Monday, 16 November 2015


I recently revisited Hong Kong after a gap of nearly 20 years.  I found that these days the  place thrives on  superlatives  - the locals never tire of telling you that things here are taller, higher, bigger, longer, better. And certainly with its iconic skyline filling up with increasingly tall buildings, it does appear to be reaching sky-high in record breaking .

Here’s my Hong Kong High Five


1  Celebrity Big  Buddha

 The Big Buddha, or as it’s officially known the Tian Tan Buddha, is a 34ft tall (including base) statue of a seated Buddha that’s part of the Po Lin Monastery complex. Weighing over 250 tons, that makes the statue the biggest, bronze, seated Buddha in the world and one of the world’s top ten Buddha statues by scale. It is high on the hills of  Lantau Island.

2  Moving stairway to heaven

The Mid-levels Escalator system

The Central – Mid-Levels Escalator system is the world's longest outdoor covered escalator system, stretching for over 800 metres and rising 135 metres through the streets of a steep hillside linking these districts of Hong Kong Island. The system is not a single continuous escalator, it is a series of 20 escalators and 3 inclined moving walkways, connected in places by footbridges, and with 14 entrances and exits. To ride the complete length of the escalator system one-way takes about 20 minutes.



3  and 4  

For rum at the top  I headed  to Ozone, the world’s highest bar and to reach it of course I had to take the world’s  highest lift.

Ozone is at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. The ICC (International Commercial Centre) is the tallest building in Hong Kong at 490 metres. The building has 118 floors.  The Ritz-Carlton occupies 102nd to 118th floors.  Cocktails with your head in the clouds is a dizzying experience but you wouldn’t want to take the stairs to get there.  


5 A Long Lunch

Its all long in Hong Kong: The list of restaurants in Hong Kong runs to 11,000, not counting all the little street stalls and kiosks. You could eat in three different restaurants a day for 10 years and still not visit them all I am reliably told.

Would you want to? Depends on what they were serving. I think I may have eaten the world’s oldest egg, as one foodie tour operator persuaded me to sample ‘century-old egg’  in my porridge.  An acquired taste, which certainly brought me down to earth.

Sunday, 25 October 2015




GASTRONOMY IN St Lucia – Cap Maison


 Craig and the chefs
IT IS  baking hot even at 8 a.m. as I explore the sights and smells of the Saturday market in Castries, St Lucia, which has been billed one of the top three markets in the world by National Geographic. The stalls are piled high with mangoes, yams and less familiar knobbly looking fruit and vegetables. Luckily I am here with Craig Jones, the dreadlocked Welsh chef from St Lucia’s Cap Maison hotel who is as familiar with all the local characters here as he is with the soursops and the christophene.  Craig brings hotel guests to the market to see where he buys the food that will later grace the table at The Cliff at the Cap. Everyone here seems to know him and is either trying to interest him in the produce they are selling , or  asking him for a job in his famous  kitchen

I first met Craig  in the summer when he was at  Drakes ’ hotel Brighton as part of the international chef exchange. Now  back on his home territory, the market tour is just one part of the ‘gastronomy holiday’ which Cap Maison  offers.  Craig also arranges visits to the organic farms in St Lucia which supply the hotel as well as giving cookery lessons back at the hotel.  
Children love this hands-on experience too and learning about how food gets from farm to fork is a valuable lesson for them.

Cap Maison is rightly proud of its culinary reputation, as the Cliff restaurant with views to Martinique to the north and Pigeon island to the west is one of the most highly regarded on the island. Craig’s French  influenced Caribbean cuisine includes signature dishes such as his butter poached Caribbean lobster with mascarpone enriched gnocchi .

Rock Maison
Guests can dine in the hotel’s Rock Maison, a private dining area set over the rocks where champagne can be delivered  in a basket via a zip-line (should that be a sip-line?) with the waves crashing on every side. Manager Ross Stevenson tells me that there has been no less than 29 proposals at this spot, and not one engagement ring has gone overboard.

The hotel's other restaurant The Naked Fisherman  Beach bar & grill is a toes in the sand casual dining and beach bar with great cocktails.

The food and wine experience continues in the Cellar Maison , where sommelier Robbie  , who also calls himself a ‘Rummelier’, and expert sommelier, Jasper Kok jointly  host a wine and rum pairing evening with a selection of wines from the hotel’s  1200 bottle  strong cellar and  some of its fine rums. The drinks are served with a selection of deli-style dishes.

 The melting pot of colonial influences takes root in St Lucia’s creole cuisine, and  island’s fertile volcanic soil sustains a rich diversity of plant and animal life, enhancing the goodness of local dishes and the surrounding waters abound with seafood.

A garden view room at Cap Maison starts from £275 per night on a B&B basis (two sharing).; 020 8977 6099
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both fly to St Lucia from London Gatwick





Tuesday, 14 July 2015


Growing up in Manchester, one of my earliest memories is the smell of steam. Dad worked for the railway, which menat free train travel for all the family, and so my childhood holidays all started on the train from Manchester Vicotira station. We went to  Blackpool, North Wales and sometimes as far afield as Devon and Cornwall.

Im still  a lover of trains, (even if they aren't steam) but have been seduced by long -haul travel,so  I haven't  had a rail holiday for years.
deciding it was time to change, I took a trip to Austria. Starting in Salzburg, I  took the train to Graz and then on to Vienna.


It is 50 years since The Sound of Music hit the big screen, but there is more to Salzburg than the Von Trapps and the movie that was set here. The beautiful city is a fascinating mix of classical culture and historical idiosyncrasies.

Much of Salzburg’s appeal lies in its authenticity. Even modern shops have traditional iron hanging signs and people here are seen wearing national costume of lederhosen for men and dirndl skirts and peasant blouses for women as their daily wear.  Upmarket ski resorts are a short train ride away, and magical markets abound in November and December.


*Music escapes from every doorway and a gentle introduction  to the music of Salzburg’s most famous son – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - is a tea time concert by the Mozart Players in the city’s Kuenberg Hall. The programme is a kind of ‘Greatest Hits’ hosted by a costumed compere who provides facts about the composer’s life and works.


Nearby is the lovely   St Peter Stiftskeller, a Benedictine abbey in the heart of the old town which has been the meeting place for princes and bishops, celebrities and merchants for over a millennium. A visit by Charlemagne in 803 is its claim to be Europe’s oldest hostelry. Austrian fine dining includes specialities such as consommés with dumplings, stuffed chicken served on grappa risotto, and chocolate soufflé served with sour cherries. 

The palace of Hellbrun, painted in Imperial yellow, was the summer palace of the Archbishop Markus Sittikus 91612-1619) built purely for his amusement. It is dotted with trick fountains which soak the unsuspecting visitor and Italian style mazes. Next year, 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of Hellbrun with exhibitions planned.

The Salzburg Festival takes place each year in July and August, attracting the cream of the world’s musicians and music lovers and famous for its glamorous audiences.

A landmark in the heart of the city, the medieval fortress towers over the rooftops and encompasses 900 years of architectural history. Ascend by funicular railway or by foot

The Salzburg Marionette theatre.  More high art than puppet show, this family owned theatre puts on productions that are definitely not just for the children and include opera and Shakespeare.

TIP: Use a Salzburg ‘City card’ to get into tourist attractions, museums and palaces


The train ride from Salzburg to Graz is a picturesque ride through the  Austrian mountains, old salt mines, unspoilt pasture land, pretty ski resorts and charming towns with old-fashioned railway stations. The OBB trains have big windows to view the passing scenery, and refreshments on board)



Austria’s second city, Graz, is the heart of the region of Styria, and is Austria’s first and only culinary capital in 2008. So it is no surprise that food is one of the main attractions here 

Starting at the main square the Hautplatz Graz has a number of  food –themed walks, including ‘Stop and eat’ tours which include drop-ins at various restaurants and wine bars to sample local delicacies incluing Pumpkin seed oil, the regional delicacy – dark green and viscous, with a nutty taste. Drizzle on salads and desserts.

 The farmers’ market beside the opera house has the best local produce and Styria is known for its wines, notably weissburgunder, sauvignon blanc and schilcher rosé. A ‘Beer walk’ takes in ales from Styria’s 40 breweries.

In August the historic centre of Graz turns into a giant open air restaurant for the ‘Long Table of Graz’, a dinner with matching wines and musical entertainment for 700 people

The city has 50 inner courtyards many of them home to small intimate jazz clubs which are famous as far afield as Brazil. The amazing armoury (Landeszeughaus) contains the largest collection of antique armaments in the world.

Just 10 minutes' stroll over the River Mur, by contrast, is the bright blue contemporary art gallery (Kunsthaus) and no trip to Graz is complete without a walk up the stairs of the Schlossberg to the city's clock tower – where ond finds great views and an excellent restaurant.


The journey from Graz to Vienna is an impressive ride along the UNESCO World Heritage Semmering railway (between Mürzzuschlag and Wiener Neustadt), one of the world's first mountain railways. Sit on the right hand side for best views; this is a breath-taking journey


Austria’s capital waltzes between  tradition and modern life, from the 150 year old Ringstrasse to its Life Ball, one of the biggest AIDS charity events in the world.

2016 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Emperor Franz Joseph and Vienna will be alive with events which celebrate the last century which has seen the city change from an opulent imperial capital to a thriving contemporary city.


Don’t miss:

Schönbrunn Palace is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Coffee houses epitomise Viennese culture and there are a number of historic ones around the city. Visit Viennese institution the Hawelka with its famous Buchteln yeast buns filled with jam.

The Spanish Riding School with its Lipizzan horses perform in the Winter Riding School in the Hofburg.

Vienna is synonymous with music, home to the Vienna Philharmonic and the world-famous Vienna Boys’ Choir. The Vienna State Opera houses some of the best operatic performances in the world


Ferry trip to Bratislava: Visit the Hungarian and Slovak capitals Budapest and Bratislava by high speed boat from Vienna.





Fact box:

Railbookers offer tailor made holidays by rail to Europe and beyond. Their 5 night holiday,

‘Highlights of Austria’, visits Salzburg, Graz and Vienna, with scenic train journeys in between.

020 3780 2253.

Thursday, 18 June 2015


Can London ever be the European capital of cocktail? With Paris and Rome opening eccentric new bars, how is London competing as hidden Speakeasy and den bars replace  traditional pubs… here are six of the best!

Paris has its Experimental Cocktail Club which is also a ‘Cocktail Hotel.’ It prides itself on being difficult to find, reminiscent of a 1930s Speakeasy.  In Rome the Gerry Thomas Project is changing the way the way wine-loving Italians drink with emphasis on the rediscovery of forgotten Italian spirits –classic pre-Prohibition drinks with an Italian touch.


I set off in search of London’s secret drinking dens and found the city’s latest gem at Milroy’s whisky bar in Soho’s Greek Street. The first of its kind, it is the oldest whisky specialist and shop in London. (Even before Milroy brothers took over in 1964 the space had been used as a liquor shop)  Milroy’s recently re opened its doors and these days  features not just an atmospheric whisky bar and shop  but houses a secret basement cocktail bar, The Vault, down stairs hidden behind a bookcase. This lends itself to the Speakeasy atmosphere, and in the corner of the dark cavernous bar barman Natolino was concocting a brew using smoke, brightly coloured liquids and a magical flick of his wrist. It was the Smoking Gun, one of the bar’s signature cocktails. Natolino smoked a cocktail glass ready for a heady mix of straight corn whisky, Oloroso sherry, and Earl Grey and brown sugar.

Over on Regent Street the Club Café Royal may look like an old-school lounge bar but its cocktails are breaking the mould. Here bartender Tiziano was setting out his summer cocktail stall and clearing out the winter warmers designed to make us ignore drizzly grey London such as Forget Winter (Jamaica rum, pineapple, sage syrup and coconut) and bringing in long, fruity fragrant summer cocktails reminiscent of tennis and drinks on the lawn.

Under the supervision of bar manager Milos Popovic, both bars at the newly renovated Quaglino’s in St James’ serve a variety of innovative drinks which use new techniques and reference Quaglino’s 1930’s heritage with several champagne cocktails; the Prince of Wales  being a signature mix.

 A glass of blood red liquid topped with an oyster may not be your idea of a lunchtime tipple or an after work reviver. But the Bloody Mary Oyster Shooter is one of many new cocktails on offer at The Richmond near Hackney - also home to East London’s first and only raw bar serving several types of oysters and clams.


The cocktail bar at Craft London is a destination in its own right, with its outdoor terrace and quintessentially English view of the Greenwich Peninsula Garden’s meadow, orchard, smoke house and bee hives, as well as the Thames and Canary Wharf. Barman Adam Wyatt has put together a list that focuses on sourcing small batch British products like fruit liquors from Wiltshire and Cider Brandy from Julian Temperley.

Last of all I headed to Coya, London’s first Peruvian restaurant and bar in Piccadilly, where barrel aged pisco is used to create its signature pisco sour and classic cocktails. These are given a Latin American twist and include the “Negroni in Lima”, a pisco-based aged Negroni. The lemon and chilli Margarita looks weird, but tastes great




I must be one of the few British people who had never been to Lanzarote  and apart from a few days in Tenerife I must admit to being a Canary Islands novice.

Deciding to put  this right I set out on an expedition to Lanzarote and not wanting to join the lobster red -faced Brits in the South, I headed for the North of the island.

This is where one finds the sleepy traditional fishing villages and the old-world charm of Lanzarote, unspoilt by big hotels and high rise apartment blocks. The coast here is wild and wonderful with crashing waves that I discover make it a firm favourite with surfers from all over the world.

I booked into the Finca  de Arrieta,  described as an 'eco dream retreat'   which sounded just the job after a long grey London winter.   I found  a surprising almost dream -like village, tucked away in the hills above the pretty little town of Arrieta
The retreat occupies 30,000 square metres with great views out to sea on one side and the dramatic black volcanic mountains on the other.  It was set up and built from scratch on former farm land by husband and wife team Tila and Michelle Bradock, who have brought up their family here and still run the property.
There are 15 properties on the site, each one different and they range in style from luxury villa to a silk-lined Mongolian yurt, decked out with Bali-nese fabrics and furnishings. This is where I spent my time , but I could have opted for the eco tower, the eco garden cottage and eco luxury farmhouse or an eco luxury yurt suite.   I sensed there was an eco theme going on here, but whereas that term'eco friendly'  can conjure up images of basic, drab and cranky, nothing could be less true of the Finca de Arrietta, which oozes glamour and  chilled out chic.
The area is planted with palm trees and local plants and stones  create a wild  and windswept look that is totally in keeping with this part of the island. You can tell Michelle and Tila have built this place with love and passion, and added to it over the years to make somewhere that is unique in its look, ambience and sustainability.
The village is entirely off-grid,  solar-powered and run on sustainable lines without forgoing any creature comforts. As someone who is addicted to my IPad and smart phone, I was rather worried about how switched off I would need to be in the Finca, but I needn't have worried. There is free WiFi in the central 'chill-out' area and mobile phones work perfectly so I was able to send umpteen selfies of me sitting in my yurt drinking delicious Lanzarote cava.......
My yurt had its own well - equipped little kitchen and shower room, and the Honesty Shop was well -stocked with items for my fridge. Guests just write down what they have taken and settle up when they leave, a system which seems to work well. There is also an ordering service for fresh food and meals delivered to your door and once a week there is a barbeque night.
This is a charming place for families and it was lovely to see young children playing in their own adventure playground and collecting eggs from the resident hen for breakfast. There is also a donkey, Molly, and a giant chess set. Each property comes with it own Hybrid electric car, so guests can get out and about in an environmentally friendly way and discover the local attractions.
But I didn't need to get in the car to find the beach, I just followed the sound of the waves and after a leisurely  10 minute walk was kicking the pebbles.  There is a lovely little beach front café and tapas bar here, perfect for a casual lunch watching the surf.  A little further away in Arrietta there are numerous little restaurants and bars, although this is a simple, unsophisticated spot which doesn't buzz with nightlife and boozy tourists. Thank goodness
There is plenty to  see and do in the area, from the dramatic Jameos Del Agua caves - a 15 minute drive away - to the enchanting island of Graciosa, accessible by ferry. This is where I found birdlife galore, exhilarating coastal walks and the beautiful white and blue buildings made famous by Lanzarote's  architect Cesar Manrique.
Back at the Finca, I relax in the Saharan seating in the chill-out area and watch my fellow guests floating in the pool.  Eco doesn't come any better than this, I tweet ......

Sunday, 19 October 2014

THE BIG SLEEP – bedtime for tortoises

It’s that time of year when certain creatures are getting ready for bed. This week tortoises around the UK will be stretching and yawning, finding somewhere warm to curl up and settling down to sleep for the winter.  Coincidentally the launch of a new teenage Mutant Ninja turtle’s movie   reminds me why my youngest son insisted we shelled out hundreds of pounds on a pair of tortoise in the first place!  And over at The Lake District Wildlife Park Margaret, the park's female tortoise, has laid 15 eggs, four of which have now hatched

What is our fascination with pets that are only awake for half of the year?

Long –term partners Shelly and Scotty are poking their heads out of their house, sniffing the October air and deciding that it really is a little too chilly for their usual stroll round the grounds.  The couple have had a good summer sun-bathing, enjoying meals on the lawn and rock climbing. But the nights are drawing in, the leaves are falling and it is looking more and more like bed-time for this pair of Mediterranean Tortoises who are preparing for hibernation 2014.
I have owned Shelley and Scotty for 13 years. They joined the family as tiny 3 month olds, no bigger than a 50 pence piece each, and they spent their first few months with us in a heated tank. Nowadays they have the run of the walled garden, their own rockery, a small wooden house and as much dandelion as they can eat. At least for six months a year. What are the advantages of owning these part-time pets?
·         Tortoises can only be bought from registered breeders, so they are not a cheap purchase. However, once you have adopted them, they are incredibly low maintenance – requiring the mimunun of attention and happy to eat garden weeds. They can also live up to 150 years so you certainly get your moneys’ worth!

·         As a travel writer I never waste a chance to spot the tortoises foreign cousins.   In Mauritius and on Prison Island in Zanzibar I have seen some giant tortoises which truly do resemble Super-Sized Scotty and Shelley. On the sleepy Caribbean island of Barbuda red-footed tortoises roam freely down the road only pausing to nibble on  a tasty leaf or plant
·         Finding the tortoises after their many hiding games is a family past time. They have buried themselves for days on end, emerging covered in soil, or have sheltered in the shed or even got into the house and hidden under the cooker, only to appear quite non-plussed and deposited back outside
·         Identifying new foods for them is a botanical lesson, we know they like dandelion but milk thistle and other common garden plants are also enjoyed. They love cucumber in the hot weather (they rarely drink water) and even the occasional strawberry
·         Establishing their gender is an entertainment in itself. We were told Scotty was male an Shelly was female, although it is difficult to tell especially with young tortoise, One  annual check with the tortoise vet revealed that Shelly has a very large tail for a female, implying that this tortoise may be more of a Percy Shelly than a Shelly Winters.  The discovery doesn’t seem to have affected their relationship
·         We look forward to greeting them next March. Christmas and New Year celebrations may pass them by, but they will have a great spring and summer in 2015

Tuesday, 14 October 2014



Despite accounting for just 0.1% of the world’s landmass, Costa Rica contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity, across four mountain ranges, 800 miles of coastline, 200 volcanic formations and hundreds of national parks, most of which is reasonably accessible from the capital San Jose.
The incredibly varied topography means you can cruise cloud forest one day, visit active volcanoes the next, and relax on a pristine white beach. Adventure experiences include zipping through canopy lines hundreds of metres long and riding the rough surf of the Pacific. Bathing in natural hot springs and living the cowboy life on a working carral are also on offer here.
But most people head here to get close to wildlife, notably cuddly sloths, white faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys and hundreds of tropical birds including the gorgeous quetzal – called by some birdwatchers the most beautiful bird in the world
Costa Rica prides itself on its green credentials and this, together with its peaceful democracy (it has had no army since 1948) and abundance of natural beauty has earned it the name ‘the world’s happiest country’
Where happier to get close to nature than in one of the country’s eco-lodges.  They are found throughout Costa Rica, many in lush jungle in the south near the Pacific Gulf. Increasingly sophisticated with good food, stylish accommodation in wooden cabins and the opportunity to experience nature first-hand they allow visitors to make minimal impact without sacrificing creature comforts. Early morning tours let you see the rain forest wake up and leisurely kayak tours take you past rich mangrove forests alive with snakes, crocodiles, monkeys galore, sloths and toucans and parrots.
Many offer activities including fishing, yoga and chocolate making. Using beans from the forest, the staff at one lodge, Playa Nicuesa near Golfito, which is built on the site of a disused cocoa plantation, shows guests how to peel, roast and grind the cocoa before cooking with sugar to make a delicious chocolate paste which can be rolled or formed into lovely sweets. They taste best washed down with a cup of finest Costa Rican coffee
Monteverde’s rare ecosystem is internationally famous as one of the most extensive cloud forests in Central America. At 5,900 ft., this natural sanctuary has more than 2,500 different types of plants and animals, including 400 species of birds Guided natural history walks take you through the Monteverde Reserve which is home to jaguars and pumas. There’s also a zip-line tour of the reserve where you look down on mammals such as the fuzzy martilla.    But the best   way to see the lush cloud forest and its inhabitants is by walking on hanging bridges which take you alongside the canopy of trees.
In the early 1950s, a group of Quakers from the United States left their homes in Alabama and arrived in Monteverde at a time when the region was just beginning to be settled. The Quakers, fleeing the United States to avoid being drafted into the Korean War, and attracted by the fact that Costa Rica had no army, established a simple life in Monteverde centred on dairy and cheese production. Some of these families helped establish the Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves some 20 years later. To this day they have an influence on the region, including owning hotels. The pretty town of St Elena looks like a Swiss village nestling beneath the misty mountains and has lively restaurants, hostels and bars filled with hikers and bird spotters.
The cattle ranching region of Guanacaste is also home to the Rincon de la Vieja volcano, a thermally active area. Adventure junkies will thrive on the activities on offer here from zip wires, Tarzan swings, white water rafting, canyoning, tubing  and horseback riding  after which a dip in the hot natural springs provides a welcome relief to aching limbs.  On the edge of the national park wannabe cowboys can stay at working cattle ranches with real hacienda style accommodation available and all the adventure tours on the doorstep

The Pacific Coast has some beautiful beaches with conditions that offer some of the best surfing in this part of the world.  Towns such as Nosara are packed with bright driftwood signs pointing to surf shacks and sunset bars. Beaches have an abandoned Robinson-Crusoe feel with rickety shelters constructed from wood and sticks with covers of dried palm leaves
Costa Rica also has a Caribbean coastline, which has a different atmosphere with a cultural mix of Afro Caribbean, Tico ( the name Costa Ricans give themselves) and old hippy vive. Puerto Viejo has recently become a hit with tourists and has stunning white-sand beaches, tropical vegetation and is close to parks including a Sloth sanctuary 
There are no direct flights from the UK to Costa Rica.
Iberia ( flies daily to the Costa Rican capital San Jose via Madrid.
American Airlines (020 7365 0777; and British Airways (0844 493 0787; fly via Miami. With British Airways you need to connect to an American Airlines flight
Costa Rica has two seasons; the Dry Season from December-April and the Green (Or Rainy) Season from May-November. However it doesn’t rain all the time during the Green season – showers tend to be brief - and this can be a pleasant, and more affordable, time to travel

More information: