It wasn’t a tough decision to pick Mauritius as our beach destination for the year 2014. We’ve had enough of Asia and Europe was never an option in October. And so Africa it was! Hearing and reading about the rich and mixed cultures in Mauritius got me to paint colorful images of blue beaches, green roads and multicolored gowns in my head. My expectations revolved around colors and bright mornings. I wasn’t disappointed and the beauty that we met the moment we stepped outside the airport was greener and bluer that expected. We made the right decision by choosing to stay in Dubai (for connection flight) for 8 hours just to arrive to Mauritius during the day and not after sunset. It was an unforgettable one hour ride to our hotel where we didn’t spot any sign of modern living. Fluffy clouds, endless green fields and some traditional colorful houses. That was all we’ve seen. We were welcomed warmly to our hotel with some refreshing Mango ice cream that was a perfect thing to have after our long journey. Le Touessrok was recommended by the travel agent and reviewed and rated as one of the best resorts in Mauritius in many travel websites. It was our second option (after the Oberoi which was fully booked) and we were sure, after all what we’ve heard, that it would be the right place to be. We had a great time and a memorable holiday, but the hotel was far from being perfect. We booked two Junior Suits and the rooms were spacious with all the essential facilities available. I appreciate big bathrooms and i thought that this was one of the most practical hotel/resort bathrooms i’ve ever seen. My favourite part was the balcony with its beautiful tropical view. Getting to the room from the reception area was a long yet enjoyable walk. Walking to breakfast every morning while viewing green trees and plants on my right and some narrow exits to the beach on my left was a very fresh start to my mornings. The beach where our rooms were located was busy with people kayaking and fighting the tiny waves on paddle boats. It wasn’t an ideal spot for reading or relaxing. There was a quieter beach on the other side of the resort where i enjoyed my book while tanning. The pool next to it was my favourite hangout in the resort. It was refreshing and the temperature of the water was just perfect. I couldn’t have enough of it. To my surprise, the food was extremely delicious. The breakfast buffet was huge and all kinds of food were served. I was impressed with how the bread and cold dishes were covered with net to keep the bugs away. There was a dinner buffet every night at the same restaurant. It was very busy with the same faces that we saw every morning over breakfast. Barlen’s was an elegant seafood restaurant and a good option for a quiet dinner. Each dish we ordered tasted heavenly and looked gorgeous. I loved how my fish was stamped with a Mauritian touch: Tamarind sauce. The best dinner experience was at the modern Indian restaurant Safran. It was truly one of the finest Indian restaurants i’ve ever been to and the contemporary dishes were very unique and tasteful. We all agreed that the Tandoori Salmon was the highlight of the meal. Sega Bar was a fun place to hang out at after dinner for tea. Theme nights were organized there such as Jazz night, 80’s night and Mauritian night around the main pool. We planned our tours with the hotel upon arrival as follows: 1) Horse riding & zip lining: The plan was to spend two hours horse riding and two hours zip lining with a lunch break in between. Both activities were done at one resort but we didn’t have the flexibility to change or shorten the time since zip lining was done with a group. After one hour of horse riding around the resort, we felt that the scenery was getting repeated and that we better save our energy for the next adventure. And after three hours of waiting to start zip lining, my friend was not able to fit in the gear (they never informed us that this might be a problem) and i changed my mind after seeing the height and length of the zip line to avoid a vertigo that could easily be triggered by this and ruin the rest of my trip. Horse riding was a beautiful experience but other than that it was a waste of time. We reached the hotel shortly before sunset. 2) Botanical Garden, Sugar Factory, Local Market and Bagatelle Mall: This was a fun tour that introduced us to Mauritius on a different level. The sweet driver was telling us facts and stories while driving from a place to the other. It was very interesting to smell the spices and plants as we walked around the very green Botanical Garden. The Sugar Factory visit was very informative and shopping for different kinds of sugar was very enjoyable. The handmade colorful baskets that were sold in the local market were all over the place. They were the most suitable Mauritian gifts to take back home to family and friends. Of course, bargaining is an essential part of the experience. The market was small and other than the baskets and souvenirs there wasn’t much to buy. I enjoyed shopping at Bagatelle Mall, particularly in a big shop that was selling local products: clothes, soaps, etc. The mall was located at Port Louis, the capital city of Mauritius. We were hoping to have a local Mauritian lunch, but we ended up in a French-looking restaurant that didn’t serve French food! We enjoyed our time in Mauritius despite the disappointments that were mainly caused by miscommunication. The hotel failed to deliver some information to us as i mentioned on Tripadvisor. Mauritius is a great option for a beach holiday or a family vacation. Emirates Air is the only airline that flies there in the region and the price of the ticket is high. To avoid wasting your time, plan your days ahead and investigate about every single detail that comes to mind. Most importantly, go without expectations..
Date of visit: 4 – 9 October 2013
Getting there: Qatar Airways (around 4 hours & 45 minutes from Doha to Male).
Hotel: Niyama Resort
It was my first time to experience flying on a seaplane and it was a perfect start for our trip. Viewing the mini islands and the many shades of blue from the top was a scene that will never disappear from my mind. It is a known fact that the further you go the bluer the sea becomes. And that explains the price difference between the hotels close to Male (reachable by boat) and the ones that you have to get to by seaplane.
Booking a seaplane ticket should be done ahead of time and not upon arrival. There is a seaplane ticket booth right outside Male airport where you get to pick up your tickets and take a bus to your hotel lounge where you’ll find your seaplane parked! Seaplanes are shared and they don’t fly at night. Sometimes you pick/drop passengers from/to other islands on your way to your hotel.
This is the lounge of Niyama Resort:
While the seaplane was landing we spotted a bunch of people waiting for our arrival. They turned out to be the management of the resort (including the GM). It’s a part of their job to welcome the guests who arrive by seaplane on certain hours of the day. They welcomed us warmly and served us delicious, delicious, delicious watermelon juice!
This is the spot where the seaplane lands and takes off:
It was very hard to decide whether to go for an ocean villa or a beach villa. Ocean villas are more expensive and more Maldivian but Beach Villas are more private (which is more suitable for ladies who wear Hijab) and include spacious outdoor sitting area. Since we were a group of 5 girls, we went for both options and it was the right thing to do. I personally preferred the Beach Villa and I would definitely choose that option if i go again.
The Ocean Villas were located on a different side of the island and included a private infinity pool. Using the steps on the side of the pool you can go down to the sea for a dip. The water was very shallow but clean, crystal blue and a bit cold.
The Beach Villas were totally different. The mini cottages were lined up on the beach side between all the tropical trees and getting to them was an experience of its own. I really enjoyed the jungle walk and avoided using buggies during the day. My favourite part was the outdoor bathroom. It was absolutely beautiful and showering in the open air was very refreshing. The only problem was the lizards visits at night (bathroom and not room) which was very annoying. The double bed was placed in the center of the room, which was different and nice, and a a sofa was turned into an extra bed. I fell in love with the outside area. There was a private pool, a swinging sofa, a dining table, tanning chairs, and a beautiful beach. The resort provided some free snacks (ice creams, popcorn, etc) on daily basis and there was a great selection of movies to watch also for free.
This is the bathroom:
Outside the room:
There were several restaurants in the resort and each was special and different. We enjoyed the atmosphere and the food was delicious in all restaurants.
1) Edge: A seafood restaurant which was 10 minutes far by boat. The outdoor area by the sea was quiet and serene. It was windy and a bit cold, but we enjoyed our very unique seafood dishes. It started raining and we moved to the indoor area where a singer was singing her own version of some popular songs with a guitarist.
The name of the restaurant says it all. You feel like you’re a guest on an island and some tribe is inviting you for dinner. In an outdoor dining setting, you hear drums in the background and enjoy the taste of the delicious grills. It was a different dining experience.
Beautiful pool/beach view to start the day with. The breakfast buffet had a large selection of dishes and once again, the juices were my favoutire. Theme nights were also held in this restaurant.
A very chilled rooftop lounge. We played Scrabble under the stars while sipping tea and singing along with the same singer and guitarist from Echo.
I actually loved the concept of this cafe. A perfect place for a quick snack and a nice reminder of our ordinary life away from this island. You can choose your sandwich from a menu written on a choke board or you can create your own sandwich. They serve ice-creams, crisps and other treats.
Other activities & facilities:
Public Beach: It was as quiet as our villa beach but it was nice to hang out there for a change and to order juice while viewing the blue water and the blue sky. The temperature of the water was perfect for swimming but the ground was uneven and so it was difficult to stand and walk to the shore. The sea was perfect for chilling, but i enjoyed swimming in Thailand and Greece more.
Public Pool: A long infinity pool which was perfect for dipping, chilling and also swimming. There was a step by the end of the deep side of the pool which i loved to sit on and read.
Snorkeling & other water activities: In an attempt to explore the Indian Ocean, we chose snorkeling out of all the water activities that were offered at the resort. After a 20 minutes boat ride, we jumped into the ocean wearing our snorkeling gear. It was a bit windy and so the water was not very clear. We swam around an island following our guide to view the corals but we barely saw anything. It was disappointing and it didn’t beat the beautiful view of the corals of the Red Sea in Sharm El Shaikh.
Theme nights: We were lucky enough to attend a Maldivian theme night which was organized by the pool. The area was crowded with hotel residents, which was a good change. A large buffet was set by the beach and we got to try the Maldivian cuisine which contained a lot of tuna. There was a raw fish stand where you get to choose your fish and they grill it for you the way you like it.
Gym and classes: I used to alternate my morning workout (before breakfast) between a walk by the beach and using the gym. I loved the view at the gym and it was a lovely experience to use the treadmill or the free runner while viewing tropical trees and blue water. The gym also offered some classes for free on daily basis but we went for a private yoga class by the beach which was one of the main highlights of the trip.
Games room: The perfect thing to do when it rains. There were a billiard table, darts, chess, cards and board games.
Spa: What could be more relaxing than listening to the sound of the waves hitting the shore while having a massage? This experience redefined the word serenity for me. It was extremely relaxing that i fell asleep while having my massage. Before starting, the masseuse gave me a music menu to select from. I chose classical music which complimented the sound of the sea that was right under the massage room!
The details around the place added an extra taste of perfection on our holiday. Examples are the beautiful trash baskets, a creative and fancy way to wash your feet before using the pool, and the lovely room service bike!
A lot of people are under the impression that Maldives is only suitable for couples which is totally wrong. It is a great option for group of friends and families. It is a great beach destination and the best holiday option if you’re looking for a quiet break away from the city. Some people told us that “5 nights is too long for Maldives and you’ll definitely get bored”. It turned out to be the total opposite. We didn’t mind extending our stay and we didn’t get bored for one second. It is an extremely expensive destination but it’s worth saving up for. Your eyes can never get enough of all the shades of blue around you. Maldives is a piece oh heaven!
Visit date: Dec 19 to 21, 2013. It was only a month after the previous visit but it was freezing cold!
Airline: Gulf Air
Hotel: Movenpick Al Bidaa. Location wise it was perfect, but it was more like a resort with the rooms located outside the main building. It wasn’t luxurious although it’s a 5 star hotel but the rooms were spacious with a kitchenette and a lovely balcony overlooking the pool/garden. If you’re looking for practicality then this is the place to be as you get to park your car right outside the room and you don’t have to go through reception etc.
The outdoor area was packed and the cold winter couldn’t stop Kuwaitis from enjoying their weekend. The place was vibrant and it’s exactly how you want to spend your Thursday night. The starters were delicious and fulfilling that the main dish was barely touched.
I fell in love with this place although it was empty. The outdoor area was lovely with greenery and flowers surrounding the area. The dishes we ordered for breakfast were not bad but the baked stuff that i ordered for take-away were extremely good.
I was crazy about the food the last time we visited so i had to go again. For some reason the food tasted better last time. One dish was extremely delayed but i loved how they handled the situation. Great customer service.
Located in a villa in AlShaab. Unfortunately the outdoor area, which was beautiful, was closed. We dined inside but i didn’t like the atmosphere nor the crowd. Fayrouz didn’t exist over there. Not on the walls and her songs weren’t playing in the background. We should’ve gone to the other branch in Avenues. On the contrary, the food was excellent!
An old branch of Lenotre overlooking Kuwait Towers. We went for breakfast mainly for the view which was amazing. But the breakfast buffet was disappointing. I felt that the quality of food was not as good as it used to be. Overall it was obvious that this place was the “it” place once upon a time, but not anymore.
A busy cafe in The Avenues that looked tempting. We had to wait for around 10 minutes to get a table. The waiter recommended the most famous dessert which was a bun stuffed with chocolate. It was surprisingly bad with an orangey hint that made it worse. My friends ordered chocolate drinks and they loved it.
I finally got to visit That AlSalasel Bookshop. A good variety of Arabic books and few English titles.
We found a toy shop at AlMe’allem that was a blast from the 80’s. Walking around was like a trip back in time except for the social media bags and wallets that they were selling! They brought us back to reality.
Till we meet again K town!
It was a perfect evening in Zwara Café at The Grand Avenues. I was sipping Turkish Coffee with medium sugar, just the way I like it, while discussing the Gulf War with my friends. The Ogaily and Kunafa that we were sharing were extremely tasteful that we had to cut the conversation to compliment them after every bite. I love talking about the Gulf War with Kuwaitis because I get to hear inside stories from people who witnessed the events, lived through it and survived it. And there we were, four Bahraini girls and a Kuwaiti one, having a rich conversation with classic Khaleeji songs playing in the background. My mind withdrew from the conversation when Abdulkarim Abdulqader started singing Meshtereeh. It was a pure Kuwaiti moment with all the traditional surroundings, the accent echoing all around us, the taste of the authentic desserts and the old music. I just wished that the beautiful feeling I felt right then could last forever.
For three full days I felt like I was living on a cloud. I’m a person who gets easily irritated but I was in such a good mood that nothing was able to ruin it. I came to a conclusion that Kuwait is the most inspiring country in the Gulf. It’s easy to spot and feel the passion of the talented youth wherever you go. It was like watching a modern version of “7aflat elKuwait” and admiring every scene just like I used to do when I was a kid. Kuwaitis never fail to impress the world with their talents, uniqueness, originality and most importantly; their genuine love for their country.
It was very exciting to be surrounded by fashionable people. Girls, guys, mothers, kids, men and even grandmothers were dressed up. Each one of them had his own unique style. I admired how familiar they were with fashion and how they had the ability and confidence to play with their look. For example, if the outfit was too simple, the wavy hair and dark makeup would balance the look. It was also very interesting to see people spending the day out of their homes and enjoying their time. All restaurants and cafes were lively and full. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was vibrant everywhere we went. I believe that this was the source of the happy vibes I got.
We made the right decision by staying at Missoni Hotel. Fresh colors, very good service and location (it was not as far as people made it sound), and the view of the city extending over the sea was beautiful. But more was expected from a 5 starts hotel, like providing shower caps and cotton buds in the toilet. But it was a comfortable hotel nonetheless and the breakfast buffet was extremely delicious.
Having late lunch at B+F was a pleasant experience. The food was very good and the restaurant was almost full which was not expected since it was half past three. 360 mall was nearly empty but it was nice to walk around the designer shops and cafes.
We visited two local boutiques in AlJabria area. The Creative Style and My May. It wasn’t my favorite part of the trip as I’m not a fan of funky outfits but I made sure to buy the only classic item I found! It was raining outside and that was a lovely thing to remember other than digging for something that suited me.
Chocolate Bar was never my kind of café. But I was desperate for caffeine and it was one of the few attractive options at AlHamra Mall. The Turkish Coffee was good but the cookie wasn’t. Discovering this new mall was quite interesting as it was quiet with a variety of shops, mostly designers. Note that “quiet” in Kuwait means almost full but not crowded, while “quiet” in Bahrain means almost empty.
Salheya was packed at night. All cafes and restaurants were full and we had to wait for almost an hour to get a table at Gathering. Walking with high heals was not easy because of all the bricks and it was funny how all women were watching their steps. I loved everything about Gathering; the style, the food, the colors and the location.
The Avenues didn’t exist when I last went to Kuwait in 2007. I was mesmerized with the Grand Avenues the moment I stepped in. It was bright, spacious and grand! I couldn’t stop smiling while walking around and seeing people having coffee, shopping, eating, socializing and even working out! It was the place to be. I fell in love with the new section too (traditional souq) and enjoyed shopping there. All the cafes and restaurants were busy and tempting to try. I wish that I had more time to try them all but we only managed to try Figs and Katsuya for lunch, Life with Cacao and Zwara for dessert and Khobz ElDar for a snack.
I found the concepts and menus of the local contemporary restaurants very similar. They mainly served modern salads, pizzas, pastas and small dishes to share. But each one of them had something special that was highlighted by people.
Figs, excellent food.
If I had to pick one restaurant to recommend after this trip, I’d definitely say Katsuya. I can easily say and without any competition that it’s the best Japanese food I’ve ever had. Every single dish was extremely tasteful and delicious. Staff were very helpful and friendly. Rating: 10/10.
I liked the concept of Khobz ElDar, Saj on the go. The interior of the place was beautifully designed and the small place was well utilized. The taste was average though.
Life with Cacao, what can I say! Delicious desserts that keep surprising you with every bite. Dip the cookies in the chocolate fondue and you’ll be in heaven. Their coffee was also good.
Cocoa Room was lovely but I felt it was a bit overrated. Service was bad, tea was finished and falafel was finished too. We ordered two egg dishes and they were ok. BUT the Nutella French Toast was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. It looked beautiful and tasted even better. Not to be missed if you’re visiting Kuwait.
Melenzane was located in a complex inline with other restaurants and cafes and it was nice to walk outdoors and view the different available options. It was Thursday night and the place was packed. Food was good but also too heavy that we couldn’t finish any of the dishes. If I had to choose between Figs and Melenzane I’d go for Figs.
We had another amazing dessert in Prime & Toast, Cream Ford Caramel. What I loved about it is how it tasted like a modernized version of a Ramadan homemade sweet. You can feel the famous taste of Morning Coffee biscuit mixed with condensed milk but it was much more than that. It had a rich taste and it was addictive. You won’t be able to put the spoon down.
Putting food aside, I loved the local radio stations. Their DJs were funny and their choice of songs was upbeat and fun. We were thrilled when we opened the radio once and Ya Nar Shibby started playing. While walking to Melenzane, one of the passing cars was playing Ya Seedhum Wainek for Nawal.
Their publications are another story. The local newspapers and magazines are interesting and written/published by passionate people who have the experience and knowledge. Kuwait was always the leading country in the Gulf when it came to media and it’s impressive how it still is number one.
Kuwait is a country of class and high taste. Inspiration can be found in every corner; between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the affordable and the expensive. People change after going through catastrophic events and I can see how the Gulf War changed Kuwait and every Kuwaiti. They grew out of it, built their country with love and confidence and they keep developing by the day. And I really respect that.
I’m sending my love to Kuwait through this post. الله يديم عليكم الأمان والسعادة
Living on an island in the Arabian Gulf, you’d expect being surround by beaches and sea activities. Unfortunately, we used to say that the closest decent beach to us was in Dubai. But after visiting Oman, i totally changed my mind. I an now definitely sure that Oman is the number one beach destination in the region.
We spent 4 nights in May 2013 (Labor Day holiday) in Shangri-La Barr Al Jissa. It was a great stay despite the slow service at the reception, the rainy storms at night and the smelly bed sheets.
Flight: Oman Air: 1 hour and thirty minutes from Bahrain to Muscat. Around BD70. It was my first time to try Oman Air and i was pleased.
We got to witness how sweet and nice Omanis were as soon as we arrived. The guy who worked in Omantel in the airport was very friendly and funny. The taxi driver who dropped us to the hotel gave us a tour and brief descriptions about every landmark that was on our way.
The drive from the airport to the hotel was around one hour. The hotel was located on a mountain so the road got a bit scary after passing the center of the city which is around half an hour away from the hotel.
Shangri-La Barr Al Jissa consists of three different hotels; 1) Al-Husn, the most luxurious of the three and It has its own private beach and pool that kids under 16 years old can’t use. 2) Al-Bandar: Old town design, less luxurious than Al-Husn and better quality than Al-Waha. It was my least favorite. 3) Al-Waha: Family friendly & the cheapest of the three hotels. It has a shared beach with Al-Bandar but it also has its own pool. It’s the largest hotel of the three.
The view from the room in Al-Waha was very beautiful and relaxing (sea-view room). I used to wake up early in the morning, sit in the balcony , breath the fresh air and listen to the sound of the waves hitting the shore. Another option was to go for an early walk on the beach. The weather was good during the day/ stormy at night.
After breakfast, most people lay by the beach, read a book while tanning and swim in the Gulf of Oman. The beach was very clean (no stones or sea weeds) and the temperature of the water was perfect. The waves were a bit high which made swimming much more fun.
Sea activities were also available; snorkeling, canoeing, fishing, boat rides etc.
The way the hotel was positioned between the stoney mountains added a lot to the atmosphere and it was a great reminder that you’re in Oman!
In addition to the pool, there is a Lazy River that takes you from Al-Bandar to Al-Waha and vice versa!
We were a bit disappointed with the rooms. The furniture was pretty old. You’d expect more luxury being in Shangri-La even if it was a resort especially that the room rate was not cheap. My friend couldn’t stand the smell of the sheets which I only noticed after she complained. I liked the cute traditional painting on top of the bed.
Sultana (Al-Husn): Fine dining. There are two dining areas; indoor & outdoor. When the weather is fine, dining outdoors is a must!. It’s too dark to see what you’re eating or to see the lovely view though. Delicious food & rich atmosphere.
Samba (Al-Waha): Breakfast is served there. Loved the fresh colors of the interiors and the variety of food.
Al Tanoor (Al Bandar): Breakfast is also served there. We tried it once but i preferred Samba.
Zafran Cafe: Located in an arcade and hotel residents can reach it by buggy. Loved their light sandwiches and tea.
Not forgetting the best part of any beach holiday: Burger by the beach!
More restaurants were available at the hotel. But we only tried the ones above since we used to leave the hotel to discover the city by afternoon.
The drive from the hotel to the city was an amazing experience. The hotel provided bus rides to the city at certain hours of the day but you can also take a taxi to reach faster. We tried both. The benefit of being on the bus gives you enough time to view the beautiful scenery with a mountain on your left side and the sea on your right! Once you pass that part, beautiful white buildings start appearing by the sides of the road. They are all designed in a similar way with the same height. Even the signs of the shops were very similar to each other which gave the city a very clean and tidy image. It didn’t look real. It felt like being in Lego Land!
It’s beautiful how this souq is located in front of the corniche. The entrance is lined up with all the other shops which are facing the corniche that you don’t expect a whole souq right behind it. All kinds of shops can be found there; shoes, perfumes, souvenirs, toys, antiques etc. However, i expected more variety of local stuff but there wasn’t much to buy. It was raining when we went and we didn’t understand why the shops suddenly started closing. Shortly after, the place started flooding and we had to leave. It was a fun experience!
On our way to Muttrah we found a small shop that served fried snacks. We had to try the Rgag when we found out that it was served there. We ordered one with cheese & honey and another with cheese & chips Oman. It was delicious!
Royal Opera House:
Unfortunately it was closed when we went and they did’t allow any tourists inside. Everything looked grand from the outside and i was very sad that no shows were playing during our stay in Muscat. I will definitely fly there someday just to attend a show in this posh place.
Opera Galleria is a shopping mall that is a part of the Opera House. It was too quiet with few shops open including the famous restaurant More. The local staff of the mall were not helpful at all and it was very difficult to find a taxi around the area.
Jawharat AlShate’a Mall: There were a couple of cute cafes, a vintage shop and a post office inside (Those were the only places that caught my attention). But the mall itself looked very old just like a blast from the 80’s.
Grand Mall: We went there planning to do some shopping but there was nothing to buy. None of the international clothing stores (Zara, Mango etc) were available. Footwear, make up, electronics, and perfume shops were there but it was shocking that a new mall which was supposed to be Grand didn’t sell any decent clothes!
Halwa ElDeewaneya: A local shop that sells Omani Halwa in different kinds and sizes. They offer packing the boxes and delivering them to the hotel to be taken home fresh.
1) Kargeen: We had high expectations about this restaurant because it looked beautiful in pictures. The outdoor area was nice but sitting there was not an option because of the stormy weather. We walked through mazes of trees till we reached the room where we were going to have our lunch/dinner. It looked like a dining room in a haunted house with a long dining table in the center and a chandelier hanging on top of it. It was impossible to identify the theme of the restaurant. It had no identity and more like “too much of everything”. The waitresses were dressed in Jasmin’s costume (from Aladdin) and the service was extremely bad. It took them a very long time to take our orders and over an hour to get our food. Their excuse was that they had nothing to cover the plates with to bring them from the kitchen since it was raining heavily. They were waiting for the rain to stop!! We offered our umbrellas and they immediately got the food using them!
The food was average. All kinds of food were available on the menu (which was full of ads & looked more like a magazine) but we decided to try an Omani dish called Shuwa. It was delicious at the beginning but the high amount of herbs used made us all feel nauseous afterwards.
The music had nothing to do with the place. It was Egyptian and very out of date. On top of all that, the ceiling was leaking and our chair got wet. It was one of the worst and maybe the freakiest dining experiences i’ve ever had.
Sliders Station: Loud and crowded in a beautiful way. It was located in a complex along with other cafes and restaurants. It was a Thursday night and all the locals were hanging out there. The food, which was shared, was good. I liked the sliders concept.
The Chedi (hotel):
The moment i stepped in, i knew where i was going to stay in my next visit to Muscat. It wasn’t as big and bright as a chain hotel and not so dark and tight like a boutique hotel. It was somewhere in between. We had a look at the Long Pool Cabana which was full of expats enjoying their weekend in a chilled atmosphere. It was not possible to make a reservation in this restaurant so we made a reservation earlier that day at The Restaurant in the same hotel.
One of the best dining experiences i’ve ever had. The place was gorgeous with many chandeliers hanging down the ceiling. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was very classy.
Don’t miss the unique toilets at the lobby of the hotel!
I made sure to explore Muscat as a city although the main purpose of the trip was to relax by the beach. I was impressed with the clean and tidy look of the buildings and roads but i was also shocked to see how it lacked a lot of main attractions. The city has potential to grow and it is developing in a slow pace. Something has to be done about providing more dining options and franchising shops and restaurants to entertain the tourists who visit mainly for the beach and sea activities.
Muscat is a great option for a short vacation even if you decide not to leave the hotel!
It’s definitely worth it to fly to Doha to attend an event. Not only because it’s 45 minutes away from Bahrain by airplane, but also because it’s fun to squeeze your limited activities there around a day or two.
In January 2013, we went to Doha for one night to attend Majida AlRoumi’s concert in Katara and here is how we planned the visit:
Airline: Qatar Airways (around BD50).
Transportation: It’s not easy to find taxis in Doha. We hired a driver.
Hotel: Grand Hayatt: We chose it because it was the closest to Katara and the room price was good. It was a nice traditional style hotel with friendly staff. But the rooms were small so adding an extra bed wasn’t an option. The room can only accommodate a maximum of 2 people. The city view was beautiful.
Museum of Modern Art: A must visit whether you love or hate museums. It’s something to be proud of. You will need a maximum of 2 hours to walk around the halls and view every piece. Once you’re done, have a cup of tea or coffee in the cafe. Spectacular view.
Katara (cultural village): A walk around Katara to explore the cafes, restaurants, galleries and exhibitions. We had Chapati & Karak while waiting for the concert to start.
The concert was held in the open air theatre and the setting was beautiful. Comfortable seats (chairs with no legs) were placed on the steps of the theatre. The concert was too good to be true and very well organized. Being a big fan of Majida i enjoyed every second of it.
All the restaurants in Katara were fully booked after the concert. I was glad that i made a booking at Sukar Pasha Turkish restaurant earlier that day. The food was very good and the decoration was luxurious with an Ottoman touch. Recommended.
Souq Wagif: We had breakfast in Zatar o Zait and then walked around the souq. Unfortunately for us, it was Friday and all shops started closing by 11:30am for Juma Prayer. Generally speaking, Souq Wagif is a very lively and authentic place to visit and shop for traditional stuff (material, food, birds etc).
All the shops, cafes, restaurants, supermarket and cinema in Villaggio Mall were closed for Friday prayer. It was shocking to know that a city where you can see more expats than locals close for hours during the weekend. We had to hide in a cafe (luckily he agreed to sneak us in) till all the places started opening by 2pm. Anyhow, Villaggio is a good place for shopping and hanging out in Doha. We had our lunch in Shake Shack.
Our Thursday was well utilized but Friday afternoon was a waste of time. We wished that we knew about the closing hours in order to book a morning flight back to Bahrain instead of an evening one.
24 hours in Doha could be a great way to break your routine or have a quick break. Keep an eye on the events that take place during the year. It could be Cirque du Soleil or a concert in Katara. It will definitely be a night to remember.
Lists of tried and tested hotels, malls, other attractions and most importantly restaurants and cafes:
1) Park Hyatt: Great location in Nişantaşı, spacious rooms and friendly staff. We faced some issues with housekeeping which was a disappointment but we had a pleasant stay overall.
2) Pera Palace Jumeira Hotel: Since 1892! Staying there is an experience of its own as it’s more of a museum/hotel. The hotel is now managed by Jumeirah and the room rates are quite high. We were disappointed with the service and some of the room facilities but other than that we enjoyed going back in time. The classic furniture was breathtaking (especially in the corner room that we stayed in). Don’t miss the pink tearoom in the ground floor.
3) Swissotel: One of the best hotels that overlooks the Bosphorus. The room view is breathtaking (make sure you book a Bosphorus view room). The rooms are spacious and the service is very good. I stayed in it twice and i was pleased both times. If you book an executive room you get to use the Executive Lounge which offers breakfast and snacks all day.
4) Park Dedeman, Levent: A new hotel right next to Kanyon Shopping Center. Suitable for a casual stay if you’re using public transportation. Note that it’s a 4 stars hotel and amenities are limited.
5) Conrad Istanbul, Bosphorus: If you prefer a hotel with a Bosphorus view and a good rate then Conrad is a great option. The rate is not as high as the other 5 stars hotels that offer a Bosphorus view and the rooms are clean and comfortable.
6) The Sofa Hotel: A nice and cozy boutique hotel in Nisantasi. Recent comments and reviews show a high drop in quality and services though.
7) Radisson Blu Bosphorus Hotel: Great location in Ortakoy with a direct view over the Bosphorus. Tight rooms and not so convenient.
8) Hilton Istanbul Bomonti: Twenty minutes walk from Nişantaşı and no access to public transportation (closest is Osmanbey 20 mins on foot). Service and amenities were much better during my first stay but it was the total opposite in 2018.
9) The Marmara Taksim Hotel: Perfect location for first timers and for those who love Taksim. Excellent if you use public transportation.
History & Culture:
1) Dolmabahce Palace: Separated from all the other historical attractions and so the visit needs to be planned on its own. Only guided tours are allowed and the queue/wait is usually long so it’s better to avoid weekends and peak hours.
2) Suleymaniye Mosque: The most beautiful mosque interior i’ve ever witnessed. Just look up at the beautiful ceiling and lights and you’d understand. The red carpet is adding a lot to the beauty of this mosque too.
3) Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque).
4) Topkapi Palace: Your visit to Istanbul won’t be complete if you don’t visit Topkapi. It is huge, extraordinary and you can feel the history in every brick around you. The garden is the most beautiful part with its amazing sea view. Don’t miss the room where Quran is being read 24 hours and where you’ll see some of Prophet Mohammed’s belongings.
5) Grand Bazaar: Over 3000 shops and you won’t get bored or tired of shopping. They sell the most beautiful teaware and accessories. Make sure you bargain because you will probably find the same items in other shops.
6) Spice Bazaar: An L shaped bazaar where you’ll find spices, sweets, teas, loofas, teaware etc. The market behind the Bazaar is even more fun to shop at so make sure to continue shopping outside once you’re done.
7) Hagia Sophia: A must visit museum (which was a church and then a mosque). There is a great historical background behind it that you don’t want to miss so make sure you take an audio tour.
8) Basilica Cistern: Where water used to be stored underground. It’s dark, humid, and slippery!
9) Galata Tower: Climb the tower if you want to take panoramic pictures of the city. It is very tight and crowded on top so if photography is not your thing don’t go up there. The area is full of beautiful shops that you don’t want to miss.
10) The Museum of Innocence: For literature lovers. This museum is based on Orhan Pamuk’s mesmerizing novel. It is highly recommended to visit even if you have not read the novel. You will fall in love with the details and lose track of time..
11) Istanbul Modern: Museum of Modern Art. A must for art lovers.
12) Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi: Formerly the home of Sakıp Sabancı and currently a museum. Family portraits and furniture are displayed and temporary international exhibitions are hosted there.
1) Istinye Park: The perfect place to shop & dine. International brands are located outside in a beautiful square with restaurants in the center. Inside the mall you’ll find a lot of stores (local/international). My favourite spot is the bazaar (-1) where you’ll find gourmet shops, cafes & restaurants!
2) Kanyan Mall: A one of a kind outdoor shopping mall. Beautiful architecture and atmosphere. Lots of options for dining.
3) Zorlu Center: For shopping, dining, or just hanging out. A beautiful place to be.
4) Vadi Istanbul.
5) Emaar Square.
6) Ozdilek Shopping Center.
7) City’s Nişantaşı For a quick round of shopping once you’re around the area.
8) Akmerkez: One of the oldest malls but it has everything you need. This is a great option if you have limited time to shop.
9) Akasya Mall: The place to shop when you’re in the Asian side.
10) Cevahir Mall.
12) Metro City.
Restaurants & Cafes:
1) Karaköy Lokantası: Delicious Turkish dishes, marble turquoise walls and a great closure to a stroll around Karaköy’s allies. A family owned non-touristy restaurant that is worth visiting. Booking required.
2) Martinez: I fell in love with this new comer. Excellent service and an enjoyable atmosphere. Some dishes were really good and some were average but I’d love to go again for lunch. Once you book, request an outdoor table as the atmosphere is more vibrant in the terrace.
3) Bazlama: This is the place to be for breakfast nowadays. Colorful and yummy set menu with a sweet lady baking bread by the entrance. Open from Thursday to Sunday only. Make sure to go early to avoid the long queue. Location: Nisantasi.
4) Lokma: A place that never gets old and one of the most popular breakfast spots. Breathtaking Bosphorus view and very tasty food.
5) Delicatessen: Beautiful space and a local crowd. It’s more of a gourmet/cafe during lunch time. The food was fresh and delicious (especially their seasonal menu). Location: Nisantasi.
6) Mangerie: A chic cafe hidden in a terrace in Bebek. It serves Turkish and international food and famous for its breakfast. Get a table in the balcony as the view is not to be missed.
7) Grandma: Everything is phenomenal about this place. The food, the interior, the friendly staff. Recommended dish: Fried eggs in scone. Location: Akmerkez Shopping Center.
8) Nev Lokanta: Located in Kanyon Shopping Center. Good food, beautiful interior and classic Turkish songs playing in the background.
9) Mim Kahve: This cafe is situated in a very narrow and long building in Eminönü that was hard to spot. The sign of the letter Mim written in Arabic was like a secret code or a clue to let you know that there is a magical place hidden inside.
10) Tahin: Suitable for vegetarians. Delicious food and several locations around Istanbul.
11) Passage: Food that is cooked to perfection. The ambience will make you forget that you’re inside a shopping mall. (Location: Kanyon Shopping Center)
12) Norm: For coffee lovers or coffee on the go. Cihangir.
13) Eataly: Wonderland for Italian food lovers with different stations and dining areas for each item. Zorlu Center.
14) VI Coffee & Healthy Living: A great spot to hangout and have a good cup of coffee.
15) Nişantaşı Başköşe: If you are around the area and in the mood for Turkish food then it’s worth a visit.
16) Sade Kahve: A tiny and bright cafe with delicious Turkish Breakfast overlooking the Bosphorus in Rumeli Hisari.
17) Forno: For breakfast or a load of carbs when you’re starving in Balat!
18) Healin: Organic/ healthy.
19) Magado Speciality Coffee.
20) Murver: Fine dining in Karakoy.
21) Privato Cafe.
22) Yeni Lokanta.
23) Antik: Breakfast by the Bosphorus.
24) Michelle: At Vadi Istanbul.
25) Cup of Joy.
26) Mustakil Coffee & Bakery.
27) Gram: At Kanyon Shopping Center.
28) Sur Balik: Seafood.
29) Cook Life: Balat.
30) Balat Coffee & Guide.
31) Incir Agaci Kahvesi.
32) Alacati Muhallebicisi.
33) Refine Espresso Bar
34) Cok Cok Thai.
35) Bi Nevi Deli.
36) Fida Cafe: A cozy cafe in Balat with good music. Suitable for a coffee break.
37) Hümaliva Çikolata: A cozy cafe with great music and interesting interior in Nisantasi.
38) Velvet Cafe: Few meters away from Galata Tower. Beautifully accessorized and pretty teaware/plates. Breakfast is served all day.
39) Fasuli: A traditional restaurant in Karakoy that serves Fasulye out of huge pots. Worth trying.
40) Da Mario: A vibrant fine dining Italian restaurant located in Etiler. Book a table in the garden if the weather is allowing. Delicious dishes!
41) Bebek Mini Dondurma: Ice cream on the go. The pistachio is excellent.
42) Starbucks Bebek: Three floors with a magnificent view! One of the most beautiful Stabucks branches in the world.
43) Grandpa: When you need a break from Turkish food, head there for some baked goods and coffee. Beautiful interior. Don’t miss the mini garden in the back!
44) Must: It is impossible not to notice this restaurant while strolling around Nisantasi and impossible to resist walking in. The decoration is too attractive to ignore.
45) Not Just Coffee: Excellent coffee served in a very cute space in Cihangir. Highly recommended for coffee addicts.
46) Dem: A very pretty cafe in Moda (Asian side). A great place to have some tea and cake in the afternoon. Another branch is available in Karakoy.
47) LOL Coffee Roasters: It’s tough to settle on a place when you’re in Karakoy, but if you’re looking for a good cup of coffee then you won’t go wrong with LOL.
48) Naif: Beautiful interior and good food with a Turkish twist. Located in Karakoy.
49) Taze Lokanta: Famous for its Manti. Located in Kanyon Shopping Center.
50) Aşiyan Kitap Kahve: Colorful and calm with books and a quiet crowd. Located in Üsküdar (Asian side).
51) Pim Karaköy: Located in the center and buzzing side of Karaköy. Good Food.
52) Ulus 29: My number one restaurant in Istanbul. The atmosphere is classy yet fun and the view from the balcony is breathtaking. It’s very hard to make a decision once you go through the menu and sharing is the best option. Their dishes are unique.
53) Kale Cafe: A perfect choice for a local breakfast with a Bosphorus view. You will be seated on the pavement and the strangers next to you will seem as if they are sharing your table, but this could be one of the most relaxing breakfast experiences you’ll ever have. You will be served some basic dishes (and tea of course) as soon as you are seated and then add whatever you wish to try from the menu. Sipping Turkish tea while watching the seagulls spread their wings and fly around the Bosphorus bridge is always the most delightful experience in Istanbul.
54) Aşşk Kahve: Beautiful interior and view but the food is overrated. It is a popular place especially for Khaleejis so if you want to avoid the crowd choose another place on the same road or try the other hidden branch in Nisantasi.
55) Nusret: Nusret Steakhouse is one of the most popular and busiest restaurants in Istanbul. Nusret Burger is more casual and several branches are available. The steakhouse is now open in Istinye Park Shopping Center.
56) Tom’s Kitchen: Located in Zorlu Mall. A great option for brunch.
57) Sütiş: There are several branches of Sütiş but we were told that the one by the Bosphorus (Emirgan) was the nicest. We went for dinner and it was full and vibrant but the food options were limited. For breakfast, it is one of the top of most delicious places in Istanbul.
58) Develi Restaurant: A good option for a Turkish meal when you’re in Nişantaşı. Delicious Meze in a modernized Turkish atmosphere.
59) Van Kahvaltı Evi: You will never get enough of this yummy Turkish breakfast. It’s a tiny place in Cihangir and totally worth visiting.
60) House Cafe: Perfect for a casual meal, good food and chilled atmosphere. The breakfast is very good too. You will find a nearby branch wherever you go. My favourite branch is the one in Ortakoy (especially the outdoor area overlooking the Bosphorus in summer).
61) Kitchenette: A similar concept to House Cafe. Casual and relaxing.
62) Masa: One of the most popular restaurants in Istinye Park. Always busy and vibrant.
63) Nezih: Another awesome traditional restaurant that serves breakfast by the Bosphorus.
64) Doğaya Dönüş Bistro: A heavenly cafe for vegetarians. You can pick and choose what you desire from the available pots and cold dishes and have a colorful plate filled with delicious and colorful veggies. Location:Nişantaşı.
65) Dandin: A very cute bakery/cafe tucked in one of Karakoy’s busiest allies. Beautiful interior and tasteful quick bites.
66) Saray Muhallebicisi: One of the most famous casual Turkish chains. Breakfast is not to be missed.
67) Meze by Lemon Tree: A very small restaurant that serves modern Turkish cuisine. It was rated number one on Tripadvisor in 2009. Delicious food.
68) Topaz: Turkish fine dining at its best. It’s overlooking the Bosphorus and serves modern Ottomani cuisine. If you’re not a fan of formal dining then this is not the place for you.
69) Zoma: Japanese restaurant located in Ortakoy (Radison Blu Hotel). Extremely delicious. We celebrated New Years Eve there and it was a perfect location to view the fireworks by the Bosphorus. Another branch is now open in Istinye Shopping Center.
70) Chillai: Delicious food and chilled atmosphere especially during sunset. Located in Bebek.
71) Kosebasi: Even if it’s franchised in your country, the taste in Istanbul is completely different.
72) Hamdi: Delicious local Turkish food located next to Spice Bazaar. Worth a visit. Make sure you try the pistachio kebab.
73) Cafe Firuz: For a quick meal when you’re in Cihangir.
74) Mado: A good option for a quick stop for tea/coffee and dessert. The Kunafa is to die for and the Sahlab is popular.
75) Zamane Kahvesi: A small local restaurant in Nisantasi. It serves the most delicious Turkish breakfast I’ve ever tried. Very fresh.
76) Laledan Restaurant at Ciragan Palace Kempinski: Grand breakfast buffet with a view. Endless variety of food and it all tastes excellent. You won’t be able to stop eating. Highly recommended.
77) Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta: One of the traditional restaurants in Sultanahmed that serves a set menu of salad and kebab. It’s nice to be experienced once in a lifetime. It’s a three floor crowded restaurant that is perfect for tourists. The kebab was delicious but i didn’t like the aftertaste of it. There is a place right next to it, owned by the same person, that serves delicious local desserts. Worth a visit.
78) Hunkar: A Turkish restaurant in Nisantasi located beautifully below the ground floor of a building. We tried their Iftar menu and it was an amazing experience to have Iftar the Turkish way. Their dishes were unique and not the typical Turkish dishes we try everywhere.
79) Mikla: This restaurant was recommended in several websites and i was expecting a very special ambience. The location was practical (rooftop of Marmara Pera Hotel which was opposite to our hotel Pera Palace Jumeira). I booked a table in the balcony which is famous for its spectacular view of the city, but i arrived to find that the balcony was closed. Another surprise was that we had to select one of their three set menus (which didn’t include any chicken!). The service was slow and i got the feeling that this place was once the place to be, but not anymore!
80) Mahallenin Kahvesi: Located in Beylerbeyi in the Asian side. This is the cafe were Omer & Elif used to meet in Kara Para Aşk. Excellent breakfast and your eyes will never get tired of scanning all the collections around the walls.
81) 360: Not one of my favourites but nicely located on the top floor of a building in Taksim. The atmosphere is electric with shows every now and then. It feels like a circus to me but people like it. The food is good.
82)Küçük Ev: A delicious quick bite. Can be found in food courts and different streets. Good doner.
83) Haskral: A traditional Turkish restaurant that serves the famous chicken which is stuffed with rice, cooked and served in rock salt. It’s a popular place for Khaleejis.
84) Osmani: Casual Turkish. Average food. Located in the basement of Istinye Park.
85) Istinye Kahvecisi: When you need a break from shopping have a cup of Turkish Coffee here. It is located in the Bazaar section in Istinye Park (-1).
86) Big Chefs: International and Turkish dishes with several branches around Istanbul.
87) Karakoy Gulluoglu: The best Baqlava in Istanbul that comes in different flavors and shapes. You choose the size of the box and, you select the baqlava that you want to add and you pay according to weight. They also wrap it and pack it for you so its more practical to go on your way to the airport. Passing by to have a quick fresh baqlava with a cup of Turkish tea is a must do.
There are many cities and areas outside Istanbul that i wish to visit which includes Antalya, Antakya Bodrum, Cappadocia and Izmir. The furthest i’ve been is Bursa, passing by Iznik on our way.
1) Iznik: It was famous for pottery making during the Ottoman period and Ibn Battuta stayed in it in 1331. If you’re a fan of history make sure to pass by Iznik to see some monuments and leftovers of a great era.
2) Bursa: Getting to Bursa was a very interesting experience because we used two forms of transportation (car and ferry). We drove to the port, parked the car inside the ferry and enjoyed the one hour journey across the sea of Marmara while sipping tea on the top deck. We continued our way to Bursa by car and made a stop at Iznik.
Our first stop in Bursa was at the Grand Mosque where we prayed Juma Prayer. The mosque was mesmerizing and some verses from the Quran were written on the columns. It was packed with locals who rushed from the nearby shops to perform Juma Prayer.
Next stop was at the Green Mosque. It was small in size but rich with history.
I will never forget the flavorful meaty taste of the lunch i had in Bursa. It was in a local restaurant that served one dish only: Meatball with Pita (Iskender Kebab).
Shopping in Bursa was crazy. We literally went crazy because the prices were much cheaper than the prices of the same products in Istanbul. Everything we were looking for was available in one multi-story shop.
We wrapped up our day trip with a relaxing walk around Tophane Park where the Bursa Clock Tower was located.
3) Princes’ Isles: I visited the island out of curiosity after hearing a lot of good feedback about it. We toured around the old houses in a carriage and had seafood by the sea for lunch. That was it. There was nothing else to do over there. I actually found the ferry ride to the island much more interesting than the island itself, as the ferry stops in other islands to drop and pick passengers on its way to the main island (they are a total of nine islands). Cars are not allowed in Princes’ Islands. People move around on horses and carriages or bikes. It’s more of a residential area for residents who move there during summer to have a break of the city life.
Planning a trip?
In my opinion, the best time to visit Istanbul is in October. The weather is cool and breezy around that time of the year and the roads and venues are not as busy as the summer season. It starts getting busy again around Christmas/New Year time. But if you decide to celebrate New Years in Istanbul, make sure to book a restaurant by the Bosphorus to have a close view of the fireworks. I was excited to experience Ramadan in Istanbul, but to my surprise there was nothing special other than the Iftar set menu that restaurants offered. The opening hours of the shops did not change and restaurants didn’t close during the day.
Gulf Air and Turkish Air fly direct to Istanbul and tickets cost around BD200 or less during low seasons.
Enjoy your trip!