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Thailand is one of the world’s most popular destinations thanks to its incredible beaches, fantastic food and friendly people. With hundreds of islands to explore, it’s best to focus on one or two regions such as the Gulf of Thailand or the Andaman Sea. We’ve put together a handy island hopping in Thailand 2 week itinerary to help you make the most of your time.

Island Hopping in Thailand

The Andaman Coast is one of the best choices for Thailand island hopping. With crystal clear water, abundant coral reefs and lush scenery, it’s rightly popular. Our friends at the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Travelbag put together a fantastic Southern Thailand island hopping itinerary, taking in Krabi Province, the Southern Islands of Phang Nga Bay, Phi Phi Islands and Phuket.

Thailand 2 week itinerary

When planning your itinerary for Thailand, be sure to allow some time to kick back and relax. We’d recommend 2 nights or more at most of the destinations so that you can explore the islands, go snorkelling or simply enjoy the beach. If you’re wondering when is the best time to visit Thailand, it’s particularly popular between November to April. There’s minimal rainfall and it’s nice and sunny, although it never gets very cold in Thailand.


Krabi makes an excellent starting point from which to go island hopping in Thailand. The town of Krabi is on the mainland, however Krabi Province is home to some of the most beautiful islands in Thailand such as Koh Phi Phi. There are direct flights with Qatar Airways from Doha to Krabi as well as internal flights from Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui to Krabi. The Shellsea Krabi is a brand new luxury hotel in a tranquil part of Krabi yet it’s only 30 minutes drive from the airport. In Thailand, the beaches are public but on these golden sands you get the feel of a private beach as it’s not at all crowded.

Walking to the far end, you come across a natural wonder, Fossil Shell Beach. One of only 3 such sights in the world, it might look like man-made slabs but it’s actually composed entirely of shell fossils. There’s a visitor centre at the top of the hill and stalls selling pearl jewellery at reasonable prices.

If you can tear yourself away from the private pool in your villa, there are some other interesting things to do in Krabi, such as visiting Wat Tham Sua, the Tiger Cave Temple. The Emerald Pool and Krabi Town are also popular with visitors to the area.

Just 35 minutes by car from The ShellSea, you’ll find Amari Vogue Krabi. It has a great location opposite Hong Islands, which are easy to reach by direct longboat from its beach. There are 3 swimming pools,  a stylish spa and an award-winning beachfront restaurant, Bellini.

The sunsets on Tubkaak Beach are particularly impressive and are best enjoyed with a signature cocktail in hand. Right next to the hotel, there’s the National Park of Khao Ngon Nak. Also known as Dragon Crest Mountain, it’s a scenic 2 to 3 hours walk to the top.

Koh Phi Phi

Phi Phi Island, as it’s often called is actually 2 islands, Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Leh. They’re considered to be among the world’s most beautiful islands and if you visit you will soon understand why. Part of the fun is getting here, by taking a private speedboat or a ferry from Nopparat Thara Pier in Ao Nang. There are food stalls and restaurants here, but you can also purchase food and water on the ferry. During the 2 hour ferry ride, you’ll see some stunning scenery, with rocky outcrops and azure blue water.

Once you arrive at Tonsai Pier, you need to pay a 20 baht entry fee to the island. Hop on a longboat to Phi Phi Island Village, or take the resort’s own speedboat depending on your arrival time. Arriving at Phi Phi Island Village on Koh Phi Phi Don was one of the highlights of our Thailand itinerary. The island lies within the Nopparattra National Park, and the palm fringed beach is charming.

Koh Phi Phi Don

There were just 2,500 people living on Koh Phi Phi Don at the last census in 2013, and Phi Phi Island Village is ideally located on the quietest part of the island, within . The traditional bungalows and hillside pool villas are built in traditional style with thatched roofs. Our private infinity pool was the perfect setting in which to enjoy afternoon tea each day. We could easily have stayed there all day, but Koh Phi Phi Don is the ideal base from which to take a Phi Phi islands tour. The resort is known for its Phi Phi Island Dive Village, a PADI certified 5-Star Gold Palm diving centre. Whether you’re an experienced diver or a novice like us, they have tours suitable for all abilities. We chose the early bird half day trip in one of the resort’s own speedboats. It takes you directly to Maya Bay so you avoid most of the crowds, before heading to Pileh Lagoon for snorkelling, then Viking Cave and Monkey Island to see monkeys in their natural habitat.

Koh Phi Phi Leh

Maya Bay is a picturesque place that’s famous worldwide as the setting for The Beach, the film starring Leonardo di Caprio. The beach is framed on 3 sides by cliffs that are 100 metres high. It’s best to get there as early as you can in the morning to avoid the crowds. For that reason, it’s definitely worth staying as close to Maya Bay as you can. Whilst there are no hotels on the island of Koh Phi Phi Le itself, you can get from Phi Phi Don to Phi Phi Leh in 30 minutes by speedboat. We’d advise anyone visiting to wear water shoes as you’ll need to wade on to the beach and there are quite a few rocks under water.

To get from Koh Phi Phi Leh to your next destination, Koh Yao Noi, you’ll take Phi Phi Island Village Resort’s speedboat to stylish Ao Por Grand Marina in Phuket. From there, it’s a short car journey to HKT Yacht Haven Marina. As you can see, it really is a haven! There’s a chic cafe with restrooms, air-con and Wi-Fi and from here it’s a 50 minute speedboat transfer to Paradise Koh Yao Noi.

Koh Yao Noi

One of our favourite Thailand hidden gems, Koh Yao Noi is a laid-back island getaway. We found paradise here, well, Paradise Koh Yao to be exact ;-). This boutique beachfront hotel is located on the smaller of the two Koh Yao islands. It’s one of the closest located hotels to James Bond Island, where The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed. The boho-chic decor of the hotel is charming, and the new TreeHouse Villas at the neighbouring sister property are equally stylish.

However, it’s the feeling of being at one with nature that’s the real draw here. Oriental hornbills fly around the property, eating the berries and no doubt admiring the view as we did! These canopy-dwelling birds are recognizable by their large yellow-tinged beak.

The island is situated in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, between Phuket & the mainland of Krabi. Phang Nga Bay is known for its’ unique limestone formations & pristine beaches & was most famously captured in the James Bond film – “The Man with the Golden Gun” & “The Beach” with Leonardo Di Caprio. To get to your next destination, the nearby island of Koh Yao Yai, you’ll take the hotel’s bus to the village and Manoh pier. Along the way, we spotted rubber trees with tapping buckets on their trunks and several water buffalo grazing. From the pier, it’s a 10 minute long-boat ride to Chong Lad pier on Koh Yao Yai.

Koh Yao Yai

Although it’s the larger of the two Koh Yao islands, Koh Yao Yai has less inhabitants. It’s definitely a contender for best island in Thailand as it’s so unspoiled. In keeping with the local Thai architecture of the local habitations, Santhiya Koh Yao Yai was built in an ornate traditional style. You can see craftsmen in the lobby, carving intricate patterns onto the wooden pillars and these beautiful decorations are found throughout the resort. There’s a fabulous 1,500 square metre pool with a manmade waterfall and a hilltop infinity pool from which you can admire the surrounding islands.


Our final destination is the largest of the islands in Thailand, Phuket. Easily accessible from many locations in Thailand, it’s a pleasant speedboat ride from Koh Yao Yai. Island hopping from Phuket

Cape Panwa in Phuket is a great base from which to explore the surrounding area. This stylish hotel has been popular with celebrities since it opened 30 years ago, in fact Leonardo di Caprio and the crew filming The Beach stayed here. Panwa House restaurant specializes in authentic Thai cooking and is just one of the many great dining options within the hotel grounds.

The hotel is a few minutes walk away from Phuket Aquarium and about 40 minutes by car from the Big Buddha, which is well worth a visit. We recommend going for sunrise to make the most of the light. Standing 45 metres high on a hilltop, it’s an impressive white marble statue and has panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. The site is free to enter, however you can donate towards the construction costs of the statue’s base by purchasing a tile or a heart plaque. As is the case in other religious sites in Thailand, visitors must cover their legs and bare shoulders and there’s a booth where you can borrow a sarong if need be.

There are several night markets in Phuket, and if you’re there on a Sunday then don’t miss the Sunday Walking Street Market, or Phuket Weekend Market as it’s also known. Held every Sunday from 4 pm to 10 pm in the picturesque Old Town with its Sino-Portugese buildings, it’s a fun place to find crafts or clothing.

As you can see, it’s easy to spend 2 weeks in Thailand and to never be bored. With some fantastic spas, luxury escapes and hidden gems that we’ll be uncovering in upcoming posts, the island’s charms are sure to have you returning time and time again.

We recommend the following itinerary, but you could easily reverse the order and start with island hopping from Phuket, finishing in Krabi.

5 nights in Krabi (ShellSea Krabi and Amari Vogue) 2-3 nights in Koh Phi Phi 1 night in Koh Yao Noi 2 nights in Koh Yao Yai 3 nights in Phuket Tips for Thailand Island Hopping

Bring plenty of Thai baht, the official currency in case you spot a bargain at one of the many markets. Bank cards are accepted at all the hotels. For your Thailand packing list, we’d suggest water shoes and loose, lightweight clothing. A sarong will come in very handy for ladies at the temples and can double up as a skirt. For the Phi Phi island tour, it’s best to dress in your swimming costume with shorts and a top over it, as you’ll be getting in and out of the water a lot. There’s no need to bring snorkelling equipment as you can rent it in most places. Internet access is excellent at these particular hotels, even on the smaller islands. As for tips, they’re not expected but will be very much appreciated.

Have you ever been to Thailand? We hope that this guide to island hopping in Thailand has inspired you to travel there. Let us know in the comments if you have any tips for first time or returning visitors!

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In association with Travelbag UK and the Tourism Authority of Thailand

The post Island Hopping in Thailand – The Perfect 2 Week Itinerary appeared first on Luxury Columnist.

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Sarasota County is blessed with some fantastic dining options, from steakhouses to seafood and salads. Whether in Downtown Sarasota, Siesta Key, St Armand’s Circle, or Venice, Florida there are some wonderful places to eat. We’re sharing our favourite dining spots, including some of the best restaurants in Sarasota that you’re sure to enjoy.

The Best Restaurants in Sarasota County Bijou Cafe

Since opening in 1986, Bijou Cafe has been wowing diners with its Continental-American food. Chef Jean-Pierre Knaggs and his wife Shay have received many accolades including the Open Table Diner’s Choice Award 2017. The restaurant has an elegant feel with two courtyards for al fresco dining. Try the shrimp and crab bisque soup or the pepper steak with a secret spicy sauce.

1287 First Street, Sarasota, FL 34236

Boca Kitchen Bar & Market

A newcomer to the Sarasota dining scene, Boca is already proving popular with the locals. They focus on farm to table dining and you can buy some of the local produce to take home. Speaking of which, there are some great Sarasota farmers markets open weekly. All the ingredients at Boca are fresh and there are some great market specials like the Tecumseh Farms smoked cachaca chicken with brussels hash and crushed chimichurri. Much of the seating is communal in order to encourage a sense of community so it’s a fun place to come with friends.

19 S. Lemon Ave, Sarasota, FL  34236

Clasico Cafe Bar

A cool spot for drinks and contemporary American cuisine, Clasico Cafe Bar is an all day eatery with a lovely location on the corner of Main and Palm in Downtown Sarasota. Relax in the comfy outdoor seating and tuck into tasty dishes such as lobster Benedict or Chef Guillaume’s beef Bourguignon, a family recipe.

On several nights of the week there are musical events, such as a one man Cuban band on Wednesdays, a live DJ on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and an open mic night on Sundays. Diners can also try their hand at playing the piano decorated by artist Viktorija Bulava. It’s one of several placed around the city by Sarasota Keys, a project hosted by the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. The piano became an internet sensation when a passerby filmed a homeless man, Donald Gould, playing it. Donald is a classically trained pianist and since starring in the YouTube video, he’s played the National Anthem for the San Francisco 49ers season opener and got a recording contract.

1341 Main St, Sarasota, FL 34236

Fins at Sharky’s

Renowned as a “steakhouse with a serious seafood side”, Fins at Sharky’s has an incomparable location on the beach. With direct views of Venice Fishing Pier, it has a stylish coastal decor. There’s even a giant fin on the roof! Serving up seasonal ingredients from South Florida, they do delicious salads, sushi and oysters. The Surf and Turf Sushi Roll was a real treat, with asparagus, Maine lobster, tempura shrimp and avocado topped with sweet soy sauce, sriracha mayo and a hoisin glaze.

1600 Harbor Drive South, Venice FL 34285
Island Organics

Not strictly a restaurant but more of a cafe, Island Organics is nonetheless one of our favourite places for juices, smoothies and healthy food in Venice, Florida. Owner Alexa Dippolito spotted a gap in the market for juices made from organic fruit and vegetables and since opening in 2013, Island Organics has been popular for its healthy breakfast and lunch menu. There are options for gluten free, vegan and vegetarian diets.

231 Miami Ave W, Venice, FL 34285

Jack Dusty

The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota is known for its chic decor and impeccable service and its new restaurant, Jack Dusty, is one of the best restaurants in Downtown Sarasota. With a relaxed atmosphere, superb bayside views and a large outdoor terrace, it’s popular with locals and visitors alike for its fresh coastal cuisine. If you’re wondering who Jack Dusty was, it’s an 18th century term for a naval store clerk. Try a Sandy Bottom cocktail for sharing with a group, or a craft microbrew. One of their signature dishes is Sarasota Cioppino with gulf shrimp, grouper, bay scallops, clams and mussels in a tomato and orange peel broth.

1111 Ritz Carlton Dr, Sarasota, FL 34236

Le Colonne Restaurant

A family affair, Le Colonne Restaurant specializes in authentic Italian cooking. It’s located at St Armands Circle, a charming retail and dining destination.Their pizzas are prepared daily with a low-calorie dough and cooked in a wood-fired oven. The handmade pasta is also prepared fresh every day and is particularly tasty. Save some room for the traditional tiramisu, also homemade daily.

2 S Boulevard of the Presidents, Sarasota, FL 34236

Lido Key Tiki Bar

For sundowners on the beach, Lido Key Tiki Bar is the place to come. It’s part of The Ritz-Carlton Residences but open to all. The rustic, open-air beach bar is a great place to watch the sun set whilst sipping a Lido Key Mai Tai or Margarita. They also offer handhelds like burgers, wraps and tacos, with ice-cream sandwiches for dessert.

1234 Benjamin Franklin Dr, Sarasota, FL 34242

Michael’s on East

The only AAA Four Diamond Award restaurant in Sarasota, Michael’s on East is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Michael Klauber and his business partner Phil Mancini are founding members of the Eat Like a Local movement which gathers together locally owned restaurants sharing a passion for food. Michael is also Co-Chair of Forks & Corks, a renowned Florida food and wine festival, held at The Ringling Museum in January each year. In addition to the award-winning restaurant, there’s also a contemporary wine cellar which can be rented for private events. For larger events, there’s the Michael’s on East Ballroom in Midtown Plaza. Back at Michael’s on East, diners can enjoy healthy dishes such as chimichurri tenderloin, Southwestern mahi-mahi and butter-roasted flounder. The signature Chocolate Blackout Cake has layer upon layer of chocolate custard cake covered with chocolate Jimmies.

1212 S. East Ave., Sarasota, FL 34239

Ophelia’s on the Bay

Siesta Beach was voted Best Beach in North America 2017 in the TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Awards and Best Beach in America 2017 by Dr. Beach. After spending some time on the magnificent white sand beach, why not head to one of the great Siesta Key restaurants nearby. Ophelia’s on the Bay is one of the best restaurants in Siesta Key, with a magical setting on the waterfront. It’s an elegant place with a bayside patio and floor-to-ceiling windows and a hit since opening in 1988. Executive chef Daniel Olson has created some superb dishes such as New England diver scallops with beurre noisette, bacon jam, sweet potato purée and smokey dill scented Champagne beurre blanc. Service is really friendly and if you’re lucky you may spot blue herons and dolphins from your patio table.

9105 Midnight Pass Rd, Sarasota, FL 34242


Cool beach lifestyle store Shore also has an al-fresco eatery serving signature dishes such as Key West shrimp and scallop risotto and pan-fried red snapper with wilted spinach, arancini cake, caponata and citrus butter. Why not try the truffle fries with parmesan and chives on the side. Located on St Armands Circle, it’s a vibrant place by night and also popular for its brunch dishes like marinated steak and eggs.

465 John Ringling Blvd #100, Sarasota, FL 34236

Venice Avenue Creamery

We’re finishing with a sweet treat, which isn’t a restaurant per se but is somewhere you won’t want to miss if visiting Venice, Florida. Family-owned and operated since 1967, their friendly staff serve handmade ice-cream, sorbet, frozen yogurt and waffle cones. The Key Lime Pie yogurt, Cookie Monster and Chunky Salted caramel ice creams are worth writing home about ;-).

249 W Venice Ave, Venice, FL 34285

As we said, these were the best restaurants in Sarasota that we’ve tried, but we’d love to hear your recommendations for future visits. Many of you kindly suggested places to eat via social media, including Duval’s, Indigenous, Selva Grill and the Blue Rooster Gospel Brunch in Downtown Sarasota and Antoine’s on Tuttle Avenue.

Take a video tour of Sarasota County here – there are so many things to do in Sarasota, FL including world-class museums, natural attractions and family-friendly activities.

FUN Things To Do In SARASOTA County | FLORIDA - YouTube

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Best restaurants in Sarasota County – in association with Visit Florida and Hertz

The post The Best Restaurants in Sarasota County, Florida That You’ll Love appeared first on Luxury Columnist.

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Although the weather is unusually cold for this time of year, don’t let that stop you getting out and about. There are some great exhibitions to enjoy, March events and fantastic places to travel to right now.

There’s a definite move away from ostentatious displays of wealth these days and we hope that you’ll find our article on defining luxury of interest. It’s quite a subjective notion as luxury means something different to everyone.

March Events

Yayoi Kusama is one of our favourite living artists and we were lucky to see some of her work in Ginza, Tokyo. This month there’s a new exhibition featuring her iconic pumpkin paintings at Omer Tiroche Gallery in Mayfair. Yayoi Kusama: Small Pumpkin Paintings displays a range of works together for the first time in the UK. They represent her childhood and the conflict between escapism and reality. The exhibition is open from 1 March to 1 June 2018, weekdays from 10 am to 6 pm at Omer Tiroche, 21 Conduit Street.

Head to Tate Modern from 8 March for the first solo exhibition of Pablo Picasso to ever be held there. The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy will take visitors on a journey through 1932, that many refer to as his ‘year of wonders’. With more than 100 paintings, sculptures and sketches on display, it’s highly anticipated.

Lifestyle File

With the current icy conditions, staying warm is a priority. The Scandinavians know a thing or two about cosiness, and the Danish word for it is hygge. Find out how to inject hygge decor and style into your home and wardrobe.

Have you adapted your beauty routine to the cold weather? If not then our tips on how to get great Spring skin should hopefully come in handy.

Luxury brand Lalique are celebrating 130 years in 2018 and the launch of their new jewellery collection, Hirondelles. The word means swallow which is the symbol of Lalique and good luck. René Lalique used the swallow image regularly in his designs and the new collection includes a beautiful swallow necklace, pendant earrings and an open ring.

If you’re a fan of music and pianos in particular then the new Steinway & Sons Sunburst piano will definitely strike a chord. This Limited Edition model features the sunburst colours adorning the guitars of rock legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. We went to the launch at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London, a very fitting venue indeed. There will only be 69 of these stunning pianos worldwide, celebrating 1969, the year in which the Beatles released their Abbey Road album.

Travel Tales

If you’re in need of some Winter sun then Florida is the perfect choice. Sarasota County is one of our favourite destinations, for the mix of cultural attractions, high-end restaurants and some of the best beaches in the United States.

There are over 7100 islands in The Philippines so finding one you like shouldn’t be an issue. Try to fit in a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Palawan, the Underground River. If you go via the capital, there are lots of interesting things to do in Manila.

Thailand is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and rightly so thanks to its delicious cuisine, beautiful scenery and historical sights. From Krabi to Phi-Phi and Phuket via the lesser known islands such as Koh Ya Noi, there’s lots to explore and we’ll be sharing travel tips with you over the coming weeks.

Coming Soon in April

We’ll be heading to Estonia for the first time and returning to the Amalfi Coast, Italy so expect lots more travel tips! Any suggestions for the best places to go in either place are very welcome. What do you have planned for this month?

The post On the Hotlist – Top March Events, Lifestyle and Travel Tips appeared first on Luxury Columnist.

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Blessed with a fantastic climate and some of the best beaches in the States, Sarasota County is popular with families and luxury lovers. Located on Florida’s temperate Gulf Coast, Sarasota and its neighbouring municipalities Longboat Key, North Port and Venice have much to offer the visitor. Siesta Key Beach was voted the best beach in America in 2017 by Dr. Beach and won TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award for Best Beach in North America in 2017. In addition to its famous beaches, there are many other Sarasota attractions such as farmer’s markets, world-class museums and gourmet restaurants to enjoy.

FUN Things To Do In SARASOTA County | FLORIDA - YouTube

Unmissable Sarasota Attractions Farmer’s Markets

Sarasota County is known for its delicious fresh produce, and it has some great farmer’s markets that you should visit. Phillippi Farmhouse Market takes place every Wednesday from October to April, from 9 am to 2 pm. Located at 5500 S. Tamiami Trail, south of Downtown Sarasota, it gathers together over 50 vendors. All the food vendors here are growers, such as Homestead Hydrophonics which produces pesticide-free food using a tenth of the water required by traditional farming. There’s live music, a tourist information stall and even a mobile dog wash!

In Downtown Sarasota on Lemon and Main Street, Sarasota Farmer’s Market is held every Saturday between 7 am and 1 pm. There’s a wide selection on display including freshly baked bread, orchids, gardening products, seafood and more.

Great Outdoors

Sarasota County has over 67,000 acres of nature to explore, from Myakka River State Park to Celery Fields, a popular bird-watching location and Oscar Scherer State Park. Whether you’re keen on fishing, kayaking, hiking or camping in the great outdoors, there’s something for everyone. Sarasota Legacy Trail is a biking trail that links Sarasota to Venice. Built on the former rail tracks of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, it connects with the Venetian Waterway Park Trail. It’s prohibited to motor vehicles and used by walkers and rollerbladers as well as cyclists. Historic Spanish Point is a 30 acre outdoor museum on Little Sarasota Bay in Osprey. It has one of the largest butterfly gardens on the Gulf Coast.

In September 2018, Nathan Benderson Park will play host to the World Rowing Masters Regatta. It’s the only International Rowing Federation-approved course in North America and the event promises to be a great success.

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are the only botanical gardens in the world focused on the study and display of epiphytes. If you’re wondering what those are, they are organisms that grow on another plant, such as orchids, bromeliads and ferns. Contrary to popular belief, they are not parasitic and derive their nutrients from the air, rain and compost rather than the tree itself. There are some superb specimens of epiphytes as well as centuries old banyan trees planted by the Selby family. Kids will love the Children’s Rainforest Garden, whilst all ages will enjoy the bay-front setting. A new exhibition, Warhol: Flowers in the Factory runs until 30 June 2018 and showcases Andy Warhol’s fascination with the natural world.

Of course, the amazing beaches in Sarasota are one of the county’s biggest draws for locals and visitors alike. With 35 miles of beaches, there’s a huge choice and they’re easily accessible to all. Beach Wheelchairs are available at no cost at Lido, Manasota, Nokomis, Siesta and Venice beaches and there’s also a roll-out mat at Siesta Beach. The latter has won many awards for its quartz sand, considered by many to be the finest and softest in the world.

Cultural Coast

No wonder Sarasota County is known as Florida’s Cultural Coast®! With over ten theatres, a State Art Museum and a professional ballet, opera and orchestra, there’s a wealth of choice. Sarasota Opera organizes the only Winter opera festival in North America and is the only place in the US in Winter apart from the Metropolitan Opera to present four different operas in one weekend. Since forming in 1960, they’ve established themselves as a world-class company and are one of only 9 opera companies in the United States that own their performing facility. The building was built as the A.B. Edwards Theater and since undergoing restoration its become a glamorous destination venue.

Sarasota Museums

The Ringling estate is an extraordinary place, with a world-renowned Circus Museum, historic Asolo Theatre, the stunning Ca d’Zan mansion, beautiful bayfront gardens and the fascinating John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Recent additions to this exceptional collection are the Kotler and Coville Glass Collection and the Basche Glass Collection at Ringling College of Art and Design. Explore 66 acres of grounds and gardens, 4,500 years of international art, the former home of the Ringling family and the world’s largest circus model at the Circus Museum.

Another fascinating museum for kids and adults is Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. This working aquarium has a strong focus on research and rehabilitation of injured marine animals. With over 100 species, two touch tanks and a 135,000 gallon shark habitat, it’s a compelling reminder of the importance of our sea life. Manatees are frequently injured by watercraft and there are over 6,000 in Florida. In a single day’s aerial survey, the staff at Mote sometimes see over half of them. Discarding litter inappropriately is very harmful to manatees and other marine creatures.

The Sarasota Classic Car Museum is also an interesting place to visit, with over 100 vintage cars on display, while the Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy aims to inspire and lift your spirits with a quirky collection and friendly volunteers.

Other Fun Things to Do in Sarasota

One of the most iconic sights in Downtown Sarasota is the Unconditional Surrender sculpture. Created by the artist Seward Johnson in 2005, it occupies a prime position on Sarasota Bayfront. It’s inspired by a photo by Victor Jorgensen, commemorating the end of World War II. The statue was exhibited in Florida before being moved to California. A copy was installed in Sarasota in 2009 before being damaged by a car in 2012. The new weather-resistant bronze statue is a popular selfie spot.

There are some great restaurants in Sarasota, which we’ll uncover in an upcoming feature. From seafood to steakhouses, there’s an abundance of choice. The Amish community in Pinecraft have some great places to eat such as Yoder’s Fresh Market.

As for shopping in Sarasota County, we particularly like the picturesque area of St. Armands Circle. It’s home to a number of independent boutiques including The Met Fashion House and Day Spa, as well as Shore boutique and restaurant. Circus entrepreneur John Ringling purchased St Armands Key in 1917 and visitors can still admire his personal collection of Italian statues.

There are plenty of cool things to do in Sarasota at night including watching the sunset from the Lido Key Tiki Bar at the Ritz-Carlton Residences.

Getting to Sarasota County

Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport flies to a range of cities in the United States as well as Toronto, Canada. Other international cities such as London are easily reached from Tampa International Airport. It’s then a 1 and a half hour drive from Tampa to Sarasota.

Getting Around Sarasota

There’s a free eco-friendly shuttle service in Downtown Sarasota, i-Ride. Flag down one of the vehicles on the street, call 941-444-2585 or use the Gotcha Ride mobile app. We recommend hiring a car for travelling around the county, and we rented ours from Hertz. It’s worth signing up to their complimentary Hertz Gold Plus Rewards programme as you’ll get priority pick-up and drop-off.

Where to Stay in Sarasota

There are some great hotels in Sarasota County, including the luxurious Ritz-Carlton in downtown Sarasota. Service here is second to none and the views over the bay are stunning. The hotel has been recently renovated and the rooms are contemporary and spacious. We particularly liked the amenity of chocolates in the form of seashells and starfish. When you’re not chilling out at the pool and spa, head to Jack Dusty, their vibrant waterfront restaurant.

The Lido Beach Resort has an outstanding location overlooking a private white sand beach near Siesta Key. It’s also close to the restaurants, nightlife and shops of St. Armands Circle. There are two heated pools, a 24 hour fitness centre and a tiki bar. The large bedrooms have kitchenettes equipped with refrigerators, microwaves and dishwashers.

There are also a few hotel developments going on in Sarasota, with The Art Ovation, a Marriott Autograph property due to open in March 2018 and The Sarasota Modern boutique hotel opening in late 2018.

As you can see, Sarasota County has so much to offer the visitor, from white sand beaches to delicious dining and cultural attractions galore. There’s fun for all the family in this Florida hidden gem. Check out Visit Florida for lots more information about Sarasota County and many more Sarasota attractions!

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In association with Visit Florida and Hertz

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Defining luxury might sound simple but the whole concept of luxury has changed significantly over the last few years. Where once we thought of luxury as being an abundance of material possessions, the focus has shifted to more personal concepts of freedom, space and time. So let’s take a look at what luxury is all about in today’s world.

Defining Luxury

The meaning of the word luxury is actually lust. It originates from the Latin words luxuria meaning excess and luxus meaning extravagance, which became luxure in French. In Elizabethan times, this was associated with adultery, yet it eventually came to mean opulence or splendour.

The Paradox of Luxury

Originally, luxury goods were all about craftsmanship and owning items that were not readily available to others. However, this all changed with the rise of mass production in the Industrial Revolution and the globalization of commerce. Consumers can now easily obtain the same items worldwide, whether by travelling overseas or by ordering online from a platform such as Net-a-Porter or Farfetch, Yet scarcity remains a determining factor in whether goods are considered to be luxurious. In the current climate, many mid-market luxury brands are struggling whilst those at the top end are thriving.

So how do we reconcile this paradox of luxury? Tech brands such as Apple have been successful at controlling supply to create demand for their new products. Limited editions and exclusive previews are also good ways to drive interest.

The Best Things In Life Are Not Things

Alongside the democratization of luxury, there’s a certain disaffection with mass consumerism. Scientists at Cornell University have found that we get more pleasure from experiences than material things. All well and good if you are marketing a luxury spa or a no-doors helicopter ride, but what about those selling luxury consumer goods? Well, it’s essential to create experiences around your product. For example, perfume brand Le Labo hand-blends and prepares each fragrance in front of the consumer. Each bottle is dated and has the customer’s name on it. European luxury car manufacturers understand the importance of the customer experience. Rolls-Royce owners have the option to collect the car from Goodwood and enjoy a factory tour with a ceremonial handing over of the car keys.

Luxury is a State of Mind

Hand in hand with the trend towards experiential luxury is the importance of self-fulfillment and becoming our best self. Or to put it another way, how others view me is less important than how I view myself. It’s quite a turnaround from the old bling-bling version of luxury. It may be human nature still to brag but these days it’s more likely to be about climbing a mountain. Moreover, time is considered by many as the biggest luxury of all. A study by the University of Columbia, British Canada, found that fewer than a third of individuals in the study spent money to buy themselves time each month. Yet those that did reported significantly higher life satisfaction than the others. How can luxury brands tap into this trend? For luxury hotels, offering courses in mindfulness or sleep analysis are popular options. Just look at the popularity of healthy lifestyles on social media platforms such as Instagram, with luxury activewear and green juices being the new symbols of luxury. And have you noticed the abundance of images where there’s one sole protagonist gazing into the distance in a deserted natural landscape? In an increasingly frenetic world, space is a rare commodity.

A post shared by Suze (@luxurycolumnist) on Jul 23, 2017 at 9:28am PDT

Sustainability is another important consideration for luxury goods manufacturers, as it’s increasingly important to consumers worldwide. Millennials and Generation Xers in particular evaluate brands on their sustainable credentials.

Less is More

The trend towards a less showy version of luxury can be observed everywhere. The leather goods manufacturer, Bottega Veneta is a prime example of stealth wealth. There are no flashy logos on show, yet aficionados can identify their woven leather handbags with ease. The Hakkasan Group, known for its Asian inspired restaurants and nightlife experiences, is another proponent with only a discrete symbol signalling the entrance to its establishments. These subtle symbols of luxury indicate to others that they are part of the same insider’s club – those in the know.

The Devil is in the Details

As Hubert de Givenchy said, luxury is in each detail. With tastes becoming increasingly sophisticated, consumers are seeking authenticity and craftsmanship. From foraged ingredients for craft gin, to the emphasis on equestrian heritage by Hermès, every product should tell a story. Personalisation is also a key trend, and brands such as Bamford are riding the wave by offering full customisation of some of the world’s most iconic watches. Image-wise, certain countries have a headstart, with Germany products being ranked highest worldwide for quality, according to a survey by Statista. Italy is considered the strongest in design, whilst Switzerland takes the overall crown for luxury products and services.

Luxury is about Emotional Connections

Ultimately, luxury is all about customer-centricity and making an emotional connection. Yet how can luxury brands achieve this in a world where the consumer is aware of advertising ploys? One proven way is to engage consumers by making them part of the story. User Generated Content (UGC) such as Burberry’s groundbreaking Art of the Trench campaign, is increasingly popular. Burberry encouraged customers to upload a photo of them wearing the iconic trench coat and the best submissions were shared to a micro-site, a Facebook page and subsequently to a digital wall in-store. It’s also important to engage all the senses – visual, auditive and tactile but also olfactory. Sense of smell works on a subconscious level, bringing back childhood memories. As soon as you step into the lobby at a Le Meridien hotel, you’ll notice the fragrance created by Le Labo to evoke comfort, libraries and The Little Prince book. Shangri-La Hotels have a signature scent that gives a reassuring sense of familiarity in all their hotels, the Essence of Shangri-La. Savvy fashion brands such as Fendi have tapped into the trend for playful goods, via the cartoon characters adorning their luxury bags.

If you can create a connection with the customer that goes beyond the moment of purchase then you’ll hopefully have their enduring loyalty. For example, a boutique hotel can create a dialogue as soon as a customer has booked, by suggesting a whole host of personalized touches for their upcoming stay such as type of pillow and inquiring as to whether they are celebrating anything particular. Some hoteliers use LinkedIn and online searches so that they can recognize new guests and greet them by name before they’ve even reached the front desk – impressive but expected by some of the world’s most demanding Ultra High Net Worth individuals.

So to sum up, defining luxury is a complex task as it means different things to different people – whether time, space, craftsmanship or personalized service.
hat does luxury mean to you?

The post Defining Luxury and the Top New Luxury Marketing Trends appeared first on Luxury Columnist.

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London has some of the most alluring spots that you could hope to find, from cosy wine bars to secret gardens and quaint streets. There is tough competition for the 20 most romantic places in London, yet we’ve whittled it down to our absolute favourites that we hope you’ll enjoy reading about and visiting.

The 20 Most Romantic Places in London by Area Central Eros Statue, Piccadilly

If you’re looking to capture the heart of that special someone, look no further than the Eros Statue on Piccadilly. It’s been a popular meeting point since it was first unveiled in 1893. After viewing the statue, why not take your loved one for a romantic picnic in the park nearby.

Gordons Wine Bar

The scene of many a first date, Gordon’s Wine Bar on Villiers Street has been popular with Londoners since it opened in 1890. It’s considered to be the oldest wine bar in London and has a very relaxed vibe. Take a walk in the adjacent Victoria Embankment Gardens beforehand – there’s often a brass band playing in Summertime.

The Wallace Collection

One of the best art museums in London, The Wallace Collection is famous for its decorative art from the 15th to 19th century. From Old Master paintings to French porcelain and armour, there’s lots to see. The 18th century Marylebone townhouse has a lovely tea room where you can whisper sweet nothings to your date whilst admiring the surroundings.

North London Primrose Hill

From the top of Primrose Hill, you can enjoy one of the best London views, all the way to Canary Wharf. The high street is a charming place on which to grab a coffee or why not enjoy a Martini in the courtyard garden at Michael Nadra.

The Meeting Place, St Pancras

Although it’s officially called The Meeting Place, this 30 foot bronze statue in St Pancras International Station is nicknamed The Lovers by many. Created by the sculptor Paul Day, it was installed when the station was renovated in 2007. After admiring the statue, there are lots of things to do in Kings Cross nearby, such as checking out Platform 5 and ¾.

Swan Pedalos, Alexandra Palace

There are a few boating lakes in London including the iconic Serpentine in Hyde Park but the swan pedalos in Alexandra Palace really have our heart. If swans aren’t your thing, you can reserve a sportscar pedalo instead.

Secret Garden, Regent’s Park

We could tell you where this place is but first we’d have to kill you. Joking aside, this little park makes a wonderful date destination in Summertime. Head to the Inner Circle in Regent’s Park and you’ll find an unmarked gate with a wisteria-clad tunnel. Inside St John’s Lodge Gardens as they are known, there are some lovely statues, park benches and lawns on which to enjoy a picnic. If in season, take a look at the rose garden in Regent’s Park afterwards.

Kenwood House

You’d almost believe you were in the countryside, not London when visiting Kenwood House. The Georgian former stately home in Hampstead has been recently renovated and has some superb artworks to admire. It features in a scene of the film Notting Hill where Julia Robert’s character, Anna, is making a period drama. Talking of movies, there are some great luxury cinemas in London if you are meeting up with your date on a rainy day.

Hampstead Heath

This huge open space has some more intimate areas such as the Hill Garden and Pergola, a Georgian arbour popular for engagement photo shoots. Afterwards, head to The Spaniards inn, one of the most romantic pubs in London with its open fire and large garden.

Little Venice

We always find being near water romantic and the canalside walks in Little Venice are no exception. If you’d like some romantic restaurant suggestions, The Summerhouse overlooks the canal and does a good line in brunches and seafood while at Clifton Nurseries you can enjoy coffee and cake inside a greenhouse.

South London Southbank

Who could resist a stroll along the Southbank, whilst admiring the river views and street performers. Stretching from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge where it becomes Bankside, it’s packed with museums, restaurants and other interesting attractions.

The London Eye

One of the highlights of the Southbank is the London Eye. Standing 443 feet tall, the views over London are pretty good and you can hire a whole capsule to yourself.

Greenwich Park

Time will seem to stand still in Greenwich, as you walk on the Meridian Line which divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the Earth. You can also gaze at the stars from within the Peter Harrison Planetarium. Finally, the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College is a joy to behold and the covered market is also a good place to browse around if it’s raining.

East London Whispering Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral

Whilst the whole of St Paul’s Cathedral is impressive, the Whispering Gallery has a real sense of intimacy. Climb the 259 steps up and due to the unique acoustics, you can hear someone whisper from the opposite side. It’s one of the best places to propose in London.

The Young Lovers Statue

Just outside St Paul’s Cathedral, you’ll find a romantic statue named the Young Lovers. It was created by George Ehrlich, an Austrian sculptor who lived in England.

Columbia Road Flower Market

Every Sunday, the streets of East London come alive with the scent and sight of beautiful flowers. Along Columbia Road and the surrounding streets, it’s a charming place for a romantic walk but arrive early to beat the crowds. There are many gift shops and coffee houses to enjoy as well.

St Dunstan-in-the-East

One of the best hidden gems of London, St Dunstan-in-the-East has a certain melancholic romance to it. The ruins of this medieval church are a peaceful haven from the buzz of the city and popular with workers and tourists alike. St Dunstan-in-the-East was bombed during the Second World War, however the tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the north and south walls still remain.

West London King Henry’s Mound, Richmond

As if seeing wild deer roaming around Richmond Park wasn’t romantic enough, there’s a secret spot that we just have to tell you about. King Henry’s Mound is a protected viewpoint and on a sunny day you can see all the way to St Paul’s Cathedral through a whole in the trees. In late April and at the beginning of May, there’s an extra treat in store as nearby Isabella Plantation blooms with evergreen azaleas and rhododendrons. For an extra dose of romance, reserve lunch at Petersham Nurseries.

Notting Hill

Whether you’re a fan of the film or not, Notting Hill is a picturesque place. Many of the houses are painted in pastel colours and there are some quaint cafes and boutiques to explore. If you’re keen to see the film locations, 142 Portobello Road is where Hugh Grant’s character had his travel bookstorel. Hugh’s character, William, lived behind the blue door at 280 Westbourne Park Road and Rosmead Gardens is the private square that he and Anna, Julia Robert’s character, broke into. Don’t attempt that as we hear that the walls are very high and the drop on the other side is severe!

Kew Gardens

Since opening 250 years ago, Kew Gardens have been a tranquil oasis for nature-lovers. The majestic conservatories are well worth a look and the new treetop walk is fun for kids and dates alike. If your loved one is into art, then the Marianne North Gallery, tucked away to the rear of the garden is sure to delight. Marianne was a talented artist who broke free from Victorian convention to travel and make highly detailed botanical paintings of which 833 are displayed in this purpose built gallery.

The Original Maids of Honour tea room has been doing a roaring trade in cakes for over 120 years. It’s just outside the main entrance to Kew Gardens, so do pop in if you need refreshment afterwards.

Romantic London Street Names

Alternatively, choose one of these romantic London street names as your meeting point: Love Lane in the City, Date Street in Southwark, Valentine Road in Hackney or Lovers Walk in Dulwich. If you believe that chivalry isn’t dead then make Chivalry Road in Wandsworth your starting point!

As you can see, love is alive and well in the capital there you have our complete list of the most romantic places in London. Check out the best places to propose in London as well as our list of luxury cinemas in London, handy for a rainy day London date!

Are there any romantic places in London that you would add to this list? What’s your favourite romantic spot in your home town?

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It’s that time of year again, and the chance to celebrate your beloved with a well chosen gift or romantic gesture. Whether your partner is a foodie, a tech fan or a lover of the outdoors, our selection of luxury Valentine’s Day gifts for him is sure to please.

Luxury Valentine’s Day Gifts for Him The Secret Shoe

If your loved one fancies himself as James Bond then The Secret Shoe by Oliver Sweeney is the perfect gift. This derby is made to order in Italy and comes with a choice of 12 concealable gadgets in the sole including the world’s smallest phone, a tracking device, a miniature video camera and a Swiss army knife. The sole has space for 3 gadgets as well as a spare house key, and the laces can actually be used as a friction saw to cut through plastic or wood! Finally, you can get your blood type or name inscribed on the sole.

The Stylish Shirt

Elegant men will be delighted with the eyecatching casual shirts from luxury British shirtmaker Worboys. The quality is superb and the floral, geometric and paisley designs work equally well for work or leisure. Made from the finest European woven poplin, they come in regular or slim fit and are reasonably priced at £75. We particularly like the Seville shirt with its cool paisley pattern.

The Craft Gin

Gin lovers will be impressed with this gift set from the Bruichladdich Distillery. The Botanist gin contains 9 gin botanicals as well as 22 local herbs and flowers. These are foraged responsibly on the Hebrides island of Islay by a team of botanical scientists. The gift box has a stunning glass mixing jug together with a 70cl bottle of The Botanist gin. It’s a complex gin which undergoes a double infusion, giving it superb citrus and floral notes.

The Smooth Bourbon

Bourbon is a popular choice with discerning drinkers and Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select is the cream of the crop. It comes in a handsome glass bottle but it’s what’s inside that’s really impressive. It’s the only bourbon to be triple distilled in copper pot stills, ensuring great balance and depth. It’s said that there are over 200 identifiable flavours including vanilla and tobacco spice – have fun trying to work them all out! Stockists include Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, and it retails at £30.

The All Purpose Hiking Shoe

If your partner is a fan of the great outdoors, these stylish Arrowood Lux hiking boots in full-grain waterproof leather from Teva are a winner. Smart enough to wear at the weekend in town yet sturdy enough for a hike up a mountain, they’re a great compromise. They come in black or tan, our personal favourite, and incorporate FloatLite technology.

The Feel Good Fragrances

Bentley Momentum and Bentley Momentum Intense are two fresh new fragrances by the luxury car maker, created by master perfumer Nathalie Lorson. Bentley Momentum has aquatic notes combined with bergamot, violet, sage, ambergris, sandalwood and tonka bean. Bentley Momentum Intense is more concentrated in perfume, with lavender, geranium and amber accents creating a pleasing accord.

The Coffee Fix

Cuisinart has a cool new bean-to-cup coffee machine, enabling you to grind the beans yourself at home. Easily control the strength of your coffee and minimize the impact on the environment with the One Cup Grind & Brew Coffee Machine. It’s easy to clean as all removable parts can be placed in a dishwasher.

The Chic Backpack

A smart backpack such as this leather one by Knomo will come in very handy for travelling and with several pockets it’s roomy enough to fit all his gear inside. There’s a padded section for laptops, a pocket with RFID blocking for storing your bank cards, detachable back straps and key chain. You can also register your bag and if you lose it, the person who finds it can return it to you via the website.

The Noise-cancelling Headphones

Headphones are another great gift that will please music lovers or regular travellers. We like this wireless WH-H800 pair from Sony which come in a subtle rose-gold colour, black. green or blue. They really drown out ambient noise and useful for watching videos and films without disturbing your partner, as well as when travelling. They fold away into a handy carrying case and have a built-in microphone so you can take phone calls easily too.

Unique Experiences

What do you get for the man who has everything? An unforgettable experience should fit the bill nicely. Adrenaline junkies will enjoy the new submersible experience on the River Thames by Predator Adventures. This Seabreacher watercraft resembles a killer whale and is the only one of its kind in the UK.

A no-doors helicopter ride like this one in Innsbruck is also bound to impress, as is a champagne hot air-balloon ride.

The Boys Toy

The new DJI Mavic Air is a must-have for gadget lovers. Up to now, drones have been rather cumbersome yet this one fits lots into a neat little package, from 4K 100 Mbps video to a 3-axis gimbal camera and slow-motion video. It has a 3D foldable design and a foldable remote controller too.

It’s not always easy finding the right gift for that special someone yet we hope that these luxury Valentine’s gifts for him have given you a few useful ideas.
Are you a last-minute Valentine’s Day shopper or do you choose presents far in advance?

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Hang in there, Winter is almost over! February may be the shortest month but the days are getting longer and Spring isn’t far away. Here are some of our favourite suggestions for what to do in February.

February Events

Love it or hate it, there’s no escaping Valentine’s Day! If you’re thinking of popping the question, you may find this list of the top places to propose in London handy. Of course, love takes many forms and we penned a Valentine’s Day ditty to the wonderful city of London…

It’s also Chinese New Year this month and it’s the Year of the Dog. Those born in 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 and 2018 are considered to be loyal, honest and energetic, with a keen sense of social responsibility. The event will be celebrated on different days around the world – Friday 16 February in New York and Sunday 18 February in London for example, but sure to be colourful and entertaining wherever you watch it.

Lifestyle File

Are you a fan of the silver screen? We’ve rounded up 17 of the best cinemas in London that are bringing back the excitement of going to the movies. From cashmere blankets to cocktails and reclining seats, these screening rooms are the creme de la creme.

If you’re looking a bit too pale and interesting, then you could probably use some self-tan. Fake Bake Airbrush Self-Tan Mist is one of the best we’ve found, leaving no telltale smudges on your face or body. It’s easy to apply thanks to the 360˚ nozzle, step by step guide and application gloves and in a few hours you’ll have a healthy glow.

Are you struggling to find a gift for that special man in your life? We’ll be publishing a luxury Valentine’s Day gifts for men guide but here’s a sneak preview of one of our faves. Worboys London is a British shirt manufacturer that uses the finest European woven 100% poplin. We love this Seville paisley pink shirt for its superb quality and striking design. It comes in a choice of classic or slim fit and is perfect for those who want to stand out in a crowd.

Travel Tales

If you’re craving Winter sun then Asia should be on your radar. The capital of the Philippines might not strike you as the first choice as a holiday destination but there are quite a few fun things to do in Manila and it’s a hub to travel to the coastal resorts like those on the island of Palawan. Here you’ll find some of the best beaches in the Philippines and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Puerto Princesa Underground River.

We’re in peak skiing season so if you’re heading to the slopes you may find our guides to Verbier, Switzerland and Val d’Isere, France useful.

Wining and Dining

One of our favourite restaurants in Kings Cross is German Gymnasium. Located as you may have guessed in a former gym, it has a buzzy atmosphere. Their Winter terrace, The World of Tales, runs until the end of February, and takes inspiration from the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Designed in partnership with Fever-Tree Premium Natural Mixers and Monkey 47 Gin, it features eight of the tales. The Cinderella is served with hand-carved ice and made from Lillet Rouge, Fever-Tree Smoky Ginger Ale and Rinomato bitter infused coffee beans. Little Red Riding Hood comes in a wolf-adorned cup and made with Monkey 47 Gin, Byrrh, Fever-Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale and Lillet Blanc.

Since opening in 2001 in London, Hakkasan now has 11 restaurants worldwide serving authentic Cantonese cuisine. To celebrate Chinese New Year their chefs in the USA, London, Asia and the Middle East have come up with a limited edition signature menu. Chinese lion dancers will perform at Hakkasan Hanway Place on 18 February and Hakkasan Mayfair on 25 February. Guests will also be invited to write their wishes on red ribbons hung around the dining areas. The menu will be available until 4 March 2018 and includes such delicacies as Szechuan oyster with lotus root and crispy rice in mantau, crispy scallop in sweet plum sauce with mango, baked Chilean sea bass with kumquat glaze, wok-fry native lobster and Rhug estate organic lamb. The Golden Fortune dessert with ginger caramel, roasted macadamia nuts and lemongrass is the perfect ending. There’s also a special cocktail created by Group Head of Bar, Eder Neto: the Happy Daisy blends Tanqueray No.10 gin, Chartreuse Yellow, lemon, spiced mandarin jam, egg white and soda water.

Win 1 of 5 My Floral Affair Books

Who doesn’t love flowers and they’re featured in abundance in the stunning new book by Shabby Chic founder Rachel Ashwell. My Floral Affair would make a beautiful Valentine’s Day gift or why not treat yourself to it. Rachel took a journey around Europe with photographer Amy Neunsinger to capture the charm of English country houses, the grandeur of Parisian apartments and the striking colourways of Northern Europe. From fabrics to wallpaper and floral arrangements, Rachel’s 10th book will inspire you to incorporate flowers into your decor. My Floral Affair is published by CICO Books and will be available from mid February. We have 5 books to give away to 5 lucky readers – just follow the steps below to enter and best of luck.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What is your favourite flower? Do you have any exciting plans for February? 

The post On The Hotlist in February and Win 1 of 5 My Floral Affair Books appeared first on Luxury Columnist.

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Have you heard of Palawan Underground River in the Philippines – it’s one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, to give its full name, is the world’s longest navigable underground river at 8.2 kilometres. Its unusual in that it flows directly into the sea, and you reach it from Sabang beach by banca boat, a traditional Philippine vessel with bamboo outriggers giving fantastic stability.

Palawan Underground River

Although it’s known as Puerto Princesa underground river, it’s actually located 80 kilometres from the town of Puerto Princesa in a protected national park on the West Coast of Palawan island. Borded by the St Paul mountain range, it’s an unspoiled bay with a very casual atmosphere. You can buy underground river tour packages that include the bus journey from the centre of Puerto Princesa, or tickets at the information center on the pier. Alternatively, if you’re staying at one of the Sabang beach resorts, they also sell underground river tour packages although you’ll pay a little bit more. The banca boat has a roof that gives you shade and it’s a comfortable 20 minute ride to the underground river. You’ll be provided with a life jacket but as the boat is so stable your body won’t even get wet. Wear flat shoes though as you disembark onto a beach at the other end and will need to step into the sea up to your ankles. It’s also possible to hike to the underground river via the Monkey Trail or the Jungle Trail from Sabang. Both hikes are around 5.2 kilometres but are steep and the paths can get quite waterlogged.

A Natural World Heritage Site

After walking a few minutes along the white sand beach, you’ll get into another boat to visit the underground river itself. Our guide had warned us not to bring any food whatsoever as there are cheeky monkeys that will come up and steal it – sadly we didn’t spot any.

Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour

There are restrooms if you need them before heading on the tour itself. It’s perfectly safe in the cave but you’ll be kitted out with a life jacket and also with a hard hat.

Going Batty

This is mainly because it’s quite wet in the cave with water falling from the ceiling…at least we think it was water, but it could have been bat droppings ;-). The underground river in Puerto Princesa is inhabited by approximately 400,000 bats and you are instructed to keep your mouth closed during the tour so that no droppings fall into your mouth. Don’t let the bats worry you, as although some fly around they don’t get close to the boat. In order to protect the cave for the bats and the other flora and fauna living here, your tour takes place in the dark, which certainly adds to the eerie atmosphere. Visitors are not allowed to talk, however the tour guide does give a commentary of the sights and has a spotlight to show you them in detail. The underground river tour is suitable for children, but not for babies as any noise would disturb the fauna.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

There are 6 UNESCO Philippines sites, of which the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park is the most famous. The limestone cave has some distinctive rock formations which resemble animals, vegetables and people. Our guide was convinced that this one looked like Sharon Stone though we’d have pegged it more as Aphrodite ;-). There are other rocks that look like scenes from the Nativity, many of which are located in the “Cathedral” area of the cave. This is a large chamber that’s over 60 metres high and 120 metres wide.

New 7 Wonders of Nature

Puerto Princesa Underground River was chosen as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature on January 28, 2012. The National Park is managed by the City Government of Puerto Princesa and they’ve done a good job of preserving its beauty by limiting the number of tours and ensuring that visitors respect the natural environment. Besides the navigable area of the underground river, there are deep chambers that are not open to the public including a cave dome that measures 300 metres. The public tour covers 1.5 kilometres of the cave.

After your 45 minute tour of Puerto Princesa Palawan river, you’ll travel back by banca to the port of Sabang. There are quite a few fresh fruit stalls here, and a huge variety of flavours to choose from. Our tip is to take your juice to the harbour and sit on the edge admiring the scenery.

Sabang Beach

Sabang Beach is popular for surfing and the water current is quite strong so swimmers should take care. With El Nido and Coron, it’s one of the best beaches in Palawan. You can get a massage on the beach for a very reasonable price and enjoy the waves lapping in the distance. There are also several rustic beachfront cafes and bars serving up local specialties.

Walk along the beach, past the Sheridan Beach Resort and you’ll come to this swing – the perfect place to contemplate the ocean. Other great activities in Sabang are quad biking, a mangrove tour and the Sabang X Zipline, which is a 15 minute walk from the beach. At 800 metres long and 150 feet above sea level, it’s an exhilarating experience.

Sabang Hotels

We’d strongly recommend staying in Sabang rather than travelling to Palawan underground river as a day trip. It’s around 2 hours to get to Sabang from Puerto Princesa and by the time you arrive there will be a lot of waiting around to get on a banca to the caves. If you stay overnight at a Sabang beach resort, you’ll be first in line for the boat in the morning. We chose the Sheridan Beach Resort, which has a huge swimming pool with a swim-up bar. The buffet restaurant is located on the beach and there are hammocks for guests to relax in.

Getting to Palawan Underground River and Sabang Beach

There are regular flights to Puerto Princesa from Manila into Puerto Princesa International Airport with AirAsia or Cebu Pacific, which take 1 hour and 20 minutes. Don’t miss our tips on the best things to do in Manila, there’s a lot more to the city than first meets the eye. Puerto Princesa airport is nice and modern and has a few cafes as well as a souvenir shop. From here, if you’re staying at a hotel such as the Sheridan Beach, they have a minibus transfer to Sabang. Some travellers choose to take a jeepney instead, a local form of transport. Be warned that there’s no air conditioning and they’re generally very cramped. Many people travel on from Puerto Princesa to El Nido though we’d recommend just flying directly to El Nido as part of another Philippines trip as it’s 6 or 7 hours by bus.

As you can see, Palawan underground river and Sabang beach are well worth a visit for their natural beauty. What is your favourite UNESCO World Heritage Site? Have you visited the Philippines?

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If you’re heading to the Philippines, chances are that you’ll go via Manila. Many people travel straight on to a beach destination yet Manila has some interesting attractions worth exploring if you’re there on business or doing a stopover. Here are some fun things to do in Manila which we hope you’ll find useful.

Fun Things to Do in Manila Makati

The business district of Makati is where some of the top international hotels are located. Manila is actually quite safe and Makati in particular feels very secure. There are guards who keep an eye on what’s happening and the area has a relaxed atmosphere. One of the best Makati attractions is the Ayala Museum. Also located in Greenbelt, this exhibition space houses the Filipinas Heritage Library and focuses on the craftworks of the Philippines. Another popular cultural attraction is Yuchengco Museum at the RBC Plaza which exhibits contemporary and historic fine art.

One of the top things to do in Makati is to shop at Greenbelt Mall, located on Legazpi Street, with its huge selection of designer stores. There’s a pleasant park with koi carp ponds and a Catholic chapel.

Get your coffee fix at Single Origin. This local specialty coffee chain has several branches in Manila but the one in Makati has a great location in Greenbelt Mall. You can sit outdoors and admire the vegetation or in the comfy air-conditioned interior. They have a huge selection of coffees and also have a fine line in cakes.

There are lots of great restaurants in Makati including Benjarong, a fantastic Thai restaurant within the Dusit Thani Manila hotel. This brand new eatery has got everything right – delicious and authentic food, excellent service and stylish decor. Sit at the counter if you want to watch the chefs at work. Prices are surprisingly reasonable for the quality of the experience.

For Filippino street food, head to Buendia at the Court. With 30 street food stalls located next to a basketball court, you can watch the locals play while sampling tasty dishes in a no frills setting. Open daily from 5 pm to midnight, it’s situated quite a way from the centre of Makati so it’s best to take a can there and back.

Take afternoon tea in the Lobby Lounge at Shangri-La Manila Makati for a special treat. One of the best luxury hotels in Manila, it has a magnificent lobby overlooking lush vegetation. Every day from 3 to 6 pm, afternoon tea is served to the accompaniment of live music.

Head to Blackbird at the Nielson Tower for drinks or dinner in stylish surroundings. Formerly the first commercial airport in Manila, it is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Manila and an Art Deco masterpiece. You can dine in what was the passenger terminal, enjoy cocktails in the original check in area or in the outside bar overlooking Ayala Triangle Gardens.

Bonifacio Global City

Another booming financial district in Manila is Bonifacio Global City. There are quite a few trendy cafes here too. Little Flour Cafe is a cool place to meet with friends, having a collection of chairs suspended from the ceiling. They do a nice selection of snacks, light meals and matcha lattes. There’s some cool street art dotted around BGC, including this colourful mural.

If you’re keen to try authentic Filippino food, then a good option in BGC is 7107 Culture + Cuisine. Hidden away inside Treston International College, the cooking is as vibrant as the decor. Open from Sunday to Friday from 10 am to 8 pm, it’s mission is to promote the diversity of local cuisine.

Rizal Park

Named after José Rizal, a national hero who advocated independence from Spanish colonial rule, Rizal Park houses several interesting museums. The first of these is the National Museum of Anthropology, which is free to enter and has an extensive collection of archaeological and anthropological exhibits. The typical Philippine costumes on display are particularly striking.

The newly renovated National Museum of Natural History is set to reopen in May 2018. It has 10 galleries focusing on animals, fungi and plants as well as an impressive centrepiece named the Tree of Life, inspired by a double-helix deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA),

To the east of Rizal Park, check out the 3D map of the Philippines, created by sculptor Jose M. Mendoza.


The historic walled city of Manila is known as Intramuros or ‘within the walls’. At just 0.67 square kilometers, it’s easy to explore. There are some colourful buildings dating from the colonial era and San Agustin Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A fun way to explore Intramuros is by bike – however this isn’t any old cycle, it’s a bamboo bike! Handmade by Gawad Kalinga villagers in the Philippines, the Bambike is lightweight but strong. The tours take place at 10 am and 3 pm from Tuesday to Sunday – you might see a celebrity such as Brooklyn Beckham on yours or you could always order a Bambike for home as Barack Obama did. Thanks to Manila resident, Jenny, who gave us this tip and whom we met up with at Little Flour Cafe.

Manila Cathedral or The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to give its full name is situated at the far end of Intramuros. Originally dating from 1571, it has been damaged over the years and the current version dates from 1958.

Built by the Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi, Fort Santiago is a 16th century citadel. Designed to defend the city of Manila, it was the Spanish military headquarters during the colonial period before becoming a prison. Jose Rizal was incarcerated here but nowadays, it’s a tranquil place with a cafe and souvenir shops in the grounds. Opening hours are from 8 am to 9 pm and there’s a nominal entrance fee.

Getting to Manila

There are regular international flights to Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. We flew from London Heathrow with Malaysia Airlines, transiting via Kuala Lumpur and it was a comfortable journey with friendly flight attendants. The food on board was of a high standard and there were handy phone recharging sockets too.

Getting Around Manila

You’ll notice colourful buses on the roads in Manila – known as jeepneys, they are very reasonably priced and popular with locals. However, passengers are squashed up against each other and there are reports that pickpockets operate on some of these. We opted instead for cabs to get around. Uber are readily available, as are cabs from the Grab app which is present across Asia.

Where to Stay in Manila

There are some excellent Manila luxury hotels, including Dusit Thani Manila, a five star hotel located in the heart of Makati. From the moment you step into the stunning lobby you’ll be wowed by the decor. A quirky tuk-tuk makes a great backdrop for photos. The bedrooms are spacious and well appointed with all mod cons. There’s a large swimming pool and bar as well as a spa and gym.

Makati Shangri-La Manila has one of the best hotel gyms in the City and there’s a luxurious pool and spa too. The suites are particularly impressive, with Art Deco styling and a spacious separate living area. They include access to the Horizon Club Executive Lounge, open 24 hours a day.

So as you can see, there are quite a few fun things to do in Manila. Have you ever been to the Philippines or Asia

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The post Fun Things to Do in Manila, Philippines appeared first on Luxury Columnist.

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