HOTEL DU PALAIS: THE IMPERIAL RESORT & SPA

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Facing the Ocean Atlantic and on the beach “La Grande Plage de Biarritz” near the city center of Biarritz, the prestigious sea side deluxe Hotel du Palais of Biarritz is filled with memories of Gala evenings and stately affairs of the past era.

Guests come from all over the world, all year long to enjoy this fabulous setting, warm welcome, elite service, charm and comfort. A living souvenir of the history of Biarritz, France and Europe. The “Villa Eugénie”, now the Hotel du Palais, was constructed in 1855 by Napoléon III for his wife Eugénie de Montijo.

Although it was a while ago I visited, the memory is as fresh and alive in my mind as my annual visits back home to Fiji Islands. I can visualise every corner from the entrance to my breakfast table where I enjoyed writing while gazing at the blue waters overlooking the hotel. The main hall, the private salons, the dining room and the grounds have all maintained their Second Empire style. A style that defines Biarritz and assures its reputation as an amazing sea resort, it is this charm, touched with elegance, deluxe and personal that makes this hotel one of a kind.

Biarritz is a little city that has it all. Lively with its casinos, its greens (the region has ten 18 holes golf courses and an International training center, unique in Europe), its boutiques, and the rich green hillsides and its gentle year round climate.

This picturesque seaside town became a favourite with European royalty in the 19th Century, who fell in love with its pretty beaches, warm climate and relaxed atmosphere. The Hotel du Palais has played host to stars of screen and other luminaries since the 1950s and 60s and offers a timeless glamour and luxury rarely found in today’s resorts.

Biarritz has a lot of beautiful buildings to offer today amongst which, the Hotel du Palais stand out. It’s a vibrant cosmopolitan town with magnificent beaches, golf courses and numerous sporting facilities, not forgetting the surf. Surfing started in France here in Biarritz and surfers come from all over the world to ride the waves.

The Hotel du Palais has practiced and perfected the art of receiving people. In the public areas and guest rooms the original Second Empire style has been retained, with period furniture, original works of art and high decorated ceilings. This is the place to stay for the ultimate Biarritz experience. Guests can lounge by the pool with a cocktail, or head to the nearby beach for some sunbathing, surfing or people-watching.

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Since July last year, guests have been able to enjoy the world of the Spa Imperial with Guerlain dedicated to well-being, relaxation and fitness. It is the most transforming and customized Spa experience, where cutting edge innovation unites with luxury, emotion and sensuality. It comes with an indoor swimming pool, 2 sauna, 2 stream rooms, fitness center and beauty parlour with a Hair Care Institute.

For a great dining experience, La Rotonde is a traditional Restaurant facing the Ocean “Atlantique”. Also serving great food is the L’Hippocampe Restaurant around the swimming pool, which is open from April to October.

The Villa Eugénie is a gastronomic restaurant and there are two bars, Le Bar Impérial and Le Bar de la Piscine all providing guests with an unforgettable holiday experience.

Among the facilities available at the hotel is a foreign exchange service, safe deposit boxes, telex, photocopy, fax and secretariat services. Other Business centre facilities at the hotel include computers for guest use and in room facilities include voice mail, fax machine on request, work desk and modem point.

Executive rooms in addition boast butler service and express check out. L’Hotel du Palais also boasts a selection of reception rooms which can host from 14 to 500 people in various settings – ideal for meetings, seminars or launch parties

All reservations for tickets, sightseeing tours, shows etc are available from the Concierge. For guest convenience, there is also a babysitting as well as medical assistance.

The hotel also has a boutique, hairdresser, heated sea-water swimming-pool with direct access to he beach, solarium, sauna and a golf pitching green. For the active guests, there is the option of playing tennis, 10 golf courses of 18 Holes and horse riding.

There are a number of interesting museums in the area, including the Biarritz Marine Museum with its underwater viewing area, and the rather indulgent Chocolate Museum, which offers tasting sessions. The Historical Museum of Biarritz is situated in a former church and tells the story of the town’s transformation from tiny fishing village to high-society resort.

Other nearby places to visit include the Rocher de la Vierge, sea Museum, Biarritz fishers port, Bayonne city, Saint-Jean-de-Luz City, Basque coast.Also available are tours in the Basque country in Spain (border at 25 km) and in Pyrenees.

Hotel du Palais is obviously an address of undeniable prestige and one of the last great palaces around where guests can enjoy being treated like royalty. I felt regal throughout my stay and it has become one of my top destinations in Europe.

Majestic Petra: A walk through Jordan’s most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attractions

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As one of the most famous archeological sites in the world, Petra features rust-colored hills, ancient tombs and temples and ancient Nabataean architecture dating back to the time when Petra was the Nabataean capital and a primary trading city along the famous Silk Road.

The city of Petra, capital of the Nabataean Arabs, is located 240 km south of the capital, Amman, and 120 km north of the red sea town of Aqaba. My first visit to Petra was during the day and I still remember being mesmerized walking amidst rugged rocks with impressive sandstone patterns embedded in the rock walls.

More recently I explored Petra by night and was as enchanted by the experience as the first time. The entrance to get to the treasury area is through a narrow opening called the Siq.

As you walk almost 1.2km between the cliffs, a remarkable sight unfolds, almost as a finale with temples, tombs and dwellings carved out of the solid, rose-hued stone. The sights are breathtaking and I vividly recall coming face to face with the grandeur of Al-Khazneh or the Treasury, which is a massive royal tomb cut out of the sandstone mountain featuring Roman-styled architecture.

There is also an amphitheater recreated from solid rock. At night, the Treasury, the Roman Theater, the Temple of the Winged Lion and numerous other ancient monuments create a magical ambience, particularly the spectacle of light showcasing Bedouin drama and music with a backdrop of 1,000 candles.

Walking down from the Treasury into the Outer Siq, you come across over 40 tombs known collectively as the Street of Facades and then reach the Theatre. The set of steps nearby ascend to the High Place of Sacrifice, a hilltop altar.

Across the Theatre, another set of steps lead to a fine set of Royal Tombs that are worth a visit as they illustrate some of the best carving in Petra and provide access to another of the city’s mystic high places.

Returning to the Theatre, another path takes you to the elevated Great Temple and the Temple of the Winged Lions. Make a point to see the Nabataean temple known locally as Qasr al-Bint and try the local fare at the nearby restaurants.

Every part of Petra is spectacular with visits to the Nabataean Museum, the winding path to one of Petra’s most beloved monuments, the Monastery, the Lion Tomb or the magnificent rock formations of Petra. As one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Petra has become a tourist destination for many leaders and celebrities around the world.

Turkish Airlines recently signed a partnership agreement with the Petra Development and Tourism Authority to encourage more regional visitors to travel to Jordan via Turkey and see the best of both countries. On visiting Petra, Turkish Airlines passengers receive a discount on entry tickets into Jordan’s most unique heritage site by submitting their boarding passes.

What attracted me about the visit was the fact that I was able to stop in Istanbul on the way to Aqaba, enjoy the seaside and boating experience in Aqaba, take a day trip into Wadi Rum desert for lunch with the Bedouins and was able explore Petra the next day. Turkish Airlines flies 14 times weekly to Amman and 4 times weekly to Aqaba via Istanbul so there are plenty of options to visit multiple cities during your next break.

 

Adventures in Brunei

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A few years ago I saw Brunei as a stepping stone to Australia during my visits home until a recent visit where I discovered how much more the country had to offer. Brunei offers luxury hotels, halal food and Eco Tourism

Located at the Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago, Borneo is a vast rugged island. It is known for its ancient culture and wonderful beaches, bio diverse rainforest which is a home to some of the world’s best natural sites.

I stayed at the plush hospitality at The Empire Hotel & Country Club, which has become synonymous with luxury and reflects the country’s majestic and cultural heritage.

It is Brunei’s most prestigious beach resort offering unsurpassed 5-star luxury in a grand scale setting with a spectacular 12 storey marble and gold lobby, set in its own private 180 hectare (445 acres) estate of manicured gardens and an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course.

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The hotel has 518 opulently appointed guest rooms, suites and villas with a view of the ocean, lagoon, gardens or golf course, with Imperial king-sized beds and over-sized marble bathrooms with walk-in shower, deep soaking tub with gold taps and luxury amenities.

But Brunei is not just about opulent hotels – it has nature that leaves you in awe. The nature I experienced at the Ulu-Ulu Temburong National Park as well as the trekking to the canopy of the hill is an unforgettable adventure.

My favourite was visiting the rainforests with a huge variety of plants, birds and mammals to Ecotourism resorts for protecting these habitats while supporting indigenous communities. Climbing over 800 steps to the canopy was a task but the panoramic views made it worthwhile.

The experiences included river rafting, jungle trekking which highlight Borneo’s superb natural assets every which way you turn and river rafting while the monsoon rain pelted down was a experience that left me feeling happy, adventurous and wanting to do more.

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The waterfall was beautiful in the jungle and trying the natural fish spa at the bottom was a fun filled experience that leaves you ticklish and giggling like a teenager.

Sometimes, the best part of travel is the journey itself. There are direct flights to Brunei with Royal Brunei Airlines on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which offers high-quality in-flight experience for maximum comfort, featuring spacious noise-reduced cabins and audio plus video on demand in both classes.

There are two-class configurations with 18 flat-bed seats in Business Class and 236 seats in Economy Class. The journey to get there in style, experience what living in a palace is like, catching up with local friends and speak to them in the local language (same as Bahasa Melayu), trying the local cuisine which I love as I lived in the region for nine years makes me want to go back again.

Both flying Royal Brunei and exploring different parts of the country was a truly unforgettable experience indeed.

Picturesque Borneo

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Borneo is divided between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei so visitors get the best of everything that this part of Asia has to offer. When living in Malaysia for nine years, Borneo attracted me mainly for their Eco Tourism activities and being an islander, a slice of Island life that I missed living in Kuala Lumpur.

Visiting Borneo now from Dubai is a bit of a trot but made easier with Brunei Air, which gives GCC residents a gateway into Borneo and the opportunity to visit two countries on one trip. With a stop over for as long as you want in Brunei, both Malaysia and Brunei offer unique wildlife, tropical islands and mountain adventure.

Borneo is home to some of the world’s best natural sites, from rainforests with a huge variety of plants, birds and mammals to Ecotourism resorts for protecting these habitats while supporting indigenous communities. After the plush hospitality at The Empire Hotel & Country Club, the nature I experienced at the Ulu-Ulu Temburong National Park as well as the trekking to the canopy of the hill is an unforgettable adventure.

The experiences included river rafting, jungle trekking which highlight Borneo’s superb natural assets every which way you turn and then a onward journey to Kota Kinabalu on Royal Brunei.

My first home in Malaysia for this trip was the Bunga Raya Island Resort, a secluded island hideaway off the coast of Borneo. Framed by white sandy beaches and lush green jungles, the resort’s hillside private villas reflect the simplicity of the Borneo architectural style.

Bunga Raya is all about relaxing walks on beautiful white sandy beaches, relaxation in various parts of the crescent shaped bay or feeling good at the hotel’s Solace Spa which is entwined into the virgin jungle within the resort.

Visitors can take a guided nature walk into the virgin rainforest behind or do a bit of zip lining – it was my first experience and it was a truly exhilarating experience.

The hotel also has two and three bedroom villas on offer, making it a fantastic option for families. The Treehouse Villas boast sumptuous outdoor Jacuzzis whilst, as the name would suggest, the Plunge Pool Villas contain a private pool.

For culinary options, guests can enjoy a meal at The Koi, offering Western and Asian fusion, and the laidback oceanfront Pantai Grill, serving up barbecued meats and seafood. Malaysia is famous for the variety when it comes to food and Bunga Raya matches up to the visitor expectation.

Bunga Ray Beach Resort’s sister property, Gayana Eco Resort is accessible nearby on Gaya Island, ideally located at the edge of the jungle forest and over the sea.

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I stayed in the Ocean View overwater villas that are architecturally designed to enhance the sounds of the surf below while capturing the enduring vistas of Mt. Kinabalu on the horizon.

Gayana Eco Resort is dedicated to protecting the precious Marine Ecology, and the only property with an on-site Marine Ecology Research Centre passionately propagating endangered Giant Clams and restoring natural coral reefs.

Guests of all ages can participate in restoring vibrant life back to once damaged ocean floors. As Ecology is at the heart of this romantic Eco Resort, it even has its own marine research centre, which is dedicated to conserving the marine world.

The PADI accredited dive centre and the nearby Marine Ecology Research Centre (MERC) makes it perfect for divers who want to explore the vibrant underwater life or children who want to learn more about marine ecology.

With private villas nestled into the jungle, and over water, the Borneo resorts we stayed in are romantic spots, perfect for honeymooners and other couples.

A Borneo adventure has something for everyone with relaxation and the natural environment at the forefront.

Making the Malta Move

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Why Malta?

While Malta is an attractive tourist destination that offers the best of everything one would look for in a holiday destination, one of the reasons that pull people into Malta is the country lifestyle and the desire to make it into a permanent home, especially in the current scenario in the Middle East where thousands of displaced families are looking to find a base that is stable and makes them feel secure permanently.

What’s in it?

Whether you are a tourist or looking for a holiday home, for investment or as a permanent place to live, Malta offers a package of sun, sea and sand that is hard to resist. One place to stop by is Frank Salt Real Estate Group, who acted as my guide and showed me around the entire Island with a short stop in Gozo on the recommendation of the Reconya, a consultancy on residence and citizenship in Europe.

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Malta has three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. Malta is of course the main land, followed by Gozo and a few farmers inhabit Comino, a veritable paradise with a lagoon bluer than turquoise.

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As Frank Salt offer a one-stop-shop solution covering the real estate on the Island, I was able to tour almost everything, including looking into the homes and saw the way people lived. I enjoyed visits to seafront luxury apartments in St Julians and Sliema, charming houses of character in traditional Maltese villages, the areas of Mellieha and Madliena and even farmhouses with land and country views in Gozo.

The largest island, Malta, is sophisticated with a wide variety of superb hotels, excellent beaches and busy nightlife. It is known as the island of sunshine and history as it has numerous temples, monuments and fascinating historical and archaeological sites, some of which date even before the Pyramids.

Having been involved in the experience center industry extensively in my career, I love Museums and in Malta, tourists will find a variety of treasures to discover with artefacts related to art, archaeology, natural history, wartime or maritime history.

For those interested in old fortifications, enjoy the military and historical parades on site, regularly staged to allow visitors to be swept back in time or watch one of the multi-vision shows, which encapsulate Maltese history from its very beginnings to modern day.

La Crème de la Crème: Gozo

My favorite part was visiting Gozo, aptly termed as ‘the island where time stands still, because of the tranquility it exudes. It is a magnificent and truly tranquil rural landscape, allowing for sweeping views of terraced fields and glimmering shorelines.

I arrived in Gozo after a 30 minute ferry ride and found that life in Gozo moves at a leisurely pace, revolving around farming and fishing. There are wonderful small restaurants serving fish caught only hours before being served at the table and a bustling nightlife in the summer similar to Malta.

The island reminded me of Fiji and I was captured by its serene charm and beauty. At every turn you see flowers, lush crops in the fields, picturesque villages, charming farmhouses and warm friendly faces.

Gozo attracts artists, painters and photographers and the island boasts two opera houses. The locals (Gozitans) are very friendly and there are always celebrations going on in one of the 17 villages at any given time.

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As a writer and social media specialist, I appreciated the free Wi-Fi in the public squares for research and posts as I enjoyed the famous bakeries around the island. Malta’s little sister is an island guaranteed to stimulate the senses and lower your stress levels as soon as you arrive. Even if you are there for a short visit, it is easy to see why Gozo has become known as undiscovered paradise.

I was not able to experience Comino Island but was told by the locals that it is a haven for anyone interested in water sports with ample room for everyone, whether a professional scuba diver looking for excitement in the depths or a young child learning to use a snorkel.

Heading back into Malta via another ferry ride, my first stop was the Smart City Malta, which brought back memories of Dubai as it a Dubai government initiative. I enjoyed live music on the coast in front of the office blocks and spoke to the locals who have high hopes for this project.

Malta: a dream place

Malta is indeed a Mediterranean dream place to live in or to visit from what I gathered during my tours with Frank Salt and the beautiful sea views, the gorgeous weather and those endless days of sunshine makes me want to go back for more sun, sand and sea adventures.

The Perfect Date

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Bateel Dates are known in the region as being the best for personal consumption and as the perfect gift to take to friends and families. We met with Tina Memic, General Manager, Retail & Operations Bateel International to talk about the brands gourmet food business; their expansion plans for luxury Boutiques and her journey with Bateel

Our meeting was at Bateel Cafe on Beach Road, which has a full range of gourmet products with an extraordinary selection of gifts suitable for all occasions. From high-quality dates and premium chocolates, pralines and truffles, to other exclusive fine food products such as date biscuits, nuts and dressings – it certainly is an invitation to experience the exceptional.

Tina is a German national, living in the UAE for over 10 years. She gained professional experience in China, Europe and the MENA region among cultural diversification and change management roles, which today are her key strengths.

Renowned for inventing and cultivating the world’s only gourmet dates, Bateel, according to Tina is the ultimate indulgence. Tina is passionate about healthy food, is an advocate of an active lifestyle and is regarded as the “Date Specialist” of the region.

She is on a mission of education. “Most consumers are not aware of the health aspects of dates and that it is a power fruit of nature. I am on a mission to make the date, tomorrow’s Banana. Bringing ever new taste sensations to the consumer, making them experience new tastes and flavours and seeing their facial expressions while they taste something for the first time in their life is price less, ”states Tina.

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Tina is part of the Bateel International and leading their retail and franchise operations worldwide for over 6 years. She is now seen as a figure head who gets involved with training and is hands on with every aspect of the business.

Empowerment for Tina is key for employee development and satisfaction. For her, staff members are often regarded as “exchangeable” into areas they best excel in and this has helped increase sales and customer satisfaction profoundly.

According to Tina, all Bateel products are free of any pesticides and all produced under fair conditions from suppliers honoring “fair trade” agreements. The brand remains fair to their staff as well and is one of few companies that do not ban staff.

There are now 600 employees and Tina maintains a open door policy and she gets involved in HR, Supply chain and Marketing roles. Tina mentions that Bateel will open in 20 new locations in the next 12 months mainly in GCC markets such as Saudi, UAE, three in Kuwait, three in Qatar in November as well as Oman, Bahrain and Jordan.

The brand is also in London and Tina is excited about shop openings in Geneva and Detroit. Taking the brand a step beyond gourmet products, Café Bateel now offers gourmet Mediterranean cuisine which is a worth checking out.

On Tina’s request, I tried some of the desserts and have been going back to the Cafe for a regular fix. It is not just about simple dates anymore with Bateel and I for one am glad that they have brought dates into our everyday cuisine as well.