December 2011 Issue #1
Travel in and around the EU27
A JEWEL IN YORK’S CROWN
From Brum to Brussels... and beyond
In this ﬁrst edition of EU30Days we’ve stories on Malmo, Tenerife, Birmingham, Budapest, Brussels and more. So get your travelling head on!
Xmas getaways Think its too late to ﬁnd a holiday for you or your whole family for Christmas or New Year? Think again. Inside our ﬁrst issue you’ll ﬁnd a host of last-minute break ideas to places as diverse as Marrakech, Cyprus, Lanzarote, Sweden, Bordeaux, Albufeira...the list goes on. In the coming months, we’ll be oﬀering readers a whole range of ideas through this monthly online magazine - plus we have a website coming soon and a weekly round-up planned for early 2012. If you have friends, family and colleagues who may be interested in receiving this FREE resource via email, please get them to use the contact details on Page 2. Meanwhile, don’t forget to go and ‘Like’ our Facebook page (the link is on the same page). We hope you enjoy this issue and we’d love to hear from you about anything, at any time.
The Cedar Court Grand Hotel & Spa has become the ﬁrst in York, UK, to attain AA 5-star status. On top of that, ‘The Grill Room at The Grand’ restaurant has been awarded two AA Rosettes for outstanding quality. There are just 90 other AA 5-star hotels in Britain and, excluding The Grand, only 23 outside London.
Iconic The £25m, 107-bedroom hotel - which features 13 suites and a lavish penthouse - opened 18 months ago following the extensive refurbishment of the former North Eastern Railway headquarters - one of York’s most iconic Edwardian buildings. More on Page 2
Around the EU in 30 days - Page 2
Driving home for Christmas? Gear up to get away instead If you don’t fancy another Christmas stuck at home watching repeats on TV, playing party games and entertaining relatives you only see once a year, then its not too late to book a seasonal escape... Fancy a fully staﬀed villa in Morocco with 15% oﬀ? Or going heli-golﬁng on Boxing Day from your private French chateau? The Villa Barek in Marrakech (opposite, below left) sleeps ten and there’s a15% price reduction for Christmas and New Year. Imagine that your whole family (or you and your mates) ﬂy out to for a Christmas dinner made by the villa staﬀ against the backdrop of the mighty Atlas mountains. Instead of a cold, northern European-style walk on Boxing Day you can head into Marrakech for its heady and lively atmosphere. Alternatively, head to the Bordeaux/Cognac area of France for a stay at the Chateau Des Seigneurs, which features an indoor pool, tennis court, gym, heli-golﬁng and is also nicely discounted for Christmas and New Year. Imagine having a charming French chateau all to yourself with facilities aplenty to help the party go with a swing - literally - as the pièce de résistance is the option to ‘ heli-golf’ - a private helicopter can pick you up from the chateau’ s own heliport and whisk you to one of a number of selected golf courses. It beats doing the washing up, at any rate. Then again, you might prefer heading oﬀ to a seaside resort for some winter sun. If so, how’s about the Columbia Beach Resort in Cyprus, (above) which could be your dream, tranquil getaway? It’s surrounded by peaceful vineyards and fragrant orchards and sits at the centre of Pissouri Bay. The hotel oﬀers a warm and intimate atmosphere, luxurious accommodation and you could enjoy festive meals and Crimbo entertainment or just say ‘No’ and escape it all on the beautiful beach. Then there’s always the Hotel Volcan Lanzarote on the outskirts of Playa Blanca. With a choice of swimming pools, fountains and romantic squares, this is the sort of place for an intimate couple’s retreat. Serene evenings await - spent strolling through the Rubicón Marina, sampling the superb
Italian and gourmet restaurants - with not a turkey or Christmas pudding in sight. Also in Lanzarote is the ﬁve-star Hotel Dream Gran Castillo in Playa Blanca. It’s close to the breathtaking Playa Papagayo beach and boasts views of the ocean and the neighbouring Canary Islands. The hotel oﬀers a spa, sauna, and Turkish bath all set in surroundings reminiscent of an ancient castle. The hotel’s decor was inspired by the local history and in particular the famous castle - Castillo de San Jose. Available in Albufeira, on the other hand, are getaways such as seven nights at the four-star Luna Alpinus Apartments in the Algarve (self-catering, pictured opposite below right). The complex is surrounded by gorgeous gardens and rolling trees, and has spacious, comfortable and well-appointed apartments. There’s an on-site restaurant and a good selection of local eateries within walking distance, ideal for sampling delicious and authentic local cuisine. You may not know this, but Santa Claus is coming to...Amsterdam. Well, sort of. But you could deﬁnitely be there for Christmas in a stylish hotel close to the centre and surrounded by trendy bars and cafes. One idea is a three-night trip staying at the four-star Fashion Hotel on a bed-and-breakfast basis - but there’s room for ﬂexibility, so ﬁnd out more, right here. As mentioned on the front page, the Cedar Court Grand Hotel & Spa (opposite, below centre) has become the ﬁrst in York to attain AA 5-star status. Many of the rooms have views of the historic City Walls and Minster and, as a Grade II listed building, many original features have been kept: beautiful mosaic tiling, parquet ﬂoors and wood-panelled meeting rooms. General Manager, Maria Florou, told us: “The team here deserve enormous credit for what they have done - they have put their heart and soul into this project. “ And the restaurant’s Head Chef, Martin Henley, added: “The two AA Rosettes put us ﬁrmly on Yorkshire’s culinary map. Food lovers know that the Rosettes are a guaranteed seal of quality.” The hotel is also home to ‘Spa at the Grand’, one of Yorkshire’s most
Stay in touch with
Around the EU in 30 days
Follow us on Twitter: @EUin30Days ‘Like’ us on Facebook: Around the EU in 30 Days
Page 3 - Around the EU in 30 days
luxurious. Set in the building’s atmospheric vaults, it oﬀers a range of therapeutic face and body care treatments, with guest-access to the gym, sauna, swimming pool, steam room and relaxation rooms. While we’re talking about York, another place well worth considering is 7 Precentor’s Court, ‘The House by the Minster’, which is a luxury self-catering holiday let, sleeping up to six people, in a gorgeous, four-storey Grade II-listed house just a stone’s throw from the Minster. It was acquired from the Dean and Chapter of York Minster in early 2008 and you can take a closer look, just by clicking here. Further north, in Scotland, Grasshoppers Glasgow (above) is a new 30-bedroom penthouse hotel overlooking the city’s station. Sandwiched between Glasgow’s international ﬁnancial services district and the busy and bustling Buchanan Street - routinely named the best shopping street outside London - the hotel is already popular among business and leisure travellers and soaring up the ranks of TripAdvisor et al. But if northern England and Scotland seem almost-Christmasy but not quite, well, how about Sweden and more speciﬁcally Lulea, a little-known winter wonderland on the northern coast of Swedish Lapland? Think vast Narnia-esque vistas shared only by reindeer, lip-smacking regional fare, and exhilarating adventures on ice. With Swedish cuisine having its moment, this little-known region epitomises what Swedish gastronomy is all about - taking the shortest possible route to the table with uber-fresh ingredients from the nearby forests, ﬁelds and rivers. It’s in travel experts Black Tomato’s top ten places to visit and these guys know a thing or two. Check it out.
A capital 2012 Living within reach of Belgium and fancy a trip to London in the New Year? Well, you can bag an astonishingly priced €79 return-trip via Eurostar to the host city of the 2012 Olympic Games. The start of the year in London brings the famous sales (think Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nicks) and you can be there in less than two hours from Gare du Midi, Brussels. There are also some cracking exhibitions opening in the UK’s capital next year, including ‘This is Design’ at the Design Museum and ‘Picasso Britain’ at the splendid Tate Britain. And, don’t forget, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Olympic sites well before the athletes. Sprint way in front of the world’s fastest boys and girls for once! Then there’s the London Eye, river trips, West End shows, Premier League football...so much to do. For more information, head to the Eurostar site and check out tours of the Olympic Village too. Please note, the Eurostar promotion is for a standard ticket for departures between 3 January and 5 March, 2012.
Around the EU in 30 days - Page 4
Messing about in boats can be ferry good fun
Around the EU in 30 Days sent its editor, Tony Mallett, across the North Sea by ferry. Unfortunately, he also made it back... It had been several years since I’d taken ‘the overnight’ from Zeebrugge in Belgium across oft turbulent and storm-tossed waters to the north of England. Ten years ago, though, having moved to Brussels, it was by far the cheapest, if not fastest, way to get back - to see a girl. You may well ask where the value was in spending one-weekend-in-three at risk of barﬁng over the side of a ﬂoating B-and-B in a force-ten gale, making stilted conversation with monosyllabic truckers while a balding, fat pub singer murdered Tom Jones songs in the background, then being blasted from a beer-induced coma by an unforgiving tannoy at 06:30. All this prior to braving a communal shower, getting marched ashore, being poked at by customs oﬃcers and ﬁnally suﬀering a shuttlebus ride, while bleary eyed, hungover and nicotine deprived, to the litter-strewn monolith that is Hull railway station. Well, I thought it was worth it. At least until the girl and I split. From that point, the desire for a regular route back home sank without trace. I was usually skint and what made the journey really cheap back then was that, as a foot passenger, you paid only for a reclining chair, rather than a cabin. One felt oddly heroic in the imagined guise of daring stowaway or seafaring hitchhiker - although the ‘heroism’ tended to dissolve later in inverse proportion to the pints of ﬁzzy beer imbibed. This hero-into-puddle-of-gibbering-uselessness process invariably went on for as long as the Belgian francs lasted and the bar stayed open. Then it was oﬀ with a rolling gait to the
foot passengers’ domain, where the skill was to locate your recliner without stomping on some poor bugger’s head or keeling over from the smell of stale socks and a fusillade of farts. Well, thank Poseidon and P&O, those days are long passed. It’s cabins only now, which might not seem an improvement to broke backpackers but, trust me, it is. Given that these cabins are all very comfortable with ensuite bathroom and power shower, whatever extra you spend you’ll save by not sitting at the bar for so long. Also, the food - which, to be fair, was always pretty good - has improved. I went for the self-service buﬀet dinner/breakfast option but, if you want to splash out, there’s the more salubrious restaurant with its surprisingly good wine list. Dotted around the decks are plenty of snack bars and coﬀee shops too if the idea of dining at sea brings on an attack of queasiness. Yes, there’s always a chance of bad weather but these ferries are so huge and stable that most people won’t feel a thing, even when the wind is up and the waves batter the sides like angry white horses trying to hoof down a barn door. Only once in ten years have I been on a ferry that had to wait a couple of hours to dock because of a ferocious sea. Whatever the weather, for me, the best thing about the overnight trip is this unpredictable element – this greeny-grey lifeforce. If you ever want to get a sense of proportion, an idea of your own place in creation, there’s nothing like standing on a deck and looking out at all that awesome, brutal power. It’s truly amazing to watch the sometimes thundering and towering waves crash into the ship, then marvel next morning when last night’s bad-tempered beast seems all calm and serene. From this writer’s point of view, there was
only ever one real downside to this mode of transport - it takes a while. OK, not everybody would be stupid enough to board the ferry Friday night, get to York sometime around 11am Saturday, spend just over 24 hours with his ladyfriend then hurtle back to Hull Docks in time to board the return ferry Sunday teatime, to be back at a Brussels desk Monday morning. Nah, don’t do that. Relax - and ﬂoat, ﬂoat on... www.poferries.be
Page 5 - Around the EU in 30 days
Tempted by Tenerife Lucy Mallows tells of her time in the Canaries. ’Welcome to the Hotel California, such a lovely place, such a lovely face.’ No, unfortunately I didn’t just jet oﬀ to the west coast of the US to mingle with the beautiful people. I’m still humming that dratted tune by The Eagles, which rings discordantly in my ears 24 hours after the last blast of that niggling chorus. Hotel California echoes (oﬀ-key) across the Playa de las Americas on the steamy resort island of Tenerife, in the Canarian archipelago oﬀ the coast of North Africa. It appeared that every ‘international artiste’, every ‘international song and dance’ performer, every pub singer who should have been pensioned oﬀ decades ago and every drunken karaoke star had their own, unique, inimitable (thank God) version of that song. And goodness me, did they like to belt it out. Aside from my inerasable audiovisual memories of performances by Robbie G Williams, Movin’ Marvin, whose talents include ‘clogging’ (up the pipes, one imagines) and the scatological rambling of Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, my olfactory glands were assaulted by the aromas of the food on oﬀer. Not much in the way of paella, freshly cooked ﬁsh or tapas bars, but if you fancy a full English breakfast at any hour of the day, prices start low and pints of lager are served alongside. Tenerife exudes a sickly sweet aroma, not from the acres of banana plantations, but something more like bubbling beef fat, ﬁsh and chips and warm ale, oh and a heady whiﬀ of coconut tanning-lotion emanating from the pink bodies lying lined up on the artiﬁcial beach, like sausages about to burst their skins under the grill. Having said that, I had a fabulous time. The local Titsa bus service runs rings around the island, making escape from lagerland possible. We travelled up the coast to Los Gigantes, a resort clinging to a gigantic rock face (hence the name) and watched paragliders plunge over the precipice and land expertly on the grey sanded beach, while we, from the safety of the Restaurante Marinero Jessi’s sun-drenched terrace, wolfed down grilled plaice, papas arrugadas con mojo (‘wrinkly’ potatoes boiled dry in salty water and served with mojo, a delicious sauce made from peppers, vinegar, cumin and garlic). We washed it down with a potent sangria, involving red wine, fresh fruit and some ﬁery brandy. All this for under €30 (for two) and we didn’t have to negotiate the tortuous winding mountain roads after. However, to really appreciate the island and ﬁnd some hidden, less
tourist-packed places we really needed our own set of wheels. We hired a white (for some reason, 90% of Tenerife’s vehicles are white) Fiat Punto for three days, and headed oﬀ to explore. Tenerife contains many diﬀerent environments. The south and eastern areas, where most of the resorts are situated, are arid desert covered with banana plantations and building sites. The region’s half-ﬁnished quality and the piles of rubble give the appearance of Beirut. The north and west coastline, however, is ﬁlled with lush green valleys and forests. I bobbed about in the thunderous surf at the Playa de San Marcos and built up a ravenous enthusiasm for the grilled fresh sardines and salad (with bananas!) at Maria’s beach-side restaurant. At Icod de los Vinos, we admired the ancient Drago tree, which resembles a giant broccoli ﬂoret, oozes red blood when cut and is said to be more than 1,000 years old. We pottered about in the beautiful herb garden surrounding the tree and jumped when ten-centimetre lizards, who’d been basking in the sunshine, scuttled oﬀ before our feet. Pottering through Puerto de la Cruz’s beautifully laid out botanical gardens, I could have been back in Havana, meditating in the shade of a banyan tree and dodging the razor sharp fronds of dangling palm leaves. My favourite part of the island was the isolated north-eastern tip, where the spiky, verdant Anaga mountain range divides the two romantic, rocky coasts. We drove slowly along narrow lanes, sticking to the side of sheer cliﬀs, screeched around hairpin bends with dust ﬂying in our wake. Just beyond the tiny village of Tabanana are two pebbly beaches, popular with surfers. A red warning ﬂag ﬂew on our visit, so I had to be content with a nostalgic crab-chasing, rock-pooling session among the spume and spray. No visit to Tenerife is complete without a pilgrimage to the volcanic Pico del Teide - at 12,198 ft (3,718m) above sea level, it is Spain’s highest peak. We explored the lunar-style landscape, dotted with aromatic sage-green bushes, on one of the many hiking trails. After a day in the hot, dry sun, swimming against the tide, battling with the undertow and hiking through the wind-blown mountains, we built up healthy appetites for food and drink in the endless line of bars and restaurants that stretch from Playa de las Americas along to Los Cristianos. Now, if I could only ﬁnd a venue where the ‘entertainers’ have never heard of The Eagles... Read more by Lucy Mallows here.
Around the EU in 30 days - Page 6
Buzzing Budapest - in a day
Words and pictures by Lucy Mallows
I lived in Budapest for 12 years and it’s extremely diﬃcult to describe in a short article what I love about the Hungarian capital. There’s so much on oﬀer in this split-identity metropolis: bustling, business-like Pest ﬂattened out on the Hungarian plain and leafy, residential Buda, sedate and elegant like a fading 1940s movie star. Budapest is both old and new, always looking back, aware of its traumatic history, yet ready to embrace new styles, new ideas. It’s easy to cover all the must-sees on foot but, should you get weary, you can whizz about on rattling trams, there’s an eﬃcient metro system, the coﬀee houses and thermal baths (alive and kicking since the Ottoman era), the mighty Danube, more statues than you can shake a stick at, the crumbling facades pockmarked with bullet holes, the ancient espresso cafes or crusty, Soviet-ambience wine bars, ﬁlled with dreamers, poets and wastrels. Budapest combines all these features of the past with the new: fabulous, world-class cuisine, great wine bars, lush parkland and a refreshing, new understanding of the tourist and service industry. It’s the ideal weekend destination, so here’s a guide to a day (and night) in Budapest. These are some of the unmissable items on your checklist but also some of the secret gems that only locals know. 9:00 breakfast at the Gellért The buﬀet breakfast will give you your ﬁrst taste of Hungary, and that taste is paprika-scented, usually heavy on the lard, and not that great for veggies. The breakfast includes salami, cold cuts (remember, this is the land where pork is king!), cheese (the juhtúró – sheep’s curd cheese is tangy and delicious), peppers and the most divine tomatoes you will ever taste in your life. Coﬀee used to be the thick, sticky Turkish variety, but nowadays is more of a cappuccino. Tea will most likely be the ubiquitous, watery ‘Lipton Yellow Label’. Look out for amazing fresh fruit juices: the apricot, peach and the lip-quivering quince are great ways to perk up a morning. 10:00 A swim/sauna/wallow/massage at the Gellért The beneﬁt of staying in the Gellért Hotel is that you are right in place to be ﬁrst in the queue for the massage table and a vast range of bewildering treatments. If you’re staying at the Gellért, all you need do is don your plush, white towelling dressing gown and take the secret 1920s wrought iron lift down to the pool. The Gellért Baths has a huge selection of pools; outdoor thermal pools, an outdoor wave pool, built in the 1930s that unleashes its tide on the
hour every hour, and a gorgeous swimming pool surrounded by Roman columns and hanging plants. The Art Nouveau architecture alone makes this hotel the ultimate location for a weekend break. If you fancy a massage or one of the treatments, book it the day before and don’t forget to tip the underpaid, over-stressed lady who might resemble a tractor driver from Kazakhstan, but will give you a mighty pummelling. The attendants don’t speak much English and can appear very grumpy, but a chipper ‘Jó napot!’ (Good day!) can bring a smile. 12:00 A tram ride to Deák tér and a stroll up Andrássy Avenue From the Gellert, all you have to do is jump on a cranky old tram (No. 47 or 49) in Buda and ride for ten minutes max across the wonderfully green and metallic Szabadság híd (Liberty Bridge) to the heart of Pest. Make sure you sort out your tickets (a day pass is a good idea) with Gellért’s helpful receptionists, as the BKV (Budapest’s transport system) ticket controllers are a seriously nasty bunch who just love upsetting tourists, still... 12.10 A stop-oﬀ at the Nagyvásárcsarnok – Main Market Hall If you prefer to stroll across the Liberty Bridge and get your bearings, you can pop in en route to the Main Market Hall and admire the amazing selection of fruit, vegetables, live ﬁsh, lard – in all its forms. There are about 200 stalls on two ﬂoors and a balcony above oﬀering billowing white tablecloths, souvenirs and snacks. Downstairs are the miserable-looking live carp and dozens of pickled vegetables in jars. Items to look out for are the wooden, hand-made toys and embroidered jackets on the balcony. For souvenirs such as paprika powder, pálinka (the local, lethal fruit brandy, made from pears, apricots or plums), and Unicum, a bitter digestif that comes in an anarchist’s bomb-shaped black bottle, you’ll get better bargains in the local supermarket, but the market is fabulous for stocking up on fresh fruit snacks: the cherries, grapes, apricots and peaches are heavenly. It’s open 6:00-5:00 Mon-Fri, 6:00-14:00 Sat. 13:00 Deák tér and a stroll up Andrássy Avenue Deák ter is the very centre of Pest and the transport hub. It’s also the location of the humorously nicknamed Nemzeti Gödör (National Pit), a massive hole dug for the foundations of the new national theatre, which, due to arguments and ﬁnancial wrangling, went elsewhere. The Pit was transformed, using the cunning Magyar mind, into a cultural centre and is a lively place to hang out on a summer evening.
Page 7 - Around the EU in 30 days
Take a leisurely stroll up Andrássy út, Budapest’s answer to the ChampsÉlysées. This beautiful, tree-lined avenue will take you on a journey into Budapest’s history; it’s ﬁlled with coﬀee houses, smart bistros, museums and swanky shops. If you get weary, you only need to dip under the surface to ﬁnd the Little Underground (Budapest’s Metro 1 – the yellow line), a dinky little ‘metro’ that’s barely underground and was once pulled by horses. It’s the oldest underground railway in continental Europe and opened in 1896, comfortably beating Paris to the honour. Andrássy út leads from Deák tér for several do-able kilometres, to Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square), where the founding fathers and men of learning and inﬂuence are celebrated in a grand square, the gateway to the City Park (Városliget). Heroes’ Square is also home to two great museums, the Fine Art Museum and the Műcsarnok (Art Market). However, before we get to Heroes’ Square, we pass Liszt Ferenc tér, a square bulging with cafes and bars and a great spot for a quick drink and people watching. Crossing over the Little Ring Road (Kiskörút) at Oktogon, we carry on up the avenue, passing the traumatic House of Terror, a shocking, yet well put-together museum detailing both the fascist and communist regimes of Hungary’s tormented 20th-century past. We reach Baraka just in time for a delightful lunch special, best enjoyed on one of the greenest terraces in town. Husband and wife team, David and Leora, make every guest feel special at Budapest’s best restaurant and be sure to leave room for one of New York pastry chef David’s amazing desserts. 15:00 Kerepesi Cemetery After lunch, continue up to Heroes’ Square for a quiet potter among Hungary’s great and good, then take a bus 30A to Keleti Station and walk for a few minutes along Fiumei út to Kerepesi temető (cemetery). Now, before you tell me this is a creepy, eastern European vampire sort of afternoon pursuit, Kerepesi is, in fact, one of the most romantic, peaceful, beautiful parks in Budapest. It’s a nature reserve, a statue park, a history lesson and a homage to Hungary’s cultural legends all rolled into one. It’s also much more secluded than Margit-sziget (Margaret Island) in the middle of the Danube river, where a multitude of local families will be screaming and demanding ice cream all afternoon. 17:00 Coﬀee and cake at Centrál Coﬀee House From Keleti Station, we take the famous number 7 (the hetes) bus to Ferenciek tere, the square of the Fransiscans. A ﬁve-minute walk towards Kálvin ter and we are at the Centrál Kávéház which ﬁrst opened in 1887.
The Centrál coﬀee house soon became the hub of intellectual life, although it was almost exclusively male scholars and writers who made it their local, and it was totally renovated and reopened in 1999. Now it is the place to have a strong, reviving coﬀee and some famous Hungarian cake before retiring to the hotel to prepare for the night ahead. 19:00 Eklektika After a quick freshen-up back at the Gellert Hotel, the 47 or 49 tram once again whisks party-goers from Buda to the heart of Pest. In the 1990s, Ágota started the ﬁrst regular café/bar/club/venue in Budapest for gay women and their friends (before that it was the occasional awful night out at a dodgy bar in the back-end of beyond) at a setting near Astoria, but recently upgraded to this central local, in Pest’s theatre district. These days, Eklektika is more mainstream, catering not only to gay customers but also to theatre-goers, an alternative crowd, the young and hip and a collection of tourists drawn by the friendly ambience and delicious aromas from the kitchen - the pizzas are highly recommended and the wine list is excellent. 21:00 Instant Just along the road from Eklektika, Instant is the most bizarre bar in town. Its bought an entire block of ﬂats, complete with courtyard, and transformed it into a huge entertainment complex with bars, discos, live bands and other events in diﬀerent apartments, each with its own unique and wacky décor. Check out the upside-down room and the rabbits ﬂying across the courtyard. 22:30 Capella Café Capella, on the Danube Embankment, opposite the Liberation Monument, is always reliable for a wild night out. Laci Birta started this club night in 1995 and the drag shows are packed with gay and straight visitors as it’s considered one of the more hip, alternative venues in town. There’s dancing on several ﬂoors and lots of bars. That’s your day in Budapest. Phew. And we haven’t even been up in the Castle, wandering about the Buda Hills, down in the caves or out in the artists’ colony at Szentendre. We’ll just have to leave that for another time. Jó utat és szép hétvéget! (bon voyage and have a lovely weekend!) Check out Lucy’s blog, Disappearing Budapest, here, if you’re interested in the culture, architecture and secret history of Budapest.
Around the EU in 30 days - Page 8
The Getaway 2...Sweden & Norway Photo: www.ttomasi.net
Malmo: City for all seasons By Mike Moscrop in Sweden Located on the south-west coast of Sweden, and barely 30 minutes from Kastrup (Copenhagen Airport) in Denmark, Malmö is a city on the move. The past few years have seen lots of construction, immigration and wealth pour into one of Sweden’s oldest cities, earmarking its position for the future. For tourists wishing to visit Malmö, one may be pleasantly surprised. The centre of the city has many narrow cobble stoned alleyways and several lavish squares (Stortorget and Gustav Adolfs Torg speciﬁcally), with beautiful architecture and historical statues adorning them all. Being a coastal town, in winter, a bitterly cold, crisp wind whips into the city from the docks and often the lakes freeze over and a thick blanket of snow covers most of the centre. A walk along any of Malmö’s several canals during winter is truly beautiful, but very cold. Easily reachable via the Öresund trains from Copenhagen Airport, it’s also possible to reach Malmö from almost any major Swedish city via trains and Skånetraﬁken buses. If you book with one of the smaller airline companies, travellers can ﬂy directly there as it has its own airport too. The most common method of transport to the city from mainland Europe, however, remains the Öresund trains. With close to 9.5 billion Swedish crowns (around €1bn) recently spent on the City Tunnel, commuting between Denmark and Sweden has become quicker; just 20 minutes to Copenhagen airport. The city has hotels aimed at every budget. The principal rule of all cities remains the same, hotels within the centre are more luxurious and expensive than those in the outskirts.
Once your’e settled, it’s time to explore. In a city as old as Malmö, you’d expect a lot of classic buildings and, whilst this remains true, there are also a lot of modern places of note. During winter, most of the city’s attractions are closed. But the Terrarium (featuring not just snakes but monkeys, kangaroos and spiders, oddly enough) is open all year round. Costing roughly a ﬁver, it is great value for money and its poisonous reptiles will scare the hell out of anyone. Winter also sees the inclusion of an ice-rink just to enhance that winter wonderland feeling. No visit to Malmö would be complete without a museum tour, and Malmöhus has got it all. Also located a short walk from Central Station by following the canal on your right, there’s an old castle and its moat. The museum hosts art and technology exhibitions but top of the list are the collection of stuﬀed animals in its natural history section, the archaeology wing and the abundance of live aquatic animals on the ground Roughly 70 Swedish (€8) gives access to all these museums, including the maritime museum nearby, and one could easily spend a few hours inside its great maze of hallways if it didn’t tend to close at 16:00. Walking inside the ancient castle can be tricky as, while viewing the old bedrooms of the Kings of Sweden, it’s easy to get disoriented and lose yourself down the stone corridors. Saving the best till last, the symbol of Malmö is the unique Turning Torso building. Spanish architecture at its ﬁnest, the 623 ft, 54-ﬂoor skyscraper is the tallest residential building in the European Union. Although the two bottom ﬂoors are oﬃces, the building is not open to the public, except for a few rare occasions during the summer. During this
period, the top ﬂoor of the tower can be visited via a well-in-advance booking. Food-wise, if you’re in a hurry and want something on the go, aside from the usual McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Burger King joints, Malmö is littered with sausage (korv) venders all over the city. These serve up tasty sausages from Denmark, Poland and Germany, all for very fair prices. And we’re not on about pathetic little hot dogs; we’re talking big sausages, some of the ﬁnest I’ve had. While food can be moderately priced in Malmö, drink, unfortunately, is not. So if you’re preparing to spend a night out on the lash, be ready to cough up plenty of notes. Directly to your right, upon exiting the busy Central Station, lies O’Leary’s, one of the most expensive bars in Malmö, but you do get value for money. It has an excellent selection of brews, plus live sports and is, in essence, a sports bar like no other. But, if watching the big match isn’t your thing, you’re still really spoiled for choice here. Malmö has more bars per person than any other Swedish city, and a brisk walk through its streets reveals many. With Irish bars, nightclubs, wine bars and the traditional Swedish haunts, there’s something for everyone. All are non-smoking, although during the summertime this is not an issue; many have outside tables and generously provide you with heaters and blankets to beat back the waterside chill. So there you are. If you’re looking for a touch of home but with a taste of Sweden, then Malmö is certainly the city to visit. When not writing travel pieces, Mike has his own ranting website, Food For Thought. Find it at www.pizzapress.org
Page 9 - Around the EU in 30 days
Welcome to wonderful Oslo... and to hell with the expense! By Jonathan Di Blasi The smells of great worldly cheeses and salami penetrate my nostrils as I inhale for life, while admiring a selection of handmade chocolates. Which organic bacon should I buy? Choices! It’s not something usual here in Norway, well, not so usual back in the breathtaking west of the country where the rain seems to ﬂood your mind and energy - making it twice as hard to gain a selection of anything but tubed bread spreads. After living nine years in the Western part of Norway, I left for six months in Brussels, living smack in the center of the EU Quarter that graciously blends all 27 European nations, along with many other nationalities, comfortably, as a great city does. Oslo, I’m ﬁnding, enjoys that nice variety of people too: refreshing, reminding me of Brussels, and allowing me to enjoy the many choices and cultures I missed while living outside this capital which obviously thinks equally as internationally as it does nationally. The western part of Norway is home to the old capital, Bergen, which oﬀers a balance between fjords and mountains, tradition and collective development, trying to claim it’s its own country...its friendly introversion diﬀers greatly to Oslo. Most visiting both cities prefer Bergen for its mountainous surroundings. I never thought Norway could house a real city. I’m proven wrong, and I love that. It’s been great discovering what a real city “à la Norvège” is like. Sun shines here in Oslo, more often, but locals have told me to prepare for six months of snow ahead. It will be interesting to experience how this city continues to march forward and thrive while blanketed and freezing. Understanding Oslo as a real city allows me to enjoy all the cultures and gifts the variety of people here enjoy themselves and share with others, like ingredients and recipes they’ve imported from their birthplace. My neighbourhood’s Thai restaurant, for example - Thai makes for usually uneventful dining in other parts of Norway - proved authentic, fresh and delicious last night. Oslo embraces this variety while retaining its traditional Norwegian values of honesty, kindness and relaxed subtlety. Quaintness marries with city life. It’s like I’m enjoying a personal renaissance, living in the comfortable world of Norway, while still getting to enjoy the many things I missed while living elsewhere in this grand country,
things I enjoyed in Brussels. Still, there are so many things to discover, friends to make, streets to explore - main ones and those oﬀ beaten paths. And you too can experience a city oﬀering a down-to-earth, relaxed and worldly atmosphere while you enjoy quality food and drink. Norwegians appreciate these too, they have the time to explore and enjoy new ingredients and drinks. But you’re right: everything you’ve heard about “expensive” here truly is. Comparing prices to other capital cities and ignoring the recent euro exchange rate, you’ll immediately ﬁnd it’s pricey here. But do keep in mind that wages are obviously higher to compensate. Meantime, social services are more than life-sustaining. but, if you do make it up here, be prepared to pay plenty, whether you’re buying a beer or a sandwich.
Do a bit of research, ﬁnd out how to enjoy your visit without returning home with an empty bank account unless it’s in your plan. Remember that international labels cost the same pretty much wherever you ﬁnd them in the world, so shop for them elsewhere to allow your budget to explore local, Norwegian specialties. Searching for local goods at markets, though not cheaper, at least lets you enjoy something new and diﬀerent that you may not get to experience elsewhere. Bootom line: choices and variety to explore in my new city of Oslo excite me!
Read more from Jonathan on Twitter @emptywhiskyglas and on his ‘Notes from an empty whisky glass’ blog here.
Around the EU in 30 days - Page 10
The Getaway 3...Croatia
Old Town habits die hard By Martin Banks When getting away comes to mind, you might already have thought of Croatia and its famous city of Dubrovnik. No surprises, there, as thousands of visitors from across the world have decided to see this city on the sea in a stunning part of Croatia’s Adriatic coast. Croatia is set to become the 28th member of the European Union, providing a much-needed boost to its struggling economy. There are just two ‘chapters’ - or negotiating policy areas - to close before the six-year access process ends. So, when the chapters on competition and judicial issues are ﬁnalised, Croatia will be the latest newcomer to the EU club. One sector set for an immediate ﬁscal boost on EU-entry is the tourist industry, which is only just recovering from the ravages of the bitter war in the early 1990s. Tourism took a massive nosedive in the genocide which erupted with the implosion of the former Yugoslavia. Nikola Dobroslavic, the Prefect of Dubrovnik-Neretva County and president of the regional tourist board, says that tourism has played a ‘signiﬁcant’ role in helping Croatia emerge from the war, and that EU membership will provide another much-needed boost to the economy. His conﬁdence is shared by Dubrovnik and Neretva County Tourist Board Director Vladimir Bakic, who said that EU membership is likely to generate considerable foreign investment and boost visitor ﬁgures. Much of the country’s tourist trade is centered on the historic region of Dubrovnik, in the southern-most part of Croatia. Long seen as the country’s most beautiful city, Dubrovnik, following the siege of 1991-92 that damaged two out of three buildings in the medieval Old Town, is back on the map. Though small, the Old Town has been mostly restored to its former glory, and a 2km walk along ancient city walls gives breathtaking views it; the walls climb to 25m high in some places. The current condition of the Old Town is a far cry from how it looked in the aftermath of the war. Almost all of the damage has been repaired, although if you look closely, mortar damage in the cobblestone streets and bullet marks in the stone houses are visible. Back then, local citizens had to retreat to a nearby fortress for safety, staying in the most basic conditions without water or electricity or up to six months. But how times change - the Dubrovnik region now attracts up to 1 million visitors annually - 600,000 of them to the Old Town. At the far end of its main street is Luza Square, with Orlando’s Column - built in 1418 as a monument to freedom - standing in the centre. Meantime, of the 17 churches in the Old Town, the cathedral is the obvious stand-out - it’s stately, domed and hosts Titian’s polyptych, The Assumption, behind its main altar. To the left of the altar, the treasury contains a leg, arm and the skull of St. Blaise.
An ideal place to stay is the Hotel Excelsior (00385 20 353353), a ﬁve-star hotel built in 1913 and completely renovated in 1988. It overlooks the Old City and has 146 bedrooms. Early evening in Dubrovnik is sublime - the stone turns golden in the twilight - but you’ll have to wait until next year for one of its cultural highlights, the annual summer festival. The event has been held annually since 1949 from 10 July-25 August and is famous for its selection of drama, plays and concerts. Not to worry, as there are plenty of other things to do and, from Brussels, you could take a Croatian Airlines ﬂight via Zagreb and then on to Dubrovnik. The nearest airport, Zracna, is about 20km north of the latter. Recently, the cable car in Dubrovnik reopened after a major facelift and is already proving a big hit with visitors. But, with Croatian EU-accession entering its ﬁnal leg, the cable car isn’t the only thing that is set to take oﬀ in this proud Balkan country. Book a holiday here.
Page 11 - Around the EU in 30 days
Great food and wine ensure Croatia’s a model for tourism By Martin Banks Brussels’ famous Mini Europe attraction, which features miniature models of Europe’s most famous landmarks, is gearing up for its latest attraction. An as-yet unknown landmark from Croatia will be put on display in 2012, ahead of the country’s expected accession to the European Union in 2013. But, as the saying goes, you can’t beat the real thing and those looking for a slightly diﬀerent tourist destination can’t go far wrong with a trip to the southern part of Croatia which hides the country’s second largest peninsula: Peljesac. Many of those who head for this idyllic part of Croatia do so for two reasons: the wonderful wine and food. Located a couple of hours’ drive from Dubrovnik (see facing page), the most common entrance to the peninsula will take you through the small town of Ston. The world’s second longest wall, after that one in China, is the wall of Ston and the town is also famous for top class shellﬁsh, particularly oysters with their ‘aphrodisiac’ properties. The wall connects Ston and Mali Ston - where you can see how oysters are grown - and was built in the 14th century. You can also visit the nearby salt lakes, which had a very important part in the history of the Dubrovnik Republic.
On the road to Ston is the Arcadian place Trsteno Arboretum, where one of the most beautiful women of the European Renaissance, the red-haired poetess Cvijeta Zuzoric, wrote rhymes and fell in love. Take a walk under the crowns of ancient trees and see your reﬂection in the Neptune and Nymphs Fountain. The Peljesac Peninsula is the best-known wine-growing area in the south of Croatia: wine routes take you to places to enjoy typical Plavac Mali wines and the recently discovered truﬄes. A trip to the Winery Milos, one of the many wineries in the region, is highly recommended. As with many of the others, it also produces olive oil as well as top-notch wine. Visitors can eat ‘konoba style’ in the delightful ﬁshing village of Drace while another restaurant to try is Bota Sare at Mali Ston Bay. Not so far away is the picturesque Neretva Valley where a popular attraction is a boat ride on the Bacine Lake, followed by a visit to see how ﬁgs and the traditional Dalmatian prosciutto are produced. It would be a shame to see the peninsula without making at least a quick stopover at nearby Dubrovnik, where some of the best seafood in Croatia can be found.. Nautika Restaurant lies on the very edge of the sea at Pile, near the entrance to Dubrovnik’s Old Town. From its terraces, diners can enjoy
a one-of-a-kind view of the Adriatic and the fortresses of Lovrijenac and Bokar (see photo, top right). The restaurant’s oﬀerings include lobster from the Dalmatian island of Vis and delicacies from the local waters of the Adriatic. It oﬀers an innovative, elevated style of Mediterranean cuisine. The restaurant is housed in the former Dubrovnik School of Maritime Studies, and it has welcomed famous seafarers since 1881. In 2008, Nautika was recognised as the sixth most romantic restaurant in the world by Condé Nast Traveller magazine and its many VIP guests include Pope John Paul II, who stopped for a meal when he visited in 2003. After the harrowing times it has gone through in the recent past, Croatia is one again very much back on the tourist map. Latest ﬁgures show that, so far this year, there were 55,000 visitors to Dubrovnik from France and 46,000 from the UK alone. There are plenty of direct ﬂights from Brussels to Dubrovnik with tour operators such as Belgian-based Jetair. Mini Europe in Brussels may still be trying to decide which famous Croatian landmark to go alongside other models of Big Ben and the Eiﬀel Tower. But, whichever it eventually chooses, you really can’t beat a visit to Croatia’s Peljesac peninsula - especially if you’re a lover of good food and wine.
Around the EU in 30 days - Page 12
Vive la France...
Carrying on in Carcassonne Mary Nicklin (and her ‘trailing spouse’) took a trip to the historic city, located in a triangle between Toulouse, Montpellier and Perpignan in deepest, southern-most France. We all know we should go to Carcassonne - a perfect medieval cité, the largest fortress in Europe and ten years a UNESCO Heritage Site. But it was more British works which ﬁnally prompted our visit; wanting to cross Lord Rogers’ Millau Bridge (stunning) and reading Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth (less so). There was also the eccentric Narrow Dog to Carcassonne by Terry Darlington - more fun than both put together - but he arrived in the Ville Basse, which UNESCO doesn’t rate quite as highly. Carcassonne’s old cité really is everyone’s dream historical destination - a stunning citadel-cum-chateau set high above the surrounding and equally superb countryside. In fact it’s so perfect, it’s almost disturbing - cobbled streets that York and Bruges would die for and smugly traﬃc free, the most dangerous encounter being the lone minibus serving an interior hotel. The only way to arrive is just to head up the hill - via the main car park – and follow the crowds on foot. On a hot Saturday, La Cité de Carcassonne within walls is packed. Tourist shops sell the same warlike souvenirs, although we spotted one unlikely establishment selling, well, just salt, beautifully packaged produce from the nearby Camargue. Café tables perch on cobbles, everywhere is steep, manicured and hot. By now I was already planning the closing words of this review: “Go to Albi instead.” But this is Cathar country and there is serious history to be had. Prosperity ended with the 13th-century Albigensian Crusade. A tolerant, multi-faith community was wiped out by siege, ﬁre, persecution and political intrigues that make modern-day Brussels seem positively languorous. The 24-year-old Viscount of Carcassonne, who had oﬀered his protection to those being hounded for their beliefs, was imprisoned and soon died; surrounding cities and citadels were sacked. Hundreds died for their supposedly ‘heretic’ faith, while towns and villages that harboured them were destroyed. While visiting the restored buildings and towers, taking Le Petit Train on its tour of the defences and ramparts, visitors can learn as little or as much as they wish. We headed back to the trusty Mercure Hotel and swam in brilliant sunshine. A quick visit to the Maison Joe-Bousquet followed - the poet was paralysed in the 1914-18 war, never left his room until 1950 but wrote and entertained fellow writers there. Then it was supper in a hidden restaurant, La Fontaine du Soleil, in a courtyard gazeboed with an ancient tree; the best cassoulet we’ve ever had. Finally, it was Sunday morning, earlyish, bliss. Tranquil, no crowds, with a chance to look out across the ramparts...
Be sure to walk through the archways, the buildings, the history. But beware, at Carcassone, it’s the visitors that get in the way!
Page 13 - Around the EU in 30 days
Fun in Dunkerque? You bet, as casino draws the punters By Dirk Vandereyken. Photos by Kim Van Houtte No need to ﬂy high in order to join the high rollers: located at only a 30-minute journey from the Belgian border is Dunkerque casino, an attractive location not only for gamblers, but for people who appreciate ﬁne dining and great entertainment as well. Moreover, one needs to be only 18 in order to join the ever-growing ranks of both small- and high-stakes gamblers that ﬂock to the centrally located, modern building owned by Groupe Tanchant, which has no less than 21 casinos in its portfolio. Tourism Best known for the part it played in the World War II - the British evacuation through Dunkerque allowed the Allied forces to rescue onethird of a million troops and preserve much of the equipment later used against the German army - Dunkerque nonetheless attracts a great many tourists looking for something entirely diﬀerent. Thanks to the lower taxes, the city acts as a giant shopping mall for foreign visitors, while the harbour museum, the Mémorial du Souvenir and the Lieu d’Art d’action Contemporaine are all popular locations. Granted, the city’s largely post-war architecture varies from plain ugly to interesting, but there does seem to be something to hold anyone’s attention for a reasonable stretch of time. A boat trip has recently been added to the growing list of tourist activities, while the country just outside of the city limits is just as ﬂat as a - well, very ﬂat plate - lending itself easily to bicycle trips from Dunkerque to Bergues and back. Casino One of the most interesting places in Dunkerque, the casino does take a while to get used to, as the exotic trees are lined up behind glass in front of a red wall. Its glass, yellow and red exterior belies a cosy, beautiful interior consisting of an art deco and tropical mixture, with tight shapes, many corners and evocative colours. As most casino aﬁcionados will have guessed, the entire thing also smells very nice, enticing visitors to stay. Gambling needs to be a well-controlled activity that can’t be allowed to grow into an addiction, but for those who like to take their chances once in a while, the Dunkerque casino oﬀers 200 slot machines and tables where people can try games of stud poker, English roulette, boule, blackjack and - of course - Texas hold’ em poker. Because of the lower age limit, the atmosphere tends to be less formal and stiﬀ than usual, giving a more mainstream and colourful ambiance instead. There’s no long registration procedure and, when we visit the playing halls, we’re given a
free chip to put in a machine to bet on one of three digital horses. Alas, we didn’t win anything, not even the bottle of champagne or free holiday. As is the case with most businesses of its ilk these days, the casino does oﬀer something more than just gambling: there’s a reasonably sized theatre hall, for example, and restaurant La Cascade oﬀers tasty dishes without charging too much, with the homemade foie gras and speculaas as our €13.50 favourite starter. We also tried the sea devil medals with chorizo and polenta bars (€14), the sint jake shells (€16) and several desserts (each costing €5) and came to the conclusion that you get what you pay for: no spectacular, inventive dishes, but good-value meals. Maybe we’ll check out some restaurants in Dunkerque next time we return, as there’s bound to be some interesting act performing on stage at the casino soon. Dunkerque Casino 40, Place du Casino 59240 Duinkerke Frankrijk Tel: +33 (0)184.108.40.206.77 More info here
Around the EU in 30 days - Page 14
Head for the best place in Toon Tony Mallett leaves the capital of Europe behind and joins the Geordie Boys in Newcastle-upon-Tyne It had been a while since your correspondent had been to England and, more speciﬁcally, Oop North - being a busy lad based in Brussels. But that was put right early this year. Dropping by York to pick up a ladyfriend, then boarding a train to Newcastle, we were soon enjoying a couple of astonishingly inexpensive pints of Guinness in the Irish bar opposite the station in Newcastle. From there, it was a ﬁve-minute cab ride to the utterly gorgeous Hotel du Vin - which is just oﬀ the famous Quayside. But more of the hotel later. Our mission was to get a feel for Newcastle over the next couple of days. Apart from anything else, the city is the home to boys and girls who would crawl over broken glass - and probably have - to watch their local football team, Newcastle United. This despite a very nasty few years for the club which is now doing brilliantly back in the elite division - with all that means for the team and the ‘Toon Army’. Cut the ‘Geordies’ and they’ll bleed black-andwhite stripes. They’re the stuﬀ of legend. To be honest, I was half expecting to see much-loathed chairman Mike Ashley ﬂoating down the River Tyne, former superstar Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne in a set of handcuﬀs, or soccer pundit Alan ‘England will win the World Cup’ Shearer talking bollocks into a camera. But it didn’t happen. Well, not while we were looking.... Anyhow, ‘the fog on the Tyne’ may well be ‘all mine, all mine’, as the Lindisfarne song goes, but there wasn’t a bit of it. The Millennium Bridge shone in the sun, the blue sky was reﬂected in the famous river and the Quayside bars were already getting ready for the night ahead. So we went and got good and, er, tipsy. Thank God, because one of the amazing things about Newcastle is that - although it may be cold and wet for much of the time - the partying girls wear next-to-nothing. Whatever the weather. I’ve seen bigger collars on a sheepdog than
what passes for a skirt on a Friday night in the city’s Bigg Market. An umbrella is allowed in the rain - but a coat or a long dress? Forget it. I was so NOT looking...honest. Newcastle’s centre has got a lot going for it during the day too, not least the fact that the shops, pubs and so on are relatively inexpensive - you absolutely get more bang-for-your-buck here. The refurbished Eldon Square shopping centre has all the top stores, the neoclassical 19th century buildings that dominate the hub are gorgeous and there’s a dustbin/ashtray every ten metres or so, which means that the streets are not covered in cigarette butts. This may seem a small point but, when you live in the Trash and Dog Poo Metropolis that is Brussels, it’s very welcome. The good lady noticed it straight away - and she lives in touristreliant York, which can’t aﬀord to be dirty either. Oh, and they’re quite big on monuments, art and bridges in Newcastle. Especially bridges. Although to be honest, I reckon they’ve run out of space for any more of the latter. But don’t quote me... Strangely, apart from being crucial to shipbuilding and a vital exporter of coal back in the ‘olden days’, this wonderful former Roman-fortress city (2nd century) doesn’t climb too many rungs on the ‘blimey, isn’t it important?’ ladder in the way that, say, Glasgow does. But, from a cultural point of view, its reputation is rightly massive. The people are, well...just diﬀerent up here. Friendly as hell (unless you’re wearing a Sunderland football shirt), street smart, unerringly proud of their roots, government weary, weather beaten and battle hardened. They’re full of tall tales and the joys of whatever sort-of-Spring turns up...and even more full of pies, chips, beer and the occasional curry. So what’s not to like? As suggested, Newcastle was once the industrial centre-piece of the North East. But now the ﬂat caps and whippets have largely gone - and been replaced by ﬂashy shirts and ﬂashed knickers. Well, mostly...The Hotel du Vin is just a bit
posh. But in the nicest posible way. It’s the historic former home of the Tyne Tees Steam Shipping Company and is - obviously - close to the river. It has 42 superbly furnished rooms, many individually designed, featuring monsoon showers - which are like rain showers with the equator’s wet climate attached. Expect Egyptian cotton sheets, plasma TVs and exposed, sexy free-standing baths (been there, done that, thumbs up). Her Royal Yorkieness and I stayed in a room that had a room-within-a-room. By that I mean that the loo and sink were housed in their own little ‘shed’, built inside a high-ceilinged bedroom featuring good river views and the comﬁest bed I’ve slept in for ages. The whole place is non-smoking, of course, but there’s a brilliant out-door ‘cigar shack’ a few metres from the hotel’s bistro that is warm, sheltered, cosy and just the place to go and puﬀ on a ciggie. Being smokers, we’d have been tempted to grab the duvet and spend the night in the shack had our room not been so utterly cool. The bistro itself is top notch, with eﬃcient, friendly and not-too-in-your-face staﬀ serving great meals rooted in classic European cuisine with a contemporary edge. As you’d expect, given the hotel’s name, the wine list oozes quality. Mmm. Just so you know, there are now Hotel du Vin complexes all over the UK - and I’d happily go and live in the one in the party town of Newcastle. More info here.
Page 15 - Around the EU in 30 days
Why England’s second city is ‘Brumming’ with enthusiasm By Martin Banks Most recently, it was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Shocking images of violent riots right at the heart of Birmingham spread across the globe. But the unrest that was seen in other UK cities as well masks what has been a remarkable change in Britain’s second city in recent years. Whether you are a culture-vulture, food enthusiast or shopaholic, this bustling city has limitless attractions. It isn’t for nothing that it attracts some 32 million visitors per year. At the root of it all is its famous Broad Street which, just a few years ago, was a rundown apology for an entertainment area. Today, however, it has been totally transformed and houses, among other things, the city’s wonderful international convention centre as well as numerous bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels. For some, Birmingham is the ICC, the National Indoor Arena, the Symphony Hall or the Sea Life Centre. For others, it’s the vibrant arts and culture scene that includes the Ikon Gallery and the Art Gallery, home to the Pre-Raphaelite Collection, and it’s the world-class shopping areas that do it for the retail junkies. Whatever it means to the traveller, a particularly good base for any visit to Birmingham, or ‘Brum’, as it is commonly known, is the Mint Hotel - where we stayed. Tucked away in a quiet area just oﬀ Broad Street, The Mint oﬀers much to enjoy. Its award-winning City Café is a stylish and comfortable destination restaurant
where guests can choose to dine in or eat alfresco on a mega-terrace. And a recently refurbished lounge and cocktail bar is a great way to too. Then there’s the bedrooms – airy, modern sanctuaries that oﬀer all the creature comforts you’d expect and some you might not, like an Apple iMac and free high-speed Wi-Fi. The rooms are spacious and designed for comfort, to enable guests to work, relax and unwind with ease. The staﬀ are particularly courteous while the unfussy rooms are spotlessly clean – and there’s also a hearty breakfast. Brum, of course, is also well known for its vast choice of Indian restaurants and one of the best, possibly the best, is Asha’s, on Newhall Street, at the heart of the city’s ﬁnancial district. This up-market resto is part of an international chain with other branches in exotic places like Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain. What Brum may lack in sun, though, it more than makes up for with its terriﬁc Indian cuisine. And it doesn’t come any better than Asha’s, where you really can enjoy the full dining experience. Try any from the succulent meats of the speciality Kebab menu, the wide variety of vegetarian, seafood and meat dishes, or the delicate desserts because, as its inclusion since 2009 in the Michelin guide suggests, the authentic, Indian cuisine is excellent. And there are also ‘signature’ cocktails available - marvellous. Away from the restaurant experiences, Birmingham’s an absolute shopper’s paradise, oﬀering head-turning chic or eye-catching value. They’re calling it ‘the bold new shopping capital of Europe’ -
which may be pushing it a little – but there’s a Harvey Nichols and a Selfridges, vibrant markets and the world-famous Jewellery Quarter with its hand-made craftsmanship. Part of the city’s success story of late can be attributed to the work done by Marketing Birmingham, a public-private sector strategic-marketing partnership created ten years ago to help breathe new life into the place. It recently launched a website, Birmingham Toolkit, ideal for accessing facts, stats, images, videos, case-studies and much more that bring the personality of Birmingham to life. One splendid reason to visit this autumn is the upcoming Birmingham Food Fest, a ﬁrst for the city. More than 60 of Birmingham’s top restaurants and its best-loved chefs will be showing their support for the initiative, a ten-day gastronomic celebration, which runs from 14-23 October and features more than 100 food-ﬁlled events. Award-winning chehf Aktar Islam, one of the masterminds behind Birmingham’s Lasan Restaurant, said: “Birmingham Food Fest is a great opportunity to raise the proﬁle of the city’s extensive dining opportunities and to showcase the calibre of culinary talent here.” The event is an exciting addition to the ongoing work undertaken by city promoters Visit Birmingham both to support and drive forward the culinary sector in the city. While Brum is already oozing with heaps of top attractions, it’s about to get even better with yet more developments, such as the Birmingham Gateway, its new-look rail station, The Cube, which oﬀers great apartments and oﬃces and the revamped Edgbaston cricket ground. Clearly, Britain’s second city is once again set to hit the opposition for six. www.minthotel.com www.alfrash.com www.ashasuk.co.uk www.marketingbirmingham.com www.businessbirmingham.com www.visitbirmingham.com www.meetbirmingham.com www.birminghamtoolkit.com
Around the EU in 30 days - Page 16
Big wheel keep on turning Tony Mallett takes a look at the festive season, capital of Europe-style Throughout the festive season, visitors to Brussels can enjoy the annual Plaisirs d’Hiver festival that runs all the way through until New Year’s Day. Among the highlights is, of course, the skating rink in Place St Catherine. Measuring 60 metres in length, it has more than 1,000m2 of ice and can accommodate up to 300 people at a time. If that amount of whizzing bodies is a bit too scary for the really young, there’s a smaller rink next to the main one. Nearby are the famous and fabulous Baroque roundabouts, with their fantasy characters spinning passengers around through space and time, while you’d struggle to miss the Big Wheel towering above it all and allowing visitors a panoramic view of the bright lights, big city illuminations. Added attractions include the toboggan run, which seems to get longer every year, and the dastardly and ever-hungry Ice Monster - a 40mlong dinosaur. The skating rink, sledding track and ferris wheel are usually open from 11:00 to 22:00 but only until 18:00 on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. On Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, they open from midday. Great piece of marketing Apparently, British tour operators have called the Brussels Christmas market ‘Europe’s most original’. Whether it is or not is neither here-northere as it’s certainly great fun and loaded with gift ideas in the run-up to the big day.
With an area stretching over two kilometres, you can enjoy its stalls, chalets, attractions, activities and terraces, all stacked with food, drink, delicacies and other goodies. The ‘guest’ country this year is Greece, which will host eight chalets - one for each of its provinces - and will showcase the expertise of its artisans. Look out for certiﬁed olive oil that positively oozes sunshine on these cold days. The market opens Monday-Thursday from 12-21:00, Friday from midday until 22:00 and Sat-Sunday from 11-22:00. The times diﬀer on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but it’s always open! Let there be light Meanwhile, people can and do say what they like (or, more often, don’t like) about Belgium’s biggest electric supplier, but they put on a damn good show in Grand’Place each Winter. And the 2011 edition looks like being a bumper one for Electrabel Nights/Rendez-vous Electrabel, as it features new (or a-bit-newerthan-last-year, at any rate) technology and special fancy light thingies. A spiral light sculpture has been installed in the centre of Grand’Place and its coloured rays will shimmer over the City Hall, nearby buildings and the giant Christmas tree. It’s all about creating an atmosphere of harmony, mystery and magic - and not just at night as thousands of lights will be visible by day too. As for the evenings, every weekend the shows start at 20:00, 21:00 and 22:00 and will include some amazing creative artists, such as a crystal
Stay in touch with
Around Brussels in 30 days
Follow us on Twitter: @Brussels30Days ‘Like’ us on Facebook: Around Brussels in 30 Days
musician wearing mirror costumes, a giantwinged butterﬂy, a ﬁre-dancer and a moonclimbing acrobat. Not all at the same time, though: these take their turns over the various weekends. Add to that a magical choir on Christmas Eve and, in all good conscience, you can’t knock it. Nice to see ‘big business’ putting something back - and this is a pretty cool ‘something’... It all runs until New Year’s Day, so ﬁnd the time to enjoy! More on all of the above here. Slip-slidin’ away It’s fair to say that the chances of a good fall of snow between now and January are minimal and the chances of skiing in the city centre even less but...a fascinating concept will be put in front of the Brussels public from 10-25 December at Mont des Arts – yes, city skiing. OK, organisers Pierre & Vacances are out to give you ideas for their skiing holidays but, to tempt you along, they’ll be unveiling a CitySki slope that’s 150 metres long by 7m. Attached will be a 5m-high launching ramp at the top for the crazy few who want to get a good head of steam going from the start. The slope will be covered with ‘snow’ generated by a machine and equipped with mechanical lifts. You can get lessons from professionals and, once you’ve spent some time on the piste, you can enjoy some seasonal mulled wine, surrounded by ﬁr trees and chalets. It’s not quite the same as being up a frosty mountain in the Alps but, given that it’s right in the heart of the city, it’s the next best thing.
Page 17 - Around the EU in 30 days
Got your ‘museum head’ on? Brussels is just the place... The experts tell us that, by 2050, our planet will have to provide food for nine billion people. Nine BILLION? At EUin30Days we struggle to rustle up our own dinner - and we certainly couldn’t catch or grow it. Anyway, us being rubbish aside, how can we all change our ways in order to satisfy such a demand yet also devise a fair way of allocating Mother Earth’s bounty? There are already 7bn on the planet, so how do we stop more and more starving? The Expo-a-table ‘Field to Plate’ event uses multi-modal museography: graphic frescoes, audiovisual productions, photographs, electro-mechanical interactive displays, windows of discovery and tactile monitors. These elements are mixed with contemporary art works to explore themes that are at once practical as well as philosophical and political. The expo is on now and runs until June 2012 at Tour & Taxis, down by the canal. More info available here. Brasilia expo is full of beans Those who enjoy photography can make it snappy and get along to Building Brasilia, which runs until 15 January next year. As part of the huge Europalia project, this event pulls together photos on the topic of the creation of the Brazilian capital city, paying particular attention to its architecture (the Alvorada Palace, the Presidential residence, National Congress and more) as well as focusing on the neighbouring city of Núcleo Bandeirante, which was used to house millions of travellers waiting for Brasilia to be ﬁnished and thus ready to accommodate them. The expo attempts to show the monumental eﬀorts made to construct the city using the views of photographers such as Marcel Gautherot, Walter Firmo and Thomas Farka. Alongside are polaroids by Jaír Lanes and other works by Robert Polidori, Rubens Mano and others. It’s open Monday-Friday from 10:00-18:00 (closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day). Also in the same building (on the ﬁrst ﬂoor) and running now is a fun and interactive exhibition for all ages all about the Brussels-Capital Region. Find out how and why the Region came into being, how it functions as an institution and the role it plays as an
international city and ‘capital of Europe’. Find out more by clicking here. Museum pieces In a town as culturally rich as Brussels, it’s tough to choose from the myriad museums, from the obvious Royal Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Musical Instruments (fantastic for its Horta architecture alone, see photo below) to the lesser-known Geuze Museum in Anderlecht, or the Belgian centre of the comic strip and the Tram museum just outside the city in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert. And we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface... Autoworld, out at Parc Cinquantenaire, and the Central Africa Museum (at the end of a fabulous tram ride to Tervuren) are others to consider but here we’re going to tell you about another place to visit. 1830 is the year that Belgium came into being and it’s certainly grown and evolved over almost 200 years. The BELvue museum tells the story of a small country that often punches above its weight.
Its current 500-plus-days without a government world record aside, this little land of just 11 million souls has been built around successes and failures, revolutions and wars, democracy and kings and we’re happy to report that this small-but-perfectly formed museum has most of the story within its nine rooms. The older generation will remember times past, while youngsters can enjoy learning through the permanent and occasional temporary exhibitions, all set within the beautifully restored former ‘hôtel de Bellevue’, which dates from the 18th century and is a stone’s throw from the Royal Palace and park. Food is available and there’s also the obligatory shop - so check it out, why don’t you? Opening hours are from Tuesday-Friday, 10-17:00 and it stays open an hour later at weekends. And don’t say that we didn’t tell you that it’s closed on Mondays. Find it at 7, Place des Palais, 1000 Brussels. Telephone +32 (0) 70 22 04 92 if you want to know more.
Around the EU in 30 days - Page 18
The Getaway: 2
Liquid Belgium: Getting wet in Bruges and Dinant By Lucy Mallows These days, little more than a trickle of the river Senne ﬂows through Brussels; however, water lovers have many opportunities to enjoy a liquid holiday throughout Belgium. Bruges is not known as the Venice of the North for nothing. This ﬁne Flemish city’s charming, narrow lanes and quaint alleyways are encircled and bisected by a network of canals that give the map of the centre the appearance of a human heart. Bruges is a real walking city but, after a while, all that meandering along alleys, peering into quirky chocolate shops, bargaining for ﬁne lace while negotiating hordes of tourists in the main square can take its toll on the shoe leather. It’s good to have a break and just sit back and admire the view - admittedly from an unusual angle and a quite diﬀerent level. One way to get a diﬀerent perspective on Bruges and avoid the crowds for a break is to take a canal boat trip and explore the nooks and crannies from below. The tours usually last half an hour and set oﬀ from ﬁve possible boarding points, situated south of the Belfort (belfry) close to the Stadhuis (town hall) and ﬁnish at the Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk (Church of Our Lady). After exploring the city on the surface, visitors ﬁnd that the view from the water oﬀers something quite new. You might think you’ve seen all of the Flemish masterpiece while strolling the streets, but it’s quite a surprise to
discover another side and level to the Unesco-listed city and also the fact that you’d have missed 75% of the place if you hadn’t taken the tour. It’s great inspiration to explore further on foot. The boat cruises gently along some of the most beautiful stretches of canal, overlooked by ﬁne town houses, some with casement windows jutting out over the water and small private stone quays. Passing under hump-backed bridges, brushed by the fronds of overhanging willow trees, it’s like a journey back in time. A guide gives a commentary throughout the trip, but you may ﬁnd yourself drifting away into a daydream about living in a more elegant age as you gaze at the houses whose walls plunge down into the murky depths. For a more racy trip on the water, take a white-water kayak trip in Dinant in the heart of the stunning Ardennes region; along the Lesse, it’s a great way to get fresh air, see another part of Belgium and build up an appetite for yet another plate of moules-frites. Arriving in the town of Dinant, 80 kilometres south-east of Brussels, ﬁrst check out the unusual black church and precipitous cliﬀs looming over. A little mountain train to the town of Houyet from where the ﬁve-hour, 21km journey sets oﬀ. It’s also possible to alight earlier at Gendron and take a shorter, 12km trip back. Prospective kayakers - and it’s open to all aged over 12 - are given a bucket to keep all possessions dry, a life jacket and single or
double kayak, which can be a standard or even a ‘super comfort’. Once seated in the craft, before they know it, they’re shoved down a steep ramp and splashing into the water, swooshing oﬀ downstream, northwards to Dinant. The Lesse meanders through gorgeous, green countryside and passes bars and friteries, all located conveniently and far too temptingly close to the riverside - stop oﬀ at beaches ﬁlled with Belgian grannies having picnics and toddlers pottering, all having a great day out. If there’s been a lot of rain, the Lesse rushes impatiently, pulling kayakers under overhanging willows where they end up sideways or up against a tree, but it’s all good fun, messing about on the river. Bear in mind that it is quite likely to capsize, especially with the less experienced paddler, so it’s advisable to leave expensive cameras and watches at home. If the weather has been dry - strange as it may seem, this can happen in Belgium - then the Lesse is low and sluggish, but the ride is more leisurely. At the lower reaches of the river, the scenery is spectacular, as the kayaks enter a deep valley, surrounded by high cliﬀs pitted with prehistoric caves and the occasional Medieval chateau perched high above. At Anseremme, there are hot showers and free changing rooms, plus a lovely café with a terrace overlooking the rushing waters. Then, take the little mountain train back to Dinant for a gourmet dinner in the spectacular Ardennes scenery. Read more by Lucy Mallows here.
Page 19 - Around the EU in 30 days
Boozing my religion… Tony Mallett delves into the history and taste behind trappist beer Chimay When is a beer not a beer? Answer: when it’s a Trappist. Chimay is one of only seven beers in the world (six of them Belgian, there’s one in the Netherlands) that can genuinely and legally call itself by that name. For the record, just so you can impress your mates, the others are Westmalle, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren and Achel. The seventh is Koningshoeven, more commonly known as La Trappe, brewed in the Netherlands. Contrary to popular belief, Duvel isn’t one. The nectar that is the world-renowned Chimay is created in a high-tech plant behind the Cistercian abbey of Scourmontlez-Chimay, which in turn is a brief drive, or a longish monk’s plod, to the picturesque village, near the French border southwest of Namur, that gives the beer its name. Old Europe meets New Europe at the abbey? Deﬁnitely, in technology terms at least. The beautiful Scourmont Abbey is relatively young - 161 years old this year. On 25 July in 1850, Trappists from Westvleteren, near Ypres, set about clearing land donated by the Prince of Chimay in order to farm it. This they did, selling extra produce to the locals and, along the way, ﬁnding time to build an abbey, which now brews the beers and incorporates a cheese-making plant. The manual tasks involved in these industries tie in successfully with the monastic ethos and they are among the largest employers in the region. The ‘brothers’ still have decision-making powers on the board and pump euro after euro into social projects. Although the monks spend most of their time in prayer and study in their gorgeous surroundings, they dedicate a few daily hours to ensure that the beer production runs smoothly in the ultramodern brewery. The sight of habit-clad, silent monks wandering piously through the cloisters only yards from laboratories manned by techie types sporting white coats can seem weird. While the sun dapples the pathways that gently weave their way through leafy trees and the breeze wafts the delicious scent of blooms across your face, there exists a silence that is more startling than any noise. Day-trippers will ﬁnd the abbey’s atmosphere both humbling and uplifting, enhanced still further by the rare but gentle footfall of a passing monk, head down, hands clasped and mindful of prayer. The brewery itself is oﬀ-limits to casual visitors, being so close to a deeply holy order, but they all look the same anyway
- trust me. It’s the abbey and the small town itself that are the highlights. But I’ve missed something out here...what about the beer? Well, here’s a bit of history: the ﬁrst beer at Scourmont was produced in 1862 and was sold in corked bottles - the height of technology back then. By 1948, drinkers could pour the brew from capped bottles. This original beer - a 7% light, coppery-brown creation - is now shipped across the world. The famous ‘red cap’. Also in 1948, the ‘bleu’ ﬁrst saw the light of day. This one weighs in at 9% and was originally intended to be a dark, festive beer. You’ll be jolly after a couple of those. The Holy Trinity became complete with the ‘white cap’ in 1966. This, ‘light’ beer (a triﬂing 8%) has an aroma of fresh hops and an unexpected hint of muscat.
38 FOSSE AUX LOUPES 1000 BRUSSELS Tel: 02 223 62 23 WWW.STERLINGBOOKS.BE
These beers are not for the faint-hearted but, as they are all created using natural ingredients, the hangovers are at least worthy ones. No nasty chemicals - just good old-fashioned, tasty ale. Adam’s ale, you might say - but just a bit stronger. While we’re being Biblical, what about the monks? Surely not even the most devout could resist the occasional tipple of the fantastic beverages they play a part in making? No, they can’t resist. Truth is, there’s another brew (not as strong as the ones that you or I would jealously guard in some bar oﬀ Brussels’ Grand’Place) that’s tasty and refreshing in its own way. It’s a lighter version of the ‘famous three’ and the monks enjoy a glass or two from time to time. Even among monks, old habits die hard. www.chimay.be
Visiting Brussels? Visit Rooster’s!
Sports • DJs • Cocktails...and more In the heart of downtown at 79, Rue Grétry Join us on Facebook here