I get sent information about a lot of new hotels. I’m going to try and post more of them from now on. Even if you and I never get to visit them, they’re nice to look at on the top deck of the bus on a Monday morning in October!

Bikaner is a city in Rajasthan, east of the border with Pakistan and surrounded by the Thar Desert. It was once a great staging post on the great caravan routes that criss-crossed the region. In terms of tourism it’s number one attraction is the Junagarh Fort, built between 1588 and 1593.

This is the newly-opened Narendra Bhawan in Bikaner. Formerly owned by the last Maharaja of Bikaner (HH Narendra Singhji, 1948 – 2003), the hotel’s interiors play on his journey through life, and are full of carefully-sourced antiques and artefacts from around the world. 

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Facade

Corridor 2 NEW

Diwali Chowk NEW

Narendra Bhawan - Bikaner (19) Entrance

The craftsmanship is superb and Art Deco furniture contrasts brilliantly with Rajput and European.  Built of soft pink sandstone, the tall building surrounds a pretty inner courtyard, overlooked by airy corridors, and has a lovely rooftop pool.

There are 82 bedrooms: some are contemporary, others more traditional and some more avant garde. The interiors of each reflect the different categories and phases of the Maharaja’s life.  They vary from bright and minimalist to more ‘arty’ or more traditional.

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Prince Room

Infinity Pool

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You can find more information at the website of India travel specialist Mahout. (The details and photos here has been provided by Mary-Anne Denison-Pender, the MD of that company, who is encyclopaedic in her knowledge of Indian hotels.)

The price for a “Prince Room” is from £190 per room per night (for two people) including breakfast.

Alaska has always been somewhere I’ve wanted to visit, and I was able to do that earlier this summer when I checked out the World Eskimo Indian Olympics, held in Fairbanks, Alaska.

If you’re flying on British Airways this month look out for my report on it in their in-flight magazine, High Life.

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Was there ever really a golden age of travel?

We’ve all seen those pictures and film of travellers dressed in their Sunday best in the 1960s being served champagne and caviar, and a rack of lamb carved beside their seat. What’s not pointed out, though, is that the exorbitant airfares back then meant only the wealthiest in society could travel.

But I’d argue the golden age of travel is now, when most people can jet off to New York for £350 or Thailand for not much more if they want.

There’s a downside though. You can forget that rack of lamb for a start, if you’re travelling down the back.

As British Airways announces the routes which will see its reconfigured Boeing 777s next year – the economy class cabin is being squeezed from 9 seats across to 10 – here are five thoughts on making a long haul trip more bearable.

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(1) Choose an aisle seat. Yes, it’s nice to look out of the window, but it’s nicer not to have to clamber over two people in the middle of the night when you want to use the loo. Use the website Seatguru to check out seat plans of the plane you’ll be on.

(2) Load up your iPad/tablet with TV shows and movies. Yes many airlines have seat-back TV these days, but it’s nice to be able to catch up on shows you’ve meant to see. Why not go old school and – gasp! – read a book.

(3) Take your own snacks. One of the biggest changes in the last few years is inflight catering, which in general has got a lot worse. Meal sizes are more like kids portions and British Airways, for example, doesn’t even serve a second meal on long haul flights under eight and a half hours. So take granola bars or even make some sandwiches, but if you’re bringing anything liquid (even yoghurt etc) it still has to be under 100ml to get through security.

(4) Many airlines in economy have stopped giving out eye shades, ear plugs and in some cases blankets, so stock up with your own if you need them. Dress in layers in case you are unlucky enough to be under an air vent.

(5) Stay hydrated. Yes, I know it’s easy to come over all Gwyneth Paltrow, but it’s important to drink plenty of water or juice in the air if you want to arrive feeling slightly more than death warmed up. The crew will come round with cups or just go and ask them in the galley: it’s a good chance to stretch your legs anyway. Should you avoid a glass of wine or a G&T? Hell no: you’re on holiday.

Another tip (I know I said five)…if possible try and go for a quick jog when you arrive just to loosen up stiffened joints and limbs that have been stuck in a cramped seat for 10 hours or more. Plus you can orientate yourself if you’re staying in a new city for the first time. And they say it helps with jet lag, although in my experience, not much helps with jetlag other than sleep.

What are your top tips for flying long haul? Please let me know.

 

 

 

 

I have a lot of friends who’ve been to Ibiza, but usually they are there to hang out in glamorous villas, bars and clubs. Not to go to the less-developed north of the island and not to go swimming around the coast.

I’ve done a few swimming holidays now with Swimtrek – in fact I was on their very first one in Greece in 20013 – and the owner, Simon Murie, has become a good friend.

So when I heard they were launching new holidays to Ibiza this October, I jumped at the chance to go for a few days before the first trip to try a few of the swims with their local guide Alessandro Mancini. (That’s him in the fetching pink cap, below).

Each morning we’d swim 2-3km, have lunch, then do the same distance again in the afternoon. (Our longest was 4km over a leisurely couple of hours). On regular weeks there is a boat following you for assistance, but because this was just a “recce”, we had the ocean to ourselves except for inquisitive fish and the odd jellyfish floating serenely below us.

Swimming in the sea is something that divides opinion pretty neatly down the middle – you either get the concept and love it, as I do, or think it’s a pretty strange choice for a holiday, to which I’d say it’s your loss. Not only do you meet great people, you get fit, and it’s incredibly meditative as well. Yoga for the mind? I think so. All I know is that every time I go on a swimming holiday, I come back extremely relaxed and refreshed. Not to mention that it really clears your nasal passages out…

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Swimtrek Ibiza

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A quick google for Paris hotels shows that there are an increasing number of characterful, hip and relatively-inexpensive places to stay in the centre of town these days…properties such as the Hotel Grand Amour and Le Snob.

Now there’s another strong contender, The Hoxton on Rue du Sentier, which opened a week ago and where I stayed last night.

Rue du Sentier itself might be un peu terne (drab) – perhaps “ripe for development” might be more charitable – but step inside Number 30 and you are in a different world. The building was constructed in the 18th century by architect Nicolas d’Orbay for Etienne Rivié, who was an advisor to King Louis XV. It subsequently became a clothing factory and then lay empty before the four year restoration that brought it to its current impressive state, as you can see from the photos below. Staircases have been restored, cobbles relaid, columns repurposed and wooden floors uncovered. Old meets modern, and the style works.

Before you get to the reception desk there are indoor and outdoor lounges to navigate on which to tap away in your computer or meet for an aperitif. Even at less than a week old, many cool local Parisians seemed to be doing just that. To one side there is the brasserie-style restaurant and bar, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Bedrooms – there are 172 of them – come in varying sizes from Shoebox via Cosy and Roomy to Biggy. Even the smallest rooms aren’t that tiny, although the Shoeboxes on the top floor are more compact than those of the same category on floors below. My Roomy had a decent-sized bathroom with a powerful shower and Pen & Ink toiletries. Also in the room is a fridge that only contains water and milk – no complaints there, the point is you can stock it up with your own products and so bypass the rip-off mini bar prices beloved by many hotels.

There are already Hoxtons in London and Amsterdam, with Brooklyn to follow later this year.

Lead in rates in Paris (for a Shoebox) are currently from €99 per night if you plan ahead. Included is a free snack breakfast consisting of juice, granola, yoghurt and a banana. For anything more you’ll have to go downstairs to the restaurant, at which you’ll pay a fairly substantial amount…my breakfast of a chia seed and raspberry pot (very tasty by the way), a pain au chocolat, grapefruit juice and two coffees came to just under €30. Maybe I’m just grumpy because of the weak state of the Pound right now. Staff here, as elsewhere in the hotel, are young, bilingual and super helpful, suggesting coffee shops to visit as well as helping me weigh up the pros and cons of several museums for my time-poor afternoon. (I ate at the hotel the night before, and can hand-on-heart say the cheeseburger I had there was perhaps the tastiest I’ve eaten anywhere.)

The Hoxton is a cool brand, and it is bound to do well in Paris.

www.thehoxton.com

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Full disclosure: I paid for my own Shoebox room but was upgraded to a Roomy by the hotel. My dinner and breakfast were paid by the hotel.