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

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.

The Finsteraarhorn, Switzerland

An ariel view of the west face of The Finsteraarhorn, the highest peak in the Bernese Alps and the highest summit in the Alps lying outside the main chain, according to Over 4,200 metres high, The Finsteraarhorn is part of the Jungfrau-Aletsch World Heritage Site in Switzerland.

Friday 3 April 2015

Campo Base, near Frachey, Aosta Valley, Italy

At the top of the chair lift up from Frachey, Campo Base is a cut above the average mountain restaurant. It serves excellent and substantial panini (4-5 euros), creamy crepes (7-8 euros) and more substantial fare, such as a generous veal stew with polenta (about 12 euros). The delicious focaccia bread panini filled with ample ham and cheese is particularly good value. A low rise wooden building, which seems to be partially submerged into the mountain, Campo Base is festooned with Tibetan prayer flags, while the wooden walls are lined with framed photos of Tibet. By Champoluc standards, the service is fairly smooth, if a little slow. You find a table and then queue up to order at the till. The waiting staff then bring your food and drinks over. Campo Base is a good place to eat lunch. 7/10 

Thursday 2 April 2015

Ristorante Le Petit Coq, Champoluc, Aosta Valley, Italy

The place to cook and eat protein-packed mountain food, Le Petit Coq offers raclette, fondue and the like in a cosy wooden chalet near the village of Champoluc. If you are staying with one of the British tour operators, they can book you in for a set meal and taxis in both directions for about 30 euros per adult and 17 euros per child. After you arrive, your waiter will light the stoves on your table and bring you a big plate loaded with chunks of raw steak, chicken and sausage - you use skewers to cook each meaty morsel in bubbling oil in a pot. You need be careful to keep the meat on the skewer.

Edelweiss, Albergo, Bar, Ristorante, Loc. Crest, Champoluc, Aosta Valley, Italy

Housed in a substantial wooden and stone building near the top of the first gondola above Champoluc, the Edelweiss is well located for beginner skiers using the nursery slopes, rather than intermediates and experts. In practice that means it can be less crowded than its rivals elsewhere on the pistes.  Inside the golden wooden decor is well illuminated by the huge windows. You can sit in the restaurant and enjoy waiter service, or in the bar, meaning you need to order from the till. Either way, you can choose from the menu offering a mixture of Italian mountain favourites, including crepes, risotto and pizza, typically costing 10 euros or less. It all tastes pretty good, although the service can be erratic, meaning the dishes can be delayed and might arrive lukewarm. 7/10

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Bar Del Pino, Antagnod, Aosta Valley, Italy

A basic snack bar at the foot of one of the few pistes in Antagnod, Bar Del Pino can get chaotic when the slopes at Champoluc are closed and winter sports enthusiasts make their way over to this small satellite area. Although it only offers panini, drinks, confectionary and other sandwich shop fare, it is conveniently located for a pit stop.  To get served you need to order at the counter. Easier said that done. While some of the punters stand in an orderly queue, others seem to go straight to the till. The staff carry out tasks in a random order with no rhyme and reason, getting orders wrong and confused. While the panini ingredients are fresh and the selection respectable, you may well end up queuing for half an hour only to to receive a barely-heated lukewarm panino. A stressful place to stop, Bar Del Pino should be avoided. You are better off going into the village of Antagnod. 4/10