The London Traveller – The Weekender:
One of the benefits of living in London is that Heathrow Airport is just a hop, skip and a jump away from home for me. So, if I really want to de-stress I can get myself to the Airport and take a short flight to across the country or to mainland Europe for just a couple of days. Inspired by Jill Starley-Grainer’s feature on short Ski and Spa breaks, I thought I’d line up my own top five perfect ‘weekenders’ – weekend breaks that work for for me.
Spa Breaks in Portugal
My kind of unwinding at the weekend involves staying somewhere luxurious and comfortable, away from the pressures of city life, where I can be pampered. Spa breaks are a great option and Portugal has a great range of Spa Hotels throughout the country– I love the idea of being able to just hop on a plane and end up somewhere like sub-tropical Madeira – where the temperature seldom drops below 17c and where there are a wealth of spa hotels less than half an hour from the airport. Next time I’m staying, not just dining at the Vine hotel, with its fabulous state of the art spa and rooftop infinity pool. Or I might just return to Serra d’Estrela, the highest mountains in Portugal and escape to Casa das Penhas Douradas. It’s only a couple of hours drive from Porto airport but it’s a real natural retreat where if you venture out of the comfortable hotel, you might not see another person. You can hike in the mountains (the hotel will provide a packed lunch), use the luxurious spa facilities or even ski in winter.
Sunshine Sea and Sand in Sicily
Fly to Catania in Southern Sicily and you’ll find the weather is sunny, warm and dry all the year round. Of course you don’t HAVE to swim in the sea in November, but the deserted, sandy beaches might just tempt you in. Explore the fishing villages that feature in the Inspector Montalbano series and wander through the Cities and Towns of the Unesco Listed Grand Baroque Noto Valley. You can eat some of the best Gelato in Italy in Noto and learn traditional Sicilian chocolate making in Modica, using the methods and recipes of the Aztecs.
Food and Wine in Lyons
Of course I love Paris, but there’s a popular French saying that ‘If Paris is the heart of France, Lyons is her stomach’. It’s an historic city with a castle, amphitheatre and plenty of You can fly there directly in less two hours and enjoy the cafes, bistros bars and bouchons. For a special treat, book into one of Lyon’s many Michelin star restaurants – to date there are fifteen in a City small enough to walk almost everywhere. My personal wish list has to include the three star L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges run by Paul Bocuse, but I wouldn’t turn my nose up at dinner at Mere Brasier either
Heritage on the Dalmatian Coast Croatia
Part of the Roman Empire and later under Venetian control, the Dalmatian Coastline is full of historic buildings. From the sublime palace of Diocletian which forms most of Split through to the stunning cathedral and medieval squares of Trogir. Fly directly to Split Airport from Heathrow – of course, as a weekend visitor the idea that you might have to carry your luggage into the centre of the pedestrianized medieval towns and cities, shouldn’t be a problem. Best of all, if you tire of all the history, the beaches and seas are some of the cleanest in Europe. Personally I’d stay in Split at the Vestibul Palace in the heart of Diocletian’s Palace if my mood was for a contemporary boutique hotel experience or at the more quietly located and traditional Hotel Park simply to enjoy breakfast on the terrace looking out over the sea. After all if Split was good enough for one of the most infamous Roman Emperors to choose it as the site for his retirement palace, it’s good enough for me for a weekend.
Art and Nightlife in Barcelona
Barcelona seems to have it all. If you are looking for a vibrant, contemporary culture with excellent food and reasonably priced drinks, you’ll find hotels, bars and restaurants in Barcelona that fit the bill. There’s more though; this Catalan port has a fabulous beach, a medieval district and a vibrant food market, the Boqueria where you can buy the best Iberico ham vacuum packed and ready to bring home for a fraction of the cost in the UK.
Visit the museum of Contemporary Art, the Sagrada Familia and hang out in Placa Reiale. As a weekender, only staying for a couple of nights, it’s the perfect excuse to indulge yourself with one of the boutique hotels that Barcelona is reknown for. From the Ohla Hotel with rooftop pool and views across the city, to the achingly romantic gothic styled Neri which sits alongside the Cathedral in a quiet medieval street. The city centre is just a short train journey from the airport.
This feature was written in collaboration with Heathrow Express