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    Review: Roca Nivaria Gran 5* Tenerife

     

    Floating on my back at the edge of the infinity pool, letting the water take the strain of my tense, knotted shoulders and joints stiff from long days sat behind a computer, I looked out at a clear blue sea and felt completely relaxed.

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    It was less than 24 hours since I’d arrived at the hotel but I already felt a million miles away from my fast-paced life in London. As the flight is just 4 hours from the UK and the transfer from the airport a breeze at less than 30 minutes, I did wonder why I hadn’t visited the Roca Nivaria Gran Hotel in Tenerife before.

    Admittedly, Tenerife is perhaps not the first destination I would previously have associated with a luxury break. As a girl used to holidaying in the social hotspots and party cities of Dubai, Cannes, New York, Monaco and Mykonos, I had a bit of a snobbery when it came to the Canary Islands. Associated with package holidays and the dreaded ‘Brits abroad’, I was sceptical that I’d find the gourmet food, modern but classical décor, tasteful bars and luxury shopping that I knew I could get in the other cities. But after hearing the word Tenerife come up at social occasions, seeing it on the TV show The Only Way Is Essex and Take Me Out and reading about the Sky Team cycling camps in Tenerife, I figured there must be more to the island than meets the eye…and thankfully I soon found out I’d been correct.

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    Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I stayed in the same hotel that TOWIE used to film in earlier this year. The stars’ Instagram accounts showed me enough of the Roca Nivaria Gran Hotel to make it look appealing and if you watch the Tenerife episodes you’ll notice shots of sunbathing, eating breakfast outside by the sea and balmy nights on hotel balconies – the vital ingredients of a decent holiday.

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    The hotel’s location on Playa Paraiso near Costa Adeje means it’s situated in one of the more upmarket parts of the island (which I liked a lot) but I soon found out that it’s a hotel that you just can’t tear yourself away from. With two infinity pools (one heated), a kids pool, a private beach with soft black sand, breath-taking views of the Atlantic from everywhere you step (including your room’s balcony) and a variety of top quality restaurants, you can walk around with the lovely feeling of confidence that whatever you need is never more than a quick telephone call away. There’s no need to worry about the weather either as it rarely rains in Tenerife and the mercury is guaranteed to be in the mid 20s or above.

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    My travel partners were my husband and our 13 month old baby (pictured above), which isn’t the obvious group to enjoy a celebrity style holiday, but I’ve always thought that you don’t have to have a personality lobotomy when you have children. Besides, even 13 month olds deserve to holiday in style, don’t they? One thing you need to make this possible is to ensure the hotel has a great kids club, which the Roca Nivaria Gran certainly does (more about that later).

    Every day started with a luxurious breakfast outside on the terrace, overlooking the Atlantic. We feasted on fresh fruit, yogurt and granola and my husband was a frequent visitor to the freshly cooked omelette station. I watched chefs cook pancakes fresh for me and then I smothered them with scrambled eggs and syrup. The croissants were also very more-ish, served warm and just the right size to tickle your tastebuds without leaving you uncomfortably full.

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    The baby and kids club, which is included in the price of your stay, opens at 10am every morning. All the staff we met went the extra mile to make the kids feel comfortable and between them spoke every language imaginable. Babies have their own padded fenced off area so they are safe from older kids and they have access to hundreds of toys, balls, stacking toys, pushing toys and soft play foam that captures their attention and makes them want to stay. There’s even a dedicated sleep room so babies can stick to their regular naptimes. When I picked Rory up for lunch at 1pm, I was told exactly what he’d done, what he’d eaten and drunk and if he’d had any wet / dirty nappies.

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    Lunches we liked to take by the pool, sampling a variety of BBQ food, paella and salads. My son loved the small birds which were so tame they sat on the back of seats, waiting until someone left the table so they could steal some morsels. After some ice cream and fruit, we liked to dip our feet into the pool, looking out to sea and catching up on the morning’s activities. My husband would usually have spent the morning cycling while I would have been topping up my tan, swimming and reading by the pool. My husband was in cycling heaven with Mount Teide being a mecca for cyclists. One on day, he was cycling down the mountain when he saw Chris Froome and Team Sky cycling up it as preparation for their Tour De France cycling. If you like to keep fit on holiday you can easily hire a bike on the island and our hotel had a fully equipped and air-conditioned gym for people who prefer a less sweaty workout (like me).

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    Our son was back in kids club from 3pm – 6pm, giving my husband and I some time together to chill. We rarely get to spend so much quality time together as a couple so it felt super special and was a chance for us to remember why we got together and stuck together. However, both of us looked forward to the end of the day when we collected Rory and took him to the pool. There’s just something about being in a swimming pool with an excited baby that makes you feel like a kid again yourself.

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    We usually ate dinner early to keep to Rory’s bedtime and this meant we always had a prime spot outside, whether eating in the buffet or in one of the hotel’s speciality restaurants. Instead of a traditional buffet, the Roca Nivaria Gran has demonstration stations. Every night, there are eight or so areas with chefs making a variety of meats, stews, stir-frys, grilled food, pasta and pizza fresh while you watch. It was warm and full of flavour, which was infinitely better than helping yourself to food that’s been sitting there for ages. I love a restaurant where you can see chefs working in the kitchen and this took it to another level.

    Every night, we had at least eight hours sleep to the sounds of the waves crashing onto the rocks. I don’t usually allow the window to be open on holiday as I am severely allergic to insect bites, but I didn’t get any on the first night at dinner (which is always a test) and so I allowed the window to be open. To my surprise, I awoke in the morning to clear skin and a clear mind. My son used to get up around 5am at home but the sea air and timetable of activities at baby club helped him to sleep in until at least 7am in the mornings. Bliss! This meant we were all started the day in a better mood.

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    To holiday like a TV star, there needs to be fabulous food, a spectacular location, a relaxed setting and efficient service and we certainly had that at the Roca Nivaria Gran hotel in Tenerife. Now I have a new destination on my list of VIP holiday destinations. When people ask me where I enjoy holidaying my new list will be Cannes, Monaco, Mykonos, New York, Dubai and….Tenerife

     

    Visit the Roca Nivaria Gran’s website to see more of what they offer.

     

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  • Why You Should Take A Trip To Finland This Winter

    Are you in need of a little time out – why not plan a winter getaway? While a lot less of us choose to travel in the winter than we do in the summer, winter travel can be just as enjoyable. There are so many fantastic locations just waiting to be explored, such as Finland, for example. If you’re in need of a winter getaway, this could just be the perfect location.

    A country that never gets dark in the summer and never properly light in the winter, Finland is one place that should be on every bucket list. Home to vast forests and beautifully large lakes, vibrant cities, and, of course, part of Lapland, Finland is a beautiful country.

    Still not convinced that a trip to Finland is for you? Here we’ve put together a guide to all the most compelling reasons to visit this amazing country.

    Skiing

    If you visit Finland during the colder months, you’ll have lots of opportunities to ski. Whether you opt to stay in a resort and ski there or choose to ski across country, it’s up to you. With beautiful powdery snow and marked cross country ski tracks, if you’re a keen skier this could be the perfect destination for you.

    For a fantastic range of slopes, the best place to visit is Lapland. Here there is a range of slopes that are suitable for all skiing abilities, from beginners to experts. Snowboarders are also welcome, so if you’re a keen boarder, make sure to hit the slopes here.

    Dog sledding

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    Have you always dreamt about dog sledding across the Arctic? Well, now’s your chance, Finland is famous for it’s fantastic sledding adventures. You’ll find that across the country, there are various companies running dog sledding excursions. So wherever you choose to go, you should be able to enjoy an awesome sledding experience.

    Before you travel, do a little research to see where your nearest sledding company operates. It’s a good idea to check their website to see if booking is recommended, if so, make sure to book your dog sledding adventure well in advance.

    See the Northern Lights

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    One thing that is on most traveler’s bucket lists is seeing the Northern Lights. If you’ve always dreamt of seeing these magical dancing lights, Finland winter trips are perfect for you. During the colder months, the Northern Lights are often present in the Finish skies. If you’ve always wanted to see the Arctic’s amazing natural light show, a trip here is a must.

    Ice fishing

    In Finland, ice fishing is a popular winter sport. If you’re a keen fisherman, you might like to try your hand at it while you’re there. If you like the idea of giving the sport a try, don’t make the mistake of going alone, always go via a reputable company.

    Ice fishing might be fun, but it can also be incredibly dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. To ice fish, you need to drill a small hole in the ice, if you don’t know how to safely do it, you can cause the ice to crack and the lake to become dangerous.
    Now that you know how much Finland has to offer, all you need to do is book your trip. The sooner you book, the sooner you will arrive, in this fantastic country.

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  • Flag In The Sand Experiences

    Are you stuck for gift ideas for the person who has everything? Or simply want to treat yourself to something fabulous because you’ve been working hard and need to kick back? For the ultimate VIP gifts for those who want to have an experience that money can’t usually buy, you need to know about Flag in The Sand.

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    They can do what Top Gear can’t. Top Gear tried to get the holy trinity of hyper cars – a McLaren P1, Ferrari La Ferrari and a Porsche 918 Spyder- together in one day and failed. But Flag In The Sand can manage it and are putting the experience up for sale. For £7,000 you can drive these at speeds of up to 200mph on a deserted runway, while video footage is being taken so you can remember and show off about the day forever. And you’ll get to do warm-up laps on supercars like a Ferrari 458 Italia, McLaren MP4-12C and a Porsche 991 Turbo S.  Beat that, Jeremy Clarkson!

    Other amazing things they can pull off for you include a kickabout with Ronaldo, a round of golf at the Augusta, access to the Oscars AND the afterparties or a private concert with a tenor in a Tuscan chateau. How VIP is that? If you have the imagination to think of something you want to do, it’s almost 100% likely Flag in The Sand can make it a reality.

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    In terms of holidays, perks of being a member include getting tables at exclusive restaurants at short notice, having them not just book your travel itinerary but ensure you have small change for tipping in whatever country you’re going to, a mobile phone with all the numbers you need, plus takeaway arranged for when you arrive home and your laundry done.

    We all work hard and time off is precious so delegating to Flag in the Sand to make your dreams come true is what the VIPs do. Check out their website at FlagInTheSand.com to see what they can do for you.

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  • Travel Review: VIP Malta

    If you’re looking for an early summer holiday offering sunshine, great food and wine and some fascinating sightseeing, Malta could be just for you.

    We’ve just come back from a four-day trip to the Mediterranean Island with gorgeous suntans and some happy memories after living the VIP lifestyle at the sumptuously five star Corinthia Hotel, St George’s Bay. This hotel has great facilities, really friendly staff and a very cool vibe. It is also ideally situated to explore everything Malta has to offer and we reckon there are lots of cultural and culinary treasures which definitely warrant a visit.

    So, where to start? We absolutely loved the Drappier Carte D’or champagne in the Corinthia’s stylish Pearl Lounge cocktail bar.

    Pearl Lounge

    At 12 Euros per glass, this refined Champagne didn’t break the bank and we’ll be ordering a case now we’re back in London. Sipping some bubbles proved the perfect way to unwind in the evening after a hard day spent reclining in our bikinis beside the hotel’s cascading outdoor pool complex which flows all the way down to a private beach lido. Check out these pics we took of the three outdoor pools:

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    Lido

     

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    There’s also a really cute indoor pool which is part of the hotel’s cosy  Apollo day spa and leisure complex.

    Apollo Day Spa Indoor Pool

     

    Making the most of the spa, we treated ourselves to treatments including a soothing chocolate wrap which left our skin silky smooth. The hour-long treatments were reasonably priced too at 50 Euros and the spa is of a standard you’d expect from a five star hotel. The treatment rooms had bamboo on the walls, soft music and soft massage beds with thick warm towels – if our rooms weren’t so comfortable we’d have happily slept there at night!

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    The 249-room hotel also has great restaurants, in particular the stylish Caviar and Bull where we washed down scallops, black squid ink calamari and salt-encrusted sea bass with mojitos and Maltese red wine (surprisingly tasty!) This restaurant is set in front of the hotel complex and benefits from breath-taking sea views – the perfect backdrop for a girlie dinner or a romantic meal with your partner. 

    Caviar & Bull Restaurant

     

    Weather-wise we were lucky as the sun was shining for most of the time, hence Zoe came home as brown as a berry. But when it was cloudy we took a taxi into Malta’s capital city, Valletta. If you’re looking to tick the culture box when you’re on holiday, the sixteenth century St John’s Co-Cathedral is a must visit. This church is beautifully ornate while its paintings and decorations tell the dramatic story of Malta’s amazing history including the island’s role in the Crusades and the advance of the Ottoman Empire.

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    The hotel concierge can suggest extra things during the trip and we found all the staff at The Corinthia went the extra mile to ensure we got what we wanted. Every day, there’s a special activity for hotel guests – a chance to learn how to make Maltese jewellery, a complimentary massage lesson or a walk into the capital city. There’s a shuttle bus from the hotel in St George’s bay to Valletta, which takes around 15 mins, and they’ll take you and collect you for free. Valletta’s the European Capital of Culture in 2018 so if you don’t have a look around, you’ll regret it.

    All this sun and sea and sightseeing caused us to work up an appetite, but we’re not the sort of people that can eat anywhere. Nothing disappoints us more than tourist rip-off restaurants and so we did some pre-holiday research. I’m happy to report that we chose some great places as we found a little gem in Rampila, an intimate, charming little eaterie set inside 500-year-old castle ramparts which were built by the Knights of St John. You can see the fortress walls if you dine al fresco on the terrace.

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    Going down the original stone stairs from the street we descended, a little warily, into a tunnel which led to the most atmospheric dining area.

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    The waiters were absolutely charming and spoke perfect English while the menu was truly international in flavour, combining Italian, French and North African influences. A little guiltily the VIP team found the rabbit dishes simply too tasty to pass up. Sorry Thumper! Even on a slightly chilly March evening Rampila proved a delightful venue. Be sure to book a table if you visit Valletta as you won’t be disappointed.

    Michael’s at the Civil Service Sports Club is another restaurant you could consider. The entrance took our breath away!

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    The setting is a wonderful stone building while just inside the front door is a really tempting table of freshly caught fish including delicious-looking red snapper. Presentation in this place is out of this world with a mzckerel and salmon starter a particular highlight.

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    Michael turned out to be the restaurant’s head chef and master of ceremonies, going from table to table ensuring we were enjoying our mains of curried monkfish and salmon pasta. He gave us stories and anecdotes about Maltese life and history, fuelling us up in more ways than one for another day of adventure in Malta.

    All said we loved Malta and think you will too. The Corinthia – which is part of a hotel group which includes the luxurious Corinthia hotel on London’s Embankment – would be a wonderful setting for your holiday whatever the time of year. Visit The Corinthia Website now to get the best available rate and to see What’s On at the hotel in terms of activities.

     

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  • The Ultimate Guide To Travelling Like A VIP

    If you are lucky enough to have a great itinerary for travel this year, you may be thinking ahead to how you are going to be travelling in style. With so many chic places to visit and so many great outfits to wear when you get there, you need to be arriving in something that screams VIP. Whether you’re in heels in St. Petersburg or sandals in Dubai, you need to make sure you get there in tip top condition. We give you the ultimate guide to classy travel, to ensure you get the VIP treatment.

     Limousine – Without a doubt, turning up to an event or party in the back of a stretch limousine will turn heads. If you have to hire a car anyway, why not hire something with all the glitz and glam of a celebrity lifestyle. Take some lessons on how to slide in and out while retaining your dignity in a cocktail dress and heels. And just for good measure, have a friend run ahead with a flash camera to help you make a great entry! OK, maybe that is a little overkill, and limo is likely to be enough to see you on FaceBook pages for weeks.

    Train – We’re not talking about the grotty little subway carriages here. No, we’re talking high-class Orient Express. If you are making a journey in this region, you must travel this historic beauty and dine in style aboard this incredible train. Most of us have only slept slouched in a drunken stupor on trains before. Sleep in your own carriage with the gentle rocking of the train to send you off to dream heaven. The ultimate in luxury travel on rails.

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    Private jet – Live the lifestyle of the rich and famous, and make your journey across country and beyond on your own private charter. You can find jet charters online, and choose from some of the most amazing private planes. With limited passenger numbers and luxurious fittings on board, you really can live the high life, with just a modicum of money. So you may not ever own your own jet, but you can certainly fly in one (if only once in your lifetime!). The shorter the distance, the cheaper the fare, but sometimes an excuse is all you need for luxury flight in a private jet.

    Yacht – Charter a yacht for a long weekend off the coast of Caribbean island, or maybe just grab a two-hour tour around the harbour. Whatever your budget, you shouldn’t leave a luxury yacht ride off your list of travel to-dos this year. If you can afford it, take the opportunity to sleep onboard in your own luxury cabin, and enjoy the fresh sea breeze through your hair. Take a bikini and top up your tan on the deck. Sip champagne and enjoy some caviar as you speed along the coast of somewhere exotic. Hire one for a party and spread the cost among your most fabulous friends.

     

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    The Istanbul Marathon

    Running marathons isn’t everyone’s idea of ‘living like a VIP’ but the benefits include burning tons of calories, toning up your figure and learning just what your body and mind are capable of. Every year, I’ve seen some celebrities do them including Gordon Ramsay, Ronan Keating, Peter Andre, Pamela Anderson and Katherine Jenkins and it makes me feel quite competitive. If they can do it then why can’t I? Also, I like the idea of training for something. The prospect of having to run 26.2 miles motivates me to do a run to practise and if I didn’t have the fear I probably wouldn’t do anything at all. vip-marathon-runners I signed up for Istanbul partly because I go to a running club called London City Runners and learned that 20 cool people from the club were also doing it. However, it was also partly because I like the combination of running and holidaying. At this point, I should probably admit that I have run marathons before (two in London and one in New York) and I loved combining exploring New York with running a marathon. I could party heavily afterwards and consume doughnuts, pizza and cookies without thinking of the calorific consequences. I’ve never been to Istanbul before and I hoped I would end up celebrating  a successful race over meat kebabs in a local venue with wine or champagne and my friends. Well, that’s what I hoped for, but you can’t always control some of the elements when it comes to running marathons so my attitude at the start of the trip could be summer up in one word – nervous! The group from running club was mixed as some people had run 12 marathons while others were running their first. Some expected to fly round in super quick times, while others were just hoping to get round without stopping. That’s one of the things I love about a marathon – anyone can do it and no matter how fast you do it it’s still faster than someone who is too scared to run. If any of you are reading this and think you’d like to try it and potentially combine it with a holiday in Istanbul then this piece will tell you everything you need to know. Let’s start with the travel. I decided to fly out with Atlasjet from London Luton, as the airport is within driving distance of my parents house in Hertfordshire. It’s also home to an Aspire airport lounge, which was just the tonic for my nerves. It’s impossible to feel panicked or stressed when you can wait for a flight in the comfort of a lounge, with a fridge stocked full of soft drinks and alcoholic drinks. You can help yourself to whatever you want, and although I decided to abstain I poured my friend a vodka. ist-lounge

    There’s a great selection of snacks but as I was running, I decided to be healthy and have some fruit with a glass of sparkling water. I just had a couple of pieces, not the whole lot! IMG_8641 At £18.99 for the access, which you can prebook on the Aspire Executive Lounges website, it’s totally worth it. By the time you’ve had a coffee and a sandwich in Pret you’ll have spent £10 and in the lounge you can eat and drink whatever you want and do it with free WIFI on a comfortable chair!

    Atlasjet is a low cost airline, which has operated daily flights out of London Luton since May 2014. The main draw for me was that it was £100 return, which is cheaper than a train fare to Manchester! For this price, I didn’t expect any frills but there was a 25kg luggage allowance and just as much catering as on a BA flight. You could have drinks pre-meal and during meal and they served three courses with meze to start, chicken with rice and peas and a chocolate cake. An hour before the four hour flight landed, we were served tea and cake. The only thing that I missed was in-flight entertainment as there wasn’t even one TV screen inside, but if you pay less than £50 for a four hour flight, you can’t expect to have everything. 6t81KuBERvwHzl_ofXUs2iOJTqMnWJf6jMk6LDdgbM5dKA6Ltc0E74gKU7scHfyT7cTvFJZBJF8cXMggecfNPQNh3ok85suFbA=s0-d-e1-ft

    Above is one of the photos I took of our accomodation. Istanbul has a mangnificent Four Seasons hotel as well as a Raffles and a comfortable Shangri-La hotel, but I wanted a place where I would feel comfortable in my exercise clothes and I could wake up at whatever time I wanted and get back whenever I wanted without feeling under pressure to behave. Air BnB was the answer and three friends and I chose a place close to the marathon finish line in Sultanahmet, which worked out to £80 a night (£20 a night each). It’s the first time I’ve ever stayed in an Air BnB place and the price made me feel wary. Would it be clean? Would it be quiet? Would the beds be comfy? Would the shower be clean? The answer to everything was yes and the owner even left the fridge stocked with breakfast items – juice, water, milk, eggs, cereal and bread. The best surprise was that my bed was twice the size as my bed at home, although the flat owner did like the colour purple :) a1964dbc_original

    The corner sofa was used a lot! We could easily fit lots of my friends on if we were sat up – usually about six of us.  After the marathon, we fit three of us on it, all lying down. I’d definitely recommend the place and the fact you can walk to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and cake shops in less than five minutes. Check out it’s listing on Air BnB here. zoe-apartment

    Now I should probably get on to the main reason I was in Istanbul – the marathon! It’s a busy time for the city of Istanbul as there are three races going on at once – 10km, 15km and 42km (marathon distance). The earlier you register in advance, the cheaper it is. I paid 60 TYL, which is less than £20. To put this into context, the entry for New York in 2015 is $358! You can visit the Istanbul Marathon website to sign up if you’re interested in doing it in 2015. There will be a registration form up on 1 January 2015 and its 60 TYL as long as you register before 30 July.

    So what does the entry fee get you? Firstly, you get you a bib and chip to attach to your trainers to get an official time, plus pre-race gifts from the sponsors of the race including  an Adidas t-shirt and a Tupperware water bottle. The Adidas t-shirt alone looks like it’s worth more than £20. The downside is this needs to be collected from an exhibition centre that is far out from the centre of Istanbul. This is 3 stops from the airport so I would advise booking an early flight so you can tick off the travelling and the race admin in the same day. Here I am with my bag at the expo. It’s a tired smile as I attended the day after I arrived and it felt like it took hours to get there. Don’t do what I did, plan in advance. istmarathon-expo-sign

    Marathon day itself was epic – it felt like it went on forever. If you stay in the Sultanahmet or Taksim areas of the city, you can get a shuttle bus to the start but you have to get on the bus around 7am as the last bus leaves dead on 730am. As a result, people panic to get on the buses and I spent the first half an hour of my race day morning, stood up on a bus, under the armpit of another runner. When the bus stopped suddenly, people trampled over each other. It was worse than the central line in rush hour, which was pretty horrendous. The same atmosphere prevailed at the start. You have to put your luggage on a bus, but nobody knew where the buses were.There are a lot of people to fight your way past to find out where anything is…the start line on the left is for the 15km race and the one on the right for the 42 km start – everyone crams in together! 10736500_10155468931340377_2087117535_o We had to clamber over the carriageways, jumping over road blocks to get to the luggage buses, which really could have caused injuries before the race started. I’m also surprised there were no injuries in the starting pen as there’s a complete lack of organisation. In New York and London, you tell the race organisers what time you expect to finish in and they divide you into places to start the race. In Istanbul, anyone can start wherever they want and everyone wants to be near the front even if they’re not hoping for a good time. This means that as soon as the start guns go off, people are pushing everywhere. You have to have your wits about you. It’s an amazing feeling to run across the Bosphorus bridge, which is normally shut to pedestrians, but the buzz is shortlived as I was focusing more on avoiding other runners and keeping my balance to avoid getting tripped up. 5fa09488-8a25-4b1f-a1ff-34c72ed68ef1

    The highs of the race are:

    1. Good water stations every 2.5km, with sponges so you can throw water over you as well as in you. Some stops also had bananas and oranges and sugar cubes. I expected New York to have these facilities given the massive race entry fee, but as Istanbul is much cheaper to enter it made the refreshment stations more impressive.
    2. Regular time checkpoints so you can look up your split times for each 5K after the race.
    3. A post-race goodybag containing a t-shirt, drinks, a chocolate bar and a good quality medal. (Wine not included!)

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    The lows of the race were:

    1. Lack of supporters. It was completely quiet from 2km to 41km. In London and New York, the supporters are encouraging you at every mile but in Istanbul there are only people on the last kilometre.
    2. A dull course. The second half of the race consists of running 7 miles towards the airport along a Coastal motorway and 7 miles back. When there’s no crowds it feels like it’s going on forever.
    3. An uphill ending. The last 2km are uphill, which seems unfair given that we’ve already run 40km! There was also a hill 11km in which lasted almost a kilometre. It was followed by the same distance downhill, but I find running downhill can damage joints, as you’re tempted to use the momentum of the hill, rather than cushion your landing.


    And the end result? I finished in 3 hrs 41. Anything under 3 hrs 45 is termed Good For Age to get you an entry into the London Marathon, so I’m happy that I’m ‘Good For Age’.  I’m also happy that I went with such a friendly group of people. If you’re in the London area and you want an England Athletics affiliated club that only charges £30 for the entire year, check out the London City Runners website.  I’d advise taking a watch if you want to achieve a specific time goal (I used the Garmin Forerunner 10 watch) This is because there weren’t kilometre markings at regular intervals so I relied on my watch to check if I was on schedule for a sub 4 hour marathon. It turned out I was way underneath! opplanet-garmin-forerunner-10-watch-pink-and-white-americas-010-01039-07-main Make sure you get good trainers and practise in them in advance. I learned this the hard way on my first marathon, running in fashion trainers rather than running trainers and suffering a severe achilles injury. Istanbul was the first time I’ve run a race in Adidas Boost 2.0 trainers and the first time I’ve completed a marathon with all my toenails and no blisters. Not one single foot or ankle injury is a real achievement for me and I think the fact that I’ve suffered injuries while wearing different pairs of shoes says something about how much well suited I am to Adidas running shoes. The first time I raced in these shoes I got a PB in a 5K ParkRun. Go figure! adidas-boost1

    It’s important to think about how you plan to fuel your marathon and practise in advance as you don’t want to try anything new on race day. The water stations on the Istanbul marathon course only served water and sugar cubes and this won’t provide all the energy you need for more than 3 and a half hours of running. I experimented with a few fuel strategies before the race but I found I enjoyed the taste (and benefits) of Clif shot gels and Clif shot bloks the most. The chocolate gel was really tasty so I started with that when I was feeling low around mile 10. Then I had a few shot bloks, which were a bit like a more flavoursome version of gummy bears, and I ended up with a double espresso shot to power me through the last 10km. The espresso shot was amazing – I felt invincible afterwards and I honestly don’t think I would have got under 3 hrs 45 without that much needed boost.

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    And finally, I think it’s important to watch your nutrition so you don’t get ill. Before the marathon I wrote about drinking CherryActive and BeetActive  and I think they really helped as well as the Guarana powder and health food bars from Creative Nature Super Foods

    With the marathon out of the way, and no major injuries, I was free to make the most of the eating and drinking in Istanbul as well as see the sights. I visited some places I wouldn’t recommend but I enjoyed:

    Cemberlitas Hammam the-original-turkish Ok, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but this is a traditional Turkish hammam and completely unlike anything you’ve ever experienced elsewhere in the world. It’s all done on a heated marble bed, which is ideal for post-marathon aching muscles. hamam But it’s not for the shy! You’re given knickers to wear…but nothing else. A local woman will bathe you all over, exfoliating and moisturising you with soap suds so your skin feels soft and clean but my face was just as flushed from the awkwardness at seeing so much nudity as it was from the heat. Boys and girls use separate facilities so it’s not sexual but it is pretty surreal. Visit the Cemberlitas hammam website for more info – at 90TYL (approx £30) for the full experience it’s worth doing once in your life.

    Mavi Melek restaurant  beyoglu-mavimelek This had a lovely outside area for the summer and even the inside felt cosy – like you’re eating in a family’s home. The full London City Runners crowd (more than 20 of us) visited the night of the Marathon and had a set menu. I’m sometimes sceptical when restaurants offer these and also cautious about group dinners when the chef is too overworked to think about flavours. However, they do catering for large numbers well in Istanbul. In the Mavi Melek set menu for 50 TYL a head, approx £15, the hungry group of City Runners feasted on an array of mixed cold starters, warm cheese, meat or seabass and a rich chocolate fondant. The food kept coming out – just what you need after running a marathon! 2006

    Ozi pizza photo-of-ozi-pizza-and As the City Runners crew celebrated hard the day of the marathon, the following day we may have been slightly damaged / hungover. Ozi pizza was just opposite our Air BnB flat and we ordered three of the most cheesey pizzas, heavy on the topping and light on the base, that perfectly hit the spot. Disappointingly they got out order slightly wrong with one of them and we ended up with seafood when we ordered chicken, but I can see why Ozi is rated 11th out of all the restaurants in Istanbul by Trip Advisor reviewers. It’s not somewhere you go for a fancy meal, but if you want comfort food it’s an alternative to the kebabs and kofte that are on every street corner. Don’t let the photos of the pasta and pizza dishes on the menu put you off!

    Hagia Sofia istanbul-hagia-sofia Simply stunning! It’s the oldest building I’ve ever been in, built in 526AD. There’s a fascinating mix of catholic and Islam history plus a shrine dedicated to Empress Zoe. It’s 30 TYL to enter, but you get a real sense of history and architectural awe once inside. zoa-hagia-sofia

    Blue Mosque ist-zoe-mosque This is on every postcard you see of Istanbul so you can’t leave without exploring it closer. Take a head scarf if you want to visit inside or you’ll have to borrow one of theirs. Also, you do have to take your shoes off when inside so make sure you have good socks. Finally, check opening times in advance as the mosque is shut 5 times a day at the Muslim prayer times. It’s pretty spectacular inside! ist-blue-mosque-inside

    Cakes by Sultanahmet tram station MB-TURKEY-Istanbul-032 I always knew Istanbul was famous for Turkish delight and baklava but I never expected the large, creamy cakes. Around the sultanahmet tram stop, there are lots of cake shops next to each other. I ordered the version of giant swiss roll below. It was so wide, there was a profiterole inside. I ate it all and enjoyed every mouthful. ist-cake Grand Bazaar delight-bazaar Yet more sweet treats! However, the Grand Bazaar is mainly the place to buy your tourist souvenirs like local pottery and glassware. Be prepared to haggle and beware of the fake handbags and watches and the sellers heckling you to buy knock-offs. Be strong!   ist-shopping
    A fish sandwich by The Galata Bridge galata-collage Paying 6 TYL (ie £2) for a decent sized sandwich? Get in! This area is full of fishermen casting rods from the bridge above or trawlers going out to see and the result is a sandwich that tastes so fresh it practically swam up to your mouth. I sort of wish I bought two as they wore very moreish, especially when drizzled in lemon juice. As you can tell, I really enjoyed eating in Istanbul!

    Would I go back to Istanbul? Absolutely. Would I run another marathon? Definitely. I am even glad I ran the Istanbul marathon as it made me stronger. I learned how to pace myself to beat the lack of signage and I learned to dig into the depths of my mind to keep myself going when there was a lack of support. As the Istanbul marathon is easy to enter, it’s good if you don’t get a place in the ballot of a big marathon like London or New York plus it’s cheap. If you’ve ever run a marathon in a interesting place please let me know – Tweet me @livelikeavip or email zoe@livelikeavip.com If we’re going to do exercise, we may as well do it in style and have fun, right? Xx

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    Running Like A VIP In New York: Part 1

    I’m a regular visitor to New York. I love the shopping, I love the eating out options (no one cooks in New York), I love the cocktail bars and I love the 24-hour vibe. This is the city that never sleeps and every time I visit I feel like I’m constantly running around. Thinking I should probably put my energy to good use, I signed up to run the New York marathon in 2013.

    There’s so much to say about the experience that I’m writing up the experience in two parts with the first one about how to rest and fuel up in style. The second part will be about where to practise running so even if you don’t do the marathon you can stay fit on holiday.

    PART 1: EATING AND SLEEPING

    To leave New York without seeing The Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty in Manhattan would be like going to London and missing out on Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. However, you won’t see any celebrities in the queue for the tourist sights – they have better things to do. So once you have that selfie of yourself in Times Square to plaster over Facebook, please remember that there is more to New York than Manhattan.

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    There’s more to NYC than this!

    If you want to do New York the VIP way, you won’t find it in any of the guidebooks as once a place makes it into a guidebook it gets packed with tourists. Did you go all the way to New York to hang out with other tourists? I may be the Queen of Showbiz in London, but I don’t have as many connections in New York so I put my words into practise and did my own research. I asked my friends for hotel / bar recommendations and I got over Google to find out restaurants / clubs that celebs were seen leaving. Some of it worked (and I’ve listed these places below) and some didn’t (and I’m not going to dwell on the negatives so I’ve forgotten about it and moved on).

    1)     WHERE TO STAY

    AVOID TIMES SQUARE.  When I was 21 I went to New York with my friends to celebrate graduating from University. We stayed in Times Square and we ate at chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesday. At the time I didn’t know any better but looking back on it it’s the equivalent of staying in London’s Kings Cross and ‘dining’ at Aberdeen Angus Steak House. I would never do this! In London, I like places with character.

    TRY THE JANE.

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    I found out about The Jane Hotel through Google, typing in ‘New York Travel Budget Hotel’ and seeing that there was a recent article by Time Out (NOTE – always check the date that an article is published). In the Time Out article  The Jane got 4 stars and I liked the history involved in the building, which was where the survivors of The Titanic stayed in 1912 when awaiting an inquest into the ship’s sinking. The wood-paneled, 50-square-foot rooms are actually called cabins and were inspired by vintage train sleeper compartments—there’s a single bed with built-in storage and brass hooks for hanging up your clothes, but also iPod docks and wall-mounted 23-inch flat-screen TVs (see above). However, what really sold it for me was the location – in the chic West Village, just round the corner from where Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie character had a flat in Sex and The City.

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    As rooms are approximately $99 a night, depending on the season you visit, I was initially sceptical about what I would be getting, but I was greeted by a doorman in a chic uniform and walked into a lobby that looked like it was full of character. Instead of impersonal plastic room key cards, you get a full blown brass keys.

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    Should you be feeling peckish the restaurant is an authentic French brasserie, Café Gitane. However, my favourite room by far was the bar, which is so large it is actually a ballroom.  Full of mismatched chairs, taxidermy and oriental rugs and lit by candles, it’s a midweek hipster hangout and I wouldn’t have to stumble home after one of their insanely strong cocktails. How lucky was I?

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    Yes, rooms are small but how much time do you sit on a sofa on a hotel room anyway? Exactly! I found all I needed was a bed and a TV (and that’s all you get at The Jane). There’s no bathroorm – you share a communal one with three showers per floor –but  they were immaculately clean and there was never any queuing for the shower. Towels for the shower are provided and there are toiletries inside so it is like staying in a hotel with hostel prices. You even get a fresh bottle of filtered water every day, which is more than what you get in a hotel! I photographed the view of The Hudson River from my window and my parents said it was better than their $250-a-night hotel further uptown.  I had the best view, a good TV, friendly staff and a hip bar for next to nothing prices – win, win!

    For more details about price and availability, visit The Jane Hotel website.

    2)     WHERE TO EAT

    This is a very important subject for me because I was in New York to run the Marathon. Therefore it was important to get some good hearty and healthy food into my system pre-race and to indulge in a few carbs. However, when I say carbs I don’t mean pancakes with syrup for breakfast and super-size donuts and giant squidgy cookies type of carbs. That was my reward to myself  post-race. ..so I’ve divided the food part into a few sections:

    (i) Healthy Eats

    Crosby Street Hotel

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    I found out about this through it’s sister hotels in London  – The Charlotte Street Hotel, The Covent Garden Hotel, The Haymarket Hotel and The Soho Hotel – which  are all great places to spot celebs in. If the Firmdale group which owns them can run four consistently good hotels in the UK, I was pretty convinced they could operate one in New York…and I was right.

    The hotel is decorated in a similar style to the ones in the UK – modern, classic and contemporary and full of character. Think bright fabrics, texturised wallpaper and unique sculptures.

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    However, it manages to be chic yet cosy. And it was the best meal I ate in my entire trip to New York. Three of us runners indulged in a main course and dessert and check out the photos as a partial illustration of how good it was.

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    Lamb chops with cumin mint scented Satsuma. Tender and moist with a fruity kick from the satsuma

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    Grilled rib-eye, herbed tomatoes and onions – a perfect image of what medium rare should be. The meat was packed with flavour.

    scallops

    Scallops, polenta, caper raisin sauce – large, succulent scallops, served in an extraordinarily rich sauce. Beats the traditional black pudding / pea serving suggestion by miles!

    For sides, we shared sweet potato mash (which we fought over because it was so tasty), hand cut French fries (seasoned with garlic) and fresh spinach. When it came to the table it was so pretty it was like an artwork. We trashed it all quite quickly, which is often the case with delicious food – you can’t get it in your mouth quick enough. But check out how we ended it – three spoons and one of these:

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    Funnel cake with hard cider caramel sauce and black pepper ice cream.

    I ended up running the marathon in the fast time of 3 Hours 36 Minutes and for one of the miles I visualised this cake as a motivation for me to keep going. My thinking was that if I died on the spot, I’d never get another funnel cake, which would have been tragedy!

    For details about price and to make a booking, visit The Crosby Street Hotel website.

    Bianca Italian

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    This was my ‘night-before’ meal and if I was on death row, I woudn’t be sad if I was served something like this as my last meal ever. For the price I paid, it was incredible value. Ok, it’s not as fancy as The Crosby Street hotel but it’s hearty and delicious, homely and most dishes are less than $10 (although the catch is that you do have to pay in cash not by card).

    One of my friends and I went for meat ragu with penne while our friend opted for tagliatelle. The portions were huge, making it ideal for pre-marathon carb-loading and the pasta was fresh and perfectly soft, but not too soft.

    bianca-nyc-best-pasta

    Its location in Soho, where some of the New York celebs like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Kirsten Dunst own apartments means that you may spot a celeb popping in for a quick bite. But everyone is made to feel like a celeb at Bianca’s as they immediately treat you as part of the family whether it’s your first visit of your 50th. This is why the grin on my face is this big after eating there!

    PIC OF ME

    The dining room is homely, a white dolls house and the tables are squished close together so the atmosphere is electric and buzzy. I was told about this by a friend who lived in New York for a few years and she told me it was her favourite Italian in the whole of New York. I can definitely understand why.

    For more details and to see the menu, visit the Bianca website

    (ii) Brunch Treats

    Westville

    westville

    Westville is open all day so you can have sweet potato fries with a lunchtime ceasar salad or an evening-time piece of grilled chicken for healthy yet deliciously tasty restaurant food. We visited the one in the West Village, near The Jane Hotel, but there are branches across the city.

    The one in the West Village is absolutely tiny, you can see the kitchen from all the tables and if you want the toilet you have to walk through the kitchen! But it’s worth it.

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    Sweet potato fries with eggs benedict? Apple pancakes with apple sauce?  Poached eggs with smoked salmon, avocado and asparagus (for just $13)?

    Westville_poached_eggs_special

    After a visit to Westville your stomach will be thanking you. The portions are huge and I sometimes get bored munching through a full plate of food but every mouthful of my eggs and fries triggered involuntary moans of pleasure.

    Visit the Westville website for a full list of locations and a look at the delicious menu

    Pastis

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    This is one of THE most popular weekend brunch places. Set your alarm for a decent hour as by bagging a table at Pastis, you’re very likely to see someone very famous walk through the door. It’s run by Keith McNally, who also owns the Balthazaar restaurant in New York (which has also just opened in London) and counts USVogue editor Anna Wintour among one of his closest pals.

    It’s the food and the general Parisian chic ambience which draw the celebs to these places rather than any freebie meal – the celebs go in and pay because the place is cool in its own right. We all had a vegetable omelette with homecooked potatoes washed down with some fresh orange juice.

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    If it had been post Marathon I would have tried the pancakes with berries after seeing a plate get taken to the table opposite me. The next time I go to New York I will be returning to Pastis and I will order the pancakes, unless I go in the evening – when I’m told they do a mean steak frites followed by crème brulee.

    Check out the full menu and some pics of the gorgeous decor on the Pastis website

    (iii) Real Indulgences

    Momofuku Milk Bar

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    The cornflake with marshmallow cookie was mighty tasty but the speciality is a Compost cookie.

    compost-cookie

    This is a mix of graham crackers, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, pretzels and potato chips. Yes, potato chips! This gives it a unique salty and sweet taste, plus it’s crispy and soft in the same mouthful. My only regret is that I only bought one. This is what it looks like, you need to get one to fully appreciate the taste.

    Find out more at the Momofuku milk bar website.

    Umami burger

    Friends in LA keep telling me that Umami is the best burger place ever. So when I heard there was one in New York, I knew it was the place for our post Marathon celebration. After running 26.2 miles, my body craved red meat and quick carbs (in the form of chips).

    brger

    I went for a medium done classic burger served with a parmesan crisp and in a brioche bun with a martini on the side. Slightly sweeter than what I was expecting but it was reasonably priced and just what the doctor ordered. Plus if you’re going out for fancy food every night, sometimes you just need a burger. You can’t get Umami in England yet, so you’ll be one step ahead of your friends.

    Salivate over the menu on the Umami burger website.

    Make sure you add all these places to your New York must-visit list. You’ll have a better experience at these places then anywhere you would find in a guidebook. Enjoy!

    Don’t forget to see my blog post about the best running routes!

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    VIP Travel: A Mini-Break In Cornwall

    How do VIPs spend their weekends? Well, I’m pretty sure you won’t see Victoria Beckham vacuuming the house while David Beckham puts the laundry on. Time off is precious and if you’re constantly at home on the weekends then it’s impossible to ignore the domestic drudgery and truly switch off.

    I’m a massive fan of the mini-break. When your summer holiday feels like a lifetime ago and you may not be getting time off again until Christmas, then all you need to do is add an extra day to a weekend and you have the time available to travel a short distance for some scenery that really doesn’t look like London.

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    I always think the perfect mini-break distance is a trip of between 2 to 4 hours. Any less than this (eg Brighton) and you get the hen do / stag do crowd and a fast-pace of life. The further you go away from London, the more laid-back the people and the more time you have to stop and look around you without having to rush, rush, rush.

    The St Moritz hotel in Cornwall takes  4 ½ hours by train on average, which initially concerned me as too long a distance to travel for one or two nights. However, then I realised the train is a far more efficient way to travel than a plane. A four hour plane journey would involve an hour travelling to the airport either side plus extra time to go through security and passport control. Get on the train at Paddington, eat breakfast, read several chapters of your book, get a coffee and write some emails and suddenly the urban landscape of London morphs into green countryside and before you know it the train is practically travelling in the sea.  (The train tracks are literally on the beach at some parts of the journey).

    St Ives branch line c imagerail.co_.uk_

    Off the train at Bodmin Parkway, I barely had time to stretch my legs before I was greeted by a friendly lady holding the keys to a 4 by 4. This is a complimentary service for all visitors to the hotel meaning you really do leave all your stress at London Paddington.

    With the driving taken care of, I was free to stare out of the window at my first taste of Cornwall. Windy country roads where there was only one street in the village, signs for cream teas, tractors and the unmistakeable smell of the sea…I fell in love with Cornwall at first sight.

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    I have never been to Cornwall in the summertime so I don’t know how it compares, but Autumn is a beautiful time of year to visit. When it’s raining and windy and the waves are lashing onto the beach, it’s completely mesmerising. There’s something completely liberating about wearing warm and waterproof clothes and going out to admire the nature and then returning to the hotel for a warm lunch and a hot drink. At the St Moritz hotel, located between Rock and Polzeath, you don’t even have to go outside to admire the sea. At the Seaside Cafe, I feasted on the biggest king prawns I’ve ever seen served with warm bread and a slice of lemon.

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    As the setting was so beautiful, I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I was warm and cosy and my stomach was satisfied but I saw the words ‘chocolate brownie’ on the dessert menu. I can safely say that the warm cosy feeling grew to a feeling of near euphoria when this gooey brownie, served with salted caramel, came out.

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    I soon discovered that you can be as active or as lazy as you want to be. The hotel is within walking distance of Greenaway beach and the renowned Polzeath surfer’s beach. Nearby is a cycling trail, the camel trail, which is a traffic free 17 mile route alongside an old railway line. The hotel can give you information about where to surf and body board and advise you on jogging routes plus  there’s a fully equipped gym and a heated indoor swimming pool (there’s an outdoor one for summertime too).

    However, there are also amazing bedrooms with gorgeous big beds, powerful showers stocked with luxurious Cowshed products and, depending on what size room you book, most come with a sea view that’s a few minutes walk away. How can a view be a walk away? If you’re staying in a suite then the view is from you balcony but as the King Rooms are garden facing, these rooms come with their own beach hut. I was overjoyed to find a note in my room telling me that my bed was called Lobster, so after I had instagrammed my bed to make all my friends jealous, I weighed up bed vs beach hut and the beach hut won, obviously!

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    Inside there are two benches with cushions, a scrabble board, a monopoly board, some blankets and a lamp. I sat there on my own for a bit, just looking at the sea and feeling a million miles away from all the constant demands of life in London. No laptop, no phone, just me and the view.

    I’d been booked in for a massage so I tore myself away from the scenery to walk to the spa, located in the main building. There are 48 rooms in the hotel, as well as self-catering cottages and it was originally built as a private house after WWII. The main building houses the spa, bar and restaurant while the rooms are in an annexe. This is good as you don’t feel like all the holidaymakers are living on top of each other.

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    Anyway, back to the massage…I may well have walked into the room grumpy at having to tear myself away from looking at the sea. I may well have been sceptical about the pressure the masseuse would be able to give after seeing her petite size and as a runner I’m used to getting sport massages from some powerful people. And I may have been jaded by Cowshed products as I’ve used them before at Soho House and Shoreditch House. All the products are named after a mood then ‘cow’ so ‘grumpy cow’, ‘moody cow’, ‘horny cow’ etc. When the masseuse explained this to me, I may have failed to laugh in the appropriate places as I’d heard the joke before.

    I laid down on the bed, prepared to have a gentle rub down but after a couple of minutes I felt her work out the knots on my shoulders. This lady knew what she was doing. I felt the tension ooze out of my shoulders. My legs, which were in pain from a long run, began to loosen up and I was able to walk out of that massage room a different person. Coated in gorgeous rose scented Horny Cow oil (which smells better than the name suggests) there was just enough time for a quick sauna and steam and a dip in the gorgeous indoor pool before dinner. VIP life or what?

    luxury-holiday-pool-cornwall

    Dinner at the St Moritz is a gastronomic journey. The main restaurant and the seaside restaurant are both headed up by Jamie Porter, a local Cornish lad. With an open plan kitchen, you can watch the man at work. It seems to be a calm, organised kitchen with everyone clear on their task as there was no Gordon Ramsay style shouting.

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    Some of the fish on the menu come from Jamie’s dad’s fishing boat, Sparkling Line. I later found out the menu changes every day, depending on what fish were caught that day.  Just like at the main hotel – where you can be as active or as lazy as you want – the restaurant menu allows you to be as adventurous or as safe as you want. I love trying new things so I went for venison carpaccio to start. The colours on the plate were just as varied as the flavours in my mouth – it was very good. The white stuff is mushroom ketchup. I wish it was bottled up like Heinz as I could eat that with every meal.

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    However, there are also oysters and butternut squash soup and my friend’s Padstow mackerel with chorizo and sweetcorn looked delicious.

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    For main, I chose a fish dish that was served with lobster ravioli (at the top). It was almost too pretty to eat but once I started I finished every mouthful, scraping every last bit of sauce off the plate.

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    But the proof is in the pudding, right? I cannot begin to describe how heavenly the chocolate fondant was, cooked to perfection with a healthy amount of molten chocolate lava oozing out. Perfection!

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    Retiring to the bar with a dessert cocktail, I spent the rest of the evening chatting to my friends and actually listening to their replies. It’s hard to do this in London when there are so many other distractions and things to stress about. The hotel’s bar isn’t rowdy or busy in Autumn but we weren’t the only people in there. I spotted a few other couples that were clearly after the same kind of break as us. Flushed from a glow of healthy Cornish air and a full meal, most couples were looking each other in the eyes as they talked, playing board games or sharing insider jokes. Away from the stresses of real-life it’s easier to remember why you fell in love with a person. You don’t have to nag them to stop leaving towels on the floor or make the bed because there’s someone else to do that for you.

    I don’t know if it was the fresh air, the fine dining or the bed but I slept better than I have done in months. When it was time to return to London, I closed my eyes as the train left the station and made a promise I would be back. Maybe I’ll try it in the Spring next time… Here are a few more photos I took of the Autumnal scenery:

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    For more information about booking and room rates, visit the St Moritz hotel website.

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  • Eight Sun-Drenched Locations To Visit This Summer

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    It might seem a bit pontless to go on holiday to somewhere known for its high temperatures and sunny days during the summer – why not save it for the winter? You could do, but we all know what the British summer is like every year. It’ll rain, it’ll be windy and, even though you might get a few days of sun, it won’t be worth staying in the country for. You’re far better off hightailing it out to the Pacific or Caribbean regions for a couple of weeks (or longer, if you can wangle it) of rest and relaxation

    To whet your appetite and get you going on some holiday ideas, here are eight of the most sun-drenched, bone-meltingly relaxing locations you can visit if you get your act together and get it booked. If you’re concerned about costs (and let’s be honest, some of these options are quite expensive), remember that you can save on your flights by using a flight price comparison tool. Click here for more information about flight comparison, but read the rest of this article first.

    Tenerife

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    Let’s start with the low-cost option to ease you in. Tenerife has been providing affordable holidays for families and couples since the 1890s (you read that right) and as the largest of the Canary Islands also holds the privilege of hosting dormant volcano Teide – because the island’s natural sand is a volcanic black, every tourist beach has been crafted using imported white African sand. With bars, restaurants, Banana Boat and peddalo rides aplenty throughout the island’s resorts, temperatures stay around the 24-28ºC mark during the summer months so there’s ample opportunity to get your tan on.

    Bora Bora

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    At only 11.3 square miles in area, it’s not a massive surprise to reveal that Bora Bora’s main income is from tourists looking to experience a little slice of paradise in French Polynesia. You’d better be comfortable with the water, though – the accommodation of most resorts is based around bungalows that extend over the island lagoon. The bungalows range in comfort level from basic to luxury, and the food is more or less limited to what can be found in the sea and in the coconut trees that are plentiful on the island.

    Turks & Caicos

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    Featured heavily in the second of David Hare’s Johnny Worricker television spy dramas, Turks & Caicos in the Lucayan Archipelago (near the Bahamas) has become a celebrity hotspot in recent years and is perfect for families with young children. Unlike some islands, the waves rarely get above a gentle ripple, though there are obviously sharks and other marine life that can be a problem if you go too far out. Instead of sticking to the main island, why not take a boat out to one of the uninhabited cays nearby for your own private beach experience?

    Hawaii

     

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    Hawaii is the closest to paradise that you can come within the United States. A vibrant island about 2000 miles to the south-west of the American mainland, it boasts a diverse range of natural features including volcanoes, gorgeous beaches and lush vegetation that attract millions of tourists and scientists to its eight main islands. Maui and Oahu are two of the most popular visitor destinations, offering luxury accommodation, authentic Hawaiian activities like luaus, watersports and so on.

    Cuba

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    Cuba’s reputation as a holiday destination is somewhat overshadowed, it’s fair to say, by its controversial political past, notably its status as one of the world’s highest-profile Communist countries following its seizure by Fidel Castro in 1959. It’s a fascinating place to visit as long as you’re not American, though – Havana is still characterised by its 1950s cars and locals that love to have a good time, but you’ve come for the beaches, and those are plentiful. Towns like Varadero are built around resorts which place an emphasis on relaxation and discovering the natural beauty of the island. With a general high of 27ºC in the summer months, Cuba’s perfect for a day of beach relaxation and an evening of mojito-sampling.

    Sri Lanka

     

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    Although the Sri Lankan tourism industry was badly damaged by the physical and psychological effects of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, it hasn’t discouraged companies from investing in it, with a number of new resorts based around the country’s beaches scheduled to open this year alone. From tropical coves to long peninsulas that are all equally perfect for lying in a hammock with a coconut, you’re spoiled for choice – however, as far as specific activities go, you should head to Mirissa for blue whale-watching and Arugam Bay for surfing.

    Brazil

     

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    We all know about Brazil’s beaches – the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro is probably the most famous in the world – but there are tons of resorts outside the likes of Rio and Sao Paulo that are remote, quiet and so stunning that doesn’t seem fair that one country should have so much beauty on one coastline. It knocks Scarborough and Blackpool into a cocked hat, that’s for sure! Taipus de Fora on the Maraú Peninsula has everything: white sand, blue water, natural pools teeming with wildlife, world-class restaurants and a lining of palm trees providing a classic tropical background to the scene. Stay at the Encanto da Lua and make sure you get a balcony facing the full moon if the timing of your trip coincides with it – at Taipus de Fora it appears larger and rounder than it normally does.

     

    The Maldives

     

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    Tourism has become the primary income of the Maldives despite tourists not really discovering it until the 1970s. Now, though, the country’s unique structure of small, separated islands means that each one has its own resort complex as well as a reef that creates a natural swimming pool and protects swimmers from the sometimes rough waters of the ocean outside the reef. It’s isolated, warm and as full of adventure as you want it to be – now get the surfboard out…or fall asleep in your hammock. It’s your holiday!

     

     

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    How To Fill 24 Hours In Paris…VIP Style

    I don’t think you can truly call yourself a VIP unless you’ve been to Paris. Just walking round the city makes you feel more culturally aware and the moment you step into an art gallery like the Musee D’Orsay or The Louvre and your eyes are hit with an iconic impressionist artwork, it kind of changes the way you look at the world. Also, they party hard in France – at least until dawn – and even if you’re a bit of a lightweight I can guarantee you will stay out longer because you don’t want the new experiences to stop when you go to bed.

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    At the end of this blog post, I’ve listed the cheapest ways to get there from London– by Eurostar or by plane – with prices starting from £69 return. That’s cheaper than a night clubbing in central London and it’s a million times more VIP.

    Thousands of city guides have been written about Paris but I’ve never seen one that explains how to get as much VIP activities as possible packed into 24 hours. So here’s my advice for how to do Paris in style.

    DINING

    Paris is for gourmands – the moment you arrive at the airport or station you can smell fresh French bread. You’re going to need something for lunch, something for dinner and something for breakfast the next day. I suggest:

    La Coupole

    coupole

    Perfect for a decadently long lunch, La Coupole has been a Paris institution since the 1920s. This grand brasserie is the epitome of La Belle Epoque. Old photos depict previous guests from the Paris literary, artistic and cultural scene. Edith Piaf. Ernest Hemingway. Pablo Picasso. They all needed to eat and when they did they chose La Coupole. The décor is gorgeous, the food is beautifully presented and it tastes just as good as it looks. The foie gras was sumptuous.

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    For dessert, the creme brulee oozed vanilla and the chocolate fondant was satisfyingly gooey with a rich chocolate kick.

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    La Coupole, 102 Blvd De Montparnasse.  Nearest Metro: Vavin. Visit La Coupole website here.

    La Rotonde

    I was told about this brasserie by a friend who has been a regular for years. If you Google it, you can kind of see why.

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    It has it’s own Wikipedia page. Yes, for a cafe! Pablo Picasso was a regular as his studio was nearby and it was popular with all the best artists of the early 20th century. It’s also very cool that it was a hit with revolutionaries and Lenin and Putin both dined there. Unfortunately it was closed on my visit, but my friend said they do the best pork chops with truffle mash she has ever tasted and she has even dreamed of this mash. I trust her. I want to go back and sample it myself though!

    La Rotonde , Blvd de Montparnasse. Nearest Metro: Vavin. Visit La Rotonde website here.

    Quick Burger

    Fancy a quick dinner on the go? Paris is excellent for fine dining but sometimes you just want to grab and go. Places to go, people to see…but you still need to line your stomach if you’ve got a big night ahead. You’ll find Quick Burger – a tastier equivalent to Burger King – at the larger train stations.

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    Jump off the train on your way to a club and a delicious burger will be with you in minutes for around 3 to 5 Euros – a bargain!

    Visit the Quick Burger website for the menu.

    Crepes

    If you foolishly skip dinner – either because you were busy or you were too lazy to find the Quick Burger – you’re going to get hungry later on. Trust me, there are only so many cocktails at Harry’s Bar (see below) your body can take before you scream out for food.  Even if you have dinner, once you smell pancake batter and warm Nutella you’re going to want to stop.
    crepes

    Near St Germain De Pres in the 6th arrondisement, there’s a street called Rue Princesse, which has several street food places that are open late. This means if you want crepes at 2am (like I did) you can. I recommend banana, Nutella and coconut flakes – very decadent!

    DRINKING

    Vin rouge or vin blanc. Champagne or Biere. Just ordering a drink sounds more glam in France. Here’s where to do it:

    Harry’s New York Bar

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    For a pre-dinner aperitif (ie a very strong cocktail) you cannot beat Harry’s Bar, especially if you like vodka martinis. As you can see from the photo above, I do!  Harry’s was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourites and he came to drink the daiquiris, which are also pleasantly strong. The atmosphere here varies  from civilised cocktail-sipping to drunken conversations with new friends over a stiff drink but for the best vibe I recommend staying upstairs by the bar. Downstairs, the table service is more formal – good for a date but not so good if you’re single and ready to mingle.

    Harry’s Bar, 5 Rue Daunou. Nearest Metro: Opera. Visit the Harrys Bar website

    Buddha Bar

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    If you’ve been to the Buddha Bar in London or Dubai then you’ll know how chic this place is. The Buddha bar in Paris was the first in the empire and

    Buddha bar, 8/12 rue Boisay d’Anglais. Nearest Metro: Concorde. Visit the Buddha bar website

    Eden Park Pub

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    After a few drinks, it gets to the stage of the evening where you start wanting to throw off the  formalities, get up and dance and down a Jaeger-bomb (or is that just me?) At this time of the evening, you need to swap the cocktail bars for an open-all-hours place that serves no-frills drinks alongside great music and a large dancefloor. Eden Park is linked to rugby and we all know rugby boys know how to party!

    Eden Park, Rue Princesse. Nearest Metro: St Germain De Pres. Visit The Eden Park Pub website

    CULTURAL ATTRACTIONS

    Musee D’Orsay

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    If you want to leave Paris feeling inspired (and quite frankly, why wouldn’t you?) then you  should mark Solferino. on your Metro map and spend a few hours at the Musee D’Orsay. The reason, I say ‘inspired’ is because I am always cheered up when my eyes spot something beautiful. Sure I might be hungover or stressed by something but when I see a beautiful work of art it cheers me up and I am reminded that life is not all doom and gloom. Art is all about how you look about the world and when I come out a magnificent gallery like this, I feel calmer, more ‘zen’ and I look at everything in a different light.

    Musee D’Orsay. 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur. Nearest Metro: Solferino. Visit the Musee D’Orsay website.

    The Louvre

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    Have you seen the film The Da Vinci code? Then The Louvre needs no further explanation. Alternatively, have you heard of The Mona Lisa? This is where it’s housed. You’ll need a whole day at least to do the louvre properly but if you do only have afew hours then go to the website to see what’s on display then you can plan how to maximise your time. My personal top three is the Mona Lisa (obviously), the ancient Greek statue Venus Di Milo and the Titians (including Man With A Glove because the facial expression is just as enigmatic as The Mona Lisa).

    The Louvre, near The Seine. Nearest Metro: Louvre – Rivoli or Palais-Royal–Musée du Louvre station. Visit The Louvre website. NOTE: THE LOUVRE IS CLOSED ON TUESDAYS

    Colette

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    This looks like a futuristic science lab but it’s the beauty hall of a department store. Not just any department store but the best department store in Paris. In London, we have Harvey Nichols, Harrods and Selfridges and in Paris they have Colette. This department store on the Champs Elysee is bigger than Harrods and Harvey Nicks and from the outside it’s as beautiful as an art gallery. You need to visit it at least once in your life, to walk around the beauty hall and smell the fine perfumes before checking out the chic fashion concessions. French women (and men) have an innate sense of style and I find walking round Colette gives me some ideas about what to put together when I’m back at home.

    Colette, 213 Rue Saint Honoré. Nearest Metro: Tuileries. Visit the Colette website.

    STAYING

    Everyone has their favourite districts (arrondisements)of Paris – depending if you want to be close to the party, to the river, to the museums, to the stadium or close to real life. My personal favourite is Montparnasse – the left bank – home to the artistic and cultural movements. You can smell the creative talent on the streets almost as much as you can the fresh bread and sweet pastries from one of the many boulangeries.

    I stayed at the Ibis Alesia Montparnasse, where a room for two including breakfast and WiFi was £82.

    ibis-paris-alesia-montparnasse

    From the outside it may not look like much but the twin room I had was spacious and clean, the shower was clean and there was a well-lit mirror – perfect for applying make-up. Just opposite, there was a boulangerie , where one of the most delicious mille feuilles that I’ve ever had in my life was 3 Euros. The bakery also sold giant macaroons and mini quiches as well as baguettes – you can eat so well in Paris.

    Ibis Alesia Montparnasse, 147 rue d’Alesia. Nearest Metro: Alesia. Check out Booking.com for the best hotel deals. The Ibis Alesia entry on Booking.com is here.

    TRAVELLING

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    In Paris, I find the Paris Metro is way more efficient than the London Undergound and cheaper too. If you buy a carnet of 10 tickets it will cost you 17 Euros, which works out to 1 Euro 70 a journey, compared to up to £4 for the London Underground. This Metro ticket will get you everywhere – even as far as the stadium –so you don’t need to stress what zone you are travelling in. If you arrive in Paris by Eurostar it’s all you need, but if you come into the airport you will need an extra return tickets, which is 19 Euros 50.

    For cheap flights to Paris, check out Expedia.com. My friend paid £89 for a return trip by Air France. British Airways have sales a few times a year, where you can get flights from £49 each way. Currently they’re £55 each way at BA.com.

    Eurostar is cheaper the further in advance you book. It’s possible to get it for £69 but if you want that, it will have to be a midweek trip. On the Eurostar website right now there is a search facility where you can say you want a £69 fare and it comes back with the times and days that’s available. I suggest doing it as arriving in Paris by train means you get straight to the heart at the cityat The Gare Du Nord without having to mess around at the airport.

    So have I inspired you to go? Am I missing anything off my VIP Paris trips? Tweet @livelikeavip or comment below!

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