Family Holiday at Ickworth, England

A short cry from Cambridge and the wild Suffolk coastline, close to the medieval town of Bury St Edmunds, a new concept for happy family holidays has emerged, where ‘child friendly’ no longer means that parents have to compromise on their creature comforts. The present house at Ickworth was begun in 1795, the dream of the famously eccentric Fourth Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry. He enlisted an Italian architect who never even visited the site, to design the house. Ickworth’s extraordinary central rotunda and curving wings were intended to house the treasures the Earl Bishop collected from all over Europe – but his wife condemned it as a ‘stupendous monument of folly’. Sadly, he didn’t live long enough to see it completed and exhausted relatives finally gave up, leaving the west wing in shell form to this day.

Gifted to the National Trust in the 1950s, Ickworth remained the family seat of the Hervey family until 1999, when the colourful Seventh Marquis of Bristol died. It was with great vision and guts that Nigel Chapman and Nicholas Dickinson eventually won the bid to renovate the east wing. It took three years of tireless work to bring it back to life and transform it into a unique, luxury, child-friendly hotel, accommodating up to thirty families. The current owners decided early on not to recreate the interior according to the traditional layout used by the family for centuries. So the rooms no longer hark back to days long gone but are refreshingly contemporary. Style and comfort are uppermost in keeping with its grand stature, but the new policy makes everywhere sticky-finger friendly. Children are encouraged not to feel obliged to be on best behaviour, and can skip or sprint down the galleries without compunction. Arriving is dramatic. The driveway leads through miles of open parkland up to the stepped main entrance of the house into the vaulted stone cloister on the ground floor. This is dominated by a billboard-size icon of a lady in a red ballgown – where you’ll probably be greeted by tail-wagging Truffle, the hotel’s black Labrador.

Within the hotel there are twenty-seven rooms, each named after a previous guest or family member. Twenty-one of these are decorated in a semi-traditional style with original chandeliers, deep window cushions and long silk drapes in rich tones of burgundy, topaz and turquoise. In addition there are six very contemporary rooms lit with spotlights and furnished with Muldini beds and King’s Road designer fabrics. Whether you want to lord it in the Marquis’s bedchamber or snuggle up in the butler’s cosy retreat, the choices are equally comfortable. Children are allowed to stay for free when sharing their parents’ room but there are also five inter-connecting rooms if you’d rather enjoy your own space. Bathrooms are hugely spacious and fabulously warm with piles of fluffy white towels and luxurious Aquae Sulis bath products. In a secluded corner of the estate, 80 metres from the hotel, is the Dower House which contains a further eleven apartments ideal for large families or groups of friends. A specially converted dresser base with a convection/microwave oven, fridge, and dishwasher enables you to make an easy meal or snack. To ease the carload, families with young children are provided with a nappy bucket, changing mat, sterilisers, kettles and bottle warmers on request. Manager Peter Lord, together with his wife Jane and their sons Christopher and William, are the perfect family hosts. Peter’s desire to allow adults and children alike a sense of adventure and freedom is self-evident. As far as he is concerned, Ickworth is an escape from ‘don’ts’ and actively encourages plenty of ‘do do dos’. Guests express their delight in the book of ‘firsts’ lying open on the hallway table. It is filled with joyful entries such as ‘James and Daddy caught their first frog – it survived’, ‘Daddy had his first facial’, and an amusing ‘the first and last time I will ever eat Roquefort ice-cream’. All over the hotel you’ll encounter friendly faces happy to stop and chat – the genuinely warm welcome and relaxing atmosphere enable every member of the family to chill out and feel totally at home. The original cellar, known as ‘The Street’, is a huge passage connecting the east wing to the rotunda – so huge that in times gone by butlers had to speed along on bikes to keep the food warm on its way to the dining table. Now the cellar is home to the Four Bears’ Den, a safe haven for babies and young children to play in while parents take a break. The Den is open each day from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m, followed by high tea. It’s stocked full of toys and art materials, and a daily list of activities is offered but certainly not forced. Children may be left for two-hour stints as many times as they wish during their stay but for older children, there is the semi-supervised Club Blu, complete with table football, table tennis and computer games, is an appealing option. The old kitchens in the cellar are buzzing with life again too – as the Café Inferno – ideal for a quick homemade pizza for the children’s supper while you enjoy caffè latte and biscotti. At the other end of the day, a full English breakfast is best taken in the light and spacious conservatory where kids can help themselves to pancakes and maple syrup, sausages, beans and cornflakes – all on one plate if they so desire! Renowned for their lavish hospitality throughout the centuries, the Herveys entertained in style and the former family dining rooms continue to serve fine menus. After the children have gone to bed, treat yourself to a meal in Frederick’s. A sophisticated babylistening system operated from reception means you don’t have to go running up to check every five minutes, and the food is as good as in any London dining club.

Back in that enormous cellar, there’s also room for the Aquae Sulis Spa, inspired by the thermal mineral waters in Bath. The Spa offers a menu of therapeutic treatments for tired mothers and fathers looking for a little relaxation and pampering. The three treatment rooms are popular venues and managed by helpful therapists suggesting you opt for a slave to your skin’ facial coupled with a shoulder and arm massage, ‘handsome hands’ men’s manicure or ‘TLC for Mums to be’ – which includes an appropriately-named
‘can’t reach your feet’ treat.
One of the main attractions of the Ickworth estate is the extensive 1,800 acres of wooded parkland, created in part by Capability Brown– a living landscape rich in native plant and animal life. While some parts have been cultivated and grazed; most of the glorious English parkland can be explored and enjoyed on foot or by bicycle. Surrounding the hotel are formal gardens created in the early nineteenth century by the First Marquis of Bristol. Beyond the

Beyond the church, are the remains of an eighteenth century garden created by the First Earl, and the original summerhouse and canal still survive. The kitchen garden, protected by a high brick wall, is today a vineyard producing Ickworth wines.

Outside the conservatory children are bemused to see a three-metre-high giraffe named ‘Kilimanjaro’ and three flamingos made from old bicycle parts. Ickworth has something for everybody –a stunning house with a fascinating history and exquisite collections, an excellent restaurant, superb spa, plus professional and accommodating child-care. You’ll also find enchanting gardens, woodland walks, a family cycle route, jogging trail, adventure playground area, riding, plant centre and a well-stocked shop for mementoes.

With all its facilities, it’s an ideal retreat for children and adults of any age, epitomising great style without standing on ceremony. Adventure abounds if you have the yen for it.

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Venice, Palazzo Vendramin at the Cipriani

As a young girl, I once turned a corner and stepped into the Piazza San Marco unprepared for what was there. The impact of what I saw will stay with me forever. It was ‘Vivaldi Week’ and two huge speakers, attached to the Byzantine basilica and bell tower, were throwing out the wondrous ‘Four Seasons’ while young ballerinas dressed in pastel chiffon floated across the square. Man had created something as beautiful as nature, and the contagious energy in the air and the utter enchantment of the scene left an indelible mark.

The wonder that strikes you when visiting this city for the first, second or umpteenth time never fails to inspire your innermost self.

Its beauty speaks a language that men and women of any race and nationality are able to grasp immediately. Venice is filled with a unique mixture of sounds: bells ringing out from the dozens of church towers, water splashing at the sides of the canals as gondolas and water taxis pass, violinists practising from third-floor windows, and men walking along the small canal alleyways suddenly breaking into delicious song.

The timeless Rialto is a living ‘Diagon Alley’, lined with narrow shops selling everything: leather-bound books, herbs, traditional masks, scented candles, soaps, Murano glass and Burano lace, ornately decorated paper and hundreds of other delights, alongside Italy’s favourite fashion houses. Across the Giudecca Canal lies one of my favourite hotels in the world. When they first opened the doors of the Cipriani in 1958, the restaurateur extraordinaire, Commendator Giuseppe Cipriani, and the enthusiastic Guinness sisters realised their dream come true: peace and privacy in Venice. The Palazzo Vendramin, a fifteenth-century residence sold to the Cipriani by the Duchess of Manchester while retaining a number of rooms for herself, is connected to the Cipriani through the beautiful Casanova Gardens via a sweet smelling rose loggia. Situated on the Giudecca Island on the lagoon side of Venice, it is only five minutes from the Piazza San Marco by the hotel’s private launch.

With its lush gardens, it is best described as an oasis in the heart of Venice, boasting the only swimming pool and tennis court in the city.

Here, the seven butler-serviced suites are the perfect escape from the brouhaha beyond. Three of them benefit from the most spectacular views in Venice, across the Laguna towards Santa Maria della Salute and the Piazza San Marco – this has to be IT for anyone searching for the ultimate ‘room with a view’. Vendramin rooms are individually decorated with priceless Murano glass appliqués and chandeliers, and the pastel walls are uncrowded, so as not to distract from the exquisite setting or clutter the space. 

Each morning the arousing aroma of coffee is mixed with the smell of jasmine blooms, old-fashioned scented roses and freshly cut grass wafting through the huge window overlooking the gardens. Each day afternoon tea is served at five o’clock, and cocktails from six o’clock in the palazzo’s private salon, in addition to all the dining facilities of the Cipriani. Meals are generally served al fresco in one of the three terraces around the hotel. The newest and most contemporary restaurant is Cip’s, located on the ground floor of the Palazetto Nani Barbaro, adjacent to the Palazzo, with an outdoor terraced pontoon

that has a panoramic view overlooking the Grand Canal – the perfect place to sip the best Bellini in town and watch the sunset as the reflections in the Laguna fade. 

Renato Piccolotto insists on fresh market produce each day, maintaining that in the art of good cuisine there is no need to disguise the naturally robust flavours of good food.

To work off some of that good food, try the huge salt-water swimming pool. If you can tear yourself away from that, the hotel also has a red clay tennis court set in the rear of the gardens, a small gym, Turkish bath, sauna, massage and hydro system.

Uncontested as Europe’s most romantic city, the genius of the architecture hosts some of the world’s greatest treasures. There’s just so much of Venice to see – the Doge’s Palace and San Marco, the Academia, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, San Salute, San
Maria dei Frari, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Rialto… and never enough time in just one trip. The streets and canals are best enjoyed at a meandering pace, wandering in and out of the dozens of churches, museums, galleries, shops, bars and restaurants. Guide books aplenty will point out the renowned, but you’ll have more fun and get a greater taste of the city if you allow yourself to get lost in the maze of back streets and canals, knowing that you’re never far from a square where someone can point you back in the right direction.

A day trip to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello is a relaxing way to escape the hubbub and enjoy another aspect of the city’s famous reputation. Although you can’t walk down a street without glancing at a window of Venetian glass, it’s best to visit the island of Murano where most of the glass is made. The island’s history dates back to 1291 when all the glassmakers’ furnaces were moved there in an attempt to eliminate medieval espionage. The skills and secrets have been passed down from father to son throughout the centuries and, amazingly, many of the families of master craftsmen trading during the Renaissance continue today. Take a trip to the factory of Signoretti, where unprotected hands blow and roll molten glass on rods at 900°C. 

From Murano, it’s a short boat ride to the island of Burano, where the dying art of lace making will exist for maybe only another decade. The skill takes years to master, and then each lacemaker specialises in just one of seven different intricate stitches. Twenty years ago, you would have encountered a black-clad widow in every doorway, sitting with her white cotton string. Today, they are far less ubiquitous, and the shops now supplement their sales with imported machine-made goods. Film stars are buying up the brightly painted residences, taking the place of the artisans of previous centuries. The atmospheric restaurant ‘Da Romano’ on Burano, where pictures of Venice cover every square inch of the walls, has remained unchanged and is the perfect stop for a bowl of the house special, ‘Risotto Romano’, served plain or with shrimp or cuttlefish – delicious.

From here you can see the island of Torcello and finish the day with a visit to the church of Santa Fosca and the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta with its magnificent mosaics.

Whatever activities your busy day involves, the retreat of the Palazzo Vendramin at the Cipriani is truly heaven on earth.

The Month
These days Venice is busy all year round, and June, July, and August are heaving with day trip tourists from cruise ships the size of towns. Apart from the famous masked carnival in February, the winter months are calmer. The best time to visit, however, is in September, when the intense summer heat has abated and the clear autumn light transforms the water and brick into a kaleidoscope of Turneresque tones. The historic regatta held on the first Sunday in September, when vessels of all sizes parade along the Grand Canal carrying passengers dressed in ancient costumes, is a true Venetian affair – and an event not to be missed.

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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.





The Pull of the Tide – Hopewell Rocks

The Pull of the Tide – Hopewell Rocks

The Hopewell Rocks in the Bay of Fundy are an example of land formations created by extreme tidal erosion.  Also known as the Flowerpot Rocks for their distinctive shape, the tallest of them stand at seventy feet, towering above the low tide.  The Bay of Fundy acts like a narrow funnel here, compressing the water into a tighter and tighter spot, pushing it up into the Hopewell Rocks.  An illustration of the world’s biggest tidal range – of 16.3 metres – there are seventeen sea stacks, which haven been likened to things as diverse as a dinosaur, a baby elephant, an aardvark and a mother-in-law!


Every august, semi-palmated sandpipers come to the bay to double their weight by gorging on mud shrimp before setting off on a non-stop migratory journey to South America.  They migrate in a vast fling, 40,000 birds flying as one giant beast.  Bladderwrack filled with clear algen, is found here and is used in the production of chocolate milk, tooth paste, yoghurt, as an emulsifier and of course facial products.  This wonder weed is the sea’s answer to Aloe Vera.

The pull of the tide here is strong, the strongest in the world even.  Nearly as strong as my desire to return.

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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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Exploring St Andrews in the Bay of Fundy

St Andrews – Bay of Fundy

Green Fingers at The Kingsbrae Garden

Opened in 1998, The Kingsbrae Garden in St Andrews defies its fifteen years’ youth.  A horticultural show of excellence that has been described as a ‘garden for all seasons’, Kingsbrae is a home from home for English green fingers.  Visitors are welcomed in to the twenty-seven acre garden by their mascot, a giant ladybird, who will direct you to the rose garden where one thousand aphid-munching ladybirds are released every morning during the summer months.

Further along the path I spy an English knot garden, a perennial garden, then on to the Heritage orchard, thyme labyrinth, children’s fantasy garden including a teapot tree, a pen of adorable bleating alpacas.

The borders are packed with herbaceous prima-donnas and the whole garden is a kaleidoscope of colour.  The Kingsbrae Garden would definitely give any English garden a run for its money and is definitely worth an hour or two.

A day of whale-watching on the Zodiac with Fundy Tide Runners 

Back in St Andrews harbour and dressed in luminous orange Mustang survival floatation suits, we awaited the super sized Zodiac which will whisk us out to sea for some whale-watching.  “Round and round they go, where they pop up only they will know”, hollows our skipper.  In reality, we smelled the whales before we saw them; the stench of rotten fish emanating from their blow-holes gave away their location. 

This was followed by a burst of shiny black skin, that broke the surface for seconds, then dipped away again to leave a smooth and circular ripple; ‘round and round they go’, just like our skipper said.

unnamed-2A ten foot Minke whale was making merry in its feeding ground of herring.  The smallest of the great whales, the Minke still weighs in at a massive two tonnes.  We watched a sixty foot finback whale cruise casually past us – a mere 20 feet away.  Two bald eagles stand pillion as we watch the tide ripping along the shoreline and a seal pops his head above the waves to check out his nosey visitors.

The scenery itself is reward enough for going out into open water; the pretty Quoddy lighthouse, summer home to the late President Roosevelt, stands majestically on a headland of Campobello Island.  A bridge connects it to the USA, even though it is a Canadian island, and our skipper warned us that he had to be vigilant about remaining in Canadian waters.

“You can look, but don’t touch” warns the skipper; the numerous porpoise, minke whales and finback whales here in Canadian waters are quite enough for me!

Where to Stay

St Andrews Signs

We spent overnight at Canada’s first Autograph property by Marriott, the newly-renovated Algonquin Resort which is the perfect family resort.

If you are travelling a deux, I’d recommend the Kingsbrae Arms, which is the Relais and Chateaux property down the road from the Algonquin, and is smaller and a little more personal.

St Andrews can be likened to America’s Cape Cod; full of quirky shops, bars and restaurants, fun whale watching excursions and lovely clapboard homes.  We left with wistful dreams of living here.

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A Postcard from Prince Edward Island

1Dear Readers,

Today we arrived on Prince Edward Island and went straight to Brackley Beach. Protected from the elements by a long spit, the north shore beaches have a pinkish, soft sand.

At Brackley, we met sand sculptor and art instructor extraordinaire, Maurice Bernard. He truly is a sandcastle pro! He had us collaborating on a giant sandcastle all together and tutored us in his craft.

After this introduction we broke into teams and had a very competitive ‘sandcastle-off’ to see who could impress Maurice the most with their skills.

We even got to take home a sandcastle kit!

Heaven on Earth x