Friday, 12 August 2016

City break with a difference ..

Every year around this time I would now be preparing for my long weekend in Milan, Italy. This has been arranged on this upcoming weekend for the last five years to pre-empt my trip to New York for the US Open Tennis. Unfortunately we will not be covering the event this year so it's left me free to go at a slightly later date - when the summer holidays are over and all the shops and restaurants will be open. 
Left - Duomo, Milano

Right - Hands Sculpture, Como

Bearing in mind my pal and I have been doing this trip for a number of years, we know Milan quite well so have decided to break it up a bit and throw in a trip to Lake Como en route. That way we still get to spend a day shopping in the City but with the added benefit of enjoying the tranquility on the lake. Como is only one hour away by train. 

I am very excited to include this stop over in my plans this time - I have been there before and love it!

I have another entirely new destination to tell you about too in October but I'll keep shtum on that for now!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

North of the Border and the day job ..

It's been a long while since I have visited Scotland as a tourist .. the last few times have all been for work .. The Today Show for NBC, Portrait Artist of the Year for Sky Arts, Greyhound racing and the Ryder Cup for Sky Sports. 

The trouble is when you travel for work you don't really get to see much of the place you're working in, specially given the hours that we have to work. There is rarely enough down time to find a good restaurant to eat in let alone having time to go and see the sights! 

This trip was no exception either. Although we stayed in Glasgow, our place of work was about an hour's drive away in Troon, Ayrshire - at the Royal Troon Golf Course for The Open 2016. We were there for a total of 9 days to do preview shows and build ups to the main tournament which started on the Thursday and finished Sunday. This travel time added 2 hours per day to our already long days. Oh the glamour of 2.30am starts!

The weather was changeable - four seasons in one day on some days with winds gusting at 30mph and rain pelting down at a 45 degree angle but when it was sunny, seeing the beach and the ocean alongside the course was breathtakingly beautiful. It's a pity we could not get time to walk along that stretch of coastline. Every day we would see people walking their dogs and on the windy days a few kite surfers took advantage of the perfect conditions and location for that sport.

We even had a visit from the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon who was interviewed by 2 children who had won a competition through the Sky Academy.

The pictures below show our backstage make up and hair area, the main studio which overlooked the 18th hole and the Open Zone which was located right next to the practice area and driving range. 

We had a smaller open backed studio for the Sky Sports News reports which was particularly susceptible to the elements like wind and rain but benefited when the sun was shining.

For the television viewer it was probably a seamless, effortless transmission but for those of us 'on the ground' it was the most grueling few days

I find that jobs like these can be the most rewarding because of the time and effort you put in - mostly running on adrenalin towards the end. The relief when its over makes you almost forget what you put yourself through!

The new 2016 Champion - Henrik Stenson from Sweden

Next year The Open will be at
Royal Birkdale Golf Club Southport, England

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Ibiza Part 4 - Formentera - the Bahamas of the Balearics

Formentera - aka "Ibiza's chilled out little sister" is about 6 km south and just under an hour's ferry ride from Ibiza.

Setting off early from the north of the island, we traveled south to Ibiza port where we boarded the ferry for Formentera. It was a lovely smooth crossing and on arrival we were directed towards the coach which took us to the town of Sant Francesc Xavier or San Francisco, the capital of the island. 

It's a beautiful small town, (village really) and we spent about an hour there wandering around browsing the boutiques (I loved the concept store called Blink) and artisan shops - all very stylish - and grabbed a mid morning snack at a fab little cafe where they were growing tomatoes from baskets hung outside - a lovely idea and so quaint. There is no high rise development permitted on the island so it retains the appearance and feel of times gone by but with the added benefits of being in the twenty first century! 

We then made our way across the island past a large stretch of gorgeous beaches towards the lighthouse situated on the south eastern tip. On a clearer day than ours was, Ibiza island would be clearly visible to the north, but it was a bit of a blur for us. We stopped along the way not only for the stunning views but also to sample (and buy) the famous 'fig bread' which is not really a bread but a type of patty made with almonds and figs from the bountiful fig trees that grow on the island. 
If you like figs you'll love this delicious treat! 

Onwards to the lighthouse at La Mola and the view of the sea from the cliffs was breathtaking (see main pic above). We took a stroll near to the cliff edge, breathed in the sea air and felt the cooling breeze on our skin. It truly is a romantic setting - I'd love to see it at night. 

Heading back towards the beach at Es Pujols we drove past the salt lake or Ses Salines. It is a UNESCO World Heritage sight and is visited by flamingoes on their migratory flight to and from the lakes in Africa. Unfortunately this was not the time of year for their visit so we did not see any.

We had a few hours free to do as we pleased so we enjoyed lunch at Bocasalina, a lovely little restaurant overlooking the beach. We had Paella, cod balls and a gorgeous watermelon salad between the four of us washed down with a chilled bottle of Provence Rose!

Of course we didn't come all this way not to go to the beautiful beach nearby so we found a slot to park ourselves on the white sands and took a dip in the cool, crystal clear water - a lovely refreshing way to end our day out and make our way back to the ferry. Formentera is definitely on my list of places I want to revisit for longer in the future.

We passed a number of lighthouses on our way to and from the island. I'm not sure I've ever seen so many in one day before. I like to think there is something quite magical about them.. they would have saved many a sailor's life in days gone by.

We booked this trip through our hotel rep and went on the final full day of our week's holiday. We definitely saved the best for last and we all absolutely fell in love with this beautiful little island. 

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Ibiza Part 3 .. San Antonio and the sunset strip

Do you know the way to ..? (someone sang on the coach) .. but wait we weren't going to San Jose .. it's the famous San Antonio or locally known as Sant Antoni de Portmany .. 20 minutes away from Ibiza Town and home to the largest beach parties at sunset. It has apparently been described by Time Out magazine as "arguably the clubbing capital of the universe". I would not have said that of this time of year but I'm sure during the height of summer the area is banged out and rocking to the sounds of renowned DJ's from all over the world. 

Excursion number 2 aptly named "Sunset Ibiza" collected us in Portinatx ... about an hour later we found ourselves in San Antonio. This bustling little town is located on the west side of the island on a natural harbour.

Before we could explore the area, we were ushered on to a boat in the marina which took us on a cruise around the coastline to the north .. a beautiful, rugged and unspoiled landscape with people lounging on the rocks grabbing the last few rays (undoubtedly to view the sunset too) and with a few beautiful villas nestled into the hills. 

As the sun began to set we sailed out to sea to watch it go down as many have done a thousand times before. It was visually not the best of evenings as there were clouds building on the horizon but as I've said previously, every sunset is subtly different and we still got to view the stunning red, orange, amber and yellow hues. As it dipped below the horizon we were all given a glass (read plastic cup) of Cava to celebrate the end of another day. If only we could appreciate the end of every day in this way .. sunset or not. At this point the spell was broken and the boat turned around and sped back to shore.

We had a couple of hours free afterwards so we went for a walk along the meandering decked promenade to the sunset strip passing the famous clubs like Savannah, Cafe del Mar and Cafe Mambo. It was great to enjoy the atmosphere and hear the music pumping out that is so synonymous with Ibiza.

Heading back towards the town we found a lovely little alfresco restaurant for a late supper and a glass of vino tinto. At this time of year the evenings can be a little cool but as long as you are dressed for it, eating outdoors is always preferable in my opinion.

Finally it was time to make our way back to the coach .. passing numerous shops and outdoor stalls. Another memorable evening out! If you like plenty of nightlife this is definitely the place to be. 

Coming next .. Ibiza Part 4 .. last but not least the day trip to the beautiful little island of Formentera which lies to the south of Ibiza

Friday, 17 June 2016

Ibiza .. Part 2 Ibiza Town (Eivissa) and Las Dalias

There is much to see and do in Ibiza. Staying in the north of the island meant that if we wanted to do more than was on offer we had to venture further afield. I suppose we could have hired a car but as it was our first visit we opted to do a few group excursions instead. When I next go back I will definitely do the car hire as I have a real sense of the island now.

The first outing we took was called "Trinkets & Treasures" - slightly ambiguous as a description as the journey took us first to Ibiza town just 30 kilometers away where we spent a couple of hours doing whatever we chose. Food was most definitely on our agenda! We decided to find a nice restaurant where we could eat traditional Spanish cuisine and found one right on the harbour - El Bucanero. It was a random choice really - we liked the look of it and they did tapas - perfect! It was a beautiful setting with a great view of the marina and whilst we sat there enjoying our food and wine a super yacht docked right in front of us blocking part of our view. It was called "Lady Lara" and quite a crowd gathered round as two golf buggies arrived and transported a disembarking small group away. How the other half or should I say billionaires live!  

We headed back to the coach around sunset and headed next to Las Dalias, to visit their famous Hippy Market which opens from 7pm till 1am on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays and all day Saturdays during the summer months. We arrived there around 10.30pm and it was already in full swing. This is where the "trinkets and treasures" bit makes sense and there is a real atmosphere of 'hippiness' .. peace and love, flower power and of course a huge cutout of Jimi Hendrix stands by the entrance! Inside there are a variety of different stalls selling jewellery, clothing, art, sculpture and all things creative and hand made. 

Whilst there we discovered a local sculptor, Oscar Gallizia (facebook page Oscararteibiza) who had some beautiful pieces made from what looked like scrap oil drums and driftwood. I loved the fish theme in his works and purchased two pieces to put on my courtyard garden wall. They are beautiful - well I think so - very reasonably priced and evoke the colours of the sea. They will forever remind me of Ibiza. 

The Las Dalias market also hosts live music, bars, restaurants and food stalls. Before we went back to the bus we still had a little time to sample mojitos at the Soul Bar. Mine was watermelon and I can honestly say it was the best I've ever tasted! 

I would definitely recommend visiting a hippy market in Ibiza - if not Las Dalias then one of the others on the island for the "experience" - it will transport you back to a time of peace and love. 

"The End" (Lennon-McCartney) - 'And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make" - so true.

Coming soon .. Ibiza Part 3 will take in San Antonio and a sunset cruise .. watch this space! 


Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The magical island of Ibiza and beyond ... part 1 Portinatx

Where do I start? There are so many facets to Ibiza and we sure saw and covered a number of them on this trip! 
It's essentially the island of peace and love - the original hippy hangout. It's a place where artists, bohemians and party lovers have always gravitated because of it's reputation for freedom of expression and thought. This influence is seen and felt all around and for me it has a truly magical atmosphere. 

The sunsets are amazing (aren't they all anyway?!) particularly so in the little coves and rocky outcrops where the light reflects the beautiful spectrum of colours in the crystal clear stillness of the water and gives a wonderful feeling of peace and tranquility. I took so many photographs I had a hard time choosing one to post here - they are all stunningly beautiful in their own way and different every time. I  could never tire of them.

We stayed in the north east of the island in Portinatx where it is mostly unspoiled, beautiful and quiet with a little night life and vibrancy to suit all tastes but not so isolated that you can't find much more to do within 30-40 minutes drive away. There are 3 beaches in the area which were all relatively crowded during the day and I suspect even more so in high season. The water is clear and shallow and one would have to wade out quite a way to get a good swim so it is particularly good for children albeit a little cold this time of year. It can get quite breezy so very good for sailing away from the bays.

A ten minute walk from the town square and towards the lighthouse there is another small beach with a few good restaurants. We tried Restaurante El Puerto (not shown) known for it's excellent fish and is very reasonably priced. The seating outside is right on the water's edge and you can get a great view of the bay and the setting sun. 
We also went to Los Enamorados (left) right next door for lunch one day having heard that it had just opened. We liked it so much we went back for dinner and were not disappointed! The menu is small but the food is amazing! I loved my starter - Avocado Gazpacho - beautifully presented and absolutely delicious followed by tuna tacos - simply heavenly! I was particularly enamored by the place - a small hotel of 9 rooms with an eclectic mix of furniture, lighting, artifacts etc and we spent some time after dinner speaking with the owner Pierre, a French ex-pro basketballer from Paris, who showed us around the shop, the rooms upstairs and generally made us feel like we were in someone's home, which we were. The relaxed atmosphere and location was somewhere I would definitely want to go back to.

The bedrooms are all different and have the same eclectic feel and romanticism that one would expect in a location like this with the setting sun to the west and the lighthouse appointed high on the rocks nearby. If you want to be away from the crowds, this is definitely the place to be. 
Check out the May issue of Elle Decoration to see Pierre and his partner Rozemarijn's house in Monmartre, Paris.

Places we tried in Portinatx

Zulu Lounge - great seafood and large portion sizes
Es Puet Blanc - great for lunch - tasty salads and pizza. Reasonably priced cocktails and Sangria
El Puerto - locally caught fish and Spanish cuisine
Last but not least ..
Los Enamorados - brand new and delicious locally sourced food - my personal favorite!

Next posts - Ibiza Town, Hippy Markets, San Antonio and the island of Formentera - I said there was a lot to Ibiza!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Update on next trip .. a new destination for the HQ

Every June HQ and pals head off to a not too distant island. So far we have done Crete, Santorini, and Tenerife so this year we have chosen Ibiza (can't believe I have never been) ... it is becoming a bit of a tradition and maybe we will try Mykonos next year - it's another island on my list! 

In just two weeks from today, we will be on our loungers with cocktails in hand starting a week of unwinding and relaxation. 

It's a good time to go away - the summer season is just starting and the crowds haven't yet bombarded the Med in their droves.

We have chosen to stay in Portinatx in the north of the island - supposedly quieter than the south but hopefully within reach of a few good restaurants and markets.

I look forward to reporting back on my return. Counting down the days!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Serpentine and Sackler Galleries in Hyde Park, London

There are two galleries situated in the centre of Hyde Park in London - one on either side of the Serpentine Lake. The Serpentine and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery are both free to visit and you may leave a donation if you wish.

My friend and I paid a visit on a beautiful clear spring day recently as we had both never been to either gallery, and surprisingly had not visited the park for some time either. 

There are a few underground stations within easy walking distance depending on which end of the park you want to enter from. We came from the north side and the closest station, Lancaster Gate and it was a lovely 10 minute walk getting there.

The Serpentine Gallery was formerly a tea pavillion and was opened in 1970 housing the works of up and coming artists, and the most recent exhibition of a Swedish painter Hilma Af Klint called Painting the Unseen. Her works were never displayed while she was alive and her will stipulated that they not be shown for at least 20 years after her death. 

The Serpentine Sackler Gallery on the other side of the lake was a former gunpowder storage (also known as The Magazine) in the Napoleonic wars and is a Grade II listed building restored by the gallery and the Royal Parks, with an extension to include The Magazine restaurant designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid. It was opened to the public in September 2013. I'm sorry to say that I didn't know it was there until recently.
We had planned to have lunch at The Magazine after visiting the Serpentine gallery so went early as we had not made a reservation. We didn't need one but I would suggest that if you don't want to be disappointed it would be worth booking in advance particularly on a warm summer's day. It was a beautiful fluid space with plenty of natural light. What was a great way to wile away a couple of hours over a glass or two of Provence Rose. 
I'm so glad to have discovered these little gems in the middle of a park in the heart of London and look forward to revisiting again. 

Kofler & Kompanie, who run The Magazine have a summer event coming up to support Crisis, the homeless charity - it looks like something most foodies will appreciate!

"This summer marks the 25th birthday of Kofler & Kompanie, and what better way to celebrate than with an incredible line up of chefs, taking the concept of al fresco dining at The Magazine to a whole new level.

Taking place over nine Friday nights between June and August and featuring some of the UK's most exciting young chefs, The Park Table is one long curving table seating 50 diners with the stunning backdrop of the late Zaha Hadid designed Magazine restaurant and Serpentine Sackler Gallery. The Magazine Chefs Emmanuel and Felix have also invited some of tomorrow’s hopeful stars to participate, with trainees from the Skylight CafĂ© at Crisis, the homeless charity to work alongside them.  All profits will go to Crisis for what promises to be an unforgettable dining experience."

The galleries and restaurant are closed on a Monday. Hours are between 9am and 6pm.

Hilma Af Klint - The exhibition closes on 15th May so if you want to see it now's the time to go.

Next up at the gallery - New York painter Alex Katz 2nd June - 11th September 2016

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Fashionista Afternoon Tea - Dubai style

In the spirit of looking to find different things to do whilst in Dubai, I was made aware of the delightful Manolo Blahnik Collection Fashion Afternoon Tea at Raffles Salon. 

London is typically synonymous with the traditional afternoon tea so it seemed like a great idea to sample it elsewhere .. and where better than Raffles in Dubai. 

For a starting price of AED 249 for two (approx £50) you can have tea or coffee and the full menu on offer. If you would like a glass of champagne instead the cost escalates to AED 449 for two (approx £90).

The sandwiches, scones and cakes were beautifully presented and absolutely delicious and there was a wide range of different teas available. Of course we could not finish everything so they offer a take home pack so you can continue your feast at home. You do have to sign a disclaimer if you choose this option.

Every month they raffle off (no pun intended) a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes for one lucky diner. I wonder if I will win this month? This offer lasts until the end of September 2016.

The Manolo Blahnik Collection is offered every day in Raffles Salon, located in the lobby, from 2pm to 7pm.

Raffles is situated near Dubai Airport and like most of the hotels has a valet service so you don't need to worry about car parking if you are driving.



A Jewel in the Desert

I've been to Dubai in the UAE a few times and wanted to get a slightly different perspective this visit. There's loads of things to do and it really depends on what you like. Literally everything is on offer from sky diving to snow skiing! A whole new world created from nothing in the desert. 

I had no interest in shopping this trip although I did visit the Marina Mall as it was a few minutes away from where I was staying but basically I really fancied a desert experience that didn't involve camel trekking or dune bashing or a safari. A quiet, remote retreat was in my mind - with maybe a spa and swimming pool, fabulous Arabian decor and delicious authentic food. Having said that, there is also the opportunity to do all of the above .. it really just depends on your personal desire. I think if I had the time I would have liked to have tried the archery.

I had heard of Bab Al Shams through a friend and really wanted to give it a try. Having limited time meant that I could only do one night but 2 or 3 would have been infinitely better! I also picked the most perfect time of year to go - 30C during the day and lovely cool evenings. I would imagine that during high summer it would be unbearably hot and uncomfortable so I would definitely avoid July and August unless you like those kinds of temperatures!

We arrived around 2pm and checked into our beautiful room. I've always loved traditional Arabic decor - give me that any day over a neutral, minimalist room as lovely as it can sometimes be. I grabbed a quick coffee from the Nespresso machine and we headed down to the pool for a swim and some lunch. We could have taken the offer of a free camel ride and falconry displays in the late afternoon but we chose to chill out by the pool and take advantage of an evening cocktail whilst viewing the spectacular sunset from the roof top bar. As the live music played and the sun went down the full moon rose on the opposite side. A perfectly magical romantic vision in the quietness of the surroundings of this desert oasis. 

Dinner was reserved at the Al Hadheerah restaurant which is a short walk from the resort through a winding flame lit path. As you get closer the quietness is soon taken over by the bustling of a desert banquet. 

Imagine a feast within a small fortress with carpets spread out over the ground and a vast selection of different foods being cooked and served as much as you can eat. Candle lit tables covered with heavy cloths with chairs or cushioned couches. "There is also no mistaking the mouth-watering aroma of Arabic cuisine as it drifts from the live cooking stations, wood-fired ovens and spit roasts."  

Included in the cost of AED495 (about £100) is a show with dancers, musicians and the story of the camel caravan - with live camels and horses on the periphery of the fort. There is a fireworks display on Thursdays and Fridays so we were lucky enough to experience that too. I also tried Arabic coffee for the first time which has the unmistakable flavour of cardamom .. not my favourite so I'll stick with my regular espresso!

I intended to be up early the next day to see the sunrise but sadly I slept in! I did manage a walk around the resort after breakfast and dipped my toes in the fine sands of the surrounding desert before we left. I would love to go back .. and next time spend a minimum of 3 days there to really relax and chill out.

A special mention to Boules Fam the outlet manager for seating us in a prime location at the roof top bar and all the staff who could not do enough for us. Shukraan! 

Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa
Al Qudra Road, PO Box 8168
Dubai, UAE
Tel: +971 4 8096100
Fax: +971 4 8326698