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Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Luxurious Europa 2 Cruises Ship

“You are the chosen one,” said Ulf Wolter, the fair-haired captain, ofEuropa 2 cruise ship. He was pointing at me. “Return here to the bridge at 6pm tomorrow night just before we set sail and I’ll show you what to do”.

That was an enticing offer, especially on a ship as stylish as Hapag-Lloyd Cruises‘ newest offering. Having a tour of the bridge is one thing, every passenger can have one, but pressing the captain’s klaxon is quite another. In the meantime though, I had a medium-sized luxury ship to explore.

This was a four-night cruise, sailing from Lisbon to Lanzarote, calling at Morocco’s Casablanca and Agadir with a day at sea. It was hardly any time at all, but enough to sometimes forget that I was on a liner. The bright décor, open spaces and easy decorum reminded me of times I had spent in luxury five star hotels.

This ship, probably the most expensive liner around, is not the largest – at most it will carry 500 passengers – but it offers a huge amount of space. Their motto is “luxury is being able to waste space” and the space often show-cases works of art and paintings by acclaimed artists such Damien Hirst and Hockney.

And there’s no need for room envy on this all-suite, all-balcony liner. There are eight grades and even the smallest room is a hefty 28m2/301ft2 (the size of a studio flat). There’s plenty of room for a huge double bed, lots of wardrobe space, a living area with a sofa, as well as a desk and tablet, flat panel TV and a mirror TV in the bathroom.

Mine was the spa room defined by a whirlpool and Jacuzzi and its own sauna-cum-shower in the ensuite. The largest suites are a humungous 100m2/1066ft2 (as much space as a small house) with spa bathrooms that are larger than some double bedrooms – these are so luxurious they won’t give out the price to idle enquirers.

Though drinks are not included in the fare, there is a Nespresso machine and a free mini bar with various spirits, beers and soft drinks. Oh, and a welcome pack comprising fruit and bottle of Champagne.

Feeling as effervescent as the bubbly nectar I was now liberating into a flute, I took time to savour the moment on my veranda on the first night as we set sail from Lisbon. I soon settled on the cushioned sunbed, sipping and watching the twinkling city lights until they finally popped out of view.

In communal areas floor-ceiling windows let in lashing of light on all floors, with glass lifts to maintain the flow of light. The wide open reception area is particularly attractive decked in bright white, with comfy seating, and a small bar with a piano whose melodic tinkerings were good to hear even when just passing through.

The ship has a gym and spa, of course, and a pool surrounded by wooden decks where slumber comes easy on oversized sunbeds. From there stairs lead to the 10th floor and to a communal Jacuzzi – the centre point of a most peaceful segment of the ship.

That’s where I spent one morning when everyone else had disembarked to visit Agadir (I had been before). I sat there relaxing in the bubbling water warmed the midday sun, so serene and all I wanted to do was sleep off the lethargy in one of the cushioned pods dotted around the deck.

This is a German ship, with unfamiliar sounds of German conversations in the ether. In social areas, such as taking tea at the Belvedere, drinks and nibbles at the Sansibar (a partly alfresco bar on deck 8) or cocktail parties around the pool I found myself, sometimes comically, engaging other cruisers with smiles and body language.

At night, entertainment comprised acrobatics, dance and music, but if the entertainment was a show with a lot of chatter, I was better off tapping toes at the Jazz Club with my favourite tipple.

Though I don’t sprechen Deutsch, it wasn’t a problem service-wise. Staff are multi-lingual and this is important because this year Hapag Lloyd Cruises want to reach out to the English speaking world.

Lunchtime, for me, was best enjoyed at the Yacht Club where a waitress/buffet combo and alfresco tables on the terrace appealed.

For non-meat eaters there’s Weltmeere with its large vegetarian options and Sakura sushi restaurant which I liked so much that I joined the sushi making class on sea day. Though what I ended up with looked nothing like what I had been served at Sakura, it was a fun and a brilliant way to encourage camaraderie with other cruisers.

There are other ways to spend time, including a large screen golf simulator, lectures, wine and whiskey tastings and yoga lessons.

It’s good form to dress for dinner, and that fateful night, I’d made a special effort and headed for the bridge for my special pre-dinner role.

“You are just in time” acknowledged the captain. “You will be pressing the horn three times at five second intervals. Don’t worry, I will signal you in”.

It was simple enough, intensely satisfying and though it was all over quickly it was meaningful. After-all, I was signalling the departure from one port and beckoning in a whole new adventure, starting with a pre-dinner cocktail and ending with a day in Casablanca the next day.

Getting on board:

Cruise only fare from £3,140 per person.

Cruise-only fares include: accommodation in the category booked; full board on the ship; mini-bar in the suite; a different entertainment programme each day; port fees; and gratuities. Plus an onboard beverage credit of Euros 150 per person.

Summer Holiday Destinations For Singles Holidays

Holidaying as a solo traveller offers a unique opportunity to see and experience the world in the way you choose, to enjoy those special interest holidays with like-minded souls and to make long-lasting friendships that endure perhaps for a lifetime. And when joining a package tour with a specialist solo travel agency you won’t have to go it alone or pay a single supplement.

Hisaronu, Turkey

The all-inclusive three-star Hotel Era in Hisaronu Turkey is a small, family-run hotel exclusively for single travellers. It has just 20 en suite rooms and guests enjoy sole occupancy of a double room. It has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and the focus of the hotel is the super swimming pool, surrounded by good-sized terraces with sun-beds for everyone. Authentic Turkish touches include the wood panelling in the bar, the hubble bubble pipe and the hammocks hanging in the gardens. A short stroll leads to small shops, bars and restaurants and a short dolmus ride leads to the Blue Lagoon.

Vidamar Resort, Praia dos Salgados, Portugal

The Vidamar Resort is located on Praia dos Salgados, a magnificent beach, seven kms west of Albufeira, backed by dunes which separate it from a freshwater lagoon and nature reserve. This five-star hotel, with a boardwalk to the beach, plus an 18-hole golf course next door, is the perfect choice for solo travellers looking for a sunshine or golfing holiday, or a combination of both! Single guests at the hotel enjoy sole occupancy of a double room and a nightly dinner table is reserved for solo travellers in the Ocean buffet restaurant. Facilities at the hotel, which is set in extensive grounds, include indoor and outdoor pools, a chill-out pool, four restaurants, four bars and a spa and gym.

Pineda de Mar, Spain’s Costa Brava

For solo travellers looking for more than just sunshine on their summer holiday, seven-night beachside breaks in Catalan Spain include authentic experiences such as a cookery workshop and escorted trips to Barcelona, Girona, the medieval hill town of Hostalric and Canet de Mar, with its Catalan architecture. Accommodation is at the three-star plus Hotel Stella & Spa – where guests have sole occupancy of a double room – which is situated just a 10-minute stroll from a huge sandy beach. Facilities include indoor and outdoor pools, a spa – with sauna, a solarium and Jacuzzi – plus a fully-equipped fitness room.

Paros & Naxos, twin-centre holiday

This two-centre holiday combines Paros – an idyllic island in the Cyclades – with its equally beautiful island neighbour of Naxos. This relaxing Greek holiday for single travellers begins with seven nights of ‘chilling’ on Golden Beach in Paros, then transfers to Plaka on Naxos for three nights, a larger resort with a wide choice of bars and restaurants. Accommodation on Paros is at the intimate beachside Villa Aeolos, while on Naxos it’s at the Aegean Land Hotel, perfectly placed for sightseeing and shopping historic Naxos Town. For water sports fans windsurf hire, scuba-diving, water skiing and wake boarding can be arranged. Transfer between islands is by ferry, a journey of around 30 minutes.

Belfast and beyond summer break

This short break of contrasts combines buzzing Belfast – with its many attractions such as the Titanic Museum and its city centre nightlife – with the pretty town of Ballycastle on the beautiful Causeway Coast where ‘must sees’ include the Giant’s Causeway. This three-night Belfast & Beyond bed and breakfast break – where guests enjoy sole occupancy of a double room – spends one night at the Premier Inn in Belfast and two nights at the Marine Hotel in Ballycastle, a small friendly hotel where single travellers will be assured of a warm welcome.

Hotel Baths With A Amazing View

With designer bathrooms quickly becoming a highly lusted-after interior design trend, the world’s most luxurious hotels have unveiled their own bath time eye candy. Imagine sinking into some bubbles looking out across an azure sea, or enjoying a soak with a chilled glass of champagne over a cityscape? Look no further as we round up our top ten hotel baths with a view.

1. 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa, South Africa

Forget whale watching from the hotel’s Leopard Bar Terrace and ignore the private cinema –Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa is all about the bath-time views. The hotel is flanked by The Twelve Apostles Mountain Range and the majestic Table Mountain, proving the most gob-smacking vistas of the UNESCO Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site as you soak in the tub.

2. InterContinental, Hong Kong

Hong Kong is famed for its dramatic skyline, boasting an impressive array of skyscrapers, surrounding mountains, beach-fringed coastlines and Victoria Harbour, which separates Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The really city bursts to life in the evenings though, as the imposing buildings light up in an array of colours and the harbour plays host to the daily Symphony of Lights. Where better to watch than from a vast, circular bath at the InterContinental hotel? Fits two people comfortably – a perfect setting to share a bottle of champagne or two.

3. Chalet Grace, Zermatt

Keen skiers find it hard to tear themselves away from the powder slopes and the stunning mountain views at the best of times. If reluctantly huddling up in a wooden chalet at the end of each day isn’t your thing, then staying in Firefly Collection’s Chalet Grace may be just the tonic. Facing across the valley, Zermatt’s hidden gem offers heart-stopping and uninterrupted views from the deluxe bathroom – the perfect place to thaw out.

4. Raffles Praslin, Seychelles

With the nearby Anse Lazio beach often referred to as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bath with a better sandy view than from Raffles Praslin in the Seychelles. Each villa features a carefully placed bath to maximise star gazing at night or to drink in the lush green hills, white powder beach and opal-hued ocean during the day.

5. Lake Vyrnwy, Wales

Part of  Welsh Rarebits, a collection of hotels with distinction, Lake Vyrnwy Hotel & Spa surprises and delights with a view that wouldn’t look out of place in the middle of New Zealand. If there was ever a reason to visit Wales, it’s this. The bath with a view overlooks a stunning, mountain-ringed lake; there seriously is no better place to shrivel like a prune in the UK.

6. Pier One Sydney Harbour, Australia

Pier One Sydney Harbour is a stunning boutique hotel that offers bath views directly over Sydney Harbour Bridge. Epitomising ‘Exactly Like Nothing Else,’ Autograph Collection’s tagline, the hotel is a shining example of Marriott’s group of boutique, stylish properties. Book the harbour view balcony suite and enjoy a soak overlooking Sydney and the famed landmark bridge – the perfect way to start a trip down under.

7. Singita Boulders Lodge, South Africa

Did you know you can bathe in an alfresco tub whilst watching elephants enjoying some light refreshment? We didn’t either until we happened upon this South African 12 bedroom lodge, set in a wildlife reserve. Soak away your stresses overlooking the Sand River, and you might be lucky enough to spot herds of elephants drinking at its banks.

8. Hideaway Beach Resort and Spa, Maldives

There are few places better than the Maldives when it comes to ocean views, with most over-water villas on the collection of islands offering unbeatable vistas of the Indian Ocean as far as the eye can see. Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa boasts a vast number of these following a recent $50 million renovation, and also offers a personalised butler service. This popular honeymoon destination is the perfect place to order a bottle of Bolly to enjoy in your rose petal bath.Mandarin Oriental, New York

There’s arguably no better skyline than that of New York, and Mandarin Oriental‘s stateside offering boasts unparalleled bird’s eye views of Manhattan. Book the Oriental suite to enjoy a bath not only with stunning views of the Big Apple shimmering below you, but also of the city’s much loved greenery. There’s no better place to immerse yourself in bubbles in the city that never sleeps.

9. Villa Kalisha, Bali

Nestled in the lush Bali jungle, Villa Kalisha sits almost suspended about a steep gorge, overlooking show-stopping vegetation and the volcanoes of Bali. The dramatic open-air bathroom opens up in three directions, with tropical vistas in your eye line which ever way you look from your indulgent copper tub. You will never feel further from home or civilisation than you do here – perfect for the ultimate relaxing soak.

Climbing Gunung Merapi Southeast Asia

Every now and then life pulls the rug from under your feet and leaves you lying on your back – this sibling-esque prank is often referred to as a ‘reality check’. Dangling off the side of Merapi with one hand on a fern root and the other on the arm of Khalid was my mine. I had taken too lightly to climbing the most active volcano in Southeast Asia, and when the path I was walking on suddenly gave way, it turned out to be a mentally draining, yet emotionally rewarding challenge.

Known to locals as Fire Mountain, Gunung Merapi sits on the border between Central Java and Yogyakarta in Indonesia. There have been regular eruptions since 1548, with the most recent in 2010 where 30 people died.

Our walk was to start at 4:30am, under night at Desa Deles, the ranger’s hut at 1,300 metres. By 10am that day I’d be up 2,930 metres high on the summit of Merapi.

The smell of sulfur was in the air, and our torches pierced through a feint haze that slid up the cliffside, our visibility was low and we had to mind shrub, after fern when making our way up the gentle incline.

Our three Javanese guides were trekking without torchlight, one was even in sandals, they used the moon and the stars to guide them.

When the sun rose the air felt cold and we had our first rest break. Looking back down our path we could see the vast settlement that bowed down by the foot of Merapi. It’s hard to believe that so many people still choose to live there, but locals have their reasons; ideal farming soil and religious beliefs. Many believe that the previous eruptions are a result of spirits being angered by not receiving gifts, which they offer them at the summit annually.

The sun rise rays was flowing through the trees and the hike was about to get harder, as the gentle slalom route suddenly inclined along the cliff face.

We had to wrestle with branches, and grab what we could to pull ourselves higher. We’d sometimes encounter clearings in the jungle where we could peer out, always seeing Merapi to our left.

The group of 15 people was now dwindling, as experienced hikers thought they had met their match. Even the hike leader, German Carl had suspiciously caught a chesty cough when the path started to get steeper around 2,000 metres up. In the end five of us remained, with the guide in sandals who had now fashioned a ragged towel into a head scarf that made him look like Little Bo Peep.

Those that remained were determined to conquer Merapi whether our blisters bled, our water ran out or Bo Peep lost his sandals. The steep incline under thick forest meant that we would gain altitude at a faster pace, and gradually the hills, and rice paddys below shrunk and cold streams of air came and went as we entered different air pockets. We found ourselves alone on the side of the mountain, no sign of Indonesian settlements in the distance, or anybody on the mountain top.

The ash was becoming difficult to grip with my shoes, and I found myself bouldering, up vines and branches just to follow the path. It was then that I misplaced my foot and the side of the path that I was on collapsed. Dangling off a cliff face isn’t like they show it in the Mission Impossible films; I wasn’t coolly gripping the edge of the cliff with my fingers, nor was I suspended up in mid-air like a character from Looney Toons, instead I was holding onto a fern root for dear life as Khalid grabbed my arm and yanked me back up.

Shortly after our stop at around 2,500 metres (10:30 am), we reached the dusty, dead plain of Devil’s Bazaar. This is where the locals gather every year to place their offerings to calm the spirits of Merapi. The volcano has erupted every 5 – 10 years without fail, yet the locals still make the treacherous climb to hopefully bring peace between themselves and the mountain.

With every step a rock would tumble down and ash would be kicked up into our shoes and mouth. We passed weather stations that looked like they hadn’t been touched since the Seventies, and yellowing shrubs trying to survive as we continued our walk through what felt like the world’s most depressing desert getaway. We were now face-to-face with the clouds that wrapped around our ankles and passed along the cliff tops.

The head of Merapi stood above us and the surrounding wasteland with the white haze of sulfur circling it like a halo, we had reached the final stretch.

With smoke rising from the peak we began our ascent. The remaining point was like an old pub fireplace covered in ash and dust which covered our faces as we tried to scramble up the cliffside on all fours.

It was slippery. Every step we took we fell two steps down. Even Bo Peep in sandals seemed to tire, as more dust kicked up into our faces and the wind blew the clouds and ash into our sides. But I had to see the top, and so I pushed up the cliff face, hopping from rock to rock.

Standing on the shoulder of a giant, when I broke through the clouds I was surrounded by a deep blue and the air felt clearer. Finally I had reached the summit. I clambered up to the peak, which was an uneven rock around the width of a boardwalk and surrounded by a 200 metre crater drop which was covered by eery sulfurous fumes that seemed to escape from every rock crack. I was an ant on a pen nib, anxiously looking around, watching my step. The others joined me, and we waited a while in silence as the clouds sifted through our hair, and the monster of Merapi quietly slept.

We had to get down before nightfall, and luckily our guide knew a few tricks to get us down safely and quickly, no helicopter or ski lift. With our feet we skied down the side of the mountain, kicking up dust and dislodging rocks.

It was a huge challenge, but the summit will reward you in its own special way.