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You all know by now how much I love epic festivals but sadly it’s been a while since my last one. So I’ve teamed up with Holidays by Destination2 to talk about some of the amazing festivals around the world which could give you a travel experience to remember. Whether it’s a food festival, a religious celebration or even a huge music festival. There’s nothing like combining travel with epic festivals to really turn an average trip into a one you won’t forget. I remember a few years back when I was invited to cover Hideout Festival in Croatia for the website I worked for, cue turning it into an epic 10 day holiday with a huge group of mates and it’s definitely a trip I will always remember.

Throughout my travels I’ve stumbled upon all kinds of amazing local celebrations from Chinese New Year and comedy festivals, to Tamil parades and even street parties across Germany, the UK, Australia and Asia. There’s something special about joining in the local celebrations, you don’t just look at a new culture, you become a part of it and for me, that’s what travel is all about. I’ve picked out six festivals from all corners of the globe that offer completely different and unique experiences. Whether you’re traveling in Europe or as far as Asia, there is always a way to get involved and join the festival atmosphere. Next time you’re planning a trip, why not check out what events are going on in the local area? It’s a great way to meet people when you travel and to have an extra-special travel experience. Here are just some of the epic festivals that are waiting for you:

Six epic festivals to squeeze into your travels

Pic by IZATRINI.com

Trinidad & Tobago Carnival, Caribbean

When? March 4-5

What could possibly make your trip even better than celebrating life itself? Filled with energy, vitality, the brightest costumes and colours and the intoxicating, hip-shaking sounds of Calypso and Soca music, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is the biggest of all epic festivals in the Caribbean. I’ve not been lucky enough to travel to this part of the world yet but it’s definitely high on my bucket list, and when I go there, I know I want to party, so how better to plan a trip than to coincide with such an epic and well-known event? The festival was originally created in the 18th century to imitate and mock the pre-Lent celebrations of the plantation owners, but took on a life of it’s own following the abolishment of slavery. Head to this festival to join the greatest street parade in the world, join the revelry by dancing all day and all night, drinking in the sights and sounds of Caribbean life. Read more about the history of this event here.

Epic festivals in Vietnam

Pic by Carla Cometto

Hoi An Lantern Festival, Vietnam

When? Every month! Full list of dates here

Hoi An was one of my absolute favourite parts of Vietnam, such a beautiful little town with such a rich history and heritage. You can read all about my trip there in this post. I’m so sad that during my week there I didn’t manage to see the lantern festival when the colourful little town comes alight and you can really appreciate it in all it’s splendour. Each day once the sun sets, the villagers light lanterns as part of a centuries-old tradition for the locals to give offerings and worship their ancestors by setting the lanterns into the river. At 8pm, all the town’s lights are turned off so you can really see the town aglow. The best time to go is the first full moon of the lunar new year when the most people will gather, but the event does happen every month so its an easy one to fit in with your travels.

Six epic festivals to squeeze into your travels

Pic by Carrotmadman6

Maha Shivaratri, Mauritius

When? February 13

Some of you might not know but my dad’s side of the family come from Mauritius, and although I have been to visit twice, I haven’t been for around 10 years. I would love to go back and see how the country has changed since I last visited, and what better time to go than when the biggest Hindu festival outside of India is taking place? When we’re talking epic festivals, Maha Shivaratri lasts a whopping five days and see nearly 500,000 people (almost half the population of the Indian Ocean island) dressing in white and joining a procession towards the lake of Grand Bassin. Celebrating the victory of Shiva and Vishnu on Brahma, the pilgrims consider the lake to be an extension of the Ganges, making offerings and bathing in the water. Visitors will be treated to quite a sight and will also have the opportunity to admire one of the tallest statues in the Indian Ocean

Six epic festivals to squeeze into your travels

Pic by Leocadio Sebastian

Thaipusam, Kuala Lumpur

When? January/February

Another Hindu festival but this time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I was back in November. We had just one day in the city but made sure to visit the Batu Caves which were astounding. During Thaipusam the celebrations attract over a million people who gather in the city and join a procession which walks the 15km to the caves, taking around 8 hours. Quite a sight, and the festival normally attracts around 10,000 tourists. Looking for epic festivals in Asia? This one is all about putting your body through torture to appease the Lord, so we’re talking incredible body piercings using hooks, sewers and small lances – when it comes to crazy festivals I think this one is definitely up there and I can’t imagine what it must be like to actually be there and see all of these amazing sights. If you’re traveling in Asia, Kuala Lumpur is such an easy stopover and a great place to spend 24 hours, we were there for just 10 hours and had loads of time to get out of the airport and to explore lots of different sights – read my post here.

Epic festivals in Abu Dhabi

Pic by Ryan Hurril

Abu Dhabi Film Festival

When? October

The Middle East always looks like such a fascinating and beautiful place to travel, I know that it has had a bad rep for the political strife in some countries, but I know so many people who have traveled to this part of the world and have raved about their experiences. Israel, Jordan, Iran and Oman have been on my travel list for a while, and when you have great places to stopover such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, why not build a festival into the trip? One of the most anticipated cultural events in the city, visitors can learn more about the vibrant film culture in the Middle East by seeing the talents of Arab directors pitted against some of the world’s most respected filmmakers. If you love creative talent and want to experience more Arab cinema, this is the festival for you, it’s about time Western travelers spent more time in this beautiful part of the world.

Epic festivals in SpainPic by Łukasz Lech

La Tomatina, Spain

When? Last Wednesday of August

Who doesn’t love a food fight? Here’s the perfect combination of epic festivals and a crazy food fight experience! If you’re planning any European travels this summer, why not time your trip with a stop in sunny Spain for the world’s biggest food fight? La Tomatina is held in Bunol, near Valencia, and each year it attracts thousands from all over the world to join in the crazy, messy fun as more than 100 tonnes of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets. Since 2013 the event has been officially ticketed which has limited numbers to just 20,000 so be sure to grab tickets so you don’t miss out. I’m allergic to tomatoes and extremely resentful of having to try and avoid eating them, so this just sounds like so much fun to get even by throwing tomatoes in the streets!

Have you been to any festival celebrations abroad – how was your experience? Would you plan a trip around a festival? Which of these festivals would you love to attend?

Six epic festivals to squeeze into your travels

After spending a month exploring the wild landscape of Sri Lanka, we were keen to relax and spend the next two weeks on the beach soaking up every last bit of sun before heading back to a European winter. It had been a month of constant movement and amazing adventures, but after a while you really start to need some time to just chill and we were long overdue for an actual holiday. Originally we had planned to spend two weeks exploring the Maldives but sadly bad weather put paid to those plans. So when the team at Ammatara Pura Pool Villas invited us along to stay with them in Thailand where we were promised a lovely 30 degrees, we quickly snapped up their offer. Now if you guys remember correctly, I was actually in Thailand three years ago so it felt amazing to be returning to the country that started off my three years of travelling and to be doing it with my boyfriend who was visiting for the first time. I couldn’t wait to share my experiences with him and to relive some of my favourite moments with him by my side.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandThe last time I was in Thailand – despite spending three months exploring the country – I never made it to Koh Samui and always wondered if I had missed out. Arriving on the island, we were glad to see the sun shining after a particularly stormy few days on Koh Tao where the roads had been flooded more thank ankle-deep with rainwater. I couldn’t believe the sheer size of the island, compared to Koh Tao and Koh Phanang it seemed huge and a lot more commercialised, but we quickly moved out of the busiest areas as our minibus made it’s way to the resort. The island is very much made up of resorts from the budget-friendly to the utmost in 5* luxury, but there is a trip to suit all. We were excited for our next adventure to be taking us to quieter area of Lamai Beach, where the extreme luxury of the Ammatara Pura Pool Villas awaited us. Arriving at the gates, we were instantly bowled over by the incredible palatial buildings and knew we were in for a real treat. As you can see from the photos, it really was an absolutely beautiful place, a real oasis in the midst of busy Koh Samui.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandImagine waking up in the morning in your enormous princess-worthy bed then wandering out of your own private garden villa to find your own private pool with jacuzzi waiting just outside. Just metres away you can glimpse white sandy beaches, palm trees and fresh coconuts, and the sounds of the ocean wash over you. Styled after a 1,200 year old Thai palace, the villas and restaurant are set around a stunning temple, swimming pool and gardens for the exclusive use of the guests. With just 18 of these incredibly luxurious private villas on the property, the boutique resort offers complete privacy and a chance to really unwind on the holiday of your dreams. After so long spent on the road, we were very much in need of a real treat and a chance to just relax and we couldn’t have found a better place to do it. This amazing getaway gives visitors the chance to live like royalty during their stay, designing their perfect holiday with an attentive staff who are always on hand to make it a reality.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandI won’t lie, I felt like an absolute princess during our visit. The enormous villas are the epitome of luxury and have everything you need and everything you never dreamed you might have. From the beautiful outdoor rain shower and the huge jacuzzi bath, to the walk-in wardrobe and the gorgeous bed draped in the softest sheets which overlooks the swimming pool. With a choice of the sea view villas or the garden view, each had it’s own private area complete with a patio, balcony, swimming pool with jacuzzi. We spent our days basking in the sunshine, splashing around in our own private pool overlooking the ocean or dining in the resort’s beachfront restaurant on the most delicious Thai cuisine. Can we just talk about the food for a second? We’re talking not just some of the most delicious Thai food I have eaten, but amazing Western options, plenty for vegetarians and even halal. We were greeted with fresh juices and breakfast each morning was an international feast of delectable delights from all over the world.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandThe Thai owners pride themselves in the resort remaining a truly independent hotel and ensure the friendly staff are there for your every need during your stay. For guests who are looking to be pampered, the resort boasts a stunning open air yoga centre, complete with a panoramic ocean view, a fitness room equipped with state of the art machines and a spa with a huge range of treatments. The resort lies just a short and complimentary tuk-tuk ride away from the centre of Lamai, which is filled with restaurants, bars and entertainment. We had a great night when we went to watch Thai boxing at a bar in town for free, and there are plenty of opportunities to book tours or trips from the travel agents. For those who wish to explore further afield, the island lies just a couple of hours by ferry to nearby Koh Phanang and Koh Tao.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandIt really was a perfect way to round off our time spent travelling around Asia and I can’t imagine a more luxurious place to treat yourself, and your partner, to a romantic few days by the ocean. Fancy a taste of luxury? You can book a villa for your next visit to Thailand here.

Where is the most luxurious place you have stayed? Where was your favourite place in Thailand? Did you like Koh Samui?

Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | Thailand

There’s nothing better than spending an afternoon with your favourite people indulging in tea, cake and a lot of laughs. Since being back in the UK I’m doing my best to organise as many fun reunions with friends and family as possible, to make the most of every second I have here before I continue with my travels. When I was invited along to try K West Hotel and Spa’s Glamrock Afternoon Tea, there was only one person I wanted to invite along – my mum. We always try to organise regular mummy-daughter days to treat ourselves with a day at the spa, cocktails or shopping, but afternoon tea would be a new one for us. Surprising, considering how much we both like cake! When I’m away on my travels we always have to postpone our special days so we try our best to catch up when I’m back and to really treat ourselves.Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK TravelAs you walk in the doors of the hotel, you’re instantly bathed in the cosmopolitan vibe from the bold colours and luxurious decorations to the busy and well-stocked bar. Set just down the road from Shepherd’s Bush tube station, the hotel is the perfect place to indulge in a really girly day with a spa on the premises and West 12 Shopping Centre just round the corner. Guided upstairs to the restaurant, you still retain the atmosphere of the bar downstairs but gain a little privacy to enjoy your dining experience. Given a warm welcome by our server, we were instantly in the glam rock mood as we heard the sounds of Steve Harley, Cockney Rebel, Blondie, Slade and even a bit of T.Rex. Having a mother who loved a bit of glam rock back in her day meant we were both singing and dancing along.Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK TravelThe Glamrock Afternoon Tea has lots of different options available from the classic afternoon tea, to the Glamrock Prosecco or Champagne Afternoon Tea, or even the Rock’n’Cocktails Tea. We couldn’t resist trying out the Rock’n’Cocktails Tea after seeing the amazing cocktail menu and the huge range of teas available to try. After glancing over the menu, we started on our first round of tea – the Tea Rex! This bespoke K West tea offers a more daring cup of tea with a bold, smokey flavour and a soothing floral aftertaste – it’s really delicious and left us excited to try some more of their exciting blends. Later on I tried the Very Berry tea which is actually made from dried fruit and was heavenly, while mum tried the Cherry Blossom which was beautifully delicate on the taste-buds. There were several other fascinating ones to try including the Bobby Marley Blend and the Rooibos Orange and Cactus Fig.Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK TravelDiffering from the classic afternoon tea, this one has a rather more glamorous twist with plenty of flavours to tantalise your taste-buds. If you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth but don’t fancy the traditional cakes of an afternoon tea, this one if perfect for you with lots of delicate sweet treats on offer. Starting on the savoury items we had a range of mini-sandwiches with fillings such as hummus and rocket or avocado, my favourite smoked salmon and cream cheese and some absolutely delicious halloumi, guacamole and tomato rainbow rolls. Then, we moved on to the delicious scones – my highlight of the afternoon tea – they were so tasty and served with strawberry jam, clotted cream and fresh berries. Before indulging our sweet tooth with no end of goodies from sugar confetti mini eclairs to cocktail macaroons and marshmallow, chocolate and nut sprinkles cones. We were in foodie heaven and were delighted when the staff brought us some more of the savoury snacks.Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK TravelOf course, we couldn’t resist trying one of the amazing cocktails on offer for the Rock’n’Cocktails Tea – after taking a look at the menu, we both went for the Yo Snow which is gin infused with Campari, Martini Rosso and Prosecco Vaporetto with lemonade. It was the perfect accompaniment to all the sweet treats and the crisp, tangy flavours were really refreshing – it was exactly the kind of cocktail I would want to make for my girls at home. They really embraced the seasonal flavours for the winter-themed Glamrock Afternoon Tea and I’d be intrigued to see how these change throughout the year. At the end of the afternoon, we were sad to leave after having such a fabulous treat and such wonderful service. Our waitress was fantastic and was keen to recommend teas or cocktails she thought we might like to try, she really made sure to give us the best afternoon tea experience. A huge thank you to K West Hotel and Spa for having us along, and if you want to book in for afternoon tea – click here.Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK Travel

What are your favourite afternoon tea treats? Who would you like to take along for a Glam Rock Afternoon Tea? Can you recommend any other afternoon teas?

Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK Travel

Imagine sitting at the edge of Sri Lanka’s wildest jungle surrounded by fireflies, and with elephants and wild leopards just beyond the fence, as you tantalise your tastebuds with a five-course feast by candlelight.

It sounds magical doesn’t it? Basically the ultimate date night, and that was our reality when we were lucky enough to stay at Yala Safari Camping during our month-long trip to Sri Lanka. The three days we spent living in the jungle were beyond anything we could have dreamed, it really was a true taste of paradise and gave us a whole other experience to just going on a day safari, this way we were as close as you could get to jungle life. It’s not every day you get to live an experience worthy of honeymoon standard with your boyfriend, and it’s one that will stay with us forever.Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National ParkYala Safari Camping is the creation of Mahesh Kumara, who along with a team of friends, has grown up in the area alongside nature and has spent the last few years turning a plot of his family’s land into a truly unique safari camp experience. Starting out several years ago by offering luxury camping trips into Yala National Park, his team offered an experience like no other, but Mahesh had a vision for ultimate in luxury safaris which has now been realised on the very borderline of the national park. After designing and building the luxury safari tents himself, Mahesh has now finally seen his dream become a reality with the formation of a beautiful luxury camp just metres away from the park entrance. Think huge tents with private bathrooms and four poster beds, sunken bath tubs in the floor of the tent and fantastic room service – as Mahesh describes it, a real “heaven in the wilderness”.Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National ParkWe were expecting great things after everything we had seen on the website, but when we arrived at the camp we were genuinely bowled over by the sheer luxury and beauty of the site. Our tent, which you’ll see from the gorgeous pictures, was huge and had everything and more we could have ever hoped for. The sunken bath in the floor was absolute bath goals to the extreme and trust me, one of the first things we did was to have a lovely long bubble bath – a real treat for long term travellers. Our tent was set alongside a watering hole which we were told was often used by wild leopards and other jungle creatures during the dry season – I couldn’t help but wake up early each morning to see if I could spot any wildlife. This was a really magical few days of going to sleep to the sound of tree frogs and crickets chirping, and waking to the sounds of deer rustling in the bushes. The fact that you are just so close to the national park really does set Yala Safari Camping apart from other safari experiences in Sri Lanka, this is the closest you can get to staying in the jungle while still being treated to every luxury and more.

Read: Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary from Colombo
Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National ParkSet away from the nearby town, you stay in total isolation with nothing but wildlife for up to 10 km. The eco-friendly campsite uses solar power for their entire power supply and has cleverly used building techniques and special leaves for roofing to keep the tents cool and ventilated. The campsite also features a lovely lounge and dining area for the meals which are cooked by the incredible chef onsite, think mouth-watering traditional Sri Lankan cuisine with plenty of international options cooked to a 5* quality. Trust me, we couldn’t get enough of the food, it was some of the best we had while travelling in Sri Lanka and introduced us to a whole selection of local dishes we hadn’t yet tried. The chef even grows a lot of his own vegetables and herbs on site, so everything is freshly prepared for every meal, cocktail and snack.Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National ParkLooking to fill your time while staying at Yala Safari Camping? There’s endless options for trips and safaris to keep you entertained and the team are eager to show you the area. While there, we spent a whole day on safari exploring Yala National Park which was really magical and we even spotted wild leopards deep in the jungle! The team have a Land Rover Defender Puma on hand to handle all the rough roads and to take you to parts of the jungle you might not otherwise see. You have a choice of which area you would prefer to pinpoint and what sights you want to see – from the coastal parks of the park, to the deepest jungle where the elephants and leopards hide. We had the best day spotting monkeys swinging through the trees and elephants gorging themselves on plants, then enjoying our lunch out by the beaches and visiting a nearby fishing village before heading leopard spotting in the afternoon. Our guides were fantastic and obviously knew the area much better than the other safari guides we saw who continually asked ours for help to find the leopards. There were also opportunities for bush walks, mountain hikes, bird watching, visiting nearby sights and temples and much more. Check out some suggested itineraries here.

Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National Park

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to visit somewhere as incredible as Yala Safari Camping, and I’m even happier I had the chance to experience it with someone as special as my boyfriend. It’s the perfect place to visit with a loved one, or even take the whole family and fill up all the safari tents for a totally unique Sri Lankan experience.

Find out more and click here to book via the website.

Have you stayed in any unique accommodation? What’s the most unusual? Are you more of a camper or a glamper?

Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National Park

I’m really excited to be sharing this post with you guys today, because not only was it a real highlight of my Sri Lanka trip, but it was also what sparked the inspiration behind the trip. Although Sri Lanka has always been a place that really ignited my imagination, it had slipped to the back of my mind and wasn’t really on my list of priorities. But when an email from the team behind Diyabubula Hideaway dropped into my inbox, suddenly Sri Lanka shot pretty quickly to the top of my must-travel list. Talking about the creative atmosphere, the beautiful and historical location, the nearby national parks where hundreds of elephants gather – read more about this here – my imagination was captured and I couldn’t stop talking about it. My boyfriend was curious and eager for our holiday not to end, so he decided that we were going to Sri Lanka after we left Australia, my dreams were becoming a reality and we couldn’t wait to explore this whole new world. Diyabubula Hideaway was the perfect place to celebrate the halfway point of our month in this amazing country and we couldn’t have been more grateful for a chance to spend a few days in this wonderful, natural, creative space.Sri Lanka | Diyabubula Hideaway - the perfect artistic escape | DambullaNormally I would write quite in-depth about the property, but to be honest, I think the pictures speak for themselves. The place was absolutely beautiful from the second you walked through the gates, lush green vegetation adorning every building and inviting you to breathe in the fresh air and the sights and sounds. It was magical, with every luxury you can imagine, plus the freedom and the independence to explore at your own pace with a team who would work around your plans to provide you with the finest food and service. We stayed in an overwater villa which was absolutely stunning and reminiscent of the treehouse experience I had dreamt of when I knew I was coming to Sri Lanka.Sri Lanka | Diyabubula Hideaway - the perfect artistic escape | DambullaThe rooms were peaceful and luxurious with a huge bathroom and walk-in closet, an enormous bed overlooking the balcony where we would watch monkeys play. We were quite lucky to experience all weathers when we were there – both glorious sunshine and one evening a torrential rainstorm which was quite magical to watch through the windows, and to fall asleep to the sound of raindrops drumming on the roof. The room also came with a small kitchen with basic amenities and a lounge area downstairs.Sri Lanka | Diyabubula Hideaway - the perfect artistic escape | DambullaFound in central Sri Lanka, in a town called Dambulla at the edge of the Cultural Triangle, the accommodation is the creation of renowned Sri Lankan artist Laki Senanayake who designed the place as a hideaway to compliment his water garden. With just five villas available at this luxury lodge, it defines “boutique luxury” and offers each guest the finest pace to escape from the busy cities and to explore the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka.Sri Lanka | Diyabubula Hideaway - the perfect artistic escape | DambullaWith some of the country’s oldest temples, ancient cities and astounding national parks right on your doorstep, there is so much to do in the local area and the helpful, and attentive staff can organise transport and guides for you. If you’re less interested in the area and more in a creative escape, you’re in the right place as artist Laki actually lives at the property in his own minimalist space. Each evening guests are invited to join him at his place for an amazing light and music show he has created himself, and to spend the night in discussion with the artist himself.Sri Lanka | Diyabubula Hideaway - the perfect artistic escape | DambullaI was so disappointed to find out Laki was away travelling at the time of our visit as I would have loved to have met him and to have heard more about his vision. But we still had the pleasure of exploring his quarters and enjoying the amazing sculptures dotted around the property, plus his amazing light show each evening. If you’re a creative type yourself, this could be the perfect opportunity to indulge in creating your own art as I’ve heard Laki loves his visitors to try their hand at creating during their visit.Sri Lanka | Diyabubula Hideaway - the perfect artistic escape | DambullaOverall, an absolutely amazing stay that treated us to the ultimate luxury at this beautiful boutique lodge, and some well-needed peace and tranquility. After weeks of travelling non-stop and throwing ourselves into all of the activities, it was lovely to take some time to just relax and to have somewhere so peaceful and beautiful to do it. A huge thanks to all of the amazing staff who were so welcoming and who really made our stay at Diyabubula Hideaway a pleasure.


The rooms have different rates available – for the water villa we stayed in you can have half board for 200 euros a night or full board for 220 euros per night. (There are not many restaurants nearby and the food at Diyabubula is amazing so I would recommend full board) Or, if you fancy trying the tree house or bamboo grove, you can have half board for 180 euros or 200 euros for full board. All of these prices are for a double rather than a single. I personally think this accommodation is worth every penny and will make your stay in Sri Lanka even more magical. I really cannot recommend this place enough and although I received gifted accommodation in this case, all views remain honest and all my own. Click here for more info and to book.

Would you like to stay at Diyabubula Hideaway? Can you recommend any other accommodation in Sri Lanka? What are your priorities when booking accommodation?

Sri Lanka | Diyabubula Hideaway - the perfect artistic escape | Dambulla

One thing I really loved about Sri Lanka was that it wasn’t just beaches and cities, there was a whole other side to the country, a wild, rugged jungle waiting to be explored. With plans to explore not one, but three national parks along the way, I was excited at the thought of staying in the depths of the jungle with wild elephants and leopards hiding just beyond the boundary lines. So I was very excited when Wilpattu Treehouse invited us to come and stay with them for a few nights while we explored Wilpattu National Park up in the north-west of the country. We arrived at Wilpattu after around five hours on the buses travelling from Habarana in the Cultural Triangle and found Wilpattu to be tinier than we had imagined. With just one street heading off the main road, there are limited accommodations aimed specifically at those visiting the park. When planning your trip, you wouldn’t need much time in the area, just one full day for a safari would suffice, with a day set aside before and after for travel times.

Wilpattu National Park

This sanctuary was declared a national park in 1938 and lies just 188km away from the capital, Colombo, with Wilpattu Treehouses situated just a minute’s drive from the park entrance. Visitors to the area can take full or half day jeep safaris in the park through several companies, where they can spot the likes of the Sri Lankan elephant and leopard, sloth bear, spotted deer, buffalo, sambar and mongoose. The park is also fantastic for birdwatching and has an interesting array of flora scattered amongst the dry, dense jungle which couldn’t be more different to that of Yala’s National Park. February to October is considered prime time to visit, however, we visited in late November and had amazing sightings of most animals plus perfectly fine weather. If you are arriving by public bus as we did, ask the bus driver to alert you when you arrive as you could easily miss the tiny town. Jump off the bus and grab a tuk-tuk which should cost no more than 400 rupees to drive you the 7km to the edge of the National Park where the treehouses can be found.


Now I want to take a moment to just point out that out of all the places I review and visit, whether I pay for them myself or are gifted accommodation, it is very rare that I am disappointed. I don’t write fake reviews or compromise my views for free stuff, I pride myself in being completely honest because otherwise what is the point in sharing my views? So when I am left disappointed by a place, I will also share my experiences with you so that you can make an informed decision over whether to visit during your own trip. In this case I was gifted three night’s accommodation, but have remained honest in my review.Sri Lanka | Wilpattu Treehouses - A disappointing jungle experience

Wilpattu Treehouse

In the case of Wilpattu Treehouses, I was left a little disappointed by our stay. I had been looking forward to staying there from the beginning of our trip and saw it as a great way to round off our time in the country. However, from the moment we arrived, I could tell it wasn’t to be quite the experience I had anticipated. We arrived at 3pm to find our room was still being cleaned which wasn’t a problem, we relaxed in the lobby with a fresh lime juice until our room became available. We were excited to check out the treehouse as we could see it through the trees and bushes across the yard, it would be overlooking the rice paddy just as I had hoped. After seeing images on Booking.com and the company’s website, I was eager to have a look inside. When we made our way upstairs, on first impression we were delighted with the room which was all wood finished as a treehouse should be. We had a lovely big balcony overlooking the rice paddy, a big comfortable bed to lounge on and a lovely little bathroom with a luxurious looking shower. The website had promised luxury so this is what we were expecting and we were instantly happy with our room, but upon closer inspection we found a few issues.

The hasty cleaning after the previous guests had left late had been less thorough than it should have been, leaving us with a filthy fridge and even mouse droppings on one of the beds! We also noticed that there wasn’t really a view from the balcony as the branches from the trees completely blocked any real sight of the rice paddy. And as the afternoon drew on, the mosquitos became rife but with no mosquito net in the room and gaps by the door, we were both bitten to pieces despite using bug spray and a room repellent. We later realised that the mouse droppings had not been the fault of a stray mouse but of a regular to the room who would run around the beams at the ceiling while we sat in bed. The creature would even scamper across the room leaving droppings in the bedroom and bathroom every time we left as he searched for crumbs. I could find it cute and outdoorsy except we left the room for less than an hour for dinner, and came back to find droppings on the bed and across the floor which we had to clean up.Sri Lanka | Wilpattu Treehouses - A disappointing jungle experience

We also had an issue with several chipmunks and small squirrels who would run across the same beams in the evenings looking for food. We had stayed in many jungle locations by this point and can definitely appreciate the nature, but we know it is not necessary to have issues with animal faeces being found around the room. Later we also had problems with the shower, which despite just the two of us thing showers once a day, started to flood and the water would take a long time to drain. When I mentioned to the staff, I was told to clear the drain myself and if it wasn’t fixed someone would be sent to check it in the morning, but no-one ever came.  During our three night stay, the rooms were not cleaned once, leaving us to tidy up the animal mess left behind and to deal with a shower that would not drain. Due to the remote location, there are no restaurants around so visitors to the site will be limited to eating meals at the accommodation. These are cooked onsite by the staff and include a mixture of Sri Lankan and western breakfast, and a three course dinner with vegetarian options available. While the food was certainly good enough to survive on, it was also some of the blandest and most uninspiring food I have eaten in Sri Lanka. I was disappointed by how tasteless the meals were after eating some delicious meals since being in the country at much cheaper accommodation.

My real disappointment stemmed from the fact that Wilpattu Treehouses claimed to be luxury accommodation on their website but that the food, service and accommodation was definitely not luxury quality. The staff were lovely, but they do need to work on making their guests feel a little more welcome, and they really should have more knowledge about the bus timetable for those arriving and leaving the area. Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed my experience of staying in Wilpattu on the very borderline of the national park and I really cannot complain about being so close for our safari. It was a beautiful treehouse and a fantastic location, very convenient for your safari stay and truly magical to return from a day of spotting leopards and wild elephants to still hear them from your balcony. We also really loved the next-door neighbours who were having a family celebration while we were there and it was lovely to hear the music throughout the day. I just found that the disappointment over some of the less desirable features of Wilpattu Treehouses outweighed the positives for me. We stayed in the deluxe triple room, and I felt the £95 a night price (Booking.com) was far too expensive for what I could not consider a luxury stay.

Have you been disappointed by a luxury stay? Or by any accommodation on your travels? Tell me about your worst travel accommodation experience?

Sri Lanka | Wilpattu Treehouses - A disappointing jungle experience

My first trip to Sri Lanka has brought with it some very exciting blogging opportunities, and the first of these was a really luxurious treat and welcome to this amazing country. I was invited to be the first blogger to visit and review the beautiful Dickman Resort – an adults only, luxury resort which has been hailed the first gay-friendly accommodation of its kind in the country. I was thrilled to be invited to somewhere so forward thinking and all-accepting, and couldn’t wait to see what the visit had in store. In the heart of Negombo, the resort is ideal for anyone just arriving or about to fly out and the staff pride themselves on giving the very best welcome or farewell to Sri Lanka. As we pulled up to the resort we were given the warm Sri Lankan welcome as we were invited inside with fresh passionfruit juice and a tour of the property, before being seen to our room and told to relax and enjoy.Sri Lanka | Our room, the Purple Suite overlooked the pool area and gave us a lovely view across the courtyard while still being tucked away neatly to give as much privacy as we wanted. Perfect for a travelling couple, the boutique resort is the perfect place to mingle with the staff and other travellers, or to give yourself complete privacy and alone time. Week-to-week the crowd changes – when we arrived it was many individual gay travellers but when we left there were several couples both gay and straight. But Dutch owner Mr Dickman make sure everyone feels welcome, always stopping to chat to everyone who is staying there and to make sure they have everything they need. Travelling with my boyfriend, we couldn’t have felt more welcome and it really was the most romantic few days. A perfect place for a couple to holiday together, the rooms are pure luxury and have everything you never even realised you deserved from gorgeous outdoor rain showers to a four poster bed, fresh fruits and background music to set the mood.Sri Lanka | Sri Lanka | After more than 48 hours travelling across Malaysia and Indonesia, it was the greatest pleasure to climb into the comfiest four poster bed and finally catch up on sleep. Waking up feeling refreshed, we headed to breakfast where we were greeted with fresh juice and delicious coffee, platters of fruit, omelettes, dhal, sambol and more – their tasty nod to both Western and Sri Lankan breakfast. An absolute feast, the meal was the perfect way to start the day and it was lovely to eat overlooking the beautiful courtyard with chipmunks running up and down the trees and birds calling overhead. A perfect place to spend a few hours reading, writing, or indulging in your favourite holiday pastimes, there are endless hidden corners and comfy spots to find a pew to while away the afternoon.Sri Lanka | Spend your days relaxing by the pool with amazing staff on hand for everything you need from towels and magazines to fresh watermelon, all of them so friendly and kind. Head to the shaded courtyard to lay in the hammock and read, or make yourself comfortable on one of the colourful couches and while away the afternoons. Just up the street are no end of restaurants, bars and shops if it takes your fancy to go for a wander, or talk to the staff and order in your meals for complete comfort. The staff can arrange for spa staff to pick you up and whisk you away for massages and spa treatments at a moment’s notice and are happy to arrange transport if you wish to visit any sights.

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It was a complete pleasure to stay at the Dickman Resort and a perfect way to start our Sri Lankan adventure, if you’re looking for a luxury treat then this is the one for you. Just 30 minutes from the airport, it’s a great way to relax into your trip after a long flight. Start your holiday the right way by booking in for a luxury treat here.

Have you stayed at any gay-friendly resorts around the world? Tell me – what is luxury to you? Have you been to Sri Lanka?

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Whether you’ve won the lottery and live that luxurious lifestyle we all dream of splurging on champagne and yachts, or you live penny to penny, trying to work out how many days you have to live off lentils to afford your next flight. All us travellers have something in common – a passion to explore all four corners of the globe in our own unique way. Some do it with a backpack and others with a private jet, but no matter what style we choose, we all deserve a little treat every now and again. After travelling solo for three years around the globe, I’ve lived a poor backpacker lifestyle, I’ve been a flashpacker with my nice little suitcase, and I’ve been lucky enough to see some serious luxury. But throughout all types of travelling across Europe, Asia and Australia, I’ve realised there are some key items every traveller should think about investing in if they plan to live this lifestyle in the long term. It may seem crazy to splurge on some of these things at the time, but by spending more and investing in yourself and your travels, you could save much more in the long term.

Luggage

Now I’m not saying pay a fortune for the latest matching designer luggage set, instead take a look at the things you rely on most and think long-term. If you live out of a backpack, spend a bit more to get one from a well-respected company with strong materials and a more streamlined/intelligent design. I bought an amazing one which doubles as a suitcase from Osprey that has been a fantastic investment.14632961_10153834001527617_5767082447313156092_nIf you prefer more glamorous travel, look at the aesthetics of your luggage but choose a classic style that will stay in fashion for years to come. Think about materials and perhaps choose a hard case that is lightweight and easy to manage. Lastly, why not pick a set with a suitcase, mini-weekend case and hand luggage?

Technology

Travelling long-term or regularly? If you work while you travel like I do, think about investing in a good quality laptop or tablet that will support your work and allow you to easily complete it on the move. Love to read or listen to music? Why not treat yourself to a Kindle and save yourself lots of space in your bag by not taking books, or an MP3 player to store your endless supply of music for all moods.14523115_10153840005047617_4481383336454260593_nMy must-have investment items are definitely my collection of chargers/adapters – I have a power pack that will charge my phone, iPad and iPod while on the move, it has saved my trip so many times, and a multi-country charger with various additions that will allow me to charge everything I own anywhere in the world. Neither were that expensive but they have both saved me a lot of hassle and time tracking individual chargers down later on.

Insurance

This one is pretty obvious but you’d be amazed how many people scrimp out and go for the cheap options instead of investing in something that could save their life and their possessions. I have an annual insurance policy that covers me for absolutely everything including watersports, snow sports, extreme activities, all my personal items from loss and theft, medical treatment and care plus a lot of other things including problems with transport when travelling. Luckily I haven’t had to claim anything yet and haven’t had to use it – and I hope it remains that way – but the knowledge that I have it there gives peace of mind to both my family and I.14708107_10153842197842617_334781896553787209_n

Clothing

Now I’ve always preferred to buy clothes as I travel for convenience and because I love to shop, but there are some items it is worth investing in and spending a little more. Whether you’re a fashionista or just need specific clothing for activities like hiking/camping or climbing/snow sports, it’s a good idea to get items that will last you a long time. For instance, I work out a lot so I always try to choose workout clothes that will also work for hiking trips and in materials that are suitable for all temperatures/exercises and will last long-term.16830801_10154209457697617_3572110742311591218_nI also love to party and to wear cute outfits, so while I always pick up bargains on the road, I have a few key items that I spent a bit more money on because I wear them almost daily depending on where I am. These include my leather jacket, jeans, bikinis, a big heavy jumper and a thick shirt – all of these get worn so much that I like to make sure I buy things I really love that make me feel good when I wear them and it evens out all my Primark bargains.

Equipment

If you regularly take part in extreme sports, camp or take part in other activities that require a lot of equipment then it’s a good idea to buy good quality materials and brands that you know will last you around the world and throughout your trip. Sometimes it’s work looking at second hand items which might still be in excellent condition for a better price than those available brand new.14720564_10153865035367617_6410758111454019500_n-1


Even if you’re living on a serious budget, don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and your travels. After all, this is a lifestyle you have chosen and you should be proud to support yourself with items you really need, it’s a choice that will help build your future as a traveller. Planning a trip to Tokyo? For a real taste of luxury, look no further than luxury hotels in Tokyo.

What are your favourite investments in travel? Can you recommend investing in other luxuries?

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I will always be a backpacker at heart, but even I cannot deny the dream of luxury travel. While I love the simplicity and the freedom of carrying my life on my back and being able to change my plans at the drop of a hat, luxury travel does give you a wealth of opportunities to stay in some incredible places and doing amazing things you only dreamt of until now. Having worked in hospitality at a rooftop bar in a 5* hotel, you soon get to grips with what takes a regular hotel stay and turns it into a luxurious one. It’s those tiny details, and most importantly the staff who really transform your experience. This combined with my experiences as a traveller has really showed me what defines the 5* experience and how you could get this on a budget to still live within your means while travelling.

Most importantly – you don’t have to be filthy rich to live like a queen on your holidays. You just have to be smart and do your research before you go. putting in a few hours of reading and booking time before you go can make a world of difference to your trip. Especially when it comes to planning your actual travel.13892178_10153669370592617_5126173372115806732_n

Travel tips for luxury on a budget

  1. Think carefully about how you spend your money, would you rather fly business class or spend that money on a nicer hotel at the other end? A few hours in economy won’t hurt if it improves your holiday overall. Or, vice versa, if you’re going to a life of backpacking and hostel beds but face a 2-day flight, you may want to invest in your seat by chasing an upgrade.
  2. If you’ve got a long layover, why not purchase some lounge passes? These give you access to luxury food and drink, massages and spa treatments, beds to sleep in, unlimited wifi and could make-or-break your time in the airport.
  3. Parking at the airport? Look into services where drivers will drop you off at the airport and pick you up after you arrive back – these can really make a difference and mean you don’t have to wait in line for a bus.

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Accommodation tips for luxury on a budget

  1. When picking your accommodation, look at websites that offer last minute bookings for much larger properties as you may find some spectacular deals if they have had little interest. Most renters would rather hire out their place for a reduced fare than for none at all.
  2. Sometimes it can be better to sacrifice the size of your room and to go for the smallest room in a 5* hotel instead of a larger room in a 4* just because of the amazing services available that could save you money elsewhere.
  3. When booking, look at whether adding in meals and booking a bed and breakfast package might save you money overall. Sometimes if you go off peak season, you might even find half board can be offered at drastically reduced rates which could save you a lot of money buying meals and will give you the 5* dining experience.
  4. Affordable options are quickly growing in popularity for this reason. These often feature the comfort of home with the extravagance of a 5* hotel. They offer a chance to go self-catering and cook for yourselves which can save a lot of money, and reduce your packing. Holiday rentals can save you even more money when traveling with a group of people, as many are made to accommodate a large group.

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Activity tips for luxury on a budget

  1. When planning your trip, try and get a big group together as this can save you a lot of money overall. Whether its a backpacking trip or family holiday, a group booking ca make a world of difference to the overall price. Plus you often get extra added bonuses and rewards for booking as a group.
  2. Look on apps like Groupon and others for discount treats when you’re in the big cities – it’s amazing what you can find on there, from massages and spa treatments to entry to big attractions and shopping deals.
  3. Depending on what country you are travelling to, know the standard rates for things like hiring a private driver for the day. I did this in Bali several times and it was such a cheap and great way to see the island. We had a private driver who would take us to each attraction and would wait until we were ready to move to the next. No cramped bus, no schedule, just luxury.
  4. Plan your whole trip as one and save a huge amount. When I did the East Coast of Australia – which can be a very expensive trip – I saved $$$ and even got free meals and activities out of it by booking the whole trip as one package in Sydney before I set off. It does put you on a schedule but it also gave us luxury upgrades like our own private cabin on our Whitsunday’s cruise.

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Fancying some serious luxury for your next adventure? Try a tailor-made holiday from Travelbag to one of countless worldwide locations.

It could be the trip you never forget.

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imageOkay so my travels kind of ran away with me and writing has taken a bit of a back seat lately. The last six weeks since I left home have given me endless reams of adventures to share with you all, but I just haven’t had enough time to sit with my laptop and actually write. It’s frustratingly satisfying when your life is so full that you don’t have time to share it, but I can’t help but miss the process of writing and sharing every step with you guys. So I’m here, I’m back guys, and I bring endless amazing photos, anecdotes and reviews of all the fabulous places I’ve been over the last few weeks. I’m writing this from Sydney Airport, halfway between Cairns and Tasmania, but I want to take you back in time a few weeks to when I first arrived in Bali. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay at Grandma’s Hotels in both Kuta and Seminyak during my first week in Bali and I think it’s about time I shared my experiences with you. I was invited along to review the two hotels and I was excited to check them out – as part of easing myself back into backpacker life it was nice to start out with all the luxuries of a hotel but perfectly aimed at business or budget travellers.image

Grandma’s Plus Hotel, Seminyak

We started off by spending a couple of nights at Grandma’s Plus Hotel in Seminyak and it was a perfect place to kick off my time in Bali. The hotel is perfectly positioned to enjoy all the bars, restaurants and nightlife Seminyak has to offer while also being right next to the beach. Despite being so close to several big clubs, the hotel is very peaceful and you wouldn’t even know that you were just down the road from some of the biggest nights out in the area. As we pulled up in the taxi, we were instantly impressed by the style and design of the hotel, unlike others on the street it looked almost as though it had been reclaimed by nature. The tropical greenery and vines wound through the walls and around the pathways throughout the building, it was such a unique look and I loved the way all of the interiors had been designed to fit with this natural theme. Combining natural jungle paradise vibes with a sleek, modern layout worked really well and set the hotel apart from the rest.

As we walked past the swimming pool and made our way up to our room, I was even more impressed by the high standard of comfort available for those on a budget. We had a twin room with an en suite, but doubles are also available, and my oh my, let me just tell you about the beds. Now beds are a big deal, especially when you’re a budget traveler or backpacker, all too often I end up sleeping on springs or some lumpy mattress! So laying down on this incredible mattress was an absolute dream – I almost didn’t get out of bed the whole time we were there! After spending a month in Bali I now know how often you get promised hot showers and actually find cold water running out of them, so the showers in the hotel were heaven – powerful and with endless hot water. The room was great, it had everything we needed and more, it was compact and well-designed so that it actually had those fun hostel vibes but with the privacy and comfort of a private room.image

Grandma’s Plus Hotel, Legian

After a couple of nights in Seminyak, we moved to the Grandma’s Plus Hotel in Legian, not far away but in a whole other section of the popular stretch of Kuta. Streets lined with shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants awaited us, this section was far busier but proves a big draw for travellers of all ages who want to relax or party on their holidays. This hotel is designed along a similar theme of jungle greens and staff welcome you in to the towering structure through a leafy pergola. This hotel is set around the restaurant where breakfast is served, with huge, high ceilings and trailing vines dangling from the rafters, it’s a beautiful place to start your day with a delicious breakfast included with the room price. You can choose from an Indonesian breakfast to Eggs Benedict and all plates come with fruit and treats from the bakery – a perfect meal to set you up for a day of sunbathing or exploring.

The hotel has the feeling of an oasis after stepping off the chaotic, busy street outside into the cool, calm atmosphere, it’s soothing. Again the rooms are of the usual high standard and came with all the amenities we would need during our stay, and the beds were just as comfortable as the ones I had just left behind at the other hotel. The only thing we did notice with this hotel was that there was a bit of street noise despite us being seven floors up, but understandably we the hotel was in the middle of the busiest part of Bali. I can’t fault the staff at both hotels, they were amazing and so helpful. Everything from moving us into our rooms to organising taxis and even trying to help me fix a SIM card for my phone. They made our stay go from good to excellent with their great attitudes and friendly manner.image

Spa time

While we were staying at the hotels, we were also invited along to try out their spas. At Grandma’s in Seminyak we headed to De Nyuh Spa and Salon for a full body Balinese massage – my first in the country – then at the hotel in Legian we went to Rehat Massage and Reflexology. Both spas were located within the hotel building, so super convenient if you fancy a pamper but aren’t ready to face the outside world yet. Both were beautiful designed and brought instant calm and peace to you as you walked in the door, the soothing music combined with the floral displays and the dark wood kept the spas cool and laced with gentle Balinese aromas. Having now had several Balinese massages, I can say that these two massages were actually two of the best I had while in Bali. If you’re staying at either hotel, I would really recommend visiting the spa for a bit of me-time – you’ll come away feeling like a new person and ready to really embrace your holiday.

Have you stayed at Grandma’s Hotels – how was your experience? What kind of accommodation do you normally go for on holiday? 

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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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imageOne of the highlights of visiting Big Berry is getting a real taste of the Slovenian lifestyle against the incredible backdrop of the untouched countryside that lies just beyond the camp gates. My week was spent there visiting several local producers of beer, gin, oil and chocolate amid visits to viewpoints, hidden lakes and abandoned mills. We took breaks for delicious meals made from local ingredients including some of the best trout and carp I have ever eaten, fresh from the river that runs through the camp itself. I even had the opportunity to take a peek into the past when I visited an old fashioned Slovenian home to see how the people of years gone by would have lived, and the crafts and memories that remain.imageimageIt hit me when I was there, just how hard it is these days to find a landscape that is actually untouched and undamaged by commercialisation. There are few places left in this world you can truly escape the modern world and step back in time into a completely natural landscape where green forests and clear rivers stretch as far as the eye can see, and eagles soar across the sky. It sounds like something out of a movie because we just don’t get a chance to see this very often without a fast food restaurant or some kind of brand getting in the way. But Eastern Europe is a very different matter, the Balkan countries just seem to have escaped the commercialisation that has dominated so many other places in Europe. There are still so many wide open areas you can get lost in and that makes them very precious to the modern day traveler.imageimageWhen it comes to local producers, Primostek and the nearby villages are a wealth of smaller companies that pack a punch with top quality products that kept me fed and watered throughout my stay. Everything from fruit, cheese and bread, to gin, wine and beer. There’s plenty to keep your stomach full and a smile on your face knowing your stay is supporting the local companies, plus you get a chance to see the process behind the products. All of the companies allow for tours to see how their food, drink and even body products are made during your stay, which is a great way to meet the local people and see another side to Slovenia.imageimageMy favourite tours had to be Berryshka – the liqueur and chocolate makers – and Vizir Pivovarna – the beer producers. The owners of both were so welcoming and took the time to talk us through the whole process of creating the products as they took us on a tour of the factory/brewery, before enjoying a tasting of the products. For me, the highlight of Berryshka was tasting the unusual lavender chocolate, a new product, and tasting their liqueurs served in a chocolate cup. Just delicious. Vizir Pivovarna had a great range of beers and were happy to explain the differences to a non-beer drinker, my favourite ones were definitely the dark beer and the stronger 10% beer they produce. Another huge highlight was getting to eat at the home of the delicious apple juice producers, Lamut, where we enjoyed a home cooked feast of fresh carp and trout washed down with apple juice, wine and a lot of Rakea.imageimageDuring the visit we also took the time to walk around local vineyards and taken some stunning views from the mills and local beauty spots. It was great being shown around by the team who knew all the best places to see and best things to do. If you’re staying at Big Berry, I would recommend getting out and exploring the local producers and seeing more than just the camp, get a real taste of this part of Slovenia and you’ll fall for the beautiful location just like I did. I mustn’t forget my favourite activity, on the last day we went rafting down the river and I don’t even have the words to describe how much fun and just how breathtaking the views were.imageimage

Have you been to Slovenia – what was your favourite part? Does the wide open landscape appeal to you? Have you visited local producers on other trips?

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