Explore Shakespeare’s Country

By Shereen Shabnam

A tour of the UK is not complete unless you spend a few days in Shakespeare country and nearby attractions. This Midlands area and its surroundings are a fascinating blend of history and myth, industry and culture.

Naturally I loved Stratford-upon-Avon, the historic market town and birthplace of the world’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare. After doing some extensive tours of Shakespeare’s birthplace and indulging in plays both at the Royal Shakespeare theatre and outdoor performances in the park, I chose to stay for a few days at the Macdonald Ansty Hall.

Macdonald Ansty Hall is without doubt one of the finest 4-star hotels in Warwickshire. Set in the heart of Shakespeare Country offering the best of breathtaking scenery and facilities.

Close to Cadbury’s World, Warwick Castle and the beautiful town of Stratford-upon-Avon, the hotel is a popular choice for family holidays, business and weddings.

The hotel is a perfect venue for celebrations, events and conferences with superb hotel accommodation, stylish meeting and function rooms and breathtaking views over the eight acres of landscaped gardens.

Highly recommended is a visit to the AA Rosette awarded Shilton Restaurant, followed by a nightcap in The Warwick Bar and Lounge.

Car lovers should make a beeline for the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon, which is a 65 acres housing the largest collection of British-made cars in the world.

If you are into aviation like me, head to the Midland Air Museum at Coventry airport. It reflects the genius of local engineer Sir Frank Whittle, designer of the first jet engine.

Stratford Upon Avon and Warwickshire in general is a must see for visitors touring the UK and staying in hotels like the Ansty Hall makes it a memorable experience.

 

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Luxury Tropical Escapes – W South Beach

By Shereen Shabnam

Miami is a playground for celebrities and on the boardwalk of the coast area where the elite converge, sits W South Beach, a beachfront oasis in the heart of Miami’s most famous and visited coastal line. I stayed there to experience not just their room but their cuisine and enjoyed walking through their manicured garden area.

The W South Beach attracts visitors with its stunning design elements, high-ceilings, a lobby with a warm ambience filled with eclectic furniture an modern art. Before breakfast, I spent an hour exploring the lobby area and enjoyed the art of Damien Hirst and Jean-Michel Basquiat as well as a bit of retail therapy.

The large pool area featured inviting cabanas and comfortable lounge chairs next to the garden. The garden features winding paths amongst the swamp lily and flowering grasses, lanterns from the late 19th Century, sheets of poetry suspended from sea grape trees and 1920s-era objects discovered in French flea markets.

Dedicated poolside attendants pamper guests with all-natural cocktails and organic cold-pressed juices, light fare from WET Bar & Grille and invigorating towelettes. From here, one truly appreciates the calm and serenity of being in an enclosed garden and pool area reading and enjoying the view.

The ocean-facing rooms come with glass balconies and luxurious furnishings while the suites and penthouses feature amenities such as private rooftop plunge-pools, Wi Fi, docking station and services that remain unrivalled amongst luxury hotels.

Not to be missed is a visit to Mr. Chow, a restaurant that serves Chinese cuisine in an glamorous setting with delicious cocktails as perfect pre dinner drinks in the evenings.

The hotel has fitness facilities for the active guests. The high-tech haven has work out machines, a nutritionist and a Pilates program. A walk along the beach naturally provides a more relaxed workout.

The W South Beach is definitely a place I want to go back to for a sabbatical as it offers all that I need at the doorstep. It is the kind of hotel you hesitate to leave in fear of missing out.

 

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Al Inclusive Hospitality – Rixos Bab Al Bahr

By Shereen Shabnam

Located on the pristine beach of Al Marjan Island, a world-class man-made island, nestled in the waters of Ras Al Khaimah,Turkish hotelchain, Rixos Bab Al Bahr first opened its doors in the UAE with its all-inclusive concept that has proven to be a success with both local and International visitors.

Ras Al Khaimah is only a short drive from Dubai and the Emirate features endless sandy beaches, untouched deserts and favorable weather all year round, which facilitate an array of tourist attractions.  I stayed at the Rixos Bab Al Bahr and experienced the essence of traditional Turkish hospitality, as is the trademark of the hotel chain.

The  ‘All inclusive – All Exclusive’ stay at Rixos Bab al Bahr is a signature offering from Rixos Hotels, who are experts in luxury all-inclusive concept.  The concept very aptly accommodates the Turkish hospitality philosophy of extending attention and services beyond imagination, making every guest’s experience an exclusive one.

The hotel offers a mix of deluxe and premium rooms as well as family, junior, senior and king suites, the property is ready to cater to all family sizes. The ‘All inclusive – All exclusive’ stay at Rixos Bab Al Bahr includes unique dining experiences in several restaurants and bars, a night club, spectacular evening entertainment programs, Rixy Club and Teen’s Republic, Rixos Royal Spa with a marvelous Turkish Hammam, on-site souk for local artifacts, accessories and souvenirs.

I stayed there for only one night so did not try all that was on offer but active guests can enjoy water activities and excursions at an additional charge. Rixos Bab Al Bahr proudly presents an assortment of Restaurants and Bars of true gastronomical experiences from all around the world.

Guests looking for something more relaxed can head to Aisha Lobby Lounge that offers a wide selection of freshly brewed coffee and teas. The Pool Bar and the Sea & See beach bar are great places to enjoy the sun and sand.

The ultra ‘All Inclusive – All Exclusive’ offer at Rixos Bab Al Bahr goes beyond comfortable stay and limitless dining. A daily dose of live entertainment designed by resort’s dedicated, professional and extremely talented entertainment team caters to the preferences of guests of all ages.

Rixos Entertainment Square, the venue for live shows and performances features a live band performance of different genre of music as well as instrumental and acoustic to set the mood with dance shows, operas, acrobatics and other performances by artists of international eminence.

The water sports facilities at the resort under the supervision of a well-trained team. Guests can go sailing or kayaking at leisure, surrender to the winds as they go windsurfing, opt for banana or jet skiing if they enjoy riding the waves or go fishing for a pastime.

For families traveling with kids, staying at the Rixos Bab Al Bahr, will benefit from the exclusive Rixy Club that offers an exceedingly proficient and multi-lingual team, dedicated to turning children’s experiences to memorable moments through age-tailored entertainment programs.

My teenage daughter enjoyed the thorough activity programme for Teen’s Republic, the club for the teenagers between 13 to 19 years offering a gamut of activities.

Guests can also indulge in the exclusive shopping haven at the resort that sells local artifacts, souvenirs and accessories and take back home tangible memories of our weekend away. For down time, enjoy the Rixos Royal Spa, which has a myriad of treatments and rituals as well as contemporary practices specific to Rixos’ Turkish heritage like the Turkish Hammam, which is one of the spa’s signature areas, delivered with great authenticity.

 

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Impeccable Hospitality – The Langham, London

By Shereen Shabnam

Creating exceptional guest experiences since it opened as Europe’s first grand hotel in 1865, The Langham, London continues to enhance its offerings more than 150 years later. Despite visiting London for years, I finally visited the property last year for an afternoon tea and it is indeed a hotel that gives you the best of history, luxury and a regal vibe that leaves one with a sense of gratification.

The exquisitely appointed guest rooms and suites are classically styled and evokes a warm residential feel with renowned service that bears the hallmarks of the hotel’s rich heritage that spans three centuries.

Since releasing brand-new guest rooms, suites and residences last year, and relaunching the iconic Infinity Suite earlier this year, 2017 sees even more development for holidaymakers looking for an unforgettable London stay, with the launch of the brand-new Terrace Suite.

The Terrace Suite vaunts imposing views of bustling Regent Street and beyond with its extensive balcony perched on the hotel’s fifth floor. This unforgettable suite, with separate lounge and bedroom, is ideal for longer stays. At 58 square metres (642 sq ft) in size, the airy accommodation fits up to three guests between the bedroom’s king bed and living room, and additional beds are available upon request (£90).

Brimming with comforts for the discerning traveller, the suite includes a full-size work desk, the Langham Blissful Bed, marble bathroom with separate shower and bath, and a bottle of chilled bubbles upon arrival.

Guests in the room will want for nothing thanks to butler service to assist with personal requests such as unpacking suitcases, colour-coding your wardrobe, or organising bespoke itineraries and 24-hour full-service in-room dining.

Bathed in a refined colour palette of regal jewel tones and soft neutrals, summer’s light pours through the terrace’s glass doors into the suite’s living area, creating one of the best destinations for a getaway for families or special occasions.

Palm Court is famed as the birthplace of the afternoon tea tradition, an indulgent ritual that continues today. Artesian is a glamorous bar designed by the acclaimed late David Collins and is a social hub for chic Londoners conjuring up classic and innovative cocktails, receiving the coveted accolade of “World’s Best Bar” for four consecutive years.

In partnership with culinary icons, father and son Albert and Michel Roux Jr, Roux at the Landau restaurant offers classically constructed dishes using the finest seasonal ingredients with a contemporary style of presentation. Chuan Spa is a pampering haven and is London’s first luxury hotel spa to incorporate the ancient principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine into its signature treatments and ambience.

The Langham, London was opened in 1865 by HRH The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), as Europe’s first “Grand Hotel”.  From the outset it boasted an unrivalled location at the top of Regent Street and this is still true today with an enviable address in the heart of the West End. And with incredible city views, the plush atmosphere of a grand hotel and Langham’s impeccable hospitality, guests can expect an unforgettable experience.

 

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Pure Indulgence – DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa Reserva del Higuerón

By Shereen Shabnam

This has been a year of exploring my adopted country Spain and during a road trip, we stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa Reserva del Higueron, belonging to the Hilton brandfamily.

The first thing that greeted me at the hotel was the most beautiful classic car in the lobby and being a motoring enthusiast, I was in love. The hotel is a unique, modern, comfortable, spacious and airy complex. The Hotel is leader in design, leisure and services, with a combination of entertainment, health, sports, relaxation, culinary and activities.

Ideally located in one of the most exciting destinations in Europe, “Costa del Sol” between Malaga and Marbella, is known for its sandy beaches, golf courses and subtropical climate with 320 days of sunshine a year. The Resort combines the quietness and the proximity to the best beaches. It is easy to reach from the international airport, and Málaga town center, 10 minutes by car or 30 minutes by train from the station just 200 meters distance from Resort entrance.

The beautiful city of Malaga, one of the oldest in the world and known as the capital of the Costa del Sol. Through the combination of magical and monumental surroundings, this city offers visitors a cultural and cosmopolitan appeal with several major European museums (Picasso Museum, Pompidou and Thyssen) among others. Also just minutes away you can visit Marbella and Puerto Banus to enjoy a luxurious and exclusive shopping.

The Resort has 177 rooms, including 24 junior suites, all with spectacular views of the Bay of Fuengirola, areas with permanent artworks,9 meeting rooms for up to 500 people, 5 restaurants. All in accordance with the standards and services of the Hilton brand.

Sport Club and Spa Nagomi

Within the complex you can find Sport Club, a sports entertainment center with fitness facilities, monitored activities (Pilates, Yoga, TRX), 11 paddle courts, 2 tennis courts, an exclusive area of sand of 4,000 m2, two heated indoor swimming pools and 3 outdoor pools.

Learn a new concept of wellness through Nagomi SPA experience with dynamic jet pool, massage, waterfalls, contrast pools, sauna, steam room and relaxation area. And a wide range of treatments for health, welfare, beauty and nutrition, with the help of the best professionals, also having hairdressing, manicure and pedicure.

Infinity pool and terrace

The Infinity top roof terrace, is one of the most impressive areas of the hotel, an infinity pool waterfall in south side that blends in harmony with the vision of the Mediterranean Sea. Impressive, pool accompanied by Balinese beds with stunning views of the Mediterranean where you can enjoy the best cocktails, drinks and snacks.

Dining options

The Resort offers a comprehensive food and beverage concept where 5 restaurants including SOLLO´S, quality restaurant awarded Chef Diego Gallegos with Michelin Star 2016, specializes in river fish and caviar. ARARA BISTRO BAR by Diego Gallegos with the best options of Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine. PALMERAL BUFFET is an open and modern restaurant in the heart of the hotel offering breakfast buffet, a la carte lunch and dinner buffet, INFINITY BAR with fresh choices of meals and snacks, and Snack Bar LA HIGUERITA completes the offer healthy foods for sport people.

 

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Top things to do in Madrid

Shereen Shabnam

With the holidays approaching, there’s no better time to start planning for your winter getaway. Madrid is one of the most celebrated and beautiful places in the world and a magnet for elite international tourism and shopping is always top of the list for Madrid visitors.

My daughter has a soft spot for the the iconic El Corte Inglés department store in Castellana, where she has her first ever VIP shopping experience and did a colour consultation that showed her which colours suited her the best.

The store is a draw for shopping lovers as one of the world’s largest stores, there are many amazing activities for the discerning traveller within close proximity.

And while you are in Madrid, here are some of Madrid’s top sights to catch between a shopping spree at El Corte Ingles.

1: Santiago Bernabéu Stadium

Just a nine-minute walk from El Corte Inglés, Madrid’s main football stadium is home to the city’s most popular team: Real Madrid. Opened in 1947, the stadium is enormous and has undergone multiple renovations over the years, now seating up to 81,044 people. There is no better way to experience an integral part of the Spanish culture than to cheer on Real Madrid at a game.

2: Puerta de Alcalá

A quick 10-munite drive from El Corte Inglés, the Puerta de Alcalá, meaning the “Citadel Gate” and derived from the Arabic word al-qal’a, is a neo-classical monumental city gate, and regarded as the first modern, post-roman, triumphal arch in Europe. It was built between 1769 and 1778, using granite and stone from Colmenar and makes a wonderful backdrop for a memorable picture.

3: El Prado Art Museum

Not falling short on culture, Madrid’s Prado Art Museum is one of the world’s first museums to hold a royal collection of art from the 15th to the 17th centuries, including the works of Velazquez’s ‘Las Meninas’ and El Greco’s ‘The Annunciation’. Art lovers can also head to the neighbouring Reina Sofía and Thyssen-Bornemisza finishing the Golden Triangle of Art to admire the works of many world-renowned abstract and surrealist artists, all only a short ride from the famous El Corte Inglés.

4: Plaza de Cibeles square

Adjacent to Paseo del Prado, marvel at marble sculptures at the city’s most famous plaza. Known for its stunning architecture, the fountain features the Roman goddess Cybele who represents Earth, agriculture and fertility, and was adopted by the city’s football team. After a winning match for Real Madrid, this is the spot to celebrate the victory.

5: El Corte Inglés

The seven-storey department store is the hotspot for visiting fashion mavens. International visitors receive a 10% reward discount card year round and can ask to have their shopping delivered to their hotel or home country, along with assistance with their tax refund. Celebrating its 75th anniversary, this shopping mall is in the heart of Madrid, and a stone’s throw away from many local attractions. The store features over 8,000 Spanish and international brands and is the ideal answer to the most discerning shopper with its comprehensive collection of designers.

People travel the world to find the beautiful and fantastic, and Madrid brims with exceptional experiences, whether it is the latest collection of a fashion designer at El Corte Inglés, a painting at one of its museums, or historic buildings that defy time. Let the imagination run wild and find inspiration at every corner of this storied city. El Corte Inglés is an iconic landmark of fashion that marks itself as a destination in its own right.

 

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Natural Sanctuary – Bled in Slovenia

By Shereen Shabnam

One of my most memorable travel destinations recently was to Slovenia with Turkish Airlines. The first stop was at a lake town called Bled,a popular tourist destination in Slovenia known for its emerald green lake, a wonderful restaurant on top of a mountain with picturesque views and a medieval castle.

On arrival, we had an enchanting boat ride across the lake, which is the highlight of a visit to Bled. It is best to take some time to take in the ambience, watch the swans and ducks on the lakes and enjoy the lush green mountains in the distance.

A hike up a hill followed the boat ride as we climbed a stone staircase with 99 steps to have lunch with panoramic views and a visit to take pictures of the waterfront, the church of assumption andthe castle of Bled.

The Bled Castle is the oldest castle in Slovenia. There is also a museum at the top with the history of the castle, some interesting fossils and archaeological findings and a tempting gift shop selling food and the arts and crafts of Bled.

Being a food lover, I stopped to taste the famous Kremsnita cake, which was as delectable as the locals claimed and better than any cream cake I have ever sampled during my travels.

Adventure tourists will enjoy the famous hiking trails that start from Bled. They are called Pokljika, Mount Stol and Triglav. For those on the look out for picturesque views, The Vintgar Gorge has a scenic route that is serene with a lovely waterfall.

Some sites I wanted to visit but missed out on is the Postojna Cave Predjama Castle and the Lipica Stud Farm that produces horses for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Visitors from the Middle East who love equestrian sports can enjoy tours, rides and lessons that cover dressage and how to control horses.

Lake Bled is an ideal destination for a perfect summers day. Dress casual and comfortable to make the most of the visit as the activities involve rowing, hiking, exploring and enjoy the photography opportunities.

 

 

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Exploring Taiwan – The Land of Breathtaking Beauty

By Shereen Shabnam

With rich cultural diversity and traditions as varied as it’s beautiful natural landscape alongside tall towers and a thriving business environment, Taiwan is full of surprises for visitors.

My visit began with a tour of the Taipei 101, architecturally created guided with Feng Shui principles as a symbol of the evolution of technology and Asian tradition with traditional design elements, works of art and modern treatments. It comes with Indoor Observation decks plus a premium multi-level shopping mall adjoining the tower with hundreds of stores, restaurants and clubs.

The journey continued with visits to Chiayi, Alishan, Sun Moon Lake and beyond wandering through cultural attractions, lakes, hillside stations, tropical forests and sampling a wide variety of cuisine including ample choice of halal delicacies.

Taiwan offers the gamut of different cuisines and I enjoyed the Chinese, Indian, Moroccan, Japanese dishes alongside the traditional local specialties like Tainan milkfish and desert dumplings in restaurants and night markets in between sight seeing and shopping.

A visit to Taiwanese temples is a must for people watching as they gather to worship, enjoy local festivities nearby and to peruse the local art house often found in each city.

Highlight of the visit was the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated each year on the 15th day of the first lunar month to mark the grand finale of the Chinese New Year celebrations.

This first full moon day of the New Year symbolizes the coming of the spring. People usually celebrate this festival by enjoying family dinner together, eating Yuanxiao (glutinous rice dumpling), carrying paper lanterns, and solving the riddles on the lanterns.

At the Taiwan Lantern Festival in Chiayi, I found the grand celebration with music, dance, light shows, 4D visual effects and the grand lanterns all around me magical. My Taiwanese friends said they sometimes write their wishes on the sky lanterns because it is believed as the lantern fly into the sky; it is a way to pass on your wishes to gods above.

A visit to the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum was a delightin Chiayi County. The museum is set on 70 hectares of land next to a large scenic lake with gardens. It has an unmatched collection of e artifacts and priceless treasures from distant places.

 

Another attractionlocated in Qigu District, Tainan is the Qigu Salt Mountain set close to Qigu Lagoon, the largest inland lake in Taiwan, which is rich in ecological resources and the habitat for winter migratory birds-black-faced spoonbills. There are a number of recreational activities like go-karting, antique machines exhibition and the Doo-doo trains making it an interesting Tainan tourist spot for visitors of all ages.

Other enjoyable excursions included exploring the Sicao Mangrove Preserve and the Taijiang National Parkwith ecological and cultural landscape alongside culture and history. The Alishan National Scenic Area was also memorable. 

Another breath taking experience was of course Taiwan’s largest Lake, the Sun Moon Lakelocated in the mountains of Nantou. I took a late afternoon boat tour and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. The area around the lake is home to tribes and scenic views. Leaving Taiwan was not easy especially from the Sun Moon Lake.

From the UAE, getting to Taiwan was fairly easy on Emirates Airlines, which flies to direct to Taipei daily. The city is a great starting point to get to the other popular tourist spots.

 

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Vibrant Kathmandu – The Charming city of Nepal

Dharahara-Bhimsen-Tower-KathmanduNepal-1

By Shereen Shabnam

Exploring the city and outskirts of Kathmandu is an exciting and an intoxicating experience for visitors from around the globe with bustling streets, a large variety of flora and fauna, medieval temples and some of the best hiking and walking trails.

The city has character with old charm architecture intricately carved wooden doors and windows, lively narrow streets filled with shops dedicated to small yet thriving specialist businesses full of different colours, smells with sounds of tourists mixed with locals.

Although I have visited Nepal a number of times, this year I attended the Himalayan Travel Mart, organised with the objective to establish Nepal as a Gateway to the Himalayas and as a destination capable of hosting events at international level. The travel mart hosted around 74 Buyers from 36 countries and over 50 sellers, representing the Himalayan Region, Bhutan, India, Tibet, Indonesia and Nepal.

It is best to arrange a sightseeing tour of Kathmandu City with a visit to the Hanuman Dhoka (Kathmandu DurbarSquare),an ancient durbar (palace) with its numerous old palaces, temples and pagodas. Visit the famous Temple of Living Goddess “Kumari”,and the Kasthamandap Temple, believed to be constructed from the wood of a single tree from which Kathmandu derives its name.

Nepal is a Himalayan Kingdom often referred to as the “Land of Mount Everest” and the “Land of Living Goddess-Kumari”. Abroad, the country is also associated with the heroism of its brave warrior ancestors – the talented “Gorkhas”.

My favourite part of the adventure was visiting a monastery in the mountains and meeting the resident monks. A definite must visit is the Boudhanath Stupa – an ancient colossal stupa and the center of Tibetan Buddhism in the world and the Pashupatinath Temple -the Temple of Lord Shiva situated on the bank of the Bagmati River.

The excursions take time but if you want good views, head toSwayambhunath Stupa, which is situated atop a hill from where you can get a bird’s,eye view of Kathmandu Valley. I also enjoyed the views from the Namo Buddha Stupa, which offers a serene ambience ideal to meditate in.

I fell in love with the local cuisine and yet surprisingly had some of the best international cuisine in the city as well. Who would have thought that the best pizza I would ever eat will be in a quaint restaurant called Fire and Ice in the streets of Kathmandu.

We visited an orphanage as well after a visit to a monastery. The orphanage is part of a CSR initiative called Mission Himalaya, which focuses in providing free education, free healthcare and poverty relief aid to the needy people from the remote and under-developed regions of Nepal.
I spent the last few days exploring the shops and markets with two fashionable and seasoned travellers and together we got fascinated and taken in with the beautiful gemstones, the colourful pashmina shawls, the soothing musical instruments and comfortable yet classic clothes designed to stay trendy for years in places like Indra Chowk to luxury boutiques.

The wide variety of products in all price ranges is attractive to all ages and tourists often head to the Thamel area for souvenirs and handicrafts.

Going back to Nepal ended up being a therapeutic and calming holiday cum work destination that I needed and meeting travel aficionados from all over the world who are passionate about the Himalayas was definitely an added bonus. I look forward to my next visit already.

 

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Why Turkey is a must visit

Natasha Dury

We absolutely love everything about Turkey and mum flies Turkish Airlines a lot to discover their new destinations in other parts of the world. From amazing shopping in places like Grand Bazaar, boating on the Bosphorous, the most amazing fresh cuisine to art and culture heritage sites…Turkey has it all.

Some pictures below give you an idea what you will see in Turkey.