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. 

 

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…

Experience the Traditions of the Maasai at Essque Zalu Zanzibar, Tanzania

We all know that a new year brings ambitions for the year ahead with most of us choosing to travel more or to look after ourselves better. I've been looking to combine the two for 2018 by choosing health and wellness holidays and top of my travel bucket list is to visit Tanzania. Whilst researching these types of holidays in Tanzania, I've found an incredible place called ESSQUE ZALU ZANZIBAR which I would like to share with you. Zanzibar is an archipelago off the coast of mainland Tanzania of East Africa, renowned for white sandy beaches with traditional food and culture. Tanzania is blessed with tradition, history, beaches, nature and safari which makes it the perfect holiday destination for 2018.

The Maasai of East Africa have a long tradition of healing rooted in the powerful natural surroundings of the land. Resonating with local techniques and inspired by nature’s energy, the unique Zanzibar Spa at Essque Zalu Zanzibar has partnered with the award-winning AFRICOLOGY brand to create a series of locally inspired spa rituals designed to take guests on a unique, multi sensory wellness journey.

This experience is created to transport their guests to another place, offering a complete break from reality, treatments are carried out in a specially designed Maasai ‘Village’ by Zanzibarian and Tanzanian therapists with an in-depth knowledge of the culture. Guests are cocooned in traditional tents, with variants of the instantly recognisable red and black woven fabrics synonymous with the tribe and intricate wood carvings creating beautiful Maasai-inspired interiors. By the soft glow of suspended lanterns and the heady scent of locally sourced essential oils, the two hour ritual takes place during or after sunset and is intended to take guests on a journey of renewal steeped in the sights, sounds and sensations of Maasai customs.

On further research, the Essque Zalu Zanzibar is more than just a unique traditional spa experience. The accommodation comprises on 40 suites with views of the Indian Ocean amongst lush tropical gardens. There are a variety of different bars and restaurants on site including 'The Jetty' which is perfect for kicking back and enjoying cocktails in the sun or during a romantic sunset.

The ESSQUEPADES are the resorts signature experiences including Swahili Cooking. The experience is carried out in a rustic thatched roof kitchen with state-of-the-art cooking facilities. The studio has been dedicated to native Tanzanian Sous-chef Rose Mosha, who has been developing the cooking classes over her six years with the resort. Then cooking course shows you how to prepare mouthwatering traditional dishes and sample the best that the ‘Spice Island’ has to offer.

If exploring out of the hotel is your thing, the resort will help you make the most of the surrounding area, so if snorkelling, bike tours, beach life or trekking the island is you thing then there will be something for everyone. 

 

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Dublin – in 24 hours

From its centuries-old pubs to its Georgian architecture to the stately Trinity College at its centre, the city of Dublin has a glorious sense of history and the ideal destination for a whirlwind trip that never feels too rushed.

Dublin city is so compact that it's possible to see all the main sights and get in a few sneaky pints in less than 24 hours so, skip the whirlwind, hop-on, hop-off tour bus, and check out our must-sees and dos in Dublin over 24 hours that mix food with music, history with literature and the touristy with the not-so-touristy.

Travel:

Dublin Airport (DUB) is situated 10km north of the city. The Aircoach operates between the airport and the city centre 24 hours a day, and a journey to O'Connell Street will take about 25 minutes. Tickets can be bought for €7/€12 (adult single/return) at the Aircoach stop outside the door, but cheaper deals can be found online.

Sleep:

If budget is not problem (it’s just one night after all) the perfectly located 5 star Merrion Hotel (Upper Merrion St., Dublin 2) should be top of your list. This glorious hotel opens into a series of period drawing rooms fragranced by turf fires and adorned with Ireland's largest collection of private art. Spacious and light-filled Garden Wings to the rear enclose a meditative half-acre quadrangle of fountains and manicured greenery. The rooms are beautiful and on the stylish side of opulent and the hotel is also home to Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Ireland’s only two-star Michelin restaurant. Prices for double rooms vary from €328 a night to €1,450.

Eat:

Dublin has a booming culinary scene and has a number of well-established fine dining venues such as Chapter One and Trocadero, but for atmosphere and authenticity, we opted for Winding Stair for dinner on Day 1 (breakfast was coffee and freshly made scones in the charming surrounds of The Pepper Pot in the bustling Powerscourt Centre). Formerly a famous bookshop, in 2006 Winding Chair reopened as a home for old-fashioned Irish cooking. Think cider braised pork cheeks, whiskey cured salmons, excellent cheeseboards, and a good range of craft beers and smart wine list. Brunch on Day 2 was in the buzzy surrounds of Coppinger Row which emphasises the flavours and colours of the Mediterranean. It's strong on vibrant, imaginative salads and fishy options such as a Black Pudding salad, and Dressed Crab and Crayfish. It also has a stellar list of gin cocktails to take you from brunch, through lunch and onto boarding time.

Drink:

A pint of “the black stuff” is still required drinking on any trip to Dublin. The enormous Guinness Storehouse museum (admission, 18 euros), set amid the cobbled streets and imposing buildings of the St. James’s Gate brewery, explains how the stout is made and gives the history of the company. Don’t leave without enjoying a pint of the good stuff on the top floor Gravity Bar, where the 360-degree view of Dublin is worth lingering over. Tourist trip done, you can’t miss out on some traditional Irish music at The Brazen Head, Dublin's oldest pub, which opened in 1198! A band plays every night and their Sunday session (3.30pm – 6.30pm) gives you the opportunity to sing a tune yourself!

Do:

Few cities wear history on its sleeve like Dublin does. The Historical Walking Tour has been acclaimed as a must-do tour for any visitor to Dublin. In just over 2 hours the award-winning and entertaining walking tour, conducted by history graduates of Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Dublin, explores the main features of Irish history – Dublin’s development, the influence of the American and French Revolutions, the Potato Famine, the Great War and the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, the Northern conflict and Ireland today.  

Instagram:

Get a ‘behind bars’ shot (without the conviction) at Kilmainham Gaol.

For more information, visit http://www.discoverireland.ie

Genoa – The unsung city of Italy?

It's €39.40 from the Genoa airport to the Bristol Palace Hotel, which took all of 3 minutes. I gave a scathing look at the cab driver and ordered the missus to get the change from this pillager of tourists. Bristol Palace? An odd assembly of words one could argue an utter contradiction. 

Figure        SEQ Figure \* ARABIC     1      The Elliptical Staircase in the Bristol Palace Hotel

Figure 1The Elliptical Staircase in the Bristol Palace Hotel

Depending on your vantage point, Genoa could boast several identities. Start north from the hills by taking one of two funiculars for €1.50 that connects Zecca to Righi and see the city at its finest. It's mottled buildings of faded complexions; burnt yellows, rustic auburns are redolent of any Pisa, Lucca or Pienza panorama. Walk serpentine down the steep roads back into the heart of the city, reach the imperious stretch of Via Garibaldi and you'll think you've slipped down a magical side alley in the heart of Rome. For €9 you can visit Palazzi Rosso, Bianco and Tursi.

Genoa

Venture down the winding streets that taper and twine to the harbour and eventually, once you've been accosted by a Somalian immigrant hassling you for change or 'a go' on his wife for 30 minutes, you'll instantly be transported back to Edge Lane in 90's Liverpool. The topography of these narrow streets were designed to defend the city of Genoa from naval attacks by forcing their enemies into a labyrinth of alleys, funneling them into single file and pouring hot oil on them from the terraces and apartment windows overhead.

Genoa Appartments

Once you've escaped, if you escape, you can catch your breath on the The Neptune; a ship replica of a 17th-century Spanish galleon built in 1985 for Roman Polanski's film Pirates. As you look back at the city from the ocean, you could think that Genoa is one big Hornby Scaletrix. It's raised highways encircle the city, much to the chagrin of my missus - 'Stick that crap underground in tunnels, who wants to see that monstrosity'. However, this has given the the urbanites a chance to leave their own creative modern taint on this ancient city by glossing the underneath with animated creatures and fictional monsters. After all this is still Italy and no one does grandiose art better than the Italians.

Genoa Art

Place to stay: Bristol Palace Hotel - €115 a night (August) inc Breakfast

Place to visit: The Aquarium - £23 a full adult day pass

Place to eat: Icuochi

Place for awesome Instagram profile pic: Palazzi Bianco Roof Gardens or the Christopher Columbus Column Square. 

Place to avoid: Back alleys to the city harbour. 

Genoa

Written by Peter Brooker

Menorca, Spain Travel Guide | 5 Best Beaches

Every year for the last 5 years we have gone away as a family on a villa holiday somewhere in either Spain or Cyprus. Mum, Dad, Brother, Sister, myself and any other halves that us children might have had during the time. It's something I look forward to every year, as family mean everything to me and living a face-paced busy lifestyle, I don't get t spend as much time with them as I would like. So going away for a week or two, where we can all relax and spend time together is priceless. This year we headed off to Menorca in Spain for 2 weeks for a villa holiday in beach the town of Binibeca Vell.

Menorca is part of Spains trio of islands in the Balearic Sea alongside Ibiza and Mallorca. You can fly into Mahon (the only airport in Menorca) from London in just under 2 hours making it extremely accessible for short breaks as well as those travelling with young children. 

Menorca is known to be the quieter of the 3 Balearic islands and from my experience that is true, however it has an inner beauty that I wasn't expecting. From the *instagrammable white buildings of Binibeca Vell to small beaches only accessible to those willing to climb over rocks, Menorca is full of hidden gems.

BINIBECA VELL

Situated in the south of the island, this quaint port and town is littered with a coastline of rocks. A small, sleepy town painted white with small narrow cobble streets. In the coves adjacent to the town you can find some incredible sandy beaches. Nightlife in this town is quiet, but I found the most incredible Gin Slush cocktails in a bar called BB Cocktail Bar. Head upstairs for amazing sunset views.

CALES COVES

From south of the Menorcan island all the way to the north is only 45 minutes. About 15 minutes up the coast from Binibeca is the Cales Coves. You'll have to park up your car before walking about 10 minutes to the Coves and beach area. Cales Coves are a walkers dream, exploring coves in a picturesque setting. The beach itself isn't really one to spend all day at as it is a little muddy and there are no refreshments or facilities. However don't come here for sunbathing, come for appreciation of natural beauty.

PUNTA PRIMA

This location is the furthest south and only 10 minutes from Binibeca. A more built up area with a few restaurants and bars as well as a long sandy beach perfect for families. The sea here is calm with small waves, exceptional for swimming. This is a beach you could spend all day at.

CALO BLANC

Only a short 'around the croner' drive from Binibeca Vell, this could be the worlds tiniest beach but it packs a massive punch in tranquility. Park up directly opposite the beach and walk down a steep pathway and natural steps in the cliff (unsuitable for buggies) to get to this secluded beach. The beach is probably only 3 metres wide so there is little space for sunbathing but you can lay down your towel if you get there early enough, ideally before 10am to catch the best spots. Remember a cool box of supplies as this beach has no shops. 

CALA EN TURQUETA

In the north-west of the island you'll find this medium sized beach, situated as many of the best beaches, in a national park. You can not park close to the beach, however there is a large carpark 15 minutes walk from the beach, which has simple facilities such as refreshments, toilets and a shower. This is a scenic beach with turquoise water, ideal for snorkelling, swimming and just relaxing.

CIUTADELLA DE MENORCA

If beach life is not your thing and prefer the history, culture and familiarity of a city, then head to Ciutadella. Centred around the Cathedral de Santa Maria you'll find shopping, eating and drinking here to be major attractions. Spend time sight-seeing around this city and you'll be able to view some amazing historical buildings in this old city.

The Stylish Travel Guide To Pine Cliffs Resort | Algarve, Portugal

Flying over the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa at 1000 feet as we cruise in to land at Faro airport I can't help noticing that the landscape has a resemblance of a beautiful archipelago full of wildlife. A good sign of things to come on my short break to Pine Cliffs Hotel, Resort & Spa which is located just outside of Albufeira on the Argarve in southern Portugal. I have a saying when choosing locations around the world to travel to which is "if it's good enough for dolphins then it's good enough for me". Okay so I may have just made that up about 10 seconds ago but it rings true on this occasion as on the first day during sunrise (which is about 06:30 in June) I headed to the beach where a number of people spotted a pod of dolphins in the shallow waters.

The Pine Cliffs Hotel as you can see by the first image below is a 5-star hotel, but it is so much more than that, it's a resort, a golf course, a spa, a lifestyle and an experience. Suitable for families, couples, singletons, sun worshipers, golfers and well pretty much anyone in-between due to the variety of amenities and sprawling grounds that the resort is situated on. 

On arrival you are greeted by the most friendly, experienced hotel staff and it's immediately clear to see how and why this incredible resort has won so many prestigious awards over the last few years. Despite its size, the Pine Cliffs Resort is considered as a hidden-gem because it is away from the hustle and tourist trap of central Albufeira whilst situated along a picturesque, tranquil pine cliff and soft, quiet beach front. Take me back now....please!

You can fly to Faro airport cheaply from the UK with Monarch Airways, British Airways, Iberia or Vueling, I personally flew from London Gatwick to Faro on a return flight with Monarch costing as little as £120 *hand baggage only, checked baggage was extra ££. Once at Faro airport, you can grab a taxi or pre-order a pickup service from the Pine Cliffs Resort...which ever you choose it is only a 30 minute journey from airport to resort making it a fantastic choice for those with children. If it's a villa you are after for a larger group such as your friends or family? You can check out the latest offers at Oliver's Travels Oliver’s Travels, luxury holidays specialists.

Are you a sports person? Is it golf that you are in to? The gym or even an early morning run along the beach? The Pine Cliffs Resort caters for you with a state of the art gymnasium, various swimming pools and a private beach, perfect for a run, which is only a short 5 minutes walk, down an escalator and along a wooden walkway. The golf course is a perfectly maintained 9-holes which features an epic par 3, 6th hole which you have to drive 197 metres over an out-of-bounds ravine in the cliffs to land on a small, narrow green. Good luck with that...remember to take an extra few golf balls if you are prone to 'shanking it' off the tee! If it's golf or tennis coaching you are after, speak to the resort and they can arrange this for you. 

If you go away for the sunny weather and like to relax, just choose a sunbed next to one of the swimming pools to soak up the sun or under a palm tree, in the shade whilst reading a book. 

When packing for a holiday abroad I always plan my outfits for the day and evening, with, of course an extra few items if I change my mind whilst out there. I love to wear a pair of tailored shorts, crisp white shirt and comfortable, airy, slip-on shoes which you can wear with no socks. An outfit that will suit going out for early cocktails during sunset through to dinner and even drinks in the late evening/early morning at the bar. So my first outfit is my day-to-night style and I'm wearing a white grandad shirt from Mr Porter, grey tailored shorts from Reiss, brown shoes from Harrys of London, a watch from Rotary and finally my favourite retro inspired sunglasses from Finlay & Co (*see below to shop the look).

SHOP THE ABOVE OUTFIT

My room was on the 1st floor of the Pine Cliffs Hotel, quiet, large, light, airy and clean with everything you need in a hotel room except for an ironing board and iron. Which if needed just call down to reception or ask one of the cleaners dotted around the hallways (Translation of 'an iron please' in Portuguese is 'um ferro por favor') and they will bring one up to you.

The Pine Cliffs Hotel, a Luxury Collection Resort is positioned on an orange sandstone clifftop location surrounded by aromatic pine woods over looking the Atlantic Ocean. The grounds sit within over 72 hectares and therefore requires a large number of diverse restaurants which suit the tastes of all of their guests. Eat at the Piri Piri restaurant which is one of the finest steak houses in southern Portugal; personally I would recommend the t-bone steak or tenderloin fillet. If it is freshly caught fish you are after, head over to O Pescador or if you prefer al fresco dining and a more relaxed atmosphere try Corda Café.

It was during a lunchtime meal that I found my favourite restaurant in the complex; a healthy wellbeing place called ZEST. Fresh interior design and outdoor tables was the perfect setting for a healthy light lunch *minus the wine! Their freshly pressed juices are a must and I would also recommend the quinoa bowl with shrimp, chicken and halloumi. 

Of course I'm saving the best until last, this incredible on-site, luxurious, brand new Serenity Spa, offering the worlds best spa treatments and products such as Gentlemen's Tonic. Focusing on 'The Art of Well Being' the Serenity spa offers its guests personalised experiences to relax, treat and revitalise you.

During my first (of many) visits to the Serenity Spa, I booked in a 50 minute 'The Duet' treatment which consisted of a combination of a deep tissue massage and an express facial. The massage treatment tables were incredibly comfortable, to the point where I feel asleep on numerous occasions throughout my treatment. The beauty technicians where knowledgable, professional and exceptionally good at massages.

The Serenity Spa is much more than just treatments, they have invested heavily in state-of-the-art facilities which can be found in the Thermal Oasis, a sanctuary of relaxation and rejuvenation. 

Not enough? Then maybe the Aurum Suite is for you, designed to spoil and lavish guests in a privately hired room decorated in an opulent gold bullion designed interior. Pamper yourself and your private guests with your very own steam room, sauna, jacuzzi, double treatment room and lounge area. Heighten the experience, go all-out and celebrate a special day with champagne and chocolate covered strawberries. 

The Serenity Spa has travelled the world looking for the highest quality products and best brands of which the menswear grooming brand Gentlemen's Tonic is stocked exclusive in Portugal to the Pine Cliffs Resort. As an extension to the Serenity Spa, head up one flight of stairs and along a bit and you'll find a hair salon complete with a barbering chair, perfect for a gentlemen's wet shave. 

The guys here can not do more for you, you'll get a relaxed barbering experience straight from Mayfair to the Algarve. If it's a full on beard trim, wet shave, haircut or hot-towel facial; this is the place to be.

Of course what holiday would be complete without a final 'let's get dressed up for a big night out' night. Cocktails at sunset followed by a 3-course meal and some drinks afterwards. So my outfit for this occasion is styled for warm sunset temperatures followed by the cool Atlantic breeze that you get in the Algarve, late into the evening. 

Smart, formal is my preference, lightweight, breathable fabrics in a neutral summer palette, I've come up with this look, styled for evening wear. The trousers and blazer are both from Reiss, whereas the 100% cotton, super soft luxury shirt is from my very own Hawkins & Shepherd, the shoes are Harrys of London, the watch is Rotary and the sunglasses are the Brunswick design from Finlay & Co.

SHOP THE ABOVE OUTFIT

A very special thanks to.
The Pine Cliffs Resort, Serenity Spa, Gentlemen's Tonic and The Brandman Agency.

And also to my fellow friends, editors, photographers, travel bloggers and journalists.
Carl Cunard, Toni Tran and Patrick McAleenan.

Photography either by myself (using an Olympus Pen EPL7) or Toni Tran aka Fashitect (using a Canon 5D MarkIII). 

Videography filmed & edited by myself using a DJI Mavic Pro Drone for the aerial footage.

A Fashion Bloggers Travel Guide to Barcelona

Photo by @michaelbcn_

Photo by @michaelbcn_

The first time I went to Barcelona I fell in love with the city. It is one of those places like London or Paris, there’s always something new to discover each time you visit. Barcelona certainly has a large dose of history, art, stunning architecture, some of the best restaurants in the world and not forgetting easy access to the beach! Whilst you can check out the main tourist attractions like La Sagrada Familia, Las Ramblas or The Magic Fountain of Montjuic, how about some more alternative options to jazz up a long weekend?

DRINK

Photo by Bobby Bar

Photo by Bobby Bar

I think it’s safe to say we are very lucky with the incredible bars in London, many of them now also offer an outstanding selection of gin. However do not forget that Spain was the first to serve their gin in big glasses, full of ice and garnished to perfection! So how could you not go to Barcelona and have a Spanish style gin and tonic? Bobby Gin has a cool, modern, moody interior and has definitely taken the lead among Barcelona's gin bars. Well worth heading there to try an array of Spanish style gins and cocktails!

Bobby Gin
Carrer de Francisco Giner, 47 08012 Barcelona
www.bobbygin.com/en/

EAT

Photo by @milk_bar_bistro

Photo by @milk_bar_bistro

I have often taken shots of epic breakfasts and coffee at Milk in London, so I was intrigued by a restaurant with the same name in Barcelona. Milk Barcelona is designed like a posh living room with antique chandeliers and 50’s wallpaper. During a night out in the city, head there for cocktails and return again in the morning for some TLC and a well deserved Milk “Recovery Brunch”. The food is very Instagram friendly too!

Milk Bar & Bistro
Gignas 21, Barcelona
www.milkbarcelona.com

SLEEP

Photos by Pulitzer Hotel

Photos by Pulitzer Hotel

The Pulitzer Hotel is in such a central location and is perfect for exploring the city. It is only a moment from Plaça Catalunya, and within easy reach of the city’s Gothic and El Born quarters. Hotel Pulitzer Barcelona is a design-conscious delight with its very cool rooftop bar, and it is certainly a place to party but in a relaxed atmosphere. Even the reception area highlights the hotel vibe very well with white leather sofas and quirky rugs. The interior is full of wood, leather and satin, which means a great hotel for a blogger to take some amazing photos!

Pulitzer Hotel
Carrer de Bergara, 8, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
www.hotelpulitzer.es/en/

PLAY

As I have already mentioned, there is just so much to see in Barcelona. I love the laid-back lifestyle, people, and range of fun activities. However going up to Tibidabo, the highest mountain in the Collserola mountain range is a must. Not only is the view absolutely stunning, but the Tibidabo Amusement Park is so fun! The park opened in 1905 and is among the oldest in the world still functioning. Most of the original rides are still in use, so you may need a little bit of courage to go on them!

Tibidabo Amusement Park
Plaça del Tibidabo, 3-4, 08035 Barcelona
www.tibidabo.cat/en/

SHOP

Photo by Boo

Photo by Boo

How can we not have a spot of retail therapy whilst on a city break? Barcelona has some awesome menswear stores like Boo and Massimo Dutti. If you’re looking something a bit smarter, the Spanish brand Massimo Dutti has been around in Barcelona since the 1980s. However Boo is a lot newer and the perfect place to find more of a statement piece. It established back in 2006 and is located between the artist’s workshops and designer stores of the bohemian Gracia neighbourhood. The store offers a handpicked selection of designer labels, specialising in European brands with an attention to quality fabrics and manufacturing made to last.

Massimo Dutti
C.C. El Triangle, Plaça Cataluña, 1-4, Barcelona
https://www.massimodutti.com/gb/

Boo
Carrer Bonavista, 2, Barcelona
www.boobcn.com/en/

GETTING AROUND

AVIS Car Hire

AVIS Car Hire

The best way to get around and make the most of a short break to Barcelona is to hire a car for the trip. Avis offer some of the best deals around not to mention a fleet of highly desirable cars. 

I hope you enjoy Barcelona as much as I did.

My Dream Holiday | Finolhu Maldives

When walking my dog in the mornings is a time that I use to reflect on my life, how are things going? What could I do to improve? When am I going to meet 'the one'? etc. Well, my life at the moment is amazing and I'm the happiest I have been in years - everything is going great with the business Hawkins & Shepherd and my blog carlthompson.co.uk whilst my Instagram is better than I could have ever imagined. Saying that. During these walks my one favourite thought is 'What would I do if I won the lottery'! I mean, some morning walks I've 'won' £3million, £10million, £1million, £100million or 'just' £5,000...every single scenario has been thought through at some point! 

Regardless of how much I win, the first thing I would do is go on an epic holiday and this place, Finolhu is just that - a fantasy, luxurious and in many cases unobtainable; but we can dream, right? And for me that is a magic of not only Finolhu but the Maldives in general.

FORGET ARTISTS AND POETS: NEW MALDIVES HOTSPOT FINOLHU HAS ITS OWN RESIDENT ACROBATS! Glamorous new retro-chic resort delights guests with acrobats, stilt walkers and ‘mermaids’ from Area 51.

Continuing its shake-up of the Maldives travel scene, new luxury resort disruptor Finolhu has teamed up with pioneering performance creatives Area 51 for unique residency of acrobats, mermaids and stilt walkers - rebooting the increasingly stale artists-in-residence concept for a new generation of Maldives luxplorers and gypset travellers.

One of the world’s most creative entertainment companies, Area 51 is renowned for its spectacular shows, dazzling revelers with its jaw-dropping performances at many of the biggest festivals and clubs on the planet, from Glastonbury and Bestival to Hed Kandi in Ibiza. After sprinkling its inimitable stardust over Finolhu’s sensational three-day launch extravaganza in June, Area 51 dispatched a trio of its premier performance artists to establish a permanent base at Finolhu. Replete with a unique wardrobe of custom costumes, the Area 51 performers have been wowing guests in a carousel of guises ever since, from stilt walkers and acrobats to fire dancers and even a mermaid!

Opened in June 2016, Finolhu is a refreshing, retro-inspired new retreat in Baa Atoll, bringing a buzzy burst of fun, world-class entertainment and toes-in-the-sand relaxation to fun-loving beach-erati. Taking an unexpected cue from the halcyon days of the classic glamorous getaway, Finolhu recalls the heady allure of vintage beach vacations with its classic design, retro touches and laid-back ambiance.  Set in a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, and easily accessible via the domestic Baa Atoll airport or a 30-minutes seaplane ride from Malé, Finolhu has all the hallmarks of paradise. Translucent waters, 1.8km long white-sand bank and perma-clear skies aside, what really sets it apart from its Maldivian competitors is its effortlessly stylish surrounds and beach clubby-ness.

The ultimate island experience for chic couples, fun-loving families and groups of friends alike, Finolhu’s 125 villas come on the ocean, the lagoon or by the beach, with or without pool, and are outfitted with Instagram-worthy interiors and vintage-style Marshall speakers, while bathrooms and spa facilities are stocked with all-natural, organic products from Neal’s Yard Remedies.

With the chilled-out Baa Baa Beach Club at its heart, Finolhu offers laid-back yet elegant dining options, from lazy afternoon grazing at the poolside Baa Baa; a trip across the lagoon to the Fish & Crab Shack, halfway along Finolhu’s stunning 1.8km sandbar; or the theatrical Kanusan, where an open kitchen puts modern Cantonese favourites such as Mandarin roasted duck and Larb Gai at centre stage. Milk Bar is a tempting old-school ‘tuck shop’ brimming with guilt-free treats, while the boutique-style Baahaa Grill restaurant celebrates the legendary spice blends of pre-Moorish North Africa, where a town’s finest spice sellers were as famous as its rulers.

As night falls, playtime begins, with the magnetic two-storey Baa Baa Beach Club Bar inviting guests to step back in time and discover new fun and games. Nightly foodie showcases are matched with world-class wines; Cinema Retro screens classic movies and live international sports action; and gamers can hit the bar’s old school arcade for classic Pinball or PacMan action. Baa Baa Beach Club keeps things fresh with a nightly, weekly and monthly entertainment programme, including the weekly Retro Pool Party, the monthly Full Moon Tribal sandbar party… and, just four times per year, vibe-defining “Finolhu Blhu” events – exclusive one-off extravaganzas featuring appearances from the world’s coolest performers and hottest DJs.

Virgin Holidays (www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0344 557 3859) offers seven nights at Finolhu, Maldives from £2,997 per person, including scheduled Qatar Airways flights from London Heathrow, ‘Full Board Plus’ accommodation and seaplane transfers, as well as US€1000 resort credit per room per stay.

Price based on two adults sharing a Lagoon Villa, including taxes, based on 28 November 2016 departure. ‘Full Board Plus’ includes breakfast in Baa Baa Beach Club, and lunch and dinner in any of the resort dining outlets (including a selection of soft drinks, beer and wine by the glass; some menu items may carry a supplement and some outlets may require reservations in the evenings).

               Web: www.finolhu.mv      Twitter: @finolhumv      Instagram: finolhumaldives

 

 

Top 10 Hotel Rooms to Stay in Before You Die

I love to travel and have been fortunate enough to have visited some of the most amazing countries, cities and tiny little fishing villages in the world. I've travelled around South East Asia many times, South America, most of Europe and Africa...although there is still so much more to see. As I sit here planning my next short break to Greece, holiday to Havana and backpacking adventure - I've been researching some of the most amazing hotels in the world and here are my Top 10 (In no particular order, as that would be too tough to work out).

1. HOTEL KAKSLAUTTANEN, FINLAND

I'm going to save this location for a very special 'one-off' occasions, as for me there is nothing more romantic than staying in a glass topped cabin, cozied up in a 12tog duvet viewing the Northern lights whilst its freezing cold outside. Located on the edge of wilderness close to the Urho Kekkonen National Park, you can also explore the surrounding areas on reindeer or husky safaris as well as sampling your skills at ice-fishing, snowboarding or even cross-country skiing.

2. SINGITA MARA RIVER TENTED CAMP, TANZANIA

Located on The Serengeti, a vast ecosystem in East Africa spanning over a massive 12,000 square miles and is home to the largest mammal migration in the world. Singita Mara is a tented camp of just six luxurious tents and offers stunning views of the Serengeti plains as well as located on a perfect spot for migrating wildebeest. As well as guided safari tours, this hotel also offers spa facilities and focuses on relaxation with no TVs for distraction, just good food, company and wine of course!

3. LONGITUDE 131, AUSTRALIA

Located in the world heritage listed wilderness of Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park this unique camp site could be one of the most remote camp sites in the world! Longitude 131 takes glamping to a completely new level, with fine dining and majestic views.

4. LIKULIKU LAGOON RESORT, FIJI

Close your eyes and picture secluded islands, clear blue skies, shallow turquoise seas, coral reefs and a beach hut on stilts over looking the most epic of all sunsets....you'll probably picture this place. Total paradise. 

5. KATIKIES, SANTORINI

This boutique hotel is the spiritual home of the fashion blogger! Perfect white walls, infinity pool and a suitcase or 5 of gifted clothes - you'll never be out of Instagram inspirations at this hotel. 

6. TAJ LAKE PALACE, INDIA

I mean, how does this even exist...what a complete architecture and engineering genius. This floating hotel was built in the 1740s on Lake Pichola in Udaipur which makes it even more impressive. 

7. AMANGIRI, UTAH

A remote hideaway in Americas South-West, situated in a protected valley within the canyons. The hotel itself is designed to blend into its surroundings with hues of ochre, yellow and pink - where geographical nature meets contemporary life. 

8. NORTH ISLAND, SEYCHELLES

11 Luxury villas, white sandy beaches, scuba-diving, luxury dining and somewhere to watch the sunrise and sunsets with someone special in your life.

9. PALIAS NAMASKAR, MARRAKESH

A fashion bloggers little brother or sister alongside Santorini! Contemporary in it's hotel offerings yet medieval in its design. A perfect tranquillity between desert and majestic mountains - a destination for relaxation.

10. DESERT NIGHTS CAMP, OMAN

Pitch up at this deluxe hotel settled in the Wahiba Sands in Oman only a two-hour drive from the capital city of Muscat. The tents are air-conditioned with their own private terrace over looking the stunning view of the Wahiba Sands.

MY HOLIDAY TO THAILAND

As I sit here writing this wide awake at 5am due the jet lag from my recent 3 week trip to Thailand, I thought it would be a good idea to reminisce and reflect on what was a mixed-bag of a trip. If you follow me on Instagram you may already have the impression that this Thailand trip looked amazing and that everyone got along and had such a great time...well I wish that were true. I have a pair of Gucci tortoiseshell sunglasses that when worn makes everything and everyone look like they are in HD with a better tan than what they actually have, its fake, unreal - much like social media and in particular Instagram.

I didn't post one picture without some sort of filter applied. It made me think, why does everything have to be perfect? The perfect holiday, the perfect job, the perfect relationship...why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect or perceiving the perfect life and if everything was perfect, would you still find fault, can something be too perfect that it becomes faulty? I mean take the below for example, is anything really wrong with the first picture? No, not really, in fact it is probably better and more natural than the second edited one. My point being: in relationships we sometimes fall into the trap of trying to mould your girlfriend/boyfriends/Jobs/Friends into perfection for you. However take a step back, remove the filter and you'll probably find that they are perfect just the way they are.

My Thailand trip started of with a long journey from London to Koh Phi Phi where we were spending New Year. An eleven hour flight to Bangkok, followed by an internal flight to Phuket, taxi to the port then a two hour boat to Koh Phi Phi...actually it wasn't that bad! 

We stayed in Princess Resort on Phi Phi which was a very nice modern resort in the island. The only thing with it is that they are still expanding so there is quite a lot of building works going on. We were here for 5 nights and in hindsight far too long.

You see, Phi Phi used to be one of those places where backpackers sought paradise, natural beauty and a good level of nightlife. Whereas now the beaches are packed and the nightlife has taken over. I never thought I would see the day when Phi Phi would have 'beer pong' bars with gap-year students touting you into their bars with free shots and 2-4-1 buckets, I mean what is this, Magaluf? It certainly felt like it on a night time.

Nightlife aside, which really wasn't my scene...there are still pockets of beauty. Like Maya Bay, where Sophie and I got a long-tail boat early one morning to see the national park in its unspoilt self with only a handful of people on The Beach.

On to Koh Lanta for two nights. Not too far from Phi Phi and much more chilled out. The beaches seem to go on forever and the vibe is very much - chill out on the beach, have dinner and a few drinks whilst watching fire displays. 

RaiLay beach was our next stop. To get here you have to get a boat to Ao Nang which is the main town in Krabi and from there RaiLay is a short 10 minute long-tail tax boat ride. When you get to RaiLay, you arrive at RaiLay West, this is where all the expensive resorts are - take a short 10 minute walk to RaiLay East which is where the more affordable guesthouses are. 

I loved this place, the beach is over looked either side by two large limestone cliffs and the town has a chilled out 'Bob Marley' vibe to it. If you love great food, a bit of rock climbing, beachlife and time to reflect - this is your place.

At this point I had to goodbye to Sophie who was flying back to London, whereas I had another week in the sun! So we took the boat to Phuket, stayed one night in the best ever hotel I have ever set foot in, called The Shore. There was a massive LOL moment, as when we arrived the staff assumed we were on our honeymoon hahahahaha, we should have milked it a little more than just the free bottle of champagne we got! 

From 5 star luxury to the seedy but intriguing night life of the Patong - we headed out to have a few drinks and visit Thailand's notorious Ping-Pong bars and looking back it has to be one of the funniest and enjoyable nights of the holiday.

Up at the crack of dawn to head to the airport where Sophie go on a flight back to Bangkok then London and I flew to Koh Samui and got a boat straight to Koh Phangan. 

I never thought I would say it but Haad Rin (the Full Moon Party Beach) on Koh Phangan was totally dead, quiet and eery. I guess everyone vacates the island after the New Years parties and we were a week too late.

Saying that, we stayed in Coco Huts which is one of the best places to stay in Haad Rin. Its only a 5 minute walk to the Full Moon beach and all of the nightlife, but you are far enough away to get a good night sleep (gosh I'm old!). Coco Hut Villas is on Haad Leela, which is quiet and much nicer during the day to relax on rather than Haad Rin, where tourists piss in the sea all night long!

After a lot of island hoping we made it to Koh Tao, where we spend 5 nights. Koh Tao is great, it is the best mix between island beach life and night life. Good food with plenty to keep you occupied.

Lee and myself did a spot of sea fishing and ended up catching dinner that night. We also met up with lots of friends from back home and people we have met along the way plus went sunset paddle-boarding.

Another must do if you are on the island is to visit Koh Nangyuan which is a 5 minute long-tail boat ride from Koh Tao but is a national park (closes at 5pm) and offers the most stunning viewpoint of the island.

I do hope you have enjoyed this brief insight into my trip to Thailand. If you have any questions or want travel advice, I have been many times and visited a lot of places above and beyond what I have explained here. So comment below and I'll reply to your messages.