Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Sky Garden, Fenchurch Street, central London

Although you have to book tickets a couple of weeks in advance, entrance to the Sky Garden (at the top of the so-called Walkie-Talkie skyscraper) is free and open to anyone - a prerequisite for planning permission, apparently. Once you have been through security, a fast, silent lift whizzes you up to the 35th floor, where you are greeted by a huge wall of glass panels facing the space age Shard. You will be drawn out, through the revolving doors, on to the balcony to take in the sweeping views over the Thames and south London sprawl. Back inside, you can climb the stairs through the lush, green shrubbery to another wall of glass overlooking the Gherkin and Cheesegrater skyscrapers, next to the ageing NatWest Tower. As you climb and descend the staircases, there are fine views west, taking in St. Paul's Cathedral, and east, taking in the Tower of London and Canary Wharf. Finally, you should buy an expensive drink from the self-assured, smartly dress bar staff, grab a seat and enjoy this extraordinary airy space. The orange and raspberry fruit juice (£3.50) is particularly good. 8/10

Monday, 4 May 2015

Walks around Polesdon Lacey, Surrey

At the far end of Polesdon Lacey's car park, you'll find a big sign charting several colour-coded walks, varying in length from about 1.5 miles to 4.5 miles. Most of them take you down the steep hill into the Mole Valley that nestles between the Edwardian country house and Ranmore Common to the south west. Virtually devoid of any development, this Arcadian countryside contains the odd farmhouse and a charming Youth Hostel that looks like it belongs in the 1930s. It is hard to believe you are less than five miles from the M25 - London's heavily congested circular motorway. The longer walks climb up towards Ranmore Common, from where there are viewpoints back to the National Trust property. All the routes end up looping round through the bucolic woods and fields south east of Polesdon Lacey.  If you are National Trust members, you can stroll back to the car park via an 18th century belvedere on to the Long Walk, which leads to the foot of the lawn tumbling down from the elegant mansion. Lined on one side by a hedge, punctuated with white statues, and on the other, by woodland, this narrow lawn offers heart-warming views over the tranquil Mole Valley. 8/10

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Virgin Mini Marathon, central London

The leaders in the U13 girls race approach the Houses of Parliament. The two girls from the North West team went on to finish first and second in the  British Athletics Road Championships 
Held just before the London Marathon, the Virgin Mini Marathon is a youth race across the final three miles of the main route, taking in the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Featuring teams from each of the 33 London boroughs and regions across the UK, including Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the Mini Marathon attracts some of the best teenage athletes in the country. Although the different age groups (coloured-coded by t-shirts) have staggered starts, the races inevitably overlap as the best youngsters overtake the laggards in the older age groups.  Participants are rewarded with an impressive medal, a couple of t-shirts and a bag full of goodies. Although it involves an early start, the Mini Marathon should be on the bucket list of both young runners and their parents.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Rolls Royces at the Guildhall, central London

Only very high-end motors are allowed to park outside the City of London's Guildhall.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Hanseatic Walk, central London

Post work drinkers gather outside the Oyster Shed bar on Hanseatic Walk in the shadow of Cannon Street Station

Sunshine on the Scoop, More London, central London

Office workers congregate in the sun trap created by The Scoop - the 1,000 person sunken amphitheatre in the More London development opposite The Tower of London.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter skiing in the Monterosa region, Italy

Branded Italy's Three Valleys, the Monterosa region offers some decent high altitude skiing between the resorts of Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna. The area is dominated by long, pacey and varied red runs, ideal for intermediates, rather than beginners and experts. In fact, the handful of hard blues and easy blacks would probably have been lined by red poles in another resort.  Still, experienced skiers will find plenty of challenging off-piste terrain. During the week, the slopes and the lifts are pretty empty, but the resorts can get uncomfortably busy at weekends and on public holidays when many Italians make the relatively easy drive up from Turin.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Breithorn Chalet Hotel, Route Ramey, Champoluc, Valle d'Aosta, Italy

More than 100 years old, the Breithorn Chalet Hotel exudes traditional Alpine solidity and period charm. Built from sturdy timbers and dry stone walls, this handsome hotel retains many original features, including paned windows, rustic old floors, wooden vaulted ceilings and even a massive vintage bellows in the comfortable lounge. Next door is a small library, lined with old books. These communal areas sit on top of the very spacious dining room, plus a sauna and steam room, in the basement. Upstairs are 31 en-suite bedrooms of varying shapes and sizes spread over four floors. Although the hotel WiFi only works downstairs and the bedrooms can be a little compact, they have plenty of charm, are well equipped and are comfortable. Some rooms also have small wooden balconies and fine views of the mountains. And larger families might be able to secure two adjoining rooms, if you book early enough. The staircases are decorated with crude, but charming, sketches of the local wildlife and the hotel in the early twentieth century.