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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.”)

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    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.

    spa-outside

    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…

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    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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  • Lake District: Lodge Retreats For Lakeside Glamour

    The Lake District is a beautiful place to escape if you are looking for some spectacular scenery and a relaxing break. Staying in a lodge as opposed to a hotel or a caravan is certainly a more luxurious and glamorous way to accommodate your family during your stay and many of the lodges now available on the market are ultra-modern and contemporary.

    lodge

    Many of the lodge retreats are luxuriously finished and are fully equipped to house a large group of family or friends. Hiring a lodge is a great way to gain additional space, giving you the freedom to relax and enjoy the holiday at your own leisure. In comparison, Caravans and hotel rooms can often be small in size which becomes difficult if you have children with you.

    As glamorous lodge retreats cater for all different parties and needs, you can be sure that the lodge you chose will have all the amenities you need. Many lodge locations are in walking distance of local parks and woodland, whilst some are near rivers and lakes which is great if you enjoy water sports!

    lakes

    Another advantage of hiring a lodge in the Lake District is that you get the option to cook your own meals, or you can venture out to local bars, restaurants and cafes as a treat. During the length of your stay, this will save you a considerable amount of money so it’s worth investing in a lodge with others and splitting the cost.

    Usually situated in very scenic areas, a lodge will prove to be the perfect base during your stay and even after a long walk throughout the countryside, you can feel happy that you have a comfortable and luxury lodge where you can relax and unwind.

    To find the perfect lodge retreat for your stay in the Lake District, take a look at www.slholidays.co.uk for plenty of holiday options to suit your needs.

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    New York: Shopping And Sightseeing

    Looking for a perfect VIP weekend? There is no other place to shop ‘til you drop or party all night long than ‘the city that never sleeps’; New York, New York. I’ve had a romantic view of New York for a long time, listening to the lyrics of artists such as Alicia Keys, Jay-Z and Paloma Faith, musing about the city of opportunity, where dreams come true, etc. and it certainly delivered.

    City Scene

    It’s probably not the kind of place to visit on a whim, as unlike the more accessible city breaks in Europe, it is quite a pricey trip, but for anyone with a spot of Carrie envy, it’s incredible. There are plenty of inclusive packages available, but for the savvy shopper, buying each element separately can lead to finding bargains. I believe for me, the entire cost of the 4-day, 3-night, weekend; flights, accommodation and shopping and spending included, was around £800.

    Times Square

    I arrived at night time, to find myself taking an infamous yellow taxi cab through the bright lights of the city. Times Square is the place to start any evening, with its poster-like scenery, gift shops galore and of course the Broadway theatre district.

    Broadway

    Broadway is a great place to go celeb spotting, especially as so many big names grace the stages, such as Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy (until 3rd July 2013), Jane Lynch in Annie (until 14th July 2013) and soon Orlando Bloom will be taking to the stage in Romeo and Juliet (from 24th August to 24th November 2013). I decided to go for Mary Poppins for my first Broadway experience, to ease my way in light-heatedly, but I also ended up seeing theatre classic Phantom of The Opera too, and managed to get signatures from all of the cast. Often signed merchandise can be purchased in aid of a charity event – I paid $40 for mine for World Aids Day.

    Cast Signing

    I decided to stay downtown, near the former the site of the World Trade Center, now home to the One World Trade Center tower. I actually stayed in the Marriott Hotel, which received considerable damage during 9/11, with the building split in half by the collapsing South Tower and flattened by the fall of the North Tower. For this reason there is a real atmosphere of respect and patriotic pride in the re-built hotel. Visiting during off-peak season, room prices can be as low as $151 (£98 GBP) a night.

    NYC Taxis

    If your stay is only a weekend, I recommend saving money on taxis (which run by the meter and on the busy roads can clock up high fairs quickly) by booking on a tour bus, such as the City Sightseeing bus which offer 3 day hop-on, hop-off routes and of course point out all the places associated with celebrities and movies. Seeing the hotel Beyoncé often stays at, much of Donald Trumps’ empire, and the location where John Lennon was shot outside his apartment were things I may have missed if I hadn’t used the tour service, as well as some of the locations that popular TV shows such as Sex and the City and Seinfeld were filmed.
    The City Sightseeing Tour takes you to the city’s big attractions, such as the Empire State Building, Central Park, Broadway, Macy’s Department Store and The Ellis Island (State of Liberty) ferry point, but some of the fun also lies in discovering the unexpected! Along my tour we came across the famous busker ‘The Naked Cowboy’.

    Naked Cowboy

    Also, don’t be afraid to ask for more, I was able to get a guided tour of a city fire station (by a group of hot fireman) and listen to first hand stories of the tragic events of 9/11 just by knocking on the fire house door and asking. It was pretty cool to see this, often missed, side of New York City.

    Fire house

    Walking round central New York in the day time feels like you’ve stepped straight onto a movie set. Not least because there are so many recognisable movie locations! I felt caught up in a strange mix of King Kong, I Am Legend and Home Alone 2! If you a film enthusiast, don’t forget to stop by the Natural History Museum to reminisce scenes of Ben Stiller playing fetch with the T-Rex skeleton. You can even have your photo taken with Dum-Dum.
    Night at the Museum

    Embracing your inner Carrie Bradshaw is easy on 5th Avenue, with all the designer stores just a stone’s throw from one another, it’s a shopaholic’s heaven. The fancier stores are often protected by armed guards, reminding you just how expensive and luxurious these shops are.
    Shopping

    If you’re shopping more on a budget, I found some good department stores with high street prices, such as Century 21. There are also plenty of candy stores around, including M&M World and the Reese’s store and many more to indulge in a sweet treat. I also found that Saturday’s Central Market sells souvenirs, food, and confectionary treats at a reasonable.

    Street Market

    In terms of food, the US is pretty similar to the UK. There are some great diners around Times Square, as well as your standard fast food joints. For something a little different, why not stop by the beautiful decorated al fresco dining area at the Rockefeller Centre (an ice rink in winter) and watch the world go by? Or be a true tourist and grab breakfast at Grand Central Station!

    Rockefeller

    With so much to see and do, you’ll leave with thoughts of a return visit for sure. Is easy to understand the appeal the city has to its rich and famous, but also there are a lot of fun stories and quirky characters to be found. I also love the sheer number of pampered pooches around the city!

    Pampered pets

     

    ESSENTIAL INFO
    Nearest Airport: John F. Kennedy International Airport (7.5 hours approx from London)
    Currency: US dollar. £1 = $1.54
    Time Difference: -5 hours
    Guestlist Tips: Instead of paying to go to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty, take the free ferry to Staten Island, birth place of Christian Aguilera, which offers brilliant views as you pass the statue. With celeb properties on Staten Island, you never know who you may bump in to.

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    Ibis Hotels Make The Cutest Advert Ever

    I normally use this travel area to write about destinations I love, but today I want to write about an advert that I absolutely love. As soon as I saw this video of all these cute rabbits I just had to share it:

     

    What do you think? Does it make you want to stay in an Ibis? I wish hotel rooms came with bunnies included!

    SPONSORED POST

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  • ,

    South Africa: Shamwari Game Reserve Safari

    addo - par 7

    A South African safari may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a luxury holiday, but with the South African rand at a four year low (over 15 Rand to the GB Pound), and unique experiences aplenty, there’s a lot that makes South Africa appealing.

    South Africa hasn’t really been in the tourism spotlight since the world cup was hosted there in 2010, but despite its now lack of gorgeous footballers from around the world, all the tourism attractions and improvements still remain. There’s Guinness World Record breaking bungee jumps for the adrenaline seekers

    bungee jump - 1st par

    And beachside horse-trekking for those looking for a touch of natural beauty; it is certainly a varied place.

    horse trekking - 1st par

    I wanted to stay somewhere central to these attractions, so the Eastern Cape was an easy choice. Port Elizabeth (P.E) is the main city in this area, and is a great place for shopping and nights out; albeit very Westernised. I wanted to venture a little further from city life, but still be within reasonable reach of a weekend stay in P.E, and so decided on Shamwari Game Reserve for accommodation.

    Shamwari Game reserve  - par 3

    Shamwari Game Reserve, with its vast landscapes, impressive wildlife and beautiful Bushman’s River, has its celebrity appeal; its most prestigious lodge, ‘Eagles Crag’, is famed for its swimming pool, where Tiger Woods proposed to his ex-wife Elin Nordegren. During my stay I was told to look out for John Travolta’s private plane, which he sometimes lands in the area when he visits.

    The reserve is also home to  two Born Free Foundation sanctuaries for rescued big cats, which were designed in partnership with actress and Born Free Foundation founder Virginia Mckenna CBE.

    Born free lion - par 5

    The Born Free sanctuaries have recently been featured in OK Magazine after being visited by Queen guitarist Brian May and singer Kerry Ellis for the launch of their charity single, and TV DIY favourite Nick Knowles proposed to his, now wife, Jessica Rose Moor there.

    Prices for accommodation vary greatly, as there are five different lodges, but I was able to stay on a much cheaper budget via a student volunteer program called World Wide Experience. Even so, volunteers are given the chance to stay in a luxury lodge for a night – which is super swanky!

    lodge -par 6 (2)

    So much of the lodge can be folded or rolled up (the walls are made up of thick canvas material) that you really get to enjoy the (predator-free) section of the reserve.

    lodge -par 6 (1)

     

    The bath tub was incredible!

    lodge -par 6 (4)

    Activities in the area include Addo Elephant Park, which offers elephant rides followed by outdoor candlelit suppers, Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness and Rehabilitation Centre, where visitors can pay to talk an adult cheetah for a forest walk on a lead, and adrenaline activities such as sand boarding and  zip wiring.

    My beautiful picture

    Slightly further afield, perhaps for a weekend excursion, are the beautiful shores and beaches of Mossel Bay.

    mossel bay (3)

    Mossel Bay has beautiful blue waters and is littered with attractive beach side houses. It is popular for its Shark diving – but if being in a cage surrounded by Great Whites doesn’t sound like your idea of fun (it is terrifying) sit back on the white sands, well away from the shark territories, and catch some rays.

    mossel bay (2)

    ESSENTIAL INFO

    Nearest Airport: Port Elizabeth (13.5 hours approx from London

    Currency: SA Rand  (ZAR) £1 = R15.68

    Time Difference: + 1 hour

    Guestlist tips:  check out www.shamwari.com/ Remember the seasons are opposite in South Africa, so dress warm from June – October. Take a scarf for game drives and some lip balm to protect you from the wind.

    by Kate Snowdon

     

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