Caroline Flint, Yvette Cooper and Amber Rudd pick their favourite breaks
Take a bike tour of Salzburg
Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, Yvette Cooper and her family explore the home of The Sound Of Music on two wheels
Goodness knows what the people of Salzburg made of my family and I careering round their city on bikes, singing Edelweiss at the tops of our voices. But Salzburg is intrinsically linked with The Sound Of Music and The Fräulein Maria bike tour is possibly the most memorable way to immerse yourself in it. To be honest, it wasn’t really music and we didn’t quite make it up into the hills, but the streets were definitely alive with the sound of our hollering.
Salzburg is a gorgeous city, and there is much to do – from visiting the Hohensalzburg castle, to Mozart Geburtshaus (Mozart’s birthplace), not to mention the wonderful Salzburg Festival (salzburgerfestspiele.at) – an international arts festival – that takes place each summer. This year’s includes Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
But yes, I confess, it was the Fräulein Maria tour (mariasbicycletours.com) that was the highlight of my trip. Along with our friends and their children, all on bikes named after characters in the film (mine was Baroness Schraeder), we followed our guide to 20 iconic locations where the much-loved musical was filmed, including the entrance to the abbey where the children find Maria; the fountain in the Mirabell Gardens where they learn Do-Re-Mi; and the old grain store that served as a stage for the folk festival (now an opera house) where they sing their final Edelweiss. In just over three hours, our tour took in every hot spot. And best of all, our guide’s bike had a portable CD player, blaring out the soundtrack, while ours had a lyric book stuck on the front, so we could sing along as we rode.
To further prove our enthusiasm, me, my husband Ed and our three children turned up wearing head scarves and lederhosen that I’d made out of green damask curtain material. Our guide looked slightly taken aback, but I simply didn’t believe her when she told me no-one else had ever dressed up on one of her tours before.
If you prefer to travel out of the saddle, Salzburg is easy to get around with a really good bus system. Some of the fanciest hotels are in the old town or close to the Mirabell Palace, but there’s a wide range of choice. Villa Trapp – the original home of the Von Trapp family, kept in period style – is further out, but looks like a great place to stay. We stayed in Der Salzburger Hof (dersalzburgerhof.at) – cheery and conveniently close to the station with big family-sized rooms and kitsch murals.
For a special night out, there are plenty of upmarket Tyrolean restaurants to choose from. Restaurant Herzl (Getreidegasse 37; restaurantherzl.com) or the opulent St Peter Stiftskeller (St Peter Bezirk 1-4; stpeter-stiftskeller.at) are both well known for rustic Austrian food (stews, brätwursts and sauerkraut) and traditional decor. But travelling as a family, we often found it easier to eat on the go, buying pretzels from market stalls, or eating delicious schnitzel in a traditional bar in the Old Town.
For a weekend, it’s easy to fly direct to Salzburg in under two hours, but we tried a radical alternative – interrailing. Don’t assume it’s just for backpackers. Salzburg was in fact our third stop on a grand train journey that started in King’s Cross and ended in the Greek Islands (via Paris, then overnight to Munich, on to Salzburg, Innsbruck, then taking the scenic route through the mountains to Venice and down to Ancona to get the ferry to Corfu). It’s become much easier since my student days when I interrailed to Hungary and Romania – there’s now a really easy app (RailPlanner) you can you use to help you plan it. The downside was the cheery chaos of getting two families, six kids and 10 suitcases on and off each train. The upside was plenty of time to sew those lederhosen…
My 2016 pledge to women
“In 2016, I’m campaigning for women to Reclaim The Internet. Just as women in the Seventies marched to Reclaim The Night, for safety on the streets, we must now come together to tackle online abuse and misogyny. We wouldn’t tolerate such violent threats offline and we shouldn’t online either. For more information visit reclaimtheinternet.com.”
Explore the bazaars of Istanbul
Labour MP for Don Valley, Caroline Flint travels to Turkey’s largest city and is captivated by centuries-worth of architecture, sumptuous seafood and an irresistible bazaar…
On holiday I want to recharge my batteries, turn off my mobile and leave work at home. It’s all about sun, books, swimming and eating. Out of summer, I enjoy short city breaks in small boutique hotels where the museums, galleries and public places are a walk away. Seville, Paris, Tallinn and Prague are great cities with good public transport – less hassle than hiring a car. Istanbul has long been a place I wanted to see, so my husband [Phil Cole, Flint’s office manager] and I decided to head over and spend a few days exploring the city.
Although rich in ancient culture, Istanbul is lively, cosmopolitan and fashion-obsessed too; it has an upmarket shopping district and even its own Harvey Nichols store [a short hop from the colonial architectural flourishes of the gorgeous Raffles hotel, stay for £170 a night]. It is also a great walking city, rewarding visitors with vast churches, ornate mosques, museums and Roman or Ottoman architecture. The past hits you in the face at every turn. The domed Hagia Sophia (hagiasophia.com) – once a church, then a mosque, now a public museum – is one of the most stunning buildings in the city. And just five minutes away is another, the Topkapi Palace (topkapisarayi.gov.tr), where I got a taste for the opulent lives of the Sultans, examining ancient relics of Muhammad’s beard and a piece of St John the Baptist’s forearm. (My husband couldn’t resist emailing the Catholic Church for confirmation of this relic, but they wouldn’t “confirm or deny” its authenticity.)
Istanbul is a city of surprises; I never imagined I’d be excited by a water cistern. But when I descended the steps to the Basilica Cistern (yerebatan.com), I was greeted by a vast subterranean Byzantine complex, where 300 columns form a cathedral-size ‘sunken palace’ under the city. It’s a beautiful, tranquil place beneath the vibrant city above.
The city is bustling and with that comes a lot of traffic. We avoided the chaos and jumped on the city’s waterbus to Sultanahmet (the old city, sehirhatlari.com.tr). It can be windy, so we sat inside with the locals drinking tea and playing backgammon. Istanbul is the only city that sits on two continents and a 10-minute ferry trip takes you from Europe to Asia and back again. The Bosphorus strait is a vibrant expanse of water where ships and boats weave around each other. We whiled away a few hours watching fisherman take their catch home.
Seafood in Istanbul deserves a special mention. We found a restaurant in a residential street in Kumkapi, a district filled with fish restaurants. Our most memorable meals were eaten in tiny, nameless restaurants that I’m sure I’d never find again. One such place was on the top floor of a modest apartment building – a glass-roofed fish restaurant, chock-full of locals, with no menu or prices. I picked out the fish I fancied and left the rest to the waiter. I wasn’t disappointed. The fish was simply cooked and served with hummus and salads.
For a feast for all the senses, I ventured to the Grand Bazaar (grandbazaaristanbul.org), the largest covered market in the world, with over 3,000 shops. Yes, shoppers can also do the big-name fashion labels like Prada, Armani and Vuitton in the grand 19th century arcades of the Nisantası district but it’s at the Bazaar where I convinced myself that transporting an Ottoman Chandelier with nine lamps home would be simple.
Stall holders will offer you tea but don’t be afraid to haggle. When you find something you love, stop, work out what you’re willing to pay and then offer way below that. And be prepared to walk away. The vendor won’t want you to leave empty handed.
With my lamp bubble-wrapped in three boxes, I was amazed the airline let us carry it on. I’m forever grateful to the cabin staff who stowed my cargo with their coats. Because every time I see my very own Ottoman relic hanging above my dining table, I’m reminded of that visit to Istanbul. And that’s worth every second of the haggle.
My 2016 pledge to women
“Growing up, I never thought someone like me could be an MP. I meet many bright young women from Doncaster who have never been to London and whose horizons are limited. So in 2016, I want to set up a mentoring scheme to make sure that their talent and potential isn’t lost.”
Enjoy an eco-stay in Britain
Secretary of state for energy and climate change and Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, Amber Rudd highlights a selection of the best eco-friendly British hotels
Pendragon Country House, Cornwall
I’m a big fan of Cornwall: it has a stunning coastline, rich sense of history and burgeoning arts scene. Each March, Truro hosts a fantastic culture festival filled with music, theatre and exhibitions, while the Tate St Ives is due to reopen in May following a huge expansion project – all excellent excuses to visit Cornwall.
Keep your carbon footprint down by staying at Pendragon Country House (greentraveller.co.uk; from £60 per night). There’s energy efficient appliances, insulation throughout, and careful monitoring of energy use. Plus they have a 1,100 litre rain harvesting system collecting rain water from their roof for watering outside plants and hanging baskets.
Skyhouse (skyhousesussex.com; from £160 per night) offers some truly awe-inspiring views across the rolling South Downs. Set atop a huge hill, the climb is worth it, not just for the spectacular vistas but also because Skyhouse is a zero-carbon footprint, one-of-a-kind eco-house. It’s built using sustainable timber, with triple-glazed windows and rainwater collection tanks to run the washing machine and water the garden. It conserves as much energy as it uses.
While there, you can visit my constituency of Hastings and Rye. Take a walk in Hastings Country Park – a rugged nature reserve where you might spot some Exmoor ponies. Alternatively, head to see contemporary British art at the Jerwood Gallery set next to a pretty fishing beach or stroll through the Old Town, which I am proud to call home.
The Green House Hotel, Bournemouth
Widely regarded as one of the UK’s greenest hotels, the Green House (thegreenhousehotel.co.uk; from £109 per night) in Bournemouth is an excellent example of eco-travel. The hotel produces its own electricity using a combined heat and power unit and exports surplus electricity to the National Grid. Head to nearby treasure trove the Russell-Cotes Gallery for a unique mix of history and art.
Apex City of Edinburgh Hotel, Edinburgh
Edinburgh is one of my favourite places; I went to university there. It’s also one of the world’s most historic cities – beneath the Royal Mile, in the city centre, is a perfectly preserved 17th century street, which is probably the closest you’ll ever come to stepping back in time. The Apex City hotel (apexhotels.co.uk; from £80 per night) is located in the heart of the city, and is a great choice for an eco-stay – it has energy efficient lifts and boilers and water-preserving showers. It would make a great base to explore the city for Burns Night (25 January).
My 2016 pledge to women
“The secure, clean and affordable energy system we are building needs a new wave of female engineers. I want to inspire the next generation and champion the role of women in energy. I support initiatives like POWERful Women, which seeks to advance female representation in the sector.”
Photography: Getty, Thinkstock