Just 40 years ago it was a rather dull suburb of Los Angeles where the main attractions were the beach, a British pub and a shop selling Marmite to homesick expats.
But as LA’s creative types began moving in, in the 1970s — to join the Brits who always knew they were on to a good thing — Santa Monica’s shopping, dining and entertainment offerings improved dramatically.
The mangrove forest of southern Thailand’s Thalen Bay is a strange place, and a place for the strange. The flora stands on spidery mud-sucking fronds. The fauna is just as eerie: grey Macau monkeys sit in tangled branches like primitive people, directing contemptuous stares at occasional intruders.
We were in kayaks, paddling through a tidal world overlooked by cliffs on whose sheer faces clumps of tropical forest cling. From a rocky ledge a snake, the colour of wet slate, lowers itself into the water and s-bends its way round a crag.
This was my first visit to the Algarve and my initial impression lingered for the whole of my stay: that the Algarve is abroad for people who’d rather not be abroad.
They go because they want the sun — not because they’re interested in exploring another country’s culture.
And that’s absolutely fine in the Algarve: there’s sun, sea, sand and golf (of which more later) but you can eat familiar food and have your Daily Mail delivered to your room in the morning. It’s even in the same time zone as the UK.
Far more potently than any travel brochure, the vast sweeping landscapes of Baz Luhrmann’s new movie, Australia, are bound to fuel mid-winter dreams of a trip to that majestic land Down Under.
Bush fever, rather than a longing to see Sydney’s iconic skyline, is what this epic inspires, and who can blame the director for making his country’s rugged and dramatic open spaces the stars of this homage to his homeland?
Colombia has to be South America’s best-kept secret. To me it instantly conjured up coffee and emeralds; for my friends, kidnappings and cocaine spring to mind. The country used to have a reputation for violence and drugs, but when Álvaro Uribe became president in 2002, he cracked down on the drug traffickers and armed gangs.
Now Colombia is mainly safe for tourists, although it is best to avoid areas around the borders with Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru.
My children were dubious. “Are you sure we can climb on it?” they asked for the second time. Even at the ages of two, six and seven they had learned that art is generally there to be looked at but never touched, let alone trampled over.
We clambered up and they shrieked with delight. Being able to interact with the outdoor exhibits in the Kroller-Mullers’ sculpture garden is just one of the highlights of a trip to the Hoge Veluwe National Park, the Netherland’s largest nature reserve.
There’s a square in Vienna’s old city. It’s not a particularly impressive square, nor for that matter especially large, but it is nevertheless a square of great Jewish significance. Judenplatz, as it is called, has come to represent a turning point in the political thinking of Austria, a country which is finally holding up its hands and accepting responsibility for the past crimes of National Socialism.
Five hundred years after the golden age for Spanish Jewry
was brought to a brutal end by the Inquisition, it is touching
to find at least one long-gone community immortalised, albeit in pastry.
In fact, many kinds of pastries and desserts are still being faithfully turned out according to centuries-old Sephardic recipes at La Tafona de Herminia, a bakery in the tiny town of Ribadavia which proudly identifies itself with a Magen David.
Ribadavia is a jewel in the crown of Galicia, a relatively undiscovered province of Spain in the extreme north-west corner of the country.
Get the timing right, and within just 90 minutes of touching down at Miami airport, you can be playing tennis virtually outside your very own luxury cottage, just a decent serve across pristine white sand from the Atlantic Ocean.
Well, in truth, you might need to have the sort of serve you only see dished up by Roger Federer… but you get the point, it’s pretty damned close.
And that nearby water, and all it offers, is very much the key to enjoying all that the Florida Keys has to offer, and in particular Islamorada where our luxury holiday resort village, The Moorings, was located.
Getting away from it all. It’s the ultimate goal in the travel game. But there’s something particularly appealing about getting away from it all, whilst only being only 45 minutes away from the “all” you’re getting away from.
This was very much the case when I spent a weekend at Stoke Place Hotel, one of six properties in new boutique hotel group, Dhillon Hotels.