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.
You wouldn’t think you could spend a morning in Greece, an afternoon in Rome and a lazy Sunday in ancient Egypt — all without leaving Oxford. You wouldn’t know it because the Ashmolean — a once fusty, dusty collection of curios crammed into display cases — didn’t let you know. But that place is a planet removed from the marvellous museum which has just reopened.
More than £61m has gone into transforming Britain’s oldest museum into what must surely be the best showcase the nation has of the world’s most important civilisations.
Considering its vibrancy, beauty and historical treasures, it’s amazing that Durham is not a major fixture on the tourist trail. One can only assume it’s because this little jewel of a city and county are squashed between the majesty of Yorkshire, which trumpets its offerings much louder, and the glorious Northumberland coast.
But this tiny place — which has been dubbed the best to visit in the UK — won’t be hiding its light under a bushel much longer.
It began in front of my TV, watching Henning Mankell’s deadpan detective, Wallander, shuffle his way unerringly to the solution of a crime. Wallander’s world was one of strong spirits, heart-warming humour and cold-hearted murders set in the moody landscape of Southern Sweden.
Not content to buy the best-selling Kurt Wallander Mysteries or wait for the second BBC series starring Kenneth Branagh in the New Year, I flew to Copenhagen and crossed the Öresund Bridge to the fertile region of Skåne (pronounced skoener), home to two worldwide hits — Absolut Vodka and Kurt Wallander.
I had never tasted potato dumpling with goat’s cheese before, let alone try to pronounce its culinary name - bryndzove halušky, but then I had never been to the Slovakian capital, before. A canopy of carbs, this hearty speciality of the city was unexpectedly appealing. Much like the city itself.
Any shipping line that brands a cruise “the world’s most beautiful voyage” is surely inviting contradiction. As a cruise virgin, I can neither verify nor refute the claim made by Hurtigruten for its round voyage up and down the Norwegian coast. But if there is a lovelier boat trip than this, I’d certainly like to hear about it.
We were on an intrepid mission and there were risks: blisters, arguments, financial ruin and a 4am wake-up call before dragging our cases on to a National Express bus at Golders Green, and then queueing for an easyJet flight to Naples.
It was tough: traipsing around Mafia-imbued streets, reading and then abandoning all guide books.