No words here, it’s all about Cuba in pictures – Featuring Havana, Camaguey and Jardines del Rey

Earlier this year I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Cuba but circumstances have meant I’ve not had the time or energy or mental capacity to do a lot of things, including posting on my blog, hence the delay in relaying any travel stories from the trip. I spent much of my time in Cuba being and feeling sick, so I fear my narrative will be jaundiced in parts by my somewhat lousy experience. So instead, I’ve posted some of my favourite pictures I took, in the hope that you’ll derive a sense of place from them.

The pictures were taken in idyllic Jardines del Rey, colourful Camaguey and incredible Havana.

Enjoy.

Cuba, a photo story

Jardines del Rey, beach in Cuba 2015

Blue building, Camaguey, Cuba

A Camaguey art gallery, Cuba

Architecture, Camaguey, Cuba

Red building, Camaguey, Cuba

A cinema in Camaguey, Cuba

Children at a Camaguey Cinema, Cuba

Camaguey buildings and doors

Colonial architecture in Camaguey, Cuba

A street in Camaguey, Cuba

A market street in Camaguey, Cuba

Pink vintage car in Camaguey, Cub

Lagoon in Jardines del Rey, Cuba

Arts and crafts market in Havana, Cuba

Display of paintings in Havana, Cuba

Men at work, Havana, Cuba

Vintage cars in Havana, Cuba

Rickshaw in Havana, Cuba

A young man in Havana city, Cuba

Pastel painted building, Havana, Cuba

Havana residential flats, architecture, Cuba

Colonial architecture in Havana, Cuba 2015

All images by Akeela Bhattay

Thanks to Lily at impossible.com for lending me her camera to use. It was thoroughly satisfying using a ‘proper’ camera again (still mourning the loss of my own).

On writer’s block: Foraging for words in a chaotic world

Were this blog a neglected bedroom (say perhaps, one high up in an enchanted castle, its windows offering the breathtaking view of an endless shiny sky rubbing shoulders with the earth’s magnificent rugged pegs; a seamlessly braided horizon to the catastrophic remains in the valley in between), it’d be sheathed in spiders’ webs and buried under a blanket of dust. This is my hazy attempt at sprucing it up and breathing some life in to it once more.

Lake Garda - Multiple ExposurePhoto credit: Akeela Bhattay

Call it writer’s block, if you will. The truth is, I’ve written very little for my own pleasure in the past twelve months and writing, like any skill, becomes rusty when left untended, to the point where, for me, it assumed complete paralysis and though I wrote constantly in my mind, my limping confidence prevented anything tangible to materialize. So, I simply stopped writing.

Together with my cocktail of issues, progress has often been arrested or even overturned, leaving me feeling emotionally and physically drained. I earnestly believe our mistakes mold us, carving out our character, decorating our personality and enriching the soul, so though I still, at times, speculate about what could’ve been, I think I’m learning to somewhat quash the feeling of regret, which can be frighteningly suffocating.

The life of an aspiring writer is more often than not, unyielding and often, the feeling that I have desperately failed has been all-encompassing, leaving me grasping for the illusion of control. But though we might not be completely in control of our destiny, we are in control of our actions, intentions and thoughts, so I’ve decided to make an effort to liberate myself, as much as possible, of negative thought, ascribing little precedence to the derisive nature of time, to try to see the best in myself as well as others in order to attain my goals with positive action, patience and hopefully grace. It’s sensible to make plans, as long as we’re able to acknowledge that the trajectory may change and that we might have to overcome unforeseen struggles, all of which shape our being and are opportunities for reflection and improvement, without which our narratives would be of little substance.

Lemon Gardens - Limone, ItalyPhoto credit: Akeela Bhattay

I’m comforted too, by the imminent arrival of Ramadan, no doubt the favourite month of every practicing Muslim. It’s a month that compels believers to actively strive for spiritual excellence through reflection, prayer and of course, fasting. It’s the time of year that serves, for me at least, as a kind of balm, with God’s infinite mercy soothing the heart and mind, lightening the noise and debris in our imperfect lives and encouraging renewal.
These words by Rumi resonate deeply: “Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”

Spa Review: Escape to SoCal’s Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa

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Image courtesy of Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa

It’s far warmer than usual, I’m told, but even at the height of summer there’s the cooling presence of a sheer caressing breeze. The sun beams brilliantly in the pure blue sky, illuminating the rich and vibrant colours of my surroundings; the olive green palm trees, the emerald lawns, the citrus hued flora and the dusky coral casitas. The sun-drenched scene is suggestive of Mediterranean vistas, but this particular imagery belongs to the Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa in Southern California.

Located in the coveted neighborhood of Rancho Santa Fe, just 90 miles from Los Angeles, 30 minutes from downtown San Diego and a short drive from Del Mar and La Jolla, Rancho Valencia has reaped the favour of many a celebrity, including Bill Gates, Michael Jordan and Bill Clinton and boasts an esteemed reputation in the world of luxury resorts. And it’s no wonder – with its vast lush gardens featuring meticulous olive tress, its 18 tennis courts, an incredible spa, several excellent dining options and hacienda style accommodation, complete with private patios, fireplaces, hot tubs and more, the retreat appears determined to and more than capable of providing a luxuriously relaxing and reinvigorating retreat.

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Images by author Akeela Bhattay

The casitas sit close together on little winding streets, resembling a quaint and serene village. My casita (of the exquisite Valencia Suite variety) is incredible, in size, amenities and décor. The bathroom boasts a separate shower and deep soaking bath tub, double vanity with spa products and a heated Toto toilet seat that provokes a satisfying sigh every time I sit on it. The walk-in closet alone is as big as my bathroom at home and the bedroom and living areas invite a desire to lounge and simmer down, but my favourite part of the suite is the tall walled garden, featuring an outdoor fireplace (perfect for the cooler nights) and whirlpool spa.

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Image courtesy of Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa

My spa review begins with dinner at the resort’s Veladora restaurant where the wooden beams, elaborate chandeliers, a Damian Hirst butterfly canvas and gently flickering candles lend a resounding warmth, elegance and welcoming tone to the hacienda style setting. My waiter is friendly and eager to share her knowledge of the restaurant’s cuisine (best described as ‘Coastal Ranch’) – I settle for the Slow Poached Lobster Salad and the Crispy Skin Mediterranean Dorade and there begins my delightful foodie experience at Rancho Valencia.

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Images by author Akeela Bhattay

The next morning, I’m met with a welcoming delivery of complimentary freshly squeezed orange juice, California oranges and the Los Angeles Times – sometimes it’s the small things that count and this early morning offering is a refreshing and novel treat. Later, I study the delectable breakfast menu at Veladora and deciding what to eat is not an easy task, but as I’m in SoCal, I go for the delicious Huevos Rancheros and (as I’m trying to be healthier) the Wellness Journey Slow Juice. The Sunrise Smoothie too, is an excellent choice as is the Valencia Protein Smoothie that guests are welcome to enjoy post the morning yoga workouts.

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Image courtesy of Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa

Motivation to exercise rarely comes easily to me, but at Rancho Valencia I find myself looking forward to the variety of daily yoga classes. The awe-inspiring Serenity Yoga Pavilion sits in front of a purpose built lily-pond and on a floating deck, evoking a sense of tranquility and offering a serene space for exercise and meditation. At my first yoga class at Rancho Valencia, I find myself painfully conscious of my lack of yoga experience but the instructor is quick to put me at ease and the other more seasoned yogis are enthusiastic and sincere in welcoming an amateur. The resort offers a full and varied schedule of activities including, including Spin and TRX, Pilates and Yoga (as well as other mat workouts) and even Tennis.

In fact, Rancho Valencia was named the US’ “#1 Tennis Resort” by Tennis Magazine, for the resort’s award winning 18 playing courts including a “main stage” center court with seating. Rancho Valencia’s extensive services also include a tennis clinic where guests of all ages and abilities have the opportunity to improve their footwork and strategy with a team of U.S.P.T.A certified professionals. I like the game of tennis and I like the idea of playing, but I cannot recall swinging a tennis racket around after my early teens. So when I’m offered a tennis lesson with a tennis professional, I excitedly accept, not realising what I’m in for! Todd Nelson, my tennis instructor is a U.S Open and Wimbledon semi-finalist and this information is enough to prompt me to reconsider the lesson and swiftly walk away and hide. But Todd is far from intimidating, and with his gentle and professional guidance I’m quickly feeling confident enough to practice my swing without (a lot of) embarrassment. An hour later, my arms feel like they might fall off, but I’ve gained a newfound enthusiasm for the game of tennis and find myself mentally scouting my nearest tennis courts at home and what type of racket might be best for me.

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Image courtesy of Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa

Besides tennis, Rancho Valencia guests also enjoy biking, hiking, croquet and polo in the resort’s vast grounds or for something a little more self-indulgent, the beautiful spa offers a diverse menu of results-orientated treatments. Water features and pools dot the spa courtyards and pretty tiles decorate the pink walls and steps fringed by contrasting plant-life that create a vibrantly serene atmosphere. My Sixth Sense Signature Ritual takes place in one of the spa’s beautifully tiled treatment rooms, with its private patio and outdoor deep soaking tub and rain shower. The treatment commences with a soothing bath soak, which is followed by the most relaxing full body massage using organic Mediterranean Myrtle, Juniper, & organic Jojoba, Avocado & Olive Oils, and to complete the experience, I am treated to a softening hand and foot paraffin wax treatment. Post treatment, I relax in the semi-open spa lounge with some herbal tea, a plate of fresh fruit and a piece of lemon and poppy seed cake. I could happily stay here forever.

Leaving Rancho Valencia feels like leaving a different dimension, one that embraces you in welcoming and lifts away your worldly troubles and pressures for a time as it enriches you with a new lease of life, as a retreat of its calibre should.

Rancho Valencia, 5921 Valencia Circle (P.O. Box 9126) Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067

Adventuring in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania

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Image courtesy of PoconoMountains.com

Cold air rushes at me, and I gulp, desperately drinking in oxygen to appease my shocked lungs. I want to scream, but I remember, I’m on camera and I’ve been advised to smile and appear unnerved. “Grab his feet!” I hear my instructor Tony shout, and as I hang on to August, the skydiving cameraman’s ankles, we’re suddenly swinging around, horizontally, like the Flying Dutchman at a theme park, nearly 14,000 ft from the ground, and I’m screaming – I’ve never felt so terrified, yet so exuberantly alive in all my life.

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Image credit: August Haeuser

I’m tandem skydiving with Sky’s the Limit skydiving centre, over the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and as we gently glide towards the earth, post freefalling, it’s easy to see why jumping out of a plane can become an addiction. The sky is a sheet of blue, just speckled with the odd lazy cloud and the colours of Autumn painting the Pocono mountains, glisten vividly in the afternoon sun. It’s a stunning scene and my seat, high up in the clouds proves a satisfyingly serene spot for viewing it. As we land, I’m already thinking about doing it all over again. I can’t imagine a better way to enjoy the Pocono Mountains.

Just 75 miles from New York and 85 miles from Philadelphia, the Pocono Mountains make for a convenient retreat and with so much to offer throughout the seasons, from outdoor adventures, fine dining, shopping and pampering, it’s a destination that can be enjoyed by all. And after several weeks touring major US cities, spa treatments and skydiving with my friend Sabrina (thescienceofstyle.com) seem the perfect leisurely escape before my flight back to London, from New York.

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Image courtesy of The Lodge at Woodloch

The Lodge at Woodloch, a luxury destination spa in 150 acres of pristine woodland with its own lake, is our weekend retreat in the Pocono Mountains. Neither of us know how to drive and we soon discover it’d be a pain to get to the Lodge using public transport, but we’re in luck, as The Lodge at Woodloch offer a chauffeur service. So on a Friday evening, all tucked up in blankets in a luxury SUV, with mineral water and snacks to sustain us during the ride, we leave the madness of NYC for the tranquility and sweet air of the Pocono Mountains.

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Image courtesy of The Lodge at Woodloch

The atmosphere throughout The Lodge at Woodloch is warm and embracing. The property is effortlessly immersed into its woodland surroundings; the floor to ceiling windows unite the inside with the outdoors, the dark wood furniture, wood beams and abundant flora allow a seamless transition of the natural surroundings, outdoors to in. On arrival, we spy oversized chakra bowls which, when rung are supposed to create sounds and vibrations that resonate within the individual – I’m not sure they work, but we find them to be fun to play with during our stay.

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Image courtesy of The Lodge at Woodloch

Each guestroom has a balcony and ours overlooks the vast woodland and the dancing fire-pit that invites guests to gather around at night, share stories and enjoy the sounds of whispering trees. In the morning, we take a leisurely walk through the woods and stumble upon the small lake (faux ducks included!), which is as colourful as its surroundings, reflecting the vibrant colours of the pristine blue sky and the reds, oranges, purples and yellows of the bordering trees. Guest are invited to an evening kayaking gathering, but since we’re already at the lake on such a glorious morning, we decide to kayak on our own (we’re adventurous like that). Later, we discover our decision to go it alone is well made; the group kayaking under an instructor in the evening look painfully bored, as they spend an hour stationary in their kayaks mostly learning about the lake rather than kayaking.

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Image courtesy of The Lodge at Woodloch

With therapeutic soaking pools, hydro-massage WaterWalls, an indoor activity pool, an infinity edged whirlpool, a dreamy post treatment Whisper Lounge and a delicious menu of spa treatments, The Spa at Woodloch is a sanctuary for the senses. To cater for all your fitness needs, the retreat has an expansive windowed cardio/weight training studio, spinning room and fitness studios offering an array of classes, from yoga and meditation to ballet barre and Bollywood dance. If you prefer getting fit in water, try the intense Aqua Boot Camp and several other water based exercise classes.

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Image courtesy of The Lodge at Woodloch

After the excitement and shock of skydiving at Sky’s the Limit, we decide to take it easy the next day, starting with the invigorating Ballet Barre class, followed by a leisurely breakfast, a walk through the calm woodland and an afternoon of relaxation at the spa. I’m having the Lotus Cleansing treatment, which begins with a deep cleansing mineral rich mud wrap, followed by a soak in spa thermal waters continuing the purification and finally, a full body warm stone massage inviting deep relaxation and renewed energy. My facial is sublime; a signature facial that begins with an in-depth skin analysis to create a customized facial experience. The esthetician uses a pumpkin exfoliate and organic serums and moisturisers to repair and hydrate my skin, leaving my face feeling soft and supple and looking flawless.

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Image courtesy of The Lodge at Woodloch

Food at The Lodge at Woodloch is something that’s taken very seriously at the retreat, so I’m told before our arrival. The property has three functioning gardens on property and the chef team focus on only starting with the best ingredients. All package stays include breakfast, lunch and dinner and the retreat also offers cooking demonstrations throughout the week, making for a dream escape for any foodie. By the end of our stay however, my friend and I are decisively disappointed by much of what we’ve eaten; the fish, vegetables and meat have been overcooked on more than one occasion, the dishes have been under-seasoned, the desserts unremarkable and we could swear the ‘amuse bouche’ at dinner was once one of the salads we ate at lunch, just arranged in a small glass.

But even with food being dissatisfying, we’re sad to leave this delicious retreat. There’s so much more on offer that we haven’t been able to experience; the popular art classes, the garden program, Forest Bathing and the Bog-ucation Program. And as we are driven away from the natural beauty of the Pocono Mountains, I hope to return soon.

Tandem Skydives at Sky’s the Limit start from $195
https://www.skysthelimit.net/jump-packages/

Group packages at The Lodge at Woodloch start from $299 pp per weeknight on the Intro to Spa Plan.
http://www.thelodgeatwoodloch.com

Learn more about the Pocono Mountains at PoconoMountains.com

The Traditional American Beach House Experience at Shutters on the Beach

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‘Purple soap!’ Yes, it’s the little things in life that prompt such glittery exclamations. But this is no ordinary coloured soap, this is a Red Flower creation, a soap infused with luxurious French Lavender that feels like velvet. Even my guests exclaim at its awesomeness. And that is just the soap. Shutters on the Beach in its entirety, is no less indulgent.

Its one of the very few hotels on the beach itself and before even entering it, you’ll have fallen in love. Santa Monica beach is no stranger to beautiful architecture and Shutters on the Beach is a prize amongst those beach houses adorning its semolina sands. It’s the image of a traditional 1920s or 30s American beach house resort and its classic façade seems to appeal for guests to be decorated with hats and gloves, and pipes and smoking jackets.

As soon I venture into the lobby, with its hardwood floors, beautiful sofas, polished surfaces dotted with lamps of all shapes and sizes and a real fireplace, I wish I were staying for longer. One night is not going to be enough to fully enjoy Shutters on the Beach.

2013-08-27-shutters_guest_room_ocean_view.jpgImage courtesy of Shutters on the Beach

Check-in is painless and I am politely directed to my room, on the ground floor. Upon hearing this, my heart sinks; it’s commonly known that the further your room is from the ground floor, the better its quality and your experience. I had forgotten however, that Shutters on the Beach is in fact, on the beach, so my ground floor room, I am delighted to find, opens its French doors to a dainty balcony and a magnificent view of towering palm trees, pale blue lifeguard huts poking out of the sand and the vast Pacific ocean.

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Image courtesy of Shutters on the Beach

My room isn’t large, not like some of the L.A hotel rooms I’ve stayed in, but it achieves an ambience those other rooms have not; its hand knotted rugs, mahogany furniture and pretty throws and pillows combine to extend an embrace enchanted with the affection of home. The bathroom invites long luxurious baths, with its jet bathtub, a toy whale to keep you company, a Red Flower scented candle to relax you, gorgeous bath products and wooden shutters that open up to a view of the beach, via the bedroom. The separate rain shower does not disappoint either.

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For an alternative front row seat to witness the wild ocean waves and Santa Monica sunset, a window table at One Pico is a fine way to experience just that. My friend and I are seated by a charming waiter who delivers seamless service throughout, accommodating without any issue, other friends as they arrive later in the evening and taking and placing our orders so fluently that we rarely know his presence. The menu boasts seasonal market fare that provides simple, sophisticated dishes full of flavour. My guests are especially appreciative of the steaks.

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Image courtesy of Shutters on the Beach

After a peaceful night’s sleep under the luxury 300-thread Egyptian cotton sheets, I head to the spa for a pre-flight massage. The One Spa isn’t easy to find and after getting lost in the boutique hotel, I ask for assistance and am directed to the staff entrance, which I’m told is much easier to locate. The staff at the spa offers an enthusiastic welcome before leading me through the gym (not ideal) and to the treatment rooms. My esthetician delivers an excellent hot stone massage, leaving me feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. I’d like to stay longer at Shutters on the Beach, but it’s time to fly home and I bid goodbye to Santa Monica from my little balcony from my beach house like bedroom.

Book your stay at Shutters on the Beach

Getting there: Fly direct to LAX from London Heathrow with Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand flies daily from London Heathrow to Los Angeles from £530 Economy return. Upgrade to Skycouch from £169 per couple one way. To book visit www.airnewzealand.co.uk

Taking Santa Monica

This article was first published on the Huffington Post

Santa Monica Palisades WalkImage courtesy of Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board

The city of Santa Monica seems the perfect antidote to an animated week exploring Los Angeles. I’m quite ready to trade my walking shoes for flip-flops and wile away the hours languishing on a picturesque golden beach with the Pacific Ocean as my only companion. But even as I snuggle down into my beach towel, mandatory book in hand, I’m wondering what else the city has to offer me and whether I’m missing out on compelling discoveries while soaking up the sun and reveling in the ocean’s conversation.

What to do in Santa Monica

Santa Monica has one of the most beautiful and interesting coastal cycle paths in America and no doubt a delight to ride, but once again I’m let down by my inability to ride a bicycle (re-learning to ride a bike is not as easy as they say). It’s fortunate then, that I love to walk, but I promise myself, on my return to London I will persevere in my endevour to learn how to cycle. With a bike trail that extends 22 miles, north towards Malibu and south to Torrance, there’s plenty of beach and beach activities to explore. Santa Monica also offers tailor-made Biketineries. You can choose from a whole host of themed cycling routes, from arts and wellness, to vintage shopping and sustainability.

Ride north and visit the Annenberg Community Beach House. It’s America’s first (and only) public beach club and a city landmark, inviting locals and tourists alike to enjoy its incredible pool, array of beach recreation equipment, an enclosed picnic area and a two storey beach-house. This is no ordinary community beach house, however. What I love about it is, its amalgamation of stunning Art-Deco to mid-century architecture and the story and romanticism that lives within it. The historic guesthouse and mosaicked pool I learn are original aspects of a luxurious mansion, bought by William Randolph Hurst for his lover, the silent movie actress, producer, screenwriter and philanthropist Marion Davies. Tours of the guesthouse are free and very much recommended. The Annenberg Community Beach House may very well be the best use of a magnificent historic building; I love that it’s open to all, that if offers a rich cultural and recreational experience and can be enjoyed by everyone and not just society’s elite.

For a taste of local life, I take a stroll along Main Street, Santa Monica’s ‘Green Light District’, with its abundance of certified green businesses, community garden and diverse shopping parade. It’s like venturing upon a vibrant urban village, with lots of scope for people watching. I could spend all afternoon here, enjoying the art galleries, browsing the wealth of independent boutique stores and thrift shops, admiring the wares at the antiques stores, flicking through second-hand books and vinyl records and breaking only for an expertly brewed coffee or revitalizing fruit smoothie at one of Main Street’s many cafes, bars and restaurants. This followed by a much-deserved organic manicure at Alchemie Spa.

If you’re after sharing breathing space with the stars, shopping on Montana Avenue will likely find you in close quarters with a celebrity or two. Imagine, a pretty tree lined street, lined with posh boutique shops, cafes, home décor shops and spas & salons – the community hub of the Santa Monica gentry.

A visit to Bergamot Station will deliver an ebullient shot of Art. Once an old trolley station, it now houses 40 different galleries exhibiting an array of dynamic art. If you’re not that into art, it’s worth visiting simply, to marvel at the station’s industrial and rudimentary architecture.

The outdoor shopping mall appears to be a ‘new wave’ sort of shopping experience in L.A and though I’m averse to most shopping malls, the new Santa Monica Place feels strangely less commercialised. There’s a fantastic collection of high street and designer stores, but it’s ‘The Market’ that peaks my interest; a delicious collection of organic, artisanal and gourmet food and gifts. My lovely Santa Monica guide and I breakfast at The Curious Palate, a kitchen and café that serves farm to table fare. The service is friendly and sincere and the breakfast burrito is exquisite. As it’s Santa Monica, a raw food restaurant is prescribed, and Santa Monica Place boasts the excellent raw food restaurant and food education centre, M.A.K.E.

Visit in September and enjoy GLOW, the United States’ first all night arts event. Santa Monica beach is transformed into a world of interactive and engaging contemporary art installations.

If you relish the popular tourist venues, Third Street Promenade is where it’s at. Here you’ll be in the animated embrace of street performers, movie theatres, gift & souvenir traders, high street store, art galleries and more.

A trip to Santa Monica would not be complete without a wander around the pier and visiting at night is especially lovely. Take in the bright lights of the Ferris-wheel against the silent sky, leisurely amuse yourself at the arcade and gaze out over the pier at the gently swaying sea.

Where to Eat

I love brunch – probably because I love breakfast and brunch is really a sumptuous extension of breakfast, right? Well, at the Wilshire Restaurant, they know how to do Sunday Brunch and I promise, you will leave with a full stomach and a hypnotic expression of satisfaction. I’m pleased to have reserved a table, as the restaurant is brimming with hungry diners and meandering my to the table requires a squeezing past tables and begging the pardon of some of the diners. My guests and I are presented with a selection of breakfast juices and one of my friends cautiously orders the Wilshire’s bottomless mimosa. The coffee falls short of my expectations, but I’m soon blissfully contented after a visit to the brunch buffet table. The cheese board calls out to me, but I resist and start with something healthy instead. The smoked salmon with horseradish crème fraiche is delicious as are the salads: Field greens with beets, hazelnut and feta and roasted red pepper, burrata and rocket with aged balsamic. This is followed by a bowl of vanilla bean yoghurt and La Brea Bakery granola. I contemplate the excellent cheeseboard, but I’m afraid it shan’t be appreciated on an already full stomach, so instead I silently promise to return on my next trip to Santa Monica and devour more of Chef Nyesha Arrington‘s sophisticated yet seasonal concoctions.

Lunch at Ocean & Vine! I request a table in the magnificent atrium, overlooking the beach and order the seafood chowder (it’s a little chilly out, so this is an apt choice) – it is divine – so so good. The service is warm and attentive and it’s no wonder the restaurant is full.

I enjoy a relaxed and luscious evening at One Pico restaurant. The dining space has the ambience of an opulent beach house dining room, complete with bar and wood-burning fireplace. The seasonal market menu delivers simple yet sophisticated dishes, all cooked and flavoured to perfection. My guests champion the steaks, declaring them to be amongst the finest steaks they’ve had the pleasure of devouring and express pointedly that I’m missing out. I’m hoping on my next visit to Santa Monica, One Pico will offer Halal or/and Kosher meat.

Pamper yourself – After all, you are in Santa Monica

In the Green Light District on Main Street, sits this expanse of positivity – the organic local spa retreat, Alchemie Spa. My busy and explorative adventure in L.A has left me feeling exhausted and a little icky and my skin is screaming out for some TLC. Most of the premium Santa Monica hotels house their own signature spas, but desiring a more local experience, I opt for the magic of Alchemie. I’m greeted with the infectious Santa Monica charm and made to feel welcome straight away. Within seconds I’m sipping a glass of fruit infused water and observing the local customers weave out and in. I’m treated to a gorgeous (and much needed) tropical body scrub which leaves my skin revitalised, moisturised and smelling totally edible. My esthetician is quick to inform that I’m storing a lot of stress in my abdomen and is helpful in providing me with essential reading. Next, I’m treated to an express organic facial, customised to my own needs. As the treatment draws to an end, I’m ready to fall into a deep slumber. My morning at Alchemie concludes with an organic manicure, using polishes free of DBA, Tolueme, Formaldehyde, Paraben, Phalate and No Animals testing. I choose Bossy by Butter London, a shade and brand that now takes pride of place in my collection. I leave Alchemie spa, feeling pampered, rejuvenated, inspired and happy.

If you prefer to rest under the sun, with the sea lapping at your feet and your requirement for cold refreshments and fresh, tasty snacks sated at will, you might like to take advantage of VIP service, Perry’s Beach Butler. Need anything, just communicate via walkie talkie and have it delivered straight to your chaise lounge.

Where to Stay

Stepping into the revolving doors into Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, the smell of childhood summer days fills my nostrils and lungs – there has to be a Mr Whippy ice-cream cart in the lobby – I can’t wait to get inside! But alas! This supreme scent disappears as soon as I’m in and if it weren’t for the impressive atrium before me, my disappointment may have formed into a sulk. My room is spacious and homely and the balcony gifts a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean. Large hotels rarely endear me, but the friendliness and attentiveness of the staff creates a cosy, boutique hotel atmosphere.

My last night in Santa Monica (and L.A), is spent at Shutters on the Beach, a palatial boutique beach house hotel, a popular retreat for many a celebrity. The enormous bed, adorned with a John Robshaw comforter and pretty cushions, punctuates my room here and the quaint balcony invites me to enjoy the beach without leaving the hotel. The marble bathroom, with its whirlpool bath, complimentary candles and sweet smelling amenities wins me over immediately, but one night cannot do the accommodation justice.

Getting there: Fly direct to LAX from London Heathrow with Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand flies daily from London Heathrow to Los Angeles from £530 Economy return. Upgrade to Skycouch from £169 per couple one way. To book visit www.airnewzealand.co.uk

Downtown L.A – Don’t Dismiss It

This article was first published on the Huffington Post

Downtown Los Angeles SkylineImage Credit: John Paul “Boomer” Iacoangelo

By the time I arrive in Downtown L.A, I’ve heard exceptionally alarming tales of Los Angeles’ central business district; how it attracts the unsavoury, how it isn’t safe and how there’s nothing of interest to see or do here – even the internet is firm in its disdain for Downtown. With these sinister images dancing mockingly in my head and cautionary words ringing in my ears, I arrive wondering if I should’ve retailored my itinerary to bypass this decayed, perilous jungle, and head straight to Santa Monica. But I’m the curious, rebellious sort, and I’m determined to discover the obscure beauty and vibrancy of Downtown L.A.

Los Angeles Central LibraryLos Angeles Central Library & Maguire Gardens. Image Credit: Michelle & Tom Grimm

As it turns out, beauty in Downtown L.A is not as inconspicuous as I’ve been lead to believe. In fact, as I tip the cab driver and grasp my surroundings from the entrance of The Standard hotel, it’s the beautiful art deco like architecture of Los Angeles’ Central Library that grabs me. Inspired by Egyptian, Byzantine and Spanish design, the building boasts ornamental and symbolic compositions, including statues, sphinxes, snakes and mosaics. A colourful-mosaicked pyramid crowns the peak of the building, presenting a sunburst on each side and symbolizing the ‘Light of Learning’, stars a hand holding a torch at its pinnacle. This is a library you’ll want to spend an entire morning or afternoon at; it’s a huge space and worth taking the time to explore, it has the third largest collection of books in the US and exhibits special items from Californian history in its very own gallery. Outside, the Maguire III Gardens with its pretty water features and Cyprus trees make for a pleasant scene for a picnic or photoshoot.

Museum of Contemporary Art  (MOCA) Downtown Los AngelesMuseum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Image courtesy of L.A Tourism & Convention Board

A walk around the district uncovers more architectural gems. There’s the beaux arts style Millenium Biltmore Hotel, the magnificent Bradbury Building, the silenced theatres in the Broadway Historic Theatre District, the Japanese buildings (namely, the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple) in Little Tokyo, the Art Deco City Hall and the last great railway station to be built in America, Los Angeles’ Union Station. For a contemporary art and culture fix, Downtown hosts some wonderful museums and art galleries; the defining Museum of Contemporary Art, the stylish Hive Gallery & Studios and the thriving Los Angeles Centre for Digital Art are, but a few.

After an aesthetically quenching morning, my friend and I seek out a coffee shop of London antipodean standards – nothing else will do. In a quiet street, on a doleful corner in Downtown L.A, sits Handsome Coffee Roasters and as we stumble in, in dire need of a caffeine fix, I drink in the fragrant aroma of perfectly roasted coffee beans. It smells like home. The interior is sparse in décor and furnishings, the rustic industrial scene of many a hipster coffee shop. I order a flat-white and the barista peers sardonically down at me “do you know what a flat-white is?” he asks, “it’ll come in this sized cup,” he asserts, picking up a small tea-cup. I’m tempted to reply with caustic sarcasm, but instead I smile and nod. My friend orders tea and the barista’s already sullen expression transforms into an incensed gaze. We are educated on how a real coffee shop only sells coffee. A peculiar statement about the store’s policy on sugar, soon follows this; coffee should not be drank with sugar, so sugar is banned at Handsome Coffee Roasters. This isn’t an issue for me, but my friend, who enjoys a spoon of sugar in her hot beverages, is not pleased about this pretentious attitude. Excellent however, is the coffee itself and later, balance is restored with friendly service and an excellent sushi lunch in Little Tokyo.

Downtown is also home to L.A’s Fashion District, and if you’re a fashion lover, with an appreciation for new talent and innovative style, this is where you’ll want to shop, when in Los Angeles. The district boasts more than 1,000 stores, over 90 blocks – this is the place to shop the sample sales and grab bargain designer pieces. The milieu of the fashion district is also a testament to L.A’s diverse ethnic population and a refreshing sight after the ostentatious and immaculate exhibitions in Beverly Hills.

Olevera St - Downtown L.AOlvera Street, Downtown L.A Image courtesy of L.A Tourism & Convention Board

It is true, Downtown, unlike L.A’s more popular neighbourhoods, isn’t the polished and glamorous area you might expect a major city’s downtown area to be; poverty and homelessness are acutely evident in parts, conveying a somewhat polarised neighbourhood. But regeneration of Downtown L.A is also tangible; once derelict buildings are being restored and divided into apartments and lofts for the influx of artists and designers to the area, the nightlife is celebrated by locals, tourists and celebrities alike and its fantastic restaurants are fast becoming some of the most enjoyed, in L.A.

One such eatery is the English inspired gastro-pub, The Parish. Located in Downtown’s vibrant fashion district, The Parish is housed in a 1930’s-esque building and brandishes the décor of the era, with dark wood floors and paneled walls, antique furniture, a beautiful tiled fireplace and Damask wallpaper displaying an antique map of Los Angeles – the expert presentation delivers the feeling of dining in a grand old ship.

Angelenos tend to sup late, but even at 8pm, the restaurant is already thriving and I’m glad I’ve made a reservation. The long bar is the spirit of the restaurant; its bartenders expertly producing aptly named concoctions to eager diners – the menu currently serves Pimms Cup, King’s Landing and Cut & Paste, to name a few.

Studying the dinner menu, I’m pleasantly surprised to see so many non-meat options – practicing a Halal diet, gastro-pub meals beyond glorified fish and chips and veggie burgers is a rarity, so I’m excited about eating here. The Parish’s offerings all sound wonderful. In the end, we order oysters, watercress salad, branzino (sea-bass), caramelised green beans and fried olives, served beautifully and all delicious, though it’s a challenge getting through the branzino without swallowing a bone. Dessert is a rich bread pudding – a little too sweet for my liking, but tasty nonetheless and typically English. Post dessert, I decide to brave the coffee menu and order a macchiato – I am thoroughly appeased; unlike the typical burnt, acidic concoction I’ve had in most L.A restaurants, The Parish do coffee properly (without the attitude of Handsome Coffee Roasters); my macchiato is smooth, strong, fragrant and distinctive. I only wish I had another day in Downtown, so I could visit The Parish for my morning caffeine fix and explore the area, further.

Look beyond the often-disheveled façade of Downtown L.A and you’ll no doubt find hidden gems, a dynamic arts scene and a vibrant food and fashion culture.

I flew direct from London to L.A with Air New Zealand. Visit www.airnzealand.co.uk to book flights.

West Hollywood – A Dreamer’s Travel Guide

This article was first published on the Huffington Post

West Hollywood - Instagram - Akeela Bhattay

It’s not often that one finds themselves completely at home in a strange place, yet the streets and silhouettes of the city of West Hollywood (or WeHo as it’s affectionately referred to by Angelenos) feel intoxicatingly familiar and simultaneously seductive. My short stay is retreating hastily; as my plans over-flow in my mind, and I decide instead to take a more organic approach to discovering West Hollywood; each day as it comes.

The residents of WeHo are blessed with incredible landscapes. The view from my voguish room at the Mondrian boasts a frame worthy view of the iconic Downtown skyline, but gaze up at the vista on the other side and it’s the prominent Hollywood Hills that behold you. On my first morning in West Hollywood, I venture away from the famous Sunset Strip in search of a WeHo breakfast.

Other places to stay, in West Hollywood: Andaz West Hollywood, The Standard, Sunset Tower Hotel, Petit Ermitage.

It’s difficult not to neglect the traffic lights here and weave through the abounding cars like a Londoner, when crossing the roads, but I’ve been cautioned extensively against jay walking in L.A (plus I’ve recently watched that episode of New Girl which delivers a sound lesson on the consequences of jay walking in Lala land, and I’m not willing to take my chances), so I gather all my patience and make like a sensible pedestrian.

Built on a grid system, the streets in Los Angeles are easy to navigate, but this does portend an uneventful walk, if like me, you enjoy absorbing different facets of a place. So naturally, I take an unlikely route and find myself transported to a cleverly hidden city suburb. Tree lined streets, lush gardens and enchanting houses of various shapes and sizes paint these mysterious streets, where even the sound of the all-dominating cars is barely discernable. It’s in these little pockets of tranquility, it seems, that WeHo residents journey by foot, if only to walk their dogs.

Emerging from the pretty hamlet, I hasten towards splendid Melrose Avenue and Urth Caffe, for breakfast. I’ve been told Urth Caffe does good coffee, which is of course my primary reason for choosing it as my breakfast destination, but its relationship with one of my all time favourite TV shows, Entourage, cannot be ignored and at that moment, I’m a complete tourist, basking in memories of notable episodes. The café is heaving with customers, the queue trailing outside onto the sunny terrace, but nobody seems to be in a hurry. The drinks menu extends far beyond a single menu board, which worries me somewhat; long coffee menus usually indicate a lack of coffee knowledge and quality, in my experience and I wonder if I’m about to suffer a Starbucks like brew as I place my order. My Italian cappuccino (I’m told this is stronger than the American version) wears a smile in the form of a coffee art bear – cute – and though it’s far superior to anything Starbucks produces, my palate is left wonting.

Formerly known as The Avenues, West Hollywood’s newly named Design District follows Melrose Avenue and meanders over to Robertson Boulevard and Beverly Boulevard, scattered with trendy designer retailers, such as Stella McCartney, Philip Lim, Rag & Bone and Balenciaga, as well as purveyors of premium art and furniture. Unlike Rodeo Drive, WeHo’s Design District enjoys a warm and welcoming attitude (inherently West Hollywood), making for a pleasing window shopping experience. But if like me, you enjoy exploring the unknown; rummaging the wares at independent boutiques, thrift and vintage stores, you’ll find the stores towards and around the east side of Melrose Avenue a genuine treat.

On the Sunset Strip, an alley prepared with a long table of diverse foreign fashion and design publications, coaxes me to take a gander. I travel to the very end and as I’m about to turn back, I glimpse a sign ‘Mystery Pier Books’ – I feel like I’m in an American version of Diagon Alley and of course, I must explore. In what appears to be a deserted house, resides Mystery Pier Books. A bell sounds as I enter the seemingly empty store and I’m alone in a room brimming with literature. I love book shops and this little gem is rather special. Every book at Mystery Pier Books is a first edition and many are signed first editions. I could spend the rest of my stay here and be quite content, though I think it’s best to refrain from asking the owners if they’d mind me camping out in their shop overnight. Harvey and Louis Jason are both passionate and knowledgeable about literature and books and Harvey graciously indulges me in conversation about writing fiction. ‘Do you have an agent,’ he asks, and embarrassed, I mumble that I’ve neglected my writing of fiction for journalism. As I leave, I promise to start writing the new novel that’s been marinating in my mind. Mystery Pier Books can also be explored online.

Dinner is at Comme Ca and I’m running late. My cab driver has no idea where my destination is and I find myself Googling the directions. I am clearly not in London anymore. From the outset, the French restaurant appears slight, but as I walk inside, it seems to stretch indefinitely, teasing me in. My guest, a new L.A resident has heard great things about the restaurant and we are keen to delve into the menu. Our Penicillin cocktails are excellent, my French onion soup, with gruyere cheese lid, divine and the seared scallops, delicious. Combined with the superb service, Comme Ca makes for the perfect start to a night out with friends, in West Hollywood.

Other great WeHo eateries include, chic Laurel Hardware, the refined Asia de Cuba at the Mondrian, Eveleigh, Night + Market.

My next stop is the notorious Hollywood landmark, Chateau Marmont, lovingly referred to as ‘The Chateau’, by locals. This iconic hotel is a must see, if only to view its Gothic like visage, but its fame lies largely in its reputation for being the set of many a scene in Hollywood flicks and the host to the rich and famous. Inside, Chateau Marmont recalls old Hollywood Glamour, with its rich deco furnishings and dark ambience. My friends and I inhabit a table at the lounge bar, where we ask to see the secret menu. The drinks range from interesting to bizarre and we leave wondering if we’d have fared better with the regular menu. Chateau Marmont is also a lovely place for lunch (request to be seated in the garden) and weekend brunch.

Other cool hangouts in and around West Hollywood: Skybar at the Mondrian, Drai’s, Tropicana Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel, House of Blues, The Roxy Theatre.

Visit the official guide to WeHo to plan your trip. http://www.visitwesthollywood.com

I flew direct from London to L.A with Air New Zealand. Visit www.airnzealand.co.uk to book flights.

Like a Celebrity: The Beverly Hills Experience

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Image courtesy of Beverly Hilton

“The grass grows greener, the sun, it shines brighter and the sky is bluer in Beverly Hills.” scoffs a resident Angeleno, earlier that day and we laugh mockingly. Yet as the iconic gold and chestnut Beverly Hills shield comes into view, the derisive attitude towards the Golden Triangle city drifts a little, for lo and behold, the sky is suddenly a serene ceiling of cerulean blue, the grass a rich radiant Kelly green (not a thirsty tip in sight) and the sun lends a warm beaming embrace.

I don’t have a car and I do not know how to drive (facts that receive animated disbelief from Angelenos I meet throughout my trip to L.A), but unlike the majority of neigbourhoods/cities in L.A, Beverly Hills is very much a walkable city and best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Here, it is all about savouring the delectable and indulgent, chiefly conquered with a laid-back manner.

Where to Stay

The prominent Beverly Hilton is my abode for the duration of my visit and though it doesn’t quite enjoy the warmth and individual disposition of the boutique hotels I usually favour, its efficient service, majestic pool, two fantastic restaurants and The Aqua Star Spa with it’s Red Carpet treatments, as well as its rich heritage of catering for Hollywood celebrities (as well as Barack Obama) makes it the perfect host for a dizzying Beverly Hills exploit.

Beverly Hills boasts a wealth of luxury hotels. Amongst them is the stunning Beverly Wilshire, famed for being featured in the film Pretty Woman and popular with dignitaries and the Hollywood elite. My brief visit to the hotel’s lobby begets from me, a tirade of adulation; its art-deco design is simply, stunning. The Montage and L’Ermitage too are hotels worthy of their 5 Star ratings; both offering beautifully designed and furnished accommodation, sumptuous dining and extravagant spas.

Where to eat

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Image courtesy of DOMA Beverly Hills

On my first evening in the city, I sample the menus at both Trader Vic’s and Circa 55 at the Beverly Hilton (reviewed on Haute Arabia), leaving very full and very satisfied. Craving something a little less indulgent, a tad more down to earth and gentler on my purse, I venture to The Brighton Coffee Shop the next morning, a rustic diner-like establishment popular with locals, where the food is nutritious, wholesome and tasty. My favourite meal in Beverly Hills, is by far, dinner at Italian restaurant Doma. Though generally known as an Italian eatery, Doma’s menu is curiously infused with Asian flavours – an unusual union that produces surprisingly delightful taste sensations. The décor is dark and decadent and incorporating the Beverly Hills shopping legacy, the striking fashion meets food artwork makes for interesting conversation over a decadent meal. The open kitchen offers a unique opportunity to glimpse the activities of a working kitchen. This, together with its warm, welcoming and sincerely enthusiastic staff who all appear to be having a great evening, come together to accomplish an intimate and cheerful atmosphere, not unlike that of a celebration meal with close family and friends.

Where to Shop

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Image courtesy of Visit Beverly Hills

No trip to Beverly Hills would be complete sans a stroll down iconic Rodeo Drive. The famous shopping strip (and its neighbouring streets) is home to approximately 65 retail outlets, including designer boutiques Hermes, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Burberry and many more. For a more casual and cutting-edge shopping experience, head to The Grove – Beverly Hills’ premium outdoor mall, where it’s very likely you’ll spot a celebrity whilst enjoying a bite at The Cheesecake Factory.

Tip: If you’re after a super fast, yet fabulous manicure, stop by Bella Nails (across the road from Doma, on North Camden Drive). My guest and I popped into the salon before our meal at Doma and left 20 minutes later, with wonderfully soft hands and perfectly shaped and painted nails and prices that made us swoon (a sweet $15 for a luxury 20 minute manicure).

When speaking of Hollywood glamour, this is rarely a tribute to the neighborhood of Hollywood itself. Rather, it’s the city of Beverly Hills that holds within it, the history, the decadence and luxury lifestyle of the Hollywood that enchants us.

I flew direct from London to L.A with Air New Zealand. Visit www.airnzealand.co.uk to book flights.

Summer Festivals | The Coachella Way

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post

coachella 2013, safari tents, polica, of monsters and men, bat for lashes

“No way! Really?” Just one of the many bewildered responses to my confession, that Coachella 2013 would be my very first music festival. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to enjoy the seemingly unavoidable and requisite festival experience most music lovers enthusiastically seize as students, but rather the opportunity has never before presented itself in an easily accessible form. Though, even if it had, I daresay I would have prudently waved the opportunity away; for rain, mud, cold showers, filthy unisex loos and dewy sleeping bags (to me) are not conducive to a weekend of enjoyment. And no, I shall not be persuaded otherwise. So an invite to California’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival presents itself as surprisingly favourable, with its offer of luxury camping, hot showers and its winning feature, dry, hot and sunshiny days. I’m all in.

Lead by a parade of commanding smoky mountains, enduring date palms and proudly powering wind farms on a seemingly infinite carpet of brick red desert sand, we traverse upon the lusciously green Indio Polo Club, official venue for the Coachella Festival. Chauffeured by golf buggy, my over-enthusiastically packed suitcase and I are transported to our Safari tent, a far cry from the flimsy nylon triangular prisms I’ve envisaged when pondering (on the rarest of occasions) festival accommodation. In camp Safari, the tents are strong, spacious and homely; twin queen iron frame beds (which I’d quite like to take home) dressed formidably in luxury Egyptian cotton bedclothes and an assortment of pillows and cushions, a chest of drawers that mocks the idea of living out of a suitcase, a welcoming care package of fruit, mineral water and Palm Springs date cookies and a rug adorning the real wood flooring begs only for an in-tent fireplace (maybe next year?).

Though Coachella is often compared to Glastonbury, it is (though you may not care for such frivolities) eons ahead in terms of perceived cool, hip and trendy, with parties coveted by celebs and fashion loving folk, kicking off the festival. On our first night in Palm Springs, we venture to the popular Ace Hotel and glimpse a taste of what is to come in the following days; a festival bejeweled with swimsuit ready bodies, dressed in casual yet super stylish outfits – some clearly present to see and be seen only. In fact, I meet a group of fashion bloggers who have traveled from as far as Australia to attend Coachella, and unashamedly confess they’ll not be seeing any musical performances and will instead be scouting the most exclusive Coachella parties over the three day festival. Think fashion week peacocking epidemic.

Day 1 of Coachella begins with an English breakfast of eggs royale (really really good salmon), a lazy participation of Pilates (i.e watching from sidelines), sunbathing beside the Safari camp pool and a 20 minute deep tissue massage. Yes, I am at a music festival.

The festival arena accentuates its artistic claim with a gigantic mobile snail trailing the grounds, endless chains of colourful balloons decorating the wide blue sky, the Coachella ‘Power Station’, a glass installation attended by guys in lab coats and hippo masks and when the sun goes down, a digital mirage depicting a ‘60s Palm Springs house, complete with swimming pool and partying guests.

My first two performances are due to overlap, but the festival grounds are surprisingly intimate and walking (or being ferried by Safari golf buggy) from stage to stage is a doddle. Friday highlights are Alt-J, Of Monsters and Men, Foals and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Saturday brings fabulous sets from Bat for Lashes (Natasha’s costume is especially memorable) and Hot Chip and a highlight performance by The Postal Service.

Along with the music and art comes the obligatory celeb spotting (or at least the effort to do so) and though some of my comrades have encountered the likes of Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton and the reunited lovebirds Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, my only notable sighting is the handsomely imposing True Blood actor, Alexander Skarsgard queuing for the loos at the Artists’ compound.

Sunday offers the chance to relax under the Coachella sun before the desert sweeps in and states its claim. The dust storm shrouds the once prominent and vibrant festival landscape and an icy wind mocks the summer clad music lovers. But even a harsh intermittent smattering of dust doesn’t hinder the convivial audience at a theatrical performance by Wu Tang Clan and later the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Before coming to Coachella, I’d overheard a conversation about how Coachella could not be a real festival, not with its rigid security, its lack of mud and its controversial decree on alcohol consumption, but I’m certain now, that they are clearly just jealous of the gorgeous (though sometimes unpredictable) Californian weather that accompanies Coachella. And yes, for British festival goers, the idea of specially assigned drinking areas, might well be off-putting, but the growing popularity of Coachella is a testament to the sometimes incomprehensible idea that you do not have to be drinking to enjoy yourself.

Tips on planning your Coachella 2014 itinerary.

• In your suitcase – The phrase ‘it’s all about the layering’ had me rolling my eyes by the time we arrived in Indio, but I shall mock no more – layering is simply sensible; the desert is hot during the day and can get very, very cold at night (note: on the first night, I slept in my coat). A sturdy pair of Sun-San salt water sandals will prove indispensable. For cooler nights and a salvation for your feet, investing in a pair of Doc Martens was a feet saver! For festival-wear, pretty much anything (or more often, nothing) goes, from tanks and shorts, hot pants and bikinis to boho maxi dresses and fringed kimonos. I wore Free People, the epitome of festival clothing and absolutely gorgeous to boot!

Free People - Festival Clothing, coachella, festivals, summer 2013, 2014
Festival clothing by Free People
Summer Festival shoes & accessories
From left clockwise: Dr. Martens 1914 Boots, Persol sunglasses, Dr. Martens Satchel, Sun-San Sandels

• Getting to California – You’re doing Coachella in style, so why not travel in style? I flew direct to LA with Air New Zealand and was pleasantly surprised to find that their PR isn’t just hype. Though I flew Economy, I had the pleasure of experiencing Skycouch and for the first time on a long haul flight, not only did I sleep, but also I didn’t exit the plane with a burning pain in my osteoporosis riddled spine. Plus, they do good in-flight coffee and I’d all but given up on consuming even half-decent coffee in the air.

Economy Skycouch armrests Up Footrests Full Flexible Position blanket sml-p-1200

• Getting Festival Ready – Spend the night at Andaz West Hollywood on L.A’s Sunset Strip for a taste of warm SoCal hospitality. To get you into the festival spirit, enjoy live music across the street at House of Blues or survey the L.A skyline and mingle with the beautiful at celeb coveted Skybar, at the Mondrian. Stock up on snacks, visit The Grove for any last minute purchases and enjoy a scenic road trip to Palm Springs.
• Accommodation – If like me, your tolerance for dirt and unsophisticated sharing of strangers’ perfunctory bodily fluids is next to non-existent, take my advice and pitch for the luxury Safari experience at Coachella. Spacious, air-conditioned tents, with proper beds and furniture, a tranquil lounge area, serving breakfast and a late light supper, spa treatments and sunbathing by the pool and a friendly staff determined to make your stay comfortable, trouble free and unforgettably fun.

Safari tent, coachella, luxury, 2013, 2014, music, accommodation, festival

• Coachella blues antidote – Three days of partying will leave you exhausted and if you happen to experience a dust storm, every pore and crevice on your body will be clogged with the desert sand. Before getting on that plane, take the perfect post Coachella antidote: let Santa Monica heal you. Check in at Loews Santa Monica, for uber friendly hospitality, easy access to the beach and a magnificent pool. If you’re more of a boutique hotel fiend and have an eye for architecture and a yearning for old glamour, stay at the gorgeous Shutters on the Beach. Before exploring the semolina sands and lively boardwalk, treat yourself to a well earned (and probably much needed) tropical body scrub and manicure (perhaps a facial too?) at the Alchemie Spa. Your mind and body will thank you.

I flew direct to LAX from London Heathrow with Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand flies daily from London Heathrow to Los Angeles from £530 Economy return. Upgrade to Skycouch from £169 per couple one way. To book visit www.airnewzealand.co.uk

Go to www.visitcalifornia.com to plan your trip now