I'm keeping the focus on fashion with a very exciting post today all about my amazing new Radley bag and one of my fave blogging collaborations yet. I remember worrying that moving to Germany might mean missing out on working with brands due to my location. But, this year has been one of my absolute best yet for special blogging projects and having the opportunity to work with a brand I have always admired will always be such an amazing reward for all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes of this blog. In the interests of transparency, in this post I will be styling up a beautiful product from Radley London which was gifted to me in exchange for the post. Naturally all opinions remain my own and I will only ever endorse products that I genuinely love and that I think you guys would love as well. And let's be honest, is there anyone out there who couldn't appreciate the beauty of a seriously luxe Radley handbag?
As someone who spends all her money on travel, often I have to sacrifice spending money on expensive clothes or handbags, but it doesn't mean I don't lust after luxury items. Radley London are one of those brands, one that has been an institution with a seriously classic style that I've admired for years. I've always been the kind of girl who gets a handbag and really loves it, instead of changing it up every week, I'll wear a bag all season. I picked out the Hill House Medium Multiway Compartment Grab Bag from the collection, embracing the sports luxe look with this gorgeous leather bag. It was hard to choose but in the end I felt this was the Radley bag that fitted best wth my style, not only was it simple and elegant, but practical with the longer strap and several compartments. I love that it can be smart for work, or also works with more laid back looks for the weekend, and it hasn't left my side since it was delivered. The striped strap makes a bold statement with the white leather, while still remaining chic and elegant with the fine gold detailing and the iconic Radley dog charm.I styled up the bag with this leopard print H&M slip (€19.99) and teal jumper (€24.99), and an old pair of Primark chunky heels. For those who are looking to shop the Radley bag, you're in luck and the Hill House style is actually reduced at the moment, retailing at £229, it has now been reduced to £137, so now is the time to treat yourself! It's the perfect-sized Radley bag for keeping all my essentials in it, my camera, phone, purse and some make-up, the perfect blogger's essential.
This week marks my six month anniversary of living in Hamburg. These last six months have been some of the hardest of my life. After travelling solo for more than three years, I uprooted my whole life, changed my travel plans and moved to Germany! In the last six months, I found a new job in a new industry and was offered a promotion within two months at the company. I traveled for a month around Europe in the van I converted into a camper and drank a hell of a lot of coffee.
Do you love luxe handbags as much as I do? What style would you choose? What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?
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.The 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.Imagine 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.I 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.The 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.It 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?
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.As 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.The 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.Differing 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.Of 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.
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?
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.Yala 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".We 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
Set 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.Looking 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.
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.
Have you stayed in any unique accommodation? What's the most unusual? Are you more of a camper or a glamper?
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.Normally 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.The 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.Found 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.With 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.I 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.Overall, 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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
I love wine. Whether it's a nice hearty glass of red with my dinner, a crisp white on a summer's day or a glass of bubbles with the girls - I love wine and any excuse to drink it. So you can imagine I was the first to sign up when the owner of my hostel decided to organise a day of touring the vineyards and independent producers of Swan Valley, just outside Fremantle, Perth. I had only been in Western Australia a week or two and already I was loving life over there - check out my city guide to Perth - and especially since I had moved over to the lovely Fremantle - check out my Fremantle post here. It was great to be travelling again and to be able to just enjoy life, to say yes to everything instead of always thinking about money and working. This wine tour was the perfect excuse to escape life's worries for the day and to truly indulge.
Known as Perth's "Valley of Taste" and boasting over 40 wineries, Western Australia's oldest wine region has plenty to offer visitors. This exciting fusion of wine, food, beer , cider, cheese and much more has plenty to keep the whole family busy against a stunning backdrop of Perth's countryside. While families and those on holiday can easily organise to join a tour or hire a car to take the day trip, us backpackers were on a tighter budget and found a perfect way to cut corners. Our hostel owner organised for a group of us to join him for the day in this van - we were all charged just $30 for him to drive us between the very best of the wineries and food producers for talks and tastings at each. Bearing in mind that most of the tastings were free and I only spent a further $10 for the whole day, yet went home pretty tipsy and with a belly-full of rich chocolates, cheeses and much more. I'd say that was a bargain trip.
Something that really matters to me, is that Swan Valley is the first and only Humane Food Region in Australia. This initiative is a regional commitment to supporting the welfare of animals and producing high quality, healthier, tastier food. It's nice to know that when you go along and visit the area, that you are not endorsing the mistreatment or the farming of animals, and that you are only tasting the finest quality chocolates, cheeses, olive oils and much more.
There is so much to do in Swan Valley, but I'm going to focus on the huge 32km Food and Wine Trail that is made up of more than 150 wineries, restaurants, cafes, breweries, distilleries, art galleries, farm gates and a host of other attractions. Whether you're visiting independently or booking one of the tours available from the area's visitor's centre, this is a perfect way to start exploring the area.
One of Western Australia's oldest, largest and most distinguished producers of premium wine, Sandalford is definitely worth a visit as it was by far the best wine tasting of the day. The tasting did cost $5, but it was one of only two we had to pay extra for, and quite frankly it was worth every penny. The women who hosted our tasting was fantastic and taught us all so much about wine, particular red wine which is something I'm becoming a lot more interested in lately. She was keen to answer any questions we had and told us a lot of extra information about the estate including the high profile events and weddings that had been hosted there over the years. The estate itself is worth a good look, the cellars are at the centre of vast, stunning grounds around a lake - the perfect spot for a wedding.
TOP TIP: When you go along to wine tastings - even if you just want to get drunk - it works in your favour to really chat to the people who work at the vineyards. The more interested you are in their products, the more they will share with you. We got to try the most expensive wine the company produces for free because we were so interested in learning about Sandalford.
My other favourite winery of the day, Windy Creek is a third generation family-run business that has been running in Swan Valley since 1937. They have a delicious selection of wines and ports including some award-winning ones that will get your tastebuds tingling. While you're there, don't forget to try their fantastic range of cheeses and homemade jams, marmalades and relishes. Again, these are on offer against a stunning backdrop of rose gardens and endless vineyards - a perfect place to relax on a sunny afternoon. There is also a small charge for the tastings at Windy Creek, but it is well worth the price.
For those who have a sweet tooth, you'll want to make sure you pop into Margaret River Chocolate Company to indulge in the huge selection of free tasters. As you walk in the door there are huge barrels of white, milk and dark chocolate buttons to munch on and you take in the walls of chocolate delights on offer. Everything sold from behind the counter on the left side is also available for tasting and it's worth trying a few before you decide which ones you want to take home, there are some unusual and delicious treats that might tempt your fancy including some award-winning options.
You'll be amazed at the uses for honey when you pop by House of Honey and see the shelves adorned with the countless types of honey and food products, beauty and skincare items, candles, gifts and much more. I was particularly excited to try the different types of honey -many of these I had never seen before and many boasted incredible healing qualities and health benefits. Plus the skincare range was amazing, the lotions smelt amazing and you could feel how good they were for your skin. There are also several meads and liqueurs are available for tasting and a cafe with honey products and more on sale.
This was a real highlight of the day - I'm a bit of a cheese fiend so I was keen to try the different cheeses and chutneys available. With a huge collection of 80 artisanal cheeses from Australia and around the world, these guys know their stuff when it comes to cheese and the staff were keen to chat and tell you all about the different cheeses. This was the one place where we all ended up buying some delicious cheeses to snack on and take home with us - I picked up some feta that had been marinated in garlic and herbs after we tasted it and I couldn't get enough. It's also a lovely place to stick around for lunch or a drink - there is a huge outside section that overlooks the woods and fields.
These are not all of the places we visited during the wine tour - but they are the highlights of the day and I would definitely recommend popping in if you visit Swan Valley.
Have you been to Swan Valley? What were your highlights? Where is the best place you have done a wine tour?
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.
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.If 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?
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.My 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.
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.
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.I 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.
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.
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?
Okay 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.
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.
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.
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?
I'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.As 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.We 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.For 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.Apologies 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?
Eastern Europe has been on my must-see list for several years, there's something about it's wild, untouched beauty that really appeals to me especially when so many places in Europe are so overcrowded with tourists. I've long since wanted to travel to Romania but haven't yet had the opportunity after travel plans changed this summer and I found myself meeting friends in Bulgaria instead - more to come on that in a later post! But when I was invited to Slovenia on my first travel blogger press trip, I was beyond excited to experience the country for myself and at the hands of those who know the local area best. I was invited to stay at Big Berry, a new luxury glamping lifestyle camp on the banks of the river Kolpa in Primostek and the first of its kind in the country. Big Berry embraces the concept of enjoying total luxury for the whole family while getting back to grass roots and really experiencing the Slovenian countryside.I was lucky enough to be staying in a gorgeous mobile home which has been specially designed to satisfy every need and want - the design was sleek and absolutely beautiful offering complete luxury and the opportunity to enjoy self-catering if wanted. Sleeping six, the cabin gave me plenty of room to myself and I even had my own private jacuzzi - total luxury after staying in hostels for the week beforehand. Waking up in the morning, I could step into a stunning rain shower before heading to the terrace for breakfast which was hand-delivered each morning. Filled with local produce, from fruit and yoghurt to eggs, milk and bread, it was a perfect way to start the day as the sun shone over the Kolpa river. Just across the water was the Croatian border, giving you ample opportunity to swim between the two in the cleanest, purest water you can imagine. If you're after a complete digital detox, this is the perfect place for you and I relished the chance to get away from a screen and to really experience life in the Slovenian town, but it also provides great communal areas perfect for working online which could be well suited for the digital nomads among us.Mornings would start with a workout to get the blood racing - a former Slovenian boxer led the classes out on the grass overlooking the river, a perfect setting. Then later there was plenty of time to explore and relax in the grounds by swimming in the river or reading a book on the comfy sunbeds scattered around. There's also volleyball, bikes and canoes available if you fancy something a bit more active. The team behind Big Berry hope to give visitors an authentic experience of the Bela Krajina region by showing them how the locals live, giving them an insight into the Slovenian past and present with visits to historical houses, beauty spots and local producers to try everything from cheese and wine, to oils, beer and chocolates. There's a packed schedule available to visitors who want to get to know the area and to fully experience local life, or for those who want to just relax and take it in at their own pace, there is total freedom to dine and explore independently.The camp, which will be open from May to September from next year, is perfect suited to families who want to get outside with the kids and explore somewhere new - the camp is very safe for young children with plenty of space for them to run around. It would also be perfect for couples who fancy a romantic weekend away in the countryside - trust me there's nothing more romantic than watching the stars sparkle over the river from the comfort of your own hot tub. At 200 euros a night, it provides you with all the luxury you want while allowing you to get back to basics and to enjoy a simple few days enjoying Slovenia in its purest and most beautiful form. Plus being right on the Croatian border, it gives you a good opportunity to explore two countries in one trip if you're flying into Zagreb like I did. Check out my upcoming posts for more information about the trips available while staying at Big Berry. You can find more information about Big Berry and planning your trip to Slovenia here.
Have you been to Slovenia - what did you think? Does the Big Berry concept appeal to you? Tell me about your favourite luxury getaways.
I'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.This 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.One 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?