Holidays, as all parents can confirm, are for people without young children. For those with little ones it is perhaps more accurate to classify vacations as childcare in a scenic environment.
Crete is very scenic — it is also warm. But more than that, the island offered the tantalising prospect of a holiday that the children would enjoy and would count as a break for their daddy and grandma, too.
George IV is indirectly responsible for much of the sheer fabulousness that is Villa D’Este, the legendary Italian hotel on the shores of Lake Como. If, as Prince of Wales in 1795, he had not rejected his bride, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, within months of their wedding, his neglected wife would not have sought solace at this ravishing spot where the Dolomites meet the most northerly of Italy’s shimmering lakes.
So what have I got in common with the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Jessica Parker, Billy Joel, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren? Besides religious persuasion, not a lot… but we did all spend time last summer in East Hampton, the illustrious coastal town that sits at the most eastern point of New York.
If you were looking for empirical evidence that Mallorca has totally reinvented itself, Palma Airport is the place to look. Of the 200 people who were disgorged from an early-morning easyJet flight from Stansted to the island’s airport, a majority were either men on golfing weekends, Boden-catalogue families heading for a pre-half-term sunshine break, or the kind of linen-clad travellers who have Tania Plage kaftans and Vilebrequin trunks stashed in their suitcases and deem the sun-drenched Balearic island one of the Med’s smartest.
It must be a nightmare trying to dust in here, I heard someone say as I gawped at the intricate stone-carved walls of St John’s Co Cathedral. The exterior may look more like an old army barracks than a house of worship, but inside it is breathtaking. You don’t need to be Sister Wendy to appreciate Baroque artist Mattia Preti’s gilded carvings of foliage and flowers that stretch up to the vaulted ceilings, where painted cherubs flit between scenes from the life of John the Baptist.
At the time the old Yugoslavia was carved up 15 or so years ago, Slovenia emerged with the thinnest end of a pretty fat wedge —- a country the size of Wales with a measly 25 miles of coastline. But what a 25 miles they are.
They tell an interesting story at Mobile’s Springhill Avenue Temple about a mitzvah a poor congregant performed in the days of slavery.
Too poor to own slaves himself, the congregant was so horrified by the sight of an African family about to be split up at the local slave auction, that he somehow mustered the wherewithal to buy the lot — then dispersed them among friends and family. That was philanthropy, southern-style.
When I reached Alabama myself in 1965 the slaves were free, but equality still seemed light years away.
Surprisingly, even in crowded Britain, there is still one relatively quiet road that can be explored at leisure. It’s called the Hidden Highway, and it follows roughly the line of the Anglo-Welsh border, all the way from Chepstow to Chester. The road — or more properly a series of A-roads zig-zagging their way through some of the nation’s most glorious countryside — has retained a semblance of isolation and secrecy because, today, there are newer and faster routes between North and South Wales.
There can’t be that many two year olds who have burned their feet on a volcano. But my youngest son, Freddie, who is always kicking his shoes off and running at speed in places he shouldn’t be, is one. I’m glad to report his gorgeous little tootsies were fine, just the colour of a ripe Canarian tomato for a few hours after their close encounter with Timanfaya, Lanzarote’s largest and still smouldering volcano. And the episode has already become part of Freddie’s traveller’s tales.
Lille is hosting a city-wide festival of contemporary art until July and celebrations are in full swing.
Getting there is just a 90-minute ferry hop across the Channel to Calais followed by a 45-minute dash by car, or in less than two hours as a foot passenger by Eurostar to this gorgeous Flemish town, one of Europe’s hottest destinations for culture vultures.