Based in Horsham

Nicky Mellusco

It's Nice To Meet You

My experience in the travel industry is far-reaching having worked for over 16 years for a leading luxury UK tour operator and prior to that, two years at a successful independent travel agent. My travel highlights have included travelling to Venice on board the Orient Express, swimming with dolphins in Bermuda, sailing the Norwegian fjords, sampling afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, arriving in Monaco by helicopter and marvelling at a performance of Cinderella at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. These are just some of my personal experiences I would love to share with you. My travel inspiration started from a young age when I lived in the south of France and East Germany for a year as part of my language degree. In later years, I took a sabbatical in South Africa, where I volunteered at a rehabilitation centre for sick and injured animals and took the opportunity to explore the Gauteng & Limpopo provinces.

Having got married in June 2019 some of my latest travels (our honeymoon!) have taken me to Boston, Cape Cod and the Gulf Coast of Florida. Such wonderful contrasts of city, lake & harbour and beach. (I am a self-confessed USA addict!) We also squeezed in a wonderful return visit to Rome before the pandemic put paid to our 2020 plans. (Please go to my blogs section to learn more.)

Building my business from the ground up has been hard work and pressurised at times but I have recently passed my 4-year landmark as a business owner and with the worse of Covid now behind us, I feel a huge sense of achievement. I have remained consistently present throughout the crisis, offering support, advice & reassurance and the best possible service for both existing and new clients.

I am fortunate to have family on the West Coast of the States, have extensive knowledge of California (i have clocked up 14 visits to date!) and am adept at arranging coastal road trips. Everything is entirely personalised according to your tastes, budget and sense of adventure! I am a veritable ‘foodie’ in my free time (as my past travel blogs have always attested to) and my concierge expertise includes recommending local restaurants and making reservations in advance to enhance your travel experience. My wealth of experience and personal knowledge, together with exceptional patience and empathy will ensure I source the correct holiday according to your exact requirements. This is reflected in the consistent positive feedback I have received from longstanding clients and past awards I have been given for customer satisfaction.

I was born & bred in Horsham, West Sussex and after living in London for 15 years, have recently returned to my home roots with my husband and dog Sam.

My personal circumstances allow me to work flexible hours, and I am more than happy to discuss travel plans outside of normal office hours. Perhaps once the children have been put to bed or when you have more time to yourself at weekends.

I very much look forward to hearing from you.

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My Videos

‘Postcards’ – A special film from Travel Counsellors

4/10/2021

We hope you enjoy reliving your travel memories with us as you watch our film featuring a specially commissioned poem by the poet Tony Walsh.

A Christmas 'Thank You'

12/15/2020

Brexit, 'Thank You' and another Travel Counsellors award!

Book ahead for 2021

10/26/2020

I will be regularly updating my Instagram channel with changes in government advice, air corridor news and recommendations for 2021 @nickymelluscotravel.

My Blog

I absolutely live and breathe travel and I love to write about my experiences! Please take a look through my posts - you might find your own holiday inspiration.

When in Rome......

10 September 2019

I decided that my fourth visit to The Eternal City would be a little different. Having marvelled at The Vatican City, the Colosseum, Pantheon & Roman Forum on previous familiarisation trips I decided to dedicate my 3-day visit with Mr Mellusco to primarily gastronomy. Stumbling across any further significant landmarks on our foodie road map would be a bonus! Our home for the weekend was the exquisite Pantheon Iconic Hotel, just a gladiator sword’s throw from The Pantheon - an incredible view of which we had from our room on the 4th floor. The upside to a late flight arrival was that our room was ready upon check-in and it was perfect aperitivo time. On the 6th floor you’ll find the Divinity Terrace Lounge Bar, which has panoramic views of neighbouring rooftops, domes and the cupola of the Pantheon. We toasted our arrival with a stiff gin & tonic (‘hello European free-pouring!’) and pizza patate, guanciale e semi di finoccchio (otherwise - not so glamorously - known as a potato & bacon pizza!) Safe to say one of the best pizzas I have ever demolished! On our first morning it was difficult not to wile away the entire breakfast service on the very same terrace! We ventured out and had a loose itinerary taking in the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and ending up at the Borghese Gardens, where neither of us had been to before - the main motivation being a shaded walk as the early autumn sunshine was proving pretty fierce! On our meander back we managed to tick off one of the many gelato shops on our wish list, Giolitti. Pay for your ticket at the counter and then join the melee around the 40 or so different ice cream flavours. In my panic to order before anyone else jumped the “queue” I went for an interesting mix of caramelised fig & pink grapefruit, which in all honestly was just delicious and thirst-quenching on a hot day. I take great enjoyment from researching restaurants for our trips - finding the best local food and travel bloggers in good time, scouring review sites and comparing sample menus. Retrobottega - a 26 cover restaurant (in fact considered more a food lab) was a change from the traditional, chequered table cloth trattorias and the sharing-tables and show kitchen won us over. The 5-course tasting menu is a reasonable €55 but instead we opted for a la carte, savouring herring tagliatelle, lamb & liquorice anolini pasta and turbot with pumpkin and capers. Given the gelato discovery tour we were on (!) we bravely decided against dessert! The restaurant got a big ‘thumbs up’ from us - although they do offer private tables I would definitely recommend the large ‘social’ tables seating up to 10 people with a view of the chefs at work - it certainly adds to the theatrics of the experience. It was a fairly safe bet that travelling to Rome in early September would still mean mild, summery temperatures and since the season change was in full swing back home I thought it may be one of the last opportunities to eat ‘al fresco’. Sunday brunch at Le Jardin de Russie (Hotel De Russie) had always been on my wish list since I last visited Rome back in December 2013. Step off the bustling Via del Babuino and in to a tranquil, tiered garden. I have always been a sucker for a good buffet so we decided to go for the set buffet at €65 (€45 midweek), which included everything you could possibly desire from sashimi, oysters and seared tuna to roasted meats, pastas, a freshly cooked saffron & mushroom risotto prepared in front of you, to gelato, home baked biscotti, delicate fruit tarts & rum baba! Making an advance booking is essential and by 2pm all the tables were full - a really authentic experience as many of the other diners appeared to be local. The silver lining of the British Airways strike, which meant our original flight home was cancelled, was that we now had 5 hours more than we had banked on, on our last day. After a restrained breakfast and knowing we had consumed an unhealthy amount of carbohydrates over the past 48 hours (!) we put on our comfortable shoes and decided on a 40-minute walk to the Mercato Testaccio along the Tiber River - a part of Rome I had not previously visited. The market is a mix of clothing, homewares and food/drink - the latter being our main motivation for the visit. A courgette & ricotta pizza measured out and weighed depending on how hungry you are with a side of carbonara! Heaven. We also found a lovely store selling locally produced olive wood products for some authentic souvenirs to take home. Our walk back to the hotel took us through the comparatively sedate and ever so pretty district of Travestere - somewhere I definitely intend to return to given more time. Buildings coloured in deep oranges and reds with shuttered windows & umbrella pines dotted here and there. The Ponte Sisto took us back across the river in to the buzzy neighbourhood of our hotel - where we just had about enough time to absorb a little A/C and collect our bags before heading to the airport. Time to give my feet (and Fitbit!) a little bit of a rest and get home to the pup. However, four visits down and I still feel I have yet to scratch the surface of this wonderful city! A comforting thought that I doubt very little will have changed by the time I return.

City, Lake & (the best U.S) Beach

18 June 2019

I love a ‘fly & flop’ holiday as much as the next person and still yearn to visit many of the world’s most idyllic island escapes. However, when deciding on our honeymoon, Alex and I wanted not just pristine sands but good food, adventure and experience of a new city. Who doesn’t like the fun of a road-trip and who said honeymoons should only mean all-inclusive resort hotels? Ultimately our shared love of the U.S determined our itinerary; Boston, Cape Cod and Clearwater, Florida. Once everything was booked, I could get my teeth stuck into researching the best bakeries, biking trails, boat trips and beaches! To get under the skin of Boston in a relatively short space of time, we decided to rent an apartment on Tremont Street in the city’s South End, lined with historic brownstones and regarded as having the best food scene in the city. The cab driver from the airport gave us a great tip - when having dinner stop short of dessert and instead head to the city’s Little Italy, North End, to grab a gelato or cannoli (shells of fried pastry dough filled with a sweet, creamy filling.) As a first-timer, Boston was a big surprise - like a condensed New York, that’s dropped down a gear or two. Buildings are comparatively low rise; streets are clean and leafy, and the locals are friendly with time to chat. One of my favourite areas of the city was Beacon Hill - specifically Charles Street. Lined with gas-lit streetlamps, crammed full of independent coffee houses, delicatessens and antique shops. On day 4 we then took the I-93 towards Cape Cod - a surprisingly easy city exit and 90-minute drive to Dennis, located Mid Cape. We decided to make a stop en route in Plymouth to ensure we struck a lobster roll off our list of culinary ‘musts’. Our cottage for the weekend was sandwiched perfectly between Scargo Lake and Corporation Beach...the sun rising over morning kayakers on the lake and dramatically setting over the ocean in a spectrum of vibrant pinks. After saying goodbye to the city, the Cape provided a wonderfully sedate contrast. On our first morning we joined the locals in what seems like a weekend ritual of buying coffee and fresh doughnuts from the Village Coffee Shop. My favourite town we visited was Chatham - chocolate box houses (many of which have preservation awards) with its pristine Lighthouse Beach. A personal recommendation would be to park up at the Town Hall and walk the one mile stretch along Main Street admiring all the quaint homes and independent shops, finishing up at the beach. The last part of our trip involved a domestic flight from Boston down to Tampa to experience the Gulf Coast beaches. Not before trying out the newly redeveloped Seaport District of Boston for a spot of lunch and returning our rental car. Opal Sands Resort opened in 2016 and is located on the fine powdery sands of Clearwater Beach - hailed in 2018 by TripAdvisor as the best beach in the U.S. All guest rooms as well as public areas, including the gym and four dining options have sea views. (Ensure you request a high floor to maximise the impact - we were lucky enough to be assigned a 15th floor room with entirely uninterrupted views.) The sunsets are truly magnificent, so much so, they are celebrated nightly at Pier 60, just a short walk from the hotel. The festival features live music, street vendors and often fireworks and sand sculptors. During the summer Sunset Cinema (a free outdoor movie theatre) takes place at dusk….bring along a blanket or lawn chair and enjoy the movie. Typical of any destination with a tropical climate we did experience the odd rain shower but had planned ahead and discovered a $5 daily bus pass, which takes you anywhere between Clearwater and St Pete beaches, 16 miles south. Admire the beach front mansions of Belleair and stop for a doughnut at the Donut Experiment in Indian Shores - highly recommended! Clearwater Beach has every kind of cuisine you could possibly imagine, and most restaurants are within an easy walk. However it’s worth knowing that the hotel has its own Rolls Royce Ghost available to resort guests between 3-11pm Wednesday - Sunday to transport you anywhere on Clearwater Beach - we took advantage when wanting to dine at a local steak restaurant without having to pack the umbrella on what had been a showery day! In addition to this complimentary service is the guest pantry, located on every floor, which is fully stocked with fresh fruit, ice, water and homemade cookies to keep you going between meals! 110,000 Fitbit steps, 3 incredible destinations and too many bakeries to count later, it was time to head home. I am a huge advocate for having a holiday within a holiday and experiencing multiple stops to our honeymoon felt we could thoroughly enjoy every gear change after the fun and energy of our wedding day. The best medicine for holiday blues - start planning the next trip! Keep an eye out for my Rome blog in September!

California dreaming

22 May 2020

The fact is I love Americana; drive-thrus, diners, outdoor shopping malls, stars & stripes, hot dogs & the Pacific Coast Highway to name a few. With thanks to family links, the state of California has been well trodden over the years but each time we return we weave in a new side-trip. In December 2018 we decided to include a couple of days pre-Christmas in Santa Barbara, by trying the Pacific Surfliner train (running from San Diego to San Luis Obispo) - a trundling one-track service taking 2 hours 30 minutes from Los Angeles. Snaking through Simi Valley, Ventura and then hugging the coastline to our destination, it was such a refreshing change to escape congested freeway traffic, sit back and watch surfers lining up and the odd dolphin-leap from the cabin window. One of the attractions to the area is the wine industry but I simply love its almost perfect climate and sedate beach community vibe. A little tip would be to take a taxi to Montecito for breakfast at Jeannine’s (you may just bump into Oprah!) and then walk back to Santa Barbara harbour (about an hour) taking in the waterfront and the palm tree lined East Beach. Santa Barbara makes for a perfect stop within an extended tour of the Pacific Coast but equally just one night away as our specific itinerary allowed. Another little tip is to book a train out of town to coincide with capturing the most magnificent ocean sunset en route back to the city. We then ‘dropped anchor’ with family for a few days, enjoying some of my favourite things in LA. Shopping at the Original Farmer’s Market (always starting with coffee and a honey wheat ring at Bob’s Doughnuts!), a hike through Runyon Canyon (in my view some of the best panoramic views of downtown, West Hollywood and the Santa Monica mountains), lunch at Eataly (Westfield Century City) with great views of the Hollywood Hills and a basketball match at the Staples Centre. No visit to California is complete without a trip to In-N-Out Burger too - ask for ‘animal style’ - you’ll thank me! The final part to this trip was a return visit to Palm Springs - travelling mid December was a perfect time to enjoy the town. There’s a lull in tourists until the festive check-ins arrive and the daytime temperature generally hovers around 70 degrees. We stayed at the Kimpton Rowan - a modern, stylish 153-room hotel with incredible views of the San Jacinto mountains. Alternatively, to immerse yourself in the Rat Park era there are plenty of “mid-Century chic” retro boutique hotels. Take the aerial tramway and explore the piney highlands of Chino Canyon or drive out to the Joshua Tree National Park - the most beautiful natural terrain I have ever seen! California has something for everyone; ski, surf, hiking, beaches, national parks, lakes, theme parks, movie locations, a thriving arts scene, incredible burger joints (!), celeb-spotting, road trips & great shopping! I have planned too many Cali itineraries to count and just thoroughly enjoy sharing my love for this fantastic state. Contact me for further help & advice.

Italy's best kept secret

01 November 2018

The Puglia region (referred to often as the heel of Italy’s “boot”) remains a relatively unexplored part of the country. I found this to be one of its charms when I visited back in October 2014. This together with its characterful baroque villages and trullo houses, sandy beaches and excellent cuisine. Hotel Canne Bianche is a wonderful beachside retreat, perfectly positioned for visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Alberobello, Castel del Monte and the ‘white city’ of Ostuni. For those simply looking for an Italian standalone beach holiday this property is perfect - just a 45-minute drive from Bari (or 30 minutes from Brindisi). The style is very much ‘beach-house chic’ and decorated in neutral colours and natural materials. My recommendation would be to book a junior suite with sea view. All of which have their own balconies, a perfect spot to enjoy a glass of chilled Prosecco and some local taralli biscuits. This takes me on nicely to the cookery classes offered by the hotel, where I mastered the art of making this local speciality, made simply with flour, salt, olive oil and white wine. Classes in making the perfect homemade Orecchiette pasta and preparing seafood can also be arranged. Keeping with the culinary thread, day trips can also be arranged to local olive oil and cheese producers for tastings. To enhance any stay at this property a visit to the spa is essential. AQUA has an extensive range of treatments which can be tailored to clients’ requirements, which use natural products, some of which are sourced from the hotel’s botanical garden.

Magical Marrakech & The Atlas Mountains

21 August 2018

There really is something quite magical about visiting Marrakech (even though this was my third time!) The evocative call to prayer, beautiful riads hidden behind nondescript wooden doors and the fascinating contrast between bustling city streets and tranquil hotel courtyards. Our base in Marrakech was the charming Riad Noga – perfect for those seeking an authentic riad experience. Freshly squeezed orange juice is served at breakfast and a charming selection of miniature tagines reveal local specialities; conserves, multiple types of bread and fresh goats’ cheese. The roof terraces provide a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle punctuated just occasionally by a squawk from the resident parrot, called Klein. Cleopatra and Tom Jones (the riad’s tortoises) provide a little company for him! As a novice photographer, I was spoilt for subjects. An evening visit to the Jemaa El Fna is a must – a veritable theatre set with story tellers, fruit sellers, snake charmers and locals simply doing their market shop. I would also highly recommend booking a cookery class and we enjoyed an afternoon at Hotel La Maison Arabe, where we learnt to make an olive and preserved lemon chicken tagine and zalouk salad. We then left the buzz of the city and headed to the Atlas Mountains, where we stayed at the picture-perfect Kasbah Bab Ourika. A detour via the renowned Kasbah Tamadot proved too tempting and their Kanoun restaurant provided the perfect place to celebrate a significant birthday. Unfortunately, my prayers for clear skies were not answered and a sudden hail storm provided a very dramatic journey to the Ourika Valley by 4x4. A stiff gin and tonic and a flickering wood fire were a lovely welcome (if unseasonal, given this was mid-September). The following morning however was a completely different story. Bright sunshine flooded the surrounding valleys and blue skies showcased the spectacular 360-degree view. Our morning was spent exploring the vast grounds, including a heated outdoor pool, a vegetable garden, a discreet hammam (this I strongly recommend) and various shaded nooks where you can enjoy a massage outside or a glass of wonderfully crisp local pre-dinner white wine. Morocco is excellent value for money and (depending where you go) an all year destination. I have previously visited in November and enjoyed balmy, t-shirt days but cooler nights. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes should definitely be experienced once in a lifetime.

Holidaying like a Parisian

05 July 2018

My first visit to Ile de Ré was last spring. A tantalising one-night stay at the end of a research trip through the Loire Valley and Bordeaux wine country. I vowed as soon as I was crossing the causeway back towards La Rochelle at the end of my stay that I would have to return! Barely more than an hour’s flight away followed by a smooth 30-minute transfer, Ile de Ré makes a perfect weekend getaway. Francophiles like myself will not be disappointed! The retreat for our short break was Le Clos St Martin - a short 5-minute walk along a quaint pathway lined with hollyhocks, fuchsias, lavender, roses and marigolds will lead you to the very pretty and ever so stylish harbour of St Martin. Treat yourself to an ice-cream from the renowned La Martiniere glacier (grapefruit was my favourite) and take a seat along the waterfront, listening to the soft rattle of tandem bicycles over cobblestones and watch the fishing boats and yachts bobbing on the water. Alternatively, in true ‘holidaying like a Parisian’ style you can find 6 oysters, a crépinette (a type of cured sausage) and a glass of wine for under €10. As cyclists outnumber cars, the island has a wonderfully sedate pace of life. Hotels can assist with organising rentals and some even have their own supply for guests. Cycle paths edge along the waterfront where you can watch oyster farmers in action, stop off for a sample and continue through sprawling vineyards and neighbouring towns, where every corner brings a new photo opportunity! Due to building regulations, each town has maintained its authenticity and remained quintessentially Ile de Ré. Properties are never taller than two storeys, they must be whitewashed, and shutters painted to match the colour of tranquil pine forests. At dusk the harbour again becomes the focal point. Artists are drawn by the clarity of light, similar to that of Cornwall so I’m told, and you will frequently see painters trying to capture the magnificent evening colours. In the height of the summer be sure to pre-book restaurants, especially those huddled around the harbour front. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at L’Avant Port of Iberian pork followed by a Brittany biscuit with local elderflower. I have to admit that I failed to tick off many things on my holiday to-do list but it’s ever so easy to fall in to the slower pace of life, whether it be long, lazy breakfasts and dinners, the novelty of just being by the water’s edge or enjoying some spa time. Le Clos St Martin’s spa access is included in the room rate, so this is typically where you could find me for an hour before getting ready for dinner. Day beds look out towards the hotel’s gardens and adult pool beyond. In a nutshell, Ile de Ré offers something for everyone; wonderful seafood restaurants, plenty of unspoilt sandy beaches, boating, cycling, walks, botany, history, markets and boutique shopping. I rarely revisit the same destination twice, but I think Ile de Ré might just be an exception and I’d highly recommend a ‘prescription’ whenever you just need to get away from it all. I hope to be back in 2019 and this time I may just muster enough energy to get on the saddle!

Amalfi Coast first-timer

11 June 2018

I wondered how it had taken 16 years in the travel industry to make my first visit to the Amalfi Coast. Would all the breath-taking cookery programme photography and old Hollywood movies watched over the years live up to my expectations? Naples often gets overlooked as simply the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, but this proved to be one of the biggest surprises. Once you have inched your way out of the airport traffic and through the confusing city road system (car hire is not recommended) a short stay will provide an enjoyable and some would argue an essential preface to extended exploration of the area and its islands. Naples’ 19th Century Grande Dame, Grand Hotel Parker’s has an elevated position overlooking the harbour and the city’s oldest castle, Castell d’Ovo. Its location is slightly removed from the animated heart of the city yet only a short 10-minute taxi journey away and provides a restful base. Breakfast taken in the hotel’s elegant rooftop restaurant is a wonderful way to start the day. For those who have booked an excursion to Pompeii, a visit to the impressive National Archaeological Museum provides a helpful background to the sites you will see. My highlights included the awe-inspiring mosaics from Pompeii’s Casa del Fauno and wall paintings taken from the Temple of Isis. The next stage of the journey took me to Ischia, just an hour’s ferry journey away. My personal hotel recommendation would be Hotel San Montano Resort & Spa set in a unique location, perched on Monte Vico. The local sandy beach of San Montano and famous garden of La Mortella are within a 10-minute drive away by complimentary shuttle. Ischia would most certainly provide a wonderfully peaceful standalone island getaway, perhaps more so for those who have already ticked off the region’s archaeological sites and iconic towns and cities. Beyond sun-drenched relaxation, the island also offers thermal spas, botanical gardens, sandy beaches and for those seeking a less ostentatious atmosphere, an alternative to its neighbour, Capri. Day one concluded with a wonderful meal back in Naples, Pizzeria Mattozzi. The absence of any foreign accents and a constant huddle of locals patiently waiting at the door, made me realise our hotel concierge’s recommendation was spot-on. The arancini and pizzas were outstanding - what a memorable start to my Neapolitan culinary adventure.

Costa Navarino, The Peloponnese

15 January 2018

Tucked away in an unspoilt corner of the south-west Peloponnese is the beautiful resort of Costa Navarino. The location is everything you would expect (and more) from authentic Greece; olive groves as far as the eye can see, pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters and authentic tavernas where locals wile away the afternoon sipping strong coffee and playing backgammon. My short and sweet weekend was spent at the Romanos Hotel, part of the Starwood Hotel Group, which is the perfect getaway for peace and tranquillity. Arriving at 22:00 my warm welcome was accompanied by a cool towel and chilled mango juice, whilst my luggage was whisked off by golf buggy to my room, leaving me to check-in. On spotting the private plunge-pool and day-bed on my private terrace, I made a mental note of where I would be spending the following afternoon! The property adjoins the Westin, another 5* property sharing exceptional leisure facilities (‘Navarino Outdoors’ located on-site, offers countless hiking, bike and nature trails), a children’s club and many rooms and suites with their own private pools. Choose to take mountain bikes along Voidokilia beach and up in to the surrounding hills or perhaps opt for some 'spa time'. The Anazoe Spa menu is quite something and it is no easy feat selecting which practice of massage to choose! To complement the treatments there are mineral pools, relaxation lounges and the ‘Heat Experience Water Ritual’, which take my word for it, would be perfection after an afternoon of golf or Nordic walking! My last evening was spent at one of the hotels’ 15 dining options, where we were treated to our own personal chef. A Mezze platter was followed by barbecued veal steaks and lobster tails all washed down with a customary Ouzo and crisp white wine. A perfect end to a perfect weekend. Thanks to the upcoming introduction of direct flights to Kalamata with EasyJet and British Airways, accessing this region of Greece is made far simpler (one-hour transfer as opposed to three and a half from Athens.) The beauty of this property is that you can do as much (or as little) as you wish, all whilst enjoying a true flavour of untouched Greece. For those looking for more than just a resort hotel, trips to the nearby Byzantine town of Pylos and the ancient site of Olympia can be arranged. As the cheerful check-out staff wished me a pleasant journey home and “hoped to see me again soon”. I was thinking exactly the same thing.

Portugal in a nutshell

15 January 2018

Lisbon's friendly rival, Oporto is an unspoilt city at the mouth of the Douro River. This is where my tour through Portugal began. Oporto’s riverfront area is home to several port houses, many of which are magnificently covered in ornate blue tiles and offer tastings, local specialities and wine pairings. My recommendation would be to spend two or three nights at the hotel Infante de Sagres, (dating back to the early 1950's, tastefully combining old and new and located in a very up and coming part of the city), before travelling on to Lisbon. We chose to travel by train and three hours later (and 10 degrees warmer) we arrived at the Four Seasons The Ritz. A plate of "pasteis de natas", delicious custard tarts and a glass of Ramos Pinto port wine, provided a very warm welcome. Lisbon is a city to become immersed in. Drop down a couple of gears, wander along the Avenue Liberdade, stop for a pingado (a short coffee with hot milk) and have a delicious seafood dinner in the trendy docks area. We dined at Bistrot 100 Maneiras, a wonderful local find in the Chiado district of the city. Our journey then took us to Cascais - just a 30-minute drive from Lisbon, with bright blue skies, cool Atlantic breezes and rugged sand dunes. A few nights at the Senhora da Guia would complement a Lisbon city break very well. Spend time relaxing in the spa, take a long stroll along the coastal boardwalk or cycle in to the town for the twice weekly food market. Cascais was a real high point for me. In season, it offers safe sheltered swimming and plenty of beach and sea-based activities for young families. The beaches are broad and sandy and often fairly quiet (even in high season), particularly if you drive just 15 minutes along the coast towards Guincho. Cascais and the surrounding coastline are also very flat, so perfect for gentle cycling and walking. If you happen to incorporate a weekend, I would highly recommend booking Sunday Brunch at the Grande Real Villa Italia (for a very reasonable €32 per head). A perfect introduction to the local cuisine. A few days on the Algarve rounded off our week in Portugal. The drive from Lisbon involves a straight-forward motorway and takes about two hours. Alternatively, a direct train service to Tunes (just a 15-minute private car transfer to Hotel Vila Joya for example) will take the same amount of time. The Algarve offers outstanding value for money and numerous provisions for families, notably the Martinhal and Villa Vita Parc hotels; kids clubs, water sports, early family dining and private villa accommodation. Portugal is a country of many contrasts and makes a perfect multi-centre holiday - I would be delighted to help tailor-make an itinerary.

Wintering in Tenerife

09 January 2018

There’s something even more satisfying about holidaying in the depths of winter, when home temperatures are hovering around zero and the central heating is on constantly but you’re stocking up on sun cream and loading your Kindle in preparation. I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to feel the sun on my skin! Upon arrival at the Gran Hotel del Duque we were offered a glass of chilled cava in the lobby bar, festively decorated with countless red poinsettias. Efforts were made to take in all the dining options on offer to us that evening but already I was slipping very easily into holiday mode. As there were not enough nights to try out all the hotel’s restaurants I knew the most taxing of decisions would be deciding on which cuisine each evening; Basque, Italian, Latin American, Asian, Mediterranean, Canarian or French. One of my holiday highlights has always been a breakfast buffet and El Bernegal certainly did not disappoint - you really can want for nothing. A chocolate fountain and fruit skewers for the children (and adults), detox juices made to order and until now I have never encountered two types of bacon - overdone and underdone. A virtuous breakfast (most mornings) was usually followed by a chunk of homemade apple cake and more treacly strong black coffee. Costa Adeje is one of the islands more upmarket resorts with upscale 5* hotels, authentic dining, local artisan markets and quaint courtyards. A surprise find was the bijou El Mirador marketplace - a series of peaceful, shaded patios, restaurants and local craft shops just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel. The hotel resort’s main building is a series of interconnecting buildings in 19th Century Canarian style, using Victorian and Venetian influences; signage in decorative tiling, steeple roofs and a charming hourly chiming bell in the central plaza. The hotel is famous for its gardens with 63,000sqm of tropical and subtropical vegetation - opt for a garden view for all horticulturists. My recommendation would be to upgrade to a deluxe room with sea view and balcony, a perfect spot to take in the show-stopping sunsets before dressing for dinner. To round off our week-long relaxation we treated ourselves to a day in the spa. Quite possibly one of the most impressive hotel spas I have ever encountered. The open-air thalassotherapy circuit is surrounded by a number or oversized day beds and shaded by mature palm trees. Two further floors are home to treatment rooms (each with their own private veranda) and the impressively ornate Thai Room Plaza - a peaceful relaxation area available to those booking a Thai treatment. Here you’ll find Thai teak and rattan lazy chairs, Thai chilled snacks and a secluded thalassotherapy area. The spa provides details of treatment special offers in your daily activities programme delivered to your room each evening. Our stay concluded with an outstanding meal at the hotel’s ‘Senzu Kazan’ restaurant, a Japanese fine dining option, one of only two restaurants not included in the half board option. The restaurant has a lakeside terrace, but we opted for a table inside as I love the theatre of an open kitchen. Buttery salmon sashimi, spicy tuna rolls and crispy pork gyozas were the highlights. With three of the nine restaurants still left to try, we have an excuse to return next year!

Magical St Petersburg

22 November 2017

Russia remains unticked on many people’s wish-list – mainly due to the perception of cost, organisational complexity and the added inconvenience of obtaining a tourist visa. I am able to handle the Russia visa application on your behalf and have access to a fast-track service for short-notice breaks, removing all possible “hassle factor”. Russia also need not be extravagant – especially if you travel out of high season. October surprisingly falls within low season (which extends to the end of March), when hotel rates fall and there is great potential for free night offers, but weather can still be pleasant. Furthermore, museum queues are far shorter and there are fewer crowds at museums once the cruise season has finished. My first trip to Russia in October 2013 started with four days in St Petersburg visiting its many jewel-box palaces and galleries, all beautifully showcased against a back-drop of cloudless blue skies. The mind-boggling Church on the Spilled Blood and the impressively opulent Peterhof Palace with its sprawling gardens were two of my three highlights - the third being my visit to the recently opened new stage at the Mariinsky theatre to see a ballet performance of Cinderella. Having enjoyed ballet for 10 years as a child, I was probably just as excited as the young girls practising their pliés in the stalls during the intervals! I was not disappointed - what a privilege. My top tip would be to book a table for a pre-performance dinner at Sadko, an authentic Russian restaurant just a few minutes’ walk away – enjoy a hearty stroganoff whilst listening to live folk music. Through my Concierge contacts I can secure much sought-after tickets for the best seats at the Mariinsky before you travel and would be glad to make a restaurant recommendation and book a table for dinner. Hotel Astoria is perfectly positioned within the “Golden Triangle” area of the city, within which are many of the essential sights, including the St Isaac’s Cathedral. Please ask at time of booking for the supplement for a Superior Deluxe room with a view of St Isaacs Cathedral Square. St Petersburg can also be twinned with Moscow by the impressive high-speed Sapsan train, taking a very impressive 3 hours and 45 minutes non-stop. Similar to the Continental Eurostar trains, the 1st Class service provides added space and comfort and a meal with wine served at your seat. Moscow was a big surprise. Contrary to my preconceptions, Moscow is very beautiful and far less ‘corporate’ than I had anticipated. There was a great buzz to the city, added to by the Olympic torch relay taking place. As we were heading to Red Square people were lining the Moscow River embankment and as we crossed the Great Stone Bridge, we were lucky enough to watch the flame being carried across from the Kremlin. For a short stay, I would recommend the Ararat Park Hyatt – in the very heart of the historic centre. For a truly spectacular view of the city, take the elevator up to the Conservatory Bar & Lounge on the 10th floor for breath-taking panoramic views of the Kremlin, Red Square and the world-famous Bolshoi Theatre. Moscow and St Petersburg provide a wonderfully contrasting two-centre holiday.

Monte Carlo by Helicopter

13 October 2017

The Cote d’Azur is possibly one of my favourite places on earth and even more spectacular when viewed from a helicopter. My weekend in Monaco started in true ‘James Bond’ style with a 7-minute flight, hugging the coast line. Almost within an hour of landing in Nice I was checking into the Fairmont Hotel, located on the famous hairpin bend of the Grand Prix circuit. If you happen to be a luxury car enthusiast, book one of their ‘hairpin double’ rooms and enjoy watching the steady stream of Bentley’s, Maserati’s and Aston Martin’s from your private balcony. The Fairmont is perfectly positioned - a short stroll from Casino Square, a 10-minute walk from the beach and offers unobstructed views of the sea. For a real treat we booked the hotel’s champagne jazz brunch on the 6th floor Horizon Deck restaurant. (No better place to spend a Sunday afternoon.) Request a table on the terrace overlooking Larvotto Bay from which you can do a little yacht-spotting whilst sipping on Taittinger. ‘If you can’t beat them, join them….’ You can then spend the remainder of the afternoon snoozing around the heated rooftop pool. Monte Carlo is perfect for a weekend break, offering beaches, gastronomy, exquisite hotels and history and is perfectly situated on the rail line between Ventimiglia - just across the Italian border - and Nice. Menton is just a 10-minute train journey away and is home to the striking Jean Cocteau museum. Monaco also has a rich nautical heritage as can be seen by the number of spectacular super-yachts moored in Port Hercules – the main focal point of the Monaco Yacht Show, which was due to open as we left. Be sure to visit Villa Sauber (the New National Museum of Monaco), the State Apartments of the Prince’s Palace as well as his classic car collection. Monaco also benefits from over 300 days of sunshine a year and although likely to be cooler out of season, the skies are bright and blue most days. Travel between November and March and not only will you benefit from lower hotel rates but fewer crowds and discounted helicopter transfers – a truly unforgettable way to celebrate a birthday or special anniversary.

Life on the Orient Express

09 October 2017

Checking out of the Hotel Cipriani would ordinarily be a deflating experience but during my private water taxi journey to Venice Santa Lucia station, I was filled with excited anticipation for my journey back to London on board the Venice Simplon - Orient-Express. Following check-in, a steward wearing an immaculate royal blue uniform greeted me at the entrance to my designated carriage. Every inch of the train was a step back in time; the beautiful wooden marquetry of the cabins, the silver service waiters preparing the dining cars for brunch, the exquisite place settings and the baby grand piano in the bar car. The journey started with a glass of champagne followed by a lavish 3-course brunch. I still have daydreams about the dessert - pears poached in hibiscus tea and sweet wine, filled with bitter dark chocolate. The quality of food was quite astounding and standards of which you would expect at any top London restaurant. Sit back, relax and begin to enjoy the scenery as you journey through northern Italy and Austria. The afternoon can be spent reading, chatting with new friends over coffee or simply taking in the views. One of my most vivid memories was awaking from my post afternoon tea snooze with a picture-perfect view of snow-capped mountains from my window. Truly breath-taking. Dressing for dinner is an excuse to go to town. Over-dressing is impossible on board the Orient Express. Ladies and gentleman wearing evening dress fill the bar car, enjoying the piano music and an aperitif before dinner. Don’t hesitate to pack the tuxedo that only comes out a few times a year, or your feather boa and pearls. Looking and feeling the part is all part of the experience. Dinner started with steamed sea bass, followed by roast saddle of lamb and the favourite bit (I think there’s a pattern forming here) a chestnut charlotte accompanied with mandarin flavoured custard. I certainly slept very soundly after such a feast. During dinner, the lighting in your cabin is dimmed and the bank seating is converted in to a very inviting bed; slippers and an embroidered dressing gown are provided. For extra space, consider opting for a ‘cabin suite’, which will provide far more space and added comfort. Breakfast was served in my cabin upon arrival in to Paris. Here the train stops to allow you enough time to take in a little fresh air and to stretch your legs. Once in Calais we were transported by luxury coach to Dover, where we met the British Pullman for the final leg of our journey. Just when I was contemplating my crash diet for the following week, brunch was served – broiled lobster followed by a caramelised apple tart. By the time the train arrived in to London Victoria, the foodie in me was protesting at the fact that we had to disembark! My time on board the Orient Express was a truly magical experience – but I was soon jostled back in to reality, when having to battle with the commuters for my journey back to South West London! Wondering how to celebrate a pending anniversary or special birthday – think no further! The trip is worth every penny and will leave you with life-long memories.

The beauty of the Loire Valley

28 April 2020

My exploration of western France started upon arrival in to Orleans, the main gateway to the eastern edge of the Loire Valley and just one hour from Paris. Feeling the warm April sunshine on my face on the seamless journey made me thankful for opting for the rail option. Spring is a wonderful time to visit the “Valley of the Kings”, when you will find wisteria covered facades on every corner, flowers are in bloom and visitors to the area are in fewer numbers. With over 80 chateaux to choose from, it is essential to seek expert advice when fine-tuning your itinerary. A “must see” is the exquisite Chateau de Chambord, en route to our overnight accommodation in Amboise. Hotel Le Choiseul is a wonderfully peaceful property, overlooking La Loire, yet just 500 metres from the town and its chateau. I would highly recommend booking a table in the hotel’s restaurant, Le 36 and request a window table in order to enjoy the spectacular sun setting over the river. One of my most memorable meals of the trip was a delicious cote de boeuf followed by my favourite part of the meal…...‘le chariot de fromage’. My following two days were spent visiting several chateaux in the region, each one of which was different from the next. Many have excellent restaurants, offer wine tastings and have magnificent, extensive gardens so you really can make a day of your visit. My personal favourites were Chateau Villandry (specifically its impressive kitchen garden) and Chateau du Rivau, where 450 varieties of fragrant roses are grown, being just one of its highlights. I then continued my journey further west, travelling 140 miles to Ile de Ré. My first impression was seeing the beautiful sandy beaches coming in to view, whilst crossing the bridge linking the island with La Rochelle. Development restrictions mean the island maintains its authenticity and as cyclists outnumber cars, the island has a wonderfully sedate pace of life. The last night of my stay was spent at the beautiful Villa Clarisse, (the ‘little sister’ to Hotel Toiras) just 200 metres from the harbour front. Tucked away from the main centre of Saint-Martin-de-Ré the property provides a peaceful retreat, with an outdoor heated pool, a pretty walled garden and comfortable lounge. The best way to explore the island is by bicycle and rental can be organised directly with your hotel. The cycle route I chose, took in the coastal path where you can watch the oyster fishermen preparing and selling their catch and returned through sprawling vineyards. Make sure you allow a pit-stop for an ice cream at La Martinière, recommended several times by the locals - there is a queue in all seasons!

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