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Best spring 2015 trips: London, Split, The Veneto and Valencia

From a luxury hotel in London to Dalmatian coast food markets, a cookery school in The Veneto and learning how to make paella in Valencia, we pick our favourite spring breaks for 2015.

SPLIT, CROATIA

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Most travellers make a beeline for Dubrovnik, the undisputed star of Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline, but for less of a crowd, and one of the best food markets in the Mediterranean, don’t miss a visit to Split (main image, above). This pretty Roman port town north of Dubrovnik is the jumping off point for such fashionable islands as Hvar and Vis, and a superb place for walkers to stock up local produce for picnics on their journeys.

Pack your napsack at Pazar Market: a string of homemade salami, a jar of deep amber honey, and smallholders’ crops of olives, sweet almonds, blood-red cherries, and a pungent sheep’s cheese from the island of Pag. This bounty is piled up on holiday stalls, lining the walls of the crumbling Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace – a seriously atmospheric place to plan for a picnic. Then set off on a self-guided walking tour of the surrounded Dalmatian Coast. Pick your spot for lunch: a blustery cliff top carpeted with spring wildflowers, views of the craggy coast snaking in either direction, or among deep inlets that shelter rows of pristine fishing boats, overlooked by the bright terracotta roofs of coastal village houses.

How to do it: Self-guided walking holidays in the Dalmatian coast costs from £728 per person, based on two sharing, including eight nights’ B&B hotel accommodation, car hire, route notes and walking maps. (inntravel.co.uk)

A SPECIAL HOTEL, LONDON

With a staggering level of competition, new hotels in the capital have to be something special to stand out. Rosewood London, the first European outpost of the American hotel group is just that, with a confident emphasis on food and drink that’s attracting spoilt-for-choice Londoners and visitors alike. A short hop from Covent Garden, the hotel rubs shoulders with restaurants such as Balthazar, The Delaunay, Mishkin’s, and trend-setting tapas bar Opera Tavern that have lately put this ‘midtown’ area on the map for diners. Overseeing the food  is newly-appointed executive chef Amandine Chaignot. 

Scarfes Bar, named for the famous illustrator whose work can be seen thoughout, has a very eccentric English feel. Restaurant designer of the moment, Martin Brudnizki has created a cool library/club look, with leather armchairs, low sofas and moody lighting, resulting in a civilised scrum for seats. Choose your cocktail from the leather-bound bartender’s Compendium of Libations; its title setting the tone for quirky, well-mixed drinks such as the gin-based Thyme Out, served in a small glass teapot. Head chef Palash Mitra’s menu features upscale curries and kebabs.

Bedrooms are equally lush with crisp, high threadcount linen, Czech & Speake bathrooms, subtly scented with Roja Dove fragrances. Thoughtful details such as welcome pastries sitting under a glass-domed cake stand underline the message that food is at the heart of the hotel. Its flagship restaurant, Holborn Dining Room & Delicatessen, is an all-day brasserie with seafood bar serving updated British classics. It really comes to life on Sundays when the new Slow Food & Living Market takes over the hotel’s inner courtyard from 10.30am to 3pm.  The brunch menu includes specials from the market traders including O’Shea’s Butchers, Hansen & Lydersen salmon and Chegworth Valley veg. 

 rosewoodhotels.com/en/London

VENETO COOKERY SCHOOL, ITALY

Launching next month, Stirred is an exciting new cookery programme held in a palatial villa in the countryside near Venice. Stay at Villa Casagrande, home of the Conte Brandolini d’Adda family since the 1500s and learn the art of making everything from pane to pasta, plus local dishes such as Seppie col nero alla Veneziana, cuttlefish stewed in its own ink. There’s the chance to get out into the glorious Veneto Hills with seasonal truffle-hunts, dinners at local restaurants along with forays into Venice to shop at the Rialto fish and fresh foods markets. Add to this an 18-metre pool in which to work up an appetite for an alfresco dinner by the monumental chestnut tree, and you have the recipe for la dolce vita.

How to do it: Six nights cost from £2,400 per person including accommodation, tuition, food, wine, trips, tours, tastings and Venice airport transfers. Flights can be arranged. (stirredtravel.com)

THE VALENCIA PAELLA PROJECT

Here is the perfect trip for Spanish food enthusiasts – a chance to engage with the history of, and to learn how to cook, authentic paella in its original heartland. Julia Waller, a paniard who has lived in the city for most of her life, and her English husband Patrick, run several other trips in Spain, focusing on food, wine, culture and hiking. Your base for the weekend is

a boutique hotel in the centre of this vibrant coastal city, travelling with the Wallers or according to their suggestions.

Start the trip with seafood paella on the beach, at El Coso restaurant – popular with Valencians for the dish. There is also the chance to see one of its neighbours, La Pepica, famous for being the place where Hemingway tried paella before it was widely known. The afternoon is free to spend eating at recommended tapas bars and restaurants – a great opportunity to try horchata, a Valencian drink made from tigernuts, served with pastries or hot churros (doughnuts). A professional chef is your guide around the market the following day, helping you select the ingredients needed to make authentic Valencian paella. Then it’s off to a cookery school in the heart of the city where the chef teaches you how to make the dishes. After lunching on your creations, get out and explore this cultural city – known for its futuristic-design science museum and the tomato-throwing La Tomatina festival.

Quique Dacosta (quiquedacosta.es) is the place to end the day, an experimental restaurant headed up by the eponymous avant-garde chef; a regular in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants rankings. An excursion to the countryside, inland from Valencia, is the finale. Visit a bodega, led by the Wallers who know a great deal about local wine, and then to lunch: a rustic paella prepared over an open fire, with rabbit, snail, artichoke, white beans and rosemary.

How to do it: From €650 per person, based on two sharing (flights not included but can be arranged from €30 one way). thespanishthymetraveller.com

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Written in May 2014