In the Heart of Nature – Crans-Montana

 

By Shereen Shabnam

The Swiss Alps have so much more to offer than just winter sports and snowy mountains. The destination has visitors all year round and is just as popular in the summer, when walking outside is easier with views of breathtaking nature and for outdoor sports.

This summer we headed out to Crans-Montana in the district of Sierre in the canton of Valais, Switzerland. It is a ski resort that was created through the fusion of the two centers of Crans and Montana and is now a sought after destination for celebrities.

Other than hosting spectacular World Ski Championships, guests also come from far to Crans-Montana to enjoy the pop rock festival, bicycle racing and the Omega European Masters golf tournament.

Crans-Montana offers an impressive view of mountain peaks from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc and offers visitors luxury holiday retreats with expansive natural landscapes and panoramic views of the Valais Alps.

We were able to enjoy shopping in the quaint village shops, get high end luxury brands, walked near aromatic mountain forests, and along a lake, learnt first hand how to make cheese with a local farmer and tried our hand at golf with a talented golf trainer.

For panoramic views, visitors can take the gondolas from Crans-Montana to the top and enjoy places like the Plaine Morte Glacier, experience mountain rides such as the “Petit Bonvin”, the “Cry d’Err” or “Les Violettes, or just hike at their own pace.

Crans-Montana is perfect for family holidays as local parks and summer camps offer numerous activities like sledge runs, tobogganing, swings, drawing competitions, golf clinics at the “highest golf course in the world”, a fun Forest Adventure Park, lake walks, water sports, hike excursions, music festivals and amusement parks.

We visited the Beach Club, which had beach volleyball, banana boating on the lake and cable wakeboarding. We had coffee on the deckchairs watching the locals swim, enjoying meals with families and relax with board games.

Art enthusiasts can visit various museums and art galleries in Crans-Montana which has galleries dedicated to art fans and collectors having access to the works of internationally renowned artists as well as new talent.

Food in Crans-Montana was a delight. With mouth-watering sushi at our hotel’s Japanese restaurant, MiZUKI by Kakinuma’, raclette and fondue during the evenings.

Highlight was the gastronomic meal in the mountains at Chetzeron Hotel which was memorable at 2112 m. The menu included an “Alpine refined” flavoured cuisine from traditional Valais-based specialities to contemporary inspirations. We had great seafood at La Plage and even had Lebanese food for dinner, similar to what we would find in Dubai.

We stayed at the Guarda Golf Hotel & Residences located in the heart of the picturesque Crans-Montana. It was an intimate and elegant home for us with personalised service and it is clearly one of the finest luxury hotels in Switzerland being a member of Swiss Deluxe Hotels as well as of The Leading Hotels of the World. Our room had spectacular panoramic views of the Swiss Alps.

To get to Crans-Montana, we flew SWISS from Dubai, which was a comfortable and enjoyable arriving in Zurich in time to start our travel adventure in different parts of Switzerland using the Swiss Pass that allowed us to see many parts of beautiful Switzerland.

 

Cesme – Boyalik Beach Reosrt & Spa

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By Shereen Shabnam

I seem to continually say Turkey is always a good idea because of the beauty of every city I have visited every year over the past two decades but this nature blessed country continues to surprise me with more adventure and enthralls me every hour I spend there. After a few days in downtown Izmir and falling in love with the food, the people and the shopping in the bazaars, I headed to Cesme in the summer, a resort town that is both breathtaking and charming.

While having an afternoon meal at the Boyalik Beach Cesme that offered an amazing array of fresh and beautifully prepared dishes, we experienced pure tranquility in the green manicured grounds and uninterrupted views of the blue ocean.

At Boyalik Beach Hotel & Spa, you can focus on rejuvenation and renewal, or take advantage of the sports and leisure facilities. Here you can spend a holiday sipping your tea and coffee outdoors or enjoy the wireless in the peaceful environment of your room with a stylish five-star hotel which is what I normally do as a workaholic.

The hotel has standard and family rooms as well as suites. As an Islander I naturally prefer sea views and Boyalik Beach Cesme has plenty of sea view rooms with Sat TV, complimentary tea and coffee, 24 hours room service, wireless internet, exclusive bath kits, magnifying mirror, mini bar and hair dryer.

Boyalık Beach Hotel & Spa is the ideal place to combine business and pleasure and has fully equipped meeting rooms. If you feel like going out, I highly recommend visiting Cesme’s bustling markets, crystal clear sea, clean beaches and dive and sailing centres, picturesque bays, healing thermal resources and sports activities.

Çesme is one of the most ideal places for surfing and our visit to the Alaçatı Surf Paradise gave us insights into the local passion of the sea among the youth and adults. Seeing teenagers enjoying the surfing made me wish I had a few more days in Cesme as my daughter was keen on trying some water sports. I suggest at least three days to get a good feel of the towns and beaches.

 

Scenic San Francisco

casey-horner-ReT_tlX_DvE-unsplashBy Shereen Shabnam

As one of the most fascinating and eclectic cities in the world, San Francisco has always drawn me in with its charm and history each time I visit my relatives. Since San Francisco’s attractions are spread out, the best way to see the attractions is to have road trips. Luckily my base is always in Hayward with my favourite aunt and over the years, the attractions below have been the ones I love going back to.

The Golden Gate Bridge

As one of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks, The Golden Gate Bridge is a must visit for a walk across the bridge, for amazing pictures and onwards to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which has a waterfront promenade and a number of hiking trails.

The Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is majestic and the Corinthian columns always catches my eye each time I am in San Francisco. The lagoon area is perfect for a leisurely stroll or for a picnic on the grass. It always has interesting events but my favourite stop is always the theatre.

Alcatraz Island

Home to a former federal prison that had some of America’s most notorious criminals in the past, Alcatraz Island is a national landmark that tourists can explore. Take a guide when taking the tour of the Island so that the rangers can give you historical information with some interesting stories thrown in.

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Fisherman’s Wharf

This waterfront is always my definite destination as I love spending time people watching at the cafés on the pier as well as enjoy their famous clam chowder soup with sour dough bread. The street performers are great and I love the souvenir shops that have a wide variety merchandise including my favourite Ghirardelli Ice Cream and chocolate shop. If you love cruising, head towards San Francisco Bay to see the city from the water.

Cable Car Tours

Cable cars are fun to ride and a great way to explore the various neighborhoods of San Francisco. These tram-like vehicles are the only public transport system to be declared a historic monument and they save you loads of time walking up and down the city’s hills.

Museums and Science Centres

After opening a science exhibition at the Tech Museum in San Jose, I dedicated one of my visits to San Francisco to interactive centres. I started my tour with a visit to the Exploratorium, a popular science museum with a huge number of diverse exhibits and hands-on learning experiences designed to educate and entertain.

Next up was the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art visit which took a lot longer with 10 floors, and a large gallery space that took half a day. The next day I ventured to the Young Museum of fine arts that features a wide variety of exhibits from different geographical locations.

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Country Tours

While most visitors head to the Napa Valley for a bit of country air, there are other options as well. One year we decided to escape to Solvang and do the ‘Sideways Tour’ on our own by following the trail exactly as it was done in the award-winning film ‘Sideways’. The scenery was as gorgeous as Napa Valley and we got to see a new part of California.
Chinatown

The San Francisco Chinatown is the most famous in the United States and the most vibrant with the best places to eat Chinese cuisine, get souvenirs and people watch. I would suggest as least dedicating half a day to get a feel of the area.

Overall, the entire California is an amazing destination but I have a soft spot for San Francisco because of my many relatives living there and the fact that it offers so many attractions and entertainment within and beyond the city.

 

Heaven on Earth – Picturesque Pakistan

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By Shereen Shabnam

Pakistan is blessed with abundant natural and dynamic landscapes with crystal clear rivers, arid deserts, lakes, waterfalls, springs and snowcapped mountains in abundance but I only realized how beautiful the country really is recently when I chanced upon some images online of the Hunza Valley and Gilgit.

Visitors to this fascinating region describe it as heaven on earth and the stunning mountain ranges has started bringing tourists to the country in great numbers recently.

What caught my eye in the images was the spectrum of colours in the natural surroundings of the villages that leaves one truly mesmerised. The lakes, the trees, the meadows, the flora and fauna brightening up the scene with pink, white, red and orange flowers looking as magical as the fiery sunsets in the evenings.

This motivated me to explore more images of Pakistan, a place I have wanted to visit as a child when I first started learning Urdu in school in Fiji Islands. The country has bustling cities, wild frontiers, colourful landscapes but most of all, the message that came across strongly from visitors and travel bloggers was the charm and hospitality of the locals.

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Every Pakistani friend I have met, every travel blog I read and speaking with foreigners and travellers I met around the world as we exchanged our travel notes said the kindest, down to earth, hospitable, charitable and warm people they met during their travels was in Pakistan which made me even more curious to plan a visit but a pandemic laid my plans to rest.

Not wanting to give up hope of visiting this enchanting country in the future, I asked my friends for information, images and ideas on where to go and what to do in Pakistan. Trying wholesome local food was on top of the list of everyone who has been to Pakistan. As a foodie and as an editor of three coffee table cookbooks, this was music to my ears.

My Pakistani friend in UAE invited me to sample some delicacies at her home so I would know what to order when I got to Pakistan. She cooked many iftar meals in Ramadan and the Biryani dishes, meat dishes and sweets surpassed every curry meal I have ever had so I am looking forward to a delectable culinary journey when I land in Pakistan when borders open.

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Another thing that caught my eye as a motoring enthusiast and Jury for regional and international Car awards was the stunning and epic highways in Pakistan – most roads are amazing for picturesque drives but some are an astonishing feat of engineering cut across mountains against the odds – somehow the local drivers make it look easy. Seeing the road trips others have taken and their pictures showcasing the natural beauty of the terrain makes the journey worth it up the rolling mountains and the quaint villages and valleys.

Most of our readers also love adventure tourism and Pakistan has plenty of that, including hiking, trekking and hunting. Those brave enough to venture outdoors into the rough terrain can come across mountain species like sheep, deers, gazelles, wild cats, buffalos, golden jackals, goats etc.

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Personally, if I ever make it there, I would prefer a walk along the small villages near Hunza and Gilgit areas that includes beautiful scenery, culture, some history, and try the fresh local fruits and authentic Pakistani food.

In addition to the outback areas, also on my bucket list is to experience the bustling city life in Pakistan, in particular the different markets. As I continue to explore Pakistan virtually for ideas on where to go and what to do, I am praying for travel restrictions to ease world over so that we get a chance to experience the beauty of countries like Pakistan first hand instead of images and videos online.

Contemporary Japanese Experience Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

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Edited by Shereen Shabnam

Superbly located in the prestigious financial district within the historical and cultural centre of Tokyo, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo’s visionary design and award-winning service has been recognized numerous times as the epitome of sophisticated luxury in the city with spectacular views of the city skyline.

Mandarin Oriental Tokyo has recently completed a comprehensive renovation of its guestrooms and suites to create new levels of luxury, that confirm the five- star hotel’s status as one of the best in the world.

The hotel has luxuriously appointed guest rooms and suites, ten restaurants and bars and an award-winning spa situated within the soaring, Cesar Pelli-designed Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower.

The makeover of all spacious guestrooms and suites draws on Japan’s rich culture, to provide guests with a strong “sense of place”. Japanese craftmanship has been combined with the latest technology to ensure a thoroughly contemporary Japanese experience.

Renowned textile designer Reiko Sudo and art director Ryu Kosaka have transformed the guestrooms and suites, and built on the existing ‘Woods and Water’ interior design theme. Jeffrey A. Wilkes has acted as principal interior designer for the Presidential Suite, which is the largest and most luxurious suite in the hotel.

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Bespoke fabrics and furnishings representing the woodlands and the changing seasons, have been incorporated throughout, with autumn leaf colours of gold, orange and purple and blooming springtime wisteria and sakura patterns embroidered onto headboards.

To honour the hotel’s location in Nihonbashi, an area that is closely connected to the culture of the Kimono, Reiko Sudo has used locally produced fabrics in all suite and guestroom interiors.

Mandarin Grand Roomuses contemporaryJapanese style and materials, ranging from an embroidered headboard depicting weeping cherry blossoms to a light fixture made from bamboo strings. Curvaceous lines, such as the round table and curved back for the chaise longue, create a welcoming, approachable atmosphere.

Featuring the original Flower Shower textile pattern on furnishings, such as the sofa and chairs in the living room, the hotel’s restyled suites are designed to conjure up thoughts of blissful moments with flowers. A wisteria in full bloom is embroidered onto each headboard, while each bedside chest is crafted with wood from the Paulownia tree.

A silver-leaf round table and gold-leaf embossed cabinet brighten the living room, while the carpet blends the look of Japanese ink and brush work with a motif of clouds and gentle breezes, a nod to the extensive views of Tokyo that can be enjoyed from the hotel’s suites.

Another quintessentially Japanese highlight are lampshades inspired by the Andon, a traditional Japanese lamp. Made from washi paper, these have been placed in asymmetrical positions throughout each bedroom, a distinctive characteristic of Japanese design.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group is the award-winning owner and operator of some of the world’s most luxurious hotels, resorts and residences. Having grown from its Asian roots into a global brand, the Group now operates 30 hotels and six residences in 21 countries and territories, with each property reflecting the Group’s oriental heritage and unique sense of place.

Authentic Italian Experiences

Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Resort

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By Shereen Shabnam 

Set in the Eternal City on the grounds of a 15 acre park, Rome, the spectacular Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Resort offers guests a home overlooking the best parts of the Vatican City. I spent a few days exploring the majestic hotel and its spa recently and left rested and relaxed for my next adventure.

Being a lover of art, I have been sponsoring the art perspective event every two months held in a five star hotel in Dubai over the year and hence, very familiar with the trend of merging the art world with the hospitality world but seeing the seeing the scale of art at Rome Cavalieri left me mesmerised. The hotel is home to over 1,200 beautiful artworks from well-known artists like Andy Warhol, Giovanni Battista and period pieces of artefacts, tapestries and furniture.

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Recently, the hotel introduced a series of complimentary luxury experiences for guests who book to stay a number of days in one of the hotel’s suites this year. They can take part in a series of inimitable local activities focusing on art, culture and cuisine, with each experience offered to vary depending on the suite chosen and time of year.

Whether it’s learning to make authentic Italian sandals with an authentic, family-run Italian shoemaker, private tours of the Vatican Gardens, the Pope’s summer Residence or the gardens of Castel Gandolfo or culinary journeys in the city, Rome Cavalieri’s Suite Experiences promise a memorable stay.

Food lovers will enjoy a private culinary tour and two-way transfer to Mercato Trionfale in the Prati neighbourhood, a market frequented by locals. The tour features six venues with over 20 different food and wine tastings. Here, guests can sample local culinary delights including truffles and 30 year aged balsamic vinegar, artisanal gelateria from Fatamorgana, homemade pasta with D.O.C.G. Vermentino wine at an award-winning restaurant, caviar and foie gras topped pizzas at Pizzarium, Rome’s number one pizzeria. It also includes a visit to Paciotti, the number one gourmet food shop in Rome, offering over 200 types of cheeses and 100 types of meats.

Couple breakfast at L'Uliveto Terrace

Guests staying in the top suites can enjoy the private use of a professional photographer to accompany them on their day around the Eternal City. Guests will receive a professional photoshoot in both Rome and the hotel, with a Mercedes at their disposal throughout the day. To cherish those memories, guests will receive an elegantly presented box with a USB drive and photo print outs, which will be directly delivered to them after their stay.

My favourite experience naturally would be staying in the Vista and Corner Suites and enjoy a luxury picnic in the hotel’s verdant parkland, accompanied with a butler as well as a private yoga session in the park and an 80-minute massage.

The spa experience in Rome Cavalieri was an amazing escape to a tranquil oasis with Roman baths, fitness centre and reputed products to indulge in. I opted for massage and once I saw the La Prairie products, I wished I had booked a facial too but had to catch my flight back to Dubai.

Overall, the Rome Cavalieri was a surreal experience. The building was designed by one of the most important architects of the period, Ugo Luccichenti, assisted by E. Pifferi and A. Ressa, with contribution from two superstar architects of the ‘60’s, Franco Albini and Pierluigi Nervi.

Ever since its opening in 1963, the hotel is known for the highest level of comfort attracting famous personalities and fifty years on, the Rome Cavalieri continues to move with the times, exceeding the expectations of the most demanding international travelers and living up to its name as an icon in the world of luxury hospitality. I certainly felt extremely special throughout my stay and would love to return with family one day to relive the experience and of course to make their spa my second home for at least a week.

 

 

Scandinavian Beauty & Flair

Nordic experiences in Norway

By Shereen Shabnam

Exploring the area of the Northern lights and the midnight sun is on the bucket list of every traveler and Norway is home to this and some of mother nature’s most scenic landscapes of towering mountains, rolling green hills and dark cobalt waters.

Bergen is possibly my favourite area – On reaching Norway, get to the Oslo railway station and board the train for about 300km to Bergen, the gateway to the fjords. The ride is one of the most scenic train journeys in the world with mountain ranges where abundant snowfall feeds the glaciers.

In the distance, the icy summits of the mountains show the phenomenal melting of glaciers to remove ice load, cutting a U-shaped valley and like most of nature’s show pieces, the formation of fjords is a continuous work in progress.

There is so much joy in wandering the tangled maze of streets through several quarters clinging to the hillside on the Nordnes peninsula – Head to the World Heritage Site by the old Bryggen wharf and enjoy the fjords and islands surrounded by seven mountains with Mount Ulriken as the highest point at 700m above the sea level.

The vibrance of this tourist area, the sounds of the seagulls and water birds hovering above the quay add vigour to the atmosphere and the area near the fish market affords easy access to Mount Floyen for a spectacular view of the city.

Bergen is a city of culture and a 1,000-year-old history of harmonious living with the sea, fjords and mountains. It was founded by King Olav Kyrre and become the medieval centre of Norway from 1217 to 1299, when Oslo was oriented the country’s modern capital. By the end of the 13thcentury, Bergen became one of the Hanseatic League’s most important cities to the house state officials.

Bergen was established late 1300 as the centre of trading activity in Norway. The Saxon Hanseatic merchants lived in their own separate quarters in the town and enjoyed exclusive right of trade with the fisherman in the north that sailed to Bergen each summer.

The interesting Hanseatic Museum, located close to the fish market, shows how the German merchants used to live and work. Today, the soul of Bergen, the Bryggen is a jumbled labyrinth of narrow streets with shops and houses in pastel colors of the old part quayside.

It is great to explore deeper into the fjords to experience a total scene of adventure in a surprisingly stunning and intact natural ecosystem. The fjords offer a full range of tourist’s activities: trekking, hiking, biking, caving, canoeing, angling and an encounter with local cultures to boot.

You can also head to Flam, which literally means “little place between steep mountains”, nestled in the innermost part of the Aurlandsfjord. The harbor district offers nature-based activities with nearby attractions, charming culture, historic traditions and is lined with low-rise hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.

After Flam, cruising through Godvangenfjord, past several villages, enjoy the landscape with hillsides and blooming wild flowers. Next stop is stunning Hardangerfjord. Here, visitors can hire boats to visit nearby villages and explore the farming culture. The local tribes, their lifestyle, clothing, cuisine and dance are one of the great attractions in Hardangerfjord as well as landscapes like fjords, glaciers, waterfalls and lush mountains.

Also known as fruit bowls of Norway; the region produces some of the world’s most delicious apples, plums, apricots, cherries and a wide variety of berries. Take an excursion to Hardaner Vidda Natursenterat Eidfjord. Housing a museum, restaurant and souvenir shop, this complex is a must visit.

Revitilised, return to Bergen, home of the regional music genius: Edvard Grieg who lived in the locality of the picturesque Nordaas Lake. His works are commonly performed in the theaters in town.

The best way to end the journey is by watching the sun slowly cooling down at the dusk, lighting the facade of heritage buildings and transforming Bergen into a fairy-tale town at sunset.

Land of Exquisite Delights – Geneva, Switzerland

By Shereen Shabnam

Switzerland is an addiction – once you set foot in the country, you have to head back every year to explore a new Swiss destination and after exploring Laax, Crans Montana and revisiting Gstaad and Zermatt last year, my latest adventure took me to again to Geneva, this time as a base to head to Basel for the famous Baselworld exhibition.

Geneva, Switzerland’s second-largest city is full of delightful surprises and has more to offer than watches, chocolates, cheeses and banks. It is the perfect Swiss cosmopolitan city for exploring the surrounding countryside, the famous Lake Geneva and the nearby Alps.

Home to the World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, International Committee of the Red Cross, branches of the United Nations and World Bank, the city is popular with business travellers who often extend their trips to be tourists indulging in the many boutiques, jewellers, restaurants and chocolatiers.

Whether you enjoy heading into the mountains to ski or go out boating, hiking and biking, Geneva has it all in addition to day trips to the nearby towns of Montreux, Chamonix and Lausanne. My favourite places in Geneva are below:

Lake Lemanis set along Geneva’s right bank with stunning views of the Alps beyond, Lake Leman is great stop for breath taking views. From here, you can see the towering Jet d’Eau, which is the world’s tallest fountain.

Geneva’s Old Townis a typical European town that has a maze of cobblestone streets.  It offers a glimpse into the past as you visit the historic Saint Peter’s Cathedral and wander down along the old city walls to Geneva’s theater district and center of culture at Place Neuve. I enjoyed stopping at the antique shops.

Bastions Parkfor a glimpse of Reformation Wall containing the effigies of Geneva’s founding fathers. It is a superb place to spend an afternoon people watching and enjoying nature.

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMCO) is a must visit. There are close to thirty museums and art galleries that capture the rich and vibrant history of the city so pick one that suits you.

Lake Genevais possibly the most famous feature of the city so stroll along the promenades, have a dip at Bains des Pâquis, relax in one of the lakeside parks or cafes or take a boat cruise around the lake.

Carougeis just a hop across the L’Arve River and resembles Nice, France. It has quaint boutiques and watching artisans at work in their studios is fascinating in between coffee stops at the many artsy cafes in the area.

Paquis and Les Grottesis Geneva’s most international districts and perfect for foodies looking to try ethnic restaurants or shopaholics looking for retail therapy. As an architecture lover, I stopped over to see the Schtrumpfs Building before sampling freshly baked pastries along the road.

The Salèveis for nature lovers. You can either ride the gondola up Geneva’s backyard mountain to enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding Alps or hike up along one of the Saleve’s many marked trails.

Palais des Nations is another interesting building overlooking Lake Geneva. It was built in the 1930s to house the League of Nations and visitors can take tours to explore its grand monuments and murals.

If you have a few extra days in Geneva, I suggest taking a boat ride to Lake Geneva’s other lakeside paradises or hopping on an excursion bus at Gare Routiere to visit one of Switzerland’s famous mountain towns.

Geneva, like other Swiss destinations is a perfect place for memorable moments and breathtaking natural views. From the UAE, I flew Emirates Airlines, which flies daily to Geneva and used it as a base to explore the nearby tourist areas.

Destination Sochi – The Russian Riviera

By Shereen Shabnam

When looking for total relaxation, authentic local culture around every corner, unique natural surroundings, vibrant beaches, warm sunny days, and a bustling nightlife, Sochi is the ultimate destination as it attracts tourists from all over the world, including celebrities and the political elite of the country.

Visitors to Sochi can experience first-hand the charm and liveliness of the summer capital of Russia. Also known as the ‘Russian Riviera’, Sochi, is located along the 150 km strip between the Main Caucasus Mountain Range and the Black Sea coastline.

Sochi is undoubtedly Russia’s largest and busiest destination with sea resorts, glorious sunsetsand a picturesque mountainous coastline.Our first day in Sochi took us to Gorky Gorod Mountain Resort in the famous Krasnaya Polyana with breath taking scenic landscape.

While exploring the area, we saw signs of the infrastructure that supported the 2014 Olympics all over the mountainous ski resort from the cable cars, sightseeing areas and ski slope routes.

There are many layers of attractions in Sochi. The “Lower” and “Upper” levels of the city is connected by road and cable cars for visitors to see the sublime views and experience the local cuisine and entertainment in restaurants, cafes, shops, entertainment centers and indoor water Parks.

For wellness tourists, there are also spas, indoor and outdoor pools, gyms and beauty salons. It is the ultimate place for rest and relaxation as well as for pampering the body and soul.

On the second day, we went up the Rosa Khutor Mountain Resort on a cable car, visited the Mountain Olympic Village at 1170m above sea level and went further up to Rosa Pick at 2320m above sea level. The fresh breeze in the Caucasus mountains was memorable.

Rosa Khutor and its surrounding region are truly unique. Stroll down the Mzymta River promenade and watch the sunset after a day of skiing and recreation. In the summer, a walk along the markets, the mall and the cafes is pure delight.

A culinary journey in Sochi is a must. Every restaurant we ate at was purely delightful but the highlight of the second evening was an exquisite dinner at Brunello.Every course was delectable and the presentation was work of art.

The Caucasus region has a rich variety of seasonings and herbs and combined with the creativity of local chefs, and hence, Sochi offers some of the best cuisines in the culinary world. The fresh meat dishes and the salads are a must to have at meals.

To inject a bit of adventure into our trip, we also visited the SKYPARK AJ Hackett Sochi for some adrenaline driven altitude attractions.  Here we had a chance to do bungee jumping and tried the world’s largest swing and zip lining.

We also enjoyed walking along the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world, stretching 439 m. From the mountain, we had panoramic views of the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains.

Most of the visitors in our group also enjoyed the Olympic Park. For me, best part was the visit to the Sochi Autodrom, a 5.848 km F1 permanent race track in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.The circuit runs around the Sochi Olympic Park and the inaugural World Championship Russian Grand Prix took place there in 2014.

Sochi for me is worth a second visit as I wish I had more time to visit the Museum of sports and retro cars with a collection of 70 rare cars from all over the world including an authentic Formula 1 car. That alone is an attraction I can be in for an entire day.

We also ventured out to Sochi Grand Marina for afternoon tea. The harbor hosts up to 300 yachts, including superyachts up to 140 meters in length, with specialized facilities for different types of vessels. The Marina’s surroundings offer local authentic gastronomy, shopping as well as other cultural traditions. In the nearby area is a lovely promenade for walks.

A visit to Sochi is certainly a must to enjoy extreme adventures, discover splendid sea beaches as well as a wide range of leisure, culture, and gastronomy in one location.

Scenic Settings – Santorini, Greece

By Shereen Shabnam

I fell in love with Greece from the moment I stepped out of the airport in Athens. And while each of the Islands in Greece have their own charm, Santorini still remains a favourite for regular visitors who fall in love with this crescent-shaped precious gem of the Aegean dotted with blue and white villages.

Santorini is actually a group of islands in the southernmost part of Cyclades.  The islands came into existence as a result of intensive volcanic activity and the Santorini islands is still an active volcano.

The whole island is actually a huge natural geological/volcanological museum where you can observe a wide range of geological structures and forms as wells as black volcanic pebbles.

Santorini is considered as the most romantic getaway in Greece with exquisitely clear waters and famous sunsets for the ultimate romantic experience. It has deep blue waters, spectacular rock formations, and vertical cliffs plus white, red and black sand.

Firá is the picturesque capital of the island has traditional architecture and offers an amazing view of the volcano. There are other smaller villages that are peaceful and are surrounded by vast vineyardsand whitewashed cliff-top towns with castles.

For sun, sea and sand, head to the Oia with its wild untamed beauty or Ammoudi, on the harbour of Oia for the charming cafes and restaurants. Then delight your visual senses with azure waters, sun-drenched beaches, magnificent black sand and chiselled rocks.

The wild beauty of the beaches on the eastern side of the island will prove irresistible to sunseekers looking for peace and seclusion with Impressive sculptured rocks, black sand, volcanic pebbles, small ports with fishing boats casting colourful reflections on blue waters and some beech trees.

On the south-eastern side of Santorini, sun-loving tourists will encounter magnificent black sandy or pebbly beaches with shallow waters and with playgrounds so it is perfect for families.

Visitors can also soak up the atmosphere along the lively waterfronts, charming beach bars or head to the modern marina with the Sailing and Yacht Club of Santorini for sailing and yachting.  The staff at the club can guide you to the best spots for scuba diving, windsurfing, jet ski adventures, parasailing, kayaking and other water sports.

Santorini is not just about the sun, sea, sand and sunsets – A visit to Santorini offers the ultimate gastronomic experience with fresh cherry tomatoes, white egg plants, fava, fresh goat cheese found on the island.

After each day of exploring the beauty of Santorini, the best way into the evening is dinner after sunset and then head to bed to dream away about what natural wonders to discover in the different parts of Santorini the next day.

From the UAE, you can get to Athens via Istanbul. If you are looking to combine a few destinations like I did, you can fly Turkish Airlines and spend a few days in Istanbul and Athens and end the holiday in the idyllic island of Santorini.