The great es­cape

Want to hide from the piped carols and par­ty­ing? SARA WHEELER has some ideas

The Oldie - - CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE 2018 -

Sea, sun and soli­tude

If you’re spend­ing De­cem­ber dream­ing of sum­mer get­aways, the Minho re­gion, tucked up along­side the At­lantic and the Span­ish bor­der, is heaven it­self, with few tourists even in sum­mer (I was there in July). The long beaches are su­perb and empty – a world away from the Al­garve. I got an Airbnb with a pool in Acife, then moved in­land to moun­tains and me­dieval hill­top vil­lages. One of the plea­sures of trav­el­ling in an in­creas­ingly ho­mogenised Europe is the dis­cov­ery of re­gions like Minho where su­per­mar­kets aren’t iden­ti­cal to those at home. Take a tra­di­tional Por­tuguese Sun­day lunch in Viana do Castelo or by the river at Ponte de Lima, above, one of the old­est set­tle­ments in the coun­try. lone­ly­­tu­gal

Un­der the ta­marind tree

I went to Sri Lanka for the first time in Jan­uary, and was en­chanted by this Ire­land-sized is­land. Mon­soon winds have wafted traders to Sri Lanka for mil­len­nia, and its an­cient ports re­tain the ease­ful el­e­ments of the Ori­ent. Dhow wings still rise from the wa­ter like fins and you can drink cof­fee un­der ta­marind trees heavy with pods. At dusk, ab­sorb the lan­guor of the wa­ter­front, where pa­pery but­ter­flies fret among the frangi­pani. Most of the an­cient city sites, and many of the tem­ples, are sit­u­ated in the cen­tral high­lands. To ex­plore them I stayed near Pidu­ran­gala in a charm­ing five-room guest-house called Back of Beyond, not a mis­lead­ing name. Half my clay-floored bath­room was open-air. Af­ter I washed my smalls and hung them on a banyan branch, a mon­key stole my knick­ers. sri­

Smoke your own ba­con

To min­imise fes­tive shop­ping, why not learn how to do your own smok­ing and cur­ing at Marsh Pig char­cu­terie in Clax­ton, Nor­folk? At a day course cost­ing £175, pun­ters get to make and take home ba­con, pancetta, bil­tong, beef jerky, sausages and salami. It’s great fun and you don’t need spe­cial kit at home to keep up the good work. marsh­

Tu­dor trim­mings

Per­fect for Nor­folk jaunts, whether at Christ­mas or all-year-round, is the re­launched Hales Hall, a nine-acre Tu­dor pile, 13 miles south-east of Nor­wich, which is gor­geous beyond be­lief. The 178ft Grade I-listed brick barn is the old­est of its kind in the land, with 180 rare loop­hole win­dows. Henry VII’S at­tor­ney­gen­eral built the moated main house, which sleeps 25, and there’s fur­ther ac­com­mo­da­tion in a cot­tage and gate­house. It’s great for a fam­ily party and you can ei­ther buy their cater­ing or take your own. I loved it. hale­

On the road

My el­dest son just bought a re­turn flight to LA with BA for un­der £400. You’d be lucky to get that price in Christ­mas week but why not go in Jan­uary, rent a car and drive north on the fa­bled Pa­cific Coast High­way to San Fran­cisco? In my opin­ion, it’s one of the best slices of that mon­u­men­tal road. Drive hard till past Carmel, then linger at Mon­terey (take Stein­beck’s Can­nery Row, which is set there), Santa Cruz and Pescadero. On the coastal point of the lat­ter I stayed at one of my favourite lodg­ings in the US – Pi­geon Point Light­house Hos­tel. (Don’t worry, there are pri­vate rooms.) visit­­cific-coasthigh­way-road-trip

Stay in a shed

I al­ways love the an­nual Shed of the Year con­test, so was pleased to find that one of this year’s short­listed places, in my home town of Bris­tol, has be­come a B&B, aptly called Shed and Break­fast. Well-placed be­tween Clifton Wood and the re­gen­er­ated wa­ter­front, this cute yel­low cabin, above, sleeps two (in a large dou­ble bed), with a pri­vate en­trance, kitchen and bath­room, from £70 a night. Get posh fish and chips at Salt & Malt at the new Cargo 2 de­vel­op­ment over­look­ing the har­bour­side at Wap­ping Wharf (yes, it’s in Bris­tol). In my Six­ties child­hood we could never have dreamed of such so­phis­ti­ca­tion at the smelly docks.


Au­then­tic Arts and Crafts

Emery Walker’s house in Ham­mer­smith, west Lon­don, has just re­opened af­ter a ma­jor re­furb and it’s an Arts and Crafts trea­sure. Sir Emery (1851-1933) was a ty­pog­ra­pher, print­maker, en­graver, pub­lisher and col­lec­tor, and his tall, nar­row home is burst­ing with trea­sures, in­clud­ing rare Is­lamic porce­lain and manuscripts. Guided tours only, book­able in ad­vance with a max­i­mum of eight vis­i­tors, are avail­able from March to Novem­ber. It’s a per­fect ex­cuse to spend Christ­mas read­ing up on 19th-cen­tury dec­o­ra­tive his­tory. Af­ter your visit, be sure to take a stroll along the Thames tow­path.


Fun for food­ies

Lonely Planet re­cently named the

pin­txos of San Se­bastián, above, as the world’s best food ex­pe­ri­ence. They’re es­sen­tially savoury canapés, though of­ten cooked to or­der. Try the home-cured an­chovies or cray­fish ravi­oli at Bar An­to­nio on Calle Ber­gara. (an­to­nio­ One piece of ad­vice: don’t call pin­txos ‘ta­pas’ when you’re in San Se­bastián. It’s a sen­si­tive is­sue to Basques, who don’t like their cui­sine to be per­ceived as mod­i­fied Span­ish dishes. They’ve only just calmed down over their strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence, so you don’t want them worked up again. (I wish them well). The sweep­ing La Con­cha coast on the south side of the Bay of Bis­cay is rightly world-fa­mous. The feast of the epony­mous pa­tron saint falls on 20th Jan­uary and los donos­tiar­ras (res­i­dents of the city) go to town on cel­e­bra­tions. It’s a great ex­pe­ri­ence, but avoid if you don’t like crowds.



Don’t laugh, snob­sters. A sin­gle friend on a re­stricted bud­get en­joys reg­u­lar bar­gains at Pon­tins. You don’t have to join in with com­mu­nal ac­tiv­i­ties so as my friend is a keen walker it suits her per­fectly. Cru­cially, there are ‘adult only’ slots that don’t in­volve swing­ing. Fournight Tur­key and Tin­sel pack­ages in De­cem­ber are still avail­able at Pake­field Hol­i­day Park near Low­est­oft in Suf­folk, above, for £79, half-board, with only £10 per night sin­gle oc­cu­pancy sup­ple­ment. Bed linen and tow­els aren’t in­cluded so take your own (though you can also buy them there), which is a great way to keep costs down. If you don’t fancy ei­ther tin­sel or tur­key (I don’t), there are even bet­ter deals at Pon­tins re­sorts in Jan­uary and Feb­ru­ary, again without a ki­dlet in sight.


The sweep­ing Con­cha bay in San Se­bastián, left, and Hales Hall in Nor­folk, above

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