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Weekend in Sark: piece for the Times

I first went to the Channel Islands as a child and I remember being blown away by them – especially Sark, with its horse and cart rides and its bicycles.

There are no cars on Sark. But there are fabulous hotels, an abundance of fresh lobster and numerous secluded beaches to explore.

I returned to Sark to write an article the Times on how best to spend a weekend here. Check it out here.

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Pearlshare guide: the best patisseries in Paris

Paris has an overwhelming number of patisseries, from classic stores selling crisp baguettes and macarons of every colour to truly modern temples to all things cake.

Because choosing where to go for your pain quotidian can be so tricky, I’ve been working with new travel app Pearlshare to put together the definitive guide to the very best of Paris’s patisseries.

You can see the full guide to all 11 of my choices on the Pearlshare app and website here but to whet your appetite here are a few of my top picks:

Foucade Paris: Paris’ very first self-styled “patisserie positive” is a beacon for those with dietary requirements as well as a sweet tooth. Here you’ll find a selection of gluten-free, lactose-free and low-sugar treats, including a delicious chocolate mousse on a bed of buckwheat and chia seeds. That almost sounds healthy, right?

Ladurée: Ok, I know, you’ve heard of this one. But just because it’s well-known doesn’t mean it’s not one of the very best – in fact, that reputation is well deserved. You’ll find every flavour of macaron you can imagine here. I love the caramel with salted butter flavour and has a soft spot for the rose petal flavour, but also love to try whatever is in season (which keeps me coming back time and again!).

Cake Shop: It might be in a five-star hotel but that doesn’t make this patisserie any less authentic. You can take the cakes away in designer boxes, eat them in the flower-filled lobby or take a seat in the elegant Camélia restaurant to enjoy delights such as Le Mandarin, a 62% dark chocolate mousse. Yum!

Stohrer: This is Paris’ oldest patisserie (dating from 1730) and said to be the original home of the rum baba. The kitchen here once produced desserts for the Great Court and if it’s fit for a king it’s good enough for me! I particularly love the chocolate eclair, one of Paris’s best.

To read more about Paris’s best patisseries download the Pearlshare app and check out my guide. The app always knows where you are, so you can find my recommendations easily – and add your own finds too.

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Secret Spain Matarrana: piece for the Times

Spain is the most popular destination for British travellers, with visits there in 2015 numbering some 13 million.

That’s a lot of towels on the beach – or is it? Not everyone who heads to Spain is seeking a beach holiday after all, and if you want to get away from the crowds this summer it’s very easy to escape, simply head to a region that is still largely undiscovered.

I’ve written several articles for The Times on Secret Spain – the bits the Spanish have been keeping to themselves. My latest is on Matarrana, a region that can be reached from Castellon or Barcelona airports easily and explored with barely another English accent in earshot. Here you’ll find the bizarre mountain scenery that inspired Picasso, vultures by the hundred and some of Spain’s best wild swimming spots. Not to mention plenty of olive oil, tapas and local wine, of course.

Many thanks to Real Holidays for hosting my trip to this fabulous region.

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Budget Balearics: piece for the Times

As the Balearics continue to head steadily upmarket, it can be hard to find budget hotels and places to eat, right?

Not if you know where to look. If you’re heading to Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza or Formentera this summer, check out my Budget Balearics guide for The Times, which features the 20 best places to stay for under £100 and the 20 best value places to eat across all four islands.

 

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50 best secret beaches in the Med: piece for the Times

Finding a quiet spot on the Med come summer… that’s the stuff that travel dreams are made of.

But although it can be tricky to find a place to call your own, there are plenty of beaches across the Mediterranean that remain off the beaten track and – largely at least – secret.

Along with four other lovely travel writers I contributed to the Times’ roundup of the 50 best secret beaches in the Med, which published this weekend. Check it out for our recommendations in France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Malta and Cyprus.

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The Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens

Introducing Pearlshare: a new app for personal travel recommendations

There is no substitute for personal recommendation. Whether I’m planning a city break, a beach holiday or one of my many research trips for work, I always ask my friends and colleagues for their tips.

In Seville a colleague’s tip led me to the tapas bar that remains my favourite to this day and in the Winelands of South Africa a friend’s advice took me to the most beautiful vineyard I visitedimage1 in my three days touring there.

But keeping this information to hand was tricky. I had notes scrawled in the margins of my guidebook, disparate recommendations from emails I’d been sent in the notes on my iPhone and vague memories of conversations in the pub that I tapped hopefully into my Google Maps app to see what came up.

Then I discovered Pearlshare. This travel recommendations app not only lets you save your own favourite locations in the places you visit but also lets you share these with friends. So you could create a guide to the best places to eat in Seville and send it, with just a couple of clicks, by email to the friend who’s heading out there next weekend. Or you could group together your recommendations for the very best things to do in Krakow into one collection and share it on twitter (again with just a tap or two) with the whole world.

Since I’ve started creating guides for Pearlshare I’ve also started using the guides others have created. Because Pearlshare uses professional travel writers and other experts, the information is reliable – and consistently well-written. Other travel apps I’ve used (I’m looking at you Spotted by Locals) are very up and down when it comes to quality, with one guide proving invaluable but the next being filled with obvious and very much on the beaten track places reviewed in poor language.

And then of course there’s the trust factor. With TripAdvisor failing to clamp down on those fake ever-glowing reviews written by hotel owners, it’s getting harder and harder to sort the good reviews from the downright dishonest.

It’s also much easier than with other apps I’ve used to create your reviews. Each place you save (called a “pearl”) can be plotted on the map and adding a comment (of a tweet length 140 characters) takes a matter of minutes. My main issue was with the maps, which are currently Apple Maps. I find these constantly unreliable and much prefer Google Maps, but Pearlshare assure me that they will be switching soon.

One of Pearlshare’s other plans is to roll image1-2out the app to AirBnB hosts. I’ve stayed in AirBnBs around the world, from Paris to New York, and I certainly find the experience more like living in the city than I do when I stay in a hotel. This is often down to the personal recommendations of the hosts, but these are generally provided in a folder, on paper. I’ve taken pictures of these notes with my phone, added places to Google maps and scribbled notes on city maps, but with Pearlshare it will now be possible for my host to simply send me their collection (of best places to eat in Brooklyn, say) straight to my phone. How much easier is that?

The app is free to download from Apple’s App Store (here) and it’s free to create your own guides too.

Want to know more? Check out the short video introduction. And you can check out my guides on the app now too:

Cosy Dublin: a guide for winter in the Irish capital

Top things to do in Lanzarote

Top things to do in Krakow

Top things to do in Athens

Gourmet guide to Seville

The best places in San Diego for fish tacos

 

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Beginners’ Sydney: a city guide for Sunday Times Travel magazine

Sydney or Melbourne? The debate forever rages but for some of us, there is no contest – Sydney is bolder, bigger, better (sorry Melbourne).

Sydney is the sort of city that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and demands you have a good time: it’s all beaches and brunches, surfing and sunshine. It is also the sort of city you can’t only visit once, you’ll be hooked for the moment you see that iconic harbour.

It does take some knowledge to hit the highlights though, so I was delighted to be asked to write a guide for first timers for Sunday Times Travel magazine. Read my beginners’ guide to Sydney and find out why it trumps Melbourne every time.

Travel writer, editor and broadcaster