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Travel

Rome

sunset

Buongiorno Roma!

Travel enables you to escape the ordinary, to pass from mirrored activities, work, days to high doses of excitement. I have been asked several times why? Why creating another platform that provides travel information, when this industry is defined as soon to be one of the most saturated markets. My answer is simple. I don’t just provide information, I am a storyteller, one that aims to engage you, the curious and nomadic side of you and transport you to where I am so you can see it with your own eyes, hear it with your own ears and feel it with your own soul.

The world is far too beautiful for you to skip another experience, another journey!

After a week loaded with insightful meetings and the launch event of a life-changing concept – Livoos (soon up on my blog), I hop onto a plane and head off to Rome for a weekend city break. It is hard to imagine how I can take this italian fairytale-like city up a notch, giving that I have explored it inside-out each year. However, this time around I am seizing new culinary journeys and parts of the city yet undiscovered.

AT A GLANCE

Best time to visit – I would definitely recommend visiting during spring or early summer.

Currency – Euros.

How to get there – If you are travelling from the UK British Airways has an array of options, from anywhere else visit visit www.skyscanner.com

Highlights – Dinner at Due Ladroni and breakfast at Mirabelle, Hotel Splendide Royal.

Shopping – Via dei Condotti

Top Fact – The Splendide Royal Hotel was once a 19th century palace providing as headquarters of the Roman Maronite community. After more than one year of re-structuring, it reopened its doors as a small luxury hotel in the heart of Rome.

Travel

I usually fly with British Airways for short hauls, and despite an average good service I can’t help but express my disappointment when it comes to in-flight food. It has truly gone from delicious to standard and from standard to very poor quality. Time to get back on track BA!

Hotel

Contrary to the non-satisfying culinary experience during my flight I finally arrive to Hotel Splendide Royal, a fine small luxurious hotel squeezed between the roman streets of the city’s centre, right at the intersection of culture, museums, communication and art.

Located at Via Di Porta Pinciana 14, Via Veneto, Rome, 00187, Italy, this mesmerising hotel is similar to a time capsule, encompassing the byzantine and renaissance years of Italian art and architecture. Featuring the perfect mix of paintings, sublime handmade interior design details, and one of a kind sculpture works.

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Splendid is highly appropriate as part of the hotel’s name – oversize translates across everything here, from super king size beds to opulent ceilings and soft large towels. Not long after my flawless arrival to the room, the management team knocks on my door and brings in a wonderfully adorned tray with a selection of exotic fruit and a bottle of prosecco. Why? Only because they like to cater for their guests and add that WOW factor to their services. The quality here is down to the smallest detail and the customer service is magnificent.

Rooftop Restaurant

Among its treasures, the hotel features one of the best and most alluring rooftop restaurants and terraces in Rome. Mirabelle, located on the 7th floor of is sure to leave you speechless. My eyes are rewarded by panoramic views of palaces of Pinciano, Villa Medici, Trinità dei Monti, Saint Peter’s and Gianicolo.

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Dinner

In the late afternoon I go for a walk via the Spanish Steps and Via die Condotti and enjoy the sunshine on my face, ending up at the romantic old school restaurant – Due Ladroni, situated at Piazza Nicosia, 24, 00186 Roma. Not only do I find multi-languages speakers waiters that pepper the customer service provided with a joyful personalised twist, but also the strongly Neapolitan influenced dishes consisting of fresh fish and seafood are to die for.

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Lounge bar

On my way back I stop for a night cap at Zuma’s rooftop terrace, located at Via della Fontanella di Borghese, 48. Providing a close look of Curch San Carlo al Corso, both the restaurant and the terrace feature a highly elegant and contemporary design.

Stay tuned to follow me on my journey through Rome.

Travel

Bali Part II

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INDONESIA SERIES | Bali Part II

THE HANGING GARDENS RESORT UBUD

Arrival 

We arrive at the Hanging Gardens after darkness has fallen. The resort is located at Banjar Susut, Desa Buahan, Payangan, Kec. Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia. The service is flawless, everyone here seems to be smiling regardless of any worries they might have left at the door. I am a huge fan of hotels featuring the most areas in open air and this is just one of them.

Once arrived at one of the Panoramic Villas I notice the traditional asian elegant design in a contemporary living space, all built in natural wood and surrounded by nature – it seems to be the perfect balance between traditional and new. As we step into the room I am once again speechless. The room includes a super king bed, two large bathtubs – one indoor and one located on the side terrace. An additional queen size bed is placed on the very corner of the terrace, next to…well a private infinity pool, just above the rainforest, allowing countless hours of stargazing. I start loosing any track of time once again, the numbers and hands miraculously disappear from my watch.

I drop everything on the floor and jump into the water enjoying the silence which soon converts into a beautiful soulful song. All my thoughts disappear in a nanosecond.

AT A GLANCE

Best time to visit – there is a tropical, warm and humid season all year around, however the best time to visit Bali is during the dry season, from April until September.

Currency – Indonesian Rupiah. You can use your credit cards in most places, although it is always beneficial to carry some cash with you in the local currency. Easiest to exchange at the local airport.

How to get there – there are no direct flights if you are travelling from Europe. Best connecting flights are via Doha, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Dubai.

Highlights – private dinner by the pool at the Hanging Gardens Resort.

Top Fact – The Hanging Gardens of Ubud resort was built by 700 local craftsmen using traditional materials two years, from 2003 to 2005.

Dress code – Very relaxing, light-weighted clothes. A pair of heels is more than enough, make sure you also pack a pair of trainers for hiking.

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Resort & Surroundings 

The sun comes up and just when I thought it can’t get any better I wake up to an outrageously beautiful landscape, as the bed faces a panoramic view through a glass wall. The only thing that might potentially dampen my mood right now is one of the numerous torrential rains we have had so far. But the sky couldn’t be clearer nor bluer.

I wonder around the resort whose architecture is defined based on existing natural contours and lush vegetation. The design is built on a 45 degree angle with Feng Shui principles, expressing a world of infinity and stability of energy. Highly important for me is the idea of a boutique hotel. Rather than choosing landmark hotels in exotic destinations, I prefer the resorts with a maximum of 50 rooms / villas. The Hanging Gardens features a perfect no. of 45 villas set on two levels.

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Dinning Options

I discover a luxurious restaurant called The Garden overlooking the lush rainforest, Ayung River and the ancient Dalem Segara temple. Encompassing global flavours combined with traditional organic recipes, the garden restaurant creates the perfect nourishment for your taste buds. Just below the main restaurant there’s a breathtaking lounge area – The Garden Bar, partially open-aired featuring picturesque views of the infinity pool.

Whilst my mouth drops open at the beauty set on the very edge of the rain forests’ valley, a friendly member of staff informs me that the resort also provides private dinning by the pool and the unforgettable experience of dinning at the temple. Be sure to book any of these on the day of your arrival as they prior notice to be able to organise.

The Rainforest

After a couple of blissful hours spent at what has been fairly claimed no. 1 best pool in the world and a delicious & beautifully presented tuna steak I can’t help but wonder what’s on the other side of the infinity pool’s line?

I gather my thoughts, grab my Havaianas and walk down the stairs all the way down to the rainforest. I am immediately introduced to alluring landscapes, waterfalls that shimmer into the warm glow, several surreal bridges all throughout the forest overpassing the Ayung river and an array of colourful butterflies. What surprises me most is that I can’t see anyone else wondering around here although it’s extremely easy to reach.

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TEGALALANG RICE TERRACE

As incurable nature lovers, we decide to visit one spot that has been on our Bucket List for a long time, the Rice Terraces located at Jalan Raya Tegalalang, Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia.

We pick up the car and adventure into the unknown, a 30 minutes road trip through the narrowed & curved streets of Ubud. A slight insecurity filters through as our car is slowly letting us down but once we’ve made up our minds there’s no way back. NOTE: Make sure you input your destination on your GPS well in advance as the internet connection might drop out when less expected.

Once closer to the terraces, bear in mind that there’s no parking within the actual grounds, however there’s a parking available on the left hand side, approximately 50 meters away from the main entrance.

There is no need to purchase any tickets outside, I simply donate money to the workers inside which I find on my way in and all throughout the terraces. I step inside and remain speechless, this is truly quite like nothing I have ever seen before, layers and layers of lush green vegetation loaded with countless palm trees. The idea of hiking the unstable wet grounds for at least an hour until reaching the final point is slightly scary yet fascinating. NOTE: Important to grab a pair of trainers or rain boots and comfortable light weighted clothing. You might find a few ants tribals eager to climb up on your legs, although if you’re geared up appropriately you’ll be fine.

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In the unusual case of arriving in flip flops (as I did), it is best to walk around barefoot as all of the workers here, especially on a rainy day. I sit on the wet ground and absorb it all in one more time. The light has already dimmed outside and so starting to look for the exit around here can become a trickier situation than what it initially seemed. Out of nowhere, a worker comes our way and simply says: ‘Follow me’.

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He is showing us the way out, but we stop on the way at his cabana built within the Rice Terraces. We didn’t carry any water and were beyond dehydrated, so he offers us coconut water whilst caring our worries away with his handmade musical instrument. My eyes are in tears and I am stood humble in front of this men that has just made our evening with the very little that he had.

I leave filled with joy and happiness after not only exploring some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world but also by having discovered the kindness, wonderful souls and spirituality in each person I met along the entire journey.

Up next from the Indonesia Series: Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Lombok

Travel

Bali

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INDONESIA SERIES | Bali Part I

Bali, an oasis full of surprises.

We sometimes think we have seen it all & done it all. We sometimes forget to open up and let our five senses explore, learn and see new things every day. Keeping an open mind might lead you to both good and bad choices. But the upside of this is that both good and bad choices generate good stories that will last for a lifetime.

Travel comes in so many different shapes and manners, being different from one person to another, although we tend to always go for our habitual travel patterns. So this time, I wanted to travel far, far from my comfort zone and far in distance.

As per each weekend I commence my research for my next destinations. I use several different websites to purchase my hotel and at times the entire package including flights. They have a wonderful array, make sure you check them out.

Secret Escapes is an exclusive members only travel club offering up to 70% on luxury hotels and holidays. New offers land every week which will be also sent to your email to keep you inspired.
Similar to Secret Escapes, Voyage Privé specialises in online private sales for quality exploratory holidays and luxury trips.
Booking.com is a digital accommodation booking website offering a wide range of hotels in 85000 destinations worldwide.
Expedia offer top deals on package holidays, launching daily travel deals from luxury to low cost hotels, holidays, city breaks and flights.

 

AT A GLANCE

Best time to visit – there is a tropical, warm and humid season all year around, however the best time to visit Bali is during the dry season, from April until September.

Currency – Indonesian Rupiah. You can use your credit cards in most places, although it is always beneficial to carry some cash with you in the local currency. Easiest to exchange at the local airport.

How to get there – there are no direct flights if you are travelling from Europe. Best connecting flights are via Doha, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Dubai.

Highlights – Stay at the Hanging Gardens Resort, Visit at the Dewa Putu Toris Art Gallery and Dinner at Matis.

Top Fact – Bali is part of the Coral Triangle featuring over 500 reef building coral species which is 7 times more than in the entire Caribbean.

Dress code – Very relaxing, light-weighted clothes. A pair of heels is more than enough, make sure you also pack a pair of trainers for hiking.

Bali enchants all who visit, although this destination is no typical voyage. You have of course the option to remain within the resort’s premises throughout the whole period of time and step out for the occasional dinner and drinks. On the other hand, I saw an ample opportunity to learn about its complex culture all the way from wildlife experts and historians to the most vision changing people – the locals.

JOURNEY AND HOTEL

This time I book a package on Voyage Prive including flights via Doha with Qatar Airways and the Novotel Hotel in the region of Bali, Benoa. Being part of the Accor Hotel Group, Novotel provides a variety of advantages worth while. Make sure you sign up here.

After a long yet pleasant journey with Qatar Airways I arrive to a tropical splendour surrounding a beautiful 4 stars hotel built on the beach and featuring the most alluring traditional balinese design. I have thought of several different hotels prior to my trip such as the ultra modern Trans Hotel in Seminyak, which under the management of Alex Jovanovic offers an impeccable service and overall experience. However, I am magnetised by natural settings, must be the flow of the water that we usually seek to translate in our lives.

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As we (my sister and I) are restless explorers, renting a car wherever we travel comes natural. This time around we encountered slight issues, whereby everyone’s reaction to tourists potentially renting a car is rather inconclusive and somehow even disturbed. Characterised by incurable stubbornness, we decide to rent a car from the hotel (if you are looking for a higher end car brand, forget about it! A Fiat will do, you will find out later why).

The check in process runs smoothly and we are quickly accompanied to one of the villas across the road. We pass through a path covered by bright green exotic plants (some of which I have never seen before) with a relaxing pool on the side. As I step into the room, I realise this resort is all about soul satisfying-stillness, starting from the oriental music on the background, furniture fully built out of natural and local wood all the way to the bed covered by Plumeria petals (unmissable from Balinese culture).

DAY 1

I wake up early so I can enjoy the breakfast overlooking the Indian Ocean. I start devouring the fruit platters whilst I surprisingly also discover the most delicious porridge in the world alongside the Salak, or differently called the Snake Fruit.

Once finished I feel the urge to start exploring the unspoiled nature of the island and so I decide to spend the day on the hotel’s beach despite the cloudy and lower temperature climate. Upon a brief research I realise that my visit is at boarder line between the dry and rainy season. However, my hippie spirit filled with joy and excitement at the thought of exploring the Indonesian land suddenly breaks out.

The resort includes 3 swimming pools, 3 restaurants and bars, a fitness centre, a tennis court and a wonderful balance spa.

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Whilst I enjoy the magnificent views, a concentrated dose of boredom kicks in due to the extreme laid back atmosphere. The Hotel Novotel Benoa is absolutely perfect for families, but my nomad side drags me back to booking.com in the search of a new adventure in the neighbourhood. I soon land on The Hanging Gardens resort which rings a bell as being the most alluring sanctuary hidden within Ubud’s Jungle. I book a room for two nights and look forward to my first road trip in Bali unaware though that I am set to discover a piece of Paradise that goes beyond unexpected.

DINNER IN SEMINYAK

In the evening I reserve a celebratory dinner at METIS located at Jl. Petitenget No. 6, Kerobokan Kelod, Kuta, Kabupaten Badung, Bali, Indonesia before heading off to The Hanging Gardens the following morning. Although I am not expecting any level of luxury in Bali, this restaurant is beautifully inspired by Asian tropical architecture yet infiltrating a modern, chic & elegant twist on it. Wonderfully spacious, it features 5 areas – indoor lounge and restaurant extending into a blissful terrace, private garden and lounge bar converting into a club post dinner and a Gallery & Boutique selling top balinese fashion & art. The French Mediterranean cuisine is absolutely exquisite and further more, the deserts are highly eclipsing the mains. The relaxed atmosphere sets the stage accompanied by the sophisticated setting and impeccable service. The club however is annoyingly crowded missing the elegance spread on the rest of the areas. Make sure you book prior to your visit as it might be difficult to find a table, even more so during the weekends.

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DAY 2

Road Trip

The second morning brings with it a unique experience that enables me to genuinely understand and appreciate the local people and their endless kindness. Despite being set to drive straight to The Hanging Gardens resort in Ubud, the traffic is far away from being any sort of helpful or friendly. Hundreds of scooters appear out of nowhere and there are 3 different traffic lights for the same intersection. Patience is not a virtue for local drivers, therefore the honk noises almost turn into a large instrumental ensemble without a conductor. Unfortunately, taxis are a rarity here, therefore self-driving is still the best option.

Kopi Luwak Coffee Plantation

As we are trying to solve the puzzle, a local man approaches us by scooter and provides us with tips on how to drive in Bali, followed by an invitation to drive behind him to his work place as he is certain that we will love it. After making up our minds several times we decide to follow him and as we approach his so called office we realise that he is taking us to the Kopi Luwak Coffee Plantation located at tJL. Pura Dalem, Tegal Tamu, Batubulan, Gianyar – Bali. This place was brought up in our exploring planning conversations before but seemed impossible to find. Once arrived, I am sat down by lovely Adex at a table in the middle of the plantation to enjoy the best coffee & tea tasting. The taste is absolutely irresistible and so I end up with 3 bags full of different flavours of coffee and tea from the local shop. Kopi luwak includes part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. It might not sound as appealing, however the Luwak Coffee’s flavour is by far the best I have ever tried. What’s more, the civet coffee is also one of the two most expensive coffees in the world with retail prices reaching €550 per kilogram. #1 is occupied by the Black Ivory Coffee retailing at €850/kg.

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Dewa Putu Toris Art Gallery, Tegenungan Waterfall and the Tek Tok Dance

The coffee plantation is followed by a visit to the Dewa Putu Toris Gallery, Jl. Raya Batuan No.12, Batuan, Sukawati, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia – an impressive art collection curated by both established and new balinese painters. Not to be missed, expect an array of traditional activities such as the fire dance recreated through the point of the brush. The setting itself is unexpectedly inspiring, recalling the design and architectural details of a temple.

We then follow the route that leads us to the Tegenungan Waterfall, Kemenuh, Sukawati, Kec. Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia, known as one of the most alluring cascades in Bali thanks to its unforgettable lush green surroundings.

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Having lost any notion of time, I realise now how late it is and that we will end up with a nocturnal driving to the Hanging Gardens. Despite this thought I want to make one more stop at the Ahadewa Barong Dance to experience the balinese dancing called the Tek Tok Dance. This is often presented at the Bali Culture Centre, however if you are looking for the real experience in a traditional setting, than this is your go-to place. Accompanied by the musical sound of the Tek Tok repeated by dancers, the balinese dance represents a message of truth, devotion and genuine compassion.

Balinese Dancer

Ubud is the cultural representative area standing for the history of Bali itself. There is a wide range of historical & cultural attractions such as art museums, centres and temples. I would recommend spending two days in Ubud so you can enjoy the full experience. Besides the points mentioned above, make sure you also visit the Monkey Forest. Bring nothing else but your camera and hold tight to it, there are some expert monkeys that will still away any possessions.

Stay tuned for my experience at the mesmerising Hanging Gardens resort and Day 3 activities.

Bucket List

Bucket List #2

OHHCOUTURE

There’s an average of 16.8 days of annual paid leave. Some of you might wonder at times – why should we even bother and go through the hassle of organising a weekend get-away or an exotic holiday? Further more, there are so many other things that can be bought within that budget. My question to you is WHY NOT? Why not creating experiences that will last you for a life-time, journeys that change your vision, broaden your perspective on life, open your mind, enrich your cultural knowledge and what’s more – make you a better person? I can’t seem to find any contra argument to this. Can you?

Let yourself inspired by my second bucket list and stay tuned for a weekend in Monaco experimenting my first Grand Prix and the Indonesia series!

Miras Hotel Cappadocia, Turkey - captured by @mirashotel

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Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan - captured by @japvivas

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Chapada Diamantina, Bahia, Brazil - captured by @southamerica

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Hawaii’s Haiku Stairs - captured by @everchanginghorizon

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Côte d'Azur French Riviera - captured by @ohhcouture

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Travel Venice

Venice

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A Venetian Affair

Always in movement. Always on the go. Always exploring. Similar to a book, life has its chapters. It is in our hands whether we choose to write a black and white chapter or create a book full of multicoloured, multicultural and multi-experiential pages.

After a busy week, the weekend brings a last minute decision to pack and fly to Venice. Have been there twice before, never had a chance to explore the city properly though. Seems to be fully booked everywhere and due to not having spent the night in Venice before, I don’t have any knowledge as to what hotel to book, nor what plans I should make during the weekend. Exciting, I love this kind of challenges!

HOTEL

I finally find a room available in the Gritti Palace (http://www.thegrittipalace.com), a magical hotel on the Grand Canal that perfectly combines culture, history, endless elegant Venetian design with exceptional art. Worth mentioning the hotel’s terrace with alluring views of the Grand Canal, facing the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.

AT A GLANCE

Best time to visit – spring to June, summer time brings a very hot air which makes it unbearable to walk around.

Currency – Euros

How to get there – if you are travelling from the UK British Airways is the best option, for any other flight options visit www.skyscanner.com. The Marco Polo airport is much closer to the centre.

Highlights – Giudecca, the other side of Venice and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

Top Fact – Venice is built on 117 small islands connected by 409 bridges (read more here).

Special treat – dinner at Oro Restaurant in Belmond Hotel Cipriani.

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ARRIVAL

As I arrive at the Marco Polo airport I am looking for the signage that leads me to the water taxis, however I must say that it can get quite confusing. Let’s make this easy: walk out of the airport through the exit on the right towards the parking. Follow the path on the left side, cross the zebra, keep walking for another 5 minutes and at the end you will find both shared transport and water taxis. Worth getting a cab, the journey itself is a welcoming adventure not to be missed.

DAY 1

I wake up early to enjoy the breakfast on the terrace which is a sublime experience. Staff is very friendly, the ingredients are fresh and the food range is wide enough to cover all tastes. Although difficult to leave, I get a map from the concierge to establish the must sees and commence getting lost around the city.

It can be difficult to imagine Venice as a lush area, but for explorers visiting in spring you will be pleasantly surprised to discover numerous corners of nature, terraces packed with colourful roses and blossoming branches overhanging all around the city. The bold coloured buildings, the preserved sophisticated facades, the relaxed rhythms – il dolce di fare niente, the narrow hidden paths in between buildings and the water movement transport me into a different dimension, away from any worries or thoughts I might have in the real world.

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PALAZZO DUCALE

I stop by Palazzo Ducale which is 5-10 minutes walk distance from the hotel in Piazza San Marco (San Marco, 1, 30124 Venezia, Italy) where I am once again blown away by the detailed interior and opulent painting parade showcasing on all walls and ceilings. The palace was built in the Venetian Gothic style with Byzantine-Venetian influences. Initial works started in 810 and was restructured countless times due to three huge fires, structural failures, new organisational requirements or complete overhaulings of the ornamental trappings.

The Paradiso in the Great Council Chamber is the largest canvas painting in the world! Doesn’t sound as surprising considering that the Great Council Chamber is 53 meters long and 25 meters wide, dimensions that define it as one of the largest rooms in Europe.

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GROM – Il gelato come una volta

After visiting the Palazzo Ducale, I feel the urge to enjoy my first GROM gelato in Venice. The sophistication in texture, the refinement in taste and the natural ingredients make it the best ice cream in the world. GROM is 100% natural, they only use fresh fruit from the best consortium in Italy with no addition of artificial colorings, aromas, preservatives or emulsifiers.

What’s more, the idea came from a newspaper when Guido Martinetti was reading an article on ‘gelato like it used to be made’. He then contacted his friend Federico Grom and decided to buy the best raw ingredients and open up a gelateria. From one ice cream shop opened in 2003 and with no prior industry experience, the business has generated €23 million revenue and has been sold to consumer goods giant Unilever for an undisclosed fee. Talking about entrepreneurship skills!

DELICIOUS LUNCH

I then hop onto a gondola and ask to be taken around the narrow canals rather than the Grand Canal which is always busy. After a very informative gondola ride on the history of Venice my stomach starts screaming at me ‘PASTA!’. I give in and post visiting and having a look at several restaurants I go for Antico Martini located in Campo Teatro Fenice, 2007, Venezia, Italy. Very friendly staff, a pleasant and cosy terrace separated from the crowded public squares and delicious food! I order a Foie Gras selection and Tagliolini with Black Truffle. BLISS!

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TRADITIONAL DINNER

After numerous kilometres of wondering around and an Aperol Spritz later I go back to the hotel to change for dinner. I narrow it down to two choices, both spectacular for dinner: Michelin starred Oro Restaurant with a breathless waterside terrace located in Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Giudecca, 10, Sestiere Castello, Venezia VE, Italy or something more traditional and laid back yet still elegant but less presumptuous.

Despite a late afternoon dish of pasta, I choose the second option, Trattoria do Forni, a lively restaurant with several rustic & Orient Express-style dining rooms. The atmosphere is as expected, chill-out for both the young and not so young. They use impeccable and fresh ingredients treated with simplicity yet resulting in complex tasteful starters and mains. The Scampi on raw artichokes is not to be missed!

DAY 2 – GIUDECCA

A glorious sunny Sunday is perfect to adventure the little known Giudecca, the Other Side of Venice as I like to call it. It is understandable that the mass tourism is always trotting around central Venice, however I think it is safe to say that this thin island will soon become a centre of attraction in Venice for new generations of travellers.

The breathtaking view across the Giudecca Canal to Dorsoduro, Piazza San Marco, and Palazzo Ducale, a landscape that has inspired numerous great italian artists, is the first WOW aspect that already converts Giudecca in my favourite part of Venice. Although I absolutely love the Gritti Palace hotel, the peaceful, relaxed and village vibe here makes it the perfect place to stay whilst in Venice, especially if you prefer a quite accommodation avoiding the loud crowds.

After crossing the canal in less than a minute, I first visit the alluring Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute followed by a walk around the island. It takes up to one hour at most to wonder around the whole island, although the bold colours, surreal bridges, traditional architecture might make you stop and sigh at each corner. The Fondamenta Cà Balà area (30123 Venezia, Italy) leaves me speechless, central Venice has nothing on it. I stop there for 15 minutes and stare without being able to take my finger off the shutter button of my camera.

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ART

I continue with an unforgettable visit of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Dorsoduro, 701-704, 30123 Venezia, Italy) founded by the former wife of long time favourite artist Max Ernst and niece of the mining magnate, Solomon R. Guggenheim. A must-see selection of modern art collected by herself mostly between 1938 and 1946. Amongst the great artist featuring on Palazzo Venier dei Leoni’s walls, which Peggy Guggenheim purchased in 1949 being her home for 30 years, are Braque, Léger Dalí, Miró, Picasso and Kandinsky.

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LUNCH

With a pocket full of art inspiration I cross back to the central Venice for lunch at the traditional venetian pizzeria Rosa Rossa (Calle Mandola, 3709, 30124 Venezia, Italy). The smell of fresh bread and baked pizza, the wooden design details, informal and enjoyable atmosphere, delicious food and sublime Aperol Spritz highly exceed my expectations. BEST HOMEMADE PIZZA IN TOWN!

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Despite the fact that I arrive at the airport completely soaked after someone decides to show off on the Venice’s canals I leave with the sweetest taste in my mouth, this trip has been much more than expected.

Travel

Maldives

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Gili Lankanfushi…The closest you can get to a Robinson Crusoe lifestyle.

A massive shoutout to all kind of globetrotters out there! You might be a sightseeing or a sun lounger but this is one trip not to miss. I myself am a thrill seeker, always in the search for new cultures and adventures. It comes as no surprise that I was slightly overwhelmed by the thought that a full week would only consist of sunbathing, eating, occasional swimming, repeat. But there is so much more to that, think of it as if you would step into a fortified splendour away from the day-to-day stress, noise and sharpened hearing for the unstoppable tick-tock, tick-tock sound…

Aside from my restless spirit, this time it all started with a strong desire to escape the 9 to 5 and adventure in the untethered living, a world of art and travel. When I finally pulled the trigger I needed something to seal the deal, and Gili Lankanfushi sounded like the perfect oasis of relaxation and freedom of mind.

All right, let’s go back in time…

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AT A GLANCE

Best time to visit – tropical climate with two monsoon seasons. The dry monsoon is from December to March with a consistent temperature of 30 degrees celsius.

Currency – American Dollars

Language – expect an array of international languages alongside the local one, Dhivehi.

How to get there – if you are travelling from Europe, the most time and cost effective option is via Dubai or Istanbul. Have a look here.

Dress code – whatever you are most comfortable in and forget about packing shoes or toiletries. You will find toothbrush, insect repeller, aloe vera gel, normal and after sun organic shampoo and conditioner, organic shower gel and lotion provided in the bathroom.

Top dinner experience – this would be exactly the one you can’t see, the private dinner on a secret part of the island organised by Mr. Friday on your preferred day.

Unfriendly visitors – no worries about being invaded by mosquitos or other unfriendly insects, there are barely any. If you find the occasional bees hanging around in the shower just use the insect repeller available in the bathroom.

Must DOs – bamboo massage at the Meera Spa, Sunset Sailing, Manta Ray & turtle snorkelling, private dinner on a secret spot on the island.

Top Fact – the whole island is eco-friendly, featuring their own organic garden which you can visit at any time.

Special treat – don’t hesitate to contact Mr. Friday with anything you might need, he’s there to make your stay one of a kind.

JOURNEY & ARRIVAL

After a well worth it 15 h journey, I finally land into Malé’s airport – the capital and most populous city in the Republic of Maldives. This is located vis-à-vis from an aligned set of boats waiting to take me to Paradise. As my gaze meets the azure waters I already feel overly excited and hyper active.

A crew of 4 welcoming and joyful Mr. Fridays (the concept sounds rather familiar doesn’t it?!) are expecting me on board with a fresh fruit juice, cold wet towel and a shoe bag. I can’t help but wonder – what’s the shoe bag for? They inform me that their one and only philosophy is as follows ‘No news, no shoes’ – leave your worries at home. Not quite sure what to expect but the thought of trotting around barefoot and play with my toes in the perfectly white and soft sand fills me up with joy.

The journey only takes 20 minutes as opposed to other hotels located up to one hour away from the airport or those that can only be reached by floatplane. As I am approaching the private island I drop my bags and just stop and glare. Does this place really exist or am I daydreaming? I am surrounded by infinite shades of turquoise blue, immaculate beaches, so white as to burn my eyes and dozens of palms loaded with coconuts.
The general manager Steven Phillips accompanied by Atheef who introduces himself as my assigned Mr. Friday for the week welcome me at the dock and walk me through the key things I need to know before embarking on my new adventure: ’As you may know (friendly Steven highlights) ’Mr. Friday’ is Robinson Crusoe’s loyal friend – just like that, Atheef is here to make your stay as pleasant as possible so just kick back and relax’. Sounds good to me but little did I know that Mr. Friday can get even the impossible done if needed.

SURROUNDINGS

We hop on a golf buggy and off we go. To my surprise we pass by a water sports centre, a gym in the middle of the jungle with an open air Japanese restaurant built on top, a mesmerising overwater spa, the organic garden (as I am being informed that all the ingredients are 100% organic on the island), the island’s jungle cinema surrounded by palms and plants, a tranquil outdoor yoga area and the main restaurant with its overwater bar. I have been warned previously about Maldives’ lack of activities so I feel relieved to discover through my own eyes that there’s much more to Maldives than rest and relaxation. Days can be spent swimming, snorkelling, spotting turtles, paddle boarding (free of charge!), fishing or simply kicking back in the numerous hammocks around the island. Whatever your passions, Gili Lankanfushi offer their own distinctive pleasures.

VILLAS

We reach the overwater villas by boardwalks. Two bicycles made purely out of bamboo await at the entrance of a large wood villa. Atheef captures my smile and says: ‘It is best to pedal around, you will see the island in a new light on an exhilarating bike ride through the jungle’. The villas are taken to entirely new levels of interior design harmonising the guests with the surrounding environment.

As I step inside straight into the open air living room I get completely carried away and stop paying attention to Atheef who is showing me around. The views are far too beautiful, it makes it impossible to follow the protocol. Mr. Friday finally interrupts my moment of surprise and says: ‘There’s more, come upstairs’. The villas are built on two floors, the upper one featuring a terrace with its own king bed that allows the most alluring stargazing. The bedroom is stolen from a fairytale with its very own copy of Robinson Crusoe’s book sitting on the table and a fine sound system to play your own music (loving this).
The bathroom area is as large as the living room connecting the shower through a private overwater bridge. What’s more, the villa also offers a private sea area (perfect for all the night swimmers out there).

The main terrace incorporates several sunbathing & lounging areas and a wood staircase leading straight into the perfectly turquoise blue water. Especially at night you will encounter several stingrays wondering around and the occasional lost baby shark (Don’t worry, they are quite friendly!).

Overall, the villa is decked out in elegant, natural material and wood floors – they strive to keep on improving their environmental initiatives. I think it is fair to call it the most beautiful resort I have seen in my life (next to The Hanging Garden in Ubud, Bali – article on its way).

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ATTENTION TO DETAIL

Beyond their impeccable service, the unspoilt and authentic surroundings, the luxurious yet cultural representative villas, their attention to detail is outstanding, at times hard to believe. All the way from remembering each and every one of our names, the wine ordered 3 days ago, my personalised buffet dishes or the fact that I drink my coffee with honey instead of sugar (trust me, it’s much more tastier) to the wonderful bed sheets decor which they change every night.

ACTIVITIES & CULINARY HEAVEN

Waking up at when-I-want-to o’clock is blissful. I usually prefer to wake up early and head off to breakfast before 11am. But here you can lose any notion of time as ordering breakfast in your private cabana facing the most alluring landscape is beyond relaxing. NOTE: as much as I love everything so far, the local coffee is not the best, just use the coffee machine in the living room.

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DAY 1

Although day 1 usually stands for exploring the resort and the surrounding areas, this time I decide to get my Robinson Crusoe copy, sit in the sun for a few hours and read the book for the first time. After a couple of hours though my restless side is back in business and looking for activities available in the afternoon. I go through the weekly schedule (you will receive a brand new one at the end of the day each Sunday) and my eyes land straight on ‘Sunset Sailing’ – exactly what I feel like!

I ring Mr. Friday and he arranges the trip within 5 minutes. 20 minutes later we hop onto the sailing boat with a bottle of champagne and canapés from Atheef (again, details!). Words can’t describe the sunset this evening, I will let the pictures speak for themselves. Make sure you embark on your sunset chasing journey at 5.30pm the latest when the colours of the sky commence their spectacle. The sunset can also be watched from your own villa, paddle board, jet ski or even better from the overwater lounge bar area next to the restaurant.

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BUFFET DINNER

This evening introduces me to the island’s dinner buffet, or better called a culinary feast of the senses. The buffet is grandiose, offering everything that you can imagine and beyond your imagination, including a wide range of worldwide and local cuisines. A pure celebration for your taste buds. I feel the urge to taste all kind of freshly fished seafood – grilled, raw, fried. Whilst on my way for a second replenishment, the chef advises me to try out the Chicken Wrap, he says it is the best! What, with all this fresh fish winking at me? I skip his suggestion and continue with my chosen dish. He however brings a small Chicken Wrap to the table just in case I change my mind. I finally taste it and give him credit as it is incredibly exquisite! I ended up having three of them!

I usually order white wine whilst travelling – as dry, spicy & Chardonnay as possible. The sommelier notices that I am taking a long time to go through all the options so he approaches me. I am blown away by his broad knowledge when it comes to wine and each kind’s history.

DAY 2

The list of activities is not only wide but also cutting edge. From the latest gear in water sports to your personal biologist when snorkelling or scuba diving, the possibilities are endless. On Day 2 I decide to go snorkelling and explore the underwater sanctuary with a certified biologist – always eager to learn. We have been searching for a manta ray for over an hour and when we finally see one we jump in without thinking it twice. Needless to say how breathtaking this is, I have never seen one before. As I swim alongside the manta ray, my attention shifts to a friendly water turtle swimming right next to me. We then decide to snorkel in a different area well known for its coral reef adorned by hundreds of species of fish and turtles. Seems impossible to capture such beauty on camera.

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DAY 3

Day 3 begins with a private yoga class on the beach followed by an incredible jet-leg reliever massage, no better way to start the day today. The masseuses are unexpectedly good and the entire spa experience jumps right at the top of my worldwide spa visits list. As I feel rather sleepy I ask Atheef to arrange a jet ski trip so I can visit the neighbourhood and watch the sunset from the middle of the ocean. All ready to go within 20 minutes, as per always short notice doesn’t represent an issue for Mr. Friday. I realise that the hotels in close proximity are actually completely different – featuring a common design with no cultural influence whatsoever. Moreover the high number of villas causes an overcrowded feeling, being rather annoyingly close to each other. Gili Lankanfushi has only 45 villas with a large distance in between them.

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BY THE SEA – Japanese Restaurant

This evening I finally manage to book a table at the island’s By The Sea Japanese restaurant (it is usually fully booked, be sure to secure a table prior to your outbound trip). With three quarters of an hour to spare I decide to grab a healthy smoothie (the Sport smoothie is the best) in the overwater bar with the aquatic wild life swimming underneath my feet.

Arrived at the By The Sea restaurant I am being told to get ready to embark on a splendid journey of taste. Fished locally, my taste buds are enjoying the freshest sashimi and long time favourite sushi pieces. Each dish is absolutely exquisite with a special twist on it. The panorama is gloriously unspoilt, with the terrace overlooking the jungle. Back to the villa, the terrace king bed is awaiting freshly changed so I fall asleep underneath the sky full of stars.

DAY 4

I can’t help but slip into the relaxing rhythm of the island, therefore Day 4 kicks off with one hour of paddle boarding and a fishing trip later in the day planned on the day of the arrival.

Despite the perfection that every day has encountered so far, unfortunately the fishing trip is highly disappointing. The attention to detail has been removed completely and the crew members on board are providing a very poor service. It feels as if they are taking advantage of this private fishing adventure to go out fishing for themselves. With no knowledge re the best fishing areas and no ‘how-to’ lessons provided, I end up losing 2 hours sleeping on the upper deck. Upon my return I share the experience I just had with Atheef and after consulting the issue with his supervisor they decide to fully withdraw the hiring cost of the boat from the final bill.

NOTE: don’t skip the fishing trip, just be sure to get Mr. Friday to make the arrangements via the hotel directly rather than an external provider organised by the water sports centre.

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LAST DAY

The last full day in paradise brings along a breakfast feast on the beach, a snorkelling journey right outside the villas, a cocktail party, a private dining organised by Atheef on a hidden corner of the island, followed by a movie in The Jungle Cinema. What movie? Well, nothing feels more appropriate than the long time favourite Cast Away with Tom Hanks!

As darkness falls, wild dancing to local drums kicks off to accompany the traditional theme of the Managers’ cocktail party.

PRIVATE DINNER

The private dinner is an absolute MUST! All the way from the highly talented and passionate private chef, relaxing music, candles to the delicious set menu that can be designed in the morning, you are on to an unforgettable romantic experience. You can curate this dinner as you see fit, just have a chat with Mr. Friday and decide how you’d like your perfect evening to look like.

Although the private screening is one of the best activities at Gili Lankanfushi, the chargeable fee is unjustifiable. To improve the overall experience, one free of charge private cinema booking would be optimal.

The final day is all about relaxation and taking it all in one last time. It still feels surreal, the seafront villas, the laid back vibe, the multitude of exciting activities, the pristine coral reefs and the list continues.

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People expect a hotel to have personality and as the manager highlights: ‘You can find two types of high-end hotels in the Maldives: the standard five-star hotels and the resorts like Gili Lankhanfushi’. Yes, Gili Lankanfushi is an expensive experience, but if you get one chance in your life to take it go for it, no pictures will do this place justice. Remember, all you need is a bathing suit and a couple of relaxed fit maxi dresses. Really, there’s no point for shoes other than the pair you are wearing at arrival and a pair of trainers should you wish to play tennis or train in the gym.

Explore an exclusive retreat, far away from the worries of the world.