Tag Archives: uk travel

Travel | My top 10 things to pack for a long bus journey

IMG_2380As a solo female traveller, and a backpacker living on a budget, I’m often asked about the cheapest and easiest ways to reach various locations around the world. Now much as I love flying and train journeys, they are not always the most practical or cost-effective option and, as I have discovered myself, sometimes the best choice can actually be kicking back on a coach from A to B. Not only do you get to relax and catch up on some Zzz’s, but you can often have saved a small fortune which can help you have the time of your life when you arrive at a destination. So many of us are put off by the thought of spending several hours on a bus for comfort reasons, but the truth is these days buses are some of the comfiest ways to travel with plenty of leg room, plug sockets available to charge your devices and even wi-fi. When you take into account all the rail disruptions we suffer in the UK these days and the price of internal flights – climbing aboard a coach really does start to sound like a great option.IMG_2319While it’s been a few years since I travelled by coach in the UK, I’ve found all over the world that it is more often than not the best and most efficient option. From crossing the border between Croatia and Hungary during the summer as I arrived in Budapest, to travelling huge distances up the East Coast of Australia and deep into the outback. And don’t let me forget those overnight journeys between Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia – up to 24 hours at a time but easily one of the best ways to travel so you don’t miss a single second of adventure time. In Europe and Australia I was taken aback by the quality of the bus journeys available, not only were the buses comfier than most hostels but they had great wifi so I could spend the hours catching up on work uninterrupted. The highest ranked coach, bus and train service in the UK, NationalExpress.com, offers the best of the best when it comes to bus journeys – with coaches that are fitted with leather seats, toilets, power sockets and air conditioning. They asked me to write about what makes a good bus journey and what to take with you when you set off, so here is:IMG_2366

My top 10 things to pack for a long bus journey:

  1. My number one will always be an iPod or MP3 player – music makes the journey and I can’t stand any long journey without a great new playlist. Take some time beforehand to download a few new albums, then sit back and enjoy.
  2. Snacks can make or break a journey – always take more than you think you will need, boredom brings out the hunger in us. I personally always eat ALL the unhealthy food on travelling days, calories don’t count when you’re between places. Chocolate, crisps, fruit and sandwiches always make good travelling food.
  3. Plenty of water, some buses stop every few hours, others not for 5-6 hours at a time depending on where you are in the world – don’t get dehydrated or the journey will feel like hell.
  4. A scarf or pashmina – air conditioned buses can seem draughty when you’re tired so it’s always a good idea to have something to wrap around you or use as a blanket if you want to sleep.
  5. A change of clothes can be a lifesaver, particularly if it is very hot or cold outside and the heating or air conditioning inside will feel like a dramatic contrast. These journeys are all about being comfortable.
  6. Any travel documents you might need – if you’re crossing borders be sure to have your passport and all visa information to hand, don’t leave it in the luggage hold of the bus.
  7. A good book can be a lifesaver in case you end up on a bus that is having problems with the wi-fi or is travelling out of range, or perhaps if you just don’t fancy looking at a screen.
  8. A laptop or iPad – if you work online it can be a great opportunity to catch up on work, I use the time to write blog posts/articles or edit photos. If you don’t have any work to do, why not watch a movie or Netflix? If you pre-download you can be sure it won’t be interrupted or slow.
  9. Any charging cables you need for your phone/laptop, you should have plug sockets available so make the most of them.
  10. Anything else you need to keep you comfortable/entertained – things like neck pillows and sleeping masks for those who want to chill, packs of cards and sweets for those who need something fun to do.

IMG_2383The more you pre-plan your journey, the better it will be! We’ve all had those trips where we spent the entire time thinking “oh man this would have been so much better with (insert item here)”. I’m all for spontaneous and adventurous travel, but when it comes to actual movements, a bit of pre-planning can be the difference between the journey from hell and a peaceful cruise to your next destination. Be smart and prepare, you’ll be giving yourself the opportunity to turn the journey into part of the adventure. If you’re planning to travel across the UK whether to the airport, a festival or gig, or even into Europe – look no further than National Express for the best in coach travel. Head to nationalexpress.com to book, or for more information.IMG_2309

Have you travelled by coach in the UK – how did it compare to other forms of travel? What is your favourite way to travel on a budget?

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WIN a 70 litre rucksack for your travels!

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I’m all about seizing life by the balls and making your dreams a reality, but I know so often things like money or worries about travelling solo can hold people back. It’s can be so easy to make excuses and put things off but the long you leave it the harder it gets. I’m so happy that through this blog and living my life to the max I have inspired so many to pick up and travel the world, so achieve their dreams and do things they never imagined they could do. I’ve now been on the road for around two and a half years, and I have no plans to stop – I’ve already started planning the next few years of my travelling life and I couldn’t be more excited about the path I’ve chosen. I’ve found it endlessly inspiring to meet so many of you along the way and to hear all about your own adventures.

So in the spirit of keeping your adventures and passion for travel alive, I’ve teamed up with Trespass to give you all the opportunity to win an Amin 70 Litre Rucksack to hold all your possessions as you head off gallivanting around the world making your dreams come true. It’s the same size as the rucksack I used when I first set off travelling, and as the one I am currently using. And with adjustable, added shoulder and back straps – it’s perfect for long term travels around Asia, Australia or further afield, with plenty of pockets to store everything you need. To anyone who is freaking out that they won’t fit their things into a bag this size – stop worrying and start shedding – trust me, you don’t need any more than will fit in this bag no matter where you are travelling.

So, how can you win?

Check out the box below and make sure you follow me on Twitter, like my Facebook page and then leave a comment at the bottom of this post telling me what adventures you want to take the rucksack on – easy peasy! This competition is only open to those from and currently living in the UK – sorry to all my readers scattered across the world. The winner will be announced around March 10.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Travel | Top tips for being a happy camper

img_2335I’ve always very firmly believed that fresh air, a good dose of nature and time spent by the ocean can cure just about anything. It doesn’t matter how stressed I’ve been over the years, or how frustrated, I’ve always found solace in spending a few days away from everything, getting back to basics and enjoying life in it’s purest form. Over the years I’ve spent weekends camping in the Lake District, Peak District, in the shadow of Mount Snowdon in Wales, and around my home in Norfolk. I’ve stayed in campsites ranging from a full-on Glamping experience complete with champagne and pink wellies, to the most basic, wild campsites you can find, and I’ve done it in all weathers. Later on, as I discovered my love of festivals, I quickly realised that I was a much bigger fan of the four-day weekend camping events that allowed you to truly lose yourself in the music. I teamed up with Yelloh! Village, who offer the world’s finest open-air hotels and camping rentals, to write about what makes the perfect camping experience.imageThere’s something about getting back to basics with a group of your closest friends that just spells out a lot of fun. Whether you’re heading off to explore an untouched wilderness and can’t wait to get away, or you simply fancy going a bit wild in the woods, it’s a perfect way to actually spend time together with no distractions. It’s easy to forget that every second we spend with friends these days is dictated by the myriad of text messages, Snapchats, Facebook updates and Tweets that dominate our existence these days. Once all of those are done, often your time together is up and all you have to remember it is what is documented online. I was out with friends the other night and even dancing in a bar, every second of our moves was being photographed and snap-chatted by the pair for social media. It’s funny and it’s become an inherent part of our lives now but sometimes it is nice to just switch everything off and talk surrounded by nothing but nature. I guess I’m a country girl at heart, but I just find it so soothing to be away from the stresses of everyday life and there’s something about open space that just heals me.img_2333Some of my best camping memories are of the Glamping weekend I spent with my two best friends, the time spent camping in national parks in the Tasmanian wilderness as part of an epic 10-day roadtrip, and the hilarious times we’ve had setting up our tents and lounging round the campsite at festivals. Everyone was just present, laughing at each others’ jokes and experiencing every second together rather than thinking about how they would record it for social media. Every camping experience I’ve had boils down to the same factors whether we’re raving at a festival, getting lost in the woods or out on the moors – it’s the same few things that really make a camping trip a success, and a hell of a lot of fun. If you’re sat reading this thinking camping is so not for you, then think again – I never used to think I would enjoy it but it’s now become one of my favourite travel experiences. Plus it’s a great way to explore the world around you when you’re travelling on a budget, whether locally or on the other side of the world, the basic components of camping remain the same, it’s just the weather that gets better!image

What makes the perfect camping experience?

Tent

This is definitely something you want to invest in – buying a £5 tent from the supermarket and expecting it to withstand all weathers is just stupid. Even if you’re going to a festival – if it rains and becomes windy, your tent is going to flood and collapse and you won’t be able to get dry and warm. A camping trip can quickly become miserable if you have no way of getting dry. Look for great deals in the sales – I picked up my beauty of a tent in the Halfords sale a few years ago and it has seen me through countless amazing festivals and trips – it’s huge and easy to put up, and it  was reduced to less than half price when I got it.

Camping spot

Choose your pitch wisely – there’s nothing worse than putting your tent up in a rush and finding out later when you’re trying to sleep that you’ve camped on a 45 degree slope or there’s a massive rock right where you’re laying. Trust me, as someone who did a four day camping festival sleeping at a 45 degree angle because we arrived too late and couldn’t find a better spot – it’s absolutely bloody awful. Don’t do it. Always feel for rocks and lay down inside before you peg it to the ground.

Food

Plan the food you take well and it can change your whole experience, forget instant noodles and soup, its easy to cook up a good and healthy meal on a little gas stove. On my 10-day road trip around Tasmania we planned heavy meals of chilli and rice, and pasta to refuel after days of climbing mountains. It was quick and easy to prepare for four people so don’t be put off by the thought of it. There’s nothing better than a good, filling, hot meal at the end of a day camping.image

Location

There are some incredible places to camp in the world – under the stars in central Australia, on the beaches in Tasmania, and in the shadow of mountains all over the world are just some of my favourites. Choosing your location well can take a regular camping trip to the next level. Yelloh! Village has some amazing locations scattered across France which give you the opportunity to explore the landscape, towns and villages. Choosing a campsite where you can have a campfire also makes all the difference.

Price

Camping is a great way to travel if you’re on a budget. Especially for groups or families where accommodation could be expensive – there are so many free and cheap options available for campsites, and if you’re planning on repeating the experience your camping equipment is an investment rather than an expense.

Timing

Always look out for the skies above you – I’ve been lucky enough to camp in some amazing places with incredible views of the super moons, specific constellations, shooting stars. Sometimes the most beautiful sights are the ones that are totally free. There’s nothing better than a spectacular sunset, or making it up for sunrise.image

Company

The one thing that really makes the experience complete has to be the people you share it with. I say it all the time but it never becomes any less true, even in the most dire situations and the worst accommodations, the people are what shine through your memories long after the trip has finished. Taking your best friends who will make you laugh until you cry is the best way to approach a trip – no matter what goes wrong you’ll still make it an experience to remember.

Happy camping!

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London | Top attractions to check out on your next visit

FullSizeRenderYou could never run out of things to see and explore in London, it’s a city that is buzzing with nightlife, entertainment and fun. Every weekend there is something happening and you can easily understand why so many flock to live there. Next time you’re planning a weekend in the Big Smoke and you’re at a loss for something to do, why not check out some of the best attractions in the city:

The Shard

One of the most popular places to enjoy London’s iconic skyline, The Shard’s observation deck sits 800ft (244m) up Western Europe’s tallest building. A perfect place to enjoy a meal or a drink while taking in the view.

London Eye

Take to the skies with Coca Cola in one of the 32 pods, in just 30 minutes you can see more than 55 of London’s famous landmarks set against that famous skyline. At £22.50 for tickets, it’s a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and to get to know the city from a different angle.

Tower of London

Discover the building’s 900 year old history as a royal palace, prison and place of execution, arsenal, jewel house and even a zoo. Take a tour and explore the walls of history from years gone by, even marvel at the Crown Jewels!FullSizeRender (6)

Sea Life London Aquarium

Home to over 500 species of aquatic life, the Aquarium is the perfect place to retreat to when the British weather hits. Enjoy an afternoon of talks and special feeding sessions with the experts and take your time spotting everything from sharks to Nemo!

Afternoon Tea at Harrods

Tired from all the walking around the London streets? Take the weight off and relax as you enjoy the famous Harrod’s afternoon tea. Delicious treats await for those with a sweet tooth.

London Dungeon

This 90-minute experience throws you headfirst into a time of years gone by, with live experience actors, amazing special effects that will send a chill down your spine and exciting rides.

Still can’t decide on what trip you want to try out first? Head to Attractiontix for all the latest in special deals and discounts for a whole range of trips to London.

Ab Lucy sign off

London | Affordable luxe dining at Island Grill

island-grill-copyI’m so excited to share one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in a while with you guys. You all know by now that I love to eat out and that food is one of my favourite things about travelling whether in the UK or abroad – I love to try out new restaurants and cuisines. So I was excited to head to Island Grill a few weeks ago to review their take on sustainable and affordable luxury cuisine. Right in the heart of London at the iconic mid-century Lancaster London, this amazing little restaurant overlooks Hyde Park and offers a very European menu that changes with every season as part of their dedication to sustainability. I’m passionate about the environment and have actually cut a lot of meat from my diet in the last year after realising quite how unsustainable it is, so this angle was something I was very interested in. Head Chef Adam Woolven has actually won the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s top Three Star rating with his tireless efforts to create an eco-friendly yet luxurious dining experience.island-grill-barAs we arrived at the restaurant, you can’t help but be wowed by the sleek interiors and the vast floor-to-ceiling windows running along the outside walls overlooking Hyde Park. The seating is arranged so that diners can either enjoy almost private dining alongside the huge windows or they can enjoy a view of the open-plan kitchen where they can see the chefs hard at work, adding another dimension to their gastronomic experience. The staff were so welcoming and friendly, eager to talk to us about the menus and to suggest wines that would go with the food. This made a huge difference, if you’ve read my review from Cottons, you’ll know how disappointing the service was and how much it affected my view of the restaurant. I couldn’t fault the service at Island Grill, it was attentive and they were keen to chat with us and answer any questions, but they also gave us time to just enjoy the food and our evening – the perfect balance.imageWe kicked off the meal with the Pan-Fried Scallops and Crispy Gressingham Duck Salad, both absolutely delicious starters packed full of flavour and the freshest ingredients. The duck was rich and and perfectly complemented by the Asian dressing, pak choi, the orange and the cashews. While the scallops were easily the best ones I have had, normally I find them very overcooked and rubbery but these were just right. It was served with a mixture of vegetables in very different forms from pickled and crisped to pureed. The head chef’s passion for the finest ingredients is clear from the delicious meals available on the menu. While enjoying our starters we shared a bottle of wine recommended by the waitress, and I couldn’t recommend talking to the staff about drinks choices enough. This is a restaurant where the staff really know their wines and cocktails, and they are more than happy to help you choose something special from the fully stocked bar.imageFor our mains, it seemed crazy not to indulge in a steak at what is primarily a grill restaurant. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve completely cut back on the amount of meat I eat over the last year and when I travel I am almost entirely vegetarian now, but I do still eat and enjoy meat. I prefer to save it for when I eat out as a treat now and I feel much healthier and happier as a result. So after not having had much meat for quite a while, I was looking forward to a good-quality steak. And boy oh boy did Island Grill deliver. We both had the 8oz Fillet of Beef and I can officially say it was the best quality and best cooked steak I have had in years, possibly ever. The meat was so unbelievably tender and tasty, and I chose to have mine served with garlic mash and mushroom sauce. It was heaven on a plate. We were both speechless and it was definitely the first time a steak has had that effect. After our mains we were pretty full and didn’t have room for dessert, but accommodating as ever, the staff didn’t want us to miss out and boxed up some of their Passion Fruit and White Chocolate Cheesecake for us to take home. I ended up saving mine until the next day but I can assure you it was as mouth-watering as it sounds.imageApologies for the lack of good photos of the food, it was a bit dark in the restaurant so my own images haven’t come out as clearly as I hoped. Regardless, if you’re heading to London, or you’re already living there, I can’t recommend Island Grill enough. The service is faultless, the location is fantastic and the food is just out of this world. Plus, as a bonus, it’s extremely affordable! It’s not often you can find food that is this good quality for such a reasonable price, making it perfect for a mid-week treat or even a date night. Find out more and book a table at Island Grill.

Have you been to Island Grill? How was your meal? Where else can you recommend for a good quality steak?

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London | A bittersweet trip to the Caribbean with Cottons

imageI’ve had people ask me before whether I really like things as much as I say in reviews, whether I’m just sugar-coating because I got to eat or stay somewhere for free. I can’t help but laugh when I hear this, because anyone who knows me well will agree that’s it’s almost impossible for me to hide how I feel about things, and lying just isn’t in vocabulary. I’m always honest and have just been lucky that so far I’ve never really had a bad experience when I’ve reviewed products or places, but that doesn’t mean I would hide it from my readers if I did. I actually had my first disappointing experience at a restaurant review a few weeks ago and wanted to make sure I shared this with you, because my blog is about life – the good, the bad and the ugly. No sugar-coating and no editing out the bad bits, just honesty about my experiences so that perhaps they can help you to plan yours.imageYou guys will already know I went on a little weekend jaunt to London a few weeks ago when I stayed at the gorgeous Mandeville Hotel – find my review here – well I actually went to London because I had a series of restaurant reviews booked in. Lucky me, I love food and I love visiting new restaurants so this is a serious perk of running this blog, and I wanted to make sure I squeezed them all in quick before I head back to Australia. The first restaurant review of the weekend was actually the one I was looking forward to the most, and sadly it was the most disappointing. Cottons Rhum Shack and Restaurant in Notting Hill was where we were headed and I was looking forward to a night of Caribbean cuisine and rum cocktails. It was a cute little restaurant with all the colour and character a Caribbean restaurant should have and the Rhum Bar looked like a fabulous place to sip on a cocktail. So what was the problem?imageWell, from the second we walked in the door, we just didn’t feel very welcome. The service sucked, big time. The staff barely looked up when we came in and just seemed like they couldn’t be bothered to chat to us or welcome us as we went to our table. It took about 15 minutes before anyone even came over to ask if we actually wanted any drinks or if we understood the menu, I could understand if they were busy but this was a quiet Sunday night. For me, the service really makes a restaurant – whether it’s a fine dining or a budget chain, the level of attentiveness can turn an average dinner into a really lovely evening. As someone who has worked in hospitality across pubs, restaurants and bars, I know full well how much it sucks to work the Sunday shift when perhaps you’re tired or hungover from the night before, but that doesn’t mean you offer lower quality service. It’s always so important to remember that each customer who comes in is paying for top quality service and food and I just didn’t feel like that was a factor in our meal.imageWe indulged in rum cocktails – I went for the Wild Tiki which was spiced rum flavoured with Maraschino liqueur, passion fruit, pineapple, kafir and lemongrass. It was delicious, like a slightly more exotic Pornstar Martini. While my friend went for the Reggae Rum Punch – going for Wray and Nephews rum mixed with fruit juices – always pretty tasty. The cocktails were a real highlight of the night because I’m pretty picky about the quality, I hate when you get a cocktail and it is just watered down juice. Then our dinner arrived, I’d ordered the Spiced Coconut Seafood Casserole which was packed full of clams, squid, crab and red mullet, annatto potatoes and was served with scotch bonnet rouille. It was fantastic, the coconut flavour was absolutely delicious and I loved the mix of seafood as I’m a big fish fan. But my friend was left rather disappointed by the Montego bay Jerk Pork and Ribs – he actually ordered off the Caribbean Classics menu so we expected that to a lot better but there was a real lack of meat served. As someone who has worked in a Caribbean restaurant and who loves the food, he was pretty disappointed with his meal.imageIn the end it was a pretty bittersweet evening, while the cocktails and my dinner were good, my friend’s meal and the service on offer left a lot to be desired. I personally wouldn’t eat there again, if I fancy Caribbean food in future I would probably try to track down a different restaurant. It’s a shame because the restaurant was in a great location in Notting Hill and had most of the ingredients to be a success but it just didn’t quite make it. Here’s hoping the staff were just having an off-night, but having someone walk off as I started to place a drinks order wasn’t a good sign. I’d be curious to know if anyone else has eaten at one of the Cotton’s Restaurants and whether you enjoyed your experience – please leave a comment below and tell me about it.

How was your Cotton’s experience? Can you recommend any other Caribbean restaurants in the UK?

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London | Dining on Dim Sum at Royal China

It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten Chinese food, but anyone who has been following my travels through Asia will know how much I loved the food there. Asia food is one of my absolute favourite cuisines and something I just know I could eat every day for the rest of my life. I love how fresh, light and healthy it is, and I’m a huge fan of their colourful dishes whether Thai, Vietnamese or Cambodian. When it comes to Chinese food, I’ve always been a little put off by memories of greasy Chinese takeaways filled with stodge and feeling really sick after scoffing one. It put me off for years but when I was invited along to try out the special Dim Sum menu at Royal China’s Queensway Restaurant, I figured it was time to give Chinese food another try at one of Royal China’s eight restaurants.royal-china-queensway-restaurantWe were welcomed by the staff as we arrived and were taken to our table – I was astonished by the size of the restaurant, it was huge, but was told that it has recently been extended and yet still has queues out of the door some days. It seems Royal China is a bit of an institution in the area and after being there for 20 years, who can be surprised? You walk in and see a room filled with 85% Asian people and quite frankly you know the food must be good if they’re choosing to dine out here. I was impressed by the decor at the restaurant, instead of the bright and colourful designs of most Chinese restaurants they had gone for a much sleeker and more elegant look that really gave the place a great atmosphere for a dinner. We were just having lunch but already the restaurant was mostly full on a Monday lunchtime, you can understand how busy it must get at peak times.royal-china-queensway-barI really felt the restaurant would be a great place to come with a larger party, the tables are big and could easily seat bigger groups and if you ask me, Asian food is always great for sharing with friends. We ordered several items off the Dim Sum menu including the sesame prawn rolls and the plain Cheung Fun with peanut sauce, seafood pancakes and the roasted duck dumplings, then picked others off the larger menu such as the aromatic duck, the spicy prawn stir fry and the pak choi. The food was delicious and served quickly but goodness me there was a lot of it. It would definitely be a place to go with friends, between the two of us we struggled to eat everything but really enjoyed the flavours. Although I have to admit, I’m still not entirely sure what Cheung Fun is – it was a very strange dish I have never tried before. The service was excellent throughout and the staff kept coming over to check if we needed anything at all, or just to talk to us about the dishes.dim-sum-at-royal-china steamed-prawn-dim-sum-at-royal-chinaOverall I would say the restaurant was lovely, we really enjoyed the meal and the atmosphere of Royal China. But we did find the dishes rather expensive for the size of the meal, perhaps it would have been less noticeable if you were sharing the meal with a group and were sharing lots of dishes but for two people I think it would have been an expensive meal out if you wanted to taste several dishes. However, the food was of a very high standard and very well prepared, it wasn’t at all greasy and had lots of flavour. If you were going to eat Chinese food, this would be the place to do it. For me personally, I don’t think Chinese food is for me, I’m glad I’ve given it another shot but I think I’ll stick to Thai and Vietnamese food from now on. If you fancy trying out Royal China, you’ll find restaurants on Baker Street and in Bayswater, Fulham and Canary Wharf. More information about Royal China available online.steamed-chilli-pork-dumplings

Have you eaten at Royal China – what did you think? What’s your favourite Chinese dish? What other restaurants would you recommend in London?

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London | A taste of the AbFab lifestyle at The Mandeville Hotel

imageSo many bloggers focus on one type of travel, but for me that’s just not possible. You see, I like to vary my travelling style as much as I do my clothes. While sometimes I’ll be backpacking on a budget, I still see the importance and the fun in enjoying a slightly more luxury stay whether for a holiday or city break. For me, it’s all about finding that balance between big blowouts and treating yourself, to the times when you’re making every penny stretch. I find you appreciate one so much more when you’ve experienced the other, and you learn a heck of a lot more about money along the way. I was lucky enough to live the Absolutely Fabulous lifestyle of dreams last weekend when I was invited to review The Mandeville Hotel. In a collaboration with Maison Christian Lacroix, the entire fifth floor of this luxury boutique hotel was redesigned with each room telling a different story from the French Riviera, based on Maison Lacroix’s “Belles Rives” Collection. It was perfectly timed as the final weekend I would get to spend in London before I jet back off to the other side of the world, and as a couture treat before I head back to a life of hostels.imageimageSituated just a five minute walk from Bond Street Station, the hotel is perfectly located for a weekend of shopping and sightseeing. Actually, I was so impressed at how close it was to one of the busiest parts of London, and yet the hotel seemed a million miles away from the hustle and bustle. It was actually a lot more peaceful in the streets surrounding the hotel with people sitting out to eat and drink in restaurants. As we walked up to the hotel excited to experience the decadence of Lacroix, we were greeted by the friendly staff who offered to take our bags to the room and organise any restaurants or taxis we might require during or after our stay. As we headed up to our room, we were left to check out the fifth floor makeover. All the rooms have their own individual flair and style, from The Jardin Exotique to Midnight Blue telling the story of the secret midnight bathing society, all telling beautiful stories with inspirations from Lacroix’s upbringing combined with Grace Kelly’s ‘To Catch a Thief’.imageIf you’re like me and have grown up on the antics of Eddie and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous, you’ll probably have been just as excited as I was when the new movie came out. So to get to stay in a hotel that was every bit as fabulous as the crazy pair was one of my best London experiences yet! You’ll see from the photos the decor was over the top in all the right ways and combined bright, clashing patterns and accessories with sleek designs to ensure maximum comfort. We were staying in The Jewel Box room, which combined Classic Lacroix with whimsical colours and bejeweled designs inspired by Grace Kelly’s stolen Cartier jewels. The lace and mantillas worn by women in The Camargue inspires the Macarena lace wallpaper around the room, balanced with classic Lacroix silver and black striped wallpaper, a true haven for fashion lovers. I was completely taken aback by the room when I walked it, it just screamed Absolutely Fabulous and I was so excited to be staying there. After the long journey, it was nice just to pop on the robes provided and have a coffee from the Nespresso machine in our room (I know where was the Bolly darling?!) and just take in the luxury.  Heading into the gorgeous white marble bathroom, there were a selection of lovely products there to enjoy as I got ready.imageimageThat night, after dinner and cocktails, we headed back to the hotel and I couldn’t wait to get a good night’s sleep. It turned out the room was the perfect place to relax on a Sunday evening, not a single sound from the street outside or the other rooms could be heard while we watched a movie. And when it was time for lights out, the room fell to complete darkness and silence. Combined with that incredible comfy bed and the lovely turndown service that had cleaned the room and organised the pillows for us, I was in heaven. It was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. I woke up with a big smile on my face and ready to take on the hotel’s breakfast – we’d been booked in for the full English breakfast with continental. Now I never normally order a full English breakfast so I was quite excited to have one for the first time in years – and I was so impressed with the high quality of everything on the plate, including the perfectly poached eggs. Plus over on the continental table there was plenty of fresh yoghurt, juices, fruit and muesli to choose from, as well as platters of croissants and pastries. It was the breakfast of dreams and with checkout not being until 12pm, I took advantage of the opportunity to go back to bed and catch up on even more sleep.imageimageI’d just like to say a huge thank you to all of the staff at the hotel for making our stay there exceptional. I felt so welcome from the second I walked in the door and they really worked hard to make sure every tiny detail was thought of and catered for. It really is a mark of excellence when you don’t have to think of anything the whole way through your stay and come away from a weekend in London feeling rested and content – normally my weekends there leave me feeling exhausted. The Mandeville Hotel is perfect for a luxury treat if you’re visiting London for a special occasion, at £317 a night for the room and full English breakfast, it is expensive but I can assure you it is worth every penny. Staying at the hotel is a whole experience that goes far beyond just a bed for the night, and one I would really recommend to anyone who fancies treating themselves. Find out more or book to stay at the website.

Have you stayed at The Mandeville Hotel – how was your stay? What other luxury hotels would you recommend in London?

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Fairytales & Legends Day | Norfolk

imageOn Sunday, I had a chance to live out all the dreams of five-year-old me. I was helping out a friend by working an event she had organised in the town where I live – Fairytales and Legends was right up my street, a day filled with Disney princesses, superheroes and dragons. First of all, serious kudos goes to my friend Abbie Panks who organised an absolutely amazing event that filled the town with families and countless excited children in fancy dress and face paints. It was an amazing feat, especially if you know quite how many other responsibilities she has that take up huge amounts of her time. I was so excited to be a part of the event – let’s be honest, anything that gives me an excuse to wear a pink crown and lots of glitter is automatically awesome – but this was such a fun day.imageI was dispatched straight away on important glass slipper and treasure placement, followed by princess liaison duties – yes I will be updating my CV accordingly. And then was sent off as an escort for Batman, Captain America and Spiderman for the day. Essentially I was a bodyguard for Batman, I was mistaken for Captain America’s girlfriend and spent the afternoon preventing Spiderman from being rugby tackled by kids high on e-numbers and groped by some rather forward grandmothers. It was absolutely hilarious. Later in the afternoon I also managed to sneak some photos with the princesses and hung out with Olaf and the girls from Frozen, plus had a lovely chat with the Fairy Godmother. A pretty good day in all! I won’t chat on any longer – instead enjoy some of my pics from the day.imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

Did you go to the Fairytales & Legends event – what did you think? Which is your favourite Disney princess?

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Health | The budget spa experience you have to try

13510960_10153587157897617_7263956946886594826_nI’m pretty good at living on a backpacker’s budget now, but sometimes you just fancy a bit of luxury. I’ll never be the kind of girl who wants to spend thousands on an expensive getaway when I could make my money spread a bit further and still treat myself. For me, the real luxury is being able to escape and live well for longer instead of enjoying a short blast of freedom, but not everyone has the option of taking a year out to go backpacking, nor does everyone like the idea of budget travel. Now I’m back in the UK, I don’t plan to stop travelling and until my return to Australia, I’m breaking up my time with trips away. Before I went away, my mum and I used to have regular spa days together, every few months we would head away for a day of complete rest, relaxation and a heavy dose of pampering. Both working stressful jobs, it was lovely to just have a day where we didn’t have to think about work, or anything else other than where our next massage was coming from. I really believe in the importance of looking after your own health and well-being by keeping fit, eating well and allowing time to really relax and recuperate. Visiting a spa is a great way of really giving you a day off from life, a chance to turn your phone off and really get some space.

I’ve posted about this spa experience before but I still can’t believe how many people don’t seem to know about the amazing deals available. Even when you need a day of pure indulgence, there is always a great offer that can help you get the most out of your money. So, what am I on about? I’m talking about Aqua Sana Spa at Centreparcs, now it may not be the first place you think of when you start planning a spa retreat but perhaps it should be. I’m not usually one for chains but in this case I’m happy to make an exception for such an amazing experience, I have yet to find a spa that rivals the quality I’ve found there, and trust me, I’ve done the research. We always go to the Elveden retreat, which is our closest, and I convinced it’s the best one after experiencing the Sherwood spa and finding it a bit lacking. Surrounded by woodland and beautiful countryside, even the drive there is relaxing, and from the second you walk in the door you are being endlessly pampered by the amazing staff there. We always say it must be a wonderful place to work, so relaxing. We always check out the deals available at the time on the website, but usually end up paying around £100 each for a full day in the spa, with breakfast and lunch included, and a luxury treatment.IMG_6553This time, we went for the Brighten and Glow spa day for two, which gave us the chance to try out the Elemis skin brightening facial and luxurious Frangipani hot stones massage – and yes, it is every bit as fabulous as it sounds. I love that the treatment pampers every bit of your body and uses only products not tested on animals and using minimal parabens – it’s much better for the environment and it’s much better for your health. Before our treatment, we were treated to a delicious breakfast in the Vitale cafe where we indulged in pastries and coffees before hitting the spa. We had a few hours before our treatments so we decided to start with a swim in the outdoor heated pool, this is always such a treat when the weather outside is rubbish. We stood with the high pressure jets massaging our necks and floated around the empty pool before heading into the steam rooms. Now this is the bit that sets Aqua Sana apart from all other spas I have experienced, it offers 15 different spa experiences including a range of steam rooms with essential oils and herbs from all over the world and saunas. My favourite rooms are the Japanese Salt Steam room, the Balinese and the Indian steam rooms – I just love the gentle floral aromas and they really feel like they’re doing your skin good. You can rinse off afterwards with one of the multi-sensory showers to rejuvenate your skin and refresh before checking out the meditation room or zen garden.

When you’re taken through to your spa treatment, the ladies give you a completely relaxing experience tailored to your skin type and preferences. They’re extremely attentive and some of the best beauty treatments I’ve had have been at the Aqua Sana, with sensitive skin like mine it’s important to have a therapist who listens. The whole experience is utterly luxurious and you come away feeling like a new woman, my skin felt like a newborn baby’s and my muscles were finally relaxed after two years of hostel beds. After a tasty lunch, it was time for a waterbed nap – always a highlight of the day – especially if you can score one of the bigger outdoor beds which are especially nice when you’re wrapped up in your complimentary robe. Throughout the spa, there are several stations where you ca reapply products throughout the day and test others, sometimes the therapists will also bring round products for you to try which is lovely. Everything is thought of when you are at the spa, you don’t spend a single second thinking because everything is already as special as it could be. There are limited numbers allowed in the spa, which really helps to keep the exclusive feeling as some just come for a morning or afternoon session.IMG_6625One top tip not to miss out on during your visit, the Discovery Sessions are something I had never attended until my most recent visit but are something I wouldn’t miss in future. These short sessions take place periodically throughout the day and led by a beauty therapist, they teach you about the Elemis and Decleor products and how to apply them. As a big beauty product lover, this was a good excuse to try out some of the other amazing products they have to offer. But it also meant we found out about an amazing deal on a Decleor multipack of products – normally selling at over £50, it was reduced down to £19 with further discounts for attending the session. It was an amazing deal, so I treated me and my mum to a pack each – we would never have known about the dramatic price reduction had we not been in the session, so they’re definitely worth attending for discounts on the ranges. All in all, it was a fabulous day, and long overdue as a birthday present to the both of us. If you ask me, you can’t beat a mummy-daughter day spent eating delicious food, being pampered and relaxing on waterbeds. Click here to book your spa experience at Aqua Sana, or to read more about what treatments are available.

Can you recommend any other luxury spa experiences for those on a budget? What’s your favourite spa treatment?

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