Marvelous Mayfair: 48 hours in the exclusive London neighborhood

The Mayfair area of London. (Shutterstock)
Updated 11 December 2018
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Marvelous Mayfair: 48 hours in the exclusive London neighborhood

  • One of the most lavish areas to be in London, Mayfair
  • Truly something magical about West London

DUBAI: It’s the most expensive property in the British version of “Monopoly,” reflecting its lavish status, so a trip to London’s Mayfair isn’t going to be a budget getaway. But there’s more to this affluent area than high-end shopping — all you have to do is take the time to explore. Mayfair is home to numerous art galleries, restaurants, cafés, parks, and more, and the festive period offers the perfect backdrop, with spectacular decorations.

There’s truly something magical about West London during the holidays, so if you have never visited the English capital in the colder months before, it’s well worth the extra thermals.
Covering the well-known areas between Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane, Mayfair is home to several prestigious properties and landmarks, including Claridge’s, The Dorchester, The Ritz and Green Park. It’s also cemented its reputation as an international art hub, thanks to the big-name galleries scattered all over.

One that definitely shouldn’t be missed is The Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington House, which dates back to 1768, making it the oldest fine arts society in the world. It marked its 250th anniversary with a newly expanded campus this year. We visited the Oceania exhibit (which runs until December 10), featuring 200 fascinating pieces spanning 500 years, all exploring the history and identity of the continent, and including work from New Guinea, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, and Australia. Fun fact: Meghan Markle’s first solo appearance as a royal saw her attend the opening of this exhibition.
Food in Mayfair is an art form in itself. You’ll be spoiled for choice, with everything from Indian fusion to Japanese on offer, and many halal options available too. For lunch, book a table at the exceptionally Instagrammable NAC Mayfair, a staple of the area and one that continues to delight with its incredibly friendly service and delightful dishes. Must-tries are the truffled mac and cheese, plus the ridiculously delicious crushed milk-chocolate cookies, served with the nicest ice-cream we have ever sunk a spoon into, and topped with Frosties.
Dinner will require a little more planning. We were lucky to find a table at the trendy Hide — which earned a Michelin star just five months after opening earlier this year. It’s best to reserve as soon as you book your flight. Launched by acclaimed British chef Ollie Dabbous — a self-described “mixed grill” who was born in Kuwait and is of Lebanese-French heritage — Hide is the place to see and be seen; chances are you’ll bump into a celeb while you are there. The à la carte menu is reasonably priced (mains are around $45), with dishes made of seasonal offerings, sourced from small farmers and suppliers across the UK.

Claridge's hotel. (Getty Images)

While we did mention earlier that there’s more to Mayfair than shopping, there’s still nothing wrong with a spot of retail therapy while you’re there. But skip the big chains and famous designers, and opt for the more unusual merchants instead.
Browse Burlington Arcade, the renowned covered shopping destination that opened in 1819, before stopping at British perfumers Penhaligon’s for a one-on-one perfume-profiling session. Based on your hobbies, interests and personality, an in-house expert will be able to find the perfect fragrance for you.
For another quintessentially British experience, cross the road to Lock & Co. Hatters, the world’s oldest hat shop, founded in 1676. Having dressed figures including Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, and royals from the GCC, this institution sells all types of hats for men and women. Even if you don’t end up buying anything, it’s worth a visit just for the experience.
All that walking will no doubt leave you feeling hungry, so make your way to the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane, which has teamed up with Lock & Co., to host a special millinery-themed experience that includes sandwiches, and hat-shaped cakes and scones all served in the brand’s signature hat box. It’s the perfect way to end your shopping trip.


Booming Bangalore: India’s ‘It’ city

Updated 18 March 2019
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Booming Bangalore: India’s ‘It’ city

  • Yoga at the resort offers the chance for gentle self reflection
  • The chance for some simple, but delicious food is just around the corner

DUBAI: Officially called Bengaluru — though not by the locals — Bangalore, the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, is lauded as the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ thanks to the presence of prestigious IT companies and a burgeoning technology sector. Once known for its sprawling gardens and lakes, today Bangalore is more easily identified by shiny shopping malls, hip restaurants and traffic-congested roads. But beyond the trappings of urban life, the city still surprises with refreshing spots where you can hit reset.

One such oasis of calm is Shreyas Retreat. This coconut farm turned yoga retreat, set amid 25 acres of lush greenery, is the real deal, and one of India’s best-kept secrets. Though probably not for long.

Experiences here revolve around ‘self-discovery’, but with a refined approach to wellness. An in-house doctor will prescribe treatments ranging from oil massages and herbal healing experiences based on Ayurveda — regarded as the world’s oldest medicinal system — to more modern remedies such as hydrotherapy. You can choose to stay in one of the poolside cottages strategically placed around the retreat’s central courtyard, with the 25-meter pool and heated jacuzzi on your doorstep, or be at one with nature in a charming Garden Tented Cottage, several of which are scattered across the grounds. They come complete with canopied roof and outdoor patio, offering incredible views.

Need some time to reflect, then try the resort's yoga sessions at the Shreyas Retreat. (Supplied) 

Guests can also join in group-yoga sessions in the morning and evening, deepen their meditation practice or lend a helping hand at the retreat’s organic gardens. If all seems too new-age for you, packages are entirely customizable and really do cater to everyone — from the blissed-out yogi and spa seeker, to curious foodies who want to learn more about Indian cuisine.

The retreat is also an inspiring base to explore nearby landscapes, with trekking trips and village visits easily arranged. If you’d like to plan your own thrills, the scenic Nandi Hills, Hogenakkal Falls (often called the Niagara Falls of India), and cultural hotspot Mysore are just a few hours drive away.

The Nandi Hills provide the more adventurous with some spectacular scenery. (File/Shutterstock)  

For unique attractions closer to the city, a day at Lalbagh Botanical Garden is one well spent. Sprawling across 240 acres in the heart of Bangalore, it started out in 1760 as the private garden of Mysore ruler Hyder Ali. The government-run garden is home to the largest collection of tropical plants in India and a popular spot for bird-watching. Visitors have plenty to take in, including a serene lake, bonsai garden, aviary, sculptures and more. Its best known feature is the centuries-old glass house — designed along the lines of London’s Crystal Palace — that plays host to bi-annual flower shows which attract thousands of visitors.

A short stroll away from Lalbagh is Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (or MTR as it’s more commonly known), established in 1924. This is a no-frills dining experience. Delicious steaming hot food is served on steel plates as patrons tear into crunchy dosas (savory pancakes) and soft idlis (steamed rice cakes). Make sure to order try the rava idli — made from semolina — which was invented by MTR during World War II when rice was in short supply.

Bangalore is home to a handful of world-class galleries, including the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). However, if you’re short on time, there’s only one name you need to remember – Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. Home to a respected college of fine arts, the complex is buzzing with art aficionados and curious tourists picking up unique souvenirs. There are 14 permanent museum galleries to explore here, as well as five rotating art galleries that blend the best of contemporary works alongside more traditional and Indian folk pieces. Afterwards, wander through the verdant grounds, following sand-swept paths and enjoying the city’s creative energy. Bangalore may be India’s digital heart, but it’s got soul.