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Postcard from the future: a dawn dip in a Scottish loch

Author and wild swimmer Joe Minihane fantasises about plunging into the cold water of Loch an Eilein in the Cairngorms

I’ve only swum in Loch an Eilein once. Three summers ago, as August tipped into September, my friend Ben and I pulled up in a campervan and passed a freezing night on its banks. We were woken at dawn by a clattering of jackdaws taking to the air from the ruined castle that sits on a small island close to the shore.

Mist rose from the surface of the loch, the temperature barely above freezing as I struggled into my swimming shorts. The promise of a swim before the crowds arrived outweighed any concerns about the cold. I swam with my head out, my hair dry, watching the castle loom high above me, rolling on my back to get a better view of the high peaks of the Cairngorms on the far shore.

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‘I wanted to be a part of Buenos Aires – and Borges was my guide’

During the decade our writer lived in BA, he got to grips with its streets through the verse of Jorge Luis Borges – and is now revisiting the city via his poetry

Lockdown has made me nostalgic – not about travelling so much as about places. It’s no surprise the focus of some of my fondest remembering has been the world capital of looking back: Buenos Aires. The reasons behind this are many and complex. Porteños – BA residents – are famously given to looking far away, to the Spain or Italy of their ancestors, and to romanticising the brief belle époque of the early 20th century, when Argentina was rich and promising. Tango is laced with longing for the missed and elusive.

Related: Bored in lockdown? Try learning how to tango online

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Planning a great escape this year? Follow our staycation guide

With a trip abroad unlikely and social restrictions still in place, here’s what to expect from a summer that will be like no other

After more than two months in lockdown the public has been given a few glimmers of hope for a return to normality. But although some schools look set to reopen from next week, and there is more freedom to roam outdoors, health secretary Matt Hancock has said the possibility of a relaxed break abroad is unlikely this summer.

Which means many families will be looking at the possibility of a “staycation” and with UK holiday parks and tourist attractions gearing up to open their doors with strict guidelines on social distancing, and space for far fewer people, it will surely be a summer like no other.

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Matthew Henson: the pioneering African-American Arctic adventurer

This multi-skilled explorer may well have been first to the North Pole – in 1909. What’s not in doubt is his resourcefulness and love of the Inuit

Passport details
Matthew Alexander Henson, perhaps the first person to the North Pole. Born Charles County, Maryland, US, 8 August 1866.

Claim to fame
Matthew Henson, the descendant of slaves, has a plausible claim to being the first explorer to reach the North Pole. He grew up in Washington DC and Baltimore, was orphaned and left school at 12 to be a cabin boy. When he was 22, a chance encounter with naval engineer Robert Peary resulted in a lifelong working relationship, including 18 years of Arctic exploration. On 6 April 1909, Henson, Peary and four Inuit drove their dogsleds to the North Pole – or as near as makes no difference. Peary took the credit for being first, but a newspaper article on their return quoted Henson as saying he’d been part of a leading group that had overshot the pole by several miles: “We went back then and I could see my footprints were the first at the spot.”

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Top 10 budget beach hotels and B&Bs on Mexico’s Pacific coast

Enjoy ocean views from rooftop bars or just step out and get the sand between your toes. From Mazatlán to Pochutla, here are 10 charming beachside escapes

Mexico’s Pacific coast, more than 1,000 miles of it, is renowned for its beaches, as well as the resorts which have attracted Hollywood royalty. However, it’s also an area that can experience tropical storms, usually between June and December. The most recent was Hurricane Patricia, the strongest hurricane ever recorded at sea, which swept across the region at the end of October, but caused less damage than anticipated. Hotels are now operating as normal.

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Top 10 budget beach hotels, guesthouses and hostels on the Yucatán peninsula, Mexico

Well-known and deservedly popular for its jungle, coast and ancient ruins, the Yucatán peninsula can be a pricey place to stay – unless you pick one of these brilliant budget hotels and hostels

On the surface, this mid-size hotel in Cancún’s hotel zone is pretty unremarkable. The tile-floored rooms are big and clean, with terraces or balconies – though they’re not notably stylish. The restaurant is good, not gourmet. The pool is a sensible size. But set this against its glitzy, high-rise neighbours and check the rates, which are often lower than similarly appointed hotels on the mainland, 30 minutes from the water – and Beachscape starts looking pretty good. Then walk out on to the palm-shaded beach, one of the prettiest stretches in the hotel zone, and the place becomes a minor miracle.
• Doubles from $109, +52 998 891 5427, beachscape.com.mx

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Top 10 budget beach B&Bs in the Seychelles

The Seychelles islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue may be known for their luxury resorts but there is also a great selection of family-run, more affordable guesthouses just as close to the archipelago’s famous, world-class beaches

For a room with a five-star view, Colibri is hard to beat. Nine rustic rooms – all wood and stone – ensconced amid tropical foliage that tumbles down a hillside to the turquoise waters of Baie Sainte Anne. There’s no beach but you can use the small infinity pool overlooking the bay at neighbouring B&B Chalets Cote Mer, also owned by Sylvie and Stephan, and costing about €10 more a night. You also share the waterfront creole restaurant. The owners can help with car hire but it’s a five-minute walk to a bus stop – which will take you to Praslin’s most famous beach Anse Lazio and the Unesco-protected Vallée de Mai nature reserve – and the jetty for ferries to Mahé and La Digue.
Doubles from £112 B&B, +248 429 4200, colibrisweethome.com

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Top 10 budget beach guesthouses and B&Bs in South Africa’s Western Cape

From Cape Town and its peninsula to the Garden Route and the West Coast, the Western Cape is a dazzling part of South Africa, and its beachside accommodation doesn’t have to break the bank

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How to fend off your conspiracy obsessed relatives during the holiday season

When Uncle Ted has a few drinks and starts screaming that the world is flat, have a few tactics ready to counter his bizarre rants

It’s the holidays: time for eggnog, ironic Christmas sweaters, and interactions with relatives you’d avoid like the plague if you didn’t share DNA.

Perhaps in past years, you’ve argued politics over the dinner table. But thanks to our internet echo chambers, things may now get even weirder. You could find yourself not just arguing over Donald Trump’s impeachment, but also over whether the president and Robert Mueller were secretly teaming up to expose Tom Hanks as a cannibal; or whether the Federal Reserve exists because JP Morgan sank the Titanic; or whether Meghan Markle is a robot.

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Forget Bali, I found bliss in the blandness of a chain hotel | Emma Brockes

Four days spent alone in Florida pushed me to the limits of boredom. But it was just what I needed

I was in a chain hotel 20 miles north of Orlando for meetings that would last, on and off, for four days. This was not a holiday resort. Outside, the rain was bathwater warm, the pool windswept and empty. Inside, guests wandered the conference facilities, lanyards swinging. The breakfast buffet was like the idea I’d had as a child of how millionaires live: all the pineapple you could eat. It is a truism of escape plans that the problem with going anywhere is that you take yourself with you. But there is an exception to this, and I have found it. Burnt out? Always yelling? So tired you would gladly hand over your humanity to Elon Musk for a chance to become fully digitised? There’s another way. Open Google Maps, find a place that is not a place but, rather, on the way to other places, and select the blandest hotel you can find. Then go and sit in it for four days. I swear to God, it’s better than six months in Bali.

I thought about sending an email and didn’t. I took a three-hour nap, went downstairs and ordered more wings.

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Spain road trip: Granada to Almería

The Alhambra marks the start of a drive taking in historic cities, a river valley and mountains – and ends in Almería’s spaghetti western desert

Granada is dominated by its mighty Moorish fortress, the Alhambra. Book ahead and visit early, at its least-crowded, and then spend the afternoon meandering the narrow streets and plazas of the old town – the Albaicín. Stay in this area at the 16th-century Santa Isabel La Real, with its Alhambra views, (doubles from €95 B&B, parking available).

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French leave: fun places to stay on four routes to the south of France

With the annual summer dash under starter’s orders, we suggest how to turn a schlep into a road trip, staying in treehouses, chateaux and cool hotels en route

From the north-west ferry ports (St Malo, Cherbourg, Caen, Le Havre) down the west of France, via Nantes and Bordeaux, to the south-west

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Coast through summer: 10 itineraries for the UK seaside

Get beach ready with our week-long planners to 10 glorious seaside spots, covering everything from secluded coves to surf lessons, boat rides and places to stay

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Turin city break: the best music, restaurants and culture

Electro music fans are heading to Turin for this weekend’s Kappa Futurfestival, but this also one of the best cities in Italy for culture and affordable restaurants

Without Turin, Italy would be a totally different country. It was pivotal to the unification in 1861 and served as the first capital, until 1865. Its royal palaces were home to the ruling House of Savoy until the second world war and then its factories – and the influx of migrant workers they attracted – were integral to the economic miracle that rebuilt and transformed the country after it.

Curious, then, that it is so often ignored when people talk about the best places to visit in the bel paese. Italy’s fourth largest city nestles in the foothills of the Alps and snowy peaks are never far from view. There are echoes of Paris along Turin’s central boulevards, and though it’s been more than 200 years since Napoleon’s rule was replaced by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, there are still tangible French influences to be found in the city’s rich cultural and culinary traditions.

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Tarifa holiday guide: the best activities, bars, restaurants and hotels

This beach town in the far south of Spain, only a windsurf away from Africa, mixes a surfer vibe with excellent nightlife

It’s the most southerly town in mainland Europe, only 14km from Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s a 1,000-year-old walled labyrinth with a youthful party scene and a world-class kitesurfing and windsurfing destination. In summer it’s also a destination for families who want just a shady dune, a bar and a place serving fish – all of which are available in abundance along the 35km of coast north of Tarifa, beyond the beaches of Los Lances (home to Santa Catalina castle, an emblem of Tarifa) and Valdevaqueros to Bolonia with its Roman ruins and the seaside village of Zahara de las Atunes. Its community swelled by surfers who came and never left, Tarifa is a curious mix of off-the-beaten-track, cosmopolitan and barefoot cool, an adventure playground that’s home to some of the best places to eat, drink and stay on the Costa de la Luz. It can also be windy. If it wasn’t, as everyone will tell you, Tarifa would be just another Marbella – and no one wants that.

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