Last year I booked a one night stay at the Palazzo Versace Hotel in Dubai for a relaxing girly weekend away with one of my friends. I managed to get a great rate on the hotel, booking a discounted “industry rate” as an Independent Travel Agent.
Besides from the road works on the way in, the entrance to the Versace Hotel is just as grand as you would expect. As you enter the hotel, you are greeted by the large Medusa head in mosaic tiles on the floor, the lobby is bright with high ceilings and coated in gold.
We reached the hotel early as we wanted to make use of the facilities and our room wasn’t quite ready, so we left our luggage with the reception staff and headed out to the pool.
The hotel has a gorgeous spa, salon and gym that you can access as a hotel guest. It also has three pools, the Central and West Pools are family pools and the East Pool is an adults only pool. Outside guests are able to use the pools at a day rate of AED200 which is fully redeemable on food and beverage but access to all three pools is complimentary for in house guests.
As the hotel does not have it’s own beach, hotel guests are able to use the pool and beach at the Nikki Beach Resort and Spa in Dubai at a charge of AED300 minimum spend per adult and AED150 minimum spend per child.
We decided to head down to the East Pool (making the most of it being adult only) and started our day off with some cocktails whilst soaking up the sun. The East Pool had a good choice of food on the pool menu, which is served from La Piscina, so we stayed around the pool for some lunch as well.
There is a great selection of restaurants at the hotel from Italian, to Iranian to Continental you won’t be stuck for choice.
For dinner, we decided to book into Enigma which is the Iranian restaurant and we ordered a selection of the mixed grill, rice and breads. The food was great and the service was excellent. The restaurant has a special dish called “Meet the King of Persia” which the table next to us ordered. This consists of a slow cooked lamb rack and leg which is marinated in “the King’s secret recipe” and is brought out by several members of staff playing instruments and with the King of Persia presenting the food to the table. It was great to watch – I kind of wish we had eaten it too!
Our hotel booking included breakfast for two in Giardino which is the hotel’s buffet restaurant. It had a great selection for breakfast including an egg station, pancake and waffle station, fresh pastries, fresh fruits and teas and coffees.
After breakfast, we headed back down to the East Pool for another day in the sun. Overall, we had a lovely stay at the Versace hotel, it was perfect for a relaxing, girly weekend with a lot of cocktails, sun and nice food.
So, even though this visit wasn’t technically a “staycay”, I recently spent the most amazing day at the luxurious, 7* Burj Al Arab hotel. The Burj Al Arab is Dubai’s most iconic hotel, located along Jumeirah Beach, next to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel – which is often referred to as “the Wave”. The Burj Al Arab is extremely exclusive with rooms being charged at a rate in excess of GBP2,000 per night! In order to even gain access to the hotel, you are required to have a booking at one of the restaurants, the beach club or the spa, otherwise you will not be allowed past the first security gate.
I am extremely grateful that my friend (and boss) treated me to a relaxing spa day and afternoon tea experience as a “baby shower” day and my last day at work before heading off on maternity leave. I have visited the Burj Al Arab previously for dinner in the hotel’s buffet restaurant, Bab al Yam, which is located on the first floor, and also to visit the beach club, Sal, which is located at the backside of the hotel but doesn’t require entrance to the main hotel. I was, therefore, very excited to spend some time inside the hotel itself.
Talise Spa at the Burj Al Arab
The Talise Spa is located on the 18th floor of the Burj Al Arab and from the moment you are welcomed at the spa’s reception, you are treated like royalty. Whilst completing our questionnaires before the treatment we were given a hot towel and fresh ginger tea which was lovely.
I had called in advance to confirm which treatment I would be able to have – as I was 37 weeks pregnant at the time. Unfortunately, I was not able to have the prenatal massage so I opted for the Moroccan Organic Facial which was not on the spa menu but came recommended by the therapist as being suitable for pregnancy as they use only organic, natural products.
The spa is separated into a female-only area and a unisex area which also contains the male changing facilities. We headed through the female changing rooms and were provided with our lockers which contained the softest slippers and robe – I felt like I was wearing a cloud. I was taken up to the room for my treatment and was blown away by the view. The female treatments rooms over look the Palm Jumeirah and have an amazing view of the Dubai Marina as well.
The treatment was so relaxing and my skin felt amazing. After the treatment, we changed into our swimwear and headed through to the unisex pool for a swim and some relaxation.
Following our extremely relaxing morning, we headed down to Sahn Eddar which is the restaurant located in the hotel lobby on level 1. Previously, the Afternoon Tea was served in the Sky Bar, however, the hotel has recently changed the location of the Afternoon Tea as the Sky Bar is now only open from 6pm each day.
Sahn Eddar was a beautiful setting for Afternoon Tea as the lobby is very bright with high ceilings and a view out towards the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Souk Madinat. We sat down just before the Afternoon Tea was due to start and ordered the gold-leaf Cappuccinos because, why not?
The Afternoon Tea consisted of four courses, starting with shredded Alaskan King Crab with Caviar and pancakes – although I skipped the Caviar – followed by a selection of four finger sandwiches which were plated and served to us individually. The next course consisted of a selection of tarts, pastries and biscuits which were divine. They were served on tiered plates that were shaped like the Burj al Arab itself which was a lovely touch.
The final course, my favourite, was a selection of warm scones with fresh cream and jam. I could only just about finish mine as I was extremely full by this point. Throughout the afternoon we could have unlimited drinks such as teas and coffees and as we had the non-alcoholic package it also included a sparkling juice.
We left the Burj Al Arab at around 5pm after a long, relaxing day of luxury and feeling extremely stuffed from our lovely Afternoon Tea.
The Seychelles has been on our bucket list for several years and it is somewhere we have saved for a “special occasion” trip. But, had I realised the flight time to the Seychelles from Dubai was only 3 hours 40, I would have probably visited sooner!
We booked our flights and hotel as a package using Emirates Package Holidays – I received several quotes from the hotels using my own connections as an Independent Travel Agent, but the price with Emirates is great when you purchase as a package as you get a discount on the flights too. Flights to the Seychelles from Dubai are generally quite expensive all year round and honestly, the timings weren’t the best for me being pregnant (and tired), but they worked well for maximising our stay for the long weekend.
Of the hotels available, we decided on Constance Ephelia, a stunning hotel across acres of land, with two private beaches and five restaurants – what more could you want?! Usually when we travel, we like to explore the local areas, local restaurants, day trips, island hopping etc. however, given I was 24 weeks pregnant at the time of our trip, we decided to use this time to completely chill out. Constance Ephelia was perfect for that as we really didn’t need to leave the resort.
Our flight left Dubai at 2.20am and landed in the Seychelles ahead of schedule at around 7am. I had been told by friends to book our airport taxi in advance as they can often be quite expensive, other friends also recommended the option of hiring a car and driving around the island ourselves. But for ease, we booked an airport transfer with Mervin Manouc at Sey Taxi who was a pleasure to deal with and charged us €45 each way, which was slightly less than the market rate of €50 each way.
We were at our hotel by 8am and after checking us in, they had a separate area for guests who had early arrivals to have some pastries and coffee which was a lovely touch. Our room was available shortly after which was great, meaning we were in our room by 9am so that we could unpack, get freshened up and set about our day.
Constance Ephelia has two beautiful private beaches located on the North and South side of the resort. We walked to the South side beach which was about 5 minutes from our room and then walked 2km across to the North side beach – the hotel has golf buggies available to take you but we decided to walk… we took the buggy every time after that!
The North side had a gorgeous French restaurant, Cyann, we stayed there for lunch and sat out on the beach overlooking the sea, it was heavenly. Cyann is a fine dining restaurant and the interior was just as stunning as the views outside. After lunch, we walked along the North beach and then took the golf buggy back to our room for some down time. That evening, we decided to head to Seswala, which was the local cuisine restaurant in our hotel. The half-board package was great, we were entitled to a 3 course meal at any of the restaurants each night of our stay. We decided to both have curries, one of the delicacies being bat fruit curry, but we weren’t brave enough for that. Ryan had the octopus curry whilst I had chicken and both were lovely.
After a great night sleep we headed down to Corossol, the hotels buffet restaurant, for our breakfast. There was a great selection for us to choose from with live cooking stations, freshly baked bread and pastries and a waffle / pancake station, so Ryan was happy! We followed breakfast with a chilled walk along the Southside beach and headed towards one of the pools to spend the day. The hotel had several pools located throughout the resort – not including the villas that had their own private pools – and each of the restaurants had their own pool. We spent the day at the pool of Adam and Eve which is the Asian restaurant.
For lunch, I opted for the Nasi Goreng and Ryan had the local fish wrapped in banana leaf. Both of our meals were excellent. After lunch, we walked around 12 footsteps back to our sun loungers where we crashed for a well-earned afternoon nap.
That evening, we booked into Helios which is the hotels Mediterranean restaurant. I have to say, I think this was my favourite restaurant at the hotel, each dish was phenomenal. To start, I had the gnocchi in butter and lemon sauce, followed by the grilled king prawns (there was a small supplement to pay in addition to the half board package for the prawns, but it was so worth it). Finally, I finished with the coffee and vanilla ice cream sundae.
On our third morning we were booked in for our PCR tests for our return to Dubai. After completing our form for our entry permit to the Seychelles we had the option of booking our PCR test straight away. This is through the government portal and they offer a 50% discount if you book via this method. Every hotel in the Seychelles is linked to this portal and our hotel offered the PCR testing service directly at our hotel. So we had our breakfast and then headed along to one of the villas that had been converted to a Covid testing facility. It was extremely efficient and saved any hassle of having to travel externally for the test.
We spent the rest of the morning relaxing around the pool near the Adam and Eve restaurant but decided to head outside of the hotel for lunch. We had read some great reviews about a restaurant close by called Del Place Restaurant. As the tide was low, we were able to walk from our hotels private beach, wade through the sea to the public beach and then a short 5 minute walk up to the restaurant. It was a beautiful setting overlooking the sea and the service was excellent. I opted for the prawns whilst Ryan had local grilled fish. When we left the restaurant, we decided to walk back to our hotel through the mangroves which was a lovely walk – although a little on the warm side at 2pm.
Every day at 3pm, the staff allow the hotel guests into the pen with the resident tortoise for feeding time so we headed down to see the little (well, big) guys.
On our final morning, and being the creatures of habit that we are, we headed down for breakfast at Corossol and followed it with a little beach walk. We then decided to head over to the North side of the island for our final beach day.
The North Side beach is completely breathtaking. We arrived at around 10am and saw that the tide was out and a lot of people were in the sea around waist height looking in the water. We walked over and realised that you could clearly see all of the coral reef and spent around an hour just walking around and looking down at the fish. It was as though we were snorkeling but we were walking in around with the sea up to our waist just looking through the crystal clear water. We saw thousands of colorful, exotic fish and even saw a puffer fish!
The hotel has a complimentary water sports service so we hired out a kayak to expend some energy before lunch – well, Ryan did! We had our final lunch in Helios restaurant and both opted for the fried fish sandwich – it was delightful.
Our flight back that evening was very late, at 11.50pm, but thankfully we were able to extend our room until 7pm for €150 which was worth the money as it meant that we were able to fully enjoy our final day.
The service throughout all of the restaurants and from all of the hotel staff was amazing, we couldn’t have asked for more and I would absolutely return to this hotel, with our little addition at some point.
A fair few months have passed since our amazing Ibiza trip this Summer and I realised I hadn’t shared the final part of our holiday!
For the final leg of our Ibiza trip we spent five nights at Hotel Torre Del Mar in Playa Den Bossa. The hotel was approximately a thirty minute drive from Es Canar and was located on the far right hand side of Playa Den Bossa beach. The vibe was very different to that of Es Canar. Es Canar was super chilled and felt slightly outdated with an older generation of tourists. Whereas Playa Den Bossa was much more vibrant and had a real buzz about it. To be completely honest, I didn’t like how busy it was to begin with, it actually made me feel very on edge (with regards to COVID) especially as Ibiza was only ever a gateway for us to get home to England.
So we left Es Canar and checked into Hotel Torre Del Mar on the Thursday, and that afternoon Ryan was still working but changed to our new hotel room.
I headed out for a leisurely walk along the beach almost to the far end of the beach and passed Ushuaia, the Beach House, Tanit Beach and others. I walked slightly faster as I passed Jet Apartments and Bora Bora (IYKYK, soz for being a snob). The beach is actually a lovely, sandy beach, unlike some of the other beaches we had visited in Es Canar which were smaller, cove like beaches. Apart from walking along the beach, we mainly ate and drank (a lot) during our time in Playa Den Bossa so I have listed out some of our favourites below. Of course, it goes without saying that every meal was started with a portion of olives and Aoili!
A visit to Casa Maca is an absolute must! The restaurant is attached to a cute boutqique hotel which is located on hill overlooking olive trees and and fields over into the city. You walk from the hotel down a gravel path into the various seating areas the restaurant has to offer with indoor and outdoor seating. As we walked through the restaurant to our table, there was a huge smoking BBQ pit that was towered with cuts of steak and fresh veg.
The food was some of the best we have ever had, we started with the baked aubergine and the chorizo with cheese, followed by the steak with a side of potato gratin, asparags and avocado. We definitely did not have room for dessert so finished with another Aperol!
We spent the day on the sunloungers as Cotton Beach, the booking came with a minimum spend so we had a delicious lunch consisting of sushi and a burratta and tomato salad. Later in the day we headed upstairs to the restaurant for some aperols, olives and Aoili (of course). The restaurant was such a vibe, we didn’t actually realise that they had a brunch on so we sat back and enjoyed the music, watching the brunchgoers partying away!
We had read some great reviews about Bambuddha before our trip and were excited to book in for dinner. The restaurant is a short 15 minute drive from Hotel Torre Del Mar and has vairous seating areas inside and outside. The food was amazing, we shared a selection of beef gyoza, edamame and softshell crab sushi to start, followed by the black cod (my absolute favourite), pad thai and crispy duck pancakes (literally drooling as I’m typing this!). The restaurant was such a vibe with a DJ and a great atmosphere.
On our first day in Playa Den Bossa I walked along the beach to scope out some of the beach clubs and came across the Beachouse, it looked great with a super relaxed Bali vibe. I tried to make a reservation for lunch for any of the days we were there but they were fully booked each day! So we decided to head down one morning for breakfast which was a nice change. The food was lovely and they even offer a variety of yoga and meditation classes in the mornings.
La Cava Tapas
One evening we decided to walk into the old town which was about a 30 minute walk from our hotel. La Cava has a real European vibe with the restaurant seating located in the middle of the highstreet. It had that hustle and bustle about it with people walking past shopping and on their way out for dinner etc. We absolutely love tapas and wanted to try as many things as possible on the menu and didn’t hold back, ordering the Iberian ham; patatas bravas; padron peppers (Ryan’s fave); aoli and olives, of course; calamari; beef meatballs and crusty bread and tomatoes. Everything was so tasty and we were glad for the thirty minute walk home to walk all the food off!
Ohana was a short walk along from Hotel Torre Del Mar and was the perfect stop for lunch for us, esepcially on the days when Ryan was working as he could pop out to meet me for lunch and return to work.
The walk from Hotel Torre Del Mar was about 40 minutes along the beach so I headed fror lunch to meet some friends whilst Ryan was working. The vibe at Tanit was really chilled and the restaurant had a lovely boho vibe. The menu had a lot of sushi (yum) and I opted for the buratta salad with an Aperol Spritz (of course).
We wanted to spend our final evening eating local food in a laid back restaurant – nothing too fancy. We had eaten quite a bit of tapas throughout our trip so decided to look for a restaurant serving paella. As luck would have it, Casa Manolo was listed as the best paella restaurant on the island and was a four minute walk from our hotel which was ideal. We hadn’t made a reservation as it was late notice so tried our luck and thankfully got a table before the restaurant became too busy.
The restaurant is located along the promenade on Playa Den Bossa beach and is very understated from the outside. The food, however, spoke for itself! We ordered the seafood paella to share and it was huge and delicious. I would definitely recomend this restaurant for authentic Spanish paella.
We were sad to see the end of this trip as we really had the most amazing time on the magical island – even more so knowing that it’s where our little bump was conceived! But, Ibiza was always just a route to get us back home to England to spend some time with the family this summer. Honestly, if we had the choice I don’t think we would have chosen Ibiza as the destination for our summer holiday but I am so glad that we did and we both really can’t wait to return.
We planned to spend the first leg of our trip in the small town of Es Canar which is located about 40 minutes from the airport on the north east side of the island. As mentioned in my first post, we extended our trip one day early, and unfortunately, our hotel in Es Canar was already fully booked so we were unable to add an extra night on. So we opted for a small village that was situated around 10 minutes away from Es Canar.
We found a cute little resort in Cala Llenya with good reviews called the Cala Llenya Resort and Spa. The hotel resort was quite dated but the rooms felt more modern, they were spacious and bright so it was perfect for the night.
We took a short walk from the hotel down to the local beach which was tucked away in a sheltered cove with crystal clear water.
On the way back we found a lovely little restaurant, Restaurant Cala Llenya, and joined the locals for some seafood – of course, I had the grilled prawns and Ryan had the mussels, which set the tone for the rest of the trip!
We planned on heading out for dinner as well, but I fell asleep around the pool at 5pm, moved to the room at 6pm and slept almost the whole way through to 8am the next morning! Breakfast was included in our stay so we fuelled up on bacon and eggs and checked out to head onto our second hotel of the trip in Es Canar.
AluaSoul Ibiza Resort
We were not stuck for choice when choosing a hotel on the island, Ibiza has everything from large 3/4* resorts, to apartments, to boutique hotels. AluaSoul is a 4* adults only hotel with the option of having breakfast, half board, full board and all inclusive packages. We opted for breakfast only as one of the only things we planned on doing during this trip was eating out! The hotel is situated a stones throw from the beach, surrounded by local eateries and just down the road from a taxi rank and a supermarket, so we had everything we needed in walking distance.
The lobby was lovely and bright, with high ceilings and windows and had several lounge areas where guests can chill. Upon check in, we were provided with a wrist band which identified our hotel package but also doubled as the room key – this was a great touch as we never had to worry about who was taking the key with them!
The hotel room was nice, although I would say on the smaller side, but had a worktop with a chair which was perfect for Ryan to sit and work at, as well as a balcony, lovely shower and it was equipped with dressing gowns, slippers, a fridge, hairdryer and bathroom toiletries.
Our balcony overlooked the pool area, which is one of the biggest highlights of the hotel. The pool area consists of three pools surrounded by sun loungers as well as an area of Astroturf at the top with another smaller pool. The pool area had a really chilled vibe and the hotel had in-house entertainment that was put on throughout the day with activities such as water-aerobics, waterpolo, abs workouts etc. For people to join in if they wished.
Exploring Es Canar
As we arrived at AluaSoul relatively early, we left our luggage with the staff and set out to explore the local area. The beach was lovely but we followed the sea further round the coast into the next bay which passed in front of the gorgeous Bless Hotel and found some stunning views and another spectacular beach.
As Ryan was working for the duration of our stay in Es Canar, each morning I would get up and go for a walk / run to explore. I had seen on the map that Nikki Beach was around 2.5km from our hotel, so one morning I made it my mission to find it. It was a lovely walk but when I arrived it hadn’t yet opened so I decided to stop next door in the ME Hotel for an iced coffee and admired the surrounding views.
The rest of my time was spent completely relaxing around the pool and of course, eating. I will share all of our restaurant recommendations shortly (there’s quite a few!)
We absolutely loved Es Canar, it’s chilled out vibe and great location, but our next stop and final stop of the trip was to Playa Den Bossa…
Ryan and I had been planning our summer trip back to the UK since before last summer and were gutted when Emirates cancelled our flights a few months ago. Everything has felt so uncertain in COVID times, especially with Boris making changes to the country travel list every few weeks. So as soon as the Balaeric Islands popped onto the green list and the timing fell perfectly with the dates that we wanted to return home, we took the opportunity to travel back.
We have a close family friends birthday and also a wedding that we just did not want to miss in July so decided to bite the bullet and spend 11 days in Ibiza before flying back home.
Unfortunately, I use the term loosely, I was not able to “work from home” in Ibiza so I was required to take the entire trip as annual leave. Ryan, however, worked for the duration of the trip doing his UAE hours, meaning he was up at 6.30am and finishing at 3.30pm.
I decided to make the absolute most of my time in the Ibiza, relaxing and completely resetting. Initially we were planning on renting an apartment that we could both work from for the duration, but once I knew I was going to be having a holiday we opted for hotels and to spend six nights in Es Canar followed by five nights in Playa den Bossa.
When booking our flights, they were rocketing in price for travel on the Friday so we opted to fly on Saturday 3rd. However, when we calculated the number of days / hours we would be spending in Ibiza before flying into England it would have been just a few short of 10 days to the hour. We had heard stories of friends traveling through Border Security in England that they were cross checking the timing of entry and exit stamps and I just did not want to take the risk that we had done something wrong and end up in a situation where we were required to spend an additional ten nights in the UK hotel quarantine – could you even imagine that! So we paid the extra cost and changed our flights to travel a day earlier meaning we would have 11 nights in Ibiza.
Entry to Spain
We had read conflicting information about entry requirements for Spain, and whether or not a PCR was required if you are fully vaccinated. We decided for the sake of AED180 we would have the PCR test in Dubai regardless.
All tourists entering Spain are required to download the Spain Traveller Health App which requires you to enter accommodation details, confirmation of your vaccine and date of vaccine and flight information. The app only accepted EU PCR certificates and we were unable to upload ours so instead we entered our vaccination information. You can only compete the outstanding information in the app 48 hours before your flight and at that time you are provided with a QR code. I would advise printing the code so you have a hard copy as well as the screenshot from the app.
We booked our journey with Emirates as one ticket although the second leg of the journey was fulfilled by Vueling. We departed Dubai at 3am and arrived in Barcelona at around 8am local time. Our luggage was taken all the way through so at least we didn’t need to wait at baggage claim, but we were required to pass through border security and obtain an exit stamp before checking in again and collecting our Vueling boarding pass. We had two hours which was the perfect amount of time for a little breakfast before heading to the departure gate.
The second leg of the journey was only an hour so we spent that watching Too Hot To Handle on the iPad 🤣
I have to say, the taxi situation upon arrival at Ibiza airport was absolute carnage. I had tried booking a taxi before we travelled, but the Welcome Taxis app was quoting €98 whereas our first hotel informed us it would be around €45. I had a mini meltdown (maybe more than a mini meltdown) but anyway the queue wasn’t too bad and we waited around 40 minutes for our taxi.
I think that just about covers all of the life admin for travel from Dubai to Ibiza and although there is a lot more planning and preparation required for travel right now, as long as you keep up to date with the countries regulations and print everything (twice) it isn’t too bad.
We have just returned from a lovely holiday in Athens and it was my first trip back to Greece in almost seventeen years – goodness that makes me feel old! Mum and Dad used to take us on our summer holidays to Greece when my sister and I were younger and we were lucky enough to visit several Greek islands including Crete, Corfu, Kos, Rhodes as well as Cyprus and Northern Cyprus. I love Greece and have lovely memories from our family holidays, like singing karaoke with Katie, playing card games with Mum and going on walks with Dad to find cats (I haven’t changed!)
So as the Eid holiday was approaching, Ryan and I looked into our options for travel, as certain countries are opening up for travel from the UAE – it also helps that we are both fully vaccinated. We were initially looking into the Seychelles but as Eid approached the prices started to rocket. So we browsed through the options on Emirates Package Holidays and found a great deal for flights and four nights accommodation in Athens and booked a locally branded hotel called Divani Caravel – it was quite a corporate hotel but was great for the price and a nice walk into the city centre.
We were so excited to be heading back to Europe as we haven’t been since our mini-moon in Nice almost two years ago. For the first time in ages we had a day flight which was actually lovely, we normally opt for the red eye night flight to maximize our holiday but decided to stick with the nice 10.50am flight which got us into Athens for 3pm.
When you arrive in Athens and you are fully Vaccinated for COVID (having had both doses at least 14 days before travel) then there is a separate queue which requires you to show proof of vaccination and you can head straight for passport control. Alternatively if you’re not vaccinated with both doses then you must go in the queue for a rapid COVID test (you do not need to pay for this) and await the results as a group before proceeding to passport control. It was strange receiving a passport stamp for entry to Greece!
We weren’t sure how easy it would be to get from the airport to the main city so we pre-booked our transfer on an app called Welcome Pickups. It was the first time I had used this app but it was extremely easy to use. It can be accessed across 63 countries and connects users to local taxi drivers (in the same way as Uber) but it allows you to book your ride in advance. We were then provided with the driver’s name, phone number and registration plate which was great. There is also the option of taking a metered taxi or the train as there is a train station located at the airport and several metro links across the city.
As planned, our driver was waiting in the lobby holding a sign with my name and we headed straight to the hotel. The hotel was slightly out of the city centre but was only a 25 minute walk. We thought that it would be a lovely way to walk around and explore the city each day. We reached our hotel at around 4.30pm, had a quick change and then set off on our first adventure. Of course, I had done my research online beforehand and found some gorgeous restaurants and tips for sightseeing in Athens (you can read all about our amazing dining options here). One of the top places to visit in Athens is Plaka; one of the older neighbourhoods which is filled with brightly coloured buildings and quaint restaurants and cafes. It was about a thirty minute walk from our hotel to Plaka and we loved taking in the views (and some beverages) along the way.
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. It was relatively easy to find from our hotel 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!
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!
I had planned a day of sightseeing for our first full day so we were up and rearing to go bright and early! We had breakfast at the hotel and set off straight to the Acropolis. We didn’t buy our tickets in advance we purchased them at the site entrance for €20pp. We had also toyed with the options of a tour guide but decided against it but it was easy enough to pick up local licensed tour guides at the entry for €50pp – these tours last approximately 50 minutes but we felt we wanted to go at our own pace although it would have been great to have the ancient history told along the way.
We were provided with a map, along with our tickets, which identified stops along the way with placards of information so we were able to read up on the information ourselves as we went at our own pace. We visited at the start of May which is outside of the peak season and it was an amazing time to visit as we only crossed a handful of people of the way up whereas we have been told that during the peak season there will be thousands!
After a few hours at the Acropolis we continued exploring the narrow roads of Plaka and the New Town before grabbing a taxi back to our hotel for a quick change before dinner. Uber was one of the most convenient ways for us to get around but it was just as easy to flag down the local yellow taxis and request the journey on the meter.
For dinner that night we had booked a restaurant called Orizontes Lycabettus which is located on Lycabettus Hill. To reach the restaurant you can either walk (not in heels) or take the cable car up which was €7 per person for a return journey. The views from the restaurant were amazing, we felt like we could see across the whole of Athens. As the sun started to set, we noticed what looked like smoke, followed by fireworks and the waiter informed us that Olympiacos had just won the league!
By our third day we were exhausted from all of the sightseeing so I was very happy we had booked a relaxing beach day in the middle. We grabbed a taxi outside the front of our hotel and headed down to the beach. The drive was around 35 minutes and cost around €17 in the taxi. Astir Beach Club is affiliated with the Four Seasons and when making your reservations online you can choose different sections, one being adults only (yes please)!
As we travelled before the season fully opened it was pretty quiet when we arrived, but in typical Louise style we were early. Throughout the day the beds started to fill up and we had chosen a cabana on the front row. It was super chilled and the food was amazing so if you are visiting Athens and need a day to relax I would highly recommend Astir Beach.
We had also booked dinner at a restaurant called Blue Fish that evening which is a short 15 minute walk from Astir Beach around the sea front. The food was incredible (you can read all about it here) and it was a unique dining concept which I would absolutely recommend if you love seafood!
Whilst we were in Athens, some of the COVID restrictions started to ease. A curfew was in place meaning we had to be home by 11pm but on our final night this was extended to 12.30am. We were also lucky enough that on our final day the restrictions on closure of museums was lifted, meaning we were able to visit the Acropolis Museum – to Ryan’s delight!
We walked from our hotel into the city centre and timed it well so we were able to see the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was interesting to watch as the guards are dressed in traditional uniform (my favourite part being their shoes).
The entrance to the Acropolis Museum was amazing as the museum itself is built over ruins which used to house some of the most affluent residences in Athens! The entry to the museum is €10 per person and you can purchase your tickets at the entrance on the day.
We ended our final full day by meeting some friends for drinks and dinner in the New Square, starting at A for Athens and finishing across the square in 360 Bar. Both of these bars have increidble views of the Acropolis during the day and at night.
We decided to have a lay in and just chill on our final morning so we popped out for our last breakfast and in true European style found a café on the side of the road to sit and drink our coffee and orange juice. We ordered an Uber for our journey back to the airport which was very straightforward and an easy drive.
For our return flight to Dubai we were required to show a negative PCR test upon check in so we arranged that with a company called IASYS. They were extremely responsive by email and I informed them of the date and time that we were flying and they scheduled our COVID test for the morning before. The nurse came to our hotel and carried out the test in our room which took no more than 15 minutes for us both from start to finish. We were then emailed our test results within 24 hours. This service cost €60 which we were more than happy to pay for the convenience of not having to leave our room!
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 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.
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 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!
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.