Top 10 things to do in Hawaii

Hawaii is a dream destination, and with multiple islands, there is plenty to keep you busy. With so many options for activities, a diverse landscape, and a uniquely rich culture, you can find some pretty interesting ways to fill your days there. If a Hawaiian vacation is in your future, check out these top 10 things to do on in Hawaii while you’re there.

1. Stargaze at Mauna Kea

People stargazing at Mauna Kea
Credit: Matt Biddulph

It’s the site of the world’s largest telescopes and a chance to visit them shouldn’t be missed. From atop the state’s largest volcano, you can get a glimpse of incredible atmospheric clarity in a world renowned setting.

Aside from its impressive technology and impeccable sunset views, guests can visit the information center where nightly star gazing is held accompanied by telescopes, a documentary film and professional star gazers who can give you the low down on what you are seeing. The stars are so beautiful a trip here should definitely be a must on your list of things to do in Hawaii.

Check out our top-rated Mauna Kea summit and stargazing adventure.

2. Attend a luau

Hawaiian hula dancer at luau
Credit: Ray_LAC

This very Hawaiian event has been drawing in tourists for decades, the luau is one of the most iconic things to do in Hawaii. Both a cultural display and entertaining event, the luau lets visitors into the traditions of native Hawaiians. Enjoy authentic Hawaiian food while watching hula and fire dancers put on a performance that best represents their culture. Dance off some of your meal while you take in the ocean and palm tree views that surround you.

The Paradise Cove Luau in Waikiki is a perennial favorite. On Maui, travelers love the Feast at Lele, renowned for its amazing views over Maui’s northwestern coast.

3. Take a surf lesson

Surfer walking on Hawaiian beach
Credit: Adam Chang

Hawaii is known for its ideal surfing conditions and has been drawing in surfers from all over the country and the world. With a surfing culture that is alive and well, it is tempting for visitors to want to get in the water and experience what all of the fuss is about.

Luckily for those with no experience, there are companies all over the islands who are willing to give you lessons so that you can get out amongst the waves with confidence. Check out options on Oahu’s North Shore, on Kauai, or on Maui.

4. Go snorkeling

Snorkeling and holding underwater camera
Credit: Jakob Owens

A vibrant, underwater kingdom is what awaits along the shores of Hawaii. From giant, ancient sea turtles to colorful fish and coral, there is a lot to see. While you can grab a snorkel and head out on your own, there are quality companies around the islands who can take you out to the more remote and interesting sections of the sea.

Oahu’s Waianae Coast is a great spot for snorkeling.

5. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Close up of erupting Hawaiian volcano
Credit: skeeze

It’s one of two national parks in Hawaii and it is entirely unique to America’s 50 plus other parks which makes it one of the most photographic things to do in Hawaii. You can hike along through lava tubes, wander across a dormant volcano and watch steam come right up from out of the ground. And, if you happen to be there at the right time, you can watch one of the active volcanoes spew lava right into the sea. One of the most dramatic ways to see the park is via helicopter flight from Kona.

6. Go whale watching

Credit: Thomas Kelley

They’re one of the sea’s most majestic creatures and you can see them in their natural habitat all around Hawaii. Join a tour and head out into the sea to search for them. The North Pacific Humpback Whales, or Hawaiian Humpbacks as people call them, come to the islands every winter to breed and give birth to their young.

Every Humpback whale that is seen in the Hawaiian waters was born here, which is why they’re known as Hawaiian Humpbacks. Get up close to these incredible creatures of the deep. The whales are very curious when they are young. Often, the Humpback whales come right next to the boat to see what you are. This provides for spectacular interactions with these huge mammals. Check out our whale watching options on Oahu or Maui.

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7. Visit Pearl Harbor

Warship at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Credit: Curtis Reese

History buffs will love visiting this significant Hawaiian site. Check out the memorials, learn about the harbor’s role in the war and take a look at the collection of battleships. In the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center you can observe war relics and authentic uniforms. The interactive museum exhibits chronicle World War II and the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. Save time by booking tickets in advance with PlacePass.

8. Swim with manta rays

Credit: Jeahn Laffitte

Go on a boat tour to check out these mesmerizing creatures up close. Once you spot them in the water, get in and have a swim with the mantas. Unlike sting rays, mantas are very gentle and don’t have teeth, stingers or barbs. These big and beautiful animals are truly amazing. They boast wingspans that can exceed 15 feet (4.5 meters) in width! They are completely safe to be around, so hop aboard for the aquatic experience of a lifetime!

9. Tour a coffee plantation

Close up of coffee beans on coffee plantation
Credit: Katya Austin

With the perfect climate and rich soil, Hawaii is full of excellent coffee plantations. One of the most educational things to do in Hawaii, make sure to pay one a visit in order to learn about the process, taste some free samples and see what a coffee plantation actually looks like. Discover thriving coffee orchards, and learn about the meticulous harvesting process from local coffee farmers. Then explore the coffee mills to see how the beans are processed. Sip a freshly brewed cup to experience the rich aroma and flavorful taste that distinguish Kona coffee from other varieties. Need help planning? Book a Kona coffee tour with PlacePass.

10. Go sailing

Sailboat with white sails on open water
Credit: Kristel Hayes

With hundreds of miles of coastline, Hawaii has plenty of opportunities for sailing. Hire a boat and spend the day on the water, admiring the islands from a different angle. For the ultimate photo op, time your departure for sunset, when the islands are at their finest (and most cruises offer a cocktail). Cheers!

24 Hours in Tbilisi, Georgia

As you enter Tbilisi from the west, the utterly captivating capital of Georgia, you will pass a statue of King David the Builder (David Aghamashenebeli) who reigned from 1089 until his death in 1125. He looks poised and gallant on his horse from his elevated perch on the motorway, beyond which the old Soviet style buildings give way to a more picturesque setting.

The statue is an important symbol of prosperity and strength as David – who incidentally gave his name to Kutsai airport (officially David Aghmashenebeli Airport) – successfully kept away unwanted visitors and heralded in the Georgian Golden Age.

It’s a great spot for him to witness the renewal of this beautiful, peaceful and inclusive city as tourism nudges in another Golden Age casting a spotlight on the Tbilisi’s gorgeous terrain. From any perspective this city is abundant with monuments, lush verdant hills, curvy river with sheer cliffs and attractive homes defined by their ornately carved wooden balconies.

The city makes for a wonderful short break. If you’re only there for 24 hours, you might like to take a half-day tour of the city. Georgian Holidays provide a half-day private tour of Tbilisi from just €29, which includes a private guide and entrance to all sights including the Holy Trinity Sameba Catherdral, the Narikala Fortress and the Sioni Cathedral.

Otherwise, here’s how to make the very best of Tbilisi in 24 hours.

Must Stay

Rooms Hotel is the hippiest joint in the city. Owned by a flamboyant casino owner you can expect artworks, unusual decor, moody lighting and some extravagant flourishes. Read the full review of Rooms Hotel.

TIP: For an even hippier experience at budget prices check out Fabrika hostel which was fashioned out of a former sewing factory. You can share hostel-style rooms from as low as £10 per person or upgrade for a little more. But the partying here goes on well into the night so you may not get much sleep. Read the full review of Fabrika Hostel.

Must check out the Old Town (Altstadt)

The old cobbled streets of the Old Town twist and turn churning out ramshackled yet colourful buildings alongside renovated brick-built homes with their iconic balconies. These are interwoven with classical Russian and Art Nouveau architecture and the visual effect is pleasing.

Freedom Square, looking grand with it’s neo-classical buildings, is where the statue of Lenin was symbolically torn down in 1991 to mark the end of Soviet Rule. Look up to see glinting St George statue in gold at the top of a tall column that rises up from the roundabout. The city’s main street Rustaveli Avenue leads off from here. It has the Parliament, the Opera and Ballet Theatre and the National Museum along its stretch.

St George statue, Tbilisi, Georgia
St George statue

The deeper into the centre you get the more narrow and twisty the roads become passing the only mosque in town where both Shiite and Sunni Muslims pray in gorgeous mosaic interiors; the 6th century Sioni Cathedral (named after Mount Zion in Jerusalem and rebuilt by David the Builder in 1112) and the Great Synagogue built 1895-1903 by Georgian Jews from Akhaltsikhe.

Incidentally the gold domed Cathedral that rises out of St Ilya Hill, on the left bank (the other side of the river) is the Sameba and is the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world.

Sameba - Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi
Sameba – Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi

There’s also a bizarre looking puppet theatre with a rather higgledy piggledy clock tower in the heart of the centre. It is part of Gabriadze puppet theatre and was built just a few years ago to look like it had come out of a story book.

Clock and puppet theatre
Clock and puppet theatre

On the hour, a puppet angel pops out of a door at its zenith to give the bell a tap with its hammer. Blink though and you will miss it.

Tip: Right in the heart of the city is a the Meidan Bazaar – the kind of place you stumble upon unless you are in the know. That’s because this hive of trade is in a tunnel under Gorgasali Square that connects sulphur baths to botanical gardens. This small stretch of tunnel has several little shops selling Georgian souvenirs, artwork, honey and wine.

Meidan Bazaar
Meidan Bazaar

Must see the views

Look up towards the peak of Sololaki Hill and you can see a 65-foot tall statue of the Mother of Georgia (Kartlis Deda) wearing the national Georgian dress. She was created in 1958 to celebrate the city’s 1500th birthday. She is holding wine in one hand for her friends and a sword in the other to deter foes. Trek up the hill or catch a cable car (cost: 5 LARI) to join her and enjoy a panoramic view over the city.

Tbilisi from Sololaki Hill – you can see the Mtkvari (Kura) river with its sheer cliffs

But there’s more because on the other side of the ridge there is a vista over 97 hectare botanical gardens.

There are more views to be had from the Peace Bridge. This stunning modern bow shaped bridge – a little piece of eye candy in itself – is the masterpiece of architect Michele de Lucchi. It is made of steel and glass illuminated with numerous LEDs. It’s lovely during the day and a head turner at night.

It crosses 150 metres (490 ft) over the Mtkvari (Kura) River and from here you can see the Metekhi Church, the statue of the city’s founder Vakhtang Gorgasali that stands in front of it, and the Narikala Fortress which unfolds on a hill between the sulphur baths and the botanical gardens.

Narkila Fortress
Narikala Fortress

Must visit a spa

The Abanotubani District is where the bathhouses and sulphur spas are and you can see the 17th century domes that speak of underground baths. It’s a 2,000 year old heritage that grew up around the hot, healing waters of Tbilisi. Turns out that the Romans also bathed here as far back as 1st century AD.

There were 60 spas at one time, but today only five are functional. Even if you don’t partake, be sure to seek out Bathhouse Number 5 whose exterior walls are decorated with exquisite mosaic.

Tip: If you continue walking away from the river towards Leghvtakhevi the path will eventually find an eye-widening waterfall almost hidden away.


Must Eat

Unusually decorated in Asian and Persian style Cafe Leila has a lovely location next to the clock tower and is a great place to have lunch – especially for vegetarians. Eat in or out, this pescetarian restaurant offers vegetarian versions of Kharcho which is traditionally a beef soup but made here with mushrooms and blackberry sauce, served with mchadi (corn bread) on the side. Of course staples such as Khachapuri, a Georgian cheese bread is done particularly well. Also try the soko ketze sulgunit (mushroom on a clay plate with Sulguni cheese) too. The homemade lemonade is particularly refreshing.

As a dessert go for Churchkella. This is a sweet made from walnuts and grapes. The walnuts are threaded onto a string and this is dipped into hot grape juice thickened with flour and left to hang dry for a couple of weeks to form a candle shaped sweet. Sometimes chocolate, almonds and even raisins are woven into this. You will find this for sale everywhere and it makes great present for those back home.

Must visit the National Museum

The National Museum on Rustaveli Avenue has a magnificent display ancient objects and an array of splendid gold jewellery from pre-Christian times that would not look out of place at Tiffanys. On the first floor is a ghoulish collection of skulls tagged Homo Neanderthals, some dating back 70,0000 years.

Perhaps the most poignant section is to be found upstairs. An exhibition on Soviet rule in Georgia from 1921-91 has moody lighting and a layout like a cinema set.

It’s open 10am-6pm, closed Mondays. Entry 3-7 GEL.

Must detour to Uplistsikhe rock town

It will take around 90 minutes to drive to the rock town of Uplistsikhe aka “the lord’s forest”. But it is certainly worth the detour to visit this simply incredible town of rocks and caves. They were inhabited between the 6th century BC and 1st century AD by 20,000 people at its peak. It’s located by the Mtkvari River, and from the top you get an eyeful of the Mtkvari valley. You’ll need sturdy shoes to navigates its ups and down and twisty rock formations but you’ll easily spot the wine cellar, pre-Christian Kartli temples that paid homage to the sun goddess, the conference hall and even the tiny underground prisons topped with grills. People would literally be able to walk over them.

Fact file

GETTING THERE: Wizz Air flies from Luton to Kutaisi, 150 miles north-west of Tbilisi, from £70 return.

PACKAGE: Georgian Holidays provide a half-day private tour of Tbilisi from just €29, which includes a private guide and entrance to all sights including the Holy Trinity Sameba Catherdral, the Narikala Fortress and the Sioni Cathedral.

Travel Guide: 24 Hours in Havana

Sitting in El Floridita bar in Havana‘s Old Town, perhaps on the very seat American novellist Ernest Hemingway was once perched, sipping the very cocktail – a Daiquiri – he loved to sip, I was aghast at just how many of these sweet tipples the bar tender knocked out every 15 minutes. He adeptly filled eight cocktail glasses at a time for a clamouring clientele. Continuously. All night long.

El Floridita
El Floridita – continously pouring 8 Daquairis at a time

It is of course a wonderful experience, but in that moment I was glad I was in Havana at this time. The city is busy now but I’ll bet (but not in Cuba as there are no casinos) that within 10 years the crowds will have swelled, the streets will be filled with guided groups and the joy of discovery will be elusive. And indeed enjoying an evening at El Floridita will be nigh on impossible – unless you are a sardine.

So, if you don’t want to miss the gorgeously ramshackled 16th century buildings that sit alongside posh architecture or the iconic, colourful American classics (Cadillacs, Chevys, Dodges, Buicks, Fords) which may disappear due to lack of parts, get there now. I can report that Japanese Kias and Hyundai cars are already far too prolific on Havana’s roads and though perfectly functional they are not nearly as much fun.

Must explore

Start at Parque Central which leads to the old town – Havana Vieja. Prepare to be dazzled by the neoclassical Capitol on Prado street – the former seat of the Cuban Congress and once home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences. After 8 years of restoration this impressive building has reopened as the home of Cuba’s national assembly. Use this building as a landmark and a point of orientation as it faces east and everything in front of it is Old Havana.

El Capitolio Havana Cuba
El Capitolio Havana Cuba

Near to it is the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso, named after Cuba’s most famous prima ballerina, probably the most beautiful building in town. Take a moment to gaze at the sculptures, the marble and bronze works. The four groups of sculptures in white marble in the front are by Giuseppe Moretti and represent charity, education, music and theatre.

Walk into Parque Central, a shady, leafy and palm filled square and see the statue of Jose Marti, a Cuban poet and journalist. He masterminded the revolution but was not a military man and died in combat.

Jose Marti, a poet not a fighter
Jose Marti, a poet not a fighter

Opposite is the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes – Arte Cubano which some say is the finest art gallery in the Caribbean. Look out for works by Guillermo Collazo, a Cuban great; Rafael Blanco, Raúl Martínez of 1960s Cuban pop art fame and Wifredo Lam whose work can easily be compared to that of Picasso.

In two minutes get to Calle Obispo, a long narrow road hemmed by tall buildings and quirky shops such as an apothecary museum where you can buy headache pills and an intriguing al fresco art and craft market.

Along with Calle Mercaderes it is one of the most popular shopping streets and the two streets converge at Hotel Ambos Mundos where Ernest Hemingway had a room – which you can visit. If you are ready for a rest, make your way up to the hotel’s rooftop bar for a beer or two and a pretty good view over the harbour.

Passing the fantastic Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, former residence of the governors of Havana but now home museum of the City of Havana you get to Plaza Armas. This is the oldest square in the city and is a lovely leafy square with palm trees around which has the statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who played a major roll in Cuba’s independence in 1868. Around it is the Archeology Museum, Castillo de la Real Fortaleza, a 16th century fort and El Templete which is monument to Christopher Columbus for founding the city.

Walk a little further to Havana Bay where the cruise ships come in. Make your way there and pick up a taxi to Plaza de la Revolución. It is one of the biggest squares in the world and is where Pope John Paul II (on a first ever visit by a Pope in 1998) and Pope Francis held large Masses during papal visits.

You can also take an elevator up to the top of the José Martí Memorial, one of the city’s highest points. The National Library and various government ministries are located in and around the Plaza and some are adorned with images of revolutionary figures Che Guevara and his companions.

Must go for a ride

Those classic cars that Havana is famous for are the most fun way of touring the city and getting your bearings. Classed as national moments by the government, they are on full-time tourist duty. Pick one up by the bay, in front or Parque Central, around Revolution Square and near the Capitol building. Either use it as a taxi service or ask for a tour.

Must eat and drink

There are a few trendy places to wet your whistle and of course El Floridita made famous by Hemingway is one of them. There’s also Sloppy Joe’s Bar, once the place-to-be for American celebrities in the 1940s and 1950s – and still a popular celebrity haunt. Though not as salubrious as it was in its glory days, sipping a Cuba Libra (rum and coke) here still holds some cachet. And if you do love a mojito, try La Bodeguita on Empedrado Street. Dressed in curious objects and signed photography, they claim to have invented the mojito and say they have been serving it since 1942 – that’s a lot of practice.

Pork, lobster, chicken and fish are the most popular dishes in Havana. Often served with rice mixed with beans. Try these dishes at lunchtime at La Imprenata housed in a former printing works on 208 Mercaderes Street. The food may not be cordon bleu but is highly satisfying. You won’t find the US products such as Coke, so instead try the Ciego Montero Kola which is a tad sweeter but does the trick. In between courses take a walk around to look at the old printing presses and see if you can find the small pond with live turtles.

Must go for a stroll at sunset on El Malecón

The vibe around the seafront promenade, Malecón, is pretty palpable. Many Habaneros hang out along this five-mile (8km) coastal road – officially known as the Avenida de Maceo – and esplanade for no particular reason other than to enjoy the dimming light at sunset. There may be some salsa notes drifting around from somewhere or perhaps just the hum of the waves as they move back and forth.

Must take in the Museum of the Revolution

To get a handle on Cuba’s steadfast resistance to the United States you must visit this museum. Though a tad shabby the insights it provides are piercing. It’s in the old presidential palace and the preserved bullet holes are telling. A myriad of documents tell of Fidel Castro’s triumphant moments from his guerrilla days and his relationship with Che Guavra.

Must take home

If you want something worthwhile to take home, pick up some rum or cigars. None make these products better than the Cubans.

Must stay

A great place to stay is the centrally located colonial-styled Parque Central hotel. It has all mod-cons and a great roof terrace with wide ranging views over the city.

Get there

Virgin Atlantic flies three times a week from Gatwick to Havana. José Martí airport is 10 miles south-west of the city. The main international arrival point is Terminal 3. Passport control and customs are usually friendly and efficient. Bring a copy of your travel insurance policy, or you’ll need to buy cover on arrival.

A taxi into the heart of Havana takes about half-an-hour for a fare of CUC25 (£16).

Travel Guide to Jaipur, Rajasthan (what is there to see in the Pink City)

One guidebook I glanced at was rather disparaging of Jaipur. Its sights were poorly maintained, it said. The Golden Triangle city’s popularity was due to its accessibility for those wanting to “do” India in a week or 10 days by train or chauffeured car.

However my accommodation was already booked. “Bugger,” I thought to myself, as we touched down at Jaipur International Airport after dark. Somehow, I wanted to prove the writer of that guidebook wrong.

As the cabin crew disarmed doors and cross-checked, I peered out of the windows of the Airbus 320 hoping to see the ships of the desert – camels – passing in the night. I was expecting intense heat, the moist air heavy with exotic spices and wild flowers of the desert.

But what I got after my e-visa was stamped and the officer gave me a head wobble was not the welcome I expected. It was cold. My driver, sporting a dark stripped woolly jumper, just shrugged his shoulders as I noted the low temperature. Even at the antiquated family mansion (haveli) I had to raid other unoccupied rooms for blankets.

The prospect of ten more days in one place seemed like a bad idea.

My mood lifted the following morning, as the sun burned off the gloom and a pot of cinnamon-spiced masala tea was served to my marble-tiled room. With local guide Dilip – whose name means protector – we set off to explore the old city, an even older settlement, and some less-visited outlying quirks of Rajasthan. Talking at speed, without pause, and with mispronunciations and wrongly stressed syllables, I sometimes had trouble keeping up with Dilip’s accented information bursts.

Why is Jaipur pink?

As our white Suzuki squeezed through Jaipur’s city gates, he gave me an opportunity to show just how well-prepared I was. “So do you know why it’s called the ‘Pink City’?”

“It’s because of the locally quarried pink stone,” I knew this would impress him.

“No sir,” he corrected me. “Not stone. The buildings in the old city are painted pink. Every four years it is repainted.”

City Palace, Jaipur
Pink walls of the City Palace

As we parked illegally outside the five-story façade of the picture-perfect Hawa Mahal, I got up close to pyramid-like structure to see if this were true. It seemed to be made from sandstone, but on closer inspection, it was painted with layers of pink paint, the colour of a rare-medium salmon steak.

Over the coming days I encounter varied reasons of why the old city was painted pink. One travel brochure claimed it was to replicate the Mughal red sandstone found throughout the region. Because pink is a welcoming colour and the maharaja wanted to welcome guests, a server at a coffee-house tells me.

A less flattering explanation reckons terracotta paint was used to cover up the poor quality exteriors. It was for the royal visit of the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria in 1876, confides a host at the Rambagh hotel. ‘Then Lord Albert proclaimed us a ‘Pink’ city,’ she says. Whatever the reason, later I see a work crew painting the walls with calcium oxide paint, making decorative patterns in white lime.

Palace of the Winds

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur
Hawa Mahal

The Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, is the landmark of Jaipur, an elaborate screen wall of niches with windows. It seems somewhat ironic that the icon of Jaipur that everyone comes to see was designed to allow women of the royal household to observe the bustling market street and festivals in anonymity and without the need to cover their face.

More insight into Jaipur’s regal past is found behind ornamental doorways at the adjoining city palace museum, which features ceremonial halls, a gold thread embroidered skirt, and a frightening display of daggers and blunderbusses.

Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
Jantar Mantar

Beside the palace is a 300-year-old astronomical observatory, the UNESCO World Heritage Jantar Mantar, where 19 huge instruments measure celestial bodies and provide remarkably accurate readings. The ruler behind the observatory and Jaipur itself was Jai Singh, who built the city using Hindu town planning principles of a grid of nine squares.

That sacred geography and geometric orderliness is less evident in the narrow lanes of the old city, a labyrinth of bazaars selling saris, sherbet, resin bangles, marble carvings, rugs, silver jewelry, precious gemstones and spices. Much of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was shot in and around Jaipur.

 Amer Fortified Citadel

Amer Fort, Jaipur
Amer Fort

While you could easily spend days exploring the sights and street-life of Jaipur, a majestic wonder awaits on a hillside north of the city, past the Jal Mahal water palace which floats like a mirage on a reservoir of water.

Pre-dating Jaipur, Amer was once the fortified citadel of the princely kingdom up until 1727. Accessible on the back of a decorated elephant, by jeep or an easy 10 minute walk, each successive courtyard contains another fascinating feature, from ornate gateways to water-cooled pleasure palaces to a mirror mosaic chamber which can be lit with a single candle.

Secret Jaipur

Chand Baori, Abhaneri, Jaipur
Chand Baori (c) Chetan

North of Jaipur is the old artist town of Samode, while south, near the airport at Sanganer, craft villages produce blue-dye pottery, block-printed cotton, and handmade paper. Hidden away a few hour’s east, towards Agra, is the world’s largest stepwell, Chand Baori, with 3,500 symmetrical steps tapering down 13 stories like an Escher drawing – it featured in a Batman movie.

Elephant Festival

Elephant Festival, Jaipur
Decorated elephant (c) Faraz Usmani

An elephant festival each March is one of Jaipur’s draw cards, with a kite-flying event followed by the Jaipur Literary Festival attracting tens of thousands of domestic and foreign visitors.

Fact file

GET THERE: Jaipur’s international airport (JAI) has flights from Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore, as well as frequent flights from most Indian cities including the capital New Delhi and the other main gateway from Europe and the UK, Mumbai. Train is the good way to go around the Golden Triangle, with a chauffeur-driven car the best option to get to less visited places.

VISA: Getting a tourist visa for India is easy, with an online e-visa easily obtainable for US$50 up to 4 months in advance, giving an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) for 30 days in return for answering a long questionnaire and providing a scanned photo.

STAY: The former residence of the Maharaja, the Rambagh Palace with its marble latticework, balustrades and manicured gardens is one of the finest heritage hotels in the world. Non-guests can enjoy the Polo Bar, garden lounge or steam train restaurant. Out of town, and spread out as a re-created fort with gardens, pools and fountains, the Oberoi Rajvilas is a magical resort with tented rooms and spacious villas.

GETTING AROUND: A driver hired daily, or a taxi arranged through accommodation is the safest for venturing around Jaipur. Use Uber or Ola apps for shorter trips, or look for the auto-rickshaw drivers earnest for your custom.

TIP: Try the street food. It is nothing like the Indian food you have had back home. In Jaipur, be sure to sample freshly made onion kachori, the baked wheat ball dal baati churma, or a Rajasthan thali featuring all the local specialties.

Top 10 things to see and do in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, the “pearl of the Indian Ocean”, is going through a renaissance right now. Tourists have been flocking to the island since one of its luxury beach resorts was featured in the reality program Made in Chelsea earlier this year.

Sri Lanka is easy to access with direct flights from several hubs to the capital city of Columbo, and for around £75 a day you can stay in a cheap hotel or an Airbnb property, hire a driver and eat out for lunch and dinner.

Though small, not much larger than Wales, Sri Lanka has ancient cities, Buddhist ruins, hillside tea plantations, wildlife sanctuaries and glorious beaches.

We pick our 10 favourite activities.

1Climb Sigiriya

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

The ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya near the town of Dambulla is a soaring example of ancient urban enterprise. The remains of 5th century palace built by King Kaspaya sit atop the 200m high rock formation. Visitors can climb to the summit via a series of dizzying steps leading to a gateway in the form of a lion, complete with huge, stone paws that have been carved into the rock. The palace of King Kaspaya, which was later used as a Buddhist monastery, is decorated in colourful frescoes depicting celestial nymphs (or perhaps King Kaspaya’s concubines). The surrounding landscape, with its water gardens and lush, green forests, really adds to the drama and has secured Sigiriya as one of Sri Lanka’s World Heritage Sites.

2Discover the ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa

Sri Lanka Polonnaruwa Buddha lying
(c) Martino Matijevic

The ancient city of Polunnaruwa, now a World Heritage Site, was built in the 11th and 12th centuries AD. It was once a thriving metropolis containing grand buildings, beautiful parks and even a 25 km² lake, but by the 13th century AD had faded into insignificance and was eventually abandoned. The city ruins are now a popular tourist attraction and provide some fantastic photography opportunities. This includes the 13m high King’s Royal Palace, which once housed 50 rooms over seven floors. Today most of the structure is an empty shell of crumbling walls, but it is still a very impressive site. There are also numerous Buddha statues dotted around Polunnaruwa, most of which are in varying states of decay. However the four Buddhas at Gal Vihara, cut from a single slab of granite, are in near perfect condition.

Click on the image to enlarge. All photos © Martino Matijevic.

Top tip: one of the most enjoyable ways to explore the ancient ruins is by bicycle, which can be rented from nearby guest houses and cafés.

3Participate in a religious ceremony at Sri Dalada Maligawa

Sri Lanka Kandy drummers
Kandy drummers (c) Martino Matijevic

Also known as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Sri Dalada Maligawa is a Buddhist temple in the city of Kandy in central Sri Lanka. It is located in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy and houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha, which legend tells us was retrieved by his disciple, Khema, just before he was cremated.

Click on the image to enlarge. All photos © Martino Matijevic.

The interior of the temple is richly decorated in white, red and gold, and features some colourful painted murals depicting elephants in procession. In the evenings, you can watch the Kandyan Dance, a ceremonial dance that is accompanied by red and white-clad drummers.

4Take the train from Kandy to Ella

Sri Lanka blue train Kandy to Ella
(c) Martino Matijevic

The striking blue and red train that makes the daily journey from Kandy to Ella is a terrific way to experience the varying and dramatic landscapes of Sri Lanka. The express train takes around six hours (there are plenty of stops on the way) and on route you will pass cascading waterfalls, misty mountains, dense forests and local people tending to the lush green pastures of the tea plantations.

Click on the image to enlarge. All photos © Martino Matijevic.

While you can reserve a seat in advance, you will get more out of the journey if you buy a cheap ticket on the day, costing only 240 rupees (less than £2) and stand in one of the carriage doorways. The views are worth sacrificing your seat, and you’ll also experience a welcome breeze as you snap away at the incredible scenery.

5Visit Udawalawe National Park

Sri Lanka Udawalawe elephant and jeeps
(c) Martino Matijevic

If you love elephants, Udawalawe National Park is one of the best places to observe these majestic creatures in the wild. The country has seen a brutal decline in the Sri Lankan Elephant thanks to 2000 years of ivory trading. However they are now a protected species and the 200 or so elephants at Udawalawe National Park enjoy both freedom and protection. The park, which is located in the southern part of Sri Lanka, is also relatively small and significantly less than the nearby Yala National Park. The park consists of dense habitat of tributaries, forests and grasslands, which is a haven for over 500 species of flora and fauna. As well as elephants, deer and water buffalo, you may spot more secretive mammals including the rusty spotted cat and sloth bear.

Click on the image to enlarge. All photos © Martino Matijevic.

Top tip: If you are in central Sri Lanka, you may wish to visit Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, which is home to around 80 elephants. This includes baby elephants who have been found orphaned or abandoned in the wild.

6Learn about Sri Lanka’s 150-year-old tea industry

Sri Lanka tea leaves

Tea was first introduced to Sri Lanka during the British colonial era, and nowadays has become a booming industry, with 28 different grades of Ceylon tea. Kandy is the birthplace of Ceylon tea, where it is grown at an elevation of 2,000-4,000ft, producing a relatively strong and rich-coloured beverage. However the best place to learn about the tea industry is not in Kandy, but in Nuwara Eliya, known for its fresh climate, British colonial buildings and stunning scenery. The area can get quite busy times, so it is best to visit Nuwara Eliya out of season between June and February.

Click on the image to enlarge. All photos © Martino Matijevic.

There are several tea plantations open to visitors, one of which is Mackwoods, which was founded in 1841. You can book a tour of the plantation, which involves learning about each step of the tea making process while observing the workers in full swing. The tour itself is a bit underwhelming, but the views and brews are worth the investment.

7Practice the art of yoga in a forest retreat

Sri Lanka hilltop yoga
hilltop yoga (c) Ulpotha

The forests of central Sri Lanka are home to the Ulpotha Yoga & Ayurveda Retreat, which promises to bring you to a zen state in the most stunning of sceneries. The retreat is about a four-hour drive from Columbo city and covers 22 acres of forest; home to macaque and langur monkeys. A variety of yoga styles are on offer (including Hatha, Sivananda, Iyengar and Astanga) and locations vary from the open-sided “Yoga Shala” hall to the top of Monkey Rock. The retreat encourages its guests to unwind, rejuvenate and get close to nature, and there’s no pressure to attend the yoga classes if you would prefer some time to yourself. The retreat also has a warm heart: the Ayurvedic treatment centre, which serves paying guests, is used to fund the year-round Free Clinic for the surrounding villages.

8Go dolphin and whale watching off the coast of Kalpitiya

Sri Lanka whale watching

Located in the less touristy North of Sri Lanka, Kalpitiya consists of 14 islands and is an excellent spot to observe dolphins and whales in their natural habitat. Observe huge pods of spinner dolphin, sometimes in their thousands, surfing the waves in perfect synchronisation. These curious and playful dolphins can often be seen swimming alongside boats and leaping out of the water, showing off their acrobatic prowess. As you venture further from the coast on your boat trip, there’s ample opportunity to observe sperm whales as they swim to the surface, flashing their distinctive tail flukes as they return to the ocean depths. If you’re really lucky you may even see a blue whale, a rare pleasure, as they tend to avoid coastal areas.

9Surf your way to serenity at Arugam Bay

Sri Lanka Arugam Bay surfer at sunset
Arugam Bay surfer at sunset (c) Dennis Binzen

Arugam Bay on the south east coast of Sri Lanka is one of the island’s best surfing spots. The moon shaped bay attracts a laid-back crowd eager to sample the watery playground that is the Indian Ocean. Surfer dudes flock to The Point, where the waves can reach up to six foot. However there are plenty of (quieter) areas to enjoy surfer paradise including Crocodile Rock and Pottuvil Point, a long stretch of deserted beach dotted with huge boulders along the water’s edge. If you’re not worried about catching the best waves, visit Arugam Bay during the low season (November to April), when the area is quiet and serene. Just bear in mind that some shops and restaurants might be closed for business at this time of year.

10Sample Sri Lanka’s favourite dish: rice and curry

Sri Lanka rice and curry
rice and curry

In Sri Lanka, rice and curry is just what it says on the tin: a pile of white, fluffy rice accompanied by various curry-based dishes, traditionally eaten with hands rather than cutlery. Depending on the time of day and occasion, the delicious dish can range from a simple curry in a thin broth to a banquet of richly spiced meat or fish curry with up to 10 side dishes, including sour lime pickle and sweet seeni sambal (onion relish). Most dishes come with a punch, although more touristy restaurants will serve watered down versions of what they cook at home. Rice and curry can be purchased from street vendors and in the fanciest of restaurants. There’s no need to fret if you don’t eat meat, as the basis of rice and curry is always Vegetarian – you simply order the meat on top.

Cycling trip through Germany: Lübeck, Hamburg and Lüneberg

In medieval times, this part of Europe saw the rise of powerful cities, ruling the
waves in the Baltic and North Seas. Those days are long gone, but the fairytale
houses, narrow streets, cavernous churches and ornate town halls still
remain, lost in time. And since it’s so flat, it’s easy to explore by bicycle.

The Hanseatic League was a loose coupling of cities in North Western and Central Europe that came together in the late middle ages. Hanse was the Middle Low German word for a convoy and the League provided protection for merchant trade in the Baltic and the North Seas, as well as on land. Over three centuries the cities became rich but the rise of countries and states finally put an end to this arrangement. The death knell sounded when their merchants were imprisoned and expelled from London in 1597.


Lubeck River
Lubeck River (c) Rupert Parker

The rebuilding of Lübeck in 1159 is generally acknowledged as the start of the Hanseatic League and the port became the centre of trade in the North and Baltic seas. These days there are still ships in the harbour and, although city suffered much damage during the war, the buildings have been painstakingly restored and it retains much of its medieval charm.

Dockside Lubeck
Dockside Lubeck (c) Rupert Parker

The new European Hansemuseum uses state of the art technology to take you through the history of Hanseatic League. It’s clever – once you’ve registered, don your headset and you’ll be guided in your own language. There’s a whole section dedicated to London and the prominent role it played in Hanseatic trading – wool was exported from the north of England and goods from the continent arrived in return.

Climb to the top of St Peter’s church to get a fantastic view over the tiled roofs stretching as far as the Baltic Sea on a clear day. It’s worth wandering the narrow lanes where workers were allowed to build doll’s house cottages in the grounds of much larger houses. The 13th century town hall is one of the oldest in Germany and the two remaining city gates, the Holstentor and the Burgtor, have been imaginatively restored, although the walls were demolished in the 19th century.

Lubeck Town Hall
Lubeck Town Hall (c) Rupert Parker

The city is close to the Baltic so I set out for the coast on a designated cycling trail. To cross the River Trave, I put my bike on a free shuttle bus, to get through the Herren Tunnel. After that it’s a glorious ride cross country to the port of Travemunde which has ferry connections to Sweden, Finland, Russia, Latvia and Estonia. I follow the trail north on the cliffs, with tantalising glimpses of deserted beaches and narrow coves, before arriving at the attractive resort of Niendorf.

Boats Niendorf
Boats Niendorf (c) Rupert Parker

There’s time for an excellent fish lunch on the seafront at Mein Strandhaus before cycling back through the forest, stopping off at Karls Erlebnishof to sample the first strawberries of the season.


From Lübeck, I cycle south for three hours on a flat stretch of towpath to Hamburg. This was also a Hanseatic city but the medieval town is long gone, first destroyed by fires and then flattened during WW2. Most of the church spires survived, as they were used as landmarks for allied bombers, the churches have been rebuilt and there’s been much reconstruction of other important buildings. The Chilehaus, reminiscent of a ship’s bow, is a shining example of 1920s Brick Expressionism and its ten stories were one of Germany’s first high-rise buildings.

The old port is also being revamped, as HafenCity, conserving the impressive brick warehouses, themselves now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and avoiding the mistakes of other dockland developments like Canary Wharf. They’re committed to providing affordable social housing and the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall is designed to impress.

Hamburg Elbphilharmonie
Hamburg Elbphilharmonie (c) Rupert Parker

Cycling around the city is a joy, although often you share the pavement with pedestrians, but the locals don’t seem to object. The famous Reeperbahn is nothing to get excited about, full of inebriated tourists in pursuit of forbidden fun. Nearby, though, are interesting neighbourhoods with cafes, bars and restaurants.

Hamburg Reeperbahn
Hamburg Reeperbahn (c) Rupert Parker

I’m pleasantly surprised by the Alster Lake which sits in the heart of the city, surrounded by a green ring of trees. I explore it first by cycling around the banks, passing through sophisticated residential districts. Then I take a one hour cruise going as far as the Alster River. Hamburg’s other river is the Elbe, the city’s main artery, home to the docks and route for huge cargo ships going to and from the North Sea.

Hamburg Alster Lake
Alster Lake (c) Rupert Parker

There’s a cycle route along its banks and my first stop is the International Maritimes Museum housed in one of those UNESCO warehouses. Three thousand years of seafaring history are covered on nine floors with memorabilia, model ships and paintings. Just down river is the fish market, more of a pit stop for night revellers getting their breakfast of beer and herring to the pounding of cover bands, although they do still sell fish here.

Hamburg Fish market
Fish market (c) Rupert Parker

I continue above the river on a good trail to the suburb of Blankenese. Ship owners and merchants built their villas and mansions here in the 18th and 19th centuries and it’s now one of Hamburg’s most affluent neighbourhoods. It tumbles down the banks in a series of winding streets lined with rows of historic houses and chic cafes, perfect for afternoon tea. Where it meets the river is one of Hamburg’s most beautiful beaches.


It’s around three hours by bike to Lüneburg, slightly south east, a city literally built on salt. For 1,000 years, the precious “white gold” was extracted from deposits below with serious consequences. The mining caused major subsidence, distorting the streets, causing the buildings to lean and curve, and some, of course, have just simply collapsed. The history of salt can be discovered at the German Salt Museum in factory where the stuff was processed.

Fortunately, the city was spared WW2’s bombs so it’s one of the best preserved examples of a medieval Hanseatic city, its gabled houses a treasure chest of architecture. I climb to the top of the early 20th century Water Tower and get a view across red tiled rooftops, pierced by the slightly crooked spires of the three Gothic, churches. Below me is the Ilmenau River, where salt was loaded for transportation, and in the distance is the Kalkberg where the castle once stood.

Luneburg rooftops
Luneburg rooftops (c) Rupert Parker

I cycle along the Ilmenau towpath for three miles to the tiny village of Bardowick. It’s hard to believe that this was once one of the most prosperous cities in North Germany until it was razed to the ground in 1189 by Henry the Lion. Luneburg rose in its stead and the St. Nikolaihof was built to here to house the city’s lepers. It consists of several medieval houses and barns surrounding a brick chapel, dating back to 1435, and home to the oldest organ in northern Germany.

Bardowick St Nicolai Church
Bardowick St Nicolai Church (c) Rupert Parker

Back in Lüneburg I get a tour of the town hall, really a rag tag assembly of buildings, started in 1230 and growing until 1720 when its white baroque facade was constructed. The interior is full of surprises with a main hall lined with Gothic stained glass windows and 16th century frescoes of the last judgement. Even more impressive is the renaissance council chamber with intricate wood carvings.

The oddest item goes right back to the founding of the city. Legend has it that a hunter shot a wild boar, bathing in a water. When he hung up the skin to dry he discovered crystals of salt clinging to the pelt. There’s a bone in a glass case which supposedly comes from this famous boar. It’s hardly surprising that, with all this salt around, the city supported many breweries. Even now it has the highest concentration of pubs in Germany.

Luneburg Town Hall
Luneburg Town Hall (c) Rupert Parker

Count on at least a week to explore these three cities. You can do it faster by putting your bike on the train but you will miss the tranquillity of the countryside. Although you can visit in any order, better to start in Lübeck at the Hanseatic Museum to understand the historical background.

Fact File


STAY: Holiday Inn Lübeck is a comfortable base near the Burgtor.
EAT: Schiffergesellschaft serves traditional food in a medieval setting. Ristorante Roberto Rossi is a surprisingly good Italian restaurant.
MORE INFO: Lübeck Tourism 


STAY: Hotel Innside by Melia is a new hotel in a central location.
EAT: Mutterland Cölln’s is Germany‘s oldest oyster bar and has excellent fish.
At Strand Pauli you can eat and drink watching the sun set over the Elbe.
MORE INFO: Hamburg Travel 


STAY: Hotel Bargenturm is near the salt museum and makes a comfortable base.
Hotel Einzigartig is a stylish boutique hotel in the old quarter with good food.
EAT: Das Kleine is in the old harbour, and serves fresh local fare.
Mälzer Brau und Tafelhaus makes its own beer and has traditional delicacies.
MORE INFO: Luneburg Tourism

Tip: Deutsche Bahn will transport you and your bike on the train between cities.

Hotel Review: Fashion Island Hotel, Newport Beach, California, USA

The tall unmissable building with a grand frontage of the Fashion Island Hotel is found at the end of a well manicured palm-tree lined avenue. It is heralded by a short, but squat, pillar announcing the Fashion Island shopping complex.

When we arrived the valet team were all over the car:greetings all round, opening the doors, luggage out of the boot and taken to reception, car keys in their hands, and soon the car was whisked off to the car park.

It’s an impressive welcome as was the walk under the canopy towards the doors that open up to a huge reception looking plush in shiny bright, creamy colours. It’s an uplifting sort of chic with the odd shout of colour to create contrast.

From the lobby we could just about see the blue of the pool peaking through the lush tropical plants as if to beckon.

Fashion Island Hotel is owned and operated by the Irvine Company (probably the richest real estate developers in America) who have their headquarters in Newport Beach. They took over the management from Four Seasons some years ago and have aligned it with the Fashion Island shopping mall next door. A perk of staying here is that you have access to a personal shopper.

Who for

This is a family friendly hotel (though no kids’ club) and pet friendly too. Sophisticats may love the high end shops steps away at Fashion Island mall. I was there with my partner and we loved the romance of its relaxed vibe and seamless service.


Fashion Island Hotel - guest room

There are 295 air conditioned rooms arranged over 20 floors. They come with sunny coastal style decor, original art and floor to ceiling windows letting in lashings of daylight giving off a pleasingly airy and spacious feel. King sized beds are comfy, work tables are handy, large flat screen TVs and a mini bar comprise the mod cons. Step out balconies or patios are a perk.

Tip: Ask about the view: some rooms have magnificent vistas over Newport Harbour and the ocean and some (like mine) take in the parking area of the Fashion Island shopping mall which is less attractive.

The large bathrooms are luxurious in marble and come with toiletries and a hair dryer.

Food and Drink

OAK Grill The Burger
OAK Grill – the burger

The hotel restaurant, Oak Grill, (built around a Ficus tree) serves contemporary Californian cuisine in casual chic surroundings  either indoors or alfresco on the terrace. When night falls the terrace is romantically lit making for a heady dining experience in the warm Newport Beach evenings to a backdrop of live music. I enjoyed a gorgeously juicy burger (yes, a burger) and can vouch for it. My partner loved the steak. There are also salads and fish and an interesting list of craft beers.

Aqua Lounge
Aqua Lounge

The Aqua lounge’s is where we enjoyed pre-dinner tipples amid decor that is doused in soothing turquoise hues. There are stools around the circular bar as well as sofas and  tempting mixologist-made cocktails have made this a popular local hangout. Bar food is available here.

During the day, there’s also a pool-side menu with attentive sun-bed service.


Fashion Island Hotel - pool

The hotel has a lovely pool surrounded by pretty tropical landscaping with plenty of sunbeds and cabanas. It’s not huge but very appealing. The gym is in good shape and the 4,000-square-foot spa with nine treatment rooms is satisfyingly relaxing especially after a Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage.

There’s also, conveniently, a 24-hour reception desk and room service and the attentive valet parking is a joy but you do need to fork out USD35 per night.

Fashion Island Hotel - Club

And lastly, Island Club on the 20th floor is available to everyone for $50 per person, per night – and includes the nibbles and bites throughout the day in a comfortable sitting room style environment, upgraded WiFi and many other perks.


Yes its free

How Much

Guest rooms start at $295 per night.

What’s nearby

The Fashion Island shopping centre is steps offering popular stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus all jostling for attention. Balboa Island just a few minutes away is a lovey way to enjoy beachside dining and fun including surfing and whale watching. A walk along the this skinny three-mile long finger of land – known as the Peninsula – makes for a lovely afternoon ramble.

Hotel Review: Myst Boutique Hotel, Tholos, Santorini, Greece

The Myst Boutique Hotel wraps its guests in comfort and tranquillity just steps from all the bells-and-whistles glamour and razzle-dazzle that Santorini can offer.

Its interpretation of traditional Cycladic style ditches the blazing white for gentle cream, grey and aqua; the cinematic caldera views for long rustic vistas across the plains of Tholos to the sea and the distant island of Ios.

But the sunsets from the northwest facing terraces are as dazzling as any on the island, the service as friendly and attentive, the accommodation as sweetly indulgent. And, if all that sensuous serenity begins to pall, the dining and shopping distractions of Oia, Santorini’s most famous – and expensive – village are a mere 800 metres away.

Myst Boutique Hotel - view of Ios from Myst
view of Ios from Myst (c) Ferne Arfin

Who for

Couples, solo travellers and friends who prefer a laid back, relaxed atmosphere. Family accommodations are in the works.


Three classes of rooms are arranged to take advantage of the best sea views – framed like pictures in an artfully positioned windows. All rooms except the poolside rooms have large private Jacuzzis on their terraces.

Myst Boutique Hotel - jacuzzi
All rooms except the poolside rooms have large private Jacuzzis on their terraces (c) Ferne Arfin

We checked into the middle class “Supreme Suite” to find a very comfortable king-sized, pillow-topped mattress, a small seating area, a dressing area and a luxury tiled shower room. At 300 square metres, the suite was not enormous but more than spacious enough for comfort.

Myst Boutique Hotel - room c Myst
room (c) Myst

On the private terrace, the hot tub and chaises longues were aimed squarely at the sunset – the rim of the tub flat and stable enough for our cocktails. The top of the line “Delight Suites” are twice the size with two terraces – for the sunrise and the sunset. They include an additional memory foam sofa bed so the suite can accommodate three.

Rooms have large flat screen televisions that are so state-of-the-art that anyone post Millennial will need an instruction manual to operate them (hint to management). There are also French designer towels and robes, high end toiletries from the Greek honey based Apivita brand, easy to operate room safe, and an in-room fridge supplied with bottled water (actually an unusual feature on Santorini).

Myst Boutique Hotel - bathroom
bathroom (c) Myst

Food and drink

The hotel had barely been open a few weeks when we visited so dining options were not fully developed. That said, dishes on the light menu of Greek inspired salads, pasta dishes, seafood and grills were fresh and well presented. Dining is on a terrace with pool and sea views. A small interior dining area, useful for bad weather, was bland when we saw it but it was early days. If the décor elsewhere is anything to go by, that will likely become more interesting.

Breakfast (included in the room rate) is both buffet style and cooked – from a menu selection. The buffet includes cooking “stations” where omelettes and waffles are prepared to order. Drinks from the poolside bar include cocktails and champagne.

All meals and drinks, including breakfast, can be served poolside or in guests rooms as well at no additional charge.

Myst Boutique Hotel - view from the room
Drinks and snacks can be served to the room at no extra charge (c) Myst

The Myst has a huge, sparkling horizon pool. “Floating” sun loungers – sunbeds for two, anchored in the shallow end of the pool, are placed for the best views of the Aegean and, when the morning mist burns off, the neighbouring island of Ios.


Yes, its free

How much?

Suites in season range from €518 to €725 per night. Poolside rooms start at €389.

Oia, Santorini’s capital of glitz, is a short – very steep – uphill climb or a €10 taxi ride away. The hotel plans to introduce a shuttle service to Oia in the current season. Oia Castle, a ruin with views, is a popular sunset spot. Amoudi Bay, a popular beach with cafes and the departure point for Caldera and volcano cruises is just below Oia and can be reached by taxi or a hike of 300 steps. Elsewhere on the plain, the winery Domaine Sigalas can be visited for tasting and shopping.

How to get there

There are direct flights, in season, from London to Santorini airport, about a half hour from the hotel. Outside of the main season, which runs from mid-May to mid-October, several airlines operate connecting flights through Athens and other European capitals.

Glamping Review: Secret Cloud House, Staffordshire, England, UK

Arriving here at dusk, you’d be forgiven for rubbing your eyes, thinking you’d stumbled across a fairy tale village. A boardwalk winds its way across a lush meadow toward a collection of five luxurious yurts, where wood-burning stoves send delightfully-smelling smoke twirling gently skywards. There is total peace, for the faint sound of laughter which carries on the breeze – and the whole scene is illuminated by the warm glow of candle and fairy lights.

We have discovered the exclusive, multi-award-winning Secret Cloud House Holidays, set on the edge of the Peak District: where guests can reconnect with nature without forgoing luxury.

Who for

Couples yearning a slow-paced, calming and environmentally-friendly break in nature with a lot of luxury to boot. Or hen parties and small groups looking for a bonding spa break in the outdoors. Small families too would be happy here.


Elderflower yurt - inside
Elderflower yurt

With uninterrupted views across the Staffordshire Moorlands, and the Peak District beyond, each luxury yurt (Blackberry; Foxglove; Bilberry; Elderflower; Rosehip – each with its own unique twist on decor), has its own wood-fired private hot tub, wood-burning stove and a see-through skylight which, on a clear night, means you can stargaze before nodding off.

The double beds, they say, are handmade, very comfy and dressed with Egyptian cotton linen, featherdown duvets and Staffordshire wool blankets.

Elderflower yurt - inside by night
Elderflower yurt – double bed dressed with Egyptian cotton linen, featherdown duvets and Staffordshire wool blankets

There’s a private eco-loo-with-a-view located just outside each yurt, while the spacious shower rooms have flushing toilets and are insulated with Staffordshire sheep’s wool and powered by solar thermal panels. Mod cons include: hairdryers, straighteners and full length mirrors. You will also find a charging locker to leave your phones safely, lots of books and maps on the area and a variety of board games for nights by the fire.

We stayed in Elderflower, perhaps the most luxurious of yurts, which is tucked right in the corner of the meadow and boasting a king-size French-style bed. This is understandably popular with mini-mooners and couples seeking a romantic break.

Elderflower yurt - love tub
Elderflower yurt – love tub

Food and Drink

Of course, you can cook-up a feast in the comfort of your yurt, each has a wood burning stove oven, a camping kitchen with gas burners and grill plus dining table and chairs. Or there’s your own outdoor barbecue.

A fridge freezer is provided and a large cool box too.

Each booking also receives a welcome breakfast hamper with local butcher’s sausages and bacon, milk from the local dairy, eggs from a local young farmer, and fresh bread from Bakewell Bakery. The owners also have links to local chocolatiers and a small Peak District coffee roaster who creates their very own Secret Cloud blend.

If you can drag yourself away from the comfort here, try breakfast at the Cottage Kitchen Country Café, just a five-minute drive away. The countryside café and farm shop offers some tasty menus for breakfast, brunch, lunch and afternoon tea. Highly recommended at any time is the county’s delicious local delicacy – Staffordshire oatcakes.

For dinner, a 15-minute drive brings you to The Duncombe Arms, a renovated historic inn with the relaxed welcome of a local pub, plus a fine dining restaurant, earning it a place on many of the UK’s ‘best dining pubs’ lists.


The onsite ‘Shepherds Rest’ massage treatment room has a menu of treatments taking place by candlelight in front of a wood-burning stove. Treatments start from £25, but it’s best to book in advance.

There’s also a central wood-fired sauna that comes with an essential oil menu – from the healing aromas of eucalyptus to mentally uplifting grapefruit.

Just in case the heavens decide to open, the wood-decked walkway connects the yurts, washrooms, sauna and the car park, so you can keep away from any mud and standing water on the field itself.

How much

Secret Cloud House Holidays: from £140 to £160 per night, including the private wood-fired hot tub, use of the wood-fired sauna, and a welcome Staffordshire breakfast hamper.

Head to Biddulph Grange Garden, an amazing Victorian garden, restored maintained and operated by the National Trust. A visit here takes you on a global journey from Italy to the pyramids of Egypt, a Victorian vision of China and a re-creation of a Himalayan glen.

Biddulph Grange Garden Chinese Temple
Biddulph Grange Garden Chinese Temple

Strap up your walking boots – or try a little pedal power – and explore the deep limestone valley of steeply wooded slopes and towering rock pinnacles of The Manifold Valley. A favourite for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, the eight-mile Manifold Track follows the route of the disused Leek and Manifold Light Railway.

Or climb the steps to Thor’s Cave, one of the most spectacular sights of the valley at 250 feet above the track. The magnificent views are well worth the climb, while the cave itself is believed to have been home to cavemen 10,000 years ago.

The historic market town of Leek, on the southern edge of the Peak District National Park, has an unspoilt town centre with imposing Georgian and Victorian architecture. As well as a raft of independent shops, thriving traditional markets include Wednesday’s weekly outdoor market and a monthly fine food market held on the third Saturday of the month.

Leek - St. Edward street
Leek – St. Edward street

For more details about what to do and see in Staffordshire, visit Enjoy Staffordshire.

Restaurant Review: Tonteria, London

Sloane Square is dominated by chic bars and luxury hotels, so I was intrigued to learn it is also the home of Tonteria, an underground Mexican tapas lounge inspired by Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Tonteria opened 5 years ago when tequila was becoming all the rage in London. Co-Founder Alain Dona wanted to create a space that was inspired by the colourful culture of Cancun and the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum. The first thing you notice when you walk into the room is a giant, glowing skull that doubles as a DJ booth. Green creepers adorn the walls and the black leather upholstery and low lighting gives it a very intimate feel.

Despite the dramatic décor, Tonteria has a relaxed vibe, at least until the sun goes down. When functioning as a tapas bar, the music is pleasingly quiet, although a few of the songs seemed more suited to a hotel lobby. The menu has recently upped its game with a delicious selection of posh Mexican street food that’s both fresh and authentic.

Crispy tortilla chips and guacamole
Crispy tortilla chips and guacamole (c) Tonteria

Foodie highlights included tortilla chips with a generous dollop of creamy guacamole topped with pomegranate seeds and ricotta cheese. I was also very impressed with the patatas bravas with garlic aioli, spicy tomato sauce and coriander – the best I have eaten in London! The crispy squid was good but I felt the green pepper and lime salsa needed an extra chilli kick.

For desert we tucked into some excellent churros accompanied with a molten pool of dark chocolate dipping sauce.

For drinks, we sipped on glasses of delightfully slushy frozen margaritas. If you prefer your tequila straight, there’s a vast selection on offer at the bar including Patrón and Don Julio. You can even get your shots delivered by the “tequila express”, a model train suspended on the ceiling.

Alain told us that he wanted to create a venue that was “all about accessibility, kindness and service”. Our waitress, who was dressed to kill in leather and latex (she looked fantastic) was charming and attentive throughout our meal. Alain himself defied the club owner stereotype with his warmth and good humour, greeting and embracing every member of staff who crossed his path.

Funky interior with a Mexican theme
Funky interior with a Mexican theme (c) Tonteria

As if by magic (or maybe the tequila) the venue transformed from a tapas bar into a nightclub. The music volume sky rockets and the tunes (or maybe the tequila) make you want to get up and dance. The space is dominated by warm bodies swaying to the music, and if you’re still there at 1am, the fun really starts.

Tonteria is well known on the club circuit for hosting some riotous themed nights celebrating all things Mexican. On the night we were there, elaborately dressed dancers with sugar skull face paint performed some amazing dances with sparklers.

Tonteria is also a firm favourite amongst the celebrity circuit, who head there for Muertos Mondays. Previous visitors include Prince Harry, Tom Hardy and Rihanna, and you’ll often spot Ferraris and Lamborghinis parked outside on Monday night.

As we headed out of venue in the early hours of the morning, a quote about tequila from inside the venue came to mind: “One minute you are sexy dancing, the next you are on the floor, pantless, making out with a shoe.”

When it comes to Tonteria, nothing would surprise me.

When: The tapas bar is open on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 8pm to 10:30pm and transforms into a nightclub at 11pm, closing at 2:30am on Monday/Thursday and 3am on Friday/Saturday.

Getting there: The nearest Tube station is the Sloane Square (Circle and District Line). It takes less than a minute to walk to Tonteria, which is right on Sloane Square next to The Botanist.

Where to stay: No matter how much tequila you have consumed, you should be able to manage the walk back to Sloane Square Hotel, which is less than a minute’s walk from Tonteria.