Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach Hotel

After Doha I headed to Dubai, and this time I stayed for two nights at the Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach Hotel. During my last visit to Dubai I was at the JA Ocean View Hotel, and it was then that I discovered the charms of the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) ‘Walk’ with its cosmopolitan mix of restaurants and shops. The Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach Hotel is similarly located on The ‘Walk’, and its location in Dubai Marina means that it is within easy reach of the Dubai’s new business hubs: Dubai Media City, Dubai Internet City and Jebel Ali Free Zone.

Sofitel Dubai Jumeriah Beach Hotel

Sofitel Dubai Jumeriah Beach Hotel

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The Sharq Village & Spa Doha

The Sharq Village & Spa, Doha is a gorgeous Hotel run by the famous Ritz-Carlton Group. Built like a traditional Qatari village, it blends a unique traditional desert castle design with modern amenities. The hotel features two pools, beach access, a string of restaurants, its own traditional Arab bazaar and an award winning Six-Senses Spa.

The Pool

With a day in transit in Doha before heading to Dubai, I decided to seek out a bit of sun, choosing The Sharq Village & Spa as it offers pool day passes to non-hotel guests (QR350 on Fridays and Saturdays – about £60, QR200 the rest of the week – about £34). The pool area is gorgeous with both pools being special and unique in their own way. The larger of the two is a uniquely designed infinity pool, but the smaller of the two backs onto the beach and offers a striking bird’s-eye view of downtown Doha.

The Sharq - view from the pool with downtown Doha in the background

View from the pool with downtown Doha in the background

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Upper Deck Restaurant at The Christchurch Spa Hotel, Dorset

There’s a wealth of treasures to explore in the New Forest from gardens to wildlife parks, museums to quaint country towns, etc. The list of options is endless, and Christchurch Harbour Hotel & Spa was a cozy hotel from which to do all this from. As the name suggests, the hotel is perched on the harbour, and the hotel’s restaurant, Upper Deck, opens up onto a patio that leads right to the water’s edge. We didn’t get the best weather during our visit, but on a sunny day the unobstructed views promises to be nothing less than spectacular.

Upper Deck Restaurant

Upper Deck Restaurant

The Chef Patron of Upper Deck Restaurant is Alex Aitken who earned a Michelin star in 1995 with his first restaurant, Le Poussin, a star that he retained for 14 years. The menu is classically British and draws on produce from the local area.

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Bateaux Dubai and JA Ocean View Hotel, Dubai

From Bahrain I headed to the eating, shopping, beaching and partying mecca that is Dubai. Hotels are plentiful here, and there is a hotel to suit every type of budget. I stayed at the four-star JA Ocean View Hotel, a family hotel with an eye-catching lobby and comfortable rooms decorated in seafaring blue. Each of the rooms are well-kitted and spacious with a balcony that looks out onto the beach (hence the name), although at the moment there is a fair bit of construction work taking place on the beach promenade which is currently scheduled to finish around October 2014. Facilities at the hotel include an outdoor pool, a spa and a gym, and being a family hotel, there are a number of children’s activities to help keep the little ones amused.

Sea View Room

Sea View Room

There are five restaurants at the hotel including the Brazilian churrascaria Fogo Vivo and Le Rivage, a beautifully decorated restaurant where the buffet breakfasts, buffet lunches and themed dinner nights are held. The standard of the breakfast is ok, but there is a good amount of choice to tickle every fancy. I was also interested to discover that Girders, the hotel’s British sports bar has a giant TV screen and runs ladies nights every Tuesday where ladies can drink free champagne between 8pm to 10pm and free cocktails thereafter until midnight.

Le Rivage

Le Rivage

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Kempinski Grand & Ixir Hotel and Saveur Restaurant, Bahrain

After Russia I headed to the warmer climes of the Middle East. My first stop was Bahrain, most famous for it’s hosting of the Formula 1. A small island country with a population of about 1.2m, Bahrain is nestled between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Persian Gulf. Few Westerners head to Bahrain as a tourist stop – when they think Middle East, they think Dubai. But Bahrain shouldn’t necessarily be overlooked when on a tour of the Middle East for it is not without its charms. The country is easy to navigate and taxis are affordable. The architecture is modern, and sights include the likes of the ancient Bahrain Fort that dates back 5,000 years and Manama Souq. Attitudes are very liberal for a Middle Eastern country and prices are somewhat cheaper than Dubai.

Entrance to the Bahraini F1 track

Entrance to the Bahraini F1 track

In Bahrain I stayed at the Kempinski Grand & Ixir Hotel. It is linked with the City Centre Shopping Mall, the largest mall in Bahrain with hundreds of of outlets. It is also home to Wahoo, the Middle East’s first ever indoor-outdoor waterpark. Covering an area of 15,000 square-metres you can be assured of a plentiful number of fun rides and water slides.

The Kempinski is a city hotel with two buildings, the Grand and the Ixir which are each individually decorated in modern European and traditional Arabic styles. The hotel only opened about two years ago so the finishings are dazzlingly new. The hotel houses five restaurants, a bar and a nightclub, and facilities include a well-kitted fitness centre, an outdoor pool and a luxury spa. Nestled alongside the pool is Nasmat, a restaurant that serves Mediterranean cuisine. There is also a bar that offers an opportunity to tuck into some refreshing cocktails while you chill out in the hotel’s infinity pool.

The lovely pool

The lovely pool

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Les Menus by Pierre Gagnaire, Lotte Hotel, Moscow

The Lotte Hotel in Moscow only opened three years ago, but in that short time it has managed to earn the top spot on TripAdvisor as the number one hotel in Moscow as well as string of other awards such as Conde Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Award for the Best Hotel in Russia 2012. It’s easy to see why. The hotel, within walking distance to Red Square, is finished to the highest standard and boasts of conference rooms, a state-of-the-art fitness centre and a Mandara spa. The rooms are spacious and comfy with many classy touches such as an easy to use touch-pad lighting system and an impressive bathroom that boasts of Molton Brown products, a heated loo seat and a automated bidet. The Lotte Hotel chain is little known outside its home country of South Korea but it is one of their most respected top ten brands, and all the ingredients that have made it such a success there have been brought to the Moscow location.

Superior room

Superior room

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Caviar Bar, Grand Hotel Europe, St Petersburg

After the W Hotel St Petersburg I moved onto The Grand Hotel Europe St Petersburg where I stayed one night. It’s a grand dame of a hotel if there ever was one and houses the famous Caviar Bar Restaurant. Palatial and luxurious, it’s long been recognised as one of the best hotels in the world with a string of awards to its name. The Grand Hotel Europe is steeped in history and dates back to 1875, and in the 100 plus years of its existence it has hosted a long list of royalty, Heads of State and other A-list celebrities the likes of which have included Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Bill Clinton, Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney.

Apart from its superior and deluxe rooms and one bedroom and executive suites, the hotel also boasts 10 special historically themed suites, each of which were designed around famous personalities, places and institutions dear to St Petersburg’s heart. Take the Pavarotti Suite – this was where Pavarotti stayed during his farewell tour and houses the baby grand piano that he practiced on while on tour in St Petersburg. There is also the Faberge Suite, named after the renowned jeweler and features furniture encrusted with precious stones.

During my stay at the Grand Hotel Europe I was fortunate enough to be upgraded to one of these historical suites, The Romanov Suite, so named as it was dedicated to the last Imperial Russian dynasty. Members of the Romanov family were regular visitors to The Grand Hotel Europe, and the last emperor, Nicholas II, held many diplomatic receptions here. Decedents of the Romanov Family were personally involved in the creation of the suite, and the copies of the private family photos that now hang in the suite were donated for use by the Romanov decedents themselves.

Romanov Suite

Romanov Suite

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miX by Alain Ducasse, W Hotel, St Petersburg, Russia

Palace Square, St Petersburg

Palace Square, St Petersburg

There are not enough superlatives to describe the beauty of St Petersburg. The Neva River runs through the heart of the city, and this and the city’s many canals add to it’s picturesque nature. St Petersburg’s architecture is decidedly European, a legacy from the time of Peter the Great and his love affair of all things European, and this is one of the reasons why The Palace Square overlooking the world-class Hermitage Museum must surely rate as one of the most spectacular squares in the worlds. It might not be as famous as The Red Square in Moscow, but it certainly holds its own in terms of grandeur and wow-factor.

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

St Petersburg also lays claim to a collection of world-class art with the famous Hermitage being the second largest museum in the world after the Louvre in Paris. And what is also attractive about St Petersburg is that it is a tourist-friendly city. Contrary to Moscow where I travelled to a few months ago, signs are labelled in both Cyrillic and in the Latin alphabet, and there are tourism offices positioned throughout the city that make the travel experience far easier.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

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