Doha, Qatar – more than just a stopover

An impressive approach to Qatar - this is all under water

An impressive approach to Qatar – this is all under water

My recent trip to the Maldives came with a bonus. More than just business class seats and incredible service from Qatar Airways, it came with 3 days in Doha, the capital of the Middle-Eastern state of Qatar. And to be honest with you, I was quite excited to have a (fair) bit of civilization to cushion the blow (and the glow) from ending our magic trip to the Maldives. I can’t tell you how sorry we were to leave that magic island – but I can’t also tell you how excited we were to arrive to such a different place.

Thursday afternoon and evening

A room with a view at the Four Seasons Doha

A room with a view at the Four Seasons Doha

Upon arriving, we made our way to the Four Seasons Doha, who welcomed us during our stay in Qatar. Located on The Corniche and with a private beach, we felt immediately at home. After a quick lunch, we were urged to enjoy the afternoon ahead as the weather was supposed to change. I didn’t quite understand what it meant – I thought Qatar was supposed to be warm and sunny all year round.. hum!

To be fair, Doha is not the “ultimate cultural destination”, but while Jean Nouvel’s team is busy building what will be the über impressive National Museum of Qatar, we were delighted to spend an afternoon at the MIA – the Museum of Islamic Art. Stéphane at the Four Seasons really insisted we went (and I wasn’t quite sure why… until we got there).

Doha's MIA - Museum of Islamic Art

Doha’s MIA – Museum of Islamic Art

An imposing building from the outside (and a considerable change of scenery from our over water bungalow in the Maldives), nothing quite prepared me for what we were to expect inside – and that was one of the most beautifully designed museums I have had the pleasure of visiting. Obviously I am not going to pretend I know a thing or three about Islamic Art, but the building (both inside and outside) was outstanding, and the collection was extremely well curated.

The impressive Doha Skyline

The impressive Doha Skyline

From the museum, we walked slowly, by the seafront to the Souq Waqif, where we were transported back into time. It was lovely to see how Doha made the old and traditional work with the brand spanking new – needless to say that this is a very wealthy nation, and it has been a while since I saw so many building cranes in one place.

The Souk was lovely, and one thing I am glad we did, was to head to the information centre. A lovely gentleman explained to us (as there were no maps) how the souk was organised – from the restaurants (all dry, take notice, except in 5-star international hotels, which is absolutely fine), to the clothing areas, the food areas, the ladies areas (where ladies cooked for free to passers-by), the spice market (obviously), the pet/animal area.. it was all clearly separated and organised. The Souq Wakif

I would love to say that I bought a lot of things, but sadly I didn’t. But what I did do? I ate, of course. We found the local food extremely interesting and strangely familiar. And halloumi cheese with everything? Yes, please!

Arabic break, baked halloumi and fresh tomatoes with a side of ice tea. My Doha kind of meal!

Arabic break, baked halloumi and fresh tomatoes with a side of ice tea. My Doha kind of meal!

After a couple of hours walking around, we braved the Doha rush hour traffic and headed back to the hotel, where we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at the Four Season’s Il Teatro, followed by its weekly pool party, which takes place every Thursday from 7pm to 1am. A great evening indeed!

A great venue for a party at the FS Doha

A great venue for a party at the FS Doha

Friday

Friday is our “Saturday”, i.e. the first day of the weekend. We were surprised  by the rain (which apparently almost never makes an appearance, but it did so during all of our stay). After a delicious breakfast, we retreated to the pool (in the rain.. why not? It was still warm) and I spent the rest of the morning at the spa, where I enjoyed the signature massage treatment. You can read my review here. This, turned out to be the silliest decision ever.. as I didn’t somehow prepare myself for what I was doing that afternoon.

Why? Because I am a girl and quite silly sometimes. Qatar Airways had prepared a special afternoon which involved going to the desert. I didn’t read the whole programme, assuming I was going for a little ride and look at some camels, potentially (hence why a massage before didn’t seem like a bad idea).

The quiet of the desert.. humm...

The quiet of the desert.. humm…

The beginning of our journey was extremely nice. What I didn’t know? That I was going to partake in Qatar’s national weekend sport: dune bashing. Dune bashing? Well, that involves being in a 4×4 and drive at high-speed on, around, and God knows what around the sand dunes. It was mad – at times I thought I was not going to survive (Mr. O has the marks in his hand), but I can’t tell you what an incredibly crazy but fab experience it was. The adrenaline rush I got from it (and the times my heart skipped a beat, oh my) is indescribable.

The star jump.. no comment necessary

The star jump.. no comment necessary

Obviously in hindsight, I wished I had filmed it, but my hands were busy and my mind was elsewhere. With this, we had to rush back into Doha, if we were to make it in time for dinner with some local friends. We had a great meal at a local restaurant, and as we didn’t have enough excitement in one day (I am obviously joking), we thought we would check out the W Doha hotel, which is one of the city’s nightspots.

I loved the contrast of über modern and über local – it was such a nice hotel. Sadly we couldn’t eat the delicious treat that the hotel had organised for us, but were able to enjoy a cocktail at Spice Market and then later at the pool bar.

The W Doha - very sexy indeed

The W Doha – very sexy indeed

Saturday

(Or Sunday, if I just want to confuse you!). Sadly the weather continued not to cooperate, so the pool or beach was out of the question. As we had seen most of the sights, the only thing we could do was shop. And one isn’t spoiled for choice as in nearby Dubai (but apparently it will change in the future).

So we headed to the largest shopping centre, the Villaggio Mall. I can’t tell you how surprised we were when we got inside.. we thought we were.. in Las Vegas! It was the most bizarre feeling… but very interesting to see all the brands and how they adapt locally, or not! It was a great mall, but prices weren’t really interesting for us as everything was pretty much the same price. But I did manage a pair of shoes!

Vegas in Doha.. or something like that

Vegas in Doha.. or something like that

After a quick bite to eat, it was time to head towards the Sharq Village & Spa, a really interesting resort, located not far from the airport, managed by the Ritz Carlton.

We spent a great afternoon at the Six Senses Spa, where we had incredible massages and other beauty treatments. I thought the spa was lovely and very different, as was the whole resort.

The beautiful Six Senses Spa at the Sharq Village

The beautiful Six Senses Spa at the Sharq Village

The Sharq also has a beach with great views of the Doha skyline, and where we enjoyed the last sunset of this incredible trip. To end it in style, we enjoyed a beautiful meal at its Persian restaurant, which was simply incredible and our best meal in Doha, without a doubt.

Our last sunset in Doha, from the Sharq

Our last sunset in Doha, from the Sharq

After a great two and a half days and some great sleep at the Four Seasons, which I absolutely adored, it was time to say good-bye to Doha. And we did so in style, by departing from Qatar Airways’ Premium Terminal, which is for exclusive use of business and first class passengers only, and a great idea.

What did I think of Doha? Well, to be honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I think 3 nights was possibly one too many (especially as we were quite unlucky with the weather), but we seriously had a great time. We actually met some incredible people, which make the memories even sweeter. I wouldn’t say I would go “on holiday” to Doha, but when I fly again with Qatar Airways, I will certainly stop over for a night or two and enjoy it all over again. May even go dune bashing again, who knows?

Mrs. O had quite a bit of fun in Doha!

Mrs. O had quite a bit of fun in Doha!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I would like to thank everyone who supported this trip and made it possible – Qatar Airways, Four Seasons Doha, W Doha, Sharq Village & the Six Senses Spa. Opinions, as you know by now, are strictly my own. And I had fun! If you want to find out what you could do on a quick stopover in Doha, Qatar Airways has some ideas – find out more, right here.

My hOtel: Castillo Hotel Son Vida, Mallorca, Spain

Going back to Mallorca was on my list for a while now… why? Because I have wonderful memories of this beautiful island, in the Balearics, Spain. I hadn’t been back for over 10 years, and my last 4-5 visits were always by boat, i.e. we slept in one, which was lovely. Back then, there weren’t many luxury hotels, so I delayed my return until now.. and I am glad I did so!

Bienvenidos al Castillo Son Vida.. oh yes!

Bienvenidos al Castillo Son Vida.. oh yes!

Starwood has not one, but three (currently two open, with another one reopening later this Summer) incredible hotels in this beautiful part of the world – a Luxury Collection (the Castillo Hotel Son Vida), a St. Regis and a Sheraton. On this visit, I have tried the first two, which are very different properties, offering quite different luxury experiences. Never a dull moment in Mrs. O’s life.

Pre-Arrival

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

Everything was sorted via email months ago, and a couple of weeks before my arrival, the hotel got in touch to reconfirm everything. I have been looking forward to this trip since January!

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

Interestingly, the other sister properties of the Castillo Son Vida did interact with me pre, during and post stay. This specific hotel interacted during my stay and we did have a bit of fun.

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

Starwood properties tend to know me very well – I am actually very easy and it is just the pillows that can make or break the experience.

Arrival

I felt very welcome in my castle!

I felt very welcome in my castle!

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

There were some discrete wows uttered, I must confess. The whole “drop your car, get escorted to reception” is always a nice touch, and sadly doesn’t happen often enough. It did here and everyone was all smiles – we were in “España”, after all.

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

We had one of the best check-in experiences ever, with the delightful Joan looking after us. What were we doing during our stay? Had we booked dinner? What about the following day? He was so kind (and funny), seriously nice. And what I loved the most? Being escorted to our room, which is a really nice touch. In my opinion, not enough hotels do this, and they could and should (size permitting, of course).

–          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)

Yes, and after we established that English was the language of choice, everything was great.

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

We were upgraded to a Deluxe Suite.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

We did indeed. This is Spain (those great smiles) and a hotel known for its quality and service.

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

We left our luggage in the car when we arrived, and we only saw it again when we got to our room – and this is how it should be always, in my opinion (and again, depending on the size of the property and the service set up).

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

 For the first time ever (that I can remember in a Starwood hotel), internet was free for all guests, not just SPG Gold and Platinum. It never really bothers me as I am the latter and it has never been an issue, but I am a great believer in free wi-fi for everyone. Because when you stay at a hotel like this, it seriously should be included.

Room Experience

Loved the simplicity of our deluxe suite

Loved the simplicity of our deluxe suite

 

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Having 100 sqm is not bad at all, is it? We had a uber spacious suite, which was beautifully decorated in a very simple and classic style. This is a very special property and it wouldn’t make sense any other way.

We had our bedroom, bathroom, closet room, lounge, kitchen, cloakroom (guest bathroom) and a fabulous balcony with great views. Not too shabby for Mrs. O.

–          Welcome amenity

One of the best I have ever seen! It wasn’t the cava (gracias!), the water, or the beautifully handmade chocolates. It was the plate with sultanas and peanuts that got to me. Why? They are my absolute favourite snacks and I hadn’t had the “combination” for ages. Years possibly. And as Mr. O is not so keen on sultanas, guess who was a happy girl?

–          The bed

Very very very interesting indeed. Why? Not because it was incredibly comfortable, or because I loved the pillows (which I did)… I think the Castillo Son Vida may have found the secret to many happy marriages.. why? King size bed (with one mattress) and.. single duvets. What is not to like? It means no fighting.. ever… I seriously liked this touch.

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

We had a whole room, with about 10 wardrobes.. so it is fair to say that I had enough hangers ?

 –          Iphone Charger/Dock

I didn’t see one, and it would be a nice addition (although interestingly most hotels who do have them, will need at some point to update to the iPhone 5 plugs, which will be a pain… ouch).

The other half of the suite

The other half of the suite

–          Bathrobes and slippers

They were there, of course, looked lovely, but as you know by now, I didn’t use them.

–          Coffee and Tea

We had everything we could possibly need in our kitchen, and more. I did check and obviously there was a kettle for tea and a Nespresso machine with plenty of pods. We didn’t use either.

–          Free bottled water

Yes indeed. As part of our welcome amenity and every night by our bed.

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

We had some incredible books, seriously very nice with short stories and all.  But my favourite? A specially commissioned book which told the stories of some of the flagship Luxury Collection hotels. It was so nice, I almost took it home with me (I obviously didn’t).

–          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.

Best power sockets I have ever seen – which, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting. Each bedside table had 2 sockets on its side, which was perfect for all our gadgets.

Happy in Mallorca (and not a bad view)

Happy in Mallorca (and not a bad view)

Bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

It was huge and lovely. The hotel has been recently renovated and although it remained a classic, everything is as it should be. I love when bathrooms have natural light and we were truly spoilt.

–          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?

A little bit of everything and what a great shower! And with a steam room which delighted Mr. O (not really for me as I am not great fan due to my blood pressure, ha!)

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

We had plenty of lovely soft towels, but I must say they weren’t huge. This actually happens in most Starwood hotels and I am not sure why, to be honest. I did find larger towels by the bath, which were great though.

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

I love the Cinq Mondes range and loved having it here. The products are really good and always remind me of my honeymoon in Bora Bora.

Nice and neat

Nice and neat

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

This shower cap obsession is starting to become something bigger and I am happy to report I had not one, but a few. We had everything we could possibly need, and more.

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

As I forgot to take my straightener, I decided to go “au naturel” for the whole trip and didn’t use any hairdryer, which was surely good for my hair. But obviously I checked and it looked.. robust and German.

Breakfast

A place for a great breakfast

A place for a great breakfast

 

–          Décor of breakfast room

Breakfast takes place in the main restaurant (which was a tad too old-fashioned for me), so we (and everybody else) opted to enjoy the sun and have it alfresco. It is in a beautiful setting, with great views of the island and the pool. Seriously nice.

–          The spread (inc yumminess)

One of the best I have ever seen – I must confess, there is something about breakfasts in Spain, which take me back to my childhood. There was a great local selection – both Spanish and “Mallorcan”.

–          Cost (I have seen a hotel charging €75 for breakfast – a tad much, maybe?)

Breakfast is included in all room rates.

Pool

I loved the pool

I loved the pool

We really liked the pool area. The sun loungers were great, as were the towels (2 per person, in order to cover the whole bed). There was staff around checking if we needed or wanted anything and I must say, it was quite interesting to be in a minority. Why? 80+% of hotel guests are German and the hotel is owned by Germans, which was quite interesting. The staff was mostly Spanish (giving it a bit of local flavour and personality) and everyone spoke Spanish, English and German. Everyone was *really* quiet by the pool, which was absolutely perfect for us. No screaming children, no people talking loud… it was just what the doctor ordered.

Spa

The Beauty Spa

The Beauty Spa

The Castillo Hotel Son Vida doesn’t have a spa as such (in terms of size), but has what it is called a Beauty area including hairdressers and treatment rooms. The hotel kindly offered us both a 30 minute massage each, which we upgraded to a full hour (and obviously paid for it). The treatment rooms were actually incredibly modern, airy and light and I seriously enjoyed my massage, which was great value at €110 for one hour (exc. my discount).

Bar

The Gin & Tonic Terrace

The Gin & Tonic Terrace

Hum… what do you think of this little terrace? We thought it was wonderful and perfect for a pre-dinner Spanish-sized Gin & Tonic. One thing that I also loved was how quiet everyone was at the hotel, seriously relaxing and lovely. Gins were steep at €17 each, but they were incredible, as you can see…

I seriously think G&Ts taste better in Spain...

I seriously think G&Ts taste better in Spain…

Restaurant

We really enjoyed our dinner at Es Vi

We really enjoyed our dinner at Es Vi

On our second day at the property, we did something we rarely do.. not leave the hotel. And we felt so comfortable here, that we did just that. So for dinner, we tried the Spanish Tapas (with a twist, obviously) restaurant Es Vi, which we really enjoyed. Everything had a side of jamón ibérico, of course.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It was generally OK but not so good by the pool.

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

It did and was quite fun.

–          Location

It was actually great – we were only 10 minutes from the centre of Palma and another 10 from Puerto Portals marina, so very easy to get to.. but also far away from other buildings, so we felt quite secluded.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Standard room start at 240 € per night  and suites from 490 € per night. Prices include VAT and breakfast for two.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely, I am thinking this would be great for a girlie getaway.. or we could even take the boys…

–          Would I stay again?

Yes, and I promise you, I will.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

A lovely weekend in and around Lisbon, Portugal

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A weekend in Lisbon is always a good idea. Sadly, I don’t go as often as I would like to or used to – but it is still one of my favourite places in the world. I recently visited Portugal‘s capital (and my hometown) and enjoyed a fabulously sunny weekend.

Friday evening

The Mercy Hotel in Lisbon, where you can find the Umai restaurant as well.

The Mercy Hotel in Lisbon, where you can find the Umai restaurant as well.

We landed from London in perfect time for dinner, so we quickly dropped our bags at the hotel and headed.. to another hotel! One of the latest boutique hotels to open in Lisbon, I was curious to visit (as I couldn’t stay this time) for a drink and dinner. The Mercy Hotel didn’t disappoint at first glance and we absolutely loved our dinner at Umai, the latest adventure of well-known Portuguese chef Paulo Morais. Asian-fusion food is not “everyday” food in Portugal, and it was great to see how wonderfully interpreted it was.

Loved the crab cornetos at Umai at the Mercy Hotel

Loved the crab cornetos at Umai at the Mercy Hotel

From here, we headed to the Independente Hostel and Suites (Mrs. O in a hostel? Well, not quite!) where we enjoyed some fabulously Portuguese cocktails at Decadente, its trendy bar.

Saturday morning

After a lazy morning and breakfast at the Sofitel Lisbon, who hosted me during this weekend, it was time to head out of the city. One of Lisbon’s advantages is obviously its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its stunning views – you can head west towards the beautiful areas of Cascais, Estoril and Sintra, or head south, crossing one of the two bridges, and also be spoilt for choice!

We headed towards Guincho, which is a beautiful area between Cascais and Sintra – quite windy, but so beautiful, we couldn’t resist a lazy walk around.

Stunning scenery at Guincho beach

Stunning scenery at Guincho beach

I can’t tell you how beautiful this part of the world is – and you could continue this road towards Cabo da Roca, Europe’s westernmost point and the lovely Sintra, a place that I (ashamedly admit) haven’t visited for years. Next time though! (and that is a promise!)

Lovely view (not me! what is behind is what matters!)

Lovely view (not me! what is behind is what matters!)

It is worth noting that this area is always a bit windy (surfers and windsurfers love it) – and the other good thing? When Lisbon and the other beaches get really hot, this place is guaranteed to be a few degrees cooler.

Before we realised, it was time for lunch. And this time (and as usual, who am I kidding?) we headed towards Furnas do Guincho. It is worth noting that this area has a lot of restaurants with beautiful views and most are really very good. I like Porto de Santa Maria and Faroleiro, but I love Furnas do Guincho.

Anyone for lunch?

Anyone for lunch?

And for me, it doesn’t get better than this. The thing I miss the most is Portuguese food, and seafood to be more precise. The sea comes to your plate literally – and it is all so so simple and delicious. And the views? Not bad either.

A glass of white wine with a view

A glass of white wine with a view

After a little walk in Cascais, which is a lovely and quite affluent town by the sea, we headed back to Lisbon for a bit of shopping and a rest before dinner, which took place at a friend’s house. I miss my friends and family a lot and I do wish I could see them more often (but here is a thing, planes also fly from Lisbon to London… a hint to all!).

Sunday

Sofitel Lisbon

Sofitel Lisbon

After a good 11 hours sleep, it was time to check out from our hotel. And I need to be honest with you – I didn’t love it. At all. I thought although it looked nice and is well located (especially for business visitors), it was seriously below par with other Sofitels I have stayed. The service was really the weakest link (namely because staff talked to each other assuming that all guests were foreigners – and obviously I speak Portuguese). There is nothing wrong with the hotel (the decor will need a little update soon, but it is fine – and the room we had was really small, but still…) – but as you know by now, I can’t say that I would stay again (unless I had to). Lisbon has great hotel choices and I am afraid I didn’t feel the love.

And after this, and a little shopping session at Freeport (the outlet mall on the other side of the Vasco da Gama bridge – i.e. the one that does not look like the San Francisco Golden Gate bridge!), it was time for lunch again!

At the distance you can see Lisbon, from Alcochete

At the distance you can see Lisbon, from Alcochete

Alcochete is a small town the other side of the river with something very special: great fish restaurants. Our family favourite is Arrastão, which is not fancy at all – but has incredible fish. And bread. And desserts.. you get the idea!

And with this, it was time to head to the airport and come back “home”. We had a lovely weekend in Lisbon, and I can’t wait to be back.

Até breve!

xo.

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Sofitel Lisbon and Umai at the Mercy Hotel. Opinions are, as always, mine!

My hOtel: JW Marriott Grosvenor House’s Nursery Suite, London

Getting invited to test and review Grosvenor House’s Nursery Suite, especially when I am not a mother (yet), was.. hum.. interesting, to say the least. But the fact that I don’t have a baby in my house (so to speak), doesn’t mean that I don’t have others around me (pretty little things that I love) or can’t appreciate it. So, here’s how I slept like a baby…in London!

Grosvenor House on London's Park Lane

Grosvenor House on London’s Park Lane

In time with the Royal Baby, which is due this summer, the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, part of JW Marriott, recently launched its nursery suite – aimed, obviously, at yummy parents with lovely children. Designed by the lovely Lucinda of Dragons of Walton Street, the result is an extremely well-appointed suite, with great views and plenty of room to play.

Pre-Arrival

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

I was actually invited to stay via twitter, so the answer has to be yes!

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

Absolutely, pre-arrival I was getting quite excited. The promise of “sleeping like a baby” did strike a chord!

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

It was very discreetly done, and I really appreciated it.

Arrival

A moment of calm.. after the morning rush!

A moment of calm.. after the morning rush!

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

The “back” entrance of Grosvenor House (which is the one not on Park Lane), is always special. I have stayed previously at this hotel for the BAFTAs and it has something. No movie stars for me this time – but boy, was the lobby busy! I walked in to the hotel, ahead of a busy day in London, at around 9am, which much be prime check-out time. It actually gave more personality to the hotel, it really felt alive!

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

I checked-in when I returned to the hotel mid-afternoon. I waited around 2-3 minutes and I even got to check-in in Portuguese – which was rather strange for both me and the front-desk staff, as we were clearly more comfortable to do it in English. It was a happy coincidence and quite funny.

–          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, with special emphasis on the Portuguese part of my name.

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

I was there to try the new Nursery Suite and that was exactly what I got!

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

I did – I had left my luggage with the concierge and everyone was lovely.

–          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 and just took it to my room.

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

Basic Wi-fi is free to all registered guests and there is also a BT-Wifi hotspot.

Room Experience

I adored the colours on this suite

I adored the colours on this suite

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

It was all ohhhhhhhh, ahhhhhh, how sweet, how lovely! This is definitely a very different hotel room. I can’t tell you how well the yellow worked for a baby room (I promise you, it looked so peaceful!). The bedroom was also very soothing for the parents, I can assure you. The suite was large and with great views of Hyde Park.

–          Welcome amenity

Such a simple gesture, but oh so lovely!

Such a simple gesture, but oh so lovely!

Well, not fit for a baby (obviously), but I must say I loved the lovely Gin & Tonics that were there to welcome me on arrival!

–          The bed

The bed was huge and perfect for a morning cuddle with the children. The pillows were great.

–          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, with plenty of space for parents and children.

I loved this chaise-longue. Perfect for mothers to rest and feed their babies, and for me to play with my ipad

I loved this chaise-longue. Perfect for mothers to rest and feed their babies, and for me to play with my ipad

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There was a Bosé dock, perfect for a bit of music or recharge the batteries.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Lovely, but I did not use.

–          Coffee and Tea

Obviously, in the lounge area.

–          Free bottled water

At night, with the turndown service.

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

I loved the Grosvenor House book, which tells you a bit about the history of this classic London hotel. A very nice touch.

A lovely traditional suite with plenty of space to play!

A lovely traditional suite with plenty of space to play!

–          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.

There were quite a few around the suite, which was handy (especially as children nowadays come with more and more devices!).

Bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

It was a classic bathroom – all nice and proper and spacious, but it has not been renovated with the rest of the suite.

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

It had a bath (for obvious reasons) and no walk-in shower. I would have preferred both, but understand it could be quite difficult to make it work.

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

There were plenty and they were baby soft.

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

Penhaligons adult-sized products

Penhaligons adult-sized products

I loved the non-baby sized Penhaligons. A UK classic and a favourite of ours. The Quercus range can also be found in other other areas and it was a really nice touch. I was impressed.

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

It was all there and beautifully displayed.

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

I used it and it was good.

Restaurant

We were also invited to try the fab JW Steakhouse, which was so so wonderfully weird, I can’t tell you! Within seconds, we did feel like we were somewhere in the USA – which is pretty much the objective. Dark oak floors and walls, spacious and inviting – I really liked the room (which doubles up as a breakfast room in the mornings).

We had a great dinner at JW Steakhouse

We had a great dinner at JW Steakhouse

We loved the crab cake and the lumb of crab on ice (give me anything with crabmeat and I will be on my best behaviour!) and really appreciated the steak selection – both USA and UK based. A really nice touch.

The star of the show was obviously the cheesecake. I couldn’t move.. but I couldn’t resist!.

Breakfast

–          Décor of breakfast room

Breakfast takes place at the JW Steakhouse which is more of an evening venue, but transformed quite nicely.

–          The spread (inc yumminess)

It was great, with eggs and cooked items made to order (a la carte)

–          Cost

It was included in my room rate.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

Wi-fi was quite good and worked well.

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

It did, and it was quite interesting.

–          Location

Bang on Park Lane, you really can’t ask for a better location. As most of my day was spent in Mayfair, it was truly perfect.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Standard rooms cost from £269 per night. The nursery suite starts at £1,700 per night and guests are also able to select from three packages starting from £2,230 per night: Clarence (one night), Windsor (two nights) and Buckingham (three nights).

Guests who choose the premium Buckingham package will enjoy a full baby concierge service including: pick up from the airport, an evening of childcare, dinner for two in JW Steakhouse, pampering treatments for both parents, a private consultation with one of the Dragons of Walton Street’s head designers, a private tour of Buckingham Palace (date dependent) as well as a personal shopping trip at Harrods.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Yes, and we could take our godsons and have a blast!

–          Would I stay again?

Absolutely, and hopefully will bring some additional baby guests.

Final thoughts:

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of JW Marriott Hotels during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. For more information about the hotel, visit its official website. For more information about Dragons of Walton Street, just click here.

A lovely weekend in Lyon, France

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Lyon is trés fabulous!

Lyon is trés fabulous! (Photo by Rhône-Alpes Tourism)

Lyon Lyon Lyon.. lovely Lyon! France’s second largest city, and a foodie’s paradise. I had “heard” about this city many many times, and last year, on my annual pilgrimage to the French Alps, I decided that enough was enough! I decided to fly to Lyon instead of Geneva, which made sense as it was the same flying time and considerably better value. On that trip last year, and our way back home from the slopes, we actually had a good 6 hours to explore – and I must tell you, I loved what i saw. So much so, that a promise was made – I would return to Lyon.

And as the good girl that I am, I did exactly that (again, when I returned from skiing). And what a weekend we had!

Happy to be back in Lyon

Happy to be back in Lyon

We started our weekend in Lyon by checking-in at the Sofitel Bellecour, which became a city landmark and was magnifique. I must confess the outside of the building wasn’t amazing (oh the 60s!), but I was very impressed by the slick redesign by Patrick Norguet, which recalls the stars and silk of Lyon’s rich heritage.  With amazing views of the Rhone, I am absolutely sure this was an outstanding choice to stay in Lyon, in style. (note: It is a progressive refurbishment, so ensure the room you have book is on a refurbished floor.)

We were kindly upgraded to the hotel’s main suite, which was nice, spacious and very comfortable – and with a lot of silk! And the views.. ou la la,as they say!

An understated suite at the Sofitel Lyon Bellecour

An understated suite at the Sofitel Lyon Bellecour

Mr. O was hungry, so it was time to eat. Lyon’s gastronomic scene is well-known, and I was keen to try one of the bouchons – i.e. one of Lyon’s trademark traditional restaurants which specialise not on haute cuisine, but simply amazing food.

The concierge at the Sofitel has recommended and booked us a table at nearby Abel. To say we loved Abel, it would be an understatement – it was cozy, busy, and full of personality. The food options were outstanding (I couldn’t say no to the salad lyonnaise with the bacon lardons – no dieting allowed in Lyon, by the way) and the crayfish gratin.

Chez Abel - oui oui oui

Chez Abel – oui oui oui

But what I couldn’t resist? The desserts.. so I asked my readers (through twitter and facebook) to help me choose…

Which dessert should I have?

Which dessert should I have?

It really created a problem for everyone as the options were very very good – so we had some (incredible) mousse au chocolat, creme caramel, apple tart and fromage blanc. I obviously had to eat each of them for research purposes.. and can confirm they were up to Mrs. O’s standards. Pfhew!

We really had to walk it off, so I thought I would do something I am quite good at – “a little bit of shopping” (read avec French accent). And Lyon is so so so good at it too.

The shopping streets are concentrated in one specific part of town, starting from Place de Bellecour – the area of the Presqu’île boasts the most attractive streets for shopping, such as rue Victor Hugo and rue de la République. A firm favourite is also Rue Edouard-Herriot, and where you could find many of the fantastique French brands. It would be fair to say I did my best to help the local economy (and didn’t do badly at all!).

Time flies when you are having fun, as they say, and we almost had to run to the hotel and change, so we wouldn’t miss our reservation at Les Trois Domes, the 1-star Michelin restaurant at the Sofitel.

Les Trois Domes at the Sofitel Bellecour

Les Trois Domes at the Sofitel Bellecour

We had an outstanding meal, with outstanding service and have I mentioned the outstanding views? Fair to say that the tasting menu, at €125 is also very good value for money. We ended the evening at the hotel bar, where we ordered our drinks from the i-pad menu. How cool was that?

The next morning (which wasn’t very early, as you can imagine), we just walked around town. I think Lyon is so beautiful, that you can just enjoy – the old part of town is stunning and I couldn’t get enough of the river views.

A great city to walk

A great city to walk

Soon it was time for lunch, and we were recommended one of Paul Bocuse’s restaurants. We loved Sud – especially how homely it felt. We were one of the few non-French people there – and it was great to just sit and join so many other French families enjoying a lazy Sunday lunch. Just like home.

Au revoir, Lyon! Mrs. O will be back!

Au revoir, Lyon! Mrs. O will be back!

I loved our weekend in Lyon, and I was very sad to leave. But that obviously mean I will be back. And may be sooner than you think!

And if you are thinking about visiting Lyon, I can’t recommend it enough. Here is a little teaser (a very sexy and modern video produced by Visit Lyon).

Au revoir!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Acknowledgements: a huge thank you to Rhône-Alpes tourism for helping me organise this trip. You can find out more about Lyon here. I was a guest of Sofitel Lyon during my stay (and I loved it!)

My hOtel: Four Seasons Doha, Qatar

On the way back from the Maldives, and I was flying with Qatar Airways, I thought it would be rude not to give Doha, the capital of Qatar a bit of Mrs. O’s love.

The Four Seasons Doha, standing tall, by Doha's Corniche

The Four Seasons Doha, standing tall, by Doha’s Corniche

I was delighted to accept the Four Seasons’ Doha invitation to stay for three nights and have indeed very good things to report. I must confess I wasn’t sure what to expect – it was my first time in the Middle East, the hotel looked massive from the photos I had seen, but two things kept me calm: it was a Four Seasons, so I knew I would be cared for from the moment I arrived and it was right by the beach, which is always a perk for me!

Pre-Arrival

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

There was indeed, through Twitter.

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

I did and the hotel was very responsive (even before our stay was organised, which was pretty impressive). I loved how the hotel was actually checking my social media stream to know when I was flying in – so when I landed in Doha, I actually had some welcoming tweets.

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

Not specifically.

Arrival

The first impression - the FS Car

The first impression – the FS Car

First things first – my Four Seasons experience started at the airport, where we were welcomed by its airport staff (the hotel has a “welcome stand” at Doha Airport Arrivals. We were then taken to the FS car (a nice BMW, not a Rolls Royce like in London!), and our driver took us to the hotel. The journey took around 20-25 minutes (we were lucky with the traffic) and I loved the little touches: fresh cold towels, water and mi-fi (that is mobile wi-fi, my first experience, to be honest). It was really great!

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

The stunning trademark FS lobby flowers

The stunning trademark FS lobby flowers

The lobby was bright and airy (very spacious) and decorated in an interesting way – think classic Four Seasons (not modern modern) meets the Middle East. It was an interesting mix and appropriate for the location.

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

We were greeted by a member of the reception team, who took us straight to our room, where the check-in took place. It is quite a straightforward process and I do like it that more and more hotels offer this option. We simply had to hand in our credit card and passports, which were scanned in front of us. 12 points!

–          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)

Always always always. During our stay, anytime Mr. O or myself walked past reception, we were always greeted by our names, which was an incredibly nice touch, bearing in mind how large the property is (and the fact that we didn’t hang around at the reception area much!).

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

We were upgraded from a deluxe double to a Premier King room.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Absolutely.

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

We had a significant amount of luggage (Mrs. O does not travel light on a 11 night trip) – we only had one touch point, at the end (i.e. when it arrived at our room). The same person also dealt with our luggage on departure.

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

WiFi is free for all guests and works either with a code or with your room details and each code is to be used on a single device. Everyday we had to trouble the reception team at different times of the day when each 24-hour code came to and end – but it seemed to be no trouble at all. Every time we called, we were given (yet) another code. I wished I had realised the room log in option, so I didn’t have to disturb the team so much.

Room Experience

Someone slept like a little Arabian princess

Someone slept like a little Arabian princess

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

We had a spacious room, with lots of blue, which is my favourite colour. Everything was absolutely fine – I am going to say that I envisage a refurb in the next couple of years, just to update the style a little bit. We had a great view too!

–          Welcome amenity

No dieting allowed...

No dieting allowed…

Amazing! We had the standard welcome letter from the management team, water, beautiful flowers and then.. every day, a beautifully presented tray of local delicacies, which was completely different every day. I loved this little touch.

–          The bed

The bed was great, comfortable and huge.

–          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 front and we had LOTS of hangers (I can’t survive with 5 each, which seems more and more standard in hotels nowadays). On a long trip, as a couple, I think it is fair to say we need a good 20 hangers between us.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

It was there, connected to the TV, which was quite interesting.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

All there and lovely. I didn’t use them.

–          Coffee and Tea

Available for those who want some and an impressive selection of naughty snacks for purchase. It it worth mentioning how well displayed there were – and how tempting!

Surely this qualifies for a "room with a view" award?

Surely this qualifies for a “room with a view” award?

–          Free bottled water

Yes, on arrival, and then daily by our beds.

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

It was very good – all in English.

–          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 didn’t have a problem at all. Worth noting that (unknown to me), plugs in Qatar (and in the Maldives, for that matter), are the UK-type, which is obviously very handy for us. We did carry 37 adapters with us, which we obviously didn’t need.

Bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was good, with great lighting (very important) and was very spacious.

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

We had a separate bath and shower, which is always nice. I think the shower will need a little update soon, but the bathroom itself was very pretty.

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

They were lovely, soft and lots of them.

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

The toiletries were L’Occitane, a brand I love and there were some Acqua di Parma bath salts in the bathtub. The latter are now in my guest bathroom back home, as they were fab and it seemed a waste to leave a half empty box which wouldn’t be obviously reused by another guest. Always trying to save the environment, good old me!

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

All there ?

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

It was actually quite good and easy to find as well.

Breakfast

A fab breakfast!

A fab breakfast!

–          Décor of breakfast room

Breakfast takes place at Nusanto, which doubles up as a fusion restaurant for lunch and dinner. It is über modern and a contrast with the rest of the hotel. Very very nice indeed.

–          The spread (inc yumminess)

This is where things get dangerous. I have to say, this was one of the best breakfasts I have ever seen and eaten. The spread was incredible (and huge, but not overwhelming as there were many different areas). I loved “having” to go into the kitchen in order to decide which pastries and breads I would want. A great mix of Western, Middle Eastern and Asian foods – I did venture into the Middle Eastern options (halloumi is perfect any time of the day, but gave the olives a miss!).

–          Cost (I have seen a hotel charging €75 for breakfast – a tad much, maybe?)

Breakfast was included in our room rate, but if not, it costs 170 QAR (approx 45 USD).

Bar

Purely in the name of research, I had to investigate and test every bar option – the things I do for my readers!

There is the lounge bar, indoors, which a great cocktail list and extremely comfortable sofas. A more formal option, for a more formal crowd.

We were also quite lucky to have arrived on a Thursday (which is the Middle Eastern equivalent of a Friday night. Weekends are Friday and Saturday, with Sunday being the equivalent of our Monday). Every Thursday, the Four Seasons Doha hosts their #7to1 party, which, guess what, starts at 7pm and ends at 1am! More than 500 people attend on average, with a good mix of hotel guests and local residents, especially expats. We really enjoyed the party and loved the transformation of the pool area (and obviously no trace of it the next morning!).

By the pool area, on every other day, there is also the Pool Grill, where you can sit down by the beach and pool and simply enjoy the view. We indulged in some virgin mojitos – I loved the ginger one!

Pineapple and Ginger mojitos - yes please!

Pineapple and Ginger mojitos – yes please!

Restaurant

nobu doha four seasons

A great night out at Nobu

Nobu has opened its largest restaurant in the world just by the Four Seasons – we went for dinner and really enjoyed the experience. We had the Essence menu for 650 AED, which had over 7 courses and really was impressive.

Spa

An ice room is a must!

An ice room is a must!

The Spa is one of the hotel’s pride and joys, and it is easy to understand why. I was treated to a lovely massage and can’t tell you how much I enjoyed my morning there.

The highlight for me? The ice room – which must be a must-have in the scorching Doha summers. Needless to say, you can’t find anything like this anywhere else. I did go in for about 10 seconds, and wearing clothes. I can imagine there will be queues when the temperature gets above 40C.

Very impressed with the spa facilities

Very impressed with the spa facilities

I thought the spa overall was very good, and understand why it was so busy. The spa also has its own outdoor pool, various plunge pools, indoor pools.. you get the idea, lots of pools! What I also loved were the personal hygiene items on the ladies locker room – everything you might possibly need to use, just there. So you enjoy the spa and don’t have to bring everything with you. I think this is a great learning point for many spas around the world, especially in cities.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

Very good.

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

It did and it was a lot of fun. Our stay took place between a Thursday and a Sunday and I appreciate the time taken by the team.

–          Location

As far as I am concerned, it was perfect – right on the beach, and within walking distance of the business district. The hotel also had a very reliable (paid) car service, and the concierge team were very helpful anytime we needed some assistance.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Deluxe rooms start at 960 QAR (260 USD). A Premier King starts at 1600 QAR (approx. 420 USD)

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

I would without a doubt.

–          Would I stay again?

During my stay in Doha , I had the opportunity to visit other hotels (which were very nice). But I loved going back to the Four Seasons every day – it really felt like home!

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

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

The Luxury Travel Blog Network – May 2013 Edition

I love reading other blogs and have found some extremely talented writers out there. So five of us, decided that every month, we would bring you the best content we have each produced, and make it easy for our lovely readers to find some great travel inspiration.

So without further ado, meet my ladies and their May 2013 reading suggestions…

Nadine Jolie

Nadine Jolie is a beauty and travel writer specializing in luxury spas. A former magazine editor (Lucky, Ladies’ Home Journal, FHM), Nadine was dubbed “the poster child for the blogger generation” by the New York Post and has published two books: Confessions of a Beauty Addict and Beauty Confidential. Nadine’s travels have taken her to spas in places including New Zealand, Austria, South Africa, Montreal, and Scotland. She is a contributing writer for VanityFair.com and Angeleno magazine and regularly writes for FoxNews.com and luxury New York publication Hudson Mod. Fluent in French and conversant/literate in Italian, Spanish and Arabic, Nadine enjoys learning how to say “Where is the nearest Sephora?” in new languages and is currently working on her third book, a novel set in England.

Follow Nadine Jolie on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channel.

The fabulous Nadine Jolie lived the M Life in Las Vegas. Wondering what that is? It’s RIDICULOUS luxury in sin city, I seriously need to check this out.

Katie Goldstein

Katie Goldstein is an avid traveler whose tastes are simple: she enjoys the best. Katie works by day as a lawyer and by night as a successful writer. Katie often lends her travel expertise to prestigious outlets, which include Forbes, Fodor’s, and She Knows. She has also written about varied topics for WE TV and for FoxNews.com. Katie is also the founder of famous luxury travel and lifestyle sites, Travelingpanties and Smartypanties, where she chronicles her adventures around the world to spectacular countries like Thailand, Argentina, Laos, Cambodia, Uruguay, Australia, France and more. When Katie isn’t traveling, she can be found scouring her home base, New York City, for the next hotspot. In her free time, Katie enjoys trying new restaurants, taking advantage of NYC’s fabulous shopping and practicing her photography skills.

Keep up with Katie’s escapades on her Blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Katie  makes the case that Cleveland is more than just a fly over city- check out her 10 Best Things to do in Cleveland list.

Kim-Marie

Kim-Marie Evans is a freelance writer specializing in luxury and family travel. She has traveled the world with her four children to places as glamorous as the south of France and as challenging as Rwanda. Her work has appeared in print and online. You can find her best travel secrets on her award winning blog LuxuryTravelMom.com and at TravelingMom.com. With a background in radio and television, Kim-Marie is as comfortable in front of the video camera as she is behind the keyboard.

Follow Kim-Marie on her blog, Twitter and Facebook

Kim-Marie has a fabulous weekend with her and RedCarpet Kids at the Four Seasons in NYC.

Charu Suri

Charu Suri runs Butterfly Diary, an online magazine, with stories on how travel can transform one’s outlook. Charu left a career in Investment Banking to pursue her passions — travel and writing– several years ago and has not looked back since. A full-time freelance writer and Social Media consultant, she loves to pen her journeys in the following beats: affordable luxury destinations, culture, vegetarian food and the digital community. As a new mom, she’ll be paying a lot more attention to kid-friendly places.

Follow Charu on Twitter, Facebook

Charu Suri has done the hard work of rounding up the best of spa treatments from around the world, you’re welcome.

Wishing you all a great weekend, wherever you may be!

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: The Spa Suite at The Westin Grand, Berlin

When I recently visited Berlin, I was really looking forward to a night at the Westin. Why? Because it is a brand that I love and know very well, as I have stayed in many, especially in the USA. It is a brand that not many people in Europe are familiar with, so it is great to introduce it to a few more people. Everything is heavenly at Westin – or so the brand calls is. The Heavenly bed, the Heavenly shower.. you get the idea! I stayed at this hotel during ITB, which is possibly one of the busiest times of the year in the city. I used my SPG points and was expecting (kept every finger crossed) for an upgrade… and well, it may be fair to say that I did well!

The Westin Grand, Berlin

The Westin Grand, Berlin

Pre-Arrival

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

Yes indeed. We started a little twitter friendship a couple of months before I even booked my room and it was quite interesting to see how responsive the hotel’s social media team where, over time.

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

It got to a stage where I was drooling over the weekly cocktails (which is a fab idea – a twitter cocktail, huh?) and I knew which one would be available on the week of my stay. It is all about the small details. I was impressed.

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

Very discreetly yes. Very nicely played, I thought too!

This is what I call a shower!

This is what I call a shower! You can see where this is going…

Arrival

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

The hotel has a large lobby, which is a nice mix of old and new. I was quite intrigued as wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

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

Absolutely brilliant. I couldn’t help notice the Montblanc mats where you signed your paperwork. Why have I never noticed them before?

–          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)

Yes, Ms O’Reilly this and that, and I noticed that the exact same thing was happening to the gentlemen checking-in next to me. It is such a nice touch and so easy for hotels to do it…

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

I did, I used my SPG points which technically entitle me to an upgrade to junior suites (or suites if I use the new suite nights), and I was delighted to get the “Spa Suite”.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Very much so, everyone (in Berlin, to be honest) was so smiley and friendly – not exactly what I was expecting!

–          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 carry-on bag only and was “allowed” to take it to my room.

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

As platinum SPG I did get free internet (as do Gold SPGs), but sadly not for all hotel guests.

Room Experience

A spacious suite

A spacious suite

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

It was lovely – really quite modern, in contrast with the rest of the hotel. I loved it. It was spacious and I loved how open it was – you could see through the rooms!

–          Welcome amenity

I had some lovely champagne, strawberries and chocolate. Always a lovely touch.

–          The bed

Heavenly, as they call it. It was huge and all mine that night. And comfy.

–          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.

It was spacious and had individual hangers. Interestingly the clothes faced forward, rather than sideways. Not quite sure what to make of it (I love a good first world problem) – but it was kind of nice to see outfits from a different perspective!

My heavenly bed for the night...

My heavenly bed for the night…

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

I had all my chargers with me for a change, so I just used them and didn’t have a problem with plugs.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes and lovely!

–          Coffee and Tea

But of course.

–          Free bottled water

Indeed. All SPGs do get free water in the rooms.

TBC

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

I didn’t see any, but to be honest I didn’t spend as much time in the room as I would have liked!

–          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.

Lots, actually!

Bathroom

 

I loved the Spa Suite bathroom

I loved the Spa Suite bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

There was a definite wow factor – it was huge and really quite something.

–          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?

You can see the bath and if you scroll up, you can the see amazing 1 sqm shower head. I didn’t need to wash my hair that day, but I couldn’t resist!

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

There weren’t the best I ever had, which was quite strange. They were a little bit on the small side and not as soft as I would expect. Some room for improvement there.

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

It was good to see some Korres, which is a Greek brand I quite like. I think the shower gels are always fab (love basil and lemon), but the shampoo is not fab. But quite refreshing to see this!

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

All the standard Westin goodies, as needed.

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

It was quite good and I used it.

Breakfast


It is quite embarrassing but I missed breakfast. I had a very lazy day ahead in Berlin.. and I slept until almost 12pm, which I needed. I went to Galleries Lafayette instead (not just for breakfast!).

Bar

Pretty cocktails (this one was a Coco Fresh) at the Westin Berlin

Pretty cocktails (this one was a Coco Fresh) at the Westin Berlin

The bar was actually really quite nice and had really good service. I love how we now get more and more interesting cocktails in Europe – one of the great things about Globalisation. I had a lovely Coco Fresh pre-dinner, and I continued to have them when I came back to the hotel after dinner.

Something really interesting happened! I tweeted a photo of my fab suite, which was picked up by another guest, who was staying at the “other” suite (and quite disappointed!). We decided to settle it over a drink at the bar, and it was lovely to meet Vanessa and Markus, who run a very interesting fashion and travel blog in Germany. We have been in touch ever since and the hotel has jointed in the banter, which a couple months later, still makes this stay really quite special.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

I used it and was absolutely fine

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

They did indeed and it was great fun. The hotel did this with a lot of guests and I strongly believe this really is the future…

–          Location

Absolutely fantastic, right on Friedrichstraße and its lovely shops…

–          Cost

Rooms start from €125 (room rates are very good in Berlin, I must say) and the suite from €500. I did not see any other rooms, so I cannot comment on them.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Yes, and she’d love it!

–          Would I stay again?

Without a doubt, this Spa suite would be slept in and enjoyed tremendously!

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: Thank you to Starwood and the Westin Berlin for this upgrade during such a busy time.  For more information about the hotel, visit its official website.

My Flight: Qatar Airways business class

Following the success of the “My hOtel” series, and by popular demand, I am delighted to announce a new regular series on mrsoaroundtheworld.com – My Flight. Sadly, no Os (I tried, and couldn’t come up with anything, but if you have any idea, please let me know!).

The purpose of this series is to showcase what different experiences airlines provide in either business or first class – it is all about the service, the little details and how it is an incredibly important part of the whole luxury travel experience.

I have recently flown with Qatar Airways, who is soon joining Oneworld, for the first time, from London Heathrow to Malé, in the Maldives, via Doha. Four flights and a consistent quality experience. As I didn’t book the tickets myself, or check-in online, I will leave these sections out on this review – they will be featured on future series updates.

Here’s how my London Heathrow to Doha business class flight went.

Plenty of space for Mrs. O

Plenty of space for Mrs. O

Check-in

Qatar Airways operates from Heathrow’s Terminal 4, which I hadn’t visited in years. Once we located the check-in area, we joined the business class queue, which took around 5 minutes to clear. If I am honest (which is the whole purpose of this blog!), it wasn’t as sleek as I would have expected – there was a lot of staff around, many phone calls and not once we were addressed by name, which I think is always a nice touch. After a good 10 minutes, we were finally given our business class boarding passes to Doha and were told that we would be met on arrival with the boarding passes to Malé. Our luggage was checked to the final destination.

 

Security

We used the fast-track lane at Heathrow, which wasn’t busy at all, and was very efficient.

 

The Lounge

Really impressive with the attentive service, selection of food and drink and decor of Qatar Airways' lounge at London Heathrow

Really impressive with the attentive service, selection of food and drink and decor of Qatar Airways’ lounge at London Heathrow

We easily located the lounge, and can’t tell you how impressed we were from the moment we walked in. We (and every other passenger) were escorted to our chosen seats and presented with all the options and services we had at our disposal.

The décor of the Heathrow lounge was impeccable – a mix of east and west, beautiful fittings and areas to seat.

I was wondering if this would be a “dry” experience, being a Middle Eastern airline – so was delighted to be directed to the “signature cocktail lounge”, where a barman mixes your favourite or Qatar’s signature cocktails. A good start indeed.

We declined the sit-down fine dining option as we had an evening flight and wanted to eat on the airplane, but did try some of the food options – soup, some tabuleh, prawns and cold meats, which you select with your hostess and is brought to your seat.

Bollinger rosé was the champagne of the day (with a So-Jeanne non alcoholic option, which was a very nice touch), with Lanson being the brut option (quite an interesting selection, as the price points are so clearly different). We had a lovely coconut and pineapple cocktail (to get into Maldives mode, if you see what I mean).

As Qatar Airways operates 3-4 services to Doha a day, only a select number of passengers are at the lounge at any one time – which allows the airline to offer outstanding personalised service. I must confess I was über curious to find out how they would cope in Doha. More on that later!

As the gate was a “little bit far away”, a buggy was organised to take us to the gate, which was an incredibly nice touch.

In-flight experience

–          Welcome – we were welcomed by name once we boarded and taken to our seats. The crew went around the cabin offering drinks to passengers as they sat down. It was very interesting to see how they introduced themselves to each passenger, to ensure we knew their names (and they knew ours). The purser also did the same to every passenger in the business class cabin (6 rows, with 6 seats each with a 2-2-2 combination).

Some of the inflight amenities

Some of the inflight amenities

–          Amenities – as it was an overnight flight, we were given pyjamas and eyemasks. I was delighted to be given a small size and thought the design was very nice. Grey with a nice stripped trim – personally, I loved the collar with some buttons. In terms of toiletries, there was a gender option – all in a stylish Ferragamo washbag, which was very discrete and with serious re-using possibilities. The washbag contained decent sized moisturizer and hand cream, perfume and lip balm. Toothbrushes and razors (in normal sizes) were cleverly located inside the washrooms.

–          Dining experience – this is where things got extremely interesting.

Loved the eclectic menu on board

Loved the eclectic menu on board

Qatar Airways works with 3 top chefs: Michelin-starred London-based Tom Aikens, Ramzi Choueiri (who is quite well-known in the Arab and Mediterranean world) and Vineet Bhatia, who was the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star (and has since won a second). The menu was very eclectic, and was a great introduction for us to Middle Eastern food – I wasn’t flying to New York, after all!

I went for the classic Arabic mezze, followed by grilled sea bass and ended with a cheese plate (interestingly, of British cheeses only). I skipped desert as I wanted to real give the Kopke Colheita 1974 Port a bit of loving – which I did indeed!

–          Drinks Selection – Great indeed! Cocktails can be mixed on board (I liked this theme, I must say) – from Dry Martinis, Champagne cocktails to Black Russians. There was also a good selection of whiskies and digestifs, which I didn’t try, but couldn’t help notice. What I loved? The incredible tea selection – I had a spicy chai on every Qatar flight!

–          In-flight entertainment – it had a good (and interesting) selection of TV, Films and Games. I was intrigued by the regional options (Bollywood and other Asian blockbusters and quite some European gems). I couldn’t resist and watched the new Catalan movie “Menu de Degustació”, set in Costa Brava, which showcases the Roca Brothers, the brains behind the 2013’s top restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, Spain. On the London flights, the system was a little bit old-fashioned (I didn’t realise at the beginning that it wasn’t a touch-screen), but they were more modern on the A320 that took us from Doha to Malé).

–          The seat – The seats were spacious, quite wide and all forward facing. Configured at 2-2-2, every passenger (except those at windows) had aisle access. My only comment is that it didn’t recline 180º, which I am used to on long-haul business flights – it had an angle, which made sleeping quite strange. The pillows and the cover were very nice, as were the noise-cancelling headphones.

The business class seat

The business class seat

On arrival at Doha (a mere 6h30 later), we were met at the plane and transferred to our next flight, via the Doha Premium Terminal, which deserves a lot of praise. Interestingly, there are 3 terminals at the “current” Doha International Airport. If your travels end there, you are taken from the plane to “Doha Arrivals terminal”, where you will get your bags and enter the country officially. We used this terminal when we arrived from the Maldives back to Doha and loved being welcomed by the concierge team, who also collected our bags and took us to the Doha Arrivals lounge, which was compact but heavenly.

If you are transferring to an onward flight and flying economy, you are taken to the normal “transfer” terminal. All business and first class passengers have a dedicated terminal, which I think is a brilliant idea (and will be difficult to replicate elsewhere, and a potential challenge for when Qatar Airways moves its operations into the new Doha airport). Light and airy, it has a huge business class lounge and also a first class lounge, which is slightly different. We used it for about 5 seconds when we landed at Doha and continued to Malé, but were looking forward to experiencing it properly when we flew back to London at the end of our trip.

It is all about the small details..

It is all about the small details..

What is so cool about it? Well, it all starts when you arrive at the terminal by car. You are greeted by a team of hotel-style porters, who take your luggage from your car and take it to the check-in desk – where you sit down (very strange indeed, but a very nice touch). Birds are chirping (which was quite soothing) and flower arrangements were incredible – I did feel like I was arriving back at the Four Seasons Doha, which I had left minutes before.

Then the process is very simple – 2 flying classes, 2 lounges. The business class lounge was huge – being Qatar Airways home airport, and where all the magic takes place. The lounge had 3 eating areas – from fine dining, to a deliciously looking buffet. Great English magazine selection (as at Heathrow), and specially printed copies of international newspapers (which I thought was quite clever). Service was discrete but very attentive and personal.

I had the opportunity to peek into the first class lounge, which looked a little bit the same, but had an incredible Elemis spa (paid treatments), and bedrooms which passengers with connections over 6 hours can use to rest). The shower areas also had Jacuzzis etc, which was a nice touch – and obviously gender specific.

Common to all passengers is access to the nursery and the games room (with every gadget you can think of. Worth noting that there were quite a few adults using the play stations!). There are also various smoking areas in the terminal.

And after a great morning (it is worth arriving 2 hours before your flight, just to experience it), it was time to hop on QR1 and fly back to London Heathrow.

Where should I go next?

Where should I go next?

I was very impressed with Qatar Airways’ service and attention to detail and will surely fly with them again as the airline will join Oneworld soon, which is great news for other miles-conscious flyers. The airline has over 150 new planes on order, and many new routes to interesting places, always connecting in Doha.

Mrs. O approved indeed

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Qatar Airways on this trip – but as you can tell by now, opinions are, as always, my own.

Fact Box: Qatar Airways flies from London Heathrow to Malé (Maldives), via Doha various times a day. Air fares start from £604 for economy and £2199 business class.

Finding paradise in the Maldives

I had seen dozens of photos, or hundreds even. Let’s be honest – thousands! Every time that I saw something that had the word Maldives in it, my heart skipped a little beat. Just a little one. Why? Because I really wanted to go there.

I was pretty sure that most photographs were photoshopped – or instagrammed as it is 2013 – and oh my, I was in for a surprise! So here is a little recap of my trip, lovingly organised by Kuoni!

The adventured started right close to home, at London Heathrow Airport – on this adventure, Mr. O and myself were to travel for the first time ever with award-winning airline Qatar Airways (due to join Oneworld soon). A detailed review can be found here (as part of a new series here on the blog, where I will be reviewing different business and first class airline experiences).

Qatar Airways' lounge at London Heathrow

Qatar Airways’ lounge at London Heathrow

It was my first time flying with a Middle-Eastern airline and a thought entered my mind – would the flight be dry? But as soon as I walked into the stunning lounge at Heathrow and was directed to the “signature cocktail bar”, I knew I didn’t need to worry. Flying with Qatar Airways also gave me the opportunity to stopover in Doha, a place I was curious about… but more about that part of the trip later!

Getting to the Maldives was not a problem – a 6.5h flight to Doha, and a speedy connection (via the Business and First Class terminal) and we quickly boarded our second flight, with a duration of around 4.5h, to Malé, the capital of the Maldives.

At the airport, we were welcomed by Kurumba‘s team (the same applies to any hotels, who have desks at the airport) and after a 10-minute boat ride we had arrived… pretty much to paradise!

Our private stretch of beach just outside our Beach Villa at Kurumba

Our private stretch of beach just outside our Beach Villa at Kurumba

After a warm welcome by the team at Kurumba, we were taken to our beach villa (#158) and where we uttered our first wow. The sea was really what I could only hope it would be – but the best bit? Knowing that that part of the beach was ours – each room has its own sunloungers, so there are no fights ever. I knew we were on to a good thing.

We spent 4 nights at Kurumba, and I can’t speak highly enough of the resort, which was Maldives’ first island resort (40 years ago), and which underwent a complete refurbishment very recently. We loved our room, and absolutely adored our outdoor shower. Needless to say, we were a housekeepers’ dream as we never ever used the indoor one.

Our beach villa at Kurumba

Our beach villa at Kurumba

I can’t tell you how quickly time went – I know it always does when you were having fun! We spent our days eating – the food and service were outstanding, and we were never bored as we had over 6 dining options (a grill, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Lebanese, Chinese and a buffet) to choose from, sleeping, having the odd cocktail and, of course, indulging in the spa.

I liked the spa so much, that after the complimentary treatment the hotel kindly offered us, we just had to go every day – the treatment rooms were fantastic, as was the team. Our favourite? This greeny ginger and lemongrass refreshing drink we were given pre and post massage. Ginger is something that this trip definitely brought into our lives. Treatments started at $100, which is outstanding value for money.

The Spa at Kurumba

The Spa at Kurumba

One thing we didn’t realise before we arrived, was that all prices were in USD. Which was a nice surprise, as cocktails (priced at $10+) were even better value than anywhere in Europe or the USA. And after working my way around the menu, which was incredibly creative, I can declare a winner:

Lychee Caipirinha

Lychee Caipirinha

Not quite why I never had a lychee caipirinha before – but I promise you, it will be added to my Top Cocktails list very shortly! One thing worth mentioning – you are not allowed to bring alcohol into the Maldives. It is illegal and your luggage is checked on arrival – the Maldives is a Muslim country and the only exception to this rule is at island resorts. Its capital, Malé, is completely dry (which is fine by me!).

I am not that transparent anymore, I am delighted to say!

I am not that transparent anymore, I am delighted to say!

Snorkelling was also outstanding and something I am delighted to have had a go at – every day the hotel organises a snorkelling “expedition”, which is great, especially for beginners, as you know you are totally safe. We saw the most incredible fishes and reefs and I can only wish I had a proper camera with me. Which obviously means I *simply* need to go back again.

Reading a book will never be quite the same!

Reading a book will never be quite the same!

And with this, it was time to move resorts – our next and final stop was Kurumba‘s sister property, Velassaru.

After a lovely welcome – we were joined by other guests which we collected at the airport, we were shown our over water villa (#411). Are you ready for this? You have been warned!

A lovely Water Villa room at Velassaru

A lovely Water Villa room at Velassaru

And obviously the best bit… the view!

Complete privacy in our Water Villa deck

Complete privacy in our Water Villa deck

Velassaru was a dream of a hotel – completely rebuilt a few years ago, it was beach chic and understatement at its best. Fab design, coupled with great service. One thing I must add – I loved the idea of switching resorts midweek. It adds a bit of variety, and a change of scenery – I know most people prefer to stay 1 week in one place, but this really worked for us, and I can’t recommend it enough.

You can totally guess what we did for the almost 3 days we were in this island – we swam, read, ate and I twitted a little bit! WiFi is free at both hotels, which is great news.

We also tried and loved the spa – the signature massage was outstanding. But what I loved the most? Hum.. guess!

A jacuzzi with a view - and a smile!

A jacuzzi with a view – and a smile!

One thing I had no intention of doing was to get inside a pool – why would I if the sea looked like that? So perfect.. and warm! I have now forgiven myself as I simply had to try this beautiful pool… would you be able to resist? We weren’t!

A pool with a view at Velassaru

A pool with a view at Velassaru

And I can’t believe how quickly our three nights at Velassaru went. But we weren’t sad to leave. Why? Because we know we will be back for sure, and it won’t take years, I promise you!

PS. Maldives, I miss you already

PS. Maldives, I miss you already

xo.

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Kuoni, who have kindly organised this trip for Mr. O and myself. I would like to thank Kurumba and Velassaru for looking after us so well and also Qatar Airways, who have provided flights in business class for both of us on all 4 segments from London Heathrow to Malé via Doha. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Factbox:

Kuoni offers 7 nights with breakfast at the 5-star Kurumba Maldives in a deluxe room including flights with Qatar Airways from Heathrow and group transfers in resort.  Prices for departures June 2013 are from £1,266 per person, based on two sharing. To book please quote: IO0021

Kuoni offers 7 nights with breakfast at 5-star Velassaru Maldives in a deluxe bungalow including flights with Qatar Airways from Heathrow and group transfers in resort.  Prices for departures  June 2013 are from £1,378 per person, based on two sharing. To book please quote: IO0021

A holiday like mine  which includes 4 nights on all inclusive at 5-star Kurumba Maldives in a deluxe beach bungalow and 3 nights on all inclusive at 5-star Velassaru Maldives in a water villa including flights with Qatar Airways from Heathrow and group transfers in resort, costs from £2,799 per person, based on two sharing, for departures June 2013 in economy class. With flights in business class, from LHR to Malé,  the total cost would be £4399. To book please quote: IO0004.

To book, please contact your nearest Kuoni store or call +44 1306 747008.