The Travel Post #17: Toro Yaka Lodge, Kruger

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Nestled in the heart of the Balule Game Reserve just outside the borders of the Kruger National Park, Toro Yaka Lodge is a little gem in the African Bush.  I was lucky enough to spend a few nights there at the end of last year and I nothing short of fell in love with the place.

Inspired with influences of the African culture, which surround it, owners Nicole and Steve Baillie have created an elegant and enchanting retreat that provides the perfect base to experience a South African safari.

The eight bedrooms are kitted out with an en suite, indoor and outdoor shower, double bed and air conditioning offering ultimate comfort whilst allowing you to still get a taste of authentic Africa.

The main lodge itself has also been specially designed to allow you to get as close to the wild as you can with plenty of open plan indoor and outdoor chill out areas including a pool, which overlooks the bush. This is a great place to spend your time in-between the day’s activities chatting to the Baillie family or the other guests over a Savanna from the honesty bar, or just hanging out with the baby of the lodge, Shinga the resident pup who is guaranteed to steal your heart. There are also regular visitors in camp including warthogs, bush babies and even a herd of elephants who had stopped by on the day of my arrival.

During your stay there are a number of activities you can take part in, the most popular being the game drives in the lodge’s open top jeep, which take place every morning and evening and last for around three hours a time (with a short break for coffee at sunrise and beers at sunset!) I’d recommend going on every single one – I went on seven during my stay and saw something different every time, including the breathtaking sight of lions on the hunt in a thunderstorm on my very last drive! Other ways to fill your time include bush walks, birding and massage treatments given by Nicole herself.

One of the standout features of Toro Yaka was the food, breakfast is made to order on return from the morning game drive and enjoyed round a large table with everyone from the lodge, lunch is served in your own private party and is a selection of fresh as you like salad, cold meats and mouthwateringly delicious fruit and dinner is something different every night, my favourite of which was the BBQ under the stars on the terrace.

Designed to offer all the luxuries of the big five star lodges, without the price tag, Toro Yaka has an intimate family feel that you would struggle to find at any of the bigger resorts and the attention to detail is second to none. One night there and you will feel like you are staying in your home away from home with your new adopted family. If you are considering heading off on safari, you will struggle to find better than this place. 

Rooms at Toro Yaka start from £75 pppn inc breakfast, lunch and dinner

*I received a reduced rate in exchange for a review, however all opinions are my own.
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The Lifestyle Post #28: Weekend Brunch at Andaz London

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You may remember that one of the favourite parts of my New York trip last year was the brunches (read more about that here!), so you can imagine I was pretty excited to be invited down to Andaz London, Liverpool Street to test out the new weekend brunch menu at their New York style brassiere, Eastway.

The menu offers a combination of traditional brunch classics alongside a few Andaz signature dishes, which are reminiscent of the big apple’s East Village whilst also showing influence from the quirky East London area in which the hotel is found.

The restaurant itself has an open airy feel, which creates a slightly more laid back vibe than the 5* luxury hotel next door. Weekend papers and large floor length windows spanning across one whole side of the room create the perfect spot to relax and look upon one of the city’s busiest business districts.

Upon arrival we were greeted by Ismael, who showed us to our table and gave us the all-important drinks menu to choose from. In true New York style, a boozy brunch is a must here with a whole host of refreshing cocktails on offer including bottomless cocktails for just £19 per person. They also offer a DIY Bloody Mary station, where you can create your own mixture from a range of flavoured vodkas for just a fiver.

With cocktails ordered (I opted for the super tasty Mango Grasshopper), it was now time to make our choice on food. With a bit of guidance from Ismael, I decided to go for what he assured me was one of their most popular signatures the Smashed Avocado and Salmon and, luckily for me, my friend Dana opted for the Crab Club Sandwich, which was the other dish that had caught my eye.

Both choices were seriously good, with flavour not being sacrificed for insta-worthy presentation. I particularly liked the lime infused avocado, which gave the dish a more refreshing taste, than your standard avocado breakies. We also helped ourselves to a selection from the spread of freshly baked bread and pastries, which are a complimentary extra with any brunch order.

Before we left, the Andaz team brought us over a little surprise in the form of their Jerry’s Banana pancakes, which are stacked with crispy bacon and Sailor Jerry’s rum infused maple syrup. As pancakes go they were, for sure, up there with some of the best I’ve tasted. Thick and fluffy they melted in my mouth and the warm gooey banana teamed with the syrup was a dream. Despite feeling like we were full enough to burst before the pancakes arrived, we quickly finished them off without a struggle.

For a slightly more upmarket feeling East London brunch than some of it’s Shoreditch counterparts, Andaz London really impressed. Great service, a varied menu and quirky touches like the complimentary pastries and make your own cocktail station make it a great spot for a special occasion or a weekend treat.

*I was invited to Andaz London on a complimentary basis in exchange for a review, however all opinions are my own
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The Travel Post #16: Hoxton Hotel, Shoreditch

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Described as offering a “no bull” experience – The Hoxton's three trendy hotels claim to show that style doesn’t need to be sacrificed for value. During a recent weekend exploring East London, I checked in for a night at the original of the three, The Hoxton, Shoreditch to test out the theory.

I had heard only good things and the first impression certainly lived up to expectation, with a large, very swanky, yet still very hipster looking lobby welcoming me. The area is made up of cosy leather adorned seating areas, complete with chandeliers and grandeur fireplaces, some pretty impressive looking bookshelves and the hotel’s very own coffee bar. Not to mention the inclusion of a retro looking photobooth.

Also downstairs is the Hoxton Grill, a restaurant serving up classic American favourites, which also doubles up as a popular hotspot for the East London elite with a great range of cocktails and guest DJs on the weekend.

As for the bedroom itself, I tested out one of their cosy doubles, and just as described it epitomised simple and stylish. The vintage décor was coordinated with crisp white, comfy bedding and the mini bar was minimally stocked with complimentary bottled water and fresh milk for your morning coffee. A huge mirror and a roomy rainmaker shower also gave the bathroom a touch of luxury and the room was packed with the essential practicalities: Free wifi, plenty of plug sockets and an actual full length mirror in the bedroom.

A couple of additional touches that really impressed was the fold away pocket guide to East London that you can find in every room, which tells you all the best quirky places in the area to eat, drink, shop and be entertained and the breakfast in a bag consisting of a granola pot and fresh orange juice delivered to your door at your chosen time. (For the full English lovers, you can head down to the Hoxton Grill to get your hands on a more hearty breakfast for an additional cost.)

Even if you aren’t sleeping over, the Hoxton has an ongoing programme of eclectic events taking place both at the hotel and in some of the partner venues. Hoxtown, as the programme is known, is comprised of a range of different talks and workshops with everything from braiding tutorials to social media tips being covered.

Found in the heart of one of London’s trendiest areas, the Hoxton has all the laid back East London cool you would expect, with an added touch of sophistication which makes it stand out from some of the more bohemian venues in the area. And with rooms starting from roughly £120 for a double, it does so at a more than reasonable price. A great base from which to explore one of my favourite parts of the city.

*I was offered a complimentary stay at The Hoxton, Shoreditch in exchange for a review, however all opinions are my own

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The Travel Post #15: Brody House, Budapest

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Located in Budapest’s up and coming 8th district, Brody House is the epitome of ‘achingly cool’. Its grandeur feel and pockets of shabby chic design make clear why it has come to be known as one of the trendiest places to stay in the capital. Found on the pest side just ten minutes walk from the majority of the main sights including St Stephen’s Basillica, it is also within close proximity to Budapest’s Jewish Quarter, which is home to a wealth of stylish restaurants and cafes, not to mention the city’s famous string of “Ruin Bars”. 

With only 11 rooms, all of which are originally designed and named after a particular artist whose works will often appear in what was their former studios, there is an intimate vibe to the place that you won’t find in any hotel chain. We stayed in the Print Suite, which was home to a combination of exposed walls, vintage up cycled furniture and a state of the art shower, which worked together to offer an ideal mix of quirky and luxury to chill out in after a day exploring.  The beds are some of the comfiest I’ve slept in and the high ceilings and boutiquey feel give the whole place a certain air of peaceful elegance, making it the perfect retreat from one of the most happening parts of the capital.

And speaking of places to chill, the lounge and breakfast rooms are stunning, echoing the imaginative design of the bedrooms with leather sofas, bespoke artwork and a roaring fire in the evenings making you want to build in time in your itinerary just to relax there. The hotel also runs an honesty bar service throughout the day, meaning you can help yourself to the complimentary tea or a glass of Hungarian red while you snack on the nibbles they also provide free of charge in the afternoons.

For breakfast you can choose from an unlimited continental spread for around £6 or choose something off the menu. I went for Eggs Benedict, which was delicious – although not the most filling. I’d suggest a better option would be to enjoy a coffee in the breakfast room before heading out to one Budapest’s popular brunch spots in the Jewish Quarter nearby.

If you are really a fan of the hotel (and trust me you will be), you can also head over to the Brody Studios, a private members club which is a combination of creative spaces housing live gigs, DJ sets, fashion pop-ups and art happenings throughout the year.

With prices starting at just £60 per night for a double room, this is by far one of the best value hotels I’ve stayed in and the friendly and approachable staff are a great source of knowledge for the best kept secrets of a super cool city. Budapest should certainly be on your 2016 city break lust list and if it is you would be crazy to give this place a miss.

*I was offered a discounted rate in exchange for a review, however all opinions are my own. 
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