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Away in Alderney


Sunset over sucubus by Tom Collis

Forget Ibiza, Mallorca, and even Tahiti. INstead pack you bags and set sail for beautiful Alderney. John Hillman explains.

Growing up is one of the unfortunate side effects of being alive. We start off full of wonder and enthusiasm and end our days in a state of permanent scowling misery, well most men do anyway.

Whereas women tend to grow old and become nice chatty grannies, we males tend to morph into a sort of horrible twisted grump – like evil character from a children’s story book that lives in a dustbin at the end of the garden, we complain about everything, confident in our knowledge that everything would have been fine of only the human race had done it our way.

There is a good reason for this, when we are young we are the lords of the backyard, the heroes of the heath, unable to wait for the day when we can finally leave home and become Thor Warhammer or Sinbad the Sailor – to head out for a life filled with storming castles and vanquishing baddies.

But in the words of Ice T, “shit aint like that”, no it most certainly is not. We all know what life in the modern world is really like and it has precious little to do with being Vikings.

Perhaps this is why there are few things that appear as exciting as visiting a small island, that little tightening of the stomach muscles as it appears on the horizon, the sudden lightening of the spirit and a strange urge to grab a broadsword and lead a sortie onto the beach.
I’m writing this because this is precisely how I feel whenever I approach the Channel Islands and in particular the tiny island of Alderney.
At just three miles long and one and a half miles wide this is total boys own fantasy stuff, and it’s genuine too. This Island really did have Elizabethan Buccaneers defending the realm from dastardly continental types, and it even had proper evil-Nazi bases, just like the ones from the comic books.

Today of course Alderney is home to a much more subdued sort of resident and the closest it gets to being invaded is during the summer by a few thousand wobbly tourists. But there is so much happening on Alderney and it has got so much outstanding natural beauty to discover that you shouldn’t really be running around in chainmail anyway because you would probably just miss it.

A far more sensible approach should be to get in touch with the Alderney Wildlife Trust and arrange to see some of the more modern invasions that take place each year by the vast array of marine and terrestrial wildlife, not to mention the unique fauna. All of which is attracted to Alderney by virtue of it having the only greenbelt in the Channel Islands.

The Channel Island are just a short boat ride away from Normandy, which you can get to on board the Pride of Bilbao as it makes its way to northern Spain. It might not be how Sir Walter Raleigh got there, but then the number of his boats skulking around on the sea-bed is perhaps a salient reminder that maybe the modern world isn’t such a bad place after all.

Andorra


Pic dels Pessons. Pas de la Casa, Andorra by hector garcia

Mountains, folk-dancing and (near) immortality. If these are the things for you, then John Hillman’s got just the destination.

Andorra has emerged from its international isolation to become a thriving European tax haven and holiday destination that boasts the second longest life expectancy in the world.

Not that I’m too envious. The value of a long life expectancy is not always what it’s cracked up to be, just ask Hunter S. Thompson.

However, culturally refined types of the sort P&O generally caters for will be interested to hear that this tiny country is also the proud owner of a lengthy and impressive array of traditional folk-music styles.

Andorran folk music shares its roots with its Catalan neighbours, along with its more traditional folk dances such as the contrapás, marratxa and the sardana, all of which can be seen being performed during Andorra’s national holiday, Our Lady of Meritxell Day on the 8th September each year.

But those of you eager to get to Andorra as soon as possible to experience this feast of folk-dance fusion, never fear, different festivals and celebrations are held throughout the year, just check out the Andorran tourist board’s website.

So there we have it, Andorra: The second longest life expectancy in the world and a lengthy array of traditional folk-dance and music styles. Is this a good or a bad thing? Discuss.

On yer bike!


cabaña picos de europa by rafael jiminez

It doesn’t usually take much to get us Britons excited about the prospect of a Spanish holiday, and John Hillman offers us some more reasons to get us planning our next trip

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There is no getting away from the financial crisis, try as we might we just cannot seem to ignore it and hope it goes away.

So with spring and summer finally on the distant horizon after one of the coldest winters since the days of industrial strikes, collapsing currencies and long boring recessions (spooky!) now is the time to think about pound saving holiday ideas.

My recommendation for those of you with a bit of the taste for the outdoors is a quick P&O ferry ride across to Bilbao, catching sight of some dolphins on the way, and then head out onto the open road using totally free pedal power.

The entire region of northern Spain is ideal for cycling holidays, from the snowy topped mountains of the Picos de Europa to the lush foothills, giving way to sandy beaches of the surrounding countryside.

Northern Spain has always been popular with Spanish families wishing to escape the intense heat and boozy bars of the southern costas; it is an altogether more civilized and respectable part of the world, excellent for those of you who get bored within minutes of sitting on a sun-bed.

The beauty of cycling is that with some modestly competent organization you can meander throughout the day along country roads, passing waterfalls rivers hills and medieval villages arriving in good time for dinner at any one of the number of B&B’s or Youth Hostels along the way.

Eat seafood on the beach at San Vincente de la Barquera, head to the ancient village of Santillana del Mar for possibly the most authentic medieval experience imaginable, or just laze on any number of golden sandy beaches that, while hot and sunny, in no way compare to the melanoma inducing UV ray-gun of a sizzle that you would expect in the south.

The region around the Cantabrian mountains offers wonderful scenery, particularly the area around San Roque de Rio Miera. You might want to think about organising an SUV to drive you up the hill so that you can enjoy the dazzling scenery of the Miera valley on the way down.

Some of the best beaches along this part of the coast are only accessible by bicycle. The area around Ribadesella is particularly unspoilt, which also happens to be close to the Cares gorge.

The trains along Spain’s wild northern coasts are pretty good, so there is no need for you to spend any more time in the saddle than you really want to, the rest of the time can be spent relaxing between destinations on cheap public transport.

There are tour operators who can help you with getting everything booked and sorted before you set off, or just take control yourself and become a lycra-clad Peter Fonda for the week.

Finally, it is going to be a tough trip so make sure you allow yourself some luxuries along the way. I strongly recommend booking into a parador for a night or two, these are Spain’s nationally subsidized luxury hotels set in buildings of historical significance and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Go on, on yer bike!

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