An Aura of Elegance: Hotel du Palais

By Shereen Shabnam

I fell in love with Biarritz the minute I got off the train. Facing the Ocean Atlantic and on the beach “La Grande Plage de Biarritz” near the city center of Biarritz, the prestigious sea side deluxe Hotel du Palais of Biarritz was breathtaking at first sight.

Walking into the reception area, I had images of the past filled with memories of Gala evenings and stately affairs of the past era. During one of my visits to France over the last few years, I go back in time when I experienced the best of all that a luxury resort can offer at Hotel du Palais.

During meals where I was never left alone, I found that luxury travellers come from all over the world, all year long to enjoy this fabulous setting, warm welcome, elite service, charm and comfort. It is indeed a living souvenir of the history of Biarritz, France and Europe. The “Villa Eugénie”, now the Hotel du Palais, was constructed in 1855 by Napoléon III for his wife Eugénie de Montijo.

No matter how many times I go back to France, the memory of this visit is as fresh and alive in my mind. The clear blue sea at my doorstep reminded me of my home country, Fiji Islands. I still visualise the elegance is deco in every corner from the entrance to my breakfast table where I enjoyed writing while gazing at the blue waters overlooking the hotel.

The main hall, the private salons, the dining room and the grounds have all maintained their Second Empire style. A style that defines Biarritz and assures its reputation as an amazing sea resort, it is this charm, touched with elegance, deluxe and personal that makes this hotel one of a kind.

Biarritz is a little city that has it all. Lively with its casinos, its greens (the region has ten 18 holes golf courses and an International training center, unique in Europe), its boutiques, and the rich green hillsides and its gentle year-round climate.

This picturesque seaside town became a favourite with European royalty in the 19th Century, who fell in love with its pretty beaches, warm climate and relaxed atmosphere. The Hotel du Palais has played host to stars of screen and other luminaries since the 1950s and 60s and offers a timeless glamour and luxury rarely found in today’s resorts.

Biarritz has a lot of beautiful buildings to offer today amongst which, the Hotel du Palais stand out. It’s a vibrant cosmopolitan town with magnificent beaches, golf courses and numerous sporting facilities, not forgetting the surf. Surfing started in France here in Biarritz and surfers come from all over the world to ride the waves.

The Hotel du Palais has practiced and perfected the art of receiving people. In the public areas and guest rooms the original Second Empire style has been retained, with period furniture, original works of art and high decorated ceilings. This is the place to stay for the ultimate Biarritz experience. Guests can lounge by the pool with a cocktail, or head to the nearby beach for some sunbathing, surfing or people-watching.

I enjoyed the world of the Spa Imperial with Guerlain dedicated to well-being, relaxation and fitness. It is the most transforming and customized Spa experience, where cutting edge innovation unites with luxury, emotion and sensuality. It comes with an indoor swimming pool, sauna, stream rooms, fitness center and a beauty parlour with a Hair Care Institute.

Food in France is always a talking point and the great dining experience at the hotel’s restaurants and lounges provide guests with an unforgettable culinary experience. Among the facilities available at the hotel is a foreign exchange service, safe deposit boxes, telex, photocopy, fax and secretariat services. Other Business centre facilities at the hotel include computers for guest use and in room facilities include voice mail, fax machine on request, work desk and modem point.

Executive rooms in addition boast butler service and express check out. L’Hotel du Palais also boasts a selection of reception rooms which can host from 14 to 500 people in various settings – ideal for meetings, seminars or launch parties

All reservations for tickets, sightseeing tours, shows etc are available from the Concierge. For guest convenience, there is also a babysitting as well as medical assistance.  The hotel also has a boutique, hairdresser, heated sea-water swimming-pool with direct access to the beach, solarium, sauna and a golf pitching green. For the active guests, there is the option of playing tennis, golf and horse riding.

There are a number of interesting museums in the area, including the Biarritz Marine Museum with its underwater viewing area, and the rather indulgent Chocolate Museum, which offers tasting sessions. The Historical Museum of Biarritz is situated in a former church and tells the story of the town’s transformation from tiny fishing village to high-society resort.

Hotel du Palais is obviously an address of undeniable prestige and one of the last great palaces around where guests can enjoy being treated like royalty. I felt regal throughout my stay and it has become one of my top destinations in Europe.

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Top five places to visit in the UAE

By Shereen Shabnam

As a Lifestyle, Travel and Motoring journalist, I spend a substantial amount of time on the road and recently, I decided to do my test drives with a purpose and with the aim of getting to a new or attraction around the different Emirates. Below are some of my favourite places in the different Emirates.

Al Khor Kayak – Al Rafisah Dam

During a recent test drive with the Nissan Xterra, I stopped at the Al Rafisah Dam in Khor Fakkan with my daughter and enjoyed kayaking amidst stunning hilly landscapes complete with a mini waterfall followed by spending time watching kids enjoying the playground and parents enjoying a cup of coffee at the cafe.

The Al Khor Kayak is near Khor Fakkan and it costs only AED30/- for a double kayak rental. There are also restrooms and a terrace with gorgeous views across the water and surrounding mountains.

IMG Resorts

Situated along Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Road, IMG Worlds of Adventure, the largest temperature controlled indoor themed entertainment destination in the world is another favourite spot for us to visit as it offers four epic adventure zones in one location.

After a leisurely drive in the new Ford Explorer, it seemed like a perfect place to stop for a dose of adventure with Cartoon Network, MARVEL, IMG Boulevard and the Lost Valley – Dinosaur Adventure zones.

Here you can enjoy adrenaline-pumping roller coasters, thrill rides, attractions based on Cartoon Network characters, iconic MARVEL Super Heroes and dinosaurs. We loved the variety of themed retail stores, the various dining venues and the 12-screen state-of-the-art cinema.

Yas Island

We ventured to Yas Waterworld while I tested the Honda Odyssey as it is a car for the family but you can fit in two small families for family fun at a venue that comes complete with three award-winning theme parks and a mall.

We were able to have some splashing excitement at Yas Waterworld that comes with an adventure playground and did a photoshoot with the kids. Then we moved on to speed and thrills at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi trying to fit in the many rides and attractions.

This left us with not much time to meet the live characters at Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi but thankfully we had another full day to do it all over again with a bit of retail therapy at the mall and exhilarating rides, live shows and sampling different cuisine in the restaurants on the Island.

Shees Park

We stopped at Shees Park on the way back to Dubai from Fujairah for a bit of desert nature and a coffee at the Gerard Cafe after a Nissan SUV experience.

The recreational park is near the village of Shis in Khor Fakkan and features a 25-meter-high artificial waterfall as well as 506 meters of walkways across three mountain terraces connected by stone stairs leading to the main viewing platform.

The viewing area on the top elevates is about 30 meters above the main park level.It includes a children’s play area, 32 shaded seating areas for families, an outdoor theater and a barbecue area. We spent some time on the swings before heading back to Dubai.

Al Ain Zoo

This is an old favourite. I headed to Al Ain in the new BMW 4 series which was a comfortable ride from Dubai to the Garden City.  While I love driving up to Jebel Hafeet, the Al Ain Zoo is also a great family destination.

Set within in a natural outdoor environment, the Al Ain Zoo has a large animal collection of over 4000 animals. Here you can see endangered species as well as the successful breeding of desert antelopes, gazelles and Arabian Oryx. You need to give yourself at least half a day to do justice to this venue.

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Incredible India: A sanctuary for wellness retreats

By Shereen Shabnam

India has always been an interesting destination with fascinating diversity but now it is on the top of the list for tour operators and others in the industry for short breaks and wellness retreats. Regional residents always look at India for medical tourism and wellness sector. It is a multi-faceted tourist destination for Luxury, Wildlife and Wellness.

India is also poised to become the hub for medical tourism because of several factors. World class hospitals with latest technology, highly skilled Indian physicians and surgeons, low cost of treatment, excellent quality of care, nursing and Indian hospitality, comparatively less waiting time for availing the medical services, India’s traditional healthcare therapies like Ayurveda & Yoga combined with allopathic treatment providing a holistic wellness are key reasons for tourists heading to India for healing purposes.

Almost all thestates of India are developing new products to capitalize on India’s potential from its traditional systems of wellness and medicines, such as Ayurveda, Siddha and Yoga, to present the country as a unique destination for spiritual healing. As the rain clouds start rumbling in the horizon, health resorts and clinics come up with comprehensive Ayurveda packages to pamper and rejuvenate tourists.

Monsoon is considered the best season for Ayurveda rejuvenation programmes as the atmosphere remains dust-free and moist, which in turn opens up the body pores making them more receptive to herbal oils and massages. India has one of the most lucrative health and wellness tourism markets in the world.

Medical Tourism has been growing rapidly and the whole world has taken a note of the massive transformation that has taken place in the Indian Healthcare sector particularly in the Secondary Super Specialty Care in the last two decades.

Tourism sector in India is looking forward to further strengthening the spirit of Indo-Arab partnership for trade development and cultural exchanges between the two regions. India’s centuries old multi-faceted ties with the Arab world, its geographical proximity, long-standing cultural and trading ties between the two nations will help take this partnership to newer heights.

India is promoting the “high-tech healing” of its private healthcare sector as a tourist attraction. As a leading healthcare services hub in the region, more and more Arab patients are flying to India each year for low-cost but world-class medical treatment. Most estimates claim treatment costs in India start at around a tenth of the price of comparable treatment in America or Britain.

The country has established world-class expertise in practices such as cardiac care, cosmetic surgery, joint replacements and dentistry. Another major attraction is yoga and naturopathy that is fast gaining popularity across the globe.

Explore nature, wildlife and landscapes out of this world. Collect handicrafts, jewellery and fabrics like nowhere else. Discover heritage, monuments & sculptures you’ve never imagined or simply rejuvenate your body, mind and soul like never before.

India tourism is already taking steps to well equip the infrastructure facilities to welcome so many tourists. With the modernization of airports all across the country, adding hotel rooms especially at the tourist interest places and with clean India campaign launched, India is all set to welcome the additional number of foreign tourists.

With its natural beauty, vivid festivals, exotic beaches and architectural marvels, from Palace & Heritage hotels, to deserts, to skiing in the mountains, swimming or diving at beautiful beaches; boat houses in Kerala and Kashmir, luxurious camps in national parks, luxurious train journeys as well as the diverse range of accommodation from budget to the top 5-star properties and spa resorts, India has charmed and mesmerized its visitors from this region.

There are countless reasons to visit Incredible India!

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