Destination Inspiration: Ten of the World’s Most Legendary, Gorgeous Beaches…

So reckons the extremely well-trekked Gilbert Ott, editor of Godsavethepoints – and I must say I’m finding it hard to disagree with him!


City breaks are cool, cultural holidays are fun, but it’s hard to beat an nice cold refreshing drink on a gorgeous sandy beach with the shades on. If you’ve been spinning the globe looking for the perfect place to spend your hard earned holiday cash, it’s tough to pass up these beaches, which are arguably ten of the most stunning you’ll find anywhere in the world…

Horseshoe Beach, Bermuda

Believe it or not, there really is an island where the sand is pink: it’s called Bermuda. This particular stretch of beach features a hidden cove where you find tourist free, untouched beauty.

Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia

If the beach is crowded, just hit the amazing sand bar a few feet out. Shallow water, rolling hills, white sand and all the glory of an Australian holiday. Sold.

Honopu Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Pink sand, girly. White sand, standard. Black sand? Very cool! Honopu beach, amongst many of Hawaii’s best beaches, features volcanic black sand, creating one of the most unique experiences in the world against crystal blue water….

Pansy Island, Mozambique

Want to escape the world? Well this is about as “secluded” as you can get, requiring a plane and then a boat to bring you to these remote islands, only a few of which are inhabited…

Honopu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

If black sand is a bit extreme for your taste, perhaps one of these remote, hike-worthy beaches protected by massive rock formations. It’s worth the “trek”…

Temea Beach, Moorea, French Polynesia

You know life is tough when you’re choosing between Moorea and Bora Bora. If you opt to go the Moorea route, you’ll definitely want to hit Temea Beach, featuring water with color so pristine it makes pools envious. There’s plenty of soft sand and rugged terrain as well…

El Nido Beach, Palawan, Philippines

A picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, probably worthy of enticing you to buy a $1000 plane ticket. El Nido beach is one of the most secluded, gorgeous beach areas, with lush greenery juxtaposing the surreal blue ocean and white sand. Simply paradise.

Long Beach, Koh Phi Phi Island, Thailand

Thailand’s beaches are so sought after the country is having to crack down on tourism. The Phi Phi Islands offer one of the most “Instagram” worthy settings. You’ll just want to arrive early to avoid the boats of people trying to get in on the amazing action. Unless you enjoy people…

Whitehaven Beach, Queensland, Australia

If there’s one thing to learn from this post, Queensland is worthy of a bucket list spot. With two beaches on the list (for obvious reasons shown above) you’ll find all the sand, snorkelling and surfing fun you could ever dream of.

Until then, keep dreaming…

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Your Morocco Travel Guide

Another great guide from Dave’n’Deb at ThePlanetD


Morocco is a fascinating multicultural country blended from African, Arab and European influences. It is our closest link to the continent of Africa and a diverse holiday destination. The country offers an incredible amount of history, culture, art and music along with a fascinating geographical landscape incorporating the Sahara desert, the snow capped Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic coastline. This Morocco travel guide will help you plan your next vacation.

Morocco-travel-guide-tips

Morocco Travel Guide: Fast Facts

  • Moroccan power voltage is 127/220 V 60 Hz; Power sockets C & E
  • The local currency is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD) and is around 9.50 MAD to 1 USD
  • In the north of Morocco, visitors will find the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, claimed by Morocco and considered by the Moroccan state to be “occupied territory.” In these two towns, the main currency is the euro.
  • Tipping is a way of life in Morocco; almost any service can warrant a tip so make sure to bring small bills.
  • Haggling is also a way of life in Morocco. NEVER pay the asking price, vendors often double or even triple the prices of an item to allow some wiggle room through the haggling process.
  • If you are not Muslim, you are not allowed in many of the mosques. Exceptions include the partially restored Almohad structure of Tin Mal in the High Atlas, the similarly disused Great Mosque at Smara in the Western Sahara, the courtyard of the sanctuary-mosque of Moulay Ismail in Meknes and the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.
  • Moroccan laws towards alcohol are quite liberal however drinking alcohol in public places is not recommended. During Ramandan, try to avoid drinking, eating or smoking in public during the hours of fasting.

Top Packing Tips for Morocco Travel

Morocco is about the size of France with coasts upon the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea and has an arid climate. The coastal regions generally have a Mediterranean climate, however as travellers move further inland the conditions can become more extreme and elevation can play a role in the changeable weather conditions. Morocco is also a Muslim country

  • Modesty is respected and travellers are expected to follow the country’s etiquette. In villages and small towns, and even in the medinas of large cities, many women still wear the veal and the street is seen as strictly the man’s domain. Women travellers should avoid wearing revealing clothes, like short shorts, low cut shirts or thin-strapped blouses.
  • Sarongs – I think we have sarongs in every packing list. From covering up when visiting mosques, being used as a towel or keeping cool on a hot night.
  • Pack loose clothing with breathable fabric – cover up with fabric you know will breathe, especially if you plan on heading into the Sahara desert or to one of the coastal regions. Tunics are a great option as they can be dressed up or down, are light weigtht and offer good coverage.
  • Footwear – Pack a pair of lightweight, durable and comfortable shoes. Moroccan streets can be dusty and unclean so if you are uncomfortable with the idea getting your little piggies dirty then opt for closed toe shoes instead of sandals/flip flops.
  • Kleenex / toilet paper – it is quite common that restaurant restrooms do not offer toilet paper to patrons, so make sure you are prepared. Also, don’t be surprised if you encounter squat toilets!

Top Things to do in Morocco

Adventure

  • Enjoy a Four-Wheeling Adventure – join the guides of Dunes Desert Exploration and take a three hour tour in the desert on your very own dune buggy or quad bike.
  • Surf’s up – Taghazout is a small fishing village 19 km north of the city of Agadir in the south west of Morocco and houses some of country’s best surf spots. It is nestled amongst a set of small bays just south of the legendary surf breaks of Anchor Point, Killers and Mysteries.
  • Snowboard – yes you heard right … Morocco is home of the Atlas Ranges and the tallest mountain in North Africa, Jebel Toubkel. Skiing and snowboarding is possible from late November to early March, with January and February being the most snow-sure months.

Culture

  • Go to a Hammam – A Hammam is a hot steam bath followed by a massage. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? It definitely can be quite the experience!
  • Shop until you drop – forget about malls, get lost walking through the the medias of Casablanca, Rabat, Tangier, Fes and Marakech. Take your time perusing the merchandise but make sure to haggle heavily to get the best price!
  • Visit Fes – Fes is the oldest city in the country and the Medina (or Fes el-Bali) is a World Heritage site. Fez is also famous for its leather products and most of it comes from the leather bazaar (souq). The souq is home to three ancient leather tanneries, the largest and oldest being the Chouara Tannery, which is almost a thousand years old.
  • Take a cooking course – learn how to cook traditional Morrocans dishes from a gourmet chef while enjoying great conversations, appetizers and tea.

Sights

  • Watch the sun rise on a Merzouga morning – to experience a desert sunrise is an unforgettable experience and the best place to do so is at the Merzouga sand dunes or Erg Chebbi
  • Take in the colours of the Dades Gorge – There is nothing in the world quite like the Dades Valley. The mineral rich Dades Gorge sparkles in many hues of blue and green as well as white and red.
  • Spend a day in Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech – one of the main cultural spaces in Marrakech, this square has become one of the symbols of the city. During the day it is home to juice stalls and snake charmers and as night falls is transformed into a food market where you can purchase some of the amazing culinary delights of Morocco.

 

 

“Where To Go When”: Lonely Planet reveals the best places to visit every month of the year

This handy book provides expert advice, activity ideas and inspiring photos on the best places to holiday every month.  Experts present trip ideas for everyone, whether you’re a fan of adventure, culture, history, nature, sightseeing and wildlife; and the 12-month calendar of suggestions helps travellers to avoid the crowds and get the most out of their chosen destination.

Lonely Planet’s Where to go When, the ultimate trip planner for every month of  the year, is a beautifully illustrated book that is both practical and inspiring. For every month of the year it presents 30 recommendations of destinations that are at their best during each month, whether due to their climate, or value, or simply because there’s a lot going on.

The suggestions feature every flavour of travel experience, from culture-rich city breaks and tropical beach holidays to adventurous road trips and wildlife-watching expeditions. Every corner of the planet is covered so you’ll find out when the best time to see mountain gorillas is or to go shopping in Paris.

The book is organised by month. At the start of each chapter a flowchart guides you through the options so readers can filter the recommendations according to their interests. Whether you’re into beaches, trying the local specialities or backpacking off the beaten path, there will suggestions for you. Diagrams also depict the climate, value for money and family friendliness of each suggestion in the month.

Read on for some of the monthly highlights.  (Photos courtesy of Mail Online)

January

What a way to start the year: Visit Dove Lake, which was formed by glaciation in Tasmania. Behind it sits Cradle Mountain

What a way to start the year: Visit Dove Lake, which was formed by glaciation in Tasmania. Behind it sits Cradle Mountain

The destinations that Lonely Planet recommends travellers head to in January include Uganda, Florida, Lanzarote, Switzerland, Sydney, Slovenia, Kerala in India, Grenada, Honshu in Japan, Guatemala and the Arctic Peninsula.

This month is also the time for nature fans to visit the southern Serengeti in Tanzania to watch thousands of grazing wildebeest or to explore the empty beaches and nature trails in full bloom in Australia’s Tasmania.

Other highlights this month include the Hay literary festival in Colombia, cruising through Myanmar under a balmy sun and taking in Vienna’s glamorous winter balls.

February

Follow in Santa's sleigh trails: A visit to Finnish lapland in February is the perfect time to see the spectacular aurora borealis

Follow in Santa’s sleigh trails: A visit to Finnish lapland in February is the perfect time to see the spectacular aurora borealis

For February, Ibiza, the Gambia, Michoacan in Mexico, the Indian Ocean, Cambodia, Singapore, Haiti, Venice and Quebec are among the top picks.

Lonely Planet also encourages travellers to embrace the chill in Iceland, Lapland and Andorra this month as conditions are ideal for hiking, skiing and to see the Northern Lights.

The weather, meanwhile, is glorious in Honduras, which offers affordable diving. And it’s carnival season in Rio de Janeiro – and the bodegas of Mendoza, Argentina, are open with enticing wine tours and tastings.

March

First splash of spring: Unwind in Tobago at the dreamy Pigeon Point Beach where even the palm trees are laid back

First splash of spring: Unwind in Tobago at the dreamy Pigeon Point Beach where even the palm trees are laid back

Sicily, Cyprus, South Africa, Tyrol in Austria, the Maldives, Chile, Costa Rica, Banff in Canada, Savannah in the US, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Trinidad and Tobago are among the most desirable destinations for March travellers.

Other picks include watching grey whales migrating off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, spotting Shere Khan big cats in Madhya Pradesh, India, or encountering Sichuan pandas in China during this month.

Creative event South by South West (SXSW), meanwhile, will add a crackling energy to Austin, US, in March and Iguazu Falls straddling Brazil and Argentina will be even more jaw-dropping than usual as the waterfall is in full flow at this time of year.

April

A spicy spring escape: Sun, sand and sea await discovery at Thailand's tropical beaches overlooking the Andaman Sea

A spicy spring escape: Sun, sand and sea await discovery at Thailand’s tropical beaches overlooking the Andaman Sea

For April escapes, the travel experts suggest Panama, the Phillippines, Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, the Alps, the Lake District, Belize, Melbourne, Brussels, Nepal, St Lucia and Andalusia in Spain.

Cultured travellers can explore Jordan’s ancient attractions while camping in the desert at this mild time of year. It’s also an inspiring time to see the colourful flowers of sakura (cherry blossom) season in Japan.

Spring is also ideal for driving along California’s breath-taking, traffic-free coastal roads and to feel the heat on a thrilling beach break in Thailand during the nation’s new year celebrations, Lonely Planet says.

May

A nature lover's paradise, Montenegro has rivers, seas and slopes, ripe for exploration in mild May

A nature lover’s paradise, Montenegro has rivers, seas and slopes, ripe for exploration in mild May

May is an idyllic month for shoulder season travel with the Lonely Planet experts selecting Bermuda, Samoa, Morocco, Peru, Cornwall, North Island in New Zealand, Loire Valley in France, Israel, Prague, Cuba, Southern Namibia and the Amalfi coast in Italy as top picks.

The guide book has other picks for this month, too. A nature lover’s paradise, Montenegro has rivers, seas and slopes, ripe for exploration in mild May, while it’s also a good time to take advantage of the deserted beaches in Spain’s Galicia region before the other tourists arrive.

Other highlights of the month include hiking Ihlara Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey, sailing the fjords on the west coast of Norway and hitting the roads of northern Queensland for a picturesque tour.

June

Shutterbugs can make the most of the long summer days in Orkney, Scotland, and spend the summer solstice on the island

Shutterbugs can make the most of the long summer days in Orkney, Scotland, and spend the summer solstice on the island

Trip suggestions for June include Greenland, Jamaica, Iran, Sardinia, Cape Cod, Lisbon, Yosemite National Park, Bora Bora, the Canadian Rockies, South Luangwa National Park in Zambia and Rwanda.

And this month’s family friendly options include riding horses at Montana’s ranches, snorkelling at Ningaloo Reef in Australia and watching the turtles hatch in Borneo.

Shutterbugs, meanwhile, can make the most of the long summer days in Orkney and spend the summer solstice among the Scottish island’s historic attractions, while cultured holidaymakers can take in the Opera Festival in Verona this month.

July

Brazil's Pantanal wetland experiences its dry season during this month making it an ideal time to see an array of colourful animals, from toucans and macaws to elusive jaguars

Brazil’s Pantanal wetland experiences its dry season during this month making it an ideal time to see an array of colourful animals, from toucans and macaws to elusive jaguars

Ever fancied visiting Mongolia, the Baltic, Alaska, Japan, Zanzibar, the Himalayas, the Azores, Antigua or the Black Forest in Germany? Then July is the month to pencil it in.

And Brazil’s Pantanal wetland experiences its dry season during this month, making it an ideal time to see an array of colourful animals, from toucans and macaws to elusive jaguars.

It’s also a delightful month to explore the mountains of the Dolomites and during Australia’s winter you can take a cosy, wine-filled trip to Hunter Valley, travel the wild Atlantic way in Ireland or head for the beaches of the Ionian islands.

August

August is a gorgeous time to discover Umbria in Italy's rolling landscapes, medieval walled towns and rural retreats

August is a gorgeous time to discover Umbria in Italy’s rolling landscapes, medieval walled towns and rural retreats

Mid-summer options recommended by the Lonely Planet experts include Iceland, Zambia, Malawi, Sofia in Bulgaria, Ko Samui in Thailand, Berlin, Nova Scotia in Canada, Sweden, Ecuador, Champagne in France, Turkey and Papua New Guinea.

August is also a gorgeous time to discover the rolling landscapes, medieval walled towns and rural retreats of Umbria in Italy. Buenos Aires, meanwhile, is hosting its arts festival and the Cook Islands are looking their dreamy best this month.

And adventurous families should head to Pembrokeshire in Wales for surfing, cycling and mountaineering or go on a road trip around the Kimberly in Australia.

September

You can avoid the crowds by travelling in shoulder season where you'll find deserted beaches in a sun-drenched Corsica

You can avoid the crowds by travelling in shoulder season where you’ll find deserted beaches in a sun-drenched Corsica

The Silk Road in central Asia, Costa Brava, Tibet, Georgia, South Korea, the Cotswolds, South Africa, Provence, Arizona, Vermont and Sumatra and Java in Indonesia are all best enjoyed in September.

There are other great options, too. You’ll find deserted beaches in a sun-drenched Corsica and can take a moment to appreciate the autumn foliage brightening up Beijing and the Great Wall of China. There’s also often an Indian Summer to make the most of in hazy San Francisco.

And it’s a thrilling month to go rafting in New Zealand, hiking in Mont Blanc, on safari in northern Kenya, or cruising around the Moselle Valley in Germany.

October

With Vietnam experiencing monsoon seasons in both the winter and the summer, October has the perfect conditions for a stunning escape to highlights such as Halong Bay (pictured)

With Vietnam experiencing monsoon seasons in both the winter and the summer, October has the perfect conditions for a stunning escape to highlights such as Halong Bay (pictured)

Top picks for October travel itineraries include Fiji, the Seychelles, Slovakia, Lyon, Bolivia, Costa Verde in Brazil, New Mexico, the Scottish Highlands, New York and Taiwan.

And with Vietnam experiencing monsoon seasons in both the winter and the summer, October has the perfect conditions for a stunning escape to highlights such as Halong Bay.

There’s more.

During this month ‘clear mountain views’ can be enjoyed on visits to Darjeeling in India and Bhutan and Lonely Planet also recommends Oman as it is blessed with ‘mellow weather’ and ‘a taste of old Arabia’.

November

Sun-seekers should make a break for Barbados (pictured), Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands in the tail end of the year before the crowds arrive

Sun-seekers should make a break for Barbados (pictured), Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands in the tail end of the year before the crowds arrive

Nicaragua, the Cayman Islands, the Simien mountains in Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Tokyo and Honshu, South Africa, Oregon, Nepal, Dunedin in New Zealand, Ruka in Finland and Hong Kong are attractive vacation destinations for November.

Sun-seekers, meanwhile, should make a break for Barbados, Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands in the tail end of the year before the other beach bums arrive.

And November is a temperate time to explore Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle and it’s cool enough to climb the Mayan ruins at Ruta May in Guatemala. Abu Dhabi might also be an option if you’re into Formula One or want to explore the new crop of museums opening there, which include the Louvre and the Guggenheim.

December

If you want to start the new year on a natural high head for Southern Patagonia, Chile, at the ends of the Earth where the vast landscapes are a hiking paradise

If you want to start the new year on a natural high head for Southern Patagonia, Chile, at the ends of the Earth where the vast landscapes are a hiking paradise

Why not spend Christmas overseas? Lonely Planet recommends St Vincent and the Grenadines, Australia’s Sapphire coast, the Andaman Islands, Laos, Senegal, San Sebastian, Micronesia and Tenerife in December.

And this month need not be dreary as there are winter wonderlands to discover in Arctic Sweden, Jasper in Canada, Breckenridge in the US or on the Glacier Express in Switzerland.

Fans of winter markets will be enthralled with Tallin in Estonia’s offerings, and Scotland and New Orleans are top destinations for a lively New Years’ Eve. Or if you want to start the new year on a natural high head for Morocco’s stunning Sahara desert or Southern Patagonia, Chile, at the ends of the Earth. These vast landscapes are a hiking paradise.

Book details:

ISBN: 9781786571939 Language: English
Authors: Sarah Baxter, Paul Bloomfeild
320 pages, 320 pp colour | Dimensions: 230mm x 270mm
Next edition due: Dec 2020

17 Epic Places You Never Thought To Travel, But Should

“Be a traveller, not a tourist, in 2017”, say HuffPost.

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Paris? Been there. London? Done that. No offense to those storied standbys, but 2017 is a time to break out of your travel bubble and try someplace you’ve never thought to visit before.

Travel teaches us invaluable lessons we can’t learn in school. It expands our worldview. It pushes us to be better, stronger, more empathetic human beings. And these 17 places, in no particular order, are where that magic is going to happen this year. Some of them can be experienced in the lap of luxury, while others are for only the most adventurous souls. But all of them have the potential to be the best trip you’ve ever taken.

1. South Korea

Don’t let its northern neighbour scare you off: South Korea is full of adventurous travellers’ delights like national parks, mountains and islandsSki resorts here are top-notch, as some are preparing to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. For a more urban feel, try Korean BBQ in Seoul or chill out in Busan, a coastal city.

Visuals Unlimited, Inc./Geoffrey Schmid via Getty Images

 

Seoraksan National Park is the proud site of South Korea’s third-highest mountai. It also features hot springs, temples and jagged rock formations.

Locals vacation on Jeju Island for its beaches, outdoor spas and spine-tingling lava tube tours.

cozyta via Getty Images

 

Changdeokgung Palace, a 15th-century royal villa in Seoul, is a UNESCO world heritage site. Builders expertly designed the complex to accommodate the uneven terrain at the foot of a mountain peak.

Sungjin Kim via Getty Images

 

Cable cars haul skiers at what is now Deogyusan Resort, where hot springs await after a day on the slopes.

2. Mauritius

Mauritius is delicious. This tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean offers up a low-key vibe and endless turquoise waters perfect for sports like wind and kitesurfing. You can also sample local rum and street food or explore churches, temples, mosques and lighthouses from Mauritius’ rich history as a colonial trade hub.

Sapsiwai via Getty Images

 

Le Morne Brabant is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage site that serves as “an exceptional testimony to… resistance to slavery.” The mountain’s forbidding cliffs hid runaway slaves known as maroons, and their oral traditions live on.

Liese Mahieu via Getty Images

 

It doesn’t get better than this.

ullstein bild via Getty Images

 

This is the Seven Coloured Earths in Chamarel, where naturally occurring sands of different colours form unique striped dunes.

Bon Espoir Photography via Getty Images

 

Above is a shopping center in the capital of Port Louis. English, French, and Mauritian Creole are the most commonly spoken languages in Mauritius, while Hinduism and Christianity are the top two religions.

3. Kazakhstan

The world’s ninth-largest country is not just for Borat: Fans of architecture, city tours and wilderness explorations will feel right at home in this little-explored corner of the earth. Start in Almaty, the biggest city, for clothing markets and upscale restaurants. Then, venture out to the Tian Shan mountains and hike sacred forests where many modern fruit crops were first cultivated.

huseyintuncer via Getty Images

 

Astana has been called the “world’s weirdest capital city,” in part because it hardly existed 20 years ago. CNN reports the area was “an empty patch of land… best known as a former gulag prison camp for the wives of Soviet traitors” before it was declared the new capital in 1997, sparking the quick rise of a futuristic skyline.

Leonid Andronov via Getty Images

 

Almaty’s wooden Ascension Cathedral was constructed without nails between 1904 and 1907, and is one of the only buildings in the city to survive a 1911 earthquake. Used for state and public purposes after the Russian Revolution, it was returned to the Russian Orthodox church in the 1990s.

AlesiaBelaya via Getty Images

 

Big Almaty Lake sits in the Tian Shan mountains. The western Tian Shan range stretches into China and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, in part for its biodiversity.

ekipaj via Getty Images

 

The city of Aktau, a hub for the oil industry, sits on the Caspian Sea and is a popular spot among locals for swimming.

4. Cyprus

This lush Mediterranean island sat under the rule of many ancient empires, and it shows: A trip here might include visits to a Byzantine monastery, a mosque or the tombs of high-ranking Hellenistic and Roman officials, which are part of a larger UNESCO world heritage site. Oh, and did we mention the island’s postcard-perfect beaches?

Rosita So Image

 

In the port town of Kyrenia, you can take a boat cruise to swimming and snorkeling spots or visit a castle for a charming bird’s-eye view of the harbor.

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Limassol, Cyprus’ second-biggest city (and still a quaint one at that), has a lively bar and restaurant scene.

Kirillm via Getty Images

 

See remains of an ancient outdoor theater, villas and baths at Kourion, a former city-kingdom on the coast.

A good snapshot stops a moment from running away

 

Adorable Pissouri village is the place to go for horseback riding and pub-hopping. Don’t be fooled, though: The ocean and impeccable diving are still within reach.

5. Latvia

Did you know Latvia has white sand beaches? This Baltic Sea gem, formerly part of the Soviet Union, is full of little surprises and a slight Scandinavian flair. The capital, Riga, was named the European Capital of Culture in 2014, and roughly half of the country is made up of pristine, accessible natural ecosystems. Historical Old Towns, churches and castles abound.

Angel Villalba via Getty Images

 

Riga’s town hall square features the iconic House of the Blackheads, which was built in 1334, destroyed in World War II and rebuilt in 1999.

Sven Zacek via Getty Images

 

Above is the Gauja River, on the border between Estonia and Latvia. Its namesake national park holds more than 500 cultural and historical monuments.

Rihards via Getty Images

 

Not a bad place to spend a summer’s day! Latvia sits across the Baltic Sea from Stockholm, Sweden.

Federica Gentile via Getty Images

 

Kemeri National Park features a variety of wetlands, including the Great Kemeri Bog, which can be traversed by boardwalk.

6. Ecuador

Perched between Colombia and Peru on the Pacific, Ecuador has everything: mountains, beaches, rainforest, volcanos, hot springs, and the famous wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Once part of the Inca Empire, this dramatically beautiful land is steeped in both pre-Colombian and Spanish colonial culture and is perfect for cheap travellerstrek-happy adventurers and history lovers ― after all, Quito’s sprawling UNESCO-tapped city center is the colonial jewel of South America. (Bonus: Ecuador is on the dollar, so there’s no need to exchange currency.)

DC_Colombia via Getty Images

 

Above is a photo of Bartolome Island in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. The endemic species in this volcanic archipelago inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and both land and sea are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Maremagnum via Getty Images

 

The Chimborazo volcano is the highest mountain in Ecuador.

John & Lisa Merrill via Getty Images

 

The historic center of Cuenca is yet another of Ecuador’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The town still subscribes to the rigid planning guidelines with which it was founded in 1557.

Luis Davilla via Getty Images

 

Quito’s Jesuit Church of the Society of Jesus, informally known as la Compañía, has enough gold leaf inside to wow the most jaded travellers. The stunning baroque church also has a charming number of hidden nods to the local culture, including symbols of suns that salute Inca history and indigenous faces and plants worked into the ornate interior designs.

7. Samoa

This island nation ― not be confused with its equally awesome neighbour, American Samoa ― includes 10 islands brimming with volcanoes, waterfalls, rainforests, swimming holes and beaches. Journeying to a natural ocean blowhole or diving deep into a cave pool is just the beginning. Down-to-earth travellers will enjoy its lack of fancy resorts, too.

Michael Runkel / robertharding via Getty Images

 

Swimmers hop into To Sua Ocean Trench, part of a larger area with natural rock pools and blowholes.

Tim Jordan Photography via Getty Images

 

Perfect water awaits you on Upolu Island’s southwest coast.

Michael Runkel via Getty Images

 

Papapapaitai Falls is about as impressive as waterfalls get: This showstopper tumbles into a giant gorge. Continue down the Cross Island Road for more falls, swimming holes and picnic spots.

David Kirkland / Design Pics via Getty Images

 

Upolu Island has plenty of beachfront hotels and ecolodges to maximize your time on the warm white sand.

8. Uruguay

Uruguay doesn’t get as much attention as neighbouring Argentina and Brazil, but this polished, progressive paradise on the Atlantic has a pinch of European flair and is well worth a visit. Experience gaucho culture on a ranch of rolling hills, take to the surf at Punta del Diablo, or party the night away in the clubs at Punta del Este.

Richard I’Anson via Getty Images

 

Stroll the cosmopolitan streets of Montevideo, including the famous Plaza Independencia.

MIGUEL ROJO via Getty Images

 

The rambling, eccentric Casapueblo resort in Punta Ballena was built by late Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, who was inspired by the mud nests of native hornero birds.

fotoquique via Getty Images

 

The resort town of Punta del Este is known as a place to party, but the public art deserves a hand, too.

Mr.Lomein via Getty Images

 

Uruguay’s interior hills are rich in gaucho culture. Book a rural lodge and explore the beautiful countryside on horseback.

9. Namibia

First-time visitors to Africa should start here, in the world’s oldest desert, to experience the thrill of feeling like the last tourist on Earth. Considering its vast selection of wildlifenational parks, shipwrecks and larger-than-life sand dunes, Namibia somehow remains awesomely uncrowded. Many cities and towns have a distinctly German feel ― complete with German restaurants and colonial architecture ― due to years under European rule.

Digital Vision. via Getty Images

 

Zebras drink at a waterhole in Etosha National Park, which offers various epic safaris.

pilesasmiles via Getty Images

 

Ludertiz, a confusingly colonial harbour town, includes an old Lutheran church and bustling village shops that make it feel like anywhere but Africa.

Daniel Osterkamp via Getty Images

 

The quiver tree, a common sight in Southern Namibia, stands tall in a nature park known as Giant’s Playground.

Adrian Carr via Getty Images

 

Off-roaders sit ready to explore the desert’s massive sand dunes, which also make for a daring day hike.

10. Guatemala

Mayan ruins play a starring role in Guatemala. Deep in the jungle, Tikal National Park is a lush playground of plazas, temples and dwellings that are well over 1,000 years old. Equally gorgeous are Guatemala’s active volcanoes, cascading lagoons and the Caribbean-blue Lake Petén Itzá. Even with all these natural wonders, a historic hotel-museum tops the list of places to visit nationwide.

SimonDannhauer via Getty Images

 

From the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D., Mayans inhabited what is now Tikal National Park. Current residents include jaguars, howler monkeys and more than 60 species of bats.

Ben Pipe Photography via Getty Images

 

Parque Central is a popular outdoor gathering place in Antigua, a city in the highlands.

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At Lake Petén Itzá, the blue water is perfect for sunsets and swimming with the locals.

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Daredevils can hike or camp near a handful of active volcanos in Guatemala’s rugged wilderness, though be careful to do so at the right time of year.

11. Papua New Guinea

One look at the water should make it, ahem, clear that this is a paradise. The U.S. State Department cautions that due to crime, an organized tour booked through a travel agency is the best way to explore this stunningly diverse and practically untouched country. (There’s little luxury involved, but it’s a trip of a lifetime.) Try a trekking tour along the rugged, mountainous Kokoda Track or journey to a sing-sing festival, at which Papua New Guineans display their many unique tribal cultures through music and dance.

David Kirkland / Design Pics via Getty Images

 

White sand beaches and few interruptions are hallmarks of the New Ireland Province.

David Kirkland / Design Pics via Getty Images

 

Capital Port Moresby is beautiful from the air, though its crime rate calls for sensible precautions. Infrastructure is virtually non-existent outside PNG’s major cities ― another reason to book a tour rather than travelling on your own.

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Local tribes celebrate a sing-sing in the Highlands. Some 836 indigenous languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, most by fewer than a thousand speakers each.

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Of course, Papua New Guinea boasts excellent snorkelling and diving.

12. Newfoundland, Canada

Why Newfoundland? Here, east coasters can kayak with icebergs without taking a long flight to Greenland or Alaska and beyond. Then there’s 18,000 miles of unspoiled coastline with some 200 walking trails, plus the 22 species of whales that pass through Newfoundland and Labrador between May and September. Add in dramatic, glacier-carved fjords, and this part of Canada is truly a dream for nature lovers who prefer their international travel over-easy.

Thomas Kitchin & Victoria Hurst / Design Pics via Getty Images

 

Icebergs arrive from the Arctic each spring to places like Trinity Bay, above. Check the map of “Iceberg Alley,” then book a boat or kayak or car to experience them up close.

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We really can’t get enough of Gros Morne National Park, which, in addition to cool neon jellyfish, contains towering fjords you can tour by boat.

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The Fort Amherst historical site in St. John’s honors Colonel William Amherst, who recaptured the area from the French in 1762.

CHare Photography

 

Fall in Newfoundland is not too shabby. This is the Humber River in autumn.

13. Romania

Dracula’s homeland oozes eeriness and intrigue: The country has emerged from its Communist past to the delight of travellers who come to explore its medieval towns and ornate castles, including the one where fiction’s scariest bloodsucker once lived. Beyond the charming cobblestone streets, you’ll find adventurous alpine hikes through the towering Carpathian Mountains and all-inclusive beach resorts on the Black Sea coast.

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The Black Church, with its interior walls adorned with Turkish carpets, is the star of Brasov, a popular medieval town at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains.

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Corvin Castle in Transylvania features about 50 rooms of medieval art. It’s known as the most impressive Gothic castle in the country.

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It can take all day to drive the hairpin turns of Transfagarasan Road, which connects the provinces of Transylvania and Walachia through the mountains. Thanks to a gentle gradient, you can even bike it if you dare.

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Bucharest, Romania’s capital, is known for high energy and good food. Socialist and Art Nouveau architecture coexist here, and the nightlife is some of Eastern Europe’s best.

14. Laos

Even backpackers who have “seen it all” in Thailand and Cambodia will be awestruck in Laos. Stunning waterfalls, soaring mountains and blazing green rice fields are best enjoyed at the Laotian locals’ decidedly slow pace of life. Take a break from zip-lining and cave kayaking to join a yoga retreat or help out on an organic farm. The cuisine ― think sticky rice, papaya salad and fresh fish ― is worth savoring, too.

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A hot air balloon flies over Vang Vieng, a jungle town and magnet for backpackers.

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Kuang Si Falls are a refreshing ― but cold! ― place to swim. Prepare for the hike in, and look out for hidden pools along the way.

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Terraced rice fields overlook a village in Mu Cang Chai.

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Buddha Park in Vientiane is probably the most stunning sculpture park you’ll ever see.

15. Azerbaijan

“Untapped” may be the best way to describe this coastal country between Iran and Russia. Start in the capital of Baku, whose Old City has UNESCO world heritage status as a rare example of ancient architecture. Then, move out to explore quaint rural villages at the base of the Great Caucasus mountains. Former Peace Corps volunteers have set up a network of local homestays to help visitors enjoy the country’s outer fringes, where paved roads are scarce but the land is lush.

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Baku mixes old architecture with glittering 21st-century towers on the Caspian Sea.

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The Government House is just one of many historic monuments to see in Baku.

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Baku also offers museums, theaters, libraries and an opera house. Treat yourself to a balcony room at the glimmering Four Seasons Hotel.

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High in the mountains, Xinaliq is home to friendly shepherds who can point you in the right direction for adventurous hikes.

16. Slovenia

Croatia’s been a hot travel destination for a few years now, but don’t overlook its charming neighbour to the north. The snowy peaks of the Julian Alps are the dramatic backdrop for Slovenia’s storybook Lake Bled, while outdoor restaurants line the riverwalk in the friendly capital city Ljubljana and the sprawling Postojna Cave is a dramatic diversion. (Pro tip: You’ll likely save a few dollars by flying into Venice, Italy, rather than Ljubljana ― it’s not far over the border.)

Matthew Williams-Ellis / robertharding via Getty Images

 

The Franciscan Church of the Annunciation overlooks Ljubljana’s famous Triple Bridge, a lively spot at night.

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Above you’ll see Lake Bled in the summer. Swim or row in the crystal-clear lake, dine at Bled Castle perched high on a cliff, or stroll the equally Instagram-worthy Vintgar Gorge.

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A tour boat on the Ljubljanica River in Ljubljana.

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The town of Piran is a “luminescent pearl” on the Adriatic Sea.

17. The Seychelles

Will and Kate honeymooned here, so you know the views are fit for royalty. This collection of around 115 islands in the Indian Ocean is basically a beach-y theme park, with inlets of every size and type. It could take weeks to see them all. Thank goodness there are both private island villas and casual B&Bs to stay in.

Jon Arnold via Getty Images

 

With its pink sand and smooth boulders, Anse Source D’Argent is regularly praised as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Get there early in the day before other fanatics arrive.

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The beaches at Beau Vallon are some of the most highly trafficked in the Seychelles, but they’re still pleasantly low-key.

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From above, Mahe Island’s jungle flora and coastal towns shine in all their glory. Aside from the usual lineup of tucked-away beaches, the island’s forested interior is a hiker’s paradise.

FilippoBacci via Getty Images

 

St. Pierre is the teensy-tiny islet of your wildest dreams. Seriously.

 

 

The TEN Most INCREDIBLE (And Unique) Design Hotels In The World…

Wow, wow and wow again: godsavethepoints impresario Gilbert Ott has found some awe-inspiring establishments to kick the new year off.  Prepare to book your flights people..!


Read at your own risk. Staying in hotels equally, if not more, inspiring than your destination may lead to extreme laziness, lack of tourism, excess alcohol consumption, increased pool time, outstanding food and a need to return to your destination, so that you can actually visit! These are the most inspiring hotels we’ve found anywhere in the world…

IceHotel Jukkasjarvi, Sweden

Located in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden, The IceHotel is truly something to behold. No two experiences at the hotel are the same, due to the fact that the hotel completely melts every year. True art.

Year after year, a group of pure ice artisans form the IceHotel, offering guests literally one of the coolest places to sleep. If you’re going to stay in an ice hotel, make sure to grab a drink at the Svedka Bar to keep you warm. Prices start at around $325 a night.

Bambu Indah Glass Floor UdangHouse , Bali

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As far as instant awesome goes, setting up camp along the remote rivers and rice fields of Bali, only to find a glass bottom room in a private villa, certainly qualifies. There’s an unlimited mix of adventure, cuisine and serenity in one of the most sought-after places on earth.

By venturing to authentic Bali, your eyes aren’t the only thing to be rewarded, with rates for the gorgeous glass bottom Udang house starting at just $195 per night. Dang!

Hotel Kakslauttanen, Finland

These are not your average igloos. At the Hotel Kakslauttanen you’ll find yourself in a luxurious, all-glass igloo staring through an uninhibited view of the skies – oh and by the way, that view will also most likely include the Northern Lights…

Though it looks like a village of spaceships, this luxe winter hotel sells out well in advance, fetching rates that start at $900 per night. That’ll have you seeing stars in no time!

Giraffe Manor, Kenya

Tables of two often turn into tables of three, where free-roaming giraffes decide to join the party for breakfast, lunch or dinner. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you’re on safari without leaving your hotel room, this is your best bet.

You’ll find the utmost in sophistication inside and out, making Giraffe manor a perfect place to start or end a safari. Sadly the giraffes don’t pay for their share of the room and board, leaving you with a $1,000 a night hotel bill…

Conrad Hilton, Maldives

The Conrad Maldives is one of the few places where “sleeping with the fishes” is something you’d actually ask for. With water clearer than your swimming pool, you’ll find abundant light and fish everywhere you look. You can even eat some at the underwater restaurant…

Private villas, plunge pools and total peace, all sadly with a price, starting at $750 and moving on up, way, way up per night.

Explora Patagonia, Chile

Sure, it looks like a Bond villain’s lair nestled in the remote reaches of Patagonia, and (minus the bond villain part) it is. The Explora Patagonia is a home away from earth, nestled in the foothills of some of this planet’s most dramatic terrain.

To sleep in a room perched atop a waterfall, surrounded by glacial beauty, you’ll need to have a windfall of cash, with prices starting at $1,200 per night. Probably worth it though!

Manta Resort Floating Villa, Zanzibar

Just about everyone has thought about leaving the world behind. At the Floating Hotel in Zanzibar, you can literally do it, snagging your own private villa on top of a natural blue hole in a pristine ocean.

With an underwater bedroom, you won’t have to worry about peeking neighbors – apart from the tropical fish of course, which will surely be interested in all your activity. For the privilege of sleeping in your own ocean cottage, you’ll find prices reeling in $,1500 a night…

Costa Verde 727 Villa, Costa Rica

Those who absolutely cannot wait to get out of the thin aluminum tube that transports you to your destination might not be too excited by this Costa Rican gem, but for all the aviation geeks out there, this is the best form of plane crash in the world.

Like an episode of Lost, you’ll find yourself in the jungle, in a luxuriously tangled aircraft fuselage offering a private villa in the Rainforest. Very cool. You won’t need to be raining money to experience this aviation dream though, with rates starting at $260 per night for the whole plane. It’s a lot cheaper than flying!

Jade Mountain, St Lucia

A picture is worth a thousand words, and for a night at this breathtaking St. Lucia resort, that’s about how many dollars you’ll need to take one with this view. Unobstructed, untouched and otherworldly.

Unfortunately, I was serious: rates start at $1,185 per night. If it makes you feel better, almost every room features a personal infinity pool with these near priceless views…

TreeHotel MirrorCube Treehouse, Sweden

Some people never grow up; some wish they never did. Whichever side of the mirror you’re on, a stay in a luxury five star treehouse in pristine Swedish woods will do you right. Summer hiking, winter adventure, it’s hard to find a more unique place to spend a holiday…

The TreeHotel features six individually styled luxe “tree houses” including the Mirrorcube, a UFO and something called the Bird’s Nest. You’ll have to see it to believe it, and with prices starting at $500, you have a better chance than some of these other stunners…

 

 

The Unexpected Delights of Egypt by Keeping an Open Mind

I have been to many places in my life as a serial trekker; but I am a guy – and while I have met many girls who love travelling as much as I do, I still believe that the world is a safer place for me than it is for them.

This is a fascinating insight into one girl’s travels in Egypt, surely one of the most chauvinistic countries on the planet, but one where people are still people…

                                        Ned


By Catherine Oughtibridge

In a hotel lobby at the red sea resort of Hurgarda terrorists stabbed three tourists. At the Great Pyramids in Giza two policemen were shot dead. A few days earlier, gunmen had fired on Israeli tourists as they boarded a bus.

Maybe I should have been frightened.

Cairo, Egypt

Egypt is not like England. People discard litter on the streets. Boys cycle along potholed roads with trays of fresh pita breads balanced on their heads. They have satellite television and mobile internet and children steering donkeys down the highway.

There’s a mosque in every direction you look and five times a day you’re swallowed by the echoing layers of the call to prayer as they bounce off apartment blocks and chime together.

The air is thick; factories pour pollutants into the air that are outlawed in the European Union.

The traffic is reckless. There are few crossings, few rules and seat belts for backseat passengers are an optional extra. It was with genuine gratitude and relief I held hands with a friend to cross the road.

But I boarded a flight to Luxor alone. My friend and his family in Cairo had warned me to be careful in the south. The people, they said, would not be so nice. I thought of this warning a few days later when the owner of a roof-top café warned me that the people in Aswan weren’t like the people in Luxor. Be careful everyone else is dangerous. I leant back in my chair, felt the warmth of the sun on my face and sipped my coffee. We chatted a while.

It was a peaceful morning. An occasional felucca drifted along the Nile. Three men on the river bank pounded a boat’s rudder in some sort of repair job while children played at the water’s edge.

El Karnak, Luxor, Egypt

Maybe, for a young woman, who speaks three words of Arabic and whose face is the colour of printer paper, it’s not a good idea to befriend the locals. Lying about my family, saying they were waiting nearby, became the norm. My phone, with its Egyptian SIM and cheap mobile internet, was used with an uncharacteristic frequency to send reassuring texts, pictures, emails and instant messages back home. I wasn’t taking the risk that my mother would be worrying why she hadn’t heard from me.

But what about my actual experience?

Hathor Temple, Dendara, Egypt

Keeping an Open Mind Leads to the Unexpected Delights of Egypt

Like the temples with their powerful images of striding kings smiting their enemies on the outside, and the carvings of sweet calves trotting alongside their mothers on the inside, the Egyptian people are not to be understood through only the media’s outpouring of fear.

The students in Cairo were enthusiastic and encouraging in their futile attempts to teach me to belly dance. When I beat an Egyptian man at a game of pool, he pouted, laughed and took it with grace. And what about those pesky tomb guards in the Valley of the Kings, well they swapped their mint tea for a few squares of my chocolate and we chatted for a while about the disastrous state of tourism in Egypt and laughed at the improbability of Leicester City’s footballing success.

Meanwhile those tourists with tense shoulders and a bark of ‘la shok-run’ (no thank you), who refused to listen or appreciate the commerce and artistry around them, they saw only what they expected to see.

Which is sad, because the Egyptians are a fascinating people who want to hear stories of places like England. Places they’ll likely never afford to visit.

Donkey in market, Luxor, Egypt

It’s true, at times the uniqueness of being a solo European woman seemed overwhelming. Were the Egyptians more interested in my face than the obelisks and colossal statues? I’d expected the attraction to be to my purse, but only one man became grouchy about my refusal to get out my money in the three weeks I was there. Despite me being a tight-fisted Yorkshire lass.

Sometimes, the thought appeared in my mind that I should be more cautious. At the insistence of the train driver, I drove the little train that winds down from the Valley of the Kings. There were no other passengers. It was a short journey. I could have said no and sat in one of the carriages. However, when I searched his face for a motive, I realised he was probably just bored and wanted someone to talk to and entertain. We parked the train outside the ticket office, him smiling widely, me laughing.

He looked quite abashed as he asked for a selfie.

Luxor Temple, Luxor, Egypt

He wasn’t the only person wanting a photo with me. Groups of teenage girls, and their highly embarrassed and apologetic fathers, wanted me to smile at their smartphones. Each girl separately. I smiled. I laughed. I told the fathers it wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t.

After a long day at the Valley of the Kings, I climbed up on to the horse carriage, next to the guy who’d kindly brought me to the sites. Children ran out into the street to wave as we passed through their villages. Young men called out as you might expect, but so did their grandmothers.

We stopped at the local shop for chocolate and cartons of mango juice.

And when the road was clear, I got to take the reins.

 


 

Catherine Oughtibridge is a digital nomad, writer and professional doodler. She loves meeting people who courageously challenge their preconceptions and embrace a creative life. Connect with her at happenence.co.uk.

Egypt Travel Guide

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Egypt. The Land of the Pharaohs and one of the world’s greatest civilizations, with its temples, hieroglyphs, mummies and pyramids. It is filled with iconic landmarks and remarkable landscapes. It has a rich history, strong culture and it boasts world class diving, incredible beaches and exciting nightlife. Egypt really does have it all. This Egypt travel guide from Dave and Deb will help you plan your next vacation.

Fast Facts about Egypt Travel

  • Egyptian power voltage is 220 V 50Hz;  Plug C & F
  • The Egyptian currency is the Egyptian pound and is around 7 EGP to 1 USD
  • Egyptian laws towards alcohol are quite liberal, except for the month of Ramadan when alcohol is strictly forbidden
  • Egypt has a reasonably modern telephone service including three GSM mobile service providers: Mobinil, Vodafone and Etisalat. It is possible to purchase tourist mobile phone lines for your trip, which usually will cost around 30 EGP.
  • Random fact: More than 90% of Egypt consists of desert!

Top Packing Tips

Egypt has a hot desert climate that is generally dry. The most moderate temperatures can be found near the thin coastal strip in the north and November through March are considered the most comfortable months to travel. Although temperatures can reach up to 40 degree Celsius travelers must remember that Egypt is a rather conservative country and therefore it is wise to pack accordingly.

  • Avoid packing skirts or shorts – instead invest in a good pair of long pants made from a breathable fabric like linen.
  • Scarves or a light sweater – short sleeve tops and sleeveless tops are acceptable for women visiting tourist areas, however it is recommended that travelers carry around a scarf or light sweater to cover up when traveling to and from tourist destinations.
  • Protection from the sun – the sun can get extremely hot in the summer months so make sure to pack sunscreen, a sturdy had and a good pair of sunglasses.
  • Walking shoes – Egypt is a sightseeing country and travelers do a lot of walking. Make sure you bring a comfortable pair of shoes that you have already broken in and leave the flip flops at home.

Top Things to Do in Egypt

Adventure

  • 5 Egyptian Adventures You Don’t Want to Miss – from the Luxor Temple to the Valley of the Kings, the PlanetD has got you covered on the top Egyptian excursions.
  • Scuba dive in the Red Sea – Egypt has some of the best diving in the world where avid scuba divers can get up close and personal with hammerhead sharks, colorful coral and wrecks.

Culture

  • A Street Car named Alexandria – the pyramids and tombs aren’t the only ancient monuments in Egypt, the trolleys of Alexandria are one of the country’s historical treasures, dating back to 1860.

Sights

 

Ned’s tip: for the best fun in Egypt spend a few days at Le Royal Sharm el Sheikh Resort, – all part of Nadhmi Auchi’s wonderful Le Royal Hotels & Resorts

Ten Gorgeous (And Underrated) BUCKET LIST Destinations That Simply Don’t Look REAL…

Another great feature from Gilbert Ott and the GodSaveThePoints team.  It’s a great site with plenty of awesome travel tips and loads of great ways to save money for the serious traveller, but here’s something a bit different with some excellent “extraterrestrial” venues for the die-hard Star Wars fan like me* …malaysia-long-hair

* spot the wookiee anyone?!


Space travel is so “in” right now, but before you don your space suit in search of interstellar beauty, you’re gunna want to knock these unbelievable destinations (which don’t look real) off your bucket list. Here are ten exotic places down here on earth that will blow your mind…

Lake Natron, Tanzania

You’re not insane, this naturally hot spring in Africa is so “hot” it turned the water red.

Vatnajökull, Iceland

How about a city sized cave, made of pure glacier blue ice to spice up your winter travel?

Bromo Volcano, Java, Indonesia

Mars takes years to reach. In less than a days flight you can see terrain just like it in Java…

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone, Wyoming USA

Yep, those colors are totally real. Why? You can thank the pigmented Archaea.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

Ultimate adventure? A boat ride in luminescent cave with light from tiny micro creatures…

Hang Son Doong Caves, Vietnam

In what looks like the set of a Star Wars film, these Vietnamese caves literally look unreal.

Lencois Maranhenses Park, Brazil

If you think you’re seeing an endless sea of unique sand bars and water, you’re not wrong.

Namib Naukluft Park, Namibia

Why travel to Mars and risk getting stuck like Matt Damon when you could just go here?

Wulinyuang Vista, China

Though I wouldn’t try building an airport here, the views are breathtaking…

Farafra White Desert, Egypt

Sure, we’ve seen desert, but white desert, with crazy rock wonders?

 

 

How to Make Your Travel Meaningful

Love this blog post by Dave and Deb, aka the Planet D.  They have leapt up a mighty 13 places in this quarter’s Top Travel Blogs – and deservedly so.  In this post, they discuss how they have always tried to enrich their trekking experiences – “Be it travelling responsibly, raising money for a cause, stopping at sanctuaries or projects, and interacting with the locals, there are many ways to enrich your travels while making your life and other people’s lives better.”


 

how-to-make-your-travels-meaningfulWhat is “meaningful” travel?

To us, meaningful travel is when travel enriches your life in some way. That could be done by focusing on making your own life better by discovering and learning new things about the world and yourself.  It can also be making the lives richer for the people you meet, the communities you visit and the environments you explore. Meaningful travel is about being aware of your footprint, and doing what you can to help the places that you visit.

When we started ThePlanetD.com we originally focused on changing our lives by cycling through Africa, but it evolved to helping others. We decided to ride for Plan Canada and raise funds and awareness for the “Because I am a girl campaign.” We stopped at projects along the way to see the work they did and share it with our readers. The trip may have started with us wanting to do something epic in our travels, but it evolved to become a trip about discovery, education and helping others.

We’ve found that the more we learn about the world and the cultures we visit the more it enriches our lives. The more you give back, the more you feel fulfilled. When volunteering or helping others you expect nothing in return, but it ends up giving you so much. It is the greatest feeling to know that you are making the world a better place in your own little way.

How travel can be meaningful?

There are so many ways to make travel meaningful. While the first thought that comes to mind is to volunteer or to give money, thinking responsibly can make your travels more meaningful too. When we travel, we try to support the local economy by hiring local guides. When we land in a destination, we search for people who run their own companies and have their own small business. Just as we like to shop small and support small business in Canada, the same can be said for our travels. Small business makes the world go round and by shopping at local markets, hiring local guides and eating at small family run restaurants, you will be helping the economy of the place you visit and create a more meaningful travel experience for yourself. We have remained friends with many of our guides and had a more authentic local experience by keeping our travels local and away from the resorts and packaged tours.

Hire local guides and make new friends!

Why meaningful travel is beneficial

Not only does it help the communities that you visit, it also helps you. We’ve always said that travel is the best education anyone could have. It breaks down barriers, and strips away prejudice. It opens people’s minds and when you come home, you pass on your thoughts, observations and feelings about the places you visit.

As Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

So much of meaningful travel helps with sustainability too. When you volunteer or help with conservation, it keeps communities or wildlife reserves from being exploited. So much of meaningful travel is simply about being aware of your environment and respecting customs and culture.

Things to remember when considering “meaningful” travel…

  • Think about your impact. How are you affecting the community you visit.
  • Will your traveling there enrich their lives?
  • Will you have the opportunity to experience the culture, nature, environment? Or will you be isolated and cut off from truly experiencing the destination?

Meaningful travel is not as daunting as people think

When it comes to adventure travel, we always say start with baby steps. The same can be said when it comes to making your travels meaningful. It may be as easy as asking a local person at your destination where you can volunteer for a day, or where you can visit children or donate money to a school or organization.

Once you take that first step, you’ll learn and discover more opportunities.

Visiting a local school

Our first foray into more meaningful travel happened in 2003 in Cambodia. We were sitting on a beach and a man asked us if we could come to his class to speak English to his students for an afternoon. He said that while he can speak English, it helps to have the students hear a proper accent. It was one of the most fulfilling things we had ever done and it kick started our desire to do something wherever we went. We learned so much that day. We were humbled, inspired and moved by their stories and struggles. They enriched our lives as much as we helped them with their English.

Ways to Make your Travels Meaningful

Travel for a cause

When we did the Mongol Rally, we drove across 2 continents for the Christina Nobel Foundation. A foundation based in Mongolia that houses and educates orphaned and abandoned children. When cycling the continent of Africa we raised funds and awareness for Plan Canada. By being in the destinations, we could stop at projects and see where our money was going and how funds were being used. It gave our cause more of a purpose to put a human face to the charity. When we saw that they were benefitting directly from the money raised, we felt motivated to help more.

Children learn at new computers in Mongolia

Visit a Charity

It’s easy to find a project to help or visit when you are traveling. Talk to the local people and ask them for advice. In Sri Lanka, we met a tuk tuk driver named Ajith who became our friend. As we got to know him, we visited a charity that he started on his own to donate shoes to local school children. They’d otherwise be going to school bare foot in the jungle, but he raised funds to get them shoes and keeps working tirelessly to help the local economy.

Tuk Tuk Driver Ajith presents shoes to children in Sri Lanka

Our guide Makau, in Kenya started a project to empower his own village. We visited his family and friends and he is working to bring water to his village, empower women and give them the means to go to school and he got them a cement maker to build a new school.

When we traveled with Intrepid Travel we always stopped to visit one of their projects. for the Intrepid Foundation. In China we visited a school that helps handicapped children. If you choose your tour company wisely and you’ll travel responsibly, be immersed in the local culture and even visit some of their charity projects if you choose.

Going Local 

Hire Local Guides and shop and stay locally. When we climbed to Mount Everest Base Camp, Mount Kilimanjaro, Gunung Batur, and Mount Kinabalu, we hired local guides after we arrived in the country. It’s a great way to contribute to the local economy and to support small business and we made good friends doing it. We still talk to our guides from Everest and Kili. Plus because we travelled with people from the area, they cared about their footprint, were respectful of culture, and filled with information for us to learn about the destination.

Local guides Deep and Sher in Nepal

Shop Local – Local artisans make their money through tourism. Instead of buying at duty free or at your resort, go to the market and buy local. It’s cheaper and it’s handmade and authentic. Plus you get to meet the people.

Other Ideas 

Cooking Courses – Food is the best way to experiences culture and a cooking course is an amazing way to meet locals and learn about their way of eating. We’ve done cooking courses in China, Morocco, Thailand, Italy, Spain and Jordan and nearly every one of them takes you to the market to buy your fresh ingredients. This helps you support the local economy and mingle with the locals. We then normally go back to a private home or kitchen to learn how to prepare. It’s then a feast to enjoy!

Dave learns to cook authentic Chinese cuisine in China

Yoga Retreats – Yoga is not only amazing for well being and fitness, it’s popular around the world! Our best retreats have been when finding ones once we arrive in our destination. We spent a month in India with a Swami we met on a beach for $2 a class! While others booked their retreats in North American paying thousands of dollars to take a course from a Western Instructor, we had an authentic experience and learned a lot about spirituality and culture in India while supporting a local business.

Wildlife Conservation

Elephant Sanctuaries, conservation areas and national parks are a way to add meaning to your travels meaningful.  When local people see that animals bring tourist dollars, they’ll stop over hunting and start conservation. In India, the tiger is nearly extinct, but now they’re working hard to bring it back and National Parks are being set aside to keep them safe. In Sri Lanka and Thailand there are elephant organizations that are helping elephants live in peace. We visited an elephant orphanage in Kenya where orphans are reintegrated back into the wild.

Festivals

An amazing way to get to know local culture and meet people is to attend a festival. We’ve had some of our most memorable travel experiences when attending a celebration. From the annual pilgrimage up Adams Peak in Sri Lanka, to Thaipusam in Malaysia and Holi in India, it has added new meaning to our travels. Festivals help us to understand the beliefs and religions of countries we visit and helps us make new friends and meet new people.

There are countless ways to make your travels more meaningful. All you have to do is take the first step. Think about what you love and how you want to help and you too will be having a more fulfilling travel experience.

What way do you make your travels more meaningful…?

 

 

The Best “Adventurous” Trips for Non-Adventurous People

Just because you don’t like climbing doesn’t mean you can’t go up tall mountains.

In theory, everybody wants to go ice climbing, camping in Antarctica and skydiving. In practice, not everybody has the courage (or desire) to jump off the tallest building in the world; falling from extremely high altitudes can be a petrifying experience.

Less adventurous people should not feel left out: tour operators know how they feel and have adapted. Visiting a natural wonder is possible with a helicopter; don’t risk dehydration or heatstroke by hiking the Grand Canyon in the summer.

This is also true for winter adventures – exploring the Alps while on a luxurious gondola may be more appealing to some than climbing the Matterhorn, a giant horn-looking mountain, with the highest fatality rate in the Alps: over 450 climbers have diedto date.

If you prefer a more balanced holiday, you can hike an active volcano for an adrenaline-pumping experience, followed by descending 400 feet to the bottom of the volcano’s magma chamber in an open cable lift. You won’t have to do anything but look and enjoy the moment.

Not everybody wants to get sweaty and tired when they head out to explore the outdoors. There is nothing wrong with making frequent stops to take photos and enjoy the scenery. If this is the case, go on a soft adventure tour where you’ll go on active adventures but will have plenty of leisure time.

Go on safari in Kenya

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You are witnessing wild animals in their natural habitat from the comfort of a car. Kenya is one of the premier destinations for this amazing experience. Known as one of the best country parks in country, Maasai Mara offers wide range of safaris – hot air balloons, walking, photographing. The best time to visit is between July and October because of the wildebeest migration, famous as the World Cup of Wildlife. Even if you go off season, the number of animals you’ll see – from zebras and giraffes to lions, elephants and leopards – is incredible.

Descend into a volcano in Iceland

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Who says you have to be a very courageous person to experience one of the most iconic volcanoes in the world? Thrihnukagigur in Iceland is a lot more accessible than you think. A tour offers you the chance to descend 400 feet to the bottom of the volcano’s magma chamber in an open cable lift. All you are required to do is walk about two miles each way, with a guide.

Sleep in a Cave in Turkey

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Staying at a unique hotel with breathtaking views of otherworldly landscapes is many vacationers’ dream that can easily become a reality. Some caves have been turned into luxurious hotels in Cappadocia, Turkey, while others are very basic. But they all have their own unique history and mystery. The adrenaline-seekers who don’t want to do much can stay in the deepest hotel room in the world – Sala Silvermine, Sweden – at 500 feet underground. A mine lift shaft will take you there.

Explore Ireland

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Walking in Ireland’s world-famous countryside is an adventure that will take your breath away but not because you’ll be tired. You’ll be surrounded by woodland paths, cliffs, lake shores, farmlands, and mountains. Visit Cong, which is nestled among some of the most picturesque forests and woodlands in the country, as well as along the stunning shores of Lough Corrib. Ashford Castle in Cong provides a serene and majestic backdrop.

Go on a river cruise

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Go on an adventure that will take you to a different city every day. On a river cruise, you probably won’t get sea-sick because there are no waves and you’ll always see land on the horizons, which is comforting. Travel along the stunning and major rivers in Europe, pass through Thailand, China, Myanmar and Vietnam along the Mekong River, or explore one of the most famous and exotic rivers in the world – the Amazon – all while being safe on a boat.

Experience the Alps from a gondola

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The infamous Matterhorn is one of the most difficult climbs in the world. But you can easily get up there with a cable car gondola. Enjoy a homely cheese fondue, accompanied by a refreshing drop of Valais wine, surrounded by spectacular vistas of Italy and Switzerland.

See the Grand Canyon in a helicopter

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The Grand Canyon is probably on every hiker and kayaker’s bucket list. See this natural wonder in a much less sweaty, wet and dangerous way – go on a 4.5-hour tour with the flight’s duration being more than an hour. You’ll see the stunning Hoover Dam, Grand Wash Cliffs, Grapevine Mesa and Grand Canyon West and land 4,000 feet below the rim for a champagne picnic.

Sleep under the Northern Lights in Finland

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Witnessing the unique Northern Lights up close is a bucket list experience. But you don’t have to camp in the snow to see the best of them. Consider glass igloos and log cabins with extraordinary views. They were designed so guests can enjoy the Aurora borealis in their full glory. The Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland has 20 thermal glass igloos.

Travel through Europe on a train

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Go ahead then, and take the train. Choose the scenic route over the quick one, and make getting to your destination part of the vacation. Buy a Eurail Pass, save money and visit 28 countries in Europe. You’ll go to all the places everyone else does but in a hassle-free and comfortable way.  Relax and feel like you’re traveling through time – you’ll be thrilled by mountain summits, lavish landscapes, narrow and scary tunnels, as well as terrifyingly steep grades.

See Niagara Falls from a boat

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You can hike to them or plunge down a 100-foot waterfall at 60-90 miles per hour with a kayak, hitting a huge volume of water. Or you can go on a boat tour and see them just as close. Take Niagara Falls, for example. The legendary Maid of the Mist has been taking travelers up the river to the falls since 1848, which makes the boat tour not only the most popular but also among the oldest of Niagara Falls’ activities.

Explore the Galapagos Islands

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Exploring the Galapagos Islands feels more like being on an ecological walking tour. Nature-lovers will appreciate the unique wildlife. There are 19 major islands, which are often called a “living museum and showcase of evolution,” according to UNESCO. Cruises are the most popular choice to travel the Islands. Boats range from luxury to economy class.

Wander through Jigokudani Yaenkoen Park, Japan

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This is the only place in the world where monkeys bathe in hot springs. Ancient people called it the “Hell Valley” because of the very steep cliffs and the steam coming off the springs. Nowadays, you can get to the Monkey Park in two ways – by a 25-40 minute walk through the forest or a 10-15 minute walk from the nearest parking lot.

Tour the Arctic: Iceland, Greenland and Norway

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Witnessing the phenomenon of the Northern Lights is a must. You can avoid the aurora-chasing snowmobile and go on a bus tour. Cruise the fjords; you will always have a guide to stop at popular attractions along the way and learn about the local history. If you want to see the region’s amazing wildlife, the boat safari is the right choice.

Go on a train expedition through Australia

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Australia has been a very popular destination in recent years. See it a unique way: beginning in Darwin, this epic 4-day, 3-night, 9,773-mile tour will take you to some of the most remote yet captivating parts of the country. You won’t be bored on this trip as the panoramas are changing with every mile.

See incredible autumn foliage from a hot air balloon

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You don’t have to hike or camp for days to find clean air, panoramic views of bursting bright colors, beautiful countryside and miles of forests. Get on a hot air balloon and see awe-inspiring autumn foliage of phenomenal mixtures of yellow, red, gold and green. A lot of places in the U.S. offer this unique experience with unbeatable views.

 

Photos: Shutterstock

Source: http://www.theactivetimes.com/

12 Amazing Places Most Millennials Will Never See

The world is full of magical hidden wonders.  Need proof?  The talented team at Atlas Obscura spent the past five years working on a gorgeous, 480-page book that uncovers 600 of the strangest, most fascinating and downright bizarre places you’ve never heard of before.

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Huffington Post asked Atlas Obscura cofounder Dylan Thuras to pare down the tome to a list of a dozen mind-blowing spots that every millennial should visit.  From a UFO-shaped monument in the middle of the Balkans to a gigantic hole in Turkmenistan that has been on fire for nearly 50 years, prepare to be amazed and delighted by the curiosities he came back with — and pick up a copy of the new book for even more bucket-list inspiration.

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Photo: Christine Noh

Kjeragbolten, Kjerag Mountain, Norway
Looking like something from Middle Earth, Kjeragbolten is hidden in the Norwegian mountains: a rock stuck between two cliffs above a 984-meter deep abyss.  Brave visitors have been known to photograph themselves on the rock.

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Photo: Tim Whitby

The Gates of Hell, Derweze, Turkmenistan
If Atlas Obscura has a mascot, it might be the Gates of Hell.  This 200-foot hole in the desert was created in 1971 when a Soviet drilling rig fell into a massive natural cavern.  The scientists decided it was best to let the natural gas leaking from the hole burn itself off, so they lit it on fire.  It has been burning for 45 years.

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Photo: Clifford Norton

Buzludzha Monument, Kzanlak, Bulgaria
This huge UFO-shaped monument standing proudly at the top of a hill in the Balkan mountains was once a grand tribute to the Bulgarian Communist Party.  No more.  Once Bulgaria transitioned to democracy in the early 1990s, the monument was promptly abandoned.  It has stood since, falling further and further into disrepair, and is now a strange, hulking shell, stripped of its once-grand interior.  Graffiti on the front reads ‘Forget your past.’

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Photo: Martin Norris Travel Photography

Crystal Maiden, San Ignacio, Belize
Beautiful, horrifying, tragic, and fascinating, the Crystal Maiden is the calcified skeleton of a young woman who was sacrificed by the Maya around 700-900 AD.  Her body was left as an offering to the gods in a cave that was believed to be an entrance to the underworld; she was only 18 years old at the time of her death.  Over the last 1,200 years, her bones have formed a layer of crystals which sparkle in the light.

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Photo: Demerzel21

Kolmanskop Ghost Town, Luderitz, Namibia
Once a thriving diamond mine in the 1920s, it was home to a flapper-era theater, casino, and even bowling alley.  Of course, once a richer diamond mine was discovered, the town was abandoned and is now slowly being swallowed by the sand.

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Photo: MJ Photography

Stepwells Of India, Across Northern & Western India
These incredible architectural masterpieces call to mind M.C. Escher illustrations.  Hundreds of carved stone steps lead down to a reservoir and were built to serve as local sources of water.  A French traveller in 1864 described seeing a ‘vast sheet of water, covered with lotuses in flower, amid which thousands of aquatic birds are sporting.’  Built as early as 550 AD and through the medieval period, there are over 3,000 stepwells throughout India.

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Photo: Soulad

Wisteria Tunnel, Kitakyushu, Japan
Blooming from late April to mid May in the Kawachi Fuji Gardens near Kitakyushu, Japan, is an exquisite tunnel draped in flowers.  There are other flower tunnels in the world, but the Wisteria Tunnel in Japan is singular in its romantic beauty.

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Photo: Jaszmina Szendrey

Fingal’s Cave, Isle Of Staffa, Scotland
On the Scottish island of Staffa is an unusual sea cave, 270 feet deep, where the walls are perfect hexagonal columns.  Formed by ancient lava flows, the striking site has become something of an artistic inspiration: it is the basis of a famous piece of classical music by Mendelssohn, the name of a Pink Floyd song, and the location of a Matthew Barney ‘Cremaster’ video.

 

For more incredible destinations, visit Refinery29.

 

 

 

Unesco List of Intangible Cultural Heritage: Why Owambo dancing, Slovakian bagpipes and Saudis sharing coffee merit protection from UN agency

The Owambo women who organise a festival to celebrate omagongo – a fruit beverage – in northern Namibia, and Wititi folk dancers from Peru’s Colca Valley had cause for celebration. So too did Saudi coffee drinkers and bagpipe-playing Slovakians.

They all take part in 20 cultural practices deemed significant enough by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to be safeguarded as heritage to be preserved this week, writes the Independent.

Members of the Unesco committee responsible for “safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage” deemed that piping in Slovakia, with a history dating back to the 18th century, was sufficiently under threat to safeguard. While “bagpipe culture exists throughout Slovakia”, according to Unesco, few can still play the instrument.

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Owambo dancing in Namibia (Alamy )

“Communities are proud to have a bagpipe player perform at local events as the music invokes a sense of identity for the public,” said Unesco.

The organisation also highlighted the importance of the Kazakhstani art of improvisation known as “Aitys” or “Aitysh”. Shared by neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, it is a contest of poetic improvisation between two people, either spoken or sung to music. The lyricist displaying the most wit, rhythm and creativity wins.

Askar Zhiymbayev, First Secretary of the Kazakh Embassy in London, said: “Aitys is not only a cultural asset of Kazakhstan but also a cultural asset of humankind.”

The traditional Peruvian Wititi dance is characterised by colourful costumes and is performed annually on the Day of Wititi, on 14 July, in the Colca Valley of Arequipa, Southern Peru.

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Saudi men share coffee (Getty)

Peru’s Culture Minister, Diana Alvarez-Calderon, told Peruvian news agency Andina: “We want every Peruvian to enjoy this declaration… This proves us Peruvians know how to preserve our traditions and dances.”

Much attention focused on the choice of Unesco to include coffee drinking in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar on the list. Sharing a brew of the black stuff was, said the UN agency, a “symbol of generosity”.

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Slovakian bagpipes (UNESCO)

It said: “Serving Arabic coffee is an important aspect of hospitality in Arab societies. Traditionally prepared in front of house guests by men and women, it is also served by sheikhs and heads of tribes.”

Also recognised in Saudi was “Alardah Alnajdiyah” dance, drumming and poetry performed carrying swords.

 

 

9 wonders of the world set to vanish forever: How many have you ticked off?

Some of the planet’s greatest spots have made Unesco’s danger list of World Heritage Sites on the verge of disappearing.  This article from the Independent highlights to me just how fragile our earth is and how easily and stupidly we can lose the beauty of nature all around us.  Let’s PLEASE all work together to help save the world we claim is so precious to us!   😦


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According to Unesco, parts of Liverpool are an endangered World Heritage Site (Shutterstock)

This month, we learned that Spain was facing the prospect of becoming the first European Union member state to have a natural World Heritage Site make Unesco’s “danger list”.  The Doñana coastal wetlands in Andalucía – home to the endangered Iberian lynx – is said to be under threat from a mining and dredging plan, as well as 1,000 illegal wells in the area.

But it’s just one among a number of incredible sites the world over that, according to Unesco, could be lost forever.  Here are just a few World Heritage Sites in Unesco’s danger zone that you might need to scrub off the bucket list.

Everglades National Park, Florida

Florida’s Everglades add some wonderfully swampy mystery to the state’s man-made draws of nightclubs and theme parks. Encompassing 1.5 million acres of wetland, the Everglades are a sanctuary for rare, endangered, and threatened species including the Florida panther and the manatee. Unesco says nutrient pollution and reduced water inflows are contributing to loss of marine habitat and the decline of marine species, with vast conservation efforts now needed to stem the damage.

Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls

Jerusalem is a holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the Old City hosts an incredible 220 historic monuments, including major pilgrimage sites like the Dome of the Rock (the site of Abraham’s sacrifice) and the Wailing Wall. Unesco has said it is “deeply concerned” by what it calls “the persistence of the Israeli illegal excavations” around the Old City, which it says is damaging some historic sites. Unesco has also accused Israel of obstructing some restoration projects.

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The Old City of Jerusalem, with the Dome of the Rock at the back and the dome of the al-Aqsa mosque in the foreground (Getty)

Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System

Belize has plenty to show for itself – ancient Mayan ruins, top diving site the Great Blue Hole – but the latter is part of what is now an endangered system, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve. The largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere – think of it as the north’s answer to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which itself could be heading for the danger zone – it’s home to a number of threatened species, including marine turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile.

Threats to the site include overharvesting of marine resources and proposed oil and gas exploration and exploitation. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, 15 per cent of Belize’s gross domestic product comes from the reef – including about US$15 million from the commercial fishing industry and about $200 million from tourism. It suggests a more sustainable approach to managing the reef would benefit wildlife and people alike.

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An aerial view of the Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize (Shutterstock)

Abu Mena, Egypt

This Christian holy city, a significant pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages, includes a church, basilicas, public buildings, streets, monasteries, houses and workshops, which were built over the tomb of the martyr Menas of Alexandria, one of Egypt’s best-known saints. Agricultural work in the area has led to a rise in groundwater, causing the site’s buildings to collapse or become unstable, with a number of underground cavities opening up. The local authorities have been forced to fill the cavities with sand to save the buildings, including the crypt of Abu Mena, which contains the tomb of the saint.

Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, Indonesia

Spanning 2.5 million hectares, the tropical rainforest heritage of the wild Indonesian island of Sumatra spreads across three national parks, and is a protected area home to a wide range of endangered animals and plants, including the endemic Sumatran orang-utan. The site also provides biogeographic evidence of the evolution of the island. But the extraordinary beauty of this untamed, tangled land is deemed at significant risk thanks to road development plans, alongside the illegal logging and poaching of animals – including elephants and tigers – facilitated by such road access.

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The critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (Getty)

Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery, Georgia

Two gems of Georgian architecture, these medieval wonders have been placed on the endangered list after a reconstruction project to restore them went against Unesco recommendations on maintaining authenticity. The ruins of 11th-century Bagrati Cathedral in Georgia’s third-largest city, Kutaisi, and the nearby Gelati Monastery, which is covered with magnificent mosaics and wall paintings, are prized for representing “the flowering of medieval architecture” in the country. Unesco says irreversible interventions at the site undermine the integrity of these priceless nuggets of history.

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Georgia’s Gelati monastery complex (DDohler/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, Peru

Chan Chan was the capital of the ancient Chimu Kingdom before they fell to the Incas, and is a huge adobe settlement split into nine citadels, with temples, plazas and cemeteries still discernible. But this amazing example of earthen architecture is at risk owing to extreme environmental events, including those caused by El Niño.

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Chan Chan is a pre-Inca settlement in Peru (Tyler Bell/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Rainforests of the Atsinanana, Madagascar

An island of weird and wonderful creatures, Madagascar separated from all other land masses more than 60 million years ago, where its plant and animal life evolved in complete isolation. But Madagascar’s unique biodiversity depends on the Rainforests of the Atsinanana, which comprise six national parks. Illegal logging and hunting of the area’s endangered lemur are prime problems with the site.

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Lemurs are being illegally hunted in Madagascar (Getty)

Maritime Mercantile City, Liverpool

Liverpool enjoys the dubious honour of being one of only two endangered Unesco sites in Europe (the other is the medieval monuments of Kosovo). Six areas of Liverpool city centre and its docklands constitute its World Heritage listing, documenting Liverpool’s development into one of the world’s major trading centres in the 18th and 19th centuries. The city played an important role in the growth of the British Empire and became the major port for the mass movement of people. However, Unesco warns redevelopment in the area – namely, the multi-billion Liverpool Waters “mixed use” waterfront quarter – will adversely alter the site.

The quirkiest holiday houses to rent around the world – revealed

Thanks to Mail Online Travel for these amazing rental ideas.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Renting a holiday home and getting away from your own base every now and then is something we all look forward to – so why settle for the mundane?

It is perfectly feasible, for example, to make for the Scottish Highlands and snooze in a converted bus with its own little touches of luxury, including a hot tub, for only £150 a night. 

Or, head further afield and dig deep into your pockets for a £971-a-night five-bedroom rental in Orlando, Florida, which boasts themed kids’ rooms that include an indoor treehouse, a bed in a boat and a mini space station. 

Alternatively, on New Zealand’s South Island, you can venture into the wilderness and stay with a partner in a ‘pod’ made entirely from glass, offering views of the stars like no other.

You can also hunker down in a Croatian lighthouse looking out across the Istrian Peninsula, a hobbit-like dome in Bali, or a 1600s house in Derbyshire with a nautical themed playhouse on the lawn.

Here are ten wacky abodes from around the world that you can temporarily call home, all available on TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals.

The Bus Stop, East Lothian, Scotland

Make for the Scottish Highlands and snooze in this surprisingly spacious converted bus with its own little touches of luxury 

Make for the Scottish Highlands and snooze in this surprisingly spacious converted bus with its own little touches of luxury

You’d be forgiven for thinking a bus would only come in useful for getting you to and from your holiday accommodation – but that’s not the case with this creative property in eastern Scotland.

With a wood-burning stove, barbeque and hot tub, The Bus Stop offers a little more luxury than your average morning commute.

This hand-crafted accommodation has glass ceilings and is set on a working farm with panoramic views of the Lammermuir Hills.

Two bedrooms (sleeps four) from £150 per night (three-night minimum stay).

PurePod Cabin, South Island, New Zealand 

On New Zealand's South Island, you can venture into the wilderness and stay with a partner in this entirely glass 'pod'

On New Zealand’s South Island, you can venture into the wilderness and stay with a partner in this entirely glass ‘pod’

Can nature and comfort coexist?

They can with this state-of-the-art living capsule on New Zealand’s South Island. A biofuel fire is combined with glass roofing, flooring and walls to give you the ultimate view of the wilderness.

The only downside: no curtains means it’s not ideal for long lie-ins.

One bedroom (sleeps two), from £311 per night.

Theme Home, Orlando, Florida 

You’d have to dig deep into your pockets to rent this £971-a-night five-bedroom house in Orlando, Florida, which boasts themed kid’s rooms including the one

A treehouse and nautical and astronautical-themed bedrooms make this property a kid’s dream.

Located in a resort only six miles from Disney World, this pad sleeps 18 people and has a pool with an adjoined hot tub.

Other quirks include a pool table designed to look like a New York taxi, and a private movie room decorated with plastic trees and grass.

Five bedrooms (sleeps 18), from £971 per night (three-night minimum stay).

Lighthouse Villa, Pula, Croatia 

This quaint Croatian lighthouse looks out across the Istrian Peninsula, runs on solar power and collects rainwater in a tank

This quaint Croatian lighthouse looks out across the Istrian Peninsula, runs on solar power and collects rainwater in a tank

It boasts a roomy interior capable of sleeping up to eight people        Although secluded, the lighthouse can be reached by a small rural road

With views across the Istrian Peninsula plus a lighthouse, this unusual home runs on solar power and collects rainwater in a tank.

Steeped in history, the first light here was ignited on August 8, 1883, and was operational until the 1970s.

While blissfully secluded, this three-bedroom hideout is easily reached by car via a small country road.

Three bedrooms (sleeps eight), from £160 per night (seven-night minimum stay).

WisDome Villa, Lombok, Indonesia

The striking domed villas of this mini-village on the Indonesian island of Lombok have bedrooms with round-shaped beds

The striking domed villas of this mini-village on the Indonesian island of Lombok have bedrooms with round-shaped beds

The striking domed villas of this mini-village on the Indonesian island of Lombok offer peace, tranquillity and beautiful sea views.

Each bedroom dome is built on two floors and has king-sized round-shaped beds.

Boat transfers to Bali are available, while the world-famous Gili islands lie just five minutes away.

Two bedrooms (sleeps six), from £336 per night (four-night minimum stay)

Treehouse, Watamu, Kenya 

This spiralling Kenyan property provides a 360-degree panorama that includes both the native forest and the Indian Ocean

The living area has a colourful stained-glass wall and the property is topped with a thatched roof.

Conveniently, both self-catering and full-board options are available.

Three bedrooms (sleeps six), from £314 per night (two-night minimum stay).

Hag Hill Hall, Chesterfield, Derbyshire 

This lavish home in Chesterfield dates back to the 1600s, has two big living areas, a dining hall, and can sleep up to 18 people

This lavish home in Chesterfield dates back to the 1600s, has two big living areas, a dining hall, and can sleep up to 18 people

Hag Hill Hall also features a children¿s play boat sitting in the garden       

With two hot tubs and a large indoor swimming pool as well as a wealth of antiques, this lavish home in Chesterfield dates back to the 1600s.

The vast abode, set on an expansive green lawn, has two big living areas, a dining hall, and can sleep up to 18 people.

Also featuring a children’s play boat in the garden, Hag Hill Hall is the ultimate playcation.

Eight bedrooms (sleeps 18), from £685 per night (three-night minimum stay).

Villa Torno, Lake Como, Italy 

This Lake Como villa blends historical and modern themes, and looks over one of the most famous landscapes in the world

This Lake Como villa blends historical and modern themes, and looks over one of the most famous landscapes in the world

        Epic views from every room in the house

With a host of Hollywood stars residing on its shores, Lake Como has always attracted those with highly refined tastes.

This villa is a masterpiece of design, blending historical and modern themes to create a home as stunning as its location.

Highlights include a large wooden sauna and epic views from every room in the house.

Four bedrooms (sleeps eight), from £882 per night (three-night minimum stay).

Mykonian Passion, Mykonos, Greece 

Colourful accents at the Mykonian Passion villa light up its white stone exterior, which is fronted by a 20m-long infinity pool

Colourful accents at the Mykonian Passion villa light up its white stone exterior, which is fronted by a 20m-long infinity pool

Winding steps and cave-like passageways give it a hobbit-like charm       

Thanks both to the sand and rocks that surround the 20m long infinity pool sitting in front, and to the elegant interior design features, Mykonian Passion is a home truly in tune with its surroundings.

Colourful accents light up the otherwise white stone exterior, while winding steps and cave-like passageways give it a special charm.

Surrounding the property are gardens, olive trees and cacti plants scattered among the rocks, from which guests can enjoy splendid views across the Aegean sea.

Four bedrooms (sleeps eight), from £797 per night (five-night minimum stay).

How South Africa’s Eastern Cape is ready for adrenaline junkies

Zip wiring, helicopter riding and open-sea kayaking: South Africa’s Eastern Cape is rising in popularity with those who like a splash of excitement on holiday.  From sea water kayaking to quad biking, there are plenty of activities for adrenaline junkies there, but with elephant tours and wonderful luxury hotels, there is also lots to lure those who want a relaxing time.  For those who live in the UK or Europe, you can arrive ready to start the day as there are overnight flights and only a one-hour time difference from GMT.

Thanks to Olivia Foster Mail Online Travel for the tips!


Swinging through tree canopies, canoeing across swelling seas and quad biking through the undergrowth, these are just some of the adventures waiting for the adrenaline junkie on South Africa’s beautiful Eastern Cape.
Whilst areas such as Cape Town and Johannesburg are well-trodden, the Eastern Cape has remained a relative mystery, until now, thanks to its rising popularity with the slack-packing generation.

What’s more, now you can arrive there ready to start your day, because South Africa Airlines offers an overnight journey from London Heathrow – and there’s only a one-hour time difference.

Guided by knowledgeable South African Craig Duffield of Mosaic Tourism we had a terrific time discovering what South Africa can offer adrenaline junkies and first-time adventurers, from Durban to the Tsitsikamma National Park.

Sea water kayaking

Go sea water kayaking with Untouched Adventures for an adrenaline-filled experience. Once out in the ocean you’ll paddle out through the rolling waves and round under the famous Storms River Suspension bridge

Go sea water kayaking with Untouched Adventures for an adrenaline-filled experience. Once out in the ocean you’ll paddle out through the rolling waves and round under the famous Storms River Suspension bridge

As you emerge under the bridge you’re greeted with caves, cliffs and the type of landscape that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Lost

As you emerge under the bridge you’re greeted with caves, cliffs and the type of landscape that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Lost

Once further up the river you’ll be transferred over to lilos (yes, lilos) to continue your journey up stream

Once further up the river you’ll be transferred over to lilos (yes, lilos) to continue your journey up stream

Looking out at the rolling waves coming into the Storms River Mouth you’d forgive even the most expert of adventurers for being a little bit scared.

But once out in the ocean you’ll paddle out through the rolling waves and round under the famous Storm River Suspension bridge, where you’re greeted with caves, cliffs and the type of landscape that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Lost.

Once further up the river you’ll be transferred over to lilos (yes, lilos) to continue your journey up-stream. Anyone looking for an extra thrill might want to try the cliff jump, but beware, the fresh water is very cold!

Top tip: Keep your wetsuit rolled down to the waist for the sea kayaking, when the waves get big, you’ll want the full use of your arms to paddle you through.

Booking: Price approximately £24pp. Visit www.untouchedadventures.com/activities/kayak-and-lilo.

Canoeing down the Sundays River

Those keen for a more relaxing journey down the river should try canoeing down the Sundays River

Those keen for a more relaxing journey down the river should try canoeing down the Sundays River.

Sit back in your two-man canoe from CrissCross Adventures and let the power of the current pull you most of the way down stream.

Seriously, for this three-hour-long cruise you’ll need minimal arm power, which leaves more time for trying to spot the elusive African fish eagle.

More common sights include seven different types of kingfisher and the goliath heron.

With drinks included you might be tempted to take one of the local beers, passed to you by your guide on the tip of his oar (even if the trip does start at 8.30am).

Top Tip: When you head towards the rapids (don’t worry, they’re not that fast!) make sure you heed the advice of your guide, or you may end up stuck in the reeds like we did!

Booking: Price is around £24pp. Visit www.crisscrossadventures.co.za/addo-river-safari.

Quad biking

Extreme sportsmen will love exploring the South African undergrowth on an Automatic Yamaha Grizzly quad bike

Extreme sportsmen will love exploring the South African undergrowth on an Automatic Yamaha Grizzly quad bike

Climb onto your Yamaha Grizzly – also from CrissCross Adventures – slip on your protective goggles and take a precarious ride around the Vally Bushveld.

With rocky paths and steep slopes this is not an activity for the first time driver as the hour-and-a-half-long trails take you through the South African undergrowth. Just be careful you don’t drive into the river!

Top tip: Take a few laps around the practice course before setting off into the trees where the paths can be more than a little bit rocky.

Booking: Price approx £21pp. Visit www.crisscrossadventures.co.za/addo-quad-biking/.

Segway ride through the forest

Take a relaxed Segway ride through the Storms River Village and into the surrounding forest with Segway Fun

Take a relaxed Segway ride through the Storms River Village and into the surrounding forest with Segway Fun.

Before setting off your guide will give you a comprehensive tutorial of how to use your vehicle, before letting you loose on the training area. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it looks.

Then, with the speed dial turned up, you’ll have an hour-long tour taking in the sights and smells of the beautiful woodland as you zoom along on your Segway. Just make sure you stay in single file as the guides warn you to avoid any unwanted crashes.

Top tip: When stepping off the Segway be sure to take one foot off at a time, keeping a firm grip on the handle bars as you do, or you may end up running over your foot!

Booking: Price approximately £13-£15 pp. Visit www.segwayfun.co.za/.

Africa’s longest double zip-line

Thrillseekers will love the Adrenalin Addo zip line, which travels 250 metres across amazing scenery

Thrillseekers will love the Adrenalin Addo zip line, which travels 250 metres across amazing scenery

When you’re standing at the bottom of the Adrenalin Addo zip line you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t very high, but after a steep climb up the mountainside there’s no mistaking that vertigo feeling once you’ve got to the top.

Join up with a partner for this experience as you travel 250 metres across the amazing SA scenery over the valley and down past the Sundays River. If you’re anything like us – or the other groups we spotted enjoying this experience – you’ll be screaming all the way.

Top tip: If you’re not feeling too fragile after the zip line itself, the Adrenalin Addo team also has a giant 18-metre-high swing you can have a go on.

Booking: Price approximately £14pp. Visit hadrenalinaddo.co.za/ for more information.

Tsitskamma Canopy Tour

Ok, so ten zip lines doesn’t feel like a very novice thing to do but with the expert team talking you through them all step by step it certainly feels less scary – especially after their extensive and informative safety briefing.

As you swing through the trees on lines of varying lengths (and speeds) the expert guides will talk you through the surrounding forest life even giving you a pop quiz on what you’ve learnt along the way – which is certain to take your mind off the heights.

Top tip: Make sure to check out your DVD at the end of the trip, quickly edited before you’ve even got back to the Village. There’s nothing funnier than watching yourself swinging through a tree.

Booking: Price approximately £27pp. Click here for more information.

Surf’s up!

Whilst the waves might look too big for a beginner to take on – and you’ll definitely wipe out more than once at Surf Camp South Africa     Whilst the waves might look too big for a beginner to take on – and you’ll definitely wipe out more than once at Surf Camp South Africa

At Surf Camp South Africa beginners are instructed on the art of riding waves at St Francis Bay.

Surf Camp South Africa’s instructor Cody Futeran gave up a corporate life to become a surf instructor at St Francis Bay and he’s been inspiring novice surfers ever since.

Whilst the waves looked too big for a beginner to take on – and you’ll definitely wipe out more than once – Cody managed to have our whole group of six riding the waves by the end of our hour-long session.

At one spectacular point we were joined by dolphins leaping through the bay to check out our efforts.

Top tip: While you might want to look like a beach god in your wetsuit by choosing one that’s tight fitting, opt for a looser one and you’ll have more freedom to move around in the water.

Booking: For a day’s surfing and overnight stay prices start at £45pp. Visit surfcampsouthafrica.co.za/ for more.

Addo National Elephant Park, Sundowner Tour

Into the wild: Wrap up warm as the sun starts to go down and take a drive through the Addo National Elephant Park in an open sided jeep

Wrap up warm as the sun starts to go down and take a drive through the Addo National Elephant Park in an open sided jeep.

At this time of night the spotting of elephants can be slightly more difficult as they retreat as the sun sets, but we saw warthogs, jackals and – the more impressive of the bunch – two male lions.

Sitting just metres away from us this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be close to these infamous predators. Shortly after we were driven up to the top of a hill for sundowner drinks and snacks before retreating to our beautiful cottages on the grounds of the park.

Top tip: It might sound pretty obvious but keep your arms inside the jeep, whilst there are no windows to allow you a great view and great photographs, moving yourself outside of its parameters can scare the animals.

Booking: For a half-day tour prices start at approximately £36pp. Visit www.crisscrossadventures.co.za/addo-elephant-park-tour/ for more information. 

Up, up and away 

Take the time to stop off in Durban where you can take a four-seater helicopter ride above the stunning coastline and crashing waves, giving you that total James Bond feeling.

Visit www.facebook.com/jncheli/for more information.

Where to stay

Olivia stayed at Dune Ridge Country House (pictured), which boasts rooms with four-poster beds and a pool area that's the perfect chill-out zone

Olivia stayed at Dune Ridge Country House (pictured), which boasts rooms with four-poster beds and a pool area that’s the perfect chill-out zone

Dune Ridge Country House in St Francis is a four-star property with rooms boasting four-poster beds, your own private terrace and a free standing bath (perfect for soaking those muscles after a day of surfing).

At night you can enjoy dinner cooked by the friendly staff or have a tinkle on the piano, whilst in the day the pool area provides the perfect chill-out zone.

For more information visit www.duneridgestfrancis.co.za.

At Tsitikamma stay on site in their beautiful garden apartments. Wake up to see the mist rising above the nearby mountains whilst enjoying a cup of tea on your own little terrace before heading to the omelette bar at the nearby breakfast room. At night stop by the Tsitsikamma micro brewery to try out some locally brewed beers.

Booking: www.tsitsikammavillageinn.co.za/

Where to eat

The Oyster Box restaurant in Durban boasts a stunning sea-front setting and a speciality curry buffet that has a host of famous fans, including Prince Harry.

Beware the over friendly local monkeys though – they have been known to sneak up and steal from the plates of unsuspecting diners.

Booking: www.oysterboxhotel.com/food-and-drink.

15 Places that Look Like they’re on Another Planet

We can’t help but fantasize about galaxies far, far away. Luckily, Earth is full of surreal and otherworldly places that are just a plane ride away—no warp speed required. Thanks to CN Traveler for some awesome shots.


Bromo Volcano: East Java, Indonesia

Mount Bromo is perhaps the most well-known volcano in East Java’s Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, thanks to its accessibility and epic sunrise views.

Lake Natron: Monduli, Tanzania

This salt lake sure is beautiful to look at, but its hellish 120-degree temperatures and dangerously low pH levels make it a less-than-ideal vacation spot. There is one major upside: The surplus of scarlet-hued algae attracts millions of flamingos, making the area one of the species’ major breeding grounds.

Glowworm Caves: Waitomo, New Zealand

Leave it to New Zealand to make even worms look beautiful. The Waitomo Caves hold thousands of bioluminescent larvae that leave long strings of mucus (sounds gross, looks dazzling) and glow like a subterranean Milky Way.

Namib Naukluft Park: Namibia

Red sand dunes and skeletal trees make Namibia the closest thing we have to Mars on Earth. (Getty)

Wulingyuan Scenic Area: Zhangjiajie, China

Scenic might be an understatement: This 100-square-mile attraction contains thousands of sandstone pillars that are nature’s version of skyscrapers—some even stretch taller than the Empire State Building’s midpoint. It’s no wonder this site was a major inspiration for the world of Pandora in Avatar.

Hang Son Doong: Vietnam

Vietnam’s Hang Son Doong, the largest cave in the world, could hold an entire city block of Manhattan—including 40-story skyscrapers. It has its own lush vegetation where sunlight filters in from sinkholes above, and clouds even form near the ceiling when moisture condenses there. In other words, it’s practically its own little world lurking under the earth’s surface. (Alamy)

Jökulsárlón: Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

The glacial lake of Jökulsárlón and its frozen beach are considered a natural wonder of Iceland, with black volcanic sands providing a stark backdrop for the chunks of ice that wash ashore.

Socotra, Yemen

With UFO-like dragon’s blood trees as its most notable feature, the island of Socotra looks like it was transported to Earth from a distant planet. (Getty)

Grand Prismatic Spring: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

As its name suggests, the largest hot spring in the United States is essentially a rainbow ring of vibrant colors.

Dos Ojos: Tulum, Mexico

This cavernous cenote with double entry points—hence the moniker “Two Eyes”—is so incredible it was featured in the IMAX flick Journey Into Amazing Caves and an episode of Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth. It’s perfect for snorkelers, experienced scuba divers, and daredevils willing to surface in the system’s bat cave.

Dallol, Ethiopia

A kind of geological wonderland of salt formations, acidic hot springs, and gas geysers, this visually stunning hydrothermal field vies for the title of world’s hottest spot with average summer highs reportedly hitting up to 114F°.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii

The 13,800-foot climb from Hilo’s beaches to the moonscape at the summit of Mauna Kea isn’t for the faint of heart. It is one of the longest sustained climbs on Earth, but it’s worth it to view the world as a land above the clouds.

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley): Chile

Have you ever dreamed of exploring the moon? A trip to Valle de la Luna in Chile’s Atacama Desert is a much shorter flight. Years of erosion have left behind jagged peaks, dry riverbeds, and a landscape startlingly similar to that of our favorite celestial body’s.

Lencois Maranhenses National Park: Brazil

The geography of Brazil’s Lencois Maranhenses National Park is like nothing else on Earth. The rainy season (around early June) fills every trough with water and the world becomes an M. C. Escher print: It is either a drowned desert or a sandy lake, depending on how the mind’s eye frames what it is seeing.

White Desert: Farafra, Egypt

The landscape of the White Desert can be deceiving: What first appears to be a cool, snowy landscape is actually a mind-bendingly hot region of western Egypt. The desert is known for its wind-shaped chalk rock formations, which often resemble giant mushroom clouds frozen in time.

 

 

Top 21 Under-the-Radar Destinations

From Canada’s Yukon wilderness to the mountaintops of India, these unconventional holiday destinations found by BBC Travel will lead you off the beaten path and on to an adventure all your own.


Fermanagh Lakelands, Northern Ireland (Credit: Gareth Mccormack/Getty)

Fermanagh Lakelands, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s answer to the Lake District is blissfully unhurried, although the G8 summit being held here this June may bring it fame. Fermanagh is about one-fifth water, and most of that belongs to fickle Lough Erne – a lake in two parts. Upper Lough Erne is a watery maze of more than 150 islands, often difficult to recognise as a lake between its reedy bays and meandering backwaters. Lower Lough Erne however is a more traditional open body of water.

Many of its islands have a sacred legacy – on Devenish Island there are the remains of an Augustinian monastery, including a superb 12th-century round tower, and on White Island, six enigmatic Celtic stone figures greet visitors. The stately homes of Castle Coole and Florence Court are later additions to the area’s historic mix. Fermanagh’s waterways are choice spots for trout- and salmon-fishing, or for exploring by motorboat and canoe. Be sure to take in the view from the top of the Cliffs of Magho – a limestone escarpment running along the south of Lower Lough Erne. (Gareth Mccormack/Getty)

Yukon, Canada (Credit: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty)

Yukon, Canada

The Yukon is where Canadians go when the rest of the country feels a little too crowded. Hugging the border with Alaska, this area of wilderness that is twice the size of the UK has fewer residents than Liechtenstein – once you’ve discounted the caribou, grizzly bears, wolves, lynx and bald eagles. Interest in this region surged during the Klondike gold rush of 1896, but it soon reverted to normal, leaving just a few reminders of Canada’s version of the Wild West, such as the old prospectors’ town of Dawson City, and Jack London’s novels Call of the Wild and White Fang . In the south of the territory is the Kluane National Park – its icefields, which spill over into Alaska, are the largest outside the polar regions. Road trips across the Yukon make for an adventure, whether you take the historic and well-paved Alaska Highway, or the more rough-and-ready Robert Campbell Highway or Dempster Highway. Off road, canoe and kayak trips open up the Yukon River to exploration. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty)

Inchcolm Island, Firth of Forth, Scotland (Credit: Scott Campbell/Getty)

Inchcolm Island, Firth of Forth, Scotland

With its ruined abbey spread across a verdant sliver of land, Inchcolm looks every bit the remote Scottish island, though it’s easier to reach than most – located in the middle of the Firth of Forth, it’s a mere half-hour boat ride from Edinburgh. The trip’s well worth making, as Inchcolm, often dubbed the ‘Iona of the East’, possesses the best-preserved monastic complex in Scotland. Founded in 1123 by Augustine monks and dramatically sited over a sandy bay, it offers an intriguing glimpse of hermetic life – and from its tower, rather more complete views over the Firth. The site has served as a hauntingly realistic venue for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s performance of Macbeth. Beyond the abbey, the island merits a wander – it’s riddled with tunnels, lookouts and bunkers from its time as a garrison in both WWI and WWII. Nowadays its only permanent inhabitants are animals – look out for puffins and grey seals basking on rocks. (Scott Campbell/Getty)

Kiso Valley, Japan (Credit: Judy Bellah/Getty)

Kiso Valley, Japan

Two hundred years ago, the thickly wooded Kiso Valley was one of the main routes through central Japan. It’s more out of the way these days, with the happy result that it preserves a number of old post stations along the Nakasendo – the mountain road, celebrated in the work of woodblock print artists, that ran from Edo (modern Tokyo) to Kyoto. The most attractive of the stations is Tsumago, where modern development has been restricted and dark-wood, lattice-fronted houses line the car-free main street. An hour or two is enough to browse the tasteful souvenir shops, sit down in a traditional restaurant or visit the former rest stop for retainers of travelling samurai lords, with its moss garden. It’s worth extending your stay however to take the five-mile hike along the route of the Nakasendo, past farmland, forest and waterfalls, which connects Tsumago to the village of Magome – another time capsule. (Judy Bellah/Getty)

Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Park, California (Credit: Mark Rakston/Getty)

Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Park, California

What is it about California and trees? Not content with having the world’s tallest (coast redwoods) and oldest (bristlecone pines), the state is also home to the largest tree by volume – the giant sequoia, which grows only to its full size in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Many of these behemoths are found in the Yosemite National Park, but for more quality time with the trees, it’s best to head south to Sequoia National Park, which gets a quarter of Yosemite’s visitor numbers. Quieter still is King’s Canyon National Park, adjacent to and run jointly with Sequoia. Besides the giant sequoias – including the daddy of them all, the General Sherman Tree – the parks feature a cleft deeper than the Grand Canyon (King’s Canyon itself), mountain trails and stalactite-draped caves. At the eastern edge of Sequoia is 4,421m-high Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the US outside Alaska. (Mark Rakston/Getty)

Providence, Rhode Island, USA (Credit: Kenneth C Zirkel/Getty)

Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US – more like an English county in its expanse. Its capital, Providence, has many of the attractions of Boston, an hour’s drive away, but in a city a quarter of its size. Ivy League member Brown University and the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) give the city a strong student influence, dignified campus buildings and the impressive RISD Museum of Art. Providence has the only downtown area in the US that is listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places and, up on College Hill, east of the Providence River, are leafy streets lined with 18th-century wood-framed houses. More colourful districts include Federal Hill, with its Italian restaurants and food shops, and Fox Point, home to a Portuguese community and increasing numbers of coffee shops and small galleries. Try to time your visit for one of the 10 or so weekends a year, between May and October, when 100 flaming braziers light up the city’s waterways during WaterFire. (Kenneth C Zirkel/Getty)

Southeastern Anatolia, Turkey (Credit: Chris Hondros/Getty)

Southeastern Anatolia, Turkey

A world away from cosmopolitan Istanbul or Turkey’s laid-back coastal resorts, little-visited Southeastern Anatolia deserves equal fame. Once the northern frontier of Mesopotamia (the ‘cradle of civilization’), the region encompasses an astonishing array of sites, reaching far back into human history. The recently excavated stone circles of Göbekli Tepe, for example, are thought to comprise the world’s oldest temple. Comparatively youthful at just a few millennia old are S ̧anlıurfa (‘the Prophet’s City’) – an ancient spiritual centre of mosques, shady courtyards and a labyrinthine bazaar – and the beehive houses of Harran. Equally captivating are Mardin, where golden stone houses look over sunbaked plains, and the colossal ancient statues that crowd a remote mountaintop at Nemrut Dag ̆ı. Several of these places are stops on the recently inaugurated Turkish section of Abraham’s Path, a 100-mile trail through sites linked to the prophet’s life, sleeping in homestays along the way. (Chris Hondros/Getty)

Arunachal Pradesh, India (Credit: AFP/Getty)

Arunachal Pradesh, India

Arunachal Pradesh, the ‘land of the dawn-lit mountains’, is surely high on any list of candidates for the mythical realm of Shangri-La. Sitting at a confluence of countries – India, Bhutan, Tibet and Burma – it has historically been inaccessible from any, an unknown place so remote that few of its thunderous Himalayan peaks have been named, let alone climbed. Now, however, easing travel restrictions and improved infrastructure ensure that this extraordinary place is ripe for exploring. Here, nature reserves teem with a diversity of wildlife unmatched in India, forests host delicately tattooed tribal peoples, and mountain valleys are dotted with majestic Buddhist monasteries, such as 400-year-old Tawang Gompa, one of the world’s largest. Be sure to visit the Mechuka Valley, a hitherto unexplored Buddhist realm amongst the towering, snow-draped mountains of the region’s remote west. Making the trip on the newly opened road is one of the most exciting adventures in India. (AFP/Getty)

Northwestern Tasmania, Australia (Credit: Universal Images Group/Getty)

Northwestern Tasmania, Australia

Long known for its apples, Australia’s island state of Tasmania is fast emerging as the country’s best destination for food, full stop. Its unspoilt countryside and pristine waters provide a bounty of lovingly-harvested local produce, much of it then served up within the state’s country-leading crop of restaurants. Tazzie’s northwest offers a choice of delicacies that’s hard to beat, from seafood and cider to chocolate, cheese and cool-climate wines. Amidst the rolling green hills of Deloraine you’ll find farms purveying cherries, raspberries and even organic salmon, while at laid-back King Island you can feast on bries, cheddars and pungent blue cheeses, plus crayfish and oysters from the surrounding ocean. Elsewhere, sample over 50 varieties of honey, including Tasmania’s creamy Leatherwood variety, at Chudleigh Honey Farm, or head to the vineyards and distilleries around scenic Barrington Lake for a glass of dry Pinot Noir or cider to wash it all down. (Universal Images Group/Getty)

Kosrae, Micronesia (Credit: Yvette Cardozo/Getty)

Kosrae, Micronesia

First of all, allow plenty of time to reach this island, whose nearest international connections are Honolulu and Guam. Kosrae (pronounced ‘ko-shrye’) is the easternmost of the 607 islands dotted across a million square miles of ocean that make up the Federated States of Micronesia. This isolation has at least one big bonus – the island is fringed with coral reefs that count as some of the most remarkable and undisturbed in the Pacific Ocean, sheltering groupers, lionfish and a host of other marine life. In summer, the visibility in the water can be an amazing 60 metres, enough to see the submerged remains of an American flying boat and a Japanese freighter sunk during WWII. The rainforest-covered interior and delightful beaches are also highlights of the island. The nearby islet of Lelu has jungle-covered ruins that look like a smaller version of the mysterious ‘lost city’ of Nan Madol, on the main Micronesian island of Pohnpei. (Yvette Cardozo/Getty)

Ávila, Spain (Credit: Javier Soriano/Getty)

Ávila, Spain

Pity the army that tried to take Ávila. Set on the cool, high plains of Castilla y León in central Spain, this historic bastion is a sight to behold. Thick, hulking walls loom 12 metres high in a crenellated ring around the city, interrupted only by a series of monumental embellishments: eight gates, dozens of towers and turrets in their thousands. Built in the 12th Century on top of the remains of earlier Roman and Muslim battlements, they rank among the best-preserved medieval walls in the world, and despite their age, can, in part, be walked along. Climb up for views over the snow-dusted mountains around Ávila, or the rooftops, spires and quiet medieval streets of this beautiful, deeply religious ‘city of saints and stones’. For the best view of the walls themselves, make for the plains around the city at night: you’ll see them snake like a golden ribbon through the undulating dark. (Javier Soriano/Getty)

Sylt, Germany (Credit: Patrik Stollarz/Getty)

Sylt, Germany

Sylt is no secret to German tourists, many of whom have been flocking here for years. It’s not hard to see why – this large anchor-shaped island in the North Sea combines wild romance with a distinctly civilised drinking and dining scene. Away from the glamorous excesses of its most popular corners, this is a place of quiet beauty, where red-thatched houses sit in flower-thick gardens and candy-striped lighthouses keep sentinel over green meadows and vast, shifting dunes. Head to the western coast for mile upon mile of secluded fine-sand beaches and dramatic surf, or wander east to the serene Wadden Sea, where gentle waters recede to reveal a natural haven of tidal mudflats. In the evening, tuck into local specialities at one of Sylt’s scores of eateries – from beach bistros to Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s no shortage of fine food. (Patrik Stollarz/Getty)

Meknès, Morocco (Credit: Abdelhak Senna/Getty)

Meknès, Morocco

While visitors pour into Marrakesh, Fez and Rabat, Meknès, the fourth and most modest of Morocco’s imperial cities is rather unfairly overlooked. With its maze of narrow streets, busy medina and wealth of grand buildings, it’s undoubtedly cut from the same beguiling cloth. Set amidst fertile plains below the Middle Atlas Mountains, Unesco-listed Meknès’s monuments include numerous palaces, 25 miles of historic walls, dozens of mosques (its nickname is ‘city of a hundred minarets’) and the vast, ornately-tiled Bab el-Mansour gate; located opposite Meknès’s lively medina, it’s the grandest in Morocco. Most of these date back to Meknès’s 17th and 18th Century glory days as the sultanate’s base. Nearby is a rather more ancient attraction: Volubilis, site of the largest Roman ruins in the country. With its partially restored buildings and beautiful, on-site mosaics, it’s unmissable. (Abdelhak Senna/Getty)

If you’re anywhere near the wonderful port of Tangiers, I can heartily recommend the stunning Grand Hotel Villa de France and gorgeous El Minzah – I’ve stayed at both. These historic properties are part of the Le Royal Hotels & Resorts group owned by Iraqi-born British businessman and philanthropist Sir Nadhmi Auchi.  – Ned

Byblos, Lebanon (Credit: Flickr/Getty)

Byblos, Lebanon

Though Byblos looks, at first glance, like simply a picturesque fishing harbour, beyond its shimmering waters you’ll also find a real historical heavyweight. This serene settlement north of Beirut has been around for a long time (some claim it’s the oldest continuously inhabited town in the world), during which it has featured in the Bible, been conquered by Crusaders and given the world the modern alphabet (courtesy of the sea-trading Phoenicians of the first millennium BC). Today, its many ages are well-represented in its patchwork of ruins, which include ancient temples and tombs and Neolithic houses. Three sites in particular steal the show: the reconstructed Roman amphitheatre, set on a cliff overlooking the sea; the imposing 12th-century Crusader castle, with its commanding views; and the beautifully restored medieval souq, where you can buy everything from antiques to fossils. That’s another few millennia ticked off, then. (Flickr/Getty)

Ned’s tip: for five star plus luxury and the best water park in the Med, treat yourself to Le Royal Hotels & Resorts – Beirut

Toruń, Poland (Credit: Janusz Leszczynski Photography/Getty)

Toruń, Poland

While WWII spelt devastation for many of Poland’s finest historic towns, Toruń – a walled medieval port on the Vistula river – miraculously escaped entirely intact. Today it continues, puzzlingly, to be overlooked, meaning that visitors have its wealth of glorious Gothic architecture largely to themselves. From towering churches to ornately decorated houses, the impressive red-brick buildings of its Unesco-listed old town form one of the best-preserved collections in northern Europe. Standouts include a light-filled cathedral that glitters with beautiful stained-glass windows, the medieval ruins of its castle and walls, and the 14th-century town hall – head up to its tower to enjoy sweeping views over the city. Directly below, the old town’s grand market square is a fine place to watch the world go by – grab a café table and sample Toruń’s signature snack of pierniki (gingerbread), famous country-wide. (Janusz Leszczynski Photography/Getty)

Jambiani Beach, Tanzania (Credit: Bruno Morandi/Getty)

Jambiani Beach, Tanzania

Even among Zanzibar’s embarrassment of powder-sand riches, Jambiani beach is a clear standout. Located on the island’s east coast, which is protected by offshore reefs, the beach is a long, palm-fringed sweep of fine coral sand sloping ever-so-gradually into a startlingly turquoise sea. This mesmerising landscape, one of the quietest places on the east coast, is also a good introduction to the age-old rhythms of rural Zanzibari life. Spread before the fishing village of Jambiani, a somnolent, sun-baked collection of coral and thatched houses, it’s animated by the daily routines of inhabitants. During the day, women gather seaweed and lay it in the sun to dry, ngalawa (outrigger canoes) bob in the shallows just offshore, and, at sunset, fishermen in dhows sail towards the reefs, the silhouettes of their triangular sails serrating the sky. Hitch a ride with one for unbeatable vistas of both beach and sea shimmering in the setting sun. (Bruno Morandi/Getty)

Arras, France (Credit: Philippe Huguen/Getty)

Arras, France

If the town of Arras in northeastern France rings any bells, it’s most likely to be for its position near the thick of frontline action in WWI. However, with its vertiginous belfry and colourful arcaded squares, the town exuberantly defies the expectations of its sombre history. Its two ancient market squares, the Grand Place and nearby Petite Place, are surrounded by a confectionery of Flemish-Spanish houses, pastel-hued, gaily decorated creations erected in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Together, their 350 or so columns form an arcade that’s unique in France. Petite Place is also the site of another focal point – the ornate city hall, whose Unesco-listed belfry shoots up 75m above Arras’s streets and offers heady views. Beneath the square is another site worth a visit: the historic souterrains (tunnels) that became British command posts, hospitals and barracks in WWI and which, each spring, blossom into a uniquely life-affirming garden. (Philippe Huguen/Getty)

Sãotomé and Príncipe (Credit: Tiago Petinga/Getty)

Sãotomé and Príncipe

São Toméans like to live life ‘leve leve’ (slowly and calmly) in this one-time Portuguese colony that was formed from two islands in the Atlantic, 150 miles from the African mainland and a six-hour flight from Lisbon. São Tomé Island is as tropical as can be – the equator passes through an islet off its south coast, and the volcanically formed interior shelters virgin rainforest and a huge variety of plant and bird species. Its smaller neighbour Príncipe is even more untouched. The islands produce some of the best cocoa and coffee in the world, and at lunchtime nothing can beat grilled fresh fish. Outside the modest capital, with its Portuguese-era buildings painted in ice-cream shades, there are beaches, hiking trails through the rugged landscape, and plantations. (Tiago Petinga/Getty)

Richmond, North Yorkshire, England (Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty)

Richmond, North Yorkshire, England

There are more than 50 places called Richmond around the world, from a London borough to the state capital of Virginia, but the original can be found just outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park, in a prime spot on the River Swale. Since the days of the Normans, Richmond Castle has sat on a rocky outcrop above the river – one of the oldest stone fortresses in the country. The true heart of the town however is the straightforwardly named Market Place. Based on a charter from Elizabeth I, an outdoor market takes place here every Saturday (a farmers’ market on the third Saturday of the month) with a permanent indoor market off to one side. Cobbled streets fan out from the sloping, half-moon- shaped square, lined with handsome Georgian buildings and stone cottages, with glimpses of the dales beyond. (Christopher Furlong/Getty)

Ikaria, Greece (Credit: Chris Christo/Getty)

Ikaria, Greece

If you’re after somewhere to eat, drink and unwind, look no further than Ikaria, a place so restorative that living to 100 years here is no big deal. No-one’s quite sure what accounts for residents’ exceptional longevity, but the sheer serenity of the place must have something to do with it (the hot springs probably help, too). A hilly isle in the northeast Aegean mostly bypassed by tourism, it’s strewn with crumbling ruins, secluded bays and tiny villages where residents gather to tell stories, play backgammon and drink. Vineyard-rich Ikaria’s a particularly fine place for this last pursuit, being the mythical birthplace of both Dionysus, god of wine, and of his favourite tipple. Enjoy its signature red over a plate of local produce in the cascading village of Karavostamo or in the easy-going port of Agios Kirykos. Summer is the best time to experience the joie de vivre of Greek island culture, when panigyria (all-night festivals) ring in saints’ days with feasting, drinking and dancing galore.(Chris Christo/Getty)

Trieste, Italy (Credit: AFP/Getty)

Trieste, Italy

If you had to choose one city to serve as the capital of Europe, Trieste might be the fairest choice. A piece of Italy largely surrounded by Slovenian territory, and which was once imperial Austria’s cosmopolitan main port, it lies at the crossroads of the continent’s Latin, Slavic and Germanic cultures. This is reflected in the city’s food habits, where panini and fritto misto (fried seafood) might be followed by beef brisket and horseradish. Triestini love their coffee just as much as Romans and Viennese do, and many of the cafés evoke more gilded times. The huge, pristine central square is an elegant triumph of Austro-Hungarian town planning, now ironically named the Square of Italian Unity. Beyond it is the Borgo Teresiano, a graceful 18th-century district that straddles Trieste’s very own Grand Canal, a mosaic-laden Serbian Orthodox church and a richly decorated neoclassical synagogue. The city also has literary note as the place where James Joyce lived for 10 years before the outbreak of WWI. (AFP/Getty)

Thrills and skills: 13 off-the-wall activities for adrenaline junkies

You’ve thrown yourself off a platform suspended 200m in the air with what amounts to a giant elastic band around your ankles; you’ve paddled down swirling rapids and maybe even jumped out of a helicopter to ski some of the world’s best powder – so what’s next?

You can always trust adrenaline junkies to keep pushing boundaries and testing the limits of the human heart rate (and maybe even the strength of your bowels) – so the guys at Lonely Planet have rounded up 13 brilliant and bizarre adventure activities to inspire your next blood-pumping escapade.

Go on, take the leap…


Guy Airboarding Pacific Ocean, Mountains in Backgr

Do you dare try this extreme water sport? © Justin Lewis / Getty Images

Flyboarding

The latest craze in water sports, flyboarding was brought into being by Frenchman Franky Zapata in 2012. It involves strapping your feet into a kind of skateboard jetski hybrid that fires out powerful jets of water, propelling you up into the air. There is also a jetpack version for sci-fi fans and adrenaline junkies alike. Popular destinations for flyboarding include Australia, Dubai and the USA.

‘It is strange to think that as I propel myself 40ft to 50ft up on two jets of water, I feel more in control in that moment than any other time. It’s an incredible experience.’ – Ben Merrell, pro hydroflight athlete

Oribi Gorge swing 2, Wild5Adventures_1

Take the leap – just don’t drop your selfie stick © Wild5Adventures

Gorge swings

Bungee jumping’s crazier cousin, gorge swinging will make you feel like Tarzan on some serious steroids. You can get your swing on over some awesome landscapes, from the Zambezi river (thezambeziswing.com) to South Africa’s Oribi Gorge (wild5adventures.co.za). Amid such stunning scenery you’ll soon forget about the imminent 160ft free fall… right?

PANTHER BEACH, CA - 2003: *** EXCLUSIVE *** Unicyclist Kris Holm at a sea stack in 2003 on Panther Beach, California. Instead of treating unicycling as part of a circus act, Vancouver resident Kris Holm has made the one-wheeled bike a totally different extreme sport. For twenty-three years his mono-wheeled adventures have taken him to the Great Wall of China and the wilds of California, but now 36-year old Kris is gearing up for his latest challenge; taking on two wheeled bikes in a competitive race. Participating in the BC Bike Race from Vancouver to Whistler in Canada, Kris will compete for seven days against the best the bicycle world has to offer. Averaging 18 miles a day as a solo rider, Kris will take on 500 other mountain bike enthusiasts in the hardcore race which bills itself as the "Ultimate Single-track Experience." (Photo by Nathan Hoover / Barcroft USA / Getty Images)

You can muni almost anywhere – if you can master the art of staying upright © Barcroft / Getty Images

Mountain unicycling

Take the usual equation of bike plus mountain, minus one wheel and you’ve got muni: mountain unicycling. From the rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the lush landscapes of the Alps, anywhere you can mountain bike, you can muni – but it’s best to give this one a good deal of practice before hitting the harder runs. The International Unicycling Federation (unicycling.org) has lots of useful info for both newbies and pros.

‘Because there’s just something about a unicycle that makes people smile, I’ve never found a better way to connect with local people when I can’t speak their language.’ – Kris Holm (krisholm.com), the world’s leading mountain unicyclist

Inside the Volcano, photo credit Vilhelm Gunnarsson_1

Iceland’s Thrihnukagigur is your gateway to another world © Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Go inside a volcano

The Thrihnukagigur volcano in Iceland may be dormant but this journey to the centre of the earth is still pretty thrilling. After a 3km hike to the crater, to get to the ‘good bit’ you’ll still have to descend 120m into the opening via an open cable lift. Inside the Volcano (insidethevolcano.com) offer exclusive tours that’ll take you beneath the earth’s crust where you can admire the kaleidoscopic colours and unique rock formations of the volcano’s crater.

The Namib Desert, the oldest in the world, is reputed to house some of the largest sand dunes on this planet. Come conquer these constantly shifting and powerfully towering beauties by zooming down the sheer slip faces on a traditional Swakopmund sandboard or carve up the dune with style and skill on a snowboard adapted for sand.

The rush of surfing dunes is worth all the sand in strange places © Thomas Dressler / Getty Images

Sandboarding

Surfers and snowboarders – and all you other thrill seekers – ditch the waves and runs and head to the desert for an alternative boarding experience. Namibia’s Namib Desert offers the ultimate adventure playground, boasting some of the highest dunes in the world. Be sure to soak up the views of your epic surrounds at the summit, because once you’re whooshing down the dunes at speeds of up to 80mph, you may be a wee bit distracted.

‘Definitely worth all the sand in strange places, although unless you’re quite good you don’t get much speed standing up – you just fall down!’ – Lauren McInerney, Finance Manager at Lonely Planet

A first-time zip line rider is about to hit a curve on The Rattlesnake, which dips and twists and turns like a roller coaster, at Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida. (Marjie Lambert/Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images)

The Rattlesnake’s twists and turns are thrilling © Marjie Lambert / Miami Herald / Getty Images

Zip line roller coasters

Whizz along tracks that weave through rainforest and jungle scenery, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a gentle ride. You’ll be whipped around twists, slaloms and 360° loops, all whilst dangling at a dizzying height of up to 60m. The aptly named Treetop Crazy Rider (treetops.com.au) in Australia and the Rattlesnake (foreverflorida.com) in Florida, USA, beckon the brave with over 1600m of track between them.

Luke Hopkins entering Canyon Doors while stand up paddleboarding the lower Gauley River near Fayetteville, West Virginia.

You need more than a strong core to brave rapids on a SUP board © Trevor Clark / Getty Images

Whitewater SUP

If you’ve managed to successfully stand up paddleboard (SUP), well done! But why not take it a step further and test your skills pelting down some whitewater rapids? There’s also whitewater tubing and creeking (whitewater rafting in a kayak) for those who prefer to sit or recline whilst being jostled by river rapids. Yet to take off as a global phenomenon, whitewater SUP is still largely the domain of rivers in the USA.

‘It’s challenging; you’re standing up, your centre of gravity is raised, you’re having to use all your muscles and you also have to read the water. It’s about finding stillness in the chaos.’ – Nikki Gregg (nikkigregg.com), whitewater paddler and fitness guru

Man jumps into Devil's Pool at Victoria Falls. It looks like she will be swept over the waterfall but a thick lip of rock keeps people safe. Victoria Falls is nearly a mile wide and 360 feet deep and from the air, looks like the earth has been ripped in two. Zambia, Africa.

Could you muster up the courage to take a dip in the Devil’s Pool? © Yvette Cardozo / Getty Images

Swim the Devil’s Pool

As the name suggests, this ultimate infinity pool – situated on the edge of Victoria Falls – is anything but a relaxing dip. The trend is to launch yourself into the pool and let the current whisk you off to the edge of the falls where the lip of rock will catch you. The Devil’s Pool is only safe to swim in the dry season (mid-August to mid-January) and it’s recommended to go with a certified tour company. Tongabezi (tongabezi.com) offer five tours per day which include a tour of the pool’s access point, Livingstone Island, as well as a daring dip.

Auckland SkyWalk 2, photo credit skywalk.co.nz_1

Some travellers will do anything to get the best city views © skywalk.co.nz

High-altitude urban experiences

Adventure activities are often thought to be the remit of the great outdoors, but thrill seekers can get all their kicks without venturing to the sticks. Many cities offer high-altitude, adrenaline-pumping tours, from abseiling off famous buildings to walking around the outer edges of iconic skyscrapers attached to a safety wire.

New Zealand’s Auckland Sky Tower (skywalk.co.nz) and Toronto’s CN Tower (edgewalkcntower.ca) both offer tours around their heady heights. Alternatively, try abseiling 100m down Rotterdam’s Euromast (euromast.nl).

‘I cried real tears on the CN Tower EdgeWalk. But honestly, it was life changing and there’s not really much I’m scared of anymore.’ – Lauren Finney, US Magazine Editor at Lonely Planet

MALAGA, SPAIN - APRIL 01: Tourists walk along the 'El Caminito del Rey' (King's Little Path) footpath on April 1, 2015 in Malaga, Spain. 'El Caminito del Rey', which was built in 1905 and winds through the Gaitanes Gorge, reopened last weekend after a safer footpath was installed above the original. The path, known as the most dangerous footpath in the world, was closed after two fatal accidents in 1999 and 2000. The restoration started in 2011 and reportedly cost 5.5 million euros. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

The Caminito del Rey has had a much-needed facelift © David Ramos / Getty Images

Cliff walking

Dubbed the world’s deadliest hike, the Huashan mountain trail in China is not for the faint hearted. Tethered to a safety line on the rock face, hikers make their way across wooden planks and sheer cliff edge to reach one of the world’s most remote tea houses, over 2000m high. There are plenty of other (slightly) less pant-wetting paths around the world, like the Caminito del Rey in Spain, which underwent a hefty restoration in 2015.

Rickshaw Run, photo credit Mila Kiratzova_1

Head into the unknown on a two-week adventure across India © Mila Kiratzova

Rickshaw run

Think the Gumball rally, but on glorified go-karts. The Rickshaw Run is an epic pan-Indian adventure spanning 3500km. All you need is to get your hands on a rickshaw and book two weeks off work and you’re good to go… kind of. The Adventurists (theadventurists.com) can help with all the know-how you need to hit the road, including visa requirements, budgeting and tips for pimping your rickshaw.

‘The Rickshaw Run is a real old-school adventure. It’s two weeks of boredom-obliterating mayhem.’ – Mr Matt, Event Manager at The Adventurists

Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia, Australasia

Australia’s Lady Elliot Island is one of the best spots to try blowhole diving © Len Zell / Lonely Planet

Blowhole diving

Blowholes are naturally occurring sea caves that also have an opening at the surface of the ocean. Freedivers and scuba divers are drawn to these unusual geological formations not just for the epic ride – the current combined with the structure of the caves creates a surge that propels you through the cavern – but also for the unique wildlife that inhabits these environments. The best blowholes to dive can be found at Lady Elliot Island, Australia and The Corridor in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

*** EXCLUSIVE *** COLORADO, USA - JUNE 4: Brian, the photographer snaps an elaborate storm cloud formation on June 4, 2015 in Colorado, USA. FEARLESS photographer has dedicated his life to chasing storms after a tornado almost killed him on the way to his high school prom in 1993. Kansas native Brian Barnes, 39, was raised in the beating heart of North America's 'Tornado Alley' - and was also struck by lightning as a teenager. Taken by tour guide Brian in Colorado, these incredible pictures show giant supercell storms - one of the most powerful weather formations found over land. Also known as rotating thunderstorms, supercells can produce winds over 100mph and can uproot trees and obliterate buildings. Brian, who runs an extreme weather tour company, captured these images in June 2015, and was intimately acquainted with ferocious storms from a young age. PHOTOGRAPH BY Brian Barnes / Barcroft Media UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W www.barcroftmedia.com USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W www.barcroftusa.com Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W www.barcroftindia.com (Photo credit should read Brian Barnes / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Are you wild enough to want to witness the perfect storm? © Barcroft Media / Getty Images

Storm chasing

Most people would run from a swirling vortex of doom, but not you. You head right into the middle of the action. Specialist tours can take groups safely into storm zones to see some immense weather such as tornadoes and supercell thunderstorms. Extreme weather-watchers flock to Tornado Alley in the American midwest for some of the most epic skyscapes.

‘The thrill of seeing large supercell structures, hundreds of bolts of lightning and possible tornadoes out in the open fields… there is nothing else like that feeling in the world!’ – Roger Hill, Silver LIning Tornado and Storm Chasing Tours (silverliningtours.com)

 

 

 

The best FREE tourist attractions around the world

It’s an old adage – the best things in life are free, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to some of the world’s most intriguing travel sights.

While most of the obvious tourist landmarks – the Statue of Liberty, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal – charge entry fees, many of the lesser-known hidden gems around the corner don’t.

Did you know, for example, that you can visit an uninhabited island in the Bahamas where you can swim with wild pigs, and not be charged a penny?

Or take free yoga classes in Dubai, and sample the best tea in China at a cost of… zero?

Lonely Planet has released a veritable travel bible of spots around the world where you can have great experiences on a shoestring, titled The Best Things in Life are Free. MailOnline Travel rounds up 15 of the most intriguing suggestions… 

The Bahamas: Pig Island

On a small uninhabited island in the Exuma region of the Bahamas, wild pigs paddle freely around, and they don't charge you for joining them - although edible gifts are welcome

On a small uninhabited island in the Exuma region of the Bahamas, wild pigs paddle freely around, and they don’t charge you for joining them – although edible gifts are welcome

This is the only place in the Caribbean where you can splash around with celebrities and not have to pay a dime, because these stars have no idea they’re famous. An overnight Instagram sensation, the pigs of this island in Exuma live in the wild and love a spot of swimming.

According to legend they were left there by sailors who had plans to return for a pork roast, but never did, leaving the pigs to turn feral.

Thailand: The Bangkokian Museum

This quaint folk museum in Bangkok consists of two old homes with rooms full of perfectly preserved personal belongings that date back a century

This quaint folk museum in Bangkok consists of two old homes with rooms full of perfectly preserved personal belongings that date back a century

The tiny Bangkokian is a hidden jewel in a city where most of its treasures are proudly on display.

This quaint folk museum consists of two old homes with rooms full of perfectly preserved personal belongings that date back a century.

It looks as if the owners stepped through the front door to pick up some noodles in 1935 and never came back.

China: The Măliándào Tea Market

Măliándào, where virtually all the tea in China can be seen, sniffed and sampled for free

Măliándào, where virtually all the tea in China can be seen, sniffed and sampled for free

If you’re someone who knows your pu-erh from your oolong, then you’ll get a kick from a trip to Măliándào, where virtually all the tea in China can be seen, sniffed and sampled.

It’s mainly aimed at wholesalers, but most vendors will give you a complimentary taste, and then you can sip plenty more brews in teashops.

You can get your hands on tea sets here as well, at potentially bargain prices.

Berlin: Badeschiff Swimming Barge

Badeschiff, an urban beach club built around a barge-turned-swimming pool in the Spree River

Badeschiff, an urban beach club built around a barge-turned-swimming pool in the Spree River

Summers in Berlin wouldn’t be the same without the Badeschiff, an urban beach club built around a river barge-turned-swimming pool and moored in the Spree River. 

Splash around in the daytime and stay to sip sunset cocktails with a great view of the fairy-tale-like bridge, Oberbaumbrücke. In winter, Badeschiff is all covered up and turned into a toasty sauna-cum-bar.

Singapore: Gardens by the Bay

Time your visit to the Gardens by the Bay for 7.45pm or 8.45pm to see the Supertrees twinkle and glow for the spectacular Garden Rhapsody light-and-sound show.

Time your visit to the Gardens by the Bay for 7.45pm or 8.45pm to see the Supertrees twinkle and glow for the spectacular Garden Rhapsody light-and-sound show.

This eco-fantasy land of space age bio-domes, hi-tech trees and whimsical sculptures really has to be seen to be believed.

Although the indoor conservatories and Supertree-top skyway are chargeable, arguably the coolest thing to see here is free: time your visit for 7.45pm or 8.45pm to see the Supertrees twinkle and glow for the spectacular Garden Rhapsody light-and-sound show.

Dubai: Free yoga

The voluntary Friends of Yoga organisation runs free yoga classes every day at 13 locations around the UAE

The voluntary Friends of Yoga organisation runs free yoga classes every day at 13 locations around the UAE

The augmented reality of life in Dubai’s air-conditioned cityscape may just leave you in need of some mental readjustment.

If so, consider stretching out to the voluntary Friends of Yoga organisation, which runs free yoga classes every day at 5.30am and 7.30pm at 13 locations around the UAE, including Deira Creek, Bur Dubai Creek, Zabeel Park, JLT Park and Internet City.

Dublin: The National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland is home for four million objects of archaeology, decorative arts and natural history

The National Museum of Ireland is home for four million objects of archaeology, decorative arts and natural history

This mighty museum explores Ireland’s heritage via four million objects spread across four sites, three of which are in Dublin.

Archaeology is where you’ll explore prehistoric and Viking-era Ireland, Decorative Arts & History houses ancient weaponry, furniture, and silver, and Natural History has an Irish elk skeleton.

London: The More London Free Festival

This annual series of free events at the South Bank of the River Thames comprises of everything from live music and fringe theatre to movie showings and kid's entertainment

This annual series of free events at the South Bank of the River Thames comprises of everything from live music and fringe theatre to movie showings and kid’s entertainment

This annual series of free events hijacks the South Bank of the River Thames for four months of summer action.

It comprises everything from live music and fringe theatre performances to children’s entertainment and screenings of flicks in the Scoop – a 1000-seat concrete amphitheatre near Tower Bridge.

The big screen on site broadcasts major sporting events such as Wimbledon and the Tour de France.

Marrakesh: Djemaa el-Fna square

The Djemaa el-Fna square, where you'll find street theatre, snake charming and music, all in a plaza that used to be the site of public executions

The Djemaa el-Fna square, where you’ll find street theatre, snake charming and music, all in a plaza that used to be the site of public executions

Think of it as live-action channel-surfing: everywhere you look in the Djemaa el-Fna – Marrakesh’s main square and open-air theatre – you’ll discover drama already in progress.

Think street theatre, snake charming, and music, all in a plaza that used to be the site of public executions around AD 1050 – hence its name, which means ‘assembly of the dead’.

Sydney: The Sydney Harbour National Park

Most attractions at this 392-hectare national park that overlooks the Sydney Harbour will cost you nothing

Most attractions at this 392-hectare national park that overlooks the Sydney Harbour will cost you nothing

This 392-hectare park protects sections of Sydney’s foreshore and several islands within the harbour.

Most attractions are free, including the Bradleys Head amphitheatre, a popular lookout and a great picnic spot, and  the Grotto Point Aboriginal engraving site, where you can see old rock art.

New York: The Brooklyn Flea Market

At the Brooklyn Flea Market, you’ll find everything from records and 1930s posters to vintage clothing and antique collectables - and wandering round is free

At the Brooklyn Flea Market, you’ll find everything from records and 1930s posters to vintage clothing and antique collectables – and wandering round is free

When the weekend arrives, head to Brooklyn to experience one of the best markets in the whole city. More than 100 vendors ply their wares here, with plenty of treasures to ogle from the past and the present.

You’ll find everything from records to 1930s posters, vintage clothing, jewellery, homewares, artwork, antique collectables and craft items. Wandering round is free.

Check the website for locations, which change seasonally. Visit brooklynflea.com.

Paris: Château de Versailles’ Gardens

These spectacular gardens are divine, not as packed as the château itself,  and free for half the year

These spectacular gardens are divine, not as packed as the château itself, and free for half the year

While the château at Versailles is truly extraordinary, the crush of people inside can be hard to bear.

But the landscaped gardens – meticulously manicured, dotted with elegant statuary and exuberant fountains, and criss-crossed with paths (bikes can be rented) – are divine and free for half the year between November and March. Pack a picnic and distance those madding crowds.

Rio de Janeiro: Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach, where you can frolic in the waves, go surfing, take long walks or simply sit back and engage in the discreet art of people-watching

Ipanema Beach, where you can frolic in the waves, go surfing, take long walks or simply sit back and engage in the discreet art of people-watching

One of the best places to spend a sun-drenched day in Rio is out on Ipanema Beach. You can frolic in the waves, go surfing, take long walks or simply sit back and engage in the discreet art of people-watching.

You also needn’t leave the sands when hunger strikes, but you will need to open your wallet.

Barracas (beach stalls) sell everything from super cheap sandwiches to caipirinhas, and wandering vendors bring by cold drinks and snacks.

Tokyo: Yoyogi Park

On sunny weekends, all sorts gather to Tokyo's Yoyogi Park for picnics, Frisbee, drumming, dancing and free festivals

On sunny weekends, all sorts gather to Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park for picnics, Frisbee, drumming, dancing and free festivals

Of all Tokyo’s parks, this is arguably the most lively. The landscaping is haphazard, wild along the fringes, and there are no ‘keep off the grass’ signs here.

On sunny weekends, all sorts gather for picnics, Frisbee, drumming and dancing.

The plaza across the street hosts free festivals on weekends during summer, including many hosted by the city’s ethnic communities.

You can read more at http://www.lonelyplanet.com/

The world’s most unusual places to stay

An underwater hotel room, a suite on the side of the cliff and a tree house with the best view of the sea: MailOnline Travel reveals some gorgeously quirky places to lay your hat for a night or two.


For many holidaymakers, there is nothing more important than a room with a spectacular view.

It could be a plush suite in a skyscraper hotel, a treehouse in the middle of nowhere or even a room beneath the surface of the sea. 

In an age where tourists are on the hunt for snaps that are worthy of Instagram or Facebook, the more unique it is, the better.

These jaw-dropping destinations have been named the most unusual places to stay by London-based travel agency Exsus.

They include Africa’s first underwater hotel room – 13ft below the surface of the Indian Ocean, north of Zanzibar – where guests can admire marine life from the comfort of their bed.

And for adrenaline junkies, only the Natura Vive Skylodge Adventure Suite will do. Guests must climb a 400ft cliff face to reach the suite, which is on the side of one of Peru’s highest peaks.

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The best for sleeping with the fishes: Manta Resort on Pemba Island

Africa’s first underwater hotel room is 13ft below the surface of the Indian Ocean, north of Zanzibar

Africa’s first underwater hotel room is 13ft below the surface of the Indian Ocean, north of Zanzibar

Visit http://www.themantaresort.com/information/pemba-island/

The best for daredevils: Natura Vive’s Skylodge Adventure Suite

To climb into Natura Vive's Skylodge Adventure Suite in Peru, daredevil guests must scale a 400ft cliff face

To climb into Natura Vive’s Skylodge Adventure Suite in Peru, daredevil guests must scale a 400ft cliff face

Check out http://naturavive.com/web/

The best for getting back to nature: Phinda Forest Lodge

Guests can spot the big five, dolphins and turtles at this lodge at the Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa

Guests can spot the big five, dolphins and turtles at this lodge at the Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa

Visit www.phindagamereserve.com/

The best for sleeping in a cave: Gamirasu Cave Hotel

Located near Urgup, Turkey, some of the 35-room hotel's doors and windows are more than 500 years old

Located near Urgup, Turkey, some of the 35-room hotel’s doors and windows are more than 500 years old

Take a look at this Trip Advisor winner: http://www.gamirasu.com/https://static.tacdn.com/img2/tc/rdTopLaurel_LL_TM.jpg

The best for watching the Northern Lights: Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel

Less than an hour from Reykjavík, guests can watch the natural phenomenon from a heated outdoor pool

Less than an hour from Reykjavík, guests can watch the natural phenomenon from a heated outdoor pool

Check out this multi-award-winning hotel’s site: http://ioniceland.is/

The best for adventure seekers: Fogo Island Inn

This contemporary hotel is located on rocky terrain on Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada

This contemporary hotel is located on rocky terrain on Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada

For lots of information on this highly unusual destination visit www.fogoislandinn.ca/

The best for waking up on a boat: Belmond Road to Mandalay

Belmond's Road to Mandalay takes up to 82 passengers on a luxurious river cruise in Myanmar

Belmond’s Road to Mandalay takes up to 82 passengers on a luxurious river cruise in Myanmar

Check out http://www.belmond.com/road-to-mandalay-myanmar/

The best for sleeping in a tree: Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses

These houses are 30ft above ground with views of dramatic mountains and the Pacific coast in New Zealand

These houses are 30ft above ground with views of dramatic mountains and the Pacific coast in New Zealand

For more info on this unique accommodation visit http://www.hapukulodge.com/kaikoura/tree-houses

The best for an alternative caravan: Uyuni Vintage Airstreams

This deluxe caravan on Bolivia's Uyuni Salt Flats comes with a private chef and guide to show you around

This deluxe caravan on Bolivia’s Uyuni Salt Flats comes with a private chef and guide to show you around

To find out more about these über-cool Airstreams check out http://www.exsus.com/destinations/south-america/bolivia/uyuni-salt-flats/uyuni-vintage-airstreams

 

And for even more exciting and unusual trips visit the team at Exsus.

 

 

 

 

5 Places You Should Visit Before They Vanish

Our world is a vast and beautiful one, full of awe-inspiring landscapes. But Mother Nature is a cruel mistress and the powerful forces of erosion, rising seas, and the inevitable effects of tourism will render many of the current wonders of the world nearly unrecognizable in the next century. Here are five incredible locales around the world that you should visit immediately before they are lost to the passage of time and the savagery of climate change.

Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park, and Lake Sherburne. Montana. USA. Numerous glaciers are visible in this image.

Ed Reschke

Venice, Italy

Beautiful view of famous Grand Canal in Venice, ItalyiSailorr/Getty

This iconic city, hovering over a lagoon, is sinking rapidly. The canals that make up the streets of Venice rise 2 mm every year, submerging relics of history and ravaging architecture. Experts warn that without intervention, this city on stilts will disappear back into the Atlantic at an even faster rate, consumed by the rising sea levels of melting polar ice caps. Come get your fill of the beautiful cathedrals and gracious gondolas of Venice before the sea reclaims it.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Back side of the ruins of Machu Picchu and the mountain of Huayna Picchu. HDR image.Getty Images/Vetta

These Incan ruins have drawn adventurous tourists into the mountains of South America to marvel at an outstanding piece of archaeology for centuries. The forces of natural erosion have been accelerated by tourism and this landmark faces severe impact from increasing foot traffic. The Peruvian government recently proposed a cable car that would have cut out much of the intense hike up to the ruins, making the site instantly accessible to millions. Concerns about the impact of this project have caused officials to suspend the effort, but the future of Machu Picchu remains uncertain. Climb the steps to this ancient site to marvel at a miracle of ancient ingenuity before it’s ruined.

Madagascar, Africa

Sunrise over Avenue of the baobabs, MadagascarGetty Images/iStockphoto

Massive deforestation has left the unique animal population of this island nation vulnerable to extinction. Huddled off the coast of Africa, Madagascar has lush expanses of rain forest that are home to thousands of unique animal species as well as some of the oldest trees in the world, the ancient Baobabs. Experience and explore the joys of this outdoor paradise before the forests and their raucous inhabitants fade from existence.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Scenic view of Glacier National Park.Jordan Siemens/Getty

Perhaps you’ve heard that the ice caps are melting? Nowhere is that more apparent in the United States than in Glacier National Park. Estimates indicate that the glaciers that are part of the majestic beauty of this national landmark will disappear entirely in the next two decades. Go pitch a tent and soak up the view before the intense sunshine of our carbon footprint destroys it for good.

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is the worlds largest reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching forGetty Images/Vetta

Hidden from view beneath the waves, The Great Barrier Reef has been rapidly dying off. Nearly fifty percent of this once massive sprawl of coral is gone, ravaged by pollution and disease. Strap on your scuba gear and visit soon, but practice eco-tourism to keep the reef from continued degradation.

 

 

Thanks to Kaz Weida for Parachute. Kaz is a parenting and food blogger who has been hunting down the best Salt Lake City has to offer for the last decade. She speaks fluent sarcasm and has a penchant for all things vintage. You can find her blogging at asweetlittlelife.com.

 

The Best Places to Visit in July

(So say the dudes at CN Traveler)


It’s the season for safaris in Botswana, whale shark swimming in Mexico, and memorable (and monumental) cultural events from Pamplona to St. Petersburg. These are the best places to visit in July, year after year.

Botswana’s Okavango Delta

The best months for going on a boat safari in the Okavango Delta are May through August, when water levels are at their highest and elephants, giraffes, leopards, and countless birds are most active. Camps like Duba Expedition arrange game “drives” by motorboat—and are all the more luxurious for being in the middle of nowhere.

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Riviera Maya, Mexico

Whale shark season runs from June through September, so if you’ve ever dreamed of swimming with the world’s largest fish, plan a trip to the Riviera Maya now.

Riviera Maya, Mexico

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Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons

Yes, this is the busiest time of year in the national parks, but for good reason: The snow should finally be melted (or melting), filling Yellowstone and Grand Teton’s rivers for prime-time fly fishing, and bison should be on the move in late July.

Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons

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Pamplona, Spain

For many, the fiesta of San Fermín (July 6–14 annually) can be summed up as the Running of the Bulls—a lifelong dream for some, a bullish (pun!) nightmare for others—through the old quarter of Pamplona. But the fest itself is a nine-day street party, starting with thousands filling City Hall Square for the inaugural chupinazo (rocket launch), and followed later in the week by a procession of 10- to 12-foot-tall papier-mâché figures—the “big heads” of big-deal people on parade.

Pamplona, Spain

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St. Petersburg, Russia

The White Nights of St. Petersburg, Russia—those everlasting days when the sun lingers past midnight—begin in May, but it’s the final weeks in July, when fireworks fill the sky and the Stars of the White Nights (ballet and opera at Mariinksy Theatre, concerts, and more) finish their run when you’ll find us there.

St. Petersburg, Russia

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Mount Naeba, Japan

Japan’s three-day Fuji Rock Festival draws some 100,000 fans to the Naeba Ski Resort each July, along with big-deal bands and musicians like Wilco, Beck, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sigur Ros, and Ben Harper. It’s a three-day party in one of the most dramatic settings we can imagine for a guitar solo.

Mount Naeba, Japan

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Salzburg, Austria

From late July through August, Salzburg honors its heritage with a grand classical celebration: The Salzburg Festival delivers everything from Mozart to modern chamber music, The Tempest to Don Giovanni.

Salzburg, Austria

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The 50 Most Beautiful Places in the World

Where are your top trek destinations?

Pinpointing every breathtaking place on the planet could take a lifetime, but the guys in the know at CN Traveler think that these 50 otherworldly landscapes and awe-inspiring natural wonders need to move to the very top of your travel bucket list.  (All images from Getty unless otherwise indicated)


Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia, an area in Turkey where entire cities have been carved into rock, is pretty incredible on its own. But whenever hot-air balloons pepper the sky, its beauty level simply skyrockets.

Salar de Uyuni: Daniel Campos, Bolivia

The reflective surface of the world’s largest salt mine is like something from the imagination of Salvador Dali—although we’re happy it actually exists in real life.

Mù Cang Chải: Vietnam

Mù Cang Chải manages to be one of the most breathtaking spots in Vietnam, with terraced rice fields and mountainous landscapes.

Benagil Sea Cave: Algarve, Portugal

The southern coast of Portugal is lined with exquisite beaches and caves, including the famous Benagil Sea Cave (skylight included).

Snæfellsjökull: Iceland

Iceland’s Snæfellsjökull glacier, complete with ice caves and craters, has appeared in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and the film Batman Begins.

Palawan Island: The Philippines

With its limestone cliffs and pristine lagoons, it’s easy to see why Palawan was voted the best island in the world by our readers.

Venice, Italy

Of all the amazing cities in Italy, there is something truly enchanting about the sunlit canals of Venice.

Ashikaga Flower Park: Ashikaga, Japan

Ashikaga’s wisteria trees bloom brilliantly for a few weeks every spring, turning the park into a vision of pastel pinks and purples.

Brecon Beacons National Park: Wales

Brecon Beacons offers access to rolling hills, Medieval castles, and romantic waterfalls. Plus it’s arguably the best place to stargaze in the UK.

Namib Desert: Namibia

Red sand dunes and skeletal trees make Namibia the closest thing we have to Mars on Earth. The Namib Desert was also the filming location for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Milford Sound: New Zealand

New Zealand is no stranger to breathtaking landscapes. Case in point: Milford Sound, a mountainous fjord where you can live out all of your Lord of the Rings fantasies.

Kolukkumalai Tea Estate: Munnar, India

Situated more than 8,000 feet above sea level, Kolukkumalai is the highest tea estate in the world—and easily the most beautiful.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: Abu Dhabi, UAE

Although the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has only been around for less than a decade, its regal architecture has already made it the crown jewel of Abu Dhabi—and one of the largest mosques in the world.

Bryce Canyon: Bryce, Utah

Bryce Canyon’s layered red and orange rock pillars, known as hoodoos, make it a can’t-miss destination for campers and shutterbugs alike.

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

You might know them better as the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride, but this seaside wonder is actually located just south of Galway. Inconceivable!

Pyramids of Giza: El Giza, Egypt

Giza’s three great pyramids are mysterious marvels of architecture. We may never know whether or not they were built by mutants.

Okavango Delta: Botswana

The lush Okavango Delta is like a real-world Eden, where cheetahs, zebras, buffalo, and rhinos roam freely.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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A striking natural setting makes Rio de Janeiro one of the most beautiful cities in the world, all overlooked by the equally stunning Christ the Redeemer statue.

Arashiyama: Kyoto, Japan

The serene beauty of the bamboo forest in the Arashiyama district is a wonderful site to behold. No wonder it’s one of Pinterest’s most beloved places.

Grand Prismatic Spring: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

As its name suggests, the largest hot spring in the United States is essentially a rainbow ring of vibrant colors.

Serengeti National Park: Tanzania

Tanzania’s portion of the Serengeti is the ideal location for an African adventure.

Grand Canyon National Park: Arizona, USA

There’s a reason why more than 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon every year: It’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world, but a lot easier to access than Mount Everest or the Great Barrier Reef.

The Arctic Circle

Whether you’re spotting the Northern Lights in Sweden or glaciers off the coast of Greenland, the Arctic Circle is a new kind of hidden paradise.

Great Wall of China: Beijing, China

It’s over 12,000 miles long, thousands of years old, and can be seen from space—no wonder the Great Wall nabbed a spot on this list.

Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley): Alaska

Despite controversies over name changes and a shrinking elevation, Denali’s beauty is worth braving the extreme low temperatures.

Isle of Skye: Scotland

With fairy pools and bright green hills, the magical Isle of Skye is the stuff dreams are made of (regardless of whether you’ve binge-watched Outlander yet).

Bromo Volcano: East Java, Indonesia

Mount Bromo is perhaps the most well-known volcano in East Java’s Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, thanks to its accessibility and epic sunrise views.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Alamy

While it may not be the first place you’d pick for a vacation abroad, Samarkand is a standout with intricately tiled buildings and colorfully dressed locals. It also has a rich history as a Silk Road stopping point.

Galápagos Islands: Ecuador

This volcanic archipelago off the coast of Ecuador is world-renowned for its idyllic snorkeling spots and diverse array of wildlife (including the always delightful blue-footed boobies, pictured).

Petra, Jordan

The ancient city of Petra may be renowned for the buildings carved directly into the sides of cliffs, but its real claim to fame is being the (fictional) home of the Holy Grail.

Ned’s tip: For the best of the best in Jordan, pamper yourself at the 5 star Hotel Le Royal – Amman.

Keukenhof Park, Holland: The Netherlands

Holland is known around the world for its rainbow-hued fields of tulips, especially those located in and around Keukenhof. Millions of bulbs are planted in the park each year—visit in mid-April to see the flowers during their peak season.

Machu Picchu: Peru

Machu Picchu’s panoramic views and intricate (and a tad mysterious) stone walls more than validate the site’s worldwide fame.

The Great Barrier Reef: Queensland, Australia

Although the largest living thing on Earth can be seen from space, the best vantage point belongs to the avid snorkelers and scuba divers who visit each year.

Moravian Fields: Czech Republic

It’s more believable to think the Moravian Fields are the product of an oil painter’s genius brushstrokes, but these pastel-colored hills are very much a reality.

Socotra, Yemen

Socotra kind of looks like it was transported to Earth from a distant planet. The UFO-like dragon’s blood trees are the island’s most notable feature.

Bagan (formerly Pagan): Myanmar

Bagan’s ancient city skyline is like nothing else in the world, with ochre stupas and temples rising above the surrounding forests.

Lavender fields: Provence, France

The seemingly endless stretches of lavender fields make Provence one of the prettiest (and best-smelling) places in France.

Oia: Santorini, Greece

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Santorini is officially one of the best islands in the world—and one of the most picturesque. The small village of Oia is particularly captivating, with its whitewashed buildings and bright blue roofs.

Slope Point: South Island, New Zealand

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The next time you want to complain about the wind messing up your hair, just consider the trees of Slope Point, which have been permanently twisted and windblown by intense Antarctic gusts.

Lake Louise: Alberta, Canada

As is the case with most glacial lakes, Lake Louise is surrounded by rugged mountains and filled with clear, vibrant water.

Valle de Cocora: Quindío, Colombia

In case you were wondering where to find the world’s tallest palm trees (palma de cera), you needn’t look further. The lithe trees are even more incredible set against the backdrop of misty green hills and sharp mountains.

Pamukkale: Denizli, Turkey

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The stacked pools in Pamukkale are usually surrounded by snow and frozen waterfalls, but the blue waters are hot and open to bathers. You’ll never be satisfied with your hotel’s infinity pool again.

Torres del Paine National Park: Patagonia, Chile

Torres del Paine is like a microcosm of all the things that make Patagonia such a spectacular place: sky-high mountains, blue icebergs, and mythical lakes.

Wulingyuan Scenic Area: Zhangjiajie, China

Scenic might be an understatement in this case. This 100-square-mile attraction contains thousands of sandstone pillars that are nature’s version of skyscrapers—some even stretch taller than the Empire State Building’s midpoint.

Angkor Wat: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Some popular tourist attractions are worth braving the potential crowds for, and Angkor Wat is at the top of that list. No matter how many Asian temples you’ve seen, this one will always be the grandest and most breathtaking.

Redwood National Park: California

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Standing in the middle of California’s Redwood National Park is a humbling experience to be sure, especially when you look straight up at the 2,000-year-old, 300-feet-tall natural giants.

Na’Pali Coast: Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai boasts one of the world’s most insanely beautiful coastlines, which makes you work a bit to soak up its wonders—Na’Pali can only be seen from a helicopter, catamaran, or rather grueling hike.

Halong Bay: Vietnam

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Halong Bay, located in northeast Vietnam, is beloved for its blue waters and spread of limestone islands, all occupied by tropical trees and wildlife.

Painted Cliffs: Maria Island, Tasmania

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Tasmania’s Maria Island is a motherlode of fascinating geology, including the swirling, Triassic-era limestone of the Painted Cliffs.

Jodhpur (“Blue City”): Rajasthan, India

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Jodhpur is an ancient city with plenty to offer modern travellers, like bustling bazaars, incense-scented air, and delightfully Smurf-like buildings as far as you can see.

 

 

The Best Hikes in the World

Conde Nast Traveler have rounded up 13 of the best hiking trails around the world perfect for your next adventure. Time to lace up your boots and hit the trail…

(All the beautiful images are from Getty.)


West Coast Trail

The 47-mile West Coast Trail was created in 1906 to save shipwreck survivors along the rocky west coast of Vancouver Island. Now, the trail, open for hiking May 1 through September 30, is so popular it even has its own reservation system.

Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail is the only way to access this rugged section of Kauai‘s coastline. Those who make the 11-mile hike are rewarded with access to the secluded Kalalau Beach.

Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc covers more than 100 miles and passes through three countries: Switzerland, Italy, and France. (The circuit is also home to the ultra-marathon event, Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, where the winner usually finishes in about 20 hours.)

Sentiero Azzuro

Everyone knows Cinque Terre for its stunning views and quaint seaside villages, but it’s also home to the Sentiero Azzuro (or literally “Blue Trail”) that connects the villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.

Appalachian Trail

The 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia all the way to Maine, crossing through 14 states. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee (pictured here) is home to 71 miles of trail.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Even though it’s more than 19,000-feet tall, Mount Kilimanjaro is billed as the “world’s tallest walkable mountain,” and with good reason—the peak requires no technical mountaineering skills to summit.

Torres del Paine

Chile’s Torres del Paine might be one of the world’s most popular trekking destinations, but it still earns a spot on our list for its icy glaciers, snow-covered mountains, crystalline lakes, and beautiful valleys. The ultra-ambitious can hike the Full Circuit—crossing the entire park—in nine days.

Bibbulmun Track

The Bibbulmun Track stretches for more than 600 miles along Western Australia‘s coast. The track, known for its mellow terrain, is particularly beautiful during autumn.

The Narrows

The Narrows trail follows the Virgin River for 16 miles through southwestern Utah’s breathtaking Zion Canyon. You’ll get wet, sure, but we think you’ll agree—it’s worth it.

El Choro Inca Trail

While Machu Picchu Inca Trail gets most of the glory in South America, savvy travelers have started seeking out less-touristed routes. The four-day El Choro trek traverses a 15,000-foot pass.

Santa Cruz Trek

The 30-mile Santa Cruz trek is one of the most popular routes in the Peruvian Andes. Beginning in the charming Peruvian town of Huaraz, the trek crosses the 15,580-foot Punta Union Pass.

Tongariro Northern Circuit

The Tongariro Northern Circuit encircles Mount Ngauruhoe, New Zealand’s most active volcano. In addition to craters and lava pits, hikers can also take in the scenic Emerald Lakes.

Israel National Trail

The Israel National Trail winds its way 600 miles across Israel, from the Lebanese border all the way to the Red Sea in the south, passing through ancient Roman ruins (pictured) and Judean Mountains in the process.

 

The hauntingly beautiful abandoned buildings where time stands still

Eerie pictures taken by a French photographer showing decaying kitchens, derelict churches and stately manors being reclaimed by nature, have been stunningly captured in a beautiful Daily Mail Travel article I just had to include.   – Ned


These eerily beautiful images of abandoned places are the work of a fearless photographer who is travelling the world to capture stunning scenes inside derelict buildings. 

Romain Veillon, from Paris, has travelled across Europe and to countries in Africa and South America to photograph derelict buildings: everything from decaying houses, and decommissioned trains to abandoned casinos and empty prisons. The 32-year-old Parisian’s mesmerising pictures are featured in his first hardcover book, called Ask the Dust.

The urban explorer said he has been impressed by derelict places since he was a child, when he played in abandoned buildings near his grandparents’ houses.

Veillon told MailOnline Travel: ‘I always loved to go there and try to imagine what could have been their stories and how people used to live and work there.

‘With time I decided to try to capture the spirit and timeless atmosphere we can experience there, to show how time has stopped there and how decay and nature slowly take back possession of it.’

Veillon’s photos are featured in his first hardcover book, called Ask the Dust, and he hopes to visit abandoned buildings in Asia soon to add to his collection. He is highly secretive when it comes to the buildings he has photographed, choosing not to reveal most of the exact locations because he fears they would be ‘trashed’ by vandals.

Romain Veillon, from Paris, has travelled around the world to take photos of abandoned buildings, including this house in Belgium

Romain Veillon, from Paris, has travelled around the world to take photos of abandoned buildings, including this house in Belgium

The 32-year-old urban explorer snapped this image of a staircase in a crumbling building during his travels through Portugal

The 32-year-old urban explorer snapped this image of a staircase in a crumbling building during his travels through Portugal

While he visited Poland, Veillon toured an abandoned building where he took this photo of a dusty piano that has partially toppled over

While he visited Poland, Veillon toured an abandoned building where he took this photo of a dusty piano that has partially toppled over

In this old home in France, the ceiling and walls have started to fall apart and cave in, leaving debris all over the beds and floor 

In this old home in France, the ceiling and walls have started to fall apart and cave in, leaving debris all over the beds and floor

Veillon snapped photos of several abandoned buildings when he visited Romania, including this church that no longer has a roof

Veillon snapped photos of several abandoned buildings when he visited Romania, including this church that no longer has a roof

Although most of his photos were taken in European countries, Veillon has visited Namibia and Argentina (pictured: an estate in Italy)

Although most of his photos were taken in European countries, Veillon has visited Namibia and Argentina (pictured: an estate in Italy)

Although some visitors might find it creepy, this abandoned church in France was a peaceful location to photograph, said Veillon

Although some visitors might find it creepy, this abandoned church in France was a peaceful location to photograph, said Veillon

Impressive paintings adorn the crumbling walls of this property in Italy. Veillon prefers not to disclose the exact location of his photos

Impressive paintings adorn the crumbling walls of this property in Italy. Veillon prefers not to disclose the exact location of his photos

Veillon said he chooses to keep the locations a secret so they aren't ruined by vandals (pictured: a grand estate in France)

Veillon said he chooses to keep the locations a secret so they aren’t ruined by vandals (pictured: a grand estate in France)

Once a stately manor, this abandoned property in Scotland - with a fireplace and wood-panelled walls - has been reclaimed by nature

Once a stately manor, this abandoned property in Scotland – with a fireplace and wood-panelled walls – has been reclaimed by nature

Many of Veillon's photos have been taken in France, including this one at an abandoned building that is being overtaken by vines

Many of Veillon’s photos have been taken in France, including this one at an abandoned building that is being overtaken by vines

An old pram and wardrobe were left behind in this decaying house, which was photographed by Veillon during his time in Italy

An old pram and wardrobe were left behind in this decaying house, which was photographed by Veillon during his time in Italy

Veillon took this shot when he visited the derelict amphitheatre at the UFO-shaped Buzludzha Monument in Bulgaria

Veillon took this shot when he visited the derelict amphitheatre at the UFO-shaped Buzludzha Monument in Bulgaria

Veillon's work includes everything from photos of this abandoned house in Italy to decommissioned trains and a derelict casino 

Veillon’s work includes everything from photos of this abandoned house in Italy to decommissioned trains and a derelict casino

Vegetation has taken over this abandoned conservatory at a property in Belgium. Veillon's new book is called Ask the Dust

Vegetation has taken over this abandoned conservatory at a property in Belgium. Veillon’s new book is called Ask the Dust

10 Places Telling Tourists to Stay Home

Tourism can provide an incredible economic boost, sure, but some locales say it can also be harmful to the environment and negatively impact local populations. With such considerations in mind, several destinations around the world have proposed—or put into place—measures restricting the annual number of visitors.  Thanks to CN Traveler for this info.


Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

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A picturesque group of five villages along the Ligurian Sea, Cinque Terre is one of Italy’s most popular sites. Italian officials, however, have recently announced their plans to cap the number of people who are allowed to visit, citing environmental concerns. Though 2.5 million travelers visited Cinque Terre in 2015, the number will be restricted to 1.5 million per year going forward.

Barcelona

Barcelona Gaudi

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Barcelona mayor Ada Colau made headlines in June 2015 when she discussed implementing an entry cap on the Spanish city. In order to keep Barcelona from reaching its “saturation limit,” Colau’s administration is developing plans to balance the tourism sector’s interests with those of local residents; potentially putting a city-wide freeze on the development of new hotels and creating a preventative policy before things “get out of hand.”

Bhutan

Himalayas Bhutan

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High on the Himalayas’ eastern edge, the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan prides itself on “low volume, high-value” tourism. All foreign visitors—except those holding Indian, Maldivian, or Bangladeshi passports—must get a visa and book their holiday through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator. Visitors must also pay, in advance, the “minimum daily package” (either $200 or $250 a day, depending on the month) set by the Royal Government of Bhutan, via money transfer to the Tourism Council of Bhutan. This fee covers your accommodation, all meals, guides, internal transport, and a sustainable tourism royalty that goes toward free education, health care, and poverty alleviation. Only 133,480 international and regional tourists visited Bhutan in 2014.

Iceland

Iceland's beauty

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Roughly 970,000 people visited Iceland in 2014—three times the country’s population, and a 24 percent increase over 2013. The trend continues: As of May 2015, the number of visitors had increased 76 percent over the same period in 2014. Currently, the Icelandic Tourist Board and the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre are researching how “full” a site can get before detracting from the experience. “We have to realize that we can’t just build up natural sites endlessly,” Ólöf Ýrr Atladóttir, director general of the Icelandic Tourist Board, said in 2014. “We can’t just endlessly receive more and more people at any particular tourist site and live under the assumption that we are offering the type of experience that people have paid for.”

Galápagos Islands

Galapagos Islands

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Some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, these 19 islands—which inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution—host approximately 9,000 species on land and in their surrounding waters. By 2007, residents and tourists had put such a burden on the ecosystems that the United Nations listed the destination as an endangered heritage site. Today, 97 percent of the land area is designated as part of the national park, and tourism is carefully monitored so that there is no further impact on the islands’ health or wildlife. Tourists can only travel to specific visitor sites, and must adhere to these 14 rules, including accompaniment by a licensed Galápagos National Park Guide. The U.N. removed the Galápagos from its “in danger” list in 2010.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

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Although visitors were once allowed to wander this 15th-century site freely, new measures encouraged by UNESCO are intended to clamp down on the number of tourists visiting one of Peru’s premier destinations. As part of a $43.7-million reconceptualization expected to be completed by 2019, all foreign visitors will have to hire a guide, follow one of three designated routes through the complex, and be subjected to time limits in order to prevent bottlenecking. In 2014, some 1.2 million tourists visited the 12-acre Incan citadel, surpassing the daily limit of 2,500 agreed to by Peru and UNESCO. The ancient site was added to UNESCO’s “endangered” list in January 2016.

Lord Howe Island

Lord Howe Island

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Located 370 miles off mainland Australia, this seven-square-mile island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982 for its rare flora, fauna, and marine life. In surrounding waters, there are more than 400 species of fish and 90 species of coral. Also considered one of the cleanest places on Earth, approximately 75 percent of the island’s original vegetation remains undisturbed. With just 350 full-time residents and a limit of 400 visitors on the island at any given time, there are ample spaces to call your own.

Antarctica

Antarctica

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By 2009, a surge in visits led to a ratification of the Antarctic Treaty. Among other things, signatories agreed to barring cruise ships with more than 500 passengers from landing sites; restricting landings to one vessel at a time (per site); and limiting passengers on shore to 100 at a time. Today, visitors to the pristine environment must travel through operators and organizers who have been approved by their appropriate national authorities, and can expect that their time—whether on shore or simply sailing by—will be strictly monitored.

The Seychelles

Seychelles

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An archipelago of 115 islands off the East African coast, the Seychelles have become massively popular for both “regular” tourists and royalty—yes, this is where William and Kate spent their honeymoon. Though tourism is the Seychelles’ biggest industry, its minister of tourism and culture, Alain St. Ange, said in April 2015 that work is underway to curb the number of annual visitors in order to protect its future. “We don’t want to demean the value of the Seychelles. We’re reaching 250,000 people, six times the number of people who live there.”

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

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With mounting calls to reduce the number of teams and climbers attempting to summit the world’s highest peak, the Nepalese government had taken steps in the right direction before the 2015 climbing season was officially shuttered following the Nepal earthquake. Among the measures were an increased fee for foreign climbers from $10,000 to $11,000, and the establishment of a liaison office at base camp to verify experience, health, and climbing conditions. Next up? An emphasis on forming smaller climbing teams so that “traffic jams” up the routes can be avoided.

 

 

Africa: so close, yet so far away…

From Mail Travel

Holidays in Africa with Mail Travel

Think of a holiday in Africa and, although geography tells you it’s merely a few hours away on a plane, it still seems like a world away.

From what we know of it, from what we see in guide books, watch on the television and read about in glossy travel mags and shiny new travel websites like yours truly, where else in the world could be more different to the UK than mighty Africa? It’s a tropical paradise – the land of contrasts, of exotic pleasures and thrilling charms.

Rwanda Gorilla

Mountain Gorilla

You’re completely right of course – there is nowhere like Africa. Utterly stirring, magnificently beautiful and thoroughly unique. Africa is a travellers dream.Adventure and excitement are never far away in Africa. Spot wild elephants, lions and giraffe on safari; relax on paradisal islands like Cape Verde, Seychelles and Mauritius; or explore 5,000 years of history in Egypt: whatever kind of holiday you choose in Africa, this vast and mysterious continent promises to transport you to new and inspiring worlds.With complex tribal groups, ancient civilisations, overflowing cities and over 1,000 languages spoken, the continent of Africa is a cultural feast. Its natural wonders are just as diverse, from rich game reserves and towering desert dunes to steamy jungle, high mountains, crashing waterfalls and the world’s longest river.

Sharm El Sheikh

Sharm El Sheikh

Beach holidays in Africa generally centre around the spectacular reef-filled waters of the Red Sea or on the Mediterranean or Atlantic coasts of North Africa. Predominantly the Red Sea has quickly become a favourite amongst British tourists, its temperate year-round climate, dramatic mountainous landscapes, prolific underwater life and range of quality hotels making it popular with watersports enthusiasts and holiday-makers alike.Day trips to Egypt’s iconic sights in Cairo and Luxor are also available from many Red Sea resorts, making these an ideal base from which to combine culture and relaxation.
In Morocco, Agadir, located on the Atlantic coast, is probably the best known of the country’s seaside resorts and offers visitors extensive sandy beaches and a taste of modern Morocco. Not far up the road, pretty Essaouira is a charming town known for it’s fleet of bright blue fishing boats and the fresh catch they deliver daily.Ironically the main draw of exploring Africa, as a holiday destination, is the very same thing cited as its fundamental drawback. The continent of Africa is huge and not always easily navigated – with a breadth of attractions that include wildlife safaris, beaches, modern cities alongside traditional villages and a vibrant cultural scene; so naturally, it can be difficult to know where to start!One way around this is to opt for an escorted tour to this most fascinating of destinations. Thus taking all the stress out of planning your itinerary – and travelling with a knowledgeable, English-speaking guide – meaning you won’t miss out on the best Africa has to offer.Alternatively you might prefer to discover the incredible contrasts of Africa in comfort and style on an ocean cruise.

The Sphinx

The Sphinx, Egypt

Whether it’s Egypt and the remains of its ancient civilisation, or South Africa with its abundance of wildlife, our selection of cruises offers the absolute best of what this expansive continent has to offer, paired with unrivalled service and top-notch on-board facilities! It’s certainly a different and more measured approach to exploring Africa but, for many, it’s the perfect solution to their only qualms.The mighty Nile is one of the world’s best-known rivers, and is key to Africa’s culture and economy. Discover fascinating remains of Ancient Egypt on a Nile Cruise, which takes in many of the key sights including Luxor and Karnak Temples, the Valley of the Kings and the Colossi of Memnon. The Nile itself exudes an almost magical atmosphere, and the many views that can be enjoyed along its length – sunset over mountain ranges, felucca sailing past, children playing along the banks – make this a truly unforgettable experience.It’s difficult to convey the raw magic and rousing soul that pulses through Africa. Bubbling under its surface is an energy and a passion that has to be experienced to be believed. Travel in Africa and you won’t just see something new, you’ll feel it too.Travel Africa with Mail Travel.


Ned’s tips: When you’re in Morocco, take time to visit the magical port of Tangier.  Reminiscent of the bygone era of Hollywood, the sumptuous hotel El Minzah will whisk you back in time to Casablanca’s heyday, and lovers of Matisse will enjoy his favourite inspiration the Grand Hotel Villa de France; and for the best time in Sharm spend a few days at Le Royal Sharm el Sheikh Resort, – all part of Sir Nadhmi Auchi’s wonderful Le Royal Hotels & Resorts

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn’t Know Existed

More gorgeousness from at Thrillist Travel.

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Iguassu Falls | Curioso/Shutterstock

Anyone who’s watched more than two episodes of The Twilight Zone — or read the angry comments when we named the most beautiful place in every state — knows that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Undaunted, we proceeded to tell you about all the beautiful places you didn’t know existed in California and New York and even in Nevada, because believe it or not, there actually is beauty there outside of a strip club.

But enough about America, there’s a whole big world out there; and it’s full of stunning scenery that you’ve probably never laid eyes on — until now. Here are 20 of the most spectacular places on the planet.

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Abraham Lake

Alberta, Canada
Ever wonder what happens when freezing water traps methane bubbles created by bacteria feeding off dead matter on the sea bottom? Welcome to Abraham Lake. Here, those bubbles of methane (undetectable in your standard, non-frozen lake) create pockets that resemble millions of orbs trapped in the ice. Just don’t light up while you’re snowmobiling; if the ice cracks and those bubbles burst, methane is highly flammable.

Abraham Lake

LaiQuocAnh/Shutterstock

Cueva de los Cristales

Chihuahua, Mexico
Don’t feel bad for not knowing about this “Cave of Crystals” — until 2000, nobody had heard of it. That year, two brothers mining for silver drilled here and accidentally uncovered an epic cavern filled with translucent, 30ft crystals, some of which are nearly half-a-million years old. If you can stomach a 20-minute van ride through a mine shaft, you’ll be greeted by triple-digit temperatures and 90% humidity thanks to the magma field that flows a mile under your feet.

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Flickr/Julierohloff

Dean’s Blue Hole

Long Island, Bahamas
There are some spectacular beaches in the Caribbean. And some other-world crazy cenotes in Mexico. Dean’s Blue Hole combines the two — albeit underwater — and is the largest blue hole in world. Although honestly, the white sand beach and limestone walls that surround the hole could make this list as well, they’re equally as stunning. That said, descend past the initial 60ft bottleneck and Dean’s Blue Hole opens into one of the largest underwater cenotes in the world, complete with turquoise water, seahorses, and tropical fish (it’s a hotspot for tarpon and snapper). Clear visibility and no current make it a place as scenic below the surface as above.

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Crystal Mill

Marble, CO
OK, OK, so we couldn’t resist throwing at least one US spot on the list. About an hour outside of Aspen, and an eight-hour hike from the nearest road, there’s a ghost town at the base of the Rocky Mountains. And the lone remnant of that ghost town is this old mill. If you visit in the fall, the combination of golden leaves, blue sky, and white snowcapped peaks might be the most unexpectedly beautiful vista in the American West.

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Laura grier

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Iguazu Falls

Misiones Province, Argentina
Iguazu Falls aren’t that obscure, but they’re probably just another one on your mental list of big waterfalls to visit some day, up there with Niagara and Victoria. Which sells them WAY short. This isn’t so much a waterfall but a venerable city of waterfalls — 250 of them stretching nearly two miles — that dumps 53,000 cubic feet of water PER SECOND. Throw in the fact that they’re located in a gorgeous South American rainforest, and you’ve pretty much got one of the most impressive feats of nature on the planet.

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Aleksei Sarkisov/Shutterstock

Lençóis Maranhenses

Maranhao, Brazil
The name literally means “bedsheets of Maranhao,” the state in Northeastern Brazil where these coastal dunes sway over 600 square miles of shoreline. The dunes are formed when the Parnaíba and Preguiças Rivers bring sand from the country’s interior to the ocean, and then the ocean currents — aided by northeasterly winds that blow inland — send that sand back to the shore. Though the area might look like a desert, temporary lagoons spring up in between the dunes during rainy season and often double as exceptional fishing holes.

Cavernas de Marmol (Marble Cathedral)

Lake General Carrera, Chile
What happens when you take a Patagonian peninsula made completely of marble and surround it with a massive glacial lake? Weird, swirling marble caves that change color, that’s what! These only-accessible-by-boat caves near the Chile-Argentina border reflect the color of the water that flows through them, shining turquoise in the spring and deep blue in the summer. The reflections also change the appearance of the patterns in the marble; meaning, if you visit the caves at different times of year you’ll have a completely different experience. Then again, after the 1,000-mile drive from Santiago and lengthy boat ride, once might be enough.

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Wata51/Shutterstock

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Forest of Knives (Tsingy Forest)

Madagascar
The name might sound like the setting for Halloween 12: Michael Does Madagascar but the surreal beauty of this limestone forest is anything but horror-inducing. Quite the opposite. Here, slabs of rock stab upward 200ft in the air, mixing with trees to create a literal forest made of leaves and jagged peaks. Climbing here is the main attraction but be warned, it can be dangerous: slip and you could find yourself with a Ginsu-like gash.

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Seven-Coloured Earth of Chamarel

Chamarel, Mauritius
One of the problems with rainbows, other than the fact that there’s never a pot of gold at the end of them, is that as soon as you try to Instagram one… POOF!… it’s gone. If only rainbows were made out of sand that could withstand thousands of years of rain and erosion. Well, guess what rainbow lovers, meet the Seven-Coloured Earth of Chamarel! These rainbow dunes in Mauritius are formed by sand of seven distinct colors — red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple, and yellow. Even cooler: pick the sand up, put it in a bottle, mix it up — eventually it’ll resettle into the same seven distinct layers. Every time.

Seven-Coloured Earth of Chamarel, Mauritius

Andrea Murphy

Deadvlei

Hardap, Namibia
It’s hard to believe when standing under an oppressive sun in the middle of 1,300ft-tall sand dunes that this valley was once a lush forest fed by the Tsauchab River. That, of course, was 900 years ago. Since then, the area has become so parched that the remaining trees didn’t even have enough water to decompose, and now sit as charred relics. Add rusted sand and a deep-blue sky, and this is one of the most colorfully desolate places on the planet.

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The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Deception Island

Antarctica
Hiking to the top of an active volcano is cool, but you know what’s really badass? Sailing into one. Tough to do in most places, but not Antarctica; this active volcano (which last erupted in 1992) in the South Shetland Islands has a horseshoe-shaped caldera, and ships can sail right up to its smoldering beaches. As you cruise around the volcanic bay, you’ll see both snow and ash covering the lava formations amidst the steam.

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Yongyut Kumsri/Shutterstock

Lemaire Channel

Antarctica
This seven-mile-long, mile-wide channel between the mountains on Booth Island and the Antarctic peninsula was originally nicknamed the “Kodak Channel” because it was so photogenic. Although today, it would probably be “Instagram Channel.” Either way, you want to catch it when the entrance isn’t blocked by ice and the boat can make the trip inside.

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The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Red Seabeach

Pinjin, China
Even if you don’t hit this wetland in September, when the seepweeds mature from green to bright red, the 16-mile marsh is still one of the most beautiful spots in China to glimpse birds and wildlife. But if you are there in September, you’re in for a treat. The red fields attract flocks of over 200 species of birds as they migrate from Asia to Australia, and you can nod approvingly at them all from wooden bridges built over the water.

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

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Sea of Stars

Vaadhoo Island, Maldives
There are more than a few bioluminescent bays in the world, where a species of phytoplankton known as dinoflagellates glow/illuminate the water when an influx of oxygen disturbs their cell membrane. This one on Vaadhoo Island in the Maldives stands out, however, because the bright-blue light appears to be reflecting the stars over this island.

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El Nido

Philippines
El Nido is classically known as the gateway to the Philippines’ Bacuit Archipelago and, according to (urban?) legend, was Alex Garland’s inspiration when he wrote The Beach. Although, yes, Leo’s adventure was set in Thailand, the limestone cliffs, bright-green foliage, and turquoise waters here apparently make it hard to distinguish between the two. Also, just so you know: a trip to El Nido requires a seven-hour bus ride.

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The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Lord Howe Island

Australia
There’s a reason you haven’t heard of this island 375 miles off New South Wales: there’s no cellphone coverage. Which means as beautiful as it is, nobody can go all selfie-stick/Instagram crazy while they’re there; they’re forced instead to do something novel like appreciate the wildlife. Wildlife that, because of the island’s perpetual isolation, includes birds, insects, and plant species that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

The island also sits near Earth’s most southerly coral reef, making for world-class diving and snorkeling. Which is even better considering you don’t have to share — only 400 visitors are allowed on the island at any given time.

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Homebush Bay

Sydney, Australia
An otherwise unremarkable residential bay in Sydney makes this list not for its water, but for the ship that sits near the coastline. Built during World War I, the SS Ayrfield ran supplies to American troops in the Pacific during World War II before an oil company bought it in the 1950s and stationed it in the middle of this bay. Then nature took over. Now, it’s a man-made island filled with trees and wildlife, and one of the most decrepitly beautiful sights in the world. A work of art almost unto itself.

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The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Chapel of Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe

Le Puy-en-Velay, France
Talk about wonders of the world; even with today’s technology, imagine how hard it would be to build ANYTHING on top of a small pointy rock? Now imagine building a stone cathedral in 962, without cranes, hydraulics, or anything other than actual people hauling stones up 268 stairs. Sounds fun, right? But the result is this beauty, built atop a basalt needle with a sweeping view of the city below.

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

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Crystal Cave at Skaftafell

Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland
Blue ice is more than just the GOOD ice pack the nurse gives you when you sprain your ankle. It’s a brilliant, aqua-colored geologic formation that results when air bubbles are compressed out of ice over time. And it is in abundance in this cave at Vatnajokull National Park. Don’t let the 22ft shoreline entryway fool you; the cave tapers down to as few as 4ft, and will crack and pop when you walk inside. That doesn’t mean it’s about to collapse, though; it’s just the sound of glacial movement against the volcanic island.

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Picos de Europas

Spain
While the Alps and the Pyrenees get all the attention, this tiny range near the northern coast of Spain is equally as beautiful. The range only stretches about 26 miles (and its highest peak, Macizo Central or Macizo de los Urrieles, is barely 8,000ft tall), but when it comes to skiing and snowshoeing away from the masses, it’s a tough location to beat. And thanks in part to an abundance of wildflowers and Spanish brown bears, it’s one of the prettiest places in Europe to spot exotic wildlife in the summer.

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Barbie challenges the ‘white saviour complex’

While this is not strictly a travel article, it runs very close to the subject and I found it a fascinating piece nonetheless.  I’ve worked in children’s charities in Tanzania and Costa Rica and this really got me thinking about the whole experience of volunteering abroad and what we expect to take out of it.

Thanks to the BBC and Barbie Savior on Instagram – check it out.      – Ned


Barbie in front of a blackboard

“Who needs a formal education to teach in Africa? Not me! All I need is some chalk and a dose of optimism.”

Barbie has ditched her riding gear, her ball gown and her ballerina costume and travelled to Africa to help the people there, while still managing to stay fashionable.

That is at least according to a much talked about Instagram account, Barbie Savior, which is charting her imaginary volunteer journey.

It starts with her saying farewell to her home in the US and wondering if the “sweet sweet orphans in the country of Africa” are going to love her the way she already loves them.

The satirical account encapsulates what some see as the white saviour complex, a modern version of Rudyard Kipling’s White Man’s Burden.

The 19th Century Kipling poem instructed colonialists to “Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease”. Today, Barbie Savior says she is going to love the orphans “who lack such an amazing Instagram community”.

Because of the history of slavery and colonialism, many people in Africa find such attitudes deeply patronising and offensive. Some argue that aid industry can be counter-productive, as it means African countries will continue to rely on outside help.

Barbie with a baby on her back

“At first, she was scared of my white skin… We are bound together by spirit and our humanity. And now, by cloth. I feel like mothering all of this country’s children.”

Barbie in front of a slum

“Just taking a #slumfie amidst this dire poverty and need. Feeling so #blessed and #thankful that I have so much more than this”

US-based Nigerian author Teju Cole described the complex in a 2012 essay as a belief that “a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike saviour, or at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied”.

The two American women behind Barbie Savior said that through their 10 years combined experience of volunteering, studying and working abroad they began to question what they once thought was right and good.

“From orphanage tourism, to blatant racism in [the] treatment of local residents, to trafficking children in the name of adoption – the list of errors never ends,” the two – who have chosen to remain anonymous – wrote in an email to the BBC.

They are not against all aid work and when asked about medical staff going to help the fight against Ebola, replied:

“We have seen short-term medical teams do amazing things, as well as act in inexcusable ways.”

They say that aid workers should act in the same way they would back home.

“For example, nurses in America are not allowed to take Instagram photos of their patients and post emotionally captivating blurbs about how tragic their life is.”

They note that in the US, and other Western countries “it was decided that a person’s privacy is more valuable than the need of the caretaker to have an emotional outlet” and the same standards should apply in Africa.

“As a Westerner coming into a developing country, whether to live or visit, you must be aware of the privilege your skin colour affords you,” they argued.

And they want people to “stop treating ‘third world countries’ as a playground for us to learn and gain real life experience from”.

Barbie with an Africa tatoo

“Only hours after landing I knew that I needed no more time to make a permanent, life-long decision. One week later, I committed.”

There are plenty of opportunities for Westerners to work abroad, from long-term placements with established NGOs to the growing market for the short-term “voluntourism” experience.

According to a 2008 estimate, 1.6 million volunteer tourists spent around $2bn globally.

On the GoAbroad.com site, which pulls together volunteering opportunities, there are more than 1,600 programmes in Africa alone.

One of the organisations featured is African Impact which says in its publicity that volunteering is not only about the “skills that volunteers bring, but also about what this magnificent continent, its warm people and amazing wildlife can give volunteers in return”.

It sends volunteers to work in health, education and conservation projects across southern and east Africa, and in 2016 it is recruiting around 2,500 people.

African Impact managing director Greg Bows says that out of naivety some volunteers they get do come believing they can solve a country’s problems – though one of its slogans encouraging people to sign up is “let’s save Africa’s wildlife”.

But Mr Bows adds that he is now using some of the Barbie Savior pictures during the induction process to disabuse new volunteers of those ideas.

Barbie Savior’s creators take particular issue with unqualified people doing jobs that they would never be allowed to do at home.

African Impact’s publicity for a position helping at a school in Zambia, says “you do not have to be a qualified teacher to be a volunteer”, but Mr Bows points out that none of his volunteers teach whole classes, rather they can provide vital one-to-one support.

Barbie by the pool

“Even amongst this devastation and poverty, amongst so much need… A girl’s gotta relax from time to time!”

He says that local guidelines are observed and argues that in general, as long as the limitations are accepted, volunteering can make a difference.

He does acknowledge though that there are organisations that do not have the same standards as African Impact and that for him Barbie Savior highlights the need for regulation in the industry.

But for critics this goes beyond the sphere of volunteering, and Barbie Savior’s creators say they are trying to tackle not just the attitudes but the damage that they can cause.

Kenyan writer and development consultant Ciku Kimeria says that “the development sector today is still chock-full of examples of benevolent and sometimes not-so-benevolent paternalistic attitudes from the West”, and she draws a link with the colonial mindset.

She says that this can sometimes lead to people with an “average undergraduate education and a lack of development experience… getting to chair meetings of local experts with decades of experience”.

Barbie doll in front of a hut

“The people living in the country of Africa are some of the most beautiful humans I have ever laid eyes on. I feel so insignificant next to my new friend Promise.”

She has come across some development workers who “are very uneasy with me and other Africans who don’t fit into the mould of what they were told about African people.

“They do not know what to make of Africans who are better educated than them, more articulate than them, well-read, knowledgeable about the world and so on.”

Ms Kimeria says aid work and volunteering can work as long as some basic points are observed.

Firstly, that people are aware that they are coming not to “save Africa” but to help out locals who are already doing the work.

Secondly, they need to acknowledge the privilege that they come with.

And thirdly, they need to know the real place they are visiting, not the place they imagined back home.

Two Barbie dolls dancing

Image caption “Learning to dance like a native. May the movement of my hips be as intense as the belief I have in myself!”

Barbie Savior’s creators are not intending to offer solutions themselves, but what they are happy about is that the Instagram account has sparked discussions and raised awareness about the white saviour complex.

But is Barbie Savior herself listening?

As she puts it: “I have noticed people informing me that Africa is a continent and not a country. I hope you can forgive my mistake. I have so much to learn.

“But I do know one thing for certain, and that is that my love for this place is bigger than any country! Even bigger than the country of Africa!”

 

 

Live the Jungle Book lifestyle with these spectacular treehouses

Stunning photography of even more stunning places to visit from Mail Online – I just had to just copy and paste this one!   – Ned


If there was ever a time to book into a spectacular treehouse and spend the night close to nature, now could be it – as Disney’s Jungle Book has hit the screens.

If you are craving a night with just the bare necessities, there are plenty of simple retreats offering guests the chance to fall asleep in nature’s arms. But there are also some more lavish options for those looking for something more comfortable.

Here MailOnline Travel shares some of the most incredible boutique treehouses around the world – perfect for living like Mowgli for the night.

The Jungle Book is out now, and tells the story of Mowgli, who is raised by wolves and is friends with Bagheera and Baloo the bear

The Jungle Book is out now, and tells the story of Mowgli, who is raised by wolves and is friends with Bagheera and Baloo the bear

If you are craving a night with just the bare necessities like Mowgli, there are simple retreats offering guests the chance to fall asleep in nature's arms.And for those who prefer luxury breaks in the woods, there are plenty of breathtaking options available

Watamu Guest House, Watamu, Kenya 

The stunning Watamu Treehouse has three bedrooms which all boast ensuite bathrooms, and guests can check in on a self-catering or full-board basis

Nestled high in the trees on a breathtaking stretch of Watamu beach in Kenya is the Watamu Treehouse.

The white, unusually-designed property looks like something from a fairytale, with its thatched roofs, mosaic glass inside and panoramic views of the Indian Ocean.

The stunning Watamu Treehouse has three bedrooms which all boast ensuite bathrooms, and guests can check in on a self-catering or full-board basis.

Prices for the paradisal retreat don’t come cheap at £253 per night on TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, but it could be worth it for the views alone.

The Buckland, Atlanta, US

Peter and Katie Bahouth bought the land in 2000 and spent six months designing and building the fairytale retreat, which they now rent out

Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the interior with natural light, while pretty fairy lights and swishy curtains add a dash of romance to the scheme

If you’ve ever dreamed of a fairytale treehouse, complete with twinkling lights and romantic bridges, it probably looks a lot like this.

The Buckland retreat, nestled in pristine woodland in the heart of Atlanta, is listed on Airbnb for around £255 per night, and it even comes with Wi-Fi.

Set amid the branches of a 150-year-old Southern Short-Leaf Pine tree, the enchanting treehouse is the handywork of creative couple Peter and Katie Bahouth, and consists of three separate rooms that are connected by rope bridges strewn with fairy lights.

The cosy living room is decked out with a masterful blend of beautiful antiques and up-cycled furniture, including a chandelier to add a touch ofglamour to the scheme, and an 80-year-old butterfly window.

Keemala, Thailand 

Keemala is a small wellness-focused resort in the woodlands just outside the village and beach of Kamala on the island of Phuket

The bauble-shaped treehouses, one of four types of dwelling, loosely resemble James Cameron's Pandora from the blockbuster film Avatar

So close yet so far from the parties of Patong on Thailand’s biggest island, developers aimed for Keemala to be the epitome of serenity.

The hotel is a small wellness-focused resort in the woodlands just outside the village and beach of Kamala, on the west coast of the island, and opened in September of last year.

Small Luxury Hotels of the World says the tranquil setting of the resort will ‘encourage guests to rebalance, rejuvenate and relax’ among the trees, streams and waterfalls seamlessly added to enhance the natural landscape.

The resort’s 38 pool villas come in in four separate styles – clay and straw cottages, tent villas, treehouses and bird’s nest villas – with each one representing a clan of fictitious early Phuket settlers.

Treehouse Point, Washington

If you are looking for some rest and relaxation, TreeHouse Point, Washington, could be the perfect escape.

The utopia, which was constructed in 2006, features a number of treehouse options, the largest of which features leather reading chairs, a queen-sized bed and two singles, hand-made quilts, a writing desk, bookcases and large hammocks, all for around $330 (£234) per night, plus tax.

What makes it even more perfect are the ways you access the treehouses. Guests have to travel across a swinging rope bridge or ascend a ladder to reach the forest paradises.

Montaña Mágica Lodge, Chile 

The bar and restaurant inside are just as beautiful as the exterior, with its all-natural wood and stone decor

The southern Andes is home to the spectacular Montaña Mágica Lodge, a luxury hotel in the heart of Patagonia’s 300,000-acre Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve that has a spectacular waterfall cascading down one side.

Looking as though it’s been plucked straight out of a fantasy film, the hotel is made completely out of wood and stone, and would no doubt be at home as a background set for The Hobbit.

The retreat, in Los Rios, is accessible only by foot and intrepid guests must brave a swinging rope bridge to enter it.

Free Spirit Spheres – Vancouver Island, Canada 

These magical circular treehouses are suspended in the forest canopy and reached by guests via bridged walkways.

And since they move in a slow rocking motion when the wind blows, the experience of sleeping in a sphere is unique to each individual.

There are four different spherical rooms in all at the Free Spirit Spheres, Vancouver Island, Canada, and each can comfortably sleep an adult couple, though amenities are relatively limited inside.

Rates start at CAD$160 (£84) for one night in the smallest of the four.

Lion Sands Game Reserve, South Africa 

There can be few more spine-tingling ways of seeing lions, leopards and elephants in their natural habitat than from a lavish treehouse.

These amazing pictures show how one particular hotel allows its guests to gaze across a private reserve near the Kruger National Park in five-star luxury, with a four-poster bed, sofa and dining table installed on the decking.

Located in the exclusive Sabi Sand Reserve, it’s truly the ultimate exotic escape, with guests taken to the treehouse at sunset, where a picnic awaits them.

What’s more, they aren’t just treated to the sights and sounds of Africa’s wildlife. Lion Sands Game Reserve, which operates several ‘bush bedrooms’, promises that if you look up there are stars so great in number ‘they’re impossible to count’.

Prices are available from £590 per night.

Teahouse Tetsu, Japan 

Enchanting: The utterly charming Teahouse Tetsu was built by architect Terunobu Fujimori for the Kiyoharu Shirakaba Museum in Hokuto, Japan

Perhaps the most picturesque of all treehouses is the stunning Teahouse Tetsu at the Kiyoharu Shirakaba Museum in the Japanese city of Hokuto.

Perched atop a cypress base in a gorgeous grove of pink-petalled cherry trees, the Terunobu Fujimori-designed teahouse looks as if it sprang direct from the imagination of Hans Christian Andersen and even has a fairytale-style crooked chimney.

Sadly guests can only visit the treehouse and not spend the night in it.

Treehouses at Center Parcs, Longleat Forest

They feature four en-suite bedrooms, an open plan kitchen, dining and living area, a separate games den (accessed along a timber walkway) and a private hot tub

Many opt for a holiday at Center Parcs to enjoy cycling around the woodlands, the wealth of activities and dining options – but now you can have the full forest experience by staying in one of the picturesque treehouses.

In Longleat Forest there are three luxury, two-storey options, nestled in a quiet corner of the 400 acres of woodland.

They feature four en-suite bedrooms, an open plan kitchen, dining and living area, a separate games den (accessed along a timber walkway) and a private hot tub.

Prices start from £349 and can be booked on the website.

Tsala Treetop Lodge, South Africa 

When it’s time to eat, guests dine in a glass-walled dining room or on a suspended deck where they can take in the views

Holidaymakers who want to revisit the days when they climbed trees as a child can do one better at this luxurious hotel in the wilds of South Africa.

Tsala lodge is set high in the treetops with rustic suites and villas complete with fireplaces, spa bathrooms and infinity pools on private decks, where guests can admire spectacular vistas of a lush forest.

Offering a unique take on a room with a view, the wood and stone treehouses boast high ceilings, kitchenettes and outdoor showers in a peaceful location between the coastal towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.

Châteaux dans les Arbres, France 

Outside on the terrace is a hot tub for two and a personal chef is on hand to create a delicious supper to complete the romantic evening

Perched among the branches in a rural spot near Bergerac is a unique treehouse, complete with four fairytale turrets and all built out of wood.

The cosy interior of Châteaux dans les Arbres (Castle in the Trees) includes a double bed with a stained-glass window above, an electric heater for chilly evenings and a coffee machine for a morning pick-me-up.

Outside on the terrace is a hot tub for two and a personal chef is on hand to create a delicious supper to complete the romantic evening.

Pura Vida Eco lodge & Retreat, Province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica 

If you are looking for pampering, you may wish to opt for Pura Vida Ecolodge, an ‘eco-luxury’ retreat nestled amongst virgin rain forest in Central America’s Costa Rica.

This peaceful accommodation sleeps seven over its two bedrooms, and is listed as promoting a ‘sustainable lifestyle.’ The modern ecolodge, which comes with use of  an infinity-edge plunge pool with forest views, is set up with rain water catchment and has solar panels.

According to TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, ‘the most magical times are the early mornings and late afternoons where you can sit back with a freshly made juice or a glass of wine and be a spectator of nature with monkeys, parrots and toucans all frequently visiting the lodge and its surrounding reserve’.

Bird’s Nest Treehotel, Sweden

 

Inside the walls are clad with wood panels and the port hole windows almost disappear in the exterior’s network of branches

From the outside it looks like a giant bird’s nest, perched high in a tree in a Swedish forest, but inside it is a luxury guest room with enough space for four to stay comfortably.

The Bird’s Nest, built by architect Bertil Harström, is part of an outdoor sleeping experience called the Treehotel.

The unusual room is located in Harads, near the Lule River, in Sweden. Kent says: ‘From the Bird’s Nest you get a fantastic view of the Lule River valley, miles of forest and the powerful river.

Inside, the room, which sleeps a family of four is the height of luxury. The walls are clad with wood panels and the windows almost disappear in the exterior’s network of branches.

Overnight stays, including breakfast, start from £380 and there’s also a restaurant, bar, sauna and relaxation area, TV, and internet access on site.

Joliet Junior College Head to Morocco

Something a bit unusual for you now. A great blog post from this Chicago college about their exciting trip to one of my favourite countries, Morocco.  – Ned


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Thanks in part to a 2014 grant, a group of JJC faculty members recently explored the North African country of Morocco.

Tamara Brattoli (English and World Languages), Cristobal Trillo (Spanish and French), Mari Johnson (English and World Languages), Michael Hainzinger (English and World Languages) and Eva Murdoch (Natural Sciences) previewed the area ahead of eight JJC students who have signed up for the Morocco study abroad program in May. While there, they visited the cities of Tangiers, Fes, Marrakesh and Madrid, Spain.

Read on for first-hand accounts of their trip.
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Day 1 (Mar. 12) – Arriving in Tangier
After an overnight flight with two connections, the first in Philadelphia/New York City, and the second in Madrid, Spain, we nine professors (5 from Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Illinois, and 4 from Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois) reached our final destination: Tangier, Morocco, at the northwest tip of Africa.

At the Tangier airport, we met our Moroccan guide, Karim, and were shuttled to the historic El Minzah (meaning “The Lookout” in Arabic) Hotel, set in the heart of Tangier. Despite opening its doors in 1930, several years before the start of the Second World War, it turns out that El Minzah had been named appropriately, as it actually was used as a lookout by Allied spies during World War II due to its panoramic views of the Strait of Gibraltar.

Tangier is a language lover’s paradise. It’s commonplace to hear Tangerines (not the fruit, but the demonym for residents of Tangier) speaking Arabic, French, Spanish, or a combination thereof in a single conversation, whereas in the United States, we are impressed if someone can even speak a second language. This is largely attributed to Tangier’s former status as an “international zone,” meaning several countries—mainly France and Spain—took turns controlling the city between 1912 and 1956, the year Morocco gained independence from France, and Tangier was returned to the rest of the country. It was during this period, however, that Tangier became a linguistic melting pot, so to speak, and we feel its effects to this day.

The group ate a late lunch at the Annajma restaurant, where we enjoyed a variety of local seafood, including shrimp, red mullet, calamari, squid, whiting, and solefish, and fresh fruits for dessert. When dining in a restaurant in the US, we are accustomed to ordering individual plates of food; in Morocco, however, food is often served “family style,” which consists of families and friends sharing large platters of food that are placed in the center of the table. The benefits are twofold: one has the chance to sample a wider variety of dishes, and equally important, there is more of an intimate and communal feeling to the meal.

We then went to the Hercules Caves, a maze of rocky caverns situated on the shores of Cape Spartel, the point at which the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. The caves are named for the Greek hero Hercules, whose wife, Tinge, is the namesake of the city of Tangier. Furthermore, the Atlas Mountains, named for Atlas, the Greek god of endurance and astronomy, form the divide between northern and southern Morocco. While most Americans have a general awareness of Greek mythology, and can recall a few of its major figures and the myths surrounding them, seeing firsthand the influence mythology has had on the nomenclature of Mediterranean-area toponyms makes one appreciate it more.

We drank traditional Moroccan mint tea—comprised of a green tea base, fresh mint leaves, and a pinch of sugar–at a café atop a hill overlooking the sun setting upon the sea before us.

To end our first day, we ate a traditional Moroccan meal at our hotel. We ate a variety of kebobs, indigenous fruits and vegetables, but to our surprise, we were serenaded by a Moroccan quartet that played traditional Moroccan music as we dined. There were belly dancers and a man who was able to do tricks while balancing a tray of candles on his head. Can’t wait to head to Chefchaouen tomorrow!
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Day 2 (Mar. 13) – A Day in Chefchaouen
Around midday, our group arrived in the artsy mountain village of Chefchaouen, (“Look at the Peaks” in Arabic) about two hours southeast of Tangier. We were immediately struck by the beauty of the indigo and white color scheme of the entire village. Literally, just about every building is rinsed in a shade of blue, a tradition brought by Jewish refugees who had fled the Spanish Inquisition and settled in Chefchaouen in the 15th century. The Jews believed that painting the village in shades of blue would reflect the color of the sky and thus bring them closer to God.

As soon as we arrived, our group watched villagers hand washing clothes upon long stone slabs, using water that flows down from a natural mountain spring, something that in our culture seems only mythical. We proceeded to navigate the labyrinth of alleyways that comprise the village’s medina, or “old town,” that dates back to the 15th century. Within the medina, one can find a variety of shops where local artisans sell their wares, ranging from woven rugs to ceramic pottery.

We lunched at the Chez Hassan—an old mansion converted into a restaurant–where we ate more traditional Moroccan cuisine. It was there we were introduced to the tajine (perhaps the world’s oldest slow cooker) which is a large ceramic bowl with an accompanying lid, used for both cooking and serving food.

After our lovely day in Chefchaouen, we were treated to another delectable meal at the hotel, after which some of the group took a stroll through the center of Tangier so that we could observe the city street’s at night. We were fortunate to have with us JJC Spanish and French professor Cris Trillo, who spent the first eighteen years of his life in Tangier, and provided more insights about life in his native city than any travel guide ever could. Most poignant of all was a stop at the front door of Cris’s boyhood home.

Tomorrow we will go to the American School of Tangier, where our students will attend classes while they are here.

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Day 2 (Mar. 13) – The American School of Tangier

In the morning, the group arrived at the American School of Tangier (AST) where ten JJC/Parkland students will study for three weeks this coming May. Interestingly, the AST was founded in 1950 by Omar Pound, son of poet Ezra Pound, and over the years, several prominent American expatriots (e.g., William S. Burroughs, Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles, etc.) have collaborated on projects with its student body. As we toured the school and campus, we were fortunate to see firsthand some of the institution’s rich history. In addition, we met with faculty and administrators and visited the classroom where our students will attend classes later this spring. We also met the school’s home-stay coordinator, who is responsible for arranging our students’ lodging during their stay in Tangier. Our hosts were very warm and accommodating and reassured us that the students will be in good hands while overseas.

Through a contact at the American School, we were able to arrange an afternoon visit to the American Legation of Tangier, a United States cultural center and museum, which is maintained and subsidized by the US State Department. We were given a private tour by the director who explained the history and purpose of this only overseas National Historic Landmark which shows the long history of collaboration between Morocco and the United States. The director explained how the Moroccan government was the first foreign government to recognize the independence of the United States, and how Tangier played an important role in World War II. We viewed displays showing the numerous American artists and authors who lived in Tangier including the aforementioned Paul Bowles, William S. Burroughs, Tennessee Williams, but also Marguerite McBey, Ira Cohen, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

That night we went through the market (or medina), where we sampled salted fava beans with a touch of cumin, and chickpeas. We also enjoyed freshly made donuts, fried up in front of us on the sidewalk, a treat which has ruined American-style donuts forever.

At the end of the evening, a few of us walked to the Grand Hotel Villa de France, where painter Henri Matisse took up residence in Room #35 for several months during two separate stays in Tangier. It was there that Matisse painted landscapes of scenes he observed from his window.

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Day 4 (Mar. 15) – A Day in Assilah

In the morning, we set off for Asilah, a coastal village an hour southwest of Tangier. En route to Asilah, we pulled off the highway so that we could enjoy a short walk along the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Only one of us was brave enough to wade knee-deep in the cold saltwater, but the rest of us had fun posing for pictures and collecting seashells in the cool, wet sand. On the way, the group also stopped to see a sheep auction on the side of the road.

We arrived in Asilah around noon, and many of us took our first-ever camel ride. Riding a camel is similar to riding on horseback, but the rider is higher off the ground, and the ride is bumpier, so holding on tight to the camel’s saddle is a must!

Karim, our guide, led us through the town’s medina—our third medina of the trip–where we explored numerous tiny shops and bazaars (an Arabic word we’ve adopted). It has become easier to recognize patterns in not only the types of shops found in Moroccan medinas, but also the art of bargaining prices with storeowners, a practice much more common in Morocco than the United States. Unlike the chain-store omnipresence in America, most Moroccan shops are of the mom-and-pop variety, so storeowners have more freedom in choosing their own prices and policies.

In addition, through a visit to a local art gallery, we learned that Asilah is well known for its contemporary art scene, which sprouted in the 1970s when dozens of Moroccan artists began holding summer workshops for children and painting gorgeous murals throughout the town.

We returned to the hotel later in the evening and dined again in the hotel restaurant. This time we decided to sample cuisine from the restaurant’s French menu. We ordered a large salad, which consisted of lettuce, heart of palm, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, topped with tuna; then we each enjoyed an entrée of either grilled white fish or grilled chicken, and most importantly, of course, either crème brulee or crème caramel for dessert. Given the 40-year French control of Morocco, the French cuisine in North Africa is authentic. Following dinner, Professor Trillo led us on a walk through the city, where we saw the historic Teatro Cervantes, a theatre where several legendary performers held shows between 1913 and 1959. Unfortunately, the theatre has been closed indefinitely since 1959, due to the high costs required for renovation. Professor Trillo also couldn’t resist showing us the Spanish social club of Tangier, where his father, an immigrant from Spain, had been a member for many years, and where Cris learned to play pool as a child. Unbelievably, Cris ran into an old friend of his father’s while we were there, a man whom he hadn’t seen in 35 years, yet they remembered each other and chatted like old friends.

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Day 5 (Mar. 16) – From Tangier to Rabat to Meknes to Fes

We left Tangier around 9 a.m. and arrived in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco, a few hours later. We drove to the site of what was supposed to be Morocco’s largest mosque, located in a huge public square at the center of Rabat. King Hassan II, for whom the mosque was built, passed away in 1999 before its completion, so all that remains today are several rows of pillars without a roof to unite them, and the mosque’s tower, currently wrapped in tarp and scaffoldings due to renovations. Located on one side of the gigantic square is a mausoleum that houses the tombs of three former kings. Our second stop was at the most luxurious and modern of the nine King’s Palaces in Morocco, and the current king, Mohammad VI’s primary residence.

Since the historic town of Meknes, one of the four former capital cities of Morocco, was on the way, we decided to make a stop there to see the King’s palace. The King’s palace is several centuries old, beautiful tile mosaics and fountains, and the tombs of former kings. Following the tour, we were escorted across the street to watch a man burn silver designs into metal jewelry in the back room of his shop.

At sundown, we finally arrived at the Palais Medina Hotel in Fes and enjoyed a buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant. Later on, we ventured up the street later and tried the local McDonald’s. And, when in Morocco, a former French colony, you have go with the Royale with cheese.

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Day 6 (Mar. 17) – A Day in Fes

We left the Palais Medina Hotel early with both Karim, our regular guide, but also Mohammad, a native of Fes who specializes in giving tours of Fes’s daunting medina, the oldest and largest in Morocco.

On the way to the medina, we drove to a mountaintop that overlooks Fes’s sprawling medina below. Our next stop was at a ceramics factory, where we observed every stage of the ceramic-making process, beginning with clumps of newly delivered raw clay! From the moulding, to the painting, to the kiln-firing, it was a privilege to witness and appreciate such artisanry.

The medina consists of 400,000 people, 80,000 shops, 270 mosques, and most formidable for tourists, 9400 poorly marked streets and alleyways! Like other medinas, the streets are loosely arranged by craft. For example, one street has rug sellers, another has tajines and other earthware , yet another has jewelry and other types of metalworking, etc. Nonetheless, it’s very easy for tourists to get lost in the maze, so fortunately we had hired Mohammad, a guide with over forty years of experience navigating the narrow, winding alleys of the medina.

Inside the medina, we saw University of al-Qarawiyyin, which some contend is the world’s oldest, dating back to the 9th century. One thing is true: it was the first degree-awarding university. Originally founded as an institution for students furthering their studies of the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, the University is now part of Morocco’s state university system.

Our group then went to a silk and wool scarf-making factory. In addition to seeing bags upon bags of newly sheared woollen fleece, we saw how silk is extracted from the agave plant and then woven into fine handmade scarves. Our guides then demonstrated how Moroccan women tie the scarves to hide their hair and faces. This was followed by a tour of a rug-making factory. We learned about the three styles of rug-making and examined some of the most beautiful handmade area rugs we had ever seen. The last stop of the day was at a tannery, where we learned about each step in the leather-making process. We then saw the huge vats of dye that are used to color the leather and watched them drying in the sun.

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Day 7 (Mar. 18) – En Route to Marrakech

The group met in the lobby of the Palais Medina Hotel at 9:00 in the morning, checked out of our rooms, and braced for the long van ride ahead. Marrakech is about 400 km from Fes, but with the less efficient Moroccan highway system, often impeded by hills, mountains, and the lackluster condition of the roads, the ride took much longer than a similar ride in the U.S. would have taken. After a couple hours of driving, we stopped at a roadside restaurant that happened to be hosting an international skeet-shooting tournament at a shooting range behind the restaurant. Many of us had never seen skeet-shooting done in person, so we were able to chalk up yet another new experience. After driving several more kilometers, we stopped for lunch at a diner that serves traditional Moroccan hamburgers, consisting of an English muffin-style bun, a beef patty, and a fried egg. We reached our final destination around 6:00 in the evening.

Marrakech, the fourth largest city in Morocco, is comparable to Las Vegas. While in the newer section of town, there are casinos, opulent western hotel chains, and nightclubs that serve alcohol, the older section contains Marrakech’s old medina, which borders the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the largest public square on the continent of Africa, and the most popular tourist location in the Kingdom of Morocco. Many Europeans come here for the warm weather and resorts. It was certainly a change from Fes.

After we checked into the hotel, we took a walk through the Jemaa el-Fnaa, where we watched a variety of street performers working for tips, as well as ordinary merchants selling everything from freshly squeezed orange juice to pirated DVDs. The snake charmers, men who play oboes to hypontize cobras, were the most memorable. We made our way through the square and circled a few alleys of the adjacent medina and retired for the evening.

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Day 8 (Mar. 19) – A Day in Marrakech

We spent half of our only full day in Marrakech exploring the Jardin Majorelle, a large garden designed and maintained by the French painter Jacques Majorelle in the early 20th century. Over several decades, Majorelle planted rare varieties of trees and plants (e.g., cacti, palm trees, bamboo, coconut palms, thujas, weeping willows, carob trees, jasmine, agaves, white water lilies, etc.) to create his masterpiece. After decades of abandonment, the garden, which had fallen into disrepair, was purchased in 1980 by the famous French designer Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge. The pair restored the garden and added a Berber museum, which houses a vast collection of artifacts from the ancient Berber culture. Both the stroll through the garden and the tour of the museum were wonderful.
We spent our last half-day doing as we pleased in Marrakech. Some of us chose to return to the Jemaa el-Fnaa and the surrounding medina to do some last-minute souvenier shopping. One brave member of our group even allowed a snake charmer to put a cobra around his neck! Others took a tour of La Mamounia, the most majestic hotel in the city.

Over a late dinner, we reflected on the differences between Marrakech and the other cities that we visited in Morocco: Tangier is the most reminiscent of European cities. Of course, this is attributable to its proximity to Spain, as well as its designation as an “interzone” for much of the 20th century, during which multiple cultures and languages came together to make Tangier the cosmopolitan center it is today. Meanwhile, Fes, with its sprawling medina, offers a window into traditional Moroccan culture and history before the age of European colonization. Like Tangier, Fes, and most other cities we passed through in Morocco, Marrakech has a rich history, but in the past decade, the city has quickly begun to transform into a prime destination for western tourists, with its 5-star international hotel chains, restaurants, casinos, nightclubs, and other amenities to attract them.

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Day 9 (Mar. 20) – A Day in Madrid

We arrived in Madrid around lunch time and checked into our hotel. The goal then was simple: see as much as possible during our one day in Madrid. Some of us went to the Prado, the famous art museum that houses one of the finest art collections in the world. A couple of us went to another famous art museum, the Reina Sofia, which houses Picasso’s magnum opus—Guernica.

Some of us saw the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), the national palace of Spain. We saw many famous fountains and public squares. We took a long walk through the Parque del Buen Retiro and saw the famous Monumento al Rey Alfonso XII and the beautiful Crystal Palace, where fossils hang by strings from the ceiling. Professors Cris Trillo and Mike Hainzinger were even lucky enough to get tickets to a Real Madrid soccer game in the evening!

A few of us took a free walking tour around the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, where the Spaniards hold their New Year’s Eve Countdown. Within the plaza is a small square section that contains the outline of a map of Spain. The legend is that if you step on it, you are destined to return to Madrid–I know I will.

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Day 10 (Mar. 21) – Sweet Home, Chicago

We took an early morning direct flight from Madrid to Chicago and tried to take let it all sink in. We are very fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience firsthand a part of the world that to most is only accessible through books and films—namely, Casablanca. It is good to be home, and we look forward to integrating some of the knowledge we’ve acquired into our courses back home.

 

The Worst Things Nobody Tells You About the Countries They Visit

People come back from vacation and kind of sugarcoat everything. Even on a trip where they spent the entire time trying not to freeze to death, they’ll typically return and say something like, “You know, aside from the desolate frozen wasteland and 14 straight days of blizzards, Siberia was BEAUTIFUL!” And then they go on to tell you about how welcoming everyone was, and how you really should learn to appreciate borscht.

But nobody really sees the world through such rose-colored glasses, and when granted the anonymity of the internet, we probably all have some terrible things to say about countries we’ve visited. Which is why it’s fun to read what Redditors chose to omit about certain countries in order to keep their travel tales positive. Let’s just say there were a lot of accusations of racism, but those aside, here are some of the highlights.

Nobody in China can drive

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Hung Chung Chih / Shutterstock.com

  1. Zaralith

    Getting hit by a car in China is different than other countries because the person at fault has to pay for the victims medical bills and care for the rest of their life as relates to the accident, while if the person dies it is a flat fine to the family. This causes people in China to put their car in reverse and run the person over again to make sure they died because it is a lot harder to prove that it murder for that in China (I thought I hit a pothole, etc.)

    Edit: u/statistical_mechanic, u/EleventyMillions, and u/cliff99 have pointed out to me that this has been shown as unlikely and misinterpreted via Snopes.

Venice stinks, like literally

  1. MrFunsocks1

    The romance of Venice is almost completely ruined by the odor. The canals are filthy, and smell, and it isn’t helped by everyone in Italy being a smoker and leaving butts everywhere.

Morocco needs more toilet paper!

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The Visual Explorer / Shutterstock.com

  1. gnirpss

    If you go to Morocco, carry tissues with you at all times. There is a shocking lack of toilet paper in Moroccan bathrooms.

Australia is ridden with… flies?

  1. chippeh

    oh god I had forgotten.

    They get in your mouth, nose, eyes.

    Blergh

    Gadorow

    I’ve grown convinced that in the center of our country lurks the demon prince Beelzebub, Lord of Flies.

Peru is full of stray dogs

The Worst Things Nobody Tells You About the Countries They Visit

Flickr/Hllewellyn

  1. honeynut-queerios

    There’s a lot of stray dogs in Peru. I’ve heard that stray dogs are kind of the norm in Latin American countries, and most of the ones I encountered didn’t want anything to do with anyone passing by. However, there was one stray that I passed frequently while walking to a project I was working at and he was extremely aggressive, to the point that I started carrying rocks in my bag in case he chased me. He would follow me for blocks, remaining hidden in a yard until I passed by. He’d bare his teeth and growl, he also slobbered a lot. I didn’t think it was rabies, but I’m also not 100% convinced it’s not rabies.

New Zealand may as well be Albuquerque: so much meth

  1. DNZ_not_DMZ

    As a European who moved to NZ:

    NZ has a huge problem with meth.

    Burglaries and rapes are much more common here, so is domestic violence.

    I love it here, but it’s not quite the quaint LotR wonderland it’s often made out to be.

    PM_a_llama

    A massive problem with meth! I can’t even score weed but everyone is offering me P. Ridiculous. Watch the movie Once Were Warriors for an insight on some things OP is referring to.

Italy is COVERED in graffiti

https://assets3.thrillist.com/v1/image/1681285/size/tl-horizontal_main/the-worst-things-nobody-tells-you-about-the-countries-they-visit

Flickr/Bob

turnipforwhales

  1. Went to Milan a few months ago. Huge factories, graffiti everywhere, lots of homeless people, shanty towns, boarded up houses, saw a guy attempt to pick-pocket someone. And there were huge designer stores all over the city too. There seemed to be an enormous class difference. Only posted the cathedral on facebook…

The Swiss are kinda rude

  1. wjescott

    Switzerland was absolutely stunning…if there weren’t any people around.

    The Swiss people I met were, to a person, very rude. In the old adage, “If you meet one asshole in a day, he’s an asshole. If everyone you meet is an asshole, you’re the asshole”, I went and pored over everything I did/said to see if I’d been in the slightest bit rude, mean, snotty, superior, anything…I’m an American, and this was the 80’s…we were all trying to be nice to everyone, after all, Russia was almost at the breaking point, we were in the United Colors of Benetton…I seriously, seriously wasn’t trying to be a dick in any way, yet was treated with dickishness at every turn.

    All in all, I visited 9 countries when I was there, and I can’t say the slightest bad thing about any of them, except Switzerland. French people? Amazing, polite, sweet…Parisians were a bit New York-style-superior (or the other way around) but are still great folks. Germans were gracious, polite, funny. Italians…oof…I didn’t want to leave! Spain and Portugal were the same way. Greece was stunning and the folks treated you like you were family.

    Switzerland…not so much.

    Amidatelion

    Swiss people are very insular and, ah, superior-minded. The fact that you were an American probably compounded a very cold reaction almost everyone gets. I’m half-german and though I speak fluent German, they treated me pretty poorly until my grasp of the dialect improved. And the damn superiority never went away, except for some close co-workers.

Brazil is filthy…

https://assets3.thrillist.com/v1/image/1685020/size/tl-horizontal_main/the-worst-things-nobody-tells-you-about-the-countries-they-visit

Filipe Frazao/Shutterstock

  1. mredofcourse

    I’m in Rio de Janeiro right now. There’s no way this place could be ready for the Olympics in 6 years let alone 6 months. It’s a very filthy place. There are all kinds of sewage, pollution, litter, crime, traffic and corruption issues.

    Climbing to the top of Sugar Loaf was fun, and beautiful, minus the fact that there was human poop on the trails and routes that you had to climb around. Also the view was marred by being able to see a huge garbage island floating out of the harbor towards the beaches.

    It’s a shame because there’s so much potential here, but it requires more than just cleaning up. It needs major infrastructure changes as well as changes in behavior of the people.

    A lot of people are going to end up getting sick at the Olympics.

    That said, we’re still having an amazing time. The Copacabana Palace is a really nice place, the music has been wonderful, the people are friendly, hang gliding was a blast, the views are spectacular, Christ the Redeemer is inspiring, and everything is inexpensive.

… and Uruguay isn’t much better. Haven. For. Litterbugs.

  1. soldiersquared

    Uruguay. The kinder, gentler bi-curious cousin of Argentina and Brazil is secretly the littering capital of South America.

    Everybody just throws their trash on the sidewalk and nobody picks up their waste from their dogs that I’m still convinced the government issues because everybody has one. The gas they use is unlike our “unleaded” we use in the States so the air smells completely fucking toxic. Unreal.

Floridians are a bunch of cheaters

https://assets3.thrillist.com/v1/image/1681284/size/tl-horizontal_main/the-worst-things-nobody-tells-you-about-the-countries-they-visit

Flickr/Elzey

carlosdanger11

  1. Sitting in a Florida cracker barrel while on vaca right now. I can’t believe how many young people (like in their 20’s) have handicap stickers. I watched at least 4 groups of them while waiting for a table and none of them had any noticeable issues. There’s actually a Ferrari parked in one now.

American border officers are a-holes

  1. GodardWaffleCakes

    Border officers in the US tend to be unnecesarily rude, it doesn’t matter if you are entering by land or plane, you can feel they don’t want you there. I have gone to the US many times and every single time it is the same. It really is a bummer for it to be your first experience entering the country, as the rest of the trip tends to be great.

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London beats New York, Paris and Rome as it’s named TripAdvisor’s No1 destination in the WORLD

It’s official: The UK capital beats off all the competition for top spot in global travel rated by the world’s fussiest trekkers. The full article below from the Mail Online Travel.


  • The UK capital improves on its sixth-place finish in 2015 to take the spoils
  • Istanbul, Turkey, takes second place, with Marrakech, Morocco, in third
  • TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards based on reviews and opinions 

Move over New York, Paris and Rome – London has been named the best destination on the planet by TripAdvisor.

It took the No1 spot, up from sixth in 2015, in the review site’s Travellers’ Choice Awards 2016, which is based on millions of reviews and opinions from TripAdvisor users. Paris came fourth, Rome seventh and New York ninth.

Award winners were determined using an algorithm that took into account the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, restaurants and attractions in destinations worldwide, gathered over a 12-month period, as well as traveller booking interest on TripAdvisor.

London has been crowned the world's number one destination in The TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice awards for destinations

London has been crowned the world’s number one destination in The TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards for destinations

London has jumped five places up from its sixth place finish in 2015 

London has jumped five places up from its sixth place finish in 2015

The win for London comes at a time when the city and the rest of the UK is poised to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday in April and throughout the summer.

‘This is the first time since 2012 that London has topped our world award rankings, proving that the capital’s tourism industry is still reaping the benefits of the Games’ legacy,’ said James Kay, TripAdvisor spokesperson.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, added: ‘London is undoubtedly the cultural capital of the world thanks to our iconic attractions, buzzing entertainment scene and amazing museums and galleries.

THE WORLDWIDE AND UK WINNERS ARE…

The top 10 Travellers’ Choice Destinations in the world:

  • London, United Kingdom
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Marrakech, Morocco
  • Paris, France
  • Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Rome, Italy
  • Hanoi, Vietnam
  • New York City, United States
  • Ubud, Indonesia

The top 10 Travellers’ Choice Destinations in the the UK:

  • London
  • Edinburgh
  • Liverpool
  • Llandudno
  • Blackpool
  • Torquay
  • York
  • Bath
  • Glasgow
  • Manchester
Istanbul in Turkey was named as the second best destination in the world for 2016

Istanbul in Turkey was named as the second best destination in the world for 2016

The enchantment of Marrakech in Morocco helped it take the third spot in the top ten list

The enchantment of Marrakech in Morocco helped it take the third spot in the top ten list

The algorithm took into account the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, restaurants and attractions, with Paris bagging fourth place

The algorithm took into account the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, restaurants and attractions, with Paris bagging fourth place

‘Coupled with our abundance of top-notch hotels and restaurants offering every type of cuisine one’s taste buds could desire, it is no wonder that London has been named the best travel destination in the world. 

‘It is an incredibly dynamic city, with something for everyone and we look forward to welcoming even more visitors to our wonderful metropolis.‎’

Of the top ten best rated world destinations, Siem Reap offers the cheapest hotel value with average bookable room rates on TripAdvisor at £50 a night.

Of the top ten best rated world destinations, Siem Reap, in fourth spot, offers the cheapest hotel value

Of the top ten best rated world destinations, Siem Reap, in fourth spot, offers the cheapest hotel value

Prague came home fifth in the list, known for its Old Town Square and colorful baroque buildings

Prague came home fifth in the list, known for its Old Town Square and colorful baroque buildings

Rome, Italy, remains as popular as ever with tourists, particularly the Colosseum in the heart of the city

Rome remains as popular as ever with tourists, particularly the Colosseum in the heart of the city

When it comes to the UK winners, despite London taking the top spot, this year the north comes up trumps overall as seven out of ten destinations are located north of the midlands.

Edinburgh, Liverpool, Llandudno and Blackpool take second, third, fourth and fifth place respectively, York comes in at seventh and Glasgow and Manchester rank ninth and tenth respectively.

Among the top ten UK destinations, Blackpool offers the cheapest hotel rooms with the average bookable hotel rate on TripAdvisor for 2016 at £66 – less than half the price of a comparable hotel room in London.

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its centuries-old architecture and a rich culture and secured eighth place on the list

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its centuries-old architecture and a rich culture and secured eighth place on the list

It is unsurprising to see New York City make the list, still popular with tourists all over the globe, coming in ninth position

It is unsurprising to see New York City make the list, still popular with tourists all over the globe, coming in ninth position

Ubub in Bali, Indonesia, sneaked the final spot in the top ten, the rainforests being just one beautiful feature

Ubub in Bali, Indonesia, sneaked the final spot in the top ten, the rainforests being just one beautiful feature

 Ned’s tip: If you want an authentic Moroccan experience in Tangier, head down to the old port of Tangier and stay at one of Le Royal Hotels & Resorts beautiful five star hotels: the gorgeous Hotel El Minzah or the sumptuous Grand Hotel Villa de France, both flagships of the Le Royal Hotels & Resorts Division of Sir Nadhmi Auchi’s General Mediterranean Holding.  

The countries that don’t exist

This is another brilliant piece from my NFW (New Favourite Website) – BBC Future.


There really is a secret world of hidden independent nations, with their own populations, governments – and football leagues. In fact, you’ve almost certainly visited one without realising.

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(Credit: Malou Sinding/ Flickr)

When I first see Nick Middleton, he is surrounded by globes and atlases showing the most exotic places on the planet. We are in the basement of Stanfords, London’s largest travel bookshop, visited by such intrepid explorers as Florence Nightingale, Ernest Shackleton and Ranulph Fiennes.

Middleton, however, is here to talk about countries missing from the vast majority of books and maps for sale here. He calls them the “countries that don’t exist”, but although their names may seem fantastical – Atlantium, Christiania, and Elgaland-Vargaland – they are all real places, occupied by fervidly patriotic citizens. In fact, you have almost certainly, unknowingly, visited one.

The globe, it turns out, is full of small (and not so small) regions that have all the trappings of a real country – a fixed population, a government, a flag, and a currency. Some can even issue you a biometric passport. Yet for various reasons they are not allowed representatives in the United Nations, and are ignored on most world maps.

Middleton, a geographer at the University of Oxford, has now charted these hidden lands in his new book, An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist (Macmillan, 2015). Flicking through its pages, it feels like you have entered a parallel world with a vibrant, forgotten history and a rich culture. This parallel world even has its own international football league.

(Credit: Raymond Brooke / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Christiania is a country within a city (Credit: Raymond Brooke / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Middleton’s quest began, appropriately enough, with Narnia. He was reading CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with his six-year-old daughter, and the main character Lucy had just passed through the mothballs and fur coats into a magical land. Something about the whimsy appealed to Middleton. As a geographer, he realised that you don’t have to use magic to visit a country that “doesn’t exist” in the eyes of most other states. Even so, he didn’t expect them to be quite so widespread. “Once I started looking into them, I was amazed by how many there are,” he says. “I could have filled the book several times over.”

The problem, he says, is that we don’t have a watertight definition of what a country is. “Which as a geographer, is kind of shocking,” he says. Some cite a treaty signed in 1933, during the International Conference of American States in Montevideo, Uruguay. The “Montevideo Convention” declares that to become a country, a region needs the following features: a defined territory, a permanent population, a government, and “the capacity to enter into relations with other states”.

Yet many countries that meet these criteria aren‘t members of the United Nations (commonly accepted as the final seal of a country’s statehood). Consider Taiwan – which held a seat in the General Assembly until 1971, until mainland China entered and took over its position. Even the United Kingdom is a somewhat strange case, Middleton says. Within our law, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are considered individual states. We have our own sports teams and compete against each other – but we only have one shared seat in the UN. “So is England a country? By this criterion, no,” says Middleton. (Such questions came to a head with Scotland’s recent referendum.)

In the end, England and Scotland didn’t make it into the pages of his Atlas. For his shortlist, Middleton focused on the countries that meet the Montevideo convention, with a fixed territory, population, and government, but which have no representation in the General Assembly. (Although many of them are instead members of the “Unrepresented United Nations – an alternative body to champion their rights.)

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

A handful of the names will be familiar to anyone who has read a newspaper: territories such as Taiwan, Tibet, Greenland, and Northern Cyprus. The others are less famous, but they are by no means less serious; Middleton discusses many examples of indigenous populations hoping to reassert their sovereignty. One of the most troubling histories, he says, concerns the Republic of Lakotah (with a population of 100,000). Bang in the centre of the United States of America (just east of the Rocky Mountains), the republic is an attempt to reclaim the sacred Black Hills for the Lakota Sioux tribe.

Their plight began in the 18th Century, and by 1868 they had finally signed a deal with the US government that promised the right to live on the Black Hills. Unfortunately, they hadn’t accounted for a gold rush – and the government soon forgot about its deal as prospectors swarmed over the sacred land. The Lakota would have to wait more than a century for an apology, when, in 1998, a judge at the Supreme Court concluded that “a more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealings may never be found in our history”. The Court decided to compensate the Lakota Sioux (in nearly $600m) but they have refused to take the cash. “They say if we take the money, it’ll be like saying the crime was alright,” says Middleton.  Instead, in 2007 a delegation marched to Washington to declare their formal withdrawal from the US, and they continue to mount a legal battle for their independence.

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

Similar battles are being fought across every continent. There’s Barotseland, an African kingdom with a population of 3.5 million that has mounted a case to leave Zambia, and Ogoniland, which is attempting to disengage from Nigeria; both declared independence in 2012. In Australia, meanwhile, the Republic of Murrawarri was founded in 2013, after the indigenous tribe wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth II asking her to prove her legitimacy to govern their land. The Murrawarri gave her 30 days to reply – and with nothing but a deafening silence, they formally reasserted their claim to rule their ancient homeland.

Not all the countries featured in Middleton’s book have such deep historical roots – often, they are established by rather eccentric individuals hoping to set up a new, fairer state. Middleton points to Hutt River, in Australia, a small “principality” set up by a family of farmers hoping to escape the government’s strict grain quotas; they soon developed their own royal titles, currency and postal service. “They have a thriving stamp business,” says Middleton (although initially, letters had to be flown through Canada). After decades of struggle, the government gave up the fight and the family no longer have to pay Australian taxes.

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

In Europe, you can find Forvik, a tiny Shetland Isle founded by an Englishman (from Kent) to promote transparent governance, Sealand, off the British coast, and Christiania, an enclave in the heart of Copenhagen. The latter country was formed by a group of squatters occupying a former army barracks in 1971. On 26 September that year, they declared it independent, with its own “direct democracy”, in which each of the inhabitants (now numbering 850) could vote on any important matter. So far, the Danish government has turned something of a blind eye to the activities; smoking cannabis, for instance, is legal in Christiania, but outlawed in the rest of the Denmark (though the Christianians themselves have decided to ban harder drugs).

Despite these more eccentric examples, Middleton wouldn’t consider trying to set up a country himself. “Having trawled through so many serious stories of yearning and oppression, I don’t think it’s appropriate to take it too light heartedly,” he says. “For so many people it’s a matter of life or death.” Despite their efforts, he suspects that only a very few will eventually gain wider recognition. “If I had to plump for any, it would be Greenland,” he says – the autonomous region of Denmark that already has self-rule, often considered the first step to formal recognition.

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

But given our difficulties even defining what a country is, perhaps we need to rethink the concept of the nation-state altogether? He points to Antarctica, a continent shared peacefully among the international community, as a sign that we don’t necessarily have to slice up land as if it were a giant pizza.

Perhaps this is just the start. The last pages of Middleton’s Atlas contain two radical examples that question everything we think we mean by the word ‘country’.

Consider Atlantium. Its capital, Concordia, for instance, is based in a remote rural province of Australia – it is occupied by more kangaroos than people. But that’s just its administrative quarters – Atlantium is “non-territorial”, meaning that anyone, anywhere, can become a citizen. As its website proclaims: “In an age where people increasingly are unified by common interests and purposes across – rather than within – traditional national boundaries, Atlantium offers an alternative to the discriminatory historic practice of assigning nationality to individuals on the basis of accidents of birth or circumstance.”

Then there’s Elgaland-Vargaland, which was thought up by two Swedish artists – and is meant to consist of all the areas of “No Man’s Land” across the world, including the land marking the borders between other nations and any bits of the sea outside another country’s territorial waters; any time you have travelled abroad, you have passed through Elgaland-Vargaland. In fact, of all the countries Middleton has looked at, this is the closest to his starting point, Narnia – since the artists claim that any time you enter a dream, or let your mind wander, you have also crossed a border and temporarily taken a trip into Elgaland-Vargaland.

Atlantium and Elgaland-Vargaland may be a little too fanciful for most people to take very seriously – Middleton admires them more as an attempt to provoke wider debate on international relations. “They all raise the possibility that countries as we know them are not the only legitimate basis for ordering the planet,” he wrote in his book.

One thing’s certain – the world is in constant flux. “No one my age thought that the Soviet Union would fall to bits – there can be big unexpected changes,” he says. New countries are always being born, while old ones vanish. In the deep future, every territory we know could eventually become a country that doesn’t exist.

 

 

Tangier – restored to its former glory

Nice mention for one of my very favourite hotels in the world, the glorious Grand Hotel Villa de France. Thanks to the Guardian Travel for this feature on Tangier.  – Ned


After decades of neglect, the north Moroccan city once talked about in the same breath as London, Paris and New York, is undergoing a renaissance

A rooftop view of the city of Tangier looking out onto the Mediterranean

Tangier is making the most of its place at the crossroads of the Med. Photograph: Alamy

‘You can be anyone in Tangier. You can remake yourself, rewrite your backstory, reform or deform, indulge your subconscious, cultivate nemeses or simply start anew,” says Josh Shoemake in the opening of his brilliant 2013 book Tangier: A Literary Guide for Travellers.

Maybe that’s the reason some scenes from the next Bond film, Spectre, out on Monday, were filmed here.

The city was once talked about in the same breath as London, Paris and New York. During its glory years from the mid-1920s it was an international zone, administered by a joint convention including France, Spain and Britain. The big mystery is how and why Tangier was left out in the cold for so long.

One obvious answer seems to lie in its long neglect by former King of Morocco Hassan II who, for an entire generation, disdained its international appeal (and undeniably notorious reputation for sleaze and scandal) and even made a point of diverting national investment away from Tangier.

Streets in the old centre of Tangier.

Streets in the old centre of Tangier. Photograph: Matthew Scholey/Getty Images

However, all that has changed under his son, King Mohammed VI, who came to the throne in 1999. He saw the economic potential of a city at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and now Tangier is on the verge of having not only Africa’s biggest port, but North Africa’s biggest car factory and Africa’s first high-speed rail link, to Casablanca, due to open in 2016.

But it’s in the old cultural heart of the city that the whiff of a great renaissance, spurred by all this new economic activity, is strongest. This is where the many privately funded and often painstaking restorations of its most famous landmarks are helping to return it to its former glory. There’s the hallowed Librairie des Colonnes, Tangier’s legendary bookshop and a famous haunt of writers including Samuel Beckett, which was opened in 1949 and restored in 2011. At the Grand Hotel Villa de France, a whole room has been preserved in honour of painter Henri Matisse and reopened in March last year after a two-decade closure. Even the hugely popular Tanger Inn, famous scruffy hangout of the beat generation, enjoyed a bit of a facelift last summer, but retains the black-and-white photographs of Jack Kerouac and his ilk on the walls.

Hotel Villa de France

Hotel Villa de France has reopened its Henri Matisse room. Photograph: Alamy

For those who prefer things cool and low key, however, other classy renovations to be found in the centre of old Tangier include the snazzy new El Morocco Club, and Villa Zahia, a sumptuously restored colonial house with luxurious apartments to let. Last but not least, the revamped 1930s-era Cinema Rif, whose adjoining cafe spills out on to the legendary Grand Socco, has become the beating heart of Tangier’s new cultural vibe.

But there are scores of swanky new five-star hotels going up here as well, including not one but two new Hilton hotels – which surely goes to show that someone other than James Bond is placing a very big bet on the roulette table here.

 

http://www.leroyal.com/corporatenew/index.asp

A film set from a galaxy far, far away…

Haunting images show abandoned Star Wars props deep in the Tunisian desert

  • Luke Skywalker’s home still exists in Tozeur, as does the set of Mos Espa, and much has been left intact
  • Tataouine is the town in Tunisia that inspired George Lucas to name his fictional desert planet Tatooine
  • With Star Wars: The Force Awakens released worldwide on December 17, fans could flock to the Tunisian desert 

This is one pilgrimage every Star Wars fan should look to make.

Deep in the deserts of Tunisia stand the abandoned sets from the first three films of the blockbuster franchise.

These surreal photographs are instantly familiar to any fan of Star Wars – they show the landscape of Tatooine, where Luke Skywalker grew up in the sci-fi blockbuster.

Tataouine is the town in Tunisia that inspired George Lucas to name his fictional desert planet Tatooine.

And while it wasn’t actually used during filming, several scenes were shot just on the outskirts of the town and in the nearby beach town of Djerba.

For die-hard fans, Luke Skywalker’s home still exists in Tozeur, as does the set of Mos Espa – and almost everything has been left intact over the years in the Sahara Desert.

Tunisia, where much of the sci-fi classic was filmed, was a popular tourist destination before being caught up in the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, and is now trying to rebuild its tourism industry. 

The newest installment of the hit film series is set for release on December 17, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Here, MailOnline Travel takes a look at some of the fascinating sets left behind that will bring fond memories for dedicated Star Wars fans around the world.  

The sets are visible in Tunisian desert nearly four decades after the first film was filmed; this is Ong Jemel near Tozeur

The sets are visible in Tunisian desert nearly four decades after the first film was filmed; this is Ong Jemel near Tozeur

These toilets are literally in the middle of nowhere, as the Star Wars sets once surrounding were taken away or destroyed

These toilets are literally in the middle of nowhere, as the Star Wars sets once surrounding were taken away or destroyed

This house was the home of Luke Skywalker on Tatooine in the Star Wars films, although now it has lost some of its whitened colour

This house was the home of Luke Skywalker on Tatooine in the Star Wars films, although now it has lost some of its whitened colour

And here is Luke Skywalker pictured with his uncle coming out of their house in 1977's Star Wars, still available to see today

And here is Luke Skywalker pictured with his uncle coming out of their house in 1977’s Star Wars, still available to see today 

Lonely Planet’s Top 10 to Visit in 2016

Botswana ranks Number 1 in LP’s 2016 list; it’s somewhere I have trekked several times and I must admit it never disappoints.  I particularly love the stunning Duba Plains, the Tsodilo Hills – Botswana’s first World Heritage site – and the mysterious disappearing Lake Ngami.  Stable and prosperous, Botswana has blossomed since independence from Britain in 1966. It is Africa’s longest continuous democracy and one of the world’s biggest diamond producers. Currency is the Pula.

Brian Jackman wrote a great piece in the Telegraph a couple of years back if you want to learn more on the Okavango Delta here.

Ned


1. Botswana

Democratic, progressive, enlightened – but above all, invigoratingly wild. The story of Botswana’s journey from poverty to become one of Africa’s most stable, thriving societies is inspirational; the country celebrates 50 years of independence in 2016 and there’s a lot for it to shout about, not least the way it has balanced economic growth with protecting its natural riches. Prepare for a severe case of slack-jawed-with-awe syndrome when you visit.

In 2016 Botswana will celebrate its 50th year of independence. So what, you may say. What’s there to shout about? Well, quite a lot really. Not least the longest continuous multi-party democracy on the continent, a progressive social outlook (Botswana was one of the first countries to offer free antiretroviral drugs to its citizens in 2002), minimal corruption, a healthy and enlightened tourism industry and a fast-growing economy since independence. The country’s journey from abject poverty in 1966 to become one of Africa’s most stable and thriving societies is hugely inspiring and, no doubt, deserves a proverbial pat on the back.

But that’s not all. Botswana is a unique destination: an unusual combination of desert and delta that draws an immense concentration of wildlife. It is wild, pristine and expansive. Seventeen percent of the country is dedicated to national parks, many of them spreading into the vast Transfrontier parks of Kavango-Zambezi and Kgalagadi. This dedication to conserving some of the world’s last remaining wildernesses was finally recognised in 2014 when the jewel in Botswana’s conservation crown, the Okavango Delta, became Unesco’s 1000th World Heritage Site. Despite this embarrassment of accolades, Botswana remains off the radar for most people. The impression is: it’s too difficult to get to, it doesn’t cater for families. But we’re here to tell you that’s all nonsense. Go now! Go by plane, car or mokoro (canoe). Go in the green season or the dry season – it’s all great. Go to Vumbura Plains Camp or Jao Camp with tons of cash for the trip of a lifetime or go on a budget to community projects like Tsabong Camel Park and Moremi Gorge. Go as a honeymooning couple to gaze over the dreamy Zibandianja Lagoon in Linyanti or as an adventure junkie to ride horseback through Mashatu Game Reserve. Go as a wildlife enthusiast and track elephants in the mini-Serengeti of Savuti or meerkats on the Makgadikgadi Pans. Go alone to take your guiding qualifications at Okavango Guiding School or with the kids to experience Ker & Downey’s award-winning family safari (Safari Awards 2015). Whatever you do and whenever you go, you won’t regret it. Trust us on this one.

Life-changing experience

Botswana is so full of life-changing experiences it would be easier to list the things that aren’t remarkable. Here is a real wilderness that puts you in touch with palpable primitive thrills and fears, whether it’s being poled by an African gondolier in a mokoro past pods of sunbathing hippos in the Okavango Delta; or feeling the spirit of the first men in the thousand-year-old rock art in the Tsodilo Hills; or in the eerie beauty of Kubu Island’s ancient baobabs backlit by incandescent constellations in a vast night sky.

Current craze

So called ‘car park pimping’. Thanks to a 30% tax on alcohol and new licensing hours enforcing club closures at 2am, Gaborone’s club scene has moved outdoors and hijacked suburban car parks. Here the party continues around makeshift DJ decks with experienced clubbers equipped with personal cool boxes and camping chairs.

Trending topics

Direct flights. For years the government has been clamouring for direct international flights, and the relocation of De Beers’ sales office from London to Gaborone (handling about US$6.5-billion worth of rough diamond sales annually) in 2013 has undoubtedly added new pressure. Gaborone’s airport and runway have recently been upgraded and similar upgrades are planned for Maun and Kasane. With all the action people are hoping the long-awaited day may come within the next 6 to 12 months.  – Paula Hardy

2. Japan

Japan. It might be number two in this year’s rankings, but it’s always number one for travellers in search of an otherworldly experience. Nowhere else on earth exemplifies that dog-eared ‘modern yet ancient’ cliche like the land of the rising sun. Tokyo’s successful bid to host the Olympics in 2020 has raised the temperature of a feverish city amid a blur of new development, but beyond the suburbs Japan remains as elegant and enticing as its graceful wooden temples.

Even if you’ve never been to Japan, you probably already know that it ranks number one in the world for that quintessential not-in-Kansas-anymore travel experience. Its cities are expertly crafted odes to futurism where the trains whirr by in the blink of an eye and the towers of metal and glass are bathed in neon light. The countryside, too, feels otherworldly, with all-continents-in-one landscapes that blend alpine peaks with shimmering shores. And everywhere in between are prim wooden temples – the constant reminder that a well of deep-seated traditions hides just beneath the country’s enticing veneer of perfection.

Although Japan didn’t secure the Olympic bid for 2016, it was resoundingly successful with its application for Tokyo in 2020. And Olympic fever is already apparent in the capital as the city executes an elaborate feat of urban planning that will create a brand new shopping district, an entirely new Olympic village, and – most interestingly – move the much-venerated Tsukiji fish market (which sees over US$20 million in seafood sales each day) to a sparkling new facility that is set to swing open its doors at the end of this year. As everyone’s radioactive paranoia is finally put to rest by honouring five years since the fateful 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and with the government’s continued efforts to devalue the Japanese yen, there’s no better time to experience the country that pays such vivid tribute to manic modernity and hallowed history.

Life-changing experience

One of the world’s most famous pilgrimage routes after the Camino de Santiago is Japan’s Kumano Kodo near Osaka. For over a millennium devotees of every ilk – be it farmer or emperor – would walk betwixt hidden Oji shrines and forests of haunting trees to reach the three grand worshipping complexes of Kumano. There are a handful of different paths that extend like spokes around the Kii peninsula, but the goal is united in the act of spiritual penance performed by hikers as they rigorously trek. The preferred route – and also the oldest – is Nakahechi, which starts in the west and travels 30km to the shrines. Unesco officially recognised the network of trails in 2004, and over the last 12 years the walk has seen a steady increase in foreign tourists.

Current craze

Animal cafes. Yes, cat cafes are so 2009, and have proliferated across the globe, but in Japan – the genesis country – animal cafes have reached new heights: hobnob with goats, sip tea with a turtle, pose for selfies with owls, and do whisky shots while watching penguins.

Random facts

  • There are over 5.5 million vending machines in Japan selling everything from umbrellas and cigarettes to canned bread and hot noodles.
  • Japan’s birth rate has plummeted so significantly that adult nappies (diapers) outsell babies’ nappies, which are also sold in vending machines.
  • It is estimated that more paper is used for manga comics than for toilet paper in Japan. (Surprise: both are sold in vending machines as well.)

Most bizarre sight

Cafes where you can tickle owls? Vending machines that sell canned bread? Dentists that help patients accentuate their snaggle-teeth? Take your pick!  – Brandon Presser

3. USA

The ‘best idea’ America ever had turns 100 next year – the National Park Service, which oversees the country’s 59 national parks and hundreds of historic landmarks, celebrates a centenary of safeguarding Yosemite, Yellowstone, Badlands, Zion, and the rest. So lace up your hiking boots and set foot in the miraculously well-managed 340,000 sq km network of surreal and spectacular landscapes it defends, from earth-rending canyons to alligator-infested swamplands to belching geysers. It’s a national triumph.

Yellowstone, the Badlands, Zion, Shenandoah… Even their names evoke lands of Tolkienesque make-believe. Places where trolls and dragons roam, and magic happens. Step beyond the gates of America’s national parks, and you’ll soon be thinking old JRR should have broadened the scope of his imagination. Geysers spurt hundreds of feet high, massive canyons split the horizon in two, herds of bison graze in stunning valleys, and giant tree trunks, as ancient as Rome’s Colosseum, disappear into the sky. These are some of the most spectacular and surreal landscapes on the planet, and the fact that they are looking much the same as they did at the birth of this land-grabbing, highway-loving nation, is frankly a miracle. In 2016, the National Park Service (NPS), the government body which protects and maintains America’s 59 national parks and hundreds of historic landmarks, is turning 100 years old, and like any great host, this old-timer has been busting a gut to ensure the parks are at their best for the centenary.

It was historian Wallace Stegner who called the national parks ‘the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.’ These are the country’s national treasures; as hallowed and revered as India’s golden temples or the castles and cathedrals of Europe. Since its inception the NPS – most recognisable in the wide-brimmed figure of the park ranger – has been busy clearing litter, fighting fires, protecting wildlife, and providing information on everything from the habitat of the American black bear to the geology of Utah’s sandstone arches.

This centenary is an occasion that will be marked not by cake and balloons, but by the fruition of billions of dollars of investment and ambitious initiatives that will prepare the NPS for a second century. These range from the physical: clearing trails, improving accessibility, and installing the latest technology, to the inspirational: hosting ‘discovery’ events, involving thousands of young people in volunteer programs, and promoting enjoyment of the parks to urban communities.

It’s serious work. Serious work that has the most wondrous end: discovery of the national parks themselves. Yosemite’s mighty granite cliffs and fairy-tale waterfalls, Zion’s claustrophobic slot canyons, the steamy swamps of the Everglades, howling wolves, soaring condors, glittering glaciers… There are 340,000 sq km (84.4 million acres) to choose from. As you lace up the hiking boots, just remember to give your thanks to those hard-working folk at the NPS.

Life-changing experience

The world’s third-largest nation is a road-tripping paradise. As you take to highways travelled by Thelma and Louise and Bonnie and Clyde, watch the landscape morph from prairie to desert to breathtaking ocean road. On the way, goofy roadside attractions, small-town diners and curious locals are the added spice for the great American road trip.

Trending topics

The election. In 2016, America’s first African-American president will step down. As nationwide protests change the way Americans think about politics, this election year promises raging debate, as well as the usual flag flying and amusing (or just plain rude) bumper stickers. Will history be made again with the inauguration of America’s first female president?  – Dora Whitaker

4. Palau

Handballed between various foreign powers for centuries, Pacific pipsqueak Palau is charting its own path through the uncertain waters of national independence. While the US still plays Big Daddy, Palau is its own master. In 2014 President Remengesau was named a ‘Champion of the Earth’ by the United Nations for strengthening the economic and environmental independence of Palau and creating a 100% marine sanctuary of its oceans. His message: ‘The environment is our economy. The economy is our environment.’

Collected behind a 110km barrier reef, more than 200 largely unspoilt limestone and volcanic islands – a mere eight are inhabited – are blanketed in tropical and mangrove forest and surrounded by waters teeming with marine life. Fairly constant temperatures and rainfall mean any time of the year is good to visit, although it becomes more typhoon-prone in the back half of the calendar.

Palau has as much to fear from rising sea levels and environmental degradation as any other Pacific nation, but it’s tackling those fears head-on, and is leading conservation efforts in the region. Such progressive thinking makes these islands a haven for diving and snorkelling (among the best in the world) as well as kayaking, sailing and wildlife watching. The secret is out in East Asia already, which means Palau is looking to limit the number of tourists it can host at a time.

Life-changing experience

Cutely dubbed an ‘underwater Serengeti’, Palau’s waters are stunningly diverse and it’s unquestionably one of the most magical underwater destinations in the world. Divers and snorkellers enjoy hundreds of species of fish and coral, sharks, dolphins, dugongs and turtles, all attracted by the confluence of nutritive currents that meets in this corner of the Pacific vastness.

If you prefer to stay above sea level, take an ocean kayak through the uninhabited archipelago of the Rock Islands. Almost alien in its beauty, it’s made up of 445 limestone formations swaddled with verdant green and fringed by reefs. Nearly 400 species of coral, the world’s highest concentration of marine lakes, the remains of now-vanished human habitation and the continuing discovery of new and endemic species led Unesco to list this as a World Heritage Site.

Current craze

In 1944, the Japanese and Americans fought for three desperate months for control of the island of Peleliu’s important airfield. The tragic result was over 10,000 Japanese and 2,000 American casualties, and an island paradise littered with wreckage. Today, many of the rusted tanks, planes, small arms and (highly dangerous) unexploded ordnance that attest to the ferocity of the struggle remain. Tourists, carefully shepherded by expert guides, are increasingly being drawn to this fascinating site, where you can even enter the cave networks left by the Japanese defenders, and find everyday artefacts left behind. This isn’t as ghoulish as it may sound: many of the visitors are here to pay respect to fallen relatives, and moves are afoot to preserve the site for its outstanding historical significance.

Trending topics

A 400% year-on-year increase in visitors from China in February 2015 put some noses out of joint in Palau and resulted in a reduction in flights scheduled from China. Palau’s pristine environment makes it a popular destination for the Chinese, Korean and Japanese jet set, but locals have complained about a lack of environmental awareness threatening their precious assets.

Most bizarre sight

Jellyfish Lake is an otherworldly lagoon on the uninhabited limestone Rock Island of Eil Malk. Millions of an endemic sub-species of golden jellyfish drift across the marine lake in an east-west migratory pattern that’s repeated every day. Such is the sensitivity of the lake that visitors must obtain a permit, but snorkelling with these harmless, highly photogenic jellyfish is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  –  Tasmin Waby

5. Latvia

Latvia is shining for its silver anniversary. Celebrating 25 years of freedom from its Soviet fetters, little Latvia is poised to take centre stage after more than two decades of playing catch-up with many of its European brethren. And the title of ‘most improved’ is rightfully deserved for casting aside the dismal shadow of Communism and resuscitating centuries-old traditions that have long made this Baltic treasure shine.

Hundreds of crumbling castles and manor houses – from medieval to Rococo – hide in the nation’s dense forests of pine, and today many of these estates have been lavishly transformed into inns and museums. In fact an entire week could be spent in the countryside connecting the stars of this constellation.

Food, too, has come a long way from sweaty pork and potatoes. A fleet of (new) New Nordic chefs are catapulting local flavours to such artisanal heights that they would truly give Copenhagen a run for its money if Michelin were paying them more attention.

And as the country’s rural population continues to dwindle, Riga, the capital, further bolsters its importance throughout both the country and the region, especially after receiving a generous infusion of EU funds during its reign as European Capital of Culture in 2014. Much of the money was earmarked for infrastructure improvements and major renovations to important civic structures like the former KGB headquarters (now a fascinating museum), and the clutch of coveted Art Nouveau façades, of which the city has over 700 – one of the largest collections in the world.

Life-changing experience

Cast modesty aside and indulge in Latvia’s most Latvian tradition, the pirts – a hot birch sauna. A traditional pirts is run by a sauna master who cares for her naked attendees while performing choreographed branch beatings that draw on ancient pagan traditions. Herbs and wildflowers swish in the air to raise the humidity in the chamber for a series of sweltering 15-minute sessions before you exit the sauna to jump in a nearby body of water (lake, pond or sea). Nibbles and tipples, like smoked fish and beer, are intermixed for good measure, in what is largely the best way to swap the latest gossip with locals.

Random facts

  • It’s believed that the Christmas tree originated in Latvia. In 1510 a fraternity of drunken bachelors hauled a pine tree into Riga’s town square, covered it in flowers and set it on fire. A commemorative plaque marks the spot where the burning tree once stood.
  • A Latvian named Arvĩds Blũmentãls was the inspiration for Crocodile Dundee. Originally from a town in western Latvia called Dundaga, he moved to Australia after the WWII, where he hunted reptiles and dug for opals.
  • Technically the Latvian language has no word for ‘mountain’; the same word is used for ‘hill’ and ‘mountain’. No wonder, since Latvia’s highest point, Gaiziņkalns, is only 312m high.

Most bizarre sight

Gauja National Park may be known as a pine-studded preserve filled with medieval ruins, but it also holds some of the most eccentric relics from the Soviet era. Don’t miss the 1200m cement bobsled track built near Sigulda as the training course for the Soviet Olympic team, and check out the top-secret nuclear fallout shelter buried under a convalescence home in Lĩgatne. The bunker was of high strategic importance during the Cold War and the rooms covered in untouched switchboards and Soviet propaganda will undoubtedly perk the antenna of any Bond enthusiast.  – Brandon Presser

6. Australia

Unless you’re from New Zealand or Papua New Guinea, Australia can seem a long way from anywhere. Getting here usually involves folding yourself into a plane for 24 hours. But with 2016 shaping up as a definitive year for several of Australia’s key wilderness areas, it’ll be 24 hours well spent. In fact, with the weak Australian dollar, anything you spend here this year will be value for money. Petrol prices are heading south too: perfect timing for your great Australian road trip.

Environmentally, battle lines are being drawn near the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, where a string of proposed mining ports will require the dredging and dumping of millions of tonnes of seafloor. In Tasmania, the peace accord between pro- and anti-logging forces has been torn up by the new state government, keen to unlock old-growth forest for export. Now is the time to experience these astounding wilderness areas before compromises are made.

More positively, increasing numbers of Aboriginal land rights claims are being recognised here, including recent claims over Queensland’s Fraser Island and a huge tract of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. Indigenous tourism is booming, with new Aboriginal tour companies such as Ngurrangga Tours in Karratha and Bungoolee Tours in the Kimberley offering authentic cultural experiences. Contemporary Aboriginal art remains an Australian cultural high-water mark, as evidenced by the fab new Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre in Katherine.

Life-changing experience

Australia does a roaring trade in Unesco World Heritage wilderness areas: the 2300km-long Great Barrier Reef; the blood-red rocks of Uluru and Kata Tjuta; the 15,800 sq km Tasmanian Wilderness Area; the seething jungle of Kakadu National Park… Given the cross-continental distances involved, you mightn’t see them all – but what they have in common is a humbling sense of awe at first sight.

Current craze

Food vans and small bars. Battling innumerable fast food joints in Australian cities, the current clog of takeaway food vans – serving everything from burgers to barramundi curry – is constantly expanding. Afterwards, sip a craft beer at the latest alleyway speakeasy around the corner.

Trending topics

Real estate is the national addiction. Australians love talking about it, building it, buying it, looking at it on TV and (most of all) making money selling it. When the GFC jumped up and bit everybody in 2008, world real estate prices tumbled – but not in Australia. A glorious mining boom was in full swing: Australians just kept on buying pricey houses, driving the market skywards. Now – having reached a tipping point where the median house price is more than five times the median annual household income – Australian house prices are among the least affordable on the planet Will the bubble burst?

Random facts

  • Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world (behind Russia, Canada, the USA, China and Brazil).
  • When the British landed in 1788, Australia comprised more than 500 different Aboriginal nations, with distinct languages and territories.
  • Since the inception of the Man Booker Prize for literature in 1969, four Australians have won: Peter Carey (twice), Thomas Keneally, DBC Pierre and Richard Flanagan.
  • Since Europeans arrived in Australia, 27 native mammal, 23 bird and 78 frog species are believed to have become extinct.

Most bizarre sight

Emerging from the haze in the far-flung Oodnadatta Track in the central Australian desert is the Mutonia Sculpture Park – a kooky roadside installation featuring several large aeroplanes welded together with their tails buried in the ground to form ‘Planehenge’.  – Charles Rawlings-Way

7. Poland

If any country in Europe can boast superpowers, it’s Poland. The nation defied a recession that brought the rest of Europe to its knees, and visitor numbers continue to climb. Sceptics said Poland’s luck would wane after the country co-hosted the Euro 2012 football championship. Instead, Wrocław is poised for stardom as a European Capital of Culture, makeovers are adding lustre to lesser-known cities, and wildlife tourism is on the rise. Clearly 2016 is the year to put the icing on the cake – or perhaps, the swirl of śmietana in the beetroot soup.

Wrocław, the historical capital of Silesia, already had plenty of reasons to preen. Its Old Town Hall, with gothic turrets firing off a custard-coloured exterior, is one of Poland’s most beautiful buildings. And among beer gardens and soaring bell towers, Wrocław harbours a show-stopping 114m-long painting, the Panorama Racławicka. Highlights of the city’s stint as one of 2016’s European Capitals of Culture will be an artist-in-residence programme to promote artists across borders and world music days that combine influences across 50 different countries.

Kraków too will sparkle this year for World Youth Day, when the Pope touches down to kick off a calendar of celebrations and activism. In a country nearly 90% Roman Catholic, the turnout in picturesque Kraków is sure to be record-breaking.

And while budget airlines have long spidered their way across Poland, access is even easier with British Airways flying London to Kraków, Wizz Air opening routes to Szczecin and Katowice, and Finnair launching one to Gdańsk. Any lingering condescension about how well this post-Soviet country is muddling along will vanish as quickly as a shot of tangy wiśniówka (cherry vodka).

Life-changing experience

Plummet 135m into the Wieliczka Salt Mine for an unforgettable underground adventure. In this yawning Unesco-listed grotto, carvings grace walls and chandeliers drip from ceilings – all of them made out of salt. Other subterranean sights offer a glimpse into some of Poland’s most colourful myths. Beneath Kraków’s Wawel Hill lies the rumoured lair of a slain dragon, while in the chalk tunnels of Chełm you’ll learn of a legendary white bear, now the city’s emblem.

Hundreds of bison lumber through Białowieża Forest – though we’d wager the first one you spot will grace the label on a bottle of Poland’s legendary bisongrass vodka, Żubrówka. Unesco-listed Bialowieża is the last remaining expanse of the vast forest that once spread across the European plain. The 141,885-hectare forest (which extends into neighbouring Belarus) is home to around 900 bison, more than half of which are in the Polish reserve. The forest is also prowled by elk, wolves and lynx.

Weekenders looking beyond well-loved Warsaw and Kraków are now spoilt for choice. Increasing visitor numbers mean that Łódź, with its 19th-century mansions and cafe-strewn Piotrkowska Street, is abuzz with redevelopment. Meanwhile Szczecin continues to add polish to its Old Town and is now luring golfers to nearby Binowo Park.

Trending topics

Poland’s heavy-metal scene elicits headbanging or howls of dismay, depending on whom you ask. Some of Poland’s heaviest artists have risen to global acclaim, in particular Behemoth, who loudly protest Poland’s religious majority in between bouts of imperious black metal. To some, they are champions of a new, more secular Poland; to many, they’re the terror of the nation. Wherever you fall in the debate, you’ll never associate Poland with folk dancing again.

Most bizarre sight

Wrocław’s gnomes commemorate the1980s thanks to Orange Alternative movement, an anti-Communist group known for its absurdist style of protest – including graffiti and gnome-hat demonstrations. Today more than 300 gnome statues wave from street corners and twirl their beards beneath window panes. Gnomes with canes and wheelchairs have been added to the elfin army, to draw attention to the challenges faced by people in Wrocław with disabilities.  – Anita Isalska

8. Uruguay

Squished between South America’s two titans, Brazil and Argentina, this small country packs a big punch. What it lacks in size, Uruguay makes up for in peacefulness, hospitality and personality. While its two boisterous neighbours lurch from one crisis to the next, Uruguay stands out as a haven of political stability, good governance and prosperity – it’s not dubbed ‘the Switzerland of America’ for nothing. Uruguayans may seem shy and low-key, but they pride themselves on having constructed one of the continent’s most progressive societies – without civil conflict.

After two centuries living in the shadow of its neighbours, Uruguay is now eager to promote its identity and assets as more than just a side trip from nearby Buenos Aires. In 2016, it’s expected that the number of foreign visitors will reach the 3 million mark. But what is it that these holidaymakers come for?

Take Montevideo, which must be the safest capital in South America. When it comes to quality of life, Montevideo is unrivalled on the continent. It’s small enough to get around, but big enough to have some great architecture and a superb restaurant scene. The beach-lined seafront is easily navigated by bike, as is the Old Town, with its array of grand 19th-century neoclassical buildings.

An hour’s drive away lies gaucho (cowboy) country. Here, undulating pampas are dotted with working estancias (cattle ranches), many of which serve as guesthouses. For great nightlife and sexy beaches, head to Punta del Este, a modern resort city on the Atlantic coast full of beautiful people. But if you’re weary of high-rise buildings and cocktail bars, venture further east to Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo. These fabulously remote fishing-surfing villages peppered with colourful wooden cabins are seeing an influx of visitors, drawn by the bohemian vibes, empty beaches, shifting sand dunes, seal colonies and superb waves. Need some cultural sustenance? The gorgeous town of Colonia del Sacramento delivers the perfect blend of authenticity and tourism development. A Unesco World Heritage site, this ancient Portuguese stronghold, with its cobblestoned alleyways, postcolonial ruins, art galleries and elegant B&Bs, has enough to keep visitors happy for days.

Life-changing experience

Uruguayans are the masters of the asado barbecue (but don’t tell the Argentines and Brazilians!). One of the best and most atmospheric places to sample Uruguayan beef is the Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo. This 19th-century wrought-iron market hall shelters a gaggle of steakhouses. Pull up a stool at any of the parrillas (steakhouses) and watch the weighty slabs of meat being cooked over hot coals on a grill, then sink your teeth into a tasty morcilla (blood sausage) – memorable! Saturday lunchtime, when the market is crammed with locals, is the best time to visit.

Random facts

  • Uruguayans consume even more maté (a strong green tea) than Argentines and Paraguayans – which is saying a lot.
  • The 29th of each month is Gnocchi Day, when most restaurants serve gnocchi. This tradition dates back to tough economic times when these potato dumplings were the only thing people could afford to cook at the end of the month.
  • Marijuana is produced and sold legally. Home growers are allowed to keep up to six cannabis plants per household.

Most bizarre sight

In Punta del Este, you can’t miss La Mano de Punta del Este (The Hand). This quirky iron and cement sculpture by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal was created for an art contest in 1982 and has been a ‘Punta’ fixture ever since. It’s unsurprisingly selfie-friendly – thousands of visitors pose in front of its large digits, with the beach in the background.  – Jean-Bernard Carillet

9. Greenland

Our world is ever warmer, ever more crowded, and ever more plugged-in. So there’s something wildly refreshing about a place that’s about 80% ice covered, boasts the world’s lowest population density, and has cellular coverage so poor that many rely on satellite phones. Come to see the midnight sun on the glaciers, sail among breaching whales, ride across the tundra on a dogsled, watch the Northern Lights dance across the ice sheet.

In March 2016 Greenland (technically a territory of Denmark rather than an independent country, although one with a great deal of autonomy) will host the Arctic Winter Games, the largest event of its kind ever. Competitions range from snowshoeing to native games like pole-pushing (think reverse tug-of-war with a tree trunk). There will also be a cultural festival with song, dance and food. If you’re going to visit Greenland, this is the time to go. Luckily for you, it is easier than ever to access. It’s a quick four-hour flight from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland’s main airport. And now there are also seasonal and yearly flights from Reykjavík in Iceland to Nuuk, Ilulissat, Kangerlussuaq, Kulusuk and Narsarsuaq.

Life-changing experience

Witness icebergs the size of the Empire State Building calving in the Ilulissat Icefjord, home to the northern hemisphere’s most productive glacier. The town of Ilulissat, next to the glacier, is known as ‘the iceberg capital of the world’, and offers a huge number of iceberg-watching adventures. Kayak through the fjord’s navy blue waters, soar above the glacier in a fixed-wing plane, or hike along the icy cliffs with a pair of crampons strapped to your shoes.

From September to April, Greenland becomes one of the world’s prime places to see the aurora borealis, nature’s own laser light show. Though you can see the eerie green sine waves from anywhere in the country, for a true once-in-a-lifetime experience join a dogsledding expedition to the interior, where you can pitch a tent on the ice sheet and watch the sky in delicious solitude.

Current craze

Eating local. Yeah, yeah, so calling yourself a locavore is trendy everywhere from Peoria to Little Whinging these days. But Greenland is an Arctic island with little agriculture and no ground transportation. So cooking and eating local here is hardcore. A new generation of young chefs, some of whom have trained abroad in Denmark or elsewhere, are taking on the challenge and making meals with the delicious, albeit limited, local ingredients. Think juniper-poached musk-ox fillets, razorbill with crowberries, kelp salad studded with reindeer bacon, bellflower gelée atop local honey ice cream.

Trending topics

Though Greenland sits atop substantial uranium deposits, the mining of radioactive materials was illegal for a quarter century. Then, in 2013, uranium mining was approved by the government in a close and hotly debated vote. Now the country must decide whether to move forward. Some decry the environmental hazards and potential destruction of Greenland’s way of life, while others say the mining of uranium and other substances is the key to Greenland’s financial woes

Random facts

  • The iceberg that took down the Titanic most likely came from Ilulissat Icefjord in western Greenland, where it began as a snowflake 15,000 years earlier.
  • Greenland’s first brewery invented ‘ice beer’ – beer brewed with water from melted icebergs.
  • There are no roads between towns and settlements in Greenland. Locals and visitors must travel by plane, boat, snowmobile or sled.  – Emily Matchar

10. Fiji

After an uncertain decade following the coup of Commodore ‘Frank’ Bainimarama in 2006, and the constitutional crisis of 2009, Fiji has reverted to its peaceful and pleasure-loving self. In late 2014, Bainimarama finally made good on the promise to hold democratic elections, winning the prime ministership and restoring something of constitutional normality (albeit to a situation he had played an important part in creating).

The 2016 upgrade of the Nadi International Airport should increase capacity and make the transition to paradise a little smoother. Fiji’s international carrier, Fiji Airways, thinks your Fiji experience should begin as soon as you get on board a flight. Those smiles from the cabin crew are just the beginning.

Always blessed by natural beauty and the kind of climate that makes clothes seem a tiresome necessity, today there is a palpable and unprecedented vitality and confidence to Fiji. Whether your bent is idling in a resort, putting your body on the line sampling the latest extreme sport, or the more classic island delights of diving, sailing and angling, 2016 will be the year to soak up all Fiji has to offer.

Life-changing experience

It’s hard to visit Fiji without being serenaded by warm and welcoming singers brandishing guitars or ukuleles. There will be singing at the airport, at your hotel, and even on local buses. But for a real peek into this very traditional culture’s everyday life, get to a village church on a Sunday. Dress modestly (ask locals for advice on what’s appropriate) and have your spirits raised by the voices of a community singing traditional songs in harmony.

Floating in the turquoise waters of the Mamanuca islands is a two-storey pizzeria and bars servicing surfers, divers, sailors and holidaymakers. Swim up and order your wood-fired margherita, lounge on a day bed listening to the surround-sound music, and then ‘cannonball’ back into the spectacular ocean below. Kids are catered for (though did we mention it is completely surrounded by sea?) and prices for the day are all-inclusive. Cloud 9 is a 40-minute speedboat ride from Viti Levu, or a short hop from Musket Cove Island Resort.

Nothing will bring out your inner Attenborough like diving Fiji’s Somosomo Strait off the island of Taveuni. Crowned the ‘soft coral capital of the world’, Rainbow Reef is famous for its marine life, and the luminescent Great White Wall, a vertical drop-off reached by a tubular swim-through, is covered in soft white coral that looks like glimmering snow. The islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni also boast bird watching and forest hiking for the nature-loving land lubber.

Current craze

Just when you thought the human talent for frivolous invention had exhausted all potential for new ‘sports’, along comes flyboarding. Essentially a jet-propelled, hand-controlled hoverboard, the flyboard allows you to skim above the waves, shoot high into the air, plunge into the swell, then do it all again! Try it at Bounty Island.

Trending topics

Music from the African New World has taken root on the Fijian islands. What started in imitation of the original US and Jamaican styles has evolved into distinctive local variants: artists such as E.3 & Cracker (hip hop), 1stribe (reggae) and Kula Kei Uluivuya or KKU (pop) still pay homage to their musical roots, but reflect the experiences of Polynesians today.

Most bizarre sight

Vilavilairevo (fire walking) was originally performed only by the Sawau tribe of Beqa, an island off Viti Levu’s southern coast, but now you’ll probably catch a performance anywhere in Fiji. Traditionally, strict taboos dictated the men’s behaviour leading up to the ceremony and it was believed adherence to these protected them from burns.  – Tasmin Waby

 

 

Best Autumn Trip Ideas from Nat Geographic

Want to snorkel in a Bahamian blue hole, ring in the Ethiopian New Year, or taste maple leaf tempura in Japan? Whether you’re ready for an island, wilderness, or urban getaway, our editors’ list of ten Best Fall Trips – plus one reader’s choice – is sure to inspire your next autumn adventure.

—Maryellen Kennedy Duckett


Celebrate The Sound of Music‘s 50th Anniversary

Picture of Salzburg, Austria

Photograph by Jan Wlodarczyk/Alamy

Salzburg, Austria

Throughout 2015, fans of the 1965 classic movie The Sound of Music have been flocking to Salzburg to mark the world-famous film’s 50th anniversary. Join the party by attending Sound of Music-themed events, including the Sound of Music Gala 2015 (October 17) at the historic Felsenreitschule and the Sound of Music musical at the Salzburg Landestheater. (Check the website for performance dates.) Round out the celebration by visiting actual Sound of Music filming locations, including Nonnberg Abbey, founded in 714, and Mozart Bridge, named for native son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Best bet: Pedal around the city and see key sites featured in the movie on Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour Sound of Music route.

How to Get Around: From Salzburg Airport, take a taxi or public bus for the 15-minute ride to the city center and main train station. In the city, travel on foot and by bike, public bus, and subway. Buy a Salzburg Card for 24-, 48-, or 72-hour use of public transportation and admission to popular city attractions, plus various discounts.

Where to Stay: Although no Sound of Music filming took place inside the Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, the palatial rococo estate, built in 1736 as the family home of the prince archbishop of Salzburg, was featured in the movie. Set designers used the palace’s Venetian Room as the model for the much larger ballroom in the von Trapp villa, and long shots of the estate’s former lakeside gazebo appear in the film. There are 12 suites in the historic palace and 55 rooms in the adjacent Meierhof building, renovated in 2014. Three of the Superior Doubles are billed as “Sound of Music” rooms due to the light, bright interiors and the lake and mountain views.

What to Eat and Drink: Opened around 1542 as a brewery and completely renovated in 2014, the iconic Sternbräu is one of Austria’s largest restaurant complexes. Austrian dishes such as fiakergulasch (meat and sausage goulash) and Salzburger nockerl (an egg soufflé dessert) are served in the multiple dining rooms, bars, and beer gardens. Buy tickets in advance for the Sternbräu’s Sound of Salzburg dinner show (through October 15), which includes musical selections from The Sound of Music, Mozart, and traditional Salzburg operettas.

What to Buy: Salzburg is the hub of Austria’s tracht (national dress) production. Get fitted for a dirndl, lederhosen, loden jacket, or other traditional costume at H. Moser. The family-owned custom tailor shop has been manufacturing trachten since 1928 and created the cast costumes for the Sound of Music musical at the Salzburg Landestheater.

Practical Tip: To easily access maps, travel guides, and other helpful information as you bike around the city, download Salzburg mobile apps to your smartphone or tablet.

What to Watch Before You Go: The five-disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition Sound of Music (20th Century Fox, 2015) includes the feature film remastered in HD, plus lots of bonus features, including a virtual map of the Salzburg filming locations and the new, hour-long documentary The Sound of a City: Julie Andrews Returns to Salzburg.

Helpful Link: Official Salzburg Travel Guide

Fun Fact: Actual filming of the Sound of Music “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” singing scenes took place inside a gazebo constructed on a Hollywood set. But that didn’t stop movie fans from trespassing on the grounds of Schloss Leopoldskron to see the glass gazebo used for exterior shots. Due to the heavy tourist traffic, the gazebo was disassembled, moved, and reconstructed in its present location in the gardens at Schloss Hellbrunn.

Staff Tip: Salzburg’s historic c​o​r​e​ is a ​hive​ of museums, shops, cafés—and ​visitor​s, especially in summer. Head just beyond the old city walls, however, and you come upon parks, lakes, and local​ly popular​​​ ​attractions. A standout: the Gössl Gwandhau​s​, or “​Gössl ​​cloth hall​.​” ​A​ showcase ​for the Salzburg-based Gössl clothing brand’s famously well-crafted dirndls, lederhosen, and boiled wool jackets, ​it has blended “as much tradition as possible and as much innovation as necessary” ​since the 1940s, in the words of founder Leopold Gössl​. ​Housed in a centuries-old country palace surrounded by gardens and meadows, the Gewandhaus ​includes a small museum chronicling the evolution of dirndl and lederhosen fashion. Take a tour, then drink in the surrounding scenery over a glass of award-winning Austrian wine and servings of fresh asparagus, ​knödel​ dumplings, and Wiener schnitzel at the elegant terrace restaurant—a setting that​ ​one ​can ​imagine inspir​ing​​​ ​​a composition by ​Salzburg-born ​composer ​Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart​. —Jayne Wise, senior editor, National Geographic Traveler

Take a Nocturnal Wilderness Walk

Picture of kangaroo on Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Photograph by Auscape/UIG

Kangaroo Island, Australia

Only a 30-minute flight from Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, called KI by locals, is one of Australia’s most authentic and untouched places. Over half of the 1,705-square-mile island (about three times the size of Oahu) is covered in native, old-growth vegetation. Many of the resident creatures, including kangaroos, koalas, and possums, are nocturnal, so after dark is the best time to experience KI’s wild side. Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary offers guided wildlife walks every night except Christmas. The 90-minute tours begin at sunset and include brief overviews of the island and the sanctuary, a former sheep farm that has been restored to close to its natural setting. “We are revegetating the land and providing a home to the many species that live naturally here, including tammar wallaby, western gray kangaroo, brushtail possum, southern boobook owl, echidna, Cape Barren goose, and many species of birds,” says sanctuary manager Kelly Bartlett. Added bonus: On clear-sky evening walks, guides provide a telescope to view the Southern Cross and other constellations.

How to Get Around: Driving is the most convenient way to travel around the vast island, which is 96 miles long and up to 34 miles wide. From Adelaide, drive about an hour and a half southwest to Cape Jervis to board the Kangaroo Island SeaLink for the 45-minute ferry ride to Penneshaw. Or take the 35-minute flight from Adelaide to Kingscote. Rent a car at the ferry terminal or the airport.

Where to Stay: Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary has six beachside cabins on-site (four two-bedroom and two one-bedroom). All have kitchens and ocean views. Or indulge in the luxurious Southern Ocean Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge, located minutes from the sanctuary. The secluded and sleek eco-resort is perched above the limestone cliffs at Hanson Bay. All 21 suites have floor-to-ceiling ocean views and an outdoor terrace.

What to Eat or Drink: The Oyster Farm Shop in American River processes and packages the harvest from the island’s largest commercial oyster farm. The bulk of the harvest is shipped off-island, but the farm does run a weekday lunch shack across the street from its processing sheds. Try freshly shucked or smoked oysters (harvested from the bay across the road), plus other local sustainable seafood (such as crayfish, abalone, whiting, and marron). Open Monday to Friday only, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

What to Buy: Kangaroo Island is home to the world’s only known colony of Ligurian bees. The Italian bees were introduced to the island in 1884 and have been protected by law since 1885. Visit the Island Beehive in Kingscote to tour the honey factory, purchase jars of organic honey and beeswax candles, and try locally made honeycomb ice cream or a Ligurian latte (made with bee pollen and sugar gum honey).

Cultural Tip: When driving, acknowledge passing motorists with the local “Kangaroo Island wave.” The greeting is subtle—a quick flick up of the index finger on whatever hand is holding the steering wheel—which is helpful, since you’ll need both hands on the wheel to navigate some of KI’s dirt roads.

What to Read Before You Go: KI native Tony Boyle’s sweeping family drama Kangaroo Island (Story Power Books LLC, 2013) offers an insider’s look, albeit fictionalized, at the real-world challenges and rewards of island life.

Helpful Links: Tourism Kangaroo Island, Visit Australia, and the South Australia Tourism Commission

Fun Fact: Kangaroo Island is named for its indigenous kangaroo, a smaller, darker version of its closest mainland relative, the western gray kangaroo. Found in the wild only on KI, the diminutive Kangaroo Island kangaroo typically stands three- to four-and-a-half-feet tall, while the tallest western grays can top out at seven feet.

Local Tip: Jon and Sarah Lark’s Kangaroo Island Spirits at Cygnet River is a must-visit. They serve an affogato with a generous amount of their honey and walnut liqueur (made from freshly roasted walnuts and Kangaroo Island’s famous Ligurian honey). Some say it tastes like a liquid hot cross bun! And try the limoncello and zenzerino—lip smacking! In the mood to eat? The Rockpool Cafe at Stokes Bay on the island’s north coast is only open during summer (and if the fishing is good you might find the Gone Fishing sign on the door), but the cones of fish, chips, and seafood are consistently satisfying. There is plenty of seating both inside and out, but the best bet is to take your meal to the glorious white sandy beach. Make sure you don’t just stop at the car park but follow the To Beach sign, walking through the Picnic at Hanging Rock-style rock formations. You have to watch your head and your chips, but the beach at the other end is breathtaking. —James Baillie, owner, Southern Ocean Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge

Formula One and Day of the Dead

Photograph of a racecar at the Hermanos Rodriguez racetrack, Mexico City

Photograph by Guillermo Arias

Mexico City, Mexico

October 31-November 2

Fast and furious Formula One (F1) motorcar racing returns to Mexico City for the first time since 1992 with the Mexican Grand Prix on November 1, the Day of the Dead. F1’s open-cockpit, single-seater-style racing isn’t as well known in the U.S., yet has a bigger global audience than NASCAR and the IndyCar series combined.

On November 1, watch the top-flight field maneuver around Mexico City’s Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez F1 circuit at speeds topping 200 miles an hour. Before or after the racing (October 31 to November 2), experience authentic Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) traditions in San Andrés Mixquic, a village located in the far southeastern reaches of Mexico City. The celebration includes Day of the Dead altar competitions and displays, as well as a bustling marketplace stocked with foods, crafts, and festival items such as sugar skulls and pan de muertos (bread of the dead). The highlight is the November 2 candlelight procession through town to the cemetery. Locals carrying a cardboard coffin lead the way, followed by families who will spend the night keeping vigil at their loved ones’ newly decorated graves.

How to Get Around: Take a taxi de sitio (registered, radio-dispatched taxi) or a turismo (an unmarked “tourist” taxi arranged through your hotel) from the airport to the center city. In the city, the extensive metro system is the safest, most convenient, and affordable (about $.30 per ride) mode of transportation.

Where to Stay: Attention to detail is the mantra at Las Alcobas, a luxurious boutique property in the city’s elegant Polanco neighborhood. The 35 rooms and suites are styled with handcrafted rugs, original artwork by Mexican artists, and leather-paneled walls. The in-room minibar is stocked with complimentary locally sourced snacks. The two-bedroom suites and three penthouse suites have wraparound terraces.

What to Eat or Drink: At Biko in the Polanco district, chefs Bruno Oteiza, Mikel Alonso, and Gerard Bellver fuse traditional Basque cooking from northern Spain with local Mexican ingredients. The resulting Basque-Mexican cuisine (what the chefs call cocina gachupa) is featured on two menus: traditional and modern. Choose the tasting menu for the full Biko experience, an avant-garde mix of small plates such as foie gras cotton candy, Mexican pork jowl and tomato, and fried apple with olive and pepper ice cream.

What to Buy: Tienda MAP (Museo de Arte Popular stores) sell artisanal and fair-trade Mexican handicrafts. Featured artists include Urbano Fernández Chávez of Oaxaca, who raises silkworms and, with his family, spins and weaves the silk into one-of-a-kind rebozos (shawls).

What to Watch Before You Go: 1 is an adrenaline-charged documentary detailing the glamour and danger of Formula One Grand Prix racing during the sport’s late 1960s golden age.

Helpful Links: Mexico Tourism Board and Formula 1: Mexico City

Fun Fact: Mexico’s Grand Prix venue, the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, located east of Mexico City, is named for national racing legends and brothers Ricardo and Pedro Rodríguez. The brothers’ prowess in Formula One racing helped build the sport’s fervent local fan base. Tragically, Ricardo and Pedro died a decade apart (1962 and 1971, respectively) in racing accidents.

Staff Tips: Mexico City quickly became one of my favorite cities—I was surprised at how hard I fell for it. For a visitor, there is so much culture and history, beautiful green space, and cool neighborhoods. There are two local restaurants that I really love. One is Contra Mar, the best people-watching spot in town for lunch, with fabulous seafood. It’s hard to pick between a sidewalk table in the sun and the lively tables inside. For dinner, I dream of Rosetta, which serves perfect Italian dishes in a restored mansion in Roma. Try to sit in the beautiful indoor garden area downstairs. —Annie Fitzsimmons, @anniefitz, National Geographic Urban Insider

I let the artwork of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera guide my week in Mexico City last year: His epic mural in the National Palace introduces hundreds of years of history, while her half-used paint tubes still wait in front of a mirror for another fierce self-portrait in their house, La Casa Azul (Blue House) in Coyoacan, once a separate suburb known for attracting intellectuals and exiles like Leon Trotsky in the 1920s. Leave time for Xochimilco’s Museo Dolores Olmedo in the old hacienda of Diego’s patron, where Mexican hairless dogs roam the grounds, then float in colorful gondola-like boats called trajineras down World Heritage canals for a glimpse of the area’s pre-Hispanic past, which inspired their artwork. —Christine Blau, @Chris_Blau, researcher, National Geographic Traveler

Inaugural World Indigenous Games

Picture of a bow and arrow competition during the indigenous games in Cuiaba, Brazil

Photograph by Felipe Dana, AP

Palmas, Brazil

October 23-November 1

While controversy swirls around preparations for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the city of Palmas in central Brazil has been quietly gearing up to host a smaller (and arguably much cooler) event—the first World Indigenous Games. The games have taken place in Brazil for more than a decade, but this is the first time indigenous athletes from any country are welcome to participate.

Nearly 25 countries are expected to send teams to showcase traditional indigenous games such as the lance (javelin) throw, the log race, and tug-of-war; “Western” soccer; and demonstration events including xikunahity (a soccer-like game played with the head only).

Beyond the games, see the spectacular dunes, waterfalls, and canyons of Jalapão, and visit 200-mile-long Bananal Island, one of the world’s largest river islands and home of the indigenous Karajá and Javaé peoples.

How to Get Around: Palmas is a relatively new, planned city, founded in 1989 as the capital of Brazil’s newest state, Tocantins. The airport is located 18 miles south of the city center. You can take a taxi or public bus from the airport to the city center. However, if you want to explore the surrounding area, renting a car at the airport is the best option.

Where to Stay: In Brazil, a pousada (Portuguese for inn) can be anything from a basic bed-and-breakfast to a luxury eco-lodge. In general, pousadas offer a more authentic, local experience than hotels, and typically include breakfast. Two convenient Palmas options are Pousada dos Girassois and Pousada das Artes, a pousada-style hotel.

What to Eat or Drink: Local dishes to look for in Tocantins include arroz de pequi (rice made with the pulp of pequi, a green-yellow fruit the size of a small orange); biscoito de polvilho (a biscuit made with tapioca flour); and peixe na telha (fish cooked in a clay baking plate). In addition to pequi, indigenous fruits to try include cupuaçu (a melon-size superfruit in the cacao family), açai, and cajá (a sweet, mini-mango-like superfruit packed with vitamin C).

What to Buy: Female artisans in the Tocantins village of Mumbuca are known for their “golden grass” handicrafts. Golden grass (Syngonanthus sp. or capim dourado in Portuguese) is the stem of a small white flower native to the Jalapão region east of Palmas. Dried and braided stems are woven into handbags, necklaces, earrings, mandalas, pots, ornamental folk art, and other items.

What to Watch Before You Go: The short World Indigenous Games promotional video produced by Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism with English subtitles provides background on the event and includes brief interviews with the games’ founders, Inter Tribal Council (ITC) members and brothers Carlos and Marcos Terena.

Helpful Links: World Indigenous GamesVisit Palmas, and Visit Brazil

Fun Fact: The Bororo, or Boe, are among the 24 Brazilian indigenous groups participating in the games. Known for their prowess in tug-of-war, the Bororo have several distinct rituals, including wearing macaw feather headdresses and adorning their faces with drawings made of clay, coal dust, sap, and red-orange urucum (a coloring agent made from the seeds of an annatto tree).

See the World’s Largest Concentration of Blue Holes

Picture of a woman swimming in a blue hole on the island of Andros, Bahamas

Photograph by William Gray

Andros, Bahamas

Andros is only 30 miles (a 15-minute flight) west of Nassau, yet for now this pristine island paradise remains a bit of a Bahamas secret. The “island” consists of a 104-mile-long archipelago of small islets and mangrove-covered cays. Home to the second largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and the Caribbean’s largest unexplored wilderness, Andros is best known for its silvery bonefish and the world’s largest known concentration of blue holes (submerged caves). A large number of the underwater caves can be found in Blue Holes National Park, one of five national parks on Andros. “The first experience of a blue hole is spiritual, and then you come to appreciate [that] they are natural wonders of the world,” says Peter Douglas, executive director of ANCAT (Andros Conservancy and Trust), a local nonprofit conservation organization. “Imagine walking onto a big circular ocean of water in the middle of the forest … [Blue holes] are portals back to an alien world under the ocean.”

How to Get Around: Fly into Andros International Airport in Andros Town (also known as Fresh Creek), the commercial hub of North Andros. There is no public transportation, so car rentals, taxis, and boats are the only options. Queen’s Highway runs along the east coast of the three major islands. This eastern area is home to most of Andros’s lodging, fishing, and tourist services, including blue hole trips, boating, bonefishing, and Andros Barrier Reef snorkeling tours.

Where to Stay: Small Hope Bay Lodge in Fresh Creek has 21 rustic, beachfront cabins hand-built from local coral rock and pine. Opened in 1960, the comfortable, family-run lodge is all-inclusive (meals, drinks, and activities) and designed for total relaxation. The lack of in-room television or Internet access leaves more time to bike, kayak, windsurf, or nap in a hammock. Another Fresh Creek option is Sunset Point Houseboat. Moored in the tidal waters, the private houseboat has three bedrooms and a wraparound deck. Rent kayaks and snorkel gear on-site to explore inland blue holes, including Helios, which only is accessible by boat via Fresh Creek.

What to Eat and Drink: On Mangrove Cay, the middle of Andros’s three major islands, stop at fishing guide Shine Greene’s waterfront Conch Shack for fresh conch ceviche and a cold bottle of Kalik, self-described “beer of the Bahamas.” In Davis Creek, just north of Andros Town on North Andros, sip tropical drinks on the oceanfront dock at Brigadiers Restaurant.

What to Buy: Tour the Androsia batik factory in Fresh Creek to see 100 percent cotton fabric hand-printed with nature-inspired designs (such as shells, fish, and flowers) and hand-dyed in vibrant colors (including magenta, green mango, fire coral, and deep aqua). Buy the Bahamian batik fabric by the yard or as clothing, pillows, drawstring backpacks, tablecloths, and more at the factory outlet store. Take a factory tour, or sign up in advance for a batik lesson.

What to Watch Before You Go: This webisode from the National Geographic Channel’s Diving the Labyrinth series offers a quick overview of Bahamian blue holes and an inside look at an Andros underwater cave.

Practical Tip: Pack insect repellent, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants to help ward off Andros’s big-three biting bugs: mosquitoes, sand flies, and “doctor” flies (greenhead horseflies). To dive the deeper blue holes, advanced scuba certification is required.

Helpful Links: The Islands of the Bahamas, Andros Conservancy and Trust, and National Geographic Explorers Blue Holes Project

Fun Fact: Blue holes can extend hundreds or thousands of feet down in a labyrinth of passages. There are several different kinds of these underwater caves, collectively known as blue holes due to the deep-blue hue often produced when the sky reflects on their surface water. Some blue holes may appear muddy or dark on the surface, yet the water below is typically very clear.

Foliage, Festivals, and Food

Picture of a float, or "danjiri," during the Danjiri Festival in Kishiwada, Osaka, Japan

Photograph by Kazuhiro Nogi, flickr

Osaka, Japan

Autumn combines three of Osakans’ favorite things: food (the city is known as Japan’s food capital); colorful ginkgo and maple leaves; and dozens of festivals and special events, including the Osaka Marathon (October 25). The must-see fall festival is Danjiri Matsuri (“float-pulling”), a 300-year-old competition pitting neighborhoods across Japan. September 13-14, watch as teams of 500 to 1,000 men use ropes to pull and steer intricately carved, wooden danjiri (traditional floats) through the narrow streets. Each float is topped with dancers, musicians, and a Daiku-gata (director), who shouts out instructions to keep the careening, four-ton float and the crew from toppling on tight turns.

“Osaka could be seen as slightly chaotic and disorienting at first,” says Aria Aoyama, international public relations manager for the Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau, “but, in my eyes, it is a living treasure box; [it] just takes a bit of digging beneath its surface. And it is in fall that you get the best of everything, so you can’t go wrong.”

How to Get Around: Fly directly into Osaka’s Kansai International Airport or ride the bullet train west from Tokyo (2 hours and 30 minutes) to Shin-Osaka Station. Trains connect both locations to the city center. Travel in and around the city by subway, waterbus, and the Japan Rail (JR) Osaka Loop Line. Buy a two-day Osaka Amazing Pass for unlimited transportation and one-time admission to nearly 30 attractions on two consecutive days.

Where to Stay: Hotel Minoo, located at the entrance to forested Meiji’no Mori Mino Park, has a rooftop onsen (hot spring) Sky Bath, plus an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley. From the hotel, follow the park’s main hiking trail along the Minoo River to see brilliant fall foliage, Ryuanji Temple, and Mino Waterfall. The park entrance is less than 30 minutes from Osaka by train.

What to Eat or Drink: Osakans’ historical obsession with food goes into overdrive during fall harvest season. Sample the region’s fresh bounty (vegetables, beef, and seafood) at a kappo (a Japanese mash-up of “cook” and “cut”) restaurant. Osaka is the birthplace of kappo, a casual and conversational culinary style where patrons sit at the counter and watch the chefs prepare their meals. Several kappos are located on Hozenji Yokocho, an alley lined with Washoku (Japanese cuisine) restaurants.

What to Buy: Osaka lays claim to being the first city in Japan to import and make Amechan (candy). One of the first confectioneries, Toyoshita, has been producing its signature vegetable- and fruit-flavored sweets since 1872. Each candy is shaped like its fruit or vegetable flavor, including melon, carrot, radish, and pumpkin. Watch the production process and buy freshly made candies and throat lozenges at the Toyoshita factory located near the JR Bishoen Station.

Practical Tip: “Amechan taberu?” (“Do you want a candy?”) is a common, friendly greeting in Osaka. If a local offers you a piece of candy, accept it with a smile.

What to Read Before You Go: Download the Osaka Government Tourism Bureau’s free English-language official Osaka guidebook and city and area maps (including a railway route map).

Helpful Links: Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau and Japan National Tourism Organization

Fun Fact: Fall is the prime season to try the traditional Meiji’no Mori Mino treat: Momiji (maple leaf tempura). Vendors stationed along the park’s main hiking trail deep-fry bright red and orange maple leaves in sweetened tempura batter to create the portable and crunchy snack.

Visit the Newest U.S. World Heritage Site

Picture of San Antonio Missions in San Antonio, Texas

Photograph by Richard Nowitz, National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy

San Antonio, Texas

Built in the 18th century by Spanish Franciscan priests, the five San Antonio Missions—Concepción, Espada, San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), San José, and San Juan—were designated on July 5 as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The missions, which represent the largest collection of Spanish colonial architecture in the U.S., are the newest addition to the World Heritage List in the United States and the first in Texas. “[The missions] are very much a part of what continues to shape the community and personality of San Antonio,” says Susan Snow, an archaeologist for San Antonio Missions National Historical Park who has been coordinating community efforts to secure World Heritage status since 2007. “To bike down the Mission Reach of the River Walk in the cooling weather and see the distinct architecture from afar or attend a mariachi mass in the heart of one of its churches really pulls you into the soul of locals honoring their heritage.”

How to Get Around: Walking and biking are the best ways to visit the missions, which were built in two- to three-mile increments (north to south) along the San Antonio River. The Mission Reach section of the famous San Antonio River Walk includes an eight-mile hiking and biking trail that runs from just south of downtown to Mission Espada. Designated portals connect the trail to the four southernmost missions: Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada. Parking and bike-share stations are available at each portal. The Alamo is located north of the other missions, along the downtown section of the River Walk. By car, follow the Mission Trails route (look for the green shepherd’s crook light poles) connecting all five missions.

Where to Stay: Hotel Emma is the latest edition to Pearl, a culinary-focused urban village centered in and around the historic 1881 Pearl Brewery complex. Scheduled to open October 1, the 146-room luxury hotel is conveniently located next to the River Walk in Midtown. Common areas and some guest rooms (including the top-floor suites with private terraces) include original brewery design elements such as industrial equipment reengineered as light fixtures, cast-iron spiral staircases, and turn-of-the-century exposed brick walls.

What to Eat or Drink: Chef Jeff Balfour’s new Southerleigh (opened April 2015) celebrates San Antonio and Texas Gulf Coast tastes and traditions. The fine-dining brewpub is named for the predominantly southerly winds on the Texas coast and is housed in the historic Pearl Brewery, marking the first time since 2001 that beer is produced on-site. Mains (such as pan-seared grilled snapper, seafood boils, and smothered Parker Creek Ranch fried chicken with red-eye gravy) are served family style. Best deal: The Cellarman’s Lunch Pail offers an entrée and side for $12 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Closed Sundays.

What to Buy: Brick Marketplace at Blue Star Arts Complex hosts funky and fun Sunday (12 to 5 p.m.) and first Friday (7 p.m.) markets. Dance, eat, and browse the eclectic selection of items, including vintage vinyl records, clothing, and sand art terrariums.

Practical Tip: Plan to visit Mission San José and Mission Concepción in time for one of the day’s free guided tours. The other missions may offer tours if staff is available. Check at the information center when you arrive.

What to Watch Before You Go: This 50-minute video (Bennett-Watt Media, 2014) provides an overview of how Spanish frontier missions helped to shape Texas and the American West.

Helpful Links: San Antonio MissionsSan Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Travel Texas

Fun Fact: The Alamo complex is a Texas state historic site, but the other mission churches are active Catholic parishes. Except for during weddings and special events, visitors dressed in proper church attire are welcome to respectfully attend weekend Mass. (Check the Archdiocese of San Antonio website for times and information.) Most Sundays, Mission Concepción—the oldest unrestored stone church in the U.S.—and Mission San José offer a bilingual (Spanish and English) Mass accompanied by mariachi music.

Staff Tip: Stay at a hotel near the River Walk (I liked the Marriott San Antonio Riverwalk), take the Rio San Antonio cruise to get acclimated to the area, then explore it on foot in the evening when it’s cooler. Looking for a spot to dine with less of a touristy vibe? Try the Alamo Street Eats. The gathering of three to four food trucks opens at 5 p.m. daily and includes menu items like the Attaboy Burger (ridiculously good) and the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner (fried chicken and waffles that are the perfect mix of salty and sweet). A live DJ spinning hits from the ’80s and ’90s is bound to get you grooving in your chair. The recent addition of the San Antonio Missions to the list of Unesco World Heritage sites also makes it a reason to explore. Mission Concepción is probably the best preserved and has a few shady spots for catching your breath, along with information boards to help you understand the history. —Heather Greenwood Davis, @GreenwoodDavis, National Geographic Traveler contributor

Learn About Whaling History “In the Heart of the Sea”

Picture of Whaling Museum in Nantucket, Massachusetts

Photograph by Claudia Uripos, eStock Photo

Nantucket, Massachusetts

The upcoming Warner Bros. film In the Heart of the Sea (scheduled release in December 2015) chronicles the 1819 tragedy of the whaleship Essex. Survivor stories from the Nantucket-based ship, which was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale in the South Pacific, inspired Herman Melville’s epic tale Moby-Dick. Discover the true story and learn about the island’s whaling tradition at the Nantucket Whaling Museum’s major new exhibition “Stove by a Whale: 20 Men, 3 Boats, 96 Days.” The exhibit (open through November 2016) includes props and period costumes from the film, plus interactive experiences. “The sound of the water echoes in the hall to help people think about what it might sound like to be out at sea for that long,” says Lindsay Scouras, manager of communications at the Nantucket Historical Association. “There’s also a replica whaleboat you can step in. A screen in front projects quotes from some of the survivors’ accounts, and the surrounding walls look like water. The whole experience helps you understand what it might have been like to be out in the ocean with nothing in sight … how quiet and lonely that must have been.”

How to Get Around: Nantucket is about an hour south of Hyannis via the Hy-Line or Steamship Authority high-speed ferry. The Whaling Museum is downtown, within easy walking distance of both ferry-landing docks. To travel beyond downtown, rent a bike, ride TheWAVE public shuttle bus (through October 12), or use taxis.

Where to Stay: The 11-room Anchor Inn, built in 1806 by Captain Archaelus Hammond of the whaleship Cyrus, is run by owner-innkeepers Charles and Ann Balas. The couple purchased the downtown inn (and the two whaleboat oars and harpoons inside) as their home more than 30 years ago. Rooms are named for various whaling ships. Guests can view “their” ship’s actual log at the Nantucket Historical Association’s Research Library and Whitney Gallery. Best bet: Ask Charles to share his recipe for the muffins (flavors include blueberry, cranberry, and apricot) served daily in the inn’s private side garden.

What to Eat or Drink: Fog Island Cafe is an unpretentious and affordable (for Nantucket) breakfast and lunch spot close to the ferry terminals and the Whaling Museum. Breakfast (try the Bacodo, a bacon, avocado, and cheese omelet) or lunch (including a Nantucket Fishcake sandwich with side) will run you $20 or less. Opens 7 a.m. daily and closes at 2 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

What to Buy: The Nantucket Historical Association Museum Shop stocks a number of whaling and whale-related items, including the documentary Nantucket: A Film By Ric Burns (Nantucket Historical Association, 2011) and a reproduction “whale tooth” scrimshaw made from hand-inked and engraved ivory polymer.

Practical Tip: The 90-minute “In the Heart of the Sea” walking tour leaves from the Whaling Museum lobby daily at 2:15 p.m. Tours are limited to 20 people, and tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis ($10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students). To avoid being disappointed, purchase tour tickets when the museum opens at 10 a.m.

What to Read Before You Go: The upcoming Warner Bros. movie is based on In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (Penguin, 2000), written by Nantucket resident Nathaniel Philbrick and winner of the 2000 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

Helpful Links: Nantucket Historical Association, Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce, Nantucket Visitor Services, and Nantucket Chronicle

Fun Fact: One of the few known artifacts to survive the Essex disaster is a piece of twine wound by crewmember Benjamin Lawrence. While lost at sea for 96 days, Lawrence added little pieces of hair and fibers to the twine. The artifact is displayed in an ivory frame at the Whaling Museum.

Staff Tip: Hop on the free shuttle from the visitors center downtown for a ride to Cisco Brewers, where you can take a tour of the island brewery and sample small-batch craft beers, including Whale’s Tale Pale Ale and Grey Lady Ale. The owners of the brewery also run the Nantucket Vineyard and Triple Eight Distillery, if wine or spirits are more to your liking. The family-friendly brewery provides a convivial outdoor scene with picnic tables, live music, and food trucks selling lobster rolls and tacos. Closer to town, time your walk to Jetties Beach for sunset. Once there, pull up a chair and dig your toes in the sand at Jetties Beach Bar & Restaurant, a festive, open-air spot with acoustic guitar music, seafood, and frozen drinks. Then focus your gaze on the water and watch the fiery sun slip into the horizon and turn the sky into a kaleidoscope of colors. —Susan O’Keefe, @sokeefetrav, associate editor, National Geographic Traveler

New Year’s Day 2008 Celebrations

Picture of Ethiopians waving the Ethiopian flag as they celebrate the arrival of their new year in Addis Ababa

Photograph by ROBERTO SCHMIDT

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

September 11

In Ethiopia, this September 11 is Enkutatash (“gift of jewels”), otherwise known as New Year’s Day 2008. The East African nation follows its own calendar, known as the Ge’ez, which is based on the ancient Coptic calendar. A different interpretation of when the birth of Jesus was announced accounts for the more-than-seven-year gap between the Ge’ez and the Gregorian calendar. And since Enkutatash traditionally coincides with the end of the rainy season on the Horn of Africa, as well as the Feast of John the Baptist, there are three reasons to celebrate on New Year’s Eve.

The party is particularly spirited in and around the capital city, Addis Ababa, where residents light bundles of sticks called chibo to make neighborhood bonfires. “Ethiopian holidays are the best—Everything is centered around food, family, and friends,” says Xavier Curtis, co-founder with Eliza Richman of AddisEats. “Every holiday is celebrated with meat, either raw or cooked, at home or at a butcher house. Since the New Year’s celebrations do not have as much of a religious aspect to it, this is one of the best times of year to get out and enjoy the festivities with everyone else. They won’t be at church or at home; they’ll be out eating and drinking.”

How to Get Around: Arrange airport transfers, local transportation (taxi or car service), and guided tours or private tour guides through your hotel. Hiring a taxi driver for a full day (about $75) is the most convenient option. For an insider’s view of the city, book the AddisEats full-day tour (9 a.m. to about 7 p.m.). Itineraries are customized and can include traveling by public transportation and visiting markets and restaurants catering to locals.

Where to Stay: Sleek, modern hotels are springing up across Addis Ababa as part of the city’s ongoing construction boom. The vintage Hilton Addis Ababa isn’t shiny or new, yet it does offer three essentials: a convenient location near the airport, city center, Ethnological Museum, and Ethiopia’s National Museum, which houses extraordinary paleontological artifacts such as the famous bones of human ancestor “Lucy”; secure and well-manicured grounds, including an outdoor pool; and reasonable rates (upgrade to an executive floor for expansive city or mountain views).

What to Eat or Drink: Sample a wide variety of local Ethiopian food, such as spongy injera (an unleavened pancake) made with teff flour, a grain native to Ethiopia, on an AddisEats food tour. The traditional New Year’s dish to try is doro wat (chicken stew). And while the national brew—fresh-roasted Ethiopian green-bean coffee—is prepared and served quickly at small jeubeuna bunna (coffee stands) and coffeehouses, make time for at least one Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The elaborate ritual can take two to three hours, and involves roasting, grinding, brewing, and drinking (three cups of progressively weaker) coffee.

What to Buy: Coffee beans, scarves, and other textiles made from hand-spun and handwoven cotton, and tightly coiled grass baskets and mats are among the locally produced items available in Addis Ababa markets. The biggest, the Merkato (New Market), is one of Africa’s largest open-air marketplaces: a mini-city jam-packed with vendors, shoppers, and a dizzying blend of odors, sights, and sounds. For safety’s sake, go with a local guide.

Cultural Tip: Traditionally, Ethiopians will not eat before inviting others gathered with them to join in. Honor the tradition by inviting your guides and drivers to eat with you by saying, “Enibla—Let us eat.”

What to Read Before You Go: The “gift of jewels” celebration commemorates the jewels the Queen of Sheba received upon returning home (thought by many scholars to be the Kingdom of Axum in Ethiopia) after visiting King Solomon in Jerusalem. Tosca Lee’s novel The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen combines myth, biblical references, and detailed research to tell Sheba’s tale.

Helpful Links: AddisEats Food Tours & Culinary Adventures and National Geographic Ethiopia Guide

Fun Fact: Gursha is the Ethiopian tradition of feeding another person by hand. Family members, friends, and even strangers commonly place small handfuls into each other’s mouths as an act of kindness. If someone makes a gesture to feed you, graciously accept the food as you would a welcoming hug or other friendly greeting.

Staff Tip: Addis is a city in perpetual motion, everyone walking, driving, and socializing late into the night. Their fuel? The drink said to have been born in Ethiopia: coffee. Cultivated in the highlands for centuries (and still growing wild in some regions), coffee plays a central part in daily life here, most notably in coffee ceremonies visitors can experience at hotels, guesthouses, some restaurants, and local markets. Join one, and you’ll watch a woman in traditional dress roast the coffee beans in a brazier, then grind them by hand with a mortar and pestle. She’ll deposit the grounds in a high-necked ceramic pot called a jebena to boil. When the coffee is ready, the hostess will pour it into tiny ceramic cups for consumption alongside snacks such as roasted barley, peanuts, and popcorn—a full-bodied taste of ancient Ethiopia. —Jayne Wise, senior editor, National Geographic Traveler

Dijon International Gastronomy Fair

Picture of Burgundy, France

Photograph by Andrew Bain/Lonely Planet Images

Dijon, France

October 30-November 11

First held in 1921, the Dijon International Gastronomy Fair is Burgundy’s biggest event and one of the six largest fairs in France. The combination trade fair and culinary festival attracts some 200,000 professional and amateur chefs, restaurateurs, and foodies from around the world. See cooking demonstrations, attend workshops, and sample wines and foods from French and international vendors, including this year’s featured country, Chile. The schedule also includes multiple top chef competitions, including the National Grand Prize of Gastronomy in pastry and chocolate (November 2), and, for the first time, honors for the best lemon meringue pie in France (November 7). Also new for 2015: Preview the future Cité International de la Gastronomie scheduled to open in 2018 on the grounds of Dijon’s former General Hospital. The culinary hub will become the fourth such complex in France (the others are in Lyon, Rungis, and Tours). Plans call for multiple exposition rooms and restaurants, a wine pavilion, a hotel and residential housing units, a multiplex cinema, and more.

How to Get Around: Dijon is only an hour and 40 minutes from Paris by train. The closest airport is Dole-Jura Airport, located about 30 miles southeast of Dijon. If arriving at the airport, take a taxi or bus to the Dole Ville Train Station to connect to the Dijon-bound train. In Dijon, walk and use the efficient public bus system.

Where to Stay: The atmospheric Hotel Philippe le Bon has 41 rooms spread over three period residences, the oldest built in the 15th century. Request a room facing the interior Gothic courtyard for the quiet. Or, if climbing winding stairs isn’t an issue, book a junior suite in the oldest building for the timbered ceilings and historic charm.

What to Eat or Drink: The region’s signature aperitif is Kir, named for Félix Kir, the popular mayor of Dijon who died in 1968. A classic Kir is made with crème de cassis (black currant liqueur) and Aligoté, Burgundy’s second white wine after Chardonnay. Variations include substituting de mûre (blackberry) or de pêche (peach) for the crème de cassis. The most popular twist on the original is the Kir Royale, made with ice-cold sparkling crémant de Bourgogne or champagne instead of Aligoté, and served in a champagne flute.

What to Buy: The original Maille Moutarde boutique, opened in 1845, isn’t the most affordable place to buy Dijon’s famous mustard (local supermarkets have the best prices). It’s worth the trip, however, for the samples and the selection: dozens of different mustards, including apricot and curry spices, fig and coriander, and gingerbread and chestnut honey. Purchase Maille on tap (it’s expertly hand-drawn into earthenware jugs); mustard gift boxes and accessories; plus vinegars, oils and dressings, and other Maille items. Packing and shipping available. Closed Sundays.

What to Read Before You Go: Renowned food writer M. F. K. Fisher’s evocative memoir Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon captures the Burgundian passion for food and wine, and for sharing both.

Helpful Links: Dijon Tourism and Burgundy Tourism

Fun Fact: Dijon’s good-luck charm and symbol is La Chouette, the small owl carved into a pillar on the left side of Église Notre-Dame (Church of Notre Dame). To help visitors navigate their way between 22 of the city’s historic sites, the Tourist Office created the Parcours de la Chouette (Owl’s Trail). The route is marked by little owls embedded in the pavement. Pick up a trail map at the Tourist Office or download the app, and be sure to rub the original Notre Dame owl (trail stop no. 9) for good luck.

Staff Tip: Dijon has long been famous, of course, for its mustard. Stop by La Moutarderie Fallot for a tour through the mustard-making process, then sample all the different flavors at the mustard bar: tarragon, basil, walnut, Provençal, gingerbread, and, my favorite, black currant. —Barbara Noe, senior editor, National Geographic Travel Books

Reader’s Choice: Follow the Three Castle Route

Picture of Turaida Castle in Sigulda, Latvia

Photograph by Gatis Pāvils, Flickr

Sigulda, Latvia

Drive, bike, or walk the Three Castle Route to visit medieval castles and ruins, ride the only cable car in the Baltics, and see caves and sandstone cliffs in Gauja National Park. The 19-mile route passes the castles and other historic sites in Sigulda, Krimulda, and Turaida and offers an excellent introduction to Latvian geology and history, says Laura Konstante, director of the Sigulda Tourism Information Centre. “In the Sigulda Medieval Castle, it is possible to try medieval weapons, and in Krimulda Manor, local winemaker Jānis Mikāns will offer you a taste of local fruit-and-berry wines,” she adds. Best bet: Visit in early to mid-October for a bird’s-eye view of the Gauja River Valley fall foliage from the Sigulda Aerial Cableway.

How to Get Around: Sigulda is 40 miles northeast of Riga, Latvia’s capital and largest city. The trip by train, bus, or car takes about an hour. If you’re driving the Three Castle Route, rent a car at Riga International Airport. If you want to bike or walk the route, take the Riga-Valga train from Riga to Sigulda or the bus from Riga’s International Bus Station, and rent a bike in town.

Where to Stay: Built in 1889 to accommodate passengers on the newly opened Riga-Petersburg railway, the 43-room Hotel Sigulda is a historic and convenient option located near the train station and Sigulda Medieval Castle. A new wing, added in 2001 and connected to the original hotel by a glass breezeway, includes a recreation center with a small indoor pool, sauna, and steam bath. For a bit more charm, request a room in the historic stone building.

What to Eat and Drink: Dishes to try include fresh, local mushrooms; sour cabbage soup; and traditional rye bread. Sigulda also is known for its mineral water and locally brewed beers, such as Valmiermuiža. Have lunch or dinner at the thatched-roof Aparjods restaurant. After your meal, get dessert (assorted pastries and cakes, including tiramisu, cheesecake, and grapefruit torte) and coffee at the tiny Mr. Biskvīts café located opposite the railway station.

What to Buy: Sigulda’s signature souvenir and city symbol is a wooden walking stick. Making the curved-handle sticks became a local cottage industry in the early 20th century, when walking the area’s mountain trails became a popular summer tourist activity. Full-size and miniature wooden sticks adorned with decorative patterns are available for sale around town. After purchasing your souvenir, snap a requisite selfie standing among the larger-than-life replica canes in Walking Stick Park.

What to Read Before You Go: The surrealist novel Flesh-Coloured Dominoes (Arcadia Books, English translation, 2014) by acclaimed Latvian writer Zigmunds Skujins alternates between 18th-century life in the Baltics and the Russian and German occupations during World War II.

Practical Tip: The euro is the official currency, and credit cards are widely accepted in cities. Carry cash when visiting smaller villages and towns.

Helpful Links: Sigulda Tourism, Gauja National Park, and Latvia Tourism

Fun Fact: The Rose of Turaida is a local legend based on the death of Maiji Greif, who was murdered in Gutman’s cave in 1620 and buried at the church hill cemetery in Turaida. According to the tale, Maiji, the so-called Rose of Turaida, was romantically involved with Viktor Heil, the Sigulda Castle gardener. Their love story ended tragically yet continues to inspire Latvian brides and grooms to lay flowers at Maiji’s memorial in Turaida as part of their wedding ceremonies.

Staff Tips: If you love art nouveau, take a walk in the historic center of Riga, the capital of Latvia, which has the finest collection of art nouveau buildings in the world and is recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Pick up a map from the Riga Art Nouveau Centre and check out the Art Nouveau Museum. —Marilyn Terrell, @Marilyn_Res, chief researcher, National Geographic Traveler

Riga is my favorite Baltic city for its art nouveau architecture, considered the best in Europe. The Latvian Occupation Museum provides a fascinating presentation of the nation’s history, including a reconstructed gulag. I enjoyed touring the Central Market, where locals shop for practically everything in a sprawling former zeppelin hangar, then sampling a little of each Latvian dish at the cafeteria-style Lido restaurant. —Christine Blau, @Chris_Blau, researcher, National Geographic Traveler

Some of the best—OK, the best—hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted was at Emīla Gustava Šokolāde in Riga, Latvia. Across from the majestic National Opera House, the chocolate shop/café serves intensely thick, rich hot chocolate in tiny cups, with a small glass of water on the side. Dark-wood paneling and marble counter tops evoke the belle époque. —Amy Alipio, @amytravels, features editor, National Geographic Traveler

 

 

Nat Geo’s Best Trips 2016

So here are National Geographic Magazine’s top travel picks for 2016 – enjoy!

                                                                                Ned


Côte d’Or, Burgundy, France

https://i1.wp.com/images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/923/cache/bow-burgundy-france-landscape_92364_600x450.jpg

Photograph by Günter Gräfenhain, SIME

 

Going, going… gone? Incredible landmarks around the world that may soon be lost forever

Threatened by the elements and damage from thousands of tourists, some of the world’s most stunning sites could be damaged beyond repair or destroyed forever.

Many of these incredible buildings and areas of natural beauty are under UNESCO protection, with the most endangered featured on the World Heritage in Danger list.

There are 48 locations that UNESCO is particularly concerned about, including the picturesque archaeological site of Chan Chan in Peru, which is at risk from natural erosion, the Great Barrier Reef and Florida’s Everglades National Park. A careful eye is also being kept on the the picturesque archaeological site of Chan Chan in Peru, the historical Monuments of Mtskheta in Georgia, and the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem. The main threat to these is ‘serious deterioration of the stonework and frescoes’, say experts.

Here are 18 places you should visit now… before it’s too late.

There are many reasons that the stunning rose-coloured Petra in Jordan could soon look a lot different in a few years time. These include weather erosion, from wind and rain attacking the rocky surface, and also from tourists touching the iconic Al Khazneh temple surface

There are many reasons that the stunning rose-coloured Petra in Jordan could soon look a lot different in a few years time. These include weather erosion, from wind and rain attacking the rocky surface, and also from tourists touching the iconic Al Khazneh temple surface

The unique Melnikov House in Moscow may stand out among other buildings due to its unusual cylindrical design, but it might not stand at all for much longer 

The unique Melnikov House in Moscow may stand out among other buildings due to its unusual cylindrical design, but it might not stand at all for much longer

The building, currently inhabited by the house designer's granddaughter, is facing threat of collapse due to excavation that has started for an underground car park nearby. Apparently cracks are sadly already visible on the white building

The building, currently inhabited by the house designer’s granddaughter, is facing threat of collapse due to excavation that has started for an underground car park nearby. Apparently cracks are sadly already visible on the white building

Threatened by a major earthquake in 2003, Iran's ancient citadel of Bam has been in a worrying state over the years. Thankfully it has now been taken off Unesco's 'World Heritage in Danger' list but  it is feared the citadel will never be restored to its former glory

Threatened by a major earthquake in 2003, Iran’s ancient citadel of Bam has been in a worrying state over the years. Thankfully it has now been taken off Unesco’s ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list but it is feared the citadel will never be restored to its former glory

It may be the largest palace in the world, but the Unesco protected Royal Palace of Caserta in Italy is in desperate need of repairs. Part of the roof fell in last year and it requires renovations 

It may be the largest palace in the world, but the Unesco protected Royal Palace of Caserta in Italy is in desperate need of repairs. Part of the roof fell in last year and it requires renovations

It may be home to the longest stretch of coral reef in the world, as well as featuring more than 1,500 species of fish and more than 175 species of birds, according to Unesco. However, earlier this year a survey of the reef found damaged coral and that many of its animal species, including large green turtles, are threatened. Scientists say the reef could be extinct by 2050

It may be home to the longest stretch of coral reef in the world, as well as featuring more than 1,500 species of fish and more than 175 species of birds, according to Unesco. However, earlier this year a survey of the reef found damaged coral and that many of its animal species, including large green turtles, are threatened. Scientists say the reef could be extinct by 2050

Originally created in the 17th century to guard the city, Vauban's Fortifications in Briançon, France, have been given Unesco world heritage status, but they need further attention to protect them from decay

Originally created in the 17th century to guard the city, Vauban’s Fortifications in Briançon, France, have been given Unesco world heritage status, but they need further attention to protect them from decay

The fascinating cave paintings in Altamira, Spain, were discovered in the 1880s and quickly became a huge tourist attraction. However the cave system, containing ice-age paintings of bison, bulls and other animals, was shut due to carbon dioxide in tourists' breath starting to damage the paintings. Limited openings have been conducted over the years since and last year saw five visitors selected at random to visit the cave, instead of the nearby replicas. This is the first time members of the public were allowed inside the cave in 12 years

The fascinating cave paintings in Altamira, Spain, were discovered in the 1880s and quickly became a huge tourist attraction. However the cave system, containing ice-age paintings of bison, bulls and other animals, was shut due to carbon dioxide in tourists’ breath starting to damage the paintings. Limited openings have been conducted over the years since and last year saw five visitors selected at random to visit the cave, instead of the nearby replicas. This is the first time members of the public were allowed inside the cave in 12 years

While it may not be that well known, Little Green Street in Kentish Town in London is one of the only intact Georgian streets left in the city. The cobbled road is at risk of being destroyed by developers. They want to construct on the land behind, which has caused fears that the trucks will destroy the tiny street that  survived the bombing of World War II. A group including artists, writers, actors and musicians are campaigning for the road to be preserved

While it may not be that well known, Little Green Street in Kentish Town in London is one of the only intact Georgian streets left in the city. The cobbled road is at risk of being destroyed by developers. They want to construct on the land behind, which has caused fears that the trucks will destroy the tiny street that survived the bombing of World War II. A group including artists, writers, actors and musicians are campaigning for the road to be preserved

It may be one of the Seven World Wonders but nearly a third of the Great Wall of China has completely disappeared, according to a  report this year. Natural erosion, human destruction and a lack of protection means that a total of 1,220 miles of the wall, which dates back more than 2000 years, has vanished

It may be one of the Seven World Wonders but nearly a third of the Great Wall of China has completely disappeared, according to a report this year. Natural erosion, human destruction and a lack of protection means that a total of 1,220 miles of the wall, which dates back more than 2000 years, has vanished

 You may recognise this angular formation from Instagram as the Australian landscape popular with posing tourists. But this could soon be able to change as earlier this year Wedding Cake Rock near Bundeena in New South Wales was shut for investigations into its safety      The rock was found to be precariously balancing on the edge of the cliff and severely undercut and in danger of crumbling into the sea in the near future

You may recognise this angular formation from Instagram as the Australian landscape popular with posing tourists. But this could soon change as earlier this year Wedding Cake Rock near Bundeena in New South Wales was shut for investigations into its safety. The rock was found to be precariously balancing on the edge of the cliff and severely undercut, meaning it’s in danger of crumbling into the sea in the near future

The stunning Everglades National Park in Florida suffered huge damage during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and deterioration of water flow and quality due to agricultural and urban development. Continued degradation of the site has seen it placed on the World Heritage in Danger list due to the loss of marine habitat and decline in marine species

The stunning Everglades National Park in Florida suffered huge damage during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and deterioration of water flow and quality due to agricultural and urban development. Continued degradation of the site has seen it placed on the World Heritage in Danger list due to the loss of marine habitat and decline in marine species

Listed as one of the World Heritage In Danger sites, the picturesque archaeological site of Chan Chan in Peru is at risk from natural erosion

Listed as one of the World Heritage In Danger sites, the picturesque archaeological site of Chan Chan in Peru is at risk from natural erosion

Distinctive gasometers have become the norm during the 200 years the UK has been using gas. These gas holders were first used to store coal gas and later natural gas for  urban areas, but since the 1960s, nearly all have become obsolete, with many dismantled

Distinctive gasometers have become the norm during the 200 years the UK has been using gas. These gas holders were first used to store coal gas and later natural gas for urban areas, but since the 1960s, nearly all have become obsolete, with many dismantled

The Birthplace of Jesus in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (Palestine) was also placed on the list of World Heritage in Danger as it is suffering from damages due to water leaks. The main church's roof structure is also said to be highly vulnerable from lack of maintenance and repair

The Birthplace of Jesus in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (Palestine) was also placed on the list of World Heritage in Danger as it is suffering from damages due to water leaks. The main church’s roof structure is also said to be highly vulnerable from lack of maintenance and repair

East Rennell in the Soloman Islands is the largest raised coral atoll in the world (pictured) and was listed as an endangered world heritage site by Unesco in 2013 due to the threat of ongoing logging

East Rennell in the Soloman Islands is the largest raised coral atoll in the world (pictured) and was listed as an endangered world heritage site by Unesco in 2013 due to the threat of ongoing logging

The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta also recently made the Unesco World Heritage in Danger list with 'serious deterioration of the stonework and frescoes' cited as the main threat

The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta also recently made the Unesco World Heritage in Danger list with ‘serious deterioration of the stonework and frescoes’ cited as the main threat

The General Cemetery of Santiago occupies 210 acres north of the city, and contains more than two million tombs of Chilean presidents, politicians, artists, and athletes. However the resting place has been subject to substantial damages caused by the 2010 earthquake. Most of the damaged structures have not been stabilised or repaired. As a result it has been included on the 2016 World Monuments Watch list

The General Cemetery of Santiago occupies 210 acres north of the city, and contains more than two million tombs of Chilean presidents, politicians, artists, and athletes. However the resting place has been subject to substantial damages caused by the 2010 earthquake. Most of the damaged structures have not been stabilised or repaired. As a result it has been included on the 2016 World Monuments Watch list

Abu Mena is one of the most important early Christian holy sites in the world as it's built over the tomb of the Christian martyr, Menas of Alexandria. However, agricultural development in the desert region has caused a rise in the surrounding water table, which has led to the clay foundations becoming unstable

Abu Mena is one of the most important early Christian holy sites in the world as it’s built over the tomb of the Christian martyr, Menas of Alexandria. However, agricultural development in the desert region has caused a rise in the surrounding water table, which has led to the clay foundations becoming unstable

Happy travelling people 😀

                                         Ned

The irresistible rise of the ‘poshtel’

A ‘poshtel’ –  otherwise known as an upscale or luxury hostel – combines the style and comfort of a boutique hotel with the price and sensibilities of a hostel. And the trend is coming your way.

An ever-increasing number of budget-conscious but discerning travellers expect something radically better than a bedbug-infested bunk in a dingy dorm full of snoring backpackers; they want good value yet sophisticated and unique places to stay – and, in response, some hostels are upping their game.

‘A poshtel is a high-end version of a hostel, with a sense of fun, energy and passion,’ says Josh Wyatt, the Chief Strategic Officer of Generator Hostels, one of the companies fast redefining the sector.

Poshtels often occupy intriguing buildings, place an emphasis on design, and offer spacious, clean rooms, freebies and perks, cool bars, top-notch restaurants and, perhaps, even a rooftop lounge or pool – and all at an affordable price.

Here’s Lonely Planet‘s pick of six of the best around the globe.

Generator Paris, France

The interior design of Generator Paris is inspired by the 'cinematic' feel of a stroll through the city. Image courtesy of Generator Hostels.

The interior design of Generator Paris is inspired by the ‘cinematic’ feel of a stroll through the city. Image courtesy of Generator Hostels.

With nine design-led hostels already and two more planned for 2016, Generator Hostels is taking the hospitality world by storm.

At Generator Paris, which opened in February, creative director Anwar Mekhayech’s pared-back interiors are inspired by the ‘cinematic experience’ of strolling through the city; think concrete walls, vintage objects from local flea markets and chic furnishings by Tolix, Jielde and Tom Dixon.

There are dorms and spacious double rooms, some with their own terraces and private bathrooms. The vibrant Café Fabien serves French dishes, burgers, salads and sandwiches as well as regional wines and Paris-inspired cocktails such as Le Macaron.

There’s even an underground disco resembling a Metro station and a rooftop terrace overlooking Montmartre and Sacré-Coeur. Other bonuses are the complimentary wi-fi and in-the-know staff who can arrange anything from a street-art walk to a table at a top-secret restaurant.

More information: generatorhostels.com

Freehand Miami, US

The Art Deco exterior of the Freehand Miami. Image by Adrian Gaut / Freehand Miami

The Art Deco exterior of the Freehand Miami. Image by Adrian Gaut / Freehand Miami

This chic hideaway, set in a 1930s Art Deco building, is no ordinary hostel. It has stylish interiors by design duo Roman and Williams, an outdoor swimming pool, bocce ball courts, ping-pong tables and a lush tropical courtyard. The décor is minimalist, with unique pieces created by local artists. The 81 private and shared bedrooms have desks, seating areas and reading lights.

Other perks include free wi-fi and breakfast, a 24-hour reception and concierge, and organic Dr. Bronner products in the bathrooms. What’s more, the hip cocktail bar, Broken Shaker, was named one of the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2014; and 27, the on-site restaurant, which opened in late 2014, serves Miami-inspired dishes using fresh ingredients straight from the garden.

More informationthefreehand.com

Shophouse The Social Hostel, Singapore

Working Title, the on-site cafe at Shophouse, serves up some gourmet breakfasts. Image courtesy of Shophouse The Social Hostel.

Sharing an old-school hostel’s sole, soup-splattered microwave is a distant memory in the gleaming kitchen of Melbourne’s Space Hotel. Image courtesy of The Space Hotel.

This Arab Street hotspot rebuffs the description ‘posh’, claiming to be a warm and personal ‘indie boutique hostel’.

The 16-, 12-, eight- and six-bed dorms are air-conditioned, with extras such as personal lights, power points and hangers as well as complimentary breakfast and wi-fi. The bathrooms are shared, but hot water, shampoo, soap and hairdryers are provided. Each room has a different theme: those on the second floor have a rustic ‘loft’ feel, with red-brick walls and exposed light bulbs. The ladies-only third floor, named No Man’s Land, is a pink-hued haven. One of the rooms, named Arab Street in homage to its location, has stained-glass lights and a cushioned chill-out area.

Shophouse also has a rooftop lounge, where you can soak in the views and Working Title, a vintage café that is decorated with handmade and upcycled furniture and serves burgers, pizzas, coffee and craft beers.

More informationshophousehostel.com

Space Hotel, Melbourne, Australia

Sharing an old-school hostel's sole, soup-splattered microwave is a distant memory in the gleaming kitchen of Melbourne's Space Hotel. Image courtesy of The Space Hotel.

Sharing an old-school hostel’s sole, soup-splattered microwave is a distant memory in the gleaming kitchen of Melbourne’s Space Hotel. Image courtesy of The Space Hotel.

For two consecutive years, Tourism Victoria has named this upscale hostel the ‘Best Victorian Backpacker Accommodation’ – with good reason.

The contemporary, spacious rooms range from eight-bed dorms to en-suites with balconies, all with reading lamps and extra-long Posturepedic mattresses. The private rooms also have iPod docking stations, HD televisions and some have spa baths.

Space is home to an in-house theatre, a gym, a ‘Master Chef-style’ guest kitchen and the popular bar and restaurant, Blue Moon. You may not get complimentary breakfast or wi-fi here, but the magnificent rooftop – which has a barbecue, a spa and a jacuzzi boasting 270-degree views of the city – easily makes up for it.

More informationspacehotel.com.au

Once in Cape Town, South Africa

Once in Cape Town's Yours Truly cafe will delight the lazy foodie. Image courtesy of Once in Cape Town.

Once in Cape Town’s Yours Truly cafe will delight the lazy foodie. Image courtesy of Once in Cape Town.

Here, you can enjoy serious comfort (clean rooms, free wi-fi and parking, a 24-hour reception and travel desk) in a fun environment. Local artists designed the ‘travel-grunge’ interiors, which feature vintage suitcases, old record players and a 1955 Chevrolet pick-up parked outside.

The en-suite four-bed dorms and private rooms have custom-made beds, locking boxes, charging stations and reading lights. Most of the bathrooms have a water-saving shower over the bath as well as an eco-friendly grey-water system.

And this is certainly one for lazy foodies – the options are plentiful: Yours Truly serves coffee, fruit, croissants and muesli for breakfast, and later, sandwiches, pizza and craft beer; Hudsons specialises in gourmet burgers; and Mitico dishes up pizza followed by Italian sorbet, washed down with Limoncello. There’s also a rooftop bar called Up Yours, where you can sip punchy cocktails out of jam jars.

More informationonceincapetown.co.za

Clink78, London, UK

The former courthouse at Clink78 makes an intriguing backdrop for a visit to London. Image courtesy of Clink78

The former courthouse at Clink78 makes an intriguing backdrop for a visit to London. Image courtesy of Clink78

This backpackers’ hub is tucked away in an elegant 200-year-old courthouse in King’s Cross. It doesn’t like to call itself a poshtel, but it’s certainly no ordinary hostel, with innovative facilities and playful décor.

British designer Shaun Clarkson’s bold interiors reflect London’s most eclectic corners. The rooms range from atmospheric converted prison cells to 16-bed dorms containing pod beds, each with its own privacy panel, reading light and locker.

Many of the private rooms have en-suite bathrooms with power showers and complimentary towels, and there’s free wi-fi and breakfast for all. The TravelSHOP is on hand to help or you can download the ClinkSocial app for more insider city tips.

Although there’s no restaurant, buzzing basement dive ClashBAR serves scrummy cocktails and there’s a Stay & Play policy, where musicians don’t have to pay if they perform. The brand plans to expand to five more European cities by 2020; the first, ClinkNOORD, opens in Amsterdam this June. Watch this space.

More informationclinkhostels.com

 

Expensive experiences, cheaper alternatives

The world’s most iconic travel experiences don’t usually come cheap – but sometimes there are real alternatives. Here is an some ideas for the budget-conscious, and expert advice on whether it’s actually worth paying the price for some of these bucket-list classics.

1. Orient Express vs InterRail pass, Europe

The plush Venice Simplon Orient-Express exudes an irresistible romance – it’s all that wood panelling and polished brass. But it’s not cheap: the classic six-day Paris-Istanbul train jaunt costs GB£11,000 per person. An InterRail Pass to cover the same stretch costs from GB£161 (five days travel in ten); upgrade to a First Class version for £386 for a glimmer of glamour.

Worth the saving? Undoubtedly. But if you win the lottery…

2. Harbour Bridge Climb vs Pylon Lookout, Sydney, Australia

The Old Coathanger offers the best views of Sydney harbour – for all budgets. The more hair-raising choice sees you suited up and strapped to the outer rim of the arch to climb to its 134m zenith. The alternative is to climb the 200 steps of the bridge’s South East Pylon for 87m-high budget views.

Worth the saving? Only want a panorama? Pick the pylon (A$11); the Bridge Climb (A$198-298) provides an adrenalin-boosting (but wallet-wilting) outlook.

3. Galápagos Islands vs Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

Isla de la Plata is known as the ‘Poor Man’s Galápagos’. It’s certainly easier and cheaper to access – just 27km off the Ecuadorian mainland, while the Galápagos is 1000km. Species here include whales, sea lions and birds, including boobies, frigatebirds and waved albatross; Galápagos faves such as giant tortoise and penguins are absent.

Worth the saving? A Plata day-trip (around US$35) is fine, but is no match. An eight-night Galápagos cruise costs from US$1500 plus flights – but find the cash if you can.

4. Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, vs Mt Kenya, Kenya

Africa’s highest mountain, 5895m Kilimanjaro, steals the thunder of runner-up Mount Kenya (5199m). Both are challenging volcano climbs, with rainforest, strange plants and shrinking glaciers. Kenya has more wildlife and fewer people; it’s also cheaper, due to lower fees and the shorter duration needed for a climb (from four days). Kili’s main trails are chocker, and fees soon mount – factor on at least six days of US$70-a-day Conservation Fee, US$50-a-day camp fee, guides, food…but it remains the ultimate challenge.

Worth the saving? Yes: Kenya’s a satisfying ascent – it just lacks the bragging rights.

5. Nile cruiser vs felucca, Egypt

The Nile is busy with boats, from floating five-star hotels that can cost US$200 a night, to traditional lateen-sailed feluccas (more like US$12). Modern ships move faster and offer amenities from air-con to bars and spas – in short, comfort. Feluccas have a deck, no cabins and no bathrooms, and must amble with the wind, but offer a more authentic feel.

Worth the saving? Yes, if you’re not precious about loos.

Ned’s Tip: if you have got the budget, spend some time at Le Royal Sharm el Sheikh Holiday Resort – just fab-u-lous!

6. Gorilla tracking vs chimp trekking, Uganda

Tracking mountain gorillas in Bwindi is a bucket list stuff, but comes at a price: US$500 for a sweaty slog and an hour in the great apes’ presence. To encounter chimps costs from US$30 at Toro-Semliki, although better sightings are in Kibale; here, fees are US$150 for a three-hour hike or US$220 for a Habituation Experience – where you spend all day watching the chimps forage, feed and breed.

Worth the saving? Few are disappointed by gorilla trekking, but do consider alternatives: there’s much more to Uganda.

7. Sabi Sand Game Reserve vs Kruger National Park, South Africa

Kruger is the most egalitarian safari spot. Entry costs R204 (US$23) a day, you can drive your own 2WD on its excellent roads and pitch a tent in its well-equipped campsites (R200 a night). You can also see Africa’s Big Five while you’re at it. Adjacent private game reserves, such as Sabi Sand, have the same wildlife, but also intimate, luxurious lodges, expert guides, activities such as night drives and bigger prices – think R3000 per person per night.

Worth the saving? Yes. Game viewing in Kruger is great – but remember that a good guide can transform a safari.

8. Glacier walk vs heli-hike, Fox & Franz Joseph, New Zealand

There are many ways to meet South Island’s mighty glaciers. You can hike up green valleys to the terminal faces of Fox or Franz Joseph (around NZ$50), or spend a bit more to strap on crampons and walk on the lower glacier (NZ$115). However, the most impressive ice-caves and crevasses are higher up; it costs NZ$400 to reach them by helicopter and hike across this shifting world of white.

Worth the saving? No, splurge – for the chopper ride and more extraordinary ice.

9. Sambadrome vs blocos, Rio Carnival, Brazil

The world’s biggest street party can command a hefty price-tag. To watch the main Samba Parade you need a ticket for the Sambadrome. Options range from grandstand space to luxury boxes; for all but the cheapest you’ll pay upwards of US$125. To counter increasing commercialisation, blocos – neighbourhood parties – have risen in popularity; to join in, buy a T-shirt (around US$10) and shake your bootie with the locals.

Worth the saving? Ideally, do both. Book early for best-value Sambadrome seats.

10. Yacht cruise vs Bateau Bus, Monaco

The pricey principality is the ultimate place to loll on a yacht with a cocktail and a celeb. But mooring alone can cost €1200 a day. A teensy taste of the high-life requires just €2 (and some imagination) – buy a ticket for the Bateau Bus ferry across the highfalutin’ harbour.

Worth the saving? Yes, for the views back to the world you can’t afford…

10 Thrilling Activities for the Thrifty Traveller

Lonely Planet is always one of the best resources for trekkers like us and there’s nothing more satisfying than finding a solid bargain while travelling on a tight budget.  It can be as simple as a day on a beach, booking a reasonably-priced hotel room with a stunning view or discovering delicious cheap eats at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

In their latest Best of Travel 2016 guide, Lonely Planet scouts have scoured the world for the top luxe experiences for those of us who can’t normally afford it.

Nautholsvik thermal bath, Reykjavik, Iceland

The Nautholsvik geothermal beach boasts a pool with simmering sea water and hot tubs, with an entry fee of just 500 Icelandic krona

The Nautholsvik geothermal beach boasts a pool with simmering sea water and hot tubs, with an entry fee of just 500 Icelandic krona

Located in a harbour near Reykjavik’s airport, this man-made geothermal beach draws more than 500,000 visitors a year.

It boasts a pool with simmering sea water and a couple of hot tubs, but the real draw is the rock-bottom price of admission, which is just a fraction of some of the more popular naturally heated pools.

Visitors get in for free in the summer, and pay just 500 Icelandic krona (approximately £2.50 or $4) in the winter.

Make your own fragrance in Grasse, France

Considered the world's perfume capital, the French commune of Grasse provides opportunities to create your very own fragrance

Considered the world’s perfume capital, the French commune of Grasse provides opportunities to create your very own fragrance

Bottles of designer perfume don’t come cheap, even at a duty free shop at the airport.

Touted as the world’s perfume capital, the French commune of Grasse offers plenty of options for tourists to buy quality perfume from the source or blend their own.

For as little as €45 (£32 or $50) visitors can take part in a workshop at Galimard’s Studio des Fragrances and leave with 100ml of a fragrance they created.

Sleep in a castle in Germany

Nestled in the picturesque Rhine Valley, the fortified Burg Stahleck has been converted into a family-friendly youth hostel

Forget budget hotels or less than impressive hostels, visitors to Germany can find a once-in-a-lifetime stay at a 12th century castle.

Nestled in the picturesque Rhine Valley in the town of Bacharach, the fortified Burg Stahleck (or Stahleck Castle) has been converted into a family-friendly youth hostel.

With spectacular river views, dorm beds cost as little as €21.50 (£15.50 or $24) a night.

Michelin star meals on the cheap, Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan has gained fans worldwide thanks to its delicious barbecue pork buns and golden fried turnip cakes

Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan has gained fans worldwide thanks to its delicious barbecue pork buns and golden fried turnip cakes

Michelin-starred restaurants usually come with eye-watering prices, but Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan bucks that trend.

This hole-in-the-wall restaurant has gained fans worldwide thanks to its delicious barbecue pork buns, golden fried turnip cakes and vermicelli rolls stuffed with pig’s liver.

Tim Ho Wan is hailed as the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, with founder Mak Kwai Pui opening new outlets in Singapore, Sydney and Melbourne.

Personalised cocktails in London

At BYOC, customers bring their favourite bottle of booze and watch expert mixologists craft cocktails according to their tastes

At BYOC, customers bring their favourite bottle of booze and watch expert mixologists craft cocktails according to their tastes

In London, tourists can rack up a staggeringly high bill on a night out, especially those who are coming from countries where the local currency is weak against the pound.

At BYOC (Bring Your Own Cocktail), customers bring their favourite bottle of booze and watch expert mixologists craft cocktails according to their tastes.

Aside from the price of the bottle, all it costs is a £25 ($38) entry fee.

Be a VIP in Las Vegas

Holidaymakers who sign up for Free Vegas Club Passes can get their name on guest lists at popular nightclubs or pool parties

Holidaymakers who sign up for Free Vegas Club Passes can get their name on guest lists at popular nightclubs or pool parties

You don’t need to have a big bankroll to be a high roller in Sin City, which is home to some of the hottest nightclubs on the planet.

Holidaymakers who sign up for Free Vegas Club Passes can get their name on guest lists at clubs or pool parties, with incentives including free entry or complimentary drinks for women.

Once you’re registered, the locations are sent by SMS every day.

Budget spa, Fez, Morocco

Instead of paying hundreds at a high-end hotel, holidaymakers can spend as little as 20 dirhams for entry into a local hammam

Instead of paying hundreds at a high-end hotel, holidaymakers can spend as little as 20 dirhams for entry into a local hammam

Morocco is famed for its spas, and the best deals are found at hammams where the locals hang out.

Instead of paying hundreds to be pampered at a high-end hotel, holidaymakers can spend as little as 20 Moroccan dirhams (£1.30 or $2) for entry into a local hammam.

In Fez, the traveller-friendly Ain Azleten Hammam charges an entry fee of 40 dirhams, although visitors should bring some extra cash to tip attendants and pay for gommage.

Ned’s Tip: if you’ve managed to save some pennies in Morocco, head to the mystical port of Tangier and stay at one of Sir Nadhmi Auchi’s beautiful traditional hotels: El Minzah, once frequented by Hollywood’s elite, or the gorgeous Grand Hotel Villa de France, where Henri Matisse loved to stay and paint.

Low-season safari in East Africa

Travelling in the low season in East Africa offer savings of up to 40 per cent, and there are plenty of incentives to brave the rain

Travelling in the low season in East Africa offer savings of up to 40 per cent, and there are plenty of incentives to brave the rain

A journey into an African jungle or game reserve is the experience of a lifetime, although costs can quickly rise into the thousands.

Travelling in the low season in East Africa offer savings of up to 40 per cent, and there are plenty of incentives to brave the rain.

The wet seasons (March to June and October to December) offer luminous sunsets and opportunities to spot animals nurturing their young, said Lonely Planet.

Your very own sauna in Sweden

Apartments with private saunas in Are, an alpine ski region in Sweden, start at 4,405 Swedish krona (£310 or $480) a week

Apartments with private saunas in Are, an alpine ski region in Sweden, start at 4,405 Swedish krona (£310 or $480) a week

Tourists who don’t bother to do any research can wind up spending a small fortune to relax in a sauna in Sweden, where they are part of everyday life.

But with a little digging visitors can find mid-range accommodation with their own private sauna.

Apartments with private saunas in Are, an alpine ski region, start at 4,405 Swedish krona (£310 or $480) a week.

Affordable ryokan in Japan

Some of the best bargains for a budget ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, are found off the beaten path in Hiroshima

Some of the best bargains for a budget ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, are found off the beaten path in Hiroshima

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, and the budget versions can be very uncomfortable.

Lonely Planet has found traditional inn experiences for a fraction of the usual price, without forfeiting hot baths and in-room dining.

But to find the best bargains holidaymakers will have to look outside the usual spots, including Kyoto, to places such as Hiroshima, where a mere 10,000 yen (£55 or $80) will get them a room and a feast at Sera Bekkan.

Cruising the Nile: Egypt travel guide

To cruise along the River Nile in Egypt is to appreciate over 2,000 years of history. But what is the best way to set sail?

The River Nile is Egypt’s lifeblood, tracing the country’s entire length from the southern border with Sudan into the Mediterranean. Boats have plied the Nile since time immemorial; these days, many of the Nile’s vessels are transporting travellers in search of the most romantic of travel experiences.

While the Nile dissects the whole of Egypt, the government forbids cruises from Cairo to Luxor; tourist boats may only sail as far north as Abydos. Most Nile cruises travel the Luxor-Aswan section, which can take between three and seven nights. This may discount a large section of the river, but most of Egypt’s historic sites – such as the temples of Kom Ombo, Karnak and Edfu – are along this stretch.

Picking the right boat for your Nile Cruise is essential: more than 250 vessels operate the route, plus feluccas (wooden sailing boats).

Feluccas offer real no-frills travel – no cabins, no toilet, no running water. You will sleep on deck or camp ashore. There are plenty of cheap ’n cheerful cruise boats available, as well as luxury liners that can be opulent in the extreme – plush and spacious cabins, swimming pools, cigar lounges, even a full-on spa.

A dahabiyya (barge-like houseboat with sails) offers the authenticity of a felucca but with a lot more comfort. These restored and replica 19th-century sailing vessels have style and glamour as well as all the mod-cons.

But however you chose to sail, a trip along the River Nile will give you a timeless look at this oldest of tourist destinations.

 

For more fun in the Egyptian sun head east to the Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh and treat yourself to a stay in the luxurious Le Royal Sharm

                                              Ned

The Wanderlust guide to the best of Morocco

Accessible and exotic, Morocco has it all: mountain trekking, Atlantic surf beaches, boutique riads, labyrinthine bazaars and some of North Africa’s tastiest food.

Kasbah in the Atlas Mountains (Shutterstock.com. See main credit below)

Kasbah in the Atlas Mountains (Shutterstock.com)

It’s barely 20 miles from Europe, but Morocco couldn’t feel more different. Fast ferries from Spain link a country that is part Arab, part African – and with a character all of its own.

Morocco’s cities are the obvious draws. Marrakesh and Fes are the places to explore the medieval alleys of ancient medinas, packed with donkeys, traders and the scents of Africa. Casablanca and Rabat are modern with elegant boulevards and a café culture, while Tangier and Agadir are sophisticated cities where the beach takes centre stage.

Drill down to the smaller towns and Morocco’s heritage is more distinct and accessible. Visit Chefchouan, in the north, where cornflower-blue houses sprawl on a fertile hillside, or the fortified coastal town of Essaouira, once a Portuguese outpost on Atlantic Africa. Inexpensive taxi rides reach stunning highlights, Roman columns preserved by the desert at Volubilis and mud-built forts towering over folding mountain landscapes.

Zoom in closer and be welcomed into village life: ride the waves in surf communities on the sunsoaked southern coast near Agadir, trek to Berber villages huddled against adobe castle walls in the Atlas Mountains, and join nomads on camels to cross Saharan dunes.

At every level Moroccans are exceptionally hospitable: this is one country where you are likely to be invited into private homes and plied with sweet tea. Relax and complete your experience with a taste of Morocco; slow-cooked tagine, pastilla (pigeon pastry) or couscous are specialities.

Sous Massa Draa (Shutterstock.com)

Sous Massa Draa (Shutterstock.com)

Looking for inspiration?

Morocco is a big country, and it contains far more than just the trendy hotspots highlighted by the weekend travel supplements. There are plenty of mountain villages, desert palm groves, picturesque fishing ports and ancient imperial cities that the beaten track merely runs past, rather than through. Our Morocco travel blueprint will help you decide which Morocco is the one for you.

If your dream is to stay in an eco-lodge in the High Atlas mountain, sipping mint tea on a terrace as the sun sets over the snow-capped Toubkal Massif, then Lyn Hughes can tell you how. Want to live like a Berber? Then you’ll need to consult Sabina Trojanova. Just heading to Marrakech? Our ultimate guide to this intriguing city tells you everything you need to know.

 

And don’t forget if you want an authentic Moroccan experience in Tangier, you’d do no better than stay in the gorgeous Hotel El Minzah or the sumptuous Grand Hotel Villa de France, both flagships of the Le Royal Hotels & Resorts Division of Sir Nadhmi Auchi’s General Mediterranean Holding.  

                     Ned

 

Tangier’s Shopping Secrets

The northernmost city in Morocco offers a stunning variety of antique furniture, textiles, and other authentic keepsakes. Lynn Yaeger from Travel & Leisure gives us a wonderful insight into what to look for and the best places to grab a bargain.


https://i0.wp.com/allworldtowns.com/data_images/countries/tangier/tangier-01.jpg
“You know what people say in Tangier—‘You have watches, we have time,’” Yves Taralon, artistic director of the Hermès home department—La Table Hermès—tells me, leaning back on a pair of antique pillows at the Hôtel Nord-Pinus Tanger, a beautiful pensione in the heart of the Kasbah. I’m only half listening to him because, frankly, those embroidered cushions are driving me nuts.

The day before—my first day in Tangier—I found vintage cushion covers just like them at the charmingly dusty, cluttered Galerie Tindouf that I was desperate to purchase; their jewel-like embroidery, their delightful crimson-and-white coloration had me at hello (or bonjour or marhaba in this multilingual city). But their price, a surprisingly firm $600 each, had me scurrying back to the Kasbah.

Today, Taralon has promised to share with me the finely honed shopping secrets of his own private Tangier, a place he loves so deeply that he dreams of it constantly when he’s at home in Paris. “The blue of the sky, the yellow of the walls, the Islamic green of the mosques…” he sighs, his gaze drifting across the Strait of Gibraltar to the coast of Spain. Those influences have shown up in full force in the decorative lines he oversees for Hermès—the scarlet-and-white porcelain; the beach towels featuring a giant Hand of Fatima.

Taralon came to Tangier 20-odd years ago, buying what he describes as “an ugly two-room house in the favela.” (It is now vastly expanded and almost unbearably chic.) He arrived from France nearly empty-handed. “I just brought a radio and my new boyfriend with me—the radio is still working, anyway,” he chuckles. “I planned to furnish it with finds from the flea markets. With no money you could do a lot of things at that time.”

You still can. In Tangier, you don’t toss things out when they break, or when you’ve grown tired of them. Everything is repurposed—Taralon’s armchairs were made by a neighboring scrapyard man; every bit of fabric in his home, from slipcovers and seat cushions to curtains, was woven to his exacting specifications by local weavers.

Enough talk! Let’s hit the town! We set out, descending a steep stone staircase and walking through the medina, full of tiny shops open to the street that sell sheepskins right off the sheep, wooden washboards, spangled babouche slippers, and other goods practical and frivolous. Taralon despairs over the fake Vuitton belts and polyester jungle-print robes; I confess that I get a real kick out of their exuberance.

A group of little girls in school uniforms and head scarves, with pink Barbie rucksacks strapped to their backs, pass us at the Grand Socco, Tangier’s main square, where Taralon proudly shows off the newly restored Art Deco Cinema Rif. He and other members of the local artistic community got together to rescue this movie palace, part of a larger effort to save Tangier’s historic buildings.

Wandering the nearby streets, Taralon and I discover something we have in common—an unvarnished love for old-fashioned shops with curved glass vitrines, here selling suits and shoes that appear to be untouched and undusted since the 1950’s. Taralon revels in Tangier’s authenticity, the landscape that makes one think Paul Bowles, patron saint of the colony of disaffected poets and dreamers who flocked here in the 1950’s, could at any minute come strolling out of the raffish Hotel Continental, a ramshackle inn that still presides over the waterfront.

After a quick tour of the massive indoor butcher market, where pale chickens hang by their necks and I nearly slip on blood and gristle (maybe ballet slippers aren’t the right footwear for meat markets), we head for the Fondouk Chejra, the Weavers’ Market, where Taralon has business. We pass through a doorway crowded with stalls selling toilet paper and plastic hangers, then up a flight of deteriorating stairs to a series of covered stalls where men—all men, only men—are busy spinning wool on wooden wheels in a scene straight out of the 19th century. Feral cats, skinny as those dead chickens, tiptoe along adjacent rooftops.

Taralon pops into a particularly unpretentious stall—it is literally a hole in the wall—and stuns me when he says the place does business with Barneys New York. He falls for a length of woven cloth of Christmas tree green with hot-pink stripes. What are you going to do with it?I ask. Is it for your home?For Hermès?“To have,” he shrugs. I turn my back and he buys me a red scarf, explaining that he is obsessed with red. “The red in Tangier—I like so much the red!” he says softly. The scarf has orange fringe. (It isn’t until I get it home that I realize it’s Hermès orange.) Within minutes, I am moved to buy myself a huge, striped, homespun blanket, at once rough-hewn and delicately patterned. The seller ties it up with frayed cord. It costs around $20.

After lunch at the home of a friend of Taralon (you rarely see any women in restaurants here, which frankly unnerves me) we head to Boutique Majid, which he likens to “une vraie caverne d’Ali Baba.” Two minutes inside the door and he is swooning over carpets made of bamboo and leather. “So modern, and isn’t that the Hermès style?”

My gaze, however, has landed on the far-from-modern. I’m entranced by Majid’s jewelry, especially the massive amber bead necklaces that would make the wearer resemble Nancy Cunard, the 1920’s artiste and heiress famous for her penchant for ethnic jewelry. I am contemplating a silver pendant whose main feature is a large Hand of Fatima inscribed with tiny Arabic letters (proving that this decorative motif long predates the Hermès beach towel), when Taralon motions for me to follow him upstairs.

We wander through a seemingly endless warren of rooms piled high with centuries’ worth of local goods. An old rack intended for the back of a camel looks to Taralon like a contemporary sculpture; the austere lines of a synagogue lamp may be reimagined for Hermès with silver horse bits.

Vintage synagogue lamps are swell, but unlike Taralon, I am not the sort of person who relishes rewiring projects. I’m the kind who wants Taralon to help her pick out a pair of incredibly stylish ankle boots at Boutique Volubilis, in the Petit Socco.

Volubilis is just the kind of place I dream of when I’m traveling and am invariably disappointed by the ubiquitous chain stores that clot major downtowns in every city of the world. For me, Tangier’s great strength—besides the wild beauty of the place—is that shopping here is blissfully free of those prepackaged, homogenous goods shoved down your throat in so many other supposedly remote burgs. At Volubilis, the utterly distinctive, handmade, oddly colored booties—halfway between hobbit footwear and Comme des Garçons—are embellished with covered buttons and lacings. After a lot of discussion, I settle on deep-pink-and-forest-green ones, a steal at around $100.

Once I start spending, I’m on a roll. I convince Taralon that we should visit Marrakech La Rouge, even though from the outside it looks like a classic tourist trap, including the shill out front. The ambience may be initially inauspicious, but inside, the goods, culled from all over the country, are cheap and first-rate: spice holders, hand-painted cups from Fez, inlaid boxes, miniature teapots, and more. I stack up a pile of these trifles and begin haggling for the lot, a good-natured ritual that is so much a part of shopping in Tangier.

And where is Taralon?Grumpy?Bored?I locate him in another corner of the store, where he is hugging a tray of olive wood and indulging in his own round of hard bargaining. “See,” I say, “you can find good things anywhere.”

It wouldn’t be Tangier without a visit to a traditional rug store, so Taralon introduces me to Coin de L’Art Berbère, where the owners provide Perrier and we are dazzled by an endless array of carpets, most of them ridiculously underpriced at around $300. I am taken with an orange-and-black checkerboard number, and am fairly kicking myself that I didn’t measure my rooms before the trip. (Don’t make this mistake!)

The next day, Taralon has planned an outing to his favorite restaurant, Casa Garcia, in the resort town of Asilah, which is a sort of white-walled, 15th-century version of Amagansett, if the Hamptons had been founded by the Phoenicians. We drive for an hour, past camels loping down the beach, past the straw market where Taralon has tables and chairs made and which he thinks is in imminent danger of disappearing in the wave of new development apparent everywhere.

Asilah does indeed have a surprisingly laid-back ambience—Casa Garcia is the first place where I’ve seen men and women eating together openly. Berobed young women stroll by, their abayat punched up with skintight jeans, stilettos, and copious eye makeup. Taralon tells me that this restaurant is a hangout for artists and the intelligentsia, and that in high season you can easily sit here for six hours. “It’s a celebration, like a church, a temple, a rite,” he rhapsodizes.

We don’t stay for six hours. We share plates of calamari and then walk through the walled town, filled with small shops selling earrings, scarves, and inevitably carpets, until we reach a high wall over the sea, on which are perched dozens of giggling teenagers.

Then we drive back to Tangier, where Taralon is anxious to show me Casabarata, a flea market so sprawling it’s a city in itself. I think, but don’t say aloud, that this could only charitably be called a junk market, but Taralon is beaming at the stacks of mattresses, the Mickey Mouse blankets, the rusted appliances. He insists that rare treasures exist under the rubble, and indeed a friend of his swears that Pierre Cardin once found a 1950’s Dunhill cigarette lighter here.

I find no gold lighters. When I unwittingly crinkle up my nose at the vast piles of maimed goods all around us, he just grins, thinking no doubt of how the metal washtubs might inspire Hermès chandeliers or how the broken window grills could be retrofitted as mirrors. “There are good things everywhere,” he reminds me.

Where to Stay

Hôtel El Minzah

Timeless Elegance 11 Rue du Riad Sultan; 212-61/228-140; doubles from $434, including breakfast, dinner, and transfers.

Grand Hôtel Villa de France

Matisse’s Favourite 11 Rue du Riad Sultan; 212-61/228-140; doubles from $434, including breakfast, dinner, and transfers.

Dar Sultan

Great Value A charming six-room riad in the heart of the Kasbah. 49 Rue Touila, Kasbah; 212-39/336-061; doubles from $139, including breakfast.

Hôtel Nord-Pinus Tanger

11 Rue du Riad Sultan; 212-61/228-140; doubles from $434, including breakfast, dinner, and transfers.

Where To Eat

Casa Garcia Restaurant

51 Rue Moulay Hassan Ben el Mehdi, Asilah; 212-39/417-465.

Markets

Casabarata

Tangier’s largest flea market: iron and copper works, textiles, and more. Open every day 9 a.m.–8 p.m. On the road to Rabat; no phone.

Fondouk Chejra (Weavers’ Market)

Marché des Pauvres Bldg., first floor; Rue de la Liberté; no phone.

Le Grand Socco

Great for babouche slippers. Rue d’Italie near Mendoubia Gardens; no phone.

Les Vanniers

A market of straw furniture and baskets; custom orders welcome. Ave. Hassan II, near the San Francisco mission; no phone.

Antiques

Boutique Majid

66 Rue les Almouhades; 212-39/938-892.

La Galerie Tindouf

72 Rue de la Liberté; 212-39/938-600.

Fashion

Boutique Volubilis

15 Petit Socco; 212-39/931-362.

Laure Welfling

Modern interpretation of caftans; pottery. 3 Place de la Casbah; 212-39/932-083.

Linens

Darna Maison Communautaire des Femmes

Exquisite embroidered table linens. Place du 9 Avril 1947; 212-39/947-065.

Crafts

Marrakech La Rouge

Lamps, spice racks, porcelain, etc. 50 Rue du 6 Avril; 212-39/931-117.

Perfume

Parfumerie Madini

Among the oldest and most famous in the Muslim world. 5 Blvd. Pasteur; 212-39/375-038.

Carpets

Bazar Atlas

Rue Siaghine, Ancienne Medina, Asilah; 212-39/417-864.

Coin de L’Art Berbère

53 Ex. Rue des Chrétiens; 212-39/938-094.

 

12 Once-in-a-Lifetime Camping Sites

A dozen spectacular sites perfect for outdoor exploration. Thanks to Travel & Leisure for the inspiration and Getty Images for the stunning photos – Ned

Lake District

Hot, humid summer days are finally behind us, and crisp, mild autumn weather has breezed in to take its place. There’s no better time than now to dig out your tent, lace-up your hiking boots, and get a little wild.

Whether you’re a fearless adventurer seeking a scenic climb or a novice outdoorsman eager to convene with nature, these 12 camping destinations—from the sanctified shores of Japan to the obsidian paths winding across Hawaii and Iceland—will change your life.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Camping, Bowman Lake, Glacier NP, MT

More than 700 miles of trails wind through Montana’s crystalline lakes, jagged mountain peaks, and ancient glaciers. Go now, before they vanish altogether.  Novice campers should pitch a tent on the water’s edge in the RV-free Kinta Lake Campground, while backcountry campers should seek wild alpine meadows.

Canyonlands, Bryce, and Zion, Utah

camping

This grand slam region has no shortage of diverse and dazzling landscapes. Lesser-known Canyonlands is punctuated by enormous sandstone spires, and offers both campsites as well as camping-at-large options for travelers who prefer to rest in the privacy of their own…canyon.

Haleakala National Park, Hawaii

camping

For the most staggering views of the 750,000-year-old volcano Haleakala, camp at Holua or Paliku, and arrive at the crater’s edge just before sunrise. While winding through the black-sand switchbacks, look out for the ahinahina: an alien-like silversword that grows between 7,000 and 10,000 feet. Hike the moderate, four mile Pipiwai Trail through the rainforest (bamboo and banyans) to the base of the 400-foot-tall Waimoku Falls.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

camping

The Teton Range is one of America’s best-loved destinations for hiking and camping. Temperatures begin to drop in November—negative 63 °F is the record low—so plan your trip soon. Camp alongside the Snake River, which carves its way through Jackson Hole valley.

Laugavegur, Iceland

camping

Before snow descends upon the kaleidoscopic rhyolite mountains, book a hut or a tent in the camp city (wild camping is not permitted here), Landmannalaugur. Pros advise hiking from north to south, which takes you across lava fields, wildflower-speckled meadows, steaming geothermal vents, and finally, to the twin glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mydralsjökull.  Along the way, you’ll be dazzled by the mountains streaked with turquoise, orange, and cyan.

Miyajima, Japan

camping

Best known as the “Island of the Gods,” Miyajima is laced with hikes (you’ll want to summit sacred Mt. Misen), though nature-lovers will prefer the Omoto Route, which passes enormous rock formations, Fui and Iwaya Taishi, and is surrounded by century-old fir trees. Well-kept campsites and modest cabins are your best bet.

High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

camping

Morocco’s most iconic range is a bucket-list camping destination for adventurous travelers. Pass through isolated Berber villages and trek from hot desert to snow-capped peaks. You can follow ancient mule paths, though guides in this area are highly recommended. Many will employ the use of a camel to help you carry your load: bed down in the grasslands beneath Jebel M’goun, a mountain far more quiet than Jebel Toubkal.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

camping

Beneath the shadows of the Andes and the towering Quindío wax palms—the world’s tallest palms, which can reach 200-feet in height— found exclusively in this sliver of Colombia, is the Zona de Camping. This campsite (tents and sleeping bags can be provided upon request) is the perfect launch pad for horseback rides and rigorous hikes through the mountains. Take the loop trail to Acaime, a dazzling hummingbird reserve, or hire a jeep to bring you into the nearby mountain town, Salento.

Tierra del Fuego, Chile

camping

Patagonia is an explorer’s dream. Take a cross-border journey from Argentina to Chile via Radman (the only overland option) and set up camp along one of the glacial lakes Blanco or Ofhidro. Beavers are common in this area, as are condors. Linger in the mossy Fuegian forests.

Mahai Campsite, Royal Natal National Park, South Africa

camping

Tucked up against the Northern Drakensburg mountains, this campsite is an ideal base for hiking and mountain biking through the Royal Natal National Park. The famed Amphitheater-style mountain formation boasts enormous water cascades: ascend to the highest peak by tracing the route of the Mahai river. You’ll pass Sentinel Caves and scale a near-vertical chain ladder.

Main Range, Kosciuszko National Park, Australia

camping

Whether you fill your days with strenuous mountain hikes (pass over the country’s highest peaks and watch snowdrifts across the shale ridges) or fishing in the glacial lakes, make sure to spend an evening admiring the stars as they rise over Victoria.

Acadia National Park, Maine

camping

Get your lay of the land by scaling Cadillac Mountain, a 1,530 promontory over the Eastern Seaboard, and set up camp on Isle au Haut (thick woods and lean-to-shelters) or the month-old Schoodic Woods Campground on the mainland. Bikers will appreciate the virtually untouched network of trails.

 

5 Best Sites in Marrakesh with Historic Interest

Morocco is one of my favourite North African countries: the colours, the sounds, the smells of the street food, all mingling in the heat with the hustle and bustle of the souk vendors and locals going about their business.  I love Fez and Tangier and also Marrakesh.  Here Travel & Leisure’s local expert Maryam Montague gives us her take on the best places to explore in Marrakesh.Ned


5 Best Sites in Marrakesh with Historic InterestMarrakesh is a city that is almost a 1,000 years old, so if you are wondering if there are a few historic sites to see in town, the answer is a resounding yes.  Indeed, the high thick walls that surround the medina (old city) hide some real cultural gems you should make a point to see during your visit.  While Moroccan architecture is a blend of many different design influences, it’s perhaps the Islamic imprint that is the most interesting.  And lucky for you, all the characteristics of Islamic architecture are on display in palaces, tombs, and Koranic schools in Marrakesh.  Meanwhile Marrakesh’s new city is home to some beautiful French and Islamic-inspired gardens, replete with fountains, towering shade trees and mosaic backdrops.

Here are the top five sites you won’t want to miss in Marrakesh.  So pencil these into your travel diary and let’s go.

 

1. Ben Youssef Medersa

This is my very favorite building in Marrakesh. Did I mention it is a Koranic school? Yes, for more than four centuries the Ben Youssef Medersa played host to students hungry for knowledge in various subjects, including theology. The school, particularly the ground floor, is positively magnificent (and frankly, that’s an understatement). A beautiful center basin, incredible Moroccan mosaic tiled walls, hand sculpted plasterwork, and ornate wood work—all come together to enchant.

 

 

2. Saadian Tombs

The Saadian tombs are some pretty chic burial grounds, alright.  Remnants of the Saadian dynasty that used to rule Marrakesh, Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour had this series of elaborate gilded tombs made to house his remains and those of his descendants (simple coffins apparently just wouldn’t do). Unfortunately, some of the tombs are in ruins but they are nonetheless very worth visiting.  Bottom line: macabre but stylish.

 

 

 

3. Majorelle Garden (and Berber Museum)

Unquestionably Marrakesh’s most fashionable (and glamorous garden), this jewel of a botanical garden in named after the French painter Jacques Majorelle who created it.  The garden increased its chic-factor yet further when it was bought and restored by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.  There is an eye-popping variety of plants and trees from all over the world, punctuated by pergolas and fountains.  The Berber museum on the Garden’s property is breathtaking—it’s where I go to take notes on Morocco’s fascinating Berber culture.

 

4. Bahia Palace

https://i2.wp.com/www.princess.com/images/share/learn/shorex/tour_images/lg/CAS/CAS_100_1.jpg

In the late 1800s, the Bahia Palace was built at the pleasure of Ba-Ahmed, a former slave who rose to become the all-powerful Vizier to the Moroccan Sultan.  An admirer of fine things, Ba-Ahmed brought builders and artists from Fez to build the Palace and it remains quite spectacular with its Islamic architecture and beautiful Moorish gardens.  The palace has extensive quarters for Ba-Ahmed’s four wives and twenty-four concubines—suitably opulent digs for such a harem.

5. Maison de la Photographie

https://beachesandpeaches.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/marrakesh-maison-de-la-photographie.jpg?w=300&h=199La Maison de la Photographie is one of my very favorite spots in Marrakesh.  This gallery in a courtyard mansion in the old city features dozens of photos depicting Moroccan culture and history over the last 150 years or so.  A documentary on Berber life by Daniel Chicault, shot 1956, runs on a loop on the second floor.  The gift shop is also a great place to pick up prints and postcards.  And when you are done seeing and shopping, lounge at the rooftop terrace cafe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Hotel Preview: 24 New Stays with Serious Style

Summer may be over, but if these new hotels are any indication, the coming months will be the real prime time to travel.

Another great feature with the best tips from Nikki Eckstein at Travel & Leisure.


Cities from Miami to Marrakesh are about to get a major dose of style and luxury, courtesy of some of the biggest names in the business. Whether it’s Baz Luhrmann designing the interiors, Richard Meier doing the architecture, or elephants making cameo appearances by the pool, this fall’s hotel buzz is all about star power. Here are the 24 properties worth traveling to next.

Villa Lalique, Alsace, France

This six-room mansion, previously the home of famous glass artisan Rene Lalique, is likely to become the toughest reservation in the region: in part because there are few other options for luxury accommodations in this part of the gorgeous Alsatian countryside, not far from Strasbourg. Dramatic location aside, the hotel is the subject of a three-year makeover by renowned Swiss architect, Mario Botta, and will be home to a 40-seat restaurant with three-Michelin-star ambitions and a collection of museum-worthy glassware (to be scattered around the public spaces and six individually-designed rooms). In other words, a runaway hit is all but guaranteed.

Mandapa Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Ubud, Bali

Bali tends to conjure images of overwater bungalows and palm trees by the ocean, but Ritz-Carlton’s third Reserve property (a flag quite literally reserved for the cream of the crop) takes an entirely different approach. Here, 60 villas are spread out among a lush forested landscape, further inland than any Balinese resort that has ever come before it. The goal is restrained luxury that’s more authentic than ostentatious, offering a window into Balinese culture that goes beyond the beach. Goal accomplished, Ritz-Carlton.

Hotel Emma, San Antonio, Texas

The design superstars at Roman & Williams have brought their talents to San Antonio, a city that’s booming as Austin grows more populous and pricey. Their project, the Emma, will now be at the nexus of all that’s cool in the burgeoning metropolis: it’s set in the heart of the Pearl District, a culinary enclave alongside the city’s iconic riverwalk. In fact, the hotel is the latest incarnation of the 19th-century Pearl Brewery, which gave the neighborhood its name (prominent neighbors include Cured, a charcuterie-driven restaurant by Chef Steve McHugh—a former partner of John Besh—and the trendy caffeine spot, Local Coffee). As for those Roman & Williams rooms: they’re filled with bespoke furniture, claw-foot tubs, and subtle south Texan references, like guayabera-inspired robes.

Faena Miami Beach

Buenos Aires real estate developer Alan Faena has tapped a dream team for a project so big, it literally has its own zip code. Most of the square footage will be dedicated to residential cultural, retail, and restaurant projects, opening gradually over the next three years. But on the top two floors of the former Saxon Hotel will be 169 rooms designed by Baz Luhrmann and four-time Academy Award-winning costume designer, Catherine Martin. Opening this fall along with those over-the-top rooms is a Paul Qui-helmed restaurant, an open fire kitchen by the legendary Francis Mallman, and a Foster + Partners-designed condo tower—all debuting by the time Art Basel rolls around. Up next? A 50,000-square-foot Rem Koolhaas forum space for site-specific installations and performances, and a 15,000-square-foot Tierra Santa Spa.

Casa Fayette, Guadalajara, Mexico

The second-largest city in Mexico has never been quite ready for the international spotlight—until now. Thanks to the always-stylish Habita Hotels group, there’s a hot new place to stay, complete with a lush rooftop pool deck and scene-stealing bar. The rooms are designed by Milan-based Dimore Studio, and filled with bespoke furniture that’s equal parts Havana and mid-century modern. Use it as a launching pad to explore the area’s burgeoning food and art scene—which seems to get cooler by the minute.

Brown Beach House, Tel Aviv

Five years after opening one of the first design hotels in this seaside capital (now a bonafide style hub) Brown is opening Tel Aviv’s first beachside boutique hotel. All 40 rooms will have private sun terraces, some facing the city and others facing the Mediterranean. Skip the entry-level rooms, which are small at just 200 square feet, and opt for a suite instead—they go for around $245—proof that Tel Aviv offers some of the best seaside values in the region.

The Palace, San Francisco

For a city of its size and stature, San Francisco is surprisingly short on great hotels. That’s one of the reasons why the total overhaul of its grand dame, by Starwood’s Luxury Collection, is so exciting. Here are a few more: 556 rooms with wrought-iron windows and antique suitcases for bedside tables, a sky-lit indoor pool deck, and the fully restored Garden Court: a glass-domed dining room for afternoon tea that’s no less elegant than New York’s Plaza.

Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina, Bogota

Bogota will soon be home to not one, but two new Four Seasons hotels, and this one is poised to make a serious splash. Built in 1946 as a high-end residential project and converted over the years into a 62-room boutique hotel, the building is packed with historic charm (think hand-carved wood doors and stone columns originally salvaged from the colonial convents of San Augustin and Santo Domingo). Now it’s getting a refresh by Rottet Studio, who was also did the presidential bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Langham Chicago. Its spot in the food-centric Zona G neighborhood doesn’t hurt, either.

Belmond Eagle Island Lodge, Botswana

Belmond’s totally overhauled flagship safari property, which occupies a prime slice of the game-rich Okavango Delta, will focus largely on water safaris. Guests in the 12 tented rooms—outfitted with daybeds, private plunge pools, outdoor showers, and campaign furniture—can spend their days on motorboats, traditional mekoro canoes, and barges, for up-close encounters with rhino and thirsty elephants. Want to stay dry? Jump into one of the property’s helicopters for an aerial view of the Big Five; then swap stories around a private island campfire.

Phum Baitang, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Travelers looking to check Angkor Wat off their bucket lists now have a hotel that channels the Zen of the famed temple site: Phum Baitang. The 20-acre property, set ten minutes outside Siem Reap, trades the familiar setting of the French Quarter for more idyllic surroundings: rice paddies and palm trees. Book into one of 45 stilted villas that comprise the resort, and you’ll get a taste for traditional Cambodian architecture on steroids: think personal plunge pools, colonial décor, and a 180-foot-long pool serviced by a smoothie-bearing tuk tuk.

Field Guide, Stowe, Vermont

Stowe was already one of Vermont’s most picturesque towns, with its excellent ski trails and Swiss-inspired chalets. Now there’s a new reason to go. Lark Hotels, the quirky, design-minded company behind many of New England’s best inns, is expanding its reach to the north with Field Guide, a country charmer with 27 rooms and suites and 3 private cottages. It fills a building that originally housed the Ye Olde England Inn, but nothing about it is Ye Olde anymore. Now, rooms have salvaged wood headboards with shearling throw blankets, and papier mâché animal heads on the wall.

Mandarin Oriental Marrakesh

How do you create a hotel so lavish that it stands apart in luxury-packed Marrakesh? Set it in 20 hectares of gardens and olive groves, make it all about the villa experience (with knockout views of the Atlas mountains, no less), and throw in a spa decked out with outdoor treatment pavilions and two Moroccan hammams.

Ned’s Tip: for possibly the two most sumptuous of all Morocco’s hotels, stay at the gorgeous El Minzah or the Grand Hotel Villa de France, both in the historic port of Tangier and part of Le Royal Hotels & Resorts owned by businessman and philanthropist Sir Nadhmi Auchi.

Masseria Le Carrube, Ostuni, Italy

The team behind the wildly popular Borgo Egnazia has another Italian jewel on their hands—this time, in the tiny Pugliese town of Ostuni. The property is full of surprises, from its vegetarian restaurant to its history as a working farmhouse (glamorous whitewashed exteriors be damned). The romantic, ivory-toned rooms are exactly what you’d expect from Egnazia’s more rustic sibling: understated, sophisticated, and downright alluring.

Somalisa, Zimbabwe

Former Wilderness Safaris super guide and native Zimbabwean, Beks Ndlovu, is one of the best in the business—and his new lodge, Somalisa, is a five-star platform for his deep expertise. Set in wildlife-packed Hwange National Park, a place that’s perfect for intimate walking safaris, Somalisa is made up of just six custom-designed tents surrounded by acacias. It’s not the most opulent camp in the region, but it checks off all the boxes when it comes to comfort, with a staff that’s every bit as knowledgeable and passionate at Ndlovu himself.

Shangri-La Hotel, Doha

Gilded chandeliers, trellis screens, inlaid marble flooring: step foot into the lobby of Qatar’s latest five-star stay and you’ll find all the trappings of an Arabian palace fantasy. But head up to your room and you’ll find a much more subtle breed of luxury, with bespoke beds meant to cocoon you as you sleep and panoramic views over the Arabian Gulf.

South Beach, Singapore

Don’t let the name fool you: this Singapore opening from Preferred Hotels & Resorts is as urban as it gets. Set in a Norman Foster-designed tower with interiors by Philippe Starck, the hotel is part of a $2.5 billion mixed-use development in the Civic District that’s modeled after New York City’s Time Warner Center. Two smaller, adjacent buildings—fo