Behave yourself! This is New York’s the Land of No

They’re a bossy bunch on New York’s Fire Island. But despite the list of don’ts, Sarah Barrell warms to the place.

To my knowledge, Spike Milligan never visited Fire Island, a sandy outpost of New York. But, with apologies to the late wit, this bastardised version of his nonsense rhyme sums the place up nicely.

Anyone who has travelled beyond the homogeneity of the European Union will know that welcome signs often signal bizarre warnings, not warm greetings. They indicate the law of the land before visitors have a chance to transgress. “Welcome to Indonesia … please do not import tricycles” was one of my favourites. But I’ve yet to find anywhere that beats Fire Island for sheer volume of these welcome warnings.

Independent on Sunday travel section:


Luxury Breaks: Now you can buy a piece of the American Dream

A new trend in holiday-home ownership harks back to the days of the Great Camps, says Sarah Barrell

The Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies may have had the funds to propel 19th-century America through its post-Civil War economic boom, but for these Gilded-Age elite families, holidays were about the modest pleasures in life.

In summer during the 1800s, the most prominent East Coast families would gather up their sturdier kitchen wear, linen and packhorses and set out on camping retreats in the Adirondack Mountains, in deepest upstate New York. In reality these rustic jollies were more akin to a modern-day five-star safari, with elaborately designed log cabins that became known as the Great Camps.

Independent on Sunday Travel section:

San Diego: Some like it really cool

San Diego may be less than two hours’ drive from Los Angeles but it couldn’t be further removed in spirit. West Coasters like to call the city “LA without the attitude” but this is to miss, entirely, San Diego’s unique qualities. Nothing like its northern neighbour in layout, size, attitude or atmosphere, if San Diego had to be compared to any of its coastal compatriots it would perhaps be San Francisco.

The Independent on Sunday

The hottest holiday for mums-to-be…


Palm Springs is one of those great American anomalies: an improbable desert settlement wedged between the folds of inhospitable mountains. It’s as if someone came out here with a mind to build another Las Vegas, took a hot soak in the area’s eponymous thermal waters and thought, “Bugger it, who needs neon?”

The place is a testament to nothing, a celebration of still, somewhere to come to be far from anywhere. Between the 1930s and 1960s this desert town in back-country California became home to Hollywood on holiday, with stars such as Elvis, Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr taking part-time residence. But somehow Palm Springs remained determinedly low rise, defiantly low-key – an anti-Vegas. Even its little airport, beneath the incongruously snow-capped peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains, looks like a small luxury resort with barely a signpost to hail its entrance.

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South America special: Ecuador – All change in the city of clouds

Ecuador’s old colonial heart used to be a no-go area. But since it has had a makeover, it’s a must-visit. Sarah Barrell goes exploring downtown

Strange to think that stopping for ice cream could be considered part of an historical tour. But in the “new” Quito old town, it seems things are changing so fast that a septuagenarian ice-cream seller with a lifetime pitch on a corner of Plaza San Francisco is considered something of an endangered relic.

Of course in the old town, a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1978, there’s no lack of historical attractions. This sky-scraping city, capital of Ecuador in the northern Andes is home to some of the most stunning Spanish colonial architecture on the continent. The spires of some 30 churches spike Quito’s skyline, including the oldest in the Americas, the Iglesia San Francisco, the jewel in the crown of yet another superlative – the continent’s largest religious complex. Sitting at an altitude of 2,800m, Quito has always been breathtaking, but in the past few years the city’s colonial hub has undergone a facelift that will truly take your breath away.

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Travel Special: September – Upstate New York

At the beginning of September, the Hamptons resounds with the clatter of designer deck chairs going into storage, shutters being hauled down and the collective groan of Manhattan’s chattering classes returning to the city. A cavalcade of overstuffed SUVs filters back through bridge and tunnel trailing Kate Spade beach bags and pedigree pooch accoutrements. Such unseemly seasonal migration isn’t undertaken by the classiest second-home savants, however. The place to be, especially as fall comes around, is upstate New York.

Like the Hamptons, New York’s Catskill Mountains and neighbouring Hudson River Valley are around two hours’ drive from Manhattan. And like the Hamptons, this part of upstate New York has an impressive celebrity caché, except luminaries flocking to this region tend to be of the calibre mentioned in the arts section of the New Yorker, rather than caught in indiscreet poses by the National Enquirer. “De Niro, Liv Tyler, Bowie: they’re like part of the wildlife,” says Kate Pierson, member of the new-wave pop act the B-52s and owner of a new motel near the Catskill’s town of Woodstock. “But this area has always been a retreat for musicians and arty urbanites, so celebrities are pretty much left to themselves.”

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Guyana’s Jungle Lodges

Guyana’s interior is pioneer country. Those who go are rewarded with elegant places to stay, says Sarah Barrell

It’s 10.30am and the shop assistant is already sweating. The transaction isn’t a tough one. I’m an easy mark, armed with American dollars and a consumer’s hunger for one of the traditional Berbice chairs on sale, complete with planter’s arms and chintzy upholstery, but the simple act of breathing here induces a sauna-like glow.

“So you been to Berbice then?” says the salesman with a slow West Indian drawl. I explain that I haven’t visited the former sugar plantation town in Guyana’s interior, which produces the eponymous chair. “But I am going down the Essequibo River,” I offer. “Into the interior and the Amazon.”

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Manhattan’s counter culture

Sarah Barrell advises on the best places to spend, eat and rest in her adopted city of New York.

Since the mid 1990s, when New York lifted strict zoning law restrictions limiting the number of chain stores in one area, Midtown in Manhattan has become more like the Midwest, with dull franchises predominating.

Well-heeled local shoppers head to the very north of Midtown bordering the bottom end of the Upper East Side (around Madison Avenue) for the classier stores – think big-name designer houses with thousand-dollar price tags and bouncers on the doors.

The Telegraph Travel section