Shabia Mantoo (http://instagram.com/shabiaglobe), is an Australian-British lawyer and an avid traveller. With her work and interest in international and humanitarian law, she is based between Australia, the UK, the UAE and Switzerland and everywhere in between. She shares with us a few of her favourite destinations.
When I’m based in London or Geneva, I end up spending many a weekend city tripping. Barcelona, Istanbul and Stockholm are among my favourite cities in Europe, with something for everyone and a great ambience and vibe. In Barcelona, I love spending time exploring the lanes off Las Ramblas and the Gothic quarter (Barri Gòtic), with its eclectic shops, museums and cafes; then heading to Barceloneta for a good seafood paella and a stroll along the golden beach to walk it off afterwards!
Stockholm is such a vibrant city. The walk from the main pedestrian street, Drottninggatan, to medieval Gamla Stan (the old town) and on to vibrant Södermalm, traversing cobblestone bridges over the crisp Baltic Sea, is refreshing. The Swedish concept of “Fika” (an institutionalized coffee break) ensures plenty of amazing cafes and patisseries along the way. Don’t forget to try cinnamon rolls and the cream-filled and marzipan coated, Princess cake.
In Istanbul, although it’s naturally quite touristic I never tire of spending time in the Sultan Ahmet area, with its glorious treasures; the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace . The quiet Bedestan bazar nearby, though a little expensive is a bit understated and has wonderful treasures, such as antique fine silver jewelry and Turkish-designer shawls and linen. And of course, every Istanbul journey is not complete without a mandatory boat cruise along the Golden Horn and Bosphorous, the strait between Asia and Europe.
In Asia-Pacific, Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are second homes. The weekend markets, such as the enormous Chatuchak in Bangkok, are a great place to shop, relax, eat and people watch. Siam square is also great for shopping and eating and among my favourite hotels to relax or enjoy a meal from a bygone era is the beautiful Oriental along the Chao Phraya river.
Shop and eat -til-you-drop
Most of my long-haul travels route through my former home of Dubai, so I cherish being able to replenish my supplies in this gourmand paradise. Dubai Mall has practically nearly every high street and haute couture fashion label under its roof so it’s extremely convenient (in addition to an aquarium and ice rink for good measure…) During “winter”, Dubai’s Global Village is the place to be, a huge shopping and leisure precinct with goods from all over the world and with ample entertainment.
In Kuala Lumpur, the Golden Triangle district and the KLCC and Pavilion malls in particular satisfy the most discerning of shoppers and eaters. The KLCC food court also does the best Hong Kong barbeque chicken (outside HK of course!). In Singapore, afternoon tea at the Raffles or the brunch at the Straits Kitchen, which serves an endless assortment of pan-Asian food, are always on the agenda. A secret foodie spot is the very low-key and understated Koh Nangkam restaurant, on North Bridge Road which serves mouth-watering, homestyle Southern Thai specialties.
I highly recommend Granada with a tour of the Alhambra of course, and the old Moorish quarter of Albayzin. Though the crowds ascend during summer, a visit in spring or autumn is much quieter and the temperature is very pleasant. The Alhambra takes a full day and the adjoining Generalife (literally “the architect’s garden”) is a good place to rest tired feet, with the soothing sounds of palatial water features to keep comfort. The Albayzin is just spectacular at sunset, with amazing views to be had in the heavenly courtyard of the Granada Mosque and a tea stop at one of the alfresco cafes nearby.
Elsewhere in Europe, another former home, Switzerland, has possibly one of the most prettiest places on earth to take in spring… Montreux, a quiet town along lake Leman is incredibly idyllic. The promenade hosts a variety of cafés and restaurants and you can explore the Chateau de Chillon which Byron was so inspired by. Its location means proximity to Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland, and across the lake is the equally resplendent French town of Yvoire, one of the most prettiest places in France.
Another favourite getaway destination has to be Marrakech. Stay in a preserved North African Riyad (traditional house) and day trip to the striking Atlas mountains to see the Ourika valley waterfalls. Other to-do activities include trips to the iconic Almohad Koutobia Mosque, the Saadian tombs, the Majorelle Gardens, the souk and tanneries; and of course a hamam treatment with locally sourced argan oil or black soap, and dinner at the mystical Djmaa el Fanaa square, in the heart of the city.
I’m glad I crossed Persepolis, the ‘city of Persians’ as it was once known, off the bucket list. The preserved ruins of this former Persian city are awe-inspring. Nearby Shiraz also showcases its great civilizational heritage, with its antiquated bazaars, caravanserais, teahouses, superb mausoleums paying tribute to celebrated saints and poets, and striking architectural forms from Mosques, estates and gardens. No trip to Iran however, is complete without a trip to Isfahan. A visit to the Safavid-era Imam Square will provide you with a formative understanding of why this city was known as a treasure of the Silk Road. I highly recommend a stay at the magnificent Abbasi Hotel, a former royal caravanserai (guest house).
Off the beaten track
One of the world’s most beautiful places, known in fact as “paradise on earth” is Kashmir, at the foothills of the Himalayas. Due to its contested status and the fact that it remains divided across three countries, the security situation has hampered its tourism industry. Nonetheless its beauty, has inspired poets, as well as regional conflicts… With a syncretic cultural heritage, the aesthetic of the mosques and shrines in Srinagar’s old town invoke Central Asia, whilst the mountainous Pari Mahal (fairy palace) and Shalimar gardens reflect its Mughal past. Away from the capital, the spell-binding, glacial Sonamarg (the “Golden Valley”) and the soft-powdery snow-capped slopes of Gulmarg are must-sees.
For more of Shabia’s tips and adventures you can follow her at instagram.com/shabiaglobe