Seaside perfection, Whitby
A day out in Whitby. Morning tea and fruit cake with Wensleydale at Bothams. Walk to the sea, and out onto the pier. Walk up the beach, climb up the cliff and then back to the town past the whale’s jaw. Fresh crab sandwiches for lunch, then climb the 199 steps to the Priory. Back down, just enough time for afternoon tea and cake before crossing back over the river for a fish supper at the Magpie. Drive back over the beautiful North Yorkshire moors; the end of a perfect day, in perfect weather every time.
Off-grid hideaway, Scotland
At the end of Glen Etive, way past the lay-bys where the tourists pose for Skyfall photos and isolated from the single track road, lies Glenceitlein Cottage. Accessible from a two-mile rough track and sitting in a green pasture at the foot of Stob Dubh and overlooking the mighty Ben Starav. No TV, no internet, just the sound of the river, the cuckoo and the deer. There’s no place like it and I cannot wait to return.
Canoes on the Wye, Wales
My recent happy place trip was in 2019 on a hot August bank holiday trip to the Welsh countryside armed with camping equipment, packed lunches, chilly bottles with gin and wine along with our good friends and five kids. Trip started at Ross on Wye rowing club camping first night for pennies, then taking the meandering eight-mile canoe downstream to the delightful youth hostel. Hard work but two nights outdoors with happy kids and lots of laughter.
Magic beach, Dorset
My happy place is Shell Bay in Dorset. I’m about eight. It’s always very warm and sunny as Dad would never make the short crossing from Sandbanks if there was any chance of cloud or rain. This place that we visited perhaps only once a year with its empty expanses of beach, backdrop of sand dunes, crystal clear sea with yachts in the distance, is magical in my memory. I also remember complaining about the long walk carrying beach paraphernalia around the headland to find a “better spot” and worrying I wouldn’t be able to find Mum and Dad again up in the dunes as I came back from the water’s edge. Oh yes and no ice cream!
Mountain ride on Old Sooty, Greece
Tucked away in the curve of the Pagasitic Gulf on the Greek mainland lies the port town of Volos where my husband and I lived and married 20 years ago and from where, according to myth, Jason and his Argonauts set sail. Following the coast road for 20km or so brings you to the western side of Mount Pelion and the village of Milies. Here, under the shade of an enormous plane tree, you can stare across the Aegean to the Sporades beyond and then, if it’s the weekend, take the narrow-gauge railway train called Old Sooty back down through the mountain to Volos after three too many ouzos. I visit often in my dreams. It’s a place where breathing slows. There’s nowhere like Pelion, mythical home of the centaurs, on earth.
Best bar none, France
Our happy place is the bar in a small village, Mons La Trivalle, in Haut-Languedoc, southern France. Travelling there, through vineyards, cicadas in the background, and the Caroux mountains rearing up as we reach our destination, fills us with joy. As we enter the village there is a sharp bend and then in front of us is the bar Auberge du Caroux. There’s the table we will sit at, exchanging greetings with the owner and locals, drinking rosé or pastis, coffee on market days or lunch on Sundays, watching the world go by.
Translating as Kissing Steps, this city-centre space epitomises Copenhagen’s inspired approach to urban design. It’s a deceptively simple layout of wide wooden steps leading down to the cleaned-up harbour, surrounded by containers which open into bars and a stage. In the brief summer, locals catch up with friends, sunbathe and swim in the brackish water, often straight from work. Sipping cocktails, listening to low-key DJ sets and egging each other on to jump into the harbour remains one of my favourite family holiday memories of recent years.
First drink in Umbria, Italy
Arriving once more at the tiny bar at top of the walled village of Allerona, close to Orvieto, ordering the first drink and sitting at an outside rickety table is to know pure happiness. The view is down the steep village street, glorious with window box geraniums, or, to one side, through a stone archway to roll upon roll of Umbrian hills. Locals drop by to catch up over an espresso or beer – all greeting the newcomer. Few tourists make it here and, in winter, cold will permeate the stones but in my mind, arriving with endless blue skies, it’s perfection.
Fish lunch on the beach, Italy
I often revisit memories of lazy days at Da Adolfo – a mid-price beach restaurant a short hop from Positano main dock (look for the boat with the red fish sign). Da Adolfo is a local institution, its reputation earned not only for the seafood and homemade pasta but for the bubbling atmosphere. Tourists and locals sit elbow to elbow, the chatter building as more jugs of wine are consumed. Plates are passed down from the cliffside kitchen, waiters jogging barefoot over hot beach pebbles. I can think of no better way to spend an afternoon than flopping back on my lounger after a wonderful lunch, soaking up the sun and taking a dip.
Out of Africa, Sierra Leone
The Turtle Islands, off the coast of Sierra Leone, are sublime, both scenically and culturally. A five-hour canoe ride leaves you entirely cut off from the rest of the world, and the welcoming people of the fishing villages will give you a glimpse of their daily lives. This is Nyangai, but the only guesthouse on the islands is on nearby Bakie. It was only recently opened by Isagah, who grew up there.
Breakfast with a view, Indonesia
Last year for Vesak Day (the Buddhist national holiday) I finally hiked up Mount Bromo in East Java, Indonesia. The first day was spent hiking up Bromo’s crater and generally frolicking around Bromo national park’s moon-like landscape. On the second day we awoke at 2am to hike up Seruni Point, which is directly opposite Mount Bromo. After around an hour of hiking we found a spot to settle down, eat breakfast and wait for sunrise. Although we knew we had picked a good spot, it wasn’t until later that we really appreciated how lucky we were. This was the view that welcomed us when the sun came up. I doubt I will ever be anywhere again that can beat this.
Watching India go by
The open door of a train on Indian railways… Sitting on the step and watching the landscape. Passing behind me and moving between carriages are chai sellers, food hawkers, buskers and beggars. Any train, second-class sleeper, just after sunrise or just before sunset. No prices, no website: just get yourself to India and book an overnight train somewhere.
Teen dream, Canada
Who could be happier than a student, just finished year-end exams, going camping with his pals? My happy place is called Long Beach, a wide hard-packed beach on the open Pacific side of Vancouver Island. In the early 1970s, before it became part of Pacific Rim national park, you could drive on the beach and camp anywhere. It was an adventure to get there on logging roads through the mountains. The sound and sight of endless rollers coming in off the ocean, the salty breeze, the bald eagles, the camp fires and starry nights, the purity and isolation shared with friends … although I live far away, that place will always be my spiritual home.
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