Is this the chicest road trip in the UK?

Is this the chicest road trip in the UK?


If in doubt, head south-west

south west uk road trip
A south west uk road trip

South west UK road trip is not something I imagined I’d type into Google when it came to planning a holiday. Think of the freedom and thrills of the open road and what springs to mind is Route 66 in the U.S, or Bolivia’s Death Road, or Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. It isn’t the M4, via M25, but still, here we are.

Thanks to an unprecedented heatwave, the UK in 2018 was dubbed a ‘staycation nation’, with more than half of us choosing to holiday on home turf. With childhood memories of draughty caravans and taking shelter from the rain beneath the nearest pier or wind-breaker, I’m keen to see if I can combine good old-fashioned nostalgia with my now slightly more refined adult tastes (my camping days are officially over). And so we’re off on a south west UK road trip.

Typically, the Lake District or the Cotswolds are my go-to for a rural mini-break – walking, pubs, cottages, bliss – but I’m determined to get the best of all worlds and take in as much of this beautiful corner of the country as one can in five nights. So my husband and I pack up the car, strap in our three-year-old, and hit the road with only one ill-advised stop at Chieveley services (limp ham sandwich, anyone?), before arriving on the outskirts of Bath.

The first rule of the south west UK road trip is much the same as for any road trip – roughly pre-plan your route in advance and book ahead if you have your eye on a particular hotel, but it also pays to follow your nose and see what cute B&Bs or quirky accommodation you might stumble across en route. Specifically, we’re going in search of boutique lodgings, gourmet food and Great British beaches. All whilst simultaneously avoiding traffic jams and keeping the kid entertained. Wish us luck.

Where to stay in Bath

First stop: Wiltshire’s Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa, in Colerne, Chippenham (rooms start from £295 per night), just 20 minutes drive from the historic city of Bath. Sitting majestically at the end of a mile-long, driveway, lined with four hundred lime and beech trees planted in 1927, is the eighteenth century main house. The three-year-old called it when he said ‘Wow, look at that castle!’ Set in 500 acres of listed parkland and boasting an equestrian centre, luxury spa (all polished wood, marble and glass) and the most beautiful English country rose gardens to get lost in, it does feel as though we fell down a rabbit hole and ended up in some kind of wonderland.

For dinner, if you’re after an unforgettable foodie experience, executive chef Hywel Jones has held a Michelin star at the on-site restaurant Hywel Jones by Lucknam Park. Frankly, it looked far too elegant for us to tie a crisp white napkin around my son’s neck while he asked for ‘tomato pasta’ but I almost feel I could recommend it on smell alone. Instead, we dined in the more informal Brasserie where the simple, seasonal dishes are all locally-sourced and ridiculously tasty. The fillet of Stokes Marsh Farm Beef (£32) was insanely tender and tasty, while the Cornish day boat fish (on our visit, cod) was fresh and firm, served with crushed peas and tartare sauce (priced daily). I hear the tomato pasta was good too.

south west uk road trip

Lucknam Park’s grand entrance

The suites are in keeping with a country manor hotel – heavy baroque curtains, four-poster beds and free-standing bath tubs. The place has an air of old English formality about it that makes it feel like a treat just to wander the corridors and gardens. For the grown-ups, the spa is well worth a visit – after the long drive I treat myself to a 90-minute ESPA Mindful Massage (£157), which was a surprising combination of guided visualisation, breathing techniques and full-body massage, concentrating on the shoulders and feet. I have no idea how it works – there was some mention of warm rose quartz crystals – but it definitely works.

For kids, there’s an outdoor playground and a hideout stacked with train sets, dressing-up boxes, a mini library, shop and Post Office that could keep them occupied for hours. This place doesn’t flaunt itself as a ‘family spa’ because on the surface it feels much more elegant and refined than that, but they do cleverly and quietly make sure the whims of all family members are catered to. It’s a real hidden gem for those of us who don’t want to compromise on a little slice of luxury even with small people in tow.

‘We sit on the rocks eating vinegar-soaked chips straight from the paper’

But all good things must come to an end and before we know it we’re loaded back into the car and heading south towards Devon. Next stop: the seaside. Do not head to this part of the world without stopping off to walk the South West Coastal Path from Beer to Branscombe for unspoilt views of the Jurassic Coast, and just half an hour along the coast from West Bay, where Broadchurch was filmed. We don’t have time (or sturdy enough boots) to take in this gorgeous spot this time around, so we go old-school with a trip to the pebble beach of Sidmouth. The salty air and slightly faded round the edges seafront cafes and B&Bs bring that happy dose of nostalgia, while the russet clay-edged cliffs are as dramatic as they are beautiful. We hit the sunshine jackpot and sit on the rocks eating chips sodden with vinegar straight from the paper. Bliss.

If it’s chocolate box west-country that you’re after, take a road trip stop-off in Laycock – the picturesque village where they filmed scenes from Harry Potter (Laycock Abbey doubled up as some of the Hogwarts interiors) and 1995’s Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. We stop for tea and scones (naturally) at the National Trust Stables Cafe before wandering around and marvelling at the Sylvanian Families-like proportions of the local bakery, school and churchyard.

A foodie find in Devon

Now, if you’re familiar with The Pig hotel chain, you’ll know exactly why I wanted to make sure we stopped off in at least one Pig hotel while we’re in this neck of the woods, so we book in to The Pig at Combe, Devon. Plot all the Pig hotels on a map and you’ll see they were designed with townies like me in mind, as all are within a motorway hop from London. There are Pigs in the New Forest, near Bath, in Dorset, Somerset and Southampton, as well as this one in Devon, and two more scheduled for opening in Sussex and Kent in 2019 (watch this space) and they have all bottled that magical formula of informal rustic décor, garden-to-plate dining (unfussy but exceptional) and ridiculously Instagrammable interiors. In short, The Pig is my happy place.

The welcome, as always, is warm from the minute you push open the heavy wooden double doors. Rows of (admittedly spotless) Hunter wellies line the hallway, a roaring fire has been lit in the cocktail bar even though it’s only September (tip: The Pig is for life, not just for Christmas, but autumn and winter are when this place really comes into its own for maximum hygge).

south west uk road trip

A warm welcome guaranteed at The Pig at Combe

The hotel itself is in an Elizabethan manor atop the lush, rolling Devonshire hills and framed by enormous cedar trees. The floors are reclaimed wood and framed taxidermy lines the walls alongside heavy, beautiful antique furniture. The Pig chain was founded by hospitality supremo and one of the UK’s most celebrated hoteliers, Robin Hutson (who also founded the Hotel du Vin chain and was a board member for Soho House Group) who, along with his interior designer wife Judy – who clearly has an exceptional eye and has beautifully combined the new with the old. They source their antiques in rural France and nearby Honiton.

Where to eat in Devon

Nothing is off-kilter style-wise. It’s no wonder that The Pig has played host to Kate Moss, Alexa Chung, Guy Ritchie et al. Now though, they’re hosting my husband and I with our tiny tearaway – who they charmingly serve a sorbet dessert complete with a biscuit emblazoned with his name. Day made. For us, it’s the signature ham hock eggs to start (it is imperative that you try them at any Pig) followed by Devonshire Partridge ravioli in a red wine sauce for me (£9) and Buckhouse Farm Lamb with salt baked celeriac (£18.50), that the sommelier pairs with one of the most delicious (and lightest) Malbecs I’ve tasted. The food is exceptionally good value.

The best is still to come though because tonight we’re bedding down in The Horsebox (£290 per night), a converted stable complete with his n hers sinks, a freestanding bath and miniature SMEG fridge. It’s a real treat and a wonderful alternative to your average hotel room. As always, the Pig is not an easy place to wave goodbye to.

south west uk road trip

Stable life: The Horsebox

From one pig to another, we head east towards Romsey in Hampshire and to Paulton’s Family Theme Park – home of Peppa Pig World (tickets start from £29.25 when booked in advance online). Disclaimer: theme parks are not my idea of relaxation but alas, they are part of the parenting deal and I am as delighted as I am surprised to discover that this place is an utter joy. It’s clean, and calm (note: we went outside of school holidays which I cannot recommend enough), and genuinely more fun than you can shake a bright pink piglet at. If Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig are a much underrated comedy double-act (which, for what it’s worth, I think they are) then this technicolour adventure land on the edge of the New Forest is similarly worth more than a wry smile. It has over 70 rides and attractions (including Lost Kingdom dinosaur park and the mini zoo in Little Africa, as well as Peppa Pig World), but because it is vastly spread out and broken up with pretty gardens, picnic areas and a zoo, it feels less frenetic and so much more charming than your average theme park. We eat hot dogs, ride in Grandpa Pig’s boat, stop by Grampy Rabbit’s Sailing Club, and generally live our best life until the park closes. Who knew?

The New Forest’s best bath? Probably

Our next bed for the night is something of a unique discovery deep in the heart of the New Forest. Lime Wood Hotel and Spa, set in a Regency Era country estate in Hampshire, surrounded by fields has been one of the most elegant country house hotels in the UK since it opened in 2009 (and London folk, it’s only an hour and half away). But the idea of this trip is to try something new and, last spring, Lime Wood opened their very first Lake Cabin (prices start at£1,150 per night), set away from the main hotel, sitting in stilts over the water with it’s own private veranda overlooking the lake, it is a hideaway like no other. A wood and glass cube, it almost disappears between the trees but, once inside, it has the feel of an eighteenth century hunting lodge. Bottle green velvet sofas, wood paneled cupboards, graphic floor tiles, gold bathroom fixtures and bamboo chandeliers, it is a remarkably peaceful (and stylish) place to wake up in. And the best bit? A 6ft free-standing tin bath out on the deck, overlooking the lake for an uninterrupted al fresco dip. There are gimmicks, and then there are classy touches that take a place from unique to ridiculously special. That’s how it feels to spend the night in the Lake Cabin.

south west uk road trip

Outdoor bathing never looked so good: Lake Cabin at Lime Wood

We couldn’t leave Lime Wood without checking out the restaurant, Hartnett, Holder and Co (Angela Hartnett and Lime Wood’s Luke Holder – there’s also a cookery school for aspiring Masterchefs). Our beach picnic of soggy chips a distant memory and perhaps getting carried away with our new ludicrously luxe surroundings, my husband and I order the tasting menu with paired wines because we’re feeling fancy. Unlike some tasting menus that can feel like an assault on the senses and leave you wide awake with indigestion until the early hours, this was a remarkable gourmet feat. The five courses (£95 per person, with paired wines – special mention to head sommelier Chris whose passion for wine could surly be surpassed by none) ranged from marinated burrata with fennel, to salt baked bream with truffle clams, and venison with celeriac and pickled walnuts. It was an exquisite meal. What a special place.

‘We make sandcastles and look across to the Isle of Wight’

But it’s time to come to get back in the car, and back down to earth – fine dining and fancy formality is great, but the British seaside is calling and so for our last night, we make a beeline for the traditional, sleepy coastal village of Milford-On-Sea. The sun is out, as is the tide, so we head for the beach which has views all the way across to the Isle of Wight. We make sandcastles and eat ice cream and then the heavens open – because its the UK in September – so we sprint to the nearest café to baton down the hatches with ham, egg, chips and a mug of builder’s tea. Proving that joy doesn’t always come in the shape of a Michelin star.

Come nightfall, we check in to Grade II listed The Beach House (part of the Hall and Woodhouse family). Built in 1897 for Alexander Siemens, the man who created the world’s first public electricity supply, and was formerly known as Westover Hall, it is now a charming B&B that has hearteningly retained much of its original wood-pannelled walls, parquet flooring and art deco windows with an epic sea-view. There’s something to be said for taking the quiet path and during a stroll along the sea wall we see hardly any other people. It’s like having the coastline to yourself. We’re staying in the nautical-themed Lancelot room (£160-£175 per night B&B depending on the season), its all seashells and beach hut-pastel walls and it has a wonderfully homely vibe. ‘I could quite happily retire here,’ I tell my husband between mouthfuls of Badger Beer Battered Fish and Chips (£13.25). And I mean it.

south west uk road trip

Room with a view: The Beach House at Milford-on-Sea

Next stop: home. And as road trips go, this has been a memorable one. It turns out you can in fact combine rustic charm with epic fabulousness if you do your research. I had no idea that the foodie scene cornered originally by Rick Stein in Cornwall had spread to the surrounding areas, quietly serving up a feast on their own terms, turning Devon, Dorset and Hampshire into gourmet destinations in their own rights. During our road trip, I discovered a route where ‘family-friendly’ doesn’t have to mean cutting corners and sacrificing that little taste of luxury. It meant not having to choose between a spa break, a romantic getaway, a beach trip or a country ramble because you can have the lot. And still throw in a family of cartoon pigs to keep everyone happy. It may not be Route 66 but, for me, the south west has it all, practically on your doorstep.

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Ryanair’s massive Christmas sale means flights for less than a fiver

Ryanair’s massive Christmas sale means flights for less than a fiver


Really.

ryanair
Credit: Andrew McCaren/LNP/REX/Shutterstock

We don’t know about you, but the grey days have us dreaming of our next holiday. Who else has been frantically Googling ‘best winter getaways’ to find a nice little trip to break up the cold season?

Yes, we have Christmas coming up, and we’re already counting down – but it’s always nice to have a few days away to look forward to, especially when the weather is less than pleasant.

Whether you’re after the best Christmas markets or a warmer winter, pack your best luggage because we’ve got some REALLY good news.

If you’re itching to book a nice little getaway this winter, look no further than Ryanair. The budget airline is currently having a HUGE Christmas sale – and there are flights going for less than a fiver.

Yes, really.

If you fancy a trip to the Ukraine or Norway, you can get a one-way flight for a measly £4.88. That’s only slightly more than your local supermarket meal deal.

Air hostess

And if you want to splash out an extra £3, you can get a one-way flight to the following countries for just £7.82:

Denmark

Spain

France

Germany

Czech Republic

Netherlands

Sweden

Lithuania

Ireland

Poland

Luxembourg

Italy

Montenegro

Flights leave from London Stansted, Luton, Gatwick, Edinburgh, Manchester, East Midlands, Bristol, Belfast, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Aberdeen, Newquay, Derry and Cardiff – although prices and destinations vary from airport to airport.

There are also a few conditions – you must travel between 20th November 2018 and 31st March 2019, and the sale ends at midnight tonight.

Fares are also subject to availability, so if we were you we’d get booking ASAP.

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Brimstone: the Lake District bolthole that might just be Heaven

Brimstone: the Lake District bolthole that might just be Heaven


Go for the baths alone…

If you can book a trip to Brimstone in the next couple of weeks, then I really insist that you do. Brimstone Hotel and Spa is quite possibly the most beautiful place I have ever visited. And part of the reason is because of the colours. It will be winter before we know it, and the Autumnal hues really do create the most spectacular vista. (One of my Instagram followers asked if I was holidaying in Heaven.)

If you struggle to book in before the last leaf falls to the floor, no matter for the hotel itself is just as amazing…

THE LOCATION

It took us just over four hours on the train from London, with one change. Don’t worry about booking a taxi, you’ll be collected by hotel staff in their branded Land Rover Defender. It’s slap bang in the middle of the Lake District, just north of Lake Windermere, on the Langdale Estate. On the Estate, there’s also the Langdale hotel, vast timeshare holiday homes, their own pub – Wainwrights Inn – a restaurant, serving delicious food and a leisure centre, complete with 20m pool. But Brimstone’s Hotel and Spa is the jewel in the crown.

Despite the location, you aren’t actually situated on a lake. It’s in a slight valley, surround by the Langdale Pikes, which make for picturesque hike. You’re a very short walk from Elterwater – be sure to have a pint at The Britannia (surely the tiniest bar in the UK?!) – and a stunning half an hour riverside amble to Skelwith Bridge. Pop into Chesters By The River – this is where you can get your shopping fix for the weekend – for cute gifts, pretty interiors, as well a great veggie café and on-site bakery.

THE ROOM

There are 16 rooms in total at Brimstone, which has been built to look like a Swiss ski chalet, and each one is bloody massive. But when you book ask for Room 2. It’s directly opposite the Reading Room (more on that later) and has two bathtubs. Not one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom – twin rolltop tubs directly next to one another at the end of the bed. Excessive? Non! Essential. It means that you and your guest can bathe at the same time (without the awkward: ‘could you possibly move your foot? It’s poking me in the -‘) whilst you both watch TV. After a long day’s walking I promise you’ll see the appeal. There’s also a double walk-in shower room, a slightly excessive lounge seating area and your own fireplace, which really is the cherry on the cake. The decor is definitely modern, not farmhousey like you might expect from a countryside getaway, but still very comfortable. It’s light and airy thanks to the floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the expansive balconies. Look out for the rather hilarious mood lighting panels – the night light is called ‘tinkle’.

A couple of days before you arrive at the hotel, you’ll get a call from your ‘host’ who asks questions like: ‘what type of pillow do you prefer? Goose feather? Memory foam?’ and ‘which newspaper would you like delivered straight to your door in the mornings?’. If you tell them that it’s a special occasion, they’ll make sure there’s something fizzy waiting for you in your room. If you mention that you plan on walking, you’ll find detailed maps waiting for you.

THE VIBE

At Brimstone they really, really want you to relax. There isn’t the formality of a reception desk with a concierge – there’s The Reading Room and your ‘hosts’. The Library is everything in one – the welcome area, the meeting point, the bar, the café. This is where you’ll find complimentary scones, cakes, sandwiches, as well as beer, wine and soft drinks throughout the day. They encourage you to take things back to your room. Your hosts welcome you at the beginning of your stay and wave you off at the end, and in between are at your beckon call, contactable with one push on your phone. There’s a fully-stocked Arc’teryx boot room, meaning that if you don’t have all of the wet weather (this is the Lake District) gear you won’t miss out on any activities. You see other guests now and then, but you really don’t need to leave your room and you most likely won’t want to, unless to head off on a walk or hit the spa.

DON’T MISS

The spa. It has ten thermal ‘experiences’, as well as an indoor/outdoor pool. The thermal ‘experiences’ include well-known treatment areas, like saunas and steam rooms, alongside less familiar ones, like a laconium room, which boosts circulation, and an ice fountain. You’re meant to make your way around in a certain order, but it’s totally not essential. Outside, there’s even a couple of cosy sofas sat nestled around a roaring fire – we honestly felt like we were somewhere in Scandinavia, not Cumbria. We both had brilliant Pure Alchemy body treatments, which is a brand exclusive to the spa that utilises local produce. You can easily while away a whole afternoon at the spa, because once it hits 12pm – they start serving champagne in plastic glasses. Perhaps not the most well-advised move, but it was bouji and we liked it.

But if you can, get in there first thing at 8am, because at 9am they open it up to the public and it gets busy. Too busy. My only complaint is that they should monitor how many people they allow into the spa at a time, because it isn’t an expansive space and at one point the pool looked like a human soup bowl, with people waiting their turn for a swim.

Stays at Brimstone Hotel & Spa start at £350 per room – this include access to the spa, breakfast, complimentary Arc’teryx gear hire and access to all the goodies in the Reading Room.

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In need of some last-minute winter sun? This Tenerife hotel has it all

In need of some last-minute winter sun? This Tenerife hotel has it all


Promotional feature with Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife

When it comes to splashing out on some last-minute winter sun, we’re of the opinion that short-haul is often best – especially if (like us), you’ve a) not got much annual leave left, and b) want to have an amazing trip without having to spend all your precious time travelling.

With temperatures averaging in and around a balmy 20° during its early winter months, the Spanish island of Tenerife makes a great destination choice for a pre-Christmas jaunt and the Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife, located on the island’s south coast, is already topping our 2018 must-stay wishlist.

And with 35% off November and December bookings, there really isn’t a better time to go.

Boasting an Ibiza-style beach club, Insta-worthy pool facilities and a packed events calendar to keep you dancing until dawn, the Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife is perfect for an impromptu girls weekend, couples getaway or family break. Plus, the Canary Islands are only around a four-hour flight from most UK airports, which means you get to make the most of your downtime.

Here’s why we’re looking to the Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife this Christmas for some vacay rock star vibes…

It’s a food blogger’s dream

Love a jaw-dropping panoramic? The Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife’s exclusive sky bar ‘The 16th‘ provides fabulous views of the Atlantic Ocean, making it ideal for a sunset glass of rosé or two. And if you like your trip with a foodie twist, the resort happens to have six beautifully designed restaurants on-site with a smorgasbord of worldwide cuisine available. From the traditional tapas flavours on offer at Spanish restaurant Ali-Olé, to the chic surroundings of modern Asian eatery Narumi, every palette is more than catered for. We especially love the Montauk steakhouse for its fine selection of top quality beef and wines, plus The Beach Club overlooking the lagoon offers a fantastic selection of healthy food options if you fancy something a little lighter.

You can relax and recharge

Up the pampering potential (ahead of the festive madness) with any of the gorgeous treatments and indulgence packages available at Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife’s fabulous The Rock Spa™. Think beautifully designed thermal water bathing areas, plunge pools and hydrotherapy tubs, all waiting to be enjoyed. The luxe spa menu even offers massage treatments set to specially curated playlists to maximise your rock star experience, and Tenerife’s only Snow Room. Yes, really.

There are rooms fit for a rock star

Want to feel like a Rock Hall of Fame inductee? Stay in one of the Rock Royalty Rooms located on the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th floors of the Nirvana Tower, all boasting floor to ceiling windows and panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean. Or, if you’re travelling with little ones the hotel’s three kids clubs will keep them entertained while you live your best A-lister life. Still no booked anything for NYE? The Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife’s THE LEGENDARY NIGHT is the island’s most famous end of year bash, giving you the chance welcome in 2019 like an absolute celeb. Think a 7-course menu plus Old Havana-themed celebrations and you’ve got the makings of a night to remember.

What are you waiting for? Now’s the chance to see out 2018 in true rock star style…

 

 

 

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Aged 26 – 30? You can now officially get a millennial railcard

Aged 26 – 30? You can now officially get a millennial railcard


This is not a drill. We repeat. This is not a drill.

Women only train carriages

Getting older is never good news – hangovers get worse, going to the gym becomes necessary and saving money becomes a reality.

One of the worst things about passing the 25 mark however is losing your rail privileges, with our young persons railcards (for 16 to 25-year-olds) expiring.

Yes, that means paying full price for national train fares.

sleeping on the train

It was announced last year that there might be hope, with Greater Anglia Railways breaking the news that it would be trialling a new Millennial rail card, offering up to a 30% discount on train travel for 26 – 30-year-olds.

We were hesitant with our celebrations as it seemed too good to be true, but sure enough, the news has been confirmed, trialled, and as from today, is available for everyone deemed eligible.

Yes, really. The 26-30 railcard is going to be rolled out nationally by the end of the year.

What is the millennial railcard?

The millennial railcard is a digital annual pass for 26 – 30-year-olds, costing £30 a year and entitling the holder to up to a third off their train fares. It’s essentially a continuation of the young persons rail cards – but it’s a first for the UK.

How can I get a millennial railcard?

The millennial railcard scheme is coming to the end of its trial stages, and has received the green light to be rolled out nationally by the end of the year. Head on over to the National Railcard site to apply!

We’re off to form an orderly queue for our railcards but given the popularity, it looks like we might be queueing for a little while!

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Where to find contemporary cool in the heart of historic Florence

Where to find contemporary cool in the heart of historic Florence


With its fashionable credentials and killer location, the Gallery Hotel Art in Florence is a great way to visit the city in style

Why go?

Grand palazzo-style hotels are ten a penny in Florence, but the Gallery Hotel Art offers a quieter, more contemporary setting to rest your head. 

Owned by the Ferragamo family (there’s a glossy Salvatore Ferragamo biography next to the bed in place of a bible) the hotel was designed by Florentine architect Michele Bonan to be a sleek haven of neutrals: think dark wood floors, travertine marble bathrooms, white linens and a carefully curated selection of contemporary art hanging on the walls. 

Things to do

As far as locations go, the Gallery Hotel Art is extremely hard to beat. In a small, quiet enclave near the busy Via Calimala that leads straight down to the city’s famous Medieval bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, the hotel puts you in the heart of things without feeling like you’re going to be run over by a stampede of tourists the moment you step out the door. 

All of Florence’s major sights are a 10-15 minute walk away so there’s no excuse not to immerse yourself in the rich culture of this most romantic of cities. The Ponte Vecchio itself is a minute’s walk away, an ancient bridge of tiny goldsmiths where you can pick up a ring or classic medallion necklace.

From the bridge you can head south of the river to visit the interior and grounds of the vast renaissance Palazzo Pitti, or north up Via Calimala to the 13th century Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, with its gasp-inducingly beautiful facade of pink and green marble and enormous red tiled dome, which you can climb up into for aerial views of the city. 

Besides the countless art galleries and churches to visit, it’s also worth leaving space in your suitcase for culinary treats from the Mercato Centrale, a one-stop for cured meats, olive oils, cheeses, wild mushrooms, truffle shavings and every pasta shape imaginable. 

The food 

One of the Gallery Hotel Art’s big draws is its Fusion Bar and restaurant, serving up Nikkei (Japan-Peruvian fusion food) with a killer cocktail menu. The restaurant’s inside-outside layout, with comfy white sofas, makes it the ideal spot for al fresco dining or a summer nightcap. 

Though, of course, it would be a sin to visit Florence without eating your bodyweight in local food too. Don’t leave without trying the cheese and pear ravioli at Coquinarius. The Osteria del Porcellino – named after the bronze statue of a boar in the nearby Mercato del Porcellino – is also excellent, a place where in-the-know locals head for long lunches of Florentine veal and Orecchiette pasta with sausage, broccoli and toasted breadcrumbs. 

What to pack 

Comfortable ‘Dad’ trainers for all the pavement pounding you’ll be doing (those ancient cobbles aren’t kind to heels), lots of cotton dresses to withstand the soaring city temperatures (if you’re visiting in the summer) and a small, practical handbag you can wear across your front to avoid city pickpockets. Shoulders need to be covered in some of the city’s sacred spaces so pack a scarf if you’re wearing something sleeveless. 

Hotel Gallery Art has rooms available starting from £185 per night. Based on 2 adults sharing, excluding breakfast. For booking and further information please visit lungarnocollection.com or call +39 0552726 4000. 

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The best Christmas markets 2018

The best Christmas markets 2018


Pack all your cosy clothes and book yourself a weekend away to experience Christmas in the best and most Christmassy way possible.

uk christmas markets

Words Amira Arasteh

Whether you’re looking for a European getaway or a UK staycation, we’ve got the top Christmas markets you should think about visiting covered. Perfect for a romantic break or a trip with your friends, these are the markets you don’t want to miss out on.

Edinburgh

East Princes Street Gardens: 16th November – 5th January

Ideal for getting that perfect Christmas gift

Be part of the Christmas cheer and sparkle with fun fairground rides and Christmas shows that will get you into the festive spirit in no time. Situated in the heart of Edinburgh, this traditional Christmas market is perfect for picking up your cute and bespoke Christmas gifts. If visiting post-Christmas day, there’s still a variety of arts and crafts stalls with gifts to fill your home all year round.

Bath

Bath City Centre: 22nd November – 9th December

The most Christmassy of them all

One of the most aesthetically-pleasing (and dare we say, Instagrammable?) markets in the UK, Bath at Christmas lights up the entire city. With hundreds of sparkling chalets selling quality Christmas gifts, tasty food and drink and a large selection of jewellery, they really make Bath’s market unique this season. Festive food is plentiful, as are glasses of mulled wine and cider.

Birmingham

Victoria Square & New Street: 15th November – 23rd  December

If you can’t make it to Germany, this market is for you

The famous Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham is the best way to get into the Christmas spirit. Known as the best German market outside of Germany and Austria, the market will offer tasty treats such as German Bratwursts, schnitzel, strudels and pretzels. Get merry on beer, gluhwein (mulled wine) and marshmallow-topped, whipped cream-coated hot chocolate – with or without the Baileys! It’s also been named as Birmingham’s Best Outdoor Event, beating their popular Digbeth Dining Club.

Manchester

In and around Albert Square: 9th November – 22nd December

The UK’s original Christmas market

Located in 10 different spots around the city, with 300 festive stalls selling food, drink and handmade crafts, Manchester’s Christmas market is one you should definitely check out. If London markets have you saying ‘Bah! Humbug!’ as you might want to head north to be greeted by a fabulous selection of European food – we’re talking Dutch pancakes, German beers and Spanish paella – and a six tonne LED-lit up Santa Claus. Does it get better?

Winchester

Winchester Cathedral: 17th November – 20th December

Pick up some handcrafted gifts in ‘England’s Christmas capital’

High quality and unique exhibitors fill the chalet stalls at Winchester’s Christmas market. Known for its picturesque cathedral setting and ice rink there’s an entire British Crafts Village so make sure you visit the jewellers, painters and textile artists. The market also has a traditional Nativity scene  – perfect for group photos and documenting the day on the gram.

Winter Wonderland, London

Hyde Park: 22nd November – January 6th

London’s most impressive fun and festivities

With the Magical Ice Kingdom, ice-sculpting workshops and more, this is London’s biggest festive extravaganza. There are many rides that show London’s skyline (if you can look!), ice-skating and a comedy club, so plenty to get you into the Christmas spirit. Snowglobe-selling stalls, a Bavarian village for all the beer, mulled wine and cider you could ask for and a good old hog roast make Winter Wonderland a must do – even after the 100th time.

St. Nicholas’ Fair, York

Parliament Street: 15th November – 23rd December

For true festive atmosphere

Walk underneath twinkling lights with a cup of mulled cider in hand and find the perfect Christmas gift. St. Nicholas’ Fair also showcases the Made in Yorkshire Yuletide Village where visitors can peruse handmade crafts by locals. King’s Square is where it steps up a notch with a fairground featuring the classic Helter Skelter and a punnet of hot chestnuts are an absolute must.

Leipzig

Marktplatz: 27th November – 23rd December

One of the largest Christmas markets in Germany

Dating all the way back to 1458, Leipzig has kept the tradition of a Christmas market going strong. With over 250 stalls, this Christmas festivity is not only one of the oldest markets in Germany, but one of the largest as well. Heads up: the 20m high Saxon spruce Christmas tree and the 38m high Ferris wheel are both sure to impress.  Who knew Leipzig was the place to visit?

Strasbourg

Place de la Cathédrale: 23rd November – 30th December

The Capital of Christmas is just a short flight away

Strasbourg Christmas market is a magical getaway this winter, not only because of its famous Christmas tree and renowned wooden chalets, but also because of the Alsatian culture that is cemented into the festivities. Local families make handmade Advent wreaths, as well as bredele cakes – and you can bet the latter goes down nicely with a mulled wine!

Prague

Old Town Square: 1st December – 6th January 2019

If you fancy a post-Christmas Christmas break

See Prague lit up like never before, with the most impressive festivities in the Czech Republic. Walk amongst brightly decorated huts full of locally crafted wooden toys, scented candles, embroidered lace and jewellery. It’s the perfect place to pick up your souvenirs, as well as sampling the local food and drink. If you missed your summer holiday to Prague, definitely consider booking a flight for Christmas.

Copenhagen

Tivoli Gardens: 17th November – 31st December

Go to meet Scandinavian Santa

If you didn’t think Tivoli Gardens could get any cuter, visit Copenhagen at Christmas. The perfect Scandinavian atmosphere is created with fairy lights and snow decorating the trees and cute wooden huts in the park. The fairground rides will be up and running for the big kind in everyone’s heart, as well as Santa Claus and his reindeer to make sure everyone enjoys themselves and has a fun festive time.

The post The best Christmas markets 2018 appeared first on Marie Claire.

The best luggage for every travel scenario, whether you’re a light packer or not

The best luggage for every travel scenario, whether you’re a light packer or not


Finding the perfect luggage is no mean feat, especially when factoring in baggage restrictions etc. Now I don’t like to call myself a diva, but I do have a suitcase or travel bag for every occasion, because a one-case-fits-all scenario doesn’t really cut it.

I may not always pack light, but I pack well, and I make the most of the space I’m given.

How to pack a suitcase if you have too many clothes

There are many holiday packing tips you can follow, however our editors at MC have some good rules when it comes to narrowing down your wardrobe, whether it’s for a weekend break or a longer holiday.

First off, prepare your case up to a week before your trip, adding clothes and accessories in as and when you remember them. Always lay shoes in first, in pairs on the sides. Fill in any gaps with belts (rolled up), jewellery and lingerie. Then lay clothes flat.

If using a soft holdall, use the same rules for shoes and accessories, but roll your clothes. For tangle-free jewellery on the move, store your daily treasures in a daily pill dispenser (try Boots or Muji) for a cheap and easy alternative to a jewellery roll or pouch.

As for your capsule wardrobe, it’s easy. Don’t pack things you wouldn’t wear at home, and choose layers in neutral shades, as they have better chances to go with everything else.

Best suitcase if you have no space

Sadly, some airlines don’t even have enough room for cabin luggage, and no one likes having to put their carry-on in the hold. There are however some models which fit underneath the seat, like this AmazonBasics number.

Shop now: AmazonBasics Underseat Luggage for £64.29 from Amazon

Best cabin suitcase

The Tripp World cabin 4 wheel suitcase is made from tough and durable polypropylene and is super lightweight, has a TSA lock for safety and a 5 year warranty, so you can’t really go wrong with this one.

Shop now: Tripp ice blue ‘World’ cabin 4 wheel suitcase for £45 from Tripp

Best slightly bigger cabin suitcase

Luxury suitcase brand Away had the great idea to create a carry-on suitcase that is the biggest that is allowed on a flight (usually carry-ons are a little smaller), meaning maximum space for you. Plus it includes a built-in battery that will easily last you the weekend.

Shop now: The bigger carry-on for £245 from Away

Best big suitcase

If you’re going away for longer then a week, then you can’t beat an extra large suitcase. Samsonite’s hard case is recommended for holidays of two weeks or more, and features a chic but durable hard shell as well as two compartments for storage.

Shop now: MIXMESH SPINNER (4 WHEELS) 81CM for £265 from Samsonite

Best suitcase for clothes

If you’re a bit of an OCD packer, then a foldable shelving case is the answer. Keep your shoes, underwear and clothe separate, avoid creasing and pack a decent amount too.

Shop now: Rise Gear Glider Portable Shelving Carry-On Luggage Grey for £200 from Amazon

Best travel bag

Away have recently added travel bags to their collection, and they fit perfectly on top of your suitcase.

Shop now: The everywhere bag for £195 from Away

Best light suitcase

The problem with a lot of hard suitcases is that they are heavy, and it’s very easy to go over your baggage allowance and pay a hefty fee when you check in at the airport. Look for cases in light fabrics, like this Constellation case, which weights less than 3kg when empty.

Shop now: Constellation Superlite Suitcase, 24″, Black/Green for £50 from Constellation

Best colourful suitcase

Shop now: Prism Cabin Suitcase 55x40x20cm for £65 from Antler

There’s nothing worse than staring ages at the conveyor belt, trying to spot your black suitcase in a sea of other black suitcases. Antler’s array of bright ones will make sure that never happens again.

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The most beautiful wild swimming spots in the UK

The most beautiful wild swimming spots in the UK


From picturesque countryside swims to the cliffs of Dover…

wild swimming
Adam Burton/robertharding/REX/Shutterstock

Now that the summer’s gradually drawing to an end, we’ve been trying to make the most of the blistering heat with weekly trips to the lido and picnics in the park. There’s no doubt that the weather’s getting chillier, but if you want to make the most of a sunny weekend then there’s nothing better than a road trip to a secret oasis. We’re always going to be partial to a gorgeous swimming pool, but there’s something about splashing about in nature that’s utterly magical.

From picturesque seaside harbours to hidden stretches of the Thames, the expert swimmers in the know over at Selkie Swim shared their favourite places to practice your backstroke. We’d definitely recommend bringing a few ciders and your camera, since many of these places are basically screaming to be posted on Instagram.

Here’s the ten best spots for wild swimming in the UK below…

1. Blea Tarn

wild swimming

Jeremy Lightfoot/robertharding/REX/Shutterstock

Fay said, ‘This spot always has the “wow” factor, no matter how many times you return. It is a site of special scientific interest and is good for wildlife spotting too. It’s quiet, remote, rather untouched and turns icy in winter. There are a few shingles beaches from where to enter the water and the Langdales make a wonderful backdrop.’

wild swimming

Selkie Swim

There’s a National Trust car park nearby (LA22 9JU) and a good access path which goes most of the way around the tarn, with benches. You can also head on over to Sticklebarn pub to refuel after a day spent swimming, plus grab a sneaky pint if you’re so inclined.

Address: Blea Tarn, Langdale, The Lake District, Cumbria

2. Tor Bay

wild swimming

Environmental Images/Universal Images Group/REX/Shutterstock

Andrew said, ‘[Tor Bay] is a large horseshoe shaped, sheltered, sandy beach, at the eastern end of Oxwich bay. It sits gloriously between the limestone headlands of Great Tor and Little Tor and the water is some of the best quality in the UK. The beach is at its best between mid and high-tide, and there is always sand even at high tide. It’s a lovely for a coastal swim with the possibility to swim out and around the headland to Three Cliffs (avoid the headland on the outgoing tide as there are strong rip currents forming then).’

The nearest Parking is in Penmaen and Tor Bay beach is accessed via a good coastal clifftop path, followed by a steep sandy path down to the beach. It’s dog-friendly all throughout the season, however do bear in mind that there aren’t any lifeguards if you’re bringing little ones.

Address: Tor Baoy, Penmaen, Swansea, SA3 2HJ

3. Kingsand Beach

wild swimming

David Lomax/robertharding/REX/Shutterstock

‘Kingsand Beach is located in what’s known as ‘the forgotten corner’ of Cornwall,’ Becky said. ‘It’s lovely, quiet and sheltered, as it is located in Plymouth Sound and there are even swimming buoys out in the bay. You can venture further out to Pier Cellars or all the way out to Penlee Point, but must watch out for water traffic. ‘The Devonport Arms’ pub is right on the beach as well, which is rather handy.’

wild swimming

Selkie Swim

This child-friendly beach is reachable from Plymouth either by a small boat that runs from the Mayflower Steps in the Barbican to the adjoining village Cawsand (seasonal), or by road. Parking-wise, there’s two decent car parks in both villages. If you’re super lucky, you might even be able to spot the neighbourhood dolphins who occasionally make an appearance.

Address: Kingsand Beach, Kingsand, Cornwall, PL10 1NA

4. Chichester Harbour

wild swimming

Jean Brooks/robertharding/REX/Shutterstock

Stephen said, ‘Chichester Harbour is a beautiful stretch of water running from the ancient city of Chichester, all the way to East Head and finally out to West Wittering Beach. Sheltered from the wind, it has several places to get in for a dip, Dell Quay, Itchenor & Bosham Hoe, all steeped in tales of smuggling and local folklore. [If you go] swimming in the harbour, you will always find new things to see and explore. And if you have had enough, you can take the Itchenor ferry back to the shore.’

On a more practical note, he also advised swimmers, ‘Watch out for marine traffic and make sure you’re visible. Early morning and late evenings are the quietest. [It’s] also the best time for stunning sunset swims. If it’s windy, the sailing clubs are out, but you can hug the banks on higher tides and swim under the branches of the old trees which is pretty idyllic.’

According to Stephen, there’s also a few nice old waterside pubs and cafes for food and refreshments. For more information, you can check out Chichester Harbour Conservancy for local information, maps and harbour tides.

Address: Chichester Harbour, Chichester, PO2 07EJ

5. Old Harry Rocks

wild swimming

Geoffrey Swaine/REX/Shutterstock

Stuart said, ‘Studland is a beautiful, scenic and popular National Trust series of beaches. Although coastal swims along the beaches are lovely with amazing views, the longer, tide dependant, swim to Old Harry Rocks is a bucket list must-have. Knoll beach, home to Studland Watersports, is a good starting point, as you can hire kayaks for someone to paddle as you swim for support and get tide information and tips; and the views of Old Harry rocks and the Purbeck hills from there are amazing.’

Parking is available in the two National Trust car parks a few metres from the beach. There’s also a cosy café for refreshments and food.

Address: Old Harry Rocks, Studland, near Swanage, Dorset

6. The Flower Pot

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Summer swimming in the Thames #summer #river #thames

A post shared by Chris Peters (@crisp_eater) on Jun 21, 2017 at 2:28pm PDT

‘At the very end of Aston Lane is a lovely bucolic spot, from which to enter the Thames via a small slipway, for a dip or a longer swim in the Hambleden Valley,’ Jon said. ‘It is a long stretch of river with an island to swim upstream to or around, and a pontoon with water usually deep enough to jump or dive in.’

wild swimming

Selkie Swim

He continued, ‘The flow can be high at times, making it a challenging upstream swim with an easy float back. And there is a cold spring stream running into the river by the slipway, making the entry point a little chillier than the rest of the river.’

Easy parking is located right by the river at the very end of Aston Lane. For refreshments and pub grub, the Flower Pot pub is signposted and just up the lane.

Address; The Flower Pot, River Thames, Henley on Thames, RG9 3DG

7 and 8. Burgh Island, Bigbury-on-Sea, Kingsbridge, Devon, TQ7 4BG and Bantham Swoosh

wild swimming

Selkie Swim

Di said, ‘Burgh Island and the Bantham Swoosh are iconic South Devon landmarks, directly opposite Bigbury-on-sea beach, which is only accessible by a strip of sand at low tide. The island is famed for its links to Agatha Christie, the art-deco inspired hotel and as a one-time haunt for pirates and smugglers.’

She added, ‘From the beach at Bigbury-on-Sea you can swim around Burgh Island. The level of the tide determines the extend of the beach and thus the length of the swim.’

wild swimming

Selkie Swim

‘You can also do mini swooshes from Bantham Sands, running up the sandy banks as far as you like on an outgoing tide, plop in and swoosh down, get out with a big smile on your face and repeat!’ she finished.

She advised planning the swim beforehand and to ask the advice of the lifeguards on the East beach in season.There are paying car parks both in Bigbury and Bantham, depending on where you would like to start from and they do get pretty busy in season. After finishing up your swim, you can also finish off with some awesome food from the Gastrobus at Bantham Beach or a burger to die for at the pastel coloured old school Citroen van.

Address for Burgh Island: Burgh Island, Bigbury-on-Sea, Kingsbridge, Devon, TQ7 4BG

Address for Bantham Swoosh: Bantham Swoosh, South Devon

9. Dover Harbour

wild swimming

Josef Puchinger/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock

‘Despite being a major port, [Dover Harbour] has a surprisingly pleasant (sharp) shingle beach, clean water and an attractive seafront behind,’ Nick said. ‘It is overlooked by the imposing medieval Dover Castle and the fortifications in the cliffs, the stunning white Cliffs themselves, the Western Heights Napoleonic defences and you can watch the ferries come and go.’

‘There is a designated recreation area and away from the ferries is the harbour used by swimmers which is about 1 km across,’ he said. ‘It is special as it is packed with history of Channel crossing training.’

There’s parking behind the promenade and a water sports centre on the beach that rents out equipment, if you’re keen to jump on a kayak. It’s also surrounded by cafes and shops as it’s super close to the centre of town.

Address: Dover Harbour, Dover, Kent, CT161LA

10. Clifton Hampden Bridge, Clifton Hampden, Oxfordshire, OX14 3EE

wild swimming

Nigel R. Barklie/REX/Shutterstock

Katie said, ‘[Clifton Hampden Bridge] is a distinctive 19th century bridge, stepping over the still narrow river Thames in a pretty picturesque Oxfordshire village. The banks are covered in wildflowers and majestic trees, there is a lot of wildlife around and the river quickly finds its way away from the traffic and into the quiet countryside.’

‘You can swim for as long as you want,’ she explained. ‘There are entry spots on both side of the river, although the “post office lay-by” side has a couple of benches carved out of tree trunks and a table for a picnic. Swim upstream under the arches of the bridge, and back down again, or you can carry on upstream until you reach the lock channel and even further if you stay left. Downstream is also a nice swim through trees and fields.’

wild swimming

She also shared a handy secret, ‘The post office sells local fruit and veg, cakes and the best pain au chocolat for miles, but you will need to be early!’

If you’re looking for a spot to park your car, there’s spaces in the layby by the post office.

Address: Clifton Hampden Bridge, Clifton Hampden, Oxfordshire, OX14 3EE

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To the roof of Africa: a bragging-rights adventure on Mount Kilimanjaro

To the roof of Africa: a bragging-rights adventure on Mount Kilimanjaro


Chasing an emotional high, Nicola Moyne finds empowerment on the frozen peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Just don’t call it a ‘walk’…

It’s 2am and, despite the three layers of thermals and heavy down jacket I’m concertinaed into, I’m chilled to the bone traversing the world’s tallest freestanding mountain. For every painfully slow shuffle I make up the windswept strata of ashen, crumbly rock, I seem to slide down three more.

My balance is off and I’m starting to lag behind the group – their headlamps weaving like silent miners in a zigzag up the steep, ice-latticed terrain ahead. Right now, the rhythmic repetition of putting one foot in front of the other is all that’s keeping me from ripping off my Gore-Tex balaclava and wilfully succumbing to high-altitude delirium.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest – and the world’s tenth highest – peak at 19,341ft, has been on my bucket list ever since I was plucky enough to clamber atop my parents’ retro-blue bathroom suite for a better view of the arresting sunset vistas.

Family holidays were spent caravanning in soggy Somerset, not exploring the acacia-studded savannahs of Africa. But there in urban Essex, one foot precariously balanced on the toilet seat and the other on the hot tap, each amber-streaked horizon would transport me to the Serengeti’s golden plains.

Fast-forward three decades and, like many women I know, I’m hungry for an adventure that delivers a sense of achievement rather than a fast-fading tan. So, buoyed by a Point Break binge and large glass of malbec, I impulsively book a seven-day trip to Tanzania.

My mountaineering experience starts and ends with a balmy jaunt up Snowdon last summer, but that doesn’t seem to faze me as I happily click ‘confirm’ and take a celebratory gulp. As a well-meaning friend puts it before I leave for one of the world’s seven summits, ‘If Chris Moyles got up there, you’ve got this in the bag…’ Next stop, Mount Kilimanjaro.

‘Marangu snakes its way through rich rainforest and sweet-smelling alpine meadows before the arid mountain peaks loom above’

After a nine-and-a-half-hour flight via Nairobi, I greet my multinational band of fellow climbers at the palm-fringed Mountain Resort hotel in Marangu – a lively market town lush with banana and coffee plantations at the foot of Kilimanjaro National Park.

Mount Kilimanjaro

At the gates of Kilimanjaro National Park (clockwise from left): Kyle, Magda, Trent, Michele, Alice, Nicola, Eva, David, Monika, Greg and Sofia

Eleven of us have booked the trip through Intrepid Travel: four banterous Aussies (Trent, Alice, Greg and Kyle), a linen-clad Brazilian (Magda) and a cosmopolitan coterie of iPhone-tapping Europeans (Sofia, Eva, David, Michele and Monika). Banked in the bar for ‘one last round’ of Serengeti beers before our five-day trek commences, we bond over the intermittent wifi and chilly lounge, ignorant of the freezing night-time temperatures we’ll experience each night as we ascend.

Our head guide, Jacob, is a slight and softly spoken local. A former maths teacher, he exudes ‘firm but fair’ as he delivers our pre-tour briefing: ‘On the mountain, it’s safety first – no question,’ he says. ‘I want you to enjoy yourselves, but if I say you have to go down, then you go down.’ He asks if we’ve all packed crampons. We haven’t.

Ordinarily, Kilimanjaro is considered a ‘walk-up’ mountain – ie, you don’t need any fancy gear. It’s early June, though – just before peak season in Tanzania – and unusually heavy snowfall has resulted in the formation of hard, slippery ice that can become treacherous without traction cleats.

Magda, our chic Brazilian, lightens the mood by asking if there’ll be electricity en route: ‘I’ll need somewhere to charge my laptop,’ she deadpans.

We hit the Marangu trail – the most direct ascent of Kilimanjaro – at 8am the following morning. It will take five days to climb and descend via this route, which snakes its way through erica-rich rainforest, Jurassic-looking groundsel grasslands and sweet-smelling alpine meadows before the arid mountain peaks loom above.

The standard seven-to-nine-day routes are often favoured in an attempt to avoid altitude sickness, but Marangu is the only trail that doesn’t require camping.

Wooden A-frame huts that sleep four or more populate the three camps (Mandara, Horombo and Kibo) and although bijou and basic, the cabins are as close to luxury as you’re going to get. When you consider everything for camp has to be carried up by Tanzanian porters – who, despite the heavy loads balanced upon their backs and heads smile and laugh as they pass at lightning speed – it’s incredible to think that there are any home comforts to be had 15,520ft above sea level.

Mount Kilimanjaro

An A-frame wooden sleeping hut en route to the summit. Photograph: Trent Thomson

But what you might gain in comfort on Marangu, you lose in the struggle to acclimatise. Born from a tumultuous series of volcanic eruptions about 3 million years ago, Uhuru Peak – Kilimanjaro’s Kibo crater summit – towers over Africa’s blush-pink cloud blanket at over 19,000ft.

At this altitude, the air is so thin it can be difficult to breathe or think clearly and at least one member of the group, Eva – a chatty brunette from Belgium with an envy-inducing tan – soon starts to show signs of high altitude sickness, experiencing piercing headaches, nausea, fatigue and crippling self-doubt over whether she can reach the top.

(Top tip: Diamox can help to alleviate symptoms and Alice, a gutsy Melbourne-based doctor – the job title everyone wants to hear during a pre-brief – kindly shares her stash with some of the group. ‘If it helps, why not, right?’)

‘We plod on towards the frozen peak, propelled by sheer will and Dioralyte’

The gruelling inclines and freezing night-time temperatures prove no match for the group’s collective cheer, though. Our 27-strong team of cooks, guides and porters laughingly label us wazimu mzungu (Swahili for crazy white guys) as we indulge Greg’s ‘dad’ jokes, Kyle’s uphill dancing and David’s one-liners while singing along to Fleetwood Mac.

‘You Can Go Your Own Pace’ becomes our customised anthem as we ascend 10-15km per day, weaving first through mist-swaddled ferns in the rainforest to Mandara as majestic colobus monkeys glide across the canopies of green above, before tackling the steep, stony ravines that punctuate the path to Horombo Hut.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Tackling rocky terrain on the ascent. Photograph: Trent Thomson

Exchanging jubilant jambos (hello) with passing porters, we plod towards the frozen peak, propelled on largely by will, good humour and Dioralyte. On day four, we reach Kibo – base camp.

It’s here, at 11pm, exhausted but jacked with nervous energy, that altitude sickness claims Eva, who tearfully decides to descend while the rest of us layer up to the point of limb inarticulation.

It’s heartbreaking to lose a member of the group at this stage, but after a rousing rendition of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, our guides usher us out into the star-studded night for the final seven-hour push to the summit.

Moving pole pole (slowly, slowly), we wind upwards in single file through loose, volcanic shale and, as Jacob leads us quietly into the lunar-lit scree, I realise this isn’t going to be like the previous three days – the mood has changed as dramatically as the landscape.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Dawn breaks over Mount Kilimanjaro. Photograph: Trent Thomson

Tackling the steep, charcoal-grey slopes is reminiscent of being on the moon and I increasingly start to rely on the help of local guide Augustin, who sweetly takes my hand each time I fall (plural) and encourages me to catch my breath.

We stop in clam-like caves to refuel, but the banter has dissolved with our energy. I’m told that the temperature has plummeted to -30C and with my iPhone (and water) now frozen, there’s no motivational playlist to rely on. It’s sheer will power versus the mountain.

At 4am, gale-force winds pummel my face, making breathing let alone traversing volcanic boulders arduous. In the distance, I spot Trent’s left hand doggedly fixed to the top of his ridiculously impractical fedora and wonder how on earth he’s managing to do the whole thing one-handed. I still have two hours of compacted ice channels (sans crampons) to navigate on this glacier-crowned ridge and I seem to have left my usual PMA and bounce back at base camp.

Nicola, standing jubilant on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro

My head spins from the altitude as I snake my way past Stella Point at 18,885ft, before laying eyes on Uhuru Peak – its snow-beaten summit flags whipping in the 80mph winds. As I finally shuffle my way on to the roof of Africa, dawn breaks into the same kaleidoscopic glow I’d once imagined from my parents’ bathroom window.

We all have our mountains to climb in life – physical or emotional – and as I lean against the iconic signpost to give the illusion I can still stand for my sun-drenched summit photo, I realise I wasn’t really chasing these transcendent panoramic views. It was all about making that plucky five-year-old still in me proud.

Wazimu mzungu? Maybe. And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Kilimanjaro Marangu Route with Intrepid Travel starts from £1,730pp. Price includes seven nights’ accommodation, transportation, meals, National Park entrance and climbing fees, as well as a complimentary sleeping bag and walking poles. Excludes flights. See intrepidtravel.com or call 0808 274 5111 for further details or to book.

 

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