This weekend I visited the V&A’s new Ocean Liners exhibition. It was quite a glamorous affair and included several magnificent model liners, some fantastic Goyard luggage belonging to Edward VIII – then the Duke of Windsor, and a collection of beautiful furnishings and fittings, plus the actual bit of the Titanic which the bit Kate Winslet floats on was modelled on – if that makes sense? You might think this opening sounds more like I’m recommending a trip to London, but many of these liners were travelling between Europe and the U.S. – and in damn fine style by the look of it! And the exhibition made me realise that the U.S. is a place I’ve not really explored enough. So, I thought we’d come up with five transatlantic treats:
American Glamour in Miami
When I think of Miami I think modern glamour in a sunny setting. There’s the promise of Art Deco beauties displaying their white, rounded edges with pride against the clear blue sky and a bright blue bay, also edged by a sweep of white – though this time it’s sand. The colour comes from the neon lights of the cafes, bars and boutiques. But it’s not just the best of Americana, it also reflects the other cultures and nationalities that have made Miami their home. I want to see the Bass Museum of Art, the Wolfsonian FU design museum and the Vixcaya Museum and Gardens, and I want to linger in Máximo Gómez Park in Little Havana and visit the Florida Keys.
Where to Stay? Perfectly Miami, The Hotel of South Beach is all bright patterns, custom-designed motifs and it boasts a fantastic rooftop pool. The location is great, you feel close to both the beach and the city, and the best rooms have ocean views. There are 53 rooms, with doubles starting from around £125 per night.
Practical Details: You can get to Miami in about ten hours, flying direct out of Heathrow with BA., Virgin or American Airlines. Miami International Airport is just outside the centre of town. People come to Miami to escape winter’s worst, so this is when it’s busiest, but it’s really lovely in spring.
Treat Yourself to the Napa Valley
There’s more to the Napa Valley than wine, but I do enjoy a glass of cabernet or chardonnay – especially if it’s imbibed overlooking the vineyard on which it was produced, possibly at sunset?- so it’s the food and wine which really attracts me to this region. When I think Napa, I also think of sunshine and space, of pretty, homely towns, with main streets lined with galleries, antique shops and restaurants – all done well by tourists. I also think of spa treatments and wine-matching menus in Michelin-starred restaurants, which might sound like a bit of a faff, but when in Rome – or Napa…
Where to Stay? The Senza Hotel is quintessential Napa, with 41 stylish rooms with original artworks and balconies overlooking the vineyards. Elegant, with the possibility of opulence if you take up the offer of in-room massages and oversized bathtubs. You’re close to the vineyards, the boutiques and galleries, and the nightlife and cooking scene. Double rooms start from around £185 per night.
Practical Details: Depending on where you’re staying exactly, the Napa Valley is an hour and a bit north of San Francisco, and you can fly to San Francisco direct from London with BA, Virgin, Delta and United. The Napa Valley is probably best visited between May and September.
The Summer Holiday you read about in Nantucket
Just off glamorous sounding Cape Cod, the island of Nantucket was once the thriving heart of the world’s largest whaling fleet, which ran out of Nantucket Town, the main port. These days Nantucket Town is best known for being a National Historic Landmark – yes, the whole thing! It has a greater concentration of graceful, historic, pre-1850 built houses than anywhere else in the U.S. If you want the finest seafood and five star service in golf clubs, sailing clubs and lodges, as well as in your hotel and restaurant, then Nantucket is for you, but it’s also for the rest of us, and beyond the man-made charms are some pretty impressive sounding natural ones. Plus, in the stories I read as a child, people always seemed to come here for their summer holidays.
Where to Stay? The Centerboard Inn is a sophisticated B&B with a nautical air just a short stroll from the lively sea front. Originally built in 1880, this charming old house has seven spacious rooms with loft ceilings, a beautiful veranda and a lovely garden. It’s also great value with rooms starting from around £80 per night.
Practical Details: You can’t fly direct from the UK to Nantucket, you have to fly via Boston. For me, summer is the time to visit, I can’t imagine Nantucket without the sun and the sea.
An Adventure in Banff
Banff is the tranquil gateway and comfort stop for the Banff National Park and the Rocky Mountains. Sure, it has fancy, and well regarded, restaurants, boutiques and even a nightclub, and some people do come for those things, but for most people it’s the spectacularly mountainous scenery, against which they’re planning to ski, bike, boat or hike. The dense forests are home to elk, wolves and bears, and in spring, the alpine meadows are lush with flowers. There are even hot springs – they’re the reason the whole park became a protected area. Discovered in 1883, during the hey-day in popularity of thermal bathing, it looked as if the whole region would be swamped by private businesses trying to ‘sell’ the new springs. But the government of the time stepped in and made the whole area a national park – Canada’s first and only the third in the world.
Where to Stay? The Buffalo Mountain Lodge has comfortable chalet-style accommodation with private balconies, fireplaces and every comfort you can imagine, but against a spectacular mountain setting. This is a fair-sized lodge/resort with 108 rooms, so expect all the facilities and mod cons you might need, including an impressive choice of restaurants. Rooms start from around £105 per night.
Practical Details: Calgary International Airport is around 140kms from Banff and is your best bet for UK connections. There are good services running between the airport and Banff, including the Banff Airport, which takes about two hours.
A City Break in Montréal
I put Montréal in the mix because it’s somewhere I’ve always been keen to visit. It promises to be a wonderful marriage of old and new, and of the Old World and the New World, with beautiful architecture, wonderful old restaurants, bars and cafes and impressive museums and galleries. I have a friend who has family in Montréal and she promises the arts and foodie scenes are up there with any great city.
Where to Stay? The Hotel Epik is a boutique, nine room hotel in the heart of Old Montréal. Think exposed stone walls and original beams with slick, stainless steel details, leather furnishings and plenty of glass – but with wonderful views of the Notre Dame Basilica. Rooms start from around £95 per night.
Practical Details: Montréal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport is about 20kms outside the centre of town, and you can fly direct from Heathrow with Air Canada. It might surprise you to hear that it only takes about six and a half hours! I imagine Montréal would be perfect any time of year.
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