Guacamole at La Malinche

The UK does Macy’s: my top five things to do in Sarasota

So if you pop in occasionally, you’ll know that Mr English and I recently spent a while in Florida, visiting the Macy’s stores in both Orlando and Sarasota.  We particularly loved Sarasota – it’s a beautiful area and there’s bags of stuff to do as well as a really cool foodie scene.  We whittled our favourite experiences down to five really fab experiences:

Christmas at Macy's

Christmas at Macy’s

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Decorations at London Heathrow

Win an overnight hotel stay and airport parking with APH! *closed*

Often, the most stressful part of travel is getting to the airport. On my last trip, the flights were difficult to book and I ended up flying from Heathrow, but returning back to Gatwick.  We always use APH meet and greet parking (I love being met at the airport by someone who whisks your car away leaving you free to walk straight into the airport, then magically returns it just as you walk out again after your trip) so I decided to drive to Heathrow, leave my car, then get an airport coach back from Gatwick on my return.  APH were wonderful, and moved my car to Terminal 5, the nearest terminal, so I had the shortest journey possible to pick up my car again.  I was delighted.

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The signature warm chocolate-banana torte at Citricos

Free dining with 2015 Walt Disney World holidays!

Our lovely visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando seems such a long time ago now.  I’m already pining for the sunshine, for Anna and Elsa, and, more importantly, all that amazing food.

Once upon a time (see what I did there?) I think most people thought that all you could probably eat while you were at Walt Disney World parks and resorts was junk food, or maybe Mickey-shaped ice creams.  Now, people are starting to realise that Walt Disney World features some of the best dining in the world, whether you’re after a snack, quick-service, grab and go option, or proper fine dining with table service.

So what can you expect?

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Forget about your worries and your strife – holiday essentials for the family

We’ve all been there at the airport: screaming, crying and throwing all our toys out of the pram…not to mention what the kids are up to. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. You can plan for a much smoother operation whether it’s chilling out on the beach or pottering around the countryside together, all with your kids on side. Here’s a round-up of tips and essentials for family fun away from home.

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The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

The incredible Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

So as I mentioned recently, I’ve been in Orlando for a few days with my friend Laura, experiencing the fabulous food (plus the odd ride, parade, and other lovely things) available throughout Walt Disney World.

One of the highlights of Walt Disney World for me is Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I adore the showbiz theming – it feels like a real movie set, with all the main areas seamlessly blending into each other.

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Arriving home to Heathrow

APH airport parking

One of the huge perks of my job is all the travel.  I get to visit some wonderful places and cruise on amazing ships.  I’m always pinching myself at how lucky I am.  One of the bits that I enjoy the least, though, is getting to the airport.  We actually only live about half an hour from Heathrow, but depending on how things are on the M25, that half hour can magically change into an hour or even longer.

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New horizons: every considered visiting Peru?

So you know that one of my biggest obsessions is about creating snapshots: when we’re old and grey, we should all be able to look back on our lives and have lots of memories stores away, snapshots of people and places that meant a lot to us.  My boys already love to travel and I really hope they both strike out into the world and have loads of magical experiences, the memories of which they can cherish forever.
Phones: so important when you travel.

The one where I turn detective in my quest for cheaper mobile data bills while travelling

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been having a bit of a moan about mobile data roaming when travelling abroad.  Obviously, being online and staying in  contact is really important when, like me, it’s your business, but just generally, most people want to be able to stay in touch when they’re abroad (although obviously tweeting when you’re on the beach is generally only the preserve of nutters like me).

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Indian tapas at Mother India's Café

Edinburgh for food lovers

Last year I visited Edinburgh, home of my fellow food-loving friend Erica.  We toured some amazing restaurants and markets and decided to make our ‘Foodinburgh’ trip an annual occurrence.  If you think Edinburgh is all haggis, neeps and tatties (not that there’s anything wrong with that – I had my first taste of haggis too, delicious!), then think again, it’s a serious destination for food lovers, with no less than five Michelin starred restaurants and a fabulous array of affordable restaurants and cafés.  I’ve put together a list of my favourites so far, but I’ve got a feeling this could change –  we’re already planning Foodinburgh 2014!

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Dubai beach

My top 5 tips for keeping your travelling costs low

You know me.  I love, love, love to travel.  Whether it’s a gorgeous English country hotel like The Grove, a city break, or a Caribbean cruise – I love them all.  Being somewhat overenthusiastic about it, though, has its downsides – mostly financial.  Here’s how a keep a lid on my holiday spending, before I’ve even walked up the steps of the plane:

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Holidays for millionaires – luxury private islands

Private chefs, premium yachts and luxury spa treatments alongside crystal clear blue waters, hot white sand and palm trees… The lovelies at EuroJackpot have pulled together a collection of five fabulous private island holidays. Which one would take your fancy if you could splash the cash on a once in a lifetime trip?

Song Saa

Song Saa Island


Located off the South coast of Cambodia, Song Saa island offers a holiday that could easily be compared to a trip to paradise – but only if you can afford it!  The luxurious hotel resort has huge villas with private pools, free wi-fi and all-inclusive food and drink from their world-class head chef.  The island also offers watersports on the beach, or spa treatments and boutiques for those who would rather take it easy.




Calivigny Island is yet another hotspot for those looking for a lavish and luxurious break.  Found in the Caribbean with views of the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans, the six beaches of the small island should provide enough space for getting away from it all and soaking up the sun.  The island’s accommodation options include a beach house hotel for 20 guests, a selection of suites on the water or beach-side bungalows and two bedroom cottages for even more privacy.

Turtle Island

Turtle Island Source

The lush Turtle Island in Fiji is another option for millionaires looking to take some time out on a private island.  It wasn’t chosen as the location for the 1980 film Blue Lagoon for nothing – as well as being the actual location of the blue lagoon itself, its picturesque beaches, stunning jungle and calm blue waters all make it an ultimate paradisiacal destination.  They employ personal ‘Client Managers’ who are tasked with making sure each individual has a holiday that is tailored to them and their needs – so you can expect the utmost service and treatment.

Necker Island

necker island


Necker Island, owned by Richard Branson, is another potential stop-off for a travel-hungry millionaire. Found in the British Virgin Islands, it can only accommodate up to 30 adults at a time, so a stay is truly exclusive and private. With so few guests, it’s likely that you’ll have the pick of the island’s beaches, watersports and spa facilities – unless you want to bring a few friends along and book the entire island for yourselves!

House in the Sea on Towan Island

house in the sea


While it may be breaking with the exotic traditional of Caribbean and far-flung locations, this private island in Cornwall is a luxury getaway a little closer to home.  Known as the House in the Sea, the mini island is connected to the mainland via a private gated bridge, so peace and quiet is guaranteed.  The house itself can accommodate up to 6 guests, and is contemporarily decorated with a bar room, deluxe bedrooms and en suites, a fully equipped kitchen and two separate decks for sunbathing or gazing out onto the amazing sea view.  A BBQ is also included, but there are many foodie hotspots in nearby Padstow that may take your fancy instead.

If these stunning luxury retreats on private islands around the world have inspired you to save up for an extravagant holiday of your own, why not try a flutter on the EuroJackpot lotto?  Fingers crossed that a jackpot comes your way to help out with saving for a trip of a lifetime!


A 2013 roundup: one wedding, a few ships, beaches, restaurants and lots of cake

The last night on deck

With the boys on the deck of the Disney Magic

So we started January 2013 with a bit of excitement after my Dad’s Christmas Day proposal to his partner (by the way, the Dodgy Centre of Gravity reared its ugly head again after our cheese and wine tasting night when he’d had a few too many and fell over putting his shoes on at the end of the night).

In February, I travelled down to beautiful Blagdon to meet up with my Yeo Valley chums and have a nosey around their wonderful new HQ, and went on the adventure of a lifetime with my five bestest chums when we sailed the Caribbean on the frankly fantastic Liberty of the Seas (we’re Royal Mums, ambassadors for the Royal Caribbean brand and we take our job VERY seriously).  As you know, I’m big on spending your time and money enjoying experiences that you can cherish, rather than stuff, and this was right up there, believe me.  I came back with aching ribs from all the laughing (the horse riding through the surf in Jamaica might have added to that a bit, but oh, riding through an azure sea is one of my most treasured memories).  I also felt incredibly lucky to have shared an incredible experience with such incredible friends.  I love you guys.

Myself and my fellow cruise buddies with the Captain (Laura, Erica, Liz, Karin, Me, Capt Per, Tara)

Myself and my fellow cruise buddies with the Captain of the Liberty of the Seas (Laura, Erica, Liz, Karin, Me, Capt Per, Tara)

The ladies chillin' on deck with a cocktail

The ladies chillin’ on deck with a cocktail

The Liberty of the Seas at Labadee

The Liberty of the Seas at Labadee

April saw birthdays galore.   Charlie turned 15:

Charlie with his cake

Charlie’s 15th birthday

And Sam celebrated his 18th with karting, a party at home and a pretty epic double chocolate curly wurly cake

The gang at Rogue Racing

Sam’s friends at Rogue Racing for his 18th birthday party


Painstaking Curly Wurly application

Sam painstakingly adding the Curly Wurlies to his birthday cake

Then there was my Disreputable Dad’s wedding

De brevren on the dance floor

De brevren hogging the dance floor at their Grandad’s wedding

The boys with their beautiful cousin, Turtle

The boys with their beautiful cousin, Turtle, at my Dad’s wedding

In May, I headed out to the Cote d’Azur to experience the gorgeous Chateau Saint Martin in Vence:

Cocktails on the terrace before lunch

Cocktails on the terrace at Chateau Saint Martin, Vence

and then in June, we reviewed the Funky Fiat 500 and spent a wonderful family weekend at The Grove hotel with an exciting visit to the Warner Bros Studio Tour thrown in…

Gardens at The Grove

Gardens at The Grove


The boys on the Knight Bus at the Warner Bros Studio Tour

The boys on the Knight Bus at the Warner Bros Studio Tour

July was beautifully sunny and we spent a wonderful day aboard the Independence of the Seas.  The boys adored the FlowRider and it was lovely to meet up with all my besties and their families:

On deck

On the deck of the Independence of the Seas

I also spent a lovely weekend with my friend Erica doing an amazing foodie tour of Edinburgh.  Foodinburgh 2014 is already in the early planning stages!

Stockbridge Market, Edinburgh

Red velvet cake at Mimi's Bakehouse

Red velvet cake at Mimi’s Bakehouse

August was MENTAL with nearly three weeks of it spent abroad, in beautiful Brittany

Catching a glace with the fam in Brittany

Catching a glace with the fam in Brittany

and then with the boys on the INCREDIBLE Disney Magic – a real trip of a lifetime:

Minnie Mouse

With Minnie on the Disney Magic


'Jazz hands!' Charlie meets Stitch

‘Jazz hands!’ Charlie meets Stitch

We even managed to squeeze in a day in Barcelona with wonderful friends after desembarking:

Hotel Miramar, Barcelona

At Hotel Miramar in Barcelona with the boys

In September, Mr English and I squeezed in a quick weekend at Nutfield Priory

Terrace at Nutfield Priory

A sunny spot on the terrace at Nutfield Priory

and then in October, we headed off on an immersive wine cruise of Europe on the really quite gorgeous Celebrity Infinity…

Mr English

Mr English on the deck of the Celebrity Infinity in Bilbao

and then all that travelling squealed to an abrupt halt.  Because this little dude came along…

Little Boo

Our new little pupster

In November, Glam C and I went to Hogwarts Christmas at the Warner Bros Studio Tour:

With beautiful, snowy Hogwarts

With beautiful, snowy Hogwarts

and before we knew it, it was freezing, wet December then… bloody January again! (to quote Flanders and Swann).  We had a wonderful Christmas lunch at the Chequers Inn at Weston Turville: a seven course Christmas extravaganza with some amazing wine that really was festive, fun and very relaxing.  My favourite course was this stonking turbot with a huge crevette:

Turbot and crevette

Turbot and crevette

So here’s to 2014.  What’s on the agenda for this year, then?  More travel, certainly, more time spent with family and friends, loads of exams for the boys, more eating, more cooking, more relaxing, walking in the woods with our gorgeous new pupster and… who knows? My wishlist still includes Las Vegas (Britney, b*tch!), Australia and Thailand.

Thank you to each and every person who has stopped by to have a read, followed me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, or just blundered here via Google. I’m immensely grateful.  Wishing you a very happy and restful New Year.  May 2014 bring you peace, happiness and new experiences galore xx

My 2014 mantra

My 2014 mantra


Driving in France – what you need to know

Teenager Tetris

So we’re counting the days until our holiday now –  we’ve paid the final payment on our (hopefully) lovely villa, the ferry is booked, and work on the packing list has commenced.  As always, I’m slightly nervous about driving in France (I stick a post-it note on the dashboard which says ‘on the right, IN the right’ lest I forget), so before we go I’m getting everything organised.  What’s the big deal? Well, there are a couple of things you need to do before you travel.  Here’s my list:

Get your documents in order

Most important on any trip, this – make sure your travel insurance is up to date and take the documents with you, along with your car insurance and breakdown cover.

Get your car ready

GB sticker: you’ll need to show your country of origin clearly, so make sure that your car number plate shows either the GB Euroflag, or you’ve got a GB sticker on your car.

Headlamp converters: because you drive on the right in France, your headlights can dazzle oncoming traffic and must be converted with a simple sticker that fixes directly to the headlight.  They can be a bit tricky to fit, but if you pop in to most motorists’ centres he day before you leave and smile sweetly at them, they’ll fit them for you.

Sort out your in-car kit

In France, you need to have certain items in your car at all times.  These include:

Breathalyser: this must carry the French ‘NF’ mark of approval. You can buy packs of two on Ebay quite cheaply, so if you use one, you’ve got another spare.  Check the expiry date too.

Hi-viz jacket: at least one, but ideally one for everyone in the car.

Spare lamps: you’re supposed to carry spare lamps for every light that can be easily changed.  Obviously, if it takes a mechanic to remove a complicated headlamp unit, then this kind of negates the need for them, but anything easily changeable should have a replacement handy.

Warning triangle: a lot of modern cars already carry these, but double check or buy a folding one to stash in the boot.

First aid kit: this isn’t a legal requirement, but it’s handy to check to see whether your car has a first aid kit, or make up a simple one and pop it in the boot, just in case

Fire extinguisher: again, not a legal requirement, but worth considering.

Remember, legal requirements change so do check before you travel.

Just remember:  ON THE RIGHT, IN THE RIGHT.  Oh and don’t forget to pack the kids!

A tour of Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas

As you probably know, I’m a ‘Royal Mum’ – (a Royal Caribbean International Official Family Ambassador, to give me my full title, don’t you know), and last week saw us whooshing down to Southampton on a very sweaty, packed commuter train (‘there was some unwanted bodily contact’, as Charlie put it). Still, when we’d finished playing sardines, we arrived at a hotel in the port just in time to catch up with all my fellow Royal Mums, Tara, Erica, Laura and Karin: the same group, if you’ll remember, that earlier this year took a divine trip on the Liberty of the Seas around the Caribbean. This time we were here with our families, and we brought along a few other families that we know, to enjoy a tour of Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas while she was in dock in Southampton for the day before heading out on another Mediterranean cruise.

Happily, we picked the hottest day of the year so far and headed straight to the FlowRider, which was opened especially for us! We were all delighted to meet celebrity Royal Mum and Royal Caribbean Ambassador Sally Gunnell, who was there with her kids (FlowRider experts!) too. What a lovely lady.

After my ungainly few seconds, the boys were determined to do better, but actually it’s pretty tricky to stand up while the water whooshes underneath you! Here’s Charlie having a go:

Charlie flowrider

But of course it’s not just about the FlowRider – we also had a delicious meal in the main restaurant (as always, their steaks are AMAZING). And I’ve actually asked for the recipe of the scrummy, spicy fish terrine that we were served with some crispy toasts. Yum.

Next it was off for cupcake decoration at the Cupcake Cupboard (a BIG favourite with the kids) and then a taster version of Independence’s AMAZING ice show, which we watched while sipping rum punches. Heaven.

Ice show

It was also nice to chat to the Captain, who told us that he never ceases to be amazed by how the 1000+ kids on board seem to disappear before his very eyes to clubs/pools/activities, leaving parents to enjoy the holiday without worrying about entertaining the smalls (in fact, we know from experience that it’s actually quite difficult to tear them away!).

Last but not least, we headed up to the amazing H2O Zone, where kids of all ages (ahem) enjoyed a little splash about in this incredible water play park:

H2O Zone small

Honestly, it was the hardest thing ever to disembark that day after having such fun with old friends and new, knowing that the passengers were heading off on a sublime cruise around the Med in the sunshine.

Still, an amazing day and an absolutely wonderful ship. I hope we’ll see the Independence of the Sea again very soon.

(For all the pics and action from the day, check out the #royalmums hashtag on Twitter. Follow Royal Caribbean International: @myroyalUK)

The June travel roundup

Pic (c) kittagsIf you’ve ever stood at the conveyor belt at luggage reclaim, watching all the identical black suitcases going round and round, wondering which is yours, you could benefit from Kittags.  They’re brightly coloured luggage tags made in durable seatbelt-style webbing and can be monogrammed as well.  I spotted my bright orange one a mile away and it was much admired by my fellow travellers.  A great idea for school bags as well.  Kittags are currently offering a 15% summer discount at the moment too – just add SUMMER2013 in the voucher box.

Clarins BB creamClarins’ new BB Skin Perfecting Cream(£28.00) is absolutely brilliant.  Rather than take a moisturiser AND foundation on holiday, just pack this little beauty.  It gives really good coverage, isn’t greasy and has an SPF of 25.   My favourite beauty website, Escentual, do it for £22.40.


Nelly NoopsLucy from Nelly Noops hand makes all sorts of gorgeous fabric goodies like aprons for kids and adults and gorgeous bunting.  She sent me an absolutely gorgeous beach bag in the most glorious ‘a day at the beach’ fabric. The bags are fully lined and have a handy magnetic closure and, I think, are a snip at just £20.  Bag yourself one right away (see what I did there?).
Coconut Candy Scrub

Coconut Oil is huge news at the moment (my niece told me the other day that she uses it on her hair) and Essential Care have got some gorgeous coconut products.  I’m a bit addicted to the Organic Coconut Candy Scrub – a bit pricey at £28 but it lasts forever and leaves your skin feeling amazingly soft.  It smells delicious (and is, in fact edible!) and makes a fabulous pre-holiday skin prep to prepare your skin for tanning.  I’m also addicted to their Creamy Coconut Cleanser, £14.50 (or it comes in a handy travel size £6.00) which leaves skin really soft and smells amazing.

Yankee Candle Pure RadianceLastly, and not strictly travel-related, but certainly in the beachy spirit, I’m loving my new Yankee Candle Pure Radiance candle in ‘Seaglass’ – the fragrance is white tea and sandalwood with a delicious hint of sea air.  There are six in the new selection. I love the new shapes too.

Templar treasure: a luxe short break at the Château Saint-Martin on the Côte d’Azur

The path down to the pool

The path down to the pool

So I started to tell you a little about the Chateau Saint-Martin when I reviewed their beautiful two Michelin star restaurant, Le Saint-Martin. But there’s so much more to this place than the fabulous food.

Wine tasting in the cellar

Wine tasting in the cellar

View of the Chateau from one of the villas

View of the Chateau from one of the villas

A 30 minute drive through beautiful scenery from Nice Airport, the Chateau nestles atop a hillside overlooking the French Riviera and is surrounded by 35 acres of gardens, including 300 ancient olive trees (they make their own estate olive oil), tennis courts and a fabulous swimming pool. The ancient ruins, preserved by the Chateau, date back to Roman times, and were once home to the Knights Templar.

Transformed into a luxury hotel by the Oetker family (yes, the pizza ones – they also own the famous Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc on the Cap d’Antibes and Le Bristol in Paris) the Chateau has 51 luxurious suites and six sumptuous private villas, all available to hire. Staff are discrete and attentive – there’s not a hint of haughty Parisian-type service here.

As well as Le Saint-Martin, the Chateau has a Mediterranean restaurant, La Rosticceria (with shutters open over the most spectacular view of the Riviera) and a summer grill outside in the gardens called L’Oliveraie.

The Chateau boasts a pretty amazing wine list. We were lucky enough to experience a wine tasting in the cellar with the Sommelier, who was far too discrete to answer my questions about the most expensive bottle of wine. The website does hint that the cellar offers ‘some of the world’s most exclusive vintages’ and I certainly spotted some boxes of Petrus and Chateau Lafite Rothschild amongst the dusty bottles on the shelves.

The Spa

The gorgeous spa, taking up two floors on one corner of the Chateau, offers a huge array of treatments featuring La Prairie and Bamford Body products.  I opted for a La Prairie facial and it really was delicious.  Delivered in a futuristic-looking treatment room with customisable coloured lighting (green for revitalising, blue for relaxing) I’m pretty sure I fell asleep, and wafted out afterwards on a heavenly scented cloud, heavy limbed and relaxed with skin that was plumped and glowing.  I was given a sizeable collection of La Prairie product samples to try at home too (I can’t bring myself to use them).

The cobbled streets of Saint Paul de Vence

The cobbled streets of Saint Paul de Vence

Vence and Saint Paul de Vence

A short drive away in one of the Chateau’s Mercedes limousines (with a driver straight off a Gaultier advert), is Vence – a lovely little town and well worth a visit.  Queue up for fresh baguettes, warm out of the oven, sit and sip a glass of rosé and watch the world go by, or pick up some gorgeous Provençal tableware in the little shops.

Nearby is the pretty, fortified town of Saint Paul de Vence.  It’s a lovely place to sip a café au lait and watch  the locals play boules, then take a wander up the stone streets and mooch around the galleries and tiny shops, all pretty much unchanged since Picasso and Matisse trod the same cobbles.  Take time to visit the little cemetery perched overlooking the Mediterranean, where Chagall is buried, and follow the meandering streets to a little chapel overlooking the town.  We also snuck a quick look inside the legendary La Colombe D’Or hotel – a great place to star spot, but notoriously difficult to bag a table in the restaurant.

Le Fondation Maeght

The Maeght Foundation is a private art gallery located at Saint Paul de Vence and is a must-see if you’re in the area. Visitors can wander the gardens and view paintings, sculptures and ceramics by artists such as Bonard, Chagall and Giacometti (my favourite is Giacometti’s ‘Dog’, said to have been created by him after getting caught in the rain) and many contemporary pieces too. There are often special exhibitions at the Foundation, which is open every day.

Giacometti's 'Dog'

Giacometti’s ‘Dog’

We returned refreshed and relaxed – even our ridiculous delay at Nice airport couldn’t take the shine off, and I’ll be returning as soon as I can.  Not a budget option, admittedly, but three glorious days at Chateau Saint-Martin was as relaxing and pampering as two weeks in the Caribbean, and just an hour away from the UK.

The Knights Templar may have long gone, but they left all their treasure behind.

Rates at Chateau Saint Martin & Spa start from €360 per room, per night including breakfast.

Green travel: slow holidays

Pic: (c) Inntravel

Pic: (c) Inntravel

So you’ve heard of slow food, right?  Slow food is all about eating fresh, local, sustainable food – thinking about what you eat and how your choices affect the environment and support farmers and businesses.  It’s a great way to shop and eat, and it’s rewarding too – knowing that you’re eating thoughtfully, and making a difference.

But have you ever thought of applying similar rules to how you holiday?  We jet off to foreign climes, race around theme parks and whizz around on jet skis (and yes, as a frequent traveller I certainly have guilt about my own carbon footprint), but it’s not just about the environment – how about considering a slower holiday?

Cycling holidays

Cycling is a wonderful way to really immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of your holiday destination.  Many holiday companies will arrange for decent bikes to be available on arrival, and will either provide a guide, or plan routes and provide maps so you can make your own way around, arranging for manageable rides between hotels (you can choose how far and how challenging the ride will be – perfect if you’re travelling with kids), and transferring your luggage along the way, meaning that you can travel at your own page.  Routes are well thought out and stick to quieter roads and country lanes wherever possible.

I love the idea of cycling around the Loire Valley, taking in vineyards  (with a little wine tasting thrown in, obviously) and châteaux along the way (try Inntravel for cycling holidays like this).

Walking holidays

If you imagine a walking holiday to be a nightmarish daily trudge from one hotel to another, you’re quite a way away from the reality.  Walks are planned for you in advance, with routes and maps provided, and again you can choose the level of walk you’re comfortable with.  Centred walking holidays focus on one or two base hotels, with planned walks of different grades provided from your base location(s) so you can explore the local area.  In Croatia (an area I’ve always wanted to visit), you can explore the Dalmatian coast with walks that take in Croatia’s beautiful olive groves and medieval towns, as well as plenty of time to relax by the sea.

As you can see, I’m not suggesting that we all give up flying.  I know that’s never going to happen, but cycling and walking holidays can be a fabulous way to really slow things down once you reach your destination, take it easy and soak up more of the area you’re visiting.

Panty liners, poodles and hurdling toddlers… Keeping it classy in the Côte d’Azur

Outside the Chateau

This week I’ve been in the Côte d’Azur, at possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever stayed.  Whilst there, you’ll be pleased to hear that I had several epic adventures including:

Seeing more tiny teacup dogs than I ever thought possible, and feeling the need to say ‘Monsieur, I need to poop!’ Each time in the style of ‘What Women Want’.

Replying to a French shopkeeper in my schoolgirl French, and somehow giving them the impression that I’m fluent in the language, then not understanding a word they said to me and having to nod dumbly as they chatted away happily.

Walking down the marble stairs to reception before my spa treatment in my robe and flip-flops, enjoying the fact that each flip-flopped step was making the most incredibly loud echoey slapping sound, before realising that all eyes in reception were turned towards me.

Reaching into my bag, grabbing my phone and putting it on the table at dinner, not realising that there was, in fact, a panty liner stuck to it. The waiter continued to pour the wine with classic French charm.

Giggling inappropriately about the VERY attractive driver like teenagers in the back of our chauffeur driven Mercedes.

Bursting into a spontaneous version of ‘we’re knights of the round table, we dance whenever able’ after being told that the chateau was once occupied by the Knights Templar. Then feeling slightly stupid.

Yoga on the lawn at the Chateau, taught by a rather stern Eastern European lady who told us that ‘zere vill be no talking during ze yoga’ and proceeded to torture us with the most punishing set of exercises I’ve ever done, including lying flat whist holding our straight legs up in the air for two minutes (try it).  All of us reported back the next day with stories of being in so much pain that sneezing was agony.  I myself nearly cried trying to lie down in the bath, such was the pain in my abs.

Conducting a ridiculous ‘catch the pigeon’ comedy caper through Nice Airport after our easyJet flight was cancelled and we were told it was first come first served at the easyJet desk for remaining spaces on the one other flight that day.  This involved the entire passenger list racing around the airport to get to the desk to bag the seats.  My favourite moments included: all of us going the wrong way and coming to a locked door then having to reverse up, one man actually hurdling a small child, and one lady being completely taken out by an elderly French lady and her suspiciously fit walking stick-toting husband, who then limboed under all the barriers and elbowed their way to the front of the queue. I laughed so much I was nearly sick.

Driving home from Gatwick at midnight with the windows open, singing along to ‘In the Air Tonight’ with Phil Collins on Heart FM trying desperately to keep myself awake (I have a mortal fear of falling asleep at the wheel and killing someone).

English Mum. Embarrassing herself since 2006 (and well beyond) so you don’t have to.

(By the way, more gorgeous pictures, incredible 2 Michelin starred food and beautiful little French towns to follow shortly).

Guest post: family fun in Sorrento


The town of Sorrento lies on a peninsula just north of Italy’s sparkling Amalfi coast, and makes a beautiful backdrop to a family holiday in the sun.  All the traditional Italian charm, historic sites and scented citrus groves will please the adults, while kids will love exploring the region by boat and train, discovering the story of Pompeii and sampling the local gelato.  Here’s a brief guide to the best things to do with the kids while you’re here.

Orientation around the idyllic medieval streets, palazzos and churches is infinitely more fun for the kids if you take the white train around the town.  You can listen to an audio tour and let them enjoy riding behind the ‘engine’.  The beautiful harbour areas of Marina Grande and Marina Piccola are perfect for escaping the centre and resemble an old fishing village, with small cove-like beaches where the children can scramble around looking for shells, while you relax on the sunbathing piers.

Take a leisurely stroll to the Villa Comunale Park and you’ll find the perfect spot for a family picnic, complete with shaded areas, fragrant tropical flowers and prize views of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius.  Don’t miss a chance to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum while staying in Sorrento: older children in particular will marvel at the real-life stories of people who were buried here by the falling ash from Mount Vesuvius, nearly 2000 years ago.

One of the most popular outings after Pompeii is the scenic bus ride along the Amalfi coast, taking in the sights of one of Europe’s best-loved coastlines.  Great for all ages, it’s perhaps best-avoided if your little ones get travel sick, although there are other fun ways to see the best of the countryside.  Kids will love taking a boat out around the marina, or heading for the Isle of Capri by ferry.  With the Grotto Azzurra, or Blue Cave to explore, and the 450-foot ride up to the clifftop cafés via funicular railway, the island makes an enjoyable day trip.

There are plenty of tour companies which cater for family holidays in Sorrento, from kids’ activity programmes to family-friendly hotels, restaurants and great pool facilities, making the town an ideal base for exploring the nearby surroundings.  A warm, breezy climate, stunning nature and lots of brilliant days out, this Italian resort has all the makings of a holiday that everyone will remember for years to come.


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Giveaway: win one of two £200 Wimdu accommodation vouchers!

WimduEvery so often someone comes up with an idea that’s just so brilliant, I’m amazed I haven’t heard of it before.  Wimdu is one of those things.  It’s a website (or ‘accommodation platform’ to use the technical term)  that brings travellers together with people around the world who have accommodation.  It’s not small, either.  They currently list over 150,000 properties in over 50 countries around the world.

So what do they offer?  I asked Wimdu’s lovely Joshua Goodwin to tell us more about it:

‘We offer a range of accommodation. Anything from a small private room in a Berliner’s flat to a villa in rural Spain.   We list many unusual properties too but the vast majority of our business comes through city breaks and beach holidays. We are the number one alternative to hotels.’

So why choose Wimdu?

‘People stay with us because they prefer the comfort and authenticity of a home over a faceless hotel chain which they can stay at anywhere in the world.’

And what are the benefits of choosing Wimdu to book your accommodation?

‘People can decide to take a room in an apartment or the whole property which means we can suit almost all budgets.  We want people to take a classic villa by the sea over an overpriced and over subscribed hotel you get with a package holiday. We want to show people that the extra comfort and authenticity does not come at extra cost and the average family will save money through us.’

I LOVE this idea. And presumably local people in these resorts benefit too?

‘Absolutely.  I like how it takes a lot of tourism money away from the multinational hotels and puts the money back into  local hands.  It encourages people to mix with locals more, as you can often find yourself just surrrounded by fellow natives and it can really water down the culture which is a shame.’

So who are your hosts?  Are they posh people with grand villas by the sea, or just ordinary folk?

‘You don’t have to own a second home to make a bit of money, just a spare room in the house or perhaps your child is away at uni or moved out and its a great way to make a bit of income.’

And to celebrate this absolutely FABULOUS idea, Wimdu have given me two £200 vouchers to give away.

As usual, there are a few ways to enter:

1. Leave a comment saying which accommodation you would choose  on the Wimdu website (I would choose the stunningly beautiful modern apartment overlooking Lake d’Orta pictured above)

Then for an extra entry:
And for another chance to win:
3. Tweet ‘I want to win holiday vouchers with @wimdu and @englishmum’.

Usual English Mum competition rules apply.  Competition ends Saturday 23rd February at midnight.



My top 5 must have travel books, right now.

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel

My friend and fellow travel nut Laura recently told me about this little beauty: Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2013.  This fab special edition, released to celebrate Lonely Planet’s 40th anniversary, is packed with tons of recommendations for destinations, looks into travel trends for 2013 and showcases some incredible journeys.  Inspirational, and with photos to die for.  I want to do it all.

 Michael Palin's BrazilI love Michael Palin, and even if you didn’t catch his latest epic BBC series, Brazil, I think you’ll adore the book that accompanies the series.  Palin’s writing is very much like his presenting: full of warmth and humour.  A fascinating read.

Wolves in the Land of SalmonIf you were on the edge of your seat watching Liam Neeson in The Grey and, like me, think wolves are just the most incredible, powerful animals, you might like the next one up on my pile of ‘to read’ books by my bedside: Wolves in the Land of Salmon, by David Moskowitz.  Okay, not strictly a travel book, but Moskowitz’s adventure across British Columbia tracking these beautiful creatures promises to be an incredible read.

Fuchsia DunlopFuchsia Dunlop is one of my favourite food writers.  I’m really looking forward to reading her latest book: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China.  Dunlop studied at a cooking school in China and vowed to eat anything and everything that was offered to her.  I can’t wait to dive into this book: I bet it’s an absolute blast.

CalcuttaLast on my list is Calcutta: Two Years in the City.  I’m desperate to visit India, and this looks incredible.  Amit Chaudhuri was born in Calcutta and this book documents his return (in 1999) and subsequent two years, as the name suggests.  Obviously as it’s not published yet I don’t know exactly what it’s like, but I’ve heard great things about Chaudhuri’s wonderfully moving and descriptive writing.  Out Feb 14th.


Ever visited Tenerife? Maybe you can help with my top tips for Tenerife holidays

Me at the Teide National Park

Me at the Teide National Park

When you’re planing a holiday, it’s really handy to be able to chat to someone who’s been to that destination before – even better if they can give you a few hints and tips to get the most out of your holiday.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

The destination 

Tenerife, for me, is the stuff of childhood holidays: my first experience of holidays ‘abroad’, warm sunshine, sandy beaches, blue sea and fantastic food.  Tenerife is a great place to bring the family as the flight is a manageable length and, whether you want a beach holiday, or want a more active holiday, there is such diversity here,  there’s something for everyone.  The climate is amazing all year round (it’s known as the ‘Island of Eternal Spring’) and even in the winter, you can experience temperatures in the 20s, with very little rain at any time of the year.

What to pack

Packing for a Tenerife holiday is easy as the temperature stays pretty warm during the day.  During winter and into the spring, night time temperatures can dip down to 16 degrees, so pack a few extra layers for when you’re out and about during the evening.  Tenerife has excellent shopping right across the island, so, especially if you’ve got small children, consider buying some of your essentials, like nappies, when you arrive rather than clogging up your suitcase.  Suncream, hats and full-cover swimsuits for the youngsters are a must all year round and especially during the summer and autumn months when temperatures can climb into the high 20s (and have been known to hit the 30s).

Hand luggage helpers 

  •  When travelling with children, pack them a little rucksack of their own with interesting things to do on the journey.  It’s also worth packing a few ‘surprise’ items in your own hand luggage to whip out if they start to get bored.
  •  Make sure you’ve photocopied everyone’s passport, your tickets and any other information, such as travel insurance.  Pop it into a different bag, just in case one gets lost.
  • Don’t pack enormous hand luggage bags – your fellow passengers (and your family!) won’t thank you when you take ten minutes to squeeze it into the overhead locker, and generally, once it’s there, you won’t want to bother taking it down again.  Think about what you’ll really use: iPad, headphones, maybe a book, and leave the rest at home.

Getting around

Tenerife really is an island of two halves.  There are resorts in the very south of the island, and some in the very north.  If you want to explore, think about hiring a car (consider arranging it with your travel agent when booking).  The main road between the north and south circles the island and is well signposted and easy to navigate.  If you’re heading ‘off piste’ be aware that some of the roads may be less well cared for (and marked), especially if you’re heading up towards Teide when there are some mountain roads next to steep drops (worth attempting, though, as the scenery is amazing).  Public transport is really good: the bus system is modern and inexpensive, plus you can buy tickets called ‘Bono Bus’ for discounted travel if you’re planning on using the bus system quite a bit.


In the south of the island, don’t miss beautiful Siam Park, a huge Thai-themed water park.  For well-priced tickets, try – also look out for the free double decker buses that run from most of the major southern resorts.  Try also to head up to Teide National Park, where the strange lunar landscape has been the backdrop of many a feature film.  If you want, you can head up to the summit (well, within 500ft of the summit – you need a permit to go all the way up) in a cable car, but go prepared: wear sturdy shoes and take warm clothing – it’s very cold up there!

In the north, head to Loro Parque.  I find the best way to see the parquet is to do all the animal shows back to back as soon as you get to the park : sealion, dolphin and then orca. The shows are more crowded, but the atmosphere is fantastic and this then leaves you with the whole afternoon to tootle about the rest of the park, which is beautiful.  The food in the park is very good as well:  try the barbecued pork skewers – delicious!

Dining tricks 

  • Don’t visit Tenerife without trying the lovely salty papas arugadas (literally ‘wrinkled potatoes’) and the delicious accompanying mojo sauces
  • Tenerife also produces some stunning wines (mostly exported to the USA, sadly), but you’ll often find small producers selling their wares locally.
  • Kids will love another local delicacy called simply ‘flan’.  It’s similar to creme caramel and is served in moreish custardy slabs, sometimes with the dark caramel sauce but often just plain.

Like a Local

In Tenerife, locals don’t tend to invite people into their houses, so often you’ll see families and friends congregating in local squares in the evening, chatting and laughing together.  They’re incredibly friendly people and will often chat to you – especially If you have small children!  It’s worth looking out for where the locals drink as they’re often much cheaper than the tourist bars.

Do remember, especially in the older, less touristy parts of Tenerife, that businesses will close in the afternoon for a siesta, reopening at about 4.30pm for the evening.  If you’re buying postcards, ask in the shop for stamps to save you visiting the post office separately.

Tipping in restaurants is about the same as here In the UK – about 10% should be fine.  If you’re drinking at a table in a café or bar, the waiter will tend to wait for you to finish before bringing you the whole bill, rather than paying for drinks as you buy them.  Rounding up the bill or leaving some loose change is always appreciated.

Phrases you should know 

I do recommend that you take an English/Spanish language book with you.  Although most locals, especially in tourist areas, speak excellent English, they always appreciate it (and will often help you with pronunciation etc) if you have a go at a few simple phrases like: sí  (yes) – it’s just no for no- buenos días (good morning),  por favor (please) and gracias (thank you).

So there you have it, these are my top tips.  Anything to add?