• Where do adventurers and explorers go for a holiday? (2/18/2019)- “What’s next?” That seems to be the question I get asked most frequently. People often send me their own suggestions. Walk across Australia; tramp the length of the Great Wall of China; paddle down the Zambezi, and so on and so forth… It’s assumed, given that my last decade has been spent trudging through some of the most inaccessible regions of the world for several months at a time, my next trip has to be more dangerous, more unthinkable, more “adventurous”. But even explorers need a break from exploring and, that aside, a journey doesn’t have to involve sweating it out through deadly jungles to be considered an adventure. Not everyone has the means or inclination to disappear off for years…
  • The best river cruises in Asia for 2019 (2/18/2019)- Asia’s rivers open up a vast swathe of cities to visit. A cruise on the continents waterways might take you temple hopping through Cambodia and Vietnam or a voyage on the Yangtze could be combined with panda watching in China.  Here are the best cruises in Asia for 2019. Mekong Towns and temples Experience life in the slow lane during an ox-cart ride in Cambodia while cruising on Emerald Waterways’ new river ship Emerald Harmony. The vessel, the line’s first in Asia, sails seven-night cruises between Prek’kdam in Cambodia and My Tho in Vietnam. The itinerary includes visits to temples and a bird sanctuary as Harmony calls into villages and towns along the river. In Phnom Penh, passengers will learn about the dark days of the Khmer Rouge on a trip to a former torture prison and Killing Fields at Choeung Ek. Emerald pairs the cruise with hotel stays in Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City where tours visit Angkor Wat and the Cu Chi underground tunnels where the Viet Cong lived during the Vietnam War. A 15-day Majestic Mekong cruise-and-stay holiday costs from £4,395 per person departing Dec 18 2019 (0808 159 4193; emeraldwaterways.co.uk). Memories are made of this Give your senses a treat in the bustling market in Sadec, in Vietnam, where motorbikes drive up and down narrow aisles as shoppers barter with stallholders selling everything from live fish and chickens to chillies and flowers. It is one of a host of memorable experiences that await on Lotus Cruises’ one-week voyages on Mekong Navigator, a colonial-style river ship decked out with teak floors and furniture. Sailings are between My Tho in Vietnam and Kampong Cham in Cambodia; itineraries visit fish farms, floating markets, schools and a monastery to be blessed by monks. In Phnom Penh, a cyclo taxi (a cycle with a seat on the front) is an exciting way to see the sights. From $1,619 (£1,268) per person for seven nights departing Sept 21 (0084 8541 011 63; lotuscruises.com). Time your visit to Vientiane right and you could join in the That Luang festivities Credit: iStock That Luang Festival Add a couple of nights in Vientiane to the start of Pandaw’s cruise on the Upper Mekong in Laos to celebrate That Luang, the biggest religious festival in Laos (from November 4-11 in 2019). Centred on the golden That Luang stupa in the centre of the city, it attracts thousands of monks and Lao people and involves colourful processions, chanting, fireworks and music. From Vientiane, Pandaw sails north to Chiang Saen in Thailand, stopping en route for village walks, a swim at the Khaung Si waterfall and to visit the Pak Ou Caves, which house more than 10,000 Buddha statues. Two nights in Luang Prabang allows time to visit morning and night markets, temples and the National Museum. A 10-night Laos Mekong cruise costs from £3,355 per person cruise-only departing Nov 12 2019 (020 8396 7320; pandaw.com). Ganges and Brahmaputra Cruising the Ganges Pair a tour of India’s Golden Triangle with Avalon Waterways’ cruises on the Ganges, for a holiday that combines the Taj Mahal in Agra with trips to villages and towns that few outside India have heard of. The six-night cruise sails round-trip from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on the Ganges Voyager, with visits to temples, workshops and palaces on calls into Kalna, Matiari and Murshidabad. There’s a visit to the Iskcon temple in Mayapur, headquarters of the Hari Krishna movement and, in Kolkata, tours to the flower market and the former home of Mother Teresa. Kuoni sells the cruise alongside a six-night Golden Triangle tour that also takes in Delhi and the Amber Fort in Jaipur. From £6,162 per person for 14 days departing Sept 7 2019 (0800 144 8181; kuoni.co.uk). Spot Bengal Tigers in Kaziranga National Park Credit: Getty Safari in Assam Go in search of one-horned rhinos and elusive Bengal tigers in open Jeeps in Kaziranga National Park on a one-week cruise from Guwahati to Jorhat on the Brahmaputra river. The excursion is one of several that seeks to uncover the wildlife and culture of Assam on Great Rail Journeys’ cruise on the river ship Mahabaahu. Visit tea plantations, ancient temples and villages where homes are built on stilts to escape the monsoon floods. It’s only fitting that a pre-cruise night in Kolkata includes a ride on the Circular Railway and visit to the Railway Museum. A 13-day Assam and the Mighty Brahmaputra cruise costs from £3,295 per person departing Sept 26 2019 (01904 521936; greatrail.com). Yangtze The Three Gorges Building the Three Gorges Dam over China’s Yangtze involved the displacement of millions of people. Hear the other side of the story – how it saves lives and is cleaner than the coal mines that once lined the river – during a cruise between Wuhan and Chongqing. The six-night cruise on the Viking Emerald sails beneath the gorges’ mist-shrouded peaks, visiting the 12-storey Shibaozhai Pagoda and a local school. There’s also a sampan boat ride to see hanging coffins. Viking bundles the cruise with Beijing, Shanghai and Xian, home of the terracotta warriors. The 14-day Imperial Jewels of China cruise-tour costs from £3,295 per person including flights departing Nov 2 2019 (0800 319 6660; vikingcruises.com). See the wonder of the Terracotta Army in Xian Credit: Getty China for solo travellers Travel alone minus the supplement on a Captivating China holiday with Wendy Wu Holidays. This all-encompassing trip pairs Beijing, Xian and Shanghai with a bullet train ride to Chengdu to see pandas and a three-night cruise through the Three Gorges on the Yangtze. See a 100ft image of the Jade Emperor and the Three Gorges Dam, while a small boat cruise explores the Goddess Stream – so-called as the dam turned it from a trickle to a river. A two-week cruise costs from £3,590 per person departing Oct 12 2019 (0808 274 8594; wendywutours.co.uk).
  • How to buy the right travel insurance (2/18/2019)- https://static.independent.co.uk/s3fs-public/thumbnails/image/2017/07/03/16/travel-insurance.jpgThe world of travel insurance can be overwhelming, with myriad policies to choose from, each of them with their own small print clauses ready to scupper you when you find yourself in a bind abroad. Here’s how to get the right cover to suit your holiday needs. Finalise the fun stuff Join Independent Minds For exclusive articles, events and an advertising-free read for just £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month Start your free trial Get the best of The Independent With an Independent Minds subscription for just £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month Start your free trial Get the best of The Independent Without the ads – for just £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month Start your free trial Once you’ve decided on booking a holiday, work out major details from the get-go, advises Neil Wright, founder of travel insurance provider CoverForYou. This includes which countries you’re visiting, how long you’re going for and what activities you’ll be doing.  “These factors will determine which regions you need cover for (Europe or worldwide including or excluding the USA, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean) and whether you need certain activities included in the policy,” says Wright. “Skiing, bungee jumping, some levels of canoeing and scuba diving, jet skiing, kite boarding and paragliding, among other things, often require higher levels of cover as they’re considered riskier activities.” leftCreated with Sketch. rightCreated with Sketch. 1/14 Passports British passports that expire after 29 March 2019 will continue to be valid as UK travel documents, but will lose the power that comes with being a European Union passport – notably the right of free movement within the EU27. UK passports issued from 30 March 2019 will have the words “European Union” removed from the cover and the first page (along with the translations into Welsh and Gaelic). But they will still be burgundy. By October 2019, new British passports will have dark blue covers Getty 2/14 Pets You will still be able to travel to the EU with your pet after Brexit, but it could well get more complicated depending on the status that the European Union decide to apply. If the UK is given “Part 2 listed status”, there would be some extra requirements for travelling pets and owners post-Brexit. “These would require an additional visit to the vet and some additional papers to be carried but would not prevent you from enjoying your trip,” says Eurotunnel. But it adds that if the UK is given unlisted, third-country status, “owners who wish to travel with their pets from the UK to EU nations will need to discuss their specific preparations and requirements with an Official Veterinarian at least four months prior to their desired travel date AFP/Getty 3/14 Eurotunnel/Eurostar The Treaty of Canterbury between the UK and France governs the Channel Tunnel link and operations will continue – subject to any local disruption at Folkestone and/or Calais AFP/Getty 4/14 Driving Motorists, whether taking their own cars or hiring abroad, are likely to need to obtain an International Driving Permit or two; different EU countries are signed up to different treaties, so for a trip embracing Spain and France you would need both types. These are currently sold from a limited number of Post Offices, but the government intends to make them widely available. The cost is £5.50 for each. Motor insurance will no longer automatically extend to the EU. Insurers will provide on request a “Green Card”, for which an extra charge will be made PA 5/14 Flights Even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, flights will continue to operate between the UK and European Union. However, in the event of the UK leaving with no deal, many flights are likely to be cancelled because departures would be capped at 2018 levels. As UK airlines have already announced thousands of new flights to Europe from the end of March 2019, some would have to be cancelled Getty 6/14 Air routes The network of flight links between Britain and eastern Europe could be affected by any reduction in the number of workers from those countries. Not only do they use the flights – so do their families and friends PA 7/14 Flight disruption rights Current European passengers’ rights rules, known as EC261/2004, stipulate high payouts for delays and cancellations that cannot be attributed to “extraordinary circumstances”. Buried in a document called Beyond the Horizon: The Future of UK Aviation, the government says “the UK will not fall below current standards of protection when we leave the EU” AFP/Getty 8/14 Entry regulations to the European Union From 11pm GMT on 29 March 2019, UK travellers will become “third-country nationals” when travelling to Schengen countries and subject to the standard rules of admission for citizens of nations such as the US, Japan and Australia. That means there must be at least 90 days (roughly three months) left on your passport beyond your intended date of departure. Because third-country nationals can remain in the Schengen area for 90 days, the actual check carried out could be that the passport has at least six months’ validity remaining on the date of arrival Getty 9/14 Online registration prior to travel – ETIAS From 2021, non-EU nationals who do not require a visa to enter the Schengen area – including British travellers – will need to request prior authorisation to visit Schengen countries. The Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is aimed at reducing the “migration, security or public-health risk” from nationals of visa-exempt third countries, which is what the UK will become after Brexit. It costs €7 for three years AFP/Getty 10/14 ‘Brexit clauses’ A large number of travel providers – even including National Express coaches – have added “Brexit clauses” to their terms and conditions. These generally specify that they will not be liable for “consequential losses” as a result of Brexit-related issues PA 11/14 ‘Fast track’ lanes for passport control entering EU countries British passport holders will not be able to use them, and must join the queue for third-country nationals. People […]
  • 10 of the world's best big cat adventures (2/18/2019)- Leopards in Sri Lanka, cheetahs in Botswana and pumas in Patagonia: there are big cats to be found and admired all around the world. Here are some of the best places to see them. 1. Snow leopards in Ladakh Notoriously elusive, snow leopards inhabit remote, mountainous parts of central Asia including northwest India. Wildlife specialist Wildwings offers an annual tour to Ladakh near the Tibetan border in February while the animals are roaming the lower, less snowy Himalayan foothills in search of food. Ten days of camping at 12,000ft means this isn’t a trip for the faint-hearted, but two nights in Leh, the regional capital, allows for acclimatisation.  In Search of Snow Leopards from £2,345 for 13 nights full-board, including transfers. Excludes flights. Departs Feb 25 2019 and Feb 24 2020. Wildwings (wildwings.co.uk). 2. Caracals in Namibia Although its reddish coat lacks the striking markings of more glamorous felines, the caracal has distinctive pointed ears topped with elegant, black tufts. They are largely nocturnal, but a self-drive itinerary with Expert Africa includes four nights of game viewing in Etosha National Park, Namibia, where caracal numbers are high. Highlights include the Namib Desert, the rock engravings of Damaraland and the dramatic landscape of the Erongo Mountains in the Central Highlands. Caracal Self-Drive Safari from £2,880 for 14 nights, including some meals, car hire and flights. Departs year round. Expert Africa (expertafrica.com). The caracal is one of nature’s more unusual looking cats Credit: istock 3. Big cats in Borneo Deramakot wildlife reserve in Sabah is home to the clouded leopard – so-called because of its blotchy, cloud-shaped markings – and the chestnut-coloured Borneo bay cat. Adventure Alternatives offers a tailor-made tour that includes this reserve (book early as the number of visitors permitted is limited, as is accommodation) and a chance to view orang-utans on the Kinabatangan River. Travel between March and September to avoid the rainy season. Borneo Wildlife and Orang-utan Tour from £1,895 for nine nights, including most meals and transfers. Excludes flights. Departs year round. Adventure Alternative (adventurealternative.com). Fine markings Credit: istock 4. Leopards in Sri Lanka Yala National Park, nearly 400 sq miles of forest and grasslands in the southeastern corner of Sri Lanka, has the highest density of leopards anywhere in the world. Long-haul specialist Kuoni offers an escorted tour that includes two game drives to maximise the chances of spotting these elegant animals. The circular itinerary also takes in the lesser-known Wilpattu National Park and the elephant rehabilitation centre within the Udawalawe National Park. Sri Lanka Wildlife Tour from £3,027 for 12 nights half-board, including flights and transfers. Departs from January to May, and October to December. Kuoni (kuoni.co.uk). Leopards spend a good amount of time in trees Credit: istock 5. Tigers in India  Bandhavgarh National Park, in India’s large, centrally located state of Madhya Pradesh, has the country’s largest population of these magnificently charismatic big cats. A tailor-made itinerary with Abercrombie & Kent includes this remote region on an adventure that also takes in Pench National Park, another of the country’s foremost tiger ranges. With two more game drives included in the tiger reserve at Kanha National Park, the chances of spotting one run high. In Search of Tiger, from £3,935 for 10 nights, including some meals, flights and transfers. Departs October to June. Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk). Magnificently charismatic Credit: Getty 6. Cheetahs in Botswana   It’s never too soon for children to learn about wildlife conservation, and taking them on a safari can be an inspiring way to get the message across. Natural World Safaris offers a tailor-made itinerary aimed at families, with expert guides to explain techniques to track the fastest animal on earth, the cheetah, which inhabits the wide spaces of the Selinda Concession in Botswana. There’s also a visit to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls and Okavango Delta Family Safari from £3,045 for seven nights, including most meals and transfers. Excludes flights. Departs May to November. Natural World Safaris (naturalworldsafaris.com). The fastest of them all Credit: istock 7. Pumas in Patagonia Also known as cougars or mountain lions, pumas are solitary hunters and the Torres del Paine National Park, in Patagonia, Chile, is one of the best places to view them. Wildlife Worldwide has a photography-focused itinerary departing in early spring, when females are nursing cubs. A maximum of four guests stay in a comfortable camp in the park, with daily activities dependent on animal sightings and weather conditions. Puma-tracking in Southern Chile from £4,395 for seven nights, including most meals and transfers. Excludes flights. Departs March 3 and April 9. Wildlife Worldwide (wildlifeworldwide.com).  Beguiling eyes Credit: istock 8. Lions in Kenya The location for the BBC’s Big Cat Diary television series following the lives of lion, cheetah and leopard families, the Maasai Mara in Kenya is a top region for big-cat lovers. It’s home to a good number of lion prides, and the best time to visit the region is between July and October to coincide with the wildebeest migration. Avoid April and May, when east Africa’s rainy season can make roads impassable. Big Cat Maasai Mara and Samburu Safari from £3,725 for seven nights full-board, flights and transfers. Departs year round. Rainbow Tours (rainbowtours.co.uk).   The landscape is almost as mesmerising as the lion Credit: Getty 9. Lynx in Andalucia Spain’s mountainous Sierra Morena and the grassy wetlands of Coto Doñana National Park are home to some of the most endangered cat species. Around 400 Iberian lynxes live in these areas, and wildlife specialist Naturetrek visits both on a popular itinerary that is filling up for this year and 2020. Sightings of the animals, with their flecked coats and pointed ears, aren’t guaranteed, but early-morning starts increase the chances.  Spain – Realm of the Iberian Lynx from £1,195 for five nights full-board, including flights and transfers. Departing October to December 2020. Naturetrek (naturetrek.co.uk).  Behold, the Iberian lynx Credit: getty 10. Jaguars in Brazil Native to the plains, mountains and rivers of South America, jaguars are classified as threatened – […]
  • Virgin Atlantic launches Hidden Disabilities scheme (2/18/2019)- https://static.independent.co.uk/s3fs-public/thumbnails/image/2019/02/18/13/hidden-disabilities-sign-virgin-atlantic.jpgVirgin Atlantic has launched a Hidden Disabilities scheme across its networks. The initiative aims to make flying easier and less stressful for those who may face additional challenges when travelling.  Virgin staff have undertaken specialist training to ensure they are fully informed about and able to assist passengers with hidden disabilities, such as autism or Asperger’s. Join Independent Minds For exclusive articles, events and an advertising-free read for just £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month Start your free trial Get the best of The Independent With an Independent Minds subscription for just £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month Start your free trial Get the best of The Independent Without the ads – for just £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month Start your free trial A specially designed symbol, which can be discretely tucked away in a passport or worn as a pin badge, signals to Virgin Atlantic crew that additional assistance may be required. The scheme, which is available at no extra cost, can also extend to staff working with passengers before and after a flight in an effort to minimise the impact of what can be a stressful experience. leftCreated with Sketch. rightCreated with Sketch. 1/19 Eva Air Eva Air Getty Images 2/19 Austrian Airlines Austrian Airlines Getty Images 3/19 KLM KLM Getty Images 4/19 Qatar Qatar Getty Images 5/19 Lufthansa Lufthansa Getty Images 6/19 Hawaiian Airlines Hawaiian Airlines Getty Images 7/19 Alaska Airlines Alaska Airlines Getty Images 8/19 SAS SAS Getty Images 9/19 Finnair Finnair Getty Images 10/19 Emirates Emirates Getty Images 11/19 Cathay Pacific Cathay Pacific Getty Images 12/19 British Airways British Airways Getty Images 13/19 Singapore Airlines Singapore Airlines Getty Images 14/19 All Nippon Airways All Nippon Airways Getty Images 15/19 Air New Zealand Air New Zealand Getty Images 16/19 Swiss Swiss Getty Images 17/19 American Airlines American Airlines Getty Images 18/19 United United Getty Images 19/19 Virgin Atlantic and Australia Virgin Atlantic and Australia Getty Images 1/19 Eva Air Eva Air Getty Images 2/19 Austrian Airlines Austrian Airlines Getty Images 3/19 KLM KLM Getty Images 4/19 Qatar Qatar Getty Images 5/19 Lufthansa Lufthansa Getty Images 6/19 Hawaiian Airlines Hawaiian Airlines Getty Images 7/19 Alaska Airlines Alaska Airlines Getty Images 8/19 SAS SAS Getty Images 9/19 Finnair Finnair Getty Images 10/19 Emirates Emirates Getty Images 11/19 Cathay Pacific Cathay Pacific Getty Images 12/19 British Airways British Airways Getty Images 13/19 Singapore Airlines Singapore Airlines Getty Images 14/19 All Nippon Airways All Nippon Airways Getty Images 15/19 Air New Zealand Air New Zealand Getty Images 16/19 Swiss Swiss Getty Images 17/19 American Airlines American Airlines Getty Images 18/19 United United Getty Images 19/19 Virgin Atlantic and Australia Virgin Atlantic and Australia Getty Images Staff can accompany passengers through the airport, arrange priority boarding and reserve seating where necessary.  Onboard, staff can also arrange in-flight entertainment for blind passengers, while some crew members have had sign language training to assist deaf travellers (although this must be pre-arranged).  Watch more Geraldine Lundy, passenger accessibility manager at Virgin Atlantic, says: “We are committed to giving all customers easier access to travel. The Hidden Disabilities scheme is one of a series of initiatives that Virgin Atlantic is planning on introducing over the coming years, to help those with disabilities overcome any key challenges they may face.” Tom Morgan, sports ambassador for the National Autistic Society and star of the Channel 4 show The Undateables, travelled under the scheme.  “Geraldine and her team go above and beyond to ensure that your flight experience is tailored to your specific needs,” he said.  “For instance, I asked if I could be sat at the back of the plane so that if I was to experience ticks on the flight, I wouldn’t disturb the passenger behind me. Virgin Atlantic easily accommodated my request, which made me much less nervous about the flying process.” Virgin Atlantic launches hidden disabilities scheme While not instantly recognisable, hidden disabilities can significantly affect a person’s life. Some 22 per cent of the UK population have a disability, with over half of those stating that their disability is a hidden one. Airlines have come under fire in the past for not being trained in helping those with hidden disabilities. In January 2018, The Independent reported that a disabled passenger had branded Stansted Airport staff “disgusting” after she was denied assistance because she “didn’t look disabled”. Nathalie Allport-Grantham, 23, was flying to Nice with Ryanair when a member of staff refused her the assistance she had confirmed ahead of her flight. She told The Independent: “I told the lady on duty that I had booked special assistance and needed help with my bags and to get onto the aircraft. “She looked at me and said, ‘If you want someone to carry your bags, you have to pay £50.’”
  • Hotel Hit Squad: Child-focused fun and family cookery courses make the Grand Hotel and Spa in York ideal for a half-term break (2/18/2019)- What are you looking for when you book a hotel with kids? It’s not a rhetorical question. I genuinely want to know. Tweet me (@hattiegarlick) or write (how charming would that be?) and I will diligently hunt down and test hotels that meet your specifications. Talk about selfless public service. Here’s my view. Travelling with children, I want one of two things. A true home from home, somewhere small, warm and characterful where my children’s eccentricities and muddy boots can be absorbed into the chatter and charm. (See: Penally Abbey in Pembrokeshire, or Augill Castle in Cumbria.) Or somewhere so vast and anonymous it’s like being luxuriously institutionalised. The benefit of this is that you can check in, and check out of adulting altogether for a short, blissful time. A concierge will do the thinking, the housekeeping the picking up and turning down – reducing you to a giant toddler yourself, padding the corridors in a fluffy gown. (See: Gleneagles, at the fantasy end of the scale, or more realistically, The Grand Hotel and Spa, York). The latter is a proud red-brick building inside the city’s medieval walls, once the headquarters of the North Eastern Railway Company and reincarnated as York’s only five-star hotel in 2010. Last year, it added 100 more bedrooms, doubling its size (vast – check; luxurious – check). The hotel is a proud red-brick building inside York’s medieval walls that was formerly the headquarters of the North Eastern Railway Company Credit: Credit: PURPLE MARBLES YORK 1 / Alamy Stock Photo/PURPLE MARBLES YORK 1 / Alamy Stock Photo • Hotel Hit Squad: The Cotswold country house hotel teaching Michelin-starred cooking to millennials Doormen in bowler hats sweep you into a lobby that’s all marble chequered floor, Corinthian pillars and Edwardian wrought-iron balustrades befitting the “Palace of Business” the building was originally conceived to be. The new annexe, on the other hand, was converted from a Seventies office block. While the former has all the character in its bones, the latter appears to have been allocated the entire interior design budget. The new rooms have white marble bathrooms and panelled walls in Farrow & Ball shades, but our room in the old hotel is beige as a boardroom (which it probably was, originally). It has curtains in striped toothpaste shades and an intriguing view across a multi-story car park. It is, however, vast and supremely comfortable. Besides, we are really here to test the hotel’s new cookery school. Opening next month, it will host classes for all ages and abilities, including “parent and child” sessions. A huge amount of love and money has been sunk into equipping the bright, 2,500 sq ft space with copper light fittings and cool plywood cabinets. Four long, marble-topped islands house 16 workstations, each equipped with induction hob, oven and professional equipment. It looks like the set of Junior MasterChef. It is also reasonably priced. Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons has a family cooking course, too. It lasts a full day and costs £555 for two. The Grand’s (three hours in which you cook a main course and a pudding before sitting down to eat both) costs £45 for two. Head chef Andrew Dixon gives a concise demo, focusing on kitchen skills the children can take home and practise. Then we are assigned a workstation. While my son and I make meatballs and tomato sauce, Andrew and two assistant chefs offer tips and whip away all the washing up. The parent and child cookery workshops involve creating (and eating) a main course and pudding • Hotel Hit Squad: An out-of-body experience and a fear conquered at the near-perfect Gainsborough Bath Spa This is cooking without the adulting and it is fabulous. There is no faulting it. But let me move quickly on to the pool. The Grand’s is inside the Espa spa. It welcomes kids, giving them small robes and little bottles of Child’s Farm 3 in 1 swim gel to wash off the chlorine. Not everyone is so relaxed. A pasty man breast-stroked up to us, muttering accusations about the children talking – or possibly breathing – marring his relaxation. The rest of the hotel is heaven for kids. The smart dining room, Hudsons, has three AA Rosettes and a £50 tasting menu, but we eat in The Rise, an art deco-styled brasserie. It has a decent children’s menu, an endless stream of colouring and crayons and, crucially, reasonably priced wine (another point on my family hotel checklist, since paying £45 for a chardonnay that I have to sip between rounds of I Spy doesn’t thrill me). Breakfast is served here too, and ticks off another of my big hotel essentials – a buffet on an epic scale that Willy Wonka would smile on. In fact, almost everything about The Grand is straightforward and slick. Even its location is ideal for families – a two-minute walk from the station, and a 10-minute stroll to the Shambles, the medieval lanes that inspired Diagon Alley and are now crammed with cute wizarding emporiums selling Harry Potter wands and gowns. City breaks aren’t usually much fun with children in tow. This one, however, is magic. A family of four can stay at The Grand from £245 a night, B&B. Parent and child cookery workshops cost £45 for a pair, and are aimed at children from eight to 18. Read the full Grand Hotel & Spa review
  • What happens when cruise ship launches go wrong (2/18/2019)- It’s the stuff of nightmares. You rush to book the maiden cruise of a new ship and, a few weeks before you are due to set sail, the cruise line informs you the vessel won’t be ready in time. Given the number of new cruise ships launching these days (this year there are more than 15), one could be forgiven for thinking that the building process is a well-oiled machine. Mostly, it is. Celebrity Cruises’ new ship Celebrity Edge was a textbook example of how it is done. There was a fanfare keel-laying in June 2017 at the French shipyard in St Nazaire in France where the ship was built. In November 2018 – just 17 months later – Celebrity took delivery of the 2,918 ship and a month later she was christened in Fort Lauderdale. Virgin Voyages is taking a little longer to build Scarlet Lady, its first ship, but the build is moving on apace. The keel was laid in Genoa in November 2017, she was floated out in February 2019 and will enter service (probably) in April 2020. A spokesperson said the company was taking extra time to make sure it got all the details right before bringing any passengers on board. Then there’s Scenic Eclipse. The super-luxury vessel was supposed to launch last summer, but its unveiling has just been delayed for a third time. Scarlet Lady’s name reveal at the ship’s float out in Genoa Credit: Virgin Voyages So why do launches not go to plan? Lots of reasons. The QE2’s shakedown cruise in 1969 – this is when owners test their new toy and the crew practice with punters for the first time – was rather more tremulous than it should have been due to an engine problem. The maiden voyage was cancelled and the ship went back to the yard for four months to be fixed. In 2016, Holland America Line chose to delay the launch of its new ship Koningsdam by six weeks because it wanted to add a few additional features. Last year, MSC Cruises had to cancel MSC Seaview’s christening and her three-night maiden voyage due to delays with the final fitting. In those cases we’re talking just weeks and months, which is bad enough for holidaymakers left without a cruise. But one has to feel especially sorry for anyone who booked in advance to secure a cabin on the new ships that the cruise lines Scenic and Hurtigruten were due to launch last summer. Both those vessels are still not ready. How Roald Amundsen will look at sea Credit: Hurtigruten Things must have gone very wrong? That’s an understatement. In Hurtigruten’s case, the Kleven Werft shipyard in Norway where the vessel Roald Amundsen is being built, said the ‘complexity of the project’ meant they needed more time. The vessel is the world’s first hybrid ship, able to run on battery power for short periods. It was due to launch in July 2018. It’s now on course to enter service on May 3, 2019. Scenic’s ship, Scenic Eclipse, has been caught up in financial problems at the Uljanik shipyard in Croatia where it is being built. Unbelievably, workers weren’t being paid by the yard’s owners so they went on strike and blockaded the ship so subcontractors drafted in by Scenic couldn’t work either. Scenic Eclipse was originally due to launch at the end of August 2018. This was delayed to January 2019, then to April 2019, and now it is expected in mid-August 2019. Brodosplit shipyard in Croatia, where Star Clippers’ Flying Clipper is being built Credit: Getty Isn’t another very late ship being built in Croatia? Another hugely delayed ship is Flying Clipper, which is being built for Star Clippers at the Brodosplit shipyard in Split. It was due to launch at the end of 2017, then was put back to spring 2018. No reason was given for the delay, but spring came and went, and so did summer, autumn and winter, and still there was no ship. Rather than picking a new date, Star Clippers’ owner Mikael Krafft just kept schtum until it looked like the ship was finally nearing completion. A smart move as it kept the delay out of the news. The cruise line has now confirmed that sea trials have been completed and that Flying Clipper, a near-replica of the sailing ship France II, is expected to begin cruising in May this year. As nothing has ever gone on sale – and there are still no itineraries – no one one has been left disappointed or out of pocket. How the luxurious Scenic Eclipse will look in Antarctica Credit: Scenic What happens if you’ve paid for the cruise and there is no ship? Cruise lines are pretty generous. If an inaugural sailing is cancelled they will issue a full refund for the cruise and associated costs. Hurtigruten offered discounts on alternative expedition sailings, while Scenic gave its booked passengers a 25 per cent future cruise credit. Where possible a line will probably offer to move affected passengers to the new maiden voyage. That’s fine for those who can be flexible with their holiday time and are on a big ship that has plenty of space. On a small ship such as the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse, chances are the new maiden cruise – which would have been sold as a normal sailing – is full. So if being on the inaugural cruise was the big attraction, you’re in for a double disappointment. Cruise secrets: 12 things you didn’t know about holidays at sea Does being on the maiden cruise really matter that much? Yes and no. Getting on a new ship is like driving off the forecourt in a new car. Carpets have a fresh smell, staff are usually excited (and proud) and some people simply like knowing they are the first person to sleep in their cabin. Conversely, it can be a good idea to wait a few weeks when snags have been attended to […]
  • Flybmi collapse: What to do if your holiday is affected (2/18/2019)- Thousands of passengers have been left stranded after their flights were cancelled on Saturday night when British regional airline Flybmi went into administration. The privately owned East Midlands-based carrier, which operated 17 jet aircraft on routes to 25 European cities, stopped operations without warning, cancelling all of its flights and notifying customers by text message. Even the British Airline Pilots Association were reportedly blindsided by the collapse, which a spokesman for Flybmi blamed on “the uncertainty created by the Brexit process”, along with recent spikes in fuel and carbon costs. Its demise follows hot on the heels of other low-cost carriers including Primera Air, which…
  • Puglia and the South – Undiscovered Italy (2/18/2019)- Newmarket Holidays is a highly respected independent tour operator, having won the British Travel Awards for the best large escorted tours holiday company for three consecutive years. The company prides itself on its customer service, commitment to affordable holidays and vast array of stunning destinations. From exclusive theatre breaks in New York to escorted tours to Europe’s most historic and culturally diverse cities, from festive coach breaks to the timeless winter markets in Bruges and Berlin, Newmarket Holidays deliver unforgettable tours that offer great value to Telegraph readers. This holiday is provided by, and your resulting contract and booking conditions will be with, Newmarket Air Holidays Ltd. (registered in England no. 2238316) ABTA V7812/ ATOL 2325, a company wholly independent of Telegraph Media Group Limited. Please click here to view our supplier’s terms and conditions
  • Behind the scenes at Scully, a London restaurant where diners can be chef for the day (2/18/2019)- Whether it’s a tour of the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House, the kitchens of the Ritz or the parts of St Paul’s Cathedral that visitors never normally see, going backstage and behind the scenes is always eye-opening. Only my friend Henrietta could have unearthed this particular gem of a culinary backstage stint – she’s an enthusiast, and enthusiasts make things happen. Scully is the eponymous first restaurant of Ramael Scully, previously head chef of Ottolenghi’s Nopi, and it opened in St James’s Market, close to Piccadilly Circus, in March last year. Reviewers have fallen over themselves to praise his truly transnational cooking which reflects both his Chinese, Indian, Balinese and Irish heritage and his life, which has taken him from childhood in Malaysia, training in Sydney and extensive travels and work in the Middle East, Russia and Europe. The globe-spanning menu at Scully features dishes such as octopus, salt-baked avocado and black garlic Credit: David Loftus Henrietta was an early customer at Scully, which is backed by the Ottolenghi family and decorated with an array of brightly coloured jars of pickles, syrups, shrubs, preserves, fermented fruit and vegetables, made and prepped by Scully and his team. Henrietta brought her sister, her children, her friends, and me. She sat at the bar that looks in to the open kitchen and she chatted to Scully. “I love your restaurant”, she said. “Come and join us”, replied Scully, “we take two people every Tuesday. They help in the kitchen and in return we give them lunch in the restaurant”. “How much does it cost?” asked Henrietta, fearing the worst. “Nothing. We want to share what we are doing with people who are interested”. Wow. It seems too good to be true: we get to nose around in a top restaurant kitchen and then fed a four-course lunch with wine, all for free. I jumped at the chance to join Henrietta, starting at a leisurely 10.30am with cups of excellent coffee brought to us by Will, the smiling restaurant manager. It never ceases to amaze me how great food can be produced from the tiniest of spaces. At Scully, there is a small (but state of the art) kitchen open to view where Scully and a small band of chefs beaver away. Downstairs are storerooms and a space just big enough for three of us to work on food preparation. Ramael Scully opened his eponymous restaurant in 2018, having previously been head chef at Yotam Ottolenghi’s flagship Nopi restaurant Credit: Tom Bowles Delightful Brazilian Ramiro Gasparotto was in charge. We tried hard to get on with our work, laying out vegetables and beef tendons (yes) on trays for the dehydrator, marinating broccoli in whey, preparing rich mushroom stocks and garum (an ancient Roman fish sauce), vacuum packing wafer-thin slices of mouli with spoonfuls of homemade miso sauce, splitting lengthways and deseeding a pile of chillis and another of poponcini peppers. But we did an awful lot of talking and asking questions too, which Ramiro took entirely in his stride. We learnt about the rhythm of the kitchen, how preparations for dishes are begun days in advance and how the philosophy is ‘nose to tail’, so that nothing is wasted. “What does Scully want to achieve with his cooking?” we asked. “Just one word” replied Ramiro: “Tasty”. Our four hours in the prep kitchen whizzed by in a flash. And our ‘payment’ for inexpertly cutting up their veg and stirring their stock? The most delicious four-course lunch, including many of the dishes we had helped to make, and more: puff beef tendons, tomato pancetta Kilpatrick, and oyster mayo; chargrilled broccoli, Chinkiang vinegar and salted egg yolk; forbidden rice, vegetable XO, daikon and turnip; barbcued Galician octopus, smoke port XO, pickled daikon and cavolo nero; beef short rib pastrami, fermented turnip and sour wood ear mushroom; jicama crusted with lemon myrtle crusted, and poponcini pepper cream. We were looked after beautifully and made to feel special. They even thanked us. But it was for us to thank them. Scully, 4 St James’s Market, London SW1Y 4AH (020 3911 6840; scullyrestaurant.com).

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