Saturday 23 October 2010
If you can get away with hand luggage, you'll avoid both Ryanair's hefty luggage surcharges and the stress of dealing with this airline's infamously unhelpful staff, until you reach the departure gate. If you check-in online and print your boarding pass, you can go straight to security. Ryanair insists you get to the gate well before the flight is due to depart, meaning you end up in a succession of queues, as people jostle for the best seats on the plane. Once on board, the seats are cramped, the food and drink are expensive and there is a steady stream of sales pitches for lottery tickets, duty free and the like from the cabin crew. As you would expect, the early morning and the evening flights are the cheapest, but you end up coming and going from Stansted at some ungodly hours. Still, you'll maximise your time in sunny Andalusia. 5/10
One of many similar restaurants competing vigorously for your custom on this pedestrianised nineteenth century street, Granada offers large portions of mostly Spanish food at keen prices. As part of the cover, you are given some saggy and salty green olives, plus shrink-wrapped rolls of bread. As you peruse the plastic menus in several languages, you may spot one of the cooks opening and closing the microwave. Among the main courses, the large mixed paella, served in a wok, is full of grisly chicken and pork, king prawns, fat mussels and clams. It is salty, but pretty good for the modest 9.50 euros a head. The mixed salad (six euros) is an eclectic mix of wafer-thin Palma ham, manchego cheese, tinned pineapple, beetroot, sweet corn, shredded carrots, loads of lettuce, sliced tomatoes and peppers. The okay spaghetti bolognese is filling, while the Spanish omelet is also substantial and passable. Granada's tacky decor, with a gold-trimmed Alhambra-theme, is reminiscent of the seventies. Even as if it fills up with tired tourists, this unremarkable restaurant lacks atmosphere. 5/10
In a spectacular setting high over a gorge, the beautifully-preserved Andalusian town of Ronda is well worth a couple of days of your time. If you can find a space, part in one of the cramped underground car parks in the central shopping district and head over to the charming 19th century Alameda del Tajo park with its broad, paved promenades, lined with vintage lampposts, and lush foliage. They lead down to the iron railings and ornate stone wall, guarding a sheer drop to the valley floor below and providing sweeping views across the hills. As it sets, the sun bathes the park in a magical light tailor-made for tourist snaps. Follow the path hugging the cliff edge around the parador to the towering eighteenth century stone bridge with its elegant arches, which merge into the rocky sides of the canyon. Across the bridge, are narrow, atmospheric cobbled streets lined by stately white-washed town houses, some with smart restaurants overlooking the gorge. The lanes open out into a peaceful cobbled, tree-lined square surrounded by handsome historic buildings, including a convent and a striking, old red-brick church with an ornate bell-tower.
Friday 22 October 2010
The Hotel La Fuente De La Higuera's buffet breakfast includes decent juices, cold meats, cheeses, fruit, cereal, bread and boiled eggs. You can order coffees from the staff, but you need to toast your own bread. You can also book in for an overpriced dinner (42 euros for three courses, without wine) in the cosy dining room where the tables are covered with smart white table cloths and funky music is playing on the retro-style wooden stereo. There is a choice of two dishes for each course. Before you get going, you may be offered a lovely little appetiser made up of creamy cheese and an anchovy wrapped around a morsel of caviar. The starters may include Andalusian soup, which contains soft and scrumptious chick peas in salty chicken stock. The main courses may include a chunky tuna steak, which can be a bit too dry and salty, while the rack of lamb may also be over-seasoned. Still the accompanying creamy mash and green veg is delicious. For desert, the chocolate cake is light and crumbly and is filled with hot oozing chocolate sauce, offset by fine ice cream. To drink, the house A Pasos 2006 red wine from Ronda is rich and velvety. Unfortunately, the portions are often too small and, if you have restless or tired kids, the service can be painfully slow. Still, the friendly and helpful Dutch proprietor seems to have no trouble attracting adult guests and diners to Hotel La Fuente De La Higuera. 8/10
Soft, succulent fish
The menu lists a wide selection of fish, plus dishes of the day, which are mostly priced by the kilogram and served with a couple of boiled potatoes and some lettuce leaves, shredded carrot and sweet corn. It can be difficult to figure out what you'll end up paying and the final bill may not make a lot of sense. The grilled sea bass can be served as two large crispy and delicious fillets of soft, succulent fish, but be warned they might cost a whopping 30 euros. Strangely, a similarly large plate of grilled calamari (fresh, but a little tough and chewy) can cost less than 12 euros. The waiting staff recommend that kids have a healthy plate of mixed fish, deboned, served with boiled potatoes and lettuce - great value at just eight euros ahead. After such fresh main courses, it is disappointing to find that the deserts appear to be bought frozen from a supermarket - the desert menu is just stock photographs on a laminated menu. There is also no coffee. Despite its many faults, Altamirano is probably the place to savour seafood in Marbella. 7/10
Wednesday 20 October 2010
About a square-kilometre of heavily-restored, but atmospheric, cobbled streets and alleys, Marbella's old town is close to the beaches and the resort's smart boardwalk. The remains of the Arabian castellated walls, supposedly dating from the 9th century, partially enclose an eclectic set of white-washed buildings, including an handsome and striking church, spanning hundreds of years. But you'll find yourself looking down as much as up. Beneath your feet, is an ever-changing array of elaborate patterns of cobbled stones and tiles. You'll also find appealing tree-lined squares with vintage lamp-posts, pavement cafes and restaurants. You'll stumble upon the occasional lavishly-carved, Arabian-style wooden door and there are scores of wrought-iron balconies, decorated with flowers and pot plants, to admire.
Tuesday 19 October 2010
Monday 18 October 2010
Sense of style
Containing distinguished furniture and stylish prints of enlarged postage stamps, some of the tasteful and distinctive rooms have elaborate cornicing, quirky nooks and other period features. Although they can feel a bit cramped, they are comfortable and decorated in appealing shades of white, fawn and brown. It can be expensive, but the Town House's location and sense of style is hard to fault. 8/10
Sunday 17 October 2010
Goldcar is one of a clutch of hire car firms with desks and parking bays in the bowels of Malaga airport. Booked through Holiday Autos, Goldcar's vehicles can be very good value, but they tend to be scratched and scraped. Although this kind of damage is apparently covered by the standard insurance, Goldcar still recommend you take an additional insurance package to avoid excess payments on more fundamental damage. In any case, you'll be charged up-front a hefty sum (82 euros for a Ford Focus) for a full tank of petrol and you are supposed to bring the car back near empty, which can be tricky if you are on a short break. 5/10
Tuesday 12 October 2010
Having opened in September, the Aloft is a trendy and still-shiny hotel in the heart of Brussels' European district. On the outside, it looks like a fairly-funky apartment block, while the lobby has the feel of a smart and rather-lavish student common room. The reception, lounge and bar merge into one elongated loft-style space complete with modernistic and colourful furniture, flat computer screens, a pool table, cartoon-style art, exposed pipes hanging from the ceiling and blond-wood panelling. The circular reception, manned by lively, standing receptionists, is opposite a self-service canteen, where you can help yourself to breakfast or snacks anytime of day or night, charging your purchases to your room bill. The overall effect is striking and different, but not relaxing.
Labels: More Brussels
Saturday 9 October 2010
For a traditional pizzeria, Capolino has a stylish red facade and a fairly funky, but smoky, adjoining bar. However, the restaurant itself has painted brick walls, a bland white floor and neat rows of closely-packed dark wooden tables, while the stereo plays tired pop classics, such as Cherish by Kool and the Gang. The very lengthy menu features a wide selection of pizzas for around €12, as well as salads, risottos, pasta, fish and meat dishes. The highlight of the reasonable sea food risotto (€13), which needs seasoning, are the juicy mussels, while the mixed-salad (€3.25) is fresh, large and well-dressed. You can get a pint of well-chilled Jupiler beer for €5.5 or there are Italian wines available by the glass or the bottle. Service by the weary waiters in waist-coats can feel a bit overbearing. Unfortunately, Capolino, which can be half-empty on a weekday, really lacks atmosphere. 5/10
Sunday 3 October 2010
Labels: More London transport
Saturday 2 October 2010
Set in fairly flat and innocuous countryside, but within striking distance of La Loire, Nantes and the Breton coast, Chateau de Cop-Choux is well-placed for a few days exploring a fine part of France. Dating from before the French Revolution, the well-proportioned chateau appears handsome from a distance, but, up close, the stone work is quite plain and the box-hedge, grass and gravel surroundings don't do it justice. Still, the 45 acres of grounds has plenty of features from cordoned-off, crumbling ruins to a couple of large forest pools, reachable via a steep and dilapidated stone staircase. You can stroll through the woodland and circle back to the chateau following the grassy path that runs alongside the paddock. Moreover, the chateau's modern facilities are good - the smart swimming pool is new, well-maintained and warm enough in late August, while the tarmac tennis court is just about playable. There is even a modern conference centre.