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1,000 night giveaway courtesy of Geneva Tourism!

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In an unprecedented move, Geneva Tourism and carefully-selected partners are giving away an amazing 1,000 room nights at some of the finest hotels in the city this Summer. This is a city that’s a well known hub for business but also one that has a flourishing leisure scene, having won ‘Best Leading City Break Destination in Europe’ at the World Travel Awards for the past two years.

Bed Geneva

Perfectly positioned on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland’s second largest city is home to many cultural, historical and natural attractions, in addition to being a banking and technology hotspot. This gateway to the Alps has a history that dates back more than 4,000 years and is home to a number of attractions, including the famous Jet d’eau – the world’s tallest water fountain.

GENEVALIVE

There’s more to Geneva than luxury watches and artisanal chocolate shops. Also in this city you’ll find a magnificent cathedral, the largest Alpine lake, an excellent food scene and, on the Rue du Rhône, some of the finest shops in Europe. And now the Swiss capital of peace is inviting you to relax and explore.

BOM2015

To be in with a chance of bagging a free overnight stay for two at the city’s top hotels, simply register online at http://invitedby.geneve.com where one thousand entrants will be in with a chance of winning. Also, for a chance of winning complimentary return flights to Geneva, you can share the competition link on social media with the hashtag #InvitedByGeneva to automatically enter into a free flight draw.

Old Town

Don’t delay… the closing date for the competition is 17th May 2016, and the lucky winners will be able to claim their rooms between 11th July and 12th September 2016.

Saleve

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Accommodation

10 of the best places to stay in Europe this Spring

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Why wait until Summer to get away this year? The Spring can be the perfect time to get away – often that little bit quieter outside of the main season, but sometimes more enjoyable for exactly that reason. Go on… treat yourself with a stay at one of our top 10 places to stay in Europe this Spring… we have everything from luxury hotel getaways to gorgeous private villas in some of Europe’s most idyllic destinations.

Porto Zante Villas & Spa, Zakynthos, Greece

Porto Zante has claimed the prestigious award of being both Greece and Europe’s Leading Villa Resort, in the World Travel Awards – the travel industry’s answer to the Oscars. Other awards include Condé Nast Traveller’s Best Greek Hideaway Hotel and also Top Greek Resorts, and the World Travel Awards Europe’s Leading Private Beach Hotel.

Porto Zante

Watch the moonlight or sunlight twinkle on the Ionian sea this Spring, from your own private deck, which is accessed through panoramic glass doors. The private deck is the perfect place for a sunset signature cocktail or al fresco dining, in this superb spot, which is set off perfectly by the Gervasoni outdoor furniture.

Sail Lofts, St. Ives, Cornwall, UK

Moments from the ocean and offering the ultimate in laid-back luxury, Sail Lofts‘ five star award-winning accommodation is a rare gem set on St Ives’ coastal pinnacle, within the heart of the town’s iconic Downalong area. With on site concierge, complimentary car parking and enviable location, the Sail Lofts apartments combine luxury and convenience with a unique personalised service.

Sail Lofts

Whether you’re an out-and- about type or a take-it- easy traveller St Ives has much to offer. Coastal walks and water sports are both on the doorstep but if you’d prefer to take it down a notch, long lazy lunches and strolls around the town’s beautiful cobbled streets browsing the array of one-off shops, galleries and tea rooms is a wonderful way to while away the hours.

Villa Amalia, Patmos, Greece

Οne of the most luxurious and exquisite properties in the Chora of Patmos, Villa Amalia from Beyond Spaces Villas blends beautifully to its medieval surroundings. Old manors and stone houses, narrow alleyways and small courtyards, all offer a dramatic setting for a unique property.Transposed back in the Byzantine period, its high yard walls, conjoined with those of other grand houses, form part of a wall around the Chora, erected by the residents of Patmos/Patmians to protect the island from the invasion of pirates.

Amalia

Recently and expertly renovated, the property offers up-to-date amenities, while preserving Patmos’s local color and aesthetic. Its magnificent terrace is enticing, as it affords breathtaking views of the imposing Monastery of Saint John, the sea on the south and west, and the old town.The graceful interiors are accentuated by the choice of furniture, the blend of fabrics, and the soft lighting reflected on elegant objects and works of art. The traditional, high ceilings, further add to a sense of tranquility and serenity. A beautiful courtyard, emblematic of the island’s fine architecture, is ideal for entertaining friends or simply enjoying a glass of wine. Due to the Villa’s central location, stepping out is effortless. The Chora, an UNESCO world heritage site (together with the Monastery of Saint John) is gloriously revealed, in all its attractive scenery, historical significance, and unspoilt environment. Some of the island’s must-see places are only a few walking minutes away.

Adler Dolomiti, Val Gardena, South Tyrol, Italy

The 120-room Adler Dolomiti is located in the historic and picturesque mountain resort of Ortisei in Val Gardena, surrounded by the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Adler Dolomiti

The five-star hotel offers the largest wellness facility in the region and stands in 9000 square metres of its own private parkland within the town’s pedestrianised zone, less than a 5-minute walk from gondolas that quickly transport guests up to a stunning nature playground, perfect for visiting in spring when pretty wild flowers are in bloom and temperatures are ideal for hiking and mountain biking.

Château St Pierre de Serjac, Puissalicon, France

A magnificent vineyard estate with hotel, spa and luxury self-catering properties, Château St Pierre de Serjac is without a doubt one of the Languedoc’s most beautiful wine estates.

Chateau St Pierre de Serjac

Situated on an elevated 200 acre site with uninterrupted views of rolling vines, olive groves and woodland, the winery has been fully restored while the Château has been converted into an intimate hotel with 8 spacious rooms as well as restaurant and bar with gorgeous terraces overlooking the vines. Meanwhile the original estate outbuildings have been converted into 36 stylish fully equipped self-catering properties, sleeping up to 8, many with private pools. Relaxed, understated luxury in an authentic, unspoilt Mediterranean environment.

Superb facilities include a 30m outdoor heated pool beautiful viewing terrace, Cinq Mondes spa with indoor pool, hammam, Jacuzzi and sauna, tennis court, kids club, BBQ area and boulodrome along with extensive gardens and grounds.

The Thief, Oslo, Norway

Located between the iconic Astrup Fearnley Museum, the canals on Tjuvholmen and the Oslofjord, most of The Thief‘s 118 rooms have brilliant views. Timeless elegance with clear references to contemporary art and design is the common denominator, and international and Norwegian designers such as Antonio Citterio, Bruno Rainaldi, Tom Dixon, Anne Haavind and StokkeAustad are behind the furniture and decor. The hotel’s own art curator has hand-picked art for every single room and suite.

The Thief

The hotel rooftop opens in the Spring for the best view in Oslo, a panorama of the fjord, the forest-clad hills and the capital’s new skyline. Fresh Champagne and cocktails characterise the bar menu, mixed by Head Bartender, Chris Grøtvedt.

The Serras Hotel, Barcelona, Spain

History and art come together majestically at The Serras, located in Barcelona’s celebrated Gothic quarter. Here, warm breezes blow off the Mediterranean into spacious rooms with balconies that offer a front row seat to this trendy Barcelona neighborhood. This elegant, 5-star boutique hotel overlooking the new luxury Port Vell and the Mediterranean Sea offers a unique hideaway with modern, understated decor. It’s perfect for everything from weekend breaks and business trips to luxury holidays in the heart of Barcelona. It boasts a cool, trendy atmosphere, world class amenities and dedicated personal service for a truly memorable hotel experience, all within the walls of Pablo Picasso’s first studio in the vibrant Barrio Gótico.

The Serras Barcelona

Stay this Spring and Michelin Star Chef Marc Gascons invites you to experience his Catalan specialties with a delicious Bespoke Seasonal Tasting Menu, prepared from fresh Mediterranean ingredients sourced from local markets.

Villa Lauder, Cannes, France

The former home of cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, Villa Lauder from Cote d’Azur Villas is the height of elegance and sophistication, a true home on the Cote d’Azur. Originally built in the early 20 th century, the villa has been completely refurbished by a renowned interior designer and is now luxurious home, ideal for those seeing a wonderful holiday in the South of France.

Villa Lauder, Cannes

There are stunning sea views from the terraces, complete with outdoor dining and living areas and of course a private pool. Nestled in a prestigious residential location you are, however, just a 10-minute stroll into the centre of Cannes and all the glitz and glamour of La Croisette, home to designer boutiques, sumptuous restaurants and the most exclusive of hotels. This is truly a villa for the most discerning of guests, with 6 bedrooms, living room, TV room, dining room, professionally-equipped kitchen, outdoor terraces and heated pool.

Kempinski Hotel Adriatic, Istria, Croatia

Visit Kempinski Hotel Adriatic, the prestigious Croatian five-star luxury seaside golf-and-spa resort, located in the Umag countryside in northwestern Istria. Luxury accommodation features 186 rooms and suites with spacious balconies or terraces. Explore and enjoy our unique facilities and services – a secluded private beach, a 3,000 sq m relaxing spa, event venues and meeting spaces as well as innovative cuisine and memorable dining experiences in two top restaurants. Play golf at Golf Adriatic on the first 18-hole championship golf course in Istria.

Kempinski Hotel Adriatic Istria

Surrounded by picturesque olive groves and vineyards, this secluded paradise enjoys breathtaking views over the Adriatic Sea, offering ultimate comfort and privacy. Leave the everyday world behind and set out on a carefree journey of infinite relaxation and enjoyment.

Six Senses Douro Valley, Portugal

Six Senses Douro Valley presents a superbly renovated 19th-century manor house set high on a hill overlooking the vine covered rolling hills of the Douro Valley and the river below. A spa, a selection of rooms, suites and villas, restaurants, wine library, swimming pools and organic garden are but a few of the many features offered.

Six Senses Douro Valley

Join in a variety of wine-influenced activities including wonderful wine and dine Douro River cruises, fascinating wine certificate program and visits to some of the nearby historic wineries where you will meet the winemakers.

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Accommodation

Top 3 colonial destinations in Brazil

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Like much of South America, Brazil was colonised in the 16th century. The Portuguese landed in 1500 and their mark remains on the country to this day. From pretty painted buildings to elaborate churches, cobbled streets and a rich history, there is much to explore in Brazil’s colonial legacy. Here are our top 3 colonial towns and cities in Brazil and their best luxury hotels.

Salvador

Salvador is the capital of the state of Bahia, a vibrant city on Brazil’s north-eastern coast. The jewel in the crown of Salvador is the old colonial district of Pelourinho. This UNESCO word heritage site is the largest collection of colonial buildings in Latin America and a charming maze of pastel coloured buildings and cobbled streets. Located in the Cidade Alta (High City) it sits above the rest of Salvador, proud and beautiful.

Salvador

The pretty squares and ornate churches are striking landmarks for your exploration of the captivating district. One of the most important is the Sao Francisco church and convent. The interior is covered in ornate gold woodwork and beautiful frescoes. In contrast to the baroque architecture, the art-deco Elevador (elevator) sticks out into the port, a streamlined and striking piece of architecture. It takes people quickly between the Cidade alta and the Cidade Baixa below.

Where to stay

Some of Salvador’s best hotels are located in the Pelourinho and one of our favourites is Villa Bahia, located next to the Sao Francisco church. It is spread over two traditional colonial houses and offers panoramic views over the Pelourinho.  The 17 rooms are uniquely decorated in a sophisticated and elegant style, in keeping with the historical importance of the neighbourhood. The rooms overlook either the church or the courtyard of the hotel and highlights include dark, polished wooden floors and beautiful tiled bathrooms.

A small pool inside one of the courtyards is a gem not so often found in the Pelourinho and the leafy vegetation provides a cooling and relaxing atmosphere. The cuisine is French, making use of the variety of delicious local ingredients and a rooftop terrace is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the view, caipirinha in hand, after a long day exploring the city.

Villa-Bahia

Paraty

Paraty is a colonial gem on Brazil’s Southeastern coast, between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. With the Atlantic rainforest on one side and the ocean on the other, this is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the best of both worlds. Paraty itself is a charming collection of cobbled streets and white buildings, a picture-perfect colonial town harking back to the gold-mining days when it was a port.

Paraty is an ideal place to relax and explore, partly because motorised vehicles are forbidden in the city centre and so the streets are clear for pedestrians. A large number of writers and artists have settled in Paraty and in fact it is home to a literary festival in July each year. There are numerous galleries and boutiques, perfect for shopping for original artwork and artisanal products.

Paraty

For those that want to explore further afield, there are plenty of options. There is an abundance of islands in the bay surrounding Paraty which make delightful day trips. Take a boat out and enjoy a picnic, swimming in the bay and relaxing on the beach. Other activities such as stand-up paddle boarding, snorkelling and diving are also popular and in general, visitors can enjoy a variety of water sports.

The rainforest and mountains behind Paraty offer opportunities for trekking or horse riding, for a change from the beach and the town.

Where to stay

The best hotel in Paraty is Casa Turquesa, a beautiful boutique hotel in central Paraty. The façade is of an 18th century colonial townhouse and the interior is an elegant mix of polished wooden floors, fresh white and turquoise and aqua accents. The 9 rooms are each uniquely decorated with art from local artists. Four poster canopy beds and private balconies complete the charming décor with views out onto the town.

Casa-Turquesa

Ouro Preto

The town of Ouro Preto is in the heart of colonial Brazil’s goldmining region. This is where the Portuguese struck gold and the name Ouro Preto means ‘black gold’. This is another town that has been designated a UNESCO world heritage due to the spectacular Baroque architecture. The town is certainly picturesque with a mix of white facades, terracotta rooves, churches, bridges and fountains all surrounded by the Serra do Espinhaço mountains.

Ouro Preto has a rich cultural history as the location for Brazil’s first independence movement. Today it is an important centre for education and the arts and the narrow, twisting streets play host to 2 different churches and numerous fine examples of the art and architecture of the region.

Ouro-Preto

Ouro Preto makes a good base for exploring the nearby towns of Tiradentes and Mariana, similar in style and almost as charming, they make ideal day or overnight trips and complete a perfect itinerary for anyone interested in colonial history and architecture.

Where to stay

Our favourite hotel in Ouro Preto is the Solar do Rosario. This hotel is housed in an old colonial mansion and offers 41 well-appointed rooms. Decorated in clean, neutral hues with warm accents of polished wood, each room offers views over the town or the hotel gardens. Other amenities include an outdoor pool where guests can enjoy a swim or relax on the surrounding loungers with the mountains and rooftops in full view. The Lady of the Rosary serves delicious cuisine, accompanied by wines selected from the hotel’s own wine cellar and the scotch bar is the perfect place to relax with a sophisticated drink.

Solar-do-Rosario

Simon Williams is Director of Bespoke Brazil.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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8 great places to travel responsibly

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Responsible travel is about directly benefitting the communities you visit whenever possible through sustainable travel, environmental protection and social projects. Here are just a few responsible travel suggestions you can include as part of a trip to the destinations in question.

1. Elephant Hills Tented Camp, Thailand

One of the highlights of many peoples’ visits to Thailand is a chance to interact with Asian elephants. Elephant Hills Tented Camp looks after its elephants properly, often rescuing them from illegal logging companies, or from the streets of major cities. It’s a great way to experience the majesty of these creatures, whilst doing so responsibly: there is no elephant riding here, but visitors can help feed and wash the inhabitants, and then watch them at rest and at play in their large, free-roaming pen.

Elephant Hills Tented Camp

2. Moraine Lake Lodge,  Alberta, Canada 

Moraine Lake Lodge, nestled in a remote location on the edge of a glacier-fed lake in Canada, offers a detox from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With no phones or televisions in the rooms, the lodge encourages its guests to rekindle their relationship with nature. This philosophy involves self-sufficiency and reducing the lodge’s impact on the surrounding environment. When guests turn on the tap in their rooms, they experience some of the freshest water in the world, as it comes directly from an alpine mountain well. The lodge also generates all of its own power, with a focus on keeping waste to a minimum.

Moraine Lake Lodge

3. Philanthropic tour of Marrakesh, Morocco

This exploration of the souqs of Marrakesh focuses on the charity work being done to help Moroccan women in difficult social situations. Al Kaoutar is a great place to see this work first-hand. It helps women without any resources and who are in extreme poverty to learn a trade and be able to earn a living for themselves. The women learn how to make high-quality products which are sold as part of Al Koutar’s non-profit scheme to fund their vocational training.

The Amal Association is also doing vital work. It provides underprivileged single mothers with training to become professional cooks and pastry makers. Most have now found work in the many riads of Marrakesh through its support. You can enjoy a delicious lunch here, cooked by the trainees themselves.

Dining Area at Amal Association in Marrakesh

4. Lapa Rios Lodge, Costa Rica

Set on a ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean and nestled within a private rainforest, Lapa Rios Lodge manages to harmoniously blend the romantic, exotic appeal of a remote rainforest setting with the comfort and luxury of many modern hotels. The first hotel in Costa Rica to achieve the prestigious five-leaf status from the country’s tourism board, Certification for Sustainable Tourism, there is a strong emphasis on protecting the area’s fragile ecosystem. The lodge runs its own reforestation project and guests are encouraged to use the biodegradable products provided.

Lapa Rios Lodge

5. Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

In January 2016 the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia was named as the world’s first, and only, carbon neutral national park. All of the safari camps in and surrounding the park have collaborated to develop a sustainable energy plan, leading the way for African tourism. Each camp now runs on solar-generated power, reducing the emissions from the traditional generators, and efforts are also  being made to reduce the carbon footprint of journeying to and from these properties. Unavoidable emissions are offset through a sustainable system of rewards for reducing greenhouse gases, providing support for further climate innovations. This initiative demonstrates responsible tourism from small, owner-run businesses, paving the way for larger corporations around Africa to follow suit.

Lower Zambezi National Park

6. Bogani Cottages & Tented Camp, Kenya

Bogani Cottages and Tented Camp in Kenya’s Masai Mara region is one of the best responsible travel destinations in Africa. Three or seven nights at Bogani is your passport to a warm welcome from the Maasai and Kipsigi communities who are learning to work together to build a better life for themselves. At the camp, you join the Free The Children sustainable projects designed to increase access to clean water and sanitation, education, medical services and income generation. From working on building sites, visiting local markets and drawing water for local families, visitors experience Kenyan life in a way that provides great benefit to locals.

Locals at Borgani Camp

7. Araveli Cottages & Tented Camp, Rajasthan, India

You can work alongside local families on a Free The Children sustainable development project at Araveli Cottages and Tented Camp in the heart of rural Rajasthan, a sun-drenched landscape marked by white temples and wheat fields. Walk with locals as they collect water from a well, help make traditional food, learn about the crops they are growing or even help construct a community building. This is a place for those who want to immerse themselves in authentic Indian culture, and take part in a rewarding  exchange which helps to empower local communities to end the cycle of poverty.

Collecting water at Araveli

8. Minga Lodge, Ecuadorian Amazon, Ecuador

Deep in the Amazon jungle, the Napo River winds past shorelines enveloped by throngs of lush, emerald-green rainforest. At Minga Lodge, you can spot wildlife in the Amazon and get involved with activities such as building a health clinic, planting trees on the farm and making handicrafts with local women to sell at markets.

Minga Lodge on the Napo River

Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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3 Malaysian hotspots for vegans

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Ah beautiful, tropical, culturally rich Malaysia; how we love what you have to offer those who want to explore in style. Malaysia has got it all; beautiful beaches, abundant nature, culture, history and a lot of delicious food. It also happens to be an excellent destination for vegan travellers (who are people that love to see the world but don’t eat or use any animal products along the way).  As Malaysia has a vast amount of plant-based food available and the local population is friendly with a helpful nature, vegans won’t have to make too may special arrangements to enjoy Malaysia as much as everyone else does.

Our 3 Malaysian Hotspots for Vegans include some of the most visited destinations in the country; the tropical paradise island of Langkawi, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown and the famous beach resort of Batu Ferringhi. Here’s the lowdown on how to get the most out of your visit to these great luxury destinations if you are a vegan.

1. Langkawi

Langkawi is Malaysia’s biggest island. People visit here to enjoy the picture postcard beaches, the pristine jungle teeming with wildlife and the endless sunshine. There are parts of the island which are busy with tourists now, as with many popular beach destinations, and this is definitely one of those places where you benefit from booking somewhere in the upscale luxury category. Not only will you get world class service but you’ll escape the crowds and get your own private slice of paradise. Sounds perfect doesn’t it?

Our top pick for vegan travellers is The Danna Langkawi, a West Coast gem where the service is outstanding. Right on the beach with a backdrop of surrounding jungle, you’ll also have access to Langkawi’s biggest swimming pool. It’s a great place to clock up the beach or pool hours in between taking daily excursions to explore the best bits of the island.

The-Danna-Langkawi-Pool

Beach at The Danna Langkawi

When it comes to dining, The Danna Langkawi excels at dealing with dietary requirements and when we visited they were great at pointing out items on the menu that were already vegan, adjusting other dishes and even creating several bespoke choices for us. From local flavours to healthy favourites, the vegan food matched the high quality of the surroundings.

For these reasons it is our top pick for vegan travellers who enjoy the finer things in life.

The-Danna_vegan-lunch

The-Danna_salad

2. Georgetown

Next up is Georgetown which was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2008 in recognition of the rich cultural and historical importance of this favourite Malaysian destination. Visitors here can spend days wandering the streets in the Heritage Zone, soaking up the melting pot of different cultures in Little India, Chinatown and Armenian Street set against modern Malay daily life, as well as getting to visit one of the many vegan food stalls and restaurants serving traditional food that is also plant based and delicious!

There are huge numbers of places to stay meaning that travellers are spoilt for choice, we stayed just outside the Heritage Zone at Hotel Penaga, a collection of restored heritage buildings that have been given a new lease of life with a modern, art infused twist. Particular attention has been paid to making the boutique hotel more eco-friendly with solar panels, use of recycled materials and traditional renovation techniques.

Hotel Penaga sunset

The design at Hotel Penaga gives you the feeling of living in a ‘time gone by’ but with all the modern touches that turn it into a great luxury choice and the spa offers a wide range of massages, a treatment with one of the highly experienced therapists is not to be missed! As a vegan, if you choose to eat breakfast in the hotel then you can look forward to a small selection of western breakfast items, local fruits and freshly prepared noodles to start your day.

Hotel-Penaga-rice-noodles

3. Batu Ferringhi

Our final Malaysian hot spot is Batu Ferringhi which has been a popular tourist destination for some time and this busy beach resort on Penang island (just a short trip from Georgetown) is the place to go if you like water sports like parasailing or zipping around on a jet-ski. However, if you like a more leisurely pace of life, miles of sandy beach await you, a busy night market is there to explore and there are a number of hotels and resorts where you can sit back and just do nothing.

The PARKROYAL Penang Resort offers the best of both worlds, being located right on the beach (great news for beach loving, water sport enthusiasts) as well as having 2 huge swimming pools set in lush tropical gardens for those who prefer this kind of relaxation. It’s a family friendly, laid back resort in the heart of the popular Batu Ferringhi beach.

PARK-ROYAL-Penang-Resort-landscape

Vegan guests (who can manage to drag themselves away from the pool or beach) will be well catered for at the PARKROYAL Penang Resort, during our visit the chef seemed happy to create plant-based dishes for us at breakfast, lunch and dinner, even though they weren’t part of the usual offering.

PARK-ROYAL-Penang-Resort_fried-rice-tofu

It’s always great to see somewhere adapting their service for people who choose an alternative lifestyle and all good luxury hotels should be able to do this, so never be shy to ask. We ate vegan versions of a Malay favourite snack, ‘nasi goreng’ which literally means fried rice, which contained vegetables and tofu wok fried in soy and garlic. Other options included rich spicy vegetable curries and DIY salads from the well stocked salad bar.

So there you have our quick guide to 3 Malaysian hotspots for vegans meaning that everyone can enjoy this wonderful luxury destination, no matter their dietary or lifestyle choice. Now you have another culture, food and beach filled trip to look forward to, which is always great news for luxury travel loving vegans!

Paul Eyers is Founder of Vegan Food Quest.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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25 free things to do in Dubai

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Dubai is renowned for over-the-top luxury, and as a tourist thinking of things to do in Dubai, it’s usually the high cost experiences that first come to mind. Helicopter tours, waterpark tickets, designer boutiques, private desert safaris and afternoon tea at expensive hotels… all very glitz and glam, but definitely budget-blowing. Well, there’s another side to this luxury destination and the great news is, some of the most culturally enlightening experiences are free. Here are 25 ways to see past Dubai’s flashy veneer…

Looking back

#1 Explore the old quarter, Al Bastakiya. A fairly small part of the city (a lot of it was demolished in the 80s to make way for new office buildings), here you can get a taste of the pre-oil era as you wander through narrow lanes straggled by buildings over 100 years old. It’s home to #2 The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which operates free guided tours on Saturdays and is well worth a visit to find out about Emirati culture.

Al Bastakiya

#3 Test your haggling skills at the souks. Hop across the creek on a #4 Abra water taxi (okay, strictly speaking a ride across the creek will set you back about 20p, but it’s an adventure in itself and a terrific way to see the skyline). Absorb the amazing aromas in the spice souk and ogle at the OTT jewellery on display in the gold souks at Deira.

Spice Souk

There are various museums, galleries and exhibitions in the vicinity, choose from #5 Heritage House, #6 The Camel Museum, #7 The Majlis Gallery and the 200 year old #8 Al Fahidi Fort, all of which are reasonably close to each other, and free (or almost free) to enter.

Looking forward

A notoriously superlative seeking nation, Dubai is obsessed with collecting as many ‘world’s highest this’ and ‘world’s first thats’ as possible. The city’s ‘anything is possible’ attitude is inspiring, and you can witness the following remarkable feats of human ingenuity for free in Dubai:

#9 Be blown away by the waterworks at Burj Khalifa Lake. Fountain watching might not sound like a must-do activity – but Dubai’s impressive aqua display at Burj Khalifa Lake cannot be missed. It’s unexpectedly amazing; you’ll be mesmerised as you witness the incredible force required to make jets of water erupt 500ft into the air (that’s about as high as 35 double-decker buses stacked on top of each other!). Apparently accompanying light show is so bright that it can be seen from space (perhaps Tim Peake can confirm this next time he passes over the emirate?)

Dubai Fountains

#10 Cool down in the fountains at Marina Walk. On a much smaller scale than Burj Khalifa’s fountains, but more interactive. The perfect antidote to soaring temperatures, splashing about in these walk-through fountains is especially popular with children.

#11 Stroll through Madinat Jumeirah. A modern recreation of a traditional Arabian village, but really well done, with romantic palm fringed waterways, lots of eateries and a working souk. Unlike the old town souks, this one has air conditioning!

Madinat Jumeirah

Whilst you’re in the Madinat, #12 save a turtle, by visiting the Mina A’Salam hotel’s turtle rescue and rehabilitation facility which cares for injured and endangered turtles before being releasing them back into the wild. Cue collective ‘ahhh!’

#13 Take a selfie next to the Burj Al Arab, one of the most photographed structures in the world and an icon of Dubai. It’s particularly photogenic at sunset.

Burj Al Arab at sunset

#14 Sip a hot chocolate overlooking a snowy mountain scene. Bear with us here – the Alpine-themed St Mortiz cafe at the entrance to Ski Dubai (yes, there’s ‘real’ snow, inside what’s essentially a giant freezer), comes complete with a faux fireplace, located within an air conditioned shopping mall, in the middle of the desert… well, this is Dubai!

Hot Chocolate at Ski Dubai

Whilst we’re talking malls, don’t miss the chance to see the #15 Dubai Aquarium at Dubai Mall. You have to pay to walk through the tunnel, but you can see part of the 10 million litre tank for free from the mall side.

Kite Beach

#16 Hit the beach. Although most hotels section off their own private beaches, there are plenty of public beaches in Dubai you can access for free. One of our favourites is Umm Suqeim (Kite Beach), where you can #17 Watch the kite surfers with a fabulous backdrop of the Burj Al Arab. Whilst you’re there, #18 stroll, jog, cycle or skate along the new beach track that connects Umm Suqeim to Jumeirah Beach.

Dubai wouldn’t be Dubai without a bit of bling, and JBR The Walk is a great place to #19 gawk at the flashy cars. Not too far from Jumeirah Beach, this outdoor promenade is home to an array of boutiques and cafes; ideal for window shopping and people watching.

#20 Spend an evening walking around Dubai Marina admiring the illuminated yachts of the rich and famous. Ladies, head to the area on Tuesdays nights to #21 get a free drink (or three!) at Marina Yacht Club.

Dubai Marina

To mingle with the locals

Only a handful of the population are true Emiratis; 90% of people living in Dubai are expats. This makes for a vibrant mix of cultures, and lots of interesting stories. Head to these lesser-known spots and bump into real-life Dubai residents to discover the true soul of Dubai.

#22 Take a picnic to Dubai Polo Club. There’s a relaxed atmosphere, and most matches are free to watch. You’re up close to the action, and it’s really exciting to watch the horses and riders thunder past. Children are welcome and especially enjoy the spectacle.

Dubai Polo

#23 Watch camel racing. A bizarre spectacle, the camels are ridden by robot jockeys with their excitable owners chasing them in their 4x4s. Most of the attendees are locals, but they’re very friendly. An unusual, yet memorable day out.

Camel Racing

#24 Visit a park. Green spaces are sprouting up all over Dubai. If you’re travelling with young children, visit Mushrif Park (there are 13 minature houses that toddlers will love to explore, plus pony rides). Alternatively, try Nad Al Sheba cycle park. Here there’s a cycling proficiency track complete with roundabouts, stop signs and speed bumps where little ones can practice their road safety skills and role-play to their hearts content. The views of the Burj Khalifa are a bonus!

Mushrif Park

#25 Go to the cinema. On Sunday nights, Pyramids Rooftop Gardens at Wafi Mall transforms into an outdoor cinema, complete with comfy beanbags – entry is free and there’s no need to book.

Pyramids Rooftop Gardens

What are your favourite Dubai attractions? Share your top picks in the comments below.

Spencer Groves is Commercial Director at letsgo2.

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Accommodation

3 of the best 5 star Mallorca hotels to know before you go to

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Offering everything from a vibrant city life to lush countryside escapes Mallorca has been a long time favorite for many europeans seeking sea and sun. I had always thought it was just a vacation place that Germans frequented for summer holidays but I quickly realized on my very first visit that that was not the case. Palma de Mallorca, the capital city on this large island, has over 400,000 full time residents making it a thriving urban center to a culture that goes back over 2000 years. Local life operates fully independent of tourism here. You’ll find a great mix of cosmopolitan city life with dozens of picturesque villages across the island. Mountains on the west coast and olive orchards to the east. And best of all there are hundreds of beaches and calas that surround the entire island. Even at peek tourist times, if you know where to go there is always a little beach with just a few people on it. For this very reason Mallorca is one of my all time favorite places to visit.

There are hundreds of hotels and resorts concentrated around Palma to the south and Alcuida in the north both which should avoided. The trick is not to get trapped in the middle of the mid level nondescript, badly in need of being refurbished, mass market hotels. The good news is that Mallorca has some of the most spectacular hotels in the Mediterranean and they will make you forget all about the others on the island.

It is quite difficult to give a short list of the best hotels in Mallorca as it is a big island and there are many unique spots worthy of a visit. Location is as always, very important, especially on Mallorca. The Tramuntana mountain range runs along the west coast of the island from south to north making for a very dramatic coastline of cliffs and coves. Much of it is protected and is not over developed. My hotel picks run along this range starting in the south a couple miles outside Palam de Mallorca up to Deia and ending above the Port of Soller. Each property excels in personalized service that truly go above and beyond most other hotels on the Mediterranean.

St Regis Mardavall

Overlooking the mediterranean sea, the St. Regis Mardavall is just a couple miles from the center of Palma de Mallorca on a spacious parcel of land that makes you feel like you are in your own little oasis. Newly built in 2002 and refurbished in 2008 the Mardavall has a regional design that is spacious and elegant. Most of its 133 rooms have wide open views of the sea but is in walking distance of the exclusive Marina Harbor Puerto Portals. The focus is on personal service and the staff is dedicated to ensuring every aspect of your visit is perfect.

StRegisMardavallMallorcaResort

I think what works best about the St Regis Mardavall is that when you are on property you feel like you a can relax and disconnect all while having easy access to Palma’s night life, food and shopping when you choose.

EsFumterrace

The Michelin Star restaurant Es Fum lead by chef Rafael Sanchez is on property and rated one of the best on the island. The resort even boasts a private dock for those who want to arrive by boat. Just jump off your yacht and check in without having to see anyone form outside the property.

Private-Jetty

Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa

Perched high on a cliff overlooking the fishing village of Port Soller, the Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa is a great choice if you are looking to relax farther from the city. A room with a view takes on a whole new meaning here, it’s position on the cliffs give the hotel unrivaled views that are unmatched on the island. Whether you are in your suite, in the pool or the terrace you will have one of the best views in Mallorca. Even the sauna has a view not to be missed.

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Often times resorts say they have a spa but it ends up being a small tight space with a hot tub and massage room the size of a closet. This is certainly not the case here. This Jumeirah hotel is big on relax and rejuvenation. The Talise Spa is well thought out and offers dozens of the latest spa treatments.

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If you find some time to peel yourself of the massage table the concierge can hook you up with one of the best adventure tours on the island. Air, land and sea. Start by helicopter over the mountains to a country agrotourism villa in Fornalutx. From there take a hike across Sa Costera to little Cala Tuent. There you lunch at Es Vergeret for fresh fish and local specialties, maybe a swim before and then finally return to the resort by private speed boat.

jumeirah-port-soller-hotel-spa-infinity-pool-at-sunset-hero

La Residencia

About half way between Soller and Palma you will come across the tiny artist village of Deia nestled on the mountain side overlooking the valley and sea. Belmond’s Hotel La Residencia is perfectly situated on the mountainside. The resort feels more like a private estate than a hotel with only 67 rooms and suites. (the hotel was previously owned by Richard Branson and used as his private getaway) They even have a villa that is perfect for families looking to escape together. The accommodations spread up across the property vertically like terraces, creating an environment of privacy and seclusion. Still with spectacular views I had the feeling that I was very protected here, as if the mountain was embracing the property.

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The interiors and grounds at La Residencia are immaculate. All the furnishings are of Mallorquin design and locally manufactured adding to hotels luxurious authenticity. The gardens are lush and well manicured with plenty of hidden spots to layout in the sun or take a siesta. Several pools on different levels including a large indoor pool ensure that no pool feels overcrowded.

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La Residencia has a big focus on authenticity with several resident painters and sculptors. They have a beautiful sculpture garden, one of Spain’s largest with up and coming as well as established artist. Master classes are often on offer as well as culinary classes and special programs for children. For me La Residencia is not only by far one of the best hotels in Spain but one of the best hotels in the world. It is truly magical and not to be missed.

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Bookings in Mallorca for the 2016 season are up considerably due to the geo political situation. Europeans are not venturing so far this summer so my suggestion is to plan now. No matter what hotel you find that is right for you make your reservations soon!

Ron Otto is Onwer of Best in Spain.

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Accommodation

Short stay: Goldsborough Hall, near Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, UK

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Situated between Harrogate and York, Goldsborough Hall is a historic, 400-year-old stately home and Grade II Listed building, and former residence (and first marital home) to one of the present Queen’s aunts: HRH Princess Mary (1897-1965). After an extensive restoration, it has established itself as one of Yorkshire’s finest wedding venues but has also enjoyed a growing trade for guests simply looking for a few nights away. We paid a visit to see why.

Goldsborough Hall

The welcome

We were warmly welcomed and personally shown to our rooms within the main building. The staff we encountered were consistently friendly and helpful throughout, as was the manager, James, who introduced himself to us later that evening.

The room

I travelled with family and so we occupied two suites, each with a similar layout, but one a floor directly above the other – The Wharton Suite (named after the Wharton family who owned the Hall in the 17th Century) and the Bridgeman Suite (named after Lady Florence Bridgeman who lived at the Hall prior to moving to Harewood House with her husband, the 5th Earl of Harewood, in 1893). The rooms were tastefully furnished, recognising the building’s history and grandeur, whilst still exuding a modern style.

Bedroom at Goldsborough Hall

Wharton Suite at Goldsborough Hall

Bedroom at Goldsborough

A selection of magazines included publications such as The Rake and Living North could be found in each room.

Magazines at Goldsborough Hall

Free WiFi was reliable throughout the building and direct dial telephones between rooms were useful given that we had rooms on separate floors. Each room also had its own tea and coffee making facilities.

The accommodation overlooked a portion of the estate’s grounds – there’s a total of 12 acres of beautiful grounds at Goldsborough, and this has earned the hotel prestigious recognition with The Times newspaper as one of the ‘top places to stay with great gardens’.

The bathroom

Contemporary bathrooms were equipped with a whirlpool bath and twin glass basins, as well as Molton Brown toiletries.

Bathroom at Goldsborough Hall

Toiletries at Goldsborough Hall

The facilities

We were only there for a short stay but were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sample the restaurant. Pre-dinner drinks were served in the Jacobean Library (which is also used for afternoon teas, popular with both residents and non-residents). This is a very grand, yet cosy, room with log fire and oak-panelling; in the Summer months, it opens out onto a lovely outside terrace and conservatory bar.

Lounge at Goldsborough Hall

Here we were served canapés – delicious chicken and rabbit croquettes and treacle-cured salmon.

Canapes at Goldsborough Hall

After making our selections from the menu, we moved through to the Dining Room – I had the succulent pan-fried scallops served with a pea and wasabi purée, and a honey and soy dressing…

Scallops at Goldsborough Hall

…whilst my wife was equally delighted with her choice of the goats cheese mousse, roasted red pepper purée, black olive sticks and thyme honey.

Goats cheese mousse at Goldsborough Hall

My main of trio of pork consisted of roast pork fillet, braised pork belly and slow-cooked pork cheek, served with heritage carrots and anise.

Trio of pork at Goldsborough Hall

I also got to taste my wife’s fillet of hake served on a bed of puy lentils with chorizo, red pepper mousse and red wine tartar.

Hake at Goldsborough Hall

But my favourite main was my son’s choice (he was also kind enough to let me have a taste!) of beef sirloin with a Bourguignon sauce, roast shallot and mushroom puree.

Beef sirloin at Goldsborough Hall

Not only was the food of a high standard, but the presentation – as you can see – was an equal match, and the restaurant thoroughly deserves its AA rosette for culinary excellence.

We shared a taste of chocolate to finish: chocolate brownie, dark chocolate mousse and white chocolate and pistachio.

Chocolate dessert at Goldsborough Hall

We had chosen from the a la carte menu but also available is a gourmet seven-course taster menu. As mentioned, dinner is served in the Dining Room which is also where we had breakfast each morning.

Breakfast room at Goldsborough Hall

I had the full Yorkshire breakfast one morning, and the eggs Benedict another, but other options are available, including the likes of homemade porridge, Yorkshire eggy bread with crispy bacon, smoked haddock kedgeree or sweet Yorkshire puddings (with fillings such as fruit compote, hazelnut chocolate and butterscotch sauce).

Breakfast at Goldsborough Hall

Other nice touches

We were welcomed with a personally-written note in our room from the owners, Mark and Clare Oglesby, who are also resident at the house and are the ones responsible for restoring this beautiful building to its former glory.

Welcome at Goldsborough Hall

Cost

Rates start from an attractive £189 for a standard King room, including dinner.

The best bit

Although the accommodation and food were both excellent, the best bit was how welcome we were made to feel. Nothing was too much trouble.

The final verdict

The hotel has somehow successfully achieved something that’s probably more difficult than it looks – namely, that it has retained the history and character of the building and grounds whilst still providing a modern and contemporary five star offering that is in keeping with the expectations of the present day.

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Accommodation

Suite of the week: Reunion Resort 2500, Reunion Resort, Orlando, Florida, USA

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Suite name: Reunion Resort 2500
Location: Reunion Resort, Orlando, Florida, USA
Size of accommodation: 11,700 sq ft
Cost per night: from £1,155 per night
What makes it special: Reunion Resort 2500 is unlike any other vacation home, intricately designed throughout with 13 unique themed bedrooms and various other extraordinary facilities, perfect for the larger family group.

Reunion Resort 2500 exterior

Reunion Resort 2500 hallway

Reunion Resort 2500 kitchen

Set in the exclusive, 5 star Reunion Resort, Orlando, this incredible vacation rental provides an astounding array of features. Presenting 13 themed bedrooms (even including an outdoors one), each has been designed with a different theme in mind from Disney to various destinations!

Reunion Resort 2500 master bedroom

Reunion Resort 2500 themed bedroom

Entertainment certainly isn’t forgotten with their series of superb activities available such as a custom private pool, home cinema, indoor sports hall, games room and much more. For budding cooking enthusiasts, the home provides a spacious, fully equipped kitchen, teeming with all the top equipment you may require. Sleeping up to 34 guests and complete with an en suite bathroom in every bedroom, the villa offers utmost privacy every guest will appreciate.

Reunion Resort 2500 poolside

Reunion Resort 2500 sports hall

Reunion Resort 2500 pool

Located only 5.5 miles from Walt Disney World in the remarkable Reunion Resort, it’s positioned in a dream worthy destination, families will adore. Packed with 3 signature golf courses, 11 pools, the finest selection of restaurants, a water park and situated in such a small proximity to Disney, there’s more than enough fun filled activities to experience on your Orlando trip.

If you would like to be featured as ‘suite of the week’ on A Luxury Travel Blog, please contact us.

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Accommodation

Top 5 reasons to visit Bora Bora

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There are many reasons Bora Bora is such a favorite honeymoon and anniversary destination with my clients – who wouldn’t want to wake up to surreal turquoise water, snorkel and dive with manta rays, and enjoy the privacy of your very own overwater bungalow?

In case your other half or family still needs to be persuaded, here are my top 5 reasons to visit Bora Bora:

1. Enjoy stunning views

Bora Bora’s lagoon features some of the most amazing colored turquoise water you’ll see anywhere, thanks to being very sheltered from the sea, and very shallow in many places. In fact, you can often see incredible color variations between the turquoise shallow and dark blue deeper water.

If at all possible, also reserve a bungalow or villa with an unobstructed view of Mount Otemanu, which rises majestically from Bora Bora’s main island. But even if your view is of the lagoon and beach with swaying palm trees, count yourself lucky – the tropical colors are so vivid, it’s a bit like in the original Wizard of Oz movie, when the opening sequence in black and white gives way to technicolor in the land of Oz.

2. Stay in an overwater bungalow

Some resorts do have some accommodations on the beach, but if you’re going all the way to Bora Bora, stay in its most iconic accommodation, an overwater bungalow or villa. This is a good reason to go as a couple on honeymoon or to celebrate an anniversary, as the best overwater bungalows have Polynesian flair, but are also luxuriously appointed and very private.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Bora Bora-Overwater Bungalow

If you do visit Bora Bora as a family, as we did, wait until your children are old enough to know not to go in the water unless you’re with them, for obvious safety reasons.

3. Go snorkeling and diving

The views from your overwater villa are only half the story – wait until you see the underwater world! Bora Bora has some of the largest manta rays I’ve seen, and it also has many eagle rays, stingrays, small reef sharks (they actually tend to be shy of humans), moray eels, and many kinds of tropical fish. I particularly recommend Pure Snorkeling by Reef Discovery for snorkeling, and Dive N’Smile for scuba diving. Both had very friendly, professional guides who cater to very small groups and cared about our experience.

4. Stay at the Four Seasons Bora Bora

Where you stay matters, and my top resort recommendation for Bora Bora is Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, both for couples and families. From the airport lei greeting with a smile and comfortable cruise to the resort in a custom yacht to the white sand beach, beautifully appointed villas, friendly staff, and many complimentary extras (complimentary spa facilities – plunge pool, sauna, experience shower, relaxation room; complimentary kids’ club; complimentary tennis; complimentary Polynesian dance show and cooking demonstration), the resort differentiates itself.

5. Savor French-inflected cuisine

Some critics have pointed out that there isn’t as much variety in cuisine as they’d hoped for. Well, let’s be realistic – Bora Bora is remote, with much of its food imported and flown in–it’s not London or NYC, so you can’t just pop around the corner for Chinese dim sum or Spanish tapas.

That said, I personally really enjoyed our meals, particularly the fresh seafood and the fantastic pastries, desserts and homemade ice creams and sorbets. Bora Bora’s fresh seafood of course gets credit, but so do French methods of preparation and attention to presentation, as well as taste. But don’t feel that you need to dine at your resort’s fine dining restaurant to enjoy great cuisine; at least at the Four Seasons Bora Bora and InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa, we also enjoyed delicious meals in the comfort of our overwater bungalow.

Hilary Stockton is the CEO at TravelSort.

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