Wales, Tuscany, Oman: Could These Be the Best Beaches in the World?

The Chedi Muscat in Muscat, Oman.

(Bloomberg) –At Bloomberg Pursuits, we love to travel. And we always want to make sure we’re doing it right. So we’re talking to globe-trotters in all our luxury fields—food, wine, fashion, cars, real estate—to learn about their high-end hacks, tips, and off-the-wall experiences. These are the Distinguished Travel Hackers.

Bethan Gray is one of Britain’s foremost furniture gurus. She began her award-winning career with affordable design store Habitat before striking out on her own a little more than a decade ago to focus on high-quality furniture that employs natural materials in modern ways. Gray’s latest collection, Shamsian, is made in Oman, one of her favorite destinations, and is inspired by the crafts and techniques there.

The designer, who lives in London with her husband and business partner, Massimo, and their 5-year-old son, says Emirates is her favorite airline, as she’s often in the Middle East. “I’ve traveled for business and also traveled for pleasure with my son, and they’re amazing at both—they’re really good with kids.” Gray usually logs about 350,000 miles per year, but in 2019 she reached double that thanks to a three-month-long family trip.

You won’t believe where Gray claims the best beaches in the world are

Wales is Britain’s best-kept secret, especially the beaches. They’re mainly pretty quiet, even on a superhot, sunny day in the summer. On the south side, where you have the Severn Estuary, the difference between high and low tide is immense. The beach goes on for so long when the tide is out that it can take you 15 minutes to walk across it. It’s unimaginable. And it creates these amazing rock pools that I love. It means I get quite disappointed with other beaches. I had a friend go to California recently, and he said, “I don’t know why I came all the way over here when we have it all in Pembrokeshire.”

I’d also recommend Mwnt [pronounced Munt], a tiny cove with a medieval sailors’ chapel. It has a wonderful place to eat fresh seafood, Café Môr, which means “sea” in Welsh. I went last July, and while we were swimming in the cove, dolphins came in.

Yes, you can collect shells as an adult—if you do it like this..

Everybody has a keen connection with shells from when they were children. It just reminds us of being little, I guess. So I have an ever-expanding collection of shells, and when it is ethically responsible to do so, I always bring home a few. To display them, I pick up lots of the same [shell] going from small to large, or [different shells] of the same size in different colors. Something in repetition works well as a display.

Forget apps, and embrace the joy of maps

Most people start gathering travel tips only when they know they’re visiting somewhere new. But my father, a geography teacher, is fascinated by maps, so you can’t tell him about a good restaurant or an interesting museum without him marking the location on one—even if he’s got no intention of visiting. I used to drive a scooter around London, and I would photocopy a page of the A to Z, and that’s how I got to learn the city. I’ve given maps to friends as a gift. The best place to buy them is the Kempton antiques market in London; you’ve got to go really early in the morning, and it has amazing things.

What to pack to turn any unfamiliar hotel room into a cozy haven

I’ve got a really sensitive sense of smell, so scent has always been very important to me. Sometimes you arrive in a new place, and it smells amazing, but often hotels forget about our fifth sense, so I always bring rose and frankincense oil with me when I travel. Frankincense is used in by lots of people in perfume, but they don’t think about having it in the house as a staple like we do. I mix it myself, with rose, around 70% vs. 30%. I pack a diffuser to spray it on the pillow, or I use it in the bath. It gives me such a sense of grace and keeps me grounded. Even when you don’t consciously notice the ambient fragrance, it can really affect your sense of well-being, particularly when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings.

What makes Oman a must-visit in the Gulf

Because Oman is close to Dubai, people think it will be like it, but it’s nothing like Dubai. There’s only one building over 10 stories high in the whole country, because the Sultan saw it in 1976, and then said, “Never again.” The Wave, a new residential and shopping area, is where lots of people, especially youngsters, go and hang out. The country is clean, with lots of character and a heritage that’s been well preserved.

Oman is a very thin, long country, so there’s such varied landscapes: Inland, there are mountains like Jebel Shams and Jabel Akhdar, which is where a lot of roses are grown. I go to the souk to buy my essential oils. Farther south, there’s monsoon weather, and even an island, Masirah. Omani hospitality is second to none. The Chedi hotel is beautiful, with such symmetry in the pathways and arches inside and out. There’s quite a large Indian population, so I buy a lot of kantha scarves, those beautiful, hand-embroidered ones that are superfine and will go through a ring.

Swap out Florence for this lesser-known part of Tuscany

A lot of people think of Tuscany as very rural, hilly, and full of yellow fields. But I love Pietrasanta, about an hour north of Pisa, on the coast in an area called Versilia—it’s where my husband and I got married. He’s Italian, and we’ve spent a lot of time there with his family. It’s near Carrara, where the white marble comes from, and it has marble, too; Michelangelo said it was better here. Now the streets are filled with sculptures, turning the whole town into an open-air art gallery. There are artisans’ studios and marble and bronze workshops tucked away in every corner, so it’s full of craftsmanship that’s been there for centuries.

From the town, it’s about a 20-minute bike ride to the beach, a really lovely ride through the pine forests. They’re Italian-style beaches: sandy, quite white, long, with not much tidal variation, and row upon row of beach clubs. Gilda beach club has a fabulous restaurant, and La Perla is family-friendly, with a lovely pool. I also like Ristorante Franco Mare.

Don’t hesitate to make a world trip as a family—and involve your children’s school, too

I just returned from a three-month trip across Asia and Australasia with Massimo and our son, Cian. It was an incredible immersion into all sorts of experiences. Having a child-friendly airline like Emirates made a huge difference. They come in, take a little picture with an instant camera, and give it you; then they bring a little kids’ pack, give them a toy, and their food comes first. They really think about things.

And we thought about the trip as a project that Cian’s class could benefit from, when he was away. He kept in touch with his class a lot; we would make a PDF of each country we visited, and they would learn about it. They made their whole term about traveling the world.

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