30
May 13

Celebrity Hotel Review: The Baglioni London

Big news! I’m moving to Thailand. Phuket to be precise. This may seem a bit out of the blue but if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have noticed me (t)wittering on for the last few months about visas and form-filling, car-booting and packing boxes – with a fair amount of despair and tears thrown in along the way. At times, it’s felt like it was never going to happen but – hooray! – it’s finally all come together and it won’t be long now until  I’m blogging from the beach. But, as excited as I am to go, I’m also a little bit sad to be saying my goodbyes. The only thing for it, is to bow out of Blighty in style. So when the swanky celeb-frequented Baglioni Hotel in London invited me a long for a visit how could I say no?

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The Baglioni sits has a primo position with Hyde Park and Kensington Palace on its doorstep.

Lucky Stars: Al Pacino, Halle Berry, Will Smith and Italian film producer Dino di Laurntiis have all been spotted soaking up la dolce vita at the Baglioni. Other big Hollywood names have checked in here too but if I tell, I may find myself “sleeping with the fishes”.

The Lowdown

The the first thing I noticed as I walked into the Baglioni’s bijoux lobby, was the wonderful fragrance that wafted around me. It’s not a particularly new trend for hotels to have their own signature scent but this one was particularly inviting, kind of citrusy and warm, instantly making me think of Mediterranean climes. The decor too, was conducive to on-the-spot relaxation; all flattering lighting, polished walls and deep velvet sofas, with the sound of a tinkling wall of water cascading in the background. The crowd of at-ease guests and power-lunchers that peppered the room were a stylish bunch, lots of suited and booted business-types and raven-haired beauties – my husband straightened his back and I immediately wished I’d worn bigger earrings.

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The lobby at the Baglioni. All shiny and smelling like Sorrento.

We could get dressed up later though. For the minute all we wanted to do was rid ourselves of bags and relax. It had been a rather demanding morning, up at 5 a.m. for what turned out to be a five hour drive down from Manchester followed by a visit to Thai embassy, but equanimity was quickly restored with a friendly welcome from the reception desk. We’d arrived a little bit earlier than expected so were informed that our room wouldn’t be ready for another couple of hours. But, this was hardly an inconvenience: the hotel couldn’t be in a more desirable London location, with Kensington High Street just around the corner and Hyde Park opposite. We toddled off for a spot of lunch and a hand-in-hand stroll around the park and before we knew it we were checking into our executive suite with splendid views of the pretty green places we’d just been exploring.

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The Royal Suite at the Baglioni Hotel London

Celebrity guests usually to opt for the opulent Royal Suite, a five-bedroom, high-ceilinged number with sweeping views of Kensington and Hyde Park. We were privileged to have room 505, a spacious top-floor room with terrific park views, an enormous marshmallow-soft bed and a ridiculously decadent black marble bathroom stocked with divine-smelling Baglioni amenities. There weren’t any bedside sockets – where to charge? – and the black-out blinds had an inch gap around them making for an early rise but other than that, I lapped up the chic Italian designer feel of it all.

The Highlights

The Baglioni has 67 rooms, with 49 suites, though the smooth service and discreet atmosphere, allow you to feel like you’re the only people staying there. It was only when we returned downstairs for dinner at the glam Brunello restaurant that we remembered there was a world outside of our gold-clad cocoon of a room. The mod-Baroque dining space with its central glass bar and Murano glass chandeliers made for a rather theatrical setting for what would be an absolutely delicious meal.

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Brunello Restaurant at the Baglioni Hotel

We opted for flutes of Prosecco, and flirted with the excellent wine list before settling on a bottle of Contado Aglianico del Molise, as recommended by the very clever sommelier. Hubby was raised in Italy and is sometimes guilty of being a little bit picky when it comes to Italian food, but he couldn’t fault any of the three courses. Silky carpaccio dotted with raw baby vegetables, rocket and Parmesan, was followed by melt-in-the-mouth tortelli di burrata with burnt butter and hazelnut, and a delightfully light white chocolate mousse with passionfruit sorbet. After dinner, we really should have ventured out for a nightcap in Knightsbridge but given our classy surroundings it seemed madness to leave, so we sat outside on the terrace sipping on digestivi. Perfetto.

The next morning, we lingered over breakfast, reluctant to leave our little slice of the sweet life in London, but sadly the time to say ciao came around all too quickly – just as it seems to be doing in real life. As we walked through the revolving doors to our waiting car, we wondered what lay ahead in Thailand and thanked the Baglioni for sending us off in style.

 

Go There

Baglioni Hotel London available from £145 per person per night. Price is based on two adults sharing a double room on a B&B basis and includes VAT. For booking and further information please visit www.baglionihotels.com or call 020 7368 5700

Book car hire at www.rhinocarhire.com or call 0845 508 9845

I stayed as a guest of the Baglioni Hotel, however, my views, as always are 100% my own.

 

 

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17
Apr 13

Celebrity Hotel Review: The Peninsula Shanghai

By the time I reached The Peninsula’s revolving door, I had spent nearly three weeks jumping in and out of ferociously driven cabs, had checked in and out of nine different hotels, had whirled round some twenty-odd restaurants and bars, had sipped cocktails till dawn in a nightclub boasting its own shark tank and had scouted and shopped the entire length of Nanjing Road (and then some). Burn out was dangerously close.

But I wasn’t going to let this 24/7 365-city beat me and was sure that a couple of nights at The Peninsula would be just the reviver I needed. Although, I’d never stayed at this hotel before, I have been deeply and madly in love with The Peninsula Hong Kong for a long long time. When I was a kid I used to wander through its glorious high-ceilinged lobby listening to the silver clinking and wishing I could squeeze in amongst the glamorous ladies taking afternoon tea; in my twenties I knocked back cocktails with friends at Felix; and as a grown-up (ahem) I love nothing better than a day luxuriating at what must surely be one of the finest spas in the world. So, its Shanghai sibling had a rather a lot to live up to. I checked in expecting nothing short of perfection.

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The Peninsula Shanghai

Lucky Stars: The Peninsula keeps its famous client cards clasped very close to its chest but Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Jacky Chan, Michelle Yeoh and a host of high-profile expat footballers like Nicola Anelka and Didier Drogba are a few of the big names that have been spotted here. 

 

The Lowdown

…And perfection it was. I’m sorry if this post sends you rushing for the vomit bucket, but I am going to gush. Everything from The Peninsula’s position on one of the loveliest corners in Shanghai (staring down the Bund, backing onto the former British Consulate gardens and overlooking the buzzy Huangpu River with the space-age skyline of Pudong glittering across the water) to the hand-carved soap dishes in the bathrooms had me in raptures. Walking into the hotel’s light-filled lobby was like stepping into Somerset Maugham novel – with stylish cerulean green walls, voluptuous velvet chairs, tiered chandeliers and vivid flower displays. I immediately starting speaking in a clipped accent and looked for a small boy to fan me. I was at home – or rather, a wonderful fantasy version of home.

Peninsula Shanghai

Deluxe River Suite at The Peninsula Shanghai. Swoon.

Better still, our room turned out to be a Deluxe River Suite, perched on the corner of the building boasting an astounding view of the city through its gracefully large windows. I hoovered it up with my eyes – window-side dining table, inches thick Chinese rugs, artworks, ceramics, little lacquer boxes filled with petite fours. Naturally, I played it cool while the reception manager was with us but the minute he left I literally leapt, skipped, twirled and squealed my way around all 1100 palatial square feet. There was a bedroom with a bed so soft and cosy it was like lying on a bundle of baby seals (I would imagine), a dressing room with a built-in electronic nail dryer and a cool little housekeeping box where you could deposit washing, for it to magically appear a few hours later without ever having had to endure the inconvenience of speaking to an actual person. The bathroom too was impressive with his ‘n’ hers sinks, a TV in the wall above the jumbo tub and tons of delicious DAVI amenities. As I swanned back into the living room, my husband gave me one of those approving marrying-a-travel-writer-paid-off looks as he sunk into the sapphire blue sofa by the fireplace. I felt more rested already.

Peninsula Shanghai251411Dressing room image

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Highlights

I knew I had to visit to the spa from the minute I saw this picture of the pool. I mean, come on, just look at it – what’s not to love? And, I have to say, it was even more beautiful in the flesh, all sunlight and terraces, squishy sofas and scented air. I spent my first morning here enjoying an amazing private yoga session with Kasia, the spa manager and all-round lovely person, and can now completely understand why celebrities and the super-rich fly their personal trainers around the world with them. That level of encouragement is incredibly motivating and thoroughly addictive. Topped off with a blissful Peninsula signature treatment involving ESPA perfumed oils and an otherworldly level of pressure and I was ready to take on the world again, never mind just Shanghai.

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Pool at The Peninsula Shanghai

Dining at The Peninsula was equally as memorable. At Sir Elly’s, the flagship restaurant, plate after beautifully presented plate of absolute deliciousness was served up with panache. Each one so perfectly balanced that instead of feeling bloated and sleepy halfway through, which I know from lots of important research can often happen with tasting menus, we worked our way through every bite and still found space to squeeze in some post-dinner cocktails at the rooftop bar. But then again, how could we resist this?

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Sir Elly’s: A rooftop bar worthy of any bucket list

Checking out was of course a heartbreaking experience. I really wish I could find some niggle to counterbalance my review but I’ve tried and I can’t. It was perfection from start to finish. The hotel is gorgeous, the food is sublime, the staff are intuitive to the point of being mind-readers, and the spa alone is worth travelling to Shanghai for. If you want to do this most magnificent of cities in style, The Peninsula is the place to be.

I stayed as a guest of The Peninsula, however, I also stayed in eleven other hotels in the city and this was my top pick. My views, as always are 100% my own.

GO THERE

The Peninsula Shanghai, +86 21 2327 2888; www.peninsula.com; Doubles from £270.

Finnair has daily flights to Shanghai from both Manchester and Heathrow via Helsinki. The below return fares include taxes, service and booking fees starting from:

Manchester – Shanghai Business class: £1855.36 Economy class: £542.36

London – Shanghai Business class: £1869.37 Economy class: £556.37

Tickets can be booked at www.finnair.co.uk or 0870 2414411.  For more information please see www.finnair.co.uk For up to date offers and news please follow us on twitter @finnairuk. Finnair also have daily flights to Beijing and Hong Kong in China.  Finnair also fly to Chongqing and begin flights to Xi’an, China in June 2013.

Finnair also fly to 7 other Asian cities too in Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Thailand plus Hanoi, Vietnam beginning in June 2013.

 

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14
Mar 13

Shanghai: Celebrity-style

The camera loves Shanghai. Marlene Deitrich and Anna May Wong swanned around its sultry streets whilst filming Shanghai Express way back in the Thirties. Its European-style mansions and colossal colonial buildings were as much the star of the show as a young Christian Bale in the Spielberg classic Empire of the Sun. While recent years have seen Tom Cruise leaping off the Bank of China Tower in Mission Impossible III, Emily Blunt and Bruce Willis let loose in Looper and 007 arriving for the first time in mainland China in Skyfall.

And with its heady mix of bustling streets, honking cars and neon-wrapped skyscapers crossed with tree-lined boulevards, historic buildings and pretty parks it’s easy to see why this super-exciting city is catnip to movie producers, cinephiles and celebrities alike. It’s fast becoming one of Asia’s top celebrity hotspots – the last Shanghai film festival was graced by movie stars Matt Dillon, Mischa Barton, Susan Sarandon and looks set to attract more big names this year. So, on my recent visit it seemed only logical to stop by a few of the places where they regularly roll out the red carpet.

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Shanghai, a superstar of a city.

The Peninsula Shanghai

Perfectly positioned in a discreet spot at the end of the Bund, The Peninsula Shanghai hotel has seen a host of movie stars, musicians and world-class athletes stroll through its revolving doors. Renowned as one of the finest hotels in China, the vibe is old-school glamour  - as is the guest list which includes Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Jacky Chan and Michelle Yeoh, as well as expat footballers Nicola Anelka and Didier Drogba. 

Peninsula Shanghai

The Peninsula Shanghai, perfect in so many ways

Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund

It’s been A-list all the way since this Bund-side beauty opened its doors in 2010. With its beautifully restored Art Deco architecture, swinging Long Bar and swish spa it’s easy to see why the Prince Consort of Denmark, the Crown Prince of Luxembourg and Belgium and Princess of Sweden have all given the Waldorf Astoria the royal stamp of approval. Movie stars Faye Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Susan Sarandon and Matt Dillon have all been spotted here too. As has Richard Branson, whose wife is said to have insisted on staying in the swoon-y Deluxe River Suite. Can’t say I blame her.

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Deluxe River Suite at the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund

URBN

This quirky little hotel in downtown Jing An and is famous for being China’s first carbon-neutral hotel. URBN might not seem like the obvious choice for a celebrity city break but this 26-bed boutique hotel is brimming with personality and has seen Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde and Paris Hilton check-in to its environmentally-friendly confines.

Suite

Celeb-favourite, the Courtyard Suite at URBN

M on the Bund

M on the Bund is Shanghai institution and one of the first international standard restaurants in the city, the exhaustive list of celebrities who have dined here could merit an entire blog. Everyone from Halle Berry to Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe to the crown prince of Holland have  soaked up the spectacular views of Old Shanghai from M’s AH-mazing rooftop terrace.  Other high-flying diners include the Ferragamo family, tennis star Andre Agassi, the queen of Thailand, Prince Edward and media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

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Whatever you do in Shanghai, don’t miss a trip to M on the Bund

Glamour Bar

The utterly gorgeous Glamour Bar is the champagne-sipping sibling of M on the Bund. Part intellectual salon, part pink-tinged party pad, it’s a huge hit with well-heeled locals and visiting celebrities alike. It’s also the location for Shanghai’s up-and-coming literary festival and has welcomed Matt Groening, Amy Tan and children’s author HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands.

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The utterly gorgeous Glamour Bar

M1NT

A staple of Shanghai’s party scene, M1NT is packed with eye-candy from its surreal shark tank to its white-hot views of the city to its sky-high celeb count. Clive Owen, Naomi Campbell and Adrien Brody have spotted, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonzo have revved their engines at post F1 parties and the boys from Blue, Macy Gray and Justin Timberlake are just a few of the big names that have performed here.

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M1NT

Bar Rouge

With its ultra-glamorous vibe and jaw-dropping views, Bar Rouge has long been a hotbed for celebrity gawking. This rooftop roost is where Scarlett Johansson was spotted dancing up a storm and where Tom Cruise held the MI3 wrap-party. Other celebrity revellers include Quentin Tarantino, Kanye West, John Cusack, Formula One drivers and tribes of top models.

Bar Rouge

Bar Rouge

 

GO THERE

Finnair has daily flights to Shanghai from both Manchester and Heathrow via Helsinki.

The below return fares include taxes, service and booking fees starting from:

Manchester – Shanghai Business class: £1855.36 Economy class: £542.36

London – Shanghai Business class: £1869.37 Economy class: £556.37

Tickets can be booked at www.finnair.co.uk or 0870 2414411.  For more information please see www.finnair.co.uk For up to date offers and news please follow us on twitter @finnairuk. Finnair also have daily flights to Beijing and Hong Kong in China.  Finnair also fly to Chongqing and begin flights to Xi’an, China in June 2013.

Finnair also fly to 7 other Asian cities too in Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Thailand plus Hanoi, Vietnam beginning in June 2013.

 

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03
Jan 13

Mother on the Orient Express

Mum cried when I told her, I knew she would.  Being invited for a day out on the Orient Express inspires that kind of reaction. We’re talking happy tears of course, she was without a doubt overjoyed at the prospect of spending some time on the world’s most luxurious and romantic train but there was more to it than that. Her father, my grandfather, worked on the railways and she spent many happy childhood moments riding Glasgow’s old steam trains on his knee. And as Mum is as emotional as a Victorian heroine at the best of times – she pretty much cries every Saturday night for the entire ten weeks of X-factor – those warm memories along with the new mother-and-daughter ones we were about to create inspired a torrent of tears.

It wasn’t long though before sentiment was replaced with excitement. Outfits were planned and arrangements were made. Our day out was to consist of a six-hour Christmas-themed journey through the English countryside on the Northern Belle, one of the Venice-Simpleton Orient Express trains that operate day trips and weekend breaks around the UK. We were setting off from Manchester but the route was to remain a mystery until we arrived.

Brass Band at Victoria Station. The perfect prelude to a trip on the Orient Express.

Frocked up and tissues at the ready, we alighted at Victoria Station to be greeted with the glorious sight of  the chocolate and cream-coloured carriages of the Northern Belle while a traditional brass band played Christmas favourites in the background. It was all so retro and lovely, I was worried Mum might burst in to tears again. Thankfully, before I had to reach for the Kleenex, we were given the nod by a dapper OE attendant and led to our carriage.

It was hard to notice the scenery with beautiful marquetry like this on the walls.

Inside white-gloved stewards glided past bearing bottles of champagne while smartly-dressed guests rattled their jewellery as they settled into deep armchairs. Everything about it echoed the golden Thirties from the walnut veneer walls with their magnificent marquetry to the gleaming brasswear and Lalique lamps. Mum was giddy but it was clear that everyone was excited; the guests were a friendly mix of young and old, lots of couples and a more than a handful of groups of friends and were all happily chatting and snapping pictures. We found ourselves sat at a table for four, sharing our space with two stylish sisters, who by the end of the day would turn out to be new Facebook friends and post-journey drinking buddies.

Our route through Cheshire and Shropshire.

The route of our magical mystery tour was soon revealed to be a trip around the Cheshire and Shropshire countryside. Hmmm. I had assumed that we would be touring somewhere scenic like the nearby Lake District or Peak District rather than the industrial estates of Stockport and transport depots of Crewe. A little bit disappointing but not a huge deal as a trip on the Orient Express really is more about the train than anything else.

Christmas lunch menu on the Orient Express Northern Belle

As we pulled out of the station all eyes were on the Christmas menu, a suitably festive five-course feast complete with wine and Christmas crackers. The crystal and silverwear softly clinked as course after course of delicious food was deftly presented by ever-smiling staff.

Smoked gravlax with salmon mousse to start.

 

 

 

 

 

All of the food was absolutely delicious and beautifully presented. Our stewards for the day, Stuart and Amy, a grandfather and granddaughter team from Manchester, did a grand job of looking after everyone.

Our lovely stewardess Amy – doesn’t she look like Reese Witherspoon?

In between courses we were also treated to some rather lively on board entertainment. First up was Lido the magician who impressed guests with a series of “how did he do that?” card tricks.

Lido the Magician

Followed by a couple of marvellous musicians playing show tunes, swing songs and Christmas favourites with the panache.

White Christmas

Throughout the day the atmosphere was refined yet incredibly friendly. Passengers chatted amongst themselves for the most part but as the wine and champagne flowed people starting leaning across the aisles telling their stories to each to each other. And everybody had a story; one of the young ladies sat with us had recently lost her father and her sister had brought her along to cheer her up; another lady was celebrating her birthday; while a long-time passenger in the next cabin told me that he has commissioned his coffin to be made in the shape of the Northern Belle! Seriously, the guy’s casket features walnut marquetry and is lined with the same upholstery material of his favourite train. Even Stuart, our steward, had a secret tale; he was in fact the brother of comedian Russ Abbott – lots of “See you Jimmys” in the carriage after that revelation. It certainly wasn’t your average train time chat.

My favourite fellow guests though were George and Frances who were sat across the aisle from us. Aged 83 and 80 respectively, they informed us that they were in their sixtieth year of marriage – apparently the secret is that you have to be friends first – and inspired us all to tears (luckily I had a substantial stash of tissues on hand). This diamond duo had also travelled all over the world – China was Frances’ favourite – had climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge and sky-dived – YES, SKY-DIVED – from 12,000 feet over Bondai Beach just two years ago. Incredible.

Mommie Dearest with our superstar steward, Stuart.

By the time our gilded chariot pulled back into Manchester, everyone had become firm friends and when it came time to say our goodbyes there were lots of hugs and best wishes all round. Full of Christmas spirit and bon homie, we bade the beautiful Northern Belle a goodbye – a tearful one of course.

GO THERE

Visit www.orient-express.com for more information.

 

 

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10
Dec 12

My Parisian apartment

I love Paris. I really do. I love to walk along the banks of the Seine marvelling at the Eiffel Tower and to flutter around its giant department stores stopping for champagne and cake along the way. But I’m ashamed to say that that’s really all I’ve seen. I’ve visited three or four times over the years but have generally orbited around the big tourist attractions and then, before I know it, it’s been  time to say au revoir.

This time though, I really wanted to immerse myself in local life so during my recent vintage shopping trip to Paris I plumped for an apartment – handily the folks at Housetrip.com have thousands of properties to choose from all over the world and the booking process couldn’t be easier. For a change, I decided to venture into unchartered territory, staying near the Place de Clichy, on the edge of the city’s 17th arrondissement – just a hop, skip and a jump away from the artsy Montematre district, and a few minutes walk from the kitschy colourful Moulin Rouge. I liked the area; there were virtually no tourists but it was still buzzy with plenty of bars, cafes and quirky shops to choose from.

 

My apartment in Paris – it was really lovely. Unfortunately I forgot my camera and had to make do with my phone and Instagram.

The apartment itself was spacious with three good-sized bedrooms – the master bedroom had its own bathroom and a sauna too – quelle surprise!  It also had a smart fitted kitchen with every appliance you could possibly need, and an airy lounge with huge TV. There was a little terrace too if you fancied breakfast al fresco. Even though I arrived late at night, it was easy to check-in. I was met by one of their cheerful staff, swapped keys and got that essential wi-fi password.

My morning coffee and croissant spot in Paris.

So for the next few days, I wandered the area, hopped on and off the Metro and made the most of all those fabulous cafes on my doorstep. And although I love nothing better than staying at a gorgeous hotel, I have to say that if you really want to get under the skin of a city then an apartment is definitely the way to go.

GO THERE

HouseTrip.com has over 3,500 private rentals to choose from in Paris. The average price for a two bedroom apartment is around £84 per night, however, they have a range of apartments, houses and houseboats available starting from just £19 per night. To book a stay visit www.housetrip.com/en/Paris
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15
Nov 12

Vintage shopping in Paris

Paris plus vintage shopping – could there be a more perfect travel amalgamation? I think not. And it’s certainly a favourite combination for celebrities and famous fashion faces too. Parisians, of course, take their fashion very seriously, so this is an amazing city to just stroll and shop, but if you really want to know where to go for those amazing one-off fashion finds you’ll need your own personal shopper.

Tara Munro is a vintage shopping specialist and her company Ooh La La Vintage in Paris has worked with everyone from Hollywood costume departments to TV stylists and A-list celebrities. The world’s top fashion houses including Lacroix, Karl Lagerfield, Chanel, Nina Ricci and Marc Jacobs have also come knocking at her door, seeking inspiration from Tara’s amazing retro collections.

Ooh La La’s services aren’t restricted to the red carpet and catwalk though, it’s also perfect for women who are looking for that gorgeous one-of-kind item. And at £45 for a tailor-made tour it’s not as expenses as you might think either. So,eager to sharpen my sartorial skills, I settled in for a clothing master class.

Tea and macarons set the scene

It’s entirely up to you how you arrange to spend your two hours. I was staying at an apartment in Paris with the lovely folks from Housetrip so it made sense to start our session there. While Tara set-up, we sipped tea (then champagne) and tucked into some magical little macarons.

Victorian jacket

Tara’s collection extends right back to Victorian times so not only did we get to ooh and aah over some amazing  frocks and fabrics, we also got a bit of fashion history lesson too.

Loved this shimmery number from the Twenties

The Thirties: this two-piece looks like it came straight from the set of Boardwalk Empire

Tara tells us how material was scarce during the war years but that didn’t stop fashion  - a dedicated dress-maker made this little number from discarded snooker table fabric.

Just peachy 1950s evening dress –  I so wanted to try this on and pretend I was Grace Kelly

Eat your heart out Peggy Olson.

On to the sleeker side of the Seventies.

Ending with some 1980s excess

Presentation over, we were given the chance to try on any pieces that we fancied before taking our newly-found fashion knowledge on to the street. Naturally, Tara knew all the best spots in town to bag a vintage bargain, and I have to say, there is no way I would have found these little shopping gems without her.

Mamie Blue

Mamie Blue was my favourite and the place where I picked up a gorgeous little Mad Men-esque gold lamé top for just 20 Euros. Brimming over with a dizzying array of clothes, hats, shoes, jewellery and accessories, it’s like a big decades-old dressing up box where you could easily stay for a year and still find things to play with.

 

 

 

 

 

This was definitely one of the most enjoyable days out I have had in Paris; champagne, pastries and a little bit of a history lesson all neatly tied up with the possibility of picking up a little bit of treasure for yourself at the end of the day. A winning combination indeed and not one that’s just for celebrities either.

GO THERE

HouseTrip.com has over 3,500 private rentals to choose from in Paris. The average price for a two bedroom apartment is around £84 per night, however, they have a range of apartments, houses and houseboats available starting from just £19 per night. To book a stay visit www.housetrip.com/en/Paris

 

 

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29
Oct 12

Celebrity Hotel Review: Ten Manchester Street, London

Following on from an ultra-relaxing stay at luxury hotelThe Landmark London, Mommy Dearest and I nipped just a few streets away to sample the delights of a much smaller, but no less stylish, star-filled hotel in the city. Celebrity singers and firm friends, Kylie Minogue and Natalie Imbruglia have shared some girlie time together at the bijou Ten Manchester Street Hotel and we liked that idea, so decided to do the same.

Ten Manchester Street Hotel

The Lowdown

Ten Manchester Street Hotel is situated on a slice of prime London real estate, around the corner from the chic boutiques of Marylebone High Street, and walking distance to the West End, and couldn’t be in a better position for a girlie break in the city. And it’s everything a boutique hotel should be: low-key, luxurious, stylish and a little bit decadent. 45 guests rooms are spread over five floors, with the penthouse level being given over to the show-piece Grand Suite which boasts a separate living room furnished with cool Christopher Guy furniture and creamy marble bathroom loaded with Aveda products.

Junior Suite at Ten Manchester Street

All of the rooms are kitted out in a classy palette of brown, gold and cream with lots of glossy surfaces and fancy fabrics. The rooms aren’t large – even our junior suite was on the dinky side – but they are incredibly comfortable with statement chairs and sofas, dramatic hand-made mirrors and silky-yellow padded  headboards above beds swathed in Egyptian-cotton sheets with an off-the-chart thread count. Downstairs, the small black-marble clad reception leads to an intimate bar/lounge/restaurant and chic all-weather cigar terrace. It’s all very polished, as were our fellow guests.

 

The Highlights

Boutique hotels come with a expectation of personal service and Ten Manchester Street certainly excelled in that department. The reception and concierge staff were friendly and helpful, with everyone we passed from the cleaners to the bar staff offering a cheery nod and “Hello”. After noticing me snivelling miserably with a horrible head cold – my runny nose and freakishly-red eyes were probably a clue too – the concierge arranged for a nice big pot of hot water, honey and lemon to be sent to my room.  A lovely, thoughtful touch which I was incredibly grateful for and which, of course, meant they could do no wrong in my eyes from that point onwards!

Restaurant at Ten Manchester Street Hotel

Of course, a few sniffles weren’t going to stop Mum and I from making the most of our day out in London. The streets surrounding the hotel were brimming with pretty little boutiques, and nearby Selfridges made for the perfect spot for catching up with Auntie T for some champagne-fuelled chit-chat.  But by the end of the afternoon, the Beechams and bubbles combo was taking it’s toll and the only thing that was stopping me from collapsing into my super-sized invitingly white bed was the need for a good feed. Thankfully the dining room was a welcoming spot with the same cosseted feel as the rest of the hotel; all soft-lighting, dark brown and gold tones with statement furnishings like the Asian-inspired lacquer screen that separates the eating area from the swish little cocktail bar. We both settled on the steak and it arrived juicy and delicious-looking with a square-shaped stack of thick-cut chips. It was excellent. And so was desert, which inspired by our cake-in-bed event the night before, we asked to be sent to our room (I can see this becoming my favourite new hotel habit!).

It was easy to see why celebrities love this little hideaway, the atmosphere is warm, the location perfect for a post-shop drop and the staff make you feel like you’re staying over with friends – rather posh, stylish friends but friends nonetheless.

Go There

Ten Manchester Street, Tel +44 (0)207 3175 900; www.tenmanchesterstreethotel.com; Doubles from £169 

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22
Aug 12

Celebrity Hotel Review: The Landmark London

London is always a wonderful city to visit in the summer but following on from the success of our fabulous and over-all-too-quickly Olympics and with the party still to come at the Paralympics, our capital city has well and truly positioned itself at the centre of the travel universe. So, here’s a wee look at two celeb-studded hotels in the city. First up, the rather lovely Landmark London Hotel.

The Landmark London, built in 1899 it’s one of the last great Gothic revival railway hotels.

LUCKY STARS: Katy Perry, Keira Knightly, Jack Black,Justin Timberlake, Freddie Flintoff, Myleen Klass and the Manchester United football team.

THE LOWDOWN 

The Landmark was originally constructed as an elegant railway hotel for the well-heeled travellers of the “golden age of steam” and although our grand tour had only brought us from Manchester and Glasgow, it seemed fitting that Mommy Dearest and I arrived directly from  the Marylebone station platform. After hours of negotiating  the London Tube system (getting lost on more like – Mum and I are proof positive that a poor sense of direction genetically disposed), the sight of the hotel’s magnificent Victorian architecture and the promise of some old-school service couldn’t have been more welcome. Crossing the threshold, weariness was replaced with wonder as we entered into a world of creamy marbles, softly-lit chandeliers, enormous floral displays and Victorian neoclassical oil paintings. While we were still wow-ing over the beautiful interiors we were discreetly checked-in and whisked to our room as all the while the sound of a piano tinkered in the background.

The elegant North Entrance of the Landmark Hotel London

Any travel tensions that may still have been lingering quickly disappeared when we saw our delightful and downright enormous Executive bedroom. Celebrity guests of course opt for the sprawling Landmark or Presidential suites but as The Landmark boasts some of the biggest rooms in London – 300 in all – all tastefully appointed in the classic Victorian tradition, you won’t feel short-changed. The bathrooms too are a treat with a huge soaking tubs, walk-in showers, twin sinks and a generous collection of White Company amenities. Oddly though, for such a thoroughly British hotel there were no tea and coffee making facilities in the room.

The Landmark Suite

THE HIGHLIGHTS

The Winter Garden restaurant

After a couple of hours lounging on our feathery bed it was time for dinner. And the location for our mother and daughter meal couldn’t have been more perfect. The Winter Garden restaurant sits at the heart of a beautiful eight-storey atrium at the centre of the hotel. Frocked-up and famished, we settled in amidst the towering palm trees, juliet balconies and soaring glass ceiling and were feeling very special indeed – a sweetly smug sensation that was only further enhanced by the arrival of Thierry Henry at the next table (Gasp. Tweet).

The classic menu and warm service were loyal to the hotel’s traditional aesthetic, however the waiting time was not – a late start and a forty-five minute between courses left us nodding into our empty breadbasket. When the food did arrive though it was delicious – Mum declared me her favourite daughter (I’m her only daughter) as she devoured her lobster risotto – and the thoughtful offer of our waitress to send dessert to our room for a cosy cake and TV combo more than made up for any delays.

Having skipped the Mirror Bar (a favourite celebrity cocktail bar hidden at the back of the hotel) in favour of Baileys creme brulee in bed, and having ran out of time to visit the chic TwoTwentyTwo restaurant and bar, there was one other hotel hot spot that I wanted to visit. The Landmark’s swanky spa and health club is as popular with the  well-groomed Marylebone locals as it is with the guests and was said to have been Katy Perry’s first stop when she stayed at the hotel. Featuring a 15-metre pool, sauna, steam room, whirlpool, monsoon showers and four cocoon-like treatment rooms for some luxe-y treatments – try the ESPA Advanced Super Active Facial for a cover-girl glow.

Indoor swimming pool at the Landmark, something of a rarity in London and a lovely spot for a few hours pre or post-spa lounging

Overall this is one of the most reasonably-priced and grandest five star hotels you can stay at in London. Situated opposite Marylebone Station, and short stroll from the lovely Regent’s Park, this beautiful old grand dame is perfectly located for exploring all that London has to offer, although you may, like us, find it hard to leave such lovely surroundings.

GO THERE

The Landmark London, Tel: +44 (0) 20 7631 8000; www.landmarklondon.co.uk; Double rooms from £250.

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23
Jul 12

Flying Finnair

I like Finnair, they do stuff like this…

Finnair Flash Mob

and this…

Surprise dance on Finnair flight

So when they invited me to fly with them on my recent trip to Hong Kong, I jumped at the chance.

Despite the fact that I’ve clocked up millions of miles around the world, as an avid traveller and in my previous career as cabin crew, I had never actually flown on Finnair. I had heard lots of good things about them though; a modern fleet, friendly crew and a super chic lounge in Helsinki but the real clincher for me was the regional airport routes that they offer. I live in Manchester, an airport which doesn’t offer any direct flights to Hong Kong, which means the minimum twelve-hour trek is usually increased by at least three or four long, aircraft-bound hours – hours that could be better sleeping horizontally beforehand or saying hello to Hong Kong from a rooftop bar. Add on the time to check-in, plus the time hanging around during airport transfers and before you know it, you’re looking at a twenty-hour travail. Finnair’s service though operates from Manchester via Helsinki which means no annoying off-route stopovers and an air-punch inducing travelling time of only fourteen hours or so.

The Super-cool Finnair Lounge at Helsinki

From start to finish the service was smooth. Following an easy three-hour skip up to Helsinki, I was afforded an hour in the trendy Finnair Lounge before the onward sector to Hong Kong.

Finnair’s designer lounge with round-the-clock bar and buffet

Once onboard the crew were smiley and efficient, taking time to chat without being eager-beaver in your face friendly. I liked the fact that half of the flight attendants were from Hong Kong – before we had even taken off I heard of an amazing manicurist in Kowloon from one of the girls. Nice. The cabin interiors of the A330 were bright and modern, the seats were as comfy as they come in economy with a reasonable amount of legroom – I was happy, it was certainly a more comfortable choice than some other economy classes I have flown (I’m looking at you American Airlines). Food-wise, it could have been a little bit more exciting. The same goes for the in-flight entertainment movie selection but the zippy nine-hour flight time and lovely service more than made up for any of that.

On the way home, I found myself in the fortunate position of being bumped to Finnair’s award-winning business class – yay! for once the upgrade fairy answered my wish! It was star treatment all the way with sprawling lie(almost)flat beds giving 63 inches of luxurious legroom, silver service meal times brimming with delicious dishes and superb wines, and, once again, an attentive and intuitive crew.

So, would I recommend Finnair? Yes, most definitely. It’s a good solid option with many winning qualities, particularly when it comes to flying from airports outside of London. Helsinki airport is a dream to transfer through,  I slept for a record-breaking seven hours on both sectors (OK I took a sleeping tablet but still…) and my entire journey went without a single hitch (including a date change when I extended my trip). An excellent service all round and one that I look forward to experiencing again.

GO THERE: 

Finnair flies daily from Manchester and London Heathrow to Hong Kong. 

The below fares are ‘starting from’ return fares and include taxes and service fees:

Manchester-Hong Kong: Business class: £2326.00 Business class Campaign for Mid Week travel: £2076.00 Economy class: £667.00

London LHR-Hong Kong: Business class: £2321.00 Business class Campaign for Mid Week travel: £2067.00 Economy class: £658.00 

For more information call  0870 2414411 or visit www.finnair.com . For up to date offers and news please follow us on twitter @finnairuk. Finnair also have daily flights to Beijing and Shanghai in China.  Finnair began flights to new destination Chongqing, China in May 2012. 

Finnair also fly to 7 other Asian cities too in Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Thailand.

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19
Jul 12

The Magic of Macau

So I’m not going to harp on about Hong Kong this week, no, this week I’m going to chat about Macau (Hong Kong’s lovely but lesser-known neighbour).

Senado Square, Macau

I’ve always felt a bit sorry for poor little Macau, so long outshone by its glittery big sister, Hong Kong, and now rather unfairly compared to Las Vegas, it always seems to be trapped in between identities and often overlooked. And that’s a real shame as it’s such an interesting wee place and one that I have always loved to visit. Lying just forty miles or an hour away by ferry from Hong Kong, like its SAR sibling Macau also has an ancient seafaring and trading history. For over four hundred years it operated as a distant player in Portugal’s colonial empire and although it was handed back to China in 1999, the Portuguese influence remains in a land imprinted with churches and cathedrals, fortresses and fountains, peaceful gardens and grand civic squares. There’s also distinctly laid-back vibe about Macau, particularly when compared to high-octane Hong Kong and then there’s the food – oh the food, an amazing combination of East and West – Macau has been doing fusion cuisine for hundreds of years before it was fashionable.

 

 

 

 

 

The Macau of my childhood visits was a green and lazy place – a place where pedicabs where still a legitimate form of transport and whole days were spent eating Portuguese treats in seaside restaurants – but this sleepy scene is fading fast. For better or worse, Macau is now waking up and is being loudly hailed as the Las Vegas of the East. Casinos have always been part of Macau’s draw (gambling is illegal in Hong Kong and China) but when the gaming industry opened up to foreign investment in 2002 it wasn’t long before glamorous big names like The Venetian and MGM Grand set out their stalls and visitor numbers quadrupled. Now Macau is booming like never before, the mainland Chinese and their new money have arrived, Louis Vuittons are being built at an astonishing rate and big name celebrities have started coming to town – Roger Federer, Celine Dion, Beyonce and Bond Girl, Michelle Yeoh, are just a few of the names who have dropped by of late.  Eager (and a little bit anxious) to see the new developments, I popped over for a couple of days.

The shiny new side of Macau

Following two fun-filled, absolutely manic weeks in Hong Kong I couldn’t wait to take it down a notch with a trip to Macau. I wanted serenity. I wanted seclusion. I wanted some sleep. So, I chose to stay at the Mandarin Oriental, which like its Las Vegas sibling has eschewed gaming in favour of an intimate setting and seamless service.

The Mandarin Oriental Macau

As soon as I arrived at the small yet glamorous double-height lobby, I knew I had made the right hotel choice. Check-in happened in the blink of an eye and before we knew it my husband and I were happily ensconced in a golden-toned corner suite overlooking the bay. It was wonderfully spacious with a super-king size bed, deliciously deep chairs and a table overflowing with exotic fruits, and the cherry on the cake, a stunning spa bathroom stocked with super-sized Aromatherapy Associates products. It was quickly apparent that we weren’t going anywhere for the night, the room was far too luxurious to leave, the Macanese Dragon experience at The Spa too tempting and food on offer at Vida Rica sounded amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

Having taken full advantage of all that the Mandarin had to offer, we awoke the next morning refreshed and ready to explore. It had been hard for me to tell exactly where the hotel was when we checked-in (so much of the land has been reclaimed) but I quickly got my bearings when I discovered the old Casino Lisboa round the corner. This is not a building that is easy to forget; built by one of the world’s richest men, Dr. Stanley Ho, its eccentric orange-coloured circular structures make up one of the oldest- and still one of the most popular – resorts in the city. Nowadays it’s flanked by the new Grand Lisboa, an equally mad mega-structure shaped like a great big golden lotus – it’s a bit mental, and very Macau, and I have to say I quite liked this quirky new addition.

The Hotel Lisboa and the Grand Lisboa

 We carried on walking towards the old town, past a lonesome row of pedicabs (now purely a tourist thing), through bustling crowds and busy intersections. There was the odd shiny new build amongst the rather run-down 1950s architecture but it was pretty much as I remembered it – a little bit crumbly and chaotic but with charm. At the end of the road, the black and white cobblestones signalled our entry into Senado Square. Thankfully this uncannily pretty part of town has been preserved despite the new developments (and will l remained so having been granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2005) and the pastel-coloured churches and Baroque building remain. A perfectly lovely morning ensued wandering around the narrow hilly streets that surround the Ruins of St. Paul’s with the occasional sigh-filled break in the shade of banyan tree.

After an alfresco lunch (involving Macau’s famous custard tarts) we headed over to the other side of town to check out the new casino complexes. This side of the city is definitely more fascinating that fun at this point. It’s kind of like Las Vegas meets the Twilight Zone. The casinos, malls and new Cotai Strip development are as awe-inspiring and as well set-up as anything you would find Stateside but the atmosphere is seriously subdued.

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the fact the Macau pulls in four times the revenue of its American counterpart, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of people there at the moment; the restaurants appear to have more Michelin stars than patrons, the shop assistants look out forlornly for customers and the Chinese, who take their gambling very seriously indeed, prefer to game in private rooms leaving the casino floor rather lonely. I think though that it’s very much a case of “If we build it, they will come” and I have no doubt that it won’t be long before Macau’s incredible resorts are bursting at the seams. And perhaps it’s not a bad thing that Macau takes a more low-key approach – we don’t really want another Vegas do we? This tiny region’s appeal has always lain in its difference and my hope for the future is that Macau always remembers that.

Until next time meu amigo!

GO THERE: 

See the Macau Tourist Board for more information at www.macautourism.gov.mo

Mandarin Oriental, Macau, Tel: 853  8805 8888; www.mandarinoriental.com/macau; Luxury breaks from £175

Finnair flies daily from Manchester and London Heathrow to Hong Kong. 

The below fares are ‘starting from’ return fares and include taxes and service fees:

Manchester-Hong Kong: Business class: £2326.00 Business class Campaign for Mid Week travel: £2076.00 Economy class: £667.00

London LHR-Hong Kong: Business class: £2321.00 Business class Campaign for Mid Week travel: £2067.00 Economy class: £658.00 

For more information call  0870 2414411 or visit www.finnair.com . For up to date offers and news please follow us on twitter @finnairuk. Finnair also have daily flights to Beijing and Shanghai in China.  Finnair began flights to new destination Chongqing, China in May 2012. Finnair also fly to 7 other Asian cities too in Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Thailand.

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