Menorca – The Jewel of the Mediterranean

Romantically known as the Jewel of the Mediterranean, and perhaps even more evocatively by the locals as the Blue Island, Menorca lies 150 miles South East of Barcelona at the northern point of the Balearic Islands.

Its remote location has meant that although the island is distinctly Spanish it has escaped the overcrowded beaches and high rise hotels found at so many of Spain’s mainland resorts and has retained a peaceful beauty. On Menorca you can still find white sandy beaches with few visitors even in the middle of August.

The island has been fought over from early Roman times by the Moors, the French, the Spanish and the British, creating a rich blend of diverse cultures which can clearly be seen in Menorca’s style, cuisine, language and architecture.

With its reputation for offering the discerning independent traveller high quality villa holidays with superb restaurants specialising in fresh seafood and Spanish Tapas, and all on an island only 25 miles long by 10 miles wide, no wonder it has earned the name the Jewel of the Mediterranean.

A unique holiday location only two hours away

So, having heard of this unique holiday location right under our noses – only two hours flying time from most regional UK airports – I decided to try out local company, Menorca Private Owners, run by Rodsley-based Paul and Jane Perera.

Amongst the usual proliferation of travel websites and bargain break specialists you find on the internet, Menorca Private Owners, set up by a group of villa owners, stands out. The website is easy to navigate and beautiful to look at and certainly stirred my imagination. It offered a range of gorgeous properties to suit all tastes and budgets, so I sent them an email to ask for a brochure.

The result was a nice surprise as soon afterwards I received a telephone call and found myself chatting to the company’s managing director, Paul Perera, who along with his wife, Jane, has owned a villa on the island for 20 years and has been travelling to the island since he was a youngster.

What I liked about this, especially in the current age of Indian call centres and automated telephone systems, was Paul’s refreshing and genuine approach to holiday advice. I was actually speaking to a real person who knew all the villas personally and had a huge knowledge of the island.

After asking a few questions about my ideal holiday Paul offered to include with the brochure a few personal recommendations from their selection of over 100 privately owned villas. Putting down the phone I realised my family preferences had been highlighted, our love of beaches and local restaurants and our desire for privacy and seclusion. As I eagerly awaited the post for the next few days I thought, could this be too good to be true?

What arrived definitely did not disappoint. As well as the brochure, I found their own detailed Menorca Guide which contained pages of information on the island, its history and, most importantly, some lovely restaurant and beach suggestions

Even at this stage it was obvious that this was more than just a business; these were people with a love of the island and a genuine wish to share their experience with holidaymakers. Started initially as a hobby the company has grown into a successful business offering over 100 privately owned second homes on the island.

Personal recommendations and invaluable advice

A few days later Jane called and I found myself able to discuss the couple of villas that I had short listed, including my concerns regarding my young family and, other important stuff such as what exactly was next door and was there a main road or airport close by.

Jane had personally visited all the villas in their brochure so her advice was first hand and invaluable.

It’s never possible to do that when booking over the internet and how often have I arrived somewhere only to be disappointed!

By the time we were discussing the Menorca Owners Wine list and the promise of free delivery, I was transported there, glass of wine in hand, watching the sun go down over the harbour in Cala Llonga, somewhere I would never have found without Jane’s personal advice.

So did the holiday live up to expectations…?

Our trip was seamless and efficient and our arrival not at all stressful as the airport was so quiet. We were met with a friendly welcome from the car hire company who had conveniently parked the car for us in the short stay car park right outside the terminal. One quick signature and we were away and I silently thanked Menorca Private Owners for their online Car Hire form, which had ensured all our paperwork was in order so we didn’t have to queue.

Directions to the villa were excellent so clearly written by a woman! When we arrived at our villa, the whole family immediately felt right at home. This was clearly a second home, obviously loved by its owners and there in the fridge was all my bulk shopping I had pre-ordered.

For the first time in a long time I felt I was really on holiday and, as I poured a gin and tonic and went to sit on the terrace there it was, just as I had imagined it all those months ago, the sun going down over the old town.

The Ultimate Family Destination

Menorca boasts amazing scenery – deep gorges, limestone cliffs, open fields of wild scented flowers and dense pine forests – and is as undeveloped and beautiful as nature intended.

Famous for its temperate climate, it’s not too hot with gentle winds cooling most of the summer heat. With its miles of deserted sandy coastline, friendly welcome, bustling harbours and fantastic fiestas, Menorca offers much more than just a beach holiday, making it the ultimate family destination.

On our last night we followed the guide to a restaurant recommended by Jane, for my husband’s special birthday evening. As we ate delicious local seafood, we raised our glasses of excellent Spanish wine to thank Menorca Private Owners for a wonderful holiday.

This family run business has proved so successful that Paul and Jane have hand picked an excellent team to continue their philosophy and who share their enthusiasm and love for the island . Whether you

want a traditional farmhouse or a modern villa, in a quiet village or just a minute from the beach, Menorca Private Owners are able to help.

Menorca is definitely a special place says Paul, and perhaps one of the most rewarding aspect of our business has been the relationship with our clients and that many of them have ended up buying their own holiday home on the island and now rent it out through Menorca Private Owners, which is an amazingly strong endorsement of both the magic of the island and the kind of holiday that you can expect with Menorca Private Owners.

To me it is no wonder at all that most of their regular clients book a year in advance to book their favourite villa. Their brochure says

“Our aim is to help you enjoy your holiday villa as if it were your second home and truly experience the Menorca we have found.”

We did and we will definitely return.

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The Secrets Of A Traditional Moroccan Hammam Experience

If you ever visit Morocco (or Barcelona for that matter) then enjoying a hammam is an essential tourist experience, but for the newcomer the words hammam, gommage and rhassoul could leave you confused and nervous as you step into the traditional baths.

But even for the experienced visitor, the tkissila, an incredible secret acrobatic massage handed down through families and practised in only a select few places in the world, takes the hammam experience to a new level.

Here, I take you through the different stages of the traditional experience, and divulge the secrets of the tkissila for the more adventurous spa visitors.

Hammam

I have been confused by this description, as it is usually described as a Turkish steam bath. Our hotel in Barcelona for example was described as having a hammam, which was actually a sauna and a steam room. Don’t get me wrong, they were great, but not what I expected.

In Morocco and Barcelona our hammam was a hot room, with a water source, so it was somewhere between a sauna and a steam room. The hammam in Barcelona also had a very hot steam room, a plunge pool, rain showers and Arabian water bowls and sinks, so that you could relax and refresh yourself.

In the Palais Rhoul in Marrakech you actually lie on the floor to let the heat rise up through the mat into your body.

Hammams are really enjoyable – especially when it’s cold outside – but you do have to remember to drink lots of water – most will give you bottles of water to take in if you like – or bring your own.

Some hammams are mixed, requiring swimwear, and others are single sex where you can go naked – but always check first – some single sex ones still require swimwear.

If in doubt ask exactly what the details are – don’t be embarrassed, they all seem to be different!

Traditional Gommage

Literally an exfoliation (in French), in traditional hammams this means that someone will first wash you, normally with savon noir (black soap) – which is a beautiful ritual and then use a gommage or scrubbing glove to scrub all the dead skin off your body.

When we went to a hammam in Agadir, Morocco, we thought that there would hardly be any dry skin left – after 3 days on the beach. Also we were a little bit worried by some of the stories from people who had tried hammams elsewhere – so we asked for a gommage doucement – a soft scrubbing.

She scrubbed so hard it was actually on the edge of being painful, which I thought a bit unnecessary, until she scrubbed my forearm and I saw rolls of dead skin sloughing off. It grossed me out and I thought how dirty the Moroccans must think we are – they do this once a week!

Although in some places you can keep on your bikini and/or paper knickers, really I say what’s the point? After 2 minutes I wasn’t aware if she was scrubbing my boobs or my back. Speaking of which, it is the best back exfoliation I have ever had. I often get an itchy patch between my shoulder blades – she just scrubbed it right off – leaving it smooth and soft.

For the next few days I couldn’t help running my hands over my skin. And I continued scrubbing at home with a glove I bought in Agadir – seeing the dead skin actually coming off on the glove! Sadly it fell apart – so I am now on the lookout for a serious gommage glove in the UK – but no luck so far!

I have heard that gommage is not suitable for people with sensitive skin – but I have very sensitive skin and I love it and feel it only does my skin good.

A traditional gommage will leave your skin so smooth you won’t be able to stop stroking it.

Rhassoul

Rhassoul is a type of therapeutic mud. And a rhassoul treatment is basically when, usually after a gommage, you are smothered in rhassoul mud, left to “bake” for a while in a hammam, and then washed down.

It can be a little hot, and if it is your first time in a hammam I would actually recommend you give this a miss – perhaps build up to it, as a lot of treatments in one go can dehydrate you – if you haven’t drunk enough water or just simply because of the detox effects of the massage.

I’ve enjoyed the treatment but haven’t really noticed much of a specific effect – but it does smell great.

Tkissila

Tkissila (also sometimes written as Teksilla, Teskssila and Tkssila) is an ancient form of Moroccan massage, which I understand is now only practised by two brothers, descendants of a long line of practitioners, in Marrakech.

A cross between a massage and the kind of manipulation you might receive from a physiotherapist, the fact that it is done on a heated floor means that muscles are already relaxed and it is much easier.

I experienced this at the Palais Rhoul in Marrakech. When you enter the actual hammam, you won’t find opulent, colourful mosaics or indeed a steam room or heated benches to sit on.

If you decide to opt for just a massage, as my sister did, then you can go naked, as the masseur is female, but, if you opt for the traditional tkissila (pronounced as in tuxedo – tuxila), then please make sure you wear your bikini (and make sure it’s a sturdy one!)

My masseur and his brother are masters of the art of Tkissila, descendants of a long line of practitioners and this is one of only two places I understand you can have this treatment (his brother works next door at the more expensive spa).

So… first I was lead by the lady in charge to a simple brown cell and asked to sit on what looked like a yoga mat on the floor.

It might not be everyone’s cup of tea to have big buckets of warm water thrown over them, but provided you keep your mouth closed it’s rather like being in a nice warm waterfall.

She grabbed the black soap with eucalyptus efficiently soaped me up and left me lying on the floor.

I was a bit disappointed. No steam, no elegant bench, no funky mosaics, just some subtle, cool lights. It didn’t seem like the best spa in the world. It took me a while to realise that the heat in the room was actually coming up through the floor and lying down, my body was slowly starting to relax.

That’s when my masseur came in. After a few days of covering up from neck to ankle I had been a little aware of my naked legs at lunch. All of a sudden I was in a little brown cell with a Moroccan man in nothing but a pair of bathing shorts (and I was in my bikini!) But it didn’t actually feel weird when he slipped on his Palais Rhoul gommage glove and started to scrub me all over.

Unlike my experience in Agadir a few years ago this scrubbing wasn’t rough at all, but I could see the rolls of dead skin sloughing off. According to my masseur, the cheap gloves (about 20 dh – £1.50) I’d bought in the market were useless, his kind of glove was much better quality (about 50 dh – £4) and exfoliated all the dead, dirty skin without hurting at all. (He presented me with it at the end too.)

After the gommage, he got down to business. It’s funny, last year I saw a physio who had manipulated my spine and there were moments when, even fully clothed, I felt very awkward about having my foot on a guy’s shoulder while he pulled my leg in the other direction. I actually felt quite comfortable with it this time around. Even when I was lying face down and he was pulling my hips in the air. There were clicks, a bit of tightness, but nothing painful or even really uncomfortable, although I think I did sometimes breathe in or out in the wrong places.

Then it got weird.

My masseur lay down on the mat, his knees pointing up and this is when he asked me to sit on his knees.

I’m glad I speak French or this could have been a very different review.

One minute I was balancing on my bottom on his knees, the next I was flying, watching the room go whizzing past, not quite sure anymore which way was up. Suddenly I realised why, as the dramatic shape of the door flew by, this is a very muted room. If there had been lots of colours I’d have probably got dizzy!

When my feet landed on the floor I was giggly. Then he made me do it again – this time backwards. I sat facing his feet and leant backwards. Anyone who has ever done that trust exercise of falling backwards will understand that I felt elated and ridiculous at the same time.

At the end I was giggling and amazed, as much by the fact that I had done it and enjoyed it as by the experience itself.

He sat me down on the floor and washed me all over, including my hair with orange flower blossom products. When we were all done he rough dried my hair, tied my dressing gown up for me and told me I’d sleep like a baby that night.

I sat down for a while on the bench by the pool, until the lady masseur came to find me and give me my final relaxing massage (ditching my wet bikini).

Would I do it again? I’m not sure if it’s a regular one for me, or a once in a lifetime (our taxi driver said it should be twice a week!) and I don’t think it would be for everyone. When she’d finished she left me alone in the room so that I could fully relax – and it was so hard to get up when she did come back!

While my masseur described the usual local hammam, gommage and massage as “for the tourists” there’s something lovely about that experience too, and certainly one I would recommend. But I am so glad that I tried the tkissila too. It was certainly an eye opener and a new level of experience for me.

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FC Barcelona Facts at a Glance

FC Barcelona is a well-known name for the football fans scattered all over the world. The club has some of the start and most promising players in football world. However, there is more to the club than just the fine skills displayed by its players. Here are some interesting and amusing FC Barcelona facts that are sure to surprise its supporters.

Facts on History of Barcelona: The club was founded by Hans Gamper, a Swiss nationalist with the help of a newspaper advertisement and is now owned and operated solely by the club members. It was never a mere football club but a political symbol as well. The club stood as a symbol against Rivera’s and Franco’s dictatorships and has always had a strong tie with the Catalan nationalism. It was during Franco’s dictatorship, the club was forced to change the name to Club De Football De Barcelona. However, the club changed its name back to this club in the year 1974 because of its Catalan roots. The club was forbidden from using the Catalan Language during the Franco dictatorship. However, over the years, it has become a rule that the players of FC Barcelona will have to know the Catalan language, with some exceptions like Lionel Messi.

Facts on Club’s Achievements: The club has been ranked by Forbes as the second most valuable club in the world and has proved itself to be one of the most popular clubs across Europe. It is also the club with highest number of players winning the Ballon d’Or, with 11 Barcelona players having won it. Lionel Messi, one of the most popular Barca players, has won the Ballon d’Or five times. The club had also defeated its arch rival Real Madrid FC on their first official match with a score of 6-1.

Fun FC Barcelona Facts:

· This club doesn’t run short of fun and amusing facts either. Very few people know that FC Barcelona fans are known as “ass” in the Catalan language.

· Though it is commonly thought that unlike other Barça players, Lionel Messi does not know Catalan language, he was heard addressing the public in this language when he was drunk after a Barça win!

· The Camp Nou stadium is one of the largest stadiums in Europe but the matches there are seldom attended by the local people. This is probably because of the high ticket prices due to its international fame.

· FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have had a long history of political rivalry as well, with the latter being supported by the political power of Franco and the former being against his dictatorship.

· This club has invented its own style of playing which is known as tiki-taka or The Total Football Philosophy. Johan Cruyff is the man behind this famous football playing style and the strategy has brought the club many victories.

· For a long time, FC Barcelona was against corporate advertising but the policy was finally taken down and they collaborated with UNICEF for the first time in 2006.

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