Categories
Europe. France. Tried & tested.

Tried & tested: ice diving in Tignes

Okay, so I’m afraid to ski down a mountain – incurable vertigo – but challenge me to dive under the ice of a frozen lake and I’m all ready to take the plunge. The Lac de Tignes is the place to be for those who want to try ice diving and both Jempi and I were eager to give this cool sport a try.

ice diving tignes

The setting: a hole in the ice and a small cabin on the lake.

Our ‘dressing room’ was a small cabin on the frozen lake. With four people inside (two instructors from Evolution 2 and Jempi & me) it felt a bit crowded, especially when we had to put on a special dry suit for ice conditions, over our clothes and that was easier said than done: there was some pulling and struggling going on, and once fitted it looked like I gained 20 kilo’s in 10 minutes.

The briefing: don’t panic

We had the best instructors you could image. They were both professional and funny, a good thing to calm us down a bit because we have to admit: we were a bit (a lot!) nervous.

After a short briefing on how to breathe (only through the mouth), how to swim(vertical), how deep we were diving  (about three meters below the ice) and what to do if we panicked (duh, don’t panic!) we were ready to go.

The first impression: not cold versus freaking cold

I was the first to hit the water and surprise: it didn’t really feel that cold at all. That is: until some water slipped into my glove and ow boy freaking cold! I had to go up again, get new gloves and go into the ice for a second attempt. The ‘encounter’ with the ice-cold water made me a bit nervous and I found it harder to swim vertically. My instructor however grabbed me firmly with his legs and off we went. Not exactly a position to try with every stranger, but given the circumstances it was a genius idea.

Jempi under water: born to dive

Meanwhile Jempi was ready for his ice dive and his first attempt was certainly better than mine: like a sea-lion already runs better than mine: he slipped into the water like a sea-lion and there he went, straight under the ice, no hesitation. It took forever – or so it seemed – before he and his companion come back up again. When he finally washed up he was super excited: apparently the dive went so good his instructor had decided to stay a bit longer under the ice, making the experience even more intense.

Is there anything to see under the ice?

Don’t worry, there’s a lot to see! On clear days, when the sun is shines over the ice, you can admire spectacular rainbow colors and light circles.

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Under the ice.

During our ice dive however it was cloudy, but that didn’t make the experience less impressive: the dancing air bubbles, the peaceful silence under the ice, the moving in slow motion… it was truly unforgettable! 

tignes ijsduiken

Good to know: you don’t need any dive experience to go ice diving in Tignes; there are very good and experienced divers to guide you under the ice, it’s all very safe.

And if you’re hooked on it and looking for more: it’s also possible to go ice diving at night, good for a totally different experience.

♥  sporty weekend in Tignes: from snowshoeing to off-piste skiing

♥ Now this is what we call Alpine chic: Les Suites du Nevada in Tignes (France)

Categories
Cruising.

Ship ahoy: cruising for non-cruiselovers (what’s it like to go sailing with Star Clippers)

Although I had been on a ‘typical’ cruise before there was nothing that could prepare me for the experience of cruising with the Star Clipper. Star Clippers is a smaller cruise liner operating with three tall ships: Royal Clipper, Star Clipper and Star Flyer. They are among the  fastest and largest clipper ships ever built.

Cruising with these tall ships has nothing in common with classic cruisesDuring my days on the Star Clipper (cruising the Caribbean Leeward Island) my experience was that this was indeed a cruise that even non-cruiselovers would love. Here are 7 reasons why you too might get addicted to cruising with Star Clippers:

1. It feels like sailing a private yacht (but is so much cheaper)

I once had the change to talk to Michael Krafft, the owner of the ships, and he told me he wanted to give his passengers the feeling as if they were sailing their private yacht: to be one with the ocean, the ship,  the sails and fellow travelers. “Sailing brings people together”, he  stated.

When I finally was cruising with Star Clippers myself, I understood what he meant. Star Clipper carries only 170 guests. You’ll never get lost in the crowd, there’s a relaxed atmosphere on board and the other passengers soon become more like friends instead of just fellow-cruisers. You really feel like this is your own private sailing ship, without having to pay a fortune (Star Clipper cruises are very affordable).

Star Clipper versus cruiseship
Star Clipper versus cruise ship

2. The ships stop at smaller ports

The ships are smaller so they can stop in ports other cruise chips can’t reach. Think: tropical beaches and small, sleepy islands.

You don’t get dropped in a port with thousands of other passengers.

On our trip, Jempi and I visited Illes des Saintes and Antigua and we had the whole day to explore the islands just by ourselves, not another passenger in sight.

Exploring smaller bays
Exploring smaller bays

3. Sorry folks, no animation

There are no pool games or mister- & miss-cruiseship contest to keep you busy. But trust me, there are far more exciting things to do on board the Star Clipper.

Think about climbing the ship’s mast or laying in the bow spirit net out in front of the ship, watching the dolphins playing around.

If it’s watersports you love, you’re in for a treat. You can go snorkeling, kayaking, surfing and water skiing every day, all the equipment is available and it’s free of charge. There’s also lots of opportunity to go diving or to go on adventurous excursions. If you want to know more about the ships and life at sea, you can join the captain every evening in the library for some storytelling. The (fantastic!) crew does organize some entertainment after dinner, but it has more a family-playing-games-feeling to it, which is quit charming.

View from the crow’s nest

4. The food is fab

I had heard that the food could do with some improvement, but perhaps we had a better chef because the cuisine on our cruise was exquisite. All meals are open seating, the dress code is casual (although during the captain’s evening it’s better if you dress up).

5. You may want to cry (but these are tears of joy)

Imagine traveling half way around the world. Finally you reach your destination: the Star Clipper, waiting for you in a tropical port. The captain and his crew welcome you like you’re their lost and found again friend, and you feel a bit overwhelmed by being on a grand clipper.

It’s already dark when the Star Clipper starts to set sail, and then the music begins: Vangelis soundtrack for ‘Conquest of Paradise, 1492‘.

The music, the sound of the sails and the crew working the ship… yes, it may all seem a bit tacky but I saw how some people were so touched by this moment they had tears in their eyes. Of course Star Clippers plays the same music every time the sails are set, but you’ll never get tired of hearing it (although I’m not sure the crew does).

Not the Star Clipper but the Royal Clipper. It sailed together with us for two days.

Full sails. This is not the Star Clipper but the Royal Clipper. It sailed together with us for two days.

6. It’s all about romance

Do I really need to explain this one? It’s the sea, the stunning surroundings, the spectacular sunsets, the stars at night, the clipper, the relaxed atmosphere…

If that doesn’t do the trick, I don’t know anymore.

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One more beautiful sunset

7. It’s a cruise for grown ups

Although Star Clippers do allow kids on their ships, there are no special activities to keep them busy. As a result you won’t find many children cruising Star Clippers. We think kids are great fun and adore them, but if you are a couple looking for a ‘private’ holiday, then this is definitely your kind of cruise.

Our fellow passengers varied in age from 30 till 70, some of them were traveling alone, others with their spouse or friends. We noticed that many passengers were repeat cruisers and/or sailing fanatics.

And here’s Jempi, all grown up but happy as a child

Did I say there were 7 reasons to go sailing with Star Clippers? Okay, so I lied. There are really 8 reasons I wanted to share with you:

8. Behind Star Clippers is a man with a dream

Meet Mikael Krafft, a Swedish entrepreneur who’s been obsessed with sailing ever since he was a little boy. He was only 6 years old when he worked at a shipyard near Stockholm, and at 12 years he already sailed his 18-foot boat in open seas. When he grew up, he relocated to Belgium in 1986 and became a successful real estate developer.

But his love for the open sea and tall ships never faded.  At long last Krafft couldn’t ignore his dream any longer and although people thought he had gone crazy, he took a big risk and began building two tall ships, based on original 19th century drawings but adapted to modern times.

Krafft made his dream come true: Star Flyer and Star Clipper, two four-masted clippers were launched at a Belgian shipyard in 1991 and 1992.

In mid-2000, Krafft launched  Royal Clipper, a five-masted clipper inspired by the mythical famed Preussen, a German clipper built in 1902. Royal Clipper is still the largest clipper cruise ship in the world.

Michael Krafft has plans for building a forth, even more spectacular ship than Royal Clipper. I’m sure it will be as impressive as the other Star Clippers.

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Check out this post if you want to read more about our Leeward Island cruise.

Categories
Travel inspiration.

These are the travel destinations you want to avoid (+ their great alternatives you don’t want to miss)

Making travel plans for the (near) future? Check out this list fist. The world is a beautiful place, but hey, we all know it can also be a dangerous place. And while some destinations are both beautiful and save, it still might be a bad idea to visit them as a tourist.

City trip: try something new

Barcelona, ​​Amsterdam and Venice are cities that have become so busy that they themselves prefer to receive less tourists. Tourists welcome, but not in extreme high numbers.

There are plenty of other possibilities: go for a city trip to the Albanian capital Tirana, stroll through Berlin – still one of the most economical cities in Europe – experience the charms of Lisbon or go to Seville. There are plenty of European citytrip destinations that are not the typical classic ones.

Completely destroyed

The island of Barbuda in the Caribbean is completely destroyed after the violent autumn storms and will no longer be accessible for a long time.

On the nearby island of Antigua 70% of the tourist infrastructure will be restored by Easter, just like on the other islands in the area.

No democracy

North Korea is not a holiday paradise, in fact it’s quit the opposite. It’s practical impossible to visit the country. And in addition, the country has the honor of being the least democratic country in the world.

Alternatives: Japan, Taiwan or South Korea. And if you prefer to travel to the most democratic country in the world, then you have to go to Norway.

The sound of silence

Macao, formerly a Portuguese colony and now a region with special status in China, is the area with the highest population density in the world: 20,065 inhabitants per km². In Europe, Monaco is the busiest area with 15.322 inhabitants per square kilometer.

If you want to go to a country with the absolute lowest population density to enjoy the silence, then you have to go to Mongolia, Australia or Namibia (3 inhabitants per km²). In Europe, Iceland is the least populated country (3.6 inhabitants per km²).

War: the list gets longer

Traveling to war zones is not advisable and the list of countries in (civil) war seems to be getting longer and longer: Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Syria, Yemen, …

There are two countries where war is virtually excluded: Costa Rica in Central America and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean have no army at all.

CO2

Fact: if you travel, you pollute, simply because of extra CO2 emissions. Car travel, air travel and cruises are the most polluting.

Fortunately, more and more airlines offer compensation programs. Or travel by bus and train. Also: by traveling less far you limit your CO2 emissions. So how about a weekend in your own country?

Murders

Despite the beautiful beaches and nature reserves, Honduras, Venezuela and Belize are the most dangerous countries in the world because they know the highest number of murders: Honduras has 84 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.

The safest countries in the world are all located in Western, Northern and Southern Europe. But Japan, Singapore and Brunei are also particularly safe. San Marino, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Luxembourg and Iceland are the safest countries in the world. In the larger European countries, Spain and Germany are the countries with the lowest number of murders.

Not for women or gays

Women traveling alone do not receive visas for Saudi Arabia, are not allowed to travel alone and must always be veiled. But women are disadvantaged not only in Arab countries. For unaccompanied women India, Pakistan, Brazil and a number of African countries are destinations where limited rights and violence create insecurity.

Women have the most rights and equality between men and women is highest in the Scandinavian countries, but also in Burundi, Slovenia and Ireland.

Women-unfriendly countries are often also gay-unfriendly, and gays should also try to avoid Russia, Jamaica or Egypt.

The countries with the best rights for gays are the Benelux countries, the Scandinavian countries, Great Britain, France, Canada, Ireland and Spain.

Air pollution, can’t breath

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the city of Zabol in Iran is the place with the most polluted air in the world. Fortunately chances are small that you end up in this industrial city, but New Delhi in India does not perform much better and is therefore the most polluted capital in the world. In Europe, Skopje in Macedonia is the capital with the most polluted air.

You have to travel to Australia, New Zealand or Scandinavia for the purest air. Ireland, Canada, Spain and Portugal are also performing very well. Stockholm is the world’s capital with the purest air.

Out of respect for nature

Some nature reserves are so fragile that even minimal forms of tourism are disastrous, so you better not travel there. The government of Ecuador has therefore introduced restrictions on travel to the unique Galapagos Islands, and Peru has limited the number of visitors to the Machu Picchu. In order to limit the number of climbers of Mount Everest, you now have to pay a cost of around 35,000 euros, but that is not enough to clean up the tons of waste that is left by climbers every year.

Fortunately, Ecuador, Peru and Nepal have so much more to offer. These are still pretty exiting travel destination, even if you don’gtgo to the Galapagos, Machu Picchu or the Mount Everest.

(Sources: Democracy Index The Economist – Caribbean Tourism Organisation – United Nations  & CIA World Fact Book – UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s International Homicide Statistics – World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report 2017 – Spartacus Gay Travel Index)

Categories
Destinations. Hotel talk. New York. USA.

Staying at the Ace Hotel New York:  were we cool enough to dig it?

Going to New York and staying at the famous Ace Hotel, how cool is that? Pretty cool it seems: I had heard so many things about this hotel – good and bad – and was curious how the place would suit us. The Ace Hotel is supposed to be a temple of coolness filled with urban vibes and tons of hipness. Apart from all the hipster-hysteria, the Ace Hotel has also a story to tell.

Okay, hipster. Moi? Not really. I do love new trends and all the cool stuff, but I also tend to get easily bored with all that stuff: hipness becomes mainstream very quickly, which is just fine but don’t just follow along just because you think you have to. For the record: just being your authentic self, no matter what’s supposed to be hip and trending, sounds already pretty cool to me.

Now the Ace Hotel is known for being a true hipster heaven for the 30-something crowd , a boutique hotel especially designed for the cool & modern folks. So the big question was: could the Ace Hotel hipsterdom be too hip for us?

The entrance

The story behind the  Ace Hotel: from Seattle to the rest of the world

Ace hotel is a chain of hotels: you’ll find an Ace in Chicago, New Orleans, Pittsburg, Los Angeles, Londen, Palm Springs, New York, Portland and Seatle. The hotels are mainly a concept of Alex Calderwood, a creative and restless young man who was involved in fashion, record labels, art, design, vintage clothing, advertising and dance clubs.

In 1993 he had already started Rudy’s, a Seattle chain of retro barber shops. Later – with partners Wade Weigel and Doug Herrick – he opened the first Ace Hotel in 1999 in Seattle. The hotel offered budget shared-bathrooms next to luxury suites, a place for both the budget and the luxury traveler (hence the name: in a deck of cards the ace is both high and low. Ace was also Calderwood’s childhood nickname).

Alex Calderwood had a great talent to spot trends, a man with a vision who never stopped working (and playing). Unfortunately he didn’t live long enough to enjoy his success. In November 2013 he was found dead in his room in the Ace Hotel in London, just six weeks after the hotel opened. He was only 47, his death was unexpected, the cause was unknown. You can read up on Alex Calderwood here and here.

The location

In most cases hipster hotels turn up in an up-and-coming neighborhood where creative new shops, galleries, artists and models are settling in. These hubs for the hipsters are always very pleasant to stay, because of the vibrant ambiance. The downside however: such neighborhoods also tend to be a far from the city centre and main attractions. Ace Hotel New York however is extremely central located in Midtown Manhattan (on Broadway and 29the Street) , a neighborhood known as NoMad (north of Madison Square Park) with just about everything right at its doorstep. Subways are near (5 minutes ride to Times Square), Madison Square Garden is a 10 minute walk away, the Empire State Building is close by… the perfect location is you’re planning to do some hardcore exploring of Manhattan.

The rooms

Ace Hotel New York is situated in the former Hotel Breslin (a 1904 building) and has been thoroughly renovated without loosing its charm. In fact, a lot of the vintage and retro feeling was added by Roman and Williams, the celeb interior architects who redesigned the place. The didn’t strip the interior of the building, but added colors like grey, black and white en used smart decorating to change the appearances of the rooms.

Many of the rooms come with vintage turntables and a good collection of vinyl (so how hip is that), a guitar placed in the corner, a shiny Smeg fridge (stocked with juices, water, beer and champagne, but be aware: prices for the minibar are very high), a retro bathroom, wool blankets on the bed, flea-market-inspired furniture and a big flat-screen TV.

There’s a room for every budget: from bunk (cheap) to super deluxe suites (expensive). All the rooms look different, thanks to the graphic art prints on the wall. The overall feel is very urban, vintage, masculine and very industrial.

We had a medium room and were very surprised by the size of it: really large, considering this was a NY-hotel room.

What we didn’t like: we found the room a bit too dark, even with all the lights on. And the high price of the mini-bar.

Things we liked, apart from the size of the room: the industrial and vintage design, and the extra goodies like gluten-free beef jerky, ramen noodles and a ‘fun pack’ with socks, condoms, breath mints, pain killers and other ‘essentials’.

Bonus: the shampoo, conditioner and body wash you’ll find in your bathroom are all from Rudy’s Barbershop, located next to the hotel and part of the Ace.

I’ve pushed Jempi to have his hair cut and beard trimmed and they’ve done a great job. Exit the wolverine look, hello hipster! 🙂 Tip: ask for Hubert, he’s the best!

The lobby & everything else

Connected to the hotel is the Coffee Shop Stumptown (good for a serious espresso) and the Breslin (a gastropub  by Michelin-starred British chef April Bloomfield), perfect if you’re feeling hungry and/or thirsty and you’ve already emptied the inside of the Smeg in your room.

The lobby is a cool hang out, designed like an antique library with big comfy couches and of-course: open wi-fi. No wonder it’s always (like: every hour of the day) packed with hipsters, writers and young professionals, looking for a relaxed place while working their Macbooks. Very nice if you want to do some work yourself, but as hotel guests we sometimes felt we were sitting in an office instead of a hotel lobby.

At the night, the ambiance in the lobby changes into a more nightclub-feel, with a crowd ready to hit the nightlife of the city. The Lobby Bar (best cocktails in town!) is a fantastic place to start (or end) your night on the town. Extra fun factor: there’s a cute little photo booth available, cool no?

Unfortunately, the lobby was also – like our room – really dark, even during the day. While New York was bathing in sunshine, inside it felt like the night never ended, we called it ‘the big black hole’, there was just too much darkness going on.

The staff

First of all: the staff is fantastic. People were super friendly, helpful and made us feel right at home. Of-course they all look super cool with their beards, tattoos and distressed jeans and vintage sneakers. And they were big fans of the tattoo’s Jempi has, so big bonus. 🙂

So how did we like our stay?

While hipsters are raving on about the ‘cool’ vibe of the hotel, we found the Ace Hotel New York down-to-earth, fun, friendly and laid back. And dark, the hotel could definitely do with a few more lights. If you’re a hipster, this is your place to be. Not a hipster? Don’t worry, you’ll fit right in as it turns out that just about everyone is cool enough for Ace Hotel.

Tip: if you’re planning to stay at Ace, ask for one of the higher rooms facing 29the street: these have great views of the Empire State Building.

www.acehotel.com

Categories
Belgium. Destinations. Europe. Hotel talk. Travel tips.

Tried & tested: staying at the Holiday Inn Brussels Airport (a Skoj experience)

We travel from Brussels Airport quite a lot and especially with an early flight that can be a lot of hassle  getting up in the middle of the night, almost no sleep and already very tired and stressed before take off. So thank heavens for airport hotels where you can relax and  arrive at the airport without any lack of sleep. Recently we stayed at the Holiday Inn Brussels Airport in Diegem: a great experience as this is not your regular airport hotel.

No stress please

This Holiday Inn is located about 4 miles from our national airport and has a surprisingly relaxed and holiday-like atmosphere, which makes you not at all aware that the hotel is actually packed between boring buildings and offices, it’s right in the middle of the business district. And still: as soon as we entered the hotel, we felt overwhelmed by the relaxed and cosy vibe, not at all what we expected from an airport hotel. Time to de-stress people!

Checking in was hassle free and easy. We had made reservations online and arriving on the spot the electronic receptionists – read: cool terminals – handled  the rest of the administrative hassle for us. Not difficult at all and absolutely time-saving.

Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable checking in with a computer, there are hosts available to help you if needed. Very efficient, we liked it a lot!

SKOJ, Swedish for Fun

This Holiday Inn was newly renovated by a Scandinavian company, and with the renovation came a new theme: SKOJ, a Swedish word for FUN. And every letter of the word, has a deeper meaning. The ‘S’ for example stands for ‘Surprising’ and clearly refers to the fun way of checking in and out, and your whole stay of course.

The ‘K’ means ‘Kreativ’, and this is experienced in the creative design of the hotel, especially the bar and the restaurant. Holiday Inn used warm tones and materials (a lot of wooden materials) and a lot of modern accents. Very elegant and comfy, we were big fans of it and felt immediately at home.

The bar has a Starbucks corner and in the restaurant Kreative Kuisine you can enjoy local dishes and seasonal and healthy food (the meals can also be ordered as a take-away). The meal we enjoyed was very copious and tasteful, the best way to start a holiday!

Scandinavian surprise

So how about the rooms? Holiday Inn has done its utmost to accommodate guests in an Original – the ‘O’ in Skoj – and comfortable way. The rooms are designed in an – again – cozy modern Scandinavian look. A large and very comfortable bed, fully fitted bathroom with bathrobes, a comfortable seating area, air conditioning, flat screen TV multimedia, a safe, free WiFi in the rooms (and the rest of the hotel!)… All you can wish for. Important extra: the rooms are sound proof, so you’re in for a quiet and peaceful night.

(By the way: notice anything weird in this picture? And no, we did not use Photoshop!)

Another surprise was the heated indoor pool with jacuzzi, steam bath and sauna. And the calories you’ve worked up after dining in the restaurant can be trained of in the health & leisure club. Very joyful (letter ‘J’!) indeed.

After the pool and jacuzzi we headed to the outdoor terrace behind the restaurant for some further relaxation. It was a warm and sunny day and it felt like being in the south of France, instead of an airport hotel. Ah, la vie est belle when you’re on vacation 🙂

All-in concept

If you have an early flight – or you just want to start your holiday early and in a relaxed and elegant ambiance – then I would certainly recommend staying at the Holiday Inn Skoj in Diegem. You get to enjoy a very pleasant stay, and there are free shuttle buses (morning and evening) to bring you to Brussels Airport and back. If you come by car, you can leave it in the parking lot where it stays safely until you return from your trip.

The SKOJ is the limit? Holiday Inn Airport Hotel Diegem was a great experience in many ways.

Good to know: Nato, the European Quarter and the Atomium are only a 15 minute drive away, Brussels Grand Place (and Manneken Pis) are about 12 kilometer away. From the Diegem Train Station it’s only an 500 meter walk.

We would also like to mention that the hotel also offers all amenities for business travelers and companies. An event room, special meeting lobbies… it’s all available.

As for families with kids: all facilities are available in the hotel and in the rooms such as a folding bed and a mobile baby cot if necessary. Kids up to 17y stay for free when sleeping in the parents room.

All information about arrangements and more details about this hotel can be found on the website of Holiday-Inn Brussels Airport Diegem.

Categories
Cruising. Destinations. Middle East.

Our Dubai cruise with Costa: 7 days of Arabian fairy tales & Italian flair

I know.  I’ve always said I would never ever go cruising. Because it’s just not me: too big, too crowded, too artificial… But all it needed was just one cruise to have a complete change of heart. We embarked on a Dubai/United Arab Emirates with Costa Cruises: a 7-day cruise filled with Italian flair (our Italian Costa ship) and Arabian fairy tales (the destination). And this is what happened.

The ship: Italian glamour

Our ship was the Costa Atlantica, a floating five-star hotel with lots of bling bling, glitter and glamour. More experienced cruise travelers had already warned us. “The atmosphere is a bit different”, they said. “You know, Italian passion and a tons of glamour” Which works perfectly for me: in my opinion there can never be enough bling bling (if they let me I would even wear glitter pants to work), why go for grey if you can sparkle?

The vessel was indeed a joy for the eye, and all the glitter, tinsel and glamour made me enormously happy. I mean, if you’re staying for a full week on a ship, it might as well be fun and a bit over the top.

Each deck of the Costa Atlantica is named after a film by the Italian director Fellini, there was an Italian pizzeria on board and even a very good imitation of the Venetian Café Florian. And of course all the other things you would expect to be on a big cruise ship, were present: swimming pools, hot tubs, gym, spa, casino, disco, many restaurants and bars…

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And our cabin? Larger than expected. It looked and felt like a spacious hotel room, including flat-screen TV, sofa, bathroom, safe, mini-bar… (today the Costa Atlantica sails on a different route, if you book this cruise, you’ll probably staying on the Costa Fortuna).

A different port every day

The nicest thing about cruising is that you can have a taste of different places in a relative short time.

And this was our route:

  • day 1: Dubai (arriving)
  • day 2 & 3: Oman
  • day 4: Fujairah
  • day 5: Abu Dhabi
  • day 6 & 7: Dubai
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Visiting Oman: city tripping and nature

We had two stops in Oman: the first day we visited its capital Muscat, the next day our ship sailed to  Khasab.

Muscat has a relatively small city center with souks where you can easily wander on your own. However, the various interesting sites (like the Grand Mosque, the Sultan’s Palace or the Royal Opera House) are situated slightly apart from each other; if you want a thorough city tour, it might be a good idea to meet up with a private guide or participate in a group excursion.

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If it’s action you’re after, there are numerous possibilities to get the adrenaline going, like desert racing (dune bashing) or spectacular helicopter flights. No, it’s not cheap (in fact: all excursions you book aboard are quite expensive) but you’ll definitely have an interesting story to tell when you get back home.

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Khasab is a town on a small peninsula, an enclave in fact that’s clinging to the United Arab Emirates. The region is known as the Norway of Arabia , because of its extensive fjord-like inlets. A boat trip with a dhow (a traditional boat from Oman) is one of the popular things to do, so we hopped from our big cruise ship on to the small boat and went sailing around the fjords.

A good choice as the fjords were indeed spectacular and big bonus: we spotted some playful dolphins during this little trip, always so much fun to meet these lovely creatures.

All in all the boat trip was a very cool experience, although we did had some bad luck with the weather. During our trip back with the dhow it suddenly started to rain, not just a few drops but like in: gigantic water masses pouring from the sky.

Back in Khasab, we found shelter in the Qasar fort, an interesting – and dry – little museum where we learnt all about the history and traditions the region. By the time we left the fort, the sky had cleared and hello sun.

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Relaxing in Fujairah

After two stops in Oman our Costa ship proceeded to Fujairah, a small emirate with a very interesting archeological museum filled with spectacular hidden treasures. Well, so I’ve been told because I didn’t leave the ship and never saw the museum. After two busy days with new impressions and many excursions, I decided it was time to experience life on board to the fullest: enjoy an extensive breakfast, inspect the gym (fitness with a sea view), doubting whether I should try the workshop ‘shake your own cocktail’ or the ‘arts & crafts’, having a chat with the crew (lots of Filipinos), having a chat with the other guests (lots of Italians) and spent a couple of hours in the spa (which was like heaven!). A relaxing and good day.

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Abu Dhabi: visiting the biggest mosque in the world

The next morning I woke up to the beautiful view of the skyline of Abu Dhabi (that’s the greatest thing about cruising: every day a different view to admire!).

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Again there were a lot of things to do (Ferrari Park, woehoe!) but because Abu Dhabi takes great pride in its Sheikh Zayed Mosque, that’s what we decided to visit.

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Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one of the most beautiful mosques in the world and absolutely an absolute must:

  • the mosque boasts the largest carpet in the world; it covers an area of ​​5627 m2, weighs 47,000 kilos and counts no less than 2.268 billion knots.
  • of course there’s no way you can hang a simple lamp above the world’s largest carpet. So here you have it: the world’s largest chandelier! It truly is an enormous thing of beauty, with a diameter of 10 meters, a height of 15 meters and completely made of copper and gold.

Dubai and the end of the cruise

Our cruise was coming to and end and the ship brought us back to Dubai, where we had two days before going home.

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I had visited Dubai a couple of times before and was in no rush to hit the city again. So I took it slow, went for a walk in the winding alleys and souks of Old Deira, the old part of Dubai. And I ended the day by tackling the Dubai Mall, one of the ultra-modern shopping malls in the new part of town.

Life on board

Apart from the destination and daily discoveries, it’s the atmosphere and life on board that’s most important when going on a cruise. During the day there are a variety of activities for the young and old and there was never a dull moment. And although there were more than a thousand people on board, I never felt it was overcrowded. And if you feel the need to have some really quiet time: and there always were little hideaways to spent some time by yourself, in peace and silence.

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And the nightlife? An intimate diner in one of the à la carte restaurant, making new friends in the bars of having a blast in the disco… make your choice, it’s all up to you.

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My conclusion? Waking up to the spectacular Dubai skyline. Having breakfast the next morning while admiring the rocky landscape of Kashab, enjoying the early sun on deck while arriving in Abu Dhabi… To me this cruise was a fab way to escape to escape the cold European winters and have a little preview of the beauty of the Persian Gulf. And of course the destination of a cruise is important, but cruising is in fact a destination in itself. I didn’t feel like I was ‘traveling’ and did worry if a cruise was something I could appreciate. But here you go: I had  a great time and a fab holiday. To me it was the perfect way to relax, forget about work and daily stuff, and just enjoy myself. Need to go on a cruise very soon again! 🙂

More pictures? Here they come:

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How do you feel about going on a cruise? Don’t hesitate to share your opinions with us.

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Travel inspiration. Tried & tested.

New adventures (well, sort of): our first outfit post

Since we are absolutely into travel ànd fashion it’s hardly a surprise A.S.Adventure is one of our favorite shops for finding that particular piece of gear or clothing. So when this cool shop asks us if we would like to select our favorite items from their fashion collection and write our very first outfit post about it, we didn’t hesitate for a second.

Or maybe we should have hesitated just a bit? Blogging about fashion is very different from blogging about travel experiences, as we soon found out. Anyway, we did have a lot of fun making this post work and discovering all the fab collections A.S.Adventure has to offer. So let’s embrace this post as a new adventure, this time into the fabulous world of fashion.

Our challenge

Of course you all know A.S.Adventure by now: the shop is not only an outdoor and travel gear specialist but also a big player when it comes to lifestyle and fashion brands. We had to choose a fashion outfit (and some accessories) for spring, and we went 100% for the yeah it’s the weekend-look. The wide choice and variety of brands made us a bit insecure: where to begin? Anyway, we did manage to crack this puzzle of choices and we both walked home looking fancy and brand new.

Nina’s outfit (and why she completely stressed out)

When Nina goes shopping she usually has a pre-defined goal and knows exactly what she wants. Is she going on a city trip? Does she needs something for a party, or something relaxed-looking to hang out with friends? But in this case she could choose whatever she wanted, no limits. And ow boy did she stressed out quite a bit. Positive stress, but still…stress. Help, I don’t know what to pick, where do I begin? Should I go for the fancy tough look or an elegant dress? I like almost everything…aaargh! At a certain point, after running for more than an hour left to right and back, she managed to pick 5 (five!) tops she really liked. But of course: five different tops doesn’t make an entire outfit. Okay, restart Nina.

Admitting she needed some help picking out the outfit she had in mind (before the shop would close its doors) was the first step. Second step: relying on the guidance of the shop assistants: let them do the running around. A winner’s idea!

And so this was her final outfit: a cool jeans, a colorful blouse, a classy bomber jacket and a pair of fancy silver sneakers. I gave her some very approving looks and told her how cool she looked. Finally, mission accomplished.

Why this outfit?

Nina: “I’m a real jeans-junkie and there’s always room left in my dressing for yet another pair of cool jeans. Since I’m not that tall (okay, so I’m short) it usually it takes me a while before I find that perfect jeans-match. This Levi’s jeans however suited me well immediately. It is made of a super stretchy jeans fabric, and I just love it; very comfortable to wear. The blouse is from Vera Moda and it was love at first sight. Thanks to it’s cool flower print this top is perfect for both casual and fancy events. The khaki bomber jacket is from Tom Tailor Denim. The brand promotes itself as ‘fashion for the young & twenty-something’, but hey, this chic was twenty-something a long time ago and also rocks this bomber. So don’t be afraid to sniff around in this collection too: fashion has no age-limits, wear what you like and what suits you. The silver sneakers made by SPM Shoes and Boots were recommended by one of the shop assistances. True, I had my doubts about the flashy color, but the shoes teamed up perfectly with the rest of the outfit and it didn’t take long before I liked them a lot.
And the necklace and sunglasses? Bought this summer during a holiday in Rhodes, Greece. These are the kind of ‘souvenirs’ we usually buy when traveling. It’s nice to wear them daily, as a reminder of the great times we had on our trips.”

Jempi’s outfit: a piece of cake

Now me: I’m another species, a man. Therefore everything went just a little bit more smooth (factor x 100 :-)).  To be honest: nobody can stop me when I’m in a shopping-mood. While Nina was running around the store and panicking about the fact that she would never find the perfect outfit, Mister Calm Down and Be Cool  managed to get completely dressed in record time, and the outfit looked awesome. Okay, so I had the help of an enthusiastic sales girl named Kansas (how cool can your name be!). She knew exactly what I had in mind and created the perfect outfit for me. A rugged and casual look: supercool jeans, military style parka, a hoodie, spring style shirt and a pair of übercool black leather sneakers.

Why this outfit?

These are three important criteria for ‘free time’ clothing: it has to be functional, comfortable but also cool. I have – like most of the men I guess –  a love/hate relationship with shopping. There are times that I simply refuse to go inside a clothing shop. However, when I’m in the mood nothing can stop me, I will buy clothes ànd lots of them. A.S.Adventure is the perfect shop for a shopping mood like that: it’s so easy to find the things I like and want. No problem to shop for a complete new outfit from a-to-z.

My first (and most favourite) piece of coolness was the Superdry’s military style parka (Rookie Duty). Almost a classic jacket but thanks to the little details this parka looks also tough and cool. The khaki colour makes it easy to combine and the jacket is perfect for wearing early spring. I also chose a Superdry sweater to go with the jacket. The PME Legend jeans was a pleasant surprise: a slim fit model with just enough stretch to fit perfectly (confession: I like it when my bottom looks good in a jeans). The black Camel Active sneakers made me happy too: the black leather was a cool match with the jeans, hoodie and parka. I’m a real sneakers fan; these are the kind of shoes you forget you’re wearing them, because they are so comfy.

And just to be complete: the army cap I’m wearing is a souvenir from Bangkok, Thailand. I have it for several years now (lost and re-found it also several times) and I’m kind of attached to, it is part of my style.

The things we learned

  1. Shop till you drop. First of all: choosing a complete outfit in a store like A.S.Adventure is both fun and difficult, because there are just so many things to like. If you feel lost or need some advice, don’t hesitate to ask help from the guys and girls who run the shop. They know their business and can suggest new and fresh ideas that completely matches your style. Just do it, these folks are happy to help you.
  2. Posing is not easy. In fact it is insanely difficult. You probably know that feeling when you see yourself in a picture: “OMG is that me? aaarghh!…” When taking pictures we usually start putting up our most silly and funny face, but this was ‘serious stuff’ and we were supposed to act casual/normal. And I can assure you: acting and posing ‘casual’ with a camera right in front of your face all the time, is not as simple as it seems. Lots of respect for all those models and fashion bloggers who do this kind of stuff all day long.
  3. Sunny winter days are beautiful. And very cold. And very short. Taking pictures in a spring outfit on a freezing cold winter day (-6°C!) is not really a thing to enjoy: it was hard-nippled cold. And also: the days are very short and you really have to hurry up to take as much pictures as possible during the hours right before sunset (the most beautiful natural light).
  4. Outfit posts are fun. Our first outfit post tryout was both fun and very interesting (stepping out of our comfort zone). The final pictures were not so bad as we thought they were going to be, and the hot chocolate drink after the ice-cold foto shoot was without a doubt the best we ever had. 🙂

So what do you think? Would you like to see more of this kind of posts (or please never again)? Let us know!

We want to thank Joke (Marketing A.S.Adventure), Rudolph (Manager A.S.Adventure Store Bruges), Kansas and the whole A.S.Adventure Store Bruges Sales Team for their help and making this (fashion) adventure even beter. Thanks folks, you rock!

Categories
Destinations. French Polynesia. Hotel talk. Tahaa.

Staying at Le Taha’a: barefoot luxury on a secret Vanilla island

Never heard of Taha’a? No worries, these little islands were a mystery to me as well, until I visited French Polynesia and was lucky enough to spent two days in this little hidden paradise. First thing I’ve learnt is that Taha’a is very well-known among Hollywood stars. And here’s why.

Taha’a – and its luxury hotel Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa – is the place to experience what barefoot luxury is all about. Celebrities who are looking for a secret hideaway to enjoy a holiday away from the spotlights, one with nature but still with tons of luxury, love staying here.

The Vanilla Island

Taha’a and its neighbour Rariatea may once have been a single island, as they are inclosed by the same coral reef. The island is barely 90 km2 large, there are just under 5,000 inhabitants. Taha’a is also known as the Vanilla Island (for the foodies: the vanilla produced here is of exceptional quality).

The island can be reached by boat (leaving from Raiatea, it takes about half an hour) or by helicopter (10 minutes leaving from Bora Bora).

The island is a little haven of peace and quiet. And to be honest: apart from visiting a vanilla- and oyster plantation and the usual island tour there’s frankly not that much to do or to visit on the island. But of course you’re here to discover Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa and that will keep you undoubtedly very busy.

The resort

The resort is located on a secluded motu near Taha’a, and the views are truly exceptional: on one side you can see Taha’a, on the other side there’s a fab view of the mythical island Bora Bora.

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One of my favorite views.

Le Taha’a is part of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux and it is a true gem, it’s the ultimate getaway with huts (or better: oversized villas disguised as huts) and overwater bungalows built in traditional Polynesian style. And important: the luxury resort exists in close harmony with the environment, nature and local culture.

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More bungalows over the water.

Hollywood stars in my room?

Le Taha’a counts about 57 suites, beach bungalows and water villas, a spa and fitness center, a swimming pool, 3 restaurants… in short, it’s everything you would expect a luxury resort to be.

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Fancy relaxing here?
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Or do you prefer this side?

Stars like Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis… they all enjoyed a stay here – they might even have holidayed in the bungalow I was staying, just imagine 🙂 – and no wonder: the thing that makes this place unique, apart from the exceptional setting of course, is the feeling to have this little paradise all to yourself. Of course the relaxed atmosphere and übersympathic and professional staff is a big plus as well. It’s barefoot luxury at its best.

Another big plus: paparazzi can never find this island on their own without the help of the hotel staff or other insiders (and the island is only reachable by boat or by helicopter). Privacy guaranteed.

How the bungalows look like

Curious how the water house I stayed in looked like? Here we go:

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My room.
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The private deck for soaking up the sun. The ocean is at your feet.

I stayed in one of the over water bungalows, but the beach villa’s are fabulous as well:

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Now this is why you should spent your honeymoon here: so romantic!
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The beach bungalows have their own, private, swimming pool.

Vanilla & coconuts

Taha’a is known as the Vanilla Island and so it’s no surprise the ingredient pops up in various foods and drinks. Have tasted vanilla cookies, vanilla cocktails, vanilla yogurt, fish with vanilla (!) … You name it. And no, I couldn’t get enough of it: the islanders know exactly how to dose the vanilla and without exaggeration: you just don’t know how vanilla really should taste until you’ve tried the Tahitian Vanilla.

Here it is: raw fish in a coconut, my favorite!

Apart from the vanilla dishes there were plenty of other delicious things to taste: tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, sweet pastries, everything you can imagine. My favorite was the raw fish served in a coconut, simply delicious.

Breakfast was great. Yes, I loved the crispy croissants, fresh mango juices and creative omelets, but it was especially the breakfast area that made me extra happy: a pretty oversized tree house overlooking the lagoon and endless ocean. Need I say more?

Loving your cozy over water villa so much you never want to leave it, not even for having breakfast in a luxury tree house? You don’t have to. Stay in en keep floating around you villa- it is after all an overwater villas, the lagoon is at your feet – and order the canoe breakfast; your meal will be delivered by a small canoe and the sound of a cheerful ukulele.

Feed the fishes

Start your day with a cool breakfast, ukulele music, and end it with a Zen moment with the fishes.

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No fishes around when I took this pictures, but in the evening though there were plenty.

After dinner, when leaving the restaurant, the staff handed me a doggy bag with some leftovers. I was a bit puzzled by this: were they worried I might get hungry at night? Should I take this home with me (but I wasn’t planning of going home any time soon)?… “It’s for the fishes, you need to feed them”, they told me.
Oh, okay.

So I stayed in an overwater bungalow.  At the foot of my bed there was a little glass case which you could open.

If you turn on the lights in your room, the fishes know you’re finally  ‘home’ and they come swimming under your bungalow: it’s feeding time for them, so cool.

I must admit: much more interesting than counting sheep to fall asleep.

Once in a lifetime

Just to get things straight: I do love all kinds of travel. Whether it is a budget or luxury trip, as long as the destination and the company’s okay, I’m genuine happy. True, these kinds of trips are pretty unique and an unforgettable once in a lift-time experience. Believe us: you won’t find much better.
Meanwhile, we are planning a twice-in-a-lifetime experience because we desperately want to go back. We’re feeding our piggy bank the best way we can, hopefully we will make it back to Tahiti and her islands any time soon.

Here are some more pictures of `our beautiful stay at Le Taha’s.  Dream away! 🙂

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Omg, I so need a massage right now!
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Overwater bungalows all have a dirty little secret: once you’re there, you never ever want to leave.
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We did go on an island tour.
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One of the amazing views during the island tour.
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Things to do in the evening: watching the sunset.

More information about the resort: letahaa.com –  info about traveling to Tahiti: tahiti-tourisme.com.

Fancy reading up on more of our Tahiti-stories? Don’t miss out on these:

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Destinations. Europe. France. Hotel talk.

Staying at the iconic Paris Hotel Molitor: I slept in a swimming pool

During my last trip to Paris I had the chance to spend a couple of nights in the recently renovated Hotel Molitor, situated in the 16th arrondissement. Lucky me: Molitor is not just a luxury hotel; the iconic building in the near neighborhood of Roland Garos & Parc Des Princes has a rare history you wouldn’t expect.

As you al know we fancy hotels with an exceptional history and/or a unique story behind the concept (read about it here and here). When I received the news that I would spend my nights at the famous Molitor, I couldn’t have been more happier. Molitor is part of the Gallery Collection group (read: hotels with a unique character, fancy design, special locations and luxury).

This hotel has it all: it started as a public swimming pool, became a hotspot for the French jet set, changed into an underground art-temple and finally transformed into fancy hotel topped with a delicious sauce of avant-garde.

How it all began

Paris in the 20’s. De city booms, the economy is iron-strong en France is investing huge in very impressive – public – buildings.

The swimming pool Piscine Molitor, build in 1929, was one of those beauties. It was designed by Lucien Pollet, member of Les Belles Piscines de France, a group of architects specialized in designing swimming pools. Piscine Molitor was built in such a way that it had to look and feel of a cruise ship. It was decorated with lead glass work in art-deco style and had one 50-meter outdoor swimming pool and a 33-meter indoor pool.

Fashion defilees and the very first bikini

Olympic athlete Johnny ‘Tarzan’ Weissmuller (remember him?) had the honor to officially open the complex during the summer of 1929. And things went fast for Molitor. The concept and design were much appreciated by the Parisian beau-monde and the building soon became a popular hotspot for fashion shows, theatrical performances and various activities. Whoever wanted to see and be seen, was a regular customer.

Fun fact: In 1946 nude dancer Micheline Bernardini modeled the world’s first bikini at Molitor!

All good things come to an end

Every winter, when it was too cold to swim outside, the pool was carefully converted into a real ice skating rink. This tradition lasted until the 70s. Because of the crisis the money supply dried up and there were no longer enough funds for such pleasures. No more fun equals  no more guests and eventually the pool complex had to close its doors in 1989.

Underground art scene

There were plans to demolish the entire complex and build a new hotel with an underground parking. The day after the plans became public however, the Parisian underground group ‘SOS Molitor’  occupied the abandoned complex in an attempt to save the building. And they succeeded: a year later the Molitor was registered as a protected monument and could no longer be demolished.

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But: due to lack of any maintenance, the building fell further into disrepair. Still: the past glory of the Molitor kept on attracting many people from the art scene, and the location became very popular for – illegal – rave parties, all kinds of underground art projects and a variety of events.

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The comeback

In 2007 the city of Paris felt strongly that they had to do something about the neglected building, and a project was launched for the complete reconstruction. The final result is the magnificent hotel Molitor as it now stands. A 4-star hotel with a huge indoor and Olympic size outdoor swimming pool. The completely restored Molitor is a fab place where old and new perfectly match each other.
Monitor officially opened its doors in May 2014.

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My stay

Enough history, time to move on to the ‘present time’. How did I find my stay at this unique hotel? In short: unforgettable! You can feel it all as soon as you enter the lobby: a classy atmosphere blended with hip and modern feeling.

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When I entered my room I didn’t know where to look first: hello luxury and design! I stayed in one of the suites which are situated on the inside of the building, around the pool. And although the room was not that super sized, its interior is outstanding.

Extra king-size beds (read: very comfortable), a beautiful bathroom equipped with everything you need to become clean and tidy, and a walk-in rain shower, separated toilet, a comfy sofa and other interesting details like a Bose sound system, a Nespresso (what else?) and a well sized generously filled fridge. Conclusion: everything you need for a comfortable and luxurious stay.

The restaurant is also a feast: chef Julien Mercier threads you with a variety of delicious dishes.  Only the best seasonal ingredients are good enough to serve his clients. The plates are also richiously served so you will not walk away hungry.
Make sure to reserve some space in your belly for desert, they are de-li-cious! Njamie 🙂

Tip: Spend some time at the rooftop bar. You can relax in the hanging garden packed with flowers and enjoy the finest cocktails, tapas and even diner (from late spring till the end of September).

The outdoor pool has a constant temperature of 28° Celcius (82,4° Fahrenheit), so no need to jump into your wetsuit 🙂

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Enjoying a good early morning swim after a long Parisian night 🙂

My conclusion

Hotel Molitor’s staff does everything possible to make its clients feel welcome and at home during their stay. If you’re looking for an exceptional hotel with a glorious history, then this is the place to be for you.

Info. www.mltr.frwww.rendezvousenfrance.comparisinfo.com

(Disclaimer: I was invited by Rendevousenfrance for this trip. All opinions are my own.)

Categories
Destinations. Europe. France. Tried & tested.

A sporty weekend in Tignes: from snowshoeing to off-piste skiing

Why should you go to Tignes? First of all: to ski your socks off! Tignes is known for being one of the most beautiful and extensive ski resorts in France and Europe. This is thé place the winter sport-lover desperate for a vacation filled with adrenaline, sports and good old fun in the snow.

Tignes and its neighbor Val d’Isère are good for some 300 kilometer spectacular ski-slops, known as Espace Killy (named after France’s Olympic skiing champion Jean Claude Killy).  Tignes is also one of the highest ski-resorts in the world, making it even possible to go skiing in summer, on the glacier La Grande Motte.

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Jempi couldn’t have been more happier to visit Tignes; as an ex-ski instructor who hadn’t seen much snow the last couple of years, he was freaking out with enthusiasm to hit the slopes. I however was a bit in doubt whether there would be something for me to do during this short trip; I don’t ski and although our hotel was fantastic, I had no intentions to just stay indoors and do nothing. Not skiing doesn’t mean I don’t like sports or being active.

So the challenge was to find things to do we both liked. Curious what we end up doing? Here’s a little summary.

1. These boots are made for snow walking

While Jempi was getting his kicks on the ski slopes, I decided to try snowshoeing. “The weather is not excellent but you’re still going to love this,” my guide said when we were strapping on our snowshoes. I had to admit I was already a snowshoe-fan: no heavy ski boots, skis or other equipment to carry, no standing in queues at ski lifts, no crowds… True, those snowshoes were no Louboutins (it’s like walking with shoes on that are three sizes too big) and the views over the valley were a bit blurred by the fog, but it still felt good to be outdoors.

Bonus: walking with snowshoes is really easy; it took me less than 5 minutes to get used to my new plastic shoes.


Out little walk took 4 hours and it was pretty exhausting walking through the snow – continuously uphill and downhill again –  but it was just like I had imagined it: alone in a white landscape where there’s barely any sound, being blown away by the beauty of nature… I would have loved to enjoy the 360° view on top of the little mountain we climbed, but because of the fog all I could see was a white blur. But still: I was no longer a snowshoe-virgin and I definitely want more of this!

2. Say hello to man’s best friend

When they said dog sledding I thought we were going on a real adventure into the white wilderness, with a sled pulled by a couple of Huskies.

Turned out our dog sledding trip took place only in and around Tignes-le-Lac and on the frozen lake. So no wild nature or big adventure. Was that a disappointment? Well, it could have been, but the dogs were so funny and the instructor was really great. All we had to do is cuddle the dogs, sit in the sled and enjoy the ride.

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3. Taking the plunge

Would we like to try ice diving? Euh, yes, sure. So there we were, feeling very uncomfortable in our special ice diving suits, looking at a hole in the ice, wondering whether this was a good idea. “It’s going to be fine”, our instructor from Evolution 2 said, and after a short but thorough safety brief we just took the plunge.

Was it cold? Yes! Was it something amazing? Absolutely! Don’t expect any encounters with fishes like you would when diving in the Red Sea, but the lights and colors under the ice are breathtaking.

4. Off piste skiing: “Just let me die here.”

“I just want to die. Leave me here and let me die.” All Jempi could do when he got back from his first time off piste skiing experience, was to crash on the bed and just lay there. “I’ve never been so tired”, he moaned.

Although it had been nine years since Jempi actually went skiing, his guide had found his skiing level and his physical condition good enough to try off piste skiing. After putting on the full equipment (avalanche transceiver, avalanche air bags, shovel…) and a short warming up on the regular pistes, the two of them headed of to a steep off piste pitch.

“Why did you let me do this? I had to climb up a mountain, for miles! I was knee-deep in snow, I fell so much my butt is bruised. I’m exhausted. Snow is evil and unforgiving, it’s the Devil’s invention, I finally realize that now.”

All I could say was “Ow, really. Hm, who knew…”. I had just finished my first try on snowshoeing and was still in an zen-like state of mind, my head filled with memories of nature’s beauty.

“So euh, I guess you didn’t really like it?” I tried.

“Ow no,” he said. “I loved it! It was the most brilliant and amazing thing I’ve ever done. The mountains, the fresh snow, the silence, the feeling like you’re one with nature… Pure magic. Skiing down a mountain in the fresh snow, in such an amazing landscape… heaven!” And then he closed his eyes. Not to die of-course but to sleep, just long enough to load up his batteries before we had to hit nightlife in Tines.

ski tignes

If you’re into off piste skiing you’ll definitely get your kicks in Tignes; the resort boasts a variety of off piste routes, both within the resort and in the back bowls. You can book a guide to go with you, individual or in group. Lessons are also available.

4. Things we didn’t do, but should have

Our time in Tignes was too short to try everything, but these activities will definitely be on our agenda during our next visit:

  • Go paraglidingNo, I don’t ski. But I wouldn’t mind  flying over the mountains.
  • Driving a snowmobile, at night. Illegal on the pistes during the day but once the slopes are closed it’s time for snowmobiling!
  • Get an adrenaline overdose on the Bun J Ride

I don’t know who invented this thing, but he or she should get a medal. Think of it as a combination of ramp jumping, bungee jumping and zip-line riding. Just watch the promo video below, and I’m sure you’ll be hooked too.

About Tignes

Tignes is located in the Tarentaise Valley, a Savoie department in the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. It has good transport links in and out of Lyon, Geneva and Chambery.

The resort is know as a Walhalla for snow-sport addicts, but Tignes is also a great destination for an active summer holiday (with lots of free activities and free lifts).

www.tignes.net – francs-montagnes.com

More about where we stayed in Tignes here and our ice diving adventure.

Categories
Europe. France. Hotel talk. Tried & tested.

Now this is what we call Alpine chic: Les Suites du Nevada in Tignes (France)

Tignes  in the French Alps is famous for being a popular destination for the winter sports enthusiasts who love to push the boundaries of their skiing skills.  Tignes is all about skiing and snowboard, and it’s hard to find a better place if you’re into winter sport. My problem: I don’t ski (tried it once, big disaster, don’t ask). So why did we go to Tignes anyway? Because Jempi used to be a ski-instructor and he really wanted to hit those slopes again. And as for me: the promise of staying at Les Suites du Nevada was all I needed to rush to Tignes.

Les Suites du Nevada is a  5* hotel that offers a luxury boutique experience with a focus on gastronomy,  a wow-place to stay during a holiday in the snow. The resort is owned and managed by Jean-Michel Bouvier and his wife Catherine Bouvier. Les Suites is one of the most luxurious places to stay in Tignes and surroundings. But it’s not only luxury that’s the pride of Les Suites: Jean-Michel is an award-winning chef (Michelin) and gastronomy is a big part of the Suits du Nevada-experience. And Catherine has a real talent for design and hospitality, so it’s a perfect match.

A winter sport dream

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.Tignes is part of the incredible Espace Killy ski area, a  real winter-sports mecca with an extensive and high-tech ski infrastructure. This is the place where you can challenge yourself and with 300 kilometers of extraordinary ski-slops that should be no problem.

The hotel: hip meets cozy

Hotel Les Suites du Nevada is situated at 2,100 meters altitude, in the heart of the Val Claret district,  less than 150 meters from the slopes and 200 meters from the ski lift.

The wooden facade of the hotel hides a decor that is the perfect blend of trendy lounging and old-fashioned fun. The sophisticated bar/tea room Le Whitney Bar (next to the hotel reception) has the feeling of a large living room, complete with fire-place and deep seats to sink in (and where you never ever want to get out). During the day homemade cake is served and in the evening it’s the place to have a drink with friends. A great place to relax after a long day on the slopes.

And there’s more to discover: Les Suites du Nevada also boasts a heated indoor pool and whirlpool, saunas and a gym that is open only to hotel guests.

Sweet suites

With a name like Les suites it’s pretty obvious you won’t find regular hotel rooms here. Every room is a suite with bedroom, living room and bathroom and they are fabulous decorated: kingsize bed, separate bathroom with whirlpool tub and rain shower, a lounge area with LED TV, blue-ray player, iPod dock…

There’s a hotel concierge available  24u/24u, wi-fi is free and with the suites comes a  (heated) vault where you can safely store your skis and snowboards.

Omg, the food!

The hotel restaurant is called La Table en Montagne and dining here is an experience in itself. The cuisine is a fusion of the Savoy gastronomy with a personal touch. The chef only uses the best local ingredients and the dishes are creative and omg so good. Even breakfast is a gourmet feast!

For more than 25 years chef & owner Jean-Michel Bouvier has led  several large gourmet restaurants in Paris and Savoy, but in 2003 he put up permanent residence in Tignes.

Apart from the hotel (and  La Table en Montagne & Le Whitney Bar, the hotel restaurant & bar/tea room) Bouvier runs a couple of other restaurants: the cozy Chalet Bouvier and the legendary Le Panoramic, spectacular located on the Grande Motte glacier at 3032 meters altitude (fun fact: on top of the glacier Catherine Bouvier opened a small boutique; it’s the highest shop in Europe).

So what do we think of Les Suites du Nevada? Of course it’s an elegant place to enjoy Tignes but besides all the luxury it’s the friendly hospitality atmosphere that made us feel welcome and relaxed, a place to return to least once a year.

All information: www. les-suites-du-nevada.comwww.tignes.net

Read more about the things we did in Tignes:

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Destinations. Hotel talk. Middle East. Oman.

The Oman Alila Jabal Akhdar, a luxurious mountain escape between heaven and earth

When I first spotted the Alila Jabal Akhdar Resort, its dramatic setting took my breath away: the resorts clings dramatically on the edge of ravine in the Omani Al Hajar Mountains, at an altitude of over 2,000 meters. And just as spectacular as its location is the philosophy behind the resort:trying to be the perfect symbiosis between luxury, ecology and sustainability.

The last couple of years luxury resorts are blooming all over Oman, and no wonder: Oman is becoming a hot destination for travelers seeking both luxury and authenticity. And Oman has it all: the sultanate is wealthy, progressive ànd traditional, political stable and very safe, and best of all: its nature is extremely divers with great contrasts. The silence of the desert, the hustle and bustle of capital Muscat, the elegant and tropical paradise Salalah, the mighty mountains and canyons, its rich culture and history… Throw in a couple of luxury stays and there you have it: Oman as an adventurous & luxury top travel destination.

And the Alila Jabal Akhdar is a perfect match for Oman: this five-star resort is a haven for travelers looking for a unique stay, in a special environment.

Into the Stone Mountains

The Al Hajar Mountains range (or Stone Mountains) is the highest in eastern Arabia. The area had only been accessible for tourists since 2004 and you’ll need a 4X4 to discover this spectacular wall of mountains. The seclusion of the mountain range leads to an area untouched and pure, where beautiful canyons and high peaks blend in perfectly with green farmland and idyllic mountain villages.

oman mountains

. Jebel Akhdar (or Green Mountain) is part of the Al Hajar Mountains, a stunning countryside filled with not only stone but also traditional mountain villages, fruit orchards, and terraced gardens. And amid all this beauty you’ll  find the Alila Resort, although  you have to look twice to see if the hotel is actually there: for its construction stones from the mountains were used and combined with its unique architecture the buildings completely merge with the environment, as if they were one. A real tour de force of the architects!

Oman alila resort

The greatest luxury

Dutchman Jork Vosselaar is the General Manager of the Alila resort. He was present from the very beginning, even before the first stone was laid: “The architects and designers were inspired by plenty of things that are so typical for Oman: the high doors suitable for horsemen are almost copies from similar doors in the Omani forts, in the hotel rooms you’ll find pottery from Salalah and copper from Nizwa, traditional bridal chests and camels baskets, the rugs and curtains were woven by local families, the Damask rose (the rose that grows near the summit of the Jebel Al Akkdar, used to produce Omani rose-water) is used in many artworks…”

The typical Omani character and local identity is also present in the hotel’s kitchen. “We always serve traditional dishes – with a modern twist – and the cook only works with local products. Our olive oil for instance we buy from a local farmer in the village. In fact, we had to persuade the farmer to sell us the oil as he just wanted to give it to us as a present, that’s how friendly and welcoming the people here are”, Jork says.

“And all of this – working with local products, sleeping in an environment that is all about the history and character of Oman –  it’s the epitome of luxury for us. Not drinking a glass of French champagne or eating caviar which you have to fly over thousands of kilometers, but to immerse yourself in a different culture, to experience unique things and collect memories you will never forget, that’s priceless.

Ode to Nature

The Alili Jabal Akhdar Resort is built on the edge of a precious nature reserve and everything is done to keep the ecological footprint as small as possible.  Energy saving procedures have been given the highness attention, and wastewater is filtered by the hotel itself. In fact, this water is made available to local farmers who grow vegetables and herbs; these fresh products are eventually used in the hotel kitchen. So how’s that for a perfect symbiosis!

Alila proves that respect for nature, environment and culture doesn’t mean giving up on luxury, on the contrary:  the spacious villas with private pool, the spa, the  infinity pool with stunning views over the canyon… it’s a little peace of heaven!

Okay, I know, it’s pictures you want. Here they come:

Omani hospitality: wherever you go, a welcoming cup of tea awaits you. There’s room to relax in the lounge and library.

Alila Jabal Akhdar has a fitness room, beautiful indoor swimming pool, a spa with jacuzzi, steam room and seven treatment rooms. Think: Asian healing techniques, massage, meditation, beauty treatments and natural (handmade) beauty products.

.The villa’s are amazing: spacious, decorated with Omani arts and crafts and always very luxurious.

Alila Jabal Akhdar Oman

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Your own private swimming pool comes with a stunning view.

.The amazing terrace and infinitive pool. At 2.000 meters high, above the mountains and sometimes even above the clouds, this is a magical place to swim, relax or have a meal.

alila oman

We traveled with Oman Air from Paris to Muscat; the flight takes about 7 hours.  More information about the hotel: www.alilahotels.com/jabalakhdar. All information about Oman:  www.visitoman.be.