This week, Mr E and I got to tick off one of our bucket list items when we were lucky enough to visit Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire. I make no apologies for the amount of photos you’re about to see – this is possibly the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever visited.
So last time I told you all about the exciting #UKdoesMacys project, and about our first visit to the store at the Mall at Millenia in Orlando.
Here are my top five things to do and places to stay in Orlando. And, well, I think you can guess the first one…
Regular readers will know that I adore a Walt Disney resort hotel (click here to see my top five) and there’s much excitement in Orlando at the moment as there’s a new hotel opening very shortly. This one’s a bit different as although it’s placed within the boundaries of Walt Disney World, it’s actually a Four Seasons. The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort to give it its full title (bit of a mouthful, admittedly) is shaping up to be an absolute beauty.
Oh, it’s a tough question. I’m not sure that I could ever choose my favourite Walt Disney World resort. I’ve often said that it’s gorgeous Animal Kingdom Lodge as I love the African styling, and the fact that you can see giraffes wandering outside your window. But then there’s the glorious Grand Floridian, and the quite incredible Contemporary Resort, and oh, I can’t have just one. I have to have at least five! Read more
Despite its Gothic looks, Nutfield Priory has never actually been a church, monastery or anything similar. The beautiful building was originally built in the late 19th century in the style of the Palace of Westminster by Member of Parliament Joshua Fielden as his private home. Over the years, it’s been commandeered for military use (during WW2) and has been used as a school too. It’s now a very beautiful hotel, full of original features including stunning stained glass, huge marble fireplaces and intricately carved woodwork.
The hotel, now part of Handpicked Hotels, sits in an incredible location, just near Redhill in Surrey and is an easy drive from the M25. I won’t lie, parts of the hotel are, well, let’s say faded. Some of the battleship grey corridors are a bit uninspiring, but I think that comes with the territory when converting a very old building. The main areas of the hotel are utterly beautiful and filled with glorious pieces of art (I was mesmerised by the painting of the beautiful woman on the main staircase) and, in the case of the magnificent Great Hall, a two-storey organ that apparently still works.
Our room was quite small but had obviously recently been refurbished, with a huge bed, enormous flat screen tv and marble bathroom. No noise from neighbouring rooms at all on either side, which is always a plus (I hate it when you can hear every time they flush their loo!). It was a beautiful sunny day so we dumped our bags and headed out on the stunning terrace to enjoy the view (the hills roll away and you can see Gatwick airport and beyond) and stuff ourselves with the most amazing sandwiches (share a portion, they really are enormous) and some particularly good triple cooked chips.
After our lunch, we wandered to the spa, which is in a separate, modern building just a short walk away, where Mr English headed to the pool and I had my very favourite Elemis facial, the Tri-Enzyme Booster facial – the one where it feels like your face is being dolloped with freezing cold custard, then you get to enjoy a phenomenal head, neck and shoulder massage before the therapist peels off the custard which has magically set into a masque (I’m sure Elemis would take issue with some of my technical terms, but you get the gist). The spa is lovely, with a huge, beautifully furnished lounge/waiting area with refreshments and lots of very well equipped therapy rooms. I have it on good authority that the fitness centre and pool is very good too.
After a lovely walk and a wallow in the bath (me) and a bit of telly (him), we wandered to the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. The Nutfield Signature Cocktail is a delicious mix of Nutfield marmalade, Tanqueray and Triple Sec and isn’t remotely marmalade-like. I’d highly recommend it.
The Cloisters restaurant was once an open aired gallery area, now with an amazing wooden vaulted ceiling and tables looking out over the terrace and taking in that fantastic view.
The staff absolutely make the place – from Paddy in the bar to the lovely restaurant staff, everyone is friendly, happy and can’t do enough to make your stay enjoyable. I sent them into a panic when I didn’t like my starter (totally my fault, I didn’t realised the Asian poached pollock would be chilled and cold fish just isn’t really my thing) – it took us ages to convince them that we were fine and they didn’t need to bring me something else! We ate a delicious meal (£38 for three courses) with a very nice bottle of Spanish Bobal de SanJuan rosé. My fillet of Devon hake with basil and parmesan, pine nut quinoa, shaved radish and fennel was to die for – beautifully seasoned, artfully presented and cooked to perfection and Mr English’s pan fried whole Cornish sole was perfectly cooked and delicious. Desserts were small but delicious, and little works of art on the plate.
We liked: beautiful public areas, gorgeous terrace, friendly staff, heavenly triple cooked chips
We didn’t like: plug socket nowhere near a mirror (difficult to blow dry one’s hair, dahling). Breakfast was okay but nowhere near in the same league as dinner – requests for well done eggs/crispy bacon didn’t filter through (picky, I know, but that’s really all I’ve got).
Great for: romantic weekends away, gorgeous weddings, girly spa breaks
Top tip: book a room overlooking the terrace – from having a nose while walking around, they seem to be a bit bigger.
It’s lovely to get away for a weekend, and Paris, especially at this time of year, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. So why visit this ravishing place, then stay in a bland hotel? I’m always tearing out bits and bobs from travel magazines and scribbling details about hotels I’m dying to stay in. Here are three of my favourites:
This hotel (above) has been on my wishlist since I tore an article about it out of a magazine when it first opened. The rooms are just incredible (and slightly barking), with space age details, amazing lighting, ‘floating’ beds… there’s even a 007 room.
Located on Rue Berthollet in Paris’ bohemian 5th arrondissement Latin Quarter, there’s all sorts to discover locally (take a wander along Boulevard St Michel – fab for people watching. In fact, keep going and visit the Pantheon, the Luxembourg Gardens and the gobsmacking Palais de Luxembourg).
It may well be a chain hotel, but there’s absolutely nothing bland about Le Dokhan’s. Quite apart from the fabulous location (it’s a short walk from the Eiffel Tower, L’Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées, and right by the Trocadéro metro stop) this hotel is beautifully decorated, with sumptuous soft furnishings and marble bathrooms. There is even one suite with a balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower: perfect for a romantic weekend away.
This seven storey Art Deco monster boasts a fabulous location on rue de Courcelles, just (as the name suggests) minutes from L’Arc de Triomphe. Not your budget option, admittedly, but one look at the incredible tropical garden at the centre of the building, and your credit card bill will be forgotten. The lobby of this hotel is just incredible – there’s nothing like a ‘take your breath away’ reception area to start your holiday in the right frame of mind!
You can find these hotels, and many more, on Holidaycheck, where you can also find more reviews if you need more insights into any of these amazing hotels.
Living, as we do, just a 45 minute train ride away from London, you’d think we’d be popping to the capital all the time. In fact, we very rarely do, so an invitation to come and spend the weekend in London at the Thistle Hotel, Marble Arch was the cause of much excitement here at English Towers. It was also, I have to say, a rare pleasure to spend an entire weekend together, blighted (or blessed) as we are with two teenagers with very active social lives.
Getting there was easy: train into Euston, then two quick tube rides took us to Marble Arch underground station (don’t throw things, but I honestly didn’t know that this was right on Oxford Street) and a short walk (literally less than 100 yards) and we were there. The Thistle is really tucked away (discrete signage is all you can see from the road), but it’s a real Art Deco beauty, with a proper ‘Gentleman’s Club’ vibe of polished wood, brass and leather and amazing glass ceilings in the lobby area.
Checking in was easy (and incredibly polite) and we were soon in our rooms: the boys in a lovely twin, and us two doors down in a double. I’m not sure if they’ve been recently refurbished but again the vibe is quite masculine – not unpleasantly so, just a nice mix of beiges, browns and creams with sumptuously thick curtains, dark wood and soft leather chairs. The bathrooms were spotless, very heavy on the marble and, I’d say, a bit dated, but still fabulous. The service is fantastic – within five minutes of checking in, one of the boys had put the iron (turned off, thankfully) onto his bed where it had unloaded a load of water all over the place, soaking his bedlinen. Someone arrived within five minutes, whisking the soggy stuff away and replacing it while he was in the shower – he didn’t even notice it had been done.
After a quick (complimentary) drink in the executive lounge, we headed down to the restaurant for dinner. The Marmor Grill has a compact menu at a pretty good value £21 for three courses including a glass of wine. We found it easy to pick something that everyone liked and again the service was immaculate and unobtrusive. My prawn and crayfish cocktail with avocado and whisky marie rose sauce was delicious and the beer battered cod with hand cut chips and mushy peas was top notch. We forced down dessert (well, there was bitter chocolate tart AND knickerbockerglories!) and waddled back up to the room. Obviously being right on Oxford Street, it’s not the quietest place in the world, but we slept well in our huge, comfy beds.
The next day saw breakfast served in the Executive Lounge (everything you could possibly want: coffee, fruit, pastries, full English…), buoying us up for a full day’s shopping (‘Nike Town! Adidas!’).
Although we only shopped, I’d say the Thistle would be a great base if you were headed to the capital for dinner and a show, or if you’re just chilling, it’s a short walk across Hyde Park to the Science Museum – something we’re definitely planning on coming back to do.
Massive thanks for Thistle for putting us up (and putting up with us).
A standard double at the Thistle Marble Arch is £130.80. Click here for more details or telephone 0871 376 9027
Executive lounge access is with executive rooms only and includes private check in/out and complimentary continental breakfast and bar.
I had such a lovely flight to Gran Canaria. It wasn’t particularly the plane (with Thomson now launching their new 787 Dreamliners – they start flights to Mexico and Florida in May next year – I wonder if this will free up some newer planes to replace the clunky old Boeing 757-200s that are still being used on the Gatwick-Gran Canaria route?) in fact, I spent takeoff and landing being dripped with icy water from the air conditioning … No, it was that I was sitting next to a really lovely retired couple (hello Brian and Gail!) who not only came to my aid with a copy of the Financial Times to use as an impromptu umbrella, but also made a very boring flight enjoyable chatting about their travels and family.
Still, as usual the Thomson crew were gracious and smiley (and provided wodges of tissue to dry me off!) and about four hours later we touched down in Gran Canaria.
Arriving at the Hotel Maspalomas Princess we were gobsmacked at the sheer size of the place : the mirror image of its sister hotel, the Hotel Tabaiba Princess (now a Thomson all-inclusive resort) the two form an enormous w-shape with 800 rooms between them over three floors. A slightly shambolic check-in followed (large reception desk combined with no visible queuing system) but we were soon away and up to our lovely third floor room which was spotless, modern, comfortable and with a lovely balcony overlooking the pools.
We chose this hotel because my Disreputable Dad and his partner have been going there for ten years – the waiters and dining room staff greeted them like old friends – and we wanted to see what was so great about it that it keeps attracting them back. And here’s what I discovered:
The staff are fab: they work and work and work to make sure everything is perfect. Happy hour in the piano bar is 5-6pm and we often sat around playing cards and chatting with the bar staff, some of whom we became really fond of. Oh, and that brings me on to my next point:
The drinks are very good value for a big hotel too. There were cocktails for just €3 and soft drinks were good value at about €1.90 a pop – important when you have teens with you guzzling soft drinks.
The food is excellent: obviously the main restaurant is enormous and yes, you occasionally have to join a small queue to wait for a table (bear in mind it was half term too), but there is a huge amount of choice, with some dishes being cooked in a ‘show kitchen’ by chefs while you watch, a decent selection of both local and international dishes, plus the ubiquitous chicken nuggets and chips for the kids. My one gripe was a lack of decent coffee and juice in the mornings – both were served out of machines and were a bit meh.
The wine list is small but there are some great Spanish wines on there (up to about €20ish – we tried some corkers). Mexican evening was FANTASTIC with a Mariachi and a magnificent spread of authentic Mexican dishes.
The kids clubs are amazing: this is another area where Thomson excel. We often bumped into a happy band of kids with their Thomson carers. I always watch the children’s reps and they’re just SO lovely with the kids. It would drive me mental, but they’re always patient, sweet and kind – even with the more… er… challenging of their charges! They have a lovely bright playroom inside and often take small groups outside in the lovely hotel grounds too.
The lunch choices were varied and excellent: it’s important when you’re staying somewhere on a half board basis that there’s a bit of choice when it comes to grabbing lunch. There is a large range of cafés, beach shacks, etc with reasonably priced toasties, burgers (ooh and lovely crab wraps), also a lovely poolside restaurant serving salads, pizza, pasta, etc.
Around the hotel
The place is huge so there is loads to do: mini golf, table tennis, pool, etc. There is a baby pool, a heated larger pool and then a huge two-part pool on an artificial beach (let down by foot-slicing grit as opposed to sand). The hotel grounds are lush and beautiful with stunning plants and foliage.
Out and about
If you want to explore, you can easily grab a taxi from the front of the hotel and go to the bustly Playa Del’Ingles. We didn’t really bother. Just out of the back gate and across the road (the route to the beach – a good half hour walk, unfortunately) there’s also a lovely café serving toasties, salads, and a decent jug of Sangria.
If you fancy splashing out, walk the route to the stunning white beach at Maspalomas and seek out the El Senador restaurant – a gorgeous, seafront place selling the most amazing seafood. We feasted on a fantastic fish soup, fresh garlicky prawns, paella and the most amazing fish, plus my dessert – a Galician almond cake with a Pedro Ximenez reduction was TO DIE FOR. After all this exertion, waddle to the beach and plonk yourself on a lounger (it’ll cost you €7.50 for two beds, though, so don’t do it too often). If you feel more like walking off your lunch, be careful where you wander, there’s a lot of nude sunbathing areas!
I’m not a huge fan of half board (I’d rather have been all-inclusive in the Tabaiba part of the hotel) as we did spend quite a bit of money, but I can’t complain because that was our choice so that we could be with my Dad, plus you don’t really have to go and stuff your face at lunchtime like we did. There are plenty of good value options to be had within the hotel. We had a wonderful time, ate some amazing food, and although we weren’t hugely lucky with the weather, it was warm the whole time and we still came back rested, a bit browner and yes, a bit fatter than we went.
Always the sign of a very good holiday.
Oh, and Brian and Gail heartily recommended their own holiday destination, the Lopesan Villa Del Conde, which, they said, had amazing food, lovely staff and a fabulous setting.
Huge thanks, as ever, to the team at TUI UK.
Thomson offers seven night Platinum holidays to Gran Canaria staying at the 5T Hotel Maspalomas Princess Thomson Platinum Resort on a half board basis, from £609 per adult, first child travels from £324 and from £389 for the second. Price is based on four sharing and includes flights departing from London Gatwick airport on 7 January 2013. To find out more about this holiday or to book visit your local Thomson travel shop, thomson.co.uk or call 0871 230 2555.
Back, then, from our wonderful weekend, we’ve had time to reflect upon Guernsey, and what it can offer the traveller – be they family, couple, group or solo.
The first thing that struck us both, having enjoyed each other’s company, sans children, for the first time in a good few years, is that it’s a wonderful place for a weekend getaway. But then, it’s good for everyone. Before I explain why, let me tell you a little about this teeny island nestled off the south coast of England, nearer, in fact, to Normandy than the UK:
Although Guernsey has strong ties with France (it was, in fact, French up until 1066, but I won’t bore you with a history lesson), Guernsey is not French. Nor, is it English: it’s a self governing crown dependency, if you must know. The population, and I found this amazing, is about the same as, say Rugby: 62,000, spread across an island that is just 30 square miles. Guernsey is a bit like a wedge of cheese, with high cliffs on the south east side, sloping down to level ground on the north west. There are huge tides here – meaning that the sea goes out a really long way, also meaning that the waters are very clear and clean, meaning awesome shellfish and happy sea bass, as well as making the water lovely for swimming.
Which brings me neatly on to why Guernsey is a fabulous summer destination for families. Just a 45 minute flight from Gatwick (we flew Aurigny, who were amazingly courteous, ran like clockwork, and cost about £100 return per person), or a short ferry ride, and you’re on an island that boasts better weather than the UK and the most glorious, clean beaches. What you won’t get is the ‘kiss me quick’ hat, tatty seaside resorts that put a lot of people off holidaying in the UK. Guernsey is, well, classy. In the harbour town of St Peter Port, the little boutique shops, restaurants, cafés and immaculate streets reminded me of Marlow, a well to do town, proud of itself, but in an understated way.
So I thought what I’d do is give you a perfect weekend in Guernsey (tried, tested and scoffed by my lubly Hubby and I) to give you a taster. If you can make it for a week, even better, but here’s my perfect weekend:
Getting there: fly Aurigny.com from Gatwick and pick up a hire car at the airport, or ferry over from Portsmouth with your own car.
Accommodation: there’s everything on Guernsey from very posh five star hotels to lovely B&Bs (for fab beachy holidays, check out Waves, which is very stylish self-catering accommodation on glorious Vazon Bay, or stay in St Peter Port where there is a wide range of hotels – check visitguernsey.com for more info). We based ourselves in St Peter Port, but being such a small island, everywhere is easily accessible.
On arrival, have a drive around the island – you can’t really get lost – if the sun’s out, seek out the glorious beaches, often hidden away down little ‘park and walk’ lanes, or strike out along the stunning cliff paths and on the way, check out all manner of Nazi bunkers (from the occupation, more of this later), Neolithic tombs, The Little Chapel and much more. Stop and see what people are selling in their ‘hedge veg’ stalls – makeshift shops where the locals sell their fruit, veg, flowers and – in lovely Mandy Girard’s case – cheese from her herd of Golden Guernsey Goats. For lunch try The Hideaway at the Best Western Moores Central Hotel, Le Pollet, St Peter Port, for excellent local crab sandwiches and home made cakes, all served on a gorgeously sunny outdoor terrace.
In the afternoon, have a wander around the cobbled streets of St Peter Port where there is amazing shopping. If you get tired, pop in to the Ship and Crown pub on the harbour front, for a pint of the local Rocquette cider and check out the shipwreck photos in the bar.
In the evening, book a table at Red Grill House on the harbour front. Be prepared to be stunned by their amazing wine list – several pages long – but don’t worry, the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable should you need help choosing. They also have a fabulous array of steaks, sold by weight, and generally have fresh fish of the day. Leave room to share their incredible tarte tatin before waddling along the twinkly harbour front back to your hotel.
Head to the beach!
Bimble over to Sausmarez Manor (pronounced ‘Summeray’, five minutes’ drive) where there is a great farmers’ market on a Saturday morning. Afterwards, explore the manor house and take a leisurely walk around the grounds where you’ll discover all manner of sculptures as well as beautiful gardens.
Head off to Herm Island (herm.com) on the ferry from the harbour and spend a day enjoying gorgeous, Caribbean-like beaches on a proper Famous Five island complete with bracken-edged cliff paths and azure water. There are no cars on Herm and only 60 odd residents, so it’s a really peaceful place to while away the day.
We were escorted around the island by the lovely, and very knowledgeable Jonathan Watson who showed us all the accommodation on the island: from the 40-bed White House Hotel, perched above the harbour, with its Conservatory Restaurant (amazing wine list) and its attached Ship Inn brasserie, to self catering cottages and log cabins. There’s also a campsite with shop facilities during the summer (they’ll even get your shopping in for you so it’s there when you arrive). You can walk the cliff paths around the island in about a couple of hours, or if you fancy a shorter walk, cut across.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the Mermaid Tavern and order the home made fish finger doorsteps with fat chips, battered with the local Herm Ale – you won’t be disappointed). It’s a truly fabulous place to spend a holiday, where you really can let the kids have as much freedom as they want, but if you can’t manage it, do spend a day there (take note of the last ferry times, otherwise you’ll find yourself castaway!).
Back on Guernsey, book a table at Christie’s, tucked away on Lower Pollet (which runs parallel to the harbour front). There’s an amazing atmosphere on a Saturday evening (ask for a booth at the back overlooking the harbour terrace – make sure you book!) – order a dozen oysters while you peruse the menu (their Tennerfest menu – loads of the hotels and restaurants do menus for a tenner during this six week period – is completely fabulous).
If you’re up for a few cocktails, head back to Red (just two minutes’ walk) and go upstairs to their cocktail bar, where the doors to the terrace are open in the summer, and quaff a few cocktails while watching the boats bob on the harbour. I recommend the Bramble (gin, blackberry liqueur.. other stuff…). I do not recommend drinking three.
Nursing a slightly aching head, why not wander along the harbour to Castle Cornet, a real boys-own castle (hold your ears for the firing of the noon day gun!) complete with turrets and cannons. The castle houses five museums with all sorts of interactive stuff kids will love, plus, you can stand high up on the fortress roof surveying the sea and pretend to be Jack Sparrow (or not).
If you’re flagging, pop into Boulangerie Victor Hugo for amazing pastries (59 Lower Pollet, boulangerie.gg).
Don’t miss the La Vallette Underground Military Museum, also walking distance from the harbour. Set in actual tunnels used by the Nazis for storing fuel during the occupation, the place is an amazing trove of memorabilia, not just from WWII, but right back to Victorian times. Kids will love the plethora of uniforms, guns and medals and adults will, as we did, find some of the things (letters home from family members sent to prisoner of war camps and tales of life during the occupation) very poignant. A moving place and well worth a visit.
For your final lunch, head to Le Petit Bistro, just on the corner of Le Truchot and Lower Pollet where you’ll find good wines (or great coffee) and adorable French staff. Feast on ‘Le Club’ sandwiches with extra ham or smoked salmon and share some frites. Delightful.
Finally, head sadly to the airport and vow to return to spend time in the summer on some of those spectacular beaches.
For more information on Tennerfest, which runs until November 11th this year, click on tennerfest.com
Huge thanks for our Gold accredited guide Gill, who was a mine of information and answered all my stupid questions, and to Visit Guernsey for sharing their beautiful island with us. I’d keep quiet if it was mine.
After a restful night at the gorgeous retro Helmsley, we set off early towards the east and the Space Coast. Arriving a little late, we had to nip in the back at our scheduled lunch with an astronaut. If you’re visiting, don’t miss this amazing experience. To be accurate, it’s not like an intimate lunch, it’s more a big, full restaurant, one person talking at the front kind of lunch. Still, this suited us fine and we were happy to listen to the amazing Bob Springer, veteran of both Space Shuttle Atlantis and Space Shuttle Discovery and and all round good guy. There aren’t many times you hear ‘and this is a photo of earth I took out the window of the shuttle…’ We shared the lunch with an enormous party of Chinese school children. They were very well behaved, but of course Bob had to field the ubiquitous ‘how do you poo in space?’ question, which he fielded bravely, and with pictures (if you really want to know it’s all done with suction. And leg straps). We were all impressed.
The Apollo/Saturn 5 Center is also AWESOME. The films are humbling and actually quite emotional, plus you get to sit in a galleried area and watch as an entire countdown to launch is re-enacted in an actual mission control centre. We also got to visit the huge launch area complete with the biggest single storey building in the world, a hangar so huge that looking at the ceiling nearly makes you fall over backwards. Our gorgeous guide, the incredibly knowledgeable Andrea Farmer, PR for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex let us into a secret too: Atlantis is going to be permanently exhibited at Kennedy, the planned date being summer 2013. I’m SO going back. Check out kennedyspacecenter.com or follow them on Twitter @ExplorespaceKSC.
Our home for the night was the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel, my favourite, I think, of all our Florida accommodation. The rooms were beautiful, and the actual hotel (well, hotels, there’s Swan and there’s obviously Dolphin) feels slick and classy, but is child-friendly too. Quite a feat. There are bars and restaurants galore, a white sandy beach, stunning waterfalls and lush gardens. In the evening, we wandered along Disney’s Boardwalk (one of my favourite places) to Kouzzina by Cat Cora, a frankly fabulous Greek restaurant. The food was ridiculously good: we started with amazing dips: tzatziki, a spicy aubergine dip, taramasalata and hitipiti (red pepper and feta) served with delicious warm breads, followed by gorgeous melty Kasseri, a sheep’s milk cheese flamed so it’s lusciously gooey, served with toasted ciabatta. Our mains were a tasting trio of braised short rib with feta mashed potato, lamb slider and a fisherman’s stew, and we finished off with an oozy chocolate centred budino cake, baklava and outstanding sorbets. The wines were stunning too, and we staggered out just in time to watch the fireworks over the water before waddling back to the Swan, replete.
I travelled to Florida with Visit Florida and Virgin Holidays. If you’d like to recreate my trip, here’s some information about a very similar seven nights in Orlando from £949
Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick or Manchester direct to Orlando, two nights accommodation at the 5V Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, two nights accommodation at the 3V+ Sunset Vista Beachfront Suites, two nights at the 5V Longboat Key Club & Resort and one night at the 5V Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotel, all on a room only basis with car hire included starts from £949. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room, price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Prices are based on departures 12 – 14 Nov 2012.
Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick Airport or Manchester Airport; Adults £20, Kids £12
Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected
To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0844 557 3859 or visit one of their 90 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide
So I can’t quite believe it, but this is my last post on my wonderful trip to Tenerife. I’ve saved the best until last for you, though, our wonderful opportunity to celebrate with the locals at the fabulous Baile de Magos in Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz is Tenerife’s capital and wowzers do they take their festivals seriously. During the May festivities the streets are decorated with flowered crosses and in the evening, everyone dresses up in traditional costume and takes to the streets to celebrate.
We joined in the fun, dressing up as ‘Magos’ (here we are looking slightly embarrassed):
… and here are the boys, dressed as ‘farmers’:
Heading out onto the streets, we were somewhat overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of people out celebrating. Families set up tables heaving with food and everyone presses glasses of wine and plates of food upon you as you wander the streets. The atmosphere is incredible – there is laughter, singing and shouting and there are impromptu bands and dances everywhere you look. There are literally THOUSANDS of people:
By 2am we’d lost each other in the crowd and I wandered around enjoying the fun (and sampling all sorts of delicious goodies and wine!)…
…feeling completely secure (and somewhat tiddly), chatting to friendly strangers (who were more than a little amused that a random English woman had joined them, dressed in full costume) even, I seem to recall, joining a family barbecue at one stage… until I finally managed to fight my way through the throng to a policeman who pointed me in the direction of a taxi rank. What an amazing evening.
The next day was May 3rd, the Day of the Cross and time for the traditional rivalry between the ‘farmers’ vs the ‘rich families’ in a firework battle that dates back to 1770.
The evening starts with the Procession of the Cross where locals carry the cross from the local church through the local streets. It’s an incredibly moving sight – the sheer noise of all the drummers and the brass band, plus the amount of people thronging the street. I loved every minute:
Again, we were welcomed by the locals and we ended up standing with a family, drinking their rather delicious wine on their rooftop as the ‘battle’ commenced. I assure you I’ve never seen anything like it: 45 minutes of possibly the most incredible fireworks I’ve ever seen. My ears rang for hours afterwards!
Finally, it was time to go home to the beautiful Hotel Botanico (one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in) for a last drink with the group before we headed to our stunning (but hardly used!) bedrooms. Here’s mine:
The next day, I had a flying visit to the oriental-themed spa for a quick swim in the pool and to watch the beautiful koi carp in the little waterways that surround it (again, utterly gorgeous)…
…before catching my taxi back to the south airport. What an incredible experience. Massive thanks to Visit Tenerife for arranging our trip. I’ll be back to see you very soon 🙂
So last weekend, we were lucky enough to be offered a hotel room in London for Cybermummy weekend. The hubby and I, after several long months apart, decided to have a quiet night on the first night, and headed to our hotel, the Thistle in Kensington Gardens, early on the Friday afternoon.
First impressions, I have to say, were slightly disappointing. The hotel is on Bayswater Road (an easy walk from Queensway Tube on the central line) and as soon as you glimpse the sign, all you see is a big petrol station. Happily, turning down the side street to the actual entrance, it just got better and better.
First off, it’s had a huge refurbishment, in the process elevating this fab little gem from a 3* to a 4*. The lovely Customer Relations Manager met us at the (sparkly) lifts and told us all about it. He also told us that we’d been upgraded to a suite. RESULT!
Those sparkly lifts caused quite a lot of hilarity. Firstly, they were teeny. On the sign it said you could fit 8 people, but honestly – we got stuck in there with a couple of sweaty German people and it was not pleasant. I should imagine 8 people in there would be akin to one of those Guinness record breaking ‘squeezing people into a Mini Cooper’ attempts. The other problem was that we were singularly useless at putting our room key in the slot and then pressing the button. Happily, the Concierge seemed to be well used to people going down instead of up and arriving in his lobby. He swiftly sorted out our card problems and send us soaring to the 7th floor.
Our suite was amazing, with a lovely lounge area complete with trendy grey wool sofas…
…a sparkly new bathroom:
and a bed as big as a bouncy castle (happily, as later, when the husband was all ‘tired and emotional’ after our two bottles of wine and conked out in an ungainly starfish position – I still had tons of room across the other side).
The views over Hyde Park were stunning (they even left us a little pair of binoculars so we could check out the Albert Hall and the Gherkin):
and as it was such a lovely evening, we headed out for a gorgeous walk – you’d never even know you were in the middle of London!
Obviously wishing to test the place as thoroughly as possible for you, my loyal reader, we then decided to check out the bar:
We weren’t disappointed. Our lovely waitress was not only chatty and friendly, she kept us topped up with gin and peanuts and told us a couple of nice places to try for drinks and dinner, all within easy walking distance of the hotel. Mind you, the menu looked so nice that we almost didn’t bother going out at all.
A short stroll took us to bustling Bayswater and a plethora of pubs, restaurants and bars. A packed Italian restaurant caught our eye and we feasted on beautifully tender salt and pepper squid, a lush rocket, tomato and avocado salad, and then huge prawns in a spicy tomato sauce and crispy fritto misto. Then came the two bottles of wine, the stagger home and the inevitable collapse.
The absolute selling point of the Thistle, Kensington Gardens, forgetting for a moment the beautiful decor and the great location, is the staff: from the amazingly helpful Concierge who helped me find a route home dodging around central line closures on the Sunday morning, not forgetting the polite and friendly breakfast staff who rushed to make me an omelette then checked twice to make sure I was enjoying it, to the lovely receptionists and the housekeeping staff who brought chocolates and wished us sweet dreams.
What a fabulous, fabulous place. We’ll definitely be back!
Thistle Kensington Gardens
104 Bayswater Road
London W2 3HL
Phone: 0871 376 9024 / +44 845 305 8324
Prices from £102 per room per night
From Tuesday 5th July, Thistle launches its national summer deal, offering guests an extra 30% off room-only stays with the option to add breakfast for only £10 extra. The offer runs across all Thistle’s 33 UK hotels. To book, and for more hotel package deals available, visit www.thistle.com/summer. Alternatively, call: 0871 971 1831
Thanks so much to Thistle Hotels for our fabulous break, and to everyone at Kensington Gardens for making us so welcome.
So Dubai, then. What springs to mind when you think of the place? For most of us I’d guess it’s that whole millionaire’s playground thing: fast cars, enormous luxury malls… oh and maybe you’d also worry about covering yourself up? Being arrested for kissing in the street?
Well that was more or less my view anyway. And I’m happy to admit that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I didn’t wear any of the stuff I’d packed to cover myself up, and the people are absolutely lovely – kind, respectful and courteous. And yes, you can hold hands (it’s pretty common for male friends to hold hands) and kiss your kids in the street, or your other half, with no problem at all. Real, full-on Public Displays of Affection (PDAs) would be considered pretty rude, but I don’t think many people anywhere would really want to pass people on the street full-on snogging would they? The Emirati are a peaceful, respectful bunch – they encourage tolerance (I was surprised to hear that every religion is encouraged here – you’ll find Hindu temples, Christian churches, everything you can think of) and we were welcomed inside the Jumeirah Mosque and encouraged to ask any questions we wanted (more of this later).
So what did we get up to? We had a packed schedule – we visited quite a few different hotels and apartments, all at different budgets – we went to a mosque, to an aquarium… an ice rink… on a desert jeep safari… an amazing variety. I really wanted to approach the trip with a view to bringing my family.
At the risk of boring the pants off you all, I thought I’d split this into sections. Here’s what I discovered:
We visited the whole gamut of accommodation, from self catering apartments to the amazing luxury of the Burj Al Arab (the one shaped like a sail).
Our hotel was at the Madinat Jumeirah – an enormous resort containing two hotels, villas, tons of restaurants, a souk and masses more. It’s all linked together by an amazing waterway system so you can get everywhere you like by just hailing an Abra (water taxi). We stayed in the Mina A’Salam – a beautiful boutique hotel with views over the Burj Al Arab.
Check out my room!
Here’s the view from my balcony:
There’s a great kids’ club there – with all-day facilities should you wish to leave your little ones. Their attention to safety is amazing – we counted three lifeguards around the baby pool alone:
They’re also in the process of building a climbing wall and a kids’ gym too.
This fabulous, wave-shaped hotel would be a great choice for anyone with school-aged kids, as the hotel is attached to the Wild Wadi water park and guests get free access (you can also access the water park from the Jumeirah Madinat by hailing one of the golf buggies that take people around the resorts). They’ve also got loads of amazing themed restaurants (wild west dining, anyone?) and the manager, Margaret Paul, was very keen to tell me that they’re not just a ‘chicken nuggets and chips’ kind of place (although of course you’ll find that on the menu too!).
This is the view from one of the rooms at the Jumeirah Beach overlooking the Wild Wadi water park – how cool is that?!
If you fancy going self-catering, a great affordable (but still luxe) option is to head to the Oasis Beach Tower (right next to Frankie’s – Marco Pierre White and Frankie Dettori’s joint venture restaurant) in the Jumeirah Beach area, very close to the lovely Dubai Marina area:
The apartments are huge, with two, three, or even four big bedrooms (each with a bathroom), a really well appointed kitchen (you can have a chef come in and cook for you if you’re feeling lazy – or of course there’s the miriad restaurants in the marina area):
We ate in the Thyme Mediterranean restaurant in the tower, and I have to say it was one of my favourite meals – a lovely mezze starter with tons of lovely Arabian bread to dip in was followed by a huge slab of beef from the carvery:
We all loved the creamy cabbage accompaniment so much that we had to ask the chef for the recipe, and the roasted herby pumpkin was just delicious. Finished off with a gooey chocolate fondant, we waddled out of the place replete and delighted. I’d go back tomorrow.
Of course if you want luxe luxe, then look no further than the beautiful, spectacular, amazing Burj Al Arab. Designed to look like the sail of a dow, it is luxe on such a major scale that some journalists have declared it 7 star (although they’re far too polite to actually say that themselves). We felt like such interlopers looking around – it was amazing. Each suite is a duplex, with living accommodation on one floor:
…and then your own stairs up to the bedrooms above:
This is the master suite:
and for the kids…
Check out the bathroom:
And oh, the food… these were only nibbles:
Nothing is too much trouble and the service is bloody amazing.
I won’t bore you with all my photos, but if you do fancy having a look, they’re on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/englishmumdotcom
Do also check out my ‘ten amazing family activities in Dubai’ over at havealovelytime.com.
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