Friday, 30 September 2011

Bordeaux, city of style

Elegant and seductive Bordeaux is like one of its fine wines, once experienced, never forgotten.

It’s one of my favourite destinations in France. This chic city not only has plenty of historic buildings to discover  ̶  approximately half Bordeaux is a Unesco World Heritage Site  ̶  but it is also renowned for its excellent cuisine. And there are also plenty of great boutiques to tempt you to part with your cash.

The Port of the Moon, as Bordeaux is often called due to it being on a crescent-shaped bend on the River Garonne (South-West France), has like Paris a right and left bank and is broken up into districts. As the city is much smaller it is easier to get around. I love the high-tech tram system.

One of the star attractions of the city is the Cathédral Saint-André, renowned for its superb architecture and Tour Pey-Berland, a 15th century bell tower. One of the most striking landmarks is the Gross Cloche, a big bell from the Middle Ages.

Bordeaux looks magnificent whatever the weather. As you would expect from such a sophisticated city there are some amazing restaurants.

Le Pressoir d'Argent in The Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux, the city’s smartest address, and where I stayed, was my favourite. The beautiful French décor of this Michelin-starred restaurant made me feel as if I was back in the 18th century – the period known as Bordeaux’s Golden Age – reliving the glamour of this era.

Another superb eaterie is La Tupina, a country-styled restaurant in the heart of the city which specialises in south-western French cuisine. Also check out Le Gabriel in the ornate Place de la Bourse with its Fountain of the Three Graces which has superb views of the river.
This is a city where you will want to make sure that your hair is styled to perfection and that you are dressed immaculately when you go out at night.

In general French women always look so well turned-out. Their secret is how they put themselves together. By and large they wear clothes that fit them and that flatter their shape. They tend to opt for classic tailoring updated with a contemporary twist usually in the form of accessories such as the bag of the moment. They invest in key pieces in quality fabrics. Simple and elegant seems to be their mantra. Maybe this is a lesson we can learn when we next go shopping.

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there

Eurostar ( offers connecting services to Bordeaux, return fares from £109. Tip: go via Lille, it’s an easier connection than Paris

The Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux ( rooms per night from €320 (approx £300)

Friday, 16 September 2011

Destination Moscow

Moscow’s energy and drive hits you like nowhere else in the world.

This sophisticated city is bursting with chic designer shops and world-class restaurants which sit comfortably alongside historic buildings and centuries-old decorative churches.

Red Square, the site of St Basil’s Cathedral, had to be my first stop. That cathedral and its brightly-coloured onion shaped domes, commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, is more impressive in reality than in pictures.

Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton 

The Kremlin is on one side and on the other is Gum, the former state department store, now a luxury shopping mall.

In Soviet times there were always long queues at Gum and not much on offer. Today there is plenty of choice, but it is incredibly expensive so you won’t have to wait long to be served. Go inside just to see the architecture, it is so grand. I couldn’t help thinking how ironic that Lenin’s mausoleum is opposite.

Next stop was the Kremlin, a fortified citadel with palaces. The past meets the present here. Once home to the tsars and heads of the Russian Orthodox Church, it now houses the President’s offices. 

The Tsar Cannon, the world’s biggest cannon is near Cathedral Square. Supposedly it has never been fired. A strange anomaly is that the nearby enormous Tsar Bell, also the largest of its kind in the world, has never been rung.

From the Kremlin's gardens, I had wonderful views of the River Moskva and the city’s eclectic mix of architecture. Dominating the skyline are the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour with its golden domes and the so-called Stalin’s Wedding Cakes (also known as the Seven Sisters) which are peppered all over the city. 

Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton

I stayed at the glitzy Ritz-Carlton, a complete contrast from the Intourist Hotel which formerly occupied the site. The hotel, which I can thoroughly recommend, is only a short walk away from the Kremlin, Red Square and the Bolshoi Theatre.

Taxis can be expensive in Moscow and the Metro is hard to navigate as the signs are in Russian. My ride was included in my sightseeing tour so I got to see many stations so lavishly decorated with marble, mosaics, bronze statues and paintings. It is one of the city’s highlights.

The weekend is a good time to visit Moscow as there is less of its notoriously bad traffic. But still cross the main streets by the tunnels or you will be taking your life into your hands.

I ended my trip with a visit to the infamous Lubyanka, the headquarters of the KGB and now home to the FSB (Federal Security Service).

There were times during my trip that I felt as if I had been catapulted into an episode of Spooks, but that only adds to the thrilling experience that is Moscow.

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there

Three nights staying at the Ritz-Carton hotel, with return flights with Swiss International Airlines including airport transfers, two half-day city guided tours and entry to the Kremlin can be booked through Russian specialists On the Go Tours, (020 7371 1113, Prices on application. 

A visa is required for Russia
Tip: get it through your travel agent