PHOTO: Horse and Groom, Bourton on the Hill

Have you visited the Cotswolds? Beautiful countryside with charming, traditional english villages it is a magnet to people from all around the world!  You will find some lovely places to stay too, like the Horse and Groom at Bourton on the hill.

BOURTON ON THE HILL:

I needed a couple of days rest in the countryside after a hectic time in Monaco.  The Horse and Groom was the perfect place to stay.  Set in the gorgeous village of Bourton on the Hill, literally on top of the hill with the most incredible views for miles around.

PHOTO: Bourton on the Hill outside from outside The Horse and Groom

We particularly liked the location of The Horse and Groom, set in a very pretty village as you can see from my photo above, but away from the well trodden tourist villages.  Regular readers will know I am not a fan of tourist trails!  This was just perfect, a gorgeous Cotswold village and the well known beauty spots are all nearby.

PHOTO: Room No.5 at Horse and Groom

My room was comfortable and cosy and opened out onto the lovely garden.  A good nights sleep in the comfy bed, a strong power shower and lots of electric sockets.  A bloggers dream, with all my various essential gadgets!  Recently refurbished by the new owner everything was spotless.

Little touches such as fresh coffee, tea tray with biscuits and fresh milk on request make all the difference don’t you think?  A little snooze relaxing with a cup of tea looking out onto the garden was a delight. Revived and refreshed, dinner awaited in the charming Cotswold stone clad dining room.

Dinner was a delicious treat with local Partridge on the menu cooked to perfection.  The best Partridge I have ever eaten.

PHOTO: Dining Room at Horse and Groom

Dinner started with a nice bottle of house white which went nicely with Smoked Trout for me and classic Prawn cocktail for my husband.  Local Roast Partidge with Red Cabbage and traditional Game Pie in season followed. Stay in The Cotswolds at Horse and Groom and discover a hidden gem!

PHOTO: Delicious Dinner at Horse and Groom

The portions were plentiful, as you can see from the photo above and it is great to see good English food served when it is in season.  Desert was a yummy Chocolate Brownie and a light and refreshing Apple Parfait.  I would definitely recommend a meal here and many local people obviously agree as the place was full mid week in October!

A good nights sleep, followed by a delicious breakfast and we were set for a day exploring the Cotswold villages. To book your stay see the website: http://www.horseandgroom.info

Or telephone them+44 (0)1386 700413

We were especially pleased the Freddie and Zarya could come too as this is a dog friendly place to stay.  They are welcome in the dining room too!

PHOTO: Dogs welcome at Horse and Groom 

Here they are with the Beer especially for dogs at the bar!

PHOTO: Bourton on the Water

BOURTON ON THE WATER:

Judging by the number of tour groups and visitors from Japan with selfie sticks this must appear very regularly on Social Media.  We even spotted a beautiful Japanese bride and groom with a professional photographer!

PHOTO: Bourton on the Water

As pretty as it is, I personally prefer the less crowded villages.  Bourton on the Water was absolutely packed with people from around the world.   We loved sweet little Oddington Village and the lovely walks nearby, pictured below.  A gorgeous 15th century church is tucked away, another hidden gem to be discovered!

PHOTO: Oddington 

There are plenty of things to do near Bourton on the Hill, including The Falconry Centre and Arbortorium in the village.  Then visit some lovely shops in Stowe on the Wold , I fell in love with Henry’s pictured below. I enjoyed visiting Stowe on the Wold and nearby Broadway too.

PHOTO: Stowe, The arbortorium and Falconry Centre in Bourton on the Hill

Information: http://www.cotswold.info

The Horse and Groom, Bourton-on the-Hill, near Moreton-in-the-Marsh, GL56 9AQ

Horse and Groom is a member of The Epicurean Club http://www.epicurean.club

 

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PHOTO: Monaco Harbour with The Monaco Yacht Club to the right

Monaco is the most luxurious and glamorous Principality in the world. So you want to arrive in style, right?  I was lucky enough to attend the Monaco Yacht Show this year! I started thinking about the best ways for my readers to arrive in Monaco whether it be for the Yacht Show, Grand Prix or other events.

A chauffeured Limousine is definitely a good idea! I experienced  arriving in Monaco, chauffeur driven in a beautiful Audi A8L with The Driver Company. http://thedriverco.com

Surely the ultimate in Limousine luxury! Here I am pictured below with driver Jonathan who was so professional.  The Audi A8L is the ultimate driving experience, but you can choose from a range of the best limousines.

PHOTO: Limousine A8L from The Driver Company

Monaco is small and can be difficult to navigate around and park during big events such as Monaco Yacht Show which is held every September or Monaco Grand Prix.  A luxury car and driver will take the stress out of your journey, especially with such a friendly company as The Driver Co.

PHOTO: Perfect for a big group

The Monaco Yacht show hosts the best events and parties, which means limitless Champagne and fine wine.  Another very good reason to get a car and driver, no drink driving worries!  I would love to arrive at The Monaco Yacht Show in this magnificent car next year.

PHOTO: Monaco Yacht Show 2017

Summertime is hectic all along the riviera from Monaco to Saint Tropez, so why not take a car and driver from The Driver Company.  They are friendly, really helpful and speak english.  Take a look at their website or call on +33(0)785053365

MONACO YACHT SHOW 2017:

The Monaco Yacht Show was so action packed with events and parties, I didn’t get time to take up an invitation to arrive in style by Helicopter!  That will have to wait for my next visit to the Principality and I will share with you very soon!

PHOTO: BELL 429 HELICOPTER

However, I did have time to check out the Bell 429 Helicopter brought over just for the Yacht Show.  If you are looking for a really magnificent Heli (just look at the colour!) with an amazing safety record, exceptional speed, seats 7 plus the pilot, and looks super chic then look no further.  Lets just say that if you need to ask the price, you can’t afford it as the old adage goes! http://bellhelicopter.com

 

PHOTO: Lamborghini or a Submarine?

The Monaco Yacht Show isn’t just about the most magnificent yachts in the world.  You can find so many super luxe  things to check out and even buy, if you are lucky enough!  While we are thinking about arriving in style, how about a Lamborghini or even your own Submarine!  Top that!  I really want a Lamborghini now, so much nicer and more comfortable than they were in the old days.

PHOTO: M/Y Vertige with me pretending to be Captain

How to arrive in Monte Carlo Diva style? The ultimate way to arrive next year would be to buy your own yacht!  Read my Monaco Yacht Show 2017 blog, I have chosen the best ones especially for you! Read all about M/Y Vertige pictured above on my Yacht Show blog. See you at Monaco Yacht Show next year.  Monaco Yacht Show

http://www.tankoa.it

Dates for Monaco Yacht Show 2018: 26 to 29 September 2018 http://www.monacoyachtshow.com

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Photo at Anantara Qasr Al Sarab

5 Top places to visit in 2017.  Well, this is based on my recent Travels rather than all time favourites. I would find it impossible to choose five, wouldn’t you?

VENICE

I know, everyone loves Venice but that it is because it is one of the best places to visit in the world!  Venice has everything from beautiful architecture, magical ambiance, excellent shops, interesting museums and so many art galleries you will never see them all!

Iconic Venice, I will never tire of visiting this magical city

Avoid high season, is my biggest tip!  Treat yourself to a water taxi, by far the best way to see everything.  Avoid the touristy Gondoliers and take a fabulous Riva Water taxi.  However you can avoid the crowds by staying off the well worn tourist route, they generally do not stray very far!  Read all about Venice in my Venice blog.

PALAWAN ISLANDS, The Philippines

El Nido Islands, Palawan, The Philippines

If you want to take a long haul trip, I really recommend visiting the islands of The Philippines.  They are not called the most beautiful in the world without good reason.  Yes, it is a bit of a trek to get there but well worth it.  Go now before the world discovers them and they become spoiled.  Avoid the more touristy Boracay and head to Palawan.

Read my blog to find out where I stayed and more information.

ABU DHABI

Regular readers will know how much I love Abu Dhabi and visit every year!  Don’t just use it as a stop over, stay and see the country.  I particularly like the Liwa desert and stayed at the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Hotel for the second time.  The desert is a very special place and it is nice to enjoy the luxurious surroundings of the hotel.Liwa Desert, Abu Dhabi, UAE

You will enjoy the city of Abu Dhabi too, there is so much to see and do, including the Sheikh Zayed Mosque which is awe inspiring.  I loved staying at the world famous Emirates Palace hotel Read my blog for more information.

Emirates Palace Private Beach

If you stay at Emirates Palace, I promise you will never want to leave!  However, get out and explore the country in a hire car.  It is perfectly safe to drive and you will feel very comfortable and safe driving anywhere in Abu Dhabi.  Almost impossible to get lost too.

MOROCCO

Atlas Mountains of Morocco

My latest discovery!  Indeed, I am already planning a return trip. Explore Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains.  Read my blogs to discover more details, see the HOME page at the top.  Marrakesh was a delight and so much nicer than I expected, perfect for a few days short trip if you are travelling from europe.

The Medina in Marakesh

Explore the Medina, Majorelle Gardens eat delicious Moroccan meals and so much more.

Cote d’Azur France:

Cap Martin, Roquebrune Cap Martin, France

I know, I live here part of the year and so am a little biased but please come and visit! You will love it.  Monaco is one of the safest places to be and you will enjoy a trip very much.  Again read my blogs on the subject for more information.

MonacoDon’t forget to visit Monaco or stay a while during your trip. There are wonderful hotels, great events throughout the year, terrific restaurants and so much to see or do.  Enjoy the beautiful weather and beaches too!  Avoid high season on the Cote d’azur and Monaco would be my top tip.  High season is during July and August.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Monaco is a very Chic and glamorous Principality, attracting rich, successful beautiful people from all over the world.  I think everyone knows this!  It is not news.  BUT…. there is one week a year when Monte Carlo steps up a gear, even by its own super luxe standards!  This is for the Monaco Yacht Show, surely the jewel in the crown of the yachting world.

PHOTO: Monaco Yacht Club 

Wall to wall Superyachts are squeezed into the harbour, including 125 Superyachts and a total value of an incredible 2.5 billion euros  My villa overlooks the sea and I can see hundreds of the worlds most expensive yachts from my window.  It is a very special time of year here in Monaco.  If you are looking to buy one of the best and most exclusive yachts, there is no other place to be in the world. This is not an exaggeration!

What a week!  I need a holiday immediately after the Yacht Show because it is such an exciting a whirlwind of the best parties and yacht related events.

PHOTO: Monaco Yacht Show 2017 and enjoying some of the many events

I spent the week exploring the most beautiful Superyachts.  The most impressive thing I take away with me is the passion, love and dedication these talented yacht designer, architects, companies have for their craft.

The designs are exquisite and the smallest detail is absolutely perfect and built with love and attention to detail.  Every little thing hand made and absolute perfection.

PHOTO: Monaco harbour with Monaco Yacht Club 

The show includes everything imaginable that is yacht related.  From tenders and toys to furnishings, and deck furniture exquisite crystal lights, plates ornaments the list just goes on and on.

I am going to write about my three favourite yachts because it is impossible to write about all the lovely yachts I have seen!  All three are Italian built yachts, always imbued with Italian elegance, chic and understated effortless perfection.  The clean lines of the yachts are mirrored with the interior design of modern simplicity.

These yachts are pure class in every respect.  A sailing yacht and two motor yachts – not the largest or most expensive at the show but perfection in every detail!

M/Y AURORA:

PHOTO: M/Y AURORA 

Built by Rossinavi, Italy’s only family owned shipyard entirely bespoke and custom built.  Designed with the the owners love of sport and adventure in mind, together with a luxurious and modern interior living space.  Aurora is 49 metres long. Max speed 21 knots!  I totally fell in love on the spot.

PHOTO:  Interior of M/Y Aurora

Introduced to the world at Monaco Yacht Show 2017.  Everything is handmade and the attention to detail incredible.  The stunning marble in the bathroom for example and the sink unit carved from one piece of marble. What is not to love?

S/Y SEVEN by Perini Navi:

My favourite Sailing Yacht is a 60 metre ketch S/Y Seven by Perini Navi, another Italian Yacht company.

PHOTO: S/Y Seven at Monaco Yacht Show

S/Y Seven is Italian made,designed with an Italian designer, interior designer (who previously worked with Giorgio Armani) and absolutely everything made in Italy.  I just love this perfect yacht, it is indeed a work of art!

PHOTO: Super Chic S/Y SEVEN by Perini Navi

PHOTO: S/Y Seven in Monaco Harbour

MY: VERTIGE by Tankoa

Another favourite Yacht was M/Y Vertige 50 metres pictured below from boutique Italian shipyard Tankoa. Introduced to the world at Monaco after completing her first Charter season.  Who would like to charter this beauty?   Lots of great toys onboard including 2 huge jet skis and a very cool tender.

PHOTO: M/Y VERTIGE

Again, I have chosen this yacht as a favourite because i love the cool, clean, modern lines, attention to detail and super chic interiors which are comfortable, minimalist and classy.

PHOTO: Aboard M/Y VERTIGE 

M/Y Vertige is feels very spacious with big open spaces and a lot of natural light.  I loved every detail and would not change a thing!  What do you think of my three favourites? Let me know!

If you want more information on Monaco Yacht Show, check out the website Monaco Yacht Show

Dates for 2018 Show – 26 to 29 September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PHOTO: Discovering my ancestry with MyHeritage DNA Test

Who do you think you are?  Well, if you take a MyHeritage DNA test you may have some surprises!  Discover your ancestry by taking a DNA test with MyHeritage.

TAKE THE MYHERITAGE DNA TEST:

The test kit arrived in the post and was very easy use with clear instructions.  Simply swab the inside of your mouth with the swab and pop it into a special container.  Post the kit back to MyHeritage in America and wait for the results!

The MyHeritage website is fairly easy to navigate and they are are really helpful and supportive if you have any questions.  I waited a few weeks, as expected and then the results arrived on the website.  This was actually very exciting because my DNA was such a surprise in some ways.  I discovered that I am 20% Spanish!  We are now enjoying investigating further to find out exactly where the Spanish DNA fits into my ancestry.

PHOTO: MyHeritage Test kit

MYHERITAGE DNA TEST RESULTS:

Another nice surprise is the DNA  matches feature on the MyHeritage website.  A list of all the matches that are on the database are listed and it is fascinating to discover cousins, second cousins from The Netherlands and Germany.

The most interesting thing is that the branch of the family believed to originate in Sweden actually came from Holland! So, I’m Dutch rather than Swedish.  I discovered I am 50% Celtic, 30% Northern European and 20% Spanish!  What will you discover I wonder?  Let me know….

CREATE A FAMILY TREE:

PHOTO: Discovering new relatives on MyHeritage!

Once you have received the test results, you can sign up and create a family tree and link up with your DNA matches on their family tree and discover relatives you never knew existed.

Go to MyHeritage website and buy a test kit to find your ancestors and relatives.

http://www.myheritage.com

Go to http://www.myheritage.com/dna and receive free shipping using the code MHTRAVELDIVA   I hope you enjoy taking the test as much as I did and thank you MyHeritage!

 

This is my review of Anantara Qasr Al Sarab following my stay in December 2016.

Visit Abu Dhabi:

A little piece of my heart belongs to Abu Dhabi.  I return time and again for so many reasons. Some are practical such as it is only 7 hours from London, guaranteed sunshine, low humidity, fabulous hotels, a stylish and top class destination, perfectly safe with lovely people.  It is also very liberal towards Western tourists, you can comfortably walk around without any problem.

The other reasons are more heartfelt, such as the magical desert, enchanting culture, the fascination of watching the country develop in such a positive and enlightened way, my love of the Arab horses, Camels, Falcons.  There are so many exciting adventures to be had here, make sure you explore the country properly and don’t just sit in your fabulous hotel when you visit!

Entrance to Anantara Qasr Al Sarab

The Empty Quarter – Liwa Desert

I would not visit Abu Dhabi without a trip into the empty quarter.  Hire a car and driver or, like me hire a rental car and drive yourself around.  Do not hesitate for a minute!  Abu Dhabi drivers are the most polite in the entire world!  There is no horn beeping or pushing and they drive in a very civilised way.

We stayed at Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Hotel which is approximately 2 hours drive from the city of Abu Dhabi.  A really easy drive, with hardly another car on the road and quite an adventure out into the desert.  Pass a few Camel farms on the way, so look out for Camels as you go!  This is the only 5 star hotel in the area.

Villa Complex at Anantara Qasr Al Sarab.

The hotel is well sign posted, you cannot miss it. Pass through the security check and drive for 11 km until you reach the hotel.  The hotel driveway is extraordinary in the the most magical desert setting.

Hotel entrance

Arrive and be whisked away by super efficient staff.  Every Anantara hotel has impeccably efficient staff!  The last time we stayed our room was in a super location on the left side of the main complex, number 400 plus.  This time we were in 121 which was not so great.  A lengthy walk away from everything and with far more rooms around, I did not like it nearly as much.

Hotel buggy takes you to the room on arrival

I would definitely splurge on a villa!  The first time we visited, a few years back the hotel was new and everything was immaculate.  This time, I think it is ready for a room revamp because it is starting to look a little bit tired.

Very comfy bed at Anatara Qasr Al Sarab

My favourite thing about the room is the super comfy bed, gorgeous arabic styling and lovely relaxing terrace and private garden.  The best bit is the bath!  I have never seen such a magnificent bath.  This is  a joy after visiting so many new hotels this year that are just offering showers!

The biggest round bath I have ever seen!

Admittedly, I do travel with a lot  of clothes but the lack of drawer space was a real problem.  We lived out of a suitcase due to lack of anywhere to put things.  As usual, way too few clothes hangers!

My Top Tip: Visit during the week if possible, the weekends are very busy

The Swimming Pool:

Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Pool

Who loves a pool? We all do!  This is a fabulous pool, spacious and with a separate children’s area.  Great pool bar serving light lunches and so on around the pool.

Delicious Poolside lunches

Pool with a fantastic view of the desert!

If I was in charge at Anantara, I would build another quiet pool on the other side of the hotel for adults to chill out.

The Hotel

The main part of the hotel is exquisitely designed in an arabic style which is just enchanting.  The reception is large spacious and welcoming leading onto a big lounge area.

Lounge area

A charming library is adjacent, look out for the lovely books with old pictures of Abu Dhabi

Library with interesting books

Outside terrace next to the Library

On the other side is a shop selling some interesting gifts and great Kaftans.

Gift Shop

On the lower level is a fabulous gym and Spa.

Good, well equipped gym

Restaurants:

The food here is eye wateringly expensive!  There is nowhere else to eat so my advice would be to take a meal package when you book.

Breakfast:

Buffet breakfast is served at the Al Waha restaurant.  A huge buffet selection of everything you could possible want for breakfast!

Pastry Selection at Breakfast

Lunch and Dinner:

A good selection of different places to eat.

Ghadeer

Situated near the pool and serves Local and Mediterranean dishes.  It also has a Shisha Lounge.  The food was good, with an informal vibe.

Ghadeer Restaurant

Ghadeer Restaurant

I enjoyed fish en Papillote and it was delicious, followed by Tiramisu, below.

Dessert, absolutely scrummy Tiramisu

A good selection of wines too.  The second night we ate at:

Suhali Restaurant

An upscale rooftop restaurant with an award winning wine list.  Again the food was delicious.

Other restaurants are Al Waha Restaurant which has a Middle Eastern and International cuisine buffet.  Also, Al Falaj, serving Middle Eastern food and barbecue in a wonderful tented area!

Activities:

Apart from the beautiful desert location this is my favourite thing about Anantara Qasr Al Sarab.  Especially the Camels and Camel riding, who an adventure!

Camel Trek at Anantara Qasr Al Sarab

You can Camel Trek in the morning or evening.  I chose the evening trek which lasts about 50 minutes with a very small group, which was perfect!  There were 10 of us in total.  A truly spectacular way to see the desert and this is followed by drinks watching the sunset.

Sunset in the desert

Trek in the desert, use the hotel fat tyre bikes, go dune bashing in 4 x 4 vehicles, see the Falcons, go riding on the Arab horses or explore on a Camel.  You can see why people come back time and again!

Top Tip:

Go to Abu Dhabi in the winter when the weather is a perfect 27 degrees in December.  The summers are very, very hot obviously!

Information:

Dress.  For the desert take clothes and shoes that are suitable for hiking and walking.  Smart casual the rest of the time  http://www.VisitAbuDhabi.com  http://www.qasralsarab.anantara.com

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img_3777The Pool at Lagen Island, El Nido Resorts

This is my review of Lagen Island, El Nido Resorts, Palawan, The Philippines.

I looked at so many traveller photos of the beautiful islands of The Philippines and longed to visit!  My fellow travellers always pointed to El Nido and Palawan as the prettiest spot  and so we planned a trip flying into El Nido Airport from Manila with Airswift airlines.  A fabulous trip followed and El Nido Resorts definitely have Diva approval and you know how Diva-esque I can be!

El Nido Airport:

The journey from the small Terminal 4 at Manila Airport was hassle free and the views from the small plane were delightful.  Everything was so well organised and our luggage  transferred to Lagen Island resort directly so we didn’t have to worry about a thing!

img_4267AirSwift, El Nido Airport

El Nido airport is small, charming and very pretty!  We were even greeted by singers as we arrived at the terminal, which is little more than a grass hut but everything was well organised and went smoothly.

A 50 minute boat ride, just for Lagen Island passengers followed and gave us lovely views of the islands along the way.

Lagen Island:

You will have your breathe taken away by the perfect setting of Lagen Island.  Pristine beaches, crystal clear water and a tropical paradise!  I’m so happy I decided to make the long journey and this is one happy Diva!

Arrive at Lagen Island to warm welcome and you will definitely be delighted by the awe inspiring setting of Lagen Island.  It is a little piece of paradise and it will be yours for the duration of your visit! We never felt as if there were many people around, the peace and tranquility are perfect.

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Lagen Island Boat dock on the right of my photo

We stayed in a Water Villa, the one on the far left in the picture with lovely views.  There is a choice of 3 types of villa, Forest Villas which are slightly larger, Water Villas, my favourite choice right on the water.

img_1111Water Villas, Lagen Island

The setting is breathtaking, Lagen Island has a magical setting on a larger island than the other El Nido Resort properties.  I loved their Eco-friendly approach, we were given bags to collect any rubbish washed up from the sea.  the islands were all pristine so we didn’t really need these bags.  All the staff are given training on sustainability and protecting the wildlife.

The birds sing in the trees, and if you are lucky you will see monkeys eating fruits in the trees outside your villa.  Watch the bright tropical fish swimming along in the pristine waters as you sit on your villa terrace.

img_4431My Water Villa, Lagen Island

The Water villa is comfortable with a comfy bed. WIFI, tea and coffee and TV.  I loved lying in bed and looking at the sea view with the little boats going past.  The setting and breathtaking views are definitely the highlights of a stay at this resort.

img_4295Room with a view!

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Comfy bed

The bathroom has everything you need, it is small but with a good shower. A beautiful walkway links the Water villas with the rest of the resort.  It is a delight to walk along spotting butterflies and birds in the trees and fish in the water below.

Villa Veranda:

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Enjoying the view on my Water Villa Terrace.  The perfect spot for my Yoga practice too!
img_4445The Bar, Lagen Island

Restaurant:

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Restaurant at night

All meals are in the buffet restaurant, which has a lovely veranda where you can sit and enjoy a delicious meal.  It is impossible not to be relaxed here on Lagen with the peace and tranquility.  Staff at Lagen are all charming, friendly and super helpful.

img_3779Buffet style restaurant with a barbecue grill outside

Choose from a good selection of fresh shell fish, fish, meat and chicken.  Salads, soups to start and always some exotic fruits to try.

 

img_3926Private Dining by the Pool

We enjoyed the delicious seafood and fish at the restaurant.  We were treated to a private dining experience by the pool which was a wonderful treat!  The chef discussed our menu with us and we enjoyed a bottle of New Zealand Monkey Bay White wine with a delicious chowder with squid, fish, shrimp.  Our main course of Snapper, grilled vegetables and Jumbo Prawns was equally delicious. Desert was Cheesecake and fresh fruit.

picmonkey-collage-7

Private Dinner – Delicious!

Visit the Private Beach:

img_4414

Lagen Island Private Beach

A private dining experience can be arranged on Lagen Island Private beach which is a couple of minutes by speed boat and is the most romantic spot imaginable.  Make sure not to miss out on this beach if you stay here.  The resort provide free Kayaks and Paddle boards.  The beach is an easy 15 minute Kayak ride away.

img_4368View from Lagen Island

Pool:

img_3785Pool

The large pool is just perfect!  The prettiest setting for a pool I have ever seen.

View from the boat:

Activities:

There are so many activities!  I’m going to give the activities there own special blog. So look out for Part 2

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El Nido Resorts Lagen Island definitely has the Diva stamp of approval and I recommend a stay!  You will not be disappointed.

Information:

Top Tip:  Try and visit during the dry season from February to April.  We went in October and did have some bad weather as well as sunny days.

Look at the resort website for more information.

http://www.elnidoresorts.com      http://www.AirSwift.com

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Kasbah Bab Ourika

What a way to end my Diva Road Trip around Morocco! I loved a short stay at Kasbah Bab Ourika in the Atlas Mountains, overlooking the Ourika Valley and will be back.  We drove from Essaouira to the Kasbah enjoying the sights and sounds of rural Morocco along the way.

The Kasbah has a magical setting in breathtaking mountain scenery.  It is a joy to relax, unwind and breath in the mountain air.  The perfect retreat after a hectic stay in the Medina of Essouaira.

Gardens at Kasbah Bab Ourika

The setting and the gardens are a highlight here.  What a treat to find such beautiful gardens high up in the mountains!  Enjoy the outdoor swimming Pool and Hammam.  I stayed in a suite decorated in a simple Berber style, making good use of local materials and fabric.  Simple but chic.

Enjoy a mountain view from the bed in the morning, open the doors and step out into a sweet little private garden to enjoy your morning tea!

Private little Garden outside the suite at Kasbah Bab Ourika

We asked for twin beds but there was the option of a larger bed. The bathroom with a shower was simple but functional.

Bedroom at Kasbah Bab Ourika

Enjoy meals in the charming Courtyard restaurant.

Charming Restaurant setting

We enjoyed breakfast on the terrace and tried a Berber Omelette, which was delicious and you should try when you visit.

Terrace for Breakfast

Hiking:

I would definitely recommend a hike with a local guide arranged by the Kasbah.  Hassan was a wonderful guide for our two hour hike followed by lunch in a Berber house cooked by a Berber family which was delicious and a very unique experience.

Views of the Atlas Mountains on my hike

The food was delicious and vegetarian as we requested.  Definitely a terrific experience!

Walking through Berber Village

Lunch with a Berber family

My drive back to Marrakesh airport was very easy and straight forward and it took me 45 minutes.  Kasbah Bab Ourika is a lovely mountain retreat but within easy access of Marrakesh.  I would recommend hiring a car and driving yourself around in Morocco, we were 2 women and felt safe and happy for the entire trip.  The people of Morocco are a delight.

Kasbah Bab Ourika

Information:

Kasbah Hab Ourika, Ourika Valley, Tnin Ourika, Morocco tel: +212668749547

http://www.kasbahbabourika.com

 

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PHOTO: Cockpit of the flight simulator

Flight Experience London:

Flight Experience London.  Have you ever flown an airplane? Would you like to have ago? Well, this is for you!  Regular readers know that I love to try new things and was super excited to actually Captain a Boeing 737 simulator.

Arrive in Putney:

Flight Experience London is based in Putney in a very cool, modern office.  The Thames is at the bottom of Putney High Street, so you can arrive by river bus if you wish.  I drove and parked in the multi story car park just off the High Street which was very convenient.

 

PHOTO: The Thames River at Putney, arrive by river bus

Learn to fly a Boeing 737 plane:

The Flight Centre is a super chic building and the simulator is constructed from the real cockpit of a real, licenced Boeing 737 plane.  My experience started with an explanation of the various bits of equipment inside the flight deck and then a choice of where to take off and land.

Choose to land in two destinations.  My choice was JFK and Nice airport. Then you have the chance to take off and land by yourself, with help from your co-pilot, of course!  Here are two videos of me flying toward JFK and landing in JFK.  Landing for the first time was such a thrill.

Video: Landing at JFK Airport

VIDEO: Me flying the simulator

This is a perfect opportunity to experience the thrill of flying.  The company organise training nights, product launches, client entertainment and team building.  If you want to book an appointment for yourself when you are in London just call the number at the bottom of the page.

PHOTO: Diva pilot

You will be flying an official Boeing 737 licensed simulator and have the real life experience of flying a plane.  The team are very friendly and make it a fun flight!  My friends all want to have a go now too and I will be back for another go for sure!

The Flight Centre also work with schools to encourage young people to take up a career in flying, help future pilots prepare for flight exams and conduct annual flight tests for pilots so they are a very professional and experienced team.

Contact Flight Experience London, The Flight Centre, 129 Upper Richmond Road, Putney, London SW15

Telephone: +44 (0)20300 40616

http://www.london.flightexperience.co.uk

 

Emirates Palace Hotel      Photo: by Thomas Gantz @traveller.tom All other photos by me

My review of Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi.

This is my top hotel in Abu Dhabi, my top hotel in the whole of the Middle East!  Actually at the moment it is my top hotel in the world!  What are you waiting for?  Book immediately.  It is quite expensive but you get what you pay for in life!

The Hotel: 

100 hectares of grounds to explore at Emirates Palace

We stayed for Christmas 2016 and enjoyed every second.  I will tell you a little secret, we didn’t leave the hotel once during the stay!  It is so enormous with the most perfect beach front and even a Marina I think you will find it hard to leave too.  It was a bit of a shock arriving home to blighty and having to get our own breakfast in the morning.

 

Do you want to feel pampered, do you want excellent service and amazing staff? Well, I think you will like it here.  I will definitely be back.  Even the most sophisticated traveller cannot fail to be in awe of the impressive hotel entrance and be whisked into the lobby for a stress free checkin.

Top Tip: Wear comfy shoes to arrive, it is a long way to you room or suite!

Yes, the hotel in enormous and you will be escorted to your room and given a little guided tour along the way.

My hotel room at Emirates Palace

The rooms are large, spacious, super luxe and everything you would imagine.  I like to stay in a hotel that represents the traditions of the country I am visiting and this fits the bill perfectly. You will love the Arabian furnishings and Palace living.

My bathroom

A big marble bathroom and large walk in shower with fabulous Amouage products.  I am definitely in love with Amouage and so happy to discover a new brand.

A stylish entrance hall with large wardrobes, need more hangers though as in nearly every hotel in the world.

Entrance Hall with wardrobes

Super comfy bed which is a Diva essential!

My comfy bed and a lovely Rose given to me on arrival 

Lots of lovely little treats kept arriving, well it was Christmas after all! Our butler bought us some delicious fresh orange juice when we arrived and popped in with treats such as a Christmas chocolate log and a Christmas stocking on Christmas morning.

Outside my Room at Emirates Palace

Explore the 100 hectare hotel grounds, with its wonderful private beach, Marina, gardens, swimming pool and even a family of camels to ride!

Camels at Emirates Palace

Stroll round the fabulous gardens which extend as far as the magnificent Presidential Palace

Gardens of Emirates Palace

The pool with its lazy river is magnificent and enormous in scale just like everything else at Emirates Palace!  Sunbeams are scattered all over the gardens so find a quiet and private corner.

Beautiful Pool at Emirates Palace

The pool temperature is just like bath water and crystal clear!  There are wonderful activities for children and the little ones will be very happy during their stay.

Pool at Emirates Palace

Enjoy an Al Fresco lunch on your sunbed.

The beach front is spectacular, watch the hotel and guest boats going past as you sip on a cocktail.

Magnificent Sea front at Emirates Palace

Explore the fabulous hotel, you might be quite some time and we still got lost even by the time we left!

Hotel is on different levels

The only thing I didn’t like at the hotel was the fact that the Public areas are treated like a tourist destination and groups of people from outside the hotel wander about taking selfies and photographs.  This could be quite intimidating to be suddenly confronted by a large group of people who quite obviously were not guests.  The rooms are in a separate wing and cannot be entered and there is a security guard stopping people entering.  My recommendation would be to stop this!

Huge interior spaces, this one leading to one of the residential wings

The hotel interiors are nothing short of spectacular, arabic furnishings, marble floors and no expense has been spared to make this a top hotel and amazing place to stay.

Lounge seating areas

There are so many places to sit and relax or take tea.  Afternoon tea is something of a tradition here with many people coming just to take tea.

A great gym looking out onto the pool and Award winning Spa, which I didn’t get a chance to try, maybe next visit!

Fantastic Gym Looking onto Emirates Palace Pool

Restaurants and Bars:

You will never be bored!  There are 4 bars and 9 restaurants.  The restaurants in the hotel that we tried are all excellent.  This was another reason why we never left the hotel!  I have visited Abu Dhabi a few times and the food has been terrible and expensive.  Emirates Palace was a lovely surprise, the food was excellent and the wine lists very good too!  My favourite was:

Mezlai Emirate Restaurant

What a joy! An Emirati Restaurant, something sadly lacking in the rest of the city.  The Food, restaurant, setting were all absolutely perfect.  The portions are huge!

Lobster Salad

Prawn Starter

Actually, I’m going to write a separate restaurant review!  There are too many great restaurants to write about here.

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img_3870Miniloc Island

Explore the islands of El Nido, Palawan, The Philippines:

You will certainly not get bored if you spend  few days on the El Nido Islands!  The El Nido Resorts gave us a boat, crew and guide for the day and it was such a special day.

img_4374-1Big Lagoon, Miniloc

The day started with a boat ride to Little Lagoon, Miniloc.  The ride itself is a treat, passing some of the most beautiful islands imaginable and the most crystal clear seas.  We kayaked through the Lagoon which was unimaginably beautiful, with limestone cliffs soaring above us.

img_0983Kayaking on Little Lagoon

Do you love kayaking?  Well, this is the best place in the world to kayak.  Smooth waters and fantastic views.

Top Tip: Hire a private boat and go early before all the boats arrive from El Nido mainland

img_0991Miniloc Island

Next stop, Large Lagoons and we took the boat into the Lagoon this time.

img_3953Big Lagoon

Snorkelling:

Next stop, Miniloc Resort and snorkelling!  A fantastic array of fish on perfectly preserved coral.  We saw Giant Trevally, Parrot Fish, Nemo, Moorish Idol, Regal Angelfish, Titan Triggerfish, Giant Clam and even a Green Sea Turtle!

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Spot the Giant Trevally swimming behind me!

Top Tip: Snorkel with a guide, they know all the best spots!

Lunch on Miniloc Private Beach, just for the El Nido Resort clients.  A delicious picnic barbecue.

img_1158Lunch Time on Manioc Private Beach

img_3868Miniloc Private Beach

A happy afternoon island hopping on our outrigger boat.  Stopping to swim as we pleased and stroll along pristine beaches.

img_0982-1Helicopter Island

I have never seen such pristine beaches, thanks in part due to the rubbish collection co-ordinated by El Nido Resorts.  Every guest is given an environmentally friendly bag in which to collect any litter, but we didn’t see anything to collect!

img_3906Perfect spot!

The islands were just magical and will be in our memories forever.

img_0999-1Perfect spot to watch the sunset

A happy afternoon island hopping and so well looked after by our guide, Jamie.

Jungle Hike

The next day started with a hike after the rain cleared.  There are two hikes on Lagen Island one an hour long and another two hours.  Glen is one of the larger islands and has wonderfully preserved forest with 16 varieties of Butterflies on the island, countless birds including Yellow Throated Leafbird, Olive-Backed Sunbird, Palawan Hornbill, White-vented shama and many more!

img_1180Forest Hike on Lagen Island

The island is home to Long Tailed Macaque monkeys, Palawan Suirrels and Water Monitor Lizards.  You don’t need to hike to see all of the wildlife, you will spot everything near your Water Villa!  The selection of trees is extraordinary too and well signed so easy to spot.  El Nido Resorts have done a wonderful job preserving the flora and fauna.

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Vast selection of Trees in the Forest

img_0987Lagen Island Private Beach

The hike ended on this fabulous private beach!  We were collected by speedboat and whisked back to the resort.  You can arrange a private dinner on the beach, can you think of a more romantic spot!  Or, take one of the free Kayaks at the resort and Kayak to the beach for snorkelling and a sunbathe.

There is plenty to do to keep you busy during a stay on El Nido Islands, and I haven’t even mentioned the diving which is exceptional and can be arranged by the resort.

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Celebrating finishing my hike!

Thinking of Planning a Trip to El Nido?

El Nido resorts have 4 resorts to choose from on different islands.  My choice would be Pangulasian Island, the jewel in the crown of El Nido resorts and opened a couple of years ago.  Yes, a little more expensive but well worth the extra cost.  This is a really special resort with exceptional villas and facilities.  Read my blog dedicated to the island soon!

Information:

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I am updating this article, be cause I am busy looking for great deals right now! November is the cheapest month to travel and there are some great flight and holiday bargains around.

Let’s get Bargain Hunting!

How do I travel First and Business Class around the world? Not by paying full ticket price, that is for sure!  I will share some of my tips for getting a good deal so you will never be squashed into a Tourist Class seat again!

Yes, I know it is expensive, even with a good deal, but it is worth it!  I would stay home rather than travelling in cattle class.  The thought of being squashed upright for 17 hours just fills me with horror!  It is getting worse too, back in the day many flights were half empty and you could grab 3 seats in a row for a good sleep.  NO MORE, in these days of small profit margins nearly every plane is full and a very unpleasant experience.

Meanwhile, up in Business and First Class a different world exists.  It really is a different world and you will never go back!

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Business Class flat bed seat Oman Air

Get a good deal:

Loyalty Programs:

This tip goes for hotels as well as airlines.  Find a few airlines that you like and stick with them.  Join their loyalty schemes.  Build up those reward points.  There are so many ways to collect points apart from through flights.  For example, British Airways allows you to collect Avios by shopping online at your favourite stores.  simply follow the link on the British Airways website and you will collect Avios as you shop!  Although, I must admit this does encourage shopping to excess especially in Bicester Outlet Village.

It is no secret that I love the Middle Eastern airlines for their amazing planes, inflight service, Chauffeur service, food …. the list is endless.  Many of the Airlines partner with each other for Loyalty programs.  For example you can transfer your BA Avios to Qatar Airways Qmiles.  The options are endless.

Amaze yourself with how quickly you have enough points for an upgrade or a free ticket.  For an upgrade with points you can pay a tourist ticket price and use points to upgrade to Business Class! Perfect.

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Lunch time on Oman Air Business Class

Book with new and up and coming Airlines:

A new airline, trying to establish itself in a crowded market place will always offer enticing deals in order to establish a clientele.  Oman Air is one such airline at the moment and has some really incredible deals.

Route Options:

Money can be saved, a lot of money sometimes! by being creative with your route.  Look at different options when searching.  Yes, it takes a little time but think of the savings running into hundreds of pounds.

Email Special Offers:

Once you are signed up to the loyalty program, you will start to receive special offers through to your inbox at regular intervals!

Top Tip:  Be Flexible

We travel at off peak times, partly because we hate crowds and also because this is when you will receive the best deals! Did you know that November is the cheapest month to take a holiday? This is just as true with hotels and villa rentals as with airlines.  I know it is probably stating the obvious, but you are much more likely to receive discounts at off peak times. Never try and find a bargain at Christmas for example unless you are incredibly lucky!

Hotels will upgrade you and give discounts at low peak times and flight discounts will be available.

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Business Class Lounge Heathrow Terminal 3

Internet Search for Flight Discounts:

I know I have said this before but it is important so I will repeat. Most Internet search engines are owned by only 3 or 4 organisations.  You need to shop around!

Top Tip:  Search, find the flight you want and wipe your browser history before going back to book!  You want to wipe the cookie history because the flight prices go up every time you search.

 

My favourite internet sites

These are my current favourites.  Kayak.com  A friend found a fabulous deal on here for me recently!  Now it is my first go to site for a great deal!

Skyscanner.net is another favourite at the moment.  Good old fashioned bucket shops can sometimes turn up a good deal.  Try http://www.business-flights.co.uk or http://www.flightguru.com

I use several websites to find the best deals, and go back to them time and again because they are so good.

Hope these tips help!  If you have any of your own, please tell me.

Useful information:

http://www.omanair.com  http://www.britishairways.com http://www.qatarairways.com

http://etihad.com  http://www.kayak.com

 

 

img_3639The Pool Hilton Conrad Hotel Manila

This is my review of the Conrad Hotel in Manila, The Philippines.  Just in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing, I’ll get to the important bit straight away.  This hotel has the Diva seal of approval, go right ahead and book a stay!

img_4162Poolside Bar, try the Strawberry Smoothie

To be perfectly honest, I would never ordinarily book a stay in a Hilton Hotel, and would not have booked to stay here but circumstances conspired to bring me here and I’m very happy indeed.  If Hilton Hotels are like this one nowadays, I will be back for more!

I love the chic, cool and modern design of the hotel.  There is such a chilled out atmosphere here in the middle of a somewhat hectic city that it is a haven of peace and tranquility.

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Step into a haven of tranquility with everything you need for work too!

img_4141Lobby, super chic and super cool

Arrive and be escorted to the reception 2 floors up by one of the many delightful staff here at the Conrad.  Actually, the staff are definitely one of the highlights of a stay here.  Everyone from the doorman to the restaurant staff are so courteous, polite and helpful they are all a joy to meet everyday.

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A seamless check-in and arrive in your room which is so fabulous I don’t want to leave!  I love my view of the sea, it is almost like being on a ship lying in bed and watching the fishing boats go by.

img_4147Hotel Bedroom

Hotel bedroom with sea view 6th Floor

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Gorgeous bathroom!

img_4166Hotel Bathroom

The only thing missing for me is a bathtub, but apart from that everything is perfect and the shower is fabulous as are the delicious Aromatherapy Associates products. A comfortable bed is the most important thing and this one did not disappoint!

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The view from my room on a somewhat overcast day.

img_4145The Perfect Gym

I loved the gym and was lucky enough to enjoy a training session with one of the terrific gym instructors, definitely recommended and a great way to reboot your body after a long flight.  The gym is perfect in everyday as is the sauna in the changing room area.

img_3645Poolside drinks

I love the design of the pool, like everything a triumph of minimalist design.  This is such a relaxing place it is hard to imagine that the bustling city is a few steps away.  The setting close to the sea and in a good, safe area is particularly important to me.

img_3649The Pool

The breakfast at The Brasserie was a triumph and I loved it!  For me, the highlight is the super healthy section with a range of vegetable juices, nuts, fruits and yoghurts.  There is also a huge arrange of Asian style breakfast foods and everything else you could possible wish for including the most attentive and friendly staff.

img_4176The Brasserie for breakfast

I haven’t tried any of the restaurants yet but doesn’t this look great!  I’ll keep you posted with my separate restaurant review

img_4172Blue China Restaurant

I particularly love all the little touches that make your stay so comfortable, from the Nespresso machine to the housekeeping gift!

img_3662Thank you Conrad Manila, I would definitely stay again if I ever return to Manila and recommend you to my readers!

Information

http://www.conradhotels3.hilton.com/Conrad/Manila

I am packing for an action packed September in Monaco.  What new goodies are going into my suitcase?

HOTSQUASH EVENING DRESS:

PHOTO: My gorgeous Hotsquash dress

First up is my gorgeous new evening dress from Hotsquash.  The cut and fit are so flattering and the colour is stunning, don’t you think?  I will wear this to some of my evening events coming up in Monaco later in September and show some photos of the dress at the events!

Take a look at the website, they have some really great clothes! http://www.hotsquash.com

PENCLIC MOUSE:

PHOTO: Penclic Computer Mouse

Penclic sent me this super chic mouse to try out.  I love it so much, not least because it is designed for left and right handed people!  We lefties get a bit left out (excuse the pun) sometimes and this is just great. I spend a lot of time on my laptop so it is good to be able to give my fingertips a rest and use this mouse that is held like a pen.

I recommend this especially if you spend a lot of time tapping away, changes the muscles you use in a very positive way.  This is coming with me on my travels to help prevent repetitive strain injury.

CAUDALIE:

PHOTO: Caudalie French Kiss

Caudalie have sent me their latest lip balm called ‘French Kiss”.  I chose ‘seduction’ (what else!!!) and it exactly matches the colour of my lips, which is very clever!  Super hydrating, makes my lips super soft even in the dry atmosphere of an airplan

Tip: If your lips are dry this can mean you are dehydrated so drink some water!

See the top of this page and click on the Caudalie banner to take you to their website.  I love natural products that deliver on their promises.  Caudalie has been a favourite of mine for YEARS and I use so many of their products.

CHANEL: 

I can never resist Chanel cosmetics and I have such a selection!  Rouge Noir nail polish is a longtime favourite, just bought yet another pot of it!  Trying the new Chanel No. 5 Eau and the latest cream eyeshadow.  These are so good, I have lots of different colours!  Great for travelling too, light and natural tones.

PHOTO: My latest Chanel buys

Well, I hope you are enjoying September! Let’s all have a great month. http://www.chanel.com

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 My Review of Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg:

Are you wondering where to stay in St Petersburg?  It is so difficult when you don’t know a city, or the best areas in a city in which to be to be located, or have any clue about the hotels!  I know this because I faced the same dilemma.  I chose Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg because it is an excellent hotel and also it is located right on Nevsky Prospect.

Nevsky Prospect is the main street in St Petersburg and could not be a more perfect location!  A lot of the places you will want to explore are within walking distance including the main shopping area, the best stores, Faberge Museum, canals and famous churches.  The  Neva River is at the beginning of Nevsky Prospect alongside the Hermitage Museum.  The Metro is also close by. The Hotel is situated in the middle of Nevsky Prospect. Perfect!

PHOTO: Corinthia Hotel Entrance

Another reason I chose this hotel is because it is a Corinthia Hotel, a company which has such a great reputation.  The Hotel Group is still relatively small and family owned and this makes such a difference.  You cannot go wrong with this hotel, I was so happy with my choice and it definitely has the LuxuryTravelDiva seal of approval.  Regular readers know how fussy I am!  This is one of the cleanest hotels imaginable, the attention to detail cannot be faulted in any way.  It is a beautiful, comfortable hotel with lovely staff.

The Lobby:

First of all, arrive and enter the stunning lobby and check in at Reception located on the right hand side.

PHOTO: The Lobby with perfect floral displays

Enjoy the absolutely stunning Lobby area with a magnificent staircase.

PHOTO:  Lobby with great artworks

The Lobby is very impressive with its high ceilings, comfortable seating and  perfectly placed bar right in the middle! Then you will be whisked up to your fantastic hotel room.

HOTEL SUITES AND ROOMS:

There is a good choice of hotel Suites and rooms to choose from here.  Take a look at the hotel website for all the information.

Junior Hotel Suite:

PHOTO: Junior  Suite at Corinthia St Petersburg

I was lucky enough to stay in a lovely Junior Suite with its own outside terrace.  Although it was too cold in early March to sit outside.  The bed was a Super King size and really comfortable.  I like the Pillow menu very much!  You will feel so comfortable in these super stylish hotel rooms which so beautifully decorated.

PHOTO: Welcome Treats

Great little touches such as the Nespresso machine, tea and coffee are always welcome in a hotel room as are welcome gifts, the Macarons and cake made me feel very special and welcome.

PHOTO: Nespresso Machine, tea and coffee

The room was so restful, the perfect calm retreat after a busy day exploring the city of St Petersburg.  There was a nice working area with a desk and plenty of electric plugs and large wardrobe space with plenty of hangers.  A particular bugbear of mine!

PHOTO: Work area in the Junior Suite

There is a really good 24 hour Room Service menu.  I tried a Prawn Caesar Salad which was delicious!

PHOTO: Room Service

Bathroom in the Junior Suite:

Who doesn’t love a fabulous bathroom? Especially with a large bath and a built in TV to watch!  Also complete with a large shower, great lighting and sumptuous Espa products.

PHOTO: Bathroom in the Junior Suite with built in TV

PHOTO: Luxurious Bathroom in the Junior Suite

The Royal Suite:

Then I took a peak at the Royal Suite, which would be amazing if money is no object!  You would be joining some very famous faces who have slept in the Royal Suite, I will be discrete and not name names!  It is absolutely splendid.

PHOTO: The Royal Suite

Have you noticed the lovely light fittings and lamps?  Every light fitting in Corinthia Hotels is unique and made especially for the hotel, they are very beautiful and another example of attention to detail.

PHOTO: The Royal Suite

If you feel like splashing the cash, I really recommend this gorgeous suite with 2 bedrooms, dining room and super luxe sitting room.

PHOTO: Royal Suite, you will never want to leave!

The Executive Lounge:

PHOTO: Executive Lounge.   This Photo is by Masha Vetchinkina

The Executive lounge was a quiet haven to relax and enjoy a glass of wine or light meal or snack through out the day.  It was a nice place to enjoy breakfast away from the busy Breakfast in the Dining Room.  I travelled alone and particularly enjoyed the peaceful lounge as I was by myself.  The staff are so wonderful too.

PHOTO: Executive Lounge at Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg

HOTEL LOBBY AND NEVSKY BAR:

There is a cosy bar located right in the lobby so you can enjoy a drink while relaxing and watching the world go by.

PHOTO: Bar located in the Lobby

I can recommend the Russian Champagne (a new experience for me) and the local beer. But all sorts of  delicious treats await!

RESTAURANTS:

Imperial Restaurant is located on the first floor.  Have your breakfast here and delicious lunches and dinners, enjoy Mediterranean dishes.

PHOTO: Imperial Restaurant

Imperial restaurant enjoys magnificent views of Nevsky Prospect.  Watch the world go by as you eat a delicious meal.

PHOTO: Breakfast at Imperial Restaurant

Delicious Omelette for breakfast together with a glass of Champagne which is a very nice treat at breakfast time. The breakfast selection is huge.   I’m missing all the Champagne since I arrived home!

PHOTO: Vienna Cafe

A celebrated Tea and Coffee house which has an amazing selection of cakes and pastries.  I noticed that St Petersburg is full of delicious Patisseries actually!  Lunch and dinner are also served here.  I enjoyed a delicious Caesar Salad here.

FITNESS CENTRE:

Keep fit while you travel in the well equipped Fitness Centre.

 

PHOTO: Gym

Work off your lunch in the Fitness Centre which enjoys stupendous views over the rooftops of St Petersburg.  The gym is small but well equipped, I enjoyed using it every day and a took a Sauna up in the Fitness Centre too.  I particularly like the fact that men and women both have their own Sauna in the changing rooms.  Everything was absolutely spotless as it is throughout the hotel.  Credit must go to all the Housekeeping staff.

BUSINESS MEETINGS AND FUNCTIONS:

The Corinthia Hotel is in popular demand amongst the Russian and International business community.  There is a Business Centre located on the First Floor ready to help with all business needs.  Conference Rooms and Function Rooms are first class.

The hotel has the largest ballroom in St Petersburg and holds some wonderful functions throughout the year.

PHOTO: Function and Ballroom details

The tiniest details are just perfect, look at the gorgeous pompom curtain ties and magnificent Chandeliers.

PHOTO: Ballroom at Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg

THE STAFF:

A hotel, no matter how fabulous, is as nothing without good staff.  Everyone at Corinthia Hotel is super professional, helpful, welcoming and very kind.  I found them all to be delightful.  I was particularly impressed with the Lady concierges who went above and beyond to make my stay special.  However, everyone from the luggage handlers upwards could not be faulted.  Thank you all for making my stay so enjoyable and I look forward to a return visit.

Helpful information:

Corinthia Hotel, Nevsky Prospect 57, St Petersburg

Tel: +7 812 3802001  E.mail: reservationsstpetersburg@corinthia.com

There is 50% off bookings at the moment  so check the hotel website http://www.corinthia.com or click on the Booking.com link on the right hand side of this page.

The Hotel has secure parking, Free WIFI and late check out

 

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PHOTO: My little travel companion, Freddie

So you want to be a travel blogger?  Oh, goodness… not another one!  I have messages everyday from wannabe bloggers and I don’t like to be rude and always try to be supportive ….. but honestly, I want to scream!

“How did you get to be a successful blogger?”  I am asked this question everyday along with “How do you make a lot of money blogging”?

Lets tackle the first question in Five easy steps

DO YOU HAVE SOMETHING NEW AND ORIGINAL TO ADD TO THE WORLD OF BLOGS?  If the answer is YES continue reading but if the answer is NO, it is time to think again.  The world really doesn’t need yet another ….. I’d better not say for fear of offending the blogging community!

However, I will say, if you are funny, amusing, entertaining and have something new and innovative to to say or are doing something unique and special – go for it!

ARE YOU A GOOD WRITER?  This should be a very obvious question but just take a look at the thousands of badly written blogs floating around in cyber space and it will be apparent this is not the case!  If you can write well, engage an audience and at least construct sentences correctly, well please read on!

CAN YOU BE A GOOD PHOTOGRAPHER?  Well, if you can’t write then maybe you could start a photo travel blog.  You have some very stiff competition, so make sure you are talented with good skills.

I know, I  know, this is a very harsh critique but I figure honesty is the best policy!

DO YOU HAVE THE TIME AND INCLINATION TO INVEST IN A BLOG?  Again, it is a misconception to think that blogging is easy.  It takes time to grow an audience, and to develop a blog.  Researching  a project, taking great photos and editing take an enormous amount of time and effort.

If you are lucky enough to be invited to stay in a resort, it is very enjoyable but also hard work.  If you put in 100% effort the rewards are tenfold.

PHOTO: Enjoying the South of France

HOW DID YOU DO IT?  Again, a question I am asked all the time!  To be perfectly honest, I really don’t know the answer.  I started a blog completely on a whim (after reading a couple of really bad efforts, and saying to myself  “I can do better than that!”)  and just got on with it, learning along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed my ‘blog journey’. If it stops being fun, I will stop.  I think it is a big mistake to try and come up with a “formula for success” .  Bloggers who do try and copy others just appear contrived and unoriginal.

Find your own voice and your own interests and don’t follow those who have gone before – be an original not a copy!  This is the best advice I can give you!

OK, well, if you are still reading and I haven’t put you off by being too rude and forthright ….. the next question I am always asked is:

PHOTO: Hard at work writing the blog!

HOW DO YOU MAKE A LOT OF MONEY BLOGGING?

This has a very simple answer, I DO NOT!  To be honest, I was living a lifestyle that involved first class travel and exploring the world in a luxury style long before blogging came along.

Blogging is a wonderful world of invitations, gifts and opportunity but most certainly not a way to get rich.  I know, we all read about these amazing success stories but I believe they are few and far between.

“I make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, learn how you can too!”  I have actually asked several people who offer such services exactly how this works.  I’m afraid it is rubbish!  Don’t be taken in, the only way they make money is by selling ‘courses’ and ‘advice’ to trusting newbies. I know, there are some very successful bloggers but they have put in years on hard work.

There are, however, some great online courses that teach skills and offer advice to beginners. Avoid the ‘get rich’ ones though.

Maybe it is possible to make a living from blogging, but will take a long time to get established so please do not give up the day job just yet. It is hard work and takes time to grow a successful blog.

PHOTO: Home sweet Home for part of the year

START WRITING!

I hope I have not put you off!  Start writing now and become a travel blogger. you will make lovely new friends around the world.  I find everyone to be friendly, encouraging and helpful.  You will make new friends, discover new horizons and new challenges and it will be rewarding and satisfying in so many ways.

Learn new skills, test yourself in unimagined ways and a whole new exciting blogging world awaits.  Set off on exciting trips to places you never even dreamed of before.  I feel so happy when someone says “I love your blog!”.

THE VERY BEST OF LUCK!

HOW TO START A LUXURY TRAVEL BLOG:

There are many useful articles already written on this subject and so I will not write another but here are some of the resources and websites I use.

WORDPRESS – If you can afford to pay an expert to set up your blog, I really would recommend that to you.  I wasted HOURS learning how to set up WordPress and really wish I had just paid an expert!  However, once it is all set up it is easy to use and even I find it user friendly.

GO DADDY – Host my domain and operate wordpress through Go Daddy.  Helpful, inexpensive and really user friendly.  I would not change a thing!

YOAST – Make sure you use YOAST on your WordPress site.  A really useful tool for SEO.

GOOGLE ANALYTICS – Essential! Makes sure you start as you mean to go on and learn the basics of analytics.  Terrifyingly complicated at first but persist, it does get easier.  Google Analytics offer a lot of help and resources to get you going.

PICMONKEY – I love Picmonkey and use it to create collages and edit my photos.

CANVA – I use to create Pinterest long pins (when I can be bothered, which is not very often!)

LIGHTROOM – Good for editing photos but I prefer Picmonkey.

BLOGLOVIN – A good community of bloggers to join. Click the link on the top right of this page.

FACEBOOK – There are so many helpful Facebook groups dedicated to every possible type of blog.  Sign up and join a friendly community!

YOUTUBE – I found to be so useful.  Whenever I needed help with a Website or WordPress problem, I consulted Youtube and always found a helpful video.

SOCIL MEDIA – Grow a good social media following, the best way to tell the world about your blog, engage and chat to your followers.

Well, the best of luck! If you are saying to yourself  “I can do that!” – get writing now!

http://www.picmonkey.com 

http://www.canva.com

PHOTO: Explore the world and blog about it!

 

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A Magical Island

Sri Lanka is a magical island and I look forward to sharing it with you via this blog.  An unspoiled tropical paradise with endless sandy beaches, crystal clear seas with Dolphins, Whales and Turtles in abundance. Sri Lanka is now a peaceful country, the troubles of the past behind it. Do not hesitate, visit now before the big hotel groups arrive and ruin the pristine coastline.

If you are imagining Sri Lanka to be full of backpacking surfers and tour groups there are plenty of  these are around because Sri Lanka is renowned as a surfing hotspot, but restricted to a few Surfing beaches and touristy areas. Everywhere else is waiting to be discovered. The people of Sri Lanka are just a pleasure to meet, so friendly and helpful. The luxury travel market is really developing at a fast pace. Chic hotels are popping up through out the island, including my personal favourite Cape Weligama. An excellent choice for a luxury trip, it has to be one of the best new hotels in Asia, along with many other excellent places to stay including a good choice of luxury villas.

Tea Trails at Norwood
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Which is the best choice – 5* Hotel or luxury villa?

I am going to compare a stay at a top class hotel with renting a villa.
On my first trip, we stayed at the Resplendent Ceylon Norwood bungalow, Hatton on the ‘Tea Trails’ along with the new sister hotel Cape Weligama both owned by Dilmah tea. We were collected from the airport by a driver from the Ceylon tea trails and driven to Norwood Bungalow where our butler and his super efficient team awaited our arrival. Totally pampered we ate delicious food prepared by a good chef. This is a Relais Chateau hotel so you know what to expect with the high standard of cuisine.
A trip to Sri Lanka would not be complete without visiting this magical Highland area, with hillsides full of Tea plantations and workers picking the Tea leaves. A visit to the Dilmah tea factory, arranged by the hotel is fascinating.

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Tea pickers at Norwood

Followed up with a few days R and R at Cape Weligama, this is an experience that is hard to beat! The  Resplendent Ceylon group arrange everything and arrange a car and driver or seaplane to take you down to the coast.
IMG_1569 Wonderful Pool Marco Polo Residence At Cape Weligama.

This time I’m trying out villa life in the countryside on the Southern coast, inland from Koggola Lake. There are some very stylish villas to rent all fully staffed so you don’t have to worry about a thing and everything is taken are of from cooking to organising trips, restaurant bookings, bicycles …. just about anything! If you decide to take a trip here, you will find the service and staff are amazingly good. We are being pampered by wonderful staff here and really enjoying the Sri Lankan curries, Dhal and all the fresh fruit. King Coconut is only grown here and makes a delicious, healthy drink. The villa has its own Tuk Tuk so we are off to market to buy some supplies. Th villa has a Tuk Tuk to drive guest around, which is fun for short trips.

A villa stay means more local interaction and a real life experience. Enjoying the simpler things in life such as shopping for food with the housekeeper and sampling a vaste array of local foods. My favourite Spice shop, the Spice Shack in Galle makes all the Spice mixtures you could possible wish for all locally grown. The owner kindly gave me the most delicious Fish Curry recipe.

The recipe is so good, I’m going to share it with you!
Heat a couple of teaspoons of olive oil in a pan, add 1 chopped onion and 4 cloves of Garlic, cook on a low heat, add 1 tablespoon of Masala, 1 1/2 tablespoons of Curry powder, 1 tablespoon Chilli flakes and stir on a low heat. Add 2 cans of chopped tomato or fresh tomato half a cup of fish stock then add the fish to the pot cook until the fish is cooked (5 minutes) then add the prawns.
1 Onion, 4 Garlic cloves
1 dessert spoonful of Garam Masala, Chilli Flakes
1 1/2 dessert spoons of curry
2 cans Chopped tomato
Chopped white fish of your choice (I use Cod and Haddock when in the UK but use whatever you have available) and lots of juicy, fresh prawns.
Fry the onion and garlic, add the spices swoosh around the pan to release flavours, add tomato 1 cup vegetable stock heat then add fish until cooked (few minutes, don’t overcook) then finally add the prawns. Enjoy!
Serve with rice. curried green beans, red peppers.

Galle food market is a joy to visit, bursting full of every imaginable fruit and vegetable, all locally grown. Lots of new and unusual things to try out for the first time.
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Galle Food Market

Galle is a fascinating melting pot of different cultures all living together in harmony. The more time I spend here, the more I am fascinated by the cultural history and the way in which this still impacts on modern life and politics.

Impressive Buddhist Temples abound and the new President Sirisena, elected in January 2015 is Buddhist and keen to bring back pre-Colonial cultural values. A hotchpotch of Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist peoples all add diversity to the life here. Add the Colonial influences of the Portuguese, Dutch and English and the result is a fascinating mix.

Post conflict, this is a good time to invest in the island, the luxury hotel market is arriving with full steam ahead! I visited the nearly finished Anantara at Tangle and a Shangri La is being built in the same area. Luxury villas are popping up too.

Near Galle is Koggola Lake, a good spot to spend a morning tootling around in a boat watching the birds fishing and visiting the Spice Island and Cinnamon island. Slightly touristy but still interesting and a good place to stock up on Cinnamon powder, Cinnamon and a plethora of pure Spice oils, Spice soaps and all sorts of healthy potions.
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Photo: Koggola Lake

We are so lucky staying at an inland villa (inland from Unawatuna, Unawatuna is a horrible tourist trap but as soon as you cross the main road, open countryside awaits) this trip, we are part of a village community and definitely seeing another side of SriLankan life a world away from 5* hotels!
IMG_0830Villa life in Southern Sri Lanka
If you want the details of the villa, just email me and I will send them to you. Today we took a two hour hike through the paddy fields and were met with welcome and smiling people all the way.
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We hired bikes – no not the one in the picture! – and cycled around the local villages enjoying the peaceful countryside along the way.

IMG_1780Paddy fields inland

Car Hire:

I tried to hire a self drive car today, I just love having the freedom to explore without having a driver. This proved to be impossible without great forward planning! (Sri Lanka – get your act together, travellers WANT hire cars!). I needed a special Sri Lankan driving licence and the I wasn’t insured to drive the car. Next visit, I will get organised before arrival and hopefully book a car from the airport with a large rental company. They will arrange the special driving licence at the airport, I believe. So, be warned if you wish to hire a car without a driver – be prepared and organised before you arrive!

So, equipped with a car and DRIVER, we headed off South along the coast from Weligama to Tangalle. This took a couple of hours meandering along the coast road (quicker if you take the super new highway as far as Matara). This really is an unspoiled coastline, endless beaches with no-one in sight.
Tangalle Beaches

New luxury hotels are popping up near Tangalle and I was keen to take a look at the new Anantara Tangalle Peace Haven Hotel. Enjoyed a terrific Italian lunch (the Sri Lankan restaurant was not yet built).
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The hotel reminded me of the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab in Abu Dhabi, a place that I absolutely love. I would like to go back when the hotel is finished and stay for a few days. The Ocean bungalows look terrific. There are a lot of rooms in a fairly small space so I would imagine it will get crowded at peak holiday times. However, they do have the most amazing beach!
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To recap, I would avoid a tour (but then I am definitely NOT a tour kind of person!) Hire a good car and driver checking on the quality of the car before you book because you need a comfortable car as the roads are notoriously bad.  I will stay in a mixture of luxury villa and luxury hotel next time and have the best of both worlds!  If you want any more details, feel free to email.

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Visit Oman

“What is Oman like?” friends ask. Well, it is like stepping into a fairy tale of your imagination.  Stunningly beautiful scenery with magnificent Forts and Palaces to explore.  The people of Oman are very special, so friendly and welcoming – particularly if you are British.  This is something of a wonderful surprise, we aren’t always so well received! One of my favourite countries to visit in the Middle East. Definitely worthy of a return trip.

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Spot the Royal Palace in the background

Oman, like so many countries in the Middle East has a complex history.  In recent times, following the Dhofar rebellion, Sultan Said bin Taimur was deposed in a bloodless coup in 1970 by his son Sultan Qaboos.  He received help from the British SAS and RAF.  This may explain why British people are received so warmly!

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Step into a fairytale with desert, mountains, spectacular coastline all within one small country.  Take a driver and comfortable 4 x 4 and explore! Oman is perfectly safe and you won’t get lost with a driver. If you are feeling adventurous, take off into the mountains.

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Nizwa Fort

Discover Nizwa:

Drive up to the ancient fort of Nizwa, a couple of hours drive out of Muscat.  You will step into another world.  Th eFort was built mid 17C by Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Y’alibi.  Don’t forget to go Nizwa Souk to buy all sorts of treats. http://www.omantourism.gov.om  The Souks are all treasure troves.  Visit Mutrah Souk in Muscat and don’t forget the Gold Souk.

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Pass by adorable villages, untouched for centuries, as you drive along.

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Pots galore, Dates, date honey, silver jewellery are all specialities here …

Where to Stay?

Ritz Carlton Al Bustan Palace:
I stayed at Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz Carlton Hotel in Muscat. This is everything you would expect of a Ritz Carlton, with an Omani twist.
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Ritz Carlton Al Bustan Hotel Oman

The impressive lobby where you will be welcomed with tea and dates.

The hotel has one of the best pools I have every seen.

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Beautiful Pool at the Ritz Carlton Al Bustan Hotel

This is a good choice of hotel to come back and relax after a day of adventures. Rather far from Muscat – too far to pop out for dinner, so you are confined to the 3 hotel restaurants. Mind you, Taxis are very cheap – you can always hop in a Taxi. http://ritzcarlton.com/AlBustan

Explore Muscat and don’t miss the Bazaars, the place to stock up on exquisite shawls, traditional silver, dates, spices ….. the choice is endless. Enjoy!

http://www.destinationoman.com

http://www.omantourism.com

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