River-rafting and zip-lining, boat trips and beach cocktails, my perfect Jamaica holiday

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The child in front of me hurled himself off the tree-top platform high off the forest floor and sped through the air. I couldn’t back out now.  While zip-lining had long been on my wish-list, dreaming about it and actually standing on the edge of a sheer drop preparing to fling myself into thin air were two very different things. Besides, I was in Jamaica. Shouldn’t the perfect Jamaica holiday involve lounging on a beach drinking rum cocktails instead of dicing with death?

perfect Jamaica holiday
The pool at my hotel, Hotel RIU Palace Jamaica. This was what I’m imagined I’d be doing all week instead of….
perfect Jamaica holiday
…trying to put a brave face on the fact I was about to hurtle myself across the roof of a forest attached to a metal rope…

The shout came from across the tree-tops. It was my turn. I took a deep breath and ran, like a cartoon character, right off the edge. It was as terrifying and exhilarating as I’d hoped. Landing turned out to be even more scary than taking off. Where were the brakes? In my panicked attempt to stop, I flung out out a hand ahead of the fast-moving metal clip connecting me to the wire. By pure luck, my thick glove got shredded, rather than my hand. Now where was that drink?

It was my first time in Jamaica and the trip turned out to be more action-packed than I’d expected. While there were inviting picture-perfect golden sandy beaches, a sparkling blue ocean and towering palm trees – we had a schedule to stick to. So hold onto your cocktails – here’s what to do in Jamaica when you haven’t got a lot of time to to do it in….

Rafting down the Martha Brae River

perfect Jamaica holiday
Being punted down the Martha Brae river – a highlight of the trip

Being punted down the Martha Brae river was one of the highlights of an amazing trip. For about an hour there was nothing to do but relax and enjoy drifting along the calm sun-dappled waters. On the banks are the occasional stall selling anything from clothes and ornaments to towels and marijuana or you can just lie back and let your guide lead you downstream towards a cooling beer. This was a definite highlight of my visit. Continue reading River-rafting and zip-lining, boat trips and beach cocktails, my perfect Jamaica holiday

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A timely jackpot at the Hippodrome casino, Leicester Square, London

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The timing couldn’t have been better, at least not for the Hippodrome. The moment I walked past the gaming area in the central London casino, one of the slot machines paid out the entire jackpot, handing the person playing on the machine a cool £12,536 on a £1 spin. Considering I was on a guided tour of tour by one of the staff at the Hippodrome, it was pretty good PR.

I was almost as excited as the woman who had just struck lucky – although I was pretty envious too, as I’d just been playing on the machine just along from her on exactly the same game – but my tour guide Michael was pretty nonchalant.

‘Hey, it happens here all the time,’ he shrugged.

hippodrome casino london review
The Hippodrome first opened in 1900 as a circus variety theatre and over the years has been a nightclub, restaurant, cabaret venue and now casino

Now I’m not sure that’s strictly true – the casino wouldn’t be very good at making money if it did – but it was certainly a novelty to see the machines paying out for once. (I know the woman had probably put in more than a pound before her jackpot spin, but I’m assuming she was still considerably in profit after the £12k payout.) I once spent New Year’s Eve at the Grosvenor Victoria on London’s Edgware Road and had a really pleasant time dancing and drinking and dining and, for some reason, trying to work my way through an enormous cigar. One of my friends, though, went downstairs to the slot machines and won £200 instantly. Needless to say, he was delighted. Equally predictably, when he went back the following week to repeat the achievement, he ended up returning the £200 to the machine, with interest. Putting £12,536 back would be rather more unlikely (I hope). With any luck – pun intended – she instantly cashed out and left the Hippodrome, thankful of her good fortune.

The very mention of the Hippodrome is likely to stir up distant memories of – depending on your age – the coolest night spot in town, or a rather dodgy venue with sticky floors and the feeling that the best of its years were behind it. For those with even longer memories, the Hippodrome was the location for the highly successful restaurant/nightclub Talk of the Town, which featured global stars such as Eartha Kitt, Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr, The Jackson 5 and Tom Jones, and was where celebrities of the day went to see and be seen (memorabilia including records, programmes and photos are found on some of the walls). Continue reading A timely jackpot at the Hippodrome casino, Leicester Square, London

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Skyros – the Greek island holiday which could change your life

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It is rare that a holiday actually changes your life, but a week on Skyros, the original ‘alternative’ holiday destination, can do just that. From changing jobs or learning new skills, to getting married, ditching bad relationships and embarking on new careers, in the 40 years since Skyros first started hosting holidays on the Greek island of the same name, thousands of people have gone there to find inspiration and to find new meaning and direction in their lives.

Skyros Holidays review
The house at Skyros overlooks the beautiful bay

If that all sounds too hippy-dippy, then don’t worry: a trip to Skyros has all the holiday essentials of great food, great beaches, lots of time for swimming, sunbathing and sleeping. But it offers something so much more than your typical package holiday. As its website says:  ‘This is an adventure that opens the heart, expands the mind, recharges the body and uplifts the spirit’.

After a week at its beautiful Atsitsa Bay location, I had to agree. I’d performed comedy on stage, slept in a bamboo hut where the breeze came through the walls, practiced yoga in the open air, shared my hopes and fears with a group of strangers, laughed till I cried on a dozen occasions, ate my body-weight in fresh Greek yoghurt, gone hiking around the island and thoroughly disconnected from my life in London.

Skyros Holidays review
Our home for the week: Skyros holidays’ beautiful site in Atsitsa Bay, right on the Aegean sea

Recalling Skyros while back in the city is to instantly be transported to lying in the shade of an olive tree to shelter from the blazing sun; drinking morning coffee while overlooking the bluest sea; the swaying of my hammock as I curl up to read a book, and the light breeze coming through the bamboo sides of my hut, perched high on the hillside. You could spend the whole week simply ‘being’ if you wanted to, and several did, enjoying the total break from the outside world – there is no internet reception aside from a fixed line in the for emergencies, and mobile phone coverage is patchy – and my phone soon ran down and stayed down all week. Continue reading Skyros – the Greek island holiday which could change your life

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Rowhill Grange luxury hotel and spa: a relaxing stay in the Kent countryside

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It goes without saying that anyone doing battle with the traffic on either the M25, A2 or A20 routes is probably in need of some serious relaxation, but they might be surprised to learn that there is an oasis of calm just moments away. Thankfully due to its location in 15 acres of beautiful bluebell woods and manicured lawns, no traffic noise penetrates the calm of Rowhill Grange hotel and spa – its outdoor garden of tranquility would be rather ineffective if it did – and just minutes in coming off the M25 I was taking pictures of the bluebells and signs saying ‘Ducks crossing’ and feeling as I were deep in the Kent countryside.

rowhill grange dartford hotel review
Rowhill Grange is set in 15 acres of lawns and woodland

Four-star luxury hotel Rowhill Grange is owned by Alexander Hotels, which also owns the Alexander hotel and spa in  West Sussex, Barnett Hill in Surrey and Langshott Manor, also in Surrey – and which I can highly recommend, it being a unique 16th-century manor house just minutes from Gatwick Airport (thankfully not underneath the flight path).

rowhill grange dartford hotel review
Hotel guests can relax both indoors and outdoors at Rowhill Grange

Rowhill Grange in’t quite as historic as Langshott Manor but is no spring chicken either: it was built in 1868 and later owned by Sir George Cole, Lord Mayor of London and breeder of Shetland ponies. Having survived the Blitz, the house was converted into a country house hotel and restaurant in 1987 and acquired by its current owners in 1994. The original coaching house is still intact, next to the main building, and used for weddings and private parties.


To book directly with the hotel, go to: Rowhill Grange hotel and spa
To compares prices click on: HotelsCombined – Expedia  Hotels.com
To check the latest prices and read more reviews go to Rowhill Grange hotel and spa on TripAdvisor


Continue reading Rowhill Grange luxury hotel and spa: a relaxing stay in the Kent countryside

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My stay at Cliveden, a hotel fit for a Princess-to-be (and why I hope Meghan gets to return)

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I really hope that Meghan Markle gets another chance to spend the night at Cliveden, the historic country house hotel where she is spending the night before her wedding. While the luxury five-star Berkshire hotel with its 376 acres of stunning  countryside will be a great haven of calm for her before the madness of the big day itself, as a nervous bride-to-be I’m not sure how much she’ll be able to take in of the hotel itself: its sumptuous rooms, its luxury spa, its fine-dining restaurant and most of all, the atmosphere of history and celebrity which is soaked into the very walls.

Throughout my own stay at the rather fabulous Cliveden House Hotel, there was one question which I found almost impossible to answer. Would Cliveden still be as fabulous if it wasn’t, well, Cliveden? Would it seem as special if it were just a very nice 17th century country house in which Winston Churchill and Noel Coward hadn’t stayed, for example? Would its gardens still be as pretty if you weren’t thinking that Lady Astor had strolled these very grounds with George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin?

And would the beautiful outdoor swimming pool in the walled garden still be quite as marvellous to swim in if – well, you get the idea.

Cliveden Meghan Markle Royal Wedding
This is the first sight of Cliveden and its bell tower as you come up the lengthy driveway

The thing about Cliveden is that it is almost impossible to judge it on its own merits by separating it from its quite incredible past. The Great Hall with its portraits and grand fireplace is stunning, but it feels even more so because you know that some of the most accomplished people in recent history have discussed art and politics over cocktails exactly where you are sitting.

Cliveden House Megan Markle Royal Wedding
Cliveden is set in 376 acres of countryside, including some impressive ornate gardens

The swimming pool would be a talking point in its own right, but it is particularly amazing to swim in because you know it is where John Profumo met Christine Keeler and precipitated a whole chain of events which scandalised the nation and eventually led to the fall of the Government.

Cliveden House Meghan Markle Royal Wedding
Yes, it’s THAT swimming pool…

The gardens and the drive leading up to the house are spectacular enough anyway without the backdrop of history to set them off, but there is a thrill which sparkles through the very air at Cliveden which makes a visit there seem far more than just a night away in just any old stately home. Continue reading My stay at Cliveden, a hotel fit for a Princess-to-be (and why I hope Meghan gets to return)

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News, reviews and opinions on everything to do with leisure, from hotels and holidays to food and fitness, by national newspaper journalist and author Sarah Bridge

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