With the final day of Mardi Gras upon us, we’ve been looking at how the world’s most famous carnival goes way beyond the stereotype. Our Deputy Editor Sam Johnson has a few tips on how to party like the locals and laissez les bon temps rouler

If you had to choose your last proper meal for 40 days, what would it be? Fish and chips? Pizza? A haute cuisine tasting menu? Personally, I’d ram raid a McDonalds, but people with better taste than me have been doing it with slightly more creativity for years.

The term Mardi Gras is literally the French for ‘fat Tuesday’ (for us, thanks to Domino’s, that’s every Tuesday), which is the final day of fun before Lent, when the Catholic Church established a month of fasting in the lead up to Easter.

The most famous of all Mardi Gras happens in New Orleans, or NOLA if you’re in the know. Back in the day, Creole settlers celebrated carnival season with masquerade balls, with nods to those in Venice and Rome in the 17th and 19th Centuries. French explorers graced the southern settlements and founded Fort Louis de la Louisiane (now Mobile County in Alabama) – the home to the very first Mardi Gras in America. There’s actually a Mardi Gras museum in NOLA for those who care for a more cultural visit.

Nowadays, Mardi Gras is celebrated in the two weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday, so when we’re all tucking into our pancakes, the Americans are waking up to one severe hangover. Mardi Gras is serious business and it takes the combined efforts of several ‘Krewes’ to organise. The formation of krewes began in Mobile County but transcended across to New Orleans in the early 1700s. Tourism operators Abercrombie and Kent have experts in New Orleans to showcase Mardi Gras like no other, from access to exclusive krewe balls and after parties in mansions, to prime location carnival watching from one of the infamous Bourbon Street balconies.

First time Mardi Gras goers are often overwhelmed by the velocity of it all, and seek temporary refuge in quiet spots around town. Abercrombie and Kent offer a break from the crowds with one of their mixology experts in private courtyards to watch the festivities in comfort. They’ll also teach you how to make the best Sazerac in Louisiana.

Head to the tree-lined Garden District to really immerse in the true spirit of Mardi Gras. Communities come together to enjoy ‘throws’ and celebrate through the festivities with Cajun delight. Abercrombie and Kent can put you right in the centre of the action to enjoy the local way of life, and even participate in one of the parades yourself.

Check out or call one of the experts on 01242 547717 to get the ball rolling for Mardi Gras 2018!

Images courtesy of New Orleans CVB.

Here at House of Coco we’re getting itchy feet and already dreaming about all the new destinations that we’re going to visit as soon as all the bans are lifted. One of the destinations we can’t wait to tick off is Ras Al Khaimah, it’s one of the world’s fastest growing tourism destinations. Juxtaposed between the Hajar Mountains and the Arabian Gulf, the destination remains a hidden gem despite its accessible location, just 45 minutes from Dubai International Airport. The destination is known as being the adventurers’ Emirate and is situated at the northernmost tip of the United Arab Emirates. Its pristine beaches and hotels offer a wide variety of activities from water sports to cookery and arts classes and temperature controlled outdoor pools, while the desert and mountains are ideal for safaris and nature trails for a true Arabian experience.

(1) The World’s Longest Zipline…

For travellers with a quest for adrenaline fuelled adventure, the Jebel Jais Flight is a must. Located on Jebel Jais, the highest mountain in the UAE, Jebel Jais Flight is the Guinness World Record’s longest zipline at 2.83km long. Adventure seekers are propelled at speeds between 120 and 150kph from a height of 1,683m above sea level.

(2) Bear Grylls Survival Academy…

Visitors in 2020 can learn the tricks to Bear Grylls survival, with a new brainchild Bear Grylls Survival Academy scheduled to open in Ras Al Khaimah at the end of January 2020. The academy on Jebel Jais, the highest mountain in the UAE, will offer participants a wide selection of courses suitable for individuals of all ages and fitness levels. The courses include half-day (five to six hours), 24 and 48-hour courses designed for families and adults. Participants will be exposed to practical and extreme survival techniques necessary to survive some of the toughest terrain in the wilderness such as: how to make a fire in the wilderness, build emergency shelters, learn best ways to use a knife for survival, remote medical trauma, training on navigation techniques, rock climbing and extreme weather survival. The Academy will be run by highly trained professionals.

(3) Five-star luxury at four-star prices…

The Emirate is home to two five-star luxury Ritz-Carlton properties. Whether a digital detox in the middle of the Arabian Desert is the order of the day or a sun-soaked beach break looking out on the Arabian Gulf, guests can sit back and relax knowing that everything is taken care of at either one of these incredible, first class properties:

  • The Ritz-Carlton, Al Wadi Desert amid the beauty of the Arabian Desert, invites guests to connect with nature and culture in an entirely unique way. The resort is equipped with an Equestrian Centre offering guests’ horse and camel rides to experience the desert in true style along with plenty of activities including archery and biking, four dining venues and a spa. Luxury here has no bounds, especially when it comes to the villa suites. Inspired by traditional Bedouin tents, each villa has a private pool and deck, lounge area and, of course, stunning desert views, guaranteed to create an unforgettable experience for the entire family.
  • The Ritz-Carlton, Al Hamra Beach is the ultimate luxury coastal retreat. Located on an isolated stretch of beach beneath the Arabian sun, this five-star resort offers guests exclusive activities and features in a secluded oasis such as snorkelling amid the coral reef, afternoon paddle boarding and owl and falconry shows for the entire family to enjoy. Guests can relax in the sun in one of the 32 beautifully designed private villas lavished with contemporary amenities, each with its own pool and direct beach access, visit the Ritz-Carlton Spa for a holistic treatment and enjoy signature fresh seafood at Shore House restaurant.

(4) Jais Sky Maze…

Visitors to the Emirate can get their adrenaline rushing at a new obstacle maze on the UAE’s highest mountain. Find your sense of adventure 10 metres above the ground as you navigate through several obstacles including rope swings, wobbly bridges, swinging loops and so much more! With two levels of endless fun, the Jais Sky Maze is suitable for adventure seekers of all ages.

(5) Viewing Deck Park on the highest peak in the UAE…

As observation decks go, it doesn’t any grander than this. Opened in early 2018, the landscaped and manicured viewing terraces at 1250m have sublime vistas of the craggy surrounding Hajar Mountains peaks and panoramas that tumble and dip down to the Gulf far below. There are binoculars, for close-up viewing, and plenty of shade provided by sails, on each of the several terraces while the main deck offers parking, toilet facilities and two cafe-kiosks for refreshments.

(6) The Dhayah Fort…

Amongst the magnificent landscapes of Ras Al Khaimah lie beautiful ancient ruins rich in history and cultural significance. Situated in northern Ras Al Khaimah amid the Dhayah oasis, is the famous Dhayah fort. This piece of architecture is steeped in historical importance and is certainly worth a visit and was originally built as a defence structure. With plenty of hiking opportunities on offer, visitors can climb the only hilltop fort still existing in the UAE to explore its history and witness the stunning backdrop of the steep dramatic mountains, surrounding palm gardens and the sea – the perfect opportunity for a quick snap and the fort is free of charge to visit.

(7) The National Museum…

Visitors can immerse themselves in the true Emirati way of life and visit the stunning riads of Ras Al Khaimah immersed in cultural heritage. Travel on a journey through time by visiting the historical sites and local museums to gain a glimpse of the Emirate’s culture, history and heritage. Set in a stunning 17th century riad, the former residence of the ruling family until the 1960’s, The National Museum is located in the western part of Ras Al Khaimah city and houses an eclectic collection of archaeological and ethnological artefacts. All exhibition rooms are situated around the beautiful inner courtyard garden and can be entered through antique wooden doors with traditional carved design. A beautiful setting for visitors to learn about architecture, pearl diving, date agriculture, farming and fishing in the various galleries, The National Museum is a must-see attraction during a visit to the Emirate.

(8) Uncover gems at the Suwaidi Pearl Farm…

Suwaidi Pearl Farm, owned by Abdullah Al Suwaidi, the grandson of one of the country’s last remaining pearl divers. It is the only pearl farm in the UAE that provides locally sourced pearls to jewellers around the world. The farm tour takes you on a 6,000-year journey through the history of Arabian pearl diving, to the days when divers would wear tortoiseshell nose-clips and had heavy rocks fastened to one ankle. Tour participants can select an oyster from a tank; maybe, if you’re lucky, yours will produce a pearl.

(9) Jais Sky Tour…

Adventure meets serenity at the Jais Sky Tour. Adventurers can fly over the awe-inspiring cliffs and canyons of Jebel Jais, as you zip from platform to platform in this unique experience. Covering a total distance of 5km via a series of seven ziplines, ranging from 337m to just over 1km, and averaging speeds of 60kph, the Jais Sky Tour will give you a panoramic, bird’s eye view of the towering Hajar mountains. Navigate your way through the sky and find yourself at the UAE’s highest sky bridge, 1,250mts above the sea level and 300mts above the ground. Pause to capture this unique moment before you cross this 15m bridge and continue the last part of your zipline journey. After an hour of soaring through the sky, we guarantee you will want to do it all over again.

(10) Discover the fascinating tribal culture…

History enthusiasts travelling to Ras Al Khaimah will find a treasure trove of archaeological sites, including 18 historic fortifications, castles and towers dating back to the Bronze Age, within accessible reach. One of the few places in the world that has continuously had settler’s for over 7,000 years, Ras Al Khaimah has a turbulent history that saw the city occupied or challenged by the Sasanians, Islamic clans of the Arabian Gulf, the Portuguese, Dutch and British Forces. Today, Ras Al Khaimah’s society can still be conceded as a tribal society, where tribes are divided into three main categories: mountain tribes, sea tribes and desert tribes. Folklore, folk music, dialogue and dance play an important role in tribes and local communities and are passed down from one generation to another.

(11) Try the new controlled bungee jump, opening in 2020…

Jebal Jais will open the first and only controlled bungee jump in the Middle East in April 2020, which will be suspended 13 metres off the ground and will be positioned 1,500 metres above sea level. Travellers will be able to enjoy the rush of a free fall of eight metres, while having the comfort that the fall is controlled making it safer than a traditional bungee jump.

(12) Relax in the hot springs in the mountains…

Located at the foot of Hajar Mountain, the Khatt Hot Springs are perfect for visitors trying to escape the hustle and bustle of the city this year. Located just ten-minutes from the Ras Al Khaimah International Airport, the healing hot springs were discovered on the edge of the desert in the beginning of the 7th century and showcase spectacular views of the valley with its date palms and numerous farms. The springs are today surrounded by wellness centres and resorts, such as the Golden Tulip Khatt Springs Resort & Spa, where visitors can enjoy a relaxing Turkish bath and sauna, spa massages and treatments, swimming pools and Ayurveda healing procedures.

(13) Dare to explore the Ghost Town of Ras Al Khaimah…

One of the more unique places to visit in Ras Al Khaimah, Jazirat Al Hamra, is an abandoned pearl fishing village which is as fascinating as it is haunting. The village is like an open-air museum, without entrance fees and audio guides, showcasing abandoned houses, schools, a mosque and marketplaces. The village was abandoned when oil wealth gave rise to rapid urbanisation in the creation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This ghost town which visitors can simply drive through, is also famed as a site for the horror production, Djinn.

(14) Learn about the ancient tradition of falconry…

Falconry is an ancient tradition of the Bedouins and an indispensable tool for hunting in the tough conditions of the desert. In ancient times, when the falcons migrated to the Emirates, every resident caught one which would then become his partner for the whole season and a part of his family. When the temperature rose in the summer and the free-living falcons started to fly back to the North, the locals let their falcon go. Today, travellers can witness a unique falcon show at many resorts, including theThe Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert, which houses the region’s most diverse and interactive displays of falcons, hawks, kestrels, owls and eagles. Visitors can witness the Resident Professional Falconers fly their team of dedicated birds of prey using both traditional Arabic and ‘modern’ Western techniques. A tour of the world class Falconry Mews and Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre also rounds off this one-of-a-kind experience.

(15) Eat a typical local meal…

From traditional Arabian cuisine to the finest restaurants, visitors will be spoilt for choice in Ras Al Khaimah. Travellers can dig into local flavours at Al Fanar, known for its machboos (a casserole of meat or fish, rice and onions cooked in spicy sauce) and its seafood dishes such as saloona samak (a stew of fish in a tomato and tamarind sauce). 2020 has also glamorously started with the relaunch of the bi-weekly island-inspired Barefoot Brunch at The Ritz-Carlton, Al Hamra Beach. Guests can enjoy a family-style feast specially designed by the luxury hotel’s culinary team, on the sand. The menu highlights a wide selection of seafood, home-smoked beef ribs, freshly shucked oysters, and more. Crowned with stunning views of the Arabian Gulf, lounge seating and a cocktail bar on the beach, live DJ and after-brunch beach party, the exclusive Barefoot Brunch is an escape to paradise.

(16) Experience the Bedouin Oasis Camp…

The first Bedouin-style desert camp in Ras Al Khaimah provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to explore desert living. This secret haven has been designed for the discerning customer, desiring a traditional magical experience of the Arabian Desert, fused with indulgence and luxury. The Bedouin Oasis Camp is an authentic reproduction of Bedouin life just as it used to be. Guests can learn how to scale the sand dunes in a four-wheel drive, ride a camel or simply just enjoy an overnight stay under the stars, with a sunset wakeup. Rooms for two adults and two children start at £176.00 per night.

(17) Enjoy all-inclusive luxury at the Rixos Bab Al Bahr…

Situated on the pristine white sands of Ras Al Khaimah’s tranquil Marjan Island, Rixos Bab Al Bahr enjoys the beautiful beach, stylish rooms, upmarket restaurants, stunning views, and comprehensive amenities you may expect from a five-star beach resort in the Middle East. With few exceptions, everything is inclusive from the kaleidoscope of cuisine in Seven Heights and the delicious selection of unlimited beverages in See & Sea, Mojito Lounge and Inferno, to the diverse choice of entertainment and nightlife, kids clubs, spa, sports, and recreational activities. Five delectable a la carte restaurants, including a steakhouse and a seafood restaurant, offer a more diverse dining experience.

(18) Eco Mangroves Kayaking in Ras Al Khaimah…

Mangroves and salt flats form a large part of the coastal and inland landscape in Ras Al Khaimah. The mangroves, which are home to a variety of wildlife, including flamingos, extend right into the centre of Ras Al Khaimah bringing a rich sense of nature into the city. Visitors can explore the mangroves by taking kayak excursions and literally lose themselves in the natural beauty. Kayaking is fun, relaxing, very low risk and easy to learn and is open to all even if you have never tried it before. More information can be found here.

(19) Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival…

The Emirate hosts the Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival from 31 January – 31 March 2020 under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah. The festival takes place at picturesque 17th century pearl fishing town of Al Jazirah Al Hamra. The abandoned and historic town is rumoured to be haunted. The festival will celebrate the theme of Connected Communities, emphasizing the power of art in bringing communities together and creating shared experiences. The open-air gallery, which is free of cost and open to the public, is set to welcome over 100 international and local artists from 33 countries. Furthermore, the festival will offer an expanded program of public art workshops at Al Jazirah Al Hamra and the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah, and film screenings at VOX Cinemas in Al Hamra Mall.

(20) Relax in a rainforest…

The Ritz-Carlton, Al Wadi Desert also offers a Rainforest Experience which combines European hydrothermal culture with Middle Eastern bathing rituals, creating a rejuvenating sanctuary smack bang the Arabian desert. The experience includes 16 different stations, each traveling one step farther in the journey to relaxation.

There’s no doubt that scrolling through Instagram has us lusting after a holiday. Your Insta feed is the perfect place to pick-up travels tips, get inspiration for destintations to visit and find out about hidden gems.

Here are some of House of Coco’s fave Instagrammers who have us wanting to board a plane ASAP…

Beth Sandland @bethsandland
Beth is an all round Instagram babe from the UK. In the last few months she’s left behind London life to grab a backpack and head off on a year-long adventure – and we’re seriously jealous. Her combination of killer feed photos and behind-the-scenes Instagram stories have us itching for daily updates. While her feed is all bikinis and blue oceans, we love that she shares the less pretty side of travelling and the mistakes of a first-time backpacker – like spending the night in a campervan in searing heat in the Aus outback!

Hayley @haylsa
As well as jaw-dropping photos Hayley shares fun little videos giving an insight into travelling. Her feed is full of turquoise blue sea, golden sands and palms trees which have us itching for warmer climates.

Kavita @shewearsfashion
If you want food, fashion and travel posts then Kavita is your gal. She’s London-based, but always jetting off to a new destination. Recent trips include Bali, Prague and Australia and her feed will give you inspiration on where to eat and what to see. We recommend checking out her story highlights for past trips!

Claire & Laura @twins_that_travel
As the name suggests, Claire and Laura are twins with a love of travelling. Expect beautiful feed photos and clearly labelled stories as they tick-off all the destinations we want to visit. It’s lovely to see two people adventuring together, as most Instagram accounts focus on an individual.

Jess @backpackwithme
With two years of destination hopping under her belt, Jess’ feed is packed with travel inspo. Extensive stories, organised neatly into destinations, make it easy to handpick tips and recommendations from her travel history. She’s also organising a group trip, where her followers can join her on an eight day adventure in Guatemala – how cool!?

House of Coco (that’s us!) @house_of_coco
Of course we had to include ourselves as a bonus! We hit you with travel inspo every single day and show you what our team get up to on epic trips all over the world, so make sure to go follow us!

Here at House of Coco, there’s not a day goes by that one of our #TeamCoco isn’t checking out a new hotel, restaurant or the latest event. We’re forever on the move looking for the ultimate things to do and the best places to stay so that when you want to go an adventure, we will be your go to place for inspiration.

With the rise of the staycation, we wanted to spotlight the best places to stay in the Capital. However, after we lay our head on the pillow at the Shangri-La with the most epic views of London, we had to shine the light on this luxury establishment to make sure it moves its way to the top of your travel bucket list.

London’s first elevated luxury hotel occupies levels 34 to 52 of the iconic Renzo Piano designed building, The Shard celebrated 5 years in business last month. Here our 5 reasons why the Shangri-La is the ultimate hotel to stay at in London.

The views from the bedrooms are insane

The five-star property offers 202 rooms and suites, all with unparalleled views. I dare anyone to try and find a better view in London to fall asleep to. Guaranteed you won’t want to be counting sheep when you stay here, instead you’ll want to stay up all night so that you can watch the sunset, have a bubble bath with views unlike anything else and catch up on the latest TV from the one that is positioned perfectly inside the bathroom mirror.

Their foodie options will satisfy every pallet

If you can tear yourself away from your room and resist the urge to order room service, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the three signature dining and drinks venues. Their signature restaurant will satisfy every pallet, derived from the Chinese word for ‘living room’, TĪNG, is the collective name of the restaurant and lounge on Level 35. Whether it is breakfast by sunrise or tea at sunset, soak in a backdrop of unsurpassed, iconic London views while savouring the best of British fare with an enticing Asian twist. They celebrate fresh ingredients sourced from suppliers in Borough Market and you might even get a chance to go with the chefs one morning to pick those out.

Their cocktail offering will get everyone talking

Not just an Instagrammers dream, their cocktails are worth talking about. Exploring the ingenious inventions and incredible innovations that have impacted society and transformed the world we live in today, the highest hotel bar in Western Europe, has a cocktail menu entitled ‘A Miscellany of Inventions’. Inspired by the creativity of the greatest inventors of our past and developed through out of the box techniques and by combining unusual ingredients, each drink is its own unique creation in a wondrously shaped receptacle. An idea served inside an idea.

Head Bartender at GŌNG Bar Christian Maspes and his talented team were inspired by inventions that have brought about dramatic changes in transportation, business, entertainment, medical care and everyday life. From a compass and its clever magnetic technology that has guided explorers for over a thousand years, to the creation of penicillin that advanced the field of medicine on a global scale, the cocktail menu explores the best of the human mind, celebrating entrepreneurship, creativity and above all genius.

The best thing about staying at the hotel is that, once you have made your way through the menu, you won’t have far to stumble to bed.

They boast the highest swimming pool in Western Europe

At 11 x 4 metres, the pool has no Olympic pretensions and is not aimed at swimmers in serious training but a relaxing swim through the silky waters are the best way to start or finish your day at the hotel. On a clear day, you can see as far as Wembley Stadium and admire views of other landmarks — including St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Tate Modern, the Gherkin and the Houses of Parliament — while swimming in the striking infinity pool.

The infinity pool at the Shard has a dual purpose: by day it is a place to paddle and splash; by night a place to party, an extension of the glittering GŎNG, one of London’s hottest cocktail bar tickets.

The fully equipped gym is just over the hallway and working out seems that little bit easier when you get to enjoy the views. With cold towels readily placed in a fridge, fresh lemon water and earplugs, you have everything you need to make sure you don’t miss leg day.

They do the coolest events

You can watch an intimate play in the luxury of a signature Shangri-La Suite, performed live by London’s hottest private theatre company, Revels In Hand. Enjoy a night of elegance, glamour and comedy in the hotel, complete with Champagne and canapés during the intermission. Theatre in the Clouds is as unique as the name suggests and, just like you will come to expect from Shangri-La, it’s an event unlike any other.

The hotel continues to establish itself as a leader in London’s luxury hotel market and became a Forbes Five Star Hotel in February of 2019 and it’s clear why they boast this accolade. In September 2018, Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London was also awarded five red stars at the AA Hospitality Awards for its exceptional hospitality and the hotel and it’s team are looking forward to many more years of success and celebration ahead.

So, what are you waiting for, get your stay booked and be sure to thank us later.

We have a lot in common you and I. I know this because as a reader of House of Coco you are likely to be the type of person who thrives off being manically busy, even on holiday, creating memories and stories to regale.

But, every action needs an opposite reaction. Please remind yourself that it is vitally important to completely switch off every now and then to recharge your batteries and give your brain a break.

I hadn’t sat still for about 5 years before this Morocco trip. The last time I did that would have been a beach holiday with the girls and so my break to Le Jardin des Douars was a refreshing relief that I didn’t even realise I needed.

Arriving at Essaouira airport was a total dream. It’s Moroccan through and through in the design which made the short pitstop trying to describe my job title to customs quite exciting. “creative” “advertising creative” “ad-ver-tise-ing” “marrr-ket-ing” “jou-r-na-list”. Finally through.

Directly upon exit, we found our ride. The private bus just for us organised by the hotel was a glorious start to a beautiful break.

As we travel through the argon tree filled landscape of Essaouira we discover an oasis of domed villas snuggled together within the hotel walls. It feels ever-so bohemian, exuding North African comfort along with a touch of classic French chic.

Les Jardin De Douars feels like a traditional Moroccan hammam retreat, built from that pinky peachy clay that the Maghreb is famous for. Contrasting greenery, palms, botanicals and herbs grow from every available patch of soil around the complex, making for a stunning place to call home for a few days.

One of the great things about this hotel is that, although it was fully booked with families and couples, it felt like it was all ours. Every room is its own little cottage and you feel far away from the other guests in utterly delightful privacy.

There are two wildly inviting jade-green pools with plenty of distance between them, one for families and one for adults only. The adults-only heated pool is infinity style surrounded by trees and bushes, perfect for a few laps and weightlessness relaxation (… also open late for a moonlight dip).

For dinner and drinks you can’t go wrong on the terrace. Again you share the space with families and other couples but you don’t feel encroached upon.

The hotel restaurant is 100% responsible for the end of my vegetarianism (sorry to disappoint). Moroccan food is just a total dream. On day one they held a huge BBQ for lunch and the way the chefs had spiced the chicken was insane!

The highlight of the trip for me was the Hammam. I choose a body scrub and as well as leaving my skin softer than the day I was born I felt a beautiful connection with the female therapist. Maybe it’s because I’m a total hippy and love the female bond but I felt her positive energy and the massage healed me emotionally too.

To say that the botanical gardens gave me life is more than just a wanky instagram quote. Filled with wildlife, quiet other than the birds and frogs, and all of the worlds vibes radiating from every branch, leaf and petal.

We’ll definitely return. I already want to be there for more relaxing in the sun, pool meditation and exploring. The hotel provides a shuttle to the beach and the medina for some shopping so you can escape for a little while but I’d happily hideaway at Les Jardin De Douars for another long weekend of luxurious solitude.

Book online at

Return flights can be around £300. Sadly they’ve just stopped doing direct flights but rumour has it that another airline will pick up the route.

There are many things that you can do in attempts to fill up your free time. While some people choose to spend their free time clubbing, resting, or hanging with loved ones, some decide to use that time to travel. Exploring through travel seems to be the new cool, and there are many reasons why this may be so. One reason could be that it’s a chance to discover new places and the many things the world has to offer. It could also be because of the positive impact that exploring can have on your life. For this reason, this article will look at five different ways that traveling can change your life.

Changes Your Perspective

When you travel to new places, it opens your mind to new things. You’re able to see different environments, people, and cultures that you’ve never seen before which can help put your life into perspective in some ways. If, for instance, you thought that developing countries didn’t have modern day structures, going to one and seeing how modernized they actually are would help you view developing countries in a new light. Another way that travel can change your perception is by helping you to get out of your comfort zone. Staying in the same country or city year after year is comfortable because it’s something you’re used to. However, actually taking time out to explore a new city you’ve never been to before takes you outside of your comfort zone. Aside from actually leaving your hometown, it also challenges you in the sense that you have to learn to get around on your own and possibly face other challenges such as language barriers. All of these things can contribute to a shift in your perspective as a result of taking the time out to travel.

Makes You Grateful

Another way that traveling can change your life is by making you far more grateful for where you are in life and what you have. It is possible that you’ve heard the saying that there are people far worse off than you are. You may discover this to be true after visiting different destinations in the world and finding that you enjoy luxuries that others don’t. An example of these luxuries could include conveniences such as food, constant power supply, or even well-paid jobs. On the other hand, you may even realize how much you love and appreciate the beaches in your country when you got to one that has very few. Some other things that you may appreciate more after traveling include your ability to move around freely, your freedom of speech and some of the liberties granted to you to express yourself in ways that make you happy. Many countries around the world aren’t able to enjoy such things, so traveling can most certainly make you appreciate them more. Not only can traveling make you grateful in this case, but it can also make you far humbler.

Exposes You to Different Cultures

There are numerous different cultures in the world, and while some may be similar to yours, many are significantly different. There is no way, however, that you would know this if you didn’t get out of your comfort zone and travel more often. There are so many benefits of being exposed to different cultures, and one is how it can help you relate better with others. When you have a deeper understanding of where people come from and what their practices and beliefs are, you’re better able to understand them. As a result of understanding people better, you should also be better equipped to tolerate their shortcomings and understand that sometimes cultures clash. This can especially be useful in your place of work or if you’re running a business as cultural differences can sometimes be a hindrance. Learning about different cultures can also help your social life. It can make you more confident when it comes to engaging with people from different countries and backgrounds. If, for instance, you recently traveled to China and partook in the local culture, next time you meet a Chinese person, you’d have a lot to discuss.

Makes You More Reflective

Being in a different environment can cause you to become more reflective. This is because you’re taking in a whole new experience which can make you think about what you see in comparison to what you’re used to. This can be life-changing as it could influence some of your future decisions. Reflecting can also help you learn more about yourself and what your needs and wants are which can help you make better-informed life decisions. If, for instance, after traveling and doing tourist activities, you come to the realization that you enjoy learning about history, you may decide to pick up a related hobby or even change your career. These are things that in turn, could make you happier and live a better-quality life. One of the ways to record and make sense of your reflections when traveling is to write them down. If you intend on traveling soon, you should think about getting a travel diary from this website. By doing so, you’d be able to document all of your findings and learnings and look back on them in the future.

Inspires You to Want Knowledge

Travel has the ability to inspire you to want to know more. This may be because as you travel, you begin learning more and increase in knowledge. This could, as a result, create a thirst to learn more about people, historical aspects of countries, differences in cultures, and how the world works. You never know the greater heights that such knowledge could take you to and the sense of fulfillment you may feel as a result.

There are many things that will impact your life, the way you think, and the decisions you make and sometimes traveling can be one of them. By exploring the world and seeing all that life has to offer, you’re bound to be changed in one way or another. For this reason, you should consider including traveling on your agenda.

“Things taste better when you know where they come from”. This is the philosophy of Kevin Durkee, owner and big cheese at the Culinary Adventure Co, a friendly, family run business that take you on your own culinary adventure, bringing to life the flavours of Toronto. If you’re new to a city a great way to discover the hidden gems and get the skinny on the best places to eat is a food tour.

What Kevin and his team don’t know about the tasty delights of Toronto isn’t worth knowing. We meet him and his righthand man, Leo on a bitterly cold early morning in Toronto’s iconic Old Town neighbourhood. He greets us with a warm grin and freshly baked double chocolate butter pastry. We quickly get acquainted over freshly roasted coffee in Balzac’s, where you might bump into Harvey from the Netflix law drama, Suits, apparently, he’s a regular. I crane my neck around the place looking for the devilishly handsome actor but unfortunately, he’s not in there. We chat over a cup of Balzac blend, (named after the French novelist and playwright who was rumoured to drink up to 40 cups of coffee a day!) and Kevin shares his favourite eats, bites and sips of the city.

Kevin’s passion for food comes from his mum who ran a bakery from their home while he was growing up. Helping out around the family business and a stint at running his own cheese and wine restaurant inspired him to build the Culinary Adventure Co. Kevin and Leo’s tours are steeped in stories, throughout the morning the tour is peppered with titbits of history, colourful tales of prohibition and secret tunnels under the city. Kevin is the go-to man if you are looking to taste the real Toronto. His team are made up of ex-chefs, restaurant owners and food professionals. They know all the best kept secrets from where to brunch and lunch through to where to get the best iconic peameal bacon sandwich.

Our tour starts with exclusive VIP early access to Toronto’s famous St Lawrence Market, voted in 2012 as “Best Food Market in the World” by National Geographic. Leo leads us to Carousel Bakery, the best place in the city to try the infamous peameal bacon sandwich. Signed celebrity photos and reviews are pinned all around the stall. Everyone from Emeril Legasse to Anthony Bourdain and Canadian food celebs like Chuck Hughes always grab one when they’re in town.

One of Toronto’s old nicknames is “Hogtown” and the history of that name is intertwined with the history of peameal bacon. It all began with an English immigrant named William Davies, who arrived in Toronto in 1854. He opened up a small butchery operation and kept in touch with his brother, back in London. London, was much faster to modernise, industrialise and urbanise than anywhere in the new world. London started seeing a shortage of farm products, including meat. With his family connections back in England, Davies got the idea of selling his Ontario pork to the English market. Davies’ company started taking whole pork loins, lightly salt curing them and then packing them in split peameal to prevent the loins from oxidizing too much on the long sea voyages.

Leo hands me the delicious Canadian breakfast staple and I tuck in. Toronto’s answer to the bacon roll didn’t disappoint, the salty bacon comes with a fried egg and is served in a Kaiser roll with a dash of Dijon mustard. “You can’t come to St Lawrence Market without trying one” claims Durkee.

Next up is Mike’s Fish Market where I get to dive into some of the finest Canadian Atlantic Salmon, all prepped in house and then smoked by local artisan, The Smoke Bloke. These guys are the oldest of the three seafood vendors in St Lawrence Market and have 40 years’ experience under their belts. At 9am it seems a little early for oysters but Randy, the passionate and knowledgeable manager tells me otherwise and assures me that the Glacier Bay oysters will change the way I feel about these slippery suckers forever and he’s right, I was anticipating something slimy and salty, but these were fresh and so good I am soon knocking back more.

There’s so much history to the market and vendors, literally every bite of the tour has a story. We taste the juiciest strawberries and raspberries at Ponesse and meet ‘King of the Berries’, Mario who started working in the shop in 1968, when he was just nine years old. We take our berries off to Kozlik’s, a family owned mustard emporium that has been producing handmade mustard since 1948. Leo informs me that up to 90% of the world’s supply of mustard seed is grown in Canada. I’ve never seen so many mustard flavours, there’s over 40 different types to choose from ranging from sweet to savoury through to some that have a real kick. I dip one of Mario’s berries in the Balsamic Fig and Date flavour, it’s an awesome combination but if I’m honest all of the flavours are extraordinary. I try Grainy Creole and the sweet Honey and Garlic flavour. I want to buy up jars of this stuff but I just don’t have enough room in my case so I settle for an Olive and Herb combo which I have since been adding to every ham or beef dish I can get away with.

You need to bring your appetite on the Culinary Adventure Co tour as well as some cash because I guarantee you will want to take home some of the wonderful produce on offer.

At this point I was feeling full but the mini bites at Scheffler’s Deli were too tempting. Kevin laid out a plateaux of Niagara prosciutto accompanied by Niagra Gold, an abbey style cheese, rich and creamy in taste. The insider tip from Leo was to always go for a wide strip of prosciutto from a charcuterie board because the wide slices are cut from the best part of the thigh and aren’t chewy.

The pace of the tour is just right, with enough time to soak up this gastro paradise and sample as little or as much as you want.

By the end I couldn’t squeeze in another morsel, I was stuffed but I couldn’t leave Canada without trying some of the finest maple syrup. The sweet finale of the tour was a sample of the Kinsip Whiskey Barrel aged Maple Syrup. Kinsip is the only craft distillery in Prince Edward County, their 100% pure dark maple syrup from the Nyman family farms is then aged in old Canadian whiskey barrels, imparting a robust, peppery taste. This sweet stuff just rolls down your throat.

With a full belly and a bag of goodies I headed back to the hotel for a lie down.

The Culinary Adventure Co run unique food tours in Winnipeg, Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, Charlottetown and Halifax. To book your tour or find out more visit
Team Coco travelled to Toronto courtesy of Tourism Toronto,

Last month, Team Coco got to live out our princess dreams by attending the truly outrageous annual Life Ball in Vienna. The Life Ball is one of the biggest social events in Vienna’s bustling cultural calendar and takes place each year amidst the breathtaking gothic architecture of the Weiner Rathaus.

Organised by AIDS LIFE, the Vienna Life Ball has been actively raising awareness about HIV and AIDS since 1993. Founded by Gery Kessler and Torgom Petrosian, the Life Ball has become one of the world’s most important AIDS Charity Events and donates its seven-digit proceeds to a number of aids projects all around the world. As Austria’s biggest fundraiser for HIV/AIDS, the Life Ball attracts a flurry of celebrities to its worthy cause each and every year. Some note-worthy appearances this year were Caitlin Jenner, Paris Jackson, Patty LaBelle, and Adrian Brody who all wore the Life+Patch kicking off a year round campaign encouraging everyone to get tested.

To say that the Life Ball was a bit eclectic is probably the biggest understatement of the year. This year’s theme was a strange yet beautiful homage to the Sound of Music, and the Life Ball transformed the breathtaking facade of the Weiner Rathaus into an awe-inspiring Sound of Music Landscape. A set that captured the Alpine beauty of the Salzburg countryside. A bearded Conchita Wurst played the role of Maria Von Trapp, kicking off a wonderfully bonkers show, that was part broadway musical, part anarchic parade, and part red carpet wedding fashion show. All this culminated with AMFAR’S Epic Ride, which brought actors Adrian Brody, Michiel Huisman, Ian Bohen, and Gilles Marini (to name a few) from Zurich to Vienna on classic motorcycles; representing the epic journey that Life+ has fought against HIV AIDS in the last twenty-five years.

To top it all off, Vienna’s local attendees definitely did not disappoint not the style department. A parade of feathered Lederhosen and Dirndl inspired looks, majestic gravity-defying ballgowns, and leather clad attendees all presented a spirit of love, tolerance and acceptance. Once the party really got started after midnight, there was no telling the difference between Hollywood celebrities, and enthusiastic costumed locals with a penchant for DIY. Gay, straight, old, young, Lederhosen or Dirndl – everyone was welcome to celebrate Vienna’s most spectacular evening. After all, the Life Ball is all about fighting the stigma against AIDS so intolerance and discrimination were not welcome to the festivities. And once all the revelries had concluded, and attendees stumbled back to their hotels, (at 5.a.m, probably – who even knows) we can rest assured that we probably witnessed the craziest party of our lives, and hey! It was also for a truly worthy cause.

Hannah Tan-Gillies attended the Vienna Life Ball, in support of HIV AIDS charities held every year in Austria’s capital at the Vienna City Hall; 2019 Life Ball will be end May/beginning June. Tickets for 2019 go on sale early 2019 ( Example prices from 2018 are: €90 – discount for guests in flamboyant costume, guidelines provided; €180 – elegant/themed costume; €559 – international package including flights, accommodation and entry.


Here at House of Coco, we spend a serious amount of time swooning over the coolest hotels in the world. But what exactly is it that takes a hotel from standard to chic? Whether it’s an ultra-hip location or sheer isolation, adventure or high-end architecture, #TeamCoco is always on the lookout for unique hotels with that extra-special edge. From boutique desert boltholes to arctic tree houses, here are five of the coolest hotels in the world…

Scarabeo Desert Camp, Marrakech

We love authentic experiences, even more so when they’re coupled with a touch of luxury – so when we saw Scarabeo’s Desert Camp, we knew we were in glamping heaven. Just 15 tents stand among the desert dunes outside of Marrakech – each decorated with bedouin-rugs, oriental fabrics and local artwork for an irresistible old-world desert explorer vibe. # TeamCoco ’s top tip – opt to be picked up in a vintage sidecar from the airport to really feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

Soneva Jani, Maldives

Sliding from the roof of your villa right into the waters of the Indian Ocean, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine a cooler hotel room. If your very own water slide isn’t enough (who are we kidding – of course it is) the villas at Soneva Jani also offer retractable roofs for stargazing, direct lagoon access and there’s an alfresco beach cinema. With a barefoot island feel alongside super-luxe touches, we think this might be the Maldives at its most magical.

Tree Hotel, Sweden

You’re never too old for a treehouse in our book, particularly when that treehouse is one of seven avant-garde design rooms suspended above the forest deep in Swedish Lapland. From the otherworldly ‘UFO’ to the most recent minimalist ‘7th room’, each may be different, but all are designed to immerse guests in this incredible arctic landscape. Husky safaris, zip-lining and northern lights chasing are just some of the activities on offer if you can bear to leave the uber-cool refuge of your treetop den, that is.

Amangiri, Utah

An oasis of luxury in Utah’s alien desert landscape, Amangiri’s minimalist design, otherworldly surroundings and trademark Aman opulence are what make this hotel truly iconic. Ultra exclusive suites (some with private pools, swoon) open out onto the wind-warped landscape, red-rock cliffs and endless sandstone desert. There are plenty of desert activities on offer, but in a setting, this serene #TeamCoco recommends sitting back and simply soaking up the scenery from the pool or spa.

The Ace Hotel, Palm Springs

This hipster hangout is housed in a former motel, transformed by Ace into the place to see and be seen in Palm Springs (the ultimate playground for LA weekenders). By day you’ll find the rosé flowing, music playing and the Instagram set by the pool, enjoying the stunning mountain backdrop and preparing to continue the party late into the night. Rooms have a chic, desert-Hollywood aesthetic, while vintage magazines and a retro photo booth complete the old-school cool vibe.

At #TeamCoco, we are rather travel-obsessed, and love to celebrate cultural days from all over the globe. Tomorrow, Saturday 28 July, is Peruvian Independence Day, known as ‘Fiestas Patrias’, and we’ve rounded up our four favourite Peruvian foodie hotspots around London. We love a celebration, particularly when it involves enjoying ceviche and a pisco sour.

  1. LIMA: For something a little more upmarket, you have to try Michelin-starred restaurant, LIMA. LIMA is a representation of the gastronomic expansion that has taken place in Peru during the last few years, with the idea of showcasing Lima to London, as the gastronomic capital of the Americas. Peruvian cuisine is a melting pot of different cultures which have come together to form a unique blend of flavours and techniques. The restaurant is the creation of world-renowned Peruvian chef, Virgilio Martinez and his partners, Gabriel & José-Luis Gonzalez. Robert Ortiz, Virgilio’s long-time friend, runs the kitchen. The restaurant in Fitzrovia showcases the very best Peruvian flavours and ingredients in a clean and contemporary style. Team Coco’s menu tip: Make sure you try the Octopus Olivo

  1. Andina and Ceviche family: Serving fresh, colourful and well balanced dishes and drinks inspired by the Peruvian Andes with a healthy London twist, the Andina/Ceviche family restaurants are calm and comfortable by day and buzzing by night, located in Shoreditch, Old Street, Notting Hill and Soho. On 28th July, Ceviche Old Street will be pouring out the pisco sours for the Peru Independence Day Fiesta. For one day only, they are bringing together the diverse flavours of coastal Peru, the mountainous Andes, and cosmopolitan capital Lima for a celebratory feast, with DJs including Martin Morales himself manning the decks late into the evening. If you prefer a brunch, the Ceviche Soho team has introduced a brunch menu, including exquisite sweet and savoury dishes like any style eggs served on their signature Choclo corn cake, and decedent pancakes with dulce de leche cream. Team Coco menu tip: Go for the Lychee-Guanabana Bellini at Ceviche Soho

  1. Pachama: Pachamama is a Peruvian-inspired bar & restaurant in Marylebone that is dedicated to making the most of the extraordinary ingredients available in the UK. The cocktail menu is Pisco-focused and don’t fear, their cupboards are fully stocked with Mezcal. There is a weekend feast menu, a vegetarian menu, and the tastiest Peruvian bar snacks around – we love it and are sure you will too. Team Coco menu tip: Be sure to taste the cheddar tequenos bar snack

  1. Chicama: Chicama is a seafood restaurant in Chelsea with a menu inspired by the coastal food of Peru and the bold-flavours of Peruvian cuisine – it is also the sister restaurant of Pachama. The restaurant is based on Chicama beach in Northern Peru, hence the name. Here, there is a laid back vibe; the smell of the seafood drifts through the restaurant and the pale pink shell tiles creates a beach hut atmosphere, if you close your eyes, you can almost hear the ocean as you sip a Pisco sour. There is a daily delivery of fresh fish and the innovative veggie dishes illustrate how wonderful British produce really is. The bar has a pretty impressive and vast booze menu, including Pisco, Mezcal, Japanese Whiskey, Sake by the glass and a varied wine list to accompany the vibrantly-flavoured food. Team Coco menu tip: The crispy battered fish bun is like eating a cloud of deliciousness