Lap of Luxury – Gstaad

By Shereen Shabnam

After a few days of rest and relaxation in Zermatt, Switzerland, I was keen to introduce my teenager who loves snow and cold weather to Gstaad. After exploring numerous parts of the country using the Swiss Pass on the way to Gstaad, before venturing to Gstaad, we arrived to a quaint railway station where our driver was waiting to take us to Huus Gstaad, which is one of the most welcoming and homely hotels in the area.

Gstaas is a playground for holidaymakers who prefer a touch of exclusivity for their holiday experiences in a unique landscape that is full of tradition, sports, delectable cuisine and culture. A walk around the town is the perfect antidote to cheer oneself up while trying out hand made chocolates and local cheese platters.

To many, Gstaad is known as a major ski resort and a popular destination amongst high society and the international jet set but it is a perfect place for adventure tourism as well.

While my teenager enjoyed river rafting thanks to the wonderful staff of the Huus Gstaad Hotel, my favourite part of the visit was going up the mountains for tobogganing, watching my daughter try different games and inhaling the fresh crisp air that makes the lungs feel good.

The countryside in Gstaad offers a versatile and diverse sports programme with hiking, mountain biking, paragliding and golf. Gstaad is also a wellness destination and guarantees an unsurpassed variety of leisure activities, spas, healthy cuisine, sports centres and indoor swimming pools.

Set amongst soaring mountains and prestigious international boarding schools, Gstaad is a popular holiday destination for royalty and celebrities. Cable cars connect surrounding ski areas such as Wispile and Rinderberg, with hundreds of kilometers of all-level pistes and cross-country trails.

We started our journey at the centre of Gstaad, which is the most popular and fell in love with the shortest “shopping mile” in Switzerland. With luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants, luxury chalets, the car-free resort was a delight as we walked along the picturesque promenade and tried some of the local delicacies.  explored the local galleriesand exclusive shops.

Retail therapy in Gstaad is a delight with designer stores that include Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chopard, Brunello Cucinelli, Prada, Moncler, Ralph Lauren, and Cartier as well as boutiques that stock labels such as Chloe, Dolce & Gabbana, Tod’s, Burberry, Dior, Oscar de la Renta, and Marc Jacobs.

Food lovers will be happy to note that Gstaad is also a paradise for fine diners, with more than 100 restaurants ranging from cosy raclette restaurants to acclaimed gourmet venues. Our most memorable meal was a five-course meal at Ultima Gstaad.

Leaving Gstaad is not easy as the wonderful views from cosy terraces, the picturesque mountains, fresh alpine air, gourmet cuisine, indoor games near warm fireplaces and outdoor adventures leaves an imprint on the heart and soul.

Each time I visualise a perfect holiday now, my mind wanders to the warmth of the staff and the cosy lobby area of Huus Gstaad and this ultimate hospitality is what makes it a destination that attracts visitors back to the beautiful alpine heaven more than once.

 

 

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RAS AL KHAIMAH TOURISM DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY PARTNERS WITH AIRBNB TO PROMOTE RESPONSIBLE HOME SHARING

Left- Hadi Mousa GM of Airbnb, Right- Haitham Mattar RAK TDA  CEO.jpg

Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) and Airbnb have today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote responsible home sharing, boost tourism and diversify the tourism offer in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.
The announcement was made today by Haitham Mattar, Chief Executive Officer of RAKTDA and Hadi Moussa, Airbnb’s General Manager for the Middle East and Africa, at a press conference in Ras Al Khaimah.

This agreement follows the recent adoption of a new Directive which makes clear that people in the Emirate are allowed to share their space as long as they respect basic safety rules and register via a simple online process.

 

As part of the MoU, Airbnb and Ras Al Khaimah will:

  • Promote the new rules and responsible home sharing by creating a Responsible Hosting Page informing hosts of the rules and linking to official information and sending regular email reminders to hosts;
  • Exchange insights and learnings about travel trends on Airbnb in order to raise awareness about the positive impacts of the Airbnb Community and boost tourism.

Haitham Mattar, Chief Executive Officer of RAKTDA, said; “The MoU that we’ve signed with Airbnb marks a massive milestone towards diversifying the tourism scene in Ras Al Khaimah. We aim to welcome one million visitors by end of 2018 and 2.9 million by 2025, and therefore the demand for more rooms is essential to accommodate those visitors. We are confident that our partnership with a leading international hospitality pioneer such as Airbnb will help take Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism offering to the next level. In addition, this project will strengthen our ability to increase the choice of options for our guests and cater to a more diverse traveler portfolio, particularly in light of growing demand towards the sharing economy.”
On the new Directive legitimising home sharing, Haitham added: “As part of RAKTDA’s responsibility, we will ensure that hosts adhere to the quality standards of safety, insurance, health and amenities needed to enhance the visitors experience.”
Hadi Moussa, General Manager Airbnb Middle East and Africa said “Ras Al Khaimah is a wonderful place to visit and I’m excited that our growing host community will support the Emirate in attracting more travellers to the region and help the diversification of tourism. Airbnb has so far partnered with over 350 governments around the world and we are committed to being good partners to the Emirate and support the responsible growth of innovative forms of tourism.”

The new Directive and agreement between RAKTDA and Airbnb will ensure that more residents of Ras al Khaimah will be able enjoy the benefits of tourism and more guests will be able to discover all the Emirate has to offer.

Top things to do in Madrid

By Shereen Shabnam

 

With the holidays approaching, there’s no better time to start planning for your winter getaway. Madrid is one of the most celebrated and beautiful places in the world and a magnet for elite international tourism and shopping is always top of the list for Madrid visitors.

My daughter has a soft spot for the the iconic El Corte Inglés department store in Castellana, where she has her first ever VIP shopping experience and did a colour consultation that showed her which colours suited her the best.

The store is a draw for shopping lovers as one of the world’s largest stores, there are many amazing activities for the discerning traveller within close proximity.

And while you are in Madrid, here are some of Madrid’s top sights to catch between a shopping spree at El Corte Ingles.

1: Santiago Bernabéu Stadium

Just a nine-minute walk from El Corte Inglés, Madrid’s main football stadium is home to the city’s most popular team: Real Madrid. Opened in 1947, the stadium is enormous and has undergone multiple renovations over the years, now seating up to 81,044 people. There is no better way to experience an integral part of the Spanish culture than to cheer on Real Madrid at a game.

2: Puerta de Alcalá

A quick 10-munite drive from El Corte Inglés, the Puerta de Alcalá, meaning the “Citadel Gate” and derived from the Arabic word al-qal’a, is a neo-classical monumental city gate, and regarded as the first modern, post-roman, triumphal arch in Europe. It was built between 1769 and 1778, using granite and stone from Colmenar and makes a wonderful backdrop for a memorable picture.

3: El Prado Art Museum

Not falling short on culture, Madrid’s Prado Art Museum is one of the world’s first museums to hold a royal collection of art from the 15th to the 17th centuries, including the works of Velazquez’s ‘Las Meninas’ and El Greco’s ‘The Annunciation’. Art lovers can also head to the neighbouring Reina Sofía and Thyssen-Bornemisza finishing the Golden Triangle of Art to admire the works of many world-renowned abstract and surrealist artists, all only a short ride from the famous El Corte Inglés.

4: Plaza de Cibeles square

Adjacent to Paseo del Prado, marvel at marble sculptures at the city’s most famous plaza. Known for its stunning architecture, the fountain features the Roman goddess Cybele who represents Earth, agriculture and fertility, and was adopted by the city’s football team. After a winning match for Real Madrid, this is the spot to celebrate the victory.

5: El Corte Inglés

The seven-storey department store is the hotspot for visiting fashion mavens. International visitors receive a 10% reward discount card year round and can ask to have their shopping delivered to their hotel or home country, along with assistance with their tax refund. Celebrating its 75th anniversary, this shopping mall is in the heart of Madrid, and a stone’s throw away from many local attractions. The store features over 8,000 Spanish and international brands and is the ideal answer to the most discerning shopper with its comprehensive collection of designers.

People travel the world to find the beautiful and fantastic, and Madrid brims with exceptional experiences, whether it is the latest collection of a fashion designer at El Corte Inglés, a painting at one of its museums, or historic buildings that defy time. Let the imagination run wild and find inspiration at every corner of this storied city. El Corte Inglés is an iconic landmark of fashion that marks itself as a destination in its own right.

My Andalusian Journey

Seville, Granada and Cordoba

By Shereen Shabnam

Ever since I bought a home in Spain, visiting Andalusia, a Moorish empire named Al-Andalus (Arabic for “land of the west”) has been top of my agenda to immerse myself in the history and character of the Iberian Peninsula. This year, my Andalusian road adventure lasted three weeks filled wandering through narrow, white washed alleys, relaxing siesta, tapas bars, historical monuments, lush green gardens and so much more. I drove to over nine cities but my experiences in Seville, Granada and Cordoba were the most memorable.

Seville

I started my journey from the Hilton Garden Inn Sevilla after a refreshing nights sleep and headed to Seville City, the heart of Andalusia surrounded by gorgeous buildings with a vibrant flamenco and tapas scene. Seville is after all a city full of art, rich history and colorful culture.

Seville’s beautiful Moorish Giralda tower was visible from a distance as during Moorish times, it served as a minaret and watchtower. I headed straight to the Alcazar and basked in the grand architecture and the beautiful gardens. The palace was occupied from Roman times but later expanded to form the great court of the Abbadid dynasty and each corner is breathtaking.

Seville’s cathedral was a sight to see with tombs, a courtyard of orange trees and afterwards it is great to explore the old Jewish Quarter with vibrant alleys filled with souvenir shops. The Las Setas, a modern art structure and canopy is impressive and the Metropol Parasol offers great photographic opportunities. The historic Buhaira Gardens was where I left my heart. It is stunning and one can spend hours in awe of it.

Granada

Going back to the Alhambra in the historic city of Granada never loses it charm no matter how many times you visit the palace and its impressive and very extensive gardens. Exploring the attraction alone is never enough. After a full day in the Al Hambra, I still ventured out to a nearby hill (Mirador de San Nicholas) to see the building in all its grandeur at sunset.

The afternoons are best spent wandering around Calle Caldereria Nueva for some tapas, tea and to enjoy Hammam baths that compares with the ones we have here in the Arab world and in Turkey. Baths played an important role in Muslim life and you can relive the experience in modern day steam bath venues. Shopping in Granada is a must as you get the best quality souvenirs and at a lot more reasonable cost than other cities in the area.

Cordoba

In Cordoba I stayed in a convent that was later designed into a boutique Hotel. The city was great to walk in and features one of the world’s greatest Moorish buildings, the Mezquita, at its heart.

My first stop was the Mosque of Cordoba followed by the Roman Bridge of Cordoba, Calahorra Tower, the Roman temple of Cardoba, the Museum of Fine Arts of Cordoba, Medina Azahara and the Royal Botanical Garden of Cordoba.

Built between the 8th and the 10th century, Cordoba’s mosque is a beautiful example of Spanish Islamic architecture and brought back memories of working on the publicity of my first architecture project in Dubai for the Andalusia Court in Ibn Battuta Mall.

The evenings were a delight in Andalusia in general as we enjoyed the extravagant Moorish architecture and the exuberant street life of the different cities. There is always a lot going on in Andalusian cities and its picturesque cobbled streets as you encounter historic monuments, tapas bars and fiery flamenco at every corner.

 

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.