The Grand Hibernian with Clodagh McKenna

A trip with Belmond is an invite you never turn down. The company have a brilliant collection of hotels around the world, but it is with their exquisite luxury trains that they really excel beyond all expectation.

Grand Hibernian

The Grand Hibernian takes passengers on a journey through Ireland. Teaming up with the fabulous, acclaimed Irish chef Clodagh McKenna, Belmond have created a trip that is centred around the finest food and produce that Ireland has to offer.

After a night in Dublin we were transported to the main train station where a group of playing musicians led us to our carriages. Once on board it was champagne all round and a lovely introduction from the train manager and Clodagh.

Grand Hibernian

Inside the Grand Hibernian furnishings are sophisticated and stylish… in the main carriage a bar is always open for drinks and the comfortable seating comes draped in blankets so you can get cosy and enjoy the views whizzing past.

Grand Hibernian

Bedrooms are located further down the train, a mix of double beds and twin to suit all passengers needs, you can also adjoin two cabins to make a larger family option. Decorated in a similar style the room was muted shades of beige and brown with lovely details and luxurious touches. The tiny but satisfying functional bathroom featured a shower, toilet and sink, and was stocked with Bomford toiletries.

Grand Hibernian

I couldn’t help but explore inside our little desk to discover Belmond postcards which I had an urge to send to everyone I knew!

GalwayGrand HibernianGalway oysters

The Belmond trains offer different length trips, travelling to a range of destinations. For this journey Clodagh had picked some of her favourite spots to show us. This included a visit to Ballyvolane House where we foraged in the garden, admired the grand house and tasted their delicious Bertha’s of Revenge Irish milk gin. On the second day we stopped for lunch in Galway, dining at the charming Ard Bia at Nimmos on the water’s edge. Here we were treated to a oyster demonstration from one of the city best known shuckers from Kelly Oysters, and feasted on a wonderfully wholesome lunch. After a quick wander round town it was back on the train for the evening meal and entertainment.

Grand Hibernian

The dining carriages were great fun on the Grand Hibernian, although, being with Clodagh on a London tube journey would be fun… she brings so much joie de vivre to the table and it’s impossible not to be swept up with it all. The menus we experienced were carefully curated by Clodagh and the Belmond chefs, a clever way to showcase the ingredients from the areas we were travelling through. Once we were all thoroughly fed and watered it was time for an Irish jig lesson, and the night finished with pints of Guinness customised with our faces on the foam!

Grand Hibernian

It was solemn faces all round as we stepped off the train for the final time. In two short days I felt I’d had the trip of a lifetime, and the staff felt like family. I can’t recommend this experience enough… for the keen traveller and foodie it really is unlike any other journey you’ll ever experience.

I was a guest of Belmond. More information and book a trip on the Grand Hibernian here.

Returning to The Alpina Gstaad

It was my second trip to the Alpina Gstaad, but the wow factor was certainly not diminished this time around. Perched among the snow-topped Swiss Alps, the setting is best admired from the Golden Pass train which travels up to Gstaad from Montreux station.

After an early morning flight from London, and several train rides, we were delighted to see the Alpina staff at the station ready to whisk us away in a shiny Tesla car.

Alpina Gstaad

Check-in was swift and within minutes I was sitting in my spacious but cosy suite sipping tea by the fire. My bedroom was on the fourth floor and from my balcony I had beautiful views across the mountains which at this time of year had a light dusting from the first snow of the season (Gstaad is best for skiing in February and March).

Alpina Gstaad

There are 56 rooms and suites in total at The Alpina Gstaad, ranging from Deluxe rooms to the amazing Chalet and Panorama Suites. Every room has a private terrace, perfect for al fresco breakfasts in summer and warming hot chocolate with a view in the winter months.

Alpina Gstaad

The decor is classic Alpine in style with details that represent the Saanenland artistic heritage. The woodwork has a warming effect and soft furnishings give the feel of luxury. The fireplaces are hand-built from local stone and there is traditional artwork on the walls, including charming paper-cutting art.

Alpina GstaadAlpina Gstaad

We had two blissful days at the Alpina, days were spent relaxing at the spa while evenings were a joyful chance to try the best food and drink the hotel has to offer. On our first night, after an immersive pasta class in the kitchen, we sat by the fire to enjoy a Alpina gin & tonic. The Alpina pride themselves on making as many of their own products as they can, which includes this herbaceous gin and a lovely Alpine honey (we can be sampled at breakfast).

The hotel is currently collaborating with English sparkling wine brand NYEtimber and you can try a variety of the bottles with the in-house sommelier, paired with complementing canapés from the kitchen.

Alpina Gstaad

There are two Michelin star eateries at the hotel, perhaps most exciting is Megu, a fine dining restaurant combining Japanese recipes with the best local ingredients. Head Chef Tetsujiro Ogata and Head Sushi Chef Tsutomu Kugota delight guests with wonderfully refining tasting menus and Japanese delicacies. Don’t miss the crispy asparagus lollipops!

Alpina Gstaad

At the spa we had time to use the state of the art facilities, from Himalayan salt room, sauna and cold plunge pool and of course the huge swimming pool. We were also treated to a rejuvenating massage, which sent me into a deep slumber! I woke up feeling completely refreshed, and was further soothed by ginger tea and dried fruit and nuts.

There are a variety of classes to get involved in at Alpina, I took part in a brilliantly taught Ying and Yang yoga class one morning, and also learnt to make face masks and intensely fragrant bath salts.

Alpina Gstaad

Breakfast was the feast for all the senses, either enjoyed in the room or at the Sommet dining room. I loved the freshly made juices, plump but light pancakes and delicious buttery pastries.

Alpina Gstaad

If you are feeling brave I recommend heading outdoors to the picturesque outdoor (heated) pool for a swim with the most magical surroundings. I also recommend saving some time to wander round the artwork at Alpina, there are many mesmerising pieces to see, exhibited throughout the building, including poignant photographs, striking paintings and a thoughtful installation with blind fish in the main lobby.

Alpina Gstaad

Our time at Alpina went by in a flash and before we knew it we were back on the retro emerald train heading back to reality and the chaos of city life. Whizzing past the epic Swiss countryside our time at Alpina Gstaad soon felt like a distant fairytale memory.

I can’t recommend this hotel enough, there is so much to entertain and excite inside even if you don’t intend going out of the slopes.

I was a guest of the Alpina Gstaad, more information and book a stay here.

Things to do in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is not a destination that has ever been top of my travel to do list, but I was more than happy to discover a little more about the capital city of the UAE, on a stopover between London and Seoul. Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven Emirates that form the UAE, and has become known as a destination that champions its heritage and showcases culture. It is an accessible size, so in just 3 days we managed to eat our way round the city, soak up the sun on the beach and wander round some incredibly impressive museums and mosques.

Abu Dhabi

To Stay

Rosewood Abu Dhabi – The Rosewood in Abu Dhabi is one of three hotels this luxury group has in the Middle East. In a destination where five-star hotels are plentiful and lavish it is hard to stand out, but the Rosewood does so effortlessly with understated and sophisticated style. The hotel is found on Al Maryah Island and is the proud home to several brilliant restaurants, including Cantonese, Lebanese and International eateries. There is also the beautifully serene Sense Spa and tropical outdoor pool area. Our suite for the night was a heavenly oasis of comfort, with every amenity and more. The bathroom was a real highlight with a huge tub overlooking the city.

Abu Dhabi

To Eat

Tashas – This brunch spot is a hit with the locals, and provided a nice break from eating in hotel restaurants. The cafe is an export from South Africa and offers fresh juices, coffee and generous brunch dishes. I loved my spicy scrambled eggs with avocado and toast.

Sambusek – Head to the Rosewood’s Lebanese restaurant Sambusak to sample the best meze in town. A vibrant menu captures the essence of Lebanon’s cuisine with the freshest seafood, marinated grilled meats and authentic salads and baked treats. We particularly loved the cheesy fatayer and flavoursome kibbeh, made with lamb.

Namak by Kunal Kapur – Located within the Dusit Thani Hotel this is the flagship Abu Dhabi restaurant for Indian master chef and tv personality Kunal Kapur. Despite the slightly tired interiors the food is exciting and imaginative. The lamb chops and chicken tikka tacos were both winning dishes, and I found the paneer butter masala curry addictively tasty.

Mirzam – Originating from Dubai, Mirzam is a boutique company producing high quality chocolate using single origin cocoa beans chosen for their unique flavour and quality. This shop recently opened at the historical site of Qasr Al Hosn and the shop is a lovely place to sit overlooking the city with a cup of flavoured hot (or cold) chocolate. I loved the chocolate and fell instantly in love with the colourful decorative packaging.

Abu Dhabi

To Drink

Hidden Bar – Gin enthusiasts should head straight to the Hidden Bar inside the Rosewood Hotel. This atmospheric bar serve their own flavoured gin infusions with tonic or you can choose to taste one of the 150 brands behind the bar.

Arabica % – When I visited the original Arabica % coffee shop in Kyoto I never imagined the company would grow so fast, and now they have 54 stores internationally. With shops on the Corniche and at Al Bateen the Emiratis seem to be loving the Arabica blends, with both venues seeming very busy. I visited every morning for my daily caffeine kick, and was very grateful to have somewhere to get such high quality coffee in Abu Dhabi.

The Espresso Lab –  This speciality coffee lab and roastery at Qasr Al Hosn takes coffee very seriously. Choose from filter coffee or espresso-based drinks, which use local beans rather than importing from around the world.

Abu Dhabi

To Do

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – I was in complete awe of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This stunning mosque is the third largest in the world, and can accommodate up to 41,000 worshippers. The mosque holds the world’s largest hand-woven carpet and the main crystal chandelier weighs 12 tons! It is free to visit, but I recommend booking in advance and taking the opportunity to do a guided tour which takes you to areas you wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

Qasr Al Watan – This incredible palace only opened in 2019, opened by  Sheikhs Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates) and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to celebrate the heritage of the country.

The Louvre – A  sibling to the famous Parisian museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibits exciting contemporary shows alongside an impressive permanent collection which includes work by Degas, Magritte and Manet. The building itself is also visually impressive, a structure inspired by the cupola (a distinctive feature in Arabic architecture), designed by architect Jean Nouvel.

Qasr al Hosn – This is the oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi and should be the first stop on any itinerary to get a basic understanding of UAE history. The city was built around this fort, and to me it felt like the centre of the city.

Abu Dhabi

Escape

Saadiyat Beach Club – Found on Abu Dhabi’s iconic Saadiyat island this luxury beach club is the perfect city escape for the day. Sit on the white sand beach or by the pool, or use the gym & spa facilities inside. The club serves a casual food and drinks menu to satisfy all your cravings. It was total bliss to spend a day chilling out in the sun here.