Travel by Sara Darling
Have you ever fancied a last minute get away, but can’t commit to going too far? Our friendly cousins in the Channel Islands might just be the answer. The second largest of these, Guernsey is just a short hour flight from London and is the perfect place for a weekend away. Closer to France (just 27 miles away) it is almost like heading to Europe, but you can still spend the GBP, so it has the best of both worlds (and no VAT on shopping!)
The indulgent accommodation at the Duke of Richmond Hotel transports you back in time, and is full of traditional frills. However, the fresh air, and rousing walks are a perfect remedy to shake away the cobwebs of city living.
But fear not, it still has the perks of being a cosmopolitan island, and the refurbished PJ Parker wine bar and cellar is the perfect place to get acquainted with local life whilst enjoying a pre-dinner tasting session.
Banish your hazy morning head with a brisk walk. Being an island, the scenery is incredible. Whether you are a hiker, biker, twitcher or fisherman, Guernsey is packed with outdoor activities, which can be enjoyed at any time of year. If you’re here for a weekend break, it would be a shame to stay in your hotel, however luxurious it is. Venture out and enjoy a lunchtime crab sandwich at one of the beachside cafes, and take a hearty stroll- after all you will need to work up an appetite to be ready for your next meal!
If you go in summer, you might be tempted by some water sports. All the beaches are incredible; White sands, clear water and clean bays are paradise for serious swimmers, kids and the more adventurous. Paddle boards and kayaks can be hired if the urge takes you, and you can also learn to surf in Vazon Bay.
A car is useful to get to the less crowded beaches, and families love Pembroke Bay. The long stretch of inviting white sand leaves plenty of room for children to build sandcastles, whereas Petit Bot bay is the ideal destination for couples. Smaller and more secluded, it has limited parking, but that adds to the exclusivity. Take a towel or something more waterproof. Even though the tide goes out far, it comes in quickly, so the sand is always moist, but the sunsets are worth hanging around to see!
Port Soif is where to head if you have a sense of adventure. The sheltered bay is reached via steps within the grassed sand dunes; This horseshoe shaped bay is a dreamy spot for snorkelling.
Fresh clean air, healthy living and great food, what more could you want from a break? Guernsey cows are famous around the world, so it follows that any visit should include at least one cream team, ice cream, cheese tasting and breakfast toast butter fest! If you are already familiar with the delights, visit the farm where you can meet the cows, and buy up your stock from the local shop (which is incidentally cheaper than Waitrose at home).
You won’t be able to avoid historical references on the island, and Guernsey’s ancient royal fortress, Castle Cornet stands guard over the capital St Peter Port harbour. Featuring five museums telling the story of various aspects of the island and the castle's maritime and military history dating back 800 years, it is a must for any fact fans.
During World War II the Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be invaded and occupied by German Forces. This has left a visible scar on the island. and observation towers, Nazi bunkers and underground tunnels are still unmissable. War buffs will appreciate the conserved La Vallette Underground Military museum, which is full of military regalia and artefacts, which war enthusiasts will love.
However, in recent years, Guernsey has become a magnet for well to do inhabitants, with the most pricey house selling for more than 2 million pounds! Whizzing through the rural lanes in the safari truck gives you a great vantage point to peer over tall hedges and see how the other half live! At only 2 miles long with an area covering approximately 24 square miles you could do this by bike, but booking an excursion with Guernsey Tours gives you a much better vantage point. Solid period houses (some built as early as 17th century) are set in stunning grounds- indicating that they are very well maintained. Even if the owners only use them as a holiday home!
The unusual jeep trip will take you off the beaten track, which will more than likely end up at the Roquette Cider farm, in the Fauxquets Valley, where you can visit the orchard and see the cider being made. Followed by a well deserved tasting session, with the affable Craig, your Scottish host, you can sample the cider, spirits, apple juice along with cheese, chutneys and liqueurs in the beautifully maintained grounds. An unmissable experience, but advisable to do in afternoon or evening, or you’ll be tipsy for the whole day!
But it’s not just cider which is popular with the inhabitants (although they do swear by it on a picnic), there are several gin distilleries who have created their version of the clear stuff. Blue Bottle, Wheadon’s and Unit Six Gin are produced in Guernsey, and Guernsey only five star hotel, The Old Government House, has over 150 types on offer. You can even pick up the Gin Passport, which gets stamped every time you try a new one.. And if that’s not an excuse to come back, I don’t know what is!
Foodies will love Guernsey and seafood takes centre stage. There are plenty of dining options to fulfil even the fussiest eater- scallops with bacon or locally caught monkfish, crab or sea bass are the specialties, but the culinary scene is cosmopolitan and you can track down pretty much anything. Summer nights are spent eating outside Mediterranean style, whilst watching the sunset, but in winter you will be welcomed into cosy, candle lit restaurants with roaring fires and heart warming food options.
Guernsey has around 50 hotels ranging from cosy boutiques to its 5 star hotels- The Old Government House (OGH) is the most well known, and has several restaurants on site including The Curry Room, The Brasserie and Harry's Bar which offer more informal dining. It also has an outdoor pool, sauna and steam room if you can’t bear to go to the beach!
Most of the nightlife happens in the pretty, cobbled street, capital, St Peter Port. Boasting a bustling marina, there are plenty of pubs, shops, cafes and restaurants to keep you entertained if the weather takes an unexpected turn. With gift shops, high street stores and galleries, everything is here, you can treat yourself with an ice cream on the harbour, enjoying the views of the smaller neighbouring islands of Herm, Jethou and Sark.
It is also the place to pick up the speedboat to the third largest of the Channel Islands, Alderney, which boasts over 300 species of bird. Launched this summer, the Little Ferry Company is the nippiest way to get across (if you don’t want to fly). The twelve- person hydraulic speedboat whizzes passengers across the choppy waters in just over an hour and it’s like you are stepping back in time. With hardly any cars (or people on a Saturday afternoon), Alderney is the ideal place to come for peace, tranquility. There are 28 miles of coast packed with golden beaches, cliff top paths, scenic walking trails and lots of nature; Incidentally, for such a small landmass, it has the highest number of pubs per head for residents! It’s no wonder everyone seems to know each other, and visitors keep coming back.
Whether you are looking for some R&R, a romantic break or a weekend with the girls, the Channel Isles should be on your radar. From paddle boarding to kayaking to windsurfing to foodie foraging, or just enjoying the local gin, butter and ice cream, you will not forget your trip.
BY SARA DARLING
Belgian born artist, Bert Houbrechts creates urban images with an underground edge.
With a background in fashion, he graduated from the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. This led to many collaborations with the city’s cosmopolitan creative scene in the 90s, and since then he has dabbled in photography, fashion and art.
The summer show at aesthetik01 in Berlin, was first published in ID-Magazine’s February 2001 issue, curated by Raf Simons.
Eerily documenting Monday morning frontages of warehouses and rave clubs in Antwerp, the photographs contradict visual expectations, with Illusion, Obsession, Cherry Moon, Escape and Explosion, the "it" clubs of the day, morphing into day time carparks with no suggestion of the hedonism inside.
Ironically, behind the facades of the sleepy-looking locations, there are probably a lot of ravers with their their glow sticks and tops off, as was the scene in the nineties, but from the outside, they appear to be simply a quiet Belgium suburb.
Check out this exhibition is Germany at Aesthetik01, until 31st August
This is Belgium - Bert Houbrechts
aesthetik01: Lübecker Str. 49, 10559, Berlin
BY SARA DARLING
Even though he was a Catalan native, Salvador Dalí’s work is not highly regarded in the Spanish city of Barcelona; Not revered with the same affection as his contemporaries, Max Ernst, Picasso, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton or Brassaï, his work thus far, has not made any great impact on the city.
In fact there are no permanent works on show, and his presence to be taken seriously as an artist have long thought to be snubbed in favour of more serious artists. It didn’t help that he regularly visited (and befriended) Snowflake, an albino gorilla living in the Barcelona zoo... and was seen as a party animal who opposed the system.
Although regarded as a bit of a joke, Dali enjoyed his time in the city, spending time with his wife Gala in the Ritz Hotel (now called El Palace). He regularly hosted parties and art events and is reported to have appreciated fine dining at local restaurants: Set Portes, Quo Vadis and La Orotava being particular favourites. His fondness for flamenco dancing and rumba shows are also said to have influenced his creativity.
It was only after his death in 1989, that he was celebrated as a key figure in twentieth-century art. Almost thirty years later, an exhibition of previously unseen works, commemorating his wife Gala, is showcasing in Barcelona’s MNAC.
‘Gala Salvador Dalí. A Room of One’s Own in Púbol’ is an intimate showcase of Dali’s relationship with art- which is shown for the first time as intrinsically linked with his lover, best friend and muse, Gala. Such a unique relationship meant that Gala was as vital to Salvador's vision, and became so so influential, Dali began to sign his pieces with both their names - Gala-Salvador Dalí.
Partaking in the artist movement as a model, moderator and observer, Gala independently formed connections with some of the most famous artists of the period, counting Max Ernst, René Char and René Crevel as friends; You can also see her form in several Man Ray paintings as she sat as a model for him. Even though she did not pick up a paintbrush, she played a vital role, and was a key figure in the movement’s history.
This unique show, embodies 60 of Dali’s works, including oil paintings, drawings and sketches featuring (or inspired by) Gala on show. Other unseen pieces include personal letters, photographs, engravings, postcards and books that belonged to Gala, as well as dresses and trinkets from her personal boudoir. Also on show are connected works from Picasso, Man Ray, Max Ernst and Cecil Beaton who were all associated with the Surrealist movement, and give a thoroughly complex insight into the era.
See the exhibition at Museum Nacional
Inntravel’s self-guided, fly-drive holiday, ‘In Search of Dali’ covers the Dali Triangle amongst discovering great food and wine and charming villages in eastern Catalonia.
Visitors to Catalonia can take a one-day tour of the Dalí Triangle with Viator, with prices from £107:
For further information on the Dalí Triangle visit:
www.salvador-Dalí .org/en/museums/the-Dalí nian-triangle/
For information on visiting Catalonia visit:
By Sara Darling
And I don't just mean the roof top pool view!
Visiting Madrid is like visiting any European capital city. Spacious boulevards, expansive manicured parks, and neo classical facades which exaggerate the humility of the patrons.
However, there is deceptively modern structure in the centre of a historical city. The latest offering from the VP family is a welcome addition to the traditional classic builds which surround the Debod Temple and Royal Palace in central Madrid. Set in a prominent location, it is ideal for shopping, sightseeing and exploring the best of what Madrid has to offer, and the bonus is, you can do it by foot!
The VP Plaza España Design 5-star hotel is located at Plaza de España, and is luring local and international hipsters to this progressive new social hub. Perfectly proportioned with 214 rooms, it is not too big and not too small (however some suites are bigger than others if you are looking to impress). The rooms have everything you need for a seamless long weekend break and blend together tasteful art, design and architecture- including works from contemporary Spanish artists such as Dario Urzay and Fernando Palacios.
A complete contrast to anything typically Spanish, the hotel has an airy minimalistic feel. Modern furnishings including Arne Jacobsen style chairs, low hanging lighting, modern sculptures and huge beds all evoke a Scandinavian spirit, and the spacious accommodation is a welcome break from the sticky summer city sun.
Combining state-of-the-art technology and design, with modern functionality, the rooms have been thoughtfully constructed to integrate into a sleek and cosy finish without seeming soul-less. Electronically operated blackout blinds, and easy-to-control lighting are some of the nifty features, along with plenty of plug sockets (including a revolving socket bank and USB ports by the bed). The bath products are by L’Occitane products and there is a Black Mambo hair dryer, meaning vanity has not been compromised.
Super luxe king size beds, and a bath, are just what you need after a tough day trotting around the city. And on a chillaxed day, pop to the 12th floor terrace to admire the view from a sun lounger or perhaps take a dip in the glass bottomed swimming pool, which showcases a gigantic 25m metallic waterfall sculpture created by Catalan artist Pere Gifre through the base. Alternatively pop to the Bilobs Wellness Suite or gym, for a soak in the hydrotherapy pool or sweat it out in the sauna. Spa treatments include eyebrow shaping, facials and pedicures, so there is no excuse not to look your best on a night out!
However guests are most impressed by the breathtaking rooftop bar, which has a stunning 360 degree vista over the whole city. Adopting a trendy New York skyscraper vibe, the bustling world of Madrid is viewed in miniature at 82 feet below. Already making waves with the locals, who flock to the live music nights and jazz in the week and DJs from 11pm on weekends, this is the place to be seen. Designed by Studio Gronda (an international design firm from Madrid), it is deceptively spacious, with covered and open-air nooks to enjoy cocktails, conversation and watch the sunset, before getting your groove on in the sound proof nightclub.
Foodies are not neglected, and the hotel offers two restaurants which remarkably for Spain are super-vegetarian friendly! The Skybar restaurant is adjacent to the terrace bar, and also offers the same breathtaking views from the floor to ceiling windows. With a modern menu, the Asian-Spanish fusion is perfect for tapas and sharing, with a dynamic cocktail list devised by Madrid’s best mixologists.
The Botania restaurant arouses a completely different sensation; Conceived by the uber cool Larrumba Group, it spreads across the whole ground floor of the property, and is an oasis of plants and greenery. The long tables are perfect for parties, but there is secluded seating for more intimate occasions. The relaxed menu and great wine list provides a buzzy ambience without feeling overcrowded- however, expect to raise the volume of your conversation as the night progresses, to keep up with the locals!
Spanish food, flamenco shows and shopping. Whether you are looking to indulge in one, two or all three, the super stylish Plaza España Design combines Scandi-chic with mid-century modern style, and is the ideal base for exploring the community and spirit of this stunning city.
Double rooms at the 5 star VP Plaza España Design are priced from €220 per night on a room-only basis. Breakfast is an additional €29 per person. For more information ot to book, please visit https://www.plazaespana-hotel.com/en/
Take a behind-the-scenes walking tour with Jo Wivell from Insiders Madrid focused on food, fashion or flamenco -http://www.insidersmadrid.com/
Experience Spanish flamenco at Tablao Las Carboneras - https://tablaolascarboneras.com/en/the-tablao/
Enjoy an evening drink at Azotea, the rooftop of Circulo Bellas Artes, offering great views of the city -http://www.circulobellasartes.com/azotea/
Article: Christopher George
Designed by award-winning Southwark architects Allies and Morrison, TWO FIFTY ONE is closer to central London than both Vauxhall and Nine Elms, and with the Elephant and Castle becoming the new Central London South, with the Utopian developments happening that are creating a mind boggling city skyline, thriving caffe culture along with Artswork Elephant that is injecting an urban creative buzz at the heart of this vibrant area.
55 visits TWO FIFTY ONE for the opening event from the 35th floor, to sample amazing views and contemporary art and interiors.
TWO FIFTY ONE, the latest of the Elephant & Castle residential towers, has announced the launch of its Artist in Residence programme. The series of partnerships will bring together some of the city’s most exciting names in the contemporary art world, to support the booming creative scene in London’s SE1.
Collaborating with names including renowned street artist Pegasus, Stephen Wiltshire who draws vast cityscapes from memory, illustrator and printmaker Jess Wilson, and Instagram photographer Ope O, the programme will see the ambassadors create and exhibit original items that take inspiration from the local sights and sounds in Elephant & Castle.
The scheme is a modern take on the traditional ‘Artist In Residence’ role that was popular in the 20th century, where many buildings and institutions would partner with nomadic creatives.
Launching in June, the bespoke commissions will be displayed in an exhibition open to the London public for a month, before being permanently on view in the new development.
Each ambassador has donated a selection of prints from the original artwork manifest that TWO FIFTY ONE will sell to both its residents and to the general community. One hundred percent of the proceeds will be donated to charities within the Elephant & Castle, including Cool Tan Arts, a locally based art group that focuses on mental health initiatives.
Martin Lent, CEO of SCM, the development manager of TWO FIFTY ONE said,
“The Artist in Residence programme showcases the broad range of artistic talent that this city has to offer. Each artist has taken inspiration from Elephant & Castles’ evolving skyline, heritage and creative culture. Not only are we creating a series of bespoke works to be enjoyed by residents of TWO FIFTY ONE, and locals alike, but also raise funds for local charity Cool Tan Arts, a locally based arts focus group which help fund local well-being work through artists work”
From inception TWO FIFTY ONE has chosen to focus on the rich arts and culture of the community. The Developers partnered with the nearby London College of Communication in a unique photography competition. The winning twenty-six talented students’ works were chosen after a rigorous selection process by an eminent panel of art experts including Lucinda Bredin of Bonhams Magazine and Caroline Douglas Director of the Contemporary Arts Society. These photographs are for the first time on permanent display in each of the residential corridors in the forty-one storey building. Copies of each winning entry will be on shown during the three-week exhibition.
To see a range of apartment on offer visit
TWO FIFTEY ONE
By Sara Darling
Why go to Cuba? Why not? Sunshine, sea, rum, cigars, cars and sexy salsa dancing with strangers in the street. Sounds like a hedonist’s dream right?
But there is more to do than party, as Cuba has heaps of history- with permanent reminders of the nation's favourite second in command, Che Guevara everywhere. Widely recognised as leading the Cuban revolution on 1st January 1959, and overturning the capitalist exploitation of Latin America by the United States, he is immortalised across the land. His distinct visage can be found on T shirts, berets and murals, and was potentially seen by the nearly 5 million tourists, that visited Cuba last year.
The country is still coming to terms with the demise of class struggle, and package tourism is in its infancy, but that is in part of what makes it great! However, international economic relations are slowly making it easier to trade, and US relationships are developing, it is refreshing to visit somewhere that is driven by moral rather than material incentives.
Its capital, Havana has long been an exotic destination, offering a colourful, vibrant city way of life with heaps of history. Old Havana is epitome of Cuba- the unique atmosphere is like nowhere else. Filled with classical monuments and museums, the streets are filled with locals, chatting, dancing or spontaneously making music.
It is also the home of the infamous jazz collective, the Buena Vista Social Club. With two clubs in the city, the players are revered for creating the essence of modern Cuban music - fusing Afro Cuban with local jazz, mambo and US big-band styles, which mesmerise and move you at the same time. These venues are still popular with tourists, but head to the long promenade of the Malecón at sunset to really soak up the genuine Cuban vibe, and get whisked up in an impromptu Salsa dancing sesh, and move to wherever the party goes to later.
With a constant hum of honking horns, you cannot avoid the scores of oversized, brightly coloured vintage American cars. Convertible Chevrolets, Crysalers and Montereys are an integral part of the city. The cliche is real! Used primarily as tourist taxis and tour guides, I went on a tour with the Holiday Place, these majestic beasts are a symbol of the people and culture of Cuba, and demonstrate their resourcefulness, and sheer will to carry on against all odds. No trip to Havana is complete without a ride in one of these beauts, but be prepared for a bumpy ride, as they have the original suspension from the fifties.
Spend a couple of days in Havana, to get your bearings and immerse yourself in the old ladies in flamenco-dresses-cigar-smoking culture, then take your dancing shoes, and beachwear, and head off on an adventure.
The pace of life in Cuba is remarkably slow, so driving is not an issue and car hire is easily available. Alternatively organise a driver, or join an excursion, which are widely available options too.
With incredible scenery along the coastline, journeys in any direction take in tobacco fields, and the impressive natural flora and fauna. Less than an hour outside of the bustle and hustle of Havana is Las Terrazas, a lush oasis of thousands of bamboo groves, palms, exotic birds and beautiful flowers. Now conserved as a UNESCO biosphere, it was initiated by Castro in the sixties, and is a living reminder of making the best of what the country has.
Head further north of mainland Cuba and drive for about five hours, and you will enter an entirely different world. Beaches, five star resorts and island life are becoming in the newly developed Villa Clara Keys: Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Ensenachos with the pretty city of Santa Clara as the capital, offering the best of the Caribbean and Latin America’s beaches.
An ‘island’ this province is surrounded by water (but accessible by highway) and it offers a unique and relaxing Cuban holiday experience. Made up of rivers and mountains, its rustic vibe is the backdrop to nature and local culture and is the idyllic backdrop for trekking, bird watching, exploring the jungle by jeep, diving or simply relaxing.
With newly built hotels offering spacious accommodation in landscaped surroundings, the province of Villa Clara is the perfect place to fly and flop. Cayo Santa Maria opened its first luxury hotel back in 2001, and since then, the Villa Clara Keys of Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Ensenachos have added to the collection. All these hotels are connected via the sea road, taking no more than a 25-minute drive from the first hotel to the last, and welcome non-residents for dinner and drinks. Although all inclusive packages mean you won’t have to venture off site, and each resort has numerous swimming pools, an on site spa, pool side service, white sandy beaches and facilities for water sports. With all you can eat and drink buffets (and a 24 hour bar in many) this might sound too good to be true! So get there before the 18-30 brigade do.
Cuba has plenty to offer in terms of entertainment too, and expect to be wowed with local costumes and fancy dress at every opportunity! With celebrations nearly every month, you are bound to stumble across a carnival, charanga, siesta or patron saint's day.... and if you haven’t tried to rhumba before, after a few Mojitos or Cuba Libres, I can guarantee that you will leave your inhibitions at the front door!
The coast is one of the biggest appeals of the Caribbean, and Villa Clara has some of the most spectacular and untouched beaches in Cuba. White sand, sun loungers and waiter service means you don’t have to move an inch if you are on a sunbathing mission; But if you are more adventurous, the crystal water may beckon you in. Perfect for snorkelling or diving, you will find the second largest coral reef in the world, with over 250 species of plants and wildlife.
The best place to get a skipper and charter a boat is in the newly built marinas in La Estrella and Las Dunas. Take a speed boat trip and glide through the lush surroundings of the mangroves. Keep your eyes peeled for flamingoes, herons and egrets and pelicans amidst the jungle growth, and have your camera at the ready. If you are more of an open sea water lover, there are plenty of catamarans or yachts to charter, where you can go exploring the deep sea and enjoy an afternoon with a snorkel.
Most people come to Cuba for the sun, but there are some unique and unusual local handicrafts that are worth a gander too. Pueblo Estrella has an open air market vibe and sells clothes, jewellery, artwork and other artisans products. Not only can you chat to locals who make the goods, it’s a hub of restaurants, bars and spa, with other essential amenities such as a car-jeep-scooter-bicycle rental office, post office and a bank.
If you are looking for adventure, Cuba has it all! And if you don’t return a finger clicking, cigar smoking, flamboyantly dressed, Cuban-heel-wearing, hip swiveller, you will just have to come back!
Our Editor was invited by the Cuba Tourist Board on behalf of MINTUR.
Visit www.travel2cuba.co.uk and www.cubatravel.cu for more information.
Cuba Direct offers a range of flights and accommodation packages.
UK Tour operator The Holiday Place, provide authentic Vintage Car Tours in Havana
BILBAO IS ANYTHING BUT BORING
BY SARA DARLING
Bilbao might not be the first (second or even third) place you think of when you consider visiting Spain, and because of this, it’s unexploited vibe is part of the appeal for the adventurous.
Situated on the rugged coast of Northern Spain (otherwise known as Basque Country), it neighbours the more popular holiday destinations of San Sebastián and Santander. But even though Bilbao has the reputation of being a gritty industrial town in the seventies, it is now a emerging destination for culture vultures, who flock to see the impressive museums and modern architecture, which rub shoulders with proud Basque country roots.
Mostly known for its mismatched buildings- saturating the old and the new, traditional food and football, it’s soul remains enigmatic and uncommercialised. The locals are cool, erring on the scarily cool. The city’s vibe is young professionals, who like to party at reggae clubs and techno nights which begin around 1am and end when the last person leaves.
The seaside is a drive away but you can catch the futuristic (Sir Norman Foster designed) Metro which whizzes you there in 30 minutes. Miles of sand and clear water caress the bays, making it perfect for swimmers, surfers and suntanners; And although there isn’t the lounger and brolly culture, it's a great place to BYO and chillax. The most popular patch for learning to surf is Sopelana, which neighbours a nudist beach. But venture a little further east, and you will reach the craggy bay of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a location from Game of Thrones. Join the tourist trail to ring a bell on the island to bring you luck, and get some very enviable Instagram pics!
With so much on offer, Bilbao is the perfect place to escape to for a beach and culture break. With cutting edge architecture dotting the predominantly green, country landscape- old meets new and country meets urban living.
A visit to Bilbao wouldn't be complete without going to the Guggenheim Museum; Standing proud on the banks of the Nervion River, it houses a treasure trove of contemporary artists including Andy Warhol, Anish Kapoor, Jeff Koons and Eduardo Chillida, along with visiting exhibitions. It is transformed into a club night on one Friday every month, when it opens it doors for Guggenheim Lates. From 10pm to 1am you can wander round and see the greats, and join thousands of other revellers dancing to EDM in the museum’s impressive main hall.
You may want to re-visit in the daylight to enjoy Louise Bourgeois's disturbingly realistic giant metal spider which straddles the sidewalk on the banks of the river; Whereas Jeff Koons’ living flower “Puppy” sculpture is much friendlier welcome to any visitors. It would be easy to spend a whole day admiring the gallery building as well as the art work, and it never gets as busy as it’s New York or Venice counterparts.
The Casco Viejo is Bilbao’s Old Town and one of its most intriguing areas and remains true to its medieval roots. There are seven major streets which are great for exploring (or getting lost in) and you will find local galleries, boutiques and traditional pintxos bars. And if you have never sampled a pintxo before, think Spanish tapas, where you help yourself to what you fancy and pay for what you’ve eaten by totting up your cocktail sticks! Spain isn’t the most veggie friendly country, but there will be plenty of cheese and egg. And bread, with most of these mini delights being layered on chunk of fresh bread.
With so much good food available it’s no wonder the Bilbaínos pride themselves on their local wine too. Dry white is particularly popular, with the blend ‘Txakoli’ the region’s speciality. Sample this straight from the vineyard at Bodegas Ados Basarte, where it is produced by two local sisters who are happy to share their knowledge and passion (understanding Basque helps!)
Hire a bike, or even better join a (bike or walking) tour, for a full rundown on Bilbao’s history. Dedicate a morning to take in the modern street art, which nestles alongside ancient paint-cracked buildings which seemingly have been untouched since they were built, and then explore the impressive art-deco style Mercado de la Ribera; Covering 10,000 metres it sits right on the river. This working market sells all kinds of fresh spices, vegetables, fish, meat and flowers and is a perfect setting for soaking up the local culture or enjoying a coffee or other beverage in one of the restaurants and bars.
For a break with surprising twists, try and time a vacation for the After Hours at the Guggenheim, book for a secret supper club dinner at Epelde & Mardaras (an apartment turned art gallery turned restaurant), take a couple of days out for the beach and book in for an intensive course of surf lessons where you will apparently you will be riding the waves in one day! And if you time it right, hit one of the town’s plentiful fiestas or massive monthly Sunday market.
The perfect time to come is the summer and with the super cool BBK Live festival taking place 12-14 July, you can see international DJs alongside the Gorillaz and High Flying Birds in a stunning mountain top location. With the party starting at dusk, you can have a week of music, culture, amazing scenery and a beach break all wrapped into one. And with drinks being ridiculously cheap, I predict Bilbao to be on the up. And up!
BY SARA DARLING
Everyone needs a treat now and again, and this is the perfect place to do it!
We’ve had snow, ice and a really long winter, so when the daffodils are starting to emerge in March, it means spring is on its way; That suggests it is time to get a spring in your step and begin to look at the bright side of life again...
On that note, it’s the perfect time to indulge in some self love (and a realisation that summer is on its way and I will be getting my body out on a beach fairly soon!!) I have just returned from a liberating, relaxing and perfectly packed 36 hours in the Donnington Valley Spa Hotel in Berkshire.
The sister of the Vineyard Hotel which is the place to go for five star dining and fine wines in the area, the Spa Hotel offers a perfectly formed spa, health club and golf course. Book in for a massage, facial, mani, pedi or spray tan, and relax..Even the chillout room is paradise. Even though I was following up on emails thanks to the hotel wide WiFi. No rest for a freelancer!
The pool, unusually for a hotel is large enough for lengths, and the gym is pretty impressive with free weights, mats and machines. Alas I wasn’t prepared to get a sweat on, but definitely took advantage of the relaxing side of the Spa.
Unusually, alcoholic beverages are served poolside, although I am not suggesting this is a substitute for hanging out on the loungers in Ibiza, but having a glass of prosecco at the end of a jacuzzi day is a well deserved treat!
If you are not a fan of prancing around in your waffle robe and hotel slippers, you might want to bring your own, as this hotel is very Spa friendly. Most of the guests seem to visit the Spa at some point, so you won’t look out of place wearing a towel turban on your way back to your room.
All the steaming, sauna-ing and swimming will definitely give you an appetite, and our maître d, Paulo was perfectly equipped to advise on dinner options; Although a late dinner and after dinner drinks next to the fire in the library did mean that I didn’t get up quite as early as I would have liked the following day; My early morning swim and steam was not as long as I would have liked, but it worked wonders for freshening my head!
Breakfast was again served by Paulo, who was equally friendly and helpful. We arrived at 10 by our skinny skin teeth, but the kitchen was happy to create any kind of eggs. I opted for omelette with cheese and mushrooms, with my friend going all out with the full English and eggs Benedict! I did sample her sausage and hollandaise sauce, and even though she couldn’t eat it all, definitely made the right decision. Several freshly squeezed juices later, we were feeling more human, and rolled out of the restaurant to head home.
Perfect for a girlie break. You never know who will meet there too!
Book your spa day at Donnington Valley here
Get a taste of romance at the Nhow Hotel
By Sara Daring
If you are the type of person who starts getting excited about Valentines day mid way through January, you might also be the type of person who expects to get married by the time you are thirty, and have a life plan for children (one of each) by the time you hit 35..
Without dissing romance, there are plenty of amazing places to visit with a loved one which aren’t remotely smultzchy or cheesy, and don’t have a checked table cloth, plastic rose or leering waiting in sight.
Thriving on the unexpected, Rotterdam is one of those cities. The network of cosmopolitan canals, brutalist buildings and impressive street art add to the allure of this modern, forward thinking city, which stands tall and proud with new roots re-built after the war.
With plenty of skyscrapers punctuating the edges of the waterways and super organised metro and tram system it is really easy to navigate; And the super edgy Nhow Hotel was next to the Wilhelminaplein station which is a ten minute ride from central station.
Part of a design chain (sister hotels are in Berlin and Milan) the hotel fits the ambience of Rotterdams’ funky young visitors perfectly. No frills, but plenty of treats await guests in the giant-bed filled rooms. The usual suspects of a big bath tub, super hot shower, giant TV which doubles as a mirror, and floor to ceiling windows with the best views of the waterways you are only a hop skip and trot away from the impressive Erasmus Bridge over the River Maas.
In keeping with the modern luxe vibe, the minimalist structure of the hotel gives it an edgy vibe with urban art and photography adorning the walls. Even the food is trendy! With the breakfast buffet consisting of a concoction of test-tubes smoothies, teeny pastries, the freshest of fruits and a choice of continental cuts.
There is choice of rooms depending on budget, as there are different views from either side of the impressive building. Ask for the Premium Skyline room if you are a party animal and plan to enjoy the sunset over the view while you are getting ready with a drink. Watch the nightlights come on as the city below gets into night mode, and know can rest assured you won’t be woken up too early after a big night out.
The other side of the building offers the harbour view. Still a working marina, when you cast your eyes down, Dutch people will be whizzing by to work on their bikes or by foot. Perfect for a birds eye view of watching the hustle and bustle whilst you’re in a different world.
Even though the rooms aren’t huge, they have everything you need for a city break. And the city is on your doorstep. The impressive FotoMuseum is directly opposite with restaurants on the other corner; But this is a city break after all, so head off by foot (or bike) and soak up the rest of the culture; Recomended is a water taxi ride to the the Euromast; The Kunsthal Museum or the Cube house. With plenty of food options, whatever your dietary requirements, Rotterdam definitely ticks all the romance options for an action packed lover.
Book your stay here: Nhow Hotel
BY SARA DARLING
HEAD TO SANTA MONICA FOR A SLICE OF FASHION HISTORY
Versace was shot and killed on 15 July 1997, at the age of 50, on the steps of his Miami Beach mansion as he returned from a morning walk on Ocean Drive. But his legacy is not forgotten.
Lauded as one of the groundbreaking designers of the 80s and 90s, he lived a full life, embracing gossip and speculation, but he was also a regular at Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica, where he could escape and relax.
Still owned by the same family, who remain coy as to the habits of the designer, Hotel Shangri-La, is used as the backdrop for the recent TV Series American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.
Versace was recognised, but was always low key, and always stayed in the penthouse suite of this original art deco hotel; With Tamie Adaya, Hotel Shangri-La’s CEO and Creative Director noting “back then parties were a strictly no no. We are a boutique, family owned hotel. But not for Gianni Versace. He was a genius. He was an icon, but to us he was just Gianni and part of the Shangri-La family.”
With major stars taking on roles in the series- it is Edgar Ramirez (The Girl on the Train) who lands the covetable role of Gianni, alongside Penelope Cruz as Donatella, who relive his flamboyant lifestyle. Openly gay, Versace embraced the fast life and was friends with Madonna, Elton John, Cher, Sting and Eric Clapton, who although do no appear in the re-make, are a big part of his memoirs.
With such a fashionable history, the hotel also retains a laid-back atmosphere, with Tamie fondly reflecting “Versace loved architecture, particularly Art Deco, which inspires me to this very day with the hotel’s interior design. It was a privilege being a part of this series which celebrates his flamboyant life and legacy.”
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Pier, you can see why it was and still is, so popular. Chances of you rubbing shoulders with real life celebrities and designers is pretty high too!
Exposing the roads less trodden around the globe. 55Travels with the notion to encounter a more cultural and creative experience.