I’m sitting on the terrace of the Luxor restaurant, in the shadow of the Acropolis and Europe’s longest wooden roller coaster, when the waitress uncorks an excellent bottle of Spanish wine and sets a gourmet selection of starters on the immaculately laid table. Where am I? One of the last places you’d guess would be a theme park in Benidorm.
It is Vancouver’s little vanity, with its location on the Pacific Ocean, to think of itself as an outpost of America’s West Coast. Or, in more realistic moments, as an annexe of Seattle, its closest US big-city neighbour. Certainly, the coffee culture, for which Seattle is most famous, has migrated north with a branch of Starbucks or a local chain on every block of every street of south-west Canada’s premier city.
It wouldn’t occur to me to go anywhere for health reasons unless I was feeling unhealthy. But apparently some of the world’s healthiest people go to health spas. Such bodily perfect members of our species as David Beckham, Serena Williams and Kate Moss, to name but three, have all signed the guest book at Chiva Som, Thailand’s top health spa.
Hurtling down the side of a mountain in a wicker basket supported by wooden slats and steered by two slightly tipsy gentlemen who don’t speak English may seem a rather peculiar way to spend a supposedly relaxing break. But in Madeira this is about as exciting as it gets. And that’s the whole point.
The birthplace of World Footballer of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo does not pretend to share his pace and flamboyance, but is instead, a quiet retreat for those enjoying their golden years and for those who want a restful break from the stress of city life.
Darwin’s initial impression of the Galapagos Islands was not promising: “Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance,” he declared when, in 1835, he arrived at this archipelago, straddling the equator, 630 miles west of Ecuador.
When I arrived last autumn with my husband and two children for a sailing trip around the islands my first impression was more positive. Sunshine, calm blue sea and the promise of wildlife of a variety and exuberance that would keep our cameras clicking throughout our trip.
If there could be a greater treat for the spirit than swinging gently in a hammock taking in the fragrant scents and exotic sounds of a warm Balinese night, it could only be having a clutch of wellness gurus waiting in the wings to tend to mind and body when a new day dawns.
Rural Bali is a healer’s dream of peace, stillness and beauty — think shimmering rice paddies, silent stone temples and exquisite little offerings of carved fruit and flowers set in trays outside every doorway.
Lower Slaughter Manor, in the Cotswolds village of Lower Slaughter, is described on its website as displaying “regal luxury”. Not just any old luxury; “regal luxury”. The village so perfectly fulfils the imagined idea we all have of the Cotswolds that it might have been created by Disney. It wasn’t; it’s real. And the drive through the Cotswolds to reach Lower Slaughter is as beautiful a drive as England has to offer.
The first sight of the hotel is imposing and tantalising.
From atop their pillar, the Marqués de Pombal and his pet lion survey the preparations taking place for the night’s festivities. It is the eve of the Feast of St Anthony, patron saint of Lisbon, on June 12, and along Liberty Avenue, beer stalls, barriers and spectator stands have been put up for the parade.