A Scottish escape to the Highlands
The desire for fresh clean air steers you to the north of Scotland and its magnificent scenery. Although the climate there can be rather unpredictable, the normally mild spring makes this the perfect season for a road trip through the green natural landscapes of the mythical Highlands. Leave Edinburgh, heading in a north-westerly direction. On the way, just past the town of Falkirk, the Falkirk Wheel, a surreal construction, rises up between two canals. You will not believe your eyes as you watch this rotating boat lift, the only one of its kind in the world, as it connects the two canals of different altitude.
Day 1: The medieval setting of Stirling
After an hour and a half's drive, you will be struck by the breathtaking scenery of the Trossachs National Park. Before setting off to explore this rugged yet magnificent mountain valley, stop off in Stirling, a small city teeming with history. Your bed for the night is at the Colessio, a chic boutique hotel in a Victorian city-centre building. Climb up to imposing Stirling Castle, dominating the region from its hilltop position, before strolling along the cobbled streets of the old town. You make your way between the medieval homes of rich merchants, built between the 15th and 17th centuries. The excellent reputation of the Brea restaurant on Baker Street piques your appetite for fine food. This restaurant serves locally sourced produce and the rolled haddock stuffed with smoked salmon and served with mashed potato and dill cream is to die for. A tasty first day in the heart of Scotland.
33 Spittal Street
+44 (0)1786 448880
5 Baker Street
+44 (0)1786 446277
Day 2: The dramatic landscapes of the Highlands
Next day, head for the region's wide open spaces. Take a cruise on the 100-year-old Sir Walter Scott steamboat to explore the delights of Loch Katrine. One grandiose landscape after another unfolds as your boat sails peacefully by. Brown mountains slope gently down to the emerald-green shores of the lake. In the afternoon, motivate yourself to conquer the most popular summit in the Trossachs, Ben A'an. The climb takes an hour and a half through coniferous forests and then along a rocky path, offering fabulous views over this wooded region dotted with mysterious lochs. On your way back down, reward yourself with a well-deserved tea break and muffin at the lakeside Brenachoile Cafe.
Heading further west, you will discover more majestic landscapes in the Highlands. When you get to Fort William, a historic town famous for its pubs and their fine whiskies, check in to the Alexandra, an imposing manor-style hotel. Take time out in the lounge before setting off to visit one of the oldest distilleries on the west coast of the Highlands, in the fishing village of Oban. You will learn all about the whisky-making process before enjoying a sip of 14-year-old single malt, in moderation of course!
+44 (0)1877 376799
+44 (0)1397 702241
Day 3: The spectacular Isle of Skye
After a good night's sleep, make your way to Mallaig, where a ferry will take you over to Skye, the most spectacular of the Scottish islands. This volcanic land criss-crossed by long sea channels and countless lochs has always fired your imagination. You live out your dream surrounded by dramatic landscapes – rivers here, long sandy beaches there, barren hills on one side, deserted moorland on another. You decide to take a hike along the Cuillin Hills, past herds of black-faced sheep and castles belonging to ancestral clans.
In Dunvegan, you venture into the lands of the MacLeods. On a picture-postcard cliff stands a rather disturbing castle, the ancient ancestral home of the Chiefs of this powerful medieval clan. The colonies of seals basking on the rocks and the balletic moves of the sea birds add to the magic of the place. Close by, an old croft house welcomes you in for a cosy night's stay. At the Dunhallin Ard, you can warm yourself in front of a roaring fire and gaze out at the open sea through the floor-to-ceiling windows of this snug cottage. When you start to feel peckish, you only need to travel three kilometres to enjoy the divine cuisine on offer at The Three Chimneys, the top place for good food on the island.
Isle of Skye
+44 (0)1478 920014
The Three Chimneys
Isle of Skye
+44 (0)1470 511258
Mexico's gentle Pacific side
Do you dream about stunning beaches and spectacular sunsets against an ocean backdrop? Then head to the west of Mexico and its Pacific coast. If you go in May, you will miss the start of the rainy season. Leave sprawling Mexico City behind you as you set off for Puebla, one of the county's oldest cities, just a two-hour drive away.
Day 1: The colonial jewel of Puebla
During your short stopover in this historical UNESCO World Heritage Site, take time to admire the Talavera ceramic tiles that adorn the city's beautiful colonial palaces. Then take a look inside the Baroque Santo Domingo church, whose Rosary Chapel with its lavish gold leaf and stucco is an amazing sight to behold. You then decide to wander around the Bohemian Barrio del Artista district, where craftsmen and women display their talents out in the street.
For dinner tonight, book yourself a table at the restaurant of the flamboyant colonial Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía hotel. Try the local speciality, chiles en nogado, large green chillies stuffed with pork picadillo and a walnut sauce.
Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía
6 Sur 304
Callejon de los Sapos
+52 222 232 4513
Day 2: A sense of community in Oaxaca
Next day, jump back in your car and head to Oaxaca, the capital of the state of the same name. Desert landscapes dotted with candelabra-shaped cacti pass by on either side of the road. When you reach your destination, take a walk through the historic city centre with its rows of colourful facades and art galleries. Take in the bustling atmosphere of the zócalo, the main public square which is at its liveliest at the end of the day with musicians, balloon sellers and taco stands.
Next up, make for the roof-terrace of La Olla restaurant, where chef Pilar Cabrera serves up a black-bean soup and delicious chicken pipian, a dish smothered in a spicy pumpkin-seed sauce.
It is then time to go and relax at the Hotel con Corazón with rooms overlooking a pretty garden. By choosing this hotel, you help create a brighter future for Amerindian communities as it invests its profits in local educational projects.
+52 951 516 6668
Hotel con Corazón
División Oriente 129
Santa María del Marquesado
+52 951 427 7384
Day 3: Pacific horizons
On your third day in the heart of Mexico, you plunge deep into the tropical surroundings of the Pacific coast. Banana and coconut plantations line the road and a chorus of cicadas serenade you all the way to your seafront paradise tucked away in Puerto Escondido. Settle in at the Villas Carrizalillo hotel and simply enjoy doing nothing. Swimwear is the dress code of choice at this complex of sophisticated villas, perched on a clifftop overlooking Playa Carrizalillo. You cannot take your eyes off the ocean as you sit on the terrace of the hotel restaurant, enjoying a most befitting mango ceviche.
During your stay on the Pacific coast, well-known for its hippie atmosphere and big waves, you might like to visit the quiet beach of San Agustinillo, where you can enjoy a swim in its safe waters. Get up early to watch the fishermen as they cast their nets into the sea, accompanied by diving pelicans.
Itching to get out and see some culture? Then head off to Casa Wabi, a quite extraordinary art foundation, set amidst cactus fields in the middle of nowhere. This huge, stark concrete structure with its thatched roof holds exhibitions by major artists, but also creates a bridge between art and the region's communities through its foundation which aspires to bring different people together through art. It is a fascinating place!
71980 Puerto Escondido
+52 954 582 1735
Santiago Pinotepa Nacional Km. 113
71983 Puerto Escondido
+52 55 6395 1047
Gastronomic pilgrimage to Bologna
The glorious days of springtime make you want to celebrate life. So, what about tasting the dolce vita in Bologna, one of Italy's most vibrant historic cities. As you wander around getting to know the capital of Emilia-Romagna, look up at the tall towers rising above the medieval centre and its impressive features.
Day 1: Art on the palette and plate
In the morning, climb to the top of Asinelli Tower, built by Bolognese nobility, and admire the beautiful patchwork of red clay tiles on the houses of the historic centre below. Then, plunge into its narrow streets, lined with opulent palaces and modest buildings joined together by kilometres of arcades. The lure of pasta leads you to the doors of Sfoglia Rina. Take a seat in this institution which has been serving fresh pasta since 1963. For your first meal in Bologna, treat yourself to a dish of passatelli (pasta made from bread crumbs, eggs and grated Parmesan) served with carrot sauce, roast endive and pecorino. After this outstanding lunch, it is time for an artistic interlude. So, why not go and marvel at the collections of religious paintings on show at the Pinacoteca in the University quarter?
Still reeling from the sight of timeless masterpieces by Raphael, Tintoretto and many more, you lose yourself in the maze-like streets of the historic centre with their countless shades of red. Then, emerge from the crazy charm of this labyrinth and back out into the sunshine bathing the elegant Piazza Maggiore. It is time for an aperitivo on the terrace of Caffè Vittorio Emanuele. Sip your drink and people-watch as the evening passegiata passes in front of San Petrino Basilica. The evening promises to be a sophisticated affair at I Portici, your boutique hotel with its minimalist design, tucked away in an elegant palace. You allow yourself the extravagance of dining in the theatrical setting of its Michelin-starred restaurant. Young chef Emanuele Petrosino transports you to seventh heaven with his pumpkin risotto with sea urchin, seaweed and lime!
Via Castiglione 5/B
+39 051 9911710
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna
Via Belle Arti 56
+39 051 420 9411
I Portici Hotel
Via dell'Indipendenza 69
+39 051 42185
Day 2: Local markets and top tables
Bologna promotes the art of eating well. Next day, with your gourmet hat on, you set off in search of new foodie places. Your love of good food takes you to Piazzetta Pasolini, near to the Mambo modern art museum, where every Saturday morning, advocates of the slow food movement hold a local produce market. Stalls of vegetables, cheeses and fresh pastas make you hungry. Make your way to another market, the Mercato delle Erbe, and lunch like the locals do. At the back of this market hall, almost collapsing under its regional produce, small restaurants offer typical Bolognese dishes. At Via Lattea, sample mortadella, a simple appetiser, washed down with a glass of Sangiovese, a full-bodied red wine. At last, the time has come to taste a ragù, that famous tagliatelle dish in a Bolognese sauce. Exquisite!
After this feast, your sweet tooth gets the better of you and you make your way to Piazza Cavour. There is already a queue outside Cremeria Funivia. A few minutes' patience and you will melt with pleasure with a delicious coconut-flavoured Italian ice cream. What better way to round off your getaway trip to Bologna?
Via Ugo Bassi 25
+39 051 230186
4d Via Porrettana 158
+39 051 614 5062