With SUMMER still a long way off, TIM MAGEE has some ideas for last-minute MINI-BREAKS and SOPHISTICATED HOLIDAYS …
Six Senses Zighy Bay, Oman
February, the darkest of months. Yes, the days may have been getting longer since last year but this still doesn’t feel like spring. February is the cold rock bottom of winter. Our last warm day is at its furthest away. The moral hangovers from the C word and the forgotten resolutions of last month kick in now too. The first of February should be Saint Solpadeine’s Day. The only thing this month is selling you is scentless roses. February is the month to run away somewhere or at least to start playing and editing your teaser holiday trailer in your head.
It’s not spring in Argentina. A work opportunity means that I’m trying to move a meeting 8,000 miles from Oman to Buenos Aires, but I am good with either. Oman is the most chilled part of the Arabian Peninsula, an oasis of relative cop-on away from the dystopian Disney of Dubai and its slightly more serious cousin Abu Dhabi. Outside of conference room roulette in Muscat, Oman’s low rise, white-washed coastal capital, I plan to dip in and out of the cavernous Muttrah Souq, known locally by its Game of Thrones-ish moniker, the Market of Darkness. A morning’s drive from Muscat there are a brace of tasty hotels that aren’t trying to be famous for being the biggest anything. The Alila Jabal Akhdar is handsomely perched over a gorge in the Al Hajar mountain range but if I get my way it will be the Six Senses Zighy Bay on the Musandam Peninsula.
If I really get my way I’m going west and the prize will be South America’s European beauty, Buenos Aires, just in time to catch the toasty tail of their summer. Sunny days and cool nights in, this February day-dreaming has me wandering aorund the cobbles of San Telmo with as my base the tiny but mighty mix of natural fabrics and marble that is Hub Porteño in swish Recoleta.
My guaranteed deep tissue heat-seeking fix will come from Mexico in a few weeks. Starting in Baja at the Resort at Pedregal then megacity slicking in Las Alcobas in confetti-coloured Mexico City before a farewell, weather-dependent but very grand dinner date in the jungle in trendy Tulum. That’s me in April, but meanwhile, back in February …
G Rough Hotel, Rome
Valentines in Rome
Saint Valentine is buried in Rome, not deep enough if you ask me. I got engaged in Rome. It was a stupid idea – not the engagement but the destination. There seemed to be proposals on every street corner, like the Moonies had crossed the Rubicon. My partner of then and now said yes in the most unromantic of settings – well, to be precise, “Go on so,” she said. Back in the sandal days of Rome, Februarius was the Month of Purification, the 15th being the festival of being righteous – just what we need after January.
Italy’s great cities aren’t at their best in summer. Too much tat and temper-inducing temperatures. Rome is at her most seductive in the cold. Roman food is winter food. The ning-ning soundtrack of Vespas against the foggy streets and crammed restaurants and taverns in Testaccio could be an ad for Valentine’s Day for grown-ups. Despite it being international date night, the hotel rates were good when I last checked and I don’t know who the god of eclecticism is but the G Rough hotel near the Pantheon should be her temple.
If, unlike me, your belly has been on best behaviour last month and you’ve an unreasonable latent hatred for the 14th of this month there is no need to go any further than a rainy overnight in Soho. Soho is the casual dining hub of London, which you don’t have to leave to eat really, really well. Even the restaurants don’t travel. Late last year, Barrafina, the most consistently great restaurant I have been to, moved from its home in Frith Street a whole street away to live under the same roof as the other seminal local, Quo Vadis. Now under the brilliant Jeremy Lee, Quo Vadis means “Where are you going?” On a rainy night in Soho just having dinner in either of these two means the answer should be “nowhere.”
Barrafina flies the Spanish flag better than anyone, and Quo Vadis is a British embassy in its own land, but if you do venture outside of this marriage, Soho is the United Nations of cuisines. The Japanese know how to deal with winter – they beat it about the head with big bowls of hot noodles – and Soho is home to two noodle sensei, the steamy neighbours of Tonkotsu and the empirical Koya Bar, home to the best udon outside of Japan. Hoppers, the Sri Lankan cracker, is next door to Koya Bar. Bao, London’s take on New York’s famous Momofuku’s Ssäm Bar is just a few blocks away on Lexington Street. When you are done sitting on little wooden stools, or queuing, then nip around to sit up at Jacob Kennedy’s glorious bar at the now veteran Bocca di Lupo and graze on their hot olives stuffed with pork and veal.
I’ve stayed a few times at sweet little Hazlitts and got a really decent rate on their site last time compared to some of the nearby newbies. It is more than a little mad but jammed with personality and class. Just like Soho.
If you can’t realistically escape this month then plan for when you can.
The authority on five-star family holidays, Marthinhal have opened in Caiscais in Portugal. I don’t really like highlighting this place anymore as Caiscais for me is still the best all-round sun holiday destination in Europe. Now they have also added a class city centre Lisbon hotel in the smartest part of the city too, with Martinhal Chiado. I’ve done Portugal with a regiment of kids though, so next time I am going to Puglia and blowing the money I’ll save on flights on a villa in Borgo Egnazia.
I need to watch Luc Besson’s The Big Blue again. I remember Rosanna Arquette being annoying, the lead Jean-Marc Barr convincing me that shaving my head was a good idea and nearly drowning myself trying to hold my breath in a pool in Shannon. It was Jean Reno’s breakthrough movie but the real lead was that Greek island, Amorgos, with its blue domes and whitewashed fishing village. I went looking for something like it on my first real holiday, with Éric Serra’s dodgy synths earworm as an unwelcome travelling companion. I’m sure the movie is fairly pants now but nearly three decades and hundreds of thousands of miles later my personal postcard holiday is still somehow fixed on that notion. I found some of that Big Blue vibe a couple of years ago in handsome Naxos but next time I’m going to try and make it to the real deal. Until recently there really wasn’t anywhere to stay apart for pensions, then the Aegialis Hotel and Spa opened, just ten minutes hiking from the movie’s Katapola village. May is the best time to go so if you don’t need to wait for school to finish to run for the sun book it today, and you will be looking back at this month smugly, fully equipped for an Irish summer with a deep Greek tan.
TIM MAGEE @Manandasuitcase
This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our March issue, out Saturday, March 4.
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