Road Trip through Ukraine

Ukraine, the country famous for banning Hollywood Steven Seagal from visiting, is opening up to tourism with visa-free travel. Add to that direct flights from the UK and the fact that it is still remarkably good value for money, this is as good a time as any to visit. We suggest you get behind the wheel or a hire car or indeed to hop on a train.

LvivLviv (c) Rupert Parker

Situated in the far west of the country, just 50 miles from the Polish border, Lviv was known as Lemburg when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1772 to WW1. That’s reflected in its quaint cobbled streets, proliferation of churches and architecture reminiscent of those other Hapsburg cities like Vienna and Budapest. Of course it also has trams, trolley buses and coffee houses. Indeed they say that the first coffee shop in Vienna was opened by an Ukrainian from Lviv in 1686.

It’s a pleasant place to wander round, with street musicians on every corner, and the Market Square in the old town is lined with renaissance houses. The elaborate Lviv Opera House still

Surfing in the Philippines: riding the Cloud 9 in Siargao

Before arriving in Siargao in the southeast of the Philippines, I’d spent the previous three months travelling and surfing around Australasia and Southeast Asia taking in popular hotspots like Bali and Australia’s Gold Coast, but every now and then I heard a whisper: Cloud 9.

Siargao: one of the top 10 surf sites in the world

In everyday parlance, “on Cloud 9” means feeling elated, on top of the world, but for surfers it’s more than this. Cloud 9 is the name of the most famous wave in the Philippines, and Siargao Island is regularly rated as one of the top 10 surf sites in the world. That alone was enough to make me book the succession of flights — two days in total of travelling — which would ultimately bring me to Siargao.

There are, as yet, no direct flights to Siargao from Manila, but that’s part of what has kept Siargao and its coastlines pristine. And it means that this tropical island with its warm climate remains a paradise ringed by coral reefs and sand bars and which makes it the ideal place to dive and surf.

Dive and

Top street foods of Northern India

For many first-time travellers to India one of the greatest pleasures is discovering its amazing street food. Surprisingly, there’s infinitely more to subcontinental cuisine than the rather bland offerings of tikka masala and chicken korma.

Street food, whether sweet or savoury, fiery or mild, is eaten by all and it’s not unknown for there to be lively debate amongst friends and family about which is the best. As well as giving your stomach a treat, trying street food helps support hard-working vendors, many of whom have been plying their trade with great skill for many years. So here’s our guide to the best street food of northern India – try each one with a steaming cup of the nation’s rocket-fuel, masala chai.

1Pav Bhaji – soul food

Pav Bhaji (c) Nick Woodroof

This food for the soul originates from the western state of Maharashtra. Pav bhaji really comes into its own further north in winter however: in a place like Maharashtra, where temperatures rarely drop into single digits in December and January, winter isn’t really a thing! Toasted white rolls (the pav) are

Beirut: More Armani then Armageddon

On his intrepid trek in the Levant the acclaimed writer William Dalrymple describes his crossing from Syria to Lebanon in 1994, just four years after the end of the civil war. Struck by signs of a glitzy lifestyle already springing up beside bombed-out Beirut skyscrapers he writes, in his compelling travelogue, From the Holy Mountain:

Armageddon I expected; but Armani I did not.

Things have of course moved on, and Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, has been shaking off its war-torn image and attempting to reclaim its pre-war sobriquet as Paris of the Middle East. It offers a mezze of cultural attractions, with museums, restored mosques and churches, a vibrant café and restaurant scene, some of the coolest nightclubs in the Middle East. The streets are still manic but there are stylish beach clubs to retire to – and panoramic pools atop glittering hotels.

Hiring a hookah on the Beach (c) Susie Boulton

Is it safe to visit Beirut?

Lebanon currently sees no more than a trickle of western tourists, others discouraged by political turbulence. The UK Foreign Commonwealth Office labels the no-go zones – and these I avoided. Sadly the list includes

Follow the Jane Austen trail across Britain

It’s the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and Britain is celebrating. Even the Bank of England has produced a new £10 notewhich features a portrait of this most prolific writer.

After all who has not heard of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility”. two of her all time greats that have inspired generations of readers and indeed TV viewers.

We suggest ways to follow in this great author’s footsteps.

Jane Austen and Hampshire

Jane was born in Steventon in Hampshire. She is also buried in the county’s Winchester Cathedral. She did most of her writing in Hampshire and even penned her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, here. So, it makes sense that this county is the focal point for the Jane Austen 200 commemorations.
Jane Austen House (c) Visit Hampshire/Laura McCready

Start your trip at Jane Austen’s House Museum (her former home) and Chawton House Library in the village of Chawton, which is hosting changing exhibitions, talks, activities and other special celebrations up until December.

In the meantime, Winchester Cathedral is running “Tours and Tea” every month until November exploring Jane’s life and in Basingstoke.

Winchester BookBenches

You can follow a downloadable sculpture trail called “< =”http://www.sittingwithjane.com/app/” target=”_blank”

Festival Glam Rock afternoon tea, every day till August 31

K West Hotel & Spa, once a BBC building, in London’s trendy Shepherd’s Bush area has launched a brand new Festival Glam Rock Afternoon Tea. There was a time when rock greats such Bob Marley and the Wailers, Bowie, The Kinks and Roxy Music spent time here.

On this day it was just me in search of an afternoon cuppa.
A tier of sandwiches for tea

And I got to enjoy a a most unusual cuppa. Tea was served in gorgeous electric blue and pink teapots and teacups on vintage record covers of different artists – mine was a Rod Stewart cover.
Rod Stewart place mat

The food was a colourful extravaganza, almost psychedelic. Making my way up from the  bottom rung of the tier I started on mini-clubs sandwiches of avocado, red pepper and mozzerella and ham, chicken, mustard and cream cheese – and there were no crusts.

Interspersed with these were the rainbow brioche sliders which came with beef, guacamole and mustard mayo and halloumi with piquilo peppers and tomato salsa.

There were also mini buns with carmine and poppy seeds, chlorophyll and polenta. Amazingly when I asked for gluten free, they

Norway: 680-mile road trip from Stavanger to Trondheim in 2 days

I knew it would be a nutty exploit driving 1,100-kilometres (around 684 miles) in two days along Norway‘s coastal road. So why did I do it?

Well, it wasn’t for the weather. It drizzled most of the time with the sun taking a sneaky tantalising peak through the clouds every so often. The elements teased right through to sundown at 11pm – a late sunset is a a quirk of Norway’s daylight cycle during the summer months.

It wasn’t a boozy trip either as a humble pint of beer knocks you back £12 and with just over 5 million people in a space as large as the UK, the nightlife was not exactly heaving.

And forget about the romance of negotiating winding roads at speed – the 80km/h (50 miles) limit is strictly adhered to and without any specific fine range, a speeding fine could empty the bank coffers.

Yet there are some compelling reasons: the roads are utterly superb – a sure sign of the expense and attention paid to the infrastructure – the scenery of fjords, waterfalls, mountains and lavish greenery is exceptional and with six road-ferry combo experiences peppered throughout the road trip

Brighton: What’s it like to travel in the BA i360 Observation Tower?

Last year the Brighton Eye (akin to the London Eye) was replaced as a seafront landmark in Brighton by the British Airways i360, a 162-metre-tall vertical tower. It is located on the site of the derelict West Pier that was burned down by fire in 2003. You can still see the ruins of the pier straggling in the water just beyond.

Some have dubbed the observation pod the “donut” due to its shape, while others have been known to refer to it as something far cheekier (best left unquoted). However you call it, there is no doubt that this is a huge feat of engineering.

This is, afterall, the world’s tallest moving observation tower with an observation pod built around a central column. It is in fact a fully enclosed futuristic glass observation pod that gently lifts (the movement is hardly discernible) up to 200 people to a height of 138 metres.

I couldn’t wait to have a go in it when it first opened but whenever I happened to visit Brighton, the i360 was closed on some technicality or other. The gremlins are long gone and I finally got to experience the BA “flight” last week.

Popular holiday snaps

It’s the height of the summer holidays so you can expect a deluge of “look-at-me” holiday pictures showing up across your Facebook and Instagram feeds. And most will not only look familiar but may have inspired you to do the same. There’s even a top ten trend list.

Once upon a time it was all about “hotdog legs”. We must have got bored with that because according to research by travel agency sunshine.co.uk, it’s the snap of “heart fingers” that we all want to capture, presumably in a romantic situation. We also love “holding the sun”. The latter is presumably another take on holding up the tower of Pisa snap so popular in the early nineties. Before that, well it was about finding the right postcard and having something to write home about.

Today, it seems, anything goes and the average holidaymaker returns home with a staggering pot of 316 pictures on their phone and camera combined. And many make their way into the ethernet.

But we cheat. Half of holiday photos uploaded to social media will have had a filter or some sort of doctoring applied to them before first appearing on Instagram then later on Facebook.

Blanco Beach Club review, Portimão, Algarve

The Algarve is loved by holiday makers for its light blue skies, amazing sun light (I swear it has its own shade) and its golden beaches. And tranquillity.

But now you can ditch the peace and quiet and pump up the volume at the Blanco Beach Club. This newcomer to the Portimão beach adds a new dimension to day life and indeed the al fresco night life with its house-party-within-a-beach-club scenario that Nathanial  the oh-so trendy head host says “will be the local answer to Ibiza”.

This is a top notch beach club looking fresh in its white-washed decor created by the elusive entrepreneur Maximillian White – hence the name Blanco. There’s a “guest” list and if you are on it (easily done; you pay the entry fee or hire a bed in advance) and you get to enter into another world armed with a defining wrist band.

There are security guards (bless them for being diligent) and a doorman-cum-bouncer. All necessary stuff in a place like this, but perhaps tone down the bouncer act a bit?

Inside, white leather round beds are dotted around the 20-metre blue-hued pool on attractive wood decking. There’s a

Hoteliers: Please don’t banish all UK travellers from your resorts

There’s always been plenty of talk about protection for holiday-makers in case holidays go wrong. But now it seems that holiday providers need protection too; from UK travellers.

According to ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) there has been a 500 per cent increase in sickness claims since 2003 and companies have been bombarded with tens of thousands of them in the last year alone.

Many of these have turned out to be fake claims fuelled by a bevy of touts and claims management companies (CMCs) who encourage holiday-makers to become dishonest, even coaching them about how to get the “evidence” they need to make a claim. This would include eating in a hotel simply to blame the venue for the supposed food poisoning.

People have reported receiving cold calls from claim companies suggesting falsely, that “a fund has been set up to compensate for deficiencies in hotel hygiene”.

Let’s face it, it was only a matter of time before this scam was rumbled. The day of reckoning has come and we Britons have been identified as the biggest culprits and even been dubbed the “the fake sick man of Europe”.

As Nick Longman,

Kerala, India – is this really “God’s Own Country”?

“God’s own country” is a phrase which has been bandied around, used for locations from Yorkshire to Zimbabwe to New Zealand. But whereas in many of these locations it might be wishful thinking, in Kerala, an Indian province in the south of the country, it seems a perfectly reasonable description.

The Malabar Coast and lush backwaters certainly look like paradise, the population has the highest life expectancy and literacy rates in India, and the melting pot of different religions happily coexist. God, we can guess, would be very happy indeed.

Kochi International Airport, the gateway to Kerala, is the first airport in the world to be powered entirely by solar panels. This is quite a technological feat. The journey back in time, and to a simpler life, begins the moment you step outside the terminal building, however, as in the parking lot there are Hindustan Ambassadors (the iconic Indian car modelled on a Morris Oxford), auto-rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, and even an occasional wandering cow! Traffic on the roads is just as eclectic. The buses have to swerve around bullock carts, and if there’s an elephant in the road then everything grinds to a halt.

Dunkirk, France: in the footsteps of its military history

The heart-thumping, beautifully executed film Dunkirk, covers the grim days in May and June 1940 as the invading German army drove the British Expeditionary Force from Belgium and into an area around Dunkirk eventually surrounding the vast army of Allied troops.
Dunkirk war scene

Defences, manned mainly by French troops, allowed the soldiers to assemble in the city to await rescue from the harbour and beaches. And 400,000 of them were rescued in a daring rescue mission called “Operation Dynamo” named after the dynamo room in the Dover cliffs where their operation HQ was based. Some refer to event as the Miracle of Dunkirk.

The operation saw hundreds of little boats owned by ordinary people sail from UK ports on the south coast to ferry  soldiers to larger naval vessels as they could not approach Dunkirk. This is where the phrase “Dunkirk Spirit” comes from.

Around 200,000 men were picked up from the Dunkirk Mole – a long stone and wooden jetty at the mouth of the port.
Dunkirk Harbour – The Mole c. Doug Goodman

Christopher Nolan’s film was shot during summer last year. The set was a reconstructed harbour and waterfront to portray

Bombay Palace, Connaught Village, London W2

Indian food comes in various guises. Sweet, even sour and often very hot. Punjabi cuisine is not known for its hot dishes. It’s more about bbq’d food flavoured with generous doses of herbs, tandoori dishes and sometimes creamy marinades. And I was about to find out if Bombay Palace restaurant in a hidden corner of central London, was testament to that.

Bombay Place has quite an interesting heritage being part of an international chain that stretches from New York and Beverley Hills to Kuala Lumpur and Hyderabad.

Yet this branch is tucked away. Yes, it’s in Marble Arch in central London but it is hidden in a triangle of streets called Connaught Village, and further secreted away beneath a block of flats in Connaught Street.

The brand was started by a former fighter pilot Sant Singh Chatwal in 1920. Chatwal hailed from the Indian half of the Punjab region that divides India and Pakistan and the menu reflects that region.

The entrance is pretty unremarkable and I almost missed it. So when I walked in I was quite overwhelmed with its expansive size and plush furnishings in hues of red and gold creamy walls,

Walking the Alpe-Adria Trail

The Alpe-Adria Trail is Europe’s newest long distance hiking route and runs for 750km from the foot of the Grossglockner (at 3,798m Austria’s highest mountain), into Slovenia and ends in Italy, near Trieste on the Adriatic coast.
Alpe Adria – Signpost at the Pasterze Glacier, Austria (c) Rupert Parker

It’s divided into 37 daily stages, each around 20 km, although it’s possible to do the whole lot in a month it is better to do it in sections – Austria has 22 stages, Slovenia has five and the last ten mix Slovenia and Italy. There’s also a Circular Route which connects Austria, Italy and Slovenia in seven days.

I’ve only got eight days, so decide to sample the most interesting bits. I start at the beginning in Carinthia, Austria and catch the post bus from Heiligenblut up to Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe, a short 30 minute journey. There had been thunderstorms overnight and dusted the Grossglockner with a covering of snow.

Pasterze Glacier, Austria

The Pasterze Glacier, the longest in the Eastern Alps, gleams in the morning sunlight and my first steps on the trail are down a steep path to the Sandersee, filled with meltwater. The

Rail adventure in North Wales

The hills are alive in North Wales with the cranky rhythm of chugging wheels and the whistle of coal powered trains as a stream of steam is funnelled out through their chimney.

It’s a mode of transport that hails from the early 19th century that all too soon came to the end of the line.

Rail enthusiasts have set in motion a revival of the Welsh Highland Railways and Ffestiniog Railway bringing the steamy affair of vintage travel by railway through this amazing landscape, right back on track.

I book my carriage.

My base: Llandudno

The seaside town of Llandudno is my base, a pretty town with a mish mash of elegant Victorian and Edwardian architecture and pleasant scenery. It stretches out from the foot of the Great Orme, a huge chunk of limestone that curves around the town. It surges up from the sea and towards the seafront and its wide ribbon of sandy beach and an even wider promenade with a war memorial obelisk as its landmark.

Caernarfon to Beddgeert – Welsh Highland Railway

My first rail adventure starts in Caernarfon where I alight the delightful narrow gauge Welsh

BlindSpot Speakeasy Cocktail Tea reviewed, St Martins Lane

So, it was 7pm one heady summer evening. The sun was still out and seemed to shine down on our mission. We were heading towards St Martin’s Lane to take what we knew was no ordinary tea.

First we had to find the joint. We sauntered into St Martins Lane Hotel but there was nothing to say “hidden speakeasy this way”. After quick stake-out and we uncovered a gold hand that jutted out of a white wall.

Hand door knob

Naturally I reached for it and hey presto I opened a door. It was a sudden change of scene leaving the bright light of the reception for the dark, dimly lit demeanour that unfolded as we descended into the cellar. I loved the feeling of subterfuge that eked out of brown walls, low lighting, brown upholstered chairs and banquettes – it’s classic art deco and so so swanky.

It took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust and indeed to get comfortable on the hard chairs but there was chatter in the air mixed with a jazzy style music and the outer world was a million miles a way. I began to believe that we

Festival Review: Sziget, Budapest

I was excited to return to Óbuda Island in Budapest for the third year running to attend the Sziget (9-16 August 2017) for seven days of sunshine and spectacle.

As well as more than 10 music stages, Sziget promised a varied programme including theatre, dance, traditional Hungarian craft workshops and even an interactive games area focusing on helping people with disabilities.

Who goes to Sziget Festival?

Diversity is the heart and soul of Sziget Festival, with over 100 countries represented on the island. As well as Hungarians, who tend to purchase day tickets, the festival attracts hoards of ‘Szitizens’ from the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, the UK, and beyond. There were more than 1,000 Australians at Sziget this year: quite a journey to make for a festival!
Sziget Szitizens enjoying the festival (c) Andrew Moss

Accommodation

I opted to avoid camping at the festival and instead rented an apartment with a group of friends. This allowed me the opportunity to return home each night for a shower and a decent night’s sleep, and also meant I could catch the Sziget boat to the island each morning: a truly lovely way to start the festival each

The Bottomless Brunch at Eneko London

I had heard that Michelin Starred chef Eneko Atxa had opened a restaurant called “Eneko at One Aldwych” – One Aldwych hotel. So, when I booked a table I was expecting nothing less than fine dining or more specifically fine Basque Country based bottomless brunching from Eneko.

Here’s why: the Basque Country is in the North of Spain near the Bay of Biscay and in South Western France. Grains and grapes are grown easily and the area has developed a rich culinary heritage. In fact, within this one region there are almost 40 Michelin starred restaurants. Eneko Atxa has one of them, the Azurmendi Restaurant in the town of Larrabetzu, and he has brought his culinary expertise to London.

So, it was 12.30pm, a perfect time for brunch, and I was seated on comfy red leather upholstered seating, pleasant ambient jazzy music in the background and before me lay a menu of five courses.

Mineral water was served immediately and drink orders were taken – Cava and red wine were our choices and we could have as much as we wanted for two hours.

Then came the food entertainment. I use that word deliberately because the visuals were indeed entertaining.

The best places to see Britain’s Autumn colours

Summer may be loosing its bloom but as it does so Autumn brings it’s own natural palette to Britain’s forests, arboretums, parks and gardens.

From late September and throughout October it’s all abut fiery reds, golden yellows and rich burgundies of turning leaves. Here are ten places to relax and enjoy Britain’s autumnal beauty at its best.

1Faskally Wood, Perthshire, Scotland

Lake in Faskally Wood

Perthshire is known as big tree country, with around 25 species of tree including Scots pine, silver birch, hazel, ash and oak. While it’s a beautiful place to visit year-round, Faskally Wood really delivers the goods when it comes to autumnal displays.

Created as a “model forest” in the 19th century, it’s full of beautiful specimens which are pointed out on the guided trail-blaze walk in October. As night falls, the wood transforms into the Enchanted Forest with a shimmering light and music show.

2Lime Avenue at Marbury Country Park, Cheshire, north-west England

Lime Avenue

Instagram at the ready! Capture the blonde autumn tints of magnificently symmetrical Lime Avenue – a legacy of Marbury Country Park‘s former grand estate days. The park is in the heart of