Tag: city breaks

Five great reasons why Montpellier is the best city break this summer

I’ve got form with Montpellier, where I spent an early summer visit on assignment for a couple of publications.

I remembered it from student days as my favourite French city, but then had a mixed experience on a more recent visit.

I was back in early July on a group press trip with tourism officials for the opening of the city’s new contemporary art museum, MOCO.

The city has certainly grown, expanding into new districts towards the beach and bustling with language-exchange students.

I still love the Old Town with its cobblestone backstreets and labyrinthine passageways. But I was less grabbed by some of the modernist architecture of somewhat soulless outer districts.

Here’s a taster of my story:

The opening of the art museum, Montpellier Contemporary (MOCO) is the latest development in a city embracing art. There was always a flirtation with street art and a regular summer arts festival but MOCO has really put the city on the map as a hub for all things conceptual.

I finally feel like I’ve got a better sense of what makes Montpellier tick.

Just in time to recommend some places to visit, such as the new Marché du Lez [pictured above], to my daughter, who is due to visit on a school exchange next Easter.

Read my Rough Guide feature.

Read the Independent Travel article.

How to celebrate 100 years of afternoon teas at Bettys Cafe Tea Room, York

To York on the hottest day of the year for a magazine assignment for Immediate Media.

It was a special birthday party.

This year marks 100 years of Bettys Tea Room Cafe, a Yorkshire institution for its afternoon teas with a frisson of Swiss style.

Plus the fact it has done away with its possessive apostrophe.

The Swiss baker, Frederick Belmont, first founded the company in 1919, creating a niche in Yorkshire for high-quality cakes and pastries, served the old-fashioned way.

Today, the third generation of the family runs the business with two Bettys in York, including the Art Deco-style café at St Helen’s Square, plus the first café in Harrogate.

The company is hosting a series of events, and offering special souvenirs, as part of the year-long centenary celebration.

A recreation of one of Frederick’s famous cakes currently takes pride of place in Bettys front window [pictured above].

But the must–try treat is a Yorkshire Fat Rascal, Betty’s signature fruit scone, served warm with a pot of Taylors tea.

I combined afternoon tea with a visit to York Minster and stroll around the walls, the resulting city-break guide to York due out this winter — watch this space.

More: Visit York

To Hull and back on a culture quest

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The taxi driver was unimpressed.

“It’s a fingers-crossed job,” he grunted.

He sprawled back in the driving seat and folded his arms at the lights, revealing a tattoo snaking down his fleshy forearm.

It read: “Blessed to be born in Yorkshire.”

“The problem is,” he added, “City of Culture only interests about two per cent of local people.”

Running late

Hull has a problem. It has been chosen as the UK City of Culture and the blue touch paper for the fireworks is due to be lit on January 1st.

But Hull clearly isn’t ready. The street works are causing chaos, the regeneration projects are running behind and the city suffers a major dearth of hotels rooms.

With an extra 1m visitors expected in the year ahead, the new Hilton hotel looks unlikely to be ready before September and a rumoured Radisson Blu hasn’t even broken ground yet.

Local people are either feeling frustrated, or completely disinterested.

After successful cultural-regeneration projects in Derry and previously Liverpool (as a European City of Culture), Hull is feeling the heat.

Weekend away

I came to Hull for a half-term break, introducing the girls to the city closely associated with the poet Philip Larkin [his statue at the train station pictured above].

Larkin described his home town:

This town has docks were channel boats come sidling; Tame water lanes, tall sheds, the traveller sees … His advent blurted to the morning shore — Arrivals, Departures (1954)

Today much of the industry is gone. The Fruit Market area of the old docklands is a work-in-progress building site with hipster hang-outs closing as fast as they open.

Only The Deep, the family-bustling aquarium with its perennially popular penguins, rises with any certainly above the shifting cityscape beyond the waterfront.

I want Hull to hit its stride. I plan to return with the right commission.

But, meanwhile, the taxi driver wasn’t holding his breath.

“When it happens,” he added, dropping us at the station for the journey home, ” then it will be more luck than planning.”

More: Hull City of Culture 2017

Just back: Gothenburg with dad for Family Traveller magazine

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Another half term, another family escape.

We did the Barbie cruise and the cycling trip to Holland, both of which went on to win travel-writing awards.

Last week I took the girls to West Sweden for four nights of city-break fun coupled with some time out on the archipelago.

See a Flickr gallery of images from the trip.

Farmyard fun

The highlight of the trip was definitely the chance to spend the night on a family farm in the countryside.

The Lekander family [pictured above] made us feel really welcome.

It was a travel story for Family Traveller magazine — check out the full article in a future issue.

Latte papas

But it was also a chance to talk to Swedish dads about how liberal Scandinavia values the role of fathers, recently passing new legislation to increase paternity leave.

Sweden, we found, puts family first and, boldly, strives to make it easier for fathers to spend time with their children.

We spent a morning hanging out with the so-called ‘latte papas’ Gothenburg and, as Henric Stahl [pictured below with 19-month-old son Marcel], told us:

“We’ve come to the point whereby, if you’re not taking your full paternity leave, then you have to explain yourself.”

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Even Caligari, a stalwart of Swedish kids’ TV, whose magic show we caught at Gothenburg’s Alfie Atkins Children’s Museum, bases his act around family values.

Watch a short Vimeo of Calgary below.

Mojo rising

In an age of top ten lists and mindless-filler content, it was great, as a writer, to get a commission with scope to address real issues in the context of an upbeat travel story.

It has revived my writing mojo.

And, better still, the girls had a ball.

So, England 0. Sweden 1 then.

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

Liked this? Try also West Sweden: Folklore traditions of midsummer.