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Sedona & the Verde Valley – Arizona, U.S.A.

Reap the harvest of Arizona’s growing wine scene and dine beneath majestic red rocks

It’s early on Sunday afternoon and winemaker Eric Glomski is welcoming guests to Page Springs Cellars. Some have come to enjoy the sunshine on a stroll through the vineyards, but most are here to while away the hours on the top deck of the cellar, uncorking bottles to taste the fruits of the fields that stretch out below.

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Eric is something of a viticultural celebrity in these parts. He used to run the Arizona Stronghold winery with an actual rock star, Tool frontman. Maynard James Keenan, and he bought the Page Springs Cellars site in 2003. Wandering into the vineyards past the fast-flowing brook which gives the winery its name, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in Burgundy in France or Portugal’s Douro Valley.

“Everyone asks, isn’t it too hot and dry in Arizona to grow grapes?” says Eric. “I remind them that grapes originated in the Middle East, Lebanon and Syria, so they’re very adaptive. There are different microclimates throughout the state. If I were to liken us to anywhere, in terms of climate, we’re closest to parts of Spain, France and Italy — some of the homelands of grape growing.”

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Inside Page Springs Cellars

So, here in the Verde Valley, Eric finds terroir to suit the grapes. One side has limestone soil, just as at Chateauneuf-du-Pape in France, while the other side is volcanic, like on Sicily’s Mount Etna. “We’re also trying new things,” he says. “Just because it works somewhere else doesn’t mean it will work here.”

So far, something is working. This is just one of 22 vineyards that have sprung up in the valley to feed Arizona’s burgeoning wine scene. Perhaps the most scenic is Barbara Predmore’s Alcantara vineyard at the confluence of the Verde River and Oak Creek, where she also hosts weddings at a palatial villa that looks like it’s been transported wholesale from Ancient Rome.

While the grapes maybe grown down here, most of it seems to get drunk up the valley in Sedona. Here the landscape changes again, adding imposing red rock formations that rise from the earth like Martian mountains and have attracted ambitious climbers for decades.

It’s not just the scenery that brings people to this laid-back town. New Age types have also long been attracted by the belief that benevolent swirling vortexes of ‘subtle energy’ emanate from the land. The result is a town with a thriving arts scene and plenty of vegetarian cafés, including Chocola Tree, where you can pick up a kale smoothie while recharging your crystals. The emphasis on organic, locally grown food extends to high-end restaurants, the star of the being Mariposa, a Latin-inspired grill. Chef Lisa Dahl has grown used to hearing about the impact Sedona’s panoramic views have on her customers.

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Lisa Dahl, founder and chef at Mariposa

“I’ll never forget one guy telling me that sitting on the patio is like being on the ocean,” she says. “There’s a level of serenity you feel here that’s overwhelming.” As Lisa heads back to the kitchen, burgers, tostadas, cocktails and local wine appear. Maybe there’s something to these swirling energy vortexes after all.

Essentials:

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People’s Choice-winning Gringo burger

  • The Vineyards Bed & Breakfast is on the Page Springs Road outside of Cornville, where Bruce and Tambrala Shurman are welcoming hosts.
  • Page Springs Cellars’ tasting room is open daily, with tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays except during the harvest season.
  • Mariposa is just off Highway 89A, the main route through Sedona.

A Navajo Story of Antelope Canyon – Arizona, U.S.A.

Watch the sunlight paint pictures in Antelope Canyon, teeter on the edge of Horseshoe Bend and get close to the land in a traditional Navajo hogan

Is a cool, still morning and Baya Dine is awake early to tend to her flock. As the curly horned Navajo-Churro sheep graze — across the wide-open plains, her big white Maremma sheepdog Elvis keeps the stragglers in check. Baya knows every inch of this land as if it were a part of her, from the spectacular curve of Horseshoe Bend a few miles north to Antelope Canyon in the east.

Baya’s family has farmed here for 15 generations. Her ancestors lived in hogans, homes built with cedar and juniper logs, and packed with earth, which could be taken down and moved seasonally. Baya herself grew up in her grandmother’s hogan, a permanent wooden structure which still stands and was, improbably, built with pieces of the set left over from the making of the 1965 epic The Greatest Story Ever Told, after her grandfather appeared in the film as an extra. Baya’s grandmother, who had always lived in buildings made of earth, considered it a palace.

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Baya Dine, holding her little girl tight

“My grandmother lived here the way the Navajo had lived for many generations,” Baya explains. She herded her sheep through this land and then down the ridge all along to where the town of Page is now. This is a harsh environment and they were just trying to survive, foraging and living off the land. They were one with it, really. This was part of them and their way of life.”

Baya’s land is in the west of the Navajo Nation, which at 16 million acres is the largest Native American reservation in the US. Although her ancestors moved their homes to different spots regularly, they have left no trace beyond a few petroglyphs, arrowheads and shards of broken pottery.

“You’d never know now where their homes were,” says Baya. “These days there are buzzwords, like “sustainable” and “green-built”, but that was just a way of life for Native Americans. They reused and recycled way before it was the thing to do.”

On the land where Baya now stands, the ancient Navajo stories say there was an antelope birthing area. The animals also gave their name to the nearby Antelope Canyon, although the Navajo refer to the area as `Tse Bighanilini’, which translates as `the place where water runs through rocks’.

Entering the now-dry canyon on a Navajo-run tour, visitors are awed into hushed tones when they see how water has sliced a narrow crevasse through the sandstone. Inside the slot canyon there’s an otherworldly atmosphere, as the only light comes from sunbeams playing tricks upon the canyon walls as they fall 40 metres. Flash flooding is still a danger and tour guides with torches pause to point out where previous floods have lodged trees high between the canyon walls.

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The upper part of Antelope Canyon

Photographers jostle each other for the best spots and angles —no surprise considering the world’s most expensive photograph was taken here. Landscape photographer Peter Lik sold Phantom, an image of dust in the canyon appearing to take the form of a ghost, for $6.5m in November 2014.

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Phantom (credit: Peter Lik) – A black-and-white depiction of a light ray

West of Antelope Canyon, on the other side of the small town of Page, sits Horseshoe Bend, where photographers have no such problem competing for a spot.

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Horseshoe Bend, near Page

The only danger here is getting too close to the 300-metre drop that overlooks the meandering path of the Colorado River as it travels west from Lake Powell to the start of the Grand Canyon itself. This is that same canyon on a more intimate scale and among the tourists taking selfies there are also joggers from Page who come simply to marvel at nature’s signature, carved deep into the earth. Standing on the precipice, it’s easy to understand what Baya means when she explains why the Navajo have stayed in this place for so long. “This land,” she says, “has its own special power.”

Essentials:

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At Shash Dine EcoRetreat, Baya allows visitors to stay in her grand mother’s simple wooden hogan, a cabin heated by a wood-burning stove. Bring your own food to enjoy as a late-night fireside picnic.

Antelope Canyon Tours offers both sightseer and photographers’ tours, which is recommended for those taking tripods or SLRs.

Horseshoe Bend, a gentle half-mile walk from the car park just off US-89, is free to enter. There are no toilets or shops, so remember to bring water.

Impressive Views From Inside The Grand Canyon – Arizona, U.S.A.

Bear witness to the USA’s greatest landscape of all, then clamber down into it

The Grand Canyon gives no warning. Approaching from the south through the great thickets of ponderosa pine that make up the Kaibab National Forest, there is no indication of the spectacle to come. Deer dance between the trees, seemingly oblivious to their proximity to the void. Only at the precipice does the canyon reveal itself, the earth simply dropping away to reveal one of nature’s most audacious wonders. It is a mile deep and 18 miles across at its widest point. Gazing out at this great chasm of red rock shifts your perspective in a skipped heartbeat. The scale of it humbles man’s greatest constructions: stack three Empire State Buildings on top of one another and you still wouldn’t reach the rim. One lookout stop says it all: The Abyss.

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Mule-deer – named for their large, mule-like ears – live and graze just metres from the canyon’s rim

It is not just the size of the canyon that startles but the sweep of history it illustrates. It is six million years since the Colorado River first found this route to the Gulf of California, and began slicing down through the soft top layers of dirt and rock. On it went, patiently cutting through sandstone and limestone before it reached its current level more than 1,500 metres below the rim. It is still getting deeper, although at a slower rate now that it has reached the hard basement rock. The river is now 730 metres above sea level and scientists believe it will keep going down, millimetre by millimetre, year after year, until it reaches the level of the sea, where all rivers stop.

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The entire course of the Colorado River runs 1,450 miles, from Colorado to Mexico. This view, seen from a helicopter tour, shows it cutting through the Grand Canyon

To better understand the canyon, it’s necessary to leave your perch on the brink and descend into it. Hikers Katie and Nic Hawbaker, from nearby Flagstaff, have done so several times. Today, they’re climbing the Bright Angel Trail, the Grand Canyon’s most popular, which descends 1,370 metres to the Colorado River. From there, it joins the River Trail leading to Phantom Ranch in the canyon base, where they camped last night.

“It’s totally different at the bottom,” says Katie. “It’s magical. We can’t imagine how long it took to carve out the canyon or where the river was initially. It’s just so deep.”

Another way to attempt to get to grips with the sheer scale of the place is to get over it. From a Maverick Helicopters’ chopper, it’s possible to see the Painted Desert and follow the Colorado River before diving through the Dragon Corridor, the widest and deepest part of the canyon. For peak impact, though, it’s hard to beat the early moment when you’re ambling along 15 metres above the treeline of the ponderosas, then suddenly you’re 1,500 metres over the rushing waters.

It’s all a far cry from 1893, when hotelier Pete Berry first opened a crude cabin at Grandview. Berry had come to the canyon in 1890 as a prospector and staked the Last Chance copper claim 915 metres below. The ore was rich, but the vast cost of transporting it to the rim doomed the whole operation.

Before long, President Theodore Roosevelt realised the canyon needed to be protected. He made it a national monument in 1908, having declared: “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

Essentials:

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Maswik Lodge

Maswik Lodge is in the Grand Canyon National Park, deep in the ponderosa pine forest. Built in the ’60s, it offers simple, comfortable lodging and has an onsite gift shop and pizza pub.

Entry to Grand Canyon National Park costs £24 per vehicle. Permits are required for all backcountry camping and private river trips. Maverick Helicopters depart from the airport near the small town of Tusayan, on the south side of the park.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve – Arizona, U.S.A.

Hit the dusty trail between majestic saguaro cactuses as you explore the archetypal desert of the American West

Like the wagon trails that once traversed this desert, the sun is heading west. As the light moves, the shape of the huge boulder known as Cathedral Rock seems also to warp and mutate as shadows pass across its face. In the foreground, giant saguaro cactuses stand proud and tall. Instantly familiar from their appearance in many hundreds of Westerns, they are also ancient markers. The saguaro grow an average of a foot per decade, so those towering 20 or 30 feet will have stood on that spot for around 250 years. They are the constant watchmen in the ever-changing landscape, yet adventure guide Phil Richards has a more immediate concern.

The ground is scattered with balls of jumping cholla, a cactus that looks so cuddly it has earned the nickname “teddy bear cactus”. Phil has just lightly placed one of these balls onto his arm to demonstrate their strength and he’s already struggling to prise it free from his flesh with a length of wood.

“They may look soft, but if they get onto you they won’t let go,” he explains, pointing out the strong barbs that cover the plants. They’re known as “jumping” because they latch on so hard even when brushed past that cyclists and hikers will swear they jumped out at them. Their real purpose is to hook themselves onto passing rodents and when the poor creatures try to burrow down, they’ll find themselves stuck to the cactus and inadvertently doing the job of planting it. Invariably, the animal is killed in the process. “This gives rise to their other name, says Phil darkly ‘The “skeleton cactus”.”

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Cycling past saguaro cactuses in the McDowell Somoran Preserve

For a desert, the Sonoran has a relatively lush terrain and is covered in plant life that blooms in spring. However, that doesn’t make it an easy place to survive. Phil takes issue with John Ford’s 1948 western 3 Godfathers, in which John Wayne finds himself stranded in this very desert. In need of water, he hacks the top off a barrelhead cactus and squeezes the pulp into his flask.

Sadly, this sort of thing only works in the movies. In truth, the moisture in a barrelhead is so filled with acids that it will most likely give you diarrhea — not useful if you’re already dehydrated and stranded in a desert.

“This is a unique desert,” says Phil. “We’ve got about 3,500 varieties of plant out here, including a number of cactuses found nowhere else, and that’s because of the climate. We don’t get a hard freeze.”

The desert, ranging from Sonora in Mexico to the south of California, covers a swathe of Arizona. Here in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, there are 30,200 acres of protected land: nothing can be built and no motorised vehicles may travel its 146 miles of trails.

“It’s very peaceful here,” says Phil, whose transport of choice is the mountain bike. “The only things you hear are your gears shifting and your wheels on the gravel.” His quiet progress provides many opportunities to spot desert wildlife —he points out Gila monsters (venomous lizards), tusked, pig-like javelinas and grazing mule deer.

He says that it’s the beauty of the land itself, though, that keeps him coming back day after day, whether he’s guiding a group or not. “You can never get enough of the desert,” he says, “so the best way to get more is just to ride out to a different spot.”

With that, he’s off again, dashing along a sandy trail, but still mindful enough to keep clear of the jumping cholla.

Essentials

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The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale

  • In the foothills of Pinnacle Peak, amid the saguaro cactuses, the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale is a sprawling mass of adobe casitas with sandy-hued rooms and a couple of good restaurants – Talavera steakhouse and Proof
  • Arizona Outback Adventures offer mountain-bike rental or a half-day biking tour of the McDowell Sonoran. Preserve with guides including Phil Richards. They can also organise longer tours.

Phoenix and Scottsdale: The Inspiration Source for Frank Lloyd Wright – U.S.A.

Discover why Frank Lloyd Wright found inspiration in these twin cities — and see the architect’s influence writ large.

At Dusk, Downtown Scottsdale’s Valley Ho Hotel looks like the sort of place Don Draper would come to get away from it all. As the sun sets, guests sip cocktails by the patio fire pit, reclining on loungers that mix retro and modem design as if they were drawn for The Jetsons, then magicked into reality.

Yet this is no ersatz recreation of ’50s cool – it’s the real thing. Opened in 1956, the Valley Ho was a magnet for the likes of Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. 1/-11957 it hosted the wedding reception of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, and it’s said that Zsa Zsa Gabor and her daughter Francesca rode horses around the hotel. Presumably not while the wedding was still going on.

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Architecture guide Ace Bailey

“We were a resort community back then, so Hollywood stars came here, because the paparazzi wouldn’t follow them,” explains Ace Bailey, who runs an art and architecture tour in Scottsdale. ‘They could come here for “recreation” and maintain their anonymity.”

That much hasn’t changed. “To this day, the hotel will not release its current guest list to anybody except hotel staff, so it’s very discreet,” adds Bailey, before reeling off a list of contemporary Hollywood stars she’s spotted hanging around the lobby recently.

The Valley Ho is not alone. Scottsdale and Phoenix are dotted with superb examples of mid-century architecture and design, much of which displays the fingerprints of the man generally regarded as America’s greatest architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

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The blocks of Arizona Biltmore Hotel are made with desert sand

Wright came to Phoenix in 1928 to work as a consultant on the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. A decade later, he returned to build Taliesin. West, his winter home, school and studio 26 miles from Phoenix. The real genius of Wright’s design is his ability to “bring the outside in”. In the living room, the sunlight streaming through the glass walls and translucent roof makes the garden feel like just another part of one contiguous space.

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Arizona Biltmore Hotel’s lobby

In the drafting room where Wright created perhaps his best-known work, New York’s Guggenheim Museum, a group of young architects scratches away. They are students at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and just as in Wright’s day, they are encouraged to get their hands dirty. They have to build their own rudimentary abode in the nearby desert to ensure they truly understand the basics of designing shelter.

And the students are spoilt for inspiration. Phoenix Art Museum sprawls over 26,500 square metres, housing work from the Renaissance to today. In one hallway, adults and children alike lose themselves in their distorted reflections in the polished surface of Anish Kapoor’s sculpture Upside Down, Inside Out. Further on, they wander through American art history from an iconic portrait of George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart to modernist work by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Across town at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, visitors gaze at Knight Rise, an installation by the Californian artist James Turrell that frames the sky in a disorientating fashion. Upon leaving, they’re hit by a riot of colour from graffiti artist James Marshall, also known as Dalek.

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Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Even public buildings, like the Scottsdale City Hall and Library, are prime examples of Southwestern architecture, influenced by the clay adobe dwellings once built by the native Hopi people. “It’s minimalist, without any froufrou,” says Bailey “We’ve got great neighbourhoods full of mid-century architecture, as well as structures that are true adobe compounds. It’s quite a mix.”

The blurring of past and present is still going on back at the Valley Ho, where the drinkers are determinedly stretching the cocktail hour into the night. They’ve moved indoors to sit beneath concrete block walls that show Frank Lloyd Wright’s undying influence. While they toast to the future, the music in the air is pure Rat Pack.

Essentials:

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Scottsdale’s Valley Ho Hotel is a superbly restored example of mid-century architecture

  • Hotel Valley Ho in downtown Scottsdale has 241 generously-sized guest rooms featuring mid-century-meets-modern design, a spa and two pools.
  • Half an hour from downtown Scottsdale, Taliesin West can be viewed only as part of a guided tour. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is in the city’s old town, while the Phoenix Art Museum is on North Central Avenue. Ace Bailey offers art and architecture tours of Scottsdale through Ultimate Art and Cultural Tours.

Les Galeries Lafayette – Paris, France

In Paris, elegance is everywhere. From the architecture and cuisine to the immaculately dressed locals that stroll the leafy Parisian boulevards, the city lives by the watchwords of style, poise and grace, so it’s only right that your shopping experience should be the same.

To describe Les Galeries Lafayette as Paris’s premier department store is to sell the 100 -year old building a little short. Yes, this is the place to go if you’re looking to choose from more than 3,500 carefully selected brands, but Les Galeries Lafayette is an architectural attraction in its own right, a centre for fine-dining and a place-to-be-seen for Parisians. It’s a far cry from its relatively humble origins, having been founded in 1895 as a haberdashery. The owners experienced such success that within 10 years they had commissioned the plans for the current site on regal Boulevard Haussmann. It’s a classic of Art Deco architecture, all grand steel and glass domes, ornate staircases and a light and airy opera-house-like design that turns a day’s shopping into a joyous sensory experience.

MORE THAN A DEPARTMENT STORE

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Galeries Lafayette interior in Paris

Alongside a range of affordable and luxury brands, you’ll find all sorts of extras to enjoy, like an in -store gallery that showcases the very best in international art. Staff are eager to help, with a team of personal shoppers, fashion consultants and beauty therapists ready to advise. When you’ve finished, a concierge service can deliver your new finds to your car or hotel. The food is, perhaps unsurprisingly, superb. You’ll find a 7,500m2 food court, as well as several on-site restaurants to choose from, each with a different take on gourmet cuisine. Sample world-beating sushi at Japanese concept restaurant Paris Tokyo, or traditional French fare with panoramic Parisian views at the rooftop La Terrasse. Don’t miss the 30-minute catwalk show either; held every Friday at 3pm in a private salon. If you see a piece you like, speak to a member of staff and they’ll have it waiting for you at the till. Its yet another example of the elegant service that places Les Galeries Lafayette among the world’s most luxurious shopping experiences.

WIN AN EXCLUSIVE VIP EXPERIENCE

Les Galeries Lafayette is offering you the chance to win an exclusive VIP experience, including a €150 gift card to spend in-store, a VIP welcome and access to a personal shopper. On top of that, every Lonely Planet reader can get entry to the Le Concierge VIP Lounge, which includes concierge service, hotel deliveries, use of the private wi-fi network and fast-track restaurant reservations.

Almaha – Marrakesh, Morocco

Just when the British winter seems to be dragging on, late February and early March in Morocco see the Atlas Mountains surrounding Marrakesh thaw, and almond and cherry trees burst into blossom. With a flight time from the UK of less than four hours and a jacket-shedding temperature of around 22°C, Marrakesh makes the perfect shorthaul break in which to grab a blast of sunshine and a glimmer of the exotic.

The riad-style hotel is hidden down a winding derb (alleyway) in the un-touristy neighbourhood of the Kasbah, where the former royal stables once stood. Just a 15-minute walk from the action-packed main square, Djemaa El-Fna, from its rooftop there are sublime views of the High Atlas Mountains, the peaks pastel blue and mauve in the distance.

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Almaha’s roof terrace laid out for pre-dinner drinks

WHAT CAN I EXPECT?

To exhale deeply in quiet surrounds. The riad’s design was inspired by Baudelaire’s love poem L’Invitation au Voyage, where he dreams of an exotic escape. Its closing line, “luxury, calm and pleasure” is certainly a theme here, and after a day haggling in the kaleidoscopic souqs, Almaha’s white arcaded courtyard, turquoise pool and sense of space and solitude are the perfect antidote.

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An outdoor plunge pool

WHAT’S MY ROOM LIKE?

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One of the suites at Almaha

The 12 individually styled rooms and suites are so big they’d match the footprint of many London flats. King-sized beds are backed by intricate stucco feature walls, and star-cut lanterns create dancing shadows over draped curtains. The grandeur continues in the bathrooms, where there are marble his and hers sinks, deep soaking tubs and rain showers, the air infused with the scent of orange blossom and jasmine.

WHAT AM I EATING?

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The library where dinner is served

All meals can be taken on the roof terrace, which is the perfect place to plot the day’s adventures. Breakfast is a treat, with homemade pancakes, fresh orange juice, fruit and yoghurt. Just a short walk away, you’ll find Kosybar on the edge of the Jewish quarter. Head to the roof for sundowners and sushi while looking over the red walls of 16th-century El Badi Palace.

GOOD TO KNOW

The hotel staff don’t speak very good English, so it will help if you can speak French. Though polite and friendly they are somewhat reserved; if you need something don’t hesitate to ask.

WHAT’S THE DAMAGE?

Doubles start at £270 per night including breakfast, afternoon tea and pastries, and return transfers from the airport.

Two Spanish Successful Recipes – Madrid & Toledo

Though separated by only a few miles of rolling Castilian hills, the cities of Madrid and Toledo are very different beasts: the former home to grand boulevards and raucous nightlife that invariably stretches into rush hour the following morning; the latter an older, quieter town of winding alleyways, Moorish courtyards and sedate café-lined plazas. Both however share an abundance of good restaurants and a soft spot for fine wine, hence Wine Tourism Spain launching a new gastronomic self-guided trip straddling both locations.

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Cocido madrileno

In Madrid, look out for cocido madrileno —the city’s signature gut-busting stew of chickpeas, pork and vegetables — while visitors to Toledo should snack on tapas of Manchego, produced from sheep’s milk in the surrounding countryside.

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Tapas with Manchego Cheese

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Wine Tourism Spain now offers a three-day, self-guided Madrid & Toledo Gastronomic City Break tour, which runs throughout 2017. The rates include accommodation in a four-star hotel in the capital, two meals and high-speed rail transfers between the two cities.

British Airways and Iberia both fly to Madrid Barajas Airport from London Heathrow, while Ryanair flies there from Birmingham, Manchester and London Stansted. Direct metro trains run between the centre of Madrid and the airport, and take around 15 minutes.

Spot Elk in the Wild – Biebrza, Poland

Fans of elk should head to Poland’s Biebrza Marshes — a vast tract of wetlands on the country’s eastern frontier. Responsible Travel offers tours of the reserve in winter — the best time to spot elk stomping the snowy ground, as well as gnawing beavers and paddling otters. By night, listen out for the howls of wolf packs (they’re also big fans of elk).

MAKE IT HAPPEN

  • Responsible Travel’s four-day Poland Winter Wildlife Holiday takes place on 17 February and 3 March, with departures from the Polish capital Warsaw.
  • BA flies from Heathrow to Warsaw Chopin Airport, while Wizz Air flies there from both Birmingham and Doncaster Sheffield airports.elk-biebrza-poland

The Silent Beauty of Top 4 Libraries Around The World

ADMONT ABBEY – AUSTRIA

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Admont Abbey stands amid the snowy peaks of the Austrian Alps. Its origins go back to 1074, but the present library dates from the 1770s, when Baroque was all the rage. In the main room, white and gold shelves are topped by pastel ceiling frescoes, giving this scholarly place a look that is almost too exuberant for distraction-free reading.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

  • Entry to Admont Abbey is £7 before March. OAdmont is 11/2 hours’ drive from Ryanair-served Linz Airport.
  • The four-star Hotel Spirodom Admont has abbey or parkland views.

ST GALLEN ABBEY – SWITZERLAND

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St Gallen Abbey is a World Heritage site in the Swiss canton named in its honour. A library has existed here since the 8th century, a rare spark of light in the post-Roman Dark Ages. The main room is a rich, wood-lined 18th-century Baroque, but among the 150,000 books preserved and sparingly displayed here are around 400 from before 1000 AD.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

  • St Gallen Abbey is open forvisits daily.
  • St Gallen is one hour by train from Zurich Airport.
  • Feel extra brainy with a stay at the plush, 19th-century Einstein Hotel.

THE BIBLIOTHEQUE MAZARINE – FRANCE

THE-BIBLIOTHEQUE-MAZARINE

The Bibliotheque Mazarine is France’s oldest public library, a Paris fixture since 1643. Inside a domed building facing the Seine that also hosts the French Academy, the library has a bust-lined reading room from the era of Moliere. The library’s founder, Cardinal Mazarin, was the successor to Cardinal Richelieu, of Three Musketeers fame.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

  • Visits to the library are free.
  • Find it on the Left Bank by the Pont des Arts, facing the Louvre.
  • Near the Centre Pompidou, Hotel Georgette is bold but sweet.

THE KLEMENTINUM – CZECH REPUBLIC

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The Klementinum sprawls across a complex of Baroque and Rococo halls in Prague’s Stare Mesto (Old Town). Tours are currently being reorganised, but highlights include the Astronomical Tower and the 1727-vintage library, with its shelves supported by curlicue wooden columns and a fine line-up of explorers’ globes down the centre of the hall.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

  • See online for current details of guided tours.
  • The library is at the east end of Charles Bridge, in Prague’s centre.
  •  The Perla Hotel is a slinky and appealing designer choice in Stare Mesto.