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Newsflash! Brit Complains About the Weather

I don’t think you’re going to like this. I am, I’m afraid, going to spend a little time whinging about the weather.

You’re probably thinking what’s new Melissa? You’re British; this is what you guys do! But for once I am not complaining about incessant rain, cold winds, and murky skies. My complaint this time is, erm, it’s too hot.

I’m not the only one grumbling. Commuting in London this week has been like packing into a smelly sauna with 30 grumpy strangers. And unlike good saunas you’re not allowed to be naked.

What’s more, our wonderful rail services (weather is our number one topic of conversation but trains are a close number two) are heavily disrupted and slow because it’s apparently too hot for them. This is a true story, the driver announced this on my train yesterday! I think we have the most sensitive trains on the planet. Snow, water, leaves, and now even sunshine leaves them weeping in the corner asking not to have to go to work today.

So our commuter saunas crawl along the tracks, taking us home (eventually!) to roasting tin apartments that are entirely free of air conditioning. Nobody has air conditioning here because on the whole a machine that creates cold air is as welcome in UK homes as a burglar.

Yes we all spend our lives dreaming about hot weather but there are very important conditions attached. During hot weather we must not be working, must not have to wear more than a bikini and perhaps a light dress, and there must be a large body of water nearby to jump into. The Thames doesn’t count by the way. The sea, or a swimming pool, or both. Even a little plunge pool would suffice – I am not a demanding woman.

I, for one, do not intend to swelter in the city so it’s time to find a last minute luxurious bargain. As luck would have it Small Luxury Hotels of the World has a summer sale on for bookings in August, September and October. Yippee! 30% off on lots of hotels set up for sensible sunshine.

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The deals only last two weeks though so if you’ll excuse me I have some research to do and a plane to book. Next time we chat I intend to be typing while I paddle my feet in the sea. Yes it’s a dangerous game to have a laptop so close to water but the thought of dipping these swollen sweaty feet into a cool ocean is so exciting I’ve decided it’s a risk worth taking!

See you next week

Melissa. x

Pousada perfection in Portugal

Whoever I talk to at the moment seems to be talking about visiting somewhere ‘real’. They want to go on holiday and find an authentic experience that plugs them into the local way of life, the heartbeat of the destination, the history and present of a particular place. Good. Very good. It makes me happy to hear so many people talking this way. I’ve never really understood travelling somewhere and then staying in a hotel that effectively shuts out the locale in case those visiting find the destination a little lacking in the five star department. If people like that fake environment created to ensure as little local flavour as possible I’d suggest just heading to the nearest possible place that offers it rather than jetting across the world. But if you want to feel part of a place, eat the food, meet the people, bathe in the culture, revel in its history then I recommend the whole world as a good place to go. This stuff is everywhere! Not very helpful advice, that, is it?

I shall narrow things down for you in an attempt to be a bit more useful. To one place and one type of accommodation. Try out the Pousadas of Portugal. Portugal sometimes gets forgotten in Europe, living in the shadow of the more fashionable spots in France and Italy. But for those of you willing to set aside reputation and study the facts you’ll see that this little country is packing some serious cultural punch. The Pousadas are the perfect place to stay because becoming one is a hallmark of greatness. These historical sites are all stunning. What’s more they have been stunning for centuries as they were all very beautiful long before anyone thought to turn them into hotels. Or indeed to invent hotels. The whole concept is designed to give tourists the chance to stay in incredibly luxurious historical sites that make you feel, literally, like a king. A king with a castle and lots of lovely people being nice to you. It’s impossible not to feel connected to these buildings as you stroll around them, medieval treasures everywhere you look. Somehow someone has managed to insert hotels into them without spoiling any of the character and, even more impressively, ensuring these small, spectacular spots are luxuriously comfortable. Far more comfortable than when they were built I’m sure!

Here are five of the best for you to consider. I should put a warning sign on the photos though. You’re going to be weeping with longing to get out to one of these immediately!

POUSADA DE GUIMARÃES

This place started off as home to Augustinian monks. And then Portuguese royalty moved in. I assume they decided it was too nice for the monks. Well now the royalty have gone which is wonderful news as now it’s your turn to enjoy the stone cloisters, courtyards, and restaurant under the arches of the old cellars.

Pousada de Guimaraes

POUSADA DE LISBOA

If walls could talk this place would have some fascinating tales to tell. It has stood on the corner of Terreiro do Paco (Palace Square) for centuries retaining its historical beauty while the world around has modernised. Expect chandeliers, vaulted ceiling, a domed inner courtyard… oh and a spa. Some new things are good.

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POUSADA MOSTEIRO DE AMARES

More monks lived here – this time Cistercian monks in the 12th century. Monks have great taste it turns out. And they like a chilled, calm atmosphere. The gardens here are perfectly peaceful with sculptures and tiles you’ll want to stare at for hours. Surrounded by mountains this countryside escape is a must stay for those keen to explore rural villages, waterfalls, and medieval churches.

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POUSADA MOSTEIRO DO CRATO

Sorry about this, but yes I have to use the word monastery again. But I can also use the words medieval castle and manor house. What a collection! This gothic landmark renovated by a Portuguese architect was the headquarters of some Knights. Which is about as cool as headquarters can be. Think contemporary furnishings contrasting against ancient walls. Delightful.

Pousada mosterio do crato

POUSADA PALÁCIO DE ESTOI

A relative baby this 18th Century palace with its Turkish baths and gardens inspired by the palace of Versailles. The pool looks worthy of a spot in the ‘best bits of water ever’ list such is the grandeur of the setting. If Pride and Prejudice had been written by a Portuguese person this is where Darcy would have lived.

Pousada palacio de estoi

I hope you like the look of these as much as I do! Let me know what you think below.

See you next week.

Melissa. x

The Essence of Independently Minded

I walked into a shop yesterday to return something. I couldn’t find the receipt but the item in question still had the label on so I wasn’t concerned. It turns out I should have been concerned as they refused to let me return it. I was, I must say, rather surprised and not pleasantly so.

I then realised that if the person behind the desk answered my next question in the correct fashion I would have the perfect hook for this blog post. So I crossed my fingers and asked the question.

“Why can’t you accept this return?”  I said

“Company policy!” she said in a voice that suggested she thought I would totally understand. (Bingo, this is the answer I wanted!) And I do understand, actually. She’s telling me she can’t help because her hands are tied, and she doesn’t want me to “shoot the messenger”.

I didn’t shoot the messenger. I just wished the messenger didn’t have her hands tied to some overly strict rules laid down by a head office a zillion miles away.

This is why I tend to prefer shopping in boutiques and independent shops. Go in one of those and on the whole the person working there knows everything about what they are selling. They can offer advice and expertise. They are passionate about the shop because it’s their livelihood and their life. And, of course, if you go in to return something not only will they not quote a company policy at you, they probably won’t have a company policy. The policy is simple – love your customers and they’ll love you.

It’s the same in hotels. Go to a big chain hotel and quite often there are rules and regulations. There are policies and brand standards to be adhered to, written by a committee in a big board room. And they tend to be adhered to at the cost of common sense sometimes. Whereas if you go to a small hotel with fewer rooms the people working there are empowered to help you and bend over backwards for you. Not only empowered but super keen to help because the hotel that you are visiting is their second home and they love it. Many are family owned which always adds to the level of care.

These subtle but important differences are clear at every Small Luxury Hotel of the World I’ve stayed at. If you’ve stayed at one you’ll be well aware too. If you haven’t stayed at one I’d recommend having a look at the videos that will be coming out over the next few weeks. Beautifully shot and capturing the essence of independence.  Here’s a rather good one of The Arch in London (a very beautiful and very British Georgian property) to whet your appetite.

Let me know what you think of the videos and if you have a ‘company policy’ story to share or indeed a tale about when an independently minded shop or hotel really impressed you I’d love to hear it!

See you next week.

Melissa. x

Football fever and festivities

If you live on planet Earth you’re probably aware that it has been an interesting time in the UK over the past couple of weeks to say the least! I attempted to ease the seriousness and enjoy some English pride by joining my husband Henry on the sofa to watch us play football against Iceland at the Euros. The result was not ideal! England lost a match they really shouldn’t have and every football fan – and a fair few who don’t usually care – groaned as we failed again at a major football tournament. Luckily I don’t care as much as Henry (he spent the rest of the evening muttering to himself and storming around) so was able to turn my attentions elsewhere almost immediately. England never wins this tournament so we tend to be grumpy. But there are countries that must be great to hang out in when the Euros come around. A country that wins is a country full of happy people. So I did a little research to find out the best bets for a post-Euros holiday if you want to hang out with happy people.

Spain – Having won the last two Euros their tally is three – the joint top winners. Since we are on the topic of football the decision of where to stay to enjoy the parties must come down to two places. Madrid or Barcelona. I put both cities in a hat and out came Madrid. There are lots of nice places to stay here, but I really like the idea of staying on the Golden Mile in the Salamanca district. I feel this would be a good place to hang out when a party is happening. Hotel Unico Madrid is the spot for me I think. It’s a lavish 19th Century palace that has been transformed into a luxury boutique hotel. The courtyard garden is beyond beautiful and I’m assuming the food will be spectacular as there’s a two Michelin star restaurant there – Ramon Freixa.

Unico Madrid

Hotel Unico Madrid

Germany – Also on three wins is the ice cool German football team. Whenever penalties arise the Germans are not fazed in the slightest and tend to come out on top… Henry told me. He also told me that Munich is home to the country’s most successful team Bayern Munich so it makes sense to stay near there since football is today’s theme! I suspect I’ll be keen to join the party but then want some peace and quiet so have gone for Alpenhof Murnau in the stunning looking town of Murnau in Upper Bavaria. Views of a nature reserve and the Bavarian Alps, sculptures dotted throughout the beautiful gardens and more than 900 fine wines in the cellar… sounds like a great place to recover from dancing around with German fans all night!

Alpenhof

Alpenhof Murnau Hotel

France – Just behind Spain and Germany with two victories is the host of this most recent tournament. Having explored France a fair amount thanks to it being so close by I wanted to find a spot I haven’t been to as a potential party zone. Since the country is famed for its Chateaus I decided to find one and boy did I find one! Chateau des Vigiers in Bergerac looks exactly like the French castle of your dreams. You get to stay in a 16th Century building, you’re in the heart of the Bordeaux wine district, there’s a Michelin star restaurant AND there’s a 27 hole golf course so Henry will be totally on board!

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Château des Vigiers

Of course we may have an entirely new winner this year and at the time of writing this Iceland, Wales, Belgium and Portugal – all of whom haven’t won before – are still in the competition.

Luckily Small Luxury Hotels of the World has hotels in all of them.

See you next week.

Melissa. x

A time and a place

I have made a few slight miscalculations when travelling that I regret. On more than one occasion I’ve arrived somewhere for a few days to find out I’ve just missed an incredible event or something exciting happening a few days after I leave. Equally I have also accidentally benefitted from lucky timing when arriving somewhere and stumbling into an incredible occasion that sees all the locals and tourists come together for a big party. One of my most fun holiday experiences ever came about when driving around Puglia in Italy and unexpectedly finding an entire town dancing in the streets, celebrating what I think was called the tarantula festival… an odd thing to celebrate perhaps, especially for someone like me who is terrified of spiders. However, that day and night turned into one of my favourite ever. The thought that I would have missed it if I’d arrived a day earlier or later makes me shudder!

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The streets of Puglia, Italy

So I’ve vowed from now on, whenever possible, to time my travels to include something incredible happening locally. It makes perfect sense after all – you get everything the destination offers all year round plus the option of joining a hugely fun celebration. I’ve started a little calendar that is now pinned on the fridge to make sure I go to places at the perfect time.

Top of my list is the Crop Over Festival in Barbados. The whole island is taken over by the party spirit and everyone comes together for an entire two months of celebrations, live music, dancing, carnivals and markets, with the stand-out event being the Kandooment Parade to bring the celebrations to a close on the 1st of August.  I am not sure I will make it in time for this year (bad planning on my part) but I am already excited to start preparations for next year!

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Crop Over Festival, Barbados

Also high on the list is the Venice Architecture Biennale which, rather handily, runs from the end of May all the way through to the end of November. If you like contemporary architecture – and I must admit I have become a little obsessed in my old age – this is a wonderful time to visit a great city.

As you know I’m a big Paris fan so I’m always looking for excuses to jump on the train! My latest excuse is a very good one – the Paris Jazz Festival which runs till the end of July. Open air venues across the city host some incredible music and nothing feels quite as civilised as listening to jazz under the stars of France’s capital. I really could go on and on but I should probably not mention everything on my list as we’d be here all day. If you want a few more ideas Small Luxury Hotels of the World has plenty and, of course, their boutique hotels are perfectly located in the middle of all the action.

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Paris Jazz Festival

I’m off to buy an outfit for the Notting Hill Carnival which is one of my personal London summer highlights at which I’ll be dancing all day and all night.

See you next week

Melissa. x

The Power of Photos

It can be difficult to research things to see and do in any given place. A lot of what’s written online about a hotel or destination is just one person’s opinion. The trouble is  I don’t know who the person is most of the time. They could be really keen on rain and mushrooms (two things I really don’t like) so might say a hotel is great because it rained lots and the mushrooms were delicious.

So, while I do love to read about travel, I tend to look at photos that little bit more. Naturally that leads me to Instagram, my favourite social media site, where beautiful and talented people like to show off.

But who am I supposed to follow? There are so many brilliant and funny people on there! To help you find some Instagram inspiration, here are a few of my favourites for you to enjoy!

@thiswildidea

The beauty of this one is that it has two of my favourite things combined – travel and dogs! Theron Humphrey and his dog Maddies road trip around America together. So sweet!

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@a_girlwhotravels

I have always loved my solo trips and wish I’d done more of it. And Marta’s photos from around Europe inspire me to jump on a plane and go off on more solo adventures.

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@chrisburkard

I sometimes wish I was a bit more adventurous when it comes to outdoor pursuits. Too often I prioritise great beaches and delicious restaurants. This chap really inspires me to enjoy some adventure travel.

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@passionpassport

The beauty of this account is that a whole community of travellers and photographers feed into it. So the variety and scope of what you’ll see is vast.

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@smallluxuryhotels

Last but not least is Small Luxury Hotels, which is my go-to account for hotel and destination inspiration. Their photos take me far away to an exotic beach or a mountainous terrain for a few minutes each day.

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If you’re a keen Instagrammer or have accounts you really like I’d love to hear about them. Share below please!

See you next week.

Melissa x

Here comes the bride… the wet bride probably!

So I’m getting ridiculously excited now… it’s a matter of days before Henry and I finally get married!

You’re all probably relieved to hear that it’s finally happening so that I’ll stop going on and on. I apologise if I’ve talked too much about it over the last few months. I do have a tendency to repeat myself when it comes to this wedding.

Anyway, friends and family have been getting in touch more and more as we get closer to the day! They’re sending their love and asking if they can help and all sorts of other lovely things, which is so sweet. But the rather unhelpful message I’m getting sent the most is “have you checked the long term weather forecasts?!”

No, no I hadn’t! But now you have placed the thought into my head and I can think of very little else. Thanks very much! By the way, as I type rain is hurtling out of the sky, the windows are taking a hammering and I’ve seen at least one person go past with an inside out umbrella destroyed by the wind… so perhaps I shouldn’t have gone with the UK wedding after all.

Sometimes I get through 10 minutes without checking if the weather predictions have changed – they very rarely do – but a few minutes ago I finally cracked completely and decided enough was enough. I had to stop looking and just see what happens.

While I can control lots of things, the weather is still beyond me. So why worry? My cunning plan was to change the recently installed desktop weather tab from the changeable UK forecasts to the endless sunshine of Mykonos and Santorini. The results are far better! Smiling sun after smiling sun after smiling sun. And let’s face it – the honeymoon lasts a lot longer than the wedding, so the weather is key!

I’m now assuming it’s going to rain cats and dogs on the big day safe in the knowledge that lovely Greece is almost certainly going to provide Henry and I with all the vitamin D we could ever dream of.

Whether you’re getting married or not in the next couple of weeks I’d imagine the rain is probably starting to get a little dull. At least if you’re in the UK like me. My advice is to run away. Leave the unreliable weather behind and go somewhere with cafes by the sea, terraces with views, and hotel rooms with big bellowing French windows. Pack some linen, some bikinis and a lovely big hat and run.

I’m going to pack for the honeymoon (again) now and probably order more wafty clothes perfect for beaches and warm gentle breezes.

I’ll see you next week when I’ll be writing to you as a married woman!

Melissa. x

Sun, sea, sand and… Greek mythology

I popped over to my sister’s house the other day and peered over my niece’ shoulder as she was doing her homework. I enjoy getting involved in homework when it belongs to children under the age of 10. It makes me feel clever. Anything past 10 and suddenly the child knows more than I do and the whole thing is embarrassing for everyone. Especially me.
She was in the midst of a big project on Greek mythology which is, by far, my favourite ever school subject. Maths? Yuk. Physics? No idea. But as soon as it came to Zeus and co I was all over it.
That’s actually one of the reasons why I will be honeymooning in Greece. They have the best Gods by a mile!

I’ll be in Mykonos for a few days and while there will pop over to Delos which is a really key island when it comes to Greek mythology. Did you know for example that Artemis (goddess of the hunt and the moon) and Apollo (god of music, healing and the light) were born here?

If you love this stuff as much as I do visiting is a total no brainer. Within easy reach are some seriously cool ancient spots such as the House of the Naxians, the Temple of Artemis, the Pythion, the House of Dionysos and the ancient theatre. And of course the Terrace of the Lions where five marble lions guard the Sacred Palm. I haven’t told Henry that sightseeing here is high up on the agenda but I’m not concerned – he’s going to love it!

Mykonos is a lot more famous than its neighbour although it is the incredible beaches, high end hotels, beautiful scenery and top notch parties that draw people there.
Mykonos Grand Hotel & Resort sits on Agios Ioannis beach and faces… the sacred island of Delos! Other than the view there’s five acres of land to chill on, a great spa, loads of exercise classes if you’re so inclined and it’s been renovated recently. If you’re very sensible you’ll try to get yourself checked in to one of the rooms with a private pool.

Mykonos Grand

Mykonos Grand Hotel & Resort

Petasos Beach Resort & Spa sits on a private peninsula (you’ll be starting to realise about now that they don’t mess about when it comes to incredible hotels on this island) overlooking the Aegean Sea. It’s chic, there’s a two-tier pool, and if the sea and the pools aren’t enough water for you there’s also a range of the latest hydrotherapy treatments to choose from! If you stay here the a la carte restaurant serving fresh Mediterranean fare is yum x 1000.

Petasos 1

Petasos Beach Resort & Spa

The winner of the chilled yet still cool hotel has to go to Boheme Hotel. The clue is in the name. This is close to Little Venice and the famous windmills you’ll have seen if you’ve ever googled the Mykonos. The cocktails at the poolside bar are renowned… so I’ll be spending at least one night there!

Boheme

Boheme Hotel

I’m a big fan of an open bathroom so De.Light Boutique Hotel is also high on my list of hotels to stay at. If your idea of heaven is an incredible view, a good book and hours of sitting still while being very well looked after this place will delight… sorry. Couldn’t resist.

De.Light 1

De.Light Boutique Hotel

It’s now only a matter of weeks before I’ll be there so unless you want to be seriously jealous when I write to tell you all about it in a month or so I’d get yourself over there sharpish.
I’m going now, I’ve got to brush up on my Greek gods so that I can show off when we go to Delos.

See you next week.

Melissa. x

Chocolate, stews and beer

Next month is going to be exciting for those of you who like football (or soccer, for those across the Atlantic). For those of you who would rather sit in a traffic jam while several toddlers scream in your ear, the excitement levels are a little lower. Somehow the European Football Championships don’t do it for me. Henry talks of little else. The Premier League has literally just finished and I mistakenly believed that meant we could have a few football-free months. But we can’t. And he tells me I should show an interest in what he likes as he occasionally goes to art galleries with me. These two things are clearly not the same but rather than argue I’m going to try to care. First of all I had to pick a team to support. You’re probably thinking since I’m English I should support England – but that would be far too easy. I decided to place my support elsewhere and choose a country based on something utterly unrelated to kicking a ball.

My choice is Belgium. Largely because I really want to go there next.

Among the European heavyweights (in terms of tourism) Belgium sits quietly, not showing off or shouting too much and yet everyone who goes there comes back raving. The food is rich and hearty with pork, beef, game and seafood served all over the place, predominantly in big, steaming cauldrons of delicious stew. Nobody does stew like the Belgians, if you ask me. They love chocolate too – we have that in common. I seriously love it. Strolling around the cobbled streets of Bruges, there’s always a chocolatier nearby with windows rammed full of the most delicious-looking creations I’ve ever seen. And of course they treat beer with the same reverence as other countries treat wine. Sit down for a three-course meal and the waiter will match what you choose with delicious beers served in wine glasses (strong beer too so don’t order a pint!). Before I went the first time I would have sworn I don’t like beer… the Belgians proved me wrong.

It’s not a big country and, as dull as it sounds, the rail network is absolutely brill. You can easily explore all of the country, from the coast to the many quaint towns. As you know I’m a Christmas market obsessive, and they have some of the best here. The festive season is a good time to go, but the summer is equally fun with the gorgeous countryside and beers just waiting to be sipped in the sun.

Whenever you go, I insist on visiting Bruges, Antwerp and Brussels though. Bruges is something of a fairy-tale town with canals, market squares, horses and carts, beautiful churches and general levels of beauty only a few spots can rival. Antwerp is the second largest city and home to the cool kids with a vibrant fashion, art and entertainment scene and some incredible modern architecture. It also has a fortress and a cathedral so it’s no slouch in the historical sites department.

Die Swaene

Die Swaene, Bruges

Then there’s the home of the EU – Brussels. Brussels is a strange mix of some of the most beautiful and ugly buildings you’ll ever see. The Grand Place, which is the centre square of the city, is probably one of the top 10 most attractive on the planet. Some of the 1960s buildings have a Medusa-like quality that stop you in your tracks.

The good news for me is that despite my unscientific approach to football team selection Henry tells me Belgium is actually very good at football and could do well. So I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. When they win I’ll be raising a glass of beer while stuffing truffles in my mouth to celebrate.

Who will you be supporting at the Euros? I’d love to know – especially if you have unorthodox reasons like I do!

See you next week.

Melissa. x

What would you do if you were free to do anything?

I faced a challenging question today. One of my friends asked me what I would do if I won the lottery, but the usual lottery fantasies such as buying a house or car were banned. I had to spend the money on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Something that I wouldn’t normally even consider possible.

Unfortunately I am greedy. There are so many incredible things that I would love to check off my bucket list: taking a helicopter tour over New York city; reclining in a private boat as it cruises down Paris’ River Seine; even something as crazy as bungee jumping in Queenstown!

When I told my friend that I was having a hard time choosing just one thing, they laughed and told me to make up my mind quickly or the hypothetical money would disappear!

Because I am a lovely person and always think of others above myself (sometimes) I started thinking about what Henry, my fiancé, might like the most. If I’m going to do something incredible I want to surprise him with it and ensure that he is just as excited.

So I finally decided I want to play heli-golf in New Zealand. Yes it’s a thing and yes you can do it in Queenstown, while staying at the stunning Blanket Bay Hotel. And although it is far less terrifying than bungee jumping, it lasts a bit longer.

Hi_HUZQNBB_26170440_Blanket Bay in August56

Blanket Bay Hotel

Apparently they pick you up and take you to the top of a mountain (one of the mountains from Lord of the Rings apparently) and then they present you with some golf balls (biodegradable ones) and a driver. If there’s a cooler thing to do for your other half than let them smash golf balls off a mountain while stood next to the helicopter that brought you there I don’t know what it is. I hear you can actually aim at a green on another mountain and attempt a hole in one.

blanket bay helipad

Blanket Bay Hotel

Any idea what you would pick if you could choose one awesome thing to experience? If you do have an idea then the marvellous thing is that you might just get to do it.

Because SLH wants us all to Be Free, this month you have the chance to win a free adventure. The hashtag is #mayihave. All you need to do is put what you’d like on the end. So get thinking fast because when May is over only the most imaginative and exciting tweeters will win.

To find out more about the competition have a look here – then get your thinking cap on sharpish!

Sadly I haven’t won the lottery, and I don’t get to enter the competition. So for me my excitement levels will have to remain low…my helicopter golf dream will remain on the shelf for a little while longer.

But you could be living your dream very soon indeed!

See you next week.

Melissa. x

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