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Rotterdam: Exploring Amsterdam’s ‘hipster sister’

People who live in Rotterdam have an interesting way of explaining the differences between themselves and their two neighbours. “Amsterdam spends the money; The Hague saves the money; and Rotterdam earns the money.”

What Kim, Rotterdam resident and my guide for the day, was illustrating over a coffee on a crisp, sunny, morning is that Rotterdam is where things are happening, where hotels and businesses are not only opening but thriving and where people in the city are actively making it a better and smarter place to live.

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Luchtsingel footbridge

Take, for example, Luchtsingel. The north and the south of the city used to be divided by a busy highway that was surrounded by bellowing grey concrete walls. The public wanted a more attractive connection between the two sides of the city and one where children could play and feel safe. A proposal was put forward for a footbridge, which was deemed too expensive by the council.

What followed was a crowdfunded campaign to raise money for the bridge that would be designed by local architects and give a significant face lift to the area. Residents and local businesses all poured their money in and the bridge was built. Made from 17,000 planks of wood, each piece has a contributors name carved into it. And, the design is resounding. The bright yellow walkway takes pedestrians over the traffic onto one of the best known streets in Rotterdam, Coolsingel, which is where my day of exploring began.

Our first stop was Schieblock, an office tower that once posed an intimidating shadow over the area before the
footbridge and newly planted trees lit the place up. The outside is run down but its location at the foot of Coolsingel, an area I am told is like “that Shoreditch place in London”, has seen a number of start-ups and tech companies move in, transforming its interior into a modern working environment. We hopped into the lift, slid the shutters behind us and rose to the top floor as I wondered when Shoreditch gained international status.

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Schieblock, Rotterdam’s highest rooftop garden

We exited and climbed a flight of stairs onto the rooftop where I could see almost all of Rotterdam. The towering World Trade Centre building reflected the sunlight onto the Rhine River, which is hurdled by a number of impressive bridges and on a clear day, and at a squint, the spikes of the The Hague skyline can be spotted on the horizon.

Walking around the corner I realised why we paid Schieblock a visit as my eyes were taken off the city and onto row after row of thick and tall greenery. This happened to be Rotterdam’s largest rooftop garden. Growing from dozens of beds of soil were plants and vegetables, some stretching well into the sky, while others were quietly attended to at their gardener’s feet. The wall I leant on was part of an extension, no bigger than a small cafe, with large windows that let the morning’s sun pour in. The space can fit roughly 20 people or less for small meetings, lunches or even drinks receptions while the sun sets, creating a perfect space for delegates to unearth one of Rotterdam’s best hidden gems.

We dropped back down to ground level and made our way up the Coolsingel and through the city centre where the city’s mixed and sometimes peculiar design really comes to life.

During World War II, large parts of Rotterdam were completely flattened, meaning much of the city had to be rebuilt. This came at an interesting time as the Industrial Revolution meant new resources and materials were at the city’s disposal, which became a cradle for the new Dutch Modernism movement and its most esteemed architects. This gave Rotterdam a head start when it came to Europe’s urban renewal in the 70’s and De Rotterdam, the stunning Markthal, and the new Rotterdam Centraal station are examples of how the city has continued to lead the way in this century, as well.

After crossing the enormous Erasmus Bridge, I gawped at the enormous De Rotterdam, the largest building in the Netherlands, and perhaps the most bizarre. De Rotterdam is three disjointed towers that look like giant rectangular building blocks have clumsily been dropped on top of one another. They hover perilously over the edge and it seems like a strong gust of wind could topple the entire thing into the Rhine River.

De Rotterdam and the Rhine River

De Rotterdam and the Rhine River

Inside one of the towers is the 278-room nhow Rotterdam hotel, which includes selection of meeting rooms and an outdoor terrace perched 30m above the water. Art and architecture have combined to make this not only one of the city’s coolest hangout spots, but one of the trendiest hotels to spend a night or two in. And, it has competition.

The nearby 72-room Hotel New York is a bustling boutique, which sits inside the former head office of Holland America Line where thousands of emigrants once left for North America. It also happens to serve some of the best seafood in the city. The Inntel Hotels Rotterdam Centre looks across the river at the nhow and inside is one of the most breathtaking event spaces in the city where a two-storey meeting room leans over the river from the top floor. The nhow hosts pop ups throughout the year, showcasing urban art, fashion and photography all done at the hands of local talent.

The tour ended on board the SS Rotterdam, an iconic 1950s transatlantic ocean liner that saw Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald perform on its stage on a number of occasions during its heyday. Since anchoring permanently, it has been reinvented as a 250-room hotel, with conference facilities for up to 500. Aside from several necessary renovations – and a much needed paint job after former American owners decided to pain the ship jet black, the SS Rotterdam still emits that feeling of grandeur and amongst the city’s many modern and boutique venues, it offers an inviting blast to the past.

Our scrumptious lunch of chicken and vegetables (and chips and mayonaise, because of course) was enjoyed on the ship’s Lido Terrace and we toasted Rotterdam’s rare sunshine, although the deck’s shallow pool will have to be enjoyed another time.

Taking on the world in Switzerland

swissfourThis July saw a competitive start, as C&I Traveller joined a team of meeting   professionals to take on countries from around the world in pursuit of the Switzerland Meetings Trophy 2015.

The trip started on 2 July with an early morning flight from Heathrow to Zurich. After some quick introductions, Team GB embarked on a tour of Zurich. The quirky city impressed us with its mix of historical and new and its mountain backdrop. We were especially impressed with the abundance of drinking fountains around and we certainly needed the cool down, as the tour took place in over 33 degree sunshine!

Later, after a trip in our own first class train carriage, we arrived in Lucerne, my personal favourite city of the visit. Team GB and some infiltrators from the Netherlands escaped the rest of the party for a quick dip in the lake, before hurrying back to the hotel to change for our welcome reception and buffet dinner at the Art Deco Hotel Montana. It was an enjoyable evening where all the teams (GB, North America, Russia, France, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries, Belgium and Germany) were able to relax and get to know each other, as well as enjoy dinner and bubbly. The best part was the breathtaking views, as the hotel is set into the cliff, overlooking the lake and mountains beyond. (Luckily there is also a lift in the cliff to take you up there too.)

swissthreeOn day two, the teams took on Lucerne, exploring the city while answering questions on the sites we saw. It was a pleasant way to get to know the area, and the added challenge of a pedalo race on the lake against all the other teams increased the competitive atmosphere (team GB came third – not thanks to the German team trying to tug our boat backwards).

Later in the morning, we all boarded a boat to Alpnachstad, enjoying the mountain scenery as we headed towards Mount Pilatus. Upon disembarking, the teams travelled by cogwheel to the top of the mountain, celebrating with a refreshing iced tea, 2132m above sea level. We travelled part way down the mountain for a BBQ lunch, before facing each other in activities including tightrope walking, bugel blowing and mountain goat toppling (not as easy as it sounds). We then travelled down the mountain by cable car to prepare for a dinner in the Lucerne Museum of Transport.

swisstwoThe museum was definitely a novel place to eat dinner, surrounded by planes, cars and train carriages from years before. The first day results were announced over dinner, and Team GB found ourselves in a healthy third place (and certainly held the loudest celebrations).

The third day of the trip saw us leaving Lucerne, and travelling to Bern by car (the quickest team members managed to get a spot in the convertibles). Enroute to Bern, we stopped off at Emmental (well-known for cheese) and enjoyed a fondue lunch at the Emmental Visitor Dairy. We also took part in a giant cheese rolling competition (which Team GB failed spectacularly at the first time round, but was able to wrangle a second go).

When enough cheese was had by all, we headed on to Bern, and explored the city by scooter on a few more final challenges, including chocolate tasting (what a struggle).

swissTeam GB were impressed by our hotel later that night, the Hotel Schweizerhof Bern, and enjoyed a visit to the hotel spa before getting ready for the final evening’s dinner at the Schwellenmaetteli on the river.

We had a champagne reception and barbecue dinner before the winner was announced – sadly not Team GB. Instead we toasted a Russian victory, and enjoyed a party going on late into the night.

Dubrovnik in a day

Delegate downtime can be a rare occurrence during a meeting or conference, so if you find yourself in Dubrovnik, Croatia with a morning or afternoon to spare, here’s a few ideas of how to make the most of it.

The Old City of Dubrovnik

Images of the rolling ginger rooftops surrounded by a vast blue ocean have become almost iconic for wanderlust travellers everywhere. However, the jewel in the Adriatic’s crown has been to hell and back on more than one occasion. A major earthquake flattened the city in 1667 and, in the early 90’s, armed conflict left it fire swept and decimated.

(© istockphoto.com)

(© istockphoto.com)

Great care has been taken to restore the houses, monasteries and churches that span the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods and today, as an UNESCO World Heritage site, remains an absolute marvel.

Within the Old City’s towering ramparts is an enormous selection of restaurants, bars, cafes and, in part to an Italian influence from the west, ice cream parlours. Visitors will never be far from a good pizza place or a sweet shop either. Naturally, fish is top of the bill on most menus. Restaurant Kopun, which can sit groups of up to 90 people in its shaded outdoor area, takes influence from Italian, Austrian, Turkish and Hungarian, as well as Croatian, serving a range of meat and seafood dishes. The restaurant is named after its signature dish of castrated cockerel cooked in honey and wild orange – a new C&I Traveller favourite!

Between eating and drinking, visitors can take a tour of the old churches and palaces, which includes Dubrovnik Cathedral. Legend goes that Richard the Lionheart built the cathedral in 1192 to thank God for saving his life after he was shipwrecked in a storm on the neighbouring Lokrum Island. He originally intended to build the church where his ship met its end but the cunning leaders of the city wanted it within their city walls, which is exactly where it stands today.

Lokrum Island

A 15-minute boat journey is all it takes to visit the island where Richard the Lionheart supposedly found himself stranded. Unlike the legend suggests, the island is a place of tranquility and nature and is perfect destination to complement the bustling and touristy Old City.

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View of Dubrovnik from Lokrum Island

No tour guides or rigid itinerary is needed here. Travellers to the island should take their time to discover the forest via its dirt paths, visiting the several pebble beaches and open green parks. Don’t be alarmed to hear greetings from several un-clothed sun bathers – a nudist beach lies on the south of the island.

Despite being only 600 metres from the city, Lokrum Island is free of inhabitants. That is unless you count the colourful and feathered residents that can be heard howling sporadically at one another like sirens from other sides of the island. Throughout the day, peacocks roam under the shade of the trees and are happy to share their island with visitors. Bring swimwear or bring a book but please remember sunscreen; the hours can easily fly passed without any notice.

Dubrovnik Cable Car to Srd Hill

Without doubt, the best view of the city can be found atop Srd Hill. Visitors can reach the summit via Dubrovnik’s Cable Car, which made its first trip up the hill in 1969. The trip begins just outside the walls of the Old City and can carry groups of up to 30 people 778 metres above the city in less than four minutes. As the car begins to climb, views stretch from opposite ends of the city, with the Old City perched in the middle.

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A restaurant, viewing platform and a dedicated events venue can be found beside the upper station of Srd Hill for groups to enjoy. The open-top Amphitheatre can host groups of up to 120 delegates for meetings and drinks receptions overlooking Dubrovnik. A variety of fun activities also await groups on the hilltop such as quad biking and hiking.

Singapore: Four cultural highlights

With Singapore celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence this year, these four cultural experiences give a flavour of the island’s colourful past and present.

Singapore

Singapore Botanic Gardens: Located a few minutes away from bustling Orchard Road, the Botanic Gardens, opened in 1859, is Singapore’s oldest garden and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July. The site includes the National Orchid Garden, with more than 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids on display, including orchids named in honour of State visitors and other VIPs. The Cool House, a tropical highland cloud forest, provides a welcome respite from the heat. There are several venues within the Gardens that can be used for groups, including Burkill Hall, a restored two-storey colonial house overlooking the National Orchid Garden. It can host up to 80 on one level and 100 on the second level for events.

Mount Faber: For panoramic views of Singapore’s business district, head to Mount Faber, a hill located 100 metres above the sea, and enjoy a typical Singapore-style breakfast at Spuds & Aprons restaurant. Located on top of the hill, the venue opened an alfresco dining space in May 2014, which seats up to 250. There is also an indoor space for 70 for dinner or 100 for cocktails. Visitors can also enjoy some stunning views by riding the Singapore Cable Car between Faber Peak and Sentosa Island.

Images of Singapore Live: The attraction, located on Sentosa Island, charts the history of Singapore from 1819 to the present day. It reopened in March this year, with the inclusion of live actors and special effects to create a more immersive experience. The attraction includes the ‘Spirit of Singapore’ boat ride, which takes visitors on a leisurely trip through ‘sights’ including a tropical Singaporean garden, the F1 Singapore night race and the Singapore flyer.

Singapore runaround: Experience a tour of the city as locals do, via riverboats, subway and trishaws, exploring key neighbourhoods including Little India, Arab Street, the Singapore River and Clarke Quay. Groups can also combine the tour with a visit to the Peranakan Museum, housed in a former school, which has a comprehensive and impressive collection of artefacts from Peranakan culture, highlighting Chinese, Malay and Indian heritage.

Four London venues you HAVE to check out this summer

With a supposed heat wave on its way to the British Isles this week, C&I Traveller checks out the best outdoor event spaces set to be the talk of the town this summer.

The Sterling, at The Gherkin

Whilst the party has typically been at the top of one of London’s most iconic skyline haunts for years, Late Night London’s The Sterling bar and restaurant will tempt groups to stay at ground level this summer.

Located directly at the foot of The Gherkin, the venue has a vast outdoor seating and standing area where groups of up to 300 can enjoy a range of cocktails, wines, champagnes, beers and ciders.

The venue is fronted with large glass panes mirroring The Gherkin’s unique triangular design concept, pouring light onto the venue’s ground floor and upstairs dining areas. Events requiring a more formal setting can be hosted indoors with space for between 300 and 350 for standing and seating.

sterling 2

The menu on offer works excellently for casual events and private gatherings wanting to dine al fresco. The hand-pulled pizzettas and cheese and Spanish meat boards are delicious whilst lighter snacks range from homemade pork scratchings to the extremely tempting peanut butter and coconut chicken skewers.

Bar staff are also on hand to deliver cocktail masterclasses for larger groups, teaching them the skills to try out new and interesting combos and to add a fun addition to the party.

Queen of Hoxton, East London

In the space of the last few years, East London has spawned some of London’s most interesting and innovative venues and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of rest. Laying slightly off the beaten track is the Queen of Hoxton, which on approach looks like another typical ‘Shorditch-y’ bar.

However, passers by craning their neck up to the top of the five-storey building will just be able to catch a glimpse of the tips of a white teepee. Head through the doors and up the stairs and one of the best rooftop bars in London that no one knew was there awaits.

The Queen of Hoxton rooftop bar explodes into life between May and September, becoming one of East London’s most exciting outdoor venues. The rooftop transforms into the ‘Smokin’ Graciela’s Rooftop Bar,’ a South American theme inspired by the Afro-Cuban, cigar-smoking singer Graciela, known as the First Lady of Latin Jazz.

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Multi-coloured benches and quirky seating arrangements litter the large outdoor decking whilst a sawn-in-half vintage blue convertible lurks in the corner.

The rooftop is available for private hire from Monday through to Thursday evening and Friday daytime, with capacity for groups between 60 and 250.

The venue also offers a range of Cuban-themed workshops perfect for groups wanting to immerse themselves in this cool and colourful setting. Activities include cigar & rum pairings, domino nights – a famous past time in Cuba, craft workshops with renowned artists, tie-dye classes and Cuban cocktail masterclasses.

Building Six, at The O2, North Greenwich

The wind and the rain couldn’t stop more than 200 event professionals making their way to the relaunch of one of London’s hottest summer venues last month and Building Six at The O2 certainly lived up to the hype.

Building Six has developed into a renowned nightclub venue, hosting some the UK’s most popular club nights with three floors welcoming up to 3,000 people. Whilst the venue’s indoor space can be hired for private events, ranging from large scale standing receptions to sit-down dinners for 300, the outdoor terrace will be the place to party at The O2 this summer.

Terrace 2

Groups can hire the 700 capacity terrace venue for summer BBQs and with exclusive eight hour use the party can last long into the night. The focal point of the terrace is its bar, which serves unlimited house wine, beer and soft drinks as part of the package. Two BBQ stalls and a mixture of bowl and finger food items should keep delegates well fed throughout the evening.

BMA House, Central London

A grand, grade II listed building with a proud history and literary heritage has plenty going on on the summer party scene to rival the new kids on the block.

Designed by famed British architect Edward Lutyens and the former home of Charles Dickens, BMA House includes a multitude of event spaces ranging from small to large and historic to modern.

However, its two outdoor spaces, The Garden and The Courtyard, will be the main attraction over the next few months.

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The foundations of Dickens’ former home, where he lived from 1851 to 1860, can be found in The Garden and can host groups of up to 90 people for standing buffets and cocktail receptions. The towering greenery decorates the red brick walls that shade the garden, creating a peaceful setting ideal for smaller groups.

The venue’s second outdoor space is The Courtyard, which houses two memorials commemorating the members of the British Medical Association who died in the First and Second World War.

The intricately designed Gates of Remembrance, which is dedicated to the 574 members of the British Medical Association who died in the First World War, welcomes delegates into The Courtyard where the fountain and surrounding statues make the centerpiece of the outdoor venue. The 1,056sqm Courtyard hosts 320 for a standing reception and BBQ, which can be enjoyed as part of the venue’s Midsummer Night’s package.

The Belfry, a return to form

£26m is a lot of money. Well, that goes without saying. In footballing terms, it could buy one-sixth of Lionel Messi. In the hospitality industry however, this sum can turn a tired Midlands resort into one of the UK’s most luxurious properties. Just ask The Belfry.

The-Belfry-Hotel-&-Resort

Owners of the 319-room West Midlands property, which sits less than ten miles from Birmingham International Airport and Birmingham city centre, decided to invest heavily to restore the luxury hotel and golf resort that has hosted the Ryder Cup more times than any other venue in the world, and in doing so closing its doors to guests for more than a year.

So, where’s the money gone? A full refurbishment of the 319 guestrooms and the 21 conference and event spaces, a new restaurant, an impressive lobby bar, a £1m spa and a restoration to the exterior of the building. The hotel is almost unrecognisable to the property that stood prior to 2013.

Since reopening, The Ryder Grill has become extremely popular amongst non-guests coming from the Midlands and beyond and both wine and food menus make for great reading. For meat lovers will inevitably throw their eyes straight onto the restaurant’s impressive grill section. Despite not having reached its first birthday yet, The Ryder Grill’s Surf And Turf (that’s steak, lobster, chips and cauliflower cheese!!! ) has all but been written into West Midlands folklore.

Both a perfect pre and post venue to the restaurant is the Brabazon champagne bar, located opposite the lobby and, with its hypnotic mint green decor and glass ceiling pouring light on its vast collection of spirits, an instant draw for arriving guests. A glass of Laphroaig Single Malt Whisky is the perfect follower to anything off the Grill’s menu.

The stunning Brabazon Bar

The Brabazon Bar

The bar is arguably just as popular for its afternoon tea service, where sandwiches, cakes, scones and pastries are racked up so high they’re almost out of reach. The service used to run three days a week until paying customers decided that this simply wouldn’t do and it now runs all week long, keeping renowned in-house pastry chef Dean Cole very busy.

Guests will be forgiven for having their eye on one thing and one thing only. Even after a multi-million pound refurbishment, the main attraction remains its three 18-hole golf courses, in particular the world renowned Brabazon. Although unofficially being termed the ‘spiritual home of the Ryder Cup,’ a trickier course is the PGA National and The Derby is just as testing.

Golfers will enjoy staying in one of The Belfry’s 11 renovated Signature Suites as each room looks out onto the PGA Championship and The Brabazon golf courses. The three Manor House Suites are the ultimate in luxury at The Belfry and also have views directly onto the putting green.

After only one night’s stay in The new-look Belfry, it is clear to see what £26m affords and all will agree that the return to form of a golfing and luxury hotel behemoth is a fantastic triumph for C&I industry.

Athens: a city of contrasts

acropolis

The Parthenon has stood atop the Acropolis of Athens for nearly 2,500 years, and is arguably a big draw for visitors to the Greek capital. Despite this prime attraction, the city of Athens has had a few bumpy years of late when it comes to tourism, with political turbulence having had a severe impact on the numbers of business and leisure visitors, and many C&I groups opting to head elsewhere.

Perceptions are slowly starting to change, however, and for the better, if this year’s Travel Trade Athens event is anything to go by. The city of Athens annual travel trade workshop, held for the third year running, took place on 26 and 27 April at the Megaron Athens International Conference Centre and welcomed its largest group of attendees to date, with several returning from the previous year but with many more first-time registrants making up the numbers. The Mayor of Athens, Yorgos Kaminis, estimated that around 3,000 business meetings would take place between buyers and suppliers. This year there were 88 buyers in attendance from 26 countries, with 22 of these C&I specialists and 190 suppliers. According to Kaminis, buyer numbers have increased by 20% since the first show was held in 2013.

At the show, Kaminis said that he felt very optimistic in promoting Athens as a destination for conferences. He said the country has been able to reverse negative sentiment, with tourism levels starting to stabilise in late 2013, and an increase in arrivals to the destination recorded in 2014. For its part, Athens Convention and Visitors’ Bureau is putting together a tourist package with the aim of promoting the city as one of the most popular city breaks in the world.

On the C&I front, one of the most hotly-anticipated openings (to be fair, there have not been that many in recent years but this is expected to change) will be that of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, an oasis of calm (once construction is complete) in the south of the city that will provide plenty of open space, a new home for the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece, as well as meeting space for events. It is expected to open in spring 2016 and a visit to the site appeared to show construction plans on track.

There was plenty of networking to be had at the event – with buyers offered a choice of fam trips including a visit to the city’s cultural highlights, with a stop at the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum and visits to the islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina. Site inspections for C&I buyers were carried out at a number of venues, including the Metropolitan Expo near Athens International Airport, the Vorres Museum, Divani Apollon Palace & Spa Hotel and Astir Palace Resort, both located in Vouliagmeni by the coast.

A snapshot of Lisbon

The city that rolls on seven hills has much to offer for groups.

Where to stay

EPIC SANA Hotel is located barely a 20-minute walk from Lisbon city centre and has become one of the city’s most popular venues for events due to its impressionable style, expansive meeting facilities and spacious rooms (not to mention the incredible view of Lisbon from its rooftop pool). In addition to its 291 rooms, there are a further five junior suites; 12 deluxe suites; two diplomatic suites and one presidential suite. The hotel also offers 1,700sqm of event space across 14 rooms, with free wifi.

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Poolside at the EPIC SANA Hotel

A five-minute walk towards the city centre is the 331-room InterContinental Lisboa. The property includes 12 meeting rooms for up to 450 delegates, as well as a restaurant and free wifi throughout. In January, Orange used the hotel for its overflow of delegates at its European sales kick-off conference at the EPIC SANA Hotel. The mobile telecoms giant revealed to C&IT that it will be returning to both properties for its 2016 conference, following to the success event.

Where to eat

A Travessa is one Lisbon’s most sought after dining spots and its surroundings and architecture will leave a lasting impression on groups for sure. The restaurant is housed inside a 17th century convent and is lucky to still be there today after it was left barely standing when an earthquake decimated the city in 1755. It was rebuilt three years later and in 2001 it received a complete refurbishment before its unveiling as a fine dining venue. For groups wanting a taste of Portugal in one of Lisbon’s most popular and characteristic nightspots, then A Travessa should be at the top of the list.

Leaving Lisbon without sampling Pasteis de Belem bakery’s legendary pastel de natas would be criminal. If you can’t get any for your delegates then make sure you hop up to the city’s Old Town to take home as many as you can carry.

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Chefs at Pasteis de Belem hard at work

What to see

Scan Lisbon’s skyline and towering above any high rise is Castelo de São Jorge, situated in the old medieval area of the city. The steep walls bordering The National Monument to this day remain as guards to the castle itself, as well as the ruins of the former royal palace and the weathered neighbourhood where the elite of the city once resided. Views stretch above the city and beyond the 25th April Bridge, which is guarded by Lisbon’s own version of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, Cristo Rei, before finishing on the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. The walk up to the castle adds to the sight seeing experience but trams and local transport are on hand if you decide against tackling the cobbled hills.

A Finnish Lapland experience

Located on the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland, famed for being the home of Santa Claus. That’s about as much as I knew about the destination ahead of a fam trip hosted by The DMC Advantage and Arctic Incentives by Lapland Safaris. I was joined by event planners from agencies including Shore Events, Inception Global, River Marketing, BI Worldwide, TMB Marketing & Events, Adding Value and CMM.

We left Heathrow on 11 March and two flights later, via Helsinki, we arrived in Rovaniemi. Having turned up with the biggest suitcase among the group, packed with clothes for winter climes, I realised I needn’t have bothered. After landing, we had a quick and painless transfer to Lapland Safaris’ offices in town to collect our thermals and snow suits, ensuring we were all suited and booted to deal with even the most extreme of weathers. Needless to say, we had pretty mild weather for Lapland when we were there (-6 degrees at most) but as all event planners know, preparation is key.

A 30-minute journey in the twilight through a forest took us to Bear’s Den, a wilderness cabin that can comfortably host up to 40 for dinner or 70 if you want to get very, very cosy with your fellow travellers. There are also five rooms that can accommodate up to 10. The décor, inspired heavily by taxidermy, added to the rustic feel and we had our first taste of Finnish culture with their take on mulled wine – hot ligonberry with a dash of vodka.

The Finns love their saunas and it’s easy to see why at Bear’s Den. Even with the sub-zero temperatures (okay, it wasn’t that cold), we dutifully tramped across the snow in our slippers and robes to the sauna, housed in a log cabin. The hardest decision on the way in was whether to sample some Finnish beer or the Hartwall Original Long Drink, a ready-mixed drink that was developed for the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. The sauna at Bear’s Den is pretty special – with a frozen lake down a snowy path for those who really want to experience an extreme of temperatures. One by one, we each had a quick dunk in the freezing water before retreating – and running on ice to the heat of the sauna.

Dinner was an amazing three-course feast featuring artichoke soup, reindeer with red wine sauce and a white chocolate pudding. We checked into the City Hotel later that evening.

Day two was another early start but none of us really minded as we were being let loose on an ice track at Snow Rally Rings, a 40-minute drive from Rovaniemi. With rally cars, civilian cars, ice karts, snowmobiles and quad bikes to choose from, we quite happily spun around on the ice for a couple of hours.

In the afternoon, we visited Lapland Hotel Bear’s Lodge and the Arctic Snowhotel & Glass Igloos, which offers a snow sauna built entirely of snow, before heading to Levi, a two-hour drive away, our base for the following two nights.

Three of the best ways to experience Mauritius

Rally in Mini convertibles
With the weather pushing 29 degrees, a three-hour rally around the west part of the island in Mini convertibles was an easy sell. After an early morning departure from Trou Au Biches resort, we gathered in the hotel’s car park and split into three groups, armed with some detailed or confusing directions, depending on which event planner you spoke to, water and a lot of faith in our designated drivers, with the repeated warning of ‘this is not a race’, ringing in our ears. Luckily for us – or rather them, Emotions DMC followed the groups at a respectable distance.

Getting out of the hotel car park proved the first obstacle but once we’d all driven around in circles desperately following each other and trying to work out where the exit was and what was causing that incessant beeping sound (those who have convertibles will know what I mean) the different groups made a break for it. Luckily for us Brits, the Mauritians drive on the left hand side of the road, which left us plenty of time to admire the views, focus on the task in hand and balk at some questionable driving skills.

One group found the right town only after having driven straight through it, while another was escorted by the police after going down a one-way street in the opposite direction. And despite the detailed directions, the third group got lost but Mauritius being the size it is, no one was lost for very long. Apprentice-style, we had three hours to find and buy some local vegetables (a task purposely made harder by the fact that some of the vegetables requested were out of season), find out more about the local culture including its religion and how Mauritians deal with envy.

The rally took us through the town of Pointe Aux Piments, past the botanical gardens (Jardin de Pamplemousses), across the Nicoliere Reservoir, and past Saint Pierre to our final destination of Maison Eureka. This had to be one of the best ways to experience the island and larn about the local culture too.

Helicopter ride
We transferred to our third hotel, Le Paradis Hotel & Golf Club in the early afternoon on day four of the fam with the promise of a tour of the golf course. We should have known better – the itinerary had so far been packed with surprises and having seen the island from the sea and the road, all that was left to do was view it from above – literally. An aerial tour, with 20-minute helicopter flights provided by Air Mauritius, gave us the opportunity to see another side of the island, including its various lagoons, waterfalls and stunning coastlines. Each helicopter can seat four passengers and the pilot so we took it in turns to admire the views, alongside expert commentary. This was one definite highlight and airport to hotel transfers can also be arranged (cutting the less than an hour travel time to just 20 minutes) as well as heli-lunches, where you can take in a one-hour sightseeing tour combined with a two-hour stop for lunch.

Catamaran cruise
We left for Black River Bay on our last day, for an adrenaline-fuelled hour of seakarting, an activity exclusive to Mauritius and a cross between a jet ski and a speedboat – namely a speed jetboat. You don’t get much time to admire the views when you are accelerating on the waves but there was plenty of shrieking and laughs from our group. If you opt for the half-day option, your trip will take you in the direction of the lagoon of Benitier’s Island, le Morne and also the famous coast of Flic en Flac. We left Black River for a leisurely catamaran cruise with a stop for snorkelling and lunch on board before heading, regretfully, back to base to get ready for the flight home.