Posts Tagged: Celebrity Travel


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.

 


19
Jun 12

Best Hong Kong Hotels for Celeb-spotting

If you’ve ever read my bio you’ll know that if there is one place in the world that I love above and beyond all others, that place is Hong Kong. I grew up on this spectacular little island and spent much of my childhood skipping between school and the pool,  spending my pocket money in street markets and occasionally celeb-spotting – my most memorable being a city-wide search for Madonna while she was in town filming of Shanghai Surprise.

Hong Kong Harbour @Lee_Cobaj

Well, it seems twenty-odd years on I’m still doing the same, only this time I’m flitting between spas and rooftop pools, splashing my hard-earned cash (still mainly at the street markets) while searching the city’s haute spots for the latest celebrity sightings. And try as they might to hide behind oversized sunnies and burly bodyguards, celebrities are often spotted leaving their lavish hotels. Along with the legendary Mandarin Oriental (which I’ve featured previously) and the iconic Peninsula (which I will no doubt feature at some point) here’s a handful of other great Hong Kong hotel’s for star-spotting:

THE UPPER HOUSE

It’s been A-list all since the Upper House hit the Hong Kong hotel scene in late 2009. In fact, Gwyneth Paltrow stayed here while filming her scenes for Contagion and loved the Upper House so much she recommended it on her everything’s-lovely lifestyle blog Goop. I have to agree with her choice, this chic city-centre hotel is swoon-worthy at it every turn. The design is both subtle and sensational with chic minimalist interiors made up of great swathes of Italian limestone, bamboo panelling and stunning sculptures. The rooms are HUGE by Hong Kong standards and all come with show-stopping spa-bathrooms overlooking the city or harbour, ultra-luxe modernist furnishings and a truly incredible range of amenities – think an entire range of REN goodies including eye-cream and night cream, as well as yoga mats, iPod Touches….the list goes on. Along with a spectacular Michelin award winning restaurant (be warned, you’ll need to book well in advance) it’s clear to see that the Upper House will be providing all-star service to the rich and famous for a long time to come.

Cool woods, cashmere soft carpets, one-off sculptures and a corner view to die for. I want to live here. Forever.

Just look at this bathroom. Amazing. And did you spot the REN Rose Otto bath oil on the side? There’s also a monsoon shower and celeb-style dressing room out of shot.

The Upper House Atrium with the most dizzyingly beautiful art installation by Japanese artist Hirotoshi Sawada

The stunning sky-walkway to Cafe Gray Deluxe – Gwyneth’s order of a club sarnie doesn’t do the Michelin award winning menu justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RITZ-CARLTON HONG KONG

The Ritz-Carlton is another new kid on the celebrity-hotel block and has become something of a superstar itself, having achieved the lofty title of the World’s Highest Hotel. So it comes as no surprise then that a hotel of this stature would have equally amazing guests to match. Lady Gaga chose the Ritz as her hangout of choice when she was recently in Hong Kong – in fact I seem to be inadvertently  stalking her at the moment, having followed in her footsteps via the The Dorchester, the Fairmont Pacific Rim Vancouver and The Setai. Anyway, the lady has clearly got great taste in hotels and the Ritz-Carlton is no exception. There is so much more to it than its record-breaking status suggests: cutting-edge contemporary décor meets unadulterated luxury, sublimely good service and some of the most incredible views you’ll ever see. I had read a previous review of the hotel which suggested the hotel’s stratospheric  positioning made Hong Kong feel distant and dislocated. But for me it had entirely the opposite effect; Hong Kong had never looked more beautiful, more jewel-like and lovely. The cityscape meandered across the South China Sea, as the Kowloon West harbour bustled below while the mountains lazed in the haze. I just wanted to put my arms around it and tell it how much I loved it. Sigh.

The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. The world’s highest hotel soaring between the 102nd and 118th floors. One for everyone’s Bucket List!

There’s no doubt Lady Gaga would have checked herself into the best room in the house, the Ritz-Carlton Presidential Suite. Taking up the nearly the entire 117th floor, this heart-stopping haven features swathes of crystal chandeliers, walls inlaid with mother-of-pearl and this incredible bathroom.

The World’s Highest Swimming Pool on the 118th Floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. Quite possible the coolest pool in the world.

 

THE FOUR SEASONS

This is where Victoria Beckham chose to stay on her recent trip to Hong Kong. And how do I know this? Because when I popped along for a visit, I noticed an uncanny resemblance between the view I was seeing and the one that VB recently tweeted! See for yourself in the pics below.

The Four Seasons is of course renowned as one of the best hotels in the city. Located front and centre of Hong Kong harbour it too offers spectacular views of the harbour and city. The design is much more contemporary than you might expect from the suave Four Seasons brand with a MOMA-like lobby, high-ceilinged super-chic restaurants and large, luminous, ultra-luxurious spa. I didn’t get the chance to stay over (this time) but I did stop by for a splendid Thai massage in a suite overlooking the Star Ferry terminal – heaven – and very special dinner at the extraordinary Caprice – think posh frocks, a ballet-like service and food that tastes even more divine than it looks. Highly regarded by Hong Kong hotshots there’s no doubt that the Four Seasons will be staying on the celebrity circuit for the foreseeable future.

The Fabulous Four Seasons Hong Kong

 

“LOVE Hong Kong!!! Check this view out!!! X VB”

And check out this view! Pretty much the same as Victoria’s. Definitely the fabulous Four Seasons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caprice is another great place for celeb-spotting, also mentioned by Gwyneth Paltrow in her Goop blog and said to be a favourite of Nicole Kidman’s too. A Hong Kong must do.

 

THE LANDMARK MANDARIN ORIENTAL

Even though VB chose the Four Seasons on this occasion, the sleek and tres chic Landmark Mandarin Oriental is the usual crash-pad for the fashion pack. Stella McCartney and Georgia Armani are both known bedded down between its 400-thread-count sheets – although not together of course – while models, muses, buyers and bigwigs fill the tables at O Bar and Amber. Sitting pretty, slap-bang in the middle of the city the Landmark’s main draw is its high-design concept and easy access to all the essential A-list shopping Hong Kong has to offer – Harvey Nichol’s is next door and every big name luxury brand from Bulgari to Vuitton are just a (precious) stones throw away. Inside, the hotel is intimate and self-assured. Rooms are spacious and stylish with the likes of shamelessly-decadent soaking tubs and three (!) plasma TVs. With no time to spare, all I could manage was  a quick tour and an exquisite lunch at Amber – the only HK hotel to make it onto the S.Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants in the world list – but that little taste was enough to have me longing for more.

The Landmark Mandarin Oriental’s L900 Suite with its catwalk-like corridor is the preferred choice for the fashion set

L900 Suite Bathroom – another swoon-worthy Hong Kong Hotel tub

 

Have you spotted any celebrities in Hong Kong? Stayed at any of these A-list hotels? I’d love to hear your comments!

 

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.

 


30
Apr 12

Magical Mauritius: Shanti Maurice

This week I’m exploring another peaceful celebrity hideaway in the Indian Ocean, the beautiful fantasy-land that is Mauritius. Famous faces seen on the island include royalty – Prince Harry and Princess Caroline, celebrities – Kylie Minogue, Russell Brand, Ewan McGregor, Joseph Fiennes and Catherine Deneuve, and sports personalities Rafael Nadal, Michael Schumacher and Zinedine Zidane to name just a few. It’s not difficult to see why the A-list adore this island with its other-worldly beauty, spellbinding sense of spirituality and  stunning five-star hotels – it certainly didn’t take me long to fall head-over-heels in love with the place. Here’s a snapshot of my time at the wonderful Shanti Maurice. 

Quite possibly the prettiest swimming pool I have ever seen.

The Lowdown

The first thing that struck me on my arrival at Shanti Maurice was what a special place it was. Sitting in a plum position on the South coast with a travel brochure beautiful beach surrounded by 35 acres of colourful tropical gardens, it was impossible not to be immediately won over. The hotel originally started life as an Ayurvedic spa retreat and has evolved over the years to become a tres chic luxury boutique where the spa experience now comes with a delicious side order of sunshine and champagne. The 61 oceanfront villas and suites are dotted around the resort and are kitted out in cool, comfortable shades of cream with local hardwood furnishings and cavernous spa bathrooms. The 17 villas also come with their own private pools affording celebrity guests like Thandi Newton and Liz Hurley the utmost privacy.

Plenty of Wow-factor at the two-bedroom villas with private pool

Then there’s the rest of the hotel, which I have to say, had me swooning at every turn. At its centre is a shimmering slate infinity pool (where I found myself spending every spare moment swimming like a contented Koi carp around its pretty fish fountains and floating gardens). Fanning out from this focal point are a series of handsome thatched pavilions which house the reception and lounge area and two wonderful restaurants; Stars and Pebbles. There’s also a cracking kid’s club on site (although it’s tucked away so you never hear a peep) and,of course, the star of the show, the Nira Spa.

 

The Highlights

My experience of the Nira Spa went well beyond the usual holiday massage and without veering into dodgy “Eat, Pray, Love” territory, I really did find it to be a truly inspirational experience. The Nira Spa is the biggest (and arguably the best) spa in the Indian Ocean and takes the holistic approach to health and well-being to a whole new level. I eased myself in with my first ever Qi Gong class where  we performed a series of gentle movements in the spa gardens while the sun set over swaying fields of sugarcane and magical mountain vistas. Sheer bliss.

The Nira Spa Yoga Pavilion

 

After such a lovely start, I dedicated the next day to the full Shanti experience with a morning yoga class, steam, sauna and swim (there’s another beautiful serene pool within the spa grounds) followed by a healthy lunch. Physical needs attended to, it was now time to see to my spiritual side with a consultation with the the resident Ayurvedic doctor.

 

I didn’t know much Ayurvedic philosophies beforehand and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – and I certainly didn’t anticipate bursting into tears halfway through the appointment!  Cringe. Thankfully though this it turned out to be a perfectly normal and fairly common reaction. Ayurveda is all about treating the mind, body and soul and although my Glaswegian sensibilities initially rallied against it, after getting over my intense sense of embarrassment, it actually felt pretty amazing to get it all out and reflect on my seriously-neglected spiritual side. I left my consultation feeling intensely uplifted and by the time I had finished my sixty-minute Africology massage I had reached a Zen-like state of tranquillity. For a few days at least, life felt a little bit less complicated.

The relaxation pavilion at the Nira Spa which is surrounded by a pretty lily pond which is most probably filled with the tears of guests!

The wonderful thing about Shanti Maurice though is that you can dip in and out of the whole wellness thing as and when you like. Another not-to-be-missed, and slightly naughtier, option is the  the twice-weekly Fish and Rhum Shack, where a remote stretch of beach is transformed with tiki torches and driftwood furniture into a hedonistic sea-side hangout. On the menu is a selection of ridiculously large lobster, giant prawns and juicy organic meats, all of which can be washed down with a rum punch while the wild Indian Ocean crashes in the background and a squillion million stars shimmer above.

The Fish and Rhum Shack – Not to be missed

 

There are plenty of hotels around the world that have fabulous facilities, stunning views and sublime service but it’s a pretty rare thing to find one that has character to match, a hotel where you just can’t imagine being anywhere else. Luckily for me this was one of them.

 

Star Style

 

 

 

Long-haul flights, air-conditioning, blazing sunshine and ice-cold air-conditioning all conspire to reek havoc on my skin so to prevent dry patches, I like to use a super-moisturiser on top of my regular skincare products. Always in my in-flight bag (and Emma Watson’s apparently) is Comfort Zone’s Hydramemory 24h Cream Gel.

www.comfortzoneskincare.com

£30 50ml

 

 

 

 

Go There

Shanti Maurice, Mauritius:Tel: +230 603 7200; www.shantimaurice.com; Junior Suites start from €555, including breakfast and 15% VAT, per room per night. Air Mauritius flies non-stop from Heathrow to Mauritius 5 times per week. Call 0207-434-4375 for more information or visit www.airmauritius.com. HolidayExtras.com offers Meet and Greet car parking at London Heathrow from just £66.20 for 8 days. To book visit to www.holidayextras.com  or call 0800 1313 777.


5
Apr 12

The Maldives: Hollywood’s Favourite Hideaway

Next stop, the Maldives. After three non-stop days and nights in Dubai it was time to leave the Middle Eastern metropolis for the swaying palm trees and tranquillity of this most beautiful of island nations. I had been to the Maldives before with my husband to celebrate our first anniversary – the Maldives is of course one of the world’s most popular honeymoon destinations for A-list lovers – Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon, and Fergie and Josh Duhamel have all jetted in Male before slinking off across the bright blue waters of the Indian Ocean to the seclusion of private islands, far from the prying eyes of the Paparazzi – but this time I’m here with my friend, Shelley so would these private isles turn out to be blissful or boring with only the bright blue sea and each other for company…

The Velassaru, Maldives

The Lowdown

The answer was no, it wasn’t boring in the least! Shades on, wind in our hair, turquoise seas twinkling all around us, our arrival at the Velassaru Resort on the back of a gleaming white speedboat couldn’t have been more glamorous. Just a four-hour flight down from Dubai and a thrilling twenty-five minute whirl across the Indian Ocean and we were setting foot on our own little slice of island paradise. Despite our adrenaline-filled arrival as soon as we stepped onto the chic sun-weathered pier and felt the warm afternoon sun on our back, it was time to relax. Cold towels and cocktails were on hand, as were warm smiles and friendly chat, and after a seamless check-in it was apparent that this little resort had more to offer than just being another romantic bolthole.

Beach Perfect

Swaying palm trees, shimmering silver-white sands and picture perfect coral reef cradled a sleek infinity pool, restaurants, bars, a library and spa. We had seven different room types to choose from; some on the beach, some with private gardens and some stilted over the sea. A Water Villa was our haven. As the name suggests, it’s built hovering over the sea, a wooden walkway curling across glimmering fish-filled water leading to the door. But that wasn’t the only means of entry, as soon as we set our bags down it was time for a Wonder Woman-style quick change into our bikinis and we were off down our private snorkel staircase for a quick dip before the sun went down.

Back in the room, the overall feel was spacious and simple with bright flashes of Missoni-esque brilliant orange and cobalt blue adding an edge to the decor. Under its cavernous thatched roof, there were comfy sofas, a vast bed, a dressing room and bar area so we never felt we were crowding each other. Sliding doors revealed a monster-big bathroom with a tub big enough for two (although we didn’t test that theory!) while a vast wall of window could be manoeuvred open to reveal a huge deck and the real star of the show – an uninterrupted view of the iridescent Indian Ocean.


14
Feb 12

Dubai’s Chicest Boutique Hotel: The Desert Palm

Well the snow has finally arrived (boo!), so it seems like the perfect time to chase away those winter blues with a visit to a warmer corner of the world. This week I’ve sought out some much needed sunshine with a girlie break to the sparkling city of Dubai. Along with Prague, Tom Cruise chose this Arabian Gulf city as one of the filming location for his latest flick, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and it’s easy to see why. Not only is there plenty of opportunity to soak up the sun and shop till you drop, but there’s also a wealth of chic places to eat, cool spots for cocktails and some seriously super-luxe hotels. Eager to discover the best that the city had to offer I checked-in for some fabulous off-the-radar rest and relaxation at the city’s chicest boutique hotel, the Desert Palm.

At more than 160 stories, the Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world

The Lowdown

My stay at the oasis-like Desert Palm Dubai had me cooing with delight from the moment we were picked up from the airport by a chauffeur driven car decked-out with iced-towels, Voss water and deep leather seats. Even though I knew beforehand that the Desert Palm was home to a world-class polo club as well as an haute hotel, it still came as a something of a surprise to pull up to its frangipani-filled gardens and vast green fields peppered with show-ponies. Far from the madness of the metropolis, while still being close enough to be able to see the cityscape twinkling in the distance, it was obvious why camera-shy celebrities, royalty and visiting Emirati choose the Desert Palm for as their Dubai hideaway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hotel was not at all what I expected in this city of superlatives; Dubai boasts the world’s biggest shopping mall, the world’s tallest fountain, as well as the world’s highest bar, highest restaurant and highest swimming pool. All of these are housed in the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa which Tom Cruise was brave/mad enough to jump off in his recent flick and they can be reached via the world’s highest elevator. In a city that clearly likes to show-off, it wasn’t unreasonable for me to expect a lot of big city bling and over-the-top ostentation. Not so at the Desert Palm though, instead of showy affectations the hotel has opted for low-key luxe in the form of sleek creamy-coloured marble floors, shiny dark woods, and tactile furnishings which cleverly highlights its collection of perfectly-positioned artworks and equine sculpture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First impressions had left me suitably impressed but after a seven-hour night flight and a four-hour leap forward in time we were in dire need of a big bed and a wee sleep. Our room, a Palm Suite, was as swish as the rest of the hotel and surprisingly spacious – spacious enough in fact for two ladies with 50kg of luggage between them to not fight over wardrobe space. And we needn’t have worried about sharing a bed too as it was enormous enough for us both to sprawl out without ever risking waking the other. Along with these winning features, our room also had a stunning spa bathroom with monsoon shower and plenty of REN amenities, a baffling array of technology and view over the open-plan lobby and pretty green polo fields.

 

 

 

 

 

The Highlights

For a small hotel its highlights are many. Days can be spent lounging by the temperature controlled infinity pool – warmed in winter and chilled in summer for optimum swim conditions – walking or jogging around the perfectly manicured grounds, horsing around at the resident riding school or simply sitting on the terrace watching polo whilst indulging in a spot of cream tea. Tucked away on the lower level of the main building there’s also the wonderful LIME Spa which managed to lure us away from all ground-level activities for a whole afternoon with its wonderful massage treatments and hot and cold therapy rooms and showers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s when the sun goes down that the Desert Palm really comes into its own though. The hotel’s fantastic foodie credentials and buzzing bar pull in an eclectic crowd of trendy expats, in-the-know out of towners and local urban prince and princesses. We booked into Rare, which as the name suggests features a menu of rare meats and prized game, and despite our best efforts to show some restraint ended up nearly bursting out of our frocks after sampling some of the finest steaks we’d ever had the pleasure to try. Although our room was within waddling distance we couldn’t resist the warm ambiance and cool vibe of the terrace and ordered up some champagne and shisha at Red Bar. With the city glittering in the distance, the smell of fruity tobacco in the air, and the prospect of three more days at the Desert Palm ahead of us, we agreed that we were experiencing the dreamiest of Arabian adventures.

Outdoor dining at Rare

 

Champagne and Shisha on the Terra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Style

 

 

 

Make a confident and stylish entrance to any hotel lobby with this gorgeous trolley case. Luxury Italian luggage label Brics have teamed up with Missoni to create this limited edition travel candy which will make you the envy of all other guests. Available from www.caseluggage.com

 

 

 

 

Go There

Emirates Tours www.emiratestours.co.uk offers a 3 night package to Desert Palm, Dubai www.desertpalm.com from £695 per person. Based on two people staying 3 nights in a Palm Deluxe Room with breakfast daily. It includes return Emirates Economy Class flights from London Gatwick and return private car transfers. Valid for travel from 1st July to 15th September 2012.

 

 


26
Jan 12

Time out at the Titanic Spa

Eager to keep-up with my new keep-fit philosophy to eat blueberry pancakes, learn to not humiliate myself at Zumba, and to spa as often as possible, I decided to keep my January motivation going with a bit of guilt-free pampering – much better than calorie-counting and carrot sticks. Sadly, I don’t have the fabulous Canyon Ranch on my doorstep but what I do have, less than an hour away from me, tucked away on the edge of the Pennines in the pretty little mill town of Huddersfield, is one of the UK’s leading eco-friendly retreats, The Titanic Spa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon at arrival at the handsome old mill, the elegant lobby was brimming with well-to-do ladies swanning around in cosy chocolate-coloured bathrobes. Happily, and much to the relief of my spa-shy husband, there were a few men bobbing about too, hairy legs unashamedly on show. I had a quick nose to see if I could spot any celebrities – the cast of Corrie and North-West WAGs are known to regularly stop by – but today it seems to be mostly couples and mother and daughter teams cashing in on their Christmas presents. After quickly checking-in to our massive apartment (which could easily accommodate up to eight people), we threw on our bathrobes and rushed down to the soak up the spa facilities before our treatments. There was much to choose from but we opted to start our spa journey with a swim in the salt-regulated pool, filled from a natural spring a hundred metres below the building.

 

Post-swim, cobwebs blown away and once again bedecked in our superbly-soft bathrobes, we slipped over to the other side of the spa for our treatments. Unlike the pool area which is bursting with natural light, the treatment area is a serene sanctuary of subdued lighting, squishy seating areas and luxuriant rooms. The Titanic’s environmentally-friendly stance means that they only use skincare companies that share a similar ethos; Decleor, Elemis and Carita all make the cut, but we opted for to try the 100% natural and organic Pinks Boutique range. Now, I don’t want to cause any unnecessary envy but the treatments were wonderful. We were greeted by two genuinely warm, friendly and as it turned out extremely talented therapists who led us to the VIP suite. Here we blissed out for an hour, me with a heavenly facial that combined the perfect amount of head, neck and shoulder massage with aromatic face creams and a mask, and hubby with a massage of such skill that he slid off the table like a ribbon at the end of the session.

 

That would have been enough for the most slavish of sybarites but it seemed even more delicious spa treats lay in wait. So after a quick break over some champagne and chocolates it was time to tackle the Titanic’s signature Heat and Ice Experience. Here, we melted any lingering stresses as we moved between the penetrating heat of the Crystal steam room to the cooling Experience Shower, on to the Herbal Infusion hammam to a shriek-inducing cool down under an ice-cold bucket of water. Brrr… On we went to the sauna, saunarium, and aromatherapy room via the chilled plunge pool (which I wasn’t brave enough for but my part-penguin husband loved) to end our day in the Egyptian Mud Chamber.

 

 

We drew mud love hearts on each other (not really)

 

Stepping into our private hammam we were presented with what looked to be a bowl of ice-cream scoops and told to apply the various organic muds to our bodies. Each “scoop” worked on a different area with a white moisturising face mud, a clay-coloured body mud and a black exfoliating scrub mud for the legs. So there we were, in a steaming room, stripped bare, and rubbing sweet-smelling sludge on each – not your average Monday afternoon. After we had gotten over the hilarity of the situation, we did manage to relaxed into our intense twenty minute steam session. Whoa! it was hot (not in that way) and just when we thought we couldn’t take much more we were saved from collapsing in a naked muddy heap by a tropical rain shower bursting from the ceiling. Sweet relief and I have to say, I don’t think my skin has ever been left so soft following a treatment.

 

 

 

 

All that was left to do was change into some clothes and stop by the Titanic bistro. This was my one and only niggle, as after enjoying a flawless spa day it was a real shame that the food just didn’t live up to the same high standards. The menu items may well be all natural, organic and locally-sourced, with consideration given to vegetarians and vegans, but unfortunately it was also rather uninspired and lacking in flavour. The dining area itself is pleasant enough but it’s probably not a good idea to have an open show kitchen when microwaving is your main mode of culinary operations.

 

Apart from that one let down though, the Titanic Spa is fabulous and I would highly recommend it. The staff are as good as you would find in any five-star London Grande Dame, the spa and treatments exquisite and the apartments comfortable and relaxing.

 

 

 Titanic Spa, Huddersfield: Tel 0845 410 3333; www.titanicspa.com ; Overnight Spa packages available for £109pp


16
Jan 12

Detoxing Celebrity-style at the Canyon Ranch Miami

 It would be fair to say that after three back-to-back trips in less than a month, followed by a Christmas and New Year feasting frenzy, I could now happily weigh-in alongside a team of Russian shot-putters and am a prime candidate for gout, in fact if I carry on at this rate I will have no feet by February. So, something has to be done and I’ve come to the shocking conclusion that I am going to have to eat less and move more. And where better to start this radical new regime than at the Canyon Ranch Miami Beach, Hollywood’s favourite wellness retreat.

Now, I do love a trip to the spa but I’ve never really felt the urge to use my holiday time to detox. It just doesn’t sound much … fun really, but with a guest list that includes Shakira, Eva Longoria, Terri Hatcher, January Jones, as well as Jason Statham and Gerard Butler (spas aren’t just for the ladies any more!), the Canyon Ranch promised to be more than your average health spa. There may be 230 classes a week, resident doctors, nutritionist and physiotherapists, and a lofty keep-fit philosophy but there are also lashings and lashings of luxury and a fair amount of fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On arrival, I was pleased to see that the lobby was definitely more Kenzo than Tenko, showcasing original Art Deco features of the original Carillon Hotel alongside the upscale elegant designs of New York architect David Rockwell. The rooms too were plush, inviting and surprisingly large – even by American standards – each with vast living rooms and kitchens, spacious spa-style bathrooms and broad balconies overlooking the ocean.

So far, so good. And after a good night’s sleep in my jumbo bed I’m up and at ‘em. The Canyon Ranch does have a reputation for taking a serious approach to health and fitness though so I fully expected warm cabbage-water and wheatgrass for breakfast but no, instead – and much to my delight – I’m presented with a plentiful plate of organic blueberry pancakes, coming in at less than 300 calories, including the syrup! So this is how those celebs manage to stay so skinnylicious! Here’s the recipe if you want to try it out yourself (you really should). And if you love this recipe as much as I do, you can find more here

Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes with Fruit
Ingredients
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
1/4-1/2 cup 2% milk
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup berries or chopped fruit  (Blueberries and bananas work well in this recipe.)
12 tablespoons pure maple syrup Instructions1. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. In a medium bowl combine remaining wet ingredients and mix well. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until smooth.
2. Lightly coat a griddle or large sauté pan with canola oil. Place on burner over medium heat until hot. Portion approximately 3 tablespoons batter on griddle and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon berries or chopped fruit. Cover fruit with 1 additional tablespoon batter and cook until bubbles form. Flip and cook other side to golden brown.
3. Serve 3 pancakes topped with 2 tablespoons of maple syrup.Serving Information
Makes 6 (3-pancake) servings, each containing approximately: 365 calories, 70 gm. carbohydrate, 6 gm. fat, 54 mg.cholesterol, 10 gm. protein, 469 mg. sodium, 4 gm. fibre.

Loving the idea that eating healthily could taste so good (this Canyon Ranch even allows alcohol, unlike its sister resorts in Tuscon and Lenox, but, of course, here the cocktails are organic, the beer biodynamic and the red wine green) I’m now convinced the keep-fit side of things will be a breeze too.

 

 

 

 

 

I bypassed the enormous indoor rock climbing wall, the spectacular state-of-the-art gym overlooking the ocean, and the four swimming pools and instead opted for my first ever Zumba class. Zumba was invented in Miami and claims to be an easy-to-follow, Latin inspired, calorie-burning dance fitness party. Sounds fun right? I thought so. I like a party and, although the only time I really dance is on nights-out when copious amounts of alcohol seem only to serve to enhance my natural dancing ability, I felt sure I could hold my own. Not so. My first ever Zumba turned out to be a somewhat humiliating experience as within moments I came to the sudden, stark and sober realisation that – I can’t dance! While the rest of the class, including a couple of nip-tucked octogenarians, pranced around the room in a series of highly-coordinated hip-shaking movements, I found myself flailing about like a mad jellyfish, facing the wrong way (more than once) and gasping for air like a guppy. Strangely though, I loved it and by the end of the sessions I was caught up in the feverish good fun of it all and happily ran around the room high-fiving strangers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was only one thing to remedy this sudden outburst of American-like enthusiasm and that was to head to the spa for some calm downtime. A 70,000 sq.ft shimmering, mosaic-covered sanctuary awaited me. Two floors of gently-lit sumptuous rooms, tropical “experiential” showers, pools of healing waters, thermal cabins, soaking tubs, laconiums, and an igloo (yes, really) made for a fabulous A-list experience. The massage too (just about) lived up to its $240 price tag with a hundred minutes of pounding, pressing and pulling inspired by ancient techniques used on Thai warriors.

Needless to say, as I enter into 2012 I believe that these celebrities have got the right idea and from now on I will be stuffing myself with pancakes, embarrassing myself at Zumba and all-day spa-ing wherever possible. Who’s with me?

GO THERE

Canyon Ranch Hotel and Spa, Miami Beach: Tel 305-514-7000; http://www.canyonranch.com/miamibeach/; From $400


2
Jan 12

New Year’s Eve at The Setai Miami

Well, we may tightening our belts and pinching our pennies over here in the UK but it seems that the shimmering beachside city of Miami may have missed the memo about the worldwide economic downturn. Over in South Beach, the limos are lined up and the champagne is chilling for the inevitable influx of super-celebrities ready to hit the famous New Year’s Eve party scene – Lady Gaga, P-Diddy, J-Zee and Beyonce, Gwen Stefani and Owen Wilson are amongst a huge list of stars that have chosen Miami as the place to “bring in the bells” over the last few years. And the hottest ticket for 2012? The Midnight in Marrakech Ball at The Setai.

The Lowdown

Even without a glamorous party on the go, The Setai is one seriously alluring place to be. The gorgeous, design-conscious hotel may have been open for six years now but it still has the heady buzz of a brand new opening so I was thrilled to make it my first stop on my pre-Christmas tour of Miami. Celebrity sightings at The Setai, where the enormous rooms can easily accommodate an extensive entourage, are too numerous to mention. Most recently the X-Factor USA judges, contestants and crew took over the hotel, laying down tracks in the Lenny Kravitz designed recording studio like Jay-Z and Chris Brown before them. Simon Cowell, of course, bagged the best room – in fact he won’t stay anywhere else in Miami – checking into the incredible four-bedroom Penthouse suite complete with rooftop lap pool, Jacuzzis-a-go-go, Baby Grand piano and a wine cellar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you can’t afford to drop $30,000 a night from your Prada wallet then there are another 86 ultra-chic suites to choose from. All have spectacular floor-to-ceiling windows affording views of the city or beach (or both if you’re lucky) and come with designer beds and threads, deep black granite bathtubs, rain showers, Asprey amenities, 50” TVs, Bose sound systems and Illy coffee makers. And the little touches – I love the little touches – each guest is also provided with a gorgeous raffia beach bag, sandals and sarongs. Fabulous.

 

The Highlights

The Setai is a knock-out of a hotel. From the minute you walk through the splendid Art Deco exterior, of what was once the Dempsey Vanderbilt Hotel, you’re met with an entirely different South Beach experience. There are no ice-cream colours and squidgy furnishings here, instead The Setai has opted for a cool Asian aesthetic and has totally nailed it. A soothing palette of polished woods, honey-coloured stone floors and perfectly positioned artworks are offset with flashes of oatmeal and orange – including a stunning display of 500 amber-like roses.

 

 

 

 

 

It says a lot about a hotel when you just don’t want to leave, even with a city as spectacular as Miami on your doorstep, but there was nothing else for it. After a morning spent meandering around the hotel’s tropical gardens and flitting between the three temperature-controlled swimming pools, it was time for a Mediterranean inspired lunch at The Setai Pool and Beach Bar. Thankfully the food lived up to my now incredibly high expectations (as did the cocktails) and come three o’clock I had to practically be wheeled to my spa appointment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The spa at The Setai, which carries through the same serene South East Asian vibe, overlooks South Beach and is an intimate, peaceful and stylish space. I booked in for the Ila Kundalini Back Massage which involves working on the spine to unblock the build-up of negative energy caused by stress. Now, I’m not sure if my Chakras were cleansed or any other kind of inner magic replenished but I did fall asleep within five minutes and felt wonderful when I was gently awakened from my slumber an hour later. The perfect pick-up before a night on the town.

Star Style

 

 

The ladies of Miami take their swimwear very seriously indeed so, apart from needing that all important NYE party dress, you’ll be wanting some stylish swimwear. ReallyRee over on the Hello! blog, Attempts at a Stylish Life, put me on to a beautiful beachwear collection from Paolita. If you’ve got the body and the confidence, this gorgeous silver swimsuit from their Spring/Summer ’12 collection is sure to make an impact.

 

Luxur One Piece £140 Paolita.co.uk

 

 

 

 

GO THERE

The Setai; Tel (305) 520 6000; http://www.setai.com/; Rates from US$550

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