Category: Travel Writing

Why I made the shortlist for the French Travel Media Awards

It was close but no cigar.

My story about a tour of the French Riviera [pictured above], first published in the Daily Telegraph, was shortlisted this week at the French Travel Media awards.

The article describes a trip in the footsteps of film stars and the Euro glitterati. It was timed around the 70th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival.

Here’s a taster of the text:

I was formulating my bid to be the next James Bond from the casino at Monte Carlo. All I needed was that powder-blue suit from the Hugo Boss store on La Croisette (a snip at a mere €750), a couple of well-promoted selfies on the red carpet outside Le Palais and a bit of luck with the croupier to thwart Le Chiffre’s plan to take over the world from a Monte Carlo gaming table. Watch your back Idris Elba. After a week on the Riviera, there’s a new leading man in the frame.

Better luck next time, then.

I’ve got my eye on Roman Nimes and Monet’s Giverny for next time.

Two terrific reasons for a half-term day out in Liverpool

I owe Gary Oldman a beer.

I’d tried pitching a story before about Western Approaches, the secret wartime bunker under an office block in Liverpool. It didn’t work out.

But with Darkest Hour cleaning up at cinemas and Mr Oldman tipped for an Oscar on March 4, Winston Churchill is writ large on screen once more.

Good timing then to try the story again with a new angle. After all, Winnie was a bit of regular at the nerve centre for the Battle of the Atlantic.

The timing was right for a feature timed for February half term. Here’s a preview:

Western Approaches HQ houses the original Gaumont Kalee Dragon projector [pictured above] Churchill used to watch secret war footage. Newsreel controlled by the Ministry of Information was then shown to the public in cinemas to boost morale.

I even managed to tie a Liverpool trip into the press preview of the new Terracotta Warriors exhibition at the World Museum.

Just don’t ask how many warriors made it across the Mersey.

Read the full story, Take the kids to Western Approaches, Liverpool.

101 good reasons why whisky is the drink right now

Forget your Ginuary.

My first assignment of a new year took me to the Lake District, the traditional domain of Romantic Poets and Gore-Tex botherers, for a wee dram.

The Lakes Distillery [pictured above] is to release this summer the first 101 bottles of the Lakes Single Malt, a limited edition whisky and Cumbria’s first in a century.

I travelled to the western Lakes, making base in Cockermouth, to find out more about a spirit-distilling tradition that dates back to the days of smugglers and bootleggers on the shores of Lake Bassenthwaite.

The article was commissioned by Immediate Media and will appear in magazines from March.

Here’s a preview:

The growth of The Lakes Distillery has coincided with the ongoing British spirits revival, making it the biggest of just 15 whisky distilleries in England and Wales.

Indeed, the spirits industry generates £9.8bn in UK sales with spirits now enjoyed by 43 per cent of British adults, according to The Wine and Spirit Trade Association 2016.

Hanging out with the ‘latte papas’ in Gothenburg, West Sweden

My feature about a family-travel trip to West Sweden is in the new issue of Family Traveller magazine — just out [see image at foot of post].

It proved to be the girls’ favourite trip so far but, for me, it also proved to be a thought- provoking one.

We spent some time in Gothenburg with Henric and his son, Marcel [pictured above].

We were talking about the enlightened attitude Sweden takes to parental leave and the rights of fathers to bond with their children.

This was a sidebar to the main feature but worth highlighting, I feel, here on my personal blog.

Swedish buzzword

First Abba, then IKEA. Now there’s a new buzzword in Sweden: latte papas — fathers on leave with pre-school children.

The term refers to the way that Sweden is taking an increasingly enlightened attitude to the role of dads in bringing up children.

It lead the world in 1974 with plans to introduce equal paternity leave, giving both parents the chance of time at home with their children.

Sweden extended its ‘daddy quota’ on January 1, 2016, so that all new fathers are now automatically allocated 90 days’ paid leave on a use-it-or-lose-it basis.

Fathers can also take up to 280 days at 80 per cent of their regular salary with up to 12 years to use up the allowance.

The abundance of fathers with buggies on the streets of cities like Gothenburg has given rise to latte-papa cafes, galleries and play centres, particularly in the hip Linne and Haga districts.

Male bonding

Henric Stahl is taking nine months leave on a part-time basis from his job at a Swedish TV channel to spend time with his first son, 19-month-old Marcel.

“It may seem like I’m doing my partner, Jemina, a social worker, a favour by taking leave but, really, it’s my right to be with him,” explains Henric over lunch in downtown Gothenburg.

“Sweden’s strong feminist movement from the Seventies has been very positive in driving men’s rights, too.”

Henric and Marcel meet up with other dads twice a week at a play centre run by a local church.

“By taking leave,” he adds, “I empathise better in my relationship, I have a stronger relationship with my son than I ever had with his father.

“And I’m even more productive at work for having this time and space.”

“The one thing I’m not sure about,” he smiles, “is the term ‘latte papa’.

“Far from drinking coffee all day, we’re very much a bunch of working, stay-at-home dads.”

Gender equality

The UK came 12th out of 22 countries in the Fatherhood Institute’s Fairness in Families Index (FIFI) 2016, which brings together a basket of measures to compare countries’ progress towards the goal of gender equality.

The top five countries in the 2016 index were all Scandinavian with Sweden taking the top spot.

Parental leave cost the Swedish state £2.2bn in 2015, largely funded by high payroll taxes levied on Swedish companies, according to BBC News.

West Sweden story in Family Traveller magazine