An evening spent mingling with the pink-cheeked crowds at festive fairs throughout Europe could transform the most curmudgeonly Scrooge and the greenest of Grinches into stocking-stuffing, carol-crooning converts.
Imagine rustic chalets overflowing with handicrafts that might have been fashioned by elves themselves; historic town squares illuminated by twinkling strands of lights; and local delicacies, from bratwurst to pastries, washed down with mugs of mulled wine.
Here’s a look at five of the best cities to stoke your holiday spirit.
There is a death match brewing between the English cities of Chester, Durham and York, the likes of which the (nether)world has never seen before. While most places try to tempt tourists by touting themselves as “lively” destinations, these three cities take pride in vying for the title of the most (un)dead.
The Ghost Research Foundation International once named York “Europe’s most haunted city,” while others insist that Chester deserves the dubious honour, thanks to a series of turbulent and tragic events. While “Chester: Famine, plague, war—and more!” is hardly the sort of tagline you’ll find on promotional t-shirts and bumper stickers, the city does seem to serve as a veritable primordial soup for spooks.
But if you think Chester and York are swamped with specters, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. According to ParanormalDatabase.com, Durham has been besieged by dozens of phantoms, including a Pekinese, flying pitchforks, an impregnating chair, and the, um, “limbless worm.” (Is there any other kind?)
Aside from being “limbless,” this critter is described as “a long, hostile worm which inhabited an oak wood, attacking man and beast,” much like the killer rabbit from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
I only hope that my tour of Chester, Durham and York will finally allow the whole matter to, er, rest in peace. Read on, and decide for yourself. (more…)
All Roads Lead to…Trier. Germany’s Oldest City Offers a Taste of Ancient Rome.
It’s been more than 24 hours since I arrived in Germany, and neither beer nor schnitzel has passed my lips. It’s not that I’m opposed to a boozy nosh in a good old-fashioned beer hall. Far from it. But when in Trier…do as the Romans do.
Germany’s oldest city, Trier, was founded by the Romans in 16 BC, and the toga-clad conquerors left a lasting legacy. That’s why tonight, I’ve opted for a cozy, wood-panelled restaurant called Zum Domstein, where I’ve just sat down to an ancient Roman feast of sausage with fish sauce, suckling pig, and ham with figs and myrtle–the very definition of “pigging out”–and that’s not even half the repast laid out on my groaning table.
To wash down my dinner, I’ve got a mugful of mulsum, a rich cocktail comprised of dry white wine, honey and anise. Everything has been prepared according to 2,000-year-old recipes originated by Marcus Gavius Apicius, who catered for the Roman Empire’s elite during the reign of Tiberius. (Whether Chef Boyardee’s culinary impact will stand such an extraordinary test of time remains to be seen, but something tells me those tins of spaghetti and meatballs will be well past their best-by date before the next millennium.)
Of course, Trier has a lot more going for it than a long-dead Italian chef. Located near Germany’s western border in the Mosel River wine-growing region, it is one of more than a dozen lesser-known cities belonging to a consortium known as Historic Highlights of Germany. To qualify, each destination must have a minimum population of 100,000, a university, long-distance train service, and at least 700 years of history. My goal is to discover Trier’s off-the-beaten-track attractions, from its ancient Roman ruins to its wine and cuisine. (more…)
Exploring the ancient ruins and bustling streets of Rome tops millions of travellers’ “must do” lists. But let’s face it. The Italian capital can be overwhelming. The unfamiliar language, seemingly endless rows of restaurants, and fear of pickpockets and taxi drivers who might take you for a ride in more ways than one may leave even the savviest visitors feeling trepidatious.
Tour guide Kylie Savage once walked in your shoes. Following a passion for Michelangelo, the Australian ex-pat relocated to Rome several years ago. Today, she’s happy to share her hard-won expertise in avoiding potential pitfalls and making the most of Italy’s alluring capital.
Read on for Kylie’s top ten tips for tourists in Rome.
There are few occasions on the British social calendar more sartorially daunting than Royal Ascot. The Queen herself is in the habit of attending this legendary thoroughbred racing meet, and the bold and the beautiful have been flocking here for the big event for more than 300 years. (Well, not the same people, mind you, although a few attendees appear so well-preserved that you might wonder).
Rocking up in the proper attire is essential. In fact, Ascot has devoted an entire section on its website to the dress code, which varies according to where you sit.
For the coveted Royal Enclosure, men must wear a top hat, and everything from the size of a lady’s headpiece to the width of her dress straps is specified down to the inch.
Exposed midriffs are verboten in the Royal, Queen Anne and Village Enclosures.
“Fancy dress” (as in costumes, not “fancy dresses”) are forbidden everywhere…and Daisy Duke cut-offs are, presumably, right out.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a bit of fun and stand out in the crowd.
If your feathered fascinator needs refreshing and last year’s dress is looking bedraggled, Danish-born designer Isabell Kristensen, whose clients include Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Katy Perry and Monaco’s Princess Charlene, has the couture cure for what ails you.
Read on to see a few of Kristensen’s “racy” Royal Ascot fashions from seasons past.
Go to Monaco for the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Stay for the gob-smacking glitz of Monte-Carlo’s Michelin-starred restaurants, chic shops, and palatial hotels.Small but perfectly formed, Monaco measures less than one square mile and is the most densely populated—and arguably the most glamorous—country in the world. In this coastal kingdom, synonymous with the dazzling municipality of Monte-Carlo, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches prowl the streets, and multi-million dollar yachts jockey for space in a pair of posh ports.
Impeccably-coiffed women in sunglasses and stilettos stalk the shop-lined Cercle d’Or. Bronzed beauties bask at exclusive beach clubs, and high rollers try their luck in the legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo, surrounded by crystal chandeliers and gold-flecked mosaics.
Royal-watchers climb to the hilltop Palace of Monaco to see the changing of the guard. In such a small country, it’s not uncommon to even catch a glimpse of Prince Albert II and his wife, Princess Charlene, whizzing by in a motorcade.
And every May, of course, racing enthusiasts rock up for the high-octane adrenaline rush of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix. Some fans shell out thousands to watch competitors speed through city streets from a prime position on the harbor’s edge, with pit lane access and an open bar.
WHERE TO EAT
The cars may be fast, but the food is not. One doesn’t make a pilgrimage to Monaco for McDonald’s, now does one? No, indeed. One comes to snarf at a constellation of Michelin-starred culinary institutions.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are cozied up in a second story window, holding hands and smiling as they gaze toward Windsor Castle. Passers-by in the street do a double-take when they spot the marvelous Ms. Markle and her dishy ginger biscuit, and a few even hazard a tentative, finger-fluttering wave. But the celebrity lovebirds don’t move a muscle.
The purportedly down-to-earth prince and his American actress fiancé aren’t being snooty. They simply can’t help their stiff demeanor and cardboard smiles, because, well, they are cardboard. The life-sized cutout, available on Amazon, is a fitting symbol of the larger-than-life wedding mania sweeping up royal watchers around the world.
Nowhere is that feeling more apparent than in Windsor, where Harry and Meghan will tie the knot on May 19 at St. George’s Chapel, located within the walled compound of Windsor Castle. Afterwards, the newlyweds will take a carriage ride through Windsor’s streets, which are expected to be flanked by more than 100,000 well-wishers on the day.
If your wedding invitation was lost in the mail, don’t fret. Spring is a fabulous time to visit Britain regardless, and we’ve got the lowdown on how to rock it like a royal at three of the best British blue-blood destinations. Tap it like it’s hot to read about each city below:
Windsor, whose pint-sized population of 30,000 belies its royal roots, is eager to roll out the red carpet for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s marriage on May 19. “It’s a celebration, and we’re keen to make sure that we put on a show for the people who are visiting,” says Rory Shanks, one of the owners of Heidi Bakery, which has developed three-tier wedding cupcakes in Harry and Meghan’s honor.
GET GEARED UP
Heidi sells its sugary confections at their café in Daniel, a century-old department store that holds the Queen’s Royal Warrant (basically, her stamp of approval) for supplying gifts. So presumably, given Daniel’s current range of wedding-related novelties, this is where the Queen would go to snag herself a Harry and Meghan fridge magnet and a Harry and Meghan dishcloth to dry her Harry and Meghan mug after enjoying a nice cuppa Harry and Meghan tea.
Then again, Liz could just pop into the Windsor Castle gift shop, which is hawking commemorative items emblazoned with the initials “H&M,” which should not, under any circumstances, be mistaken for representing the clothing shop H&M, purveyor of “distressed” (mauled by lions) denim short-shorts and other High Street fashions.
TOAST THE HAPPY COUPLE
Tie one on with a Windsor Knot. The Windsor and Eton Brewery originally produced this pale ale for Will and Kate’s wedding in 2011 and has rebranded their bottles for Harry and Meghan.
Alternatively, opt for a tot of Gin&’er, a ginger-infused gin that The Queen Charlotte pub in Windsor commissioned to celebrate redheaded (aka “ginger”) Harry getting hitched. The pub sent the first of 250 limited edition bottles to the prince himself, so if you wake up with a royal hangover, passed out in front of the “throne,” you’re probably in good company.
If Harry and Meghan’s OTT wedding has wetted your appetite for the red carpet treatment, read on to discover how to rock it like a royal in London.
STERLING SHOPPING SPREE (more…)
GO THE EXTRA MILE
The Royal Mile, which is actually 1.12 miles (based on the old “Scots’ mile”), is about as royal as miles come. The sloping backbone of the Scottish capital is bookended by Edinburgh Castle, crowning the imposing Castle Rock at the top of the road, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh) at the bottom.
The street in between is lined with higgledy piggledy, charming old stone buildings, most with shopfronts displaying cashmere, kilts, whisky, wine, Harris tweed and wee gifts. “Thistle Do Nicely” definitely wins for worst pun / best shop name.
CREATE YOUR OWN BESPOKE TIPPLE
Liz’s late mum, The Queen Mother, was known for knocking back her fair share of gin and tonic. The classic cocktail was actually invented by the British army in India as a tasty way to ward off malaria, thanks to the quinine in tonic water. Given that the Queen Mother lived to 101, there might be at least a little truth in G&T’s reputation as a healthy(ish) elixir.
However, you wouldn’t expect a royal to slip just any old hooch past their stiff upper lip. Surely, one would wish to create one’s own bespoke knee-wobbly, swiggly-giggly happy sauce, would one not? (more…)
As the Cannes Film Festival opens on the French Riviera, fasten your seat belts for a whirlwind ride along the Cote d’Azur.
“Belle! Belle!” a man calls out from a corner café as I round a bend in my 1956 Porsche 356 Speedster. Whether his hoot of approval and accompanying wolf whistle are for me or, more likely, for my rented wheels hardly matters. With the top down and the sunshine of the French Riviera casting a golden glow across the landscape, I’m smiling ear-to-ear either way.
I only hope I’m out of sight when I stall the car on a slope, the gears grinding and growling like an angry grizzly as I try to cajole the temperamental stick shift back into first.
Never mind. I’m going to enjoy my movie star moment, ensconced in a red bucket leather seat as I clear the coast and head into the pine-scented hills.
This is silver screen country, after all, where dozens of seminal films have been shot since the 1950s.
My hired ride from Rent a Classic Car is the same model favored by James Dean, and my hair is pulled back into a wind-defying blonde bun, a la Grace Kelly. All that’s missing from this picture is Cary Grant…and a snazzy score by Henry Mancini to drown out the carnage I’m inflicting on the motor.
Cruising in a vintage car is the perfect complement to my cinematic tour of the Cote d’Azur, which will take me from Cannes to the ridiculously picturesque mountaintop village of Eze, with stops in Antibes, St. Paul de Vence, Nice, and Villefranche-sur-Mer along the way. (more…)
With a warm headwind whipping at my pigtails and my legs pumping furiously upon a pair of bike pedals, I’m ten years old again, experiencing the exhilarating thrill of freedom that only a set of wheels can bestow. But instead of cycling around the civilized suburbs as I did in those bygone days of innocence, I’m winding through the wilds of Southern Catalunya in Spain.
Miles of olive groves, green valleys sculpted by terraced fields, and narrow passes gouged from red rock canyons sweep by beneath a blazing blue sky. Mind adrift, I lose myself in the Zen of forward momentum, serenaded by the sound of…well, nothing, save the smooth “whoosh” of tire spokes—and, if I’m honest, my increasingly labored breathing as I embark on a slow uphill ascent.
At least I can be reassured that I’m burning some of the thousands of calories I’ve been consuming on my cycling tour of this resolutely resilient region of Spain, which maintains its own language, culture and cuisine.
If you’re looking for an afternoon of cheap thrills in London, it’s as easy as a walk in the park…or, rather, beside the river. As I’ve discovered while entertaining visitors in the city I’ve called home for a decade, one of the best (and most affordable) ways to acquaint yourself with the capital’s iconic sites is by pounding the pavement along the Thames.
With this four mile, self-guided walking tour, you can experience 1,000 years of history, without the aid of Dr. Who’s TARDIS. You might opt to spring for admission to some of the sterling attractions along the way, but you aren’t obliged to burn a lot of cash…just calories. Read on to view the map and key stops along the way. (more…)
Istanbul. Been there. Done that. Bought the rug. That’s what I thought after my first visit—a frenzied, two-day stopover several years ago.
Yet so many people rave about Istanbul, I wondered if they were simply smokin’ from a different hookah, or if perhaps I had missed something during my whirlwind tour of “must see” sites like the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and Dolmabahce Palace.
It was architectural overload, like staring at the sun. If I had been invited to gaze upon one more mosaic, however beautiful, I thought I might bleed from my eyes.
Don’t get me wrong. Istanbul’s wonders are worth visiting, particularly the Blue Mosque, as it’s not only stunning; it’s also an important religious centre where worshipers pray five times a day.
But for the most part, the de rigueur list barely scratches the surface of what I had come to suspect might be the true spirit of this city, where residents respect their history, but live, love, work, dance, play and party in the present.
So I went back. I slowed down. I walked. I wandered. I got lost…more than once, actually…and I let Istanbul weave its spell around me.
Whether you’re visiting this city on the Bosphorus for the first time or the fifth, here are some top tips for getting the most out of your holiday. (more…)
Tom Cruise. Beyoncé. Jay-Z. John Malkovich. Richard Gere. Catherine Zeta-Jones. Michael Douglas. Oh, and pretty much the entire cast of “Game of Thrones.”
No, that’s not a list of celebrities who have been papped tumbling tipsily out of taxis, or who eat only organic macrobiotic algae or insist on traveling with an albino pet monkey named Zoolander. Rather, it’s a red carpet rundown of stars who have been spotted in one of Europe’s hottest destinations—the historic walled city of Dubrovnik, abutting the Adriatic Sea. (more…)
Lexington, Kentucky may be best known for bourbon and betting on the horses, but it’s fast gaining a reputation as a magnate for some of the world’s most talented street artists. PRHBTN, which hosts an annual mural festival, is transforming this hip Southern city into one super-sized, graffiti-covered canvas. You’ll find a map of their locations here. Or, just kick back in your armchair and scroll through a gallery of some of my favourites.
Sure, it’s all heart-shaped chocolate boxes and perky red roses on Valentine’s Day. But how do you resuscitate romance after those blood red blooms have wilted and the giddy high of champagne bursts like a bubble, leaving only a hangover behind?
Read on for four prescriptions for passion that will help you pump new life into a flaccid relationship long after Cupid has flown the coop with his Valentine’s Day Viagra.
My heart is breaking today. St. John, my favourite island in the world, has endured a brutal battering by Hurricane Irma. I wrote the following article about a week before the storm, after my stay there in July. That was probably my ninth visit to St. John over the years, and I fall a little more in love with it every time I go.
I know it’s a changed place now, and this article will need, shall we say, a LOT of updating as the situation on St. John becomes more clear. But to quote Chris B Pye, one of the residents whose posts I’ve been following on Facebook, “So far everything I’ve seen and heard, the people here are fine. That’s the most important thing. The rest is just stuff, and stuff can be replaced.”
These folks are a resilient bunch, and they will pull together to help each other through the worst. They don’t call St. John “Love City” for nothing!
But they urgently need all the help they can get. At the end of this article, you’ll find more information about how you can donate funds or volunteer, as well as sites where you can search for news of friends and loved ones in the path of the hurricane.
I’m posting the story below, with photos from my previous visits, as a salute to the people of St. John, and to the island that has lured me with its siren call again and again. Read on to discover why I will be back…and why so many who visit here choose to never leave.
Some sojourns seem designed specifically for 21st Century social media consumption. Duck-lipped selfie with the Mona Lisa? Mais, bien sûr! Piccie of the Leaning Tower of Pisa supported by one carefully placed finger? Perfecto. Instagram of an Egyptian pyramid in the palm of your hand? Absolutely.
Then there are those rare holiday havens that feel less like fleeting, frenzied snap-and-go destinations… and more like destiny. The most magical places aren’t about bagging bragging rights; they’re about feeding a hungry hole in your soul.
“’For six weeks, I allow Bath is pleasant enough; but beyond that, it is the most tiresome place in the world.’ You would be told so by people of all descriptions, who come regularly every winter, lengthen their six weeks into ten or twelve, and go away at last because they can afford to stay no longer.”
So Mr. Tilney wryly remarks to newly arrived country mouse Catherine Morland, Jane Austen’s young heroine in Northanger Abbey. Austen visited Bath in the late 1700s and lived here from 1801 and 1806, and she set much of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in this Georgian city 100 miles west of London.
Although this year marks 200 years since the author’s death, her descriptions of Bath at the dawn of the 19th century retain the acerbic sting of Austen’s wicked wit.
But with the passing centuries, Bath seems to have forgiven its adopted daughter for her droll jibes. In addition to establishing the Jane Austen Centre, Bath holds two annual events in her honour: the Jane Austen Festival Regency Costumed Summer Ball, and the Jane Austen Festival in September, which holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for gathering the most people in Regency dress (since the early 1800s, one would assume). This year, you can also participate in a bicentennial Grand Regency Ball, to be held September 16, 2017 in the Assembly Rooms, where Austen herself would have kicked up her heels back in the day. (more…)
The man who holds Stirling holds Scotland. With this in mind, the Scots – under their legendary King Robert Bruce, he of the spider that inspired him never to give up – took on the English under King Edward II at the historic Battle of Bannockburn. Over two bloody days 700 years ago, Bruce routed them in what became known as the First War of Independence to establish Scotland as a nation.
Holding the charming city of Stirling – the site of the battle, 40 miles northwest of Edinburgh – became important to the Scots. Although created a city only in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee, Stirling has for centuries played an important role in Scotland’s often turbulent history, and many of its historic sites and monuments – such as the imposing Stirling Castle and the national monument to William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace – bear witness. (more…)
I recently travelled with a woman who claimed she could pack for a week’s skiing holiday in a handbag. Not the skis themselves, mind you, but she insisted she could fit every other essential in one average-sized, over-the-shoulder satchel.
My comrade had already proven her mysterious superpowers, having employed said sack for a trip we shared to Edinburgh.
Did she possess some sort of pret-a-portable TARDIS, equipped with entire wardrobes instead of zip pockets?
When she went camping, could she crawl in there to sleep at night?
Given that every handbag is legally obligated to devote at least half its capacity to crumpled receipts, wadded tissues and lint-covered breath mints, did the thing require its own household staff to tidy unfathomable mounds of discarded detritus?
As our train chugged back to London, I longed to ask her to turn her bag inside out so that I could explore its enigmatic dimensions. But somehow, it didn’t seem right to request that she dump her unmentionables on the tray table.
Nor did I wish to risk being sucked in by the gravitational pull of what I can only assume was her pocketbook’s fifth dimension.
Wringing praise from critics for Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has been as challenging as, well, wriggling that stubborn blade from a stone. But the mythical landscape, filmed entirely in the United Kingdom, proves to be just the ticket…or at least, worth the price of one.
Here’s a quick look at the highs and lows of a movie which, at times, can be as challenging as the terrain. (more…)
Despite being officially dubbed one of the happiest places to live in the UK, the Isle of Harris off the northwest coast of Scotland is battling a serious buzz kill. That is to say, there are fewer and fewer people living there to enjoy all that happiness these days.
The population has halved over the last 50 years, shrinking to less than 2,000 residents. But…why?
Because, despite producing the renowned Harris Tweed, employment opportunities in the isolated Outer Hebrides are scarcer than the remaining hairs on Sean Connery’s head.
So, what are these industrious islanders doing to kick-start this party, y’all? Opening a distillery entirely staffed by locals and brewing some hooch, of course.
Naturally, you might assume that by hooch, I mean “Scotch,” this being Scotland and all. While that is indeed part of the long-term plan, Scotch whisky must age at least three years in oak barrels by law.
Honey-hued villages. Historic old mansions. Towering cathedral spires, and woolly white sheep grazing in green fields or upon snow-dusted slopes, a terrestrial reflection of cotton candy clouds suspended in a cerulean sky.
The bucolic beauty of the English Cotswolds are so improbably alluring at any time of year, they might have been built on a Hollywood backlot. It’s hardly surprising, then, that filmmakers flock to this photogenic swathe of twee stone towns. The region dips and rolls across south central England, encompassing Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire as it unfurls over 90 miles from south of Stratford-upon-Avon to just south of Bath.
Oxford is the main setting for the British crime mystery drama “Inspector Morse,” and its two spin-off series, “Inspector Lewis” and “Endeavor.” The nearby village of Bampton doubled as Downton, where the Grantham family’s triumphs and tragedies played out over six seasons on “Downton Abbey,” and Winston Churchill’s ancestral home, Blenheim Palace, appeared in The Young Victoria and Disney’s 2015 remake of Cinderella.
In fact, Gloucester Cathedral has appeared in so many productions, including the Harry Potter franchise, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and “Sherlock,” that I expect it’s now demanding its own dressing room complete with an albino monkey named Gary, two dozen rare orchids gathered by Tibetan monks under the light of a blood moon, and a hypoallergenic solid-gold toilet that flushes pure Evian.
That list barely scratches the celluloid surface of the Cotswolds’ impressive reel of credits.
Travelers hoping to pinch pounds in Great Britain are in luck. With the uncertainty surrounding Brexit—the UK’s decision to leave the European Union—the pound has plummeted. Here are my top tips for squeezing the Queen’s sterling until it squeals.
With so many outstanding hotels opening around the world this year, the question travelers face may not be so much “where to go,” but rather, “where to stay.” We’ve compiled a list of ten of the hottest properties debuting in 2017.
Alila Fort Bishangarh
If you always imagined that you were a royal warlord in a past life—and frankly, who hasn’t entertained the notion—this is the place for you. The 59-suite Alila Fort Bishangarh, opening in Jaipur, India on February 28, is centered around a historic hilltop fortress with six-foot thick walls and views of the Rajasthani countryside. A new addition houses guest accommodations and lavish public spaces.
Amenities include indoor and outdoor dining, a turret filled with cigars and cognacs, a pool, bar, lounge, library, fitness center, children’s club, expansive lawns and an organic garden, as well as a spa, where the pressing of the flesh is no doubt much more enjoyable than in the old days when this space served as the dungeon. Rates from $280. (more…)
Whether you’re after an epic train journey, a camel trek through the desert, or just want to kick back on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, I’ve compiled a list of five of the best—and occasionally unexpected—destinations for 2017.
Thanks to the UK’s vote to leave the European Union—a political exodus popularly dubbed “Brexit”–the pound sterling has plummeted. While that might be bad news for our British brethren, it’s sparked a “Brenaissance” for American tourists who want to make their dollars stretch further across the pond.
With a few more pounds in your pocket, you might consider checking into one of London’s hottest luxury hotels. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best, all of which have something new to offer, from recent renovations to restaurant debuts and the latest in technological innovations. (more…)
Two girls nestle inside a rusting bathtub, each languidly puffing on a hookah like the louche, heavy-lidded caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. A six-foot tall green rabbit squats at the entrance of their ramshackle den, a figment of a fever dream conjured into concrete form, while a child’s rocking horse dangles upside down from the ceiling, impassively surveying the scene through black button eyes.
Deeper in the heart of this graffiti-splattered cavern, half-a-dozen hipsters crowd into a defunct car retrofitted with wooden benches, Beverly Hillbillies-style, and a young woman dances with an inflatable doll beneath the rainbow glow of Christmas lights. Gradually, the tangle of tattooed limbs blurs into a mind-bending illusion—that of a multitentacled, beer-clutching Kraken grooving to a persuasive techno beat.
Whatever I might have expected from Budapest, I couldn’t have imagined the dystopian utopia of Szimpla Kert. It’s a surreal standout among a warren of “ruin pubs” that transform the Hungarian capital’s Jewish Quarter into a party-hearty hub after dark.
These lively bars—some little more than open-air courtyards strung with hammocks and furnished with old barrels, park benches and even a “shipwrecked” boat—line the roads and fill the courtyards of buildings that lay neglected long after World War II.
Now, the neighborhood is a haven for street artists, students and backpackers basking in the hedonistic vibe that pervades former Eastern Bloc cities like Budapest and Prague, which are still reveling in their freedom after casting off the Communist yoke towards the end of the 20th century.
Some visitors come to Budapest seeking a better understanding of its turbulent history, including its World War II Axis alliance and post-war Soviet rule, which ended in 1989. (more…)
On my way to breakfast my first morning at St. John’s Caneel Bay resort, I pass several wide-eyed deer, an iguana basking in the sultry Caribbean sun, and a herd of donkeys, casually scratching their backsides on the trunks of palm trees. But something’s missing here. There’s not another human being in sight.
Just as a vague sense of panic sets in—have I missed the Rapture?—I near the waterfront breakfast pavilion, where I catch a reassuring whiff of bacon. So unless Noah’s menagerie has learned to use opposable thumbs and toss a skillet—or a wayward boar has spent too much time tanning in the sun–I’m relatively certain there are at least a few lost souls lingering about.
If a haven of such solitude seems improbable in the ever-popular Caribbean, consider this. More than half of St. John is devoted to national parklands, making it arguably the wildest and most pristine of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
St. John encompasses only two actual towns: Coral Bay, a quiet crossroads centered around a harbor where sailboats bob in sapphire-blue waters, and its brasher, bolder sister, Cruz Bay. Yet even Cruz Bay, the main port, hardly signifies as a big city, with free-range hens shepherding their chicks along a spaghetti-like labyrinth of roads.
But don’t imagine for a minute that being swaddled in the bosom of Mother Nature is boring—because this hot mama also knows how to party. I’ve visited more than half a dozen times in ten years, and I’ve always found something new to entertain me.
Read on to discover the best bars, beaches, snorkeling spots, and hotels that St. John has to offer. (more…)
With glorious Glastonbury descending on the fields of Worthy Farm once again, here’s a photo essay of some of my favourite moments from Glasto 2014. You’ll laugh (I hope). You’ll cry (probably not). But you will, undoubtedly, be very grateful that you have indoor plumbing.
For some, the ideal holiday means rest and relaxation, where “shop ‘til you drop” is regarded as a legitimate form of exercise. For others, R&R translates as “ready and raring to go”…on challenging up-hill trails, if possible.
Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula offers the perfect setting for both extremes. If six-inch stilettos are your style, choose Sorrento. If your “good shoes” are the pair least caked with mud, you’ll probably prefer Positano. Read on for tips on making the most of la dolce vita, however you define it.
On the north, overlooking the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is a civilized little city, filled with interesting stores, scores of restaurants, and cafes tailor-made for a sunset aperitif. Above all, it is beautifully, blessedly flat.
Walking more than 100 feet without encountering a steep slope or an even steeper set of stairs is something you’ll quickly learn to appreciate when you cross over the Lattari Mountains, the spiny backbone of the peninsula, and arrive on the Amalfi Coast.
This is perhaps Italy’s most scenic stretch of coastline. The road is curvier than Marilyn Monroe in a bikini, with hairpin turns that snake between jagged mountains on one side and eye-popping drops to the sea on the other.
Even more impressive than the road are the villages themselves, which cling to cliffs with the tenacity of cacti in the desert.
Some seem to have been designed by an especially sadistic fan of M.C. Escher, with endless staircases leading to, well, more endless staircases, as epitomized Atrani, one of the tiny gems along the coast.
But the most famous of them all, with its Jenga-like jumble of gravity-defying bungalows, bougainvillea-draped terraces and jaw-dropping views, is postcard-perfect Positano. (more…)
With the airing of Downton Abbey’s final episode, avid viewers may be feeling bereft. But take heart. You can still follow in the footsteps of your favorite footmen, comely maids and high-spirited heiresses when you head to England to tour this hit series’ most atmospheric film locations.
Tallinn is making up for lost time. After being bandied about by the USSR and Nazi Germany before finally gaining independence in 1991, the Estonian capital today is like a freshman at university, relishing a taste of freedom, revved up on Red Bull and ready to party.
Yet wherever you go, there’s history, smacking you on the back of the head like that last ill-advised shot of Jagermeister at one of the city’s late-night dance halls, all juxtaposed against a kind of frenetic, youthful joy and capitalist ambition. If you want to experience a society teetering at a cultural and temporal crossroads, this is the time to visit Tallinn. (more…)
Dishoom is, apparently, the Indian equivalent of “kapow”–and I can confirm that breakfast at the Bombay-inspired eatery certainly packs a punch. In fact, it’s so popular that, even on a cold winter’s day, crowds are lined up thirty deep outside the King’s Cross location in London, waiting for their chance to belly up to a heaping plate and bottomless tumbler of warm spiced chai.
Here’s a top tip, though. Make a reservation, and you can breeze past the crowds. Don’t forget to channel the graceful spirit of Princess Di, offering a bashful, apologetic smile as you sidestep the queue, which may collectively raise a frozen finger or two in what you could opt to interpret as a “salute” to your clever forethought. (more…)
Some seasoned travelers may cast a weary eye upon Europe. London, Paris, Rome…check, check, and check. But if you think you’ve “been there, done that,” it may be time to consider Croatia.
Since joining the European Union in 2013, this slice of the former Yugoslavia has officially hit the big time. Twenty years after the Croatian War of Independence, its once battle-scarred cities have been beautifully rebuilt, and the country wants the world to know: it’s open for business.
If you haven’t yet dipped your toe in the sapphire Adriatic Sea abutting its shores or discovered the museum-packed capital of Zagreb, Abercrombie & Kent’s nine-day Connections tour–“Croatia: Jewel of the Coast”–offers a tantalizingly moreish taste of this croissant-shaped nation. (more…)
With its silky beaches, chic shops, luxury marinas, and eclectic dining scene, Calvia is a favourite European escape. Discover the top ten attractions of this sun-soaked municipality on the southwestern coast of Mallorca, one of the hottest hideaways in Spain’s Balearic Islands.
“So, what do you like to…do…when you travel?” my mother asked me recently. She posed the question with a slightly furrowed brow, in the sort of dubious tone you might otherwise reserve for quizzing the man next to you on the Tube about why he’s wearing a lime green mankini and clutching a jar filled with human hair and toenail clippings—except, of course, you would never speak to that man, or even look him in the eye. (more…)
If you’ve ever dreamed of walking in the wingtips of the world’s sexiest super spy–or tottering along in the sky-high stilettos of a Bond babe–read on for a list of Great Britain’s most 007-worthy adventures. Whether you’re burning up the road in an Aston Martin—or burning big bucks on London’s aptly-named Bond Street–these top six tips will leave you feeling more stirred than shaken.
Up at the O2 (more…)
If you’ve never walked into a hotel room and burst into tears—of joy, that is–then it’s time you visited the newly refurbished Ashford Castle in Cong, Ireland. The 800-year-old stone stronghold, recently named “Hotel of the Year” by the Virtuoso luxury travel network, reopened in Spring 2015 following a US $75 million dollar roof-to-cellar renovation.
Frankly, its super-luxurious makeover has left some folks feeling a bit verklempt. Duty Manager Emer Mulcahy has actually seen guests cry when they’re shown to their rooms, “because they’re so beautiful,” she explains. “They’ve got the ‘wow’ factor.”
Amsterdam is best known for its risqué Red Light District, where working girls pose in neon-lit windows and “coffee shops” sell substances substantially more mood altering than a Starbucks’ triple venti no foam latte.
Veer west off the tourist trail, however, and you’ll encounter a completely different city. Picture buzzing local restaurants and cafés, one-of-a-kind shops and hipster havens that have brought previously derelict areas back to life.
Approaching my table at The Turk’s Head pub on St. Agnes with a glass of Cornish Rattler cider in hand (for who can resist a pint pulled from a tap shaped like the head of a snake–wearing sunglasses), I’m shocked to hear that the conversation has turned to talk of a murder here on the Isles of Scilly, a tranquil beach community off the southwestern coast of England.
“1976,” replies Katharine Sawyer, an archeologist who leads guided walks around the islands.
Considering that the islands’ second most notorious incident in nearly four decades was the case of the Knicker Nicker—a man who was convicted of stealing ladies’ underwear in 2005—it’s hardly surprising to learn that the Scillies claim the lowest crime rate in the country.
When Police Sergeant Colin Taylor posted a Facebook advertisement for a new constable on the Isles of Scilly this past April, candidates from as far away as Thailand, Australia, South Africa and the Philippines threw their cap in the ring for “quite possibly the most enviable policing post in the UK or even the world.”
As Taylor explained, this “unique opportunity” requires the ability to “issue a parking ticket to your spouse so tactfully so as not find dinner in the dog thereafter” and “unflinching confidence to know what to do when you are alerted to an abandoned seal pup making its way up the main street.”
Growing up in the Southern United States, I learned the fundamental fashion rules from my mother. Never wear white after Labor Day. Always match your shoes and your handbag. There’s no such thing as a bow that’s “too big.” And do not, under any circumstances–not even on a triple dog dare–sport a duct-taped box on your head. (Like I said…the basics.)
But when I moved to London eight years ago, I found folks around every corner who not only broke the rules. They burned them, smashed them, and jumped up and down on them in Doc Martens that–get this–clashed with their handbag.
I have a couple of theories about Londoners’ funky fashion sense. One is that you’ve got to push the boundaries if you want to stand out in a city of more than eight million.
Another is that closets here are so small, you’re pretty much forced to mix and match the few items you own with maximum…let’s just call it “creativity.”
Or maybe it’s down to the city’s unofficial motto: “London: The City Too Busy To Do Laundry.” So just wear whatever smells least like stale sweat and spilled beer. Even if that means donning a sombrero and flippers.
With 50 years experience in the film industry, John Richardson makes movie magic look as simple as a wave of the wand. He served as special effects supervisor on all eight Harry Potter films and also worked on such iconic film franchises as the James Bond movies, Superman, and Alien, for which he won an Academy Award in 1986.
Recently, he paused for a chat on Platform 9 3/4, the latest Harry Potter set to be installed at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. The new addition, which features the original Hogwarts Express steam train, opens March 19.
Richardson talks about making wizards fly, the pitfalls of computer generated effects, and the one item he most wishes he could’ve taken home from the set. Watch our interview on YouTube here:
To see my interview with Mark Williams, who played Mr. Weasley, click here.
For more on the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, click here.
Pack your trunks. Round up your rats, and get ready for a wand-waggling adventure aboard Harry Potter’s own Hogwarts Express, which has steamed onto a resurrected Platform 9 3/4 at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London.
I had a track-side chat with Mark Williams, a.k.a. Mr. Weasley, about movies, memories and magic.
For more info on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London and “The Making of Harry Potter” experience, check out my story here.
LEAVESDEN, ENGLAND: I’m whizzing over the Thames, the wind in my face, so close that I can dip my hands in the water. Then suddenly, not of my own volition, I’m soaring heavenwards, only to rocket back down to earth moments later, dodging cars and buses on London’s busy streets. Oh, and did I mention, I’m riding a broom?
Boarding a bucking Nimbus 2000 in front of a special effects green screen is just one of the hands (or in this case, bottoms) on attractions at the “Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter” experience in Leavesden, 20 miles northwest of London.
Unlike the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida, the U.K. doesn’t feature theme park rides like roller coasters. Instead, Leavesden offers a true behind-the-scenes look at the Harry Potter movies, which were primarily shot on a soundstage next door. It embraces 170,000 square feet of space bursting with the actual sets, costumes, props and magical machines, including the original Hogwarts Express steam engine, parked alongside a recreated Platform 9 3/4.
“I’m not boasting, but I know practically everything about Malta,” says Charlie Micallef, gunning a seen-better-days jeep along the bumpy back roads of Malta. “You’re very fortunate.”
So I must remind myself, as Charlie, a ringer for Robert DeNiro, steers us down a spine-jarring Second World War-era runway—complete with the original asphalt, judging by the potholes.
“This tour is like a medical exam,” my guide says, his sunburned face etched with a wicked grin. “If you survive it, you know you’re in good health.” And like some medical exams, your backside might be a bit sore afterwards, I reflect with a wince. (more…)
A fierce wind is wailing in my ears, buffeting me back from Cornwall’s cliff tops and a deadly drop to the sea with all the force of a nightclub bouncer. Still I lurch stubbornly (stupidly) onward along the muddy path toward my goal, the slope-shouldered stone giants known as the Bedruthan Steps, hunkered menacingly on the beach below.
England may be better known for the gently undulating hills of its more civilized interior, but here on the isle’s extreme western edge, nature is altogether more wild and unpredictable. With 300 miles of the South West Coast Path hugging Cornwall’s wave-lashed shore, it’s heaven for surfers and a haven for hikers. (more…)
Gstaad: It’s hard to imagine Satan in bowling shoes. But whoever named the stony pinnacle atop Glacier 3000 the “Quille du Diable” (The Devil’s Tenpin) must have managed it. Maybe he was affected by the thin air here in the Swiss Alps, 3,000 meters high in the sky–or perhaps he had imbibed too much gluhwein.
Drinking in the views atop this icy moonscape, I find it puts me more in mind of heaven than hell. Fog fills the valleys below, while snow-capped mountains serrate the blue sky in every direction.
The openness of the landscape—from the glacial expanse where I stand now to the wide vales that stretch out like fingers at its base—set Gstaad and the surrounding Saanenland apart from other popular resorts in the Alps. (more…)
I’m sitting beside a pool in the Bay of Biscay, sipping a gin and tonic as a Thai band plays a vigorous rendition of Van Halen’s “Jump.” A life-sized Barbie in a black-fringed thong bikini has just lowered herself into the water, no doubt inducing heart palpitations and several cases of whiplash among the men relaxing on the Lido Deck loungers around me.
That might seem like sufficient excitement for one afternoon, but all eyes are directed upwards when a crimson-coloured helicopter appears overhead, dangling two black-clad men from cables. For a moment, I wonder whether our ship—Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity—is being commandeered by airborne pirates. But no, these two naval ninjas are deposited aboard the bridge to navigate our vessel up-river to Bordeaux.
If anyone feared that our days at sea might be, well, a bit too serene, we’ve just discovered that shipboard life is full of the unexpected. Perhaps they should consider rechristening the boat the Crystal Surprise. (more…)
Being a travel writer, you might expect that I’d be an aficionado of efficient packing, able to cram enough gear for a trek to Mt. Everest in a bag no bigger than a lunchbox. “Just the essentials,” you might suppose—a camera, a spare pair of socks, and a handful of breath mints to stave off Donner party hunger pains and simple chronic halitosis.
In fact, over the years, I’ve become what you might call a “disaster packer.” My suitcase overflows with obscure items meant to slap a Band-Aid (metaphorically and otherwise) on any problem, however improbable, that I might encounter on the road. (more…)