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Bank Holiday Heaven

As usual, I have to talk to you from the perspective of a Londoner. It’s difficult not to, really, as that is what I am. I’m hoping that you’ll agree with me on what I’m going to talk about this week.

The topic is bank holidays. I don’t actually even know which countries have these and which don’t, and I can’t be sure why they are called bank holidays. I’m tempted to Google it but I worry that I’ve asked the search engine too many stupid questions now and soon I’ll be on a list somewhere at the Google headquarters that all the staff stand around and laugh at.

So, here’s how it works. Everyone in England gets Monday off next week, creating a three-day weekend. It’s just one extra day, no big deal. Except it is a big deal! It’s almost more exciting than a week long holiday. Because everyone is off work, especially office workers. Sunday night will come and it will go and then it will be Monday and we’ll all still be chilling out somewhere having a great time. Not until Tuesday will we drag ourselves back into the office and the distance between Friday night and Tuesday morning is so vast most of us will be convinced that the day will never actually come. And if it does come, no biggie, four days of work and we’ll be back in the weekend again!

By Monday the excitement was building and now it’s at fever levels. Although it’s amazing how many people have been so excited they entirely forgot to organise something to do! If you are one of those people, fear not. There is still plenty of time to set off on an adventure with nothing but a holdall by your side and a smile on your face.

Three days is not long enough to journey too far from home so I would recommend somewhere within driving distance or a short flight. My personal method, although I do understand that not all of you will still have your maths pencil case from two decades ago, is to get out a paper map and a compass (the kind that draws circles, not the kind that tells you where north is). Place the pin end in your house and then draw a circle. Quite a small one since it’s a three day trip and then see what’s inside. As a Londoner, it’s amazing how close some places you think should be far away are. Belgium, for example, can be reached within an hour after stepping off the ferry in Calais. You could finish work and be in Amsterdam or Paris in time for a light snack and bed. Or England itself has some gorgeous countryside to explore that’s no more than a motorway and a couple of A roads away.

If you do have Monday off and haven’t sorted something out it’s now time to get the map out and have a look. I can almost guarantee there will be a beautiful little hotel within reach of you wherever you are – that’s the beauty of SLH being made up of more than 520 luxury hotels in over 80 countries.

If you’ve already chosen somewhere to go or are now making a plan I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

See you next week

Melissa. x

Could summer holidays be the greatest of them all?

I don’t have children yet so you might think that school summer holidays mean very little in my life. But there’s something about July and August that puts everyone in the travel mind set. Those endless long weeks as a youngster when the next school year seemed a thousand years away provide lifelong nostalgic smiles. The memories made at those times are the ones that really stick with you – they have certainly stuck with me.

So for me a summer holiday is an absolute must and I love to surround myself in the joyous (and youthful!) energy of my nephews and nieces. No matter how excited I get about something, I simply don’t have the same capacity for wonder and amazement as an eight year old. So to watch them try snorkelling or sailing for the first time, tasting new foods, making new friends, and so on, is as joyous to behold as a puppy at Christmas time.

I’m told by those in-the-know that when it comes to family holidays with children the most important thing is that the little ones enjoy themselves. If they are bored, you’re in trouble! If they’re not then adult fun flows like wine (and the wine flows too!) So the advice is to head to a hotel that understands children in a location that is likely to entertain them. Personally, all I needed was a beach, a mask and a snorkel, but I suppose I wouldn’t have complained if there were a tennis court or a beautiful pool. I’m sure my parents would have loved an all-inclusive hotel so that I could order (and fail to finish) endless drinks and ice-creams. We also went on a safari once which has to be one of the most extraordinary experiences a child can have. The first time anyone sees a giraffe or a lion in the wild is life-changing. For me, as a seven year old, it provided a level of excitement that rendered me speechless with tears of joy pouring down my cheeks.  I also don’t think parents need fear a cultural holiday just because they have the little ones with them. My nephews and nieces seem to find exploring a city and stopping in café-lined squares to watch the world go by just as much fun as I do. Granted the sorbet bill tends to be substantial but I’ve been surprised by their interest in everything from history to architecture to local customs. I was certainly guilty of underestimating them!

This summer we’ve decided, after much discussion, to head for the beach for a family holiday. It was hard to choose one hotel as there are so many great family ones so we put our shortlist into a hat and pulled out the winner. Which is… drumroll please…

Cape Sounio Exclusive Resort in Sounio, Greece. We’re all very pleased with fate’s decision. I love that it has view of the Temple of Poseidon. My sister likes that there are villas with private pools at the hotel. Henry is already investigating the yacht that’s available to hire and the children have spotted that there are not one but two beaches.

cape sounio

cape sounio 1

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A spa, a good choice of restaurants, a national park, golf courses nearby… this is family fun fabulous. Of course there are loads of others to choose from so have a look here for ideas.

Where are you headed on your summer holiday? I’d love to know!

Melissa. x

Be Generous AND Win a Holiday

My hips have had a very difficult week. My stomach and taste buds on the other hand have had the best time ever. At work this week everyone has been baking cakes as if cake prohibition is about to kick in shortly. Ordinarily when a cake arrives in the office I’m pretty well behaved, but this week the cake supply has been constant. With almost everyone in the office churning delicious things out day after day there’s been an unavoidable excess lying around at all times. Difficult. Even more difficult because these cakes are the most dangerous of all the baked temptations on the planet – charity cakes. ‘Eat me and help the world,’ say the cakes. ‘Ok in that case I will eat you,’ says me. And yet I feel super duper. The bake sale raised a lot of money, we’ve had lots of delicious things free of the usual guilt – win win! Working with charities in a fun fashion is undeniably marvellous. Being generous with time and money is marvellous. And while we are on the topic of marvellous things… giving away a free holiday is very very marvellous indeed. Feel like winning one? Good, in that case you have come to the right place. To celebrate its Be Generous month, Small Luxury Hotels of the World is giving away four 2-night stays at any of its hotels. Very kind indeed, but then generosity is not out of character for this lot. You’ll never hear them make a fuss about it but generosity has been at the heart of the brand since inception with more than £3 million raised and shared between 150 charities since 2013. Impressive numbers – I’m hoping for the sake of the staff that that wasn’t all cake related fundraising. If you want to win one of the stays and you’re a member simply click here and get started. If you’re not a member don’t worry, signing up is easy peasy here.

And if you’re feeling generous with your time and want to get into the Be Generous spirit I’d love a couple more minutes of your time please… have a quick read about some of the great charities SLH works with.

The Prince’s Trust assists young people into jobs, education and training, providing much-needed support to help those struggling get to where they want to be.

The NSPCC works tirelessly to prevent child abuse, helping to create a world where all children are safe.

Cancer Research UK funds scientists, doctors and nurses to help beat cancer sooner, as well as providing the general public with much-needed information on different types of cancer.


Great Ormond Street Hospital charity focuses on raising money to enable the hospital to continue to provide the very best care for its young patients and their families.

See you next week.

Melissa. x

Something New

New things are brilliant aren’t they? New shoes, new clothes, new bars, new phones… you get the idea. Yes old things are great too but there is something about a nicely packaged bit of new that gets us all very very excited.

The top of the new thing pile though is, without a doubt, a new hotel. I was lucky enough to be the first guest ever in a hotel once and it made me feel like something of an explorer/VIP. That’s a little hard to replicate but I keep my ears open to find out which new openings are on the horizon in the hope that I can be one of the first to sit at the bar, swim in the pool, relax in the spa, or sleep in the beds.

I thought I should probably share what I’ve found out occasionally so after much perusing here are three of my current top picks on the new hotels front to have a look at.

French Coco: Tartane, Martinique

This place is the epitome of a boutique hotel. First thing to mention is that every one of the 17 rooms is a suite. Delightful, everyone loves a suite! It’s literally just opened which means if you’re very quick you could be the first person to stay in one of these rooms that are decorated in raw and natural materials to make them feel like outside is inside with you. Without the insects though.
Because it’s in Martinique you get that delightful Creole experience that shines through particularly in the French-style Caribbean-inspired food, most of which comes from the hotel’s garden. The hotel couldn’t be in a better spot in the grounds of the Caravelle Peninsula nature reserve on the north east coast of the island. This place makes most other unspoiled places seems rather spoiled. It is pristinely beautiful and famed for tropical flora and fauna.

The top tip whispered to me by someone in the know is to opt for Suite Creole or Suite Caraibes if you fancy having your own private pool and seating area. Yes, yes I do fancy that!

french coco 1
The President by Akaryn: Vientiane, Laos

This beautiful town of Vientiane is about to get a new hotel. It’s a manicured mish mash of Laotian design and French neoclassical influences brought together in the very best position available. On one side there’s Parliament House, the other the presidential palace. And in front is a favourite morning Thai Chi spot for locals; the Chou Anouvong Park. Nice big rooms and suites with high ceilings, marble floors and giant windows sound good to you? And there’s the Ayurah Wellness Spa with Linda Meredith products and therapies combining east and west very pleasantly indeed.
Best of all, if you’re a child at heart like I am, is that there’s a maze in the garden inspired by English country houses! Good place to work up an appetite and if you manage to get out there will be four great places to eat to choose from once it opens in November.

The whisper I heard on this one was to walk five minutes along the Mekong to The Spirit House. A bar and restaurant in a traditional wooden house with fab sunsets and quirky cocktails.

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Hotel Único: Madrid, Spain

Not actually a brand new hotel, but new to the SLH collection is Hotel Único Madrid. My idea of a good hotel in a city is one that is as close to the action as possible but sleepy and serene once you’re inside. Well, all I can say about Hotel Unico is “bingo!” This converted 19th century palace in the lively Salamanca area makes sightseeing simple in stroll terms. And yet inside you feel as secluded as an Atlantic-crossing canoeist. A private courtyard garden is surrounded by 44 soundproofed rooms and suites. Marble mosaics, an ornate staircase and high ceilings combined with Art Deco flourishes and a two-Michelin star restaurant create an unshakeable ‘how clever and important am I’ vibe. Eating will only make it worse as it’s impossible not to feel pleased with oneself when brunch includes glazed lamb shank or a tuna carpaccio with wakame salad. With macarons and Cava to finish. A spa, filled with wellness treatments by skincare brand Natura Bisse, completes the si si scene.

The don’t-tell-too-many-people tip here is the Mercado De la Paz for some delicious Spanish produce, and a drink and tapas in one of the rustic bars.

Unico Madrid 1

I hope you like the sound of those three. And of course if you have any new hotels to share with me I’d love to hear about them!

Melissa. x

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!


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


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.



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.



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


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 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!


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!


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!

Bahamas party

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.


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!


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!



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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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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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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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.


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


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