The perfect weekend

The summer holidays are over and it's a long time until Christmas. We're going to need a break. We kick autumn off with travellers' tales of the getaways they'll never forget


RUSSELL AMERASEKERA

RUSSELL AMERASEKERA

A couple of years ago, I spent a long weekend in Aspen with my wife, Lesley Anne, and our close friends Suzanne and Clive. We had managed to blag reduced-price, Club-class seats with British Airways, which gave me huge satisfaction. When we arrived at Denver airport on Friday, we hopped on a bus to Aspen. The next morning we ate breakfast in our apartment overlooking Aspen Mountain followed by a leisurely ski. Lunch was at an amazing pizzeria called Mezzaluna at the bottom of Aspen Mountain and, after a slightly boozy lunch, we spent another hour skiing. Later that afternoon, we sipped on hot chocolates surrounded by Aspen's glitterati.

By chance, we had arrived during Gay Week and my classic-alpha-male friend Clive was quite paranoid and sensitive about skiing there at that time. We had an early evening sleep before dinner as we always do if we're skiing, then went on to dinner at the Caribou Club, which is a members' club in the middle of Aspen Village. It's glamorous and designed with dark teak; Jack Nicholson and Diana Ross eat there regularly.

The following morning, we ate breakfast at the Little Nell, which is a quaint, old-fashioned place that does eggs in a dozen different styles and lots of wholesome food, followed by more skiing. Sunday afternoon was spent shopping in Aspen, which is great because the streets are heated underneath so you can walk around the designer shops in your Prada shoes and your feet don't get cold.

As the sun set, we sat in our outdoor hot tub in the cold mountain air with the mountain behind us thinking we'd died and gone to heaven. Then we ate dinner at the Renaissance restaurant. We flew back the following day and it was amazing to have gone for such a short space of time, but still managed to fit in so much.

Russell Amerasekera is a co-presenter of BBC's 'Perfect Holiday' and is currently appearing in the Sky One series 'Road Raja'

ARABELLA WEIR

Around 15 years ago, I spent a weekend in Barcelona over the Easter weekend. I was with three of my girlfriends and a friend from Italy, who met me there. We stayed in an old Moorish b&b that was built around a gorgeous open-air courtyard, where we ate breakfast every morning. I knew little about what Catalans do at Easter, so when we watched the parade through Las Ramblas, I was astonished to see what looked like people wearing outfits not dissimilar to those of the Ku Klux Klan, and people whipping themselves.

It was absolutely fantastic to see this taking place in what is essentially a sophisticated city; it seemed to be completely out of period and so colourful and lively. I had also never seen any of Gaudí's work before and I couldn't get over the architecture of La Sagrada Família, it was like nothing else I had ever seen. The gardens near there were also sensational.

The weather was fantastic and being so well-educated, I didn't know that Barcelona was a port, so we ate great fish on the seafront and went to nice bars. It was around 15 years ago; it was very much a Spanish city still, there were no trendy bars. It was a good long weekend and it was easy to do it cheaply, nothing was grand. It stuck in my mind because it offered new experiences. It was pretty fantastic to get my senses stimulated in that way.

Arabella Weir is a novelist and comedienne

HESTON BLUMENTHAL

I went to Gleneagles in Perthshire last Easter with my family. It was a fantastic weekend and the kids still talk about it. We stopped off at Bolton Abbey on the way and stayed at the Devonshire Arms, which is a wonderful place. They have a great wine list and the food is really good. The following day, we drove on to Gleneagles. They have a great restaurant, and they are clever at finding things that adults like doing, but allow children to do them as well.

We packed an awful lot in totwo days, including falconry, archery, clay-pigeon shooting, golf, horse-riding, off-road driving, going to the gym and swimming. We also had a great dinner in the Michelin-starred restaurant, it was a tasting menu of eight to 10 courses encompassing things such as terrine of foie gras, cep risotto and lobster.

It was relaxing, but not in the way that we sat and read a book for hours, but it was great because it is so beautiful around there, and it was especially nice because it was still in England.

Heston Blumenthal is the proprietor and head chef of the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire (01628 580333; www.fatduck.co.uk)

ALASTAIR SAWDAY

My best weekend was last Saturday in the east Pyrenees. I was with my wife and two sons and my son Toby's girlfriend, Miriam, and we went walking just above the River Tech. We walked almost as far as a village called Prats de Mollo then cut up into the Massif du Canigou. It was one of the most exquisitely beautiful days that I have spent in a long time. We started in a grass meadow, which gradually turned into pine forests which then emerged into another beautiful meadow. The view was incredible, with cows grazing in distant fields, sharp rocky peaks and forested mountains.

We carried on up to another beautiful opening below a peak where we found a mountain stream and stripped off and chased each other round with cold bottles of water. I've got a great memory of seeing my two rather large naked sons, one of their naked girlfriends and my wife and I running round chasing each other with cold mountain water.

The walk was never marred by anything; there were no distant views of houses or towns, just the wilderness and we only came across one person throughout the entire day. That evening, we had a simple supper in a small café in a square. It was a perfectly rounded weekend with the people that I love, mixed with humour, physical exertion and wilderness.

Alastair Sawday is the founder of the series of books 'Alastair Sawday's Special Places to Stay' (01275 464891; www.sawdays.co.uk)

LYNNE FRANKS

I've had many similar weekends that have been my best weekends in the village of Deia, Mallorca, which I consider to be my home. I get up early and go for a walk down by the coast and jump into the sea. I then snorkel naked for about an hour, because you don't see a soul except for some wonderful Mediterranean fish; it's an incredible start to the day.

When I get back to the house I meditate, then using some of the great local food I'll make a juice and a salad. My family stay quite a lot, so I'll play with my baby granddaughter, then we'll have a family lunch. During the afternoon, I pop into the local village and bump into friends and go for a fresh orange juice and a gossip in a local bar.

I spend the afternoon reading and quite often writing or pottering in my garden. The evening is usually spent at a local tapas bar with friends from the village and family, followed by the rest of the evening in the local bar Sa Fonda, where there is always live music by friends of mine.

We spend the night dancing to the Pa Amb Oli band until curfew. The next day is much the same. On Sunday afternoons I go and get the English Sunday papers and have a nice leisurely lunch on my outdoor terrace, then have friends over for dinner followed by a poetry reading. It's so easy to get to Mallorca now and it's got wonderful walks, beautiful sea, and the opportunity to be really creative.

Lynne Franks' most recent book 'Grow: the Modern Woman's Handbook' is published by Hay House. Lynne will be launching a personal development programme for women ( www.growexperience.com) in Deia in 2005

JAMES LOHAN

Mrs Smith and I had a really good trip to Venice. The best thing was arriving at the airport, because you arrive right by the water then get on to a James Bond-style speedboat and see Venice for the first time from the lagoon, which was really quite special. We stayed at a really cool boutique hotel, which is called DD724 and is in the Dorsoduro district that isn't very touristy. It was near the Guggenheim museum, which we walked to and that was fabulous. It was a slightly cooler side of Venice, away from the Japanese and Americans clicking their cameras.

We did classic things such as having an expensive coffee in St Mark's Square, which was lovely. We also found a cool mask shop called Ca' Macana which was stunning and produced the masks for Eyes Wide Shut. The beautiful thing about Venice is that you can just walk, which is funny for a city with so much water; you end up doing more walking than boating, because the gondolas have become expensive. We stumbled around some amazing lanes, and it was great fun to get lost. We found a really fabulous local restaurant called the Ristorante Cantina Canaletto.

The last thing that we did was buy a sculptured wooden oar-rest from a gondola from a man called Saverio Pastor who has a workshop where you can buy them; they're fantastic and we now have it as an objet d'art at home.

James Lohan is the co-author of the guide book 'Mr & Mrs Smith European Cities', published in November by Spy Publishing ( www.mrandmrssmith.com) and 'Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection', which is out now.

PRUE LEITH

I spent five days in May with a girlfriend in Carlisle Bay, Antigua. It was a long flight but I like long flights because it is such a treat not to have telephones so you can catch up with work or read. I don't normally like smart resort hotels because they're usually full of incredibly rich and unattractive people which makes me feel too clumsy and fat, but it's not at all like that. It's terrifically stylish but dead simple with people wandering round in bare feet and shorts and they also welcome children which is nice, because so many places like that don't.

If I'm going to have a weekend off I like places with no culture and nothing to see - if I've got lots of time then I want to go walking in Sicily or horse-riding in France - so Carlisle Bay was perfect for just relaxing. The other thing I loved about the hotel was that they were completely unfussy about everything - one day I had crab cakes and a knickerbocker glory for lunch and the next a pina colada and a burger - you can have what you like there. Also, if you ask a gardener for a drink, they'll go and get you one rather than sending you the barman. Everybody seems to be trained to do everything. The staff talk to you as if you were mates, there is absolutely no forelock tugging. Weekends are pretty precious collapsing time, so it was the perfect place to do just that.

Prue Leith is a chef and author. Her latest book, 'A Lovesome Thing', is published by Penguin

MARK ELLINGHAM

I'd opt for Madrid. I have almost always had a great time there and to arrive feels immediately to be plunged into a quite different culture. Madrileños don't go to bed at any normal time of night - it's not uncommon to have someone call you up at midnight to see if you fancy going out - so that makes the weekend a bit longer. As to what to do - well, the appeal for me is to hang out with my oldest friends, Pilar and Esteban, who put me up for weeks on end researching the original Rough Guide to Spain, and have taught me most of what I know about the country.

At some point over a weekend, we'll get to a few favourite bars, like Taberna Angel Sierra, the zinc-top vermut bar in the Plaza de Chueca, and we'll eat at La Trucha in Santa Ana, which is a wonderful, bustling, unpretentious treat. We'll almost certainly take in an exhibition, too, most likely at the Reina Sofia. But it's just being in Madrid that's the buzz. Its streetlife, its individuality - it just hasn't become like other European cities. Oh, and the football team's not bad, either, even if you just catch them on TV in a bar.

Mark Ellingham is the founder and publisher of Rough Guides. Rough Guides launched its new series of mini guides with CD, Directions (020-7010 3701; www.directionsguides.com) earlier this summer

TIM LOTT

It was in Mallorca a couple of years ago, partly because of the wonderful hotels I stayed in and partly because it was the first time that we had been away with our baby, Lydia, which was very special and romantic. We stayed at the Hotel Portixol just outside Palma, which is my favourite hotel in Europe, and also the Hotel Formentor on the northern coast, which is an old style grand hotel.

Although Mallorca's still got somewhat of a bad reputation because of Magaluf, it's still a really beautiful island and Deia is still gorgeous. It was a particularly memorable weekend also because of the surprise of how rich and varied it is for such a small island, and how many contrasts there were. You've got the literary connections around Deia - I think Chopin and George Sand lived there for a time.

The brilliant hotels and the variety of the place made it such a great weekend; you can get in the car and drive somewhere for a short time and arrive somewhere completely different to where you started. The sea is also beautiful and the people strike me as being extraordinarily friendly. I love shopping and the shopping's great in Palma.

Since that weekend, I've made a writing base at the Hotel Portixol; I go out there and finish some of my novels and the room that they give me overlooks the sea and fishing harbour.

Tim Lott's latest novel, 'The Love Secrets of Don Juan', is published by Penguin

SARAH MILLER

I've had so many fabulous weekends it is hard to think of just one. I always remember going to a party at Studio 54 in New York for the weekend, which I thought was incredibly glamorous at the time.

The best weekend I had recently was last weekend when I went to my stepbrother's wedding in Vernazza in Cinque Terre. We flew out with Ryanair from Stansted on Friday, then spent the night in Genoa and took the train down the following day. The train travelled along a fantastic stretch of rocky coastline and only cost us £4 each.

We rented a room in the middle of Vernazza, which is a mad, maverick seaside town. The wedding took place in the town square by the beach with the mayor, about 150 guests plus the whole village watching too. We ate the most incredible anchovies in lemon juice with oregano in a small trattoria afterwards, and it was great because the locals all joined in.

I love going to Italy for the weekend because it's really do-able and Vernazza is so pretty, you can swim and jump off rocks and take boat trips; perfect for a long weekend.

Sarah Miller is the editor of 'Condé Nast Traveller' magazine.

PARIS AND AMSTERDAM ARE STILL BRITAIN'S FAVOURITE GETAWAY LOCATIONS

Despite competing claims from Prague and Barcelona, statistics show that Paris remains our favourite weekend-break destination. Surveys published last week by weekend-break specialists Bridge Travel and Cresta put Paris top, followed by Amsterdam. Bruges was third, followed by Barcelona, Prague, Brussels, Dublin, Venice, Lille and Rome.

"Eastern European cities are showing high growth," said Sean Tipton of Abta. "Now these countries have joined the EU, they've had to join the open skies policy and can't protect their airlines with inflated fares any more. Tallinn, Ljubljana, Krakow and Bratislava will take a while to get into the top 10, but they will soon be in the top 20, if they aren't already."

According to BAA, the most popular European destination at Heathrow is Dublin, with 3.2 per cent of all passengers, or 2.06 million people last year, followed by Amsterdam (3.2 per cent; 2.04 million), Paris (3 per cent; 1.9 million) and Rome (1.5 per cent; 900,000).

BAA, which runs seven UK airports, reports that 555,700 people flew to Europe in July alone, a 10.8 per cent increase on July 2003. According to ebookers, the online travel agency, the average price of a city break to Europe, with transport and accommodation, dropped from £205 a head in 1999 to £151.50 in 2003.

No-frills airlines have also changed our habits, allowing us to make independent trips and book accommodation separately. Amsterdam was the most popular destination over the August bank holiday weekend for easyJet, followed by Malaga and Nice.

Ryanair says its most popular routes vary according to season - cities such as Berlin and Stockholm are more popular in winter and spring. At the moment, Barcelona is its most heavily used route, followed by Rome and Biarritz.

Then there is the Eurostar effect. The train now accounts for 66 per cent of travel to Paris, compared with 34 per cent for airlines. The split between leisure and business travellers is 50-50 but dominated on Fridays by passengers on weekend breaks.

Mark Rowe

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