Destination of choice – Laax, Switzerland

By Shereen Shabnam

Switzerland is always a good idea as there are so many destinations within the country that have different attractions and vibes. One such place is Laax, a family-friendly haven dedicated to alpine adventures but offering more than just skiing. The area comprises the village of Laax, together with Salums, Cons, Laax Murschetg, and Laax Dorf.

Laax is part of the Weisse Arena Gruppe, which combines and markets the resorts of Flims, Laax and Falera under two brands. The winter programme is thus positioned under brand Laax, while the summer programme of Flims Laax Falera falls under brand Flims.

We enjoyed being there in the summer, as Flims Laax Falera becomes one large outdoor ‘playground’ for active guests.It offers a large network of hiking trails for walkers and has numerous wellness hotels. Falera, with its many patrician houses preserves the charm of a Graubünden mountain village, great for family holidays.

We especially enjoyed taking a Gondola to the summit of Crap Sogn Gionmountain 2252 meters above sea leveland toured the fascinating Galaaxy, which took us back to the past era of vinyl records, VCR videos and much more.

We then headed to the hiking trails, leading to beautiful lakes and enjoyed a culinary trail, which allowed us to sample some lovely local delicacies and organic, homegrown, innovative, gastronomic dishes.

We also spent a lovely afternoon visiting Lake Cauma, a breathtaking area where we walked through thick woods and relaxed by the exquisite turquoise lake, watching people swimming, chilling out, sunbathing and rowing. The Lake is surrounded by forests and contains a wooded island in the centre, where you can relax in complete tranquility.

Among the other beauty spots we came across here is Laaxersee or Lag Grond in the village of Laax Grisons, an excellent place for fishing in the summer.During one of our hikes, wealso managed to catch a glimpse of the breathtaking gorge, Ruinaulta, a canyon created by the Anterior Rhine between Ilanz/Glion and Reichenau and known as Switzerland’s `Grand Canyon’.

In the winter, visitors can enjoy 235 kilometres of snow-assured pistes across 100+ square kilometres around the ‘Crap Sogn Gion’ mountain. In fact, Laax attracts snowboarders and skiers from all over the world to its surrounding pistes and hosts important international snowboarding contests, such as the Burton European Open and the European Freeski Open LAAX.

Laax facilities include four snowparks, over 230km of pistes for all levels, as well as The Freestyle Academy, an indoor freestyle hall, which has trampolines, various skateboarding facilities, boulder area, airtrack, slackline and different sized kickers for skiers, bikers, snowboarders or skaters.

For bikers, Flims Laax Falera is a haven offering330 km of bike routes with marked trails and plenty of variety for every level, whether professional or beginner. An exciting way to explore the region is to book a bike guide and combine summer sports, such as hiking, downhill and mountain biking. 

The villages in the area are great places to have coffee, chocolates and make use of the facilities, including supermarkets, post offices, bakeries and various shops. There are around 40 shops spread through the three base villages, the majority of which are in Flims selling holiday essentials, ski gear, and local souvenirs. There are also food speciality stores where you can buy Swiss cheese and chocolate.

Both Flims and Laax have witnessed a design explosion in recent years, with architects favouring contemporary cool. In spite of this, traditional styles are still very much in evidence. The oldest surviving building in Laax was built in 1580 and the first hotel in 1880. Of particular interest is RestaurantCavigilli, Flims’ oldest house, dating from 1453, which comprises a Gothic parlour and an elegant dining room.

In Laax, we stayed at the Signinahotel overlooking a beautiful mountain panorama and close to great restaurants and places with a variety of recreational activities. We spent our evenings sampling Italian delicacies in the Ristorante Camino and other gourmet restaurants in the neighboring Rocks Resort, which, in addition to great eateries, features shops, biking tracks, skate boarding and roller-skating arenas.

To get there, Laax is only 45 minutes away from Chur by bus and roughly two hours from Zurich by car. We took the Swiss Pass and travelled from Zurich to Chur by train and then on to Signinahotel in Laax by bus – a wonderfully scenic journey in itself.

Bustling Bursa

By Shereen Shabnam

My first ever introduction to Bursa came when we were installing a travelling exhibition in the local science centre and my colleagues mentioned how cold it was there. It was then we realised that Turkey had it’s very own winter wonderland and months later I set out to experience the snow myself with Turkish Airlines.

Together with a group of tour operators from the UAE, we ventured to Mount Uludağ, Turkish for ‘Great Mountain’ which revealed a breath-taking panoramic vista, challenging ski slopes and magnificent views from the top – we even had some fun snowball fights up in the mountains after a scenic cable car ride.

One of the stops we made revealed chic alpine chalets, restaurants, hotels as well as traditional thermal hamams and modern spa facilities. Uludağ is also home to a few national parks and beautiful gardens, which makes it an ideal tourist destination.

Bursa is immersed with history and is awarded the UNESCO World Heritage status for being the birthplace of the Ottoman Empire. The modern buildings are hence built around the mosques, mausoleums and heritage areas.

Situated on the Silk Road, which was the main trade destination that linked the East to the West, the city is also at the core of the silk industry. We also were lucky to visit the Grand Mosque, Yesil Mosque, Emir Sultan Mosque, Yildirim Bazaar, Bursa castle, archaeology museum, the Islamic works museum and the new science centre.

Bursa is known for its food and the Bursa İskender, which is a platter lined with diced Turkish bread and topped with finely sliced doner kebab prepared from lamb meat layered on top with butter and tomatoes did not disappoint. We asked for some garlic sauce that made the dish even more delicious.

We also passed by the seaside town of Mudanya with well-preserved historical houses, a Medikion Monastary and the town’s old train station and ferryboat that now serve as charming hotels.

Highlight of our short trip was visiting the Cumalıkızık village, which was founded 700 years ago and is one of the best examples of Ottoman architecture.The houses are made out of adobe, rubble stones and wood.

Our group had a lovely afternoon at Saitabat, a three-feet waterfall with water sports. When in Turkey, freshly prepared seafood is a delicacy not to be missed. I even had the opportunity to meet some locals here who were passionate about food as they described their local cuisine and helped us sample some of the best delicacies from the region.

To get to Bursa, we flew Turkish Airlines to Istanbul and travelled to Bursa by bus with a ferry ride thrown in for some additional adventure. Bursa is a destination that has a lot to offer so doing some research ahead and planning daily activities ahead of the trip is advisable.

Pristine Paradise – Gstaad

By Shereen Shabnam

During a recent Switzerland trip, we explored numerous parts of the country before venturing to Gstaad, which is a playground for holidaymakers who prefer a touch of exclusivity for their holiday experiences in a unique landscape that is full of tradition, sports, delectable cuisine and culture.

Gstaad is known as a major ski resort and a popular destination amongst high society and the international jet set. Set amongst soaring mountains and prestigious international boarding schools, it is a popular holiday destination for royalty and celebrities. Cable cars connect surrounding ski areas such as Wispile and Rinderberg, with hundreds of kilometers of all-level pistes and cross-country trails.

We started our journey at the centre of Gstaad, which is the most popular and fell in love with the shortest “shopping mile” in Switzerland. With luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants, luxury chalets, the car-free resort was a delight as we walked along the picturesque promenade and tried some of the local delicacies.  explored the local galleriesand exclusive shops.

Retail therapy in Gstaad is a delight with designer stores that include Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chopard, Brunello Cucinelli, Prada, Moncler, Ralph Lauren, and Cartier as well as boutiques that stock labels such as Chloe, Dolce & Gabbana, Tod’s, Burberry, Dior, Oscar de la Renta, and Marc Jacobs.

While my teenage daughter enjoyed river rafting thanks to the wonderful staff of the Huus Gstaad Hotel, my favourite part of the visit was going up the mountains for tobogganing, watching my daughter try different games and inhaling the fresh crisp air that makes the lungs feel good.

The countryside in Gstaad offers a versatile and diverse sports programme with hiking, mountain biking, paragliding and golf. Gstaad is also a wellness destination and guarantees an unsurpassed variety of leisure activities, spas, healthy cuisine, sports centres and indoor swimming pools.

Food lovers will be happy to note that Gstaad is also a paradise for fine diners, with more than 100 restaurants ranging from cosy raclette restaurants to acclaimed gourmet venues. Our most memorable meal was a five-course meal at Ultima Gstaad.

 

Leaving Gstaad is not easy as the wonderful views from cosy terraces, the picturesque mountains, fresh alpine air, gourmet cuisine, indoor games near warm fireplaces and outdoor adventures leaves an imprint on the heart and soul.

When I think of a perfect holiday now, my mind wanders to the warmth of the staff and the cosy lobby area of Huus Gstaad and this ultimate hospitality is what makes it a destination that attracts visitors back to the beautiful alpine heaven more than once.

 

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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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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Pearl of the Adriatic – Dubrovnik, Croatia

By Shereen Shabnam

Dubrovnik in Croatia is a city for all seasons and one of the world’s most prominent tourist destinations. Surrounded by unique medieval ramparts, Dubrovnik attracts visitors for its rich history, mild climate, traditional hospitality and its many festivals, open-air events and architectural treasures.

I explored Dubrovnik, a UNESCO registered protected world heritage site during the evening and in the day taking in the charm of bustling streets, art and different cultural events.

Walking along the promenade during the day meant coming across various art and artefacts on sale as well as live music performances. The open air performances add character to the different areas of the old town classical and jazz music and brings rhythm and charm into an already dazzling atmosphere.

While wandering through the markets, we toured the filming location of the ‘Game of Thrones’ television series and enjoyed some retail therapy of the related merchandise for fans back in the UAE.

The best part of Dubrovnik was exploring the old city, which had interesting markets, art galleries and city walls with fortresses offering beautiful views of the city, the open sea and the Island of Lokrum.

For panoramic views of Dubrovnik, visitors can take the cable car and set out on a scenic adventure that includes breathtaking views of the old town and enjoy the sunset. Make time to head to the Island of Lokrum and Elaphiti Islands or visit the Trsteno Arboretum, which is a protected monument of nature.

Dubrovnik is a great destination for adventure sports or active tourists who enjoy horse riding, hiking, cycling or sailing. A jeep safari or a canoe tour is also an interesting way to explore the area.

Dubrovnik was a gastronomic delight with an abundance of fresh and delectable food, often seasoned with olive oil. Try the naturally grown vegetables like courgettes, cabbage, aubergines tomatoes as well as seafood prepared in a simple way.

I had a full day exploring the old town and came across a Salvador Dali exhibition, which was an unexpected delight. Visitors who enjoy experience centres will enjoy The Cultural History Museum, the Maritime Museum, the Archeological Museum exhibition at Fortress Revelin, the Dubrovnik Natural Science Museum and the Dubrovnik State Archives.

The natural scenery in the area and panoramic views of the coast on the way to the old town in Dubrovnik were definitely some of the most memorable moments in Croatia.  I am already planning my next venture into the land of fortresses and medieval architecture.

Turkish Airlines recently added Dubrovnik, Croatia to its expanding network with three weekly flights for visitors intending to explore this beautiful city.

 

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