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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Travel to Los Angeles, California

The legendary home of the stars combines sun-kissed beaches with buzzy neighbourhoods, world-class culture and several of the planet’s most famous theme parks.
L.A. is a collection of villages, each with their own unique character, and most visitors will find a Westside location – between downtown and the beach – the most convenient place for exploration. Public transport has greatly improved in recent years, linking downtown by fast and frequent bus with Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Westwood and the beach hubs of Venice and Santa Monica, while the Metro runs east to Pasadena and north to the entertainment hub of Universal City at lower prices than Londoners have to pay for Tube rides.
Hollywood is unmissable for first-timers, who will want to see the handprints of the famous immortalised in cement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the most famous of all the ornate picture palaces which were created during cinema’s golden age. Grauman’s is still a functioning cinema where it’s great to take in a new release, and equally unmissable is the Hollywood Bowl, where every kind of music is performed in a beautiful outdoor setting from June till October.
Universal Studios
To the north lies Universal Studios, offering a great day out enjoying movie-related rides as well as a unique tour past the Psycho house and other famous film locations. Major acts play at the Universal Amphitheatre and the Greek, perhaps the world’s most beautiful and intimate setting to watch a gig.
West Hollywood
LA’s most relaxed and buzzy shopping, dining and nightlife are centred on West Hollywood, which connects Hollywood proper with Beverly Hills. Here Melrose Avenue and Third Street, running parallel, are lined with boutiques, cafes and restaurants offering something a bit different from the norm. Joan’s on Third Street has the best breakfasts, while the city’s most interesting lunch offering is the delightfully retro Farmer’s Market at Third and Fairfax, an LA institution where you can pick a dish from stalls offering everything from Balinese to Brazilian, Cajun to BBQ specialities, and eat them at communal tables in a relaxed, sun-dappled setting.
Sunset Strip
Sunset Strip, sitting on a hill at the northern end of West Hollywood, can’t be missed; rubberneck the huge billboards, have lunch or a sundowner at one of its outdoor cafes – try Le Petit Four – and enjoy the view over a million twinkling city lights as the sun goes down.
Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills, where the stars spend their money, is a great place to while away an afternoon walking the beautiful streets around Rodeo Drive. There are plenty of places to take a load off between window-shopping the designer stores; Nate’n’Al’s on Beverly Drive is a haunt of filmland’s movers and shakers, and makes some of the town’s best deli sandwiches.
Santa Monica
From here it’s a half-hour ride to Santa Monica, the biggest of LA’s seaside resorts with good beaches, a lively pier and a plethora of bars, cafes and restaurants. The Border Grill offers great Mexican food in a sophisticated, colourful setting; its signature dishes can also be enjoyed at the twice-weekly outdoor farmers’ market, a great place to shop if you’re self-catering.
While Santa Monica is a family favourite, singles and couples may prefer edgier Venice to the south. Here Main Street offers cutting-edge shops and funky cafes, while the main attraction is a wander through the canal system connecting some of the city’s most enviable homes. Muscle Beach is the place to enjoy a stroll down one of the city’s liveliest promenades. For dinner, head for Abbot Kinney Boulevard, where Hal’s is a great local hangout – ask for the burger, even if it’s not listed on the menu.
Downtown shouldn’t be missed by foodies, who will love the Grand Central food market, where you can eat as well as browse, while culture-lovers can enjoy concerts at Disney Hall or world-class exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art. From here the road leads south to Anaheim and Disneyland or north-east to Pasadena, a beautiful town of arts and crafts houses with its own museums, charming little restaurants and elegant leafy boulevards for strolling.

5 best places in New York State

Autumn in America, otherwise known as fall lasts until 20 December and transforms landscapes across the country into a spectacular array of vivid colours and New York State is no different. From the Great Appalachian Valley which dominates eastern New York to the peaks of the Adirondacks in the north, New York State has some of the best places to experience fall in America.

1. The Adirondacks

The tree littered Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York transform into a vibrant display of autumnal colours and there are a couple of brilliant ways to witness it. One option is climbing Whiteface Mountain, which has a 4,872-foot summit that can also be reached by car or gondola and has incredible views for miles around. Alternatively, visitors can ride the Adirondack Scenic Railroad which winds its way through remote forests, sparkling rivers and into the magnificent beauty of Adirondack Park.

Stay at The Point, a five star private estate consisting of log cabins and guestrooms set next to a mountain lake. Rooms start from £1,310 a night for two people sharing.

2. The Catskills Mountains

Located only 100 miles from New York City and part of the Great Appalachian Valley, the Catskills Mountains have been a favoured destination of urban holidaymakers since the mid-20th century. Located within the mountains is the Catskills Forest Preserve, which is protected from many forms of development under New York State law and as such has retained its natural beauty and ‘wild forests’ making it one of the best places to enjoy fall. Hike along one of the many trails that include a number of lookout points over the Hudson Valley and as an added bonus the park has bountiful wildlife to glimpse including bobcats, black bears, minks and coyotes.

Stay at The Arnold House. This country retreat is set on seven acres in the forests of the western Catskills. Rooms start from £151 a night for two people sharing.

3. Central Park, Manhattan

It’s not only rural areas that experience the best of fall, as Central Park in Manhattan blooms with striking autumnal hues creating a scenic collision between man-made structures and nature. Stroll through the park enjoying the colours from within or witness the scene on a grander scale by climbing the Empire State Building for a top-down look on the park. Another option is the 360-degree view from Top of the Rock Observation on the 70th floor of the Rockefeller Centre right in the heart of the city.

Stay at La Quinta Inn & Suites, a four minute walk from the Empire State Building and a 10 minute drive from Central Park. Rooms start from £103 a night for two people sharing.

4. Greater Niagara

Niagara Falls is the one of the top attractions in the world and undoubtedly worth a visit, but there is also some fantastic fall foliage in the wider region such as Devil’s Hole State Park and Whirlpool State Park that shouldn’t be ignored on a visit to Greater Niagara. Both parks offer several miles of panoramic views of the scenic Lower Niagara River gorge, while nearby Genesee Gorge at Letchworth State Park has been nicknamed “the Grand Canyon of the East.”

Stay at The Giacomo, a luxury boutique hotel in the Niagara Falls area. Rooms start from £108 a night for two people sharing.

5. Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes is a group of 11 long, narrow lakes in upstate New York near the huge Lake Ontario and part of the Appalachian swathe. Many of the lakes are surrounded by dense foliage that morphs into a fascinating mirage of reds, yellows, oranges and browns in fall that reflect off the lake’s surface. The Finger Lakes region has been active in reform and utopian movements over the years and it was at Seneca Falls village that the first women’s rights convention was held marking the birth of the women’s suffrage movement.Additionally, the Finger Lakes region is New York’s largest wine producing region with over 100 wineries and vineyards meaning travellers can enjoy a fine tipple along with the views.Stay at Hampton Inn Brockport, minutes from Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes. Rooms start from £110 a night for two people sharing.

90 minutes visit London

England is truly a magnificent keeper of its heritage, one that lives in the bricks and mortar of these amazing manor houses. And you can visit them. If only walls could talk:

1. Ightham Mote, Kent

Igtham Mote, Kent was hailed by David Starkey as “one of the most beautiful and interesting of English country houses”.

Six miles south of Sevenoaks, this 14th-century moated manor house is one of the Garden of England’s hidden gems. A former home to Medieval knights and Victorian society figures, it’s surrounded by the most tranquil of gardens with an orchard, small lakes and woodland walks that meander off into the surrounding countryside.

The historian David Starkey, impressed by its atmospheric central courtyard, the house’s Great Hall, crypt, and Tudor painted ceiling, has described it as “one of the most beautiful and interesting of English country houses”.

Owned by the National Trust since 1985, it’s worth a visit for the estate that surrounds it alone. Three designated walks take in all the flora and fauna of the Kent countryside, through an ancient bluebell wood or past 19th-century hopper’s huts and even the natural spring that feeds the moat.

A particular delight is to wander south, away from the house, climb a five-bar gate and stumble across one of the most charming village cricket pitches imaginable. The English countryside at its best.

Tickets: vary but up to £11 for the whole property during peak times of spring/summer.

2. Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

Hatfield House featured in blockbuster films such as Harry Poter and Shakespeare in Love

It’s all too easy to step into what was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth I and imagine you’re on a film set.

The grand Jacobean manor house has served as the backdrop for scenes from major movies including Harry Potter, Tomb Raider, Shakespeare in Love and The King’s Speech.

It sits in a vast swathe of land only 20 miles north east of the capital and a few minutes’ drive from the A1, encompassing formal and informal gardens complete with a maze, a children’s farm and play area, endless acres of rolling countryside to lose yourself in and even its own 12th century church.

The house itself promises everything you’d expect; from chandeliers and tapestries to a vast library and armoury and one of the finest examples of a Victorian kitchen in the country.

But the hidden bonus here is the fabulous stable yard and the period roads and buildings that lead to it. Flanked by an eclectic mix of buildings converted from the days when the royal stud lived there, is a café that spills outdoors when the weather’s fine and sits among cobbles and a circular fountain in which children toss coins to make wishes.

Tickets: Free for restaurants and stable yard, £11 (adult) includes the west garden and park (£19, incudes entry to house)

3. Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire in the fairy tale town of Woodstock

Blenheim is an awe-inspiring 18th century country house in the heart of the fairy tale town that is Woodstock. It is the principal home of the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and, more significantly, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.

A true Baroque masterpiece, the house, seen by many as the greatest of its kind in Britain, sits amongst more than 2,000 acres of Capability Brown parkland and the most elegantly landscaped formal gardens. There’s a miniature train that transports families to pleasure gardens with its adventure playground, tall-hedge maze and butterfly house.
But everything about the palace is vast; from its 180ft library to its 67ft high hallway.

And outside, it’s on the same scale; big enough, in fact, to host events like the International Horse Trials. So if you’re looking for room to ramble, be warned: you’ll need to be fit to enjoy it fully and have serious amounts of time.

Best time to visit? Other than Spring when the daffodils are in full bloom, it’s Christmas when for more than a month the gardens are turned into a wonderland of light to create an hour-long circular walk past singing trees, a scented fire garden and lawns set ablaze by thousands of colourful fibre optics.

Tickets: Adult £24.90 (£13.50 for children over five)

4. Syon House, Essex

Panorama of The Great Conservatory and Fountain at Syon House Pic by Maxwell Hamilton

This is where the Duke of Northumberland lives when he’s in London and the closest of the country houses in terms of distance from the city centre. Built in Tudor times, it underwent a thorough transformation at the hands of the neoclassical architect Robert Adam and bears many of his hallmarks. Portraits by Van Dyck and Lely hang on the walls on what is the last surviving ducal residence and country estate, in Greater London.

Only nine miles from Charing Cross, you can quickly find yourself immersed in gardens renowned for their extensive collection of rare plants and trees, all of which surround a spectacular conservatory which dates back to the 1820s and was long known for housing plants from all over the world.

There’s even a frozen spectacle that is an ice house, built over 48 hours when the lake froze over, a formal Italianate garden and a Capability Brown lake overlooking water-meadows. So, even if you don’t want to step foot inside the house, it’s worth the trip for the chance to stroll in 100 acres of parkland and among some of the most spectacular trees in the country, including ancient oaks that date back to the 1600s.

Tickets: Syon House, Garden & Great Conservatory £12.50 (children over five, £5.50)

5. Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire

Woburn Abbey has spectacular views of the deer park
Woburn itself is about 40 minutes from drive up the M1 and about five miles south of Milton Keynes. It’s best approached from junction 12 where you can head towards Flitwick and detour off through some of the most charming villages in the county.
That’ll bring you to a small rise that opens up to spectacular views of the deer park. There’s a 20 mph speed limit to help you avoid them and enjoy the view. The Abbey entrance is on the left (the wildlife park is on the right) and, once through the entrance, you’ve a two-mile drive through the grounds, past the house, a lake and an avenue of trees to the main entrance.
Again, there’s no need to go into the house to enjoy the most relaxing of times strolling a multi-faceted array of landscaped gardens, visiting the various historic exhibitions housed in the courtyards, or taking in the scents from the orangery.
The far corner, over a wooden bridge, houses a maze and the entrance yard houses one of the most charming cafes where ducks will snap at your feet for scraps on the terrace on warm days.
Having come all that way, it’s probably worth doubling back through the deer park afterwards into the town, just for a stroll through the high street. A bonus: the car park is free.
Tickets: Abbey Gardens and deer park, £17 (£7.50 for gardens and deer park)

Shopping in the Milan, Italy

Milanese architecture is nothing to write home about, the streets are mundane decorated only with graffiti and apart from a few choice sights such as the stunning Duomo Cathedral, Milan is somewhat ordinary.
Yet Milan remains a popular short break destination mainly because shoppers love to travel. It’s absurd, but shopping abroad seems so much more of an event than doing it back home. The couture that makes it into your suitcase feels like a piece of wearable culture. Better still if it’s a bargain!
So, if retail therapy is what you are after, here’s where to look:
Designer Fashion
The best designer shopping Milan is within a rectangular shaped area dubbed Quadrilatero d’Oro or golden triangle. In particular the most stylish streets are Via Montenapoleone (known locally as Monteapo) and its parallel street Via della Spiga. The two are connected by Via Sant’ Andrea. It’s hard to believe that the entire length is a mere fifteen minute walk because with designers such as Gucci, Prada, Versace, Valentino and Ferragamo in Via Montenapoleone; Dolce & Gabbana, Gigli, and yet more Prada in Via Spiga; Armani, Fendi, Trussardi and Missoni in Via Sant’Andrea it’s easy to spend a whole day in this tiny section of Milan.
Fashion of the more terrestrial sort can be found in the pedestrianised area of Via dei Fiori Chiari (by the Brera museum) and in Via Solferino. There are also shops that cater for those who love to wear designer clothes for less such as shoe shops and warehouses selling off last year’s designer styles in Corso Buenos Aires, near the station. Factory outlets such as R J Outlet (Via Zumbini 37) offer good value on all the designer clothes as does Vestistock (Piazza Lavater Via Ramazzini, 11) for leather bags and shoes.
Design lovers should also cross over Piazza San Babila – at the southern end of Via Montenapoleone – to Corso Monforte, Via Durini and the surrounding streets which are overflowing with showrooms selling fabulously designed chairs, lamps and vases.
Bric-a-Brack Portobello Road Style
The trendy area around the Navigli with its lattice work of canals just outside the centre, is Milan’s version of Portobello Road, with antiques, ethnic shops, secondhand fashion and record shops.
When to go?
The sales – saldi – happen in January and July. Expect discounts of up to 50%. These are also the times to buy the latest must-have fashion items from the new collections before everyone else.
Milan is especially renowned for its twice yearly Fashion Week which takes off at the end of February and the beginning of October. Though you may well bump into celebrities and well heeled fashionistas, it is an extremely hectic time in Milan.
Opening times are generally 9.30am-1pm and 3-7.30pm, though a number of the boutiques and larger stores stay open through the lunchbreak. On Mondays, food shops are open only in the morning, other shops only in the afternoon.
What to buy?
Depending on the exchange rate, prices in the big-name Italian designer boutiques are anywhere between 20% and 40% less than in London or New York. Shoes are worth buying too: try the two Alfonso Garlando shops, facing each other at the lower end of Via Madonnina, near the Brera or La Vetrina di Beryl (Via dello Statuto 4). If you find yourself buying more than you can carry, the designer boutiques are happy to arrange for shopping bags to be sent back to the hotel. The larger hotels, such as the Four Seasons, ensure that their guests get the star treatment by ringing ahead to fix appointments.
Bedlinen and towels are also good buys – try Frette (Via Manzoni 11), the Italian bourgeoisie’s supplier of choice. C & C (Via della Spiga 50) has beautiful silk cushions, linen tablecloths, vases, furniture and tableware. High Tech (Piazza XXV Aprile 12) is good for Alessi coffee-makers and household items.
Where to Stay?
For sheer opulence, luxury and ‘superbe’ service try Four Seasons Hotel. A dramatically reborn 15th century convent with 118 rooms and suites, the intimate Four Seasons is just a few steps from Milan’s couture houses and financial district on the exclusive Via Gesù, between Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga.
For a designer experience, try Hotel Principe di Savoia. There’s a free limo service to take guests to the front door of Versace, and from spring you can request Luxury Portal TV, a new service that puts guests at the top of the toughest designer waiting lists.
Fancy a townhouse experience? try at Townhouse 31. Lovely contemporary interiors adorn this 19th century palazzina.
Did you know?
  • Campari was invented in Milan in a bar called the Camparino. Unlike its legacy, the bar is sadly been liquidated.
  • The Giorgio Armani superstore on Via Manzon is the biggest one in the world.
  • The original Prada shop is in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. It dates back to 1913.
  • If you have a car, you can head to Serravalle Scrivia. An hour’s drive will reward you with a designer-outlet village with more than 150 stores including Bulgari, Moschino, Frette, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and La Perla. Prices are slashed by up to 70%.