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Heaven is a place in Thailand

For many years I haven’t really gone to the cinema in the summer. If it’s nice outside it feels ridiculous to lock yourself away in a dark room for a couple of hours. Which is a shame because I do love going to the cinema.

But, you’ll be relieved to hear, this summer I shall be going to the cinema and I shan’t be stuck indoors.
It’s actually not a new idea to have a cinema of sorts outside. Drive-in cinemas, for example, were popular especially in America decades ago.

But in London I’ve noticed the trend has really taken off and there are viewings all over the place. From big parks to small squares we’re loving the fresh air/movie combo and doing it in droves. Plus you can bring whatever snacks and drinks you fancy to most of them rather than being stuck with a bucket of popcorn or sweets and a fizzy soft drink.  Pimms anyone?

What could be better?

I’ll tell you what’s better actually. An open air pool cinema in Thailand at a beautiful boutique hotel framed by sea and mountains.

Cape Nidhra Hotel (2)

The geniuses at Cape Nidhra Hotel in Hua Hin have created this entertainment masterpiece.

I can already picture myself lolling on a lilo with a cocktail within easy reach in front of a classic film. This is officially heaven on earth for me.

And best of all when the film ends rather than packing up my picnic and lugging it home on the tube I can just roll off the lilo and into the pool for a swim. Or I can head to the beach, to the private pool that comes with every suite, or go for a massage at the spa perhaps… you get the idea.

Everything is better on holiday isn’t it!

How to feel great in three days

I hate to show off but I must say that today I feel absolutely marvellous.

Relaxed, refreshed, replenished… and lots of other lovely words. And to thank for these feelings I have Lefay Resort & Spa Lago di Garda in Lake Garda, Italy.

It’s hard to believe I was only there for three nights really. I must admit I was a little nervous before arriving. These guys bill themselves as a wellness experience that enables guests to achieve physical and mental rejuvenation.

That sounds wonderful of course but what if it didn’t work on me? I racked my brains and was pretty sure I’d never felt physically and mentally rejuvenated in three days!

The good news is it did work.

On day one I sat with a doctor and we just chatted. Nothing too heavy, a few lifestyle questions, my mood day to day and how I felt. It’s such a relaxed setting I was comfortable answering honestly and suddenly 45 minutes had flown by.

And the Sherlockian doctor somehow knew what kind of person I am and also which treatments would benefit me. She even knew and recommended what kind of tea I should drink.

Over the next three days I had different massages and attended classes all specifically designed to best suit my body and mind. I spent time in an indoor salt lake, had hydro-aromatherapy, stretched my meridians (google meridians you are going to want to stretch them too), had a ‘massage of the centre’ and more. A massage of the centre by the way is actually a facial. But because, as the experts told me, our bodies are connected in extraordinary ways this facial also included my fingers and toes.

Lefay Resort & Spa

On top of this there’s a healthy menu alongside the normal menu, two pools that look out over one of the finest views I’ve ever seen and divine rooms designed for relaxing in.

The beauty of this place is that unlike some wellness retreats you don’t feel guilty for having an occasional coffee or a glass of wine. Their attitude is that wellness has to be achievable in real day to day life. Eat vegetables of course, do some exercise, but don’t remove everything you enjoy from life in an attempt to improve your body. It won’t work because your mind won’t be amused if the body is living off mung beans and lentils.

It’s so reassuring to hear doctors setting realistic and achievable goals. And it’s also reassuring to know that being well and being boring need not go hand in hand.

So, as I said, I am feeling unashamedly marvellous today. I’m telling you because in just a few days you could feel marvellous too.

Take a look at SLH’s selection of Spa Resorts and let me know where your favourite spa is…

The best all-inclusives… according to my mother

All-inclusive used to be a dirty word in our house.

Why? Well my parents view was that as soon as the word/words all-inclusive are placed in front of a hotel it is immediately enormous, overcrowded and full of cheap knock off wine and spirits and dodgy buffets.

Strange then you might think that yesterday my mother called me up and asked me to suggest a lovely all-inclusive hotel for her and dad to go to.

“Erm, you hate all-inclusives mum,” said I.

She then accused me of being stuck in the past. “There are some wonderful ones now darling, stop living in the 90s.” Well I already knew that. I just didn’t know she did!

So that told me. And I told her that if she’s so keen on all-inclusive hotels she should tell me which ones are the best.

So she did. Enjoy these suggestions from my mum:

Blue Diamond Riviera Maya – Playa Del Carmen – Mexico

Blue Diamond Riveria Maya 10

Views of the rainforest, white beaches, floor-to-ceiling windows, private balconies or terraces, two golf courses… I shan’t go on. Seems there are a lot of reasons to go, on top of everything being included in the price.

Diamonds Dream of Africa – Malindi – Kenya

Diamonds Dream of Africa 4

If you go on safari you might want a few days to chill on the beach afterwards. This is where mum would go. It blends Indonesian and Arabic styles, suites have private terraces and Jacuzzis plus Thalassotherapy is available in the spa.

Villa Borobudur – Borobudur – Indonesia

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If you thought all-inclusive meant lots of rooms… you were wrong. This one has 10. And they’re joglos made from teak by local craftsmen actually, not rooms. They’ve all got a private pool and valley views towards the Menorah Mountains, volcanoes and Borobudur temple.

Bentley’s House – Zurs Am Arlberg – Austria

Bentleys House Zürs am Arlberg, Austria
Ski all-inclusive may not be on your radar. Ski all-inclusive that includes a butler almost certainly isn’t. Add mountain views, ski slopes on the doorstep and a wine cellar for private tastings and you have yourself a pretty perfect walletless holiday.

Which all-inclusive hotel would you choose?

My top 5 roof terraces

Some people enjoy patios. I can understand why. Open the balcony doors, stroll out and hey presto – you’re ready to get on with your no doubt lovely day. Or perhaps, depending on where you are, you can sit near to the sand and dash straight into the sea a la Baywatch at a moment’s notice.

I’m not a patio person. I’m a roof person. The higher the better – to a point of course. Being on top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is not my idea of fun. It’s so high the clouds get in the way of the view.

Even if the roof terrace I’m on is a little scruffy it’s the inevitable view that really makes coffee, Prosecco, lunch or simply just sitting seem that little bit more special.

The beauty of being elevated is that it actually doesn’t matter where you are. In the middle of a city or on top of a mountain.

In honour of roof terraces I’ve picked out 5 of my SLH favourites. I’d love to hear yours.

1. Downtown, Mexico City, Mexico

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This colonial 17th Century former palace is in the historic centre of one of the most bustling cities on the planet. Where better to watch it than from the rooftop terrace with a pool and Jacuzzi?

2. Grand Hotel Parker’s, Naples, Italy

Grand Hotel Parkers

Italians love a long lunch, I love a long lunch, who doesn’t love a long lunch. But I love it even more when I can look over the rooftops of Naples while I eat it… and drink lots of local wine of course.

3. Hotel Shangri-la, Santa Monica, California, USA

Hotel Shangri-La

For me a stay in California demands some Art Deco décor. This hotel delivers. It also delivers a rooftop pool with a spa lounge attached. Isn’t that the most perfect sentence you’ve ever read?

4. La Sultana Marrakech, Marrakech, Morocco

La Sultana Marrakech 2

If there is a more hectic place on this planet than old Marrakech I haven’t found it yet. So after a souk session this palace’s calm rooftop terrace with views of Koutoubia Mosque and the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the distance is heaven.

5. Refinery Hotel New York, New York, USA

Refinery Hotel New York, New York

No list of rooftops should ever be without New York. And the best in town at the moment is this neo-Gothic property in the Garment District. Head to the rooftop to enjoy a cocktail overlooking the Empire State Building.

These are just a few of my favourites, SLH have plenty more rooftop retreats on offer. Which one would you choose?

Royal Baby names: Hippo or Mary Poppins

Shortly there’s going to be a new ‘most famous baby in the world’. The bookmakers have gone through all possible names and somehow come up with odds. My money is on James for a boy, Sophie for a girl. These are royal names befitting a new member of the monarchy.

But my heart is hoping for something much more exciting/weird. Something a little less royal. Perhaps Hippo for a boy, and Mary Poppins for a girl.

They are not the only couple having children at the moment in the UK. Everyone I know seems to be having their first, second, third, fourth or in one case, fifth child. The most striking thing about a couple with a baby versus a couple without one is the amount of kit that travels with them. The huge cars parents buy are not for the children. It’s for the 17 bags and boxes that come with the children. It’s as if all babies are old-fashioned royalty with a knackered two-person entourage dragging everything the nipper’s heart might desire around with them.

A change of clothes. Another change of clothes. A dummy, a spare dummy, loads of plastic bottles, a travel cot, a buggy, nappies, wipes, toys, a sanitising kit, a harness for carrying baby on one’s front…I could go on.

I do want a baby at some point but I worry about trying to get anywhere with the child without a minibus to transport everything. Airports with children? The idea makes me want to weep. I suspect Will and Kate don’t worry too much about such things. They probably have a little help and don’t have to struggle through security at Heathrow or JFK.

But when I start holidaying with children I suspect I’ll be more than a little petrified and may end up giving up long before boarding.

Oddly enough, considering I’m not even pregnant yet, I have been researching ways to make travelling with bambinos a little easier. Hire a nanny seems to be the consensus. But if you don’t have the means for such luxury there are some interesting ways to reduce the size of your train.

Hotels are set up for children. And if they’re not they are very honest about it. So once you arrive there’s nothing to worry about. Planes on the other hand are not geared towards parents. There’s the hatred of all the other passengers to deal with of course. There’s the tiny amount of overhead locker space. And there’s not much there to entertain a nipper. So the key is to be on the plane for as short a time as possible!

With that in mind I’ve picked my top 3 places to go from my base in London when babies (hopefully) start turning up. It’s purely distance so I use the very snazzy SLH map. I’d be interested to hear which are the three nearest places to you by plane.

Mine are:

De Witte Lelie 4

Belgium.  It’s not just chocolate they’re good at, they’re good at hotels too. Brussels and Bruges are my favourite spots, but only because I haven’t been to Antwerp. So I’m going to choose De Witte Lelie, a tranquil retreat in the cultural old quarter of the city.

Dylan 2

Netherlands. There’s very little not to like about Amsterdam, in fact I can’t think of anything. It’s a beautiful city with astonishingly friendly people. As far as I’m concerned I’m not in Amsterdam if I can’t see a canal from my bedroom window which is why I’ve opted for former 17th century theatre The Dylan.

HUCFRLC_27924739_Omaha_Beach_Golf_Course_3456x2304

France. With a good pair of binoculars you can see England from the coast by Chateau La Cheneviere. So pretty safe to say it’s close by! Aside from that this 18th century mansion and farm has a heated pool, tennis courts and a spectacular golf course. Tres Bien!

Right. I’m off to let Henry know that I want to call our children Hippo and Mary Poppins. Wish me luck!

A library on the beach

There’s a big debate going on locally at the moment – do we need a library?

Apparently the number of people using them is down; a lot of the books are gathering dust and the anti-library brigade argue the space could be better used for something else.

The pro-library people think this attitude is ridiculous and that there is no better use of space than a library. There’s no middle ground really. Well there is but that middle ground is populated by people like me who don’t really mind either way.

I’m on the fence a little. I feel like I want to support the library and make sure it’s saved but at the same time I haven’t set foot in it or indeed any library for many many years.

I think it’s the ambiance. It’s dark, dusty and quiet. Three things I don’t really like.

I want the exact opposite from my library so I’m going to suggest my local library learns a lesson from Thalatta Seaside Hotel on Evia, the second largest of the Greek islands.

Thalatta Seaside Hotel Library

Thalatta Seaside Hotel has recently opened a library you see. So they clearly think there’s a demand. And they’re right. Because their library is a beach library. Two words I was never expecting to see in a sentence together!

It’s apparently the first beach library ever and although the idea had never occurred to me before I am amazed this isn’t already a thing.

My friends tell me constantly that the main reasons they go on beach holidays are to get a tan and read 78 books. And their main complaint about holidays… not enough baggage allowance.

Boom. All problems solved. At this beach library there are lots of books to choose from and guests are encouraged to leave behind any books they happen to bring with them but have finished. In no time it’s going to be a treasure trove of seaside page turners. And you don’t have to lug any books back and forth on planes. So more room for shoes and tacky gifts.

At the end of each season the hotel collects all the books and donates them to a local school. I assume there’s an element of a selection process before the books are handed over… 16 copies of 50 Shades of Grey probably won’t make the journey to the kid’s hands.

So my local library should do the same. Granted there’s no beach in London but if they made it a relaxing place to be then people would visit in their droves. Put some beach loungers in, play the sound of breaking waves, and serve cocktails. That’s a library we’d all want to save.

P.S. Great news this hotel opens for summer in 1 week!

My love of sunshine and steak

You probably won’t have heard sunshine compared to a steak before. One consists of solar rays from that big star up above. The other is meat. No obvious link. But somehow one got me thinking of the other today.

If you’ve lived somewhere like England before you’ll hopefully know what I’m talking about. In England the weather is our favourite topic of conversation. This isn’t a myth or a sweeping generalisation, it is 100% our number one thing to chat about. This is because the weather here is not to be trusted. Even the people paid to talk about it on the television have no idea what’s coming next.

Today, for example, the clouds parted and the sun came out. The whole country rushed outside, made a picnic, dashed to the nearest beach/field/lake and collectively cheered. Summer is here! And then it was freezing again and we all went home to watch television in front of the fire/radiator/blow heater.

This is where steak comes in. I compare a British summer to an evening at the finest steak restaurant in town. You plan your evening. There’s a lot of planning, a lot of talk about where you’re going to go, what cut of steak you might eat, the sides you’re going to order. Then the night in question arrives and you’re at the table. The smell of perfectly cooked premium meat is in the air and the restaurant is full of happy people, great music and a glass of red.

Then, finally it looks like your table is next. The waiters are headed in your direction and start putting down plates around you. Everyone has their food except you but now the best looking steak of them all is headed across the room. It is placed ceremoniously in front of you and you start salivating uncontrollably…

At this point in our metaphor the fire alarm goes off, the sprinkler system kicks in and you rush outside soaking wet. Probably to get more wet in the (inevitable) rain.

Summer in England, and I’m sure in many places around the world, is full of promise, full of excitement, full of great smells, and, in the end, full of disappointment.

On the plus side we are among the best in the world at enjoying tiny windows of good weather. However, I am not. I don’t want to just smell the steak. I want to cut it up, chew it and keep eating till I’m full. And then have pudding.

So I did a little research shortly after getting home shivering from the beach with picnic basket in hand. “The sunniest places on earth” was my search term. I don’t think we should sit around all summer with Pimms and strawberries permanently on ice in case the sun decides to make an appearance. If, like me, you want to be sure of some vitamin D, here are my top 5 places to head. All five are in the 10 official sunniest countries in the world chart.

  1. USA
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The Betsy South Beach in Miami Beach, Florida

2. South Africa

Grande Roche Hotel

Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl

3. Kenya 

Diamonds Dream of Africa 6

Diamonds Dream of Africa in Malindi

4. Australia

Injidup Spa Retreat 5

Injidup Spa Retreat on the Margaret River

5. Brazil 

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Campo Bahia Resort in Santo Andre

Where are you going this year?

The best places to swim, run and cycle

Right. Do you want the good news or the bad news?

Personally I prefer to start with the bad… start on a low, end on a high.

The bad news is that I have agreed to do a triathlon later this year. That might not sound too terrible to you but you don’t know how far I have to go yet.

First comes the swim. A couple of lengths of a pool? Nope, no, absolutely not. Unless the pool is enormous. I have to swim almost a mile (Or 1500km if you prefer metric). I’ve never done that but it sounds unpleasant. Add to the distance the fact that I have to do it in the Thames (yuk) while wearing a wetsuit… and we have ourselves a rather unpleasant start to a Sunday.

After doggy-paddling my way down London’s famous (and not clean) river I have to drag myself out and, in front of a large cheering crowd, remove the wetsuit. Have you ever removed a wetsuit? It’s close to impossible at the best of times. With a baying audience and the longest swim of my life just finished it’s going to be potential YouTube gold.

If I manage to take the wetsuit off my prize is a 26 mile bike ride. Lovely. And if I don’t fall off or get a puncture then I win another great prize: a 10km run.

The treats keep on coming don’t they. Anyway, as terrified as I am in true Melissa style I’ve found a silver lining. I’m going to need to practice. Yes most of that practice will take place in London but not all of it. Because apart from all the other things other countries are really for they are also good for, you guessed it: swimming, cycling and running!

So I’ve managed to persuade Henry we need three holidays, one for each discipline. He started to grumble but then I told him I’m raising money for charity and he had to be quiet.

Here’s where I’m going to go for my ‘training’. Where’s your favourite place to swim, run or cycle?

SwimmingCap Rocat in Cala Blava, Mallorca, Spain

CapRocat_entrada

I’ll be doing my swim in the rather boisterous Thames so I’m going to have to practice somewhere altogether nicer.

There are few places I like more than the Med and few bits of the Med I like more than the coast of Mallorca. And in Mallorca there’s nothing to rival Cap Rocat, a 19th century fortress in 88 acres refurbished not long ago. With a private jetty, salt water pool and, erm, a drawbridge (alright not required for training but wow) it’s the perfect spot to work on my front crawl.

CyclingLa Plantacion del Sur in Costa Adeje, Tenerife, Spain

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Needless to say I know very little about where is best for cycling as I’m usually in a car. But the experts all tell me the Canary Islands are where it’s at. Many of the top cyclists go there to train. So I’ve chosen Tenerife largely because La Plantacion del Sur is there. If I am going to have to spend several hours on a bike I need a great spa, incredible bed and spectacular food. And this place has all that and then some. If I’m really in pain I can opt in to butler service apparently!

RunningQuinta da Casa Branca in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

Quinta da Casa Branca

I like some variety when I run. A bit in the city and a bit on some beautiful trails. So I have a lot of choices of where I can get both. But nowhere is it quite as easy and as beautiful as Madeira. A quick look online and you’ll see oodles of running routes and trails. This little Portuguese island has only one hotel I want to stay at so I’ll be based at Quinta da Casa Branca in Funchal. It’s modern but not annoyingly so and the gardens are ridiculously beautiful. The perfect spot to get my breath back!

Celebrities aren’t my A-listers when I’m booking a holiday

It’s quite possible that I’m alone in thinking this but… I don’t really care where celebrities go on holiday. Do you?

It’s not that I’m not interested in hearing where George Clooney spent his honeymoon or where Bruce Willis owns a holiday home. It makes for an interesting and light-hearted read. I just wouldn’t ever think about choosing a holiday based on where someone famous has visited.

They would probably be near the bottom of the list of people I would turn to for holiday advice actually.

Number one, two and three would always be an expert. For acting tips speak to actors, for singing tips speak to singers and for travel tips… well you get the idea.

There are of course fewer experts with the, erm, expertise than one might like. Plenty claiming to be travel geniuses but very few with the knowledge, charisma and empathy to work out what you want, be charming, and have enough hotels in their head to find the right one for you.

I like to hear what my friends and family think of course. And I like to read reviews from like-minded folk. But they, like me, are holidaymakers. They are subjective and therefore can be swayed by a variety of factors that aren’t relevant to me.

For example: The people or person they travel with. If your group gets on incredibly well then fun levels are going to be high. The rose-tinted spectacles go on and the chances are your friend will rave about a hotel because they had such fun. As amateurs we are unable to separate fun from fact. A better hotel but with terrible company will most likely get a bad review. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the view from the terrace is, or how wonderful the staff are if the person sitting opposite is in a foul mood and ignoring you.

That’s why I will talk about travel with anyone and everyone, but when it comes to crunch time and I’m thinking about booking I call someone whose livelihood depends on me being happy when I go away and even happier when I get back.

Friends of mine who have followed my advice and found a travel agent they can trust say they will never go back. And of course if they are among the best agents they’ll probably be a partner of SLH. Which means you can rely on their expertise and SLH’s prowess in everything small and hotel related.

That, to me, sounds infinitely more appealing than following Kim and Kayne around the globe.

Taking over the world

A friend and I who both travel a lot have been battling for world domination for several years. It’s less Dr Evil than it sounds.

A big map sits at her house and we have two bowls of pins. I’m red, she is blue.

At the moment I’d say she’s slightly ahead. I don’t know for sure because I seem to be incapable of counting pins in maps.

But I think she’s cheating. Originally it was one pin per country but the rules have become a little confused of late.

Her argument is that each US state should qualify as a country in pin terms because they are so different. She also thinks The Canary Islands which are technically part of Spain should have their own pin as they are so far away from Spain. Then Easter Island got its own pin. And now the Galapagos.

So I said that New Zealand ought to have two pins then as it’s two islands. She disagreed. I’m not sure how exactly the logic works but I seem to be losing out.

Naturally she has an answer for that and says the 12 pins I have in different Caribbean islands should in fact be one pin. So I should count myself lucky to have them. I gave up in the end.

She clearly wants this world domination more than I do. Plus the map lives at her house so she can add and remove pins without me ever realising.

I suppose I could have the map at my house but it’s quite ugly and nobody likes a show off.

The reason the map sprung to mind this morning as I sat down to write this post is that I think, and I can’t be sure because as I said I struggle counting pins, that my next country will bring me up to 80.

Which means that I will draw neck and neck with SLH. I thought about trying to compete on the hotel front but 520 hotels seems a little too many for me to cram in.

I am as well travelled as SLH. Thanks very much.

I am at least 10 years older though so one could argue it’s an unfair contest. But since I’m losing to my friend and I really don’t like losing I’ve designated this 80th country (Sri Lanka btw) as my victory tour.

Serene Pavillions

Serene Pavilions in Wadduwa, Sri Lanka

So… your move SLH. Where are you going next?

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