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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.

    kim-kourt-scott

     

    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).

    ski-posing

    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!)

    outisde-the-snow-center

    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.

    hemel-snowcentre1

    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.

    ski-trying

    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:

    ski-sulk

    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!

    ski-fall

     

    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.

    ski-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…

     aus

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    isla

    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!

    irwins

    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.

    desert

    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!

    priscilla

    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!

    riddick

    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.

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    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.

    coyote-ugly-large

    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.

    Fiji
    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).

    castaway

    The island where Castaway was filmed

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

    Bounty
    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

    ESSENTIAL INFO:
     
    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.

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    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.”)

    dove-spa-165317_L

    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.

    zoe-cannes-sea

    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.

    cannes-yachts

    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.

    zoe-cannes=pool

    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!

    martinez-collage

    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.

    zoe-cannes-kors

    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.

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    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.

    zoe-pizza

    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.

    rose-froccs

    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…

    zoe-coffee

    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.

    galerie-arista-sarl

    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.

    ice-collage

    It was dreamy!

    ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

    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.

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    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.

    bolt
    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.

    bobsled
    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.

    dunns
    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.

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    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.

    levi
    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!

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    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!

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    ESSENTIAL INFO:

    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.

    weekend-horse

    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.

    fox-hounds

    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.

    bath-spa-roof

    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.

    bathspa

    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.

    weekend-car-pub

    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.

    pelican-exterior

    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!

    ESSENTIAL INFO

    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?

     

    Bondi

    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.

    NYE

    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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    How To Do A VIP Spa Retreat Like Victoria Beckham

    I’m often asked how I can physically sustain my busy lifestyle with parties every night and little or no time from holidays. My answer is mini breaks. I’m on a quest to find places where I can truly relax and switch off, even if its just for a day, and it was for that reason I visited Hanbury Manor, a Marriott Hotel and Country Club.

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    If I get down-time then I make the most of every moment and I know a lot of celebrities are the same. Actors on film sets can work from 6am to 10pm six days a week, the recording studio never starts until gone midnight and fashion weeks are show after show after show before moving on to a different city. Get out of the game for a week and you become behind on everything. But can you ever switch off from the rat race in just a day? Well, it certainly helps if you have a pool and jacuzzi like this…

    Pool1

    The hotel and country club is located in Ware, Hertfordshire where numerous celebrities have roots. Most notably, Mrs Victoria Beckham herself is from Goffs Oak – just 7 miles away. Alesha Dixon has a mansion in the area and F1 driver Lewis Hamilton is from Tewin Wood. The celebrities pick Hertfordshire because its close to London (you can drive there in around an hour) but it feels like you’re in another, more peaceful world because of the sweeping country views. It’s so beautiful that even Victoria Beckham might almost smile…

    vb

    Leave your house at 9am and you can be in a soft white robe by 10am but If you’ve got a jam packed work diary like me then you need a lot to get you feeling relaxed. Sitting by a pool is nice but if I do this on holiday it takes me three days to switch off and I want to do it in a day. So what then?

    What about a massage? As part of the package I had at Hanbury Manor (more of that package detail later) I tried out a full body 60 minute massage and I went for deep pressure. Massages can be very personal because although I like to feel a therapist getting into every knot and crevice, I know that some people like more of a wholesome all encompassing, rhythmical touch so they can relax and drift off during the treatment. I had a really thorough consultation with my therapist before the massage started and it felt like she really understood my request. Us busy people need this because its really embarrassing if you want to stop your therapist mid massage and ask her to change the pressure but I didn’t need to do this as mine got it straight away. A lot of celebs are like me in asking for deep tissue massages (most of us put our bodies through hell by working 24/7 and actors and musicians are constantly on their feet with physically demanding jobs). If, like us, you like deep tissue then you will be happy to hear the Hanbury Manor health club therapists really apply the pressure so I felt my stress had been eased during my time on the massage table.

    massage

    I booked a 30 minute mini facial straight after the massage because I find that if you truly want to relax then you need to bombard the body at once. Rather than calm the body down with the massage and having it rise back up slightly when you get up and move around and then having a facial later on to bring it down again, I went from relaxed to soooo relaxed by having the facial straight after the massage. If its possible for you to get them back to back then I highly recommend this as it puts you in an even more relaxed state then you get on holiday. Imagine, you’re taking 90 minutes out of your life to think about nothing else than your face and your body and it’s not often you get the chance to do that! I found the therapist was able to diagnose my skin issues by feeling my skin and she clearly got it right as the luxurious Decleor products she used left me feeling more hydrated than I had done in months.

    decleor

    Now my body was taken care of from the outside, it was time to check out the lunch options. The Oakes Grill lunch menu (which was included in my day package) has something to suit all appetites with light bites and salads as well as larger sandwiches or healthy fish dishes. I took my sister along for the spa day and by lunchtime we were quite peckish after all that relaxation so we shared a plate of antipasti – deliciously cured Italian meats like salami and prosciutto with juicy olives and warm bread rolls, washed down with a crisp glass of chilled Champagne. Bliss! This tasted of a summer day in the med and would have been nice to eat inside or outside but it did taste especially good outside, as we were able to enjoy it from a table on the restaurant terrace because of the weather. Cheers!

    spa-champ

    For mains, we both went for a carb-free sea bass dish served with roasted vegetables. If you’re watching your weight this would be a substantial dish in its own right – filling you up and satisfying your tastebuds while  being low in calories.  And honestly it tastes good, as normally I don’t like the low calorie options in restaurants.

    The day package my sister and I had also included use of the gym and fitness classes and there is a packed timetable to choose from. We did pack our trainers and gym kit but because it was such a warm day we decided to switch between the sun loungers and the pool to really get that holiday feeling.

    spa-sun

    We were free to determine our own schedule and it’s little things like that which end up making you feel really relaxed. Other little touches included a constant supply of water and orange and lime squash outside (or herbal tea inside) so you stay hydrated and healthy the whole day, decent sized lockers in the changing rooms and good and powerful hair dryers.

    Overall, I think I may have even come away feeling more relaxed than if I’d had a week’s holiday because there was no long-haul flight home. By 7pm I was in my pyjamas in London feeling blissfully relaxed and by 9pm I was in bed. That night, I slept for a full 8 hours. I need to plan another trip! I think it would be so romantic to go there on a mini-break (it is a hotel after all) but I can see my mum loving it and most of my girlfriends too. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy feeling completely relaxed, looked after and pampered?

    HOW TO BOOK:
    Details of several packages are available on the Hanbury Manor website like a day with afternoon tea, a 25 minute treatment and full use of leisure facilities, which is just £60 per person!

    Follow Hanbury Manor on Twitter for regular updates and news about the venue or check out the Hanbury Manor Facebook page for more special offers.

    Or use the old-fashioned method, pick up the phone and call 01920 885010

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