THE MALDIVES | VARU BY ATMOSPHERE.

My family and I just spent four blissful days at the Varu by Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts, an all-inclusive resort encircled by the pristine waters of the Maldives. This awe-inspiring paradise in the Indian Ocean is located in the North Male Atoll, a 40-minute speedboat from Male.

We were warmly welcomed by the resort manager, Mr. Phillipe and his team. From the moment we stepped out of our speedboat, throughout our stay, until the moment we checked out, we consistently felt the we were in very good hands.

THE MAJLIS SUITE

We were delighted by the grandeur and intimacy of our suite. The Majlis Suite is ravishing. The perfect hideaway for couples or families traveling with kids, it features two bedrooms, kids room, an extra bedroom for staff, a small office, a living/dining room, a swimming pool, and an unrivaled ocean backyard. Waking up to the sunrise from our suite was my favorite part.

THE CUISINE

Of course, no luxurious getaway is complete without culinary delights! We loved the sumptuous breakfast and lunch spread at Lime and Chili. At cocktail hour, we indulged ourselves at Bay Rouge by the infinite pool, the perfect spot to catch the sunset. We also went on an exquisite Maldivian culinary journey at Kaagé, where we had the opportunity to experience authentic local favorites. On our last evening, we treated ourselves to a Mediterranean fine-dining experience at NU, their overwater restaurant.

GUEST EXPERIENCES

There is a wide array of activities to keep guests busy during their stay at the resort. Apart from lazing on the beach and swimming in the glistening ocean all day long, the boys enjoyed one pleasant afternoon of snorkeling while I treated myself to a traditional Thai massage at the resort’s spa.

THE SERVICE

The service at Varu by Atmosphere is faultless. Everything was taken care of with attention, efficiency, and a friendly smile. I would like to extend our special thanks to the team whom we closely interacted with during our stay:

Ashraf was like a holiday personal assistant. I couldn’t find better words to describe his role. He was meticulous and always accessible and ever-punctual with his buggy. He took us from one point to the other, ensuring that we were where we were supposed to be at any given time. He spoilt us to the last day.

Dara at the Bay Rouge Bar was always sparky, good-humored, friendly, and professional. We enjoyed popping by The Bay Rouge for a bubbly now and then. The entire team is all bright and breezy.

Damitha, our room attendant, kept our quarters in mint condition throughout our stay. We appreciated and looked forward to the little surprises he left behind each day. The turtle made out of a towel was my son’s favorite.

Mukko, the super snorkeling instructor, took our son on his very first-ever snorkeling adventure in the ocean! Thanks to his proficiency and patience, our son had a pleasant first-time snorkeling experience and now can’t wait to go on more adventures!

Mr. Philippe, the resort’s manager, went  above and beyond to make sure that every guest was being taken care of, every expectation was being met, and guests were relishing their time at the resort. As if that’s not enough, he also had some cool magic tricks that left us all flabbergasted!

To put it simply, our short but sweet stay at Varu by Atmosphere was sublime, and I can’t wait to return to Maldives someday to experience the other Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts properties in the area.

This was only my second time in Maldives, but already, this country has captured my heart, not only because of its glorious islands and paradise destinations like Varu by Atmosphere but also for its warm and welcoming people. Talk about having it all! Whoever said heaven is place on earth was propably thinking of Maldives! Indeed!

Lora By Lora

THE MALDIVES | VELASSARU ISLAND RESORT.

A friend once told me that one never forgets the colors of Maldives. It’s one of those magical places whose enchantment stays with you forever. At that time, I did not really understand what she meant. I was never crazy about visiting Maldives because I had the impression I would be bored there after a day or two—even if I was stuck on a beautiful island and staring at the magnificent blue ocean all day long.

How happy was I to be proven wrong! My family and I spent the most amazing week in the Maldives, and I can now say firsthand that it deserves its reputation as one of the world’s must-visit places. It is paradise! It’s probably one of the most beautiful and most photogenic places on earth. If you count each island, you have almost 2,000 reasons to visit Maldives!

VELASSARU RESORT MALDIVES

Worlds away, floating in the Indian Ocean, Velassaru Island Resort is just a 25-minute speedboat ride from Malé. Nestled amidst enchanting tropical greenery, spectacular white sandy beaches, and crystal-clear waters, it was the perfect hideout for our family.

The place offered the consistent sense that you were in the best of hands. The staff at Velassaru made us feel right at home with their welcoming smiles and impeccable service from the moment we checked in until we checked out. They were always accessible, amicable, and ready to assist.

I loved our beachfront island-style villa, which was wonderfully secluded and surrounded by tropical foliage overlooking the ocean. It was spacious, with a one-of-a-kind outdoor bathroom, and well equipped with everything necessary to render our stay comfortable. Our welcome hamper included a bottle of champagne and delectable bites. But the best part was undoubtedly falling asleep and waking up to sight and sound of the ocean.

The resort has five restaurants and two bars offering gourmet flavors from around the globe. My favorite was their hearty breakfast buffet spread. I loved swinging by the juice station for some freshly squeezed celery juice goodness before heading over to the crepe station for some “Crepe au Chocolat” treat to accompany my morning coffee. After a great morning meal, we spent the rest of the day basking in the beauty of the island, taking dips in pristine turquoise waters and taking long walks on white sandy beaches.

The Maldivian archipelago is teeming with an array of different species of fish. For my 37th birthday, my husband surprised me with a dolphin-watching sunset sail on a traditional dhoni organized by the resort. It was an astounding experience. Being up close with these beautiful creatures filled my heart with so much joy and gratitude for life and all the beauty around us. Sharing the moment with my family made it even more special.

Sunsets in the Maldives are no less than breathtaking. Each day we looked forward to golden hours at the Chill Bar, an idyllic outdoor bar perched over the water. It was the perfect spot to unwind with a glass of bubbles while catching the sunset accompanied by relaxing live band music.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Seven days flew by in a heartbeat. It was time to say goodbye again with nothing but good memories. Our stay at Velassaru Resort Maldives was an experience I would recommend to anyone. It doesn’t matter whether you end up in a water bungalow with a pool or a beach villa like we had. All views were stunning, all paths led to the beach, and the service was beyond our expectations.

Our getaway may be over but the colors of Maldives remain vibrant in my mind.

Lora by Lora.

ITALY | JEFF KOONS AT PALAZZO STROZZI, FLORENCE.

Yesterday I finally had the chance to visit Palazzo Strozzi and check out Jeff Koons most celebrated works.

The exhibition will be running until 30.01.2022 so if you happen to be Florence I recommend going to bask in the beauty of his striking work.

“It’s not about finding relevance or perfection or imperfection in objects, but it’s that you can accept yourself and then go out and accept others.” –Jeff Koons

“For me, art really starts with acceptance, self trust. Wherever you come to with art, its perfect. You dont have to come with anything. What you bring to something is the art. Thats where its found. Its found within you.” -Jeff Koons

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ITALY | SUMMER ESCAPE TO PUGLIA.

“L’Italia è il solo paese dove si gusta ancora la gioia di vivere. Ci fa credere nella gioia di vivere, anche quando lei stessa non ci crede” -Roger Peyrefitte

(“Italy is the only country where the joy of living is still enjoyed. She makes us believe in the joy of living, even when she herself doesn’t believe it.”)

This summer, the boys and I ventured south to heel of Italy’s boot: Puglia. This was my first time to this part of Italy and unsurprisingly, I was swept off my feet. Home to wonderful beaches, charming villages, the most magnificent basilicas, and delectable cuisine, Puglia utterly captivated my senses in the short time I spent in its embrace.

“One of the great joys of traveling through Italy is discovering firsthand that it is, indeed, a dream destination. -Debra Levinson

OSTUNI ROSA MARINA RESORT

Ostuni Rosa Marina Resort was the perfect base for us. From there, we were able to take a few day trips to the beaches and surrounding towns of the Puglia region with ease.

ITALY’S CITTA BIANCA

Ostuni is well known for its whitewashed old town. It is also referred to as “The White City” (“La Citta Bianca” in Italian) for its typically white-painted architecture. The town, built on the top of a hill overlooking the Valle d’Itria, offers panoramic vistas of the sea below.

You’ll find that time holds little meaning while wandering through this old town. Life is slow-paced and relaxed. However, the sights are beautiful, and the ambiance is vibrant. It is easy to lose yourself in the town’s maze of nostalgic alleyways, colored doors, and romantic arches and staircases. No map is needed, just a curious mind and an open heart. I loved getting lost in Ostuni and and can’t wait to experience it all over again.

Not to be missed is the Cathedral of St. Vito Martire, one of the town’s most significant monuments. Considered by the critics of the history of architecture to be among the first and best examples of Apulian Rococo, the temple was designed by an anonymous Neapolitan engineer and built between 1750 and 1752.

ALBEROBELLO

Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is probably the most popular town in Puglia for its trulli—whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs.

Although the rural trulli are scattered throughout the Itria Valley, the maximum concentration of the best-preserved examples of this architectural form is found in the town of Alberobello, with more than 1,500 structures in the districts of Monti and Aja Piccola.

A notable landmark is the only church trullo in the world: the Church of Saint Antonio da Padova (Anthony of Padua) was realized in just 14 months and was inaugurated in 1927.

Alberobello is one of those places you would want to visit once in a lifetime. Whether you are an architecture enthusiast or not, it should be on every Puglian itinerary!

POLIGNANO A MARE

Polignano-a-Mare is an undoubtedly charming coastal town, home to some of Puglia’s loveliest beaches. Lama Monachile is probably one of the most famous and symbolic examples of Polignano a Mare, a bay of clear water set between high cliffs of rock.

The center of Polignano-a-Mare is vibrant with a variety of shops, quirky restaurants, and quaint bars. As you walk through the historic town of Polignano-a-Mare you will spot these famous lyrics illuminated:

Volare... oh, oh! Cantare... oh, oh, oh, oh! Nel blu, dipinto di blu,Felice di stare lassù. E volavo volavo felice più in alto del sole ed ancora più su. Mentre il mondo pian piano spariva lontano laggiù, Una musica dolce suonava soltanto per me...

It was interesting to find out that this well-known Italian song by Domenico Modugno was born in Polignano-a-Mare. For this reason, a promenade with an adjoining statue was dedicated to him in Piazza Minerva. Knowing this tidbit, when I use this song for my Instagram Reels, it hits differently now.

PUGLIAN FOOD AND WINE

What I appreciated most about Puglia’s cuisine is its freshness and authenticity. Most dishes that we had in Puglia were simple, true to their taste, and delicious. Aside from the glorious food, we made the most of our short time in the region by indulging in their best wine. I dived more into rosè because Puglia hosts most of the best Italian Rosati. My favorite was Saturnino, which pairs well with delectable Puglian focaccia.

One week was barely enough to scratch the surface of Puglia and everything it has to offer. Needless to say, I intend to return in the future to continue our whirlwind affair. But for now, I will carry in my heart the magic and beauty that I found there and let my wonderful memories of the place remind me to always live radiantly, vibrantly, and joyfully.

Lora by Lora.

TURKEY | 48 HOURS IN ISTANBUL.

Istanbul is the only city in the world that spreads across two continents. Its strategic geographical positioning, rich culture, delicious food, sublime architecture, vibrant atmosphere, and hospitable locals create an immeasurable experience that exceeds the expectations of even the most seasoned traveler.

Believe me, 48 hours is hardly enough time to scratch the surface.

WHERE TO STAY

Taksim Square (the heart of modern-day Istanbul) is located in Beyoglu on the European end of the city. It is typically my go-to base due to its central location, a myriad of accommodation options, restaurants and a slew of entertainment options to partake in.

THE MARMARA HOTEL, TAKSIM

The Marmara hotel overlooks Taksim square. Again, perfect location !! I found a great deal on booking.com and pounced on it. Even though I did not have an Instagrammable view, I enjoyed every bit of my stay. The rooms are spacious, well maintained, and equipped with all the necessary fixtures to make your stay comfortable. Most importantly, the team at The Marmara hotel is helpful and friendly. They go above and beyond to make their guests stay memorable.

The hotel boasts an expansive swimming pool that overlooks the Bosphorus, a well-maintained spa and a gym, an a la carte terrace restaurant, and an extensive wine cellar stocked with Turkish wines. Wine is not the first thing that pops in one’s head when they think of Turkey but to my surprise, Turkey produces some pretty decent vino. 

This salmon-colored Rose, Minoj by Vinkara Winery was surprisingly good and paired well with the hot summer days. I can’t wait to try other Turkish wines.

ISTIKLAL AVENUE

A long colorful pedestrian shopping street and probably the most famous street and entertainment hub in Istanbul. Nearly 3 million people visit Istiklaldaily. Istiklal is every shopper’s paradise hosting both local and international brands. There are also countless restaurants and cafes offering both Turkish and international cuisine.

GALATA TOWER

The Galata Tower is another iconic structure and apopular place in Istanbul. This old Geoese tower has an open deck that offers an unbeatable 360degrees panoramic vista over Istanbul.

BASILICA CISTERN

Located just a few blocks from the Blue Mosque is the Basilica Cistern. It is the largest cistern in Istanbul. Its mystical essence evokes wonder to all that lay their eyes on this architectural gem.

This underground water reservoir was built in the 6th century. Visitors can access it by its 52-step staircase.For you 007 fans, you would be pleased to know that the cistern was featured in the 1963 James Bond movie “From Russia With Love.” Look out for the impressively carved Medusa heads. 

ORTAKOY MOSQUE

This is one of my favorite squares and one of the most picturesque mosques in Istanbul. The Bosphorus Bridge that serves as an idyllic background accentuates the Mosque’s unmatched elegance.

Start the day with a leisurely Turkish breakfast at The House Cafe. It is quite an experience especially if you are lucky enough to get the waterfront tables with the stunning views of The Bosphorous. Am I saying Bosphorus too much? LOL

GRAND BAZAAR

My trip to Istanbul is never complete without swinging by the spice bazaar. Located in the Eminönü quarter of the Fatih district, it is one of the biggest and atmospheric bazaars in the city. I can not guarantee you a peaceful shopping experience because each vendor will try to sell you something but trust me the vibrant colors and smell are worth a visit.

THE BOSPHORUS

The Bosphorus (also known as) the Strait of Istanbul is a narrow 19 miles long strait that connects Asia and Europe & Marmara and the Black Sea. It is an eternally charming site that will dazzle your senses. 

Partake in one of the many Bosphorous tour cruises or simply hop on to a ferry and immerse yourself in what the area offers. Look out for some of the city highlights like Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Galata tower, The Maiden tower, Camlica Mosque, and many more.

HAGIA SOPHIA

Hagia Sophia is an iconic structure in Istanbul. It isimpossible to miss. This popular tourist site attracts millions of visitors annually. For nearly 1000 years Hagia Sophia was the world’s largest cathedral and Christian place of worship. It was viewed as a symbol of Christian and Muslim solidarity. Even after it was converted into a museum, it was still regarded as a sacred place.

It has saddened many that this architectural marvel has been converted into a mosque. Nonetheless, I am still inspired by its everlasting beauty and what it once stood for. 

I thought of a clever way to wrap up this post that would effectively embody my experience in Istanbul, but I came up short. This is because Istanbul is one of a kind. No words can conceptualize this city.

Lora By Lora.

EATING OUT IN FLORENCE | BRUNCH AT DITTA ARTIGIANALE.

Ditta Artigianale has two different locations in the heart of Florence. I love swinging by the one on Via Dello Sprone. It is just a short walk away from the Ponte Vecchio. Their airy courtyard is a great place to sit back and enjoy their amazing coffee.

Food is impeccable, reasonably priced, and quite generous in portion. I can’t have enough of their Avocado on whole-grain toast and smoked salmon. It is my go-to brunch treat.

DITTA ARTIGIANALE,

Via Dello Sprone 5R – Firenze, IT +39 0552741541

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EATING OUT IN FLORENCE | SCRUMPTIOUS PISTACCHIO AND RICOTTA CANNOLI FROM DON NINO.

Located on the right-hand corner of Via Ricasoli at the Piazza del Duomo Don Nino has become one of my favorite pit stops on cheat days. I can’t get enough of their scrumptious pistachio and ricotta cannoli.

Don Nino – Piazza del Duomo 10, 50122 Firenze