While conducting research for this post, I was half-expecting to find all manner of blasphemous links between the New York City Easter Parade and Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter. My assumption was based on how crazy the hats have become over the decades as they bob down Fifth Avenue perched on the heads of thousands taking part in the Bonnet Festival, an essential component of the Easter Parade. However, aside from a few photographs of those intentionally (or maybe not?) dressed as The Hatter, I discovered that the event is still seen by many as a very religious and spiritual event, falling on Easter Sunday. The Easter Parade also holds a special place in the hearts of not-theologically-inclined New Yorkers as a unifying event where people from all over the city and the world descend on downtown Manhattan to celebrate new and fresh beginnings; a new season, a change in the weather, the birth of new things and yes, maybe the felting of a new crazy hat.
“She hates travelling and will make a mess.”
“What if he runs away?”
If you’ve ever gone on holiday and would like to take your pet with, brush up on our new guide to travelling with your pets. It may help to bring your four-legged friend along on the trip of a lifetime.
My favourite things about Paris? Pistachio Macarons, Musée D’Orsay, flea markets, cycling at night, stationery and small, specialist shops.
Yep, the French tradition of ‘a shop for everything and everything in its shop’ can be a might irritating at times – try buying painkillers in a supermarket. But I find myself more than a little prepared to overlook the odd inconvenience if the flipside is cheese shops, chocolatiers, milliners, shops that sell drawing paper by weight, violin shops, button shops and, best of all by several long miles, booksellers.
I’m always a little surprised that Greece only has seventeen UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s Greece, which is basically ‘Ancient Greece’ as far as I’m concerned. So that would make it the land of Tragedies, Choruses, Oracles, Gods, Goddesses and effectively the inspiration – one way or another – of just about every work of art and literature in existence. And not just ‘Old Masters’ and ‘Classics’ – The Cohen Brothers are well known for their nods to the Odyssey: ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou’ gives a writing credit to Homer (850-800BC) and the Gorfein’s wandering cat in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is, of course, called Ulysses.
What is the story with Greece’s slight UNESCO showing? Do Italy and Spain have more clout? Does France send round baskets of freshly baked goods? Well, on your behalf, I’ve investigated the anomaly and come to the conclusion that when it comes to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Greece just gives you more bang for your buck. The actual numbers might be low but the content is pretty high. We’re talking collections rather than ‘sites’ and not collections in the style of ‘what a charming collection of snuff boxes’. No, these are collections of monuments, entire cities, several archaeological sites lumped together, a group of temples, a bundle of birthplaces.
So here are my picks based on personal preference, accessibility and, let’s face it, more than a little touch of Ancient Greek Glamour.
Greece has many Acropoleis but only one is ever referred to as ‘The Acropolis’. Constructed under Pericles in the 5th century BC, The Acropolis in Athens is the most important and best known of all Greek World Heritage Sites. It’s here that you’ll find the magnificent Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Propylaia and the Erechtheion along with another 17 archaeological wonders, recently restored and visited by millions every year. Today The Acropolis’ 3 hectare site, rising above the city of Athens, also overlooks the spectacular Acropolis Museum. The Museum, designed with a skewed roof to align with The Parthenon, was opened in 2008 and houses a huge and diverse collection of Ancient Greek artefacts as well as reproductions of the controversial Parthenon (formerly Elgin) Marbles – the originals are currently held by the British Museum in London as you may have heard George Clooney mention recently.
THE MEDIEVAL CITY OF RHODES
For most of us, it’s the Colossus of Rhodes that rings a classical bell. But, Ancient Wonder of the World though it once was, the mighty statue that stood guard over Rhodes Harbour is long since gone. Today the big pull is the Medieval City where the Knights Templar held sway between 1307 and 1522 before being overthrown by Suleiman the Magnificent and forced from Rhodes with only as much wealth as they could carry (good incentive for some heavy lifting). Dominated by The Palace of the Grand Master, the fortified Medieval City is beautifully preserved and rivals World Heritage Sites like Carcassonne in SW France for dramatic impact. Rhodes lies in the Aegean within easy reach of the lovely Cyclades and Dodecanese Islands and, in addition to the Medieval City, is worth a visit for the recently discovered Medieval shipwrecks, the Harbour of St. Nicholas and the Suleiman Mosque.
CORFU OLD TOWN
With its classic Mediterranean climate, clean beaches and relaxed atmosphere, the entire island of Corfu is just lovely. But if you want World Heritage, focus on Corfu Old Town. Sometime in the early 15th century the Venetians pitched up in beautiful Corfu – Venice and the Ottoman Empire just couldn’t get along – set up port, built fortresses, dug in with their refined elegance and stayed for 4 centuries. So Corfu Old Town completely confounds expectation with neo-classical Venetian style architecture, colonnades, intricate brickwork, stone carving, statuary and street names. The town’s also the most coveted place to live in Corfu City so it’s not just historic and enchanting and well cared for, it’s also lively with great restaurants, smart shops, cafes, bars, theatre and much, much music – Corfu has two resident orchestras.
DELPHI, CENTRAL GREECE
What with the mythology, vengeful Gods, the woe-is-me-is-that-my-mother lifestyle choices and a tendency to fight to the death at the drop of a hat, it’s not really surprising that the Ancient Greeks were fairly keen on Oracles. But, back in the day, if you really wanted your money’s worth the only Oracle was the Oracle at Delphi. The Ancients believed Delphi was the ‘navel’ of the world and standing, surrounded by soaring mountains, on the lip of the magnificent amphitheatre millennia later, it’s easy to see why. One of the most sacred World Heritage Sites in Greece, Delphi comprises dozens of archaeological marvels including The Temple of Apollo and The Sanctuary of Athena Pronoia. Delphi was also the site of the Pythian Games and has the Arena, Hippodrome, Gymnasium and statues to prove it – the Pythian Games were the forerunner of the modern Olympics.
PATMOS, DODECANESE ISLANDS, SOUTH AEGEAN
Tiny, sparkling Patmos was voted ‘Europe’s most idyllic place to live’ by Forbes Magazine. So get a move on if you want to see this enchanting Greek Island before it’s invaded, has three airports, a couple of casinos and all the traditional, whitewashed houses have been turned into hot-tubs. At the moment, gorgeously pretty still comes as standard with Patmos, and the island’s Chorá (historic centre) is also a World Heritage Site. Along with the 17th century houses and churches, the Chorá is where you’ll find the immense Hagios Ioannis Theologos Monastery, the Monastery of Saint John and the Cave of the Apocalypse. And, happily, you’re more likely to meet gentle pilgrims visiting the Monastery and Cave than you are Forbes Magazine subscribers.
So if World Heritage is a holiday deal breaker for you, I can highly recommend the Greek sites as ‘value for visit’. But, personally I’d give Mount Athos a miss. The 20 magnificent monasteries do look amazing but the autonomous monks are still banning all women visitors and for those welcome men who are tempted, make sure you have short hair or an apprentice will cut it for you on arrival.
Once upon a time, the Formula One calendar wasn’t the world tour it is today. It was dominated by the Grand Prix circuits of Europe, the continent which pioneered the sport. There are now eight European destinations in 2014′s Formula One line-up, but today I’m highlighting five of them. Not only because of their appeal for quality Grand Prix racing, but also because they are found in parts of the world well worth visiting.
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
A much-admired track that has been a regular host of the Belgian Grand Prix since 1925, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps hasn’t always been quite so well-respected. Set in the Belgian countryside not far from the Dutch and German borders, Spa was once considered the fastest and most dangerous racing track in the world. The Belgian Grand Prix subsequently found new homes in Nivelles and Zolder until Spa-Francorchamps resumed its title as the country’s number one racing track. Spa has gone on to reclaim the Belgian Grand Prix and is now regarded by drivers as a fun, quick track still with its challenges.
Where to stay:
Spa-Fracorchamps is definitely a countryside track, with fields and woodlands surrounding much of the course, however, there are some great cities within easy driving access. Stay in Liège, Belgium’s third largest city with a large student population and lively, liberal feel; or alternatively keep it international by staying across the Dutch border in beautiful Maastricht – great for museums and medieval churches and squares, or lazing in stunning parks (Monseigneur Nolenspark is my favourite, with remnants of the olden day city walls still jutting out over the water, covered in wild growth, creating a wonderful juxtoposition of masonry and mother nature).
Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy
Located in the Royal Villa Park of Monza on the outskirts of Milan, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza has three different racing tracks, the longest of which has been used for the Italian Grand Prix since 1922. Surrounded by woodlands, drivers can go all out for nearly 80% of the track making for some very fast, very loud action for spectators. I especially like Monza because of the section ‘Curva Grande’, which sounds much more theatrical in Italian than its English translation, ‘Big Corner’. Many Grand Prix enthusiasts make the journey to Monza to see the elevated bobsleigh-style banking on the Pista di Alta Velocità, part of Monza’s old racetrack that hasn’t been used since 1961.
Where to stay:
The obvious place to stay is Milan, where you can enjoy the food, fashion and culture the city is famous for. However, my top tip would be to think about staying close to one of the Italian Lakes. With the Italian Grand Prix falling on the 7th September, the weather will be perfect for a late summer getaway to Lake Como, the southern shores of which are less than an hour from Monza.
Circuit de Monaco, Monaco
Possibly Europe’s most famous Formula One course, the Monte Carlo Grand Prix is also the highlight of the Principality of Monaco’s year, drawing in crowds from around the world who want to watch cars fly around the world’s best street circuit. While some fans find it frustrating due to the lack of overtaking opportunities, the Circuit de Monaco is always entertaining thanks to the corner at the Fairmont Hotel which could be called a hair-raising hairpin bend. It’s also fair to say that the Monaco Grand Prix is the sport’s movie star, having been used as a backdrop in crucial scenes for Hollywood blockbusters like Iron Man 2 and Rush, (though interestingly all filming for the latter took place in the UK).
Where to stay:
If you can find (and afford!) yourself a balcony view in Monaco during the Grand Prix, I’ll happily bow down to you because the city is long booked up for this event. What may be easier to organise and almost certainly kinder to your budget is staying in nearby Nice or Cannes, or in another resort along the French Riviera. Nice has the added benefits of possibly Europe’s most alluring coastline and Le Bisrot d’Antoine, one of my favourite restaurants anywhere.
Red Bull Ring, Austria
It’s fair to say that many Formula One racing fans get a funny taste in their mouths when they have to talk about the location of the Austrian Grand Prix, and it’s not the taste of Red Bull. In 2014 the Red Bull Ring (formerly the Österreichring or the A1 Ring, depending how old the person you’re asking is) is hosting the country’s first Grand Prix since 2003. Seeing as a Grand Prix hasn’t happened on this circuit in over ten years – and a lot has happened in Formula One racing since a decade ago – it’s worth heading to little-known Spielberg this year just to witness a little bit of motorracing history and to be one of the first to pass comment on what sort of track this could become.
Where to stay:
Austria’s second city, Graz, is close to Spielberg and is one of Europe’s best cities for a weekend break, albeit often overlooked for Vienna. With its beautifully mish-mashed old town (gothic, contemporary and everything in between all built against each other surprisingly harmoniously), clock towers and inner city mountains; Graz really should be on your list. Home to just as much culture, history and delicious coffee and cakes, Graz is also a young city with over 50,000 students living there. Oh, and if that didn’t convince you, it’s also the birthplace of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The so-called home of British motor sport is one of the world’s best known circuits and is also the youngest one on this list, with racing beginning in 1948. The former site of a World War II RAF bomber station, Silverstone is a purpose-built track that has been updated and amended over the years to respond to safety concerns and progressing motor sport developments. After sharing the honour with Aintree and Brands Hatch for decades, Silverstone has been the home of the British Grand Prix since 1987. The Copse and Woodcote corners provide the challenges for the drivers and the entertainment for the crowds who over the years never know what to expect from the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, thanks in part to the unpredictability of the weather.
Where to stay:
It’s very feasible to stay in London and then hop on a train to Silverstone, or drive the few hours up the M1 (at the legal speed limit of course). Alternatively, you could stay in the historic and picturesque city of Oxford which is about an hour away or find a cosy cottage in the Cotswolds, which are just a few hours away.