You’re Majorkin’ Me? The Best Of Mallorca (Apart From Love Island, Obvs)

Written for The Handbook.

Love Island season is upon us, which means that we’re all glued to the extended ad for Mallorca and/or botox that is ITV’s hit reality series. But there’s more to Mallorca than Caroline Flack, The Villa and Casa Amor, and whether you’re looking for a romantic break or a relaxing family holiday, your dreams are just a two-hour flight away. So, having recently visited Madeira and Malta, and as your self-appointed Special Correspondent for Islands Beginning With M (I’ve another 248 to go, I’m nothing if not a dogged reporter), I thought I should check it out.

SNOOZING – Find your Casa Amor

I stayed at the Zafiro Hotels in both Palma Nova and Alcúdia, both splendid five star hotels, and endlessly luxurious to the point that they may as well be a holiday destination in themselves. You’d really never need to leave and you’d still have an incredible week. But sun-lounging wasn’t the point of my trip!

Here, you can choose between a room with a front garden with a swim-up pool, a spacious family room or your very own rooftop jacuzzi (I know which I’d pick… (hint: it’s the pool)). With entertainment on offer for the kids, including a free babysitting service, you can take time out to soak up the sun, skip to the spa or scoff seafood in one of the hotel’s many restaurants.

BOOZING – Couple up (your wines with your food)

Once settled at Zafiro Palace, it was time to see Mallorca proper. Which obviously means finding somewhere to get a drink. There are a number of beautiful bodegas, or wine cellars, on the island, serving up delicious Mallorcan wine. My record was two wine tastings in one afternoon (no spitting, please). 

At Bodega Ribas in Consell, alongside plenty of plates of tapas, we sampled my favourite wine of the trip: Sió, named after the owner’s grandmother. I am not really a red drinker, but I enjoyed the refreshing red almost as much as the white. The family-run (and, for most of its existence, women-run) winery is the oldest on the island and produces just 160,000 bottles of wine a year (not as many as it sounds)– so, if you do come across Sió in the UK, please drop me a line so I can stock up!

Our vineyard tour next took us to a nearby new, bodega, where we tried hand-bottled white and blue wines (yep, blue, no, I wasn’t that drunk) – alongside more plates of tapas. The owner informed us that Mallorcan wine is best drunk young – so, like true professionals, we don’t hang around.

Combined with the boozy (tapas) lunch prior to this, we were scarily close to hitching a ride to Magaluf… before checking ourselves (and instead succumbing to our food comas back at Zafiro Palace).

LOSING…? – The challenge

If you’ve eaten too many cals in Malls, the island is a hot spot for golf and cycling, with a full course next to Zafiro Alcúdia and bikes and mopeds available to hire from reception. For the super brave, the hotel even hosts the world’s biggest Iron Man once a year. I opted for the hotel spa instead…

CRUISING – You’re going on a date

Keen to see just how romantic the island can be I chartered a boat to take us out to sea for – you guessed it – more tapas. Once aboard the traditional llaut, named the San Francisco, I simply sunbathed and admired the turquoise waters while our lovely captain, Miguel, showed us the sights and kept our wine glasses filled between preparing fresh food. The ideal setting for a Love Island date. And possibly the ideal man…

GUZZLING – Don’t get paelled-off

As ever in Spain, the simplest, freshest food tastes the best. I can confidently say I have never eaten more food in one sitting than I did on every single day spent in Mallorca – and it was all fantastic (with a special shout-out to La Rosa Vermuteria in Palma and their countless numbers of Mallorcan vermouth).

My final meal on the island best sums up my experience of the trip. After a week of non-stop eating, we sat down in Zafiro’s El Olivio restaurant to lunch. The waiter brought over a bottle of Mallorcan olive oil, presenting it as a sommelier might offer a bottle of wine, before opening. In practiced style I offered a nod of knowledgeable approval, as if I had any idea about olive oil other than from Delia’s ‘How to Cook’. But it really was delicious and we kept dipping in, soaking it up like a spillage in aisle six (“Would you a side of bread with your olive oil?”, as my mother would mockingly comment).

Tapas dish after tapas was placed in front of us, and after a few days of constant assault my stomach had now expanded to enable me to gobble it all down like a pro. Believing I’d defeated the meal, suddenly out came another set of cutlery. Thinking “I can just get through dessert”, the chef appeared with what can only be described as a vat of lobsters. Well, who can say no to that? Apparently not me…

Finally, dessert is placed in front of us, almond sponge cake with almond ice cream and strawberries. Groaning I lumber up to the plate and hoover up every last crumb like I’m defeating the final boss on a video game.

Can anyone recommend a good PT…?

AFTERSUN

I know that Mallorca is about more than Love Island, but who should I meet at airport departures but Love Island’s very own Georgia Steel. Proving her loyalty to Mallorca at a photoshoot before jetting back to the UK. But despite the inevitable brush with the Island of Love, I discovered there was so much more to Mallorca. Having eaten enough to enter myself into the Guinness Book of World Records for amount of weight gained in five days, I’m probably unlikely to be invited on to actual Love Island any time soon. But, other than the lack of semi-naked hot lads flexing their muscles, I feel like my experience of this love island was pretty incredible. Book a room at Zafiro Palace now and never get voted off the island!

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Piece Of Cake: 10 Reasons It’s All About Madeira

Written for The Handbook.

When I told a friend that I was off to Madeira, she laughed “you’ll just be hanging out with people like my grandparents!”. Well, it turns out it’s the grannies who are having the last laugh; clearly when you retire, you’re given your bus pass, pension and a secret guide to some of the best holiday spots. And anyway, you don’t have the be a baby-boomer to enjoy the delights of Madeira, you just need to hop on a low-cost airline and speed South. It’s as quick to get to as the Canaries, just as warm, and it is seriously stunning. With fun activities from off-road jeep tours to wine festivals, this island certainly isn’t the preserve of the old. This is what you’re missing out on…

1. Zip through the forest in an open-top jeep

20% of Madeira is covered in lush forest, so it made sense to spend at least a fifth of my time on the island checking it out. Ducking overhanging branches and clinging on for dear life as we zipped round forests glades and passes in safari jeeps. Standing in the moving 4×4, I liked to imagine I was entering the Love Island villa but, with the wind sending my hair flying in all directions, I probably looked more like Cousin Itt than Caroline Flack. Either way, it was definitely a lot of fun and no doubt downing the traditional (and seemingly lethal) Madeiran drink of poncha along the way added to the sense of adventure…

We not only earned a great tan (who needs the Love Island villa anyway?) but we also got to see the island in all its natural beauty, from divine alpine to subtropical paradise.

2. Have a grape time at the wine festival

Some Madiera, m’dear? The Atlantic island is well known for its sweet wine, and from the end of August until early September, Madeirans celebrate the grape harvest with a festival that is quite literally a ‘knees up’. This is your chance to get stuck into grape-treading, the traditional method of crushing the fruit. Stamp, crush, dance and, of course, a drink or two (thankfully, not the stuff your feet have just been in, unless you’re especially brave).

We were lucky enough to tread grapes in the sunshine at Quinta do Furao in the north of the island, bringing together young and old with local OAPs getting involved too, only adding to the fun. And, once sufficiently drunk, we danced, not-at-all-embarrassingly, with the local community to celebrate the harvest. We then went to Blandy’s Wine Lodge in the south of the island for yet more treading, drinking and dancing (what a chore).

The festival takes place annually in downtown Funchal from the end of August until early September.

3. Taste the best linguine in Europe

Belmond Reid’s Palace offers stunning sunset views over Funchal’s harbour, set within gorgeous gardens and, most importantly, they have an exquisite menu. Now I consider myself something of a pasta connoisseur (i.e. I eat nothing else) but with so many pasta dishes on offer, it really is a tough choice. I ponder: could pasta for both starter and main course be the dream?

Sheepishly I whispered to the waiter “Is that too carb heavy?”, “Certainly not, it’s the best linguine in Europe”, so with a stamp of approval I laughingly ordered pasta followed by pasta.

And he wasn’t kidding. At the end of the night, I admitted to him that it really was the best linguine in Europe. Maybe it was the white wine, maybe it was true. Either way he ambitiously upped his bid “no, it’s the best in the world”. And he might be right…

4. Mingle in the market

Discover the best of old town Funchal with a trip to the Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmers’ Market). Serving up fish, fruit and veg, its vibrant colours make it picture-perfect and, obviously, I had to try everything on offer. Literally. I’d recommend the pineapple banana (which, surprisingly enough, tastes like a mixture of pineapple and banana) and the English tomato passionfruit (a passionfruit that tastes like… oh, you get it).

You can also check out the world’s ugliest fish: the black scabbard. Appetising… (Quite seriously, if there’s one dish you have to try while you’re there – other than the world’s best linguine, of course – it is black scabbard. Waaay better than it looks.)

5. Explore the enchanting wood

Brush off the cobwebs (AKA Christmas dinner, your work do, 10,000 mince pies and that stocking full of chocolate) with a hike through one of the island’s luscious forests, like the Laurissilva Forest. Or work your way along a levada, the irrigation channels that run all over the island. The rich, green, foliage is truly breathtaking and teaming with nature.

If you’re really wanting to get away from it all, you can even stay in an “abrigo de montanha” (a mountain shelter) in the forest – bookable through Airbnb. I’ll definitely add this to my to-do list for when I return.

6. Stay in the quintessential quinta

Perhaps it’s to be expected when you’re travelling from non-stop London, but our first hotel, Quinta Jardins do Lago in Funchal, felt so peaceful I could honestly have stayed forever. Take a leaf out of Colombo’s book, the resident giant tortoise, who probably arrived on an easyJet 47 years ago and forgot to check-out. Follow his lead and hibernate in the quinta’s sub-tropical gardens, which thrive in Madeira’s many microclimates.

Or pop over to Quinta da Casa Branca where they serve the best beef carpaccio imaginable (I know I’m making big claims here but if anyone can suggest a better carpaccio: bring it on).

If quintas aren’t quite your thing, the Vine Hotel boasts luxurious spa facilities, including a Madeiran wine treatment, and a restaurant that looks out over the sea and up into the mountains. This is your chance to try the black scabbard, which they do particularly well – you won’t regret it.

7. Have a whale of a time…

Madeira is ideal for dolphin and whale watching, especially from April to October when they’re especially about. Rota dos Cetáceos also offer the opportunity to swim with dolphins. Head to the coast, book a trip and dive in.

8. ‘Tis the season…

Already missing the festive season? You can start planning for the next one even before the supermarkets start stocking mince pies and everyone starts complaining about it… Madeira is supposed to be especially magical (and still warm) at Christmas time. The island sparkles as lights are strung across its capital. Having never expected to go to Madeira, I’m already raring to return. Is linguine an acceptable Christmas dinner…?

Make sure you get in on the secret and book your flight to Madeira. Oh, and you definitely don’t have to wait until you retire.

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Women with degrees are more likely to be out of work than men with no qualifications

Women who go to university get a bigger pay boost than men – but only because women who don’t suffer such a large pay penalty compared to men.

Degree or no degree, women can’t win when it comes to pay. Closing the gender pay gap will take more than increasing the numbers going to university. Throwing gender stereotypes out of the window by helping more women into male-dominated apprenticeships and supporting more men to take on the childcare would be a start.

We learned yesterday that women who go to university get a bigger pay boost than men – not because women graduates earn more than men (in fact, quite the opposite), but because women who don’t go to university suffer such a large pay penalty compared to men who don’t. If anything, the Department for Education statistics show just how little women get paid, despite their qualifications.

This is in line with Young Women’s Trust research, which found that young women with degrees are as likely to end up economically inactive (out of work and not able to start work immediately) as men with no qualifications.

Women graduates are out of work in higher numbers than men due to having children or caring for another family member; or because the high cost of childcare combined with a lack of flexible working options shuts them out of many workplaces.

Those women who do find work or an apprenticeship instead of going to university are more likely to be in lower-paid sectors such as retail, beauty and care. Meanwhile, we know that men doing apprenticeships earn on average £1,000 a year more than women, because they are often in better-paid sectors like construction and engineering. The women who do make it onto a building site or industrial plant are often the only one in their class and tell of sexist comments and harassment, with many unable to complete their training.

Even the women who go to university, while they tend to significantly improve their prospects by doing so, find themselves worse off than men who study the same subject. Department for Education data shows that women graduates of all subjects still face a gender pay gap within five years of completing their degree.

As a result, young women say they are increasingly struggling to make ends meet and falling into debt, with little hope that we will have equality in the workplace any time soon. While gender stereotypes continue to limit their options, this is no surprise.

The fact that women earn more by going to university than they would otherwise suggests that this is their best option after school. In reality, however, it is just the least worst option in a society where women’s choices remain more limited than men’s.

To genuinely put women on a par with men, it’s time we opened up other routes to young women, such as helping them into male-dominated apprenticeships like construction and engineering. Men, too, say they would like to take a bigger role in childcare. Sharing care more equally would help to expand women’s options, not least by reducing the extent to which employers see them as a liability due to their increased risk of taking maternity leave.

We’re too quick to kid ourselves about the progress we have made towards women’s workplace equality. The reality is that stereotypes are still deeply entrenched. It’s not that the solutions are hard; it’s that the will is, sadly, not there.

If employers won’t step up, Government should, and its apprenticeship reforms are the perfect opportunity to do it.

Written for the New Statesman.

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The ‘current salary’ question harms women. It must go

I am 26. At the current rate of progress, I will be retired – or worse – before women in the UK are paid as much as men. The gender pay gap starts the moment women enter the workplace and continues – often getting wider with age – until they move on to their (smaller) pension pots. Making it compulsory for large companies to report on their gender pay was a great step forward – but futile unless employers act to close their gaps.

Breaking the cycle of lower pay for women is complex, but bosses could start straight away by simply putting a stop to the “salary question” in interviews, and including wage details in job adverts.

The salary question – that dreaded question about how much you are currently paid, so that your prospective employer has a figure on which to base your new wage – is a surefire way of ensuring that women who are already suffering a gender pay gap continue to be paid less than men as their career progresses. The practice especially disadvantages anyone who has taken time out of work to care for children or other family members, or who has temporarily done a part-time job to spend more time at home. Basing salaries on previous pay can also penalise anyone moving to a region with higher living costs. Setting pay in this way condemns women to lower earnings.

As galling as it is to see high-earners such as Carrie Gracie paid less than their male colleagues, it can be even harder for women at the lower end of the scale to challenge their bosses on the issue. Young women on zero-hours contracts may fear that “causing trouble” will result in fewer hours and, as a result, smaller incomes.

The sectors that women commonly work in, such as retail and care, are less likely to have job security and often have high turnover rates, meaning would-be complainants fear losing their job. In job interviews, when you are trying so hard to win a potential employer over, challenging or not answering a question can feel even harder.

Some US states and cities have already banned employers asking about salary history. In the past year, New York City and California have outlawed the practice. Yet Young Women’s Trust has found that in the UK nearly half of employers are still asking candidates about their current salary and 42% admit to not including wage details when advertising roles. The practice is most common in the private sector.

We are now asking UK employers to follow New York and California’s lead, and for the government to look at banning employers from asking the salary question altogether. Instead, employers should be including salary details in job adverts. This would make pay more transparent and would make it harder for employers to, even unintentionally, pay men and women different amounts for similar roles, helping to reduce illegal gender pay gaps. We’re also calling on people to highlight job adverts where salaries aren’t advertised using #saywhatyoupay on social media.

Being upfront about pay in job listings also means everyone knows where they stand. We all know how hard it can be to negotiate salaries, especially when impostor syndrome – that feeling of not being good enough for a role – comes into play. Having an idea of how much to ask for or a band to work within helps.

Women should be paid according to their skills and the work they are doing, not stuck on low pay because of entrenched gender inequality. Salary secrecy and questions about someone’s pay history perpetuate the gender pay gap. It’s time to end it.

Originally written for the Guardian.

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10 Things Not To Miss In Malta

Written for The Handbook.

Malta, with its rich history and Game of Thrones scenery, is an increasingly hot tourist destination – and it’s not hard to see why. From stunning architecture and artistic masterpieces to the nightclubs and party scene, Malta has so much to offer. So, obviously, I had to check it out (I’m sacrificial like that). Here are ten things you mustn’t miss on this amazing island.

Dangle And Dine

Forget a head for heights, do you have a stomach for them? At Dinner In The Sky in Valetta prepare to be strapped in and hoisted 120 feet into the air along with your dinner table, chef, food and drink. There, you will experience gorgeous views and a lavish five-course meal. Let the chefs ply you with liberal helpings of wine to help those with those already wobbly legs.

www.dinnerintheskymalta.com

Party On Paceville

For those in need of some harder alcohol after hanging at terrifying heights, you can’t walk down Paceville without being drawn in to one of the clubs. The centre of the St Julian’s night life, the street comes alive with thumping beats and tons of drinks offers. We crawled through three (to be fair, one stank of sick so we got out pretty quickly). Get a round of caipirinhas at Native Bar and you’re good to go… to bed.

www.nativemalta.com

Rollin’ Rollin’ 

Rest your legs after a big night by taking a leisurely golf buggy tour of the Three Cities courtesy of Rolling Geeks. The Three Cities, the historic bit of Malta, are well worth seeing and the buggies come complete with a sat nav tour guide while you sit back and relax (note: less restful for your designated driver, who has to navigate cars full of angry locals). Luckily (for me), the tour includes an ‘SOS’ service, meaning if you go off-piste, get lost or break down then a member of staff will come and track you down. Tried and tested: you’re welcome.

www.rolling-geeks.com

Go Cruising

Malta has a deep maritime history thanks to its commanding position in the Mediterranean. And the best way to experience that is to take a harbour tour. The harbour tour is a must, not least as it’s another great way to see the Three Cities and perhaps fewer angry locals involved than my experience with the golf buggies!

www.captainmorgan.com.mt

Life’s A Beach

If, like me, your friends can’t get enough of city breaks while you love a beach, Malta delivers. Locals (not the angry ones) recommend Peter’s Pool – a quiet rocky ledge with clear water. Or you can, like I did, enjoy the delights of Golden Bay, which is beautiful but trickier to get to.

Roast Some Rabbit

Ask anyone about the local cuisine and, Malta being an island, seafood is always top of the list. And where better to eat it than on the beach? Paranga in St George’s Bay, St Julian’s 

offers beautiful food with a tasty view. You also can’t go to Malta without trying rabbit (#sorrynotsorry) – it’s a local delicacy.

www.intercontinental.com

Fillet Some Fishes

Try your hand at filleting a fish and learning more about Maltese cooking at the Mediterranean Culinary Academy in Valletta. Take it from someone whose cookery skills barely extend beyond microwaving a tin of baked beans [Editor’s note: Bex you do know you can’t put a tin in the microwave, right?]: the class caters for all levels of expertise. The staff are super friendly and always on-hand to save the day (thanks, Keith).

www.mcamalta.com

Glory In The Gaudy

Don’t let the austere facade fool you. It’s what’s on the inside that counts – and this cathedral could not be more gold if it had been designed by President Trump himself. Built by the Knights of St John, the cathedral houses some of Caravaggio’s most famous paintings. When I’m on holiday I’m totally an outdoors person. Sure, you go and browse the local churches; I’ll just sit here on the beach, thank you very much. But, I’ll make a exception for St John’s Cathedral, which is genuinely amazing. Long queue to get in, but worth the wait.

www.stjohnscocathedral.com

Say ‘Winter Is Coming’

You can’t go home without seeing the gorgeous views (AKA getting a great Insta pic). Head up to the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta for a great view of the Grand Harbour and Fort Ricasoli – better known as The Red Keep to Game of Thrones fans… I think I’m possibly the only person in the world that this is entirely wasted on; I don’t get the whole G.O.T. thing, but I’m willing to try – honest!

www.cityofvalletta.org

Where to stay:

A hop away from the beach and – importantly – right next to the night life, we stayed in the Holiday Inn Express in St Julian’s. Rooms start at €90 a night with breakfast included and offers free WiFi, a power shower and a smart telly.

The Intercontinental next door offers the same great location but with added luxury (most importantly, a spa).

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Young women have voting power. Now they need spending power

I wrote this for the i and it can be found here.

This week, in the UK, women will earn £2.5 billion (£2,647,736,923) in total less than men. That’s £176.50 for each woman in work. Continue reading

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Beating Donald Trump to Time magazine Person of the Year is just the start

Today I wrote for the Guardian. You can read the article in full by clicking here.

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