The Toronto Star

Toronto Star Logo
TorontoStarLogo 66faf87cb44208c72c88bf9eef58f6d2 - The Toronto Star


I was commissioned by the Toronto Star to write several pieces on skiing in Europe. On a press trip hosted by Best of the Alps, I visited Lech, Austria, and met an Olympic legend.

Sample Copy

Lech – the Cradle of Alpine Skiing

I’m gazing into a cabinet packed with medals and trophies, including gold from the 1962 world championships and 1964 Olympics, well-polished and arranged in neat rows on the green baize. As I admire the haul its owner, Egon Zimmerman, appears wearing a huge grin. At 76, he looks quite different from the airborne figure painted 15 ft high on the outside of his hotel—the luxurious yet cosy Kristberg, in Lech, Austria—but his handshake is firm.

Lech is one of a group of resort towns that evolved from farming communities in the Alrberg, named after the massif which dominates the landscape, and known as the cradle of alpine skiing. In nearby St. Anton more than a century ago Hannes Schneider pioneered the techniques that became the foundations of the modern sport. I’m here for my first runs of the season and, as an intermediate but somewhat rusty skier, I can only hope there is something in the water.

Lech-Zürs (as the ski area is known) now has 283 km of groomed pistes of all levels and 200 km of free-riding. If the mooted lift connection between Zürs and St. Anton is made it will create the largest network of slopes in Austria. A short walk through the pretty town (sophisticated without being flashy) brings me to Strolz, fabled maker of custom ski boots, where I collect my (off-the-shelf) gear. When Egon sped to victory at Chamonix and Innsbruck he did so in Strolz boots.

Transplanted from the city to this lofty perch I feel an anticipatory burst of adrenaline as the Schlegelkopf I chairlift whisks me up the mountainside through the ice-fresh morning air. I had planned to ski the White Ring, a 22 km circuit of groomed pistes with 5,500 m of vertical connected by seven lifts, but snowfall has been light and not all sections are open.

At the top of the Kriegerhorn lift the view is spectacular. Carolin, my guide, names each peak in turn as we look north towards Germany and then south into Switzerland. The valley here starts high, at over 1,400 m, which means the vistas are expansive and, as Carolin explains: “There is more sun, so the people are happier.”

The weather is indeed glorious and we carve down uncrowded blues and reds until lunchtime before sweeping into Oberlech, a tiny ski-in ski-out village, to refuel on the terrace of the Hotel Goldener Berg. Austrian food is hearty, perfect for active appetites, and the mountains are sprinkled with delicious eateries. The generous portions might go some way to explaining why European ski culture is a little more relaxed than North America’s. As one Canadian I met put it: “Back home it’s all about clocking vertical. You adjust to a different pace here. It’s slower, more sociable.”

After an espresso to cut through the calories it’s back on the piste. South facing slopes and manmade snow make for icy conditions and I scrub my way down the steeper sections. I imagine Egon as a boy in the 50s, with no formal training and second-hand equipment, charging down these mountains on his way to glory.

A session without a major wipeout is a victory for me and it’s with sore legs and soaring spirits that I put in the final turns of the day. Back at the Kristberg Egon is waiting with a glass of schnapps and a nugget of wisdom. “Talent is paper thin. It’s hard work that counts.”

With skiing this good on the doorstep, you won’t find me slacking.

Sample Page

toronto star sample 689x800 - The Toronto Star

« « % |

Continue Reading

Suitcase Magazine

SUITCASE Magazine logo
Suitcaselogo 0baeb70e902f49092b6323b602d5af42 - Suitcase Magazine


Suitcase Magazine have a beautiful website where travel and fashion stories are collated for their devoted readers. They commissioned me to write a mini guide to Lisbon.

Sample Copy

Lisbon: The Perfect City Guide

It’s hard not to be charmed by Lisbon. Sprinkled over seven hills on the bank of the River Tagus, the city, one of Europe’s oldest and most beautiful, vibrates to the echoes of history while at the same time thrusting forward with infectious optimism.

The hills, trams, thriving gay scene and bridge designed by the same architect earn comparisons with San Francisco, but Lisbon’s soul is uniquely Portuguese. A stroll will take you from medieval ramparts; through cobbled alleyways lined with family-run restaurants and drinking dens; past crumbling buildings adorned with street art three storeys high; onto Praça do Comércio, the size of five football pitches and ringed with monumental architecture; and finally to riverside clubs where revellers dance all night, energised by the prospect of a prosperous future.

Portugal’s battered economy is bouncing back from the Eurozone crisis and Lisbon is leading the way: renovating rundown areas, supporting local businesses and attracting entrepreneurship – a forward-looking mentality that is allowing creativity to flourish.

Doubtless Lisbon’s contemporary culture is inspired by Portugal’s colonial past, with Angolan, Brazilian, Goan and Mozambican influences meshing in this cosmopolitan capital. Whether you want to eat kulyachem tonak (Goan crab curry), rave all night to kudoro (high-speed Angolan dance music), or sip ginjinha (cherry liqueur) from a hole-in-the-wall bar, curious senses will be satisfied.

Exploration is a pleasure as the sun shines more often than not here on the edge of Europe (a Lisboeta would say the centre), illuminating vistas from rooftop bars and miradouros (public viewpoints), encouraging dining, drinking and dancing outside, and warmly nudging you to peak around just one more corner.

What you find may reveal the sense of the Portuguese word saudade. There is no direct translation but its essence is of a bittersweet longing, like that of a woman who marries a man who goes to sea. Whatever you’re yearning for, Lisbon is a good place to come and find it, or, have so much fun that you’ll forget.

Here is a selection of my favourite places to stay, eat, drink/dance and things to see and do…

Sample Page

suitcase sample 763x800 - Suitcase Magazine

« « % | % » »

Continue Reading

The Telegraph

The Telegraph logo
Telegraph 18b9e5d4b9d32ae52f8c1ce5314e10f8 - The Telegraph


This piece, about a water buffalo fighting tournament in Vietnam, won the Daily Telegraph Just Back travel writing competition.

Sample Copy

A Raging Buffalo Battle

A track leads away from the highway into the jungle where a pit of bare earth gapes like a fresh wound. Several thousand people stand on terraces 70 feet high carved into the clay by excavators. All eyes on the arena, which lies empty, waiting.

The air clings with the smell of popcorn and barbecued pork. Families gather with their boisterous broods, buying drinks and snacks from vendors who have set up shop on low plastic tables. It’s Saturday in the Bac Quang district of northern Vietnam and the water buffalo tournament is in town.

Men slide heavy wooden poles aside and two magnificent buffalo bulls are led into the public gaze, the numbers 18 and 32 chalked on their backs. I brace myself for the inevitable violence but…nothing. Officials, tiny from our distant perch, look foolish whacking the half ton slabs of muscle on their backsides, cajoling them to rage. Then…18 nuzzles up to 32 and licks his neck.

A roar goes upfrom the crowd. The announcer’s voice rings from the PA system, shrill with excitement. This brotherly love is unprecedented. Five long minutes later something snaps and they lock horns. Thirty-two drives forward and, after a few seconds of resistance, 18 swivels to flee.

The next contest is pure fury. Number 31 bulldozes straight at number 48, closing the 20 metre gap in seconds. Forty-eight is oblivious to the snorting thunder bearing down on him. Just in time he lifts his head and two horn bosses collide sending a shudder down the flanks of both animals.

Now their thick necks are bent into the battle, the tops of their heads brushing the dirt. Hooves grind the earth as the initiative switches from beast to beast. Testosterone flows in the deadly struggle and the fleshy red tubes of their penises are exposed.

Thirty-one forces 48 backwards across the arena. An imperceptible shift of weight and 48 is on the offensive, regaining lost ground. Until, suddenly, 48 knows his opponent’s superiority and surrenders. He makes for the corner of the arena and hurls himself against the wooden gate but there is no escape. Thirty-one smashes into his side and knocks him to the ground, legs flailing. A flash of horns driving into exposed chest. Men hurry to intervene, wary of being crushed, dancing to drape flags over the rampager’s head – taking the target from view, damping the murderous flames.

Thirty-one will fight again in a bid to win the 45,000,000 Vietnamese Dong (£1,400) prize. But ultimately all competitors share the same fate: skilful dissection with a butcher’s knife, flesh hacked into profit. Outside the arena, yellow chits litter the floor. The iron tang of blood claws from stalls where hunks of fresh meat glisten.

Delicious, I’m told, and expensive at 280,000 Dong (£9) per kilo. Down by the river; a freshly stripped buffalo rib cage, massive, the white bones in stark contrast to the dark figures working on it, the muddy bank and the churning chocolate river.

Sample Page

telegraph sample 650x800 - The Telegraph

| % » »

Continue Reading