Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dream Destination - The Caves, Jamaica

Imagine a romantic, candlelit dinner, just the two of you. In a cave. By the ocean. In Jamaica .... Is it just us, or does that sound like a little bit of something wonderful?! You can have this kind of experience at a beautiful resort called, suitably, The Caves. It is perched on the limestone cliffs of Negril's scenic West End in Jamaica ... and it certainly captured our attention when we saw these gorgeous images. Such an organic take on romance! 
Negril is off-the-beaten-path, making it a traveller's utopia. The area has some of the best snorkeling, scuba diving, jet skiing and dolphin watching as well as hiking and horseback riding tours, and the coastline is fringed with powdery white sand beaches and a lush palm tree dotted wilderness. The Caves is set on 10 acres here, and is a part of the Island Outpost chain, known for their unique properties in spectacular settings. Twelve exclusive cliffside one and two bedroom cottages and four and five bedroom deluxe villas (complete with private pools!) feature an exotic decor of louvered windows, handcrafted timber and wicker furnishings and king or queen size beds with airy mosquito netting to really transport you to island bliss, Jamaica styling. The resort's location allows for some really cool spots for some romantic rendezvous, with natural caves and cliff-side alcoves comfortably furnished for intimate dining, even with a private hot tub for two. Or you may just choose to hang out at the Blackwell Rum Bar, attend the weekly dinner party at The Sands, the property's cliff-top beach and bar, next to Negril lighthouse, or just melt away together with spa treatments at the seaview Aveda Amenity Spa. The more adventurous can take the the water on a water raft or kayak, or join with a guided snorkeling tour and adventure through the caves and grottos. The Caves also offers some great land excursions so you can get out and see the surrounding countryside. Naturally, The Caves, with such a memorable and unique ambience, is a popular destination for honeymooners. It's a little piece of Jamaican paradise!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A little slice of luxury on Koh Phangan, Thailand

I'll tell you a well known secret. My favourite destination has, for the past 14 years, been a little island in the Gulf of Thailand called Koh Phangan. When I arrived there for the first time back in 1997 it was a minimalist version of what it is today. The kind of place where hippy backpackers flocked to live in rustic, ramshackle bungalows on the sand and swing in hammocks all day, every day. Or dance on the beach under the full moon at the now famous Full Moon Parties of Haad Rin. I was one of them (and always will be!). I go back every year (sometimes more) to spend as many days as I can allow for, chilling on the beach, dining out with friends, swimming in crystal seas, and doing daily yoga sessions at the delightfully rustic, family run Yoga Retreat at Haad Salad, my favourite place to awaken my body, get some reiki and massage before walking back down to the beach to while away the rest of the day doing as little as possible. And I've watched the island evolve on each trip back there. It's a strange mix of nostalgia and excitement to watch as Koh Phangan follows in the steps of its neighbour, Koh Samui, in becoming a luxury travel destination. 
See, the Koh Phangan of today has all grown up. While you can still rent out those shacks on the beach for a cheap rate, it's now also got some fantastic luxury options for accommodation, including private villas and some seriously luxe resorts.  Like the Rasananda Resort & Spa, which was built by the world class Anantara group of luxury hotels, set on the pristine beach of Tong Nai Pan. Contemporary yet uniquely Thai in style, Rasananda is an ideal beach hideaway for those seeking comfort and luxury with their tropical bliss. These beautiful, stylish suites and villas epitomise that modern exotic style that Thailand does so well. For the ultimate in romance, rent yourself one of their amazing private pool villas, so you'll never feel like leaving once you've checked in. Though, with the sands of Tong Nai Pan right there to be enjoyed, why would you stay indoors? This is all really enticing me back to yet another return visit to my island home away from home ... and this is where you'll find me!

Experience the Amazon aboard an intimate luxury boat

Now this is the way we would like to experience the majesty and might of the Amazon River! Discover Peru's greatest natural eco system aboard the luxury cruise ships, M/V Aqua and M/V Aria - just imagine lounging on the deck as the sun sets over the waters, or awake at sunrise each morning as the rainforest comes alive and the wildlife greet the morning sun. Viewing the Amazon and its tributaries from aboard the M/V cruise boats transports you to a whole new world, traveling in comfort, deep into the Amazon rainforest and jungle. 
Aqua Expeditions is a specialist travel company, offering their guests a pretty amazing itinerary - every day of your Peruvian luxury cruise experience will be packed with new discoveries as you explore remote places along the Amazon by water and on foot, spot unusual wildlife, and meet with local native people. 
They offer three, four and seven-night Amazon River luxury cruises and they all leave from Iquitos, a bustling town which was once a rich center of the rubber industry. So you can explore as much of the sites of the rest of Peru as you like before stepping off land and in to the luxury of your private cabin aboard one of these majestic boats. Completely throws the whole notion of an Amazon adventure being rough and tough, doesn't it?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Stay and play with Sofitel's 'Resort Experience' offer

Everyone loves a freebie, right? Stay for three consecutive nights at one of the stunning Sofitel properties across Asia and the Pacific this season, and they will give you a USD100 hotel credit to make your stay even more enjoyable. Nice!
It's called the Resort Experience offer - a credit that can be spent on any number of hotel services, including divine day spa treatments, cocktails by the pool or afternoon drinks at the hotel bar, room service or gourmet restaurant dining.
Sofitel has an extensive selection of 18 different 'dream' resort destinations to choose from including Queenstown, Fiji and French Polynesia through to Manila and Macau.  Various resort addresses are also available across China, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

Featured resorts include:
Sofitel Krabi Phokeethra Golf & Spa resort - from AUD118 per night
Sofitel Centara Grand Hua Hin - from AUD154 per night
Sofitel Philippine Plaza - from AUD201 per night
Sofitel Shanghai Sheshan - from AUD128 per night
Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa - from AUD293per night
Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa - from AUD341 per night
Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort - from AUD451 per night
Sofitel Bora Bora Marara Beach Resort & Private Island - from AUD362 per night 

Sofitel's 'Resort Experience' offer is valid for bookings until the 28th of October and for stays from the 1st of September until the 31st of October 2011, at participating resorts. So get in quick to start planning your own romantic escape. We're calling this one 'cocktail credit' ...

Creative detox at Absolute Sanctuary - Koh Samui

We have received word about a unique kind of wellness retreat created by photographer Gaye Gerard in Thailand, combining three of my passions - yoga, photography and the beautiful island of Koh Samui. It's happening from October 8 to 16 at the five star Absolute Sanctuary, which got us thinking about a long held desire to try this beautiful wellness retreat that we've heard so much about. 
Created by Gaye Gerard - herself an avid spa devotee and a renowned professional freelance photographer with Getty Images (she's shot Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Miranda Kerr, Nicole Kidman, Beyonce, Pink, Megan Gale, Richard Branson, David Beckham and their friends!) - the Wellness and Photography Retreat has been designed for those looking to cleanse the body and mind and enhance their creativity with a camera. Guests on the eight day retreat not only get direct access to Gaye Gerard's professional photographic expertise and guidance but will also embark upon a supervised seven day full fast, light raw food fast or vegetarian detox with daily yoga, meditation and spa massage treatments, night market excursion and half day photo tour. The Wellness and Photography Retreat will also feature guest workshops on health and well being and includes all meals and detox supplements.  The cost is $2897 per person twin share. For more information on Gaye Gerard visit her website.
Absolute Sanctuary is well known as a wellness retreat on the island. It's a stunning, Moroccan-inspired boutique resort that is haven to those seeking a journey back to balance, rejuvenation and a healthy lifestyle - a place to immerse in, to cleanse, recharge and revitalize. They have amazing yoga programs, and their special programs range from anti-stress and burnout management for busy corporates, to holistic detox and juice fast cleanse. But that's not to say that a stay here is all about abstinence - Absolute Sanctuary makes sure you never feel lacking anything, and their Love Kitchen is testament to their theory that healthy food can be deliciously satisfying! Considering I've just emerged from a really hectic month with too much work (and a little bit too much socialising and indulgence!), a wellness retreat in a stunning locale is exactly what the doctor ordered!

The Darling set to re-ignite a classic Sydney destination

Sydney's newest luxury hotel is set to open on the edge of Sydney Harbour in October, and it has the local scene buzzing with anticipation. The Darling is the key feature of the $860 million refurbishment and extension of The Star (formerly Star City), which is being transformed into a one-of-a-kind entertainment destination - the entire complex will be re-orientated to face Darling Harbour, plus will introduce over 20 new bars, cafes and restaurants, a shopping area and a fully refurbished casino when it re-opens towards the end of the year. 
The boutique rooms and suites at The Darling will boast panoramic views of the city skyline, Harbour Bridge and out to the Blue Mountains, with the top floors completely dedicated to the ultimate in luxury with two bedroom penthouse suites that have been stylishly designed by renowned LA designer, Lawrence Lee. The suites feature floor-to-ceiling Sydney harbour views, bespoke furniture, fireplaces, media rooms, butler service and a private VIP arrival. That's some seriously swanky accommodation!
A luxurious day spa with 16 private rooms is set to deliver pampering to the highest levels, offering an extensive array of Asian and European inspired treatments, including an indulgent hamam, which is a Turkish variant of a steam bath, sauna or Russian Bath, distinguished by a focus on water. 
The hotel will also be home to a stunning, contemporary Japanese restaurant called Sokyo, from Chase Kojima, formerly with Nobu restaurants, delivering an exciting and unexpected menu. 
And the first of The Star’s new signature restaurants,"Black by ezard",  a new contemporary grill from acclaimed Melbourne chef Teage Ezard, and Stefano Manfredi’s  "Balla", are already receiving reservations in anticipation of their September 2011 opening. You can reserve your table and plan that romantic meal by phoning toll free on 1800 700 700.
Such a luxe lifestyle calls on some suitably high end fashion, so guests will be well fitted out with the new sophisticated, upscale retail space that will also open, home to some of the leading luxury brands, including Chanel Fragrance and Beauty Boutique, Gucci and Bottega Veneta.  
To make a reservation for a stay at The Darling when it opens in late October 2011, you can phone toll free on 1800 800 830.  
We certainly know where we will be staying on our next trip to Sydney!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Guest Blogger: Rhonda Bannister hits up Singapore

Our Editor-in-Chief, Rhonda Bannister, travels a lot! It's all part of the job, and she keeps very busy indeed - her latest trip has been to Singapore, where she has been keeping us up to date about some serious shopping extravaganzas and fabulous dining experiences. She's more than happy to be our guest blogger today ... read on for a little insight in to a day with Rhonda on the streets of the bustling, trendy metropolis Singapore.

Haji Lane, Singapore
Fabrics on display, Arab Street

Guest Blogger: Rhonda Bannister 
In Singapore for a few days with my mate Pammie and loving it ... the food, the shopping, the people. We stumbled on to a 60s time warp when we stepped off Beach Road - a busy downtown thoroughfare  - into Haji Lane. Fabulous old shopfronts with walls adorned with cartoonish images painted in psychedelic colours house little cafes, like the groovy Pedra Negra Cantina & Cochina which looks like a great place to start an evening out. There's also some little boutiques selling cool clothing and accessories, and tattoo shops like the one pictured! Plus coffee shops like Le Bistro Parisien where we indulged in french pasties and coffee - but only to keep our strength up for what was going to be a long day of snooping around.

About half way down the lane we turned right and ended up in Arab Street on the corner of Baghdad Street ... WOW if you're looking for fabrics or want to have an outfit made this is the go to place. Gorgeous silks in the most beautiful colours and patterns sell from around Singapore $70 a metre and other divine fabric display have signs saying $70 for an outfit - bargain! My next trip I'll have a few outfits made for sure!

Hopped a cab and fast forwarded a couple of centuries to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel - OMG! This place is amazing. Got the lift to the 56th floor to be rewarded by gobsmacking  360 degree views of this great city. Pressed my nose - or in this case my camera lens - to the glass gate separating we plebs from the very up-market hotel guests enjoying cocktails around the rooftop pool ...YES PLEASE, next time I'm definitely staying here.

Marina Bay Sands

Next stop was the shops at Marina Bay, and although we couldn't afford to actually buy anything it was fun to window shop all the luxury brands and out of this world jewellery.  And this really was pure window shopping .... everything we saw here was so outrageously expensive and out of our realm of reality, but utterly exquisite and worth the few moments of dreaming. So dream on we did!

Dream shopping at Marina Bay Sands

Dining at Pizzeria Mozza (the best pizza!)

We then checked out the lunch menu at Daniel Boulud's very chic Bistro Moderne but decided it was a better dinner option and put it down for a return visit. Lunch was instead spent next door at Pizzeria Mozza where Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich have combined their prodigious talents to create a warm, inviting, happening restaurant, so we were happy we tried it. We had such a great lunch here - two hours later after a bottle of very expensive Italian Rose and goats cheese pizza ( we both agreed it was the best pizza we had ever eaten with such thin, crisp dough! ) we hopped another cab to Orchard Road, intent to do some serious shopping.

Ion at Orchard Road

Orchard Road is THE place to shop in Singapore if you want variety ... and I do mean variety - from some excellent department stores (where I bought 3 pair of leather shoes and two Nine West handbags for under $300!!) to all the well known overseas brands and here, including Mango, Top Shop, Massimo Dutti, Zara, etc - and of course the luxury brands which are omnipresent throughout Asia.

Great day out!  If anyone tells you Singapore is boring tell them boring is as boring does!