Two of the best places in the entire world to have a cocktail are the Moon Bar at Vertigo on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel and the Sky Bar at Sirocco on the 63rd of the State Tower Hotel.
Both are in the heart of the city and have jaw-dropping views where you feel as close to the aeroplanes overhead as the ground below. The Moon Bar, especially, seems to hover over the city. Brilliant fun and very surreal — like sipping cocktails on the set of Bladerunner.
In the country that invented three classic rum-based cocktails (the mojito, daiquiri and cuba libre) it’s no surprise that you can get one in every bar in town. The bars of the city’s many historic grand old hotels are the best places for a pre-dinner sundowner (but eat in a paladar rather than the hotels — the food is rank).
Some of the best are the elegant garden at the Nacional and the rooftop bars of the Moorish-style Sevilla (the setting for Our Man in Havana) and Ambos Mundos (where Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls). The two more famous Hemingway haunts (Floridita and La Bodeguita) are just tourist traps these days.
The overnight train from Nairobi to Mombasa is one of the world’s classic rail journeys as well as a rare colonial gem.
An old diesel pulls out of both stations simultaneously at 7pm and dinner is served immediately — the waiters trying not to spatter soup on their tunics, or you. The rattling of the carriage rocked me to sleep immediately, but make sure you wake early for sunset to see animals on the savannah if you’re coming up to Nairobi or the Manugu plains as you descend to the coast and Mombasa.
After the cool of Nairobi and the highlands, when you disembark in humid, tropical Mombasa it feels like you’ve arrived in a different country.
Most backpackers in east Africa want to bag Kilimanjaro, so Mount Kenya feels more off the beaten path, and is cheaper to climb too.
As it’s on the equator but rises to 5,199m in effect you go through several climate zones in a couple of days and see plants straight out of Day of the Triffids that only exist here, like the “water-holding cabbage”. From the top you can see for miles over much of Kenya. Take all your hiking gear with you as it can be hard to find there and take plenty of warm clothes and a good sleeping bag — it’s freezing at night.
The stunning Las Islas Cies in Galicia is an uninhabited and pristine national park with loads of wildlife and a perfect crescent of soft pale sand, backed by small dunes sheltering a calm lagoon of crystal-clear (but freezing) sea.
The water is turquoise and the sand fine and white.
The only place to stay on the island is an idyllic campsite shaded by pine trees. It has a decent shop, bar and cafe and, this being Spain, even a proper restaurant that serves great seafood.
The park is open to the public only in summer.
00 34 986 43 83 58, campingislascies.com, open Easter week and June to September.
One of best things about Valencia is the empty riverbed of the Turia, which has been turned into an 8km-long, twisting park through the middle of the city, with a lagoon, gardens and playing fields plus the amazing City of Arts and Sciences, an architectural wonderland.
You can cycle from the old town and through cycle paths in the park and on to the revamped port, seeing everything in half a day. Hire bikes (including tandems) at Cycletour, next to the fab Gulliver’s playground in the park, or in town at the excellent Orange bikes.
Orange Bikes Santa Teresa 8, Valencia (0034 96 391 7551, orangebikes.net).
Calais gets a bad press, but ride off the ferry and turn right and you are on the Côte d’Opale, one of the most dramatic coastlines in northern France. And inland, just 20-30km from Calais, you are in idyllic, pastoral countryside where there is hardly a car on the road. This is fantastic cycling country, far more relaxed than on our side of the Channel — they really respect bikes here. As cyclists count as foot passengers on a ferry, this is by far the cheapest way to get to France by bike . . . or any other mode of transport come to that.
A bustling small harbour with a daily fish market strewn with nets and lobster pots. There are some great no-nonsense brasseries on the waterfront such as La Marée (+2 31 21 41 00), with friendly, knowledgeable staff (they told us which village our oysters came from).
The coquilles St Jacques, huge sweet scallops, were fantastic and ridiculously cheap compared to back home. If you're visiting the Normandy beaches this is a good spot to stop for lunch.
There are just three rooms at this intimate chambre d'hôte (B&B) in the shadow of Bayeux cathedral.
The 15th-century stone terrace has been lovingly restored by its owners to reveal the original wooden-beamed ceilings. Breakfast and dinner can be served in the flower-filled courtyard.
The charming rooms are great value, as is the all-inclusive dinner: aperitif of pommeau (a liquer made from apple juice or cider, and calvados) dinner came with cider and was followed with a digestif of calvados, chicken casserole was cooked in cider, then tarte aux pommes. Yes, this is the land of la pomme.
Doubles €60 per night: all-inclusive dinner €20. 2 bis, rue Quincangrogne (+2 3l 10 09 27, antpas.com).
There are two reasons these five stylish self-catering apartments are so popular. Firstly they are terrific value, and second they offer something none of Honfleur’s hotels can match —a view of the unique 17th-century harbour, one of the most beautiful in Europe.
Apartments from €155 per 3-night weekend (locationdecharme.com, + 6 80 42 28 25 (mobile).
Very stylish and comfortable hotel, worth the £100 a night for a treat. The 18th-century house has views of Pont de Normandie and Le Havre and the oak-panelled lounges and seven bedrooms are beautifully decorated with antique furniture. Best of all is the spacious garden terrace where you can sit for a leisurely breakfast.
Doubles from €150, breakfast €17.
44 rue des Capucins, (+2 31 14 40 40, lamaisondelucie.com).
This is one of the most scenic campsites in the country, sandwiched between the steep slopes of Place Fell and the shores of Ullswater, with spectacular views across the lake to the Helvellyn fells. An excellent base for walking, watersports and mountain biking, or just hanging out on site and drinking in the magnificent scenery.
The Patterdale Hotel, 10 minutes’ walk away does good food in huge walkers’ portions and fine real ale.
01768 482337, www.lakedistrictcamping.co.uk, £4.50pp
It is in the perfect spot for taking on the Buttermere Circuit or the gentler option of walking around the lake. It’s a small and friendly site with great views and is away from the road so nice and quiet, bar the lambs whose barring might wake you up early doors. Get your revenge on them by tucking into the delicious spring lamb, the best thing on the menu at the Bridge Inn just two minutes from the site. It’s a hikers' pub with a garden and good selection of ales.
017687 70222 , www.lakedistrictcamping.co.uk, £5pp
The stylish, intimate hotel is one of the best deals in town. Like many Valenciano establishments, it offers discounted weekend rates and all rooms are the same price regardless of size, so ask for a big one with a balcony.
Calle Boix 4 (+963 919 140, adhochoteles.com)
What makes Valencia unique is its river, or rather the lack of it. After a disastrous flood in 1957, the Túria was diverted to the edge of the city, leaving an empty riverbed that now forms a green ribbon twisting 9km through the city, with a lagoon, trees, gardens, playing fields and cycle paths. At the park’s heart is the breathtakingly ambitious City of Arts and Sciences designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava. You'll need to hire a bike to see it all.
The stunning 15th-century silk exchange, with its elegant stone columns carved to resemble twisted bolts of silk, is a gothic classic and the most beautiful building in Valencia. Truly uplifting, in more ways than one.
Plaza del Mercado
Everyone raves about Barcelona’s famous La Boqueria market but Valencia’s is both bigger and better. The modernista building of stained glass and wrought iron is stunning, but it’s the array of produce, especially the wealth of fresh glistening seafood, that steals the show. If you’re staying in a hotel you’ll regret it if you visit Central - you'll want to take the lot home for dinner.
Open until 2.30pm, Plaza del Mercado.
Don’t be taken in by the apparent sophistication of Cuba’s beautiful, historic hotels – the restaurants are nearly always a let down. Best to have a pre-dinner cocktail in one of the atmospheric old bars, then go and eat in a paladar, a family-run restaurant inside the homes of ordinary families – a uniquely Cuban phenomenon. Food is homemade and fresh. Leave a big tip as they pay high taxes.
Apart from the famous La Guarida, some of the best are: Cocina de Lilliam (Calle 48 #1311, Miramar, +7 209 6514); Casa de Adela (Calle F #503, Vedado, +7 832 3776); Le Chansonnier (Calle J #257, Vedado, +7 832 1576). Book ahead.
Post-revolutionary poster art was used to promote movies for three decades after the revolution. Some of these stunning hand-printed posters, in blocks of dense colour and influenced by eastern European and Japanese design, can be bought for a few dollars from the shop at the ICAIC (national film institute). They look very cool framed and hung on the wall back home.
ICAIC office, next to the Chaplin cinema, Calle 23, 1155, entre 10 y 12, Vedado.
Written by Pedro Juan Gutierrez, the book’s protagonist, during the euphemistically dubbed “Special Period” of the 1990s (when Cuba was on its knees as subsidies from the former Soviet Union dried up) this book examines the underbelly of Cuban society in unforgiving language. Sex, poverty, racism and dog-eat-dog squalor – this is a side of Havana you won’t get from the guidebooks. A tour de force.
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