Archive for the ‘travel and holidays’ Category
There is nowhere better for a quick weekend away from Britain than the capital of the Emerald Isle. Forget the twiddly, twee image of folk bands and chunky sweaters, Dublin is an exciting vibrant city that draws you in and takes you on the ride of a lifetime, so buckle up. It has played host to Film stars, Rock and Roll legends and Sports stars for over two hundred years. Furthermore it can cater for every pocket, even in the recession.
Dublin is barely half an hour’s flight from most UK airports and air fares are cheap and easy to arrange. If you like a more leisurely journey, or just a healthy dose of sea air, Irish Ferries sail every day from Holyhead. I recommend catching the ferry Ulysees, the most luxurious ferry in Europe.
Where to stay? Well if somebody is treating you then I recommend one of the boutique hotels such as La Stampa on Dawson Street. It is home to two amazing restaurants, one Thai and one A la Carte, a wonderful spa incorporating treatments from China, Bali, Thailand and India, and a fantastic bar.
U2 are the proud owners of their own hotel, the Clarence, on the South bank of the Liffey. This magnificent wood panelled hotel is home to the one place in Dublin where it definitely pays to be seen, the Octagon bar. Try their award winning cocktails, ah go on.
In the more mid-range price wise I recommend the Harcourt Hotel. This centrally located Georgian hotel has it’s own bar and downstairs nightclub. It is one for the party animals! If you like to venture out then you are a stone’s throw from Dublin’s biggest and best nightclub, the PoD.
So the girls love to shop? Step this way madam.. Dublin has the finest shopping of any city in Ireland, home to such designers as John Rocha who frequently visits Brown Thomas on Grafton Street. Further down the street you have the designer boutiques of the Powercourt Centre, definitely worth a look. But the best places if you like to rummage around for a bargain is the indoor market of the Georges Street Arcade. Alternatively the North side of the city offers many department stores that will keep you on your feet for hours.
Places to eat? Dublin is full to the brim with every type of exotic eaterie you can imagine. Have an evening stroll around Temple Bar and see if you discover something new.
If it is a special occasion Dublin has some fantastic steak restaurants such as Shanahans on the Green, or try Diep Le Shaker for Thai food and amazing cocktails.
Further down the range there is Little Caesars, a chain of quality Italian restaurants that offer good value for money. Through the day there is the Epicurian Food Hall, an indoor food market comparable to a world tour for the tastebuds.
And on to a club? Well why not? The main draw for the visiting A-listers is Lillies Bordello, home to many an after show party. Dress to the nines and bring your credit card, everyone does.
I mentioned the PoD (Place of Dance) earlier, it is home to the top DJs and acts of the club world. Don your finest club wear and take the dance floor by storm.
For more details check out http://www.discoverireland.com
Now this is a place I want to go. Forget your bubbly spas and high rise glass minimalist hotels.
Take the kids to the world’s first Giraffe hotel, in Kenya. They will love it.
The project is the idea of Tanya and Mike Carr-Hadley who are both natives of Kenya. When a property came up for sale they decided to convert it into a hotel. It stands in the grounds of a nature reserve which is home to eight rare Rothschild Giraffes. Arn’t they beautiful?
The owners families have been involved in Giraffe protection for many generations and they wanted to create a space where people can see these lovely beasts up close, and you know, share croissants. The Giraffes are very used to people by now and often saunter over just to say hello. The best place to view then is from your bedroom window, face to face.
So I am totally sold on the place, when can I book?
Check out their site here:
I live in a county that is relatively affluent with plenty to see and do and is well worth a visit. The city of Oxford has plenty of sites worth seeing, even if you don’t like universities.
But for the best places to stay for a sneaky weekend away just follow me.
The first place would be the Macdonald Randolph hotel, located in central Oxford. This Victorian-era hotel has 151 bedrooms and two AA Rosettes for it’s food. If the bar area looks somehow familiar there is a good reason – it was used many times in the series Inspector Morse, and it’s follow up, Lewis.
The hotel has the grandest restaurant in Oxford city centre, the place just looks magnificent, with friezes and crests all around. It is popular with politicians and business people. They have a choice of A la Carte or Table du Hote menus and a truly fantastic wine list. They even do flambé bananas at the table for you. Quick, book before Health and Safety ban it.
For the ladies they have a spa serving up many wonderful treatments including Swedish massage or hot stone massage.. Their thermal suite has it’s own sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, ice fountain and ‘sensational’ shower (does that mean very cold?).
The rooms themselves are tasteful, well appointed and spotlessly clean. You have a choice of classic room, executive suite or four poster bed room. The latter also have extra room for children in fold out beds.
Further away from the city centre you have a hotel that is a gastronaut’s delight. Le Manoir au Quat Saisons is Raymond Blanc’s flagship hotel, deep in the heart of rural Oxfordshire. Now in a French run restaurant you would expect five star service and exceptional food and wine. And believe me, Raymond Blanc never disappoints.
This is the hotel that grows most of it’s own produce, from vegetables to herbs. Raymond even does his own cookery demonstration days for his honoured guests. The Manoir’s calendar of events for the coming season includes Ruinart champagne courses, herb growing courses, and talks by such luminaries as Johnny Walker, DJ, and Mr Blanc himself. Tickets are selling fast.
The rooms of the Manoir are lavish and intricate, and amazingly tasteful. The superior rooms have their own individual design theme. One, called Opium, is Oriental in feel, complete with it’s own Japanese garden.
Le Manoir just oozes taste and sophistication.
The Crazy Bear is one of Oxford’s best kept secrets, and I fear that this may be it’s downfall. It is hard to find but when you do find it, you will be blown away. The Crazy Bear, is as it’s name suggests, a bit crazy. In fact the guy who designed the place must have been completely nuts – in a good way. He must have laughed at the hotel experts that told him it would never work. Somebody obviously had a lot of fun putting the place together. If I had to sum the Crazy Bear up in one word it would be fun. Nothing is what you would expect. The reception desk is set on a double decker bus. You half expect Reg Varney on the desk and inspector Blake to carry your bags.
Inside the hotel it is like Alice in Wonderland. The low bar ceiling has it’s own chandelier and a huge stuffed bear that looked like it was about to come alive and eat me. To get to the award winning Thai restaurant you had to go down a small door that led downstairs. Inside it was decorated in a wondrous Eastern style. Their Thai menu has won international awards, including the Thailand equivalent of the Mitchelin star. Their food is truly a work of art.
The bar has an amazing range of cocktails, wines and spirits. It is a bit small though and the plates and glasses already on the table does clutter them up a bit, in my opinion.
The rooms are just amazing. Believe me, this is the place to take a girl on your first weekend away together. In total there are only 18 rooms and each is a bespoke suite. One of their most famous features is a bath at the foot of your bed. This must be quite a time saver on a sleepy morning. You can run a bath without even getting out of bed, then when it is ready you just flop in.
Oddly enough some of the suites are named after types of cigar, ironic since you cannot smoke indoors anymore. But they are fantastically decorated, you would think somebody from changing rooms had been in there.
Would I stay there? Definitely.
It has been eleven years now since I went backpacking around the Greek islands as a young man, but it is a time that has stayed with me ever since.
I had seen the map of the islands and it seemed rather daunting, the place was endless little brown dots of land in an azure blue sea. Surely I could not see all of them.
So, starting from Athens, I chose a fairly central route through the Cyclades chain, which were meant to be very scenic. I would terminate my journey in Crete and work in the town of Malia for the summer.
I landed in Athens very early one morning in May 1998, and took a taxi into town. Athens at night did not impress, and by day it was little better. The city was dirty and squalid, full of beggers and street vendors. I looked around a few shops and got hopelessly lost. In the end I found my hotel and resolved to move on with my trip to the islands the very next day.
I bought a ticket for a ferry the next day in a small kiosk in one of the squares. Then I caught the subway to the port of Piraeus, about three miles away. Piraeus harbour is huge, loud, busy, packed, cluttered and impossibly exciting. I looked around for my boat but could not see it anywhere. Eventually one of the officials pointed out this white speck on the very far side of the harbour, and I had three minutes to catch it. I ran like I never have before or since, with a full and heavy pack on my back. I made it with seconds to spare, they were literally closing the door.
I stood on deck in the sunshine and the cool breeze and watched the rugged rocks go by. We saw super yachts belonging to the world’s rich, and fishing boats that have worked the sea for generations. A wonderfully relaxing journey.
My first port of call was the island of Naxos, a fairly central island of the chain. Now this was the picture postcard Greece that I had come to see. The houses were all smooth whitewashed buildings, with exotic flowers growing in their gardens.
Small shops sold everything a tourist would ever want. The harbour side had endless small restaurants, cafes and small shops. It’s alleyways were narrow and rambling, designed to confuse pirates. They had the same affect on me.
After a few days in Naxos, touring by bike I decided to move on. I next chose to go north to the Island where Shirley Valentine was filmed, Mykonos. Mykonos was even more beautiful than Naxos. It had been settled by the Venetians back in the fifteenth century and they had definitely left their mark.
They built restaurants right on the sea front, with tall overhanging buildings. The place was home to a stork that seemed very used to tourists, it posed very vainly for photographs.
I made the mistake of following a sign that said ‘to the beach’, thinking it was right around the corner. So I got my towel and set off for a stroll down the road. Ten minutes I arrived at another sign that said ‘to the beach’ and thought I must be nearly there by now. Ten minutes later I saw another sign, and another ten minutes after that. What was going on? I was hot, sore and knackered, and where was this sodding beach?
Eventually, fifty long, hot minutes later I arrived at the beach and saw on their map board that I had just covered a quarter of the island. I resolved to catch the bus back.
Paradise beach is a lovely place. Now it comes in four sections. 1, straight with clothes. 2. Straight, nudist.. 3. Gay, with clothes. 4, Gay Nudist. Now I saw the sign too late of course, and not before I had to rapidly backtrack from two naked german lads walking hand in hand into the sunset. Sorry lads, I will read the sign next time.
I forgot to mention Mykanos was gay. And I mean G-A-Y. Normally things like this don’t bother me too much, but this was all a bit in your face. I knew it was famous for having a gay scene, but the guidebooks tend to exaggerate things. Don’t they? Well the gay scene turned out to be about 99% of the island so I decided it was time to take my leave. And a café owner told me he knew just the place for me.
Ios was a small island two islands down famous for it’s young vibrant (and thankfully straight) scene. It was home to backpackers from all over the world, put particularly from Ireland, Sweden and Australia. Naturally if you get those three nationalities involved a party is bound to ensue. And boy, did it. I met some great people, some amazing women and had the time of my life.
The beaches were long and white, the bars lively and even the food was fantastic. I found a little guest house located just behind a pub to stay and very seriously considered staying there a while longer. Eventually I did leave because there was one more place I wanted to go before I started work for the summer.
Santorini is the last Greek island before you get to Crete, and it has a geology and a landscape that is unique among the Greek islands. It was formed from a volcano that erupted underwater, sending tsunami waves that wreaked havoc on the Minoan civilizations on Crete. But the lava eventually cooled to form two islands in a ying-yang shape.
I caught a taxi from the port at the foot of a cliff to Perissa beach which was a small resort at the tail of the yang end (i.e. the southern tip). The cliffs were sculpted from red rock and the sand was pure black, and blimey, it was hot. It would scold your feet if you stood on it for a second.
One night I stood up on the high cliffs and watched the sun set over the islands. It was the most beautiful, romantic moment.
Finally I journeyed down to Crete where I hoped to work for the summer. I spent a day in Heraklion, which was another dirty squalid city, and had a look around the ruins of Knossos.
This was a waste of time, the place looked like a building site. I caught the bus to a town down the coast called Malia, where I was sure I would find work.
Malia is like Blackpool without the tower, Benidorm for the young. Party H.Q. I worked out there for four months in various jobs, bars, restaurants, clubs, having lots of fun and not caring what tomorrow may bring.
One of my notable jobs was a barman for the Malibu club on the main strip. This place was loud, brash, sexy, stupid, excited, ridiculous and completely insane. I fitted right in.
Anyway that was eleven years ago and we are going back to Malia in a few weeks to see what has changed. It has had a bit of a bad reputation in recent years, usually by the people we go on holiday to get away from. Conservatives, temperates and heath and safety killjoys. If you are young and want a good time, go to Malia, you will not be dissappointed.
To visit Greece fly Olympic http://www.olympicairline.com
If you visit Athens have a good look around, but be careful, as muggers abound. http://www.athensguide.com
For all the info on Naxos check out http://www.naxos-greece.net
If you need the low down on Mykonos go to http://www.mykonos-web.com
For the sauce on Ios have a gander at http://www.iospartyisland.com
To see the gorgeous island of Santorini go to http://www.santorini.net and gaze lovingly.
For hotel details on Heraklion check out http://www.greeka.com/crete/heraklion
Finally to glimpse into the madness of Malia go to http://www.malia.co.uk
Boat watching has been a summer hobby of mine for the three years I have lived next to the river Thames. We have these narrow riverboats that are brightly painted with brasses and flowers on top. They look great.
But for sheer showing off potential you have to go to Cannes or Monte Carlo. More on Monte Carlo next week during the Grand Prix.
Now there has not been as many floating pleasure palaces this year because of the credit crunch. Some journalists even brought an inflatable dingy. But the big boats are where it all happens you see? All the deals, all the parties, all the drugs and definately all the women. There is nothing that can loosen a pair of knickers faster than a 70 foot long slice of fibreglass and horsepower.
So, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, I would like to show you a selection of my favourites of this year.
Mine for only £4 million. Please send your donations to the Nick Gilmartin Yacht Fund, P.O. Box 69, County Contrary, Ireland.
Now all I need is an all-female Scandinavian crew… ah you can dream.
If you can actually afford one of these babies check out http://www.camperandnicolson.com
Many thanks to the Telegraph for showing the photos. Now about that writing job guys…
So you have flown into Cannes for the festival. You have a screenplay to sell, people to meet, hands to shake and numbers to take. Just where will you find Mr Spielberg or Mr Bruickheimer?
Well, ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to follow me..
This magnificent facade is the Intercontinental Carlton hotel. Thought by many to be the flagship hotel of Cannes and one of the four ‘Grand Dames’, this is the place that has hosted Prince Ranier and Sophia Loren. It has the finest cuisine in Cannes.
It hosts one indoor restaurant and one beach restaurant with ingredients always bought locally and prepared fresh on the day. No awards or Michelin stars were mentioned, maybe they are just modest.
It also has three bars, the Petit bar, the Terrasse bar and the Bar de Celebrities. Well where else would you be likely to find them? Here’s a tip: try one of their Lady Carlton cocktails.
Further down the Croisette you have the Majestic Barriere, recently refurbished and still with that sexy new carpet smell. it comes complete with private beach and luxury boutiques. It is located further down the Croisette, not far from the main venues for the festivals.
The Palais Stephanie is the next on our tour. With it’s timeless art decor and heated rooftop swimming pool it is easily a match for it’s more established sisters and very popular with movie stars and directors. It has played host to many fashion shows,after-show parties and television programmes. The hotel boats many fine views of the bay of Cannes and it’s islets.
Our final stop on today’s tour is the Martinez hotel, the last of the Grand four dames. Now this is my personal favourite. It has it’s own glorious beach club, with a long pontoon and waiter service for those cool juice drinks. It has a large reception area that is uniquely organised to provide maximum efficiency.
It’s Palme d’Or restaurant has two Michelin stars, and it’s spa takes it’s cue from two experts, Lancaster and Soothys.
To stay at any of the four hotels check out their websites here. I recommend you book at least six months in advance.
Recently I had one of those strange out-of-county experiences an expatriate sometimes has. Yorkshire is being advertised on T.V. as a holiday destination. Really.
Now there is nothing wrong with Yorkshire if you keep well to the tourist path, it can even be quite enjoyable. You have Leeds for shopping, York for culture, and Scarborough for the coast.
But should you step off the tourist map, woe betide you! You well end up in the Sink-estate-crack-habit hellholes like Normanton (or home as I call it), Kirby and Hemsworth. Poor mining towns that Thatcher condemned to hell for not being London and cast out into the darkness. The hollow-eyed souls that lurk therein are a throwback to the days of Dickens, without the work option.
But my home county has it’s posher parts too. Leeds boasts some fine riverside apartments, a five star hotel, and a branch of the designer shop Harvey Nichols. The adjacent Victoria Quarter would satisfy even the most most choosy of Sloane rangers up for the weekend.
Then you have Harrogate, a home to affluence since Roman times and one of the prestigious spa towns of England. Agatha Christie was found here after the famous dissappearence.
Yorkshire should have tourism. Alright, it doesn’t have the weather of the tropics but it does have a certain windswept grandeur about it. The North of Yorkshire can epitomise bleakness. If you looked up bleak in the dictionary, there would be a picture of Leytonstone in the summer. But people do go there to walk, cycle or ride their quad bikes. Hell, it is fun place if you have wheels.
Scarborough, on the coast was hugely popular in Victorian days. Most of it’s attractions survive in one form or another. Some comedy acts still play there in the theatres. It managed to escape the stag party scene of recent years, and has not suffered for it. It’s grand hotels still hold their regal air. Like they are expecting Princess Anne to arrive any minute.
Whitby should be a must for any Dracula fan, with it’s weather-beaten harbours and coves. From the cliff-top abbey you can just picture the man himself standing there, framed by lightening, and about to turn into a bat and fly at you.
Even if you are not a fan of Bram Stoker’s creation I would recommend Whitby anyway. It looks exactly like a watercolour painting would suggest. You can get a range of excellent beers and the best Fish and Chips in the county.
West Yorkshire, my side, is like scar tissue on the face of England. My neighbouring town of Castleford recently drew the attention of a group of slick young planners from ‘darn south’ to come up and redesign the town centre. Naturally the whole thing ended up with a lot of shouting and a major clash of culture and ego.
London just doesn’t understand Yorkshire. It can’t seem to get it’s head around our way of thinking, because it never faced our challenges, just as we never faced their challenges. The ghosts of Orwell and Engels loom large, as much over our future as they do our past.
How come my parties are never like this? Well if I had $35 Million at my fingertips then maybe I could splash out on more than a tube of Pringles and a case of Skol.
But the Emirates can afford to do a lot better with their multi-squillions, and they have decided to invest all their working capital in the tourist industry. Which takes rock-solid balls in the one of the most unstable areas in the world, when you consider that their main clients will come from Europe and the Americas.
But the hotel Atlantis is truely the icing on the cake. It boasts 2000 rooms, world renowned restaurants by Mitchelin-starred chefs, the most amazing bars I have ever seen (I am a bit of a bar geek, being a long time barman), with Whiskys sourced from Scotland, Japan, Kentucky, and Ireland.
Their opening party guest list read like the who’s-who of anybody that matters. Robert De Nero to promote his restaurant, Kylie Minogue came and sang, Sir Richard Branson, Charlize Theron, Denzil Washington among others. Oprah Winfrey did arrive but had to dash back to the USA as her house was very near a forest fire. Now there is a dilemma, I think I would stay for the party and worry about the house after.
Not only that but it has the most lavish spa in the world, ideal to keep the wife/girlfriend/fiancee happy for hours on end.
Try the Dubai glamour ritual, girls. I don’t know what it does but I am sure it will be worth the money.
But my personal favourite has to be the Lost Chambers suite. Straight out of a James Bond movie, it has one wall that is totally glass looking out to the Ambassador Lagoon.
So what can I do but recommend the place? That’s if the credit crunch hasn’t hit you and you have a spare £2000 a night. It makes you feel better about stealing that bathrobe…