This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
This is default featured slide 3 title
This is default featured slide 4 title
This is default featured slide 5 title
 

Monthly Archives: July 2018

Visit in Mallorca Spain

Some say Mallorca is a beacon of calm, sophistication, beauty and A-List celebrity. It is also an Island of great wealth with its 870,000-strong population enjoying the highest per capita level of disposable income in Spain.

Some believe only what they read in the papers – tales of union jack shorts, binge drinking and abandonment of inhibitions – this classy portrayal may come as some surprise.

Mallorca is in fact breathtakingly stunning. From deserted white sand beaches to craggy pine-clad mountain ranges, the exquisite architecture of historic buildings to flower-filled fields heavy with citrus trees, Mallorca offers every kind of beauty for everyone.

The trick is to get behind the wheel of a car (or indeed the helm of a motoryacht or charter a day out on a small yacht), explore and discover your personal piece of Island paradise.

Serra de Tramuntana

For me, the best place to start is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Serra de Tramuntana, the western backbone of the Island that offers steep mountain scenery set against a Mediterranean backdrop.

Cala Deià

My favourite beach, Cala Deià, can be found here, one of the most bewitching inlets on Mallorca’s entire coastline with the clientele to match.

The littoral outlet for well-heeled Deià, a village that has been home to Mick Jagger, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Branson and poet Robert Graves who is buried there, Cala Deià may be small (200m wide), far from sandybeaches but the water is crystal clear, the rocky outcrops imposing and the atmosphere convivial.

Either lunch at one of the delightfully primitive beach restaurants or, as I prefer, pack a hamper with a chic-nic of smoked salmon, cheeses, baguettes, leafy salad, strawberries, linen napkins, champagne flutes and iced cava and become the envy of the west.

Fornalutx Village

The Serra de Tramuntana also hides my favourite Mallorcan village, Fornalutx. Twice elected Spain’s most beautiful, Fornalutx is surrounded by fragrant orange and lemon groves set against an imposing mountain backdrop.

The miniature main square is fringed with immaculately presented pavement cafes who’ll reward you with a cool beverage after you’ve tired your legs mounting the never-ending steps to nosy at the patios and flower-decked balconies of the lovingly preserved stone Mallorcan houses.

Son Marroig and Monestir de Maramar

As you drive back down south, take the coastal road and nip into Son Marroig and Monestir de Miramar on the way. Both former residences of the Habsburg Archduke Ludwig Salvador (who fell head over heels with Mallorca) and both open to the public for a few euros entry, it’s undoubtedly the views that will captivate you more than the houses for they are the stuff of dreams – particularly from the neoclassical marble temple at Son Marroig which is now a popular venue for post-card perfect weddings and acoustic concerts.

Palma

From village to city, capital Palma is Mallorca’s only real city and deserves your full attention for at least a day. It shares many characteristics with big sister Barça – a Gothic Cathedral that has received the Gaudi touch, refurbished old buildings, mazy shopping streets, gardens with splashing fountains, art museums and an impressive city beach.

The best vantage point for looking down over Palma’s rooftops, endless marina front and visiting cruise ships is the Castell de Bellver. In a wooded hilltop just west of the City, this 14th century fortress is immaculately conserved and built in a canny circular design with a central keep. Climb up to the rooftop for the most attractive and peaceful views and go on a Sunday – it’s free.

The wine route

Whatever your penchant; following the wine route of the Island’s 60 plus bodegas, scaling the countryside to a hilltop monastery or swinging a club on one of Mallorca’s 22 immaculate golf courses, all of Mallorca is within easy reach.

Puerto Pollença

A drive from Palma in the south to Puerto Pollença in the north takes just 50 minutes on smooth motorway and to reach the beach resort of Cala Millor on the Island’s east coast is just one hour 15 minutes from the capital. Nothing requires great logistical planning.

Beachside Holiday Resort in Alanya Turkey

If Turkey has a an exotic version of a bucket and spade seaside resort, Alanya on its south eastern coast is it. Its lovely white sand beaches are lapped by the warm waters of the Mediterranean sea and overlooked by the towering Taurus mountains. And as you follow its coastal curve and meander inward too, the mood perceptively changes from historic to bizarre, lively and amusingly, a little cheesy too.

Along the harbour are myriad restaurants, some named after celebrities such as James Dean and Elvis and an open-air segment of cafés, dubbed the tea rooms, that look onto the tens of moored ships. Some of these are private yachts and some take tourists out to sea. Smaller ones dressed in yellows, reds and orange bob on their laurels, offering a colourful eyeful against the deep blue of the sea.

One sun-scorched afternoon, I found myself on the Sea Angel, a wooden pirate ship that looked twee with its a statue of a a silver angel. With Kapten Arif at the helm I was was about to spend four-hours with a rather large gaggle of Russian, German and Dutch tourists. Party music escaped from some overhead speaker while the crew-cum-gymnasts served and entertained. The ship anchored every now and again so we could jump ship and swim in the warm sea water and as we sailed by Alanya’s rich heritage of coves and caves (Phosphorus being the most famous), crew members took to diving off them in all manner of daredevil ways. Even dolphins turned up on cue to a collective joy. A lunch of skewered chicken followed by juicy watermelon was remarkably good. Though not a sophisticated jaunt, young families and those young at heart may find this to be tremendous fun.

Yet everywhere I looked I was reminded that this is an historic town. It’s 13th century castle, built by Seljuq Sultanate of Rum on a rocky peninsula, is perched 820 feet high. It’s now an open-air museum with a palace, villas and a chapel that was converted into a mosque and is testament to a long history of invasions including the Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires.

Built by Seljuq Sultanate of Rum on the rocky peninsula part it includes villas and a chapel that was converted into a mosque. Part of the peninsular juts out onto the Mediterranean sea and this is where “man throwing ledge” remembers the gory story of slaves being pushed to their death. Slaves would be given three stones to throw into the sea. If the stones made a splash (an impossible task thanks to the rock formations) they would live another day, if not they would be thrown to their death.

Following the winding floral stone path downwards I was stopped in my tracks by Che Sukru. Clad in just a pair of shorts, his tanned torso was bent over a hand operated juicer making pomegranate juice that he sold for couple of lira a glass. Drinking the juice in his garden café shaded by mandarin and lemon trees while chickens clucked and pottered, was an experience that was beyond quaint.

Following the path as it twisted down to ground level I was led to the now defunct but still fascinating arches of the Tersane shipyard. It serves as a museum to this bygone industry with part-built ships, maps and information describing how it may have been.

Nearby and standing to attention in the harbour is the 13th century octagonal landmark Kızılkule (Red Tower) so called because of its red bricks. Built to protect the town from attack, there are five floors each with a museum of artefacts. Climbing all 86 steps to the roof means getting sensational views over the marina and the beaches.

Reaching the town from the harbour means walking through a bizarre cat sanctuary where stray cats can tuck into bowls of food and shelter in purpose built hutches. It’s part of a serene park where fountains flow while felines and people mingle in quiet reverie.

Just beyond that is a sprawling warren of tiny streets laced with numerous of shops selling fake designer bags, clothes and shoes. Michael Korrs, Prada, Chanel populated the shelves with the odd smattering of Mulberry. It’s common to haggle and it’s impossible to resist.

Amid these streets, restaurants and bars are plentiful with Bar Street being the hotspot for a pulsating night life. It’s also round here that I lunched at Mini Mutfak, a fabulous Turkish restaurant where lamb Kofta (meatballs) never tasted so good and I simply loved the Yavalama – mint beef balls with small chick peas in tzatziki sauce.

Beyond these tiny roads is the main road, Ataturk Street named after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) a Turkish army officer, revolutionary, and the first President of Turkey who founded the Republic of Turkey. There is an impressive statue of him at the central crossroads where the Turkish flag flies at full mast. Indeed, most buildings in Alanya have the Turkish flag hanging from them.

There are long stretches of beach and perhaps the prettiest is Cleopatra beach. It’s in front of Dalmatas Cave (a tiny two storey cave with impressive stalactites and stalagmites). They say it was named after the Egyptian Queen who stopped by and enjoyed a swim in this bay. Had she done so today she could have also lazed on a comfy cabana or sipped her tipple at a choice of beach side cafes.

One day I joined a jeep tour – a convoy of 18 jeeps filled with people who were encouraged to throw water at each other. I couldn’t fathom out why but on the bright side we clapped eyes on gorgeous pine forests, banana and cotton plantations as we trucked our way through the dirt tracks of the Taurus mountains We stopped for a bbq lunch alongside Dim River and visited an old village to have a peep inside an ancient mosque.

A more sedate day out was to Dim Caye for lunch. Al-freso restaurants are stretched out over the Dim river on platforms. Some restaurants allowed diners to fish for trout for their lunch. Not so at Gol Piknik, where we were seated on cushions and served Turkish cuisine served to a backdrop symphony of a waterfall and the quacking of passing ducks. After a quick finger check of the cold water temperature and I resolved to stay on dry land, though I did spot others – adults and children – splashing and frolicking around the river flumes.

There is a weekly bazaar that takes place in town and although mostly a food and vegetable market with the odd vendor selling flags, it offered a reassuring snapshot of local life.

That afternoon I visited a uniquely Turkish venue, a local Hammam. My lack of Turkish banter was of no concern because no words needed – a knowing look at reception led to a wet sauna followed by dry heat followed by a long dip in a swirling hot tub followed by an eye-watering pummelling given by a slight lady who you’d think couldn’t hurt a fly and soapy deep clean scrub. After a short rest, presumably to recover, a lovely massage pieced me back together again.

It felt truly exotic.

Hotel Rooms With Amazing Views In The World

1. Oliver’s Travels, Tamarind House, St Lucia

Oliver’s Travels, Tamarind House, St Lucia

Made from local stone with high greenheart ceilings, and Barbados tiled floors, this exceptionally large Caribbean house offers the rare luxury of space, privacy and sensational views of the Pitons. The 640sqft master bedroom is furnished with a beautiful antique king size four-poster bed, a hand carved standing cheval mirror and private terrace. From the bed, the view of Piton is framed by bougainvillea climbing up the stone walls. The main house has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, while the separate cottage is the master bedroom suite with its own living room, kitchen, dressing area, marble bathroom, and terrace.

Prices start from £3,145 per week.

2. PurePods, Canterbury / Kaikoura, New Zealand

PurePods, Canterbury / Kaikoura, New Zealand

Made completely of glass from roof to floor, guests can sleep under the dazzling stars of the Southern Cross and awake to pure New Zealand native bush. With sliding glass doors for hot weather and bio-fuel fires for winter months, the Pure Pod offers unique year-round nature experiences. Reached only by a walk through the bush land into a completely private haven, the Pure Pod offers 360-degree views of the valley and the Pacific Ocean in the distance. There are three PurePods – one in Little River, Canterbury, and two in Kaikoura.

From £210 per night based on two people sharing.

3. Uma by COMO, Ubud, Bali

Uma by COMO, Ubud, Bali

Uma by COMO, Ubud, immerses guests in the culture of Bali. The Terrace Rooms are serene and magical, with French doors that open onto a private terrace overlooking the gardens, paddy fields and hills of the lush Indonesian island. Carved wooden panels give the room the charm of a traditional Indonesian home, while the contemporary furnishings including a four-poster bed, sunken bath tub, outdoor shower and a private pool, make it the ultimate luxury jungle escape.

Prices start from £191 per night based on two people sharing.

4. ITC Maurya, New Delhi, India

ITC Maurya, New Delhi, India

Nestled in greenery, in the heart of Delhi’s diplomatic corridor, ITC Maurya is the city’s premier luxury hotel (President Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton have all stayed at the hotel). The Luxury Suite offers breathtaking views of Delhi’s green ridge, and blends grandeur and exemplary hospitality soaked in Indian traditions. The hotel is also home to Bukhara, one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, where guests can experience authentic North-West Indian cuisine in a traditional and rustic setting.

Prices start from £254 per night based on two people sharing.

5. Beachspoke, Blackmoon, Cornwall, UK

Beachspoke, Blackmoon, Cornwall, UK

Ever dreamed about lying in a super king sized custom made bed whilst watching the sun set or rise over the ocean? At Black Moon, that’s exactly what guests can do. With the bedroom separated from the living room by a huge sliding mirrored wall, guests can enjoy truly spectacular coastal views towards Gwithian lighthouse. A striking one-bedroom property, Black Moon transforms the ubiquitous luxury cottage into a private hideaway.

Prices start from £200 per night based on two people sharing.

6. Blue Chip Holidays, Laburnham, Cornwall, UK

Blue Chip Holidays, Laburnham, Cornwall, UK

Perched at the top of Tregonhawke Cliff on the south coast of Cornwall, Laburnham is a secluded one-bedroom lodge that boasts 60 miles of uninterrupted panoramic sea views. Laburnham has an open plan living space, kitchen and dining area that opens up to the private clifftop garden, and a master bedroom that opens onto a decking area that overlooks the glistening sea. Stunning sea views and fresh sea air make this cosy British bolthole the ultimate Cliffside retreat.

Blue Chip Holidays offers three nights at the Laburnham from £488 on a self-catering basis.

7. Forest Domes, Finn Lough Resort, Northern Ireland

Forest Domes, Finn Lough Resort, Northern Ireland

Set within the woods on the banks of Lough Erne, the bespoke Stargazing Forest Domes atFinn Lough Resort allow guests to escape the noise of the outside world and enjoy stargazing in solitude. The new forest domes feature 180-degree transparent walls and roof, and include luxurious creature comforts, such as a four-poster bed, waterfall shower, under floor heating, fluffy robe and slippers, and daily breakfast. Accessed by a short walk or drive through the forest or aboard a boat or pedal Hobie via Lough Erne, guests can immerse themselves in nature and watch the changes in the night sky around them.

Prices start from £175 per night including breakfast, based on two people sharing.

8. Le Sirenuse, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Le Sirenuse, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean, fifty kilometers from Naples, Le Sirenuse is the most stunning and iconic hotel on the Amalfi coast (and discreetly plays host to A-list celebrities). The rooms and suites retain the personal touches of a private residence and offer dramatic views over the bay of Positano. Standing 70 metres above the sea, the rooms are an unbeatable oasis of peace and silence, with breathtaking views.

Prices start from £325 per night including breakfast, based on two people sharing.

Trekking in Fann Mountains Northwestern Tajikistan

There is a place where the mountains stretch up to touch the sky, turquoise lakes shimmer like jewels against a dusty backdrop, and — so they say — Bucephalus, the horse of Alexander the Great, rises from the deep, dark waters on a full moon night, and grazes on the shore. History and legend here are intimately entwined, but one thing is for certain: the views alone will take your breath away in Tajikistan.

Where is Tajikistan?

Tajikistan is one of those funny places we know exists, but few people could actually place on the map. Nestled between China, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan it’s a small, mountainous state which was historically of great significance — Alexander the Great built cities here, it was central to the Silk Road, and the Great Game was played out along its rivers and passes — but in recent years it has fallen, undeservedly, into obscurity.

It’s all about the trekking

Thankfully, a new generation of trekkers, climbers, and other adventure seekers have decided it’s time for all that to change, and the Fann Mountains in northwestern Tajikistan look set to become one of the wildest and most exciting travel destinations of 2017.

Pioneering the development of trekking and tourism in Tajikistan is Luca Lässer, owner of Kalpak Travel, who fell in love with the ‘Stans whilst completing an exchange programme at the American University of Central Asia. He describes the Fann Mountains as “a magical destination [which] will quite literally take your breath away,” and as the peaks here soar to well over 5,000m, that’s no exaggeration!

The roads, often unmade, could do little more than cling to the mountainsides, rivers rushing hundreds of feet below, and a sheer face of rock above. Often I couldn’t see the sky: that required getting out of the vehicle and craning my neck back, staring straight up. The natural barrier created by the mountains was so high.

Amazing landscape

From the main road, we crossed a rickety metal bridge, rusted and barely holding together, and climbed and climbed, one hairpin bend after another. Clouds of dust blew up from the track, and on the barren slopes around us, there was little to see but scree.

But then we passed over a hump, and another bend, and laid out below us was a turquoise lake, the surface of the water glittering in the sunlight.  Around the lake, the vegetation was lush and jade green, a veritable oasis which until now had been completely hidden from view.

This lake was Iskanderkul, named for Alexander the Great. It is said that he came here whilst on campaign, and when his favourite horse, Bucephalus, died, he was buried in the lake. The shepherds will tell you that on a moonlit the ghost of this horse rises again, but though we watched intently from our campsite on the shore, we didn’t catch a glimpse of Bucephalus.

The people

Though the landscapes in the Fann often seem empty, in fact that’s far from the truth. People have lived here for millennia, and some of them have preserved their languages and cultures since ancient times. Their villages sit by the riverside, and in summer the shepherds drive their flocks to high meadows over mountain passes. And so my second fond memory is of the people, and in particular a family in Aini who took me in for the night. The concrete wall around their plot encompassed not only the family home, but also a beautifully tended garden. The grandmother of the house sat with me beneath the apricot tree, telling stories I’ll never understand. But in the warmth of the sunshine, relaxed in the company of new friends, there was no better place in the world to while away an afternoon.

Access

Unlike the Alps or the Pyrenees, the Fann Mountains are hardly easily accessible, but their remoteness is part of their charms. You won’t find yourself following another trekking party up the pass, or competing for space at the best camping spots. The attraction of this wilderness is exactly that — it’s still wild. And the thrilling thing is that it’s waiting to be explored.

Practical Information

Kalpak Travel has 13-day trekking tours to the Fann Mountains, with scheduled departures in July and August. The tour costs €1,690 and this includes ground transportation, accommodation, meals, camping equipment, and services of an English speaking guide.

There are no direct flights from the UK to Tajikistan, but there are reasonable connections from London to Dushanbe (the capital) with Turkish Airlines, Air Baltic, and Air Astana. You will need to apply for an e-visa before you travel, and this currently costs $50. No additional permits are required to visit the Fann Mountains.

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Over 20 years ago, when Britain became linked to the rest of the European rail network, the prospect of London to Venice on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express became a reality with a through rail journey. This is a step back into the nostalgic past of the 1930’s experiencing the opulence of Rene Lalique glass carvings, marquetry wood engravings and sumptuous seating and to-die-for silver service meals.

So I booked on the first departure of the season’s 2016 Venice Simplon-Orient-Express from London’s Victoria station bound for Venice. I knew the UK stage of the journey would be on board a former Pullman (similar to the Golden Arrow) with the second stage through France, Germany, and through the Alps to Switzerland and then into Italy.

Imagine my surprise, horror and disappointment big time when having arrived at Folkestone on board the Belmond British Pullman, it was “everyone off”, then onto a bus for a drive to the Channel Tunnel terminal, off the bus, a walk through Passport Control, back onto the bus via a car park and then the bus drove into a shuttle train and onwards through the Tunnel. Inside the bus and once at Calais, it was stay on the bus for 25 minutes and a drive through the back streets of Calais to a railway siding where the real Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train sat waiting to “greet UK travellers!”

And when I asked “why the bus ride through the Channel Tunnel and not stay on board the train”, a spokesperson for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express management said: “Our train is not licensed to travel through the Channel Tunnel”. Now that is what I call progress!

Once the real Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train set off from Calais everything was perfect. Staff were dressed in regal 1930’s uniforms; compartments were of the highest standard; food was outstanding although be warned, drinks ranging from a simple G&T to a bottle of wine were expensive. A Sainsbury red of about £9 costs about £80 on the train – but it was nicely served!

It was James Sherwood, owner of Sea Containers, who struck on the idea of resurrecting the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in the 1970’s and he purchased two of the original carriages at a sale at Monte Carlo in 1977.

One of the carriages was “Audrey” which had been located in the back garden of a lady’s house. As part of the “sale” the lady makes an annual pilgrimage to Venice in the carriage which was once her garden shed!

I was one of the fortunate ones to travel to Venice in carriage “Audrey” which is unique with the opulent wood panelling and fittings. One of the other dining cars displays the famous and glorious Rene Lalique glass carvings.

There is little doubt the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is an experience worth the expense – and worth paying for.

Even the Belmond British Pullman provides luxury of a bygone era starting with Brunch of smoked salmon and scrambled egg, Champagne and a variety of nibbles to enjoy as the Pullman train slowly makes its way through the Kent countryside to Folkestone. At Calais Ville station you are greeted with the full regalia of 1930’s era uniforms, your own carriage attendant, drinks in your compartment and no luggage to worry about at all as your main suitcase is taken care of until you reach your Venice hotel and your “flight bag” is already loaded and waiting in your compartment once you board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train at Calais.

On the first evening you are “encouraged” to dress for dinner. Men in black tie; ladies in an evening attire of their own choice such as a cocktail dress. It is Champagne in the Lounge Bar dining carriage before being called for either the 19.00hrs or 21.30 hours dinner.  The menu is a mouth-watering choice of fish and steak of cheese and dessert. The wine list is extensive and wines are of the highest quality but be prepared to “gulp” at the prices. But then I suppose you would not be making such a journey without taking “add-on costs” into account first!

There is a first class pianist; a Chef du Tran; a Head Waiter who ensures everything is “tip top”; and silver table service leaves you in no doubt people in the 1930’s really knew how to live and enjoy life.

The compartment is compact and you have only a wash basin. The toilet (one per carriage) is at the end of the corridor but the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express do provide passengers with a very nice (for keeps) dressing gown and slippers to make that middle-of-the-night corridor visit that much more comfortable!

After a night’s sleep of sorts and waking up to the snow-covered Alps and the start of the journey into Italy, breakfast is served in your compartment. There is an alternative of a Champagne and lobster breakfast for the romantic at heart in the dining carriage at around £150. Very romantic.

After breakfast you take in the fantastic scenery of the Southern Alps and northern part of Italy. Down the sides of Italian lakes before heading into Milan for the fourth and final locomotive change. At each frontier you have a new locomotive and driver from that country you are about to travel through.

Lunch on the second day comprises: Pan-friend scallops on the bed of pureed peas in mussel emulsion and red beetroot; this is followed by Duck breast roasted with redcurrants and accompanied by green beans. Then there is Zucchini flower stuffed with lemon grass-scented black and white quinoa. Finally, orange cheesecake with lime zest. And – oh yes – do not forget the wine and a generous opened-ended credit card to pay for a bottle of appropriate wine – or you will look the odd-one-out!

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express approaches the coast and soon Venice comes into view. It was Mussolini who dreamt on the idea of linking the main island with a rail connection across the Lagoon. These days a road runs alongside the railway with a huge parking house as cars have nowhere to go – nor are they allowed to go anywhere – on any of the islands. The train station is large, reasonably modern and hectic but once again Venice Simplon-Orient-Express staff are waiting on the platform for travellers. You are escorted – by water taxi – to one of the numerous hotels. The main hotel used by the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is the Belmond Cipriani Hotel (read our review) but I selected the Londra Palace Hotel on island where St. Mark’s Square was just a 10 minute walk away. This proved an excellent choice as not only was my hotel first class with excellent service but I avoided water taxis as I could walk to the Basilica, museums and explore the many narrow canals and bridges between this and the Grand Canal. I had an excellent choice of small cafes and restaurants for meals during my four days in Venice although nothing was “cheap” with the exception of a slice of pizza (3 euros) or “just one cornetto” (2 euros)!

A simple evening meal was about £20 and a good bottle of wine £15-£20.

If you hire a private water taxi – hotel back to the railway station – the cost was 70 euros for a 15 minute journey.

I took a 45-minute gondola ride through the narrow canals with an excellent Gondolier named Marco (everyone knew Marco). Coming from a family of many centuries existence in Venice his knowledge of buildings, construction and prediction that not only is Venice sinking and the water level rising but in 100 years’ time Venice will “be no more!”

Costs: Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, hotel and flight return. Approximately £2,250

Costs: Extra hotel days in Venice. At least £150 a day – without meals

Meals: Allow up to £200 per day for lunch and dinner with some wine

Hotel Londra Palace: Book On-Line for “deals” or use your local travel agent to plan and book your entire trip. I used: Howard Travel of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, and was expertly guided through each stage by their representative “Wayne”.

Family friendly skiing at La Plagne France

La Plagne, in the Tarentaise Valley of the French Alps, is probably the world’s most popular family friendly ski resort. Many are attracted by its vast ski area and its myriad of beginner and intermediate runs and the choice of affordable apartments and villas.

The resort was born in the 1960s, with a bold new post war vision of giant Alpine complexes to provide affordable ski holidays, but these ended up no bigger than rabbit warrens amid vast acreages of linked ski slopes.

Decades later, these tiny apartments were knocked into larger units and nine satelite villages were developed. One of which is former farming village, Montchavin – my base for the duration of my stay.

In recent years La Plagne has been connected by a spectacular cable car with neighbouring Les Arcs – the Vanoise Express. It spans a valley that is 1,800m wide and 380m deep and forms the vast ski and snowboard playground marketed as Paradiski.

It sits between enormous linked ski areas – the Espace Killy (Val d’Isère-Tignes) and the Trois Vallees, which comprises resorts including Meribel and Courchevel. At its heart is the original, 45 years-old development now known as Plagne Centre.

Its great advantage was (and still is) that it allowed visitors to ski from and back to its doors. The flattish snowfield outside, the so called Front de Neige, with its cat’s cradle of lifts heading in all directions, can be so busy it gives the impression that if you sat long enough at one of its outside tables someone you know would eventually come gliding past.

Paradiski is claimed to be the world’s second biggest ski area connected by lifts. It has some 265 miles of pistes, and with more than two-thirds of its skiing over 6500 feet.

A great advantage of La Plagne is the large amount of blue rated intermediate cruising, on long and unthreatening slopes. Unthreatening, that is, on groomed powder. If you’re unlucky enough to catch them when they are hard and icy, head for steeper red or black pistes, for the easy terrain tends to attract skiers whose compulsion to bomb down exceeds their abilities.

Experts may wish to head for Roche de Mio for its 2,700m of challenging runs or the Bellecôte Glacier for black pistes and the opportunity to go off-piste.

And you can always take the cable car to Les Arcs, you don’t have to journey far to find a clutch of similarly moreish descents above Vallandry.

Skiing back to Montchavin – it lies at only around 4100 feet – can be tricky. In warm conditions I found the snow to be heavy as wet sugar. But you can always wimp out and catch the gondola down the last stretch.

The resort certainly has its charms with a lovely range of pistes and gives the impression of being a sort of Metropolis on snow that is worthy of its popularity.

Summer Holiday Destinations For Singles Holidays

Holidaying as a solo traveller offers a unique opportunity to see and experience the world in the way you choose, to enjoy those special interest holidays with like-minded souls and to make long-lasting friendships that endure perhaps for a lifetime. And when joining a package tour with a specialist solo travel agency you won’t have to go it alone or pay a single supplement.

Hisaronu, Turkey

The all-inclusive three-star Hotel Era in Hisaronu Turkey is a small, family-run hotel exclusively for single travellers. It has just 20 en suite rooms and guests enjoy sole occupancy of a double room. It has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and the focus of the hotel is the super swimming pool, surrounded by good-sized terraces with sun-beds for everyone. Authentic Turkish touches include the wood panelling in the bar, the hubble bubble pipe and the hammocks hanging in the gardens. A short stroll leads to small shops, bars and restaurants and a short dolmus ride leads to the Blue Lagoon.

Vidamar Resort, Praia dos Salgados, Portugal

The Vidamar Resort is located on Praia dos Salgados, a magnificent beach, seven kms west of Albufeira, backed by dunes which separate it from a freshwater lagoon and nature reserve. This five-star hotel, with a boardwalk to the beach, plus an 18-hole golf course next door, is the perfect choice for solo travellers looking for a sunshine or golfing holiday, or a combination of both! Single guests at the hotel enjoy sole occupancy of a double room and a nightly dinner table is reserved for solo travellers in the Ocean buffet restaurant. Facilities at the hotel, which is set in extensive grounds, include indoor and outdoor pools, a chill-out pool, four restaurants, four bars and a spa and gym.

Pineda de Mar, Spain’s Costa Brava

For solo travellers looking for more than just sunshine on their summer holiday, seven-night beachside breaks in Catalan Spain include authentic experiences such as a cookery workshop and escorted trips to Barcelona, Girona, the medieval hill town of Hostalric and Canet de Mar, with its Catalan architecture. Accommodation is at the three-star plus Hotel Stella & Spa – where guests have sole occupancy of a double room – which is situated just a 10-minute stroll from a huge sandy beach. Facilities include indoor and outdoor pools, a spa – with sauna, a solarium and Jacuzzi – plus a fully-equipped fitness room.

Paros & Naxos, twin-centre holiday

This two-centre holiday combines Paros – an idyllic island in the Cyclades – with its equally beautiful island neighbour of Naxos. This relaxing Greek holiday for single travellers begins with seven nights of ‘chilling’ on Golden Beach in Paros, then transfers to Plaka on Naxos for three nights, a larger resort with a wide choice of bars and restaurants. Accommodation on Paros is at the intimate beachside Villa Aeolos, while on Naxos it’s at the Aegean Land Hotel, perfectly placed for sightseeing and shopping historic Naxos Town. For water sports fans windsurf hire, scuba-diving, water skiing and wake boarding can be arranged. Transfer between islands is by ferry, a journey of around 30 minutes.

Belfast and beyond summer break

This short break of contrasts combines buzzing Belfast – with its many attractions such as the Titanic Museum and its city centre nightlife – with the pretty town of Ballycastle on the beautiful Causeway Coast where ‘must sees’ include the Giant’s Causeway. This three-night Belfast & Beyond bed and breakfast break – where guests enjoy sole occupancy of a double room – spends one night at the Premier Inn in Belfast and two nights at the Marine Hotel in Ballycastle, a small friendly hotel where single travellers will be assured of a warm welcome.

Staycation On One Of Britain’s Fabulous Beaches

Weymouth Beach, Dorset, England

Weymouth is a charming family seaside resort located in the rural county of Dorset. The gently curving beach with its soft sand and clean cool water, attracts thousands of tourists every year whatever the weather.

The beach is often buzzing with donkey rides, fun fairs, and Punch and Judy shows. Everything you gaze upon is quintessentially British.

There is also ample opportunity for retail therapy, and there are plenty of charming cafés and restaurants to choose from without the threat of burning a hole in your pocket.

The best way to travel to Weymouth is to fly to Southampton Airport and then take a train direct to Weymouth.

Stay at the family-friendly Best Western Hotel Rembrandt. It has a spa, restaurants and a huge swimming pool and a good base to explore the Dorset coast.

Eat at the art deco styled Italian restaurant Al Molo which has a fantastic location on the pier. For something more family friendly head for Manbo’s bistro. They have children’s menu and fast service so the hungry kids don’t stay that way long.

Oxwich Bay, Gower Peninsula, South Wales

You have to look to Wales for what may be the most beautiful beach in Britain. Soft, sandy Oxwich Bay, framed by woodland and overlooked by Penrice Castle, could come straight from an Enid Blyton story. With its Arcadian beauty, in summer Oxwich is an ideal place for safe swimming, a walk on the sands or through the nature reserve with its 600 species of flowering plants. The Gower, lying west of Swansea, was Britain’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and this year is the 50th anniversary. A footpath leads from Oxwich to St Illtyd’s Church, reputedly haunted by a half-man, half-horse creature and further along, the coastline is dotted with castles and ancient monuments and many unspoilt bays.

Nearby Swansea is a city that has reinvented itself in the past 5 years with a thriving local food scene showcasing the region’s rich food heritage: laver bread, cockles, Welsh black beef, and sea bass jostle.

Stay behind Oxwich Beach in Penrice Castle’s cottages a series of 14 self-catering cottages that overlook the beach and the wonderful Gower Peninsula.

Eat at Munch of Mumbles and enjoy British fare and a fabulous seaview.

Barafundle, Pembrokeshire, Wales

The beautiful Barafundle Bay on National Trust land is perfect for couples looking for ‘us time’. The beach ensures discretion by virtue of its secluded location in a bay protected by a rocky landscape. Park in the National Trust car park (£5) then be prepared for a 15-minute robust ramble over clifftops and hillocks and steps down onto a duned beach. There may be of smattering of others there in the summer and out of season you may get to see a surfer or two. There are no facilities there so take your lunch and nibbles with you.

Stay at the Grove B&B, a refurbished manor house in Narberth with pretty gardens and lovely views.

Eat at the Stackpole Inn, a gastronomic pub with great food. But to get there pick up the car and make your way to the nearest village Stackpole.

Brighton Beach, Sussex

There is no white soft sand because Brighton beach is a pebble beach. Yet when there is a hit of sunshine, the long stretch of stoned seafront becomes crowded with deckchairs, sun umbrellas, and people. The promenade is gorgeous and the vibrant pier is a pull for those searching entertainment. You could not get a better city beach vibe anywhere else in England.

Stay at the quirky Pelirocco. This hotel may well be England’s most rock-n-roll hotel. Rooms are themed in pink, debauched Nookii Room (for sexy couples) and Pin Up Parlour dedicatd to Diana Dors and one dedicated to the Sex Pistols.

Eat at the tiny 64 Degrees. This is proving to be the hottest restaurant at the moment. It is located in the Lanes and features a series of small dishes for sharing. Grab a stool at the counter and for a close up view of the cooking or book one of the three tables.

South Bay, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England

This is a traditional bucket and spade soft-sand beach with a marina, arcade, cafes and surprisingly beautiful architecture. The water is calm thanks to the shelter of the Castle Headland. Folklore depicts the sea here as the original spa. The story goes that 15th century bathers believed that the water had healing powers. Go exploring and you may come a across a secret cove to hide away for a while. For a break from the beach explore the ruins of the 11th century Scarborough Castle.

Stay on the seafront at the Ambassador Hotel. Steps away from the beach, this Victorian building has a free-to-use leisure club and fantastic pool.

Eat luscious icecream at Mr Moo’s cafe and icecream parlour or a enjoy a wholesome lunch. Perhaps take a very civilised tea at Francis Tea Rooms on South Street. Your table will have vintage crockery on embroidered table clothes. There are cakes and speciality teas as well as savoury items such as rarebit.

Hotel Baths With A Amazing View

With designer bathrooms quickly becoming a highly lusted-after interior design trend, the world’s most luxurious hotels have unveiled their own bath time eye candy. Imagine sinking into some bubbles looking out across an azure sea, or enjoying a soak with a chilled glass of champagne over a cityscape? Look no further as we round up our top ten hotel baths with a view.

1. 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa, South Africa

Forget whale watching from the hotel’s Leopard Bar Terrace and ignore the private cinema –Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa is all about the bath-time views. The hotel is flanked by The Twelve Apostles Mountain Range and the majestic Table Mountain, proving the most gob-smacking vistas of the UNESCO Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site as you soak in the tub.

2. InterContinental, Hong Kong

Hong Kong is famed for its dramatic skyline, boasting an impressive array of skyscrapers, surrounding mountains, beach-fringed coastlines and Victoria Harbour, which separates Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The really city bursts to life in the evenings though, as the imposing buildings light up in an array of colours and the harbour plays host to the daily Symphony of Lights. Where better to watch than from a vast, circular bath at the InterContinental hotel? Fits two people comfortably – a perfect setting to share a bottle of champagne or two.

3. Chalet Grace, Zermatt

Keen skiers find it hard to tear themselves away from the powder slopes and the stunning mountain views at the best of times. If reluctantly huddling up in a wooden chalet at the end of each day isn’t your thing, then staying in Firefly Collection’s Chalet Grace may be just the tonic. Facing across the valley, Zermatt’s hidden gem offers heart-stopping and uninterrupted views from the deluxe bathroom – the perfect place to thaw out.

4. Raffles Praslin, Seychelles

With the nearby Anse Lazio beach often referred to as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bath with a better sandy view than from Raffles Praslin in the Seychelles. Each villa features a carefully placed bath to maximise star gazing at night or to drink in the lush green hills, white powder beach and opal-hued ocean during the day.

5. Lake Vyrnwy, Wales

Part of  Welsh Rarebits, a collection of hotels with distinction, Lake Vyrnwy Hotel & Spa surprises and delights with a view that wouldn’t look out of place in the middle of New Zealand. If there was ever a reason to visit Wales, it’s this. The bath with a view overlooks a stunning, mountain-ringed lake; there seriously is no better place to shrivel like a prune in the UK.

6. Pier One Sydney Harbour, Australia

Pier One Sydney Harbour is a stunning boutique hotel that offers bath views directly over Sydney Harbour Bridge. Epitomising ‘Exactly Like Nothing Else,’ Autograph Collection’s tagline, the hotel is a shining example of Marriott’s group of boutique, stylish properties. Book the harbour view balcony suite and enjoy a soak overlooking Sydney and the famed landmark bridge – the perfect way to start a trip down under.

7. Singita Boulders Lodge, South Africa

Did you know you can bathe in an alfresco tub whilst watching elephants enjoying some light refreshment? We didn’t either until we happened upon this South African 12 bedroom lodge, set in a wildlife reserve. Soak away your stresses overlooking the Sand River, and you might be lucky enough to spot herds of elephants drinking at its banks.

8. Hideaway Beach Resort and Spa, Maldives

There are few places better than the Maldives when it comes to ocean views, with most over-water villas on the collection of islands offering unbeatable vistas of the Indian Ocean as far as the eye can see. Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa boasts a vast number of these following a recent $50 million renovation, and also offers a personalised butler service. This popular honeymoon destination is the perfect place to order a bottle of Bolly to enjoy in your rose petal bath.Mandarin Oriental, New York

There’s arguably no better skyline than that of New York, and Mandarin Oriental‘s stateside offering boasts unparalleled bird’s eye views of Manhattan. Book the Oriental suite to enjoy a bath not only with stunning views of the Big Apple shimmering below you, but also of the city’s much loved greenery. There’s no better place to immerse yourself in bubbles in the city that never sleeps.

9. Villa Kalisha, Bali

Nestled in the lush Bali jungle, Villa Kalisha sits almost suspended about a steep gorge, overlooking show-stopping vegetation and the volcanoes of Bali. The dramatic open-air bathroom opens up in three directions, with tropical vistas in your eye line which ever way you look from your indulgent copper tub. You will never feel further from home or civilisation than you do here – perfect for the ultimate relaxing soak.