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    How To Visit Istanbul Like Rihanna

    I love shopping, I love clubbing and I love hot weather (which is why I go to Ibiza every year) but I also want to do things I wouldn’t get a chance to do at home when I’m on holiday. I want to try new food and get inspired by beautiful architecture and that’s in limited supply in Ibiza now that I’m used to it.

    If you’ve only got a few days off from work as you’re so busy earning money for your VIP lifestyle , then Istanbul ticks all the boxes and it’s just 3 hours 40 mins flying time from London. Bond films From Russia With Love, The World Is Not Enough and Skyfall were filmed there but I first became intrigued by it last year when Rihanna posted photos of herself at the city’s W hotel after a gig.


    There were some other photos of Rihanna in the city at the time, including this one of her walking through a local bar. Having wrongly assumed Istanbul was full of historical and ancient things, this bar looks sleek and modern – just the sort of place I’d happily sip a glass of Champagne in.


    Justin Bieber and David Guetta also performed in Istanbul in 2013, while The Wanted are heading there in March 2014 and Justin Timberlake will be there in May. There’s never been a better time to visit!

    Fans of Istanbul love it for the individuality – it’s the only city in the world where Europe meets Asia and it also straddles the ancient and the modern worlds. The skyline is a glittering ribbon of palaces, mosques, and minarets, but also of sleek skyscrapers, where the restaurant and nightclub scene challenges New York’s or London’s with beautiful people dancing til the early hours. Just my kind of place!

    If you’re planning a trip to Istanbul, this is what I recommend:

    (1) Taking photos at the Blue Mosque…a great Instagram shot!


    The Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s best sights . I also recommend visiting the Basilica Cistern – a 1,500-year-old building supported by 336 columns and the Hagia Sophia – It was a church, then a mosque and is now a museum; standing beneath its 55m-high dome is a humbling experience. Look out for superb mosaics of Christ, the Virgin Mary and Byzantine emperors  and the Viking graffiti scratched on the balustrade of the south gallery.

    (2) Shopping and savouring the flavours of the Bazaar

    The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. Go by tram to  Sultanahmet or Sirkeci for a real oriental shopping experience.


    The Spice Bazaar (also known as the Egyptian Bazaar) near Galata Bridge in Eminönü is small compared with the Grand Bazaar, but is packed with excellent delis and shops selling Turkish delight, packs of apple tea, honeycombs, cheeses, dried nuts and fruit, stuffed figs, caviar, coffee, spices, and an incredible range of herbal teas for every complaint and condition.


    (3) Checking out the prices of designer labels…and enjoying coffee in the mall

    When you’ve had your fill of Oriental design, it’s time to head for the city’s modern malls which cover everything from high-end to high-street. Funky Istinye Park ( istinyepark.com) is a mini village populated by Bond Street-style stores under one roof – with golf carts available to help heavily laden customers back to their cars. It’s huge!


    Kanyon  (kanyon.com.tr) has everything from Harvey Nichols to Wagamama – but you could be in London.

    (4) Bar-hopping and clubbing

    If you want to be a bit sophisticated, Sensus is a trendy wine and cheese ‘boutique’ a stone’s throw from the landmark Galata Tower, this cellar bar is lined with literally hundreds of bottles of Turkish wines. This is the place to come and try a wide variety of domestically produced wines, few of which you’ll find in the average restaurant, best accompanied by a platter of surprisingly varied Turkish cheeses.

    Leb-i-Deriya is one of the first, and still the best, of the rash of rooftop bars which have swept across the city in recent years. Mellow music, cocktails and a hip, sophisticated clientele. And the views down over the Golden Horn and Bosphorus are just fabulous. For dinner, try 360 restaurant, which combines traditional Turkish cuisine with 360 chef’s modern flair. The views are to die for!


    Now you’ve lined your stomach, dance it off at Indigo (famous for it’s electro scene) or if you want some style and glamour then Reina, on the banks of the Bosphorus – has two floors of house music and it’s where the Investment bankers and those with money go to party. Dress to impress!

    (5) Sleep off your hangover at the beach


    Şile and Ağva  are nice long, wide beaches on the Black Sea coast 72 km (45 miles) northeast of Üsküdar. Take Bus 139 (Şile) or139A (Şile & Ağva) from the Harem Otogar.  In summer there are about 27 buses per day in each direction (Harem-Şile and Şile-Harem) on the 139 route starting at 06:30 am, with the last bus returning from Şile to Istanbul at 24:00 (12 midnight).

    There are other beaches too, all within a 90min drive of Istanbul but you’ll need to hire a car to properly explore these.

    (6) Stay in style…relax in your own private villa


    If you’re staying in Istanbul for a few days you may not have time to do this…but if you want to extend your stay then you’ll find that Istanbul can be as vibrant or as relaxing as you make it. If your schedule is as busy as Rihanna’s and you stay in a hotel in the centre of town then you’ll be constantly on the go. However, chose to stay in a villa on the outskirts of town and you can explore the sights for a day, spend the next day relaxing and go back out when you’ve had time to collect your thoughts and work on your suntan There are amazing real estate villas for sale in Istanbul via Turkey real estate guru Spot Blue.


    Essential Info

    Nearest Airport: Airlines including British Airways and Turkish Airlines use Istanbul Ataturk airport, which is 3 hours 40 minutes from London. Low-cost flight operators like Pegasus and Easyjet use Istanbul’s SAW airport.

    Currency: Turkish Lira. £1 = 3.67 Turkish Lira. (Divide prices by 4 to get back to what it is in £’s)

    Tips: Istanbul’s equivalent of an Oyster card, the Istanbulkart saves the hassle of buying tokens (jeton; £1) every time you travel. You save a shade over 30p per journey after loading the card – it can be used on the tram, metro, buses, ferries, funiculars and suburban trains.

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    Ski Like A VIP With Snow Fun Fridays

    Every winter, the celebrities flock to the ski slopes while I’m sat in the UK looking at photos. Normally, I actually try to Live Like a VIP by attending the parties / fashion shows / premieres they go to and occasionally hanging out at a popular beach destination (like Ibiza, baby!) However, I cannot ski. I have never ski-ed. This puts me at a disadvantage when I see Mariah Carey, Elle Macpherson, Cara Delevigne, Prince William and Harry, Seal and Heidi Klum always ski-ing…and now the Kardashians are joining the celebrity ski club.



    I wasn’t sure this would ever change but recently I got an email from The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, telling me of a new promotion in 2014 ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics. I was actually born in Hemel Hempstead (30 mins outside London on Junction 8 of the M1), I went to school in Hemel Hempstead and yet I had never ventured to this slope. That, and the photo of Kim Kardashian and her family enjoying the slopes in Aspen was all the inspiration I needed. I realised a while ago that if I wanted to Live Like a VIP then I’d need to ski and now it’s cheaper than ever I’m running out of excuses why I don’t learn.

    The new offer is for Fridays, where experienced ski-ers can get 4 hours of ski slope access (between 6pm – 10pm) for just £39 for 2 hours. For the less experienced and complete beginners like me, adult ski and snowboard lessons are £49 for two hours between 8pm and 10pm and you get a complimentary drink in The Lodge apres ski bar afterwards. That’s about the same cost – or less – as what you’d spend on a regular Friday night out plus you learn a new skill and meet a new bunch of people. Since I am really new and I am very badly co-ordinated (I blame the fact I always wear heels and so can’t get the hang of the flat snow boots), I decided I would need a private lesson and because I was at home over Christmas my brother and sister decided they wanted to come along too. Do we look similar to the Kardashians? Well, maybe not exactly but I was impressed with the quality of the hired clothes (available for £6.75 for the kit).


    At first glance, I’ll be honest and say the snow centre doesn’t look like much. From the outside, it looked like the size of the lodge the Kardashians would stay in when they went to Aspen. But appearances can be very deceptive as when you go inisde there are three floors (including a coffee shop, restaurant and bar, ski equipment hire and two slopes!)


    This is what it looks like inside, with a long and quite steep slope on the left hand side with a ski lift, and the nursery slope on the right hand side. You probably won’t see it this empty though, as it was a popular hangout on the Friday I visited. I mean this in a good way, as the atmosphere was buzzing and people looked happy to be there.


    So what happens? We were told to get there 30 mins before our lesson to get kitted up and we needed every moment of that time. First of all, we rented the waterproof jackets and trousers and then we got our boots and skis. The boots fit on a bit like ice skates. Although they were flat, they were quite supportive around the ankles so I didn’t feel as weird as I expected. Here’s me showing my brother what to do.


    The lesson started promptly at 1pm and I was very impressed by our instructor Max Rayner. I must admit I did recognise him (he was on the BBC3 show Sun, Snow and Suspicious Parents) but this was not the place to ask about that – it was all about the learning. And learn we did, as Max took things step by step. Even better is he explained what he was making us do and outlined what he hoped we’d be able to do by the end of the session. The goal: a snow plough. This may not sound like much to the experienced ski-ers out there, but I truly am clumsy.

    We started off with the basics to get confidence. When each step was mastered, Max praised us and I appreciated that. One of my friends had never ski-ed before and enrolled at a ski school while on her ski vacation. She ended up quitting after the blunt German instructor made her feel rubbish. Max just reassured us all the way and I think I was harder on myself than he was. Check out my expression in the photo below:


    The first thing we did was find our balance by balancing on one ski and sliding around like we were on a child’s scooter. It got us used to the sensation of sliding around on the snow and it showed me that it can be pretty fast once you get the rhythm going. After this I expected to put on two skis but there was more balance work. We stood sideways and climbed halfway up the nursery slope (sideways because we would glide down if we attempted to walk up facing forwards). It wasn’t that easy to balance on one leg while going downhill as I think I was scared of losing control. Sensing this, Max made us do two on each leg before letting us put on the other ski.

    We walked up, sideways, to the top of the nursery slope and he showed us how to turn round in a snow plough until we were facing downhill. If you turn round any other way you’ll start sliding downhill and end up careering into a wall or another group of ski learners. And if you do the turn wrong you’ll end up on your bottom, getting laughed at by your sister!



    Max said I wasn’t the worst ever ski-er, which reassured me a bit, and it made me keep on going. After the fall and being slower to get to grips with the movements than both my brother and sister, I did look at the clock a few times but Max ordered me to climb back up and told me he knew I could do better. And do you know what? I did. And so did my siblings Here’s my brother in that snow plough.


    After a few goes of the snow plough our hour ended, and despite my earlier clock-watching I was pretty sad about that. I wanted to go higher up and change the angle of my skis so I went quicker. Maybe I could have even practised more snow plough stops and maybe even tried a bit of turning – things that get taught to beginners in the next stage of their lessons…

    I guess that means I’ll have to go back for two hours of lessons on a Friday! Want to join me? Check out The Snow Centre website for details of Fun Friday and everything you need to plan a visit. You can see more photos on The Snow Centre Facebook page or follow @the_snowcentre on Twitter.

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    The Hidden Gems Of VIP Australia

    Often when you think of VIP Australia holidays, the first place that springs to mind is the glorious white sails of Sydney Opera House. But for those looking for lesser known travel gems there are a few places I’d recommend for capturing a little piece of VIP lifestyle. Here’s my top five locations…


    1. The beaches of Perth:

    Perth is known as the most isolated city in the world. Surrounded by the mining towns and remote deserts of Western Australia, it’s often a city that gets missed out by backpacking tourists (usually travelling the East Coast).

    But the capital city of Western Australia, which was the birth place of Heath Ledger and the city where he spent his first 20 years growing up – and learnt to act, has some of the best beaches I visited in the country.


    Scarborough beach and Cottesloe beach would be my beaches of choice close to the city, but travelling a little further afield Rockingham’s Penguin Island is well worth a visit (and yes, there are penguins there!), as well as the popular coastal city of Fremantle, well known for its brewery (Little Creatures is great for a meal with a few drinks, either for a night out or a ‘Sunday sess’) and as the city of glamorous weddings and vintage cars! Admittedly, the prices of …everything! are little more expensive in Perth, but it’s well worth a visit just to enjoy the laid back lifestyle.


    Other celebrity VIPs which hail from Perth include Pirates of the Caribbean and The Great Gatsby star Gemma Ward and RomCom favourite and spouse of Sacha Baron Cohen, Isla Fisher.


    Essential Info:

    Nearest Airport: Perth Airport (18 hours 50 minutes approx. from Heathrow via Singapore)

    Currency: AUS Dollar. £1.00 = $1.82

    Time difference: +8 hours

    2. Melbourne excursions:

    Stylish Melbourne is best known for its cocktail bars and tea rooms. Madame Brussels is my favourite cocktail bar, situated on a rooftop terrace overlooking the city, it’s a unique little bar in that it’s made to look and feel like a garden party. To me it has a look and feel of Alice in Wonderland.

    karl 2

    One of the more popular nights out however, is the Neighbour’s Night – an excursion which runs from all the hostels and hotels I came across. I went along to the Neighbour’s night’s final ‘party’ of the year, where the audience gets to listen and dance to Karl Kennedy’s band, and Karl Kennedy (Alan Fletcher) himself hosts the night, which includes songs and party games/drinking games with several of the shows casts – past and present. Neighbours fans can also use their time in Melbourne to visit the Ramsay Street set, where the soap is filmed.

    karl 1

    Aside from all things Neighbours, Melbourne gives you the chance to get up close to some icons of the film world – namely some of the most well-known movie costumes! The Australian Centre for the Moving Image is in the centre of the city and boosts a collection that includes Heath Ledger’s Ned Kelly armour and fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman’s Moulin Rouge outfits.

    moulin rouge dress

    Essential Info:

    Nearest Airport: Tullamarine, Melbourne International Airport (21 hours approx. from Heathrow)

    Currency: AUS Dollar. £1.00 = $1.82

    Time difference: +10 hours

     3. Using Brisbane as a base:

    Brisbane, in Queensland is a city known for its Southbank beach – a genuine beach in the middle of the city! It also has a good live music scene in the evenings, and some great exhibitions in it’s art gallery, and library! (I actually spent an entire day at the library, which is like a mix of library, community centre, art gallery and museum in one). But one of the things that made this an appealing stop on my tour is that it’s a great base for traveling to the likes of Fraser Island (a little pocket of paradise and a rare place where you can see wild dingoes), the Gold Coast (with its many theme parks) and one of my ‘must see’ attractions; Australia Zoo.

    aus zoo

    Although, sadly, the days of bumping into zoo owner Steve Irwin are of course gone, there is a chance to see his wife Terri and children Robert and Bindi (who’s a big star of American TV) doing their thing at the Crocoseum. Well worth a watch to see the family carrying on his legacy!


    Essential Info:

    Nearest Airport: Brisbane Airport (24 hours 50 minutes approx. from Heathrow)

    Currency: AUS Dollar. £1.00 = $1.82

    Time difference: +10 hours

    4. Alice Springs tour:

    If you don’t mind bus tours (which can actually be pretty fun when you’re traveling the outback – nothing like the English countryside bus tours that you expect to be filled with pensioners), Alice Springs to Uluru is a great bus tour. Uluru was formerly known as Ayers Rock, and is one of the icons of Australia as a country. Although when you get there, it is… well, just a rock, for me it was the journey and all it had to offer that was interesting!We stopped of at King’s Canyon – which you may recognise from the film version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert starring Guy Ritchie, and while the film played in our tour bus, our guide pointed out all the pieces of scenery you can see along the way.


    I know this doesn’t always happen, but making this journey was particularly special for me because we came across three film crews (although that said, the area has been used as the setting for several films due to the fact it is so isolated and devoid of people – bar the odd tour bus). They were filming a reality to TV show to find the next stars of the Priscilla musical; I assume this is the Australian equivalent of the Andrew Lloyd Webber series; Over The Rainbow. Needless to say, it was pretty exciting to see a Priscilla bus being filmed as it came driving towards us – especially as we were mid-way through watching the movie!


    Essential Info:

    Nearest Airport: Alice Springs Airport (22 hours 35 minutes approx. from Heathrow)

    Currency: AUS Dollar. £1.00 = $1.82

    Time difference: +9:30 hours

    5. Jewellery trading in Coober Pedy – Opal capital of the world

    The final destination on my hidden gems list is very fitting of such a description, as it is actual an opal mining town. This is probably the strangest place I’ve ever been in my life, but also the most fascinating. The town, called Coober Pedy, looks almost apocalyptic on first sight – not helped by the fact it has an abandoned space craft from the Chronicles of Riddick left right in its centre (apparently it has been touched be Vin Diesel). There are Hollywood film props and relics left abandoned in several places, as the town is favoured as a film location for the same reasons and Alice Springs. But this places does actually have a population, they’re just underground!


    Genuinely, the houses are built underground, but are a lot more impressive than you would expect. The temperature is always right (nice cool relief from the desert sun – but warm and cosy at night so no need for air con or central heating), they’re very private and secluded and building permission is apparently easy to obtain. Not to mention some of them have opals lining their walls (though not always the valuable kind). Even the church in this town is an underground cave of sorts.

    underground house

    Coober Pedy does bring in its fair share of VIP visitors too. It’s streets are lined with entrances to underground jewellers selling the spoils of the risk takers who have traded in conventional lifestyles to take their chances of making their fortunes in mining and panning. People travel from far and wide to trade in genuine local precious stones and Coober Pedy opals – the local pizza shop paying homage to the town’s VIP visitors in a hall of fame. Funnily enough it was in line at that very pizzeria that I literally bumped into Jason Donovan, probably fresh from filming for the Priscilla Queen of the Desert TV show.


    Nearest Airport: International Airport = Alice Springs: 22 hours 35 minutes approx. from Heathrow, Coober Pedy Airport: 55 minutes approx.

    Currency: AUS Dollar. £1.00 = $1.82

    Time difference: +10:30 hours

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    Las Vegas And Mexico

    If you’re flying all the way across the Atlantic to America, you might as well make the most of it to see a couple of areas at once. Live Like a VIP’s Amar Sejpal combined hanging with Lady Gaga in Las Vegas with swimming with dolphins in Cancun, Mexico. If you fancy following in his jet-setter footsteps, these are his travel tips:

    When in Vegas…

    Daiquiris with Lady Gaga

    Itineraries become impossible to follow when you have 9am frozen daiquiris with Lady Gaga (in Madame Tussauds), 1pm gondola rides along the strip and you can’t tell the time inside the casinos, which are air-conditioned and feel the same at 5am and 5pm. Therefore, this article will not give you an hour by hour plan but I am about to tell you there are five things you must visit when in Las Vegas.

    Hyde (5/5)

    The only club in Vegas that opens up its back doors to the landscape of the rest of the strip is Hyde, situated in Bellagio. After being treated to a few drinks by some wonderful PR folk, Hyde certainly lived up to the party scene I was expecting in LV.

    The selections of music from DJ Five help to put in practice ‘stripper therapy’; a segment of a a programme frequently played in your hotel room TVs. Basically this is a nightspot to hit.

    Grand Canyon (3.5/5)

    Grand Canyon 2

    Learning that I couldn’t stomach a stroke of turbulence on smaller aircraft wasn’t how I wanted to experience the Grand Canyon tour. However the captain of Papillon’s tours put the seat belt sign on and flew us across one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon. Located in Arizona, not too far from central LV, the tour offers amazing landscape and history. For example, American Indians still live in and around the canyon and have for thousands of years. And, fossil footprints have been left by more than 20 species of reptiles and amphibians but the fossilised skeletons or bones have never been found in the canyon.

    Grand Canyon

    Coyote Ugly (4/5)

    LeAnn Rimes once sang on the top of the bars of this place, making you feel like making love on a bar top was okay. While I didn’t personally try this, I did however watch boob-shaking women at Coyote Ugly.


    Identical to the film, the bar located in Hotel New York New York offers that traditional American bar feel but with cocktails to help you get over your ex-boyfriend i.e. a great fruity vodka mix, namely the Ex-Boyfriend.

    David Copperfield (4/5)

    David Copperfield doesn’t need advertising to put bums on the seats at his show at the MGM Hotel. Aged 57, Copperfield still pins the art of showmanship and magic on stage, giving the audience that exactly right performance.

    A standout trick worth paying a hundred something dollars for is his disappearing car act, making you question whether you’re having a hangover from hell. However pinching me that it was all real was David himself, pictured backstage with me below.

    David Copperfield


    XS with David Guetta (3.5/5)

    Living life like Jay Sean (the only comparable Asian male to myself), I was guided inside of XS, at Wynn hotel, where David Guetta was playing. Split into tens of seated booths, XS has a dance floor large enough for groups titling themselves as ‘wolf pack’ and ‘Minaj-esties’; resembling scenes from an urban edit of Grease.

    The club is set in front of a pool that converts into one of the most spacious open-air dance floors on the strip. Inside, the detail of décor is touched with chandeliers, red velvet and leopard print; all very swish and worthwhile.

    And then stopover in Cancun, Mexico…

    With my A-Z map of Cancun and Pesos at the ready, I was ready to haggle in the central markets, eat the most authentic burrito and party with an oversized sombrero. But do that after you’ve done these three things…

    Dolphin Discovery (5/5)

    Dolphin Discovery

    Flipping around with some dolphins is sine qua non/absolutely necessary. Thanks to Dolphin Discovery, I was treated to the Dolphin Royal Scheme, designed to exceed my expectations… and loosely knotted trunks! Me plus two dolphins meant I felt the rush of being pushed by two dolphins at top speed by my feet across the waters. Customers should ensure their bikini panties and trunks are tied firmly as the speed of the dolphins pushing you can cause them to unfasten and fly away. Bar this, another highlight is the dorsal taw, where the dolphins take you through the water as you hold onto their fins.

    Coco Bongo (5/5)

    Okay, so promoters bustle the streets of Cancun, insistent on wrapping a wristband around you. All the while where characters from The Mask, Spider-Man and Homer Simpson come in their tens to take pictures with you and then make you pay for it.

    I recommend Coco Bongo nightclub, which is a popular nightspot. It does exceed your expectation of the regular nightclub. Every 30 minutes a tribute performance of a film or artist will be flown above your head or be thrusting on stage, giving you a club/theatre experience you won’t find anywhere in the world.

    Coco Bongo

    Barter with street vendors or your hotel concierge for cheaper deal.  For here and all clubs in Cancun, you’ll be charged a heavy one-off fee for entrance but then you get unlimited free drinks inside.

    Chichen Itza (4/5)

    Located in the municipality of Yucatan, Chichen Itza is a large pre-Columbian city built by the Mayan civilisation. With the architecture originally built to tuck in a population of 4,000,000, the Mayans logically built the pyramids, stages and game courts to serve the purpose of easy communication and to enrich the closeness of the community.

    Chichen Itza, in translation, means ‘at the mouth of the well of the Itza’. Many Mayans still live here and have incredible stories to share if you talk to them. Including the fact that when babies were born, they would want their babies to resemble the Gods, which are based on aspects of nature. So they would gently and eventually reshape a baby’s soft skull to mirror that the shape of a jaguar or tiger.

    Safe and happy travels!  If you have any travel tips for us or questions about the areas, please comment below.

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    Fiji: A little island home

    Sometimes we all just need a break from the hectic VIP lifestyle. Like celebs; Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson, why not treat yourself this winter to an island retreat in the beautiful islands of Fiji?

    Britney enjoying the Fiji island life

    Britney enjoying the Fiji island life

    I visited Fiji around this time last year: island hopping for 7 days on the Yasawa Flyer. The islands I visited were Bounty Island, Korovou and Oarsman Bay, and whilst I loved all 3, if I had to recommend one for VIPstyle, it would be Korovou – for it’s gorgeous natural wood cabin beach villas.

    Arriving via Nadi, island-life is really an escape. If you’re shopping and styling (hair, manicures, facials, etc.) Fiji islands – or at least the ones I visited – are not the place for you. An island retreat here is more about hammocks, beach walks and pampering massages by the sea.

    Fiji (3)
    There are of course excursions (largely water-based: scuba diving, snorkelling, exploring water caves and my favourite; a boat trip with an all you can eat buffet lunch, snorkelling, unlimited drinks (including wines and spirits), local-style entertainment and visiting islands; including the one where the Tom Hanks film ‘Castaway’ was filmed (guides can even point out the exact spot where he filmed the scene throwing the wooden mannequin over the cliff to test the rope).


    The island where Castaway was filmed

    But I found staying on the islands with amazing hospitality from locals was completely satisfying in itself.

    You are completely catered for (although a cooking lesson in traditional Fijian recipes is sometimes offered), there is a laundry service (although its likely that your clothes to be dried fire-side – so expect them to be returned smelling a little charcoally) and if you make time for locals, they will make time for you.

    Fiji (4)

    Fijian cooking lesson

    Nearest airport: Nadi (20 hours 45 minutes approx. from Heathrow)
    Currency: Fijian Dollar. £1 = FJ$2.92

    Time Difference: +11 hours
    Guestlist Tips: The national drink in Fiji is Kava. It is a mark of respect to the local culture and the villagers of any village you should enter to drink the Kava offered on your arrival. However, the taste is not particularly pleasant, so keep a packet of mints handy!

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    Travel: Escape While In London At The Dove Spa

    Reviewed by LLAVIP contributor Laura Studarus

    It’s a dilemma we’re all faced with: What to do when funds and time are low and the need for relaxation is at a high? For London, and a handful of cities scattered through Southern England, Dove hopes to provide an answer with their day spas—where most treatments begin under £50. (Dove: it’s more than that soap your mother used to scrub you down with as a child.)

    On holiday with a few hours to kill, I headed over to Dove Spa at Canary Wharf. Which, for the record, is stunning (If it’s a nice day be sure to go early, pack a lunch, and spend some quality time contemplatively into the Thames.) Sure its facility is limited to beauty procedures…but please, I didn’t fly all the way from Los Angeles to break a sweat.


    Located under a Virgin Active, the Dove’s basement salon and massage rooms are remarkably unintimidating.  A surprise for this relaxation newbie—although in retrospect it should have come as no shock, as Dove was the company who produced these ads. I was met by a duo of bright-eyed women, who genuinely seemed pleased I was there, and remained upbeat throughout. (Why yes, I would like a cup of tea…)

    My caregiver for the day—a tiny blond woman with a wispy voice and hands of steel—lead me into the backroom recounting the details of the “Pure Bliss” package in a soothing murmur that downgraded to a coo when she found out this was my first massage. A 15-minute massage. Facial. Manicure or pedicure. Perhaps sensing my confusion (again: spa newbie. A mere 24 hours earlier I found myself picturing a day at the spa in the same light one recounts a Game of Thrones episode.), each procedure was described in detail, down to asking the touch I preferred during the massage portion. (“Uh, hard,” I replied. “I’m from good German stock.”)


    Then, I was left to strip in the darkened room and wait. Despite my general feelings regarding my personal nudity in public places (to bastardize a Woody Allen quote, I’m not afraid of being naked, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.), I found it easy to get comfortable in the darkened, sweet smelling room—save for a few ominous bass rattles in the new age-style soundtrack. That relaxation doubled when the massage therapist returned and started working out the knots in my back. Yes, yes, YES….uh, what were we talking about again?

    After fifteen minutes she gently flipped me onto my back, and then began applying all manner of fragrant oils and lotions of my face. (The predominate smell was something akin to the ocean—although there were floral notes in the mix.) I would have asked more, as my skin is known to be ultra sensitive. But then again, I did fill out a form telling them such, and it’s hard to exercise journalistic curiosity when you’re close to purring with delight.

    5666 Dove Spa pamper package 1

    Massage and facial over, I dressed and joined my therapist in the nail salon where I was instructed to pick out a color for my manicure. To her credit, she didn’t laugh when I held out my ragged, typing cracked fingers and requested a simple clear coat. She neglected to clean the crap out from under my fingernails—but I will say, dirty or not, having someone bring shape to my claws made a world of difference.

    And so, I left Canary Wharf a changed woman, sold on the power of a rejuvenating afternoon. Sure, it wasn’t a weekend away, but the experience was rather nice on my wallet. That person staggering through the streets of London later that evening like a sweet smelling, boneless, uber relaxed zombie? Oh yeah…that was me.

     Essential Info

    Visit the Dove Spa website t0 book. Click on the tab that says Salons and you’ll be magically whisked away to a map that will allow you to pick the location closest to you. Or phone  0844 875 1575

    Price for massages start at £39.


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    Travel Mini Break: Live Like A VIP In Cannes

    When you’ve been busy working or looking after your family (or both) and you have free time you need to make the most of it. Recently I wrote about how I went on a mini break to Bath and Windsor (which was INCREDIBLE) but it involved at least three hours of driving. I kept forgetting that lots of European destinations were under a two hour flight away…so with that in mind I picked out Cannes for a weekend break. What can we do for 48 hours in Cannes? Armed with some Gucci sunglasses and a Mulberry handbag, I went off to investigate.


    It may sound a bit like I’m boasting at jetting off to Cannes but please read on because this blog post is about how we can all Live Like VIPs. I’m about to explain how you can keep costs down and suggest what is worth spending money on and what isn’t.

    But first of all, why Cannes? If you want to feel like a VIP, to walk down streets trodden by movie stars, drink Martinis and cocktails and a coupe de Champagne in bars frequented by old school Hollywood actors and directors then it has to be this French city that is world-famous for it’s film festival.

    Eva Longoria - 2012 Cannes Film Festival-02

    From mid-May to the end of May, the entire city is dedicated to all things movie and film with gala premieres in Le Palais Des Festivals and screenings taking place in various venues across the town. The biggest hotels on the Promenade, which is affectionately known La Croisette, host nightly parties in their bars and on their private beaches while super-yachts spill out of the main harbour, where demand for a berth is so precious it starts at 1000Euros rental a day…and no, that doesn’t include the boat. Nor the designer wardrobe you need to show off every day.


    I avoided the film festival for my mini break as I find it too crowded and I’m told July and August are also pretty busy. In September, you have more room on the city’s pavements and in the restaurants but it’s still warm enough to wear a bikini.


    One advantage of going slightly out of season is that the prices drop. During the film festival, I know that hotel rooms are in demand with many Hollywood studios booking up the main hotels on La Croisette so that the cheapest price you’ll get a room for is 600 Euros a night. Breakfast not included. Then it’s 50 Euros in season for breakfast, 35 Euros for a sunbed and 12 Euros for a bottle of water. Unless you really care about something, I don’t think its worth to spend this amount of money on one day’s accommodation.

    However, go in September, like I did, and you can stay in exactly the same hotel the stars stayed in for a fraction of the price. I never ever imagined I would see the inside of a room at the Hotel Martinez let alone sleep there for two nights but check out this photo. I did it!


    How can you do it to? Check out Booking.com and you’ll see that rates in September are from just £234 a night. Ok, that’s not cheap but it’s a hell of a lot better than £500. And I can promise you it’s VIP service – in that hotel during the Cannes film festival I’ve personally seen the staff waiting on celebrities including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Jonny Depp and Tim Burton,  Damian Lewis, Cheryl Tweedy, Naomi Campbell, Eva Longoria and Mrs Carter herself – Beyonce. And if it’s good enough for Queen Bey…

    Hotels like the Martinez have two main attractions. One is the service as I mentioned above but the other is not the amenities in the hotel rooms. They’re clean and functional but the interior of the room is slightly dated. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why this was but I think it may be because I’ve stayed in Five Star hotels in Dubai and in Asia and they’re miles more sophisticated and decadent than the inside of the Martinez (which is meant to be a Five Star).

    However, the second attraction to the Martinez is brilliant – the location. The Martinez is located right near the row of designer shops open by the seafront. Every designer has a presence in Cannes including Roberto Cavalli, Giorgi Armani, Cartier, Dior, Chanel and a newly opened Michael Kors boutique. Look at how stunning and chic it all is. It doesn’t matter if you can’t afford anything, just walking in the shop and seeing the beautiful handbags and shoes is like being in an art gallery.


    So that’s the hotel sorted, now what to do with the time you’re not sleeping? One of the key social hangouts in Cannes is the beach but it’s a bit more complicated than that – you need to pick which beach club you visit. You would never catch a VIP with their towel spread out on the sand with no staff waiting on them (although it is possible to do this on a stretch of beach near the Palais des Festivals). It’s a lot more fabulous to lounge on a chic lounger with a plump cushion or double bed that’s as comfortable as the one you sleep in, with access to a drinks list served by waiters in pristine uniforms and a snack menu consisting of everything from sushi and wagyu beef burgers to a tangy Tuna Niçoise salad. I was pleased to see that in September prices are half price for a day bed – at the Martinez hotel’s private beach it’s €20 euros for non-hotel residents and €17 for residents. Go early and make a whole day of it and yes it’s expensive but the service makes it completely worth it. Beaches that the stars like are the private beaches of all the hotels plus a chic beach club called Le plage 45. Walk down La Croisette to look at the atmosphere in each before making your decision as you can look down at them from the pavement and assess how buzzing they are inside.


    After a day at the beach, I worked up a bit of an appetite. Partly because it was too hot to eat and partly because, quite frankly, the cost of food in these beach clubs are expensive. So I highly recommend Pizza Cresci, which local Cannes VIPs took me to. Here’s us dining al fresco.


    Fabian (in the hat) owns his own hair salons in Switzerland and Ivana (next to me) is a luxury yacht broker. I was lucky to have these insiders telling me what’s good but now I’m passing them on to you. You won’t be disappointed – I felt stuffed and well refreshed with wine and it was just 23 euros each! Better value than in London?

    Another top tip when it comes to eating and drinking is something the French call Rose-Lima. It’s rose wine with lemonade. I’m very much a Champagne girl – that will always be my number one drink – but a refreshing rose Lima may well be my second. And it’s so cheap! You can buy it by the glass or by a small bottle (50cl) as well as by bottles of magnums. All the restaurants have a decent selection of rose (unlike in the UK where you just get one) and I would highly advise going for one with a pale colour, which feels refreshing and light on the tongue especially when mixed with lemonade.


    Shopping in Cannes the next day, I saw there is something for all budgets. You don’t have to go designer as there’s a high street with all the top European brands like Mango and Zara and there’s also a few brands you won’t find in the UK like pimkie . Even if you don’t buy anything it can be quite fun to walk down the street to see what everyone else is wearing because French style tends to be more chic than what we have in the UK. Find a look you like worn by a Frenchwoman and then go online shopping when you’re back home.

    Shopping always makes me hungry and so we had a delicious lunch at a brasserie called New York, New York. In Cannes, you have to be careful to avoid the tourist traps on the main croisette, so go up away from the main hotels and past the Palais and you’ll see New York, New York on the opposite side of the road near to an area where the local French play boules. Sitting outside on the terrace makes you feel like you’re in a different world and a tasty beef carpaccio served with salad and thin French Fries is just 15 Euros. There’s also some delicious grilled fish and portions are hearty and satisfying! Coffee for afters…


    The weather was so good it was tempting to sleep it off on the beach but I wanted a bit more culture before I left. I found out about Galerie Arista  during the Cannes film festival, as the owners let out property in the area. I briefly visited the gallery while I was staying in their property as they hosted a cocktail party during the Film Festival but I never got a look to check it out properly. So I went back this time…and I was blown away.


    It’s modern, bright and full of strong and bold pieces – from art to sculpture. In fact, I preferred the sculpture. It’s a must- visit if you’re in Cannes – please check out their website for more.

    And to end this post on a sweet note, make sure you try some ice cream while you’re in Cannes! Cannes is very close to Italy and so you’ll find tons of Italian restaurants here as well as places to get a great quality gelato. Some of the beach front stalls have better quality ice creams than others so if it doesn’t set you on fire you must save the calories for something that’s worth eating. The beach shacks are on the other side of the road to the hotel and numbered and there are at least 15 spread out along the side. From number 10 I got banana-chocolate and tiramisu in a waffle coat.


    It was dreamy!


    Nearest Aiprot:  Nice. British Airways often have sales to European destinations like Nice – visit the BA website for details

    To get from Nice to Cannes, the cheapest option is an Express shuttle bus, 3o Euros return. Buy tickets in advance here.

    Currency: Euros. £1 = 1.19 Euro

    Travel Tips: Booking.com offers great deals on hotel accommodation. Don’t be scared to walk round before you buy. Because of the quantity of tourists Cannes receives each year there are hundreds of shops and restaurants so don’t part with your money until your REALLY like something and know you’re getting the best deal.

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    Jamaica Sunshine: VIP island life


    Looking for a VIP beauty spot with a gorgeous climate? Jamaica is a holiday hotspot for many celebrities. The tiny island is famed for sandy beaches, blue seas, reggae music and it’s unlikely bobsled team.


    It’s biggest ‘export’ is of course the globally renowned late Bob Marley – but in more recent times has seen the likes of Bob’s sons (including rapper Damian Marley and reggae artist and film producer Ziggy Marley), R’n’B legend Sean Paul and of course the fast man in the world; Usain Bolt have hailed from its shores.

    I arrived in Montego Bay, via  one of  only three international airports on the island. As there are only three airport, you never know who you might bump into as your flight lands – the likes of  Ashlee Simpson-Wentz and Gwen Stefani (who even named her son after the island’s capital, Kingston) are known to holiday in Jamaica. The famous bobsled and photos of it’s original Olympic Team (whom the film Cool Runnings is based on) can be seen at the Montego Bay Sangster airport.

    Montego Bay is one of the more tourist-orientated parts of Jamaica, where LL Cool J and Eddie Murphy choose to spend their running Jamaican holidays. From here, various tourism organisations run excursions such as swimming with dolphins, horse-riding along the beach and climbing the Dunn’s River Falls, which are Jamaica’s most famous waterfalls.

    On my visit I stayed at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa , which is in pretty close proximity to the Rose Hall; a former slave plantation said to be haunted by the plantation owner’s wife, the ‘White Witch’.  The late Johnny Cash recorded a song about the legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall titled ‘The Ballad of Annie Palmer’. Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash owned a holiday home in Jamaica after falling in love with the island during one of their visits: their home Cinnamon Hill, was part of the Rose Hall Estate.

    It’s easy to see how anyone can fall in love with such a relaxing place: the pace of life (‘Jamaica time’) is relaxed, which admittedly takes a little getting used to when you’re waiting for buses or  timetabled excursions, and the sun is nearly always shining (just like Bob Marley’s lyrics). The food is also something that the locals are very proud of, one of the most common items on any menu is jerk chicken or jerk pork, made famous by Levi Roots Reggae Reggae Sauce. ‘Jerk’ refers to a cooking procedure similar to Barbecuing which gives meat a little bit of a spicy kick, and Reggae Reggae Sauce certainly complements this.

    There are plenty of cocktails bars across the island (I’d recommend a visit to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville) and there are boat trips and catamarans that will take you to those further afield bars and restaurants and offer rum punches and/or foot massages while you travel – you could even try your chances at driving a boat if you give your guide enough friendly banter!

    Other great things to try while you’re there are quad biking up Mount Zion, snorkeling or scuba diving and horse trekking up the mountains or even in the sea!



    Nearest airport: Sangster Airport (9 hours 50 mins)

    Currency: £1 = 157.40 JMD (Jamaica Dollars).

    Time difference: -5 hours

    Travel tips: Pre-book taxis, transfers and day-tours via your hotel or travel agent. Flagging down taxis is not safe, or recommended, and can often led to disputes over prices, etc. Just remember you’re living in ‘Jamaica time’ during your stay though, so don’t panic if your taxis are running late – chances are, most of the other activities you’ve planned for your day are running late too. Just enjoy the chilled-out mentality!


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    Best Of British: Windsor And Bath Road Trip

    When I go abroad I like to hire a car to make sure I see all the key sites the country has to offer. Recently, I realised that I was doing this at the expense of discovering my own country – Great Britain. I’ve lived in London for 10 years and if I’m in the UK, I tend to spend my weekends in the capital because there’s always something going on. Talking to some American friends made me see that they had seen more of my country than I had so I made it my mission to change that.

    If I’m going to do something, I’m always on a mission to do it VIP style. Europcar car rental has a prestige division of it’s car rental service and I think it’s important to have a comfortable but Look at Me ride if you’re going to be spending a lot of time on the road. At the Europcar Prestige depot in London’s Kings Cross, my hot date and I picked up a sexy, sporty Mercedes SLK.

    mercedes-slk-zoePrices for prestige car hire start at £108 but it’s worth every penny. For some models you need to be over 30 (because of insurance reasons) but the choice of cars is incredible. Browsing the Europcar website to choose what to hire is an experience in itself.

    We started at a reasonable hour (ie 8am) and so by 10am, we were at our first destination – Windsor Great Park. My mission for the weekend was to try the best of what the UK has to offer and to push myself away from my normal London routine. I had fond memories of horse riding when I was younger and I sometimes do it when I’m on holiday so I used Google to find details of stables in Windsor that organised hacks through the park.


    I’m a complete novice but after two hours on Flossie (above), I managed to canter. My date did the same and although our legs were shaking slightly at the end of the ride, by 12 noon we had completely left London behind us and felt part of  country life.

    And you know what else is great about the country? Quaint restaurants / pubs like The Fox and Hounds by the entrance of Windsor Great Park.


    We’d worked up an appetite on horseback so we filled our faces with Skate Wing and Sea Bass and shared a plate of home-made chips. The portions were hearty and we felt so satisfied and full after the meal, we shared a coffee to work out our plan for the rest of the day.

    The next destination was Bath as neither my date or I had ever bathed in the thermal pools. I’ve bathed in healing waters in Italy and Greece but never in my own country, so we set off for the Thermae Springs Spa in Bath. Ok, it’s not cheap – £26 each for two hours of access – but this was the view from the rooftop pool as we arrived.


    Our session was 7pm – 9pm so as we left it looked like this. The water is heated to 33 degrees and the contrast between the warm waters, the fresh air and the breathtaking scenery is a sensation that will be engraved on my memory for years to come. It tickled all my senses and it’s just unforgettable.


    If you’re planning to visit Bath for a weekend then make sure you book well in advance as it’s impossible to turn up on a Saturday and try to find accommodation. Visit Bath has a list of all the places to stay in the city and you can book in advance through the Visit Bath website. We didn’t do this so we had to stay in Bristol (long story) but when you’re driving a Merc you don’t mind the extra time on the road between Bath and Bristol too much.


    The best thing about getting out on the open road in the UK is you can decide when to stop. If you travel by train you miss a lot by being focused on the newspaper (or your work) while you wait to arrive at a destination. As we were driving back on the Sunday, we had our eyes peeled for a place to stop for brunch and found this delightful pub called the Pelican Inn in a village called Froxfield, located just off the A4 near Marlborough in Wiltshire.


    Although we hadn’t had breakfast, the lure of seeing Sunday Roasts served to other people looked too good to ignore and we both had Wiltshire Ham served with all the roast trimmings. It was satisfyingly HUGE – there were two yorkshire puddings and four crispy roast potatoes – and it was £11.50. We didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day.

    After a coffee (to ease digestion) it was off to Windsor Castle. We didn’t see any of the town on Saturday as horse-riding led straight to Bath, but I wanted to get a bit of culture into my weekend. On holiday, I try to go to museums and cathedrals and galleries and I was desperate to see this bit of history, just a few hours from my home city. It was spectacular.

    windsor castle hires istock

    It’s £17.75 to get into the castle and the exhibitions so we decided to walk round the outskirts. As I live in London where all the museums and galleries are free I take objection paying this much to visit an attraction. Walking round and looking at the building’s structure still helps you to think about what it was like in the ancient times.

    Have you been to Bath or Windsor yet? If not – what’s stopping you? Tell me on Twitter @zoegriffin how you get on!


    Visit the Europcar website for details of Prestige cars – prices and collection locations. In London you can collect them from several venues including King’s Cross, Victoria, Bayswater and Marble Arch.

    At Thermae Bath Spa, two hours of spa access is £26. You can buy longer stays or spa packages online

    For home-cooked and hearty food within driving distance of Windsor, visit The Fox and Hounds or The Pelican Inn. Both our meals were under £50 for two people and we left feeling FULL!

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    Sydney: Bars, Beaches and City Icons

    When it comes to VIP cities, Sydney has got to be high on the list of places to visit. Birth place of man of the moment;’Wolverine’ Hugh Jackman,Victoria’s Secret Angel Mirranda Kerr and Pitch Perfect and Bridesmaids’ comedienne Rebel Wilson, the city has plenty of star quality.

    sydneyopera house

    So how do we do it VIP style? If you’ve never been you’re in luck as I have been and I’m gonna tell you all about the best bits. The first place on the agenda for most people visiting Sydney is the infamous Sydney Opera House. A tourist icon by day, offering tours and housing as many as 10 restaurants and bars, the Opera House, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, becomes a hub of activity at night. As well as performances of opera, dance, theatre and music, the outdoor Opera Bar just below the Opera House is a perfect place to start a night out. Excitingly, if you plan to visit this October, at the time of the official 40th anniversary, you may just catch the Danish Royals in town, as Denmark’s Crown Prince Couple will be visiting Sydney in October as patrons of the Opera House’s 40th celebrations, commemorating the fact that the Opera House is the most famous Australian-Danish collaboration.


    sydney bridge climb

    Staying in the Sydney Harbour area, during my visit I decided to following in the footsteps of celebrities like Matt Damon, Daniel Radcliffe and Will Ferrell by taking the challenge of climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The bridge climbs cost around AUS$200-$300, which is between £120 – £180, depending on what time of day you choose to go. It sounds pricey, but there are breath-taking views you’ll never see anywhere else, and you never know what VIPs you may bump into!

    Matt Damon

    Obviously, one of the biggest appeals of going to Australia is to check out the beaches! The two main beach spots are Bondi beach and Manly. Although Bondi beach has been made the most famous by the television show Bondi Rescue (and yes, they do film there regularly, so there’s plenty of opportunity to check out your favourite lifeguards at work! I did!), it is actually Manly beach that seems to be the most favoured amongst the celebrity jet-set. Perhaps its the surfing championships held every February that add to the appeal, but Manly really is the place of the celebrity beach-side apartments. Not sure if it’s as fun as trying to sneak your face into a television programme though?



    My recommendation for a night out after a hard day’s sunbathing would be Darling Harbour. A favourite hang out of Leonardo DiCaprio during the filming the Great Gatsby, Darling Harbour has tons of restaurants, bars and clubs, and even little road trains to take you up and down the harbour as you choose between venues! The Star Casino is probably the best place around here to indulge in a VIP experience, or alternately head to the other side of the city to World Bar, where shots come in teapots and Aussie sports men can be found winding down after busy days on the field. We bumped into three cricket players on the first night here.

    darling harbour

    Like any major city, Sydney is of course great for shopping! For high street bargains and a spot of glamour too, head to the giant Westfield shopping centre. It’s a huge mall home to a mix of bargain, high street and designer labels and some of Australia’s own chain stores such as Cotton On, Sports Girl, Dotti,Gloss and Rubi Shoes, and Australia’s two largest department stores, Myer and David Jones. Castlereagh, Elizabeth and King streets are the place to find the most famous designer brands, including Louis Vuitton Chanel and Gucci.

    louis vuitton australia

    Finally, Sydney plays host to a number of VIP events, as well as it’s ample annual sports calendar, the Vivid Sydney illuminations festival takes place every May, attracting global interest, or try your hand at celeb-spotting  at the Sydney Film Festival every June, or my favourite; the Sydney is Fashion Festival runs from August to September. Of course the biggest event on the VIP experiences calendar is New Year’s Eve! Watching the fireworks over the Opera House and Harbour bridge as midnight rolls around is incredible! To get a good view though (I’d recommend Mrs Macquaries Point), you have to be prepared to get there early. I mean super early! Queues start at 6am NYEs! Take plenty of water, because NYE is in the height of Aussie summertime.


    Essential Info:

    Nearest Airport: Sydney Airport (26 hours from London)

    Currency: £1 = AUS$1.65

    Time Difference: +9 hours

    Guestlist Tips: Top Shop is a rarity in Australia, and kind of a big deal. They have a more varied range than usual and can be found on the corner of King and George street.


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