City Break


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.

 

 


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.

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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.

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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.

 


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. 

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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.

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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.

 


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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