Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

How I fell in love with Paxos

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015


By Mark Hodson

I love islands, and I especially love islands without airports. It’s just that added bit of effort in getting there that seems to protect them from overdevelopment and the inevitable cynicism and blandness that comes with it.  I actually enjoy arriving by sea: you get more of a sense of place than jetting in.

Last week I returned from a week’s holiday on Paxos, a tiny island off the south coast of Corfu, and I’m happy to report that it’s every bit as lovely as I imagined. Pretty, authentic, laid-back, friendly and with superb restaurants and the most impossibly clear turquoise bays.

I’ve been travelling to Greece for 30 years but I’m still taken aback every time I visit by the simple pleasures: the colours, the flavours of the food, the warmth of the people, the clarity of the light.

There aren’t many hotels on Paxos. I stayed at Villa Doria, a simple two-bedroom villa with a private pool in the hills above the village of Gaios. It’s available through GIC The Villa Collection, which has a great collection of properties on the island. You can find out more here.

One of the joys of Paxos is that it’s small. There are just three villages connected by a single road. That’s a great relief for a travel writer, who can laze on the beach without guilt. I once spent a frenetic week researching a piece on Crete that involved driving many hundreds of miles, visiting numerous ancient sites and hotels.

I was lucky enough to book my trip just after the Greek referendum when there was a feeling of panic in the air and few people were booking. Prices were low. Now that the economic crisis has settled down bookings are picking up, but there are still some great deals to be had in September and October (both wonderful months to visit the islands). See these late deals from Sunvil.

Check out some of my photos below. I also wrote a report on my trip for Huffington Post which you can read here.


2015-09-02-1441201024-7232476-IMG_5877-thumb  2015-09-02-1441201493-38209-IMG_5883-thumb IMG_5858



Why mountain gorillas need tourism to survive

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Will Bolsover, Natural World Safaris  By Will Bolsover, Managing Director, Natural World Safaris

Will Bolsover set up the first ever gorilla tracking safari in Gabon in combination with Emmanuel de Merode (now the Chief Warden of Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo). He also worked for a niche gorilla safari company based in Uganda and Rwanda and was one of the first people to lead safaris to track some of the first habituated groups of lowland gorillas. Will is recognised as one of the world’s leading authorities on gorilla tourism.


One of the most controversial topics associated with wildlife conservation is tourism. Who does it benefit – the wildlife or the tourists (or both)?

The main threats to gorillas are poaching, habitat loss through mining or deforestation and regional conflicts. In some areas, the effects of these are devastating to the local gorilla population, in particular illegal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

90% of locals within these destinations make their living from cash crops, so they see gorillas as direct competition to their livelihood.

Areas which would have been pristine forest and prime gorilla habitat a few years ago are now fields of potato crops.

The key to protecting the gorillas is to teach the locals that it is in their best interests to conserve and protect them, so that they receive additional income or gain quality of life from their co-existence.

Mountain gorillas have been highly endangered for a number of years and live in one of the most restricted habitats left on the planet today. In recent years they have defied all odds and their population has increased.

Of course the dedicated work of researchers, forest staff and conservation organisations is a major contributor, but undoubtedly so is tourism.

The mountain gorillas of Rwanda are living, breathing proof of tourism and conservation working together in unity.

Mountain gorilla tourism is big business for the East African countries of Rwanda and Uganda, both of which are reaping the benefits.

UmubanoTribal performanceHirwaMountain habitat

Vast sums of money are required on a daily, monthly and annual basis in order to protect and conserve this endangered species, and the money from gorilla tracking permits goes towards this. It contributes towards the maintenance of the park boundaries, medical assistance for both the gorillas and the local population and also to support the local residents, who are now not permitted to make use of the resources of the local forest.

Importantly, it is also used to pay the salaries of the park staff and rangers who patrol this region on a daily basis, monitoring the gorillas and ensuring that those people who are not meant to be in the park are not there.

To put this in a very simple context, over 100 park rangers in the last 10 years have lost their lives whilst protecting mountain gorillas. For this reason alone, the finance that the sale of these gorilla permits generates is essential in order to continue to support the various conservation initiatives and local communities of this region, all of which contribute to the survival of these gentle giants.

It is fair to say that money is a powerful motivator and as a result of the success of eco-tourism and conservation working together, these affable apes are a major contributor to one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, that of Rwanda. A country that has been through more than we can imagine, Rwanda – also known as the Land of a Thousand Hills – is hospitable beyond comprehension and offers a unique wildlife experience that is at the top of the list for most enthusiasts.

By visiting the mountain gorillas, you are making a positive contribution to their conservation and also ensuring that local communities benefit too.

It is essential you book through a reputable tour operator who uses eco-friendly lodges that support communities and employ local guides. Natural World Safaris does just that, ensuring that your contribution to the gorillas through tourism is positive in every way.

Check out Natural World Safaris’ full range of mountain gorilla trekking holidays.

* All images courtesy of Richard Denyer, a Natural World Safaris client.

6 stylish places to stay that welcome kids

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Nadine Mellor, i-escape Kids Collection   By Nadine Mellor, Editor of the Kids Collection, i-escape

The ultimate family holiday for many of us means being by the sea. Our Kids Collection has a great selection of wonderfully stylish places which warmly welcome children. These six hidden gems are sited close to the waves and cater for all ages.

Polurrian Bay Hotel

Polurrian Bay Hotel, Cornwall, UK

We really rate this Cornish coastal hotel. Not just for the cool contemporary makeover of an Edwardian building, or its wonderful sunset-facing setting on the Lizard peninsula, or indeed for the marvellous fare served in the sea view restaurant, but mostly for its superb facilities for families. We reckon Polurrian Bay suits babies, toddlers and younger kids to a T, and heap special praise on the excellent Ofsted-registered creche (you get two hours per day included in the rates, a godsend for parents who need some downtime in the spa) with its sandpit, crafts, games and music sessions. Our reviewer’s son made a fantastic cardboard space rocket, which he still cherishes to this day. Before arrival you’ll be asked which equipment they can supply – from baby baths to changing mats, potties and swim nappies – so you can travel light. There’s also a playground, a cinema showing family films, and an indoor pool with shallow section for novice swimmers. Oh and did we mention that there’s a sandy cove just below? Superb!

Masseria Prosperi

Masseria Prosperi, Puglia, Italy

Puglia (the peninsula found in the heel of the country) has been dubbed Italy’s Cornwall, and we had a great family holiday there recently. The pace is gentle, the beaches uncrowded, and even fussy eaters enjoy Italian food. We loved staying at Masseria Prosperi, a purpose-built and very chic 6-bedroom country villa (which you can take by the room or in entirety), as it has both outdoor (unheated) and indoor (heated) pools, gardens to roam in, dogs and farm animals to admire and ponies and horses to ride – the kids loved sitting on Coppa, the cutest and fattest pony ever! It’s a mere 5 minutes’ drive to the nearest large beach. Best of all was the outstanding food such as sea bass baked in salt and an abundance of wonderful vegetable dishes – the breakfasts alone were fit for royal banquets – all of it tailored to our (and our kids’) requirements. Rooms are spacious and most have outside space either in terraces or balconies. We left having made firm friends with Mercedes, Antonio and their daughters.


Palmizana, Sveti Klement island, near Hvar, Croatia

Palmizana is a hidden gem, far from the madding crowds on this car-free island. A laid-back family-run eco-retreat, it’s surrounded by botanical beauty (planted by the great-grandfather over a century ago), and splendidly free of modern trappings such as TVs and telephones. You stay in stone bungalows or villas, all delightfully colourful and arty (think driftwood sculptures and contemporary Croatian paintings); there’s a good range to choose from and kids under 10 stay free. There’s a shallow beach on the doorstep with crystal clear waters, the two restaurants serve kid-friendly food, and there are playgrounds and watersports nearby. We’ve returned many times and can vouch for the great sense of freedom for school-age children, who relish tearing about without restriction and in safety.

Port Rive Gauche

Port Rive Gauche, Languedoc, France

Many families prefer to self-cater when on holiday: it’s cheaper, easier if your child has particular requirements, and can be more relaxing for the parents than trying to maintain decorum in a restaurant or hotel dining room. And if you’re self-catering, a decent kitchen makes all the difference – hence our fondness for Port Rive Gauche, a collection of stylish two-bedroom apartments, which also have comfort in spades and cool light-filled interiors (plus black out blinds for a decent night’s sleep). Each has either a roof terrace or covered balcony from which to soak up the majestic views across the lagoon, cut off from the Mediterranean by a long sandy beach. We found, and our clients agree, that the location is superb, and although there’s no pool, there are boat trips to be taken, and there’s a funfair close by too. You can also hire babysitters and arrange for breakfast and seafood lunch platters to be delivered to your apartment.


Onar, Andros, Cyclades, Greece

Andros is one of our favourite Greek islands – not least for Michael, our editor-in-chief, who spent the most blissful childhood holidays there. It’s little-known, unspoiled and wild, yet an easy ferry ride from Athens or Mykonos. Set by a secluded cove, Onar‘s gorgeous boutique stone cottages, which sleep up to seven, all have private gardens or patios and sea or river views. Meals are communal under a giant plane tree, interiors are unfussy and calm, life is simple and sweet. Adventurous teens will enjoy snorkelling, fishing, jeep excursions, hiking, scuba diving, boat trips or even swimming in a natural pool fed by a waterfall. We think it’s the perfect place to reconnect with your family.

Azur Hotel

Azur Hotel, nr Antalya, Turkey

Azur Hotel is one of our very favourite choices for families. These great-value cabins and bungalows are set in idyllic lush gardens, with one of Europe’s most stunning beaches (Cirali) on your doorstep. It’s backed by dramatic mountain scenery (the pine forested Mt. Tahtali), impressive ancient monuments (the ruins of Lycian Olymbos are at the end of the beach) and even some natural flaming sulphur vents to astound sceptical teenagers. Staff are unfailingly welcoming and helpful, and the food is delicious and plentiful. We thought the 20-metre pool (with separate shallow section) a godsend for toddlers and learner swimmers, while older kids can take wooden boat trips to secret coves.

Jamaica – the ultimate in luxury hotel service?

Monday, December 16th, 2013

By Catherine Leech, Director, 101 Holidays

In the mid-’90s, the new MD of one of the UK’s luxury tour operators gave a stark and well-publicised warning that service levels in the Caribbean simply didn’t match up to those of the Far East and Indian Ocean – both of which were making (and continue to make) rapid inroads to the Caribbean’s traditional winter sun market from the UK.

Industry leaders in the Caribbean were indignant but he had a point – I’ve been fortunate enough to travel for both business and leisure to all three regions and, overall, I have found that service in the luxury hotels is generally slicker (and faster, if you like it that way) in the Indian Ocean and Far East.

However, there always was and still is one destination which, for me, has service licked in every way – Jamaica. In my opinion, reinforced with knobs on during a recent holiday there, the service in Jamaica’s luxury hotels strikes the perfect balance of professionalism, thoughtfulness and personality.

For hotels in particular, pitching your service levels is a tricky business. One guest’s great service is another’s cringe-making intrusion.

I remember walking up to an extravagant breakfast buffet table in Bali, putting a slice of pineapple on a side plate only to have it whisked from my hand by one of many waiters who took it back to the table – without a word spoken. Great service, some might think, but I felt uncomfortable – and why have a buffet if you feel your guests can’t even manage to carry a small plate…?

Similarly, over dinner in a very famous hotel in Barbados, two waiters watched closely as I drank water and wine (which they irritatingly topped up after every single sip). I was eating a bowl of seafood linguine – in the absence of a bowl for ’empties’, I struggled to balance the shells around the edge of the bowl, failing miserably. Did the ever-watchful staff think to bring over a receptacle…? Of course not – they hadn’t been trained to do that.

Personally, I would always opt for thoughtful service with personality rather than lots of service with a bow of the head. And that is where I think that Jamaica gets it so right.

The very grand Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Illinois, has hosted five million+ guests, including five US Presidents, since it opened in 1887. I stayed there for a business meeting in the early ’90s and was gobsmacked to walk in to the restaurant to be greeted by a phalanx of white-gloved, uniformed Jamaican staff. It felt ludicrously formal and my Caymanian colleagues and I were amazed, even embarrassed. We chatted to some of them and were invited to join them at one of their church services and later enjoyed jerk pork and rice’n’peas in one of their temporary homes.

It was a magical experience but my point is that this summer-only hotel, whose reputation relied on the very best service, flew out their key staff from Jamaica each summer (at that time, most of the Caribbean’s luxury resorts closed in the summer). Kudos, Jamaica.

Jamaica Inn room service with a smileRound Hill - cottage housekeeperRound Hill

My recent holiday was split between Round Hill, near Montego Bay, and Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios. Both hotels have been operating for 50+ years and both have long-serving staff, some of whom have been there virtually since day one.

Take Teddy (pictured at the top of the article and creator of possibly the world’s best Planter’s Punch!) – with 54 years’ service at Jamaica Inn’s Beach Bar, I watched him work alongside colleagues in their early 20s with genuine and infectious pride and joy. It was the same in every department in both hotels.

What’s more, all the management and staff in these hotels are Jamaican – the only sort-of exception is the Austrian-born MD of Round Hill, the highly respected Josef Forstmayr, but he is a proud Jamaican citizen and the General Managers in both properties are Jamaican. That is an achievement for which Jamaica and the hotels should be enormously proud. It’s not only good for local employment and personal career development, but I think it’s also great for the guests – isn’t it so much more interesting to interact with staff who live, work and take pride in their own country, your temporary home from home….?

I really appreciated the young man at Round Hill who was raking the beach at 6am and ran across with a cheerful smile and towel for me as I stepped out of the sea after a very early morning dip – it wasn’t his job and it certainly wasn’t expected. Each early morning thereafter, I found a fresh towel on the sun bed I had used that first day – how thoughtful.

I was never even vaguely nudged for a tip by anyone in either hotel.

Working in the hospitality industry is something which Jamaicans view with pride – that’s certainly not always the case in the Caribbean and it’s not even worth mentioning the UK where it is all too often looked down upon.

What floats your boat or gets your goat when it comes to service in hotels…..?

Are these the most stupid ever TripAdvisor reviews?

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

HilaryBy Hilary Wardle

In Mitch Albom’s novel The Five People You Meet In Heaven, the protagonist finds himself in the afterlife and meets five people who have significantly impacted and guided him throughout his time on Earth. TripAdvisor isn’t heaven. Far from it. But you can divide the misguided reviewers who use the site into five clear categories.

Since January 2013 I’ve been running a humour site called Tripadvisaargh that collates some of the most odd, confused and eye-opening reviews on TripAdvisor. After just a few weeks, I started to notice some very distinct patterns emerging. Here’s a rundown of the five types of bizarre reviews you’ll encounter on TripAdvisor.

1. First World Problems

This category is fairly self explanatory. These are people who are rarely satisfied with their expensive break as even the slightest flaw sends them into an over privileged meltdown.

First World Problems 2

Another version of the ‘first world problem’ reviewer is someone who is generally happy with their luxury holiday, but has one utterly ludicrous complaint:

First World Problems 1

2. Captain Obvious

The next group of reviewers are the self sacrificing men and women who decide to state the absolute obvious in an attempt to help their dim-witted, unfortunate readers. You might be surprised to hear there are no fewer than 10 TripAdvisor reviews titled ‘Just a bridge’… you know, in case we thought it was a shoe or a herring.

Captain Obvious

Others include people who are surprised to find large numbers of donkeys at a Sidmouth donkey sanctuary…

Captain Obvious 2

And this fantastic review of a butterfly conservancy in Canada:

Captain obvious 3


3. Too foreign

This is by far the largest subset of TripAdvisor reviews left by British people. They’re almost all written by individuals who are shocked to find their Benidorm hotel is staffed by Spanish people who serve Spanish food and- god forbid- play Spanish music. Usual title: ‘not for us brits!!1!!!’

Too foreign 1

Too foreign 2

Too foreign 3

Too foreign 4


4. The confusing and deeply strange

Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of these and there will be until TripAdvisor introduce a sanity test for people signing up to review on their behalf.

Confusing 1

Confusing 2


5. Frustrated comedians

This group of people think they should have been the next Russell Brand. Instead, they’re reduced to tapping out TripAdvisor reviews with one hand while Googling ‘hilarious one liners’ with the other.

Frustrated comedian 1

Frustrated comedian 2

Frustrated comedian 3


So there you have it. The five types of people you meet on TripAdvisor. Do you think I hit the nail on the head, or are we missing a key example? Let us know in the comments.

Follow Hilary Wardle on Twitter.


9/11 Memorial

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013


I visited the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the Twin Towers three weeks ago. It’s a surprising restrained and moving memorial. The waterfalls are monumental in size and cascade downwards into an unseen abyss. As you walk around you’re encouraged to run your hands over the etched names of the victims.

I wish I was in New York today.

Would you try a home exchange?

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

ca120155a-0013 ca120155a-0002 house in canada

By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer and Editor of 101 Holidays

You’ve probably heard about home exchanges, but would you give it a try? Would you take the chance of staying in a stranger’s house and – more to the point – trust them with yours?

I’m a fan of the sharing of the economy. Living in London I don’t see much point in owning a car and instead use Zipcar for short journeys and weekend rentals if we are going away for a few days. So home exchanging didn’t seem such a radical idea.

Yesterday I returned from our family summer holiday where we did a house swap in Canada followed by a few days in New York City. We lucked out with a big detached house (pictured above) in the suburbs of Montreal that has a large garden and heated pool. We arrived home to find our own house spotless. The protocol is simple: leave it as you found it, and just leave the pile of used towels and bed linen in the bathroom.

Aside from the obvious advantage of saving money on accommodation, we value the space, privacy and independence of a house swap. Separate bedrooms for the kids is particularly important if you have teenagers. I also enjoy the experience of living as locals do: shopping for food, eating in local restaurants and chatting with the neighbours. Most swappers leave detailed recommendations on the best places to eat locally. The Canadian family that stayed in our house loved our local Indian restaurants in Tooting, and we enjoyed their favourite fried chicken and ribs places.

Of course, home exchanging isn’t for everyone. Things can go wrong and some people will want more reassurance than being told they will find the house keys in the mailbox (as we were). Others may worry that their own home isn’t up to scratch, or dislike the thought of cleaning and tidying it in preparation for guests. Certainly this is the biggest pain in the butt: preparing your own house in the frantic hours before setting off on holiday, and having to clean theirs before you leave. For this reason, I don’t think it would be worth the effort if you were only going away for a few days.

Overall, though, I like the idea and I think the chart below fairly summarises the plus and minus points.

Would you try it?


Is a Home Exchange better than a Hotel?

Home swap holidays have exploded in popularity in recent years, but they remain less well known among many holidaymakers and travellers who continue to rely on hotels for travel accommodation. How do the two compete? Here we weigh up the pros and cons.

Home Swap vs Hotel


No money ever changes hands between home-swappers. It’s a process based simply on mutual trust. The only fees are the ones you pay for membership.

Even the cheapest hotels will set you back a substantial amount of money. Costs increase exponentially when you factor in extra dates or extra rooms for your family (factors that cost nothing more in a home).

£2,202Average amount of money saved by home swappers per holiday

1/3 to 1/2Cost of hotels in the average travel budget

£140Average cost of a hotel room outside the US, per night


HOME SWAP. Home swap 1 vs Hotel 0


In today’s world of smartphones, netbooks, tablets and e-readers, every traveller expects a certain level of connectivity. Most house swap homes will have a dedicated personal broadband connection as standard, so your emails and social networks are never far away.

It’s a common bugbear – a huge number of hotels still refuse to offer WiFi as part of the package. Many charge exorbitant fees to add to your bill – and even then the connection can still be shaky.



Travellers who say free WiFi is their number 1 must-have when travelling

US hotels not offering free WiFi to guests (a trend seen around the world)



Home Swap 2 vs Hotel 0


With access to a fully furnished personal kitchen, home swappers are free to self-cater for as much of their holiday as they’d like. Self-catering allows you to budget your food, and frees you from the restrictions of timetables – especially useful if you fancy a lie-in before a relaxed brunch. But the downside is that you have to do all the cooking yourself and there’s no room service to fall back on.

Many hotels have big name chefs dictating the menu, and in-house hotel restaurants are often of an extremely high standard. Hotels also force you to eat out for all meals, which can encourage a variety of different meals (though at a greater expense).

1/3 – Proportion of Brits planning a self-catered holiday of some sort this year

Food – The biggest disappointment for most budget hotel guests



Home Swap 2 vs Hotel 1


With home swapping, you’re staying at a house that’s already been lived in. It’s set up with all the ‘mod cons’ you’d expect from your home. And if you’re swapping with a family home, you’ll handily have provisions available for young children or babies, too.

Hotels often offer en suite bathrooms and a kitchenette with a kettle. But youíre unlikely to find luxuries such as washing machines or DVD players.



Home Swap 3 vs Hotel 1


You might not realise just how widespread home-swap holidays have become – options are available in more than 150 countries, meaning you can holiday in any climate or culture and only worry about the cost of travel.

Hotels often benefit from a handy city centre location, which will suit many individual travellers and couples but fewer families. Also look out for parking fees.

ìLiving like a localî

Third most attractive reason for home-swapping according to a 2012 survey

ìGreat locationî

2nd most popular form of praise from hotel guests, according to internet commenters



Home Swap 4 vs Hotel 2


Every home is unique. Home-swappers arrive at their holiday home to find it tailored to a specific owner’s taste, comforts and requirements. The good news is, if it’s good enough for one family to live in, chances are it’ll be good enough for yours.

Hotel rooms offer varying degrees of comfort in relation to price. There’s less choice of decor, with most offering modern and minimalist designs, but more quirky ones do exist if that’s your thing.



Home Swap 5 vs Hotel 2

Presented by Love Home Swap

  • Sources

No photography: Why camera bans might make us smarter tourists

Friday, June 7th, 2013


By Mark Hodson, Editor of 101 Holidays

I’ve just returned from a visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo where I spent three hours utterly enthralled by the treasures of King Tutankhamen. I don’t think I’ve seen a more impressive collection of artefacts anywhere in the world, brilliantly brought to life by our expert guide, Akram “Aki” Allam.

The museum is cavernous, dusty, unkempt and in many places badly lit. But it’s a wonderful experience, and sufficient reason alone to visit this baffling and exciting city.

It’s also unusual in enforcing a strict ban on photography. No snaps are allowed anywhere in the museum building.

In an age when most people pack a camera in their handbag or hip pocket, this seems almost like an infringement of human rights. If I want to whip out my iPhone and quietly peel off a few snaps, why shouldn’t I? After all, it’s all good publicity for the museum, isn’t it? Sharing on Facebook and Twitter is only going to encourage more tourists.

But the Egyptians seem immune to these arguments, something for which I find myself feeling immensely grateful.

I admit that when I first saw the “No photography” sign I felt mildly irritated, but once I started to view the astonishing exhibits and get sucked into the amazing story of Tutankhamen, I was relieved to be freed from the urge to take pictures.

What’s more, I didn’t have other tourists with cameras pushing in front of me for a shot, apparently feeling that holding a camera or a phone gives them carte blanche to barge others out of the way.

The treasures of the teenage Pharaoh – including his iconic death mask, pictured above – are so extraordinary that the only proper response is to stand and gaze. Which is what I did.

While other tourists strolled past and made small talk, I enjoyed a long period silently staring into the eyes of King Tut, soaking up the majesty of this most intimate of art works.

It is said that in some regions of the world, people believe that cameras can steal their soul. But maybe the truth is that they are stealing ours.

Just as our ability to read is being corroded by Twitter feeds and 24-hour rolling news, perhaps the constant photographing of everything around us is affecting our very ability to see.

Maybe the way to enhance our experience as tourists is to put away the cameras and open our eyes instead. And if we can’t, then perhaps more museums should ban photography all together?

After all, it’s likely that the photos on your phone will be quickly forgotten, replaced by the next batch of shiny new digital images. Memories, on the other hand, will burn themselves into your soul, and shape who you are.

* I am in Egypt as a guest of Abercrombie & Kent with a small group of travel bloggers including Jayne Gorman of 40 Before 30 and Abigail King of Inside the Travel Lab.  The photos on this page were – of course – supplied by the Egypt Tourist Authority. Find the best time to visit Egypt.



Would you travel with a 20-year-old guide book?

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

egypt book

By Mark Hodson, Editor of 101 Holidays

I’m 30,000ft above the southern Mediterranean on a flight from London to Cairo and I’m reading a 20-year-old guide book. This might sound like a bad decision given that much of the text will be out of date, but in fact it’s turning out pretty well.

My first edition of the Cadogan guide to Egypt by the Middle East expert Michael Haag has been sitting on my book shelves almost since its publication in 1993. It is wrinkled and crumpled in places – not unlike its owner – but it’s packed with the most evocative and descriptive writing and it’s a delight to flick from one passage to another, skipping from chapter to chapter, referring to the glossary and the index in a way that you simple can’t do on a Kindle.

And who writes guide book prose like this any more?

As the sun sets over the Nile the present slips away into timelessness, and from a high window over the river you can hear the call of the muezzins float across the darkening city and you see the Pyramids at Giza glow gold against the Western Desert as they have done for one million, seven hundred thousand evenings past. The monuments of pharaohs and sultans lie within your compass, making Cairo and its environs one of the greatest storehouses of human achievement in the world.

Read that and tell me you wouldn’t like to be here now.

Print media is dying, we’re told. I read regularly on Twitter about the death of guidebooks, but there remains something fundamentally satisfying about a bound book. Particularly one that is so well written. You don’t find that kind of wisdom and muscular writing in a Kindle guide that costs £3.

And the price of quality has fallen rapidly. The cover price of my Cadogan guide is £12.99, yet you can buy a second-edition (1998) copy for £11.88 on Amazon or a second-hand copy for just 1p plus postage.

In his text, Haag quotes regularly from other writers before him (standing on the shoulders of giants?) including the likes of Mark Twain and Jean Cocteau. One of the most often quoted authors is Amelia Edwards, whose A Thousand Miles Up the Nile dates back to the late 19th Century and remains a classic.

In fact, when I posed the question on Twitter – which guide book should I take: the Cadogan published in 1993 or the Rough Guide published in 2003 – the travel writer Dea Birkett suggested I go to the source and read Edwards (I later discovered it is available on the Kindle for as little as £1, because it is out of copyright).


When somebody pointed out that the Cadogan guide would now be out of date, another seasoned travel writer Matthew Teller – one of the UK’s leading experts in the Middle East – pointed out that good guide books improve with age. I have to say I’m beginning to agree with him.


* I am in Egypt as a guest of Abercrombie & Kent and staying at the Four Seasons First Residence in Cairo.

The Cary Arms, Devon

Friday, May 31st, 2013

The view from our Commodore Room, The Cary Arms

By Catherine Leech, Director, 101 Holidays

No – this isn’t a photo of the Cote d’Azur or some other resort in the Med. It was the early morning view taken through the window of our bedroom (Commodore) at The Cary Arms on south Devon’s Babbacombe Bay earlier this month.

So many small hotels peg themselves to a distinct market – ‘family-friendly’ (I’ve just returned from a night with the step-grandchildren at the Legoland Hotel which – brilliantly – takes that concept to the extreme) or as an über-romantic bolt-hole for couples.

The Cary Arms is one of the few UK recommendations on 101 Honeymoons – our editor, Jane Anderson, loves the place. It is undoubtedly romantic – but this de Savary-owned and -styled “inn on the beach”, which dates back to the 1850s, is so much more than just romantic.

The pretty terracesRose CottageCrabbing nets for the kidsDogs are welcome

For families, there are charming period cottages (with up to 5 bedrooms) scattered on the hillside as well as the spacious New England-style hotel rooms – with crabbing nets provided for younger guests. Dogs are welcome too – in the gastro-pub restaurant, on the sea-facing terrace and in a couple of the guest rooms and cottages.

I was there with my close friend, Louise, who lives in Sydney and comes over to the UK once or twice a year. We were made to feel not just welcome, but positively ‘part of the family’ by every single member of staff – and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for solo stays, a group of friends, colleagues looking for a low key business retreat or to take over the hotel for a special occasion.

Fellow hotel guests when we were there (outside of the school holidays) ranged in age from their 20s upwards to 70s and there was always a gentle buzz in the gastro-pub style restaurant from the mix of locals, holidaymakers staying elsewhere and guests.

In other words, this clever and unpretentious little hotel works for almost everyone.

We both had treatments in the spa room – by a skilled therapist using lovely products and with a reasonable price list from £50 for an hour’s massage or 50-minute Yon-Ka facial.

The food was delicious and, together with the wine list (£19.50 for a decent choice of superb bottles), it was well priced – 3 courses with the freshest local seafood, really tasty meat dishes and yummy puds came to £62 for the 2 of us. I would drive there just for a summer’s lunch at the Captain’s Table on the deck overlooking the bay!

Early morning walk around the bay to OddicombeBeach huts at OddicombeLooking back to the hotel from Oddicombe

The hotel is a 30-minute scenic walk from Torquay (which I would charitably describe as a town which is currently ‘work in progress’) and is surrounded by the South Hams and stunning coastal walks. The hotel has commissioned a well-written booklet, in each room, which outlines 8 varied walks in the region – to suit everyone from all-day-hikers to casual strollers.

Guests can help themselves to one of the fishing rods which sit by the back door – join the locals down on the jetty and chef will no doubt cook your catch for you (it’s that sort of place). The beach in front of the hotel is pebbly but you can swim off the jetty or take the short walk around the bay to sandy Oddicombe beach.

All aboard the steam trainMitch Tonks' outstanding restaurant in DartmouthPretty as a picture - burrata, bottarga & heirloom tomatoes at The Seahorse

Matt Collins, the hotel’s General Manager, pulled a blinder with his suggestion that we take the steam train from Paignton to Kingswear (£13.50 return including the ferry from Kingswear across to Dartmouth) – for lunch at The Seahorse, Mitch Tonks’ superb restaurant on the Dartmouth waterfront.

The train rides were pure, joyful nostalgia of the Agatha Christie/Enid Blyton variety (both writers were local to the area) whilst the lunch was a pricey-but-worth-it treat. In better weather we would also have stopped off en route at pretty Goodrington Sands for a swim. I definitely recommend that you ‘upgrade’ to the train’s observation car for even better views of the coastline, River Dart and jaw-dropping approach to Dartmouth – it’s only another £1.50 each.

Back at base, Louise and I mulled over what makes The Cary Arms work so well – in our room, we loved the stick of rock on the pillow, the replenished bags of homemade fruitcake and fudge, the decanter of Sloe Gin and other little touches which showed real thought and attention to detail. But it was the attitude of every single member of management and staff that was so impressive – without exception, they were full of personality yet never ‘in your face’, thoughtful but never intrusive, confident but never cocky and – fun!

By the end of our 3-night stay in this charming and ever so slightly quirky “inn-on-the-sea” we felt as if we’d had a week’s holiday (minus the sun tan). Our previous jaunts have included Paxos, Skiathos, Cascais, Ibiza and Villefranche but, less than 90 minutes’ drive from my home in Dorset, the English Riviera was simply magical – in spite of the unseasonal weather which ranged from bracing wind and driving rain to warm sunshine with a chill in the air.

We paid for our stay – room rack rates are from £175 to £225 (low season) and £225 to £275 May to October, including breakfast. 3 nights in the biggest cottage – Rose Cottage – costs £1,500 for up to 8 adults and 1 child (excluding breakfast). Contact The Cary Arms and check out the latest offers.

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