the-perfect-secret

 

Beach? England? We actually have plenty and some of them aren’t all that bad. As a child I often frequented the most popular ones, Southport, Blackpool, St. Annes etc.

This year for our annual ‘Ben Nevis trip’ back in May, my sister found us someplace new to try.

(fyi it wasn’t Ben Nevis, my dad has simply named our trip after the destination of our first group holiday last year, you know just to confuse matters).

Anyway… this new place, it was really something. Well first of all, we had no expectations. No idea what it would be like. The weather forecast wasn’t looking too great and none of us had even heard of this Yorkshire town all the way on the other side of the Pennines.

But onwards we went, to explore this Victorian seaside town known as Saltburn by the Sea. As we drove towards the coast, the roads wound up the cliffside until finally the sea came into view.

And what a view.

 

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Have you been here before? Have you even heard of it? I’ll be honest, the moment I laid eyes on the place, two things went through my mind: There was hardly anyone there! Forget the hen and stag do crowds of Blackpool and the chaos of Southport, this stretch of sand was almost empty, so peaceful with just the odd family dotted around enjoying the last half of the afternoon.

The second thought that crossed my mind was how am I going to stop myself from telling people about this place. How can I stop myself from promoting it, help it keep its humbleness.

 

 

Well that went completely out the window when I saw this months travel linkup topic as when I think of my perfect moment here in the UK, I think back to that afternoon.

I was surrounded by my closest family members, some sat on the benches looking out over the sea, others attempted to wade through the (freezing) cold water and the rest of us were taking advantage of the sea breeze and perfecting our kite flying skills.

Bliss.

Sorry, perfect bliss.

 

 

A perfect … ??

It could be a perfect moment, a perfect destination, a perfect storm, a perfect slice of cake…

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Alarm starts to play it’s soothing wake up sound at 7:30am. I hit the snooze button and bounced out of bed the minute I realised where I was. Rushed into the next bedroom to find my parents, but they had already disappeared. I used this opportunity to get myself ready at which point the parentals had returned after a morning stroll to pick up breakfast and fruit from the local shops.

We all sat around our dining table with a view, Sunday church bells ringing in the distance and tucked into our croissants, apple tart, fresh fruit and because we are so English, we topped it off with some Earl Grey tea.

Our flight had landed pretty late the night before so we had all made a joint decision that we would use our first day as a lazy one, to wander the streets, soak up the atmosphere and find a place to relax. Once we were all ready to go we followed the cool breeze down to the beach.

 

Exploring our local area

Our apartment on Carrera de Valencia is a half hour walk away from the sea, if you are a brisk walker. We were travelling as a family and wanted to enjoy a leisurely stroll so it did take us longer.

By taking our time down the Carrer De La Marina, we got to appreciate our surroundings. We came across some great looking buildings, stopped for ice cream, watched a local kids footie match and of course took part in people watching when we parked ourselves on benches, always good fun no matter where you are.

The pavements in Barcelona are wide and super clean. All five of us could’ve easily walked together in a line (we tried our best not to though, we didn’t want to be looked at as the rude family taking up the whole pavement). As we walked down we passed plenty of people on roller blades, scooters, bikes, and on most streets there was a specific lane mapped out for them to use, perfectly thought through.

Once we saw the copper structure ahead of us, aka the goldfish, we knew we had reached the sea and by this point we had all worked up quite an appetite. Pre trip, my dad had come across a restaurant whilst cruising the internet which we had noted down as being one of our places to check out that was close to the beach. Address in hand, we went on a hunt for it but it just didn’t seem to want to be found. After a 20minute search (or what felt like a lifetime in hunger years) we bit the bullet and asked a local for help, only to be told they had never heard of such place and couldn’t offer any help with finding it. They did however recommend a restaurant popular for its Catalonian cuisine and loved by the locals. We were sold and headed straight for it.

 

Lunch at Salamanca

The restaurant was called Salamanca, and is on the far side of the beach on the way to the marina. It’s a tall building with the name proudly at the top, so you really can’t miss it. They have an outdoor seating terrace, which is where we decided to have our meal. When we arrived, there was no-one else there and I did start to worry that wasn’t such a good sign but the collective rumble of tummies meant we were happy to take the risk.

As we started to flick through the menus, one of the waiters brought round a platter piled high with their fresh fish of the day, it looked spectacular. However, when we looked at the menu it wasn’t exactly the most cost effective option on there. After much deliberation we opted for two types of paella (when in Rome) and grilled prawn starters. We wanted to experience the fresh seafood available but didn’t want to pay the price of a full platter (which started at €50). The food we had was divine!

You could taste the freshness and it was cooked to perfection, the squid pieces in the paella was without a doubt the best I have ever tasted. If we had time, we would have visited Salamanca again. We were really happy with everything we had and if we had space in our stomachs, would have loved to try more dishes.

Before we left the restaurant, my sister and I made a quick trip to the ladies and discovered that all the guests were hiding inside the beautifully decorated (and very well air conditioned) restaurant, so not so much of a gamble after all.

It seems we were simply the only guests wanting to eat outside in the heat. For us tourists wanting a view of the sea it was worth eating outside, especially since the waiters had very kindly positioned two large umbrellas over our table to keep us cool. All in all definitely one to remember.

 

Nap time

After lunch we went back to the beach and hired a couple of sun loungers, €6 each, and we all sprawled out to enjoy an afternoon siesta. My favourite type of napping is when you can feel the heat and sand and hear the sound of the waves. Bliss.

Before our trip, a number of friends had said that there were lots of stalls along the beach selling snacks like churros and waffles etc. I have to say we didn’t see a single one of these pop ups whilst we were there. Apart from the odd bar dotted around and the cafes lining the pavement, there wasn’t really anywhere else to buy takeaway food and drinks.

We made a mental note to bring a picnic on our return in a few days time. For those who want it, there are some areas of the beach where you pay a bit extra to get the sun loungers, umbrella and waiter service for a certain amount of time. So there is that option should you wish.

Once our food had digested we went for another stroll, stopping for yet another ice cream (totally allowed when you’re on holiday) and again spent time gazing at all the wonderful streets and buildings around us.

 

Port Vell and Las Ramblas

We walked past the marina, Port Vell, where there were Artisan style market stalls selling olives, cheese, fresh juices and many other bits and pieces. A good time to stop for a quick break and refreshment and for some of us a souvenir shop. Carrying on our stroll we spotted the lonely figure of Christopher Columbus in the distance.

We decided to head towards it and have a little nosy around the bottom end of Las Ramblas before heading back to the apartment to freshen up after spending the whole day out. So off we went.

Crossed the bridge over the motorway (not my favourite thing as I have an issue with heights and there are small gaps between the planks eek) took some cheeky pics of the giant lobster before walking through the arches to reach Mr Columbus.

Las Ramblas is a very long street and we had done a lot of walking that day so we by no means had any plans to stroll the length of it but we did want to see what all the fuss was about. It is one of the most popular tourist areas in the city, famous for souvenir stalls, performers and pick pockets. I’m not going to go into it in too much detail on this post (as we returned here in day 2). We did manage to walk halfway, reaching the Opera house where we flagged down a taxi to take us back to the apartment so we could get ready for our evening adventure.

 

The Magic fountains

Thankfully on the plane journey here I had taken some time to read through my dad’s makeshift tour guide and had noticed that one of his things to do, the magic fountains, was only open from Thursday to Sunday, which meant if we didn’t go and see it on the Sunday evening we wouldn’t get another chance during our stay.

I had heard great things about the Font Magique and we all wanted to make the trip out to see them. The displays are every half an hour from 9pm till 11pm.  We headed out around half 8 and as we had done so much walking already, took the metro.

The guides and website recommended taking the metro to the ‘Parc de Montjuic’ stop. When we got to the Paral-lel metro station there was one lonely train on the platform to the Parc, the last one of the night at 9pm and we ran to get on it.

There was a reason it was empty.

It’s really not the best way to get to the fountains! the Parc de Montjuic stop takes you to the main park area which means a heck of a lot of walking to get to where we wanted to go and the walk isn’t very well sign posted either. We came across a number of other tourists who had made the same mistake and were struggling to find their way.

We gave up map reading and resorted to asking the locals every so often to make sure we were going in the right direction. It took us a good 45 minutes before we heard the gushing of water. A sigh of relief fell amongst us all when we stepped out to see the Grand Palace building, now an art gallery in front of us and as we walked up to get a closer look, to our right was the magnificent view of the Font Magique and the fountain lined road that led to the Plaça d’Espanya.

We got ourselves some drinks from one of the cafes dotted around and headed down the escalator to watch the fountain show. Sunday night meant there were loads of people but there are plenty of places to get a good view so if it looks busy don’t worry, I feel it all adds to the ambience. We ended up staying and watching the fountain run through at least twice, it was so hypnotising. The water dances to different genres of music appealing to everyone, it really is a spectacular sight. Worth the long walk through the woods!

Tip: After we had taken in all we could, we realised that walking down the Avenue Reina Maria Cristina would take us to the Plaça d’Espanya metro stop, a 10 minute walk at the most! So if you are headed here this is where you need to take the metro to, not Parc de Montjuic.

 

Couple of changes on the metro, a quick gawp at the Sagrada Familia on our way back to our apartment and we were ready for bed.

A good nights sleep was in order to prepare us for our mega sight seeing adventure on Day 2 of Barcelona…

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Our trip to the South of France was predominantly based around Grasse, however as we were flying in and out from Nice airport I thought it was worth spending a night or two by the coast before we flew home. I didn’t have to do any research for the hotel as the minute I had worked out our schedule, I knew where I wanted to stay.

The Negresco Hotel is an iconic building right by the beach along the Promenade des Anglais. Originally designed and set up by Henri Negresco, he had a vision to attract wealthy international clientele, their website quotes them as ‘Kings of the old and new world.’

Henri hired one of the most famous Belle Epoque Architects, Monsieur Edouard Niermans, to help create his plan of a luxurious Palais style hotel to compete with others that lined the Riviera at that time. From what I read on the plaques in the Grand Hall, the hotel came under pressures during the war and never really fully recovered until it was sold to the Augier family. Madame Jeanne Augier reinvigorated the hotel with luxurious decorations and furnishings, including an outstanding art collection, which today boasts thousands of pieces.

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I have a real passion for expressive art, detailed architecture and have always loved the belle époque area, so there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would be doing whatever was necessary to stay at the Negresco in Nice. 2013 was also the 100 year anniversary for the hotel, it was a big birthday for Mo and the Negresco.

We pulled up in our teeny VW Polo and the doorman, dressed in red and blue velvet attire, came straight to take our bags, the valet took our car and we were left to stroll into reception and sort out our booking. As usual we were early so we asked if it was possible to grab some lunch in one of their restaurants, ideally La Rotonde. The restaurants at the Negresco are famous in their own right so they totally get their own blog post, I couldn’t possibly gush about them on here or this would turn into yet another monster essay.

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Obviously, budget restrictions meant I wasn’t able to book us a suite and instead Mo and I had to settle for a basic room. I say settle, but a basic room at The Negresco is still pretty awesome. All of the guest rooms are uniquely decorated, inspired by a period of French art. The suites on the website looked particularly spectacular, but to be honest if we were to come back I would probably book this room again anyway. Its comfortable and clean and there’s so much to do in Nice (and the rest of the hotel), we spent most of our time exploring and used the room purely as a crash pad.

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We spent a a fair bit of time nosying round the hotel as it was just so interesting. The Grand Hallway after the reception area is a stunning gallery and the corridors to the shops and restaurants are also filled with quirky odds and sods. Every floor is festooned with a selection of artwork on the walls, on the console tables, on the floors, all from different eras and areas of the world. So it’s worth taking the stairs when you can, just to take it all in. The combination of modern and fine art forms all housed in Niermans beautifully designed framework is breathtaking and so enchanting. If ever I have to think about my favourite art gallery in the world I would think of this hotel. It epitomises my own belief of having art in a functional space. You can either take the time to specifically look at the individual pieces or simply take a seat and glance at the collection and appreciate it as a whole (This is how I envision my home to be one day).

IMG_4537I know I said take the stairs when you are wandering around, but don’t completely miss out the lift, even that is quite quirky. Kind of like being in a lush velvet padded cell, in a good way, if that’s possible?

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Location wise, you cannot go wrong. We walked everywhere from here. The hotel really is situated in the heart of the Promenade and we didn’t need the car once. We were able to stroll the streets and still visit all the places on my to do sheets. The hotel has it’s own private beach area, however we were there in March and it wasn’t really the weather for us to enjoy this particular facility. I can only imagine how great it would be in the summer.

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If you are into art and design, this hotel is a must! And if you’re not, that’s ok too because this hotel is so wonderfully quirky and luxurious in every way I struggle to think of any faults with it.

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header image for veligandu resort Maldives review post

 

Enjoying the peace & calm of the Indian Ocean

In our third year of marriage (2012)  Mo and I were fortunate enough to be able to plan our dream relaxation holiday to the secluded Maldives. This was in fact my second trip (I had been with my parents) and after 10 days of ultimate bliss Mo and I knew we would both aim to return again in the future.

When it comes to booking, there are hundreds of islands and resorts out there all offering similar activities and lodgings. We looked at many tour operators, kuoni, thomas cook etc. But for the type of resort we wanted we seemed to be getting out priced and after losing a deal for not booking in time, I was starting to lose hope.

I threw myself into scouring the internet determined to find a luxurious hotel with all the trimmings and through sheer luck finally found a gem of a deal at the Veligandu resort with monarch. Exactly what we wanted and more, it almost seemed too good to be true but we took the risk.

It definately paid off. We booked the hotel and then a bit of shopping around for flights, kayak is a great comparison site, we had everything ready to go. The hotel website had enough information to advise us on things we needed and also about how to get there once we landed in the Capital.

Realising we needed a sea plane transfer I called monarch direct and they sorted our transfer tickets out quickly and efficiently. I had already researched the prices and I found the sea plane tickets to be a standard rate so we booked through monarch out of ease more than anything else.

 

 

There are no direct flights so the journey there is a long one but its all worth it when you touch down on Male the capital and see the indian ocean by the runway. The sea plane jetty is a bus ride from the airport, short trip, and the waiting lounge is well air conditioned and offer refreshments. The sea plane journey itself is a magical experience, a window seat is a must as the views are surreal. Its amazing how small the islands look from above and how people are able to live on them.  Unfortunately my departing sea plane journey is more memorable than my arrival one, purely because it was so emotional to leave after such an amazing holiday.

But before I get all emotional about leaving, I should probably talk about being there!

 

Checking in

On arrival we were taken to the reception, offered drinks in the comfortable seating area whilst they did all the paper processing for us. Our luggage and us were then escorted to our room. It was more spectacular than we could have ever imagined. Veligandu resort was listed as a four star hotel but I struggle to see how they were not awarded that final one. The room design was beyond perfection. If I go into it in too much detail its only because whilst walking through it in my mind, I can picture myself right back there.

 

We had booked a water villa so there was a short stroll on the jetty to get to our room. The entry way was covered, with an umbrella caddy for when they have the occasional down pour. On entering the room there was the tea and coffee station, (with a nespresso machine!) And then to the left was the open dressing room/wardrobe with accessible sockets and everything, definately designed with a woman in mind.

Following on from there was the bathroom, in immaculate condition might I add. Double sink and walk in double shower, a hand held power device as well as a wonderful rain shower. The bathroom had a full glass sliding door wall that led onto a private terrace which housed a couple of sun loungers and the hot tub. Normally I would find this addition pretty tacky but when there is a private Jacuzzi bath sunk into a deck with a double window that opens out to a full view of just the ocean, it was fabulous.

As you walk back through into the main part of the room we knew we had well and truly struck gold. The room was vast, the bed was almost double the size of our double bed at home, there was a seating area with TV and ipod dock station and then the piece de resistance, another full wall of glass. Glass doors that bifolded out to a terrace where the only thing you could see was masses of ocean and endless blue sky. And as if almost planned, as we gazed in awe at this breathtaking skyline in front of us a school of dolphins were dancing in the ocean not far from our villa. Of course at that moment I was a screaming mess of a person as I was overwhelmed at witnessing my first sighting of a dolphin EVER. Just a normal day in the indian ocean.

If you’re not sold on the room maybe the island will do it for you. Veligandu is quite a small island, only approximately 70 rooms, which when researching resorts seemed quite small. It is designed for couples but the adults only status was only awarded last year. Its a ‘no shoes, no news’ resort which was a real selling point for me as I don’t think there’s anything more relaxing then feeling sand beneath your feet at all times, even in the restaurants and bars. On exploring, it took Mo and I around 20 mins to walk around the whole island. The restaurant, pool and bar were all on one side by the long stretch of beach that separated the sunrise and sunset side. The beach area itself was spaced out and even though the hotel was pretty booked up, apart from meal times, there was always somewhere you could go and relax and feel like you were on your own private island.

 

 

Going all inclusive

When booking a trip to the Maldives all inclusive is the best way forward. The one meal we had to pay for was at a small café outside of the airport and we paid the equivalent of £20 for a simple cheeseburger meal. Our all inclusive option covered all main meals, afternoon tea, should we wish to have it, and all soft drinks throughout the day. the restaurant operated a 21day rotation menu so we enjoyed a different meal every night and we were not disappointed.

Of course being a muslim country, the meat was all halal and any non halal dishes were labelled clearly. The chefs did an amazing job of offering a great variety of food and we really did get our fill. The mini desserts in particular were a real treat.

 

 

The food display itself was immaculate, stylish and there was always a station preparing meat or fish exactly how you wanted it. Couldn’t think of a single time we went for dinner and didn’t find anything we liked. We also treated ourselves to the afternoon tea (ass if we weren’t eating enough already). We had the grilled chicken sandwiches, chips and drinks. Again, really delicious and in my eyes the perfect in-between-meal snack.

As we visited the Maldives just before the peak season had kicked in, there was a much greater chance of rain. Which we did get for a number of days. This is when the resort was truly tested as when you are marooned on a desert island and the sun has disappeared you are pretty limited to what you can do.

 

 

The staff at Veligandu did a wonderful job of making sure we were always entertained. There were a number of board and card games available in the bar area, the spa at the resort was fabulous (I shall delve into the Duniye Spa on a separate post), gym for those who wanted to use it and a games room with pool table etc. What I loved is how upbeat the staff were no matter what the weather and they always tried to cheer everyone up who was maybe feeling disappointed with the lack of sunshine, organising table tennis tournaments in the bar for guests, making conversation and offering to do what they can. It never felt like we were missing out, even in the sometimes heavy downpour.

There were many other great things we loved about the resort: the evening entertainment was always a good laugh; day trips were organised every so often to visit a local island as a change; theres a dive centre on site; snorkelling is a must the shallow waters have beautiful schools of fish and coral and we even saw reef sharks (this did actually scare me at the time but for those of you who don’t know they are ‘apparently’ harmless); a stunning infinity pool, sea kayaks for those who want to be adventurous and I’m sure theres much more I’ve forgotten.

I know, I know… this is a pretty long blog post, but I didn’t want to miss anything out. Going to the Maldives is not a cheap trip away and because of this I think it’s important to feel confident that you are staying somewhere you can rely on and that can live up to the expectations a place like Maldives has.

So if you are after a tranquil place to recharge during the day and kick back in the evenings, I can most certainly recommend Veligandu resort.

sunset over the sea Maldives

 

 

Click here to visit the Veligandu website

A few tips from our stay:

  • We stayed on the sunrise side of the hotel, a lot of people wished they had chosen this side as in the evenings the tide on sunset side of the island can get quite choppy.
  • Try and splash out on the water villa, its completely worth it! We spent many a morning and evening perched on the edge of our deck just watching the fish (and stingrays) swim below us.
  • After dinner in an evening make sure you take a look over the deck and you will see the marching of the crabs, really sensational.
  • The hotel organises a sunset cocktails evening, I’ve never thought much of socials in hotels, but on such a small island it was a really nice thing to do as you do get to know the people you are holidaying with. We actually met a couple who we made great friends with and have stayed in touch after our holiday.

 

Are there any other islands that offer the same peace and tranquillity as the Maldives?

 

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