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La Ville Lumière: An Essential Travel Guide to Paris

August 19, 2017

One of the first cities in the world to get electricity, Paris was quickly dubbed the City of Lights (La Ville Lumière) and has since become synonymous with romance, with people travelling the world over to spend time in the City of Love.

Paris can be somewhat polarising too though.  Before our visit, I must admit, neither Nathan nor I placed Paris at the top of our must-see list before moving on from Europe – quite the opposite in fact.  Nathan had very little interest in seeing the French capital and though I wanted to, it was largely to set eyes on some of the iconic monuments and to make up my own mind once and for all about the city.

So, with our visit to Paris behind us, did it live up to the hype or fall flat?

It certainly did – and then some!

We fell in love with Paris’ architecture and iconic monuments, found Parisians to be incredibly warm and inviting and had a ball just walking around soaking everything up.  It’s not every day most people get to just meander around Paris!


What to See and Do in Paris

Whether you’ve been to Paris or not, there’s no doubt that you’ll have a mental list of many of the top spots you’ll want to visit.

That being said, there are literally hundreds of fantastic city guides already out there (like this amazing Parisian walking guide from our very own Nadine) so we don’t intend to go into a massive amount of detail.

We really enjoyed everything we saw and did in Paris though and recommend you check out all of the following spots…

Disneyland Paris

The city’s very own happiest place on earth also happens to be chock-full of crowds if you hit it at the same time of year as us.  Unfortunately, on the day we visited we experienced a number of ride shut-downs and temporary malfunctions but even with those challenges it was worth a visit.  There’s nowhere like Disney to experience a touch of magic.


Wander through Montmartre

A beautiful part of town (and close to our first accommodation, Le Village – a great budget option), Montemartre is home to a range of shops, restaurants and cafes and just at the end of the district, the infamous Moulin Rouge.  Here, at the birthplace of the can-can, talented performers sing and dance every day.  The show isn’t cheap but we’ve been assured it’s well worth the money if your budget will stretch… and if not, the iconic exterior of the building still makes for an awesome photo!


Sacré-Cœur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris)

Perched high atop the summit of the butte Montmartre, this Roman Catholic church provides unparalleled views out over Paris from the highest natural vantage point in the city.  Should you choose, you’re able to tour the church, or do as we did and enjoy its gorgeous architecture from the outside and the sound of talented buskers serenading the crowd.


Enjoy Some Macarons

There’s not much better than a macaron in Paris – trust us!  Though Ladurée are known for their sweet treats we have it on good authority that they’re not actually the best in town.  Skip the crazy lines and instead head to one of the Pierre Hermé stores where you’ll find the most incredibly chewy, flavourful macarons you could ever wish for.

Alternatively, if you’re wanting to learn how to make an ever-lasting supply of macarons for yourself, you can learn from the master himself, Jean Yves.  The winner of Masterchef France (both for the macaron challenge and the overall competition), he’ll talk you through all of the intricacies of making these delicious but challenging biscuits.


The Eiffel Tower

If there’s one place that really doesn’t need an introduction, it’s this beauty!  With tickets available both on the day and online (just buy a few days ahead of time and skip the lines – something we can highly recommended having wasted hours in lines!)

You’ll have the choice of two different access levels and the ability to climb the stairs or hop in a lift to save your legs.  We decided to climb to the main viewing platform as the line was much shorter for this than it was for the lifts – it’s a fair climb but absolutely manageable with a little time and a bottle of water.


Soak Up the Seine

The Seine River flows gently through Paris, offering beautiful views from its many bridges.  Sadly the Pont des Arts (once known for its ‘love locks’) has had its locks removed but if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll find other bridges in the area still proudly displaying their symbols of everlasting love in the city.

Not far from the Seine, you’ll also find Notre-Dame de Paris.  Lined with the most incredibly detailed sculptures, it’s a testament, both to art and religion.


Le Louvre

Home to some of the most coveted fine art in the world (and one of the most famous pyramids anywhere, with exception of the originals), the Louve isthe Louve is the cultural centre of this amazing city.  Violinists played in the square as the sun shone down on the day we visited – French perfection without

Violinists played in the square as the sun shone down on the day we visited – French perfection without doubt – even without stepping foot inside the galleries.


Arc de Triomphe – The best views in Paris!

As with the Eiffel Tower, tickets can be purchased in advance for the Arc de Triomphe and it’s well worth doing.  We felt a little like royalty whizzing past everyone in line, heading straight to the top of the tower!

The stairs are narrow and winding but the views from the top are spectacular and I’d go as far as to say, they offer the best vantage point of the Eiffel Tower anywhere.  If you’re able to plan your visit to coincide with sunset, I can imagine you’d be rewarded with the most incredible photos!


What to Watch For – Don’t get scammed

Though Paris is gorgeous, there are a fair few scams around.  Keep your eyes peeled and hang onto your money so you can really enjoy this city!

  • You’ll notice people (generally middle-aged women) walking around with clipboards asking you to sign your name.  Sometimes these people will pretend to be deaf, other times they’ll approach you with perfect English – whatever the case, they’ll ask you to sign your name (assuring you that’s all they want) before then pushing you into making a ‘donation’ – by which point you’ve signed your name to the fact that you will donate to their cause (and may have quietly been pick-pocketed).  Inevitably, the money doesn’t ever go past their own pockets.
  • Around key points, you’ll notice men offering to tie threads of cotton around the wrists of tourists.  Again, they’ll start by hooking you in with a ‘bracelet’ and will then separate you from your group and pressure you into paying for this ‘service’.  Should the payment be too low, they’ve been known to cut the cotton off and march off, money in hand regardless.
  • The final scam we spotted around the city involves a fair bit of organisation.  Always on cardboard boxes or the ground (which we later witnessed, allows for a quick getaway from the police), a person will pop a few cups down.  Soon someone steps up, offering money to guess which cup the ball is sitting under.  The game goes on with more and more people joining – money starts to change hands very quickly (€50+ at a time, we’re not playing here) and of course the majority are seen to win.  Next, you’ll find yourself invited to play what looks like a sure-thing – only nothing could be further from the truth.  We stood back and watched one of these ‘games’ from the start where it became very clear that all of the initial players who stepped into the game over a period of ten minutes were in on it.  By all means, watch if you’d like (or quietly warn people off if you’d like) but don’t hand over a cent of your money.

How to Get Around

Within the City

Paris is incredibly well serviced by the metro.  It is in fact, one of the densest metro-systems anywhere in the world, with a whopping 245 stations all within 87 square kilometres.  Thanks to this, it covers a large part of the city, is affordable and easy to travel on.

The metro is normally open from about 5.30am until 12.40am from Sunday until Thursday (perfect for your CDG Airport transfers as you’ll see below) and from 5.30am and 1.40am on Fridays, Saturdays and on days before a public holiday.

Should you need to, you can supplement your metro tickets with buses, taxis or do as we did and walk from place to place – sure, it’ll take longer but you’re there to see Paris after all!

To and From the Airports

Charles de Gaulle

If you’re arriving in Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), Paris’ main airport, simply follow the signs towards the train and catch the RER B, getting off at Paris Nord.  Trains leave every 7-15 minutes and will take approximately half an hour.  They run from 5am until midnight, the journey itself is very comfortable and when you get off the train, you’ll find yourself at the metro for easy onward travel.

For journeys back to the airport, follow these instructions in reverse but remember to allow yourself plenty of time to check in as it can be a busy airport.

Beauvais

If you’re flying on a budget carrier, you may find yourself flying in or out of BVA Airport.  Planning is especially important here for your outbound flight as the airport is not serviced by trains and is a fair way out of the city (the last thing you want to be is at the mercy of a taxi fare!)

We found the best mode of transport to be via shuttle bus.  Tickets for the BVA shuttle can be purchased online (the cheaper option) or in person just before you board the bus.  Journeys last approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to cover the 75 kilometres out of the city.

From the airport, you’ll find the Paris-Beauvais Shuttles located between terminal 1 and 2.

Leaving from Paris, the shuttles are an easy walk from the Porte Maillot stop on the yellow metro line (likely in the direction of La Défense).


Where to Stay

After a busy day out exploring, there’s nothing better than coming back to a comfortable home-away-from-home and that’s exactly what Adèle & Jules offers.

Trendy, quite and unashamedly boutique, this hotel (or should I say, hotels – one building named Adèle and the other Jules), is well located and super stylish.

Each day, guests are invited to enjoy a delicious breakfast spread (served in the lounge or directly to your room, should you prefer to treat yourself to breakfast-in-bed!) and a complimentary (and tasty) afternoon tea is offered each afternoon.

If you’d prefer to hit the gym, Adèle & Jules have their own fitness room but between the delicious food, comfortable bed and beautiful balcony, we knew exactly where we’d be spending our precious hotel time (and it wasn’t at the gym!)


Visa Requirements

If you’re planning a visit to France and are travelling on a passport from outside of the European Union, you will need to investigate the appropriate visa requirements.

Frances falls within the Schengen Area and generally provides visa-free access to citizens of Europe, the Americas and counties in the Commonwealth.

Before booking your visit to the country, we suggest you check the French visa requirements first – nobody wants to get turned around at the border!


Paris is a dream city for many and for good reason.  It’s exciting, vibrant, romantic and downright iconic.  If you’re spending time in Europe, we can unequivocally recommend a visit to this magical city.

As they say, Paris is always a good idea, and we couldn’t agree more.


Thank you to Hotel Adèle & Jules and Le Village for hosting us whilst we were in Paris.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Adventure Bali Indonesia

Top Balinese Adventures for Want-To-Be Adventure Travellers

August 19, 2017

Bali is a beautiful island in the province of Indonesia. Known for its white sand beaches, bright green paddy fields and vast temples and underwater life, it ticks so many boxes for travellers.

The mere mention of Bali evokes thoughts of a paradise. It’s more than a place; it’s a mood, an aspiration, a tropical state of mind.

Lonely Planet

This stunning island, which stretches out for around 4000km, is not short on opportunities to maximise fun and adventure – and it doesn’t hurt that it’s all so affordable.  From underwater dreamscapes to over-land trekking and lush green jungles, Bali has it all for the tourist that likes to get out and about, really seeing what the country is made of.

Or maybe relaxation is more your speed?  Not to worry – there are plenty of spots where you can pamper yourself  (again at incredible prices – yes!) and enjoy a few days of full-on luxury.  Why not grab a group of girlfriends and book a beautiful villa in Bali to add to give yourselves the very best spot to unwind?

Whatever your reason for travelling to this Indonesian island paradise, we recommend you fill at least some of your days with adventure though!  Whether it’s the more sedate variety or something to really get your adrenaline pumping – there’s something for everyone here.

Check out our top Balinese adventures for those wanting an introduction to adrenaline and get planning…

1.  White-Water Rafting – Fun on the water with friends!

If you want to spend an adventurous day, filled with watery thrills, then you’ve got two main choices on the island – Ayung River (which is near Ubud) or the rugged, picturesque Telagawaja River (in the eastern region). Not only will you cool down in the water and get a good burst of exercise but you’ll enjoy amazing views and may even spot an exotic animal or two!

The rafting in Bali isn’t exactly world-class but it is perfect for beginners and those looking to test their skills (and nerve) on a smaller river.  If this sounds like you, you’ll find the best time to take to the river is after the wet season – from November to March.  During this time the grade 2 and 3 rapids are at their best.

What the region lacks in challenging rafting, it certainly makes up for in scenery.  Its unspoiled jungle and towering gorges will take your breath away as you paddle your way home.

2.  Surfing – Bali’s favourite pastime

Surfing is a perpetual visitor fave, with tourists from all over the world visiting to surf the southern coast soak up the sun’s rays.

Here, the beaches are packed with surfing schools and relaxed and friendly hostels, making it the perfect place to kick back and relax on the cheap.  It’s the Bali that every teenager dreams of!

If you’re wanting to hit their world-class surf breaks, we recommend the Bukit Peninsular Kuta or, in a pinch, Kuta Beach if you can’t get out of town. The prime surf season runs from April to November when the waves consistently reach up to 12ft so it’s best to plan your trip to fall between those months if you’re following the waves.  For your average surfer though, waves of some level can be found any time of year.

3. A Diver’s Paradise  

The colourful marine life, consistently warm water and beautiful seascapes see South-East Asia frequently rated amongst the world for world-class diving and Indonesia is no different.

If you’re visiting the island without prior experience, there are plenty of recognised dive centres that can support you through your training and point you in the direction of the best reefs.  Alternatively, if you’re already PADI certified, remember to bring your dive card so you can jump right on in!

In Nusa Penida, you may have the change to see sunfish and manta rays or if you’d prefer a wreck dive (the USS Liberty to be exact), head in the direction of Tulamben. 

4. Not Keen to Dive?  Snorkeling might be for you!

If diving’s not for you (and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea), there are some great spots for snorkeling on the north side!  Just don a mask, snorkel and fins and hit the water.

These tropical waters are included within the infamous Coral Triangle and as a result, boast some of the best water-life and sea-gardens around.

If you’re staying close to the southern part of the island then a trip to Nusa Dua is easily done, or you may like to consider Menjangan Island, Nusa Lembongan or Padangbai if you have a little more time up your sleeve.

5. Trekking Though Bali’s Unique Landscapes

Whilst visiting Bali, it’s worth planning some hiking time to ensure you get up-close-and-personal with the country’s magnificent landscapes.

Whether it’s an adventurous day hike through the jungle, mountain lakes and forest at the Kerinci Seblat National Park or a more relaxed wander to the ancient temples of the Tana Toraja region, it’s worth taking the time to see more rural areas by foot.

Or, if you’re short on time and aren’t able to get out of the main towns, we absolutely recommend a visit to Ubud’s Monkey Forest.  The monkeys are captivating and the sculptures which are slowly being taken over my moss are equally so.

6.  On Your Bike!

If you’re hoping to cover more ground than hiking will allow but still want to experience Indonesia at the grass-roots level, a bike may be the best way to do exactly that.

Experiences vary of course but if you’re looking for an easy start, we recommend picking up a bike locally in Ubud to find your ‘biking feet’ so to speak.

Ready to take it up a notch?  There are a wide variety of challenging rides available on the island – so many in fact, it may be hard to choose!

If you do have the time, be sure to fit a visit to the rice terraces in Ubud Jatiluwih into your cycling itinerary.  There you’ll find the stunning beauty that Bali is known for along with their traditional Balinese irrigation system – the designs of which have been passed down through generations from the eighth century.  The Jatiluwih rice terraces were once a UNESCO cultural heritage site and make the best photo-op even now.

Monuments, temples, mountains, beaches, vast rice fields – you’ll discover them all just as you would on foot, only with a bike at your disposal you’ll be able to fit much more into your day.  Or you’ll be able to finish up earlier and treat yourself to a massage or visit to a coffee plantation – doesn’t sound too shabby to me!


Bali offers so much to holiday-makers wanting to reconnect with nature whilst having an adventure of their own.  It’s a relatively easy country to travel within, offers excellent value, a great touch of luxury (if that’s what you’re looking for) and gorgeous scenery.

Could it be your next holiday destination?

Chile Santiago South America Tours Valparaíso

Valparaíso: Chile’s Painted City on the Sea

August 15, 2017

“Valparaíso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.” – Pablo Neruda

Valparaiso is colourful, vivacious, chaotic and a little surreal.  It’s grungy, a little wild and the life of the party.  Only 115km from Santiago though, this port-town has to be seen to be believed.

Try as I might to sum it up, sometimes you just come across a description that fits perfectly.  This is Valparaiso to a tee…

Poets, painters and would-be philosophers have long been drawn to Chile‘s most unusual city. Along with the ever-shifting port population of sailors, dockworkers and prostitutes, they’ve endowed gritty and gloriously spontaneous Valparaíso with an edgy air of ‘anything goes.’ Add to this the spectacular faded beauty of its chaotic cerros (hills), some of the best street art in Latin America, a maze of steep, sinuous streets, alleys and escaleras (stairways) piled high with crumbling mansions, and it’s clear why some visitors are spending more time here than in Santiago. – Lonely Planet

Colourful houses perch precariously, crammed in next to each other on the port hills.  Funiculars shuttle locals and tourists alike whilst those that choose to amble the streets are rewarded with incredible works of art, found in the most unlikely of places.

It’s a bit of a mess but it sure is beautiful!

To find your way around this unique city we suggest you join a walking tour to help get your bearings.  The city is fabulous but there are some areas that you probably don’t want to venture into.  Joining a local first will help give you the confidence to head off exploring on your own after the tour.

Good news travels fast and after a few people recommended Valpo Street Art Tours we planned our day around making it to their afternoon tour.  If we weren’t so jet lagged we’d have preferred to join their 10.30am tour (leaving us the rest of the day to explore) but sometimes you just can’t fight your internal body clock so the 3.30pm tour was the one we decided upon.

The tour itself was absolutely fantastic.  Eddie, our guide, was full of knowledge and passion.  He shared with us everything we could hope to learn – from the origins of graffiti in New York City in the seventies to the uniquely Chilean spin locals put on it now.  We came away with an understanding of the materials and processes involved in making this amazing works of art and a massive appreciation for the artists that pour everything into their projects.

Is Valpariso Safe?

It’s fair to say the port area doesn’t offer visitors much – it can in fact be a dangerous part of town.  By all means, make sure to visit the city but keep your wits about you, as you would anywhere.  Try to avoid walking on the flat parts of town when it gets dark and limit the amount of cash you take with you.  Don’t wander the city with your camera around your neck (unless you’re on a tour as they’ll ensure you only visit the safer areas) or your phone sticking out of your pocket.

We comfortably walked from the bus stop to the meeting point of our tour – it took approximately 30 minutes and we felt more than happy doing so.

Once it got dark though we hailed one of the local buses which took us directly back to the bus terminal.  Doing so is easy – just stick your arm out on the main road and jump onto any bus… they all head in the same direction.  You’ll pay 280 pesos for the pleasure and be there in a snap.

Chances are, walking would have been fine but why run the risk?

Getting from Santiago to Valparaiso

Getting from Chile’s capital to Valparaiso is a relatively straightforward process, even with minimal Spanish.  We used this helpful transport guide to get there but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll summarise the journey.

Though there are several spots from which you can catch an intercity bus, it’s easiest to do so at the last bus stop in Santiago city which is also conveniently a metro stop.  You’ll find Pajaritos on the red line, most likely in the direction of San Pablo.

As you exit the metro, simply follow the signs towards the ‘Bus Transfer’ area.  Once there, you’ll find the ticket counters directly in front of you and the buses to your right.  The main providers that run this route (Turbus and Pullman) do so every 15 minutes or so and there were plenty of seats available when we were there so there’s really no need to book in advance.

At the ticket counter we’d suggest asking for one of the following depending on your needs:

“Un boleto de vuelta a Valparaíso, por favor” – a return ticket to Valparaíso please.

“Dos billetes de ida y vuelta a Valparaíso, por favor” – two return tickets to Valparaíso please.

“Un boleto a Valparaíso, por favor” – a ticket to Valparaíso please.

Or you can do as we did and have your request pre-programmed onto your Google Translate app as back-up.  As it turns out, my accent is indistinguishably off so being able to flash my request up on the screen was invaluable (just turn your phone to the side to display it in an easy-to-read size).

Tickets can be purchased one way or return but they are cheaper if purchased at the same time.  We found a one way trip to be 5,700 pesos each but the return portion was only an additional 3000-and-something pesos (sorry, we threw out the ticket – silly us!)

If you do opt for a return ticket, you’ll be given an open-ended one.  When you’re in Valparaíso and are ready to head back to Santiago you’ll just need to approach the ticket desk, pass them your ticket and ask for

“La próxima salida por favor” – the next departure please.

Just don’t forget to get off again at the first major stop, Pajaritos (pronounced pa-ha-ri-tos) ready to catch the metro back home.

Valparaíso is unlike anywhere else we’ve ever been.  It’s gorgeous, a little crazy and undoubtedly real.  This city doesn’t try to hide who it really is, instead it embraces it and we’d encourage you to do exactly the same on your trip to Chile.

Barcelona Europe Reviews Spain Tours

Bouncing Around Barcelona – The bike tour with a difference

August 4, 2017

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and the second most populous municipality in Spain, has many claims to fame – a world-renowned football team, impressive tourism figures and weather to make most jealous – but there’s something special about this incredible city that most people aren’t aware of.

It plays host to one of the best tour guides around!

Kris, the owner-operator of Bounce Around Barcelona is one of the most energetic, vivacious guides you could ever hope to meet.  He’s hard-case and finds the perfect balance between professionally and approachability.

With the option of private and group tours around the city, guests can get around either by foot or on Kris’ funky old-school bikes.  We figured the bikes would allow us to cover more ground so it was an easy choice for us.  Fortunately the city is incredibly well laid out for cyclists, being largely flat and home to countless cycle lanes.

Before departing, Kris sat with us to determine the key spots we wanted to visit, orientated us on the map and promised to take us to some of the local hideaways.  Our tour was custom designed for us, based on what we hadn’t managed to see yet.  In the end, it covered off all of Barcelona’s must-see spots and, as promised, delivered lots of gems that we’d never had discovered by ourselves.

Our tour really did have it all…

Food?  Check

Architecture?  Double check!

Natural beauty?  You bet.

Throughout our tour, Kris shared a wealth of information about Barcelona, the Catalan region as a whole and Spain itself.  I have no idea how he manages to retain the depth of knowledge that he has but there’s no doubt in my mind that Kris was absolutely born to do this job.

As much as we’d love to share our map and all of the top-spots Bounce Around Barcelona showed us, there’s no better way to see Barcelona than on one of their tours.  We were given the opportunity to skip over a couple of the locations that we’d already passed through but once we realised how much better it was seeing everything through Kris’ eyes we quickly asked for those spots to be added back in.  We didn’t have the back-story when we visited independently nor an understanding of the history but Kris of course changed that.

They have one motto and it’s something Bounce Around clearly live to their core – “Come as a guest, leave as a friend”.

Don’t take our word for it though – I dare you to visit Kris and his team and walk away with anything but the more positive things to say.

We’d bounce around practically anywhere with Kris!


Love Barcelona as much as us?  Pin this post!

Discover the best tour in Barcelona, Spain. Bounce Around Barcelona will plan an amazing itinerary and show you the best tourist sites in the city. From Gaudi to the best secret bar, this tour covers off all the highlights and then some!Discover the best tour in Barcelona, Spain. Bounce Around Barcelona will plan an amazing itinerary and show you the best tourist sites in the city. From Gaudi to the best secret bar, this tour covers off all the highlights and then some!

I know this post sounds unbelievably gushy but we really were blown away by Kris’ zest for life and obvious passion for what he does.  To date we’ve only met one other guide that left us feeling like we walked away more as friends than guests (Bessi, we’re talking to you!) and we figure, you’ve really got to celebrate the good guys.

We were invited to put Bounce Around Barcelona through their paces and as always, all thoughts are our own.

Destinations Europe Scotland Tours United Kingdom

Checking Out Scotland’s Highlights with Highland Explorer Tours

July 31, 2017

With its rolling green hills, towering Highlands, fantastic people and intriguing history, Scotland is both as gorgeous as it is accessible.

Before visiting, we’d heard great things about Edinburg so we knew it was where we wanted to base ourselves.  With that said, nobody comes to Scotland with dreams of its cities – lochs, crags and munros – the countryside’s where it’s at!

With a few potential highlights in mind, we locked in two action packed day trips around this beautiful country – one longer day headed up to the infamous Loch Ness and another to Stirling Castle.

Loch Ness Explorer

Nessie – real or imaginary?  Regardless of your stance, you’ve gotta take a look for yourself!

After years of hearing about Loch Ness and Nessie, the monster living in its depths, a visit to the loch was top of my Scottish wish-list and though it was a big day on the coach, it was absolutely worthwhile.

Though it was Loch Ness that originally drew us to this itinerary it ended up being only a small part of the day’s highlights!  We admired the beauty of Glencoe, loved exploring the small town of Fort Augustus (and getting down on the best fish and chips), laughed ourselves silly on the loch cruise and fell in love with Pitlochry – one of the most photogenic towns we’ve ever visited.

Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle & the Kelpies

After a busy day on the bus we were excited to hit the road in a more relaxed nature and this day trip ticked exactly that boxl  Lots of real Scottish highlights without endless hours on a coach?  Sign us up!

We started with a visit to The Kelpies – 30 meters of towering steel, crafted to create gorgeous horses – designed by Andy Scott.  These statues stand in recognition of the key role that horses have played throughout Scotland and as a nod to the mythical kepie.  Known for their gorgeous looks and malevolent spirit, these creatures are as beautiful as they are deadly.

The statues are fantastic and even more gorgeous at night when they’re lit up – regardless of how you get out there, it’s worth the short trip out of Edinburgh.

From there we continued onto Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park where we wandered along a quiet forrest path.  The walk didn’t end up being the highlight of the trip as it wasn’t quite as long as I was expecting but was beautiful all the same.

After a great wee lunch stop we continued onto Stirling Castle which really did end up being a surprising highlight of the trip.  Though we appreciate a good castle we were really taken by the beauty and history of this one in particular – I think we may have a new favourite!

Why Highland Explorer Tours?

When we first reached out we were taken by the professional manner in which the booking team replied.  We were pretty unsure as to which tour(s) we wanted to attend and they were happy to give us plenty of information without once putting the pressure on – that’s exactly what we look for in a tour company.

Would we recommend touring Scotland?

We sure would! 

Edinburgh is gorgeous (just look at it) but the real Scotland lies outside of the city.

Both of our tour guides were chocka-block full of knowledge and delivered their tours with a great sense of fun.  The included stops were interesting and allowed us enough time to enjoy each one of them without having to race to the next destination.  We also loved that there were options available to ‘upgrade’ the tours but there was no pressure to do so – a real bonus for people travelling on a budget.

Though we only had a short time in the country, we left with a newfound appreciation for not only Scotland’s natural beauty but of it’s history and the hard-case people that call this beautiful place home.


Why not help us spread the word about this fabulous two day-trips?  Pin your favourite image to Pinterest!

Looking for tours in Scotland?  Leaving from Edinburgh, join us as we share our two day itinerary to Glencoe, Stirling Castle, Loch Ness, The Kelpies, Trossachs National Park and much more!Looking for tours in Scotland?  Leaving from Edinburgh, join us as we share our two day itinerary to Glencoe, Stirling Castle, Loch Ness, The Kelpies, Trossachs National Park and much more!

Thank you to Highland Explorer Tours for showing us the beautiful Scottish countryside – we had a great time!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Eco Tourism Falkland Islands South America

Rockhoppers to Reindeers – A Wildlife Guide to the Falklands

July 28, 2017

With more penguins than people and an island named after the sea lions that amass on its shores, the Falkland Islands are a wildlife destination like no other.

If there’s one thing that draws people from all over the world to visit the Falkland Islands, it’s the impressive array of wildlife that calls the southern archipelago home. Abundant in supply and diverse in nature, the fauna of the Falkland Islands is on par with that offered in the Galapagos, yet much more accessible and without the crowds to compete with!

Whether you’re a keen birder, a wildlife photographer, or a simply love seeing birds and marine mammals in their natural environment – the Falklands will not disappoint.

Falkland Island Penguins

There are five species of penguins that can be found in the Falkland Islands. The most common are Magellanic and Gentoo, followed by Rockhoppers and King, and less often the Macaroni. They’re all unique and all a pleasure to watch.

Their antics will kept you spellbound for hours!

Magellanic Penguins

Seemingly the most prolific, Magellanic penguins can be found burrowing into the soft peaty earth all over the Falkland Islands. These medium-sized black and white penguins are shy in nature, but if you keep your distance, some will happily pose for photographs. Their distinctive circular markings mean they are easily identified, even while hanging out with the Gentoos on the beach.

Gentoo Penguins

The mascot of the Falkland Islands – the Gentoo Penguin – is slightly bigger than the Magellanic, and much more outgoing. You’ll often find them surfing the waves, or walking the ‘penguin highway’ to their colonies inland. Gentoo penguins are also black and white but their orange bills and pinkish feet make them more closely resemble their larger cousins – the King penguin.

Rockhopper Penguins

Rockhopper penguins defy the clumsiness that penguins are renowned for, by deftly climbing the steepest and sharpest of cliff faces. Confidently hopping from one rock to another, their small frame and pink webbed feet scale the island’s walls to perch on rocky promontories overlooking the sea. Their bright red eyes are framed by a crest of spiky yellow feathers that make them look curiously coiffed (and a little bad-tempered!)

Macaroni Penguins

Macaroni penguins look very similar to Rockhopper penguins and the closely related birds like to hang out together in the Falklands. There is a subtle difference in appearance between the two penguins though.

Macaroni’s are slightly larger in size than the Rockhopper. And their crest feathers are more vibrant in colour and more flamboyant in shape! Macaroni penguins have also been known to breed with Rockhopper penguins, creating a hybrid chick.

King Penguins

The largest of the penguins found in the Falkland Islands (and the second largest penguin in the world), King penguins are also the most impressive to see and hear!

The world’s most accessible King penguin colony can be found just 2.5 hours from the country’s capital, Stanley. Their prime spot at Volunteer Point in East Falkland makes it a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike.

Other Birdlife in the Falklands

With over 219 recorded species of birdlife in the Falkland Islands, I couldn’t possibly cover them all in one blog post, but let’s just say it’s a bird watchers paradise!

I loved seeing the monogamous upland geese fly around in pairs, the cheeky caracara who landed on my camera, the flightless steamer ducks waddling on the beach and the rock cormorants battling the wind as they tried to land on rocky ledges.

The outer islands are absolutely teeming with birdlife. I’m no birder, and yet I managed to spot 25 different species in just one afternoon on Weddell Island!

Here are a few highlights…

Black-Browed Albatrosses

Two-thirds of the world’s black-browed albatrosses live in the Falklands and while a large number of them hang out on the harder-to-get-to Steeple Jason Island, I saw a large number feeding just off Weddell Island also. Their elongated wingspan of 200-240 cm is an impressive sight as they swoop in to land.

Black browed albatross flying over the sea, with onother albatross in background, South Georgia Island, AntarcticaSouthern Giant Petrel

As Jane from Weddell Island put it, ‘the albatross get all the glory, but the petrels are just as impressive’.

With a wingspan of up to 205 cm, they certainly deserve their fair share of the limelight. Effortless gliders, you’ll see these birds all around the coasts of the Falklands.

Striated Caracara

More commonly referred to as Johnny Rooks by the locals, these bold-faced birds are usually seen on the outer islands of the Falklands. You’ll find them wherever you find penguins, as the Johnny Rook is a ruthless scavenger.

Cheeky in nature, they aren’t afraid of humans and will take an interest in anything shiny. I even heard reports of them stealing sunglasses from unsuspecting visitors and a gang almost got away with my camera!

Falkland Flightless Steamer Duck

They may be flightless (due to their short wings), but the Falkland Flightless steamer ducks sure know how move! They use a combination of feet and wing paddling that allows them to move at speed on water. Even if in doing so they look rather peculiar!

“These clumsy, loggerheaded ducks make such a noise and splashing, that the effect is exceedingly curious.” – Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle.

Rock Cormorant

Aside from the comedic value of clumsy penguins, watching the incredible antics of the rock cormorants as they battled huge winds to land on barren cliffs was one of my favourite bird experiences. The skill these small birds show as they expertly hover and swoop will take your breath away – as will the sheer number of them!

Marine Mammals

The Falklands unique location and sparsely inhabited islands make them a magnet for marine mammals of all varieties! Although some are harder to see without the help of a boat, even visitors who don’t venture out into the unruly seas will get a chance to appreciate these majestic creatures.

Sea Lions and Elephant Seals

Sprawled out in the sand, bellies turned towards the sun and flippers lazily scratching their sides – you’ll find sea lions and elephant seals clogging the coastlines of the Falkland Islands.

Sea Lion Island is an obvious choice, with 95% of the Falklands elephant seal population hanging out here, but sea lions can be found on many of the other islands shorelines also.

Watch out as you walk through the tussock – disturbing a sleeping seal or lion may land you in hot water. They can move quicker than you think! But chances are, you’ll hear them before you see them – elephant seals in particular let out a guttural sound warning you of their presence.

During breeding season, males of both species put on a show as they battle for the right to breed.

Dolphins and Whales

The most commonly sighted dolphins in the Falklands are the Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins. There are a four other species native to the waters surrounding the islands, but they are rarely seen close to shore. I was lucky enough to spot both Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins while on Weddell Island and they put on quite the show – surfing in the shallow waters just off the shore.

Many species of whale can also be seen migrating past the islands. If you look down as you fly around between the islands, you may just see a telltale dark shadow beneath the waves, or spot a blowhole shooting water high into the air.

Most whales pass by the islands on their migration route, but playful orcas are commonly found off the shores of Sea Lion Island for many months a year. They like to prey on the young sea lion pups, so are mainly present between September to February – when there are plenty in supply.

Introduced Species

Both the Patagonian grey fox and reindeer have been introduced to the Falkland Islands. The reindeer were gifted from South Georgia (who later culled their reindeer population) and the foxes were introduced from South America. They’re only present on two islands – Beaver Island & Weddell Island – and it was while visiting the latter that I laid my eyes on both species!


The wildlife of the Falkland Islands is as varied as it is astounding! I’ve never experienced something so unique, so magical, as seeing so many animals and mammals living in harmony with each other, the landscape, and with the human population of the islands.

If you only need one reason to visit the Falklands, the wildlife is it!


Thank you to Blogilicious and the Falkland Islands Tourist Board for sponsoring Nadine’s visit.  What an incredible experience!

Activities Adventure Destinations Dubai Middle East United Arab Emirates

Fun & Adventure in Dubai – 9 Activities to Try

July 27, 2017

With its towering skyscrapers, fast cars and glitz and glam, one could be forgiven for thinking Dubai’s limited in what it offers the more adventurous travellers amongst us.  In reality though, nothing could be further from the truth!

Join us as we explore the best places to head in Dubai if you’re looking for a break from the high-life and a taste of adventure…


Escape Rooms – Phobia

In the past we’ve shared with you our love of escape rooms and, unsurprisingly, in a city where everything is bigger and better, these guys have rooms to match!  With two different sites in Dubai and a range of cutting-edge rooms on offer, Phobia are leading the way when it comes to escape rooms in the UAE.

We attempted to find our way out of their ‘Vault‘ room and though it was challenging, it was a heck of a lot of fun!

Set in the middle of a nuclear zombie apocalypse, players are challenged with overriding the bunker systems in a bid to escape before the oxygen in the room runs out – sure, once you’re out safely you’ll potentially be confronted with a world full of zombies but what can you do?

The danger may be staged but the challenge and fun is 100% real!

Hot Air Ballooning with a Twist – Platinum Heritage

Perhaps one of the most surprising adrenaline rushes we’ve ever had was experienced whilst hot air ballooning in Luxor and though we didn’t find the time to head up with Platinum Heritage, the experience remains top of our Dubai wish-list.

They’ll whisk you away into the depths of Dubai’s desert and allow you to take to the skies alongside their majestic falcons, before finishing up your morning with an incredibly luxury breakfast and dune bashing in 1950s Landrovers.

Without doubt, a once in a lifetime experience in the desert.

High Ropes – Aventura

Rising from the sand, in between the ghaf trees, Aventura is a high ropes course that offers something for everyone.  From simple courses for young children (and those a feeling a little less adventurous) to those that will challenge even the bravest of adventurers, it’s worth kitting up and getting active outside in Dubai.

Safety is paramount at Aventura where they employ a fail-safe carabiner system – this means you can take to the course without any concerns for your safety.

Maximum fun, minimum fuss!

Aventura High Ropes Dubai reviewThe Largest Inflatable Park in the World – Aqua Fun

Dubai is hot.  The ocean is marginally less hot, but hey, sometimes that’s the best you can hope for in the UAE!

Within easy reach of JBR, our favourite Dubai beach, you’ll find Aqua Fun – the world’s largest inflatable park.  Backdrops for fun just don’t get better!

Water Parks – Waterslides for the Bravest of the Brave – Aquaventure

Dubai provides adventurous visitors with two main waterparks – Aquaventure and Wild Wadi and though both are potentially worth a visit, one of them stands head-and-shoulders above the other.

It’s a big call but Aquaventure would easily be the best waterpark we’ve ever visited and, we believe, up there as one of the best in the world.

Sky Diving – Skydive Dubai

There’s really no rush that compares to your first skydive and where better to do it than over the iconic Palm?

With incredible views of the Arabian Gulf and well-known sights including the Burj Al Arab and Atlantis, jump sites really don’t get more impressive than this!

Hyper Reality – The Void

If you’re looking for some uniquely-Dubai fun, head along to The Void at JBR for a futuristic virtual-reality experience.

With proton guns on high-alert and a computer-animated world all around you, this glimpse into the future of video games is a must-try activity in the city of the future.

Speedboat Sightseeing – Xclusive Tours

If you’re new to the city or are wanting to show guests around, a speedboat trip out around The Palm ticks all the soft-adventure boxes whilst showing off some of the best parts of Dubai.

The boats are zippy but stable and as you race around the key Palm landmarks, your skipper will fill you in on all of the facts and figures involved in constructing this man-made marvel.  It’s a wonder of engineering and definitely worth seeing up close.

Theme Park Fun – IMG Worlds of Adventure & Dubai Parks and Resorts

Though not quite up to the same standard of theme parks in the United States and Europe, Dubai’s had a good go at building exciting parks, aimed at keeping the whole family entertained.

IMG is the largest indoor theme park in the world, providing a welcome respite from the Arabian sun, whilst Dubai Parks and Resorts is the newest player in the city and largely based outdoors.


Dubai has a lot to offer visitors, entertaining tourists far beyond the shopping malls and tall buildings for which the city is known.  From a gentle introduction to adventure, through to excitement for the biggest adrenaline junkies, Dubai’s just the ticket.


Looking for adventure in Dubai?  Pin this post for future reference!

The best fun and adventurous things to do in Dubai, UAE. Sky diving, escape rooms, water parks, hot air ballooning and more - all of the activities you need to book in the city!

Supplemental photos from KlookPlatinum HeritageTrip AdvisorArabian Business, and YouTube.

Activities Adventure Chernobyl Destinations Ukraine

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – 10 incredible photos to inspire your visit

July 17, 2017

On April 26th, 1986, the world came to know about a small town in Ukraine.

Chernobyl.

Chernobyl is no longer known as a town but as the location of the largest nuclear power plant accident in history.  Late night testing-gone-wrong decimated the area, causing significant long-term health effects for residents and costing billions to ‘remedy’.

Visiting the site that released 400 times the radiation of Hiroshima bomb may seem like an odd vacation choice but for the past five or so years, adventurous tourists have been able to do exactly that.

A visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone is to literally take a step back in time to 1986.  Toys are left strewn on the floor, as are handwritten notes and Soviet newspaper articles.  This is a glimpse into not only a bygone era but one behind a once-iron curtain.

We will be following up with information regarding our visit but before we do, we wanted to share a few photographs to give you an idea as to what awaits those who visit this incredible site.

Without doubt, a visit to this site is not for everyone.  The history there and the opportunity to explore an abandoned area whilst gaining such an insight into the past was too hard for us to resist though.

Does a visit to Chernobyl interest you?


If you are considering a trip to Ukraine be sure to pin this post!

The site of the world's worst nuclear power plant accident may seem like a strange choice for tourists but it provides an unprecedented glimpse into Soviet life in 1986.  These photos will inspire you to plan your own visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the Ukraine.The site of the world's worst nuclear power plant accident may seem like a strange choice for tourists but it provides an unprecedented glimpse into Soviet life in 1986.  These photos will inspire you to plan your own visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the Ukraine.The site of the world's worst nuclear power plant accident may seem like a strange choice for tourists but it provides an unprecedented glimpse into Soviet life in 1986. These photos will inspire you to plan your own visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the Ukraine.

We were taken into the Chernobyl exclusion zone by Go2Chernobyl – tours leave from Kiev daily.

Activities France Paris Reviews theme park

Disneyland Paris & Walt Disney Studios Park – A Must See in France?

July 3, 2017

The one brand in the world that really needs no introduction.

Disney.

The happiest place on earth.  Where dreams come true.  Where fantasies come to life and where big kids become small again.

As a child it was always a family dream to one day visit Disneyland and when it did eventually happen, I remember it being an absolute bucket-list moment for us all.

I’ve since gone on to visit Disneyland in California a number of times, finding each visit as magical as the last.

It’s unsurprising then, that when we booked our dates in for Paris, a visit to Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park was top of my to-do list!

With high expectations, we set off on the train (an incredibly easy way to get to the parks) to see if our Parisian Disney dreams could live up to our past experiences.

Disney – A Step Above

Disney set the benchmark for theme parks the world over – they consider things other parks wouldn’t dream of.

Worried your children might see another Mickey floating around the park?  Don’t be – there’s only ever one of each character out on duty at a time (and they’ll never talk for fear of voices sounding different or ruining the magic).

Have you ever wondered just how they make Main Street look so long (and the iconic castle centre-pieces so far away)?  Forced perspective!  As you move further down Main Street, the shops become wider making everything appear further away than it really is.

As you walk from area to area, keep your ear to the ground.  In doing so, you’ll notice subtle sound-effects that change to reflect the theming of that part of the park.

They really do think of everything!

Two Parks – One Pass

Between Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park guests are able to enjoy the majority of classic Disney favourites and a number of new rides and though you can pick just the one park and stick to it, we always recommend the Park Hopper tickets.  They give you maximum flexibility to come and go as you choose.  Bounce around to avoid the lines and make the most of your favourite rides!

The Rides You Can’t Miss

A perennial Disney favourite, Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris (known as Starwars Hyper Space Mountain) is the fastest of all five incarnations (46mph in just two seconds!) and it’s also the only one to go upside-down.  Unfortunately it was closed for our visit but we love the original and can only imagine how awesome this version would be!

If you’re after a rollercoaster style ride that builds up to an amazing ending, be sure to check out Big Thunder Mountain.  It starts off fairly sedately but the last blat is incredible – I won’t ruin the surprise, just make sure you check it out for yourself.

Keen for another coaster?  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril is a bit rickety but it absolutely makes sense given the theme of the ride.  The queuing area is especially well appointed and the ride itself excerpts some fairly major g-forces on riders (with a surprise towards the end!)

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith was the ride I was most excited to try out at Walt Disney Studios Park.  The take off was incredible but I must admit that I found the rest of the ride a bit uncomfortable – probably a combination of the number of earrings I wear (they don’t go well with roller coasters) and the fact that we’ve been spoilt with more modern coasters.  The music was well-matched though and as a dark ride, it’s a great introduction for those wanting to ride a bigger coaster without seeing what’s in front of them.

Though we ran out of time to jump on, we’ve also been told by friends that Crush’s Coaster is great fun.  This spinning, wild-mouse coaster is suited to the whole family and would make a great addition to your day if you have the time.

… and saving the best to last, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was our absolute favourite ride between the two parks.  Like the original, it’s impeccably themed and run by cast members that never once break character.  The ride itself features a number of significant drops – enough to bring on the butterflies in your tummy but not so much so that it’ll put people off – it’s a balance that can be hard to find but is done perfectly on the Tower of Terror.

It must be said too – let’s all cross our fingers that one day Splash Mountain is added to Disneyland Paris.  What a ride!

Make Your Day Even More Magical – Practical Tips

It’s practically impossible to have a bad day at Disney but there are a few things you can do to improve your experience.

It’s All in the Planning…

Unfortunately even Disney can’t work real magic and this does mean that from time to time you’ll find rides out of commission.  They post the expected ride closures ahead of time, allowing guests to thoughtfully plan any potential visits.

Pro tip:  Check the opening times, expected ride closures and any special events for the day of your visit on the Disneyland Paris calendar.

The Fast Pass – Your ‘Golden Ticket’ to Disney

Though we visited on a Monday just before the school holidays in the hopes of finding the parks relatively quiet, it wasn’t to be.  With rides ranging from a 45 minute wait time up to 1.5 hours or so, the Fast Pass would normally save the day in helping to get guests through lines (without the headache of actually having to wait in line).  The concept is fairly simple – when you first enter the parks, make a beeline for the ride that you’d most like to ride, scan your ticket and pick up your Fast Pass.  This fabulous little ticket will, for-all intents and purposes, hold your space in the line at a certain point in the day whilst you head off and enjoy other attractions.  Simply return within the given 30 minute window and jump yourself to the front of the queue via the Fast Track entrance.  

Unfortunately for us, the day we visited ended up being so busy that all of the Fast Pass tickets were snapped up early and we only managed to get our hands on one each.  There’s a limited number of passes up for grabs each day – after all, if everyone in the park could take one for every ride, nobody would get ahead!  This is great in the sense that everyone has a fair shot at jumping to line (unlike in some other parks, like Six Flags Magic Mountain and Thorpe Park, where guests with deep pockets can buy their way to the front time and time again) but it does mean that you’ll struggle to benefit from this place-saving technology on particularly crowded days.

Let’s face it though, you’re at Disneyland – there are much worse places to be standing in line!

Minimising Your Wait Time

Whilst in the parks, try to pick up as many Fast Passes as you can.   Failing that though, use the following tips to try to avoid the lines as much as possible:

  • Upon entering Disneyland Paris, turn right first towards Discoveryland.  The majority of Disney-goers head to Frontierland (the first zone on the left after Main Street) so by starting at the other end of the park, you’ll avoid many of the larger lines off the bat.
  • Consider the hours of operation.  Disneyland Paris is open a fair bit longer each day than Walt Disney Studios Park and as it’s the experience that most visitors are there for first and foremost, it makes sense to pop across to the Studios first.  Not only will the lines likely be shorter there first thing in the morning but you’ll be guaranteed to tick off your must-see rides, leaving the rest of the day/evening to explore Disney.
  • Be smart about lunchtime.  Most visitors to the parks dine between midday and two – not only will the lines at the food outlets be longer then but the lines for the rides will be shorter.  If you’re able to, plan in either an early or late lunch and make the most of the quieter periods around the parks.  Alternatively, if your tummy is grumbling, you may like to consider heading to Disney Village where you’ll find fewer visitors.  We speak from experience when we say it’s probably worth walking another 5 minutes to save spending 20 in another line – the food cues certainly aren’t as entertaining as the ride ones!
  • Make the most of parade times.  Queues are generally shorter then as most of the guests will be enjoying the paradise as it snakes its way through the park so it’s a great time to hit the rides.
  • Catch the train around the park but do so from Frontierland, Discoveryland or Frontierland.  You’ll find Main Street to be the busiest station in the park.
  • Mums and Dads, don’t wait twice!  If you’re travelling with a little one that’s too small to ride, you can avail the ‘baby switch’ policy – just ask a cast member for information.
  • Splurge and have the parks to yourself.  If you choose to stay onsite at one of the Disney hotels, you’ll be allowed into the parks before and after everyone else, plus you’ll have the added bonus of being able to return to your hotel to relax when things get busy (and then be able to pop back across when the lines die down).

Regardless of the park you step foot into, Disney really do a magical  job of their theming and in creating a truly immersive experience for the whole family and their Paris parks are no exception.

Though the parks are smaller than their American counterparts, they’re a great introduction to the world of Disney!

If you’re visiting France, be sure to allow yourself time to visit Disney.  After all, it’s the happiest place on earth and who’s not looking for that?


Off to Disney or know someone that is?  Pin this post to return to these park tips!

Disneyland Paris should be top of your bucket list itinerary whilst on vacation in France. This theme park has amazing rides, great restaurants, incredible theming and the general magic you'd expect from Disney.  Find out how to maximise your time at the park whilst having the best holiday fun!Disneyland Paris should be top of your bucket list itinerary whilst on vacation in France. This theme park has amazing rides, great restaurants, incredible theming and the general magic you'd expect from Disney.  Find out how to maximise your time at the park whilst having the best holiday fun!

Thank you to Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park for providing us with a one day park hopper pass for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Abu Dhabi Accommodation Luxury Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

The Most Luxurious Desert Hotel in the World: Qasr Al Sarab

June 23, 2017

Located on the edge of the world’s largest uninterrupted sand desert, Rub Al Khali, Qasr Al Sarab delivers absolute luxury in a bucket-list location.  We visited to find out if it really could live up to the high praise it receives and we left every bit amazed.  Read on for our review of this spectacular Anantara property…

Since moving to Abu Dhabi almost two years ago, Qasr Al Sarab (“the Mirage Palace”) has been top of our wish-list.  This incredible property really is the incarnation of an Arabian dreamscape.

Can anywhere really live up to that level of hype though?  Though it’s hard to believe, yes!

Luxury in the Desert

Located approximately two hours from Abu Dhabi City (or three from Dubai), Qasr Al Sarab has been providing the very best in luxury (and the UAE sure knows how to do that right!) since it opened in 2009.

With a design that clearly mirrors its surrounding and gives a nod to the desert fortresses that once would have been prevalent in the area, there’s no denying where you are when you approach Qasr Al Sarab for the first time.

Everything about this hotel is beautifully considered – from the genuine Arabian antiques generously scattered throughout the property to the locally hand-crafted furnishings, this resort oozes warmth and romance.

Every room and common space offers expansive views out over the ever-changing sand dunes and let’s face it, it’s precisely those views that will spur your desire to visit Qasr Al Sarab.

As you would expect of any five star property, Qasr Al Sarab has a superb range of leisure facilities including a 24-hour gym, tennis, basketball, yoga, volleyball, spa services and of course, that bucket-list-worthy swimming pool.  When the sun goes down at night and the pool starts to glow, you’ll pinch yourself – it’s hard to believe that a place as beautiful as Qasr really exists!

If you’ve got a family to entertain there is both a kids and teens club and a wide range of organised activities that are designed to engage every single member of the crew.  Archery, nature walks, dune bashing, horse riding, fat biking, sand boarding and more – the resort is perfectly equipped, allowing you to be as active (or relaxed) as you like.

The resort offers a range of room types, from the beautifully appointed Deluxe Garden Rooms to the Royal Pavilion Villas, each serviced by private butler.  Should you opt for a villa, you’ll be treated to your own private pool, taking your bucket-list accommodation to the next level again – is that even possible?!

Why not take it a step further?  The team at Qasr Al Sarab can can even arrange a private helicopter offering a door-to-door service.  It’s all in a day’s work when you live in the lap of luxury!

Don’t worry though, if your budget won’t quite extend to private swimming pools, butlers and tailor-made chef tastings, they can also arrange a private chauffeur to transfer you from the city to the resort, or do as we did and drive yourself out in a rental car.

However you get there and whichever room you settle on, you’ll enjoy the facilities, service and views that make this undoubtedly the best desert hotel in the world.

Eat Like a King (actually, make that a Sheikh) 

With a number of restaurants and bars onsite, there’s an option to suit every occasion.

From the sumptuous but casual breakfast buffet, served each morning in Al Waha (including live cooking stations and donuts!) to the gorgeous fine-dining restaurant, Suhail, guests are able to treat themselves throughout the day.  We also enjoyed a lunch and casual dinner pool-side at Ghadeer – it’s a great place to unwind whilst making the most of the beautiful outdoor area.

Everything we ate during our stay was delicious and, as expected, the service was second-to-none.  You wouldn’t expect anything less at a resort like this.

Sunset Camel Trekking

Though we’ve rode camels on a number of occasions now, our experience in the Liwa Desert was by far the best.

Never ones to turn down an adventure, I must admit, we went in without particularly high exceptions – we are after all, a little bit spoilt by now when it comes to camels!

Not only have we ridden camels along the base of the pyramids in Cairo and through the towering valleys of Petra, but there was something special about this trek.  It felt more authentic than the rides that we’d been on in the past – almost as if we were trekking through the desert with our newfound bedouin friends.

Surrounded by massive dunes (literally, the biggest we’ve ever seen), we wove our way around and up through this sandy paradise, reaching for one of the highest peaks.  As we did so, we relaxed, soaking in the sights all around us, whilst listening to our guide impart his knowledge of the area to us.  He knew the desert inside out and was more than happy to explain the history of the area and share what he knew about the indigenous animals and plants.  Most of all, we enjoyed learning more about Islam through him – never in a forced manner, only ever sharing what we asked of him.  

It was such a pleasure connecting on a personal level and really did sum up our entire experience at Qasr Al Sarab; the team there care deeply about their guests and it shows in all of their interactions.

Back to the whole reason we were there though – to catch the unset in the most authentically Arabian of ways.

As we slipped over the crest of the huge dune, we were greeted with tea, coffee, fresh juices, dates and fruit kebabs along with cushions and stools from which we could perch and enjoy the slowly setting sun.

The more energetic amongst us decided to climb higher still, summiting the very top of the sand dune to catch the sun drifting below the horizon.

If you’re ever visited the Middle East, you’ll appreciate that there’s nothing quite like a sunset here.  The sun feels just that little closer here than it does elsewhere, glowing the most gorgeous shade of crimson – it has to be seen to be believed and where better than in the depths of the desert whilst being treated to the most luxurious of adventures?

With the last of the daylight fading away, we all pulled off our shoes and raced directly down the steepest bank to the awaiting 4WDs for the trip back to our Arabian oasis.

Why Do the Dunes Look So Different?

You’ll notice that the dunes look significantly different in each photograph.  In person, the colours change frequently, with the only real consistency amongst dunes being their inconsistent colouration!  This is due to the varying mineral compounds and the way in which they interact with the environment – iron-oxide, for example, gives much of the desert it’s obvious red/orange colour – it is quite literally, rust.

With the different colours of the dunes, the stunning Arabian sunshine and the winds constantly repositioning the sand, you’ll be sure to see a different desert-scape at each different time of the day, so don’t hide yourself away in your room – get out there!

Save Your Pennies – Qasr Al Sarab deserves to be on the top of your bucket list

Qasr Al Sarab is special, there’s no two ways about it.  Without doubt, this remote hotel will remain one of the most unique and memorable places we’ll ever stay.

Sure, you’ll need to reach into your pockets to book a room but we assure you the experience will stay with you long after the pain of looking at your bank account is gone.

If you have the opportunity to visit Qasr Al Sarab, snap it up!


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Qasr Al Sarab is the best luxury desert hotel in the world. Located in the Liwa Desert it offers world class restaurants, activities, relaxation and the ultimate in luxury. Don't visit Abu Dhabi or Dubai without heading out into the desert!Qasr Al Sarab is the best luxury desert hotel in the world. Located in the Liwa Desert it offers world class restaurants, activities, relaxation and the ultimate in luxury. Don't visit Abu Dhabi or Dubai without heading out into the desert!

Thank you to Anantara for inviting us for the purpose of this review.  As always all thoughts are our own.  We had the most amazing stay at Qasr Al Sarab and every single person we know that has visited has absolutely sung their praises.  A word of warning though – you’ll probably be ruined for all future accommodation – it’ll have a hard time living up to this!

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