Truth be told, Malta has never figured on my travel hit list. I guess the lack of any notable hotels and its image as a cheap package holiday destination, have always put me off. But when I stumbled across a stylish boutique hotel in the capital, Valletta, I was intrigued and went away to do lots of research, so you don’t have to.
A long weekend in the city convinced me that Valletta and the islands of Malta, with their wealth of things to see and do, are the perfect place for a short break and make a great change from the usual suspects. Perfect – if like me – you’re looking for something different.
Ending any Sri Lankan trip (as we did – read about the rest of the trip here) with a day or so discovering the tiny 17th century town of Galle Fort on the southwest coast of the country is a must. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the best preserved colonial sea fortress in Asia, has had a bit of a renaissance over the last few years with lots of investment (mainly by expats and Sri Lankan elite), turning it into a cosmopolitan little enclave. The once run down colonial buildings that line the maze of narrow atmospheric streets within the fortified walls have been spruced up and now house boutique hotels, cute cafés, stylish shops and the whole place has a rather buzzy vibe.
The first time Julian and I visited the tea growing island of Sri Lanka over 20 years ago, we drove from the airport to the capital, Colombo, in the thick of night down dusty roads, our taxi driver pushing his rickety car to the limit and almost (but not quite) missing the oncoming traffic as he weaved in and out. On our most recent visit the arrival was a far more relaxed affair. Our VIP meet and greet, straight off our flight, was by a rather pleasant airport official with a signboard: Mrs Ann Lesley and Mr Julian Peter. She efficiently whisked us through the form filling at immigration and, whilst we sat in the VIP lounge having our first cup of Sri Lankan tea, she collected our luggage and cleared it through security. All we had to do was slip out of the back door in to our waiting car and on to the new (Chinese funded) bypass for a smooth journey to Colombo.
People often think of Sri Lanka in the same way as India – noisy, chaotic, and a complete assault on the senses. It’s not. Sri Lanka has its own personality and a really lovely easy going island mentality with sweet, generous and welcoming people. You do have to go with the flow a bit since the island is still developing and whilst some parts of the country are sophisticated, others are less so. But you will be enchanted by Sri Lanka and surprised with the variety on offer for such a small island: dramatic landscapes, ancient temples, historic hill towns with reminders of the British Colonial era, verdant tea plantations, abundant wildlife, stunning beaches and some rather special places to stay.
I (accompanied by Julian as la Concordia’s official photographer) was back in Sri Lanka to see a raft of new hotel openings and also test some new experiences. Here are the highlights of my latest trip: Read more
I’m often asked where’s the one place I’ve visited that has totally blown me away, and I have to say, that’s a tough question to answer. I’ve seen so many wonderful places and each has their own special memories. But, in terms of one country where I felt totally privileged to experience it, where I got access to a culture not many people get to see and where I travelled through some spell binding scenery, it has to be Bhutan. The Buddhist culture also drew me in as I’m a sucker for that whole spiritual stuff: monks in burnished red robes, stunning temples and making a wish as I spin the multi-coloured prayer wheels.
Bhutan will soon be displaying its beauty to the world when (Prince) William and Kate visit the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” this spring, as part of a larger trip which will also take in the sights of India.
What makes Bhutan so special is that this tiny landlocked country (tucked away between Tibet and India) was isolated from the outside world for many years and only opened up to visitors in 1974; even now it carefully manages the number of tourists that visit the country so as to preserve its unique culture and traditions – men are expected to wear local dress of a knee length robe, there are laws prohibiting smoking and billboards, and the nation supports Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product; visiting this Kingdom will certainly enhance your general net happiness. Read more
Forgive me for making a sweeping statement, but for guaranteed winter sun with a less than 8 hour direct flight from Manchester, don’t most people just press the Dubai default button? Of course, Dubai is great if you want a city that shouts at you 24 hours a day and has a sort of “look at me” feel about it. And of course it does have rather a lot of good hotel options. But that’s the thing about Dubai, there’s just a lot of everything – hotels, skyscrapers, people, bling. For something a lot calmer and with less crowds my preference is Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s less brash neighbour.
Here are some of the reasons why I think it’s time to consider ditching Dubai as the default for winter sun and maybe give Abu Dhabi a whirl instead: Read more