Category Archives: Travel


A combination of factors – the unearthly hour, an inability to read small print, the herding of cats that constitutes trying to get the family in the car at dawn – meant that I was cutting it very fine on a recent trip to France. Unable to locate my pre-booked parking spot (yes, tempers did fray), I ended up trying Long Term at Terminal 5. Full. They did give me an upgrade to Business, which promised to be expensive, but not as eye-wateringly so as the daily rack rate. However, it did give me a chance to try the Heathrow Pod, a personal transport system that, a few years ago, you might have considered a prop out of Minority Report. Basically they are individual, driverless little metal cylinder, like a miniature light railway, which take you from the Business area right to T5. Which means no waiting around for transfer buses and a positive wow for the kids.
They were even looking forward to the return trip on the way back all the way through the holiday. It was, I have to say, the most expensive little rollercoaster I have ever been on, but if you can stretch to Business, it’s the best transfer, walking apart, I have ever experienced. The normal rate is about £31 a day, but you can save on that with Holiday Extras (0800-083 8754), which has Business T5 for a three-day weekend for £50; a week is £115.

The Lost Islands of The Caribbean, Part 3

This is another island that didn’t quite manage the cut in the Sunday Times travel section.
BEST FOR: fans of lovely beaches and lush natural world and those wanting something other than a cookie-cutter Caribbean experience.
It is a beautiful little island (42 x 10 km) with an undeveloped coastline (lots of unspoiled beaches), first-class diving around Speyside, a glorious spine of rainforest, mountains, world-class birding and great Tobagonian food. However, do read the Home Office Travel Advice ( fro trindidad & tobago.
STAY AT:  swanky Magdalena Grand has three pools, a golf PGA course, a spa and all-oceanfront rooms. Virgin Holidays (0844-557 4321, has it from £1,391pp, B&B. Less ritzy, Coco does have a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere, ten acres of tropical gardens and a good restaurant. British Airways (0844-493 0758, has it from £1098 B&Bs. The Villas at Stonehaven (001 868 639 0361, is a collection of fourteen three-bedroom villas with full kitchens and private pools (plus a larger communal one), bar and restaurant and is a very good choice for families. Tropical Sky (0843 249 5884, has seven nights from £1149pp.
DRINK/EAT AT: “Sunday School” at Buccoo Beach is a late night mélange of steel drums, cheap beer and rum, chicken, fish and lobster stalls. Get there after 11. Local food is a mix of African, Chinese, Indian, European and Latino flavours. Sample it at the Store Bay Beach Facilities at Crown Point, which is a collection of kiosks serving reliable and cheap food – under a fiver for something like a goat curry roti and soda – on a very busy beach near the airport. Or try the red snapper fillets with lime butter or the crab cakes at the busy little Fish Pot (001 868 635 1728, allow £25-30pp) at Pleasant Prospect, Black Rock.
BEST BEACH: You will recognise Pigeon Point Heritage Park (£2 adults, £1 6-12s, under 6 free), with its thatched jetty, from a thousand brochure shots, but that doesn’t stop it being a fabulous stretch of white sand with warm, aquamarine waters and plenty of facilities. Lots of others, but take care on remote ones, such as otherwise beautiful Back Bay.
DIVERSIONS: Immerse yourself in the teeming rainforest and its birds, snakes, lizards and trapdoor spiders with NG &Co Nature Tours (001 868 660 5463,, from £39 half-day). Or try a new tour – stand-up paddleboarding through the lagoons and mangrove swamps with Stan Up Paddle Tobago (001 868 681 4741,, from £38.50)
MORE AT: Trinidad & Tobago Tourist Office (0844 846 0812,
Pigeon Point TobagoLarge 1


The sequel to DEAD MAN’S LAND won’t be out until January 2014, but this is a short article about Elveden/Thetford Forest in Suffolk, where much of the action takes place. It might seem a long way from the trenches of Flanders, but there is a definite connection.


What links the Koh-i-noor diamond, Ireland’s black gold, the first armoured tanks, onions, and one of the most extensive and well-used forest parks in England? The answer is the Elveden Hall Estate – currently owned by Lord Iveagh of the Guinness family – which is made up of 10,000 acres of farmland as well as 12,500 acres of heathland and woods (plus a well-hidden Center Parcs) which sits right next to Thetford Forest Park recreational area, where you can walk, ride or even Segway the trails (or zip wire through the canopy). Whether you like the great outdoors, locally grown produce with minimum food miles under its belt or fascinating local history, it’s a great spot for a weekend.

WHERE WILL I BE SLEEPING? The Elveden Inn (01842-890876,, which is owned by the estate, was once a dark, poky country pub, but has recently been sympathetically expanded, adding a conservatory and a large outside terrace. It has just four rooms (with two more planned), which follow a familiar boutique-ish vernacular– oversized leather bedheads, dark wooden furniture, crisp white bed linen, and clean simple lines. Nothing innovative, but streets ahead of the fusty décor that most pubs and hotels in the area offer. The staff is young, friendly and efficient, children and dogs are welcome and, for obvious reasons, it pours an excellent pint of Guinness.

WHAT’S FOR DINNER? Superior pub grub, from home-made pasty with seasonal farm vegetables from the estate (£11.95), local venison with rabbit rosti and cabbage (£13.95), Haddock in Guinness (of course) batter (£11.95), plus good filling ploughman’s at lunchtime (£10.50). Although vegetarians might struggle a little (only two choices on the mains), under-tens are very well catered for, with a main course (pasta, Suffolk ham and egg, mini-burger etc, with chips or jacket potato and baked beans or veg or salad), a fruit drink and ice cream for £6.95. There’s a Beer & Bands Festival 14-16th June, with guest ales and ciders and live music.

WHAT ELSE TO DO: Get out into the forest. For riders, Forest Park Riding and Livery Centre (01842-815517) at Santon Downham in nearby Brandon offers hacks along lovely bridle paths, taking in the pine trees, but also stands of sycamore, chestnut and oak, as well as crossing heather-rich heathland, from £20 per hour. At High Lodge Forest Centre (01842 815434,, parking charges £1.90 per hour to £10 for five hours plus) there are activity trails for kids (giant swinging tyres, ropeways etc.), orienteering trails, you can hire mountain bikes (£7.50 first hour, £3.50 subsequent hours, includes helmets; kids £6/£2.50), over-10s can take out an all-terrain Segway (£25 per hour), or swing or zip-wire through the canopy, all with Go Ape (, 10-17 years olds £20, 18 and over £30 for 2-3 hours in the tree tops; there is a new junior course for 6-12s, £15).

Unknown-1   History buffs might want to explore why nearby Thetford and the Eleveden church are pilgrimage sites for Sikhs – in 1860 the British wrested control of the Punjab from the young Maharajah Duleep Singh, who was just eleven. As part of the war booty, he had to hand over the legendary Koh-i-noor diamond (now part of the crown jewels and valued at £80m). He was also exiled from India and given Elveden Hall, which he converted into an astonishing Maharaja’s palace. It became one of the great shooting estates of the country, frequented by royalty and nobility. Now empty, it is currently being (slowly) restored by Lord Iveagh, whose family bought the estate after Singh’s death (and allowed the land to be used for secret testing of the first tanks in 1916). You can glimpse the house from the churchyard of St Andrew and St Patrick Church on the A11, which is where Duleep Singh is buried (along with his wife and his son Albert). A walking trail and driving route around Thetford (see takes in the Ancient House Museum (a 15th century merchant’s dwelling), a dramatic statue of the Maharajah on peaceful Butten island, as well as sites further afield associated with the man.

Even if you can’t see Singh’s country seat, you can buy the estate’s produce (especially its onions, pickled and otherwise, of which it produces a great deal, and locally reared and wild meats) from the excellent farm shop, which come with a decent if pricey café attached. It also puts on events in the nearby walled gardens – a mini-crufts Dog Day on Saturday July 14 and outdoor theatre on August 17th & 18th and, on September 7th, the return of the Big Onion food festival (where there’s more to eat than onions – cookery demos, food stalls/stands and live music). There is also free spectating of cycling events through the estate, a sort of Tour de Thetford (Saturday Jun 8 & 29th). See for all details. Rooms at Elveden Inn (01842-890876, cost from £105 B&B.


Two more cycling hotels which only didn’t appear in the Sunday Times Travel today (26/05) due to space.

The Kitzbüheler Alps-Brixental region (covering the resorts of Kirchberg, Westendorf, St Johann, Kirchdorf, Kitzbühel, Hopfgarten) has more than 800km of mountain bikes routes graded according to the level of difficulty from green to black. The Bike Academy ( in Kirchberg is where Kurt Exenberger (former Austrian national MTB coach) and his team offer workshops, tours, technique training and more. The 4* Gourmethotel Sportalm (00 43 5357 2778 , or through the Bike Academy, bike in Kirchberg which has full bike storage/washing/repair/guiding/advice facilities, has seven nights from £463 per person, half-board-plus (eg extra snacks, drinks), including three guided tours, a technique training session with Kurt Exenberger and his guides and video supported analysis. Bike rental from £19.50 per day through the academy. There is also a three-night beginner package with two guided tours from £217pp. The hotel has sauna/steam/Jacuzzi and solarium plus plenty of fresh mountain air (the hotel offers guided hikes) even for non-MTB-ers. Fly to Innsbruck with Easyjet (; car hire from Holiday Autos (0871-472 5229, from £165pw.

The Park Kenmare Hotel (00 353 64 664 1200, is well known for its extensive spa and its golfing breaks, but it also takes cycling seriously, with no fewer than 18 graded routes out of the door, from 5km-180km, from meandering coast roads to hair-raising descents. It also offers secure lock-up, bike cleaning, emergency back-up, breakfast and gym warm-up/walks. Prices are from £174pp B&B for a cycling break plus the possibility of a ‘cycling buddy’ (£123 for the day), high-energy cyclists’ lunches (£10) and a comprehensive muscle-saving massage (£118). Non-cyclists have a large range of activities to choose from, including the spa, golf, riding, walking, kayaking to spot the local seals and other watersports. The hotel has its own hybrid bikes for guests or it can advise on local cycle hire.


Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford, co-writer of Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom) was in town recently to show off the winners of Four Stories,  Intel/W Hotel’s screenwriting competition for emerging talent. You can see the winning entries at, including one shot by Coppola at W Hollywood. ‘I did that for convenience,’ he said. ‘Then I saw the footage from W Maldives and realized what a mistake I’d made. Duh!’

I went along to interview him for My Hols for The Sunday Times and, as expected, he talked a lot about his father’s places in Belize and Italy. I was beginning to think that this was going to be a run-of-the-mill My Hols (well, as run-of-the-mill as it can be if your dad directed The Godfather and Apocalypse Now) when he let slip that his next holiday would be on a Greyhound bus.

No, Roman isn’t going to be riding the freeways with the great unwashed, he has his own Greyhound bus. ‘It’s from the 1940s, the classic silver-sided one. I found it in Ohio.’ So, it’s like the one in The Gauntlet (1978), I asked, that Clint Eastwood armours up and rides into Phoenix to confront the corrupt city officials? Never seen the movie, he admitted.

He should. OK, so it’s a piece of schlock, but apart from being the only movie to star a similar bus to his (it is “Southern Trail Lines”, not Greyhound and, on re-viewing, it is a later model than Roman’s), it also has a great soundtrack. The music is by Jerry Fielding, but Eastwood, ever the jazz fan, made sure he booked the legendary Art Pepper (apparently on both alto and, unusually, baritone), who needed the gig, and a new kid, the stratosphere-scraping trumpeter John Faddis. It’s grand stuff, but be warned though, the OST is only 31 minutes long.

The Gauntlet bus was destroyed by 8,000 explosive ‘squibs’ to simulate bullet holes. In contrast, Roman has had his interior done out in mahogany, like a classic Hacker-Craft 1920s motorboat, with six berths and he intends to tour the Mid-West of America in it next year. You can read more when the interview appears in the Sunday Times in a few weeks.