Winter is coming, autumn is here and summer is long gone. It’ll soon be a case of going to work in the dark, coming home in the dark, and layering as much as you can to shield yourself from the chill. Luckily, there are some delightful winter coats out there to keep us warm as the temperatures drop.
However, if you’re looking to shake things up a bit and enjoy the cold elsewhere (think magical and marvellous European cities), why not start planning a little getaway for less than £30? Yes, it is possible. No, we can’t guarantee it’ll be warmer. But you will have the option to enjoy excellent wine, cheese and Christmas markets.
There’s currently a huge Eurostar sale, with trains from London to Paris or Brussels coming it at less £29 each way. Bargain.
If you want to push the boat out, you can also travel to Amsterdam or Rotterdam for £35 one way. And if you really want to get your boujee on, for an extra £7 you can upgrade to a Standard Premier ticket which includes more space, a light meal and refreshments.
The sale ends on 23rd September 2019 so you’ll have to book soon if you want to jet off, and dates of travel are between 1st October 2019 and 17th January 2020.
The number of sale seats are limited, so if you want to make the most of the deal you’d better get booking.
Coveting a dreamy digital detox? Petit St Vincent, an exclusive Caribbean retreat, is the ultimate destination to disconnect, writes Christine Leech
I love watching The Island With Bear Grylls. And it’s not just the glittering turquoise waters, dazzling white sand and swaying palm trees that appeal – I’d love to experience that complete disconnection from the outside world and lack of all-consuming Wi-Fi (the bitching, hunger, heatstroke, and mozzie bites? Not so much.)
So, when a digital detox to the five-star island resort of Petit St Vincent came up, I jumped at the chance. Located in the sun-drenched Grenadines, this was all the good bits, minus arguments over when/if to kill a pig.
With Wi-Fi only available in the main reception and no televisions in rooms, a full digital detox is on offer. Or, you can be like me and have a sneaky 4G session behind the beach bar each morning to post envy-inducing Insta shots. I also love my telly, so arrived fully loaded with Killing Eve Season Two. Suffice to say, I didn’t watch a single episode. Not one; not even on the plane, which flies into Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. From there, it’s a 55-minute flight on a tiny eight-seater to Union Island, and then a 20-minute boat ride. Thanks to the weather gods, we had clear skies and were greeted on the dock at sunset with delicious rum punches.
The island’s main mode of transport is a fleet of Mini Mokes – a glorified beach buggy that makes getting around feel easy and look pretty cool. You can walk around the coastline in about 40 minutes, but there are also complimentary bikes everywhere so if the 30C heat starts bearing down, you can pick up a set of wheels en route and pedal to your destination instead (spoiler: this may induce red-face syndrome).
The accommodation: villa for one, please!
There are 22 individually designed villas on the island; 13 beachfront and then another handful tucked away on hillsides and secluded deep within the forest. Originally constructed in the 1960s in traditional West Indian style, the stone-built properties have a cool mid-century vibe about them and have recently been extensively renovated, with beautiful hardwood floor-to-ceiling glass windows; and porcelain tiled floors throughout. Each villa also has its own private outdoor space complete with sun loungers, hammocks and dining areas to lounge in. Beachside, you can also expect decks flowing straight on to the golden sand, while those nestled in the hillside enjoy panoramic views of the wild Atlantic ocean. All boast insanely comfortable super king beds, Bulvgari toiletries in the bathrooms, a Nespresso coffee machine, plus a never-ending jar of cookies placed temptingly in the lounge.
The food: whatever, whenever, wherever…
Petit St Vincent is an all-inclusive private-island resort, so your meals (yes, even afternoon tea) are covered. In short, if you can’t decide what to have for breakfast, have it all! The French toast is all squidgy golden deliciousness and, with a side order of fruit salad, yoghurt and muesli parfait, you can still feel virtuous. My daily pineapple, watermelon, papaya and fresh ginger juice kept my vitamin C levels topped up nicely, while the grilled halloumi and vegetable kebabs for lunch meant I didn’t even need to leave the hammock as I sipped on an ice-cold Pina Colada. Holiday vibes, much?
In fact, room service operates via a slightly eccentric flag and pole system (which I am thinking of introducing in the office). Each villa has its own flagpole with red and yellow canvas flags, plus hollowed-out bamboo tube attached to it. Don’t want to be disturbed? Raise the red flag. Need some attention? Write a note or fill out a menu form, then roll and pop it in the bamboo tube before raising the yellow flag. Staff patrol the island every 20 minutes or so checking the flagpole situation to respond as necessary – and with a staff-to-guest ratio of three to one, you’ll never have to wait long for snacks to arrive.
Of course, if you can tear yourself away from the hammock (easier said than done), then the main Pavillion Restaurant is a short walk or Mini Moke drive away (just write a note and raise your flag to request a ride). The kitchen is headed up by chef Andi Cahyono, who creates a wide variety of dishes – many with a Caribbean influence – and uses island-grown produce grown from the hotel gardens. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets are all catered for, and the aubergine mousakka, squid ink risotto and caramel and dark chocolate tart (dreamed up by resort manager and former pastry chef, Matt) are the Greatest Things In The World, Ever!
The restaurant also hosts a variety of entertainment throughout the week, including a BBQ and steel band night, serving up the freshest fish, giant steaks and marshmallow skewers for desert; film nights under the stars; and reggae bands to dance the night away with. Meanwhile, Goaties bar is a great spot for sundowners on the beach at golden hour.
The must dos: spa, dive, day-trip
You can actually do nothing on this island and have the most perfect of days. When I told my friends I was going to the Caribbean, where the temperature averages 31C and the three main things to look at ate the sea, the sand and the sky, they were all slightly perplexed. “But you hate the sun; you’ll be too hot; you’ll be bored; there’ll be nothing to do,” they cried. But fear not, readers. The scorching temperatures are actually tempered by an onshore breeze and there is plenty of shade available, with the beach fringed by tropical woodland and hammocks slung beneath palm-leaf-topped palapas. It’s very easy to while away the hours in a languid stupor induced by the hypnotic sound of waves and I actually spent one entire day in this exact state. My main activity was walking the 40 steps from my private beach to greet room service and collect my breakfast, lunch and afternoon-tea orders. My personal trainer would be proud.
If you feel you need something extra to get you to full zen-like relaxation, then a treatment at the spa may be in order. Previous to working on Petit St Vincent, manager Matt was based in Bali and he and his wife have recreated a traditional Balanese haven on the island. Nestled in the tree tops with the wind creating gentle ripples through the delicate decorative shell curtains, the spa is the perfect place for a spot of pure self-indulgence – and, if (like me), it helps you avoid a tropical thunderstorm of biblical proportions, even better.
On the flip side, if you can’t do without your daily hit of endorphins, tennis, yoga on the beach and a fitness trail through the woods are also on offer. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of water-themed activities, too. Jean-Michel Cousteau (the son of famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau) has a diving school here, and the team provides half-day or full-day experiences (I mean, if you’re going to learn to dive then you might as well learn from the best right?).
Alternatively, head to the Dock house, which is home to everything from snorkel kits and kayaks to Hobie Cat sailing boats for hire. I didn’t make it out in a kayak but I did snorkel every day and, after a trial around the shallows of my villa beach, I headed to the pier at Atlantic Beach. There are so many fish living right under this dock that you can pop your mask on, stick your head and shoulders under the water, and see the entire cast of Finding Nemo without swimming a single stroke. Slightly further out, you can visit some of the island’s coral reefs, where staff have created a nursery to begin a restoration and regeneration programme. Conservation and an eco awareness is present everywhere at the resort: the straws in cocktails are made from vegetable matter; the drinking water is desalinated sea water filtered on the island; and glass bottles are already replacing plastic in the bedrooms, with a series of water fountains also being introduced around the island.
One of the highlights of our stay was the day-long boat trip to the Tobago Cays. We set off after breakfast in the resort boat, aptly named Beauty. This majestic wooden schooner was built eight years ago on the neighbouring island of Petit Martinique and is now crewed by Simba and Donnelly. After an exhilarating hour on the high seas (read: slightly harrowing because of the strong gusts), we arrived at the National Park. Tobago Cays is a collection of small, unoccupied islands (including Captain Jack Sparrow’s ‘Rum’ hideout from Pirates Of The Caribbean) that’s full of wildlife. We weighed anchor and, in full snorkel gear, went for an easy swim through the coral reefs, drifting gently back towards the boat with the current. We spotted starfish bigger than your head, stingrays burrowing in the sand, and played follow-my-leader with sea turtles (taking care not to get too close). A short hike with Donnelly on one of the islands saw us meet a tortoise, witness a stand off between a giant lizard and a mother bird protecting her nest, and pick a welcome crop of aloe vera (note: remember to pack the mozzie spray).
Back on board Beauty, we devoured a delicious lunch of steak and salad washed down with the obligatory rum punch before sailing back to Petit St Vincent. The journey back was calmer and, as the sun was setting , we started up a new game of spot the flying fish.
Final thoughts: Never. Gonna. Leave.
I spent a fair proportion of my time at Petit St Vincent working out ways to stay. These ranged from marrying a local, making myself indispensable to the island staff, and rescuing the treasured pet of a rich guest that had found itself stranded out at sea in a kayak (I might have been on the Margaritas at this point). Yet, all too soon, we were back on the boat with our individual picnics for the journey home. We were waved off from the dock by Matt, Anie and our favourite Mini Moke. Deep sadness followed.
Villas cost from £870 per room, per night, based on two sharing a one-bedroom cottage in low season. Price includes meals, butler room service, use of all non-motorised water sports and island facilities. Return flights with Virgin Atlantic to Barbados from London Gatwick start from £535. Visit petitstvincent.com for further details or to book.
Looking to book a long weekend away, or something a little longer – then look no further than Plum Guide. With experts at your fingertips they will do all the hard work for you enabling you to live like a local instantly without any stress.
Who are they?
The Plum Guide is a definitive collection of the world’s best homes, taking an obsessive approach to vetting every holiday home on the planet and accepting only the top 1% ensuring that every stay is guaranteed to be relaxing and unique.
Taking away any hassle of researching yourself they now live in 12 exciting cities globally – London, NYC, LA, Paris, Milan, Rome and most recently Lisbon, Barcelona, Tel-Aviv, Berlin, Copenhagen and Berlin.
We travelled to Madrid for a foodie weekend away in search of the best relaxed tapas bars to Michelin Stair eateries – all recommended by travel experts who know the city like the back of their hand.
Where to stay
Blue Torito, Salamanca
This colourful home located in one of the liveliest parts of Madrid and uses patterns and textures to let out its character. From woven carpets to the textured headboards, it’s apparent that the hosts like playing with colour in the details. Blue Torito is bright, stylish and has access to a resident-only terrace with a pool to cool down after a day of sightseeing.
Salamanca is Madrid’s most glamorous and prestigious quarter. Usually associated with aristocratic façades, wide avenues and luxurious living which are atypical for Madrid’s cosy centre, the neighbourhood features niche museums, and designer boutiques along its ‘Golden Mile’.
The demanding clientele has made the food scene equally exclusive, and you’re likely to find quite a few Michelin-star restaurants in the area alongside relaxed tapas bars for those less willing to splash the cash.
Where to eat
Be spoilt for choice at upmarket food court Platea
Food markets are normally a relaxed affair but Platea isn’t it– this is a gastro leisure space with Michelin-starred chefs and musical performances on its main stage.
Visit Madrid’s gourmet experience at Ramón Freiza
A baroque dining room that features a master chef that loves to get creative–this is a treat for all senses.
Dine the Asturias way at El Paraguas
One of Salamanca’s most famous restaurants, El Paraguas cooks up the best of Austrian cuisine, accompanied by a fantastic wine and champagne selection.
Taste Galicia at Saraiba
A popular local hangout, Saraiba offers a superb dining experience inspired by Galician food — the wine selection is pretty impressive too
What to do
Get lost at Madrid’s archeological museum
With permanent and temporary exhibitions that showcase the latest discoveries from the Iberic peninsula and beyond, Madrid’s Archeological museum is a treat for the curious mind.
Take a stroll through Retiro Park
Enjoy the green serenity of Madrid’s central park. It’s filled with different parks and gardens, as well as Parterre Francé, which is believed to be Madrid’s oldest tree.
September is here, which means one thing – we’re scouring the internet for cheap holiday deals to catch the last of the sunshine. And as luck would have it, there’s a huge British Airways sale happening right now – so pack your favourite summer dresses, make sure you’ve got enough sun cream and get ready to jet off into the sunset.
For less than £100 you can book flights and a two-night hotel stay at a range of European destinations, including Spain, Italy, France and Czech Republic.
Forget waiting for availability at one of the most Instagrammable Airbnbs, you can check in to a lovely four star hotel for a long weekend in Venice, Rome, Barcelona, Prague, Malaga or Nice for just £99 per person. Bargain.
If you want to push the boat out a little (and by a little, we mean by just £11), you can set off on a city break to Amsterdam, Krakow or Sofia. And if you’re feeling really swish, for £118 you can enjoy a few days in Vienna, Berlin and Bilbao.
Fancy going a bit further? You can book yourself a three-night stay in a riad with breakfast and flights in Marrakech for £150 per person, or go extra luxe and shoot off to Mauritius from £499 return. FYI, there are also getaways to New York from £271.
You’ll have to book your trip this month, but travel dates are covered well into the new year.
Jessica Harrison heads to Southern Spain for a sun-drenched mini break with views to die for.
The Kempinski Hotel Bahia is an elegant beachfront resort boasting unrestricted (and pretty incredible) views of the Mediterranean Sea and African coastline. This large terracotta hued hotel is set in lush tropical gardens, with 3 intertwining pools and even a little slice of private beach. Impeccable service, superb facilities and that view are what sets this hotel apart. With a beautiful on-site spa and a choice of three excellent and recently revamped restaurants, you won’t want to leave. Plenty of sun loungers can be found throughout the gardens, plus dreamy Balinese day beds are available should you desire a more luxurious sun bathing session. This established, contemporary and very welcoming hotel has all the ingredients needed for a stylish, relaxing and luxurious stay on the Costa Del Sol. And being a quick 45 minutes taxi ride from Malaga airport, the Kempinski Hotel Bahia is an easy escape to Andalusian heaven.
Plenty to chose from with 128 rooms and 17 suites. All rooms have terraces or balconies enjoying views of the sea and gardens. The main rooms are very comfortable and classic in style. WIFI is included and all rooms have elegant marble bathrooms with separate bath/ shower. Rooms come with amenities such as bottled water, tea and coffee stations, mini bar, robes, slippers and toiletries.
The fabulous suites are divided into categories, from junior suites to the lavish Presidential and Royal Suites. Those of which come with living and dining rooms, multiple bathrooms and access to a private roof terrace.
If you can, definitely opt for a sea-facing room and soak up the breathtaking sea view from your balcony. The lapping waves and blue hues will have you switched into holiday mode in no time.
Situated in a quiet corner of the hotel, you will find the tranquil hotel spa. The friendly and knowledgeable staff can help you find the perfect treatments, such as Vitamin C facials, pedicures and signature massages, plus a unique Quartz Bed Massage and a private couples massage suite. The complex also has a Swedish sauna, steam room, relaxation area, indoor pool, modern fitness area and a yoga studio, available to all guests.
Start the day off right with the sumptuous hotel breakfast at El Mirador. Fresh coffee and juice of the day is brought to your table on a sun-dappled terrace. Breakfast is buffet style and the choice is extensive. Options include freshly made eggs, British and Spanish hot breakfast favourites, a variety of local meats and cheeses, fresh pastries, yogurts, fresh fruit and smoothies. I could go on. Younger guests can help themselves to mini doughnuts, pancakes, cereals and more. Oh, and if you’re really in the holiday spirit then bottles of Cava sit waiting on ice for you to help yourself.
For the rest of the day, you have three on-site restaurants to choose from. Let’s start with Spilers Beach Club, a newly opened stylish beachside restaurant. It’s beach chic here, as the white gauzy curtains blow gently in the breeze and chill-out tunes are played, you can easily drift into a relaxing long lunch. The best tables are on the terrace over looking the sea. There is also a private sun-bed area, where guests can relax and enjoy exclusive beach club vibes. The excellent menu includes a raw bar with oysters and ceviche, small plates such as grilled octopus salad and squid ink croquettes and a variety of delicious mains such as seared tuna loin, daily catch specials, artisanal pizzas, burgers and Spanish classics. Once the sun sets, the restaurant becomes a stylish evening hangout with live music and a dressed up crowd.
For a more romantic mood, head to Balthazar Bar and Grill. Here the menu offers Spanish classics, a variety of steaks and seafood mains, plus daily specials. We enjoyed chilled gazpacho soup, prawn pil-pil, t-bone steak and a lobster paella. You can cosy-up at the tables inside the restaurant (and even watch the chefs cook) or dine al-fresco looking out across the pools towards the sea.
Black Rose The Bar, is the spot for lighter bites and cocktails. Located between the newly renovated airy lobby and on a pretty terrace overlooking the pools. Super comfy sofas encourage lounging and the gentle sound of bird song will have you in a relaxed state of mind (the excellent and interesting cocktail menu might help with that too). The food menu is smaller here but perfectly crafted with dishes such as mushroom croquettes and a heavenly burrata salad.
For younger guests, there is one menu that applies throughout hotel. It offers the usual kids favourites but with no compromise on quality. Plus a poolside ice cream stand is on hand should they need cooling off (or bribing).
Drinks and light bites are available to order pool-side. The menu is small but the dishes hit the spot. We devoured the fresh tuna tacos!
The landscaped gardens are beautiful. Meander through the lush grounds and head down to the hotel’s organic produce garden, gloriously filled with olive, lemon and avocado trees.
Many on-site sport activities are available at the hotel, including tennis and complimentary yoga lessons. Down on the beach you can do a spot of paddle boarding, jet skiing and more or just enjoy a simple saltwater swim. Golf and horse riding can be also be arranged.
The hotel has a stylish and useful boutique shop, selling swimwear, beach cover-ups, cute baskets and more. Plus beach shoes and toys for the kids.
Children are welcomed and well catered for here. So while you are relaxing by the pool, they can enjoy the fabulous kids club. Different daily activities are on offer such as painting, baking, football, tennis and exploring the gardens. And should you need a night off, babysitting can also be arranged by the hotel.
It would be easy to never leave this hotel during your stay, but if you do want to venture afield you have great options close by. Just a five-minute drive away is the cute fishing town of Estepona. Twenty-minutes in the opposite direction you will find the glitzier resorts of Puerto Banus and Marbella. The beautiful and historic town of Rhonda is just a 40-minute drive away, high up into the nearby mountains and well worth the trip.
It’s really, really hard to beat the location. In fact, I challenge you to find a better one, that’s how enamoured I am with it. Located on Studland Bay, The Pig on the Beach has views of Old Harry’s Rocks and the Isle of White, and basically all the best bits of the Dorset coast.
If for some insane reason the beach isn’t for you, then no bother at all, the hotel is a stone’s throw from the historic village of Corfe Castle (make sure you try the cream tea, fudge and ice cream) and about a 45 minute drive away from Bournemouth.
I’m a bit addicted to the Pig hotels, having visited the one in Brockenhurst, and near Bath (there are also some in Devon and now Kent). Each one has its own style and the Pig on the Beach is by far my favourite, in no small part thanks to the aforementioned view.
That aside though, it’s got a distinct fairytale vibe about it. The hotel used to be home to the aristocratic Bankes family of Kingston Lacy, who were a little eccentric to say the least. This is mirrored in the hotel’s turrets, gargoyles and medieval style carved woodwork in some of the main rooms.
Then there is the stunning conservatory-cum-dining room, with all its potted plants and stained glass windows which have more than a little touch of Practical Magic about them (if you don’t get the reference we can’t be friends).
But the hotel is first and foremost a cosy escape, so you can expect to find the woven carpets, deep armchairs, fireplaces and antique knick knacks the Pig is known for.
There is a room to suit all tastes. If you want to be away from it all, then you’ll love the cosy Huts, which are tucked away at the bottom of the garden. We stayed in the generous room though, and what a delight it was. Located in the main house, it features a super-king size bed and living area, and a larger-than-a-London flat bathroom complete with a monsoon shower and antique style free standing bath, with a sea view.
This definitely not a case of style over substance here, the food is just as amazing as the decor is. First off, the hotel is as sustainable as it can be. The menus are written around what is available in its walled kitchen garden, and the rest is delivered from local suppliers. That means they change all the time, though examples of tasty dishes include Swanage lobster with thrice cooked chips, silver mullet with charred sprouting broccoli and pork loin steak with corn and leeks.
The hotel’s signature appetiser is always on the menu though: the Piggy Bits platter, with Hock Eggs & Colman’s Dressing, B. Curtis’ Chipolatas & Homemade Ketchup and Smoked Vodka BBQ Pork Belly. Tasty.
As for breakfast, it’s hands down the best I’ve ever had. You can order from the cooked menu, but I personally love the buffet, where you can boil your own freshly laid eggs, and feast on homemade granola and fruit compotes, as well as pastries and cake.
The need to know
Rooms start from £135 per night for a cheap & cheerful room. Book here.
Coveting a late-summer staycation by the surf? Head to Devon’s chic Saunton Sands Hotel for a slice of luxurious beachside living
Long weekends on the British coast are officially back in demand and, with its golden sand dunes and surf-friendly waves, Devon is the go-to destination for those in the know. But what if you want to combine a luxury spa break with windswept walks along the beach? Ana Ospina heads to Saunton Sands Hotel in Braunton, for a seaside jaunt with a difference.
Where to stay
Just a three-hour drive from hectic London lies north Devon’s salty sea air, rolling beaches and locally caught seafood. But don’t let its quaint coastal charm fool you into thinking that there’s no grandeur to be found here too, because the Saunton Sands Hotel, which is Art Deco in design, offers up 74 spacious bedrooms; two living suites; three restaurants and 11 apartments – all with sweeping ocean vistas and a stone’s throw from the beach. First opened in 1933 by the Brend family on Devon’s beautiful north coast, Saunton Sands Hotel has managed to retain its family feel, with warm, welcoming staff and relaxed vibes from the outset. A superb spa and exquisite collection of fine-dining menus has encouraged guests to return year after year, and now this beachside bolthole delivers the perfect getaway for stressed staycationers in desperate need of a recharge.
Stylishly decorated in neutral, beach-inspired tones, the hotel’s interiors are all comfy velvet sofas, patterned rugs and calming coastal paintings. As soon as you’re welcomed in by friendly staff, you’re made to feel at home, and my partner and I literally feel the weight of London life lift off our shoulders as we step into Saunton Sands slower pace. Our pad for the weekend boasts both a heated indoor and outdoor pool, a pretty sun terrace and flower-filled, deck chair-adorned garden that enables us to make the most of British summertime. We begin our mornings with a blustery walk along Saunton Sands beach, the breeze propelling us between the vintage-style beach huts and back up the cliffs in time for breakfast.
Saunton Sands Hotel has three sumptuous restaurants to indulge in so, after sleeping like Kings in our majestic white beds, we make our way to the Beachside Grill for our first taste of Devon. Being the hotel’s sister cafe and built into the dunes for a panoramic view over the wild Atlantic ocean, this popular morning haunt serves breakfast from 9-11am, with a hearty side of laid-back vibes. Plates of hot smoked salmon with scrambled eggs or towering stacks of pancakes with syrup and bacon can be enjoyed while you soak up the sea views, slowly sipping on a frothy cappuccino and reading the newspapers. For the ultimate end-of-the-week treat, the Beachside Grill also offers up Lobster and Prosecco Fridays – a must-do feast for the sunset crowds.
Looking for a little glamour? Let me introduce you to The Terrace Lounge. With its swanky sofas and flirty light fixtures, this is an idyllic setting for a light bite in luxurious surroundings. The white crab and avocado dish or hot garlic mussels with Devon cider and fresh fries come highly recommended. Or, while away the hours post-surf with a Pimm’s afternoon tea. We filled our bellies with fresh finger sandwiches and scones covered with sweet jam and lashings of cream. (If The Great Gatsby had been set in Devon, this is where they would have hosted the party.)
But for coastal fine dining at its best, you can’t beat The Dining Room. With two AA-rosette status, this restaurant is run by Head Chef Mathias Oberg, formerly of The Shard, London, and the dress code is smart, so be sure to wash off all the sand and slip into something sleek for aperitifs. We indulged in seared scallops with pea puree and smoked bacon jam, followed by corn-fed chicken supreme and black garlic puree – a definite step up from fish and chips on the beach.
Having recently opened, the Source Spa and Wellness is already the crown jewel of the Saunton Sands Hotel. Inspired solely by the surrounding coastal landscape, the spa spans three floors focusing on health, relaxation and balance. Prepare to fully reset your body and mind in the indoor pool, gym (with yoga, pilates and ta-chi classes available) and thermal suite, all boasting idyllic views of the beach (you will literally feel like you are floating at sea). A must-try is a dip in the vitality pool that is dense with mineral-rich dead sea salt for a warm float before jumping into the ice fountain for the ultimate refresh. More into sweating out your toxins? The salt inhalation room and aroma sauna will have you breathing deeply as you start to fully relax.
Level two hosts six beautiful treatment rooms. The treatment menu had us in a daze – trust me, you will want to try everything. As well as luxury facials, massages and body scrubs that will leave you looking and feeling baby smooth, the spa also offers wellness treatments such as reiki and reflexology. Men are well catered for, with tailored back scrubs and charcoal facials, and special pregnancy massages are available for tired mums to be, too. I indulged in the Lavender Dreams Experience, which is 90 minutes of pure bliss, incorporating a rejuvenating scrub, warm body wrap and smoothing back, neck and scalp massage – all using Mediterranean lavender that lulled me into a soft sleep. On a really rather touching note, the spa has also introduced special facials for cancer patients, using IS skincare products that are pharmaceutical-grade so as not to impact any medical treatment that you might be undergoing at the same time. The Saunton Sands Hotel really does think of everything.
Now feeling calm inside and out, we headed up to the top floor post-treatment space. The roof terrace and sun room offer a complete chill-out zone and we let the oils and skincare creams seep in and do their job while we dozed, serenely overlooking the ocean. This was truly a spa experience like no other.
Learn to surf
Staying beachside means you have access to the waves all day, every day. The hotel has partnered with Walking on Waves Surf School, run by British and European Champion Sarah Whiteley who set up the school to offer private surf lessons or a three-day first wave course. With wetsuits and surfboards available to hire, get out there and catch some waves – just try not to swallow your body weight in sea water in the process like I did!
We took full advantage of the paddle boarding, kite surfing and tennis court facilities on offer for a bit of adventure. The hotel is also next door to the Saunton Golf Club, which boasts two championship 18-hole courses and pro shop. When you get tired mid round, on-course drinks can even be delivered to quench your thirst.
If you can drag yourself away from the homely hotel bubble, be sure to explore Clovelly for the day. This gorgeous working fishing village is a short drive away and overlooks beautiful Bideford Bay. We wandered the cobbled streets past local shops, cafes and pubs, soaking up the Devonshire lifestyle before heading back to the big city feeling thoroughly refreshed.
How to book
A two-night spa break at the Saunton Sands Hotel starts from £245 per person.
To book, call 01271 890 212 or visit sauntonsands.co.uk
But what’s the secret to a good snooze when you’re travelling on a long haul flight?
On her blog The Flight Attendant Life, flight attendant and travel blogger Kara Mulder reveals that there’s one really easy way to make sure you get enough kip when you’re travelling.
Firstly, she makes sure to set her watch to the time zone of her destination. Then, she only eats when it would be breakfast, lunch or dinner time where she lands.
She explains: ‘Immediately change your watch to the local time. Fall into a local time schedule and routine with eating and sleeping.
‘Do not go to sleep at 1pm. Wait to fall asleep at a regular time [in that time zone]. Your body will quickly readjust.
‘If the snack and meal service is not served on the your eating schedule, go ahead and pass on the food. Pack your own healthy granola bars, trail mix, dried fruit, etc. Also, be careful and avoid foods that cause gastrointestinal distress and be careful not to overeat.’
So what and when you eat can impact the z’s you get while you’re flying.
In need of a wellness reboot? Junior beauty writer Sarah Barnes heads to the remote Portuguese island in search of Madeira’s natural highs
It may be more commonly associated with luxury cruise stop offs, but thanks to its incredible scenery, local seafood and warm blue waters, Madeira is the new summer choice for a wellness weekend.
Recently named Europe’s leading island destination 2019 (by the World Travel Awards), Madeira is just a three and a half hour direct flight from London via British Airways. With a subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil you will feel as though you have landed in a far-flung corner of the equator. While the capital of Funchal is buzzy and cosmopolitan, the surrounding mountains offer a peaceful respite for travellers who want to be secluded and re-connect with nature – and themselves. Coveting the ultimate escape from hectic London? Think of Madeira as your sun-drenched stress-relief ball.
We landed early and hopped off the plane to be met by the salty sea breeze and warm afternoon rays. Driving along the roads that hugged the hillside, we weaved in-between the terracotta-tiled houses and headed into the heart of Funchal, ready for a weekend of health and relaxation. My plan? To be barefoot as much as possible: Madeira offers an abundance of activities for the micro adventurer with trail running, canyoning, rock climbing, scuba diving and surfing all on your doorstep. However once you have released those endorphins, brushed away brain fog and breathed in lungfuls of fresh air, you can also relax on the sprawling sandy beaches. The whole island is wrapped up with a local culture that boasts warmth, merriment and the need to feed you with as many pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) as possible.
The Vine Hotel
Our first night was spent at the chic and modern ‘Vine Hotel’ in central Funchal. The design is inspired by a full-bodied red wine and conveyed through the furniture, which is all twisted vines and deep purple palettes. With 57 rooms and 22 suites, the hotel is a peaceful hidden escape from the buzz of the city; rooms are spacious and sleek with long white beds and ambient-lit bathrooms. Just a floor away is the spa and fitness centre with an added heated whirlpool for you to relax in after a long day exploring by foot. The Terra Lounge restaurant sits on an open terrace where you can eat under sprawling vine leaves as fresh platters of fruits and eggs, made any way you like, are served leisurely to sleepy morning guests. Come dusk, Uva Restaurant and Wine Bar offers up late lunch and dinner on the rooftop. The lift draws open on the top floor and you are suddenly amongst the city skyline. Sit beside the infinity pool and watch the sun set, throwing an orange glow over the bay, while sampling local Portuguese dishes.
Quintinha de São João
Quintinha de São João Hotel is another central, yet more traditional Madeiran hotel full of charm. The clean white exterior is interrupted by green painted shutters. Meanwhile, inside, light pinewood and golden lampshades give the ambience of an old Madeira residence. The 42 rooms are set in lush green gardens with secret outdoor nooks where you can sit idyllically on the patios to read a book. Suites are spacious with balconies overlooking the city and expansive beds set aside billowing white curtains. Make sure to wake up in time for the buffet breakfast where fresh pastries and breads are piled high amongst cold meats, cheeses and pots of steamy coffee. After a long day of exploring the city (the hotel can pack a picnic for you) I indulged in a full body massage at the Spa Do Quintinha. My tight calves from uphill walking melted underneath the warm Darphin oil that was swept over my whole body for one glorious hour, before I cooled off in the outdoor saltwater pool. To finish off your night perfectly, I recommend a nightcap in the Vasco Da Game Bar, dimly lit and accompanied by the playing of a soft piano, preparing you gently for the land of nod.
You Really Must…
Try yoga in the Laurissilva Forest
After waking up early, we drove for an hour up the steep mountains passing through village after village before plateauing above the clouds. The dramatic cliffs dropped down past little Lego-sized houses to meet the sea and I felt as if I could reach up and touch the sky above me as we weaved through fields of wild yellow flowers to the Laurissilva Forest. The air was cooler up here as we huddled together in the woods, soon to be met by Emilie Mangoni (international yoga teacher). We followed Emilie to a clearing where yoga mats were set up in a scenic spot amongst the trees. All we could hear was bird song and, as my feet sank into the warm grass and we worked through the sun salutations, an overwhelming sense of peace washed over me. Emilie completed our session with a sound bath, softly singing in Portuguese as she created melodies using small drums and rain sticks, sending us all into a gentle doze. If you want to reconnect and float away from all your worries, do the hour-long drive and explore the Laurissilva Forest, it is worth every calming second. Namaste.
Take the cable car to Monte Palace Tropical Gardens
This 15-minute cable car ride from the old town up to the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens is the best way to enjoy panoramic views of Funchal and beyond. The gardens, which have been open to the public since 1991, are the masterpiece of entrepreneur José Berardo. Once a luxury hotel in the 18th century, the grounds have been inspired by gardens from all over the world including Japan, with oriental temples, a Koi carp lake and Buddha statues all making an appearance alongside the largest terracotta tile display in Portugal, which showcases the island’s most historic events in orange and aqua-blue squares. Exotic flowers and botanicals decorate the garden, and black swans bathe in the moss-covered fountains. We whiled away the hours here, walking calmly and admiring natural beauty at its best.
Fun spoiler: to get back down the mountain you have to take a traditional toboggan. Since the 19th century drivers have pushed wicker sledges down the streets of Funchal, wearing rubber boots to use as breaks on the ground and greased rope for steering. Cue speeding downhill in a giant fruit basket and some serious exhilaration!
Visit Porto Santo Island
The hidden gem of Madeira, Porto Santo Island is a golden nugget just off the cost of Funchal. We loaded onto the Porto Santo Line Ferry and sailed for two and a half hours, sitting on the sunny desks, nibbling on morning pastéis de nata with cups of hot tea. Arriving into the port we headed to Hotel Porto Santo & Spa, with its 70s-motel-inspired aesthetic, where creamy orange buildings nestle in-between leafy palms. A must-try is the hotels ‘Hot Sand Therapy Treatment’. The sand on Porto Santo is biogenic carbonated, rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium and strontium (a natural anti-inflammatory). I found myself getting into a wooden style bathtub and being covered to my neck in soft, hot sand, which weighed me down and relaxed each and every muscle. The PH of your sweat releases the minerals from this sand, which your skin soaks in as your bones relax and you sweat out toxins, all while you doze away warmly. After 30 minutes of pure bliss, I washed off in the jet pools to reveal silky-smooth skin. You can book in for a course of treatments at the hotel, reaping more benefits each time you are, well, buried. Sandy and sleepy, we spent the rest of our afternoon on the 9km golden beach, stopping at Calhetas for lunch, scooping fresh limpets with lemon and garlic out of their shells and sipping chilled wine. Nursing our full stomachs, the beaches offered a sandy playground to run, swim and bathe away our afternoon. Binter Airline’s now fly direct to and from Porto Santo to Madeira, so we had a speedy 15 minute all-in plane ride back to the mainland, making hopping over to Porto Santo for the day a wellness break on its own.
Nestled among the cobbled streets and artisan boutiques of Old Town, Santa Maria is a warm and welcoming restaurant with a family-run feel and fabulously friendly waiters. Try ‘Espada Preta’, a local black scabbard fish, served with fried bananas, and wash it down with one (or more) lethal Ponchas – local rum mixed with sweet honey and tarty lemon.
Nini Design Centre
Delivering spectacular views, hot bread baskets with caviar butter and cool, calming interiors, the Nini Design Centre’s rooftop restaurant is an inspiring place to eat. Head there during the day to take in an exhibition by Nini Andrade Silva – a world-renowned interior designer and architect – then follow with a duck and sticky orange sauce dish, salted caramel cheesecake, and lashings of hazy Madeiran sunshine.
Forte Sao Tiago
Fancy dinner in a Fort? This historic yellow fortress was constructed in 1614 to defend the capital from pirates. In 2001, the Restaurant Do Forte opened, gifting tourists and locals alike with alfresco dining under the stars. We booked a table in the main courtyard, which was alight with candles as we soaked up plates of fresh sea bass and squid ink pasta, all devoured while listening to the soundtrack of waves washing gently against the shoreline nearby. Later we joined families that poured upstairs to the rooftop to watch fireworks over the city – the noise of popping Champagne bottles barely noticeable as the sky exploded in red and green sparkles.
British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Funchal, Madeira from £47 each-way including taxes/fees/carrier charges. To book, visit ba.com/madeira or call 0344 493 0122.
If you’ve ever set foot in one of the EDITION properties around the world, you know that you’re in for a luxurious treat. And the minute you step into their newest property The Barcelona EDITION, this all becomes clear. On the edge of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter sits a grand building that is home to the latest project from Ian Schrager. Design led and stylish too (extremely stylish, in fact) but with a conscience, their commitment to being a sustainable tourist destination is apparent, their Stay Plastic Free initiative means single-use plastics won’t be found here.
The Barcelona EDITION, Bar Veraz
The Barcelona EDITION: The Rooms
What the EDITION does well is seamlessly blend whatever town their in with high quality design. For instance, the swatches of walnut which are reminiscent of shutters found in the Old Town. Every square inch of the hotel feels bespoke and the attention to detail really is – just as you’d expect – off the charts. The perfectly formed rooms, of which are are 100, err slightly on the small side but are no exception. This is a lesson in considered but understated design and manages to achieve the difficult balance between cool and comfy – it’s just the kind of place to retreat to and enjoy a couple of hours with a book before heading back out on the town.
The Barcelona EDITION, Superior Room
The clean lines of walnut, white marble and brass accents add an air familiarity of the EDITION collection, as does a welcome dose of quirk – from the locally designed chair at the desk, the Catalan artworks adorning the walls and a gold baroque mirror in the bathroom. The spec just tops it off perfectly with a Bang & Olufsen bluetooth speaker on the bedside table, a minimalist Jacob Jensen phone and a range of lighting modes to set the mood.
The Barcelona EDITION, Bathroom
The Barcelona EDITION: The Food
With several options based at the hotel, you needn’t look too far for some of that delicious Barcelona cuisine you have heard about. For a more casual dining experience head to Bar Veraz where highlights like Pan Con Tomate and the super tasty burrata, will leave you satisfied. Or try the epic brunch option.
The Barcelona EDITION, Cabaret
If you’re after a real experience, you’ve got to book into Cabaret. Billed as an ‘unexpected twist to traditional dining in Barcelona’ the evening promises dinner with a side of entertainment. Now, I wouldn’t want to ruin the experience for you by revealing too much, but If you’ve ever wanted to take an intergalactic voyage while sipping on and eating some of the most delicious cuisine, then look no further. The courses are themed by colours, think purple octopus with beetroot or the yellow desert with yuzu and mango. I really shouldn’t say much more, you simply have to try it out for yourself.
The Barcelona EDITION: The Location
Barcelona’s Gothic quarter with its narrow medieval streets is jam packed history as well as bars and some of the best Catalan restaurants the city has to offer. Turn right when you exit the hotel to visit Mercat de Santa Caterina for some of the best local produce Barcelona has to offer. In five minutes you’ll be at the spectacular Cathedral of Barcelona and in fifteen minutes you’ll be at the cities beaches.
The Barcelona EDITION,
The rather fabulous rooftop pool. The roof, with Latin American and Asian touches is the perfect place to soak up the sun with a glass of orange wine. And, if you’re lucky enough to be there on a Sunday, you’ve got to make it to one of their rooftops Sunday sunset sessions. This is where good music, good views and good vibes all go perfectly together.