Saturday, 19 December 2020

Christmas in Covent Garden, Central London

 



In the hours before the UK Government imposed a tier 4 lockdown on London, parts of the capital's shopping districts were buzzing.  In Covent Garden, mulled wine, fake snow and lego sculptures were the order of the day.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Maison François, Duke Street, Central London

 



Housed in a grand building with high-ceilings and theatrical lighting, Maison François's striking Art Deco dining room can imbue any meal with a sense of occasion. The French menu is safe and stimulating at the same time. The emphasis is on classic French dishes made with high-quality ingredients, precision and passion.  Among the starters, the rock oysters, sauce mignonette (£21 for six) and the assiette de charcuterie (£15) are both top-notch takes on traditional favourites, while the anchovies, ricotta and thyme, with grilled bread (£9.50) is a treat for the taste buds.  On a cold winter's day, the special main of green lentils with bacon and a Toulouse sausage (about £17) is hearty and enjoyable, particularly when combined with the moreish pommes Anna à la truffe (£7) and the rustic cabbage, anchoïade, breadcrumbs and chilli (£8). For fish lovers, the halibut in a mussels sauce is a tad pricey at £29, but gets rave reviews, while the hungry might opt for half a roast chicken cooked in herbs for £24. The very extensive wine list starts at about £26 a bottle and is heavily orientated towards France and its European neighbours. If you are celebrating, the Toffoli Prosecco Frizzante (£36 per bottle) is a decent option. Providing proficient, yet relaxed, service, Maison François successfully occupies the middle ground between fine dining and a fun meal out. 8/10

Sunday, 6 December 2020

J Sheekey, St Martin's Court, Central London

 


On a chilly December evening in the Covid era, the distinguished Atlantic bar of J Sheekey is a comforting place to take refuge. A bustle of bartenders mix and serve drinks frenetically while you perch on high chairs and survey the black and white prints of celebrities that adorn the walls. In the dining room the small army of staff flow backwards and forwards shepherding eye-catching plates of seafood in all directions.  Among the starters, the chargrilled squid served with roasted chorizo, padron peppers and smoked butter (£14.50) is both nourishing and flavoursome. Even more impressive and substantial is the Atlantic Bar platter of seafood, which includes oysters, prawns, mussels, clams, ceviche, cockles and whelks. At £25 per person, it is a punchy starter, but this is fresh and scintillating seafood. Among the main courses, the Sheekey’s fish stew (£26), with garlic mayonnaise, is more prosaic, but enjoyable all the same. You should find something you like on the lengthy wine list, but at a price. If you aren't too fussy, the Terres d'Azur Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp and fairly affordable option at £36 per bottle. All-in-all, J Sheekey is a refined and rewarding place to indulge a fish fetish. (8/10)

Sunday, 8 November 2020

The Thames, East of Greenwich, London

 


On a surprisingly mild November day, the Thames is like a millpond. The meandering moody stretch between the Royal Naval College and the Thames Barrier is marked by industrial debris, shards of greenery, flashy riverside apartments, the O2 dome and the soaring cable car over the river.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Giardini Luzzati, Genoa



Stumble on Giardini Luzzati early in the evening and you might find talented eight year olds kicking a ball around and locals sipping aperitifs in this versatile open space in Genoa's old quarter. The square also affords views of some of the city's most venerable landmarks, including the charismatic bell towers of the 12th century San Donato church (below) and the Church of Sant'Agostino Genoa (above).

Chiesa di Santa Maria di Castello, Genoa

 



Dating from the 12th century, this well-preserved Romanesque church and convent of Santa Maria di Castello sits proudly on high ground in the heart of Genoa.

Hotel Palazzo Grillo, Piazza delle Vigne, Genoa

 


You may have to navigate some very narrow and seedy alleyways to reach the small square which is home to Hotel Palazzo Grillo. But it is worth the effort. Staying in this dignified and handsome historic building, which dates from 1545, is a treat.  Many of the 25 bedrooms, which are comfortable and well-equipped, still have striking period features and look out over the charismatic buildings clustered in the heart of the old city.

Le Rune, Salita Inferiore di Sant'Anna, Piazza del Portello, Genoa




One of many good restaurants woven into Genoa's tight-knit historic centre, Le Rune stands out for serving exceptional Italian cuisine at very moderate prices. With a regularly changing selection of five or so dishes (costing between €10 and €20 each) per course, the food is both imaginative and generous.  For example, one of the primo dishes (pictured above) combines the delicate flavours of three different porcini mushrooms with some excellent carpaccio. The pasta and secondi dishes also major on fresh ingredients expertly prepared. You can order a respectable bottle of local wine for just €15.  The outdoor tables are spread over a multi-level garden, which backs on to a funicular railway, adding to the atmosphere. With patient and friendly service, Le Rune's proprietors have perfected the art of the neighbourhood restauranteur.  9/10

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Santa Margherita Ligure, Liguria, Italy

 


One of a clutch of resort towns on the Italian Riviera, Santa Margherita Ligure is a colourful and comfortable place nestling below the green hills of Liguria. Better still, it is easily reachable from Genoa via train. The beach is all pebbles, but that doesn't stop the locals lounging about in the sunshine.

Via XX Settembre, Genoa

 


The main shopping drag in Genoa, Via XX Settembre features elaborate mosaics, classical colonnades,  lofty stone arches, period street lamps and grandiose 19th century buildings. Although most of the shops are nothing special, this distinguished avenue is well worth a peek. 

Travello Beach, Near Rapello, Italy

 

A lovely little stretch of seaside, marred only by the continuous stream of high season traffic, Travello Beach has tall colourful houses, a pebbly bay and a wooded cove, which also serves as a memorial to locals that died in the Great War - many of the trees bear small plaques. There are also dreamy views across the small boats to the hills sloping down into the sea. Overlooking Travello is a sixteenth century watchtower. This is a fine spot to linger if you can find sufficient space to spread out.

Piazza delle Erbe, Genoa

 


A buzzy and colourful clearing in the midst of the narrow alleyways of Genoa, Piazza delle Erbe is a popular spot for an early evening al fresco drink.

Via San Lorenzo, Genoa

 

One of old Genoa's most atmospheric and longest streets, Via San Lorenzo runs through the heart of the city and past the elegant cathedral after which it is named.

The Italian Riviera, near Rapallo

 

The dramatic coastline near Rapallo 

Chiesa di San Giorgio, Genoa

 

The latest in a succession of churches to occupy this site, the neo-classical exterior of the Chiesa di San Giorgio was constructed in the mid 19th century.

Santissimo Nome di Maria e degli Angeli Custodi, Genoa

 

 Hidden away in the back streets of Genoa, the ornate pastel yellow facade of the Santissimo Nome di Maria e degli Angeli Custodi provides a striking splash of colour in a gloomy neighbourhood.


Chiesa di San Pietro in Banchi, Genoa

 

The construction of this handsome sixteenth century church was financed by the rent from the shops below it, according to the Comune di Genova. Today, a couple of gaudy retail outlets continue to bring Chiesa di San Pietro in Banchi back down to earth.

Monday, 10 August 2020

Via XX Settembre, Genoa


A grand neo-classical and dead straight nineteenth century thoroughfare, Via XX Settembre stands in stark contrast to the higgledy-piggledy medieval maze that makes up much of historic Genoa.  Behind its ornate archways are many of the city's main retail outlets.  About half way down is the aptly-named Monumental Bridge.

Belvedere Castelletto, Genoa

With commanding views across Genoa and its port, the Belvedere Castelletto is a fine vantage point from which to get the lay of the land in Italy's sixth largest city. You can reach it via a couple of ornate elevators, which whisk you up from the medieval streets below. Note, you are supposed to buy a ticket for the ride.

Trattoria Rosmarino, Salita del Fondaco, Genoa

 



Located close to the Piazza De Ferrari, Trattoria Rosmarino offers tasty and authentic Italian fare at competitive prices in sleek surroundings. But the service can be painfully slow when the staff struggle to cope with a full set of covers.

Via Garibaldi, Genoa

 


Via Garibaldi is lined with handsome UNESCO-listed palazzos built in Genoa's heyday in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Today, these grand ornamental buildings, many decorated with elaborate frescos, are owned by banks or serve as municipal buildings and museums.

Isola delle Chiatte, Genoa

 

The pleasant stroll along the Via al Mare Fabrizio de André (a jetty) past Genoa's vast aquarium, offers sweeping views over the city's harbour and the eclectic ships it shelters.  You'll spot the Neptune, a Disney-esque replica of a Spanish galleon, as well as some massive cruise liners marooned by the pandemic. You'll end up on some floating barges, where you can sit down and soak up the maritime atmosphere.

Piazza De Ferrari, Genoa

 


Venturing out into the wide open space of Piazza De Ferrari from the narrow alleyways in Genoa's old town can be something of a surprise. With its vast circular fountain, polished flagstones and distinguished nineteenth century buildings, the square feels like it doesn't quite belong in this otherwise gritty maritime city.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Osteria Le Colonne, Piazza Invrea, Genoa



With socially-distanced tables laid out in the piazza in front of the handsome Cattedrale di San Lorenzo,  Osteria Le Colonne serves well-presented Italian food with a view. The menu mixes classic and unusual dishes, such as a prawns and courgette spelt salad (pictured below). Selecting one of the latter can be a tad risky. But for a first course and just 10 euros, the cannelloni filled with spinach and ricotta cheese and accompanied by walnuts (pictured above) is a bit special.  The waiters are friendly and talkative, helping to justify the punchy cover charge. Although it is a little pricey by Genoa's standards,  Osteria Le Colonne is a memorable and enjoyable place to eat. 8/10

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, Genoa

 



With its distinctive monochromatic striped marble walls and soaring arches, the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo is one of the symbols of the maritime city of Genoa. The current building dates from the eleventh century, but it was remodelled in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the Romanesque style. Today, its magnificent facade is marred by some longstanding scaffolding.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Cycling a Circuit through Le Bar Sur Loup and Gourdon, Alpes-Maritimes, France

 




With just over 600 metres of climbing in less than 30km, this scenic, and sometimes spectacular, ride is one big up and down. The long drag up to Gourdon is rewarded with sweeping views across the thickly-wooded landscape down to the Med.  Although the clifftop village is a tourist trap, it is a dramatic one with some charm. The ride back down to Le Bar Sur Loup is fun and fast.

Riverside Walk from Pont de Loup, Alpes-Maritimes, France



If you follow the verdant riverside path north from the hamlet of Pont du Loup, overshadowed by the remains of the bridge, you should soon find a secluded spot where you can use the rocks to dip in and out of the cool clean water. Overlooking cascades and some small stretches of white water, the path climbs through the trees eventually reaching a narrow green iron footbridge straddling the Loup below. If you turn back here, the round trip is probably about 3km. A very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Market day in Valbonne, Alpes-Maritimes, France


The medieval village of Valbonne holds a bustling market every Friday morning. Even during a pandemic, scores of stalls line the narrow streets, peddling everything from local produce to clothes and jewellery. In the heart of the village, the seventeenth century place des Arcades is a good spot to take a break, have a drink and people watch. Once the market subsides, you can wander around the pleasant pastel alleyways in peace and take a stroll down to the lush riverbank.

Le Bistrot du Sommelier, Rue Eugène Giraud, Valbonne, France

 


Serving a generous two-course lunch for just €17.50, Le Bistrot du Sommelier is a good place to feed a hungry family. The service is pretty pacey and the traditional French fare is well-prepared and tasty. If you choose not to have a starter, the medley of classic deserts makes for a fun and filling way to conclude the meal. You can sit on the terrace in the street or in the surprisingly smart dining room.

Cycle Ride East of Le Bar-sur-Loup, Alpes-Maritimes, France

 

Taking in the medieval settlements of Tourettes-sur-Loup (pictured below), Vence,  Sant-Paul-de-Vence (pictured above) and Le Colle-sur-Loup, this 40km circular route from Le Bar-sur-Loup is both scenic and stimulating. However, the traffic can get a bit dicey in places. 

Le Bar-sur-Loup, Alpes-Maritimes, France



A semi-fortified medieval village nestling in the steep hills overlooking the Côte d'Azur, Le Bar-sur-Loup is a sleepy place with just a handful of shops and restaurants. From the main square, which boasts some handsome historic buildings and sweeping views, atmospheric stepped alleyways lead down to the Avenue Amiral de Grasse - the main through-route. Although there are some pleasant walks in the vicinity of the village, buses and taxis are rare, so you really need a car or a road bike to explore the locality.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Cycle Ride through Le Bar Sur Loup-Valbonne-Grasse-Gourdon, Alpes-Maritimes, France


Taking in almost 1km of climbing in just over 50 km, this is a tough ride, particularly in the summer heat. But Valbonne, Grasses and Gourdon are all picturesque pitstops and there are views aplenty.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Hôtel Particulier des Jasmins, Le Bar-sur-Loup, Alpes-Maritimes, France

 


It can be tough to get a table at Hôtel Particulier des Jasmins in the summer season, but it is worth persevering for the setting - it is housed in a venerable old building and there is a lovely view over the valley from the garden terrace. While the sheltered tables have crisp white cloths, the transparent tables in the open strike a more modern vibe. Hôtel Particulier des Jasmins serves well-presented and tasty French fare at reasonable prices, given the dearth of competition in Le Bar-sur-Loup. The fish is particularly good and be sure to leave room for the medley of creamy desserts. Service can be a little patchy, but you will want to linger anyway. 8/10

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Traditional Cordonnier, Nice Old Town

 


One of the timeless shops still scattered around Nice's old town.

Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate de Nice, Nice


A handsome Baroque building, the Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate de Nice is somewhat submerged in the cafes and shops of Vieux Nice. The surrounding bustle makes it hard to fully appreciate the splendid seventeenth century facade and the adjoining eighteenth century bell tower.

Palais de Justice, Nice, France

 


Built in the late nineteenth century in a neoclassical style, Nice's imposing courthouse is illuminated in patriotic colours at night. 

Monday, 3 August 2020

Rue Saint-François de Paule, Nice

 


Lined with fairly bohemian cafes and restaurants, the largely pedestrianised Rue Saint-François de Paule is one of Nice's most atmospheric thoroughfares. It also boasts a couple of grand ornamental buildings, such as the late nineteenth century opera house (pictured below) and the neoclassical eighteenth century Saint-François-de-Paule church (pictured above).

Rue de la Préfecture, Nice, France


Overlooked by the elegant Eglise de l'Annonciation dite de Sainte-Rita, Rue de la Préfecture is one of the main drags in Nice's extensive old town. It runs from the Place du Palais de Justice east towards the park that blankets Colline du Château.

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Windsor Great Park, Berkshire

 


From the higher elevations in the eponymous Great Park, you can see Windsor Castle rising above the treetops, like something out of fairy tale.

Windsor, Berkshire

 

Lightening up the mood in Windsor, three customised white mopeds strike a pose in a town centre almost devoid of tourists.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Dawson's Hill, South East London




Dawson's Hill is a small park with a big view. You can pretty much see the whole London skyline from the sloping lawns where teenagers like to gather with a few beverages on a warm summer evening.  It backs on to a blocky housing estate, which some imaginative commentators have likened to a Tuscan hill town. 

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Brockley View, South East London



The aptly-named Brockley View offers vistas of Canary Wharf, as well as a diverse mix of housing.

Friday, 5 June 2020

Grand Union Walk Housing, Regents Canal, North London



Designed by Grimshaw Architects, the submarine age Grand Union Walk comprises 10 three-bedroom houses, a one-bedroom maisonette and a bedsit, built in 1988.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Hyde Vale, Greenwich, South East London




Part of the West Greenwich Conservation Area, Hyde Vale curves round and down from the Blackheath escarpment to Greenwich.  "Hyde Vale rivals Crooms Hill for its architectural pretensions, with an impressive sequence of eighteenth and nineteenth century villas and town houses," says the conservation appraisal report, which also notes the street has fine examples of granite cobble gutters and single or double kerbs - a distinctive feature of the area.

College Approach, Greenwich, South East London



One of a group of a grade II listed buildings on the car congested College Approach, the Admiral Hardy pub was built in 1836. Like every other pub in England, it is closed during lockdown.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

The Millennium Bridge, The River Thames, Central London




Connecting St. Paul's Cathedral and The Tate Modern, the steel Millennium Bridge is both muscular and elegant - and unusually empty during lockdown.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

General James Wolfe Statue, Greenwich Park, South East London




Built in 1930, this Grade II listed statue of General James Wolfe (1727-1759) commemorates his victory against the French at Quebec which secured Canada for the British. Wolfe, whose parents lived in Macartney House on the edge of the park, died in the battle.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

The Darent Valley, Kent

Fackenden Lane
Running down from Dartford in the north to Sevenoaks in the south, the Darent Valley is a bucolic stretch of Kent countryside, which is a pleasure to cycle around (if you don't mind some challenging hills). It is home to several aesthetically-pleasing villages, such as Eynsford and Shoreham, castles and manor houses. The rich history and verdant landscape draw day-trippers, but much of the area remains surprisingly rural and surprisingly peaceful. Although the southern end of the Darent Valley is ringed by motorways, the river itself is home to rare wildlife, such as otter and water vole, according to the Darent Valley Landscape Partnership.

Friday, 22 May 2020

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Whitehall, Central London


Dating from the 1860s, the Italianate Foreign and Commonwealth Office is  one of the most handsome buildings in Whitehall.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020