1. Burgh Island Hotel, Devon
One of the foremost examples of Art Deco in Europe, Burgh Island found global fame through the books and films of Agatha Christie, who wrote two of her novels on the island. A bolthole sought after by everyone from Noel Coward to Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, Winston Churchill to the Beatles, the gleaming white Art Deco building had glamorous beginnings. In 1927, the filmmaker Archibald Nettlefold bought the island and replaced the prefabricated wooden house with something more substantial, embracing the Art Deco style that was in vogue. By the 1930s Burgh Island had become one of the most fashionable hotels of the day, but sadly the Second World War saw it damaged by a bomb. After a period of post-war decline, the hotel has recently been restored to its former glory. And what a glory it is…
2. The Midland, Lancashire
The Midland in Morecambe is a fine example of Streamline Moderne – a late nautical style of Art Deco with curving forms and clean horizontal lines. Designed by Oliver Hill in 1933, with sculpture by Eric Gill, including the hotel’s famous seahorses and his Odysseus bas-relief in the entrance, as well as murals by Eric Ravilious, which sadly have not endured (though the artist is remembered in the Ravilious Rotunda Bar), no expense was spared on the original. The £11m restoration, in 2008, followed suit in appropriately lavish style. With 44 bedrooms and magnificent views of the coast, the Midland is something special. It was certainly good enough, in Double Sin, for Agatha Christie’s detective Poirot, whose exacting standards are legendary.
A palatial 19th-century hotel filled with mod-cons, this historic landmark was where Joyce met Proust and where Gershwin composed ‘An American in Paris’. Carefully restored over the course of four years by craftsmen (some of whom worked on repairs to Versailles), The Peninsula is one of the city’s finest examples of architecture.
Inside, its Belle Epoque good looks mix with plenty of light and space, and the lobby filled with hundreds of crystal leaves is breathtaking. Diners flock to L’Oiseau Blanc located on the roof as much for its menu as its smashing views – from the Sacre-Coeur to the Eiffel Tower – and this year (2017) sees the introduction of ‘the most exclusive table in Paris’ – a table for two accessible via a private staircase. Frankly, the whole place is a recipe for indecent behaviour.
Honeymoon high: Touring the city in the hotel’s 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II.
Room key: The Katara Suite has the feel of an elegant Parisian apartment.
Overflowing with drama and Edwardian elegance. The Savoy is where royals, heads of state and visiting A-listers lay their heads (Frank Sinatra. Christian Dior and Katharine Hepburn among them). Think lashings of gold leaf, perfectly plumped velvet cushions and swathes of canary-yellow silk. Take a moonlit stroll along the Embankment before turning in for Pickering Place cocktails at the hotel’s gentrified American Bar – where Elton John is known to swing by and belt out a tune from time to time.
Room key: One-bedroom River View Suite.
Trafalgar Square (above). Although its name and most famous historic figure – Admiral Horatio Nelson who sits atop the 43.5m column – recall a pre-Victorian battle, Trafalgar Square was developed during Victoria’s reign. The Regency architect John Nash got the ball rolling in 1812 with his vision for a cultural space, “a new street from Charing Cross to Portland Place”, and the baton was taken up in 1838 by Sir Charles Barry, also responsible for the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster, who presented a plan including the statue of Nelson and two fountains. The beating heart of the capital, where Londoners gather to celebrate everything from football victories to new year, Trafalgar Square is enveloped by beautiful buildings – most famously the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery to the north, and the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields to the east. It’s also a mere hop, skip and a jump down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Do pass through Admiralty Arch built in honour of Queen Victoria in 1910 by her son, King Edward VII.
Tower Bridge. A symbol of Victorian ingenuity, Tower Bridge has overtaken London Bridge as the capital’s most famous river crossing. In the 1870s, a new bridge east of London Bridge was considered crucial for the city and the public competition to find the right design proceeded in 1876. The winner, Sir Horace Jones – also one of the competition’s judges – took his inspiration from designs he had seen on the Continent and his scheme for a “bascule” (French for seesaw) bridge comprised a roadway formed of two segments, which could be pulled up like a drawbridge, allowing ships to pass. The high-level walkway, meanwhile, would allow pedestrians to cross when the road was raised. Initially run by steam hydraulics, Tower Bridge is today powered by oil and electricity. It has witnessed much drama over the decades, surviving the Blitz, rogue aeroplanes swooping between its Gothic towers in 1912 and 1968, and a bus making a daring leap over a three-foot gap as the bridge opened after a negligent watchman failed to ring the warning bell in 1952.
From the Gothic grandeur of Big Ben to the ingenuity of Tower Bridge, London’s Victorian monuments feature on postcards and calendars, are lit up on special occasions and revered as timeless symbols of the capital today, as well as representing its rich history.
Victorian architecture looked backwards as well as forwards. The sumptuous detail of the Gothic Revival of the mid-1800s, as developed by architects such as Augustus Pugin, for example, was retrospective, evolving as a reaction against the simplicity and symmetry of the Palladianism favoured in the earlier decades of the century, which looked back even further in time to ancient Greece and Rome.
Later in Victoria’s reign, as a result of new technology, iron and steel began to be incorporated as building components. One of the most famous examples was Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, the iron and glass structure that originally stood in Hyde Park and was later relocated to south London.
Encapsulating the sense of looking both to the future and the past, Tower Bridge, with its iron-and-steel structure so cutting edge at the time, was also designed to complement the historic fortress nearby and clad in Portland stone – a fitting mix of something old, something new.
With over 4.5 million objects and seven miles of galleries, the Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the biggest museums of decorative arts in the world. It is also one of the most beautiful. Take the Medieval and Renaissance sculpture gallery, just to start with, on your right as you enter from Cromwell Road – however many times you’ve been to the V&A, it’s hard to resist wandering in to that beautiful light-drenched space and marvelling at the figures beneath the glass roof, each with its own rich story.
Like many buildings on the site in South Kensington known as Albertopolis – the Science and Natural History museums, Imperial College, the Royal Colleges of Art and Music, and Royal Albert Hall – the seeds of the V&A were sown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, a pivotal event right in the middle of the 19th century which was the brainchild of Prince Albert.
In the wake of the First Industrial Revolution, the world was invited to display its achievements at the Great Exhibition – an event recorded at the original entrance to the museum, on the north side of what is now the John Madejski Garden. (A stretch of grass was all that used to lie between this entrance and Cromwell Road.) On the pediment of this building Queen Victoria, styled as Greek goddess, hands out wreaths to the countries that took part in the Great Exhibition. In a move away from the fashion for Gothic Revival at the time, that original building, in warm red-brick and terracotta with mosaic decoration, recalls the elegance of northern Italian Renaissance architecture; its partner in style is the Royal Albert Hall, which is perhaps no surprise. Henry Cole, the museum’s first director, was deeply involved with both projects.
The eternally grieving queen wanted it to be called the Albert Museum, but the government put its foot down: there were enough memorials to Albert, she was told. The Victorian and Albert was, in fact, the museum’s third name. Opening as the Museum of Manufactures in Marlborough House in 1852, it was later renamed the South Kensington Museum when it was established in what was then Brompton in 1857 (South Kensington was thought to sound more upmarket), with its final christening taking place in 1899 when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of new buildings along Exhibition Road and Cromwell Road.
Shakespeare’s romantic comedies Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, first paired as a double bill at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 2014 to critical acclaim, are to make a brief comeback in the West End.
With Much Ado masquerading as Love’s Labour’s Won – a title that might refer to a lost work or is possibly an alternate name for the play – an ensemble cast performs both involving productions, which conjure an air of Downton Abbey glamour.
Love’s Labour’s Lost brings to life the carefree elegance of a pre-war Edwardian summer, while in Much Ado About Nothing, set after the First World War, life has changed forever. It’s a combination that sheds new light on these ever-popular plays.
Let Them Entertain You
The tagline for the British Library’s Victorian Entertainments exhibition, There Will Be Fun, sounds like a promise. Based on the library’s Evanion collection, the archive of 19th-century conjuror Henry Evans, known as Evanion, the exhibition features a vivid array of richly decorative posters, handbills, advertisements and tickets. Such ephemeral material, relatively new at the time, wasn’t considered to be of lasting value back then, making the collection something special. Victorian Entertainment focuses on five entertainers including Evanion himself, whose performance for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert led to the self-appointed title of Royal Conjuror. A programme of live events will accompany the exhibition, including a special Late at the Library recapturing the heyday of Victorian entertainment.
Admiralty Arch. During a royal coronation, wedding or funeral, you will often see a procession pass under Admiralty Arch. The Grade l-listed building, completed in 1912, is at the opposite end of Buckingham Palace. Look closely at the inside of the northernmost arch and you will see a curious thing: a nose poking out of the wall. Rumour had it that it was put there in honour of the Duke of Wellington, who was known to have a large nose. In fact, it was created by artist Rick Buckley to complain about the country becoming a nosy, CCTV-reliant society.
‘Nazi Dog’ Burial Place. There is only one memorial to a Nazi in the country: Giro the dog’s grave. German ambassador Leopold von Hoesch lived in Carlton House, just off The Mall. In 1934, his dog, an Alsatian, was accidentally electrocuted. Hoesch buried his beloved pet in the back garden, and the grave can be peered at by visitors. The epitaph reads: ‘A faithful companion.’
Cadiz epitomises fiery Andalucian living: famed for sherry quaffing, flamenco dancing and boisterous carnivals. Participants on the Luzia Epicurus course get their bearings looking over the city (above), before moving on to the Bodegas Pedro Romero, a six-generation sherry house, and Bolonia beach, with tall dunes giving views across the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa (3-day course from £365, inc excursions and meals, not inc accommodation; luzia-photo-courses.com)
Arrive: Jerez is the closest airport to Cadiz— Iberia offers flights from London Heathrow, changing in Madrid. From here, trains reach Cadiz in half an hour.
Stay: Cadiz’s Hotel Argantonio, in an elegant 19th-century townhouse
From the riotous clubs of the Weimar Republic in Cabaret to the fall of the Iron Curtain in Goodbye Lenin, Berlin’s history has made it a stirring backdrop to movies. Play a part in this cinematic tradition by joining the Met Film School on a two-day course, shooting around the Tempelhof district. Learn the ins-and-outs of making a movie, from script-editing to lighting techniques, directing professional actors and cutting a mini feature.
Arrive: EasyJet flies to Berlin Schonefeld Airport from Edinburgh, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester while British Airways flies to BerlinTegel airport from Heathrow.
Stay: The Circus Hotel has simple, bright rooms in the Mitte district.
There can be few landscapes better savoured from a saddle than the French countryside south of Carcassonne — a patchwork of tumbledown villages, looming fortresses, thickly wooded valleys and mountain rivers, with the Pyrenees as a backdrop. To see it, join Unicorn Trails’ Pyrenean short break — a three-night horse-riding trip suitable for novices, clippety-clopping atop trusty steeds. Participants are based at the village of Cranes, spending three nights stabled in a rustic b&b and passing the days trotting through the oak forests nearby with an instructor. Among the destinations on the itinerary is Rennes-le-Château, a hilltop town that enjoyed five minutes of fame after being mentioned in The Da Vinci Code.
Arrive: Ryanair flies to Carcassonne from London Stansted and Liverpool, with seasonal flights from East Midlands and Glasgow.
It may have an Italian name and the British red ensign flying from its stern, but the Bella Mia is moored on the resolutely French Canal du Midi – an epic waterway that links the Mediterranean with the Atlantic near Bordeaux, passing rows of plane trees, ancient chateaux and shaded vineyards en route.
Available to up to four staying guests, the houseboat is every bit as charming as the setting – with dark mahogany interiors and a smart deck on which to sip coffee, scoff croissants and watch other boats sweeping past.
Should these inspire you to set sail on an adventure, the owner of the boat will happily captain her on a short day trip along the canal (£35 per person). Alternatively, you can use land-based transport to reach the nearby town of Béziers – home to a 19th-century aqueduct, where the Canal du Midi passes spectacularly over the Orb River on its way to the sea.
ARRIVE: Béziers’ tiny airport is served by Ryanair flights from Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester and Luton.
Modes of transport and alcohol consumption typically don’t make for sensible bedfellows. One notable exception to this rule is the (stationary) Butler’s Gin barge, moored amid the graffiti-tagged warehouses of Hackney Wick, East London.
Here, on weekends, the company offers tastings of its Victorian-recipe tipple, with drinkers sipping gin cocktails and hearing of London’s long, ruinous love affair with the spirit, while narrow boats putter past outside.
Afterwards, see a different side to the capital’s waterways by bagging a berth on the Sunborn London – an oligarch-grade luxury yacht moored at Royal Victoria Dock. The finest rooms have balconies from which you can admire the Millennium Dome, Canary Wharf and all the comings and goings of river traffic on the Thames.
ARRIVE: Trains to London cost upwards of £39 from Bristol, £55 from Manchester and £70 from Edinburgh.
The Dalmatian Coast is perhaps the Mediterranean’s most intricate coastline – a wondrous muddle of long limestone peninsulas, juniper-and pine-shaded islets and rolling hills that rise almost sheer from the waves.
It’s also well within reach for a weekend’s nautical odyssey, if you join Huck Finn Croatia’s three-day Weekend Sailing Trip in the region. Participants cast off from a bay near Dubrovnik aboard a modern yacht, whose skipper then plots a course for the nearby Elafiti Islands. Here, days are whiled away snorkeling the shallow seas, while nights see participants staying aboard, drifting off as the currents of the Adriatic beat against the hull. The trip culminates in the village of Ston – home to ramparts that are Croatia’s small-scale answer to the Great Wall of China.
ARRIVE: BA, easyJet, Jet2, Monarch, Norwegian and Thomson fly to Dubrovnik from major UK airports – most flights run April to October.
Copenhagen is a spiritual home to seafarers from marauding Vikings to the Little Mermaid, so it’s only fitting that the most stirring views of the Danish capital are to be had from the water.
Or, more specifically, from aboard the CPH Living Hotel – a barge moored in the harbour in the Christianshavn neighbourhood. On board, rooms feature all the usual Scandinavian design trimmings – artful lighting, blonde wood surfaces and, best of all, huge windows from which you can watch speedboats and sightseeing cruisers slip past, all while wearing your jimjams.
ARRIVE: BA, easyJet, Norwegian, Ryanair and SAS fly to Copenhagen from nine UK airports, including Aberdeen, Heathrow, Newcastle and Stansted.
‘O Sylvan Wye,’ wrote William Wordsworth, watching over the Welsh river from his hilltop perch high above. ‘Thou wanderer thro’ the woods/How often has my spirit turned to thee!’ The Romantic poet never got to travel the Wye in a canoe, however. Take a voyage down its lower reaches, beginning in Monmouth, and continuing along the Wye Valley to admire the soaring arches of Tintern Abbey and the hilltop views from Devil’s Pulpit.
ARRIVE: There are no railways in the Wye Valley, so the region is best reached by car- Monmouth is 1.1/2 hours’ drive from Birmingham and 2.3/4 hours from London.
STAY: Redhill Grange b&b has rooms in a three-century-old barn on the edge of Monmouth.
Robinson Crusoe-type castaway kicks can be hard to come by in Europe, but a helpful place to start is Elba – an island of stony headlands and bright blue bays, a few miles adrift of the Italian mainland. Sea Kayak Italy offers two-day kayaking trips around its shores, accompanied by an experienced tutor, where seafarers steer among the skerries and the starfish-dotted shallows, while savouring the views up to Elba’s wooded interior. Participants camp Crusoe-style for the night on a secluded beach.
ARRIVE: The closest major airport to Elba is at Pisa, with a wide choice of flights from the UK. Silver Air flies onward to Elba.
STAY: Albergo Le Briciole has rooms with fine views over the Elba coast.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE LOOK?
A discreet front door, even discreeter signage – if you didn’t already know that Hazlitt’s existed, you’re unlikely to spot it. And in one of the shoutiest parts of town, that’s exactly how it likes it. Entering the front door is to step into Georgian London, a welcoming cocoon of wonky, creaking floorboards and antiques tucked into strange nooks, with a fire crackling in the grate, a gin ready to be poured at the honesty bar, and a cat asleep in the lounge. Twenty-first-century Soho disappears when you cross the threshhold.
WHICH ROOMS ARE MOST MEMORABLE?
Possibly the one place in London where you can’t see The Shard is in The Shard itself; instead, stellar views of the capital – from Battersea Power Station to Canary Wharf and beyond – spread out from every side of the glass pinnacle.
These are best enjoyed at sunset, with a cocktail at the Shangri-La Hotel’s Gong bar on the 52nd floor or at the viewing platform open to the elements on the 72nd floor. To see the personality of the city change from on high as night falls, book in for dinner at the Ting restaurant; better still, splash out on a hotel room and have the spectacle all to yourself.
It’s difficult to focus on the food when staring agog out the window, but Ting’s Asian-influenced menu is full of beautiful distractions, such as langoustine risotto and lamb loin with sake.
Shangri-La’s bedrooms all face out, which makes pulling down the blinds and sinking into the plump mattresses a challenging prospect at the end of the day. Best to sleep with them open and wake to the city coming back to life at dawn.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard occupies the 34th to 52nd floors of the Shard building, and has 202 guestrooms, a ground-floor deli, restaurant, bar and infinity pool. Mains in the restaurant,Ting, start at £20.
The View from The Shard, on the top floors, opens daily from 10am (to 10pm April to October and Thursday to Saturday year-round, and to 7pm Sunday to Wednesday November to March). It’s best to book your time slot ahead, to avoid possible queues.
The nearest Underground and national train station is at London Bridge, on the Northern and Jubilee tube lines and with train services from southeast England.