COMING TO LONDON? How expensive is London?

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You might be thinking of moving to London this year. I've got some news for you, it comes at a premium. I wanted to share with you some of the outgoings I have and ways you guys can save some money. 

Cost of Fish and Chips 

Yes this is the most pressing thing. Now I'm a man of the people, I know a pint of Soya milk is £1.60 from the local co-op. However, dependent on where you go in London the cost of a bag of fish and chips will fluctuate. 

Here in London you should expect to pay double for the price of fish and chips than you would anywhere else in the UK. Undoubtedly the best place to get Fish and Chips is in any of the Ivy restaurants in London, priced at £14.75. 

According to the latest article on the average price for Fish and Chips in London the average cost of a regular cod in London is £7.60. 

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Gym 

As you know I go to KOBOX, and would absolutely recommend that if you're looking to join a gym in London you subscribe to KOBOX to improve your network, your fitness and also your self defense skills. A single class is £20 but you can buy them in bulk for a bargain discount. 

A regular subscription at Virgin Active will cost you north of £85 a month. But with that you can go to regular spin classes, yoga classes and Pilates. 

Cinema 

The infamous ODEON of Leicester Square where most of the London premieres are held will cost you from £10 a ticket. If you want to catch an afternoon showing of Bohemian Rhapsody for example that will cost you £13.25. 

It's been ridiculed in the press recently as some prices can go up to £40. But then again, the IMAX over the road will charge similar amounts. 

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How much for a pint of ale in London? 

It will vary of course, but let me tell you something. We make some of the best ale in the world. Our craft beer in this country is second to none and if you really want to treat yourself and safe some money then invest in a Craft beer subscription box like DiscoverBrew

Surrey is now the most expensive part of the world to buy a pint and the average pint in London costs £4.08, according to the Good Pub Guide

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How much for a Savile Row Suit? 

Well check you out! Flying into London for the weekend, may as well pick up a Savile Row suit whilst you're here eh? Like your style, pun intended. 

According to Beam Fashion, Prices for a bespoke suit start at nearly £5,000 and can go up £10,000 for very exclusive materials. (Silk, Mohair, or a 150 Merino wool). 

The ready-to-wear suits are available starting from £2,200, (although Chester Barrie will have discounted 2-piece ready to wear for half that). 

Don't forget you'll need some shirts, and whilst a trip to Jermyn Street where you'll find Turnbull & Asser, Emma Willis and New & Lingwood will be a box-ticked, you might need something more accessible (price wise at least). 

You can get a Hawkins & Shepherd shirt for as little as £54 if you sign up to a shirt subscription service today. 

 

TRAVEL BAG: The tech gear I take on holiday

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Whilst  I'm out here in Bali (currently in Ubud) and have a bit of downtime, I'm wanting to give you a quick update on some of the tools I've brought with me.

I don't claim to be the most proficient travel bloggers, there are people out there that do it for a living. However, I'm looking to escape London more this year, and already I've got some tools and tips to share with you.

BEFORE YOU TRAVEL ANYWHERE! 

Get a Visa. I know it sounds obvious but some countries have only just introduced this. An example would be my friend Pete Brooker from Human Research who went to Oman and only checked the night before the flight that he needed a visa. He had to pay double to fast track it, so double check ahead of time! Even Visa on arrival can have prerequisites, such as for Indonesia you have to show a pre-booked return flight out of the country with the 30 day Visa on arrival limit - you’ll also need to show this at check-in otherwise you’ll not be allowed to fly.

THE CAMERA 

I’m obsessed with my SONY A7S2 camera, which I take with me everywhere. The video is full-frame 100 frames per second in 4k and the stills are amazing using ZEISS lenses. If you want a tutorial in setting up your SONY a7sii, I have written one here. I also use a Canon G7X (mainly for vlogging) and you can pick these up now for under £500 on Amazon. They record in 4k and are light and compact, perfect for traveling.  It has a flip round screen so you can document yourself if that's your style.

THE GIMBAL

I'm now getting into using a Gimbal, the Zhiyun Smooth 4 is an awesome bit of kit that can be snapped up for just under £120. It's nimble light, easy to use and just takes those vlogs to the next level. The only pain is that it's Chinese and there are no English instructions, but I picked up everything as I went and there are plenty of online tutorials.

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THE ZOOM H1 

I always pack the little handy Zoom H1 recorder when I travel, it's a great way to keep notes on where you're going, how much things cost, etc. All these details will become priceless when you get home and you want to type up your blog.

I also like to just chat into the Dictaphone and describe the scenery, externalise and basically ramble my thoughts. This is also a useful tool if you want to conduct interviews. Other accessories you'll need for a decent close up sound will be a RØDE Lapel Mic and the RØDE SC3 iPhone Accessory. 

UNIVERSAL CHARGER & HARD DRIVE

It's nutty that these things make the essential lists but you don't want to be found out. Needing to charge your farm whilst on the go is key so be prepared. I use a Dynamode external hard drive that I've had for years. (Dropped and bandaged up plenty of times but still going).

More current ones can be found cheaply. Toshiba do External hard drives up  to 500GB now for £50. Remember video files are much larger than jpg's and you don't want to run out of space.

Of course a universal charger you can find at the airport. 

 

EAST LONDON v WEST LONDON | The pros and cons of living in both

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If you're thinking of visiting or moving to London anytime soon no doubt you'll be checking house prices in the different boroughs of London, which places in London has the lowest crime rates, what parts of London have the best schools etc. 

In this article I'm going to pit East London v West London and add to it over time with recommendations for restaurants, theatres, places to watch the footie etc. I'll invite you all to do the same in the comment bar below. 


WEST LONDON 

Pros of living in West London 

West London is generally conceived as the safest part of London, with Richmond on Thames topping the list with the lowest crime rates. In particular Chiswick is a little slice of heaven, to both work and live. 

The Chiswick Business park in particular is adorned with mini lakes, waterfalls, brimming with outdoor activities, very modern and 'Singaporian' in design. 

Cons of living in West London 

You are slightly removed from the rest of London. The District line is the main service and if that capitulates then your daily commute into the centre of London can be a case of trains, planes and automobiles.

Hopefully with the advent of the HS2 or Crossrail there will be greater social mobility in 2020. 

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EAST LONDON

Pros of living in East London

Really does live up to its traits and stereotypes of being the place where the cool kids hang out. The artists have long since migrated further east to places like Hackney since the gentrification of places like Shoreditch. Ironically the artists made the place what is, then could no longer afford to live there due to inflated house prices. 

That said there is still great places to shop for clothes, Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market have great vintage and pre-loved collections. Beyond Retro is tucked away on the outskirts of Bethnal Green, All Saints sits at the top of Brick Lane and there are an abundance of leather ateliers to choose from. 

You have the Olympic Park also which is an awesome location for a first date, or a trip to the O2 for when the big acts come to town. 

Cons of living in East London 

It has its unsavoury areas. Without wanting to sound elitist you only have to stretch out beyond Brick Lane, past Boxpark, and 10 minutes towards Bethnal Green tube you've reached the arm pit of East London. 

You do have great locations like Columbia Flower Market, but even that is a zoo nowadays. The disparate elements that gave East London its uniqueness, have sadly compounded its downfall by becoming too touristy, over populated and not an overly enjoyable place to visit. 

 

Mercure Cardiff Holland House Hotel and Spa | Hotel Review

Today I'm going to regale some thoughts on a recent trip to Cardiff and my stay at the Mercure Cardiff Holland House Hotel and Spa. I visited Mercure Cardiff Holland House Hotel as part of the Local Stories campaign, to explore how the hotel is inspired by all things Cardiff.

It's situated in the heart of Cardiff, a breezy 15 minute walk from Cardiff Central railway. The city itself is renowned for its love affair with sport. Us Englanders should be indebted for allowing Cardiff to host our beloved FA Cup at the Principality Stadium, formerly The Millennium Stadium whilst Wembley was getting redeveloped. 

It's a city that embraces sports fans from all around the world. I was at the game on Saturday and saw first-hand their unbridled enthusiasm for the nation’s number one sport; Rugby, with a 20-11 trouncing over South Africa. A ninth consecutive win for the Welsh who look like serious contenders for the upcoming 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel. By now my readers will know what I appreciate more than anything else in hired accommodation, decent WiFi. I'm pleased to announce the Mercure Cardiff Holland House Hotel and Spa has Fibre Optic WiFi internet access. 

I hope you enjoyed this review, feel free to leave some comments in the section below. 

Only kidding. 

I was deeply enraptured by the kind hospitality and the facilities of the hotel. At every stage and every moment of my visit I felt like the staff were willing to go that extra mile to ensure my stay here was a pleasant one.

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Although it was the weekend, I wasn't taking any days off from training. (That Bali bikini body won't sculpt itself). I struck up a great rapport with Scott the personal trainer who gave me some great tips on deadlifting, whilst Cerys gave me the best back massage. I'm not sure why I was so bewildered by the superior quality of the spa facilities, I joked with Cerys the masseuse that I'd seen worse facilities in a dedicated spa. 

Breakfast was 'buffet style' with continental cheeses and Starbucks coffee served at the bar. The bar was a very plush, dual concave semi-circular structure with green and grey fleck marble brick. Finished with a black trim counter top and scrutinised by multiple metallic hanging lampshade shaped like huge chess pawns.

The meetings areas surrounding the bar can accommodate you and your friends should you wish to watch any of the sports games. There are loads of TV's you won't struggle for a spot.

The bartender Luke displayed great flair and had an encyclopaedic knowledge for cocktails. My only gripe would be the lack of Craft Ale which I've had a renewed love affair thanks to my introduction to DiscoverBrew subscription service

It's difficult to characterise this hotel as strictly one of anything. It ticks so many boxes. Perfect for the quiet professional flying in from out of town. (30 minute bus ride from Cardiff airport) also caters for the social element thanks to its vastness, ergonomic seating areas. 

My biggest takeaways from the Mercure Cardiff Holland House Hotel and Spa was the quality of service throughout, I had a great night’s sleep (super quiet) and the city in general is just a wonderful orbit to be in for sports fans from all backgrounds. 

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The Best Laurent-Perrier Champagne & Food Pairings

For those asking if my recent jaunt to Reims was as good as it looking in my Instagram pictures, it was. 

You probably guessed that I was there on behalf of Laurent-Perrier to celebrate 50 years of the esteemed Cuvée Rosé. A champagne with an illustrious history. Perfected in each stage of its making, remarked for its consistency and its high quality. 

The city Reims can be found in north-eastern France's Grand Est region. If you're heading there by train from Paris take the train from Gare de l'Est. 

This vast campestral Champagne wine-growing region is truly the most heralded. Laurent-Perrier holds its Headquarters and Vineyards there. For the most discernible of wanderlust Vloggers the vineyards and wine cellars of Laurent-Perrier are incontestable. We (motley crew of well-heeled bloggers) sauntered up and down the vineyards doing impromptu boy v girl catwalks, before being escorted off down a long cobbled tunnel on a tour of the cellars. 

Allow me to give you some of the findings of my tastings. 

Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé

It's what we all came to see. The headline act. You don't have to take my word for it that the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé is truly a Champagne made with elegant design. It's been lauded by many wine connoisseurs and sommeliers across the globe as the apex of Rose Champagne. 

Made from 100% grape, the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé delivers a cocktail of red ripe fruit aromas, high intensity with an astounding aromatic depth. It's an extremely supple and well-rounded wine. Your palette will be awash with black cherries and red currants. 

Best paired with? 

The food on the tour was sublime. The Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé is best teamed with marinated raw fish, grilled prawns, or Parma ham. 


Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut

Sounds like a planet eating Transformer. Seriously, it's known collectively in the upper echelons of champagne aficionados as 'the great wine without sugar'. It too has an esteemed history, launched in 1981. 

The Ultra Brut is a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend which is delicate, with a surprising length. You'll get an instant plume of citrus and white fruit notes, which quickly diffused before the honeysuckle arrives and steals the show. 

Best paired with? 

If you're serving this at home, why not prepare a seafood dish. The citrus notes are enlivened white fish ceviche and feel free to flirt with other sushi dishes, you can't really go wrong. 


Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle 

Sounds like something Elsa shouldn’t have crossed in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Grand Siecle is created from 3 exceptional years, blended for a following 8 years before it can be enjoyed. An esoteric, almost other-worldly unique expression borne from a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend.

This champagne is ameliorated by the clever injection of grilled almonds, a subtle layer of honey, a dalliance of fresh pastry which combined, provide a perfect balance between strength and delicacy.  

Best paired with? 

You really can't put this with your bangers and mash. A Champagne that boasts this level of personality, has to be served with refined dishes such as surf and turf. Of the posh kind. 

That's it from me on this one. Happy birthday Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé, hope to see you around for my 50th.

SHOP THESE INCREDIBLE CHAMPAGNES

THE PERFECT GIFT

Live Like a Rock Star at the Hard Rock Hotel in London

Ahead of its 2019 launch, Hard Rock Hotel London revealed a first look at its Rock Royalty level; offering exclusive rooms and suites, alongside luxurious perks that allow guests to live like a true VIP. Situated on the corner of Oxford Street and Park Lane, Hard Rock Hotel London tip the hat of recognition to former residents such as Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross, Bobby Davro*, Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly.

Every bedroom is carefully appointed with an awe-inspiring memorabilia collection and original artwork. 

Hard Rock Hotel London promises to be the city’s next iconic live music hot spot, the Rock Royalty programme offers an elevated experience so guests can live out their rock star dreams.

That's right, you think you're hot stuff snowflake? You flew in first class, you had your tailor meet you at the airport, you can get your PA to buy your kids souvenirs, but you still have to queue ten man-deep at the bar in KOKO like every other Joe Schmoe.

Well now you can get escorted around London like Rod Stewart back when he was relevant. The package is truly pioneering; from door to door luxury airport transfers and exclusive access to local music events to bespoke amenities tailored to each guests’ Ultimate Room Rider. 

Tell us more about the Ultimate Room Rider Carl? 

You can take advantage of Hard Rock Hotel London’s Ultimate Room Rider, request that the concierge has pointed the toilet paper and rid the entire condiments tray of De-caff coffee. (Please hotels, we don't need de-caff, ever. Certainly not an even split of de-caff sachets to regular coffee).

On a serious note, the Ultimate Rider package adds personalised touches to each Rock Royalty room including a choice of pillows, in-room scents and bath bombs. 

Oliver Kahf, General Manager of Hard Rock Hotel London, said: “While we will treat every guest at Hard Rock Hotel London like a VIP, our Rock Royalty programme offers an extra special experience. We want every guest to know how it feels to be treated like a Rock Star."

The 103 Rock Royalty rooms and 14 suites are all located on the third floor of the hotel and have been custom designed for luxury and comfort.

Decorated in post box red (much sexier than London Bus red or Sephora laptop case-kiss red)  and royal blue, each room oozes luxury with a hand-crafted Hypnos® bed, flat screen digital TV, minibar and a nightly turndown service.

Guests can also expect to find their personal choice of spirits, soft drinks and sweet treats waiting in the mini bar and their favourite music track playing in their room on entry. (What's yours? Mine - Freddie’s Dead by Curtis Mayfield, every time).

Rock Royalty Suites come with complimentary shoeshine and pressing services to ensure every guest is stage ready. Rooms will also have a coffee table book showcasing the history and stories of the hotel’s most famous - and infamous - guests.

*Joking about Bobby Davro, just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. 

La Mamounia in Marrakech, Morocco | Hotel Review

La Mamounia embodies the Moroccan refinement; an oriental atmosphere made of noble materials worked with ancestral know-how, games of perspectives and lights, harmony between the plant and the mineral. I was tempted to take a complete hiatus from social media the other week whilst out in Morocco. But with an oasis like this, it's hard to holster the smart phone. You feel naturally compelled to document the splendour of La Mamounia in its entirety. 

Although founded as late back as 12th century,  it wasn't until the 18th century that Prince Al Mamoun gave his name to the hotel after receiving the gardens as a wedding present from his father.

Fast track to 1923 and the hotel La Mamounia opens its doors, a subtle blend of Arab-Andalusian architecture and the Art Deco atmosphere. 

A retinue of my well-heeled heroes have graced these ornate marble with fleck floors. (All of the rooms are marble floors and have local artwork and mosaic tiles).

What the hotel likes to call "An anthology of Great Men" (yet fail to realise that two of the ones cited are women, tut-tut). 

Nevertheless knowing that some of the style greats, such as Yves Saint Laurent and Marlene Dietrich have found solace here makes me feel like I'm part of a rich eclectic history. Of course they have a Churchill bar named after the nodding dog from the insurance adverts. (Only joking, just wanted to make sure you were paying attention). 

La Mamounia is in the heart of the city. It is walking distance from the souks, the medina and Jemaa El Fina square, not to mention countless bars and restaurants.

When you enter the hotel you'll do well not to appreciate the surrealism of the 12th century wall and dazzled by the play of light - between inside and outside - by the colour contrasts - zelliges between Majorelle blue, green and orange. 

Side note - I keep telling people it's the little things in life that make a difference. For example given an authentic leather key card for your room and for unimpeded access to the luxury mosaic tiled spa and swimming pools. 

 

My takeaways of La Mamounia

The astonishing attention to detail and rich proud history reverberates around this cavernous palace. It embodies it's heritage, it doesn't disappoint with its reputation for supreme levels of service. 

You can lose yourself here. There are 8 hectares brimming with over 1200 plant species! The idyllic snow-capped mountains of the Atlas provide an indefatigable backdrop whilst the medieval ramparts for protection and lush gardens for cocoon, the "Moroccan House" is steeped in culture, traditions, scents.

You are invited to share a dinner in the hotel with the choices of Moroccan, French or Italian cuisine. Each can be served on the terrace should you wish. 

And in the mornings you can have breakfast at the pool pavilion, no black pudding or HP sauce but instead a superb buffet to savour at the water's edge. 

The Spa is an inevitable indulgence with which one must lose themselves. If you're taking your girlfriend or 'willing accomplice' then this is where you earn your brownie points. 

This is a space dedicated to the well-being, between massages, body care, hairdresser not to mention the legendary indoor pool, to totally decompress in water at 28 ° C. I recommend the Hammam treatment followed by a massage.

That’s it from me. This hotel provided me with what Lance Richardson might class as “A rare starburst of unadulterated joy”.  This being my second review of hotels and resorts in Marrakech, be sure to email me if you need any help or advice on visiting the area.

 

WHERE IS LA MAMOUNIA?

 

INSTAGRAMMABLE?

A Quick History of Menabrea | Italy’s Iconic Brewery

What an incredible place Milan is. It has a unique energy, steeped in history, the architecture is beguiling and importantly, the beer is sensational. Last week I was introduced to the wonderment that is Menabrea beer, with a guided tour of Italy’s iconic Menabrea Brewery with Menabrea’s master brewer and 5th generation of the Thedy brewing family, Franco Thedy, as my personal guide.

In 1846, Giuseppe Menabrea travelled to the town of Biella in the foothills of the Italian Alps. There he discovered an underground cave system, ideal for the traditional process of 'lagering'.

The combined elements of pure water and cold fresh air of the region made conditions conducive to build a brewery.

Fresh off the plane, a lunchtime arrival in Milan and I was quickly chaperoned through the provenance of authentic Italy, stepping off the beaten track to explore the historic town of Biella. There, residing in the foothills of the Alps – the birthplace of Italy’s premium Birra, the Menabrea brewery. 

When you visit Biella, you'll still find Menabrea brewing their award-winning beer on the same site, made in the same way, by the same family, with the same ingredients, passion and care.

Biella is a northern Italian town situated midway between the two historic cities of Milan and Turin; it’s nestled in the Bo mountain range in the foothills of the Alps – an area rich in springs and lakes.

The brewery has that inimitable Italian beauty, an eclectic blend of historic brickwork, vaulted ceilings, now modernised with sophisticated production lines carefully manicured by the dedicated staff that oversee operations. 

Both varieties of Menabrea (Blonde and amber) are matured gently in the perfect temperature of the brewery’s cave cellars for a taste of superior clarity, made with alpine water, and distributed around the world.

The blonde (Bionda) is my go-to beer, a sumptuous blend of citrus, bitter tones and floral, fruity undertones giving a consistent and refined flavour. It has a complex malty, hoppy taste with exceptional head retention due to the quality of the ingredients and maturation process.

The Amber beer (Ambratta) is served at a  A 5.0% ABV amber beer, full bodied and well rounded, with a moderately bitter flavour. Amber in colour with bronze undertones, this lager is another example of the brewery's exceptional capabilities.

Whilst in the UK we serve scampi fries and pepperoni's to caveat the blandness of our beers, in Italy there is no need for such apology.

In classic establishments, serving a Menebrea is usually accompanied with an aperitivo - traditionally a bowl of olives or nuts as something to whet the appetite so you can sit back and savour la birra perfetta. We also had a chance to attach some ‘Sbirro’ to the tasting, a Menabrea-infused cheese fresh from the cheese factory situated next door. 

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Milan is the metropolis of northern Italy, the global capital of fashion and design, and a hub for first class arts, culture and hospitality in Europe.

Biella is a nippy one hour drive from Milan and well worth the detour should you be looking to escape the city for a day or so. You can enjoy lunch al fresco at Menabrea Brewery Restaurant before taking a tour of the brewery and cheese factory.

Milan of course is dripping with fantastic bars and restaurants that I was lucky enough to frequent during my brief stay. The famous Duomo di Milano, Galleria et Emmanuelle (don't forget to twist your heel in the mosaic Bulls' testes 3 times for good luck) not to mention the Italian nightlife culture along the famous Ripa di Porta canal.

 

Lastly, I know I get a lot of comments from people saying how they're super jealous of me travelling here there and everywhere. Well soon you'll also be able to enjoy a pint in northern Italy’s beautiful town of Biella, exploring Menabrea’s historic brewery. 

That's right I'm talking about my new teleport machine that I've toiling away with for the past couple of months. You've all seen The Fly? Imagine that, without the wires. And the carnage. 

Of course I jest, but a visit to the Menabrea brewery is made possible through virtual reality technology. Menabrea will be touring restaurants and premium bars across the UK with the VR experience - offering a 360degree tour of Italy’s oldest brewery. 

The VR tour can be experienced later this year in selected bars in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. More details will be available at Menabrea UK on Facebook.

Es Saadi Marrakech Resort | Hotel Review

The other week I took a mini trip over to Es Saadi, a luxury 5 star hotel and resort that boasts eight hectares of gardens in the heart of Marrakech. The resort sits in a lavish private park where you'll be invited to unburden your city woes to the singing birds that thrive amongst the palm trees, banana trees, olive trees, bougainvillea and small roses of Marrakesh.

The resort reflects a rich cultural heritage, and since 1952 has housed some of icons of mine and bygone eras; the couturier Balmain, Josephine Baker, the Rolling Stones and Leonardo DiCaprio have all frequented. 

Footnote - I did enjoy the caption on the companies website;

As you enter the hotel grounds, you have to imagine Mick Jagger, who is young, posing by the pool, .. (let's not think of a 75 year old wrinkly Mick Jagger clutching onto an 18 year old cocktail waitress shall we?). 

Here, the walls and furniture have kept the legendary Es Saadi intact, with 50's lines that delight connoisseurs. Examples of Moroccan art can be seen on every wall and corridor. It's emblematic of the young artists in the country that provide a great source of optimism and energy to the decor. 

On the quest for 'best son 2018' I took my Mum who conveniently seconded as my camera-woman for the trip. Mum is a dab hand in the kitchen so luckily the boys in the kitchen at the Moroccan restaurant Coeur des Lions and at the Gastronomic French restaurant did not disappoint. A great breadth of wines and cocktails are on hand at the Palace. 

The Spa with the indoor pool is a bloggers dream and I certainly dipped my bread, getting enough 'throwback' pictures to last me through a nuclear winter. 

The Es Saadi is conveniently located, a short ten minute ride by taxi and the old town is about 25 minutes on foot. I can recommend. It's a little slice of heaven if one wants an option to stay out of Medina and very reasonably priced too.

 

HOTEL ES SAADI MARRAKECH LOCATION

Your Bitesize Guide to Cambodia

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The Golden Temple Residence in Cambodia is one of the most enchanting hotels you could wish to visit. Located in the heart of Siem Reap, this modern hotel offers free airport shuttle services, and is only 4 miles away from the famous Angkor Wat – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Angkor Night Market is 100 yards away and whilst the hawker food market is an enjoyable experience, I'd steer clear of eating any of the street food. (Safe to say it did my constitution a disservice). 

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The hotel has this free architecture design, where nature and architecture are combined. This is achieved by an open restaurant that overlooks the pool and performance stage where daily Apsara entertainment shows can also be enjoyed. 

Remarkably the food is very cheap but it's the quality of the service that really distinguishes this hotel from its contemporaries. Getting a lift back to the airport in the owner’s vintage Cadillac was a real treat. 

 

Where to eat in Siem Reap? 

Well thanks to getting knocked out for a day or two by some dodgy street food, I was unable to dip into the local cuisine. By the time my stomach had climatised I just made do with the hotel food.

Although to say 'made do' is something of an understatement. There is a delectable spread of authentic Khmer-style meals and popular Western delights can be enjoyed at the on-site restaurant.

On the last night I summoned the strength to eat out and we ventured down Pub Street. Yep, that's a real name and a real place. It's like a gentrified version of Ha Noi, decent enough to kill a couple of hours.

 

Things to do in Siem Riep

I would say you'll only need one day in Angkor Wat. You'll need to get there as early as possible to avoid the mania. That said, it's still out of control with Chinese tourists. Everyone will head to the Ta Prohm Temple featured in Tomb Raider, which is understandable as it is spectacular. 

The foot massages are fun and relaxing. You'll get endlessly heckled into having one so you may as well. Take a book to read or something because you won't be stimulated with conversation. 

Food tour. Ok I am going to recommend this because it was utterly bananas. I watched our guide eat a whole manner of creepy crawlies. It was like something out of Temple of Doom. However, I will caveat that by saying I felt demonstrably ill the next day. It could have been the scorpions, the ants, the tarantulas (yes they eat them out there) who knows. 

For this tour we used Urban Adventures and a gentleman called Kim showed us round. He had a great sense of humour and I enjoyed his company immensely. 

There is the Reclining Buddha in at the top of Phnom Kulen. However, this was on the day where I was becoming dependent on nearby facilities so I let the group go on without me. 

I got 'ok-ish' reviews from the group on their return, but we had seen a lot of Buddha’s already in Bangkok by this point. 

The waterfall in Phnom Kulen was the only highlight of the tour for me that day, most of it was spent in the van convalescing. 

 

Last crucial tip about traveling to Cambodia

We got stiffed at the airport for not having any US dollars. We had to pay some odd VISA fine that really took the jam out of my doughnut. The airport is a zoo, not Cuba-zoo standards (that really is where travel bloggers go to die) but a soul destroying experience. 

 

Top 10 Film Locations You Can Visit in London

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One of the great things about living in London is the infinite amount of things you can see or do. I'm going to jump straight into this one and give you a tour of the top ten film locations you can visit in London.

 

Robin Hood and the Prince of Thieves St Barts Church

It posed for the Cathedral of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as well having featured in many films, Transformers, The Avengers, Four Weddings and a Funeral (final wedding) and Sherlock Holmes. 

It's five pound entrance fee and open week days, though best check their website for times as they are closed through during the week through the winter months. 

 

Skyfall

Ok this isn't an exotic location but it's right on the doorstep of St Barts Church and you can't miss it. As Tanner takes Bond to their 'new digs' he escorted down a winding road that leads down into leads the Smithfield Car Park in West Smithfield alongside the famous Smithfield Meat Market.

There are a couple of pubs dotted around the winding road you should have no problem finding one that will serve food. 

 

Batman's Police Station

Just up the road is The Farmiloe building that provided the interiors for Gotham City's Police Station in all the Christopher Nolan's Batman films. It's become a vacant event space, almost typecast as the abandoned warehouse where sh*t goes down. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Inception to name but a few. It's also provided the exteriors for Eastern Promises.

You can try calling the buildings representatives to see if they'll let you in for a nose round. The guy’s name is Matthew Mycock. What? I'm not laughing. Why are you laughing? 

 

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Harry Potter

From the Barbican head up two stops Kings Cross from the underground on either the Hammersmith & City, The Circle or the Metropolitan line.

The queues for this can be dreadful. That said, it's well organised. The Trolley is embedded into the wall by the Harry Potter shop. (They had to move in within the station as the real platform was getting over run with tourists). 

It's free to take pictures with your own phone or you can get a professional to take one that you can pay for in the shop. 

If you're looking to eat then Kimchee is just a two minute walk from the station. I recommend the Bibimbap, a mixed bowl of rice and sautéed vegetables topped with a fried egg and hot, stir-fried rice cakes, Bulgogi Ddukbokki. It gets busy so might need to book. 

 

James Bonds Flat!

You may as well right? Go see where James Bond lived in the Movie Spectre. That's where he orders Moneypenny to drop off the remnants of M's office. Which is ludicrous because she is walking with him, package in hand, and he tells her to drop it off at his place in the evening? 

If I were Moneypenny I would say 'Look Bond, I'm right here, with the box, why don't you take this from me now, save me schlepping across London to deliver it. We're not going to shag if that's what you're after. We haven't shagged in the 23 movies previous, we're not going to start now.' 

From Kings Cross jump on the Circle or the Hammersmith & City line. About 30 mins on the tube and you get off at Ladbroke Grove Station. From there it's a short walk to 1 Stanley Gardens, Notting Hill, W11. 

 

Whilst you're in Notting Hill

Yes, I think you've guessed it haven't you. Go to the Notting Hill Travel Book shop that was run by Hugh Grant in the movie Notting Hill. The only snag is there isn't a book shop there, the real book shop on which it was based closed down due to rising real estate, ironically boosted by the popularity of the film. According to the Movie Location blog

There is no ‘Travel Book Company’ on Portobello Road, the down-at-heel shop owned by William Thacker. The store was Nicholls Antique Arcade, then furniture store Gong, it’s now a gift shop/souvenir store, sensibly called – yes – Notting Hill142 Portobello Road (and rather cheekily replicating the film’s typeface). Somewhat misleadingly, the shop-owners have added an additional sign reading 'The Travel Book Shop'.

Next week we'll head over to West London. 

 

Anchored Cruise 2018 Reviewed | Impartial & Honest

Yesterday morning whilst researching holidays for 2019, I searched for 'Anchored Cruise' (which I've just been on) to look into booking it for 2019. It turns out according to my Instagram Story Poll that a lot of you want to also go in 2019, which compelled me to write this piece to tell you a true and honest representation of what to expect onboard. 

It was a whirlwind couple of days aboard the Anchored Cruise. 5 in total, taking me on an unforgettable journey around Barcelona, Cannes, Ibiza, Palma returning to Barcelona. They are currently taking bookings for the June voyage in 2019 so jump on this fast. 

 

What can I expect when I arrive? 

The check-in and check-out procedure is frictionless. The first checkpoint is a ticket check, your name will be cross-referenced against the ships manifest and any large luggage will be marked and taken from you at this point and loaded onto the ship. Expect to wait for around an hour for the luggage to arrive, but there's plenty to do in the meantime, have a much needed refreshment at the bar, do some exploring to get yourself accustomed to the ship or have a stroll along the desk. There was around a 6 hour period to check-in so the queues were minimum and certainly not the chaos that I got told there would be.

Once through you'll pass through to check-in, much like an airport, where you get your room key-card and handed over a credit-card for the purchases.

After that you have a designated boarding time, you'll then pass through a final level of security before being on board.

 

Is it a luxury cruise? 

The ship is rated 5* and the cabins were much more spacious than I expected and there are countless pool parties.

The price certainly doesn't scream luxury as it's very accessible. £400 drink and food package was a great bargain. Actually let me touch on this in further detail as it was remarkable value, it included buffet breakfast and lunch as well as a 3-course, waiter served dinner. All the food was of good quality and the service was impeccable. The drinks were branded and you could even get cocktails and drinks mixed with RedBull...I mean I hate RedBull but I understand it's expensive and to be included in a pre-paid drinks package was actually pleasing to see.

It also makes it very accessible for the younger generation who wouldn't normally be able to afford a holiday cruise. 

 

Is it just endless pool parties and DJ sets? 

This is a cruise designed to entertain, catered to a younger demographic. The music is vibrant and the mood is infectious. My favourite night was the White Party and the favourite day was the Champagne spray party. Felt like a Formula 1 driver that day. 

But it's not all mindless hedonism. In fact, the rules of the ship are dictated on arrival by the ship’s captain, no smoking in rooms, no climbing between balconies etc. Fairly perfunctory stuff and well adhered by the critical mass. 

If you do need a quiet retreat, I recommend the Casino bar which was a hidden gem. You can also sneak away into the movie theatre or if you're not convalescing from excessive indulgence, there is a 24hour gym onboard. (I did think about working out, honestly). 

 

What was the service like? 

There is a service fee of $13.50 per person, per day gratuity added to the bill at the end, which is tips etc for staff and a maritime customary/mandatory charge. It’s a great way of doing it because you felt at ease with tipping as it's covered at the end and the staff were phenomenal. 

I do appreciate efficient bar staff that look you in the eye when you wait at a busy bar and recognise that you're in his mental queue. They were bombarded with requests, but never lost their composure and I was more than happy to pay the gratuity. 

 

And the checkout? 

A day before checkout you were given a provisional bill, so you can check it over before leaving the next day. This saved so much time during checkout which was seamless. (You just walked off) and if everything was okay with your bill, the card that you checked-in with would just be charged. 

 

Final thoughts and would I go again? 

Absolutely, and my advice is to go for the best package available and make your life easier. The cruise can offer transport to the airport, there is unlimited on the top tier package which saves the constant topping up.

 

https://www.anchoredcruise.com/

https://www.instagram.com/anchoredcruise/

 

How to Pack for a Weekend Getaway or Short Break Away?

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Here we go folks, a couple of tips and hints on how to travel light for that weekend getaway. Whether it's by sea or by futuristic only for secret agent’s teleportation devices, in this article you'll learn how to pack, what to pack, and I'll even put a video tutorial to this article at the bottom of the page.

How much walking will you be doing on this trip?

You have to factor in whether you'll be doing a lot of walking, from the station to the hotel, through the airport etc. My tip - if I think I'm going to be covering some ground I'll need to take something with wheels on. If I'm not burning calories getting from place to place I'll probably opt for a weekender bag.

 

Ok got it, but should I be wearing on this trip? Can I get away with my tracksuit?

Don't be daft, I've taught you better than that. Dress smart and you might get upgraded. Sounds daft but we live in a materialistic world where you get judged on appearances all the time.

For suits I'd avoid linen if you're travelling. I like linen, but it's notorious for getting wrinkles. If I 'm traveling with a suit I'd like to go for something that doesn't wrinkle easily. Mohair is good for that, it has a good elasticity as a fabric it bounces back.

Yes, roll everything, dress shirt, key is to fold the arms in diagonally, cuff the bottom inside out 2-3 inches then roll. Elastic bands aren't always desirable as they can stress the fabric, but I unpack everything as soon as I get to the hotel or wherever so they don't have to suffer too long.

 

What’s the most important thing to remember when packing?

A full hipflask. Haha, only joking. Chargers. I'm always dismayed to discover I've forgotten chargers. I have a little virtual animal farm that needs constant feeding. Cameras, phones, laptops, iPods, headphones, ughh

Remember the gift also. I never like to show up empty handed if I'm visiting or even if I'm going to a meeting etc. A little gift goes a long way so don't forget to think ahead.

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Colours are important... how do you incorporate colour? Socks? Ties? Pocket squares?

I'll normally pack around three shirts, neutral colours and make sure everything is interchangeable. Keep the colours neutral so you can turn 2-3 garments into 9-12 different looks. Not sure the exact numbers, you can tell I'd be no good at Countdown right?

Socks I'm not one to over think the socks, but always pack a few extras if I'm working out.

I like to carry the knitted ties nothing too bilious and maybe one or two pockets squares, I have these here I got in Florence with different designs front and back, sort of a reversible so you'll get more mileage out of these.

 

How much should you bring?

Only bring the essentials. Remember the key is not to try and fill the suitcase. Many people see it as some kind of cryptic puzzle where they have to figure out how to get as much in as possible.

Pack a bag within the bag if you can, I like to in case I see anything I have to get whilst I'm abroad and I'll check it in on the flight home.

 

Can I wear comfy shoes?

Yes, no one will berate you for wearing comfy shoes on a long journey. I like to wear some smart trainers and change into a pair of loafers if I'm driving or flying. These Base London Keel Suede Casual shoes are just the ticket for something like this. 

 

What should you not do - when packing for a weekend getaway?

Don't take the weather with you. When packing don't take the dress watch, the expensive jewellery, just go the everyday elements from your wardrobe.

Things get pinched, luggage gets lost, etc. Also don't take your mental luggage. (Long sniff for profound reverential effect). Haha, be conscious of your mood, your woes, your negativity. There's no need to pack that crap, no one wants that on their doorstep.

Why I Love London by Carl Thompson Men's Lifestyle Blogger

London, whichever way you slice it is one of the best cities in the world. It is an endless opus of historical virtue populated by rampant-hungry minds that questingly seek the latest fashion, the newest pop-up, the most instagrammable, yet unmolested touchstones of the city. Notice how I'm not saying its traditional, yet contemporary. I refuse!

The pace isn't as breakneck as you might think. (Waitrose opens at 11am on a Sunday in Marylebone). London isn't so much the city that never sleeps, moreover the city that likes a lie in.

That said we're not Paris. Our streets are cleaner, marginally. Not Swiss standard clean, and we'll never reach the unassailable cleanliness of Singapore clean, but we're certainly cleaner than Paris. Our food is better and more diverse also.

I'm in London for the Weekend Carl, what can I do?

In London with the missus? Head to the Olympic Park and take up the ArcelorMittal Orbit. That is not a euphemism. It's actually an awesome day out, you'll get to Ride the Slide and get some great vantage views of the city. London is flat as heck from up there and you can see over 20km out.

In the summer months the green park nearby is perfect for a picnic and there are places to eat, paddle along the Waterworks River, get lost. I'm surprised people don't sing about this place more. Or maybe they do.

How do I meet people in London?

How do you not meet people in London? My eyes boggle at the endless reams of events you can find on various forums such as Skint London, etc. There are countless book signings where you can meet likeminded souls into the same authors as you. Of course there is always Tinder, Bumble, Match.com and endless other dating apps that can be used to meet single people in the city. 

There are circa 400 libraries in London, each will host a chess club, a comic book club, a photography club etc. London also has a high number of free museums (pay a donation) where you can meet locals and tourists, so go check it out.

Into exercise?

You get to expand your network exponentially at fitness classes. KOBOX is my go-to favourite that has a real sense of community spirit. There's Barry's Bootcamp in Euston and Liverpool St, but you need to book. I know people are getting mad into these boot camps of late.

You can also join a London Walking Tour. There are plenty of those that will encourage you wear comfortable shoes because you'll cover around 10k on a two-hour tour. Not only will you get to meet people, (around 20-30 people go per walk) you get to learn the History of London and see some hidden gems.

And what if I want to treat the missus, where are the best restaurants in London?

This is all depending on budget. I'm not going to go into a lengthy listicle of what restaurants to frequent as there are way too many and a thing called Trip Advisor exists. (Although Trip Advisor is NOT king. How many people do you know that actually know anything about food? And let's not forget a man in a garden shed was once rated number one restaurant in London on Trip Advisor).

I will say that Liverpool Street has the Ivy Gardens two minutes’ walk from the station. They don't allow any photography inside, which is a shame because you'd love to brag about this place.

Mid-level pricing for London standards (£15 for fish and chips). The food is wonderful, there's enough on the plate (unlike the flatulently overpriced Cinnamon Kitchen also in Liverpool St) and the underpinning romanticism that you feel within the floral surrounding is inescapable.

Like dining in a theatre production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream without the drugs.

And finally?

And finally no. There is no finally, no finite conclusion, no completed script. London is an open ticket, difficult to chapterise, impossible to cover in a single blog. If you're coming to London, then you'll want a plan. Getting lost is ok, but it's not like getting lost in Venice. Venice is a fairyland City straight out of a Spielberg movie. 

London has more serious edges. But that's what I love about it. 

Melia Zanzibar, Kiwengwa in Tanzania | Hotel Review

Melia Zanzibar is an utterly decadent luxury beach and all-inclusive resort situated on the north-east coast of the exotic island of Zanzibar, in Tanzania, also known as the “Spice Island”. During a recent stay (although it feels like a lifetime ago in my wanting and longing. Currently writing this during the perpetual British monsoon season) I got to explore every square inch of the 40-acre estate.

It's serene and awe-inspiring beach, composed of pearlescent white sand lapped by warm ocean waters stretches out for 300 metres and is situated at the very end of the property to procure the perfect combination with nature. The resort is ringed by a natural coral reef, making bathing a relaxing and safe experience.

The hotel is around 45 minutes from the international airport of Zanzibar, and the capital city Stone Town, a Unesco World Heritage site. On arrival the first impressions are how well the grounds are kept. Someone had clearly been assigned to design and manicure this gorgeous landscape. 

The staff are super friendly, and each comes with an infectious smile. A genuine one that comes from the heart and works its way up. 

The amazing sandbanks and stretched jetty, with its tip sandwiched between two huts, make for incredible photos. What’s more the beaches are private so remain unsullied. Yes, I'm a tourist here, but the exclusivity the hotel offers entitles you to a dangerous sense of ownership. 

You know what it's like when some randomer spoils a perfect shot by wondering aimlessly through. How dare they right? 

There are three restaurants and you can do an option for the all-inclusive pack. My tip is to try and go off-piste with some of the dishes and experiment. If you're on a budget then sure go for a pack, but the food is so good you won't want to feel inhibited. 

Of course we had a little rain, it is rainy season during the early weeks of May. This did mean we incurred some power outages and drops in WiFi. (Oh the humanity!) But the team were on hand to resolve issues very efficiently. The managers make a great team and the power generator kicks in for a spell so the problems and loss of power are minimal and short lived. 

Overall a great relaxing experience, wonderful decor, an awesome place to unwind and decompress. 

Ten Trinity Square Club | Private Members Club in London

Why join a private members club? Surely the whisky in Ten Trinity Square will taste the same in the local Lamb and Flag right?

Well to quote James Bond in Goldfinger, 'there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Perignon '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. And not having a card for a private member’s club stowed discreetly in your wallet'. Or words to that effect.

The truth is I'm mid-thirties and entering the embers of my youth. I'm after something a little less disreputable than the saturated Saturday night takeaways. The gimmicky happy hours and cacophony of football fans bleating xenophobic tirades at the TV's in sports bars.

Thus, I broke free from my adolescent chrysalis that was rich with the stale funk of old habits and regret, and joined the Ten Trinity Square Private Members Club.

Ten Trinity Square is a Grade II* listed building that comprises a distinctive collection of spaces handsomely aligned to provide the very best of places to live, to stay and to meet. These are the Residences, Four Seasons hotel and spa, and the Club.

If you're thinking the exteriors have something a little Champs-Élysées about them, you'd be right on the money as Ten Trinity Square was designed by Parisian designers Bruno Moinard and Claire Bétaille of 4BI & Associés, renowned for combining the disciplines of creator and artist with a master craftsman’s attention to detail.

The Club has been created from the sumptuous boardrooms and executive offices of the original building, providing a wealth of opportunities for members to meet, engage and be inspired, with a rich programme of events ranging from arts and culture, to exclusive performances and wine tastings.

The wine room is a place to revel in sophisticated splendour with shadeless bulbs that hang succinctly above a space adorned with carved walnut paneling. 

The cigar room has a softer, modern aesthetic with low crimson padded armchairs, a large L-shape leather sofa harnessed to the rear wall, all carefully curated under the hues of oak-brown, burnt orange, and chocolate. 

I'm not massive on cigars but I'm massive on billiards, I'm a sucker for an indoor swimming pool and sauna, and moreover I'm very keen to build my rolodex with leaders and key-thinkers in business, academia and arts.

That's why high flyers fly business class. If you can afford it, it's something you can't afford not to do. 

Now accepting membership applications
club.tentrinitysquare.com

Essque Zalu Zanzibar | Hotel Review

I snuck away the other week to the Essque Zalu Zanzibar hotel, in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Joining me in toe - the redolent, Beth Norton. Red being the operative word if you saw the pictures of her in THAT dress.

Essque Zalu Zanzibar is an hour and change in a taxi from the Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ) in the coastal and picturesque village of Nungwi. Whilst other hotels in the area reportedly aim to blend in with their local environment, Essque Zalu is more contrarian to its surroundings.

High makuti thatched roofs ameliorate its standing amongst the palm, mangrove, and casuarina trees whilst the seismic lagoon-style infinity pool bleeds into the horizon. From there a serene yet antiquated jetty reaches out from the shoreline, its elongated stilts prize it from the ocean bed and it has the look of a wooden millipede if you stand and squint. Or maybe if you've had a few G&T's.

Once the tide has rescinded you can advance easily across the flattened rocks before you meet a long palm-fringed sandy stretch coastline. Although admittedly we didn't venture far from the complex. If the Essque Zalu Zanzibar has one negative, it's really like Disney Land in the desert; the only thing worth seeing.

Luckily the place is immaculate, there is a cornucopia of food menus with daily specials and nighttime entertainment. The entire menu was artfully presented, and as for the staff, I can't heap enough ebullient praise especially for Solomon who served us most mornings, afternoons and evenings...I mean does he ever sleep! They were all well-heeled, wore crisp ironed uniforms (I know I'm on holiday but I’m still sizing up whether a shirt fits a guy or not) and they waited on us like royalty.

The suites located in thatched cottages are well appointed and boast a maximum occupancy of 3 adults, or 2 adults and 2 children. This ensures that they are the ideal destination for both couples seeking a romantic getaway, and families who do not wish to compromise on luxury.

This time of year (mid-May) Zanzibar is just coming out of the rainy season and unfortunately, we did catch the tail end of it. But regardless, the weather is still humid and it the grey clouds added a little drama to the photos.

For a more spacious stay, Essque Zalu Zanzibar offers 8 Residences ranging from 3 to 4 bedrooms all of which feature their very own plunge private pool, dining room, a private spa, spacious living room and fully equipped kitchen. As expected, the Residences also boast either a terrace or balcony, with exquisite views, upon which to laze.

For more hotel recommendations like these check out the travel review section on my blog. 

King Street Townhouse Manchester | Hotel Review

Central Manchester…Manny…Madchester and finally I had a chance to break out my Wanup card.

I have to admit; in the past I’ve been loath to add many more cards to my wallet. As regular readers may have noticed, I travel a lot and it doesn’t take long before I end up with a full deck of local metro and coffee cards. The result being that my Visa is nowhere to be found when I need it and very few shops accept 3/7 of a free coffee as legal tender, so recently I’ve operated a strict ‘one-in, one-out’ policy. As a regular traveller it’s like travelling with a two star upgrade, so the card’s now holding pride of place…next to three Berlin U-Bahn tickets.

Anyway the first Wanup introductory cherry is 40 Euros to spend wherever you wish. I briefly considered splashing out on the luxurious spa on the seventh floor. However when I saw our view of the magnificent town hall from our bathroom, decadence was in order. Strawberries and champagne in the bath.

King Street Townhouse calls itself ‘A little bit grand’. Whoever thought up that slogan hit the nail on the head – or rather top hat – ‘a little bit grand’ is exactly what it is. It’s like a boutique hotel that blossomed. The ground floor is leaning more towards the grand end: gleaming marble, smartly dressed porters and décor that has a little 1930s New York about it, while still being fresh out of the box (as they would say in the ‘30s).

The infinity pool overlooking the clock tower of Manchester Town Hall is obviously an impressive scene and one which you’ll find in any press photos for the hotel. If you don’t fancy a swim you can take in the same view at the South Terrace bar on the floor above.

Perhaps my personal favourite touch, however, was the proper rain shower in the wet-room bathroom. There’s just something about tropical, indoor rain when it’s -2 outside that I can’t get enough of.

There are over 40 rooms, yet each one has had so much time and thought poured into it, it feels like an upmarket B & B. From the artwork, bed linen books in the rooms and suites to the soft furnishings scattered throughout, everything has been picked out by the owner, Sally O’Loughlin. I was reminded of the Channel four programme ‘Escape to the Chateau’, where a newlywed couple (they married on the series) buy and refurbish a French castle.

Kings Street Townhouse has that same mix of eclectic taste and attention to quirky detail that comes with owning a property yourself. A quality that’s hard to fake.

I usually talk a little about the city or countryside I’m in. However on this trip to Manchester it was averaging zero degrees outside and warm raining inside, so I was very happy to stay put the whole weekend.

The Philippines: Home of Don Papa Rum & The Land of Smiles

The Philippines is a fascinating country of contrasts; of tranquil countryside and noisy urban sprawl; of vertiginous mountains and golden beaches; grinding poverty and ostentatious wealth. Many of the rural farmers carry on as though the last couple of hundred years never happened, while just up the road are humming mega-cities that appear transported from the future. It’s not a place for doing things by half.

I was lucky enough to spend the very best part of a week here recently at a few contrasting hotels. The first was a high rise in the relatively sleepy Bacolod City. The other, an oasis of calm in the chaos of Manilla, all thanks to Don Papa rum who invited a selection of the UK's top press and bloggers to experience this beautiful country where they make their famous rum. 

Don Papa Rum is a genuine Philippine premium rum, inspired by the island’s legendary revolutionary leader, Papa Isio and the dream-like landscape, Don Papa was launched in 2012 and now present in over 20 countries including France, Germany, Spain, UK, United States of America, South Africa, Belgium, Italy, and Japan.

The Seda Capitol Central hotel is smack bang in the middle of the ‘City of Smiles’ – Bacolod which is the capital of Negros island aka Sugerlandia, where Don Papa grows, harvests and processes the raw material sugar cane which produces the molasses for their rum. Efficiently, a short drive away is the Bago Distillery where the molasses is fermented, distilled, aged and turned into the finished product ready to be shipped and bottled.

The Philippines is the 3rd largest rum market worldwide with annual volumes of c. 15 Million cases, although most of this is for domestic consumption.
Starting from a small base, exports are increasing rapidly with annual growth of + 30% vs LY.
— Stephen Carroll, Don Papa's Founder

The first of these smiles was waiting for us at the airport, where our super friendly driver, Bayani, greeted us. It’s often said of a country that its greatest natural resource is its people. This isn’t always true, but it definitely is with the Philippines. The genuine friendliness and willingness to go out of their way to help were a constant throughout our stay.

Once at the hotel we were ready for a siesta, so after a long trip it was a relief to find that it errs on the side of luxurious. The entire hotel is very tastefully furnished – light and airy, rather than cosy, which of course is the last thing you need here! There’s good wifi throughout, much-needed air conditioning and an excellent, also much-needed, pool. The bed was one of those King-size+ jobs; you almost needed Satnav to find your way out. 

The brand new building overlooks the Provincial Capitol Lagoon, the Negros museum and the capitol building itself. Of course, being so central, it’s walking distance to everything, including Pala Pala seafood market, barely five minutes away and another five to the spectacular San Sebastian Church. As usual, when this close to the equator I divided my time between sightseeing outside and ducking into shops or popping back to the hotel for a little air-conditioned relief. It was great having such a central base that allowed us to do this. 

Before heading to the airport we had to fully immerse ourselves in the Filippino lifestyle, which for us Brits is a visit to a secluded island staying in traditional beach huts and we found this paradise in Lakawon. Finally we left time to visit the beautiful Ledesma ruins in neighbouring Talisay City. This was a little different to the English ruins I’ve become accustomed to. While those date back to medieval or even Roman times, Ledesma was built only last century. Despite the condensed history it’s well worth a visit, especially if you can arrange one around sunset. It made for a beautiful, romantic end to our visit to the city of smiles.

Flights from the UK: I flew with Philippine Airlines where you can experience service from the heart onboard the Philippines' only 4-star airline. Flying non-stop daily between London Heathrow and Manila, Philippine Airlines has full-flat beds in Business, with Economy Class also equipped with personal TVs, USB ports and onboard wi-fi. Enjoy in-flight dining with a vibrant mix of Asian, Spanish and American cuisine offering a mosaic of flavours that are all passionately prepared.

Here are the lead-in fares: 
LHR-MNL from GBP 579
LHR-BCD from GBP 670
 
Business (promo):
LHR-MNL from GBP 2989
LHR-BCD from GBP 3079

salamat sa pagkakaroon mo sa amin (thank you for having us).

Next stop, Manila…

The Henry Hotel Manila | Reviewed

Manila is not somewhere you go to get away from it all, it’s somewhere you go to embrace it all...all the honking, beeping, bartering, sweating, struggling, life that East Asia has to offer crammed into 16 square miles. It’s the most densely populated city on earth; there’s more humanity per square, sweaty inch here than anywhere else on the planet.

Thankfully I’d organised a transfer with Henry hotel, so another smiling driver was waiting to whisk us away to this little oasis in the city…somewhere to get away from Manila, while staying right in it.

The Henry hotel is a beautiful, award winning colonial style hotel, barely ten minutes’ drive from the airport. It’s such a pleasant hideaway that I was sorely tempted to just hole up here for our entire Manila stay.

On our first day we did a very little of the semi-compulsory historica, taking in Intramuros (the walled city). However I’ve had my fill of churches recently and Manilla really feels like a modern, perhaps even futuristic city, so this was mainly the side we explored.

I enjoy aquariums so this was our next stop. This has all the usual bells and wet whistles you’d expect from a major city’s aquarium – an oceanarium, a transparent tunnel so you can walk through the middle of the ocean-within-an-ocean and tropical fish and tortoises aplenty. But what separates this aquarium from others like it are the experiences: swimming with sea lions, sting rays and even donning a mermaid/merman costume and learning to swim like a giant fish.

Day two was a lazier affair – a short walk to the shops…all of them…at once. The nearby Mall of Asia is a city under (and on top of) a roof. There really is everything here – cinemas, swimming pools, an ice rink, an enormous ferris wheel, numerous miniature gardens, a planetarium, all the restaurants under the sun (or at least hiding from it)…and it never ends; at one stage I could swear we were nearly back at my place in London…

After that we meandered back to the hotel and straight into the big beautiful pool.

I did enjoy Manila but I’m not sure I could live here. It’s a constant assault on the senses.

I could, however, quite happily settle down in the Henry hotel. Like many things in this part of the world it’s younger than it seems. Built just after the War, it has a turn-of-the-century look and feel. It’s a tropical homestead, complete with Spanish moss draped across the many trees in the surrounding gardens/jungle. The style is cool, minimal and understated throughout.

The service was also excellent while still managing to be relaxed and not in the least bit officious.

We were lucky enough to have booked the garden suite and I’m so glad we did. It resembles an antipodean bach or a Finnish sauna, though of course the last thing you’d want to do here is add more heat. The semi-outdoor rain shower adjoining the back of our suite added to the sense of being at one with nature, an amazing feat given the proximity to manic Manila.

There’s a small outdoor patio where we breakfasted before retreating back to cool, air-conditioned bliss.

It’s no surprise it has so many glowing five star reviews, nominations and awards. It deserves all of them and more. Quite simply, if you’re going to Manila, book early and go the Henry Hotel.  

 

THE HENRY HOTEL MANILA PHILIPPINES