida cost US$364.00 one way.

Our room at Hacienda Puerta Campeche was US $600/night (rates vary depending on season). Our car hire with Sixt cost $700 including insurance.

Top 5 Destinations for Autumn 2015

After an very busy Spring and Summer, my travel schedule eases up a little bit (just a little bit) in the Autumn – no more long trips, just quick hops to places closer to home. Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Destinations for Autumn 2015.

Los Angeles, California, USA

top 5 destinations for autumn 2015 beverly hills los angeles california mrs o around the world

My love for California is well documented, and even though we went this Summer (to Palm Springs and to Santa Monica), Mr. O had a conference in town and well, I had to go with him. Gave me a chance to catch the last rays of sunshine and try again British Airways’ A380 on the way back.

I stayed *again* at the lovely Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills (read a previous review here), for the weekend preceding the conference and then moved on to Downtown Los Angeles, which was where the conference was located. As all nice hotel rooms were taken, we actually booked an AirBnb apartment which was lovely.

County Mayo, Ireland

top 5 destinations for autumn 2015 ashford castle ireland mrs o around the world

For Mr. O’s birthday week, we are starting the celebrations in his ancestor’s homeland: Ireland. I have never been to Ireland’s West Coast and am really looking forward to spending a weekend at the stunning Ashford Castle, which was been voted as ‘Best Hotel of the Year’ by Virtuoso. Weather permitting, there will be some boat rides, but in case it all becomes typically Irish, the recently opened spa awaits.

Sevilla, Spain

top 5 destinations for autumn 2015 seville spain mrs o around the world

To end Mr. O’s birthday week, we are travelling with friends to Seville in Spain (as there is finally a direct flight with BA). I have not visited the city as an adult – we always used to stop when we drove from Lisbon to the South of Spain many many decades ago) and I am really looking forward. I am also particularly keen to stay again at the stunning Alfonso XIII Hotel, which looks as grand as I remember – but also way more modern.

Bath, England

top 5 destinations for autumn 2015 bath england mrs o around the world

Much closer to home, we will be ending November in Bath, only an hour and a bit away from where we live. It may seem that I never spend time in the UK, but that is not the case. I have visited Bath a few times enroute to Devon (Exeter or Salcombe where we have family), and always thought I missed out by not staying the night. We are delighted to extend our stay for a whole weekend at the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa, which looks amazing. I am pretty sure there will be some great shopping, food and, fingers crossed, local gin!

Paris, France

top 5 destinations for autumn 2015 paris france mrs o around the world

And this is my wildcard for the season. We tend to visit Paris a couple of times a year (as a couple), but I haven’t spent the weekend since November last year – so all other business trips do not count. Mr. O, for example, goes a couple of times a month, so we promised to organise a very romantic weekend for both of us. He is taking care of everything, so I actually just have to turn up at the airport. Looking forward!

What do you think of my Top 5 Destinations for Autumn 2015? Have you been to any of them? Any suggestions on what we should see, buy or eat? And more importantly, where are you planning to go this Autumn?

xo

Mrs. O

Luxury Villa Review: The Blue Door in Palm Springs, California

the blue door palm springs

The Blue Door in Palm Springs, California

The Blue Door, is a beautiful 3-bedroom and 3-bathroom villa located in Palm Springs, California, which accommodates 6 people. On this occasion, I travelled with my husband, his daughter and my friend Trudi – making this the perfect-sized holiday home for us. We stayed for 5 nights.

Booking process 

We booked the property via a vacation rental website, and it was done in minutes. We had excellent communication with the owner of the property, Mike, even despite the time difference of 8 hours.

Extra costs such as housekeeping ($250 + tax), daily pool charge ($50 + tax) and a $1500 security deposit, were clear on the website and confirmed by the owner. Once the payment went through, we received a welcome email which included very detailed information about the area, ideas for restaurants and things to do, as well as the house manual. I was very impressed and really grateful for all the information.

Check-in

We were in touch with Mike since we left LA (we had flown in from London to LA and drove to Palm Springs), and had to delay our arrival as traffic was quite horrible. The drive usually takes 2 hours, but it took us almost 4. He was excellent about it (I felt terrible as I was ruining his evening plans) and was there when we finally arrived at around 7pm.

After a 10-hour flight and a long drive, getting to the house was all we wanted. We were quite surprised to be welcomed by a choice of champagne or wine – we chose the latter which helped break the ice (and was a great excuse to find out where essentials were kept in the kitchen). Mike then showed us around the house (for the record, this is a rental house, a professional operation – i.e. no one lives there), and I have to say, it was stunning. Do you know when you see photos of a place and they are not quite the same when you actually get there? We had the exact opposite experience. The house was even better than advertised.

I had also done some online shopping and some parcels had arrived for me.

The bedrooms & bathrooms

As stated earlier, The Blue Door has 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms – 2 of them are en suite (master and the blue room), and the green room has its own bathroom next door. That meant we all had our privacy and was exactly what we wanted.

All bedrooms were super spacious, in top condition, and all had closet space with proper hangers. Hotel-grade linens and towels were provided – and I have to say, the beds and pillows and everything were of outstanding quality. Worth noting that each bedroom has its own hairdryer.

Master Bedroom

blue door palm springs master bedroom

Our beautiful master bedroom

Our bedroom was huge and beautifully decorated – although I wasn’t quite sure about the bull head above the bed. It did not bother us in the slightest and we were very comfortable. This room had direct patio access to the pool area, which was quite handy during the day.

blue door palm springs master bedroom details jonathan adler

A very spacious and comfortable bedroom

We had a huge walk-in closet which we loved – I will admit that we had 7 suitcases (mostly empty at this stage, worry not), and were able to get unpacked quickly and organised.

Our bathroom was also fantastic – I loved small details like the Jonathan Adler soap and the beautiful orchids. But I adored the 2-head shower, which was excellent (and saved us a lot of time). The towels were of excellent quality and we washed these daily.

blue door palm springs master bathroom

The master bathroom

Blue Bedroom

blue door palm springs blue bedroom

I loved the colour scheme of the house. Plenty of blue for me. (second bedroom)

The second bedroom was called (well, I called it) the Blue room, and as you can see from the photos, it was really quite cool.

Half the wardrobe was locked, but the other half obviously wasn’t. There were great decor details and the bathroom was excellent. This room also had direct access to the pool area.

palm springs blue door blue bedroom details

The Blue bedroom and its en suite bathroom with walk-in shower.

Green Bedroom

blue door palm springs green bedroom 2

The Green room – in true Palm Springs style!

The Green bedroom was the only room without an en suite bathroom (although it was located right next door), and faced the front side of the house – that meant it had the most beautiful sunrise views of the mountains.

Shampoo and shower gel were provided in each bathroom (we had brought our own), and they were from different brands.

blue door palm springs green bedroom bathroom jonathan adler

A gorgeous lamp and the 3rd bathroom

The living room

blue door palm springs living room

This photo made me want to book this house.

The living room was the heart of the house and as you can see by the photos, it was stunning. I know I am using this word a lot – but you can see what I am talking about. The house was of course interior designed and it actually gave us a great sense of place. It said ‘Palm Springs’ left, right and centre.

blue door palm springs lounge flytographer

We had Flytographer come over as our stay at the Blue Door made our trip to Palm Springs truly special.

We had a comfortable seating area, and an easy to use TV and entertainment system (which we were shown how to use). Whilst we didn’t actually watch much TV, we used some of its radio channels to play music around the house and outside, where we spent most of our time.

The dining room

blue door palm springs dining room flytographer

A great dining area and some fun moments captured by Flytographer. The bubbles were part of our welcome hamper. Quite thoughtful!

We didn’t cook any meals in the house (except for the odd breakfast or lunch, which we enjoyed outside by the pool), so this room actually became our shopping room. I did most of my shopping online before leaving for California, and every day it was like Christmas. Worth noting one thing – the door bell also rang by the pool area, which was something that we were briefly worried about.

The dining room was also home to the ‘bar’, which featured only plastic glasses – I must confess I did miss drinking wine in proper wine glasses, and this would be one of the things that I would change going forward. The glasses were good, but it isn’t the same (although I understand the concern that some guests could take them to the pool and accidents could happen). But some of the glasses were excellent for some proper European-sized Gin & Tonics, I must say!

The kitchen

blue door palm springs kitchen

A very well equipped kitchen

The kitchen was spotless (as was the rest of the house), and we loved finding out where things were. The set up is so professional, there are even labels with things like ‘Bar Accessories’.

It had everything from cutlery, to plates, lots of serving plates and pots and pans. In the cleaning front, we also had dishwashing tablets, washing up liquid, plenty of kitchen towels and the lot.

I have to confess I was very impressed with the ‘welcome hamper’. There were peanut M&Ms and nuts and nibbles, and we had white wine, a bottle of (USA-made) Chandon, lemonade and orange juice, water bottles and milk. I thought it was so nice of the owners.

There were also some long-life previously used items like sauces, spices, olive oil etc in the pantry and fridge.

There was a coffee maker (which we did not use as we are weird Europeans and we did not want to attempt to break the machine), microwave, oven, any baking device you could ever need, a dishwasher and a fantastic fridge (I have a thing for American super sized fridges).

blue door palm springs west elm kitchen

You could pretty much find anything you could possibly need.

There was also a separate utility room, with a washing machine and dryer. We had no idea how to operate it, but we eventually figured it out – so different from the European front load machines) – and we used it a lot. Everyday we washed our bath and pool towels, so they were nice and fresh daily. There was also a cupboard with extra linens and towels. Washing products (i.e. detergent pods and conditioner) were provided. There was also an ironing board and an iron – which I personally did not use, but my friends have and worked very well.

On a more domestic note, we emptied our rubbish daily and placed them in the large bins located outside the utility room. Not a problem there.

The Pool and Outdoor Area

blue door palm springs outdoor area flytpgrapher

We loved the fire pit (which we only turned on once just to try it out!). Moments captured by Flytographer.

The outdoor area was also very well conceived – the plot wasn’t huge, but felt very comfortable and spacious.

We had a pool and a jacuzzi (which we learned how to operate on check-in and used a few times), which was actually cleaned by someone during our stay (we were out but noticed that when we returned). The patio area had 4 sun loungers, and 4 different areas – 2 seating areas, and 2 eating areas featuring a bar and a dining table. Spoiled for choice, huh?

The Pool

blue door palm springs pool area

Our gorgeous pool – no doubt we were in Palm Springs

We spent most of our time actually inside the pool – as it was so hot outside (it was over 40c!). We loved the floaties and used them a lot! Obviously we did not heat the pool – if anything, we would have done the opposite.

We had 8 pool towels, which were in good condition and we washed daily.

Outdoor Area

blue door palm springs outdoor area pool

A different perspective of the pool, as well as various outdoor dining areas.

We used the bar for the odd lunch we had at home and for pre-dinner gin & tonics, of course and in the evenings, after we came back for dinner, we sat either at the dining table (which had very comfortable chairs), or by the fire pit. I think we moved around every day just for variety. Everything was in excellent condition and super comfortable.

There were things like a covered ice-bucket that we used daily to get out water bottles cold, the night lights and lanterns were also used each evening.

There was also a ping-pong table, which we did not use, and in the garage, there are 6 bicycles, which I personally did not use, but everyone else did – to get coffee each morning. I think they cycled each morning, but then drove the other days. ?

There was also a top of the range BBQ (and all the utensils), but we did not use during our stay.

Parking

The Blue Door has a parking garage for 2 cars, and there is also off street parking. No problems whatsoever in this department.

Air Conditioning

It took me a while to figure it out as it was so modern and different from what we are used to, but eventually we got it. My only complaint was that it was loud at night, but not having it on wasn’t an option. There were also ceiling fans in each room which we used.

blue door palm springs jonathan adler decor details

It is all in the details…

Cleaning

We paid $250 (+ tax) for our ‘end of stay’ clean, and managed quite well during our stay (which was 5 days). Were we staying for longer, we would have had a clean every 3-4 days. The house was spotless and we kept it that way. A quick clean would cost $50, and a change of sheets etc would cost $150.

Wifi

Was of course provided and worked well during our stay.

Check-out

We were in touch with Mike during our stay (mostly to ask about local recommendations as all the ones we had given us were spot on). For the record, we have been coming to this area for almost 10 years, but we do not actually stay in Palm Springs, hence why everything was quite new. We did not have any problems or issues during our stay.

We left at around 11am (we actually had a late check out until 2pm), and had an email from the owner asking us not to touch anything (i.e. to leave towels etc where they were) except to take our rubbish out, which of course we did.

Whilst we were driving to LA, we got our security deposit refund with a note thanking us for looking after The Blue Door as well as our own home. I thought it was a lovely touch and all very straightforward.

Location and nearby amenities

We were located in a very quiet upmarket residential area, and within 2-3 minutes drive, we had various retail areas with supermarkets, dry cleaning etc. We were located 5-10 minutes from Downtown Palm Springs. We also used Uber on some nights and never had to wait for more than 5 minutes.

blue door palm springs front area flytographer

Our front garden – and some more moments from our Flytographer shoot.

Cost

Rates vary between $600-750 depending on the time of the year, with some exceptions like Coachella. There are also Summer specials with a free midweek night during July and August, which we benefited from. Minimum stay: 3 nights.

My thoughts and impressions

There is no other way I can word this – we adored The Blue Door. We were travelling with friends and family and the set up was perfect for us. The house was beautiful, had everything we needed and we loved the privacy of having our own pool. We loved the house so much, we had our Flytographer shoot in there – it was that perfect. We also got a lot of inspiration in terms of decor, and have brought lots of things from the Blue Door home – and by that, I mean that we went to West Elm and Jonathan Adler and bought quite a few things!

And I am pretty sure we will go back in the future.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and fact box: I paid a discounted rate on some nights during our stay, but opinions are, as always my own. For more information, visit The Blue Door booking page.

Experiencing a Gourmet Skisafari in Alta Badia, Italy (by Mr. O)

The culinary season on the slopes of Alta Badia, in Italy’s Dolomites, starts on a very special day: the day that the Gourmet Skisafari, haute cuisine at 2,000 m altitude, takes place.

This event brings seven Michelin chefs in five mountain huts in the Alta Badia ski region. Basically, you ski from one hut to the other during the morning, and on each one, you experience some of the best dishes in Italy. Chefs come from all parts of the country – it really is a treat.

If there is one person that loves his food, it is indeed Mr. O. So as he enjoyed this trip so much, I asked him to share with us his memories of this very special day. I think he is a natural. xo Mrs. O.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world mr o

The mountains were calling the Os again!

We travelled to Alta Badia for a long weekend to start our ski season in style. But as it was early, there wasn’t as much snow as we had hoped for. We were able to ski, but not as much as we would have wanted. But worry not – there were plenty of other wonderful things to do. Like eating.

After a brilliant dinner the evening before, we woke up and wondered if our collective prayers had worked – was there a snow fall that night and would we be able to conduct our gastronomic tour on skis to taste the best Italian cuisine, by some of the finest Italian Michelin-starred chefs?

I opened the curtains of our bedroom and it was a beautiful day – and I was upset. No fresh snow! So I knew then that I was going to have to “work out” and earn the right to be there to participate in a fabulous day ahead of us and do the “Gourmet Safari” by snow-shoeing to three different huts (instead of the preplanned 5 huts).

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world ski area

A little bit of snow – but it was very early in the season!

On a positive side, I thought that this might be a perfect way of eating and drinking and combining it with exercise to make room for the next hut and next beautiful tasting and so on. So, by the time we were ready to leave the hotel, I was mentally prepared for the adventure ahead.

We arrived at Piz La Villa station and we were fitted out with snow shoes and poles and ten of us departed in the cable car to the top. We took time to assemble the shoes and get used to walking with them on the snow, I felt as if I was Scott going to the North Pole, it felt so weird! Different, but fun. The views were terrific and of course as we were walking, we had more time to take in our surroundings.

The first hut (Utia I Tabla) was about an hour’s stroll and I certainly worked up an appetite.  We arrived at around 10.15am, removed our snow shoes and were greeted with a glass of Spumante. Well even I thought this was a tad “too early” – I had to wait at least until 10.30am! So I had a soft drink and made my way to sample Chef Claudio Sadler’s salt cod escalope with Prosecco, dried olives and storo polenta and paired with a glass of  Alto Adige Spumante. Wow, it just melted in my mouth.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world chef claudio sadler

Chef Claudio Sadler’s salt cod escalope

What a way to start the day and with a cold glass of Spumante (it was now after 10.30am!) – a perfect beginning. There were a lot of knowing nods from others as soon as they had their first taste. Of course, we were tempted to sneak a second little sample but looking at the menu for the other chefs’ offerings we declined!

I slowly walked to go to the other room sipping my Spumante, where Chef Nicola Laera was plating seared organic beef carpaccio, turnip parsley cream, artichokes preserved in oil and rye bread wafer. Oh boy, heaven again. This was paired with Alto Adige Pinot Nero – just perfect.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world chef nicolau lair

Chef Nicola Laera

So suitably filled, happy and extremely content, we were encouraged to re-fix our snow shoes and head off to the next hut, which was 20/30 minutes’ walk away. Actually, I was now getting used to this new mode of transport and thought what we were doing was a great idea. The thought of actually skiing after some wine did not sit comfortably with me. So, pleasant exercise made room (well at least in my head) for the next delicious delight that was being prepared for us.

We arrived at Piz Arlara hut (well, this was far larger than a hut) and were greeted by Matteo Metullio who had prepared our meal the previous evening. His dish was “Jota” bean cream, fired potato chips, sauerkraut, speak oil and shrimp tartare with lemon along with a glass of Alto Adige Sauvignon. This was light and exquisite. We stayed a little to enjoy the views and the atmosphere and were persuaded to try a local drink called “Bombardin”. This was all about preparing us for the next hike to the final hut.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world Chef Matteo Metullio

Chef Matteo Metullio and his dish

Snow shoes on and we left to walk or shuffle to the next hut – some 30 plus minutes away depending how long it took you to climb the last hill before you reached the Utia Col Alt, the hut at the top of another cable car and our way back down off the mountain.

Some of the group were tempted to take the snow cat instead. We were not as we felt we were here to do this Safari on snow shoes and we needed to burn off some food and make more room for the final two culinary dishes! A lovely walk through the woods until the slope. Then we regretted not taking the cat, but actually it was a nice way to warm up and be prepared.

Here the two Chefs, Norbert Niederkofler and Chef Giancarlo Morelli had prepared 2 different dishes. A knuckle of lamb on corn cream, onion salad and julienne of parsley and buckwheat flour tortello with bitto-chees, organic potatoes, fondue of lightly smoked white onion and crispy chanterelles, respectively.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world Norbert Niederkofler and Chef Giancarlo Morelli

Chefs Giancarlo Morelli & Norbert Niederkofler working in tandem.

The dishes were paired off with some fine wines, with the lamb Alto Adige Lago di Caldaro Schiava and the tortello Alto Adige Gewurztraminer.

We stayed for a little while taking in the scenery and sipping the wines and then talking with the Chefs who circulated once the dishes were concluded. A really fun morning and afternoon and it was sad to end and have to depart back down the cable car and then transport back to the hotel.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world

Chef Giancarlo Morelli, Mrs. O (you may be familiar with her) and our friend Melvin.

This was the Third Season of the Gourmet Skisafari or as they say “the cooking tour on skis”. The concept is that it focuses on typical local products in the region and the dishes prepared are all great classics that have been reinterpreted especially for the occasion and reflect the Chefs own stories of the Italian regions, their traits and the journeys they have made from North to South of Italy. The wines are all from South Tyrol.

alta badia ski safari mrs o around the world ana

Mrs. O loves the mountains. She was more of a beach bunny when we met 10 years ago, but that has all changed now.

The Gourmet Safari is an all season event and the cost for the five huts is €45. Extremely good value and well worth doing. A fun day with great food and if you were on skis you could do many runs to the huts between 11 and 3.30!

Mr O

PS. This was my first blogging attempt, so be gentle with me.

Disclaimer and Fact Box: Mrs. O and I travelled to Alta Badia with Powder Byrne, who were excellent. A luxury 3-night Ski Weekend starts from £925 per adult staying in a double room on half board at the 4-star Hotel Gran Paradiso, price includes Powder Byrne concierge service, return British Airways flights from Gatwick to Venice and private transfers to and from the airport.

A 6-day lift pass for the Alta Badia ski area start at £159 for adults and £110 for children (under the age of 14).

Experiencing voluntourism in Cape Town, South Africa @newkidzprojects @handsupholidays

On my recent trip to which began with some days in the Winelands and Cape Town, I got to do something special: for 2 days, I got to help a local charity – New Kidz on the Block, a local organization that works to create awareness for South Africa’s 3 million orphaned, destitute and vulnerable children with their work, which includes makeovers to daycare centres in the outskirts of Cape Town. It was my first ‘voluntourism’ experience, so to say – and this was organised by Hands Up Holidays, who specialises in this type of activity.

Before our departure to South Africa, and after assessing our skill set – that would mean mine, my sister’s and the two ladies’ (Ashley & Carolyn) from The Lazy Travelers who were travelling with us. We were ‘cleared’ for painting, which got us quite excited.

We had agreed to raise £500 for the charity, but I wanted to see if I could stretch this budget – and I reached out to my readers and want to thank personally everyone who a) trusted me, b) believed in the cause and c) made a donation. Through GivenGain, I raised over £2,300, which have now been handed over and spent by New Kidz on the Block.

On our first day, we were picked up at 8am and taken to the Samora Machel township outside Cape Town. Our goal was to makeover 2 Early Childhood Development Centres: Lusanda Educare, which looks after 30 children from a very small room, and Noma’s Day Care, which is a larger facility with capacity for 58 children.

The before picture - and where you can see artist Theo, who was directing our work. Photo by The Lazy Travelers

The before picture – and where you can see artist Theo, who was directing our work. Photo by The Lazy Travelers

Obviously there was a big cultural shock for us – when we think about the childcare facilities we have available to us, but I was so touched by what we saw. And how despite all the difficulties, there are people wanting to make life easier for the others. If someone can look after the children, then parents can go to work. And if the spaces they occupy can be nicer, then the better. To give you an idea, the money that our group raised was used to buy the materials and cover all costs on both projects – but the donations included toys, clothes, art materials, snacks, sterilisers, nappies, gifts for the staff, etc.

I was no artist, but I did my best to paint within the lines.

I was no artist, but I did my best to paint within the lines.

The founders of New Kidz on the Block, Michael and Hilda DeBeer were with us and other volunteers during our two days and meeting them was really quite something – you really have to admire their determination in helping others less fortunate than them. The charity started some years ago with them and some friends helping out ‘on weekends’.

The end result of our efforts, led by New Kidz on the Block.

The end result of our efforts, led by New Kidz on the Block.

After a packed lunch, we moved on to Noma’s day care, which was a much larger facility in the same area – but we had more volunteers helping us as there was a lot more work to do. We did everything that we were asked to – namely painting.

Noma's Educate before...

Noma’s Educate before… (photo by Lazy Travelers)

We were again led by mural artist Theo, who made the drawings and taught us how to ‘colour them in’. I hadn’t done anything like this for a while – and it was really interesting. From a teamwork perspective, we had to achieve a lot in a short period of time, but the satisfaction coming from the end result was much more important – when we saw Noma and how much she loved the new-look centre, it was very touching. We all got quite emotional, to be honest.

A good day's work at Noma's Educate in Samora Machel with New Kidz.

A good day’s work at Noma’s Educate in Samora Machel with New Kidz.

Without a doubt, this was a fantastic experience – and if you are going to South Africa anytime soon, I would urge you to connect with the charity and see if you can help out for a day or two. I can imagine it being a great family activity or if you are travelling with your partner and/or friends.

I was most impressed with the organisation of New Kidz on the Block and how we received an excel detailing how all the money we collectively raised was spent. It is all accounted for and I saw it being used first hand.

I would like to thank Steffen, Debbie, ChinWe, Nars, Rebecca, Molly, Megan, Michelle, Amanpreet, Deborah, Lauren, Veera, Farrah, Nicole, Lisa, Charles, Kim-Marie, Rosa, Ian & Alex, Amie, Chris & Terene, Martin, Karim & Sara, Matt, James, Ruta, Renata, Jorge, Liz, Craig, Rosie, Padraic, Polly, Trudi, Gerrie, Monika, Paola, Andrew, Angelina, Stephanie, Corina, Matthew, Kathleen, Silvia, Jaqueline, Esther, Elyse, Angie, Lucy, Victoria, Andrew, Peter, Chelsie, Nancy, Thomas, Eileen, Heather, Nick, Anisha, Anne, Diana, Sara, Mirjana, Marcus & Kristin, Maria, Justine, Miguel, Marian, Clara, Jen, Keith, Carolyn, Susan, Suzanne, Margarida, Juliet, Marie, Lauren, Stephen, Ana, Damon, Andre, Gerard, Kiera, Rosana, Natércia, Morven, Katie, Duarte, Stephane, Laura, Anna, Lisa, Kathryn, Benedict, Paul, Eliana, Mark, Maria, Richard, Greg, Pandora, Chris, Jane & Calum, and Simon for your donations. £2,300 is a lot of money and I appreciate your support.

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: Eccleston Square Hotel, London @ESquareHotel

eccleston square hotel london facade

The lovely Eccleston Square Hotel in London

Located in the sought-after Eccleston Square, in London’s Pimlico neighbourhood, this little gem of a hotel – the Eccleston Square Hotel, was a very nice surprise. Possibly the most high-tech hotel I have ever stayed at, with a very special ‘home away from home’ feel. Read on, as you may be tempted to check-in sooner than you think.

Pre-Arrival

eccleston square hotel london welcome email

Not your average ‘hotel email welcome’. The details do count.

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

Well, there were indeed, and I truly felt that my experience at the hotel started a few days before I checked in when I got the ‘pre-arrival’ email. I must confess I was quite intrigued and explored the options before I left home. I was particularly interested in the ‘docking station menu’, and I was able to let the hotel know what devices I would be bringing with me. I also thought the dining information (and local area information) was very thorough and, most importantly, very well curated.

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

Absolutely – there was a very personal touch to the messaging and interactions, and once you get there, you realise that it is the hotel owner who looks after the social media which makes a world of difference.

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

The pre-arrival email was excellent and I was able to select all that I would (possibly) need.

Arrival

eccleston square hotel london 2 reception

Beautiful interiors at the hotel. Photo by hotel.

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

I said a little ‘wow’ when I walked in and did not stop for a fair bit. The hotel is beautifully decorated and I loved it. When you walk in, you have a corridor in front of you, and can turn right for the reception area, or left, to the restaurant and bar areas.

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

Very quick and efficient.

–          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 and that continued throughout the stay. The hotel has under 40 rooms and many repeat guests, which was obvious during my stay. As it is located moments from Victoria Station, many corporates choose this option during the week.

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

I did not – the hotel was fully booked and I was assigned a Signature King room.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

I thought everyone was lovely – and very chatty (in a nice way). I did spend a considerable amount of time at the hotel and being so small, it is easy to recognise staff and vice versa.

–          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 bag with me and took it to my room.

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

Of course there was wifi. And of course there was no charge.

Room Experience

eccleston square hotel london bedroom

Our room was quite small, but incredibly comfortable.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room wasn’t large by any standards – it was quite compact, but it did not feel claustrophobic. I loved the decor colours (not so much the flurry comforter and pillows) and I was very keen to play with all that would be available.

–          Welcome amenity

I was surprised by a very decent selection of reading material and some macarons and sweets. A lovely touch.

eccleston square hotel london room details mini bar

Room details – the Nespresso and free water, my welcome amenity, the honesty bar and room scent.

–          The bed

The bed… should have a blog post totally dedicated to it. It was very possibly one of the best beds I have had the pleasure of sleeping in. The hotel has Hastens beds, which have a life of their own. You can use the remote and adjust anything you would like and not know you need in your life. I loved it.

–          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.

All good in this department.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

Indeed, and as stated before, you could pre-select the exact one you needed prior to arrival, or during your stay.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, of course, and I for once used the bathroom as I did spend a fair amount of time in bed, working from there – as I was extremely comfortable.

–          Coffee and Tea

eccleston square hotel london in room dining ipad

This is how you order tea at the hotel.

Whereas the is a Nespresso machine in each room, there are no tea making facilities. Why? Because Olivia, the owner of the hotel believes that kettles in the room could pose a potential hygiene factor and prefers to have a fresh pot sent to your room, any time of the day or night, whenever you want it. You literally press a button on the iPad and the tea arrives within 15 minutes. I also decided to order a banana (under ‘comments’) just to see if it was read or not. Result!

–          Free bottled water

Of course, but also I liked the ‘fair priced’ mini bar, where all items are sold at cost price. No £8 diet cokes.

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

Mine was very nice and tailored to me, and you can see the magazines I got in the photo above.

–          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.

eccleston square hotel london in room technology

I was a bit wary of ‘too much technology’ as sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to use, but I felt smart, for a change. I could actually operate everything that I wanted.

Well well well. If there is a hotel that thought about all this, it would be this one. By the TV you had sets of UK, US and EU sockets as a starter – life changing. Obviously I was ‘playing at home’ on this stay and I only had UK devices. By the beds, you could charge whatever you wanted. Brilliant.

Bathroom

eccleston square hotel london bathroom

A very sexy bathroom. Photo by hotel.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

It was quite spacious and it was stunning. Beautiful really. I do have a thing for bathrooms, as you may know by now.

–          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 didn’t have a bathtub, but had a phenomenal shower – it was even a ‘triple’ shower as you could have a rain shower, a power shower or a vanity one. Everything was top range – and surely it wasn’t an accident.

eccleston square hotel london bathroom 2

The coolest room feature – you touched a button, and well, you can guess what happened.

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

They were very good. No complaints there.

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

We had baby L’Occitane toiletries which are very good quality – but I must confess I was surprised with the brand choice. I always associate this brand with more rural settings.

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

Everything we needed was actually hidden in the cupboard, with plenty of space for our own toiletries.

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

It was a good one, as expected.

Dining and Bar

eccleston square hotel london breakfast

The largest TV screen I have ever seen – 103 inches if you are counting, and a lovely breakfast display.

The hotel has a lovely dining area – with a standalone restaurant, bar and breakfast/sitting room. I tried dinner one night and it was good, and breakfast was excellent. I loved the choices and presentation (and the simple a la carte menu).

I thought the bar area was too small and too visible to guests, and something needs to be done there. Also gin selection very limited (with I noted during my stay).

But the best thing about the hotel? The keys that you can borrow and make your way to Eccleston Square Garden. I loved it so much (remember that Notting Hill moment with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant? Something similar to that). Needless to say, I enjoyed a couple of drinks there each day. You can take them from the hotel, or have the team come and prepare a picnic, for example.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It was excellent and to be honest, I did expect that!

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

Absolutely and we had quite a bit of fun.

–          Location

For me personally, it was too close to Victoria Station (which isn’t a particularly nice area). But the area of the hotel itself was very civilised and quiet.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

£220 per night.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely. I think she would love it.

–          Would I stay again?

Without a doubt.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

My favourite travel moments with Flytographer

One of the best travel concepts I have discovered is, without a doubt, Flytographer. If you are a regular reader of my blog (or indeed follow some of my adventures via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram), you will notice that sometimes, I will have photographs from a trip that are clearly better than others. Why? Because we booked a session with Flytographer in such location.

Flytographer provides timed photoshoots in 150+ locations around the world – they started in 2013, and my love affair with them did too – and in Lisbon, Portugal, of all places.

flytographer vacation photographer lisbon portugal mrs o around the world

Our first shoot in Lisbon, Portugal

I usually travel with my husband, and there are so many trips we have been on and the only photo we have of both of us together was a blurred shot taken by some random person in the street. I am sure it has happened to everyone – and since we started using Flytographer, this worry is now a thing of the past.

Flytographer vacation shoot Paris Mrs O Around the World

It is not just about having couples photos – with all due respect to my beloved husband, there is no way he could take a photo of me like this, right?

At last count, I think we have used Flytographer over 15 times since 2013 – and in incredible locations around the world. The company is growing at a steady pace with locations added every month depending on demand and requests, of course.

More and more, we have been trying Flytographer with friends. Taken in Palm Springs, California

More and more, we have been trying Flytographer with friends. Taken in Palm Springs, California

Booking a session is easy – you get on the Flytographer website, pick a location and then select your photographer, depending purely on your preference. I like to see what different styles each one has, although more often than not, I just simply ask Flytographer to book whoever they think is best. I think their recruitment is excellent and the 15 photographers were totally ‘on brand’. Obviously, there were some shoots which were truly special – but the models could have been more inspired, right? I honestly have no complaints.

Flytographer vacation photographer Mumbai India Mrs O Around the World

Up and early to avoid the crowds in Mumbai, India.

If you are booking a shoot with less than 2 weeks notice, Flytographer advises you to check availability before booking and paying – some locations get extremely busy, so you must do that. Once you book, your Shoot Concierge will get in touch with you and organise the shoot itself – I find this stage of the process very neat and handy. Phone numbers are exchanged, meeting time and location are fixed. And it all works!

Flytographer Shoot Scoop

The ‘Shoot Scoop’, which you will receive by email before every shoot.

I still get a bit nervous before each shoot – and I like talking to the photographer and define the style. Some people want direction, others not so much – I personally like a bit of both. They are professionals and know what works, and you can see examples of really fun shoots in Istanbul or Los Angeles.

Flytographer Cape Town Mrs O Around the World

With Ashley and Carolyn (from The Lazy Travelers) and my sister Renata in Cape Town.

The obvious advantage of having a shoot with friends (30 minutes costs $250 – £160-€220, 1 hour costs $350-£225-€305) is the fact that you can split the cost – and you can ask for some group shots, individual and pairs. A great example recently was on a trip to Cape Town, where we wanted to get some individual photos, but in this case, Ashley and Carolyn wanted some of just the two of them, and my sister and I did too. We got what we asked for without a doubt.

Flytographer Vacation Shoot Prague Mrs O Around the World

One of our favourite shoots: Prague.

You can define your route and decide where you want to meet – or you can also pick from a pre-defined route. After thousands of shoots, the Flytographer teams around the world know what works if say, you have 30 minutes in Paris or Rome. In all honesty, I used to pick my locations but in the last year, I decided not to. Why? Because I have been getting the best surprises ever.

Flytographer Abu Dhabi UAE Mrs O Around the world

We had some ‘hot’ shoots – Abu Dhabi in the UAE at 46c.

In Istanbul for example, we asked the photographer pick the area and route and we discovered the area around Galata Tower which we hadn’t visited before or were planning to. In Prague, we met at our hotel and hit half of the city’s touristic spots all the way to the Castle and we did not have to go over the weekend, when it was full of people.

Discovering Istanbul with our Flytographer.

Discovering Istanbul with our Flytographer.

Once you have done the shoot, you will receive your photographs within 5 days. And now, as a little teaser, you even get a postcard halfway through – just to get you even more excited.

flytographer postcard santa monica

Your post-shoot postcard.

And then you get *the email*. The number of photos you get, depends on the package you select. Expect 15 photos if you book 30 minutes, and 30 photos when you book a one hour session. I think the ratio is extremely generous and works a treat.

You will get your photos in low resolution and also in high resolution – so you can print them.

flytographer photos by email

The most awaited part of the process. There are from our recent photoshoot in Brooklyn, NYC (another location Flytographer chose for us, which we loved)

So 2 years and 15 photo shoots later, I have to say Flytographer is indeed one of the best concepts I have discovered – and really really add to my travel experience in each place that I visit. I also found that Flytographer sessions make for wonderful gifts to friends (what do you give to the person who has it all?) – I recently purchased a session for a friend who was celebrating her engagement in Venice. She loved it!

Flytographer Vacation Shoot Venice

Because as they say, memories are your best souvenirs. And this has to be one of our favourite photos ever. In Venice, Italy

So on your next trip, do give Flytographer a go. I love it and could not recommend it enough.

xo

Mrs. O

My Flight: British Airways Club World A380 from London to Los Angeles

Flight Review: British Airways Business Class A380 (Club World)

Our flight to California each Summer is one of the ones I look forward to the most all year. Why? Because it is a good 12 hours – I don’t know about you, but I love long flights as they provide me with the opportunity of not doing much, for a change. No interruptions, no internet, no emails – all I need to do is lie back, catch up on movies, sip a couple of glasses of champagne and even do some thinking, if I really have to.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review

One of British Airways’ A380 – not a small plane!

This time, I was particularly excited to fly as we had booked our Club World seats months in advance with our Avios on one of the airline’s darling planes: the A380. A few years ago, we tried it on the way back but in premium economy (not bad…  but not the same, of course). As I have said many many times before, I am a very proud British Airways Gold Cardholder (Oneworld Emerald) – a card that doesn’t earn itself without a very fair share of paid flights. But one of the perks of flying so much, is that you get your reward: free flights and upgrades. Many people have thousands of Avios and always assume they cannot spend them. Well, with careful planning, you can find reward seats (and spend those babies in other things too), which give you access to experiences like these.

Here is how my August 2015 flight from London Heathrow (LHR) T5 to Los Angeles (LAX) T8 went. The flight was scheduled to depart at 9.45am and land at 12.25pm local time.

Check-in 

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review Heathrow Terminal 5 First Class Check In

The First Check-In area at Heathrow’s T5, the home of British Airways. Also Mr. O getting busy with our luggage, business class check-in area and a view of the terminal.

As a BA Gold Executive Club cardholder, one of my perks, despite which class I fly, is that I am able to check in using the ‘First’ area, which is separate from the business class check-in desks. At LHR T5, this means the area at the very end of the terminal (last door when you get to the departures concourse). The business class area actually had a queue, but the first class area only had 2 people before us.

Check-in was quick and efficient – we had 8 suitcases between 3 passengers (so were no way near our generous allowance which would be 3 bags per passenger and an extra one for being a gold member), which were tagged and sent on our way. The agent was very nice – he also double checked our ESTAs for the USA, which were in order, of course. We were also given our US Customs form.

Security

All business class passengers get to fast track security, which we did. We used the South Terminal checkpoint, which is the closest one to the First/Business Class check-in areas, and we had 3 people ahead of us, which was a nice bonus. The terminal was heaving and was quite busy, but I like the new system they have at T5 where 3-4 people can use the belts at one time, making it much quicker. No problems here. Please note that in the UK, there is still a liquid restriction, laptops etc still have to come out, but if you are not wearing heels, you can keep your shoes on, which I find very civilised).

 

The Lounge

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review Heathrow Terminal 5 First Lounge Taittinger Champagne

99% of my flights start at this very place – this is my home lounge at the British Airways T5 Terminal. The Taittinger helps, of course.

Before we got to the lounge – we could use either Galleries lounge for business class passengers (North or South or at the B Gates), or in our case, the First lounge – we indulged in some shopping before we made our way there.

At the lounge, the first thing we did was to order breakfast – there is a buffet, but you can also get some made-to-order items, like the egg and bacon sandwich, which I am a very big fan of.

Whilst we waited for our order, we used the Foreign Exchange desk to get some dollars (which is located in the lounge and means you don’t have to queue), and we tried to get an Elemis spa treatment. On this occasion, we weren’t successful – and as we were leaving from C gates, we didn’t even have the option of having a treatment at the B-gates lounge. Business class passengers cannot pre-book treatments, and I find it almost impossible to get a treatment at LHR as there always seems to be more rooms than therapists.

I also tried to stock up on magazines – newspapers are never a problem – but despite there being hundreds of different titles, mostly were ‘lounge’ and rather obscure magazines. No Hello, Tatler or Vanity Fair this time – despite it being 7am. To avoid going to WHSmith (and the whole boarding pass debacle), I had packed a few kilos of magazines and books in my luggage and just hoped there would be magazines on the plane.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review LHR T5 First Lounge

Some details of the BA First Lounge at T5.

Breakfast was excellent and we couldn’t resist a glass of 2006 Milesime Taittinger, which I adore and is the champagne currently being served at the lounge. I noticed there was also a gin bar/display (first time!!), but as it was so early in the morning, I did not try.

I quite like this lounge, but find it is getting busier and busier. Food is good, service has improved lately but I still find the bathroom facilities need an update. With this being BA’s First Lounge at its home airport, there is no excuse. (Please note that First passengers can use the Concorde Room).

 

The Flight

We made our way to C-gates (T5 operates from a main terminal – A gates, but has 2 satellite terminals (B & C) which are accessible via a quick train). It took us 10 minutes to get there and a short walk to the gate. I used BA’s app which sends me push notifications and told us when to start making our way to the gate and when we got there, our flight was boarding.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review iphone app and notifications

The very handy BA app.

–          Boarding

To board the plane, we used the fast track lane (which can be used by bronze, silver and gold cardholders as well as business and first class passengers). There was a bit of a queue, but not a problem. As we were going to the USA, there are extra security checks in place with security guards checking your passport whilst the check-in agent checks your name.

For the A380, there are different boarding procedures as the plane has 2 floors – instead of being organised by class, it was organised by seat number, so we followed the signs to ’50 and higher’ and made our way to the plane.

We ‘arrived’ directly on the top floor.

–          Welcome

We showed our boarding passes so the crew could direct us to our seats, which were right at the front of the cabin. We were addressed by name once the lady spotted the surname and the big fat gold screen (it is a lovely touch and I love it, I must confess) and escorted to our cabin. We had seats 50 A/B on this trip, which I had chosen on purpose (thinking about older cabin configurations, but not this one in particular. More on that later!).

Whilst we boarded, we were offered a choice of drinks – champagne (Taittinger Brut Reserve being the option), orange juice or water. You can guess what I chose.

Newspapers were also offered, which I declined as I had gotten one from the lounge and I saw the magazines on the racks, which were ‘OK’ compared to other flights, but there was some decent reading material, if required.

–          Amenities

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review elemis amenities

The Elemis amenities kit and our pillow/duvet and headphones.

We were given a navy Elemis bag with products – and it was single sex only. On previous flights there was a female and male version, but not on this one. The bag (which is similar to a shoe bag, and I suppose can be re-used for that purpose or as a small laundry bag), contained a pen (unbranded, which was strange), ear plugs (my favourites in the whole world, yellow ones by 3M), toothpaste and a toothbrush, a navy eye-mask and socks, and a series of Elemis products which included a cleansing wipe, a lipstick, hand lotion and face moisturiser.

You are also given a pillow and a beige/blue duvet which I liked.

–          Drinks service 

Not too long after take-off (we were delayed by 30 minutes), we were given our menus detailing all the service options during the flight in terms of food and drink. There are some champagne cocktails available (Kir Royal or Bucks Fizz – or Mimosas for my American readers), champagne (Taittinger Brut Reserve, Castelnau Non-Vintage Rose and Castelnau 2004 Vintage), and a variety of spirits like whisky, vodka and gin. Whilst I don’t pay attention to the first two, I was disappointed to still see Gordons as the gin served in business class – being the same one offered in economy and premium economy. I honestly believe it makes no sense and BA could change it. Schweppes is still the tonic being offered BUT, listen to this, on my return flight from NYC to London, I was given a can of Fever Tree slimline tonic, so there is hope). A little upgrade on the gin and the tonic would be very welcome – to bring it on par with the champagne (namely when Taittinger) and wine choices, which I know the airline chooses and reviews carefully.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review kir royale and pretzels

One of my favourite inflight pairings: a Kir Royal and pretzels.

I choose a Kir Royal and asked the crew if I could get the pretzels (which are available in Premium Economy and Economy, I believe) instead of the nuts. Within minutes, I had not 1, but 4 packs of pretzels which I thoroughly enjoyed. I shared 1 with Mr. O.

In terms of wines, there were 2 reds and 2 whites. There was a French Chablis (Domaine Sante Claire 2014 from Burgundy) and an Italian Roero Arneis (Villata 2014 from Piemonte). I am a huge fan of Arneis and tried it with our meal. This proved to be a surprising choice – as most people were going for the better known Chablis, and gave way to a great conversation with the crew, which I always enjoy. In terms of reds, the options were Chateau Landat 2010 from Haut-Medoc (Bordeaux, France) and a Spanish Rioja (San Felices Reserva 2009). I tried the Bordeaux which was very good.

–          In-flight dining    

A weird thing on early day long-haul flights is that you are served lunch at around 11.30am. We had a hearty breakfast at the lounge, and I have to say, the champagne helped me get in the mood to eat.

There were two starter choices – a ‘Severn and Wye cured Scottish smoked salmon with caper berries, horseradish cream cheese and pea shoots’ and ‘watermelon infused with basil, feta, red onion and mint salad’. I chose the latter and it was delicious. I paired it with the white wine.

For the main course, there were 4 options – ‘seared filled of British beef with sweet potato royale and bearnaise sauce’, ‘roasted corn-fed chicken with Madeira sauce, soft herb mashed potatoes and baby vegetables’, ‘teriyaki stir-fried vegetables with egg noodles and cashew nuts’ and ‘main course salad of wild rice, quinoa and a bitter orange dressing accompanies by warm seared tiger prawns’.

I choose the beef and paired it (eventually – not seen on this photo), with the red wine.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review meal

Our meal was excellent and don’t get me started on the Hotel Chocolat chocolates.

For dessert, there were 3 alternatives: a ‘mango and raspberry cream torte with raspberry compote’, ‘Somerset Camembert and Barber’s cheese served with fig relish and biscuits’ and a selection of fruits. Coffee and tea and Hotel Chocolat chocolates were also offered. I skipped dessert and had the chocolates whilst finishing my red wine. I asked the crew if there were any other chocolates left and was rewarded with 3 more packs – they were delicious.

During the rest of the flight, Club World passengers have access to the ‘Club Kitchen’, which is a self-service area in the galley where you can help yourself to any drinks, snacks, chocolates, ice cream, fruit and a variety of sandwiches. We made a journey or two during the 12-hour flight to stretch our legs and have a chat.

A little over one hour before landing, we were served a 3-course ‘light meal’. The starters available were ‘tiger prawns in a Marie Rose sauce with cucumber and red pepper salad’ and a ‘meze plate featuring aubergine, pepper and tomato salad, labneh with mint, harissa and chilli humus’. The main courses were ‘roasted breast of corn-fed chicken with herb cream sauce, Mediterranean vegetables and boulangere potatoes’, ‘rigatoni pasta in a chestnut mushroom and pesto sauce with baby spinach and sun-dried tomatoes’, ‘main course Far East salad and sweet chilli dressing accompanied by warm seared Shetland salmon’ and ‘ warm sandwich of paprika-marinated breast of corn-fed chicken with tomato and watercress’.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review club kitchen and meal

The Club Kitchen (which I really like) and our second meal.

I must say I was looking forward to afternoon tea, which would have been perfect – and I love BA’s version of it. I chose the tiger prawns and the warm sandwich which were OK – not brilliant, to be perfectly honest. I didn’t finish the latter one. I had a Sprite and a cup of tea.

–          In-flight entertainment

The A380 features a 12′ touch-screen and lots of choices. I am quite partial to BA’s choice of movies – namely as I cannot remember the last time I went to the cinema, and I had no problem working it or choosing something suitable to watch.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review in flight entertainment usb

The 12′ screen and USB ports which worked beautifully. Worth noting that films on this IFE have a lot more subtitle options which is very handy.

We were given headphones which I think are due an upgrade – we used our Bose instead.

In terms of technology, there are 2 USB ports on each seat, as well as a power socket, which is compatible with UK, EU and US plugs. I used the USB to charge my phone and worked well.

–          Shopping

I bought some gin (Tanqueray Ten at £25 for 1 litre and Bombay Sapphire East at £17 for 1 litre), which are better deals than at the airport. I also bought some Egyptian Magic as the version you can buy elsewhere is bigger than 100ml, which makes it difficult to travel with.

–          The seat & the cabin

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review cabin

The A380 Upper Deck Club World Cabin

There are 2 business class (Club World) cabins onboard the A380 – one upstairs, where we sat, and one downstairs. I did not see the one downstairs. Upstairs, it offers a 2-3-2 configuration, which is different from other BA planes, and means that if you are in the rear-facing middle seat, you don’t get so up close and personal with your neighbour. There are privacy screens (which are much-needed) and you still may need to jump over someone else to get aisle access.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review seat

British Airways’ Club World Seat on the A380.

I always choose the first two seats in the cabin, and pick the aisle seat, and on this journey (having done  no research), I picked 50 A-B which were the first two on the left hand-side of the cabin. I didn’t realise they were right by the loos and the stairs connecting to downstairs. I was a bit worried with extra traffic and noise, but must confess everyone was quite quiet and I wasn’t disturbed. There is a curtain right the seats which is closed during the flight so you don’t actually see people queuing to use the facilities.

The bathrooms were *huge* – and were spotless throughout the whole flight.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review cabin and toilets

Most spacious loos ever – and useful side storage.

With regards to the cabin, it looked very smart – and you knew you were on a BA flight without a doubt. Interestingly, the seats were not navy as usual – but more of a barley grey / brownish colour.

The seat was similar to the other Club World services I have experienced in the past – it lies flat to 180 degrees and you can control it from the side buttons which allow you to just seat at any angle you would like. There is a stool at the end of your seat which connects to the seat itself and gives you some more extra room. As I am short, if I want to use the foot stool, I need to recline my seat a little bit so the gap narrows.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review seat

Club World seats – photo by BA

There is also a drawer where you can keep personal belongings, dedicated seat storage space and on this plane, additional ‘side’ storage which we used.

British Airways A380 Business Class Club World Review cabin detail

Cabin details – view from seat 50B, which was close to the stairs and loos.

–          The crew  

Were excellent and very personable. One of the reasons I fly BA over and over again is because I love how they are ‘allowed’ to be themselves and talk to passengers, show a bit of personality and that can make or break the flight. The purser came round to us during the flight to introduce himself – this is becoming standard on BA flights, now that they have iPads and can identify Gold and Silver members and it is a nice touch. We were also addressed by name during the flight, which again makes a difference.

–          Arrival

We had possibly one of the worst arrival experiences into LAX, where we queued for 1h15 minutes to get through immigration. There was no business class fast-track option offered (to anyone), and we were unlucky as we merged with 2 other flights landing at the same time. On the plus side, the luggage was ready for us when we finally got to it.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed our flight (as expected), and managed to sleep for 6 hours, quite comfortably. The A380 is so much quieter than other planes – and that adds to the experience too. The crew was excellent, which makes for a much better flight and I shall indeed try to book myself on other A380 services.

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

PS. You can also read other flight reviews – BA Club World (Business Class) between LHR and JFK, World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy) on the new A380, and for the BA001 all business class service from London City to JFK. See also other airlines including Qatar Airways (Dreamliner), Jet Airways (Premiere) and JetBlue (Mint).

Disclaimer: I had booked my flight with Avios 6 months before this trip, but in the meantime, BA’s Avios Team got in touch with me and hired me to share my Avios experience live on my social media channels, as an ambassador for the #DoMorewithAvios campaign. My ticket for this journey, which cost 50,000 Avios and £250 tax was refunded. I was not required to do a flight review. Opinions are, as always, my own.