Feature by Sara Darling
NEW YOU BOOTCAMP
After the excesses of December you might have misplaced some pounds but gained some lbs on your tum! After all it is the season to be jolly, and eat drink and get merry at every opportunity!But, when the time comes to start thinking about wearing normal clothes (as opposed to Christmas loungewear), it could just be that they are feeling mighty tight! Hence the ever so popular new year’s resolution to get trim.
I am always one of the latter, and admittedly had a pretty sociable festive time. So my body has been crying out for some TLC, And what better way to jump start your good intentions than by enrolling in a boot camp somewhere hot and luxurious?
So, I actually bit the bullet and joined 19 other gym bunnies (that is a slight exaggeration- some hadn’t seen the inside of a gym since high school!!) way back in September, but the camps run all year, and who wouldn’t want to have some physical fun in the sun when the rest of the UK is feeling pretty blue? So off to Malaga I went, with my dream beach body goals at the forefront of my mind!
Naturally, I came laden down with luggage. I had visions of long evening drinks by the pool wearing a selection of my favourite floaty dresses. On the other hand, some of my camp-buddies came ready to run a marathon with just hand luggage and their toiletries in the polystyrene bag for airport control! It turns out that these were the types that had done the camp before, and wouldn’t have been out of place at a wrestling competition- my inner glamour puss wilted somewhat quickly! However there were solo travellers, so I made sure I sat next to someone who looked equally as petrified on the minibus to the hotel.
Our home for the next week was a beautiful converted Monastery in deepest darkest Malaga; Quite a way from the airport and the beach, it’s courtyard setting, roaring log fire, and stunning swimming pool and remote location gave it an air of peacefulness. We were the only guests, which also made it feel a little bit like the Big Brother house!
Day one went by in a blur. We got our weigh-in and were measured. (I was remarkably ok with my weight- I’ve not been on a scales for years!) Then, we were introduced to the coaches- an ex Army and ex Air Force Training Instructor- one seeming much scarier than the other, given a run down of the weekly goals, provided a snack treat of apple slices with tahini, and then were sent packing to bed! However, the first class started at 7am the next day…
With five full days of intense exercise, I thought the challenge would be good for me- I could cope as I had lots of energy! My target was to tone rather than dropping pounds- but that would be a bonus. New You Bootcamp is based on military training, and even though both trainers had a different approach, we covered HiiT, boxing, swimming, circuits and hiking classes each day, and I quickly learned that I liked some exercises better than others!
But I didn’t realise how hardcore, doing repeated classes would be! I threw everything into the first class on the first day- in retrospect, I should have built up to that! My calves hurt from jogging, my stomach ached from sit ups, and for the first two days I was ravenous! I wasn’t the only one as we compared notes during breaks and at meal times. The coaches, friendly and encouraging, reassured us that it was our bodies were adjusting, and the first two days would be the toughest.
Staring at 7am each day meant that the classes were interspersed with regular snack breaks, but without coffee, sugar, dairy, wheat or alcohol, it was an intense withdrawal from all my vices! I’m not sure what I missed the most- but herbal teas and hot water were readily available!
However, by day three, I had come round to this new way of eating. All of the food is included and prepared by an on site chef. Nothing is processed and all cooked from scratch. Dishes were mostly pulses, grains, vegetables and fish- the meat eaters had added meat! There was no salt for seasoning, but we could as many chilli flakes as we liked, which I even liberally sprinkled on my scrambled egg and rye toast. I didn’t miss the sweet things, but I was definitely craving cheese and dairy!
The friendly New Boot Camp nutritionist was on site for two evenings and held a couple of very interesting discussions on food, and what our body actually needs, which made the meal-times seem a lot more digestible! Even my salt-cravings could be traced back to me lacking in something, and I was advised to keep a food diary when I got home.
There is something to be said for working out in the sun. It’s inspiring, sweaty but it seems to be much more fun. The classes I enjoyed most were the team exercises where we scored points and played games.
The walks were pretty pleasant too- hiking through the beautiful Andalusian countryside at sunrise can’t be beaten. It’s best at dawn as the walk at the end of the day was pretty damn sweaty!
The week actually flew by in a whirl- the routines was remarkably easy to pick up, and getting back to reality and making decisions took some getting used to for the first few days when I got home! After all, for the duration of the camp, you are told what to do, what to eat and what time to be there. There isn’t the shouting or intimidation as you might expect- the instructors have toned it down from their conventional standards. But there is encouragement, and bit of banter.
The classes are mostly split up into pair work, although you do get the chance to do a triathlon!! I never in my life thought I would be any good at endurance sports.. Swimming, core and jogging, three times round a circuit! But I did it, and that was one of the highlights of the week. Everyone went at their own pace, and we all finished. It wasn’t a competition, although there were the usual suspects who didn’t look back,
As a bonding experience, the camp is ideal. You can come as a single, couple or family (there was a mum and daughter at mine) and I could see the change in some of my camp-mates, and we all speculated on our weight loss. I chose not to look in a full length mirror until the final day- I wanted to surprise myself with my drastic transformation. Surprisingly (for me) I didn’t actually have a radical change. Infact I couldn’t actually see much difference- apart from my tummy which was more defined.
When weigh-out time came, I was curious, and for a good reason. I had only lost a kilo! I was a bit disappointed, but the trainers assured me that muscle weighs more and weight doesn’t matter- but those who did lose stones were very happy campers indeed!
My head did feel healthier, I had a cracking tan, and although I didn’t ditch a dress size- to be honest, there was probably not one to lose.
Book in for 2018 at www.newyoubootcamp.com
START THE YEAR AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON- SPOIL YOURSELF WITH A SPA DAY
BY SARA DARLING
What could be better than de-robing and getting a good rub down, whilst you’re imagining you are in the exotic backdrop of the Polynesia Islands? (Apart from actually being in said islands obviously!)
A little closer to home is the authentic Thalgo experience at the ‘Beauty and Melody Spa’ inside the super luxe M by Montcalm Hotel in Shoreditch.
Step inside, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and take advantage of the sauna, steam room, swimming pool, jacuzzi and treatments. And the treatments are indeed a treat.
For a total indulgent three hour pampering, book in for the Polynesian Capsule Ritual Collection, and prepare to settle back and relax; Take three hours for yourself and enjoy the authentic treatments from the stunning Pacifics.
Based on the sensations garnered from nature, the Ritual Collection targets the four senses. The massage relaxes and invigorates, whilst the fragrances melt away your stress; the sound of waves transports you to a Hawaiian beach and all the products are derived directly from the islands...
Once you are checked in and robed up, you get a hot foot soak to start the pampering, which sets the scene for the shredding any rough skin. This is followed by the Polynesian Body Scrub. Be prepared for a bit of rough, whilst the masseuse circulates a combination of sea salt, coconut shell and pure white sand from Bora Bora, which is mixed with a delicious vanilla oil, to ensure you shed all your dead skin. You end up a bit sticky, so take some time to get rid of all the sediments in a hot shower in the adjoining bathroom.
Once you are refreshed and cosy, settle back for a full body, hour long massage to relax your aching bones. The gentle motion of the holistic strokes, coupled with the heavenly scent is designed to improve circulation, increase metabolism and relieve aches and pains; It also aids detox and general well-being and is oh, so relaxing. I was transported to the Anakena beach on Easter Island, and could almost imagine the sun tickling my skin, and the swaying palm trees. It was a true place of serenity for one hour, where I totally switched off.
The icing on the cake is the facial- and you cannot deny that the women from Honolulu have great skin. Using a beauty treatment that has been around for centuries, the ancient ritual detoxifies, refreshes and relaxes; The 45 minutes flew by, and I fell asleep mid-way through the treatment. Proof indeed that it was good!
If someone says that you can’t buy happiness, I would disagree and send them to the Beauty and Melody Spa for an afternoon in heaven!
Book in here and thank me later!
By Sara Darling
AMSTERDAM AFTER DARK HAS A LOT MORE THAN YOU MIGHT EXPECT!
Most people go to Amsterdam for the broad minded culture or the scenery, but if you go during winter time, there is lots more to see... The annual Amsterdam Light Festival is definitely worth the Eurostar, and the Christmas shopping isn't too bad either!
From 30 November 2017 until 21 January 2018 Amsterdam's city centre transforms again into the largest open-air light museum in the world!
As usual, the city works with national and international artists, architects and designers to create city wide spectacles all produced by neon lights.
This year sees a new location, and the water based exhibition will be at the Marineterrein Amsterdam, which walking distance from Amsterdam’s Central Station.
As well as the canal show, there is an equally impressive land exhibition which takes place from 14 December until 7 January, and has no admission fee, so there is something to get even the most grumpy Santa's in the mood.
To catch a piece of culture, which features world-renowned artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who has created an illusion around the theme of 'borders'. check out the website and ticket options here.
By Sara Darling
55HQ LOVES HOTELS, ESPECIALLY BOUTIQUE ONES...
So every year when the glitzy Boutique Awards Ceremony comes round, we get a bit excited to see the ones we haven't visited yet (alas, this is still quite a few!)
However, we always like to support the indies, and love a good party, so The Boutique Hotel Awards is a godsend to bring the world's leading boutique hotels before the eyes of the travellers, influencers and travel journos who appreciate the finer things in life!
So prepare to get tempted and prepare for the big reveal, which will take place at a glittering dinner party, hosted by The Master Key Society, in November.
Being the only international awards scheme exclusively dedicated to recognising boutique hotels, the ceremony is now in it's seventh year and is going from strength to strength. The hotels in each category face serious competition (a tough gig for the judges. Not!!)
As a springboard to the international acclaim, and a wider audience, past winners have gone on to feature in The New York Times, CNN, Daily Mail, Spear’s Magazine, Elite Traveler and The Sunday Times. We would be delighted to review for 55 too of course!
Last Year's Prestigious Winners included
World’s Best City Hotel 11 Mirrors, Kiev, Ukraine
World’s Best Classic Hotel Hotel Heritage, Bruges, Belgium
World’s Best Culinary Hotel Vila Joya, Algarve, Portugal
World's Best Honeymoon Hideaway Punta Tragara, Capri, Italy
World’s Best New Hotel Hotel Gotham, Manchester, United Kingdom
World's Best Relaxation Retreat The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah, Bali, Indonesia
World's Most Romantic Hotel Aenaon Villas, Santorini, Greece
World's Best Private Villa Over Yonder Cay, The Bahamas
There are still many on my personal hit, list, and in a few weeks time, I will have a lot more to add!
WHO KNEW FLIGHTS COULD BE SO MUCH FUN?
BY SARA DARLING
It’s always exciting heading out to The Big Apple. The buzz starts in the departure hall, and the airline staff make sure you’re psyched up throughout the flight. If you’re lucky, you can ignore the early/late take off and just sit back and drink/eat your way through the nine and a bit hour flight.
But if you’re anything like me, after a couple of hours sitting still, you begin to get a bit twitchy! So any in-flight entertainment is a welcome distraction- but how many films can you actually watch without going cross eyed?
To celebrate Icelandair’s eightieth year in business, the progressive airline has chosen to a rather novel way to blow their own trumpet!! And I was on the breakthrough flight via Reykjavik to JFK, and came across some extremely memorable characters en route.
With a confident plan to immerse selected (willing) passengers in a riveting theatrical performance at 30,000 feet, is certainly one way to keep occupied on your journey. The tell-tale flower badge I was gifted in departures, was the only giveaway for the actors, in order to seduce me with their tales. So once I had agreed to partake in the experience, I had signed my life over for a completely unpredictable ride! With excitement in the air, as I really didn’t know what to expect, I was joined by likely, and unlikely characters over the duration of the flight. From a full on sing song, to champagne toasting, I became engrossed to the story of the notorious Edda, and was quite looking forward to the eightieth birthday party when we landed in KEF.
Any thoughts of Iceland being a bit conservative will be knocked out of the park after this trip! If you just know Iceland for it’s ice and scenery, consider the country's most famous export, Bjork; This experience showed more quirk than you could shake a snow covered stick at, and even though most of the cast were made up of actors, some of the actual crew had joined a summer acting school too!
The ultimate goal of the captivating theatrical spectacle was to keep passengers occupied, intrigued and educated with the story of the women who rule IcelandAir and how they made history with their female empowerment- and first all female crew.
As a result, once I had got to grips with the exaggerated costumes (did we really dress like Alex the nineties raver and the pretty hippy couple??) I began to like these likeable characters. All of them had a story to tell, and didn’t mind my awkward journalistic questions! At least, they handled them well…. Especially the pink shirted, eighties briefcase toter, who was the epitome of Mr Know It All!
I think the key to anything immersive is embracing it to the full, and Icelandic folklore tales, the relationships between family members, the drinkers, the storytellers and the charmers certainly helped pass the time. I would have been three films and several whisky gingers down without it!
Stopping in Reykjavik was extra icing on the actor’s cake! The two hours for those travelling on to JFK allowed for leg stretching and champagne quaffing in the lounge, with a swing band and balloons adding to the party atmosphere, and certainly revived any flagging heads.
Icelandair is actively encouraging a stopover in Reykjavik, and after visiting, I can see the temptation. Offering a completely different break to the Americas, the glaciers and geysers are one of a kind, and if you are feeling really adventurous, you must experience a dip in the Blue Lagoon.
Stay for two nights, or up to seven, this refreshing experience is a perfect New York City treat. And if you book a Stopover Pass (allowing a free seven-day stopover on transatlantic flights) you are entered into a ballot to win tickets for a range of performances in Iceland; from intimate gigs to backstage passes at a music festival.
I can’t promise that you will get to meet Alex the raver, but if you allow yourself a couple of extra days, pack a warm coat, your life will be enriched by the IcelandAir experience.
Visit Iceland via Icelandair, you won’t know what to expect!
Available on outward travel only until March 2018
NO DATES REQUIRED AT THE ROOFTOP FILM CLUB
Summer might seem like it's full of star crossed lovers, or compulsive serial Tinder daters, but it's also a great time to have a laugh with your friends, and put relationships, both good or bad on standby!
You don't need a date to have a giggle, so grab your gang, and head the the #NoDateNight at Shoreditch's
Rooftop Film Club? Taking place for one night only on Sunday 6th August, the guest can stock up on free cocktails, popcorn and snacks, whilst lolling to a private screening of the cult Will Smith movie, Hitch.
Admission is free, but those looking to come along are required to register here. There are 198 tickets available, which will be allocated at random. Every ticket allocated has a plus 1.
See you under the stars (wooly blankets provided)!
By Sara Darling
ARTICLE BY SARA DARLING
If you ever needed an excuse to learn how to surf, this coffee table book is it! However, this is not just a picture book- even though it contains some of the most stunning images of surf culture that I have seen.
Photographer and author Christopher Bickford, has made a home for himself in the sleepy Outer Banks in North Carolina, and uses it as a base to surf, write and collect documentary images. His book Legends of the Sandbar is an insider's view of life on the Banks.
Of course, surfers are already aware of it's beauty and depth, as they flock from across the States to ride the deep barrels and foot high swells; But the surfing counter culture is also celebrated, in this personally-poetic picture book. With short essays punctuating the beautiful black and white images, the reader evolves to another dimension.
An accomplished photographer, Bickford portrays the personal highs and lows of the area, along with an insight into the exclusive surfing community, and the result is a beautiful book which has taken eight years to produce.
Buy your copy here
BY SARA DARLING
ONLY ONE MORE MONTH TO GO...
So you might have missed Glastonbury this weekend, but who wants to get lost in a mini city, and spend a fortune, with no phone reception in some soggy fields in Somerset?? Been there, done that!
The place to be for any discerning festival go-er is Soundwave in Croatia!
Tisno is the laid back home of Soundwave, which is now in it's ninth year in the pretty town, and brings party goers from far and wide!
It's a laid back music festival where you can get your groove on to broken beat, reggae, afro, house, disco, acid jazz, to hip-hop, soul, funk, drum and bass along with live music, DJs, on the beach!!!
With Laura Mvula headlining, alongside Roy Ayers, Gilles Peterson, Go Go Penguin, The Pharcyde, Egyptian Lover, Josey Rebelle, Horse Meat Disco, there is something to tickle most musical tastebuds!
And it's not just about the music, Soundwave has worked with street artists to create the vibe of the Garden Resort and the Open Air Cinema is set to show independent and Croatian film.
If you have never been to Croatia before, this is the ideal place to begin your odyssey. Guaranteed sunshine all day, with crystal clear Adriatic sea to cool off in, in the daytime, leading to late night dancing under the stars.
The festival is based on site in Tisno which boasts an incredible water-side beach bar, where you are so close to the sea you are almost dancing in it, and the main stage is just behind. The Olive Grove stage is nestled in the cover of the nearby woodland, and you cannot attend the festival without hitting the legendary after hours venue Barbarella's at least once!
Based on the coast, you need to squeeze in a boat party too, I'd highly recommend hiring a snorkel, and exploring the surrounding islands too...
Did I mention I love this place??
Thursday 27th – Monday 31st July 2017
@ The Garden Resort, Petrica Glava 34, 22240, Tisno, Croatia
Laura Mvula, The Pharcyde, Roy Ayers, Gilles Peterson, GoGo Penguin, Roni Size, Horse Meat Disco, Egyptian Lover, Yussef Kammal, Josey Rebelle, Mndsgn, Sadar Bahar, Moses Boyd: Solo X, Alexander Nut, Mr Thing, Mall Grab, Medlar, Chaos In The CBD, Ross From Friends, Contours, Anchorsong, Children of Zeus, Werkha, Donna Leake (Brilliant Corners), Layfullstop, Mount Nakara, Dulahi, No Fakin' DJs, Mr Doris, Gilla and Bobbafat
Early birds tickets are £99 and advanced are £129 (club and boat parties extra)
www.soundwavecroatia.com / @soundwavecro
By Sara Darling
What does France conjure up for you? Is it beautiful drives around the countryside, experimental gastronomy, heaps of history, the Eiffel Tower and late night coffees in art galleries? For me it is all the above and more.
Heading to The Loire Valley with my history head on, I wasn’t quite sure what delights I was letting myself in for. At a hop skip and short (90 mins) train ride from Paris, the pretty village of Amboise was worth the trek. Winding country roads, and chateaux a plenty, the village is probably best known for its Chateaux du Clos Luce, where the prodigy Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years, but there are lots of other things to explore for a long weekend too, particularly if you are an outdoorsy sort, or like wine! Both of which appeal to me.
If you are in the mood for castles, the Loire Valley has plenty to choose from, as this is where most of the French royalty preferred to spend the bulk of their time, and the wealthy bourgeoisie continued to renovate existing châteaux or build lavish new ones as their summer residence in the Loire.
My pick if I had to choose a favourite, is the châteaux of Chenonceau- and is arguably one of the Loire Valley’s most famous and romantic castles. The French Revolution saw many of the grandiose châteaux destroyed and ransacked with their treasures stolen, but this is a delight and is still in remarkable condition.
Set on the River Cher, Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’ Medici famously lived here and their rooms have been preserved with original features for authenticity. Pick up an ipod and take a 45 or 80-minute tour, stopping and starting where you please.
The adjoining grounds are the home to the meticulous flower and vegetable garden (Ineduit de Russel Page) which is manned by American, Nicholas Tomlan and award winning floral designer, Jean Francois Boucher. If you check in advance, there might also be flower arranging workshops, where you can get your hands on the fresh posies that the team use, and create one for yourself.
Pretty gardens, fresh air and a view to die for means you have will have probably worked up an appetite. There are two restaurants on site, and I sampled the gastronomic delights at the Orangerie. Romantic, tasteful and experimental, with an impressive wine list, this (along with the giant cheese board) is the icing on the proverbial cake.
A short car journey away is Château du Clos Lucé, where the genius Leonardo Da Vinci spent his final years. Relocating to France, he worked on several projects for King Francis, and was christened with the moniker "Renaissance Man" along with his contemporary Michelangelo, who was a sculptor, painter, architect and poet.
A term which was befitting of both, working on the principle that man is the centre of the universe and has no limits. Knowledge is there to be consumed, questioned and embraced and every man should develop their own capacities for enrichment as fully as possible- which is completely evident in da Vinci’s practices. One of his most memorable teachings is ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’, which goes hand in hand with breaking knowledge down to the bare bones.
And after all that culture, book in for wine tasting in the ‘caves Duhrad’ which is the wine cellar of any connoisseur’s dreams, and where you can get advice on how to sniff, taste and swallow! Followed by an authentic Renaissance lunch at reconstruction renaissance restaurant Auberge du Prieure. More wine drinking out of a tankard. Don’t mind if I do!
So, if it’s cakes, cheese, wine or culture that ticks your boxes, The Loire Valley has it all. My advice is to take some sensible walking shoes and outfits with an elasticated waist.
With special thanks to Atout France, Château Chenonceau, Château du Clos Lucé and Odyssée Val de Loire. For further details and booking check out
Article by Sara Darling
If you like experimental Mexican food, and you have a fair few bob to impress your date, head to Peyotito in Notting Hill for some good times, fun times with added tequila!
An unassuming exterior is the gateway to a vibey, intimate main restaurant, where, on a full night you would be sat up close and personal with the folk on the table next door. But as the food is designed for sharing, the atmosphere lends itself to this sociable space. And with the central bar and authentic hipster cocktail waiter, you can imagine that you are in Mexico City, rather than west London.
If you think that Mexican food is just chillies, chimichanga, and nachos. Think again! The menu at Peyotito is thoughtful, tasty (but not overly spiced) and inventive. With relatively few choices, there is no excessive faff to deal with, and the choices of ensaladas, tostadas, masa, ceviche and mole, were made for meat and fish eaters. Veggie options were few and far between but who goes out to dinner and just orders a salad anyway?
The plates are served ad hoc style, with no time wasted between courses- however if you are in need to do something to pass the time, I would recommend a gander at the cocktail list. But be warned they are rather strong! Having consumed three (on a school night!) it certainly made my eating experience more memorable!!! Maybe spurned on by the minimal art work- the neon sign declaring ‘Tequila to wake the living, mescal to wake the dead.’ Which was encouraging to say the least! So, an ‘unmissable’ Peyotito margarita later, and I was ready to dance on the tables!
Knowing what I was letting myself in for by dining with a pescatarian, did limit our options slightly, but what we did get through was impressive! Tacos de pescado are every bit as thrilling, the fish fresh and expertly seared, the salsa singing lustily of green herbs and lime
We swerved the octopus (I’ve never been a fan of tentacles) but opted for scallops, served in an oyster shell on ice, and were zingy with hint of coconut and lime. The pieste resistance for both myself and my dinner mate was the mushroom quesadilla de hongos- a ‘shroom filling oozing with white sauce and cheese stuffed inside a fried tortilla case. This was enough to tantalise the taste buds for both of us, and in retrospect we could have easily managed one (or two) of those each!
Four dishes down- having shared them all of course, we decided we would tackle desert. Of course, we had to try traditional hot churros, which were ginormous!! And came with a super tasty pot of chocolate sauce. If the rest of the meal seemed healthy, this is definitely where we slipped up! But food should be fun, right?
31 Kensington Park Road, W1
0207 043 1400
Exposing the roads less trodden around the globe. 55Travels with the notion to encounter a more cultural and creative experience.