Eating and drinking our way around Athens

My goodness did Athens have a vast range of cafes, bars and restaurants. I don’t think you would be able to work through them all if you tried! We carried out a little bit of research in advance of our trip and made reservations for our evening dinners but decided to just go with the flow with regards to our lunch and afternoon Aperols!

Brunch

Athinaikon

We stumbled across Athinaikon on our penultimate day when we were walking back from the Acropolis Museum. The restaurant looked beautiful from the outside and as we walked inside we saw an outdoor seating area on the road at the back. The seating area was surrounded by plants and had a lovely atmosphere. 

We shared a half litre of the house wine along with the halloumi which was served Caprese style with fresh tomatoes. I chose the prawn linguini whilst Ryan had the mussels and we were both really impressed with the food. Our waiter was also great and very friendly. This was one of our top finds during our trip.

Plakaki Cafe Bistro

Plakaki is located in the same square as Pantheon (where we had stopped for a drink on our first day) and was super busy at lunchtime so we thought we would stop for a bite to eat. Ryan opted for the Greek Salad and I chose the margarita pizza (boring I know) but they were a great combination together and we devoured everything alongside a few Aperol’s. 

Privilege at Astir beach club

We spent the day at Astir Beach Club a d pre-booked our cabana at online before visiting. We chose to have lunch in the Privilege restaurant which is located to the right hand side of the beach. The decor in the restaurant is lovely with neutral colours and a boho-vibe. 

We shared (another) bottle of rosè as well as a burger and tempura prawns with kale chips. The tempura prawns were so good we had just about finished a mouthful and ordered a second portion! The staff were extremely friendly and we can imagine this restaurant will do great as the summer season starts.

Regal

After an active morning hiking the steps of the acropolis we stopped in Regal for some refreshments. It was slightly too early for me to have a wine – although Ryan was gasping for a cold beer – and instead I chose a homemade fresh lemonade. It was delightful and exactly what I needed. 

Utopia Bystro

On our final morning we decided to head out for breakfast and just along from our hotel was a little stretch of four or five cafes that we saw were busy most mornings. We popped into Utopia where I chose the English breakfast and Ryan chose the Greek breakfast. Both were lovely and came with a selection of coffee, juice, pastries, toast and jams. The restaurant was very popular and had a selection of indoor and outdoor seating. 

Dinner

Blue Fish

We absolutely loved our dining experience at Blue Fish and would highly recommend this to seafood lovers visiting Athens. 

The restaurant has a unique dining concept whereby you choose a whole fish or lobster (which are charged per kg) and the fish is prepared in four ways using four separate parts of the fish. This way, you enjoy the unique flavors of each part of the fish without any going to waste. 

To start, we had the mushroom risotto which utilized the head of the fish which was used to prepare the broth of the risotto.

Next up was the fish collar which we chose to have teriyaki style and was served with grilled avocado and was delicious.

Following that was the fillet which was a lovely, meaty part of the fish cooked Robata style and served with mashed potato and grilled vegetables (this dish was my favourite!)

Finally, the tail fillet which was grilled and served in a curry style sauce with vegetables.

Each dish was so tasty and yet so unique and it was an authentic dining experience.

Lithos

For our final night in Athens we decided we wanted some local Greek food and had read excellent reviews about Lithos online. It is located just outside Monastiraki Square – close to our favorite bars: A for Athens and 360. We were joined for dinner by some friends from Dubai so decided to share a few dishes. We chose the chicken souvlaki and pork souvlaki which are essentially skewers of grilled cubes of meat as well as the grilled octopus, which is a local specialty, and the Parma ham risotto. The food was honestly delicious and washed down with a bottle of Prosecco for the girls, red wine for the boys and some complimentary shots of oozo! 

Orizontes

We came across Orizontes when searching through tagged photos of Athens on Instagram. The view looked stunning so we booked for a table at 8pm to ensure we got to enjoy the views in daylight and sunset. You can take a cable car up to the restaurant which is €7pp for a return trip. The cars run every twenty minutes which we didn’t realize but somehow timed it perfectly.

Although the restaurant was relatively quiet, the staff were lovely and gave us a complimentary soup starter. Ryan opted for the seabass whilst I had the prawns and we shared some Greek “Patatas Bravas”. The food was nice but the views were outstanding and that really was the highlight of this restaurant.

Psara Taverna

We had made a reservation at Psara Tavern – which means the old fisherman’s tavern in Greek – and is listed as the most romantic restaurant in Athens. The restaurant is gorgeous and set at the top of a stairway with other bars dotted alongside. The restaurant has a lovely view over Plaka and the food was just as impressive as the view!

We ordered a selection of breads and olives to start alongside the calamari which was some of the tastiest calamari I’ve had and a very generous portion size! We followed that with the prawn linguini and chicken gyros which came deconstructed with the bread, chicken tomatoes etc on the plate. Both dishes were so tasty – and actually the best food we had during our time in Athens. 

In our eyes, the restaurant lives up to its name of the most romantic restaurant in Athens with the gorgeous views and an authentic setting.

Drinks

A for Athens 

A for Athens came highly recommended from several friends before traveling to Athens so it was high on our bucket list and did not disappoint. The bar is located in the same square as 360 Bar but I have to say, the views here are unbeatable! With a direct view across Monastaki Square up to the Acropolis we sat and watched the sun setting whilst enjoying some cocktails. 

We had made the reservation via email in advance as we were visiting on a Friday evening and wanted to ensure availability but when making a reservation there is a minimum spend of €20 which is not required for walk in reservations – although this is around two drinks so we did not mind anyway.

By The Glass

On our journey from the airport we asked our taxi driver for recommendations for any local bars we should visit during our trip and he suggested a wine bar called By The Glass. On our first day we headed into Plaka via this bar and sat outside overlooking a cute church whilst enjoying a few glasses of rosè and a charcuterie board – it was the perfect way to start our trip!

Lamiral roof top garden

We came across Lamiral one afternoon when we were wandering around Plaka and saw the gorgeous decor of the outside of the restaurant which enticed us in. We were actually walking off lunch so we’re not hungry at all so we stayed and enjoyed some drinks in the rooftop garden.  It is a lovely spot for afternoon drinks and the food smelt divine when it was brought out to the tables around us. 

Pantheon

We stumbled across a lovely square surrounded by bars and restaurants on our way into Plaka and decided to stop in Pantheon for quick drink before dinner. I had a lovely Aperol Spritz whilst Ryan got on the local beer and we sat in the sun taking in the alfresco ambience on our first day.

360 Bar

We visited 360 Bar post-dinner two out of the four nights of time in Athens. The bar has a great selection of cocktails, beers, wines and spirits as well as gorgeous views of the Acropolis and wider Athens. One word of advice would be to take the lift as opposes to the stairs as I was panting like a dog by the time I reached the bar!

Acropolis views from 360 Bar

Zanzi-Bars and Restaurants

I am reminiscing about our amazing holiday to Zanzibar and can’t believe we have been back for two months already! As you know by now, Ryan and I love love LOVE food and one of the best parts about travelling for us, is all the amazing food we get to try along the way. Being in Zanzibar, we really wanted to make the most of the fresh seafood that was all around us so below is a list of the restaurants we visited (and loved) during our trip.

6 Degrees South

We stumbled across this restaurant on our first day in Stone Town when we were walking around the area near our hotel. The staff were extremely welcoming and the restaurant had part inside / outside seating – we were part outside so needed a fan!

I opted for the grilled prawns with coconut rice and my husband ordered the kingfish and masala fries – both dishes were delicious and generous portions.

The restaurant also has a rooftop bar which we wanted to visit but it opens from 5pm and with happy hour!

Beach House – Park Hyatt, Zanzibar Stone Town

Before traveling to Stone Town we had read great reviews online about the Beach House. A security guard greeted us at the entrance of the hotel and we went in for, initially, a few drinks. However, we fell in love with the view and the chilled vibes that we decided to stay for a few more drinks and then for dinner.

We shared the bruschetta to start which was a very generous sized portion and was really tasty, followed by the king fish and biryani. The food was delicious and service was great as well. I would highly recommend this restaurant as we felt it ticked all of the boxes.

Baladin Zanzibar Beach Hotel & Restaurant

We stumbled across Baladin when on our morning post-breakfast walk along the beach. We loved the style of the restaurant (well, the whole hotel for that fact) and decided to return for lunch that day. The restaurant decor was lovely, all wooden which gave that rustic feel but modernised with quirky seating areas.

To start, we shared the calamari which was fresh and delicious. We then both ordered the same main as it caught our eye and that was the beer marinated prawns. They were super tasty and served with rice and salad. The staff and restaurant manager were extremely friendly and we have recommended this restaurant to friends visiting Zanzibar since our trip.

Upendo Zanzibar Beach

As we stayed at Upendo we decided to enjoy dinner at the hotel each night of our stay. The menu is so expansive that we were not stuck for choice!

Breakfast was included in our stay and each morning it consisted of fresh juice, tea, coffee, a fruit platter and then a main breakfast dish. We worked our way through the breakfast menu and each morning it was the perfect start to the day.

In the afternoons we would treat ourselves to a little snack, our favourites were the homemade hummus and bread as well as the flatbread which were bruschetta style breads topped with a variety of toppings.

For dinners, we worked our way through the menu and would highly recommend the surf and turf; seafood skewers; local curry which is served with rice and bread (I think this was my favourite dish) and also the burger!

Pandu Ngozi Restaurant

This inconspicuous restaurant is located along the beachfront, a stone’s throw away from the famous Rock Restaurant and our hotel, Upendo. We came across Pandu Ngozi on our morning walk and decided to return for lunch one day. I decided to have the lobster and Ryan treated himself to the jumbo prawns. The food was so amazing we returned the next day for lunch and I ordered the prawns and Ryan, the lobster.
The staff were extremely friendly, the food was amazing and the rustic vibe of the restaurant is what we loved the most and would highly recommend a visit.

The Rock Restaurant Zanzibar

We visited the famous Rock Restaurant on my birthday and it did not disappoint. We were staying at Upendo and so our swimming pool looked out onto the Rock.

Our table was booked for 2pm and we timed it right with the tide as it was out so we were able to walk over to the restaurant. We sat outside and had an amazing view that looked the whole way along Pingwe Beach. We shared the tempura prawns to start followed by the grilled seafood platter. The food was great and a very generous portion. Overall we had a lovely lunch and would highly recommend visiting this restaurant.

… I hope reading this post hasn’t made you too hungry!

Address Beach Resort

We are never bored for hotel choice in Dubai let me tell you! New hotels seem to be popping up left, right and centre and we had been eyeing up the new Address Beach Resort for a while. Located at the far end of Jumeirah Beach and close to the walkway across to Bluewater Island, Address Beach Resort dominates the skyline.

The building consists of two towers, which are predominantly residential, and are connected at the top with the world’s highest and longest rooftop pool!

You can access the entrance of the hotel either by driving down JBR, or you can take the last exit from Sheikh Zayed Road, take the ramp across the Marina and U-turn into the hotel – we chose this option to avoid the dreaded JBR traffic. As you drive up the ramp you are greeted by the valet guy, a quick sanitisation mist and the familiar smell which makes you instantly realise you have stepped into an Address hotel.

The lobby is a gorgeous, open area with olive trees and an abundance of seating areas. The interior is similar to that of the Address Sky View with details of books and ornaments neatly arranged. Our check in process was excellent and the staff could not do enough for us. We had arrived early, as we always like to make the most of the facilities, and they accommodated our request of a higher room and were able to provide us with immediate access which was great.

The hotel has three lifts, which can be quite confusing, one which takes you down to the ground floor restaurants with pool and beach access; one for hotel guests only which takes you to the hotel rooms; and the final lift which is for residents and for access to the spa and rooftop pool.

The Pool

The main attraction for us to this hotel was the rooftop pool measuring in at 94.84m in length, 16.50m wide and height is 293.906m. Recently awarded a Guinness Book of World Records title, the pool is the highest infinity pool in the world! Use of the roof-top pool is exclusive to in-house guests and residents only, which makes the pool all that more desirable. You have to take the lift from the ground floor to level 75 then swap to a different lift for the final two levels. As the doors open you can just see the vast blue water ahead of you which morphs from the pool into the sea. The view is insane. You can walk around the whole rooftop and see all the way down to Jebel Ali on one side, across the Marina on the other and out to see with Palm views.

The pool has several sun loungers partly submerged in the pool itself which are super chilled. They also have double-gazebo beds available which are extremely comfortable as well – we opted for different loungers each day. Finally, they have private cabana pool rooms available to hire for the day which come fully equipped with a TV, shower, alcohol, food, personal butler and much more – you, of course have to pay for this privilege!

The hotel also has a child-friendly pool on the ground floor with a mini-splash park for keeping the little ones entertained.

The Room

We had booked a Marina facing room, I cheekily asked for an upgrade to a sea-view room but the hotel was fully booked on the weekend that we visited. The room was lovely, modern and bright – everything you would expect from a brand new hotel. The bed was extremely comfortable and the far side of the room had one long window which spanned across the entire length of the room and through the bathroom. In the bathroom was a free-standing bath in front of the window with a separate waterfall shower and Jack and Jill sinks. 

All aspects of the room could be managed from one tablet, including the air-con, lights, TV, music and it also contained information about the hotel, facilities, and menus for room service.

The Restaurants

The hotel has several restaurants located throughout it. On our first day, we decided to have lunch down in The Beach Grill which is located just about on the beach and next to the family pool on the ground floor. We loved the décor in this restaurant as it had boho / beach-chic vibes. I opted for the Salmon whilst Ryan had the burger and the food was delicious.

For dinner, we had booked a table at Zeta-77 and invited some friends to join us for sundowners before dinner. Zeta-77 is located on level 77 next to the infinity pool and the views from this restaurant are astounding, some, if not the best views in Dubai. We got there for 6.30 and as the sun set, we could see the lights start to appear across the whole of the Palm, Bluewater Island and the Marina. It was such a beautiful sight.

The menu at Zeta-77 is relatively small with only four options for main dishes, however we loved all of the mains so it wasn’t too bad. The food was delicious but, unfortunately, the service was terrible. I don’t like to complain in restaurants, I often just complain about it to Ryan, but on this occasion, as we had paid a deposit of AED2,000 to even book the table we did complain about the service. I guess that there is always teething problems when opening a new restaurant so hopefully things will improve.

Breakfast was located on the ground floor in the buffet restaurant and was included as part of our booking. And I have to say, the breakfast was absolutely amazing. I really love a hotel breakfast and this was a combination of served a la carte “main” dishes and buffet style for pastries, waffles, pancakes etc.

The hotel also has a Brazilian restaurant at located just left of the lobby which would be good to try.

Overall, we absolutely loved our stay at the Address Beach Resort and would return purely for the rooftop pool!

Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa

Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa is one of my favourite hotels in Dubai. Located on the far end of Jumeirah Beach, the hotel has three swimming pools, two of which have swim up pool bars to really give you those holiday vibes! The hotel spans across a huge grass area which leads onto its own private beach which in turn connects down to JBR beach. The hotel is definitely family friendly with a children’s play area; kids swimming pool; volleyball courts; football pitch; table tennis and mini golf!

Ryan and I have visited Le Royal Meridien many times for brunch at Brasserie 2.0, which is a must if you haven’t done it before, and for pool days (as they often have some great deals, especially during the summer) but we had never actually stayed before. I decided to book a girly weekend (sorry Ryan) and my friend and I booked a one night stay with breakfast for a weekend in October of last year. 

Pulling up to the hotel entrance, the concierge are instantly at hand to assist you with taking your luggage and valet parking your car. I love the lobby with its chic light interior, hammock chairs and seating areas. The hotel has installed clear plastic dividers between the guests and the hotel staff at the check in desk, as well as installing queue mechanics to ensure that a safe distance is left between the guests checking in. We had booked with a great deal on Booking.com and upon check in we were offered an upgrade to a sea facing room with balcony for an additional 60 dirhams, which we jumped at!

The rooms are modern, although on the slightly smaller size, and come equipped with all of the standard items you would expect, including extra-cosy dressing gowns (my favourite). We headed straight down to the pool for a frozen daiquiri and a sunbathe and relaxed straight into holiday-mode. Unfortunately, the hotel did feel quieter than the usual buzz it has about it – but that can only be expected in these times. The staff were great with taking all precautionary measures required as a result of COVID. The sunbeds were well distanced and the beds were frequently sanitised.


Restaurants

The hotel has a whopping twelve restaurants to choose from with the choice of Mexican, Indian, Italian, seafood, steak and international buffet. We wanted to get as much time in the sun and so for lunch we decided to order from the pool bar food menu and eat at our sun-beds. For dinner, as you can imagine, we were spoilt for choice but the steak restaurant, Rhodes 2.0 had a great offer on for starter, two mains, two sides and a bottle of wine for AED500! The food was amazing and the restaurant had a really romantic feel with high ceilings, chandeliers and an intimate feel to it.

I love a hotel breakfast and, I must say, this was one of the best hotel buffet breakfasts I think I have ever had! The choice was huge! We ordered sausage and bacon (yes, real pork), eggs in any way you like, and then headed up to the buffet. There was a great choice of pastries, fruits, juices, coffee, tomatoes, mushrooms, the lot. I didn’t need to eat again until dinner!

Spa 

We couldn’t end our girly weekend without a trip to the spa for a pamper. So after breakfast we spent the morning around the pool  and booked a massage for 3pm. The spa is also on the Entertainer which is great so the massage was buy one get one free.

I would absolutely stay at Le Royal Meridien again, and as we have a few friends that often stay at the hotel, we plan on joining them next time they make it over!

Zanzibar

Our flight landed into Zanzibar at 6.10am, we had applied for our visa online in advance of traveling which saved us a lot of time at the airport. The visas cost $50 for UK passport holders whether this is completed online or on arrival. We were also required to complete a health declaration form on the plane for handing over to the staff when entering immigration. Even with the requirements of the additional forms we were through security in record breaking time and as we had decided to travel with hand luggage only we were out of the airport within 15 minutes!

We had arranged our airport transfers in advance, which I would highly recommend, as it can be quite overwhelming with all of the taxi drivers waiting around the exit. Our hotel in Stone Town had put us in contact with a local driver who organized all of the transfers we needed for our trip. Our driver was waiting outside for us and took us to our first destination which was Tembo Hotel in Stone Town.

Stone Town

Stone Town is the “old town” of Zanzibar with a very active port that has daily ferries that run to mainland Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya. Stone Town has a real buzz about it and is full of restaurants, roof top bars, gift shops and one of the main attractions is a museum dedicated to Freddy Mercury! When Freddy Mercury was younger he and his family used to live in one of the rooms at Tembo Hotel (this was secretly another reason I wanted to stay there)!

We had booked a trip across to Prison Island which is one of the main tourist attractions in Stone Town. The story behind the prison is interesting but the main attraction on the island is the tortoise sanctuary. There are over 100 tortoises at the sanctuary with the oldest being 195 years old!

You can easily pick up boats and tour guides around the area and probably for a cheaper price than we paid so if you’re not on a tight schedule I would advise just checking out what’s around when you arrive in Stone Town. 

We stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant called 6 Degrees South and I tucked into my eagerly awaited spicy prawns – they didn’t disappoint. We were absolutely shattered by this point so headed back to our Freddy Suite (joke) and had a little nap before getting ready and heading out for some sundowners. We had read about a restaurant called the Beach House which is connected to the Park Hyatt hotel and ended up staying for 4 hours watching the sunset and having a lovely meal.

The following day we were up early and excited for our flight out to the Serengeti for a 2 night stay and safari – you can read all about that here. After the 2 night stay, we landed back in Zanzibar for the final 4 night stretch of our holiday. 

COVID Testing

We had arranged to be collected from the airport by the same driver we previously used and he was stood ready and waiting for us. We headed straight to one of the nearby COVID-19 testing facilities as we were required to have our test carried out at least 4 days prior to our flight – this is because all tests are then sent to the mainland for laboratory testing so the results take slightly longer. We had been well informed by some friends regarding the process before our trip so felt as though we were as prepared as could be… oh how wrong we were. Of course, the day we visited they had changed the process, which no one was aware of, and we were required to complete a form online via the Zanzibar COVID-19 Testing app. In the form, you are required to add the date in which you would like your test results dated, although we had the test on the 9th March, we requested that the results were dated 11th March so that it was sufficient time prior to our flight on 13th March.

So, once you have downloaded the app and completed your form, you need to print and take a copy of your form as well as your passport copy to the counter for payment. You can make payment by card or cash, it is $80, but we were advised to have cash as sometimes the electricity goes out! After making payment and with your printed form you can then make your way through to the test itself. After this, you are free to leave and you can check for your results via the app by simply entering your passport number. This was the most efficient part of the process as once your results show up in the app you can then print this for your check in at the airport.

Our Poor Hotel Choice…

We left the test centre feeling very flustered, hot and were excited to get to our hotel to relax as it had been a long day of traveling. But. We arrived at the hotel we had booked in advance, Karafuu Beach Resort and Spa, and without going into too much detail it was horrendous. Ryan and I are well-seasoned travellers and know, most of the time, what we are getting ourselves into. We also have a list of all the hotels we have stayed in together which currently totals 63, and Karafuu is the first hotel which we have asked to move rooms and although our booking was for 4 nights we stayed for one and checked out only 16 hours after checking in!

Anyway… the following morning we walked along Pingwe Beach, which is a gorgeous stretch of white sandy beach, and popped into every hotel along the way, asking if they had availability for a three night stay. Thankfully, the last hotel along the beach was Upendo Beach Zanzibar and they had room at the Inn for us to stay for three nights. We were ecstatic and managed to get a really good rate as we were making the booking so last minute. We headed back to Karafuu to collect our cases (which we hadn’t even unpacked), checked out and took a taxi back to Upendo. That is when we could finally just relax.

Upendo Beach Zanzibar

As we checked in we were greeted with a fresh coconut and the hotels guard doggies wagging their tail; it was bliss.

Our room was available immediately as the staff had been in to make sure everything was perfect before we arrived back with our suitcases. Honestly, our room was world’s apart from the room we had just come from – but I don’t want to dwell on the previous hotel – all I can say is that Upendo was absolute heaven. Our villa was standalone and on the beachfront so when we opened the curtains we could only see the sand and sea. On the front patio area we had a gorgeous hanging double lounge bed which we spent most afternoons chilling on! Inside the room it was nice and light with lots of small windows covered by mosquito nets which meant we had lovely day light.

The bathroom was one of the highlights of the room for us, it was huge. As you walked in, to the right hand side, just under the window was a lovely free standing bath followed by a Jack and Jill sink, the toilet and then the highlight, an outdoor open air shower! The shower had a waterfall shower head hanging from the ceiling; a huge piece of drift wood which was used for holding the complimentary shower gels and other toiletries but the best part of this shower was the plants and trees which had grown up the outside of the shower room and into the shower itself, it just gave it that real jungle feel.

 The room was gorgeous and felt very rustic and authentic yet with modern furnishings. It had a coffee machine with pods refilled daily; a water dispenser so we had unlimited access to complimentary water; gorgeous toiletries in sustainable glass bottles and of course, the best part was our private rooftop swimming pool!

We really fell into the swing of island life and fell asleep early each night and woke up early each morning. We would head down for breakfast which was served with tea, coffee, fresh juice and fresh fruit and worked our way through a different dish on the menu each morning.

Upendo is located at the far end of Pingwe beach so after breafast we would go for a lovely walk along the beach and onto the sandbanks where the tide had drifted out. Also along Pingwe beach is a great choice of restaurants so each lunch time we decided to head out to find some of the local seafood restaurants.

Upendo has a popular restaurant with an extensive menu so each night we stayed at the hotel and tried a different dish on the menu. The food was incredible and we loved the relaxed vibe of the restaurant, we could just lounge around for hours on the sofas.

We decided to book the Snorkel and Starfish trip and booked this direct through our hotel, rather than with the guys along the beach. Although the trip was slightly more expensive with our hotel, they always book through the same local man from the village and pay him a salary of the tours at the end of the month, he then distributes this throughout his village. Ryan and I were the only ones on the trip and so we were able to go at our own pace. It was lovely that our tour guide came in to snorkel with us and for a swim when we reached the starfish.

Our final day in paradise just so happened to be my birthday and we had some friends from Dubai who were in Zanzibar at the same time so they came over to our hotel for some drinks and we had a lunch reservation at the Rock Restaurant. The food was great (as were the drinks) and Ryan and I ended up heading back to the airport rather drunk but at least it meant we slept for the whole flight!

We absolutely adored our time in Zanibar and Tanzania and are so glad with our decision to change hotels at the last minute, we definitely would not have had the same incredible experience otherwise!

Safari in the Serengeti

I started writing this blog as we were sat in a tiny “terminal” waiting to board our flight from Zanzibar to the Seronera Airstrip for a two night stay at the Melia Serengeti Lodge. I’m feeling so grateful that we were able to experience our third African safari, having previously visited Tsavo National Park in Kenya and the Garden Route Game Reserve in South Africa.

In typical Louise style we arrived at the airport super early! As we checked in we were informed that we only needed to arrive 20 minutes before our flight, and there’s us standing there an hour and a half before. But, it was fine we just found ourselves a little seat in the corner to wait. The plane was tiny, the smallest I have ever flown on and seats 12 people, plus the pilots! We booked our flight with Coastal Aviation but there are several other companies that offer the same internal flight route. It was a surreal experience as we chose the seats at the very front within arm’s length of the pilots and we watched them intently as they prepared us for take-off.

We had two other airstrip drops on the way to Seronera Airstrip and as people departed our excitement grew to start our safari adventure. We were looking out of the windows and at one point we looked down and the pilot pointed out a herd of elephants walking under us, it was honestly an unforgettable moment.

Day 1

By the time our plan landed at the airstrip there was only Ryan and I and one lady left on the plane! Our safari ranger, Vincent, was waiting ready for us and took us straight for a gorgeous picnic in one of the segregated picnic areas in the park. We thought we would be heading straight to our hotel but didn’t realise that we were about to start our first safari of the trip which was amazing!

After the picnic the first animal we saw was a crocodile, basking on one of the streams. It was absolutely huge and the safari buzz kicked in instantly!

On our first day we were so lucky to witness six female lions dozing in a tree who then spotted a buffalo in the distance. We watched these lionesses for over an hour and a half as they stalked, one by one, down from the tree and into the grass to approach the buffalo. Thankfully, our ranger had binoculars at the ready for us and we witnessed the lions attack the buffalo, circling it and hanging off its back at one point! It was incredible to watch but I was happy to see the buffalo escape!

As we carried on our safari we saw a huge herd of elephants, my favourite, and I just loved seeing the playful babies in amongst the herd. We also saw giraffes, a serval cat, hyenas, lots of impala, ostrich, monkeys, warthog – to name a few!

When we arrived at our hotel, the sun was slowly starting to set. The hotel had kindly upgraded us to the “Savanah” room and we had a lovely, bright, open room with a cushioned terrace seating area so we sat back and watched the sun set before heading down for dinner.

Day 2

After our first super comfy night’s sleep we were up at 6am to get ready and head down for breakfast before starting our second safari of the trip. The breakfast, I have to say, was one of the nicest breakfasts I have had in a long time. We were greeted with a selection of pastries and preserves brought to the table, as well as juice and coffee and we were able to order eggs any way as well as side dishes. I opted for scrambled eggs with a side of bacon and it was delicious.

We set off on our safari just after 7am with the view of returning to the hotel by lunch time and to spend some time enjoying the hotel facilities. we requested to have Vincent for each of our safari’s. He has been working as a ranger in the Serengeti for over fifteen years so he had great knowledge of the animals, plants and locations of where certain animals liked to hang out. 

There was a lot of chatter on the radios amongst the rangers regarding the location of the leopards and cheetahs that morning so we spent quite a bit of time trying to scout them out, but with no luck. We then saw in the distance several vultures circling so Vincent followed their trail and we stumbled across a pride of nine lions, including a big older male and a younger male, of about five years old. We were so close to them but they didn’t appear phased in the slightest as they lazed about in the grass.

Later that morning we were due to be setting off about an hour and a half drive to the north to see the migration, but we received a call of a further sighting of the leopard. We set off on its trail and almost lost hope until Vincent, somehow, spotted him up in a tree! Even as we approached, Ryan and I still couldn’t pick out the leopard until we were almost below the tree. He just laid up on his branch chilling and watching the world go by, it was amazing. I honestly don’t think you can beat the excitement of searching for animals out in the wild and finally sighting them!

We then made our way to the northern quarter to check out the migration. We could see a sea of dark patches from a distance and as we approached we realised that we could see hundreds of thousands of zebras and wildebeest across the plains. It was an unforgettable sight. Our ranger had been told that earlier in the day there had been a cheetah sighting in the area, we unfortunately didn’t spot him but when we flew back to Zanzibar we were swapping stories on the plane and a lady showed us videos of two cheetahs eating a wildebeest – eek!

We ended up back at our hotel at around 3pm after an amazing almost eight hour safari and were treated to a wonderful set menu lunch, which was included as part of our all-inclusive package. I then treated myself to a dip in the pool – which was absolutely freezing at the time due to the wind – and left Ryan at the bar while I snuck off for a massage.

Day 3

We were so sad to be leaving the gorgeous Melia but counted ourselves so lucky for the amazing experiences we had in such a short amount of time. We sat down for the wonderful breakfast and checked out before setting off on our final safari.

We left the hotel on our journey back to the airport and gave ourselves some extra time in case we saw anything on the way… and did we see some sights!! We first came across a pride of 9 lions with 4 small Cubs! We sat watching them for a while and moved on. About 5 minutes up the road were two males on the road side following a scent. We were so close to them! The strolled in front of our car and carried on into the bushes. We then saw them stalking another female with 6-7 young cubs! The Cubs ran off to the right whilst the mum walked to the left. The largest male began to track her and it turned into a chase as the male started running after the female!! We followed parallel to them and realized behind us on the left side of the road was a family of giraffes who also started running as they had spotted the lions as well! Then a bit further a long we saw some hippos fighting! We felt like we were on a David Attenborough set!

We reached the airstrip and had to part ways with our lovely ranger Vincent (if you are planning a trip to the Serengeti I would highly recommend Vincent, his company can be found here). Our flight back to Zanzibar was indirect so we had a short layover in Arusha before embarking on the final stint of our magical holiday which was four final nights at a beach resort in Zanzibar.

Al Maha – A Luxury Desert Resort

The name really says it all. This hotel took the meaning of Luxury to a whole new level for us!

The hotel is located about an hour’s drive from Dubai Marina and about 45 minutes from the Dubai Hills Estate. We set off relatively early and once we turned off the main road onto an adjacent slip road out to the desert, we were greeted by a security guard who confirmed our check in details before letting us through the gate. What we didn’t realise at the time is that Al Mahais located in the middle of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve which is why the security is so stringent. As we set off from security, the next 25 minutes of the journey was off the beaten track, on a small rubble road leading you further into the desert towards the hotel. On this part of the journey we were surprised to already encounter some wild Oryx and gazelles. Before we had even arrived at the hotel Ryan was bored of me shrieking “LOOK” every few minutes!

As some of you know, I changed jobs in July last year and my lovely team from my previous company were extremely generous and gifted me a voucher which we used towards a one night stay at Al Maha. Ryan and I have stayed at several desert resorts throughout the UAE but AlMaha has always been slightly more on the expensive side. We decided to use our gift voucher for a one night stay to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary. Crazy right, heading out to the desert in the middle of the heat in August… but don’t worry, every room comes with its own private infinity pool!

We spent the day chilling around the pool and every so often some of the gazelles would become a bit curious and come over to investigate. The hotel staff said that if we had a small amount of bread we might be able to feed them, so I asked for a side of bread with my pizza at lunch just in case. Sure enough later in the afternoon the gazelles came back and I got close enough to feed them!

As we approached the main reception of the hotel it just felt so calm and quiet everywhere. We checked in and were taken by a golf buggy straight to our room with an early check in (I say it every time, but honestly I love an early check in)! The staff dropped our bags and I’m not sure if they heard the clanging of the wine bottles in our bags, but they conveniently asked if we would like an ice bucket and glasses – which, of course we did!

The room was stunning and so spacious. As you entered the front doorway there was a small cloakroom area with a desk and chair and a small area to make tea and coffee. To the right of the entrance was the bathroom which was huge, with a lovely big bath, Jack and Jill sinks and a double door which opened wide so it felt as if the bath was outside – I got South African safari vibes from this! Located in the main room (which was a bed room / living area) was a huge double bed and a chilled out seating area with two chaise longue either side of a small coffee table which faced outside to the main highlight of the room, the pool. The room was designed in the style of a tent, so there was a pole in the centre of the room, propping up the draped ceiling. The pool was really big for a private room pool, considering that every room in the hotel has one!

As we were there celebrating our first wedding anniversary, we decided to treat ourselves to the private in-room dining experience and the sunset camel ride. We headed down to the lobby for 6pm for the sunset desert camel ride and both shared one camel which took us on a 20 minute journey out to the desert.

When we arrived, there was a small bar set up with champagne, beers, wine, soft drinks, anything you could want, and we sat on the dunes watching the sun go down before heading back on the 20 minute journey back to the hotel.

When we got back to our room, the hotel staff had already been in and set up the dining area outside our room on the terrace in front of the pool, it was so lovely. When we requested the in-room dining we were required to choose our options from the set menu. For starters, we ordered the beef carpaccio and shrimp tempura. The carpaccio was gorgeous and the shrimp tempura was presented on a bed of black rocks which was unique. For mains, I have to say that I made the best choice, and ordered the fillet steak which was served on a bed of creamy mash potato and a side of vegetables. Ryan’s main was also super tasty, he opted for the Arabic mixed grill which came with a selection of beef kebab, jumbo prawn, fish and chicken with a side of grilled vegetables and chips. To finish, the hotel had treated us to a lovely chocolate cake which was personalised to say “Happy Anniversary” which was extremely generous but by this point we were stuffed! At least we didn’t have far to go back to our room!

After an incredible night’s sleep, we requested the hotel to deliver our breakfast to our room and placed our order over the phone. We had an amazing selection of pastries, breads, eggs benedict, waffles, coffee and juices, all set up on the coffee table in front of the doors leading out to the pool.

We were able to have a slightly later checkout and spent the day chilling in the sun in our private pool; it was bliss. Thankfully, the drive back home was short and sweet after an amazingly relaxing stay. Al Maha really is one of, if not the most, luxurious hotel I have stayed it, nothing is enough for the staff and the proximity to central Dubai is great as its only a short drive home after a chilled out weekend.

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.