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Read Before Visiting Hoi An

The ancient city of Hoi An, in central Vietnam, is listed as an UNESCO Heritage site. It combines a mix of ancestral Vietnamese with a colonial French influence not only in the architecture but also in the cuisine. Hoi An is also known as the City of Lanterns because while it is busy all day it truly comes alive in the evening when the colorful lanterns are switched on across the town and families and kids float tiny lanterns down the Hoi An river that snakes through the heritage site. It’s a photogenic and busy city as the area is constantly bustling with bike-taxi rides, trips up and down the river, market stalls and heaving shops and restaurants. Bike-taxi rides are a great way to take you around the town. I take my hat off to the guys riding the bikes as its not easy trying to navigate your way through the crowds and even tougher when its hot and humid – but they all do it with a cheerful smile, constant chatter while some like to provide a verbal tour as a little extra.

Hoi An can easily be termed a foodie paradise. There are thousands of places to eat, all offering a vast menu and good service. If you’re a foodie you may have watched the late Antony Bourdain’s program “No Reservations” when he visited Hoi An and tasted the famous Banh Mi Sandwich from a street stand called Banh Mi Phuong and then declared it the best he had had in the whole of Vietnam. Bánh mì is the Vietnamese word for bread, or as the French call it a ‘baguette’. The French brought the baguette to Vietnam during the colonial time. Today, when we say Bánh mì, we mean the Vietnamese sandwich, which usually consists of different types of meat or tofu and is usually accompanied with a fried egg and a selection of sauces, which can get as hot as you want! Another famous street food outlet, which the locals love for its popular Banh Mi, is called Banh Mi Queen.

 

See the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUMlwNHNXp0

 

The hotel manager at the previous hotel we stayed in, Banyan Tree in Lang Co recommended eating at the number 1 restaurant in Hoi An called “Morning Glory” and I can tell you that it did not disappoint. The food was simply amazing, a home-cooked array of delicious Vietnamese dishes with French and international fusion. Food for a family of five plus a couple of bottles of wine and the price was no more than 50 pounds AED 250. The owners also own another popular restaurant called Cargo Club, which has an additional menu, a kid’s menu and when Morning Glory is overflowing with reservations, it offers the same menu of its more famous sister establishment. We also found a great wine bar with a huge selection of wines called White Marble and stopped by the swanky Bird House for a cocktail, which is also a gallery/boutique and has a lovely seating area facing the river.

 

A fun tour which we did early one morning which the kids absolutely loved was the Coconuts Basket boat tour. Managed by locals, you disembark on the sides of the river flowing through the vast coconut woods and jump into funky, circular wooden boats. The fishermen are very welcoming and love to perform for the audience, either by rapidly spinning the boats or stopping and letting the tourists help the local fisherman swing out their fishing nets. They take the boats through the lush green waterways and intermittently stop for some crabbing, a very basic exercise that involves taking a simple stick, getting a crab to crawl on it and then dropping it into a plastic bottle!

 

Night Market

As mentioned before, Hoi An comes alive in the evening as the town bustles with energy and tourists mingle while live music thumps out from bars and restaurants. It also has a thriving night market, which was extremely busy so we didn’t work our way through it as it can get a bit tough with three kids in tow. Every evening we felt like we had completed a full on day so we would be pleased to get the kids in bed and relax in the hotel.


We stayed in a lovely, family run hotel called La Senta Hotel which is a 1.5km walk from the old town center (where all the action is) and nestled next to rich, flowing rice paddy fields. The hotel had a great infinity pool, spa and gym. We stayed in the deluxe triple interconnecting rooms, which were perfect for my gang.

http://lasentahotel.com/en/accommodation-n.html

 

For a more luxurious stay I would highly recommend The Four Seasons Hotel in Hoi An which is a couple of kilometers outside of the ancient city but situated on a pristine beach. It’s absolutely stunning and for me ticks every box:

https://www.fourseasons.com/hoian/

 

Da’Nang, the main city in Central Vietnam is approx. 20 minutes away and has all the top hotels situated on its expansive, winding, untouched coastline and beach area. Da’Nang is booming, one of the fastest growing cities in the world so it’s a nice base where you can then visit Hoi An for day trips which a lot of people do. A lovely property is with a Michelin Star restraurant is Sun Peninsula Resort.

https://www.danang.intercontinental.com/

 

Other great activities to do while in Hoi An are:

Marble Mountains:

Five beautiful limestone peaks that mark the midway point between Hoi An & Da’Nang and which hold deep spiritual significance. Many of the temples & shrines date back to the areas first Hindu Cham settler. These days the limestone cliffs provide the setting for fantastic exploration.

Monkey Mountain:

The Son Tra Peninsular is an iconic land form that defines the Da Nang coastline. Most day-trippers head for the Linh Ung Pagoda and the towering Lady Buddha statue. Head up the viewpoints on top of the mountains for 360 views of Da’Nang and the coast.

My Son:

Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. My Son comprises of 8 groups of 71 brick monuments, some dating back as far as the 7th century. With a good guide to explain the significance of the old Champa Kingdom of which Hoi An was once part of, makes for an interesting tour.

Bach Ma National Park:

A French era hill station with mountainous peaks which reaches 1450m with beautiful treks. Also there are magnificent mountainous countryside and waterfalls.

Ba Na Hills: Read our review here: http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2018/09/10/visit-vietnam/

Originally developed by the French in colonial times, Ba Na is now home to three world record-breaking cable cars, and a kitsch theme park and entertainment center. It makes for a great but certainly surreal day out. Also home to the famous “Gods Hands” bridge.

Relevant links:

http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2018/09/10/visit-vietnam/

http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2018/09/10/tree-house-dinners-on-the-saigon-river/

Watch our Hoi An video here:

http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/videos/ 

Visit Cambodia

http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2018/05/10/a-week-in-siem-reap/

Everything you need to know about Hoi An, download our e-book below

http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Hoi-An-Vietnam-EBook.pdf.zip 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dani

Adventure Money Box Family Friendly Relax

Pakistan cover

Pulsating Pakistan

Pakistan is a country close to my heart. Why you may wonder, well the primary reason is that I adopted two of my daughters from Pakistan – Zahra and Amara and now in my late daughter Zahra’s name, we have founded a charity called The ZB Foundation based in Islamabad where we provide free new born screening tests to all babies born in the country.

I have spent a lot of time in Pakistan over the years, I got married there, I spent time there during the adoption process and now I go back and forth for my charity. 

One of the truly remarkable aspects about Pakistan is its raw natural beauty and its immense untapped tourism potential. The new Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government have made tourism as a crucial cornerstone of their “New Pakistan” campaign and they are actively advertising and promoting the benefits of visiting the country. 

For people that love adventure and culture Pakistan does have a lot to offer. Have you heard of Mark Wiens? He’s the popular food blogger who travelled for 16 days around Pakistan and produced a great You Tube video.

In his video he highlights 4 major points:

1. The people

2. The food

3. The scenery

4. The safety

Watch his video on the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mIzRYh8jGA

Other than the major cities, Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore which are all teeming with culture, art, food, music etc., areas in the North of the country are simply stunning. Picture Switzerland, that’s how I would explain many parts of the country. Lush green land, large lakes, and mountains and in the winter Gilgit and Swat Valley are perfect destinations for Skiing.

If you’re an adventurer you must visit Pakistan for either the skiing or climbing as Pakistan is home to 7 of the top 10 highest mountain peaks in the world, including K2 which is the second highest mountain in the world after Everest and has a reputation for being harder to climb than Everest. 

Watch this video of Heli Skiing in the Karakoram Mountains region, which borders India and China and is the northwestern extension of the Himalayas.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9CjWHMUzzU

If you are more of a sight seeing tourist and like your days a little more laid back then check out the below link of beautiful places to visit in Pakistan

https://folder.pk/most-beautiful-top-places-to-visit-in-pakistan/

Karachi is a crazy city with a mix of old and new buildings, some rich in history from the British Colonial days while others are falling down, electric phone cables abundance from one building to another, even though its a major health and safety risk, it’s the way of life for the residents of Karachi.  There is beauty in everything you see from the colourful buses full to the brim with passengers, to the hard working labourers on their donkeys.  I hope you enjoy my photos below.

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
NYC

Bucket List adventures in NYC

Taking a helicopter ride over Manhattan, NYC has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. So when my mum and sister asked me to join them on a girls trip to New York, I knew this was about to become a reality.

I didn’t think to book the helicopter tour before we arrived in the Big Apple, so when I finally asked the hotel concierge to book it, we were scheduled to fly on day 3 of our holiday. The first two days of our trip the weather was amazing, the skies were blue and the sun was shining . Then on day 3 the weather changed, the heavens opened and the city was washed in grey. Nooooooooooo!!!

 

I was gutted as my flight had to be cancelled due to the weather, so keeping positive I booked for the next day and was hoping for the best, On the morning of day 4 the weather was bad again, I couldn’t believe it. We called the tour office to ask if it had ben cancelled, which it had, but the weather report did say the sky would clear up in about an hour and to come to the office anyway.

 

Throughout the entire cab ride to the helicopter, I was stressing like crazy and saying a few prayers, as I really couldn’t afford for it to be cancelled again especially as they couldn’t reschedule me for the next day and then we were leaving.

 

Luckily, my angel was looking out for me as the sky cleared up and I finally got to tick off my bucket list the long awaited helicopter ride over NYC (insert happy dance!)

 

It’s a very well managed system from check in until you leave the terminal, with a short safety video, life jacket belt on and then you’re out onto the helipad, ready to go. And high five to us as we had a helicopter to our selves, so that’s just my mum, the pilot and me.

 

This 20-minute aerial tour covers all five boroughs. You get to see the Statue of Liberty, Chrysler Building, Empire State, Central Park, and many other famous landmarks in a way that's impossible from the ground. Firstly you fly down the Hudson River toward the harbor, passing Manhattan's Financial District, the Woolworth Building and Ellis Island. After a bird's-eye view of the Statue of Liberty, you fly over Governors Island and the Verrazano Bridge, which joins Brooklyn and Staten Island. Thank goodness the pilot is providing detailed commentary, as I would have hated to miss any of the details.  We started the return trip down the Hudson, passing the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid to view Midtown's famous skyscrapers: Empire State, Chrysler Buildings, along with Central Park, St. John the Divine Cathedral, Columbia University, George Washington Bridge and the Palisade of New Jersey.

Its over before you know it, but bloody amazing!!

 

There are many different helicopter tours, which you can book; our tour was called the complete New York Helicopter tour. It's approx $310 with a heliport fee of $40.00 per person.

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Meeting Grover

Universal Studios, Singapore

Picture this… 2 babies, a set of twins, 5 kids, 3 nannies, 6 parents, 2 prams, 12 suit cases = 18 happy people all traveling to Singapore on a family holiday to visit Universal Studios.

The 7-hour flight on Emirates to Singapore was actually really easy, the kids were super excited but luckily for the rest of the passengers weren’t too noisy and they managed to keep themselves entertained.

Upon arriving in Singapore, our hotel cars were waiting for us to take us to our hotel The Sofitel Sentosa. Sentosa is an island resort off Singapore’s southern coast, connected to the city by road, cable car, pedestrian boardwalk and monorail. It is home to many 5 star luxury hotels and the world famous theme park Universal Studios.

The Sofitel Sentosa is not like your typical Sofitel hotels, it’s a large property spread over beautiful grounds all on a low level, with wide open corridors providing that tropical feel and breeze, which I really love. You can hear the sounds of frogs and crickets in the vegetation, which always makes me feel like I’m on holiday. It’s a family friendly resort and the rooms are of a great size. We booked a very spacious 2 bedroom Luxury Family Room.

To get around Sentosa there are shuttle busses or buggies from the hotel and with Universal Studios only being 10 minutes away it really is the easiest place to stay.

So, not only was this my kids first time to Singapore it was also their first time at a theme park! This could go really well or horribly wrong!

Universal Studios theme park has 7 themed zones Hollywood, New York, Sci-fi City, Ancient Egypt, The Lost World (Jurassic Park), Far Far Away (Shrek) and Madagascar. From movie-themed rollercoasters to meeting some of your favorite characters like Shrek and Fiona and the cast of Sesame Street, the theme park caters to literally every age group.

If there is one thing that will make a huge difference to your experience, it is buying the Universal Studios Singapore Express tickets. There is nothing more miserable than standing for ages in a queue with kids, especially in the uniquely Singapore heat and humidity. These Universal Studios Singapore skip the line tickets are available as an Express pass (allows you to skip the queue once on each ride) and an Express Unlimited pass (allows you to skip the line as many times as you like). You can either buy in advance online or upgrade when you get to the park.

The kids actually enjoyed a lot of the rides with my eldest dare devil wanting to go on everything but sadly there is a height restriction and on some rides even weight. If a child is under 122cm an adult must accompany them. 

For the younger fearless these rides are great fun:

   Madagascar: A Crate Adventure (80cm)

   Sesame Street Spaghetti Space Chase (92cm)

   Canopy Flyer (92cm)

   King Julien’s Beach Party-Go-Round (no height restriction)

   Dino-Soarin (no hand-held infants)

   Enchanted Airways (92cm)

   Shrek 4D Adventure (no height restriction)

For the babies of the group we managed to watch one of the morning performances of Sesame Street. And then later on in the day when we walked down the actual Sesame Street the kids got to meet Grover – when he jumped out of a bin – the kids weren’t frightened more like ecstatic and gave him a massive hug, plus they got to  take  their picture with Elmo and Big Bird.

As a family we all thoroughly enjoyed the Waterworld show– all the action kept the kids mesmerized and the fireworks and explosions kept them on the edge of their seats.

At Universal there are so many places to eat but we enjoyed Mel’s Drive-in, an American style diner serving hot dogs, burgers, dinosaur nuggets and more. Do however keep lots of snacks on you, water, wet wipes, sun lotion and a cap. It does get hot and humid.

Post our trip to Universal, I did find the below online, which I thought I would share with you….

If you are visiting Universal Studios with small kids, we recommend following this tried and tested route:

   Head straight for Sesame Street Spaghetti Space Chase in New York as soon as you enter the park, as this queue builds up fast.

   Next, double back to Madagascar, where you can ride Madagascar: A Crate Adventure and King Julien’s Beach Party-Go-Round, which are next door to each other.

   Next up, head towards Far Far Away, where you can ride the Enchanted Airways and Puss in Boots on your way to Shrek 4D Adventure.

   If your kids are too small to ride Puss in Boots (100cm), then head straight to The Lost World (aka Jurassic Park) to ride the Dino-Soarin and the Canopy Flyer.

You should also try to fit in the Sesame Street Performance in the morning – check the Universal Studios Singapore showtimes on arrival.

After an action filled Universal day, the kids went to bed sufficiently exhausted and that’s when the adults decided to go out and play. It was our time to switch off and enjoy the Singapore nightlife.

We actually managed to enjoy a great dinner every night, a few of our favorites were:

Burnt Ends – A modern and cool dining Australian BBQ experience located in the historic and trendy Chinatown area

Spargo by Wolfgang Puck – Marina Bay Sands – check out their famous infinity pool which offers awe inspiring views of the city

You cannot visit Singapore with kids and not make a day trip to the Singapore Zoo. Honestly this has to be the best zoo I have ever been to in the world. Set in a rain forest environment the animals roam free with monkeys swinging from tree to tree above your heads. Animals here live in spacious and landscaped environments, simulating their natural habitats. And for when you’re too hot walking around the zoo, there is a kids splash and play to cool down and have some fun – don’t worry if you forget swimwear they have a fully equipped shop.

Gardens by the Bay is a nature park spanning 101 hectors and has so many attractions such as the Cloud Forest, Flower Dome, OCBC Skyway, Supertree Grove, Heritage Gardens, Sun Pavilion, Children’s garden and Bay East Garden. The Cloud Forest is super impressive with several levels offering amazing views and is home to the large glass greenhouse in the world. It’s the perfect photo spot hence why its always busy.  Every evening you can enjoy a spectacular light show in the Supertree Grove are which is free admission.

Singapore Cable Car is a great experience from above which runs between Sentosa Island and Singapore Harbour Point.

When it comes to shopping, we left the guys in daddy day care with 9 kids and went off shopping down Orchard Road - the 2.2km boulevard where you can find everything one desires and more.

Being only 7 hours away from Dubai, Singapore is certainly well worth a visit, and 100 percent the kids will love it.

From Singapore we went to Boracay in the Philippines, to find out more read our blog post here:

http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2018/09/11/the-untouched-beauty-of-boracay/

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Bisma Eight Hotel Pool Ubud

Unbelievable Ubud

Ubud offers a one of a kind mixture of sense of calmness, serenity, tranquility and of course jungle vibes - what more could one ask for? If you are already thinking of a holiday to Bali, you have to include a few days or even a week in Ubud.

Believe me it’s a place where you will want to visit more than once with or without kids as it’s perfect for a family holiday, a couples getaway or a relaxing yoga retreat - whatever your desire Ubud has it all. Think lush greenery, temples, waterfalls and paddy fields - Instagram heaven.

 

 

With so many things to do in Ubud, here is my own list of adventures to enjoy! 

1.  Pura Tirta Empul and drink the holy spring water

This temple is an important site for holy, fresh drinking water from the ground. Both locals and tourists go into the two purification pools where you clean yourself at each of the 30 stations. The cleaning process starts from the left and continues to the right side, with each fountain of water having a short line, but each one is worth it. The temple provides sarongs but take your swimwear too, Entrance is 15000 IDR per person. A truly beautiful and spiritual experience that cannot be missed. 

2. Monkey Forest Ubud

One of the most popular things to do in Ubud is a visit to the Monkey Forest. In the center of town you may start to see monkeys when walking around the town close to the forest (one cheeky monkey stole sweets from my daughters while we were walking down the road) so don’t be alarmed.

The park is a lovely big rainforest and worth walking around. Some monkeys are cheekier than others so stick to the following rules and you should be OK!.

* Don’t look a monkey in the eyes

* Don’t smile, showing your teeth is a form of aggression.

* Don’t feed them however they may steel food from you!

* Don’t touch their babies

* Remove all lose items sunglasses or food that’s outside your bag or within a second it will be gone forever!

Entrance fee is 50000 IDR

3. Shopping at Ubud Market

Every day in the center of Ubud is the Ubud Market. It is split into two timetables. The traditional market where vegetables and meat is sold starts from 3 AM until 8 AM. At 9 AM, the market changes to the Ubud Art Market. Here they sell everything from handbags, kitchenware, decorations, paintings, souvenirs, you name it. The Ubud bag became a worldwide fashion item, as a result, every shop in Ubud sells these pretty bags

4. Visit Jungle Fish

Swim in the Jungle! Ubud's 'no beach' beach club! Jungle Fish is a must do in Ubud, where you can experience swimming amidst the lush jungle, in the beautiful landscape of the Ubud area. Open-air split-level restaurant and pool bar perched on the side of a ridge overlooking the Osh River Valley; Jungle Fish is located just 10 minutes drive north of Ubud. It’s so well priced with great food.

5. Ubud Rice Field Walk Tour

The picture perfect rice fields of Ubud. There is 45-min walk over a pad along the beautiful fields and farms. It is unknown because the path is a bit hidden away although it is right in the center of town. There are so many rice fields to see wherever you go

6. Tegenungan Waterfall

The waterfall isn’t huge, but the scenery is lovely,

It’s a 25-minute drive from Ubud (go early) and can be combined with the Hidden Canyon. Its quiet a hardcore canyon so come prepared to clamber rocks and wade through waist-high water. It’s best to hire one of the local guides to show you the way

7. Goa Gajah

Only 10 minutes south of Ubud lies one of the most sacred sites in Bali: Goa Gajah. Also known as the Elephant Cave, this Hindu site dates back to the 11th Century and was nominated as a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The cave is believed to have been home to Hindu priests and the entrance is carved with menacing figures from Hindu legend. The interior of the cave is dark and contains a few religious relics. The site is still used for worship by locals so proper dress is required to enter

8. Cycling with Bali Eco Cycling

See the lovely views of the Balinese mountains by going on a guided tour. The trails will take you across the remote regions of Ubud where you can see the wonderful sceneries of the island including bamboo and fruit groves, rice paddies, and the countryside. You’ll also pass through villages where there will be plenty of opportunities to meet the locals and learn more about the local culture

 9. Yoga

Located in its own manicured rice field besides a rushing river, the sinuous new bamboo yoga bale at the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan is undoubtedly the best location for yoga in Ubud

10. The Bali Swing at Zen Hideaway

This famous spot can be seen on any Instagram feed. This iydllic swing is found in a village called Bongkasa and soars over a dense jungle of palm trees and the Ayung River. At Zen Hideaway the swing opening hours are between 12-2pm, as it's an Air BnB house too you are free to stay in the estate during those hours for as long as you like. You are asked to donate 300,000 IDR per person to the housekeeper on the property in exchange for an entry to the property and to swing. The swing is obviously not the safest thing on earth so you ride on it at your own risk and you are required to sign a waiver before you swing.

11. Eating

You are spoilt for choice with amazing restaurants in Bali, but two of our favorites in Ubud are:

Lacavore was one of our favorite restaurants – its always featured in the ‘Top 50 restaurants in the world” They offer a yummy 9 course tasting menu – were the presentation and thought process behind each dish will blow your mind let alone your taste buds.

The Sayan House offering a fusion of Latin and Japanese cuisine served with panoramic views of the stunning Ubud jungle

Accommodation:

There are so many stunning properties in Ubud from guest houses on rice fields to retreats hidden in the lush vegetation of a Ubud jungle.

There are  two properties which we highly recommend in Ubud and we are pleased to say are also Unique Family Travel partners:

Bisma Eight

Located a 10-minute walk to central Ubud. Bisma Eight is a part of the unique Ubud experience. They help people to discover and define what Ubud means to them by creating singular moments that will surprise and delight. With a roof top infinity pool hanging right over the verdant valley and a round bath tub in the rooms that looks like you’re about to crush grapes with your feet.

Alila Ubud

A winding mile from the village below, the hilltop boutique resort of Alila Ubud owes its inspiration to traditional Balinese village life. 14 two-storey wood-and-stone-made blocks house just 56 rooms. Each one offers panoramic views of the valley below, the River Ayung that runs through it and the ring of volcanoes surrounding the hotel. The pool at Alila Ubud has a global reputation, and no wonder: it’s a watery sliver of infinity that seems to overhang the valley plunging beneath it. Also close to the Zen Hideaway

One other place where I would recommend a night or two at is

The Hanging Gardens of Bali – featuring one of the world’s most spectacular pools, which juts over a lush ravine, popular with travelers who thrive on aesthetics.

 

How to get to Ubud

Ubud is a 1-hour drive from Denpasar airport. Roads are busy so it usually takes a little longer. Getting around on a motorbike is only advised for experienced drivers.

 

If you enjoyed this, read our post about Seminyak 

http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2018/09/10/a-hidden-gem-in-the-heart-of-seminyak/

 

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Spices

The Magic of Marrakech

I could not visit Marrakech and not stay in a Riad especially as they have become so popular on social media. So what is a Riad? Well it’s a traditional Moroccan house located in and around the souk area that has been renovated with modern and artistic touches. Once you open the front door it leads you into a courtyard with rooms surrounding it. Most courtyards contain small swimming pools. Riad-stays have become popular due to stunning interior designs, the style of the courtyards and the bohemian type boutique living it inspires. When visiting Morocco you have to book a Riad in order to see what all the fuss is about and believe me, it won’t disappoint.

 

Many of the Riads which have become very popular due to social media offer a minimum of a three night stay. We were lucky enough to enjoy two very different yet equally beautiful properties Le Riad Yasmine and Riad Farnatchi with the latter offering one night.

Riad Farnatchi, owned by James Wix, is tucked away and nestled within a narrow medina street that even a tiny car can’t get to. In fact there was a bellboy waiting in the souk ready to help carry people’s suitcases to the Riad. Outside our Riad’s front door there was a donkey and cart chilling and blocking our way! We rang the Riad doorbell and were greeted by a well spoken manager who invited us inside this little piece of escapism.

 

The property comprises of 2 riads together giving them 10 bedrooms with not one but two beautiful courtyards. The first is emerald green with a swimming pool and relaxing seating areas and the second is filled with trees. This particular riad has an award winning spa and hammam, which is designed in black and white mosaic tiles. The good news is the spa is also open to the public. The narrow stairways around the riad seem to go on forever and take you in all directions – unfortunately for the bellboy my suitcase was as wide as the staircase itself!

 

Our suite (room 4) was a great size with a large bathroom complete with a sunken tub and every Molton Brown lotion you can think of. It also had a private roof top area where you can order your breakfast to be set up. And to make our riad experience even cozier our room had a large open log fire.

 

The hotel restaurant offers international and Moroccan cuisine and they also have a quaint little private dining room where they had set up our breakfast, which was a basket of fresh warm bread, fruit platter, eggs, coffee and juice.

 

Le Riad Yasmine is owned by French couple Gaby and Alice and is one of the most famous riads due to the amount of coverage it has received on Instagram – with 116k followers this pretty 8-bedroom riad is set around the most beautiful and picturesque courtyard, which has been transformed into a tropical paradise. White cane furniture, stripy green and white day beds, green and white mosaic tiles in and around the plunge pool with lush green plants, trees and cacti. Its beautiful how two colors can look so pretty and so tropical set inside an old Moroccan home.

 

The rooms are white and neutral color palate with curtains separating the bedroom area from the seating area. Open your front door and you’re instantly hit with the lush greenery from the courtyard.

 

They also have a rooftop, which provides great views of the medina and the Atlas Mountains in the distance.

 

When trying to arrange our stay at both riads, I loved the fact that the owners (Gaby, Alice and James) personally dealt with our enquires giving that personal touch that no large hotel can offer.

 

The Souk known as the Medina is a labyrinth of bustling streets filled with donkeys and carts, people working, street sellers and tourists. The motif of the keyhole arch is emblematic of Moroccan architecture, and this beautiful theme can be found in almost any structure throughout the medina.

 

Google maps don’t always work, but getting lost within the medina just means you experience something new around the next corner or in the next winding street.

 

We also visited the Riad Yima - Hassan Hajjaj art gallery and concept store. Famous for his bright colors, graphic patterns and use of brand name logos(especially his Coca Cola crates) The result is a mash up style that has both the captivating allure of global pop culture bonanza and the deeply rooted traditions of the Middle East.

 

The Large medina square is called Jemaa el-Fnaa. Throughout the day its bustling with rattle snake charmers and monkeys with their trainers encouraging you to take photos – however my advice please don’t take photos just keep walking, or be ready to say bye to something valuable!

 

Off the square are many alleyways with thousands of shopping stalls that go on for miles. In the busy streets of the medina, you’re sure to be bombarded with the aggressive sales tactics of would-be guides and craft-sellers. They are harmless just tell them no, however you will most probably end up following someone somewhere – it just happens.

 

When shopping remember half the experience is haggling so be prepared to bargain and be patient. I picked up some beautiful Moroccan plates and there were many large lamps that I wanted to buy. Whatever you’re looking for the medina has it all, leather, carpets, spices, tapestries, silver and metal objects.

 

FYI – I found this stunning linen shop which had the most beautiful bed sheets – think White Company but better –

V. Barkowski  https://valeriebarkowski.com

 

In Marrakech every building was and has to be the same color – think dusky pink, with blue and green accessories/plants outside to give it that picture perfect Moroccan look.

 

I also highly recommend a visit to Jardin de Majorelle known as YSL Gardens. The queue was rather long so our taxi driver, jumped out bought our tickets for us so as we could walk straight in avoiding all the people.

 

Jardin de Majorelle is a stunning two and half acre botanical and artistic landscape garden. The French Orientalist artist Jacques Majorelle initially created it almost forty years ago but then Yves Saint Laurent bought it and made it into a permanent Marrakech fixture and a tourist haven.  If you’re a lover of YSL do also visit Museum Yves Saint Laurent which is next to the Gardens.

 

This video shows the stunning grounds of Jardin de Majorelle with all its mystery, serenity and majesty:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcyBZxOC6zs

 

General information:

The currency is Moroccan Dirham so don’t be mistaken with the UAE Dirham.   

 

Uber doesn’t work in Morocco so you have to use either the public taxi’s or ask your hotel to arrange a car for you. Again be ready to negotiate aggressively.

 

Emirates flies direct to Casablanca 9.5 hours there and 6.5 hours back. From Casablanca to Marrakech is a 2.5 hour drive – it’s a long journey but well worth it.

 

Marrakech is definitely unique, incorporating a nice mixture of authentic local Moroccan culture with some serious hotel and resort offering. But don’t rely on the movies and social media – go visit to truly capture its magic.

Dani

  Family Friendly Couple

Marrakech

La Mamounia Marrakech

We recently had the opportunity of spending 5 nights at the stunning La Mamounia Hotel – which has won many accolades including the most recent “The Best Hotel in the world 2018” by Conde Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards. 

As we visited in December, the days were comfortably warm but the evenings went really cold. When we arrived at the hotel the cloaked doorman opened the doors to a stunningly decorated Christmas lobby complete with rich velvet furnishings.

 

The hotel is built in grand Moorish style (a variation of Islamic architecture) with art deco touches and gorgeous zellig (tiles), which decorate archways and pillars.

 

The hotel is set within 8 acres of stunning grounds complete with little lanes filled with lemon and orange trees, olive trees, roses bushes and stunning cacti.

 

La Mamounia consists of 135 rooms, 65 suites, six signature suites and 3 three-bedroom villas with a private pool which are hidden away in the gardens.

 

Our lovely room had a great view over looking the pool and grounds and the rooms dim lighting made it very relaxed and romantic.

 

Left on our pillows was a bottle of the beautiful signature fragrance room spray specially created for La Mamounia by Fragonard.

 

The award winning 2500 metres-squared spa and hammam is an Instagram dream not to mention a relaxing haven to switch off and enjoy a soulful moment of tranquility.

 

Breakfast was served next to the large heated pool and due to the outdoor temperature being so cold in the morning, the pool looked like a hot spring in Iceland.

 

I can only describe La Mamounia as the perfect epitome of decadence, elegance and pure luxury.

 

While in Marrakech I also wanted to understand and learn more about Riad living especially as they have become really popular on social media.

 

Find out more about Riads in Marrakech on http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2018/12/27/the-magic-of-marrakech/

 

Emirates fly direct to Casablanca 9.5 hours there and 6.5 hours back.

From Casablanca to Marrakech its a 2.5 hour drive – it’s a long journey but well worth it.

Dani

  Family Friendly Couple

Lead image

Portmeirion, North Wales

Usually when we take the children to visit their grandparents in the UK, we split our time between Liverpool and London.  When in Liverpool we always take a trip to the north west of England, to the Lake District in the county of Cumbria, to enjoy the beautiful lakes and mountains and also try to visit Wales with its abundance of castles and heritage sites. Both places offer true meaning of the great British countryside.

Last summer we took a family trip to Wales to visit the picturesque village of Portmeririon. It was a stunning summers day, we had the car roof down, music on, wind in our hair, drove the A roads via lots of narrow country roads and eek while sitting in the back of the car the twins took it in turns to throw up as they suffer from motion sickness.  Shame we had to stop so many times and so many change of clothing!!

 

Portmeirion is a village located on a private peninsula overlooking Cardigan Bay on the coast of Snowdonia. It looks more like Portofino or Cinque Terre than Wales. 

It was created by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis from 1925 to 1976. He wanted to show how a naturally beautiful site could be developed without spoiling it. Today Portmeirion is one of Wales' premier visitor attractions, welcoming over 200,000 visitors every year.

 

This picturesque village is home to two hotels, a cluster of historic cottages, iconic architecture, a spa, arty shops, award-winning restaurants, an Italian ice cream parlor, stunning manicured gardens all this right on the sandy beach side. 

It’s a great place to visit for a day trip or even a couple of nights at either one of the beach front hotels or self catering cottages - think colorful town houses with immaculate gardens steps away from the beach on one side and on the other the beautiful woodlands with a Chinese lake and trees which are hundreds of years old. 

 

Even though the weather was great it certainly wasn’t warm enough to make a splash in the hotels outdoor swimming pool, but not to worry kids can paddle in the sea, play on the beach and enjoy the walking trails.


So if you’re ever visiting North Wales do add a visit to Portmeiron the picturesque enchanting Italiante style village.

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Top of the world! Oman

Alila Jabal Akhdar Oman

When the Dubai heat became unbearable during the past summer, I decided to go on a road trip to Oman and venture up Jebal Akhdar mountains so as I could stay at the stunning Alila Resort.

The road trip took 5 hours from Dubai which was pretty straightforward - with the volume up and singing in the car, the time went by so quickly. We made our way to the airport so as one of the Alila staff could meet us in order to jump in their 4x4 so we could climb the narrow roads 2000 feet up the side of the Jabel Akhdar mountain to the resort. It took an hour to get to the top but once inside the gates it opened up to the most beautiful and stunning property nestled in the mountain environment keeping with the natural beauty of its surrounding. The Alila is a haven for nature lovers and adventurers and has the only Via Feretta in the region right on its doorstep or should I say mountainside.

If you’re wondering what is Via Feretta, well in simple terms it’s climbing up and down a mountain edge while being strapped to a harness.  Adrenalin junkies will love this – its 1.5 hours of sheer excitement. My favorite part was literally climbing the metal pins in the rock face on the cliff edge and then you had to climb up to meet a wire line bridge in order to cross to the other side. This was the most frightening part of the entire experience for me. I just kept telling myself - "don’t look down – keep looking straight, ignore the wind and put one foot in front of the other because if your feet slip you will be hanging on via your harness ONLY."  Watch my video below, I’m walking so slow and concentrating. I have to admit this was the first time that I had ever done this and I was super nervous but I would do it all over again.

 

For the brave and physically fit you could opt for the 4 hour experience which includes passing some of the most spectacular mountain scenery to the village of AlKhutaymi, hidden in a cave in the wadi floor. Continue another 15 minutes to discover the best swimming pool in the Green Mountain, where you can enjoy a refreshing dip before hiking back.

 

Due to the resort being 2000 feet above sea level and hidden in the mountains the weather is so much cooler which makes it even more enjoyable to relax and unwind  by the pool. If you’re looking for more activities the resort prides itself on utilizing its stunning habitat - there are activities such as butterfly trail, bike riding, canyon walking, hiking and stargazing. The stargazing experience is hosted by the resident astronomer who explains the night sky in detail and shows you the stars and constellations through the most amazing telescope which is so clear its unreal.

 

All the rooms offer mountain views but the 2 bedroom Jabal villa is exquisite and pure indulgence. You literally don’t have to even see another person during your stay as the villa comes with a pool, jacuzzi and its own butler, it is so secluded its literally only you and nature. If you want you can take a bike and ride to the main hotel for dinner or stay home and simply order room service and enjoy al fresco dining by the pool.

 

I really enjoyed the food served at Juniper Restaurant; every night they had different options available from Middle Eastern cuisine to dishes from the Mediterranean region. Everything was so fresh and tasty.

 

With regards to children staying at the resort, there is a lot to do for the slightly older children from bike riding to walking and even cooking classes but for the younger there is a small indoor play area but I would personally recommend taking a private villa with your own pool so the kids are entertained all day and the noise volume isn’t too much for the other hotel guests.

 

A visa is required to enter Oman, which you can get on arrival either at the airport or at border control. The cost is 20 Omani Riyals, which is AED 190, and you can pay either cash or card.

 

Alila Resorts are actually one of my favourite hotel groups. I have had the pleasure to stay at Alila Seminyak in Bali and would love to try Alila Manggis located in East Bali.  However one of my bucket list experiences which gets me super excited is the Alila Purnama – Komodo Expedition. This is a 7 days adventure on a boat in and around the waters of the Komodo National Park in Indonesia between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores.

 

So if you are looking for an exquisite and exhilarating Alila experience, pack your bags for Oman and head up the mountains.

Dani

  Family Friendly Couple

Under the tracks

My Mini Guide To Tokyo

There are two perfect times of the year to visit Japan: the blossom season in March when the city is awash with pastel petals – and the start of Autumn in November when leaves turn from green to red, brown and orange and the sun is still out keeping the city warm and bright.

In November my husband visited Japan for an awesome kid-free weeks break, here’s my top 10 things to do while in Tokyo and Kyoto.

1. Accommodation
We stayed at the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, which is a stunning hotel with one of the most famous bars – a popular hang out with the Cities suit crowd post work. The New York Bar is famous for its role in the movie “Lost in Translation” where Bill Murry met Scarlet Johansen. It is a little out of the way for a tourist, but a stunning property nether the less .
Another great hotel located in the Ginza area in the heart of the shopping district and over looking the stunning Imperial Palace is The Peninsula Tokyo.


2. Shopping
There are so many wonderful areas to shop in Tokyo – one of my favourite stores was the Harrods of Japan – Isetan in Shinjuku. The food hall is out of this world so get ready work up an appetite in the store. The kids toy section is great too, not just for shopping, but also if you have kids in tow, let them roam around and enjoy what’s on offer. 


Harajuku has a split personality with two parallel shopping streets that cater to very different shoppers. Omotesando, known as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysees, is a tree lined avenue with upscale boutiques, cafes and several leading designer brand shops. Takeshita Dori, on the other hand, is a center of youth fashion and counter culture found along a narrow street crammed with shops and cafes targeting the younger, teenage crowd.


The Ginza area features high end department stores, boutiques, art galleries and designer brand stores. Nearly every leading Japanese and international brand name fashion and cosmetics company has a presence here.


Ginza Six is the newest and largest shopping complex. In addition to 241 boutiques, the luxury mall houses restaurants, a basement food floor, rooftop shrine, garden, and a Noh theater. But Ginza Six is especially proud of its temporary and permanent art installations, curated by the Mori Art Museum

Another great store for men and women fashion is multi brand store United Arrows found in many of the shopping districts, its your bricks and mortar Net-a-Porter.
Shibuya Station is another large shopping district that is the birthplace of many of Japan’s youth fashion trends. It is home to some well known, trend setting clothing store.

3. Eating
Street Food: They say in Japan that some of the best cuisine is available under the railway tracks in Ginza and now I’ve tried it I know that they’re right! Small, quaint, vibrant and insanely busy cafes sell the best yakatori we tasted in Japan – teamed with a beer and edamame for approx AED 30 for the total bill – you cant go wrong!


Fine Dining: When traveling we always try to fit in a restaurant from the Top 50 in the World or a Michelin Star. Seeing as it was my hubbies 40th we managed to get a reservation at Leffervescence, a Michelin Star Restaurant offering French/Japanese cuisine. A disciple of both Michel Bras and Heston Blumenthal, Shinobu Namae applies well-honed European technique to sensational Japanese ingredients at this slick Minato restaurant. The 11-course tasting menu that most diners opt for changes regularly and is built around seasonal and sometimes esoteric Japanese ingredients, although some produce of Western origin gets a look-in too.

Another fabulous restaurant is Seryna which is located in Shinjuku its the finest Kobe Beef Teppenyaki. Melt in your mouth Kobe Beef and for the seafood lovers, teppenyaki lobster and prawns. YUM!
Harajuku has a great Wolfgang puck express restaurant – think 5 star dining on- the-go.

For a late drink or 10 Golden Gai in Shinjuku is a warren of tiny bars and when I say tiny, I mean tiny – maximum people which can fit inside is about 5. Each bar is full of personality, you have to visit a couple to see for yourself. One bar which we had a drink in had a photo of John Mayor and Katy Perry on the wall. The famous duo had drank all night in the bar with the staff not knowing who they were or in fact could even speak English too. They only realized who they where once they sang (after a few drinks) and tourists spotted them.

4. Shibuya Crossing
It would be a shame to visit Tokyo and not take a walk across the famous intersection outside Shibuya Station. When the lights turn red at this busy junction, they all turn red at the same time in every direction. Traffic stops completely and pedestrians surge into the intersection from all sides. Grab a coffee in Shibuya Starbucks as the view is pretty good.


5. Imperial Palace
The current Imperial Palace is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo Station. It is the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family.
The inner grounds of the palace are generally not open to the public. Only on January 2 (New Year’s Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor’s Birthday), visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the Imperial Family, who make several public appearances on a balcony.
Guided tours of the palace grounds are offered during the rest of the year, although no buildings are entered. The tours are held in Japanese, and an English pamphlet and audio guide are provided. The tours must be reserved in advance through the Imperial Household Agency. You will find all the Japanese joggers following the broad moats and park paths that surround the palace so its a busy area.


6. Meiji Jingu Shrine – Harajuku area
Meiji Jingu Shrine is Japan‘s most famous Shinto shrine, dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his consort. Learn about Japan’s ancient religion as you visit the sanctuary, treasure house and other structures built of Japanese cypress with copper plates for the roofs. Such beautiful grounds and woodlands which is free for visitors to roam around (we actually watched a wedding take place while we were at the temple)


7. Observation Deck
Survey the city 202m above ground from the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – on a clear day you may catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji. Come at dusk to catch spectacular sunsets and the city burst into neon-lit action.


8. Tsukiji Market
The famous Seafood Market – around 2000 tonnes of it traded daily – that Tsukiji is most famous for. The frenetic inner market (jōnai-shijō ) is slated to move to Toyosu by late 2016; the equally fascinating outer market (jōgai-shijō ) comprising hundreds of food stalls and restaurants, will stay put.
Before setting off here check the market’s online calendar to make sure it’s open, and for instructions on attending the tuna auctions, which start around 5am.


9. Kyoto
It would be crazy to fly all the way to Japan and not visit Kyoto. Kyoto is old Japan – once the capital with quiet temples, sublime gardens, colourful shrines and geisha scurrying to secret liaisons.
From Tokyo to Kyoto its 2 hours on the bullet train which leave’s Tokyo Station every 10 minutes. I would recommend a car and a guide to met you in Kyoto to show you around as there are less English speaking people here and you will be surprised by the size of the city.


You have to visit the Gion District – this is, if you’re lucky, where you will see Geisha scurrying in the kimono’s with porcelain doll like features. We were lucky enough to see a couple running from place to place!


Such beautiful tradition wooden architecture in Gion and home to the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” You must also visit a traditional Japanese Tea house.


Kyoto’s famed ‘Golden Pavilion’, Kinkaku-ji is one of Japan’s best-known sights. The main hall, covered in brilliant gold leaf, shining above its reflecting pond is truly spectacular. But be prepared for many tourists and school excursions.


We wanted to visit a temple were we could actively see monks, yet wasn’t a tourist destinations. Our guide took us to a complex of temples, where a few are open to the public in order to support the daily upkeep of the temple – others were closed due to “Monks in Training”.
This area was called Daisen-in, and we were fortunate to meet a young monk, who was happy to chat to us.


Read my full Kyoto post http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2018/09/10/chasing-geishas-in-kyoto/


10. Ryogoku Kokugikan
What’s Japan without some Sumo? Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall is a must do authentic experience – besides wrestling there’s a whole parade in ceremonial clothes, classic move demos by former champions and much more. This can be seasonal so check with your hotel or tour guide before you head there!


A Few Tips:
I would highly recommend buying a local sim card – it costs nothing and will last you the duration of your stay. The Park Hyatt actually provided us with a mobile phone and local sim which was great as we couldn’t live without Google maps! Thanks to maps, we even managed to find the smallest hidden bar in Toyko which comes highly recommended if you like mixology.


The Japanese are beautiful peaceful, patient and very well organised people. They are polite and considerate, and happy to keep themselves to themselves but also happy to help if you need anything.


The airport offers great shopping so you can keep going right up until you board the aircraft.


Flight time from Dubai is 9 hours direct on Emirates.

Dani

  Family Friendly Couple

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About Us

As an avid traveler, pre and post my three children, and a lover of boutique hotels, I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively, stay at unique properties and take adventures off the beaten track.

I've been lucky to see and enjoy so much that I think now is the perfect time to share my travel experiences, so I have created Unique Family Travel - a company where my team and I can develop bespoke, wonderful and unique travel experiences for you and your family. I can guarantee our experiences aren't available on the likes of large booking websites as we take you on a tailored journey which caters to your specific needs.

Each destination and journey should be a timeless memory, created for you and your family and captured in fantastic memories to keep forever. We can help with this simply because that's how I would do it for myself, my family and friends!

Do get in touch with us, drop us a line and lets get you going on your next amazing, unique travel experience.

Happy Travels

Love Dani

PS. All photos on this site are taken by me, mostly on my iphone :)

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