.: A weekend away in a country club Wales :.

Is there anything better than a long weekend away? After my stressful week (year?) I was really looking forward to chill down and just relax.  I went to South Wales on this one, which I find is one of the best places in UK to slow down and relax surrounded by all the green scenery.  For instance I love Lake District a lot, but it just takes forever to get there, especially if we’re talking about a long weekend! I’m hoping to be back at some stage, in any random weekend to spend a few days there. South Wales is a much easier option as it’s just 2h15 from London (or 3h and a bit with the traffic on a long weekend).

The point of a weekend away tends to be to relax, and starting the weekend stuck in 6h queues isn’t a great start. Finally one that was far more relaxing! We’ve managed to reach the hotel for dinner at 08h!

The choice for the weekend was one of the Country Clubs from Marriott, St Pierre.

Photo from official website

I really like the Country Clubs because they tend to be spaces surrounded by lots of green. Is there anything better than wake up with the sound of birds and green around you? The staff at reception was really friendly and welcoming! They gave us a map of the area, which included a walk at the property and some recommendations for restaurants around.

We were allocated to one of the lakeside villas, next to the main hotel, in front of the lake and the golf course. Our building didn’t had a lakeside view, but there was a small garden, so it was ok

As you get into the house, you’ll see a small kitchen area, which would benefit from a little upgrade, but I wasn’t counting on having one, so didn’t bother me at all.

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We’ve ended up spending most of the time before going to bed here. This is where I was doing my meditation exercises too.

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Outside space… it was raining quite a lot when we arrived, but the rest of the weekend was really beautiful!

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Don’t ask me why I took a photo of the bathroom, but I did! Again would benefit for some modernisation but it was clean and functional so no complains here.

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The bed was one of the smallest I’ve seen in any Marriott. It was a normal size, it’s just I’m used to have huge beds (like 2m x 2m!)

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The main hotel area was quite a classic Marriot wise. Lots of dedicated rooms between the leisure area (which we’ve ended up not using) and the restaurants. I didn’t took any decent photos so will use the ones from the hotel

For dinner we’ve ended up going to the Zest Restaurant, as the main restaurant was already fully booked. I like the zest’s as they tend to be quite casual and relaxed (although I would advise you not to order the pizzas, I did that once, never again!)

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For my first dinner I’ve ordered the chicken lemon which was quite ok. On the 2nd night I’ve ordered the salmon salad which was a really good choice!

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with fruits for dessert

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The breakfast room (at the main restaurant) was quite busy, but the staff was really quick and efficient. We never had to wait long before our coffees would arrive. They also had poached eggs (which not all hotels have). My favourite option was the fruit!

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So overall it was quite a relaxing choice!

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Any country club you would recommend for a relaxing weekend away?

.: AirBnB Bordeaux :.

Last weekend me and my sister went for a weekend away in Bordeaux. We’ve decided that, rather than give something each other for Christmas it would be a nicer idea to do a weekend away. We still bought something to each other so we would have something to unwrap and also the idea of doing a weekend just for the 2 of us sounded really tempting. It’s been almost 10 years since we’ve done something like this.

I’ve also decided that it would be finally the time to use AirBnB. I guess the reason why I was so behind in the game is that I end up booking big chain hotels to use the points, or then trying to find a cosy B&B like the one we had in North Wales. But I was keen on trying AirBnB this time. After doing a quick search I fell in love with the stone apartments in the centre of Bordeaux. This is how I found Antoine’s

The bed area

The decor is perfect for the style of the apartment. Absolutely beautiful!

Now let’s talk about location – I couldn’t ask it to be any better than it was

Yap that’s right, in the historical centre in the middle of all nice restaurants and bars. It was just perfect!

I also had the pleasure of meeting Antoine as he was waiting for me at the apartment and he gave me really good tips of which restaurants to try in the area and what to see and do.

Something I found really surprising was that, not only I can leave the review of my stay, but I get one back as a guest as well! This is really useful information for anyone renting out flats! Good idea guys!

So overall quite pleased with my AirBnB experience, which I’ll definitely be repeating again in Japan 🙂

Have you used AirBnB before? Any experience you would like to share?

.: A Weekend away around Yorkshire – Country Club :.

During the Easter Break, and before our big trip to Japan, we’ve decided to go all the way north to Yorkshire, because it’s an area I’ve always wanted to explore but never really had the chance to. Unlike my recent trip to Wales, this was bound to be a painful journey. It started on my way from work. I left the office a bit before 15h, aiming to be at home before 16h, but the trains were cancelled so I was constantly checking on google maps on how to get home. It was raining cats and dogs too and traffic really bad, so even taking a taxi was no longer an option. I’ve made it eventually, at 16h20.

Then getting out of London took us more than 2h, stuck in traffic in the north circular road. (Long weekend + rain, worst combo in UK!) Absolutely terrible! To make matters worst I now need to make more regular breaks and can’t handle 4h in a row in the car or more as I’ve used to.

Same as last weekend, we’ve stayed in one of the Country Clubs from Marriott, Hollins Hall, which means a golf course, spa and lots of green around you. All you need to relax! We had to eat in one small service station at around 20h30, because we were no longer sure if we would reach the hotel on time. We’ve managed to arrive at around 22h30, so I was really tired. The friendly staff at the hotel was already waiting for me and made my check-in really stress free and as efficient as possible. Thank you guys! Couldn’t resist but to throw myself in bed and fall asleep. So this time I don’t have many photos

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Photos below are from the official website

The hotel is on top of a beautiful hill

Quite a bright reception

Main restaurant

The pool

The breakfast was the normal continental breakfast, but at least there were lots of fruits available. On Saturday evening we’ve managed to get a table booked for the main restaurant and I have to say I’ve really enjoyed my meal

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Mushroom risotto

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Really delicious cheesecake!

Quite a relaxing weekend even if it was a bumpy start! It felt amazing to wake up with the sound of birds and going for walks outside.

Btw happy children’s day! (In Portugal) Just notice it’s my last Children’s day, so going to celebrate and have ice cream 😀

.: Exploring the countryside – Norfolk :.

Back in July we’ve decided to explore Norfolk, because it’s an area we had never really explored.

We’ve stayed at one of the Marriott Country Club Houses. I’ve tried a few and I normally like them, as they tend to be located in quiet areas in the country. There were a lot of families there to enjoy the golf or just enjoy the area

They also had a nice pool, but we left our swimming suits at home, so we couldn’t use it. Not clever!

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It was actually the first in UK ever that I couldn’t sleep because it was too hot and there was no air conditioning. Who would ever say, but this year all summer was around July and this was precisely when we’ve decided to go away. We even had to use the air conditioning in the car. Shocking right? We can’t forget that summer is the best day of the year in UK.

We went for a walk in Norwich itself, which isn’t a big town but it’s quite a charming one. I didn’t took proper pictures because it was too hot to be outside.

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It was so hot we’ve decided to go for a lunch break. We’ve ended up going to Bill’s which is a chain I really like. The staff was really friendly.

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After lunch we went to the coast for a walk. I was hoping we could still do the seal watching, but the boats had gone in the morning, which means I need to come back and plan it properly.

 

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After Ice cream we’ve return to the hotel for dinner outdoors.

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I had the worst pizza ever, worst than the frozen ones we buy at the supermarket for £1, but this was not the main restaurant of the hotel. But I was keen on staying outdoors to enjoy the weather and the views. Dinner aside, we’ve ended up having fireworks (I can’t recall the reason), which were quite nice (10m of them).

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Next morning, the weather wasn’t that great anymore and the forecast was rain. Before heading back home, we’ve decided to explore a bit more the countryside but we’ve ended up getting lost. The landscape was quite beautiful though, but it felt that the cows were spying on us!

 

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So in the end it was a really lovely weekend away and I hope to be doing more of this in 2016 🙂

.: JW Marriott House of Essex :.

I’ve just arrived back home after a long flight: 7h flight + 2h delay + 30m waiting in Heathrow + 30m waiting for the bags and add up all the travel to and from the airport. Oh well you get the picture

But if we travel back in time, 1 week ago I was travelling to New York.

A stressful start in London

Right… so what if I say we’ve started our trip with lots of stress. Upon arrival at Heathrow, when we were checking our bags we had the lovely surprise saying his ESTA (European visa application for USA) wasn’t approved because it missed the “M” as part of the passport number. I felt my legs shaking, I just couldn’t believe that having done all the application process and entered all the details back in April, only now, a few hours away from the flights we could be grounded. Then, try to go through a long form using your mobile phone and your hands shaking because you feel like you’re running against time. In the end it was approved and we’ve managed to check in. But still I was nervous all the way until we’ve passed security in US. I wish we were told months before that there was an M missing… Oh well

Quite easy to do long flights these days with all the good selection of movies around. I’ve ended up doing 2 in a row and then decided to have a nap.

Travel from the airport

Upon arrival, all we had to do was to follow the instructions to find our shuttle. I find the shuttles the most price efficient way to travel to / from airports. I’ve discovered this process while on a business trip to Budapest. It’s pretty much like a shared taxi, meaning you get an affordable price because the taxi will be shared with other passengers, but you’ll be travelling door to door without the fuss of carrying your bags in the underground. From JFK we’ve used super shuttle (I have to admit I didn’t do much research this time because we’ve decided last minute this was the way we were going to travel).

I have to say we were not very lucky this time. Although it was super easy to follow the instructions and to find our driver, let’s just say that rather than take the most efficient route he decided to deliver the passengers on a first in first out basis, which meant we’ve seen our hotel in south central park but we’ve ended up going all the way to north Harlem and travelling in circles until we were back into south central park. This was quite unusual! So we were feeling quite sleepy by the time we’ve reached the hotel (23h30 local time | 04h30 in UK).

The Hotel
I did a lot of research before selecting the hotel I wanted to stay and have to say one of the first decisions I did was that it had to be next to the central park (yes I know, I was dreaming with a view to the central park!) and that’s how I found the House of Essex. It was exactly all I wanted and was hoping for! Before I jump ahead, upon arrival our room was ready and they’ve apologised for the fact that we hadn’t been upgraded as the hotel was fully booked. I was so sleepy to be honest all I wanted was to jump on bed… and I know very well by know how comfy and brilliant the Marriott beds are.

I did noticed though how glamorous and charming the lobby was. I didn’t took pictures, so will have to use the official ones.

When I’ve noticed the lifts I felt teleported to the Gatsby movie

I was actually contacted by the hotel a few days before my arrival, which was really helpful. They’ve send me a few instructions and also send me the dining menu as I was arriving late. But again, I was so tired I wasn’t feeling hungry at all. Was just craving for a hot tea, but guess what,unlike UK tea is not a commodity in the rooms.

The Executive Lounge

Early in the morning (was we were still pretty much UK time), we woke up at 06h30, so we’ve ended up enjoying a long shower and going for breakfast in the lounge and this is where the surprises really started. Such a lovely welcome!!! Seriously, the staff was so friendly I couldn’t stop smiling, felt a lot cheerful! Thanks guys!

Not the best lounge I’ve been, but it had a lovely decoration and lots of red fruits available for breakfast. 😀

Our room

Before I went for our first walk in Central Park, I’ve stopped by reception to see if we could get an upgrade this time, and they’ve arranged it all for us. We would have our room available in the afternoon. I’m so pleased we’ve managed to get an upgrade and a view to the central park!

This was our room for pretty much one week

Loved instantly the modern decoration and the plugs available in the chandeliers! So handy!

I had a lot of rest in this couch after all day walking!

Bathroom wise, pretty much the standard with aromatherapy products which I love

And a better picture from the bathroom

It was amazing to wake up every morning with the sound of the birds and the view to the central park. I really felt comfortable all the week! All the staff makes you feel welcome and happy really and the hotel itself is so charming and cosy with modern rooms. All I can wish for. Can’t recommend it enough and I have to say I miss it already!!!

Other information

House of Essex is located in South Central Park, so really convenient location for a morning walk in the park. Also, there are 2 major underground stops nearby. On the 8th street for A / C which are the fast route to downtown, or 57th street for the majority of the destinations. We’ve ended up walking pretty much everywhere.

Rooms at the House of Essex start at $296 a night, for more information visit the official website House of Essex.

.: A journey to Lake District :.

Friday afternoon I was more than ready for the weekend, specially because we were going to celebrate our anniversary in Lake District. I even managed to stop working really early (16h!!!) but…

If you live in London and if you drive then you will know that Friday + Rain are never a good combination, never! We didn’t even managed to get into the M4 which is literally less than 0.5 away from home, so just to get out of London it took us forever. M40 was pretty smooth but while reaching Birmingham the chaos started. There was a massive accident on the M42, which meant that we couldn’t take the faster route and instead we had to go around adding 1 extra hour into our journey. It felt the journey was taking forever… As we finally reached the lakes, it was pretty dark and we could barely see anything outside. We managed to reach the hotel around 22h30 – which means 06h30 when it should take 04h30!

But wait… there’s more. It started to rain cats & dogs and we had no umbrella… we were parked around 500 yards from the hotel, a short walk, but not ideal while it was raining that much. So after 06h30 we’ve waited another 30m in the car for the rain to slow down!

Tip to self: If you leave in the UK always (I mean it, always!) carry an umbrella 😐

Fortunately the guys at the hotel had given us very precise details on how to reach our keys from the safe locker and get into our room, as there was no one available to meet us at the house at that point in the evening. Thanks for that! At least something went well 🙂

I couldn’t believe when I finally got into our room:

Such a comfy bed waiting for us!

It was really easy to fall asleep, but being that I’m still with a cold I woke up lots of times to cof… yap…. but at least it was weekend!

Elm Tree Lodge

So let’s talk about the hotel. As you know, I’m quite a fan of boutique hotels having had really amazing experiences so far and in the lakes there are not that many “big chain hotels” so it was the perfect opportunity to stay at a lovely boutique hotel. B&B are the way to go on the lakes. After a bit of investigation I found the Elm Tree Lodge on Booking.com. Once you get indoors, the first thing you notice is that it feels you are visiting a friend’s house. The room itself was quite cosy but lovely decorated. Loved the wallpaper which matches the chandelier

The other thing I’ve noticed was the guestbook where you normally find all information you need, but in this case it was quite unique and it felt more like the family’s etiquette:

  • If your shoes are dirty please take them off at the entrance – taking into account people walk along the lakes and do trekking, this is a very likely scenario;
  • Breakfast is served from 08h15 to 08h45 – so it’s not a very long window, but again if you were visiting family / friends this would be the same scenario;
  • Please don’t take your mobile with you, leave texts and calls to once you’re back in the room

These were the ones I remembered, but once we went next morning for breakfast everything made sense. The dining area it’s a cosy family room with a big table so everyone will be sitting together. It encourages socializing, after all we’re on holiday so it should be easy right?

Once we’ve got in there was only 1 lady there and we ended up discussing how terrible the journey had been next day. For her it took her 8h from London – gosh, at least ours wasn’t that bad! Then we were joining by 2 young guys who were going to climb the mountain in Keswick. We feel now very inclined to do the same next year 🙂

The host was really really friendly and welcoming! He treated us really well over breakfast, which was so delicious!! Coffee was really tasty (yes, even I’m saying coffee is tasty!)  and the sausage? So good! We left breakfast with a big smile on our face and a promise of an amazing day exploring the lakes 🙂

More photos from the hotel (sourced from the official website)

 

.: Eating and sleeping in Lille :.

.: Sleep well :.

One of the things I loved the most about out weekend away in Lille was actually the overall experience in the hotel! We’ve stayed at L’Hermitage Gantois Hotel, and I totally recommend a stay in this hotel!

Our hotel – From the official website

It’s quite well located but the most important factor is that it’s beautiful! As part of the Autograph collection from Marriott, it means it’s an historic hotel. It’s a perfect example on how to mix history with modern decoration. As soon as I’ve got through the door I was in love. The staff is also quite friendly throughout.

There is no covered parking nearby, so you only have 2 options really, park the car outside or use the valet parking (25€ – which I find a bit expensive).
The first part of the hotel you’ll see is the gorgeous bar, which feels like outdoors indoors. Really really beautiful and chic!

Bar area – view from the 1st floor

Official photo from the website

Our room followed exactly the same style as the common areas, classy and modern at the same time.

Beautiful isn’t it?

Elegant chair in our room

Another lovely detail from our room

The bathroom was gorgeous too!

I had to google for this one

I visited the bar after my dinner in L’estaminet next door.

Relaxing at the bar

The ambiance was perfect with some live piano music, but there was a downside, the prices. I can’t still go over the fact I’ve paid 7€ for a Schweppes as I’ve ordered a gin tonic (I’ve order botanic gin but was served Gordon’s – which I like anyway, so no problem there). Total bill for a lemonade and a gin tonic 24€. Feels a bit too much, but just for a stay in that bar probably is worth it.

Most expensive Schweppes ever!

Breakfast in the morning was delicious! The staff was once again really friendly. The china was really elegant as well. The food was tasty and for those of you that like espresso, they have Nespresso as well!

Breakfast room – Photo from google

Elegant china – Photo from tripadvisor

Final note, for those of you trying to find a romantic hotel, this is it! Your other half will only thank you if you book your stay here 🙂
So overall, it’s a beautiful hotel, really chic but not pretentious (thanks for that!). Once I return to Lille I will stay there again.

.: Eat Well :.

Food-wise, we arrived after 14h00, so after a quick walk and I guess because it started to rain cats & dogs, really I could hold the stones with my hands! We stopped in a lovely place (Le President) for belgium beer and food. I had an omelette, fries and a Tripel Karmeliet (my favourite belgium beer). As I left my phone in the hotel I have no photos 😦

My favourite Belgium Beer

Actually I need to make a remark here. I was just checking the reviews from Le President, and you will notice the reviews are awful! But then, when trying to find some photos to post here, I also found a local website and in there the reviews are 4*. Personally, I didn’t felt it was that awful at all, I had the food I wanted, the beer was perfect and we managed to relax a bit. So this got me thinking, why are the reviews so different? I guess one of the reasons is that rather than staying outside, I went indoors to be closer to the staff (and warmer too). Also, I managed to order my food in french even though he couldn’t. Staff was polite enough. So really, can a reason be that sometimes we forget to acknowledge that we are in a foreign country and we can’t expect everyone to speak english? Lille hasn’t that much tourism, so I know many people won’t be able to speak it, especially from the older generations – which was most of the staff at this particular restaurant.

Tip: When going abroad, please try to make an effort to acknowledge that not everyone speaks english and try to say a few words in the local language, if for nothing else to show that you are trying. I’m sure this will affect the level of service that you may or may not have.

For dinner, I had a booking at L’estaminet Gantois, so next door to the hotel (very convenient!). L’estaminet is a typical north france brasserie, which is precisely what I was looking for. I’m glad I did my booking for 19h30, when the restaurant was still empty, because I’ve noticed the service became a bit slow.

Love the decor!

Had a glass of house wine, and one of the typical dishes (La Carbonade Traditionnelle Flamande avec les Frites )

La Carbonade Traditionnelle Flamande, Frites

I didn’t had any space left for dessert, but overall it was a very good experience. We’ve ended our evening at the bar, as per photos above.

Any recommendations for food in Lille? Can hardly wait to go there again 🙂