Ibiza

The rebirth of Ibiza


The legendary party island has a peaceful side says The Sybarite

Ibiza has always had a bit of a reputation. For years it’s been known as the sunny Spanish island where you can party hearty all day and all night long (not for nothing is Ibiza known as the clubbing capital of the world).  A place where star sightings (think P. Diddy, Leonardo Di Caprio, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Justin Bieber, Paris Hilton - who in the past has hailed Ibiza as her “favourite island” and worked as a DJ at nightclub Amnesia-  Kate Hudson and Moss, Naomi Campbell, Kevin Connolly… we could continue) are ubiquitous.

Fast forward to 2016 and Ibiza still plays host to tonnes of tourists who flock to the White Isle in their droves purely to drink and dance until dawn in places like Pacha (one of the few venues open year round), Privilege (P. Diddy, Madonna and Jade Jagger have all been papped busting a move in this 10,000 capacity club) and Space (a favourite haunt of everyone’s favourite Aussie, Kylie Minogue).

However while the beat goes on, things are definitely changing on Ibiza. Suddenly the island has begun anew and nightlife no longer revolves solely around clubbing. Rather the Spanish island has become inundated with upmarket restaurants and low key bars loved by those who don’t want to return from their holiday, in need of a holiday.


And beyond the nightlife hubs of San Antonio and Playa d’en Bossa, this beautiful Spanish island boasts unspoilt beaches such as the pine-forested cove of Cala Xuclar on the north shore, culture (in 1999, UNESCO declared parts of Ibiza - including the remains of the Phoenician settlement of Sa Caleta, the Phoenician-Punic cemetery of Puig des Molins and the beautiful old town Dalt Vila -World Heritage Sites) and quaint hamlets (say hello to Santa Gertrudis and San Miquel) that offer an (albeit unlikely) tranquil escape.

For the fact of the matter is that, whether the Ibiza’s raucous party goers like it or not, the island is on a new ascent. Ibiza, by all accounts, is tired of its party image if the emergence of health and fitness retreats like The Body Camp (www.thebodycamp.com) are anything to go by.

The Body Camp, whose famous fans include Millie Mackintosh, Caggie Dunlop and Madeleine Shaw, promises a full mind, body and soul transformation. Guests can shape up in the great outdoors with a variety of fun fitness activities, from beach circuit training to sea swimming and yoga and take part in educational cookery classes and mindful coaching workshops, before unwinding a with a revitalising dip in the mineral-rich salt water pool.

38 Degrees North (www.thirtyeightdegreesnorth.com) is another popular spot for those looking to detox rather than retox in Ibixa. Run by Kelly Morgan and James Davis, 38 Degrees North appeals to people searching for a holiday where you feel great inside and out at the end of it, promising as it does “excellent results, with improvements in posture, fitness, muscle tone and reduction in body fat for clients.”

But arguably it’s Pop Up Fitness (www.pop-up.fitness) that is generating the biggest buzz right now. Based near the village of San Augustin, this seven day boot camp - the brain child of former PR executive-turned-personal trainer, Olivia Cooney, who once worked for Welsh singing sensation singer Katherine Jenkins - offers an alternative to brutal military-style fitness camps. Clients can follow in the footsteps of model Zara Martin, MTV presenter Laura Whitmore and TV chef Gizzie Erskine, and shape up with paddle boarding and beach runs while simultaneously enjoying massages, moonlight meditation classes, hearty yet healthy meals and an open air cinema.

Bottom line? Whisper it quietly but there is another side to the party capital of Europe. Contrary to public perception it is possible to visit this tiny island (ibiza is only 14 kilometres wide and 42 kilometres long) without ever stepping foot in a club - and still have a great time…
 

Colourful Colombia: part two

Kaye Holland finds heaven in Colombia – a country that is finally getting the attention it deserves

 

When you’ve had too many cups of tinto (black coffee), shake off your caffeine jitters by venturing to the beautiful Valle de Cocora by Jimmy Jeep. Often described as a tropical version of Switzerland and famed for its palma de cera (wax palm), arriving at Cocora is akin to stepping into a fairytale. The scenery – all dramatic green mountains and picturesque pastoral fields– is the stuff that landscape artists must kill for. There are no roads or shops and the only views you’re unlikely to see are high rise skylines and bright city lights, for Cocora is all about outdoor adventure. Make no mistake: nature and hiking aside, there’s not a lot to do here but then that’s the attraction. Valle de Cocora is the kind of place where everyone seems to have nothing to do except sit in the shade…

 

Not so in Medellin – the city of Colombia’s proudest residents –whose hedonistic clubs are mentioned in the same breath as Berlin and Ibiza.

Scared by Medellin’s sinister reputation after watching Paradise Lost? (Hollywood recently released a romantic thriller about cocaine kingpin, Pablo Escobar, who famously played out his crimes in Medellin). Don’t be. Sure Medellín may have been off-limits once upon a time (as anyone who has seen the Benicio del Toro film or read Mark Bowden’s book, Killing Pablo can attest) but today Medellínhas emerged from the shadows of Bogota and Cartagena (more of later) and is very much back on the menu. So much so that if you weren’t au fait with the fact that Medellín was once the world’s murder capital, you’d never believe that the city was demonised for decades.

 

Medellin has experienced a see of change in recent years – for the better – and people are living here now not because they have to, but because they want to. Take my Airbnb host Paul, an Essex boy, who gave up his home and job in Chelmsford to move to Medellín (via Bogota) and says, save for the Premier League, there’s not much he misses about his old life in England…

 

Paul and the other paisas (residents) I met waxed lyrical about Medellin’s metro system (the only one in Colombia) which they go to great lengths to keep spotlessly clean), the plethora of parks and gardens, year round spring like climate –  not for nothing is Medellín nicknamed the ‘City of Everlasting Spring’ – and superlative shopping, dining and drinking options in the El Poblado barrio. Trust me: if good nightlife and shops filled with glittering goodies to make any magpie happy are your thing, you’ll dig this former international pariah. Other cities in Colombia may have more history, but nowhere delivers as much sheer, unadulterated fun as Medellin.

Got an extra day to kill? Go to Guatapé – a pretty lakeside town that’s within easy day tripping distance of Medellin. A popular weekend getaway for paisas, this little corner of Colombia is chock full of impossibly photogenic, pastel painted houses – if you really want to impress your Instagram followers, this is the place to do so.

 

Then continue onto Cartagena – or Cartagena de Indias as it was originally, and romantically, called. Without a doubt Cartagena is one of the most beautiful and seductive places I’ve ever visited – think cobbled alleys, flower bedecked balconies (a prize is awarded every year for the most beautiful balcony), horse drawn carriages, statues (saluting the heroes who helped defend Catargena against British and French colonialists, pirates and ultimately from Spain) and elegant plazas, all of which combine to help the city maintain a unique unspoiled identity.

 

You could spend days wandering around the walled old town – where every budget from top end to backpacker can find a home – putting your bargaining skills to the test by purchasing sweets from El Portal de los Dulces (featured in Gabriel Garcia Maquez’s Love in the time of Cholera), before loosing yourself in a labyrinth of sights, sounds and smells.


 

However determined to return home with a tan, I went in search of Playa Blanca – a beach about 20km south west of the city on Isla de Baru. It didn’t disappoint: all the trappings of mass tourism – the jet skis, banana boats and babble – were conspicuous by their absence. Instead I enjoyed a classic combination of white sand, turquoise seas and the smell of coconuts on the breeze, while being served ridiculously cheap cocktails (it’s a fact that drinks taste better on a beach) by friendly vendors.

 

I’d have happily stayed there forever, but a final night in Cartagena was calling. Fittingly it was a magical one full of fabulous food like Arepas de huevo (fried corn cakes filled with egg) and Papas rellenas (potato balls stuffed with cheese), mojitos and music, that had me pinching myself in disbelief: what was a little girl from hum drum Watford doing in colourful Colombia?

 

The perfect mix of winter sun and loud and proud Latin culture, there is nowhere better to end the year - or start the new one - than Colombia, so pack away your prejudices. The only danger is wanting to stay – it’s just taken the world a while to figure this out…


To read part one of Kaye’s Colombia article, please click here


Party at La Plage by Bacanal

Kaye Holland has the low-down on La Plage – the latest luxury London brunch party by Bacanal
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The sun’s out, the weekend is around the corner … it must be time for a brunch party. For while brunch was once about eggs benedict and builder’s tea, in 2014 the midday meal – devised by British journalist, Guy Beringer back at the start of the 20th century – revolves around champagne, haute cuisine, DJs and dancing atop tables and chairs.

 

Today there’s a number of brunch soirees to choose from – Love Brunch and Broadway Brunch have recently joined the battle of the brunches – but if you’re looking to burn the midnight oil in the middle of the day, there’s only one name that discerning Londoners need to know: Bacanal.

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Bacanal – the brainchild of former financial institutions banker Diego Lijtmaer – pioneered the boozy brunch scene back in 2010. For the past four years, Diego’s decadent parties have taken place in some of London’s best venues – take a bow The BoxNozomi and Kensington Roof Gardens. New for summer 2014 is La Plage by Bacanal: London’s first Moet & Chandon sponsored island style pop up residency day club, that takes place on the rooftop of theMillennium Gloucester Hotel.

 

But while the locale and decor – expect to be partying among palm trees and sun beds designed to transport Bacanal’s glossy clientele from the city to Cannes or Ibiza in a matter of minutes – may have changed, the format remains the same. Bacanal are still serving up their signature Saturday fun (dining, drinking and dancing) as Haute Time can attest.

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We attended a recent La Plage party where the ambience was intoxicating. Everyone looked sensational – like they belonged in a glossy magazine. And everyone was having a blast.

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Why, Haute Time asked one west London socialite in huge sunglasses, do Londoners love La Plage so? “Because you get to eat – the food here is incredible – drink and be entertained [think top London DJs, electric orchestras and Brazilian samba bands] in gorgeous surroundings – and all before 8pm,” she replied. “I don’t want to wait until the evening to party.” Plus, as her companion – clad in some preposterous 3/4 length rainbow coloured trousers teamed with loafers – put it: “ Who doesn’t love brunch ?” Well quite.

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By now it’s 4pm, the champagne is flowing and I’m deep into a raging hangover. The only sensible thing to do? Drink some more champagne – which isn’t difficult when you’re presented with a bottle of Moet Ice Imperial (specifically developed by Chef de Cave, Benoît Gouez, to be served on ice during the hot summer months) – and nibble on strawberries.

 

Refuelled I move on and bump into a group I know only vaguely but at La Plage – buoyed by booze and the infectious attitude – they’re full of bonhomie. “Bacanal are perfectionists,” smiles Jo Simms. “I’ve been to rival brunch parties but they never flow as smoothly as La Plage and the surroundings are rarely as stunning.”

 

 

The setting – a large, open air sun roof in well heeled Chelsea – is certainly peerless but the security guards wouldn’t be out of place in North Korea. Case in point? I couldn’t (and not for want of looking) find a bin to throw away my empty bottle of water, so left it on a side table near the ladies toilets – only to almost be thrown off the premises.

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Diego Lijtmaer, co-founder & managing director at Bacanal Media & Entertainment

 

I go to the bar to get more champagne, turn around with my drinks and bump into the dapperDiego and ask: “What is the future for La Plage?”

“In London, clubs come and go,” says Diego. “I want to make sure that La Plage stays current and is a place where people can let their hair down and enjoy themselves while making new friends. People travel from all corners of the world to come to our parties, so everyone is welcome: the only rule is to have a good time!”

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Haute Time’s Kaye Holland (centre) bumps into Black and Brown London’s Simi Singh (right)

 

Next I see Simi Singh –  founder of luxury London accessories label, Black and Brown. “I thinkLewis Hamilton is here,” says Simi excitedly. I follow her finger and yes the guy she is pointing to does bear an uncanny resemblance to the Formula 1 racing ace, but by now I may be a tad tipsy. Before I can ascertain whether it really is the former World Champion, he’s disappeared – lost among the stilt walking fire breathers.

 

And it’s time for me to do the same. But I’ll be back having learned that the best time to party is not necessarily after dark.

 

The next La Plage party takes on Sat 20 June at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel. Strictly invitation only – for bookings please click here

The other side of Cancun

Kaye Holland discovers that there's more to Cancun - the Mother of all Mexican resorts - than first meets the eye It’s hard to believe that just four decades ago,  Cancun - on the thinly populated south east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula - was little more than a sand barrier and jungle.

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Fast forward 40 years and Cancun – much like Las Vegas and Dubai – has risen out of the sands to become a mega resort whose white sands, high rise hotels, salubrious shopping malls and super clubs attracts more than four million visitors a year.

 

The Four Tops might have sung about going loco down in Acapulco back in 1988 but today it’s Cancun where the party people come in their droves to drink and dance Ibiza style at clubs like the legendary Coco Bongos.

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Culture snobs may sniff but Coco Bongos (which can accommodate 1800 revellers) is a fun-fest alright – expect DJ booths, a glitter balled dance floor, hormones and hedonism.

 

But contrary to public perception, Cancun isn’t all about party nights and sleeping late. If, like me, you’re after a tamer time you could head out to Isla Mujeres  or to Ciudad Cancun aka Downtown.

 

The downtown area (which is on the mainland whereas the Hotel Zone is on a sandy spit of an island) couldn’t be more different from the Zona Hotelera if it tried.

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It’s not particularly pretty (you won’t find too many tourist brochures urging you to head here) but what downtown does have is lots of local character making it great for those tired of tourists, tourist menus and inevitable tourist price hikes.

 

Travelling here (you’ll need an afternoon to get there and do it justice) from the Hotel Zone by bus feels like a bit of an adventure – albeit a vanilla one. To get the inside story on Downtown Cancun, check out Avenida Tulum – the main (and most interesting) road. It’s short on standalone attractions but high on atmosphere.

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A couple of places worth knowing about… Mercado 23 is a good place to pick up authentic souvenirs (happily you won’t find any corny T-shirts proclaiming ‘I heart Cancun’ here) as well as inexpensive clothes (a girl can never have too many bikinis) and food items. Next throw yourself into a feast of local cuisine at the all-night food market – home to some of best taquerias (taco stalls) in town. But if you’re the type who needs a table cloth and cutlery with your evening meal, Perico’s is the place for you. In fact every diary should have a window for dinner at this long running restaurant where family recipes are served with a show consisting of comedy skits, live marimba and, on my visit at least, a lively conga line. Before leaving downtown (although there are some charming small hotels such as Hotel El Rey del Caribe should you decide to stay), enjoy a drink at one of the (very local) bars that dot the periphery of Plaza de Toris.

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Essentially Ciudad Cancun is no landmark holiday destination but if you need a break from the jet skis, sunburned crowds, banana boats and babble of the Hotel Zone, Downtown delivers.

 

The Mex big destination

Thanks to its sparkling coastline, fabulous food and blue sky climate, the Mayan Riveria has charm by the bucketload. Kaye Holland visits the hottest destination in Mexico If the weather is really getting you down, fret not. Simply pull out your sense of adventure and make for Mexico’s Mayan Riveria. True the journey to get there is something of an odyssey but this is a small price to pay for a perfect mix of winter sun, beautiful beaches,  sea as turquoise as glass, ancient temple ruins, fine food and loud and proud Latin culture – in short everything you could want from a Mexican holiday.

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Cancun is the gateway to this pocket of sunny paradise and if all you want to do is drop and flop  – let’s face it relaxing on a soft sandy beach in front of a luxurious hotel will always hold considerable appeal, especially at this time of year –  then look no further.

A favourite fun and frolic destination for American Spring-Breakers who come for a cocktail of sublime beaches and throbbing nightlife, Cancun is big, bold and brash (no one is ever going to accuse Cancun of being subtle) – and there’s no point trying to resist this.

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Cancun: Mexico’s premiere Spring Break destination

But don’t spend too long in this resort lined strip for a Cancun club or sun bed only gives you a limited view of what the state of Quintana Roo (pronounced Kin tah nah roh) has to offer. Beyond the babble, bars, banana boats,  jet skis and sunburned crowds of Cancun, lie extraordinary cenotes (freshwater filled limestone sinkholes), sleepy villages, towering temples and charming, cobblestoned streets. And all are within  easy distance meaning that with a bit of judicious planning, much of the Mayan Riviera can be covered in a week.

Playa del Carmen was a particular highlight for me, being hip as well as hot. Playa, as this postcard perfect charmer is affectionately referred to, has long been lauded as the most original, fascinating and fashionable place to holiday in Mexico and it didn’t disappoint.

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The popular resort town of Cancun

The town has decades of experience of welcoming European and American sun seekers who flock here to see and be seen on Playa’s Bounty advert beaches. World class snorkelling and diving (the underwater world  is a paradise for snorkellers and divers of every ability) can fill your days. Or you can just drift off a beachside bed and ogle the mahogany flesh – expect a competitive parade of preening bling – that is always on display before hitting Quinta Avenida which hums with activity at any hour.

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Playa del Carmen’s world famous beach

The buzzy Quinta Avenida is a beguiling place both for camera clad tourists and those who simply want to blend into a destination that knows how to have a good time. You can shop till your drop, drink margaritas at midday (well you are on your hols) from glasses the size of goldfish bowls, enjoy a magic muscle melting massage for the price of a pizza and confrontingly good cuisine. For food is a massive part of Playa’s pleasures and reason enough to place the Maya Riveria at the top of your 2014 travel wish list.

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Quinta Avenida

Apply the never eat what you could have at home rule and head to a restaurant specialising in Yucatecan food such as Yaxche (8032936; corner Av 5 & Calle 2). The line is long but it's worth it  for taste bud tingling treats like tikin xic (fish in spicy sauce) tostadas and tacos (little mouthfuls of meat on corn bases) and arroz a la Mexicana(Mexican rice) – all washed down with a warm tequila (Mexicans are mad about tequila and its brother, Mezcal). For post dinner drinks, hit the bumpin bar scene that rages on until dawn – indulgence is one of Playa’s USPs.

There are plenty of places to stay (Playa del Carmen caters to every budget from top end to backpacker) but if you’re after a hotel that has charm and character – accommodation that is worth your time yet won't hurt your wallet – check into Hotel Cocodrilo. Proof that sophistication is possible on a shoestring, the ambience at Cocodrilo is suspended somewhere between a private home and a chic guesthouse.

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Avoid the grim all-inclusives and choose characterful accommodation like Hotel Cocodrilo

From Playa, push on south to Tulum. There’s something of a buzz building around Tulum: The Sunday Times’ Michael Hennegan hailed Tulum as the “only place to be on New Year’s Eve” while Louis Vuitton has even gone so far as to name a bag after the town. However compared to its cousins, Cancun and Playa del Carmen, it’s still without the crowds (but with the character).

Individuality, you see, is what Tulum does best so you won’t find identikit chain hotels and restaurants catering mostly to tourists here. Rather you’ll find boutiques, bakeries and cantinas (traditional Mexican watering holes) and the  discreet Amansala Eco-Chic Beach Resort (Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore are both fans of the property’s bikini bootcamp). Other assets include sugar-like sands and azure waters but only a philistine would come to Tulum without seeing the world famous Maya ruins which, without a doubt, is one of those travel benchmarks.

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The magnificent Tulum Ruins

The scenery – think ancient ruins set against a backdrop of golden beaches and blue Caribbean sea – is so beautiful it will bring a tear to your eye. Everyone you'll speak to will advise arriving at the ruins at around 8am – i.e. before the coach tours. But unless you enjoy getting up early when on vacation, I’d recommend visiting the 14th century temples late in the afternoon. It’s then that you can enjoy jaw dropping view after jaw dropping view and watch the sun set – deep red fading to pink – without having to share the site with herds of other tourists.

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A stunning cenote

Rich in natural splendour and culture, Tulum will warm any traveller’s heart and chances are you’ll find that the few days you intended to stay flow into weeks. Which would be just as well for there’s a host of excursions that depart daily from Tulum for hot spots such as Chichen Itza – the best restored of the Yucatan Maya sites and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World – that should rank on every tourist’s itinerary.

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Chichen Itza

Even better:  the sites and bites are all affordable – not Eastern Bloc cheap mind, but nowhere near as pricey as Ibiza. Yet arguably the Riveria Maya’s biggest attraction is its people who are utterly charming (hospitality is a national obsession) and always take time to talk. All told with so much on offer, you might be planning your next trip before your first is even finished…