Family-friendly Paris has many surprises in store for you. Take a detour from all things touristy and create your own “Made in Paris” holiday with the family in the City of Lights. Take on unique discoveries of the city, introduce the kids to iconic monuments the fun way, or acquaint them with the sweeter side of Paris!
Unique ways of discovering Paris invite you to chart your own trail across the city. Take on adventurous explorations of monuments through Segway rides. For an up, close and personal discovery of Paris, take a vintage 2 CV ride that has you driving past monuments with a friendly chauffeur who acquaints you with the city’s history and regales you with amusing anecdotes!
Fancy saying bonjour to Shah Rukh Khan, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney and other star-studded celebrities at one venue? The Grevin Wax Museum is your best bet! Yesteryear’s legends and contemporary icons all find their own place under the Grevin spotlight. Children are sure to amuse themselves on the Discovery Tour which adds a fun angle to discovering the art of creating wax models!
Take your children on a discovery of chocolate! A delicious encounter awaits you at the Choco-Story, a gourmet chocolate museum. Discover chocolate’s ancient heritage and learn more about modern methods used to make chocolate. Take on tours and games designed especially for children with a gift for winners. Add a sweet “high” to your visit with mouth-watering chocolate tastings!
Make a museum outing fun for your children. Have the kids happily discovering the many treasures of the Louvre including a visit to the emblematic Mona Lisa! Embark on specially created trails for children. Pop in at La Petite Galerie that houses digital equipment for an interactive interaction to the arts for families.
Know your Italian wine regions – Where to uncork and say salute! – from the northern border to the boot heel
Lombardy – Franciacorta, Pinot Nero. Italy’s answer to Champagne is prosecco or moscato d’Asti – it’s Franciacorta, the high-quality sparkling wine favored in Milan.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia – Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana. The current orange wine trend began here near the Slovenian border, where pioneering winemaker Josko Gravner ferments ribolla grapes in ancient clay jugs.
Umbria – Orvieto Classico, Sagrantino di Montefalco. Sagrantino wines, rising stars among elite Italian reds, were first made by Franciscan friars in this, the region from which Saint Francis of Assisi hailed.
Puglia – Primitivo, Bombino Bianco. Only Veneto produces more wine than the oft-overlooked heel of Italy, whose native primitivo grape is a cousin of American red zinfandel.
Sicily – Etna Bianco, Nero d’Avola. A movement toward organic, biodynamic wines, led by young vintners such as Arianna Occhipinti, is growing in the rich volcanic soil near Mount Etna.
Campania – Costa d’Amalfi, Greco. Visit Cantine Marisa Cuomo to sample its flowery Furore Bianco Fiorduva alongside views of the Amalfi Coast and dramatic Furore fjord.
Tuscany – Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Bolgheri. After a tasting of Chianti Classico at Castello di Ama, tour the fifteenth-century property’s contemporary art installations from Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, and more.
Liguria – Cinque Terre, Vermentino. Many of the Cinque Terre’s terraced vineyards, carved into cliffs high above the Mediterranean Sea, are accessible only by foot.
Piedmont – Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto. The native nebbiolo grapem used in the region’s greatest wines, gets its name from the nebbia, or fog, that blankets the region in fall.
Large it up in Austria (sort of)
If you’re all about going big or going home, then Austria’s Arlberg region might just be for you. We’re not talking boozy sessions – although there’s probably plenty of that too – but about big investment, namely the £35m that’s been spent on the area. And what do you get for your 35m big ones? The largest interconnected ski area in Austria, and what will be one of the largest ski areas in the whole world, that’s what. At the heart of it all are big infrastructure improvements – forget bumping along in a bus, instead there are four new lifts helping to link the resorts of St Anton and Lech, opening up 306km of downhill runs accessed with 87 lifts (all covered by a single pass). That’s one way to live it large.
Ski and sail in Norway
Can’t decide whether to splash your cash on a skiing adventure or a sailing adventure? It’s a tough life. Or is it? With Another World Adventures you can combine both on one epic, seven-night jaunt through the Lyngen Alps, northern Norway’s top ski destination. During the day you’ll be taking on the region’s natural surroundings, while evenings will be spent recuperating on deck, tucking into Norwegian cuisine and getting your nude on in the hot tub. Maybe. When you’re not soaking in hot water you’ll be exploring the harbour towns of Koppangen, Norlenangen, and Lyngseidet before a night in Tromsö, aka the ‘Paris of the north’. Head back to the boat and you’ll be rocked to sleep by the waves, ready to climb to the summits and ski down to the snow-covered beaches the next day. Nice.
What happens when Europe’s biggest ski festival and Coors Light get together and up sticks to Canada? A massive music fest on the slopes of Sun Peaks Resort, British Columbia, silly. Taking place from 6-10 April, the full-on event is sure to feature the same key elements that Snowbombing Europe has become famous for – slope-side pool parties, elaborately designed stages, debauchery. The usual.
The party bus of big acts is yet to be announced, but last year’s festival (featuring the likes of the Prodigy and Andy C) has set our hopes high – 2,152m high to be exact. Expect gladed areas, bumps, steeps, long cruisers and alpine bowls – perfect for post-fest recovery.
On the wide open snowfields around Lajoux, more than 1,000 metres high in the Jura Mountains and at the heart of the Haut-Jura regional park, I was attempting to stand still while awaiting my first cross-country ski lesson. Attached to each foot was a long, slender and unfamiliar ski not given to adhesion with the snow beneath.
It was all I could do to stay upright as I took in my surroundings. Overnight, snow had fallen heavily, smoothing out every wrinkle and augmenting the many hillocks. Dotted across the plateau were isolated chalet farmsteads, their zinc roofs layered with snow almost half a metre thick. Beyond, and glinting in the low sun, were pine trees so heavily iced they resembled a party of petrified brides.
Lajoux, the small village away to my right, was described as a ski station, but it was unlike any I had ever encountered in the nearby Alps. There were no queues, even though there was only one tow; there were no brightly coloured fashionistas; no ski instructors marshalling troupes of precocious tots towards the lifts.
Rather, this was a resort devoted to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and, above all, farming. And I was here because the thrill of downhill skiing and the otherworldliness of expensive Alpine resorts had waned. My passion for mountains, deep snow’ and winter, was, however, entirely undiminished; I had been convinced that the Jura Mountains, which straddle the French-Swiss border to the north of Lac Leman, would offer new challenges and an authentic experience. I could see immediately that the high rolling crests and the long boat-shaped, tree-filled valleys – known locally as combes – offered endless scope for exploration, rather than the instant gratification of an Alpine blue run.
In this landscape, the valleys are cold and fill easily with snow. There are high limestone bluffs and the odd craggy peak to give the area a proper mountain air; but, in general, the margin of error is wide enough that even a novice can feel safe. With more than 7,000 kilometres of marked pistes and snowshoeing trails, I was unlikely to run out of possibilities.
Go for a drive south-east of Paris, through the rolling countryside of Seine-et- Marne, and it’s quite easy to miss this place. As tiny villages slip away, suddenly – with no warning – appears the most remarkable of châteaux. Vaux-le-Vicomte is the name of this elegant property, which lies near the town of Melun, 55 kilometres from the French capital. It is billed as a tranquil alternative to Versailles; but, as I am about to discover, it is by no means less interesting. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Versailles boasts a rich history and has its fair share of political scandals, but the same can be also said of Vaux-le-Vicomte. It was little more than a modestly sized château when Nicolas Fouquet bought it in 1641. In 1657, he became Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry under Louis XIV; eager to impress the king, Fouquet commissioned architects Louis Le Vau and André Le Nôtre, and painter Charles Le Brun to transform Vaux-le-Vicomte into a dazzling delight.
Sadly, Fouquet did anything but impress the king, who became suspicious of his minister’s extravagance. Matters came to a head on 17 August 1661 when Fouquet organised a lavish fête at the château for the king. Weeks later, he was arrested for misappropriating public money to fund the grandiose property and was later imprisoned for life on the orders of Louis XIV.
While Vaux-le-Vicomte might not have the epic proportions of Versailles, there is still plenty here to take your breath away. Immediately striking is its layout along a four-kilometre axis: and it emerges out of nowhere like a film set. I stand at the front gates and marvel at the château’s front facade, which looks as if it is at the centre of a mise-en-scène. The overwhelming feeling is of transparency, allowing visitors to look directly through the château’s main entrance-hall, all the way to an imposing statue of Hercules, at the far end of the gardens.
Sète is an incredibly dynamic Mediterranean port: full of energy; full of the smells, noises and colours of the sea. This was quickly illustrated by the whistle-stop tour of the sites I was given on arrival. I was fascinated by the singularity of this town, which is only 350 years old and yet so rich in culture, gastronomy, art and traditions – though the pace of life can also be overwhelming. The next day, I decided to slow things down and take a stroll in the heart of Sète.
As I stepped out of the hotel lobby, I was immediately swept into the hive of activity that gripped the Aspirant Herber quay. Tourists were boarding open-top cruise-boats for a sail along the canals; delivery vans had been parked on the pavements, their contents hurriedly being unloaded into restaurants. Two men smiled at me as they balanced a huge wrapped-up painting and hoisted it into an art gallery. The sun was already heating the streets, promising a scorching summer’s day.
I strolled down towards the Pont de la Savonnerie and crossed the Canal Royal. Sète’s more poetic name is the ‘Venice of Languedoc’, because of the many canals that criss-cross the old port, creating an aquatic labyrinth with its own traffic rules and different marinas. I stopped in the middle of the bridge and spotted a couple of massive trawlers moored on either side. These expensive boats specialise in tuna fishing; the ones from Sète catch almost half of France’s bluefin quota. For now, though, they were immobile, their presence casting shadows on the quayside.
Situated on the Côte d’Opale in the Pas-de-Calais département, Boulogne-sur-Mer is France’s most important fishing port. The city has been a trading hub since Roman times and is renowned for its abundance of seafood restaurants and attractive old centre, which features vast ramparts dating from the 13th century.
What is there to see?
Plenty! Boulogne is made up of the Haute-Ville (Upper City), with its narrow cobblestone lanes, centuries-old buildings and ancient stone walls, and the Basse-Ville (Lower City), which is home to an assortment of rectangular-shaped, post-war structures. Begin your visit in the Haute-Ville; a gentle stroll along the Promenade des Remparts will uncover a host of impressive buildings including the neoclassical Hôtel Désandrouin (an 18th-century private mansion once used by Napoleon); the roseate-hued brick Hôtel de Ville, with its square medieval belfry; and the Italianate basilica, its towering dome visible in all parts of the city (main picture). Not far from the basilica lies the Château-Musée, one of few museums to house Egyptian antiquities, which sit alongside a mixture of artefacts including remnants of a fourth- century Roman wall.
Is there anything for children to enjoy?
Yes! The jewel in Boulogne’s crown is Nausicaä, a world-class aquarium not far from the main port. Among the highlights is the stunning Coral Lagoon, home to 3,500 species; the Californian sea-lion pool; and the tropical lagoon with its vast collection of sharks.
Any good places to eat?
For fresh seafood, go to Le Chatillon. Tucked among the port’s warehouses, the maritime-themed restaurant is a popular haunt with fishermen, thanks to dishes such as wild turbot and sole meunière, as well as seafood platters, oysters and squid.
For fine dining, try La Matelote. The Michelin-starred restaurant serves the best of mer et terre, with favourites including a lobster and turbot fricassée, and a sirloin of veal cooked à la plancha.
Where should I stay?
Book into Les Terrasses de I’Enclos, a quaint guesthouse set in a 19th-century building in the old town. Rooms are decorated with references to local historical figures. The restaurant serves traditional French cuisine.
How do I get there?
Boulogne is 35km from Calais, where DFDS Seaways and P&O run regular crossings to and from Dover. Trains from Paris Gare du Nord take around three hours.
Take the A16 autoroute from Calais and within an hour and a half you will arrive at Amiens, capital of the Somme département.
The city is dominated by the intricately carved Notre-Dame Cathedral, one of the largest Gothic buildings in France. It is twice the size of Notre-Dame in Paris and was granted Unesco World Heritage status in 1981.
The medieval facade was originally covered in colourful decorations; a fact that emerged only during recent laser cleaning work. Now, every summer evening and during December, the cathedral is brought to technicolour life once more through computer-generated light projections.
From 25 November to 31 December visitors to the cathedral will find themselves surrounded by one of northern France’s largest Christmas markets, which was launched in 1998. With more than 130 chalet-style stalls from all over France and beyond, the market provides the perfect opportunity to shop for gifts including traditional wooden crafts and Le Creuset cookware, and to enjoy a bounty of local produce. Try the golden-crusted macarons d’Amiens, very different from the pastel-coloured Parisian confections, or the Picardy gâteau battu, a brioche-like cake in the shape of a chef’s hat. Those with a more savoury palate should seek out one of the stalls selling smoked and potted eel, or the region’s Maroilles cheeses.
To the north of the cathedral lies the historic quarter of Saint-Leu, with its Flemish-style houses, cobbled streets and criss-crossing waterways. It was once the centre of the city’s textile industry, but now, after a period of regeneration, has become a trendy district of boutiques, galleries and restaurants.
The town has a lively entertainment scene at this time of year, with music, merry-go-rounds and an ice rink. A big attraction is the Cirque Jules-Verne, built by Émile Ricquier – a student of Gustave Eiffel – and opened in 1889. The impressive building, inspired by the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris, still stages circus performances, as well as theatre shows, concerts and dance events.
The Cirque Jules-Verne was named after the celebrated 19th-century science-fiction writer, who spent the latter part of his life in Amiens and served on the city council. The author’s home on Rue Charles Dubois is open to the public and offers a glimpse of his life and works.
Surely Scotland’s fruitiest weekend away, The Pineapple is an elaborate architectural joke. The 4th Earl of Dunmore got the idea during his tenure as Governor of Virginia, where sailors would indicate they were safely back from a sea voyage by spiking pineapples on their gateposts. Dunmore marked his own return to home in 1777 with a commission for 37 feet of intricately carved masonry, its stone leaves apt decoration for a hothouse growing pineapples.
Internal accommodation is mercifully unprickly, with two cosy bedrooms, a country-style kitchen and a living room with log fire. The Pineapple presides over a huge walled garden open to the public, but guests also enjoy a private back garden, and there are some lovely nearby walks with views of the River Forth and Ochil Hills.
Arrive: Dunmore is on the A905, the closest motorway is the M9. Regular buses run from Stirling to Dunmore. Alternatively, the nearest railway station is six miles away in Larbert, which has services to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Claiming the dubious honour of being the ‘most haunted castle in Britain’, Chillingham has acquired its ghosts over the course of eight centuries. A medieval pile complete with crenellated parapets, this 12th-century garrison castle is home to several spiritual residents, including a frail white figure found in the pantry, and the mysterious `blue boy’.
The Torture Chamber displays arcane instruments of punishment, and in the dungeon visitors can see the crude graffiti etched into the wall by former inmates. Ghost tours take place at night and you can stay in one of several self-catering apartments. Our favourite is the Grey apartment, furnished with a four-poster bed, antiques and wall-mounted horns.
Arrive: Chillingham is off the A1 between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Alnwick.The castle is around an hour by car north of Newcastle, and 1.3/4 hours southeast of Edinburgh. Public transport to the castle is limited.
Sat on the pebbly beach of Dungeness, Seaview is a peaceful spot to watch the waves roll in as small craft bob gently across the English Channel. Once home to working fishermen, this two-storey cottage has had its net store converted into a second bedroom, and its interior given a nautical-style makeover — with blue-striped linens, log burner and decorations made from shells and driftwood.
Round the back, sheltered from sea breezes, there’s a large wild garden that’s ideal for summer barbecues — load your grill with seafood caught that day by local fishermen. Extend your sea view by braving the climb to the top of nearby Old Lighthouse, a mighty 46 metres tall. Also close by is an RSPB bird sanctuary, a great place to stroll mile after mile of shingle while spotting bitterns, little-ringed plovers, Slavonian greebs, smews and wheatears, depending on the season.
Arrive: The nearest train station is a half-hour cab ride away in Rye, East Sussex, with connections to Ashford International, and on to London.
If aiming for a full fruit bowl of accommodation experiences, these coconut-shaped floating cabins should be next on your list. Eight are to be found bobbing gently on the Domaine des Grands Lacs, a vast wetland in the little-visited region of Franche-Comté. Most are accessible only by boat, giving a sense of romantic isolation only enhanced by the absence of electricity — light being provided by solar-powered lamps, or good old-fashioned candles.
A breakfast of croissants with local jams and honey appears daily on your landing deck, but guests can also arrange for the delivery of champagne or a platter of regional meats and cheeses. The point is to do not very much at all except enjoy the natural surroundings, but on a fine day it’s fun to hire a kayak or a bike to explore the lakes and surrounding trails.
Arrive: The nearest airport is Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, about a 1.1/2 hours’ drive away. Fly there from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heathrow, Luton, Manchester or Stansted, with BA, easy Jet or Ryanair. Car hire starts at around £40 per day.
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.