December, 2011

Dec 11

Christmas Shopping in Miami

What do you mean it’s Christmas on Sunday? Not this Sunday? Oh dear… Ten days on from my last post and I still don’t have a tree, or tinsel, or a turkey for that matter. Thankfully, it’s not all “Bah Humbug” in the Cobaj household as I did manage to pick up a couple of presents during my trip to Miami last week – and oh what fun it was! They do Christmas shopping differently in Miami; you don’t have to deal with angry elbow-and-umbrella-wielding consumers, sideways sleet or slippery sidewalks – oops I mean pavements – instead things happen at a much more civilised pace. Here, the temperature is set to summer time all year round and if you haven’t already sent your personal shopper out to garner your gifts, you can take a leisurely stroll down through the city’s chic boutiques with the sun shining on your SPF-covered face and spring in your perfectly toned step. It’s no wonder the rich and famous choose Miami as a favourite festive destination.











Bal Harbour

Bal Harbour is without a doubt one of the swankiest malls in the world and pulls in more revenue per square foot than any other retail space in the United States – beating even New York and Rodeo Drive! Think all-out glamour darling, it’s all about luxury; expect high-end fashion houses, jaw-droppingly beautiful jewellers and gorgeous art galleries. This is the place where J-Lo comes to stock up on engagement rings, Beyonce and Jay-Z like to stop by for a spot of lunch at Carpaccio’s and Kelly Rowland comes Christmas shopping.









Gee Beauty

My favourite shop at Bal Harbour – partly because it was the only one I could afford but also because of the lovely welcoming staff – was the swish little Gee Beauty salon. Inside its sleek all-white interior it houses a modern make-up and skincare studio that offers Oxygen facials and expert eye-brow threading alongside highly covetable cosmetics and skincare ranges.
















My favourite product, and the one that I hope Santa will be leaving under my non-existent tree, was the exquisitely scented and incredibly nourishing Rodin Body Oil £68




C Madeleine’s

C Madeleine’s is one of Miami’s best kept shopping secrets. This 10,000 square feet boutique is located off the usual tourist trail on an unremarkable stretch of Biscayne Bay and houses one of the best collections of vintage clothing in the US. It would be a huge understatement to call it a simply a vintage store as it’s so much more than that – it’s a homage to fashion, a magnificent museum of clothing. The shop’s namesake and marvellous curator, Madeleine, personally scours the world for the highest quality pieces so prices aren’t exactly a bargain but even if you can’t afford to spend $6500 on a Dior two-piece it’s still worth whiling away an afternoon amid the extraordinary styles and trends of the last century.  Take a stroll through the decades from Downton Abbey flapper dresses to 1950s Grace Kelly-esqu gowns to “I Dream of Jeanie” Kaftans to Eighties Helmut Lang power suits.





















Dec 11

Picture Perfect Prague: The Mandarin Oriental

I’ve been so busy jetting around the world these last few weeks (don’t hate me) that I’ve not had time to think about the fast-approaching festivities. So far, I’ve not sent any cards, bought any presents, or put up the tree – not good! I need to start channelling some serious Christmas spirit soon or before I know it the Big Day will be here and I’ll be twinkle-less, tinsel-less, trying to whip up a dinner out of tins of tuna, while wrapping garage-bought gifts in tinfoil. So where might be the perfect place to put me in the mood for forthcoming festive season? Why Prague of course. Home to cobbled streets and horse-drawn carts, awe-inspiring architecture and charming castles; during winter there will certainly be snow and throughout December there’s a beautiful Christmas market. Prague’s picture-perfect appearance also makes it the ideal backdrop for a Hollywood blockbuster and films like Amadeus, The Chronicles of Narnia, Casino Royale, and most recently the new Tom Cruise movie, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, have all been shot in the city.

The Lowdown

Whether it’s for work or pleasure, when the A-list are in town then their hotel of choice is inevitably the gorgeous Mandarin Oriental. Discreetly located at the end of a quiet lane in the elegant Mala Strana district, the 99-room property is squirreled away from prying eyes yet still close to the action. Sitting in the shadow of Prague castle and just a few minute walk from the Charles Bridge and the Vltava River it offers the perfect celebrity hideaway.

Kevin Spacey and John Malkovich are two superstar guests that have been reported in the press, Katie Holmes and little Suri were spotted playing in the nearby park, and Wayne and Colleen  Rooney chose the MO as the location for their make-it or break-it holiday last year. Loads more stars have stopped by but secret entrances and private suites far from prying eyes have prevented them from being papped and the tight-lipped concierge was giving nothing away!










From the street, an understated (and easily-missed) archway leads to a honey-coloured terrace surrounded by the smooth white walls of what was once a 14th cloisters. Inside, the warm and intimate lobby area portrays the kind of timeless elegance the Mandarin Oriental group does so well – think luxe-y contemporary design blended seamlessly with period features, smartly-clad staff, and a cool orderly vibe.

Each room has its own unique features, some have vaulted ceilings, some have sweeping arches, and all have beautifully polished antique parquet floors, tactile furnishings, and enormous comfy beds draped in navy silks.  The standard rooms are a bit on the squeezy side but I had the pleasure of staying in a Junior Suite which boasted a separate living room with big wide windows and views over the cobbled streets of Mala Strana. Understated luxury was the order of the day and the lovely limestone bathrooms were packed with lavish touches like highly-covetable range of Aromatherapy Associates amenities, duvet-like robes and a tub so deep it called out for a Hollywood-style bubble bath. The star treatment continued come bedtime with a turndown service that included lavender-scented pillow mists on the bedside table. All that was left to do was to order some (pricey but delicious) room-service and retire to my cloud-like bed. Heaven.









The Highlights

I was so looking forward to sampling the delights of the spa. I’d been for a massage at the Mandarin Oriental Macau years ago and still felt relaxed just thinking about it, so expectations were high. I wasn’t disappointed. Although the feel of the spa was still distinctly Mandarin, the design cleverly embraces the spa’s unique history as a former Renaissance chapel; walking through the hotel’s secret passage feels like stumbling into a private museum. Beautifully preserved pieces of history dotted the corridor and, once inside, glass walkways hover above ancient church ruins and fantastic original frescos decorate the walls. A bright spacious lounge awaited, complete with screened relaxation areas and tea lounges, and infused with a sense of monastic calm. The sense of serenity continued through to the treatment rooms where my therapist, Andrea, skillfully kneaded my sightseeing-weary body into blissful submission.







Other highlights include Essensia, the hotel’s restaurant. I only made it down for a superb breakfast (with the best smoothies ever) but the dinner menu was a mouth-watering selection of  local Czech dishes and Asian cuisine that I was sorry to have missed. Chic bar, Barego, is the place for people-watching, celebrity-spotting and mixes a mean cocktail.


Star Style


Danni Minogue is said to adore the Aromatherapy Associates range used by the Mandarin Oriental Spas and I have to agree – they’re lush. I absolutely fell in love with their heavily (and heavenly) scented products. Try the fabulous De-Stress Muscle Rub £20 for 150ml for an in-house rub down.





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