Tag Archives: Travel

Lost Islands of the Caribbean, part 2

It was hard to let this one go, especially as British Airways say interest in the island is very buoyant.

BEST FOR: Nature lovers.
Beaches are mostly volcanic and black, but it does have an incomparable natural world – rain forests, huge waterfalls feeding into tropical lagoons, nature trails, botanical gardens and an active volcano.


STAY AT: Buccament Bay has Pat Cash tennis and Liverpool football academies, a spa, multiple restaurants and a white sand beach (imported from Guyana). DialAFlight (0844 556 6060, dialaflight.com) has seven nights all-inclusive from £1,765pp. Young Island lies just offshore from the mainland and has the feel of a James Bond villain’s lair (in a good way). Caribtours (020 7751 0660, caribtours.co.uk) has it for £1,755pp, all-inclusive. On the mainland opposite Young is the more basic Beachcombers (001 784 458 4283, beachcombershotel.com, rooms from £51 per night, B&B, flights extra) with a decent beach, a pool and lovely gardens.
DRINK/EAT AT: Heritage Square on Friday nights Kingstown – it’s basically a giant bar crawl and jump-up, with food and drink stalls. Flow Wine Bar on James Street in Kingstown (001 784 457 0809, flowwinebar.com) has a calmer, clubby wood-and-leather feel with a rooftop garden (Flyt) for views. The restaurants at SunSail Marina at Ratho Mill won’t break the bank (from around £15 a head, excluding drinks; try Black Pearl (001 784 456 9868) and Driftwood (001 784 456 8999, eatdrinkdriftwood). Limin’ Pub (001 784 458 4227) on Villa Beach does burgers but also local specialties, with rabbit, pigeon, duckling and mountain goat (from £6).
BEST BEACH: Villa Beach and Indian Bay Beach, both just outside capital Kingstown, both with good facilities, but narrow, and they get crowded at weekends, but the swimming is safe and the scene friendly.

La Soufriere Volcano
DIVERSIONS: It has to be done – climb La Soufriere, the 4000ft volcano, that last erupted in 1902. The slippery trail is tougher than you might expect – it’s not for the unfit. Sailor’s Wilderness Tours (001 784 457 1712, sailorswildernesstours.com) has volcano trips from £47pp. However, easier nature tours are available from Sailor.
MORE AT: St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourist Board (0870 626 9000, discoversvg.com).


Lost Islands of the Caribbean, Part 1

Not lost as in unknown or misplaced, just islands that we couldn’t squeeze into the Caribbean feature in Sunday Times travel. Which was a shame, because I really like PR. It has elements of Cuba (particularly the great music out in the hinterland) but, being a US territory, the plumbing works and so does the catering. The picture below is the beach at W Vieques.


BEST FOR: adventurous travellers and adventurous families, too, thanks to US-style resort hotels with large rooms.
It is a very mixed island, from the raucous bar scene in San Juan, to the more elegant, cultured Ponce, the El Yunque rainforest, the ruta panoramica, a twisting mountain roads through coffee plantations and lots of really excellent beaches. One drawback: no direct flights now BA has pulled out.
STAY AT: the Caribe Hilton opened in 1949 and remains one of the best seaside choices in San Juan; British Airways (0844-493 0758, ba.com) has it from £1,099 with flights via Miami, room only. Style-hounds should head for the little island of Vieques, once US Navy Property, which now has a swanky W Hotel. ITC Classics (01244 355 527; itcclassics.co.uk) three three nights at the new-ish super-luxe St Regis on the mainland and four nights at W Vieques from £2,345pp, room-only. A fly-drive is a good option – Western & Oriental (020 7666 1234, wandotravel.co.uk) has three nights in San Juan, two at the beach in Rincon and two in historical Ponce, from £1,439pp, room-only, with car hire.
DRINK /EAT AT: Head for Old San Juan, a UNESCO protected enclave, with lovely, shabby pastel-coloured buildings with plenty of bodegas (such as Bodega Chic on Calle Cristo) and tiny hole-in-the wall chinchorros to try the local Barrilito rum. In brasher Condado, a mini-Miami, Oceana (001 787 728 8119, oceanapuertorico.com) has a beachside patio and an easy-on-the-eye crowd.
No contest for the essential PR dining experience: La Ruta del Lechón or the Pork Highway. About 40 minutes drive from San Juan, it is a road (Route 184) lined with lechonaras, pork shacks, selling slow-roasted suckling pig as well as blood sausages and rice dishes; many open Thurs-Sun only and some have live music. Most are around the village of Guavate: just pick the one you fancy. Expect to spend less than a tenner for a blow-out. For something more sophisticated try Marmalade Restaurant & Wine Bar (001 787-724-3969; marmaladepr.com) in San Juan, with complex but successful dishes by an ex-Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons and Le Cirque chef (four-course tasting menu, £38).
BEST BEACH: for families, the clear waters, brilliant white sands and facilities at Luquillo, about 30 miles east of San Juan. The deep horseshoe of Flamenco beach, with its mirror-flat sea, on Culebra island is quite simply world-class.
DIVERSIONS: Puerto Rico has astonishing areas of bioluminescence, where the microorganisms make the sea glow, shine and sparkle. Swimming, though, is prohibited. Kayaking Puerto Rico (001 787 43235 1665, kayakingpuertorico) has two-hour trips to paddle among it from Fajardo from £29pp. The best bioluminescence involves a trip to Vieques, however: try Abe’s Snorkelling (001 787 741 2134, absesnorkelling.com), which has kayaking trips from 32pp.
MORE AT: PR Tourism Co (020 7367 0982, seepuertorico.com)


This piece is of an age now, not long after Iain had ripped up his passport in an anti-Blair protest, but I still remember it as one of my favourite interviews with another author, even though we never really got onto books (at least not on the record: it was for ‘My Hols’ in the Sunday Times) and remembering it made the news about his illness all the more sad and depressing.

“There was no great moment of epiphany, no blinding light when I decided it was time to go ‘green’. It was more like a straw that broke the camel’s back. Perhaps it was thirty years of reading New Scientist, which has been going on about global warming for all that time, but one day one of the cars needed an MOT and I thought: why don’t I just get rid of them?
In some ways I felt like I’d got the fast cars out of my system and the same is possibly true of travelling. I have a fair number of miles under my belt. I do love driving, especially on holiday. One of the best trips I ever had was Highway One from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I hired a car and it was a terrible thing. It would change gear at the slightest incline and start labouring like I was asking it to go up a cliff. But I ended up really enjoying the journey, because the views were so wonderful and driving next to the ocean just can’t be beat. And if you are driving fast and concentrating, you miss all that, you daren’t take your eyes off the road. I have even found that in Scotland, having a slower car means I take in a lot more of my surroundings. And the scenery is the thing here, of course.
Another wonderful driving experience, again in the USA, was when I did a drive-away. That’s when you drive someone else’s car from one side of the States to another, because they have moved and want to take it with them. I had an uncle, a mate of my dad’s rather than a blood relative, in Washington DC and I flew there, then picked up a car to be delivered to Los Angeles. You had to do six hundred miles a day, which is no small amount, but it was a wonderful feeling, Highway 40 all the way, the ultimate open road. You hit Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, all these great places, although you didn’t have much time to do much other than get out and stretch your legs. I did make a small detour for the Grand Canyon, though, but still got it there on time and with less than maximum permitted miles.
I enjoy travelling alone. Perhaps because I am an only child, I am happy with my own company. The first couple of times I went abroad was either side of my time at Stirling University, when I hitched in Europe. I’d read somewhere a single man travels faster – although, of course, a single women travels even further – and so I went by myself. Like all those kind of trips, it is probably better in recollection than it was at the time, but I enjoyed it and I didn’t have any scrapes or misadventures. I am naturally suspicious, so I didn’t take sweets from any strangers or anything like that.
I have never really enjoyed very hot countries. I don’t like the heat. Anything over sixty is a heatwave as far as I am concerned. For me the tropics begin somewhere around Nottingham. It’s genetic, I’m sure: my dad is very pale skinned and when he was younger he had red hair, so he’s not big on sun either. Friends have pushed me to holidays on the Greek Islands and Gran Canaria and the Algarve. I even did a Nile cruise Egypt, but I spent most of the time lying in the shade panting like a dog.
So for the past few years my holidays have been on Barra, jewel of the Outer Hebrides, and they probably would have been, passport or no. It’s perfect for me – quiet, no great social scene, good walking and wonderful beaches where you can just stare out over the Atlantic. At night you go to sleep with the sound of those waves in your ears.
[In response to a question about not flying and selling his collection of fast cars for a hybrid:] I don’t have any kids but plenty of my friends do, and I’d like to be able to look them in the eye and say: yes, my generation did do this, we did screw up the planet, but at least some of us have made a start, no matter how small, on trying to do something about it.”

Another Fine Room You’ve Got Me Into


It was over dinner at Manoirs de Tourgéville that I discovered a yawning chasm in my wife’s cineaste credentials. ‘What do you mean you have never seen it? A Man and A Woman? Un Homme et Une Femme.’ I make an inadvisable stab at singing the theme: ‘Da-ba-da-ba-dab-ee-dab-.’ Stop that. Never seen it.
Normally such an admission would result in a shrug and a resolution to get the movie through Netflix or Love Film or some such. But I marched to the desk of the hotel and asked if they could arrange a showing and so, later that evening over digestifs, in a 50-seat basement cinema we had to ourselves, we watched Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant fall ever so tentatively in love.
It has to be said this wasn’t pure luck. The Manoirs de Tourgéville does not have a library of every classic French film ever made. It is just that the hotel is based around the former home of the writer/director of that movie, Claude Lelouch and, in fact, some of it was filmed up the road in Deauville, the sometimes cloyingly chi-chi town on the Normandy coast that nevertheless comes with a great beach and a more workaday sibling, Trouville, just over the bridge.
The Manoirs de Tourgéville is not in town but a ten-minute drive into the hinterland. It gives it the feeling of a private bolthole, a welcome breather from the promenading of the seaside, and a perfect quick does of Normandy countryside and cuisine, less than an hour from London City airport (Cityjet is now flying to Deauville year-round). The main building, built in the seventies in the style of a grand Norman manor-farmhouse, is arranged around a grassy courtyard. It contains 57 rooms a mixture of doubles, duplex and triplexes. The latter, which be warned come with lots of stairs, also have full working fireplaces for when the autumn chill bites. Rooms here are named after glamorous film stars – Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Harlow – although my wife and I were given Laurel & Hardy. We tried not to read too much into that.
The remainder of the rooms are in annexes. The modern extension is often the curse of a hotel converted from existing buildings, but here they have created a series of four outbuilding that look as if an alien race has built hollow-centered flying saucers that were entirely influenced by the Norman vernacular – imagine Close Encounters of the Half-Timbered Kind. These slate-roofed UFOs each contain eight rooms, four on the lower, which have terraces in the ‘hole’ in the doughnut, and four on the upper level. Slightly bizarre maybe, but these pods work – so much so that Claude Lelouch has mimicked the style for his own new home nearby.
The hotel’s restaurant, 1899, which forms a satellite to Lelouch’s old place, is in a similar, circular design. It’s a high, grand room, full of rich fabrics and elaborate chandeliers, which, for Deauville, is surprisingly good value, with a set menu of two courses for £26 or three for £35. True, the more inventive dishes are on the a la carte, but then so are the big prices.
The hotel also has an indoor swimming pool, sauna, small gym, free bicycles for exploring the countryside and two under-used tennis courts. And, of course, that cinema. But don’t worry, if you’ve both seen Un Homme et Une Femme – you can always bring your own DVDs to project.

DETAILS: Cityjet (0871 66 33 777, cityjet.com) flies twice weekly to tiny Deauville airport from London City. A car is useful. Holiday Autos (0871-472 5229, holidayautos.co.uk) has a pick-up point near the hotel, from £69 for three days. Rooms at the Manoir de Tourgeville (00 33 2 31 14 48 68, lesmanoirstourgeville.com) start at £123, room-only.


Gothenburg is, so they told me, much like my home town of Liverpool – a once thriving port, with its own dialect, music scene and quirky sense of humour. I forgot to ask if it had an underperforming football team, too. But I wasn’t there for similarities, I was there for differences. Unlike Liverpool, Gothenburg is somewhere you go for great food, especially seafood and it is perfectly positioned geographically and culturally to take advantage of the current thirst for all things Nordic and locavore. I was here to eat.

If you want to see the legendary Gothenburg bounty from the sea, you visit Feskekörka – the Fish Church, which really does look like a Piscean house of worship  – market on the riverside, where the downturned mouths and black-button eyes of dozens of marine species stare back at you from their marble resting places. Better yet, you climb the stairs to the mezzanine level, where tiny Restaurant Gabriel (00 46 31 139051, restauranggabriel.com, lunch only, approx £30pp) takes the produce from the slabs below and cooks it as simply as possible – if at all.


Chef Johan Malm won the World Oyster Opening Championship in Galway in 2010 (and came a close second in 2012) and he apologises profusely that he has no Swedish bivalves to offer me, blaming ‘lazy divers’ (all Swedish oysters are hand-harvested and, in fact, there have been storms). Instead, he serves up six fat French numbers and a perfectly poached piece of hake. ‘People don’t really believe this, but our menu is just a guide. If you see a fish you want downstairs, tell me how you would like it cooked, I’ll buy it and I’ll do it. It’s as close as you can get to eating straight from the sea.’

The best way to get to Ulf Wagner and Gustav Trägardh’s Sjömagsinet (Adolf Edelsvärds gta 5, 00 46 31 7755920, sjomagsinet.se) is to take a trip on that sea, or at least along the river towards the sea, out past the fish market, the giant Stena ferries and the new waterfront developments to Klippen. Here, in an old East India Co. warehouse, is a very different take on using the local produce.


Sjömagsinet is unashamedly fancy food, not so much in the cooking techniques – there’s no molecular trickery – but in the combination of flavours. So expect baked anglerfish with chipotle jus, ragout of piglet shank and black salsify or saddle of venison with oyster vinaigrette. It was Ulf who told me that Gothenburg has the best seafood on the planet. At Sjömagsinet the meat’s pretty damn’ good too. A set menu is around £65; matching wines doubles that.

It is a long way from hip and heaving Harlem to nature-loving Gothenburg – the nearby archipelago is one of the city’s great attractions – but for Jimmy Lappalainen it is a homecoming. Born in a small village up the coast, as a young cook he went to New York and managed to secure a position with Marcus Samuelsson (Ethiopian born, Swedish-raised in Gothenburg, American culinary star), who opened the ground-breaking Red Rooster up at 125th St, Harlem in 2010, with Jimmy as chef. When Samuelsson was invited to oversee the restaurants at the new Clarion Hotel Post in Gothenburg, he brought Jimmy with him to be Executive Chef in situ (Samulesson pops over from Harlem every other month), although he has since moved up to be overall Food & Beverage manager for the hotel. ‘Obviously I’ve shipped some of New York back with me, too,’ he says. Not least in the scale of the room, which feels like a NYC public building.


The hotel is a new-ish (opened January 2012) conversion of the grand old city post office, and Norda (00  46 31 619060, nordabargrill.se), its restaurant, is located in the former postal hall, all soaring pillars and panelled ceilings, draped with great swathes of deep red curtains, giving it a vast, theatrical feel. The food is Swedish with an American twist – the classic hot dog is still in a bun, but it’s a wild boar sausage in brioche with home cured pickles (£12), or there’s elk carpaccio with maple syrup (£15). And, again, there is very good plain seafood: ‘Some things you just let talk for themselves,’ says Jimmy. And the oysters all say: ‘eat me’.

GETTING THERE: SAS (0871-226 7760, flysas.com) flies to Gothenburg from Heathrow. The Clarion Hotel Post (00 46 31 61 90 00, clarionpost.com) has doubles from £130, room only.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Visit Sweden (www.visitsweden.com) and Gothenburg (www.gothenburg.com).