I had been in Portugal for less than 12 hours when I had my first pinch-myself moment. Five courses into an epic supper at Restaurant Arte Náutica near the beach at Portimao, I caught a glimpse of the starry sky. There, twinkling above me, was the plough. A few metres away, the calm waters of the Atlantic gently lapped the sandy shore.
And all around me was nature: palm trees, white sands, mysterious sounds from night owls and other birds. It was idyllic, and there wasn't a golfer, binge drinker or package holiday maker in sight.
The genteel seaside resort of Easbourne may be an unlikely setting for world-class modern art, but its Towner Gallery is one of Britain's best. So good, in fact, that within a year of reopening in a new building, this excellent institution has already been shortlisted for the nation's top museum award, the national Art Fund Prize.
Garish pink and silver curtains drew open, drums rolled and out came the dancing girls. A moment later Phillipe, the compere asked the audience (in French) 'anyone here from Pas de Calais?' Hands went up accompanied by cheers. 'Étrangers bienvenus' – welcome strangers – he chuckled.
Strangers? We were enjoying a dinner/cabaret spectacle at Le Prestige Palace, av du People Belge, (think mini Moulin Rouge) in Lille, located in the Nord Pas de Calais region of Northern France bordering Belgium.
It only opens today, yet half of Britain is already geared up for Alice in Wonderland fever. The new film has inspired catwalk creations, and now it's hoped it will also inspire tourists.
Everyone knows the fictional Alice dreamt of her surreal world while napping by the Thames, but director Tim Burton's wild interpretation of Lewis Carroll's book was based on locations in Devon and Cornwall, while the Carroll trail itself starts in Cheshire.
The Swiss mountain village of Wengen - home of the famous Lauberhorn downhill race - hit the headlines at the end of last year in the worst possible way.
A 23-year-old British man, Myles Robinson, disappeared in the early hours of the morning after a night out in a local bar. His body was found a few days later at the bottom of steep, icy slope, but no one has come up with a convincing explanation as to how it got there.
Astonishingly, when Jane Austen was laid to rest in Winchester Cathedral in 1817, only four people attended the funeral. Today thousands would line the streets in homage. And 200 years on, there's no let-up in the commemoration of the nation's favourite literary daughter.
The Parisians know a thing or two about romance. But when you live in the most romantic city on earth, you need other options for a whirlwind weekend. So if Valentines Day in Paris feels tired and clichéd, do like the Parisians, and flee the city in favour of Versailles.
It’s been 20 years since the fall of the Berlin wall, yet the east-west divide is still inescapable. Each side has its own shopping, restaurant and bar districts. In fact, the city has two of everything — even two cultures and this is what makes Berlin an outstanding cultural city break.
The architecture in the east may be a little grungy, but a warehouse doubles beautifully as a bar and a disused factory is perfect as a disco. In the west, it’s more about elegance. Trendy youth live and work in the east, but migrate to the west once they reach 30(ish) to bring up their kids.
Going to the dentist may sound an odd thing to do on holiday, but not for those obsessed with improving their smile. Malta’s innovative Fortina resort has added cosmetic dentistry and cut-price crowns and veneers — as well as laser-accelerated bleaching — in a state of the art clinic for about half the price of Britain.
And crowns can be milled on the spot, so what is a two-step treatment at home can be done in Malta in one. I watched a movie while waiting for my teeth to lighten painlessly, something I couldn't do it Britain.
One effect of Istanbul’s stint as European Capital of Culture 2010 will be an opportunity to showcase its shiny modern face. The city, best known for ancient Byzantine and Ottoman splendours, is actually a hip, thrusting metropolis with great designer shopping and a burgeoning contemporary art scene. But with a famous historic skyline dominated by domes, minarets and fortified Ottoman palaces, 21st century Istanbul remains largely unknown.