I’m among the millions of adults who can’t swim – but I’m finally taking the plunge

I’m never sure quite how to handle the look of surprise people give me when I tell them I can’t swim. “But swimming is fun!” Yes, I’m sure it is. “But it’s great exercise.” I don’t doubt it. The fact remains that I can’t swim. Or even take my feet off the bottom of a swimming pool. I’ve been scared of water for as long as I can remember – school swimming trips were a source of dread and the smell of chlorine still makes my stomach lurch. The thought of being hemmed in by water makes my palms

Why Fiji is so much more than a honeymoon destination

There are a few places in the world that perfectly fit the “honeymoon paradise” cliché. Fiji is one of them: the 330-island archipelago, with its thousands of miles of white-sand beaches, palm trees, coral reefs and luxury resorts, has romance in spades. But when the world’s most famous newlyweds, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, visited last week, they offered a glimpse into a country with so much more to offer beyond the beaches. I visit just days before Harry and Meghan landed as part of the

More of us are travelling alone, but I found it more of a challenge than I expected

I’m not sure how it took me until I was standing at a fork in the overgrown path, swatting away dragonflies with my crumpled map, to remember what a bad sense of direction I have. Out here, on the brink of a ravine in the southern Italian countryside, my trusty Citymapper app was useless. I squinted at the map again, then at the path ahead. Time to retrace my steps… I’m one of those irritating people who call themselves a traveller, yet I’ve been mostly shielded from anything resembling a chal

Ibiza’s racy cabaret club Lio is coming to London – but can Brits handle the hedonism?

The master of ceremonies looms over our table, coiffed moustache curling further north as his near-maniacal grin widens. We nod, shy and self-conscious despite the fact that the wine was already flowing. I’m not sure what to expect from a night at Lio, a dinner party-meets-cabaret-meets-nightclub in Ibiza’s high-end marina district. We’ve been here 10 minutes, and already are a bit slack-jawed: rhinestone-twinkling performers greet guests like old friends, women strut through the dining area l

Cycling through history: new London bike tour celebrates women’s achievements

Think of your average historical city tour: chances are, it will comprise a rambling round-up of dead white blokes. Statues of conquering heroes on horseback, plaques for playwrights, those kinds of things. But a new London bike excursion is taking people on a tour marking a few of the city’s females heroes, some of whom you will probably never have heard of. Tour de Force, a joint initiative between Santander and Transport for London, is aiming to put the spotlight on some inspirational women

How I learned to love the over-friendliness of my hometown

Believe the hype: Ireland is awash with friendly cities, according to a recent travel poll. Cork was voted third in Condé Nast Traveller’s 2018 Friendliest Cities in the World, with Galway and Dublin also in the top 10. I could have told you that about Cork: I grew up there. Maybe it’s because you can’t ask for directions without entering into a 20-minute conversation (The “well, I wouldn’t start from here” cliche is made for Corkonians). Or that they call everyone “boy” or “girl”, no matter t

Save the kiwi: how New Zealand is battling to protect its iconic bird

It’s their national bird, yet most New Zealanders have never seen one in the wild. Siobhan Norton visits Kapiti Island to find out why the country is in a race to safeguard the kiwi Setting foot on Kapiti Island feels like stepping back in time. As I climb through the lush vegetation towards the summit, I encounter no people. Just birds – curious, unusual birds, like I have never seen before. Kaka and weka and kokako, tieke and hihi and ruru, often bestowed with their Maori names because of the

Cocora Valley: Palm trees and perilous trails on a hike through Colombia’s coffee region

There’s an easy way and a hard way, the guide book had warned. Standing in the hamlet of Cocora, eyeing a fork in the road, I realise the guide hasn’t mentioned which is which. I take a punt, and turn right. It’s only when I reach a rickety rope bridge that I realise this might be the hard way. Indiana Jones knows it. Wile E Coyote knows it. Rope bridges are terrifying, especially if you’re a novice hiker. Still, a deep breath, a hop, skip and a jump, and I’m over it, and on to a verdant trai

Gold Coast travel: how the 2018 Commonwealth Games host is the ultimate playground

“We’re building the ultimate place to play.” The billboards dotting the Gold Coast make no secret of the work that has been done to prepare for the Commonwealth Games. My visit coincides with organisers putting the final touches to world-class stadia and a glittering, open-air aquatic centre. This will be no Rio, they insist. They are ready. And what an apt slogan: the Gold Coast is, after all, Australia’s playground. By day, joggers and surfers make the most of the pristine sand and surf at C

Hotel of the week: The Hoxton, Paris

Forget the poky rooms and rickety staircases of most Parisian hotels. The Hoxton opened last year to great fanfare, following its London and Amsterdam counterparts. Just as its Dutch sister did when it opened in a historic canalside townhouse, The Hoxton Paris delivers contemporary chic that complements the 18th-century framework. The hotel occupies the site of a rococo-fronted hotel particulier in the formerly industrial second arrondissement, a short stroll from the recently revamped Forum d

Greek goodness: a wellness break in Halkidiki

I’m perched atop a hill, with sweeping views of an azure bay below me. It’s tranquil up here, only a few overfed bees drunkenly lurching between the hyacinth blooms and a few inquisitive goats to disturb the peace. I should be tranquil, too. Instead, I’m glaring at my neighbour while keeping a white-knuckled grip on the handlebars. “Why are you stopping?” Vassilis, our guide, admonishes me. The rest of the group is miles ahead, while I remain stationary on the steepest slope yet, paralysed wit

Ignore the hiccups: the Gold Coast is the perfect host for the Commonwealth Games

It’s sod’s law. The Commonwealth Games opened with a downpour in the city that boasts 300 days of sunshine a year. But spirits were still high in Carrera Stadium as the opening ceremony took place. The Gold Coast looked set for the Games when I visited a few weeks ago. The beachside city of 600,000 that has in the past been branded seedy certainly scrubs up well. The organisers were determined not to have a repeat of Rio: no algae-green pools, no “state of public calamity”. Sure, it wasn’t wit

Temples, tea and tree hugging on Japan's Kumano Kodo trail

One does not simply walk into Ise Jingu. Two towering torii, flanked by a wooden bridge, are the gates that separate the everyday world from these sacred shrines. To enter you must first bow, then step past the threshold using your right foot. Ritualistic ablutions follow at the crystalline river. As I walk with pilgrims and tourists beneath the trees, it’s as if the air itself is hushed in reverence. I stop to take a picture of a wooden sign inscribed with Japanese lettering. “Do you know what

Montreal: foodie meets frou frou in this surprisingly hip hotspot

“You can always tell an out-of-towner around here,” my guide tells me. “They walk quickly, with their heads down – we’re not like that.” From where I’m standing, everyone must be a local; whether dressed in business attire or gym gear, they are all moving at a leisurely pace. Perhaps if it were a freezing January evening rather than today’s glorious summer’s afternoon, they might be getting more of a move on, but there is certainly something pace-slowing about Montreal. Maybe it’s the air, or t

Bubbles by the beach: exploring Australia's secret wine country

You’re awash with options if you’re a wine tourist in Australia. From ­Adelaide, you can explore the ­Barossa Valley, the oldest wine region in the country. From Sydney, Hunter Valley. From Melbourne, Yarra. But Melburnians also have what has been, until recently, a well-kept secret, tucked away in the last place you’d expect: by the seaside. I’m starting my day at Balnarring Beach, and my guide, Arthur O’Bryan of Mornington Peninsula Plunge Wine Tours, is pouring me a cold glass of Willow Cree

California gleaming: hanging with the hip, healthy Venice Beach crowd

“I am energised.” I glance up from my menu at the beaming waitress who has just addressed me. “Um, I’m sorry, what?” “I am energised,” she repeats serenely. “It’s the affirmation to go with your smoothie.” “Oh, um, right, great,” I reply. “I’ll have the granola bowl, too…” “I am nourished,” she nods encouragingly. To be fair, it’s easy to feel energised in Cafe Gratitude, the eatery serving nutritious food with a hefty side of karma on shabby-chic Rose Avenue. Lululemon-clad yoginis are beginni

Whiskey and whimsy: the real story of Jack Daniel's

Amid the clamour of this year’s Christmas advertising, you may have spotted one of the distinctive monochrome Jack Daniel’s posters. It weaves the latest of a series of whimsical fables surrounding the whiskey’s home town, telling how the residents of Lynchburg, Tennessee, are given a special commemorative bottle of Jack come the festive season. But, it adds, “we tend not to get caught up in the frenzy that seems to take hold of places where life moves a little faster”. Like its other ads, it’s

The best way to spend a weekend in Paris this autumn

When to go Cole Porter wasn’t wrong: Paris is lovely at any time of the year. However, there’s plenty of culture to enrich a visit this autumn. On 3 October, the new Musée Yves Saint Laurent opens on the premises of his former haute couture house. On 7 October, contemporary artists take over the city from dusk until dawn for Nuit Blanche. Headline October exhibitions include Gauguin at the Grand Palais (9 Oct-22 Jan), Picasso 1947 at the Musée Picasso (10 Oct-11 Feb), Being Modern: MoMA in Par
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