Farndale, in the heart of the North York Moors National Park, is famed for its wonderful daffodils, believed to have been first planted there by medieval monks from Rievaulx. The carpet of spring flowers attracts some 40,000 visitors annually, but this year they are late to bloom, and won’t be at their peak until the middle of April. The Daffodil Walk runs alongside the River Dove for around 2 1/2 kms, and refreshments can be found the Daffy Caffy, or at the Feversham Arms at Church Houses, which does a marvellous Sunday lunch.
The Palacio de Valle is a fabulous Moorish-Gothic-Baroque confection at the southern end of the Punto Gorda peninsula, Cienfuegos, Cuba.
Take in the intricate ceilings, stained glass and chandeliers, as you head up the sweeping marble stairs to the top floor. Then climb the rickety spiral staircase to the rooftop bar, which has to be one of the best places in the world to watch the sunset. Order a mojito and gaze out across the water at the stunning view.
Reparto Punta Gorda, Cienfuegos, Cuba
+53 43 451003
Google map: bit.ly/YmSRqe
I love the faded splendour of the Central Cafe in Budapest. Sat on worn red leather seats in the wood-panelled interior it is easy to imagine eavesdropping on the earnest conversations of bearded revolutionaries, artists, poets and lovers.
Art deco lights hang from from starburst ceiling roses, and the doors open up onto the street to entice passers-by into the cool, high-ceilinged rooms with their beautiful painted mouldings and dark wood floors.
The waiters act slightly aloof, as though they carry the weight of history around with their trays of magnificent cakes and hearty Hungarian breakfasts. We feasted on scrambled eggs, Mangalica sausage, soft cheese on brown seeded bread and freshly squeezed orange juice.
In Rajasthan we took private trips by both camel cart and jeep to explore the timeless culture of the villages on the fringes of the Thar desert. We had lunch with a farmer and his 13 daughters, who shared their simple home and invited us to join them in an opium ceremony; then travelled to a Bishnoi village across scrubland and shallow dunes dotted with khejri trees and graceful chinkara gazelle. Both the chinkara and the trees are revered by the Bishnoi tribe, who are even known to bury dead gazelles and mark their graves. Bishnoi translates as ‘twenty-niners’, which refers to the number of principles they live by, two of which are to protect trees and ‘all living beings’. Their fierce affinity with nature, and their aggression in its protection since 1485, has led them to be thought of a the first environmentalists.
The Northumberland Coast Walk offers some of the best coastal walking in Europe, and in autumn you will have it all to yourself. The dramatic landscape is scattered with castles, coves and cliffs, and punctuated by tiny seaside villages and isolated islands offering a plethora of reasons to stop. There are puffin and tern colonies on Coquet Island, sweeping beaches at Alnmouth and the mudflats at picturesque Lindisfarne. Warm up with a cup of tea after a stroll around the magnificent gardens at Howick Hall, the erstwhile home of Earl Grey, or stock up with delicious Craster kippers before walking to the impressive remains of Dunstanburgh Castle. At the Ship Inn in Low Newton they brew their own beer, with wonderful names such as Sandcastles at Dawn and Red Herring. They do a mean crab sandwich as well. The sunsets in this part of the world are beautiful - dusk at Bamburgh Castle takes some beating.
Kamikochi National Park, over 2000m above sea level, is one of the most beguiling places in the Japanese Alps. The lower mountain slopes are covered with forests of larch and beech that blaze scarlet and orange in the autumn. Barely perceptible wisps of smoke hang in the still air above Yakedake volcano and the glass surface of Taisho Pond perfectly reflects the snow-dusted Hotaka mountains.
There are well signposted climbing paths that wind up through the forest, and above the treeline there are the most spectacular views across the valleys.
We stayed in the Konashidaira Log Cabins, which sit in woods close to the forest trails and the tumbling River Azusa, and which we shared with families of macaques that swung from tree to tree above us.
Kyoto is beautiful in October, when palace and temple gardens are aglow with the blaze of autumn. It is also when the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) takes place - a feast of incredible colour and elegance, involving 2,000 participants wearing costumes from the Heian to the Meiji periods. The procession starts at noon, heading from the Imperial Palace to the Heian Shrine, but don't wait until then. Go to the palace early in the morning when it's quiet and watch the performers getting ready. The 'samurai' are happy to chat and pose, and you can snap a close-up of ladies in the beautiful and complex kimonos of the Imperial Court.
The Jersey Shore is a great place to visit from nearby New York - you can get there in under an hour on the ferry. Forget the gambling hub of Atlantic City, and what you've seen on reality TV shows, the Shore is also the home of the drive-in movie and the knickerbocker glory. Explore the lovely small towns scattered along the coast, from Wildwood in the south, with its two-mile boardwalk, 50's 'Doo-Wop' architecture and sweeping beaches, to Long Beach Island with romantically named towns such as Ship Bottom and Loveladies. My favourite place is Asbury Park. You don't have to be a Bruce Springsteen fan to enjoy the boardwalk, clam bars, pinball museum and jazz clubs, but if you are, then there's the extra attraction of hoping Bruce might turn up and play an impromptu gig at one of the town's rock venues such as the Stone Pony.
We hired a car in Hammamet, and drove south, via Kairouan, to stay in the desert town of Douz on the edge of the Sahara.
The Tunisian Sahara is known as the Grand Erg Oriental – and erg translates as ‘field of dunes’.
Our journey took us across the Chott El Jerid, the largest salt pan of the Sahara, where temperatures can soar to 50° C. Halfway across, we parked at the edge of the sun-baked road and tentatively stepped out onto the salt crust. Mirages of castles and spaceships shimmered in the distance, as elusive as rainbow-ends.
Eventually we reached Douz, where minarets and blue-shuttered houses appeared ghostly in the half-light of dusk, and the pale dunes, as fine as icing sugar, rolled into the seeming infinity of the Sahara.
Google map: bit.ly/RNbhjJ
Francis Tea Rooms are redolent of a more elegant era, when women wore lace gloves and indulged in afternoon fancies.
On a quiet back street behind Scarborough's Esplanade you will find 1930's wood-panelled booths (the tea room was once a barber's), vintage mismatched china, and embroidered lawn tablecloths.
A full range of Taylor's teas are served by the pot with lemon or milk, and there are a plethora of savoury dishes and home-baked cakes to tempt the tastebuds. The rarebit is particularly good, but my all time favourites have to be the lemon meringue and the cream teas.
7 South Street, Scarborough
Google map: bit.ly/JIbj4C
La Balagne, in northern Corsica, is criss-crossed with walking paths, ranging from the sedate to those requiring crampons.The mountains and valleys are wild, unspoilt and crowd-free; scattered with fig, olive and chestnut trees, and fragrant maquis. From timeless mountain villages such as Ville de Paraso and Speloncato, there are stunning views across the Regino valley towards the distant coast, and as the light changes in the afternoon, the jutting ridges of granite glow pink. Late spring and early summer are the best time for walking; July and August are usually too hot.
At the National Media Museum in Bradford all the exhibitions are free, and aside from the permanent photography, cinematography and television exhibitions (all family-friendly and interactive), there is now the world's first gallery devoted to the impact of the internet and digital age on our daily lives. There is always a range of films showing, as well as the mind-bending IMAX screen. This Easter there are various family activities on offer, including the chance to create animations and 'movie mash-ups'. There is a great shop, and a good cafe/restaurant; but this is Bradford, so it would be a shame to miss the chance to visit one of the fabulous curry shops just yards from the museum.
Istanbul's skyline is magical at night and one of the best places to enjoy it is from the restaurant on the rooftop of the Adamar Hotel in Sultanahmet. Just a stone's throw from the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia, the rooftop terrace has a 360 degree panoramic view, great food and a romantic atmosphere. The Bosphorus Bridge twinkles with ever-changing colours, the commercial district sparkles with modern skyscrapers, and the mosques and minarets glow with golden light. High above the rooftops, the sounds of the muezzins' evening calls to prayer echo and collide in the night sky around you.
And If the weather is less than kind, there is an indoor restaurant on the floor below with equally good views.
The basilica of San Clemente, not far from the Coliseum, is three buildings in one - a church within a church within a church.
The church above ground dates from 1100 and is simply beautiful; one of the most lavishly decorated in Rome. A €3 entrance fee will take you down to the other two levels. There is a fourth-century church below which still houses the remains of ancient frescoes. Below that is the dark and intriguing house of Mitra (the Roman god of the equinoxes), which dates from the first-century, and was later used as a secret meeting place by early Christians. Amazing to think that this labyrinth of tiny rooms and corridors is hidden below two other churches and has still survived.
The Sunday flea market in Cologne is a trove of delights in a lovely setting along the banks of the Rhine. The stalls are an eclectic mix of architectural salvage, vintage clothes, porcelain, prints, tin signs, books, old phonographs, records and beer steins. The food stalls serve delicious bratwurst in crusty rolls, and the market is a mere stone’s throw from the gorgeous cathedral and the Früh Kölsch beer house (Am Hof 12-18). After all, market shopping is thirsty work.
On our first trip to New York, my boyfriend and I decided to blow the budget on a yellow cab from the airport. The driver said he normally took the tunnel, but that he would take the bridge so we could get our first view of the skyline as we crossed he Hudson. It was perfect. Manhattan glittered in the sunshine against a bright blue sky, as magical as I had always hoped it would be. I grabbed my boyfriend’s hand and saw that he was feeling the same, and I swear I could hear Gershwin. One view that definitely should be shared, and that I will never forget.
The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons is a lot more fun that its name might suggest. It contains more that 3,500 specimens, mainly collected in the 18th century by John Hunter, the anatomist.
There is a vast array of pickled body parts, the skeleton of a 7’ 7” ‘Irish giant’, the tooth of an extinct giant sloth, and a slightly grisly display of pickled foetuses. More recent additions include Churchill’s dentures.
There is also the opportunity to try your hand at simulated keyhole surgery, and watch footage of brain surgery. Educational and fun at the same time!
A journey or destination takes on life-changing status when you suddenly feel that inexplicable frisson that stirs your soul. It can be something as simple as a smile, the quality of light, or a hand carved wooden bowl, that can make you see life from a new perspective.
The country that affects me that way above all others is Japan; a hypnotic mix of rigid convention and outlandish weirdness, and the home of Zen. Japan showed me how to appreciate beauty in a single moment or a simple object - the sweet hay smell of a tatami floor; a screen door sliding open to reveal the colours of the autumn trees; the sound of tea pouring.
The Japanese understand how beauty is most clearly seen in imperfection, and more importantly they understand the transience of nature - which is why cherry blossom is the perfect symbol of the Japanese soul.
My favourite bar is the Uerige brew-pub in Dusseldorf Altstadt. In 2012 they will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of their wonderful top-fermented altbier - affectionately known as the 'delicious droplet'. The Uerige is a warren of lovely wood-panelled rooms, shining copper, scrubbed tables and quirky adornments. The beer is served straight from barrels, which are hoisted onto the bar by the blue-aproned kobes. When they're not rolling barrels around the pub, they are doing the rounds with endless trays of beer. And when you need something to soak it up, there is a tasty menu of traditional Rhenish fare, from black pudding and smoked sausages to raw minced pork on rolls (Mettbrötchen).
When you leave, be sure to call at the street counter of Et Kabüffke, opposite, for a warming shot of Killepitsch, the digestive licquor.
Obergärige Hausbrauerei GmbH
Berger Strasse 1, D-40213 Düsseldorf
Google map: bit.ly/s7f45R
Likörfabrik Peter Busch GmbH & Co. KG
Holzstraße 4, 40221 Düsseldorf
+49(0)211 86 44 40
We went to Rajasthan for Christmas with the original intention of getting away from traditional festivities. However, our hosts at Fort Chanwa had trimmed up with a tree and there were cheap crackers and party hats to accompany our Indian Gala Dinner. The whole evening had a lovely sense of things as they used to be; a quality that reminded me of childhood Christmases.
On New Year’s Eve the Maharaja threw a party for the locals, and my boyfriend and I dressed in Rajasthani costume - to the great amusement of the Indian guests who were all in the latest designer gear.
At the end of every evening we drank our nightcap around fire baskets on the lawn, and then watched the bright north star from the rooftop before retiring to bed - what could be more Christmassy than that?
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