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Monday, 26 September 2016

Malaga: where to stay

It was at one of three Room Mate Hotels in Malaga that we stayed. Located in a quiet street in an area between the Almeda Principal (a wide street) and the port area, Room Mate Lola has 50 bedrooms, including three suites on each of its four floors.

The comfortable and friendly hotel serves breakfast on the ground floor and there are also a number of cafés nearby. One called Santa Canela in Calle Tomás Heredia looked inviting. This part of Malaga is known as Soho. Check out some of its street art on

A few minutes away is recently opened Room Mate Valeria whose rooftop bar and terrace overlooks the sea (and the big wheel). Room Mate Larios, furnished in Art Deco style, also has a rooftop bar. It’s located on the main pedestrian street, Calle Marqués de Larios.

Other hotels to consider include: Molina Lario, NH Malaga, AC Hotel Malaga Palacio, Parador de Malaga Gibralfaro, Dulces Dreams, Alcazabar Premium Hotel, Patio 19 Hostel and Gran Hotel Miramar (opening at the end of 2016).

The main tourist office is Malaga Tourism:

Monday, 26 September 2016

Malaga: where to eat and drink

A great choice of independent cafés, bars and restaurants, talented chefs, a sunny climate, great produce and a maritime location have all helped to give Malaga its well deserved reputation for food and drink. Here are a few places we visited (and some we didn’t), starting with one which was less than two minutes walk from the hotel.

El Rincón del Cervecero is one of the big names of the craft beer movement in Malaga, the genial owners offering 257 different beers, eight of them on tap. There was always plenty of people sitting outside in the evenings, savouring the beers and the limited menu (sheep’s cheese, and cured meats from Leon included).

At Cafeteria Framil we had the churros, dipped in hot chocolate and at Taberna Uvedoble loved the new take on tapas (thinly sliced swordfish in pork fat; homemade Iberian ham and cheese croquettes for instance), served by the smiley waiters. We felt equally welcome at nearby Café Berlin (pic) where, for breakfast, we sampled the toasted muffin, olive oil and chopped tomatoes. Simple but very tasty. Not forgetting lunch at Bar Mercado Atarazanas in the food market (see above).

A very generous portion of wine and a beer at Taberna Cofrade Las Merchanas in Calle Mosquera was altogether a different experience in that the bar is decorated with religious pictures and memorabilia, linked to Malaga’s Easter Holy Week or Semana Santa. There’s a restaurant here too.

We tried to get a table at Mesón Ibérico, near our hotel, one evening but it was far too busy. Mamuchis is even closer to the hotel.

Other places on our list for next time include El Refectorium Catedral, Gorki (various places), Cortijo de Pepe, Lepanto Café, Oleo, Bodega Bar El Pimpi, Los Patios de Beatas, KGB, El Mesón de Cervantes, Casa Aranda, Antigua Casa de Guardia and Jose Carlos Garcia.

Grilled sardines, anchovies, the olive oils, the almonds and sweet wines are all things that Malaga and its area are known for. Sardines are often grilled on sticks over a fire on the beach. And, of course, there’s a big range of tapas bars.

Thursday, 04 August 2016

18 hours in Exeter

For me, Exeter was always a ‘passing through’ sort of place: heading through on the way to school or to play rugby, passing through for visits to family and friends. Two weeks ago I was there again and what a change from 15 years ago.

Then, Exeter seemed a fairly humdrum sort of city, despite having the most beautifully located of universities, a lovely cathedral, the Northcott Theatre, a small airport and an historic quayside, next to the River Exe.

Since then, of course, the Met Office has moved to the area, a new town called Cranbrook has grown up to the east of the city, a science park is being developed, Exeter Airport has expanded (now serving about 15 countries) and there have been other multi-million pound developments in the city itself, a shopping area called Princesshay being one of them (pic).

All this has come with a big change in the retail and restaurant scene. There’s a large John Lewis store and a Waitrose, and as we wandered around we spotted Hollister, The White Company, Carluccio’s, Jamie’s Italian, Reiss, Karen Millen, Hobbs, Russell and Bromley, Zara, Hotel Chocolat and Crew Clothing to name a few.

There were a handful of little squares and outside spots for cafés/restaurants as well. And at the Royal Clarence/ABode Hotel - opposite the cathedral and said to be the oldest hotel in the country - is ABode Restaurant, once run by well known chef and Exeter-born Michael Caines.

And there’s more to come, including a £70 million regeneration scheme around the old bus station site (new swimming pool here) and a £12 million redevelopment of part of the Guildhall shopping centre. The latter will focus on food and drink. An IKEA is coming too.

Last but certainly not least, Exeter has one of the best club rugby sides in the country, its ground hosting three matches during the World Cup last year. What 15 years of drive and ambition have done for the old Roman city. And that’s before you mention the nearby coast and countryside.

Exeter Tourist Information:

Glorious Goodwood was getting much of the attention around Chichester last week but let’s not forget the Roman town’s other glories - its cathedral, Festival Theatre and, on a smaller scale, the excellent Pallant House Gallery. It was to the gallery we headed for the first major exhibition in 35 years of the British artist Christopher Wood who died in 1930 at the age of 29.

Although he befriended Picasso, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Jean Cocteau after moving to Paris in 1920 it was his close creative relationship with the artists Ben and Winifred Nicholson, then living at Banks near Brampton in Cumbria, that helped shape the unsophisticated style of his last years. Wood first visited the Nicholsons in what was then Cumberland in 1926 (landscape pictured) and later painted with them in Cornwall and Northumberland.

The exhibition is titled Christopher Wood: Sophisticated Primitive, a reference, as the gallery says, to the contradiction between Wood’s ‘civilised’ lifestyle in Paris and the ‘primitive’ aesthetic he aspired to.

After seeing the 80 or so works of art gathered here - paintings, drawings and set designs - you’re left wondering what might have been had this hugely talented individual lived considerably longer. It’s a first class show and goes on until October 2.

Pallant House itself combines a Grade I listed Queen Anne building with a modern wing, opened ten years ago this summer. Its focus is very much on modern British art so in some of the other rooms you’ll see more paintings by Ben Nicholson and by Ivon Hitchens who was another visitor to the Nicholsons at Banks.

There's also work by Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, RB Kitaj, Peter Blake and a number of contemporary printmakers. We even spotted a pot by Cumbrian based William PlumptreThere’s a great bookshop here too.

Back in Kendal and quite coincidentally, Winifred Nicholson in Cumberland is on at Abbot Hall Art Gallery until October 15.

Thursday, 09 June 2016

A visit to Oslo, Norway (part 4)

I couldn’t leave Oslo without visiting the hotel where I once worked and anyway its Holmenkollen location affords fantastic views of the city and fjord. So we took the little train up to Frognerseteren at the end of the line, a huge panorama revealing itself as we moved slowly up the hill. Some of the paths through the woods here are floodlit, so cross-country skiers can use them on winter evenings.

A short walk back down brought us to the old Holmenkollen ski jump where a number of young men were practicing on the slope. Not far away is the newer and even bigger ski jump and my old hotel, now much expanded.

On the final morning we took a tram into the city centre and went to the National Gallery where a room is devoted to the paintings of Edvard Munch: The Scream, MadonnaThe Dance of Life and several more. It was good to be acquainted with the work of other Norwegian artists as well, such as JC Dahl and Thomas Fearnley. We skipped the gallery’s French Salon for coffee and cake and went across the road to Kaffebrenneriet (pic).

Save for a stroll down the city’s main thoroughfare of Karl Johans Gate (past the Grand Hotel where the Nobel Peace Prize laureates stay) and visits to Oslo Cathedral, Ostbanehallen, the food court at Oslo Station and department store Steen & Strøm, that was it.

A picture of Edvard Munch was on our plane home, Norwegian having a policy of putting ‘iconic figures from across the network’ on the tail fins of their planes. Understandably, the company calls them ‘tail fin heroes’.

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