Travel

Architecture

Concrete thinking’s in fashion at Brussels’ brutalist Jam Hotel

Budget hotels always offer basic, boxy rooms, but not many are as creative as this alternative gem in the Belgian capital

Brussels is a city of grand townhouses and art nouveau. Yet plonked in the middle of the Belgian capital, on a nondescript street corner, has appeared a hotel that looks like downtown LA had it been swallowed by lava. An old 1970s art college has been redesigned and rebuilt, by people who usually make film sets, to become the oddest, most fashionable, most affordable stopover in Europe.

The reception desk is held up by a pair of motorcycles dipped in concrete – above it rest maquettes, Paolozzi-like little bricks of angles and texture. Three guests under 10 years old leap joyfully between leather sofas and concrete benches while they wait for their parents to check into one of the Supra rooms which sleep five, one up by the ceiling, in what they call a “cabine bed”.

Continue reading…

Travel

10 of Canada’s best lesser-known national parks

To mark its 150th anniversary, Canada is offering free entry to its stunning national parks. But which to pick? We select 10 lesser-known wildernesses

Canada has vast swathes of unspoiled nature, from coasts to mountains to tundra and frozen Arctic deserts. While some of these spectacular landscapes are in legendary national parks, such as the Rocky Mountains’ Banff and Jasper, the Pacific coast’s Gwaii Haanas and the remote whitewater paddling heaven of the Northwest Territories’ Nahanni, a host of less famous gems await the adventurous.

Continue reading…

Travel

Normandy conquest: all-action family fun in the French countryside

On a group family holiday at a Normandy chateau, a sceptical dad is pleasantly surprised by how much fun the entertainment and activities are – and that doing nothing is an option, too

Call it an exercise in contrasts. At the summit of Mont Saint-Michel, the bronze statue of the archangel is glinting in the midday sun, sword raised and wings outspread. At the foot of Mont Saint-Michel, a small jam-smeared boy is wriggling through a tiny window in the fortress wall and idly breaking into the courtyard of a gendarmerie. The archangel is the protector of the mount. The boy is my son.

Four of us – me, my wife, our four-year-old daughter Bethan and seven-year-old apprentice cat burglar, Joe – have come to western Normandy to join 15 other British families on an all-ages adventure break. This group day trip is a mere bit-player in the week’s itinerary. The holiday is primarily based 45 minutes inland, at an old countryside chateau near Les Chambres on the Manche coast, near Brittany. It’s a wholesome setting in which rabbits hop, peacocks preen and mobs of croissant-fuelled children tear around, brandishing makeshift lightsabers.

Continue reading…

Travel

Canada’s great outdoors: readers’ travel tips

Wildlife, mountains, islands and forests … Canada’s natural wonders – from Nova Scotia to Vancouver – have left an indelible mark on our intrepid readers

Send a tip for next week’s competition to win a £200 hotel voucher

If you want to experience authentic, raw, outdoor Canada then a few days in Willmore wilderness park will take you out of your comfort zone. Motor vehicles of any kind are banned, but you can hire a horse or a trapper (both about £20 an hour) – otherwise risk it on your own. Trails wind their way through dense forests and along wild river valleys. Take a sturdy tent or knock on the doors of hunters’ wooden huts when you see them. You may be greeted with a shotgun and a suspicious snarl as we were – then a plate of yummy moose meat, cooked on a blazing fire.
albertaparks.ca
gonca

Continue reading…

Travel

The alt city guide to Brighton

Brighton’s festival scene in May could be the reason for a spring visit but this creative and collaborative seaside town has inspirational art, music, food and drink on tap year-round

You might imagine that Brighton, the seaside resort and party town, and Brighton, the lefty, bohemian city (the only one in the UK with a Green MP), co-exist independently. Talk to local creatives, however, and that distinction blurs.

Brighton is about collaboration generated by the enthusiasm of the people running spaces here

Continue reading…

Travel

10 of Bilbao’s best pintxos bars

The city’s many bars are piled high with pintxos, the Basque country’s take on tapas, which are a great way of sampling regional specialities for a few euros. Or string a few together to create a brilliant bar crawl

Bilbainos consider good pintxos a fundamental joy of daily life, and bars dedicated to providing them abound; jocular crowds rather than fancy decor or high prices are the clue to the best. Many also offer a good-value menú del día. The best place to get a flavour of what’s on offer or start a pintxo crawl is Calle Ledesma, in the centre of Bilbao. It’s an eating party street lined with bars, with outdoor tables all the way down the middle. Explore pintxo styles through the ages by starting with old favourites such as Cafetería el Molinillo and Artajo and then move on to stylish additions like Bilbao Berría (now with a central London branch).

Continue reading…

Travel

10 top tips from our Bangkok correspondent

Thailand’s capital is a labyrinth of great bars and restaurants to refuel in after, perhaps, Thai boxing, a river island cycle, or wakeboarding. From fresh mangoes with coconut sauce to acoustic karaoke … it’s all on the menu

Ko Kret is on the edge of the capital but it’s the sleepy, friendly Thailand that you’ve been looking for. This tiny river island north of the Old City can be reached by boat. Once you get to the pier, head off on one of the dozens of rickety rental bicycles – after checking the tyres. There is a clearly marked route that circles the island, passing through a busy food market and banana plantations. Once you finish cycling, grab a table overlooking the river at Chit Beer, the best and cheapest home brewery I’ve found. Take a green Chao Phraya express boat to Pak Kret pier.

Continue reading…

Music

Purple patch: touring Prince’s Paisley Park mansion in Minneapolis

A year on from Prince’s death, a visit to the muscial icon’s Minnesota home reveals he lived as flamboyantly as he performed

Inside Paisley Park, Prince’s mansion in the suburbs of Minneapolis, the first thing you see is a giant mural of Prince’s eyes, painted high above the entrance, with immaculate lashes and a burst of divine light beaming down from within. Anywhere else it would be the height of arrogance, but not here. If anyone could be forgiven a God-complex, surely it’s Prince.

But now he’s gone. One year ago, on 21 April 2016, Prince Rogers Nelson was found unresponsive in the elevator of his wildly eccentric and, of course, predominantly purple, home. An accidental overdose of prescription painkillers led to his death. Though he shunned alcohol and recreational drugs, he was indeed in pain – the price, perhaps, for the outrageously energetic performances of his youth – and his Jehovah’s Witness faith, which he converted to in 2001, did not permit the operation that may have eased his suffering. But how he exited the stage is less important than what he did on it – and that all starts in Minneapolis.

Continue reading…

Travel

Discovering Portugal’s wild side

For unspoilt countryside, top camping, hiking, wild swimming, plus great local food and wine – and all doable in a weekend from the three main airports – try one of these itineraries from Edwina Pitcher’s Wild Guide Portugal

Away from the busy coastal resorts, Portugal is a timeless and magical place. To the north and east, there are wild mountains and sparkling lakes; to the south and west, there are dusty olive groves, secret beaches and hidden caves; and everywhere you will find rustic villages, standing stones, magical woodland and hilltop castles. So head inland from the airports on one of these three weekend itineraries and discover a country where shepherds bake bread, villagers make wine, honey and olive oil, and the hospitality is perennial.

Continue reading…

Travel

Want a holiday where beer is just 70p a bottle? Head to Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

Sunny Beach is Europe’s cheapest beach-break destination for the fourth year running, according to the latest survey of typical holiday costs

UK tourists looking for a budget beach-break should head to Bulgaria, where a bottle of beer costs just 70p and a three-course meal for two – including a bottle of wine – will set you back less than £20, according to a new holiday costs report.

The Balkan country’s flagship resort, Sunny Beach, has been ranked the best-value beach resort for the fourth year running by the Post Office Travel Money Holiday Costs Barometer, which compares the average costs of tourist staples in European holiday destinations.

Continue reading…

Travel

The best of rural Portugal: readers’ travel tips

Lush mountains, meandering rivers and hilltop villages await visitors to Portugal’s understated countryside. But where’s best place to stay, eat and enjoy a vinho verde? Our tipsters have the gen

We had our best glass of Portuguese wine on the whitewashed rooftop of a tiny shop in the medieval hilltop village of Monsaraz, on the Spanish border. Local family winemakers Ervideira has one of the best spots to relax after a morning walking the town’s winding passages, scrambling around its castle and visiting the flower-filled 16th-century church. Ask in the shop for a bottle of crisp Invisivel white wine and head up some creaky stairs to the sun-trap terrace, overlooking the plains of Alentejo and across to the Spanish border. We were even invited for a guided tour of the family vineyard, 20 minutes down the road. The wine sold at shop price, no extra corkage – from about £5 a bottle.
Quentin Laurent

Continue reading…

Travel

Walking the National Forest Way: a stroll amid a transformed Midlands

It’s the time of year to check out the bluebell woods of England’s National Forest, which stretches over the former mining fields of Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. We take it stage by stage, with stops for food and sleep

The National Forest, now more than a quarter of a century old, is the result of a need for regeneration after the end of mining, and the desire to transform one of the UK’s least-wooded areas into a wild and wonderful expanse for exploration. In a sense it is an effort to reconnect with the past, a past before men and machinery extracted coal and clay from this land in the Midlands – 200 square miles of it – in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire.

When the first tree was planted in 1991 this became the country’s first new forest in more than a thousand years. At that time only 6% of the area had forest cover; 26 years on and that figure is 20%. Eight and a half million trees and 16,500 acres later and the National Forest links the ancient forests of Needwood in Staffordshire and Charnwood in Leicestershire. It also offers an array of activities and attractions, plus accommodation at hotels, farms, cabins and campsites.

Continue reading…

Music

10 of the UK’s best boutique festivals

When it comes to festivals, size matters – though often small is best, as we found in our roundup of dance and DJ-driven events around the UK

Just outside Glasgow, Kelburn Garden Party is a colourful event held in the grounds of an appropriately colourful castle: a 13th-century stately home daubed with the work of Brazilian street artist OSGEMEOS. Among the hidden corners of the garden will be art, performances and the intimate stages that make up the festival. There’s also the “Neverending Glen”, a trail that leads through the forest to find multimedia art installations, sculptures and secret events. This year headliners include poet and rapper Akala, Mr Scruff and The Hot 8 Brass Band, while Scottish dance music stalwarts Optimo will be collaborating with Canadian producer Jayda G for a takeover with the Numbers crew, bringing a bit of Glasgow party flavour to the proceedings. The festival also goes all out for families, with many events and entertainments for kids throughout the weekend, on top of the Kelburn estate’s existing attractions.
• 30 June-3 July, adults from £104, children from £21, under-fives, free, kelburngardenparty.com

Continue reading…

Travel

10 of the best country campsites in France

The authors of the latest Cool Camping: France book pick the best family-friendly sites from Normandy to the Pyrenees

Since its commission – by none other than William the Conqueror – Château de Monfréville, 10km from the Normandy coast, has housed everyone from Walt Disney’s whole family to invading German soldiers. Today it is limited to just 25 tent pitches, with ample room for little ones to roam and Bert the donkey to graze. There’s a natural swimming pond, an honesty shop (stocked with organic veggies from the garden) and fresh pastries delivered each morning. It’s a 30-minute drive to the medieval town of Bayeux, home of the world’s most celebrated tapestry.
Tent and 2 people from €26.50 (tents only)

Continue reading…

Travel

Wild days out for Easter: UK walks, attractions and activities – without the crowds

Big-name attractions are heaving over the spring break but the UK has a wealth of spectacular, less-well-known days out. Our experts reveal their favourites

The sea is not warm over Easter (just 9-10C), but sunshine and warm air make a difference, tempting swimmers to strip for a quick dash and splash. I love Wales for a spring break. Trefalen Farm campsite at Bosherston in Pembrokeshire is basic but perfectly situated – who needs a shower block when you can scramble down to the sea for a wake-up dip? From the site, you can walk across Broadhaven, Barafundle (accessible only by foot) and on to Stackpole Quay, where a National Trust cafe does wonderful hot soups and drinks. Afterwards, you could explore the paths around Bosherton Ponds, where otters are frequently seen.
Kate Rew, founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society and crowd-sourced swim map wildswim.com

Continue reading…

Music

‘The 1970s club scene in New York was special’: Nicky Siano

The DJ, who played at Studio 54 and opened his first club, the Gallery, in Manhattan in 1973, reveals the New York party and music hotspots he rates today

I started going to bars when I was 16. Kids weren’t allowed in, but I was tall. I’d look through the windows of certain clubs and see the inside. They always just looked phoney, trying to be really groovy and, well, posh. To me, they looked tacky. Then I went to David Mancuso’s place, the Loft, and was just overwhelmed by it.

I was into sound but, oh my God, I had never heard sound like that before. The whole setup at The Loft was different. It was just like being in someone’s living room, but a nice living room with big cushions and lamps and old chairs.

Continue reading…

Travel

Poet’s Pacific paradise: Pablo Neruda’s homes in Chile

As a new film about Pablo Neruda gets a UK release, we visit two of the Pacific-facing homes where the poet found inspiration: Isla Negra and the ‘crazy port’ of Valparaíso

‘If we walk up and down all the stairs of Valparaíso we’ll have walked all round the world.” Poet Pablo Neruda was alluding to the cosmopolitan vitality of Chile’s second city, chief port and most romantic – and likeable – metropolis. He might also have been referring to the workout you get hiking around “Valpo” – as locals dub it. Spread over 42 hills, its mansions, houses, shanties and steep, cobbled roads are a sea-facing sprawl. When you get lost and hot, it’s a relief to stumble on one of the four ascensores – funicular lifts – which cut out some of the climbing.

Continue reading…

Travel

10 of the best British farm attractions

Easter’s not complete without lambs and chicks, and the UK’s family-friendly farm attractions are geared up for the school holidays, with events from rides and races to bottle feeding

This organic dairy and arable farm prides itself on a “hands-on” approach: visitors are encouraged to feed and groom the animals and watch planting and milking parlour demonstrations. Budding farmers can get a taste of agricultural life by signing up for its Young Farmer Academy: two-hour sessions aimed at 7-to-12-year-olds, with the chance to take part in behind-the-scenes activities, while learning about animal husbandry or arable farming (next session 13 April, £15pp). Over the Easter holidays (1-17 April), there’ll be extra activities such as Easter egg hunts, sheep races and bird of prey displays.
Adult £9.20, 2–16s £8.20, under-twos £1.75, family £33, 10% online discount, stockleyfarm.co.uk

Continue reading…