Emeraude Classic Cruise to Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay is a must for most travellers visiting Vietnam, but choosing the best tour can be a challenge with a lack of genuine information online. Steer well clear of the cheap and unsafe options and sail the turquoise waters in style aboard the Emeraude.

In 2003 the Emeraude started operating, offering overnight excursions to the UNESCO World Heritage site with entertainment and gourmet food onboard. The classic cruiser is a replica of a 1920s French paddle steamer that sailed around the famous bay nearly 100 years ago.

After a three-hour drive from Hanoi we were delighted to arrive at the private pier, ready to embark and set sail. The vintage style boat is decorated in a French colonial style with glossy dark wood and antique features. There are 34 luxury cabins and three suites on board, each with its own en-suite bathroom and air-conditioning.

I felt very lucky to be staying in the Paul Roque suite, located at the front of the boat with a private balcony. Inside the rooms are old-fashioned and grand, with big comfortable beds and green-tiled bathrooms with showers and all necessary amenities. There were plenty of windows letting in natural light and showcasing the beautiful scenery.

At the start of the journey each guest is provided with an itinerary, listing a varied assortment of bay excursions and boat activities. Hiring kayaks and massages are also available at extra cost. Most of the time is spent leisurely cruising amongst hundreds of islets, on the calmest waters I have ever experienced.

After a welcome cocktail and a delicious Vietnamese buffet lunch we stopped at our first destination of the trip, Sung Sot Grotto. These magnificent limestone caves provide an eerie and magical walk. Escorted by our Emeraude guide we learnt about the intriguing rock formations and found the best photo spots for postcard views across the bay.

Next we enjoyed crepes and a visit to a local pearl farm before it was time for a brief cooking demonstration on deck. A shy chef carefully showed us how to perfect the art of fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. We trialed the technique and tasted the results, while our teacher effortlessly carved swans out of tomatoes!

That night a smart European dinner was served; we enjoyed delicious dishes like creamy pepper beef and a range of sophisticated salads, soups and desserts. Optional squid fishing off the back of the boat didn’t seem to be a popular activity, but we had a go for a little while before the chilly temperatures sent us running back inside. For those still awake, a moonlight screening of Indochine is a lovely way to end the day. I was mesmerised as the film showed images of the iconic bay of islands that surrounded us in the darkness.

The still and serene waters meant it was easy to get a good night’s sleep in the luxurious beds, but we were up early for an al fresco sunrise Tai Chi class. Before a hearty breakfast we were taken on a bamboo boat ride through Luon Cave to an isolated clearing where we spotted golden monkeys hanging from the foliage.

Many wish to just tick Halong Bay off their bucket list, but Emeraude cruises offers the opportunity to relish every moment of the journey with luxurious accommodation, informative staff and a range of interesting activities and experiences.

More information and book a trip with Emeraude Classic Cruises here.

Rendezvous Hotel, Palm Springs

The retro Rendezvous Hotel perfectly suits its hip desert location in Palm Springs. This 1950s style hotel only has 10 rooms, each decorated around an appropriate Californian theme. The rooms surround a central pool and Jacuzzi, which is used every evening for complimentary cocktails. There is also a bar and firepit should you wish to spend an evening outdoors by the pool.

The area of Palm Springs is known for its celebrity inhabitants and it is no secret that Marilyn Monroe used to stay at the Rendezvous Hotel. Her preferred room is now named ‘Pretty in Pink’ after her, and is designed with the blonde bombshell in mind.

I was in Route 66 bedroom, an homage to the famous highway with vintage automobile memorabilia on the walls. Quirky and yet luxurious the characterful rooms are thoughtful and very comfortable. The bed was dressed with some of the softest sheets I have ever felt, the bathroom featured a large Jacuzzi style bath, and high quality Bee Kind toiletries. Each day freshly baked treats are left on the bedside table, and the fridge is stocked full of unlimited complimentary soft drinks.

Three course set breakfast is served every morning in the small dining room. The friendly chefs serve a range of treats from strawberry smoothies, freshly made pancakes and blueberry coulis, and yoghurt parfait with granola and fruit.

When you want to venture out into the desert Rendezvous have bikes (free to rent) and the friendly management team are keen to offer city suggestions for tours and restaurants to try.

Fun and fabulous, Rendezvous Hotel is the perfect place to stay to get you in the mood for a Palm Springs adventure.

More information and book a room at Rendezvous Hotel here.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 271

Earlier this week I visited Marseille for a weekend, and was delighted to find a few unique little shops that I wanted to tell you about. This southern French city is big and particularly popular with tourists during the summer months. The Eurostar has recently introduced a direct service from London and so I predict the destination will see a lot more British tourists in the coming years.

chez lucas

Chez Lucas – this den of salvaged French vintage items is great fun to explore. From 1950s school maps to retro glassware, you will find everything you could need to make a perfectly old-fashioned French home. Prices are reasonable and the owner may even let you bargain him down.

Manufactures Françaises – this is a new boutique outpost of Maison Empereur, the popular French concept store in Marseille. The shop is found in Panier, the oldest district of the city and is instantly alluring from the street. This little treasure trove only opened in April stocking a range of traditional, design-focussed products including colognes, soaps, homeware, straw hats, smocks and old games.

Marseille shop

La Grande Savonnerie – The city of Marseille is famous for its soap, though only a few authentic shops remain.  La Grande Savonnerie is one of the best, and customers are able to personalise their bars of soap with their own message. Opt for the traditional flavour, Savon de Marseille made from olive oil and other natural ingredients.