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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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

 

Luxury lifestyle beauty products made by WoMn.  Who likes trying new skincare and beauty products? Yes, me too!  I was thrilled to try an exciting new, natural brand WoMn made in Abu Dhabi natural ingredients.  I’m becoming more and more aware of what I put on my skin these days.

I wouldn’t dream of eating chemical packed food, so why put it on my skin? I love products with natural ingredients.  WoMn certainly fits this brief!  And is a new niche brand too.

WoMn moisturiser and Hair and Body Oil

As you know, I only write about places and products that I really love and these certainly fit into that category.  The body oil smells divine and instantly makes your skin feel soft and smell divine with a subtle fragrance of Argan and Rose.

The Vanilla and Lemon Facial scrub was a revelation!  The results are instantaneous after the first scrub.  I tried this out on Stephen and he has baby soft skin now too.  I have used the Argan and Neroli moisturiser and the Anti ageing serum everyday for weeks with great results.

My skin looks great after using WoMn skincare

I want to introduce your to Goran, the man behind this exciting new brand.  He has an interesting story to tell us.

Goran Vestermajer from WoMn:

Q. Hi Goran, How lovely to chat!  Tell us a little about yourself?

I am MPharm from Croatia and I have more than 16 years of professional experience in pharmaceutical industry and pharmacy. R&D was my first position after graduation and it remained my “first love” in pharmaceutical industry. I always loved exploring nature so naturally there was only a small step to start combining those two together.

Q.  What are your favourite things about living in Abu Dhabi?

We moved to UAE three and a half years ago in a search for better opportunities and felt it would be beneficial to our children. Here they are going in international school and are exposed to many different cultures and experiences so they have good chance to grow up reaching and meeting to their full potential. This is what we like about living in Abu Dhabi. And of course the fact that it never snows nor the temperature goes below 10 🙂

Q.  What inspired you to start making WoMn products?

Inspiration for WoMn came to me in a dream. I know how unreal that sounds, but it is the truth. Like you already know I was and still am a stay-at-home Dad and this idea was in my head for long but have never materialized. Finally after 3 years in Dubai when we realized that finding a job in UAE for me would be mission impossible, one morning I said to my wife – I am going to make organic skin care products. But not just any kind of products. I will combine proven natural ingredients and scientific data to make products that nobody else is making here.
After that everything started and the name WoMn came as a tribute to my wife, because it is in fact acronym for Wife Of Mine Nena.

Q. Are you influenced by The Middle East and the ingredients you find there?

When researching for any of my products I try not to be influenced with just one region or country. People all around the world use different natural ingredients for skin and hair care and I try to follow that same path. Still, there are few rules that I follow strictly. First, there has to be scientific data and studies behind every ingredient, and I use only proven and reliable suppliers. That means that some ingredients I will be able to find locally but most we need to import.

Q.  How do you see the business growing?

WoMn is still in the beginning phase. We are still a handmade brand but actions for turning it to company are already in motion. We are currently finalizing negotiations to start production and registration of our products in EU and after that we will do the same here in UAE. There is still so much to do in order to make WoMn recognizable brand and but also in educating people about natural and organic skin care products.

Q. Tell me how we an all buy Womn Products?

Until that we are present online on Instagram and Facebook and can physically be found on local Abu Dhabi and Dubai markets. We are also developing our webpage that should be active soon.

Thank you Goran and good luck!

http://www.instagram.com/womn.cosmetics

Well, what a year that was!  My first year as a blogger is nearly at an end.  I have enjoyed every second, well nearly, and want to share some of the highlights with you.  I present to you my favourite hotel of 2016, favourite airline and favourite destination.  Enjoy reading and let me know if you have any suggestions in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

FAVOURITE HOTEL:

Spacious Pool of Emirates Palace

Well, this hotel was so good it will be my favourite for a long time to come!  In December 2016 I stayed at Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. Regular Diva followers will know that I adore Abu Dhabi and visit a couple of times a year.  The hotels are good but not exceptional, the usual Hotel groups one finds all over the world.

Well, that was until I discovered Emirates Palace.  This is exceptional and really is the jewel in the Crown of Abu Dhabi!  I will be back and would not consider staying anywhere else in Abu Dhabi.  Everything, from the stunning architecture, enormous palatial size, exceptional and exquisite furnishings and decoration are unsurpassed.  Well, I can be a rather demanding Diva but even I could not find fault.

Enormous Lobby and halls of Emirates Palace

The food at Emirates Palace is the best in Abu Dhabi, a wonderful selection of restaurants awaits.  I will write another blog about the restaurants!  The staff are exceptional, every single one of them are a delight, professional, kind and helpful.  The Hotel rooms are spacious, beds super comfy.

My super comfy hotel room

The hotel gardens, all 100 hectares are exquisite and a credit to the gardeners tending them.  The sun loungers are spread all around the gardens as well as by the pool.  You will find a tranquil spot even when the hotel is full.

Hotel Grounds of 100 hectares

I am saving a trip to the Spa until my next visit but it has been voted Best Spa Worldwide, so must definitely try it out next time!  The Hotel beach is perfect and enormous, there is even a Marina if you wish to take your Yacht along for the trip.

My full hotel review will be up in a few days time.  http://kempinski.com

Disclaimer: I paid in full for my stay, this was not a subsidised trip

FAVOURITE AIRLINE:

OmanAir seats in Business Class

Again, Top spot goes to the Middle East!  I have three joint favourites Qatar Airways, Etihad and OmanAir.  All the Middle Eastern airlines are exceptional and the best in the world by some considerable distance.  I recently experienced a truly horrible British Airways flight and will never fly BA Longhaul again.

OmanAir delicious food

Middle Eastern Airlines have the best planes, the best staff, the best food and the best on board experience in the world.  I will always fly with one of them if possible.  This year was my first trip aboard OmanAir, a small and fledgling airline which has made a terrific start and I recommend to you.

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

Disclaimer: I pay in full for my flights

2016 Favourite Destination Palawan Islands, The Philippines

El Nido Islands beach

We all love finding somewhere new and exciting to visit, don’t you think? Well, this year it was the islands of The Philippines.  I flew to El Nido airport on Palawan and sailed to El Nido Resorts Lagen Island. Palawan is an archipelago made up of 1780 islands.  The waters are crystal clear and it is an unspoiled paradise.  I have never seen such pristine, crystal clear water, perfect sandy beaches.  The island landscapes are amazing with diverse Flora and Fauna.

El Nido Resorts Lagen Island Water Villas

The El Nido islands are characterised by Limestone cliffs and jungle hillsides on the islands.  It is an enchanting place to stay and you will see many different types of bird, fish and other animals. There are 5 varieties of Turtle.

This is a magical destination and one I whole heartedly recommend.   Stay at El Nido resorts Pangulasian island.

http://www.elnidoresorts.com  Destination information http://www.palawanisland.org

Abu Dhabi.  Where to go and what to do during your visit.
I want to keep Abu Dhabi as a hidden gem and not tell you about it, but I can’t resist!  It is next door to Dubai, but feels a million miles away from brash ‘bling, bling’ Dubai.  Sophisticated and stylish  – I am drawn here time and again.  Sometimes I stopover on my way east to take a break and revive after a long flight.  Often, I fly over from London for a few days in the sun and a change from long winter days.  The flying time is only six and a half hours, not too far.
My favourite place to go is Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Hotel.  Set a couple of hours drive into the largest uninterrupted desert in the world.
IMG_0082-2
Pretty amazing?  It looks better in real life and the aura of calm and tranquility in the desert is like nothing you will ever experience.  It makes you want to embrace the spirit of Gertrude Bell, leap on a camel and explore the desert on a real trek.  Maybe one day – not sure I could cope with camping!
Anantara Qasr Al Sarab
I rather like taking a camel ride, Anantara arrange lovely camel rides with well looked after ex-racing camels that are beautifully behaved and immaculately turned out.  I loathe the use of animals for tourist rides normally, but not in this case, and would happily recommend.
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Return to a gorgeous, luxurious oasis to relax and unwind.  Stay in a villa if you want to splurge.
This is one of the best Anantara hotels, others have a lot to live up to, and I have been disappointed by some but not this one.
IMG_0092-2
 Try and avoid the week-end and holidays when it can be busy, choose a quiet time to visit and really experience the desert at its best.  After a few days head back to the city, well refreshed after resting by the pool and eating the most delicious food I have found in Abu Dhabi.  Camel riding, San dune racing in 4 x4’s and hiking in the desert will keep you busy in the desert.
The St Regis Abu Dhabi
Last time I stayed in the city, my hotel choice was The St Regis Abu Dhabi http://stregisabudhabi.com This has a great location and is a very comfortable Hotel, boasting a good butler service.  I can’t comment on the butler service, we never saw him – the worst butler service I have ever experienced.  I guess he was looking after more important guests!
Impressive lobby
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 A nice pool and spa by the sea – quite a trek through a tunnel to get there!
IMG_0943-2
I hired a car and drove all around Abu Dhabi, totally safe and very sensible drivers – totally stress free.  You will need to try out some of the nearby restaurants if you stay at The St Regis because the food was truly awful!
IMG_0958-2
I will stay at The Emirates Palace for my next trip, a goldie oldie but still fabulous.  I WON’T be staying at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, I didn’t like it – in fact only stayed because of amazing TripAdvisor ratings!  It is a long way from downtown Abu Dhabi, a good 30 minutes drive and is an unattractive location, service isn’t great either.
MY TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN ABU DHABI
1.  Stay in the desert.
2. Go Camel racing.  Random, I know, but give it a go.  I became hooked watching it on TV in Abu Dhabi.  Sadly, it is still on my to-do list – I have not been lucky enough to be in Abu Dhabi during a race day.  I did get to drive out to the new racecourse for a practice day (the concierge at The St Regis kindly gave me the details) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
IMG_0978-2
3. Visit a Souk.  Whether it is The Souk at Central Market, the Iranian Souk or the Fruit and Vegetable souk you will find them fascinating.  I always come home with some treasures!
4. Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque.  The architecture is truly amazing and a must see.
5. Ferrari world http://www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com  Ferrari World! I know, but for anyone who is a five year old at heart, loves F1 and would love to have a go in an F1 racing car simulator this is the best fun.  Children will love it too.  It is on Yas Island which is, in itself worth a visit.
I know, slightly quirky taste but trust me – you will have the best time!
WHAT TO WEAR?
Travelling in more conservative countries, Westerners sometimes struggle with ‘what to wear’.  I know I do!  Personally, and this is just me, I prefer to cover up arms and legs when out and about.  This is just a choice and you are not restricted by a formal dress code.  However, I feel more comfortable when out and about wearing loose, long sleeve tops and longer skirts or trousers.