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How to plan a responsible holiday

How to plan a responsible holiday

Do you know how to plan a responsible holiday? As a traveller, you will certainly have an impact on both the culture and environment of the place you are visiting. So here are some useful rules of thumb to make your impact a positive one:

Avoid short-haul and indirect flights whenever possible

A flight will dwarf all other elements of your holiday in terms of carbon emissions. Use online calculations such as Climate Care to learn about the footprint of a particular journey and see how long it would take you to make the equivalent carbon saving by cutting down on car journeys or using low-energy light bulbs.

If you have to fly, try to avoid short-haul flights where there are viable alternatives, as the fuel-hungry take-off and landing make up a greater proportion of the journey’s overall emissions. Similarly, flying indirect to save a few pounds can radically bump up your emissions tally due to the extra take-off and landing.

Consider your accommodation

Many areas popular with tourists struggle with water and energy supplies and have limited waste and recycling facilities. Before you book your accommodation, check their website or brochure for a statement on sustainability or responsible tourism. Anywhere doing its fair share will be shouting about it.

Find out about local issues

Find out if there are energy or water shortages or particular development or conservation issues in the destination you are planning to visit and make sure you don’t contribute to them by inconsiderate behaviour through your choice of accommodation or tour operator. See the Travel Foundation for more information.

Report bad practice

If you spot hotel staff ignoring environmental policies, for example by washing towels daily, without an option to leave it longer, suggest an alternative to the management. Similarly, if you encounter exploitive practices in destinations or among tour operators, complain to the company you booked through and write an on-line review. You can report animal exploitation via the Born Free Foundation’s Travellers’ Alert campaign .


Be culturally aware

Learning a few words of the local language can help you interact with locals in a far more respectful and rewarding way than stumbling through with English plus hand gestures. Learn about local customs and religious beliefs and modify your wardrobe and behaviour accordingly.

Think local

Travellers pay fleeting, and often seasonal visits, to their destinations. Choose tour operators and hotels that employ local people, ideally year round, and source as much food and other supplies as possible from local producers. Make sure you get out of your hotel or resort to visit local restaurants, shops and markets and always tip with cash. In markets, don’t let the love of bartering get in the way of paying a fair price.

Give something back

Our love of exotic, off-the-beaten-track holidays has brought us into greater contact with societies struggling with poverty, conservation, development and sometimes exploitation. Although it can be very diffi cult, try not to give money to child beggars as this encourages the practice when they should be in school. A donation to a local project, charity, health centre or school is more likely to end up in safe hands. You can also find out about local projects and items in short supply by using the stuff your rucksack website.

Minimise your environmental impact

Taking your litter with you is obvious. But refraining from buying corals, shells or other precious products made from endangered plants and animals and helping to preserve local wildlife is equally important.

Take your habits with you

If you recycle, avoid unnecessary car journeys and avoid wasting water at home, don’t binge on holiday. Use public transport in your destination, keep heating, lighting and air conditioning to a minimum and shower rather than use a bath. As many island and mountain destinations have limited waste and recycling facilities, it pays to leave unnecessary packaging on holiday purchases at home.

Don’t play golf in a dry zone

More and more developing world countries believe that they must provide golf courses for Western tourists, even in waterpoor areas. These either drain water reserves or depend on desalination plants that use vast amounts of energy.

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Four Seasons, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt: The Red Sea Riviera

Four Seasons, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt: The Red Sea Riviera

Hailed as the Red Sea Riviera, Sharm El Sheikh is located on the Egyptian coastline at the very tip of the Sinai Desert – a small triangle of land linking Asia to Africa via the famous Suez Canal. It is a land of many biblical references, such as Moses’ journey to and from Israel to Egypt. It has an unforgiving landscape of dramatic arid peaks, granite outcrops and dusty dry roads leading to remote sounding destinations inhabited by Bedouin tribes and herds of masticating camels. But it also has the Red Sea – a living aquarium that attracts celebrities, Royals and politicians from all over the world. The star on the block that everyone is clamouring to visit is indisputably the Four Seasons. The 200-room hotel (including sixty-four family suites) is not so much a resort but a village – an Arabian Eldorado of castellated turrets and bloom-lined borders, cascading down a hillside to the sea below

Beyond the call of duty

Accommodation is in one- and two-storey, dome-roofed villas, all complete with balconies overlooking the Red Sea shaded by pretty stripy awnings. The main pool is reached via a twelve-seat tram from the lobby, a joyride for children and adults alike. It has gained a great reputation for families and rightly so. I thought I’d already seen the full extent of Four Seasons’ faultless service when I was in New York; I hadn’t. Popping back into the room one morning to collect a forgotten pair of goggles I saw the housekeeper dotingly taking the hair out of the children’s hairbrushes – way beyond the call of duty but just another example the lengths the staff go to take care of their guests.

During the school holidays the hotel is almost exclusively a family zone (probably a honeymooner’s hell); outside these periods it’s a great place for anyone. There are no less than five swimming pools. The Gezira pool has been designed with families in mind – square shaped gazebos housing teak loungers provide necessary shade and were full of slumbering babies and toddlers in a post-lunch haze of soporific contentment. The other pools are also family friendly, with the exception of the spa pool, which is designed for laps and solitude. On the pampering front, the Daniela Steiner beauty spa specialises in all-natural cleansing, healing and age-defying beauty treatments. You can opt for either indoor or outdoor treatment rooms complete with saunas and whirlpools.

I can’t think of another hotel that caters so generously for children’s meals. A high-quality selection of freshly prepared foods are displayed on knee-high buffet tables each lunchtime and offered complimentary to any child under twelve. And the endless round of sorbets, watermelon, lollies, and yoghurt smoothies are great bribe-fodder for good behaviour. The kids’ menu also reflects careful consideration with Baby Bear’s ‘just right’ porridge, Mama’s chocolate pudding and teatime treats of milk and cookies left in your room. Of course, the adult fare is just as delicious. Arabian night at the open-air terrace of the Arabesque restaurant is well worth attending – a selection of Mediterranean, Moroccan and Lebanese specialities are served while children line up for henna tattoos and lessons in flatbread making.

Biblical wonders

And there’s plenty to explore around the Sinai. The three-hour car journey from Sharm El Sheikh to the isolated Saint Catherine’s Monastery is at once dramatic, and mesmerisingly repetitive. Mile upon mile of rugged terrain, soaked by the year-round sun feels almost like a lunar-land of barrenness. The Greek Orthodox chapel dates back to the forth century when Helena (a Byzantine empress) built it next to the Burning Bush. Two centuries later Emperor Justinian added a fortified monastery to protect the chapel from marauding Bedouins. Soon after that a mosque was added inside the same walls, to safeguard the chapel from passing Arab armies. Its remoteness may have much to do with the fact that so many of its remarkable mosaics, intricately gilded icons and rare manuscripts have been preserved to this day. Some are on display to tourists, who, unfortunately get herded around somewhat unceremoniously but can always queue to re-enter for a second glance.

The monastery stands in the shadow of another biblical wonder, Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Hiking up to the summit of 2,285 metres is no mean task in the midday sun (the phrase ‘only mad dogs and Englishmen’ frequently came to mind) but such is its popularity with the faithful of many religions that the peak is often crowded before dawn by those coming from around the world to watch the sun rise across the Sinai Desert.

For something rather less energetic, the peninsula of Ras Mohamed, located at the southernmost tip of the Sinai, about twenty kilometres from the hotel, has been a national park since 1983. It extends over 480 square kilometres and includes the islands of Tiran and Sanafir as well as the protected coral reef, coastal dunes and mangrove swamps around Sharm El Sheikh. Swimming and offshore snorkelling trips are very popular as the vibrant coral formations and marine life have made it a premier destination for scuba enthusiasts. The colours, both above and below the clear blue waters, almost defy belief.


Top Tip: Many tour guides offer day trips further afield to glimpse the wonders of Luxor, the Nile, and the Pyramids but these are really best left to another trip when you can do justice to their magnificence.

FYI: Kids For All Seasons club for children aged between five and twelve, open daily 9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.

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Round Hill, Jamaica: Pineapple Perfection

Round Hill, Jamaica: Pineapple Perfection

It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I booked my trip to Jamaica but my worries about safety were totally unfounded. It appears that we’ve been swamped with misinformation – the island and its people are a showcase for the Caribbean at its best. Our first tastes of Round Hill were delicious. Blissful tranquillity, twenty-first-century comfort and luxury without pretension, combined with privacy and that precious commodity, peace. Well, that was until my entourage of daughters arrived on the beach. Squeals of excitement and laughter ensued as the warm Caribbean Sea licked their ankles. They couldn’t wait to go snorkeling with the baby rays, kayaking over the reef or have a bounce on the giant water trampoline.

Lord Monson’s century-old sugar and pineapple plantation was transformed in 1953 by the illustrious John Pringle into a haven for the rich and famous, and what a delightful spot in which to build a hotel. The hundred-acre peninsula of lush Jamaican countryside encompasses twenty-seven villas and thirty-six beachside suites in a whitewashed building appropriately named Pineapple House set in a moon shaped bay overlooking crystal clear water. To this day the hotel has retained its clubby atmosphere and guests still greet each other, welcome newcomers and regularly join tables at mealtimes.

Managing Director Josef Forstmayr modestly confesses to tempting away Sandy Lane chef, Trevor Duncan, but his sin is easily forgiven by guests who enjoy delicious meals al fresco – either by the pool or on the restaurant veranda. Adult fare includes a delectable choice of local and international dishes, a fresh daily catch of local fish, and an irresistible selection of fruit sorbets and deserts. Consistent high standards extend to the kids’ menu where children are treated to fresh gougons of chicken or fish, pasta and crudités. And with all the swimming and castle building there’s a satisfying spread of clean plates all round.

Some guests make an effort to dress for dinner and there’s a certain theatrical bent to evenings as the cocktail hour gets underway and the pianist performs an eclectic repertoire of classical, Disney and Bob Marley songs. There’s no doubt that Jamaica’s golden era was the 1950s. Ghosts of glamorous gatherings live on in the black and white photographs capturing Round Hill’s most celebrated guests and moments. No one’s allowed to take themselves too seriously though and oil portraits of dignitaries with pineapple heads highlight Jamaican humour.

Pineapple House has been refurbished by Round Hill villa owner, Ralph Lauren. The ocean-fronted bedrooms have brilliant white ceilings, walls and upholstery with an occasional dash of strong colour such as a fuchsia pink sarong or a scattering of royal-blue cushions. Comfy mahogany-stained bamboo four-posters are draped in white toile and dressed in 300-count linen sheets. The white bathrooms are also spacious with huge oblong baths, walk-in showers, double vanities, and yummy local soaps and balms including pure aloe vera. What you’ll love best though, is the view through the broad jalousie windows, across the banana and palm tree fronds to the distant headland. Most dusks provide spectacular sunsets when a hazy swollen sun melts into the sea.


Personal imprint

For something even more luxurious, private and spacious you could rent one of Round Hill’s privately owned villas. Nearly all have their own swimming pool and come with personal maid service and in-house meals prepared in your own kitchen. Glowingly elegant, decorated by the world’s most renowned designers, these properties possess the personal imprint of generations of owners who have stamped an enticing home-away-from-home comfort. Their provenance is undeniably impressive; yesteryear’s owners were the likes of Noel Coward, the Hammersteins, Rothermeres and Astaires.

Surly service has long been my bugbear of the Caribbean. Not so here. The service is so good you don’t even notice it. Staff are copious, present, cheerful and helpful. It all comes down to one man, the ever-present Josef Forstmayr, who has been looking after his staff and overseeing the minutiae for the past fifteen years. The good news is he’s here to stay. You’ll see him walking around, taking personal interest in his guests’ needs; constantly chatting, introducing and dream-fixing – never has a manager been so hands-on.

The excellently run Pineapple Kids’ Club, open seven days a week from nine until five o’clock, is complimentary for children aged between three and twelve. Tennis clinics, nature walks, reggae lessons, grass weaving taught by a local Rastafarian and myriad arts and crafts abound. Each day has a different theme: T-shirt and rock painting; nature and treasure hunts; beach Olympics and shell hunting; environment, science and paper craft; followed by an assortment of outdoor games, glass-bottomed boat rides, dancing, drama and cultural programmes. You can rest assured that even when the children aren’t with you they’ll be getting a true taste of Caribbean culture.


If you book the family suite an additional five hours of nanny-service is there whenever you want it. Thankfully, the proximity of the amenities means that older children are safe to wander between the rooms, beach, pool and kids’ club at their will.


Getting out and about

 Many spend a whole week lazing by the cascading infinity-edged pool, waiting for a visit from one of the bay’s resident dolphins, or being pampered in the spa, which is housed in a handsome Jamaican Great House, but there’s plenty to explore outside the hotel. Some fifty minutes from Round Hill, the Mayfield falls and mineral springs cascade down the hillside forming natural pools and Jacuzzis. They’re one of the least known but most picturesque waterscapes Jamaica has to offer. The trip can be easily combined with lunch at Cosmos on Negril’s seven-mile stretch of sand followed by tea at Rick’s café where fearless athletes perform acrobatics over the cliffs before diving fifty feet into the cerulean blue sea below.

Swimming with dolphins in Ocho Rios and riding bareback through the surf are favourites with children; as is the spectacular canopy tour, zip-wiring a thousand feet over the jungle roof. Tubing through the rapids or gently rafting along the Great River taking in the plant and bird life offer an unspoilt insight into the island’s abundant beauty. Or for something a little more sedate a tour round the eighteenth-century Greenwood and Rose Hall Great Houses. There’s plenty to choose to suit all ages and abilities.

The longer you stay the more special it becomes. I’ve become Jamaica’s number one fan – well number four actually, after my three daughters who loved it even more.



FYI: 36 rooms, 27 private villas with pools.

Kids Club: Pineapple Kids’ Club for children aged three to twelve, open daily 9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. Kids tennis clinic available in July and August


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The Fortress, Sri Lanka: The Irresistible Island

The Fortress, Sri Lanka: The Irresistible Island


Sri Lanka is a crazy country but I love it. The island is caught in the classic paradox of where there’s good there’s bad. Despite the politically charged war that has raged in the north-east for thirty years, the rest of the island sees Singhalese, Tamils and Christians living and working together in harmony. And this provides Sri Lanka with an atmosphere of calm – just one of the teardrop-shaped island’s many charms.

For a country the size of mainland Britain its biodiversity is extraordinary with tropical jungle, rainforest, wild game reserves, spectacular mountain ranges and perfect surf beaches all part of the landscape. You will see extreme poverty but you will also see an abundance of vegetation, flowers, fruits and vegetables, which ensure that even the poorest people have enough to eat.

Without question, Sri Lanka is seductive to travellers. Its unique combination of history and culture, charm and romance keeps people coming back. In fact in recent years more and more visitors have ended up extending their stay. Even the tsunami didn’t put  people off. Many volunteers, who originally headed down to the south coast to help, ended up staying longer and some have still not left, having bought land and adapted to the easy lifestyle.


The area around Galle is particularly beautiful. Galle itself, based around a Dutch fort – now World Heritage Site – is a wonderful old town full of cobbled streets, period houses, local characters and fun little boutiques. You can take an evening promenade around the ramparts with local families who watch boys throw themselves off the walls into the ocean while the sun sinks below the horizon.

Meet the Dinosaurs

Heading further south prepare to discover some of the most ideal beaches you have ever seen, perfect for long walks passing only the odd stilt fisherman or hermit crab. Or pop into little beach bars serving simple and delicious fresh seafood and sundown cocktails. Just a little further along the coast Kogolla, famous for its fabulous lake, is so quiet you can revel in the beauty and peace afforded by miles of personal space. Take a small boat and explore the waters, visiting spice and herb gardens, local cinnamon farmers or a little island on which stands nothing but an ancient temple with painted murals. Be ready to meet the dinosaurs – the giant monitor lizards that are actually harmless despite their prehistoric appearance.

Kogolla lake is also used for seaplanes, particularly for people flying to and from Colombo who prefer to avoid the three-hour drive, making it the perfect location for the Fortress hotel. A most welcome addition to the Galle area providing all the swankiness and creature comforts you could wish for on a holiday, but with a wonderfully informal and friendly atmosphere perfect for families.

The Fortress 35

Entering through the impressive Fortress doors makes you feel that you are going into another world. The great portal beckons you on to the fabulous inner courtyard, which comprises a big jungle-like garden leading to a swimming pool area, actually two pools joined together with a bubbling Jacuzzi. The rooms are all funky, fun with sassy modern furniture, kitted out with everything from iPods that can be personally programmed on request to private indoor plunge pools.

If you’re checking in with little ones, your room will automatically be furnished with amenities like cots, bath products and cute mini towelling robes. There’s also a nursery room with cots, changing tables and on-tap babysitting.

For active kids there’s loads to do. The Little Adventurers Club is equipped with all forms of games and daily competitions. The great kids’ menu even includes a movie option with film, popcorn and homemade Toblerone – it’s available any time and delivered to your room. For older children yoga classes are held three times a week and there are kids’ spa treatments offering massages and mother and daughter manicures and pedicures.

For grown ups there are yoga and fitness classes, cultural events and tea tasting. Best of all are the pampering Per Aquum spa experiences – probably the best in Sri Lanka, offering a global menu of international and indigenous ayurvedic therapies.

The Fortress 16

Icing on the cake

Outside the hotel activities include visits to the turtle hatchery where your kids can wait for a moonlit night to release a baby turtle into the ocean, cricket on the green, trips to the local Wickremasinghe Cultural Museum, picnics in the museum gardens, boat trips on the lake and tuk-tuk rides around Galle Fort. You could even borrow ten-speed mountain bikes to explore the local villages set in vibrant green paddy fields.

Just a little further along the coast, Welligama Bay is one of Sri Lanka’s great surfing beaches with plenty of outlets for board rentals. Head further down the coast and you pass more great beaches in Mirissa, Talalla and Tangalle. Carry on and you get to Yala National Park, famous for short jeep safaris, spotting elephants, crocodiles, bears and leopards.

The icing on the cake though will always be the miles of unspoilt beaches wrapping around the south coast, almost empty of tourists, and making Sri Lanka one of the last remaining paradises of South Asia.




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A slice of British history in St John, Bay of Fundy

Horrid History – A slice of British past in St John, Bay of Fundy

‘In May 1783, ‘Seven ships lie anchored in the Bay of Fundy,
off the moutBay of Fundy Maph of the St John River. The passengers aboard are a curious collection of refugees – they are farmers and doctors, carpenters and lawyers, craftsmen and soldiers – people of every age, from all walks of life. As they gaze grimly upon the rocky peninsular and the Fundy mud flats sprawling before them, they share a common longing for the homes they left behind’, quoted my guide, explaining Canada’s Arcadian history.

‘From the beginning of the American Revolution in 1774, to shortly after its conclusion, some 40,000 British subjects fled north to Canada to escape persecution. The 3000 so-called ‘loyalists’, who arrived in St John in May, were soon followed by 11,000 more; a large British community soon grew in the small city of St John.

The city has few echoes of this bygone era, which are mapped out on the loyalist heritage trail.  The fire of 1877 wiped out much of the city, and there is now a clear demarcation between the unscathed wooden structures on one side of the street and the new fire resistant brick blocks on the other.

St John is now predomFullSizeRender (1)inantly an industrial city, with a big ship building history and a gas refinery.  A visit to the Reversing Falls, where the St John river flows out into the Bay of Fundy, is particularly interesting.  The outgoing, fast-flowing freshwater collides spectacularly with the incoming sea in a dramatic roar of rapids, with the shere velocity of water pushing waves of saltwater inland.  The backdrop of the Reversing Falls is a Pulp Mill; not necessarily traditionally beautiful, though certainly an impressive view.

Don’t miss the city market, which is architecturally wonderful; the roof is built to resemble the inverted hull of a ship. The building plays host to a farmer’s market with a range of local and international delicacies.  Visitors can take part in a daily culinary tasting tour to get an idea of the unique food on offer.

Do not miss the Hall of Great Whales in the New Brunswick Museum, particularly for those travelling as a family, with its striking array of whale skeletons on display.  If paired with a trip whale watching, this a great way to gain another perspective on the lives of the marine mammals of the region.


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Minister’s Island, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick

Minister’s Island, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswickministers 1

New Brunswick is all about space.  Huge wide open swathes of untouched forest, lakes and coastline.  The Canadian stretch of the Bay of Fundy stretches from the Tantramar Marshes in the north to St Stephens in the south; protected from the harsh Atlantic elements by the block of land that is Nova Scotia.

There are also dozens of islets tucked into this area – I find myself picking out my island, plentiful as are they along the eastern coastline; there must be one down there with my name on it.

I’ve come to visit Minister’s Island which is a short drive across a narrow causeway from St Andrews and only accessible at low tide.

The island has been inhabited for more than two thousand years; the Passamaquoddy people settled it initially.  In 1790, the eponymous minister, Reverend Samuel Andrews, built one of the earliest remaining houses on the island, which is a sweet little bungalow, and first popularised the destination.  Railway mogul of the late nineteenth century, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, soon came along and trumped the minister with his summer holiday home, a ‘cottage’ of considerably bigger size than the minister’s quaint abode.

The island provides a Swallows and Amazons sized adventure of five hundred acres – just two miles long and one mile wide – and overlooks the Bay of Passamaquoddy (meaning bay of plenty fish).  Sir William developed the island and as well as his vast, fifty-bedroomed house built a bathhouse which served as his personal hideaway, a tidal pool, a windmill and a model farm.
ministers 4

Sir William was not much of a sleeper, reputedly getting by on a mere four hours a night.  His room on the ground floor gave easy access to the extensive gardens filled with butternut trees, where he loved to walk and paint.

Sir William was also keen on farming; he adored his Clydesdale horses and had a collection of twenty by 1903.  His farm on the island had plenty of livestock, including Ayrshire cattle, Shropshire sheep, Tamworth pigs and Guinea fowl.  It is easy to see how he achieved such industrial success; the man raised the windows in his barn to prevent his workers from being distracted by the view!

Minister’s Island is now in the process of being brought back to life; extensive refurbishment projects are going on.  Visitors can see ancient fossils from the island, samples of Sir William’s artwork, First Nation arrow points that date back up to two and half thousand years and hear tell of the numerous ghost stories that surround the island.

Time truly stands still on this tiny island.

ministers 6ministers 2ministers 7

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Hacienda el Porvenir


Hacienda el Porvenir, Cotapaxi National Park 

Adventures in the Andes

Ecuador sits astride the equator. Its relatively tiny size belies its staggering geographical diversity, from the luscious Amazonian rainforests to a battalion of snow-smothered Andean volcanic peaks.  One such peak is the IMG_0363Cotopaxi Volcano, which sits in the centre of the Andean region.  The Andes are wide open to those visitors looking to take part in outdoor activities, visit local communities and relax in lovely country farms or haciendas in exquisite scenery.
One of these stunning haciendas is the Hacienda el Porvenir.  This friendly, folksy place is a few kilometres outside Cotopaxi National Park, on the treeless high altitude steppe covering the lower slopes of Rumiñahui volcano. It is very much a working ranch – specialising in wild Andean bulls and dairy cattle – and some of the staff are genuine  Andean cowboys.  There are all sorts of opportunities for visitors to take part in farm activities which makes this the perfect place to bring the family; children are invited to join in with feeding the animals or even with making chocolate.

IMG_0338The three cosy living rooms, each with the inviting addition of a fireplace, are very welcome on chilly highland evenings.  Guest accommodation consists of rustic, traditional rooms, family suites and five newer suites, which we particularly recommend. The latter have good contemporary heating and fantastic views over Cotopaxi volcano.

There’s a lot to do here when the sun comes up: guests with a penchant for the outdoors can go horse riding, mountain biking and zip lining, or venture out on self-guided hikes along well marked trails.


An Empanada TutorialIMG_0376

When you come home hungry at the end of the day, the dining room at Porvenir serves meals prepared with fresh local produce.  We were treated to a cooking lesson where we were taught a quintessential Ecuadorian Empanada Recipe.

  1. Have the dough ready in advance:


IMG_0331To make the dough:

Mix together 1300g Plain White flour is best and 500g Butter by hand (just like pasta making) with a Pinch of salt and sugar to fine bread crumbs.
Add 500ml of full fat milk and continue to mix.

It gets very glutinous and sticky. Let it rest in a plastic bag for one hour to increase elasticity and prevent from drying out.



  1. Use grated mozzarella cheese for the filling.
  1. Pinch out a small amount and press out with your fingers as thin as you possibly can until there’s enough space to add a small teaspoon of the cheese. Seal and crimp the edge with your thumb. This takes some practising to look pretty.
  1. Fry in a hot oil, not olive oil but something that reaches a high boiling point (sunflower or rapeseed are both good)IMG_0347
  1. You could use minced meat, chicken or even grated vegetables as options for a filling

Chilli sauce

  1. Chop four big chillies and remove seeds (you can put them in water to reduce potency).
  1. Put chillies and Himalayan salt in a pestle and mortar to grind into a paste. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to make a salsa consistency. You could add cooked carrot or tomato to make a chutney texture. We added roughly two heaped tablespoons of leek (very finely chopped). Add a bit more water to make the perfect base for a number of dishes.
  1. You could add pumpkin seeds or if you have them, some lupin beans, which have been stored in water.
  1. Serve with the warm empanadas.

It was a treat to bring the taste of Ecuador home to our kitchen with these delicious recipes and relive our Andean adventures.

Hacienda el Porvenir, Ecuador

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One&Only Reethi Rah, The Maldives: Happy As A Sandboy.

One&Only Reethi Rah, The Maldives: Happy As A Sandboy.


At last count, the Maldives had 1,900 islands, 200 inhabited by locals and about a hundred colonized for the sole activity of holidaying. We’re all agreed they look like a honeymooner’s paradise but just how suitable is such a tranquil clime for your brood, however well behaved? Well, in truth the majority of islands are best left as an exclusive domain for cooing couples and if children are not explicitly solicited then the general rule is don’t go where you’re unwelcome.

That said there are a handful of islands that are perfect for families. The phrase ‘as happy as a sandboy’ couldn’t be more fitting for children visiting the Maldives; in essence a giant sandpit surrounded by an irresistibly warm aquarium full of cartoon coloured fish with funny names like oriental sweetlips. There’s no malaria or vaccinations required and people are as friendly as they come.

M_PRE_OP_1The larger islands best suit children’s needs for practical as well as esoteric reasons. Space to accommodate an activities club and water-sports in one corner without destroying the sanctuary of peace and quiet for other guests is key to success. Top of the list for older kids and teens is One&Only’s flagship Reethi Rah (literally meaning ‘beautiful island’) lying only an hour by boat from Malé International airport (with direct flights from Europe, the Middle East and the Far East). It’s the largest leisure island in the Maldives – in fact, half-natural and half-fabricated in the shape of a seahorse with over six kilometres of beach.

The 130 villas, many with private pool, are sleek and spectacularly spacious, spread out around the circumference of the island, each with a garden area and ocean view. The offshore breeze that blows three sheets to the wind means that noise doesn’t travel further than you, or your neighbours, want it to and makes the need for air-conditioning redundant both day and night. You can choose how to get around: on foot, bicycle, or by electric buggy. And before you can say ahhh, the children will be shell seeking along the shore, a mere seven metres away.

A kid in tow doesn’t mean compromise. You’ll be met by a guest attendant and welcomed with iced tea cocktails and a soothing ESPA foot massage before a quick orientation of the room and resort, which offers a simpatico blend of comfort and nature, with, I confess, rather more comfort than nature. However, when colours that look like they’ve been picked out of Aladdin’s paintbox surround you, creating an implausible cocktail of blues and yellows, even Mother Nature seems illusory.


The ‘magic’ restaurant

 Of the three restaurants, our favourite was the higgledy-piggledy Fanditha (meaning ‘magic’), resembling a ramshackle open-air furniture sale – as if a ship has been wrecked on the reef and all the islanders have rushed to rescue its booty and brought it ashore. Lamps, rugs, hardwood tables and intricately carved treasure chests laid here, there and everywhere. There’s something remote and out-of-place about a dining table sitting in bare sand, epitomising the whole twenty-first century trend for barefoot-luxury. It’s certainly eccentric and a welcome bolt from the mundane normality of samey restaurants. An added bonus is that teenagers think it’s cool too.

As the competition stakes hot up for who can out-do who, hotels are showcasing their innovative service-par-excellence with new fads and fashions. One new ploy to wow guests – and an absolute winner with kids – is personal iPods down on the beach, pre-loaded with over a thousand tracks.

The KidsOnly Club has been designed to give mums and dads some time out while children enjoy non-stop fun with their peers. Located on the south-eastern tip of the island and surrounded by a sand-filled shaded playground, shallow swimming pool, beach and lagoon, the air-conditioned playhouse offers everything from art decks to PlayStations. Understandably most kids just want to be outside, so days are planned with this in mind. A common passion for hermit crab hunting and racing, fish feeding, snorkelling, building sandcastles and crab kingdoms, nature walks, picnics and pizza making keep younger guests happy.

Teens have their own clubhouse with a tactful semi-supervised choice of activities including diving trips, beach football, windsurfing, campfire soirees, table tennis, snooker and the normal gamut of Internet and computer games.

The 18,000-square-metre spa has embraced the best money can buy – from crystal steam rooms to airbeds and ice fountains. You have the choice of ESPA, Thai or Ayurvedic methods and the Bastien Gonzalez’s foot and leg treatment (not to be confused with a cosmetic pedicure) that left my nails, skin and muscles feeling ten years younger.

A paradise for all

 M_PRE_OP_1Various off-island excursions are offered. The dhoni trip to find the Secrets of Tila, an underwater wonder of fish and corals laying only a metre below the surface, is highly recommended. An hour’s snorkelling followed by a feast of salads, tuna, wraps and chocolate brownies. It’s a great and safe way for all age groups to experience the endless spectrum offered by this patch of ocean.

Equally fun, the night fishing trip was a great hit. Sailing from the island just as the sun lost its sting, we immediately began tying hooks and weights on to long spools of twine. Within seconds, the dubiously primitive self-made lures had a nibble, and then a tug as the line went taught, followed by thrilled pulling until a very respectable red snapper came aboard, then a grouper and finally a tuna – too big to pull onto the deck.

On and off the island, it’s a paradise for all. Reethi does indeed come at a price, which will rule it out for many, but world savvy travellers whose kids have seen it all won’t be disappointed. It’s fancy, somewhat flamboyant and full of fun.

Other favourite family hotels include: Reethi’s sister hotel Kanuhura (less chi-chi but especially good for under-fives) in the beautiful Raa Atoll; the brand new Landaa Giraavaru in northern Baa atoll – where Four Seasons has come up trumps again with a critter camp complete with marine biologist, coconut bowling, croqkick and Blu – the world’s most dazzling restaurant (note: rooms on the south of island are preferable for families as the north shore is rocky with a smaller beach). Lastly but by no means least, check out Per Aquum’s Maakanaa, an all-villa resort, purpose built for families and their helpers.


FYI:KidsOnly Club for children aged four to eleven, open daily
9.00 a.m. – 9.00 p.m. ClubOne for children aged twelve to seventeen, open every afternoon

Blog Travelling with Kids Uncategorized

Island Hopping in The Caribbean

Island Hopping in The Caribbean

The Caribbean was traditionally considered a romantic escape destination for couples only. Recent years, however, have seen both the quantity and quality of family friendly options fly off the scale. It’s no longer an adult-only domain. The islands offering the best facilities tend to be those with direct air access, namely Barbados and Antigua, but if you’re happy to take a secondary flight the rewards can be great. What’s interesting about the Caribbean is that each island has its own distinct footprint; different terrain, crops, language, food, even architecture varies from island to island. Once hooked you’ll be torn between revisiting what you know and love and exploring new options. Whatever the case, the Caribbean offers a giant playground for kids of all ages.


The most developed of all the islands, Barbados has a good variety of beaches, with a string of excellent hotels along the fashionable west coast and is the most popular choice for first-time visits to the Caribbean. Indeed many love it so much they never ‘risk’ trying anywhere else. The south coast has a younger more active stance, while the east remains rugged and wild.

Top of the list and by far the most chi-chi of the west coast’s great institutions is the legendary Sandy Lane. Once a house party hideaway, it has had the mother of all makeovers and taken a metamorphic leap to become a super-resort, pretty much in a league of its own. Undoubtedly the most successful hotel in the Caribbean, it pampers its little guests in the knowledge that they are tomorrow’s big guests. The Disneyesque Treehouse Club offers an array of supervised activities for pre-teens including arts and crafts and swimming games. Ritzy glitzy gismos and cool decor attract teenagers to the Den, a hangout zone for kids too blasé to hit a ball round the three championship golf courses with their dads while yummy mummies are mollycoddled in the spa.

No less popular and a little further up the coast, traditional style and loyal guests give the family-run Coral Reef a sort of sophisticated clubby feeling (that, some argue, has been forgone by its uptown neighbour). The white wooden cottage suites are particularly well suited to families – scattered around the twelve acres of grounds overlooking lawns and tropical gardens, most with private plunge pools and verandas. Complimentary entertainment for children includes water sports, a tennis pro-clinic, playground, crèche facilities and two swimming pools. Children tend to wander around in little groups choosing whether to swim, play or just chill out under one of the giant palm trees with the O’Hara grandchildren.


Antigua’s glut of beaches and low humidity make it an ideal location for family based holidays, and many of the bays and coves have particularly calm and shallow waters perfect for paddling and snorkelling. The south is unspoilt and peaceful – a pastoral scene of goats being herded by a solitary figure strolling towards the ruined sugar mill on a hilly promontory or a man straddling a tame donkey – still a regular sight and popular mode of transport. For those with vivid imaginations, the Pirates of the Caribbean can be re-lived at Nelson’s Dockyard where you can wander around the fortifications next to the marina. Our children enjoyed some interactive knot tying, rope climbing and model making in the museum before sailing out on a tropical kayak adventure to swim with the rays at Stingray City.

Carlisle Bay is the hotel that put the Caribbean back on the map after a downturn in the 1990s. Set in its own natural bay on Antigua’s southern coast it is in the vanguard of contemporary stylishness. It’s a tribute to owner Gordon Campbell Gray that the mucky-mits brigade is allowed anywhere near this metro meets minors haven. Movies are shown everyday in the I’m-a-famous-Hollywood-director-style cinema, which can comfortably seat forty-five children while parents eat their dinner in peace. In fact it’s been such a hit with families that Powder Byrne are now running the year-round kids’ club.

Just around the bay is the forty-year-old Curtain Bluff – Antigua’s veteran when it comes to family fun. A spontaneous programme of ‘whatever the kids want to do’ is laid on in an apparently seamless fashion. At one point, we had daughters one, two and three, learning to dive for sea biscuits and conch shells, race a catamaran and crab race simultaneously, thanks to the very accommodating and undaunted staff. We lay on the beach exhausted at the thought, overlooking Montserrat’s (nicknamed Monster Rat by the kids) smouldering volcanic mass towards the distant silhouettes of Guadalupe and St Kitts. Curtain Bluff may still have swirly-print bedspreads and Florida-cum-Eastbourne decor but its two strikingly different beaches, consummate local staff and relaxed atmosphere make it a winner for families.

All in all the Caribbean is on the up and once you’ve got your toes in the water, go on and take that extra flight. Try the unhurried pace of Nevis with its old West Indian airs and graces and stay in one of the exemplary Four Seasons villas. Or pop up to the sophisticated British Virgin Islands and marvel at the sweeping crescent of white sand and commendable kids’ club at Little Dix on Virgin Gorda. Once you start you won’t stop hopping.





Blog Travelling with Kids

The Biking Dutchman of Ecuador

EcuadorIn the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, there lives an eccentric and adventurous Ecuador Cotopaximan called Jan.  Many thought that the Biking Dutchman, as he is known locally, was missing a cell or two when he pioneered mountain biking along the Avenue of Volcanoes more than twenty years ago. Mainland Ecuador is compact and easy to get around.  Roads are almost invariably scenic, journeys comfortably short, domestic flights affordable and a recently refurbished railway makes movement easily achievable. I decided however, inspired by the Biking Dutchman, to opt for an infinitely more exciting mode of transport; the bicycle. I had the choice of a diversity of bike rides in the regions that surround Quito; snow-capped active volcanoes, exhilarating páramo (barren plateaus) dipping into cloud forests, exotic, winding jungle paths.

This coupled with the promise of no cleaning dirty bikes and no need to mend any roadside punctures and I was sold!   I opted for a day ride down Cotopaxi, the world’s Biking Dutchman, Ecuadorhighest active volcano, which rises a magnificent 5,897 metres above sea level.  In the heart of the Andean mountains, the Cotopaxi National Park offers some pretty dramatic and pretty stunning views, with an endless sea of valleys, mountains, multi-coloured fields, forests, lakes and plateaus.

It was an early start as we rode in the jeep along the Avenue of Volcanoes, all the way up to 4600 metres in order to ensure that most of the ride would be downhill!  Geared up in about six layers of clothing (it’s freezing at this altitude), and kitted out with a helmet, gloves and protection pads, I set off on my biking adventure of the world’s highest active volcano. IMG_0409

The first five miles covered a steep 700 metre descent along rough dirt roads.  We whizzed through volcanic ash and out onto breath-taking páramo landscape.  Gusty, cold winds cut through my puffer coat and left my fingers chilled to the bone.  At 3800 metres a little bit of pedalling was required, as we covered another five miles along a grassed cycle track. We wove between volcanic boulders and wild horses, all the way to our picturesque highland lunch spot which was scattered with Inca ruins.

We put the bikes back on the jeep and head IMG_0084for the Lake of Limpiopungo at 3,800 metres.  We then embarked on a long downhill stretch on dirt and paved roads, and then followed a winding path through fresh-scented pine forests. By just 4pm we were back in Quito and after 25 miles, but with no sore legs, my biking adventure was over for the day. Ecuador is truly a biker’s paradise with its spectacular countryside and we would highly recommend seeing the Andean highlands from the seat of a bicycle! Biking Dutchman, Ecuador