Hotel Parco dei Principi di Sorrento, Italy

Any hotel which has a blue and white colour palate is going to win me over pretty quickly. But nothing could have prepared me for how quickly Hotel Parco dei Principi would win over my heart, and that of my family. The Italian architect, Gio Ponti,designed and constructed his dream, overlooking the Mediterranean, on the outskirts of Sorrento,during the 1960’s. There is a lot to be said for a hotel where the architect designs every, beautiful detail, including furniture, artwork and diving board. Our biggest dilemma each day was whether we would swim at the pool, with its sculptural diving board, or at the beach club, reached via a lift inside the rock cliff. The gardens are extensive and lush and provided an escape from the summer heat. While I generally do not eat in hotels when travelling, we could not resist having a number of excellent meals on the terrace overlooking the ocean. While Sorrento itself is teaming with tourists, Hotel Parco dei Principi is a wonderful oasis of calm and beauty.

Trinidad, Cuba

First thing to get clear, this is a story about Trinidad, Cuba….not Trinidad & Tobago!

Most articles on Cuba seem to concentrate on Havana but it was Trinidad, on the other side of the island, that won me over. Trinidad still has a similar patina to Havana, vintage cars, cheap cocktails and cigar sellers on the street, but there is a real charm and vibrancy to this colonial town which I didn’t quite find in the big city of Havana. There are also plenty of cowboys still riding around…and who doesn’t love a cowboy?

After arriving at the airport in Havana, my husband & I were driven across the island in a 1949 Chevolet, with no suspension and all windows open for air-conditioning. I lied to my husband and told him that the trip would only take a couple of hours. Four hours later we arrived slightly windswept but having seen the beauty of rural Cuba where tropical fruit crops are plentiful. I loved every minute of it and in the end it seemed to me the right way to arrive in Trinidad.

Looking for a more authentic accommodation option, and being generally disappointed with other options, I had booked a room in an Airbnb in the centre of the town. This enables locals to prosper and allows a glimpse of everyday life in Cuba. It was located within easy walking distance of the main town square and meant we got to appreciate the town at night when many of the day trippers had returned to Havana.

The beauty and historic significance of the town was officially recognized in 1988 when it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. It’s colonial architecture and cobbled stone streets have been well maintained. What attracted me most to Trinidad is that it is a town where you can just wander and explore without any itinerary or destination. To me it was more about seeing what life was like in Cuba rather than visiting specific sites or doing particular activities. I did hear wonderful stories of horse riding adventures and trips to the nearby beach but the cobble stone streets of Trinidad were a greater attraction. As a market lover I thrived on the many streets filled with artisans selling local crafts including woodwork, embroidery, jewelry and paintings. In fact we found shopping here much more pleasurable than Havana.

What really made me smile was the music. On the streets, in the restaurants, or coming from the open windows as you passed private homes, music was everywhere. It is difficult not to feel happy when you see Cubans dancing at the Club Amigos del Danzon. Our two evenings in Trinidad were spent sipping cheap cocktails, watching the sunset from a roof top bar, and dancing to the Latin beat...and I loved every minute.

 

Coqui Coqui Residence & Spa, Merida

Mexico is full of so many different experiences, and staying at the Coqui Coqui Residence (L’Epicerie) in Merida has several all rolled in to one. The Coqui Coqui Lifestyle brand includes accommodation, spas, perfumes, oils, candles and more and at the Merida Residence & Spa it is all there to experience.

When we first enter the Coqui Coqui townhouse the scent is the first thing than strikes you. On this day it was orange blossom and we instantly felt relaxed and refreshed after a turbulent flight from Mexico City. What is unqiue about this accommodation is that you have to walk through the elegant perfumerie before reaching the check-in desk. It sets the scene for what you know will be something quite special.

On the first floor is the accommodation which, to me, was like walking into my perfect world. Two luxuriously styled rooms which, despite the opulence, felt as comfortable as being home. The rooms are richly decorated in antique furniture and heavy velvet curtains. The main bedroom has a king size, wrought-iron, four poster bed. But I can’t take my eyes off the two, French claw-foot bath tubs sitting next to each other. I love a bath, and two is just my idea of decadence. Of course, you can’t have a bath without Coqui Coqui bath products and candles to burn and luckily a large gift box is provided and enjoyed throughout our stay.

If that isn’t enough pampering then there is your own, private plunge pool to the rear and spa on the upper level. After a week of travelling I was ready for a little rejuventation and their signignature facial, “Under the Yucatan Sun’ was just the answer. Coqui Coqui products are all about connecting with nature. Their facials use the direct approach with fresh ingredients such as honey, cucumber, avocado and yogurt leaving my skin feeling refreshed and nourished.

What I probably have failed to mention is that there is only that there is only one room. You are the only guests, When the staff go home to the evening you have the whole place, including the shop, to yourself. As a child you dream of being locked in a candy shop, this is my adult equivalent.

Oaxaca

Once I learned how to pronounce Oaxaca (Wa-ha-ka) it became my favourite place in Mexico

Oaxaca is a city I could keep going back to over and over again. It has so much of what I love to experience when I travel - great markets, lots of handcrafts, plenty of wonderful cafes and restaurants, groovy bars, and beautiful architecture. What also appeals is that so much of it is easily accessible by foot, so no need to worry about working out foreign transport systems of wondering if the taxi driver is going to rip you off. Most days we just wandered the streets with no particular destination. I love the feeling of discovery rather than being guided by a book or even a map. I'm a big lover of markets and there are plenty to visit in Oaxaca. Unlike Mexico City, where I was told not to photograph in some markets because they are run my the mafia, the ones in Oaxaca seemed perfectly safe. It is an advantage to at least know your numbers in Spanish, as most people do not speak English, alternatively show the shop keeper the calculator on your phone and that can help determine a price. The Zocalo is a good place to hang out and watch the world go by, as is the courtyard in front of the Templo de Santo Domingo. There are many galleries spread throughout the city, but the best art is the graffiti on the walls, not just scribbles but real art. From street food to higher end dining, Oaxaca has it all, my favourite being Casa Oaxaca. The region around Oaxaca is well known for producing Mezcal and there are lots of small, groovy bars when you can sample the many varieties. Our luggage nearly doubled in size after visiting Oaxaca so be warned.

Mexico City

Some tips for navigating one of the world's largest cities....

I love doing quite a bit of research before I visit a new destination. I hate the thought of missing out on seeing something amazing and finding out about it afterwards. The reality is, you just can't cover everything, and with only 4 days in Mexico City I feel like we didn't even experience the tip of the iceberg. There is just so much to see.  But, from my experience here are some suggestions and tips. Firstly, getting a taxi at the airport was easy and safe (this was probably my main concern before visiting). Secondly, unlike Australia, the ATM machines give you your cash first and card afterwards. Don't do what my husband did and walk away with your pesos and forget your card. My knowledge of Mexican food was not extensive so to start the holiday off on the right foot we went on a food tour with Eat Like a Local (www.eatlikealocal.com.mx). From street food to restaurants and a couple of markets, we covered a lot of ground and ate way too much food. The other tour we did was The Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera Tour with The Traveling Beetle (www.thetravelingbeetle.com) because logistically I didn't know how we would cover all this ground in the short amount of time we had, plus they arranged the entry tickets. Of course driving around in an open top VW Beetle was lots of fun (even though temperatures were fairly low). The Luis Barragan House is definitely worth the effort for those interested in architecture. You need to book on a tour to visit and even though our one was in Spanish (which I don't speak), they did add quite a lot in English. Tamayo Gallery was also enjoyable, with an excellent cafe attached. The Museo Soumaya is striking from the outside and we felt the exhibits inside improved as you progress higher in the building. The Zocalo, for its scale, is an incredible experience. We had a cocktail on the rooftop of the Hotel Majestic to get a bird's eye view of the giant square - the view is great but the Hotel needs a good upgrade. The Downtown Hotel is good for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Pujol is a must and popular with viewers of Netflix's Chef's Table. Finally, we found Uber the easiest way to get around and is very cheap. We also found Starbucks was everywhere, and while I don't recommend the coffee, the free wifi is extremely helpful.