Here's looking at Lima

Ancient meets modern in Peru’s charismatic capital where you can see Inca pyramids and art curated by Mario Testino in the same day.
Here’s the low-down on Lima…

Culture trip
Lima’s coolest barrio (neighbourhood) is inarguably the artsy, bohemian Barranco and the person to explore it with is Maria Julia Raffo, a guide with high-end tour company Aracari. Make no mistake: Maria knows everyone and is just the person to introduce you to top fashion studios Meche Correa and Escudo.
Then make for the Larco Museum of pre-Columbian art to lean about the people who lived in Peru long before the Spanish arrived. For something more contemporary, check out MAC (the Museum of Contemporary Art), Mario Testino’s MATE and the Museo Pedro de Osma.

Sleepover
The city’s swankiest boutique hotel? Take a bow Belmond Miraflores Park which was crowned Peru’s Leading Hotel 2017 by World Travel Awards, no less.
Set in a verdant garden, Belmond Miraflores Park is a true urban sanctuary. Unwind in Zest Spa, or put in some extra work hours in the sophisticated Executive Lounge. Come evening, ascend to the rooftop pool for a sunset dip - the ocean views will take your breath away

Shop to it
Shopaholics will want to put Artesanías Las Pallas at the top of their Lima travel plans. Run by British expat Mari Solari, who relocated to Lima in the sixties, this part shop, part museum houses an impressive collection of arts and crafts - think intricate jewellery, rugs, ceramics and more - all handpicked by the owner. Be warned: a trip here will decimate your baggage allowance.

Eat up
Planning for a visit to Peru for the food? Make a beeline for the Miraflores district. Central, with its Michelin starred chef, is the place for an Andean-inspired tasting menu.
Alternatively make for El Mercado for fantastic ceviche - Peru’s famous and delicious dish consisting of fresh fish marinated in lime juice with hot peppers - washed down with a strong Pisco Sour.
Alternatively try Amaz where the speciality is, erm, snails the size of your fist.
Back in Barranco, try Isolina which serves large bowls of classic Limeño home cooking.

Take a stroll
Do as the locals do while in Lima and stroll along the Malecon, a six-mile stretch of parks situated along the cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean.  The Malecon features two of Lima’s most popular tourist attractions in Larcomar and Parque del Amor, as well as the Parapuerto paragliding service and the Faro lighthouse.

Ras Al Khaimah’s best hotel villas

Sumptuous spas, first class restaurants, bedrooms bigger than your London flat, conscientious concierges – yes, there’s a lot to love about luxury hotels.

However if you want to be able to wander to the kitchen for a midnight snack, connect your iPods to the central sound system or relax by a pool without being bothered by the chatter and splash of other guests, then a hotel villa is invariably the answer.

Happily for anyone headed to Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) to make the most of the mountains, deserts, pristine white-sand beaches and some of the best hiking in the Middle East, the UAE’s northern most emirate is home to a handful of hotel villas just begging to be booked.

And fortunately for you, dear reader, Best in Travel has done the hard-work. Here we round up RAK’s best hotel villas – just don’t forget to send us a postcard…

 

Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach Villas
The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach – the second luxury resort for The Ritz-Carlton brand in Ras Al Khaimah – features 32 luxurious tented villas, each with its own pool and direct beach access, offering comfort and privacy complemented by breathtaking views and indulgent amenities.
Guests can choose from two types of villas. The Al Naseem Villas feature local design elements inspired by traditional Bedouin architecture and offer an elevated level of seclusion, while the Al Bahar Villas include open views and private beachfront access. Both are a tonic for trammelled travellers.
http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/uae/al-hamra-beach/villas#fndtn-Villas
 

The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert
Set in the midst of 500 acres of desert in the northern part of Ras Al Khaimah, the resort has 101 villas, spread across the protected Al Wadi Nature reserve.
Each of the stand-alone villas features a large outdoor furnished terrace with private infinity pool, some with steps directly down to the dunes, while others are more enclosed for those seeking extra privacy.
Inside, guests can hunker down in front of the huge television in the living room, snuggle up in a spacious bed or take a bath with Asprey amenities in a stand alone tub so large you’ll never want to get out.
Anyone opting for a tented villa, should expect Ia glass-enclosed rain shower,  free-standing tub with views out to the pool and desert dunes and a dressing room with double wardrobes. Tempted? You should be.
http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/uae/al-wadi-desert/villas


The Cove Rotana
Welcome to The Cove Rotana – Rotana’s first property in the emirate that everyone is talking about.
The resort – which is located on an idyllic water inlet on the Ras Al Khaimah beachfront overlooking the Arabian Gulf with 600m of pristine beach – offers  78 one, two and three bedroom villas that are perfect for those who want to enjoy all the privacy and intimacy of a villa experience while still being able to take advantage of the hotel service. 
All villas are furnished in contemporary Arabic styles and offer every comfort and amenity that a discerning traveller would expect.https://www.rotana.com/rotanahotelandresorts/unitedarabemirates/rasalkhaimah/thecoverotanaresort/accommodation/villas

Jannah Resort & Villas Ras Al Khaimah
Ideally located in Al Mina, Ras Al Khaimah, just a 45-minute drive from Dubai International Airport, Jannah’s villas consists of 4 four-bedroom beachfront villas boasting temperature-controlled private pools and private gardens that are only steps away from the beach.
No need for four rooms? There’s also 15 three-bedroom garden-view villas and 5 three-bedroom pool-view villas, situated a stone’s throw from the shoreline, with 348 square meters of space. Stay a little while and you may never want to leave…
https://jannah.ae/hotels/jannah-resort-villas-ras-al-khaimah

COMING SOON

Anantara Mina Al Arab Ras Al Khaimah Resort
RAK’s hotel villa scene has never been shinier, smarter or more exciting than it is right now, thanks to a slew of stylish openings that have dramatically changed the hitherto forgotten emirate.
But the upcoming opening we’re most excited about is Anantara Mina Al Arab Ras Al Khaimah Resort. Set to open in 2020 – just two short years, people – the resort will feature the first Maldives-inspired overwater villas of their kind in the emirate and embrace guests in authentic luxury. We can’t wait.
https://www.anantara.com/ras-al-khaimah/

Talking travel: Buenos Aires

In the first episode of Talking Travel - Women Radio Station’s new weekly show for travel news from around the world, fascinating guests and answers to your burning travel questions - we’re shining the spotlight on Buenos Aires.

Until recently Buenos Aires was starved of direct, affordable flights from the UK but - happily, listeners - change is on the horizon.

From Valentine’s Day, budget airline Norwegian Airlines will be showing its love for Argentina’s charismatic capital with the launch of the longest-ever nonstop route from Gatwick to Buenos Aires.

And the good news is that regardless of whether you’re down to your last dollar or have oodles of cash to splash, there’s plenty to do in the Paris of the South - as BA is affectionately known.


So let’s start with those who are suffering from that January skint feeling….

BA ON A BUDGET

Recoleta Cemetery
By far and away, Buenos Aires’ number one tourist attraction is Recoleta Cemetery which is open from 8am-6pm. This city of the dead is where generations of Argentina’s great and good – including Evita – were buried.
Even better? It’s absolutely free to see Evita’s final resting place.  And don’t worry about missing Eva Duarte’s mausoleum – simply follow the crowds or join a complimentary tour that’s offered in English at 11am every Tuesday and Thursday.

San Telmo market
The barrio - which means neighbourhood - of San Telmo is famous for its narrow cobbled streets and crumbling villas  – and the Feria de San Telmo (from 10am) – an unmissable Sunday market selling some of BA’s best arts, crafts and souvenirs including bombilla, the metal straw used to drink Argentina’s beloved Mate (a bitter herb drink). Even if shopping isn’t your bag, the San Telmo street market is worth visiting for the atmosphere alone: expect to see colourful street performances plus vendors loudly peddling freshly squeezed orange juice and empanadas (super South American pies).

La Casa Rosada
The Presidential palace – whose pretty pink hue demonstrates what happens when pigs blood is mixed with white paint – is home to the balcony where Argentina’s most famous son, Diego Maradona (a footballing god who made an enormous amount noise both on and off the pitch) greeted crowds from the balcony after winning the 1986 World Cup for Argentina. The pink palace is also where Evita – the country’s beloved First Lady – used to address her legion of fans often called the descamisados (shirtless ones) owing to their impoverished status.
You can tour the building for free on a Saturday or Sunday upon presentation of your passport.
www.casarosada.gob.ar

Reserva Ecologica
When the hustle and bustle of BA gets too much – as it will  – escape to the Reserva Ecologica. Compromising 360 hectares of wetlands, the Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur – to give it it’s full name – is a popular place for hikers, picnickers, bird watchers (expect to see 300 species), bikers, nature lovers – river turtles, iguanas and nutria are all present and correct – alike. For the best views of the Rio Plata’s muddy waters, head to the eastern shoreline of the reserve.
www.buenosaires.gob.ar/ambienteyespaciopublico/mantenimiento/espaciosverdes/reservaecologica

La Boca
Working class La Boca is loaded with charm and colourful corrugated metal buildings (the ones that you see on the cover of every guidebook). It doesn’t cost a penny to stroll El Caminito – the barrio’s most famous street and browse the crafts and watch the tango dancers strut their stuff.

Feria de Mataderos
BA’s best kept secret, the Feria de Mataderos is held every Sunday in the working class barrio of Materados. Admittedly Materados is a bit of a schlep to reach (you’ll need to take bus 126, 155 or 180 from downtown for around 90 minutes) but it’s worth it to watch gauchos (Argentine cowboys) and folk singers entertain the crowds. The highlight however is the La sortija show: gauchos gallop at their fastest along a corridor of sand before rising up out of their saddle– leaving just their feet in the stirrups – in an attempt to spear a small ring, all the while cheered on by rowdy locals.
www.feriademataderos.ar

Milonga madness
One essential is to experience a milonga (traditional tango dance night.) Argentina is synonymous with sultry tango – a passionate dance that has seduced the world – and nowhere more so than Buenos Aires, where the spirit of tango oozes on every street corner. Confiteria Ideal (the grand dame of BA’s tango scene) and La Cathedral (quite possibly Baires’ coolest tango club) are mentioned in every guide book and for good reason.
However if you’re on a budget, look to La Glorieta – a free outdoor milonga which takes place every Saturday and Sunday evening at the Barrancas de Belgrano bandstand.


BLOW THE BUDGET
Now if you’re feeling flush, you’re in luck for while BA can be a bargain destination, it’s also a great place to blow the budget.
And if you start feeling a little guilty, consider this: life is short, you work hard and you deserve it…
 

The Clubhouse
Co-working in Argentina is on the rise but, as remote offices go, The Clubhouse stands head and shoulders above the competition.
By day this Palermo Soho destination for all things cool serves as a much needed work sanctuary for the creative industries, in a metropolis plagued by poor WiFi.
By night it’s a lively scene straight out of a magazine: model-esque staff serve top notch cocktails around the prettiest of pools, while other ‘after work’ events include art exhibits, tastings, talks by opinion leaders, theme parties, fashion shows and private dinners.


Floreria Atlantico
Floreria Atlantico – a secret, basement speakeasy – is arguably the best bar in BA right now. And that’s saying something in a city with no end of trendy places to go…. Upon entering the rather charming flower shop, look for the industrial freezer door and then descend the stairs to this decadent drinking den – the brainchild of renowned Argentine mixologist Renato ‘Tato’ Giovannoni.
Thanks to its modernist lighting and decent drinks mixed by cool staff, this long and narrow bar is great place to meet both hip locals and expats. Not hip? It doesn’t matter. The whole point of travelling is that you don’t have to be yourself.

Hotel Classico
Hotel Classico – the second project from Argentine born, Los Angeles based restaurateur and television personality, Adolfo Suaya – is without a doubt the hottest address in town, something its occupancy rates bear testimony to. This place is permanently full.
Guests can look forward to luxurious leather headboards, marble bed frames, walk-in rainfall showers, organic toiletries, chandeliers and classic images of the Paris of the South. Further draws include a seventh floor sun-deck, mezzanine level bar and basement cabaret club due to open next year.

Elena, Four Seasons Buenos Aires
For a sophisticated dinner, try Elena at the Four Seasons Hotel –  the BA bolt hole of choice for stars ranging from Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall to U2 and Madonna. I’m not usually one for staying to the confines of a hotel but Elena – a stunning two storey courtyard restaurant – is worth making an exception for.
Rich interior furnishings – including a marble butcher’s table manned by an expert chef and locally-sourced antiques – seamlessly blend South American and European cultures in true Buenos Aires fashion, with hand-crafted finishes by local artisans adding a unique character. It’s the perfect place to throw yourself into a feast of local cuisine: think a selection of meats loved by locals, from precision-cut dry aged steaks to  Argentinian kobe beef expertly prepared on the rotisserie.

La Bombonera
You can’t leave Argentina without watching a live football match. To say that the Argentines adore football is arguably the understatement of the century. Football isn’t just a game in this country – it’s a religion.
And if you’re visiting Buenos Aires in particular, there’s absolutely no getting away from it (there are around two dozen professional teams in Argentina’s charismatic capital alone).
The country’s favourite team is Buenos Aires based Boca Juniors who play at the legendary La Bombonera stadium in working class La Boca.
Boca was also the first club of one Diego Armando Maradona – the street kid with a gift from God who succeeded in escaping the Argentine shanty town of Villa Fiorito, where he shared a room with seven siblings, to become the only footballer to set world-record for contract fees twice.
But bagging tickets to a Boca game isn’t cheap: you’ll have to part with a crazy amount of pesos through a ticket agency.

Casa Felix
My final suggestion, would be check out a puertas cerrada - aka closed-door restaurant. This underground dining concept has swept BA and basically sees talented chefs serve private dinners in their own homes.
Dining with what are, in essence, complete strangers may not be everyone’s cup of Mate (Argentina’s beloved herb tea) but – for me at least – this was a big part of the attraction. I loved breaking bread (both bitterly and metaphorically) with fellow foodies who, after a glass of Malbec, soon felt like old friends at a private dinner party. I felt a sense of community, together with a frisson of excitement throughout the evening – although the fact that most puertas cerradas are illegal may have had something to do with it.
If you’re listening/reading this and wondering how the (ever resourceful) Argentines are able to get away with running closed door restaurants that violate the law, all I can say is: this is Argentina. Laws there are rarely enforced.
If you’re going to a closed door restaurant, just don’t forget to bring cash (it’s a cash only world in Argentina) and book ahead: most closed-door restaurants are only open in the evenings from Wednesday to Saturday and, the buzz surrounding them is so big, that they tend to fill up fast

 

So there you have it! The low-down on BA…

Certainly the city can frustrate with its weekly power cuts and corruption, all of which means Buenos Aires can’t be described as an effortless destination.

But the rewards are immense: make no mistake this is one of Latin America’s most exhilarating cities where it’s still possible to bag tickets to a big gig only a few days beforehand and where dinner reservations don’t need to be made a month in advance.

It’s one of those places that makes you feel better, just by being there.
 

Recap: World Travel Awards Asia & Australasia Gala Ceremony 2017

High speed Shanghai - arguably China’s sexiest city - was selected as the destination for World Travel Awards Asia & Australasia Gala Ceremony 2017.

And for good reason. Few cities exude such a tangible sense of up to the minute cachet and cool, and chances are everyone from your dentist to your best friend and old flame, has a trip booked to the dynamic Chinese metropolis that’s home to the historic Bund - a sweeping neoclassical curve of former trading houses, foreign banks and customs buildings beside the busy Huangpu River.

Factor in the French Concession - one of the city’s most beautiful areas owing to its low-rise, villa-lined leafy backstreets - the ever-taller architecture, fabulous food and a buzzing fashion scene, and you have one of the world's most thrilling international cities.

Of course, Shanghai is also where you’ll find the Grand Kempinski Shanghai, the venue for the prestigious awards ceremony.

Located in the Lujiazui financial and trade section of Shanghai’s prestigious Pudong District, the hotel offers 686 impeccable guest-rooms - including superior, deluxe and executive room types - plus the Diplomatic, Imperial, Studio or Presidential suites.

Beyond the bedrooms, guests can take advantage of the hotel’s four gourmet restaurants, three bars and onsite health club, while the city’s famous landmarks are a short stroll away.

Rudiger Hollweg, General Manager at Grand Kempinski Hotel Shanghai, said: “We are extremely proud and honoured to have hosted the 24th annual World Travel Awards Asia & Australasia Gala Ceremony at Grand Kempinski Hotel Shanghai, an iconic luxury hotel in one of the most exciting cities of the world.” 

The show itself took place on the evening of Saturday 4th June 2017 and was compered by the hugely experienced Shanghainese host and presenter, Justin Gu. 

The glittering red carpet ceremony also showcased some of China’s finest traditions including kirin (a celebration, through song, of the mythical animals of Kylin who promote peace and prosperity) and performances such as Su san danced with moonlight. The latter takes inspiration from the Peking Opera, a complicated Chinese stage art that combines performances, acrobatics, gongs, drums, facial paintings, music and more to dazzling effect.

A horse racing ceremony, deriving from the prairies of China and featuring galloping horses, music and drums as well as beautifully dressed performers, completed the mesmerising line up of performances.

Speaking after the ceremony, World Travel Awards Vice President, Chris Frost, said: "What a fantastic evening it’s been here at Grand Kempinski Hotel Shanghai.

“It has been an honour to recognise some of the leading hospitality providers from Asia and Australasia tonight and I offer my heartfelt congratulations to each and every one of them.

“I look forward to seeing many of tonight’s winners later this year at the Grand Final in Vietnam, where they will compete for the global titles.”

Partners for the Asia & Australasia Gala Ceremony 2017 included TV5 Monde, Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration, SriLankan Airlines, Bookingee.com and Vietravel.

 

BUTTONS
PHOTO GALLERY: hyperlink to https://www.worldtravelawards.com/gallery/asia-and-australasia-2017

ASIA WINNERS: hyperlink to http://www.worldtravelawards.com/winners/2017/asia

AUSTRALASIA WINNERS: hyperlink to http://www.worldtravelawards.com/winners/2017/australasia

EVENT HIGHLIGHTS: hyperlink tohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQJHKBPn_hc

 

Pray for Syria

The Syria I remember, does not look like the one that we see on TV.

I was in Damascus, the capital of Syria, with my friend Diana during 2008 when there was a real sense of optimism.

Blessed with biblical history (as Mark Twain once said: ‘Go back as far as you will in the vague past, there was always a Damascus’), the medieval UNESCO World Heritage listed beauty was charming travellers in their droves.

And for good reason. Back then, the Syrian capital boasted an embarrassment of riches: citadels, ruins, religious, architectural and archaeological sites and a labyrinth-like souk were are all present and correct.

As someone who was living in the Gulf region at the time, I can say that, in 2008, Damascus was easily the most magical city in the Middle East – and the most diverse. Contrary to popular perception, Damascus isn’t an Islamic state. During my sojourn, the skyline was punctuated not only by domes and pencil slim minarets of mosques, but also by churches and synagogues and the three religions successfully mingled and collided on every street corner.

Fast forward 10 years  and the death and destruction sweeping Syria is on a scale not seen since the Second World War. The widespread annihilation of Syria's towns and cities by the Syrian military, the Islamic State group and international forces have left entire neighbourhoods in ruins.

The locals I met a decade ago were all unfeasibly friendly – and fiercely proud of their country. Not so today in the wake of the news that an estimated 400,000 people have been killed and 5.6m have become refugees, since the start of the Syrian War in March 2011.

Indeed no one can be proud of their part in the Syrian conflict. Not Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the brutal dictator intent on slaughtering his own people. Not the Islamic State– the terrorist organisation that, though damaged, remains a threat. Nor the rebel groups, many of whom have have committed some unquestionable atrocities.

And certainly not the UK whose Tory government has, after turning a blind eye to the genocide of the Syrian people for so long, suddenly professed to be sickened and saddened by the suffering of the Syrians – despite their poor record on taking in Syrian refugees.

When we left Damascus in 2008, Diana and I vowed to revisit Syria a decade down the line having reached the same conclusion as French archaeologist Andre Parrot, that: “Every person has two homelands; his own and Syria.”

Diana and I have, for obvious reasons, decided against experiencing Syria any time soon but that’s not a luxury the Syrian citizens have.

Britain and the US can no longer turn its back on the Syrian people and leave Syria to the whims of Russia, Iran, and Turkey.

In the words of Marshall McLuhan: “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”

http://www.justabouttravel.net/2018/04/30/pray-for-syria/