Sharjah’s Hidden Gem

Tucked away off one of Sharjah’s busy roads is a small entrance to the Chedi Al Bait. The complex opened its doors as the Chedi Hotel in December 2018 and I have to say that it was only this past summer that I began to hear about the hotel. So, we packed our bags and booked up a one night stay at the start of August. The hotel was a relatively short drive from our villa so we enjoyed the little road trip crossing the border into Sharjah – I have to admit that in my almost six years living in Dubai this is the first time I visited Sharjah (as opposed to just driving through it)!

When the maps told us we were only one minute away I thought to myself, “surely we have the wrong address here” but we turned the corner to see the subtle Chedi sign at the side of the road. The concierge assisted us with our luggage through the narrow walkways into the reception.

Upon check in, the staff provided us with a small sanitising pack which contained anti-bac gel and gloves which was a nice touch.

Hotel Facilities

Inside the grounds of the hotel it felt so peaceful. There are courtyards with olive trees and casual seating areas tucked in all corners of the hotel. It really is like a maze wandering around the narrow pathways.

The hotel also houses a library which explains some of the history of the building itself and has a large collection of books in both English and Arabic.

The hotel also has a lovely, albeit small, swimming pool. As we visited during COVID times we were required to book a 2 hour slot at the pool so as to prevent it from becoming overcrowded.

Our Room

One of the highlights of our stay was the amazing bed in our room! No, seriously. This took hotel beds to a whole other level! The mattress is made from horse hair (you should probably check if you have allergies before staying) and it really felt like I was sleeping on air. The bathroom continued the traditional Arabic themed décor with neutral walls, wooden doors and dark basin sinks. It also had a gorgeous waterfall style shower.

Restaurants

We dined in both the International restaurant as well as the Arabic restaurant during our stay at the hotel. We decided on having lunch in the International restaurant whereby we had a range of small dishes from salads to soft-shell crab and it was all lovely. The International restaurant is very light and open and also had a lovely outdoor seating area (which we chose not to make use of in August)! The breakfast also served in the International restaurant and has a great selection of egg dishes, pancakes, waffles etc. of which you could order multiple items! We were also served a selection of freshly baked pastries as well as juice, tea and coffee – as you can tell, I love a good breakfast! 

We ate at the Arabic Restaurant for dinner on the Friday night – we were glad to have made a reservation as the restaurant was quite busy. We shared a selection of Arabic meze starters such as hummus, tabbouleh and falafel, followed by one sharing platter of chicken shish tawook and another platter of grilled seafood. Everything was super tasty!

Sadly, during our stay at the Chedi, I feel ill (which I know now as being the onset of my Bell’s Palsy). As much as I enjoyed our stay it was shrouded by stress with not knowing what was wrong with me at that time. I would love to return because it really was so relaxing and a lovely way to escape the city.

Holiday Dining at its Finest

This trip was our first time travelling to the Maldives, and we had heard from friends who had visited previously that alcohol is quite expensive, so when choosing a hotel we were leaning towards an all-Inclusive package so that we could really chill out and enjoy our time away with no worries about the costs of all the cocktails I knew I would be drinking!

One thing that stood out when reading about Ozen was the great choice of restaurants included as part of the all-Inclusive package; but the thing that stood out the most for Ryan was the wine list! We worked our way through five of the six restaurants at the hotel (and only missed out on the sixth one as it was unfortunately closed)!

From my previous posts, you may have come to know that Ryan and I are complete foodies so we were really excited about the extensive variety of food available at Ozen, ranging from Indian to Chinese to International foods. So here is a summary of the amazing restaurant options available at Ozen… don’t read this on an empty stomach!

IndoCeylon

Located on a small pier is a gorgeous wooden restaurant, from the outside the restaurant doesn’t look that big, but inside it houses both the IndoCeylon and Peking restaurants on different sides of the building.

The food at IndoCeylon is à la carte and we had a great selection to choose from, so good we actually didn’t know what to choose, so the chef prepared us a selection platter of all starters which included chicken tikka, samosa and others. When it came to the mains we were just as indecisive and again ordered a selection. This time we had a Goan prawn curry; Lamb Rogan Josh and a butter chicken alongside rice and naan breads.

One of the highlights of dining at Ozen is that the chefs always make the effort and take the time to come and speak to all of the diners, it really adds that personal touch. We were chatting to the chef and it turns out he had trained at Bukhara, a restaurant that we visited in New Delhi in 2017! After hearing that, we weren’t surprised the food at IndoCeylon was so amazing.

Peking

The other restaurant situated in the same building as IndoCeylon was the Chinese restaurant, Peking. Similarly, the menu was à la carte and we ordered a selection of sharing starters, including some sweet and sour prawns that blew my mind! They were so tasty! In fact, the dim sum, crispy shredded beef and duck spring rolls were all so good we ordered another entire round!

We needed a bit of a break before embarking on the mains, as you can imagine. For the mains, we again ordered the Chef’s selection which included a range of chicken in cashew nut sauce, noodles, white fish and rice. We tried to book in again for the following night but unfortunately, as the hotel was at full capacity, Peking was fully booked – and I am honestly not surprised by that!

The Palms

The Palms was the hotels buffet restaurant, although it’s far from your typical, mundane buffet. Starting with breakfast, there is a wide selection of fruits, yoghurts, pastries and international breakfasts if you prefer. The highlight is the grill station where you can place your order for eggs any way, including Eggs Benedict, Eggs Royale etc. Each morning I would choose my egg selection followed by pastries and a coffee. Ryan, on the other hand, would treat himself to a three course breakfast ending with freshly made waffles or pancakes and a cheeky mimosa.

The selection available for lunch time at the Palms was just as varied and the grill station had different options such as tiger prawns, crab, steak, chicken etc. as well as having a section for fresh sushi made every lunch time. 

We ate in The Palms for dinner one evening and it was the night of the international BBQ night, it was a great evening with different BBQ stands such a chicken tikka, a huge rack of ribs, seafood etc.

M6M

The legendary underwater restaurant. M6M is located 6metres below the sea and it was absolutely breath-taking. Depending on the number of nights you stay at the resort, you are able to eat in M6M for lunch or dinner as part of your all-inclusive package. We were torn between whether we should dine there for lunch, as we were told the lighting is much better and you can see an abundance of sea life; or dinner which is adults only and feels much more romantic. We decided on lunch because we just wanted to see more fishies!

Even though there were families dining at the same time, it actually added to the atmosphere as it was cute to hear the squeals of the children every time a shark, or in our experience, eel swam past! Also, due to the layout of the restaurant, all of the seats are in tables of two facing out towards the glass and the chairs have high sides so it felt very private anyway.

The lunch menu is four courses with a choice of two options for each course. I chose the scallop to start which was set on a lovely curried chickpea base and served in a shell platter. Ryan ordered the salmon which was presented in such a unique way with a washing line running over the plate with thin bread croutons pegged to the line! We both chose the Alaskan Crab and butternut squash soup which was beautiful. The dish was served with the crab in the bowl and the butternut squash soup was poured over the dish by our waitress. For the main course, we both chose the lobster (of course), it was served with purple mash and sautéed vegetables and was absolutely delicious, the lobster was cooked perfectly. Finally, the desert. I ordered the raspberry chocolate bomb which was a raspberry dome that the waitress covered in hot chocolate sauce. It was so tasty but by this point, we were absolutely stuffed!

The food and atmosphere at M6M was amazing and to top it all off, each course came with wine pairing, starting with bubbles to white, red and a desert wine. It’s fair to say I had earnt my afternoon nap after a solid two hours of eating and drinking. 

Joie De Vivre

Oh, the pool bar! I feel like we spent most of our time down at JDV! The main pool at Ozen is awesome, it stretches across the beach front with an infinity pool; four double cabana beds in one corner and several other sofa-style beds also set in the pool. There is then several other sun-loungers along the right hand side of the pool and other seating both outside and inside the bar.

Most mornings, after suitably filling ourselves at breakfast in the Palms, we would head out for a nice leisurely stroll to try and walk off some of the food and would always find ourselves ending up at JDV. My morning tipple was an iced cappuccino with a shot of Kalua. Ryan’s was a San Miguel Pale! We would also treat ourselves to a mid-afternoon-post-lunch-but-too-early-for-dinner pizza! They change the menu every day so there was a great choice! 

The views from the pool bar at sunset are phenomenal, so we would enjoy a few cheeky cocktails / wines / beers before heading to dinner… and then some evenings head back down to JDV to carry the night on!

R.A.W

As one may assume from the name, R.A.W specialises in raw, healthy foods such as sashimi, sushi platters, juices etc. Sadly, during our stay R.A.W was the only restaurant at the resort that was not open, but every day there was still a great selection of fresh sushi available at lunchtime in The Palms. When wandering around the resort, we found the location of R.A.W restaurant and it looked stunning! I feel it’s worth a trip back to this hotel just so we can try out this restaurant!

The Magical Maldives

2020 was a tough year for travel but in December we were lucky enough to go on our first holiday of the year and we headed off to the Maldives. The Maldives has been on my bucket list forever, but we have always said we would save it for a special occasion. But, as our honeymoon was cancelled and we weren’t able to travel anywhere else in 2020 we decided to treat ourselves. 

A key factor when booking trips at the moment is whether quarantine is required on arrival and any other COVID restrictions of that country. The Maldives has been open for travel since the Summer and, when travelling from Dubai, the requirement is to present a negative PCR test upon check in and as residents, when returning to Dubai, a negative test was required for check in for the return flight. Apart from that, there were no other restrictions or isolation requirements in either the Maldives or Dubai. 

So, with a five day public holiday approaching, we took the plunge and booked a four night all inclsuive stay at Ozen Life Maadhoo.

Firstly, and most importantly for travel in current times, Ozen’s response to COVID was outstanding. The island is COVID free which means that hotel guests are able to roam the island without the need to wear masks – we had forgotten what that felt like! Our personal Butler, Kunal, assisted us with everything throughout our stay, including scheduling our COVID test for our return flight to Dubai via the hotels onsite doctor. The doctor came to our room for an examination and to conduct a nasal and mouth swab. The results were then sent to the main island for analyzing and we received the results the following day. Ozen provided us with a soft copy of the report and hard copy print outs for the check in desk at the airport. Given the travel situation in the world right now we were anxious about travel but Ozen really took that stress and worry away.

Now onto the fun stuff! 

From the moment we arrived at Male airport an Ozen member of staff was waiting for us. They greeted us at arrivals, took our luggage and we set straight off on the hotels private boat for the 45 minute journey to the island. 

The island was absolutely stunning. On arrival, we were given an itinerary for our stay which included a fishing trip, dolphin sunset trip and a snorkel trip as well as reservations at each of the hotel’s restaurants. We didn’t have to think about anything – it was the ultimate relaxation.

The hotel has five restaurants which were all included as part of our all inclusive package (I will write a separate post about all of the amazing food we ate during our stay). We stayed in one of the overwater villas which was a dream come true. The hotel also has beach front villas which looked just as amazing, imagine waking up and stepping onto your own private beach! We really wanted that Maldives experience of laying out on the terrace watching the fish swim below, and heading down the steps of our room straight into the ocean.

Ryan and I are creatures of habit so every morning we got up and sat out on our terrace trying to spot any sharks or sting rays with our morning coffee before heading down to breakfast. We ate in the Palms restaurant every day for breakfast which had a great buffet selection along with a live cooking station. Ryan followed his three course breakfast with a Mimosa, whilst I had an iced coffee with a shot of Kalua as my tipple!

The island was so relaxing and each morning we would set off on a walk or bike ride around the island after suitably stuffing ourselves at the buffet! The sun was very powerful and even though we live in the sun all year round we still got quite burnt!

Another great benefit of the all inclusive package was the unlimited complementary use of snorkel equipment, kayaks and paddle boards so most mornings on the way back from our walk, we would stop off at the water sports area and head out on the water. I love paddle boarding, Ryan on the other hand isn’t much of a natural so he would always opt for a kayak!

One of the highlights of our stay was dining in the under water restaurant, M6M, which is located 6 meters below the sea! Eating lobster and drinking champagne whilst watching the sharks swim by – that’s an experience that is going to take a lot to beat.

Also included within our all-inclusive package was a complimentary 60 minute spa treatment which we saved until our final morning. The spa is located nearby the gym and saltwater swimming pool and consists of several small huts which each accommodate couples massages and face out to sea. The massage was heavenly and the perfect way to end our five days in paradise.

We cannot fault any part of our stay at Ozen. Every member of staff took time out of their day to speak to us, ask how our day was going and if we needed anything. We can’t thank them enough for making this trip so special. We already can’t wait to return.

A Lovely Stay at the Zabeel Saray

During our intense period of lockdown I felt as though I was constantly scrolling through booking.com and other hotel booking apps, sat inside our little one bed apartment just day dreaming. At that point in time, hotels weren’t able to open to the public as a result of COVID and there seemed to be a crash in rates. Being the bargain hunter that I am, I booked a one night stay at the Zabeel Saray for mid-July. The deal – AED600 including breakfast and taxes… I couldn’t believe it either!

Ryan told me not to book as we didn’t know what the situation would be with regards to the lockdown, I know he was just being his typical sensible self, but I thought if it’s booked on free cancellation we can just assess the situation closer to the time. So that’s exactly what I did!

As our staycay date approached, Dubai started to open up and the COVID rules relaxed. The Zabeel Saray is a hotel that I have wanted to stay at for such a long time now and it just so happened that we had cause for celebration on the weekend we stayed there as i had just finished my notice period at my previous job so it marked the start of a new chapter for me.

We have visited many hotels in Dubai for beach days, brunches etc. but, surprisingly, neither of us had previously visited the Zabeel Saray! As we pulled up to the hotel entrance it was just as grand as I had expected it to be. The hotel staff was exceptional and they have put many measures in place in relation to COVID. Our room was available upon arrival which was great – I love it when that happens!

We headed straight to our room to change and get down to the pool. Of course, in July the weather is very, very hot. So we really wanted to get a bed close to the pool so we could easily jump in and cool off, but the pool was absolutely packed with kids, eek! There were no beds available and just so, so many children! I guess this was the only downside to the hotel that, not having an adult only swimming pool! But we moved on down to the beach and with an umbrella and a slight breeze it was actually lovely.

For lunch we headed to the pool restaurant, Plaj, which had a Côte d’Azur feel to it, so I sipped my Aperol, closed my eyes and imagined that’s exactly where we were!

After a day in the sun we headed up to our room for a glass of bubbles on the balcony, and I treated myself to one of my favourite things to do in a hotel room and that was a nice, hot bubble bath!

For dinner, we decided on the hotels Indian restaurant, Amala, which has also been on my restaurant list for a while and it’s on the Entertianer which was a bonus! I really wanted to visit the Rib Room which is a steak restaurant located at the hotel but sadly, as a result of COVID, the restaurant hadn’t yet re-opened. Amala did not disappoint and we left suitably stuffed, there was no room for dessert but there was just about enough space for one more glass of bubbles on our balcony!

After an incredible night sleep, on the worlds fluffiest pillows, we were treated to a delightful breakfast. The breakfast is usually buffet, however, the hotel had adapted to allow you to order a “main course” from the breakfast menu followed by several trolleys of pastries, fruits, yoghurts, juices and coffee! Worn out from all of the breakfast, we pitched up on the beach again and had a little nap!

We loved our stay at the Zabeel Saray, the highlight was definitely the enormous bath in our room and the gorgeous view from our balcony.

Fairmont Ajman

In the UAE, our lockdown was pretty intense. We understand it was a necessity, but it proved challenging at times. During mid-March through April we experienced our strictest time of lockdown. All gyms, bars, restaurants and clubs were closed. Almost everyone was required to work from home, except for the key sectors, and to go outside we were required to apply online via the government portal for a permit. These permits would allow us a trip for essentials such as medication, groceries, ATMs etc.

Ryan and I were still in our one bed apartment at this time, with two cats and both working from home at opposite sides of the dining table. But, we made it through. We may have gotten through a bottle of wine a day, but we made it through!

Some of the other Emirates in the UAE were slightly more lenient with the easing of restrictions following lockdown. For example, Ras al Khaimah and Ajman allowed alcohol consumption in hotels and around swimming pools / beaches. At this time, in Dubai, this was not yet allowed. The border to Abu Dhabi remained closed and so in mid-May, we decided to head down to Ajman for a staycay.

We set off early on the Friday morning, really early, as we had planned to meet our friends Emily and James. It was James’ birthday weekend and Emily had booked a round of golf for him so, as a surprise, we met them both at breakfast and the boys went off to play golf whilst Em and I had a girly pool day together.

It was the first time I had been out in the sun in over two months and it was delightful.

The Fairmont Ajman has two main restaurants, an Italian called Gioia, and a Turkish restaurant called Kiyi. We decided on the Italian for lunch, which was absolutely amazing and the Turkish for dinner – although I would have preferred to have returned to the Italian restaurant for dinner!

The hotel was great with implementing safety precautions for COVID, the hotel was only booked to 30% capacity, the rooms were sterilized following each occupancy and although the breakfast was buffet, you were served each time by the staff. Masks were compulsory at all times whilst walking around the hotel and restaurants.
Overall, it was a cheap and cheerful stay and we were very grateful for the sun, cocktails (and time apart for Ryan to go off to play golf)!

The Address Sky View

As most of you know from previous travel blogs, I ALWAYS travel for my birthday. It’s just what I love to do! However this year, as we were due to be going on our honeymoon at the start of April, only a few weeks after my birthday, I decided it would be best to spend this birthday in Dubai. It’s a blessing in disguise really, could you imagine if we had travelled and ended up like all of those other poor people stranded around the world!

Anywho, our honeymoon was sadly cancelled as a result of COVID, but, I digress. This post is in relation to the delightful staycation we ended up booking for my birthday! I have a hotel wishlist on my phone, which appears to be constantly growing! And I decided on checking out the then-recently opened Address Sky View Hotel.

Located smack bang in the middle of Downtown Dubai, the Address Sky View has uncomparable views of the Burj Khalifa and is a stone’s throw away from the Dubai Mall. As we entered the hotel we were greeted with the familiar “Address” scent, our luggage was taken and we were whisked straight to check in. We managed to get a great offer by booking directly on the Address website. Our hotel price included breakfast and we each received three vouchers for use across the Emaar facilities, this was a nice bonus. We chose vouchers for the Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Ice Skating Rink and Reel Cinemas. (We used the Aquarium voucher in the summer and it was a great experience, I didn’t actually realise how huge the aquarium is in the Dubai Mall!)

We left our luggage with the Concierge and headed out for some lunch at the restaurant around the pool. I have to admit, I was feeling quite sensitive (and sorry for myself) as I had been out celebrating my birthday with the girls the previous night.

Our room was ready early so we headed up for a quick change and then straight to the highlight of the hotel… the rooftop infinity pool.

We had access to the Lounge included in our room booking so popped there for a coffee and nibble before getting ready for our meal.

Ce La Vie
I was so excited to dine at Ce La Vie! For my birthday last year, we actually visited the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore and had lunch at Ce La Vie. I hope this has become my new birthday tradition…!

The food, service, drinks and view were all spectacular. It was by far one of the best meals we have had in Dubai.

We rolled out of the restaurant (I’m not sure if it was too much food or wine) but luckily didn’t have too far to go. When we got back to the room, the staff had laid rose petals on the bed, wishing me a happy birthday. It was a lovely touch and a perfect end to the day.

The following day we were able to extend our check out. The rooms come with a smart TV with Netflix built in so we decided to give in to all of the social media fuss and start the series Love is Blind. We all but finished the series that day!

I have to admit, this was the first Address Hotel that we have stayed in, but I cannot fault our stay from the service, cleanliness and overall experience. I would absolutely stay here again.

The Staycay Series

I have really missed writing my travel blog this year and I’ve decided that, even though we’ve been unable to travel abroad (so far…) we’ve still had a lovely year of staycays in the UAE! So I’ve decided to write this Staycay Series, giving a shout-out to all of the lovely hotels we have stayed at throughout the year.

It’s still not the quite the same as the excitement of researching and planning a holiday; the super early wake up call to get to the airport; the satisfaction of a full nights sleep on a red-eye flight; and the lists coming out of my ears to make sure I pack appropriately! Nonetheless, we are so lucky to live in the location that we do with the UAE’s versatile range of hotels, and looking back over the past six months, we have done a pretty good job of making the most out of them!

So here is a snapshot of what’s to come…

City Breaks
There’s nothing more relaxing than finding an oasis in the centre of a bustling, vibrant city. And we uncovered two of those this summer! Starting the year at the newly opened Address Sky View hotel with unbeatable views of the Burj Khalifa, it was a birthday to remember.

We then ventured into the narrow streets of Sharjah for our first staycay in the Emirate. The Chedi Al Bait is a hidden gem located in the middle of a busy street, but once you step inside the walls you’re welcomed by the calming sound of silence.

Beach Vibes
As soon as lockdown lifted in the UAE we headed straight for Ajman, the rules were slightly more relaxed, the hotel swimming pools were open and alcohol was being served so we treated ourselves to a cheap and cheerful stay at the Fairmont, Ajman.

Zabeel Saray – a hotel that has been on the hotel bucket list for a while! But we finally got to experience the hotel first hand (and yes, I did find an amazing deal).

A hotel that we have visited many, many times before is Le Royal Meridien but I was finally able to enjoy a one night stay! It was the perfect girly weekend full of sunbathing, wine, lots of wine, and fun!

Desert Dreaming
The one night stay that, I don’t think, will ever be beaten! Al Maha Luxury Desert Resort is exactly what it says in the name! The hotel really catered for our every need during our stay as well as the needs we didn’t know we had!

At the time of writing this post we also have one more staycation planned for a few weeks time for Ryan’s birthday as we are off to Sir Bani Yas Island. We have heard amazing things about this hotel so I can’t wait to experience it for ourselves!

I hope you enjoy the reviews to come, and hopefully by the time they’re finished, we will be ready to board a plane for our first holiday of the year… (please keep everything crossed for us!)

Our Mini-moon

I’m a little bit late with this post.. over 6 months actually! My goodness time flies! As we were lucky enough to get married in France, we decided to head down to the South of France for 6 nights for our mini-moon.

I cannot believe that I have never visited the South of France before! On the flight in we lost count of the number of super-yachts and private jets we saw, it was insane! The coast line was absolutely beautiful as well and it made me so excited to spend the next week there.

Hotels

When searching for accommodation we struggled a little bit because there is so much choice! There are so many amazing hotels in Nice such as Negressco, Le Meridien, the Radison Blu etc. all of which have amazing sea views. Then you also have the options of Air BNB and serviced apartments as well as the boutique hotels. When choosing your hotel you have to consider the location, and decide whether you want to stay along the promenade or in the Old Town… there was just so much choice! We decided on Hotel Villa Victoria which was a lovely 4* hotel based around 5-10 minutes’ walk from the beach and around 15-20 minutes from the Old Town.

We arrived at the hotel around 7pm and the staff were so helpful from the moment we checked in. We decided to drop our bags in the room and head out for a quick bite to eat as we were both feeling exhausted from the journey. We got back and sat outside in the hotels garden on the terrace with a bottle of wine and opened all of our wedding cards and read through our guestbook, it was so perfect.  One of the other reasons I loved this hotel is they have two cats in the garden that they look after (of course that’s what sold me!)

Beach Days

We had a total of five full days in Nice, I had (obviously) planned an itinerary for our time   but we decided to balance it by having a few chilled days down the beach and the rest exploring and activities! We definitely needed those chilled days after the build up to the wedding.

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The beach in Nice is stony so we didn’t fancy rocking up and putting our towels down on the floor. As you walk along the Promenade de Anglais you see several different beach clubs where you can hire a sunbed, towel and umbrella for the day. On our first day we stopped at a beach club called Le Galet, it looked super chilled, had a bar and restaurant and sunbeds to hire for the day for €20 each. We were sold!

We ate lunch the in Le Galet restaurant and just told the staff on the beach when we were ready for a table and within 15 minutes we were seated with a glass of wine in hand!

The food was amazing and the portions were huge! We shared a Caesar Salad and lobster linguini, both were wonderful! We also had several, probably too many, glasses of rosè! As you can imagine, the rest of the day was spent napping on the sunbed!

A few days later when we had another beach day factored into our itinerary, we headed straight down to Le Galet again! We spent the day in exactly the same way, the only thing that changed was our lunch order! Ryan ordered the Thai Beef Salad and I ordered the Seafood Pasta Salad, the food was seriously amazing!

Monaco

Our first adventure day out was one that i was most excited for. As one of our wedding gifts, Ryan’s dad kindly paid for us to hire a vintage car. We opted for a convertible 1963 cream MG MGA. I’m not exactly a car enthusiast but my god this car was amazing! We (Ryan) drove from Nice along the coast to Monaco, stopping in the small town of Eze on the way for some photos. We didn’t even have a satnav or map with us but we managed to navigate our way there using the road signs – I was more impressed at us managing this than anything else!

We arrived in Monaco and drove around the one way streets in front of the casino and Cafe de Paris, people were stopping to take photos of the car, it was honestly incredible. We parked up and headed into the casino to play on the slots. I thought I had one €24 and cashed out but it turns out €20 of that was the note I put in to start with! Oh well, it was still a win!

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After the casino we had a reservation for lunch at Cafe de Paris. We had a lovely meal followed by wine and coffee and spent a bit of time walking around the area. We headed down to the harbour to see the yachts and window shopping (sadly it was only window shopping).

Ryan done so well driving considering the car had no assisted steering or breaks .. or air conditioning! But we wanted to make the most of our time with the car so we headed back to Nice and continued along the coastal road through Cannes and along to Antibes. It was such a memorable day.

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Cannes

A few days later we had another day trip exploring and this time we got the train down to Cannes which was around an hour and only cost 12 Euros for a return. We stopped for a bite to eat at a little bagel cafe and then headed down to the main promenade. It’s become a bit of a tradition for us now whenever we visit France to stop in Le Fouquet for a drink. As we arrived relatively early we just had a coffee this time but at least we can say we have stuck with our tradition!

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Living in Dubai you would think that we were used to seeing the super cars but honestly Cannes promenade was another level, even though 90% of the number plates were Emirati!

We had made a lunch reservation at La Guerite on St Margerites Island which is a small island off the coast off Cannes with not a great deal on it, apart from the restaurant! You can travel to the restaurant by arranging a speedboat with them or taking a public ferry. As we had a bit of time and wanted to explore the island a little, we took the ferry across and then walked around the island before making our way to the restaurant. The atmosphere st La Gueriete was amazing, it started with a live band going around the restaurant singing to each of the tables and later a DJ came on which is when the party really got going! It was crazy seeing all of the superyachts moored up outside and people taking their speedboats from their yachts to the restaurant and back. The food was also excellent, Ryan had the pot of mussels and I chose the prawns which were delicious! As the wine was flowing we got a bit carried away and ordered ourselves a bottle of Dom Perrignon! We told the waiter that we had just got married and when they brought it out to us, the Dj played Bruno Mars “I think I wanna marry you” and they were carrying huge England flags over to our table! It was so much fun.

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Wine Tasting

The other fun activity day we had planned whilst we were down in Nice was a wine tasting tour. My sister and her boyfriend were also down in Nice for a few days at the same time as us so we all met up for breakfast and then headed to the Old Town to where our tour was starting from. This wine tasting tour was a bit different to others as it was on bikes, yes, bikes! We only a small group on our tour consisting of us four, our tour guide and another group of four Americans. Thankfully, the bikes were assisted which was definitely needed when we were cycling up the windy mountain roads to the vineyards.

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The views on the way were beautiful and we were able to take in so much more around us by cycling rather than driving. The vineyard we visited is one of the only vineyards in France that is inside the confines of a main city. We completed our tour of the vineyard which was followed by sampling five of the wine. We also bought some baguettes in the Old Town so we could stop and have a little picnic at the vineyard. We chose our favourite bottle of red wine and chilled out for a little while. By this point, I must say I was feeling slightly tipsy. On the way back down we had the assisted pedalling on and my bike reached up to 40k! I pulled over to get my phone out to video my speedo but as I was picking up the pace I felt a bit wobbly and pulled on the left break as my right hand was holding my phone. The left break slammed on and turned the front wheel of the bike to a halt and I absolutely stacked it off the bike! It was inevitable really wasn’t it, combining me with wine and a bike!!

On our final day we had the morning spare so met up with my sister and her boyfriend again for breakfast before heading across to the Old Town for a free walking tour. We actually got a little bit bored part way round and also distracted by the market so decided to slip away from the tour group before heading back for our flight. We absolutely loved our time down in the South of France. France will definitely hold a special place in our hearts now with all of the memories we made there this summer.

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Exploring Jordan and the Lost City of Petra

This trip had been on our travel list for a while so we were really excited when we were finally able to book a long weekend away to Jordan. To be honest, we haven’t really made the most of exploring the Middle Eastern countries since living here; I guess it’s always the same when something is right on your doorstep. Jordan’s main appeal for us was the Ancient City of Petra; the basis of many films and stories, it really is crazy to imagine a city carved into the mountains, let alone one that was built in 400BC!

When planning our trip and researching online we were uncertain as to whether we wanted to hire a driver for the duration of our trip or whether to hire a car and travel around ourselves. We had read mixed reviews about the quality of hire cars, condition of the roads and also road signs. With the early starts we had planned for each day, we decided it would be the better option for us to pay slightly more and hire a driver for the three days (that way, it meant that we were able to catch up on some sleep during the journeys as well).

Jordan was not as cheap as we were expecting, the Jordanian Dinar (JOD) is almost on a par with the Pound. We also noticed that the price of petrol was quite expensive, again almost on a par with the UK, which is something you should bear in mind if you are considering hiring a car during your time in Jordan. Some friends of ours had visited Jordan in the summer and used a driver whom they highly recommended, Hamza, so I got in touch with him, outlining our full itinerary with dates and times and he replied almost instantly with a quote of 200JOD. Initially I was unsure if it was quite pricey, but considering our travel itinerary was from the Airport to the Dead Sea (approx. 1.5 hours); Dead Sea to Petra (approx. 3 hours) and Petra to Amman (approx. 3.5 hours) including petrol and tolls, I thought this to be quite reasonable. Hamza asked us to simply pay the driver at the end of our final trip which was great. You can find his Facebook page here. If you would like his mobile number please contact me privately and I can provide it.

The Dead Sea

So, we started our journey at the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa. There are a cluster of hotels along the same small stretch including a Kempinski and Ramada. We decided on the Hilton because the facilities looked beautiful online, and they didn’t disappoint. On arrival, the security were extremely thorough with checking our vehicle and also our reservation before letting us enter. As we drove down to the hotel lobby we could see the entrances to the other hotels in the vicinity as well as being able to catch a glimpse of the Dead Sea. The Hilton lobby is beautiful, it’s a huge open space that looks out to the sea and has a lovely balcony with some seating overlooking the view.

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Our room was ready early (result) so we went straight there to change and head down to the pool. We found a spot near to the infinity pool but the water was freezing, so I just had a quick dip! We then went down to see what all the fuss was about on the beach. As we entered the sea it was pretty cold, although I guess we were there at the very end of November. There were also a lot rocks, pebbles and lumps of salt at the entrance of the sea. Once I was up to about hip height I threw myself forward and found I just bobbed straight up! No matter how hard I tried to touch the bottom, I just couldn’t! It’s such a strange sensation, especially when you flip onto your front and can’t get back round!

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I was told by a few people to remove all jewellery before going in, because if the jewellery is not solid gold the high salt levels within the water can cause deterioration. I wanted to absolutely ensure none went in my eyes so I kept my sunglasses on but tried to avoid getting any water on them. Ryan thought it would be a good idea to taste some of the sea… I think he may have burnt off a few taste buds in the process! We followed our short swim by smothering ourselves in the Dead Sea clay! It’s full of minerals that are supposed to be great for your skin so layered it on thick and stood out in the sun to bake it on!

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We tried out both the Italian and Arabic restaurants within the hotel and thought that both of our meals were lovely. The one thing that let this stay down was the flies! Oh my god thousands of flies! We sat outside for lunch which was a terrible idea and quickly moved inside. The staff informed us that it was fertilisation season for the fields which is why there were so many flies. So I guess you have to make the decision whether you visit in the heat of summer or in the cooler season and be attacked by flies!

Petra

The following morning we were up at around 6 to pack up, check out and start the next leg of our journey to Petra. Our driver arrived right on cue and decided to take us the scenic route via the Kings Highway. The terrain was stunning; breathtakingly stunning. We did meet a slight roadblock on the way though, two shepherds on donkeys trying to herd around thirty sheep out of the road!

We made a small detour via Little Petra which was our first taste of the Nabateean ruins. We had not yet purchased our Petra ticket but the guys at the entrance were kind enough to allow us through without showing the ticket. We hiked quite a way and navigated our way round to find some of the carvings in the mountains.

We arrived at the Petra Guest House Hotel at around 10.30am and were so lucky that our room was vacant and ready (we were seriously lucky this trip)! We dropped our bags and headed straight to get out entrance tickets to Petra as we wanted to try and beat any queues possible. The entrance price was quite steep at JOD 50 per person for a single day entry, or JOD 55 per person for a two day entry. As we were staying overnight and had the next morning free, we decided to opt for the two day entry as it was much better value for money. We were undecided about getting a tour guide, but I always feel that you learn and absorb so much more by having a local tour guide than trying to read up before and after. You can pick licensed guides up at the same place as purchasing the entrance tickets for JOD 50 which takes you from the starting point all the way through to the Roman ruins. If you wish to head further to the Monastery, the guide charges an extra JOD 50, but ours was honest enough to tell us that the route was easy to follow and we didn’t really require a guide for the final stretch.

We entered the site at around 11am and opted to do the whole thing on foot. As you enter, there are hundreds of horses, camels and donkeys that you can pay to take you through, but honestly, it just looked quite cruel, so we boycotted this entirely. Our guide was lovely and really informative, stopping every so often to show us hidden carvings in the walls and explaining about the Nabateean way of life in 400BC. It’s astonishing to imagine it all such a long time ago! The walk from the entrance to the Treasury was around an hour as we stopped for several discussions and photos along the way. As you get closer and walk through the windy path you can just about see a narrow gap forming in the rocks where you can catch a glimpse of the Treasury. You turn a corner and all of a sudden the rock opens up to a huge open space with the Treasury right in front of you. It is amazing.

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The Treasury

We saw a few people hiking up the rocks opposite to the Treasury and above the path so we decided to follow suit and found a local guy who lives up in the rocks making tea who allows you to sit and have a picture taken. He charged JOD 1 per person to go there so he was making a killing, all in the name of Instagram! We had our photo and continued on down to the Roman Ruins for around another hour. We parted with our guide and continued by foot up the 850 steps to the Monastery.

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The Monastery

That evening we had dinner and drinks at the Cave Bar which was attached to our hotel. The bar was really quirky and had small coves that could sit 2-3 people comfortably. We enjoyed some Jordanian wine (which was surprisingly good) and some local food; Ryan had a shawarma and I had a chicken and rice dish, until we were suitably stuffed!

The following day, we were up early (again), had breakfast at the hotel and set off straight back into the site towards the Treasury, in an attempt to beat the crowds one more time. We headed up the rocks back to the gypsy who lived inside and had some tea with him whilst we watch the sun fully rise across the face of the Treasury. It was a lovely morning, topped off by the fact that he had a really cute cat living up there with him, who I of course befriended.

Amman

Our final night was in Amman, the capital city of Jordan. The drive from Petra to Amman was quite long and exacerbated by the afternoon traffic around the city centre. We set off from Petra at around 12 o’clock and arrived at our hotel, the Amman Rotana, just before 4pm. We checked into our room and our intention was to head straight out to Rainbow Street which is a road full of cafes and restaurants. But the thought of sitting in more traffic for the next 30 minutes wasn’t very appealing. So we decided just to stay around our hotel and have some down time.

The hotel was lovely. The Rotana is one of only two high rise towers in Amman and with very modern interior. We asked for a high room and were given a room on the 24h floor and had views all across the city. 

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The hotel had a good choice of restaurants with the international buffet, an Italian, a bar and an Argentinian Steakhouse. We opted for the steak! We shared a 1kg Tomahawk steak which was amazing, literally melt in the mouth. The restaurant itself was lovely and the internal décor was beautiful, the only thing that was missing was customers! We were literally the only people in there! It did however, mean that the service was exceptional and we didn’t feel like the staff were just hovering around us either.

 

We spent the rest of the evening just chilling in our lovely modern hotel room, watching TV and crashed after the hectic weekend. It was much easier getting back to the airport as it took less than twenty minutes from the Amman Rotana. It was a nice way to end the trip but we agreed it would have been nice to explore Amman a bit more, there’s some Roman ruins just outside the city which would have been great to see.

Our time in Jordan was lovely, if not a bit rushed, but that’s expected when trying to cram so much into just a 3 night stay. We would have loved to explore further by visiting the Wadi Rum and seeing a bit more of Amman city centre.

Food in Cape Town 

I honestly don’t even know where to start with all the food we ate on our trip. We didn’t have one bad meal during our entire stay in South Africa and with such an abundance of choice, it was difficult to choose where to eat! We had received so many helpful recommendations from friends on the best places to eat before visiting and it was advised to make reservations so we weren’t disappointed!

Camps Bay

La Belle Bistro & Bakery

When we arrived in Camps Bay our hotel room wasn’t quite ready so we headed out for a bite to eat. Conscious that we had our Afternoon Tea already booked for later in the day we chose La Belle Bistro & Bakery and shared a pot of mussels, calamari and a few glasses of the Chenin Blanc. I don’t know if it’s because we were quite hungry or what, but the mussels in white wine sauce were some of the best I have ever had.
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The Bungalow

We were super excited to try the seafood at The Bungalow and it didn’t disappoint. Our reservation was at 8pm but I would advise arriving earlier to watch the sunset. The restaurant is located just off the beach with a really relaxed vibe. You can choose to sit in the marquee seating area closer to the beach or a bit further back into the restaurant. We ordered a portion of the langoustines which came with 6-8 in a serving and one portion of the prawns which came with 10 in one serving! We ordered a side of chips and veggies and a bottle of white wine. It felt like a lot of food but, of course, we finished it all! The staff were friendly and very informative and it was, all in all, a lovely evening.

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Bilboa

We sat in Bilboa for some sunset drinks one evening but as we started to see the food being brought out to tables around us we got slightly envious! So we ordered some starters just to tide us over until our actual dinner reservation later on that night. I ordered the halloumi which was amazing. It was served with a light marmalade sauce, freekeh and chilli. Absolutely gorgeous. Ryan ordered the lightly battered prawns which, considering it was a starter, was a generous portion of 5 large prawns. I wish we had time to return for a main meal! Upstairs, they have a rooftop bar, Chinchilla, which was much more lively with a DJ whereas the restaurant itself is a more chilled vibe.

Codfather

My favourite seafood meal in SA (and situated less than a three minute walk from
our hotel)! The Codfather had a much more rustic vibe to the restaurant than others we dined in. We visited for lunch and were dressed in our gym clothes and trainers as it was our reward after completing the hike up Table Mountain! They have a sushi counter with all of the fresh sushi on the conveyer belt which you can help yourself to at any time and take back to your table. They also have a fresh fish counter and your waiter explains all of the different types of fish that they have on offer and their flavours, what you should accompany it with and helps you decide on the portion sizes. As we had just worked up a huge appetite, we ordered 3 langoustines each, 3 prawns each, Kingklip fillet (which is the local line caught fish and is very similar taste and texture to cod) and also some butter fish, which was absolutely gorgeous and I would highly recommend. The food is served in a copper basket with rice, chips, vegetables and a side of four sauces, the garlic butter was my fave! We demolished the food and saved a little bit of room for some sushi which was super fresh and tasty!

Paranga

Paranga is located just along the seafront in Camps Bay with a mixture of big groups and couples dining when we joined for dinner which created a great atmosphere. We both opted for steak for dinner this time and were not disappointed. Ryan ordered the rib eye whereas I ordered the fillet, both cooked medium and with chips, mash and peppercorn sauce on the side. My steak was slightly undercooked for my liking but the staff quickly rectified that and when it returned it was cooked perfectly.
I saved room for desert this time and we ordered the rocky road which came with brownie, crushed chocolate biscuit, marshmallows, piped walnut icing and espresso flavoured ice cream. I’m not going to lie, this was my favourite part of the meal!

V&A Waterfront

V&A Food Market

If you’re in the area and are not quite sure what to have for lunch, head straight to the food market at the V&A Waterfront. I lost count of the number of different stalls inside offering everything from pokè bowls; samosas; wraps; burgers; oysters and fresh seafood; biltong; desserts, you name it and you’ll find it in there. We ordered a selection from different stalls including samosas, grilled pork belly wrap, lamb with aubergine wrap and Ryan got a beer (of course). We sat outside on the picnic benches and there were also local street performers around the area so we sat watching a group of young children in tribal wear singing and dancing and it was just amazing.
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Harbourfront House

We were so lucky with the weather when we visited the V&A Waterfront so we headed to one of the bars overlooking the port and had a few glasses of wine and some sushi. It’s in the perfect location for people watching so we each had a few glasses of the Chenin Blanc (as you can tell this it been a favourite of ours this holiday!) and the teriyaki salmon sushi which was lovely!
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We also wanted to visit the Grand Africa Restaurant and Beach Club during our stay in Cape Town but sadly, due to having to reschedule our hike up Table Mountain, we didn’t have time on this trip.

Others

Mount Nelson Hotel

Afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel has been voted in the top 10 in the world, and we understand why. Upon arrive the service is exceptional. The hotel has a high end but relaxing feeling to it. The weather was beautiful so we sat outside on the terrace and ordered a few glasses of MCC to go with our sandwiches! They start by first providing you with a stand of hot and cold savouries including salmon, egg, ham and cheese sandwiches, spinach and cheese frittatas, onion bhajis and others. You can request any of these as many times as you like! Then come the scones with jam and clotted cream. Obviously we had the standard disagreement on whether the cream or jam goes on first (I say jam, Ryan says cream)! The sweets are kept inside the lounge area and there’s a huge variety but by this point I was exceptionally full! They also have a menu with over 40 varieties of tea, all of which are included in the price. Overall, it was a lovely, relaxing afternoon and an entitled different vibe to the hustle and bustle of Cape Town outside of the hotel walls.

Two Oceans

We stopped at Two Oceans for lunch during our day trip down to Cape Point, before heading to Boulders Beach. We had read about how busy the restaurant gets so booked in advance which I would definitely recommend to avoid disappointment! We had a great seat outside overlooking the sea and ordered one of the seafood platters to share which came with a selection of prawns, mussels, kingklip, calamari and chips. It was the perfect amount of food for two which we shared with a bottle of white wine and couldn’t resist the carrot cake for dessert!

Pot Luck Club

The last, but by no means least, and actually our favourite restaurant that we visited, the Pot Luck Club. Reservations open on the first day of the month before you wish to visit, so we made sure to set a reminder to make our reservation on the 1 of October to avoid disappointment! When we arrived we were welcomed with a complimentary glass of champagne each as we had informed the staff that we were celebrating Ryan’s birthday which was a lovely touch. We were sat just opposite the cooking station so had the entertainment of watching the chef at work all evening which was so impressive. The menu is based on a tapas / sharing concept and they advise that you order 6-8 dishes to share. The plates are brought out in the order recommended by the chef, starting with the lighter dishes first.
We started with the fresh ceviche tacos, served with a jalapeño sauce, followed shortly after by the calamari which was lightly fried and served with a mustard aioli and Parma ham. Next came Doenjang Glazed Tuna which was four generous chunks of tuna, lightly seared with a teriyaki style sauce. Up next was the Springbok Carpaccio, I almost didn’t want to order this dish but I’m so glad we did as the meat was so tender and with balsamic dressing and thin crouton crisps on top, it was delicious.
These were essentially our starter dishes and we then moved on to the heavier plates, starting with the Peri Peri Chicken which was cooked perfectly and served with a feta crumble on the top – slightly better than Nandos I must say! Our penultimate dish was Penang Pork Belly which was served in a light coconut curry sauce with broccoli and broken fish crackers. We definitely got the taste of Malaysia through this dish. Finally, we finished with the Smoked Beef Fillet served in black pepper, truffle and cafe au lait sauce. Oh my god it was amazing.
Overall, everything about this restaurant was incredible, from the service, to the ambience in the restaurant and of course, the food.