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.

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.

 

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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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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Buckle Up with Burberry

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Introducing The Buckle Eyewear Collection – the new collection of Burberry sunglasses and optical frames, detailed with a distinctive gold- tone buckle, inspired by design elements from our signature trench coat.

Featuring a distinctive gold-tone buckle, The Buckle Eyewear Collection is available in a colour palette that references the many shades and textures of The Patchwork by juxtaposing solid colours with different coloured tortoiseshells. The Collection features sunglasses in square, cat-eye and round shapes, with opticals in square and round, both with the distinct buckle as the focal point of design.

Picturesque landscapes – New Zealand

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New Zealand has to be one of my top five destinations not because it is on the way home for me when I travel back to Fiji Islands but the terrain truly is breathtaking. From spectacular glaciers, rugged mountains, vast plains, rolling hillsides, subtropical forests, volcanic plateaus to miles of coastline with beautiful sandy beaches.

New Zealand has two main islands, the North Island and the South Island and many smaller islands lie offshore. The country enjoys varied landscape and dramatic geographical features and is a popular location for tourists as well as the production of TV programmes and films, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy.

Maori Culture is an integral part of New Zealand society. Perhaps the most well known piece of Maori culture is the Haka, a Maori war dance that is performed at many important events, including before each All Blacks game of rugby. It is captivating and one of the things we look forward to during the Dubai Rugby 7s.

Like Fiji, Maori culture has roots in the Polynesian islands but Maori natives have their own particular style developed over centuries. Maori people still consider family and community to be paramount and aspects of this can be found in their art, music, dance and dress. Maori men and women are known to tattoo their faces and bodies with beautiful intricate patterns throughout history.

Nature has blessed New Zealand with some spectacular geothermal areas and relaxing hot springs, as well as providing electricity and heating in some areas. Rotorua is the centre of geothermal tourist activity, with plenty of mud pools, geysers, and hot springs in its active thermal areas–not to mention its trademark ‘Sulphur City’ smell.

First settled by Maori who used the hot springs for cooking and bathing, Rotorua soon attracted European residents. The reputed health benefits of its hot pools quickly earned the area the name of ‘Cureland’.

In addition to Rotorua, you can enjoy hot springs and other thermal activity in most regions of the North Island north of Turangi, as well as in Hanmer Springs and the West Coast in the South Island. The sandy beaches on the coast are perfect for swimming, surfing and sunbathing.

If you love nature, visit the Abel Tasman National Park to explore the most beautiful beaches, bays and lush forests NZ has to offer.  The Abel Tasman is quite like paradise and New Zealand’s only coastal national park. Enjoy long stretches of deserted golden beaches, turquoise clear waters with a fantastic variety of adventure activities.

For extreme adventure, adrenaline attractions are plenty in New Zealand. You can leap from an airplane for a sky diving experience, get dropped off by a helicopter on unique and rugged terrain and ski the slopes at a dizzying altitude, jump off a bridge or suspension pod attached only by a bungy cord to your ankles, or ride the Nelson Fly by Wire reaching speeds of up to 100 kilometres per hour.

New Zealand’s Southern Alps have a number of glaciers, the largest being Tasman glacier, which you can view by taking a short walk from Mount Cook village. New Zealand’s most famous glaciers are the Franz Josef and Fox on the South Island’s west coast.

Health resorts and spas are ideal for spiritual retreats, rejuvenation, beauty treatments or as a getaway to improve your health and well being and New Zealand has plenty of these on both main islands.

If you are in Auckland, drive or take the ferry from Auckland City to historic Devonport, explore the naval caves at North Head, and admire the city view. Spend some time at Cheltenham or Devonport Beach. Browse through the boutique shops and cafes and visit the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum, the official museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

If you have kids, they may enjoy the Kelly Tarltons SEALIFE Aquarium. An all-weather visitor attraction, you can see the world’s largest penguin colony, over 30 exhibits and more than 80 different marine species.

For a self-guided tour of Auckland City, visit the Aotea Square, which is used for a myriad of activities including festivals, parades and community events. Auckland’s newest waterfront neighbourhood Wynyard Quarter provides free activities for families in the weekends and school holidays as well.

Weather in New Zealand can change unexpectedly. As New Zealand observes daylight saving, during summer months daylight can last up until 9.30pm. Which can be a good thing, as you do need more hours in the day to explore the many attractions New Zealand has to offer.