Sunday 19 December 2021

Seven Dials at Christmas, Central London

 One of London's most distinctive junctions, Seven Dials puts on its glad rags for the festive season.

The Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Central London


Originally built in 1858 and redeveloped and expanded at the turn of the Millennium, the Royal Opera House is one of Covent Garden's most distinctive and distinguished buildings. An unusual amalgamation of a giant greenhouse and a classical Greek temple, its facade somehow works.

Friday 5 November 2021

St Mary le Strand, Central London


A distinguished Baroque church from the early eighteenth century, St Mary le Strand is earmarked to become the centrepiece of a new pedestrianised piazza in the heart of London.  Surrounded by traffic for decades, this elegant church with its beautiful bell tower hasn't had the attention it deserves.

South Face of Somerset House, Central London

The neo-classical eighteenth century Somerset House sits on the north bank of the Thames. As a result, the grand terrace on the complex's south side catches plenty of sunlight, making it a pleasant spot for a winter coffee or a summer beer.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Autumn Colour in Brockwell Park, South London


Vibrant young trees break up the green hues of Brixton's local park with splashes of crimson.

Saturday 30 October 2021

The RRS Sir David Attenborough, Greenwich, South East London

Moored in Greenwich ready for its maiden voyage, the RRS Sir David Attenborough is billed as one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world. It was due to depart the UK on 17 November. The 129 metre ship was commissioned by the National Environment Research Council and built by Cammell Laird for operation by British Antarctic Survey.  It has a crew of 30.

Sunday 24 October 2021

Classic Cars at Girona Airport, Catalonia


An annual rally for classic cars that are at least 46 years old, Le Grand Tour travelled from Almeria to Zaragoza to Girona in 2021. The drivers parked the elegant old motors at Girona Airport before catching flights back to wherever they came from. In 2022, Le Grand Tour will travel from Girona via Andorra and Carcassonne through southern France to Toulon.

Gravel Ride Loop South from L'Escala, Catalonia

Involving some 300 metres of climbing, this 30 km loop takes in some rich scenery in just 90 minutes of intense riding on a mountain bike or gravel bike. To start you need to find Cami Del Termes, which runs east-to-west on the southern edge of L'Escala. As you head inland along this road, you'll come across a track (Cami Dels Escalencs) that plunges south (see pic below) into open countryside with fine views of the hills (see pic above) that are home to Castell del Montgrí. After a few kilometres, the track turns left and into Cami de Torre Ferrana, which heads down to the hamlet of Sobrestany, before skirting the main road and curving south to Ulla. From here, you follow suburban roads and tracks (marked for bikes) through Torroella de Montgrí (with the desolate castle high to your left). When you get to L'Estartit, you turn back north, climbing very steeply on a road (Carretera de l'Escala a l'Estartit) that takes you past an attractive stone manor house and up into the forest that covers the unpopulated high ground between the two seaside resort towns. For a while, this route becomes a rough track, covered in stones and scree, before descending to meet smooth, inviting tarmac for the fast run back to L'Escala.

Carretera de l'Escala a l'Estartit, near L'Escala, Catalonia


Running from Montgo towards L'Estartit, this serene forest road passes a camp site and climbs upwards through the trees before fizzling out into a gravel track that crosses the hill top.  It is a pleasure to cycle, particularly downhill (from south to north): As you swoop along this empty tarmac, you are sure to have a smile on your face.

Sant Pere de l'Escala, Catalonia


This substantial eighteenth century church in the heart of L'Escala has a handsome Baroque facade, almost worthy of a cathedral. 

Saturday 23 October 2021

Rupit, Catalonia

In the Collsacabra mountains, the ancient village of Rupit straddles the eponymous river. Even on a tranquil sunny day in Autumn, there is an adventure sports vibe - the buildings have the kind of solidity you might associate with Alpine settlements. You can park your car for a few euros and wander across the hanging rope bridge into the heart of Rupit, where you will find hardy medieval architecture, cafes, craft shops and probably scores of fellow tourists. Still, you can quickly lose the throng by venturing into the atmospheric side streets and discovering the many different vantage points from which you can admire the way in which Rupit blends perfectly into the rugged Catalan landscape.

Walks around L' Avenc de Tavertet, Catalonia

Renovated by the commentator and politician Matthew Parris and his family, L' Avenc de Tavertet is a sixteenth century manor house set on a stunning escarpment. To get up to the two small car parks north of the big house, you need to take some tortuous country roads, complete with potholes and steep gradients. Alternatively, you could cycle here or hike part of the long-distance GR-151 route, which traverses the crags of L'Avenc. In any case, it is well worth the effort for the far-reaching views from what feels like the roof of the world. There are some trails that work their way through the undulating forest behind the house. Although the signs are intermittent, you should be able to find your way back to the cliff edge.

Monday 18 October 2021

Olympic Flame Monument, L'Escala, Catalonia


On the northern edge of L'Escala is a dramatic sculpture by Rosa Serra to commemorate the arrival of the Olympic torch ahead of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Brockwell Park, South London


After hosting several festivals and partying hard, Brockwell Park is patched up for the autumn

Monday 13 September 2021

Railton Road, South London

Running between Brixton and Herne Hill, Railton Road is lined with an assemble of elegant Victorian architecture. Partially closed to motorised traffic, this is a popular through route for commuters on push bikes.

Friday 27 August 2021

Agios Prokopios Hotel, Ios, Greece

The Agios Prokopios Hotel is in a very convenient location, not far from the island's port, a respectable beach, a bus stop and a steep path up to Ios Chora.  Housing cool en-suite rooms with thick stone walls built around an attractive pool, this is a comfortable and quite stylish place to stay. It has a great collection of sun loungers (in all shapes and sizes) and luxurious pool towels. But some of the rooms are pretty compact and there is very little space to hang your damp towels and swimming costumes. It can also be tricky to find a shady spot in which to eat the somewhat lacklustre breakfast - the orange juice isn't fresh, there is no fruit salad and the coffee is mediocre. Still, the hot food is okay, and there maybe some decent pastries on offer. 7/10

Mylopotas Beach, Ios, Greece

A long arc of golden sand, Mylopotas Beach is very popular with visitors to Ios. But it doesn't feel crowded, even in August. There is plenty of space between the sun loungers, which are available to rent at fairly low prices. The water sports equipment is also good value, and the sand is soft enough to accommodate volleyball and other games. With the exception of the FarOut beach club, most of the restaurants, bars and cafes that line the road are low key and unobtrusive. A couple of bakers offer decent sandwiches and pastries for lunch. Dozens of youthful tourists catch the bus service (tickets €1.60 each way), which runs every 15 minutes up and down the tortuous road from the Chora.

Thursday 26 August 2021

Lord Byron Restaurant, Ios Chora, Greece


On the corner of a small and shady square in the warren-like old town, Lord Byron is far more charismatic and quirky than most of the other bars and restaurants on Ios. The maître d' enjoys a bit of banter and isn't afraid to guide you away from dishes she thinks you won't like. The menu highlights include enormous and well-seasoned steaks with unusual condiments at reasonable prices. While the atmospheric interior has the air of a treasure trove, the outside tables offer some good people and cat watching opportunities. 7/10

Walk up to Odyseas Elytis, Ios, Greece

The 360 degree views of Ios are the main reason to hike up to the (modern) amphitheater, known as Odyseas Elytis, overlooking the main town. From the top of the hill, you can take in the trio of churches perched above the white washed alleyways of the Chora, the islands in the distance and even part of the golden sand on Mylopotas beach. On the way up, you will pass a series of dilapidated windmills, as well as a derelict stone tower - nods to Ios' long history. For the best vantage point, be sure to climb up on to the roof terrace of the strange cuboid building at the top.

Panagia Gremiotissa, Ios, Greece

If you work your way upwards through the white-washed alleyways of Ios Chora, you will soon find the path climbing up to the serene eighteenth century Church Panagia Gremiotissa. Catch your breath and admire the view from the shady flagstone courtyard before taking the steps up to trio of chapels overlooking the church. From the highest chapel, you'll have commanding views across the town, the harbour and the terrace hills of Ios. You should be able to make out the ruins of the Bronze age settlement of Skarkou in the distance. Best to do this walk in the morning (when it is cooler) or in the evening to catch the sunset (potentially with dozens of others).

The Port, Ios, Greece

Compact and convenient, the port at Ios is lined with cafes and restaurants and is close to some of the island's best beaches and main town. In the summer, it typically hosts a modest array of yachts, as well as a mocked up pirate ship, which serves as a bar.

Monday 23 August 2021

Amvrosia Restaurant, Filoti, Naxos


One of the first restaurants you will see as you arrive in the inland village of Filoti, Amvrosia has a dozen or so outdoor tables pleasantly shaded by trees. The service can be very slow, but the food is tasty and reasonably priced. Nicely-done risottos and salads are around nine euros each. This is a pleasant spot to linger over a long lunch a steamy summer's day. 7/10

Halki, Naxos, Greece

In the hilly heart of Naxos, Halki is a pleasant old village with neo-classical mansions, shady courtyards and a laid-back vibe. Although its cafes and galleries target tourists, the place is far from over-run, even in August. It was once the capital of Naxos thanks to its position in the fertile Tragea Valley.

E-biking in Naxos, Greece


Cycling across the hilly interior of Naxos can be hard work on a push bike, particularly when the wind strikes up. But exploring this sizeable and scenic island on an e-bike is a lot of fun, particularly if you find yourself on the many roads with virtually no traffic. The winding Epar Od Naxou-Chalkiou road from Halki  to Naxos Town is particularly empty and exhilarating, as you swoop through the craggy countryside.  You can hire e-bikes from several places in and around Naxos town, but Aurelia Bikes is both friendly and informative. And they have an arrangement with a restaurant in Filoti that enables you to recharge your bike batteries while you have lunch.

Sunday 22 August 2021

520 Cocktail Bar, Chora, Naxos, Greece

If you get to the 520 Cocktail Bar in good time, your pricey drink can come with a fine view of the hypnotic sunset over Naxos town's marina.  The cocktails (about €10) are pretty good, but the service can be surly, perhaps reflecting the inherent tension in a bar that is trying to create a cool vibe, while letting in lots of tourists. Still, for a sundowner, 520 is hard to beat.

Temple of Apollo, Naxos, Greece

The remains of an unfinished temple built in 530 BC, this massive marble gateway stands on an islet opposite Naxos town. The portal's four marble parts weigh about 20 tons each, according to the island's official web site. Accessible via a wave-washed walkway, the islet is a favourite spot to take in the sunset. It also offers sweeping views of the island itself.

Naxos Town, Greece

Combining buzz and beauty, Naxos Town is a warren of white-washed alleyways tumbling down from a Venetian castle, dating from the thirteenth century. Beyond the attractive yacht-lined waterfront are restaurants and bars aplenty, nestled in among the steps and archways that characterise the old town. You'll also find charming squares, splashes of greenery and fairly tasteful boutiques. It is well worth exploring for a few hours.

Saturday 21 August 2021

Agia Anna Beach, Naxos, Greece

A long arc of softish sand, Agia Anna Beach is lined with some fairly funky bars and cafes. Although much of the beach is taken up by for-hire sun loungers, there are some spacious sections where you can lay down your towel for free. The daily rate of loungers varies depending on where you are on the beach and the quality of the furniture. The only real downside it working your way through the almost relentless traffic on route to the sand.

Cycling Around South West Naxos, Greece

Once you leave the coastline, the roads of Naxos are pretty much empty, even in August. But you may have to contend with some very strong winds, some sharp gradients and perhaps a herd of goats, being shepherded by a lame sheep dog. Still, some of the long descents in the south west of the island are a joy to ride, even on a €7 a day hire bike (a heavy hybrid). You'll also pass the odd historic landmark, as well as picturesque white-washed chapels. 

Alyko Beach, Naxos


This fairly secluded arc of coarse beige sand can be pretty quiet even in August. Although it lacks most amenities, this is a cafe-bar at the north end. Service is slow, but is in keeping with the laid-back ambiance of this backwater beach.

Friday 20 August 2021

Evening Ferry from Piraeus, Athens to Naxos, Greece

Blue Star Ferries runs a 17.30 ferry from Piraeus (the port of Athens) that sails out to The Lesser Cyclades at a leisurely pace. An adult ticket for the five hour journey to Naxos is just €27.5, but it can be very busy on board, particularly when Ryanair is offering cheap flights from Dublin to Athens. During the pandemic, boarding can be slow and there may be a lengthy wait for the ferry to actually leave the port. Still, on a sunny evening, you should be able to find an outside table at the stern of the ferry from where you can watch Piraeus shrink into the distance and the sun go down.  Moreover, the catering on board is okay and reasonably priced, while the good humoured crew are tolerant of inebriated teenagers on tour.

Sokaki Cafe, Eth. Antistasis, Nafplio, Greece

An eclectic cafe-bar in the heart of Nafplio, Sokaki combines good service with vintage fixtures and furnishing. The outside tables tend to be full, creating a buzzy vibe.  But, at more than three euros for a coffee and five euros for a hot chocolate with cream, Sokaki isn't cheap.

Thursday 19 August 2021

Kakanarakis 1986, Vasilissis Olgas, Nafplio, Greece

With a dozen or so smartly-dressed tables on one of Nafplio's most attractive streets, Kakanarakis 1986 is an appealing place to eat. Even when there appears to be spare capacity, the waiters need to get the nod from the matriarch before you can sit down. The taverna-style food is fresh, tasty and reasonably priced (13 euros for grilled lamb and chips, for example) and the service is polished.  Both beer and wine are cheap. You should enjoy a meal here. 8/10

Monday 16 August 2021

Walk from Kardamyli towards the Vyros Gorge, The Peloponnese, Greece

From old Kardamyli, a surprisingly broad stone path climbs steeply up into the hills and towards the Vyros Gorge. After some fairly strenuous hiking, you'll reach a flattish stretch that runs along the edge of the gorge. From this path, you can cut back up a short sharp climb up to the brooding stone church of Agia Sophia, which sits on a high rocky outcrop with views over the coastline. When you return to the gorge itself, you should be able to make out the sixteenth century monastery of Lykaki, surrounded by cypress trees, in the distance. In the height of summer, when there is no water in the gorge and relatively little shade, this flat stretch might be as far as you get before heading back to Kardamyli. But even in August, the countryside is green enough and dramatic enough to make this a very rewarding walk.

Sunday 15 August 2021

Old Kardamili, The Peloponnese, Greece

A short stroll inland  from the centre of Kardamili, along a stone path with period lamp posts, takes you to a cluster of abandoned fortified tower-houses and the Byzantine church of Agios Spyridon. Even in August, there may be nobody around, allowing you to explore this atmospheric site for yourself. You'll find an arched gate, stone towers characteristic of the Mani region, a forge, an underground cistern, a mill, and a fountain. But there is a small charge to enter the museum housed in part of the nineteenth century Mourtzinos fortress. 

Kardamili Bay, The Peloponnese, Greece


There is secluded and peaceful bay just south of the centre of Kardamili.  Home to a clutch of small boats, this bay is a low-key launch pad for various water sports and for a swim over to the nearby island, which has its own chapel. However, signposts warn the island is private property.

Dioskouri Taverna, Kardamyli, Greece

An unassuming eatery serving Greek staples, Dioskouri Taverna has outside tables in an enviable location on a shady terrace with sweeping sea views. Although not haute cuisine, the food is fresh, generous and reasonably priced. A large lamb souvlaki is €13, while a seafood platter (pic below) for two is €32. A decent Nema beer is €3.70. The service can be sporadic, but you'll be entertained by the antics of the local feral cats. 7/10

Wednesday 4 August 2021

Ruskin Park, Denmark Hill, South East London


Although it is smaller than most south London green spaces, Ruskin Park offers big skies and sweeping views towards central London.

Sunday 18 July 2021

Brasted, Kent


Although it is somewhat blighted by the busy A25, Brasted is a handsome village on the fringes of some timeless Kent countryside - great cycling country. From Toy's Hill to the south, the fast descent down shady Chart Lane is fun, but make sure you slam on the brakes as you arrive at the T-junction. Some foolhardy cyclists ride north up Rectory Lane, which bleeds into Brasted Hill - a fearsomely steep climb on to the ridge that overlooks London. Fortunately, this lane is almost car-free, meaning you can zig-zag your way across the gradient.

Saturday 17 July 2021

Beer Hawk, The Gallery South Bank Tower Estate, Stamford Street, Central London


A laid back bar serving craft beers and old-school snacks, the Beer Hawk has a battery of outside tables surrounded by the glass and steel of the nearby office blocks. Away from the tourists traipsing up and down the South Bank, it can be a good spot to catch the afternoon sun.

Peckham Bazaar, Consort Road, South London

Specialising in fascinating Balkan fare, this restaurant rarely puts a foot wrong. The sumptuous and varied dishes - ranging from marinated octopus with new potatoes to sirloin kebab with Greek fava to pan-fried kourkoubines (pasta) with wild mushrooms and butternut squash - will have you waxing lyrical.  The multitude of flavours and textures make for a really satisfying and stimulating meal. But, take note, the dishes come in a random order whenever they are ready, so be prepared to share your choices with your fellow diners. And it is very easy to over order.  While the food is fairly priced, some of the wines and beers are a tad pricey for a neighbourhood restaurant. Still, the service is assured and there is a pleasant buzz, both indoors and on the covered patio.  For a relaxed meal with close friends and family, the Peckham Bazaar should be on the shortlist. 8/10

Thursday 3 June 2021

The Churchill Arms, Paxford, Blockley, Gloucestershire

A tad pricey, the Churchill Arms is a gastro-pub with its roots in the seventeenth century. It retains its beamed ceilings and flagstone floors, but much of the interior decor (and the ambiance) signals pretentious hotel, rather than traditional hostelry. The menu is fairly short and safe, although most of the classic dishes come with a twist, such as cod with curried mussels. Costing £17, the fish and chips is one of the cheapest main courses (fillet of beef is a heady £28). The portions are fairly modest, so you may need to top up with a sticky toffee pudding (£7) - this is catering for a well-heeled Cotswolds crowd. Still, the dishes are nicely done and well-presented. 7/10

Michael's Mediterranean Restaurant, the High Street, Chipping Campden

A tasteful Greek restaurant housed in one of the fine old buildings on Chipping Campden's historic high street, Michael's has a leafy courtyard garden at the back, as well as a few tables indoors and at the front. The young waiting staff serve decent meze (£18.50 to share), seafood mariniere (£35 for two), mousakka (£14.50) and other Greek stables, with a smile.  Wine by the glass and the bottles of beer are a tad pricey for Gloucestershire, but Campden is on the tourist trail. 8/10

Wednesday 2 June 2021

The Kings Arms, High Street, Mickleton, Gloucestershire

The Kings Arms is a traditional pub serving respectable food, including British pub classics, such as fish and chips (£15), and some slightly more adventurous fare, such as mussels and frites (£16.50), and balsamic and sweet chilli beef salad (also £15). The portions are generous and the seafood is surprisingly fresh. The deserts are particularly good, while the drinks are competitively priced (less than a fiver for a pint of Thatchers Gold cider or a glass of Sauvignon Blanc). There is a large garden at the back or you can sit inside, underneath the beams and soak up the old-school ambiance. 8/10 

Wednesday 31 March 2021

Riding through Greenwich, South East London

Often over-run with tourists, Greenwich is best seen on a bike, You can ride through the grounds of Greenwich's Old Naval College, which appears resplendent in the spring sunshine. If you are heading east, you'll emerge next to the riverside Trafalgar pub - a fine spot for a scenic pint. To get the heart beating faster, try riding up The Avenue, which runs through the heart of Greenwich Park and takes you to the Royal Observatory at the top of the hill.

Saturday 2 January 2021

The Ladywell Water Tower, Dressington Avenue, South East London

The Ladywell Water Tower was originally part of a workhouse built specifically for the elderly between 1897-1900, according to Historic England. It could house a total of 812 aged and infirm poor. .The water tower had a well 120 feet deep from which water was drawn to supply the laundry and local residents.  It now houses seven flats, an office and a telecoms mast at the top.