#GRIFCOPressDay2016

Every summer, the Grifco team descends onto a fabulous London hotel where from breakfast to wine o’clock, we welcome a stream of writers and influencers to come and talk to us about all of our clients latest news.

Writers far and wide come to the GRIFCO Press Day as they know they are going to walk away with a notebook filled with ideas for features and trips for the year ahead. The amount of news that is circulated during the day is quite incredible….whether it be ballet dancing in the Maldives or diamond safaris in Africa…there is a story to fit everyone. It is also a great chance for each of the Grifco teams to listen in to the other teams news too and be fully up to date across the agency.

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The Grifco Gals in the Penthouse Suite at Dukes London last Wednesday.

Our GRIFCO teams… Have you come to say hello to us before? If not, please don’t be shy! Look how smiley and friendly we all are!

 

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From left to right, Charlotte Rous, Lallie Fraser, Cecile Tootell (missing from the pic is the lovely Emily Wilson who was manning the office this year)

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Three’s a party at Grifco – Clare Buchanan, Lara Good, Nadia Walford

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Dynamic duo Laura Critoph and Flora Beaumont

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A beautiful bevy of blondes and brunettes – Kat Panayotopoulos, Emma Howard-Smith, Nicole Lovett, Amanda Fuller

This year, we took over the Penthouse Suite at Dukes (if it’s good enough for Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, we’re not complaining!!), where the wonderful Dukes staff kept a never-ending flow of delicious food and drink coming all day. Very dangerous when you’re standing close to the food table but extra energy is definitely required for all the talking, right?

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A breakfast quail’s egg, anyone?

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Talking through ideas with Zoe Levey from House & Garden

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Taking a breath of fresh air on the Penthouse’s balcony…..is that view really London?!

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Working it!

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Nothing like a good travel chinwag over a cup of tea….

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The sun came out and we were able to host some meetings outside on the balcony. Laura’s talking all things foodie with Sudi Piggot.

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Thank you to Matthew (sat in the middle of this pic), Debrah Dhugga (Dukes’ General Manager) and all of their fantastic team for making this year’s Press Day our best yet!

This year, we saw 75 writers come through the doors (the most we’ve ever had) and all left with a smile on their face, a head full of ideas and their hands full with a delightful goodie bag filled with momentoes from our clients all around the world.

If you are interested in working with GRIFCO or attending one of Press Days, please contact us on info@grifcopr.com or call the office direct on +44(0) 207 385 7090.

Hidden Jewels Unveiled in the Hills of Phuket…..

The Residences at Anantara Phuket Layan

Every once in a while, you walk into a space so brilliantly put together and thought out that it leaves you speechless. The newly unveiled Residences at Anantara Phuket Layan are a true design triumph carved into the quiet Layan hillside – a project sustainably carried out so that no trees were cut down in its creation.
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These fifteen three to seven bedroom Residences are vast – beautiful rooms with high ceilings and sumptuous beds that seem to have no end. The shared social spaces are elegant and perfect for all sorts of occasions – whether it be a formal dinner in the airy dining room, to a laid back barbecue next to the pool. The Residences also come with their own butler and private chef making a stay here the absolute epitome of luxury in the comfort of a totally private space, away from prying eyes.

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The stunning infinity pools are a joy and days can be enjoyed doing laps up and down them or just cooling off and taking in the views out to sea.

All Residences guests have access all facilities at the Anantara Phuket Layan Resort & Spa, a gorgeous property at the bottom of the hill with two brilliant dining options – Dee Plee (keep a few hours free to indulge in the glorious breakfast) and Sala Layan.

A room dedicated to cured meats and cheese

A room dedicated to cured meats and cheese

Yumm

Yumm

Superfood Corner at breakfast

Superfood Corner at breakfast

For something really special, book one of Anantara’s signature design concept, Dining by Design – we had Dining by Design dinner on the beach, lit by the light of the stars above and lanterns leading all the way to our romantic spot in front of the sea.

Dining by Design at Anantara Phuket Layan

Dining by Design at Anantara Phuket Layan

A Pool with Diamonds

A Pool with Diamonds at The Residences

Nightly rates at Anantara Phuket Layan Resort and Spa start from £670 on a B&B basis. For information on rates at The Residences, please get in touch with the Grifco team.

Amare Marbella Beach Hotel is on Our Mind

The sun has come out in the UK, which is lovely, but now what we’re really craving is some HEAT.

Did you know that Marbella, only two hours hop away on a flight is currently enjoying English summertime weather of 20C? After a weekend away there last weekend, we are already penning in our next trip.

View from the Ooh La La Room

View from the Ooh La La Room

Instagram friendly we love it - also, so very true

Instagram friendly we love it – also, so very true

Amare Marbella Beach Club is the newest and coolest kid on the block – perfectly placed in its own beach oasis and only a five minute walk from the charming Marbella Old Town.

Amare is a sleek, contemporary, new lifestyle hotel, that has named its rooms playfully from the Sea Lovers room to La Dolce Vita and the ultimate Ooh La La room.

Ooh La La

Ooh La La

The dining options take you to Mare Nostrum Restaurant for the glorious breakfast buffet….(also open for dinner during the summer months)…

Breakfast on Mare Nostrum's beautiful terrace

Breakfast on Mare Nostrum’s beautiful terrace

The Amare Lounge for delicious contemporary Spanish cuisine for lunch and dinner….

Iberico ham and piles of cheese - perfect

Iberico ham and piles of cheese – perfect

Amare Lounge also plays host to a schedule of contemporary Spanish events, including Fusion Flamenco. Olé!

During a sunny day, you must also make sure to sit back and enjoy the Amare Beach with a chilled glass of wine….feel the sea breeze in your hair and try the catch of the day.

Freshly caught hake dripping in chorizo

Freshly caught hake dripping in chorizo

Amare Beach

Amare Beach

In the evening, there is only one place to go….Belvue Rooftop Bar – the only rooftop bar in Marbella, that looks over some of the best beach views on the coast.

The prettiest cocktail you ever did see...

The prettiest cocktail you ever did see…

....it even matched the sunset!

….it even matched the sunset!

And when you just want to soak up the sunshine and not move from the pool, we have the Amare Club Call Button. Once pressed, within seconds one of the smiley Amare team is by your side to take your order – that will be a sangria, please!

The Amare Call Button = dial to heaven

The Amare Call Button = dial to heaven

Bird's Eye View of the Pool

Bird’s Eye View of the Pool

Amare is fast becoming a hub of contemporary art, with some superb art installations…

Video installation in the lobby

Video installation in the lobby – a delightful combination of moving lights and colour

Disco Elephant in front of water feature

Disco Elephant in front of water feature outside the Amare Lounge

Bringing the outside in....the living green wall

Bringing the outside in….the living green wall

Make sure to also check out the Germaine de Capucini Spa which houses a hydrotherapy circuit to enjoy an hour before treatments. The Aromas of Andalusia massage comes highly recommended.

If you can bear to tear yourself away from the hotel, hire one of their easy-to-use bikes and ramble along the beach promenade to neighbouring Puerto Banus. Top tip – get there early when you have the promenade and Puerto Banus. Opportune moment for some serious superyacht ogling!

7km to Puerto Banus

7km to Puerto Banus

Or take a trip to Old Town Marbella…..only a 5 min walk away…

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One of our favourite aspects of Amare Marbella Beach Club is the music that seamlessly flows from one area of the hotel to the next….the highlight being a saxophone serenade on the beach.

For the highest category rooms, there is also the exclusive Amare The One, which is an open space, situated off the lobby to enjoy a little bite to eat and a beer, if you fancy, while flicking through the papers.

For a Spanish sejourn to remember, make sure to check out www.amarehotels.com for your next trip to Marbella. The closest airport is Malaga – a 30 min drive away from the hotel.

Massage bed on the beach.....for our next visit.

Massage bed on the beach…..for our next visit….

 

Celebrating International Women’s Day at Grifco PR!

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Grifco PR is sharing inspirational stories and asking for some words of wisdom from five of the fantastic women we are proud to work with around the world.

Tracy Bamber, Strategic Sales Manager for Wilderness Safaris

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2016 is an incredibly special year for Tracy, as she celebrates 21 years of working at luxury safari operator, Wilderness Safaris and will be competing in her 10th Comrades Marathon, a huge achievement in ultra-marathon running, particularly for someone who became a runner by accident!

After taking up running to get back into shape, Tracy went head first into the Two Ocean Marathons, one of the toughest in the world, after making a bet with a colleague who didn’t believe she could finish the gruelling route.

“He looked at me and laughed, saying, ‘You’ll never be able to do it – it’s one of the toughest marathons.’ His words immediately challenged me and I was determined to prove to him that I could do anything I wanted to do! At this stage of the evening he’d had a few drinks and I suggested that we bet on it! He said that I would not be able to complete it, while I said I would – the bet was on… I challenged him to pay me £900 if I completed the run. This money would go to Children in the Wilderness.”

In her first year of running Tracy raised around £3665 and since then she has run 10 consecutive Two Oceans Marathons, known as the ‘world’s most beautiful ultra-marathon’ and has finished nine consecutive Comrades Marathons, ‘the ultimate human race’.

What makes Tracy’s achievements even more special is that she has raised more than £45,780 for charities in Africa through her running, supporting Children in the Wilderness, the Starfish Greathearts Foundation and the Wilderness Wildlife Trust.

To read more about Tracy’s inspirational running and charity fundraising visit www.wilderness-safaris.com/blog/posts/my-big-year-an-interview-with-tracy-bamber

Lorena Puica, Founder of iamYiam.com

Lorena Puica

Lorena’s journey from leaving home in Romania at the age of 17 with 300 euros in her pocket, to founding her own social wellbeing hub, iamYiam.com, via the world of finance is remarkable.

Serious health problems led Lorena to turn her back on traditional medicine and discover the benefits of natural health. Last year, she left her City job to set up online natural health and wellbeing hub, iamYiam.com, whose aim is to improve the health and wellbeing of 1 billion people by 2025. A bold statement indeed, but Lorena is not one to shy away from a challenge!

At only 31 years old, Lorena has gained four degrees in finance and business, published a book on microfinance at the age of 26 and gained eight years of investment management business development and strategy experience across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. She speaks four languages and not only pushes her mental boundaries but also her physical ones.

Last February, she ran seven marathons in seven continents in 10 days finishing in Antarctica (world record pending!). She has also climbed Kilimanjaro in four days and her first ever extreme adventure was walking 861km in 19 days (about 46km per day – without any rest days).

iamYiam.com is set to be a game changer for the wellness industry and Lorena is definitely an entrepreneur to watch. Hailed the Airbnb of Natural Health Experiences, iamYiam.com brings together quality practitioners of natural health in London (e.g. meditation, yoga, acupuncture, nutrition etc.) with consumers and makes it easy to book the best experience for exactly their needs and goals.

Denise Leicester, Founder of ila

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A qualified nurse, aromatherapist, yoga teacher and yogic healer, Denise’s hands-on experience extends from the rural communities of India to the Dubai royal family, and spans Eastern and South American healing traditions.

In 2005 Denise developed a unique concept of wellbeing that addressed the inner essence through the skin, an absolutely pure product range created in complete harmony with nature and delivered with conscious, healing intent.

She spent the first 12 months of the company’s inception researching, travelling and sourcing the purest ingredients from the most ethical international farmers and growers- simple but extraordinary people who inspired her with their deep love of the earth.

From women of the ancient Berber tribe in Morocco to a co-operative of farmers in India, Denise champions the extraordinary tribes and indigenous communities who ‘hold the world’ for us and reminds us how vital it is for us to truly vale and support them if existence is to continue.

Debrah Dhugga, Managing Director of DUKES LONDON and the soon to open DUKES DUBAI (September 2016)


debrahDebrah Dhugga, Managing Director of the luxury Hotel Group DUKES, is one of the few female MDs in the hospitality industry. Already, this makes Debrah extra aware of the importance of her position and the extent of her influence on fellow women, especially younger generations. Debrah’s dedication to this cause is clear in her recent placement on the Northern Power Women’s Top 50 Power List, along with previous recognition such as the Business Women Mentor of the Year Award back in 2013.

In the past, Debrah has taken pride in mentoring students under the Savoy Educational Trust mentorship programme and has encouraged mentoring and support of female managers as a founder of the Leading Ladies of London networking club. More recently, Debrah hosted a lunch at DUKES for the Women in Journalism initiative, showing her support of females in positions of success and power in industries wider than just hospitality.

As well as wishing to impart her wisdom and experience on younger generations and mentees, and to lead the way in diversifying the work place, Debrah easily relates to fellow successful female businesswomen from across the world. As the head of an ever expanding luxury hotel brand, soon to open its doors in Dubai, Debrah flies all over the globe on business. Drawing on personal experience as a frequent solo female business traveller, she created the Duchess Rooms at DUKES, a unique category of luxury accommodation that caters solely to the solo female traveller. With pampering toiletries from REN, female amenities, and a personal welcome note from Debrah herself, this is the dream set up for any female traveller, serving to make business or leisure trips that little bit easier for women travelling alone.

We’d like to extend our admiration to Debrah for all the work she has done and continues to do to celebrate the place of women in her own industry, and in the wider business world.

And last but not least…we couldn’t forget our own MD at Grifco, Claire Griffin!

Claire Griffin, Managing Director of Grifco PR

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Claire wanted to run a boutique PR company that nurtured the needs of its travel clients. In May 2012 she set up Grifco, which now has over 45 of the top travel, spa and beauty clients in the world.

Claire has 24 years’ experience in luxury PR working on high-profile global campaigns, but she started out, armed with a degree in Law and American Studies, as a journalist for The Chester Chronicle & Evening Leader.

She moved into public relations in 1990 with one of the UK’s biggest PR agencies, the Grayling Company, and three years later took up a role as Account Director at Barclay Stratton PR. Always up for an adventure, Claire jumped at a fantastic opportunity to work in Sydney as Communications Director for one of Australia’s leading law firms, Allen’s.

On her return to the UK in 1998, Claire ran, developed and grew business for Columbus Communications, sister company to ZFL (now named PRCO), looking after accounts including Four Seasons Hotels Worldwide, Mediterranean Experience, Cap Juluca in Anguilla and Rome Cavalieri Hilton.

When she is not heading up the Grifco team, Claire is busy being a mother to two young boys. We admire how she effortlessly manages to juggle work and family life, proving (to an office full of women) that you can have both! In her down time, Claire enjoys spending time with her boys, or going for a run along the River Thames.

Happy International Women’s Day from the Grifco PR team x

Hidden Cornwall: A Weekend with Natural Retreats, Trewhiddle

When you live in a city as chaotic as London, there comes a point when you start to yearn for the smell of crisp, fresh air and the sound of nothing but the birds chirping in the trees above. Enter Natural Retreats, Trewhiddle.

Located just a little over a mile from St, Austell train station in South Cornwall sits a divine property in a peaceful valley that comprises of luxury 2, 3, and 4 bedroom self catered villas. We arrived at our destination safe, sound and happy to be in a comfortable environment after our train journey. One of the first things that got my attention as soon as we arrived at the property was how unbelievably quiet it was. I stepped out onto the wooden balcony of my private villa and closed my eyes. It took a whole thirty seconds until I heard the soft sounds of rustling trees in the distance – talk about solitude!

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Our first port of call was some authentic Cornish tapas; carefully put together by Angels in the Kitchen Kristen and Sarah. Angels in the Kitchen is a local in-house catering service, offering local produce cooked in the privacy of your own home.

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The next morning we awoke to birdsong, ready for a day out exploring what the Southern region of Cornwall had to offer. After a morning of archery on-site at the Natural Retreats Trewhiddle property, we made our way down to the harbour and enjoyed some of the freshest seafood that I had ever tasted. It was almost as if the fish and mussels had been plucked from the ocean just minutes before we had arrived.

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Then it was on to our highly anticipated kayaking adventure along the River Fowey. We had a wonderful tour guide named Ken, who had a wealth of knowledge about the local area, which made our journey so enjoyable and added that little something extra to our afternoon activity.The scenery along the River Fowey is positively breathtaking, offering the type of picturesque setting that make you want to take out your smartphone and snap a picture whilst almost capsizing your beloved kayak in the process

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We arrived back on dry land, with slightly tender upper arms but ready to get back on the road and indulge in a second serving of Cornwall’s fine culinary offerings. We dined at Wreckers in Charlestown Harbour that evening, and besides from offering delicious meals at reasonable prices, we also learnt the true meaning of Cornish hospitality when the waiters offered to drive us the two miles back to Trewhiddle due to a lack of taxi service in the area that evening.

Natural Retreats also offers a gorgeous Handpicked portfolio, including a collection of characterful and intricate homes for rent, each a little different to the last

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Front view 2

Balcony view

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What a lovely introduction to what this quirky town has to offer! Sadly my stay in Trewhiddle only lasted one weekend, but I will most definitely be back to visit the friendly team at Natural Retreats soon to make some more unforgettable memories. Until next time…

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Mojito flavoured Macaroons? It must be Grifco’s Annual Press Day!

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We love it when the August Grifco press day comes around as it means a chance for journalists to come and meet with the team and find out all about our clients’ latest news and updates. This year, our press day was held at the beautiful Conrad St. James hotel, which was the perfect venue for journalists to pop in and say hello throughout the day!

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For those that needed a little extra pampering after an early start or long day, we had a ELEMIS spa area where some of the latest ELEMIS treatments and products were showcased.

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Our Junior Account Executive Cecile, captured all the action on the day whilst Conrad St.James provided us with fresh pastries and delicious afternoon sweet treats, including mojito-infused macaroons, mini chocolate ice cream cones and tequila sunrise jelly cocktails. Terrible for the diet but that didn’t stop us all loading up our plates!

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Grifco team members, Nicole and Nadia having a lovely catch up with writer Rod Gilchrist!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To top it all off every journalist went home with a gift bag full to the brim with goodies…bottles of wine, olive oil, flip flops and enough beauty treats to fill their whole bathroom cupboard, kindly donated by our lovely clients.

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We always receive great feedback with many leads for clients following press day. Take a look at our twitter and Instagram feeds, which were buzzing with journalists sharing their favourite parts of the press day:

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…and after a hugely successful turn out, the Grifco team have gone to rest their weary feet – until next year! Big thanks to everyone who attended on the day.

 

A New Series of Relaxation Programmes from Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, Switzerland helped to relieve a stressed Australian Financial Director! By John Maiden

As a child growing up in the middle of nowhere in outback Australia, Switzerland had, and has always been a dream destination for me. Everything about Switzerland was the antithesis of my life as a child and it was with eager anticipation that I was excited about visiting Grand Resort Bad Ragaz with my lovely wife. The train ride from Zurich central station was painless, efficient and timely almost to the second (I wish the trains in the UK would take a leaf) and the views along Lake Constance are quite breath taking although admittedly we were blessed with a lovely crisp sunny day.

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The Mountain scenery at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz

On arrival, what impressed me (among other things) was the divine scenery and the fact that you can smell the air. I mean smell in the clean sense. It just smells pure and it is very easy to just stand still and simply breathe, breathing in the fresh mountain air hoping that it will last longer than that one breath. A huge bonus to this rarefied air is that standing at the front of the Grand Resort the mountain views are seriously impressive. The Resort is located in a valley on the outskirts of the town of Bad Ragaz. The mountains on either side were snow capped and the village is a lovely little quaint Swiss town with all the effortless charm and sophistication that is Switzerland.

As our arrival at the hotel was a little later than initially expected due to a cancelled flight which resulted in the minor fact that it had taken us about 12 hours to get there (as opposed to the scheduled 4 hours), we thought it best to retreat to our Spa suite. We were on the 7th floor and our 2 balconies had views over the resort’s golf course and each side we had the mountain views that only a location like this can provide. The services were efficient, the TV’s (yes plural as there are 3 in the suite) are Bang & Oulfsen, the shower can be used as a steam room, the bath can be a spa, the beds are movable and the stiffness of the mattress can be adjusted to ease those aches and pains and the lights are dimmable to create a calm ambiance.

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The View from the Spa Suite

After a great night sleep, we woke as fresh as daisies, ready for a day of treatments. We started our 1 day therapeutic relaxation programme with a private pilates personal training session and having not done this before, it certainly highlighted my lack of subtlety, flexibility and general fitness. This said, it was hugely satisfying and if we had the time we would do it on a regular basis (as God knows, we, or more specifically I, need it).

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Private Pilates Session

Following a short tea break (well thermal water break to re-hydrate after the workout we’d just had), it was on to a “Sequoia ceremony” massage. This is an hour and a half massage from top to toe, or in this case, toe to top as it starts with a relaxing foot bath and foot massage. I wish I could tell you more about it but I think that I spent most of the 90 minute session asleep and dreaming of the mountains and if it was that relaxing, that has to be a good thing. To be honest, it was excellent.

Then it was on to our lunch which we had chosen at our morning introduction. We chose the “Cuisine Équilibreé” which is fundamentally a 3 course meal that is designed and prepared to keep your body in balance. As to the taste and quality of the food, if I had this exact meal for the next week, I would be very happy. It was exquisite and the perfect top up for our afternoon activities planned.

Enjoy healthy yet delicious dishes from the resort’s Cuisine Équilibreé menu

Following lunch it was to the “Thermal Water” and there are many, many different bathing activities and iterations that come under this category and we followed a programme suggested by our morning advisor as closely as we could.

The Helena Spa Wellness pool

We started with swimming a few lengths in a pool at a temperature of 36.5 degrees. We then had a spa and water shower in the pool, time in a steam room, then a different wet sauna, then dry sauna (showers throughout). Then it was with a little trepidation that we ventured into the “naked” area.

A Sauna World

Although I was at first very reluctant to even enter, once you enter this bastion of purity, I was surprised at how liberating it actually is although don’t worry, we were not parading around like Pamela Anderson. In this area we did many of the same sauna type activities with the addition of an ice facial and a final naked dip into a 10 degree plunge pool which needless to say was incredibly refreshing while having other reductive effects on other parts of my body. As an experience it was brilliant and would I do it again, absolutely.

Then it was our last activity of the day which dressed in my pants and robe felt relatively sedate. It was facial time with Nadine. A refreshing young Swiss lady that had worked in the Resort for 7 years and obviously has a passion for what she does.  I think she assumed that I knew what I was doing. She asked me what I type of facial I would like, to which I replied, “whatever you think”, she asked me what products I wanted, I said “whatever you think” and she suggested “La Prairie” to which I happily replied, “brilliant” having no idea what I had just agreed to and the facial proceeded.

How was it? Well, I remember some warm things on my closed eyes, a bit of face scrubbing and then what seemed like a few minutes later albeit 45 minutes later, “OK, John all done”. I’d done it again, it was so relaxing that I’d fallen asleep which to be honest, is a little embarrassing but hey ho, I’m the client. It was a fitting and fantastic way to end our treatments. The 9.30am to 5pm seemed to fly by and I, and I know my wife enjoyed every minute of it. What a great way to spend a day and I would recommend this to anyone and everyone.

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Nadine, the Resort’s specialist Beauty therapist, has been doing facials for 7 years at Bad Ragaz

During the day and in light of the activities/treatments etc we did, we were often and unsurprisingly, quite thirsty. To overcome this issue, the Resort has thoughtfully made thermal water available everywhere which supposedly has healing/healthy effects on the body. Although I don’t actually know if this was true in my case, I was drinking it by the bucket loads, firstly as I alluded to earlier, because I was rather dehydrated by the activities and secondly, I had convinced myself that it was going to make me 10 years younger and I’ll give it a bit more time before I test again.

Wow, what a day and although I don’t know if I actually was medically, any healthier, I certainly felt it and it was amazing how the whole day and our visit as a whole had completely de-stressed us. We have quite a busy life in London and this trip and its activities had taken our minds away from our working lives and given us a complete break from it and if you knew my wife, that is impressive in itself and incredibly worthwhile.

What we didn’t do (among many, many activities and services) which I would have liked to was play golf, go mountain walking, go bike riding, go for a ride on a Harley, eat at the Michelin starred restaurant in the resort, have a flutter in the Casino although we’ll save those for our next trip. Thank you Grand Resort Bad Ragaz and I hope we’ll see you again soon.

www.resortragaz.ch

36 hours in Chengdu

I was lucky enough to visit Chengdu this autumn with Dorsett Hotels & Resorts. Set on the western edge of the Sichuan basin, China’s forth city is not only thriving with cultural history and world-class cuisine, it is also the gateway to the country’s most magnificent natural wonders, not least, 80% of the world’s panda population. Unlike its bigger sister cities such as Beijing, Chengdu boasts a far more jovial rhythm, a captivating local culture and a plethora of tourist attractions.

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Giant Pandas playing in the early morning sunshine

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Despite being home to more than 14 million people, Chengdu is notably laidback. Whittle away the afternoon in one of the many traditional teahouses (do as the locals do, and try your hand at a game of mah-jong) or take a wander down Wide & Narrow Alleys, stopping to try local delicacies such as Dragon’s beard candy (a delicious Chinese sweet similar to spun sugar) as I did.

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Street food and culinary delights at Wide & Narrow Alley

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Wander

….down Jinli, an ever-popular and vibrant street, Jinli’s history can be traced back to the Qin Dynasty of 221BC. Soak up the atmosphere, inhale the spicy and irresistible aromas wafting up from tea stalls, and take your pick from one of the many Sichuan snacks, or xiaochi. Everything is rustled up on the spot and this place is the only street in town that you’ll get anywhere close to trying Chengdu’s 5,000-plus specialities, from rice glueballs to wontons and boiled dumplings.

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Beautiful tree decorations on Jinli Street

Ignite the taste buds

…with a Chengdu hotpot. The capital of the Sichuan Province, Chengdu has the highest density of restaurants and teahouses of any city in the world – some 42,000 at the latest estimate. Food crazes blaze across the gourmet scene like prairie fires, but the hotpot has been a longstanding Sichuan delicacy and is here to stay. With good reason, Unesco designated Chengdu the first City of Gastronomy in Asia, ahead of Singapore, Tokyo and Singapore in 2010.

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Sizzling Sichuan hotpot

Dine like a king

…at Yu’s Kitchen. This magical restaurant is by reservation only. Referred to by Fuchsia Dunlop as China’s answer to El Bulli, manage to secure one of the six tables as we did and you won’t be disappointed as chef Yu Bo delights the senses with an idiosyncratic display of gourmet Chinese dishes. Marvel at the beautifully-presented plates on the 32-course tasting menu, from alligator to truffle to edible ‘calligraphy brushes’ with sweet tomato dipping ‘ink’, all washed down with spherified jasmin tea.

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Just one of the dishes on the 32-course tasting menu at Yu’s Kitchen

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Our table at Yu’s Kitchen

Drink

…Tea. Natural wonders and food aside, it’s not just tea aficionados that should experience one of Chengdu’s greatest traditions – the teahouse. Traditionally synonymous with cards and mah-jong, discover these inviting houses nestled among the quieter corners of the city, perfect for a chrysanthemum or flowering osmanthus tea – a show in itself!

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Tea and spice markets

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Too many tea infusions to choose from

Cuddle

…A panda! These cute furry friends are the city’s main attraction, and the Giant Panda Research Base is an easy taxi journey (6 miles) from downtown Chengdu. Encompassing a vast 600 acres, this panda mecca is home to Giant Pandas and Red Pandas. The latter, smaller in size and rather endearing to watch as they happily played among the grass at breakfast time. Go at dawn when the pandas are most active, rolling around and climbing trees. For a hefty fee (circa £95) you can even cuddle one!

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Young Red Panda cub

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Just chillin’

& if you’re lucky

…catch a glimpse of the utterly adorable baby panda cubs, like we did!

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Little baby pandas, born just one week prior to our visit

Sleep

…In the comfiest beds in town. The beautiful Dorsett Grand Chengdu is perfect for those keen to explore both the city and surrounding areas. Fresh off the plane, the large bathtub and array of delicious lotions and potions made for a welcome night’s sleep as I dove face-first into this cloud of a bed on the 39th floor. With the curtains drawn, the room is enveloped in complete darkness guaranteeing even the most troubled sleeper an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

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Spacious, airy bedrooms and irresistibly comfortable beds at Dorsett Grand Chengdu

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Beautiful interior design in the lobby at Dorsett Grand Chengdu

Location is also hard to beat when it comes to Dorsett Grand Chengdu. Ideally situated in the lively Luoma Market area of the city, the hotel is just moments from the bustling Chunxi Road and renowned Chengdu sports centre. Metro stations just across the road render exploring the city cost-effective an hassle-free.

www.dorsetthotels.com/chengdu

Getting There

Many airlines fly from London to Chengdu, and BA launched a direct flight route from London Heathrow just earlier this year. Flight time: under 11 hours.

 

The Most Delicious Place In The Maldives

When I told a travel editor I was going to visit the Maldives for four days and that the resort I was staying at had 12 – yes 12 – restaurants and bars, she wondered if I could visit them all. The challenge was set. Could I visit all of the eateries at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, the resort with the most bars and restaurants in the Maldives, in four days?

I arrived at Malé airport tired and hungry, keen to get to my final destination to begin my challenge. The Conrad team there appeared like a mirage – I was whisked up to their private lounge to wait for my seaplane transfer, and a masseuse offered me a soothing back, shoulder, neck and head massage to counter the long flight. There was breakfast and wifi too. Happy days!  photo 1

It wasn’t long before I was transported from one cocoon to another, with a short seaplane hop. As we approached the resort we could see the two islands and the long bridge that connects them, stretching across the most perfect calm blue waters I have ever seen.

Cold towels and a chilled drink await as you step off the plane and onto the resort’s welcome pontoon. From there I was whisked to my room, a beach villa with tropical outdoor bathroom – including a giant rain shower and a square bathtub beneath a canopy surrounded by candles and leafy foliage.  There are a number of different rooms at the resort, including the iconic villas on stilts above the water, but I loved being right on the beach and having a little sandy pathway from my  door to my sun lounger by the sea.

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I had three mornings so plenty of time to try breakfast at both Atoll Market, the buffet style restaurant, and Vilu, located across the bridge with really amazing views out over the beach and sea. Atoll had a fantastical, mind boggling choice of dishes and a troop of chefs on hand to make any breakfast dream come true including a green juice bar and plump dim sum. Vilu was my favourite though – it was more boutique in feel with a small buffet and a la carte menu. They made a great Maldivian reef fish omelette with chilli and herbs,  delicious with fresh watermelon juice.

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Conrad Maldives_ Atoll Restaurant (4)

The Rangali Bar on the beach was a lovely spot for lunch as well as refreshing cocktails before dinner – the menu there was classic dishes and deli dining, lots of great wraps and salads. I loved Mandhoo Restaurant, opposite the spa. It follows the spa’s five elements philosophy, and you choose depending on the elements you feel inspired by. Or just what sounds good on the menu! Really great fresh seafood and fish that practically jumps off the plate – in an amazing setting. If you are lucky you can spot manta rays swimming past you.

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Dinner was where choices started to get really difficult! So many places to choose and so little time. A highlight for me was an amazing Japanese tasting menu at Koko, an intimate little restaurant that sits a very small group, sunken into the sand. The Maldivian chef whipped up melt in the mouth sashimi and perfectly cooked Kobe beef right before our eyes and spoke perfect Japanese to one of our fellow diners.

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I also made it to Sunset Bar and Grill to tuck into local lobster and wine from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s French estate, Miraval – a beautiful rosé that the Sommelier managed to lay his hands on because he worked there previously.

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Another evening we paired fine wines with tapas and delectable cheeses at the Cheese & Wine Bar – an amazing room underground where guests can enjoy a menu of 101 of the world’s best cheeses and wines to match. The floor in this hidden away room is silky, cool sand that you can dip your toes into.

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I failed my challenge though – I needed a few more days and a few more dinners. Ufaa, a brand new gourmet Chinese restaurant – was soon to open (it is now), and I had a look around Ithaa, the amazing famous underwater restaurant but will save dinner there for another trip.

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The wine cellar was somewhere all the guests were talking about – I popped down to check it out and it’s quite a sight – thousands of bottles of the best wine kept at perfect temperature and displayed beautifully underground. Guests are given fluffy slippers and blankets to keep cosy while they enjoy a personalised wine tasting experience with the Sommelier, paired with a delicious degustation dinner.Conrad Maldives_The Wine Cellar (7)

I also found time amidst the wining and dining to try outdoor yoga, snorkelling around the house reef, and a visit to the fantastic Spa to visit Christelle, the resort Naturopath for energy-boosting ear acupuncture and reiki. I actually didn’t feel jet lagged at all, during or after my stay and I’m sure the treatments helped. I did however feel rather full – I’ll be working this trip off for a while!

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www.conradhotels.com/maldives

 

 

Highly Anticipated Park Hyatt Vienna Opens

Hotel Exterior with Concierge

Park Hyatt Vienna Exterior

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Check in at Park Hyatt Vienna

At the opening of the Park Hyatt Vienna on Thursday night, it was hard to believe that the hotel hadn’t always been there. Right on one of the oldest squares, the Am Hof, in the UNESCO-protected heart of the city, the hotel is gracious and imposing, its great classical stone columns rising up to a pretty attic-style copper roof.

Park Hyatt Vienna's Bank Restaurant

Park Hyatt Vienna’s Bank Restaurant

The spacious presidential suite

The spacious presidential suite

The Pearl Bar

The Pearl Bar

Locals refer to the building as “The Bank” for good reason. Until a couple of years ago, the building housed the Bank of Austria – which explains the grandeur of its interiors. Beyond the imposing lobby, original stained glass windows from the early 1900s send light throughout the enormous space. Pillars and floors are of polished marble. Walls are embellished with multi-coloured stone cladding, painted with gold, lit with chandeliers and at the back, watched over by the bank’s original clock. As a guest was overheard to say: “It’s the closest thing Vienna has to the Georges V in Paris: the most glamorous opening the city has seen.”

Couples Spa Treatment Room in the Arany Spa

Couples Spa Treatment Room in the Arany Spa

Park King Room

Park King Room

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Park Hyatt Launch Decorations

Although the building’s historical details have been painstakingly preserved – and overseen by the city’s Antiquities and Monuments office – the interiors have been given a fresh, 21st-century look by hip Amsterdam-based designers FG stijl. Lounge chairs are covered in cool silvery velvets and super-soft metallic leather. Massive works of art by contemporary Viennese artists adorn the walls. Flowers arrangements are modern and sculptural (on the newspaper desk a row of orange arum lilies with grasses decorated the desk). Even the crockery and cutlery is clean and unfussy: the very antithesis of the fin de siècle architecture.

In most hotels, while public spaces are knock-out, often the rooms are unimpressive. Not here. Not only are the guest rooms the most spacious in the city (the smallest 35square metres, the largest 120), but characterful (of the 143 rooms, there are 100 different layouts, the warm, friendly young GM Monique Dekker told us).

Of the “standard” rooms, the sixth floor are the most characterful: with sloping “attic”-style ceilings and windows (best are road-facing, rather than courtyard-facing). All are similar colours: with unpolished oak parquet floors and limed oak wood pillars and panelling; latte-shaded walls; spacious lime-oak wardrobes; and bathrooms with unpolished marble finishes, capacious showers and baths, pretty beaten silver basins with clean-lined Grohe taps. Spoiling little extras in the bathroom included generous silver tubes of lime-scented Blaise Mautin products and super-soft white towelling robe that (unlike many hotels) were light and velvety.

Then there are the little luxury finishes: the elegant art-deco-style leather-covered desk; the mother-of-pearl-covered coffee table and (our favourite) a handsome wooden stand-alone drinks cabinet with hand-crafted mother-of-pearl handles and inside not just an Illy espresso machine, and local chocolate, cereal-bars and snacks, but an easy-glide fridge drawer stocked with delicious local drinks.

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A delicious Viennese Spread!

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Chocolate Infused with Ginger

The hotel’s Presidential Suite has to be one of the most sumptuous and glitzy in the capital: double-height, with a grand oak four-poster, a elaborate Viennese crystal chandelier, a pretty balcony looking over the square, and a bathroom with not just twinkly silver mosaic tiles around the bath but a whole lapis lazuli wall. All I could think of was just how many necklaces you could make out of it…

As one would expect of the Park Hyatt’s first Austrian hotel, the food at the opening party was sensational. One entire room was dedicated only to chocolates: strips, balls, squares and truffles, arranged in beautiful glass bowls set at different heights. There was a caviar bar. A cheese room where they showed off dozens of the different breads the Austrians breads are known for (gruyere cheese sticks were particularly moreish). And in the open-air kitchen of Bank, where chefs prepare local seasonal international food, little platters were being dished up: the rarest roast rump with grilled artichokes; foie gras with cherries; risotto with morelles. And of course, in the glamorous wood-panelled ballroom, there were platters of famous Viennese chocolate cakes, speckled with gold and adorned with cherries. And that was before one got to the library and drawing room, where the cream of silk-clad Viennese society were sipping XO Hennessey cognac and smoking cigars in a scene that could have been from a 100 years ago.

The next morning, things were a little quieter (the last guests left at 4.30am, a slightly weary looking Monique confided!) Perfect, then, for the spa. Called Arany (Hungarian for gold), it is set in the basement in the former bank vault, where the thick steel door is still installed as a reminder of the building’s past. In what must be a first, the 100m-long pool is floored in tiles the shape and size of gold bullion, overlooked by a handsome wood-panelled Technogym gym, and next to a soothing spa, with six treatment rooms. We soothed tired bodies with a full Sodashi massage, sauna and pummelling massage-rain-shower, followed by a huge array of pastries and breads. Then feeling human again, went out into Vienna to explore.

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Shopping in the Golden Quarter

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Gorgeous Suede Gloves

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A Milliner’s Dream!

The hotel is right at the heart of the revitalized Golden Quarter, just renovated (to a reported cost of 500 million euros), and now home to upmarket shops from Louis Vuitton to Church’s shoes. Keen to see some of the city’s more historical shops, we headed first to see its most famous cake shop: Demel, where within wooden-panelled rooms, they sell every sort of cake one might imagine, from strudels to rich sache torte (some handily packaged in easy-to-pack wooden boxes). Vienna is known for its gloves, so we visited its tiny Stiassny glovemaker, where Mr Stiassny makes gloves, and his sister sells them in the tiny wood-clad store. We popped into the three-story Knize, gentleman’s outfitters to the aristocracy for centuries (where the men among us bought raincoats with removable woollen lining). We ogled the jewels in Schullin jeweller, its shop designed by famous local architect Hans Hollein. We met the seventh-generation shoemaker at Scheer (where all shoes are made to order, and cost from 5,000 euros).

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Schullin Jewellers

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Schullin Jewellers

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Scheer’s Made-to-Order Gold Shoes!

And when we were exhausted – too much partying and way too much shopping in the glamorous Kohlmarkt, the street on which coal was now sold, and which is now the Madison Avenue or Bond Street of Vienna – we strolled back, taking in the grand domed palace, the churches and spires of this immaculately maintained Austrian city. It was a flying visit but next time, it will be to go to the opera, St Peter’s baroque cathedral, the Spanish Riding School, the museums. And, of course, back to the Park Hyatt Vienna, for yet another slice of rum-and-poppy-seed cake.

Synchronised swimming display to launch the Gold Bullion Swimming Pool. 

For more information please visit: http://www.vienna.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html

Images source: © Park Hyatt Vienna