Beyond Luxury – Maldivian Resort, Velaa Private Island

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It is always a delight to meet with the Velaa Private Island team and at ATM we were invited to a VIP event to get introduced to the resort’s new General Manager, Mr Michal Smejc.

Having spent the past six years in South East Asia, and being the younger brother of the property’s owner, Jiri Smejc, Michal has all the premises to take over the lead of this ultra-luxury resort in the Maldives. As a family member, Michal has spent countless days at Velaa Private Island from the very beginning, witnessing the origins of this unique resort as a construction site to conversion into what is today known as one of the top private islands in the world.

His culinary passion, knowledge of luxury travel as well as love for nature, diving and the South Asian culture were essential decision factors when the General Manager role became available earlier this Spring.

We met at the capital Club and sampled delicious canapés and signature beverages prepared by the resort’s very own Executive Chef, Gaushan de Silva, former chef for the Jordanian royal family, who was flown in directly from the island.

Velaa means turtle in the local Maldivian language, after the generations of turtles who nest and hatch on the island, and the turtle shell design can be seen throughout the design of the villas and resort.

Velaa Private Island is a tropical paradise destination for offering the luxury Gulf traveler a very private and relaxing holiday at this boutique island hideaway. The resort offers an exceptional range of watersports and island-based activities to keep both adults and children of all ages entertained.

Created out of a passion for the Maldives, the Owner Czech Businessman Jiri Smejc and his wife Radka have overseen every last detail, working closely alongside award-winning Czech Architect Petr Kolar. From the exquisite interiors of the Villas and Private Residences, to the Lha Velaa (Little Turtle) Kids Club to a pristine 9 hole Golf Academy, shaded Tennis Court, Squash including a submarine for exploring the rich marine life.

There is a Clarins Spa to retreat to when you need some downtime or just enjoy world-class diving and deep-sea fishing while on holiday.

Unforgettable Watersports Experiences


Living on an island, I was fortunate to have an amazing array of water sports to choose from as a child. After all, being brought up on the Coral Coast of the exotic Fiji Islands has its advantages and amongst a host of watersports like surfing, sailing and canoeing, people from our town and visitors enjoyed river rafting as well. It may not be as dramatic as the Futaleufu River’s Terminador rapids but still provided an exciting experience.

Naturally, finding out more about the Futaleufu River brought back a host of childhood memories. Heard surging from a quarter of a mile away, the Class V stretch of white water at Futaleufu cascades over and around imposing granite boulders for eight-tenths of a mile, and it lives up to its name.

The river, which runs more than 120 miles through Chile, drops 3,000 feet from beginning to end, and through its most challenging section of rapids, the Futaleufu drops 45 feet per mile, which is 33 feet more per mile than the Colorado River when it passes through the Grand Canyon.

In Patagonia, which emerged as a world-class white-water destination a little less than three decades ago, the Futaleufu is the ultimate crown jewel. A group of kayakers first negotiated the Futaleufu rapids in 1986, and the following year a commercial rafting company from the United States attempted the Terminador and other rapids along the river.

Outfitted with a traditional rafting boat full of gear and rafters without paddles, the American company successfully traversed a handful of Class V rapids before reaching the stretch of white water that, based on the impending result, would come to be named Terminador.

The rapid offers no margin for error, and the raft, weighed down by rafters who couldn’t addle, drifted from the necessary line down the left side of the river. Instead, it was pulled down the center of the rapid, where it was trapped (and subsequently destroyed) in a large, violent hole, the section of a rapid below a submerged boulder where the resulting waterfall creates a backward-falling wave of equal strength.

All of the rafters survived, but news of the event quickly circulated throughout the international rafting community, and for years the Futaleufu was deemed unraftable. It wasn’t until 1991 that Eric Hertz and his company, Earth River Expedition decided to explore the possibilities.

With 20 years of rafting experience and supported by his fleet of specially designed rafts and catarafts (a cross between a catamaran and a traditional white-water raft that offers greater stability through rapids and better rescuing ability), Hertz and a small team of guides spent a couple of years in the early ‘90s making exploratory runs of the river. Initially, Hertz would allow only accomplished rafters with Class V experience to join him on those explorations, although today, 90 percent of Earth River’s clients are beginners.

The classification of white water is not an exact science and rapids can change classes with the rise and fall of a river’s water level. Nevertheless, as a general rule, a Class V rapid is considered the most extreme white water that can be rafted commercially. In addition to being difficult, it can be treacherous.

With the Mundaca, another famous class V rapid, there is the danger of being swept up in the current that slings everything toward a giant hole near the bottom of the rapid – a hole so large that the backward – crashing wave downriver is as high as the initial drop before it. A hole of this magnitude will flip a raft instantly.

Regardless of the rapids faced, what everyone discovers after a full day of rafting the Futaleufu is the river’s uniqueness. The river is fed by the melting glaciers in the Andres Mountains some 8,000 feet above sea level, but because those glacial waters filter through a series of high-evaluation lakes they’re about 20 degrees warmer when they reach the canyon where the river’s rapids begin to form.

Those high-elevation lakes also allow the silt to separate from the water, which makes the Futaleufu clearer than most glacier-fed rivers and gives it a Caribbean-like turquoise hue. According to Hertz, even the canyon’s geology contributes to a unique rafting experience.

The Futaleufu may be unique, but like most high-volume rivers, it’s in danger of losing its identity. From the beginning of Earth River’s involvement in Patagonia, rumors circulated about damming the Futaleufu for hydroelectric power, which is why Hertz bought land at strategic points along the river.

This allowed him to build distinct campsites, each with its own ambience, and it allowed him to block the damming of river at those specific areas. Hertz was careful to take a minimalist approach. He cut down a few trees and made sure every riverbank dwelling was concealed from view along the water.

All four of Earth River’s campsites are different. They range from a sprawling property with communal area recessed into caves, lost beaches, and natural springs to a treehouse community where guests can drift off to sleep while listening to a cacophony of frogs croaking in the nearby lake. Wooden and stone hot tubs are mainstays at every campsite, as are flush toilets and hot showers, but guest expecting luxurious accommodations with white-linen service will be disappointed.

The luxury of an Earth River trip is that novice paddlers can find peace of mind knowing that their guides can lead them down a river famous for its world-class white water.

The City of Music – Nashville

The first thing I fell in love with in Nashville, the music city was Nashville’s premier hotel, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & convention center and the beautiful guitar exhibits. I went there to attend an IT conference with Epicor and expected a simple resort but the ambience, excitement and energy of the place made me feel I could live there for years and not get bored.

The beautiful gardens beneath climate-controlled signature glass atriums, the meandering Cumberland River plus an extraordinary selection of dining, shopping and recreation options made me feel like this was more of a getaway and I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere in between the conference.

I walked through various indoor gardens, cascading waterfalls and took a boat ride in the indoor river and still had time for the spa and fitness center. Most times, the lush greenery reminding me of my own country Fiji Islands and made me feel right at home.

Inspired by elements of music everywhere in the resort, I set out to see more of what the rest of Nashvile had to offer. Music is in the DNA of people from Nashville and the award-winning Station Inn is considered to be one of Nashville’s premier venues for bluegrass music. Notable artists have performed at this venue, which is perfect for concerts and jam sessions by up-and-coming artists.

Then there is the Tennessee State Museum that tells the story of the state’s rich history over three floors of the building. Creative visitors will love the Frist Center that hosts Visual Arts displays by local, state and regional artists along with national and international exhibitions.

Music lovers will find the ‘Two Old Hippies’ a haven as a retail store offering a large selection of guitars, music, clothing and other novelty merchandise. The shop has a stage with an organ, several guitars and a drum set as well as lighting and a mixing board in a deco where walls are full of music artefacts and memorabilia.

Alternatively, head to Curb Records, an independent music label founded by Mike Curb. The label’s top recordings include hits by legendary artists. A philanthropist, Curb has been instrumental in restoring historic buildings, including Columbia’s Historic Quonset Hut, a recording studio originally established by Owen Bradley, and the Johnny Cash Museum.

Then there is the music Row, home to several businesses and attractions related to the city’s musical heritage. Considered the heart of Nashville’s entertainment industry, the area has the historic RCA Studio B, Columbia’s Historic Quonset Hut, Owen Bradley Park and numerous shops and restaurants. “Musica,” a large bronze statue designed by Alan LeQuire, is the centerpiece of the Music Row Roundabout.

It is all about Music in Nashville. The Musicians Hall of Fame at Historic Nashville Auditorium honors the artists and session musicians who have accompanied legendary performers in a broad range of musical genres, including country, rock, jazz and soul.

Naturally I stopped at the Marathon Motors Factory in the heart of downtown Nashville. This area has an array of music recording studios, numerous shops, studios etc. If you like walking, head to ‘The Gulch’, a historic walkable neighborhood with hip restaurants, eclectic boutiques and vibrant nightlife venues.

In Nashville’s Centennial Park, the Parthenon stands as an exact replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. You can see the 42-foot gilded sculpture of Athena, and temporary shows and exhibitions.

There is so much to se and do in Nashville but Music is really what makes this city stand apart. I enjoyed Nashville and look forward to going back again.

Beach Paradise – Grand Beach Hotel, Miami

In between meetings in New Orleans and Nashville last month, I took a short break at the Grand Beach Hotel in Miami, which is a new beachfront addition to Miami Beach with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean. The property is located on Millionaires’ Row, close to the excitement and nightlife of South Beach and easy to get to from both Miami International Airport and Ft. Lauderdale Airport. It was the perfect break and we are delighted to share our thoughts on the property.

I stayed in one of the hotel’s 430 spacious suites that offer a balcony and two full bathrooms. In-room amenities include two flat-screen TVs, complimentary internet access, international Satellite TV, a refrigerator, wet-bar, coffee-maker, iron, safe, work area and had enough space to open two of my suitcases and a carry on comfortably in the space.

In the afternoons, the best thing to do is enjoy the two beachside pools and hot tubs or head to the 7th floor pool overlooking the Atlantic while enjoying Miami’s year-round perfect weather. The best part of the hotel is having access to more than 200 feet of beautiful white sandy tropical beaches on the Atlantic Ocean or if you like working out, head to the hotel’s well-equipped gym.

I opted for the beach experience and was told I had access to two beach chairs and one umbrella under my room included in our daily Resort Fee. It was perfect and the hotels helps to make the most out of your stay in Florida, whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, relaxing retreat, convention accommodation, a family escape, or are travelling on business.

The hotel completed an exciting $10 million suite renovation in 2015 hence majority of the suites have been refreshed but a few of the original classic suites remain for nostalgic guests. The refreshed suites feature a sleek modern design dressed in a bright color scheme and vibrant fabrics for an energized fresh appearance, new bedding, new carpeting, new sleeper sofa(s), and carefully recrafted furniture with glass countertops, new artwork, and floor to ceiling shower glass doors.

If you feel like a meal, “Chez Gaston” and the lounges serve culinary delights or tropical refreshments. The Chez Gaston kitchen has been expanded to allow the culinary team to service more guests at a faster pace which complements the recently renovated and extended Espresso Gelato Bar that offers many more food and beverage options than ever before.

You can choose to dine in the privacy of your room with the room delivery services, or leave your Miami Hotel for the entertainment of South Beach, which is what I did to catch up with friends from my last visit to Miami.

The checked out the meeting spaces in the hotel and it had all the latest technology and offered a first class selection of catering options for an exotic Miami Beach meeting, family gathering or social event. A business center and a library are just some of the other amenities offered as services.

Grand Beach Hotel is using the next generation of TravelCLICK’s award-winning booking engine, iStay, which revolutionizes the online booking experience with an enhanced user interface and superior property merchandising to drive higher conversion, increase revenue per stay, and enhance guest satisfaction.

It integrates hotel packages and enhanced stay options on the same screen as room reservations and displays up to six large, compelling photographs per room type hence the best way to get to know the hotel before booking. I certainly enjoyed my stay at the Grand Beach hotel in between two major international conferences and recommend it for a good rest and relaxation venue.


Cretan Hospitality:Grecotel

The successful history of the largest and most successful Greek luxury hotel brand, Grecotel oversees a collection of Greece’s finest resorts, each individually designed, crafted and inspired by its own supreme beachfront location.

The brand values high standards of quality, great team and responsiveness to tourists’ needs are key to a successful future together with the unique concept of hospitality that is rooted in Greek culture and style. Hence Grecotel delivers sophisticated lifestyle experiences for travelers in the country’s most beautiful destinations.

Grecotel properties are located in prime locations around Greece on the islands of Crete, Corfu, Rhodes, Kos, Mykonos, the prime mainland regions of Sounio south of Athens, Halkidiki in the north and Kyllini in the legendary Peloponnese.

Each property has a unique character, from ultra-luxury boutique hotels to magnificent resorts on sprawling estates and family-friendly or all-inclusive holiday-lands for quality vacations or romantic hideaways and luxurious spas.

This summer Amirandes Grecotel Exclusive Resort celebrates 10 years of the iconic Resort. Famous the world over for authentic hospitality and devotion to the art de vivre. Indulge in the celebrations with specially designed events throughout the season.

Mykonos Blu Grecotel Exclusive Resort continues to capture guests imagination with its world famous beach, unrivalled suites and the friendliest welcome on the island. It is a dreamy place, ethereal and unreal, when you are there but intensely real as it lures you to return.

Then there is the Corfu Imperial Grecotel Exclusive Resort, which reflects the peninsula’s gorgeous natural setting with an unsurpassed collection of exclusive accommodation among luxuriant, splendid gardens along the shore’s edge. There is easy accessible berthing for yachts & services

Not to be missed is the Riviera Olympia Resort in Peloponnese, Greece set on a spectacular two kilometers long vast beach, with a choice of four amazing resorts. It is a small world away from everyday life with a multitude of resort facilities; all near ancient olympia, where the olympic games were born.

The Grecotel Hotels and Resorts provide a unique architectural experience in itself and a paradise of opulent amenities, gourmet restaurants and luxurious, well thought-of details, all embodying the essence of the genuine Greek hospitality.

Having been awarded over 2000 international awards by guests and the most prestigious international tourism organizations, Grecotel owners are mostly proud of its team known for providing impeccable service of the highest standards in the Grecotel culture.

Villas by Grecotel is a new exclusive service tailor-made to assist you in choosing the perfect villa and a brand new Full Concierge service, all with the Grecotel legacy in privileged hospitality.

Most propoerties offer an abundance of watersports and sports facilities including tennis courts and multi-sports area. If you love wellness, pamper yourself with a sauna before enjoying the treatment of your choice and immerse yourself in the sensory delights of harmonizing treatments at the spas in Grecotel Hotels and Resorts.

Having chosen beachfront locations of superb beauty and history, Grecotel works tirelessly to preserve the natural environment around them. Today, Grecotel hotels have become destination venues for people from all walks of life who through years have enjoyed Grecotel’s signature hospitality and created beautiful memories.

Miami Magic – Memorable experiences in Florida

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There is no place like Miami when it comes to looking for a haven that lets you relax by the day and party by the night both are done in gusto and with equal measure. The calm and serenity that I feel in the coastal parts of Miami, the creative inspiration I feel in the Art Deco areas and the diverse cuisine, sights and sounds that offer a fascinating blend of urban chic and old world rustic charm is what makes me go back again and again.

Miami has great year-round weather, the best beaches and is a cosmopolitan metropolis with an enviable arts and cultural landscape in the back drop blue skies, cotton candy clouds that makes ‘The Simpsons’ sky paler in comparison and cool breezy evenings perfect for beach walks and outdoor sports.

My first stop in Miami is of course the car museum to see the Dezer Collection being a obsessed motoring aficionado and despite taking a hundred pictures, I still discover more unique pieces during each visit. This is followed by a visit to the Everglades National Park, a 1.5 million-acre eco-system of subtropical jungle and the warm waters of Florida Bay so I get a good dose of greenery into my system.  Being a Pisces, I also love the Biscayne National Park that hosts’ lots of marine life and plants, living coral reefs as well as the longest stretch of mangrove forest.

During every visit to Miami, I have stayed in different hotels as the city, the South beach and many more areas have an inspiring collection of hotels, from casual and chic boutiques to the world’s leading luxury properties. My favourites so far include the W Hotel, St Regis Bal Harbour and recently I stayed at the Grand Beach Hotel.

The best drive is getting to South Beach and seeing the Port of Miami which clearly is the Cruise Capital of the World. Last year I went the maiden journey of the largest cruise ship in the world, ‘Harmony of the Seas’. The Port is dotted with sparkling white megaships carrying travelers to the Caribbean and back for more quality time in Miami.

During this drive I also stopped at the Jungle Island that has great wildlife shows, monkeys and exotic birds. I had a private encounter with the lemurs that initially was daunting and I was squeamish but they soon won me over with their cute antics. I wanted to stop at the Miami Children’s Museum, which is hosted in a gorgeous building designed by the award-winning Miami architectural firm, Arquitectonica, but ran out of time.

A visit to Miami is not complete unless you go to the Art deco area, which has a collection of more than 800 architecturally protected buildings from the 1930s and 1940s. If you love art, take ample time to spend here and my only regret is not charging up my camera in full when I visited. It is a photographers dream.

Being a woman, I headed to the very trendy Lincoln Road for uninterrupted retail therapy as this area is pedestrian friendly and has lots of spots to have coffee breaks and watch the locals. Not far from here is the World Symphony Centre with world-class performing arts. During my stay in Bal Harbour, I discovered the famous Bal Harbour Shops across the road which had the best designer boutiques that included Gucci, Fendi, Roberto Cavalli and lovely coffee shops.

Downtown Miami is similar to Dubai and is a hub for international business and finance with tall office towers and condominiums lining Brickell Avenue.  It also has Florida’s largest performing arts center with the Grand Opera, the Miami City Ballet and of course there is the Design District that hosts the top designers.

Close to the Design District is Wynwood that has close to a hundred galleries including contemporary urban murals and relaxation areas. Other new Miami attractions to look out for when you visit are include the Miami Science Museum, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida and the new Miami Art Museum.

One of my favourite parts of Miami is Little Havana where I discovered ‘Cassava or Tapioca’ during lunch one day. It is a root crop I love and is a staple we eat in Fiji. The vibrant area makes you feel happy naturally and one could spend a entire day exploring the cuisine, watching how one hand-rolls cigars, with the backdrop of songs that make you want to start salsa and merengue lessons right away. Another great place is the Coconut Grove with lush and tropical greenery and has lovely cafés, art galleries, retail shops and markets.

Miami has great suburbs such as Coral Gables with beautiful Mediterranean-style homes and winding waterways. The Key Biscayne area is good for hiking and biking trails, boating and sports facilities. North of Miami has great Moorish architecture, good golf courses and large Aventura Mall where I ended up spending a full day. South of Miami is great for Everglades National Park, a World Heritage site and numerous tourist destinations.

Throughout this region, and up near the urban areas to the north, you can take advantage of a wide Miami-Dade Parks EcoAdventures — a wide variety of exciting naturalist-guided excursions for nature lovers and outdoor sports enthusiasts that combine adventure, recreation, and natural history. Discover South Florida’s natural treasures as you kayak, snorkel, bike, or hike in this remarkable sub-tropical environment. Going on nature trails is also great to admire the natural beauty of Miami.

Hence, Miami Beach offers far beyond sun and sand, with world-famous nightlife and world-renowned art galleries, first-class hotels superb dining, designer retail and unique architecture that makes it one of the world’s most visually distinctive regions.

Masters of Luxury Hospitality

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The landmark Al Habtoor City, a fully integrated urban resort development on the banks of the upcoming Dubai Water Canal, located on Sheikh Zayed Road, is minutes away from main attractions such as Burj Khalifa, beach side attractions and The Dubai Mall.

The Hotel Collection at Al Habtoor City will be The St. Regis Dubai, W Dubai – Al Habtoor City and The Westin Dubai, Al Habtoor City providing guests with unique lifestyle experiences and diverse culinary venues to choose from.

The St. Regis Dubai

The already opened St. Regis Dubai offers extravagant luxury and exclusivity. The spectacular hotel has a good mix of French inspired Beaux-Art architecture harmoniously blended with contemporary modern interiors.

The ambience of the hotel epitomisesa high-end luxury experience from the moment you drive up to the hotel. Welcomed by impeccably dressed doormen, resident St. Regis butlers are on hand to meet all your needs and ensure you have a regal stay.

Stunning features and murals in the magnificent lobby area enhances the ambience of the reception area and a grand staircase impresses further, adorned with a chandelier made from handcut crystals. The 234 luxury guestrooms, including 52 suites in the hotel, offer a bright, airy ambience with immaculate decor that highlights glittery chandeliers and signature beds.

Guests looking for a bigger room can avail themselves of the 913sqm, two storey Royal suite with three bedrooms that is located in the central dome of the building with a plunge pool, vast living room with an elegant dining room, study, lounge area and a spacious majlis.

Another attraction is the hotel’s custom-designed one-bedroom Bentley Suite that is inspired by the bespoke craftsmanship of the Bentley Mulsanne. It truly is an ultimate expression of luxury with leather finishes, colours, patterns and wood veneers that combine the refined glamour of Bentley with the sophistication of the St. Regis brand.

The hotel’s eight exceptional culinary venues will please all palates with various options such as American classics at J&G Steakhouse to modern French cuisine at the Brasserie Quartier. Experience the best afternoon teas in Sidra or relax at the open-air cafe Le Patio with friends and family.

Dubai visitors and residents can enjoy the first Iridium Spa in the city featuring an six treatment rooms including hammam rooms for men and women, exclusive product range of Swiss Perfection, and providing special touches such as allowing you to program your own sounds from birdsongs to tropical rain during your treatment.

What makes the hotel stand out further is the fleet of Bentleys to chauffeur guests, an added luxury that is not the usual norm.

W DubaiAl Habtoor City

W Dubai – Al Habtoor City has a 30thfloor lobby instead of a ground level one where guests can check into one of 356 luxury guest rooms and suites to relax and indulge amid modern décor, technology and chilled out ambience. The 32-floor hotel is a perfect blend of art, design, fashion, music and cuisine.

Feast on gastronomic treats in one of many dining venues, and mix and mingle around innovative cocktails. Dine at Namu, the hotel’s signature restaurant or tryLevel Seven, which serves Mediterranean cuisine in a casual environment. Or just enjoy the WET pool deck while sampling delightfully fun snacks and bites and refreshing drinks.

For a casual night out, venture to the W Lounge, which offers drinks prepared by seasoned mixologists in a stylish lobby salon boasting the best views in town.

The Westin Dubai, Al Habtoor City

Strategically located above the new heart of Dubai, this 41-storey hotel tower boasts spectacular views of the iconic Burj Khalifa and Downtown Dubai .With 1,004 rooms including 142 suites, this upmarket hotel is a haven for visitors who love retail therapy, new cuisine and like to explore nearby areas.

Guests can choose from seven restaurants to dine in, each offering seasonal dishes, gastro-pub fare, Italian classics as well as healthy grab-and-go options. Post indulging, you can always feel better with a visit to the WORKOUT Fitness Studio featuring state-of-art gym equipment and personal trainers for a more exclusive experience.

Or unwind in the Heavenly Spa by Westin and get pampered to your hearts content. This family friendly hotel has the added convenience of the Kids Club that gives parents a break, and children plenty of distractions.

Each of the three luxury hotels will offer unparalleled exclusive hospitality services in the Al Habtoor City and we are looking forward to exploring each one of the properties in the Habtoor City Hotel Collection.

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